26 December 2009

This Week in My Kitchen: Cookies and Pies!!

Mmm, Christmas baking! I'm not the best baker, but I'm slowly improving. This year I kept it simple, with a couple of batches of cookies and two pies.

Cookies: Ginger, Oatmeal Peppermint Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Kahlua, Thumbprint
Last week my friends Meghan and Stephanie came by and we had an evening of baking cookies and drinking wine (two of my favourite things!). We used my go-to cookie guide, ExtraVeganZa by Laura Matthais
There were a few mishaps, but everything tasted good and we made enough to give as gifts and to pig out ourselves. When I was a kid I used to bake cookies with my grandmother quite a bit. She passed down her not-the-best baking skills to me. We always had a few weird looking cookies and ones that just didn't turn out. To this day, I call imperfect pastries "Nanny Cookies". We had a few Nanny Cookies this time around, and it made me really miss her (she passed away when I was seventeen).

Nanny Cookies: overzealous portioning results in one giant cookie

perfect oatmeal peppermint chocolate cookies

chocolate kahlua cookies ready to go in the oven

check out the chocolate-chippiness of this one

chocolate kahlua and thumbprint cookies

gift basket for my landlords

Pies: Pumpkin and Pecan
This year I made a pumpkin pie from the frozen remains of our halloween pumpkin, and pecan pie (yes, vegan pecan pie is possible and delicious!). Yum!

draining the halloween pumpkin - I saved & froze the juice for later use

pumpkin pie

pecan pie

a delicious grape pie my landlady made with the concords that grow in our yard


ExtraVeganZa: Original Recipes from Phoenix Organic Farm

The Giant Guestroom Painting, Pt. 4

My goal for the giant guestroom painting was to finish before Christmas, as we have our first house guests over the holidays, and I did it! Woohoo! I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, especially considering I've never attempted anything of this magnitude before. Sorry about all my crappy photography. One day I'll learn how to take a decent photo.


Here are some shots of the other bird art I currently have in the guest room:

4"x4", by Cara Sheppard

4"x4", by Cara Sheppard

5.5"x6.5", by Minimum Wage Art
5.5"x7.5", by Michelle Maule

 7.75" x 10", by Kirk Sheppard

both 5"x7", by Cara Sheppard

25 December 2009


Merry Christmas to all! Here are some shots of our living room decorated for Christmas. This is the first time I've had room for a tree (and a real one to boot!), and I'm super excited.

the painting on the mantle is by Arden Marow Ross

This Week in My Kitchen, Part 1: Spanakopita, Polenta with Root Vegetable Ragout, Mango Curry Potato Dosa, Creamy Vegan Potato Soup

This is a long overdue post, which should be more accurately titled "This Month in My Kitchen". December, of course, is prime cooking and baking season, and it was no different in my kitchen this year. I got to bake cookies with some girlfriends, finally successfully tackle polenta, make a vegan pecan pie for the first time, and probably gain 5 pounds!

Kirk's favourite food of all time is spinach pie, so I attempted to make him some this month. It was a partially successful attempt, but I don't have much experience with phyllo pastry (in fact, I spelled it "filo" on my grocery list), and I went a little to light on the layers. Next time will better. I used two packages of frozen chopped spinach, one bag of fresh spinach, lots of garlic, some tofu (cubed really small) and a few other seasonings for the filling, and it was fantastic! I served it with home made hummous, greek salad and some multigrain flax pitas. Yum!

Polenta with Root Vegetable Ragout
My one attempt at making polenta several years ago was a failure (wrong consistency, wrong texture, next-to-no flavour). I avoided another attempt for years, afraid again of dismal failure, but after a fantastic meal at Locus recently, I was spurred on to try again. This time I did my research, reading recipes, blog posts and diatribes about polenta, grits, and all things cornmeal. People are very passionate about polenta, it seems. I like a semi-firm polenta, and I ended up choosing this recipe to try. It came out great! Creamy but firm, lots of savoury flavour, perfect. I made a quick root vegetable ragout to serve with it, and Kirk and I both enjoyed it for dinner and for lunch the next day. I will be making polenta more often.

Mango Curry Potato Dosa
Kirk and I had Indian take out last week, and we ordered a potato masala dosa, something neither of us had ever eaten before. I loved it! It was like a big bready crepe filled with curried potatoes - what's not to love? I thought I should learn to make this myself - it's can't be that hard. Ha! I found this recipe, and learned that it takes two days just to prepare the batter, which is made from a very particular kind of lentil. Luckily, Famous Foods, a fantastic little grocery a few blocks from my house, carries the lentils, so I made my attempt. Not so great. Edible, but not nearly so yummy as the one from the take out. At least I tried. Maybe I'll just stick with crepes for now. On the bright side, the filling (potatoes and veggies with mango curry sauce), was really good.

Creamy Vegan Potato Soup
As many of you know, I am a big lover of soup. I could eat soup every day and be happy. So when we bought a ten pound bag of russet potatoes on sale this week, I saw the perfect opportunity to make creamy potato soup. I sweated an onion and some garlic, then I sliced up six potatoes with my mandolin slicer and boiled them in salted water with the onion and garlic and some rubbed sage in just enough water to cover. Once they were soft I drained a bit of the water and pureed it with my hand blender. I added a bit of soy milk and margarine and went to town. Heavenly!

07 December 2009

20th Anniversary of the Massacre at École Polytechnique de Montreal

This is an unusual post for me, just because I don't generally like to get into political topics, but this is too important not to say. I'd like to think that things have improved since Marc Lépine massacred 14 women in Montreal twenty years ago, but they haven't improved enough for victims of violence.

Yesterday, there were memorials held across the country to honour the memory of the women killed, and to highlight the fact that violence against women still exists, even in this day and age. It's not only murder or spousal abuse; rape, emotional abuse, stalking and other forms of cruelty and misogyny still fly under the radar. They are taboo topics in our society, and the situation for women and girls in our society never going to progress if that remains the case. We have to talk about these things, especially with our youth, in order to make a change for the better.

According to the Canadian Women's Foundation, half of Canadian women (51%) have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. I personally believe that number to be much higher. Based on conversations I've had with my girlfriends over the past 15 years, I'd guess that closer to 75% of women have been sexually assaulted, usually by a date or someone else they know. Most of these crimes go unreported because the women blame themselves, are ashamed or afraid. Even taking that into account, the statistics are frightening. I would like to think of Canada as a progressive, compassionate and safe place to live, but unfortunately that's not always the case.

So what are we going to do about it? The Ending Violence Association of BC has a mandate to educate the public and government bodies on the needs of victims of violence, as well as providing other community-based services for girls and women. I personally believe that the most important and effective way to end violence against women is to talk about it. We need to change the culture of fear and shame that surrounds sexual assault, relationship violence, child abuse and criminal harassment. Talk to your kids, including (and especially) boys, about appropriate behaviours and what to do if they are treated inappropriately. Talk to your teenagers about dating violence - There's a great article about it on oprah.com. If you suspect a woman is being mistreated in any way, talk to her. Talk to your friends about violence against women. Until we can talk about these things, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.

05 December 2009

This Week in My Kitchen: Falafels with Hummus & Greek Salad, Tom Yum Soup, Vegan Thumbprint Cookies

Falafels with Hummus & Greek Salad
Kirk wanted spanakopita for dinner on Wednesday, but I didn't have any phyllo and it takes 24 hours to thaw, so instead I whipped up my own version of the Mediterranean Combo Plate from John's Place, one of my favourite restaurants in Victoria. I made hummus with lots of garlic and lemon (yum!), falafels (from a mix, I'm afraid - but one without chemicals or preservatives), and a fantastic Greek salad with homemade dressing (red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano, mustard seeds, salt). Kirk's salad had some crumbled feta and mine had cherry tomatoes. I even found some multigrain pitas, which I brushed with a bit of oil and warmed under the broiler. We were satisfied, and next week I'll make spanakopita.

Tom Yum Soup
I finally made my tom yum soup, and it was yummy. I used veggies I had on hand - quartered baby carrots, canned straw mushrooms and really skinny asparagus. I warmed the broth I made earlier with the veggies (carrots par cooked in the microwave) and added some red curry sauce. I served it over rice noodles and coconut milk with spring onions and chopped cilantro as garnish. It was yummy, but not quite as good as the soup I make with jarred tom yum soup paste. Maybe I need to figure out how to make my own version of the paste, which is all natural, but kinda pricey. The Tom Yum Soup Adventure continues...

the ingredients


Vegan Thumbprint Cookies
Today is Saturday and Kirk is working late. I'm home alone watching an Irish documentary on surfing (yup!), and I decided to make some thumbprint cookies. As someone who has an inexplicable inability to follow recipes, baking is not my strong suit, but cookies are pretty forgiving. I used a recipe from ExtraVeganZa by Laura Matthias, my favourite cookie-baking reference, and they are fantastic. Honestly, anyone who thinks vegan baking has to be bland and heavy should try these cookies! They are so light and crumbly and wonderful. I topped them with LifeSource Strawberry Spread, which I keep on hand expressly for thumbprint cookies.

the ingredients

I use the pestle from my small mortar & pestle to make "thumbprints" in warm cookies

I've eaten so many of them tonight!

Here's a bonus shot of my pantry. I recently invested quite a bit of money into Starfrit Lock n' Lock containers and I love how neat they make the shelves look! I buy a lot of things from the bulk department, since it's less expensive, uses less packaging and I can control exactly how much I'm buying. The airtight containers keep everything fresh and safe from pests like weevils.


ExtraVeganZa: Original Recipes from Phoenix Organic Farm

04 December 2009

The Giant Guestroom Painting, Pt. 3

The giant guestroom painting has been sitting in my studio for the past couple of weeks, neglected. Well, I did drop the easel on it when I was trying to extend the legs. It ripped an inch-long hole in the canvas and I nearly cried (if my mom hadn't been there I probably would have). Luckily, the rip is right along a line in the woman's hair, and with some masking tape on the back, isn't too obvious. I'll live.

Over the past couple of days I finally got some time to work on the painting. The chickadee is done, and the leaves are 90% done. I also fiddled with the hair and eyes of the woman a little bit. I'd like to get it finished by Christmas, as my brother and sister-in-law will be our first guests in the guest room over the holidays.


02 December 2009

Pelican Tattoo

Here's my new tattoo, done yesterday afternoon by the fantastic Dejan Furlan: