A star is born: Meet Erika of Erika’s Vegan Catering

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ericaOttawa vegans are a-buzz about Erika’s Vegan Catering; now, we too have a rising star.

Erika’s Vegan Catering is the project of 16-year-old Erika LeBlanc, who is as straightforward and sensible as her aptly named business.   A vegan of five years, and life-long vegetarian, Erika is no stranger to the vegan world and has already had years to perfect her craft.  She launched her catering business several months ago, focusing on comfort foods and convenience – she even delivers! A portion of all sales support Westminster Pet Sanctuary, a registered charity that her family has run for nearly two decades.

Online reviews from patrons have been overwhelmingly positive.  “I have found the best caterer ever! Erika’s and family from Erika’s Vegan Catering are the absolute best at customer service and most importantly she is the greatest chef ever. I have eaten all over the world at some of the best restaurants and I have never left so satisfied and happy as I did after experiencing this,” wrote one on the NCVA Facebook group.

We decided to learn a bit more about Erika.

PT: What is the concept behind Erika’s VeganCatering?

EL: I created my business mostly to educate people on veganism and to also to recreate classic meat dishes and make them vegan.

PT:  How did your business come into being?

EL: Family and friends gave me the idea to start my own business, so I did.

PT: What are some of the biggest milestones you’ve experienced with your business?

EL: I would have to say my biggest milestone is converting meat eaters to vegetarian/vegan, just by educating and letting them try my food.

PT:  Is cooking something in which you have had a longstanding interest?

EL: Yes, I’ve been cooking since I was very young and I’ve always wanted to be in the food business. It’s my passion.

erica food1PT: What are some of your most popular products?

EL: My most popular products would have to be the my lavender cupcakes and “egg” salad.

PT: How can people buy them from you?

People can simply go on my Facebook page (Erika’s Vegan Catering) and send me a message, or send me an email at Erikasvegancatering@mail.com and place their orders there, and I will be happy to deliver the food right to their door.

erica food2PT: Anything else people should know?

Although I’m only 16, I have a lot of dreams like attending a vegan culinary school in the United states in the year 2015. But for now, I’m working on my catering buisness and saving all the profits toward my tuition for culinary school.

Erika has some really exciting projects coming up, but can’t share the details yet.  Stay tuned for more on this ambitious – and compassionate – young lady!

Lather up! Sud With Me initiative helps dogs in need

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aniaI want to tell you all about Ania Kemp, who has recently become a soap making maven, all in the name of raising funds for Sit With Me dog rescue.

Ania is vegan (as are her products), and now sells her soapy creations exclusively to raise funds for the rescue.  They are made of pure, safe ingredients, and sometimes even decorated with images of adorable adoptable dogs.

The next place where she will be selling her products is  at the “BBQ for rescue” at the Bells Corners Animal Hospital, 2194 Robertson Rd., from 11-3 on Sunday Sept. 14.

I asked Ania some questions so we could learn more about her initiative, Sud With Me.

PT: What exactly is Sud With Me? What is the concept?

AK:  Sud With Me is my little fundraising business where I sell natural products and donate profits to rescue. I sell natural soap, deodorant, bug spray, chap stick, and solid perfume. I plan to make other products in the future, such as paw chap for dogs to help with cracked paws in the winter.

sudwithme1PT: How did Sud With Me come to be?

AK: I’m on the fundraising committee for Sit With Me Shelter Dog Rescue (SWM) and I’ve been trying to think of things that I can do to help raise funds for rescue dogs. I tried making other items without success, but when a friend showed me how to make soap and other natural products, I thought I could try to sell them and donate profits to a rescue. I enjoy making the products, so it’s a hobby with a purpose.

PT: What are you hoping to accomplish with Sud With Me?

AK: I’d like to sell as many products as I can make so that I can donate as much money to rescue as possible.

PT: Is soap making etc. something in which you have had a longstanding interest?

AK: Nope! I’ve been interested in natural products for a while, but I really only became interested in making them when a friend and I got together and started talking about it. She has a small business where she sells her amazing products and she offered to show me how to make them. Mary, the founder of Filthy Pig Soap Co., also loves to help animals and donates her products to different SWM events. She was more than happy to show me how to make and label everything. I’m still really new to this so I hope my products start to look better with time – but they work great!

sudwithme2PT:  What are some of the most popular products?

AK: The soap is the most popular product to date, but I’ve only started to sell the other products recently. The solid deodorant has been going fast as well.

PT:  How can people buy them from you?

AK: People can order my products from me from my Facebook page, but they’ll need to come by my place to pick up. Otherwise, I try to go to as many SWM events as possible and I sell my products there. I post which events I will be going to on my Facebook page as well.

PT:  Anything else people should know?

AK: Many products are tested on animals, which is cruel and unnecessary. With all the harmful chemicals being put into personal and household products, I think it’s important to think natural.  Most household items that we buy can be made at home using natural ingredients. I encourage people to give it a try – it’s fun and rewarding! If you don’t have the time to make your own products, look for the leaping bunny when buying any store-bought product, read the ingredients and learn what you are putting in and on your body, as well as in your home.

A gallery of Sud With Me products – including prices – can be found here.

Easy, tasty and healthy: Chickpea Croquettes

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The busier I get with work, sports, volunteering and other interests, the less time I have to cook.  I mean, I could cook everything from scratch, but then I wouldn’t have any down time at all.  I also don’t earn enough to eat out many meals (who does?), so I’ve been trying to find the best corners that I can cut, in order to maximize the nutrition but minimize the time I have to spend preparing food.

chickpea croquettes afterIt was with that on my mind that I came across a recipe online for Chickpea Croquettes.  I wanted to eat less faux meats, but still have something substantial and satiating to accompany my simple vegetable sides (i.e. roasted brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale, etc.)  I had tried making homemade veggie burgers in the past, but they tended to fall apart so I didn’t have high hopes.

These are now a go-to.  One batch is enough for 12 or so croquettes (I typically eat two in one sitting) and they’re full of vegetables and protein.  The ingredients and process of making them are both simple. The batter keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, and they’re best made freshly pan fried. Best of all, they hold together really well.  They’re simple, tasty and healthy.  They are also celiac-friendly.

Chickpea Croquettes

Adapted from a non-vegan recipe at Tasty-yummies

Cilantro Coconut Sauce

  • 1 TB chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • Half a cup full fat coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a measuring cup and whisk well. Does not keep the greatest; eat within a couple of days or make a fresh batch when you make more croquettes.

Chickpea Croquettes

  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 19-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained well
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot shredded
  • 2 cups spinach, finely shredded
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
  • Oil (to pan fry)

croquettes finishedIn a large bowl, add flour, water, lemon juice, cumin and salt. In a food processor, pulse the chick peas until they are roughly chopped (do NOT puree). Add the chickpeas from the food processor, and all other ingredients to the original large bowl, and stir well.  Batter works best if it’s refrigerated for an least half an hour, but it’s still okay to use it right away.

In a large saucepan, heat oil, over medium heat. Scoop 1/4 cup dollops of chickpea mixture into skillet. Cook until golden brown on the bottom. Flip the patties and cook 3-4 minutes more. Serve croquettes topped with the coconut sauce.

You can serve these with lots of different things, including smoothies, blended soups, baked sweet potato fries, mashed potatoes, onion rings (pictured) or whatever.   

 

Nutritional information (per croquette):

Calories 141 cals

Fat 4g

Protein 6g

Sodium 215mg

Sugar  3g

 

Mindful Mavens Giveaway: Michael’s Dolce Jams

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This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Jess B Wright who was our winner!

 

I first met Michael at the Brewer Park farmer’s market in Ottawa. Since taste-testing a few of his hand-crafted jams, I’ve been loving them and sharing them with friends and family constantly. Seeing as he uses fresh local produce, certified organic cane sugar, and his packaging is made with either recycled or recyclable materials, his products are a great fit for the Mindful Mavens. I wanted to share Michael’s story with you and what makes his jams so special, so did a little Q&A with him. One lucky winner will get to try these as well! (See giveaway below)

How did your business start?

Michael’s Dolce started with the passion to improve the quality of jams.  I am trained in culinary arts, with several years experience working in the ‘sweet side’ (desserts) at restaurants and bakeries.

What is the story behind the name?

The name ‘Michael’s Dolce’ is derived from my name (Michael) and Dolce is an Italian word for sweet.  I choose Dolce, because the last restaurant I worked in had the dessert menu titled “Dolce”.

What sort of criteria do you have for selecting ingredients?

I look for locally grown / sourced foods.  I purchase the majority of fruit from Ontario, B.C.,and N.S.  I particularly buy from farmers at the Ottawa farmers market, Acorn creek, Warners farm, and Luxy farms.  I only use freshly squeezed lemon juice in all my jams.  In my strawberry balsamic jam, I use an 18 year old balsamic from The unrefined olive.  A new addition to my line is Smokey BBQ sauce, which is vegan and gluten free (facility is not GF).  I purchase spanish smoked paprika from Cardamom & Cloves, to support another small local business.

How do you choose flavour combinations?

Once I decide the fruit or basic ingredient, I research ways the ingredient has been used.  This leads me to a pairing flavour(s) and from there I formulate a recipe.

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Did you target your products to be specifically ethical/vegan?

Not on purpose, from the start I knew I would only make a quality product.  Selling at farmers market gave me direct connection to my costumers, understanding what people are looking for.  Striving to make ethical/vegan products make sense to the majority of my clientele, and me.

What makes them different than any other jams?

1) less sugar/no pectin

2) unique flavour combinations

3) soft set textures

Which flavor is your personal favorite and best seller?

My favorite is strawberry balsamic, the best seller is hands down Blueberry & Lavender.

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What do you do when you are not in the kitchen?

Family and friends are a key part of my spare time!  Spending valuable time eating out, keeping up with my interest in photography..to name a few.

Any exciting developments happening for the future?

This year I have started making  a vegan Sriracha sauce.

Jams in cocktails started on the drink menu at Union613.  You can find 3 of them with my jams/sriracha.

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I am collaborating with Marissa Begin (a beer rep & mixologist) to devise drinks with my jams.  She has even got ideas for which beer/drink to add my sriracha and BBQ sauce to!

I have just launched a smokey BBQ sauce which has already been well received.  Fiazza Pizza on Murray St. had approached me to make a BBQ sauce for one of their pizza’s. I was honoured to be asked, and have also been bottling them for sale too!

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So here’s what’s up for grabs:

One winner will receive four (4) 190ml jars of Michaelsdolce jams and sauces. The flavors will be:

  • Apricot Chili jam
  • Yellow Plum Anise jam
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Smokey BBQ sauce

To enter the giveaway, please respond with a comment that answers one of the following:

  • If you’ve tried Michaelsdolce jams and sauces, what’s your favourite flavour, and why?
  • If you haven’t, which flavour are you most interested to try?

Winners will be chosen randomly by number draw.

Details: Giveaway is open to Canadian residents, excluding Quebec. One random winner will win a set of 4 Michaelsdolce products. Pick-up to be arranged with Michael Sunderland. Giveaway closes on Saturday, September 13 at 11:59 PM EST.  One entry per person. The Mindful Mavens are not responsible for the delivery of the prize and cannot be held accountable for any discrepancies.

Zanadu: Comfort food in a fun environment

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I first became aware of Zanadu when a friend linked me to their Facebook page a few weeks before they opened, because they were asking if people would prefer to buy a vegan or a gluten-free grilled cheese at their cafe. Uh, duh! :D   (They were able to satisfy both requirements by procuring vegan and gluten-free bread from Strawberry Blonde Bakery.)

As they opened, I saw the word vegan hashtagged a lot, but the menu I was seeing online didn’t match the hype.   I’m always a bit leery when it seems “vegan” is being used more as a buzz word than as a description of a place’s food.  It’s not that I am not pleased when a restaurant goes to the effort; it’s more that vegan is a misunderstood word already, and it doesn’t help with the public’s understanding if it’s used inaccurately.  I decided to check it out for myself, and invited a new Maven, Kyle Den Bak, to join me.

zanadu1A warning: While Zanadu fronts Richmond Road, it isn’t immediately easy to find. However once I did find it, the first thing I was struck by was the sleek, somewhat retro interior.  It’s all black ad lime green, with disco balls and shiny dark walls. It’s spacious and airy, and trendy without being at all pretentious.  The menu is hand written on one of the glossy walls, which I couldn’t photograph properly due to the sun and the wall’s shininess. Health and fitness related magazines are on each of the tables, and a flat screen TV shows nutritional information about different kinds of fruits and veggies.

We were greeted by the owner, Barb, who comes from the hospital and fitness fields.  She’s mostly vegetarian, and is passionate about learning more about the vegan lifestyle. She told us that the menu has changed a lot even since Zanadu opened a week ago, all based on customer feedback.  (For example, people wanted more smoothie options with protein. Zanuda uses Vega, FYI).  I was impressed by her openness, and willingness to learn.

The promised vegan grilled cheese was on the wall menu, as is a grilled cheese/veggie pate hybrid sandwich, also vegan. They are not on the website yet as Barb is transitioning service providers and can’t update it.  In addition to a selection of smoothies, there are also fresh pressed juices, salads, and some pastries (all, I believe, from Strawberry Blonde.)  Small Zandu branded packages of various snacks (such as nuts) are available for convenience, as are coffee and tea.

I had the Totally Vegan grilled cheese, which has two types of the Daiya wedge cheeses, guacamole, and mango chutney. You have the option of adding a generous side of kale/chia tortilla chips with either hummus or guacamole (with finely shredded kale mixed in!) for just $2.50.   The sandwiches themselves are not inexpensive – I have lost my receipt by I believe it was about $9.25.  Sensitive to vegan concerns about cross-contamination, Barb tells me that one of the grills has been reserved exclusively for making the vegan grilled cheeses.

zanadu2The sandwich was tasty and filling, but I knew immediately what would make it even better – Mad Faux-Cheese.  I made the recommendation to Barb, and I know she’s already been in touch with Madison so stay tuned!   (I also mentioned to her that a growing number of vegans are concerned about palm oil, and that using Mad Faux-Cheese would alleviate that barrier.)

Overall Zanadu has a great space and a lot of potential to be a great hang out and place to stop for a quick lunch.  Barb is actively seeking feedback from customers so I recommend checking it out, and providing your constructive input.   It’s open daily, until 6 PM.

 
 
Zanadu
101 Richmond Road (just west of Island Park)
www.zanadu.ca
https://www.facebook.com/Zanadu.ca
@zanaduca

 

 

The things you can’t un-know

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The things you can’t un-know

I vividly remember sitting on my bed weeping, holding the book in my hand, frantically wracking my brain for an out, or a way to forget what I had just read.

What I had just read was a heart wrenching description of the experience of a mother cow, who had her baby taken away from her, in The Pig Who Sang to the Moon – The Emotional Lives of Farm Animals by Jeffrey Masson. Despite not being particularly motherly myself, something in the way it was phrased – the desperation and devastation of these cows, completely at the mercy of humans – touched my heart and mind profoundly – and permanently.

I think the worst part was the realization that all of this pain and suffering was caused for something completely needless – human consumption of cow’s milk. It struck me as tragic and unnecessary that human taste for another animals’ milk would trump the basic dignity of allowing these sensitive, sentient animals to mother their young.

It has been ten years since that passage changed my life, and it effectively made “dairy” a non-food in my mind (I was already a vegetarian at the time.) There are reminders of the horrors that humankind inflicts on animals every day, everywhere I turn. And make no mistake, the way we commodify animals is far-reaching, and the result (their lives) is nothing short of horrific.

I struggle with what I know. I think most vegans do (and anyone concerned with specific social justice issues). It devastates me.  I’m haunted.  I try to push it out of the front of my mind, but I am conscious that every moment of every day, many animals are meeting a terrible demise…all so that humans can eat and wear their bodies. Sometimes when my mind wanders I imagine it happening; I envision the fear that they must feel, the pain, the confusion… and I have to force myself to stop because it takes me to a dark place.  

For the most part, I avoid the videos and the photos that depict the reality of their putrid lives. On one hand I feel badly about it, like I’m denying them their due by not bearing witness. But on the other hand, I’ve been unequivocally vegan for a decade now, so am I really accomplishing anything aside from self-torment if I watch?  I avoid it to protect myself, so that I can be a better advocate.  Sometimes I have to throw myself into anything BUT thinking, to keep the sense of devastation at bay.

What I do do is engage in constant vegan outreach and advocacy.  It’s a survival tactic. A lot of people don’t know, and just as many don’t want to know. Some do know, and don’t know what to do with the information. Others are simply unconcerned. I tend not to put my focus on the latter.  There’s not much point. 

We live in a world that’s built on using animals for every purpose imaginable, and even armed with information and conviction, people can find it challenging to live in alignment with their beliefs. Even though sometimes I am frustrated beyond belief by the actions of humans I dig deep to find my compassion, to help them find theirs. 

An apt magnet that I bought from a recent Sit With Me fundraiser.

An apt magnet that I bought from a recent Sit With Me fundraiser.

Most people would agree that no animal should be harmed unnecessarily, but consumer choices contradict this belief. In a study conducted at Kent University in the UK, Loughnan and colleagues found that in order to escape the “meat paradox” (i.e., simultaneously enjoying eating animals and disliking hurting animals), people deny that the animals they eat suffer (Loughnan, Haslam, Bastian, 2010).   (Many thanks to Jenn L for providing this research.)

I want people to know that it’s okay to reject the meat paradox.  They can choose to align their actions with their beliefs, if they want to. 

In reading some 2004 reviews of The Pig Who Sang to the Moon to prepare this post, I noticed that Masson’s vegan message was often referred to as “radical.”  Some reviewers can barely contain their contempt. I hope that in 2014 we’ve moved away from that characterization, particularly in the face of growing scientific evidence that animals do indeed experience pain, and experience some degree of emotion.  

Even if it makes us uncomfortable.

If we want to talk about things that are radical, I can’t imagine much that’s more radical than 150-billion sentient creatures being bred and killed every year worldwide so that humans can eat them. 

You can’t unknow these things, but knowledge is power.

 

(I focus mostly on food animals in this post, but for a taste of the many ways that humans use and abuse animals, I recommend checking out Jo-Ann McArthur’s heartbreaking but poignant online gallery, We Animals.)

Vegan Product Review: Cocoa Butter Coffee Scrub

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Hello readers! Today’s product is a bit different from past reviews, as I am delving into the world of vegan skincare. I’m starting off with a locally made product that’s easy to love- The Purple Urchin Cocoa Butter Coffee Scrub!

Cute packaging that's environmentally friendly too!

Cute packaging that’s environmentally friendly too!

Purple Urchin has it’s roots in Sault Ste. Marie and Ottawa, where they created vegetarian and vegan friendly soaps. Though they initially sold their products online and at craft shows, they now have their very own storefront on Somerset. They got their start making soap from only vegetable oil and essential oils and high-quality fragrance oils, no lard or tallow. Purple Urchin has stayed true to their mission to stay natural and environmentally friendly, though their product range has expanded significantly. They continue to use Ontario suppliers whenever they can, as well as using mainly compostable packaging. I was interested to know that they even refrain from using palm oil due to it’s impacts on forests in Indonesia and Malaysia. Now that’s an environmentally conscious company!

I should note here that there was some controversy in the vegan community surrounding the use of Purple Urchin soap-making tools to create soap made from leftover lard from the culinary students at Algonquin College. The final soap product is sold at the college to help pay for bursaries. Some customers were upset that Purple Urchin had delved into an animal-based venture, and not without cause. However, Purple Urchin emphasizes on their site that they clean the equipment thoroughly and do not sell this animal-based soap under the Purple Urchin brand. My take on it is that I will put my money where the vegan products are. The fact that P.U. is locally owned and environmentally conscious as well as putting out a mostly vegan brand of skincare and hygiene products is filling a part of the market that I’d like to be a part of.

I'm realizing now it looks vaguely like dirt. I assure you it smells and feels amazing!

I’m realizing now it looks vaguely like dirt. I assure you it smells and feels amazing!

And with all that back story, on to the scrub! The Cocoa Butter Coffee Scrub has to be my all-time favourite P.U. product. The scrub is described as “leave(ing) your skin smooth and perfectly hydrated!”. The description isn’t lying. I tend to use the scrub on my legs, arms, and back, as it’s far too granular for facial use. With a quick scrub, my legs actually come out of the shower feeling moisturized. In this sense, I’d say it’s comparable to Lush’s You Snap the Whip body butter. The granular aspect of the scrub helps with ingrown hairs, where the cocoa butter moisturizes against all odds. The website also states that the scrub helps with varicose veins and the appearance of cellulite, but I cannot attest to either of these effects.

A test for consistency, conducted on my arm: a granular and dense scrub.

A test for consistency, conducted on my arm: a granular and dense scrub.

The scent is a wonderful deep aroma that smells mainly of coffee and cocoa butter. It’s masculine enough for my partner to occasionally use, making it a product that isn’t particularly gendered. My partner also finds that floral or artificial scents send him into full on allergy symptoms, so his enjoyment of a scrub that’s so strongly scented sans-sneezes is pretty cool!

At 13.99 for 284 grams of product, it doesn’t come cheap! For a responsible local company with a great vegan product, I tend to be willing to pay more. I certainly haven’t made it a part of my daily shower routine, but that just makes it all the more of a treat to use on my legs after shaving, or after a windy winter day outside walking. Give it a try and you won’t regret it.

Find out where to purchase Purple Urchin products here.

Ingredients: cocos nucifera (coconut oil), theobroma cacao seed butter (cocoa butter), oryza sativa bran oil (rice bran oil), coffea arabica seed (ground coffee), sucrose (brown sugar), sucrose (white sugar), cinnamomum zeylanicum (ground cinnamon), fragrance.

Vegan Product Review: Coconut Ice “Cream”

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My second product review is of another sweet treat. This one is a little more seasonally appropriate for Ottawa’s summer weather. I was walking up Bank Street this past week, and recalled hearing about Thimblecakes‘ coconut vegan ice cream. In the face of ice cream, I can never say no, so in I went.

Thimblecakes' beautiful storefront!

Thimblecakes’ beautiful storefront!

Thimblecakes is an adorable little bakery that has a great community impact. Monthly, they have a charity day with proceeds being given to a local animal shelter. They buy organic, compost their waste, and recycle too (which us Mindful Mavens love). The name of the bakery comes from a Peter Pan reference, making it the most whimsical business I’ve ever been to! Check out the story here.

My ginormous cookie dough scoop, resting on top of the orange chocolate chip scoop.

My ginormous cookie dough scoop, resting on top of the orange chocolate chip scoop.

I admit I thought that they would be serving a pre-packaged ice cream of some kind. I was so wrong! They had actually made the ice cream so recently that I couldn’t eat it off a cone, it was still too creamy and would have slid off. Of course they offered to put a cone on top for me, but I was quite content tasting it out of a cup.

I opted for two scoops: cookie dough, and orange chocolate chip. Both taste slightly coconutty. The cookie dough was incredible. It was sweet and creamy, with just enough cookie dough throughout the scoop. The orange was refreshing and a little more summery, with the orange and coconut bringing that scoop to a more fruity palette. Both flavours were rich and yummy, probably the closest I’ve come to my favourite ice creams of my pre-veganism days.

The flavour selection of the day.

The flavour selection of the day.

I was glad to be informed that all of Thimblecakes’ coconut ice cream flavours were vegan. Though they aren’t a completely vegan bakery, they also cater to vegans with their baked goods. Find a list of flavours and which allergens they contain here.

Overall, the coconut ice cream was amazing. My two scoops ran me about 7$, with prices increasing if you decide to get a cone, and based on which cone you want. For two giant scoops of fresh vegan ice cream, made at an environmentally conscious bakery, I think that’s a fair price.  I would recommend it to anyone who likes cruelty-free frozen treats! I will definitely be going back, hot weather or otherwise.

Vegan Product Review: Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Hello readers! My name is Mackenzie, and this is my first post with the Mindful Mavens. I will be posting product reviews for vegan products available in the Ottawa area, with preference for locally made products. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what I should review next! Introductions out of the way, let’s jump in to the review.

The cookies themselves!

The cookies themselves!

Strawberry Blonde Bakery is vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free bakery located in Ottawa on Grange Avenue (just off of Wellington). That being said, I picked up my cookies at the Billings Bridge Natural Food Pantry, and have seen their products sold at Market Organics and Rainbow Foods as well. I don’t have a gluten intolerance or a nut allergy, so it’s mainly the vegan aspect of the bakery that interested me. However, the overlap is great for people who may be serving Strawberry Blonde products at parties or to people with multiple allergies.

My product of choice today was their Mint Chocolate Cookies. I’ve definitely got a sweet tooth, so I figured a baked good would be the perfect product for my first review! As with any Strawberry Blonde product, I was not disappointed. I’ve had their sugar cookies, cherry cake, brownie, and Queen Elizabeth cake in the past, all being delicious and satisfying.

The cookies themselves are a little bigger than an Oreo. At first glance, I was delighted to realize they contain chocolate chips. The taste of the cookies was incredible! They had a rich dark chocolate flavour, with subtle mint coming through. The cookies maintained a level of sweetness that I enjoyed, without being overwhelmed by it. The texture was not quite that of a soft cookie, but the chocolate chips helped to even it out with a more creamy feel. They are rich, so one or two paired with soy or almond milk turned out to be a lovely rainy day snack. I asked my partner for his impressions, and I got a muffled “Mmm! They’re minty!”.

My rainy day snack.

My rainy day snack.

I love that Strawberry Blonde Bakery is a local business catering to diets that are often marginalized in major chain grocery stores. I think the fact that the business is locally owned by two women just sweetened the deal! Check out their menu for the wide variety of baked goods they have for special order, or head out to one the locations that carries their products.

Would I purchase again? Absolutely! And probably in the near future because these cookies are going fast…

Price: 5.69 at Market Organics, for a container of 8 cookies

Ingredients: brown cane sugar, sorghum flour, brown rice flour, white rice flour, sweet rice flour, semi-sweet chocolate chips, cocoa powder, vegan butter, apple sauce, potato starch, arrowroot flour, millet flour, vanilla extract, potato flour, mint extract, baking soda, salt, xantham gum

Solid vegan options make Asian Stars a star of West end Ottawa

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I don’t remember how I first heard about Asian Stars Restaurant.  It opened about a month ago in Ottawa, in a partitioned-off section of Denny’s on Clyde Avenue, bucking the tradition of vegan-friendly restaurants opening only in the core.  I was intrigued, so I checked out their website.

Kung Pao Tofu

Kung Pao Tofu

First I noticed a separate vegan menu, which was very promising.  And it was substantial, with lots of variety and 20 different dishes. But then I noticed some of the dishes listed eggs as a component.  Red flag raised.  However, throughout email correspondence with the staff, I was reassured. One mention of egg (Pad Thai) was an error – the egg had been removed as a component – and the other a misunderstanding.  They weren’t totally clear that when an item is labeled as vegan, that people expected it to be vegan without asking to have the egg removed.   They mentioned they’d likely remove the egg component altogether, although they wouldn’t be able to reprint their menus right away. (That item is the Love Nest dish.)  I can live with that.

A few of us NCVAers decided to check it out for real last night. It was a bit strange walking into a revamped part of Denny’s (I worked at a Denny’s as a line cook as a teenager, way before becoming vegan) but it lacked the cookie cutter Denny’s decor. Inside it was clean, modern, and no-nonsense.  It’s perfect for a casual dinner lunch, or low-key dinner.  There were several other tables already occupied.

Between the six of us, we probably sampled just about everything on the menu, which can best be described as Asian Fusion. I personally opted for three main dishes (with lots of leftovers) to give me a good sampling.  I chose the Kung Pao tofu, the Pad Thai, and the Singapore Style Noodles.   I also shared a deep fried banana.

I’m always interested to see how a new (to me or otherwise) restaurant handles its pad thai especially since the vegan versions do not rely on fish sauce and eggs.  Asian Stars offers a generous portion, and a tangy, tomato-tamarind sauce.  It is a bit spicier than some of the pad thais I have had.  The vegan chicken is seitan-bassed, made in-house I’m told, and has a delightful chewiness to it.  One thing I noticed is that it was entirely lacking in bean sprouts. I’m not crazy about bean sprouts, so i didn’t really mind, but anyway intent on an authentic pad thai may feel a bit put out by their absence.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

The Kung Pao Tofu was everything I could wish for that dish to be.  The tofu tasted very fresh even having been fried, and was coating in a chewy coating.  The sauce is vibrant and flavourful, with just the right amount of tang and heat.  The vegetables were incredibly fresh, and varied.  It was generously portioned as well, and came with a scoop of steamed white rice (so no need to order a side on top of the entree.)

The Singapore Noodles were my least favourite of the three, but still excellent.  I think I was expecting them to be more like a Singapore Noodle dish I’ve ordered many times at Cosmic Charlie’s in Peterborough, and in that regard it failed.  However, like the other dishes, I was impressed by the freshness of the ingredients, and the amount and quality of the vegetables in particular.  I ordered this one with tofu, which came in small strips.  I find sometimes Asian food can lack enough vegetable content but Asian Stars’ dishes are well-balanced in that respect.

I finished off my meal by sharing a deep fried banana. It says on the menu that it comes with ice cream or honey, but you don’t need to have either.  The drizzle of coconut milk (and strawberry sauce) was more than enough, complimenting the crunchiness of the wrapper and the smoothness of the banana.  It was very sweet though, and I am not sure if I could manage a whole one! It’s probably for the best not to even try.

Other noteworthy things:  One of the owners (managers?) told us that about 80% of their customers since opening have identified as vegan. That blows my mind.  Only about 10% of ZenKitchen’s customers are vegan, and it’s a 100% vegan restaurant.  I’m not sure what – if anything – that says about either restaurant, or about vegans as a consumer group.

Deep-fried Banana

Deep-fried Banana

They also mentioned that out of all the feedback they’ve received, only two people have asked about having more gluten-free options. As it stands, their soups are gluten-free, but most if not all of their sauces are not.  They said it isn’t cost effective at all to use gluten-free hoisin sauce, which is an important element of their sauces.  We advised that they not change too many items, and to look into making a couple of popular items gluten-free but not worry about all of it. Their food is amazing as it is, and you can’t please everyone.

Will I go back?  I actually went back tonight for some take out. :)

Asian Stars Restaurant

1380 Clyde Ave Unit B
Nepean, Ontario
www.asianstarsrestaurant.com

Phone:(613)695-2288