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


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


The unlikely restaurateur: Meet Michaël Gazier, ZenKitchen’s new owner


When ZenKitchen suddenly closed in May, and engineer Michaël Gazier reached out to beleaguered restaurateur David Loan to offer his assistance, the last thing he expected was that he would end up owning the much-celebrated business. Yet that’s exactly how it has turned out.

Gazier may be the new owner, but it is Loan who will continue to run the restaurant. Chef Kyle Proulx has moved on, but Loan’s former partner in business and life Chef Caroline Ishii is stepping up in a consulting capacity to help get things back on track. ZenKitchen is gearing up now for a July 31 re-open. Dinner at first, ramping up to brunch and lunch, and an eventual expansion and introduction of special weeknight features.

ZenKitchen's new owner, Michaël Gazier, an Ottawa vegan.

ZenKitchen’s new owner, Michaël Gazier, an Ottawa vegan.

While it can’t have been easy for Loan to relinquish ownership, the good working relationship they’ve developed has set him at ease. “As I’ve gotten to know Michaël better, I’ve found he’s a very quick study in whatever subject he takes on. He’s determined to learn about the restaurant business and to avoid the financial mistakes we’ve made in the past,” Loan said. “We both want ZenKitchen to succeed, and we both take immense pride in its future.”

I met up with Gazier and his partner Tania (as well as their two tabby cats) to learn more about the man behind ZenKitchen’s resurrection. He’s still getting used to the idea that he now owns his favourite restaurant, and knows that the journey of reviving and growing ZenKitchen has only just begun. He spoke with quiet confidence and thoughtfulness about his new role.

PT: You initially were just offering Dave support, but after a long period of discussions, you ended up owning the restaurant. What motivated you to stick with it, and make this work?

MG:  I have been vegan for ten years, and can’t actually remember the last time I ate meat. ZenKitchen is a special place for vegans, and a place I liked to go. It was also the best restaurant in Ottawa. It simply seemed impossible that it could close.

I reached out to Dave right away when I heard the news, and we met up to discus the situation. One thing led to another – it was very incremental, we solved one problem at a time.

Dave Loan will continue as ZenKitchen's manager and purveyor of wine.

Dave Loan will continue as ZenKitchen’s manager and purveyor of wine.

But as important as ZenKitchen is to vegans, I think it’s very important for non-vegans as well. There have been so many times when, as a vegan, the only food offered to me is salad. ZenKitchen has done a lot to change people’s perception of what is vegan food, and that it doesn’t have to mean salad. I like the idea of helping people to see things differently, and planting seeds at every opportunity.

PT: I think some of us were worried when we learned about an investor being in the picture, that they might take ZenKitchen away from its vegan roots. I’m guessing that’s not going to happen?

MG: Ha! No If anything we are returning to its roots. I know how important it is to the vegan community; afterall, I am part of it. I actually became vegan after attending some local vegan restaurant meet ups, where I learned about veganism from people, and reading books about ethics and the food industry. I’m vegan for many reasons – I don’t want to harm other creatures, but I also think there are compelling ecological considerations of which we should all be conscious.

PT: How well did you know Dave Loan when the closure occurred?

MG: I knew him as the friendly guy and great restaurateur who ran my favourite restaurant. I did not know him personally at all. Conversely, he didn’t know me. This required a leap of faith on both our parts. There have been a lot of twists and turns in the deal, but we’ve both gone out on a limb to make it work.

We are both doomed without the other, which I think motivates us to act in the best interests of the restaurant. He IS the restaurant. Dave will continue to be the face of ZenKitchen.

Former ZenKitchen chef Caroline Ishii returns to help with the re-launch.

Former ZenKitchen chef and co-owner Caroline Ishii returns on a consulting basis to help with the re-launch.

PT: How will ZenKitchen’s future look?

MG: I believe there is potential to grow the restaurant. Only 10% or so of our clientele is vegan, with potential to improve on that, and we will of course continue to cater strongly to their needs as they are the backbone of the restaurant.  The biggest growth opportunity though – which thrills me – is non-vegans, as we know that many enjoy exploring the gourmet vegan food experience.

I have looked at all the financials, with an eye towards sustainability. I’ve concluded that the business is sustainable, and that the issues that occurred were a result of some unfortunate circumstances, and following bad advice with good intentions.

I’m just really happy that ZenKitchen will continue, and get a new start. It’s exciting to be a part of it. I’ll be reaching out to the community of ZenKitchen patrons to get their feedback and thoughts on how we can make the restaurant a community hub. We already do special occasion meals really well, but it’s our intent to give people good reason to visit us any night of the week.

PT: So what do you do when you’re not at your fulltime job, or accidentally buying businesses?

MG: I really enjoy spending time outdoors – gardening, and camping and canoeing in particular. I also am learning Spanish, as well as the double bass.

ZenKitchen re-opens for dinners on Thursday, July 31. For reservations call 613-233-6404 or visit the website:

What veganism ISN’T about


An article I read recently reminded me that there are still vast misconceptions about what veganism actually is, and isn’t, even amongst vegans.

Veganism is about rejecting the use of animals, period. It’s about non-violence, justice for other living beings, and embracing the right of all beings to not be treated like property. In this respect, there’s strong intersectionality with social scourges such as sexism.

Don’t get me wrong – I am happy when people go vegan, whatever their personal motivation. This isn’t about shitting on the things that are important to people, or “judging” their veganism. It’s exclusively about breaking it down so that when people think of veganism, they don’t also think that it requires blanket acceptance of dietary perfection or adherence to any other number of correlated practices or beliefs.

I wanted to address some of the things that people mistakenly believe are correlated with (or part of) veganism.


© Wikipedia Commons

1. It’s not about deprivation, or eating a perfect diet. Some people follow a plant-based, vegan diet that is more about health and nutrition than anything else. That is fine, but being really into health isn’t directly connected with being vegan. I eat 8 to 10 servings of fresh fruit and veggies a day, every day, but it’s not because veganism prescribes it. It’s because of a reasonable concern for my personal health, that is unrelated to veganism.

Nor does veganism prescribe avoiding all fat, chocolate, sugar, food colouring, or eating100% organic food. Deprivation of all things enjoyable is not synonymous with veganism.  Again, avoiding those things may be very important to some individual vegans, and may have their own intrinsic benefits, but it’s not a prerequisite of veganism.  In fact, an obsession with eating a perfect and pure diet can be an indicator of orthorexia nervosa. I went through a period during my early veganism during which I got sucked into some of those habits, but I realized I felt my very best not when I was putting all my time and energy into eating a perfectly calibrated diet, but rather, when I put my efforts into outreach and helping others.

2. It’s not about being gluten-free. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked about vegan options, only to be told about gluten-free options as though it’s the exact same thing. Sure, some vegans are also gluten-free, and some celiacs may be vegans. I like to mix up my grains myself, and have perfected many gluten-free recipes. But other than the pervasiveness of the avoided ingredients in our culture’s food, there’s very little in common between veganism and being gluten-free.

I think the confusion arises because of the growing number of consumer products that are marketed as both vegan and gluten-free; this occurs not because they are the same thing, but because neither group on its own is a big enough market to support most businesses.

© Wikipedia Commons

© Wikipedia Commons

 3. It’s not about crystals and magnets. There are definitely vegans who are into this stuff, and derive great energy and enjoyment from things like chanting circles, just as there are omnivores hopefully wearing healing magnetic bracelets. But crystals and magnets have nothing to do with being vegan, so if you’re not into them, fear not – it’s not a requirement of veganism.

 4. It’s not about being better than everyone. Many people misinterpret the ethical vegan stance as being about vegans feeling superior to them. It’s a defensive reaction that I’ve seen many times when someone becomes aware of a vegan’s existence. In fairness, there are probably some newer/anger-fueled vegans who are giving that impression.  But please, let me reassure you: Most of us well-adjusted vegans are not sitting around feeling superior. Rather, it’s quite the opposite; we are vegan because we don’t think we’re so special that animals should have to lose their life and liberty in order to please our senses.

 5. It’s not about finding nicer ways to use animals. When I first learned about dairy and eggs, my first instinct was to find “more humane” options so that I could maintain my existing habits. Believe me, I understand how daunting it can be to make changes. When someone arrives at the vegan perspective of not using animals, that a product may use animals slightly more nicely is not very reassuring because we want animals to cease to be used. We’d rather see those ingredients left off the menu – and the good news is that it’s never been easier to do.

A veal calf is wheeled away from his mother, © Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

A veal calf is wheeled away from his mother, © Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

6. It’s not about making a personal choice. There are rogue ex-vegans (thanks in no small part to negative social pressure), but for anyone who’s currently vegan it’s baffling to imagine how it’s possible to un-know what we’ve learned and return to the habits we’ve rejected. For me, knowing what I know, there is no choice in the matter: Being vegan is the only way that I can live in my own skin.

I truly believe that most people – if they are totally honest with themselves – are not entirely comfortable with the horror that our society inflicts upon animals, and their own role within that. It can’t be considered solely a personal choice when our actions have a profound and far-reaching impact on others.

7. It’s not about trying to “force our views” on anyone. This one actually makes me laugh a bit. In 2012, fast food restaurants spent $4.6 billion in total on all advertising. For context, the biggest advertiser, McDonald’s, spent 2.7x as much to advertise its products as all fruit, vegetable, bottled water, and milk advertisers combined (the dairy industry isn’t exactly an advertising spendthrift either.)

Vegans are a small, somewhat marginalized/maligned segment of the population who are swimming upstream against the current. There’s no way we can force anything on anyone, so relax majority. ;) All we can hope to do is to make people think, and to hopefully make inroads with changing hearts and minds.

Please, consider the plight of animals. Even if you can’t commit to being vegan today, you can begin taking concrete steps today to bring your actions in line with your beliefs.  It’s not extreme, in fact, it’s a joy. What’s extreme is that we kill more than 9-billion sentient beings a year in North America… just because we like how they taste.

Mindful Mavens Giveaway: Bare English & Co. Lip Balm


 This giveaway is now closed! Congratulations to Andie and Katie who were selected by random number generator! 


Read on to find out how you can enter to win THIS!

Five years ago, vegan lip balm was hard to come by. I remember ordering it by mail from an American online store and by the time you factored in shipping and other costs it was $8-9 a tube. Ludicrous.

So I was thrilled to learn about Bare English & Co. Lip Balm, a new Toronto-based company, from my friend Andrea Tomkins. I ordered a three-pack right away after hearing her positive review, and was delighted when two sets arrived in the mail for the price of one, encouraging me to share with a friend.

They lived up to their promise. The initial three flavours were Mint Chocolate, Pomegranate Berry and Vanilla Coconut; the flavours were luscious and the lip balm felt amazing on my lips. I’ve bought several more since, and I made an official product recommendation to terra20 (where I work) to bring them into our stores (we did!)

The latest flavours are Cucumber Melon, Vanilla Almond, Pink Grapefruit and Cherry Berry.

I wanted to find out more about the origins of this rising Canadian company, and share one of my favourite products with you all (giveaway below!) so I connected with Frank, the company’s co-founder.

bare english3Pamela: How did your brand come about, and evolve?

Frank: There are many factors that led to the creation of Bare English & Co. Tea Infused Lip Balm. I would say the main impetus was the lack of comparable products on the market.  I wanted to create a brand of organic vegan products that didn’t scream “organic.”  There are no flowers or trees on our packaging; instead there’s a cool rock-and-roll feel to it! While being unique, we boast all the benefits associated with being an organic vegan product.


Pamela: So many lip balms are not vegan, and rely on beeswax.  Is there a particular reason that you decided to make your line vegan?

Frank: We wanted to give vegans the option of having cool products that work well and suit their lifestyle. We wanted to create a product, and a company, that we could be proud of that reflects everything that veganism represents: good health, clean living, love towards all creatures.

Additionally, we believe that using candelilla wax in our balms actually produces a better end result compared to beeswax. It is a harder wax, which means we have a higher oil to wax ratio. Jojoba oil, almond oil, coconut oil – that’s the stuff doing the moisturizing so the more of it the better!


Pamela: What is the story behind the name “BareEnglish”?

Frank: Bare seemed to be a perfect fit for our products.  We use clean, fair-trade, gmo free, organic ingredients and pack it all in a see-through tube. We don’t add any chemical additives or preservatives so our balms really are “bare”.

Before we discuss how we came up with “English” we need to explain why we infused the balms with tea. There were two main reasons; my partner is absolutely tea obsessed and when we were in the beginning stages, one of us came up with the brilliant and crazy idea to infuse our products with tea.  It took some time in development but we figured out how to infuse the oil with all the healthy butt-kicking antioxidant benefits of tea.  From there, it seemed like a no-brainer to put a British spin on the branding.  I mean, when you think tea, you think Britain.


Pamela: Who dreams up the flavours?

Frank: It’s a collaborative effort of all employees with even some input from from our fans! We love getting flavour suggestions and are always experimenting with new combinations.  Finally when we come up with something that everyone just cant live without – thats when we take it to market.

 bareenglish2Pamela: Is there a most popular flavour?

Frank: Currently our most popular is Grapefruit. People can’t seem to get enough of it – and as a result – we are manufacturing grapefruit around the clock! It’s the perfect flavour for spring/summer. Made with white tea, it is super refreshing with a touch of sweetness and still packs all the nutrition that comes in all our balms.


Pamela: What’s next for your company?

Frank: Our balms have been really well received and we have started to get quite the following. Both our vendors and our fans are asking for tea infused vegan organic products so we are currently in the process of developing a few more such as hand cream and body lotion.




So here’s what’s up for grabs: Two (2) entire sets of Bare English Lip Balm!  Two winners will each receive one tube of each of the seven flavours.

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

  • If you’ve tried Bare English Lip Balm, 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.  Two random winners will win a Bare English Lip Balm set, valued at $35 each, to be mailed to the winner directly from Bare English.  Giveaway closes on Saturday, July 12 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.

Additional Disclosure: The author received promotional consideration such as samples, related to a product mentioned in this post. The author works for a retailer where this brand is sold.


Use your anger wisely


For anyone who is vegan for ethical and compassionate reasons, there is plenty to be angry about.

Anger doesn’t quite cover it though. On a given week the range of emotions can run the gamut–sadness, frustration, despair, devastation, isolation…compassion, empathy, hope. Sometimes I even feel peaceful or joyful knowing that I am doing the best I can to opt out of using and abusing animals. And there’s nothing quite like the thrill of an awesome vegan find, or realizing that you’ve impacted someone to make positive change. Those are the good days.

But the lows can be really low. It’s fairly normal for new activists and advocates (especially younger ones who may not have well-developed coping mechanisms yet) to feel the sting of anger profoundly, in the aftermath of having their entire life shaken to the core with new realizations.  That’s pretty much what happens when you become vegan, or get involved with any social justice movement.

I totally understand that anger.  I’m angry too, and have been for a long time.  I’ve let it get the better of me in the past, and regretted it later, because sending out anger daggers in every direction has never resulted in positive change.

Lilac is a more effective advocate when she isn't as visibly angry,

Lilac is a more effective advocate when she isn’t as visibly angry,

Anger can be a poison; I’ve seen it infect movements and communities.  This can be especially risky when dogmatism takes over, because people can lose the ability to empathize with others and be understanding of where other people are coming from. That makes it terribly difficult to understand their needs, and respond to those needs effectively and in a way that achieves our goal of ending animal exploitation.

Anger can paralyze the capacity for achieving positive change amongst those whose hearts are in the right place, causing them to lash out at allies, and become ineffectual to the audience whom they hope to influence. And ultimately, it can result in burnout or worse.  I’m reminded of this proverb:

“The flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.”

 Lao TzuTe Tao Ching

It doesn’t have to be this way though. History has shown that anger can be a powerful fuel for productivity and social change. I’d rather be angry than apathetic, that’s for sure. As an animal advocate, the key is learning how to harness your anger, and channel it in a way that is effective and achieves the results we need to make the world a kinder place.

By all means let your anger out in appropriate venues, whether that’s exercise, venting with close friends, meditation, throwing yourself into frenzied volunteer/fundraising activity; whatever works for you. Anger is real, potent, and should be taken seriously.

But when you’re engaging with the community and trying to bring people around to your point of view and inspire positive change, it’s a whole different ball game. Anger has no place there because few people are attracted to an angry, hostile message (or messenger). In fact, it turns most people right off, and your message – no matter how good and just – is completely undermined. If you let it take over, you’re making it about you, not the animals, no matter how justified you think you are.

Your most powerful weapons are logically sound, ethically-driven positions, delivered with kindness and consistency.

If you feel compelled to lash out at someone out of anger and frustration though the course of your advocacy, consciously ask yourself:

  • Am I being helpful? Will this help me to influence and encourage this person to make positive change?
  • Would I want to be treated this way?
  • Would I feel comfortable writing/speaking to my employer/grandmother this way?

and most importantly…

  • Are my words/attitudes helping to advance the well-being of animals?

If the answer to any of these is NO, then you need to revisit your strategy.

Because in the end, as an advocate for animals, that’s the only thing that really matters.


Get The Vote Out


My Facebook feed has never been so busy with people full of enthusiasm for democracy and voting as it was this past week, leading up to the Ontario provincial election.

Now that the election is over, many people will be under the impression that voting is over too.  It isn’t. It never is. Granted, elections are a bit more exciting and more well-publicized, but we have the opportunity to vote virtually every day…with our dollars, and with our actions.

Image from by by pakorn.

Image from by pakorn.

I wish more people would treat this with the due care and consideration that it warrants. Literally every single time we open our wallets we are presented with a choice; an opportunity to vote for the kind of world we want. Every time we open our mouths or turn on our computers, we can do the same.

On a micro level:

A vote for almond milk is a vote for kindness to dairy cows.

A vote for the vegan option at a restaurant is a vote against violence.

A vote for a locally owned business is a vote for the community.

A vote for a puppy mill pet is a vote against a shelter animal.

A vote for a non-toxic cleaning product is a vote for the rivers and oceans.

A vote for a non-animal tested cosmetic item is a vote in favour of liberating laboratory animals.

A vote for plastic trinkets is a vote against sea birds and water life.

A vote for mass-produced food is a vote for food conglomerates.

A vote for eating meat is a vote against respect for animals.

Those are just a few examples.

Each of our individual choices can have a profound impact, positively or negatively. But it’s the cumulation of those choices that really packs a punch.  You have the power to do damage; alternately, you have the power to empower and uplift. Take the time to think about what your consumption really means.

That’s not to say that we can simply buy our way to virtue.  Often, the best choice may be to buy nothing at all.  If you don’t have much money (and even if you do), you can use your voice to make a difference. Volunteer. Advocate. Defend. Educate. Listen. Learn. Make someone’s day with a smile or kind words.

We can lobby others for change, be those companies, organizations, governments, or other people, but change needs to start with ourselves.

But every time we do cast a dollar, we are voting.  Every time we interact with others we voting.

Get the vote out.

ZenKitchen owner buoyed by community support


When ZenKitchen announced its sudden closure on May 23, it shocked the Ottawa vegan and foodie communities. Less than two weeks later, ZenKitchen is in the midst of a fundraising campaign aimed at re-opening. (Find out how to support ZenKitchen here and here.)

I met up with owner David Loan to find out where things stand.

PT: When we corresponded right after the announcement, it sounded to me like ZenKitchen was completely finished.

DL: Pamela, you’re absolutely correct. I thought I was finished, that ZenKitchen was finished. Everyone I spoke to said we were. When I got the news that our accounts had been frozen, and realized what that meant, I wept for two days straight. I was a mess, and I thought I had run out of options.

PT: There’s still hope, it seems. What happened?

DL: When we broke the news, I wasn’t rallying around myself; I was defeated. It’s the community that picked me up. In particular, the vegan community has shown a huge ground swell of support. I never could have predicted the community response; it’s been buoying and humbling.

PT: Did you know the shut down was coming?

DL: Not specifically, although we had been struggling. We had a very difficult fall period. It was like our customer base evaporated. To try to make it through, I skipped a few of my own pay cheques, and took on some side work so that I could afford to do so. I wish I’d asked for help sooner. I’m not sure why I didn’t. I realize now that other Ottawa restauranteurs were struggling as well.

PT: Are you out of the woods?

DL: No; I wish I could say we are. It’s going to depend on if we can get enough money raised to pay everyone, including CRA. Every day we’re closed there’s more debt added, so it’s a race against time. The next week is critical for the fundraising effort. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic.

PT: Some people are wondering, if ZenKitchen wasn’t sustainable before, what will be different for the second go-round?

DL: That’s a fair question, and something to which I’m giving a lot of thought. I am speaking to one potential investor who would like to see us expand our seating a bit. We are serving to a full house most nights, so having some extra seating would be very helpful. We are also considering things like having a weekly pub night, maybe on a Monday or Tuesday, and moving to a Jazz lounge model once a week as well. We’re going to do a lot of experimentation, and are open to hearing ideas from our patrons.

PT: What do you think ZenKitchen does really, really well?

DL: We have a belief that everybody deserves to have good food. That includes vegans, celiacs, Buddhists, and people with allergies. Nobody looks after those people like we do. We are willing to offer personalized service, and people really appreciate that. The recent outpouring of support has really reminded me of the importance of that personal connection.

We are also really good at getting omnivores in, and changing their perception of vegan food.

With friends at ZenKitchen.

With friends at ZenKitchen.


PT: Some people have asked, if you’re not vegan, why do you own a vegan restaurant. Thoughts?

DL: Firstly, there wouldn’t be much point to having a vegetarian restaurant, because then it’s reliant on cheese. We enjoy the challenges that come with creating vegan cuisine. I’m vegetarian, and have been since 1999, for all the reasons there is to be one – animals, health, the environment. Veganism is something I believe in, I’ve just been too lazy to achieve it. Snacks are my downfall. It’s something I need to work on.

For what it’s worth, although only about 10% of our sales are to vegans, ZenKitchen is a 100% vegan space. Staff members aren’t allowed to have non-vegan food on the premises, under any circumstances. Since I spend most of my time there, I’m mostly vegan! 

PT: What are some of the positive things to come out of this?

DL: Caroline (Ishii, David’s ex-partner and former ZenKitchen chef) has been very supportive. She’s been going out of her way to assist. I’m also grateful to Luis and Kim, who started the Go Fund Me campaign, and the chefs who have come forward wanting to put on the fundraiser in support of ZenKitchen, Auntie Loo is also incredibly supportive, and will be one of the featured chefs at the fundraiser. So many people have offered to help.

With Caroline and Dave at Veg Fest, which they sponsored for several years.

With Caroline and Dave at Veg Fest, which they sponsored for several years.

PT: Anything else you want people to know?

DL: A few things! Firstly, if you can’t keep a reservation, please call and cancel it. Restaurateurs would really appreciate that. We lose a lot of money from no-shows. We turn people away while holding a table for people who do not show up or even call.   It’s really hard on our bottom line.

Also, don’t be afraid to drop in during the slower times, especially on a Monday or Tuesday. Most people in Ottawa make reservations for Friday and Saturday at 6:30 PM. We’re even happy if you come in later on and just have dessert! Oh and when we say we’re open until 2 PM for brunch, it actually means we’re taking our last seatings for 2 PM.

I want people to know that coming to ZenKitchen doesn’t always have to be a three-course experience. We just want you to come in, be comfortable, and eat something delicious.


To support ZenKitchen, you can either buy tickets to its fundraising event on June 10 here, or donate to the Go Fund Me campaign here.

Vive ZenKitchen!


When the Ottawa Citizen ran a story detailing the sequence of events leading to ZenKitchen’s sudden closure,  I wanted to publicly support its owner, my friend and longtime supporter of the vegan community, David Loan, so I commented:

David Loan is a compassionate and ethical business person who was doing his very best to live up to all of his values through ZenKitchen. I’m sick to see something like this happen to him, and I’m hoping the community that has formed around ZenKitchen will offer him the support he needs through this difficult period.

(If you haven’t heard about the unfortunate CRA situation that has resulted in ZenKitchen closing, you can read about it here and here.)

One of the responses to my comment made me laugh out loud. (I actually did respond to it with LOL.)

Your definition of ethical is very different from others. Keeping the HST that the customers paid is a form of theft.

Yes, I’d say my definition of ethics definitely is different than others. The ethical code to which I hold myself is high. It goes beyond what’s merely legal or illegal, and encompasses how others should be treated, consideration for animals and the environment, with an overarching goal of limiting the harm that I cause to others.  Ethics aren’t just about what the law says.

And, while I encourage others to consider the impact of their own actions, I don’t throw individuals under the bus for not meeting my personal ethical code, unlike many of the armchair commentators I’ve seen piping up in judgment of this situation.

Let’s be clear: It is not a good business practice to use the money you’ve set aside for HST to cover your business expenses. Nobody, ever, has said that this is the case. In an ideal world, this would not happen.

That it did is not something that I think it’s worth throwing David Loan under the bus for, when you consider it in the context of his intentions, and the good he has done as an employer, a business owner, and a citizen.

Some of my friends and I with David and Caroline during ZenKitchen's pre-launch dinner event.  ZenKitchen has supported the National Capital Vegetarian Association since the moment the restaurant opened.

Some of my friends and I with David and Caroline not long after ZenKitchen opened. ZenKitchen has supported the National Capital Vegetarian Association since the moment the restaurant opened.

ZenKitchen by its very nature – a vegan restaurant – has reducing harm to animals and the environment, and improving the social fabric of our community, built into its core. This incredible restaurant – focused on fresh produce and whole food ingredients – has changed the hearts and minds of countless people about the potential of vegan food, a win for anyone who cares about animals. David, along with chefs Kyle and Caroline, deserve major props for their contributions in this area.

But the restaurant industry is hard, really hard. David fell upon a difficult time. He endured the break up of a business and life partnership, and the inevitable financial set backs that accompany that. Sales slowed, particularly last fall. (Another local gourmet restaurant, Domus, also closed this week stating the same cause, indicating that this isn’t a problem specific to ZenKitchen.)

He put all of his time and money into the business, trying to weather the storm. In trying to stay open and keep his team employed, he ran afoul of the CRA.

To me, it seems counterproductive to choose this moment to get onto a high horse and pass scathing judgment of David Loan, a person who every single step of the way has tried to do the right thing.

In an economy of McJobs, squeezing employees and suppliers, and producing worthless crap that people don’t need that also pollutes our environment and harms other people and animals, David Loan is not the villain. He does not deserve our hostility.

It is each individual’s prerogative whether or not they will support the campaign that’s underway to save ZenKitchen. I don’t pass judgment on those who choose not to, as there are so many worthy causes and initiatives to which one may contribute.

I just plead with people to keep their judgment in check, and remember the old adage “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Most of us will experience a fall from grace at some point in our lives (mine was six years ago, and it changed me forever), and I’m sure we all hope that when our time comes we’ll be met with kindness and empathy, rather than haughty indignance.

Many of us have done far worse than this. We aren’t that different from David Loan; none of us are perfect, and if you are, please accept my hearty congratulations.

I wish nothing but the best for David, Kyle, and the rest of the ZenKitchen team as they seek to rebuild and repay. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to build many more memories in your company. Thank you for everything you’ve done to make Ottawa a more compassionate and delicious place.

With Caroline and Dave at Veg Fest, which they sponsored for several years.

With Caroline and Dave at Veg Fest, which they sponsored for several years.


Mindful Mavens Giveaway: $120 in Green Beaver products


This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Leslie Bennet, who was drawn as the winner!


Back when I first became vegan in late 2004, the pickings were slim in the area of personal care products. It was a challenge to find non-animal tested products, not to mention ones that didn’t contain animal ingredients, and potentially harmful chemicals. Even some of the brands sold at health food stores contained the chemicals that I wanted to avoid, and I have the containers to prove it.

Green Beaver was among the first brands to emerge that was consistently vegan (it now has a couple of products with beeswax), and consistently made of only high-quality, safe ingredients. You can read about the company’s origins here.

The prize!

The prize!

Green Beaver has many of the things I love rolled up into one brand. There’s no animal testing, and most products are vegan. The products are produced at a certified organic facility in Hawkesbury ON, just down the road from Ottawa. The product line includes, among others, shampoos, conditioners, sunscreens, toothpaste, body washes and lotions, whose ingredients are safe, vegan, and 95% of which are organically grown or ecologically wild‐crafted in Canada. They also make a line of kid’s products.

I recently ran into Green Beaver co-founder Alain Menard at the Expo Manger Santé et Vivre Vert in Montreal. We’d previously met at shows in Ottawa, and he was interested to learn about this blog and its focus. I purchased a number of new products, including the company’s new sunflower castile soap bars, and a bamboo facial exfoliant. He was proud to tell me about their new line of sunflower castile soap, which is entirely grown and produced close to Ottawa by Green Beaver.

I’ve been very satisfied by their effectiveness, as well as the very reasonable retail price point. I’ll be trying several more, as Green Beaver sent me some samples, and I will share my thoughts in a future post. So far even the deodorant is working out!

The gift basket that I’m giving away is the same as the products I received from Green Beaver to try. If you’re someone who’s looking to switch over your personal care products to more sustainable alternatives, this would be a great prize for you. The prize includes:

-       Green Beaver Sunscreen Spray (SPF 27)

-       Green Beaver Facial Sunscreen (SPF 15)

-       Green Beaver Spray Deodorant

-       Green Beaver Stick Deodorant

-       Green Beaver Spearmint Fluoride-Free Toothpaste

-       Green Beaver Bamboo Facial Exfoliant

-       Green Beaver Facial Cleanser (Sensitive Skin)

-       Green Beaver Facial Moisturizer (Sensitive Skin)

-       Green Beaver Eye Makeup Remover

-       Green Beaver Castile Bar Soap

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

  • If you’ve tried Green Beaver products, what’s your favourite, and why do you love it?
  • And if you haven’t, which product do you have your eye on, and what about Green Beaver most interests you?

You can visit Green Beaver’s website to see their product line.

Winner will be chosen randomly by number draw.


Details: Giveaway is open to Canadian residents, excluding Quebec.  One random winner will win a Green Beaver gift basket, valued at $120, to be mailed to the winner from Green Beaver.  Giveaway closes on Saturday, May 31 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.

Additional Disclosure: The author received promotional consideration such as samples, related to a product mentioned in this post. The author works for a retailer where this brand is sold.

Simple ways to make the world better, rather than worse


Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by how unkind so many people are, and the general lack of fairness in this cruel world.

I read and see things regularly that are so discouraging I’m reminded that humans as a species are barely two steps above the animals ripping each other to shreds on the Discovery Channel.

We live in a world where being decent and ethical is not only NOT rewarded, but can actually be an impediment to economic and social success.   A world in which people are so concerned about their image and saving face that they go to drastic measures to pin blame and failure on others, while thinking little of the feelings of those who they impact.

Movies like the Hunger Games are so wildly successful and resonating because the social constructs that prevent humanity from engaging in such behaviours feel tenuous and unreliable to us, as thought they could be easily wiped away without a second thought, allowing chaos and Lord of the Flies-style rule to ensue.

The truly terrible are only a minority, certainly. But there are still legions of people who, while they may not be outwardly hostile, are content with the status quo; a status quo which is unkind to animals, women, those struggling with mental illness, and anyone who falls outside of the Caucasian heterosexual norm. A status quo that leaves privilege unchecked, and is distinctly lacking in empathy.

Just when thinking about these things has worked me into a spectacularly dismal mental state, something always pulls me out.

It may be my goofy dog Freyja grinning at me.

freyja grinning

It might be the kindness of a friend, or colleague.

It might be the beauty of nature.

It’s often being confronted with irrefutable evidence that there are good people, trying to make the world a better place.

And when none of those things happen when I need them, I dig deep and try to create my own goodness, to transcend myself. I try to find a sense of purpose so that I don’t drown in despair.

I believe that many people feel like it’s just too overwhelming; like nothing we do can possibly make a meaningful difference. It’s not true. Most of us will not save the world, but each of us can make a difference right now, in someone’s life. Here are a few things that we can all do to make the world a bit better, even when it feels like our efforts are futile.

  1. Volunteer. It seems really simple, yet about half of all Canadians never volunteer. And amongst those who do, it’s a small minority who carry most of the load. If you don’t volunteer already, seize the day. Find something you care about, and put yourself out there to help. Start small if you need to, but whatever you do, follow through on your commitment. Small organizations are often desperate for reliable help. Leave your excuses at the door – everyone is busy and stressed, not just you – and take the plunge.
  1. Say something kind to someone else. This is a little bit like if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Except that it’s actually proactive, in that you go out of your way to say something kind. It will seriously make someone’s day, and the cost to you is nothing. One of my policies is that if someone says something nice to me about another person, I always try to relay that positive message to them. I’ve had times in the past where it would have meant everything to me to know something positive that someone had said about me, but nobody filled me in.
  1. Perform an act of service. Again, we’re all busy. But are you really too busy to do something that will make another person’s day? That friend who’s sick at home? Bake them some cookies. A colleague who’s feeling discouraged? Offer to make them tea, or offer them an ear. A spouse who’s visibly agitated and stressed? Offer to take something off their plate. You can never go wrong by helping someone else.
  1. Be kind to an animal. I can say from experience that there is nothing like the love of an animal whose life has been saved because somebody created a spot for them in their home and heart. Obviously adopting is not something that you can do many times over, lest you become a hoarder, but if some unconditional love would help you to be happier and more productive, this is a great way to fulfill that need. If you can’t adopt, find other ways to spend time with animals to heal all that ails you – volunteering at an animal shelter, offering to walk a friend’s dog, cat sitting, or even fostering temporarily. Some people I know in Toronto took this to another level, with their Toronto Pig Save vigils.  During these they bore witness to trucks filled with pigs destined for slaughter, and made contact with the pigs whenever possible to give them some comfort as they suffered horribly.
Photo by Anita Krajnc, Toronto Pig Save.

Photo by Anita Krajnc, Toronto Pig Save.


  1. Let something go. This is the one that I’ve struggled with the most. It can be really easy to get hung up on the principle of something, and allow it to overtake you. It took me a while to fully wrap my mind around the fact that letting go of something does NOT equal condoning it, or acknowledging the hurt it may have caused. Letting something go is a gift you give yourself, because it lets you move forward with an unencumbered mind, and open heart, and it puts an end to needless conflict.
  2. Take care of yourself. This means put aside some time to do the things that fill your heart and ease your mind. Say “no” to requests and demands that don’t do that, particularly if it’s not truly required of you.  Give yourself the time you need to recharge, so that when it’s time to act again you are doing so efficiently and with purpose.  A burnt out advocate is not an effective advocate.


 What would you suggest people do to make the world a better place?