The Secret to my Transformation: Revealed!


(I posted this yesterday to but didn’t want my Mindful Mavens readers to miss it!)

Ten years ago, I was about 30 pounds heavier than I am now.  I was 25 years old, sluggish, struggled to stay awake, and experienced frequent muscle spasms.  I would often spend up to 12 hours at my desk.

Within a six month period, I lost those 30 pounds. But more than that, I have kept the weight off for more than eight years – the vast majority of people who lose weight put it right back on within a few years.

2005 and 2007
Age 25 and 27
May 2015. Age 35
May 2015. Age 35

People who have seen the before and after photos have commented that I look like an almost entirely different person and want to know what is my “secret” for transforming how I look.  I am finally ready to share the answer.

2005 and 2007
Age 25 and 27
Running on a hot day. May 2015.
Running on a hot day. May 2015. Age 35.

So how did I do this?  I wish I could tell you that there was a specific diet or a fad exercise regimen that I followed, or that it was a certain supplement or diet pill.  I didn’t join an international weight loss program, or even a local one.  I didn’t join a gym even.  I didn’t start eating foods that are known to “blast fat,” or eliminate gluten.  I didn’t start dropping my paycheque on superfoods, and I didn’t participate in a single detox or cleanse.

I’m not even going to try to claim that it was going vegan that did the trick. That wouldn’t be true.

It was changing my diet and exercise habits, and keeping them changed. I overhauled my life, with the goal of setting a positive example of a healthy and happy vegan.

I started exercising – modestly at first, on an elliptical trainer in my basement, followed by starting to run, which i have done consistently now for eight years.  A couple years later I added in ultimate frisbee, and snowshoeing in the winter. I walk my dog(s) every day.  Occasional yoga and strength training are also part of my routine (although the latter should be a more regular part, admittedly.)

costa rica beach
I do not have washboard abs, but I am happy, healthy, strong and comfortable in my own body.

But I also changed my diet.  This was not an overnight process, and I tried lots of different variations (yes, even some superfoods!), ultimately settling on a diet that is whole foods centred, but with the occasional treat, fake meat, or fried food thrown in for good measure.  I eat a mountain of fruits and vegetables every single day, with starches (like sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, and yes, some bread/pasta) and lean vegan proteins.  I allow myself unlimited fruits and veggies, but keep an eye on the portions for the others. I rarely drink alcohol, but it’s not off-limits. Nothing is really, aside from animal bodies and ingredients.

I also jealously guard my sleep time, and am getting better at removing the things from my life that do not serve me, thus reducing stress.

That’s it. I know, it would be more simple if we could pop a pill or do a two week detox and voila!  Who knows, maybe you can lose weight that way, but is weight loss really the objective?

It wasn’t for me. I realized at the ripe age of 25 that my habits were not serving me well, and that I should feel a lot better than I was feeling.  In fact, I don’t think the objective should ever be losing weight.*  The objective should be to develop good habits that result in a stronger, happier and healthier you. If weight loss results, so be it.  It was one of the side effects for me, along with about a million other physical and mental benefits that accompany good health and fitness habits.  (*Unless ordered by a qualified physician or medical professional.)

People have suggested that I offer counsel to others, but I have been reticent to do so as I lack professional qualifications. I simply do not have the knowledge of the human body that’s needed to offer this kind of advice to people.  But I could see people struggling – fixating on micronutrients and seeking a silver bullet that simply doesn’t exist.

But it was that encouragement which led me to form PlantKind.  I decided that I would partner my communications, outreach and community building skills with those who ARE qualified and share my vision, and bring the best of all worlds together.  Kyle brings his background in education, being a vegan chef, and years of experience as a personal trainer. Susan is a registered dietitian who recently completed her studies to earn a Master’s Degree in human nutrition. And Jane is a critical care cardiac nurse who counsels patients during her day job. She also happens to have a degree in human kinetics – the science of the human body.

Stay tuned, because we are working hard to be able to offer vegans and vegan-curious people everywhere our advice and support for being healthy and well.

Nothing I am doing is anything that can’t be done by an average person.  I was not raised playing sports and being athletic.  And my diet was a lot of frozen entrees and Kraft dinner.   You don’t need to become an elite athlete or eat a perfect micronutrient-quantified diet.  Just move and adequately fuel your body.

Effective Animal Advocacy: A Guide


I wrote recently on the PlantKind blog about advocacy, and a few people commented that they are sometimes overwhelmed by all of the suffering that animals endure, leaving them unsure how to advocate for them effectively. It’s a feeling of helplessness to which many can surely relate.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do not subscribe to the notion that all advocacy is good advocacy. It is important to consider what will resonate with those whose opinions and actions we seek to influence, otherwise our actions could hinder rather than help. It is about the people who we want to impact positively, and the animals, NOT us.

Here are what I believe to be sound starting points for being an effective advocate for animals and veganism.

Companion animal rescue is one of my chosen areas of advocacy.  Even within that, I have realized that there are certain things I simply can't do effectively, and have had to condition myself to live with the fact that I can't save everyone.

Companion animal rescue is one of my chosen areas of advocacy. Even within that, I have realized that there are certain things I simply can’t do effectively, and have had to condition myself to live with the fact that I can’t save everyone.

Know what you want to achieve.  Often advocates for animals experience a sense of helplessness and urgency;  consequently their social media feeds become a long and scattered list of graphic images, hyperbolic expressions, and seemingly random news articles on a wide range of peripheral issues. The result is that those who are still reading do not come away with a clear message, and are likely to be confused about where to focus. I know when I am taking in a message (or an advertisement, or infographic), and don’t know upon what to focus, my response is often to simply tune out.

And then act accordingly.  Think about what you hope to achieve with your advocacy, and then line up your messaging and tactics to accomplish your objectives.  If your goal is to help people to become vegan, then focus on the things that will accomplish that. If your goal is to “normalize” veganism, then align your actions to that. (The two things I just mentioned are my primary focus.) If your goal is to end circuses, build your activism around that – but don’t expect anyone to take away a “go vegan” message.

Accept that you can’t do everything.  Aside from avoiding confusing messaging, having a goal and objectives – and sticking with them – can also help with the sense of futility that can overtake advocates.

Pick your battles.  Along the same line as accepting you can’t do everything. This applies to both issues, and situations.  Do not waste your time and energy on “battles” that cannot be won (this is why I do not spend my time proselytizing on animal agriculture sites, for example.) Just tune out the stuff that you can’t influence or change.

Set a good example.  Most mainstream people will meet only a handful of vegans, and if you’re one of them, try not to perpetuate the negative stereotypes.  They may not be fair or always accurate, but perception is reality.  This doesn’t mean you have to blend in with the scenery, but it does mean that people are more likely to take you – and your messages – seriously, if you are relatable, likeable, and leave a good impression.  Share your light; don’t snuff out others’.

Be kind, but assertive.  You absolutely don’t need to roll over or give your endorsement to actions that you consider to be ethically problematic, but remember that people don’t remember what you do nearly as often as they remember how you made them feel.  Open people’s minds to new ideas but leave shaming and aggression out of it.  When you’re sharing information that people will find troubling, try to do so in a way that is mindful of how people will receive that information.

You don't have to protest to be advocating for animals. I realized years ago that my strength is building community, not telling people that they're wrong. One of the reasons there are so many ex-vegans is because they lack support. I've made it a big part of my personal mission to provide that support. This photo is from a recent PlantKind meet up at Hareg, which also served the objectives of feeding people and supporting enterprise that provide products and services for vegans.

You don’t have to protest to be advocating for animals. I realized years ago that my strength is building community, not telling people that they’re wrong. One of the reasons there are so many ex-vegans is because they lack support. I’ve made it a big part of my personal mission to provide that support. This photo is from a recent PlantKind meet up at Hareg, which also served the objectives of feeding people and supporting enterprise that provide products and services for vegans.

Feed people – and yourself.  Don’t hesitate to introduce people to vegan food, or suggest a veg restaurant for a meal out. Sometimes eating at a non-veg friendly place is unavoidable, but be proactive with suggesting an alternative. Every time others see you eating something delicious, rather than picking at a crappy salad, it makes veganism seem more realistic and less like a big sacrifice.

Remember that it’s about the animals.  This cuts both ways. On one hand, we are their voice, and to advocate for them we need to speak up, even if it’s uncomfortable for us and those to whom we speak.  But if you do so in a way that is kind and informative, no matter how others respond to your message, you have planted the seed. On the other hand, it can be easy to let ego and passion get in the way of being an effective advocate.  Next time you want to lash out at someone – particularly someone who is already partly there, but could maybe use some further guidance and understanding – stop and ask yourself if that’s really going to  accomplish anything aside from alienation and hurt feelings.

If Kyle didn't proudly declare his veganism, how would people know that vegans can be healthy, strong, compassionate, and run marathons in less than three hours?

If Kyle didn’t proudly declare his veganism, how would people know that vegans can be healthy, strong, compassionate, and run marathons in less than three hours?

Find your safe spaces. It’s okay to be angry and frustrated.  The things that are happening to animals are truly horrific.  But consider limiting your expressions of these things to others who are like-minded and who can support you, rather than those to whom you are hoping to win over.

Don’t be afraid to use the “V” word.  It’s true that there is baggage attached to the label. But after doing all of these other things to make a good impression and change people’s hearts and minds, how are we ever going to change people’s perceptions of the word vegan if we don’t wear it with pride?


Substance Over Style: Cheap and Filling Vegan Eats in Ottawa


I used to be a bit more of an experiential eater.  I wanted it all – innovative yet healthy cuisine, generous portions, served in a serene (or trendy, or upscale) atmosphere.

These days, eating out is more about avoiding cooking than it is about creating a memorable experience.  It’s just the nature of having a life in which I pack in a lot to each and every day. But eating well and eating delicious things are still important to me, and fast food is barely an option as a vegan; even if I wanted it, it’s all meat and fried foods.  Plus, I prefer to eat at locally-owned restaurants.

When I’m looking for a place that puts substance over style – generous servings, packs a nutritional punch, AND doesn’t leave a huge dent in my wallet – these are my top picks.  Incidentally, they also take you on a bit of a world tour of culinary delights.

Photo by Jane Kearnan den Bak

Photo by Jane Kearnan den Bak

Hareg  (Ethiopian)

587 Bank Street

This adorable restaurant was recently “discovered” by Ottawa vegans and is loved for its authentic and delicious all you can eat vegan buffet.   I am so enamoured that I’ve created a verb; we don’t eat at Hareg, we simply Hareg.   It’s super healthy, but also incredibly delicious.  The hot buffet alone has 16 different dishes.  The redder they are, the spicier they are.  My favourites are the spinach, the split peas, the green lentils, and the potatoes and carrots.  The price is more than fair (about $10-11), and the all-vegan buffet is available every day of the week.  For the uninitiated, you eat with your hands at Ethiopian restaurants, using sour injera bread.

blog - ceylonta

Ceylonta  (Sri Lankan)

403 Somerset Street W.

Ceylonta serves authentic Sri Lankan cuisine.  Much of the menu is vegan, or can be easily made vegan upon request including the veg thali, some dosai, the rotti, and many appetizers.  The food is relatively inexpensive, and very filling. The veg thali is enough food for two moderately hungry people (like my husband and I) if you also have a couple of appetizers, and is one of Ceylonta’s signature dishes.  Tamara who works there is especially knowledgeable about veganism. There is an all you can eat lunch buffet on weekdays for $12.99 that is about ⅔ vegan, and they’ll make you vegan rotti upon request.  There’s also a location on Carling, but I’ve never been to it.

blog - flavours

Flavours of the Caribbean  (Caribbean)

259 York Street

Flavours of the Caribbean recently re-opened after nearly six years closed! It’s run by the charismatic Frederick and his two charming sons, and is currently open seven days a week.  It is noted for its vegan roti, including tempeh, tofu, chana, vegetable, sweet potato and potato. You can also get the roti as a platter, and many of the sides (such as fried plantain) are vegan and delicious. There is limited seating available and it does fill up on a weekend evening.  This place is not particularly fancy or modern, but it’s homey, and it has a chilled out ambience.  I will sometimes buy a couple of tempeh rotis, and eat half of them at once for lunch along with a smoothie or fruit/veggies.  The most expensive one is something like $11.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

Asian Stars  (Asian Fusion)

1380 Clyde Avenue

Tucked into the side of a business complex and a Denny’s, Asian Stars has a separate vegan menu with about 20 dishes, and daily vegan specials.  It offers huge bowls of soup, delicious appetizers, and a range of stir fry and noodle dishes that include a choice of faux meat or tofu.  The food is very fresh and beautifully presented.  Don’t miss trying the pad thai, the kung pao tofu, and the Thai tomato soup.   The spring rolls and summer rolls are also excellent, although leave them out if you’re trying to be on the cheap.  The pad thai is enough for two small-ish lunches, much like Flavours’ roti.  Its decor is efficient and clean, and the staff are very friendly.  They are so cute and eager to please. Your meal is served with ice water or jasmine tea (when it’s cold out).

blog house of targHouse of Targ  (Polish)
1077 Bank Street

House of Targ is actually a basement pinball arcade. It’s dark and loud, and doesn’t have much ambience. BUT, they make special vegan “cheddar bacon” perogies, which are served with a side of cashew dill “sour cream.”  Those are available on the evenings that HofT is open, but the real value can be found with their brunch.  On weekends, House of Targ has a vegan brunch platter; for only $12 you get six perogies with the fixings, toast, a fruit cup, and unlimited coffee (juice or tea also available.)  It’s super filling, and there are no additional drinks or desserts to tempt you and raise the bill.  Plus, a scary dude announces your order through a megaphone when it’s ready.

What are your favourite vegan food value picks?

On burnout – and recovery


Those of you who follow this blog may have noticed that my posts have been few and far between for the past while, especially the past few months.  It’s time to share what’s been going on with me.

One of my areas of responsibility  with terra20 was media/PR.

One of my areas of responsibility with terra20 was media/PR.

On March 10 I was laid off from my job at terra20.  It came as a complete surprise to me. While there had been challenges, as there are with any job, not working for terra20 had seemed like an impossibility.  I had put my heart and soul into it, and become a walking and talking billboard for the company and its values.  Furthermore, I had dropped my other side contracts, and hadn’t even been perusing job boards.

I was both terrified, and completely knocked off-kilter.  Because it wasn’t as though when it happened, everything else was going just great.  Mooey had just passed away, and the six months prior to that had been among the most difficult periods of my life.  In late October, after consistently sliding backwards for several months (and after years of fending it off), I burned out.  Hard core, for real, burned out.  I’ve had periods in the past when I’ve come close, but have always managed to pick myself back up and keep trucking along. This time was different.

It was an accumulation of things, touching on every facet of my life: personal, professional, financial, extra-curricular. Especially the latter.  I had tried to reduce my commitments, but always managed to top them up again, even adding more while becoming less fulfilled and able to make time for the things I really wanted to do, and more resentful.

The balls in the air that I had carefully juggled for so long started to drop. I felt increasingly frantic as I sensed it happening, but it was as though I could only move in slow motion, sort of like running as hard as I could in water.  Then several things simultaneously came to an abrupt end, creating a huge void but also creating the pressure release that I needed to just…stop.

I knew it was coming – I could feel it for months – but figured I’d be able to cope, to bounce back quickly, since I always had in the past. I tried to hit the pause button, by taking a few extra days off work and trying to breathe, and to clear the growing pandemonium in my head.  But it had finally caught up with me, and it was time for me to face things head on.

I posted this to my Facebook on Oct. 25. It received more positive responses than anything I’ve ever posted.

After a great deal of consideration, I’ve made the much-needed decision (at the urging of my friends and family) to take an extended hiatus from volunteering, and begin an intensive period of self-care.

My constant companion, and source of love and strength.

My constant companion, and source of love and strength.

I’ve given a lot of myself over the past seven years or so, and have had so many wonderful experiences. I consider volunteering to be paying my rent for living on this earth and using its resources, so it was difficult to accept that I badly need this break. I’ve tried doing it piecemeal, but I keep getting drawn back in because there’s so much need.

I find the need overwhelming, and at times it breaks me down. I’ve ridden out periods of burn out and rebounded and kept going, but the burn out I’m feeling now isn’t going away, and I’m realizing that it’s compromising my ability to function in other areas of my life.

I plan to spend the next while focusing on what I need to do to become strong: My physical fitness and health, my mental health, my career, and my family and friends.

I strongly encourage everyone to volunteer, if you don’t already. Find what you believe in, and just do it. The world needs more contributors. I just can’t be one of them for a while.

As commitments evaporated, I experienced a crisis of being. If I wasn’t the person fundraising for animal rescue, advocating for veganism at every turn, and putting in 110% effort at work, who was I?  I felt – for the first time in my life – like maybe I couldn’t accomplish whatever I set my mind to.

Even simple day-to-day tasks felt like they required monumental effort.  I struggled to keep up with even those, while wondering how on earth I had managed to accomplish what I used to in the average week.  I felt like I was drowning.  (I continued to work full time during this period.)

For a while, I found myself struggling to fill the void left by the commitments and activities that I was no longer undertaking.  I was impatient with myself, and frustrated that it was taking me so long to pull it together, and resume my previous pace.  I felt as though time was slipping away as I floated over its passage, observing, unable to reach down, grab it and put it to productive use. Other times I would stop fighting and just yield to it. I sit almost motionless, letting my mind wander, feeling the warmth of my space heater wash over me, and think, “So this is what it’s like to do nothing.”

Around the end of February the fog was starting to lift.  I was becoming more productive, and could admit that I had desperately needed to slow down, take a break, and hit reset.  The personal work I was doing, with the help of a psychotherapist and the support of my friends, was taking hold.  I was still frustrated by how long it was taking, and that I couldn’t force the outcome that I wanted, but I could see light at the end of the tunnel.

With Kathy Smart and China Doll.

With Kathy Smart and China Doll.

And then I received what I thought would be the proverbial knock out punch – being laid off. But something amazing happened. It didn’t knock me out. Instead, it filled me with ambition and kicked me into survival mode.  I made a website about myself (that felt really strange on many levels).  And the outpouring of support I received from friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers lifted me during my period of fear and grief.  I am still amazed and flattered by how closely many people have followed my activities and career.

But it was still scary, and I wondered what on earth I would do.  It was the last day of March when someone very special reached down, grabbed my hand, and pulled me to safety.  It was someone who I’d known for several years and considered a friend. As it turns out, I had no idea how highly she thought of me and my abilities.  She put her money where her mouth is, and hired me.

While I had become very strong on my own, Kathy Smart has given me the inspiration and the opportunity to soar again, even higher than I could have imagined. It’s not just giving me a job.  It’s the way she believes in me, and adamantly encourages me to seek work-life balance. She is so thankful and giving with every interaction. We could all learn a few things from Kathy Smart about how to treat people.

At the wildly successful Live the Smart Way Expo with Kathy and friends.

At the wildly successful Live the Smart Way Expo with Kathy and friends.

So now I am working to help Kathy with building her Live the Smart Way business, mostly on the community development side, but at this point it seems the sky is the limit. Kathy is a star, and in my hour of need, she decided to bring me along with her.

I’m feeling pretty grounded these days. I’m working with Kathy, building PlantKind, working with a few clients on the side, and doing a lot of running, playing ultimate, and spending time with dogs.

Finally, I’m doing things MY way.

A bit of forced relaxation at ORESTA spa

This is how fancy I am.

This is how fancy I am.

I am not a fancy person.

I don’t wear a lot of jewellery or accessories.  I paint my own nails, when I remember to do so.  I feel uncomfortable being “served” by those in the service industry; I’ve been known to try to get my own water or utensils at restaurants, so not to disturb the staff.

Yet recently, I found myself in a lovely spa, wrapped in warm blankets and surrounded by soothing music, with various oils and goos being massaged into my face, neck and shoulders.  I had won a facial in a draw at the Live the Smart Way Expo, but it wasn’t just any facial. It was an organic vegan facial at ORESTA organic skin care, a spa of which I’d heard, but not deemed myself fancy enough to visit.

I have to be honest, I was actually a bit nervous about claiming my prize.  I had no idea what to expect, as I had never before had a facial. I envisaged sitting in a chair, draped in plastic, half hanging into a metal sink as my face was sudsed up and sprayed down. I was worried about my hair getting messed up, water in my eyes, and it probably hurting my neck.  I suppose that’s what a DIY facial I would give myself might be like.

As it turns out, I had nothing to fear.  Oresta is a pro – she’s been delivering healthier skincare services for nearly two decades – and facials aren’t really what I thought they were.  And a quick poll of my friends tells me that I am not the only one who has never had a facial!

ORESTA is actually a person and a spa. Oresta Korbutiak became an esthetician and opened a spa after several years of battling adult acne with every product and solution on the market.  She eventually found relief through clean eating, and simple, healthy skin care creations, and became keen to share what she had learned with other women who are struggling with skin issues. There are now three Oresta locations – the Glebe, Beechwood, and Hintonburg.

Oresta-Confectionary-02When you walk into ORESTA (I went to the Glebe location) it isn’t at all imposing, yet still has a very classy and clean feel to it. The space is airy and bright, and the floors are original pine.  There’s a carefully curated beauty boutique, offering skin care products and cosmetics that are safer and healthier than many conventional products.   The building is powered by renewable energy through Bullfrog Power and solar panelled hot water.  It’s very much my kind of place.

I was greeted by a friendly boutique staff member (who has worked in the past for environmental organizations) and offered lemon water.  Before long I was taken into the treatment room, where Oresta would work her magic.

I had been a bit fearful that  I would be too cold (I usually am) but I was toasty and comfortable wrapped up in the spa bedding.

Oresta began by asking me about my skin, and what concerns I have.  I told her that at age 35 I’m increasingly conscious of the effects of aging on my skin, and wanting to keep it healthy.  We talked about my current minimalist routine, including the products I am already using (which are of course vegan and “natural”).

I actually have no idea what Oresta did to my face, for the most part.  She did tell me that she was doing an oil cleanse, as the key to maintaining nice glowing skin is keeping it well-moisturized.  There were various oils, exfoliants, masques and hot clothes involved. Oresta also carefully yet firmly massaged my face, as well as my shoulders, neck, back, feet and calves.  I’m not much of a relaxer, but I found myself very much enjoying the process and letting myself unwind.

The secret to healthy looking skin? In my case, it's apparently my daily kale habit.

The secret to healthy looking skin? In my case, it’s apparently my daily kale habit. (No make up in this pic!)

Apparently my skin is in great condition, no doubt a result of all the fruit and vegetables I cram into my belly, sun avoidance, and zealously guarding my sleepy time.  I felt so confident after my experience that I went to an event I was hosting, sans make up!

Oresta is keenly aware that many women are still unconcerned about the potentially harmful chemicals in spa and cosmetic problems, and perhaps unaware of the harm done to animals through the testing of these conventional products.  In her understated way, she tries to chip away at that.

ORESTA has an online store that sells a carefully curated selection of beauty products and cosmetics, which are also available in-store.   You can even search the products by attributes like vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, and unscented, as well as by product type and brand.

Check out the list of services here.

I am not sure that I will become someone who regularly goes for spa treatments, but my fears have certainly been alleviated, and I think a facial is a great option for someone in need of efficient stress release, or who has skin concerns that could benefit from the expertise of an experienced aesthetician.

ORESTA is especially well positioned to provide products and services to vegans, celiacs, and those who are concerned about the ingredients in their products, and avoiding animal testing.

ORESTA confectionary

464 O’Conner St.


ORESTA apothecary

1121 Wellington St. W.


ORESTA gallery

137 Beechwood Avenue


Review: The new Pure Kitchen Ottawa


I make it to Westboro every couple of months. It’s not so much that it’s far, but it hasn’t had something to bring me there regularly.  With Pure Kitchen recently opening right in its heart, there’s a chance of that changing.

The yoga and veggie worlds have been abuzz about Pure Kitchen opening for a few months now. Nobody had many details and it was all a bit of a mystery. I wasn’t even sure if it was real. But I went last night to try it out, on its third official day open, and I can assure you, it’s 1

When we arrived at 8 pm, the restaurant was about half full. There were many staff members, all wearing Pure Kitchen t-shirts with cute expressions like, “Give peas a chance.” The space was bigger than I expected. When you go in the door, there is a juice bar straight and to the right, and to the left is the main dining area. The decor is modern and a bit funky.  Light floors, light walls, and a funky and colourful print along the back wall.

Pure Kitchen is a vegetarian restaurant. It has many vegan options; most of the menu could be described as  vegan, but with various non-vegan add-ons. Mostly cheese.  It is reminiscent of Fresh in Toronto at which I have eaten many, many times. It also has an undertone of Aux Vivres (Montreal). There are creative appetizers, noodle bowls, meal salads, and wraps/burgers.  There’s an extensive juice bar, and wine/beer (although no cocktails.)  Dessert is currently limited, but I know they’re planning to stock an array of vegan goodies soon.

The menu is divided into a few different section – the appetizers, wraps and burgers, bowls, and meal-sized salads. I saw several appetizers that looked good before I even moved on to the rest.  It took us a while to order though; a number of items were not available, and there was a lack of clarity around the veganness of others (despite the menu having tiny icons intended to identify the status).  My dining partner had to change her entire planned order as a result.

"Playful" onion rings, Pure Kitchen.

“Playful” onion rings, Pure Kitchen.

I ordered the “playful” onion rings ($9), and my friend ordered the “grounded” poutine ($9). We had a dialogue with the server about the vegan status of the poutine, as the menu indicated it could be vegan, but wasn’t automatically so.  She was a few bites in before she realized that she was NOT given a vegan poutine. It took a few minutes to flag someone down, and a new poutine was brought out.  To Pure Kitchen’s credit, she was not charged for either poutine. The onion rings, on the other hand, are automatically vegan.  I asked – and was assured – that both dipping sauces that came with it (chipotle avocado and spicy mayo) are vegan.

The onion rings themselves were absolutely delicious and quite creative with a puffed quinoa coating.  The dipping sauces did the job, but were not terrific. I am not sure which was which, but one was a bit acidic (as though it contained a fair bit of vinegar) and the other was very spicy but without a huge depth of flavour.  That could just be my own taste preferences though.   My friend thoroughly enjoyed her vegan poutine, once it arrived.  It doesn’t use a “faux” cheese like Daiya, but rather, small marinated tofu cubes.

photo 3

“fantastic” noodle bowl, Pure Kitchen

Deciding on a main course was pretty easy; I don’t eat salad unless I have to, I didn’t feel like a wrap or burger, and I love “bowl” style meals. The “fantastic” noodle bowl (s $11, l $15) sounded like something I would create myself. Rice noodles with spicy peanut sauce, veggies (broccoli, bok choi, red peppers, sprouts) and tamari maple tofu.  I ordered the larger sized one, and regretted that because the onion rings were very filling. The peanut sauce was fantastic, and the vegetable portion was generous.  I couldn’t finish all of the rice noodles.  The tofu was a bit bland; I could taste a bit of sweetness, and the grill marks are always a nice touch, but it could have benefited from a longer period of marination.  Overall it was a nicely balanced dish, that I would definitely have again.  My dining partner ordered the mushroom burger with a side kale caesar salad. That dish is automatically vegan.  She gave it a thumbs up.

My friend Amanda is a server at Pure, and she told me that there are three types of nut-based tart currently available. We were contemplating which of the three to share (we were stuffed!) when the manager (co-owner?) presented us with a platter which had one of each, on the house. Wow! Somehow we managed to find the room to eat them all. I loved the chocolate and salted caramel tart the best, and my dining partner preferred the strawberry vanilla.  Each had a slightly different crust. I really enjoyed the texture of the crusts – they weren’t mealy or damp as some raw vegan crusts can be. I don’t know what the cost is; they weren’t on the menu, and we had the privilege of enjoying them complimentary.

photo 4At the end of our meal one of the owners (a gentleman) came to chat with us about our experience.  He told us that they had done some trial runs with friends and had received overwhelmingly positive feedback, but wanted to hear honest, even critical feedback so that they can continue to improve the restaurant.  He mentioned that they hope to implement brunch at some point soon, but that their current focus is fine-tuning the existing menu.  He also mentioned that they are very sensitive to the needs of vegans and gluten-freers in particular. Their fryers are completely gluten-free, and different pans are used for anything containing non-vegan ingredients.

I am really pleased to see a restaurant like Pure Kitchen open in Ottawa. It fills a bit of a void – there currently isn’t anywhere that offers this kind of hearty but healthy fare in a casual environment. While I ate in the sit down area, I love that there’s more casual seating for if you just want to pop in and eat a quick noodle bowl or juice. It provides a nice complement to the existing offerings, and since it’s tied to a yoga studio, hopefully it will draw in a lot of non-veg people without drawing too much away from the amazing veg restaurants that are already serving us.

A word of warning though for vegans: This is not a vegan restaurant. It mostly is. If you order coffee, you will be served cow’s milk unless you specify otherwise.  You do need to be on alert, at least until staff are more up-to-speed.  For example, my dining partner was considering ordering the dumplings, and discussed it with the server.  While we’d already established clearly that we are vegan, she was advised that the dumplings were not currently available, however, not that they aren’t vegan (UPDATE: Now they are!). We learned that when another diner we know mentioned it later.  This is not a deal breaker or a huge deal, but is just a reminder that this may be new terrain for some of the staff.

Additionally, I found the vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free icon system a bit confusing and difficult to follow.  My suggestion to Pure Kitchen would be to make it a bit more prominent, and a bit more clear.  One possible way to approach it would be to make the vegan option be the default, with vegetarian options, rather than the reverse.  (UPDATE:  This has been remedied!)

Overall though, it was a pleasant experience, the food was very tasty, and the staff were eager to please.  Go give them a try, and tell them I sent you. :)

Pure Kitchen

357 Richmond Road


(613) 680-5500



Goodbye, Mooey.


I’ve been re-living my entire adult life for the past two days.  It’s amazing how these things can resurrect feelings and memories so vivid that it’s as though you’re actually experiencing them again.  It was just shy of two days ago that my little boy cat, Mooey, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away at 13.5 years.

Mooey memorial

My husband’s beautiful memorial to Mooey.

Mooey, the cat I thought would live forever if only to spite others.  Mooey, the little boy who I adopted with my ex-partner as a Christmas gift for one another back in 2001.  The cat who wooed every visitor to our home, who terrorized our dog (who weighs 5x what he did), who would cart around objects large and small most nights, his yowls directly proportionate to the size of his prey.   Mooey, who at 13.5 could still leap to the top of the fridge from the floor in a single bound, and who hadn’t had a single sick day in his life. He was the longest, leanest cat I ever met, and that elicited comment from nearly all those he met.

I adopted Mooey as a kitten from the Ottawa Humane Society.  He was plucked from their depressing Champagne Avenue shelter. I stood in their cat room, tears streaming down my face, devastated for the cats I’d have to leave behind.  He was vocal and active from the moment I met him.  I remember for a long time thinking he was a very lovely and social cat, but maybe not very bright; then one day, realizing he had managed to teach himself how to open a closed door using his paws and thinking, “that cat is a genius.”

Mooey represents the thread that ties together all of the chapters of my adult life.  He was there through all of it, purring, biting, and howling. He provided affection, entertainment, and would greet me at the door most evenings.  When my previous relationship ended, we split up the cats.  There were three; I took two – Mooey and Chewy; he took Pesto, who died just a few months later of a known (but undiagnosed) illness. After we buried her we never spoke again; it’s been nearly six years.   Mooey’s death resurrects the pain associated with those losses as well.  It reminds me of past poor behaviour and mistakes, and of the fleetingness of life. It reminds me of how lucky I have been to have the unconditional love of both people and animals.

yves mooeyMy husband Yves and Mooey had a special bond. Yves would often walk around the house with Mooey draped around his neck. If the number of Facebook profile photos you post with someone means anything, then Mooey occupied a a place at the top of the hierarchy.  Five of Yves’ profile pics have included Mooey. One has included me.

It was Yves who cried first when we realized that Mooey had reached the end of his road.  The whole ordeal lasted just less than 24 hours; other than that, Mooey lived about 4,927 healthy and happy days. On Sunday evening, we noticed he seemed weak and lethargic.  Figuring he had eaten something he shouldn’t have, we decided we’d take him to the vet if we didn’t see improvement by morning.  For part of the night, he slept peacefully on my chest, with Freyja the dog lying uncomfortably beside us.  We called the vet first thing in the morning when it was clear he was not improving, and I took him in at 1 pm.

The vet identified his ailment immediately (a urinary blockage) and I elected to have him unblocked (the other option was euthanization).  They took him into the next room and his cries were blood curdling.  I sat there wondering if I’d made the right decision to prolong his misery, while also berating myself for not bringing him in sooner.  Even now, I wonder if bringing him in sooner would have made the difference.  I agonized over walking that line between providing him with responsible care, and engaging in futile (and expensive) attempts at heroics that would possibly not even be in his best interest.

Mooey was stabilized, but at 5 pm I received a call from the vet. Mooey had taken a turn for the worse and was now on oxygen because he could not breathe on his own.  We had a few options, but only one did not involve further agony for my little boy, and the other two still had more or less the same result – a prolonged death. We headed to the vet’s office to say goodbye.

We live only five minutes away, but Mooey died before we arrived. I know they did everything they could for him, but his little body couldn’t take it anymore. We had an opportunity to say goodbye to his corpse, and the tears flowed freely.

Later, my husband posted the following tribute to his Facebook, and I think it’s beautiful.

“The Moon tonight is a single cat’s claw. Mooey preceded us today into the oblivion in which we will ultimately join him. He’ll continue to live on, in our thoughts and memories, until we too are claimed by non-existence, and not a trace of his, or our, passage remains. That will do nothing to diminish the value of his company. He made us feel a little less lonely, and we loved him for it, even when he was irritating, which was often.”

Rest in Peace, our little boy. <3

mooey alone

Mooey: Sept. 2001 – Feb. 23, 2015



Introducing PlantKind – Please join us!


You may have noticed that the blog has been pretty inactive for the past few months.  There’s a reason for this.  I have recently launched the first stage of a new initiative, and that is taking up most of my “spare” time.  That initiative is called PlantKind.  I am hoping that many of the Mindful Maven blog subscribers will consider subscribing to receive PlantKind updates.

PlantKind is was founded by myself, and another long-time vegan advocate Kyle den Bak. We noticed that many people who believe in vegan ethics of kindness, compassion, and valuing the sentience of all animals struggle to not only become vegan, but also to stay vegan for many reasons such as social pressures, information overload, and lack of support. We noticed that many vegans over-complicate their diets, becoming hung up on micro nutrients, super foods, and eating gourmet at most meals. Others become overwhelmed with the powerful emotions that can come with a vegan awakening, and struggle to be effective, positive advocates.



Clockwise from top left: Pamela Tourigny, Kyle den Bak, Jane Kearnan den Bak, Susan Macfarlane



As long-time vegans with successful professional and athletic track records, we decided to join forces to create something that would simplify the vegan lifestyle, making it easier to become vegan, adopt vegan practices, and stay vegan.  PlantKind evolved out of months of discussion, research and observation.  Kyle’s wife, Jane, a cardiac nurse, and registered dietitian Susan Macfarlane were attracted to this concept and have joined as founding contributors to PlantKind.

PlantKind will offer a range of products and services, aimed at simplifying vegan living.  PlantKind offers an approach that covers not only nutrition information, but also offers practical advice and support to help people to be happy and healthy vegans in their daily lives, even as they go against the grain in a meat-centric world.

Here’s my first original PlantKind blog post, as well as one by Kyle about the very simple diets of elite Kenyan runners, and one by Susan about food security and making peace with our diet.

I hope that you will join us.

My Healthwise Ottawa feature


I was very honoured a few months ago when Healthwise Ottawa editor Judy Field got in touch seeking to include a profile about me in the magazine’s winter issue (link to the full article is below).

Healthwise Ottawa has been around for seven years, and is a well-produced publication that covers health and wellness news in the Ottawa area.  It is distributed mostly through the Ottawa Citizen and reaches 75,000 people.

The feature covers my work at terra20, my volunteer endeavours, and my current role as an ambassador for Nature Canada’s Women For Nature program (along with some crazy accomplished people like Elizabeth May, Margaret Atwood, Leanne Cusack and Michele Valberg). Kudos to writer Nicola Maule, and photographer Jamie Kronick, who both did a terrific job, and made the process fun.

healthwise article

Interestingly, the process of developing the article and taking the photos occurred at a time when I had just disengaged from a number of my volunteer pursuits, so I felt a bit undeserving.  However, as my friends and family remind me, everyone needs to take a break sometimes, and the break will no doubt give me the energy to find the next way to make my mark, and do so with the enthusiasm and commitment for which I’m known.

You can read the whole article here:

A Love Letter to Lilac


Dear Lilac,


Not long after we brought you home.

A year and a half ago I agreed to foster a senior dog who had turned up as a stray at an area shelter.  You were described on the rescue’s Facebook page as a “depressed lab.”  It turns out you aren’t a lab, but you were definitely depressed.

You arrived to our home overweight, covered with paint on one side, and despondent.  Your tail was planted firmly between legs. You moved slowly, with the energy of a being who had given up hope. Your estimated age: 10 years old. We named you Lilac.

What we understand happened is that after you turned up as a stray at the shelter, your “owners” called, and said “Yep that’s my dog. We’ll come get her.”  They never came back for you, though they must have known that a dog of your age in a shelter doesn’t have a great chance of making it out alive.

And so you were pulled to safety by Sit With Me, and came to live with us, and our forever dog, Freyja.  Your previous owners must think you’re dead. I’ve wondered over the past 18 months if they ever feel guilty about that, or if they miss you. Do they mourn your passing?  Of course not only were you not dead, Lilac, you’ve been having the time of your life with us.  You’ve won the hearts of so many; we could not have made you whole without the contributions of your extended family, including your uncles Vincent and Al, and aunts Joanne and Jenn.


At the Sit With Me annual picnic.

And now, you have found your forever home with a lovely woman named Kris. Your adoption was finalized today. I wasn’t sure if I could ever say goodbye to you, but knowing what a good guardian Kris will be has made it much easier. There’s a piece of my heart that you took with you, but it’s a small price to pay for knowing that I helped you to find happiness.

You’re lucky, Li. That’s actually an understatement, because this isn’t how it plays out for most animals who end up at the shelter. Sadly, most won’t walk out alive. You’re so extraordinarily fortunate that compassionate Sit With Me volunteers were in the shelter at the exact right moment to grab you, and ferry you to a better life.

But let’s be very clear that it’s not the shelters that are to blame, it’s

You were a bridesmaid in a wedding.

You were a bridesmaid in a wedding.

people. The people who dump off their animals when it’s no longer entirely convenient to care for them, or who buy a dog without realizing what they’re getting in to and then dump or let them run off.  The people who recklessly breed their dog when there’s a dearth of animals being put down in shelters. Someone else’s problem, right?

Lilac, you’ve taught me a lot. I’m a bit hardened and cynical, but you are so trusting and giving of your affection. It has softened my heart to be the recipient of that, and has resulted in me being more willing to open my own heart and let others in. You taught me that it’s okay to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when past experience says that sometimes people don’t deserve it.

It has been wonderful seeing your personality emerge and manifest itself. Like how you like the grass, but LOVE the snow. It was so beautiful seeing you – once despondent and depressed – face dive into it and roll around like a pig in a mud bath.  And you’ve given us great amusement with your love for singing, as you dueted enthusiastically with Freyja every time we approached the dog park.

Cottaging this past June.

Cottaging this past June.

I have watched you evolve from a dog who really wasn’t sure how to interact with other dogs, to a dog who joyfully although often clumsily interacts with every dog who crosses your path. I’ve laughed at your love of food, and how you drool uncontrollably when you know dinner is on its way.

More recently, as you’ve slowed down a bit, I’ve valued the cuddle time. The mornings when you climb into my bed and literally pin me down with your paws so that you can give me cuddles and kisses. When you look at me with those doughy, inquisitive eyes, and I can’t help but feel safe. And have I told you that you have the prettiest smile.  Everyone who has met you has melted into a little puddle because you’re so damn cute.

I will miss all of those things, and in fact, have cried through writing most of this. There have been many times throughout our time together when I was pretty sure that you would be with me until the end of your days. But this isn’t about me. It’s about you, Lilac. You’ve won the lottery! While thousands of dogs are euthanized for no fault of their own, because of a lack of space at shelters and in homes, you have found the most welcoming home, with a most amazing and caring woman. How could I be a barrier to that?

Saying goodbye while dropping you off at your new home.

Saying goodbye while dropping you off at your new home.

You’ve given me so much, and made me a better, more patient, and more loving person. I can only hope that I have given you the sense of stability and security that you needed to become the best Lilac you can be. From the way you’ve won Kris’ heart, I think I just may have done my part.

And now, I know that I can love a dog and let them go, which means I can foster again.  Because I was able to let you go, another life will be saved.

Love always,

Your foster mom

The best Mother's Day greeting.

The best Mother’s Day greeting.