A generation of Degree-stas

Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me?  Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?


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Ah, Mulan.  It was my absolute favourite movie as a child and–let’s be honest–is still high on my list.  I saw it three times in theatres, watched it endlessly when it came out on VHS,  my Mulan doll was one of two dolls I’ve ever owned and I listened to the soundtrack on my Walkman…and I’m pretty sure that was the only tape I ever put in that Walkman.  It always hit home with me; not totally fitting in, constantly striving to be as good as the boys and really hating having to look girly (what can I say?  I’ve always been a tom boy).

I’ve always been one to push myself.  I pushed myself hard to do well in school.  I pushed my siblings into taking art classes, math lessons, recorder lessons (the list goes on and on) from me when we were young.  I pushed myself to become proficient on the oboe (but, really, there are certain people who are oboists by nature so, I don’t know if I can really take credit for that one).  I pushed myself into taking more than a full course load in high school every year.  For high school assignments, I’d take the most difficult theme or option and push myself out of my comfort zone.  I pushed myself to go to university even though I was discouraged from doing so.  I pushed myself to do well, to double major and to set myself up for a career in academia.  After my dreams of academia were squashed, I pushed myself to finish the last few months of my degree and then pushed myself into doing a job I hated because I once thought it would make me happy.  Then I pushed away all other options so I’d have no choice but to fulfill my dream of travelling.  You might say I’m a “pusher”.

Yes, that was a Mean Girls reference.

Probably not surprisingly–especially to anyone who knows me well–behind all of this is a very, very high expectation of myself.  I have incredibly high standards and I expect nothing less than the absolute best out of me.  That’s why I’m having a very hard time with the fact that I haven’t scored a half decent job in over a year.  Even more unsettling, I just got a job at Starbucks.  You read that right, I’m joining the many who have degrees and end up working at low-paying jobs, doing trivial things every day.  I am a stereotype.  I am a degree-sta.

It’s taken me a very long time to come to terms with the fact that I’ll have to get a crappy job, despite the five years I spent slaving over my degree in hopes that a great job could come of it.  I’ve received many reassurances: this isn’t going to be forever, something will come along, lots of people in my generation have a hard time finding jobs in their field but I couldn’t help but come back to something a really rich guy said to me–while plugging his website that I was never able to find–“Finding a good job isn’t hard for your generation.  You just need to be creative.”

For a very long time, all I heard from that was “Finding a good job isn’t hard” (I suppose it’s easy to say that when you’re a millionaire) and, damn, I could hardly stand myself.  Fears of judgement from everyone around, even more judgement if my worst nightmare happened and one of my former profs came in all while constantly thinking I should be pushing myself to look more, try harder to find a better job.  Despite consistently hearing “This is just a stopgap until you get a really good job!” and “You have so much ambition that you won’t get stuck there”, I still worry that maybe I’ll enjoy it just enough and it will be too uncomfortable to quit when I have the chance to get a better job and then one year turns into two, two turn into three and three turns into ten.

While I’m desperately praying that I get another interview at the university again soon so I can make some decent money and feel more secure financially (especially since I’ll be moving again in a couple months and rental agencies aren’t a huge fan of unemployed tenants) and I’m trying to believe that ending up a stereotype won’t be for long, as a pusher, I’m disappointed.  I could have had a career in academia, I could have been doing research with a really cool supervisor in BC, I could have been living my third year of university dream but, I gave that up because I was tired, because I didn’t want that life anymore and I wanted to prove that I wasn’t going for it just because I didn’t know what else to do.  Just as I pushed myself into academia, I pushed myself out of it.  As much as a part of me wants to regret it, I know I made the right choice.

One of the reasons I know that I made the right choice for myself by breaking up with academia is consistently hearing that new PhDs are having a lot of trouble finding permanent work, if they can get work at all, because there are just too many graduates saturating the market.  If they’re able to find work, it’s usually in the form of “contract term” positions that pay less than minimum wage and don’t do anything for the academic’s career.  Then there’s a choice: continue to make the rounds of term positions hoping that, one day, all the hard work put into this will lead to a permanent professorship or quit academia and branch out into another field.  I’d have to say that it’s kind of comforting to know that the only thing worse than earning a bachelor’s degree and working at Starbucks is having a PhD and working at Starbucks.

There’s much to be said about why there are so many PhDs being pumped out of universities and why there is a generation of degree-stas among us: the lack of a Ministry of Education, students being at a loss of how to function in the real world, parental pressure to go into university instead of a trade or any one of the other jobs that the world needs.

But who cares?  What happens when the degree-stas feel horribly ashamed of themselves?  Should they be admired for all their hard work and willingness to do whatever it takes to survive?  Or should they be admonished for not trying hard enough to find a “good job”?  Is it really that hard to find a “good job” or are we degree-stas just not thinking hard enough?  I don’t know the answer but I do hope that, one day soon, my hard work of sending out ten million job applications and feeling guilty will pay off.

The view from my usual study spot, back when I sacrificed nights out with friends to study more.

The view from my usual study spot, back when I sacrificed nights out with friends to study more.

For some reason, Internets, I still remain hopeful.
Meggo

PS  I realize it’s been SO LONG since I’ve posted anything but a bunch of crap happened this month that’s gotten in the way.  Plus, my apartment is usually sweltering so I have little desire to cook anything.  I hope to hit a stroke of inspiration soon, though!

Chocolate chunk blueberry muffins

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Ah, Internets.  When I first tried out these muffins, it was a grey and rainy day here in The Peg.  It was the kind of day where it’s hard to motivate myself to get up and retrieve my giant cup of tea I made.  It was the kind of day where the fact that I watched three seasons of “Girls” in one week makes me sad.  It’s dreary and awful enough that I might have soup for both lunch and dinner even though it’s FRIGGING JUNE.  It’s the kind of day when muffins happen.

I was inspired by this yummy banana cake  that I’ve made a ba-gillion times before, these tasty-looking muffins that I happened across a few weeks ago and my newly discovered taste for chocolate and blueberries together.

Everyone knows I love chocolate.  Like, real bad.  It’s never been a “woman” thing with me–it was always a “Meggo” thing.  When I was younger, we’d get Jeanne’s cake (Winnipeggers, you know what I’m talking about!) for birthdays or other special occasions and I would always get the little chocolate curls that fell off when other people were having their pieces sliced.  Always.

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What might surprise you is that I’m picky with chocolate.  I used to be a fan of milk chocolate all the way but now I find even the dairy-free milk chocolate (yeah, that exists!!) to be way too sweet.  I hate mint chocolate.  I DESPISE mint chocolate–who in their right mind would want their chocolate to taste like toothpaste!?  Crazy people, if you ask me.  Chocolate should never be spicy.  Fruit and chocolate is divine.

I’m also kind of weird about muffins.  I hate when they’re greasy.  I don’t like when the top is all crunchy.  They shouldn’t be too sweet.  I don’t really get why people smear butter, margarine, what have you on them.  To me, a perfect muffin is soft, chewy, a little sweet, filled with deliciousness and doesn’t need any butter, margarine, what have you smeared onto it.

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Muffins that fulfill all the above requirements plus they’re gluten- and oil-free?  Amazing.

Chocolate chunk blueberry muffins
Makes 12 muffins

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup quinoa flakes*
1/3 cup coconut sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
tiny dash of ground clove
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 medium ripe bananas (the spottier the better!)
1/3 cup applesauce
1/4 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup (heaping), smooth almond butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)*
As many chocolate chunks/chips as you want!

1.) Process the oats in a food processor, blender, coffee grinder or whatever until you get a fine flour.  Throw the flour in a large mixing bowl.

2.) Add the sugar, spices, soda, powder and salt to the flour.  Mix everything well.

3.) In a bowl, mash the bananas with a fork until they’re as smooth as you can make them.  Add the rest of the wet ingredients (applesauce through to vanilla) and mix well.  Alternatively, you can throw all the wet ingredients into a blender and mix them up that way.

4.) Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix.  You want your muffins to be light and delicious!

5.) Gently fold in the blueberries and chocolate.  The trick to baking with frozen blueberries is to add them right at the end!

6.) Pour batter into a greased muffin tin, filling the cups about three quarters of the way.

7.) Bake at 350F for 15-18 minutes (mine took 17 minutes) or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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That’s it!  Now you’ve got yummy muffins, Internets!

Meggo

Double boilers and finding your kitch-intuition


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Let me tell you about the time I made a make-shift double boiler while making brownies for my Cub.

It started innocently enough.  You see, this was a time before I had stumbled across my hazelnut brownie recipe and I was CONSTANTLY on the search for an ooey, gooey brownie with a slightly crispy outside, a feat that is difficult to accomplish without copious amounts of butter and egg.  So, I was trying this weird-ass recipe that called for making a paste of cocoa, oil and water before adding this goop to the dry ingredients.

Naturally, I added in some chocolate for extra brownie goodness.  However, I guess my boiling water wasn’t hot enough for this goop I was making and it just wouldn’t come together.  I figured if I just had more heat it would work so, I used my tiny little brain and came up with the idea to make a double-boiler type deal with a large bowl and a pot with boiling water in order to melt the chocolate enough so I could mix the goop effectively.

If anyone else has ever tried this, perhaps you know as well as I do that science will always work against you.  Hence, the situation you see at the beginning of this post: the bowl got suctioned on so tight to the pot that I couldn’t budge it at all.  It was so tight, it created a waterproof seal.

I tried prying it apart with my huge biceps.  I tried oiling it and moving it back and forth.  I tried bashing it on the ground.  By the time my Cub returned from her meeting, the brownies were done (they were sub-par, by the way.  Not that that stopped us) and I’d come to terms with the fact that I’d be buying her a new bowl and pot.

Fortunately, my Cub is an engineer and science works for her.  We resorted to the internet, tried a couple more things and…voila!

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We got it.  For anyone wondering “How do you separate a bowl and a pot that are suctioned together?”, the answer is to put the pot on the stove, turn it on and wait for it to come loose.  Fun fact!

That story was just to introduce something I’ve only recently started to think about: kitchen intuition or, as I call it, kitch-intuition.  Have you ever noticed how some people are slaves to recipes and some people are able to look into a fridge of seemingly random ingredients and make a meal out of it?

As a recent experience with my Cub taught me, I am now a member of the latter category but, I used to be even less than the opposite: I refused to cook or even learn anything.  Somehow, I got it in my head that cooking would make me a Stepford wife and was anti-feminist.  I thought learning to cook would instantly doom me to a future of being a miserable housewife, chained to the stove all day.

And then I became a vegetarian.  Not that that made me love cooking over night but, I was on my way.  I’d start trying foods I’d never tried before–like any salad other than Caesar–and ate a few more veggies.  It was really when I started trying to reduce my consumption of animal products (maybe in 2011 sometime?  I don’t know.  I don’t keep track these things) that I branched out and started trying all kinds of ethnic foods–Mexican and Indian to start with, but soon things I thought I would NEVER like, like sushi, Thai or Ethiopian.  Now, ethnic restaurants are my go-to places for noms because they usually have tons of options for a veggie lover like me!

Within all of this, I was trying to reduce my consumption of animal products to lessen my carbon footprint and put more good out into the world.  I was already cooking more–mainly using recipes–but I started making “challenges” for myself because I’m a freak and love to challenge myself; veganize this cookie recipe, make really good vegan cookies, try to make delicious gluten-free cake, nail a veggie burger recipe.  Soon, and without my knowledge, the little challenges had become a way of life and I would rarely (if at all) use animal products in things that I made, even if I’d occasionally eat them while I was out.

Then, I was able to start “freestyling” a little more.  If I didn’t have something in a recipe, I’d replace it with something on hand; if I wanted to make something with applesauce instead of oil, I’d try it; if I wanted to throw a bunch of spices into something just because I thought it could be good, I would.

These days, I follow a lot of food blogs.  I mean, a lot.  Sometimes I’ll make one of the recipes I see because it looks SSSOOOO good or I’m tired and out of ideas, although this usually happens with savoury things because, let’s be honest, baking is my forte.   Usually, if I want to bake something outside of my usual repertoire, I’ll find a recipe, look at it to figure out the basic proportions and figure the rest out (this ability always amazes the Beef).

This is what I call my “kitch-intuition”.  I more or less know my way around my staple ingredients–how they taste, how they affect a recipe, how they’ll react to other ingredients–but it took a long-ass time to get here.  It took a lot of flat muffins, dry cookies and, in one instance, tar-like brownies (although that was because of a faulty recipe) to know my way around.  As “amazing” as my ability seems, it really comes from a few key things:

1.) Trying A TON of different foods, cuisines and ingredients
2.) Being familiar with even more types of foods, cuisines and ingredients
3.) (Most importantly) Willingness to TRY.  TRY different cuisines.  TRY foods out of the ordinary.  TRY new ingredients you come across.  TRY crazy flavour combos.  TRY weird things!

I’ll say it again even though you just read it: you have to try.  You’ll fail (if you’re really committed, you’ll fail a lot, like me) but you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.  You’ll realize that too much liquid in muffins will result in bricks, despite them being oil and refined-sugar free.  You’ll realize that you don’t need to bake things as long if there’s little or no oil in them.  You add spices gradually and figure out what you need based on how it’s tasting.  You realize that you should exercise caution when making a homemade double boiler device.  You do it over and over and over until you get the hang of it, until you can feel what it needs.

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That, my Internets, is how you find your kitch-intuition.  You make a homemade double boiler.
Meggo

Happy hazelnut brownies

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It’s official.  I’ve been back from the other side of the planet for two months.  These last two months have been very trying, some days more than others for reasons that I’m not prepared to get into on the Internets.  Some days are filled with sitting and watching movies and Real Housewives of Melbourne, others go by so quickly I can’t even remember what day it is.  All in all, it’s been a whirlwind.

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But then there’s brownies.  Getting amazing news helps, too.

These brownies are the perfect balance of crispy on the outside but rich and dense on the inside, sometimes a hard feat for vegan brownies.  The hazelnut flour (along with all the cocoa and chocolate) gives them a dark “nutella”-like flavour and you really can’t go wrong with that!  The fat in these brownies is a combo of vegan margarine and almond butter but for even more “nutella” flavour, use hazelnut butter or, better yet, vegan “nutella”.

These brownies were inspired by this recipe.

Hazelnut brownies
Makes 9 large or 12 small brownies

1 tbsp ground flax
3 tbsp water
1  cup ground hazelnuts*
3/4 cup light buckwheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp instant coffee/espresso powder (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup Earth Balance buttery spread (or other vegan margarine)
1/4 cup (very heaping) smooth almond butter
150 grams unsweetened/bittersweet/a mix of both chocolate (about 5 ounces)
1/4 cup non-dairy milk
1 cup cane sugar*
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup walnuts
all the chocolate chunks you desire!

NOTE: Once the hazelnuts have been roasted and the skin removed, these babies come together pretty fast but the prep for the nuts does take a little bit of time.  To save some time, take care of the hazelnuts a day before you actually make the brownies!  Better yet, buy pre-ground hazelnuts!

1.) Mix the flax with the water and leave for a few minutes to gel up.

2.) In a large bowl, stir together the flours, cocoa, optional espresso powder, baking soda and salt.

3.) In a separate bowl, add the Earth Balance, unsweetened chocolate, non-dairy milk and almond butter.  Microwave in 30 second increments until all the chocolate is melted, stirring between each round.

4.) Once the chocolate is completely melted, stir well and add the sugar, vanilla and flax mixture.  Mix until completely smooth.

5.) Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well.  The batter will be very thick–don’t worry!

6.) Fold in the walnuts and chocolate chunks/chips.

7.) Scoop batter into a 9×9 inch baking pan and smooth out using wet hands.

8.) Bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs.

9.) WAIT!!  I know it’s hard to not dig right into those suckers, especially after you seriously debated not baking the batter because it was THAT good but you need to let them sit.  Without the gluten, they will fall apart so let them cool completely (about 2 hours) before diving in.  Alternatively, you can pick at the edges of the brownies to “test” them and justify it by saying that you’re creating some weird brownie vent that will help air get in to cool them faster.  Not that I’ve ever done that (shifty eyes).

10.) Nom away!

Notes: 1.) I happened across ground hazelnuts on sale at Bulk Barn a few days ago so I used that.  But you can easily make your own hazelnut flour by throwing 1 cup of whole/sliced hazelnuts into your blender or food processor until it resembles flour.  Just be careful to stop blending before it turns into hazelnut butter! However, to get a better flavour, I recommend you toast the nuts, remove the skin (which is almost as bad as peeling squash) and then blend them up.  I’ve included instructions at the very end of this post  2.) I usually use coconut sugar to sweeten baked goods but I’ve tried it in brownies and it just doesn’t work because it absorbs so much moisture.  I like the organic golden cane sugar at Bulk Barn.

So, before you ask, these brownies are as good as you think they are.  You can even make the case that they’re healthy if anyone gives you trouble!  Hazelnuts + almonds + walnuts =  healthy fats!  Chocolate = antioxidants (although this joke will only be understood by a select few, I hear Matt doing a particular math rant in my head as I write that)!  Only 1/4 cup of margarine in the whole thing?  HELL YES.  I will warn you that you might not want to bake these at all and just eat the batter.  You might not even want to share the batter.  That’s cool.  I won’t tell.

Your best brownie bud, Internets,
Meggo

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How to make toasted hazelnut flour

1.) Roast the hazelnuts: Pre-heat your oven to 300 F.  When it’s pre-heated, throw your hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast them for 10-15 minutes or until you can smell those babies and their lovely skin is dark brown.

2.) Remove the skin: Take those hot little nuts and put them in a container where they have some room to move around.  Take that container and shake the crap out of it for about 30 seconds.  When you open it again, most of the skins will have come off of the nuts but some will be stubborn.  Try to get as much skin off as you can but don’t worry if you can’t get it all.  Put all the hazelnuts into a clean container and throw it in the freezer while you do some other stuff (like watch Millionaire Matchmaker!).  Freezing them helps to prevent them from turning into hazelnut butter when you blend it later–not that that’s all together bad, just not what we’re going for here!

3.) Throw those lovely hazelnuts into a blender or food processor and pulse until you have a fine-ish flour.  It won’t get as fine as grain flour but get as close as you can without making hazelnut butter.

Curried squash and lentil soup for…

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I have to apologize, dear Internets.  I haven’t been putting as much effort into this blog as I should be, especially because I kept it around to give me a creative outlet and the opportunity to push myself into new territory as a food blogger.  I love a challenge and am always pushing to try something new to get me out of that comfort zone.

However, things haven’t been ideal the last couple weeks.  The Beef has been in and out of the hospital.  My bosses stopped calling me in for shifts.  I’ve been applying for thousands of jobs and none of those people have called me either.  I’ve got personal demons to fight.  Winter isn’t ending.  I (accidentally) blended a blender seal when I made myself a smoothie, causing it to spill everywhere, didn’t notice until well into consuming it and realized I had eaten a bunch of rubber…and it’s not my blender.

I’ve been having a lot of days where it seems easier to hide alone all day and pray a train comes crashing through the house.  But then you put curry powder in things and it’s okay.  Plus, taking your anger out on a squash is healthier than taking it out on loved ones because peeling squash is the bane of my existence.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I love curry and I love chocolate.  Since it’s been so damn cold the last few days–it’s been even more upsetting given how nice it was on last weekend!–I needed comfort food.  I normally only crave soup when it’s really cold and I’m way too lazy to make something complicated.  This time, I was exhausted from life, it’s cold and I was feeling lazy.  Feel free to switch up the squash for sweet potato and feel free to not blend it so much.  Throw some milk in if you like it really creamy (but I personally find it to be a creepy texture)–I’m sure coconut milk would be good for those who are into that!

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This soup is for comfort.  This soup is for ailments.  This soup is for (maybe) losing your job.  This soup is for demons.  This soup is to warm up this winter in May.  This soup is to counteract all that rubber I ate.

Curried squash lentil soup
Makes 4 generous servings (but you deserve to be generous)

1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger (about a centimetre cubed)
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 medium butt nut squash, peeled and cubed (a little joke from my restaurant dayz.  Makes me giggle every single time)
2 tbsp curry powder*
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cayenne, or to taste
4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water*
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1/2 cup lemon juice
salt, to taste
cilantro, to serve

1.) Melt the oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the onions, celery and ginger.  Cook until translucent and delicious smelling, stirring frequently.  Add the garlic and stir for another couple minutes.

2.) Add the curry powder and stir to coat the veggie party in the pot.

3.) Throw the squash into the party and stir it around a bit.

4.) Add the veggie stock, water and the lentils.  Turn the heat up to medium high and put the lid on the pot.  Give it a quick stir for good luck.

5.) Once your amazing soup is boiling, turn it down to medium and replace the lid.  Let it simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the squash is soft.

6.) Now add the lemon juice, any additional curry powder, optional cayenne and ground coriander.  Stir it well and then blend that beauty up with either an immersion blender or a standing blender (you may have to do it in batches this way).

7.) Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve!

Notes: 1.) Depending on the type of curry powder you use, it could be pretty spicy.  If you’re worried about it, add it slowly and taste it a lot until you get it just right!  Add more, if you want–I’m not the boss of your soup! 2.) If you’re one of those people who likes creamy (not just smooth) soups, you can replace one or both cups of water with non-dairy milk.  I think canned coconut milk would probably work best in this recipe but any milk should do.  Let me know if you try this!

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You can enjoy this soup alone, with some bread or chipati and it’s hearty enough to eat over some rice.  Anyway you nom it, it is pure comfort.  Plus, making soup is always so cathartic for me…perhaps it’s something to do with all the chopping?

And with that, I’m going to eat a bowl of this soup and watch “Girls”, my dear Internets.

Meggo

Edit: I just came across Gena’s soup, which is awfully similar to this soup.  I swear I didn’t steal the recipe–The Beef wanted a squash-based soup and I love curry so it’s just a coincidence!

A dragon bowl

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Some of you know that I used to work at a very well known restaurant here in The Peg and they have a menu item that I sometimes ordered after my shift called a Dragon Bowl.  This bowl is, essentially, grains, a few fresh and sauteed veggies, and tofu with an Asian-inspired sauce.

While I enjoyed it from time to time, I was always left a little let down because of the lack of freshness about it and the fact that I felt the sauce weighed it down.  As any good foodie does, I set out to make my own version that left me feeling full, fresh and light instead of oily and a little bloated.

My version of a dragon bowl involves far more fresh greens (they’re like my Frank’s Red Hot!), usually quinoa (although it could be any grain), garlic-ginger seared tofu and TONS of other fresh veggies for colour and crispness.  Sometimes I find myself looking at my beautiful creation and wondering how I could eat anything so pretty.  And then I do.  Nom nom nom…

This meal-sized salad is really more about assembly than anything so you could mix up the dressing and have a totally different (but equally delicious!) salad going on.  But the recipe below is pretty damn satisfying.  Enjoy…and excuse the really rushed pictures I took!


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Dragon Bowl
Makes one large bowl for a hungry veggie lover

1/4 cup dry quinoa
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp dragon sauce (recipe follows)

1/4 pound of tofu
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ginger powder

2-3 cups fresh greens (spring mix and spinach/baby kale are my jam)
1/2 bell pepper, any colour
1 carrot
1/2 cup snap peas
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (or, if you’re a cilantro fiend like me, add more!)

Dragon Sauce

2 tbsp tamarind concentrate
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1-2 tbsp sri racha (chili garlic sauce), to taste
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp coconut sugar
2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup water

1.) Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce using a whisk, fork, blender, what have you.

2.) Boil the water and add the quinoa once it’s boiling.

3.) Chop and prep all the other ingredients while the quinoa is doing it’s thang INCLUDING pressing the tofu, if it’s not pressed already.  This will help it to absorb all the flavour!

4.) Once everything is chopped and ready to be thrown into your giant salad bowl, preheat a pan to medium heat and toss the tofu in there (you can also add 1 tsp of coconut or sesame oil for additional flavour).  Cook until one side is starting to get brown and then toss the garlic and ginger powder in there.  Toss to coat all the tofu.  Continue cooking until most sides are a light golden brown.

5.) Once the tofu is ALMOST totally cooked, add some of the sauce and cook for a few more minutes to let the tofu absorb all the goodness.  Once the sauce is no longer liquid, turn off the heat.

6.) By now, the quinoa should be fully cooked.  Add the sauce to the pot with some cilantro and give it a stir.

6.) Now, for assembly: put down a layer of greens followed by the quinoa in the centre.  I like to get all fancy and disperse the veggies in their own little section within the bowl (see pictures).  Add the tofu on top of everything and finish off with the rest of the cilantro.

7.) If you want, pour a couple more tablespoons of the sauce (or just plain ol’ soy sauce) on top of everything.  Dig in!

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Again, apologies for the terrible pictures.  I don’t have a DSLR and sunlight has been at a premium these last few weeks.  I hope to improve my food photography skillz soon!

See ya, Internets,
Meggo

Peanut butter coconut chocolate chip cookies

I know, I know, it’s a mouthful of a recipe but that’s only because you’ll be stuffing your face full of these babies soon!

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I also know that I’ve let the blog sit for awhile without any updates or anything but life got all crazy this week!  I was originally planning on posting a recipe for a dragon bowl (don’t worry, it’ll come soon!) but then I realized that I didn’t have snap peas, which are very crucial to a delicious dragon bowl. Since I have to do some cooking for the Beef anyway, I figured, “Hey, I feel sorry for the kid.  I should bake him some cookies”.

Now, I don’t claim to have that recipe for cookies that people ask me for or beg me to bring to parties but, I think these babies are pretty good.  Maybe I’ll finally achieve cookie person status the next time I’m going to a party!

I actually created these by total accident.  I was making a lot of (mostly) raw peanut butter cookie dough (you know, to throw in my banana ice cream) in the summer and, one day, I noticed I had a bag of mostly untouched shredded coconut laying around.  Since I’m lazy, I decided “Well, I’ll just throw it into my cookie dough next time to use it up”.  That was the best lazy decision I’ve ever made because I discovered that peanut butter and coconut is INSANELY delicious together!  When I perfected that recipe and it was starting to get chillier outside, I thought “You know, I could make these into BAKED cookies!”.  And that’s the story of how these little guys came to be. You know what else is great about these cookies, other than the fact that they’re totally egg- and dairy-free?  They’re gluten free, too!  Just make sure you use gluten-free certified rolled oats if gluten is an issue.

Enough chattering, let’s get to the cookies!

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Just noticed the Windex in the background…major oversight on my part!! I promise the cookies are safe!

Peanut butter coconut chocolate chip cookies
Makes 2 dozen

1 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup coconut sugar (or sucanat, brown sugar or whatever you’ve got on hand)
1 1/2 cups rolled oats, ground into flour*
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (only if your peanut butter is unsalted)
1/2 cup dairy-free milk (I used almond)
all the chocolate chips you want!!

1.) Preheat your oven to 375F.

2.) Combine the peanut butter, coconut oil and vanilla and mix well.  I find a hand mixer works well for this.

3.) Combine the sugar, flour, coconut, baking soda and salt (if using) in a separate bowl.

4.) Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and mix until a stiff dough forms.

5.) Add the milk GRADUALLY while mixing until a very sticky dough forms.

6.) Throw in as much chocolate as you want and mix ’em in.  Eat some dough because it’s delicious.

7.) Take about 2 tbsps of dough, roll them into a ball and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  I find it’s easier to wet my hands before working with the dough since it’s so sticky.  Flatten the cookies because they won’t spread very much.  Eat more dough.

8.) Bake these delicious morsels for 8 to 10 minutes, until the edges are golden.  LET THEM SIT FOR AT LEAST 10 MINUTES ON THE COOKIE SHEET BEFORE MOVING THEM!  They’re really fragile at this stage!!

9.) Eat all the cookies!  With a side of almond milk, of course.

Notes: To make oat flour, simply throw whole rolled oats into a blend, food processor or coffee grinder and let it go until you have a flour going on!  Alternatively, you can use 1 1/2 cups of store bought oat flour.

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I’m thinking of writing a Beatles cover called “Happiness is a Warm Cookie”. I feel like it would be BIG.

With that, I’m off to deliver lunch and these cookies to the Beef.

Thanks for reading, Internets, Meggo

An introduction and matcha-colate smoothie

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Hello my sweet Internets, Did you say the title of this post out loud?  If not, you’re probably missing out…unless you’re a freak like me who constantly has voices in their head and doesn’t need to say things out loud to hear them.  Wow, that made me sound crazy. This will be my first official post as a food blogger and I felt I should explain some stuff, like my food philosophy and what-not.  Please let me know if you have questions or comments or requests because I’m learning as I go!

First, you may have picked up on the fact that I’m a veggie lover.  Like, big time.  Did you really get how much of a veggie lover I am, though?  Okay, okay.  I’m just taking forever to say that I’m one of them vegans; one of those crazy 2014 hippies (a term coined by my favourite crazy bitch to describe 98% of the population of Pai) that subsists solely on fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains.  There will be no meat, meat products, dairy, cheese, eggs or any animal products at all on this blog.  Ever.

Why the extreme diet, you say?  Many moons ago, while I was still in high school, I started learning more about how factory farmed meat is produced and I got very sad that animals had to die so I could eat.  As I started learning more about the meat industry, my reasons for remaining a veggie-lover shifted from “the poor animals die!” to “I should really do my part to preserve the environment” and I began to reduce the amount of eggs and dairy I consumed because I figured a little would go a long way.  I started cooking with fewer animal products, I consulted the Internets on how to make versions of my favourite foods (cookies, mostly) and, eventually, I got to the point where I wouldn’t cook with any animal ingredients at all but would occasionally eat some when I was out.  After awhile, I decided that I may as well go full-on vegan, partly because I was curious and partly because I thought it would be a challenge.  And I love a challenge.

Although it might seem intimidating and restrictive at first, I’ve grown into it and it really does become effortless.  That being said, I don’t care about trying to convince everyone to go vegan or even vegetarian.  I have no patience for people like that.  I believe we’re omnivores (hence our pointy canines!) but I would personally feel like a complete hypocrite if I were to eat animals and animal products because I know what happens on factory farms and I’m not cool with it.  But you might be, and that’s perfectly fine.

The thing I come back to again and again when I reflect on my reasons for eating the foods that I choose to eat is that it doesn’t take a lot to change the world.  Even just a little change can make a big impact but little shifts cause avalanches.  I think that most people think of changing the world as something that requires a lot of effort and money but tend to forget that it’s the little things that make us all a little happier that can really make a difference.

For instance, I remember riding the bus home from work on a Friday afternoon just a few days after the Boston Marathon bombings and Kim Jong-Un began making threats about nuclear weapons to the international community.  I was feeling pretty down about the state of the world when I noticed that my bus driver was telling everyone stepping off the bus to have a good weekend.  It was a tiny little gesture but it was a kind gesture and it reminded me that there is some good in the world.  The moral of the story is: try to improve the world with little choices, whether that be holding the door for someone, not being a jerk to the person on the customer-service line or choosing to eat one meatless meal this week.

The goal of my re-invented blog is not to force people into eating the way I do.  I’ve often had people ask me for recipes of things that I’ve made or for ideas on how to feed a fellow veggie lover who’s coming over for dinner.  I mostly use whole ingredients and try to minimized the processed stuff as much as I can (but the occasional indulgence in some Daiya cheese won’t kill me).  Maybe you want to start a transition to eating more veggie friendly things; maybe you’ve just been diagnosed with a bunch of allergies and need some inspiration (I personally think I have a problem with wheat so many of my recipes will be wheat-free); maybe you just want to switch things up.  My goal is to cater to you all! Without further ado or gabbing, here is the recipe for the smoothie that I’ve been knocking back almost everyday for the past two weeks!

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Matcha-colate smoothie

2 cups (or more!) greens of your choice
1.5 cups almond (or other) milk*, plus more, if needed to facilitate blending
1 banana, frozen
1-3 tsp matcha powder*
1-2 tbsp seeds (ex. chia, flax, hemp) A few drops of stevia or a couple dates, to taste*
1-2 tbsp cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips

1.) Throw the greens into the blender first–you want the banana to weigh it down so it gets ground up really small!

2.) Cut the frozen banana into small pieces and add to the blender with the almond milk.

3.) Add the rest of the ingredients and blend!  Remember to add a little bit of sweeteners and flavourings first and then taste it–you can always add more later.

4.) Pour into a glass and throw in your cacao nibs or chocolate chips.  Drink!

Notes: 1.) I usually use unsweetened almond milk so I can control the amount of sugar I’m consuming.  Feel free to use sweetened milk but you probably won’t need dates or stevia.  A combo of almond with some coconut water is also lovely!  2.) Matcha powder is just ground up green tea leaves!  By consuming the entire leaf, you’re getting a buttload more of the antioxidants that green tea is known for!  You can buy it at health food stores or just buy bulk green tea leaves and grind them up in a coffee grinder. 3.) If you use unsweetened milk, depending on your taste buds, you may want to add some additional sweetness.  Use stevia or dates to satisfy that sweet tooth naturally!

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I hope you enjoy this smoothie as much as I am right now.  I’ve been eating it for breakfast but I think it could also make a delicious dessert!  Please let me know if you try this and let me know how you like it!

In excitement, my Internets,
Meggo

Thoughts on travelling

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First order of business, Internets: the future of this blog.

It seems that many of you were too shy to express your opinion on what the future of Niesbeetle should be, despite a convenient poll.  In fact, all but four of you voted.  I expected more from you, dear Internets.  But, nonetheless, the show must go on so, without further ado, the people have spoken and decided that Niesbeetle will now morph itself into a food blog.  I cannot promise quality pictures or regular posts but I will try it out, at least for a time.

Second, another post about my travels.  This one isn’t about a particular place I visited or a particular facet of life in South East Asia.  It’s just a collection of some thoughts that my little brain thunk while I was on the road.

Joma in Hanoi.  My go-to cafe and the only one that served soy milk in Vietnam.

Joma in Hanoi. My go-to cafe and the only one that served soy milk in Vietnam.

1.) You’re doing the same things, just in a different place.

I thought about this a lot while I was travelling through Vietnam and Thailand because it struck me that I wasn’t usually doing anything that out-of-the-ordinary.  Sure, I wasn’t going to a job everyday since my job consisted of survival and entertaining myself but walking around a city, asking people directions, riding a bus and struggling with servers at restaurants is nothing new.  Even though sitting on the street, on plastic furniture surrounding a keg with locals selling beer at 5000 dong a glass (about 25 cents) in Hanoi was definitely out-of-the-ordinary, it still felt like a rendition of going to a pub with friends and sharing stories.

I’m not trying to downplay all the fun that makes up travelling to a foreign place–it’s absolutely exciting and exotic-feeling to be eating hummus and veggies in a cafe in Cambodia–but I realized that I can really eat hummus and veggies just about anywhere.  In some ways, realizing this could diminish the wonder but I thought it was kind of enchanting to know that a couple weeks earlier, I had been doing the same thing on the other side of the planet.

My favourite crazy bitch and I hanging on the beach in Nha Trang while we waited for our night bus to Hoi An.

My favourite crazy bitch and I hanging on the beach in Nha Trang while we waited for our night bus to Hoi An.

2.) It’s ALL about who you’re with.

As you all will recall, I didn’t like travelling alone when I first got to Vietnam.  I was bored, I hadn’t met anyone (because apparently people mostly travel in pairs) and I seriously thought about doing some more short-term volunteering just to pass the time until I had to be in Bangkok for my flight to Delhi.

Then I went to Dalat–the first place I actually really like in Vietnam–and met MT in the evening at our hostel.  We were two out of very few people staying there and we were the only two that hung around to have a nap before getting up to see the fireworks for Tet.  Over the next couple days, we got talking and did a few things together.  We found out that we had very similar itineraries for Vietnam and we got along pretty well so we did some things together in Dalat.  We saw Crazy House, we got delicious coffee, we walked all the way to the bus station and back, we ate like kings at a nearby vegetarian restaurant for 30 000 dong.  It just so happened that she’s quite suspicious of meat at the best of times and didn’t like the idea of eating meat cooked in the iffy restaurants of South East Asia so she was cool finding vegetarian places wherever we were.  I never had to feel guilty that I was depriving her because she was cool with it.

Once we started travelling together, things like walking to the train station to save money, wandering around to seek nourishment of some kind and just hanging out in the hotel were fun.  We talked, we laughed, we met other people, she bummed cigarettes from some guy sitting with us on the plastic furniture in Hanoi, we enjoyed many a dessert dinner.

This point comes full circle to the first because, although we did certainly do many things that we wouldn’t normally do in our respective home countries (for example, bungee jumping, playing with elephants, riding a boat through the Phong Nha caves, ziplining, going on luxury cruises through a World Heritage Site), most of what we did was totally ordinary, except we had good company.  Long bus rides, negotiating with travel agents, deciding what to have for dinner was far more exciting with such a great, spunky travel buddy.

However, don’t take this as a warning to not travel alone!  Sure, I didn’t have the best time when I was first alone in Vietnam but I also didn’t stay in a real hostel until I got to Dalat so it was unlikely that I would’ve met anybody anyway.  Plus, part of the fun is seeing who you meet, finding someone to travel with for a little while, have some great conversations with and part ways whenever you feel like it.  When you meet someone on the road, you’re not obligated to stay with them or compromise your route if you want to change it.  That’s the beauty I found in travelling alone.  Sure, it’s good to know that you’ll always have someone there to walk around strange cities and to keep you entertained while you wait an hour and a half for a delayed bus in a bus station in the middle of the night but it’s also really run to do it with someone you don’t know that well.  It’s the thrill of not knowing.

 

Fun in Hanoi on the way home from dinner.

Fun in Hanoi on the way home from dinner.

Till next time, Internets,
Meggo

The future: DUNH DUNH DUNH

Selfie at Halong Bay.

Selfie at Halong Bay.

Hello, Internets.  I’M FROM THE FUTURE TO WARN YOU ABOUT THE FUTURE!!  Just kidding, I’m not.  But I AM here to talk at you about the future, specifically the future of Niesbeetle.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m going to do after I get everything about my four month adventure out for the whole internets to see (and there will be at least a couple more posts on my travels).  As an academically-inclined pathetic university burnout, the one thing I miss about being a student is writing.  Yes, that thing that so many people hate and try so hard to avoid.

You see, I’ve kept a journal for the last 10 years (I know!  It surprised me, too).  I don’t know if I discovered that writing about all my thoughts and junk help me sort through issues or forcing myself to write everyday for a surprisingly long time caused me to cope with my troubles this way but, in either case, I deal with my issues by writing about them.  While writing in my journal is great because it’s private and I can say whatever the eff I want without anyone judging me but me, I found that keeping a blog was totally different in a good way.  It let me be creative again!

Alas my travels have ended and I don’t know what to do with this blog.  Don’t worry, I’ve thought of some options and please vote for the one you like best in the poll below!  I will expand on each option so you don’t have to make an uninformed decision.

Option 1: Just write random things about your life…when you get around to it!
The thing with this option is that, when I’m here in Canada, I feel I’m pretty boring.  I don’t go bungee jumping, play with elephants or accept rides from strangers in a pick up truck.  On top of that, it may be awhile before anything blog-worthy happens and then there will probably be a delay because I haven’t mustered up the energy to write a post about it.

Option 2: Food blog for veggie goodness!
Okay, I’ve had a couple people tell me I should do this for awhile.  Maybe because, once in awhile, I come up with a really good idea and make something super delicious.  But, I can’t say that I come up with brilliant recipes very frequently (although, maybe I would get a lot more creative if I had a food blog…).  Plus, I know nothing of food photography.  Even if it tasted delicious, my pictures would probably make whatever it is look repulsive.  Again, maybe it’s something that I’ll learn with time.  However, I love cooking and I promise I make good stuff sometimes!

Option 3: Finish your posts about your travels and let it be!
Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory…

Option 4: Get lost you crazy person!
I hope nobody picks this one!

There you have it!  Please vote to determine the future of Niesbeetle!  I’ll leave polling open until whenever I finish my next post.  Talk to you soon, Internets,

Meggo