Tag Archives: vegan

It’s Gardening Season!

I never knew I was interested in gardening until I moved in with my partner, Nick, 4 years ago and helped him tend to the 4 or 5 pots of herbs he had growing on his back porch. Gardening was always my mom’s thing and it was always what she did to get away from her kids since her plants didn’t complain or demand things of her. She practically lived in the yard from April-October during our teenage years and I don’t blame her!

I didn’t quite get it then, but I do now. If I have had a particularly bad day or if the library was particularly loud, you’ll most likely find me in the yard tending to my plants in the evening. There’s a meditative quality to gardening and watching things grow from tiny seeds into something that you can eat is incredibly rewarding. In the four years I have lived here, the garden has grown from 4 pots on the porch to about 10 pots on the porch, plus about 1/4 of the building’s backyard and I have gone from knowing nearly nothing about gardening to composting and practicing companion planting and crop rotation for higher yields. It’s amazing what you can learn from a few books and your mom!

This year I got off to a bit of a late start due to all the weird weather we’ve had in Chicago. However, despite doing all of my plantings in mid-June, things seem to be going well and it looks like it should be another good year for my little garden.

Here’s a look at what I have going on this year…



 – Lillies flanked by Liatrix –

I planted Liatrix, Calla Lily and some other form of Lily bulbs last spring and the only one that grew and bloomed was the Liatrix. This year, I have full grown Lilies of some sort, as well as, Liatrix, but none of them have bloomed yet due to our wacky weather. It’s July! They should have bloomed long ago. I’m just hoping they bloom soon so I have some more color in my yard.


The bitter cold this winter killed off most of my strawberry plants, which I’ve had for three years. The one above seems to be bouncing back, but it’s doing so very slowly, so I bought a few new plants from Whole Foods last week when they were on sale to replace all of the strawberry plants that seemed to be gone for good.


Luckily, the rhubarb plant that has been in my family for 4 generations survived the winter despite living in a pot!


 – Rhubarb –

My mint plants also survives the winter, which is both good and bad since they’re taking over my yard, yet continue to protect the plants from pests.


I have had success with peas, small tomatoes (cherry and roma), kale, scallions, radishes, cilantro, dill, and small to mid-sized peppers in the past, so I made sure to plants all of those again this year. I started the peas and tomatoes and the rest either came from my CSA, friends or my local gardening store.


 – Snow Peas –


-Small Sweet Peppers –


 – Green Bell Peppers –


 – Dinosaur Kale –


– Tomatoes –

New additions to the yard include cucumbers, tomatillos, pole beans, celery, and my experimental sweet potatoes that look like aliens.


– Tomatillo –


– Sprouting Sweet Potato –


– Baby Sweet Potato Plants –


Thus far I haven’t had much in terms of yields, but that’s to be expected since all of my plants seem to think it’s still Spring. However, with a little bit of plant food and all the rain we’ve been getting I should start to see more produce coming through my door.

Here’s what I’ve harvested so far…


Plus bunches of cilantro and mint, which aren’t pictured!

Looking forward to shopping for some flowers this weekend to attract more bees!

This is my first year composting, so I’ll be writing a bit more about that in the future, as well as, what I feed my plants, where I get my seeds, what I plant together and why, and what my favorite gardening resources are.

I think it would be awesome if more people grew their own food. I’m no expert, but if you have any questions about my methods, ask away!


90’s Hardcore Vegan French Toast

Last weekend I spent roughly an hour rummaging around looking for one of my old mainstay recipes. I couldn’t find it because it was written either on a scrap of paper or on the inside cover of a lyric book I used for my band that sadly hasn’t been touched in close to 2 years. This recipe originally appeared in the Bark & Grass Vegan Cookbook (cook zine really…) by Kim Nolan, that was printed in the early 90’s. For some reason, I think I bought it at the 1992 More Than Music Festival in Dayton, OH. I carried this zine with me from Buffalo to Baltimore to D.C., back to Buffalo and finally to Chicago.  Over time it became increasingly tattered and it finally met the trash can when a very young, Ian Mackaynine, ravaged all of the books on the lower shelves of my bookshelf the first time he was ever left alone overnight…needless to say, Bark and Grass was among them.  The zine was reprinted here and there, but hasn’t been in print for years, so I only have 2 of the recipes still within my possession: French Toast and Pancakes. Okay, story time is over so let’s make some French Toast!


3 Tbs Flour
2 Tsp Sweetener
1/2 Tsp Cinnamon

1/2 Cup Soy or Almond Milk
1/4 Cup Water

Vegan Margarine

Vegan Bread

Grab a shallow bowl wide enough to accept a piece of bread horizontally. Mix up the dry ingredients. I’ve used a variety of dry sweeteners over the years – cheapo sugar, sucanat, and Vegan Cane Sugar from Whole Foods. It all works the same but we prefer the Vegan Cane Sugar from Whole Foods because its clearly marked.

Then add your wet ingredients. I can’t remember if the original recipe from Bark and Grass used the mix of water and soy milk that I listed, as my only existing version of the recipe is hand written and I know that using all “milk” makes the batter a bit thicker and thus, doesn’t cover as many pieces of bread. The days of clinging to soy milk for every recipe have also passed (which is what the original recipe used), so the French Toast pictured used plain almond milk because that’s what we prefer.

Mix up the batter and heat up the pan on low-medium heat and melt some margarine on the pan.

Let’s take a moment to talk about vegan bread. Most cities have some local bakery that provides fresh Italian and/or sour dough bread to local businesses. This isn’t usually “top of the line” bakery bread, but its fresh and not full of all sorts of crappy processed food ingredients. Instead its your typical: flour, water, salt, yeast sort of bread. This stuff is ideal for French Toast. Since you’re essentially burying most of the original bread’s flavor in sugar and cinnamon, there is no reason to use the best vegan organic bread that money can buy. So feel free to use the slightly cheaper vegan bread or even stale bread for this dish.

Bread tirades aside, dip your bread in the batter coating both sides. Don’t soak it all the way through or you’ll end up with soggy French Toast. Just make sure the entire surface of both sides is coated. Toss each piece in the pan and cook until browned and dry on each side.

Finally, when you get down to the bottom of the batter, you’ll find that all of the liquid is gone, but there is still a bunch of the flour/sugar/cinnamon. Don’t let that go to waste. Pour another tablespoon or two of almond milk into it and you can squeeze out another 1 or 2 pieces from it.

All told, you should expect to make 6-10 pieces of French Toast with this recipe depending on the size of the bread.

Smoky Bacon and Navy Bean Soup

Whenever we go to Buffalo to visit Nick’s parents, his mom always makes great soups. My family never ate much soup, but after eating several of her soups, as well as, several delicious soups at The Chicago Diner and at Native Foods Cafe , I decided to try making some of my own, since they’re always great on a cold winter day.

One of my favorite soups from The Chicago Diner is their navy bean soup, so I set out to create my own version of it using Upton’s Naturals bacon seitan and here’s what I came up with. It’s not the same as the Chicago Diner’s soup, but it’s delicious!



2 cups dry navy beans
4 medium red potatoes, cubed
1/3 Red onion, chopped
2 Tbsp Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
4 Tbsp vegan Liquid Smoke
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk or other unsweetened non-dairy beverage
5 slices of Upton’s Naturals bacon seitan
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp salt

Soak navy beans in water overnight or for at least 8 hours. Once soaked – rinse and drain. Pour 6 cups of water into a large soup pan and add beans – boil for 30 minutes.

While beans are boiling, cube your potatoes and place in a separate bowl. Chop red onion into small pieces and chop bacon into small strips, as well. Place 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small frying pan and fry bacon with onion until the onion is translucent and the bacon is a little browned – set aside.

After beans have cooked for half an hour, drain again. Place 5 fresh cups of water into your soup pot and add beans again, as well as cubed potatoes and bring to a boil. Dissolve 1 vegetable bouillon cube in 1 cup of boiling water and add to soup mix. Add 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke and one tablespoon of salt and stir. Allow soup mix to boil for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Take off heat and use potato masher to mash soup mix.

Once beans and potatoes have been mashed, add bacon and onion from the pan you set aside earlier and return pot to heat. Stir and allow to simmer until water evaporates and mixture starts to look like mashed potatoes (10-15 minutes). Stir in almond milk, margarine and the other 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke. Allow to simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Makes 3-4 bowls.


Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a week away – Eeek! Here are some ideas if you’re still looking for something to get your loved ones:

Mixing Bowl Bakery:

Looking for something sweet? The Mixing Bowl Bakery can hook you up with vegan truffles, cupcakes, cookies and more! Orders must be placed by February 10th and 10% of profits go to Mercy for Animals.

Vegan Cuts:

Vegan Cuts is currently offering a great deal on vegan truffles, but if your sweetie isn’t a fan of sweets or you’ve had your heart stolen by a four-legged cuddle monkey, like this girl,  they’re offering plenty of discount codes to some great companies.

Rescue Chocolate:

As always, if you’re looking for quality chocolate that’s vegan and helps save lives check out the Peanut Butter Pit Bull bar or my personal favorite, the Wild at Heart dark chocolate hearts filled with raspberry ganache!

Don’t forget to mention your favorite local rescue at check-out (some of our favorties are Chicago Bully Breed Rescue and Broad Shoulders Animal Rescue ), because they can get part of the profits from your sale.

Remember the 5th of November…

November 5th is a big day for the Chicago Vegan community. Not only is Vegan Mania that day, but Mercy for Animals will be screening the new documentary, Vegucated, at the Viaduct Theater that evening!

Chicago Vegan Mania


This is Vegan Mania’s 3rd year and once again it’s being held at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse (1419 W Blackhawk, Chicago, IL) from 10am – 5pm and it’s FREE! Parking can be hard to come by, so come early or ride your bike/take public transit.

Some of you may be wondering, “What is Vegan Mania?” It’s a celebration of everything that is vegan – food, community, commerce, fashion, and more! It’s where I discovered St Martaen’s delicious artisan cashew cheeses (long before they had the food truck) and Vaute Couture’s lovely coats (before they left us for New York 🙁 ).

Even though the event is free, you’ll want to bring some cash with you because there will be a food court, which will feature delicious options from Chicago’s vegan restaurants and food companies, like Upton’s Naturals. In the past there have also been a wide variety of vegan goods for sale, like Ethically Engineered soaps, Herbivore Clothing, the aforementioned Vaute Couture coats, and more!

This year’s speakers include, Chicago’s Mercy for Animals Campaign Coordinator, Kenny Torella; vegan body builder, Robert Cheeke and Vegan Outreach’s Director of Outreach, Jon Camp. This year’s food demos will include culinary delights from Laviyah Ayanna of the Vegan Food Truck, Sandi Swiss of Canary Confectionary, Linda Szarkowski of Green Spirit Living, the Chicago Diner and Chicago Soy Dairy. All dishes demonstrated and sampled will be free of all animal ingredients.

Finally, there will also be a Family Activity Area with eco-crafts, and a culture cafe featuring a DJ, acoustic acts, artists, a coffee bar and a Vegan Rockstar photobooth!

Hope to see you there!


Saturday, November 5th, 2011
Viaduct Theater
3111 N Western Ave., Chicago, IL

Vegucated is a new documentary that follows 3 meat and cheese loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for 6 weeks. Along the way they discover the cruelty behind the industries they supported and are soon eager to fight back. The film is described as part sociological experiment, part science class and part adventure story.

The film will be followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Marisa Miller Wolfson.

To be sure you get a chance to see this film’s Chicago premier, purchase tickets in advance at http://vegucatedchi2.eventbrite.com/

Manna Organics Give-Away

We’re super excited to be offering you a chance to participate in our very first give-away!

A 4 loaf variety pack of Manna’s Sprouted Breads (approximate retail value$25).

Please, leave a comment below telling us how you like to eat bread before Friday, October 28th, 2011. We’ll be picking a winner from the comments at random on Friday. Be sure to leave your e-mail address, so we can get a hold of you. This contest is only open to those living within the Continental US.

Good luck!


Manna Organics Bread Review

Recently we were asked to review Manna Organics breads*. Manna Organics is a family owned and operated organic bakery in Lisle, IL which specializes in sprouted, yeast free organic bread without salt, oils, sweeteners or leavening agents.  We received a free variety pack from them and started sampling right away. Our pack included the following breads: Millet Rice, Carrot Raisin, Banana Walnut Hemp and Sunseed.

Manna breads are very moist and dense since they’re unleavened. I wouldn’t recommend you buy them to make sandwiches, but they’re great as accompaniments to a meal or as a meal in and of themselves since they are rich in protein and fiber.

The first bread I sampled was the Millet Rice bread and both Nick and I agreed it was our favorite. It has a slightly sweet taste, so it was delicious on it’s own, as well as, topped with margarine. I served it with Trader Joe’s Meatballs and pasta for dinner the night I received my shipment and I was very pleased with how it complimented the dish. I could see it going really well with soups or stews. The idea of pairing Manna Rice Millet bread with split pea soup is literally making my mouth water.  Our roommate, Tyler, was also a big fan of this one!

Manna Organics Millet Rice Bread & Pasta with Meatballs

The Banana Walnut Hemp came in at a close second. It’s more of a breakfast bread and is good served both cold and warm, with or without margarine. I was alone in my enthusiasm for this one, because Nick’s not a big banana fan. I liked that it was sweet, but not too sweet. I was also pleased to see that it contained flax and hemp seeds, which are a great sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

Beware, this bread is a bit sticky, so be sure to follow the cutting instructions on the back of the package.

Banana Walnut Hemp Bread

I’m not a big fan of Rye Breads, and though the Sunseed isn’t a rye bread it has a slight rye bread taste. It’s the kind of bread I only eat if it’s coated in margarine, but it can also go well with soups and stews, though it wouldn’t be my first choice and everyone else in my house seemed to feel the same way.


Finally, there was the Carrot Raisin bread. This one was not something I’d seek out. I like carrots and I like raisins, but I didn’t like the pairing of the two. The raisins stood out and the carrots were flavorless. Since the carrots were shredded they gave the bread an odd texture, almost as though it contained shredded coconut and I don’t like shredded coconut . Out of all the breads we received, this one was the only one that didn’t get finished before it went bad.

Carrot Raisin

Manna currently offers 9 varieties of Sprouted breads, as well as Sourdough and Wheat Free breads.  You can find their breads in the frozen section at most Whole Foods locations nationwide and in Canada, as well as at independent health food stores and on their website: http://mannaorganicbakery.com

I definitely plan on making split pea soup with Millet Rice bread in the near future and I’m very curious about their Cinnamon Date bread.

Check back tomorrow to enter our Manna Organics give-away!

*We treat all solicited reviews as non-solicited reviews, ensuring that you get our honest, unbiased opinions.

Apple Cider Cookies

On a recent trip to World Market, I picked up some mulling spices for apple cider. I ended up using some to experiment with cookies. They came out pretty good, but I think I need to do some further experimentation because they could be better. Perhaps I’ll add a caramel glaze or filling next time, or maybe bits of apple or nuts!

Apple Cider Cookies


2 3/4 cups of flour
2 1/2 Tablespoons of mulling cider spices
3/4 Teaspoon of baking powder
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup Earth Balance margarine
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup and 2 Tablespoons apple juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup non-dairy yogurt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease 2 cookie sheets.

Sift dry ingredients together making sure there aren’t any clumps of brown sugar. Add wet ingredients and mix everything together until the dough is smooth and free of any lumps of sugar or margarine. Once your dough is ready, place rounded spoonfuls of it onto your cookie sheets.

Bake for 20-25 min until edges are lightly browned.

Hashbrowns the Second City Vegan Way

I use hashbrowns as a base for a meal on a regular basis. It’s something I learned from Nick. The neutrality of the potato allows for a wide variety of flavors to be added, as well as various vegetables, vegan meats, vegan cheeses, nuts, etc. This simple meal has taught me how to be a better cook by allowing me to experiment with a wide variety of spices, like cumin, chili powder, curry powder, paprika, etc. as well as whatever I happen to have in my fridge.


I always make sure I have a bag or two of frozen hashbrowns in my freezer. Today’s meal was made up of cauliflower, red and orange bell peppers, peas (frozen), nutritional yeast, Upton’s ground beef seitan, chili powder, flax powder (have to get those Omega 3s in there) and a little bit of olive oil and salt.

What I typically do is pour half a bag of hashbrowns into a pan coated in oil and place the heat on medium. Then I chop the veggies before adding them and stirring everything around to make sure everything has some oil on it, so nothing sticks to the pan. I don’t add spices until the end when most of the hashbrowns have browned because they absorb a lot of the oil. If you add them beforehand it’s not the end of the world though, just add a little more oil to keep things from sticking to the pan, don’t add water cause your potatoes will turn to mush. I typically also add nuts, daiya and hot peppers towards the end if I’m going to add them because burnt nuts can ruin a meal, spicy peppers heated for too long can become unbearably hot and Daiya can melt and stick to the pan instead of your food, which is a waste.

Do some experimenting of your own. It’s an easy meal, you can throw in pretty much anything you have in your fridge and more often than not you’ll be pleased by your results.

If you need more ideas try:

Southwestern Style: Hb’s, jalapenos, corn, peas, green onions, chorizo, flax powder, vegan cheese (the cheese can help cut the heat of peppers sometimes), and chili powder.

Indian Style: Hb’s, peas, cashews, garlic powder, cumin, curry powder and coriander powder.

Midwestern Style: Hb’s, broccoli, Daiya cheddar cheese, onion powder.

The possibilities are endless!


Cousin’s Incredible Vitality

At some point last year I bought a $20 Groupon to Cousin’s Incredible Vitality (3038 W. Irving Park Rd, Chicago 773-478-6868) and Nick and I finally cashed it in last month. Cousin’s is both entirely raw and entirely vegan.

We weren’t really sure what to expect when we went in. Neither of us have a lot of experience with raw food, but the little bit of experiece we do have has been pleasant. Still, we were both a little nervous.

The place itself has simple decor and the tables are arranged cafeteria style, so on occasion you may find yourself seated next to a complete stranger, but I’m ok with that. However, it took a while for us to be seated and for someone to come take our order. When our server did stop b she was friendly, and brought us a carafe of water.  This was a pleasant surprise; reviews we had read online said they normally don’t bring water until you received your meal. Plus, lately its felt like we’ve had to chase down waitstaff at other establishments for water or appropriate it ourselves. Cousin’s, however, provided us with ample water. The wait to place our orders was longer than one would normally expect, but at least we did have plenty of time to peruse the menu.

We ordered the RAWmazing Antipesto ($7) as a starter, which consisted of zucchni frittes, onions rings, fakin bacon, bell peppers, tempura with olive and pumkin seed cheese.

It was not what I expected at all, but it was good. The olive and pumpkin seed cheese dip was excellent and I probably could’ve just eaten that stuff by itself, but it complimented the rest of the appetizer well and it was all gone long before our entrees came out.

For my entree, I ordered the Sushi Maki ($10) – 5 rolls of Nori rolled sprouts, almond pate, avocado and greens served with soy sauce on a bed of romaine lettuce.

I was dissapointed in my entree. The rolls didn’t stay together very well, they were dry and they didn’t have much flavor. They also weren’t served with any wasabi paste and the soy sauce they were served with was incredibly salty. I was glad they were served on a bed of romaine lettuce cause that helped cut some of the salt. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be ordering this entree again.

Nick ordered the Portabella Melt ($10) – A marinated portabella mushroom stuffed with seed cheese and avocados, topped with sprouts and a tomato sauce, served with a side salad of broccoli, cauliflower and spices.

We both agreed that he got the better of the two entrees. The meaty consistency of the portabella mushroom made you feel satisfied and it’s filling was flavorful and went well with the mushroom. The side salad of veggies and spices was also very good. I would definitely order this again!

We finished dinner off with a piece of raw strawberry cheesecake topped with banana. As far as cheesecakes go it was alright. We did both leave the restaurant satisfed though.

Since this is a raw organic restaurant the prices are a bit higher than places I traditionally go, especially when taking portions into account. However, there were a lot of items I was curious about on the menu, which I would like to try, so I’ll definitely be back. I feel like Cousin’s is the perfect place to go when you’re looking for something light and healthy, especially on those hot summer days when you don’t feel like cooking, but want something a bit more elaborate than a salad.

They also offer a detox program for those who are interested and raw cuisine classes.