Happy Samhain-ween!

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Halloween is upon us. It’s the time when All Souls’ Night gives way to All Saints’ Day (depending on whether you’re Pagan or Christian) and skeleton dolls commemorate the Day of the Dead. This is when summer ends and winter begins according to Celtic tradition and the separation between the living world and the spirit world is “thinly veiled”.

Food has many functions. Besides mere sustenance it can play a key role in many shared life experiences. To commemorate the dearly departed many cultures leave food at the altar of the deceased (e.g. Mexico, China, ancient Egypt). During Samhain, soul cakes, flat cakes with spices and currants roughly resembling round scones, were left out for any souls who returned on All Souls’s night (October 31st.)

Samhain is the Celtic festival that marks the transition from abundance (autumn harvest) to scarcity (the dearth of winter) and is credited with the origins of modern-day Halloween: ‘guising’ (concealing one’s identity); going door to door collecting food; bobbing for apples; the colour scheme of black and orange.

Here in North America people are familiar with candy during Halloween while sugared skulls are the order of the day in Mexico. For Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, families in Mexico reportedly have picnics and parties at the grave of their loved ones. Rather than grieving, there is merriment peppered with food to remember fondly those who have passed. Traditional foods for Samhain include apples, turnips, gourds and nuts while popular dishes include colcannon, soul cakes and barm brack.

Barm brack is a yeasted enriched bread that contains dried fruit and spices. A few telling trinkets wrapped in parchment paper were baked inside and the recipient would find out if the coming year would see them single, married or rich. Divination and food is also found in other parts of the world (Asian-American fortune cookies and Chinese mooncakes and tea leaf reading).

Food ideas

A cauldron made of a hollowed out gourd filled with pumpkin, apple and sage soup.

Pumpkin sourdough Photo by Kimberley (c)2014

Pumpkin sourdough
Photo by Kimberley (c)2014

Pumpkin  sourdough bread with pecan butter

An autumn granola with fruit, nuts and oats.

Colcannon. This creamy cabbage and potato dish isn’t just for St. Patrick’s Day. Use purple cabbage and potato along with cashew cream for a twist to the original recipe. Many recipes include kale in the mix but you may add other greens (collard, Swiss chard) just because.



Meatless Monday – Tips & Treats

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It’s that time of year again where ghoulish treats and spooky tricks are the order of the day. This Meatless Monday offers some tips and treats for the vegetarian/vegan at Hallowe’en.

Some Tips for Hallowe’en treats
How do you know if those unsuspecting candies in trick or treat bags and at Hallowe’en themed parties have been tainted with animal product? There are three tell-tale signs to look for:

Main ingredient
Clearly candy is made with copious amounts of sugar and while the package may not specifically state bone char sugar, the label does not confirm the process used to whiten the sugar. Brown rice syrup and cane sugar are alternative ingredients in boiled sweets that don’t contain bone char (as far as we know…)

Added ingredient
Any gummied or jellied treat is likely to contain gelatin. Other treats that also have this cow or pig derived protein product are candy corn, junior mints and Rice Krispie cereal treats.

Animal derived food dyes often account for the exuberance of Hallowe’en candy.
-carmine, cochineal, natural red 4 (from beetles)
-confectioners’ glaze, shellac (from lac beetles)

Most health food stores will carry Hallowe’en treats that are made with natural dyes, alternative sweeteners and gelling agents. Shop around and read the labels. If in doubt, leave it out.

Some tricks for Hallowe’en treats
And for those who will be hosting a healthy Hallowe’en party (um…what’s the point?), here are some food ideas to help serve up a scary feast:

  • Cauliflower brain – serve with a ‘grey matter’ sauce.
  • Savoury or sweet blood sauce (tomato or pomegranate based, respectively)
  • ‘Finger food’ –  marzipan shaped to look like fingers
  • Edible eyeballs! Who can resist? Boiled egg, olive and pepper for ovo-vegetarians and lychee fruit and berries for vegans
  • Witches’ brew – a cauldron of anything: steaming pumpkin soup, fruit-based beverage, alcohol-based beverage
  • Hallowe’en themed ice-cube trays filled with water (plain or soda), juice or ginger ale. The carbonated ice cubes can be thrown into the cauldron for special (fizzing) effect.
  • Orange bell peppers carved like pumpkins and filled with a mix of vegetables and couscous. See original post.
  • And check out the Vegetarian Times online for more inspiration and recipes.

And if you really want to freak out your guests, screen legally obtained documentaries on factory animal slaughter, decorate your party pad with photos of an abattoir in action and string up stuffed animals around the room to recreate that meat locker feel. Now that’s horrifying!

Two Thumbs Up

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Popular lore, or perhaps urban myth of sorts perpetuated into the modern-day, would suggest that the thumbs up gesture meant a gladiator would have been spared from death. According to a number of historians and researchers (e.g. see Pollice Verso on the site penelope.uchicago.edu), the opposite is true. Another misconception is that the brave and brawny gladiators were meat and potato kind of men. Apparently they were vegetarian.

Eat Like a Gladiator

In the continuing spirit of Vegetarian Awareness Month, here are some other links to our previous posts on Vegetarianism:

Dem Bones

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With October Feast soon coming to a close, I have to do at least one post on skeleton appreciation.

The skeletal system is made up primarily of bone and serves three main functions in the body: protection, support and movement. Bone is mainly comprised of collagen and crystals. It (bone) stores minerals and the bone marrow of long bones produces blood cells.
Calcium is often the star mineral when it comes to bone health but it is a synergy of several nutrients that help build and maintain bone mass.

calcium, magnesium; vitamins C, A, K and D; phosphorous

Bone crystal is made up of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. Vitamin C is needed for collagen production. Good sources are berries, oranges, kiwifruit and red pepper. Vitamin A is needed for bone growth with eggs and carrots providing the animal and plant-based sources respectively. Vitamin K is needed for forming and mineralizing bone material; dark leafy greens are a good source for this. And finally, vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption. This vitamin/hormone can be obtained through exposure to sunlight, fortified foods and some fish.

Though milk, yogurt and cheese are at the top of the calcium food chain, dairy isn’t the only game in town. Greens such as kale, collard, spinach, bok choy and broccoli also contain this mineral as do tofu and sesame seeds.

Those allergic to milk protein (casein) and intolerant to its sugar (lactose) along with ovo-vegetarians and vegans can take advantage of nature’s bounty for food that contains calcium. Other bone-friendly nutrients can be found in nuts, whole grains and legumes. A balanced diet with a variety of foods is key.


  • Avoid processed foods, especially pop which generally contains phosphoric acid. A disproportionate ratio of phosphorous to calcium can result in calcium loss.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
  • Follow an alkaline diet. Foods that produce an acidic effect may leach calcium from your bones in order to redress the acid/alkaline balance of the body. Think Tums®, the antacid tablet that contains calcium.
  • Eat outside in the sun for some extra vitamin D. (Unless it’s winter.)
  • Exercise also helps keep bones strong. Perform weight-bearing exercises such as resistance training then fuel your body with a balanced diet.
  • Supplements can help top up daily amounts of required nutrients. Vitamin D in an oil base can be mixed with olive oil and made into a salad dressing. An alternative is to consume fortified cereals and orange juice that do not contain added sugar and other additive nasties. (Is that even possible?)

Meal suggestions:

  • Brown rice with broccoli, kale and bok choy, drizzled with a lemon tahini sauce.
  • A spinach salad with strawberries, red pepper and almonds finished with an orange vinaigrette dressing.
  • Lightly seared pieces of organic tofu served on a bed of collard greens.

Calcium Nutrition and Bone Health on the OrthoInfo site.

*This post was brought to you by a (mostly) vegan, hence a plant-based approach is emphasized.

Meatless Monday – So You’re Thinking of Going Veg?

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Today’s Meatless Monday post is brought to you by the fine folk at Weal Food for Vegetarian Awareness Month.

If you’re thinking of going veg, you may be trolling the internet for ways to cut meat out of your diet. Look no further. Here are some tips to help get you started.

  • Quitting cold turkey (mandatory pun) may meet with failure rather than success so go slow. Gradually cut out meat in the following order: red meat, poultry, pig, seafood, dairy, eggs, honey and meat products (i.e. gelatin, rennet, bone char sugar, V8 etc.) This could take days, months or even years. Start with Meatless Monday and build up to meatless everyday.
  • Be open to new tastes and be patient with the process. Tofu steak is never going to taste the same as the real thing and the saying “it tastes just like chicken” only applies to other animals, not meat substitutes.
    It’s often been said that it takes 21 days to create a habit so give it time and give yourself a break if you fall off the wagon.
  • To be a healthy vegetarian remove most processed food from your diet. In the presence of (nutritional) health is the absence of unnatural food cravings. Meat, shmeat-you won’t miss a thing. And if you do, there are tricks to satisfy your animal-trained palate.
  • Prepare your own food. Recipes abound on the internet and there are many vegetarian/vegan restaurants that do tasty meals (if you’re lucky to have some in your area). And speaking of which…
  • Good cookbooks to get are the Moosewood series and Laurel’s Kitchen. Both offer straight-forward recipes that are easy to follow with ingredients commonly found in many grocery stores. Laurel’s Kitchen also provides the low-down on a vegetarian diet as well as ingredient and nutritional information.
  • If in doubt, consult ‘cultural’ cuisine. Dishes from the Middle East, India, Ethiopia, Italy, Greece and Mexico do vegetarian food combining very well.
  • Vegetarianism is a spectrum from lacto-ovo to vegan. The journey to a plant-based diet is unique to each individual and you will settle on a diet that works for you. You may even decide that you’d rather be flexitarian and as long as you are occasionally choosing organic meats from ethical farmers than that’s o.k. – for you.
  • Make sure every meal contains protein, fat and fibre for satiety, that feeling of fullness and appetite satisfaction. Meat shmeat-you won’t miss a thing.
  • Make sure half of your plate is full of vegetables. Fill the rest with good grains and some protein.
  • Eat a variety of food to ensure you extract the myriad of nutrients that a plant-based diet contains.

And finally, for motivation, keep in mind the good parts of a plant-based diet; it imparts benefits to your health and less detriment to the environment. Bon Vegetit!

Vegetarianism and the ‘R’ Word

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St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals.

There are many reasons people go vegetarian: health, personal preference, economy, environment, etc. Spiritual practice is also a reason why many people world-wide have traditionally abstained from eating meat.

Religions of both the East and the West have long denounced the consumption of flesh. Compassion, kindness to creatures and respect for nature that God, Allah, Jah, Vishnu, etc. created seems to be at the heart of why some religions forbid the eating of certain meat.

In Hindu India the cow is sacred and the precept of ahisma (nonviolence) would suggest kindness to living creatures.

“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
~Mahatma Ghandi~

Jainism and Buddhism, other religions in India, also espouse the virtues of practising kindness to living creatures. Principles of the Chinese religion Taoism (of yin/yang fame) suggest the merits of a vegetarian diet.

In both Judaic and Islamic tradition the concepts of kosher and halal, respectively, suggest humane ways in which animals should be treated. Though a vegetarian diet is not a requirement for followers of these Abrahamic religions, the consumption of pork is forbidden.

In the Christian realm, the Seventh Day Adventists actively promote a vegetarian diet while orthodox Christians in Ethiopia and Egypt fast from eating meat for approximately two-thirds of the calendar year.

The Rastafari tradition also does not include meat or shellfish in their diet, though some practitioners do eat fish.

This post has been brought to you by the kind folk at Weal Food for Vegetarian Awareness Month.

Photo by Kimberley (c)2013

Photo by Kimberley (c)2013

A sample of some Famous Vegetarians

Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians

Meatless Monday – “Are You Going to Scarborough Fair…”

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parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
~Simon & Garfunkel song lyrics~

The often portrayed image of a Canadian Thanksgiving is that of a family sat around the dinner table stuffing themselves silly on all manner of animal product: dairy, egg, poultry, giblets, eww! I’ll stop right there. These days you never know who you might expect at the dinner table. When a meal turns meatless it need not be tasteless. Today is Canadian Thanksgiving and this Meatless Monday post will profile some key ingredients that can make any meatless meal healthy and deliciously memorable for your  guests’ taste buds.

Thanksgiving is considered a celebration of the bounty of the harvest and a time to give thanks for all that we have. In Canada this holiday falls on the second Monday in October. In the US it is celebrated in November with the pilgrims being credited for inventing this occasion. There are a few theories of how Thanksgiving came to be in Canada: part European tradition, part end of war celebration and part thankfulness on an expedition.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are herbs mostly native to the Mediterranean. They are easily found in grocery stores and can dress up any savoury feast with the smells and tastes reminiscent of the changing seasons. They go well in dressing, nut roast, lentil loaf, mashed potatoes, soup, vegetarian gravy and with roast vegetables, rice, seitan and tofu. These herbs also contain nutrients, antioxidants and can help impart a healthy effect through your food.  In aromatherapy, the essential oils obtained from these plants have chemical constituents with medicinal properties some of which also carry over into culinary application.
All health benefit links below are from the website The World’s Healthiest Foods.

Parsley contains oxidant-fighting flavonoids and vitamins C and A. Chlorophyll, a green pigment in the plant, can also help freshen breath.
Health benefits of parsley

Sage is said to be antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and a memory booster. See link below for synopsis on some sage studies.
Health benefits of sage

Rosemary helps with digestion, circulation and immunity. And it tastes great with mashed potatoes.
Health benefits of rosemary

Thyme can help with respiratory ailments such as coughs and bronchitis. It has been tested for antimicrobial and antioxidant action. Thymol, the main constituent, is also considered antiseptic.
Health benefits of thyme

Spice tips:

  • Buy small amounts of herbs and use them up within a few months. Spices that stay on the shelf too long lose their efficacy and taste.
  • When using dried herbs, crush them with your fingers to release the oil. This is where the flavour is concentrated.
  • To extract the most flavour, add the crushed herbs to the onion and garlic after lightly cooking them.
  • Make sure there is some cooking oil involved in your food prep. It will act as a carrier to bring the oils and flavour of the herb to the rest of the food ingredients.
  • Dry herbs are far more concentrated than fresh so use small amounts of dry or large amounts of fresh for equivalent potency.

dressing vs. stuffing
Dressing is cooked alongside the bird while stuffing is cooked inside of it.
So what do vegetarians/vegans call this savoury bread-based dish when there is no bird?