For years Colleen Risbey was frustrated there were no late-night delivery options available for vegans in Montreal. An experienced chef, Risbey was also determined to start cooking more food that she was passionate about. So after three years of planning and scheming, Risbey is now the proud owner of her very own business.

La Tomate Roulante is a delivery-only restaurant which serves vegan munchies to those who stay up late in St-Henri, NDG and downtown (as far as Guy). I stopped by La Tomate Roulante’s headquarters in St-Henri recently to give vegan take-out a try, and learn how Risbey plans to accomplish her mission to “feed the people” of Montreal.

Launching any new business is risky. It’s especially true when your new venture is in a saturated market like the restaurant business. But the reality that most restaurants fail didn’t seem to phase Risbey one bit. “More than half the restaurants I used to work in are now closed,” Risbey declared very matter-of-factly.

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So why is Risbey so confident in La Tomate Roulante’s future?  “Because through all my experience I’ve learned how NOT to run a kitchen.” Risbey said. “Combined with the fact that I’m able to run this business at a low cost and I’m doing something no one else is, makes me extremely confident in its future.”

Risbey is adamant that her menu items will always be financially accessible to anyone. “It’s really important to me that anyone can afford to buy my product. Too many people end up eating crap like McDonalds because it’s the only type of food they can afford. It IS possible to eat well and cheap.” Risbey’s entire menu, from sandwiches to salads to desserts, is available for five dollars or less.

For the tasting Risbey prepared three sandwiches, all with Asian and Mediterranean influences.  First up was Risbey’s flagship sandwich the Avocado Bahn-Mi: a French baguette with vegan garlic aioli, avocado slices,  sautéed nappa cabbage, carrots and smoked tofu topped with red onions and cilantro. A sucker for anything with avocado in it, I was immediately hooked after the first bite.

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Colleen Risbey putting the finishing touches on one of her creations. (Photo by the author)

While Risbey may feel the “Avocado Bahn-Mi” is her strongest menu item, I felt each subsequent  item she presented was even stronger. The next sandwich I tried was the Nilufar Creation: Nilufars falafel,  spinach,  roasted garlic and pepper hummus, marinated cucumbers and fresh tomato in a pita bread.

I would highly encourage this sandwich to anyone who loves falafel, as it was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. The falafel in this sandwhich is courtesy of Restaurant Nilufar, who Risbey has developed a strong working relationship with. “I can’t tell you how much of a thrill it’s been working with Nilufar,” Risbey swooned. “If only all relationships were this easy!”

The final sandwich I tasted was The Alfresco: a toasted baguette with smoked paprika potato salad, vodka battered and double fried tofu with a double date chili sauce and maple dill sauce.

The Alfresco was the clear winner of the three sandwiches in terms of taste, but also the unhealthiest. “People seem to have a misconception that vegan food is always healthy, but I think The Alfresco proves that theory wrong,” Risbey noted with a smile. “At least you know it’s better for you then a hamburger.”

After initially being nervous as to how I would like vegan food, I easily finished every morsel Risbey put in front of me. Even after she’s been professionally cooking for years, Risbey was clearly thrilled that I enjoyed her creations. “Cooking is my art- it’s always been inspiring to me. Nothing makes me happier than feeding people.”

La Tomate Roulante runs from Thursday to Saturday, 9p.m to 4a.m. For contact information visit their website, twitter or Facebook page.

Food photos by Skylar  Bouschel

 

 

 

 

 

I love cream soups. Cream of broccoli, cream of mushroom, cream of leek, but my ultimate favorite has always been: cream of tomato.

When I went vegan several years ago, it wasn’t even a challenge to continue making cream soups without dairy or other animal products. Everything can be veganized, and in my opinion, because the dish is rendered cruelty-free, it becomes even more nourishing and delicious.

In my cookbook, Cooking With Amore, I share with you my “quinoa method” for making soups thick and creamy. Simply by adding a small amount of quinoa, usually 1/2 cup or less, to the vegetables while they are cooking, and then blending the soup, the result will be a creamy vegan masterpiece.

I created quite a few of these quinoa-cream soups and included many in Cooking With Amore, but for some reasons, I had not yet attempted my favorite one of all: cream of tomato (fear of failure, perhaps?) This week, I thought it was time to get to work on that. When I sat down for dinner with my newly-created vegan tomato soup, I was so glad I finally did it.

I ended up eating three bowls! It made me think that a grilled cheese sandwich was all that was missing to make this meal sheer perfection. Daiya makes such delicious vegan cheeses of all kinds – I love their sliced cheese for making my grill cheeses. They even offer an amazing Grilled Cheese Cookbook as a free download!

In addition to the quinoa, I used a couple more ingredients to create a creamy taste and texture for this soup: potato, black beans and soy milk. These extra ingredients served not only to increase the nutrition of the soup, but also to effectively counter the acidity of the tomatoes. This is one challenge we have with cream of tomato versus other cream soups: the acidity of the tomato. But much like with tomato sauces, this is an issue we can easily address and balance out.

Here’s my recipe for a big batch of delicious, nourishing vegan cream of tomato soup. You can freeze some for later. I hope you enjoy it!

Cream of Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

4 small potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 1/2 cups of water (more if desired for less thickness)

12 small to medium ripe tomatoes

1 cup of cooked black beans

1/4 cup of quinoa

1 cup soy milk (optional, you can just add more water instead)

Himalayan salt and black pepper to taste

Optional garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, squirt of fresh lime

Method: 

1. In a large pot, heat coconut oil. Add chopped onion, garlic and potatoes. Add 1/2 cup of water and allow to simmer slowly.

2. In order to remove the peel from the tomatoes, bring a separate pot of water to a boil. Drop tomatoes into boiling water one by one. After 1 to 2 minutes, remove from heat, drain the water and allow to cool. Once tomatoes are cool, peel off the skin and discard. Chop tomatoes and add to the simmering vegetables. Sprinkle some Himalayan salt. Once the onion and potatoes appear to be getting soft, add the black beans and quinoa. Add remaining water and let simmer.

4. Once the quinoa appears cooked, add soy milk or additional water. Turn off heat, and allow to cool.

5. Once cool, place a small batch of soup at a time into a blender and puree until thick and creamy. If you want to thin out the soup, add more water at any time. Mix all pureed batches together and reheat the portion you are ready to eat. Taste test to see if more salt is desired. Store the rest in the refrigerator or freezer.

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“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” ~Woodrow Wilson

Many people have told me how much they love my popcorn, so I decided to share my method with all of you. I learned it from watching my mother prepare popcorn for us on our fun movie nights! Miss you, Mommy!

I make my popcorn in a big pot on the stove top. I prefer the flavor of the popcorn when I make them this way, rather than using an air popcorn machine, although this is another option you can try. When using the stove top method, believe it or not, the material that the pot is made of will influence the taste and texture of the popcorn. In my experience, it is best when the pot is steel with porcelain enamel or simply stainless steel.

The first step is to thinly coat the bottom of the pot with your choice of cooking oil. Depending on the size of the pot (I use a standard size pot typically used for cooking pasta), usually about two tablespoons of oil is plenty.

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Coconut oil is a good choice since it is an oil which doesn’t denature quickly at high temperatures, like olive oil does. That means that coconut oil retains its healthful properties even when we heat it, whereas olive oil does not. Another oil I enjoy cooking with is grapeseed oil, however, its healthfulness when heated is debatable.

I enjoy grapeseed oil because of its light taste and texture. Some people have written that it is stable at high temperatures, while others disagree. For popcorn, I prefer the outcome when I use grapeseed oil. The advantage with using the air popcorn machine is that no oil is necessary at all.

You then add the popcorn kernels, about a handful, to cover the bottom of the pot evenly, but not more than that, because then the popcorn won’t have enough room to expand. Cover the pot and turn on the burner to high, but not maximum. Start shaking the pot frequently, either by rubbing it directly on the burner, or lifting the pot slightly and shaking it. This will allow the heat to touch all the kernels evenly and within a couple of minutes you will hear that delicious sound: popcorn popping!

If you have dogs, or birds, and sometimes cats too, beware, they love popcorn as well! Continue shaking the pot often until the constant popping slows down, and before it stops completely, remove the pot from the heat. Lift the lid and there you have all your beautiful popcorn.

Now for the choice of toppings – this will make the popcorn extra yummy, and for me, I choose vegan toppings. I get the most compliments when I sprinkle garlic powder, Himalayan salt (or onion salt for added flavor) and nutritional yeast for a cheesy taste and aroma. With respect to the garlic, you can also mince garlic and add it to the oil and kernels, but the garlic inevitably burns by the time the popcorn is done so sprinkling garlic powder at the end may be preferred. The toppings are yours to experiment with!

Here in Los Cabos, Mexico, I get my organic popcorn kernels, nutritional yeast, and my coconut oil from a lovely little store in San Jose del Cabo called Green Goddess. I was thrilled to discover this place since it carries many of the organic and vegan ingredients I like to use in my recipes. They have a lovely selection of nut milks and butters, and many gluten-free pastas. I also get my quinoa and mung beans in bulk at the Green Goddess. They make phenomenal smoothies and cold-pressed juices!

The Green Goddess is a family-owned and operated business (they are originally from Alberta, Canada). Kristen Erickson, the family’s competitive runner, is usually there to greet you with a big smile and has a wealth of knowledge about healthful living to share. The next time you come to Los Cabos, be sure to check them out!

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Make your week amazing and let me know how the popcorn works out for you!

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“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”~Robert Fulghum

As you all know, I’m the first person to poo-poo canned food. I also advocate whole foods and lots of raw, rather than processed foods. Living through a devastating hurricane, however, changed my tune! I was surprised to discover that sometimes, canned food and avoiding raw is actually the way to go!

Hurricane Odile crashed into Baja California Sur on September 14, 2014, a date many of us in Mexico are unlikely to forget anytime soon. I prepared as best I could, but how can you ever fully prepare for something you have never experienced before? Norbert the week prior was a fresh breeze in comparison to Odile!

We were all told to take in all patio furniture, stock up on food and water, fill up our gas tanks, secure our windows and doors, and pray for the best. This is what I did, but for me, stocking up on food means lots fresh produce and some frozen items. Right! Without electricity for over two weeks due to the hurricane knocking down almost 8000 poles, in a very hot climate, how far do you think that food took me?

In two days, everything that was uneaten was either spoiled or on its way to expiring. I was surprised at how quickly frozen peas, for example, can go bad. Within one day of no refrigeration, they had spoiled.

If it weren’t for canned food, none of us in Los Cabos would have had anything to eat. The grocery stores were all severely damaged by the hurricane, and what was left of them got looted.

I was scared and saddened not only by the wreckage of the hurricane itself, but also by the ordeal of the aftermath. We had no power, running water, phone or Internet for over two weeks. My home was severely damaged and flooded. Not only were my windows shattered, but the ferocious winds ripped out the frame too! My whole bedroom, in fact, was gutted out, closet doors, clothes and all!

bedroom after Odile

Unfortunately, my living room did not fare much better, broken glass everywhere and furniture soaked.

living room after Odile

Once the windows and patio doors had shattered on that horrifying night, water gushing everywhere, I wasn’t sure my beloved animals and I would survive. As water dripped from the light fixtures on my ceiling, from all my air conditioning units, my laundry room overflowing with dirty water into my kitchen, I prayed the house would not cave in on us! Thankfully, none of us were injured (we hid in the bathroom for hours) and I am just so grateful to be alive!

Canned food is what we lived on for weeks and even if nutritionally inferior to fresh, whole foods, it kept us alive! In fact, I had my first salad a few weeks after the hurricane when one store reopened, and by the next morning, after a night of severe stomach pain, I had a high fever.

Two days of fever, muscle pain, nausea and diarrhea, urged me see a doctor who lives in my community. He said I had a bacterial infection, likely from contaminated water or vegetables. He prescribed antibiotics and told me to avoid raw food completely. He explained that after natural disasters, the level of bacteria is out of control.

This experience has surely taught me a lot about survival, but mostly it has been a lesson in hope and gratitude. I was pleased to actually meet my neighbors, talking to some of them for the first time, and I was really impressed by how we came together as a community and helped each other out. Although many of us had lost so much, and we had so little, no of us went without basic necessities because we were all there for one another.

It has been almost one month since that sleepless night, and Cabo is recovering quickly. Many stores and hotels have already been repaired and are open for business. I continue to be grateful every day, despite my moments of despair and uncertainty. Here is an excerpt from my gratitude journal I’d like to share with all of you:

1 – I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for teaching me, in a very concrete fashion, the impermanence of all things. What incredible pride we get from acquiring things. A house, a car, a fat pay cheque – wow, these make us feel accomplished, successful. But really, they can and will be taken away at any moment. Similarly, all relationships end at one point. They all end in the physical realm, whether they be through break-ups, or through death. There is no permanence in the physical world, there is only change. The permanence lies only in the spiritual realm. Therefore, maybe, we should invest more in our spirituality (whatever that means to each of us) than in material wealth. Thank you, Odile, for teaching me the transitory nature of physical existence.

2 – I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for showing me how truly “wealthy” I am for having lived my whole life with running water, enough food to eat, a roof over my head, electricity, enough health to make a living and the possibility of getting better when ill, resources to help me achieve university degrees, the companionship of loyal animals, true friends and loving family. Thank you Odile, for showing me my riches.

3- I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for allowing me to experience the importance of community. We need one another. We belong to each other. Our purpose is to serve all beings and treat them with kindness and help all those in need. Thank you, Odile, for allowing me to experience the power of community.

It seems to me that in those moments when much is taken from us, much of our true riches are revealed. Namaste.

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Once upon a time, you had to venture north of Rosemont to get a proper pupusa in Montreal.

Before that, it was even harder. I was all the way in Santa Barbara, California, when I first tasted the addictively comforting El Salvadorian treat. That was ten years ago, and since then, we’ve been lucky to have a few Montréal instances, like La Carreta on St Zotique, or  El Chalateco on Beaubien.

These places are renowned for their flavours and charm, and not for their trendy or boozy vibes.

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Pupusas at Los Planes – perfectly pillowy and comforting.

Los Planes is aiming to modify the pupusa’s image. The city’s third pupusa contender has recently moved southward in a bid to test their El Salvadorian and Mexican fare in the Plateau. It’s not exactly next door to where I live, yet it’s nice to see more great pupusas near me.

It’s a risky bid. After all, the block to which they have migrated (St-Denis near Rachel) is part of that long-imploding mile between Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal.

Once the city’s de facto tourist shop/lunch strip, the mile, in the past five years, has become known more for its landmark closings, which leave in their wake, changing doors of upstart culinary establishments replacing one another — endless à louer signs replacing even the places with high quality and good intentions.

After trying Los Planes’ pupusas, I can only hope, that the resto does not find itself among the ranks of the restos that come and go too occasionally.

So slick was this resto’s exterior, that my feet almost made me walk past it. Out for an evening stroll, I initially judged Los Planes’ new incarnation as just another Mesa 14-inspired (i.e., overpriced and under-seasoned) “Tex-Mex” trap.

Then I spotted the p-word.

An entire section of an upscale menu devoted to pupusas? Could it be? Were upscale pupusas suddenly a thing?

The good news is, they’re not!

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Essential sides to the pupusa include a lightly-fermented slaw, a tomato sauce and, occasionally, hot sauce.

Los Planes’ versions are as homey and heartwarming as any of the El Salvadorian pouches I have tried, and the slight bump in the price is entirely forgivable. The clean and spacious terrace, ample people-watching opportunities, and solid beer and wine list make it worth the splurge, at $3.50 per pouch.

Though the resto offers a full menu of Mexican specialties and various brunch offerings, I’m afraid I can’t give you much information about those: I was here for one thing and one thing only.

The dough of a good pupusa, made from alkalized cornmeal, is akin to a pillow. It’s soft yet firm, inviting yet restrictive, and supports you as you melt away into a wonderful state of pleasure.

Los Planes nails the nurturing quality of the pupusa to near perfection.

I’ll push the analogy further: just as a perfect pillow makes fancy sheets seem inconsequential, so too does a wonderful pupusa pocket cast its fillings as mere enhancements, rather than central features.

The Revuelta, a classic filling mostly based around refried beans, goes down just right on a chilly fall night: oozy, warm, and seasoned to simple perfection. Most importantly, perhaps: it’s not overly greasy at all. Less traditional offerings, such as various cheeses, zucchini, garlic, are hit and miss. Again, the structure is so solid, that it hardly matters. I’d suggest about four: two Revueltas and two “mixed-bags”. You get to choose from about ten options.

Traditional condiments include a mild tomato sauce and a lighly-fermented slaw. Both should be piled high for the full experience and to cut the richness. I personally loved Los Planes’ version of hot sauce, which is rather forceful, and perfect for any cheese-based pupusa filling, which can quickly become cloying.

The terrace makes for a nice, clean, relatively quiet place to grab a pint and to snack. Though it was empty when I arrived, the restaurant and the patio soon filled up with curious passersby.

Despite the cartoonishly-tall and awkward to handle pint glasses it is served in, draft beer is affordable for the neighborhood (considering other restos), with a pint of Boreale at $6.50. In addition, the wine offerings are diverse enough to make the place worth going for a short soiree.

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This is the tallest pint glass in existence.

Then there was this seemingly minor detail: a nice wide ledge on the terrace, like a personal bar to lean on, while sitting at your table, makes for a welcome respite for your elbow or phone, and contributes to a feeling of splendor in what is at its heart an authentic pupuseria.

I think Los Planes has added just enough “bling” to their formula to become good, unpretentious Plateau regulars. Let’s just hope the neighbourhood agrees.

Los Planes is at 4115 rue St-Denis.

As some of you know, one of the reasons I decided to move from Montreal, Canada to Mexico is, sure enough, the weather. I just couldn’t stand the thought of another long, freezing winter and way too many grey rainy days for my taste.

Neither could I accept the thought of waiting until retirement to make the move. I longed for sunshine and heat, all the time, all year round. And oh my did I find just that in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico!

However with the year-round heat, sun and sea breeze also comes the hurricane season, which runs from June to October in Baja. This means that during those months, we can expect some rain and there is a risk of tropical storms and hurricanes of varying intensities.

I experienced my first one here last week, Hurricane Norbert, and it was scary and exciting at the same time. Locals tell me it wasn’t a bad one, but it was enough to knock out my telephone and Internet service for 7 days!

We are now expecting Hurricane Odile scheduled to greet us this Sunday. I am quickly uploading my recipe for you this week just in case the hurricane takes away my Internet again!

When the storm was just starting to brew, I stocked up on supplies and hit the kitchen to make a couple of soups – the ultimate comfort food for damp and windy rainy days. I created a coconut, spinach and mung bean concoction so soothing, creamy and delicious that I couldn’t wait to share it with all of you! To my surprise, the mouth-feel and taste reminded me of a luxurious clam chowder.

Before making this recipe, remember to soak your mung beans overnight, just like we do with other dry beans and chickpeas. I added just a little cumin, fresh ginger and basil for flavor – you may want to add more or less to suit your taste.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

 

Coconut Spinach Mung Soup

Ingredients:

Makes approximately 6 servings

3 tablespoons coconut oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

6 green onions, chopped

1 potato, peeled and chopped

1 small chunk of ginger, about 2 inches, minced

2 cups mung beans, presoaked overnight and drained

2 cups spinach, frozen or fresh (chopped)

1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced

1 cup coconut milk

3 cups water

½ teaspoon cumin

Himalayan salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Place coconut oil, garlic, onions, potato and ginger in a large pot and sauté over medium heat for about 4 or 5 minutes.
  2. Add mung beans, stir and continue to sauté for 2 minutes.
  3. Add spinach, basil, coconut milk, water and cumin and slowly bring to a boil. Immediately lower heat and simmer for approximately 1 hour, or until mung beans and potato are very soft and soup is creamy.
  4. Add salt and black pepper as desired.

 

“Each one of us is here for a reason that is greater than the roles that are ascribed to us and that we ascribe to ourselves. We are alive, in this moment in time, going over material together for a reason. The reason is greater than your role as a parent, as a sibling, as a child, as a friend, or whatever you do in your career. It is greater than your relationships, your insecurities, your stresses, or your bodies. When we get blindsided by the temporary, by the daily routine and the stresses that rise up within it, we stay cloaked behind the veil of illusion that prevents us from seeing the truth. The truth is this: we are here to examine why we are here, who we are, and how we are connected to each other and to the earth that continues to sustain us. That truth also states that beneath this world of change and separation is a deeper world of unchanging existence, and it is from there that we all stem. From a place of permanence, of unchanging energy and consciousness.”

~Bram Levinson, The Examined Life 

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If my article last week convinced you of the benefits of introducing more raw vegan meals into your diet, now is definitely the time to do it! Summertime is the best time because of the abundance of fresh, organic produce. Also, most of us have a natural propensity towards light meals during the summer, and raw vegan dishes are just that, in addition to being highly nutrient-dense and low-calorie.

This week, I thought I’d share with you this delicious raw vegan meal idea: zucchini spaghetti with a raw tomato basil marinara sauce and chunks of avocado. Who knew you could have not only raw noodles, but also a raw tomato sauce?!

I must admit that although this is an exquisite recipe, and so are all raw pasta dishes, really, they aren’t pasta. It may have the look (slightly) of pasta and mouth-feel (somewhat) of pasta, it is not pasta. However, if you agree to keep an open mind and try this healthful, gluten-free, low-calorie dish, you may just appreciate it for its unique virtues! The best part is that you can enjoy a big heaping bowlful and not feel heavy and lethargic after your meal. This is one of the many advantages of raw vegan meals: you feel so energetic afterwards! Here we go!

Ingredients:
Makes about 2 servings

1 large zucchini, spiralized
1 large tomato, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped (or more if you are a basil enthusiast like me!)
Pinch of black pepper and red chili flakes (if desired)

Garnish with shelled hemp seeds, fresh basil and chopped avocado

Method: 
1. Pass zucchini through Spiralizer.
2. Combine other ingredients in a large bowl to prepare Marinara sauce.
3. Pour sauce over zucchini. Garnish with hemp, avocado and fresh basil.

In order to create the zucchini spirals, you will need a spiralizer. I purchased mine online, but you can also check out your local health food store. This device is great for use with many other vegetables and fruits. For raw pasta, besides zucchini, you can try sweet potato, carrots or bell peppers.

spiralizer

 

Bliss out with this one and enjoy these wonderful sunny days of summer!

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What we do is less than a drop in the ocean, but if that drop were missing, the ocean would lack something. ~Mother Teresa

A long, busy day ahead? A train, plane, bus or road trip coming up? Something to munch on between classes? A tasty, satisfying, healthful snack to bring along with you is always convenient. All it takes is a little planning ahead to pick up a few required ingredients, some time to put the recipe together, and in this case of my raw vegan granola bars: 12 hours total in the dehydrator.

A dehydrator is a fun, versatile and useful kitchen tool for preparing many raw vegan recipes, but if you don’t have one and are not interested in making the investment, you can bake these granola bars in the oven at 350°F for about 20 minutes.

In my opinion, however, there are certain advantages to choosing a dehydrator over an oven. A dehydrator uses a fan and much lower heat than an oven to remove the water content from foods without actually “cooking” them.

Heat can denature or transform foods and make them less nutritious. To get technical, a food can be considered raw so long as it is not heated above 118°F (or according to some, 120°F). According to raw food experts and proponents, such as Dr. Brian Clement and Dr. Gabriel Cousens, foods cooked above 120°F lose much of their nutritional value because most of their natural enzymes are destroyed by heat and may even create some toxins for the body.

A dehydrator can help create the taste and feel of our favorite cooked foods, while maintaining the nutrition of whole foods by keeping their enzymes and vitamins intact. Raw and organic whole foods can be very healing for people with certain diseases and can help rejuvenate the body. Dr. Cousens for example uses a raw vegan diet to help his patients reverse Type II Diabetes and other severe illnesses.

Although many raw foodists take an all or nothing approach and choose to maintain a fully raw diet, for some people this may sound impossible or simply undesirable. Going fully raw is definitely doable and may improve your health drastically, however, I believe we can all benefit from adding more raw foods to our diets thereby maximizing our nutrition without necessarily removing all cooked foods overnight. These delicious, nutritious, filling and easy to make granola bars are a lovely addition to anyone’s diet. Give them a try!

If, on the other hand, you are ready to transform your diet completely there are many resources out there to support you, including my beloved culinary institute, Living Light Culinary Institute, where I learned not only how to prepare scrumptious fully raw meals and desserts, but also the science behind it.

Raw Vegan Granola Bars

Ingredients:

Makes about 20 bars

1 ½ cup dates, pitted and chopped

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons agave nectar (or maple syrup)

1 ¼ cup raw almonds

1 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds

½ cup raisins

½ cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit of your choice)

¾ cup shredded coconut

2 tablespoons brown rice syrup

¼ teaspoon Himalayan salt

Method:

  1. Place chopped dates, vanilla extract and agave nectar in a food processor and blend until mixture becomes a thick, chunky paste.
  2. With the help of a spatula, scoop date mixture into a large bowl and stir in all remaining ingredients.
  3. Place about 1/3 of the mixture at a time into the food processor and pulse 4 or 5 times. Mixture should be sticky with large chunks of fruit and nuts. Continue until all the granola has been processed.
  4. Place granola on a dehydrator tray lined with a paraflexx drying sheet. Form a square shape about 1-inch thick and score the granola into rectangular bars of desired size.
  5. Dehydrate for 6 hours at 110°F. Flip the granola onto another dehydrator tray without the drying sheet. Score again so that the bars are more defined. Dehydrate for another 6 hours. Bars will be firm but moist and chewy when ready.
  6. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

“All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.” ~Orison Swett Marden

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We all know that a squirt of lime improves the taste of almost everything, from a nice cold beer to a creamy guacamole. Not only are limes incredibly health-promoting, they have that unique ability to bring out the flavors in other foods.

I use lime juice to dress my salads and enhance many other dishes and drinks all the time. Here are my favorite ways to use lime, some of which may totally surprise you:

1. Corn on the Cob – I am so excited to share this simple, healthy, vegan option for topping your corn on the cob. I learned it from a Mexican friend here in Mexico and now I am hooked! It’s even better than butter I promise!

All you do is squeeze fresh lime juice on the corn, sprinkle some Himalayan salt and indulge!

Corn on the cob

2. Papaya and Coconut – Have you ever tried freshly squeezed lime over papaya? Oh, this is another one of my favorites I discovered in Mexico! The tangy citrus balances and contrasts the sweetness of the papaya so perfectly! Chopped up coconut meat, as the famous song suggests, also tastes delicious topped with lime juice and a dash of Himalayan salt.

Papaya with lime

3. Salads – Lime, coupled with olive or flaxseed oil and Himalayan salt, makes the most exquisite dressing for any type of salad. Here I used it to dress a mango, cucumber and tomato salad. Lime is great with all greens and my much loved cilantro salad, La Mexicana.

Mango Salad

4. Teas – I like to refrigerate teas in the summer; an iced tea of any variety is so refreshing! One of my favorite teas is fresh lime juice and mint. I add the mint leaves to boiling water and let them seep for a couple of hours while the water cools down slowly. I then remove the mint and add the lime juice. For those of us requiring a little more sweetness, a teaspoon of agave nectar does the trick very nicely.

Mint and lime tea

5. Soups – A squirt of lime enhances the flavors of almost any soup!

6. Alcoholic Beverages – We all know and love the classic lime margarita, but as with soups, many alcoholic beverages are enhanced with a little lime. Don’t even think of having a cranberry vodka without a squirt of lime – it just isn’t the same! Even a plain glass of water or carbonated water is greatly enhanced with a little fresh lime juice.

7. Brazilian Lemonade – This lemonade recipe actually uses lime, rather than lemon. Conventionally, people add condensed milk, but my vegan version uses coconut or almond cream. To sweeten it, I use agave nectar instead of sugar. To make 4 servings, chop up 2 limes (peel and all) and toss them in the blender with 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup of coconut or almond cream, several ice cubes, and a tablespoon of agave nectar. Blend briefly and then strain the liquid through a strainer or nut milk bag. Add a little more ice and serve immediately. Salud!

8. Kicking the habit – Did you know that lime juice may help you quit smoking? One medical study concluded that, “fresh lime can be used effectively as a smoking cessation aid.”

9. Key Lime Pie – Wow this one is a huge treat! Key Lime Pie you’ve surely heard about, but what about a raw vegan version? At the Living Light Culinary Institute, where I studied raw vegan cuisine and nutrition, we learned a recipe for a raw vegan key lime pie which was out of this world! I made it several times since then (below I made them as little tartlets), and this recipe has been a huge crowd-pleaser!

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10. Armpits – Yes, you read that correctly: armpits! Did you know that rubbing a piece of lime under your arms works better to control body odor than any deodorant on the market? You have to try it to believe it!

I hope I’ve inspired you to try lime in new and exciting ways! Enjoy!

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“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark, professionals built the Titanic.”
~Unknown 

 

 

Many dream of opening a restaurant. Unfortunately, cash, logistics and a litany of permits can nip that dream in the bud. But for Montréal cooks and eaters, World Restaurant Day has brought salvation.

The world’s “biggest food carnival” touches down in Montéal again next Sunday, August 17, from noon until midnight, enabling 34 would-be restauranteurs to to share their “cuisine éphémère.”

Photo credit: Restaurant Day Montréal Carnaval Culinaire

We’re here to prompt you to get out on the sidewalks and alleys ASAP that day. Though some restos seem to offer long hours, don’t delay–many locations ran out of food on the last WRD in May!

Here’s an super-brief sampling of what’s on offer:

– Authentic Toulousain and Sicilian sausages in an alley in Villeray

– Dishes honouring grandmas from Iraq, Italy, Morroco, along with storytelling and art on Beaubien

– A personal fave: “St-Tropez in Hochelaga,” billed as an after-party for full bellies replate with “sunset, cocktails & soul-jazz in a urban forest.”

– The ever-popular “Tacos mamacitas” crew, this time cooking up Chilean Sopaipillas, tacos Cochinita pibil or Papas con raja and Mexican-style corn.

– A wake-and-bake menu at Tam Tams featuring salad with hemp seeds, cookies, Bhang milk and more. As this pop-up restauranteur urges, “Come by to say high.” (4040 Parc, by the statue)

– Trout gravlax, shrimp sausage, curried pull pork…in sandwich form, with blueberry basil lemonade.

Photo credit: Danielle Levy Nutrition (World Restaurant Day Montréal May)

Still not convinced by the gastronomical surprises on offer for you that day? Here’s a bonus: this food is CHEAP. Devoid of overhead costs and eager to show their talents, these cooks are eager to spoon pure value right into your mouth.

While the pop-up resto has taken North America by storm this past decade, Montréal has been slower to adopt. Take advantage of this one-day free-for-all that will keep your belly, heart and pocketbook satisfied until the next WRD this Fall.

The first time I saw her, something changed in me. It was at breakfast, in a greasy little diner I frequented around that time. She walked in just as the waitress was setting down my classic eggs Benedict. A vision through the steam which rose from the moist surrender of the hash browns on my plate. Two delicate, quivering mounds, splashed with an obscene sensuality by creamy hollandaise sauce. The sizzling whispers of bacon caused my heart to thunder in my head, and blood rushed through my entire body exhilaratingly. I knew at that moment she was a woman I wanted. To do. Like, in a sex way.

I approached her table and our eyes locked. I sat down without a word exchanged between us. Boy, she was totally a babe. With boobs and everything. Probably other parts, too. She held a grill-plumped sausage between her fingers, lightly, but firm with meaning. Gently she caressed with the sausage’s tip between the tender edges of her short stack, glistening, dripping with the sweetest of maple syrups, until with desperate abandon she thrust the sausage within. A quick spurt of grease trickled out as she raised the meat-filled pancake to her mouth.

My mind was racing, but I kept my cool. “Whoa,” I said, “I totally have a boner.” And she was all like, “yeah, me too, wanna go do it?” Though her mouth was full of pig-in-a-blanket, so I almost didn’t catch it. But then I was like, “totally.” So we went to my apartment and totally did sex. Like, full-on P in V sex. I saw her boobs and even touched them, too. We were all sweaty and stuff, and she made these moaning noises and I kind of grunted. She was like, “wow this sex is such good sex!” And I was all, “yeah, we’re totally having it! Sex, that is!”

After that we couldn’t bear to be apart. We met the next day at a coffee shop downtown. We sat across from each other at small table in an intimate corner, though the dishes between us proved but a trifling distraction from how much we wanted to bone. She swirled her biscotti, taught and swollen with want, through the warm froth of her mocha.

I held a chicken salad sandwich with both hands, roughly, but with a tenderness I could give to nothing but that which I longed for ceaselessly. I pulled it close to my lips, my breath hot and ragged on its cool mayonnaise and diced celery. I was locked with it then for a moment which to the rest of the world sped by in smoggy metropolitan rush hour time, but for me, and the sandwich, seemed to span the flare and burning out of a thousand distant suns. When at last it met my mouth, it seemed for the merest second to resist, to quake at the passion erupting among us. Then it gave in. Gave itself to me completely. And we were one.

And then me and that girl went and totally banged somewhere again. Like, in a bathroom somewhere, I think.

The next few months were a torrid blur of lovemaking and enchiladas. To this day when I close my eyes I see her beautiful face, contorted; in the throes of ecstasy, eating corn on the cob. There was one weekend we spent locked in her bedroom just having sex. It felt really good. Like… like what sex feels like. Y’know, like how it feels? I don’t know how to describe it, but you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, we both complimented each other on how totally good we are at sex, and we high-fived a bunch.

More than anything else, I look back at my time with her with an ache, a longing unparalleled to any I’ve felt before or that I can possibly fathom feeling again. There is, burned like fever in my memory, a picture of a perfect moment. Fleeting, simple, and elegant, it’s a moment I will take with me to the ends of this world and beyond. A burger we shared at a picnic table one sultry summer’s afternoon. I can still see the winding trail of burger juice and mustard rolling lazily down her chin after that first bite. And then we totally went at it, sexually. If you know what I mean.

The vicarious thrill of reliving that moment is all I have left of her. Always will I look back on it, and that burger. With relish.

 

Photo by Harumi Ueda via Flickr

10-things-food-josh

Many seminal things happened in 2013 in the culinary world. Here is a review of 10 moments that will forever affect how we eat, cook or play with our food.

But as “the culinary world” is really a thousand worlds, I’ve picked two from each of five different “regions.”

Montréal

1. We got food trucks back

However sanitized their reentry, 2013 saw the dismantling of legal obstacles to “mobile” food-selling and preparation in this city. After 60 years, this is no small feat and we shouldn’t take it lightly. Staid and stationary as the trucks might be right now, their presence will inevitably grow more fluid–and irrevocably change our sense of public space. Moreover, as mobile food enterprises grow, traditional restaurants will be challenged to evolve to remain viable, affecting cost, menus and overall experience.

2. No-shows got shamed

Thanks in part to a great article in The Gazette, those self-absorbed you-know-whats who simply vanish at reservation time were finally outed. While they weren’t exactly named, they were certainly shamed. Dialogue from the article spread far and wide and the concept of snubbing restauranteurs became akin to aiming a crossbow at the heart of a vulnerable local hub.

 

Québec

3. Rooftop greenhouses hit the big time

Once just a curiosity in an Ahuntsic warehouse, Lufa Farms has in two short years become well-known to Montréalers. The rooftop greenhouse has been supplying local homes and restos with foodScreen Shot 2013-12-29 at 1.48.43 AM since 2011.

But it was in 2013 that its mission hit the mainstream–and became a household name province-wide. This year Lufa opened its second, arguably more ambitious operation in Laval, vowing to export the model to the states. Québec City has already gotten on board, with a massive industrial rooftop greenhouse in the works for next year. Hell, rooftop greenhouses were so big in 2013 that they could even be spotted in yuppie-oriented Toyota Prius ads!

4. Critics finally learned to eat “out” (of town)

A proliferation of rural eateries seemed to make the press this year, led by Lesley Chesterman’s choice forays to À la table des jardins sauvages, Vices-Versa, and Bistro Champlain and M-C Lortie’s recurring crusades. Not to mention Dany St-Pierre (of Sherbrooke’s Auguste) winning Montréal’s chi-chi “Golden Plates” competition. Will finicky urban masses be quick to follow?

Canada

5. Celeb Canadian chefs trashed celeb American chefs for posing with this creepy mascot

I won’t get into the entire complicated backstory of the Chefs for Seals campaign, which hit fever pitch this year as thousands of the most glitzy (and Food Networked) US chefs signed on as mouthpieces for the warm and fuzzy cause. What’s important is that the fallout might have dented our neighbourly culinary relations and strengthened our national culinary community forever.

The US boycott of Canadian seafood provoked so much bark-back (seals, harbours…get it?) that Canadian chefs stood united and found a common voice. Their cause? To support hard-working fishing communities, respectfully-fished Canadian seafood products and the tradition of common sense.

There’s no end to the boycott in sight…but even a cursory glance at the debate reveals that Canadian chefs emerged victorious: respectful, rational, and reinvigorated in the face of their hypocritical foie-gras touting counterparts, most of whom just seemed desperate for a photo op.

6. Poutine restaurants officially became an epidemic

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Though poutine took Williamsburg, then the world, by storm a few years ago, the explosion of the “poutine restaurant” belongs to 2013.

With few exceptions, the poutine-only resto has been a novelty even in Québec until very recently. And though many scoffed at Smoke’s Poutinerie et al.’s attempts to usurp casse-croûtes on their home turf, the reality is that most poutine restaurants have thrived.

2013 saw poutine the theme of a Top Chef Canada episode, an otherwise respectable production, whose host introduced it (without irony) as “the one and only Canadian national dish.” And lest you think poutine still hasn’t found the mainstream, consider this: McDonalds across (gulp!) Toronto now feature the oozy delight.

North America

7. Jiro got reincarnated in New York (sort of)

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 1.45.38 AMMany consider the greatest living sushi master to be Jiro Ono, proprietor of ten-seat Sukiyabashi Ono in a Tokyo métro station. Ono has won three Michelin stars and international fame after David Gelb’s acclaimed 2011 documentary.

Portrayed as a rare relic of en era where masters lived, slept and, yes, dreamt sushi, critics were divided on whether Ono’s lineage would fully survive in Japan. But it seems it is North Americans who can breathe the most easy.

Ono protégé Daisuke Nakazawa (whose devotion to his master is insane in the aforementioned documentary) has opened his own shop in New York, and it appears to be the real deal…dare we say the boldest embodiment of Ono’s ethos outside Japan?

Unexpected, amazing, and only a six hour drive away now! North American sushi will never be graded by the same standards again.

8. Mexico is part of North America, remember?

The hard work of Enrique Olvera is legendary–only a decade ago, the hard-working chef was hand drywalling his space in Mexico City. Now, he has climbed inside the top 20 restaurants in the world. Sure, it’s an elite and controversial list. But it’s not only a testament to Olvera’s perseverance and artistry with Pujol, it’s a sharp reminder to the US (okay, Canada too) that Mexico is part and parcel of “North AmericanScreen Shot 2013-12-29 at 1.53.00 AM haute cuisine.” And, when it comes to culinary “fine art”–they’re here to stay.

World

9. The art of fermentation exploded

Not literally: no cooks were reported hurt by shards of broken glass from flying kimchi. But in 2013 chefs and cooks took the art of fermentation to the next level.

First, there was Sandor Katz’s landmark book, which proved its relevance to flavour, cooking and health. Next there was David Chang’s heady hit show that explored the intricacies of tsukemen, katsoubushi, kimchi and more, and MAD Food Camp (the culinary TED)’s focus on fermentation as the vanguard of gastronomical experimentation, and many other chefs’ insistence that given global food uncertainties anyone could–and should–culture at home. Far from a trend, the culinary world’s interest in fermentation is here to stay and will only get better with age.

10. Eggless eggs happened

Explosively-popular mayos and doughs suggest that “tech startup” Hampton Creek is well on its way to its goal of an eggless society. Its goal is to “surpass” the egg in taste, nutrition, cost and sustainability. Using only plants. So far, it has managed to draw sustained ire from the dominant industry, a good marker of any product’s culinary impact!

What were the most important moments of your culinary world this year? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us at @forgetthebox or @joshdavidson

 

First things first: I have nothing against cured side cuts of pork. I like them. I take pleasure in eating them. I don’t care if I’m half-Jewish, half-Muslim or half-Hindu—it’s hard for me to resist their splendour amidst this Pork-Filled Nation (Québec).

bacon-wrapped-turkey

But the problem with bacon is when it hits the restaurant and we pretend it’s art. Addictively akin to cocaine, it’s a quick fix. And its wielders shouldn’t get any more credibility than a suburban drug dealer.

Bacon caters to the lazy chef. Yet, six years later, it’s all I see on menus from Montréal to Santa Fe.

Bacon was worthy, to be sure, of a brief ironic giggle circa 2007, around the time its prominence amongst respectable restauranteurs and trendsetting gastronomes (yes, you horrible blogging foodie), tempered a late-90s trend toward artificial health edibles. We wanted to smell real food again, to name its pasture, to eat closer to the ground. The sense that this might not be so death-defying after all was soon to follow.

But our bacon trend is about a half-decade past its prime.

Consider, for a moment, just how many raw ingredients are able to punch you in the mouth with salt, fat and sweetness—no effort added.

There aren’t many. I’d love to hear a shortlist of, say, more than five. The thing is, we’ve all been fleeced. Because if more existed, more chefs would be getting rich off of them.

We can all make bacon taste good. I don’t care if it’s No Name or knifed by Pied du Cochon. It takes no skill. And yet, day after day, I see up and coming chefs trumpeting their bacon dishes (or adding bacon to stupid, stupid things) as if even a teaspoon of skill were actually involved.

Trend-chasing bacon cooks: why not make me a turnip dish I will dream about? That would be something to share, post and brag to my friends about. Making turnips tantalizing takes a true culinary hero, like this one, or this one.

But until then, bacon should remain where it belongs: next to fried eggs at a hangover brunch, or as an supporting actor in more rounded, composed dishes.

Yes, I will draw some ire for this rant. I will be seen as anti-bacon, or ultra-kosher.

This, as any of my friends could tell you, is tragic. Because I’m of neither sort. Yet bacons’ brainwashees fan far and wide. They’re the same sort of “culinary” type who add pigs to ice cream, foie gras to milkshakes, or bourbon to scallops. It’s anti-culinary. And it’s not their fault. They were fleeced long before they knew what hit them.

Indeed, bacon has ridden such a long wave of taste-trending that most seem unable to recall a time before it. (Article 1: this bloggers’ self-portrait with Gordon Ramsay).

But I can tell you: it existed. And back then, chefs couldn’t so easily cop-out.


Postscript: Mad respect to Lafleur for holding out on the bacon in your poutine. Keep it real. Please. And La Banquise: no comment.

The dearth of friendly, independent cafés in the Golden Square Mile has always surprised me. Though slow advances are afoot – first Kafeïn, then Myriade and most recently Humble Lion – this thriving, thoughtful, studious hub remains more or less the stronghold of Chain Coffee.

Throw in the proximity of cultural havens such as the Musée de Beaux-Arts and the corporate coffee epidemic seems even more puzzling.

That’s why I was delighted to happen upon Café Aunja, new inhabitant of now-defunct Galerie Mazarine on Sherbrooke St. W., just a block from the main entrance of said Musée. I stumbled on it by mistake the first time, charmed in off the cold street by colourful furniture and brick walls (Disclosure: I’m a sucker for both).

Cafe Aunja © Valeria BismarA cool café? I wondered breathlessly, in the midst of all these stuffy galleries? 

I couldn’t have known then that the juxtaposition was, well…not exactly intentional. According to co-owner Majid, Aunja was conceived as something of an extension of the Musée itself, a friendly “space for artists.”

“We thought about all the things we like to experience when we go to a café,” he mused, a skilled artisan himself. “Then we made it.”

So Saturdays are performance nights and space is allotted for artists to sell work. There’s the obligatory vintage sofa, shelf of dusty books and mismatched chairs—de rigeur for any artsy café.

But Aunja is no l’Éscalier—at least to my eye. There is a strong sense of authorship, a precise aesthetic, a sense that the space, perhaps more than the menu, is “curated” just for pontificating…or creating.

I like that. As a (sometime) writer, I’m definitely biased. But it’s my kind of place—with a vibe that might be described as a nearby blend of student-run Café X and chic Olivier Potier—in other words, equal part sketchbooks, hushed conversation and modest elegance.

Cafe Aunja © Valeria BismarSpeaking of curation—there’s more. A roundabout conversation about the décor (which also includes stacks of National Geographics, startling black-and-white portraits and even an “antique camera museum”) unearths the fact that even Aunja’s furniture is detail-driven .

“We made these tables by hand,” Majid says, grinning.

The co-owners of Aunja—a “circle of friends” in Majid’s words—were warm, welcoming and refreshingly forthcoming on every one of my visits. My questions (whether about tea, history, or the menu) were often met with modesty, bright smiles and generous anecdotes.

Hamed Masoumi, another part-owner (pictured below), received with delight one of my coffee companions’ memories of his travels in the owners’ native Iran. I later found out that Masoumi is also the photographer behind those exceptional wall portraits.

Majid chuckled at my sense of awe. “We made this countertop, too,” he said, tapping the rich mahogany espresso-counter.

Though Aunja specializes in teas, a small rotating menu of soups, salads and sandwiches are just enough to keep a creative type cocooned away from big, cold, traffic-laden Sherbrooke West.

And though I am not enough of a coffee aficionado to really rate it against giants like Myriade, Pikolo or the Humble Lion, my few forays into short espressos certainly seemed spot on.

So I leave you with this truism—which is especially à propos with the looming winter— a “cool café” is all about what you make of it.

Cafe Aunja © Valeria Bismar
Cafe Aunja © Valeria Bismar
Cafe Aunja © Valeria Bismar

Café Aunja is located at 1448 Sherbrooke West.

Photos by Valeria Bismar.

Vegetarian dish from Cuisine Szechuan

I like spicy food. I like it a lot. I like it so much that once in Thailand I spotted players from Sriracha’s District Football Club (yes, such a fantastic entity exists) from across an airport and then tracked them through the terminal building in order to snap fuzzy, stalkerish photos of logos on their navy blue jackets.

Despite such interest in culinary heat, I’ve always felt a foreigner amongst wing-guzzling pepper fanatics who see fiery food as a competitive sport. To me, there’s a good reason why spicy cuisine has never found its way to the Olympics. It’s because it’s not an event; it’s a subtle art.

One region might be known above all others for mastering such fiery arts: the mountainous province of Sichuan, China. And though many Canadian-Chinese restaurants offer dishes with “Szechuan” in the name, very few can legitimately lay claim to its complex (and very oily) lineage of heat.

But we Montrealers are a rather fortunate bunch (if slightly clueless). Many years ago, we were blessed with one of the first – and still possibly best – true Szechuan restaurants in Canada. If you’ve missed the diamond in your midst, now is the time to take a quick hike up the hill from metro Guy-Concordia and be absolved of your Canadian-Chinese food-eating sins.

Cuisine Szechuan (2350 Guy) is the stage for expressive and addictively-hot works by Norman Fei Peng and Andy Su. A semi sous-sol half-buried under a salon and flanked by a Botox clinic, its nondescript demeanour belies some pretty ferocious offerings.

An example: the chili beef (#64), an aromatic kick to the jaw that startles in its balance of heat, crunch and acidity. To say it wakes the mouth up is a happy understatement. So, too, does Peng’s famed cumin chicken explode most Westerners’ preconceptions of what cumin can be made to do.

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There’s a reason, I mused while picking flaming peppercorns from my teeth, that local culinary god (and Jamie Oliver business-partner) Derek Dammann voted Peng his coup de coeur of all Montreal chefs, admitting his Cuisine Szechuan cravings had become so violent and unpredictable that a lack of chili beef actually caused noticeable swings in his mood.

Cuisine Szechuan is the real deal. But a few tips to the wise (ie, non-competitive): don’t imbibe the whole bowl of leathery-skinned peppers unless you want to relive that post-root canal experience of a frozen, senseless maw.

Chef Peng, who was out waiting tables the two times I visited, told me that Canadians have only recently crossed the threshold to embrace “non-Canadian Chinese food.” He warned me that more (and real) Sichuan peppers, including both the flower and peppercorn, would combine with increased oil to result in the lively flavour profiles that have been part of Sichuan life for centuries.

Though the fiery chili-flaked beef is indeed legendary – a must try for any self-proclaimed foodie in this town – I can’t neglect highlighting the real surprise gem of any CS experience: the plants.

I’m not usually a fan of vegetables in North American Chinese restaurants – they’re often drowned in oversweet sauce or, if left “bare,” coated in oddly-unpalatable grease. I’m even less turned on by tofu – regardless of the nation preparing it. So imagine my surprise when not one, but two tofu plates from the vegetarian menu hit notes nearly on par with that fiery beef.

You wouldn’t expect the Juicy and the Ultra-Spicy to be perfect bedfellows. But then you taste that thick, chili-laden
eggplant-and-tofu, laced with oozing (yet slightly crunchy) green beans – or the famous Spicy tofu plate. Embraced by this Szechuan kitchen, tofu might just find a new place in your heart…and your grandmother’s beloved string beans will begin to seem like dry bamboo.

Oh, and one final tip: there’s a reason Mr. Peng urges you to order extra rice (and fills your water glass ten to eleven times). Believe me: just follow his lead.

In short: don’t wait until your next Botox appointment to visit the less-than-charming southwest corner of Guy and Sherbrooke. Cuisine Szechuan is cheaper, tastier, and a hell of a lot more rejuvenating.

I had the good fortune of business meetings in Los Cabos, Mexico this week. The exquisite beauty of San Jose del Cabo captured my heart and soul.

I stayed at the lovely boutique hotel El Encanto Inn & Spa. Gorgeous gardens, beautiful rooms, comfortable bed and friendly staff made my stay pure paradise. I highly recommend it! This hotel also offers spa treatments and the opportunity to meet with excellent and renowned health professionals such as Isabelle Gagnon, holistic health coach extraordinaire, Dr. Allan Laird, chiropractor and massage therapist, and Wendy Rudell, naturopath and author of  The Raw Transformation (which I proudly came home with!)

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Maintaining a vegan lifestyle in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico this past week was easy and pleasurable with the abundance of fresh organic produce everywhere. As with my other trips, being vegan while traveling was not even an issue.

Dinner at Flora Farm was a culinary experience like no other! I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in my day, but this was by far the best meal I ever had. I ordered an unforgettable arugula and basil pizza with a thin, gluten-free crust. How can you compare the freshness and tastiness of food that is grown right on the land where the restaurant is located?

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Flora Farm is a brilliant concept of combining farm and restaurant in the same location. Ten acres of organic produce growing at the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains in San Jose del Cabo, Mexcio makes for dishes that are unparalleled in flavor and freshness.

I had another excellent vegan meal at Cynthia Fresh. Take a look at this heavenly salad topped with black sesame encrusted chunks of tofu, cranberries and pine nuts. Scrumptious!

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Dinner at Salsitas was equally delicious and creative. A lovely vegetable taco dish, where the tacos were made from raw jicama! Not only was this delicious dinner totally vegan, it was also grain, soy and corn-free making it very accommodating to various dietary needs.

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Salsitas also offers excellent service, friendly staff and amazing margaritas and salsa!

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The town of San Jose del Cabo is charming, serene, pretty and artistic. The beaches are spectacular. I highly recommend you check it out! Upon my departure, I admit I shed a few tears, but I did not say good-bye; instead, I declared: “Hasta pronto San Jose del Cabo!”

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“Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.” ~Leon J. Suenes

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