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Monday, 27 February 2017

5 Tips for Dining Out as a Vegan

Considering there are only a handful of vegan restaurants in the Niagara region, most of us will end up in restaurants that don’t specifically cater to our food choices. Never fear, it’s still very easy to get something decent to eat at almost every places Here are five tips that will help along the way:

1. Call ahead

If I have any heads-up as to where we are going, I will call ahead to ask questions about the menu. If it is at all possible, I will also call on off-hours (not during the lunch or dinner rush) so that the server will have more time to talk to me about choices. This can alleviate any discomfort you may feel by being the centre of attention, and gives the server or kitchen staff the time to investigate questions they may not know off the top of their heads.

2. Check menu for items that may be easy to alter.

Often times, you can tweak an already existing menu item to make it vegan which makes it a lot easier for the kitchen to comply. A grilled veggie wrap can quickly be made vegan by ditching the goat cheese for example or a pasta dish can be veganized by foregoing the parmesan and prosciutto. Just make sure to check that all of the other ingredients are in fact vegan.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions.

Just as you shouldn’t be afraid to make suggestions, some establishments are quite vegan savvy, and you may end up with better items by asking for their ideas. I have often dined in restaurants where the chef offers to make up something entirely different from anything on the menu, and every time this has happened, the chef’s choice far outdoes anything I would have thought up.

4. Be sure to lay out what you can/can’t eat (not everyone knows what is meant by vegan).

After telling someone that I am vegan, I have been offered eggs, cheese, fish (that doesn’t count right?), and dairy. Some people have not had the exposure to vegans and don’t really understand what we eat. Not to mention all of the vegetarians (or often omnivores) who label themselves as vegans and then go on to eat animal-based products, adding confusion to the mix. Let the restaurant know what you don’t eat so they can accommodate you appropriately.

5. Keep snacks in a pocket or purse.

Sometimes, regardless of your preparation or polite attitude, there are times when the restaurant is just not going to be able to offer you anything decent and the sparse green salad or plate of fries isn’t going to cut it, so have a backup plan. Keep small snack baggies in your purse or pocket. Nuts, dried fruits, granola bars, muffins, soup/stew in a thermos (that you can chug in the parking lot, yep, been there, done that) - all are easy to make ahead and carry around with you.

Keep a positive attitude (I firmly believe that the vegan message is best furthered by being polite and agreeable), and perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well you can eat out, vegan. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

de la Terre Bakery - Vineland

3451 King Street, Vineland
905-562-1513

de la Terre Bakery


De la Terre Bakery "specializes in organic artisan breads and pastries made in-house and features coffee and tea & espresso-based drinks." They are focused on organic and sustainable agriculture practices and support local whenever possible.

The following breads are vegan:
Country baguette
Multi-grain
Niagara sourdough
Olive
Spelt
Whole-wheat and rye
Whole-wheat oat and raisin

Loaves can be ordered ahead of time, left whole or cut, stored in paper or plastic. Just ask.

They have also just opened a cafe in Jordan. More to come on the cafe.


Hours:
Daily - 8am to 4pm

How to Connect:
Twitter
Facebook
Website
Phone 905-562-1513

Monday, 20 February 2017

Homemade Pizza

I really wondered if I was going to have to give up pizza when I adopted a plant-based diet. I ordered pizza without cheese from our regular shop but it didn't really light a fire for me. It was just okay. Then I discovered two things that changed everything: parmesan cheese and Sensations pizza crust. Woohooo.

For starters, I found the parmesan cheese recipe on the Minimalist Baker site. She calls for cashews in her version, which I sometimes do, but most of the time I use almonds instead. We have some cashew allergies in the family, so it's easier to just use almonds. You can find her recipe here and if you haven't already checked out her recipes, do that too. I have had great success with all of the ones I have tried.




Secondly, the crust. I have to credit my mom with finding this crust at Sobey's. It's called "original thin pizza crust" and it's the Sensations brand. I checked the ingredients and all was well until I got to the dreaded "MAY CONTAIN" disclaimer, may contain milk. So I contacted the company and asked what they meant. Here is their response:

"When it comes to allergy warnings on our packages, anything used in the product will be listed in the ingredients. The "May Contain" statement you were referring to is meant to warn about cross contamination through the same manufacturing line or plant, not in the actual ingredients, as we do want to make customers aware if there is a risk for the main allergens. We hope this helps, let us know if you have any other questions!"

I know there are some people who are not comfortable eating products with this type of disclaimer. If that's you, then I'm sorry but this pizza crust isn't going to work for you. I will eat products with this waiver because I believe it to be a legal manoeuvre and not anything really to do with a plant-based diet. If that's your philosophy, then definitely pick up this crust. It's delicious.

For the pizza toppings, I sautéed some peppers, onions, and mushrooms and sliced fresh avocado on top. The parmesan was sprinkled both on the naked sauce and then on top as well. Lots of basil, oregano, salt and pepper to finish. I popped it into a 400-degree oven on a preheated pizza stone for about 12 minutes. Easy peasy with that premade crust, and oh so delicious.



Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Office, Tap & Grill - St. Catharines

22 James Street
St. Catharines

905-984-4440, Reservations recommended.


The Office, Tap & Grill

The Office is a casual, comfortable restaurant. Wooden booths, warm colours, soft lighting, and interesting art work. It has a hip vibe, but we saw customers that ran the gamut from toddlers to senior citizens, all appearing equally at home. If you are a vegan who may dine with an omnivore, the menu would have you both covered.

The vegan menu had some great-looking choices on it for both appetizers and entrees:

Frites and dip $6
Kale Caesar $12
Spinach Salad $12
Meze Platter $13
Buffalo Cauliflower $9
Quinoa Falafels $9

Veggie Burger $14
Penne Puttanesca $12
Zen Noodles $12
Tofu Caesar Wrap $14

I started with the buffalo cauliflower. It arrived on a slender platter with mixed greens in the middle and a thick drizzle of peanut sauce. The cauliflower pieces were a moderate size, easy to pick up with a fork, and lightly spicy. Dredged through the peanut sauce, they were delicious and addictive. With salad or fries, there was enough to make an entree.

For my main meal, I had the veggie burger. It was made with quinoa and lentils. The patty held together fairly well but was a little on the dry side. The burger was served with a corn cilantro salsa that was not memorable, but did add some needed moisture along with tomatoes and pickle. I had it with the fries which were also good, a nice crispiness and good flavour. All in all, both orders were a success.

To go along with your meal, they have some fun wine and beer options. You can bring your own wine for a corkage fee (Mon-Wed = free; Thurs = $5; weekends = $12) or choose from the wine list. They offer reds from California, Argentina, and the Niagara Region; whites from Ontario. Additionally, they offer ‘cheap and cheerful’ wines that they change up for $1/ounce. The beer is typically from micro breweries and runs $5.55 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

On the down side, they only offered dairy milk/creamer for the coffee and tea, though one of the proprietors (Greg Pearson) mentioned that “as the vegan menu rises in popularity, I'm sure it (a non-dairy option) is something we can add.” We were too full to order dessert and I didn’t think to check the menu, but Pearson mentioned that, “We currently have a vegan pumpkin pie on the menu with a cashew filling and rolled oat and date crust. It has yet to be added to the menu full time, but is getting very good reviews.” Sounds yummy.

The washrooms were decorated in a shabby chic style, leaning just slightly too far toward the shabby. The stalls were tight, requiring a bit of a gymnastic move to get out of the way of the door to close it. The taps were too small for the basin and barely stuck out far enough to get my hands under for washing. Having said that, the washroom was very clean and sported the coolest vanity top positioned under a large mirror; a perfect place to rest your purse for touchups, yet out of the way of the sink.

The Office is located in downtown St. Catharines a block up from the market and half a block from St. Paul Street. In addition to street parking, there is a paid parking lot directly across the street that still had many available spots when we left at 7pm on a Saturday night. Reservations are recommended, and by 6:00, the place was pretty much full. Would definitely recommend the food at The Office, but the lack of dairy substitute was a negative.

Hours:
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday - 5pm to 12am
Thursday - 11:30am to 12am
Friday - 11:30 to 2am
Saturday - 5pm to 2am
Closed: Sundays, holidays

Monday, 13 February 2017

Pumpkin Muffins


I think that the biggest learning curve I experienced when I began following a plant-based diet was baking. Mostly it was substituting for eggs.  It took me a long while to get the hang of flax eggs and egg substitutes.

Fortunately, this muffin recipe doesn't require any hassle in this department. Super easy, super tasty.

Head on over to see Christine's recipe on her blog, Apple of my Eye. I made a few changes: subbing nutmeg in place of the ginger; adding chocolate chips and pumpkin seeds in place of the pecans on top; and making only 12 instead of her suggested 14 (which meant a bit longer cooking time).

When the muffins had cooled, I put them on a tray and popped them into the freezer. Once they were all frozen, I put them into a ziploc baggie and put them back into the freezer. Now when I'm feeling like one of these beauties, I pull one out of the freezer and microwave for one minute. Perfect.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Seasons - St. Catharines


55 Carlisle Street, St. Catharines
950-688-6868
905-688-6861

Seasons



I don’t often think of a restaurant as being ‘fun’ (especially when you don't get any crayons), but Seasons is definitely that. At least for your first visit it is. The decor is clean and crisp and minimal, very Japanese feel. We were shown to a roomy booth and given an iPad menu. Here is where it got really cool, really fast.

The iPad menu, as you might gather, lists all of the dishes that are available, along with a descriptive photo. You can scroll through the items, which are categorized by course: appetizers, rice dishes, noodle dishes, sushi, nigiri, etc. You add a ‘plus 1’ (or however many you want), beside the dishes you want and when you are ready for round 1, you hit ‘check order’ to flag. At this point, a server comes around to confirm your order and submit it.

Within minutes, the courses that you have chosen begin to appear at your table. I started with seaweed salad (a favourite of mine no matter where we dine and certainly not a disappointment here), edamame, and spring rolls. The tempura batter contained milk so that was a category that was off limits to me. No matter, lots of other choices.

I also enjoyed the vegetable curry with rice, sautéed mushrooms (very garlicky, very delicious), udon noodles with vegetables (veggies were delicious, wasn’t a fan of udon noodles as it turns out). Then we moved onto the sushi and I tried the cucumber and avocado rolls, as well as the mushroom rolls. Both of the sushi were phenomenal - so fresh, the rice was plump and just the perfect amount of sticky.

For dessert, I actually ordered two more spring rolls, and felt delightfully mischievous about it. I didn’t check to see if any of the desserts were vegan, but upon looking at the menu now, there are none. Perhaps the only downfall of the restaurant for a plant-based eater.

The pricing is an all-you-can-eat price of $27.95, tax included. Drink pricing was reasonable at less than $6 per glass of wine or beer. The service is exceptional. The table is cleared almost immediately upon you creating an empty dish. To start we were given chopsticks. I do not have any trouble using them but my dining partner was struggling. Without having to ask, suddenly a knife and fork appeared for him to use. Attentive and intuitive.

Let’s talk washrooms. Um, let me say that the washroom was very clean but in rough shape - chipped tiles, rusting spots on doors, super tight stalls, broken soap dispensers. Not fabulous at all.

Parking turned out to be very difficult at 5:30 on a Saturday night. The two lots that we passed were full and the street parking was tight as well. We finally lucked out after driving around the block a few times and found a street spot a couple of blocks away.

We made reservations that seemed laughable at 5:30, but by 6:30 when we left, there was a line out the door. Better safe than sorry I would suggest.

They also have a takeout menu and free delivery on orders over $30.

Hours:
Mon to Thurs, and Sun: 11:30am-10pm
Fri to Sat: 11:30am-10:30pm

How to Connect:
Website
Phone: 905-688-6868, 905-688-6861

Monday, 6 February 2017

Posting Schedule

I've made up a plan for the blog scheduling and wanted to share it with you.

Every Thursday, you can expect to see a restaurant review. Just in time to make reservations for the weekend.

Every Monday will be something else. Maybe a post about a product (e.g. Frank's Red Hot sauce), or information about a restaurant that I haven't yet visited, or an event that is happening. Could be anything, but it will definitely have a vegan twist.

Some of the upcoming features:

Seasons, St. Catharines
Kully's, St. Catharines
de la Terre, Vineland
The Office, St. Catharines

If you have any requests, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.



About

If you're a vegan you know it can be difficult to get a decent meal when you try dining out. Constant frustration and unpleasant surprises can be the norm.

So what do you do? Miss out on opportunities to connect with friends or family over a meal? Risk spending money on a disappointing meal at a restaurant you don't know? Or settle for the old salad and fries standby?




You don't have to, because I am doing the leg work for you. Typically, once a week hubby and I try a different restaurant, and every Thursday I will post a review. You'll find lists of the vegan offerings, warnings about things to avoid or watch out for, and my two cents on whatever we personally ate.

You'll save time, money, and tantrums.




Follow our facebook page for updates.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Vegan Hippie Chick - St. Catharines




54 Church Street
St. Catharines, ON

Mandy, the Vegan Hippie Chick, is an absolute doll. I know, I know, that shouldn’t matter when we’re talking about eating vegan, but it had to be said. I met her at the Sweet Street Cafe located in the St. Catharines library building, and she made me the best lunch. If you enter from the James Street side, the cafe is right there, housed in a greenhouse-like vestibule that is airy and light (see below). Check out the cute cafe-style table and chairs in the photo above. Adorable.



The Sweet Street Cafe has other offerings, but Mandy takes care of the vegan items. Today there were veggie wraps, eggless salad sandwiches, and raw protein balls. I opted for the sandwich and, ahem, balls. Wowza. That’s what I am actually going to say about it - wowza.

The sandwich was on the freshest of bread and full of flavour. The not-so-secret ingredient is chick peas. I’ve made this at home, but not nearly as delicious as this one. The protein balls came in pumpkin, walnut and almond. Of course I had to have one of each. These were sweet without being sickening and really filled me up. I was only able to eat two, and saved the other one for later. I also had a coffee with soy milk. It was exceptionally good. I wished I had bought the larger size.



The menu changes so it’s best to check her Facebook page for the daily specials and when she will be at the cafe. Typically she is there most days, but her schedule can vary.

Parking is street as well as several lots in the area, one right at the library, underground parking at the library, and the market lot. I didn’t have any trouble finding a spot at noon on a weekday, $1.50/hour.

Washrooms were the library washrooms; sparse, utilitarian, but very clean.

In addition to the cafe menu, Mandy also has a catering branch, and she also sets up a space at the St. Catharines market (typically Thursday and Saturday). Her catering menu includes appetizers (zucchini fritters, stuffed mushrooms), burgers (quinoa, lentil), flat breads, salads (caesar, creamy potato), soups (potato leek, quinoa minestrone), mains (lasagna, shepherd’s pie), savoury pies (tortierre), and sweets. Oh my, the list of sweets is amazing: brownies, cakes, croissants, pies, cookies, and muffins. Plus, she will deliver for free in the Niagara region on all orders over $150.


How To Connect:
Website
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Eating Vegan in Niagara

As many of us plant-based eaters know, it can be difficult and sometimes intimidating to figure out what to eat when you're dining out. Is the rice made with chicken stock? Are the potatoes fried in lard? Does the deep fryer for the fries do the calamari as well? Additionally, it can be tricky to find restaurants to accommodate both us and our omnivore friends and family members.

Because of this, I wanted to create a place to talk about restaurants in the Niagara region that aren't strictly vegan. Obviously, we can all find something amazing to eat in vegan joints like Rise Above (swoon) or Hippocrates' Daughter (yum), but what about regular restaurants.

This is a real beginner list, but I will be adding to it all the time. Part of the notes will be experiences that I have personally had at a particular restaurant, what I ate, and what I learned about other options. Another part will involve me calling and speaking with representatives from restaurants and posting their suggestions as to what vegans can eat.

Please feel free to message me if you have any questions or suggestions. I hope that you get something out of these reviews and that perhaps your experiences while dining in Niagara are just a little bit easier.

With compassion,
Terry Cohoe

Apologies for the under construction aspect of this blog. I'll get it figured out asap. :)