Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My Article 'Bring Home Flavours From Your Travels' on FBC!

I am so happy to have contributed to Food Bloggers of Canada! Check out my piece that offers some tips on how you can re-create dishes from your travels at home right here!

North America's First Vegan Butcher Shop Set for Expansion!

I was finally able to visit YamChops, Canada's only vegan butcher shop, and learned about some very exciting news! Check out my review & the upcoming plans for expansion right here!

Monday, June 6, 2016

'Armenia's Horse Whisperers' Published in The Armenian Weekly!

I am so happy to have visited and learned more about the incredible Centaur Hippotherapy Center in Armenia. Check out my article about the center and about the two incredible women who run it, right here!
Photo by Hasmik Hovhannisian

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Spotlight: Toronto's Apiecalypse Now!

Being back in Canada means it's time to check out some of the new vegan restaurants and shops that have opened up. On a recent trip downtown with the always awesome Shaghig, we decided to get dessert. She took me to a gluten-free bakery she discovered recently, and said it was one of the few places where their gluten-free chocolate muffins or cupcakes were not super dense, and told me their vegan items were also great.
I went for a vegan chocolate chip cookie since I had been craving them for a long time, and while most of their items are vegan, some contain eggs, but everything is labeled clearly. 
The last one.
The staff was also super friendly and sweet and hyper and there was cucumber water so that's always a plus. The cookie looked simple but was delicious and exactly what I was craving. Shaghig enjoyed her pretty cupcake too!
Pretty photo so it is by Shaghig of course.
But I digress. I found myself hungry and knowing there was the potential of having vegan pizza got into my head and made me even hungrier. While I didn't know Apiecalypse Now! had moved from their Bloor/Bathurst location to Christie, it was still a short walk away so all was good. But they should probably put a sign on their old storefront so the man in the shop above doesn't get too annoyed with confused people asking where the vegan pizza is at.

The new location is right beside a conventional pizza chain, which I mentioned to Shaghig like three times, thinking it was super interesting (it wasn't).
Raccoons for life.
The aroma inside was incredible and made me very happy with my decision. At first glance I saw colourful and super detailed vegan doughnuts, but reminded myself I just had a massive cookie and was here for pizza.
There were a bunch of different pizza options (including a mac 'n cheese one) and I chose the simple pepperoni pizza, and for $3-something dollars, it was heated and given to me. Before even biting into it, I saw that they had nutritional yeast, hot pepper, and vegan Parmesan for toppings, and was quite generous with all three of them, with Shaghig telling me I should just keep a jar of za'atar with me at all times since that is what I always secretly want. No regrets!
I then ate it. It was very creamy, the sauce was great, and the dough could stand on its own feet. I then went to the park with Shaghig, realized I was still hungry and came back for a second, almost feeling embarrassed. While I could have been interesting and tried a different type, I was in boring-mode of "I'll take no risks thank you" and got the same type. I really appreciated how creamy the cheese was and the fact that the bread was made with with spices and those seeds I can never label, but the pepperoni, by the second slice, was my least favourite part cause of its super strong flavour, like the company who made it was all 'WE WILL TRICK THE NON-VEGANS MUAHAHHA'. But it was still very good and clearly made me go for a second slice and do my excited uneven-eye food smile!
I would definitely go back to try some different pizzas, and maybe even indulge in a vegan doughnut. Maple sugar, I am looking at you. And to rocky road. Ok, I will eat them all.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Live Out There: My First Time Trail Running

My blog post for Live Out There, titled 'My First Time Trail Running: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly', has just been published!

You can check it out right here!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Spotlight: Homemade & Healthy in Yerevan

Keeping up with my new wannabe 'Spotlight' feature, this time I am focusing on Homemade and Healthy, an awesome initiative from Anush from the incredible Khachatryan family!

Being BFF with Gohar, aka superwoman, comes with many benefits (tee hee), including always having access to what her equally awesome twin sister Anush was cooking or baking. Everything I have ever tried from her has been absolutely delicious, and her brownies are still talked about by all those who have had the pleasure to try them (and devour them).

Not only are Anush's products healthy, delicious, and at very fair prices, she is always open to taking special requests (vegan, raw, gluten-free, allergies, etc.) and experimenting, which is why my new favourite thing is her toasted peanut butter with cinnamon and coconut oil.

I regularly buy her almond and peanut butters and granola, and a recent trip to her house left me sampling her delicious real ginger candies, and even some delicious liquors! That was a good day.

You can check out her Facebook page here to see some of her products and prices, and know that she also takes requests as well. Plus both Anush and Gohar are vegetarians, so you can make fun of meat and laugh together.
Toasted peanut butter & nut/seed-packed granola!

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Making of Basooc Dolma (Պասուց Դոլմա)!

This is a dramatic title, yes. But it deserves it. I've been pretty obsessed with basooc dolma/պասուց դոլմա since I first discovered it in Armenia. While I have eaten every dolma and sarma the region of my people offers--which does include the wonderfully vegan yalanchi sarma, I never knew about the equally delicious and healthier option (complete protein!) of basooc dolma until I came to Armenia. Since in Western Armenian we say bahk/պահք for lent, it didn't click in that this was meant to be a dish for lent, and it was therefore vegan. It is essentially pickled cabbage stuffed with beans, lentils, chickpeas, grains and spices, and is absolutely delicious--especially if the cabbage is cooked well.
While it is available in many restaurants and even supermarkets, I had the goal of making it myself. The closest I had ever gotten was going over to my friend Arpine's house to watch her mom make it and add in some commentary and annoying questions. This year was the year I would actually make it I decided, with a little (a lot of) help from Arpine, Arpine's awesome mom, Gohar, and Björn. While the cabbage should be pickled in advance, I pretended Arpine's busy schedule was the reason I didn't pickle my own cabbage, and instead bought an impressively large pickled cabbage from the one and only Gumi Shuga. This was 1/2 shortcuts I took.
Sweetest bean lady ever with the best selection of locally grown stuff!
We bought the beans and grains necessary, and made the decision to cook them until they were almost fully cooked, to make the end process easier/shorter. In proper grandma style, you should of course pickle your own cabbage and cook the dish for hours until every bean is soft and perfect, but if you feel "you don't got time for that", try our lazy version. Shortcut 2/2. So, here it is!

Ingredients for the Lazy Person's Guide to Basooc Dolma:
-1 cup chickpeas
-1 cup red kidney beans
-1 cup green lentils
-1 cup bulgur (smallest one)
-Pickled cabbage, from the nice lady at Gumi
-4-5 small/regular onions, chopped up real nice
-2 TBSP salchaa! (Tomato paste) + 1-2 TBSP for boiling
-Fresh or dried dill (depending on season)
-Fresh or dried basil (samezies)
-Bunch of fresh parsley
-Red pepper
-Black pepper

That's it! So in our version we bought all the beans and legumes necessary, and soaked them overnight, and cooked them in the morning until they were significantly softened but not fully cooked. We rinsed off the bulgur and mixed it in with the beans, which would soften them too, although bulgur does cook fast so we only did this so we wouldn't have to carry too many separate things. We took the cabbage and bean/legume/grain mix over to Arpine's house, and began.
First, Arpine's mom soaked some of the cabbage we bought so some of the salt could be washed away and so it would soften. We then removed the thick stems from each one since they have no place in basooc dolma. There will be a use for them, however! (Spoiler alert: to line the bottom of your pot so your precious dolmas don't burn)
Then, we had to chop the onions to cook them in the oil and add them to the mix. Gohar handled this and did a great job. She was also the only reason there are photos, since I used her phone. Here she is chopping away:
Next, you put these onions into a pan and cook them with oil. While they are cooking, you can do other things to get the recipe moving.
It was time to chop the parsley, and surprise surprise, Gohar volunteered because everyone had complimented her onion-skills. I think she was showing off but whatever.
Spice and mixing time! Arpine's mom led us through this, and added generous sprinkles of dried dill, purple basil, black pepper, red pepper and salt. I have a photo of all the colours for you:
Next it was time to add the salcha. While you can get small jars of salcha in Armenia with normal lids, there are also the larger ones that you need a special opener for and after a few times of accidentally buying the non-easy ones, I had to learn how to open them my own way. That way was a knife. Here is Arpine's mom trying to open it, but what you won't see is that I stepped in and impressed everyone with my strategy that only led to small amounts flying over the kitchen:
Step aside, Arpine's amazing mom.
After this, you can add the salcha and onions to the mix, and mix it all together with the spices so it is ready.
It will smell and look so tasty but you must be strong and only sample it for the noble reasons of making sure it has enough of everything!
Unfortunately, Gohar came, saw, sampled, conquered, and then peace'd the hell out. So any photos of us rolling this mixture and the hilarious shenanigans of Arpine trying to play The Little Prince for us so we wouldn't get bored are not documented.

To sum it up: Arpine tried to play the movie we all wanted to watch and we were all ready to say "it's not as good as the book!" but then the volume was creepily low and none of us could hear anything over the action of dolma-rolling. We decided to just talk to each other instead which I excelled at. Arpine's mom was the best at rolling and her tip was to put just enough mixture in the center, roll it up while sealing one end, and then sealing the second one so they wouldn't come apart. She warned us a few times that a few of ours were okay for now, but that they wouldn't survive the boil. Truer words have never been spoken.

After all this, you essentially lay some excess cabbage leaves down (the ripped ones, for example) or the stems you didn't use to line the bottom of a pot (they are the real heroes):
Next up, gently add all of the baby dolmas to the pot, and as Arpine's mom said, make sure it is a tight fit so they cook well and we avoid too many coming undone!
Then we prepared the liquid these babies would boil in! Mix about 1-2 TBSP more salcha with about two cups of warm or hot water:
Pour this mixture over the dolmas in the pot, and then add more water to make sure they are covered:
Arpine's mom said to put something heavy on top so it all stays together. We put something I just don't remember what - a plate? Then you boil it on medium/low heat with a lid on and let it cook and soften. We cooked it for about one hour, and while it was delicious and the bottom and middle ones were perfect, there were a few on top that could have stayed longer, so maybe try 1.5 hours. The result? Ohhhh man:
Delicious, hearty, filling, and I even became "basooc'd out" by the second day. But I loved it and will aim to make it again, this time pickling the cabbage too and being a full-on nene!

All photos by Gohar, Björn, and Anja!