Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Some Highlights from the Malerweg Trail in Saxony, Germany!

I postponed doing this post so long that almost one year has passed! I hope I learn a lesson from this procrastination habit of mine since I've probably forgotten about 98.5% of all the cool details, but I still want to share some highlights (the ones I remember or am reminded about by looking at photos) for my wonderful bloggies (blog babies?).

Last April, Bjorn, Hans and I decided to tackle the famous Malerweg Trail in Saxony, Germany. Truth be told, I had never heard about this trail before, and the less you know, the more inclined you are to say "I'm in!" and then forget to research about it later to freak out. As a result, I only had time to freak out about the hike after one of the Germans told me it was considered "difficult."
Not scared!
While I am no expert, I enjoy hiking, and have a surprising (given my love affair with procrastination) ability to "soldier on" and power through hikes, with the only negative experience I can recall being in Armenia, when the day after I arrived from Canada, jet-lagged, tired, and slightly delusional, I went on a six+ hour hike with Bjorn and Liz. I legitimately could not grasp my breath the entire time and had to take a break every 45 seconds of hiking. I thought I would lose my title of "Benzoar" that day (Lena + Bezoar Goat = Benzoar) but Liz and Bjorn were super sweet and supportive and even occasionally pretended that they too needed breaks every 45 seconds.
There were also good times! I swear!
Anyway, back to Malerweg! It was all planned very last minute, and we decided we would do the entire trail from finish to start since we arrived to the location closer to the end. Any good trip begins with me pointing at something:
We all got some snacks and Hans is a vegetarian chef so he brought some awesome treats for the trip, including vacuum packed vegan burgers (with local green garlic!) and hmoz. The trail itself is estimated to take between 8-9 days and is meant as 9 days of day hikes, but we camped & covered so much distance daily--despite our super heavy bags--that we finished in 5-6 days. Our first day was more about getting to the actual location and coordinating meet up times, and of course we were all on time because Germans. We also got in some much needed sleep:
We still had a pretty sweet night set up the first evening, and woke up ready to conquer & had our first delicious oatmeal/cashew butter breakfast courtesy of Hans and his cooking gear:
Although we began the hike at the end, the trails were all similar in that there was a lot of up and down, and oftentimes just when you thought you couldn't go one more step, there was another hill or another set of steps ahead.
The views--and I mean every single one--were absolutely worth it and deserved the kind of pauses where it looks like you are thinking about the meaning of life but are really just wondering what to eat that night:
You guys don't fool me!
The areas, for the most part, were equally as nice, and we learned to appreciate the beauty while being resourceful:
It only rained one full day and although it was annoying to wake up to wet socks/clothes/shoes, we still seemed pretty OK with life:
I lost that handkerchief on the last day! :(
The rest of the time the weather was typical of March--not cold, not hot, and some days there was even some sun!
No, you suck!
Hans wanted to try boofen, which traditionally means spots for climbers to sleep outside, and I think it was the first time for all three of us (I hadn't even heard of the word before). The weather permitted it and it was not as scary as it seemed, and we busted out some Armenian cognac to celebrate not dying.
I had gotten a little unwelcome demon surprise a few days into the trip so I ended up being cold always and forever after this point and refused to leave my sleeping bag:
I will die here!
Eventually I got out (there were promises of hot oatmeal and coffee...) and we soldiered on.
Some of the only boring aspects of this trip was when the trail would lead us into full-on towns, but that also meant resupplying on food (aka all of the German bread) and getting so close to seeing wild cats:
I remember a day or so before our hiking would come to an end--at the sight of one more uphill trek, I did feel a little zzvadz like OK WE GET IT THANK YOU, but even during those times, the views were so worth it.
Where's Waldo aka Bjorn?
One of us had to fall, with all the ups and downs going on, and I sacrificed myself for the greater good. It was worse than this picture shows, I swear. And I still use these stockings when I'm running for reasons unknown:
On our last night, Hans made us an amazing pesto pasta dish with veggies and I still remember how delicious it was:
On our last day of hiking, the sun was up and the view was particularly beautiful, and getting to the end of this bridge signified the end of our journey:
Just as I had begun this journey, I had to end it by pointing at something (a bird?)
And that's a wrap! I am so happy we did it, and that Bjorn and Hans were the ones navigating the entire trip so we didn't get lost. Although a few times the uphills just seemed over the top, as mentioned many times before, they were totally worth it. While I should end this post with this photo Hans took:
Or maybe this one of all three of us:
I will instead end it with a shoutout to our cutey pie fire salamander friend, who led our way for a full 15 seconds:
All photos taken by super duo Bjorn and Hans!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Vegan Food Inspiration From 2+ Weeks in the U.S.

This is the first time I am doing this (I think). I was in the United States for a little more than two weeks and have a bunch of photos of delicious vegan meals, snacks and desserts I want to include here. I'm really getting into watching some "What I Ate Today" YouTube videos for cooking inspiration and am also trying to do my own low-maintenance (aka not learning how to make nice videos) version of that.

I am including some homemade food options, as well as restaurant meals, too. My first rule going anywhere is FIND YOUR LOCAL ZA'ATAR SOURCE AND LET IT KILL YOU. In this case it was from Damascus, a Greek/Middle Eastern specialty shop. As a result, the first bunch of photos are 3 ways of consuming said za'atar: baked potatoes (recipe coming soon), homemade meneyish with olives and tomatoes, and fries:
Not pictured: Eating it with a spoon until I choked (don't try that at home)
 Next up is a meze style dish (my favourite...I love mixing food) of hmoz, a super basic version of guacamole (aka avocado dip), pickles, red kidney bean salad with hemp seeds, and whole wheat pita. I made the beans in advance and used them for three different dishes afterwards. I was running and swimming a lot so it's always good to have beans or grains handy for some quick power meals.
Next up is a dream plate packed with garlic'd beets, hmoz, tomato cucumber salad (aka Vahe Jingalian salad), baked eggplant with tomato sauce, leftover za'atar potatoes, avocado, unnecessary (and stale) white bread, and some pickled jalapenos!
(And a little shout out to this amazing homemade hmoz made by friends of my parents when we went to visit them...perfection!):
These photos are all from Yard House where I got the vegan burger (comes with Daiya cheese) and the barbecue vegan "wings." So good, and there's a reason there was always a lineup in front of this restaurant! Just a note, I enjoyed the burger but the appetizer took the cake. I would just order that next time. Even the celery was really fresh and tasty.
This photo was my vegan meal attempt at iHOP. I've never been but that was where we ended up and I just assumed a huge chain like that would have vegan options, but no dice. Luckily my waitress was a vegetarian and hooked me up with steamed broccoli and a potato/onion/pepper stir fry, and I just added hot sauce on everything, and was only slightly jealous of all the pancakes floating around.
These two shots are a falafel sandwich from Noor, a small Lebanese restaurant that has incredible falalel and meneyish, and the hot sauce is perfection:
This last collage is just some liquid power! First is of course a nice Armenian-style coffee that hit the spot, the second looks like coffee but is actually chicory root with some coconut creamer courtesy of So Delicious. Next is a delicious green smoothie packed with kiwi, mandarin and spinach with a generous amount of chia seeds, and finally a lazy version of a margarita, with no added sugar :D
A few days before I headed back to Canada we went to Whole Foods Market, which is quite different than the one in Toronto. I always check out the baked goods area to see what kind of vegan stuff they have, and while the cookies are usually way too sweet, this double chocolate muffin sang to me, and I think this photo is really cool even though I'm sure it's really not:
I ate the other half of this super tasty muffin outside, and went wild when I saw a sail boat in the distance, and after taking three photos of it zooming in, I confirmed my belief that photos always ruin reality:
So I hope you enjoyed my first attempt at vegan food inspiration. I wouldn't normally eat out this often, but when in Rome (aka the U.S.), you gotta take advantage of things not available in Canada yet! And if nothing else: za'atar potatoes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vegan Mock Tuna Recipe!

I always enjoyed the taste of tuna in a can, and while I was excited to see this rather expensive option in my search to find something resembling it, I decided to finally experiment with the many recipes I saw floating around.

This recipe is a mixture of a bunch that I found and includes a lot of new additions to make up for something that was always lacking. It is my favourite one as I feel I finally perfected it and therefore actually wrote it down on a scrap piece of paper! So if you're like me and miss the taste of tuna-in-a-can, try this vegan recipe to get as close to it as possible. It is great as a dip, in a sandwich, in lettuce leaves or when I am desperate, just straight off a spoon!

-1 cup of cooked chickpeas (or one jar or can, rinsed), you can also save some of the chickpea liquid (aquafaba) and add a little for taste
-1 long celery stalk, finely chopped
-3 TBSPs dried seaweed (I use nori or kombu, you can try other types too!)
-1 TBSP mustard (I used a fancy kind cause I have a mini obsession with mustard)
-1 TBSP vegan mayo (I used Vegenaise but will make my own next time)
-1.5 TBSP tamari or soy sauce
-2 chubster pickles, diced
-Black and red (hot) pepper, as much as you like
-A pinch of salt if desired (add it after adding the tamari to see if you really need it)
-2 sprigs of spring onions (you can use a yellow or red onion but it does take over in terms of taste)
-Nutritional yeast! I use a lot cause I love it, but start with 1 TBSP and see how you feel about life

-Mash the chickpeas with a fork or a fancy device. Goal is to leave no round ones and to make a chunky mixture
-Add all other ingredients, liquids first, but get the dried seaweed in there early on so it softens with all the liquids added
-Mix it all up well and enjoy! You can put it on toast, eat it with lettuce leaves or with crackers! It is super filling and healthy, and a perfectly convenient option when you have extra chickpeas!
I might add a little bit of miso or try seasoning the chickpeas next time and see what happens with that. But until then, this is my favourite recipe for mock tuna!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Review of Mormot's ROM Athletic Jacket!

Winter is slowly (and stubbornly) coming to an end. Besides the little bursts of snow these past few days, the weather is warming up and the sun is shining. That means many things, one of which is being able to put away massive heavy winter coats and opt for something lighter.

This is where I've always had trouble. I've used the same windbreaker for the past few years despite the fact that it doesn't really protect me from the wind yet is heavy enough to make me sweat--which is especially inconvenient when biking or hiking. I've tried on a few other options and have found the same problems--the worst being a type of netting that is found in so many of these jackets that in my experience means the jacket is not flexible, not comfortable and will make you sweat even when you are shivering cold. So when I was offered the chance to review a Marmot athletic jacket courtesy of Altitude Sports, you can bet your boots I agreed.
I ordered the women's ROM jacket in medium and in black. I read that it is windproof, water resistant, durable, breathable and is made with an adjustable hood. After making sure there is no netting, hoods are the second biggest deal for me in terms of these types of jackets. Well designed hoods are not only perfect for chilly weather, but also suitable for rain, snow or wild winds and when made properly, can replace both a hat and a scarf.

When it arrived, I was so impressed with how lightweight it was and how nice the fabric--a mix of polyester and elastane--felt. It's also fitted, and therefore much more flattering than my previous windbreaker--which made me look like a box (not pictured!):
But I needed to take it out for a test before I could give it a stamp of approval. There was some snow and it was quite chilly that day, but not cold enough for a winter jacket. Without a scarf or a hat, I went on my hour walk, doing a light stretch before:
I felt very comfortable and warm without getting sweaty. The softshell protects you from the cold while the durable material conforms to your body shape, making it super comfortable. When the winds became particularly strong, I tried on the hood, and I have to say, the hood alone could have sold me. It has a cap component, which makes it perfect if it rains or snows (none of which was happening that day) and covers your entire head keeping your ears super warm and you can also adjust it to make sure no wind gets in. I loved it so much I made a collage:
When I came home, I was so happy with the results of my jacket, that I'm officially packing it on my upcoming trip to Europe where I will definitely get in some hiking and camping. Instead of using my uncomfortable windbreaker along with a hat and a scarf, this jacket is my new 3-in-1. You can check it out here, and while it's a good chunk of money, it is also warranted to be free of manufacturer defects for life, so you can consider yourself set!
Official stamp of approval!