“We Practice the Convictions of our Minds and Hearts”

As the weather starts to turn colder, many of us are thinking about getting a new winter coat. I love that there are so many cruelty-free fashions to pick from! Imagine my delight, then, when during the course of my research I learned about a woman who was making cruelty-free alternatives to fur coats, silk scarves, and “kid” gloves over 100 years ago! Her name was Maude (“Emarel”) Freshel, and she was the co-founder of an organization known as the Millennium Guild. The Guild advocated for a lifestyle that included a vegetarian diet and hosted lavish meat-free Thanksgiving dinners in Boston in the early years of the 20th century. The sale of the cruelty-free outerwear that Freshel sewed helped to fund the activities of the Guild. A number of these fashions were featured in the Boston Sunday Post on November 17, 1912.

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Freshel told reporter that members of the Millennium guild “have found splendid substitutes for furs,  feather hat trimmings and kid gloves, and know we are better off without eating meat. We practice the convictions of our minds and hearts.”

Freshel was also the author of The Golden Rule Cookbook, a vegetarian cookbook promoting the abstention from meat eating for ethical reasons. Freshel defined a vegetarian (remember, the term “vegan” didn’t exist until 1944) as someone who “for one reason or another condemns the eating of flesh.” She saw this as occupying “a very different place in the world of ethics from one who is simply refraining from meat eating in an effort to cure bodily ills.” Freshel’s dog, a terrier named Sister, was also a vegetarian and reportedly enjoyed such foods as lentils, peas, apples, oatmeal, and buttered toast.

*This post was also published on The Unbound Project website.

Come for Congress, Stay for Niagara VegFest

Our campus is getting ready to host the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences later this month (May 24-30), and I am looking very forward to seeing colleagues who are coming to Niagara from across the country. I will be participating in a few panels, and will also be part of the group hosting the Social Justice Research Institute reception. There is so much going on during Congress!

For those of you traveling to Niagara for Congress, I invite you to consider staying on an extra few days to take in the Niagara VegFest weekend festivities.

Things get started on the 30th of May with the Niagara premiere of the award-winning documentary film, The Ghosts in Our Machine. We are delighted that the film’s Director, Liz Marshall, and the film’s human star, Jo-Anne McArthur, will be in attendance for the screening. They will be joined by Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan from Our Hen House for a Q&A after the film. You don’t want to miss this!

The official festival kick-off party takes place on Saturday, May 31st at Mahtay Cafe. The party will be hosted by Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House. There will be live jazz (The Shea D Duo), delicious snacks, and beer and wine from Niagara College.

Then, on Sunday, June 1st, the 3rd annual Niagara VegFest takes over Market Square in downtown St. Catharines. There will be over 70 vendors/exhibitors, food trucks, speakers, workshops, live music, a “family zone,” as well as beer and wine from Niagara College. Admission is free and all are welcome!

Niagara VegFest News

Great news on the Niagara VegFest front! We have received funding from the City of St. Catharines. This will help us continue to build and promote the festival for 2013. A huge thanks to the City’s Cultural Investment Program for this grant.

It may be a cold and gloomy day in Niagara today (apparently it is Blue Monday), but before we know it, Niagara VegFest will be upon us! We are working away getting things ready–much excitement here at Niagara VegFest headquarters! Registrations are starting to come in, the list of speakers is nearly finalized, and we are busy working on other plans for the festival. Stay tuned!

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Happy Birthday, Rise Above!

Rise Above, Niagara’s only fully vegan restaurant, is now two years old! For two years Kyle Paton and his staff have been serving up vegan goodness in downtown St. Catharines. Rise Above started off selling vegan doughnuts out of a small location on Summer Street, but quickly expanded to a full-service restaurant over at 120 St. Paul Street. (don’t worry, you can still get the famous vegan doughnuts that put this place on the map!)

Kyle and the Rise Above team have become a fixture in downtown St. Catharines, participating in everything from a fund-raising Chili cook off to our very own Niagara VegFest. Rise Above’s presence in downtown St. Catharines has had a ripple effect, with several other restaurants, bars, and cafes in the neighbourhood now boasting vegan options.

One of my favourite things about Rise Above are the “tasting menu” evenings, special events where diners are treated to a 5 course meal comprised of dishes not found on the regular menu. These are gourmet courses, edible works of art. These dinners sell out within hours and are among the hottest tickets in town. Keep an eye on Rise Above’s Facebook and Twitter feeds to catch wind of when the next one is happening. (I hear there are 3 slated for early December)

The regular menu at Rise Above is pretty spectacular too. I’m particularly partial to the gnocchi (served with a cashew cream sauce that will blow your mind). And have I mentioned brunch? The brunch menu changes regularly, but is always incredible. With options like banana bread french toast (pictured below), you won’t be disappointed!

Congrats on this anniversary, Kyle, and thank you for making downtown St. Catharines such a great place to be a vegan! May there be plenty more Rise Above goodness in the years to come!

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15 Cups of Kale!

When Jasmin Singer was on the Dr. Oz show earlier this month she talked about one of her “go to” recipes for comfort food, the aptly named Cheesy Pasta Supreme (vegan, of course!). As I’m a fan of both new recipes and kale I couldn’t pass this one up.

Ingredients: kale (15 cups of it! whoa!), sun dried tomatoes, quinoa pasta, nutritional yeast, hot chilli flakes, tahini, shallots, and garlic.

The only regret I have is not running out to get different box of quinoa pasta. The only one I had in the house was a spaghetti and I think this dish would be better with a smaller noodle. However, it still tasted amazing and I’ll be making this one again! Thanks Jasmin!

Niagara’s First VegFest

Saturday June 2nd marked the first ever VegFest in the Niagara Region. I was part of the organizing committee for this event and while we were hoping the day would be a success we simply could not have anticipated the overwhelming response to the festival. Doors opened at 10 am and by about 10:30 we realized that we were going to be seeing some pretty large crowds during the day. The final attendance tally was 1250! This completely exceeded our expectations and at times things got a little crowded. However, everyone was in good spirits and took it in stride. As one of my colleagues remarked, “yeah, it was a little crowded, but it was exciting! It made you feel like you were really part of something.”

We had 30 fabulous exhibitors and vendors who ended up selling out of most everything by the end of the day. We had 4 generous sponsors who stepped up and took a chance on a new festival–a huge thanks to Kindfood, Sestres Coffee Shop, The Naked Sprout, & Bamboo Natural Food Market for their help in making the Niagara VegFest a reality. Thanks also goes out to VegFund for awarding us a grant to help put on the festival. We also were incredibly grateful for the assistance of Niagara Action for Animals and all our fabulous volunteers. What a day! I think more than anything what I took away from Niagara VegFest is just what an amazing community we have here.

I was also so impressed with all of our speakers. Marni Wasserman kicked off the day with a session on green smoothies, and even made enough to give samples to the audience. After that we had Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan from Our Hen House speak on the subject of food activism (one of my favourite topics!). Our third speaker was Chef Douglas McNish who talked about the path that he took to become a vegan chef and cookbook author. (note: Doug sold out of books at the festival–they are a huge hit! Make sure you order one!) Our fourth speaker was local athlete Jennifer Hintenberger, who just happens to hold some world records in kettle bell and who also happens to be vegan. She talked about how she overcame numerous illnesses because of her plant-based diet and I love how people like Jennifer help to shatter the myth that vegans are weak–she is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met! (for more on Jennifer’s story, check out her appearance on this week’s Our Hen House podcast). All of these speakers were so compelling and talked about the many benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. They were funny, engaging, and informative, and I was so honoured that they all so enthusiastically agreed to be part of Niagara’s first VegFest!

We closed the day with a screening of Vegucated, a fabulous film that is getting great reviews all over the world. We had a great audience for the screening and many people have since asked me where they can get a copy of the film for their own collection. It is a must see!

A huge thank you to everyone who came out to the festival and helped make it the success it was. Plans are already under way for the 2013 Niagara VegFest. Stay tuned!

Update: check out Our Hen House’s episode featuring Niagara VegFest!

Yummy, Cheesy, Vegan Potato Skins

The latest issue of VegNews arrived a few days ago. When VegNews shows up in my mailbox I drop everything and read it from cover to cover.

This month’s issue had a recipe for “Cheesy Twice-Baked Potatoes,” and we just couldn’t resist. This may be the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. No joke. Don’t be put off by the number of steps–this is totally worth it!

for the baked potatoes
-8 large russet potatoes, scrubbed
-2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
-1 teaspoon salt

for the cheese sauce
-1/3 c. vegan margarine
-1/4 c. chopped onion
-1 cup chopped potatoes, peeled
-1/4 cup chopped carrots
-1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
-1 teaspoon smoked paprika
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 cup of water
-1/4 c. raw cashews
-1/8 teaspoon Dijon mustard
-1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

for the sour cream
-1 c. raw cashews
-1 c. water
-2 tablespoons miso
-4 teaspoons white wine vinegar

for the mashed potato filling
-1/4 c. vegan margarine
-3/4 c. unsweetened non-dairy milk
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
-6 scallions, thinly sliced, divided

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a sheet pan, place potatoes and rub with 1 tablespoon oil and salt. Pierce each potato several times with a fork. Bake for 70 minutes until soft.
2. For the cheese sauce, in a sauté pan over medium heat, add margarine and onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add potatoes, carrots, garlic, paprika, and salt and sauté for 5 minutes. Add water and bring to a boil. Cover pan and simmer for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft. In a dry blender, process cashews into a fine powder. Add mustard, lemon juice, and potato mixture. Process until cheese sauce is smooth and set aside.
3. For the cashew sour cream, in a blender or food processor, blend cashews, water, miso, and vinegar until completely smooth.
4. Remove baked potatoes from the oven and cut in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, carefully scoop out potato from skins, leaving 1/4-inch layer of potato. Brush potato shells with remaining olive oil and return to preheated oven for 15 minutes.
5. For the mashed potato filling, in a medium bowl mash potato filling with margarine, milk, salt and pepper. Fold in half of the cheese sauce, half of the sour cream and half of the scallions. Fill each baked potato skin with mixture. Top with a dollop of cheese sauce and sour cream. Garnish with remaining scallions and pepper if desired.
6. Bake loaded potato skins for 15 minutes, until thoroughly heated and tops are browned. Serve warm.