Monthly Archives: September 2010

Adventures in Cooking: Rice Wraps

Today at lunch I had an awesome rice wrap from our go to catering company Pepperberry. I was reminded of how much I love rice wraps. I had to try to replicate this wonder at home.

I bought Rose Brand rice wrap paper:

Rose Brand rice wraps

Rose Brand Rice Wraps Photo: Lidia Le François

Sautéed some mushrooms, cut up carrots, cucumber and voilà:

Open faced vegan rice wrap

Open faced vegan rice wrap Photo: Lidia Le François

Closed rice vegan wrap

Closed vegan rice wrap Photo by: Lidia Le François

I wish I had thought to make some sauce, but this was good on its own. Easy, delicious and somewhat pretty. The rice wrap didn’t even require cooking; the instructions were to place a wet towel on the wrap for one minute. It worked like a charm. I imagine these would be fantastic at a dinner party, but to transport them would require a wet paper towel for sure.

Other variations of filling include vermicelli noodles with various vegetables and chopped pieces of mint, cilantro, basil etc.

I found this youtube video of Jacques Pépin that is hilarious. I dig this guy.

Here’s a recipe for rice wrap dipping sauce:
Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fermented fish sauce (nam pla)*
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon minced jalapeño chili with seeds
*Clearly, I’d omit the fish sauce.

There you have it, something easy and cheap, not to mention tasty. No bird seed and salads here.

Happy eating!
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Filed under Gluten free eating, gluten free meals, Meals, vegan, vegetarian gluten free

Gluten Warning: Fresh on Bloor, Toronto

I have been a patron of Fresh for a long time. I have enjoyed many meals there and due to my husband’s reaction to gluten, we can no longer safely eat there. This happened once before, we thought we’d give them a second shot, but that’s been blown too.

It’s too bad. I won’t miss the low walls where other patrons can stare directly at each other, or the noise level that is similar to walking into a chicken coup, but I will miss freshly prepared vegetarian/vegan food.

This past Sunday Mat and I went to have dinner at the Fresh on Bloor and specifically mentioned to the waitress we required the gluten free menu. She was cheerful and kindly obliged. We had the Jerusalem bowl and apparently, when you remove any sauce that contains gluten, no safe substitution is made. The bowl was fairly bland and not that exciting. If I’m paying $12 for a bowl of rice I expect it to be impressive. We didn’t even feel like eating it and promptly left doggy bag in tow. Before we even made it down the street Mat began to experience pain.  If you’ve ever had a reaction to gluten, apparently, it’s like small knives poking your intestine.

We’ve been to other restaurants which offer gluten free items and they really mean it – no cross contamination, no pain, no horrible experience.

I’m sorry to say this Fresh, but no amount of compensation will bring us back. This post is a warning to other people with gluten sensitivities to be careful. Even if you’re mildly sensitive and don’t experience a reaction, you don’t know what’s going on internally, so it’s hard to shrug something like this off.

Needless to say the doggy bag was dumped and an email was written to Fresh explaining the situation.

Here is the response:

Hi Lidia,

I’m sorry to hear that your second attempt at a Fresh experience
proved yet again to be disappointing. We’d like to be able to offer
our customers the best in quality food and service, unfortunately that
wasn’t the case.

All our servers and staff are trained in how to handle customers with
allergies, more specifically in this case, gluten intolerances. Our
menu does offer a selection of gluten free options, however we can not
guarantee a cross contamination of ingredients from the kitchen in the
process of making the order. In spite of our best efforts, there is no
specific “gluten free” zone in our kitchen. This information is
clearly stated on our website, but not on our actual menu, which is
something we will change once our new menu is established. The server
should have known to relay this crucial bit of information to you, but
did not and for this I apologize.

We are looking into who your server was, but nevertheless have since
reminded all staff across locations of how to be more sensitive and
warn those customers with allergies of our procedures.

Of course we will refund you the $32, and in addition will send you a
Fresh gift card should you choose to visit us again some time.
Thank you for your feedback.

All the best to you and your husband.

Anita Brajkovic
Area Manager, Fresh Restaurants”

I appreciate the response and it is a nice gesture of them to give me a refund. Thank you Fresh.

On the gluten free menu, we noted the tempeh, sweet and regular potato fries are fried in the same oil that contains gluten – why say the item is gluten free? I expected more from a restaurant that appears to understand different eating requirements (vegetarian/vegan/gluten free).

It’s too bad. Sayonara Fresh.



Filed under Gluten free eating, gluten free meals, Meals

Beginners Tips to Being Gluten Free

I was recently asked, on Twitter, about tips to being gluten free for beginners.

The best piece of advice I can give is to always read the labels and use common sense. My day job involves food packaging. I am always amazed at the different words for gluten and how some companies try to cover it up.

There should be clear labels on all products denoting common allergens avoiding any misconception, however, until that day comes it’s best to be uber aware of what ingredient statements mean.

Here are the many words for ingredients that contain gluten:
– wheat
– durum,
– bulgur
– dinkel
– kamut
– spelt
– semolina
– couscous
– starch
– bran
– hydrolyzed vegetable protein
– dextrimaltose
– stoneground flour
– wheatgerm flour
– malted wheatgrain flour
– wholemeal four
– malt
– caramel
– butter flavour
– Chocolate, pudding, candy, and frosting
– Creamer substitute
– Dextrin, dextrose
– Food dyes
– Herbs, spices
– Hydrolysates or hydrolyzed anything
– Miso and other soy products, such as soy sauce and teriyaki sauce
– Modified Food Starch (can be from other sources)
– Mustard Powder
– Nitrates, nitrites, sulfates or sulfites
– Oat Flour or oats
– Vitamins
– Edible Starch
– Einkorn
– Enriched Flour
– Farina
– Graham Flour
– Granary Flour
– Hard triticum
– High Gluten Flour
– High protein Flour
– Hordeum
– Triticale
– Udon
– Vital Gluten

There are more, but this gives you an idea.

Let’s start at the beginning. You wake up to shower – is your soap/shampoo/conditioner gluten free? Is your toothpaste/mouthwash gluten free? What about your creams/make up/perfume?

Amazing how wheat can be in your everyday items. Being gluten free includes all these things.

What about breakfast? There are many options when it comes to gluten free bread and cereal, if you’re a traditionalist, but a protein smoothy is a great way to sneak in protein without really noticing.

I’m a big fan of Vega, it’s gluten free, vegan and free of most common allergens. Invented by a Canadian Iron Man, Brendan Brazier, Vega is easy to make and quick. I know I don’t have much time in the morning, due to my own fault, but at least I know I’ll get my fill of vitamins/minerals no matter what else I eat during the day. See Vega’s health claims here.

Here are the Nutritionals for the Chocolate flavour, my particular favourite, I suggest checking out the site for a non fuzzy version.

In between breakfast and lunch, I’m a big fan of snacking, I usually have a Larabar and or fruit/nuts at my desk.

Lunch can consist of anything, if you’re willing to put in effort or find a restaurant you know that can promise a non contaminated meal.  It doesn’t have to be all salads and bird seed. You can have a sandwich on gluten free bread, or gluten free pasta, gluten free pizza – anything really. It’s just a mental thing interms of breaking free from the, “What the heck am I going to do now?!” thinking. Being gluten free just requires a bit more thought in terms of your meals. The difference being to walk into any restaurant and feel comfortable with the handling and preparation of food.

Eating at restaurants is a bit harder in terms of finding people who really understand what gluten can do to you if ingested. I find the closer you are to a city the easier it is.

Say goodbye to drinking: beer, whiskey, malt based drinks, gin and some vodkas. All of these drinks are made with some form of gluten. I find I’ve come to appreciate wine more. I was also pleasantly surprised that my favourite vodka, Iceberg Vodka, was gluten free.

There’s gluten in the candy coating shell in Smarties, Blue Cheese, Rice Krispies and a number of surprising places just to name a few. It takes a while to adjust passing by rows and rows in the grocery store that contain gluten. It’s a shame really, but that just opens the doors to more natural fruits and vegetables that are gluten free and much better than anything processed could be. On the bright side, it gets you cooking and more aware of your health than ever before – not really a bad thing?

If you’re interested there is a “Dummies” series for living gluten free:

Hopefully this post has helped.

Check out great links like:

Happy eating!
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Filed under Gluten free eating & Bill Clinton goes (almost) Vegan

One of the first questions I get, other than, “What DO you eat?”, is, “How do you do it?” I suppose in this bacon infested world, where people start drooling at the mention of Hero Burger, being vegan is clearly not deemed the popular choice. One of my coworkers told me I was “no fun” with food after remembering I changed my eating habits.

Former President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton recently confirmed he is on a plant based diet and rarely eats fish. I can forgive him, he’s getting on the right track. I love his little smile at the mention of being around for grandchildren.

Today, I have a working lunch meeting with coworkers and I usually order pizza. This time picking a veg pizza isn’t so easy; now being gluten free as well as vegan I’m limited in choice. I settled on a bruschetta with portobello mushroom and no cheese pizza. I didn’t want the pizza sauce, there’s usually too much sugar in it and I don’t know if there’s “milk products” in it. I’m curious to see what this will be like.

It’s not really fun being the odd one out when it comes to work situations; the comments and jokes. I’m tired of people asking me if I miss meat and the declarations of, “fish isn’t meat!” Uh huh. Let me get some fish seeds and plant some.

Two months ago being a vegetarian was fine, but being ‘vegan and gluten free’, oh hold on, that’s crazy talk!

One resource I’ve come to appreciate is Vegan Outreach. I’m really impressed with what they’ve been able to do in terms of spreading information and helpful guides, which are free to download and request by snail mail.

I’m sure if slaughterhouses had glass windows and showed animals being visibly slaughtered, most people would turn away from eating meat. The idea of biting into meat appeals to me as much as biting into a human arm. Strange and gross.

Other helpful sites:

Happy eating!

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Filed under animal cruelty, Rants, vegan, vegetarian gluten free

Food Picture Post: Retro ads & products

I could spend hours looking at retro food ads, or even the Eaton’s catalog, something appealing about old school advertising. In advertising school, I often found myself drawn to the older style ads and I still have a reel of ads I like to watch from time to time. I spent hours pouring over my mother’s old cookbooks and was fascinated with the amount of drawings versus photographs were featured. You don’t see that anymore.

The “Improved” part kills me. Not only is this a paint can, but hydrogenation improved the product? Amazing the claims agencies got away with. 

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Filed under Retro ads and packaging

Chocolate! Need I say more?

I made an impulse buy this weekend: Cocoa Camino Orange and Mint dark chocolate.

I did not regret this purchase. No cognitive dissonance here!

From their website:
“Cocoa Camino is Canada’s #1 selling fair trade, organic chocolate bar line, and for good reason. Unparalleled in quality and taste, our 13 flavours are sure to please everyone. Plus, our ingredients come from environmentally responsible producers and, wherever possible, are sourced under fair trade conditions.

All our chocolate bars are:

  • Certified Organic by QAI
  • Fair Trade Certified by TransFair Canada
  • Certified Kosher by Rabbi Abraham Hochwald”

Not only are Cocoa Camino chocolate incredibly delicious, but environmentally conscious as well.

There are nine chocolate bar flavours: Milk, Mint, Caramel Crunch, Bittersweet, Almonds, Espresso, Coconut, Orange, and Dark.

The website lists allergens in a PDF format. All of the chocolate bars, “May contain traces of peanuts, nuts, soy and dairy products.” Only the Milk and Caramel Crunch clearly state “contains dairy products”. It’s your call if you want to risk the possible contamination factor depending on your allergen severity, so do read the labels.

I love that this product is very close to being vegan. No processed sugar, no milk product (in the flavours I chose), no gluten and natural flavours. Natural flavours always cracks me up because you never know what the heck it is.

Click here to read an article about a woman who had a reaction to cherries while eating applesauce because it was listed as a ‘natural flavour’.

Aside from chocolate bars, Cocao Camino also sells hot chocolate in retail and commercial sizes with flavours that do not contain milk.

The inside of the Orange chocolate bar wrapper contains a story about one of the agronomist with the CONACADO co-op in the Dominican Republic. Nice to feel a connection to the product.  By purchasing this item I am helping a company who deals with Fair Trade companies and I feel better supporting sustainable agricultural practices.  Cocoa Camino claim this is, “decadence with a difference.” I concur.

Each bar will cost you roughly $2.49, they are available in most grocery and health food stores as well as many online outlets. Click here for where to buy.

What’s your favourite chocolate?

Happy eating!

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Filed under Healthy Snacks

Vegan Jelly & Jello Competition vid

It’s been a while since I ate anything with gelatin in it. Gelatin is pretty gross as it is, “a protein produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the boiled bones, connective tissues, organs and some intestines of animals such as domesticated cattlepigs, and horses.” Wikipedia: Gelatin

Not very appealing is it?

The texture is something that has always surprised me. I have a somewhat mild obsession with jelly like items. Something mesmerising about gelatinous goo.

funny animated gif

There are vegan options.

Here are a few from Vegetarian Lifestyle

1. Seaweed-based gelatine alternatives. Agar-agar, for instance, is a seaweed based alternative to gelatin that can simulate the culinary functions of gelatin. It can be bought either as individual washed strips of seaweed or as a powder based product. A fascinating fact about agar-agar is that another common use is that it is the base compound for taking dental impressions.  Any true vegans about to have a dental impression might want to check with their orthodontist that they are not using an animal based product.

2. Soy-based gelatin alternative. Soyfoods USA developed NuSoy Gel, a gelatin alternative which was created entirely out of soy isoflavones and contains 100% of your vitamin c recommended daily allowance.

3.  Try using pectin to thicken jams and jellies.

4. Konnyaku gel, derived from the konjak plant native to China, Japan and Korea, is a good alternative to animal gelatin when used in savory dishes.  It is less suited to sweet dishes due to having a seaweed-like natural flavor.

5. Rice starch. A rice starch alternative to gelatin that replicates the cooking functionality of gelatins closely has been developed in recent times.

Agar  agar interests me a great deal; this crazy thing comes from the ocean.

Agar agar

It almost looks like my favourite mung bean noodle:

Mung bean noodle

Most likely for Thanksgiving I’ll attempt to make some Agar agar jelly dessert. I hope they look as good as what these people have made:

Did you know there’s a Jello competition in Brooklyn, NY run by The Gowanus Studio Space? I didn’t either. Who would have thought of such a thing. Designers come together to compete with rather creative Jello ideas.

Clearly people who have a lot of time on their hands and are also as crazy about jelly as I am.

Happy eating!
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Filed under vegan jelly, vegetarian gluten free

Wait a minute, wine isn’t veg/vegan?!

Recently Mat and I found out that animal derviatives and products were used to make wine. This made us incredibly sad. (Cue the violin) Seriously?  How can this be you ask? I asked this as well and went hunting for some answers.

Exhibit A: Wikipedia

“Wineries might use animal-derived products as finings. To remove proteins, yeasts, and other organic particles which are in suspension during the making of the wine, a fining agent is added to the top of the vat. As it sinks down, the particles adhere to the agent, and are carried out of suspension. None of the fining agent remains in the finished product sold in the bottle, and not all wines are fined. Kosher wines use isinglass derived from fish bladders, though not from the sturgeon, since this fish is not considered kosher[citation needed].

Examples of animal products used as finings are gelatin, isinglass, chitosan, casein and egg albumen. Bull’s blood is also used in some Mediterranean countries but is not allowed in the U.S. or Europe.

Of these, casein and albumen (deriving from milk protein and egg white respectively) would be acceptable for vegetarians, but not for vegans.

As an alternative to animal products, Bentonite, a clay mineral, can be used to clarify the wine. Some vintners also let the wine’s sediments settle naturally, a time-consuming process. Winemakers are not required to put on their label which clarifier is used, since it is removed from the final product. However, some wine makers will boast on the wine label that their wine is unfiltered, because some wine connoisseurs prefer wine to be unfiltered.”

How surprising and depressing. One of my favourite wines is Beringer. I did a quick search and found letters written to curious consumers. Letter source:

Company email:
Thank you for contacting us about our Beringer wines. After checking with our winemaking team, I have learned that on a very limited number of our red wines we might add casein (from milk) and albumen (egg whites). Both of these are proteins and are used as fining agents to remove tannins and reduce astringency. These are removed as precipitates and it is doubtful any traces of these proteins remain after the fining operation. It depends from year to year which red wines may be put through this process, so I can’t tell you specifically which wines might be affected. On the other hand, our white and blush wines, such as Chardonnay and White Zinfandel are not fined at all. They may go through a filtering agent such as cellulose pads or diatomaceous earth. In membrane filtration the wine is passed through a thin film of plastic polymer material having uniformly sized holes. In both cases nothing is added to the wine.

Ah, sounds semi-good, but then we get company email 2:

Thank you for contacting Beringer. We do not recommend any of our wine for vegans due to the possibility that the wine has been clarified with fining agents such as egg albumin, casein, gelatin and isinglass. The winemakers decide on which fining agents are used and these may vary from product to product and even batch to batch (usually depending on the grapes of that particular year). It is important to note that despite fining agents being used during the winemaking process, they are removed prior to bottling. We appreciate your interest in our wines!

Email 3 (April 09)
Company Email:
“Thank you for contacting us about our Beringer Stone Cellars wines. We do not recommend any of our wine for vegans due to the possibility that the wine has been clarified with fining agents such as egg albumin, casein, gelatin and isinglass. The winemakers decide on which fining agents are used and these may vary from product to product and even batch to batch (usually depending on the grapes of that particular year).”

Good to get a confirmation from the company, they clearly would know best, but who would have guessed?

So now to find a list of Vegan friendly wines!

Here are helpful links and tips to finding vegan wines:


So, there you have it. Hopefully this weekend will be full of fun times, good food and vegan wine!

Happy eating!

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Filed under vegan

Video post: Elizabeth Hasslebeck, Ellen & Earthlings

Strange things are going on with WordPress. Either way, I’m re-posting what I meant to post today.

I forgot to post the gluten free videos I meant to with my Veg Fair post, so here they are.

I do not agree with Elizabeth Hasslebeck’s political views, but she is the one person that people bring up when I say I’ve stopped eating gluten. Here’s a video of her with her doctor explaining what Gluten does people who can’t tolerate it. Crazy to think that’s what happens to GF people.

Here’s a video, poor quality, of Ellen talking about why she became Vegan. She pretty much sums up my thoughts on the subject.

I’ve seen Food Inc. and some parts of it broke my heart.

I haven’t seen Earthlings, but I don’t know if I can after watching this video:

Such a negative way to end a post, but I don’t really feel like typing more after watching that video.

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Filed under animal cruelty, Gluten free eating, vegan

Vegetarian Food Fair 2010 & GF video

This weekend was the 26th annual Vegetarian Food Fair, hosted by the Toronto Vegetarian Association, held in Toronto on the Harbourfront grounds.

On Saturday, the weather was great and the fair seemed rather busy. First stop was the Natura booth, but they had already sold out of the Unsweetened Soy Milk on Friday afternoon. Do I have to take a day off work to get a deal on soy milk?

Next, we walked around and I bought a t-shirt to support the Toronto Cat Rescue. Very cute design and I’m glad to contribute to such a worthy cause.

Mat bought a fresh coconut from the coconut guy, he was incredibly entertaining, he told one customer, “If you want to eat the coconut flesh, go to Loblaws.” I had no idea young coconuts were so different, I never really paid attention to coconuts. We saw previous patrons getting their coconut cut in half, after the water had been consumed, to scrape the jelly and eat that. Again, I wasn’t aware that coconut jelly was in the young coconut. Thanks for schooling me coconut guy.

Coconut guy cutting a young coconut Photo: Lidia Le François

I couldn’t pass up One Love Veg’s corn roast booth. Yes, they had corn soup, but there’s something nostalgic about eating freshly prepared corn on the cob. Seasoned with vegan margarin and spices, this average snack is delightful indeed.

Inside we found the Vitamix booth doing demonstrations, nice to see people impressed with the machine, we have one and love it. Quite a few people had purchased these expensive machines. It’s hard to find them in stores.

Close by, the Vega booth was also selling product. On our trip to PA, we brought the Vega Shake and Go Smoothie mix as it was easier to travel with. The chocolate mix is more intense than the regular chocolate; using plain soy milk is highly recommended. It’s too bad we missed the talk by Vega founder Brendan Brazier, I would have liked to hear him. Nice to see a vegan ironman. Vega is not only a plant based vegan protein shake, but gluten free as well, it’s an excellent product for those who don’t get all daily vitamins and minerals; plus, it’s a great after workout refreshing drink.

Sweets from the Earth was very busy, people were happily purchasing/eating their vegan gluten free baked goods, nice to see such a vendor busy.

Inside the food tent was another whole smorgasbord of prepared foods. I tried El Cilantro’s mushroom taco. Two soft shelled corn tortillas with caramelized onions, mushrooms, red and green peppers topped with cilantro; not bad, but not my favourite either. They weren’t listed on the brochure or TVA’s website. They were incredibly busy, but organized to keep the line moving quickly.

Two Mushroom tacos from El Cilantro Photo: Lidia Le François

Overall, the Food Fair was an easy going, educational and fun way to spend a weekend. It was easy to talk to people and often conversation was struck just waiting in lines.  I highly suggest people with a vegetarian/vegan or health interest go next year.

Happy eating!

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Filed under Gluten free eating, Natura Soy Milk