Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pastels Not Optional

This past weekend we had our 25th Annual Easter Park Day Celebration Gathering Event Day.

Tagline: Wear pastels or feel Easter's wrath.

(Bonnets optional but encouraged.)

Guests were politely asked/required to don their Easter finery, join us for a day of fun and egg-related activities in the park, and to bring us candy. Most did not comply.

As always, there was Easter frisbee.

(the pastel shirt qualifies it as Easter, obviously)

There was picnicking.

Somehow Heather managed to discover our location and crash the party. At least she stayed her distance. And wore a peach polyester frock. That can make up for almost anything.

And there was face painting. Oh, the face painting! Give me any excuse, no matter how weak or far-fetched, to paint my face and I'm in. I'm really looking forward to Mother's Day.

Jordan was an Easter egg. Velvet is our current in-house face painter and she is a master. Some of her past works include:

Seriously, quit your job and become my personal face painter already, Velvet. We'll discuss this further at home.

Velvet requested that I paint her face as a tiger/Easter parrot mix. I could not have failed her more and I think that is aptly reflected in her expression. My bad.

Zak was the Easter bunny. Not creepy at all with that moustache. Nope.

I presented my face as a blank canvas to Velvet and the result was her piece de resistance (her piece of resistance, to help out my non-francophones). I terrified little children everywhere and startled myself every time I looked in a mirror. And that, dear readers, is what Easter is all about.

"What? You wanna be our friend?! Great, let's get some face paint on you and we'll find you some pastels and then...oh. Not talking to us? Oh. That makes more sense."

After realizing that we would make no new friends in the park that day (don't tell me that people don't judge you by your exterior; it's all lies! They do! And face paint scares them!), we shook off our deep inner pain and partnered up for the THREE (3)-LEGGED RACE!

And that's when things got real.

We flew through the park legs abound, some of us faster than others.

Like I said, some of us faster than others. In case you can't tell, that's me and Eric way ahead in the distance. It's a little blurry because we were so fast, coordinated and athletic.

Amy and Rob didn't win, but it looks like they had a good time. That's nice, guys, but you don't get any trophies for having a good time. You don't get any trophies if you win either, but that's not really the point here. I think the point is that it was Easter and on Easter you wear pastels and do three (3)-legged races....right? Was that my point?

The champions laugh at the pitiful efforts of our competitors, marvelling at their lack of speed and agility, despite having three (3) legs to work with.

And by "champions," I mean that Eric and I won the three (3)-legged race. No doubt about that, just the honest truth.

The games continued into the day...

Velvet, Lazy and William all placed in the Easter Egg-on-Spoon relay race. I trust that this achievement has already been added to their resumes.

I know what you're thinking. You're wondering why I didn't place--well, I was photographing the entire event. Glad to clear that mystery up. Heather didn't place because she is not coordinated and peach polyester frocks were not made for running.

The non-winners of the Easter Egg-on-Spoon relay race. Non-winners is a nicer way of saying losers, because on Easter no one really loses. Except all of these people.

Time for the traditional Easter Egg Toss. From our many, many years of playing this sport, we have learned that it results in two (2) ways.

This is the most common ending.

...and this is the more amusing ending.

Egg yolk on your Easter finest--it had to happen to someone. Of course that someone wasn't me, as I believe I won the Easter Egg Toss as well. There is no photographic evidence of this but you can trust me.

Unlike past years, we did not include a deviled egg speed-eating contest. I will finally concede that it's just really not a great idea. SIGH.

Still delicious after eating 30? I don't see why not. If someone could please confirm this to me, it would be much appreciated!

We DID however hold our Extreme Easter Egg Hunt, where chocolate eggs were hidden everywhere in our house, no holds barred. And I do mean everywhere, from within a jar of curry powder, to inside a bag of cat food, to tucked into a tub of Vaseline (what? that's not gross), to the depths of our vacuum cleaner (again, not gross. EXTREME). It's my dream to one (1) day have an Easter egg hunt so extreme that participants will actually have to ply up floorboards and search deep within jars of peanut butter.

One day.

Not so extreme? Our Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Creepy-Easter-Bunny game. I didn't even feel excited winning it. But I did win.

For me, the most glorious part of our Easter celebration was that I completed four (4) kip-ups, a task which I've been trying to master for almost a year! It was captured by Eric's phone but the quality is poor since it was night and outdoors. All you can see are my eyes and face paint glowing as they fly through the air. I deemed it too scary to post, but if you've ever seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, know that it was exactly like that.

Exactly. like. this.

I hope you all had lovely Easters as well. How many deviled eggs did YOU eat? Did you win any relay races? Do you think hiding an egg in a Vaseline jar is gross? (nah.) Hit me with your thoughts.

Happy Easter Tuesday, everyone!

P.S.--Lent is over; let's all eat chocolate until we puke!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cut it Out, Vegan March!

It is with a slight sense of relief that I'd like to announce that Vegan March has officially come to an end. For those not in the know, my roommate Heather and I decided to go vegan for the month of March, giving up all animal products (meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin, etc.).

Now, I had every intention of thoroughly blogging Vegan March. I really did. I wanted to share the ups, the downs (oh so many downs), recipes, tips and maybe even some vegan-themed jokes (everyone loves those, right?). A careful review of my blog will reveal that I accomplished none of that, nary a single vegan blog post in March. I blame the weather and low iron.

So instead of an extensive, behind-the-scenes look at Vegan March, a few highlights and lowlights will have to suffice. And maybe one (1) vegan joke. It's probably better this way. Let's begin with the lowlights and get 'em out of the way.

Lowlights of Vegan March

1.) I attempt vegan baking.

Now, I'm not saying that vegan baking can't be fun, delicious or nutritious. Vegan baking can indeed be all of those things. Just not when I did it.

My baking partner in crime, Daniel, and I decided our first attempt at vegan baking would be S'mores Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies. We found the recipe and inspiration at The Chubby Vegan, a new blog I'm digging (all of the delicious looking pictures come directly from his site; give it a look!).

This is the picture that enticed us into trying the recipe. Makes you forget dairy and eggs even exist, huh? You bet your bippy!

I had to do a few minor variations on the recipe, as I bravely (foolishly?) gave up all chocolate for Lent. So instead of dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips which would normally be fine to use in a vegan recipe, I had to try unsweetened carob chips for the first time. And because we couldn't track down any vegan marshmallows, I had to go without. Dan, on the other hand, was free to pile his cookies high with both delicious chocolate chips and marshmallows. Did I resent him for that? Yes, of course I did. For the entire night and some of the next day.

Here's what the finished product was supposed to look like. A massive, soft, chewy cookie with a s'more hidden inside. WOW! Just imagine the air of excited anticipation in the house to see our cookies come out of the oven. It was something else.

...and then these emerged from the oven.

Hmm. See the oversized cookies on the left and right, the ones exploding with chocolate chips and marshmallows? Those were Dan's. See the shrunken, dried-up looking pieces of crap in the middle? Yeah, those were allll mine. It was the first time that when I offered baked goods to my roommates, they politely declined. Dan and I also attempted peanut butter & carob chip cookies which were so dismal that we didn't bother photographing them. After a week of sitting untouched on my kitchen counter, they somehow found their way into the organic waste bin. At least the earth shall benefit from them.

We learned a few important lessons from our adventures in vegan baking:

a.) Substitutions can make or break your baking recipe, so think carefully before going wild.
b.) Unsweetened carob chips are not the same as chocolate chips. I'm bolding this because it is very important. They are bitter, absolutely disgusting and I never want to try them again unless I am baking for someone I hate.
c.) Food glamour shots are really hard to take. See above for evidence.

So all in all, our vegan baking was a disaster. Oh well, things get better, right? Not quite yet. Onto more lowlights!

2.) Heather and I are stricken with the flu.

In the middle of Vegan March, I came down with the flu and had a luxurious three (3) day vacation of lying miserable on the couch, struggling to eat Saltines, feeling all hot'n cold (just like Katy Perry!) and alternating all of that with some puking. The flu came just in time to miss my dodgeball team's championship game. Oh well, who wants to play the game you worked all season for, right? Gah. The good news is that Heather caught the flu a day later and then I had company on the couch. This was a fun week for our non-vegan roommate, Velvet.

You can see Heather and I at our lowest low here, bravely yet futilely trying to fight the flu virus that had mercilessly ravaged us. You certainly don't need Photoshop to see our honest, real, unaltered pain here.

(*Since we did not actually document our bouts with the flu, these are professional actors hired to reenact this event. Their fees cost me about $500 so you better appreciate it. )

Oh dear, there I go again.

3.) Social outings become complicated/veggie burgers become a staple.

I found the most challenging parts of Vegan March were going out to eat with friends. Now, I'm very lucky that I live in Toronto, where vegan/vegetarian options are usually plentiful. Still, at many restaurants and pubs I found myself often resorting to ordering the veggie burger for fear of hidden dairy ingredients. In a particularly social week, I ate four (4) veggie burgers. I've got nothing against veggie burgers, but there's gotta be a limit. And that limit is four (4).

We need a break.

Bring on the veggie burger cake, though. Seriously. I like the idea of getting a meat fix from a sugar and icing-based source.

Being a vegan at the movies was also a new experience for me. Everyone knows that movie snacks are like, only the most fun part of going to the movies (if you don't believe that I take movie snacks seriously, read this letter to Peanut M&M's). Gone were the days of eating Junior Mints, buttered popcorn and rib-eye steaks. My new life path led me to eating dried prunes and mangoes whilst trying to ignore the mocking from my friends.

Lesson learned? Being a vegan is much easier when you're preparing the meals yourself or when you have time to properly plan ahead.

(Another lesson learned is that there is a time and place to scrimp and buy the generic brand, but that time is not when purchasing dried prunes and mangoes. [Mergeler, you can back me up on this, right?])

Trust me on this this. I totally got Life-branded.

4.) I start to hate people.

By far, the most annoying thing about Vegan March, way more annoying than any food restrictions, was having to deal with people's reactions when they found out we were going vegan. Common reactions included "Are you insane? Seriously, what's wrong with you?" "Uhhh...why would you EVER do that?" and my favorite response, a long and uninvited lecture on the virtues of eating meat. As well, many people enjoyed explaining the terms "protein" and "calcium" to me, as if they were new concepts that I'd never heard of. I liked explaining the terms "tolerance" and "this is none of your business anyway."

If it's good enough for Weird Al, Natalie Portman and Andre 3000 (all reported vegans), it's good enough for me (...if only for a month).

But enough with the negative! Let's hear the many, many highlights of VM.

Highlights of Vegan March

1.) My birthday celebration continues.

Perhaps my favorite part of the month was receiving a belated birthday gift. A very important belated birthday gift. Anyone recognize this beaut?

That's right! I now own my very own Sweet Valley High 250 piece puzzle, featuring the cover of SVH #49, Playing for Keeps! See, everyone? It pays to blatantly and publicly beg for whatever you want (thank you very much for the present, boo).

The puzzle has been very well received in our house.

Everyone loves it, even the spawn of Satan.

And yes. I realize that this highlight has nothing to do with going vegan. Don't rain on my Sweet Valley High parade, aight?

These two could probably be vegan if they stopped stuffing their faces at the Dairi Burger everyday after school, am I right?

2.) Eating healthy food can make you feel really good.

Though you can definitely still eat an unhealthy diet while being vegan, it DOES force you to cut out a lot of the crap. Taking out pizza, chocolate, chips, candy, ice cream, cheese, etc. and replacing those foods with fruit, vegetables, beans (lots and lots of beans), brown rice, etc. means you're going to feel a positive difference in your body. And there's definitely a small sense of satisfaction when non-vegan people try to tempt you with forbidden goods and you're just all like "naw man, I'm good."

Some of our favorite vegan foods included:
-Natura Rice Milk
-Fried tofu (if you fry a healthy food, it's still healthy, right? ...right?? Don't answer that.)
-Organic vegan berry muffins from Organic Oven Bakery
-Vega Whole Food Health Optimizer (great for breakfast smoothies, an easy way to get some protein and essential fatty acids without meat)

-Happy Planet organic soups (especially the Moroccan Chick Pea and the Thai Coconut Curry, good lord I love soup)

Foods I Consumed Record Amounts of: Spinach and dark leafy greens, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, hummus, tofu and freaking veggie burgers.

Food I Sadly Did Not Consume Any of: Great Grains (damn you once again, modified milk ingredients!)

(Hey, did you know if you Google Image "Great Grains Canada" I'm currently the 9th picture to be displayed?! Another life goal accomplished!)

3.) Heather and I finally receive public accolades.

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Heather and I were declared "Canada's Sexiest Vegans" by a very acclaimed and influential magazine, read by millions of extremely important people. Unexpected for sure, but appreciated. We of course turned down the award, because we're not in this for the fame. That ain't us. We're in it for the money.

4.) We expand our worlds, one animal product-free item at a time.

Though I wish we had had the time to do this to a greater extent, Heather and I did manage to sample a bunch of new and exciting vegan foods. Over the course of the month, we tried vegan pizza, vegan burritos, seitan and tempeh-based meals, cooking with coconut oil, vegan refried beans, vegan Indonesian food and vegan carrot cake. For the most part, there were definitely enough vegan options out there to make us feel like we were never going without. And did you know you can still eat Oreos as a vegan? Surprising but true.

Mmm, seconds please.

Despite all of these wondrous highlights, I think Heather and I were both ready to move on by the end of March. On March 31st, we picked out our first non-vegan foods to eat after the clock struck midnight. We prepared to rejoice with much revelry and energy.

April 1st, 12:01 a.m.
Heather, Money and I rejoice with much revelry and energy.

Now, I don't want this post to come off as anti-vegan. I really, really don't, because I'm not. I would definitely try veganism again and would recommend others trying it as well. I think if done properly, it can do great things for your body. Veganism forces you to pay close attention to everything you're consuming instead of mindlessly grabbing something on-the-go or eating whatever's easiest. There's also a great community of vegan blogs to consult for advice or recipes (I've spent hours at Finding Vegan staring at the beautiful food pics and then feeling depressed because I will never be able to make anything that beautiful).


(To attempt to make this, go here. And good luck with that.)

My advice for anyone interested in trying veganism is to do some research and educate yourself beforehand to make sure you'll still get the proper nutrients in your diet. Once you've done that, go nuts! And by go nuts, I mean eat lots of spinach.

Seriously, I ate so much spinach. Oh, and as promised, I leave you with one (1) vegan joke.

-How many vegans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
-I don't know, but where do you get your protein?!

(I would laugh but it's all too fresh for me. I never want to discuss protein again.)

Sooooo, who's in for Meatless May? Holla at me! And special thanks to Heather for creating a gif of me throwing up and for going on this special journey with me; we now have a bond that can never be broken, unless you're late with the phone bill again.