02 November 2013

Divided we fall, united we stand: the harmful side of the 'vegan police'

This blog post does an absolutely spot-on job of criticizing what is often referred to as the 'vegan police'--in other words, the nitpicking vegans who vigorously assert that their very particular and specific and personal approach to veganism is the only valid form of the lifestyle and call out other vegans who may be less strict or, more often than not, just different in their approach, in addition to vegetarians and omnivores for their choices. While I'm obviously all in favour of strictness when it comes to abstention from animal products, as with any growing community, there is bound to be a diversity of opinions, just as we see in any religion and ideology. And this should be embraced rather than denigrated, since that's what makes a movement vibrant and strong, and since we share more values than we don't. And when it comes to the most important things, we are all in agreement.

Let's go back to the definition of veganism from the man who invented the word, Donald Watson. Veganism is "a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals." Surely, this definition is much broader and more inclusive than what many of the vegan police would have us believe.

Two of the most inspiring vegan role models I've come across in my own personal journey down this road emphasize community and compassion as absolutely essential building blocks of veganism. I recently attended a talk delivered by Dr. Will Tuttle at the University of Calgary, and one of the most resonant points for me was his emphasis on community in terms of shaping his own ideologies. He described finding himself in a large commune of vegetarians and how their sharing of their beliefs finally made something click in his mind and led him to stop eating animals. My own personal journey towards a vegan lifestyle (I still have a long way to go, and I still feel very new to it all) would probably never have happened if I hadn't spent time with a few new vegetarian friends whose beliefs rubbed off on me, and allowed me to finally make the connection between my choices of food and clothes and the very real, violent consequences those decisions had on the animals with whom we share the planet. Simply knowing people who are vegetarians or vegans and their presence in your life can allow you to see that lifestyle as something possible and achievable, as well as logical and good. Community is of the utmost importance in forming our beliefs--not just about animal rights issues, but about everything.

Compassion is an essential element in the philosophy of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, another vegan educator whose tireless work I greatly admire. While compassion for animals is obviously highly emphasized in her podcasts, she also goes to great lengths to encourage us to have compassion for humans, even humans with whom we disagree--even hunters! Her message goes: we all share this planet, both human and non-human animals, and we have to keep compassion in our hearts even in situations that might seem hopeless and discouraging (she speaks powerfully of a group of men hunting birds in a field beside an animal sanctuary at which she was working and trying to keep calm even in the face of the extreme brutality they were inflicting on the birds) in order to truly make a difference for the animals and the planet. If we express compassion towards everyone, even our opponents, there is a possibility of open dialogue and growth. Otherwise, minds will never change and only become more entrenched and closed.

When the 'vegan police' are out there on the enforcement trail, they break down this essential sense of community and compassion by guilt-tripping and belittling fellow vegans. This can really only cause feelings of hopelessness in new vegans or vegetarians, which can have the exact opposite effect of what we should be striving for. They may give up their journey and go back to the butcher in defeat. And if an omnivore is considering this lifestyle but sees such internal division and bitterness as happens when the 'vegan police' are out there, they're not very likely to want to associate with a group fraught with such petty in-fighting and might even run full-speed in the opposite direction. Every vegan has their own approach (some may only eat raw, for example, or organic, or gluten-free, but these approaches may not work for people in every geographical area or class or health situation), but since we are all working towards the same goal, since we are all human and not perfect, we are all still allowed to wear the label 'vegan.' Indeed, anyone working toward eliminating products of animal slaughter and exploitation from their diet and their lifestyle, in any capacity, for health or any other reason, should be encouraged in that goal... cheered on, rather than finger-wagged at for not 'doing' veganism right or not doing enough or not going fast enough. That is the best way to foster a warm sense of community, which is so crucial in any movement, and the best way to assert and reflect the compassion rightfully associated with veganism in our day-to-day dealings with others.

06 October 2013

Smooth, salty, creamy: silken tofu

I have recently entered the magical world of silken tofu. I had used extra firm tofu a couple different ways, in tofu scrambles and to make smoky tofu bacon. But this stuff is smooth, slightly salty, creamy, and versatile as hell. It's great in dips (combine the first six ingredients to make a spread not unlike sour cream or mayonnaise) and I want to try it to make something like cheesecake eventually. By itself, it's slightly like fresh mozzarella... very mild in flavour but mixes super-well with whatever you want to throw in with it. So go nuts! Here's a recipe to get you started:

6 oz   silken tofu
1/4 cup   olive oil
1 clove   garlic, minced
1 tbsp   lemon juice
2 tsp   mustard (dijon would probably be best)
dash   sea salt
1/3 cup   chickpeas (I usually use canned because it's quicker but dried then cooked is generally better), rinsed & drained
1/3 cup (roughly)   finely chopped celery
dash   black pepper
1 tbsp   dried onion flakes
dash   red chili pepper flakes

Mix and mash this all this together until the tofu is all broken up and the mixture is quite smooth except for the chickpeas sticking out and you'll wind up with a mixture not unlike egg salad. I put it on a sandwich with raw kale leaves and sundried tomatoes (always a nice mixture I find... the potent sweetness of the tomatoes takes some of the bite out of the slightly bitter kale) and fried it up in a pan. So delicious. And best of all: pretty fast and easy to whip up.

So have no fear! Try out some silken tofu today in a sandwich, in a dip with some crackers, in a dessert--you name it! You won't regret it!

26 September 2013

Butternut squash soup with apple, toasted coconut, and sage

This recipe was majorly inspired by my friend Deborah as well as Aux Vivres, a vegan restaurant in Montréal that opened my eyes to the wonders of 'coconut bacon,' with logistical pointers from this post from Eating Bird Food.

So the other day, my mother roasted up a whole butternut squash, and I was thinking today of what the hell to use the rest of it for. (I think she used Becel margarine as part of the roasting technique, the one non-vegan part of this endeavour. Obviously, Earth Balance would have been way better, but I suppose I'll take what I can get.) I settled on soup. Which is hardly settling at all. Because soup is awesome. Especially when it's hearty and fruity and slightly crunchy and a little spicy and fragrant and warm and basically a big steaming bowl of everything that's wonderful about autumn.

Here's how you do it.

1/2 large butternut squash, roasted with oil and maybe salt (see below), peeled, cut up into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tbsp Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
1-1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp nutritional yeast flakes (this is kind of hard to find and also kind of optional, so feel free to omit)
3 medium sized apples (Granny Smith is probably the best. I used whatever kind of apples grow on the tree in my backyard. Yellow-ish green and not too sweet or sour.), peeled, cored, sliced into 1/4-inch cubes
2 tsp dried sage leaves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
3-1/2 cups vegetable broth (I used a pre-made store-bought variety but hopefully you have better stuff to use)

Roast up a butternut squash. I was lucky that this was already done for me. But if you're not so lucky, preheat your oven to 400 F, then just cut a big one down the middle lengthwise, put the two flat ends down on greased or tin-foiled pans, spread canola oil or Earth Balance or something similar over top of them, add a little salt, and pop in the oven and cook it for a long time, like at least 45 minutes or even an hour, until the skin comes off easily and the flesh is slightly brown, but not toooo brown. Allow it to cool enough so that you can safely handle it, and then take off the skin and dice into 1/2-inch cubes.

In a big, deep saucepan (about 4 litres) over medium heat, combine coconut flakes, Earth Balance, soy sauce, maple syrup, paprika, salt, black pepper, and nutritional yeast flakes (if you have them). Liquid smoke might also make a nice addition, but seriously just one dash, guys. Don't go nuts with that stuff. Stir it around for a few minutes until it gets slightly brown. I actually burnt it a bit and had to scrape some out before adding the rest of the ingredients to the pot. So don't cook it as long as I did. Just a few minutes until it's nice and toasty.

Turn the heat up to medium-high. Add the butternut squash (I only used 1/2 of a whole squash in this recipe... possibly a little less... but it was a rather large squash) and cook for a few minutes until the squash starts to brown up slightly again (only five minutes max). Then add the apples, sage, salt, and black pepper. Stir it all together with a big slotted spoon and keep stirring often for about 5 minutes. Add broth, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often to avoid overly crispy bits sticking to the bottom. Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes, then puree with a hand blender (this step is kind of optional if you want something more like a stew or if you don't have a hand blender... but it's a good idea). Add extra salt, sage, or pepper to taste.

Serve steaming hot with some extra sage and/or coconut sprinkled on top. Then go play in a pile of colourful, crunchy leaves to beautifully round out your extremely autumnal day. The mild softness of the squash, the bright sweetness of the apples, the salty, toasty, slight crunch of the coconut, the invigorating kick of the sage--seriously, this stuff is fall-flavoured glory. It's the tops!

04 April 2013

The balcony is closed

This blog used to be a receptacle for my film reviews, and while I don't see as many movies as I used to, and I write about them even less (although I do at least try to keep that sidebar updated on new viewings), this feels like the right spot to pay tribute to Roger Ebert, a hero of mine who departed earlier today at the age of 70 after a long and complicated battle with cancer.

Goodbye, Mr. Ebert. You were truly a hero of mine, someone who led me to discover the joys of movies at a young age and seek out titles I would never have heard of otherwise. Back when I was about 12 or 13, I remember avidly leafing through one of your Movie Yearbooks in Chapters. I waited with breathless anticipation every Friday morning so that I could read your reviews of the newest releases, back when my local paper, the Calgary Herald, still carried them. It was around that time that I began trying to see as many recent releases as possible. I think back to 2004, when I managed to see almost 100 movies that had come out that year (often dragging my parents to some of the more R-rated fare, much to their chagrin, I'm sure), which seems paltry compared to your yearly average, but was an impressive source of pride to me. I would also seek out the older movies you gushed about that I'd never heard about before at my local video rental store--back when those things still existed. If Rogers Video didn't have it, I'd make the longer trip over to Casablanca, a more boutique store renowned to Calgary residents for carrying the real tough-to-find stuff. I was rarely disappointed. Indeed, you seemed to open up a whole new world of cinematic possibility for me, encouraging me to pay attention to movies and appreciate them like I never had before.

You were one of the main inspirations for a time for me to write my own film reviews. Back in 2003 or 2004, I made an account on RottenTomatoes.com and began to write my own reviews and post frequently on the forums there. I was still shaping my tastes at that time and I'm sure if I went back and read those pieces again, I would be shocked at what I found passable back then. Even though I don't write on film much anymore, I still have a passion for cinema--one whose fires you very much helped stoke.

You were a tremendous and almost absurdly prolific writer who deftly balanced humour, erudition, and accessibility. Your open, heartfelt, conversational tone inspired countless people to seek out the joys you found at the movies and served to bring film criticism to the mainstream, with its integrity and grace fully intact. While many found the 'Thumbs up/down' conceit a mere tacky gimmick, it hooked people and encouraged them to look past the digits into your actual tremendous output and learn more about cinema in the process, and come to love it more (although it's unlikely we could ever love it as much as you).

I have no idea how you managed to keep up that pace (reviewing oftentimes 300 movies a year, in addition to writing other columns for the Chicago Sun-Times and books and, later on, poignant and light-hearted blog posts) without ever sacrificing the quality of your writing, but you somehow pulled it off. Whether or not I agreed with your reviews (and I quite often didn't), you always had something sharp or fascinating or funny or cheeky to say, whether the review was positive or negative. It's not for nothing that you're the first film critic to have won a Pulitzer Prize.

Your Great Movies books were treasure troves of insight, commentary, and beautifully articulated passion. I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie provided bountiful laughs as you took down the stinkers. Your reviews for the classics--Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey stick in my mind, as does Singin' in the Rain--can truly be counted among the most ardent and insightful pieces of writing I've ever read. On the other side, your opening volley against Freddy Got Fingered is one of the most deliciously scathing take-downs I've ever witnessed: "This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels." Either way, your work always shone with wit and intelligence.

Your "Movie Answer Man" column laid out invaluable etiquette guidelines for patrons of the cinema. (I wish more people followed them.) There and elsewhere, you also tackled many technical developments in the film industry with uncommon thoughtfulness and rigor. I particularly remember your digital vs. celluloid debates, your reluctance towards the recent proliferation of 3-D, and your discussion of the importance of aspect ratio with regard to home video viewing options. I still do think you were too hard on video games, but we'll let that slide.

Beyond the breadth and depth of your contributions to the world of cinema, your blog and your wonderful autobiography, Life Itself, showed you to be a brave, kind, and thoughtful soul (not to mention a technologically savvy one). You never slowed down despite facing a tremendous amount of adversity, remaining a tireless champion of the cinematic art. As I read more and more about your life, I became more and more impressed with the way you dealt with struggles--exhibiting real grace under pressure--and your zeal for your life's work. You were a guy I almost felt that I knew even though I know I really didn't.

You once said: “I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.” Your reviews as well as your musings on life never failed to bring a ray of joy into my life, and they undoubtedly brought happiness to your readers and to countless other film lovers out there. You always gave us something to think and argue and, often, smile about. At the end, it seems you were entirely successful in living up to your goal as espoused here.

The curtain has gone down on the movie of your life (or should I say, your life at the movies) but the lights have gone up: you remain an everlasting source of inspiration.

02 March 2013

Tomato-onion-black bean buckwheat galette w/ cream cheese

Sometimes, especially on the weekends, you just need something a little more savoury--and spicy--for breakfast. It's why omelettes loaded up with peppers were invented, and breakfast tacos. Along those lines, this rustic galette proves remarkably satisfying. My incredibly brief stint working at a crêperie here in Montréal--while I like to look back on it with malice now (I was ignominiously fired, and it's a long story I'm sure nobody is interested in)--did at least instill in me a respect for buckwheat, especially as it comes to form the basis of the more savoury style of crêpes called galettes. Good news for the many these days who seek to go without gluten: 'buckwheat' is an utter misnomer, coming from a flowering plant more closely related to the rhubarb plant than to wheat or other cereals. It's a darker and lighter (in terms of weight--maybe finer or fluffier would be a better description) flour than wheat, and very suitable for a more salty (rather than sweet) brand of crêpe.

1/2 cup   buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp   salt
2 tsp   flax seeds
1/2   'flax egg' (combine 1/2 tbsp ground flax with 1-1/2 tbsp warm water, stir slightly, and let stand at least 5 minutes, preferably 10)
1/2 tsp   honey
1-1/2 tbsp   diced white onion
4   grape tomatoes, quartered
1-1/2 tbsp   chopped green onion
1-1/2 tbsp   black beans (canned, then drained and rinsed)
1 tbsp   cream cheese (and more for garnish) --> Yeah, this is maybe the first non-vegan recipe I've posted on here... if desired, I'm sure there are substitutes available in non-dairy form, or hummus might actually work nicely. Similarly, to replace the honey, if that's not your bag, you can either omit or add just a tiny splash of maple syrup.
1 tsp   red pepper flakes (or a reasonable amount of fresh, diced red pepper, if you have it)
pinch   salt & black pepper
dash   parsley
dash   thyme

To make the galette batter:
Whisk together flour, salt, and flax seeds in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine 'flax egg' and honey with 2/3 cups of cold water. Gradually stir wet mixture into dry, a little bit at a time, until the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate that while you get to chopping/ frying vegetables. (Ideally, you will want to refrigerate this stuff for about 12 hours or overnight but I didn't have that luxury. Just let it chill as long as you can.)

To make the filling:
Set a frying pan on medium heat and spread out about 1 tbsp canola oil over it. Dice your onion and add to the frying pan, adding a sprinkle of salt. When onions are soft and yellow-ish, remove from heat. Chop the green onions and tomatoes, and get everything else ready.

When your batter is sufficiently chilled and ready (maybe use this chilling time to put on a pot of coffee or something, as I'm very impatient waiting for anything to chill, and I'm sure a lot of you are too), remove from fridge and add about 1/4 cup water to the mixture to further thin it out, stirring quickly. Place a lightly oiled frying pan over medium heat. When hot, quickly pour the batter onto the pan, swirling to spread it out to the edges. (You may need to use the convex side of a spoon for further spreading if you're not quick enough, but be careful.) Let the batter cook until the edges are brownish and a little crispy and the centre is reasonably dry--about 4 minutes--then flip. Imagine a diagonal line running along the pan. Spread out cream cheese to cover one side of this diagonal with a spatula or spoon (you're going to be folding the galette in half shortly, is what I'm foreshadowing here). Add white and green onions, tomatoes, beans, red pepper flakes, thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper to the cream cheese-covered side. Cook about 2 minutes until cheese starts looking melty, then fold the galette over this imaginary diagonal. Place a little dollop of cream cheese in the centre on top of the galette. Fold in half again to make a fan shape and place another dollop of cream cheese in the centre. Transfer to a plate and sprinkle with parsley. I feel this recipe is significantly French and delicious enough to warrant me saying, bon appétit! Also, chow down!

Note to keep in mind: while I turned this into one giant and quite thick crêpe, the traditional idea of a crêpe is to be thinner. Galettes in particular are supposed to be a little crispier than mine ultimately looked, as well. With that in mind, feel free to use the batter to make two crêpes instead of one, in which case you may have to reduce your cooking time slightly. But I assure you that even if you do it my thick way, it's still pretty damn delightful.

24 February 2013

Oscar predictions 2013

Well, I can't believe I'm sitting down to do this again considering I had so little interest in the Oscars this year. In fact, I thought at one point that I'd finally broken my addiction to this useless, shallow charade. Yet here I am, embracing the pomp and circumstance all over again--albeit at the last possible moment. I have seen probably a record-low amount of movies from last year (although still more than most, I feel) and so I'm ridiculously under-prepared to make any sort of educated assessment or defend my own choices (especially in categories where I've seen like one or two of the nominated films). With that in mind, let's get right into it! I'm marking down who I think will win in each of the major categories with a W, and who I think should/ deserves to win with an S. And of course it would be SWeet if me and the Academy are in agreement. Haha-ha-ha-haaa... ugh. And then I'll try to give an explanation of why I think that or if I felt someone else should have been nominated (cough-Best Director category-cough). Cool? Cool.

Best Picture

Amour S
Argo W
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

shoulda been nominated: Flight, Skyfall

I'm a huge fan of at least four of these, so needless to say I thought it was a good year. I really liked Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln (though I'm not on board with the consensus that the latter was the greatest thing since sliced bread), too, and Life of Pi and Django were good but not without some serious issues, while my feelings on Les Misérables are well-known at this point. For what I think deserves to win, I was waffling between Amour, Argo (which was atop my best of the year list for a while), and Zero Dark Thirty (ditto). But man, did Amour ever come out of left field and hit me like a tonne of bricks. Powerful stuff. Timeless, despairing, unflinching. Just great cinema. Argo, a huge crowd-pleaser as well as being hugely well-made and a deft balance of comedy and suspense, will ultimately take the cake, though, although a Lincoln upset may still be possible, although it will be more difficult than passing the 13th Amendment LOLOLOL I hate myself. Moving on...

Best Director

Michael Haneke, Amour S
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg - Lincoln W
Behn Zeitlin - Beasts of the Southern Wild

shoulda been nominated: Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Sam Mendes (Skyfall)

Seriously, this category is garbage. Ben Affleck should win, dagnabbit! Or at least be thoroughly in the race. His movie is going to win Best Picture and he's not nominated for director. Just... what?! Well, I'll play along within the parameters of this stupid, stupid category and still try and make my predictions with this meagre material. Obviously, I'm rooting for Michael Haneke for Amour, since I find it relatively difficult to separate my favourite film from what is the best directed film. This is a bit of a close race (except for Zeitlin, which is unfortunate, since I loved Beasts, but goddamn nobody is talking about him in this race), but I'm pretty sure Spielberg's got this in the bag, and for good reason, although I do feel like Lincoln had a better script, oddly enough, than direction.

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln SW
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

shoulda been nominated: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour), since Amour wouldn't have been the amazing thing it was without Trintignant and Riva playing so well off each other and making you feel every moment of their love and pain; maybe Daniel Craig (Skyfall), but I guess that would be too action-y for the Oscars

Rock-solid category. I loved all of 'em except Hugh Jackman, although he certainly wasn't the worst thing about Les Misérables. But do I even need to say anything? Daniel Day-Lewis has this so hard it's curious why there even are other nominees here. He's astonishing. He makes Lincoln a legend, a myth, but also a real guy with real edges and ripples of personality. Everyone knows it, especially the Academy. Look, Bradley Cooper, you did go a helluva long way towards winning me over, and in Flight, Denzel Washington was as good and intense as he's ever been, and Joaquin Phoenix was just downright mesmerizing in The Master--you couldn't take your eyes off him. But Day-Lewis was legendary. It's his year. And he'll take it handily and become the first person to ever win Best Actor three times.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook W
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour S
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Well, as for who will probably win, it's between Chastain and Lawrence, two up-and-comers who were seriously on fire this year... and yeah, they were both tremendous. (I still have a lot of love for Wallis's brilliant turn in Beasts, don't get me wrong.) Lawrence all but burned up the screen in Silver Linings Playbook with the vitality she brought to her role and Chastain's performance of quiet determination and passion was downright heroic. I feel, if only because she also has a lot of momentum off her great work in The Hunger Games and because it's a bit of a flashier performance than Chastain's, that Lawrence has a very, very slight edge here. For me, though, nobody could touch the sheer power of Emmanuelle Riva's agonizing, impassioned, all-too-believable performance as an aging musician suffering from a slow shutdown of her body and mind from stroke. It's a performance for the ages.

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln W
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained S

Solid category again. Almost uniformly solid, which makes this difficult to pick who I think will win. Like, all of them? I suppose Tommy Lee Jones seems like the safest bet but De Niro's return to actually being halfway decent in anything may win over enough hearts to be a possible upset. Christoph Waltz may be shunned because he won too recently, but for sheer entertainment value, he's who I will be rooting for. Just a joy to behold. But yeah... Hoffman was pretty brilliant too, acting straight from the gut with just a stupid amount of intensity (he'd be my runner-up if I was in charge), and Arkin was an absolute blast. I'll be happy for any of 'em, really. I didn't even like Jones that much, the more I think on it, but he'll probably win. Hmm.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables SW
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

shoulda been nominated: Judi muthafuckin' Dench, just blowin' it outta the water in Skyfall, feisty and witty and poignant as can be. A goddamn travesty she ain't in this mix.

Well, Hathaway's got the buzz here and while I disliked Les Miz, I sure as hell liked Hathaway, so I'd say it's pretty well-deserved buzz. I liked Adams too, as well as Weaver, but they were pretty much just blips on the radar. I wasn't a huge Sally Field fan, but that may just be because I didn't think she had much to do in the movie. I guess she was about as good a Mary Todd Lincoln as could be expected. I haven't seen The Sessions but I'm reasonably sure I don't need to. But yeah, Hathaway's got this.

Best Original Screenplay

Amour, Michael Haneke W
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola S
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

shoulda been nominated: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Yeah, I'm going there. Takes guts to adapt your own novel into a screenplay and Stephen Chbosky succeeded with flying colours. Movie was downright magical.)

As great as all of these were except maybe Django (which had pacing issues, in my book... although maybe that's more of a directorial issue... but in this case, they're the same guy, so my point stands), Amour stands out as a heartbreaking sure-thing, beating out the in-depth character study coupled with intensity in Flight, the quirky, imaginative charms of Moonrise Kingdom, and the rigor of Zero Dark Thirty. However, as much as I loved Amour... and it was a lot... I think, especially given the 'original' part of the equation, that Moonrise Kingdom was actually the most stellar here. Anderson and Coppola sketched a brilliant, unique, and contained little snow-globe of a cinematic world here that was just a marvel to behold. It pains me to choose against the thousand little details that added up to create the wallopping impact of Amour, but the beaut that was Moonrise Kingdom deserves mention somewhere, and I think this is the place. I'll still be cheering when Amour takes it, though, for sure.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Argo, Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar & Behn Zeitlin
Life of Pi, David Magee
Lincoln, Tony Kushner SW
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

shoulda been nominated: The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies)... nobody's talking about this one and they really should be... the thing blew me away and should at least merit a script nomination, not to mention featuring assured direction and great performances from all involved

Argo was pretty marvelous but, besides Day-Lewis's brilliantly engaging disappearing act of a performance, where Lincoln really shone--and it definitely did shine, for the most part--was in the script department. A fine balancing act between mythologizing but also humanizing the legendary president, Kushner's sparkling script not only featured tremendous dialogue but also somehow made democratic procedure kind of thrilling to watch. It's a feat. Oscar will likely honour it, as he should. If Argo winds up sweeping the night, however, it could well win here too. Watch out.

In other races, Wreck-It Ralph seems like a safe bet for Animated Feature, but while I've heard good things, I haven't gotten around to seeing it, unfortunately. Life of Pi will probably win in many of the technical categories, especially Visual Effects, although Skyfall will probably take both sound categories and Original Song.

20 February 2013

Random stir-fry over quinoa w/ nutty orange-miso drizzle

Here's a very vibrant, light yet filling little fusion dish (a bit of quinoa from South America, a sauce that combines Southeast Asian and Japanese styles into an almost tahini-like substance, although not as thick, thus adding a Middle Eastern kick, especially when combined with the chickpeas). Yeah, I hate the word fusion too, but this is actually pretty tasty all in all. It's been very, ridiculously broadly adapted from this recipe at Vegetarian Times. It also doesn't take all that long to make compared to some of the stuff I've posted here. You can make everything else pretty much by the time the quinoa has finished simmering and cooling.

2/3 cup   quinoa
1 tbsp   almond butter*
2 tsp   peanut butter**
1 tbsp   orange juice
2 tsp   white miso paste
2 tsp   grated fresh ginger
1 tsp   powdered garlic (or 1 clove of garlic, minced)
2 tsp   canola oil
1/3 15 oz. can   chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tsp   diced white onion
dash   salt
dash   pepper
tiny drop   liquid smoke
~10   peeled baby carrots, chopped into half-moons
1/4 cup   frozen sweet baby peas
2 tsp   nutritional yeast flakes (pretty optional)

*I had some homemade stuff lying around for this, made in a food processor with almonds, canola and olive oils, salt, a bit of molasses, and icing sugar, and possibly more stuff I'm forgetting, but any brand of almond butter would likely work well. 
**I only added the peanut butter because I didn't have much almond butter left over. It tasted great, but feel free to substitute more almond butter for the peanut butter.

Bring 1 cup salted, oiled water to a boil. Stir in quinoa, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Let simmer for 15-18 minutes, until water has been absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

While that's simmering, prepare your orange-almond-miso sauce. Stir together almond butter, peanut butter, orange juice, miso paste, ginger, and garlic until well-blended. Stir in about 1/8 cup water. Set aside for now.

Heat frying pan over high heat until a drop of water placed therein evaporates after one second. Add canola oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add onions, salt, pepper, and liquid smoke. Cook until onions are soft and ever-so-slightly golden. Add chickpeas and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add baby carrots and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Add peas and stir-fry for--you guessed it--2 minutes! Remove from heat.

Empty the quinoa into a large bowl and fluff it up a bit, then top with the stir-fried veggies, drizzling orange-almond-miso sauce evenly over top. Stir it all together and enjoy. Feel free to season with further salt and pepper as desired, as well as nutritional yeast flakes.

11 February 2013

Baked mac 'n' 'cheese'

Here's a hearty dish that'll warm you right up and stick to your ribs on these long winter nights! It may even stir up some misty memories of childhoods long past, waiting anxiously at the table for a big casserole dish full o' mac 'n' cheese to emerge from the fiery depths of the oven, just begging to be greedily chowed down on. There's really nothing quite as wholesome or as satisfying as a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Luckily, this dish is a far cry from Kraft Dinner, and the extra effort is ever so worth it for the delicate tenderness yet ever-so-slight crunch of the pasta after it's been baked and the thick, spicy, cheesy zing of the sauce, not to mention the swirls of nostalgia that run to the bottom of the bowl. Good to the last slurp.

This recipe is adapted, as are many of my culinary experiments, from a recipe in Chloe Coscarelli's Chloe's Kitchen. The buckwheat flour (which it turns out makes for an excellent roux), the maple syrup (instead of agave, which I do not currently possess), and most of the spices are my idea.

Baked mac 'n' 'cheese'

1/2 lb   macaroni
3 tbsp   dairy-free margarine
3 tbsp   buckwheat flour
1 tsp   whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cup   almond milk
1/4 cup   nutritional yeast flakes
1 tbsp   tomato sauce
1 tsp   maple syrup
juice of 1/6   lemon
1 tsp   salt
1 tsp   garlic salt
1 tsp   pepper
1 tsp   paprika
dash   thyme
dash   red pepper flakes
crushed crackers for topping (I used Mary's Organic Black Pepper Crackers and it was divine)

Note: I would also recommend adding some greens in there if you're feeling extra healthy, like broccoli, kale, or spinach. Also feel free to scale back on the spices, especially paprika and red pepper flakes, as the dish was almost too spicy this way. Almost.

Preheat oven to 350 F. If you will be using a 9-by-13 pan, grease that up. (I just popped the saucepan in the oven; a little risky, I know, but it worked fine.)

Bring a large pot of salted, oiled water to a boil and add the macaroni, stirring occasionally until soft and tender.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the flour and margarine over medium heat, whisking/ stirring to create a roux. Add the almond milk, nutritional yeast flakes, tomato sauce, salt, garlic salt, pepper, and paprika, stirring occasionally until it's hot, bubbly, and thick. Reduce heat and simmer for a minute or two longer, still stirring, then add the lemon juice and the hint of maple syrup and swirl to combine.

Once the macaroni is cooked, drain the water and rinse the pasta. Add the macaroni to the saucepan and stir vigorously (but don't spill!) to thoroughly combine with the 'cheese' sauce. If you're using a 9-by-13 pan, transfer the dish to that. If not, sprinkle thyme, red pepper flakes, cracker crumbs, and some extra nutritional yeast flakes right over top of the saucepan and pop it in the oven. Bake as long as desired, up to 30 minutes. (I could really only wait about 10 minutes before it smelled so good that I had to chow down on it, but feel free to crispify it more.) Happy eating!

26 January 2013

Chocolate-almond-coconut brownies with caramel-Kahlua glaze

Feeling like some chocolate? Going a little nutty for it, even? It's OK, it happens to the best of us at times. Sometimes, it's best just to give in, especially after a long week of working or studying or writing or whatever it is normal people do. (I clearly have yet to entirely figure this out for myself.) These brownies should prove satisfying to just about any chocolate craving you may be suffering from, no matter how strong. Highly adapted from a recipe from the talented Chloe Coscarelli's Chloe's Kitchen, one of my Christmas presents, I nevertheless tossed some extra ingredients in to make it my own, partly to satisfy another of my cravings: coffee. Hence the Kahlua, a coffee-flavoured liqueur. I also had some coconut flakes and almonds lying around, which made for a delectable and eye-popping garnish. Not content to stop there (sometimes that lily just needs to be gilded, OK!), I made a little caramel glaze, also tinged with some Kahlua, to spread out over top of these. The result: nutty, coffee-flavoured morsels of chocolate heaven, that may even have the potential to get you slightly drunk if you eat enough of them. Score!

One caveat: my pan was way bigger than I estimated (I believe it was 10 by 14 inches, or possibly 9 by 13) and so these didn't spread all the way to the sides, resulting in some brownies that were thinner than others. Part of the problem was that the initial recipe I was working off was designed for an 8 by 8 pan (i.e., a pretty standard-issue brownie pan, which I don't own for some reason), which led me to multiply those ingredients by about 1.75. I would recommend using a smaller pan or multiplying the ingredients (as listed below) by at least 1.5.

to make the brownies:

1-3/4 cup   dark chocolate chips (I use a dairy-free variety from a company called Freddo that I found in the fondue aisle of my local grocery store. You may be able to find different and better varieties.)
1 tbsp   dairy-free margarine or butter
1-1/3 cup   whole wheat flour
7/8 cup   natural cane sugar
3-1/2 tbsp   unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp   baking soda
pinch   salt
7/8 cup   almond milk
1/2 cup   canola oil
1-1/2 tbsp   apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp   vanilla extract
1-1/2 tbsp   Kahlua
3/4 cup   dark chocolate chips, finely chopped (or just buy a smaller version of the kind I used. Yeah that would have been a lot smarter. But it's cold out. So sue me.)
enough for sprinkling   coconut flakes and chopped almonds

to make the caramel-Kahlua glaze:

1/3 cup   dairy-free margarine or butter
1/4 cup   dark brown sugar
1/2 cup   natural cane sugar (The different sugars are just because I ran out of brown sugar. Again, cold out, sue me. If you have enough brown sugar, just use 3/4 cup of that.)
1/4 cup   Kahlua
2 tsp   maple syrup
pinch   sea salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a pan. (See note above re: size of pan.)

Heat chocolate chips (unchopped) and butter/ margarine in microwave for roughly 1 min, 30 seconds, stopping halfway through to stir.

Meanwhile, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until evenly combined. In a medium bowl, stir together almond milk, canola oil, vinegar, vanilla, and Kahlua. Pour the wet mixture into the big bowl with the dry and stir just until combined (be careful not to over-stir; this batter will be thick and sticky enough as it is). Once your chocolate's melted, stir that in, along with the chopped chips. Pour the batter into the pan and spread out to the sides (again, it was quite thick for me, so this may require two sturdy, big spoons and/or a spatula). Sprinkle coconut flakes and almond chunks evenly over top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.

While your brownies are cooling, prepare your glaze. Over medium-low heat, melt the butter/ margarine in a medium frying pan. Stir in the sugar and salt and bring to a bubble, stirring frequently. Let simmer for about 4 to 5 minutes. Add Kahlua and maple syrup and let bubble away for another minute or so. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. With a spoon, drizzle over brownies until fully coated. They're now ready to go!

Yield: ~36 brownies

13 January 2013

Tofu scramble w/ toast

I'm finally, after about nine months of deciding to go vegetarian, climbing aboard the tofu train. This stuff requires some creativity if you're going to cook with it since, by itself, it's pretty bland stuff; however, on the plus side, it's also really versatile, fitting in with savoury dishes like this as well as more dessert-type fare. There are also different types of tofu on offer, from silky and soft to extra firm, and you can often find blocks of it with spices or herbs or garlic pre-added.

This is the best use so far I've found for tofu, though I haven't experimented all that much thus far with the stuff. This recipe has been closely adapted from this invention by VeganFling, who by the way do a bang-up job over there!

Tofu scramble w/ toast

1 block   extra-firm tofu
1/2   white onion, diced
3 tbsp   green onion, chopped
4    pickled jalapeno pepper slices, diced
1 tbsp   olive oil
1/3 cup   Daiya dairy-free cheddar style shreds*
1/4 cup   almond milk
1 tbsp   nutritional yeast flakes
1 tbsp   flour
dash   red pepper flakes
dash   garlic salt
dash   chili powder
dash   salt
dash   black pepper
2 slices   your favourite kind of bread, toasted

*Honestly, the Daiya shreds were an impulse purchase at Maxi & Cie. just to see what they were like and they're not really that good on their own. Mixed in with all this other stuff, they're quite alright, though. If you don't mind real cheddar, toss some of that in there instead. I just might do that myself next time.

Drain the tofu. In a large saucepan, sauté olive oil, white onion, green onion, jalapeno bits, and red pepper flakes over medium heat until the onions soften. Crumble in the tofu and the Daiya shreds and cook until tofu becomes slightly golden-coloured. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, mix together almond milk, flour, nutritional yeast flakes, and remaining spices until well blended. Reduce heat to medium-low and pour the milky mixture over the tofu and swirl around to incorporate. Cook for a few more minutes until the mixture thickens and it's nice and hot, while the bread is toasting. Transfer to a plate and eat atop or alongside toast.

This was great and honestly it might make you think twice about buying eggs. Tofu scrambles more than do the trick for a nice, hearty, warm weekend breakfast. Enjoy!

06 January 2013

Spicy tomato-garlic-black & white bean pita pizza

So, um, fuck this was good. Seriously. I'm not one to self-promote or gloat, and as you all know, I've said straight-out when some of these recipes had some problems. But just look at this brute. I dare you not to start drooling.

Here's how to make this glorious creation.

Spicy tomato-garlic-black & white bean pita pizza

1 tbsp   olive oil
about 1/3   white onion, finely chopped
1 clove   garlic, minced
6   grape/cherry tomatoes, quartered
dash   thyme
dash   oregano
dash   coriander
dash   cumin
dash   black pepper

Preheat oven to 500 F. Meanwhile, sautée all these ingredients above together in a medium frying pan on medium heat, starting with the oil (don't crank the heat up more than medium because of olive oil's low smoke point), then in a minute adding the onion and the spices, then in another minute the garlic, then the tomatoes. Fry it all together until the onions are golden brown and the tomatoes are soft and just a little squishy.

While that's frying, you're going to want to make your garlic white bean purée. (Oh yeah, did I mention this would replace the cheese? Don't worry, you won't mind. Trust me.)

In a bowl, combine...

1/3 of a 14 oz. can   white beans, drained (or you can use an equivalent amount of dried white beans, cooking them up beforehand according to the directions on the bag... dried beans are tastier but more time-consuming)
2 tbsp   olive oil
1/3   lime, squeezed
dash    garlic salt
2 tsp   almond milk (or some other non-dairy milk) (for a bit of extra creaminess)

until it becomes paste-like. I recommend using a potato masher for this task to speed up the process.

Assembling the pizza!

You're going to need, in addition to the stuff above:

1   medium-sized pita
1-1/2 tbsp (roughly)   canola oil
1/4 of a 19 oz. can   black beans, drained (again, you can use an equivalent amount of dried beans)
6   pickled jalapeno slices, halved
dash   red pepper flakes

Lay out a medium-sized pita on a pizza pan. Spread it all the way to the outer edges with canola oil. Spread out the garlic white bean purée on top of that, but not quite to the very edge of the pita. Sprinkle black beans evenly around the pita. Take a spoon and drop the tomato-garlic-onion-spice mixture onto the pita, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle the jalapeno slices above that and garnish with the red pepper flakes.

Pop it in the oven for about 8 minutes or until the outer edge of the pita appears to start browning.

Slice into four and serve it up with a cool beverage. Bam! Seriously, here's another picture of this joyous slice of joy.


Les Misérables (Tom Hooper, 2012)

I figure this snippet is long enough to qualify as a full review, so into the blog proper it goes! Hurrah!

Based on a big, bombastic, popular, and really, really long-running musical, which in turn is based on a historical novel from Victor Hugo set in the miserable time of early-19th century France, this is a movie where nothing is small and everything is meant to feel like a cannonball to the stomach in terms of how it tries to blast feelings out of you. For a brief moment early on, this approach actually works like a charm, and we filmgoers can get a welcome taste of the dramatic impact of the play. Anne Hathaway is absolutely spellbinding as Fantine, a downtrodden woman trying to save up for her young child's future (the father is, of course, out of the picture) driven to prostitution and even selling her hair and teeth. The most powerful moment in the movie is her raw and passionate rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." Unfortunately, this leaves about two, largely Hathaway-less hours left before the movie grinds exhaustingly to its conclusion.

This is truly monochromatic, disjointed, underdeveloped, overwrought stuff, shot by director Tom Hooper & co., for some reason, at extreme close-ups or at 45-degree angles that I guess is meant to heighten the gritty realism and intimacy of it all but instead makes everything just feel intrusive or look like a drunken blur. It's the kind of movie where consistency and plot development fall by the wayside in favour of big, dramatic, emotional moments that, if you actually take a moment to look at them, don't often make a lot of sense or amount to more than a hill of beans. What is the ultimate basis of the rebellion that dominates the second half of the movie? Vague teenage angst? None of that revolutionary spirit rang true in this film version. Why is Javert so singularly focused on capturing Jean Valjean? Doesn't he have other criminals to tend to? Why is Valjean so self-flagellating? The man is a (one-dimensional) saint; don't be so hard on yourself! Why are the broad comic stylings of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, as crooked inkeepers, so arbitrarily sprinkled in with the action? They seem to hail from a different movie altogether. Why does everyone seem to die not based on any sort of actual disease or natural cause but mainly when the storytellers feel like we are ready again for a big cry?  It's just pure, unbridled (and largely ineffective) manipulation.

Honestly, the music isn't even very good, aside from the aforementioned "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Master of the House," which is kind of fun and bouncy--although Hooper ruins even that number with his antic framing techniques. This is a problem, indeed, with the original stage production, although the stage is better suited for this enterprise's endless crescendoes."The ABC Café—Red and Black" falls particularly flat; it's more a blunt object than a song, with little musical variety or nuance to it, just pointed stabs of "red!!!" and "black!!!" that quickly grow tiresome.

On the plus side, Hugh Jackman, always a generous, winning actor, throws himself into the role of Jean Valjean with admirable aplomb--it's a solid effort. The attractive Samantha Barks as Eponine and Eddie Redmayne as Marius sing beautifully and have some nice moments. Russell Crowe, however, just looks pained and uncomfortable as Javert; it was actually excruciating to watch this normally talented man struggle through this Broadway-style emoting.

Aside from a few poignant moments dominated by the showstopping Hathaway, Hooper's Les Misérables is a glossy, in-your-face, aggresively ingratiating endeavour that is never nearly as powerful as it wants to be. This is a movie that tries way too hard to hit those high notes (both musically and emotionally) without developing its characters or telling its story clearly enough to actually earn the impact it's so eagerly gunning for. At two-and-a-half long hours of vague, often incoherent misery and revolution and teenage angst and romance, it grows so excruciating that ultimately it's the audience who become les misérables. C-

02 January 2013

Strawberry cocoa-coconut pancakes

A heavenly spin on my initial stab at vegan blueberry pancakes, these substitute the sweet-and-tart juiciness strawberries for the joys of blueberries, plus they add some mouthwatering all-natural sweeteners and the glories of coconut! Behold! Great for breakfast, of course, or, if you're anything like me, just dandy any time of day.

Makes 5-6 pancakes

1-1/4 cup   whole wheat flour
7-8   medium-size strawberries, hulled & quartered
2 tbsp   natural cane sugar
2 tbsp   coconut flakes
2 tsp   unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp   baking powder
dash   salt
3/4 cup   coconut milk
1/2 cup   water
1 tbsp   canola oil
2 tsp   agave syrup
1 tsp   vanilla extract

Set lightly oiled (about 2 tbsp) frying pan atop an element cranked to medium-high. Or else, if ya got one, fire up the griddle.
Mix together dry ingredients (including strawberries) in a large bowl until well-blended. In a smaller bowl, mix together wet ingredients. Form a well in the middle of the dry mixture and pour in the wet mixture. Blend it all together until smooth with no lumps or dry powder hanging about on the outskirts.
Use 1/3-cup measuring cup to scoop out batter and drop into the frying pan, flattening (carefully, since the batter will be quite sticky) with a turner. You can fit two into a frying pan at a time if you're careful and if your pan is big enough.
Cook until golden-brown, flip, then cook until the other side is golden-brown.
Serve, ideally, with your favourite margarine/ butter and a decent helping of real maple syrup. So help me, if you put Aunt Jemima on these beauties, I will harm you! Of course, you're free to experiment with other toppings like fresh fruit or fruit syrups. I encourage experimenting. Go (food) science!