Vegan camping

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This summer, we took a road trip to the East Coast of Canada. We brought a tent and reserved campsites at National and Provincial Parks from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We made memories that will last a lifetime.

We’re seasoned campers – we love sleeping in a tent and hearing the sounds of the forest around us. We love waking up with the sun and the chirping birds. I love cooking over a fire pit – potatoes in the coals, veggie burgers flame broiled – everything just tastes better when we’re camping.

This summer, though, everything was different. When we arrived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, there was a fire ban. We have a simple isobutane camping stove for making coffee but we didn’t have much fuel. We couldn’t light a fire in the fire pits provided. We ran out of fuel after making a pot of coffee and we were stuck.

Aside from our usual stock of fruits and vegetables, we had a cooler stocked with veggie burgers, vegan sausages, veggie dogs and tofu without a way to cook any of it. None of the stores we stopped at carried isobutane so we had to eat at restaurants for the first few days on the island (more about that later).

Eventually, we stumbled on the only store in Cape Breton that carries our fuel and we happily bought a couple canisters and a frying pan. Now we had a way to cook our traditional camping food.

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Snacking on dry cereal and reading a book on our campsite.

With so many choices for vegan burgers, hot dogs and sausages, you can easily blend in with the other campers. But when you run out of that and you’re in a fisherman’s paradise without another vegan around, it’s time to get creative.

With our minimal camping stove, a pot for boiling water and a frying pan, we found a few things in the rural grocery stores to feed our hungry mob. Our favourite by far was a noodle stir fry.

Note: We don’t usually buy instant anything but when you’re camping and using fuel that is as hard to find as these canisters were, you do what you must to conserve the fuel.

Vegan noodle stir fry

  • one package of instant noodles
  • oil (sesame, canola, grape seed – whatever)
  • one block of tofu
  • seasoning (Herbamare is great but use what you can find and what you like)
  • one package of broccoli slaw (or another packaged salad with broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale)
  • soy sauce packets (if you have them)

Cook the noodles according to the package. Drain and put aside.

Chop the tofu into cubes and fry it in the oil with the seasoning. When browned, add the slaw and cook until wilted. Add the cooked noodles and stir to mix. Add the soy sauce and mix again.

That’s about the easiest vegan meal you can source in an isolated town. Another idea we enjoyed – minute rice and beans.

Camping rice and beans

  • minute rice
  • can of beans (black or red kidney are great)
  • canned corn (normally I’d eat frozen but we were pleasantly surprised)
  • seasoning

Cook the rice according to the directions on the box. When it’s done, add the drained and rinsed beans and the drained canned corn. Season to taste and enjoy!

Breakfast

When we’re car camping, I put quick cooking oatmeal in little mason jars with raisins or cranberries, sugar, cinnamon and I leave some space for hot water. (You could use instant oatmeal but I prefer the texture of the quick cooking oatmeal – less mushy.) The jars should be 3/4 full.

Hot oatmeal to go
Pack your oatmeal in jars to reduce waste.

When you’re ready to eat, pour boiling water in the jars, screw the tops closed, shake them up a bit and let them sit for a few minutes to allow the hot water to cook the oatmeal. My kids love having their own individual jars.

If you’re pressed for space, fill a ziplock bag with oatmeal, sugar, dried fruit and spices. Maybe include seeds – we’re eating a lot of hemp and chia seeds these days. And you can make your homestyle oatmeal in a pot. There’s nothing like a warm bowl of oatmeal on a cool morning.

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Sunset in Prince Edward Island National Park

There are so many benefits to getting kids out into natural spaces – they benefit from exploring, finding creatures, get to know the provinces they’re learning about in school and they learn to love and protect the environment.

You can make some amazing meals over the fire or you can use some cooking short cuts and head out to enjoy the world around you.

 

Vegan grill: tons of veggies and burgers

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Asparagus season is my favourite time of the year. After a long winter of eating potatoes, carrots and other veggies that store well over the winter, the first really fresh vegetable that I can harvest from my garden is asparagus. By Spring, I am craving greens – the ones in the grocery store are tired and tasteless. And then these little sprouts break through the ground.

This winter was a long one. Which made the beginning of asparagus season extra sweet.

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And we love asparagus just about any way you can cook it. But my favourite way to eat asparagus is on the grill. And that brings up the question – grill?

What do vegans grill?

We put just about any vegetable on the grill either in packets or brushed with oil directly on the grill. The ones we brush with oil are: asparagus, peppers, zucchini, onions, scapes and mushrooms. The ones I brush with oil and seasoning are: potatoes, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, snow peas and carrots. And then there’s the veggie burgers, tofu, vegan sausages and vegan hot dogs. We’ve done corn on the cob on the grill too!

Since my eldest was old enough to eat solid foods she has been a big fan of barbecued vegetables. Sometimes we’ll toss the grilled vegetables in olive oil and mix them into cooked whole wheat pasta. Veggies that won’t usually get touched will get gobbled down if they’ve been grilled.

The burger above is one my son made himself – burger with vegan cheese, zucchini, pepper and asparagus. Topped with ketchup and it’s a delicious mess – everything falls off and the bun can’t contain its contents. And that’s my picky eater! Mine is topped with mushrooms, grilled onions and whatever else the kids have left me.

More ideas for asparagus

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If you have more asparagus than you know what to do with (this has never happened to me but I guess it’s possible), fry it in olive oil with garlic, add marinated tofu, fresh herbs and pasta. I like to top my pasta with a salty mix of nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, a splash of olive oil to make it all stick together and salt.

Easy tofu marinade:

  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (or other nice vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Add cubed tofu to the marinade. Toss and let it sit for about 15 minutes in the marinade before frying it with veggies or you can bake it at 350 for 20 minutes stirring once.

Asparagus for breakfast

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If you still have leftover asparagus, toss it in your scrambled tofu.

The only thing you have to keep in mind with asparagus is not to overcook it. And don’t boil it.

Enjoy it while it lasts!

Oatmeal cakes with berries

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It’s Victoria Day here in Canada so I thought I’d make something special for breakfast. My kids would be disappointed if I made anything but pancakes but I wanted something different. These pancakes are made with oats.

They are as hearty as you’d expect from a bowl of oatmeal and more nutritious than your average pancake. Topped with berries, they were delicious and the kids were so happy to see I had made pancakes for breakfast!

 

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The recipe comes from Thug Kitchen. It’s quite simple: let the oats soak up almond milk for a few minutes before adding the rest of the dry ingredients and fry them up like pancakes. Next time, I’ll make a double batch – they disappeared too quickly with a family of four.

The berry sauce is simply simmered berries in a bit of sugar, fresh lemon juice, splash of water and vanilla extract. Thug Kitchen calls for blueberries but I had this frozen berry mix with cherries, blackberries and blueberries that the kids love. They’re full of antioxidants and flavour.

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For those of you who are here in Canada, have a great long weekend! We’ll be heading out for a nice, long bike ride as a family with peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch along the way. I hope you’re making memories too!

Deconstructed burritos

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I was at the grocery store with my son yesterday and I asked him which vegetables we should buy. Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli? I asked. He chose all of them. Plus asparagus, cherry tomatoes, peppers and avocado. It wasn’t along ago that he didn’t eat much aside from cucumber but I’m glad to report he’s broadened his taste.

So how did I get my picky eater to eat more than just cucumbers and white rice? Obviously there were many factors and it helped to have a big sister who loves vegetables. But there are two things that I credit the most with his transformation to a little rabbit.

My vegetable garden

I have a vegetable garden. And the kids help me choose what to plant and they’re welcome to eat anything from the garden at any time (as long as I get the first ripe tomato). There was a year that (thanks to my daughter) we planted purple varieties of everything: peas, broccoli, carrots, beans. And that was the year my son decided he would only eat orange carrots. I guess a guy’s got to draw the line somewhere! So the next year I bought orange carrot seeds and planted more traditional varieties of vegetables. Goodbye lemon cucumbers!

My kids get really excited about the veggies growing in the garden. They graze on whatever they find. They eat pea shoots, berries, and they love parsley stems. One year I thought I had a regular rabbit visitor but it turned out my daughter thought the carrot tops were parsley.

I try to get them to help in the garden as much as I can but if all they’re doing is eating from the garden, that’s great too. And when we pull a nice orange carrot from the ground, it’s something everyone is excited about. I think being involved and eating from the garden has made my son appreciate fresh vegetables.

Setting a good example

The other thing that I think we’ve done to encourage him to eat a bigger variety of vegetables is to eat them ourselves. The three of us love all kinds of vegetables and we eat them all the time. When my son turned his nose up at most vegetables, we always made sure we had his favourite vegetables at every meal but we also fit in the zucchini, beets and squash. We enjoy them – and he sees us enjoy them. And I think if he tries them a few times, he warms up to them.

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You’ll notice a few ingredients in my bowl that I don’t put in his. Onions, mushrooms, salsa, cashew cream and even orange vegan cheese are on his list of things he won’t touch at the moment. But that list is shrinking every day and I’m proud of him for following our example and being adventurous at the dinner table.

Quick veggie, chickpea and tofu bowl

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Here’s another quick weeknight meal. It’s one I reach for when I’m really short on time. Chopped raw veggies with beans over couscous takes only minutes to prepare and it’s a reliable kid-pleaser.

Today, I cubed tofu, covered it in olive oil, a splash of apple cider vinegar, garlic clove and oregano and put it under the broiler while I prepared the rest of the food. I added chopped broccoli under the broiler for the last five minutes and it was delicious.

For the grownups, I made a tahini-miso sauce. A couple tablespoons of tahini mixed with a tablespoon of each olive oil, miso and water to thin it.

Rinse the canned chickpeas under hot watch to get rid of some of the sodium from the can and warm them up. The couscous is ready about 5 minutes after the water boils – my kids like the rainbow couscous.

The best part – altogether, it takes about 15 minutes to prepare. What’s your easiest home-cooked weeknight dinner?

Miso-glazed eggplant

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This meal was a combination of two things I love: miso and Japanese eggplant. The eggplant bakes until it’s buttery soft then it’s brushed with a glaze and broiled until the glaze is bubbling. We had it with wheat noodles topped with broccoli, yellow pepper, carrots and tofu.

My kids are iffy with eggplant – and I’m okay with that. They don’t have to love all the vegetables I love as long as they’re getting enough variety on their plates. I wasn’t planning on sharing these eggplants with the kids but I decided to let my daughter have a taste and she loved it. So I had to share.

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Miso-glazed eggplant

  • 2 Japanese eggplants (long and thin)
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp mirin
  • 1.5 Tbsp miso (whatever kind you like – the light miso is the mildest)

Preheat the oven to 400. Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise. Brush them with one Tbsp of sesame oil and bake for 15 minutes with the skin up.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining sesame oil with mirin and miso. Stir until mixed.    (I’ll admit, I wasn’t so patient with this step!)

When the eggplant is soft, remove it from the oven and flip them over so the skin is down. Slice it a few times – not through to the skin but through the soft interior. Brush the glaze on the tops of the eggplants. Place them under the broiler and broil until bubbly (only a few minutes).

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The kids simply had noodles, veggies and tofu with sesame seeds on top. The sauce is light – sesame oil, mirin and soy sauce.

I bought them starter-chopsticks and they’re learning to use them quite well. They didn’t give up and switch to forks! It’s great for their small motor skills.

That’s all for tonight – have a great night and let me know what you’re cooking!

Another sushi bowl

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Everyone around us is sick. People at my office, kids at school – it seems the flu is going around. It’s in times like this that it’s so important to eat whole foods and veggies in every colour of the rainbow. I’m convinced that the extra servings of veggies helps us fight off infection.

This bowl was inspired by sushi – it’s not the same as my previous sushi bowl recipe – this one has roasted tofu, sweet potato, bok choy and king mushrooms. I’ve included the veggies from all our favourite sushi rolls. We crumbled nori on top but only remembered after I took the photos and we had dug in. These are the flavours we love so the meal disappeared quickly!

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My son’s bowl has cubed roasted tofu, sweet potato, cucumber, red pepper, grated carrots, avocado and sesame seeds over white rice.

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My daughter’s bowl has the same but also includes bok choy. The tofu was marinated in a couple tablespoons of white miso, 1/4 cup soy sauce, a tablespoon of mirin and a tablespoon of sesame oil. I let it sit in the marinade while the oven preheated to 350 F and then just poured it all on a cookie sheet and cooked it, flipping once, for about 20 minutes. They’re savoury and delicious.

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The grown-ups had spicy king mushrooms as well. The recipe is from The 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East: 150 Asian-Inspired Recipes–from Soba Noodles to Summer Rolls. They had a spicy sauce that was really nice with the rest of the meal.

This kind of a meal really works well with kids who like to keep their flavours separate. Everything may be touching (this can be an issue) but it’s easy to pile in only the foods you know your kid will eat. It’s nice to encourage new foods but every meal doesn’t have to include a challenge to overcome. This meal has lots of variety and points of entry with kid-friendly foods (cucumber, shredded carrots, avocado, sweet potato, white rice).