Unboxing Vegan: Greek Pascha Swap with Myrrh from St. Demetrios

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen! I’m still recovering from Holy Week, but I thought I better at least share my Vegan Box Swap unboxing with you before we’re out of the 40 day festal period 🙂 I was lucky enough to snag Maria for my first official Vegan Box Swap just in time to fill my Pascha basket with all kinds of treats from Greece! There was so much stuff, I couldn’t fit it all in my basket – and it’s a big picnic basket.

(I’ve done a couple unofficial swaps, I’ll share those later!)

People always ask what I do for Pascha since I’m vegan all year. Usually I splurge on a few special foods, and have a nice glass of Scotch. The swap took care of my special foods this year.

Greek Vegan Unboxing
These items all made it into the basket to be blessed (except the mastic which I used to make Artoklasia Cake for our Pascha celebration)
-Chocolate Covered Orange Marzipan
-Orange Spoon Sweets
-Mastic/Mastika/Mastiha, aka Submarine
-Nut Butter Cups
-Chocolate Covered Cherries – with booze inside!

Greek Vegan Unboxing
Here we have three kinds of cookies, a little orange pie that got thoroughly crushed (and it was near the expiration date, so I split it with my dad before Pascha ((he loved it)), a big round loaf of sweet chocolate bread, halva with cocoa swirls, and baklava with kataifi.

Greek Vegan Unboxing
Gigantes, some kind of puffed snack thing, rusks for making one of my favorite Greek salads, Greek coffee, and tons of herbs including the stuff used to make Greek mountain tea – I love that tea!

Greek Vegan Unboxing
Also included was this lovely postcard with the sweetest turtle ever in the whole world, and when you move the postcard the turtle moves and the fish move!!!!


Here’s my little unboxing video. I’m so awful at these, but they’re really fun to make. However this one is extra embarrassing because I didn’t recognize one of the items in the box AT ALL. I made a special request for it, then forgot about it, and then…I couldn’t get it open, and I thought it was just one of those potpourri satchels. Nope.

Myrrh from the Relics of St. Demetrios in Thessaloniki
It was a precious bag of oil-soaked cotton balls from the myrrh-streaming relics of St. Demetrios.

Myrrh Streaming Relics of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki
I visited Agios Demetrios, the church built over his crypt, in Thessaloniki in 2013.

Myrrh Streaming Relics of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki
But although I was able to venerate his relics, it wasn’t until I got home that someone pointed out I could’ve asked for the myrrh. WHAT?! So I asked Maria if she could get some, since she’s in Thessaloniki, and she did! It smells wonderful. We can talk about myrrh-streaming saints and myrrh oil in another post.

Greek Vegan Unboxing
I hope you all appreciate what I’ve had to go through since Pascha. I’m trying so hard not to eat a ton of sweets, which is always hard for me anyway, but now I had no choice because I wanted to be able to tell you about at least a few of them.

Vegan Nut Butter Cups
I think these are maybe not peanut butter because the flavor isn’t very strong – maybe they’re almond butter? Anyway, they’re great. And it’s not just the nut butter covered in chocolate, there’s a thin layer of wafer on the bottom and sides. **Found out they’re hazelnut!

The grape must cookies, or moustokouloura, are basically a soft molasses cookie made with grape molasses.

The vegan baklava and kataifi were completely drenched in syrup, so much so that the inner packaging was already sticky on the outside. I almost forgot what baklava is like…it is good 🙂

The boozy chocolate covered cherries and chocolate covered orange marzipan taste just like you’d expect, like you want to eat them all at once in 3 minutes.

The rest I haven’t gotten into yet. Maybe next week I’ll make dakos (bread salad) with the rusks.

Do you have any suggestions for using my Greek treats? Wanna share a link to your own unboxing? Comment below!

Cleansing Vegetable Soup

Vegan Cleansing Vegetable Soup Recipe
This is the other dish I brought to the Lenten potluck earlier this week. I looked through a bunch of detox soup recipes online, then used the ideas to throw together this gorgeous green vegetable soup. It’s packed with veggies, easy to make, and this recipe makes a large pot so you could eat it for days…I would have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I were more disciplined.

Cleansing Vegetable Soup
2 pounds dried split peas
2 heads broccoli
1 pound carrots
1 pound celery
1 bunch green onion
1/4 C peeled & chopped turmeric (or more to taste)
2 bunches kale
6 C vegetable broth (homemade or high quality store bought)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
optional: 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast

Cook split peas according to instructions, allowing them to get very tender and soft (even a little mushy!).
Meanwhile, chop all the vegetables except kale, and add to large pot with turmeric and vegetable broth – include the leafy celery and carrot tops, they add a great flavor and are very nutritious. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat, and simmer until veggies are tender and falling apart, adding salt and pepper to taste (and nutritional yeast, if using). Tear kale from stems and add to veggies. Simmer until tender.
Let the vegetables and split peas cool slightly, then blend in batches – I did a few ladles-full of vegetables along with a big scoop of split peas in each batch. You can blend it all until completely smooth, or leave some of the veggies in chunks.

Vegan Cleansing Vegetable Soup Recipe
At home, I serve the soup with nutritional yeast sprinkled on top and finished with Mediterranean black lava salt (I love finding fancy salts at Home Goods). The split peas bulk it up and make it pretty filling on its own, but it would also be wonderful over rice or potatoes. I bought a container of rice with chickpeas from the monastery, it had bits of onion and dill in it, and it was delicious with the soup mixed in.

This soup is oil free and perfect for a strict fasting day…unless you accidentally grab a vegetable broth with safflower oil in it, which is a totally unnecessary ingredient and why you should make your own broth. But it is better to eat the soup than let it go to waste 🙂

2016 Lenten Potluck #1: Green Detox Salad Dressing

Green Vegan Detox Salad
We had our first Lenten potluck of the season last night. I actually made two things, but the soup you’ll have to wait for until I have pretty picture of it. As it is, this is the best I could do at the time for my salad dressing!

I’ve been eating so much junk food lately, I decided my first meal in Lent should be something very clean and healthy. Of course, I couldn’t help but try a bunch of other things at the potluck, but I tried to stick to things that looked simple and full of veggies and protein. Anyway. This lovely bright green detoxifying salad dressing was perfect for an evening commemoration of St. Patrick. Plus each of the main ingredients is high in various vitamins and minerals, great for bone health and boosting your immunity.

The best part is it’s super easy to make, and has so few ingredients you won’t have to break the bank if you want to use organic produce.

Green Detox Salad Dressing
1 large cucumber, unpeeled
1/4 chopped onion
1 avocado, peeled & de-stoned
2 lemons, juice of
sea salt, to taste

Chop first three ingredients. Place in blender with the lemon juice, and BLEND. It should be smooth and easy to pour, but won’t be very creamy. Add salt to taste.

I served my dressing with an organic spring lettuce mix, but it would also be great as a substitute for salsa. Add another avocado and a clove of garlic, and it’s basically a super-hydrating guacamole.

And did I mention…it’s also oil free and perfect for a strict fasting day.

VeganEgg Breakfast Sandwich

Yes, I am still celebrating Pizza Week, but I’ll be posting my pizza tonight. This morning I want to share a review of VeganEgg by Follow Your Heart. I’ve been purchasing it on Amazon since I can get free shipping with Prime (thanks to my brother for sharing access to his Prime account – did you know you can share access with multiple people??).

VeganEgg Breakfast Sandwich
It was selling out fast in the beginning. When I first heard about it, it was out of stock at every online retailer I checked, and I have yet to find it locally. After a week it became available, so I ordered two cartons and sent one to a friend. When my carton was running out, it was out of stock again! So a couple weeks later when it became available, I ordered four cartons all for me 😀 I used it to make scrambled eggs, omelets, a quiche-like dish, and even very experimental sunny side up eggs. I also did a very simple egg sandwich just because I love the taste of the VeganEgg with the VioLife herb cheese.

VeganEgg Breakfast Sandwich
For the sandwich, I poured the mixed VeganEgg into my skillet and let it cook over medium heat until it was firm, then flipped it and cooked a couple minutes longer. I used a biscuit cutter to cut rounds of egg the size of my bagel (I have a lovely antique set with nesting rings of several sizes).

VeganEgg Breakfast Sandwich with VioLife
I put tons of margarine on both halves of the bagel – I’m not vegan for my health! (but you could sub olive oil or coconut oil sprinkled with a little salt)

VeganEgg Breakfast Sandwich with VioLife
Then add a slice or two of VioLife herb cheese. But if, like most people reading this, you are in the United States without access to VioLife (YET), try it with Follow Your Heart’s Garden Herb cheese slices. You could also add your favorite vegan deli slices or vegan bacon.

Does it taste like eggs? YES. Okay, I don’t really know firsthand because I can’t remember what eggs taste like, although the consistency seemed right and I thought the taste was familiar. I made a sort of a quiche dish for a dinner party (recipe coming soon) and told everyone up front what it was. They all said it was like eggs, but in case I ruined it by letting them in on the secret ingredient, someone arrived late and took a big scoop. “Mmmm, who brought the quiche?” “It’s VEGAN.” “WUT.” So yes, I think it’s really similar.

VeganEgg Tips
-The instructions say to mix the VeganEgg powder with ice cold water – and they mean it! Put some water in a glass with ice when you get started, and pop it in the freezer or fridge while prep everything else. Then strain the water when you pour it into the measuring cup.

-If whisking, pour the water in gradually. Start with just enough to make a paste, and whisk to break up any lumps. Add a little more water, whisk until smooth, etc.

-Whisk the heck out of it!

-You can add a bit more water than called for to get more bang for your buck with the same great eggy results. Play around to see what works for you.

-The powder has a very mild/bland flavor on its own because its meant to also be used for baking. Personally, I would never waste it on baking when there are so many cheap alternatives! But due to the mild taste for that reason, I definitely recommend adding kala namak black salt for a sulfurous taste. It’s up to you how much, I usually do about 4 shakes per serving. I also add 1 tsp nutritional yeast per serving.

Overall, yes, this is an expensive little carton of eggs, but it’s totally worth it for a special treat or a shared meal with non-vegans. And it’s super fun to experiment with!

Unboxing: VioLife Cheese

I’ve been saving this bit of happy news for so long, I thought I was going to explode! But now that Cheesefare Week is upon us (and therefore, PIZZA WEEK!!!! Starting tomorrow, March 7), I can finally share. A few weeks ago I posted some tracking information on my facebook page and asked people to guess what was being delivered. You can bet I was checking the tracking multiple times a day, I was so excited…because…I was getting samples of VioLife vegan cheese, all the way from Greece! I made another silly little unboxing video so you can experience my joy.


This time I just completely drowned out my voice with the music, I really don’t add anything :p

VioLife Vegan Cheese
Originally I was going to save all this glorious cheese for Cheesefare week, but then I realized…this is a LOT of cheese! I don’t think I can eat it all by myself in one week. So I’ve already sampled some and have a few things to share. But I’ll also be trying it out on pizza all week long.

I hope you are all prepared for Pizza Week, and I hope some of you will join me in enjoying at least one piece of pizza every day until (Orthodox) Lent begins. I’m going to get my dough rising for pizza crust right now. See you tomorrow, for the first day of Pizza Week!

Unboxing: VioLife Cheese

I’ve been saving this bit of happy news for so long, I thought I was going to explode! But now that Cheesefare Week is upon us (and therefore, PIZZA WEEK!!!! Starting tomorrow, March 7), I can finally share. A few weeks ago I posted some tracking information on my facebook page and asked people to guess what was being delivered. You can bet I was checking the tracking multiple times a day, I was so excited…because…I was getting samples of VioLife vegan cheese, all the way from Greece! I made another silly little unboxing video so you can experience my joy.


This time I just completely drowned out my voice with the music, I really don’t add anything :p

VioLife Vegan Cheese
Originally I was going to save all this glorious cheese for Cheesefare week, but then I realized…this is a LOT of cheese! I don’t think I can eat it all by myself in one week. So I’ve already sampled some and have a few things to share. But I’ll also be trying it out on pizza all week long.

I hope you are all prepared for Pizza Week, and I hope some of you will join me in enjoying at least one piece of pizza every day until (Orthodox) Lent begins. I’m going to get my dough rising for pizza crust right now. See you tomorrow, for the first day of Pizza Week!

Vegan at Trader Joe’s

Vegan at Trader Joe's
So the other day I stopped by the new Trader Joe’s here in town – just for one item, as you can clearly see. I was actually in need of cream cheese & sour cream, but all I found was vegan cream cheese. And then I found…
-Mozzarella-style Shreds
-Chickenless Crispy Tenders
-Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels
-Meatless Meatballs
-Soy Chorizo
-Tikka Masala
-Strawberry Frozen Dessert

Trader Joe's Vegan Chickenless Tenders
First I went for the chickenless tenders. I was in a hurry to get ready for a night out, so I simply put them in a pita pocket with sauteed veggies and covered them with mustard. I love mustard. I’m pretty sure these are a store brand version of Gardein. They have the same texture and taste, but for a $1 or so less 🙂 They get nice and crispy on the outside, but stayed tender and juicy on the inside. In sandwiches, there’s enough here to feed two.

Trader Joe's Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels
Later I cooked up the mandarin orange morsels with nothing but sauteed onions & garlic. This is a pretty big portion for one, but if you added rice and more veggies you could easily feed four. The sauce is good, not too sweet. Definitely something I’d have again.

Trader Joe's Vegan Soy Chorizo
I sauteed the soy chorizo with onions, garlic, and mushrooms, then added my Pasta Zero and let the flavors cook in. Towards the end I added a handful of the mozzarella-style shreds. The chorizo is pretty spicy, but has a good flavor. I’m not a huge fan of the shreds – they’re just like (and maybe are) Go Veggie shreds in that they melt down into a sticky puddle that kind of sticks to your teeth. This is not good on pizza or nachos unless you make sure to completely cover the cheesy puddle with toppings. It does work well for things like bean dip, though.

Trader Joe's Vegan Meatless Meatballs
We had a bottle of Hawaiian BBQ sauce in the fridge that no one liked. I spiced it up and added minced onion & garlic, then simmered the meatballs for about 10-15 minutes. They were perfect. I could’ve eaten them just like that, but I made a little sandwich since I’m so fond of carbs. You could also do a traditional meatball sub with marinara sauce, and even use those shreds if you melt them down in the sauce.

Trader Joe's Vegan Cream Cheese
Lastly, I made these little pickle appetizers as a midnight snack one night when there was nothing else in the house. The cream cheese is definitely not my favorite. It has a weird taste, I’m not sure if it’s soy or coconut coming through, but it’s unpleasant. Luckily I had these dill pickles with a strong garlic taste, and they helped cover the strange aftertaste of the cream cheese. With the saltiness of the crackers, it was good enough. I would not like it plain on a bagel. I added salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, and dried dill to it and although it was better, it still had an aftertaste. I don’t think I’ll buy it again.

The tikka masala frozen dinner was very good, but I didn’t get a good picture of it. I also didn’t take a picture of myself eating the strawberry ice cream straight out of the carton 🙂

I know I still have a lot stuff to try. What are your favorite vegan items from Trader Joe’s?

Vegan Potato Nachos with Tahini Sauce

Vegan Potato Nachos with Tahini Sauce
I love these vegan nachos because they’re beautifully colorful and very simple to throw together. Sometimes when I buy potatoes, I bake a bunch of them all at once and throw them in the fridge to use as needed. For these nachos, you can use whatever kind of potato you want, big or small (sweet potatoes might be a little odd, but you could work with them!). I used purple potatoes, and the results are stunning 🙂

Vegan Potato Nachos
baked potatoes, sliced
tahini nacho cheez sauce
favorite toppings

Preheat oven to 425.
Place potatoes on a small baking tray in a single layer. Drizzle with about half the tahini sauce, and sprinkle on your favorite toppings. Drizzle remaining tahini sauce over the toppings. Bake at 425 until tahini sauce has thickened and is lightly browned (around 10 – 15 minutes).
Alternatively, you can make the nachos on a microwave safe plate and nuke for a minute or two, until the sauce has thickened.

Serves 1 to 2

These are great with a side of bean dip and guacamole, and you can make it a meal for 4 by adding a big ol’ bowl of Spanish rice.

These nachos are oil free and perfect for a strict fasting day.

Big Qrunch Plate

Lately it seems like I’m hungry ALL the time. I feel like a big bear bulking up for hibernation! I usually have a supply of Qrunch Burgers in the freezer and try to find different ways to use them, other than just sticking them in a bun. They’re good “filler” because of the quinoa, and because of the great variety of flavors they come in.

Vegan Qrunch Burger Plate

The Qrunch Plate


As many of you know, I’m not a huge fan of using recipes, but lately I’ve posted quite a few that have actual measurements. Well, not today. The Big Qrunch Plate is something you can throw together with what you have on hand – assuming you at least have the Qrunch Burgers 🙂 But here’s a guide you might use:

Big Qrunch Plate
2 Qrunch Burgers
sauteed and/or fresh veggies
dollop of vegan sour cream
seasonings to taste

For mine, I sauteed onions, garlic, bell pepper, and tomatoes, then added fresh avocado. I bought some less-than-stellar vegan sour cream from Trader Joe’s and seasoned it with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, nutritional yeast, and dill, and it tastes much better. It went great with the veggies and Spicy Buffalo Qrunch Burgers, and was just the right touch for the Chef Ernesto breaded green beans I got from Dollar Tree – that’s what you see bordering the veggies & burger. The meal is gluten free if you leave out the breaded stuff (or make your own with gf breadcrumbs).

I finally felt full after this meal! What’s your favorite thing to eat during the winter months?

Baptizing Dough on the Theophany of Christ

Theophany Icon Decorated with Flowers

An icon of the baptism of Christ, decorated by my friend Carolyn (who points out she had some help from me and Melissa)

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan
Worship of the Trinity was made manifest
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee
Calling Thee His beloved Son
And the Spirit in the likeness of a dove
Confirmed the truth of His Word
O Christ, our God, Who hath appeared and enlightened the world
Glory to Thee

Last night we celebrated an evening Liturgy for the feast of Theophany. This is similar to Epiphany, but unlike the West, our celebration focuses solely on Christ’s baptism and the appearing of the Holy Spirit. We talk a lot about the Magi during the festal period of the Nativity, so that’s over and done with for Theophany (which is a Greek word meaning “manifestation of God”). After the Liturgy for the feast, we have the Great Blessing of Water. In some areas, this means going outside and blessing a body of water – maybe we’ll do the Grand River one day! But for now, in our parish we bless spring water in a font inside the church. The people are sprinkled (or splashed, or drenched, depending on the zeal of the priest) with the holy water, given some to drink, and usually get a small bottle to take home. For the days and weeks following Theophany, the parish priest will do house blessings, also using the holy water.

There’s another Theophany tradition I just learned about last week when Father asked me if anyone in the parish knows how to make zalabia. First I had to google it. There are tons of variations, with some people using a wet dough and some using something more like bread dough, various shapes, and different toppings. The first person I contacted is my friend Nadira because I know she’s a great cook and can make just about any kind of Middle Eastern food, and whatever else she dreams up.

Nadira found a Jordanian recipe which is in Arabic. She translated it and whipped up the dough for us and the two of us, with help from her son Mutaz, tried our best to make beautifully golden-brown zalabia with just the right amount of crunch on the outside, soft on the inside, that doesn’t get soggy when the syrup is added.

Zalabia for Theophany
I can’t find any information online about why zalabia is served for the feast of Theophany, but as we were making it Nadira made the observation that we were baptizing the dough. You see, to make these little balls of fried goodness, you squeeze the wet dough up through a hole in the top of your fist, then quickly swipe it with an oiled spoon, immediately flinging it into the hot oil.


Watch the Zalabia King. When the dough hits the oil it sinks straight to the bottom, then shoots up again, rising to the top.


If you haven’t seen an Orthodox baptism, we don’t just pour water over the baby’s head – they are in the water and they get dunked (by the way, it’s also Greek tradition to completely cover the baby in oil, just like our little dough balls)!

Zalabia for Theophany
We made a large batch coated in simple syrup. Nadira added a little rosewater for flavor.

Zalabia for Theophany
Then a small batch was sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

We did burn some of the oil not thinking about the different smoke points for different kinds of oil (we had a different kind in each pot). We also forgot to bring a thermometer, which would have been super helpful…we burned a few pieces, but I am still going to eat them 🙂 At the end we decided we need a nice deep fryer with a filter and accurate temperature gauge if we’re going to do this annually, and we are going to do this annually because who doesn’t like fried dough covered in sugar???

We will perfect our recipe and technique, maybe figure out how to make all the different shapes, and then I’ll post the recipe here before Theophany next year so maybe some of you can treat your parish, or family & friends, too.

Blessed Feast to All!