#BellLetsTalk and Life is Sweet 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I tried to write this post last night and this morning, but it just wasn't coming out right. I felt like I was standing on a soap box, but not saying enough or making enough of a difference with what I was trying to say. As a result of my mother's depression and death to suicide, this subject is so close to my heart. I don't know if this draft is any different, but let's try...

Today is Bell Let's Talk Day. It's a great initiative that donates $0.05 for every text sent by Bell customers today as well as every tweet, when folks use the #BellLetsTalk hashtag. The money will go towards supporting their four pillars including anti-stigma, care & access, workplace health and research. Which is really awesome.

And since its inception, it's been incredible to see people using this day to share their stories and speak candidly about mental health and mental illness.

But combating the stigma associated with mental illness isn't going to be resolved one day a year and some money being put towards a cause. It needs to be something we work towards erasing on a daily basis - in our regular lives, and be consistent with the support that we offer to those around us.

1 in 5 Canadians will be impacted by mental illness in their lifetimes and the other 4 will know someone impacted. In the news recently, there have been reports of first responders dying by suicide. 34 in the last 9 months. That's a scary number. Why aren't these workers getting the support they need in their demanding roles? And why isn't this getting more attention?

On Monday I was a special guest at Singular Sensation, an open mic night here in Toronto that is hosted by my friend, Jeni Walls. Jeni asked me to sing and share my story to coincide with Bell Let's Talk. I sang 'Mama Don't Cry' and Some Days, both which resonate with me and my story so deeply. I was thankful to be able to share my mom's story and talk about why it's important that we keep the conversation going the other 364 days a year.

Other people bravely shared their stories and experiences, and as people were talking a hush fell over the room unlike what I've seen the usual crowd at Statler's to be. People were listening. They were supportive. And the stories that were shared had real impact. It was incredible to hear all of these stories, but I couldn't help but think that we need more opportunities to do this. It shouldn't have to be a special day for people to feel comfortable to talk about their mental health and the struggles they may have had. While myself and many others in the room were thankful for the platform to share their experiences, the subject of mental illness somehow remains taboo in our society.

I think Bell Let's Talk is a great initiative and have been tweeting up a storm today, but want to see more change year round.

I want us to get to a place where the taboo is gone.

For the last three years I've hosted the Life is Sweet series on my blog in February. It's an opportunity for people to share their stories of mental illness, mental health, suicide and loss. Since my mom's death in 1998 (and after I finished junior high), I became very open about discussing mental illness, depression and suicide. They aren't off limits words in my vocabulary, and I've become very passionate about sharing my mom's story in hopes that it would help other people to realize they aren't alone.

For me, the Life is Sweet series is a small way that I can contribute to erasing the stigma around mental health.

I didn't learn about my mom's depression and previous suicide attempts until the day before she died. I don't know if anything would have changed if I had known earlier, but I wish that she had lived in a society where she felt comfortable talking about her own struggles.

The Life is Sweet series is for her and anyone else who has felt silenced in sharing their stories and their struggles.

The Life is Sweet Series sharing stories of mental health, mental illness, suicide and loss

As I said last year on Bell Let's Talk Day, we need to talk and talk and never be quiet.

Let this day be a catalyst to open up the conversation, but let's work to keep it going the rest of the year. 

Nutty Coconut Zucchini Noodles

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I learned to cook by following recipes and essentially teaching myself. I'm working on being more confident in my culinary abilities and feeling more freedom to adapt recipes and create my own.

This recipe came out of a craving for zucchini noodles!! While I really enjoy zucchini noodles raw, I sometimes like to sauté them a little bit to change the texture and enjoy a warm dish (especially when it's really chilly outside!). If you don't have a spiralizer, you could use another type of cooked noodle or serve the veggies & tofu in the sauce over quinoa or just on their own. Feel free to use whatever vegetables you have on hand when making this dish.

gluten free, dairy free vegan

Nutty Coconut Zucchini Noodles

Recipe adapted from Eat Good 4 Life
Makes 4 servings

1 large zucchini
2 tbsp. coconut oil, divided
1/2 block extra firm tofu, cubed
4 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 broccoli crown, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 baby bok choy, chopped
2 cups snow peas
1/2 cup organic natural peanut or almond butter
1 can coconut milk
2 tbsp. gluten free tamari
1 tbsp. red curry paste
juice of 1 lime
1 green onion, chopped
1/4 cup cashews, chopped

Spiralize your zucchini and set aside.

Add 1/2 tbsp. coconut oil to a small pan. Add tofu and a splash of tamari and sauté until tofu is browned on all sides. Set aside.

In a large pan, add 1 tbsp. coconut oil and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes until garlic is fragrant. Add red pepper, bok choy and broccoli and cook for 3-4 minutes until vegetables are softened. Add snow peas and cook for another minute.

While the veggies are sautéing, heat the remaining 1/2 tbsp of oil in a pan and sauté zucchini noodles for 2-3 minutes until softened. Set aside.

Add the nut butter, coconut milk, tamari, red curry paste and lime juice. Stir / whisk until sauce is combined and veggies are mixed in nicely. Add tofu and zucchini noodles, stirring well to make sure everything is well combined. Heat for another couple minutes and serve warm.

Serve with chopped green onion, cashews and a lime wedge.

NYC 2014: The Food

Friday, January 9, 2015

Seeing as I’m in Tampa this weekend, I thought it was a good time to detail all the amazing eats we had on our trip to NYC!

I may have mentioned this on the blog before, but I actually have a spreadsheet of vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurants in New York City. Whenever someone recommends a place to me or I see a ‘best of’ list, I add new options to the list. It’s also awesome to be able to share with folks when they ask me for recommendations in NYC. In my travels, I love to revisit my tried and true favourites, but also make an effort to dine at new places. On this trip we had great success with a bunch of new places that quickly skyrocketed to the top of my list (and Corbin’s too!)


Brunch may easily be one of my favourite meals and I was looking forward to enjoying brunch at Friedman’s Lunch (in Chelsea Market) I ended up eating some of the best pancakes ever! They were fluffy, delicious and served with blueberries and maple syrup. I also loved that they served Harney tea. Corbin enjoyed the brunch special which included grits, bacon and some poached eggs. Our server was lovely and the atmosphere was stellar. They were extremely knowledgeable of gluten free and I was excited to be presented with so many options. Going to Friedman’s Lunch also gave us an excuse to hang out at Chelsea Market which is one of my favourite places in New York (though I was sad that Anthropologie was closed since we were there on Thanksgiving)

Champs is always a favourite when we’re in New York and it was actually our first stop as soon as we arrived! We were surprised to find they had a new location (on Meserole), but once we were there we were in vegan foodie heaven. I had the gluten free tofu benedict, which was absolutely delicious. It was the perfect cure to a morning of traveling and a bit of a hangry Ashley. Corbin had the Loaded Breakfast Burrito which was GINORMOUS and full of all sorts of goodness. We also ran into 2 friends during our brunch, proving that it IS a small world after all! 

The morning before we left we squeezed in a brunch at Sacred Chow, which I enjoyed. I had a delicious gluten free waffle topped with apples, cinnamon and coconut cream, while Corbin opted for a scrambled tofu bowl with tonnes of veggies and squash. It had also been on my list for awhile, so it was great to finally pay a visit and fuel up before a long day of traveling. 


Between Black Friday shopping and watching Disenchanted, I needed to grab a quick lunch. I had seen a couple of different Organic Avenue locations throughout New York and decided to check it out. I was happy to find a number of soup, salad and wrap options along with a selection of fresh juices. Everything was labelled whether it was gluten free, vegan etc and the ingredients were also clearly listed. I chose the lunchbox salad collard wrap and kind of lost my mind at how delicious it was!! It was a chickpea salad with cashew ‘mayo’ and a lot of veggies inside a wonderfully fresh collard wrap. I wish we had Organic Avenue in Canada as this would be a stellar option to pick up on the go. 

On Thanksgiving we made reservations at Rockin’ Raw to enjoy a special lunch with our friend Sheryl! I had been to Rockin’ Raw once previously (during the hurricane) and remembered being impressed with their unique flavors and options. They had a special menu for Thanksgiving, so we all chose a few different options between the regular and holiday menus including cauliflower mash, ‘cheesy’ broccoli, pumpkin soup and a cheezy burrito. 

It’s no secret that I love dessert (especially raw ones) so I was delighted by the Thanksgiving options which included an incredible pecan pie. Holy wow, it was divine. Rich, creamy and perfect. The meal was an awesome way to celebrate American Thanksgiving and enjoy a lovely afternoon with Sheryl. 


Because we saw a show almost every night we were in New York, our eating schedule got to be a little bit wonky. We ended up finding ourselves eating dinners after shows pretty late at night, but I think our dinners ended up being the best meals we had! 

First up was Otto’s Tacos in the East Village. These were serious tacos!! Otto’s Tacos has lots of options for meat eaters and a delicious mushroom taco for the vegetarian crowd. We grabbed a side of chips and guacamole and were blown away with the HUGE portion of guac along with a bag of chips. The tacos ranged from $3-$3.50 each and they were awesome. Such great flavours, freshly made tortillas and a seriously stellar meal for less than $20. They had a record listed for taco eating and Corbin was seriously considering going back and trying to beat it. Hah! 

Heading home after Pippin’ I was feeling hungry and was hoping to grab a falafel or something quick. We found a falafel place called Mamoun's thinking that it would just be an easy, inexpensive, tasty option. Little did we know that we were entering a well recognized falafel restaurant! I grabbed a falafel plate and Corbin enjoyed a shwarma and for less than $15 enjoyed an incredible meal. Their hummus was outstanding and the falafel was crispy and delicious. Corbin loved his shwarma and thought their hot sauce was awesome. I don’t have any pictures of this meal, but know that if you’re wondering on the east village late at night (or any time of day) looking for a great, cheap meal - this is the place!!

Last but not least, Pala

I’ve been telling everyone about Pala because it was hands down, the best gluten free pizza I’ve ever had and Corbin said it was the best (gluten-filled) pizza he’s even eaten. Pretty high praise, but worth every word. 

At Pala they take their topping choices very seriously and you’re unable to make substitutions. That being said, there are a lot of options for meat eaters, vegans and gluten free folks. I chose the Uvetta pizza with butternut squash, red onions, raisins, red pepper rosemary and daiya. After the first bite, I couldn’t stop RAVING about how delicious it was. The toppings were plentiful, but the crust was the real star. It was chewy, flavourful and had a BUBBLE. So many gluten free pizzas have the texture of cardboard or bricks and this pizza was light and airy while still having an amazing texture. I can't remember which one Corbin had, but he has said that it was the best pizza he's ever eaten. The service was outstanding (even though they were close to closing) and I can’t wait to go back!! 

Honourable mentions go to the treats we enjoyed at Babycakes, the goodies and fresh juice we picked up at a local market to enjoy for breakfast on a couple of days and the warming lunch we had at Peacefood Cafe before we made the drive to the hockey game. If I wasn’t hungry before, I sure am now after recounting all of the incredible food that we enjoyed on our trip!

Do you have any favourite places to eat in New York City? I’d love to add them to my list!! 
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