A letter to 2014

Hello dear readers, and allow me to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy new year!

Now, I know that these reflection-type posts should typically take place at the end of a given year rather than 4 days after the fact – but what can I say, deep within me resides a rebel who defies the rules and plays fast and loose with conventional norms. I kid, I am of course not a rebel by any stretch of the imagination, I have merely been engrossed with the typical hubbub of events and happenings that are ushered in with the end of every year.

For me December meant a whirlwind trip to London, wrapping up loose ends at work, welcoming back visiting friends who live abroad, a Christmas dinner or two to attend, coordinating plans to celebrate new year’s eve and eagerly anticipating my birthday (on that note – thank you to everyone who wished me well!), among other things. Needless to say, I definitely felt like I hadn’t had the time to sit and reflect on the year that was 2014, nor look ahead to 2015. In fact, when I posed the mandatory “what are everyone’s resolutions?” question to my friends (much to some dismay) during my birthday dinner, I was one of the few without any conclusive answers.

So that’s what this post is about – I apologize in advance for there will be no recipes or vegan tips and tricks (though I do promise that there are a few of those in the pipeline).

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Dear 2014,

I know I said this to 2013, 2012, and possibly even 2011 – but you sure were in a hurry to leave us weren’t you! I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to bid you a proper farewell before you were out the door – but hopefully you’ll read this regardless.

Needless to say, you’ve been quite eventful. You took me to all corners of the world, satisfying one of my many ambitious resolutions from the year prior, to travel more. I waded through rice fields, surfed the waves, and ate my way through the fantastic vegan restaurants of Bali, Indonesia. I trawled the streets of Istanbul, found a slice of nirvana in Fethiye, and basked on the beach in Bodrum, Turkey. I reckoned with identity crises in my beautiful home country of Egypt, visiting the Red Sea and my beloved Alexandria along the way. And finally I ventured back to my old stomping ground, resisting the chilly winter and walking the streets of one of my favourite cities in the world – London. For this I am truly grateful – each trip brought with it priceless memories and experiences that have profoundly impacted me, each in their own way.

A friend of mine recently expressed an admittedly less than optimistic sentiment, that there is so much ugliness in the world, and that modern-day life is more difficult than it has ever been. While I can’t help but agree in part, I also have to disagree. There is so much beauty in the world – there is so much to see, to hear, to taste, to feel. It’s easy to lose sight of this living in a bubble like Bahrain, or for that matter any monotonous environment.

You’ve played with my emotions, 2014. There have been more ups and downs than I was even able to keep track of. You pushed me to the limit – showing me new heights to both sadness and grief ,as well as happiness and joy alike. You took loved ones away from me, something you know I’m not great with handling – but I don’t doubt it was their time. You split the path between old friends and I, despite my clinging, clawing and resistance – but I suppose it was also time for that too. You also brought me new friends, and they are some of the most thoughtful, loving and caring people I have ever met. Most recently, you reminded me that when it comes to friendships – old is gold. I am overcome with love and appreciation for the close friends I have known for over 5, 10 and even 15 years – even if we only spend but a few hours a year together.

You put me to the test with difficult decisions, both in my personal life and in my career. I like to think I’ve risen to the occasion in that regard – I’ve even found myself thinking “I’m getting pretty adept at this pretending to be an adult” thing. You taught me some tough lessons about responsibility – ones that I had to learn the hard way. Rest assured, those are nailed in there for eternity – though I’m sure your siblings 2016, 2017, and 2018 will have plenty more to shoot my way.

You’ve nudged me forward in times of self-doubt, and told me not to make any apologies for the way I chose to live. You’ve given me confidence and reassurance that my decision to live a vegan lifestyle is one that I wholeheartedly believe in, from the bottom of my heart, and that no amount of petty commentary from family, silly jokes from co-workers and friends or mindless comments from acquaintances can change. You’ve given me the motivation to keep writing this blog, no matter how busy modern life renders me – you’ve reminded me of the reason I started writing it in the first place.

But above all, if you’ve taught me anything, 2014, it’s that it’s okay to just be. It’s okay to feel like you can’t control everything, and that no, everything will not in fact fall apart because of that. I’ve started to learn to accept everything that life brings, come what may. I’ve learned to identify key, unique life experiences and moments when they appear before me, and to enjoy them too. I’ve learned not to get caught up in the details and the necessity for everything to be picture perfect that I let moments like this pass me by.

So what about your older and wiser sibling 2015? What can I expect from this sweeping year ahead? As we both know, only time will tell – but in the mean time I’ll share with you what I hope to get out of the next 361 days.

I want to be more compassionate – my compassion and love for animals is ever apparent as reflected by my diet and lifestyle choices – but what about compassion towards my fellow human beings? What about compassion towards myself? I know I’m much harder on myself than I need to be, and that I also judge and criticize others (even if not aloud) far more than I should. I’d like to change that, and am consciously considering how I can be compassion in the aspects of my life that fall outside of my dinner plate.

I want to learn more – I swore off returning to higher education after completing my bachelors’ degree three years ago – but my thirst for knowledge craving for mental stimulation is still alive and well. I want to learn a new language, read more books and journals, listen to podcasts and maybe even audiobooks (which I have always had a severe aversion to). More documentaries too – let’s face it, most of what’s on TV is trash nowadays anyways.

I want to try new things. 3 years of being back in Bahrain means I’ve fallen into a routine with most of my daily life – and I’d like to change that, as I would if I were first moving to any new place. Try out new sports, join different groups, explore new-to-me areas. I’m making a vow to try 6-12 new things by the end of the year, and they can be anything.

2014 – thank you for all that you brought and took with you. You will forever be etched in my memory as one of the most influential and important years of my young life. I’m sad to see you go – but also excited for what the future holds.

Sincerely yours,

Nada

happy 2015

Vegan Survival Guide: Dining Out

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By far one of the questions I get asked the most is “you must really struggle eating out – what do you order at restaurants?” My answer of course is always a variant of “No, not at all. I can hardly think of a restaurant that has zero vegan options – I always find something to eat”. Funnily enough, my SO gets this question almost as much as I do. Friends and acquaintances are seemingly baffled to hear that we are able to eat out on a regular basis somewhere like Bahrain that isn’t exactly silly with vegan dining establishments.

As you may know already I am the master of inventive ordering after years of having to exercise creativity and caution when picking up any restaurant menu. It can be daunting for the newly vegan to fathom eating out when they’re unsure of what lies ahead, especially at a large outing where they have no control over restaurant choice (think birthdays and family gatherings). I am happy to report that over the years I have picked up a few key tips that make this ordeal far less intimidating and stressful than it needs to be.

1. Know your cuisines – anything Asian, Mediterranean/Middle Eastern is usually a safe bet.

Generally speaking, any Japanese, Chinese, Thai or Indian restaurant will have vegan options. Going a step further most South Indian restaurants are exclusively vegetarian which means a much wider variety of vegan fare. It should almost go without saying that any Arabic/Lebanese/Middle Eastern style restaurant is also super vegan friendly. Here is a quick run down of what I typically order when at a restaurant of the aforementioned cuisines.

  • Japanese – vegetarian maki with raw vegetables and avocado (almost any restaurant that serves sushi will make this, even if it’s not on the menu), miso soup, edamame, tofu steak, seaweed salad
  • Chinese – Vegetarian stir fry with tofu, vegetarian spring rolls, sweetcorn soup
  • Thai – Vegetarian green curry with tofu (depending on availability), fresh rice paper spring rolls, pad thai without egg and with tofu
  • Indian – Chana Masala,Veg curry Dal Tadka, Pappadoms with chutney, steamed rice or pilav
  • Arabic/Middle Eastern – Fattoush, tabbouleh, hummus, falafel, lentil soup, foul mudammas, spinach saj (pastries)
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My usual order at Japanese restaurant Kojo – vegan sushi, tofu steak sands fish flakes and a big salad with tons of avocado and sprialised veggies.

 

2. Be conscious of hidden extras

When ordering vegan you can almost never just rely on what’s written in the menu, and yes as a result you may need to ask your server a few more questions than they’re used to, which is fine – that’s what they’re there for. Don’t assume that just because you’re ordering a dish that appears to be vegan on the menu that it might not show up with an extra serving of egg or cheese sprinkled on top – exercise your best judgement. For example when dining at an Indian restaurant I’m vigilant to say no ghee, no butter. When ordering pasta dishes, I ensure to stipulate no cheese as this can be customarily sprinkled on as garnish. When I order a soup I first and foremost inquire if it’s made using cream, and if not I make sure to say no additional cream on top, please (again usually a garnish).

3. Read the entire menu, back to front.

The reason I say this is you never know what vegan item might be lurking in a non-vegan dish. You might discover lentils served with a meat dish, avocado on a shrimp salad, quinoa with a chicken dish etc. Spotting these key items is crucial to franken-ordering and supplementing a seemingly lackluster dish like a green salad with tasty add-ons.

Story time: As a young girl I had a large affinity for books and reading, so much so that I was nicknamed Matilda by my cousins in Egypt who became accustomed to seeing a book permanently attached to me during our summer visits. I loved reading so much that I often read things cover to cover just for the hell of it – including menus at restaurants. My family would often make fun of me for doing so even after I’d decided on my order, but as it turns out this particular habit has paid off.

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Panache Salad at Paul’s with an extra serving of quinoa and lentils on top.

 

 

4. Call ahead.

This may seem laughably on-the-nose but it’s a tip that has saved me much anxiety time and time again, especially when dining at restaurants that are less than vegan-friendly (read: Italian or French). A quick call to the chef or restaurant manager to inquire about the veg options on the menu allows you to be fully prepared. Even better, do a quick google search and see if you can pull up their menu online to help you survey it in advance.

5. Don’t be difficult – go with the flow.

There will be times where you are unable to order any more than a green salad and some soup, and you know what that’s okay, especially if as previously mentioned, you’re dining at an unknown restaurant with a large group of people. My philosophy when put in such situations is that I’m joining my friends/family for their company and possibly to celebrate an occasion – it’s not always about me, and not every dish I order has to end up on Instagram. Penne Arabiatta isn’t my favourite dish by a long shot – but I’ll suck it up and have some quietly when need be. I’m also thankful that I was able to find a vegan option at all no matter how seemingly banal it may be.

Eating out as a vegan isn’t as difficult as most people think and this post is proof that you can still enjoy delicious plant-based meals even if you don’t live in a metropolitan vegan-haven type city a la NYC or London.

What are your experiences eating out as a vegetarian/vegan/person with special dietary needs?

What’s your go-t0 vegan meal to order out?

Gluten-Free Coconut Banana Bars

I will admit that I’ve been putting off this post for quite some time, for what is admittedly a pretty silly reason. The long story details a history of carelessness and losing various important items over the years (ranging from mama’s diamond engagement earring set to my all-time favourite sweater). The short story is that I misplaced the memory card on which my fancy, not-so-professional DSLR photos of this recipe were taken.

A moment of silence please for the black and blue Sony SD card. Wherever you are, I hope you are at peace.

And now, on to more important matters – this delightful recipe.

While I enjoy any vegan baked good (they are hard to come by, unless made by myself, so I indulge whenever I can) – I always prefer my muffins, cupcakes, bars and cookies on the healthier side. Note I said healthiER because I fully acknowledge that a baked good is more often than not a sweet treat and not everything has to be doused in kale. These bars are just that.

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Moist, delicately sweetened and full to the brim with rich coconut and banana flavours, speckled with a hint of chocolate. Have I mentioned they’re gluten-free, too?

If you’re skeptical about these, now would be the right time to mention I took these to a barbeque last month where they were given the omnivorous seal of approval and not a single one was left.

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Now how’s that for an indulgent yet wholesome baked good?

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Not too shabby, if I do say so myself (even with the iPhone grade photography)!

 

 

Falling out of love with the gym

Until about a month ago, the summer had left me in a pretty serious fitness rut. While my trip to Turkey was actually quite an active one filled with copious amounts of city walking, mountain hiking and ocean swimming, as is the case with any vacation I came back feeling pretty unenthused to get back in to the gym. My efforts amounted to a sub-par workout once or twice (if I was lucky) a week. I just didn’t have the motivation and drive that I used to. I was constantly exhausted, and frankly at the end of a long day at work, all I wanted to do was cook some comfort food and snuggle up to a good movie on TV or a book in bed (yes I know, I’m about 80 years old at heart).

While I consciously tried to get back into the “fitness mode” by planning to revisit tried and tested workouts, or looking up new routines my mind and body just weren’t having any of it. I became frustrated and irritated at my seeming unwillingness to return to my regular gym workouts. I thought, “I’m supposed to love exercising and staying in shape. How can I be demotivated? What does this say about me?”. It also didn’t help to think of the one-year membership that I had pre-paid for in January just sitting there going unused. The more I thought about it, the more the negativity, guilt and frustration festered. So I just disassociated myself from those thoughts and focused on work which, as it happened, was taking up most of my time and energy anyways.

It wasn’t until my recent trip to Egypt that I finally made like Stella and got my groove back (props to anyone who got that movie reference). I made a point of packing workout clothes and took advantage of the fresh sea air at our resort in Hurghada. Being an early riser I snuck out every morning for a run and even did a few HIIT workouts by the pool despite the weird looks I garnered from the overwhelming amount of Russian tourists staying at our resort.

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Unsurprisingly, I felt better than I had in weeks. My energy levels (along with my appetite) were up, my mood was lifted, and I even experienced a sort of mental clarity that felt like fog clearing from my brain. Now that I was no longer in my dreaded rut, I was actually able to reflect on it, and begin to ascertain the cause.

I pondered why it was that I was so eager and willing to exercise on vacation. Was it the change of atmosphere? Lack of work-induced stress or daily routine time constraints? I couldn’t place my finger on it. I was practically itching to get out every morning and, despite the fact that I was not at my fittest, I found myself enjoying every second of my outdoor runs and workouts.

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That’s when it hit me. It wasn’t that I had lost the will to work out and stay in shape – I just no longer enjoyed going to the gym. Since my modus operandi for exercise in Bahrain meant hitting the gym, it just so followed that if I didn’t – I wouldn’t work out at all. Cardio machines had become my nemesis and bored me to death. Lifting weights just didn’t give me the thrill and rush that it used to. Walking through the glass double doors and hearing the pumping music no longer gave me a jolt of excitement and anticipation to get in a killer workout. On top of that I had become so consumed with unattainable goals and numbers that it just wasn’t fun anymore.

It took me a while to find my footing, but a few failed martial arts classes (never again) and team sports endeavors later and I’ve finally settled into a new routine. I revisited an old love and signed up to a great Zumba class twice a week. Thanks to the cooler weather I’ve started running outdoors regularly, and even signed up to the upcoming Bahrain Marathon Relay as part of a team running for charity. When I’m short on time I hit up old reliable at home workouts like Insanity which still kicks my butt every bit as hard as it used to. I’m also keen to start Pilates, at the recommendation of a friend who is an enthusiast and instructor in training, but I haven’t found a class that fits my schedule yet.

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Needless to say I feel so much happier and centered than I have in a long time. I enjoy working out and staying in shape for overall health and wellness, stress relief and let’s be honest, vanity reasons too. I would be lying if I said that aesthetics weren’t a large part of my motivation, but to be honest I see no shame in that. In fact I’ve noticed that even when if there’s no physical change I simply feel more confident and self-assured when I exercise regularly – perhaps its a placebo effect.

But above all, I’ve learned that it’s okay. It’s okay to not want to do something that you previously enjoyed so much. It’s okay to take a few steps back, and as much time as you need to figure out your next steps. It’s okay not to feel guilty, and to blow off the impossibly high standards we set for ourselves.

Whether it’s exercise, work, relationships or any other aspect of life – there comes a time where we have to re-evaluate and reassess how we feel. If something no longer gives you the pleasure, joy and fulfillment it used to – take a step back. Face it head on and examine the reasons why you no longer feel that way, then try to make positive changes to rectify the situation.

And now I’m off to enjoy what’s left of a much needed long weekend. I intend to spend most of today doing not much at all – because you know what? That’s okay too.

Easy Lentil Salad with Maple Dijon Dressing

I’ll admit – it’s been quite a while since I’ve shared a salad recipe with you guys. The truth is after months of packing leafy green salads for work day-in, day-out, I started to grow a little (dare I say it) bored. I was in a lunchbox rut – and found myself craving earthier and more grounding foods like roasted vegetables, grains, and lentils.

Of course there were days where I had no time to even think of making a packed lunch, so I often resorted to one of my old reliables – the prepared salads section of Alosra Supermarket – which is where the inspiration for this salad all started.

The first time I tried their lentil salad I was utterly delighted – the simple combination of lentils, red onion (a favourite of mine in salad, much to some of my family members’ dismay), delicate cherry tomatoes and fragrantly fresh parsley was divine. But the crowning glory was the sweet and tangy yellow dressing that came along in a separate packet. Upon reading the ingredients I discovered it was in fact a mock “honey mustard” dressing made with mustard and sugar, not exactly my condiment of choice. But as time went on I found myself purchasing the lentil salad time and time again – so I decided to give it a go at home (to which my wallet will thank me, I’m sure).

The results were just as good as I had hoped!

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I mean really. Could this recipe be any easier?

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And best of all – no obscure or hard to find ingredients! Just pure whole, plant-based foods.

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This was lunch last week at work, and I have to tell you it held me over nicely all afternoon. It would also be a great side dish/salad to bring to a potluck or barbecue.

I hope you make it, and that you enjoy it as much as I do.

Until next time.