Many people have told me how much they love my popcorn, so I decided to share my method with all of you. I learned it from watching my mother prepare popcorn for us on our fun movie nights! Miss you, Mommy!

I make my popcorn in a big pot on the stove top. I prefer the flavor of the popcorn when I make them this way, rather than using an air popcorn machine, although this is another option you can try. When using the stove top method, believe it or not, the material that the pot is made of will influence the taste and texture of the popcorn. In my experience, it is best when the pot is steel with porcelain enamel or simply stainless steel.

The first step is to thinly coat the bottom of the pot with your choice of cooking oil. Depending on the size of the pot (I use a standard size pot typically used for cooking pasta), usually about two tablespoons of oil is plenty.


Coconut oil is a good choice since it is an oil which doesn’t denature quickly at high temperatures, like olive oil does. That means that coconut oil retains its healthful properties even when we heat it, whereas olive oil does not. Another oil I enjoy cooking with is grapeseed oil, however, its healthfulness when heated is debatable.

I enjoy grapeseed oil because of its light taste and texture. Some people have written that it is stable at high temperatures, while others disagree. For popcorn, I prefer the outcome when I use grapeseed oil. The advantage with using the air popcorn machine is that no oil is necessary at all.

You then add the popcorn kernels, about a handful, to cover the bottom of the pot evenly, but not more than that, because then the popcorn won’t have enough room to expand. Cover the pot and turn on the burner to high, but not maximum. Start shaking the pot frequently, either by rubbing it directly on the burner, or lifting the pot slightly and shaking it. This will allow the heat to touch all the kernels evenly and within a couple of minutes you will hear that delicious sound: popcorn popping!

If you have dogs, or birds, and sometimes cats too, beware, they love popcorn as well! Continue shaking the pot often until the constant popping slows down, and before it stops completely, remove the pot from the heat. Lift the lid and there you have all your beautiful popcorn.

Now for the choice of toppings – this will make the popcorn extra yummy, and for me, I choose vegan toppings. I get the most compliments when I sprinkle garlic powder, Himalayan salt (or onion salt for added flavor) and nutritional yeast for a cheesy taste and aroma. With respect to the garlic, you can also mince garlic and add it to the oil and kernels, but the garlic inevitably burns by the time the popcorn is done so sprinkling garlic powder at the end may be preferred. The toppings are yours to experiment with!

Here in Los Cabos, Mexico, I get my organic popcorn kernels, nutritional yeast, and my coconut oil from a lovely little store in San Jose del Cabo called Green Goddess. I was thrilled to discover this place since it carries many of the organic and vegan ingredients I like to use in my recipes. They have a lovely selection of nut milks and butters, and many gluten-free pastas. I also get my quinoa and mung beans in bulk at the Green Goddess. They make phenomenal smoothies and cold-pressed juices!

The Green Goddess is a family-owned and operated business (they are originally from Alberta, Canada). Kristen Erickson, the family’s competitive runner, is usually there to greet you with a big smile and has a wealth of knowledge about healthful living to share. The next time you come to Los Cabos, be sure to check them out!


Make your week amazing and let me know how the popcorn works out for you!

Follow my vegan adventures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Get Cooking With Amore and start cooking with love today!


“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”~Robert Fulghum

As you all know, I’m the first person to poo-poo canned food. I also advocate whole foods and lots of raw, rather than processed foods. Living through a devastating hurricane, however, changed my tune! I was surprised to discover that sometimes, canned food and avoiding raw is actually the way to go!

Hurricane Odile crashed into Baja California Sur on September 14, 2014, a date many of us in Mexico are unlikely to forget anytime soon. I prepared as best I could, but how can you ever fully prepare for something you have never experienced before? Norbert the week prior was a fresh breeze in comparison to Odile!

We were all told to take in all patio furniture, stock up on food and water, fill up our gas tanks, secure our windows and doors, and pray for the best. This is what I did, but for me, stocking up on food means lots fresh produce and some frozen items. Right! Without electricity for over two weeks due to the hurricane knocking down almost 8000 poles, in a very hot climate, how far do you think that food took me?

In two days, everything that was uneaten was either spoiled or on its way to expiring. I was surprised at how quickly frozen peas, for example, can go bad. Within one day of no refrigeration, they had spoiled.

If it weren’t for canned food, none of us in Los Cabos would have had anything to eat. The grocery stores were all severely damaged by the hurricane, and what was left of them got looted.

I was scared and saddened not only by the wreckage of the hurricane itself, but also by the ordeal of the aftermath. We had no power, running water, phone or Internet for over two weeks. My home was severely damaged and flooded. Not only were my windows shattered, but the ferocious winds ripped out the frame too! My whole bedroom, in fact, was gutted out, closet doors, clothes and all!

bedroom after Odile

Unfortunately, my living room did not fare much better, broken glass everywhere and furniture soaked.

living room after Odile

Once the windows and patio doors had shattered on that horrifying night, water gushing everywhere, I wasn’t sure my beloved animals and I would survive. As water dripped from the light fixtures on my ceiling, from all my air conditioning units, my laundry room overflowing with dirty water into my kitchen, I prayed the house would not cave in on us! Thankfully, none of us were injured (we hid in the bathroom for hours) and I am just so grateful to be alive!

Canned food is what we lived on for weeks and even if nutritionally inferior to fresh, whole foods, it kept us alive! In fact, I had my first salad a few weeks after the hurricane when one store reopened, and by the next morning, after a night of severe stomach pain, I had a high fever.

Two days of fever, muscle pain, nausea and diarrhea, urged me see a doctor who lives in my community. He said I had a bacterial infection, likely from contaminated water or vegetables. He prescribed antibiotics and told me to avoid raw food completely. He explained that after natural disasters, the level of bacteria is out of control.

This experience has surely taught me a lot about survival, but mostly it has been a lesson in hope and gratitude. I was pleased to actually meet my neighbors, talking to some of them for the first time, and I was really impressed by how we came together as a community and helped each other out. Although many of us had lost so much, and we had so little, no of us went without basic necessities because we were all there for one another.

It has been almost one month since that sleepless night, and Cabo is recovering quickly. Many stores and hotels have already been repaired and are open for business. I continue to be grateful every day, despite my moments of despair and uncertainty. Here is an excerpt from my gratitude journal I’d like to share with all of you:

1 – I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for teaching me, in a very concrete fashion, the impermanence of all things. What incredible pride we get from acquiring things. A house, a car, a fat pay cheque – wow, these make us feel accomplished, successful. But really, they can and will be taken away at any moment. Similarly, all relationships end at one point. They all end in the physical realm, whether they be through break-ups, or through death. There is no permanence in the physical world, there is only change. The permanence lies only in the spiritual realm. Therefore, maybe, we should invest more in our spirituality (whatever that means to each of us) than in material wealth. Thank you, Odile, for teaching me the transitory nature of physical existence.

2 – I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for showing me how truly “wealthy” I am for having lived my whole life with running water, enough food to eat, a roof over my head, electricity, enough health to make a living and the possibility of getting better when ill, resources to help me achieve university degrees, the companionship of loyal animals, true friends and loving family. Thank you Odile, for showing me my riches.

3- I am grateful to Hurricane Odile for allowing me to experience the importance of community. We need one another. We belong to each other. Our purpose is to serve all beings and treat them with kindness and help all those in need. Thank you, Odile, for allowing me to experience the power of community.

It seems to me that in those moments when much is taken from us, much of our true riches are revealed. Namaste.

Follow my vegan adventures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Looking for some vegan recipe inspiration? Get my cookbook, Cooking With Amore, and start cooking with love!

A long, busy day ahead? A train, plane, bus or road trip coming up? Something to munch on between classes? A tasty, satisfying, healthful snack to bring along with you is always convenient. All it takes is a little planning ahead to pick up a few required ingredients, some time to put the recipe together, and in this case of my raw vegan granola bars: 12 hours total in the dehydrator.

A dehydrator is a fun, versatile and useful kitchen tool for preparing many raw vegan recipes, but if you don’t have one and are not interested in making the investment, you can bake these granola bars in the oven at 350°F for about 20 minutes.

In my opinion, however, there are certain advantages to choosing a dehydrator over an oven. A dehydrator uses a fan and much lower heat than an oven to remove the water content from foods without actually “cooking” them.

Heat can denature or transform foods and make them less nutritious. To get technical, a food can be considered raw so long as it is not heated above 118°F (or according to some, 120°F). According to raw food experts and proponents, such as Dr. Brian Clement and Dr. Gabriel Cousens, foods cooked above 120°F lose much of their nutritional value because most of their natural enzymes are destroyed by heat and may even create some toxins for the body.

A dehydrator can help create the taste and feel of our favorite cooked foods, while maintaining the nutrition of whole foods by keeping their enzymes and vitamins intact. Raw and organic whole foods can be very healing for people with certain diseases and can help rejuvenate the body. Dr. Cousens for example uses a raw vegan diet to help his patients reverse Type II Diabetes and other severe illnesses.

Although many raw foodists take an all or nothing approach and choose to maintain a fully raw diet, for some people this may sound impossible or simply undesirable. Going fully raw is definitely doable and may improve your health drastically, however, I believe we can all benefit from adding more raw foods to our diets thereby maximizing our nutrition without necessarily removing all cooked foods overnight. These delicious, nutritious, filling and easy to make granola bars are a lovely addition to anyone’s diet. Give them a try!

If, on the other hand, you are ready to transform your diet completely there are many resources out there to support you, including my beloved culinary institute, Living Light Culinary Institute, where I learned not only how to prepare scrumptious fully raw meals and desserts, but also the science behind it.

Raw Vegan Granola Bars


Makes about 20 bars

1 ½ cup dates, pitted and chopped

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons agave nectar (or maple syrup)

1 ¼ cup raw almonds

1 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds

½ cup raisins

½ cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit of your choice)

¾ cup shredded coconut

2 tablespoons brown rice syrup

¼ teaspoon Himalayan salt


  1. Place chopped dates, vanilla extract and agave nectar in a food processor and blend until mixture becomes a thick, chunky paste.
  2. With the help of a spatula, scoop date mixture into a large bowl and stir in all remaining ingredients.
  3. Place about 1/3 of the mixture at a time into the food processor and pulse 4 or 5 times. Mixture should be sticky with large chunks of fruit and nuts. Continue until all the granola has been processed.
  4. Place granola on a dehydrator tray lined with a paraflexx drying sheet. Form a square shape about 1-inch thick and score the granola into rectangular bars of desired size.
  5. Dehydrate for 6 hours at 110°F. Flip the granola onto another dehydrator tray without the drying sheet. Score again so that the bars are more defined. Dehydrate for another 6 hours. Bars will be firm but moist and chewy when ready.
  6. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

“All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.” ~Orison Swett Marden

Follow my vegan adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! Get Cooking With Amore!

The dearth of friendly, independent cafés in the Golden Square Mile has always surprised me. Though slow advances are afoot – first Kafeïn, then Myriade and most recently Humble Lion – this thriving, thoughtful, studious hub remains more or less the stronghold of Chain Coffee.

Throw in the proximity of cultural havens such as the Musée de Beaux-Arts and the corporate coffee epidemic seems even more puzzling.

That’s why I was delighted to happen upon Café Aunja, new inhabitant of now-defunct Galerie Mazarine on Sherbrooke St. W., just a block from the main entrance of said Musée. I stumbled on it by mistake the first time, charmed in off the cold street by colourful furniture and brick walls (Disclosure: I’m a sucker for both).

Cafe Aunja © Valeria BismarA cool café? I wondered breathlessly, in the midst of all these stuffy galleries? 

I couldn’t have known then that the juxtaposition was, well…not exactly intentional. According to co-owner Majid, Aunja was conceived as something of an extension of the Musée itself, a friendly “space for artists.”

“We thought about all the things we like to experience when we go to a café,” he mused, a skilled artisan himself. “Then we made it.”

So Saturdays are performance nights and space is allotted for artists to sell work. There’s the obligatory vintage sofa, shelf of dusty books and mismatched chairs—de rigeur for any artsy café.

But Aunja is no l’Éscalier—at least to my eye. There is a strong sense of authorship, a precise aesthetic, a sense that the space, perhaps more than the menu, is “curated” just for pontificating…or creating.

I like that. As a (sometime) writer, I’m definitely biased. But it’s my kind of place—with a vibe that might be described as a nearby blend of student-run Café X and chic Olivier Potier—in other words, equal part sketchbooks, hushed conversation and modest elegance.

Cafe Aunja © Valeria BismarSpeaking of curation—there’s more. A roundabout conversation about the décor (which also includes stacks of National Geographics, startling black-and-white portraits and even an “antique camera museum”) unearths the fact that even Aunja’s furniture is detail-driven .

“We made these tables by hand,” Majid says, grinning.

The co-owners of Aunja—a “circle of friends” in Majid’s words—were warm, welcoming and refreshingly forthcoming on every one of my visits. My questions (whether about tea, history, or the menu) were often met with modesty, bright smiles and generous anecdotes.

Hamed Masoumi, another part-owner (pictured below), received with delight one of my coffee companions’ memories of his travels in the owners’ native Iran. I later found out that Masoumi is also the photographer behind those exceptional wall portraits.

Majid chuckled at my sense of awe. “We made this countertop, too,” he said, tapping the rich mahogany espresso-counter.

Though Aunja specializes in teas, a small rotating menu of soups, salads and sandwiches are just enough to keep a creative type cocooned away from big, cold, traffic-laden Sherbrooke West.

And though I am not enough of a coffee aficionado to really rate it against giants like Myriade, Pikolo or the Humble Lion, my few forays into short espressos certainly seemed spot on.

So I leave you with this truism—which is especially à propos with the looming winter— a “cool café” is all about what you make of it.

Cafe Aunja © Valeria Bismar
Cafe Aunja © Valeria Bismar
Cafe Aunja © Valeria Bismar

Café Aunja is located at 1448 Sherbrooke West.

Photos by Valeria Bismar.

I had the good fortune of business meetings in Los Cabos, Mexico this week. The exquisite beauty of San Jose del Cabo captured my heart and soul.

I stayed at the lovely boutique hotel El Encanto Inn & Spa. Gorgeous gardens, beautiful rooms, comfortable bed and friendly staff made my stay pure paradise. I highly recommend it! This hotel also offers spa treatments and the opportunity to meet with excellent and renowned health professionals such as Isabelle Gagnon, holistic health coach extraordinaire, Dr. Allan Laird, chiropractor and massage therapist, and Wendy Rudell, naturopath and author of  The Raw Transformation (which I proudly came home with!)


Maintaining a vegan lifestyle in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico this past week was easy and pleasurable with the abundance of fresh organic produce everywhere. As with my other trips, being vegan while traveling was not even an issue.

Dinner at Flora Farm was a culinary experience like no other! I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in my day, but this was by far the best meal I ever had. I ordered an unforgettable arugula and basil pizza with a thin, gluten-free crust. How can you compare the freshness and tastiness of food that is grown right on the land where the restaurant is located?


Flora Farm is a brilliant concept of combining farm and restaurant in the same location. Ten acres of organic produce growing at the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains in San Jose del Cabo, Mexcio makes for dishes that are unparalleled in flavor and freshness.

I had another excellent vegan meal at Cynthia Fresh. Take a look at this heavenly salad topped with black sesame encrusted chunks of tofu, cranberries and pine nuts. Scrumptious!


Dinner at Salsitas was equally delicious and creative. A lovely vegetable taco dish, where the tacos were made from raw jicama! Not only was this delicious dinner totally vegan, it was also grain, soy and corn-free making it very accommodating to various dietary needs.


Salsitas also offers excellent service, friendly staff and amazing margaritas and salsa!


The town of San Jose del Cabo is charming, serene, pretty and artistic. The beaches are spectacular. I highly recommend you check it out! Upon my departure, I admit I shed a few tears, but I did not say good-bye; instead, I declared: “Hasta pronto San Jose del Cabo!”


“Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.” ~Leon J. Suenes

Follow me and my vegan culinary adventures on my Facebook page.

“Optimum nutrition is the medicine of tomorrow.” ~Dr. Linus Pauling

Sometimes quite a bit more expensive and usually harder to find in average grocery stores, one can’t help but wonder whether organic foods are really worth the extra money and effort.

What does organic mean exactly? The philosophy behind organic farming is based on a respect for biodiversity and its protection, reduction of pollution and chemicals in the environment, and the promotion of healthy soil. Generally, organic food is required to be free from genetic modification, synthetic pesticides, irradiation, synthetic processing agents or ingredients, synthetic veterinary drugs, cloning and nanotechnology.

The Mayo Clinic provides a comprehensive summary of organic versus conventional farming:



Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth. Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray synthetic insecticides to reduce pests and disease. Spray pesticides from natural sources; use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use synthetic herbicides to manage weeds. Use environmentally-generated plant-killing compounds; rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth. Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

Here are 5 main reasons why I say: Yes, organic is better!

1. Organic foods reduce our exposure to pesticide residues.  Chemicals in agriculture are used extensively around the world to grow crops. According to the Natural Sources Defense Council, pesticides are believed to cause cancer, skeletal abnormalities, damage to the nervous system, reproductive and immune systems and many other problems and diseases. Insecticides are neurotoxins that affect brain development. Chronic exposure causes reproductive damage and reduced fertility. Research also indicates pesticide exposure to increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and other life threatening disease.

2. The Natural Sources Defense Council also points out how chemicals used in agriculture are particularly dangerous for children. Case reports and epidemiological studies indicate an association between pesticide exposure and the development of certain cancers in children including leukemia, sarcomas, and brain tumors, and compromising of the immune system in infants and children. Evidence of the heavy toxin load in children can be seen in studies which have demonstrated how children who eat conventional food have higher levels of pesticides in their urine than those who eat organic.

3. Organic farming does not apply only to fruits and vegetable. Livestock are also adversely affected by many conventional farming methods, including the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Because farm animals are constantly given large amounts of antibiotics to fatten them up quickly and keep them somewhat disease-free in their often horrendous living conditions, the bacteria on these meats (which can be ingested by humans) are more resistant to multiple antibiotics causing a serious hazard to human health.

4. Organic foods contain more nutrients. Richer soil produces crops which have a higher level of their naturally occurring nutrients. Because they are more nutrient-rich, organic fruits and vegetables also taste better. I personally had the pleasure of diving, face first, into a perfectly ripe, organic watermelon a couple of times this summer. What ecstasy! The taste is definitely sweeter than those conventionally grown. Do a taste test and see for yourself!

5. Spending money is a matter of priorities. We need to ask ourselves this question: what’s more important: the best quality food money can buy or a pair of shoes, for example? If buying exclusively organic produce is not a priority for you, you may wish to buy organic only when the chemical agents used to grow those crops are particularly high. The Environment Working Group (EWC) produces a useful list called, “The Clean Fifteen Dirty Dozen: Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce”, which can be easily downloaded and used as a quick reference.

I encourage all of you to continue learning and researching where your food comes from and exactly how it is grown. With knowledge, we become empowered. With empowerment we can make the best choices.

Join me on my Facebook page where I share plant-based recipes and health-related articles everyday.



Creating this vegan version of a meatloaf was definitely the highlight of my week.

I work on my cookbook a little every day and the Lentil Nomeat Loaf section was still on my  to do list. I had this vision of a meatless meatloaf in mind for a while – I knew I wanted to use the vegan meatiness of lentils. For added texture and thickness, I decided to combine them with kidney beans. I also added some chickpea flour to add to the consistency.

I added vegetables, like carrots and red bell pepper, both for flavor and colour. I thought celery and onion would go well in this mix so I threw them in there. Garlic of course – I hardly ever make a dish without my love, garlic.

I knew I needed something other than eggs to bind the mixture together, so instead of using my regular, trusty egg replacer, I experimented with soaked ground flaxseed. I had heard that this little concoction has great binding potential so I gave it a shot and was very happy with the outcome.

I am a big fan of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, which I use in my veggie pate. I like them for their taste, but also their crunch. I added some to the loaf and also sprinkled them on top of it for an eccentric look.

When I took it out of the oven, I gave it some time to cool before slicing. When I did try my first bite, I was so thrilled with the taste! I found it just perfect. I served it with a good old-fashioned creamy coleslaw, vegan-style of course. The combination of flavors was exquisite. I share both recipes below. Seriously, you gotta try this out for yourself!

Maria’s Lentil Nomeat Loaf

Makes approximately 6 servings

1 cup kidney beans, soaked overnight and cooked
1 cup French lentils, cooked
5 tablespoons ground flaxseed
½ cup water
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
Small chunk of ginger
½ cup chickpea flour
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
½ teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon Dijon
2 teaspoons tamari< Method: 1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. 2. In a small bowl, combine flaxseed and water. Stir and set aside for 20 minutes. 3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and add garlic, onion and a pinch of sea salt. Sauté for 4 to 5 minutes on low to medium heat. 4. Add 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil to frying pan and add shredded carrots, pepper, and celery, with another pinch of sea salt. Sauté for 5 minutes. 5. Turn off heat. Add chopped parsley and spices. Stir in one cup of cooked lentils and one cup of cooked kidney beans. 6. Stir in seeds, chickpea flour and flaxseed. Add Dijon, tamari, black pepper and 2 teaspoons of sea salt. 7. Place mixture into food processor and blend briefly. Mixture should be chunky. 8. Taste test to see if you prefer more sea salt or spices. 9. Place parchment paper into rectangular casserole dish and pat down mixture. 10. Sprinkle grated ginger, carrots and a few sunflower and pumpkin seeds overtop. 11. Bake for 50 minutes. Remove from oven and allow a few minutes to cool before slicing.

Maria’s Classic Creamy Coleslaw, vegan-style

Makes approximately 4 – 6 servings

1 small green cabbage, shredded
4 small carrots, peeled and shredded
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
Classic-style creamy coleslaw dressing
¾ cup vegan mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper


1. Combine shredded cabbage, carrots and onions in a large bowl.
2. In a small bowl, combine your choose of dressing ingredients. Whisk.
3. Pour vinaigrette over cabbage and serve.

“Only that in you which is me can hear what I’m saying.”
~Ram Dass