Tuesday, December 29, 2015

'Things To Do & See In Tbilisi' Published in Wandelion!

My third article for Wandelion has just been published, and keeps true to the Georgia-theme, focusing on things to check out and do in the capital, Tbilisi/Tiflis!

Check out my list, and let me know what your favourite things to do in the city are!




Wednesday, December 23, 2015

'Georgia Calling: A Spotlight on Veg-Friendly Cuisine' Published in Wandelion!

My second article for Wandelion has just been published and focuses on delicious and healthy vegan food you can find in Georgia!

Check out my suggestions here, and let me know if you know of any more!
Mmm...lobiani

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My Article on Ride Sharing in Armenia Published in Wandelion!

Hitchhiking, or ride shares, can be a scary concept to many people. Find out how it works in Armenia, and check out some of my tips if you want to try it out!

The article, titled 'Tips on Ride Sharing in Armenia' can be found right here!


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Making of Oat Milk!

From all dairy-based alternatives, almond has always been my favourite. Rice is too sweet, coconut too rich/creamy for everyday use, and I tend not to enjoy soy on its own. Almond is smooth, fresh, goes with anything, and is easily made at home.

It became my staple in Canada and Armenia. I wrote a blog post on how to make it and the only real factor you had to take into account was to soak the almonds overnight to make sure the blending would go as smoothly as possible. Almonds are also a bit expensive--both in Canada and Armenia, but I didn't make it all the time so all was well in life and love.

Then, recently, oat milk was introduced to me. I had heard of it before but had never tried it or attempted to learn how to make it. After really enjoying the taste of a homemade version, I could not believe how easy it was to make. What sold me was the fact that you only had to soak the oats for 20 minutes before making it, so I could make it anytime to fulfill any craving. Plus, oats are super cheap in both Armenia and Canada, and as long as you avoid processed ones and find steel cut oats, they are a healthy alternative too. Remember, you can always easily add flavours, so you don't need to buy any with added sugar (or salt, or preservatives, etc.).

So with a pitcher full of delicious and creamy oat milk ready in my fridge, here is how you, little blog baby, can also make it:

Soak your oats! Put at least a cup of them in a bowl, and don't worry about rinsing cause you will do that before blending since soaked oats become a little slimy:
Just a note, in Gumi Shuga you can find great oats in bulk, but that area was closed when I wanted more, so I bought it from the supermarket, and they had Russian options organized based on whether they were targeting men, women, or families. Russian Hercules it was:
Usually, as a result of my short attention span, I would leave the oats for much longer than 20 minutes, but this time it was just about that amount of time, and they were perfectly fluffy and ready for what lied ahead. Just put them in a strainer or mesh cloth and give them a rinse:
Once you rinse them off, add them to your blender, and put as much water as you like. Less will always make it more creamy, but for this amount I filled the blender up and the results were delicious:
Blend, but not for too long. With almond milk, the goal is to really pulverize the almonds and get as much milk as possible, but oats are much simpler to blend, so after about 20 or 30 seconds, you can stop. Then you just have to strain it:
Once you finish straining, you can keep the oat residue/pulp with all of its fibre and use it in some baked dessert. We will use ours in an apple crumble recipe! Mmm.

Now you can get creative. You can have the milk like this and be done. Or, you can add some flavour to it. We opted for cinnamon, maple syrup (represent!) and a touch of salt. You can just add the milk to the blender with your ingredients and blend again:
The results? Delicious, creamy, and just the right amount of sweetness! You can use this on its own, in a fancy chai recipe, in your coffee, or anywhere else you would use milk! Just give it a little stir before using it.
Done!

Photo Credit: Björn (except the horribly lit ones...I am no photographer.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Day Trip to the Byurakan/Բյուրական Astrophysical Observatory!

Last Saturday everyone and their mothers (literally in Laurie's case) were heading to what looked like a great event in Gyumri. However, Shant, Björn and I opted for a trip to Byurakan village instead with a possible side trip to Amberd fortress. (All photos that were taken with Björn's camera are currently MIA, so I had to use the few Shant took and some from the Internet.)

We left around 11:30 to make it to Kilikia Bus Station, which actually does have a number to call and check schedules, but since we had no set plan, we decided to roll with it. As soon as we arrived, we began asking drivers about any buses that would go near the village or to Aragats and one driver pointed out a large bus in the back that clearly read (in Armenian and English): Byurakan/Բյուրական. He then proudly exclaimed he was in fact the driver and told us the bus would be leaving at one, so we had 15 to 20 minutes. Björn looked at his watch and noted to me the time was 12:20. I repeated that to the bus driver and he then said, "Oh okay, more than 20 minutes". You can't fool a German when it comes to punctuality.
Kilikia Bus Station (www.panoramio.com)
We played with a confidently hungry dog until boarding and the bus driver let us know the base of Aragats was actually quite far from Byurakan, as well as Amberd. We took his advice and opted to stay and explore Byurakan village and see the observatory instead. All three of us had heard of the observatory but I knew friends who tried to go and were not able too for reasons I didn't remember.

We boarded the bus and Björn mentioned that among his travels to many different countries, it was only in Armenia he noticed that those with a seat automatically (sometimes forcefully) would take any bags or belongings from passengers who were left standing. Solidarity. Soon the bus filled up and Shant and Björn did the obligatory back-and-forth of asking the women to sit while I enjoyed the perks of being a woman in Armenia. I did offer an older woman my seat, but she said she would soon get off, which was a lie as she got off at the same spot as I did, about an hour later.
Our bus kind of looked like this (www.panoramio.com/)
We arrived and asked the driver about where the observatory was, and he said we had passed it but we could just walk back. The weather kept switching from sunny to cloudy but it was a great day with fresh air and the first one without rain in a week. We were all sort of hungry by that point and stopped by most shops on the way looking for something special. We ended up with bread and sunflower seeds. 

After about a 20 minute walk following in the footsteps of cows, we saw the sign pointing to the observatory and became super excited, not knowing what to expect. There was a small office-type stand with one person inside we asked all of our questions to. He said we could visit the observatory but it had to be with a guide who he would call. About 15 minutes later, which included a brief episode of hail, an older man in a sweater vest showed up, who was very quiet and seemed a bit distracted. A few moments later he deeply (from his heart) apologized for being late, and seemed really stressed by this. Being apologized to in Armenia for someone being late was definitely a welcome first, although in this case, it was completely unnecessary. He lightened up a lot after relieving his tortured conscience. 

Our guide walked us on the path, and we all noticed how extremely beautiful it was. Yerevan's botanical garden had nothing on this place. Full of trees and greenery, with an incredible view of Mount Ararat and quaint paths, it was only made better when we could spot all the cute observatories hidden within the trees. 
Photo by Shant Kerbabian
Our guide began to tell us about the founder, Viktor Hambardzumyan, and stories along the way and you could immediately see how passionate he was about this place. There used to be many workers (40-50) but now there were only five. He said interest in the place was declining, even with schools no longer including the observatory in their educational day trip programs. He also mentioned that when it came to the observatory, the government never seemed to have enough money, but would give it to many other "useless" programs. For this reason, many of the workers he mentioned left the observatory or went abroad to find sustainable work.
Viktor Hambardzumyan (www.armenian-history.com)
He showed us the area technically owned by Russia (St. Petersburg) and told us we could go into the large observatory and he would present a slideshow to us. We soon realized this man was not actually an official guide--as they were all in Yerevan on the weekends, but a scientist. It made sense with how passionate and knowledgeable he was, coupled with his extremely nerdy science jokes that really made him laugh with all three of us nervously chuckling--worrying we didn't get it.

We took the stairs to the top with him pointing out the areas that needed renovations, and the view was even more beautiful from there. We went inside the slanted door that made you feel like you did not know how to walk straight, and he showed us the actual telescope through the glass. After explaining how it worked, he began the slideshow, where we could see the images of stars or galaxies discovered from that specific location, with our guide/scientist getting very excited and making more jokes. 
Photo by Shant Kerbabian
When he finished, we walked out with him telling us more stories and I noticed he had a cute habit of stopping in his steps to emphasize on a point or tell a little anecdote. He did this once telling us about the time a plane had to bring the glass for the telescope and the car that had to drive it all the way up the road to the observatory, giggled about it, and then just stopped talking and resumed walking.

At the end of the tour, we asked to take a photo and he became very shy and nervous, saying he had his umbrella in his hand, and then making sure Ararat was in the background. While we got our photo, it is unfortunately missing along with all of Björn's lost photos. 

He made sure we knew how to get back to Yerevan, and then explained it a few more times to really make sure and we thanked him, gave him the 3000 dram the person in the office told us it would cost, and he apologized saying that they used to never charge for tours, but that it unfortunately became necessary. 

We opted to hitchhike back to Yerevan, but first noticed small stands on the side of the road with all sorts of foods and fruits. I was specifically looking for sea buckthorn juice to complete my three-week long dream of having a shot every morning, but did not find it. Shant bought some delicious treats, like soujoukh (dried grape preserves around walnuts) and alani (dried peach stuffed with walnuts and honey), and we played with some cute dogs before making the effort to get a ride.
Delicious alani (www.pinterest.com/pin/463589355364787908/)
We were soon picked up by a nice man named Larig, who asked us where we went, and then gave us his phone number and told us to call him next time so he could drive us, for free, to Amberd fortress and Aragats (which were apparently very close) and to the beautiful local church. He drove us until he had to make a left and we thanked him and tried for ride #2. It was a good day and we were soon picked up by a father-son duo, with the father having a very raspy voice Björn enjoyed, and told us we all looked familiar and that he thought he had picked us up before. He then told me he had seen me on TV, which I decided to take as a compliment for reasons unknown. The son, Zorro (short for Zohrab) was meeting his girlfriend in Yerevan but told his grandmother who lived there he was coming for work. Tsk tsk. He then had to stop by a shop to get something from someone and apologized to us. When he returned empty handed, he looked at Björn and said "this is why I like Germans. They are true to their word unlike Armenians". They took another route to meet the mystery man and soon we were on our way.

They took us most of the way and then told us they would drop us off before going in a different direction. Zorro kept saying "I invite you to a taxi", which I knew meant he was saying he would pay and we told him we were happy finding another ride or taking a mashootka. He seemed legitimately offended and repeated that he was "inviting us" to a taxi and seemed to have his mind set on this. Shant didn't think he meant he would pay, but I did, and when the taxi arrived, he handed the driver money and told him to take us to the centre. We of course objected repeatedly but he said it was done and then gave us his number to call in the future whenever we would return. 

The taxi driver noticed Björn right away (blonde) and showed off some limited German, and then asked me about winter in Canada. We then confirmed that the Khinkali place on Tumanyan did have the mushroom option and decided to celebrate a good and educational day there. Mmm...khinkali.
georgianjournal.ge

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Toronto Vegetarian Festival this Weekend (Sept 11-13)!

For all of you in Toronto this weekend, make sure to check out the 31st annual vegetarian festival, taking place Friday September 11 until Sunday September 13!

The event is free and it will be at Harbourfront Centre, with over 100 food vendors and exhibitors! There will be an area for kids, musical performances, free food samples, speakers, and authors. This year they will also include a vegan wine and beer garden!!

So come on out and sample Toronto's best veggie food at the largest veg festival in North America! I'll post a review and some pictures afterwards!
Mmmm...cupcake.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Guest Post for Abundant Journeys Published!

My guest post for Abundant Journeys, a family-centered travel and lifestyle magazine and blog, has been published!

I was asked to write about ways to stay healthy and fit while embarking on a family road trip, and I focused on nutrition, fitness, activities, and more! Titled Family Wellness Travel: A Health Guide to Road Trips with your Family, make sure to check it out!

Healthy Road Trips Lizzard / Pixabay

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Vegan Dishes All Over the Globe!

Vegan Wanderlust created this fantastic directory of vegan foods around the globe! When I read "from every country, a-z", I of course had to make sure Armenia was mentioned--and it was!

Although I wish all of the submissions were actual vegan-by-default foods rather than substitute dishes, it is still a good reference to keep on hand for those who travel with food on their minds :)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Լոլիկ/Վարունգ (Tomato/Cucumber) Salad!

Everyone and their mothers know of the standard tomato/cucumber summer salad. When tomatoes are in season and actually taste good, this salad is in my house all day every day.

We call it the լոլիկ/վարունգ (lolig/varunk) salata/salad around these parts, and it basically holds the same ingredients, only with some minor things being changed every now and then. It is great on its own, or can compliment any meal.

So when my good friend Shaghig came over for the day, I made this salad for us to eat. She loved it and even though I know what I made is very typical in terms of the usual recipe, I mentally noted I could be pretentious about this too. A few days later, Shaghig messaged me to ask what the ingredients were in "that amazing Vahe Jingalian* salad" I made.

Double-take to the extreme. This salad can be called a summer salad, լոլիկ/վարունգ salata, tomato/cucumber salad, but I had no idea what she meant by saying Vahe Jingalian. I confirmed she was talking about the same one I had made, and I sent her the recipe. The next time I saw her, she said it again, and I asked her why she was calling it that, and if there was a weird Lebanese-Armenian meaning behind it. Shaghig put my curiosity to rest and said, "I knew a guy named Vahe Jingalian. He was tall like a cucumber and spoke as if he had a tomato in his mouth."

From that day forth (like four days ago) it was forever decided that this salad would officially be referred to as "The Vahe Jingalian Salad". I don't know you Vahe Jingalian, but I can already tell we would become best friends forever, so this blog post is dedicated to you (and Shaghig of course).
What you need:
-A few in season and plump tomatoes
-Spring onions or half a large yellow onion
-3-4 cucumbers! The ones with pimples on them meant for pickling
-Half a juicy lemon or red wine vinegar
-Olive oil
-Salt
-Mint leaves or dried mint
-Fresh parsley (optional)
-Zeytoun (olives) - optional but just do it
Directions:
-Cut the delicious tomatoes up real nice in cubic pieces.
-You must cut the onions next. My mom taught me this so do it in this order or she will come after you if you don't. Once you cut them, mix them with the tomatoes right away and add a little salt. The salt makes the onions calm down in taste, and keeps the tomatoes from becoming too watery.
-Chop the cucumbers in quarters.
-Add the fresh or dry mint (I say any amount is not enough but put as much as you please I guess) and a few sprigs of chopped up parsley.
-Add the lemon or a few TBSPs of red wine vinegar, and olive oil.
-Throw in some pitted or not pitted kalamata olives.
Done! Simple, easy, refreshing, and delicious. Oh, Vahe Jingalian, wherever you are, I can only hope all of these traits are applicable to you as well.
*Name may have been slightly altered to avoid offending Mr. Vahe Jingalian, although being associated with this salad should really be a compliment.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Vegan Banana Ice Cream!

Dudes, it is hot. I am in Canada for the summer, and while I constantly remind myself the weather is nothing like that of Yerevan right now (my poor friends), there is no denying that it is still upper-lip sweat-inducing hot.
This is my soul mate for I also have a flip phone & take my anger out on sweat
There are many ways people can try to fight the heat--whether its by jumping in any and every body of water they find, living life in an air-conditioned cafe or in front of a non-stop fan, or of course consuming ice cream all day every day.

This post is about the last option. I have always loved ice cream and it quickly became my favourite dessert. No matter how full you are, if you have even a little bit of a sweet tooth that needs to be dealt with, ice cream is always perfect. When I went vegan, on top of assuming I was going to miss out on most of my favourite foods (plot twist: I didn't), I also mentally said good bye to my dear ice cream, not yet knowing about the many dairy-free alternatives out there, my favourite being anything made with coconut milk.

As I was soon reunited with ice cream, and began having an interest in cooking and making alternatives myself, of course vegan ice cream was on the top of my list. There are lots of options available, including ones that do not require you to have an ice cream maker--and that is the kind I want to focus on. Quick, easy, delicious, refreshing, vegan, and only requires one appliance. Done.

I've always heard about bananas being great ice cream substitutes, and a few times I had frozen some chopped up pieces to find they do become super creamy and delicious, but I never actually made ice cream with them.

Then I saw this post on this Facebook group, and decided it was time. A couple friends and I were set to finally watch a sad movie we had been meaning to watch together for years called Mayreeg, whose main star Omar Sharif has sadly passed away recently, and we thought a little ice cream post-sad movie seemed like a good idea. It was. I made a very basic version of this recipe and it was incredibly creamy and delicious, but recipes like this are always meant to be experimented with, with additional flavours added or little kicks to personalize it.

I wanted to make an ice cream version of an almond butter-based smoothie I tried once, and therefore used some dates, almond butter, cinnamon and some soy milk as I'm not fancy enough to have coconut milk just lying around. One day.

The only thing you have to do in advance for this recipe is freeze a few bananas. All you need for this part are a few bananas, a knife and a ziploc bag:
Next you just cut the bananas into smaller pieces so when they freeze it is easier to process them:
Then simply add the cut up pieces into the ziploc bag, making sure to close it properly and keep it in the freezer until they are frozen. While this only takes a few hours, you can always keep some in the freezer so that when the urge strikes to make banana ice cream, the "longest" part is already over.
Once your bananas are frozen, the next step is super easy and quick as long as you have a food processor or blender, so you can enjoy your banana ice cream in no time! Once my bananas were ready, I organized all of the other ingredients I wanted to add--as you can see below. Always learn from my mistakes my blog-babies and remember to let the bananas defrost for a few minutes before putting them in the food processor. I forgot to do that and regret that even as I write this.
After a few minutes, add your bananas to the food processor or blender, and add all of your dry ingredients. In my case, it was a few dates, coconut flakes, cinnamon and almond butter.
Next just begin processing the mix. If you were patient and allowed the bananas to defrost unlike me, this will be super quick and easy, and you can even avoid adding any liquid. In this case, I added some soy milk gradually to keep everything running smoothly.
Done! I added most of the ice cream to a glass container to keep in the freezer and had the remaining right on the spot with some extra cinnamon and flax seed powder sprinkled on top. I then followed every single family member who was unfortunately home until they would try it, compliment it, and I could say (yell) "IT'S VEGAN!" to them. Muahaha.
Absolutely refreshing, creamy beyond words, and delicious. Much healthier than any store bought ice cream as the only sweeteners are the bananas themselves and the dates, the latter of which of course has some fibre to keep your blood sugar levels in check. Adding some flax seed powder at the end adds some more fibre as well as EFAs, and the cinnamon adds nice flavour while also helping in regulating blood sugar levels. I actually think the dates are not 100% necessary as the bananas are quite sweet, but one or two can still be fine. I look forward to trying this with different spices as well as adding some different fruits with the banana to make it taste like a sorbet! The possibilities are endless!

Monday, July 6, 2015

"Serda & the Wolves" Published in The Armenian Weekly!

I wrote about the amazing Serda Ozbenian and her work creating a peaceful coexistence between wildlife (specifcally wolves and bears) and people in Armenia for The Armenian Weekly!

Read more about the current status of wolves and bears in Armenia, the focus of Serda's research, and her end goals right over here!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Yalanchi Sarma!!

This post's title deserves two exclamation marks for two important reasons:

1- I've been meaning to make this dish for longer than I can remember
2- I cannot believe how good it turned out for a first try

Every Armenian and their mother knows sarma and dolma by heart. You either grew up eating it, watched your mom or grandmother make it, was forced to make it yourself, or ate it in any Armenian, Middle-Eastern, Turkish, or Greek restaurant.

There are a variety of types depending on region, including vegetarian or meat-filled options, and just when I thought I basically knew most of the common types, I got dolma-slapped in Armenia and tried basooc dolma (dolma you eat during bas/bak aka lent) for the first time ever and fell in love and talked about it (and wrote about it) non-stop.

To break it down, dolma is usually when cabbage (pickled in the case of basooc) or vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, or zucchinis are used as the "containers" for the filling, and sarma is when grape leaves are used (cabbage seems to be the option that can be found in either one).

My grandmother and mom both made sarma regularly, and dolma as well, but since we used to grow grape leaves in our garden, sarma has a special place in my hyper heart. They would pick the leaves themselves, have family come over to help roll the pre-sarmas, and boil it and we would all devour it with madzoun when it was ready and then fall into-food comas. My mom always let me (forced me) to roll too and I am pretty pretentious now about my rolling abilities.

The "problem" growing up with parents and grandparents who make the best food all of the time is that you kind of assume you can as well because you eat it home-made, or watch them make it, or participate in small tasks in preparing it, and then one day, when you find yourself alone in the land of Armenia, realize you crave the type you eat back home, and only remember there were grape leaves involved, and rolling.

As luck would have it, I met another bolsahye in Armenia, Serda, and her German friend Wiebke (German names > Armenian names in terms of difficulty) asked us to organize a little sarma-making party, population: the three of us. I e-mailed my mom for the recipe, who never uses recipes because she has the memory of an elephant, and we got everything we needed to make delicious sarma, assuming it would kind of be a meghk version of the ones we knew and loved, but even mediocre sarma is good sarma in my books.

With the advice and blessing of our mothers, we began.

What you need:
-Grape leaves! You can pick them or buy them in season.
-Rice! We stuck to the original recipe and went with nutrient-deficient white rice, but next time will use red rice or spelt.
-Salchaaaa! aka tomato paste (if you have pepper paste this is better)
-Onion
-Parlsey
-Mint flakes (don't even think about skipping this)
-Salt
-Hot pepper
-Olive oil
-Lemon

We put three cups of rice in a pot, put about six tablespoons of boiling water over it, keeping the heat as low as possible. You don't want to cook the rice completely, since you will continue to boil it again as a whole in the grape leaves. In a pan, you can cook the onions with olive oil and then add the chopped parsley (or just add the parsley to the rice), and include the salt and pepper.
You will then add this to the rice pot, along with two teaspoons of salcha and this is the mix that goes inside of the grape leaves.
In a different pot, after rinsing and de-stemming the grape leaves, boil them with a lid for about five to seven minutes to soften them. Do this early on so they cool off in time for the mixture.
Rinsed, pre-softening boil
Once it cools off, and the rice has essentially cooked a bit, you can set the table for some fun sarma-rolling on a Friday night and just lie to people and say you were out dancing. The sarma-rolling station needs one flat plate you can put all the grape leaves on, the pot with the mixture (cooled off, ideally), a larger pot you will put all of the rolled sarmas into to boil, and plate(s) for individual rolling--in our case, we needed three.

Before you start, put a few of the grape leaves on the bottom of the pot you will use to boil. You can use the ones that are damaged or have holes (there will always be a couple) to prevent the sarmas from burning. They are the selfless barriers, and we thank them.

You can now begin the rolling! Take a grape leaf, and place it so the protruding vein-y side is facing your face, and begin. Take a small amount of the filling (I always put too much) and put it on the end where you have de-stemmed the leaf.
A perfect example of Lena putting too much in
Roll it tightly, making sure to tuck in the sides so that when you boil them they do not come loose. There is a bit of an "art" to doing this, but apparently it is too difficult to put into words. Basically make them tight and closed off and all should be well in the world.
Armenian & German rolling in harmony
Once you roll them up, place them in the pot and as you add more to the pot, make sure you keep them nice and tight together, and not allow too many open spaces between each sarma.
You can see a couple at the top that were not rolled to their tightest-potential.
Once you are finished rolling, there is just one more thing to do before boiling. Add some warm/hot water to a cup, one tablespoon of salcha, lots of mint (I am always super generous with mint), some salt, and the juice of one lemon. Mix them all together and pour over the little sarmas. It should cover about 3/4ths or more of them.
Pre-final boil!
Put the lid on, and boil this on low heat for about 30-45 minutes. You will know when it's ready when the grape leaves are soft enough to easily piece with a knife, and when the rice is completely cooked and the liquid has all been soaked up.

Let it cool before eating and enjoy alone, with a nice refreshing side salad, or some madzoun!
We combined our sarma with a bean dish and tomato salad
While a couple of ours had fallen apart, the taste was absolutely fantastic! Perfectly cooked with so much flavour, we ate until the belt buckles had to be loosened, just like back home! You can decorate with a few slices of lemon to be super legit and impress your mom even more.
Our babies, up-close and personal
Grape leaves, as a "dark green" contain some calcium, iron, potassium, and of course fibre, so I especially love using them as wrappers. Minerals are also not affected by heat, which is great in this case. Soon we will also try a more nutrient-packed option with mashed up beans (a la basooc dolma) and a different grain.

Fun fact: This type of sarma is called "yalanchi" for a cute reason. Yalanchi means "liar" in Turkish, and since this type has no meat and is therefore vegan, it is called "lying sarma" because they usually have meat!

All photos by Serda Ozbenian!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Georgia: All About the Food!

No trip to Georgia can ever be without absurdity, adventure, fun, discoveries, incredible encounters, and much more. While our short weekend trip had many highlights, including me failing at quoting the below calvin & hobbes strip in a situation that was almost too perfect for it, for this blog post I will focus on Georgian food.
This would have been a perfect quote when we were laughing at almost dying on the way
I have talked about Georgian food before, including my attempt at re-creating one of my favourite dishes, but only in fragments and never as a whole. Georgian food deserves to be discussed as a whole. Having lived in Armenia for some time now, I always had access to mini-tidbits of authentic Georgian cuisine (cause we be neighbours), but eating it in the land from where it came is of course always on a different level.

I love Armenian food--especially Western Armenian food, and have also found gems in local dishes here, which for me are the 'vegan-by-default' basooc dolma and jingalov hats

However, where Armenians tend to overdo it on the oil and salt, Georgians are masters of spices and luckily for me and all of the veg-heads out there, this goes well beyond meat and applies to bean and greens dishes as well.

Below are some of my favourite Georgian dishes (all are vegan too!). Many have already praised the better known options like khinkali or Ajarian khatchapuri (both also delicious and coma-inducing), but I will focus on these lesser-known taste-bombs. I can only assume there are so many more, and will continue to find reasons to travel there and finish all of the food:

Lobiani: When you think about a "bite-on-the-go", the actual food involved will vary depending on country. While in Canada hot dogs reign supreme in this sense, in Armenia khatchapuri (flat dough filled with cheese, but many other varieties exist) or perashki (a potato and dough deep fried medley) are the most popular choices. Both are clear examples of Georgian and Russian influences, and between the two they are oily, salty, fried, and heavy. In many cases, the "cheese" in the former is actually just salt (true story). In Georgia however, while you can definitely still opt for khatchapuri while you pretend to be in a rush (I see through you), there is another wonderful option: lobiani. Filled with mashed up beans (I suspect only kidney but it could include others as well), and spices, it is a delicious and filling alternative. If you have to eat on the go, why not opt for the fibre and protein filled option - especially since the rest is bread. In Kobuleti, we also ate it in a restaurant, which is even better as the dough is crispier - check it out here.
Serda & I devouring our first lobiani after the 6 hour trip!
Lobio: Bean stew in a clay pot. Sounds basic, but this is where the Georgian ability to use spices comes in to play. When Gohar and I finally asked about the spices during our first trip to Kobuleti, the woman there told us they included khmeli-suneli and spiced seasoned salt. I bought both spices from a shuga that day, and bought both again this time around as well. This dish is usually served with some raw onion spirals on top and fresh parsley or dill. A friend recently ordered a curry/turmeric version and of course it was fantastic as well. 
Pot of gold
Pkhali: Probably my favourite option. Greens (spinach, beet leaves) mixed with spices, garlic, walnuts, and topped with dried pomegranates. One of the most unique things I had ever tried and of course also vegan-friendly. I once overdid it with Gohar in Kobuleti as in Armenia they are served as small balls, whereas in Georgia it is flattened on a plate, and we ordered too many thinking they were mini balls like a bunch of silly tourists. But they are still one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten and I regularly get my fix in places that have Georgian cuisine options in Yerevan. I will soon attempt to make this as well - dun dun dun!
Here it was served with fresh pomegranate seeds!
Eggplant with walnut spread: I have a love/hate relationship with eggplant. Objectively I think it is a fine vegetable, but the 'hate' stems from being obsessed with hummus as a kid (and now, who am I kidding) and always getting annoyed when baba ghanoush was served as a 'replacement' or instead of hummus. I like baba ghanoush a lot as well, but many people seemed to serve it thinking it could replace hummus, so as a younger immature person, I took out my annoyance on the dish itself and by extension eggplant. However, I am older and wiser and therefore treat eggplant better now so I was open to trying this particular dish and I am so happy I did. Sliced eggplant slathered in a walnut paste, again topped with dried pomegranate. Yes, please.
I am learning to love you
Salad with walnut: Georgians take the simple tomato and cucumber salad we all know and love, and just add powdered walnuts and usually dill to it. Small upgrades, but they make it more filling, combine proteins, and it is still super refreshing!
These are my top five favourite Georgian dishes so far, and both Serda & Elizabeth were just as impressed by them so they wanted to find the ingredients that were responsible for the flavour. 

We went to the Dezerter Bazaar in Tbilisi to buy spices, and came home with bags upon bags, always with the goal of livening up dishes we make, or re-creating the ones above. Since I know I will return in June, I left with only khmeli-suneli, seasoned salt, and spiced seasoned salt. Interesting fact alert: It is called 'dezerter' because this is where deserting soldiers would sell their weapons. 
Cutie pie vendor selling us spices & communicating with hand gestures
On our second day, we bought two types of lobiani (made with different types of dough), fresh mint, lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and created this delicious brunch for a busy day we needed lots of fuel for. We stuffed the lobiani with the the veggies and mint and it kept us full for hours:
Cheers to Georgian food!
After the trip in June I will post more about the individual spices, and elaborate on them as they are all key in making Geogian food so incredibly unique and delicious! 
The stash
Photos by Elizabeth Audrey (first) and Serda Ozbenian (rest).