Brunswick Heads (affectionately known as ‘Bruns’) is my home away from home. Located on the gorgeous far northern coast of New South Wales, just 15 minutes north of Byron Bay, this gorgeous little beach town is a little piece of paradise that I hope to one day call my home. Whenever I am feeling run down or need a little pick me up I pack up the car and round up the kids and head to Bruns to clear my mind and renew my spirit.

Shiitake Mushroom SaladWhether you choose to take leisurely morning walks along the beach, browse the stalls showcasing unique home wares, handmade clothing and natural beauty products at the monthly markets, wet your whistle in one of the greatest beer gardens in Australia or all of the above, Bruns has something for everyone and to my great delight is a vegetarian foodie’s utopia. In fact, this was where I first met Rebecca, an amazing food blogger.

Corn and asparagus pies at the local bakery, Gado Gado at Rice, Israeli breakfast treats and fresh juice at Yami Yami or delicious, authentic Mexican food at Gringos (undeniably the BEST Mexican restaurant in England but sadly only open during summer months) the mouth-watering dining options here are endless.

I never visit Brunswick Heads without a trip to the local Health Food Store, Brunswick Heads Health Foods. Not only do they stock an incredibly vast array of health products they also sell the most amazing salads I have ever tasted, my all-time favourite being the shiitake mushroom, quinoa and tofu.

There is something very special about this salad – it kicks your tastebuds into overdrive with its unique combination flavours. Because I love it so much but can’t make the two hour drive to Bruns every week to enjoy it I have attempted to re-create this salad for myself a number of times. This recipe, though not exactly the same, is very close to the one I love so dearly (but only get to indulge in four times a year). I hope you LOVE it as much as I do.

August’s guest is the delightful Rebecca, author of an excellent blog. Bec is a fellow food blogger, one of my favourites in fact! Her blog is full of entertaining anecdotes and delicious vegan recipes accompanied by mouth-watering pictures. She is an inspiration to anyone seeking to transition from vegetarian to vegan, or anyone that simply wants to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

How long have you been a vegan and what influenced your choice to become one?

I’ve been vegan for just over ten months. I never really enjoyed eating meat and became semi-vegetarian in my teens. I still ate chicken and fish up until a couple of years ago when I learnt more about factory farming conditions and the antibiotics and steroids used to produce meat, and decided I didn’t want any part of it anymore.

I had always been interested in the health and spiritual benefits of veganism but not enough to stop eating dairy. I loved cheese and didn’t really see what the harm was. Eventually I did some research and learnt the truth about the tragic dairy industry, including the fact that 700,000 calves are separated from their mothers at birth and destroyed in Australia every year. After many tears and a few sleepless nights, I came to accept that I couldn’t ever chow down on my beloved cheese again without seeing those calves in my mind.

Do you believe that a vegan diet is beneficial to your health?

Vegan DietAbsolutely! For me, I found that I had to change my entire way of eating. Before becoming vegan I thought I was being healthy by eating microwaved Lean Cuisine meals and way too much processed food labelled ‘low fat’. Most of these products contain animal derivatives so I was forced to start making my meals from scratch and I discovered an amazing change in my skin, mental health and energy levels.

Pre-vegan, I often skipped meals and always strived to eat less to keep my weight down. Now I find I can eat all day long and never have to worry about gaining weight, which is a great feeling and so liberating!

Have you travelled overseas?  If so, what are your most memorable international culinary experiences and your favourite cuisine?   

I sure have! I lived in London for 3 years and then moved to Sydney for a few more before returning home, and I was lucky enough to spend a lot of that time travelling and exploring.

I wasn’t vegan then or even a full vegetarian, so I tried all sorts of different and unexpected things including the most amazing Indian curries in London (Brick Lane, I miss you!), Thai curries in Sydney (they go so well with the beach culture), and the most incredible chocolate sauces in Paris and Brussels.

My most memorable experience though, involved the simplest of cuisines. After backpacking for 5 weeks around South Africa, I stayed at a hostel that served a hearty vegetable curry and rice at 6pm every night. If you were at the hostel between 6 and 7pm, your dinner was provided and free. I absolutely loved this idea for so many reasons – when you are backpacking, every cent counts so it was a great money-saver. Also, after spending so long travelling it felt amazing to receive a wholesome, simple, home-cooked meal. It also encouraged a sense of community among the backpackers, bringing everyone together for an hour each day to sit and chat and swap stories while they ate.

What are your five most favourite ingredients? 

Ooh, I’d have to say Coconut Oil, Agave Syrup, Cashews (I’m currently obsessed with cashew cream!), Nutritional Yeast and fresh herbs like basil and coriander.

Tell us what your most favourite dish/food is and why? 

My absolute favourite food is Tex-Mex! I am crazy for burritos, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, nachos, quesadillas…you name it, I want it in my belly! Since becoming vegan I have learnt that they don’t have to be covered in lashings of cheese or sour cream to be delicious either. Now I enjoy slathering them with spicy salsa, tangy guacamole and fresh coriander. Mmmmm, so good!

There are so many hidden animals ingredients in the foods available today, is it hard work being vegan?

It can be. Some products really surprise me with the strange things they add and I’ve been disappointed whilst reading ingredients lists many times. Sometimes even products labelled as vegan contain palm oil and I’m not down with that. These days I generally make meals from scratch and buy any packaged food from vegan or wholefood stores where there’s a better selection to choose from.

How often do you eat out? Do you find that most restaurants will accommodate vegan requests, or do you prefer to just go to restaurants you know are exclusively vegetarian? 

I eat out at least twice a week. I find brunch is the easiest meal to order at non-veg restaurants, so I eat a lot of grilled mushrooms on toast!

A lot of restaurants (especially where I live) still have no idea what vegan means, so it can be frustrating at times but I have a handful of favourite restaurants that ‘get it’ and I choose to frequent them when possible. If I’m heading to a restaurant for a friend’s birthday or other event, I’ll check the menu on-line before I go to see if any of their meals can be veganised. In the worst-case scenario where a restaurant has no vegan options for main course, I’ll just order a couple of sides (like wedges and a garden salad) and just eat more at home later.

What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about becoming a vegan? 

I would say – absolutely try it! What do you have to lose? There are so many amazing vegan recipes and resources on the net and it has never been easier to be vegan when eating out or travelling. Make it an adventure and have fun with it.

Back when the vegan idea was quite intimidating to me, I started with a 30-day challenge to myself and found that I loved the positive changes in my health, energy levels and intuition more than I loved cheese. I was the biggest cheese monster alive and I never thought I would ever say that! Getting to my dream goal weight without even trying was an unexpected but very welcomed side-effect and it feels great to skip around in my skinny jeans, knowing that I’m helping myself as well as the animals and environment.

Do you enjoy cooking? What influences have contributed to your cooking style?

Before choosing a vegan lifestyle, I didn’t like cooking at all and chose convenience meals wherever possible. Now, though, I love it!  I love getting creative with vegan food and I love how I feel so healthy and energised after I eat a meal created from scratch.

I read a lot of vegan blogs when I was toying with the idea of becoming vegan and I still do. They influence and inspire me every day. My Mum and sister are both amazing cooks, so I often call them for advice and I also love reading menus and food articles and dreaming up creative ideas to veganise them.