Hotel Review: Hilton Rose Hall, Montego Bay

Winters in Ontario can be pretty harsh and this past winter was particularly brutal. As the colder temperatures were hitting us in the fall, our family booked a trip south so we could enjoy some beautiful hot weather and relaxation mid-winter. After previously enjoying Sandals Antigua as a couple for our second honeymoon last year, and a family resort in Mexico with the kids the year before, we decided to try someplace new. We settled on all-inclusive Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, Montego Bay, Jamaica after reading some great reviews online and we are very glad we did. Earthgiven Kitchen Hilton Rose Hall Montego Bay review (3)

We chose Hilton Rose Hall for a number of reasons.
1) Direct four-hour flight from Toronto and just a 15 minute bus ride to the resort makes for an easy travel experience, especially important to us when we’re travelling with the kids (both under 12).
2) The resort, and Jamaica in general, were reportedly pretty vegan friendly with a wide variety of fresh food available.
3) The Sugar Mills water park, free for guests and located right on the resort, looked like a wonderful place for the whole family to enjoy.
(Note: I haven’t been compensated for this review, all views are my own.)

We arrived in Montego Bay on a weekday evening and breezed through security; it was such a painless process that it was only 30 minutes from the time we got off the plane to the time we stepped into the hotel. The only downside to arriving in the evening is you can’t enjoy the sunshine as soon as you arrive, and it was already so dark you couldn’t really see the resort, but that was alright; the next morning we flew open our hotel room curtains to see the sun rise over the ocean to our left and green mountains to our right and it was spectacular!

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The rooms: We intentionally chose a resort that offered two queen beds, not double beds, for the comfort when you have four people sharing one room. The beds and pillows were very comfortable (though unfortunately made with goose down) and we slept well. The hotel was always spotlessly clean with upscale (though generic) décor.

The beach: While it didn’t have the pristine white sands and turquoise I’ve enjoyed in Antigua, it was still a lovely beach with soft brown sand, long enough to take several minutes to walk from one side to another and we didn’t feel crowded on the beach even though the resort was nearly at capacity. One side was for families, the other side was adults-only. Some water sports like parasailing and boating are offered but we found the prices steep and did not partake. We were pleasantly surprised to discover there were almost no bugs of any kind there. Hurray, no mosquito bites!

The staff: We found everyone who worked there to be super friendly, courteous and helpful. Our favourite staff members for their above-and-beyond customer service were Rickesia, Tiffany, James in security, Shantol, Kimone, Denny, chefs Michael and Easton, Sherika, Alwayne, and Omar the lifeguard. We had nothing but positive experiences with the Hilton staff.

Earthgiven Kitchen Hilton Rose Hall Montego Bay review (5)

The pools: There is one large rectangular pool which was usually crowded and didn’t appeal to us much; we far preferred the on-site water park with two slides, a lazy river ride and three glorious hot tubs. Note: There are no little slides for small children (signs posted say they are for those at least 38” tall) so if you’re going with little ones, they won’t be able to enjoy much of the water park. Our daughter, who didn’t meet the height requirement for the slides (and they looked too intimidating to appeal to her anyway), enjoyed the pool and lazy river instead. The one thing we found annoying was the one day a cruise ship disembarked and a few hundred more people descended on the property for several hours. Since the resort was already nearly at capacity, that one day felt uncomfortably cramped with longer lines for the food and the slides. Other than that day, the water park was a blast each day.

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The food: There are 7 restaurants but our favourite was the buffet which had a wide variety of food to appeal to every diet (vegetarian, vegan, raw, gluten-free, etc).

For breakfasts we had fruit smoothies, fresh fruit, nuts, baked beans, roast plantains, and toast with peanut butter.

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For lunches, we would enjoy some fries and jerk vegetable wraps by the beach or the vegan Boca burgers, which were topped with red pepper relish. (Boca burgers aren’t available in Canada, and wow, we are missing out! I need to pick these up on a shopping trip to the States at some point, they are excellent).

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The vegan burgers weren’t part of their regular menu but a Trip Advisor review had tipped us off to their existence in the kitchen, so you’ll have to ask for them special if you go, and the chefs were happy to prepare. In the buffet there was always a large selection of fresh veggies and fruit, salads, beans and rice, guacamole and chips, and grilled vegetable sandwiches.

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For dinner in the buffet there was always a “vegetarian corner” with some sort of legume-based vegan dish and they were always excellent. There were tofu curries, bean chilli, stews, etc. The coconut milk-based pumpkin soup was outstanding! The pizza station happily swapped beans for cheese for our own vegan pizzas, and the chefs regularly invited us to tell them if we had any special requests.

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The dessert table was always loaded with dairy-filled creations we avoided but they did have Oreos (which don’t contain animal products) and fresh fruit available.

Overall, we were very happy with our stay at the Hilton Rose Hall and would recommend. It’s especially great for families with kids older than about 7 (so they can enjoy the water park), and those who are looking for a resort that’s quiet at night. The excellent food, warm staff and water park are the standouts that leave us wanting to return!

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Vegan Cuts Review

I was thrilled to be contacted by Vegan Cuts earlier this month and be offered a free month trial of their snack box. A box of all-vegan surprise treats sent to my door? YES PLEASE!
Huxley inspected the haul then all three cats played the “if it fits I sits game” with the box.
Earthgiven Kitchen Vegan Cuts december 2014 (4)
Here’s what subscribers were given in this month’s snack box:
Nutiva “O’Coconut” coconut treat with hemp and chia. I love coconut so this was the first goody I tried from the box. Delicious!
Beanfield’s Bean Chips in “Pico de Gallo” flavour. This was the only treat in the box I’d tried before. I’ve tried all of Beanfield’s flavours and have to say that I prefer Nacho and Sea Salt flavours to the Pico de Gallo, but that’s just me. I love that Beanfield’s chips are vegan, even their Ranch flavour. High in protein and fibre too!
Earthgiven Kitchen Vegan Cuts december 2014 (2)
Parma! Vegan “parmesan” in “Chipotle & Cayenne” flavour. I regularly use sprinkles like this (nuts, seeds, nutritional yeast and sea salt blended to a powder) on pasta and salads, so I love the concept but you can just as easily make your own if you’re so inclined. Like the Beanfield’s, I’m not a huge fan of chipotle and cayenne spices so it wasn’t my favourite flavour but I sprinkled it on my son’s mac and cheese (he loves those spices) and he gave it two thumbs up.
Bare Snacks: Crunchy, sweetened organic coconut chips. I adore coconut chips and these were just as good as the other brands I’ve tried. There was just enough in the bag for one handful which was gone in 5 seconds and left me wanting more.
Eli’s Earth Bars in “Treasure Bar” flavour from Sjaak’s Organic Chocolate. OMG a real chocolate bar with creamy peanut butter centre and a caramel layer…I can’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve eaten something like this and it was awesome. I used every ounce of willpower to share a few bites with my kids.
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Earnest Eats “Hot & Fit” cereal in “American Blend” flavour. I was very pleased to receive a full size container of this cereal, how generous; enough for several servings. My family liked it so much we ate it two days in a row. It’s low sugar so you can add sweetener if you like or just enjoy it as is. More than just oats, it’s a mix of superfoods like pumpkin seeds and flax with high-fiber and high-protein quinoa and amaranth. I added banana, apricot slivers and Brazil nuts to my bowl and sweetened it with molasses and a bit of jam… so delicious and filling. One bowl and I was full and energized for hours. Breakfast of champions!
Earthgiven Kitchen Vegan Cuts December cereal
Naturade chai-flavoured protein powder: Lovely smooth texture, no chalky taste. If this was available in Canada, I’d buy it.
TruJoy: a candy cane with no artificial flavours or colours, hurray! It’s the first candy cane I’ve given my kids in years.
Torie & Howard organic hard candies in clever flavours: D’Anjou Pear & Cinnamon and Pomegranate & Nectarine. I’m not a big candy fan but these were pretty great. No artificial colours or flavours! And check out the most adorable website ever:
Goody Good Stuff: Cola flavoured candy! Just like when I was a kid, except now I can enjoy gummies made without gelatin. Woo hoo!
Bonus non-food treat: one month free subscription to Fit Now that I’ve eaten all that candy, an online subscription to workout videos will come in handy!
Aaaaaaaand I’m going to give them award for the favourite product in the box to Earnest Eats cereal! 
Big thanks to Vegan Cuts for gifting me with these snacks!
Vegan Cuts
Get your own Vegan Cuts subscription or just try one month yourself. It’s an especially fun treat if you’re Canadian as many of the products they ship are not available yet in stores here. Also check out the Vegan Cuts Marketplace and the Beauty Boxes!

(Note: this is an affiliate link so if you click the link then order I’ll get a small compensation. I use affiliates as a fundraiser to send my son to Take Action Camp for young social activists. To learn more about him and this special camp, you can read his blog post here).

Wishing you all a wonderful new year!

Coconut Key Lime Mini Pies

Happy December!
Outside it’s freezing, but that didn’t stop me from craving a chilled dessert. Not too sweet and not too tart, these almost-raw mini pies are vegan and free of gluten and refined sugars. All the fun of a cupcake and none of the guilt!
Coconut Key Lime Mini Pies Earthgiven Kitchen
Coconut Key Lime Mini Pies
1/2 cup pitted Medjool dates
1/4 cup nuts of your choice 
1/4 cup flaked coconut
pinch of sea salt
1 cup cashews
1/3 cup coconut yogurt
4 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tbsp maple syrup or agave
Topping options: fresh kiwi slices, shredded coconut, grated lime zest
Start by soaking the cashews in water for 2-6 hours, then drain and rinse. For best taste, toast the coconut flakes by spreading in a thin layer on a bake sheet and broil just until golden.

Blend the dates, nuts, coconut and sea salt in a blender or food processor until uniform. Set 8 paper baking cups in a muffin tray. Place two tbsp of the dough onto the bottom of a paper baking cup, pressing down to create an even crust. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Blend the filling ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour over the crust and use a spatula to smooth the tops. Freeze until set.

About 20 minutes before serving, remove mini pies from freezer and top with kiwi slices, shredded coconut, grated lime zest or other toppings of choice. Serve chilled. Makes 8 mini pies.
Coconut Key Lime Mini PiesEarthgiven Kitchen 2

This recipe is being shared at Healthy Vegan Fridays, and Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins and Cupcakes for World Vegan Day

Happy World Vegan Day! The world’s first Vegan Society was founded on November 1st, and November is also World Vegan Month. It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate all the individuals and organizations working to make the world kinder to animals and the planet everyday.
Happy World Vegan Day Earthgiven Kitchen 2

For those who are curious about veganism but haven’t made the leap yet, it’s the perfect time to find out more about how healthful and delicious a cruelty-free lifestyle can be. Some great websites with loads of resources are:
Vegan Outreach (get your free starter guide)
The Vegan Society

On to a recipe! I can’t resist the appeal of pumpkin everything in October and November, especially teamed with ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon and I’ve been baking with pumpkin regularly since the end of summer. For those who think you need eggs and dairy to make baking soft, rich and fluffy, I am happy to assure you that vegan baking has all the taste and texture you’re looking for.
Chocolate Chip Pumpking Muffins and Cupcakes Earthgiven Kitchen (1)

This muffin recipe makes for a decadent, cake-y muffin, perfect for brunch or dessert. Turn them into cupcakes by topping with icing! My cupcakes in the photo have also been sprinkled with cacao nibs.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins and Cupcakes
1 3/4 cup flour (I use half whole wheat, half all-purpose)
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/3 cup grapeseed or melted coconut oil
1/3 cup soy milk or water
1/4 cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips or chunks
vegan icing (optional, see below)

Mix the dry ingredients together (except for the chocolate chips). Mix the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl, then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and gently stir.

Pour into 12 greased muffin cups and bake at 400 degrees for 22-25 minutes, or until baked all the way through.

Variation: Chocolate Chip Sweet Potato Muffins/Cupcakes: swap the pumpkin for pureed baked sweet potato! They taste just as delicious.
Chocolate Chip Pumpking Muffins and Cupcakes Earthgiven Kitchen (3)

For the optional cupcake icing, I simply put powdered sugar in my blender, added a drop of vanilla extract, a splash of soy milk, then I add vegan margarine until it makes the perfect creamy texture. Voila: super easy, vegan vanilla icing, no exact measuring required. Or you can use whatever vegan icing you wish. A super easy chocolate icing recipe is The PPK’s Chocolate Ganache.
Chocolate Chip Pumpking Muffins and Cupcakes Earthgiven Kitchen (4)

This recipe has been shared with Healthy Vegan Fridays.

In other news, I’ve been posting recipes and photos more frequently on Instagram these days. You can find me here.
Sarina JW Instagram

Vidya’s Veggie Gourmet

Hello friends, happy (almost) fall!

I wanted to share a review of a fabulous find I came across while driving home from a wonderful week at the cottage in Muskoka, Ontario. We had wondered if there may be, fingers crossed, a vegan-friendly restaurant, somewhere near Barrie. A quick search on Happy Cow led us to Vidya’s Veggie Gourmet in Thornton (just south of Barrie) and what a treat that find was!  More than just vegan-friendly, Vidya’s is 100% vegetarian, gluten-free and mostly vegan, with an emphasis on healthy, organic and whole foods. Right up our alley!
Vidya's Veggie Gourmet Thornton July 2014 Earthgiven Kitchen (3)The owner Kim Vidya, a holistic nutritionist, transformed the historic 1854 Queen’s Head Hotel into a lovely yoga retreat centre, gourmet restaurant and elixir bar. The formal dining room is beautiful and spacious.The executive chef is vegan and we enjoyed great service from our server Tara who is also a Holistic Nutritionist and blogs at The Nude Mushroom.
Vidya's Veggie Gourmet Thornton July 2014 Earthgiven Kitchen (5)Here’s what we ordered:

Appetizers: Potato wedges with homemade apple cider ketchup, Chips and Dip: flax chips with hummus, guacamole and black bean dip. Both dishes were wonderful. I left resolved to use my dehydrator more for homemade crackers.  We enjoyed it with Spring Dragon tea.
Vidya's Veggie Gourmet Thornton July 2014 Earthgiven Kitchen (14)Thai Malasian Noodles: “Mung bean broad noodles, tamarind chilli lime glaze, jump fried veggies, toasted almonds, shitake mushrooms, Essa Gardens sprouts, cilantro”. It was so flavourful and fortunately didn’t taste like it was loaded with fat like many yummy pasta dishes.
Earthgiven Kitchen Vidya's Veggie Gourmet (2)Vidya’s Past Bowl: “Quinoa-Rice ‘spun’ pasta, tender asparagus, garlic confit, Vidya’s oven-fried tomatoes, hemp organic basil pesto, vegan almond ‘parm’”. We love a great pesto pasta and this delivered!
Earthgiven Kitchen Vidya's Veggie Gourmet (3)Both pasta dishes were wonderful but we had a preference for the Thai dish.

For dessert: Buddha’s Chocolate Mousse:  “Organic cacao, coco butter, coconut milk, maple syrup”. It was rich and decadent and a perfect sweet note to end the meal.
Earthgiven Kitchen Vidya's Veggie Gourmet (1)We loved every bite of our meals, give Vidya’s Veggie Gourmet a high recommendation, and hope it won’t be long before we can make the two-hour drive to Thornton to visit again.

Four-Ingredient Creamy Chocolate Pudding

The summer is almost over but there’s still time to enjoy some chilled treats before the fall weather hits. One of our family’s favourites is chocolate pudding. Vegan chocolate pudding can by found in grocery stores, though I haven’t found a brand that’s healthy enough to regularly give my children, and I like puddings with a creamier texture and not the jelly-like texture that many have. I wanted to give my kids a healthier version of chocolate pudding that’s free of dairy, sugar, artificial colouring and additives, but still delicious. Four Ingredient Chocolate Pudding Vegan Sugar-free Earthgiven KitchenHere’s my recipe for chocolate pudding that’s completely junk-free. The creaminess comes from avocado which also provides healthy fats, vitamin E, iron and other nutritional goodies. The sweetness comes from Medjool dates, a good source of magnesium and B6. I use raw cacao instead of highly processed cocoa powder. Combined together you get a great brain food! It’s yummy enough that the kids won’t know they are eating a vegetable; you can’t taste the avocado.

This pudding will really fill you up. It’s healthy enough to enjoy at breakfast, especially with some chopped nuts and freshly sliced banana. We’ve also had it for dessert topped on a brownie!

Four Ingredient Creamy Chocolate Pudding
Vegan, Sugar-free, Raw, Gluten-Free, Nut-free option, Soy-free option, Paleo

10 Medjool dates, pitted
Half of a fresh avocado
2 tbsp nondairy milk (I use sugar-free homemade almond milk or you can use coconut milk)
1 tbsp raw cacao powder (I use Camino brand which is organic and fair trade)
Optional toppings: cacao nibs, mint leaves, berries, hemp seeds, coconut flakes, etc.

For the creamiest results, first soak the dates for at least 15 minutes in warm water then drain. Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth. I use my Blendtec with the Twister Jar for best results. (Have I mentioned lately how much I love my Blendtec? I LOVE IT! If you want to get your own, use this link for free shipping to the US and this link for free shipping in Canada.)

Makes 1 cup.

Chocolate Pudding Parfait Earthgiven KitchenFor a fun treat, make a Chocolate Pudding Parfait with the pudding by using an equal amount of vanilla yogurt (I use homemade almond yogurt or Yoso brand coconut yogurt) or banana ice cream (nothing but frozen whipped bananas) and berries or granola. I used chocolate mint leaves from my garden as the garnish for the photo above. Chill in the freezer or fridge until ready to serve. Enjoy! blendtec world's bestThis recipe is being shared on Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck and Healthy Vegan Fridays!

Delicious, Nutritious, Easy: eBook review and giveaway!

One of my favourite things about social media is how easy it is to find new friends with similar passions and lifestyles you never would have otherwise met. I don’t think I would have thrived on my plant-based journey without the strong vegan online community. Through mutual friends on facebook, I befriended Andrea Frenke, a passionate vegan and fitness buff who is a growing star on Instagram.  Check out some of her beautiful photos below, and follow her here.  (You can find me on Instagram here).

Andrea Frenke collage(photos above by a_vegan_frenke)

When Andrea launched her eBook Delicious, Nutritious, Easy, I didn’t hesitate to buy it, since it’s a steal at $3 for 15 healthy recipes, most with 7 ingredients or less and quick to prepare. There is a full-colour photo of every recipe, which I think is crucial for any cookbook I buy.

Earthgiven Kitchen recipes from A Vegan Frenke (2)I made the Strawberry Mint Snow and was instantly reminded of childhood summers enjoying snow cones; now I can enjoy them without the artificial flavours, colours and sugar.

Earthgiven Kitchen recipes from A Vegan Frenke (3)The Avocado Basil Salsa is so delicious and perfect to enjoy all summer long. It would also be a perfect veggie burger topping!

Earthgiven Kitchen recipe from A Vegan Frenke Dessert SmoothieI also made the Dessert Smoothie which is similar to my favourite morning chocolate-banana-kale smoothie, but Andrea swaps greens for luxurious Medjool dates and it’s a fabulous treat.

Other recipes include Kale Hummus, Whole Wheat Banana Waffles and Pad Thai.

Andrea has not only agreed to be interviewed for Earthgiven Kitchen but she’s giving one Earthgiven Kitchen reader a PDF copy of her book Delicious, Nutritious, Easy. Read on for all the deets!

Sarina: How and when did you become vegan?

Andrea: I became vegan overnight after watching Vegucated and then doing some backup research. I had been vegetarian for a year (after watching Food Inc.) and cheese was my replacement for meat. That was almost a year ago and I feel like I have found the key to living a happy and healthy life. I must admit that I was purposely keeping myself ignorant prior to this time. When I finally made the decision to educate myself there was NO WAY I could ever go back, and I don’t want to.

Sarina: Me too! You live in the Toronto area, where there are dozens of vegan restaurants (lucky you!) What are your favourite restaurants?

Andrea: Yes, I am VERY lucky to live in a city that has vegan options and restaurants. My all-time favourite restaurant is Fresh and I am a big fan of Live Organic Food Bar! However I also want to point out that I have been able to find vegan options at non-vegan restaurants also! Usually you are safe with a large salad (sans cheese of course) and asking for some olive oil or balsamic as a dressing. Or I love a good pasta (make sure you ask if it’s egg washed) with a meatless tomato sauce and basil – YUM! I recommend telling your waiter that you have allergies or aversions, rather than expressing that you are vegan. They tend to take it more seriously in that case rather than lie to you, which sadly does happen quite often.

Sarina: You have amassed 10,000 followers on Instagram, very impressive! What tips do you have for those who want to be successful in social media?

Andrea: Social media is a great way to spread what’s important to you and reach a large group of people. My tips are to be authentic, comment on other accounts and try and get to know the people behind them. I have been very lucky to have a close friend with 110K share my account with her followers and have had other large accounts share it also. Be patient and be yourself, it took me a year to get 9,000 and the more followers you have the more quickly your account with grow!

Sarina: What’s the one dish you make the most?

Andrea: Hands down, veggie coconut curry. There is a great recipe in my eBook and really it is one of the easiest recipes to make, hard to mess up a curry!

Sarina: The curry will be my next recipe of yours to try! Aside from nutritious vegan eating, what else are you passionate about?

Andrea: I am extremely passionate about the environment, and educating people on how their decisions have impacts. I am also very passionate about human rights and equality. Lastly I am passionate about fitness, and I have a YouTube channel where I try to inspire people to get active. Really I just want to help as many people as I can to lead healthy, kind and conscious lives.

Thank you Andrea for sharing a copy of your eBook for the giveaway. To enter, simply comment below by July 18th: tell us your favourite vegan dish! The contest is open worldwide. One entry will be randomly selected on July 19th. Good luck!

Update: Congratulations to eBook winner Kathryn Bulver!