Wednesday, October 16, 2013

California Dreamin'

Home in CA
After six months of being vegan, I was about to embark on my first vacation – a week-long stay in California with Jason’s family. I had become at ease with my new diet, but that was as long as I stayed within the suburban sprawl of Kansas City and had access to my backyard garden, local farmers’ market, and stocked pantry. I was uncertain as to whether or not I would have to abandon my new lifestyle in order to survive. I should also mention that four months ago, my vegan partner-in-crime saw a BBQ sandwich he could not resist, and hasn't looked back since. While Jason was daydreaming about the authentic Mexican food (tacos al pastor anyone?) and seafood that would soon fill his belly, I was on my own, anxiety growing.

On our return flight home, I contemplated the experience.  I learned that it is possible, realistic, and even easy to maintain a vegan diet while traveling. Here are a few tips to help you get through your first trip.

1. Carry snacks – Airports are unpredictable, and so is traffic in LA. If the combination of being hungry and waiting makes you cranky, I recommend keeping some healthy vegan snacks with you at all times. Granola bars and trail mix can be a major life saver.
We carried fresh coconut with us on our return flight home. Such a great snack!

2. Stay with accommodating hosts – Jason’s mom and brother are long time vegetarians, so I knew there would be an abundance of veggies at the house. Jason’s mom adjusted recipes to make them vegan-friendly and made sure I had more than enough to eat all week. Each morning we woke up to two pots of chai tea being warmed on the stove – one with dairy milk for the family, and one with soy milk just for me. Talk about hospitality!

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff – It’s easy to not order meat at a restaurant, but it can be challenging to know what other animal products are used in the preparation of your food – butter, dairy, and things like fish sauce in Thai food and Worcestershire sauce can be found more places than you would imagine. Don’t obsess over it, it will cause more stress than it’s worth. Order your veggie burger, eat the bun (that may contain dairy), and enjoy yourself!
Delicious Indian food! All vegan except for the white sauce in the top pic.

4. Make Yelp your best friend – This app is a must. You can search for places to dine based on your current location. Interested in eating at a Mexican joint that also serves vegan dishes? Mexican can be a challenge as lard and chicken stock are typically used in the preparation of rice and beans. Use Yelp and search with keywords Mexican Vegan. Your resulting list will include all restaurants with reviews and dishes that mention vegan options. Thanks to Yelp, we happened upon the best street tacos in LA.
Vegan tacos - potato, mushroom, veggie

5. Splurge – Vacation means letting yourself indulge in whatever you find pleasurable. Sleeping in, a little extra wine, and lots of dessert! Let’s be honest, I’m not about “being good” when I’m on vacay. And being vegan is not a reason to resist fun and indulgences. Use Yelp to help you find some vegan delicacies. My guilty pleasures were chocolate-ginger cookies (courtesy of Aunt J), In-N-Out French fries, fried samosas, and bubble tea. 
Taro and coconut bubble tea x 3

Would not be a trip to CA without stopping at In-N-Out. Only fries for me!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Vegan Roll Date Night

Growing up in the Midwest, I couldn't get any farther from an ocean if I tried. Because of my landlocked upbringing, my exposure to seafood was somewhat limited. I discovered sushi rolls by accident one night in college. A group of friends and I went to a Japanese restaurant with the sole purpose of consuming half-priced sake bombs (you know - sake, sake, sake BOMB!). This chance encounter was the beginning of a very sweet love affair with these delectable rolls. Since then, I have tried every type of roll under the sun - eel, squid, octopus, salmon roe, sea urchin, you name it.

You know what I find really irritating? If you order a veggie sushi roll at a restaurant, it costs just as much as one with seafood in it. That really irks me. So, Jason and I decided to make our own at home - what a fun date night!

Can you tell which ones Jason rolled? :)

Sushi Sticky Rice
Step 1: Pour 2 cups of brown basmati rice into a rice cooker with 2 cups of water.
Step 2: Microwave 2 tbsp rice vinegar + 1 tbsp sugar + 1 tsp salt for 30 seconds.
Step 3: Pour vinegar mixture over warm cooked rice.
Step 4: Let rice cool.

Assemble Your Rolls
Nori (seaweed). Rice. Toasted sesame seeds. Avocado. Tofu. Cucumber. Carrots. Bean spouts. Soy sauce. Wasabi. Pickled ginger.

Turned out better than any restaurant version of veggie sushi I've had.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jimmy John's?!?! No!

You know when your body is craving greasy food? Perhaps after a long night of imbibing? While those nights are now numbered (although I do pour a very hefty glass of wine), I find that the recovery process is much more excruciating than it used to be. Oh thirties…you are just around the corner and I can hear you coming.

In college, Pizza Shuttle was key. My roomie and I would meet in the living room, get out a phone and a checkbook (we used checks to pay rent, utilities, and support our pizza habit), and place the order without having to say more than three words to each other. It was like clockwork; thirty minutes later, the “two-fer” was our magic elixir.

Pizza Shuttle. Lawrence, KS.
Post-vegan, I settled for McDonald’s french fries to set me straight. Let’s be honest, if you want french fries, Mickey D’s is the place to go. They are perfectly crisp with the correct ratio of crunchy outer shell to soft mushy inside. And saltiness? Nailed it. Life was good until I got some terrible news. The fries I had been consuming were not vegetarian! Gasp! They are coated in some kind of meat seasoning. Immediately, dreams were shattered and they were off the list of approved foods.

I hate to say it, but it happened again. I recently became obsessed with Jimmy John’s veggie sandwich (minus the cheese & mayo). As I have mentioned before, I have a tendency to get hooked on things and take them to the extreme. In the past 2 weeks, I have consumed this sandwich an estimated 7-10 times (plus or minus 3). I received a very unfortunate email from Jimmy John’s this afternoon. Now my only option is the “Unwich” – lettuce wrapped in lettuce. What a travesty.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Restaurant Review (Vegan Perspective): Blue Koi

Blue Koi. 10581 Mission Road. Leawood. KS. 

I wish that every restaurant had a tablet device attached to the table that allowed you to place your order and send the instructions straight back to the chef. I know I’m weird, but I absolutely hate giving waiters special instructions for my meal. I just get awkward. It’s like I don’t want to inconvenience the waiter or the chef. If I could simply type my order and text it back to the kitchen without any human interaction, I’d be in heaven.

In the IT world, I see jobs become obsolete everyday due to technology. It's only a matter of time before we completely eliminate the need for wait staff. I, for one, am totally fine and in complete support of my food being delivered via conveyor belt. 

Becoming vegan has made my interactions with waiters much more frequent, much longer in duration, and much more awkward. I usually spend a good couple of minutes discussing items on the menu before I even place my order. What has dairy in it, what is cooked in butter, can you remove the cheese from that dish or is it already mixed in, is there egg in the batter? And so on.

Hands down, the best restaurant experience I have had on this journey was this week at Blue Koi. Jason and I went with my brother and sister-in-law, professional Blue Koi diners and avid meat eaters. Blue Koi is NOT a vegetarian or a vegan restaurant, it simply caters to all guests no matter their dietary preferences. Many of the items on the menu are vegan (bubble tea is made with non-dairy milk), but my waiter assured me that EVERYTHING on the menu could be easily tweaked to fit my needs.

taro and coconut bubble tea

My sister-in-law and I had never had bubble tea and were anxious to try it. Our waiter recommended a combination of taro and coconut (this was not on the menu) since I told him I wanted something that was not too sweet. It was the perfect combination. I'm still unsure as to how you're supposed to really consume the bubble part - chew them or swallow them whole? I did a little of both, again, slightly awkward, but it was a fun experience.

We ordered the spicy chili pepper wontons as an appetizer per Bro and SIL's request. They typically order the wontons with a meat filling, but were very pleased with the vegan version. Tons of flavor, some heat, and a delicious sauce that we found out you can also buy on its own (I'm not sure if the restaurant officially sells it, or if our waiter was just willing to hook us up under the table).

spicy chili pepper wontons (boiled & vegetarian)

Although I ordered the Ants on a Tree, I ended up eating the tofu with black bean sauce entree. I sampled the Ants on a Tree, which was delicious, but was not in the mood for so many noodles. Confession: When I can't decide which entree I want, I convince Jason to order the other. Then, when both entrees come out, I determine which one looks most appealing and take that one. Jason obviously earns extra gentleman points for putting up with this behavior. Thank goodness he is so easygoing. 

tofu with black bean sauce & rice

Ants on a Tree

Monday, August 19, 2013

Down with Salads!


I've mentioned before that I have never loved salads. I have had a few select noteworthy salads, but generally speaking, they're not my favorite. There's just something about eating a salad that feels, well, really healthy and not very fun. Individually I love the ingredients, but when they are tossed together in a bowl, it just feels like such a chore to get them down. Some days I struggle through, but some days (like today) I flat out refuse.

Sun dried tomato and basil tortilla

When a salad is not an appealing option, a wrap does the trick. I load it up with all of the veggies I would have put in my salad. Instead of salad dressing (which is usually fatty and full of preservatives and other junk), I use protein-packed hummus to add moisture and extra flavor. I assemble my wrap the night before and do a tight “Chipotle roll” in a square of foil. In the morning, I grab the wrap and hit the road. 

Red pepper hummus, kelp noodles, mushrooms, tomato, cucumber, spinach

When I pull the wrap out at lunch time, it's cold, crisp, and oh so delicious.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

10 Minute Dinner

While I have never been a “reader” per se, there is one type of book I can’t get enough of. Cookbooks. I have a (slight) obsession. Becoming vegan was exactly what my cookbook collection needed, the perfect excuse. In just over four months, I have amassed more fabulous recipe books than I am willing to admit. I love reading about the intricate and time-consuming recipes that produce such magnificent fare. There are recipes with pages upon pages of exotic ingredients. Surely a feast fit for a king, or a fancy dinner party.

Let's face it. There are not enough hours in the day, and I rarely make those recipes. Certainly not on a week night. 

Vegan or not, it's important to have a repertoire of quick and easy-to-prepare meals that don't take a laundry list of ingredients. It also helps if those ingredients are not perishable. You mean, store them in my freezer and pantry so I have what's needed on hand at all times? Done. Short cuts are fine with me, and guess what? Tonight's dinner was completed in 10 minutes (plus the amount of time it takes to boil a pot of water).

Step one: Cook your grain.
Trader Joe's has an excellent selection of these little bags of grains - the cook time for each is 10-15 minutes. Definitely doable. Tonight I selected barley. Typically, barley is refined to make barley malt which is used in the production of beer. Trust me, it also tastes delicious in whole form. But have a beer with dinner and you've got double the barley. Did I also mention that barley is full of protein (for all of those omnivores wondering)???
Bring water to boil. Add barley.
Step two: Cook your veg.
Every grocery store I have been to has bags of frozen veggies that can be steamed in the microwave. Any type of veg will do. My personal favorite is broccoli florets. Not be confused with broccoli cuts. Nothing is more irritating than accidentally picking up broccoli cuts.
While barley is boiling, steam veg in microwave.
Step three: Season and eat.
Season with whatever spice combo you have on hand. Combine and enjoy!
Tamari. 21 Seasoning Salute. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes.

Delicious, nutritious, and filling.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

4 Month Check-In

From Cafe Gratitude

Time for a check-in. What started as a 30 day challenge has morphed into a new and extremely satisfying lifestyle. After three months, I began to hit a confident stride. I could easily keep myself from starving, get the nutrients I needed, and put together vegan meals without having to follow recipes or meal plans I got online. I stopped focusing so much on the fact that I was VEGAN (omg), and began simply living as such. When you focus on every breath you take, it is harder to breathe for some reason - same goes for being vegan. Once I stopped obsessing about it, it became easy and a part of me. Now four months in, I feel like I could (and might) do this forever.  

Not to say there aren't days when it is extremely frustrating. Why can't there be more vegan options? Why do I have to ask this waitress a million questions about what is in the food? Why doesn't Target carry tofu or almond milk? Why is Chipotle the only vegan friendly, reasonably priced, quick place to eat? Why can't I get rid of these pesky fruit flies for good (more to come on this later)?!? Luckily, these occurrences are dwarfed by the positivity I have seen and felt from this lifestyle change. I truly do feel that I have gained more than I have given up. 

Cafe Gratitude Dessert

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Berry Patch

Last weekend the weather in the Midwest was unseasonably cool. Our normal triple digits had been replaced by a crisp 72 degrees. As I walked outside in the morning I thought, this must be some sort of summer miracle! A perfect day to go blueberry picking!

We finally made it to the patch after a hilarious 40 minute scenic detour. I take full credit for getting us lost. I opted to guess how we should get there instead of using my phone to determine our route. It's a blessing and a curse that we are both navigationally challenged. While we generally struggle to find our way to new places, the discovery that we are WAY off course is typically met with mutual laughter. I swear, if Jason and I lived in the pre-GPS world, we would never have survived.
The Berry Patch
The picking was decent (not as good as last year), and we managed to walk away with one bucket-full between the two of us. Upon returning home, I baked a blueberry pie - the filling was vegan but the crust was Pillsbury, which is not. I had contemplated a vegan crust, but couldn't find a recipe that called for ingredients I had on hand. Most called for weird types of flour and who knows what else. So if you've got a good/easy vegan pie recipe, let me know. I didn't end up eating the pie, instead I also made a vegan blueberry crumble.

For the Filling: Mix berries with a squeeze of lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and flour.

For the Topping: Mix together oats, brown sugar, flour, vegan butter.

Assemble: Put berry mixture in ramekins.

Continue Assembly: Pour topping over berries.

Bake: 425 degree oven (cooked mine in the toaster oven) for 20 minutes until the filling is bubbling and the top browns.

Presentation: While it's warm, top with your favorite vegan ice cream.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Restaurant Review: Füd

813 W. 17th Street. Kansas City. MO. 64108.
Since becoming vegan, Jason and I have cooked most of our meals at home. I knew Kansas City had some veg restaurants, but frankly, I thought they were going to be really weird. Even though I've been vegan for almost four months now, the picture in my head was that they would be "stereotypical vegan." You know, the menu is comprised solely of tofu, everything is really mushy, has no flavor, and comes with a side of grass and other unappealing foliage. I should have known better. 

Despite this horrible image I had in my head, Saturday night we headed to Füd. This local vegan dining establishment focuses on organic food, sustainable practices, and having the lowest possible carbon footprint. So all in all, you can feel really good about eating at Füd. On a sidenote, they only accept cash and checks, glad we saw that before leaving the house.

Now let's talk about the food. I was shocked to find such a diverse menu with a plethora of different options. I settled on the Rainbow Salad from the Living Fresh Food portion of the menu. A living rainbow of greens, avocado, apple, carrot, squash, cucumber, bell pepper, parmesan seed, nuts and house dressing. This was, hands down, the best salad I've had in my entire life (Jason agreed). I'm not sure what they put in their house dressing, but they should bottle and sell it. Vegan or not, you can't go wrong with this for a meal.
Rainbow Salad
Jason ordered the Jack Reuben from the Hot Fresh Food portion of the menu. Panini style jack fruit spiced and stacked with garlic sweed cheese, thrillanaise, and sauerkraut on rye. If you're like me, you're thinking...what is thrillanaise...and sweed cheese...? The menu is sprinkled with these words that are probably not in Webster's dictionary. But don't worry or focus on that too much. I don't know what they mean either. All you need to know is that it's a reuben sandwich. And it's good.
Jack Reuben
Although we were sufficiently full, we pushed on and ordered dessert: cashew soft serve ice cream sundae topped with raw chocolate sauce, raw superfood caramel sauce, goji berries, cacao nibs, blueberries, and pecans. I'm telling you right now, I would go back to Füd for the dessert alone, it was that good. Just looking at the picture of the sundae is making my mouth water. Everyone. Must. Try. This.
Cashew Ice Cream Sundae
So in summation, we had an incredible dinner experience and Füd far exceeded our expectations. I highly encourage everyone to give this restaurant a try, I think you'll walk away full and completely satisfied.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Oh, Paneer.

Let me tell you about the most amazing cheese in the world; it’s called paneer. I've heard people refer to it as “Indian cottage cheese,” which I feel is a little misleading. I think it is more like a cross between mozzarella and feta. It’s got some give to it, yet it doesn't quite stretch like mozzarella nor crumble like feta. It truly is in a league of its own. You can buy it at an Indian market – it comes in blocks or smaller cubes, and full fat or reduced fat varieties. If you are a cheese lover who has yet to discover paneer in all of its glory, get on it ASAP! Don’t let the tragedy continue.

Jason’s mom introduced me to this little piece of heaven over a year ago. And I was spoiled because it was homemade, can’t beat that! Palak Paneer (spinach and cheese) became a fast favorite of mine. Since going vegan, I have been in a state of mourning because I thought I would never be able to eat it again. Then, lo and behold, one of my co-workers suggested that I replace the paneer in the recipe with tofu. Brilliant! And so I did. The verdict? It’s a win!

 Here is my veganized recipe for Palak Paneer; the original recipe credit goes to Jason’s mom.

Tofu Marinade:
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
12 ounces (1 block) firm, pressed tofu

Other Ingredients:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ inch ginger root, chopped finely
Chilies, to taste, optional (if you like it spicy, use thai chilies)
½ teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
16-20 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
Salt, to taste
½ cup plain coconut yogurt

In a bowl, mix together turmeric, chili powder, salt, and canola oil. Drop in the tofu cubes and gently toss, taking care not to break the cubes. Let marinade (10 minutes is fine).

Place a large skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, pour the tofu and marinade into the pan. Fry the tofu cubes, lightly browning each side. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside.

Using the same pan, add the onion, ginger, garlic, and chili (if using). Sauté the mixture until it’s evenly toffee-colored, which should take about 15 minutes. If the mixture is drying out and burning, add a couple of tablespoons of water.

Add the garam masala, coriander, and cumin. If you haven’t already, sprinkle a little water to keep the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often for 3-5 minutes.

Add the thawed spinach to the onion mixture and stir well. Add a little salt. Cook for about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat. Add the yogurt a little bit at a time, stirring to incorporate. Once the yogurt is well mixed into the spinach, add the tofu. Put the pan back on the heat, cover, and cook until everything is warmed through, about 5 minutes.

*Basmati Rice*Dal*Roti*Vegan Palak Paneer*