Monday, November 4, 2013

Vegan on the Road: Green Spot Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale, FL

At 8:24 a.m., I wondered who could possibly be texting me. (Most of the people who ever text me were with me inside the house at that moment.) It turned out to be my mother-in-law, letting me know that she'd run across a new restaurant with vegan options nearby my office. I thanked her profusely and decided I needed to check it out immediately.

Green Spot Kitchen is what was classically called a 'health-food restaurant', but rather than being attached to your local vitamin shop, instead takes the form of a trendy bistro. They serve juices, smoothies, wraps, sandwiches and salads - with an on-trend twist. (For example, kale, quinoa, and agave feature prominently in the menu.) The decor is sort of coffe-house chic except with fruit rather than coffee touches, and there's a small outdoor area with a table and chairs under an awning.

Vegan meal options include vegetable ceviche tacos, house-made veggie sliders with chili lime aioli, and the omnipresent hummus plate. I tried the Green Spot Wrap, which had mounds of perfectly grilled zucchini, onions, carrots, and kale with avocado and oven cured tomatoes. It was served with a side of pickled vegetables that included cabbage, kale, zucchini, carrots, and onion. It was perfectly fresh, perfectly prepared, and I would absolutely buy it again. (Although next time, I may have to try those sliders.)

Prices for the vegan options range from $8 - $13. While I would prefer a wider range of vegan choices (or honestly, an all-vegan menu), the food was a decent value for the price, and the service was friendly and reasonably quick. The one thing that surprised me, considering their 'green' focus, was that the take-out was served in styrofoam boxes. Next time, I'll plan to eat in. 

So yes, for me, there will be a next time. I would be unlikely to go out of my way as I would for an all-vegan restaurant (like local gems Green Wave Cafe or Darbster's), but as it's conveniently located, Green Spot Kitchen will definitely be my spot for lunch.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Shay's Strawberry Tart

My little sous chef arrived the other day with a notebook in which she'd copied down recipes from a children's cookbook she'd checked out of the library. She was so excited to show me and to ask we could cook one. One problem... her notes didn't actually contain any measurements!

Rather than disappoint her, I decided to take the basic premise of one of the recipes and wing it. In the end, I was able to simplify it so much that this nine-year-old chef was able to do it entirely on her own (with careful supervision, of course).

Shay's Strawberry Tarts

1 pkg mini graham cracker crusts (the Keebler ones are accidentally vegan)
1 qt fresh strawberries
1 sm jar all-fruit preserves

Spray the crusts lightly with baking spray and pre-bake according to package directions. Cool five minutes. Slice strawberries and arrange in crusts. Place preserves in a saucepan over medium heat until melted. Pour into strawberry-filled crusts. Cool tarts in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes until preserves are set. Top with vegan whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fool-proof no-fat vegan banana bread

I couldn't find my family recipe for banana bread, so I decided to wing it. This turned out awesome. It's less like a traditional crumbly quick bread and more like a nice dense breakfast bread, but with all the delicious banana bread flavor and none of the fat. (Well, there's a negligible amount of fat in the banana itself, but not enough to count - less than a quarter of a gram per slice. And you do spray the pan. Still, I'm comfortable calling this 'no-fat'.)

Fool-proof no-fat banana bread

4 over-ripe bananas, mashed
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt 
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mash bananas and add wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Slowly mix dry ingredients into wet. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and pour batter into pan. Bake 55 minutes or until golden brown and pulling away from the sides. Cool in pan on a wire rack for five minutes, then remove from pan (or cool completely in pan).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Vegan MoFo: Antipasto Sub (a.k.a. Sub in a Jar)

You know how sometimes you don't feel like chopping? You just want to eat salty, briny stuff from a jar? No? Just me then. But still, you'll seriously love this delicious sandwich.

Antipasto Sub

4 individual sub rolls or one large French or Cuban loaf.
1 small jar of mushrooms
1 small jar of artichokes
1 small jar of roasted red peppers
1 small jar of olives
1 bunch fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pesto (or herb spread, garlic spread, or Italian dressing) - optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Split bread and spread with pesto or dressing, if using. Layer veggies and top with basil leaves. Wrap in aluminum foil and cook 8 - 10 min. or until heated through. Serve hot.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Vegan MoFo: Easiest Ever Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cake

You would think that by now I'd be through psyching myself out of trying new things in the kitchen. After all, being vegan is all about trying new things! I can't even count the new fruits, vegetables, grains, and new types of dishes that I've tried. Yet, it's been about 6 months since I bought the ingredients to try gluten-free vegan baking. I knew in theory that it shouldn't be that tough, but when push came to shove, I always resorted to the familiar.

Well, that's over now! I finally had a reason strong enough to motivate me to try, and you know what? It's utterly foolish to be intimidated by these things! It's absolutely no harder than conventional baking, which in the case of this recipe is just so easy.

Based on this fabulous recipe from Plant Based on a Budget with just a minor tweak, it only takes 3-5 minutes to prepare and a little more than 30 minutes in the oven. Cool for a few minutes and sprinkle with organic powdered sugar, and in under an hour you've got fresh-baked cake!

Easiest Ever Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (I use Bob's Red Mill)
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup organic sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract (or half vanilla, half almond)
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
5 tbsp canola or other light-flavored oil
1 cup warm water
Organic confectioner's sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift first six ingredients into an ungreased 8x8 cake pan. Add sugar and mix. Create three wells in the dry ingredients. Add vanilla to one, oil to another, and vinegar to the third. Pour warm water and top and mix until well blended and reasonably smooth. There may still be some small lumps, but make sure when you scrape the bottom there's no dry flour showing. Bake 30-35 minutes, until center springs back when touched gently.

Cool 10 minutes and top with confectioner's sugar. Serve warm (or let cool completely and omit confectioners sugar topping if frosting).

Vegan MoFo: Nacho Salad

All the nacho taste, none of the bad-for-you stuff!


You love 'em, right? Everyone loves nachos. But conventional nachos don't love you back. With all that salt and fat, they're hypertension on a plate. So try this scrumptious salad for a tasty nacho flavor and crunch without the fat.

Nacho Salad

2-3 cups shredded romaine
1 cup shredded kale and/or spinach (I use half each)
1/3 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup Spanish rice (great use for leftovers!)
1/3 cup refried beans
1/4 cup taco sauce
1/4 cup crispy tortilla strips

Toss in a bowl, mix, and enjoy!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Vegan MoFo: Green Breakfast Smoothie of Champions!

Nutrition in a glass!

Awhile back, I reviewed a book on green smoothies for This Dish is Veg. I didn't realize it at the time, but I learned quite a lot from it. Chief among those things was the simple reason why blended fruit and vegetable drinks are better for you than juicing - you're not losing anything. It's whole nutrition in a cup.

The other thing I learned was the perfect ratio for taste in a green smoothie: 40% vegetables, 60% fruit. But sometimes it's hard to translate that into real terms, since we're comparing leaves to chunks, so to speak. So I find a recipe can be helpful.

This is my recipe for the ideal beginner's green smoothie. I know folks like to get fancy with it, adding everything from dandelion greens to cayenne pepper but that stuff is intimidating if all you want is a green drink that's palatable and maybe your kids would stomach.

So here is my non-vegan-kid (and husband) tested recipe for a delicious smoothie. It tastes of strawberry and banana, and that's pretty much it. It's a great place to start, or a great base to build from if you want to get adventurous.

Strawberry-Banana Green Smoothie

1 large kale leaf, stemmed and torn (or two smaller ones - should equal about 2 loose cups in blender)
1/2 cup coconut water, chilled
1 small ripe banana (or half a large one)
4-5 frozen strawberries

In a blender, add torn kale leaves and coconut water. Liquefy (about 10 seconds). Add banana and frozen strawberries and blend. Serve!

How sweet this is will depend on the ripeness of the fruit. If it's not sweet enough for you, add 1 tsp agave.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The lesson here? Vegan food is never as hard as we make it.

For the celebration of my 20th anniversary working for the MSF, I had requested that all the food be cruelty-free. It was important to me, and even though it was going to be an added stress for the staff who were doing the planning, I figured I could be excused considering the occasion. I gave them the information for some vegan caterers and bakeries.

Yesterday at the party, after what I'm sure was extensive planning, we had a fabulous vegan meal. The menu was:

Spring green salad
Penne aglio e olio with broccoli
Grilled vegetable wraps
Cheese-free pizza with grilled vegetables
Garlic rolls
Fruit salad

A sorbet station with sprinkles and marshmallows
Thin mint cookies
Chocolate cake

It was marvelous... and it wasn't from a vegan restaurant at all. It was just from the gang's favorite Italian joint across the street and from Whole Foods and Publix.

The ladies had gone through all the options, trying to work within the budget (which, since we're a charity, is rightly minimal - we're super conscientious about what we spend) and were just having the hardest time, from what I heard. But that's because I had unnecessarily made it harder on them by steering them towards vegan restaurants.

The fact is that most restaurants today can and will accommodate vegans. Vegan food does not have to be outside the mainstream. It doesn't have to be difficult. And it doesn't have to be more expensive, either, despite the fact that many of us are used to paying more at all-vegan restaurants. Sometimes it's just as simple as the chef agreeing to leave off the cheese.

I'm really grateful that my colleagues figured that out, and I'm so grateful that they cared enough to make this happen for me. To me, watching that cheese-free pizza disappear and hearing people say about the cake, "But... it just tastes like cake!" was one of the best things that happened all day. Because the lesson they taught me with their solution to the catering problem is the same lesson I was trying to teach everyone there: eating vegan is never as hard as we make it out to be!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Vegan on the Road: Seattle, Washington

Everyone knows that Seattle is vegan-friendly, right? But the thing I discovered on this trip that I loved is that you don't have to go out of your way to find vegan food.

I happened to have been traveling with three non-vegan coworkers, and I was determined not to be a pain in their backsides. (Meanwhile, they were so lovely and determined to accommodate me. We were all four bending over backwards.) So rather than try to sort out where to eat on our arrival at lunch time, we opted for the food court at the Westlake Center mall. I figured a vegan can always find one decent option in a food court, huh? Well, honestly, I had half a dozen! Indian, Thai, Chinese, Greek, Mexican, Japanese... they all had something. But here was the greatest thing. When I walked up to the Greek joint, Mediterranean Avenue, and said that I'd like a Greek salad with falafel minus the feta, the counter person immediately asked if I was vegan and advised me on all my options. "The dressing has dairy. I'd recommend olive oil and lemon juice. Also, the pita bread has dairy, would you like some tabbouleh instead? The tahini sauce for the falafel is vegan." It was delightful not to have to ask all those questions!

One of the many gorgeous fruit stalls
at Pike Place Market.
When deciding on dinner that night, the ladies broke out their smartphones, determined to find someplace with good vegan options. We settled on Wild Ginger, a Pan-Asian restaurant specializing in satay, with a fairly extensive vegan breakout menu. I don't eat soy, so there were fewer options for me, but clearly there were enough to make a meal. In the end, I opted to keep it simple and ordered asparagus satay (four stalks of grilled local asparagus with orange teriyaki sauce and fresh pickles) and the market vegetable, which happened to be spinach served with brown rice. You know how sometimes you eat something simple and it just seems like a revelation? I left wondering how exactly you get spinach to taste that good... and I LOVE spinach. I eat it all the time! But there's just something about how perfectly they prepare these simple dishes that makes them transcend what you're used to. And the pickles! Oh my word, the pickles!

One note about Wild Ginger - if you go, call ahead. We were lucky to get seats at the counter. They were fully booked with reservations.

My final meal in Seattle was the next day's breakfast. We went to Pike Place Market, and I figured I'd grab some fruit. (Which I did. The most luscious peaches, oh my!) But as we were walking among the flower stalls, I heard a girl walking past say "vegan bakery" and got the impression she was speaking about someplace in the market. From that moment on, I was on a mission! Did I find it? Oh yes, I did!

Cinnamon Works,
across the street from the market proper.
Cinnamon Works is not an all-vegan bakery, but they did have a nice selection of vegan, gluten-free, and vegan/gluten-free options. I got an enormous marionberry scone that served as breakfast for not one, but two days for a mere $3.25. My coworker Gay bought a loaf of vegan banana bread for $4.00 that was to-die-for. While I enjoyed the other places we ate in Seattle, this is my Must Visit recommendation. (And you know you're going to the Market anyway. All roads lead.)

One day, I hope the rest of the country will be as vegan-friendly as Seattle!

Vegan Aboard: Eating Cruelty-free on Celebrity Cruise Lines

First of all, I'd like to apologize for the dearth of delicious food photos with this post. I was traveling for work and I just didn't think it was seemly to whip out my camera at meals. It's extra sad because the presentation of the food I'll be talking about was lovely! Now, on to the topic at hand.

A special buffet lunch in the Epernay dining room.

When I first was asked to spend a week aboard the Celebrity Solstice on a cruise to Alaska, of course I was delighted! But I was also worried about how difficult it might be to maintain a healthy vegan diet on-board. Cruise lines are famous for their extravagant but animal-laden menus. I immediately reached out to our company's travel agent, Gabriela from Aragon Travel, who knew exactly what I needed to do. She told me that she had noted it on my reservation, but advised me to make sure and attend the first seated dinner and speak to my waiter to make sure the kitchen was aware and would accommodate my requests. I felt confident after that conversation that dinner would be taken care of, but breakfast and lunch I wasn't so sure about.

My mind was set at ease the minute we arrived on the ship. We boarded the Solstice early, before the staterooms were ready, so the staff encouraged us to enjoy the buffet in the Oceanview Cafe. Immediately, I saw that I'd have no problem. The buffet included a stir-fry station and a pasta station where you could select your own ingredients for a cooked-to-order dish, a salad bar, an antipasto bar with a selection of marinated vegetables, a taco bar, as well as a variety of other rotating dishes. (The frequent appearance of Indian food was also helpful, and the samosas were delicious!)

They also had an ice cream bar, and I decided that it was a long-shot, but I would check to see if they had any dairy-free treats. I saw that they had sorbet and asked whether it was definitely dairy-free. The attendant immediately left the station to go find a supervisor and make certain. And it was! They then impressed me further with their excellent training about food sensitivities. When I mentioned that some of the mango sorbet had fallen into the raspberry and that I am allergic to mango, the attendant scooped off and disposed of any bits that may have been contaminated, then went and washed the scoop before serving me.

That evening at dinner, I spoke to my waiter as Gabriela recommended. He promptly went to speak to the chef. When he returned, he said that the chef would make a special dish just for me that evening, and that for each subsequent meal, I would be given the menu a day in advance to select a dish I would like them to veganize. That first night, he brought me an elegantly-plated and completely scrumptious ratatouille. From there on out, I got to choose.

Helpfully, their menus already indicated which dishes were vegetarian, lactose-free (which usually meant dairy-free), and gluten-free (which, while not an issue for me, helps when one is avoiding eggs as breadcrumbs can be hidden egg carriers). Of the five courses available each night (appetizer, salad, soup, entree, dessert), there were usually two - sometimes three - that were easily veganizable plus a sorbet for dessert. From the naturally vegan watermelon gazpacho or kale and pear salad, to the modified wild mushroom risotto or vegetable korma, the food was fresh and lovely every night.

If I had any questions about how carefully they were considering my requests, they were quickly done away with. On the second evening, I had requested a rigatoni dish sans cheese. When my plate arrived, the waiter explained that they had double-checked and found the rigatoni contained egg, so they had substituted rice-based pasta that was vegan. And one evening when I was visiting colleagues at another table, the waiter from my table tracked me down to take my order for the next day!

For breakfast, there were many choices that were probably vegan, but at that hour of the morning I could never be bothered to ask. I made a fine meal out of what I was sure of. There was plenty of fresh fruit, as well as home-fried potatoes with peppers and onions, grilled mushrooms, a variety of nuts and seeds (set out for the oatmeal, though I never asked if it was made with water or milk - I just grabbed the berries, nuts, and seeds). Also? Some really delicious hashbrowns.

The pinnacle of vegan-friendliness, however, was room service. Typically, room service in hotels is very rigid about what they will serve and won't make substitutions or alterations. But on the last night of the cruise when I was completely knackered from a day of working and packing, I decided to give room service on the ship a try. I could have ordered salad and crudites, but I really wanted a cheese-free pizza. When I asked if they would make one for me, it seemed like they were surprised I even had to ask! Within 20 minutes, a gorgeous veggie-packed cheese-free personal pizza was piping hot at my stateroom door.

I was tremendously impressed with how helpful, accommodating, and well-trained the kitchen staff and wait staff on the Solstice were, and can only imagine that they are a reflection of Celebrity's policies as a whole. I will have no hesitation about my ability to enjoy traveling with them in the future. They made my cruise a terrific experience!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"Self-Radicalization" and the Vegan View on Violence

Since the Boston Marathon bombings, the term "self-radicalization" has entered the common lexicon. It refers to someone who became radical without face-to-face interaction with those holding extremist views, basically someone who developed radical beliefs through viewing extremist material on the Internet. Frankly, the phrase is kind of silly. 

First of all, viewing extremist material on the internet is still being influenced by others. There is no Big Byte Bang happening where this content explodes into digital existence from nothingness; someone developed and posted it. So for starters, we can take the 'self' out of 'self-radicalization.' 

Second, 'radicalization' is something of a misnomer. One can hold radical beliefs without being a violent extremist. What does being 'radical' mean, after all? It simply means believing that drastic change is necessary in some element of society, be it political, social, financial, or environmental. The Founding Fathers of the United States were radicals in their rejection of the British monarchy, for example. Furthermore, to some degree being radical depends on your circumstances. While a person with communist views was considered radical in America in 1950, a person with democratic views would've been considered a radical in Russia. So clearly, (1) it's something of a subjective term and (2) there is nothing inherently wrong with being radical. 

Ethical vegans are, by definition, radicals. We believe that a drastic change must take place in our society for the sake of animals, the environment, and human health. Most of us are, by the silly definition, 'self-radicalized,' having adopted this belief through reading books and viewing material on the internet, rather than indoctrination. Again, nothing inherently wrong.

So where does the real problem lie? Not in radical thinking, but in violent thinking. Not in believing drastic change is necessary, but in believing that violence is justified to create that change. When an individual begins to believe committing violent acts is justified, they cross the line from radical to extremist; when they actually commit those acts, they cross the line from extremist to terrorist.

Unfortunately, there are certainly dark corners of the vegan world where this extremism exists. I was tremendously disappointed to learn that the oft-quoted, oft-promoted Gary Yourofsky (he of the "Best Speech You Will Ever Hear" viral video) actually publicly endorses violence, up to and including murder of vivisectionists. (I will not link to his essay here because I oppose violence, but a simple Google search will turn it up.) 

While I object to the term 'self-radicalization' to describe the process that led two young men to kill and maim in Boston, there clearly was a process that led them to become extremists, and then terrorists. It was a process that involved (1) finding people to blame, (2) finding validation of that blame and anger from a community of others - in this case, an online community, (3) feeding that negativity until it boiled over into hatred and violence.

And I suppose that's my point for my vegan friends: what are we feeding in ourselves? Hatred or compassion? 

A reporter who decided to investigate extremist groups online described the violent imagery they share as a sort of  pornography. 'Hate porn', if you will. In Muslim extremist groups, he found hate porn of children killed by Western military action. Had he examined vegan extremist groups, he would've found graphic images of slaughtered and abused animals. 

I'm not suggesting there isn't a place for these images. Yes, it's important to help others understand the inherent violence of a non-vegan diet. Yes, it's important for us to know what's really going on in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations, or factory farms). Yes, it's important to document and educate about animal abuse. But the constant viewing of these types of images is a red flag that you may be headed towards extremism. Logically, if you are a vegan who understands the truths these images represent, how often do you need to see them? How does it benefit you to see them again and again? You have to ask yourself, at what point does this only serve to feed my anger?

If you follow the so-called self-radicalization process and (1) find people to blame - in this case, non-vegans, (2) find validation of that blame and anger from a community of others who are equally angry and (3) continue to feed it with hate porn, the natural outcome is a justification of violence. The natural outcome is extremism at best and terrorism at worst.

So I think we have to beware. Beware of blaming, beware of hatred, beware of justifications of violence. Beware of feeding the negative. If you find yourself anywhere along that dangerous path that's being mistakenly called 'self-radicalization' - the path that goes from blame, to hatred, to justification of violence, to violent acts - just turn back. Feed compassion, understanding, and empathy instead.

The heart of veganism, the very essence of it, is a belief in the right of all creatures to live, free from unnecessary suffering. Violence toward any living creature is inconsistent with vegan tenets. That's a simple truth. Remember that veganism is, in it's refusal to kill or harm animals, radical nonviolence. That's a kind of self-radicalization that no one can condemn.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Photos: Charlotte, NC

This graveyard dates to 1776. It's one street over from the main drag, pictured above.

 Charlotte is an interesting city for the attractive blend of old and new, urban and suburban, all in very close proximity.

We took a walking tour of the historic 4th Ward, which is a lovely family neighborhood smack dab in the middle of downtown. People chatted to us in the street, waved from their porches, and all seemed to know each other's dogs by name.

I loved both the historic homes and the lovely local flora.

Outside the city, I had the chance to visit the McDowell Nature Preserve.

Check out my previous post for info on my favorite vegan eats in Charlotte!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Tabbouleh Tacos

How fresh and delicious does that look? And yet, it's a quick meal made with prepared foods. I don't feel guilty at all, because it's easy to find prepared hummus and tabbouleh that are fresh and wholesome, without added preservatives or chemicals. Just check the deli section of your local grocery.

Here's my ideal blend for perfect flavor.

For each taco:
1 three-seed whole wheat tortilla
2 tbsp lemon hummus (or original hummus with a small squeeze of fresh lemon)
3 tbsp tabbouleh
garnish with olives and dark leafy greens (I used Organic Girl's "I Love Baby Kale" blend, which has kale, spinach, and other greens)

When I'm feeling the need for something a little more hearty, I'll add in some matchstick carrots and slices of cucumber. Delicious!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Vegan on the Road: Zizi's Vegetarian in Charlotte, NC

According to the Veganesse's Charlotte Vegan Dining Guide, there are quite a few places for a vegan to get a meal in "Queen City." Unfortunately, the way the timing worked out, I only got to sample one. Fortunately, it was a good one!

Zizi's Vegetarian Restaurant is not at all aptly named. First of all, the food is all vegan. Secondly, it's not exactly a restaurant. More of a takeout counter. But the food is worth finding a place to sit and eat.

(Just a hint, Reedy Creek Nature Center & Preserve is less than 5 minutes away. There are plenty of picnic tables, covered pavilions - even with a fireplace! -  and a really charming view of the woods.)

For a little takeout counter, Zizi's really has a pretty extensive menu. They specialize in veganized versions of American food - Buffalo chicken, meatloaf, turkey and gravy, burgers, fried fish, macaroni and cheese. But they also have some conventional vegan fare for those not into analogues, like veggie stir-fry, spicy tofu, or grilled portabellos.

My flexitarian traveling companion, Debbie, ordered the lentil loaf with mac & cheese and mashed cauliflower potatoes with gravy.

Debbie was a big fan of the lentil loaf (which I snitched a bite of and I agree, it was delicious). Having never had vegan mac & cheese before, she was pleasantly surprised at how tasty it was, and really liked the addition of corn to give it a little texture. Her only criticism was that she expected the cauliflower mashed potatoes to be a little more cauliflower and a little less potato.

I also had the mac & cheese and the cauliflower mash. My main dish was the Philly cheese steak sub, which is finely chopped seitan cooked with grilled onions and topped with a 'cheese sauce' of whipped Veganaise.

I cannot emphasize enough how delicious that sub was. It was very much like the original (meat) version in flavor and texture, but without any of the greasiness, grossness, or the guilt.

I also really enjoyed the sides. The gravy on the mash was flawless - much better than mine. The mac & cheese was good, but didn't compare to my homemade. (Of course, that would be really difficult, since I make the VegNews recipe, which is literally the best mac and cheese in the universe, no exaggeration.) But really, it was the sub that got me. So much so that I was tempted to run by to grab another for dinner on my way to the airport. I refrained, but only just barely.

I've got to give Zizi's credit for both the quality of the food and the reasonable prices. If I lived in Charlotte, I think it would be my go-to for takeout food. Should I find myself back in town, I'll definitely be visiting again!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Photos: Montauk, NY

These are some of my favorite photos from my recent trip to Long Island. There wasn't a lot of wildlife, but the scenery was glorious!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Can you be vegan and gluten-free?

Transitioning from a standard diet to a vegan one seems daunting enough, but for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or wheat allergies, there's an added level of fear. Can it even be done?

You may be surprised to know that, not only can it be done, but there are now an abundance of resources to help you: blogs, cookbooks, a website, even a forum. Let's take a look, keeping in mind this list is not exhaustive:

The Gluten-Free Vegan - A wide variety of recipes, including many common comfort foods (mac & cheese, shepherd's pie, muffins and cookies) and a selection of Mediterranean dishes (falafel, tabbouleh, dolmathes). Recipes come in a printable format.

Gluten Free, Soy Free, Vegan - Earthy foods and flavors from a Peace Corps volunteer living in Senegal. Mixed in among standards like pancakes and smoothies, find recipes for pumpkin lasagna, squash tagine, lentil dhaal, or dosas.

Manifest Vegan - An all-purpose gluten-free vegan cooking site. Find recipes to satisfy foodies as well as novice cooks. Also has tags for those who are soy-free, nut-free, corn-free, or refined sugar-free.

See also: The Welcoming KitchenGoing Against the Grain, Veganza, and Fork & Beans

Websites: - Includes resources, recipes, product reviews, tutorials, tips for baking and for dining out. - recipes, tips, and lifestyle advice.

Great Gluten Free Vegan Eats, by Allyson Kramer
The Gluten-Free Vegan and Gluten-Free Vegan Comfort Food, by Susan O'brien
The Welcoming Kitchen, by Kim Lutz
Gluten-Free & Vegan Holidays, Flying Apron's Gluten-Free & Vegan Baking Book and Gluten-Free & Vegan Bread by Jennifer Katzinger

Forum: - While the activity in the forum ebbs and flows (it seems to be in an ebb stage at the time of this writing), the wealth of information in the previous thread makes it worth creating an account. Find recipes, resources, and advice from others with first-hand experience.

While being both gluten-free and vegan definitely presents some challenges, with the amount of information and support available, it's not only possible, it's now simpler than ever.

Vegan on the Road: Ariana Cafe & Hikudo Asian Bistro in Huntington, NY

It's never too difficult for a vegan to find some place to eat while traveling, but still, it sure is nice when someone takes it out of your hands! On a recent trip to Long Island, I left myself entirely in the care of my dear hosts, Jenn and Betsy, and was amply rewarded for my trust in their restaurant-finding abilities.

On the day of my arrival, we dropped my bags at my hotel in Huntington, then took a day trip out to Montauk to hike around the lighthouse. Along the way, we stopped for lunch in East Hampton at a gourmet market chain called Citarella.

Citarella had an absolutely amazing salad bar. In addition to all your standard salad bar items, they had grilled squash and zucchini, gourmet olives, huge artichoke hearts, roasted peppers... very fancy! And still reasonably priced - it was about the same per-pound price as the salad bar at Whole Foods.

For dinner that night, we returned to Huntington and met up with my colleague and traveling companion, Crystal, and her friend at Ariana, an Afghan fusion restaurant with a separate vegan menu. 

Jenn warned me that Ariana had been featured on Restaurant Stakeout for bad service. It's a family-run restaurant, and while the food rates highly, the service leaves something to be desired. Well, this turned out to be true, but I've certainly had worse service. The owners themselves attended to us, and they were polite and careful about determining who at the table was vegan and who wasn't. It was only their attentiveness and speed that left something to be desired. If you go, just be ready to flag them down if you need something. But on to the food! 

Upon seating, we were served pita triangles with house-made hummus and eggplant dip, kalamata olives, and pickled red cabbage. All absolutely delicious.

The hot tea was a lovely selection of tea bags of various flavors, and I was pleased to see that they did have raw (vegan) sugar out in the sugar service.

Crystal and I both ordered from the vegan menu. Crystal ordered the Vegan Delight, which was a sampler including banjan buranee (sliced eggplant with peppers, onions, and tomatoes in a marinara sauce) and sabzi chalaw (spinach and herbs with basmati rice), all with a side of steamed vegetables. Crystal enjoyed the dish, saying that the eggplant was similar to an Italian style eggplant, and the spinach to an Indian palak dish.
I chose the vegan steak, a portabella mushroom with a pomegranate balsamic sauce, accompanied by a side of sauteed spinach and steamed vegetables.

The vegetables were all cooked beautifully. I could've eaten a significantly larger portion of spinach, but you know how we vegans love our greens. The portion of mushroom steak was ample, with two large mushrooms. The pomegranate sauce was tart and a lovely complement to the earthy flavor of the mushroom, but the balsamic was a bit heavy. Next time I'd ask them for a lighter touch with the vinegar. But it didn't deter my love of the dish in the slightest.

I would definitely recommend a visit to Ariana if you're in the area. Just make sure you're not in a rush!

The next morning, Crystal and I had a breakfast meeting at our hotel, the Hilton Long Island. I was delighted to find that their buffet actually had many vegan-friendly items - fresh fruit, home-fried potatoes, oatmeal and cream of wheat made with water instead of milk (made plain, with various dried fruits and nuts to choose from to make your own flavor), and fruit smoothies made to order. And at $12.95 on weekends, it was actually less expensive than many hotel breakfasts.

Finally, before Crystal and I caught our flight back that evening, we made our way back to Huntington's Main Street, right down the road from Ariana, and stopped at Hikudo. This Asian bistro/sushi bar had a variety of vegan options on the menu, in every category from soups and salads to appetizers and main dishes. (Unfortunately not desserts, but I was wisely carrying some fair trade vegan chocolate.) 

I opted for the vegetable dumplings as an appetizer, and I would fly back to New York right now just for another serving. They were perfect! The perfect amount of crisp on the bottom, the perfect firm 'bite' in the middle (to the point that I actually double-checked with the waiter to make sure they hadn't inadvertently given me meat-filled dumplings, as veggie dumplings tend to be mushy), and perfectly seasoned. The sauce was light and tasty. Just so good.

For my main dish, I selected the mixed green vegetable stir-fry, which was a huge plate loaded with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, baby corn, and mushrooms and a side of rice. The sauce was delectable, and like the dumplings, the vegetables were cooked to the exactly perfect degree. Not one bite overcooked, not one bite undercooked, but every vegetable on the plate done just so. That's an impressive feat.

Jenn and Crystal seemed to be equally satisfied with their (non-vegan) selections, so I'd say it's definitely a place for enjoying a meal in mixed company. As a plus, the service was outstanding.

My thanks to Jenn and Betsy for making it such a stress-free, fun, and delicious trip for me and for Crystal!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Miracle Minute Vegan Fudge

I was going through a box of my old recipe cards the other day and found the recipe for my mom's microwave fudge. I used to love this stuff when I was a kid, even though it never really set up like real fudge. Well, problem solved through veganizing! Since vegan shortening or butter tends to stay firmer than dairy butter, this has a very authentic fudge consistency. People will think you made it the old-fashioned way!

It's so easy that even non-cooks can make it. I've come up with two different delicious flavors. Best of all? It only takes a max of five minutes!

Chocolate Fudge

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegan shortening or butter (I use 1 stick of Earth Balance shortening)
1/4 cup non-dairy milk (I use almond milk)
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Creamy, delicious peanut-buttery fudge!
Line a 8x8 pan with parchment paper (or wax paper). In a microwave-safe bowl, mix the first three ingredients. Cut the butter into pats and drop into dry ingredients. Microwave 1 - 2 minutes until butter is melted. Add milk and stir until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Microwave one minute, add vanilla, and stir until smooth. (If it gets too firm to stir effectively, microwave 30 seconds and stir again.) Microwave 30 seconds and pour into prepared pan. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Cut in squares and serve.

Peanut Butter Fudge

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegan shortening  or butter (I use 1/2 stick of Earth Balance shortening)
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup non-dairy milk (I use almond milk)
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract (optional)

Line a 8x8 pan with parchment paper (or wax paper). In a microwave-safe bowl, mix the first two ingredients. Cut the butter into pats and drop into dry ingredients. Microwave 1 - 2 minutes until butter is melted. Add peanut butter and microwave 30 seconds. Add milk and stir until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Microwave one minute, add vanilla, and stir until smooth. (If it gets too firm to stir effectively, microwave 30 seconds and stir again.) Microwave 30 seconds and pour into prepared pan. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Cut in squares and serve.

Monday, January 14, 2013

20 Recipes for Vegans Who Can't Cook

This post is mainly for my friend Ana - a frozen food vegan, but it's come up before and I'm sure it will come up again. When you develop a sensitivity or allergy to something like soy or wheat, that way of eating can become really tough to maintain.

So here are some really easy meal ideas (I only hesitatingly call them 'recipes') for people who are cooking-challenged. They don't generally require any more knowledge than being able to boil water, turn on your oven to a specified temperature, or simmer something on the stove.They're also very flexible for whatever your likes or dislikes are. To make gluten-free, simply use gluten-free noodles or breads when those are called for.

If you have other suggestions for soy-free, super-easy meals, please leave them in comments!

Pixie's Spaghetti Bolonese - Boil noodles. Drain and rinse a can of black beans. Either chop beans roughly and add to sauce, or add to sauce and pulse with an immersion blender until roughly the consistency of soy crumbles. Serve with a salad and fresh whole grain bread.

Pesto pasta - Boil & drain noodles. Toss with prepared dairy-free pesto. Add your choice of combination: a drained jar of artichokes, a drained jar of olives, a drained jar of marinated mushrooms, jarred roasted red peppers, or pre-cut from the fresh produce section, a package of diced peppers, onions, and tomatoes. Serve warm or cold.

Mom's Italian pasta salad - Boil and drain noodles. Add any of the veggies listed under 'Pesto' or matchstick carrots, drained and rinsed kidney beans or chickpeas, or chiffonade (thin ribbons) of spinach, kale, or basil leaves. Toss noodles and veggies with Italian salad dressing to coat. Best served chilled.

Lo Mein - Boil rice noodles. Microwave a bag of stir-fry vegetables. Toss with the Asian sauce of your choosing. (If you want to add seitan for extra protein or 'bite', toss strips into the pot with the noodles for the last minute of cooking to heat up.)

Chili - Mix 2 cans of ready to eat chili beans with 1 can black beans, 1 can of diced tomatoes and chilies, and a drained can of corn. Mix in chili powder and cumin to taste, or add half a can of enchilada sauce if you don't have spices on hand. Heat and serve.

Black-eyed peas: Heat a can of black-eyed peas on the stove top. Toss in a teaspoon of minced garlic (sold in jars in the produce section) and 1/4 diced onion (also sold pre-cut in the produce section) and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes. Serve over steam-in-bag microwave brown rice or quinoa, with some steamed broccoli or carrots mixed in. (Birds Eye has a rice mix with those things already in it!)

Wraps & Sandwiches
Mediterranean wrap - On a sundried tomato wrap, spread 2 tbsp of hummus, 1/4 - 1/2 cup of prepared tabbouleh (available in most grocery store deli departments), and a handful of raw spinach or kale. You can also add matchstick carrots, sunflower seeds, and/or olives. Roll and eat.

Hot artichoke sub - Stuff a sub roll with marinated artichokes, canned mushrooms, jarred roasted red peppers, spinach leaves, basil leaves, and olives. Wrap it in tin foil. Turn your oven to 400 degrees and toss it in for 10 minutes to heat up.

Burrito - Spread a large whole wheat tortilla with refried beans or mashed black beans. Add any combination of lettuce, baby kale, spinach, tomato, onion, salsa, black olives, diced cucumber, leftover kernel corn, avocado

Open-face tapenade sandwich - Toast two pieces of rye or pumpernickel bread. Top with prepared dairy-free olive tapenade and spinach leaves.

BBQ seitan - Mix seitan strips with your favorite BBQ sauce and warm on stove or in micro. Serve on a bun.

Mexican pizza - Coat one side of a flat bread, pita, or tortilla with taco sauce. Top generously with pre-cut trio of tomatoes, onions, and peppers (sold in the fresh produce department). Add black olives, leftover corn kernels, or jalepenos. Bake 10 min at 400.

Italian pizza - Coat one side of a flat bread or split, toasted English muffins with marinara sauce. Top with the pizza veggies of your choosing and/or a little Daiya (shredded vegan cheese). Bake 10 min at 400.

Mediterranean pizza - Coat one side of a flat bread or pita with dairy-free Greek dressing (or Italian dressing if you can't find a dairy-free Greek). Top with spinach, tomatoes, onions, olives, artichokes and vegan parmesan-substitute, if you like. Bake 10 min at 400.

Rice (or substitute other steam-in-bag grains)
Mushroom rice and veggies - Mix 1 bag steam-in-bag rice with a can of vegan mushroom gravy and a bag of steamed mixed vegetables.

Microwave stir-fry - Mix 1 bag rice with 1 bag Asian steamed veggies. Top with you favorite soy-free Asian sauce.

Mexican rice and beans - Take 1 bag steam-in-bag Spanish rice or Southwestern rice and mix with one cane of seasoned chili beans or seasoned black beans.

Vegetable soup - toss cut up root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc.) into a pot with a box of vegetable stock. Boil until 10 minutes, then add any other softer veggies you like and simmer for 10 more minutes or until all the veggies are fork tender. Add a little salt or any other spices you like.

Box soup - take any vegan boxed soup (creamy broccoli, carrot almond, roasted red pepper, etc.), warm, and add a bag of steamed vegetables and some salt and pepper. You could also add leftover grains or noodles.

Black bean soup - add 2 cans of seasoned black beans to a box of vegetable stock. Mix in one package of pre-cut tomatoes, peppers, and onions (sold in the fresh produce section). Simmer until the peppers are soft.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Currant and Walnut Applesauce Cake

This is the quickest, easiest egg- and dairy-free cake imaginable. It takes under five minutes to prepare and comes out perfect every time. I can't take all the credit: this is a modified version of a recipe from PETA's cookbook, The Compassionate Cook. (Which is a cookbook totally worth the five or so bucks on Amazon.) Here's my version:

Currant & Walnut Applesauce Cake

1/2 cup vegan butter (1 stick of Earth Balance)
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 cups all-purpose flour (organic white or wheat)
1 cup packed organic brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice blend
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup currants (or raisins)
1 cup crushed walnuts
2 tbsp organic powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Spray the bottom of an eight- or nine-inch square pan with organic cooking spray. (I use a Corningwear dish.) Melt the butter (either in a pan on the stove or in a microwave-safe bowl). Mix all the other ingredients except the powdered sugar into the pan/dish with the butter. Stir just until combined. Pour into the sprayed baking dish. Bake for 35 - 45 minutes until a knife slid into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar and serve. 

Sork and Powerkraut (Vegan Pork & Sauerkraut)

When I first got married, my mother-in-law introduced me to a family friend, a little old Polish lady named Pauline. This dear woman loved to show hospitality and always urged us to eat any time we came to visit. Her specialties were Old World dishes from her childhood: stuffed cabbage, dumplings, and pork with sauerkraut.

Raised on a standard American diet, all of these foods were unfamiliar to me, but I learned to love the flavors and the heartiness. When dear Pauline finally passed away, I learned to make them on my own.

Now, at last, I decided to come up with a vegan version for one of Pauline's recipes. Knowing how healthy fermented foods like sauerkraut are for you, I was looking to get more in my diet. As usual, converting the recipe was much easier than I expected. As usual, the end result is much healthier for you. Simply replace the pork with prepared seitan and adjust the cooking time. The flavor is authentic, but without all the fat.

Sork (seitan 'pork') and Powerkraut

30 - 32 ounces of sauerkraut (2 cans, or 2 small jars, or one large bag)
8 oz cubed seitan (I use Westsoy, found at Whole Foods in the refrigerated section)
1 small apple, peeled, cored, and cubed. (Use a sweet apple variety, not a sour one, to mellow the kraut.)

Add all ingredients to a pot. If necessary, add enough water to cover. Bring just to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer until apples are soft - about 45 minutes to an hour. Serve with a slotted spoon, sprinkling with salt and pepper if desired.