Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rockin' the Casbah

I've already done an official Bluff City Vegan Eats post about Casablanca, a Moroccan/Middle Eastern restaurant. But that post was from 2011 when Casablanca only had one location on Poplar in East Memphis. Now there is a second location in Cordova on Germantown Parkway, and it recently changed its name to Casbah to distinguish itself from its sister restaurant. Same menu, same owners, different name. (Yes, I know The Clash are stuck in your head now. You're welcome.).

For those who don't live here, Cordova is way out in the 'burbs, so I don't get out there often. To a Midtowner like me, Cordova seems to be all strip malls and chain restaurants, and about the only thing that drags me out that way are the handful of friends I have who live there. One of those is my friend Cindy. We haven't seen one another in a bit, and Cindy eats meat (and she can be a bit of a picky eater). But the one thing we both love is Middle Eastern fare.

So we met for dinner at Casbah last night. It was my first time checking out the Cordova location. As most things in Cordova are, it's located in a strip mall. But inside, you're transported to another land. The decor is much fancier here than in the older East Memphis location.

As for the food, it's all the same! Cindy ordered their locally famous ginger-sage tea. It's supposed to be the bee's knees. But I'm just not a tea girl, so I opted for Turkish coffee. Few things in the world can top coffee with cardamom. Or anything with cardamom, really.

I typically order the falafel sandwich (called the Big Mac of the East) at the other place, so I decided to try something different — the Vegetarian Platter.

Now, this typically comes with spanakopita, but that contains cheese. So I asked to leave that off and sub with extra falafel. On the plate are lots of falafel, stuffed grape leaves with carrots and squash, and hummus. A basket of pita was served on the side.

They have AMAZING falafel! I won't say it's the best in town. That honor would go to Al-Rayan. But it's close. I'd put it in second place. Definitely the best falafel that side of East Parkway. My only complaint was there simply wasn't enough hummus. I like to dip my falafel and my pita in hummus, and there were only about two tablespoons here. Luckily, Cindy shared her Baba Ganoush. Casbah definitely wins the award for best baba ganoush in Memphis. Hands down.

Here's an old pic of Baba Ganoush from a visit to their other location. I forgot to take one last night.

Note to self: Next time I order the Vegetarian Platter, order a side of this!

I'm adding the address for Casbah to the Casablanca entry in my Memphis Vegan Dining Guide, but in case you wanna know now, it's 1890 N. Germantown Pkwy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Macaroni & Tomatoes & Squash

Yesterday, I shared a picture of my first "cookbook," a Lisa Frank notebook filled with recipes I dreamed up when I was somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12. My mama recently dug it up while organizing a closet, and she gave it to me. I'd forgotten all about it! It's filled with craziness, like a recipe for hot dogs topped with salad or one that calls for Taco Bell mild sauce as an ingredient.

Anyway, I'm making it my mission to veganize most (or maybe all!) of the recipes contained within. I started that process last night, and I shared my recipe for Binky's Bum Beans, which are basically just baked beans with potatoes and corn. I have to say, the recipe was pretty damn good.

Tonight, I'm at it again with another recipe from Binky's Cookbook (in case you missed yesterday's post, "Binky" was my childhood nickname). This time, I made a dish I used to call Tomato 'n' Squash Casserole.

As you can see, I didn't get very detailed in my instructions with this one. I guess I was assuming everyone already knew how to make both macaroni & tomatoes and boiled squash because my mama made those dishes all the time.

She'd often make her macaroni and tomatoes (basically elbow mac cooked with stewed tomatoes) and her boiled squash (yellow squash boiled with butter and onions) as individual side dishes for the same meals. But I'd take both sides and mix 'em together. And I apparently considered that to be a casserole.

Well, now I'm older and wiser and realize that two stovetop dishes mixed together does not a casserole make. So I'm changing the name for this one. It involves making my Mama's Macaroni & Tomatoes from Cookin' Crunk, separately making boiled squash, and then combining them in the end. I tried the combo last night, and you know what? It's still delicious!

Here's the updated recipe for Macaroni & Tomatoes & Squash. This recipe is best enjoyed at the height of the summer growing season, when tomatoes are juicy (and cheap!) and crookneck yellow squash is abundant (like right now!). Stewing the tomatoes is a little time-consuming, so I'd recommend doing that the night before, or you could always cheat with a can of stewed tomatoes.

Macaroni & Tomatoes & Squash
Yields 4-6 servings

8 large tomatoes
1 cup water
8 ounces quinoa macaroni pasta or whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 yellow summer squash, sliced
2 tablespoons vegan margarine
2 teaspoons onion powder
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Wash the tomatoes and place them in a large soup pot with a lid. Add enough water to cover. Bring the water to boil over high heat and boil for 5 minutes. Drain the tomatoes into a colander over the sink. Run cold water over the tomatoes so they’re cool enough to touch. Remove the skins and discard.

Chop the tomatoes into quarters and place them back into the large soup pot with the cup of water. Bring to a boil. Then lower heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for one hour. Check periodically to ensure the water does not dry up. Add more water in 1/4 cup increments if needed.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. When the pasta is tender, drain the cooking water and return the pasta to the pot. Stir in the stewed tomatoes and olive oil.

Meanwhile, while the pasta is cooking, place the squash in another saucepan and cover with water until squash is just covered. Add the vegan margarine and onion powder, and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium-high and boil until squash is just tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Drain most of the water from the squash, retaining about one-half to 3/4 cup liquid. Add the squash and liquid to the macaroni and tomatoes. Season with plenty of salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Binky's Bum Beans

A few things you should know about my childhood:
  • My nickname was Binky, short for Binky-doo. A fifth grade teacher couldn't pronounce Bianca, so she called me Binky. It stuck throughout most of high school.
  • I loved all things Lisa Frank (and still do!). And yes, I've read about the sad and seedy underbelly of Lisa Frank's company on But that exposé will never shatter my love for frolicking rainbow unicorns, bunny ballerinas, and pineapples dressed in bikinis.
  • I fancied myself a young chef. I was always in the kitchen mixing up spice blends (lots of garlic powder and seasoned salt!), and I even wrote a cookbook!
I'd actually forgotten about my early attempts at authoring a cookbook though. And then my mom found this a few months back when she was cleaning house.

That, my friends, is my first cookbook. It's an old Lisa Frank notebook with a 1990 copyright, and it's one of her Ultra Neo designs. So I'm guessing I must have been between 10 and 12 when I filled these lined pages with recipes. Flipping through, I discovered some that are pretty crazy — Stir-Fried Wieners, Salad Dog (a hot dog topped with a salad), and McBinky Burgers (hamburgers topped with lunch meat, Velvetta cheese, and Taco Bell mild sauce, among other things). And, I shit you not, there's a recipe for a Meat Dog (hot dog topped with bacon, lunch meat, and hamburger meat).

Suffice to say, I wasn't a vegetarian yet then. That didn't happen until I turned 14. And I swear I wasn't a stoner at age 10, but it certainly sounds like it, no?

Anyway, I'm making it my mission to actually veganize some of these recipes. Yes, even the Meat Dog. I'll blog about my efforts and share the recipes in a series of posts. But I wanted to start with something a little healthier than vegan meat-covered meat. So I picked this recipe for Bum Beans.

No idea why they're "bum" beans, and I'm not certain saying the word "bum" is even PC these days. But oh well. I tried this recipe tonight, and you know what? This was actually really good! Go Binky! Here's the healthy vegan version of Binky's Bum Beans.

And here's the updated vegan recipe. The only real change I made was to cut back on the onion powder and add a little garlic. I used frozen corn instead of canned corn. Oh, and I tried to get a little more specific in the steps than my previous instruction of "cook 'til hot." Ha!

Binky's Bum Beans
Yields 4 cups

1 whole Russet potato, cubed
1 14-ounce can vegetarian baked beans (I used Whole Foods 365 brand)
1 cup frozen corn
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon of seasoned salt (I used Ass Kickin' Habanero Hot Salt)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cover the potato cubes with water in a large pot with a lid. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or until fork tender. Drain and set aside.

While the potatoes are boiling, combine the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat over medium-high for about 15 minutes or until heated through. Stir in the potatoes. Serve.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Stuff I Ate

"What I Ate Monday" (or "What I Ate Tuesday" if you're reading this tomorrow) doesn't have the same ring to it as "What I Ate Wednesday," but oh well. That won't stop me from sharing my regular round-up of random meals.

I serve on the board of directors for an HIV/AIDS nonprofit called Friends for Life, and last week, I met up with director Kim for lunch. There's a great little Vietnamese place just across from FFL headquarters called Saigon Le, and it had been WAY TOO LONG since I'd eaten there. I ordered the Curry Tofu Soup.

The creamy coconut milk soup is loaded with fried tofu, potatoes, and carrots. It comes in a gigantic bowl, and it's definitely enough for two meals. I portioned mine out and topped with rice noodles, mung bean sprouts, and garlic-chili sauce.

At home, I've been eating a smidge healthier. I'm really digging Vega Chocolate Orange Smoothies for my post-run breakfasts (Vega One chocolate powder, segments from one whole orange, zest from one orange, and one cup of almond milk).

And on non-running days, I've been loving Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits! This one has fresh strawberries, Whole Soy & Co. Vanilla Yogurt, and Cascadian Farms Maple Brown Sugar Granola.

And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't include a few meals from Imagine Vegan Cafe in this post. Since I eat there once or twice a week, I always have pics of Imagine's food. After my vegan hambuger/fries/milkshake splurge there a couple weeks back, I've been trying to order some of their healthier fare to make up for it. Last week, I got this Portabella Wrap with black beans, portabella mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sauteed green peppers, spinach, and creamy garlic sauce.

Even though Imagine's focus is on vegan meaty dishes, they do serve vegetable plates. I rarely order those, but sometimes, a girl needs her veggies. I recently ordered this plate with Red Beans & Rice, Sweet Potatoes, Collard Greens, and Coleslaw to-go.

When I order super-healthy meals at Imagine, I usually balance that out with dessert. Imagine has the best desserts in the city. And maybe I'm a little biased because my friend Stephanie bakes them, but she's kind of a cupcake wizard. Just sayin'. Last week, I ordered this light and airy Strawberry Champagne Cupcake from Imagine. Look at the edible bubbles!

But few desserts can top this Insanity Bar from Imagine!! There's a layer of chocolate chip cookie topped with a layer of Oreos topped with a layer of brownie.

And I'll leave you with that. You're welcome.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mac & Cheeze Pizza Party!

A few weeks ago, Stephanie, Cassi, and I were sitting around a table at Imagine stuffing our faces with food while talking about food, which is basically all we ever talk about. Does anything else really even matter?

Anyway, somehow we got on the topic of macaroni & cheese pizza. We'd all seen the pics on blogs of the carb-on-carb pie, but none of us had actually tried it. I admitted that my crazy food guilt issues just wouldn't allow me to make a whole mac & cheese pizza all for myself. So Stephanie said, "Then let's have a party and make one!"We pulled out our phones and picked a date on the calendar. It was a plan!

Fast forward to last night, the night of the fateful mac & cheese pizza party. Stephanie arrived at my house with three dough balls that she'd made earlier in the day. Cassi, who opted to take on dessert pizza, showed up with a jar of Biscoff cookie butter, fresh strawberries, and coconut. And Pam (that's her in this pic) came armed with wine.

And here's Cassi and Stephanie.

Stephanie immediately got to work on the mac, using a recipe from Joanna Vaught's Yellow Rose Recipes. It had Daiya cheddar, nooch, Earth Balance, and some other stuff in it, and it was a very tasty vegan mac. She spread a little mac on the first crust and stuck it in the oven.

Ta-da! It was so good that I just wanted to stick my face in it. Carby, cheesy, crusty goodness.

But we didn't stop there! Oh no! We made another pie, but this time, we drizzled it with the homemade vegan ranch and buffalo sauce that I whipped up while Steph worked on the other stuff.

We thought the first pizza was good, but this was, like, 10 times better. And I'm pretty sure I can never eat mac & cheese pizza again without ranch and buffalo sauce.

We ate salad, also with ranch, for good measure. But I forgot to photograph our salad bowls. Once we'd ingested enough veggies to make up for the carbfest, it was time for dessert!

Cassi dreamed up this dessert pizza with a cookie butter base, strawberries and puree, and coconut. We added the vegan white chocolate chips at the end because, why not? The combination was JUST PERFECT!

Seriously, I need to eat this dessert again very soon. I've not been able to stop thinking about it all day.

The creamy cookie butter was the perfect match for the juicy berries, fatty coconut, and white chocolate. Cassi said she's going to add this to the menu of her soon-to-open vegan restaurant, The Pink Noodle (you can learn more about that effort here).

Now we can all check mac & cheese pizza off our bucket lists. And we're gonna need to do this again one day!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Your Punk Rock Vegan Cookbook

Chef Joshua Ploeg was my Isa before I knew who Isa was. I'd just gone vegan back in 2004 when my friend Jil, who inspired me to move from vegetarian to vegan when we were in an animal rights group together, invited me to a vegan dinner at the DeCleyre Co-op. DeCleyre is this punk rock house near the University of Memphis with a rotating cast of activists, anarchists, punk rockers, vegans, feminists, and just generally radical folks.

I used to hang out there a bit back in my youth, and I think DeCleyre is still around in some form today. But I'm so out of touch. Anyway, this vegan dinner (and a crazy dessert made from cactus) was prepared by Joshua, who at the time, was doing a traveling vegan chef thing (and maybe he still does?). I bought one of his cookzines — Something Delicious This Way Comes: Spellbinding Vegan Cookery — and other than a couple Sarah Kramer/Tanya Bernard books, that was the extent of my cookbook collection. I made a LOT of his recipes back then, and I later ordered his vegan Dutch cookbook, Dutch Much?

Meet Joshua Ploeg!

Joshua's punk rock attitude and delicious recipes helped me stay on the vegan path in my early days. I've remained a big fan and have collected more of his cookzines over the years. I even had another chance to eat his home-cooked food when he stopped through Memphis for a Vegan + Bikes Dinner in 2012.

I was super-thrilled when I learned he was working on a punk rock cookbook!! It's called This Ain't No Picnic: Your Punk Rock Vegan Cookbook. I got to peruse an early electronic copy and provide a blurb for the Microcosm Publishing website. And not long ago, my official copy arrived in the mail! 

Photo stolen from the Microcosm website

This glossy, full-color tome somehow retains it's punky zineness despite the slick look. Maybe it's the collage-y layout and generous use of just about every typeface on the planet. Plus, it's loaded with pictures of punk kids stuffing their faces. Flipping through the pages takes me back to that very punk rock dinner at DeCleyre.

I have my eye on a bunch of recipes I'd eventually like to try, but first, I settled on Refried Beans Pizza for Joey Ramone (named after the refried beans scene from Rock and Roll High School and rather timely consider the recent death of the last Ramone. RIP, Tommy). 

It uses a stovetop crust (how punk rock is that, right?!). You make a yeasted dough and let it rise, and then you cook the crust in a skillet with a bit of oil. Flip it. Top it. Put a lid on it to steam the toppings, and voila. This is topped with salsa, refried beans, black olives, and cilantro. And after slicing, you know I just had to sprinkle it with nooch.

I really loved this crust, perhaps more than any baked crust I've ever made from scratch. My oven is a little janky anyway, so this is more reliable. Plus, the night I made this, my power went out. So I lit my gas stove with a lighter and cooked and ate in the dark. Pretty sure I get bonus punk points for that one.

This book is so much fun. There's a chapter of recipes inspired by punk songs (a mushroom-tofu wienerschnitzel inspired by the Descendents song of the same name, chop suey inspired by Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Hong Kong Garden").

And then there's a chapter on recipes you can make on a road trip, say when your band is touring in a van or something. Dashboard Jerky made from marinated veggies, tofu, and tempeh that you literally dry out on your dashboard in the sunlight! Coffee Pot Curry made with veggies, coconut milk, tofu, and spices in a French press!

Joshua even shares helpful kitchen tips, like cutting veggies with a credit card, blanching in the microwave, and smoking tofu on the stovetop. 

But before you go off thinking this is just some novelty cookbook, think again. Joshua is a for-real chef with for-real skills. He combines punk sensibilities with gourmet talent. So it's like the best of both worlds – fancy meals that celebrate quality without the uppity foodiness. 

His photo of the julienned Rip Her to Shreds for Debbie Harry Asian-style salad (made with daikon, plums, Asian pear, carrot, three colors of bell peppers, rice noodles, Thai basil, and lemongrass) looks like something you'd be served in a five-star restaurant. And he never relies on plant meats (nothing against that!!) but instead makes everything from whole foods. 

He even managed to class up something he calls Old Dumpstered Bagel Rarebit and 40 Oz. Mimosa (basically tomato and cashew cheese rarebit made from day-old bagels served with mimosas made with beer and sparkling OJ).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Portland in a Bowl

This is what Portland tastes like to me.

That there is the Spicy PDX Bowl of Goodness, a recipe recreation by the lovely Katie of Vegan Noms. More on what's in it in a sec. But first, some background: Katie, who lives in Ohio, and I hung out a bit at the first Vida Vegan Con in 2011 in Portland. And we hung out a lot more at the second Vida Vegan Con last year, also in Portland.

Both times, we went to the Bye and Bye, an all-vegan bar with a killer menu of sandwiches and bowls. And most importantly, they also have vegan Bloody Marys. Here are are Katie, myself, Paul, and Brit at the Bye and Bye in 2011.

That year, our first year VVC year, Paul and I both ordered the Eastern Bowl — nooch-coated tofu, broccoli, brown rice, and peanut sauce.

Paul ate his right away and proclaimed it one of the best vegan things he'd ever eaten. I ordered mine as the next day's breakfast and noshed on it in our hotel before flying home. It has all the elements of a great meal — a whole grain, tofu, nooch, and peanut sauce.

Well, thank goddess for Katie because she recreated this amazingness with her Spicy PDX Bowl. I used rainbow quinoa as my grain (but brown rice works too!). The tofu is marinated in a spicy soy sauce, baked, and tossed with nooch. And the sauce is made with the only ingredients in the world that truly matter — peanut butter, Vegenaise, and sriracha. A whopping whole tablespoon of sriracha!

Granted, Katie posted this recipe for the Spicy PDX Bowl of Goodness way back in 2011. And I'm just now getting around to trying it. But I've had a hankering for Portland lately. This did the trick. Now if only Katie could find a way to recreate Voodoo Doughnuts and Hungry Tiger Too corndogs, we'd be set.

By the way, if you're interested in the next Vida Vegan Con, it's all set for Austin in 2015! I've already bought my tickets. Vegan breakfast tacos, here I come!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Eatin' Vegan in Nashville, Day 3 & 4

Hey y'all! This is my last installment in the "what I ate while attending the annual Association of Alternative Newsweeklies conference in Nashville" series. I spent last Thursday through Sunday morning in Music City for the yearly meet-up of editors, publishers, designers, reporters, marketing folks, and ad sales staff of alt-weeklies from across the country. I'm an editor and reporter at the Memphis Flyer.

You can see what I ate Thursday and Friday in my last two posts. But this post is all about Saturday (plus, my breakfast Sunday before hitting the road back home). On Saturday morning, I woke up way too early after going to bed around 3 a.m. the night before. Ugh. But my tummy was growling. Often, on weekends, I'm awakened by hunger, even if I ate right before bed. It's crazy! I only had bars and snacky things in my hotel room, so I decided to venture out in search of food.

I found a burrito shop open at 10:30 a.m.! Oscar's Taco Shop is a little hole-in-the-wall kinda place with a service counter and a couple of tables. But I spied a Vegetarian Burrito on the menu, and I knew I'd be alright. I ordered one with no cheese or sour cream. It was loaded with beans, guacamole, salsa, and rice.

(Disclaimer: Before someone asks me if I checked on the vegan-ness of the beans, I'll tell ya. I didn't. I have a policy about that when eating out at Mexican joints.  If the menu says "vegetarian," I take their word and hope for the best. Part of that is about self-preservation. When I'm hungry and it's all there is, I'll take it and cross my fingers. But it's also about not being the vegan who asks the server ten million questions and makes veganism seem hard. My goal is spreading the vegan word, not being perfect.)

Of course, I had to order Chips and Salsa on the side. Breakfast of champions.

That burrito meal wasn't the best I've ever had, but it did the trick of staving off my hunger (and my slight hangover). It also kept me full for hours. I attended a few conference workshops (one on long-form journalism and one on food writing), and then I rested up in my room for the annual AAN awards ceremony.

I was up for an award this year in the Diversity Reporting category for a cover story I wrote last August called "Nice Day for a Gay Wedding." My newspaper rarely even gets nominated, so this was pretty exciting! But I read the stories I was up against (one from Folio Weekly and one from INDY Week), and they were very good. I was certain I wouldn't win. I snacked on some hummus, veggies, and homemade potato chips at the ceremony and sipped on free wine. And then guess what? When they got to my category, I heard my name! What?! I actually won first place! My award was this medal (which was placed around my neck by a drag queen), a tiny plastic pink cowboy hat, and a shot of Lynchburg Lemonade.

After the awards ceremony, my co-worker Mark (a vegetarian) and I took a Lyft car to East Nashville to dine at my very favorite Nashville vegan restaurant — The Wild Cow!

No trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to the Wild Cow. I always stop in for a meal or two. This time, I ordered the Peanut Tempeh Tacos with Avocado and Garlic Aioli and a side of Lentil Stew with Garlic Aioli.

Their garlic aioli is magical, so I like to order it on as many things as I can. The tacos were perfect with big chunks of peanut-y tempeh and a carrot-daikon slaw. And the lentil stew is a long-time fave of mine. Sometimes I order it as an appetizer and sometimes as a side.

Mark ordered a Veggie Plate (pick three sides) with the Tempeh Stuffed Peppers with Garlic Aioli, Side Salad with Beets, Pumpkin Seeds, and Red Onion, and Garlicky Kale.

Before we left the restaurant, I had the foresight to order an extra meal to eat for breakfast Sunday morning. I planned to wake up at 6 a.m. to head home, and I knew I didn't want to try searching for burritos that early! Since my hotel didn't have a fridge or microwave, I went with something I knew would taste good at room temp and hold up okay overnight — Chickpea Salad Wrap and Couscous Salad with Sundried Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, Sliced Almonds, and Caramelized Onions.

Damn, this hit the spot Sunday morning. I did wake up very hungry. The chickpea salad was loaded with creamy Vegenaise, and the couscous was the big chunky Israeli kind. Yum!

That's all for Nashville! I found so much vegan goodness in Music City. Memphis and Nashville have a little rivalry, and I always kind of want to dislike the place. But with such awesome vegan food, I can't help but love it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Eatin' Vegan in Nashville, Day 2

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I spent Thursday through Sunday morning in Music City for the annual Association of Alternative Newsweeklies conference. Each year, editors, publishers, designers, reporters, marketing folks, and ad sales staff of alt-weeklies from across the country gather for workshops and LOTS of party time. I'm an editor and reporter at the Memphis Flyer, and though I don't get to attend every AAN conference, I've been lucky enough to attend four so far.

I ate a LOT in Nashville, so I'm breaking these up into three posts. You can see Thursday's eats in yesterday's post. Tonight, I'll recap Friday. I woke up in my hotel Friday morning and scarfed down an Odwalla Lemon Ginger Bar. I'm not really a bar for breakfast kinda girl (prefer them for mid-day snacks), but there weren't many other quick options since I had workshops to attend. I went to a couple presentations — one on the future of journalism (story-writing robots! drones!) and one on niche journalism.

And then it was time for the annual Free Speech Lunch. Every year, AAN hosts a cool lunch speaker. My first year when AAN was in Little Rock, former prez Bill Clinton spoke! And last year in Miami, it was Luke from 2 Live Crew! This year, the folks from Freedom Sings performed a medley of once-controversial music (mostly '60s and '70s songs) made possible by free speech. And since it was lunch time, they fed us too.

The main dish was a pasta with cream sauce, so I couldn't eat that. But AAN is always fairly vegan-friendly, and I found plenty to eat — Steamed Veggies, Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Cucumber-Tomato-Onion Salad, and a Wheat Roll.

Since there wasn't much in the way of protein, I snacked on some vegan jerky back in my hotel room. I was a little thankful for the light lunch though because I needed to sneak in an early off-site dinner before the official Friday night AAN party. Lesley of Lesley Eats is a food writer at the Nashville Scene (that city's alt-weekly and the host of this year's con). She suggested I check out Sunflower Cafe. It was about five miles from the hotel, so I grabbed an Uber car.

It's a quaint little cafe in a mostly residential area. I love the giant wooden sunflowers! And since I was there at a weird time (about 3:30 p.m.), I had the whole place to myself. Sunflower has a "meat"-and-three model, and although they have some dairy stuff sometimes, everything was vegan on Friday. I got to choose one main dish (the "meat") and two sides from this massive lunch counter!

I had a hard time settling on three things, but a lovely server helped me out. I went with Mushroom & Quinoa Enchiladas with Daiya, Thai Peanut Noodle Salad, and Sesame Kale.

EVERYTHING WAS SO GOOD! The enchiladas were perfectly gooey with the sauce and tortilla and filling were all melted together just they way they should be. The kale was expertly flavored. And the Thai peanut noodle salad (a recommendation from the guy behind the counter) was by far one of the best things I ate in Nashville. Of course, I doused everything in sriracha.

I spied desserts on the counter, and when I looked closer, I noticed they had cupcakes made by Khan's Desserts. Khan used to bake for Imagine Vegan Cafe in Memphis before my friend Stephanie took over. Khan would drive a batch of cake over from Nashville to Memphis every week, and her stuff was way good. Her minty Grasshopper Cupcakes were always my fave though, and Sunflower had a few for sale. I grabbed one for the road! Nostalgic!

I got a Lyft car back to the hotel, changed, and then headed to the lobby to meet with the rest of our staff. Then we all walked to the AAN cocktail party at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

When we walked in, this adorable band was playing. I wish I'd gotten their name. I don't care for contemporary country, but this band had a more alt-country, rock-a-billy sound. And the lady was crooning something like, "When you're screwin' other women, think of me." Ha! Also, how cute are those matching outfits? (UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Sarah for pointing out that their names are on their mic stands! Ha! Duh, me. The band was The Doyle & Debbie Show).

They were dishing out free cocktails there, and I had my share — a Sweet Tea Vodka Lemonade, a Vodka-Cranberry, and a Grapefruit Vodka cocktail. I needed all those drinks to wash down all the food I ate. I was still full from dinner, but the appetizer spread was totally vegan! I had to support that! I skipped out on the pita and hummus (too filling!) in favor of Pickled Veggies.

After the party, my staff went to a sushi joint since most of them hadn't had dinner yet. They had some vegan stuff on the menu, but I was stuffed! I just had a beer while they enjoyed their meal. But then back at the hotel bar a few hours later, my tummy was grumbling. I had a free appetizer coupon that the Sheraton gave me since my room wasn't ready at check-in the day before. So I used it to order the only vegan appetizer on the bar menu (and an AWESOME one at that) — California Toast (avo-toast with tomato, red onion, and chilis).

That was a lovely way to end the night, for sure! Technically, it didn't stop there. Our crew hit up Broadway again until about 2 a.m. But that was the last thing I ate before bed. I'll be back tomorrow with my final installment of Nashville eats (hint: I'll be blogging about my long-time favorite Nashville vegan restaurant!).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Eatin' Vegan in Nashville, Day 1

I'm back from my work trip to Nashville! I spent Thursday through Sunday morning in Music City for the annual Association of Alternative Newsweeklies conference. Each year, editors, publishers, designers, reporters, marketing folks, and ad sales staff of alt-weeklies from across the country gather for workshops and LOTS of party time. I'm an editor/reporter for the Memphis Flyer. Some years, it's far away (like last year in Miami), and other years, it's within driving distance (Nashville is just a quick 3 1/2-our road trip from Memphis).

I ate a ton while I was there, both at the conference, which was fairly vegan-friendly, and outside the event. Since I took so many pics, I'm going to break these posts up for each day I was there. My editor Bruce, our marketing guru Matt, and I car-pooled up the AAN conference on Thursday morning. We arrived at the downtown Sheraton before check-in, so we checked our bags in and headed out for lunch.

We were looking for something quick that would satisfy our varied diets, and only after walking a few blocks in downtown Nashville, we stumbled upon Pacifica Pan-Asian Cuisine. It was a casual, order-at-the-counter kind of place, perfect for a quick lunch after a car ride. I ordered Tofu Teriyaki with Steamed Rice.

This hit the spot. The tofu was fried but not like super-crazy fried. The sauce was sweet 'n' savory. And the dish was loaded with veggies.

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel. But the rooms still weren't ready! They gave us free drink tickets and free appetizer coupons to use while we waited. I saved my app coupon for later (more on that tomorrow). But I put one drink ticket to use right away with this Turtle Anarchy Portly Stout, a beer brewed in nearby Franklin, Tennessee. Nice and creamy. Love me some good stout.

We FINALLY got our rooms around 5 p.m. (two hours past check-in!). I quickly changed into a dress and met up with the rest of my staff to head to a cocktail party at the Corsair Distillery, where I sampled Nashville-made quinoa whiskey. I wish I'd remembered to take a picture of that!

After that party, we headed to the next one at Robert's Western World, a honky-tonk on touristy Broadway.

I'm not a country music fan, but when in Nashville ... (Also, this band said they were actually from Memphis, so I guess that makes it okay).

You might notice the lack of food since lunch. That's because the only snacks that were vegan at the Robert's party were chips and salsa. I had a plate of chips, but other than that, I didn't have time to eat a proper dinner. My crew stayed out til midnight-ish, and when we arrived back at the hotel, a few of us realized were quite hungry.

Luckily, there was a little 24-hour cafe — Caesar's Italian Restaurant — just a block from the hotel. The selections were mostly cheesy/meaty pizza and burgers, but they did have a Veggie Sub. It was supposed to come with cheese, but I left that off and doused the black olive, pepper, tomato, and onion sub with ketchup and mustard instead. All that bread and chips was actually kind of awesome at 1 a.m.

That's all for tonight. Thursday was more about having fun than eating, but I did eat at two AMAZING vegan restaurants later in the weekend. I'll share more about those places tomorrow.