Thursday, September 28, 2017

Vegan Hot Tamales in Birmingham!

In my last two posts, I shared what I ate at Imagine Music Festival in Atlanta, where Paul and I spent last weekend. But on the road trip from Memphis to Atlanta, we made an amazing discovery — VEGAN HOT TAMALES in Birmingham, Alabama!!!!

Birmingham is the halfway point between Memphis and Atlanta, so we stopped there for lunch. About an hour before we reached the city, I googled "vegan options in Birmingham." I'd found good vegan food there before (at Golden Temple), but we were looking to try something new. And lo and behold, the first thing that popped up was Delta Blues Hot Tamale, a little tamale shop with a ton of vegan options.

If you're not from the South, you may have never heard of the "hot tamale trail." It's a path through the Mississippi Delta where hot tamales are as ubiquitous as cornbread and catfish. You might not think of tamales as a traditional Southern food, but they are! Birmingham isn't exactly on the trail, but it's not far, and the influence of Delta tamales has clearly reached eastward. Delta Blues Hot Tamales makes authentic, spicy Southern-style tamales, and we were excited to try them.

The vegan tamale option were black bean tamales, and you could order them plain or with all kinds of not-so-traditional toppings. Vegan options are clearly marked with a V, and veganizable dishes are listed with instructions on how to order. After much consideration, I settled on the Buffalo Tamale Plate — hold the feta dressing and substitute the vegan ranch.

Y'all!! These black bean tamales were covered in buffalo sauce, and the creamiest vegan ranch. I seriously couldn't believe a little tamale shop in Alabama had vegan ranch, and I just had to order it for that reason alone. I got a side of Cucumber Tomato Salad (a Southern fave!). Paul went with plain tamales — one vegan and one with meat. And he actually loved the vegan tamale the most!

The tamales were amazing — just the right level of heat and plenty of filling. But our appetizer truly blew us away! They had Vegan Fried Pickles with Comeback Sauce!

Vegan fried pickles are really hard to find, as most places use egg batter, but fried pickles have long been one of my favorite things. I was so excited to be able to order these. Comeback sauce (a Southern dip of mayo and chili sauce) typically isn't vegan either, so I was totally excited to eat this. What's really cool is that anyone who orders fried pickles and comeback sauce (or ranch dressing) is served the vegan version, whether they're vegan or not. And I'd bet most omnis would never know the difference.

Other vegan options at Delta Blues Hot Tamales include the Holy Chipotle Plate (black bean tamales with chipotle-lime sauce, charred corn relish, and tomatoes), the Bama Q Plate (tamales with BBQ sauce, slaw, and pickles), the Sweet Potato & Black Bean Tacos, and the Butterbean Hummus Tacos. I love this place so much, and I will definitely be back on the next road trip through Alabama!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What I Ate at My Campsite at Imagine Music Festival

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Paul and I just returned from Imagine Music Festival in Atlanta. It's a multi-day EDM festival with camping! From Thursday night to Monday morning, we spent our days at our makeshift home on the campgrounds at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where the fest was held. The racetrack was converted into a giant rave for the weekend with DJs Tiesto, NGHTMARE, Buku, Datsik, Seven Lions, Dieselboy, Above & Beyond, Pretty Lights, Big Gigantic, and so many more.

Yesterday, I shared pics of the amazing vegan food I found inside the festival grounds, which was in the center of the giant racetrack. There were so many great meatless options inside, but on the campgrounds, there were only four food vendors with only two vegan options between them. I did try one of those vegan options (see my Hot Vegan Balls from yesterday's post). But I spent most of my days eating the food that I brought with me. Here's a pic of Paul and I at our campsite! Yes, I'm wearing glitter horns!

I always pack lots of oat cups and soup cups for camping fests. I always bring a camp stove and pot for boiling water. Even the festivals with great vegan options near camp can be costly if you're buying food for every meal. Since I wasn't sure what to expect from Imagine (it was our first year), I brought WAY too much food. And I'm grateful for that because it came in handy.

I started most mornings with an oat cup and a single-serve pack of nut butter, like this Mixed Berry Oat Cup with ProBar Superfood Almond Butter. 

And this Chai Spice Oat Cup with Nuttzo nut butter.

On Saturday morning, I even logged three miles around the outskirts of the speedway after downing one of those oat cups.

Lunches were usually Veggie Dogs with mustard. Excuse the terrible-looking mustard job here! I brought a pack of eight veggie dogs and managed to go through the whole thing. I did share a few with our friends though.

I brought a few soup cups, like this Green Chile and White Bean Soup. Good stuff!

I also had lots of ramen cups, like this Mike's Mighty Good Craft Ramen. This stuff was amazing!

This Dr. McDougall's Miso Ramen made a great breakfast before packing up camp on Monday morning.

Our friends Thrasher and Erin camped next to us, and they brought ramen too. Here's Thrasher enjoying some pre-show ramen before heading into the fest.

Also, not pictured, I ate lots of hummus and baby carrots. And chips! So many chips!

Typically, when we go to Bonnaroo, I bring instant coffee powder and add it to boiled water. But this time, I brought a bottle of cold brew and some single-serve bottles of Silk Vanilla Almond Milk so I could have iced coffee! Really hit the spot in those 85-degree mornings. Your tent gets super-hot inside by 7 or 8 am, as the sun bears down, and nothing beats a cold coffee.

The fest grounds (and live music!) didn't start until 5 pm, but throughout the days, there were free yoga and mediation workshops. I went to one on connecting to our deeper selves. It involved a guided meditation led by this lovely lady!

And I went to a didergerdoo meditation that blew my mind. This guy played the didergerdoo over our chakras as we laid in savasana. I walked by his second class that day and snapped this pic since I couldn't get one during my own meditation.

Although the real fun (and the great vegan options) were inside the fest grounds, which didn't open until 5 pm, we had a pretty good time at the campsite with lots of snacks, a little downtime for reading, and plenty of beer and Bloody Marys. Camping takes a lot out of you, but it's such fun!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Vegan Eats at Imagine Music Festival!

I'm back! Paul and I spent the weekend at Imagine Music Festival in Atlanta. It's a 3-day EDM festival packed with superstar DJs. Paul and I spent our early 20s in the rave scene, even though we didn't know each other back then. In fact, when we first met in 2004, Paul gave me a flyer for a rave he was putting on with some friends, and it's been happily ever after ever since. We may be some of the oldest folks at events now, but we still love a good EDM set.

This year's Imagine line-up included Tiesto, Flux Pavillon, NGHTMRE, Above & Beyond, Black Tiger Sex Machine, Seven Lions, and so many more.

This is Paul at Tiesto with his glowing Guy Fawkes mask!

Imagine is a camping fest, much like Bonnaroo Music Fest, which we go to every year. There's something about setting up camp and living the festival life that's truly magical. You can fully immerse yourself in the event, and just for the weekend, the campgrounds become a mini-city filled with like-minded strangers from across the country. You may never see these people again, but for a few days, you're festy besties.

The festival was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and inside the racetrack, the organizers created this beautiful fairytale scene with multiple stages, glow sculptures, a Ferris wheel, and of course, lots of food trucks. The campgrounds were outside the speedway, and you couldn't access the speedway fest area until 5 pm each night.

Since it was our first time at Imagine, I was worried about finding vegan options. We've been going to Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee, for seven years, and it's SUPER vegan-friendly, so I'm a little spoiled. When we arrived at the campgrounds, I was a bit disappointed to find only four food vendors with only two vegan options among them. Thankfully, just inside the speedway in the festival area, there were vegan options everywhere. So I knew I'd be eating well after 5 pm each night. During the day, I mostly subsisted on the camp food I brought with me (soup cups, oat cups, hummus, veggie dogs). I'll do a whole post on my camp food tomorrow.

I did order one vegan item at a food truck inside the campgrounds. On Friday, I had the Hot Vegan Balls from the Street Stix truck. This was basically falafel with marinated veggies and the most amazing potato-based garlic sauce.

Later on Friday night, inside the festival area, I ordered these Vegan Soba Noodles from the Island Noodles stand. I'd hula-hooped up quite an appetite during NGHTMRE's set, and this veggie-packed dish hit the spot. It probably had many veggies as noodles – broccoli, sweet potato, bell pepper, cabbage, onion, and carrot. Excuse the awful flash pic though. It was probably around midnight!

On Saturday, inside the festival grounds, I was SO STOKED to find this totally vegan food truck aptly named Try Vegan! They even had animal rights facts on a banner on the side!

They had smoothies and sandwiches, and I couldn't resist this Veggie Burger Wrap. It had veggie burger, romaine, tomato, and special sauce — like a vegan Whopper in a wrap! Perfect fare for chilling on the grass and listening to DJ Netsky.

On my last night inside the festival speedway, I stumbled across the Pie Daddy truck. They had vegan chickpea sandwiches on the menu. I tried to order one, but the homemade dough for the bread wasn't ready yet (it was just after the fest opened). They did, however, have the vegan Potato Fried Pies ready! This amazing, massive fried pie was stuffed with potato and served with pineapple salsa. I'm still dreaming about it.

Here are a few more non-food shots from the fest!

This is only Imagine's second year as a camping fest (it's the fourth year altogether). They're definitely still working out the kinks. Someone there told me last year's food selection was pretty much limited to fried fair food. Not something you want to be eating for days and days and probably not vegan-friendly. Next year, they really ought to bring in more vegan options at the campgrounds so people have more lunch choices, or they could open the festival grounds for food and shopping earlier in the day, before the music starts.

They also have some serious capacity issues to tackle. On Saturday night, Paul and I (and about 1,000 others) waited in line in the hot sun for 2 1/2 hours to get inside the fest! They only had one entrance open for the 60,000 people there! And they were taking forever to get everyone through security. Toward the end of the wait, we were all chanting, "Let Us In! Let Us In!" Paul got this great shot of all the angry faces behind us.

Most people, including ourselves, didn't have access to water that whole time we were in line because they don't allow you to bring water into the fest. You have to refill bottles and Camelbacks from free water stations inside — their way of preventing people from sneaking alcohol into the fest grounds. You're allowed all the booze you want at camp, but they want you to buy their $7 beers and $9 cocktails inside. Thankfully, there were so many complaints about the line after Saturday night that they opened up an additional entrance on Sunday, and the line moved very quickly. There's something to be said for a fest taking criticism seriously and making immediate changes.

Despite the few problems, we had a great time overall! We're still not sure if we'll be back next year since tickets are nearly $400, and so many improvements need to be made. But we'll see! The amazing light shows and music (and the food!) outweighed any negatives, and we're glad we went. Here's one last shot of our Memphis friends Thrasher and Erin, who met us there and camped beside us!

Check back tomorrow for a look at what I ate at the campsite!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Paul Eats Vegan Food!

A few months ago, my partner Paul relocated back to Memphis after a year and a half of living part-time in Nashville for work. During the time he was living in Nashville, he was still coming home every other weekend. But now he's back full-time.

It's great having him back. But I'll be honest — I'd grown quite used to living by myself, with only my messes to clean and my food in the fridge. As a someone who grew up as an only child, I'm completely happy being along most of the time, and I'm not that good at sharing. Cohabiting again has been an adjustment for me, and I told Paul before he moved back that it'd be a lot better if he would at least try to eat vegetarian food at home. I wasn't thrilled about the idea of having meat in my house again. To my surprise, he said okay!

Now, I should clarify that he, by no means, is going vegan yet. Maybe someday, but Paul will need a big wakeup call before that happens — either a health scare or maybe a visit to a farm animal sanctuary. I've tried to make him watch slaughterhouse footage to no avail. But I do think the seed is being planted, and that's a big deal.

Every morning, Paul starts his day with Chocolate Banana Smoothie with almond milk, banana, wheatgrass, and protein powder (currently whey protein because he has a giant tub that needs to be used up before he buys plant protein powder).

Paul's very favorite meal has always been Spaghetti with Mushrooms, so we're having that pretty often. He doesn't even miss the meat here since he's always preferred vegan spaghetti.

I've had to simplify my cooking a little and repeat meals more often than I'm used to. But his tastes are expanding. Just last night, he opted for quinoa over white rice with his Mandarin Chick'n Vegetable Stir-fry. I used the Gardein Mandarin Chick'n for this.

I made BBQ Tofu Nachos a couple weeks back since he loves the BBQ tofu nachos at RP Tracks. Mine were much lighter since we air-fried the tofu rather than deep-frying like Tracks does.

One night, I shared my leftover Curry Tofu from Mulan with Paul. He really liked that.

One of his favorite meals since moving back has been this Buffalo Tofu Bowl with mashed potatoes, gravy, and corn. His bowl was kale-free though. This is a picture of mine.

Paul did eat Kale Chips at Next Door American Eatery in Crosstown Concourse though! Kale chips were a big step for him. He hasn't quite graduated to steamed or sauteed kale, and raw kale may be years away. But kale chips are a good start.

This is a huge change for a guy who typically eats Taco Bell beef burritos, canned ravioli, fish sticks, and frozen pizzas. He's still having those things on occasion, and Paul typically orders meat when we eat out. But he starts his mornings with a vegetarian smoothie and ends most nights with a vegan dinner. He's on his own for lunch at work, but he occasionally sends me pictures of salad or whole avocado that he eats for lunch. On days he doesn't send pics, I just assume he's eating McDonald's. Ha! Baby steps!

I will say that this isn't the first time Paul has experimented with vegetarian eating. He did a vegetarian 'til six thing a couple years ago, but back then, I wasn't cooking him dinner because he was too picky to eat the things I was eating. He was subsisting on smoothies and black bean burgers during the day back then and eating meat at night. Now that his tastebuds are expanding, I'm able to share dinner with him and have him actually eat it. We'll see if this sticks!

Speaking of Paul, he and I are going to Imagine Music Festival in Atlanta tomorrow, so I won't be posting here again until at least Tuesday night (maybe even Wednesday if I'm feeling lazy). See y'all then with a festival food recap!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Imagine Vegan Cafe Ranch Dressing!

Imagine Vegan Cafe — my home away from home — boasts an amazing menu of vegan comfort foods, but there are a few items that stand out as my very faves. And one of those is their creamy, dreamy homemade ranch dressing, which I typically order on their Fried "Chicken" Salad or as a dip for their Steamed Broccoli, Buffalo Wings, or French Fries. But it's good with just about everything on the menu.

And now I can drown EVERYTHING at home in Imagine's ranch too. Last week, Imagine began bottling and selling their vegan ranch!

They've been talking about doing this for years, and I'm soooo glad they're finally doing it. I will ONLY buy this ranch from now on. Just Mayo's Just Ranch is great, but this stuff is ten times better. It's the kind of ranch that's so creamy, it's hard to get out of the bottle. Like the stuff I remember from my pre-vegan days.

For now, it's only available in the restaurant, but they'll soon be selling it in local stores. I'll be sure and update y'all when that happens.

My friend Megan designed the label. Isn't it adorable? Imagine owners Kristie and Adam have a pet pig named Miss Piggy, so they've got quite a soft spot for pigs. I love that the label includes facts about how smart and amazing pigs are.

I had some of Imagine's ranch at lunch today on my salad, which I packed in a jar the night before to make for a quick and easy lunch.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Stuff I Ate

I'm so excited that Mama Gaia — Memphis' totally organic vegetarian restaurant — now has vegan cheese for their pita pizzas. I stopped by the Crosstown location last week for lunch takeout (after my lunchtime yoga class at the Church Health YMCA) and got the Copia Petitizza (with mushrooms and vegan cheese). I first tried Mama Gaia's vegan cheese petitizzas at their Ballet Memphis location, and it was delicious. But the vegan cheese gets way meltier at the Crosstown location because they have a better oven there. Good to know! This pizza was perfect.

Speaking of pizza, here's another "pizza" I ate. My friend Misti had her birthday brunch at Majestic Grill this past Saturday. It's not the most vegan-friendly restaurant (though they do have a veggie plate option at dinner), but a few of us vegans were able to order flatbreads with no cheese from the brunch menu. I went with the Wild Mushroom Flatbread. This had garlic olive oil and a nice mix of mushrooms and caramelized onions. Really yummy!

Before that brunch, I ran a 12-mile training run, so I started the morning with my fave pre-long run meal of a Cinnamon Raisin Dave's Bagel with Cookie Butter. Yay for carbs and fat! Plus coffee for added energy.

Here's a Cactus Pear Agave Ice Pop from MEMPopS in Crosstown Concourse. Love that color!

And here's another pink thing I ate (or, well, drank). This morning, after my 4-mile run, I had this Morning Sunrise Smoothie with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, frozen strawberries, and VeganSmart Peaches & Cream protein powder.

Friday morning's breakfast was a steamy bowl of I Heart Keenwah Toasted Quinoa Hot Cereal with YumButter Protein Almond Butter, Bee-Free Honee, & Raspberries.

I'm not a huge fan of fall because it feels like a prelude to winter. Sure, the leaves are pretty, and my birthday and Halloween (my two fave holidays!) are in fall. But it's hard to get excited about summer ending. However, there is one thing that makes fall okay in my book — PUMPKIN SPICE! I found this giant bottle of Silk Pumpkin Spice almond creamer, and it's totally been taking my coffee to the next level.