Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Lovely Organic Vegan Candy

Lovely Candy Company has released a new line of organic, vegan, gluten-free candies, and they sent me a few packages to review. I'll never say no to free candy! I'm not a huge candy eater, but I do like to keep some in my purse for those times when 1) I need to wake up (candy is great for driving long distances or afternoon pick-me-ups at work); 2) I need to freshen my garlic breath; or 3) I'm hangry and there is no food to be had.

The package Lovely sent included their Lollipops, Hard Candies, Chewy Candies, and Gluten-Free Licorice. They also sent some gelatin-free gummy bears, but they were made with honey, so I couldn't eat those.

I especially loved the Hard Candies. They come in Original (grape, apple, and cherry) and Tropical (lemon, pomegranate, and mango). Since they're individually wrapped, they're perfect for stashing in my bag, and they last a long time in your mouth. Great for driving! These are organic and made without artificial colors or flavors.

I'm also a big fan of their Cherry Licorice. I love Twizzlers, but they're loaded with artificial stuff and corn syrup. Plus, they contain wheat flour, which means gluten-free folks get left out (I'm not gluten-free, but I think it's great when companies make products that everyone can eat!). The Lovely red licorice is bite-size and chewy with a light cherry flavor. It's perfect. 

I didn't try the Original Licorice because I'm a black licorice hater. I have a hard time with anise or fennel as well (although I can handle limited amounts of fennel seed or fresh fennel cooked into a dish). Anyway, Paul is a diehard black licorice eater, and he was very impressed with the Lovely version. He liked the chewy texture. His mom tried it as well, and she's already placing an order on their site for more.

The Chewy Candies are like vegan Starburst! And they're free of artificial flavors and colors. They're made with real fruit. The texture is chewy and still soft enough not to pull out any dental fillings (of which I have many!), and they're bursting with flavor. These come in strawberry, cherry, and lime. 

And finally, there are Organic Lollipops. These are also free of gluten, gelatin, artificial ingredients, and high fructose corn syrup. They're very much like the hard candies but on a stick, which is sometimes more fun to eat!

These come in mango, strawberry, grape, and pomegranate.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Happy First Anniversary, Mama Gaia!

Mama Gaia — the all-organic, totally vegetarian, mostly vegan restaurant in Crosstown Concourse — celebrated its first year in business with a fancy party last Thursday. Mama Gaia is pretty special to me because it's located in the same building where I work at Crosstown Arts. Concourse is a vertical urban village with arts, healthcare, education orgs, a ton of nonprofits, restaurants, retail, and apartments. And it's located in a massive former Sears retail and warehouse building that was built in 1927. It's by far the city's most impressive revitalization project to date (and yes, as the communications coordinator for Concourse, I'm probably a little biased there).

Anyway, Mama Gaia was the first restaurant to open in Concourse, and it's plant-based! How rad, right? I'd only recently left my beloved old job at the Memphis Flyer in 2016 when I learned that a veg restaurant would be first to open in the building (before my office even moved over!). At that moment, I had no doubt I'd made the right career choice.

Enough about me and my unabashed love for Concourse though. Let's talk about Mama Gaia. They had a big buffet spread at the party, and here's what I put on my plate, which was basically everything. There's a Veggie Burger Slider, Falafel-Spiced Chickpea Salad, a sample of the Asia Bowl (with sesame coated tofu), Hummus & Veggies & Pita, and a Artichoke Salad.

And here's a sample of the deconstructed Memphia Pita in a martini glass (because fancy party). This has smoky BBQ tofu, crispy slaw, and a little bit of pita — it's a smaller version of a sandwich they offer on the regular menu.

Every single thing Mama Gaia serves (down to the ketchup!!) is organic. They specialize in pitas, bowls, and salads. Plus, they have handmade veggie burgers and vegan cheese pita pizzas. Their fries are oven-baked, and the hummus is top-notch.

Some buffet table shots!

And a party isn't a party without dessert. All of these are vegan and offered in-store in bigger versions — Raw Fudge Brownie, Carrot Cake Balls, and Coconut Yogurt Parfaits. The balls and brownies are made with dates and nuts, so they're basically health food. And I love that yogurt parfait because they add jam and chewy oats.

Mama Gaia at Concourse doesn't serve cocktails, but their second location at Ballet Memphis (which opened a few months after the Concourse location) does, so they gave away some of their organic cocktails at the party. This one had whiskey, lemon, and mint. Very good!

Hey local people! Mama Gaia is giving away gift cards, discounts, and merch to every 10th customer through April 30 as part of their birthday celebration. And this Thursday, April 26, they're one of the many awesome Memphis restaurants participating in Dining Out for Life, which means they're donating part of their sales that day to Friends for Life (a nonprofit that I sit on the board for, which helps people living with HIV/AIDS access crucial services).

Monday, April 23, 2018

Paul's 38th Birthday

Sorry for not posting last night, but we were out celebrating Paul's 38th birthday! He requested Hopdoddy, Memphis' newest burger bar in Overton Square. And that was fine with me because they serve the Impossible Burger!

Paul eats meat, and he wanted the Breakfast Burger, but many in our party are vegans and vegetarians, so this was the perfect place for all of us. Of course, I ordered the Impossible Burger with Vegan Smoked Gouda. And Paul and I shared a giant bowl of the Kennebec Fries. This burger is, by far, the best vegan burger out there. It's so meaty and greasy. LOVE IT!

Paul always requests Chocolate Cupcakes, so that's what he got again this year. I used the chocolate cupcake and buttercream recipes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World — my go-to recipes for years. They never fail. I made minis since I knew we'd all be too stuffed from our burgers for a full-sized cupcake.

The recipe made 36 minis, and I took 24 to the restaurant. It took many hands to light them!

Here's Paul making his birthday wish.

And here's the whole gang! Afterward, some of us went bowling. I stayed up way too late for a work night (midnight!), but special occasions call for such things!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

More Stuff I Ate

It's time for round two! Here is another round-up of yummy things I ate over the last couple weeks.

We'll start with this gorgeous Vegan Egg & Sausage Omelette from Tuesday morning. I prepared Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg with an emulsion blender and then cooked it up until firm, flipped, and stuffed with Morningstar Farms vegan sausage, Daiya vegan cheddar, mushrooms, bell pepper, and baby spinach. Served with toast spread with Marmite and Earth Balance.

Today's lunch was a Vegan Curried Chicken Salad Wrap with Sriracha Lentil Chips. For the chicken salad, I chopped about six Beyond Meat chicken strips and mixed with a tablespoon of vegan mayo, scallions, half a shredded carrot, and a quarter of a minced bell pepper. I also added some baby spinach to the wrap.

One of my go-to breakfasts this week has been Vegan Yogurt Parfaits. This one has Ripple vanilla protein yogurt with strawberries and pistachio-mulberry granola.

Another breakfast this week — Baked White Sweet Potatoes with Raw Almond Butter & Dried Cranberries. This was good, but the almond butter was a little too dry for the starchy potato. I had another one this morning with tahini instead, and that worked better.

This is not pretty, but it was tasty. Green Lentil Protein Pasta with Marinara and Miyoko's Smoked Vegan Mozz (would have looked better if I'd melted it) and Steamed Kale. Post-spinning class protein! Spinning is one of the few activities I can do right now with my fractured foot, so I'm taking a lot of classes.

And finally — last night's dinner from Imagine Vegan Cafe. I got a Veggie Plate with Mac & Cheese, Collard Greens, Baked Beans, and Summer Corn Salad (a new menu item with corn, mayo, and bell peppers — really good!).

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Stuff I Ate

Here's a round-up of some things I've been eating lately! I've blogged about how much I love the new Fuel Cafe menu several times, but I'll say it again — I LOVE THE NEW FUEL CAFE MENU! It's very vegan pizza-centric, thanks to my pizza chef friend Don's involvement and their new wood-fired oven. The last couple times I went, it was for dinner, so I ordered a personal-sized pizza. But Susan, Shara, and I went for lunch one day last week, and they have Grandma Slices!

A grandma pie is a giant rectangular pizza, and you can order it by the slice. Each day, they have one vegan, one vegetarian, and one omni grandma pie during lunch, and you can order a slice and salad combo. On the day we went, the vegan pie was Carrot Ham & Pineapple, plus a Vegan Caesar on the side.

I whipped up some Buckwheat Banana Pancakes for breakfast last Friday. I added banana slices to the batter, and then I topped with extra bananas and blueberries, plus some Hilary's Eat Well Spicy Veggie Sausage on the side. 

A grown-up PB&J before last Friday's Water Zumba class at the downtown Y (trying some new things while I can't run!). This has Raw Almond Butter and Superfruit Spread (blueberry-cranberry-cherry-grape).

After that Water Zumba class, I was hungry again. So I made a snack plate with Yellow Lentil Hummus, Chipotle Hummus, Carrot Sticks, Bell Peppers, Pretzels, and Strawberries (fresh, local ones!). 

Here's some White Bean, Spinach, & Mushroom Lasagna with Pesto from the No Meat Athlete Cookbook. I made it forever ago and froze the leftovers in portions for quick dinners and lunches. Came in handy on a busy weeknight last week.

My fave pre-long run breakfast is oats and nut butter, but I haven't been eating it as much since I'm not running. Sadness. I managed to get my oat fix one day last week as a regular weekday breakfast. I stirred some ground flax and maple into the oats and topped with cashew butter and blueberries. 

More random meals tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Wilted Lettuce Salad

Last weekend, when I was home visiting my parents, I mentioned to my mom that I'd been to the Memphis Farmers Market earlier in the day and bought some fresh, local romaine and radishes. That made her crave wilted lettuce salad, she said. I had never heard of such a thing!

Mama said it was an old Southern recipe that she grew up eating. You'd take hot bacon grease and pour it over a simple salad of lettuce, radishes, and scallions. The lettuce gets a little soft and wilty, thanks to the hot oil. It sounded weird but good. So I thought I'd veganize it.

For my vegan version, I used olive oil and Liquid Smoke to mimic the bacon grease. I heated a tablespoon of oil in a little skillet for about 3-5 minutes, and then I added a splash of Liquid Smoke and a splash of red wine vinegar (not even enough to measure).

For the salad, I use the fresh romaine and radishes, plus a little chopped green onions and some salt and pepper. After heating the oil, I immediately tossed it with my salad. The result was a light and bacony side dish that put a nice spin on my usual side salad.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Vegan Buffalo Chick'n & Smoked Mozzarella Pizza!

A couple months ago, while visiting my best friend Sheridan in Little Rock, I stumbled upon the Miyoko’s Kitchen Smoked Vegan Mozzarella — a smoky version of their popular cashew-based Fresh Mozz. I’d had the Fresh Mozz a few times, and it’s just fantastic, so I knew I needed to try the smoky version. Sadly, Memphis’ stores still don’t carry the Miyoko mozz (though we did finally get a couple of her other aged cheeses in our Whole Foods), so I grabbed some to take back home with me.

Then the cheese sat in my fridge for awhile as I thought about what to do with it. It had an expiration date of July, so I’ve had plenty of time. But then it hit me — Buffalo Chicken & Smoked Mozzarella Pizza!

I used some homemade pizza dough that’s been in my freezer for awhile. And I made some buffalo chick’n using Beyond Meat grilled strips. I used a garlic butter sauce in place of a traditional pizza sauce, and I added some baby spinach, mushrooms, and onion slices for good measure. The result was a mouth-watering pizza that was even better dipped in vegan ranch dressing.

Here’s the recipe!

Buffalo Chicken & Smoked Mozzarella Pizza
Yields 8 slices

1 recipe for pizza dough (or one pre-made crust) 
12 Beyond Meat Beyond Chicken Grilled Strips, chopped
Hot sauce, to taste
2 Tbsp. vegan margarine
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 package of Miyoko’s Kitchen Smoked Vegan Mozzarella, sliced 
1 cup baby spinach
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced 

Pre-heat the oven to 500 (or if using a pre-made crust, follow package directions for temperature).

Place the chopped Beyond Meat chicken in a mixing bowl and season liberally with hot sauce. How much depends on how spicy you’d like your pizza to be!

Melt the vegan margarine and season with garlic and onion powders. Use a basting brush to spread the butter sauce evenly over the dough, leaving some room on the edges for crust. 

Top the dough with baby spinach, mushrooms, red onion, and buffalo chicken pieces. Place the smoked mozzarella slices evenly over the pizza. The cheese won’t cover everything. Think margherita pizza-style!

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the edges of the crust are browned (or follow package directions for a pre-made crust).

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Anatomy of a Southern Meal

I had a rare weekend with zero plans this past weekend (my favorite kind!), so I decided to drive home to Jonesboro to visit my family. My Granny had a fall last week, and she's recovering nicely, but that seemed like a good excuse to spend some time with both grandmas.

But before we stopped by their houses for brief visits, my mom and dad and I sat down for very Southern, totally vegan dinner prepared by my mama. I requested beans and cornbread and fried potatoes, and she came up with the rest of menu. This meal is a good representation of the way I ate daily growing up in Arkansas. I went vegetarian at age 14, so most of my meals looked very much like this.

I thought I would briefly dissect this very Southern meal, just for fun. So here goes:

Beans & Cornbread — In the South, we ALWAYS eat cornbread with our beans. The beans are typically "brown beans," meaning pinto beans. But other beans, like white beans, can be substituted or mixed with the pinto. They're cooked from dry beans in a slow cooker with plenty of spices. I plop my entire cornbread slice atop my bowl and use a spoon to cut off pieces as I scoop up beans and juice. Others crumble the bread into the beans and stir to combine. Some eat their beans in a bowl with lots of juice (like me and my dad), and others (like my mom) strain the beans from the juice and eat them on their plate with everything else.

Fried Potatoes — Cubed potatoes fried in oil until brown and crispy. This is achieved by cooking the potatoes in the hot oil without stirring for quite awhile. That allows the crispy edges to form. Fried potatoes are best enjoyed with chow chow (a mix of picked veggies with a hint of sweetness, as seen here on my plate).

Greens — Collards, mustard, and turnip greens are most common. But my granny always made rape greens, which come from the canola plant. These greens here are rape greens that my granny cooked and put up in the freezer, and then she gave some of the frozen greens to my mom. Greens MUST be slow-simmered for about 40 minutes or more with a generous bit of oil and hot sauce. Bonus tip: Liquid Smoke gives the greens that signature soul food bacon-y flavor.

Fried Corn — Fresh corn cut from the cob is cooked on the stovetop with plenty of vegan butter, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. 

Tomato Salad — The best way to enjoy juicy summer tomatoes! My mom used cherry tomatoes here since tomatoes are still out of season, and the cherry ones tend to have the most flavor in the winter. But big slicer tomatoes are great for this when they're in season. This is made with tomatoes, onion, vinegar, olive oil, and sugar. You can also add fresh cucumber and bell pepper if you want.

And then there's dessert! Growing up, we had meals like the one above nightly. But we didn't typically have dessert. That was for special occasions. But when we did, my favorite was always my mama's homemade fruit cobbler. Last night, she made a Strawberry Cobbler using some strawberries she put up in the deep freezer last season.

The filling is just strawberries, sugar, and a little flour, and it's topped with a flaky pastry crust, dusted with sugar. Best enjoyed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or (as we did last night) with a little So Delicious CocoWhip.

And of course, all of this must be washed down with sweet tea!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Goddess Box: Open the Divine

My April Goddess Provisions Box has arrived! I subscribe to this monthly vegan box of crystals, oils, snacks, and beauty products, and I love to share the contents each month. This month's theme was Open the Divine with a focus on the upper chakras (throat, third eye, and crown).

There's Kailo Crown Essence essential oil blend, Thistle dry shampoo, Little Moon Essentials mist, Rainbow Symphony sun catchers, a Spirit Whisperings crystal grid, a white sage bundle, a Bixby & Co. Blueberry Whippersnapper bar, kyanite, and a digital chakras guide (to download).

My fave items are the rainbow sun catchers. These little stickers go on any window that gets direct sunlight, and they reflect rainbows into your house!!! MAGIC!! I haven't put up all of mine yet (gotta find the perfect spots), but here's one in my kitchen window.

I haven't tried the dark chocolate-covered blueberry bar yet, but I'm saving it for my next snack attack. I love bars and tend to eat them before runs, but since I'm currently injured and not running, I'll have to find another snack excuse.

The crystal grid is awesome. It's a little mini-grid that actually came with tiny rose quartz, amethyst, and clear quartz. I started some work with it atop another grid that came in a past goddess box.

The Clear Skies Ahead Mist smells amazing, and it's supposed to improve your intuitive vision. I've been spraying this on before my morning meditation. The crown essence oil is a blend designed to help you tap into divine guidance through your crown chakra. I haven't tried the dry shampoo yet since I don't use dry shampoo often, but I suppose this will give me a reason to skip washing my hair soon!

The white sage bundle is much appreciated since I burn sage daily. This will come in handy!

I love the kyanite, which is great for the throat chakra. I have one other piece of kyanite in my collection, but it's a rough, thin piece, and I'm always afraid it will break in my purse. This one is much sturdier.

I haven't downloaded the chakras guide yet, but I plan to do so soon! Weekend reading!

As always, I should mention that I'm a Goddess Provisions ambassador, meaning I make a couple bucks if you sign up for a subscription using my link. I don't get my boxes for free though, just to clarify. I pay the $33 a month, and it's so worth it!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Jazzy Vegetarian's Deliciously Vegan

Years ago, I had the pleasure of being a guest on the Jazzy Vegetarian podcast, hosted by the lovely Laura Theodore. It was just before my book, Cookin' Crunk, came out, so it must have been around 2012. That was before Laura got her own vegan cooking show on PBS! Now she's a vegan superstar!

And Laura has a new vegan cookbook out — Jazzy Vegetarian's Deliciously Vegan — which her publisher sent to me for review. This is a well-rounded cookbook covering all the bases — breakfasts, baked goods, soups, salads, entrees, sides, and desserts. Laura's recipes are always easy and super-approachable, making them especially appealing for new vegans (and people who just don't want to spend hours in the kitchen). Plus, she focuses on whole foods as the base for most everything (with a few exceptions for occasional vegan cheese).

I chose three recipes, two of which used very similar ingredients because I wanted to make sure I didn't end up with half a pack of unused this and that. I have a problem with choosing too many different kinds of recipes each week, and I end up buying a million things that don't get finished. I'm working on that!

Last night, I made Laura's Vegan Black Bean Burritos with Tofu Queso Fresca and her Broccoli with Maple-Tamari Sauce.

The burrito was seriously one of the best I've ever had. I typically make the kind of burritos that you throw together on the countertop and hold in your hand to eat, but this fork burrito was baked in the oven so the insides were super warm and the outside was lightly crisp. The inside is stuffed with black beans, salsa, baby spinach, tomato, and a homemade tofu queso fresca that added such flavor, thanks to cumin, turmeric, chili powder, and other spices. It's topped with Laura's cashew sour cream (whipped up in the Vitamix), cilantro, scallion, and chipotle salsa (from a jar).

The broccoli is simply steamed and tossed with a combo of maple syrup, Bragg's (I used that instead of tamari because it's basically the same thing), and olive oil. Super simple and light side for this big honkin' burrito!

To use up more of the tortillas and black beans, I also made her Cheeze-y Black Bean Tortilla Pizza.

This quick Mexican pizza is topped with mashed black beans, vegan cheddar, and salsa. It's all baked in the oven until the tortilla is crisp, and then it's served over lettuce. Such a fast and filling weeknight dinner!

I have plenty more recipes on my list from this book: Lasagna Muffin Cups, Baked Potato Tofu Scramble (one of three scramble variations in the book!), Guacamole Mini Peppers (what a fun app!), Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bread, 30-Minute Veggie Tofu Soup, Sunny Black Bean Burgers, Seitan Fajitas was Cashew Sour Cream, White Chocolate Mousse, and the heavenly looking Divine Chocolate Mousse Cake.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Crosstown Culinary Crawl

Last Friday, City Tasting Tours and the Crosstown Memphis CDC (where I serve on the board of directors) hosted the second-ever Crosstown Culinary Crawl. City Tasting Tours, run by the awesome Cristina McCarter, a former co-worker of mine from our Memphis Flyer days, hosts regular food tours all over Memphis. But this was her second Crosstown crawl.

Since I live and work in Crosstown, I wasn't gonna miss this. Plus, the tour was vegan-friendly! My friend Susan (a vegetarian) and I bought tickets, and on Friday at 5:30 pm, we met the rest of the crawlers at Atomic Tiki, a new-ish tiki bar in the Evergreen Historic District (which is located in the larger Crosstown neighborhood). We were served Nachos with Pineapple Pico. I think most people had meat on their nachos, but ours was just the salsa. And it was so gooood salsa!

And then they came out with Peanut Noodles. These were very peanut-ty and quite filling. Susan wisely only ate half of hers since she knew we had much more food to eat. But I finished mine off because I was so hungry!

Lastly, Atomic Tiki gave us some Vegetable Dumplings. These were excellent with some kind of savory-sweet sauce.

Since this was a crawl, most people walked from place to place, but it was rainy and cold, so Susan and I drove to the next stop — Midtown Crossing Grill. It was just a few blocks away, but I don't like to be cold. Octavia, who owns Midtown Crossing, has always been very accommodating to vegans, and she made us special Vegan Brunch Sampler Plates while everyone else ate the meaty versions of the same thing. This was Biscuits & Vegan Sausage Gravy, Biscuits & Redeye Gravy (my fave), and a Belgian Waffle. Love Midtown Crossing's brunch, so this plate made me very happy.

We were also served a mimosa at Midtown Crossing Grill because brunch! I went with a pear mimosa, and Susan opted for grapefruit.

From there, we started walking with everyone else since the rest of the stops were closer together (and it stopped raining). The next place was Mardi Gras Memphis. I actually didn't expect any vegan option here because there wasn't one on the last Crosstown Culinary Crawl that stopped here. But this time, owner Penny Henderson whipped up an amazing Vegetable Pasta for Susan and I (and another guest who didn't eat seafood opted for pasta as well). Everyone else had some sort of seafood stew over fried bread.

I asked the server if this pasta was available on the regular menu because it was soooo good. He said it was available by request! So I'll be back!

Our final stop was Crosstown Brewing Co., our neighborhood brewery, for beers! Our ticket for the crawl came with one beer, so I picked the Alt School, an altbier-style beer. It's my current fave of their offerings (I've tried them all — several times!!). Susan got the Traffic IPA, which is hands-down the best IPA in town.

The Crosstown Culinary Crawls will be happening more frequently now! The next one is set for May 4, but the restaurants haven't been announced yet. Tickets are $45 and available here.