Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Stuff I Ate

The sleet is coming down here, and supposedly, by morning, we'll have layers of ice and snow on the ground. It's not supposed to do this in the South in March. I'm so over stupid winter weather. Anyway, I'm about to hunker down in my warm house with some movies, and if things get as bad as they say, I may be trapped in the house again for a few days.

At least that means I'll have time to do some cooking tomorrow. My life has been all about the convenience food for a couple weeks now since February was exceptionally busy. When I have time to cook, I usually take leftovers to work for lunch, but lately, I've been relying on stuff like this awesome Super Burrito from Trader Joe's (scored on a recent trip to Nashville). It had quinoa, sweet potatoes, and kale. Very good. I'll stock up on these next time I'm near a TJ's.

This week has been all about easy sandwiches made with Field Roast Lentil Sage Deli Slices, Chao Coconut Herb Cheese, Wildwood Garlic Aioli, and Stephanie's Homemade Balsamic Onion Jam.

Also been loving these Gardein Chick'n Sliders!! When I was a kid, my neighbor's mom would pick us up from school everyday, and we'd always stop by KFC for Chicken Littles on the way home. Add a little vegan mayo to these Gardein sliders, and they taste JUST LIKE CHICKEN LITTLES!

Breakfasts have been pretty convenient too. One of my current faves is Silk Soy Yogurt topped with Dang Coconut Chips. Coconut chips were just made for yogurt! They really were!

But I have been eating a little homemade stuff! Like my all-time favorite breakfast of Vegan Tofu Cottage Cheese and Marmite on Sprouted Grain Toast. The recipe for the cottage cheese is in Cookin' Crunk, and Stephanie brought me the Marmite back from England.

After my last long training run before last weekend's race, I stopped by the Raw Girls food truck to try their new Raw Girls Buzz drink — iced coffee with maca, cacao, reishi mushroom, chia, vanilla, and sea salt. Best iced coffee ever. It was so creamy!

One night for dinner, I whipped up some weird (but tasty) Healthy Nachos. My friend Megan had sent me home with leftover vegan cheese dip after a potluck. So I poured that over some TVP (seasoned with chili powder and other taco spices) and topped with cabbage, jalapenos, and salsa. Served with homemade tortilla chips that I made by microwaving a couple of corn tortillas about a minute until crispy. The chips were sprinkled with chili-lime salt.

With Cassi's new Pink Diva Cupcakery business across the street, I've been eating my share of cupcakes. You know, for quality control. I couldn't pass up these Thin Mint Cupcakes!! Now that Memphis gets the vegan Girl Scout Thin Mints, all is good in the world. I ordered a couple boxes from a friend's kid, but mine haven't come in yet. The Thin Mint on Cassi's cake was the first one I've had in more than 10 years!

Last week, a co-worker had a wedding shower at the office, and my editor Susan stopped by Cassi's place to get a cupcake for me to have at the office party since everyone else was going to be eating non-vegan cake. Isn't that sweet? She picked out this Bluff City Blueberry Cupcake — a vanilla cupcake with blueberry compote in the center.

I had to miss my weekly brunch at Imagine Vegan Cafe last Sunday since I was running a half-marathon in Little Rock, but the week before last, I ordered a half serving of the Memphis Slam (biscuit topped with tofu scramble, vegan cheese, gravy, and vegan sausage) with Hash Browns.

Just today, I met Cassi for lunch at the vegan-friendly Fuel Cafe. We ordered Vegan Reubens, which are made with their homemade veggie patty, Daiya Swiss, and sauerkraut. So good!!! I had mine with a side salad.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Vegan Potluck at Imagine Vegan Cafe!

Okay, well, all those calories I burned running on Sunday are back in my system. All those calories and then some.

Tonight was Kristie Jeffrey's birthday. She's owns Imagine Vegan Cafe with her husband Adam. They closed the restaurant early tonight and invited friends and family over for a birthday vegan potluck! The great thing about Imagine is that it's not just a restaurant. It serves as a home away from home for our little community of vegans. It's like the community center where vegans hang out. And sometimes, we shut the place down and throw parties.

Here's Kristie, the birthday girl (and her glowing daisy headband), and me!

There was so much food! And when I'm at a potluck, I have to try absolutely everything. I can be completely stuffed, and then a late person walks in with a new dish, and I'm back in line fixing up plate number three. It's a real problem. But hey, I love to eat. Anyway, for my contribution, I brought Somer's Extra Kick Ace Vegan Cheese Ball with some Ritz crackers (yes, they're vegan). I've made this cashew-coconut oil cheese before, and it was a hit then. It was a hit again tonight. Just can't go wrong with this recipe.

Since we were in the restaurant, Butler (the general manger) was cranking out all kinds of dishes, in addition to the potluck offerings. She brought out Spinach Dip in a Blanket (like pigs but with vegan spinach dip inside).

And Vegan Sausage Balls.

Someone brought a fantastic Vegan Onion Dip with various crackers and pretzels. Also, Trinity brought another onion dip — one with sundried tomatoes — but I failed to photograph it because I was too busy eating it.

There was a terrific Pasta Salad. Lots of olives!

And Kristie's oldest daughter Savannah made her famous Vegan Potato Salad. It's so good. I could just eat a giant bowl of this and call it a meal. I love it because the potatoes are mashed but still a little chunky, and the sauce is so creamy. Reminds of the deli-style potato salad I used to buy before I went vegan.

And Clarita brought some sweet and tangy Baked Beans. These were awesome with the potato salad, very picnic-y.

Someone brought Ratatouille with pita chips for dipping.

And to break up all that brown, there was a bowl of fresh Steamed Veggies. I ate a carrot and a piece of broccoli for good measure. Gotta balance the bad with the good, right?

Speaking of good, someone brought a pretty Edible Arrangement. Sadly, I skipped the fruit in favor of more chips and cake.

Megan and Joey showed up late, but they were armed with Vegan Rotel Dip and chips. Yes, I made another plate.

For dessert, there was Vegan Monkey Bread! Omg. This was so good. I'm so passionate about cinnamon roll-like desserts, and the inside of this bundt cake was as soft and cinnamony as any roll I've ever had. Heaven.

And of course there was birthday cake! Although Stephanie couldn't come (because tonight was also her husband's birthday), she made Kristie a Chocolate Sheet Cake with Caramel Frosting and Chocolate Ganache.

And just as I was leaving, Butler brought out pizza from the kitchen! I grabbed a slice of Vegan Buffalo Chicken Pizza with Ranch Dressing for the road. I'll have it for dinner tomorrow because I just can't even with all this food right now.

Monday, March 2, 2015

How To Fuel for a Half-Marathon on a Vegan Diet

I ran the Little Rock Half-Marathon on Sunday, my second half-marathon! And I set a PR. I beat my first half-marathon time by a whopping 25 seconds! And that was with me walk/running the last five miles because I was having some runner's knee issues. My pace for the first seven miles was actually much faster than in my first half-marathon in December, but my average pace slowed toward the end as I hobbled my way to the finish. Also, it was cold and wet and pretty miserable outside.

But enough about the race details. I want to share with y'all how I fueled for my race. I've read up on the whole carb-loading thing, and it seems to be a bit over-rated. Nothing against pasta, but I wanted sustained energy to fuel me for the whole 13.1 miles. Toward the end of my last race, I started feeling pretty weak, and I hadn't packed enough gels. This time, I wanted to be better prepared.

So I googled "what to eat the day before a half-marathon," and I found lots of info, but most of it was for omnivores. And then I came across this blog post on the Vega website. It's basically a vegan runner's pre-race food journal, so I attempted to follow it as best I could.

On Saturday morning, I had a slice of Sprouted Grain Toast with Coconut Oil and a Chocolate Banana Protein Smoothie made with Vega One chocolate protein powder. The coconut oil on the toast provides sustained energy from fat, and the bread is complex carbs. And there's all kinds of good stuff in that protein smoothie — greens, fiber, calcium, potassium.

The race was in Little Rock, which is about 2 1/2 hours from Memphis. And I'd planned to spend Saturday night with my best friend Sheridan, who lives in Little Rock, and then get up and race on Sunday. So before I hit the road, I prepared a little car snack.

I used all those veggies (plus a teaspoon of spirulina) to make this Fresh Vegetable Juice. It's important to stay hydrated the day before a big race, and fresh juice provides hydration plus vitamins and minerals. I drank this in the car around 11 a.m.

When I got to Little Rock, it was just in time for lunch. So I met Sheridan at her apartment, and then we headed to Little Rock's brand new Whole Foods. Look how cute it is with its shipping container storefront!

According to the Vega article, if you're going to carbo-load, it's better to do so at lunch time so your body has time to digest everything. The author suggests a salad plate with starchy veggies and grains. So we hit up the Salad Bar. My salad had balsamic tofu, spinach, cauliflower, carrots, beets, pecans, corn, red onion, bulgur, wheat berries, and sesame-garlic dressing. Oh, and I added a little raw cabbage pad thai on the side. And I washed it all down with a Tangerine & Sea Salt Kombucha — hydration plus probiotics.

After lunch, Sheridan and I checked out the race expo. I picked up my bib, and we bought Little Rock Marathon wine glasses. There was a pirate theme this year, so we took a selfie in front of this pirate ship.

Earlier at Whole Foods, I'd picked up a Strawberry Soy Yogurt at Whole Foods to have as a snack. I ate that around 4ish, and I added Fresh Raspberries at Sheridan's house.

Typically, when I visit Sheridan, we go out with her man Drew and have beers and fun, fatty food. And we usually have midnight snack time too. But this time, I asked Sheridan if we could cook at her house to make sure we had something healthy. I wanted healthy carbs, protein, and veggies. So we made bowls! Except I ate mine on a plate because they're in the process of moving, and all the bowls were packed. Sheridan whipped up these delicious Wild Rice, Baked Tofu, & Romanesco Cauliflower Bowls with Tahini Sauce & Sriracha. Yum!

Now, the next thing may not be the healthiest option. But it's a pre-race tradition that I started before my last race. One beer after dinner. Just one. Too many will give you a hangover and dehydrate you before the big day, and that would suck. But one beer calms the pre-race jitters and helps you get to sleep. I sorta cheated and picked a high-gravity beer though with this 8% ABV Fort Collins Brewery Double Chocolate Stout.

And then lights out. I caught about seven hours of sleep before my alarm went off at 6 a.m. I immediately had a glass of water mixed with Vega Electrolyte Hydrator. And then I had an Ozery Bakery Muesli Bun with Justin's Maple Almond Butter. I've been eating this same breakfast before my training runs, and it keeps me satisfied without upsetting my tummy while I'm running.

Sheridan drove me to the race, and in the car on the way — around 7 a.m. — I had a banana. I find that having bread and nut butter two hours before the race and a banana one hour before is the perfect pre-run fuel combo.

And then I ran. And ran. And ran. And walked a little when my knee started flaring up. I've never had knee pain while running, so that was unexpected. But despite my physical pain, my body didn't feel all that tired. I had one Huma Chia Blueberry Energy Gel around mile 8, but honestly, I wasn't really hungry. I just kind of wanted something different to do, so I opened a gel and downed it.

After the race, I had a banana from the free food tent. And then I had a free Michelob Ultra from the beer tent. Sheridan, who ran her first 5K the day before the half (Yay for Sheridan!!!!!), met me at the race after-party, and we made the long, cold trek to her car. By the time we made it to the car, I could no longer feel my fingers or toes. But I managed to rip open this Blueberry Cobbler No Cow Bar. I brought this with me (full review of these bars coming soon) because it has 21 grams of protein, which is important for post-race muscle recovery.

After a quick shower at Sheridan's house, we went out for post-race dinner at Big Orange. We both ordered Falafel Burgers with Hummus and Truffle-Garlic Fries. Man, that was the best burger! And those fries! Very truffley! I ate every one of those fries, and I halved the burger. But I ended up eating the leftover half on the car ride home to Memphis.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

New Vega One Flavors! Mocha and Coconut Almond!

For years, I've been completely satisfied with the standard Vega One All-in-One Nutritional Shake flavors — French Vanilla, Chocolate, Berry, Vanilla Chai, and Natural. But Vega has just gone an outdone themselves with two new flavors that are available exclusively at Whole Foods — Mocha and Coconut Almond! They recently sent me a tub of each to review.

Now, mind you, these flavors are only available in the NEW Vega One formula, which has more protein (20 grams) and more greens (6 servings) per scoop than their old Vega One recipe. And that's just fine by me. I drink Vega One powder in smoothies to recover from my runs four days a week, and the more protein, the better for my sore muscles.

Out of the two, Mocha is definitely my fave. It has a strong coffee flavor with hints of chocolate. Think Java Chip Frappucino but way healthier. I tried this a few ways, but my very favorite was in this Raspberry Mocha Protein Smoothie.

This thick and creamy smoothie serves to both help tired muscles recover and to wake you up for the day. I had one this morning after my last pre-half-marathon training run before the Little Rock Half-Marathon this weekend. Perfect start to my day.

Raspberry Mocha Protein Smoothie 
1 1/2 cups unsweetened chocolate almond milk
1/2 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
1 scoop Vega One Mocha

Combine the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

But I also love the Coconut Almond. And I believe it's a bit more versatile than the mocha powder. It pairs well with chocolate and vanilla flavors. But you can also take this the tropical route, which is what I did with this Pina Colada Smoothie (or Greena Colada Smoothie, as I've taken to calling it).

Greena Colada Smoothie
1 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen pineapple
1 tsp. spirulina powder
1 scoop Coconut Almond Vega One

Combine the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Jamaican Feast!

We have a great little Jamaican restaurant here, Evelyn & Olive. And we were supposed to eat there last week for February's Vegan Drinks, but I had to cancel the event due to an ice storm. I'd been craving Evelyn & Olive's rice & peas, but no dice. Stupid ice.

But I had a can of Jamaican red peas in coconut milk in my pantry that I'd picked up from the international aisle at Kroger back in November. And there was a recipe on the back!

So tonight, I finally satisfied my Jamaican food craving!

The Jamaican Rice & Peas were so simple. I just combined the can of soft red peas in coconut milk with dry brown rice, green onion, garlic, water, and chopped habanero pepper. And then I cooked the dish just like I'd cook plain brown rice. It tasted so very similar to rice & peas at Evelyn & Olive!

I'd share the recipe, but it's on the can. And I think you'd need these specific peas to make this dish the same way. The coconut milk is all thickened and paste-like, and I'm not sure how it would convert using regular coconut milk and red beans.

But I will share a couple other recipes! To serve alongside the rice & peas, I made Fried Plantains with Sriracha Mayo.

When Megan hosted her Veggin' Out potluck back in October, she served Tostones with a Spicy Mayo, and it was so good! I wanted to recreate her sauce, and I could have just asked for the recipe. But I figured it'd be more fun to come up with my own version.

Fried Plantains with Sriracha Mayo
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 plantains, peeled and sliced
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp. vegan mayo
2 Tbsp. vegan sour cream
2 Tbsp. plant milk (I used coconut)
1 Tbsp. sriracha

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the plantains, and fry on one side until golden, about 5 minutes. Use tongs to flip each side, and fry on the other side until golden. When they're done, remove with tongs and place the slices on a paper towel-lined plate. Season with salt.

While the plantains are frying, mix the mayo, sour cream, plant milk, and sriracha in a small bowl. Drizzle the sauce over plantains to serve.

At Evelyn & Olive, they serve a fresh Tomato-Cucumber Salad as a side. So I knew I wanted that with my home-cooked Jamaican feast, too. Here's what I whipped up. It would have been best with summer tomatoes, but hey, you gotta work with what you can in February.

Tomato-Cucumber Salad
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
3 roma tomatoes, halved and then sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Allow to sit and marinate for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.


To wash it all down, I drank some home-brewed Ginger Beer!

I've been brewing kombucha for more than a year now, but I've just started brewing ginger beer, and it's so easy. First you make a starter with sugar and fresh ginger, and then you use that to ferment a gallon-sized jug filled with ginger, sugar, and water. After a few weeks, it gets all fizzy, and then you bottle it. I'll be demonstrating how to make ginger beer and kombucha at Vida Vegan Con in Austin in May!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bluff City Vegan Eats: Midtown Crossing & Pink Diva Cupcakery

I'm so lucky. When I bought my house in Crosstown, an up-and-coming Memphis arts district, in 2012, this neighborhood didn't have much going for it. But it had promise. It had potential. It had people fighting for it. And I believed with all my heart that, in a few short years, this area would be the hippest place in town.

And it's happening. The neighborhood is called Crosstown because the anchor is a 1.4-million-square-foot abandoned Sears headquarters that was called Sears Crosstown. It's sat vacant for 17 years, casting a gloomy (yet hauntingly beautiful) shadow over the Evergreen neighborhood (where I live), Speedway Terrace, VECA, and the other surrounding residential areas.

The vacant Sears Crosstown building today

Well, last Saturday, we broke ground on a $200 million project to transform the abandoned building into a mix of medical services, education programs, arts, residential, and retail. The name Sears Crosstown is changing to Crosstown Concourse.

Here's what Crosstown Concourse will look like.

And here's a street view shot of what the retail space will look like.

Because the funding and visioning of that project has been underway for a few years now, life has totally blossomed in my little hood. In the past two years, so much new stuff has opened! I'm a short walk from a hula-hooping studio, a music college, the Hi-Tone (a rock club), an art gallery, and the coolest vintage flea market in town. AND A VEGAN CUPCAKE BAKERY! But more on cupcakes in a few.

Just across the street from me, there's a new restaurant called Midtown Crossing. And if you were to glance at their menu online, you'd think the place wasn't at all vegan-friendly. There's nothing vegan on the menu. There are a handful of vegetarian items, but everything has cheese. But they're more than happy to whip up a fantastic off-menu Vegetable Pizza with no cheese. Just make sure you also ask them to leave the butter off the crust.

I had one on Friday, and it was fantastic. And I'm typically a girl who snubs my nose at pizza without vegan cheese. But the crust on this pie is homemade and so good that it makes up for the lack of cheese. That said, I'm hoping to eventually convince them to keep some Daiya on-hand for vegan requests. And next time, I may bring my own and see if they'll add it to my pizza.

For the veggies, you can choose any they have. But I went with green and black olives, caramelized onions (so good!), mushrooms, jalapenos, and tomatoes. They loaded the pie high with veggies!

They also have a portabella melt on foccacia bread that could be made without cheese, and they've expressed a desire to add some vegan savory stuff to the menu.

But when it comes to vegan dessert, Midtown Crossing has that COVERED. My friend Cassi recently opened her vegan cupcake shop, Pink Diva Cupcakery inside Midtown Crossing.

She has a variety of cupcakes for sale daily (except for Thursday, her off day) from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. (until 8:30 p.m. on weekends). And she also takes special orders, which she prepares in Midtown Crossing's kitchen. When I was there last Friday night for dinner, she had her Cookies 'n' Cream Cupcakes.

And her Snickerdoodle (cinnamon cookie cakes!) and Diva Delight (chocolate coffee cupcakes stuffed with chocolate mousse and topped with vegan whipped frosting and ganache).

The Diva Delight are my personal fave, but she has some new flavors that I haven't tried yet. There's a new Bluff City Blueberry (vanilla cake with blueberry compote) that I can't wait to try. But I'm on cupcake hiatus for a week. With cupcakes across the street, you can only imagine how much damage I've done lately. I must take a break.

Anyway, check out Midtown Crossing and Pink Diva Cupcakery. Both are located at 394 N. Watkins. Midtown Crossing delivers pizza too, and you can order at 901-443-0502. And Pink Diva cakes can be special-ordered on Cassi's website.