Monday, August 19, 2019

Celebrating Sheridan's Birthday (AGAIN!) in Little Rock!

My BFF Sheridan had a birthday on August 8th, and we celebrated in late July when she and her partner Drew were visiting Memphis to see Hamilton at The Orpheum. But little did Sheridan know, Drew had a surprise plan up his sleeve. Drew arranged a surprise birthday dinner for Sheridan and a few of her lady friends this past Saturday night at Cache, a fancy restaurant in downtown Little Rock.

He told Sher that he had won a contest to meet a local mystery celebrity for dinner at Cache, and he wanted her to go with him. She put on a new (very cute) dress and nervously rode downtown to Cache with Drew for what she expected would be an awkward dinner with a stranger. But when they arrived, we were waiting. Surprise! That's Sheridan in the middle, and our long-time friend Brittany on the right. I've known Sheridan since 7th grade and Brittany since 2nd grade!!!

A couple of the ladies who were supposed to come couldn't make it, and while Drew hadn't planned to stay, we invited him to sit down and have dinner with us.

Cache is the kind of high-end place that serves a $115 steak, but amazingly, they also have a vegetarian menu! And from the looks of it, most of the dishes on that menu are vegan. We started with an appetizer of Pita & Hummus, and let me tell you — that flatbread/pita was AMAZING. It was warm and soft, almost like pizza crust. Perfect with my dirty martini!

For my entree, I ordered the Teriyaki Tofu. It was a simple dish with lightly pan-fried tofu, a sesame teriyaki sauce, steamed broccoli, and basmati rice. It's like something I'd make at home!

I wasn't really expecting something this simple for the price ($15), but it's probably what my body needed. I definitely felt good about myself after I ate this.

I spent the night in Little Rock, and while we typically go out for brunch on my visits, we decided that we should grab a quick pastry since Sheridan had work to do on Sunday, and I had lots of chores at home. We went to Rosalia's Family Bakery, which sells vegan pastries and desserts! We got Morning Glory Muffins (stuffed with dried fruit and carrots), and I had a Soy Cappuccino.

I also grabbed a Gluten-Free Vegan Sugar Cookie to go! This made a perfect afternoon treat when I got back to Memphis.

Oh, and hey look what we found! There's an Old Town Road in Little Rock! We didn't ride our horse there (is that even vegan??), but we drove Sheridan's Subaru down the Old Town Road.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Protein Toppers!

Those who have been reading my blog for awhile probably remember my past obsession with protein powder. I used to have a protein smoothie or protein waffle (even protein banana ice cream!) after every workout. I was convinced that I needed extra protein for recovery due to my active lifestyle. But then I went on a whole foods journey and cut out protein powder for awhile. And I was okay! I recovered from workouts with the natural protein in my foods.

That said, I still use protein powder after some heavier workouts. And sometimes, I add it to my smoothies just because I like the taste and how it keeps me fuller longer. But sometimes, you want that extra protein in a savory snack. So I was very excited to try these new Vegetarian Traveler Protein Toppers when the company reached out about a review!

These toasted bean blends are made with non-gmo beans (and in some mixes, seeds) and non-gmo protein isolates. And each pack contains between 15 and 17 grams of protein. That's about the same as one scoop of protein powder.

They're only lightly salted, so they can be used to top both savory and sweet dishes. The most obvious dish to top is a salad, which I've done a lot since I got these in the mail! The beans add that perfect crunch that every salad needs. I topped this salad with the Tri-Soy Medley (soybeans and edamame).

I topped this work lunch salad with the Garbanzo & Soy Medley (garbanzos, soybeans, soy protein). They were so convenient to pack for my work lunch since they come in individual serving packs.

It's even great on yogurt! I'm not really a fan of straight yogurt (too creamy!). I need lots of crunchy toppings, and this Pepita & Soy-Pea Medley (pumpkin seeds, soybeans, pea protein) fit the bill and added much-needed protein to some low-protein Cashewgurt. I also topped this bowl with lemon blueberry granola and fresh berries. 

But my very favorite use for the Protein Toppers was on a Veggie Tofu Stir-Fry! I added the Tri-Soy Medley to this stir-fry of tofu, broccoli, bell pepper, carrot, onion, and snap peas upon serving. I considered sauteeing the toppers into the dish but got worried they'd lose their crunch. I was very happy with the texture (and extra protein) this added!

I've also enjoyed these crunchy toppers as snacks, straight out of the bag. They would be perfect for a hike or road trip when it's tough to get in whole foods-based protein!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

BURGERS (and a sandwich)

Y'all, I FINALLY tried the Burger King Impossible Whopper this past weekend, and IT WAS AMAZING. For a moment, I was worried they'd accidentally given me a meat burger! I am sooooo excited that plant-based meats are taking over the world right now!

Since I posted this image on my IG and Facebook, I've heard from a few vegans who said they wouldn't eat the Impossible because of cross-contamination. And I hear ya. You do you. But here's my take: I don't strive to be a perfect vegan. I do strive to save as many animals as I can. And when a mainstream, fast-food joint offers a plant-based burger on a massive scale, that does so much to boost awareness of veganism and to encourage non-vegans to eat less meat. And that saves animals, so I'm all for it.

Besides, if you aim to avoid all cross-contamination, you'd never be able to dine at non-vegan restaurants. And that's cool if you live in, say, Portland. But for the rest of us in smaller, less vegan-friendly cities, dining in non-vegan restaurants is a fact of life.

Okay, off my soapbox! The burger was delicious! I have a BK around the corner from my house, so I took the burger home and added Follow Your Heart Provolone and Vegenaise (be sure to order the burger with no mayo — it doesn't come with cheese). I also made some Sweet Potato Fries in the air fryer.

Here's a less attractive (due to my quick photo in the takeout box) but equally delicious vegan burger from Memphis burger joint, Huey's. They serve Beyond Burgers, and I got one to-go last week (West Coast style with guac and vegan smoked gouda) with a side of steamed veggies.

Here's a quick burger that I made at home for lunch one day! It's a Foodies Artichoke Burger (made with brown rice, artichokes, and cashews), topped with vegan provolone and veggies. More veggies and hummus on the side.

And finally, this is not a burger. It's a Tempeh Banh Mi from the cafe at Crosstown Arts. Served with mushroom pecan pate and pickled veggies. Perfection!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

VegReady Vegan Meals

Home-cooked meals are always my preference, but sometimes, life gets crazy and days will go by with no time to cook anything more than a frozen veggie burger for dinner. When my nights don't allow for cooking, I'm left with few options for work lunches the next day. I can either spend money and eat lunch out (which I already do too often), pack a PB&J, or bring a convenience meal.

And let's face it — most convenience meals (like frozen vegan dinners) have tiny servings that leave me starving a couple hours later. But VegReady, a new vegan meal prepared service is offering whole foods-based meals to go that require no heating, fit in your laptop bag, and won't leave your tummy growling an hour later. They sent me a couple boxes of their meals to review!

Each meal comes in a box like this. It's wide but flat and fits perfectly in my laptop bag. They require no refrigeration, so there's no need to take up space in the office fridge. In fact, these would be PERFECT for camping since they don't require heating either.

Inside, you get a quinoa tray and two veggie sides. There's even a little plastic spoon if you're truly eating on the go. I do have some feelings about all the plastic and cardboard in the packaging, but it can be recycled.

This meal contained quinoa, a spinach & broccoli cup, and a ratatouille cup (with eggplant, zucchini, and tomato). You just dump the cups on the quinoa and eat! The contents of the cups are more of a puree, which was different than I expected, but I really liked it! The spinach & broccoli cup had some olive oil mixed in, but the ratatouille was oil-free, so it wasn't overly oily. I thought I might still be hungry after I ate this, but I wasn't! I had this at noon at work and it kept me satisfied until dinner time. Because quinoa is magic.

They also sent me another meal with quinoa, spinach & broccoli, and zucchini with white onion. The onion added lots of flavor, and the zucchini, although cooked, was still a little crisp, giving the dish some texture.

VegReady meals are available by the case. You get 8 quinoa trays and 16 veggie side cups (8 of those are spinach & broccoli because they're intended to eat with every meal – gotta get your greens!) in a case. Right now, they're offering two cases for the price of one on Amazon! Check it out. Perfect for the busy office worker or the camper/picnicker!

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Last Pig

Last Thursday, our local pig sanctuary — Pigtopia — hosted a screening of The Last Pig, a documentary that follows one pig farmer's journey to give up animal farming, at Crosstown Arts (where I work).

I had the chance to visit Pigtopia, which is currently home to 25 rescued pigs, earlier this year for a freelance story I wrote for Edible Memphis. You can read that piece (and learn more about Pigtopia) here. I'm always down to support anything they do, and I wouldn't miss have missed this film for the world!

I met up with a few friends there — Jen & Simon and Nicole & Vaughan. And of course, the house was packed with the who's who of the Memphis vegan community! Pretty sure I knew most people there!

Also, Imagine Vegan Cafe was there with free food! They've been so supportive of Pigtopia from the start.

I loaded up a plate with a little of everything — Vegan Rotel Cheese Dip, Spinach Artichoke Dip with Crostini, Vegan Chicken Salad Sliders, Vegan Mac & Cheese Rolls (like pigs in blankets but with mac inside!!), and Mini Cupcakes!

Pigtopia had a little benefit art sale going on as well, plus they were selling buttons and stickers. Attendees could sign up to sponsor a pig for $15 a month.

As for the film, it was heart-breaking but very tastefully done. The film follows farmer Bob Comis, who had been farming pigs on a small free-range farm in upstate New York for years. At the beginning of the documentary, Bob seems pretty okay with what he's doing (and he's doing way better than factory farms). But by the end, he's evolved to understand that the pigs he slaughters are no different than his faithful dog, who follows him around the farm. He eventually gives up pig farming in favor of vegetable farming, so there's a happy ending.

But viewer be warned: There are some very sad scenes from the slaughterhouse. You don't see graphic violence, but the violence is implied when you see the stressed-out pigs in the corral, waiting for slaughter, or the blood on the floor of the kill room. In one scene, Bob leads each pig, one by one, into the kill room. The camera focuses on the last pig waiting to be led to his death, and he's visibly stressed out, his tongue wagging in a pant. 

How anyone can kill a sentient being for the fleeting pleasure of a meal is truly beyond me. I'm so grateful for farmers like Bob Comis, who after killing 2,000 pigs finally realized he was murdering sentient, intelligent beings. And I'm grateful for Memphis' own Pigtopia!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Cookbook Review: Epic Vegan

My internet friend Dustin Harder — aka The Vegan Roadie — has a new cookbook, and IT. IS. EPIC. Literally!!

Epic Vegan: Wild & Over-the-Top Vegan Recipes is probably the craziest vegan cookbook I've ever owned. Crazy good, of course. We're talking vegan burgers served on cinnamon roll buns with peanut butter and bacon. Or Disco Pretzel Bites (imagine vegan poutine but with soft pretzels in place of fries, topped with mushroom gravy, vegan mozz, and scallions). This is the stuff my food dreams are made of.

I wanted to make everything, but I tried to limit myself to a couple recipes that shared a common ingredient — Dustin's Cheesiest Cheese Sauce. The cheese recipe made a ton, and I didn't want it to go to waste. So first, I made this Bless Your Heart Bowl. Of course I did! It spoke to my little Southern heart.

This has a base of chili (Dustin's mom's recipe with vegan beef and kidney beans) topped with Easy Creamy Shells & Cheese (I used penne!), sauteed collards. A perfect meal! The cornbread was sweet and soft like Jiffy, and it reminded me of the cornbread I grew up eating.

One thing about this book: It's not a quick, make-it-in-30-minutes-or-less kind of cookbook. The recipes are more like "food projects," which may not be convenient for everyday cooking. Most recipes call for several other recipes. But thankfully, they make plenty for leftovers, so you can do your prep on a slow night and have food for days.

For example, the Cheesiest Cheese Sauce, which is the base for the mac & cheese, is made with cooked butternut squash and potatoes and blended with all sorts of things, like kraut, tahini, and bell pepper. I made this the night before to save a step. It makes a ton, and it can be used for any recipe that calls for cheese sauce.

The cheese sauce was also called for in these Breakfast Nachos! I made these for dinner last night, and I'm so stoked to have leftovers for the week.

Blue corn tortilla chips are topped with Dustin's Eggscellent Eggs (a tofu scramble made with both crumbled and blended tofu, lending it a very eggy texture — will be making this often!!), the cheese sauce, sauteed vegan sausage and peppers, and a homemade sour cream made with avocados and coconut milk! I love that, other than the sausage and chips, the recipe is based on whole foods, so you can feel pretty great about eating nachos.

Dustin does offer you the option of using store-bought items in place of some of the recipes within recipes, but for full epic effect, I recommend making everything from scratch!

The book is divided into chapters on basics, sauces, breads, appetizers, handhelds (like tacos, sandwiches, etc.), pasta, pizza, bowls, drinks, and desserts. There's a freaking PIZZA BURRITO SUPREME (shown here in this pic with Dustin)!!!

Other notable recipes: Crispy Cream Doughnuts (a vegan replica of Krispy Kreme), a Waffle Tot Grilled Cheese (just like it sounds!), Noritos Los Tacos (tacos with nooch-coated shells similar to the Doritos Locos Tacos at Taco Bell), Buffalo "Chicken" Lasagna, and Crab Rangoon Pizza. There's even a Cookie Dough Cake with layers of cookies where buttercream would typically go!

I've bookmarked the Birthday Cake Shake to enjoy on my birthday in October! With its buttercream frosting, cake batter, and ice cream, it's too decadent for everyday eats. But I'm counting down the days until I turn 39 so I can drink that.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Vegan Skincare Review: Pai

My skincare routine has never really been super-consistent. I typically get facial products, like serums and face oils, in my monthly Goddess Provisions subscription box, so I just use whatever I get in the box! Before I subscribed to the Goddess box, I subscribed to the Vegan Cuts Beauty Box, and my skincare consisted of whatever was in that box.

The one thing I do know about my skin is that it tends to be super-dry, and I cannot do oil-free anything on my face. In the winter, my skin cracks and flakes, and it gets pretty gnarly if I don't oil up! The bonus: I rarely get breakouts. When Pai, a vegan skincare line, asked me to review their products, I looked them up and saw they base some of their line on botanical oils. I was in!

My review package arrived last week and included the Lightwork Rosehip Cleansing Oil, the Lotus & Orange Blossom Bio-Affinity Tonic, and the Rosehip Bioregenerate Oil.

All of Pai's products are vegan and organic, and they come in recyclable glass bottles and cardboard boxes. I'm trying to be a better steward of the earth these days, so I appreciate when things come in recyclable packaging. In Memphis, our recycling center only accepts a couple kinds of plastics, so I love the low amount of plastic (just the lids) on these bottles.

The Lightwork Rosehip Cleansing Oil is an oil-based makeup remover that's safe for taking off eye makeup too! I've been using cocoa butter to remove my eye makeup for years, and it's great, but sometimes the solid butter gets stuck in my lashes. This oil rubs right in and doesn't leave my eyes feeling too oily. Plus, it moisturizes as it cleans.

The Lotus & Orange Blossom Bio-Affinity Tonic is made with botanical waters, and leaves my skin feeling all fresh and clean. They say it's safe for eczema-prone skin, and while I've never been diagnosed with eczema, my patchy dry skin certainly resembles it. I've never fully understood the purpose of toner, but I use it because I like the way it feels on my face.

But my very favorite product is this Rosehip Bioregenerate Oil, which is supposed to repair and regenerate unpredictable and sensitive skin. I certainly have that! You're supposed to use a few drops on your face in the evenings 2-3 times a week, and for an extra moisture boost, they recommend mixing it with your moisturizer. I've tried it straight and mixed with the Pacifica Sleepover Mask moisturizer I've using. Both ways leave my skin feeling so soft, and the rosehips smell amazing.

I've only been using Pai for a week, but my skin is currently not patchy and dry! So that's a win in my book. I would definitely buy this stuff again!