Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Savory Tea!

I'm sure you've heard me whine before about how I don't really love hot tea but I really want to love hot tea. Sure, I can get down with Starbucks Soy Green Tea Latte or a super-sweet (plant)milky chai, but let's be honest — I like those because they taste like dessert. But plain ole hot, unsweetened tea? No, ma'am.

You know what I do like though? Broth. Ever since I was a little kid, I've loved sipping hot broth. It's great when you're hungry but it's too late to eat or as an afternoon snack when you know you need to save calories for that slice of cake you're planning to eat after dinner. But what if savory broth and tea had a baby?

It would be hot tea I actually love! Well, those two have had a baby, and her name is Millie.

When I was in Seattle at VegFest, the booth right across from my publisher's booth was sampling Millie's Savory Teas. Of course, I had to go check them out! It's basically green tea combined with savory veggies, herbs, and spices in a tea bag. You steep in hot water for a few minutes, and you've got a salty, spicy tea. After trying this at VegFest, the people demo-ing Millie's gave me a $5 off coupon, and I used that to order their Five Flavor Snack Pack pack right away.

There are several flavors, and the Snack Pack offers a few bags of each (15 bags total). There's the curry-infused Indian Spice, one of my faves!

And Tomato Basil, Thai Lemongrass, and Smoky Facon ("facon" is short for "fake bacon"). The Facon is probably my very fave. Next time I order (and there will be a next time as soon as I run out), I'll probably order an entire 15-bag tin of the Smoky Facon flavor. The smokiness comes from smoked sea salt. Yum!

There's also Spicy Tortilla (made with chipotle pepper)! And if you'll notice, I have two bonus bags here of Indian Spice and Thai Lemongrass. That's because there was a back-up on my order, and the Millie's folks threw in a couple extras to make up for it. How nice!

Anyway, these are my new favorite afternoon pick-me-up. And my go-to late-night snack. I think I'll have some right now.

If you're interested in ordering, now would be a good time. All the savory teas are 25% off through Mother's Day. So that means the Snack Pack, which usually sells for $12.95, is on sale for $9.71. And there's free shipping.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Home Chef Gives Vegan Love

I love to shop for groceries. And I love to cook. But mostly, I love to eat. Sometimes, I don't have time to run out to Whole Foods, and other times, I don't have an extra moment to flip through a cookbook and plan out menus for the week. Of course, I make time to do those things anyway because I have to. But I get a little stressed out trying to fit enjoyable activities (shopping and meal-planning) into my hectic schedule.

Enter Home Chef. It's a fresh ingredient delivery service for people who don't have time to go shopping or plan meals but still want to cook gourmet dishes. The delivery service isn't totally vegan, but they've enlisted the help of Chef Ashlee Piper from The Little Foxes to create and curate ingredients for some vegan options. Ashlee and I met at Vida Vegan Con last year, and though we'd planned to grab drinks together while in Portland, we got so busy with con stuff that we didn't get much face time. But we get plenty of Facebook time (har har).

Anyway, Home Chef asked me to review a couple of their Ashlee-curated selections. Last Thursday, these two mystery bags arrived in a cooler bag in the mail. Hmmmm.....what could be inside?

The first bag I opened revealed all the ingredients to make Ashlee's Mexican Sweet Potato Hash with Black Beans and Avocado Crema.

It's all right there — onion, black beans, potatoes, green onion, cilantro, cumin, chipotle powder, and sriracha. Look at that tiny container of sriracha?! I was most impressed by the very under-ripe avocado. I knew I wouldn't have time to make this dish until Sunday, and this meant my avocado would be just right by then.

Also included are step-by-step recipe cards with pictures. It even includes directions for plating, calories, and drink pairings! I made the hash on Sunday night, and it was phenomenal. The avocado crema is spiked with chipotle and sriracha, and it's spicy and creamy in all the right ways. The recipe suggests serving this with tortilla chips, but I opted for a side salad since I've been eating so much junk lately.

The next bag was filled with stuff to make Ashlee's Spring Pappardelle with Asparagus and Lemon Gremolata in a Spicy Cream Sauce.

Pasta, asparagus (so in season!), a tiny container of full fat coconut milk, slivered almonds, garlic, lemons, parsley, spices. I made the dish last night, and it truly tasted like a splash of spring. The pasta with tossed with asparagus and a coconut-lemon sauce, and then it's topped with toasted almonds and a gremolata of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley.

Both recipes made a number of servings (four on the hash, three on the pasta), so I'm happy to have leftovers tomorrow.

If you're interested in ordered the Home Chef service, check out the menus here. Each meal costs around $9 per serving, which is about what you'd pay in a decent restaurant but definitely more than if you'd done the shopping and meal planning yourself.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Third Annual Vegan Bake Sale!!

For three years now, our Memphis veggie club Food Awareness has hosted a Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale. If you're not familiar, Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale is a global event, and groups all over the world host sales during a week at the end of April. Each group raises money for the animal charity (or any charity, I guess) of their choice. We always pick the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County because they do great things for local animals. We had this year's sale on Friday night!

Lucky for us, the bake sale dates always fall during the week of the South Main Art Trolley Tour, a monthly free art walk on the last Friday of each month in the South Main neighborhood. It's always a big event when the weather is nice since galleries offer free wine and art shows. A veg-friendly German restaurant on South Main, Grawemeyer's, lets us use the space in front of their storefront. And then people stroll by as they're checking out galleries.

In these three years of hosting sales, I've never encountered anyone questioning the deliciousness of vegan baked goods. Most people seem excited that the goods are vegan, and they're even more excited to help out a good cause. This year, we raised $400! That's less than the past two years ($700) but not for lack of business. In fact, we almost sold out this year, and we usually have lots leftover. But somehow, we ended up with less donated baked goods than in year's past. Some folks were out of town, and some just didn't bake.

Nevertheless, we had some delicious stuff this year!! And I'm so grateful for everyone who baked and helped out just by being there and buying stuff. I made Chocolate Chip Cookies from Chloe's Vegan Desserts. These were buttery and chewy, just like I like 'em. I may have found a new to-go chocolate chip cookie recipe.

I also made the Cool Lemon Cookies from Vegan Food Gifts. I made these last year, and they were a hit. So why change a good thing? These lemony gems are rolled in a mixture of powdered sugar and lemon Kool-aid mix.

And on the savory side, I made the Tomato Rosemary Scones from Vegan Brunch. These are one of my very favorite recipes in that book! And they were a hit this year. Next year, I'm gonna make more savory stuff.

Stephanie, who actually bakes for a living with her vegan baking company Swell Baked Goods, made cookies too. She packaged Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and Kitchen Sink Cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar in little bags. The peanut butter ones were my fave!

And she made Brownies (which I didn't get to try before they sold out) and Rice Krispie Treats.

And the Rice Krispie Treats have sprinkles!!! Best idea ever.

Cassi of The Pretty In Pink Vegan made a recipe from her cookbook, which has been submitted to publishers. These were her Pantry Cookies, made with stuff you probably have in your pantry — cocoa, almonds, and coconut. Super good! She fed us these a few weeks ago when she was testing the recipe out again, and I really wanted to eat more than one. Soft, cakey, pillowy cookies! Also, check out her very Cassi-esque diva stickers. Only Cassi.

Meagan made giant Cowboy Cookies!! And she made a TON! I was able to take a few home at the end, and I ate one today. So good. Chewy, oaty, chocolatey goodness.

Dawn made Peach Raspberry Champagne Bars, and I had one of these yesterday. The crust had oats in it, and these reminded me of healthy cereal bar but with decadent sugary jam filling. Perfect with a glass of almond milk.

Vivian made Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies. I was snapping a picture of them in their box, and I couldn't resist the peanut butter aroma. I had to buy one and devour it immediately at the bake sale. Yum!

She also made Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, but they were gone before I could try one.

Since we held the bake sale for the Humane Society, Food Awareness member/Humane Society marketing guru Katie brought an adoptable dog. Her name was Bree, and she was just the sweetest little pit bull you've ever met.

So well-behaved. She didn't even try to steal our baked goods. By the way, if you're local and interested in adopting Bree or any pup (or kitty) from the Humane Society of Memphis & Shelby County, check out their website.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Vegan Fun In Little Rock!

I spent Saturday (and part of Sunday morning) in Little Rock, where my bestie Sheridan lives. Even though we only live two-and-a-half hours apart, we rarely see each other because our lives are so busy! But it was my turn to come down there, and this time, I brought my partner Paul.

For at least a couple years, Sheridan (she's vegan too) and I both have been reading Vanishing Veggie, a blog written by Little Rock vegan Dana. We've read all about her cleanses and her running, her smoothies and her take on LR vegan food. But neither of us had met Dana in real life, so Sheridan arranged a meet-up for lunch at U.S. Pizza as soon as Paul and I arrived in Little Rock. That's Dana on the left and Sheridan on the right.

OMG, Dana was so cool! We knew she would be since we felt like we knew her from reading her blog. But she was even more fun for realsies. Of course, we all started with beers on the sunny patio. This was a Schlafly Summer Lager.

And Chips with Dragon's Breath Salsa (delicious garlic salsa!). Here's Drew digging in.

Dana goes to U.S. Pizza a lot, and even though they don't have vegan cheese, she has a little vegan pizza tip for ordering there. Order a Veggie Medley Pizza without cheese. This had pineapple, artichokes, spinach, tomatoes, and all kinds of stuff.

And then order Guacamole!! Lots of it. And then spread it over the pizza. Nature's cheese. This was delicious.

After lunch, we strolled around the Little Rock Etsy Festival and had some beers before heading back to Sheridan's to freshen up for dinner. We said goodbye to Dana, but I have a feeling we'll be hanging out with her again soon!!

For dinner, we'd planned to eat at The Fold, a vegan-friendly gourmet taco shop. We got a late start because we were so full from dinner, so we didn't arrive at the restaurant until around 7:45 p.m.

After this pic was snapped, we went inside to get a table and were informed there'd be a 55-minute wait!! No way, Jose. We were pretty hungry at this point and did not want to wait until 9 p.m. to eat dinner. So Sheridan and Drew suggested Cantina Cinco de Mayo. It's a more traditional Tex-Mex place with a vegetarian menu. We arrived and immediately ordered Margaritas.

Sheridan and Drew always get the Vegetable Chimichanga and sub the usual cheese sauce on top for ranchero sauce. We all ordered this same thing.

I'm hoping those beans and rice were animal-free since they were listed on the vegetarian menu. But you never can tell with Tex-Mex restaurants. I always just hope for the best and don't ask too many questions. Sheridan and Drew have a similar "eating out as a vegan" philosophy.

After dinner, we were stuffed! But we weren't done eating. We headed back to Sher's house, and Drew made us Dark 'n' Stormys (rum and ginger beer) and Bloody Marys. Then we lit up the grill outside her apartment to make S'mores with Dandies and dark chocolate!

These were so good even though we were totally stuffed. Afterward, we went inside and played Cards Against Humanity. Later in the night, Sheridan brought out some Tofutti Ranch Dip and Ruffles for snackin'. I didn't get a pic, but that was probably my favorite food of the day. There are few things better than chips and ranch dip.

When we awoke this morning, we felt so guilty for all the crazy eating we did on Saturday. But that didn't stop us from eating more! Sheridan made us Breakfast Sandwiches with Simple Truth Organic Meatless Breakfast Patties, Daiya Cheddar, homemade tofu eggs, Vegenaise, and sriracha on English muffins!

After breakfast, we did a quick spring planting ritual to honor the upcoming Beltane holiday, when we celebrate the fertility of the Earth. And then Paul and I headed home to Memphis. Unfortunately, we ran into a massive storm on the way home, and the ride was quite scary. But we made it home in one piece. We later learned there were tornadoes behind us! So glad we got home when we did.

I had such a FABULOUS time hanging out with my best friend Sheridan and Drew. And I am sooooo glad that we finally met Dana! Yay for new vegan friends and old vegan friends!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Two-Day Superfood Cleanse

I've been eating a lot lately, especially today. It was Dining Out for Life day, when restaurants across the country give a portion of their proceeds to HIV/AIDS organizations. Here in Memphis, the donations went to Friends for Life, the HIV/AIDS support org that I sit on the board of directors for. So I ate out twice today (tofu pad thai and spring rolls at Mulan and buffalo "chicken" salad with ranch at Imagine Vegan Cafe), plus I got Paul some takeout tofu nachos at a participating restaurant and I snuck bites of those on the way home.

Add that beer I had with my co-workers around 2 p.m. and the glass of merlot I had during the Memphis Grizzlies playoff game (that we won!) a couple hours ago, and you've got one calorific day. Honestly, my whole week has been like that. I've strayed far from my post-January plan to eat cleaner. And the straying isn't over yet.

Tomorrow, Food Awareness is holding its annual Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale for the Memphis & Shelby County Humane Society outside Grawemeyer's restaurant (520 S. Main) during South Main Trolley Night. I can say with certainty that I will be splurging on cookies, cupcakes, and brownies Friday night. And probably beer.

All this is to say that a cleanse is in order soon. But I don't want to embark on something extreme like the Crazy Sexy Diet again so soon after completing it in January. Enter The 2-Day Superfood Cleanse by Robin Westen.

Ever heard of the 5:2 Diet or Fasting Diet? You eat a normal amount of calories (for me, that ranges between 1600 and 2200 depending on my workouts) five days a week. And the other two days, ideally days when you're less active, you only eat 600 calories, and if you're following Westen's plan, those 600 calories come from superfoods. But we're not talking crazy exotic superfoods like camu camu or something. These are simple foods that just happen to be super — beans, nuts, seeds, veggies, and fruits. In her book, she includes a list and the calorie counts per serving.

There are recipes too, and they're all quite simple and natural — Wheat Germ Cereal, Sunflower Spread, Hemp Seed Carrot Salad, Bean & Buckwheat Soup. Plus, there's all sorts of info about other aspects of cleansing, from deep breathing to cosmetics to homemade cleaning products.

But my favorite part are the quizzes! They are peppered throughout the book, and they're more fun than some Buzzfeed quiz about what pasta you are. Westen's quizzes tell you things like what foods are best for your personality type and what gives you a winning edge. '

I can't start this cleanse until the first weekend of May is over. I just have too many splurges planned. But as soon as things slow down, I'm going to give the 2-Day Superfood Cleanse a try. Stay tuned. I'll blog about experiences!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Vegan Bacon Grease! OMG!

Down South, people save their bacon grease. And they cook with it over and over and over. I even know a few vegans down here who use their leftover vegetable grease to flavor food. But I haven't saved grease in my life, since I've never cooked bacon (I went vegetarian at age 14). Instead, I've always used a combination of liquid smoke and olive oil to add bacon-y flavor.

And then I discovered this.

What?! Magic Vegan Bacon Grease!

That's right. And it's pretty healthy! It's made from coconut oil, soy protein, spices, and hickory and maple flavors. I was sent a sample to review, and the day it arrived might have been the best day of my life. I'm not ashamed to say that I ate some with a spoon right away. It's quite amazing that way actually. There are little bacony bits tucked inside the solidified coconut oil, and they're delicious.

But then I mixed with Magic Vegan Bacon Grease with a little flour, soymilk, and pepper for a delicious vegan gravy to pour atop this Match Stuffed Mushroom Burger. Perfection! Just like the bacon grease gravy old Southern ladies have been making since the beginning of time.

Next, I melted some Magic Vegan Bacon Grease in a skillet and added raw, torn kale leaves. I sauteed until wilted and then added a splash of soy sauce and garlic powder. Best kale ever! Until this jar runs out (and I have to order more), I will always cook kale this way.

I'm pretty sure Magic Vegan Bacon Grease is new pantry staple. I love most all products I review, but it's rare that I come across one that I cannot live without. This is one of those. It will stay stocked at all times.

There's a short list of stores that carry Magic Vegan Bacon Grease on their website. And you can also order it online when it's in stock (as of this posting, they are out, but check back often). 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Vegan Drinks at Young Avenue Deli

It's Vegan Drinks time again! Tonight, we met for our monthly Memphis Vegan Drinks at the Young Avenue Deli.

We had a bigger crowd than we've had for awhile! Yay! And we finally had patio weather. Truth be told, I'd planned for us to sit inside since there's more room inside this popular Cooper-Young bar. But there was some kind of private event happening until 5:30 p.m., which is when we met up. And when we tried to find a large table inside, the special event crowd was still lingering. So we opted for patio. Thankfully, the weather was perfect but the sun was a little too bright.

Young Avenue Deli had a Dogfish Head Ale tasting today, so it was "buy the beer, keep the glass night." We all scanned the Dogfish Head menu, and I opted for the Indian Brown Ale (7% ABV). Unfortunately, the "keep the glass" thing only applied for draft beers, and the Indian Brown was in a bottle. Sigh.

But that was okay because I picked the Dogfish Head Ale Midas Touch (9% ABV) for my next beer. I got to keep this glass!

But as you all know, I'm a "drink (or eat) first, ask questions later" kind of girl. A quick search of Barnivore when I got home shows that Midas Touch, a high-gravity beer made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas, is NOT VEGAN. That's because it's brewed with honey. I'm not upset about it, but I wouldn't order it again. The Indian Brown Ale, however, is TOTALLY VEGAN!

Most everyone else at the table ordered Dogfish Head beers as well, so I didn't shoot many drink pics tonight. I did snap this one of Paul with his Victory Golden Monkey (yes, it's vegan). We were apparently all about the high-gravity beers tonight.

weet yet dry beer is made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas. - See more at:
weet yet dry beer is made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas. - See more at:
weet yet dry beer is made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas. - See more at:
weet yet dry beer is made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas. - See more at:
As for the food, the Young Avenue Deli offers a number of vegan options. I usually go with what Cassi ordered — Marinated Tofu Pita with Fried Tofu (tofu, lettuce, tomato, sprouts) and the Deli's famous French Fries.

But tonight, I wanted to mix things up. I've never tried the Hummus Pita, and I was in a hummus mood (when am I not?!) — hummus, tomato cucumber. It was good. They were generous with the hummus.

Sheila was also in a hummus mood, so she ordered the Hummus Plate. Look at her stylin'.

Here's a Hummus Plate close-up.

And Nicole ordered the Vegetarian Chili.

There were a few other dishes ordered, but it seemed that most people opted for sandwiches. So I didn't snap any more pics. We had a great time, and even though I had one non-vegan drink, at least I learned something in the process. And I got a free glass!

If you're local and would like to come to a Vegan Drinks meet-up, join the Facebook group here.

Also, if you're local, please, please, please come by our Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale event on Friday night! We'll be selling vegan baked goods outside Grawemeyer's restaurant (520 S. Main) downtown during the South Main Art Trolley Tour from 6 to 9 p.m. All proceeds benefit the Memphis & Shelby County Humane Society. Check out our super successful sale last year and the year before.

Monday, April 21, 2014

UB Super

A few years ago, if you'd asked me how I felt about smoothies, I'd have said "Meh, they're okay for a snack. Smoothies are not a meal." Silly me! At the time, I hadn't discovered all the amazing vegan protein powders on the market. I'd occasionally add a scoop of plain, unsweetened hemp powder to smoothies, but that stuff tasted like dirt. And I'd always get hungry an hour (or less) after drinking a fruit smoothie.

Thankfully, either smoothie powders have gotten better or I've finally discovered the good stuff. But I have smoothies for breakfast every day that I run, which right now, since I'm still coming back from my injury is limited to three days a week. Most days, those smoothies are made with my first smoothie love, Vega. But I'm always willing to try new powders. A couple weeks back, a new start-up vegan protein shake company sent me samples.

These are UB Super Protein Nutritional Shake powders in chocolate and vanilla. They're made with a special blend of superfoods — acai, maqui berry, camu camu and acerola cherry — that UB Super founder Scott Kanyok claim saved his life when he was recovering from a life-threatening bicycle wreck in 2008.

Now, I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to superfoods. But I definitely believe they're is great for you (just that other not-so-exotic foods might be pretty super too). But if Scott believes this stuff helped his recovery from an injury, I'm willing to give it a try for my post-workout recovery. Can't hurt, right? Plus, this stuff is packed with 22 grams of protein made from a blend of yellow pea, rice, chia, hemp, and quinoa. It also contains B vitamins (including a LOT of B-12), prebiotics, probiotics, and antioxidants.

But how does it taste? I put both flavors to the test last week. First I used the vanilla in a Banana Matcha Smoothie (almond milk, frozen banana, two teaspoons matcha green tea powder, vanilla UB Super).

Perfect. The UB Super powder is stevia-sweetened, so it tastes like dessert without being unhealthy. And the vanilla flavor was spot-on.

Next up — chocolate. I blended a package into this Chocolate-Coconut Smoothie (coconut milk, shredded coconut, cacao powder, ice, and chocolate UB Super).

You know, usually I pick vanilla over chocolate. But I think the chocolate flavor of UB Super is my fave. It was just amazing with the coconut. And look how thick?! Without even using a banana!

This stuff is good, and even though it's new, I think it has potential to compete with the big guy vegan smoothie powders. Scott and his brother Brent have launched an Indiegogo campaign to help fund their distribution strategy. Check it out.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Paul-aroo Backyard Camping Party!

My partner Paul turned 34 yesterday. And since he just bought an RV on Craigslist that we've not yet had a chance to camp in, I decided that we should "camp" in the backyard for his birthday. Most years, our only big camping trip is at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. So I figured I'd name Paul's camping party "Paul-aroo."

Before the party, I decorated the back yard and set up some chairs. But we asked guests to BYOC (Bring Your Own Chair) to make sure there were enough seats.

We fired up the grill, and I threw on some Tofu & Veggie Kabobs. Sadly, I forgot to photograph them, but they looked something like the kabobs in this old pic from a Labor Day grill-out in 2012.

I wanted to grill hot dogs too, but veggie dogs are expensive, and we were expecting about 15 to 20 people. So instead, I cut veggie dogs into quarters and wrapped them in Pillsbury crescent rolls (yes, they're vegan) for Pigs in Blankets.

I made Black Bean Dip by processing black beans, habanero Ro-Tel, onion powder, and smoked paprika in the food processor.

I got a copy of Tami Noyes and Celine Steen's new Vegan Finger Foods book in the mail last week. So I picked one recipe from that book that I new Paul would like — Portabella BLTs! Guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and portabella bacon on baguette slices. These were really fantastic, and I'll do a full review of the book soon.

I lucked out this year and didn't have to bake a cake! My professional vegan baker friend Stephanie (Swell Baked Goods) offered to make Paul a cake, but he requested her creamy and tangy Key Lime Pie instead. I was so happy there were two leftover slices this morning, so we could have seconds.