Sunday, August 31, 2014

Vegan Lunch at Quan Am Monastery

This morning, Cassi and I went to a Buddhist monastery for chanting and meditation, followed by a lovely vegan lunch. About a week ago, I got an email from the monastery asking if I'd like to check out their service. They're trying to increase their outreach to "Westerners" since most attendees are Vietnamese. Cassi is very interested in learning more about Buddhism, and I'm super into Quan Yin (or Quan Am as she's called in Vietnamese). Plus, I just love experiencing other cultures and religions.

I'd visited the monastery back in 2012 for a bake sale fundraiser they had, but on that visit, I didn't have a chance to go inside the temple or experience a service.

When you arrive at Quan Am Monastery, you're greeted by a larger-than-life statue of Quan Am, the bodhisattva of compassion. She's my favorite goddess, and standing in front of this statue was a very special experience for me.

There are guardian foo dogs all over the grounds. By the way, I accidentally had my iPhone camera filter on black-and-white for these two pics, but I kinda like 'em like that.

Most monks, nuns, and members at Quan Am are Vietnamese speakers, but when we arrived, we were greeted by Mason, a pierced and tattooed Westerner who lives on the grounds and tends to the gardens. He took us on a little tour and introduced us to the dogs (and puppies!!) who live at the monastery. Then we took our shoes off and headed inside for the Sunday chanting service. It was all in Vietnamese, so we didn't understand a word. We just bowed and stood and kneeled when everyone else did. I wish I could have taken pictures inside the temple, but I wasn't sure if that was allowed. There was a massive gold Buddha statue with LED lights radiating from his head. It was magical.

After the service each week, they serve a free vegetarian lunch. And it was all vegan! We started with this fantastic Vegetable Rice Noodle Soup. There were mushroom, carrots, turnips, and wheat gluten meat in the soup and fresh basil and sprouts on top.

After we finished our soup, we were given Che Bap for dessert. Yes, corn for dessert!

This is a Vietnamese sweet corn pudding made with tapioca, sugar, and coconut cream. It's not overly sweet, but it has just enough sweetness to qualify as dessert. The tapioca makes it pudding-like, and coconut cream on top is buttery and rich.

We finished out our meal with cups of some of the best green tea I've ever tasted.

Wai, the Western member who sent me the initial email invite, took us on another tour of the grounds, taking us around the back side of the building to the stuff we missed before. We saw the doves who live on the grounds pecking in the grass in front of a reclining Buddha statue.

And she took us to see the on-site gardens. They grow all sorts of veggies, but we were super-impressed by all this watercress!

And this was one of my favorite Buddha statues because it not only depicts human followers but animal ones too. Look at the deer coming to see the Buddha.

Locals (and Memphis visitors), the Sunday service (and lunch!) is open to all. Here are the details:

WHAT:  OPEN SERVICE on SUNDAY MORNINGS, with Chanting and Meditation (WEEKLY)
LANGUAGE:  In Vietnamese.  Service led by:  Ven. Nguyen Tanh, Buddhist Monk
WHEN:  11am,  Every Sunday, Weekly
WHERE:  in the TEMPLE (the Big Yellow Building facing Goodlett Rd.)
DONATION:  Love Offering Basis

If you'd rather experience something in English, check out the Friday night meditation and dharma talk.

LANGUAGE:  in English  (and some of the Prayers have Sanskrit Language)
WHO:  Meditation and Dharma Talks led by:  Ven. Nguyen Tanh, Buddhist Monk
WHEN:  6:00 p.m. - 7:00p.m. Every Friday Evening (Starting June 27th)
WHERE:  in the TEMPLE (the Big Yellow Building facing Goodlett Rd.)
DONATION:  Love Offering Basis

The Quan Am Monastery is located at 3500 Goodlett Road. Here's their website.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kiss Me, I'm Green!

My first taste of matcha powder came as most Americans' probably did — in a Starbucks Green Tea Soy Latte. God, those things are good. Of course, they squirt lots of flavored syrup in them, and they're loaded with calories. But a Starbucks tea latte is a nice treat every once in awhile.

When I decided I wanted to start making matcha at home a few years ago (to save on those calories), I couldn't find matcha powder anywhere in Memphis! Not even at Whole Foods (our WF may carry it now but not back then). I finally stumbled on a bag at an Asian market way, way out in the 'burbs. It was a big bag, but that was okay. I needed it to make Isa and Terry's Green Tea Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Anyway, the remnants of that bag have been lurking in my pantry ever since. I'd say for at least four years.

And then Kiss Me Organics offered to send me a free bag of their Matcha Powder to review here. I was blown away by how fresh this powder is! Maybe I just haven't had matcha that hasn't been lurking in a pantry in awhile, but damn. The first thing I did was google "matcha smoothies" and this recipe from Gena's Choosing Raw blog popped up. This is a Vanilla Avocado Matcha Smoothie.

It's (mostly) fruit-free, which is nice sometimes when you're tired of banana in every smoothie. It just had avocado, matcha, and vanilla protein powder. I added some dates and agave because it wasn't sweet enough for me. The avocado made the smoothie thick and creamy, and the lack of lots of sweetener meant I could really taste the matcha.

Of course, I had to try a homemade Green Tea Latte.

I may or may not have covered this in rice whip after this shot was taken. But still yet, it's far less caloric than Starbucks with only 60 calories per cup! And it simply contains matcha powder, almond milk, water, and bee-free honee. I used a simple formula from the Kiss Me Organics recipe book, a PDF file that they send every customer.

By the way, that book is filled with all sorts of crazy ways to use matcha – everything from cocktails to French toast to pizza dough to tiramisu. I wish I'd had time to make something more exciting, but for some reason, I just wanted to drink my matcha. I also tried a smoothie recipe from the Kiss Me Organics ebook — Berry Good Morning Smoothie.

This had orange juice, strawberries, blueberries, banana, and matcha. And then I added a scoop of Vega One berry protein powder to make it a complete meal. This was my breakfast this morning, and it was so good. I love the combo of berries and OJ. And the matcha gave it a special wake-me-up kick.

Kiss Me Organics is offering a 15 percent discount on purchases of their matcha powder on Amazon through September 30th. Enter the code "3HTOZAIU" on either the American or Canadian Amazon site to save! And they'll also send you that awesome recipe guide.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I Heart Pearl Couscous

Would you believe that I tried pearl (or Israeli) couscous for the first time this year? Yep, true story. I've long known about these fat little pasta balls, but for some reason, I just never cook with couscous. I'm not sure why. I've long loved couscous, and when I first learned about the bigger pearl version after going vegan, I remember thinking that I'd like that.

But it wasn't until last month, when I was visiting Nashville and had the Israeli Couscous Salad at the Wild Cow Vegetarian Restaurant that I finally tried it! And guess what? My instincts were right. Loved it! The little balls are more chewy than the fine-ground traditional couscous. I needed more! Lucky for me, Pereg Gourmet Natural Foods included a package of their dried Pearl Couscous in a box of sample items they shipped for me to try.

I could have come up with my own recipe, but since it was my second time ever eating it, I figured I'd stick to the pros. I remembered seeing an Israeli couscous recipe in the Veganomicon long ago, probably around the time I first got the book. We're talking 2007 here, people! In fact, reading that recipe title in the Veganomicon may have been the first time I'd ever heard of Israeli couscous.

Anyway, I found that recipe again, and I whipped it up with the Pereg Pearl Couscous. Here's my Israeli Couscous with Apricots and Pistachios.

It may just look like grains with some mint and nuts. But don't let the natural couscous color of the dish fool you. This recipe is loaded with spices — cinnamon stick, cumin, cardamom — that complement the sweet, chopped apricots and salty, nutty pistachios. And it's all topped with fresh organic mint. Ah, such simplicity can be so delicious.

As for the Pereg Pearl Couscous, it was perfectly chewy and soft at the same time. And it cooked up quickly, which was a nice change from slow-cooking brown rice.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vegan Drinks Pizza Party!

Warning: This post contains graphic images of pizza and booze. 

Tonight was Vegan Drinks night again! In honor of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie (which I still haven't seen yet), I figured we should have a pizza party, so I scheduled us for Mellow Mushroom. Memphis has a number of places offering vegan cheese pizza, but Mellow Mushroom is the only one with a full bar. And they have plenty of room for crowds.

Most of us started with beers, because, well, pizza just isn't pizza without a cold beer. I started with Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale (on the right) and Greg got a Curious Traveler Shandy (on the left). I took one drink of his lemony summer beer and decided that's what I'd be ordering next.

Of course, Autumn got a frilly cocktail, like she always does. This was the Elderflower Palmer (Maker's Mark bourbon, St. Germain, elderflower liqueur, sour mix, and a splash of tea).

Pam got girly with a margarita.

And then Greg and Stephanie had to have margaritas too. They opted for the Fiery Margaritas, served with a slice of jalapeno. The margs at Mellow Mushroom contain honey, and Greg never reads anything, so he accidentally got honey in his, but he drank it anyway. Stephanie, however, ordered hers with agave in place of honey, and she raved on and on about how good it was.

Susan ordered a Hendricks Refresher (Hendricks gin, cucumber, basil, agave sour, and maybe something else, but the notes I took in my phone didn't make sense).

Autumn went in for seconds with a Frozen Margarita. As you can see, she really liked it. And there's Stephanie in the background, all photobomb-vogue-ing for the camera.

We had a nice turnout this month. Here's an action table shot.

A couple people ordered salads and sandwiches, but sadly, I failed to photograph those meals. I did, however, take way too many pictures of pizza. I went with the Thai Dye Curry Pizza with curry tofu, cucumbers, tomato, basil, Daiya vegan cheese, and an olive oil/garlic base. I had the Thai chili sauce that typically comes drizzled over the pizza served on the side so my leftovers wouldn't get soggy. That's why you only see sauce on one slice.

I had planned to eat the whole 10-inch pie tonight, but I only made it through two slices. Pizza and beer are filling.

Pam went with the Holy Shiitake Pie with shiitake mushrooms, button mushrooms, portabellas, caramelized onions, Daiya vegan cheese, and an olive oil/garlic base.

Greg opted for the Mega Veggie with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, black olives, Roma tomatoes, broccoli, banana peppers, artichoke hearts, tofu, Daiya vegan cheese, and a red sauce base.

Stephanie was feeding her whole family, so she got a large pie. I'm not sure what all was on this, but definitely Daiya vegan cheese. Peter doesn't look too happy about pizza for some reason.

Mellow Mushroom has Tuesday night trivia, and just as we were wrapping up our meals, the trivia guy came by and asked if we wanted to play. Sure! Our team name was awesome — Better Late Than Pregnant. Ha! I'm horrible at trivia, and I was busy running my mouth and being chatty, so I didn't end up participating. But Ken, Susan, Nathan, and Pam were great at it. And guess what? They won! They got a $30 gift certificate!

Monday, August 25, 2014

We All Scream for Ice Cream Sundaes! And Hot Nails!

I'm starting a new tradition — Friday night ice cream sundae night.

Yep, that was my dinner on Friday. No real food. Just vegan ice cream topped with candy, cookie bits, fudge, rice whip, and a cherry on top. Hey, I'm a grown-up. I can do whatever I want.

What's even better is I didn't have to leave home to go buy all this stuff. Everything in this sundae was included in the Vegan Cuts Ice Cream Sundae Kit. Earlier this month, I saw this in an email newsletter from Vegan Cuts, and I just had to have it.

For $24.95, I got all this — coupon for Free Coconut Bliss ice cream, Rice Whip, No No's (candy-coated, chocolate-covered marshmallows), Lush Coffee Peanuts, Goody Good Stuff gummy colas, Home Free gluten-free Double Chocolate Chip Cookies, Love Bean Superfood Coconut Fudge, and Cherry Man Maraschino Cherries!

God, I love Vegan Cuts! I had the pleasure of meeting (and karaoke-ing with) Jill and John at the first Vida Vegan Con in 2011, and that was the first I'd heard of the vegan discount website. Basically, it's like Groupon for vegans. They offer sweet deals on hard-to-find vegan products. But in the past couple years, the box side of their business has really taken off! They have snack boxes and beauty boxes and vegan family kits and ice cream sundae kits and all manner of fun vegan items curated into boxed gift sets.

I also ordered the Vegan Cuts Nail Box. I grabbed one for me and one for my friend Sheridan for her birthday.

For $24.95, I got Arrowhead Nail Wraps by So Gloss!, Black Sheep Lacquer in Cloudy Skies (turquoise), Adorn polish in Vive Le Coquette (a rosy color), Elysian Nail Lacquer in Queen of the Amazons (orange) and Night with No Moon (blue), and Lip Glosserie Cuticle Balm in Champagne Sugar. Oh, and a Vegan Cuts nail file and a La Fresh Acetone-Free Nail Wipe that smelled like blood oranges!!!!

I've not had a chance to try everything yet. But I immediately tried out the Elysian Night with No Moon polish.

And then, just last night, I applied the nail wraps. It was my first experience with wraps, but they're fun! And I have a feeling these will last longer than polish usually does.

Both kits are still available from Vegan Cuts, by the way. Here's the link for the ice cream kit and here's the link for the nail kit. You too can have ice cream for dinner! And hot nails!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

3rd Annual Memphis Plant-Based Food Fest!!!

Hey y'all! This past weekend was the third annual Memphis Plant-Based Food Fest! This year, it was held in Audubon Park and it stretched over two days (Saturday and Sunday). But I only went Saturday because I didn't have time today. On Saturday, I lead a cooking demo in the morning. I made the Cheesy Tofu Scramble and the Sweet Potato Hash from Cookin' Crunk.

And Ms. Cassi lead her first cooking demo!!! She was so worked up about it before, but it went very smoothly. She did awesome. She made this Avocado Kale Salad that went over great with the crowd, and she got a chance to talk about her plans for Memphis' next vegan restaurant, The Pink Noodle.

One of the highlights of the fest for me actually happened after all of my friends had left! It was 100 degrees outside, so, one by one, my friends snuck away. But I wanted to stay for Melanie Lacey's demo. She's a Little Rock vegan who came down for the fest, and she makes legendary Raw Carrot "Tuna" Salad using the carrot pulp left over from juicing. She sells the spice mix she uses, and she had some for sale there. I watched her make carrot salad and went up for seconds on my samples. And then I just had to buy some spice mix! Here's Melanie with the demo tent/speaker organizer Katherine.

People come to vegan food fests to eat, right? Well, there was no shortage of delicious vegan food. Unlike some fests I've been to where major vegan companies come from all over the country to pass out samples, our fest is more about local vegan food vendors and artisans. So of course Imagine Vegan Cafe had a booth there. Here are Imagine's owners Kristie and Adam.

They were selling vegan hot dogs, BBQ sandwiches, and most importantly, VEGAN PIZZA BY THE SLICE!!! I scooped up this slice of Vegan Sausage Pizza before it was all gone.

And they had a ton of desserts for sale, all baked by my friend Stephanie.

I opted for a Cinnamon Roll because those are my favorite thing she makes. And since I arrived early, I got first pick of an ooey-gooey center piece.

Later on, Nigel, who cooks at Imagine by day but also hosts random vegan food events around town, set up his own booth with lots of fresh, hot meals. Cassi ordered his Sesame Ginger Seitan with Brown Rice. I took one bite and had to get some to take home for dinner. Nigel makes the best homemade seitan. I failed to get a close-up of the dish, but here is Cassi eating it.

Besides food vendors, there were also booths peddling homemade jewelry, incense, supplements, herbs, watermelon juice, and more. My friends Thrasher and Emily were there selling Thrasher's homemade copper bracelets. Even though there were shade trees for the vendors to set up under, Thrasher chose this sunny spot because he needed to "charge his crystals." Yep, these are the kind of weirdo friends I have!

My herbalist friend Monica was there too, selling her homemade teas, tinctures, and syrups at her Little Red Oak Herbs booth.

I bought some of her Nourish Tea made with raspberry leaf, oat straw, nettles, rose hips, and rose petals. I don't really drink much hot tea, but I've started making awesome iced tea and tisanes using dried herbs.

Since it was sooooo hot outside, by the end of the day, I was in serious need of hydration. Thankfully, the Deez Coconuts booth was selling Young Thai Coconut Water.

As usual, the fest was a great time. Thanks to Bastet and Katherine for organizing the whole thing again this year!! Those ladies rock. There were so many more great demos, speakers, and events that I just couldn't catch — yoga demos, meditation, juicing demos, Monica's herbology talk, Kristie from Imagine's food demo. But hopefully, I'll be able to see more next year!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stuff I Ate

Time again for a hodge-podge of random meals. Here goes.

I'll go ahead and get the obvious out of the way first. Because you know a few of these meals came from my favorite place, Imagine Vegan Cafe. This one here is pretty sweet. You see, they don't typically serve fried vegan fish there, but they special-ordered some Gardein Fishless Filets for a Fish Fry Friday! This plate has three filets, three hush puppies, tartar sauce, coleslaw, and fries, which Stephanie and I doused liberally with malt vinegar and ketchup, fish-and-chips style! Just like Captain D's!

Every Sunday for brunch, Stephanie bakes a quiche for Imagine to sell by the slice. I got a to-go slice of this Broccoli Tofu Quiche. So good!

Tonight, I got takeout from Imagine — Fried "Chicken" Sandwich and Broccoli with Vegan Cheese Sauce (not pictured). The sandwich may look pretty simple, and that's the point — just vegan fried chicken, mayo, and pickles. It reminds me of those Chicken Littles KFC used to sell when I was a kid. We used to stop there after school every day and pick up Chicken Littles for snacks. This is like a slightly larger vegan version right down to the fluffy white bread. Imagine has wheat bread by request, but I love how their sandwiches come on white by default. Sometimes, you need the comfort of white bread. I never buy it at home, but it's SO GOOD when eaten at a restaurant.

One day last week, I made the drive out to Bartlett, a Memphis suburb, for lunch at 2 Vegan Sistas. It's a totally vegan, mostly raw cafe, and their food is wonderful. But sadly, I rarely get out there because of the drive. I need to commit to eating there more and support other local vegan restaurants! Last week, I ordered the Raw Cashew Burger with cooked Collard Greens. The burger is seasoned quite well, and I love the ketchup, mustard, and onions. And the greens! Oh, the greens! They're delicious and loaded with tomatoes and mushrooms.

The burger comes raw-style on a lettuce leaf, but gluten-free bread is available by request. So of course, I requested it! This was heavily vegan-buttered, and that made it quite delectable. I'm not a huge fan of xgfx bread on its own, but it's perfect with a little added fat. I used this to sop up my greens juice.

2 Vegan Sistas has excellent raw desserts! My fave has always been the Un-Peanut Butter Pie. It's more of a pudding with a cashew crust, and the nut butter is actually almond. And there's carob mixed in and strawberries and more cashew crust on top. It tastes like a raw version of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. It's much prettier when served at the restaurant, but I got mine to-go.

I also got an order of 2 Vegan Sistas Flax Crackers to-go. I have a dehydrator at home, but it's so much easier to buy the crackers already-made. These had sun-dried tomatoes in them and they were crispy. I ate them at home the next day with some Lilly's Roasted Red Pepper Hummus.

I also put that Lilly's hummus in some Veggie & Hummus Pita Sandwiches earlier this week — hummus, bell pepper, grated carrot, tomato, lettuce, and green olives. On the side, I had Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Kettle Chips.

Been doing whole wheat bagels for breakfast. Here's one with avocado, black salt, and chili flakes and another with vegan cream cheese and onion & garlic pepper jelly.

But out of all that deliciousness, nothing could top this bowl of awesomeness (well, maybe the fish fry)! I ordered several boxes of the new Earth Balance Vegan Mac & Cheese a few weeks back. And this was my first bowl — creamy, buttery, cheesy goodness, just like the boxed mac & cheese I lived off of in college. Ah!!