Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Decade of Veganism!

I've been meat-free for 20 years! And totally vegan for 10 years! I'm not sure the official dates for each anniversary, but I went vegetarian on the day after Thanksgiving in 1994 and vegan on the day after in 2004. So I just consider Black Friday as my veganaversary because it's easier that way. Here I am celebrating with my annual veganaversary brunch.

It all started in the summer of 1994. I was 13 years old and visiting my friend Purvi in Oklahoma for a week. Purvi was Indian, and her mom, siblings, and herself were vegetarian (her dad ate meat though). We ate vegetarian food all week, and I had my first Indian fare. It was love at first samosa. I knew I could make the switch to a meat-free diet. I'd long wanted to go vegetarian, probably from as far back as age 8-ish. That's around the time I made the connection between my pets and the animals we ate for dinner. I didn't see a difference, and I couldn't understand why we treated some animals as family and killed others to eat. But my mom didn't know the first thing about vegetarianism back then (1988-ish), and when I mentioned it, my idea was quickly shot down. I think I tried it for a day but gave up.

Anyway, back to 1994. After I'd spent a week with Purvi, my parents drove from Arkansas to Oklahoma to pick me up. In the car on the road trip home, I declared that I was giving up red meat and pork. I'd still eat poultry and fish though. The grocery stores in my small hometown didn't sell mock meats, so we'd stock up on veggie burgers and stuff when we visited Little Rock. My parents were more supportive this time around. By then, I was 14 and able to do more for myself in the kitchen (although, let's be honest, my mom did most of the cooking). I ate lots of ramen (because I wanted to!) and lots of mac & cheese and lots of chicken. Oh, and lots of dinners composed of side dishes. And I kept that up for about four to five months. But after that, I knew I had to go totally vegetarian. So on Black Friday in 1994, I made the switch. My mom packed my lunches for school everyday — usually PB&J and chips. I was the weird vegetarian kid, but that suited me just fine. I never had a problem being the weird kid. Hell, I wanted to be weird kid!

And then in 2004, I'd been living in Memphis for two years. I was out of college and working as an intern at the Memphis Flyer (where I'm the news editor these days). I got involved in some PETA protests and made a few vegan friends. We founded a little animal rights group called Memphis Area Animal Rights Activists. And as I delved deeper into the factory farming issue, I realized that dairy cows and egg-laying hens are just as exploited and mistreated as any other farmed animal. So on Black Friday in 2004, I vowed to try veganism for a month. After the month, when I realized how much easier (and cheaper!) it was than I thought it'd be, I committed to be vegan for life!

Typically, every year on Black Friday, my mama and I go shopping for holiday gifts. And we start the day with vegan brunch at Brother Juniper's. But this year, my mom wasn't free on Friday, so our veganaversary brunch was pushed back to Sunday. So on my actual anniversary, I slept in. And when I finally woke, I had a big ole bowl of my favorite breakfast — Brown Rice Ramen with Veggies and Tofu — while watching Game of Thrones in my PJs. YES!

The other two meals of the day were giant plates of my second favorite meal — Thanksgiving Leftovers!! My lunch plate had more of the traditional stuff (Gardein roast, dressin', corn, and green beans), but I got a new iPhone after lunch on Friday (an early Xmas present from my daddy!) and I lost that pic. Oops! This dinner plate had Broccoli & Wild Rice Casserole, Granny's Greens & Turnips, Hash Brown Casserole, and three Veggie-Cheeze Biscuits that Greg gave me from his leftovers.

And then, this morning, my mom and I finally got to meet up for brunch at Brother Juniper's. We always order the same thing — Fahim's Special with Home Fries and Toast.

That's tofu scramble with red peppers and portabella mushrooms. It's not on their menu anymore, but it's still available by request. It's been a lovely, delicious, relaxing veganaversary weekend! I look forward to another 10 years!

Oh, and here's a little bonus for ya! Herman was hanging out in the backyard this morning, and Paul snapped some adorable pics. He lives outside these days, but he comes in often for treats and pets.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I don't know about y'all, but I'm stuffed! I spent Wednesday night and most of Thursday in my hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas. I helped my mom in the kitchen a bit today, but she did most of the work as usual. And as always, she made everything vegan (or in some cases, she made a vegan and non-vegan version of dishes). And I'm the luckiest girl ever because I have TONS of leftovers. Leftovers are the best part of Thanksgiving!

I started out the morning with a 9-mile run through Jonesboro. My half-marathon is next weekend, so I can't skip a training day. Plus, it was nice to see bits of my hometown that I've never seen before. And I burned around 800 calories to make room for all that Thanksgiving food.

My mom (and me a little) cooked everything at my parents' house, and though we typically eat there, this year, we took all the food to my Me-Maw's house to eat. She just had hip surgery and can't get in and out of cars yet. Here's Paul and I at Me-Maw's just before chowing down. I failed to get pics of the rest of my family because I was too busy snapping pics of food! Sigh.

This year, I went with the Gardein Holiday Roast for my main. It's covered in a seasoned breadcrumb topping, and there's a cranberry-sage stuffing inside. Loved the meaty texture of this roast. Gardein products are so authentic!

It's just not Thanksgiving without Cornbread Dressin'! We don't do stuffing in the south. We do creamy cornbread dressin', and my mama makes the best. She made me a big ole pan of Vegan Dressin'!

As per tradition in our house, we just had to have Hash Brown Casserole. Usually, my mama bakes this in the oven with a buttery cornflake topping, but this time, she tried making it in the Crock Pot. It wasn't as crispy, but it was so very creamy and delicious. It's just hash browns, onions, vegan cheddar, and homemade vegan cream of celery soup. My fave!

Mama likes to try at least one new recipe every year. This time, it was a Broccoli & Wild Rice Casserole with mushrooms, peppers, celery, onions, and breadcrumbs. Most broccoli rice casseroles call for cheese, but this recipe did not! The only vegan swap-out she had to do was soy milk instead of the heavy cream called for in the recipe. I really loved this!

Granny typically makes the veggie sides. She brought her famous Greens & Turnips! Granny makes the best slow-simmered greens, which I douse liberally in vinegar-pepper sauce.

She also brought corn, but my picture came out blurry. I was in a hurry to eat! And she made these awesome Green Beans!

Our salad is always a little different every year, but this year, mama made a Pasta Salad with Sundried Tomatoes.

And it's not Thanksgiving without homemade Cranberry Sauce!!

Here's my whole plate. I also had a bowl of pasta salad and a dinner roll (not pictured). Yes, I ate every bite. I earned those calories!!

Last but not least, dessert! Even though my parents aren't fond of pumpkin, mama is learning to like it. And she got brave enough to try my Vanilla Spice Cupcakes with Pumpkin Buttercream from Cookin' Crunk this year!

Hope y'all had a happy Thanksgiving too!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I Toast To You With a Vegan Bloody Mary!

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all! I'll be celebrating the big day with my fam, as usual. My mama and granny make EVERYTHING vegan so I can eat ALL THE THINGS. I am so thankful for my vegan-friendly family and their good cookin'. For the main, I'm trying out the Gardein Holiday Roast this year, and I'll be back here Thursday night with a full pictorial recap of our holiday meal.

And while we're on the topic of Thanksgiving, did you know 2014 is the 20th anniversary of Tofurky? Yep! And CNN did a story about it, and they interviewed me! The story is about the evolution of plant meat and the whole vegan debate over whether or not Thanksgiving requires a mock turkey. I say, yes it does!! Here's the story.

This week also marks the 20th anniversary of my vegetarianism and 10th anniversary of my veganism. Black Friday is the day I officially celebrate, but I made both switches on the day after Thankgiving in 1994 and 2004, respectively. Since I'm 34, that means I've spent the majority of my life not eating meat! Yay! (Omg, there are so many exclamation points in this post ... and more to come!!!!)

I'll have an anniversary post later, but for now, cheers to saving animals this Thanksgiving season! Let us toast with a vegan Bloody Mary!

As you probably know, most Bloody Mary mix is NOT VEGAN! That's because it often contains worcestershire sauce, and that sauce often contains anchovies. Yuk! Who wants anchovies in their vodka? Vom. Thankfully (for Memphis vegans anyway), a new super-spicy, locally made mix is totally vegan! I'm just loving Nikki's Hot Ass Bloody Mary Mix!

See, it says "vegan" right on the bottle! (Seriously, though, I need to lay off the exclamations).

Nikki's is a small female-run company that makes hot-as-hell seasoning salt, potato chips, and now, Bloody Mary mix. It's seasoned with ghost peppers so this stuff does not play. In fact, even I have to water my mix down half-and-half to cut the spice. And I love hot stuff! But that's fine because it makes the bottle last twice as long. The above Bloody Mary was made not only with local mix but also local vodka from Memphis' own Roaring Tiger. I like how both Nikki and the Tiger are making the same face.

Cheers! Enjoy your Tofurky! And don't forget to enter my Cookin' Crunk giveaway! By the way, Nikki's mix isn't for sale online yet, but the chips and seasoning are if you're far away and want to try those.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Smoothie King Has Vegan Protein Smoothies!!

I think you all know how I feel about protein smoothies! Love them! I drink protein smoothies four days a week for breakfast — on my running days — for muscle recovery. I view them as essential post-run maintenance. And I always throw in some fruit (and sometimes greens) in because I don't much care for eating whole fruits. But I love drinking them!

I typically use Vega One protein powders, but I'm also fond of Phood, Garden of Life, Nutribody, and MRM powders. And though I always keep a stash of several flavors in my pantry, some days you just don't feel like washing out the Vitamix. And luckily, for those days, I can just go to Smoothie King! The smoothie chain recently unveiled two new vegan protein smoothies, made with Sunwarrior plant-based protein!

I ran nine miles on Saturday, one of the last few long training runs before I run my first-ever half-marathon — St. Jude — on December 6th. I could have just made a smoothie after my run, but instead I got a Vegan Mango Kale Smoothie!

The ingredients are so basic —Sunwarrior Warrior Blend plant-based protein, Kale, Mango Juice Blend, Bananas, Apple Juice, Almonds. That's it!

And the flavor was delicious! The mango flavor was spot-on, and I loved the addition of kale and almonds. The smoothie comes in 20, 32, and 40-ounce sizes. I went with the 32-ounce because it had 16 grams of protein, which was about what I needed. This kept me full for hours!

They also have a Vegan Dark Chocolate Banana, which I must try next. And of course, if you're not into protein powder, Smoothie Kings has always had lots of vegan fruit-based smoothie options!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Crunk For the Holidays: Cookin' Crunk Giveaway!

Hey everybody! Last week, I launched a weekly series called "Crunk For the Holidays," in which I'm dedicating one post a week to my Southern vegan cookbook. It's been out since fall 2012, so it's not new or anything. But I figure the holidays are a great time to pimp my book! People need presents, right?

And what's more awesome than a big ol' bowl of comfort food for Christmas? Nothing! And my book contains about 150 recipes for delicious vegan comfort dishes, all based on recipes I grew up eatin' in my Arkansas hometown. So if you're looking for a good holiday gift, you can find signed copies here on my blog (just click the PayPal link on the right side of the page) or you can get 'em at a discount on Amazon, because Amazon.

Or, if you're lucky, maybe you'll win a signed copy! As my little Thanksgiving "thank you" to all of my readers, I'm giving away a signed copy. All you have to do is leave me a comment here letting me know your favorite Southern dish! Be sure and leave your email address so I can find you if you win when I randomly select a winner next Monday!

And just for fun, here's a rundown of my five very favorite dishes from the book.

1) Country Fried Tempeh Steak with Soymilk Gravy - Beefy marinated tempeh is coated in a seasoned flour and fried until crisp. And then the oil is retained in the pan to make a creamy soymilk gravy. Hot damn.

2) Fried Green Tomato & Tofu Sandwich - Slices of firm, tangy green tomato are coated in breadcrumbs and cornmeal and served with slices of baked tofu that's been marinated in a sweet 'n' spicy soy sauce. Both are stuffed into a sandwich with homemade maple-Dijon sauce.

3) Tempeh Gumbo - Chunks of tempeh and slices of fresh okra are slow-simmed in a rich, roux-thickened, tomato-based broth with celery, bell pepper, and onion.

4) Seitan and Dumplings - Chewy whole wheat dumplings plump up in a thick and silky vegetable broth with Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots, and green peas.

5) Old-Fashioned Coconut Pie - Sweet coconut flakes, vegan butter, and sugar are thickened into a custard and served in a whole wheat pie crust. Swoon. Recipe is here.

So there ya go! Of course, my favorites change all the time, so ask me again next week, and I'll pick a few different things. And I tend to gravitate toward the brown food and fried stuff, but that's just me. There are plenty of baked things and green things in the book, too, if that's what you're into. Anyway, leave a comment to enter! And please don't forget to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win!

Memphis Vegan Thanksgiving!

Every year, usually a week before Thanksgiving, our vegetarian/vegan social club, Food Awareness, holds a vegan gathering with TONS of healthy holiday food. We held our annual vegan Thanksgiving this past Saturday at group members Barbara and Ken's house. Vaughan, our main organizer dude, cooks everything, so folks don't have to worry about bringing a potluck dish ... unless they just want to! Of course, I always want to!

This year, I brought Julie Hasson's Caramelized Onion Dip from Vegan Casseroles. This stuff has been taking over the internet, and I've been dying for an excuse to try it. It's a French onion-style dip made from raw blended cashews, which my Vitamix pulverized in seconds! There are dehydrated onions inside the dip and caramelized onions on top. I brought Wavy Lay's for dipping. Even though I'm typically all about the vegan sour cream-based dips, it was nice to have a super-healthy cashew-based dip for a change.

Everything else on the savory side was cooked by Vaughan and Nicole, but a couple more friends contributed desserts (more on that in a few). There were Mashed Potatoes, Sauteed Kale, Raw Kale Salad, Stuffing, and Plain Sweet Potatoes.

And there was also Candied Yam-style sweet potatoes with a very melty vegan marshmallow topping. I don't get candied yams at my family Thanksgiving because my parents don't like 'em, so I really enjoyed having these!

Vaughan and Nicole were apparently all about the sweet potato this year. Nicole also roasted Sweet Potato Skins in an sweet 'n' savory citrus sauce. Now I've never had sweet potato skins. I typically just throw those down the garbage disposal, but you know what? These were good!

And because one can never have too many potatoes, we also had Roasted White Potatoes. I actually dipped these in the caramelized onion dip, and that was a crazy awesome combo.

There were also two big pans of Millet with Walnuts. I'm not sure what the seasonings were, but I think I detected cinnamon. It had a bit of a Moroccan flair.

And don't forget the Cranberry Sauce! Nicole made sure we had all those Thanksgiving essentials!

Not pictured was the giant soup pot of Black Bean Spaghetti with Tempeh. I hate that I forgot to take a picture because it was my favorite dish! Vaughan and Nicole always makes enough to feed an army, which is good because we always end up with a huge crowd at these things. I'd guess we had at least 30 people!

Here was my overstuffed plate! And in case you're wondering, I ate every bite. And then I went in for dessert. Overeating is one of my super-powers.

Last year, for some crazy reason, we didn't have dessert! So Cassi and Stephanie made sure that didn't happen this year! Cassi made Pumpkin Coffee Cupcakes with Pumpkin Buttercream.

And she made Chocolate Cupcakes with Cookies 'n' Cream Frosting. These got rave reviews! I had one and it was delicious. Moist, chocolately, cookie-y!

She also made a Coconut Blueberry Cobbler, but I was too full to even try it!

Stephanie made her Chess Bars, which are one of my top five favorite desserts she makes (right after cinnamon rolls and insanity bars!). Chess bars are a super-Southern dessert, and if you've never heard of them, think of them as Gooey Buttery Custard Bars.

And Nicole made two Sweet Potato Pies, but I also failed to photograph those! But I didn't fail to eat a slice. Very tasty and traditional!

God, I was so full when I left that party. We stuck around and drank wine after dinner, and by the time I got home, I was certain my stomach was about explode Thanksgiving guts all over my couch. Now I've gotta try and take it easy on the food for a few days so I'll have room to do it all again when we have my family Thanksgiving on Thursday!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eat Pastry Gluten-Free Baking Mixes!

I should start this by saying that I'm by no means gluten-free. In fact, most days, I'm quite gluten-full. I'll eat ALL THE BREAD. But I have a deep love for gluten-free baked goods too! I like the slightly different texture, and I'm partial to the flavors of chickpea and brown rice flours. In fact, my very favorite ready-to-eat-with-a-spoon ready-to-bake cookie dough is made by the gluten-free magicians over at Eat Pastry.

I love their cookie dough so much that I proudly wear my Eat Pastry apron all the time!

And I had to don that very apron recently to try out a couple of Eat Pastry's new gluten-free baking mixes!

Let's start with that Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Mix. As you probably know (because I've mentioned it here five million times), my birthday was last month. And even though I had a professional vegan birthday cake (by Stephanie!) at my official party on the day after my big day, I needed a smaller batch of dessert for my actual birthday. I went to my friend Shara's house that night, and I wanted to tote along some cupcakes.

It seemed like the perfect time to try out this new mix! The mix is very versatile, and there are all kinds of suggestions on the back of the package for ways to use it — sheet cake, cupcakes, brownies! I opted for the Mint Cupcakes variation, which involved adding a 1/2 teaspoon of mint extract to the batter. Oh, and I added a bit of green food coloring to the frosting, made with my go-to buttercream recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

These were so good!! The cake was light and airy, and honestly, if I didn't know it was gluten-free, I wouldn't have been able to tell. The folks at Shara's house — all non-vegans — enjoyed them!

Next, I tried the Gluten-Free Buttermilk Biscuit Mix. I've never tried gluten-free biscuits, so I had no idea what to expect.

The dough rolled out nicely, and it was easy to cut the biscuits and transfer them to a baking sheet. They didn't get quite as fluffy as my homemade gluten-containing biscuits do, but that's okay. I loved the flavor — the chickpea flour really shines though. They were a tad more crumbly than I'm used to, and the one I tried to split and butter fell apart. I found it was easier to eat them without trying to cut in half.

The biscuits were excellent served with my homemade Tofu Ham (from Cookin' Crunk!) and Redeye Gravy (just black coffee, tofu ham marinade, and oil). I used the redeye gravy for dippin'. Yum!

Unfortunately, the Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Muffin Mix didn't work out so well. When my package of samples arrived in the mail, there was a letter from Eat Pastry letting me know that the samples I'd received were still being tweaked. The letter said the final muffin mix would not contain chocolate chips.

After I attempted to bake the chocolate chip muffins, I understood why the chips were removed from the final product. All of the chips sank to the bottom of the muffin tins while baking, causing the muffins to stick my well-oiled pans. Typically, when baking with chocolate chips, you can just toss the chips with flour before adding to a mix, but I'm guessing gluten-free flours don't coat the chips as well. Anyway, the muffins broke to pieces as I tried to remove them. But I did sneak a few bites, and the flavor was spot-on. If you see the muffin mix in stores, and it doesn't contain chocolate chips, I'm sure it will work out just fine!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gourmet Popcorn!

A couple weeks back, I blogged about UncommonGoods, an online gift shop with a mission of selling "handcrafted gifts created in harmony with the environment and without harm to animals or people." That last bit is from their website.

It's a good veg-friendly company (they do sell some cheese items, but most things are vegan), and they pay even their lowest paid seasonal workers 50 percent above the minimum wage. About half of what they sell is handmade, including the item I'm featuring tonight. UncommonGoods sent me this box of joy to review on my blog.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I'm a popcorn fiend. It's seriously like a drug to me. Once I start eating popcorn, there is no stopping until every kernel is devoured and I've licked the salt or seasonings from the bowl. Yes, I have no shame. I'm a popcorn junkie.

This gift box from Dell Cove Spice Company contains four tins of gourmet kernels —Black Pearl, Baby White, Midnight Blue, and Red Diamond Valley. And there are also four tins of savory seasoning — Butt Kickin' BBQ, Sweet Onion, Spicy Cajun, and Sweet Ginger.

As much as I adore popcorn, I love it most when the timing is just right: It's a Friday or Saturday night. I've eaten a light dinner and have room left for popcorn. And I'm in the rare mood to stay home and watch a movie rather than go out with friends. The stars have to align for all of that to happen, and when it does, popcorn makes it all the more special. That happened this past Friday night.

I have one of those fancy movie-style popcorn makers, a hand-me-down from my parents. They bought a bigger popcorn maker because they also have a popcorn addiction, and I got their old one. I heated some vegan butter-flavored olive oil (from the fancy olive oil shop) in the machine and added the tin of red kernels.

These were so light and airy. Like little crunchy pillows of heaven. I quickly sampled all of the seasonings and finally settled on Spicy Cajun, a blend of smoked paprika, organic garlic salt, sea salt, organic onion, cayenne, and black pepper. Just the right hint of spice and salt. Perfection. I ate the whole bowl myself while Paul and I watched A Million Ways To Die in the West and Chef. I don't share popcorn.

Dell Cove's hand-crafted popcorn seasonings and gourmet kernels would make an awesome holiday gift for a popcorn lover like me! The popcorn is GMO-free and grown in the Midwest. And the spices are organic. Score! They also sell a sweet popcorn kit with seasonings in flavors like pumpkin pie, dark chocolate, key lime pie, and cinnamon.

By the way, UncommonGoods has tons of great gifts, so check it out for your holiday gift shopping. To make it easier on you, they have a gifts for women and gifts for men page, but if you're like me, you're friends are all pretty androgynous in their tastes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Vegan Drinks: BBQ Tofu Nacho Edition

Long before Memphis was the vegan-friendly city it is today, there was just Tracks. Beloved old R.P. Tracks, home of vegan BBQ nachos and discounted shooters when trains roll by. It was one of the few places offering vegan options back in the mid-2000s, and I made a habit out of regular trips there for nacho gorge fests.

But these days, with Imagine Vegan Cafe in my weekly meal rotation and abundant vegan options at food trucks and various other restaurants, my favorite nacho joint has fallen by the wayside. It's been almost a year since I've been to R.P. Tracks! It was high time we held another Vegan Drinks event there. So tonight, we gathered at R.P. Tracks for our monthly vegan cocktail meetup!

That was most of the table. And here's Stephanie and Pam. They wouldn't fit in the first pic.

I wasn't in the mood for a sweet drink. Thankfully, my favorite seasonal local beer was on draft — Ghost River Black Magic! It's a porter with a hints of coffee and chocolate. I had two.

In fact, most people ordered beer, so I don't have lots of fun cocktail pics to share. Except Pam had to be the oddball and order something weird. Her cocktail was called Sex With An Alligator — Midori Melon and Jager.

R.P. Tracks has a wealth of vegan options, but since it had been so long, I just had to go with the classic BBQ Tofu Nachos. I always order my chips on the side for dipping. Also, Tracks doesn't serve guacamole anymore, and they don't have vegan sour cream. So Stephanie and I typically tag-team and bring our own. I supplied the guac, and she brought the Tofutti.

Stephanie and Pam ordered nachos too, but Pam doesn't like the black beans that come on the nachos. So she ate all of her BBQ tofu really fast. And then she just ordered a side of tofu.

Melissa ordered my second-favorite menu item — BBQ Tofu Burrito. It's basically like the nachos but in a burrito.

Nathan got the BBQ Tofu Sandwich with Sweet Potato Fries. By the way, I'm pretty sure the coleslaw here is not vegan, but Nathan isn't vegan, so he didn't care. But if you are and you eat here, maybe ask them to leave that off the plate.

Both Susan and Nicole got orders of the Buffalo Tofu Wings. They are served with ranch that is not vegan, but they'll leave it off the plate by request. This was Nicole's daughter's plate, and the kid eats dairy. But Susan had her ranch left off.

And Nicole also got a Tofu Club Sandwich with Steak Fries.

It was a delicious night! And it reminded me of all the menu items I haven't had in far too long. I'll be back to Tracks very soon. There are wings in my future. And burritos. And club sandwiches. Mmmmmm.....