Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Vida Vegan Con Send-Off!

Hey y'all! I'm headed to Austin for Vida Vegan Con III! I hope to see many of y'all there, and if you can't make the drive/flight, I promise to come back with lots of photos and treats and tales of vegan hugs.

It's the last VVC ever, and I'm so honored to have been asked to speak at all three! But I'm very sad that it's ending. I love having the chance to meet up and hang out with my fave blogger friends every couple years. Looks like we'll need to start a new tradition (meetup at Vegan Beer Fest anyone?).

This year, I'm doing a DIY Homebrewing demo at Friday's Vegan Bazaar (it's open to the general public, so even if you're not a conference attendee, you can come!). And I'm leading a discussion about the ethics of vegan dining and boozing on Sunday during the conference. We'll be discussing the questions we ask when dining out or ordering booze and why we ask or don't ask certain questions. Finally, on Monday, I'll be doing something awesome and top-secret that I'm not sure if I'm allowed to talk about yet, but I'll let y'all know when I can!

Most importantly, I'll be having all this fun with my life-long bestie and fellow vegan Sheridan! She and her partner Drew are coming too!

See y'all next week. Probably won't be posting again until Tuesday night, so see y'all then!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Vegan Snack Box from the U.K.!

There's something terribly exciting about receiving an international care package. Back in the early vegan blogging days, a few of us would occasionally swap boxes, and I remember receiving a very special package from Mihl at Seitan Is My Motor — lots of German goodies! I also love it when my friend Stephanie, whose husband Richard is British, goes on vacation to visit his family and brings me back British treats.

So when the folks at the U.K.-based vegan snack box company, Vegan Tuck Box, asked if I'd like to review their monthly box, I jumped at the chance. It arrived a few weeks ago, and opening it was such fun! I loved going through every item!

There is so much awesomeness in this snack box! Lots of chocolate! Raw crackers! Seeds! Chips (or "crisps" as they say across the pond)! Even a tiny cashew milk!

I'm a savory girl, so the first thing I went for were the Golden Apple Organic Raw Crackers in Onion and Garlic. Holy crap! I knew they'd be good, but I wasn't expecting them to be this good! These raw crackers have an almost buttery mouthfeel. They'd be great with a hummus or spread, but I couldn't even wait for that. They're so perfect on their own!

I kept most of the snacks on my desk for mid-day snacking. But I did take the Meet Your Maca Superseeds home to use as a topping on my morning oats. These are pepita and sunflower seeds coated in maca powder. They were a lovely topping for my bowl of oats with PB2 and strawberries.

I tried the Tuk Tuk Thai Summer Heat Spicy Peanuts one day as a morning snack. These are so much more than just peanuts. The mix also has coconut, lemongrass, red pepper, and lime leaves, and they're all coated in a salty, tangy Thai spice mix.

All of the chocolate looked good, but the one that stood out first was the iChoc Choco Cookie bar because cookies! This is a creamy rice milk chocolate with crunchy chocolate cookies. Mmmm ....

The Doves Farm Fig & Linseed Flapjack Bar was a great snack before my Thursday noon yoga class! It kept me satisfied until I could get lunch afterward. I'm not sure what a linseed is (or what flapjack means here ... isn't that a pancake?). But I don't even care because it was delicious. Very oaty and soft and only slightly sweet.

UPDATE from commenter Lakkalakka: "Flapjacks are basically a kind of cereal bar made from oats and lots of fatty, sticky things to bind it together like a sugar syrup called golden syrup, and typically butter but you can use oil instead! It's one of the first things I learnt to bake, I like to throw in raisins and chocolate chips too! Oh, and linseeds are just another name for flaxseeds."

The Doisy & Dam Coconut & Lucuma Chocolate was dark and lovely with crunchy bits of coconut and antioxidant-rich lucuma. This was practically health food!

I was way excited about the Vego Whole Hazelnut Bar because I'd just read about these in one of Jojo's posts on Vegan In Brighton. It has creamy vegan chocolate and whole hazelnuts! Hazelnuts and chocolate are pretty much the best combo ever.

Now, I'm not typically the biggest fan of fruit chips just because I'd rather have chocolate or nuts or potato chips over fruit. I'm a true junk food lover. But these Emily's Fruit Crisps were seriously the best apple chips I've ever had. They're not just dehydrated like some brands. They're cooked with oil, and that makes them a little junk food-ish but healthy at the same time. And that's my kinda food.

Finally, today, I tried the When Hickory Got BBQ'd Ten Acre Crisps alongside my lunch sandwich. These were classic BBQ chips, and I loved every bite. I may have licked the bag when I was done, but you didn't see me, so it didn't happen.

There are still a few more items I've yet to try. Can't wait to bite into that Sarelle bar because Amey from Vegan Eats & Treats (who also reviewed the Vegan Tuck Box) said the hazelnut chocolate wafer was her very fave. And the Provamel Cashew Milk will make a perfect afternoon treat soon! The Dark Chocolate Covered Cocomel's (chocolate-covered caramel) are actually a U.S.-made treat, but I've never seen them, so I'm very excited to try these too!

Vegan Tuck Box is available in the U.K., of course! But U.S. snack fans can order it too! Of course, shipping is a little high for us over here, but hey, you're getting special treats from the U.K. And as someone who ships her own cookbooks overseas sometimes, I know how high international shipping rates can be for many things! If you're interested, you can order a single box or subscribe monthly. And if you're not a big snacker, you can also save some money by ordering the mini box, which has about five to six items instead of 10 to 12.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Eat Bars, Build a Better World

I love when I can feel good about eating something, not just because it's good for me but because the product is tied to some good cause. Take, for example, FLYJOY bars! They're vegan, all-natural, non-GMO, gluten-free, and the company donates 10 percent of its profits to HOPE International, a nonprofit that provides business training, a safe place to save, and microloans to the world’s poorest families. Like so many bar companies, this one was founded by a dude — Curtis Bomgaars — who just wanted to make healthy bars in his kitchen. And he wanted to help people in need too. It's an inspiring story, and you can read that here.

FLYJOY sent me some bars to sample. Look at all the colorful wrappers! They even came in a cute, reusuable cloth bag. Even though I didn't pay for this batch, I know I'll be buying more because these are high up on my list of favorite bars of all time.

Here's why I love them: Not only are they made with a healthy base of quinoa, oats, flax, and chia, they're also incredibly tasty and the texture is the perfect combination of chewy and crunchy from the turbinado sugar.

First, I tried the Peanut Cacao Nib. This was the chewiest of all the bars, and it has a strong peanutty taste. I'm a sucker for all things peanut, so this was probably my fave. I could see the nibs, but I didn't get much flavor from them. But that was fine with me. Also, loved how the salty peanut butter and the brown rice syrup and turbinado made for a salty-sweet flavor.

I always pick nutty flavors over fruity ones, so next up, I tried the Cashew Cookie Dough. This one was still chewy, but it was a tad softer than the PB bar. This was the perfect fuel before a short walk/run followed by a nice yoga session. Loved the strong cashew butter taste!

Next up — Coconut Almond. Because of the coconut base, this one was a tad oilier, but that's to be expected when coconut is involved. The almond butter base was just perfect with the coconut flakes. Sorry for the low-lit picture. But I had this bar early in the morning before the sun came up! Great fuel for my morning strength training session.

Blueberry Almond was my fave of the fruity ones. Big chunks of blueberry, crunchy roasted almonds. YUM! Enjoyed this after work one day when I knew dinner plans were still hours away, and it kept me satisfied until then.

Cranberry Almond was basically the same as the blueberry bar but with cranberry pieces instead. Loved biting inside to discover whole, roasted almonds!

Finally, I tried the Cherry Coconut one morning on the car ride to the gym for my 6:15 a.m. "butts and guts" class. The cherries were the sour kind, which contrasted with the bar's sweetness. Really loved this bar!

As you can see, I loved every one of these bars! And they did a great job tiding me over through my morning workouts and afternoon breaks before dinner. I'll definitely be seeking out more of these soon!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Vegan Brunch with Irie Vegan Kitchen!!!!

There's a new vegan brunch place in town, and it's so good, it should be illegal. Every Sunday for the past few weeks, Chef Nigel and his partner Andrea have been serving up brunch in a pop-up location at The African Place in Uptown. We finally got a chance to check it out today, and it was fantastic!

A little history first: For years, Chef Nigel has been hosting pop-up events (including a very popular but short-lived brunch at Brinson's downtown a couple years ago) and catering jobs, co-running a vegan grab-and-go place, and even working for a stint at Imagine Vegan Cafe. He's been a fixture on the local vegan scene forever, and it's no wonder because THE MAN CAN COOK!

Now, he and Andrea are looking to start up a restaurant called Irie Vegan Kitchen. But getting your own place can be tough. Luckily, they're able to do this pop-up brunch out of The African Place at 581 N. Third St. now on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. By the way, The African Place is a little shop offering all manner of natural soaps (shea butter, black soap, etc.), incenses, traditional African clothing, jewelry, etc. They have some really cool stuff in there!

Anyway, onto what we ate. Here was the menu for today. But it changes a bit from week to week.

I went with the Breakfast Wrap and Curried Vegetables. The perfectly folded wrap (no messy corners!) was stuffed with a really impressive tofu scramble, vegan sausage, sauteed spinach, and vegan cheese sauce. It was really just perfect in every way. My curried veggies — bok choy, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms — were great too.

I love that everything is ordered a la carte, so you get to sort of create your own plate. Stephanie got Tofu Scramble, Vegan Sausage, Herb Roasted Potatoes, and a Blueberry & Banana Pancake. She wanted me to let y'all know that all this food wasn't just for her. She had to share with her kid.

Her husband Richard wasn't keen on sharing, so he got his own plate — Blueberry & Banana Pancake, Vegan Sausage, Herb Roasted Potatoes. Richard and Steph said the pancake was top-notch.

Cassi isn't crazy about breakfast foods, so she went with some of the more lunchy options — Orange "Chicken," Curried Vegetables, and Seasoned Rice.

And her friend Stephanie (yes, there were two Stephanies) went with Tofu Scramble and Sauteed Garlic Kale.

Megan went with the Sausage & Peppers and the Curried Vegetables. The sausage slices looked so good. I'm definitely getting that next time if it's an option.

They also serve fresh juices. I didn't have any, but Stephanie and Richard tried both of today's offerings — Peach Mango Guava and Pineapple Orange Ginger. By the way, my Stephanie (as in Poopie Bitch Stephanie) had already poured half of the peach juice out in her kid's cup before I took this picture. That's why there's less in the cup.

Between the six of us (well, the adults anyway), we ordered just about everything on today's menu with the exception of the Sauteed Spinach (but I had some in my wrap) and the Mixed Green Salad (because who wants salad when you can have sausage?). We didn't save room for dessert, but they were offering Banana Walnut Bread and Chocolate Chip & Walnut Cookies.

I'm super-thrilled to have another totally vegan brunch place! And I hope Nigel and Andrea can get their full-time restaurant started soon!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Memphis Vegan Drinks Crosstown Takeover!

We had our Memphis Vegan Drinks meetup at Midtown Crossing Grill tonight, and it was the biggest one ever! I counted 27 people! We've been doing this event — monthly happy hour meetups at vegan-friendly places — for a couple years now. We've had big events with 15 or so folks, and we've had meetings where only four people showed up.

But tonight took the cake — literally. Because Midtown Crossing is the home of Cassi's vegan Pink Diva Cupcakery, we had lots of cupcakes with our beers, pizza, and banh mi sandwiches! We were greeted outside by this sign! Yay!

Yep, that's a reference to the Bianca Banh Mi, the vegan Vietnamese sandwich named after me! Also, outside was Cassi's Pink Diva delivery vehicle. She delivers cakes on this adorable scooter!

Here's most of the crowd, but we had a few more people off on a side table because they wouldn't all fit.

We typically only go to bars with full bars so that those who don't drink beer can order whatever they want. Midtown Crossing only serves beer though. I love beer, so I went with a locally brewed Ghost River Riverbank Red. Later, I switched to Yuengling to mix things up.

They do, however, have an awesome BYOB policy (no corkage fee!). Clarita and Bert brought their own wine!

I started with a cupcake because I always do dessert first in restaurants. That way, I definitely have room for dessert. Priorities, right? I picked Cassi's Adult Peanut Butter & Jelly — a peanut butter cupcake with a jelly center and buttercream. Oh, and it has peanut butter beer in it too! That's what makes it adult.

Here's Cassi slinging cupcakes.

Several others started with dessert, too, as we waited for folks to roll in. Nico got the giant Cherry Garcia cupcake. And there's Dennis in the background.

I recently blogged all about the new vegan options on Midtown Crossing's menu, including the Bianca Banh Mi. But tonight was my first time trying the vegan Greek Flatbread. House-made red bean hummus, olives, radishes, and greens on a thin, crisp flatbread. It was so good! I was worried at first that this might be arugala (the only lettuce I don't like), and maybe it was. But you know what? I liked it, whatever green it was! It worked so well with the hummus and olives. Very tasty!

Paul and I split an order of the Vegan Spring Rolls, which are stuffed with cabbage, basil, pickled carrots, and candied pecans and served with a wasabi vinaigrette. OMG! Best spring rolls I've ever had. The candied pecans and pickled veg really step these up, adding a lot of flavor and crunch.

Not everyone who comes to Vegan Drinks is vegan. And that's okay. We don't have restrictions on what you can order, so some folks order vegetarian things with cheese and some even order meat dishes. I don't like to push veganism on people. I believe they'll come around in their own time. Autumn usually orders a meaty dish but tonight, she went with a vegetarian (not vegan) option — the Portabella Melt. I was so proud! Also, this looks like something that could easily be veganized if you asked them to leave off the cheese.

Melissa and a number of others ordered that Bianca Banh Mi! It has the house red bean hummus in place of traditional pate. And there's marinated tofu, pickled veggies, jalapenos, and cucumbers. So good! Melissa got hers with jalapeno chips on the side, which she regretted since the sandwich also has jalapenos. Lots of hot stuff! You can also order it with a side salad (or not-so-hot chips).

Hurray for Midtown Crossing and Pink Diva! I'm so excited that I have leftover flatbread for tomorrow's lunch!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Vegan Dinner + Bikes ... Again!

Tonight, the Dinner + Bikes tour — a traveling ensemble of awesome vegans who cook delicious food, show short films about bicycling culture, and sell zines and tees — made a stop in Memphis. Portlanders Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing and Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics and lots of other stuff, showed eight short films about cycling equity and led an audience discussion on the topic. And chef Joshua Ploeg cooked an delicious seven-course vegan meal.

So of course I went! It wasn't the tour's first stop in Memphis. They came through in 2012, too (and I was there for that). Memphis has increased bicycle ridership 500% in the past several years by going from a city with no bike lanes to one with well over 100 miles of lanes that span across the city. So the tour is a perfect fit for Memphis. The event attracted a large crowd and filled up the dining hall at First Congo Church. First Congo, by the way, is a progressive church that's also home to the event's host, Revolutions Bicycle Co-op. I'm not usually a fan of churches, but First Congo isn't like other churches.

As we walked in, we filled our plates from chef Joshua's buffet. There was a Madras Curry with Zucchini, Mushrooms, and Black Chickpeas served over Jasmine Rice; Smashed Potato Salad with Okra, Green Olives, Pimentos, & Capers; Masoor Dal with Cauliflower, Garlic, Fenugreek, & Mint; Mixed Green Salad with Honeydew, Dates, Cherry Tomato, and Rose Vinaigrette; Cabbage with Persian Cucumber, Coconut, Flax Seed, Palm Puree, and Cardamom; Masala BBQ Eggplant; and Spicy Grape Leaf Chutney. Oh, and not pictured — amazing Rosewater Lemonade!

I've had the pleasure of eating Joshua's food three times now on his stops through Memphis (the last Dinner + Bikes event and a stop at the DeCleyre Co-op way, way back in the early 2000s). Love this dude and all of his food and cook zines. I own most of them. In fact, his Something Delicious This Way Comes was one of my first vegan cookbooks ever! Joshua was hiding most of the night, but I found him at the end. Check out his latest Microcosm book, This Ain't No Picnic: Your Punk Rock Vegan Cookbook.

After dinner, Joe Biel ...

... and Elly Blue ...

... showed a series of shorts about bicycling culture. One was about a Mexico City superhero — Peatonito — who stands up for cyclists and pedestrians by pushing cars out of bike lanes and painting crosswalks. And another featured a group that organized a bike ride to combat gang violence.

Microcosm was raffling off zines between each film, and at the end, Revolutions raffled off this awesome bike. And my friend Steven, who comes to our vegan meetups, won!

Of course, there were lots of zines for sale!

And tees!

I usually have a hard time resisting tee-shirts, but I'm trying to save money for Vida Vegan Con (it's a week away!) in Austin. So I just got a couple of books instead. I went with Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills (this is packed with DIY recipes for cleaning stuff, body care, and health salves and tonics) and Pedal, Stretch, Breathe: The Yoga of Bicycling (how to do yoga poses on your bike!). Also, got this cute new bike sticker for my cruiser.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mashed Potato Pancakes!

My dad recently suggested that I add mashed potato pancakes to my in-the-works retro vegan cookbook. He said he wasn't sure what decade they were from but that he grew up eating them and loves them. I grew up eating them too. Often, when my mama would make mashed potatoes, she'd use the leftovers to make these fried, flat potato patties for the next night's dinner.

They're not latkes. Those are usually made with grated potatoes. Delicious too. But mashed potato pancakes are different. I did a little research and couldn't find a decade of origination. But I did see a few websites that said these were popular in the 1940s, which would make sense. During war time, people didn't waste food. So you'd use your leftover potatoes for pancakes!

A couple nights ago, I made a batch of mashed potatoes just for making Mashed Potato Pancakes!

Yum! All you do is take mashed potatoes and add flour until the potatoes form a light dough. Then you scoop up the tater dough and flatten into a pancake. They're pan-fried in canola oil, and I used lots of garlic in the potatoes. Good stuff. I served them with ketchup and applesauce and lots of fresh chives from my herb garden.

On the side, I made Earth Balance Mac & Cheese and some frozen Sweet Peas. This is pure comfort food!!