Thursday, September 29, 2016

Crisps From New Zealand!

There are a few words and phrases that I really wish would catch on in the States. Like aubergine for eggplant (because aubergine sounds more vegan, no?). Or potato gems instead of tater tots (Susan from Kittens Gone Lentil taught me that Aussie expression). Also, I wish Americans would use crisps instead of potato chips. It just sounds so much fancier. So for the sake of this review, we're going with crisps, okay?

A couple nights ago, I did a review of Pacific Resources International salt, which comes from the southern seas near New Zealand. The same folks who sent me that salt to review also shipped me a few bags of Proper Hand Cooked Crisps, which are made in Nelson, New Zealand. These are all-natural crisps created with as few ingredients as possible.

They sent me three single-serve bags in Malborough Sea Salt, Rosemary & Thyme, and Cider Vinegar & Sea Salt.

Plus, there was also a large bag in Smoked Paprika.

On the back of each bag, there's a little story of how Proper crisps came to be. The folks at Proper wanted to create a minimally processed, naturally flavored crisp that could be considered "real food," rather than "junk food." So in 2007, they traveled the world on a quest to learn how to make perfect crisps. They sourced New Zealand potatoes and high-quality sunflower oil and used a fryer they picked up in the U.S. Sure, these are fried potatoes, but they're still potatoes. I felt pretty good about eating these.

The Rosemary & Thyme are seasoned with real, fresh herbs, and the rosemary taste is very prominent. I'd never had herbed chips before, but what a great idea! These have four ingredients — potatoes, sunflower oil, rosemary, and thyme. That's it!

The Cider Vinegar & Sea Salt were probably my second favorite (more on the first fave in a few). I love the savory twang of salt and vinegar, but using cider vinegar made that tartness much milder. These have just a few more ingredients, but they're all recognizable (raw sugar, citric acid, etc.).

I had the Malborough Sea Salt with a sandwich for lunch today. These were just classic crisps made with potatoes, oil, and salt. Lightly salted, crunchy perfection.

The Smoked Paprika were definitely my fave of the bunch! The smoky paprika lent these crisps a rich barbecue chip taste without the use of artificial flavors. I'm glad I got a big bag of these!

One of the best things about Proper crisps is just how many you can eat in a single serving for a fairly low amount of calories. Each of those single-serve bags were 40 grams, which translates to about 205 calories. But the crisps are so light and thinly cut that it takes a bunch of chips to equal 40 grams.

So good! In the States, Proper Crisps are only sold in California. But they can be ordered on their website and delivered anywhere!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bluff City Vegan Eats: Zaka Bowl

Memphis has a new vegan restaurant! It's call Zaka Bowl, and they specialize in healthy, gluten-free bowls made with fresh veggies, grains, and vegan proteins. Last night, my former co-worker/friend Susan and I popped into their media night event, and I had the best bowl!

It's a build-a-bowl-style place, where you go down the line and tell the server (bowl artist?) what you want. You get one base, three high-protein veggies, two other veggies, and a couple of garnishes. And then you get to douse your bowl in as much sauce as you want at the self-serve table.

I went with Garlic Olive Oil Quinoa, Roasted Tofu, Roasted Brussels, Roasted Cauliflower, Roasted Beets, Rosemary Carrots, Apple-Jicama Slaw, Avocado, and the Zaka Sauce (a vegan mayo-based sauce that tasted like it might have some sriracha mixed in). I was going for a fall roasted veggie theme!

This bowl was amazing. So much food! The roasted tofu was perfectly seasoned. The apple-jicama slaw was crisp and light. The roasted cauliflower was phenomenal. And the portion of red quinoa was just right.

There were so many veggies to choose from, so the combo possibilities are endless! Susan gets anxiety at build-your-own places, so she went with one of the pre-determined recipe bowls — the Zaka Zen Bowl with Zucchini Noodles, Lemon Garlic Broccoli, Roasted Tofu, Agave Brussels Sprouts, Rosemary Carrots, Edamame, Roasted Beets, Pineapple Pico, Avocado, and Green Tea Vinaigrette. She said it was fantastic.

Other base options included the zucchini noodles, wild rice, and spinach (to build a salad). I can't wait to go back and try them all.

They also feature a few fresh juices. Last night, they had a Pineapple Mint Juice and a Mango Pineapple Lemonade. I went with the lemonade. It was tart and only naturally sweetened, so it wasn't grossly sweet like most lemonade.

Love this place! It's located in East Memphis at 575 Erin Drive. You can reach them at 901-509-3105 or their website.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Worth Its Salt

This is a review of salt. I know what you're thinking — "Seriously, isn't all salt the same?" One would think so. I certainly did until I got some samples from Pacific Resources International to review. I expected this sea salt would be no different than the Morton sea salt I buy at the grocery store.

But this salt is way, way better. PRI sent me a giant container of their Fine Pacific Salt. It's a powder-fine salt that has a higher moisture content then your average salt. It's not enough to make it clumpy though. It just has a softer texture.

PRI salts are extracted from the southern seas surrounding New Zealand and then sun-dried. And just like it makes a difference, taste-wise, where your produce is grown, it seems as though the region matters for salt too. This salt is unrefined, and yet it just tastes very clean.

They also sent me three shakers of other salt products. There's Chipotle BBQ Sea Salt, Flaky Sea Salt, and Mesquite BBQ Sea Salt.

The chipotle has the same powder-fine texture as the regular salt, but it has a deep smoky flavor with a touch of heat. Imagine a spicy barbecue sauce. I've been sprinkling this on pretty much everything.

The flaky salt tastes like the fine salt, but it has a chunky texture. The chunks aren't hard though. You'd think they'd be crunchy like kosher salt, but instead these flakes melt in your mouth.

The mesquite salt also has that barbecue flavor, and it's also smoky. But it's smoky in the way a smoker is smoky (god, that's an awful sentence). You get that wood chip smokiness rather than the spicy pepper smoke. It's good stuff. Tastes an awful lot like bacon.

Here are all three salts on a plate, so you can see the textures. The white salt on the left is the Fine, the top salt is the Mesquite BBQ, the chunky one is the Flaky, and the brown salt is the Chipotle BBQ.

My partner Paul is a salt-aholic. He literally eats salt by itself, like a snack. I'm sure his blood pressure is through the roof. But he gave his seal of approval to all of these! And he's kind of a salt snob who turns his nose up at anything that isn't pink Himalayan salt. 

The same folks who sent the salt samples also sent over some potato chips samples (made with New Zealand salt). I'll be reviewing those later this week!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Fuel Cafe's New Menu

When vegans visiting Memphis for the first time ask me where to eat while they're in town, I list off about five or six places. That list always includes Imagine Vegan Cafe and 2 Vegan Sistas, as well as Cosmic Coconut and I Love Juice Bar. Those are all totally vegan establishments (okay, Juice Bar has honey, but that's it).

But also on top of that list is Fuel Cafe. It's a very vegan-friendly, casual cafe with a focus on natural ingredients. They do serve some meat, but about a big chunk of the menu is either vegan or veganizable. Fuel is located in a converted mechanic shop, so the inside is very small. But the patio is huge, and that's perfect for this time of year in Memphis. The temps are dipping down into the 80s next week (that's cool weather here).

Fuel has always been vegan-friendly, but they recently released a new menu. And it's even more vegan-friendly! We had our September Vegan Drinks meetup there last week, and I took lots of pics of both old and new menu items.

Perhaps the most exciting new item is the Vegan Grilled Cheese. On the menu, there's a DIY grilled cheese section, and you can make a sandwich with Chao cheese and all sorts of veggies — tomatoes, spinach, avocado, mushrooms, etc. Kenzie ordered hers with avocado.

I ordered one a few weeks prior to our Drinks meetup. I added both avocado and spinach. The grilled cheeses come with the BEST homemade pickles.

Another new menu item is vegan tacos! Fuel Cafe has operated a separate food truck for years, and the truck specializes in tacos, but until now, those tacos were not available in the restaurant. Now they are! The Vegan Tacos come with crumbled veggie burger (made in-house), vegan cheese, vegan sour cream, and all the fixins. You can add avocado for $1. It looks like Stephanie did not add avocado to her tacos. Taco fail.

Speaking of that burger, it's not new. It's been on Fuel's menu for years. But it's the best damn veggie burger in town. It's so good that our Whole Foods even sells Fuel veggie patties in the deli to take home and make your own Fuel burger. Steven ordered the Fuel Veggie Burger with Chao. Classic.

Menu items are a la carte. And most people at our table ordered chips for their sides. Some went with pico, and others, like Stephanie, opted for guac. Good choice. This makes up for the lack of avocado on her tacos.

Another new menu item is the Vegan Power Bowl, which is what I ordered at our Vegan Drinks meetup. This super-healthy dish has black beans, brown rice, sauteed okra, squash, and zucchini, avocado, and ranchero sauce. It was amazing! I could have used a slightly larger portion, but nonetheless, I felt pretty good about myself after I ate this.

Another hold-over from the old menu is the Quinoa Black Bean Chili. This chili is the best! And now you can get it in a bowl or over a plate of vegan nachos. Pro tip: On the menu, it says this comes with cojita cheese and lime crema, but ask for it vegan-style, and they'll top it with vegan sour cream.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Learning to Love Fall!

I've long had a love-hate relationship with fall. It's the season of Halloween, my birthday, Thanksgiving, haunted houses, pumpkins, chili, and my veganaversary — all things I love! But it's also the prelude to winter and the end to the care-free summer. I'm happiest when the temps are in the 90s, and I can wear shorts, tanks, and flip-flops. I don't get to go swimming often, but I like knowing that, should I find a pool, the weather is appropriate for jumping in. I'm not a fan of layers or socks or even pants. But fall is inevitable, and since I love so much about fall, I'm realizing that it's time for me to embrace the season and learn to love it.

And there's nothing that can help me better embrace something than an organizational tool. So I downloaded House Vegan's Fall Fomo No Mo e-book. The blog/book author, Hannah Teson, loves fall, so she created this e-book to help others get the most out of fall. It's more like a workbook with assignments, like 1) list your fall traditions; 2) plan your fall aspirations; 3) make a fall calendar, etc. I'm a huge Type-A nerd, and nothing delights me more than scheduling and making lists, so this book was just the tool I needed! Plus, it's packed with fall recipes!

Look! I even bought a special notebook for my fall planning.

I've been reading the e-book (and making lots of fall plans) over the past couple weeks, so I woke up this morning ready to tackle the Autumn Equinox! I'm off today (mini vacay before I start my new job), so I ran 5 miles before settling in for a breakfast of a Pumpkin Chai Smoothie (cashew milk, frozen banana, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, and Vanilla Chai Vega One protein). Oh, and CocoWhip Light on top because pumpkin pie needs that. Btw, this wasn't in Hannah's e-book, but I did make some of her recipes later in the day.

It may officially be fall here, but the high today was 93, and I was still in my summer uniform of tee-shirt, jean cut-offs, and flip-flops. When lunch rolled around, I wanted something more summer-y, so I made these Mini Rosemary White Bean Hummus Pizzas and a side salad. The English muffins were toasted and topped with a balsamic-laced white bean hummus from Thug Kitchen, garlic olive oil, kalamata olives, and arugala (which I don't always like, but it's good on stuff like this).

For dinner, though, I wanted to try out a few of Hannah's recipe from Fall Fomo No Mo. EVERYTHING in this e-book sounds amazing, and I plan to work my way through most of the recipes this season. But the first thing I knew I had to try was Chickpeas and Dumplings. It's a vegan version of chicken 'n' dumplings with these fat, pillowy dough balls, veggies, and chickpeas. So hearty and satisfying. I can totally imagine enjoying this on a cool, autumn day, but it was just as awesome on this hot autumn day.

Hannah's desserts all sound fantastic too. She has a recipe for peanut butter hot chocolate that I most definitely WILL be making as soon as it gets chilly out. But today, I tried her Coconut Pumpkin Bread. This is a moist sweet bread that's reminiscent of zucchini bread or banana bread. So soft and just the right amount of sweetness. Pumpkin and coconut doesn't sound like something that would go together, but it works so well. I can't wait to eat more of this in the morning!

Finally, I stopped by Whole Foods to buy some hair dye this evening, and I spotted this Cinnamon Kevita, which sounded like the most fall drink ever! I love kombucha and Kevita and all things probiotic-y. This tonic tasted like fall in a glass.

So happy fall, y'all! Let the PUMPKIN EVERYTHING begin!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

More Stuff I Ate

After yesterday's doughnut-apalooza post, I'm afraid tonight's round-up of random meals won't be as exciting. But here goes.

I had one of my favorite breakfasts one day last week — Scrambled Vegan Eggs with Toast and Onion Butter. To get my Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg super-fluffy, I whip the powder with ice-cold water in my Vitamix. It almost doubles the size of the eggs because they get super-fluffy. After they cook up, I sprinkle the eggs with lots of black salt. The onion butter comes in a jar. It's made by Viana.

I stopped by LYFE Kitchen downtown for a quick brunch after an early Saturday board meeting a couple weekends ago. Got the Morning Veggie Wrap with tofu scram, Daiya, avocado, and veggies. Last time I got this, LYFE was out of vegan cheese and didn't bother to tell me before they served me a cheese-less wrap. I was bummed. But this time, I made sure they had vegan cheese before I ordered. The cheese completes this wrap.

Another breakfast — Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Waffles with Peanut Butter Maple Syrup. For the PB syrup, I mixed PB Lean powdered peanut butter with maple syrup instead of water. Genius, I know!

My mom was in town last Wednesday night because we had tickets for the touring Broadway production of Dirty Dancing! Before the show, we had dinner at Midtown Crossing Grill, home of the Bianca Banh Mi (a vegan tofu/hummus banh mi named after me!). I had a green salad with wasabi vinaigrette with mine, and my mom had potato salad. My mom loved the sandwich! We also loved the show.

Still eating lots of ramen. That will never change. Here's a bowl with Koyo Garlic Pepper Ramen, Baked Tofu, Squash, and Green Peas. 

Some friends and I met up at Genghis Grill a few Fridays ago. It's a build-your-own stiy-fry bowl chain. I always go a little crazy with spice and heat on these, but it was still tasty. Udon noodles, tofu, and just about every veggie they had. I added spicy hot salt, garlic-chili paste, jalapenos, and sriracha, so my mouth was on fire. 

I had some way healthier noodles from I Love Juice Bar last weekend. I stopped by on Juice Bar's one-year anniversary because they were offering 20% off juices. I got the Mean Greens Juice (cucumber, kale, spinach, jalapeno, parsley, and lemon), and owner Scott gave me a free Pad Thai to try! It's a new menu item.

I took the pad thai home and had it for dinner that night. It's made with sweet potato noodles and a yummy peanut sauce. And it's topped with lots of raw cashews and fresh cilantro. Most of the cashews ended up on the bottom of this bowl because they were in the top of the to-go cup, and I just dumped it out into a bowl. This was wonderful and made me feel so healthy and awesome!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Stuff I Ate

I should probably just call this post "Doughnuts I Ate" cause that's mostly all it is. I threw in a few smoothies in for good measure.

I'll start with this big ole pizza box full of doughnuts from Imagine Vegan Cafe. Owner Kristie made vegan doughnuts a couple Sundays ago. It's a rare occasion when Kristie makes doughnuts, so when it happens, I'm all in. But I didn't get all of these for myself. Only two were for me. Stephanie requested I pick up four for her, one was for Susan, and two were for Pam.

I went with a Jelly Doughnut with Peanut Buttercream. Perfection! I wish I had about 10 more of those right now!

I also chose a Lemon Cream Cheese Doughnut stuffed with curd and topped with Tofutti cream cheese frosting.

Savannah, Kristie's daughter, made Cinnamon Twists that day too. I didn't order any because we already had too many doughnuts, but she threw some in for free for us to try. So soft and buttery and cinnamony.

Doughnuts don't always have to be junk food! This morning, I had gluten-free FitQuick Vanilla Sprinkle Protein Doughnuts after my run. One had cookie butter topping. Another had cocoa spread, and one had maple almond butter.

You can't have doughnuts without coffee! I had my first PSL of the season (even though fall hasn't begun yet) last week at Bluff City Coffee. Sadly, most pumpkin spice-flavored syrup isn't vegan (yep, even Starbucks, sorry) because it contains dairy. But Monin pumpkin spice is vegan, and it's what they use at Bluff City.

Here's something way healthier than a doughnut. On the Rise & Resist podcast a couple weeks ago, Lacy mentioned her new favorite quick post-workout meal — Overnight Chia Protein Oats. One cup of almond milk, 1/4 cup oats, 1 tbsp. chia seeds, 1 scoop protein powder, and half a banana. Put it in a shaker cup, shake, and refrigerate for a few hours. I did this the night before Saturday's 16-mile training run. It was perfect afterward. It gets all thick and pudding-like.

As always, I'm still drinking lots of protein smoothies. This was a Strawberry Hemp Protein Smoothie with almond milk, frozen strawberries, frozen banana, berry Vega One protein, and hemp seeds.

And here's a Beet Berry Orange Protein Smoothie with a whole steamed beet, an orange, almond milk, greens powder, and berry Vega One protein powder.

More random pics tomorrow! But no doughnuts. Sorry.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Help Little Rock Get a Vegan Restaurant!

I live in Memphis, and we have several totally vegan restaurants — five to be exact (two of those are juice bars, but they do have food). But just a couple hours southwest of here, in Little Rock, Arkansas, they're still lacking a fully vegan place. Sure, there are restaurants offering vegan options, but it's nice to have a place where you can order whatever you want.

My best friend Sheridan and her husband Drew live in Little Rock, and I visit them there a few times a year. There used to be a vegan food booth called The Veg LLC in the Rivermarket, and we ate there together a number of times. Owner Shiem Swift was awesome, and his food was fantastic — BBQ nacho bowls, chocolate chip cookies, homemade veggie burgers, potstickers, banana pancakes with blueberry pear compote, homemade apple sage sausage. Good stuff!

But Shiem closed the booth awhile back to expand and open a real brick-and-mortar restaurant. He started a GoFundMe page, and here's the link. But he's also getting pretty creative in his fund-raising campaign. This past weekend, he traveled to Memphis for a two-day pizza sale. He took orders for vegan pizzas all day and night (even at 3 a.m., he said!) Saturday and all day Sunday. Of course, I had to get one while he was here.

He delivered the pies around town, but I offered to pick mine up, so I met him in a Kroger parking lot (where we posed for this pic). I got the Schmeat Lovers with Stuffed Crust. That's a massive extra-large pie with Daiya, vegan sausage crumbles, and crispy vegan bacon. The crust was stuffed with even more Daiya! The pizza was $34, which will go toward helping Shiem with his fund-raising goal (after costs for materials, of course).

This pizza was amazing. The crust was soft, yet crisp and chewy. He was generous with the toppings. I love a vegan pizza with LOTS of vegan cheese. So many places treat vegan cheese like a garnish. I want cheesy pizza!

The stuffed crust was a real treat. I haven't had that since before going vegan back in 2004. This was enough for four meals because two hearty slices were all I could eat at a time.

If you want to help Shiem open The Veg LLC again in Little Rock, throw him a few bucks here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

My Office Send-Off Party!

Next week, I'm starting a new job after 14 years of working as a news reporter for the Memphis Flyer, an alt-newsweekly. I'll be the communications coordinator for Crosstown Arts, a nonprofit arts organization that, over the past several years, has been responsible for turning my neighborhood from an area with way too much blight into a thriving arts district. The neighborhood is still in transition, but it's getting there, and lucky for me, I bought a house in the Crosstown area in 2012, right as the changes were beginning.

The switch from journalism to PR is a natural one that a ton of reporters make at some point in their careers. I never thought I'd do that though. I loved working at the Memphis Flyer, adored my co-worker family, and truly believe in the importance and the power of indie media. But, as a Crosstown resident and supporter of local arts, I couldn't think of a better position for me than the one I'll be taking at Crosstown Arts. I want to be part of the positive change in my neighborhood. I want to help spread that message.

But man, I'm going to miss my Flyer family like crazy! My last day there is Tuesday, but on Friday, they threw me a going-away keg party on our loading dock at 2 p.m. (technically, it was supposed to start at 3 p.m., but hey, there was a cold keg of Memphis Made Lucid Kolsch downstairs, so we got our pre-game on).

Here's the most of the Flyer editorial team, minus theater critic/arts writer Chris Davis, who showed up later.

Brian Groppe, the art director for our sister pub Memphis Magazine, made this "historical marker" for the occasion.

My managing editor Susan organized the whole thing, and she decided it should be potluck. I didn't expect my non-vegan co-workers to bring vegan snacks! But they did! There were all manner of hummus, guac, salsa, chips, and even vegan dessert! Of course, there were non-vegan snacks too.

I made Vegan Pigs in Blankets because they're super-easy to throw together. Just Smart Dogs and Pillsbury crescent rolls. 

And I made the Rosemary White Bean Hummus from Thug Kitchen because it had, like, five ingredients and was just a matter of turning on the food processor. This has white beans, tahini, rosemary, and balsamic vinegar. It has a yummy twang. I had some leftover that I plan to make pizzas with later this week!

Here's my plate with guac, salsa, and a few kinds of hummus. Plus pita, bagel chips, and tortilla chips.

Shara made Homemade Boiled Peanuts! I love boiled peanuts so much. If you've never had them, imagine a spicy peanut with a soft beany texture. She sent me home with a bunch, so I've been snacking on them all weekend.

The coolest surprise of the day was this Vegan Caramel Pie! Susan knows it's my favorite pie from Imagine Vegan Cafe (baked by my friend Stephanie), so she ordered one from Stephanie! It has a creamy caramel layer atop a graham cracker crust, and it's topped with vegan whipped cream. I had a giant slice at the party, and a few others had some. But half the pie was leftover, so guess who has pie in her fridge? I'm going to be eating pie every day this week!

Frank brought Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Whole Foods bakery. I may have dipped my cookie in my pie slice. No shame.

Here's me and editor-in-chief Bruce (a.k.a. Flyer dad). Fun fact: His son, Andrew, is in MGMT. So Bruce is basically a rock star dad.

A few of us did some tequila shots. Here's a before pic.

And the after pic. The looks on Jackie's (the girl sitting down) and Bruce's faces!

I wish I would have gotten selfies with everyone! But I did take a lot of random pics. Anyway, I'm gonna miss these dudes so much. Of course, I'll still show up at every Flyer event or function around town!