Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Vegan in Worcester, MA

My friends Dave and Jo moved to Worcester, MA about a year ago.  At the time, Worcester offered them one significant feature: it was equidistant to two important places outside of Worcester. In the past year, however, they have discovered that Worcester offers them far more than a convenient geographical location.  They have grown to appreciate other important Worcester qualities, such as cheap rent, loud neighbors, vandalism, and theft.  I was eager to see what this special place was all about, so I forced myself upon them for 20 hours.

I made sure to eat plenty of food before I visited Worcester, hoping that a calorie surfeit would fuel me through most of my stay.  But eventually, hunger got the best of me.  When I apologetically mentioned this to my hosts, Dave reminded me that there was rumor of a vegan restaurant somewhere in Worcester--"Belmont something-or-other."  That rang a bell.  I vaguely remembered hearing about such a phenomenon through my deteriorating Boston area vegan network.  So off to Google we went.

It wasn't easy to find Belmont Vegetarian Restaurant's eye-watering Web site, but along the way I did find http://vegworcester.com/, which I initially assumed to be a squatted domain.  According to this site, there are quite a few vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the Worcester area, though only 3 or 4 seem to be exclusively vegan (including the ubiquitous Loving Hut). So my culinary prejudice diminished.  We departed for Belmont Vegetarian Restaurant.

From the outside, it looks like any sub shop store front you'd find on a busy, gritty, New England "city" street. Inside is a bright, spartan dining area containing two booths and an order window, which is flanked by a chalkboard displaying the day's menu.  The chalkboard listed: "Curry, BBQ, Veggie Stew, Black Bean + Soy, Pepper Steak, and Mac + Cheese."  Eventually, Steven, the proprietor and cook, approached us with an offer to try a sample plate.  "You try everything.  If it's not for you, you can go on your way," he offered, amicably.  "Go on our way?"  I thought.  That's like saying, "If the water is too cold at this oasis, you may crawl 46 miles to the east for an alternative."  But we humored him and tried everything, while listening to light reggae.

The food is generally differently-prepared soy or tofu chunks, like you might find at a buffet. You have three options when you order: small ($6.50), medium($9.50), and large($11.50).  You get a bed of rice upon which Steven will scoop any combination of chalkboard items.  I ordered the pepper steak and curry, and was quite pleased; the pepper steak was especially good and spicy,  the curry was pleasant and mild.  I considered getting one of the "patties" displayed behind the order window, but the medium bowl had stuffed me a bit too much.  Maybe next time.

UPDATE:  I only thought that vegworcester.com was a squatter domain because it came up in Google search results.  I couldn't believe that such resource existed. I assumed that some crafty Search Engine Optimizer has mashed the word "Veg" with every city he or she could imagine, and sat back to enjoy the long tail traffic.  It's a great site and I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone in the Worcester area--and beyond--visit it to find out what's edible in the region.  Thanks, Drew!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gardein Again, Including Limited Edition Collector's Meal

I don't think I've ever bought Gardein products for myself.  They're very similar to their meaty counterparts (well, what I remember of their meaty counterparts) and that makes me uncomfortable. The less my food resembles a corpse, the more eager I am to eat it. But whenever I visit Back East, my Mom stocks the fridge with all sorts of booty from the remote Whole Foods, which I appreciate very much.  Invariably, there are a few Gardein products in the haul, and I don't mind trying trying them because God damn it, I'm in the middle cultural nowhere and lucky to eat anything that's not iceberg lettuce.

So, Gardein product the first: Tuscan Breasts.  Uncanny meat-like texture under a tasty, tomato-based sauce. This seems to be the "no frills" Gardein product, and it performs exactly as advertised.  I think a transitional omnivore would really dig it. It's shown here with a variety of Whole Foods buffet sides.

Gardein product the second: Limited Edition Savory Stuffed Turk'y.  (They're too snooty to call it "Stuff'd Turk'y," unfortunately.)  This was really good. It's a Gardein orb stuffed with celery, onions, cranberries, and bread crumbs; coated with a light, crispy breading.  It's like a croquette.  It comes with a delicious gravy that gives Tofurky's a run for its money.  This is my favorite of the few Gardein products I've tried thus far, due to its under-emphasized meatiness. It's all about the breading, stuffing and gravy.  And that's really what Thanksgiving is all about, anyway.  Well, that and smallpox.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I Am Grateful For The Tiny Amount of Light Available

I blog after dark.  That's just the way it works out.  Consequently, the photos that accompany my blog posts are starved of the bright, natural light that wholesome vegan food deserves.  This post is a case in point.  A friend and I went to Café Gratitude tonight, armed with only my iPhone 3GS to document the mostly-raw experience.  Thanks to iPhoto, I was able to adjust the photos to the point where you can almost discern their subjects.

Enough about photos, let's talk about the experience.   This was my first visit to the legendary Café Gratitude, and I was instantly pleased to find it was humble and homey.  I had expected it to be swank and natural-fiber-artsy for some reason,  filled with solemn patrons alternately ingesting their manna and uttering spiritual affirmations.  I imagined that I would be forced to walk into the center of a cavernous dining area, squinting beneath a spotlight, and proclaim my order to a reproachful priestess who would bellow, "'Dazzling?' Surely you're joking, bland fellow.  You shall not sup upon "I Am Dazzling" in this House.  You shall eat "I Am Foolish," instead.  Now be gone."

I Am Honoring
But no. The service was pleasant and easy-going.  The patrons were motley and talkative.  At one point, a boombox started belting The Beatles' "Birthday," and everyone started to clap rhythmically while the servers hopped up and down and sang along for the benefit of a lucky, aging guest.

While you are not required to, you may order your dishes by their "affirmation" titles rather than their prosaic titles.  For example, the daily house special is called "I Am Celebrating," and the live burger is called "I Am Cheerful." When it came time to order, I had no qualms announcing to our affable server, "I Am Elated, and I Am Effervescent."  (Though when I received the "effervescent" house ginger ale, it was clear it would have been more accurate to say, "I Am Overwhelmed By The Hot, Stinging Fist of Raw Ginger.")

I Am Elated
I Am Honoring (live nachos) was pretty darned good and a little spicy;  I Am Elated (Enchilada del dia, basically the nachos in a live tortilla) was OK, and came with a tasty side of slaw;  I Am Cheerful (live sunburger) was dense but flavorful.  The tiramisu, however, was excellent.  I haven't had anything close to tiramisu since my reckless omnivore years, and this was well worth waiting for.  In fact, all of their desserts looked amazing.  I think we would have done well to just get the nachos and a couple desserts, but the extra time it took to ingest the shrugworthy entrees allowed us to fully to soak up the positive atmosphere.

I Am Finished.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eastern Capital Sandwich With A Side of Beer

A couple weeks ago I came across a package of Tofurky "Philly-Style" Steak Deli Slices at a remote Whole Foods.  I usually just put vegan "cold cuts" between a couple slices of bread with some lettuce, tomato, and mayo and call it a meal.  That's about the extent of my patience with sandwiches. But I noticed a unique recipe for Philly cheese steaks on the back of the package, and it went a little something like this:
  1. Put a couple tablespoons of oil in a pan and heat it.
  2. Put a mound of chopped onions and peppers in the oil, in the shape of your roll.
  3. Place a layer of folded Tofurky slices on top of the peppers and onions.
  4. Put a mound of Daiya cheese on top of the Tofurky. 
  5. Cover and cook for about 8 minutes until the bottom layer has begun to caramelize and the cheese has melted.
  6. Slap the sizzling mass on a roll with some mustard and mayo and take the whole mess back to the TV.
I was incredulous, but #5 sold me--just set it and forget it.  I was impressed with the results: the flavor-to-effort ratio was phenomenal, and the Tofurky took on an toothsome moistness. As a bonus, my apartment smelled like an East Coast greasy spoon for hours.  So I made another one tonight (pictured above), using jalapeños and Hickory Smoked Tofurky Slices instead of Philly-Style slices.  It was equally delicious, though I should have used about 8 slices instead of 4.

Oh, if you don't have a side of beer handy, a scalding cup of Dunkin' Donut's coffee in a polystyrene cup will suffice.

Cranberry What-The-Fuckies

VeganMoFo is teaching me  how
to become a more sensitive,
compassionate friend.

Again, I found myself with a backlog of leftovers.  So, cookietime.  I googled for "veganmofo 2010 cookies" to find a recipe, and was stopped dead in mid-scroll by these.  Holy Mother of God.  (Where do people find all this natural light, by the way?)  Wing-It Vegan's "Katie's Beet Cookies" post originated with  this recipe, which seemed simple enough for my baking skill level.

The only ingredient I was missing was pureed beets, which I was certain I could find at my local rip-off health food store.  Alas, the only beet product they had in stock was sliced, salted beets.  So I had to improvise.  It seemed like the primary criterion for a substitute ingredient was "red."  So, how about apple sauce and beet juice?  No; there was a dusty valley in the beverage isle where beet juice used to flourish.  OK, how about pomegranate juice?  That stuff is red.  Sadly, the only bottles of pomegranate juice I found had one-inch thick layers of solid sediment at their bases; not a good sign.  Okay, how about cranberry sauce?  No, they're all sweetened and gelatinous.  Fine, then just frozen cranberries.  I'd thaw them and whiz them in the food processor.

When I got the frozen cranberries home I popped one in my mouth to evaluate the degree to which they differed from beets.  Turned out, quite a bit.  They were very sour.  So I read the back of the bag and noticed a simple method for turning them into a sort of sweet mash, commonly known as "cranberry sauce."  Yes, the very same jellied cylinder available in cans. Well, I thought, home-brewed cranberry sauce would be much better than that.  Surely this would be the perfect substitute ingredient. 

Sure, they look edible...
But when I finally rendered my "sauce," it was pretty lumpy.  I feared it would not mix well with the dry ingredients, and cause uneven baking. Why not puree it?  Like beets?  So I whizzed the cranberry sauce in my Cuisinart and produced what I thought was a damned close approximation of pureed beets.  I found that I had to add about a quarter cup of water to it to get it to mix with the dry ingredients, but I eventually ended up with a purple goop approximating cookie dough.  (It's probably significant to note that I only added a tablespoon of sugar to the dry ingredients because the cranberry sauce required so much.)
Cookies don't do that.

Everything went smoothly until I took them out of the oven. They were strange.  They had a uniform, almost plastic texture.  They were soft and spongy, and not even slightly crisp.  They were unusually pliable.

I let them cool and then tried one.  It was like a pleasantly flavored jelly sponge cake.  In other words, horrible.

So I made two clear mistakes here:
  1. I tried to bake a colloid.
  2. I liquefied most of the sugar before baking, leaving none to caramelize during baking.
Fortunately, I believe that every experience is valuable, especially the experiences in which you fail miserably. Failure is more instructional than success.  In fact, I bet I can find a pithy quote on the topic in under 10 seconds...
“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” -- C. S. Lewis

 WTF is a "finger post?"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Return To Escape From New York Pizza

50% artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes,
50% black olives and mushrooms.  100% fuggindalishis.
That title will not make sense to anyone who does not eat pizza in San Francisco.  I'm talking about Escape From New York Pizza.  Previous to tonight's meal, I had not had a slice of their New York style pizza in over 7 years.  That's because I went vegan, and they did not.  Yet I'm still vegan.  How is this possible?

The only food I miss from my omniverous life is thin-crust, preferably wood-oven baked, pizza.  Like Pepe's, in New Haven; or Luna in Hartford, back when they were on Franklin Avenue.  As with the death of a twin sibling, you eventually learn to cope with shattering losses and move on, looking forward to the little pleasures that you might be lucky enough to unearth on the barren, overcast wasteland of your lonely existence. If you're really lucky,  the dead will dig their way out of the ground and come crawling back into your life, a little different than you remember them, but almost as lovable.  That's kind of what eating tonight's EFNY pizza with Daiya cheese was like... maybe in part because I was watching Episode 2 of The Walking Dead.

Yes, Daiya cheese on an Escape From New York Pizza.  Imagine my excitement when I saw this tweet from @vegansaurus last Friday:
BREAKING: Escape from New York Pizza in the Mission HAS VEGAN CHEESE!
Vegan Pizza and The Walking Dead.
A perfect match.
And imagine, further, my excitement at the revelation that all the Escape From New York Pizza locations now offer Daiya cheese, including the one in my neighborhood. Of course I knew it might not be the same slice I remembered from my youthful years in this city, but it was as close as I was going to get. Indeed, it was very good.  As good as Paxti's? Maybe. As good as Panhandle's? Ha! Way better. As good as Amici's? Hm, I need a refresher. In fact, I'll have to order a lot more pizza this week to answer all of these wonderful, wonderful questions.

San Francisco Green Festival, Fall 2010

Adorable food transportation
from Earthlust.
Twice a year, affluent San Francisco consumers converge on the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center to save the planet Earth by buying as many eco-friendly products as their Sherpa bags will accommodate.  Such products include hemp clothing, cork flooring, solar flashlights, hybrid bicycles, flatulence-mitigating dog treats, water bottles, water filters, herbal tinctures, Vita-mixes, dehydrators, and sex swings masquerading as "yoga sling systems." And most importantly, beer, wine, and vegetarian food.

Let's play a practical joke on Stomach.
You can go home with plenty of pre-packaged food, but you can also chow-down in real time at one of the several vegetarian food vendors.  (I did both.) I was surprised to see Underdog slinging wursts, and then more surprised to learn that they were slinging only their vegan wursts at the festival.  (I think they were simply Tofurky brats, but it was still nice to see.) But I decided on a raw Coconut Curry plate from Lydia's Lovin' Foods--a mound of broccoli, cauliflower, and parsnip "rice", decorated with delicious green crackers.  It was fantastic to ingest, but left me feeling like I had swallowed a handful of misshapen paperclips for about 24 hours.  I'm not casting aspersions on Lydia's delicious, healthy food; my upper GI was simply not conditioned for a sudden, unprocessed fiber bomb.  But hey, that's the kind of personal sacrifice I'm prepared to make to save our beloved planet.

Kale chips, seeds, and seaweeds.
After you've accumulated all you can carry in your reusable bag and your reusable stomach, it's customary to get hammered at the extremely popular Organic Beer and Wine Garden. (It's a bit of a misnomer; there's not a shred of flora nor ray of natural light anywhere near the roped-in pen.) I chased down my paperclips with lots of pale ale from the Eel River booth, one of only two brewers at the festival this semester.  Hey, saving the planet is hard work that deserves reward.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Week One of VeganMoFo 2010, The Aftermath

Sure, it's gratifying to make your own meals.  It's a wonderful experience when you share your meals with other people who enjoy home-cooked food.  But it can take a toll on your kitchen.  I try to "clean as you go," but after 5 days straight of slapping together recipes I was left with a dishapocalypse. Thank God we're only blogging on weekdays; I can attack this mountain of debris over the weekend.

I felt that I earned a zero-effort to-go meal after a week of hard work, so I got a Soyrizo burrito from my local Papalote today.  Oh, so good. And I only had to wash one dish afterward!  Unfortunately, my proximal Papalote wasn't serving the seasonal Pumpkin Tamales that the Mission location is offering for a limited time.  But this sucker always pleases.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wherein I Blog About Making A Recipe That Someone Else Had Blogged About Making

We take a lot of the Internet's magic for granted.  A talented recipesmith can put together an interesting dish way out in the middle of nowhere, and the next day I can follow her instructions and produce the same dish, 1665 miles away.  (Well, not the same dish; there are some minor components that can't yet be conveyed over the Internet, such as skill, experience, and technique.) By comparison, it took about 770 years for the first cheesecake recipe to travel from Greece to Great Britain.  What's more, I'm certain that my version of Isa's Butternut Rancheros is far more genetically similar to the original than the British cheesecake was to its Greek ancestor. (Though it's clear that the attractiveness gene did not make it into my remote manifestation.) Welcome to the future.

Two elements of this recipe will forever remain in my culinary arsenal: the charbroiled squash, and the ranchero sauce.  Ok, those are the two core elements of the dish.  My point is that they are independently delicious, and can be used to great effect in separate dishes.  But now that I'm thinking about it, you could cube the roasted butternut squash and wrap the whole thing in a tortilla.  It would probably blow a mind.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Delicious Abomination

While I was tweetstalking @DomesticVegan late last month, another of her gorgeous tweets crossed my voyeuristic Twitter client:
Need a new dinner idea? How about #vegan Wild Rice Pub Burgers? http://bit.ly/ckEc6W

"Hell, yeah, I need a new dinner idea," I exclaimed. "In fact, I need 22 ideas for the impending VeganMoFo."  Add the fact that I like pubs and burgers, and that I already had the side of beer on hand, this idea was what middle management would call  a "non brain."

So while I was making last night's red lentil stew I also prepared the rice for this recipe. (Let me add, parenthetically, that I had never before planned a meal this far in advance.) Having that squared away made preparing the burgers ridiculously easy.

But there's a catch.  After forming 6 relatively perfect patties, I realized that I had enough material to make 7 1/2.  Rather than let the remaining 1/2 burger go to waste, I made a one-and-a-half burger.  It was huge.  When the bun saw me plop that monster down on the grill pan (I don't have a non-stick pan), it was like, "Aw, shit." And then there's the grill pan.  I think that these burgers would benefit from the surface area and sizzling oil of a frying pan, especially when they're embarrassingly large.  This big boy tasted incredible, but was lacking the cohesive texture that a pan or skillet would have promoted. Fortunately, I have 6 normal-sized patties sitting in the freezer, eager to be used as directed.

Thanks for the excellent recipe, Jess!  I promise that this is the last of my VeganMoFo harassment.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Red Lentil Soup [sic]* from Allrecipes.com

Among the 14 tweets @DomesticVegan produced back on October 25, 2010, was:
Dinner: Red Lentil Soup! One of my favorites! So easy, healthy, and delicious!
For some reason, that stuck with me. It's such a sincere tweet.  She seems so darned wholesome, this Minnesota girl.  Surely I, too, would enjoy this easy, healthy, and delicious dish, despite my flaws and sinful lifestyle.  I could just go to the store to get the ingredients, assemble them according to the recipe, and experience a brief but deeply gratifying period of simple perfection. Enjoy some clarity.  Maybe lapse into some optimistic thoughtfulness, should the moment get a hold of me.  Who knows, I might even plan for my future a little bit, maybe refill a prescription or two. Wouldn't that be swell?

Well, dear reader,  it turns out that Day 3 of VeganMoFo 2010 is the first day of the rest of my life.  I just birthed myself into a bright, hot, thick-and-delicious bowl of red lentils and squash, and by golly it's a beautiful place to be!  My one departure from the rules was adding more cayenne pepper than suggested, and using hot curry powder instead of not hot.  Otherwise, I think this recipe's a winner out of the gate.

Now go simmer yourself some salvation.  (Goes well with beer.)

* "Soup" is not the word I would use to describe my results.  "Stew" is more accurate.  But stew is also more delicious than soup, so I'm not complaining.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Cookies from VegNews

The thing about making a shitload of soup is that you'll be eating it for a while.  That's good, if it's good soup, and if you like to eat food every day.  But it's bad when you need to blog about new vegan food all the time.  Does a good blogger blog about eating his leftover soup, which he blogged about yesterday?  Hell, no. He quietly eats his delicious leftover soup and then makes cookies and blogs about those.

The cookie recipe is VegNews Recipe Club's most recent dispatch, Pumpkin Spice Cookies.  (If you're not already subscribed to the Recipe Club newsletters, I recommend you become so forthwith.) These were the obvious cookie choice, as it's autumn and that's when pumpkins rise from their spookypatches and cause all sorts of mischief for peaceful folk, and especially for misshapen, parentless children.  Having a batch of pumpkin cookies cooling by the window is guaranteed to keep the maleficent squash at bay. But enough Christian mythology; it's cookietime.

First of all, these cookies are easy to make in spite of their wild ingredients.  (Chocolate-covered raisins?  And chocolate chips? In the same cookie?  VegNews says, confidently, "yes.")  Second, making them was educational, teaching me a few things which I've listed below.  Finally, they taste good.  They're not mind-blowing; they're subtle and sophisticated--even with the chocolate covered raisins.   Oh, and finally-finally, I actually found all of the ingredients which I didn't have on hand at my local health rip-off market.  That's kind of a first.

So, education.  Here are some things I learned by making Pumpkin Spice Cookies:
  • Parchment paper can be reused several times
  • While the "back of a spoon" is definitely an effective Martha Stewart technique for flattening cookie dough, the cookies I flattened with my "front of the palm" had a more earnest and appropriately rustic appearance.  But if you're going to frost them (I didn't), using a lightly greased silicone spatula can be an effective, impersonal technique, especially suitable for e.g. a Professor of Robots.
  • If you're spending too much time screwing around and drinking wine and smoking out on the soccer field between batches, you can refrigerate your dough to keep it firm and maleable until you get back.
  • You can toast shredded coconut on some tinfoil in your preheating oven. Takes about 6 minutes and you need to keep mixing it around to brown it evenly and prevent it from burning.
  • 350 degrees F doesn't sound that hot, but it's more than enough degrees to induce pain and possibly damage in careless human flesh.
  • Some cookies taste better after they've cooled for a while. (And that's obviously my opinion about these.)
I'm going to take most of these to work tomorrow and see how they fare among the omnivores.  It's often difficult to discern between reactions conveying, "Hey, these are really good!" and those conveying "Hey, these are really good, for vegan cookies! Loser." But I will try very hard to figure out who my enemies are.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Viva Vegan's Potato-Kale Soup with Sizzling Chorizo

Happy Vegan MoFo! Gainful employment, the World Series, The Walking Dead, and  congenital laziness have all conspired to prevent me from getting my first post in before dawn. They have failed. Not only am I posting, but I am posting about food that I made with my own two hands; food that I dished out into a solid, reusable bowl and ate with a stainless steel spoon. Tonight I successfully assembled and ingested Terry Hope Romero's Potato-Kale Soup with Sizzling Chorizo, from Viva Vegan!

There are a ton of recipes in Viva Vegan that I'm looking forward to making, but I picked the potato-kale soup tonight because it's simple and easy.  (And because I like potatoes, kale, and soup.)  I made the recipe even easier by cheating in a few places: I used Field Roast Mexican Chipotle Sausage instead of the Seitan Chorizo Sausages in the book; I used ordinary olive oil instead of the annatto-infused oil; and I used apple cider vinegar that I had on hand instead of white wine vinegar.  The results?  Still delicious.  I don't get "stuffed" with soup very often, and I am definitely stuffed with soup right now. 

Thanks, Terry!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Video: Clif Bar Crunch Follow-up, Part 2

I'm finally posting this video of reaction to the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clif Crunch bar that the Clif folks sent me.  You can check my earlier posts for context: Clif Bar Exapands Their Non-Vegan Product Line and Clif Bar Crunch Follow-up, Part 1.  I can see how this video could be construed as a negative or sarcastic review, but the bottom line is that I like this new Clif bar.  I just wouldn't touch one without having a beverage handy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Word "Vegan" Appears on New Jalapeño Pop Chips

Two things.

Thing #1
I've been eating a lot of Popchips since I discovered them about a year ago.  For those of you who don't know, they're a relatively low-calorie baked potato snack food.  They're like a cross between Pringles potato chips and rice cakes.  They come in many flavors, three of which list no animal ingredients on their packages: Original, Sea Salt & Vinegar, and Salt & Pepper.  So I have always assumed that those flavors were vegan, and I have eaten copious amounts thereof.  I suppose I shouled have e-mailed them for re-assurance, but now, I don't have to! It seems that Popchips have begun using the word "vegan" in the nutritional information of eligible products.

Thing #2
Popchips have released a new flavor,  Jalapeño Potato.  (Yes, I think that "potato" is redundant.)  I was initially thrilled to see them at my corner store, but assumed that any flavor that radical would be needlessly tainted by whey or milk or lactose, as is common among snack foods.  So I grabbed a bag for the habitual ingredients scan and that's when I saw the word "vegan."  Amazing.  But not as amazing as what they taste like.  I'll just repeat what my friend Robin said when she had a fistful: "That's the best flavor of any food ever."

Interestingly, this flavor does not yet appear on their Web site.  They could be testing regional markets, or they could have a lazy Web team.  Here's hoping they're indeed a permanent addition to their product line.

Monday, September 27, 2010

VooDoo Doughnuts in Portland, OR

I'm wrapping up my fourth and final day in Portland, Oregon.  This city is a vegan paradise. Did you know that vegan cupcake and cookie trees line the streets?  You just lean over as you pass by them on your Municipal Unicorn, and pluck the sweets of your choice from eagerly generous branches.

I've eaten so much good vegan food I can't keep track of it all. If I were a serious blogger, I would have had a panic attack trying to document all of the superlative vegan experiences I've had in such a short span of time.  So I only focused on a couple, one of which is VooDoo Doughnuts.

There are two locations in Portland.  The original location downtown, and the predictably named VooDoo Doughnuts Too! across the river, to the east.  My companions (renowned and prolific vegan bloggers Isa, Amy, and John) and I visited the latter location, which looks like a reclaimed pancake house sporting an Appalachian living room out front.

Beside the order counter is a dessert carrousel displaying all of the day's available doughnuts.  Everything on the top shelf is vegan, and there's a lot of stuff on the top shelf.  I ordered the Grape Ape, mostly for aesthetic reasons.  Something about that purple, crystalized frosting called to me, drowning out Isa's criticism of my taste.

It was tangy. Appropriately so, as I learned later from Amy that it's sprinkled with grape Tang crystals.  It was like eating grape candy on a doughnut, an experience which partially validated Isa's warnings. But the fluffy magical doughnut foundation was excellent, sound enough to support even the most audacious of frosting abominations.
John, Isa, and Amy look on with varying degrees of credulity.

While this is an excellent doughnut, and its deliciousness is fresh in my palate's memory, I'm not sure if it ousts the Vegan Bake Sale Doughnut I had a few months ago.  I'll have to find another one of those quickly to make the final decision.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Clif Bar Crunch Follow-up, Part 1

As described in a previous post, I got a free "preview" sample of Clif Bar's new Crunch product, laden with honey.  I wrote to them about my disappointment and got a pretty speedy response from Emily Zisman:
Hi Stephen,

Thank you for contacting us about the sample of CLIF Crunch that you received.

I’m so sorry to hear about our faux pas your disappointment at receiving a bar you cannot eat. It’s true that 3 or the 4 flavors have honey in them.  I assure you that we aren’t trying to edge out our vegan fans.  We just couldn’t deny the taste and texture benefits of adding that ingredient to those flavors. 

We still have quite a large selection of vegan friendly products.  I’ll certainly pass your comments on to the team so they know how you fell.

If you’d like, I’ll gladly send you a sample of the White Chocolate Macadamia CLIF Crunch bar to try. Just reply to this email with your preferred mailing address and I’ll send one your way.

Thanks for all of your support!

Emily Zisman
Clif Bar & Company
Consumer Services
Isn't that sweet?  I thanked Emily for her concern and responded affirmatively.  I'll be sure to follow-up with a detailed description of my Clif Bar Crunch: White Chocolate Macadamia CLIF Crunch bar. Maybe it's time for another video.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Clif Bar Expands Their Non-Vegan Product Line

An evening of mixed emotions.  I was excited when I found a box from Clif Bar and Company in my breezeway.  (Nice toss, mail carrier--11 yards inside my gate is a new record!) I had responded to an offer in an issue of the company's cleverly-named marketing newsletter, "ClifNotes":
We've been in the kitchen, working hard to whip up a new recipe. We're still sworn to secrecy on the details but wanna send you a free bar to give you a chance to try it before it even gets to the store.
I eat a Clif bar almost every weekday morning, so how could I resist a sneak-peek at a new Clif product? I took the box inside and opened it up.  This is where I was immediately disappointed.  The new product was something called "Crunch," and my particular sample was "Honey Oat."  Thanks, Clif.  At least it wasn't made of bacon.

I went to the Clif site to see if there were other Crunch flavors.  There are: Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and White Chocolate Macadamia.  Of all these flavors, only White Chocolate Macadamia is vegan-friendly.  The others contain honey, though only Honey Oat is up-front about it.

I did some more research on their site.  In a difficult-to-find section, I found the following:
All CLIF Bar products are made from ingredients that do not come from animals except most Mojo and CLIF CRUNCH flavors (contains organic honey), CLIF SHOT ROKS and Luna Protein (contains whey).
 So there it is.  Most of their products are still vegan. But I'm still disappointed.  So I'm sending them this:
Dear Clif Bar and Company,

I received my preview Crunch bar today (Honey Oat). I'm vegan, so I was immediately disappointed that it contains honey.  I checked your site and learned that three of the other four new flavors contain honey, too.  Is this a trend?

My vegan friends and I used to appreciate not having to read your labels, confident that your products were friendly. But now you seem to be slipping to the dark side.

Please come back,
 Update (2010-07-01): I got a response and a vegan bar is on the way!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Potluck? Cupcakes!

I got invited to a potluck at my neighborhood park, by friends I'd been meaning to catch up with since I moved back to San Francisco 7 months ago.  So there was no question that I would go.  But you can't go to a potluck without homemade food, just like you can't go to a costume party wearing merely a wig or a mustache or an eye patch.  Meaning, you could go empty handed (or, in the case of my analogy, wearing a shitty costume), but you would be insulting the people who actually put some effort into their contributions.

Furthermore, as a vegan, you have to bring really delicious food.  You have to break omnivorous stereotypes that bland tofu and rice comprise the bulk of our diet. So the quick-and-easy, please-and-impress-all answer was obvious: cupcakes.

There's really only one resource to turn to when you're making vegan cupcakes: Isa and Terry's Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I quickly flipped through it and decided upon a basic combination: Golden Vanilla Cupcakes topped with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

Two hours later and $35 poorer, I had 11 ugly but delicious cupcakes in a cardboard box.  (I know they were delicious because the 12th cupcake was in my belly.)

A couple notes on the cupcake recipe--Isa and Terry give you the option of using canola oil or margarine.  I chose margarine and I don't regret it because the cake was rich and buttery.  Also, I overfilled the liners a bit, causing the cake to rise too high and form a small, mushroom-like ridge.  It wasn't such a big deal, but it would have looked silly if I had chosen to pipe the frosting on rather than spread it on clumsily. So err on the side of under-filling the liners.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Samosas and Singharas: Learning Indian Food

I want to learn how to make good Indian food.  I want to have a few solid, delicious vegan Indian dishes that I can make off the top of my head, almost unconsciously.  I want to one day be sitting there, on my couch, in my house clothes, and casually turn to my guest and say, "hey, I'm going to whip up some samosas."

I began my (possibly lifelong) journey toward Indian food mastery at my small library of cookbooks, intent on making kick-ass samosas.  After flipping through all of their indexes, I found the word "samosa" in only two: Vegan with a Vengeance's Potato-Edamame Samosas with Coconut-Mint Chutney, and Veganomicon's Samosa Stuffed Baked Potatoes.  I'd made the latter a couple times in the past, and loved them, but they were far more "baked potato" than they were "samosa," so the first recipe won.

An important word absent from the VwaV recipe's title is "baked."  Yes, baked samosas, which contain edamame.  Not exactly the authentic Indian cuisine I was aiming for, but the spice list added up to something close, so I gave it a shot.

After a mildly labor-intensive hour-and-a-half, I created a mound of soft, yellow pastries containing a samosa-like filling.  When dunked into the mint chutney (which, sadly, lacked cilantro due to local scarcity), they tasted more like savory cupcakes than kick-ass samosas.  Edible, yes. "Good Indian food," sorta.  Satisfying? No.

At least I had defined, hopefully, the nadir of my journey.

About a week later I was at a bookstore with my friend Promnesiac and wandered over to the ethnic cuisine section to see what vegetarian Indian stuff they had.  Turned out they had the bible of vegetarian Indian cooking: Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. Holy crap.  About 800 pages, weighing in at around 4 pounds.  Not a photograph in the entire book, just illustrations. A section titled "Deep Fried Breads."  Three different samosa recipes in the section titled, "Deep Fried Savory Stuffed Pastries."  I returned the drool-swollen tome to the shelf, purchased a clean, dry copy, and dragged it home.

It was immediately clear that making the samosas in this book was going to be a challenge.  Making the dough, filling, and accompanying chutney was going to be a demanding but manageable trial. Forming perfect samosas with all these components, however, was going to take a lot of practice. I didn't want to fail immediately,  so I opted for a compromise: Tangy Potato Coconut Singhara Logs, (a.k.a. Aloo Nariyal Singhara). They're basically rolled-up samosas.

It took a mere three hours to make these and their accompanying Toasted Coconut and Tomato Chutney.  Three very clumsy, messy hours that were punctuated with geysers of hot oil and the jarring sound of food processor abuse.  But it was worth it!  That is, until I had eaten all of them, which is far too many to eat and remain comfortable.

I think I'll pick something from the "Dal Soups" section next time.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy, Happy, Happy Hour at Ziryab

This is a short and sweet entry about happy hour at Ziryab, an upper-mid-scale Mediterranean restaurant in NoPa.  A generous falafel wrap with a side of French fries for $5.00.  A pint of Sierra Nevada (my favorite), Fat Tire, or Blue Moon for $2.  That means you can have an early but satisfying vegan dinner for a mere $15.  (Well, $20 if you want two orders of falafel and fries.)  There are hookahs, too.

Happy hour is in effect Monday through Thursday from 4PM to 7PM; Friday 12PM to 7PM; and Saturday and Sunday from 3PM to 7PM.  See you there.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Me So Hungry, Me Loving Hut Many Time

Congratulations!  You just read the worst blog entry title ever.  But the fact is that I've been to the Loving Hut in the San Francisco Shopping Centre three times since I discovered it less than a week ago.

Today I tried the spring rolls and the soy chicken sandwich.  The spring rolls were excellent, and some of the tightest-wrapped I have ever seen.  The sandwich was definitely tasty, due in large part to its excellent, fresh French bread. (I was able to eat almost all of it despite my lunch mate's disquieting tales of hexane in soy-based meat analogues.) It came with a small side of cole slaw which I am certain contained maple syrup.  That's a surprising flavor to find in your cole slaw, but I think it worked.  Overall, the meal was good and satisfying, but I would trade it all in for their Phở Noodle Soup any day.

There was one disturbing component to my meal, hexane aside: the lemonade had at least a quarter cup of sugar in it.  It made my teeth sing.  I ended up fishing the ice cubes out of it for hydration.

Loving hut's unusual sweetening practices are easy to forgive, as they have the best vegan game going in Downtown San Francisco.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

San Francisco Vegan Bake Sale IV

The 4th San Francisco Vegan Bake Sale took place today, this time outside of Herbivore on Valencia street.  I filled my To-Go Ware tiffin set with some delicious stuff, almost all of it made by Sugar Beat Sweets, a little organization soon to be San Francisco's first vegan bakery.  Here's my report:

1. Two tiny cupcakes, one dark and chocolaty, the other light and vanilla-flavored.  Both delicious, and perfect.  I consumed each whole and upright, squishing the rich frosting against roof of mouth before  getting down to business.

2. I miss my habitual Starbuck's Maple Oat Scone from earlier in the decade.  It was an acquired taste, being rather dry and dense.  It certainly invited a lot of coffee to the party, and for that I stuck with it, eventually growing quite fond of it despite its flaws. This vegan version is moister and spongier than my old friend,  and therefore resistant to crumbling.  I kind of liked the crumbling.  I can only conclude that there is no perfect scone, but this one is as close as I will ever get.  (According to @sfveganbakesale, these were not made by SBS but rather by "a guy named Adam.")

3. These two brownies were disappointing.  They tasted like brownies, but their texture was off.  They were hard on the outside, and chewy on the inside. They certainly weren't horrible; I've had many worse vegan brownies.  They simply weren't of the same caliber as the rest of the booty.

4. Hands-down, absolutely, positively the best doughnut I have eaten in 6 years.  Not at all cakey, but light and fluffy and breadier than most other vegan donuts.  Kicks the ass of my former best doughnut experience, had at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, OR.

5. I thought this was going to be one of those cakey jobs I described in #4, but it turned out to be much lighter than I expected.  This is an example of the pinnacle of the vegan doughnut craft, before #4 came along and changed all the rules.  If it weren't for #4, this lemony little number might have had a chance.
    All this delicious stuff totaled $14, but I dropped $20; it goes to http://gorillacd.org/ and http://www.wildcarebayarea.org/.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    What the Phở!? A Vegan Fast Food Oasis in a San Francisco Mall Basement?

    Today I escaped from the free, vegan-hostile lunch at the Web 2.0 Expo and set out to find the closest San Francisco Soup Company. The ubiquitous SF Soup Co. has at least one vegan soup every day, and that's where I like to go in the city when I'm hungry but not in the mood to make decisions. My iPhone directed me to the one in the Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre at 845 Market St., an address I usually avoid because of the tourist vortices it produces. In fact, in all my years living in this city I don't think I have ever stepped inside that building. Until today.

    I navigated my way to an escalator descending into the subterranean "Food Emporium," a fancy name for a vast, churning tourist chamber honeycombed with edible retail goods. It took me a while to find the SF Soup Co. due to throngs of seemingly stoned consumers dragging oversized Bloomingdale's bags around the labyrinthine food court. I was amazed by the slowness and purposelessness of some people's locomotion. Surprisingly, the Sunday-driving pace of my search was a blessing; it yielded a far more precious reward: the Loving Hut, proudly advertising "Vegan Cuisine."

    The Loving Hut presents a small buffet beside the register, where a smiling server will assemble two dishes of your choice with brown or white rice for $8.25. They also provide a more permanent menu from which you can order, offering noodle dishes, sandwiches, salads, and more. Most of the food is Pan-Asian, but there are some Western oddballs in the line-up, such as a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich and "chicken tenders" with french fries. I ordered the Phở Noodle Soup and tried to find a safe place to stand and wait for it.

    And wait for it. And wait for it.

    The servers missed my order somehow, hastily serving several other people before I was compelled to inquire about the tardiness of my soup. After a total of 12 minutes of being jostled by downtown workfolk and out-of-town consumers, I finally got my Phở. It was delicious. I'm not a Phở expert because I've only had it twice in the past and was suspicious both times about the alleged vegan-friendliness of the broth. But I'll gladly become an expert on this rich, tasty, and spicy Phở, guaranteed to be 100% vegan*. My only complaint is that there was too much of it.

    Back when I was waiting for my order, it had occurred to me that there was something familiar about Loving Hut. Something about their motto, "Be Veg. Go Green. Save the Planet." I Googled them later, and discovered that they are disciples of the very same spiritual leader that Vegetarian House in San Jose follows, Supreme Master Ching Hai. They don't announce their affiliation in this fast food context, possibly because it might repel suspicious consumers.

    By the way, if you don't speak Vietnamese, "Phở" is pronounced "fuh."

    * No actual guarantee offered.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Vegan in San Jose: Good Karma Cafe and Vegetarian House

    My friend Robin and I traveled to San Jose last weekend to witness its greatest cultural attraction, the San Jose Flea Market. We rolled into town around 2 PM and decided that we were far too hungry to go directly to the flea market; we'd need to eat something first.  We asked our iPhones about "vegan san jose" and were surprised by the high number of results.  (Google seems to think that "vegan" and "vegetarian" are synonymous, so most of the results were vegetarian restaurants.)  The first two results were Vegetarian House and Good Karma Vegan Cafe.  The Vegetarian House's Flash Web site was useless on the iPhone, and Good Karma's didn't exist.  So we read some Yelp reviews and chose the latter.  We couldn't ignore reviewers' urgency to try Good Karma's mashed potatoes.

    Good Karma Cafe
    Our iPhones soon led us downtown, to an area of San Jose that exhibits some rare architectural character.  Parking was easy, the sidewalks were underpopulated, and Good Karma's Ryan welcomed us into his customerless cafe with relaxed enthusiasm.

    Good Karma's atmosphere was exactly what this vegan finds comforting in a strange land: interesting art for sale on one wall, a community bulletin board on another, natural light, pizzeria style tables, a chalkboard menu, good music, and beer on tap.  Ryan even asked us what music we wanted to listen to. We asked him to expose us to something new, which turned out to be something suitably independent and highly listenable.  (I'd tell you what it was but it was also easily forgettable.)

    Our first glance at the deli case assured us that we had picked the best vegan experience in San Jose. Unfortunately, everything looked and sounded so delicious that it was difficult to decide what to order.  Ryan (who claimed to have personally made everything except the baklava and the pork buns) offered us some helpful advice. Between us we walked away with mashed potatoes, jerked tofu, dal,  curry, basmati rice, and two pints of IPA.  Carbohydrate-heavy?  Yes.  Delicious? Absolutely.  The mashed potatoes were everything Yelp claimed they would be.  The jerked tofu was probably my favorite of the dishes, followed closely by the dal. 

    Our senses were so pleasantly stimulated at Good Karma that we toyed with the idea of having a couple more pints there and foregoing the flea market adventure.  Miraculously, we tore ourselves away from the oasis to complete our original mission,  but not without a little Karma to go: a tamale, a pork bun, and a baklava.

    The Flea Market and the Tech Museum
    The San Jose Flea Market was a lot different than I expected. Robin, however, confessed a nostalgic familiarity with the scene; it reminded her of her formative years the Southern California desert, where she was surrounded by Baptists, Mexicans, poverty, and plastic.

    There was plenty of cheap, non-organic produce at the flea market, much of which I couldn't identify. There were also lots of nuts flavored with who-knows-what.  I didn't bother asking if the flavorings were vegan, despite my love for spicy pistachios; I doubted that their purveyors had the knowledge nor the vocabulary to answer that question satisfactorily, and would probably assure a nut allergy sufferer that these nuts were muy seguras.

    After a couple hours of roaming the waning flea market we decided to look for a more gratifying experience, perhaps something that we could better relate to.  So we navigated back to downtown San Jose and checked out Star Trek: The Exhibit at the Tech Museum. It wasn't a bad exhibit, but it was nothing like the exhibits I'd seen at the Boston Museum of Science over the past few years, like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.  It was relatively small, and there were fewer authentic costumes, props, and models than I expected.  Some of the most interesting stuff was on big, printed placards--the parking meters in San Jose were more interactive than that.  But this isn't a blog about science museum exhibits, so I'll leave it at that.

    Vegetarian House
    It took several hours at a flea market and a museum to burn enough Good Karma to get us hungry again.  Dismayed that we were about to eat a second meal in this city in one day, we trekked to the San Jose vegetarian restaurant voted #1 by our iPhones.  I am glad that we did.  (Before I continue, I'd like to mention that the photos included hereafter were taken with my iPhone in poor lighting; I had left my flattering camera in the car.)

    From the outside, Vegetarian House looks quaint and homey.  It also looks like a house.  Then you walk inside and you're served a hot mug of WTF.  Flourescent lighting, pastel colors, two separate dining areas; androgynous staff in polo shirts; walls of books, DVDs and CDs; photos of women in various costumes all over the place; a television displaying strange images... wait a minute.  Is that the same woman in all those photos?  And on all those DVDs? And on the TV!? Why, yes, it is!  She's The Supreme Master Ching Hai.  Hey, is this place run by a cult?  Why, yes, it is!

    We might have been a little disturbed or suspicious of a cult-run restaurant if it wasn't for years of experience with Ananda Fuara in San Francisco.  Judging by the size of Vegetarian House's menu, the broad spectrum of dishes, the amount of media on display, and the number of customers, it seems that Ching Hai is indeed a more powerful deity than the late Sri Chinmoy (despite his superhuman strength).  She's certainly a better artist. But it's possible that Sri Chinmoy is growing more powerful in the spirit plane and will soon emerge from that celestial realm to claim the title of Supreme Master.  Until then, let's eat!

    We started with the Ocean Basket, "a delicious platter of crumbed yam flour crescents, exotic mushrooms, coleslaw, French fries and a vegan tartar sauce."  Oh, so good.  And so bad for you.  I could almost hear the gulls over Buzzard's Bay arguing over a stolen fried clam as we dunked those golden nuggets into their delicious sauce.  I don't know when I last had tartar sauce.  What would I put it on?  Vegan seafood is rare stuff.

    For her entree, Robin got the Guru's Curry, "an exotic blend of curries, white soy protein, potato, tomato and spices in a rich gravy served with a dal soup, chutney and rice."  I think it was the winner of the night.  It definitely kicked the ass of my Crispy "Joy Luck" Noodles, "crispy wheat noodles topped with vegetables, soy protein, mushroom and tofu, sautéed in a special seasoned sauce." My dish was flavorful, but I thought the noodles were too difficult to manage and ultimately a texture clash for the dish.

    We finished with some vegan cheesecake, which I was too busy appreciating to photograph.

    All the while we were served by polite, quiet, smiling staff dressed in smart attire.  If you find their outfits fetching, you might like to browse the catalog over by the clothing display and order your own cult uniform.  (The shirt in the shitty photograph below reads, "Save The World Am A Vegan And Green."  I don't understand the grammar, either.)

    In the end, if I had to pick only one San Jose vegan restaurant to go to ever again, it would be Good Karma.  I felt that it had more soul and more flavor, overall, than House of Vegetarian.  And, most importantly, it had beer.