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October 31, 2010

Vegan Cookies Invade My Halloween

Happy Halloween! I hope that you had a fun-filled weekend of tricks and treats, we surely did! Steve and I decked out in full costumes and made the rounds to a few costume parties. I dressed up as my favorite monster and Steve was his favorite 80's movie character. What do you think?

C is for Cookie... 1.21 GIGAWATTS!!

I took my role as Cookie Monster very seriously, well, not serious enough to do any singing, however I was armed with homemade vegan cookies at all times. When I was deciding what cookies to make, I turned to the vegan cookie authorities, Isa and Terry, authors of Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I picked out four recipes and split up the baking over two days. My selections were varied carefully so that there would be something for everyone, vegan cookies for the masses!

The cookies in my cookie jar were the chocolate fudgy oatmeal cookies, sell your soul pumpkin cookies, lazy samoas, and the peanut apple pretzel drops. Needless to say, I was one popular monster! Everyone had a favorite, and mine were a tie between the fudgy oatmeal cookies and the lazy samoas.

It was my first time baking from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, and the recipes were fun and easy to work with. I am excited to have this cookbook on hand for the upcoming holiday season, the cookiest time of year.

Your turn now, I'd love to hear how you celebrated Halloween!

With less than an hour left in October, I am looking forward to the start of November, the Vegan Month of Food! I am very excited to be participating in Vegan MoFo this year for the first time. Last I heard there are over 500 bloggers signed up to blog about their vegan eats all month long. The goal is to post as often as possible, ideally every weekday for a total of about 20 posts in the month of November. If you are a regular reader of mine, you know that I don't post nearly this frequently, but I am up for the challenge! Come back tomorrow for my kickoff MoFo post. I promise you there are many many delicious things to come.

October 26, 2010

Chicago VeganMania 2010

I had the pleasure of attending Chicago VeganMania on October 9. It was an unseasonably hot fall day in the city, and the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse was not quite up to the task. That did not stop the droves of vegans that came out for the speakers, cooking demos, vegan vendors, and food.. including yours truly.

Steve and I arrived just in time for the cooking demo by Chicago Diner chef, Kim Gracen. On the menu: cheddar ale soup, yum!

Watching the cooking demo really worked up our appetite. We headed straight for the food vendors and decided to have some Soul Vegetarian. We each had the gyro meat and sauce with mac 'n' cheese and collard greens. The gyros were a little too greasy for me, but I loved my greens and mac 'n' cheese.

After we ate it was time to hear Isa Chandra Moskowitz speak about vegan baketivism. It was a full house to hear this lovely lady! I loved her talk, it was a great reminder that the best way to spread vegan love is by sharing delicious vegan food. Perfect your craft so everyone is talking about how amazing your mashed potatoes and gravy are at the Thanksgiving table!

Next up was Fran Costigan's cooking demo. Love her! I have been mega obsessed with her cookbook lately, which you will be hearing all about soon. Fran made cake balls and truffles, which we all got to sample, yum!

We stayed put in the cooking demo area because Isa was up right after Fran. There were problems with the sound system, and while they were working on it Isa was waiting off to the side. I jumped on the opportunity to get my copy of Vegan With a Vengeance signed (I know, nerd!!). Steve grabbed the camera off my chair when I was up front with her and snapped a quick shot of it going down.

Once the sound system was up and running again Isa started her pumpkin bisque demo. They served up some delicious samples while she was cooking. She kept the crowd laughing all the way through the demo. She is just so darn charming and funny. I learned a few new tricks, too. Here she is improvising her peeling-ginger-with-a-teaspoon trick with the only spoon that was available. She seemed surprised herself that it worked!

After Isa's demo we were ready for some dessert, and seeing that it was about 90 degrees inside the fieldhouse (no joke) ice cream was the appropriate choice. Thank goodness for Gyood!

Steve's pumpkin ice cream
My cookie dough ice cream
After dessert we met up with my favorite vegetarian Aunt and Uncle. They came to join in on the vegan fun!

We walked around together for a bit and did some shopping in the vendor area. I bought a vegan tshirt and a super cute catnip taco for the kitties. Soon we all decided that we had enough of the heat and crowds, so we skipped out early and missed the rest of the speakers and cooking demos. The one other speaker I would have really liked to see was Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, maybe next time. This was my first time attending Chicago VeganMania, but it was its second year running. I am looking forward to the third annual Chicago VeganMania in 2011 -- keep on rockin' Chicago vegans!

Evie and her catnip taco souvenir from Chicago VeganMania

October 24, 2010

Vegan in Spain, part 2 (and Amsterdam)

Where were we? Oh right, Cartagena, Spain. After we caught some z's we were up and on the road again. We were headed to our final destination in Spain, the city of Valencia. On the way we stopped to check out the beach in Alicante, and grab some lunch. I had a vegetarian restaurant lined up, but my friend was not up to trying another meatless restaurant after the Loving Hut experience, so she left me and walked around the area to find some tapas. The restaurant that I dined at is called L'Indret.

L'Indret is open for lunch only, offering a 4 course daily set menu with 2 choices per course. The price is 11 euro and includes a bottle of water or a personal size bottle of wine. I explained to my server that I am vegan and she confirmed that everything on the menu for the day was vegan, hoorah! She pointed out that there was some yogurt on the salad bar to watch out for. The choice for the first course is always either fresh carrot juice or the salad bar. I went for the salad bar, and piled up a plate with greens, beets, corn, cucumbers, olives, sprouted lentils, whole wheat noodles, and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast (!). So wonderful! For the second time being exposed to a salad bar in Spain I again noticed that they don't offer much for dressings. There was some thick soy based dressing (I assume it was dressing, but they did point it out as being soy based), so I put some on the side a mixed a bit in to wet the contents of the salad. It was pretty plain but it did the trick. Perhaps they aren't big on dressing over there?

I had a hard time translating the two choices being offered for the second course--I could tell that one was an Indian spiced soup of some kind but I had no clue what the other was. Feeling adventurous I went for the unknown, which turned out to be vegetable barley stew. What you see here is a giant bowl of barley, mushrooms, green beans, onions, and barley in a hearty broth. It was delicious but very filling--I only ate about half so I would have room for the next two courses.

I pulled out my pocket dictionary to help translate the two choices for the main course, but it didn't end up helping me at all. I made a random choice, which turned out to be a pan-fried croquette of beans and veggies with a crunchy exterior smothered in a brown gravy. The side was a rich creamy cabbage casserole of sorts. The croquette with gravy was amazing, but I would kill for that cabbage recipe.. oh my word! I really can't even begin to imagine what is in it other than the cabbage. Trust me, if I knew how to ask what was in it I would have!

No sooner than I cleaned my plate, my server was back telling me about the numerous vegan dessert options. There were several cakes, soy puddings, and some others I am not remembering now. The cakes sounded good to me, so I asked her which was better, the chocolate or the espresso cake. She suggested trying a half slice of each, win! These cakes were very European, not super sweet like cakes tend to be in the US, and the icing was very pudding-like. This dessert was the perfect ending to the best meal that I ate in Spain. I so wish that this was the vegetarian restaurant that my friend tried with me instead of Loving Hut, because this is how it is done, my friends!

After lunch we took a walk on the beach and took a few photos by the water and the castle. We asked a girl to take a photo of us together, and the result was one of the most hilarious photos from the trip. We think she was a little distracted and cropped out the castle by mistake. Not sure what distraction I am talking about? Click the photo to make it larger, you can't miss it!

The water was great, it was like a warm bath! That surprised me for late September, but I guess that is how the Mediterranean is since there aren't ocean currents coming in to cool it down. Too bad we didn't have time to go for a swim! Back on the road we went for the final leg of our coastal tour of southern Spain.

Views from the car - Alicante to Valencia
We stayed at Becca's friends' house in Valencia, and when we arrived there was a pitcher of sangria waiting for us. The drive had been very exciting, but we were both ready to stay put for a couple of days. Our hosts were wonderful, they took us around the city to museums and the Valencia Cathedral. They also took us for paella, the famous Spanish rice dish that originated in Valencia. Paella is cooked outdoors on large coal burning grills in gigantic iron skillets. We had to jump into a photo to illustrate how large the dish is.

The traditional paella includes rabbit, snails, chicken, and vegetables as pictured above, but they made a vegetarian serving with just the veggies for me. It is hard to see all of the good stuff in this photo, but there were fava beans, Italian green beans, and artichokes. Scrumptious! I plan to recreate this dish soon.

I may have made it look easy to eat vegan in Spain, but it isn't the most vegan-friendly country. They love ham, and they love to hang cured slabs of it from the ceiling in restaurants. When we went to tapas restaurants there were only two dishes that I could order: pan con tomate (bread with tomatoes) and patatas bravas (fried potatoes, ask for no mayonnaise). I had planned to eat a steady diet of gazpacho, but unfortunately it was out of season and I didn't even get to try it once. So sad! Eating vegan in Spain is not impossible, but I do recommend doing your research ahead of time.

As for Amsterdam, it is in parenthesis in the title of this post because I don't have much to share. We were there for 24 hours, and aside from visiting the Anne Frank house we spent most of our time just walking around exploring the various neighborhoods. It is such a charming place, despite its reputation, I would have loved to have more time there. We only went out for one meal in Amsterdam. I had several vegan options picked out to try but my friend wasn't up for it, so we went for our compromise food: Indian! I forgot to photograph my food or take note of the name of the restaurant, oops. End of the trip, what can I say? Know that there are many great looking options for vegans in Amsterdam, many more than in all of the cities I visited in Spain combined. I hope to return to Amsterdam someday and experience it more thoroughly.

That concludes my 9 day multi-city adventure, thanks for reading along!

If you want to visit L'Indret in Alicante (and you should!) the restaurant address is: C/ García Morato, 5, 03004 Alicante, Spain

October 17, 2010

Vegan in Spain, part 1

Thanks for all of your comments on my Vegan in NYC post. After three wonderful days in NYC it was time to say goodbye to The Big Apple, and hello to Spain! My travel companion Becca flew into JFK to meet me, and from there we flew direct to Málaga, a beautiful coastal city in southern Spain. In the spirit of wasting no time, we dropped off our luggage at the hotel and immediately left for a 4 hour bicycle tour of the city. It was the perfect way to get the lay of the land and learn the history of the city. This turned out to be one my favorite activities from the entire trip.

We worked up quite the appetite biking and thanks to HappyCow I had a few vegan-friendly restaurants lined up.

Loving Hut was my first choice, which also happens to be the only 100% vegan restaurant that I found in all of the cities that we were visiting in Spain. Loving Hut is a Taiwanese buffet and salad bar, owned by the most adorable elderly Taiwanese couple. The man was very enthusiastic to talk about his love of the vegan diet. My Spanish got me far enough to understand that he is vegan based on his religion, and he showed off some tai chi moves while exclaiming that he is 80 years old - "Ochenta, ochenta!!"

At his most comical moment, the owner was trying to speak some English. When he was talking about his religion he said, "I love! I love!", with his hands positioned over his heart. After saying it several times it changed to, "I love you! I love you!" We smiled at him as we munched away on our salads, and he started walking away continuing to verbalize his love. He disappeared into the kitchen and a few minutes later we heard him shout, "I love you!" over the sounds of the clanking pans. Hanging out with the quirky owners definitely made the experience.
As far as the food goes, I am sad to report that it was not amazing. The salad was light and very refreshing, but the hot foods were lacking. The food was barely warm and the flavors were too bland for my taste. Regardless, I was happy to eat a plateful of tofu, seitan, and veggies, and to support this wonderful couple's establishment. My omnivore travel companion was particularly underwhelmed, and from that point she wanted to avoid eating at other veg restaurants the rest of the trip, which was the biggest tragedy of all!

Check out this fun wall decor in the restaurant! The plaque translates to: "Elite vegan and vegetarian. These intelligent, beautiful, and talented people are vegans or vegetarians. You aren't?"

I came to find out later that Loving Hut is a vegan chain restaurant with locations all over the world. I am curious if they are all set up similarly, serving the same type of food. I so wanted to love this restaurant, and I did love everything about it except the food. Shame!

Dining experiences aside, Málaga was my favorite city that I visited in Spain. The short 24 hours that I was there was not long enough! The next morning we checked out of our hotel and returned to the airport to pick up a rental car. We drove up the coast towards our next stop in Cartagena. We were spoiled by views of the Mediterranean and varied landscapes that Spain has to offer along the coast.

Here is Becca with our little stick shift car. We pulled over to get some shots of the amazing view on the other side of the guard rail.
See what I mean?
We also needed to stretch our legs!

While we were on the road we stayed fueled with our favorite local snack, mercona almonds. These almonds are blanched, then sauteed in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. It is a different almond experience, let me tell you--so, so good. Don't pass these up if you have the opportunity to try them. To my delight I discovered that Trader Joe's carries this Mediterranean specialty. Their bagged versions are not as amazing as the fresh ones we picked up in Málaga, but still pretty darn good.

En route to Cartagena we stopped off in the city of Mazarrón for dinner. We had the goal to eat Indian food at least once in Spain (since we love India!), and apparently this little restaurant in Mazarrón was the one to eat at in all of southern Spain. Maharaja Palace was everything we hoped it would be. I ordered a lentil curry and a spicy garlic potato curry, and she ordered chicken. We both shared an order of coconut rice and roti. You give this girl and I some good Indian food and that is when we are happiest!

We left Mazarrón full and happy, but not before we stopped off at a rocky beach on the side of the road. The sun was setting and it was so calm and beautiful.

Onward to Cartagena for the night! We arrived at sundown, checked into our hotel, and went out for some sangria before hitting the hay. We did some shopping and walking around early morning just to see the city briefly, and got back on the road before noon.

Next stops: Alicante and Valencia. More on that, and Amsterdam, in my next post!

Here is where you can find the restaurants mentioned in this post:
Loving Hut - Calle Peregrino, 2. 29002 Malaga, Spain
Maharaja Palace - Avenida de Doctor Meca 116, Puerto de Mazarrón, Spain

October 11, 2010

Vegan in NYC

In my last post you might recall me mentioning a little trip I would be going on. You might also recall that, for the first time ever, I planned to try blogging while traveling. Well, if you bet against me, you were right! I was betting against me too, honestly. I am not holding it against myself though, as it turns out 9 days to visit NYC, Spain, and Amsterdam is a little bit frantic.

In anticipation of visiting these 3 amazing destinations, I must admit that the foodie in me was most excited about New York. I have been twice before, but not since becoming vegan. Oh, the food I would eat! So so many vegan options there, where to begin?

I was already hungry when I landed early Friday evening. I rang my friend and she was still at the office, so I had her point me towards the most delicious vegan option near her apartment. My luggage and I rolled up into Rice in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. This cute spot had enough vegan options for me to be conflicted about what to order. My friend told me that the tofu meatballs over Thai black rice and edamame is where it's at, so tofu meatballs it was. She was right, this dish did not disappoint!

Saturday morning we hit the Brooklyn Flea Market in Fort Greene. I spotted a papusa booth right away and confirmed that they can be made vegan, hooray! This Salvadoran specialty is best described as thick handmade corn tortillas stuffed with beans, vegetables, beans, and/or meat. My brother lived in El Salvador for 3 months and this was his favorite local food. He would have never forgiven me if I didn't jump on the opportunity to try one.

I decided on spinach only for the filling. The papusa alone isn't bursting with flavor but the pickled cabbage, onions, jalapenos, and red sauce quickly fixed that. These would be really fun to make at home, and is officially on the list to try.

I ventured out on my own for a bit Saturday night and treated myself to the Green Garden Platter at Caravan of Dreams, decidedly the fanciest vegan meal I had in NYC. They describe this dish as sautéed greens and vegetables, seitan, garlic, grilled carrot polenta, but I describe it as a mountain of yum. So gingery and garlicky, so good.

With a belly full of veggies I headed down the block to the vegan ice cream shop, Lula's Sweet Apothecary. I had heard that their ice cream is outrageously good, so I saved just enough room to try some. The flavor debate was over as soon as I saw maple walnut on the menu. This was the best vegan ice cream I have had to date!

After my ice cream I made my way down to the famous vegan bakery, Babycakes, not too far away. No - I didn't eat more desserts! I picked up two cupcakes, a biscuit, and two cake balls to bring back to my friend's apartment for us to enjoy over the rest of the weekend.

The cake balls were superb, the flavors were mint chocolate and carrot cake. The biscuit was heavy and bready, not light and buttery as I had hoped. This situation was not helped by the fact that it had been refrigerated overnight and wasn't fresh. The cupcakes held up very well in the fridge. I liked the lemon cupcake the best, and my friend favored the pumpkin. I loved that these cupcakes were agave sweetened, and the pumpkin was gluten-free.

If you visit NYC over the weekend you have to brunch. Our obligatory brunch Sunday afternoon was at Maggie Brown, another vegan-friendly spot in Fort Greene near my friend's apartment. The "Grandma Harriet" sub tofu for eggs was a perfect dish for me. Sauteed tofu loaded with fresh dill, tomatoes, and caramelized onions -- most excellent. The potatoes are not vegan, so they doubled my salad.

I ventured out again on my own Sunday night and headed to the theater district to try to score a good deal on a last minute single-seat. I entered the front row ticket lottery for Next to Normal and was one of three people who didn't get their name called. There weren't a ton of options for Sunday night shows, but I wanted to keep trying. I narrowed it down to a very affordable rush ticket for Rock of Ages or a slightly more expensive ticket to Chicago. My favorite musicals have always been older shows like Phantom, Fiddler, and West Side Story, so I opted for Chicago.

By the time I figured it out I only had 30 minutes to find some dinner and get back. I walked around for about 10 minutes without finding any good options. Grabbing at straws I dipped into one of the million nyc delis to see what they could do for me. They whipped up a roasted veggie wrap with balsamic vinegar that was actually very decent. Off to the show I went. The seat was great, the production was great, but sadly Chicago is not one I will be adding to the favorites list. I guess I'm not one for a bunch of scantily clad murderous females.

Monday morning I woke up early to do some laundry and get ready for my evening flight to Spain. My friend and I had time to fit in one more meal and she suggested vegan fast food joint, Foodswings. Sounded fun to me! We headed out on the subway, but didn't get far. The train made a stop nowhere near our destination and we were told it wouldn't be going any further. We were determined so we started walking looking for a bus to get us closer. After just shyly missing the bus we needed we headed towards another subway option. Did I mention that it was raining? We were really earning this meal! It was quite the trek, but we made it.

We did not order the vegan knockoff of the KFC double down, but I had to get a photo of the sign to prove it existed.

We started with a somewhat healthy option to offset the other not so healthy things we would be eating. This is the Chick'n Caesar Salad. Unfortunately it was lacking. The chick'n was too chewy and the dressing was very bland.

Next up was the Chick'n Cordon Bleu sandwich. This was a fried cutlet, with a slice of vegan ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. They got this sandwich just right.

For a mere $2 a piece we decided to sample two of the drumsticks. These are available buffalo style, bbq, southern fried, and sweet southern fried bbq. We chose the buffalo style and the sweet southern friend bbq. These were fun and tasty - they even had a stick inside as a vegan-friendly bone (which I was clued in to beforehand by the menu: "Please note: ―'bones' are not edible & may present a choking hazard to small children, the elderly & the intoxicated."). Did I mention we washed all of this down with pistachio milkshakes?

This meal was pretty outrageous and unfortunately I didn't feel too great after all of that indulgence. The newbie vegan in me cannot handle having so many choices! Nonetheless it was a great way to end my visit to NYC. I feel like I have hardly begun exploring the vegan options in that amazing city, so I have no choice but to go back as soon as possible.

Signing off for now, more on the rest of my trip in my next post. I also have some great recipes coming your way soon!