Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summertime Fun; VBC, a Picnic, Gardening & Voting Mania!

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San Francisco is finally starting to get summery weather, which means it's time for food related get-togethers! In one weekend I was able to attend two foodie functions, the anniversary celebration of the Vegan Brunch Cartel & a picnic with PPKers, organized by Mel from Veglicious!

Saturday afternoon is typically when the VBC crew starts rolling in to the selected location, despite the claim of an 11am start time! By 1pm food starts to hit the table & this particular brunch had an outstanding selection. While I made omelets with salty greens & sausage filling, other delights such as french toast, watermelon salad, blintzes, roasted potatoes, smoky veg-bacon, chocolate balsamic cookies, fresh fruit, & donuts filled our plates. The donuts were made by Joel, who always contributes deliciousness, & came in vanilla glaze, cinnamon sugar, or vanilla sugar; yum! It's safe to say this was the best brunch we've had in the culinary department, it must have something to do with it being the 1 year anniversary! Regardless, I hope we'll have many future brunches with the same quality spread.

Sunday was a gorgeous day, perfect for bike riding, which was wonderful since we had plans to ride over to West Oakland to check out Middle Harbor Shoreline Park with friends from the PPK. The park boasts a beautiful view of the Bay Bridge & the weather couldn't have been any better as we all noshed on the lunches we brought. Grilled peanut butter & banana sandwich, anyone? Mel hooked us up with cookies containing tasty Joe-Joes pieces, while Erin from Vegan Homemade, who just moved to the area, made cupcakes! All in all we had a fun day with food, old & new friends, & bike riding!

In previous posts, I've mentioned my garden & I'm happy to say it's doing pretty well! While the tomatoes never yielded any fruit, we ate many bunches of incredible kale, as well as a few green beans, fresh cilantro & basil, & onions are currently on the way. Instead of buying transplants this time, I decided to try some sprouting seeds; so far, so good! What you see is the start of Oxheart Carrots & Red Chard. Also, there's more kale & other unidentified greens in the background, although those came pre-sprouted. Harvesting my little planter box has been so rewarding, I hope to keep things growing to put on our plates year round!

On another note, in March 2009, SXSW is holding the SXSW Interactive Festival, five days of panel content & parties for entrepreneurs, nerds, bloggers, techies, & more. There's currently a vote going on to pick the panels & I just happen to be a tentative speaker for one titled "Growing Up as an Internet Oversharer" which deals with coming of age on the internet & baring it all for the masses. The panel is hosted by Maria Diaz from One Sharp Broad & of course, a vote to get on the schedule would be appreciated!

Finally, August 31st is the last date to vote for the VegNews 2008 Veggie Awards! This humble little blog is nominated for "Favorite Veg Blog", although the real reason to vote may be the fabulous prizes!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Nobody walks in LA, but they dine there!

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While looking back through recent posts, I realized I had forgotten to mention a trip to Southern California just a few weeks ago! I'm always a fan of being on the road & trying new vegan restaurants so I can share the results with my readers & this trip was no exception.

We started our culinary adventure by stopping at Isla Vista Food Co-Op just outside Santa Barbara. I had heard this was a great place to snag goodies from Stronghearts Baking Company, a woman & vegan owned company churning out a large variety of baked goods. I love options, so a Chocolate Chip brownie, Strawberry muffin, Carrot cupcake, Chocolate Chip cookie, & a slice of Crumb cake were acquired & we started munching. Stronghearts uses spelt flour for most of their goods, so they had a heartier taste than I'm used to, but it worked nicely in the crumb cake & brownie. The strawberry muffin was fluffy & flanked with berry chunks & the carrot cupcake was very sweet & textured with loads of carrots & pieces of pineapple. We opted for far too many items & I found myself in sugar shock pretty quickly!

After arriving in Los Angeles & settling in to our hotel, we headed to historic Olvera Street to check out the sights before dinner. We wandered through the colorful shopping area where Strummer found a friend just about her size! We also checked out a traveling tortilla art exhibit by Joe Bravo that just happened to be up while we were there; what an interesting medium!

For dinner we walked over to Shojin, a vegan, organic Japanese restaurant in Little Tokyo. Located in a multilevel mall, you'd never expect the warm dining area & welcoming staff when entering the building. We started with the Seitan Mountain Rolls, which were thinly sliced seitan wrapped around vegetables, served with pink salt, the dish was delicious & the pink salt really took it to another level. Next came the caesar salad with cashew cheese, which didn't taste much like a caesar salad, but was still refreshing. For our main courses, Ryan opted for the Orange Tempeh & vegetables, while I had a bento box with Seitan Katsu & a trio of vegetable dishes. The flavors were all quite nice & I especially liked the crispy panko on the outside of the cutlet. We both enjoyed our dishes, but weren't blown away by anything, like we had hoped. That being said, I would love to give Shojin another try & would likely do the tasting menu, which was very reasonably priced.

To end the night, we raced over to Scoops for vegan ice cream delights. Unlike last time, there were actually some vegan options left for us! Ryan & I both opted for the same flavor selection, Mocha Cinnamon & Cookies & Cream. Creamy & refreshing, one would never know this was ice cream of the dairy free sort, we were both happily sated & foresee many happy returns to Scoops!

The next day, we were ready to hit the streets of LA again & started out at Real Food Daily, home of Jalapeño Cashew Cheddar Nachos. While we would normally eat somewhere a bit more exciting, Ryan's love of nachos tends to lead us to RFD time & time again. Tortilla chips layered with their awesome jalapeño cashew cheddar, beans, seitan, sour cream & salsa meld together to make a mouthwatering combination. In addition to the nachos, I had a chop salad & Ryan had a reuben, neither were particularly memorable or exciting though, we'll stick to the nachos in the future!

After a day of shopping on Melrose Avenue, we managed to work up our appetites once again & headed to Native Foods in Westwood for dinner. I opted for the very filling "Soul Bowl" with rice, red beans, greens, mixed vegetables, & fried BBQ "Save the Chicken" drizzled in Ranch dressing. Ryan had the "Philly Peppersteak Sandwich" loaded with seitan, portobello mushrooms, onions, peppers, & Native cheese & a side of fries. We wrapped up our meal by sharing two lovely parfaits, one vanilla brownie & one peanut butter. A nice end to a very hearty & filling meal! Sadly, the lighting wasn't conducive to appetizing photos, so rather than harm your eyes with a blurry mess, you can look at this photo of Strummer hanging out in the grass near Melrose!

The next day we headed out back north to see family, but made a stop in Studio City at Hugo's Tacos, a taco stand with many vegan options. Once again, Ryan's obsession with a certain food, this time rolled tacos, fueled our dining decisions! My selections were two tacos; one zucchini, corn, string bean & one soy chorizo, potato, zucchini, plus a side of organic white beans cooked with sage and epazote. Ryan went for the rolled tacos, aka taquitos, which were filled with soy chorizo, potato, & zucchini & topped with shredded lettuce, guacamole, pico de gallo, & tomatillo sauce. Everyone was very happy with their selection & had full bellies, even Strummer, who munched on taquitos with glee, as you can see in this video!

All in all we had a lovely time in Los Angeles & you can expect to see many more restaurant wrap-ups from that region, as family members just moved down South. Suggestions are always welcome, although I know a return to Madeleine Bistro is in store!

Speaking of dining destinations, I'll be rolling in to Chicago from September 12th through the 15th! Any dining, activity, or lodging recommendations are very much welcome, as my knowledge of the area is limited. If you live in Chicago & want to meet up, get in touch!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

British Bulldog's Custard Berry Tart with Biscuit Crust

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Okay, I'll admit it, in my childhood, I was a fan of WWF wrestling. Saturdays were filled with body slams & beefy men in tights; Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, the Ultimate Warrior, Jake the Snake, Bret "the Hitman" Hart, I watched them all while yelling at the television. Needless to say, my mother was less than thrilled. What does this have to do with vegan food you ask? Well, Natalie from Bake & Destroy is currently holding a "Sugar Slam!" competition of wrestling inspired desserts & I decided to whip up an entry.

When coming up with ideas, many things danced through my head, "cupcakes with snakes popping out!", "something with blood!" & then I decided to go another route. I never make tarts. In fact, this is my first tart with a tart pan that has been sitting here a few months. Enter, the British Bulldog! I think it's safe to say he would like a tart! My trip to London had provided me with some goodies to incorporate in my dessert, namely McVitie's Digestive Biscuits (only the LIGHTS are vegan) & Bird's Custard Powder. With summer's wonderful berries flooding the farmers market & my loot from London, I set out to create a tart fit for a wrestler!

British Bulldog's Custard Berry Tart with Biscuit Crust
2 cups Digestive Biscuits, Rich Tea Biscuits, or Hob Nobs (approximately 14 biscuits), crumbled.
6 Tbsp Earth Balance, melted.
a pinch of cinnamon (optional)

2 cups soy milk
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp Custard Powder (try Bird's or Orgran)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp arrowroot or cornstarch
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split & scraped. (optional)

1 cup strawberries, sliced in to strips.
1 cup blueberries

For the Crust- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees & spray a 9 inch tart pan with non-stick spray.

Over medium heat, melt 6 tbsp of Earth Balance.

Crumble biscuits until you've reached 2 cups & place them in a bowl with the cinnamon.

Add the Earth Balance until a soft crumbly dough forms & then press it in to the bottom & sides of the tart pan.

Bake the crust for 10 minutes & let it cool completely.

For the Custard- Combine 2 tbsp of the soy milk, the sugar & custard powder, whisk to combine, forming a paste & removing all lumps.

In a saucepan, combine the paste & the rest of the soy milk. On medium heat, bring the mixture to a simmer & let it thicken, stirring occasionally.

Whisk the lemon juice & arrowroot together, once again making sure there's no lumps. Add the lemon juice to the thickened mixture & bring it back to a simmer, continue to thicken the mixture.

Once thickened, turn off the heat, stir in the extracts & vanilla bean. Place the custard in a bowl with a layer of plastic wrap on the top of the custard, so a skin doesn't form. Place in the refrigerator until it is completely cooled, it will firm up quite a bit once cool.

Assembly- Once everything has cooled, add the custard to the crust, filling all the way to the edges. Make sure you don't leave too much custard in the middle, or your fruit will sink in & disappear.

To make a Union Jack; From top to bottom & across the sides form a cross with your strawberries, then with thinner sliced berries, make an "X" shape.

Use the blueberries to fill in the vacant spaces, leaving visible custard on either side of the strawberries to make the white lines.

Place your finished tart in the refrigerator to bring everything up to the same temperature or be a rebel & dig in! I think the British Bulldog would opt to eat it straightaway!

My Notes: This makes a light, fluffy custard that would be good with any sort of fruit. Many grocery stores carry Bird's Custard Powder, but if you don't want to use it, you can try a flour or cornstarch thickened recipe for custard or pastry cream. Most biscuits or cookies would suitable for the crust, I just love a good digestive & was thrilled to find the McV's Lights to be vegan. Many other brands of digestives are vegan, just read the label!

On another note, I was surprised to find out I am nominated for a 2008 Veggie Award from VegNews Magazine for "Favorite Veg Blog". Make sure you go vote, not only so the veggie voice is heard, but you may win some fabulous prizes! Ooh, prizes! Anyway, I am honored that VegNews thought of my humble little blog & I'm nominated with some truly fabulous bloggers & friends.