Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Southern California; Valentines at Vinh Loi Tofu, Madeleine Bistro, Shine Cafe & Donut Mania!

Please head over to my new blog at TheUrbanHousewife.com, where you'll find this post & more!

Having family & friends in another part of the state can have an upside; an excuse to travel! Recently, Ryan, Strummer, & I hit the road heading south in search of all things good & vegan. Boy, did we hit the jackpot!

It all started with Valentine's Day, not a favorite of this crew, but an excuse to dine out nonetheless. Rather than make it a private affair, we rounded up an awesome posse of vegan bloggers to celebrate with! Miss Anthrope & Mr. Meaner of Quarrygirl.com, Ms. Foodeater of To Live and Eat in LA, & Vegyogini from Hugger Food all made the trek to our agreed upon destination, Vinh Loi Tofu in Reseda. Vinh Loi Tofu serves up 100% vegan Vietnamese food & we were lucky enough to be pampered by chef & owner, Kevin, who made sure we were more than full before the night's end.

We all started with a round of rolls filled with Kevin's special mock meats. Faux beef, chicken, ham & house made tofu wrapped in rice paper were delivered to our tables, dipped in to peanut sauce & devoured. If you're faux-meatphobic, be warned, this stuff is serious & I found myself a bit alarmed, but unable to deny the deliciousness! Next we shared Lemongrass + Chili & Mushroom + Noodle fried tofu, another tasty treat that quickly made its way in to our bellies. Shortly after everyone placed their entree orders, Kevin delivered a plate of freshly made tofu to the table, still warm, as he heard I am a fresh tofu fan. WOW, the tofu was amazingly delicious & we devoured it plain, no seasoning needed! As an entree, I ordered the Pho with tofu, instead of the faux shrimp & chicken it comes with, per Kevin's suggestion. This man knows his food! I was more than happy with my selection & filled up on the fresh tofu, rice noodles, & vegetables in a delicately spiced broth!

As if we weren't stuffed enough, the darling Quarrygirl.com duo brought us an assortment of Dee's Donuts for dessert. We tried various flavors from vanilla to chocolate, coconut to sprinkles & everything in between. I found them to be a bit dense for a donut, sitting somewhere between a cake & raised confection, with a slightly too thin glaze. While they weren't bad at all, I have been spoiled by the perfection that is Ronald's Donuts, so I tend to compare all to their mightyness. That being said, if you're in LA & dying for a donut, Dee's may hit the spot for you.

The next day, we took Ryan's family to brunch at a place we've enjoyed in the past, Madeleine Bistro, home of vegan chocolate souffle! I was excited to try their morning offerings & we had high hopes as we rolled in to Tarzana, omni family in tow. Ryan & his father opted for the "Bigger Maque", two no beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, pickles, onions.. ala the fast food chain staple. Neither found themselves disappointed & were surprised to find how much it tasted like a high-end version of its trashy counterpart! Tempted by the sweeter offerings, I opted for the Bananas foster waffles with a side of crispy tempeh bacon. While the caramel sauce, bananas, & whipped creme were lovely, the waffles had a texture I just could not get behind, so they were a miss for me. Ryan's mother enjoyed her Club sandwich though, so 3 out of 4 ain't bad! Actually, we all ended up very happy when the next round arrived.. fresh organic donuts!

Madeleine Bistro makes their own organic raised donuts available at brunch only. I ordered 4 of them to go, but asked that they come on a plate, so I could photograph them. Once everyone laid eyes on them, there was no way we were saving them for later & they disappeared from the plate! The donuts are incredible! Light & fluffy with a sugary coating, you don't know whether to scarf them down or savor each bite. Ronald's may have some competition if Madeleine's ever expanded their flavors! If this wasn't endorsement enough, we ordered 4 more donuts, this time to go. I had the chance to chat with Molly, one of the owners, for a bit & she was just lovely. After our chat, she dropped a container in my hands with two little chocolates in it, their version of Milky Way bars! The little bites were scrumptious & hit the spot later that day.

On our way back to San Francisco, we stopped in San Luis Obispo, a coastal town along Highway 101, home of Ryan's alma mater & our good friend Josh. SLO has quite a number of vegan options, my typical favorite being Big Sky Cafe, but we opted to try a place I have been meaning to check out, Shine Cafe in Morro Bay. Nestled in the back of a health food store, Shine Cafe may not look like much, but looks can be deceiving! 99% of the menu which consists of salads, smoothies, soups, & entrees is vegan, just ask the friendly staff which items are not. We opted for the most talked about items, the Tempeh Reuben & the Tempeh Tacos. Giant plates heaped with fresh produce were delivered to us, giving off quite the hippie food vibe. The Reuben was served on sprouted bread with well seasoned tempeh & sauerkraut, while it lacked the tangy sauce of a typical reuben, it still hit the spot. The Tempeh Tacos were fabulous! I enjoyed the cilantro lime dressing atop a bed of lettuce, carrot, & red cabbage. After eating the "salad" from the top, you'll find a flavorful mix of quinoa & tempeh, housed in tortillas. Overall, Shine Cafe is a great little place for healthy, delicious vegan food, perfect when you're on the road or have consumed too many donuts!

In activist news, the PCRM is currently working to get healthy, vegetarian & vegan options in the National School Lunch program & YOU can help! Please go to http://healthyschoollunches.org & sign the petition to urge congress to include vegan options for children across the United States. Anyone can sign, even kids, so please pass this on to everyone you know!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

OnlineShoes.com Contest Winner, new flavors from Purely Decadent, & a new blog!

Please head over to my new blog at TheUrbanHousewife.com, where you'll find this post & more!

The recent contest for the OnlineShoes.com giveaway was a smashing success! Closing at 150 comments & many tales of the infamous jellies shoes of the 80's, I am glad I let Random.org do the decision making! Without further ado, the winner of the $100 gift certificate to OnlineShoes.com is..
#22- mamafabun, aka Honor! Here's what she had to say..
"Worst shoes? Hand-me-down cowboy boots that were about four sizes too big. I had to wear them to school one day because my other shoes were missing. Oh I was teased."
This is just one of the crazy stories contained in the comments, I encourage you all to go read the entries & have a laugh!

I recently had the chance to try some of the new ice cream flavors from Purely Decadent, which is just one of the many treats made by dairy free darlings, Turtle Mountain. Packed in a cooler filled with dry ice, 5 pints arrived on my doorstep, ready to be consumed. I decided to take them to share with my friends over at Vegansaurus.com, so we could all partake in the fun of taste testing!

Dark & creamy Belgian Chocolate, tangy Key Lime Pie, sweet & fruity Blueberry Cheesecake, cinnamon laced Snickerdoodle, & a coconut milk based Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough were all devoured & discussed by the group. While I favored the soft dough & cinnamon swirls of Snickerdoodle, many preferred the coconut milk concoction, declaring Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough their favorite. One thing that struck most everyone was the Blueberry Cheesecake would have been better received if named differently, as expectations of cheesecake bites were met with only firm crust-like chunks, luckily the blueberry pieces kept us happy.

The great news about many of the new flavors is they take those with allergies in to account. The cookie dough & pie crust additions are gluten free, while the coconut milk flavors are soy free, so no one should feel left out! Speaking of the coconut milk flavors, I recently had the So Delicious Coconut Milk yogurt in Pina Colada & thoroughly enjoyed it! Go try some of the many new products from Turtle Mountain for yourself!

In other news, my 2 lbs of terror, Strummer the chihuahua, appears here from time to time. There's no denying she's a cute one, so to spread the chihuahua cheer, I've created Strummer Calling, a photo & video blog for "The Only Pup That Matters". It won't be heavy on text, but will be drenched in photos & videos for your viewing pleasure. Oh & she's vegan, so technically it's a vegan blog! Check it out at http://strummercalling.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

POM is not Wonderful & a $100 Giveaway!

Please head over to my new blog at TheUrbanHousewife.com, where you'll find this post & more!

As bloggers, there are times when we are offered free products, typically in exchange for a review or writeup, which results in publicity for the company. While it can be hard to resist the lure of free, I try to consider all aspects of accepting these items, as there's always a chance I may not like them. Additionally, there is the ethical side of things, so research is always in order. When I was recently contacted by POM (cough) Wonderful with an offer of samples, I knew right away I would not be accepting them.

You see, POM has a history of animal testing. In the past, they would torture our dear rabbit & mice friends, so they could make claims about the health benefits of their juices. When I found out about this a few years ago, I jumped in to action & told all of my friends. Of course, PETA jumped in to action as well & the result was the agreement that POM would stop the deadly testing.

So, why am I still boycotting them? While I appreciate that they stopped the insane & inhumane misuse of animals, realistically, they went from a murderous juice company to a NORMAL juice company & therefore I believe they deserve no special treatment & certainly not my support. With all of the juice options out there, I cannot give my money a company that lacks ethics & likely would not have stopped testing had they not been called out. They have their results from the tests they've already done & therefore can make health claims, but innocent animals still died for their marketing. I will not be a part of their marketing & I hope other bloggers will refrain from giving them positive press & legitimizing POM to their readers, even if they did receive samples.

I know this is a heavy topic for a typically light hearted food blog, but I feel that is it important that my readers know about animal cruelty, so they can combat it. I am not only vegan, I am an activist as well, so this is an topic I cannot shy away from.

Now, as bloggers we also get FUN offers as well! When I was contacted by OnlineShoes.com & asked if I would like to give away a $100 gift certificate to my readers, I was more than thrilled. What a great way to give something back to my friends & possibly draw out the lurkers as well.

OnlineShoes.com has a nice selection of vegan friendly items, including a large selection of EARTH Shoes, many of which are labeled as vegan! While I may be more of a loud & proud boot kind of gal, or even a subdued boot kind of gal, there's likely something for everyone at OnlineShoes.com.

Want to win a $100 gift certificate from OnlineShoes.com? Comment & tell me about the WORST shoes you've ever owned! LA Gear with double neon laces (wait, those were awesome), squeaky soles, or downright uncomfortable? I want to hear about your footwear faux pas!
The winner will be drawn at random & must reside in the United States
(or have a place to send them?). Don't forget to leave a way to be contacted & get your entry in by February 16th!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

January Birthday Celebrations & Teese Trials.

Please head over to my new blog at TheUrbanHousewife.com, where you'll find this post & more!

While my planned birthday dinner at ubuntu in Napa was less than spectacular & resulted in a mad dash to Millennium to escape ubuntu's sub par offer of soup & salad as the only vegan option, there were luckily other plans to celebrate my birth. My husband Ryan is also a January baby, as is Megan from The Sisters Vegan, so we decided to plan a joint birthday party. Ideas swirled around & the result was a PIZZA PARTY, a la the coveted childhood celebration, often at some horrible place like Chuck E. Cheese's. Further discussion revealed we were all avid Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans, so we threw them in to the mix as well. Unfortunately, Megan fell ill a few days before the party & couldn't attend, but we did our best to do her proud!

Pizza stone at the ready, I made a few "Isa Pizzas" from Vegan with a Vengeance, as well as various combinations from Potato Pesto to mixed Veggies, topped with Mozzarella style Teese, the perfect vegan cheese for pizza making. Friends were kind enough to bring pizzas to share, such as an incredible Barbeque Chicken pizza, one with homemade Seitan Pepperoni & creamy Cashew Cheese, & a Mexican Pizza in a cornmeal crust. The pizzas were stacked high & as each one came out of the oven, people declared they couldn't fathom another piece, yet they still disappeared.

Dessert was quite the adventure, as I decided to try my hand at making an ice cream cake! I've sang the praises of Double Rainbow Soy Cream in the past & here I go again! I used two of their flavors as bases to create my fillings for the cake. Cinnamon Caramel was mixed with homemade Graham Crackers & spiced Apples to create Apple Pie ice cream & Vanilla Bean was transformed with Chocolate ribbons, Sweet & Sara marshmallows, & more homemade Graham Crackers for S'mores ice cream. They were downright delicious & I laid the two ice creams side by side to create a filling for the 10 x 15 layers of vanilla cake topped in vanilla frosting. I had to keep the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle theme going beyond the pizza, so I tried my hand at piping Michaelango, my favorite turtle, on top with his common exclamation, "Cowabunga!". As you can see, I'm no artist, but it could certainly could have been worse!

On Ryan's actual birth date, we had a quiet night, opting for dinner at Minako Organic Japanese, a local restaurant with an extensive vegan menu. While they surprised us with a fruit jelly dessert, complete with a candle in the agar cubes, we both knew we had another treat waiting for us back home. After the delicious cheesecake we had in NYC, I decided to try my hand at this decadent dessert for the first time & make a mini Peanut Butter Cheesecake. A crust made with homemade Graham Crackers housed layers of peanut butter & plain filling cheesecake filling, chocolate ganache, & peanut butter frosting. Ryan loved it & I will definitely be making cheesecake again, as it yielded many ideas for the future!

As I mentioned, mozzarella style Teese Vegan Cheese makes for a killer pizza topping. When I heard they had released other flavors, I found myself anxious to try them & luckily was able to do so. In the world of vegan cheese, these are a stand out & even as someone who tries not to consume mass quantities of processed food, Teese is something I find myself indulging in from time to time.

Those looking for the fancy wine & cheese experience, look elsewhere, but for American cheesy goodness, Cheddar style Teese is on point. Our first impression was "whoa, Kraft Singles", so we decided to make grilled cheese sandwiches in our sandwich press, or shall we say Grilled Teese Sandwiches?! In the past week, this has been a great snack or last minute meal when we're on the go. Who can resist a melty pocket of cheesiness?

Nacho Teese made a perfect topping for chips, of course! Similar to the cheddar style, but with a hint of jalapenos, it easily melted in a saucepan over medium heat, then was poured over layers of chips & salsa, then topped with olives for our birthday celebration. A giant platter was gobbled up quickly, with no complaints from attendees. Ryan continued to melt Nacho Teese for dipping chips days later & even found it tasty on taquitos!

In other news, in March, Ryan & I will be off on another foodie adventure in Europe! While we couldn't help but make a return to Berlin, one of our favorite cities, this time we'll also see Copenhagen & Vienna, plus my dear friend Marijke & I will be checking out Stockholm. Suggestions on places to see, go, or EAT are always welcome!