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October Unprocessed: An Update

22 Oct

Time is flying by, and I wanted to do an update of this unprocessed-foods challenge I’m doing for the month of October.

The basics

Overall, it’s going well. For the most part, it’s really not that hard, though it’s making me spend significantly more time in the kitchen. To compensate, I’m often eating much more simply than I normally would. Friday night I took leftover roasted broccoli and sweet potato, added some pinto beans and chopped fresh tomato from the CSA, splashed on my new favorite hot sauce (purchased at Sugarpill Apothecary), topped it with chopped avocado, and that was dinner. No multistage cooking; no custom blend of herbs and spices, freshly ground in a mortar; no multiple dishes–just a melange of stuff heated up and thrown in a bowl. And it was good!

I do miss having so many options of places to eat out–or variety of dishes I can choose from the menus of vegan restaurants–but thanks to Thrive, Chaco Canyon, Veggie Grill and Whole Foods I haven’t had to rely entirely on my own cooking and could have some very tasty food prepared by others now and then. Jud has (as usual!) been quite supportive and flexible with where we eat, and has even forgone some processed foods in my presence in solidarity. And my awesome friends brought lots of unprocessed food to eat at a potluck brunch I hosted, so there was plenty of variety then.

I’ve definitely embraced some routines for the sake of time and simplicity: breakfast is very often a rice cake topped with peanut butter or sunflower seed butter, along with an apple or banana. Could I make a rice cake in my kitchen? Absolutely not. But when the only ingredients are whole grain rice and air, I’d say that counts as unprocessed. Lunches are often brown rice + beans + broccoli + oil/vinegar/spices, if I don’t have leftovers from dinner to heat up.

In general, I’m eating far fewer grains because it’s so much less convenient to grab ready-made stuff or make pasta the center of a meal, but since I know grains and grain-like seeds have a lot of valuable nutrients, I’m making a point not to get too skimpy on them. I’m eating a ton of nuts and seeds, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Although I am “allowing” oil in this challenge, I’m being more judicious with it than I normally am, and trying to get my fats from less-processed sources. For example, instead of a standard vinaigrette, I’ve been dressing salads and vegetables with lemon-tahini dressing and sauce.

The low points

For the first two weeks I actually felt pretty lousy. I had a stomach ache almost all the time. I honestly don’t know how much of that–if any–had to do with the dietary change. I’m sure there was some adjustment to the extra fiber I was consuming, but both generally and in this particular case I’m quite skeptical of things like “detoxing,” so I don’t attribute it to that. It’s also fair to say there has been plenty of stress in my life recently, which frequently manifests itself in the form of stomach upset. So there’s that. A bummer, but it’s better now.

Also, it seems I may be more sensitive to soy in certain forms than I’d previously thought, so I’m steering clear of soy milk for now, and when I do eat soy it’s usually as tempeh. I figure that’s one of the least-processed forms of soy anyway.

Discoveries

Freshly made almond milk is fantastically delicious. If you’ve only had the stuff in boxes, I highly recommend trying it freshly made. I’ve been working on a couple experimental recipes to use the pulp from my current batch of milk, and I’ll post soon with the results! I also tried making hazelnut milk–and made hot chocolate with it using roasted-and-ground cacao nibs, cinnamon and vanilla. It was a little more textured than I would have liked, but quite tasty nonetheless. I’d also like to try roasting the hazelnuts first rather than using them raw.

There are some nice chocolate bars out there that arguably fit the unprocessed guidelines–and some that I really don’t like at all. Stirs the Soul makes a line that is not cheap, but in some cases is quite tasty. I particularly recommend the orange goji-berry (even though I’m not particularly fond of goji berries) and the mint. I was much less impressed with the cayenne-cinnamon and the currant-chai flavors, which seemed not sweet enough (all are lightly sweetened only with whole dates) and with poorly balanced flavors. If I’m going to splurge on expensive, raw chocolate, I want it to really satisfy that chocolate craving. Speaking of expensive chocolate, I picked up one of these at Thrive, and it was very, very tasty. This Hibiscus-Ginger chocolate, on the other hand, I didn’t like at all. I might try other flavors from that line, but the tartness of the hibiscus did not work for me in this bar.

I’ve become pretty well hooked on Heidi Ho Veganics Chipotle Cheddar (overlooking the agar, it’s remarkably unprocessed), and today I tried an herb-cashew cheese from Punk Rawk Labs, which was just as delicious as it was expensive ($10 for a 5-oz. tin–ouch!). At the same time I picked up the smoked cashew variety, which I haven’t yet tried. At that price, I can’t see those cheeses becoming a regular item in my fridge, but they sure would be nice for an occasional splurge.

Some things I’ve been eating for dinner


Tabbouli with homegrown parsley and mint, plus homemade hummus and carrots (yes, they’re supposed to be yellow rather than orange!)


A small-plate-style dinner after a late lunch: Rice cake and Triscuit-type crackers with Heidi Ho Veganics Chipotle Cheddar, pickled asparagus and pepper, and an heirloom-tomato-avocado salad with smoked salt


Mexican-inspired dinner of polenta, pinto beans cooked with zucchini and tomato, raw heirloom tomatoes, avocado, pepitas and cilantro

Delicious new discoveries in Portland

23 Sep

Almost a year ago, Jud and I headed to Portland for a quick weekend of vegan food tourism with my sister and her boyfriend. We ate and discovered so much it took two posts to report on!

Portland’s Vegan Street of Dreams: Alberta

Dining Vegan in Portland: Portobello’s new brunch, and getting down to Brass Tacks

This weekend we returned, putting our bikes on the Amtrak Cascades train for a car-free trip that took advantage of this ongoing beautiful weather–and gave us a hand in working off some of the food we shoved into our mouths for another 24-hour whirlwind. Although it might seem odd to have skipped VegFest, which was happening while we were there, it would have been the third such festival Jud and I would have attended in less than a year–and we’re not much on crowds. So we focused instead on enjoying a handful of businesses and the beautiful sunshine!

We started with a delicious lunch at Blossoming Lotus. I won’t go into a lot of detail and will just say that this is one of my favorite, most consistently good restaurants anywhere. The menu is a mix of raw and cooked items (all vegan, with several gluten-free options) prepared in fresh, creative combinations. The atmosphere is pleasant and would be very nice for a special date but also works for a casual drop-in while wearing bike-friendly clothing, and the prices are quite reasonable for the quality of food and ambience. There’s a Sunday brunch I’d love to try sometime.


Fruit and cheese plate, with house-made nut-based cheese spreads


BBQ soy curl sandwich with whiskey BBQ sauce


Tempeh with a coconutty red curry sauce and yams


Raw falafel wraps. I was alone in thinking they didn’t taste that much like falafel, but we all agreed they were very good.

My sister also grabbed a gluten-free brownie to go, which we tried later. Yowza. Super, super good. Fudgy without being stodgy, and plenty of chocolate intensity.

There was a bit of time left before the Portland Farmers Market at PSU closed, so we headed over there and made a beeline for Petunia’s Pies and Pastries (Note: the website automatically plays music when you load it–don’t jump!). I’d read about this all-vegan, all-gluten-free bakery business on Facebook and heard my sister’s enthusiastic reviews, but I hadn’t yet tried any of the treats.

Now I have, and I can tell you with authority that you should find your way to some of these products just as soon as your legs will carry you (regardless of whether or not you can eat gluten). Check out this case:


So many difficult choices! Fortunately, Lisa, the owner, was on hand to help me narrow things down, but it was still a struggle.


Those would be s’mores cupcakes, with graham-cracker bases, chocolate cake, marshmallow frosting, chocolate ganache and more cracker crumbs. Tragically, I did not sample. But Maren did and gave full approval.


Fluffernutter cupcakes. Seriously. I also summoned the courage to pass on these since I knew they wouldn’t travel well in a pannier.


My spoils: Olive-oil orange bundt cake, Almond Joy pie, and a chocolate-covered peanut-butter crispy treat bar. Amazing, every one.

I also tried a bite of the pumpkin-chocolate-chip whoopie pie. Perfection. If you like any one of those things, even if you don’t like the others, you want one of these pies. And today, I lucked out and found more Petunia’s products at a Stumptown coffee, allowing me to try one of the mint-chocolate brownies I’d reluctantly left behind yesterday. Again, spot on:


I might guess that this was gluten free, but I absolutely wouldn’t care. Definitely up there with the best brownies I’ve had.

Petunia’s is scheduled to open a storefront in January, which will make it easier to get a hold of these wonderful treats. I will insist on a stop the next time I’m in town!

It was time to take a break from eating for a while, so we hit Powell’s, took a ride on the brand-new Eastside Streetcar and checked out the grand opening of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. We still weren’t hungry, so we threw in a little more biking and a short walk before settling in for dinner at Canteen, the relatively new storefront run by the owners of the Sip juice cart. Canteen is a small, casual place, with about as much seating outside as in. The inside part smells wonderful from the fresh juices being prepared behind the counter, but we went for the bowls that make up the bulk of their menu.


The Portland Bowl, with quinoa, maple tempeh (or sub Soy Curls), delicious yeasty sauce and hazelnuts. I loved the bite I had and would be glad to get my own another time.


The Bangkok Bowl: brown rice, adzuki beans, steamed vegetables and kimchi, with peanut sauce. Very good, if maybe a little too similar to the lunch I’d had.


Walnut taco salad. OMG. Maren alerted us that someone needed to get this, and she was so right. Next time, this is what I’m ordering. You can see how bright and fresh it is, and the flavors were wonderfully balanced.

I wish there were more restaurants that served food like this: nutritious food, simply prepared in delicious combinations. Grain (usually) + legume + vegetables + fabulous sauce. In a reasonable portion and for a reasonable price. Why is this so rare to find in restaurants? If this business were anywhere in Seattle I would be there all the time.

Brunch today was at Portobello. For the most part, I love Portobello as much as the next food-lovin’ vegan northwesterner. Maybe because it does so much so well, I found a few nits to pick, but we did have another fantastic meal there.

We were pleasantly surprised to beat the line by getting there when they opened (beating a breakfast line is no small feat in Portland, and our last brunch at Portobello involved a little more competition), but for the second time were perplexed at how long it took to get seated with no obvious reason for delays. Once we sat down, the service was just fine, but going two for two on being left to stand around with little acknowledgement was a bit obnoxious.

Still, we were in for lots of good food:


Cashew-cheese-filled “Sweety Pepps,” which were a surprise hit.


Jud got the “Vegan Benedict,” which was easily the best version of several I’ve tried. The Hollandaise had a faint almond flavor to it, which was an interesting surprise, and the “housemade smoky seitan ham” was outstanding.


Brian got the blueberry waffle. I overload quickly on sweet dishes at breakfast and therefore don’t tend to order them, but the bite I had was delicious.


I ordered the “Wild Cascadia” omelet, which I liked but don’t know that I’d order again. In hindsight, I’m not sure they included the cashew cheese sauce it was supposed to come with, which could have made a difference. The chanterelles and slightly cooked heirloom tomatoes were a nice reflection of the shifting seasons, though.


Maren got the current incarnation of the savory waffle. The one I ordered last time, I declared–and still believe to be–one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, period. I only tried one bite of this one, so I can’t say whether it still reached that high, but it was excellent, and I’d urge you to try it if you you find it on the brunch menu. It’s gluten free, to boot!


Mushroom homefries, with lots of parsley pesto, were another big hit with all of us.

After twice trying both the mimosa and the bloody Mary on their menu, I’d encourage you to stick with the mimosa. It’s very well done, and has some nuances of flavor that don’t show up in most mimosas. The bloody Marys, somewhat surprisingly, are the opposite: the one last year was made with tasty, raw, heirloom tomato juice and came with a pickled green bean and wedge of lemon, though its spicing was really underwhelming, and some more fresh or pickled vegetables would have been welcome. Today’s drink, with standard, heat-processed tomato juice, was oddly ordinary and bland, and came with no “salad” at all–just a lone slice of lime. Given the skill and attention to detail evidenced in the rest of their menu, I’m not sure why this one drink seems to slip through the cracks, but it certainly needn’t get in the way of a great meal.

This afternoon, I squeezed in one last purchase at Stumptown, which I enjoyed on the train:


This cookie had some of the unfortunate crumbliness that’s hard to avoid in gluten-free baking, but it was very tasty and among the best gluten-free cookies I’ve tried. For those who love Skydottir cookies in Seattle, you should definitely look for these when in Portland.

All in all, another fantastic trip! The bike-train combo worked pretty much exactly as planned (be sure to reserve a bike spot well in advance if you do this, since there are only six spots available per train), and we got home to Seattle in time for dinner. Next time I hope to plan far enough in advance to get dinner reservations at Natural Selection or Portobello, which have now twice eluded me in each place.

For those of you who went to VegFest, what did I miss?

Treasures on the Hill, at SugarPill

2 Jun

I won’t often profile businesses here that aren’t vegan or vegetarian, but this one makes me so happy–and has so many products that are vegan, that I want to tell you all about it.

It’s a magical little shop on Seattle’s Capitol Hill just begging for a long browse, a chance to check out new flavors or new scents, or to find a lovely gift even for those hard-to-shop-for people.


Don’t you want to go in there?

SugarPill Apothecary is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood, but the shop fits the space so well it’s easy to imagine that it’s been there for decades. Karyn Schwartz, the proprietor, has an energy that’s at once very warm and very calm, and just furthers the sense that you should stay a while. Let’s take a tour.


The Wall of Salts

One of the first things that you’ll notice upon walking in is this beautiful display of dozens of different salts, both in their natural states and seasoned in various ways. Open containers of each one invite sniffs of wonderful smoky, savory, spicy flavors overlaid on the salty base, and many of them have gorgeous colors and textures to add to the appeal. In a country where plain ol’ table salt gets painfully overused in part because it’s so neutral, I love the opportunity to focus instead on using just a bit of a more special salt to add complexity to food.


Salts to keep you busy all day

See that Spicy Celery Salt at upper right? I initially got it for Bloody Marys, and I still look forward to trying it that way. But meanwhile, I seem to add it to everything: fried potatoes, salad dressing, and most especially to this super-easy-and-addictive Chickpea and Avocado Smash from Emmy Cooks. You’ll also find a wide array of natural salts from around the world, like Himalayan pink or Hawaiian black, along with a variety of smoked salts (which make everything delicious), and ones infused with things like wine, hot chilies or wild mushrooms.

Most of the salts come in those flat silver tins, in either tiny or medium sizes. Obviously the larger ones are a better deal if you’re going to be using a lot of the product, but the tiny ones are wonderful for traveling. It’s fairly common for me to cook in other people’s kitchens, including rental ones without much in the way of spices. Having a bit of a complex spice blend or some rich smoked salt with me is an easy and compact way to make much more interesting food when I don’t have my full spice collection available. They’re also great to have tucked in your purse for those tragic times when you might get stuck with a plain baked potato or a stripped-down salad as your only vegan options. Neutral foods will perk right up with some of that spicy celery salt, or the lemon pepper blend.

And if that weren’t enough, the tins are attractive enough to make nice gifts, and there are even pre-grouped sets of them bundled neatly together for that very purpose to save you some time and difficult choices.

Ok, enough about salt. How about chocolate?


Spiced up or straight up, your chocolate options are many.

Much of the chocolate is not vegan (some even has bacon in it…), but you’ll find lots of options that are, in high-quality offerings of bars, powders and nibs, with a strong emphasis on fair trade products.

Speaking of which, let’s focus for a moment on this lovely thing:


“Nutella for grown-ups,” the proprietor calls it. “Heaven for vegans,” I call it.

Yes, it’s a creamy-smooth chocolate-hazelnut spread that’s vegan. Let that soak in a while. Special bonus? The hazelnuts are locally grown, by Lynden, Washington’s Holmquist Hazelnuts, and the chocolate is sourced directly from the cacao farmers in the Philippines. It’s decidedly less sweet than Nutella, and with a much deeper chocolate flavor (very much a dark, and not a milk chocolate). I find that those things just mean I’m able to make a jar last longer. Which is good because the stuff is not. cheap. But damn, it’s a nice splurge!

And there’s more: A wide assortment of small-batch bitters for your craft cocktails. Fancy oils for dressing your salads. Letterpress cards for every occasion. Soaps, lotions and other personal-care products, many of which are explicitly labeled as vegan. Rancho Gordo beans. Specialty mustards and locally made pickles. Even Washington-grown organic grains and grain products from Bluebird Grain Farms.


So many temptations to explore!

Finally, SugarPill stocks a wide array of medicinal herbs (seen filling the cases behind the owner in the first photo). I haven’t tried any of those, but if–as I would expect–they’re prepared with the same care and attention as the rest of their products, people looking for herbal remedies should definitely take a look. Rebekah Denn, writing for my employer, covered much of the medicinal side of the business in her recent Pacific NW Magazine story.

SugarPill Apothecary is open daily starting at 11am; closing time varies by the day of the week. Stop by, and/or check out special offers or information about new products on Facebook or Twitter.

Notes from Vegfest 2012

25 Mar

This weekend was Vegfest in Seattle, run by the Vegetarians of Washington. After a daunting-yet-fast-moving line, Jud and I made it in this afternoon, eating our way through the huge exhibition hall at Seattle Center. For a pair of crowd-hating introverts, Vegfest can be something to endure as much as enjoy, but it’s such an unmatched way to try new products that we persevered again this year.

Having just been to the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, I confess feeling a little smug at how favorably Seattle’s Vegfest compares. Far more vendors, better organization of exhibition space to handle the insane numbers of people that both events attracted, and much better organization of the admissions process (I never found out why there was such a delay to get started in NY, but it was very irritating, especially to the people who had paid a bunch extra for VIP tickets that should have gotten them right in). I enjoyed the NYC festival, but I really do have to tip my hat to the Vegetarians of Washington for our spectacular local event.

Even though they upped the admission price this year to $8, it’s still a steal for all the tastes, take-with-you samples, coupons, and access to discounted products that you get. There’s a rest area for people needing a seat away from the sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, a nursing area, a well-stocked book table, and of course row after row of booths with volunteers sampling all kinds of food and beverages.

New things I tried that were notable:

  • Wayfare “Pig Out” bacony bits. Crunchy, smoky, just the right amount of salty. I could definitely see dumping these on salads, baked potatoes, soups, and my outstretched hand. They don’t taste just like bacon, and I think in this case that’s a good thing. They taste remarkably natural, and like they just took all the best elements of bacon and left the rest. Unfortunately, they’re currently available only by mail order. I hope that changes soon! I’d love to pick some up at Sidecar.
  • Heidi Ho Organics nut-based cheezes. I had previously tried and liked the Smoked Gouda flavor, but today I had the chance to try the Monterey Jack and Chipotle Cheddar flavors. Soy-free and gluten-free, these hazelnut-based cheezes are much less processed than some of the more famous ones, like Daiya or Follow Your Heart. On the plus side, they’re…well, less processed, which many people appreciate as its own virtue. On the potential downside, they would not fool anyone trying to imagine they’re eating dairy cheese (some might consider that a plus, also!). They taste and act similar to cheezes you might make out of The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook (which I highly recommend), so you can get some softening/slight melting, but you won’t get the gooeyness that Daiya is famous for. I find that the Jack and Gouda flavors especially have a pretty strong mustard flavor to them. On a sandwich, I think I’d be quite happy with that. On crackers or in a baked recipe I might prefer something without such a pronounced mustard note. The Portland-based company is working on expanding distribution to Seattle.
  • Speaking of Daiya, I tried one of their new Daiya wedges, in the Jalapeno-Garlic Havarti flavor. The texture was creamy and soft, and the flavor was really excellent: some sharp notes balanced with smoother, richer flavors. Maybe it was just the piece I got, but I didn’t notice any of the heat that I would have expected from the Jalapeno (but I prefer it that way). This is one of a very few vegan cheeses I’ve tried that I would eat straight up on crackers. In fact, when I smooshed it onto the caraway-flavored Mary’s Gone Crackers I had picked up across the aisle, it was really a perfect match.
  • I was really excited to try the GardenBar, after reading about it recently via Grant Butler. I have eaten an awful lot of bars in my decade and a half as a vegan, and after all the Clif bars, Lara bars, Odwalla, etc. etc. etc. I have longed for something not sweet. When traveling or hiking I tend to go through a lot of these things, and at some point you are just done with eating sweet food and might like an option other than nuts or sesame sticks–especially when you really are stuck eating one instead of an actual meal. All of which to say…I wanted to like these more than I did. I love the premise, but I felt a little cheated when I found that they are sweetened also. So yes, they’re savory, but savory kind of like teriyaki is: you feel like you’re getting a solid dose of sweetness also. I wouldn’t say I disliked them, and I would like to give each flavor a more thorough try than I got from the little bites today. Honestly, overall I’d say I preferred the Sheffa bars I tried in NYC. Those truly are not sweet at all, and the rosemary flavor in particular was really good. On the other hand, the Sheffa bars are crisp-dry, which makes them messy as they crumble when you eat them, whereas the GardenBars hold together nicely. GardenBars also include actual vegetables, rather than just the legume-grain combo of Sheffas. What I’m hoping is that this is the new fad in convenience foods, and that we’ll see many more varieties of savory snack bars to fill this sadly neglected niche.
  • Mom’s Vegan Kitchen French Toast Mix. I had never heard of this company, but they were sampling the French Toast Mix, and I was very impressed. The batter seemed to do just the right job of flavoring the bread and making a good crust on it as it fried. I see now that the product is gluten free, so if you wanted to use gluten-free bread for your toast this wouldn’t get in your way. Locally, it’s carried at the usual suspects (Karmavore, Sidecar, Oly Vegan, Food Fight, among others), so it’s easy to find. They also make biscuit mix and pancake/waffle mix, which I’d be glad to try also.
  • I finally tried a Field Roast frankfurter, which has been available for several months now. They’re good! Firmer in texture than most vegan franks, but not as firm and smoother in texture (as you’d hope) than the rest of Field Roast’s line of grain meats. Flavor was good, and it hit the spot with some mustard on a bun. They’re significantly more expensive than most vegan dogs, but they’re also a little larger than many and definitely a nicer product. If you’re a hot dog fan, these are probably worth a splurge.

I also got to re-sample quite a few old favorites, like Coconut Bliss, Sunbutter, Biscoff Spread and Mighty-O Donuts.

Did you go to Vegfest this year (or to Portland’s Better Living Show, which also happened this weekend)? What products were your favorites? Anything you are glad to know you don’t want to bother buying?

Northwest Niblets

23 Feb

Ok, I’m going to try to be more regular with this Northwest Niblets thing–a round up of cool little things you may have missed on Twitter or Facebook or the grocery store when you were busy with the rest of your life. If you know of something I should include in Northwest Niblets, please email me or tweet at me.

  • Corina Bakery in Tacoma has new digs, and from the look of it, they’re gorgeous! The new address (their website is not yet current) is right around the corner from their old location. Find them at 602 Fawcett Ave. If you don’t know the deliciousness that is Corina, I suggest you read this right away, or just get down there and discover it for yourself.

  • If you’re a bit farther to the north, maybe you should head to Seattle’s Bang Bang Cafe, where my Seattle Times colleague Tyrone Beason wrote about “a little scoop of heaven that is spicy, smoky and wonderfully crunchy”–that being the vegan mac and cheese that is the talk of Belltown and much of Seattle.

  • Seattleites might also like to know that Rachel’s Ginger Beer is now available, among other places, at Central Co-op. Delicious on its own or as a mixer.

  • Maybe you’re even farther north, all the way into BC! If that’s the case you’re SO in luck next month. On March 10-11, Fairy Cakes Cupcakes is having its Grand Opening, complete with samples (some gluten free, all vegan and free of tree nuts and peanuts) and other great stuff. But wait! There’s more! On Thursday, 3/22, New Westminster is the place to be for a Vegan Wine and Cheese Soiree. Yes, you read that right. And if you’re wondering what else you would do if you were to venture to New West for this event, you should instead be wondering why you’re not already there.

  • Our friends to the south might like to know about the opportunity to help start a vegan, artisanal ice cream truck in Portland. More into savory than sweet? Then check out the Kickstarter campaign to help Homegrown Smoker add a second truck, on Portland’s east side. And if you haven’t tried Homegrown Smoker’s magically delicious street food, you need to plan a trip to their current downtown cart right now.

  • Two favorite food discoveries this week: FatFree Vegan’s Polenta Lasagna, which was deliciously rich, hearty and loaded with vegetables. It’s also gluten free, easy to make and reheats beautifully. And then for dessert, Eat Pastry cookies (or just eat the dough!). Warm, soft, vegan cookies out of the oven in about 15 minutes. And Whole Foods Westlake has three varieties on sale right now, through 2/28. Other Whole Foods stores probably do, too. Now is the time to try this wonderful stuff.

ETA: Thanks to Brooke for reminding me about Jodee’s Desserts in Seattle, which is celebrating its first anniversary this Saturday, 2/25, with special treats in the storefront. You can read how much I love Jodee’s desserts here.

Shout-out to my super-accommodating mom

18 Jan

I grew up (and originally went vegetarian) in rural, northwestern Virginia.


That’s our driveway, fording a creek. Like I say: rural.

My parents still live in the house I grew up in, surrounded by encroaching suburbanization that is depressing but has made a lot more veg*n-friendly ingredients and even prepared foods available at places like Wegmans. Still, that hasn’t done a whole lot to change the meat/potatoes/fast-food culture of the place, and going home to visit is always an exercise in suspending the spoiled vegan expectations that result from living in the PNW.

Except–there’s my mom. When my sister and I went vegetarian nearly 20 years ago, and when we subsequently went vegan a few years later, Mom expressed the usual worries about protein, calcium and the like, but never balked from making sure we’d have foods suitable to our changing diets. Despite being raised (and taught to cook) in a household where dinner consisted–every night–of meat, potatoes and another vegetable, Mom’s always been up for culinary adventure and is also the clear source of my obsession with making things from scratch.

So when the holidays and the sad loss of our aunt meant that my sister, Maren, and I made two trips east within a month–and Maren’s doctor recently advised her to cut all gluten from her diet–Mom once again rose to the occasion.

At risk of inspiring severe jealousy in those of you not so fortunate, I wanted to walk you through some of the things we ate on our visits, partly to share the perspective of things that appealed enough to our omnivorous parents to suggest them for meals that we all enjoyed. Maybe those with less-accommodating families could try these recipes on them? And perhaps veg*n readers can pick up some ideas for feeding those in their lives who are avoiding wheat or gluten.

Ahead of our pre-Christmas visit, our parents took the initiative to get the Kindle edition of The Vegan Table for their iPad, and identified a bunch of potential recipes to make that looked good to them. This advance work helped a lot with having appropriate groceries on hand and being able to narrow down options based on time available and what people were hungry for at a given time. We had Red Lentil Artichoke Stew for a lunch and Fast & Fabulous French Toast for a breakfast. I was in charge of “Christmas” dinner for the group of 11 relatives who assembled at our house, and with cooking help from Jud and Mom, plus one of Maren’s signature salads, we put together an entirely vegan menu:


From left: my own seitan roulade in puff pastry (the second one was not yet on the table), Herbed Scalloped Potatoes (hidden behind centerpiece, from Vegan Table), Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Onions (from Vegan Table), two different roasted sweet-potato dishes (one with cinnamon/ginger/brown sugar/orange and one with thyme and lemon, both improvised on the spot), and a green salad.

Dessert? Flourless Chocolate Tart, also from Vegan Table:


Every bit as good as it looks, and not at all hard if you have a two-piece tart pan. The only tweak I would make: reduce the margarine from four tablespoons to three, or the crust might seem a bit too oily.

Other than Maren and me, only one person in attendance was vegetarian, but the whole group of omnivores–including two young kids–either enjoyed the meal or were very polite, convincing liars. At this point Maren was still eating gluten, but the only gluten-containing dish was the roulade.

When we returned for a shorter visit this past weekend, Mom took the gluten-free thing completely in stride. We had a delicious (and quick to prepare) Better Than Tuna Salad (once again from Vegan Table) for lunch one day:

Sunday was a group gathering to which we took three dishes to make sure those of us with more limited diets would have enough to eat. Maren made another of her green salads; I made the quinoa-bean-and-vegetable “Aztec Salad” that is one of my favorite potluck dishes and will some day get written up for this blog; and Mom declared that she wanted to make (for the first time ever) tamales.

After November’s epic tamale adventure, I have a healthy respect for how time-consuming tamales can be, and I admit I was more than a little wary of the prospect of fitting that into the weekend. But Mom’s adventurous, not crazy, and so instead of three complex tamale fillings she had singled out a simple one, dug up online (made without the cheese and with a different wrapping technique). We wound up adapting the dough recipe as a hybrid of the one from that page, the one from the masa package, and my memory of Terry Hope Romero’s recipe from Viva Vegan.

Let the record show that Mom took to tamale-making like a duck to water:


Stirring together the dough. Totally doable by hand, but if you’ve got a stand mixer, use it!


Tomato and corn filling, going onto the first tamale.


Tying it closed


Mom’s first tamale. Seriously, duck to water.


On a roll. We made double batches of filling and dough and wound up with around four dozen tamales.

Was Mom done after all that? Mais non. On our last morning there she suggested a tofu scramble for breakfast–and then acknowledged that she wasn’t quite sure what that would entail. Maren and I talked her through the basics, and mentioned the value of pressing the tofu ahead of time to get rid of excess water. How to do that, she asked? Just put it between two plates and then weight it, we said. Shortly thereafter, I found this in the kitchen:


TofuXpress, you have met your match.

We had the broccoli-and-red-pepper scramble with Fakin’ Bacon (not gluten-free; you can follow my recipe for a gluten-free version.) and toast from this shockingly good gluten-free bread. Seriously, all four of us were amazed at how normal this bread seemed, and we enjoyed it with Earth Balance. The brand (not all of which is vegan) appears widely available in Washington and Oregon in Safeway and Albertson’s stores; in Canada it seems to be available by mail order only.

Add in some savory black-bean soup and warm French apple pie (made with wheat flour, but there was plenty of chocolate tart to keep Maren supplied with desserts), and it all went way beyond just getting through a weekend with some sad times and instead helped us relax and really appreciate the opportunities our far-flung family had to spend time together.

So there you have it. In talking to countless veg*ns and near-veg*ns over the years I have learned just how rare this level of support is from families, so I wanted to celebrate it with a big, public thank-you to Mom for going above and beyond (and the rest of my family for the wide-open acceptance of so many unfamiliar dishes, especially during this stressful time for all of us).

I’d say it was also quite a solid endorsement (not that any more were needed) of The Vegan Table, which obviously played a huge part in helping with menu planning and preparation and came through with tasty, omni-friendly recipes without too many hard-to-find ingredients.

What other recipes, resources or strategies have you found helpful in bridging dietary gaps between you and those you’re close to?

Homemade tamales and readymade desserts

14 Nov

A while back my friend Chris started talking about a joint tamale-making venture. I love tamales and hate how hard/expensive it is to find vegan ones, so of course I told him I was game. I also may have a bit of a weakness for epic food projects that involve making lots of things from scratch, and Chris seems to have the same affliction.

Thus, a couple weeks ago we invited a bunch of friends to his place in Tacoma for tamales, his signature margaritas, and some desserts in early celebration of my birthday. Jud jumped in to help also, so we had a good crew to step gingerly around the large dog flopped in the middle of the kitchen floor, putting together fillings and dough. We relied pretty much entirely on Terry Hope Romero’s excellent book, Viva Vegan, which has yet to steer me wrong. No, I’m not going to steal her recipes and publish them here. If you like Latin food, you really really should get this book for yourself.

It turns out that tamales are so expensive because they are really very labor-intensive. But if you’re chatting with friends while you do it–and spread out the work by making a sauce here, a batch of seitan there, and stashing it in your freezer ahead of the big day–it can still be fun and worth the effort. You definitely want to make a bunch at once and either freeze them or feed a bunch of people, since making a lot of tamales is not much more work than making a few.

Chris’s sister Sara showed up early on and whipped up some cook-fortifying guacamole, which proved invaluable as we powered through three batches of tamale filling: Black Bean-Sweet Potato, Chocolate Mole Veggie, and Red Chile-Seitan.


Going to be cooking for hours? You’d better have something delicious and munchable like guac and chips to keep you going!


Red Chile-Seitan tamales getting filled

Here’s some masa dough spread over a soaked corn husk, ready for a strip of the seitan mixture. Since every one of us was a first-timer at making tamales, we learned as we went, but the book’s clear instructions kept us on track. The colorful package you see in the corner is something I picked up in Tucson last year: paper squares precut for use as tamale wrappers, instead of corn husks. After being assured by every Latino we consulted that tamales could be made with corn husk or plantain/banana leaf, period, we only broke into the paper when the soaked husks ran out. No surprise, the husks worked better, especially when it came time to peel and eat the tamales, where the paper ones stuck noticeably to the filling. But the paper would definitely accommodate more filling if you wanted to make larger tamales, and the package takes up a lot less space than a bag of corn husks if that’s an issue in your kitchen.


Chris pulling together Chocolate Mole Veggie Tamales, by now an old hand at the technique.


Here’s most of the spread, minus the Mole tamales, which were served from the stove.


My plate, with some cilantro-lime rice and two tasty salads from Whole Foods.

For dessert, we had a cute little 6″ cake from Bouteloua Bakery, which I’ve raved about before.


Chocolate cake with orange buttercream, from Bouteloua


Almost-devoured birthday cake

The cake was beautiful and very good, though I did hit some sugar overload with the buttercream frosting. Bouteloua does a fantastic ganache, and I’ll order that next time for a little less sweetness.

But wait, there was more! I also got an assortment of flavors of raw pie from Jodee’s Raw Desserts, which I’ve also raved about before.


That’s Key Lime, two slices of Tiramisu, Banana Cream, and Pumpkin (with swirls).

In order to let people try different flavors and also not completely overdose on sweets after a filling dinner, we cut the pies into bite-size samples and passed plates around for people to take from as they wished. The winner, based on number of plate-passing requests, clearly was the Tiramisu (there was a reason I got two of those!), but I really liked all of them and liked the Key Lime so much I’ve had trouble shutting up about how great it was.

Tamales are great cold-weather foods to make as well as to eat, since all of that cooking and steaming definitely warms your place right up, and long evenings seem to leave room for a bit more patience for time-consuming menus. But if the busy-ness of this time of year is getting to you, or you need a kick-ass dessert to convince your skeptical relatives at Thanksgiving that vegans are ascetics who don’t do decadent, rest assured that these two bakeries (among others, of course) have you well covered.

The lip-balm low-down

10 Oct

Don’t you hate carefully seeking out a vegan lip balm–and paying good money for it–only to discover that it sucks? I certainly do, and because I care for you, dear readers, I’m going to try to help you avoid this fate and instead shop confidently for your next lip-care needs.


Which one to choose? Read on!

Here’s the scoop on seven vegan lip balms I’ve purchased recently in Washington and Oregon. Did I miss your favorite? Please let me know in the comments!

Crazy Rumors Fresh Squeezed, Pink Grapefruit flavor (Based in Kennesaw, GA; Purchased in Portland at Back to Eden Bakery. Click for a Store Locator, or order direct online.) I love the texture and flavor of this lip balm. It goes on smooth even at room temp but avoids the oily feel that is tricky to avoid without using beeswax. The flavor is a delicious, authentic-tasting grapefruit flavor with just enough sweetness. Crazy Rumors makes a remarkable assortment of flavors and also has a line of tinted balms if you want some color. All of their balms are vegan.

Eco Lips Bee Free, Lemon-Lime flavor (Based in Cedar Rapids, IA; Purchased in Seattle at Whole Foods Market, Westlake. It was actually the only vegan lip balm carried in the store, among many containing beeswax). Click for a Store Locator, or order direct online.) The website says “We’re serious about the lemon-lime factor in this vegan lip balm.” They are not kidding. It is intense, which is a bummer for me because I rarely like lemon-lime flavor, and this was no exception. It tastes like cleaning products to me. But If you tend to like that flavor/scent, you’d probably love this, and the texture was also very good. This one “bee free” flavor is the only vegan product in their line.

Hurraw!, Chai Spice flavor (Based in Whitefish, MT; Purchased in Portland at Food Fight! Grocery. Click for a Store Locator, or order direct online.) There are a few notable things about Hurraw! One is that they use an oval, rather than a round tube. I love this because it prevents the tube from rolling around, which immediately nominated it for keeping on my nightstand, from which I’ve knocked many, many tubes of lip balm. It would also sit a little flatter in your pocket or purse, if that mattered. The other is that the company seems unusually dedicated to sourcing their products (including using almost entirely raw ingredients, for those who appreciate such things) and being thoughtful with packaging waste. Once again, there’s some excellent texture on this balm–possibly the best of the lot. I find the chai spice flavor just a tad sweet, but it is an extremely faithful rendering of that flavor–when I’m wearing the balm I feel like I’m smelling a fresh cup of chai in front of me. Hurraw! does make a balm with SPF 15 sun protection, which I’ve found in only one other vegan product (see below), as well as some tinted balms. I will definitely try their Sun balm next time I need one with SPF.

Lavera Sun15 (no flavor given) (Based in Germany; Purchased in Seattle at Madison Market. According to their website, it looks like this product may have been discontinued). I grabbed this because it was the only vegan lip balm I’d seen with any sun screen in it. The flavor is a mild vanilla one. The texture is ok, though a little dry/waxy/sticky, and the titanium dioxide has a noticeable whitening effect on your lips. Not ideal, but probably not too big a deal if you’re out skiing or on the water. Maybe not what you’d want to wear around daily, but if this product isn’t for sale much longer, that might not matter either.

The Merry Hempsters Vegan Hemp Balm, Natural flavor (Based in Eugene, OR; Purchased in Seattle at Madison Market. Click for a Store Locator, or order direct online.) The Merry Hempsters have been making vegan lip balm in Eugene for many years, and it’s a good product. I do find it a bit on the oily side, which is most noticeable when it’s been in your pocket. With all the other flavors I’d bought I decided to go unflavored with this one, but in the past I’ve bought and enjoyed their flavored products. It has the shortest ingredient list of the products I tried, with only six ingredients, and it is also the least expensive (listed on their website for $2.99, but I paid just $2.49 at Madison Market). Note that this company also sells a very similar-looking line of non-vegan lip balms, so be sure to read the label closely.

Moxie Organix, Lemon-Lavender and Coconut flavors (Based in Walla Walla, WA; Purchased in Walla Walla. Click for retail locations, or order direct online.) I am completely hooked on the lemon-lavender flavor of this stuff. The coconut is good also, but I love the uniqueness of the lemon-lavender and the interesting blend of fruit with floral flavors. I find the texture of this one just slightly oily as well, comparable to the Merry Hempsters, but not so much that it’s a problem. The company is all vegan, and also produces wonderful lotions and other body-care products.

T.M.B. (That’s my balm!), Cinnamon-Ginger-Mint flavor (Distributed from San Marcos, CA; Purchased in Seattle at Madison Market.) This one’s a bit of a mystery. I can’t find any trace of the product or brand online, and the distributor mentioned on the label, Valana Minerals, makes no mention of anything like this on their website. But that’s ok, because it’s a lousy product, and you should not buy it. The flavor sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, only after removing the crumbling end of the stick could I begin to taste even a hint of any of those things. Mostly, it tastes faintly of stale oils, and of little else. This is especially odd since the tube was not just sealed with a sticker like most of them, but was entirely shrink-wrapped as well. Further, the texture is dry, waxy, and a little gritty going on. It’s a little softer when it warms up, but then it goes from waxy to sticky. Adding insult to injury, this was also the most expensive one I bought, at $4.99 a tube. Oh well. At least you know better now.

Jodee’s Raw Desserts: Delicious decadence in Greenlake

2 Oct

I learned about Jodee’s Raw Desserts, as with so many good things around Seattle, from a blog post on Vegan Score.

Annika nailed her write-up and also paid more attention to things other than the samples I was swooning over, so I’ll leave you in her capable hands for the details. I will simply add that the four different pies I tasted yesterday (three were only tastes, I swear!) were all phenomenal, and I’ll give you some more pictures to look at to encourage you to go try these delights for yourself.


All those options made for some tough decisions. Overall, my favorite was the tiramisu (top right).


Chocolate-cherry pie: Deep and rich chocolate and cherry flavors, with juicy pieces of cherry studding the creaminess. The fork somehow makes this slice look tiny. Trust me, with this kind of richness it was plenty of dessert.


Pecan praline pie: Super rich and somehow even buttery-tasting, not to mention gorgeous. I enjoyed bites of this, but I think a whole piece might have been a bit too sweet for me.

The fourth pie I tasted was the “Autumn pie” (bottom center of the case above), which included pumpkin and pumpkin-pie seasonings, and was delicious. Next time I’m going after that key lime.

If you’re in Capitol Hill, you can also get Jodee’s desserts at Cafe Kanape or at Central Co-op’s Madison Market, and if you’re a member of Vegetarians of Washington, your membership card will get you a 15% discount in the Greenlake location.

New Westminster does vegan right

20 Sep

You just never know where vegan tourism will take you. For most of my life, all I knew of New Westminster was the BC ferry named after the place, which I’d often ridden to or from Vancouver Island. Come to find out, New West–as many locals call it–was not only the first capital of British Columbia, but it’s also a remarkably hospitable place for vegans.

I learned this last bit due to the efforts of one of New Westminster’s biggest fans, Melissa Balfour (aka The Hungry Taurus). Melissa had the brilliant idea to compile her favorite vegan spots in town into a little bike tour, and then invite the vegans and veg-curious. The ten spots on the tour (at $24 per person, which must have just covered costs for the things we got at each stop) were snapped up in two days, and on Saturday the rain clouds held off during just the right time for those of us lucky enough to participate. For those who didn’t make it, here’s a recap:


Melissa looked after the bikes on our first stop, since racks weren’t close by.

We started at Shine, an elegantly comfortable space filled with daylight, vintage furniture, and a mix of teas, sweets and skin care products. The business also hosts a yoga studio and a handful of independent massage practitioners. Predicting (correctly!) food-and-sweet overload on the rest of the tour, I did not try any of their food items, though the chocolates and the cupcakes looked really good. However, included in the price of the tour was a trial pack of three of their products. The scents on all three products are really nice blends of essential oils that don’t hit you over the head, and they all feel good on your skin. At only $5 for all three trial products (which would fit easily in a purse; larger containers are also priced very reasonably for the type of products they are), I’d definitely recommend picking some up for yourself or a nicely packaged gift.

The one thing that hit a bit of a sour note for me on this stop was lots of proselytizing about health benefits of various products they sold, which often seemed more opinion than fact. I want my health information from medical professionals, and not from laypeople who are trying to sell me things. Still, Shine had many other lovely things to offer, and I’m already trying to figure out how long I can make that Luminance sample last.

Moving on from Shine, it was time for lunch at Ziada, an Eritrean and Ethiopian restaurant with a vegan veggie combo: a couple of nice lentil stews, sautéed spinach, yellow split peas, and a couple other vegetable combinations, all neatly arranged on huge platters of injera. The food was all good, the service was friendly and informative (with a little prodding to let the server know that we really were interested in knowing more about the food), and the large table gave us participants a chance to get to know each other a bit. Ziada clearly needs to be better known, as later that day I ran into two local vegans who had never tried Ethiopian food and were excited to learn of a nearby opportunity to do so.

The food also provided a nice base in our bellies for the wine we tasted at Pacific Breeze Winery, a garage winery tucked away in a little industrial area. Despite the utilitarian surroundings, the tasting room was pleasant, and the wines–all of theirs are vegan–were quite good.


They opened up the garage so we could stash our bikes amid the tanks where they make the wine. Here Jennifer is talking to Ashley (right), the force behind Sprout Vegan Bakery.


The first pour was a Sauvignon Blanc, and also my favorite although I usually prefer reds. It was dry, crisp and refreshing.

Most bottles we tasted were in the $20-$25 range, but they also make pricier bottles and have a wine club and various events for those who like to keep tabs on new and small-batch offerings.

I could have hung out sampling wine for a while yet, but we had more food to eat! Our next stop was at the quay, at Crepe des Amis:

This place was on the tour specifically because of Melissa’s prior efforts to make the business vegan friendly, and boy had they come through! We sampled seven items from their savory and sweet vegan menu (plus one not yet on the menu) and only got through half of their offerings. The crepes themselves impressed even omnivores in the group, and the fillings were varied and creative, like the peanutty Malaysian Spicy Salad filling, courtesy of one of the owners, who is Malaysian. The hands-down winner, though, was the one not yet on the menu: chocolate with soy-nut butter:


The coveted last bite of the favorite crêpe at our table: chocolate and soy-nut butter.

I hope it’s made official soon so everyone can try it! If we hadn’t been completely desserted-out by that point, several of us would have liked to try the two flavors of vegan “Tofulati,” their soy-based frozen dessert.

Seattle, are you gonna keep letting New Westminster be the closest place to get vegan crepes? Hmmm?

We were pretty darn full by that point, but Melissa’s well-planned route had us going either downhill or flat almost the whole time, so getting to our final stop of Karmavore was no trouble. Karmavore is kind of like a mixture of Portland’s and Seattle’s vegan retail stores, rolled into one. In addition to clothing, shoes, cosmetics and a grocery section they have a small deli that offers goodies from Sprout, a variety of savouries from Field Roast (including their hard-to-find chao cheese balls), and some items like sandwiches that seemed to be house-made. They had chocolate croissants, which I must say were right up there with the pain au chocolat from Seattle’s Bouteloua Bakery. At Karmavore we got a little sample pack of bite-size desserts from Sprout, all of which I can enthusiastically recommend. Perfectly seasoned pumpkin cheesecake? Check. Gorgeous little mini-cupcakes, in vanilla-lime and maple-walnut? Check. Something for the peanut lover and the carob lover? Got those, too. Expertly prepared and beautifully finished, all of them. You can find Sprout goodies in lots of places around the Vancouver area, and you should not pass them by if you find them.

It was an afternoon well spent, and a great chance to meet some cool people and discover some hidden gems in a place I honestly probably wouldn’t have made it to any time soon. The little historic downtown area where Karmavore is located is really pretty and would be nice to walk around if you weren’t on wheels. We also covered much of the waterfront on the boardwalk, lined with beautiful flowers and views of a picturesque, working waterfront (sorry, no pictures since we were on the move). Northwestern vegans would be well advised to follow Melissa on Twitter for any future events she puts together, as she clearly has both excellent taste and a knack for organization. And meanwhile, include a stop in New West next time you’re in the Vancouver area!

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