Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bocce's Bakery

89 loves cookies; who doesn't?  Her staying favorites are from Bocce's Bakery- especially the PBnJ biscuits: organic oat flour, blueberries, peanut butter.

Bocce's Bakery was born in New York out of love for a pooch of the same name.  While they're not a vegan company, they do have a number of impressive vegan options.

The PBnJ cookies, in particular, have the consistency of a soft cookie with a predominant scent of summer berries; I wanted to try these myself!  Gifted to her by her Uncle JD, they were an instant hit. 

So much so, that when the holidays rolled around, I ordered her an assortment of their vegan flavors.

For Christmas, lumps of coal: organic oat flour, blueberries, peanut butter, molasses (seasonal):

even Santa knows she's naughty

For Hanukkah, the big apple pie: organic oat flour, organic apples, cinnamon (absent peanut butter, these are crunchier than the others).

Knowing 89's affinity for Bocce's vegan offerings, JD picked up a sample of their newest vegan flavor, green remedy (aka green juice), for 89 when the company was tabling at his local Whole Foods.

Another hit!

You can order Bocce's treats online (they stay quite a while in the fridge), in stores, or follow them on Twitter to track the location of their summertime Biscuit Bike.

Thanks to Bocce's for making so many appealing, vegan options for our four-legged friends.  You can always find at least two bags in the fridge at Chez 89.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Meet Vita, My Vegan Vitamix

What can I say?  I used up all of my creativity with 89.

A couple of years ago when I was embarking on the Crazy Sexy Cleanse, OD bought me a juicer.  He noticed the Vitamix while he was in the store, and bought one of those too.  I was very grateful, but that was way too much money to spend on kitchen appliances at one time; I asked him to return it.  Since then, I've run into a zillion Vitamix demos at Whole Foods, and they're always making something vegan and delicious.  So, I've been considering it.  Finally, I bowed to the promise of homemade frappes and soup warmed from the blender and asked OD to, once again, pick one up for me.  And so, when I came home, there it was.

There wasn't too much time for admiration since it took someone about 2 seconds to bite it.

I'd been a little lax with my food shopping since my vacation, so I didn't actually have anything in the house to cook.  Embarrassingly, I sat eating a can of Amy's soup for dinner while perusing the included, complimentary cookbook.  To my surprise and dismay, the recipes were decidedly un-vegan.

In addition to being disappointing, it was also ironic.  I'd had a conversation earlier in the day, wherein I maintained certainty that Vitamix was extremely vegan friendly.

Clearly, I was wrong; the recipe section on the Vitamix website wasn't at all as vegan-centric as I'd expected either.  Sure, there are 100+ recipes available, but I was looking for better than hummus and sorbet; I was looking for all of the deliciousness I'd been served at the Whole Foods demonstrations.  I was looking for the lentil herb pates and extraordinary soups.  I WAS LOOKING FOR THE AWESOME CASHEW ICE CREAM!  Alas, it was nowhere to be found.  Will one of you talented vegans please whip up a vegan Vitamix cookbook?  I am The market is begging for it!  I don't fully understand why a product that is so heavily marketed to vegans in-store doesn't seem to follow through with gusto; maybe the vegan demos stem from allergy concerns?

In the end, it took me a few days to warm up to Vita.  It didn't help that when I cleaned her the inaugural time there was a bit of a suds overflow, but I take responsibility for that; my motto is: if one drop of soap is good, three must be better!  But then, one evening, VM was helping me prepare two dishes for a potluck and I decided to make us highly caffeinated frappes to keep us going. 

this blender makes me feel short

Coffee + almond milk + ice + chocolate syrup = YUM.  The volume of food the Vita can prepare is impressive; it doesn't look like much, but we were able to fill our glasses twice. 

A day or two later I made myself a shake smoothie of banana, peanut butter, cinnamon, agave, almond milk, ice.  I had to put in more liquid than I expected in order for Vita to blend it smooth, but it turned out nice and thick and frozen.  This time only one glass full:

I really wanted to make a frozen hot chocolate next, but I figured it was time I made something that didn't include chocolate and require a straw.  A kind soul saw me inquiring about vegan recipes on the Vitamix Facebook page and sent me Paul Bertolli's Cauliflower Soup recipe, so I figured I'd give that a try.

The ingredients were few and the instructions simple; of course I doubled the recipe.  Here are my sweaty onions onions sweating.


I cooked the cauliflower per the directions, but I only used a quarter of the recommended water in the second part of step #2.


I added the water, a splash more oil, and a ton of freshly ground black pepper as I pureed in Vita.  It reached a "very smooth, creamy consistency" in no time; this sucker is powerful!  The last time I made soup that required pureeing, it was extremely laborious: because the food processor only held a little at a time, it took many batches to puree and it never wound up smooth.  This did.  And fast. 

I'd tasted the first batch and it desperately needed salt and pepper.  By the last batch I was frantically loading in the pepper so that I wouldn't wind up with a vat of tasteless soup.  The final result was impressive because of the speed at which I'd created creamy soup, but the flavor was meh.  Had I not added the extra oil and considerable amounts of salt and pepper (especially pepper), I'm not sure it would have tasted much like anything.  Also, it was foamy.  No, that's not the right word.  Frothy? Airy?  Viscous?  It tasted whipped- even when reheated and thinned with more water. VM, who's extremely sensitive to these types of things, had two spoons full and then informed me she was going to gag.

It's hard to make white soup look appetizing.

I can do better!  I'm eying the broccoli cheddar soup in the recipe book; it's begging to be veganized.

In the meantime, I made a non-chocolate beverage: strawberry/agave/soymilk/cinnamon smoothie.  I have to work on my ice ratio, but otherwise Vita makes blending a piece of cake.

I know what you're thinking.  What happened to the Magic Bullet?  Fear not; it's still here and it's still in use!  It's great for salad dressings and, let's face it; I still have a soft spot for a blender cup that doubles as a drinking cup.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

VEGAN LONDON: Booja Booja Hunky Punky

Isn't that fun to say?  My receipt gave me endless giggles.

After dinner at Saf we explored Whole Foods a bit.  I'd already picked up a bag of crisps before dinner, but was intent on finding something sweet for dessert; Saf's options were too fruity for my taste.


I found an unexpected treasure in the frozen section under "alternative ice cream"- an apt but still humorous description.

Booja Booja makes a few flavors of dairy-free, gluten-free, soya free, organic, mostly raw ice creams (as well as chocolate truffles).  This Whole Foods had only the chocolate- erm, hunky punky chocolate ice cream flavor, but of course that was a-ok by me.

I can't pinpoint exactly what it reminded of, but let me know if you figure out.  Soooo light, airy, and creamy.  It looks like it's only available abroad, which is probably a good thing.  There's a reason I don't keep Lula's in my freezer at home.

It was more than a little chilly out, so I had no reason to rush to eat it other than it was so good.  It probably deserved to be enjoyed in a much nicer setting.

London Tip: The tube stops running at midnight!  Cabs and pedi-cabs abound, but be fore-warned so you don't panic when you find a locked, metal gate between you and the station.

Still giggling.

Monday, May 20, 2013

VEGAN LONDON: Saf Restaurant, Whole Foods Market Kensington

Even though we'd been out until 3:00am hanging out with our new Italian friends and checking out a fancy casino, we still managed to wake up at our regular time of 8:00am and see the sights!  I admit this was the day my feet hurt the most; we packed in Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey (St. Paul's Cathedral had been the day before), The London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, and Harrod's before settling down to dinner at Saf Restaurant: a vegan establishment located in Whole Foods Kensington.


Yep, it's a regular Whole Foods with a full, vegan restaurant upstairs.  Did I mention it's vegan?


We were ridiculously excited, and then we stumbled upon this sign in the stairwell.  WTF, WF; seriously?  This "animal welfare rating" system that's been instituted is just another layer of the humane myth that allows them to keep profiting off making people feel better about using animals for food- totally incongruent to the vegan restaurant to which we were headed.  Major buzzkill. 

You don't get credit for wanting to improve someone's quality of life when you still intend to kill them.

So, the second floor of the Whole Foods is the "food court" area and Saf takes up about half of that space. 

While the layout is open, it's still defined as a wholly separate space from the communal seating.

It wasn't terribly busy later in the evening when we were there, so I'm not sure if it would be unpleasantly noisy from the people dining outside the restaurant confines at a more usual dining time.

My friend ordered this healthy juice concoction: beetroot carotene: beetroot, carrot, and orange juice.

I, on the other hand, ordered the vanilla and grape raspberry mojito: a refreshing mix of vanilla-infused, organic papagayo rum mixed with muddled grapes raspberries, fresh mint, agave syrup, and fresh lime juice.  I'm not entirely sure how a restaurant located in a supermarket "runs out" of grapes, but the raspberry substitution was fine; I was just happy to be sitting.

For an appetizer I ordered the raw cauliflower wings: cauliflower "wings" marinated with Spanish sweet paprika and chipotle chili, served with celery sticks and aioli dipping sauce.  Let me put it in simpler terms: they took some raw cauliflower, dusted it with paprika and chili powder, and called them wings.  They weren't even trying!  I admit raw food isn't my favorite, but I have been known to enjoy it.  However, the term "wings" in this instance was more than a bit of a stretch and we weren't exactly competing for the last one.  The aioli was delish, though: filled with fresh dill.

My friend ordered the red lentil soup: served with organic, gluten-free bread.

I have to be honest, there weren't a ton of entree options that were floating my boat.  If you can believe it, we both wound up ordering the same dinner of massaman curry: a Southern Thai coconut curry with baby potatoes, mange tout [snow peas!], pumpkin, bamboo shoots, baby corn, and cherry tomatoes served with mixed wild rice.  Yep; more curry/more cilantro.  He kept his cilantro:

I gracelessly picked mine off.

I've pretty much never met a curry I didn't like, but- for the record, I could determine nothing wild about the rice.

Did I mention I was happy to be sitting?  Our view.

I have no complaints about the dinner (the appetizer was another story), but- overall, I wasn't overly  impressed by the experience; it was definitely missing a wow factor.  The menu at Saf seems to change regularly, so perhaps on a different day there would have been more appealing options.  In the end, it's wonderful that this Whole Foods chooses to have a vegan restaurant on premise- regardless of the fact that it doesn't necessarily mesh well with the extraordinary nonsense of their "animal welfare rating system."

For those interested, know that Saf also carries take-out items on the main level of the store: Saf Express.

London tip: They really seem to love cilantro in London; it's used as a generous garnish a lot and is never mentioned on the menu.  If you're a hater like me, remember to ask them to leave it off!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

VEGAN LONDON: Mildred's Vegetarian Restaurant

At 10:00pm on our second evening in London- after the unexpectedly unfortunate experience earlier in the evening, we found ourselves hungry and with no plan of where to go and what to eat.  I'd like to say that I consulted my trusty mental dictionary of London eats, but the truth is I just scoured the old-school spreadsheet and corresponding map I'd created prior to the trip and had been carrying around for just such an occasion.  When we figured in travel time & logistics, as well as a small margin for error, the choice was clear: Mildred's Vegetarian Restaurant.

For some reason that I've yet to pinpoint the origination of, I'd been operating under the assumption that Mildred's was going to be a crunchy, granola, old-school tofu & sprouts vegetarian joint.  I'm happy to report that I couldn't have been more wrong.  In fact, it was exactly the dining experience we needed- in every respect, given the disappointing one we'd just had prior.

To start, even though it is a vegetarian restaurant, the vegan selections are the majority.  They are clearly marked, and most of the non-vegan choices have a vegan option.

The dining room was bright and clean, the customers comfortable, and the staff bustling.

I had the distinct sense that this is where locals come for consistently good comfort food served in a pleasant atmosphere.

So hungry!  We started by sharing gyoza dumplings: with mirin and soy dipping sauce.  My travelling companion isn't generally one to order fried dumplings, but we were both in a weakened state by this point; they were delish.

He chose the burger special, noted on the menu for having a vegan option: burger of the day (rosemary and thyme risotto) with relish, red onion, rocket and tomato, with fries and basil mayo.

Believe it or not, I skipped the chips (ok; I did taste one- mostly so I could try the basil mayo!) and went instead for this hardy curry: Sri Lankan sweet potato and cashew nut curry served with yellow basmati rice with peas and coconut tomato sambal.

Ah; better.  Once the pesky cilantro was removed, it was exactly what my water-logged, empty-stomached body needed.

It was so nice to choose from a wealth of vegan options in such a pretty, down-to-earth (but not earthy!) restaurant, chock-full of like-minded folks doing the same.  We had a nice conversation with the couple next to us, from the English countryside, who had recently visited NY and we schooled them in NY life outside of Times Square.  In the end, we were extremely satiated by our meal and, ultimately, so happy with how the evening turned out...despite the conversation with the waiter wherein I embarrassingly referred to a pound coin as a dollar and was jokingly corrected, "$1.65!"- much to the amusement of the dining room.  Always a riot to poke fun at the foreigners!  A great place; do give it a try.

note the water line on my pants from the morning's soaking

London Tip: If you don't wear proper shoes, it will probably rain.  Changing into dry socks will help immeasurably (at least until they absorb the moisture still contained within your sneakers).  Keep a spare pair in your pocket or risk having to buy a pair in a souvenir shop for 4.99 pounds because you just.can' 

Gives new meaning to the term "tube socks".