Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vegan Treats To-Go

No matter how many Vegan Treats you find yourself consuming in the eponymous bakery, no matter how full you may feel, you must, must, must take an additional assortment home because within a matter of hours you are going to want it.

I like to visit Vegan Treats for brunch, giving me the excuse to eat enough to cover two whole meals.  Then I'll skip dinner, and treat myself to dessert much later in the day.  Win-win.  Here's the trick.  Because you will be super-full once "brunch" is over, you must make an effort to choose your to-go order before you brunch and are too full to think about, let alone consider, pumpkin cheesecakes and cowboy cookies.  Another VT trick is to visit early, then busy yourself around Bethlehem for a few hours and swing back on your way home just to make sure they haven't added anything while you were gone.  I know it sounds crazy (so?), but on one particular trip this garnered me a never-seen-before pie, a bonus cookie flavor, and the opportunity for a second ice cream; so there.

Vegan Treats is now offering smaller versions of their mini-cakes, fairly priced at a couple of dollars less than their larger predecessors.  I honestly can't decide which I prefer: while the smaller size is ideal for trying a plethora of different options, I wonder if the larger mini-cakes were easier to share with a friend or a small group.  Either way, it's important to note that each of these diminuatively sized cakes are still prepared as though they are a singular masterpiece and the price remains right.

In the back you see a cake I've never had before, a chocolate iced, chocolate chip covered, chocolate cake.  I did miss a filling, so the Death By Chocolate is still the favorite, but this cake fulfills chocolate cravings with its obvious chocolateyness and mounds of chips.

On the left is the caramel apple crumb cheesecake, a favorite cheesecake even though I can do without (and often pick off) the apples.  I think the "plain" cheesecakes topped with deliciousness are much tastier and creamier than options with flavored bases, of which VT has many (coffee, banana marshmallow, berry, etc.).  While also good, my tastebuds find these varieties a little overwhelming and confusing.  I mean, we're vegan and get delicious cheesecake, why do we wanna overdo it with too much extra stuff/flavors!?

As if to prove me wrong, though, on the right we have the smores cheesecake, which is a symphony of sweet flavors all exquisitely packed into a cheesecake.  Chocolate cheesecake topped with a thick hunk of dark chocolate, embellished with a poof of fluffy, sticky marshmallow and garnished with graham cracker crumbs and chocolate shavings; this is a must-have in my house.

So take my word for it; you can never have too many Vegan Treats.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Vegan Treats For Brunch

I've said it before and I'll say it again, "You can make a meal out of Vegan Treats."  This brunch consisted of quite the assortment, and the "take-home" booty will garner it's own post shortly.

On plate #1 we have:
  • a delicious raspberry white chocolate brownie, which has somehow escaped our attention until this visit
  • a chocolate glazed donut, which may have replaced the alternate version: the sprinkled, chocolate glazed doughnut, as my current choc fave (always behind the chocolate dipped)
  • the new cinnamon sugar donut, which was refreshing, light and yummy: reminiscent of the same variety munchkin
On plate #2 you see:
  • the always delicious coconut roll coated in a shell of icing and filled & stuffed with coconut shreds
  • crowd favorite: the pecan roll, which is filled with cinnamon and dripping with thick, caramel goodness and generous pecan-age (my omni co-workers are now hooked)
Unpictured: the monstrous and always necessary cowboy cookie (chocolate chips, pecans, coconut) that was devoured on the way home, along with a sprinkled, glazed vanilla donut that wasn't spotted until we were placing our to-go order.

* Important Update: the ice cream machine has still not returned, but sources have indicated that it might possibly re-appear in the summer; fingers crossed!  Of course by sources I refer to any one of the VT staff that I can badger incessantly for the return of the soft serve (sorry, but not really!).

Desert Essence 100% Vegan (items)

A co-worker purchased Desert Essence facial moisturizer from Whole Foods because it was A) on sale and B) marked vegan, which made her think of me.  She was so excited that she brought it in to work to show me the "100% Vegan" label.  In solidarity I picked up the same jar of Daily Essential Facial Moisturizer for myself and was uber-impressed to find that the inexpensive moisturizer was really great.  On sale for $4.19, the generous jar lasted for months and was suitable in all kinds of weather and temperature.  I've since replaced my first, finished jar for a second at the full price ($5.99!), and have only had to swap out for an alternate, more nourishing moisturizer three or four times in the course of eight months.

Satisfied, I then decided to try their Thoroughly Clean Face Wash.  The resulting difference between it and the cleanser I had been using was the equivalent of the difference between the way your teeth feel after you've been to the dentist vs. after you've brushed them at home.  I think my face might have squeaked it was so clean!  I was originally afraid it might be too drying after daily use, but I haven't had a problem.

My co-worker, myself, and my Mom have all tried these products and have no intention of stopping any time soon.  I'd say that's a good sign that they're suitable for varied skin types.  Also, with both of these items a little goes a long way, so besides being inexpensive to begin with, you get a lot of bang for your buck.

I do want to note that Desert Essence's vegan items are a tad mysterious.  Both the moisturizer and cleanser I use are shown on the website without the words "100% Vegan" printed on the label, as it has been on each jar and bottle I've purchased. In addition, their website does not have a vegan section (a la Urban Decay) or a vegan search option (a la ModCloth).  I've twice contacted the company to acquire a full listing of their vegan products, but both times the response was a link directing me to their organic* line which neither tauts itself as vegan nor includes the two vegan Desert Essence items I currently use.  Follow-up inquiries to this effect were not answered.  I've considered boycotting on these grounds, but their products are too good for the price.  Anyone have any info on the products or company?

* add organic to the list of things that people inexplicably confuse with vegan along with kosher and gluten-free

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Red Mango Red Velvet

What you see before you is a giant slab of red velvet cake, as it looked after being purchased from The Bean in the morning, and then dragged around all day.  Still intact (thank you, cool winter weather), it was none the worse for wear.

As I've stated before, I'd never had red velvet before going vegan.  Then I started trying it everywhere I'd see it just to find out what exactly red velvet was, what it tasted like, and why some southern weddings serve it in a cake shaped like an armadillo.  Oh wait, maybe that was just in Steel Magnolias.  Anyway, no matter where I'd taste it-- even if it was from a bakery I normally like-- I wouldn't be impressed; it seemed to have no taste whatsoever, yet have an affected consistency varying from dry to rubbery or both.

And then I found Red Mango's version and I finally saw what all the fuss was about.  Sweet, light, and moist, I knew that I had found the "real" thing.  While I normally don't like cream cheese frosting, Red Mango's Red Velvet is topped & layered with a delicious version that is perfectly proportioned to cake.

I still can't adequately describe what exactly red velvet tastes like, though.  Wikipedia says "somewhere between chocolate and vanilla in flavor"; what does that even mean?  All I can tell you for certain is that Red Mango's version is the real deal and it is GOOD.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

NeuAura Shoes

So, there was a little bit of a shoe spree.  I spied the boots at MooShoes during the VCIYCJ launch and thought they were adorable.  Then came the rest, pretty much in order.  They are all made by NeuAura, an all-vegan shoe company that offers an impressive assortment of slightly funky yet wearable shoes for us fashionable, ethical folks.

At first glance my chosen palate may look conservative, but the little touches add flair to the otherwise monochromatic grouping. 

The boot has a quiet sole and an ankle snap detail for extra snazz.
Besides the pewter band on the low-heeled, open-toe, it's also made of faux suede.
The hardware on the quiet-soled flat is peppered with understated glitter.
The heel fulfills all of your "little black shoe" needs and makes your feet and legs look super attractive.

Fear not though, their selection runs the gamut.  They have a wide variety of styles; you'll be hard-pressed not to find a shoe to match your whim or occasion.

So take a minute to browse the website and do a little shopping; it's always nice to support an all vegan business!  Bargain tip: you can sometimes get them on sale at Shoebuy.  And, if you register your email address they'll give you an extra 10% off.  Right, now you have no excuse; get on it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Red Mango Chocolate PB Cheesecake from The Bean

This hot mess is actually a fallen, mis-handled slice of Red Mango's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake from The Bean.  Admittedly, I've fruitlessly ducked into The Bean countless times before on a search for Red Mango goods to no avail.  But, sure enough, there they were: hiding in plain sight on a separate shelf from the non-vegan fare. 

I thought The Bean might be too hip for me, but I was pleasantly surprised by how genuinely friendly and helpful the two girls behind the counter were-- even going so far as to tell me which cakes they usually carry, which are their favorites, and so on.  Very chill.  I do want to stress that the cake was in no way mis-handled by The Bean staff; in fact, they were quite delicate in the way they wrapped it to go.  Instead, the package was inadvertantly manhandled by moi as I trekked around the LES, and therefore I take full responsibility for the unfortunate resulting visual.  Note that the mushy messiness in no way affected the taste.

You're basically looking at sideview; here's the breakdown:
  • The bottom layer is a thick, chocolatey crust (I don't think oreo).
  • The second layer up is an even thicker "crust" of peanut butter cookie (yep, you heard me).
  • Next is a layer of traditional cheesecake, not PB flavored as I had suspected (I'm not normally a fan of flavored cheesecake, so this was an unexpected bonus).
  • I believe that the decadent chocolate fudge originated as the second layer from the top (I'm sure you can understand my confusion).
  • And that would make the originating top layer the generous squirt (floret, if you will) of peanut butter icing.
This cake was delicious, but oddly not peanut-buttery enough for me (I really, really, really like peanut butter).  However, there's no denying it's decadence and any normal person fan of the PB/chocolate combo would surely go ga-ga for the undeniably innovative layering of textures and tastes.  As for me, I think I'd prefer to have a thick, peanut butter sandwich on toast... and then follow it up with a slice of Red Mango's incomparable Red Velvet Cake.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Brunch at Sacred Chow

After catching a glimpse of The Discerning Brute's Sacred Chow banana bread french toast we couldn't wait to get our brunch on with the same thing.

With so many suggestions on Yelp and Supervegan and such a varied brunch menu (in addition to their entire regular menu and daily specials), it was hard to decide what to order.

This is what we went with:

Soy Buttermilk Buscuit with [super] strawberry rice syrup jam: No one would ever guess this biscuit was vegan and it was just as fresh a day later.   You can't help but notice the vast difference between their homemade jam and the crap you can normally get at the store.

Cinnamon Scone: Sounded plain, but was nice and cinnamonny.  It was impressively crunchy on the outside without being dry on the inside.  Also just as fresh the next day.

Banana Bread French Toast: Different from any french toast either of us had ever had, this was a thick slice of banana pound cake (grilled so that the edges were crispy) and then smothered with whole blueberry-filled blueberry sauce and topped with perfectly ripe bananas and dusted with cinnamon.  More delicious than you can imagine.

Root Vegetable Latkes: These were crispier and less mealy than traditional potato latkes and they were served with a unique, tangy "Indonesian Date Butter" rather than a traditional fruit compote.  I can't think of a meal these wouldn't complement.

Tempeh Sweet Potato Hash: Chunks of sweet potatoes, crumbled tempeh, and the perfect amount of sauteed onions made these a big hit- even for my supposedly tempeh-neutral dining companion.  The dish was hearty and the "side" order ginormous.

Sinner Bar (not pictured): A thick shell of dark chocolate filled with caramel and coconut.  If you can't fit it in your tummy, get one to go!

Every single thing we ordered was at the peak of freshness, presented beautifully, and tasted marvelous.  Additionally, the prices were low and the portions were large.  While it will be hard for our tastebuds to pass up repeating any of these scrumptious dishes, I'm anxious to return for lunch or dinner so that we can be equally impressed by their later day meal offerings.

The atmosphere at Sacred Chow is funky and our waiter was kind and efficient.  As everything is prepared with such care, don't visit when you are in a rush; this isn't that kind of place.  Overall, a quintessential New York dining experience.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sip Milkshake Cart

I've been putting off writing this review because the experience was so bizarre that I wasn't sure I'd be able to make sense of it.  I'll try.

As with almost everything I did in Portland, Sip, a vegan milkshake/smoothie/juice cart parked outside of a neighborhood co-op, was reviewed beforehand on blogposts and reviews; I knew I would visit and I knew I wanted a custom chocolate/peanut butter/oreo milkshake.  I actually went way out of my way to get it: taking a cab to another (unscheduled) stop nearby and then walking an additional six blocks.

I anxiously approached the silver shack on wheels and asked if my custom concoction was a possibility and the girl said yes.  I noticed on the menu that their regular milkshakes were typically made with soy ice cream, but for an additional $1.50 you could substitute Coconut Bliss.  Since I hadn't yet tried Coconut Bliss ice cream, I asked the Sip girl if she would recommend the upgrade.  She looked at me like I had twelve heads, shrugged, and said something along the lines of, "It's up to you".  Okaaaaay.  So, I finalized my order and was told it would be about fifteen minutes because there were "other drinks ahead of me".  This seemed odd for two reasons.  1) She hadn't been making anything when I arrived and 2) In the ten minutes or so that had elapsed from the time the cart was in view upon my approach, through my curiosity-driven perusal of the menu, through the chat about and ultimate placement of my order, not one other soul had come within 3 feet of the cart.  Non-plussed, I gave her a shrug back and decided to check out the co-op. 

The People's Co-op was surprisingly big and packed with goodies; it took quite a while to look through the whole store.  I actually stuck my head out a few times to see if my milkshake order was up, but it wasn't.  After 20 minutes of shopping I was done and went back outside because I was ready for my milkshake.  But, my milkshake was not ready for me.

I walked over so that I was in plain view of the Sip girl.  At this point there were a few customers hanging around the cart waiting for their orders and she was busy cutting fruits and brewing coffee: neither of which were ingredients for my milkshake.  I inquired and was told, "Almost."  After ten more minutes of polite waiting I decided to check in again, "Is my milkshake ready by any chance?"  To this I was told that there were still drinks ahead of me and that it would be another fifteen to twenty minutes. 


My impatience obvious, I asked how that was possible.  The response was that she was making other drinks.  Having only seen about four other people anywhere near the cart in the space of forty minutes, and seeing as I didn't have another few hours to wait I told her that she should just cancel my order because I had no idea that there was a 45 minute plus total wait time.  To that she responded, "Well, besides the line it takes fifteen minutes to make a milkshake!"  WHAT!?!?  Was she milking the soy cow back there?  Totally  Bizarre.  I walked away disgusted, with a belly devoid of the coveted chocolate/peanut butter/oreo milkshake.

So that's the story of my disappointing and unfruitful experience at Sip.  There were a lot of east coast/west coast differences that I found glaringly obvious during my trip, but this one is an unfounded mystery.  Is it possible that on the left coast milkshakes truly do take a minimum of fifteen minutes (minus extraordinary wait times) to create from pre-made ingredients?  Could it be a time zone thing?

Meanwhile, I'm home and I'll go to Lula's.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Collards, Black-Eyed Peas, and Sriracha

Presumably to lure the hungry, after-work crowd, Whole Foods has a habit of sending emails right around the end of the workday.

Here's a super easy recipe that I adapted from one such email: Whole Foods' Coconut Milk Braised Greens ("adapted", i.e., simplified it as much as possible and spiced it up).  I think it's a worthy dinner, but would also be a good side dish or potluck submission amongst wary omnis.  Toss with pasta or serve over rice if you're feeling carby.

olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
2 pounds fresh or frozen and defrosted chopped collard greens
juice of 1 lemon
salt & pepper
1 can coconut milk (I prefer Goya)
1 super-sized can of black-eyed peas (Goya again), rinsed & drained
lots of Sriracha

Heat up some olive oil in a giant frying pan and add your onions, moving them around until they're soft & clear.  Add your greens & toss 'em around a bit with the lemon juice, salt sprinkle, and generous pepper.  Then pour in the coconut milk and stir well.  Leave to simmer until the greens are cooked to your liking.  Add the beans for just long enough to heat, and serve with a pretty design of Sriracha on top.  Keep the bottle nearby because-- as always with Sriracha-- the more the better.

I've found that this recipe is just as good, if not better, when reheated.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Vegan Stuff from LUSH

Until recently I had never heard of LUSH, but then I read an article about their Charity Pot, a vegan hand and body lotion whose entire purchase price goes to charity, and I wanted to check them out.

I immediately visited the store closest to me and the smells and visuals were instantly overwhelming.  Before I could make sense of it all, someone offered to scrub my hands for me (or some such nonsense) and I went screaming out of the store and down the block.  Actually, I simply said no thank you, but the offer left me feeling so uncomfortable that I wasn't able to concentrate or shop leisurely- for fear that the same or similar offers would be repeated incessantly under the guise of friendliness.  The thing is, I am a low key shopper: say hello, but then let me have at it.  I don't like when salespeople follow me around asking if I know what I'm looking for, if I'd like them to start a fitting room for me, and/or read aloud signage that I am perfectly capable of comprehending on my own.  Oh yeah, and I don't like strangers who have just laid eyes on me offering to touch me.

So, despite my intentions, my visit left me no further along in my inquiry into LUSH.  But then a friend gifted me a LUSH assortment and I realized that without trying I had succeeded in cutting out the middle-man: in this case, the middle-man being an over-zealous LUSH employee with a penchant for cleaning the hands of strangers.

To start off, this is one of the reasons I was so interested in LUSH in the first place: nothing is tested on animals, period.  Taken directly from their website:
"We never test our products and ingredients on animals, or engage with third-party suppliers to test on our behalf. LUSH also will not buy any ingredient from any supplier that tests its materials on animals for any purpose."
Right on.

Also-- I should note-- they do offer non-vegan products, but all of the vegan items are very clearly marked: in person, on their website, etc.  They even offer vegan gift assortments, which- of course- is what I recieved.

The gift came pre-packaged in a little box wrapped in recycled paper, and even included a contents listing of ingredients and, in some cases, directions.

The most interesting item in my assortment was, by far, the Strawberry Santa Shower Jelly.  On the contents sheet it looks like a red, Santa shaped, gel jiggler, but in reality it was a reusable plastic container* filled with red goo.  The directions said you could use it on your body or your hair.  I tried both, but the results were the same: "split, splat" as the jelly clumps failed to dissolve and slipped off my head and body onto the tub floor.  Ironically though, it actually left my hair feeling nicely conditioned and smelling pleasantly like artificial strawberry.  Unfortunately, I felt like too much was wasted down the drain.

The Sugar Scrub is a rather ominous looking half-sphere, and for good reason: it's a serious exfoliant that's not for sissies.  The directions indicate that you should "Get wet all over.  Scrub your whole body.  Rinse off.  Feel smooth."  So, I followed the directions and I have to say that I immediately felt ridiculously smooth.  Unfortunately, what they didn't mention was that once the scrub gets wet it will begin to disintegrate.  After the scrubbing I placed it on a towel outside the shower and it proceeded to melt a little into the towel.  I scraped it off and it is currently a soft, oozy mass on a plate on my bathroom counter; when I want to use it i have to scoop some off: not exactly user friendly.  The only thing I can think of is that perhaps I should have just hosed off in the backyard and used the scrub completely dry?  Perhaps the steam and/or the overall wetness from the shower caused it's accelerated disintegration and I am completely to blame.  That's a lot of pressure for cosmetics.

Best named item in the group was the Happy Hippy Shower Gel, and it also smelled decisiously like grapefruit.  Again, the description suggested that it was for use as a body and hair gel, so I tried it both ways.  As far as body gel goes, it acted much the same as other shower gel/body wash and was considerably sudsy.  But, I was disappointed that it didn't leave my bathroom smelling as good as it smells in the bottle.  As a hair gel it was light hold and non-sticky, but seemed to make my hair oily by the end of the day nonetheless.
When it comes down to it, I am really all about bar soap.  Sure, I've spent time dabbling in all kinds of fancy, glittery cosmetics, but when it comes down to it, what you really need is soap.  Like most people, I like a nice lather, a pleasant and lingering aroma, and a bar that lasts more than a week (I'm talking to you, Duross & Langel).  LUSH's Father Frost Soap was unusal on all counts, to say the least.  There was no pleasant fragrance and it's bright, concentrated, periwinkle hue was not at all indicative of the sudsing power.  As a matter of fact, there was a waxiness that made producing even the slightest lather a chore.  Normally not one to be wasteful, I admit I ditched this bar after a week because I was not in the mood to struggle during my otherwise pleasant, hot showers. 

Overall, I highly admire LUSH as a company, even though I wonder why they aren't simply all vegan.  The products I tried this time around were a little too high-maintenance for me; next time I'll try some easy lotion.  Overall: fun vegan gift but no must-haves and certainly no recommendations.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vegan Treats...For Dinner!

 I really was planning on having leftovers for dinner: collard greens and black-eyed peas cooked with coconut milk, lemon juice, and hot sauce. Healthy, fibrous, sweet and spicy; it would have made a fine dinner.
But then I was unexpectedly gifted Vegan Treats...who could expect me to resist?

Donuts (top to bottom, left to right)
chocolate glazed
sprinkled chocolate glazed
sprinkled vanilla glazed
boston creme
oreo cookie cream
toasted coconut cream (never had this one before: YUM!)
oops, is that another boston creme? How'd that get in there?
chocolate chip
cowboy: pecan, chocolate chip, & coconut
banana chocolate chip (new flavor: super moist & ultra delicious)

Unfortunately, my sweet meal was served along with some disappointing news. Apparently Vegan Treats is no longer offering soft-serve ice cream in the shoppe. And it doesn't seem like this decision is temporary, as the soft-serve machine is gone! Vegan Treats, what happened? Your varied soft serve flavors were a big (and tasty) part of my visits: strawberry, chocolate cake batter, hazelnut, peanut butter, and my favorite: blueberry (to name a few). I even liked your vanilla, and that's saying a lot from this chocoholic. Any chance the soft-serve machine is taking a vacation?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Behold the Vegan Pignoli Cookie!

Mom, meet Isa & Terry: discuss.

The latest good/evil to come out of my vegetarian Mom's kitchen is the coveted, but elusive, pignoli nut cookie. Thanks to VCIYCJ and a mom who loves pignoli cookies but feels bad that her vegan daughter can't have them, the recipe was tried and conquered this weekend.

The good: YUM; I haven't had these cookies in a really long time.

The evil: I am going to burst I am so full of these delicious cookies.
(and I was still stuffed from the struffoli from last week!)

Two notes on the recipe:

1) Follow it exactly, i.e., "softened" margarine doesn't mean frozen, then half melted from the microwave (I blame this oversight for my flattened-- but still perfectly tasty-- cookies).

2) Squash as many pignolis as you can onto the cookie!

Also, note to Isa & Terry: ever think of starting a line of perfume? Because I can't stop sniffing these scrumptious smelling cookies any more than I can stop eating them.