Thursday, January 30, 2014

VEGAN LONDON: The Return Flight

I know, I know; I've been home for months now (almost a year!), but here is the final post about my trip to London

The tube goes directly to the airport, but it was a little confusing because the trains that arrived were not mimicking the sign.  I may or may not have refused to stay on a train that was questionably going to our terminal; hopefully they can work on that because I can't be the only person that didn't get it (or am I?).

We did go to Harrod's while in London, but I think I glossed over most of our non-food related stops and missed mentioning it.  It was overwhelming and we didn't make it through the whole enormous store (which is probably a good thing since I've heard that there's a pet-shop upstairs).  But, we met a representative from Patchi chocolate in the candy department who sold us what was purported to be vegan (and really amazing) chocolate.  Unfortunately, when I contacted them once home for more information about the product and the vegan ingredients, I received no response.  This was extremely disappointing, as the recipients of the chocolate were really impressed.  In any event, this is just a cool Harrod's sign that is in Heathrow.

I didn't find any enticing vegan options in the airport (my friend had the forethought to have made a Saf-to-go purchase), so I just waited for the flight anticipating my reunion with 89.

There was a lot going on in my seating section, so I had to rely on my friend across the aisle for the initial photo of everything wrapped.  I was seated on the opposite aisle; there was a nice New York actor in the middle seat, and an insufferable, drunk man at the window.  This man would not stop annoying the flight staff for booze or our shared seatmate for unwanted conversation- even after being asked to stop talking altogether by everyone involved.  Eventually he fell asleep and his foot somehow managed to come to rest upon my neighbor's tray table; it was appalling.

photo courtesy of JD Gut

But I digress.  The meal was much more identifiable than the questionable meal going: that's soy rice pudding in the top left (I don't really like rice pudding so I only tasted it; it was okay).  An unmarked roll, vegetables and couscous that were decent at best, and a cold bean salad medley that was the savior of the whole tray.

photo courtesy of JD Gut

I can report that we did, at least, receive actual vegan margarine.

photo courtesy of JD Gut

We also unexpectedly received this hummus sandwich as a "snack," but I saved it to eat the next day.  The bread was super soggy and the hummus was probably the worst I've ever had.  I'll never understand how you go about ruining hummus.  In sum, British Airways receives extremely low marks for vegan meals.  Not a Biscoff to be seen!

So that's it, an unceremonious end to an otherwise exciting and delicious trip.   More travels to come, though...stay tuned.

Pet London!

Pet London!


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Alternative Baking Company Kandy Kane Fudge Cookie- Quick Review

Competing with my neighbor's house (still aglow with red and green lights) for most annoying after-Christmas appearance is Alternative Baking Company's 2013 holiday cookie of the season, Kandy Kane Fudge.

I began looking for this cookie in November when it was first announced, but didn't manage to find it until now.  So, just as I was disappointed weekly by the continued existence of the outdated, fall-themed cranberry orange muffin cookie with walnuts cookie of the season November throughout January, I imagine that folks looking ahead to a spring themed cookie will glare at the Kandy Kane Fudge with equal malice as the holidays continue to recede further into the past.

To make matters worse, after all of the anticipation, I found the cookie to be extremely meh.  Now I have to be completely honest, I'm not a huge fan of ABC.  I was, years ago, but have since found many more delicious vegan cookie opportunities available to meet my own personal tastebud requirements; because vegan food has never been as delicious as it is now, it was bound to happen.  But, this KKF was more abysmal than I could have imagined as I was making weekly treks to find it.

Overall, the cookie was bland: the chocolate had no depth of flavor, the white chocolate chips were tasteless, and the candy cane pieces were few in number and chewy instead of crunchy.

In short, a complete miss.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Farewell Foodswings

A friend stopped by vegan fast-food staple Foodswings in Brooklyn this weekend to find it unexpectedly closed during normal business hours.  A little bit of Facebook sleuthing revealed that many others had a similar experience; so, it would appear that Foodswings has bid us an even earlier adieu than previously expected.  [UPDATE 1/24/14: Foodswings will be open today through 1/26!].  As you might have heard, Foodswings was originally slated to close at the end of the month, making this all the more surprising.


Normally I'd suggest keeping an eye out just in case they reopen for a goodbye blowout, but it's not looking promising.

aka Fatswings

Like many vegans disappointed by the impending demise of the institution of Foodswings, a few friends and I made a plan to enjoy some of their famous drumsticks earlier this month- before they disappeared for what seems like will be for good.

The place was pretty crowded- even Dr. Michael Gregor, nutrition expert, was there to show his support.


The decor was slightly different from what I remembered, but the atmosphere was as frenetic as usual.

The menu, however, was mostly the same.  Since I didn't want to waste any stomach space on extraneous foods I can enjoy elsewhere, I decided to focus on the delicious drumsticks.  I even waived the combo plate options of salad or mac.

The Southern Fried drumstick with sweet mustard dipping sauce has always been my favorite, so that was a given.

But, on this occasion, I decided to bid them all a fond farewell.

The assortment:
Southern fried (1 of 2!): "battered and fried;" also known as the best!


Barbeque: "drenched in BBQ sauce and fired up on the grill;" really good: a little sweet, a tiny bit smoky.

Buffalo style: "breaded, fried,and then smothered in buffalo sauce; served with bleu cheese;"  I know this is everyone else's favorite, but it's my least.  Plus, the bleu cheese doesn't hold a candle to the sweet mustard.


Sweet Southern fried: "battered, fried, and then drenched in a sweet BBQ sauce;" so, the problem with this one for me is that the BBQ mushifies the perfect crunch of the southern fried batter.


Aaaand, the rad sweet mustard.


We were all so focused on the matter at hand (stuffing our faces) that properly recording the table's other indulgences slipped my mind.  Nachos, disco fries, and mac 'n' cheese were all represented whilst I focused solely on the drumsticks.  No regrets.

Keep an eye on their Facebook page for any new developments, but it does appear that they've closed permanently.

Non-vegans are prone to dismissing veganism because "there are so many people who need help"- presumably before animals.  In most cases, those making such declarations don't actually do anything to help humans, so it's just a theoretical excuse.  In the broader picture, by helping animals we are helping humans; veganism is a tremendous start towards alleviating all unnecessary suffering.  And, the bottom line is: you don't bring any harm to humans by helping an animal. 

Support vegans.  Support their events, products and businesses.  But, most of all, support their plight.  It's just as easy to go vegan in order to consciously decrease animal suffering as it is to make excuses and continue to directly contribute to it.  Take responsibility for your actions

Friday, January 17, 2014

Cake Thieves Pop-Up Brunch at Elsewhere Espresso

Last weekend I attended a Cake Thieves pop-up brunch at Elsewhere Espresso.


You're probably already familiar with Cake Thieves' cinnamon bun specialties and inventive and delicious donuts, but the girl can also sling a mean and hearty brunch.

This was my first time at Elsewhere Espresso; my vanilla latte was delish.

They also had a nice assortment of teas.

And, it seems as though they always have vegan baked goods on offer: from Cake Thieves, of course.  On this day: blueberry scones, corn muffinnnns, and banana chocolate chip muffins.

It's also dog-friendly, just like Cake Thieves.

Aaaand, they have a super humongous and clean restroom, FYI!

But, back to the grub:

I saw a post of these amazing looking biscuits on Instagram and knew I had to get them.


I paired them with the hashbrowns,

veggie tofu scramble,

and plenty of ketchup and hot sauce (not pictured).

My friend ordered them properly- i.e., with gravy.

There were also four  kinds of pancakes (blueberry, banana, chocolate chip, banana-chocolate chip) available, but even this girl can only do so much damage this early in the morning.

And, guess what?  You're in luck!  They're going to do it all again this Sunday.

ed. note: 89 dresses appropriately for all seasons

I can't make it, but hopefully you can: 10-3!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Trader Joe's Vegan Ice Cream: Soy Creamy Cherry Chocolate Chip- Quick Review

I was inexplicably craving a vanilla ice cream float the other day, and had heard from The Shenandoah Vegan that Trader Joe's vegan, vanilla was a hit.  Unfortunately, when I arrived at my local Trader Joe's, the two remaining containers were crushed to oblivion and I was told that they would not restock if there was stock remaining.  In response to my equally crumpled face, the response was that "there was nothing wrong with them."  True though that might have been, I did not want to bring root beer to a friends' house with a tub of ice cream that looked like it had been run over by a tractor trailer, so instead I bought their cherry chocolate chip non-dairy frozen dessert and decided that the float would have to wait.

Unlike some (non-vegan despite what they may think) people, it's been a LONG time since I've had Ben & Jerry's ice cream.  But I do fondly remember the taste of their Cherry Garcia flavor, and this cherry chocolate chip knocks it out of the park!  Way more cherry flavor, way more chips, and absolutely no animal cruelty.  I will say that it left a slightly odd taste in my mouth both times that I had it (I've never had this happen with any other vegan ice cream), but it was no match for the enjoyment that preceded.  Just be forewarned that you may want to brush your teeth soon after indulging.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Vegan Breakfast Sandwiches at Terri

I know that I'm usually too busy scarfing Butterfinger shakes to notice the actual food at Terri, but did you know that they now serve breakfast sandwiches

Five (somewhat similar) variations of breakfast sandwiches to be precise, as well as "mashbrowns (with peppers and onions);" check it.
-bacon, egg, & cheese muffin with Hollandaise
-egg & cheese muffin with Hollandaise, lettuce & tomato
-sausage, egg, & cheese muffin with Hollandaise
-egg & cheese muffin with Hollandaise
-egg muffin with Hollandaise
Think upscale egg mcmuffins with cruelty-free, superior ingredients.

this picture is awful; the menu is clear in real life

I want credit you to know that I bypassed aaaaaall theeeeese gooooodies...

...and ordered only a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich with hollandaise sauce on an English muffin.  I love English muffins.


The employee told me it was tempeh bacon, but clearly it's more along the lines of Smart Bacon, which I actually prefer (scandalous!) because of the superior crisp factor.  Interior view:


Don't let the fact that it's not a circle-formed block of tofu egg fool you, this "tofu scramble" is really yummy and manages to stay together as you chow down.  Impressive non-squishability mid-nosh:

My friend tried my sammie on a previous visit and enjoyed the sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich with hollandaise sauce on an English muffin this time; he liked it better: FYI.  I'm sticking with the bacon!

bad perspective: his finger isn't really big and the sammie isn't really small

We didn't go for the mashbrowns this time because we were headed for a Vegan Shop-up later in the day; however, I did return an hour later for a Butterfinger shake (come on; how could I not?)- which caused the (same) employee to smirk.  I would have smirked too in his position. 

I'm not ashamed.

I'm going to need another one of both very soon.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

VEGAN LONDON: Manna Restaurant

Manna Restaurant was on our short list from the second we even considered going to London.  We did find it curious that no one we encountered during our trip recommended it, but we agreed that we had to try it and saved it until our last evening.

In fairness, the universe did try to warn us.  We used a payphone to call Manna in order to determine what tube stop they were nearest; apparently that is a very unusual inquiry.  My traveling companion made the call while I held the door open in a valiant effort at fumigation*.  We expected the phone call to go like this,
"Hi, Manna?  Which tube stop are you off of?  "Happy Vegan" tubestop?  Great; we'll be there in a jiffy."  
Instead, it went something like,
"Hi, Manna; can you tell me which tube stop you're off of?  Hello?  Hello?  Not really off of a tube stop?  Ok; is there one you're nearest to?  Yes; I'll wait.  Tube stop; which is the nearest one to you?  Mars?  Ok.  No; not Mars?  I'm having a hard time understanding you.  Henrietta?  No?  Cheese Farm?..."  
-at which point I was practically wetting my pants I was laughing so hard.  Eventually they came to some understanding about a nearby tube stop and we relied on iPhone maps to take us the rest of the way. 

And, before we knew it, there it was.  Not so far or hard to get to; we're still not sure what the fuss was about; it was an extremely short walk from the Tube.

Woo hoo (or so we thought)! 

The vibe was not at all welcoming, but I liked some elements of the decor. 

cool light fixtures and wallpaper

We'd asked the host/waiter/tube-stop coordinator if we could sit in the back room, but he unceremoniously told us no. We're not sure why; it wasn't exactly crowded.

boring everything else

House red for my friend and a flat, warm grape juice spritzer for me.  Doesn't spritzer, by definition, suggest bubbles?

Our waiter was unusual, to say the least, and the service was not at all befitting the high-priced establishment (incidentally, not as high as the upscale establishments in New York).  There was no welcome, no offer to answer any questions about the menu, and absolutely no suggestions.  My traveling companion had to ask separately for the special starter of the day, pasta of the day, bean of the day, and grain of the day.  At some point you would assume the waiter would have gotten the hint and given us the whole rundown, but no; each question had to be posed individually and the responses were boring and delivered with a shrug ("just brown rice").  When we placed our order, he acknowledged each bit with a series of monotone "yeps," as in: "yep, yep, yep, and yep."  Charming.

Because it's been too long since I've had it from Peacefood or Soy & Sake, I was extremely excited for the vegetable tempura: "back by popular request, crisp seasonal vegetables in a rice flour batter served with sweet chilli & tempura dipping sauces."  Unfortunately, it was startlingly flavorless and absurdly oily.  Given the upscale establishment, my friend was actually offended.  I'm no health nut by any means, but these were greasier than anything I've ever ordered at Foodswings- where it's intentional and expected (also delicious).

If there are onion rings on the menu, I have to order them- especially after the gem at tibitsOnion rings: with ketchup (or?);" these were so much worse than the tempura.

Since the menu had left the dipping options open-ended, I asked the waiter for some suggestions.  He was wholly and animatedly perplexed by my inquiry.  An explanation of the menu's inference elicited just another shrug and an offering of mayonnaise.  Whatever.

Although he tried valiantly to extract a recommendation, ultimately my friend had to blindly order the build your own meal: "choose any 4 sides and let our chefs plate it for you.".  He chose:

sauteed seasonal greens & garlic: "an immune boosting addition to any dish"  I'm pretty sure the theory was for these greens to flush out all of the grease we'd consumed from our appetizers, but as I recall they were on the oily side as well.
seasonal mash and gravy: "potato based with seasonal root vegetables, comfort food for all"  These had a nice taste, but nothing special.  I'm also not a fan of watery gravy.
manna crispy marinated tofu: "a protein boost to any dish, a long time favourite from our chef's salad"  These were WEIRD!  They were deep fried and I didn't want anything to do with them.
organic hummus & bread: "our own homemade hummus special and breads"  The hummus got the highest marks and the gluten-free bread was decent.

It's a sad day when the best that can be said of an upscale restaurant is that it makes a decent hummus.  For the record, my friend's description of the whole meal: "it was gross." 

I suppose because of the damp weather I'd been eating heartily all trip; this was no exception, as I ordered the Caribbean platter: "a Jamaican pot stew of coconut milk & seasonal vegetables including sweet potatoes & spinach, aromatic rice, a jerk tofu, plantain & red onion kebab, served with a pineapple, ackee and a grated courgette [zucchini] salsa;" it sounded promising.

The stew looked great!  With all of the delicious ingredients, though; it erred, inexplicably, on the bland side. 

The kebab was my favorite component of the meal; the sauce on the tofu, plantain, and onion was the tastiest thing on the plate.  The cabbage salad underneath looked appetizing, but there were infinitesimal specks of cilantro flecked throughout, so I had to let it go.  Note to restaurants: if you're not going to mention that the most hated weed in history is in your dish, at least be considerate enough to make it easily extractable.

Unless they're upside down in a cake, I try to stay away from pineapples for the sake of my tummy.  Mixed with zucchini?  No thanks.

After having fallen down my own house stairs shortly prior to the trip, I was made to feel most at home when I went flying down the steps headed to Manna's basement restroom.  I'd missed this sign, which nevertheless doesn't sufficiently impart that the actual danger lies in the fact that the steps are about half the depth and rise of what is expected.  Perhaps a better warning would be simply to impart, "Prepare to have your arms practically dislocated when you grab the handrails in an effort not to sail through the air"?

As if all this wasn't fun enough, there was still dessert to contend with.  My friend passed, but I was a glutton for punishment.

He did order the peppermint tea and seemed to like it.  To me it looked like mint leaves in hot water; is that what peppermint tea is?

As for my selections?  For starters, behold the absolute worst hot chocolate I've ever had in my entire life.  Watery and flavorless, it tasted like someone used one packet of hot chocolate mix to make eight gallons of murky hot water.  

And, do you know what this isn't?  Sticky toffee pudding.  Manna claims it is: "sticky toffee pudding: manna's traditional favourite, served with brandied pecan vice cream & caramel sauce," but I tell you that it is nothing of the sort.  Blasphemy, really.

What it really tasted like was a boring, old, dry, rum cake.  CAKE!  And the ice cream?  Blech.  I know I'm spoiled, but this ultra-rummy, frozen dessert was good only in the sense that it moistened the unpleasant cake.

And, as I promised my traveling companion, I will say here what I said at the time, "What the eff is a tomato doing stuck in my rum cake?!"  I know that although it looks like a tomato, it isn't really.  I know this because the table next to us made the same distasteful exclamation and the waiter told them what it was.  It didn't matter, what mattered was only that it was unpleasantly stuck in my awful cake.  Oh, tibits; you rock even harder than I thought.

For the record, this is the bridge you walk over to get FROM THE NEAREST TUBE STATION to Manna.  It's neither far or a big deal, but my recommendation would be not to bother crossing it.

Bad food?  Bad service?  Bad sticky toffee pudding?  Put a bird on it. Nope, doesn't make it better.


*London tip: Avoid phonebooths at all costs; they double as urinals.