Saturday, April 26, 2008

California Dreamin'

[UPDATE: Some of you commented that you had some trouble seeing the photos, so I reloaded all of them. Please let me know if you can see them now...]

Wow--my trip to San Francisco has absolutely flown by. My friend Kelly and I fly home later today, and then Monday it's back to work. And every minute that we've been here has been just amazing. It's hard to think about going back to daily life after a week like this...

I wanted to do some blogging while I was out here but of course, I've been playing so hard that I've either been too busy or too exhausted most of the time. But I've thought a lot about blogging and I've taken lots of pictures to share. So sit back and get ready for a long post!

Our friend Kevin, whom we came out to visit, actually lives not in San Francisco but in the city of San Mateo, just to the south (though he's moving back to Atlanta in just a little over a month). So we spent a few days actually in the city of San Francisco, and the rest of the time we traveled around the area seeing other places, and hanging out in San Mateo a fair bit too. The first day after Kelly and I got here, last Friday, we went into San Francisco and walked around Fisherman's Wharf, down by the bay.

The bay was a spectacular sight, as was the view of the city behind it. We spent several hours just walking around the area, taking it all in.

And we took a break for Irish coffee (mine without cream, of course).

Many of you suggested that I try to make it to Millennium while I was here. Kelly and Kevin were open to the idea, so we headed there for dinner last Friday night.

The outside décor was nothing too fancy...

And the inside was low-key as well... and charming at the same time. All of us commented on these chandeliers, which somehow dressed up the room even in their simplicity.

We started off with some cocktails...

And we shared an appetizer, the Red Quinoa Timbale.

Each of us ordered a different entrée, and we all intended on trying each other's. It turned out that we all liked everything so much that we pretty much ended up sharing all three plates. Kevin ordered the Grilled Achiote Spiced Smoked Tempeh, which was sweet and spicy, with the flair of Latino cuisine.

Kelly's plate was the Erbette Chard Roulade, a French-inspired plate with toasted baguette slices filled with a tofu ricotta and cashew-chard "Florentine," on a bed of puy lentils.

I chose the Seared Edamame and Shiitake Cakes. The flavor of the fresh veggies on top played nicely off of the richness of the coconut-lime base.

Though we were quite satisfied after our meal, we still managed to share a dessert--the Chocolate Almond Midnight, a rich chocolate mousse cake with an almond cashew crust. This was a nice, sweet finish to our visit to Millennium. The waiter let me keep a menu, a great souvenir of the evening.

On Saturday we went hiking through Muir Woods... so no exciting food stories. But I did get to see some amazing redwood trees.

No photo, of course, can do justice to these spectacular trees, rugged survivors through hundreds of thousands of years of the history of the earth.

There were all sorts of wildflowers to be seen. These California poppies were among the most vibrant flowers I've ever encountered.

On Sunday we took it easy. We went down to the Stanford University campus and lay around in the sun for awhile. And we ate brunch at a cafe called Hobee's.

I had the Seven Veggie Medley, a vibrant dish of fresh veggies and tofu in a mildly spicy curry sauce.

On Monday evening we went down to the beach at Half Moon Bay, a straight shot west from San Mateo. I just love the ocean, and I had never seen the Pacific before.

Needless to say, it was fantastic.

The shore was wreathed by steep, rugged cliffs which were carpeted with these amazing, anemone-like flowers, that came in varying colors from pale yellow to deep fuchsia.

The sand along the shore was disturbed more by the footprints of seabirds than of people.

Tuesday we went up to Sonoma County... wine country. It was a cool, rainy day, not terribly conducive to taking photos.

Still, I did manage to get a few at each of the vineyards where we stopped. In particular, we took a walk through the viticulture garden at one of the vineyards, where I saw young wine grapes just beginning to bud on the vine. I believe this is a Merlot vine, but I can't remember for certain.

Wednesday while Kevin was at work, Kelly and I went on a short drive down Highway 1 along the coast. We started at Half Moon Bay and drove about an hour south to Santa Cruz... stopping often to soak up the incredible views.

We stopped for lunch in Santa Cruz, where we found this incredible falafel restaurant tucked away down one of the side roads.

I loved the message on this sign on the wall above the trash can. So, so true...

I got a sampler plate. The baba ganoush had yogurt in it, but the girl at the restaurant was happy to sub some dolmas for the non-vegan baba. The food was fabulous.

Thursday, Kelly and I went back to wine country. We both really love wine, and Kevin had some coupons for some free tastings, which he was happy to give us. One of the tastings was at an organic vineyard, and the first biodynamic winery in California. That was pretty interesting... though I would love to read more about the process of wine-making and its environmental impact. I have to admit that I'm not too knowledgeable on the topic.

At least as exciting as tasting the wine, though, was taking in the views of the vineyards throughout the valleys.

Yesterday was our last day to get out and see the city, so we headed back into San Francisco...

Though not before having lunch at Cafe Soulstice, a raw vegan restaurant right here in San Mateo.

In keeping with our custom, we shared several different items, starting with these nori rolls filled with fresh veggies and a "salmon" pâté.

We also shared the Nachos Rancheros...

And this fabulous sampler platter, which featured among other things some sunflower falafels, walnut hummus, and another taste of the pâté.

In the city we did what any visitor to San Francisco has to do at some point--we went for a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

It was pretty neat to see this landmark structure from this perspective.

But what was even more striking, to me, was the view of the bay and of the city.

Walking put us in the mood for ice cream, so we stopped in at Maggie Mudd, another spot that many of you recommended.

I was blown away by the extensive menu of dairy-free ice cream choices, and I had a difficult time choosing just one.

In the end, though, I settled on the Tarmack, a soy-based chocolate ice cream studded with peanut butter swirls and cookie chunks. Kelly chose a coconut milk-based flavor, the Dubliner, which I happily sampled.

And in just a couple of hours, I will be on the way back home. It's kind of sad to leave... but I've had so much fun here that I know I will be back out to the west coast again as soon as I have the opportunity. Thanks for sticking with me through this long, long post. I'll be back to blogging as usual in a few days... and another installment of my Atlanta Vegan Living series is coming soon. Cheers!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Couscous cake, and an update

I made this a while back, and am finally getting around to blogging about it.

Vegan Planet's Pumpkin-Rum Couscous Cake--a ridiculously easy, no-bake recipe that is really less like a cake and more like a pudding. I used whole wheat couscous to lessen the guilt factor. It made a nice breakfast food alongside some almond milk.

Speaking of couscous cake, check out Robin Robertson's blog for a fun couscous cake challenge!

I am quite happy to say that tax season is over--AND I leave TOMORROW for my vacation to SAN FRANCISCO!!! I'll be gone for a little over a week. I'm planning on doing a bit of blogging while I'm there, so my next post will probably be from the west coast.

See you soon!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Not a love affair

In recent months I have heard so much about this newly acclaimed superfood--açai (pronounced "ah-sigh-ee"), a dark purple berry that is known to be full of goodness like antioxidants, fatty acids, and fiber. Wanting to jump on the açai train just to see what this was all about, I picked up a package of Sambazon frozen açai pulp. What is my first thought to do with frozen fruit? Put it in a smoothie, of course!

For this smoothie, I used 2 packets of the açai pulp, a banana, vanilla soy milk, a spoonful of almond butter, just a dab of agave nectar, and a dash of cinnamon. I blended it up in my Magic Bullet, snapped a picture, and tasted it... and was disappointed. I found the açai to have a dull, flat flavor. It was incredibly bland. Not to mention that it puréed into such a thin, smooth liquid with no real texture--not the way I enjoy my smoothies.

I was determined to like this stuff. After taking a couple of sips of the smoothie, I began to wonder how I could save it. And then into my mind popped one of you bloggers--I know what VeggieGirl would do! She would put carob in it!

So I added about a tablespoon of carob powder, blended it up again, and took another taste. The carob really did the trick. I think it deepened the flavor quite a bit, adding a more complex tone and cutting through the blandness. I still didn't love it--but even if it wasn't love at first taste, açai and I will probably give things another try.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Living the vegan life in Atlanta

When I tell people that I am a vegan, the question always comes around: "Where do you like to eat/shop/hang out in town?" Believe it or not, Atlanta actually has quite a few vegan-friendly offerings--you just have to know where to go. That's why I have decided to do a series of posts related to vegan living in my new home city. Hopefully I'll be able to come up with a variety of places to showcase, since being vegan is more than just a dietary choice--it really becomes a lifestyle.

To kick-start my series, I thought I would begin with one of the most unique spots this city has to offer--and perhaps my favorite of all.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe, as their online store has been around a little while. I love walking into this little shop that sells all things vegan, from food products to cosmetics to cookbooks to clothing, and peruse the shelves without ever having to read a list of ingredients. Not to mention the owners, Ken and Leigh, are friendly and cool to chat with.

(Note: The above photos of the store belong to Leigh and I've used them with her permission!)

I asked Ken and Leigh a few questions about their vegan journey. Here's what they had to say:

1. How long have you guys been vegan?

Leigh: I went vegetarian in 1992, and attempted veganism once or twice after that. Finally after I met Ken (who was already vegan when we met), I stopped being lazy about it and went completely vegan. That was in 2001.

Ken: I went vegan in August 1997. I had been a vegetarian for about 3 years and always knew that I would go vegan. It was just a matter of time and the ability to give up cheese. Back then there weren't good cheese alternatives as there are today. Most were very chewy and did not melt at all. What finally moved me towards veganism was a cheese overload in NYC while on tour with my old band. I ate so much cheese pizza that I throw in the towel and became vegan from that point forward.

2. Tell me the story of what inspired you to go vegan.

Leigh: I went vegetarian when I was in high school, for animal rights reasons. I had an older friend who was vegetarian who saw me eating pepperoni once and said, "Do you know what that is?" And I gave the typical omni answer, "I don't want to know!". But his words stuck with me, and I couldn't get past what the meat I ate actually was. it was a slow process, but I eventually gave up all meat. It took me a while to learn that every time I consumed cow's milk, I was directly supporting the veal industry. Once that clicked, it was a no-brainer. And eggs...geez. A few disturbing images of factory farmed chickens made egg elimination easy.

Ken: Aside from my silly cheese overload story, my main reason for going vegan is animal rights. My main inspiration for going vegan was learning about the horrid testing done on animals. I also believe animals are not here for us to eat or to be exploited.

3. How long has Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe been around? What inspired you to open the store?

Ken: Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe started as an online store in March 2005. We eventually opened the retail store in June 2007 because we wanted to help the Atlanta Vegan community and also expand our business. When we were just an online business, we had many local customers ask about when we would open a store. So, we thought it would be a good idea. We love having the retail store. We've also gotten to meet some of our online customers; some who were passing through Atlanta and wanting to stop in.

Leigh: The inspiration basically came from wanting to do something that was important to us. Running a 100% vegan store meant that we could serve the vegan community, as well as better support companies that offer vegan products. It's also our attempt at making the concept of veganism more mainstream, or at least less foreign to people.

4. Favorite foods?

Leigh: Hmm. I love food, so it's hard to choose! I'm a southern girl, so I like a lot of southern food. Breakfast foods like grits, biscuits, tofu scramble, pancakes, etc. I also eat a ton of tomato sandwiches. That's my comfort food. I like stir frys, with various veggies like kale, zucchini, onions, carrots, and nuts. I really enjoy baking, so I eat way too many homemade cookies, cupcakes, pies and muffins.

Ken: I love breakfast food for breakfast, lunch and dinner! However, being Italian, I love pasta dishes: especially lasagna!
I'm also a big smoothie nut. I enjoy a smoothie almost every morning.

5. Favorite vegan retail products?

Leigh: Oh, wow. Pretty much everything we carry I love for one reason or another. I have fun seeking out new things to carry in the store. We are excited to be getting in the latest creation from Chicago Soydairy next week: Teese. It's this amazing vegan mozzarella that tastes authentic, and melts very well.
I also enjoy finding vegans who make cool things that we can offer, like the Recycled Lunch Kits from Becky Striepe of Glue & Glitter. She's a local (Atlanta) vegan who's super-talented. Other cool stuff we have made by vegans are cute bags by Sugar Blossom Boutique, awesome Pottery by Vegan Dish, and cute mini books by Books By Bexx.

Ken: Like leigh. I dig all the products in our store, however I do have some favorites such as the Vega Meal Replacement (their powder is great in smoothies), Dulce Vegan sweets (Idalys and Howell rock!), Temptation Ice Cream mix (awesome with an ice cream maker), Stonewall's Jerquee and Pure Bars.

6. Favorite cookbook?

Leigh: I have much love for my cookbook collection! The titles I'm using most often lately are Vive le Vegan, Yellow Rose Recipes, and the mighty Veganomicon.

7. Favorite veg-friendly spot in the ATL?

Leigh: I think Soul Vegetarian II is still the best dinner around. The country fried steak, BBQ cauliflower, collards and mac & cheese... How can you go wrong? We also love Harmony Vegetarian, Chinese Buddha, and the vegan options at Village Pizza.

Ken: I agree with Leigh. Soul V has been around for such a long time and they rarely disappoint! I really like their collards and country fried steak.

8. Do you have any news about the store, etc. that you'd like to share?

Leigh: Well, we are excited to be sponsoring and exhibiting at the Animal Rights Conference in Washington DC this August for the very first time. We are really looking forward to the conference. Anyone that is able to make it must come to our table and say hi!

Ken: We are excited about some new t-shirt designs we have available. We asked some of our vegan designer friends to come up with some cool designs and they did! We also printed our first Cosmo's shopping bag that is made from recycled cotton and soda bottles.

9. Feel free to add anything else of interest that I may have forgotten...

Leigh: Thank you for the interview! It's really great how the vegan community comes together in so many ways, such as vegan blogs like these. It's exciting, really. And thank you to everyone who has supported Cosmo's over the years, too. We love what we do, offering vegan goodies to the masses. :)

Ken: Thank you Laura!

There you have it! So, if you're ever in Atlanta, don't miss the chance to stop by and do some shopping, and meet a couple of awesome local vegans! Oh yes, and be sure to check out Leigh's blog too.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Vegan Potluck!

As I mentioned yesterday, there was a vegan potluck picnic today for all the Atlanta vegan-folk--and it was pretty awesome.

All the food was incredible. Vegans really know how to cook, no?

This was my plate. My first plate, that is. I wish I could tell you what everything on here was, but I just remember how good it was. The thing in the middle, though--that's what I made.

It was a pretty simple recipe from Quick-Fix Vegetarian, the Black Bean and Rice Salad with Red Peppers and Corn. The name says it all--that's exactly what was in it, along with a chili-lime vinaigrette. It was pretty tasty...

This was my second plate. There were too many desserts there to try just one. So I tried this strawberry cream cheese pie made by Leigh of Raspberry Swirl, and this super-colorful pink lemonade cupcake, which also happened to be very photogenic (and the lemony frosting was to die for)!

I also got to meet Lori of Pleasantly Plump Vegan (who made a crazy good mac and cheeze) and Becky of Apron Strings (who brought some tasty tempeh nuggets with a tahini-miso dipping sauce). The other bloggers there were easy to spot--they were the ones with cameras sitting beside their plates! Hee hee. I got to meet some other really neat people, too. It's so nice to be around like-minded people when you can. Makes life a little nicer.

So... there was so much good food there that I ended up bringing a plate home.

Who wanted to miss out on the root beer cupcakes? The Chick-O-Stick cupcakes? The lovely pineapple upside-down cake from local vegan baker, Dulce Vegan? Or chocolate-chocolate chip cookies sandwiched with peanut butter filling? Wow--talk about sugar overload.

So... there you go. Many, many thanks to Ashley for being the brains behind this operation. I'm definitely looking forward to next time!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Redefining the salad, etc.

Sometimes I get home from work so late that I don't want or need a large dinner... Enter the salad. It can be the perfect light meal, refreshing and healthy. The problem I run into is when all my salads tend to look the same. And taste the same. It's really easy to get bored pretty quickly. That's why, lately, I've been making a point of trying to liven it up a bit.

This salad features two kinds of greens, hearts of palm, cucumbers, dried cranberries, raw sunflower seeds, and a roasted apple-shallot vinaigrette. Just different enough to spice it up a bit.

Recently a representative from Galaxy Foods sent me some samples of their products to try.

Among the products they sent was some roasted red pepper hummus, which I enjoyed in the evenings as a light after-work snack. One of the more exciting things I did with it was creating this wrap one night.

I spread the tortilla with the hummus, topped it with some red pepper and artichoke tapenade from Trader Joe's, and finished with some alfalfa sprouts.

I almost never buy vegan cheese, so now that I have quite a bit of it in my refrigerator, I am trying to think of good ways to use it. One great use for it proved to be in Susan Voisin's Vegan Omelette For One.

I grated some of the mozzarella-flavor soy block in with the fillings. You can see from the picture that the cheese didn't really melt for me, but just the same it did make a nice filling for the omelette (which is still one of my favorite breakfasts--this recipe really is a winner).

Another great use for vegan cheese is in a vegan reuben--and I love vegan reubens!

This one uses Isa Chandra Moskowitz's delicious tempeh from her Tempeh Reubens in Vegan With a Vengeance, but for the rest of the sandwich I put it together my own way--with a generous helping of Dijon mustard, plenty of sauerkraut, some of this soy-based thousand island dressing, and one of the vegan mozzarella slices between two slices of rye bread.

I have more pictures to post, but that will come later this week. Also later this week, I am planning to begin my tour of vegan living in Atlanta--starting with my favorite vegan spot here in town! Not to mention the vegan potluck that I'll be going to tomorrow! Exciting stuff--so stay tuned!