Friday, February 5, 2016

Thai Spices, Lodi, CA

I was lucky enough to skydive all day The Parachute Center in Lodi, California and was starving by the end of the day. I consulted with the local skydivers and they recommended Thai Spices in downtown Lodi. Sounded good to me!

By the look of the outside strip mall-type facade, I thought this would be your typical hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant with one vegan option. But, lo and behold, was I pleasantly surprised. This turned out to be an awesome restaurant with tons of options! Inside on this Friday night, it was fairly busy, but they were able to seat our party of four right away.

I started with some sake and spring rolls. These rolls had a bit too much lettuce, but also some nicely seasoned tofu, carrots, and vermicelli. With the sauce, it hit the spot.

For my dinner, they brought out this awesome basil tofu dish with musrhooms, onions, peppers, and tofu strips that were seasoned perfectly. The sauces were excellent and the multigrain rice gourmet. I was surprised at how good this was.

The woman who served us was used to skydivers showing up there and acting silly so she was great. And my whole meal with drinks was under $25. Put this place on your list of places you must eat at while in Lodi -- either while wine tasting or skydiving, there's something to please everyone.

Thai Spices
2401 West Turner Road # 224
Lodi, CA 95242
(209) 369-8424

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sunflower Caffe, Sonoma, CA

It's challenging to find good vegan lunch spots in Sonoma as many associate wine with cheese and meat. So, finding a place where we could grab a quick lunch before checking in was hard, but Sunflower Caffe seemed like a good bet as there was a sandwich with the word "vegan" right on the menu.

Downtown Sonoma is a quaint little town with a variety of shops and restaurants, but for some reason everyone wanted to eat at Sunflower Caffe. There was a line out the door when we arrived and we were told there'd be a 30-minute wait after the long wait in line to order. Well, we were already here, so why not?!

We ordered some glasses of wine, then found a seat outside in the beautiful courtyard. Luckily, they have a ton of seating outside and it was a gorgeous day. We took a seat at one of the metal tables and our wine was brought out fairly quickly. We toasted to the start of a fine adventure while enjoying the fountain next to us.

After a while, they brought our meals out. As my friend had bought the meal, I didn't want to say anything negative, but after a while, I just couldn't help it! I ordered the Vegan Pita that had roasted cauliflower, roasted red pepper hummus, summer squash, pickled onion, and cauliflower-almond sauce. That all sounded good and with the wait being as long as it was, I was expecting perfection. I was very disappointed. The sandwich had no taste at all. In fact, it couldn't have been any more bland. My friend expressed disappointment with her sandwich as well. Alas, what could we do.

The worst part was that the meal was overly expensive with my sandwich being $12 and each glass of wine being like $15. There wasn't even service other than them bringing the food out to you. So, why the heck do people wait for this food? I'll never know. But, I'll never be back again.

Sunflower Caffe
421 First Street West
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 996-6645

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Black Bean and Chipotle Tofu Quesadillas

The Superbowl is next Sunday!  Whether you are into football or not, it's likely you'll be watching the game for something -- sweaty men fighting over a ball, fantastic over-the-top halftime performances, and/or wacky commercials.  It's traditional to have lots of appetizers at hand while watching the game so I've developed a tasty, healthy appetizer using Chipotle TofuBaked with all you fans in mind.

Nasoya recently launched this new baked tofu seasoned with chipotle powder. They contacted me and asked if I would use it for a recipe challenge they were hosting this week and I gladly accepted.  As soon as the package arrived, I cut open the plastic and was amazed at how good it was! Nasoya has always been one of my favorite tofu brands and this baked version has just the right consistency with loads of chipotle flavor, which is spicy and smoky at the same time. I could seriously just eat it out of the package. I also love that it is a great source of protein and low in calories too. Nasoya does a really nice job with its products by keeping the ingredients all natural and organic, which has always been important to me.

The recipe I developed is for Black Bean and Chipotle Tofu Quesadillas and it's not only loaded with delicious flavor, it's a snack that is good for you too! I took sprouted whole grain tortillas and spread black bean dip and sliced chipotle tofu on them, grilled them, then topped them with guacamole and a mix of red peppers, scallions and corn in lime juice. It turned out fantastic. I invite you to make these for your party and see if they don't absolutely love it. Game time!

Black Bean and Chipotle Tofu Quesadillas
Serves 8

Ingredients for Black Bean Spread
  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 tsp crushed chipotle peppers (optional)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Water as needed 
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Ingredients for Red Pepper and Corn Topping
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup corn (frozen or fresh)
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 lime, squeezed
  • 2 packages of Chipotle TofuBaked: slice tofu
  • 8 tortillas (whole wheat or sprouted grain are best)
  • Cooking spray 
  • Guacamole
  • Cilantro for garnish
First, make the black bean spread by putting black beans, chipotle peppers in sauce, crushed chipotle peppers, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until smooth. You may need to add a bit of water to soften the consistency. Add salt to taste. Remove from processor and fold in the red bell pepper and cilantro.

Next, make the red pepper and corn topping by mixing all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Heat up a cast iron skillet or grill to medium. Spray one side of tortilla with cooking spray, then place on a plate. Spread black bean spread on half of tortilla. Top the same half with slices of tofu and fold tortilla over. Grill for 4 minutes or until browned on each side. Repeat with other tortillas. Once cooked, slice each quesadilla into four triangles. Arrange on a plate and top with guacamole and the red pepper and corn topping. Garnish with cilantro if desired. Should be a crowd pleaser!

Full Disclosure: Although the tofu was provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Shizen, San Francisco

Vegan sushi isn't usually that exciting. If I had a dime for every avocado roll I've consumed, I'd have a penthouse in the One Fifty Seven building in NYC. But, surprisingly, as I asked around, I heard rave reviews about this new vegan sushi bar in the Mission District so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to go there myself.

Shizen, a vegan sushi bar and izakaya, opened in January 2015 in the heart of San Francisco. I arrived fairly early on a Thursday night by myself and saw a line out the door. As I walked in, I glanced around and noticed a very small dining area and a small bar. They said there would be a wait for a table, but as a single diner, I could sit at the bar now. I chose the bar!

The food menu and sake menus are fairly extensive. I started off with a Hana Awake sake that I adored! Looking around, the decor was quite simple, but the living moss artwork definitely catches your attention on the walls.  On the dinner menu, there are three pages of options -- all vegan. From small plates to varieties of sushi including nigiri, hosomaki, and uramaki to large specialty rolls, they have something for everyone.

I decided to order two dishes for dinner. I started with the Mushrooms Robata, a grilled assortment of enoki, shiitake, and king trumpet mushrooms. These were pretty good.

But, where the culinary skills really shined was in the Scarlet Smile roll. This huge roll was made with sweet potato tempura, avocado, spicy bean curd topped with roasted red pepper tofu sauce, and seaweed pearls. It just melted in my mouth it was so good.

I was pretty full, but when I saw that they offer one special dessert each night and there was only one left, I had to order it.  This dessert was a meal in and of itself. Housemade blueberry ice cream with tempura bananas and fresh fruit with sauce -- incredible! I actually ate this all by myself and loved it. No judging.

As I looked around, all of the meals looked really good and I only wish I could have tried more. The specialty rolls range from $11 - $13 each and other rolls were much less, so given how good the food is, I think it is priced appropriately. The service was pretty good -- remember, I was at the bar. And the atmosphere was lively. They don't take reservations so you'd be wise to come here early on a weekend night. The people waiting outside when I left looked like they were in for a long wait, but one for which they felt it was worth. Can't wait to come back as they further develop their menu in the future.

370 14th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 678-5767

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Monday, January 25, 2016

The Sustainability Secret by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn

I would never call myself an environmentalist. I self-identify as an animal rights advocate. So when the publisher of The Sustainability Secret wrote to me and asked if I'd review it, I reluctantly agreed. What I discovered was that it was probably the best book I've read in the last year. It was inspired by Cowspiracy, a movie I have not yet seen, and although it certainly hits on the environmental impact of eating meat, it also touches on the health and ethical concerns as well. It is an easy-to-read to-the-point book that is informative and enlightening.

In just 165 pages, the authors, Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, discuss everything from water as a finite resource and the realities of factory farming to the effect the industry has had on oceans and the advantages of veganic agriculture. There are some great graphics as well that show the effects visually for those who are visual learners.

Interestingly enough, I found the statistics on water consumption fascinating! "According to the EPA, the average household of three in our country consumes 50,000 gallons of water in one year for indoor use..." But, average meat consumption contributes to 405,000 gallons of water in one year per person! So, while California likes to blame their drought on human water usage, I think they need to address the usage of water used to support animal consumption as a food product instead.

As the authors address factory farming, they mention the trend of buying fresh and local. They quote Frank Reese, a poultry farmer, who says, "It's all a sham. It's the same kind of bird, and the suffering is in their genes. When the mass-produced turkey of today was designed, they killed thousands of turkeys in their experiments. Should it be shorter legs or shorter keel bone?" Whether the turkey is local or not, they all endured suffering.

Rain forests are an area I never really researched. This book has a whole chapter on them. Come to find out that animal agriculture is the number one source of the destruction of rain forests. "Cutting down the rain forests to provide ranch land and crop land for the meat industry means that we are cutting away both the earth's oxygen-producing capacity and its ability to absorb tons of global-warming carbon dioxide." And when rain forests are destroyed, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere contributing to global warming.

One of the best chapters addresses Activists, Governments, and Corporations and their ability to silence others and put forth laws protecting those who are harming animals and the environment. They discuss ag-gag bills and their effect on society as a whole.

Howard Lyman, a fourth generation rancher turned animal rights advocate states, "I totally believe, with every fiber of my being, that you cannot be an environmentalist and consume animal products. It's totally opposed. Kid yourself if you want. If you want to feed your addiction, so be it, but don't call yourself an environmentalist."

Of course, one of my favorite chapters was the one on Ethics, Dairy, and Eggs: Choosing Life Over Death. "We grow up assuming that having udders full of milk is the result of being a cow, not the result of being a pregnant female mammal. It seems remarkable to me that anyone can be a feminist, fighting for the rights of women, and also drink milk and eat eggs. The dairy and egg industries are massive global businesses built on the reproductive systems of enslaved female animals."  I couldn't have said it better myself.

I'll stop there because I could go on and on about what a great book this is, but now you'll have to just read it for yourself. You can find it on Amazon for under $20 here. Highly recommended!

Full Disclosure: Although the book was provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Beefsteak, DC

Beefsteak is Jose Andres' first stab at fast casual in DC, originally aimed at the college kids of George Washington University. It has been open on the GW campus for about a year now with its second location having opened in Dupont Circle just a few months ago. I really wanted to love this place...yeah, I wanted to.

Beefsteak's motto is "vegetables unleashed." But, I hadn't gone all year for a few reasons: (1) none of the premade suggestions on the menu are vegan...none; (2) nothing is labeled as vegan or not on the website; and (3) their press release indicated that they were not a vegetarian or vegan restaurant. And it isn't that number three matters because I eat at meat-centric places all the time, it was just bothersome that they chose to point that out.

I heard good and bad things all year long so I finally gave it a try. As I walked in on a Friday evening, it had a stale feel to it. I walked up to the counter and asked if they knew what was vegan or not before I placed my order. The girl called down to another girl who said she did.

First, you choose any amount of vegetables you would like from the list that changes regularly.  As all of the suggested combinations weren't vegan, I was left on my own. I chose the warm vegetable bowl filled with sweet potatoes, edamame, asparagus, mushrooms, and bok choy. They then boil your veggies as you continue to choose the accompaniments. Next, you choose your grain: bulgar, quinoa, or rice. I chose quinoa. Then, you choose your sauce. They said that only the Garlic Yogurt wasn't vegan, which leaves the Black Bean, Cilantro, or Spicy Tomato. I chose the cilantro. Then, you can add something "meaty," which is all meat except for avocado for an additional .99 or 1.99. I skipped this. Why isn't there tofu or tempeh? Next, you choose a dressing. The Lemon Honey isn't vegan. I went with the Soy Ginger. Finally, there are other toppings.

They didn't tell me the kimchi had fish until after I had added it so they had to start over. They had no idea what was in the seaweed salad so I avoided that as well. I topped it with sesame seeds and that was it.

By the time I tasted it, it was lackluster. The vegetables were just boiled and blah. The cilantro sauce was good, but why is there both a sauce and a dressing as they didn't pair together well at all. The fact that nothing is labeled vegan in a veggie-centric restaurant is unbelievable. Right across the street, you have Sweetgreen and Cava Mezze -- both label all items as vegan or not. The meal was nearly $10, which would buy you an awesome salad at Sweetgreen. With that kind of competition, I don't know why any vegetarian would come to Beefsteak. Slight changes could fix all of this and I'm surprised that while Jose Andres' other restaurants like Oyamel have separate vegan menus, this one does not. Shame shame.

800 22nd Street NW
Washington, DC 20052
(202) 296-1421

Beefsteak Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Gracias Madre, San Francisco

One of the best vegan restaurants in San Francisco is Gracias Madre, a Mexican restaurant in the Mission District owned by the same owners of Cafe Gratitude. I first dined here when they opened in 2009 and was impressed, but not overly so. Asking around, it seemed like everyone regarded this as one of the top restaurants still, so I swung by to meet a friend for lunch on a Thursday.

This restaurant is really stunning from it's Mexican-style clay front to its huge wooden tables inside. We arrived right when they opened and were the first ones inside.

I thought we'd get to choose from their incredible regular menu, but beware, there is a very pared down menu for lunch. I started by ordering a fresh green juice to cleanse my body from the night before.

For lunch, I tried the Bowl Uno. This delicious meal was loaded with tempeh chorizo, black beans, guacamole, brown rice, and pico de gallo over lettuce and served with cashew cream. Additionally, their housemade sauces could be added, further increasing the flavor. This dish was so simple, yet so good.

My friend ordered the Gorditas -- lightly fried potato masa cakes topped with salsa verda, avocado, and cashew cream. He liked them just fine and I found them to be a nice light appetizer.

That was all we had. My bowl was fairly expensive at $12 and the gorditas were too at $11. But, they do specialize in fresh, locally grown, organic ingredients so you get what you pay for. The service was fine and the food was good. I'd come back, but next time, it'll be for dinner.

Gracias Madre
2211 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 683-1346

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