Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Pho 33, Alexandria, VA

After yet another restaurant closed in the just-outside-of-Old-Town area of Alexandria, I was pleased to see that a Vietnamese restaurant was opening in its place. Pho 33 recently opened on John Carlyle Street so we went to check it out.

It's a medium-sized restaurant -- larger than you would expect, but not Cheesecake Factory-size, with brown wood tables and lots of lively plants. We were seated towards the back with a view of the restaurant. As most Vietnamese restaurants are not all that veg-friendly, this place surprised us. Although they have a simple menu, there are plenty of veg options!

Vegans have their choice of spring or summer rolls, pho soup, tofu platter, or tofu bahn mi sandwiches (I have not inquired about the bread so I don't know if it is vegan or not). I chose the pho soup. Pho is a Vietnamese soup traditionally made by simmering cow bones, whole sides of brisket and flank, herbs, and vegetables to make the broth, then filling it with vermicelli noodles, vegetables and meat.  The vegan version is made in a special mushroom broth instead.

The bowl of soup they brought each of us was the size of like four soup bowls. The pho consisted of a mushroom broth with vermicelli noodles, carrots, celery, bamboo shoots, lemongrass, cilantro, tofu, and bean curd. On the side they served fresh bean sprouts, jalapenos, and basil as garnish. The broth was pretty plain, which made the entire soup pretty plain. I added lots of toppings as well as their hot sauce and sriracha to give it some flavor. In the end, it was just a good, plain noodle and vegetable soup.

I also had a lemongrass lemonade.

I wouldn't go out of my way to eat here, but if you are in the area, it's a decent lunch spot. I found the service to be not-that-great as it was hard to flag the waiter down when we needed him. The price of $8.95 for the pho wasn't so bad though. But, as I mentioned, the pho is pretty plain. That said, there are some tasty veggies and toppings included. Since I frequent this area, I'll definitely be back to try the bahn mi and if you make it out to try the pho, please let me know what you think!

Pho 33
540 John Carlyle Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(571) 970-4353

Monday, December 22, 2014

Vegan Cowboy - Book Review

Being a complete city person, I really wasn't sure I'd like a book called, "Vegan Cowboy." After all, how would I relate? But, I went into reading this fictional book with an open mind and before long, I was loving it. It turned out to be a realistic story about life -- love, tragedy, and despair, that will make you laugh and cry at the same time.

It's a story about Rae O'Brien, a single mother back in the dating scene, being encouraged by close friends to find "the one." But, like many of us, Rae is vegan and it is easy to relate to her trials and tribulations in the dating scene as one man after another discovers her veganism and makes faux pas. In her day-to-day gig, Rae hates her job, but presses through each day with the hope of doing something more meaningful in life. Meanwhile, her teenage son, Carson, had turned against her by eating meat and criticizing her diet.

Another story unfolds early on about a Mexican boy named Fran who is in high school and is smitten over a classmate, Allie, who he soon discovers is vegan. Fran has never met a vegan before. Allie's father, Granger, divorced his wife after his daughter and he turned vegan. And Allie falls for a meat-eating guy named Chris who barely understands her world. He is cute though and perhaps she can show him the way.

These two worlds collide when Carson is involved in a motorcycle accident outside of Granger's home. Granger calls the ambulance and waits at the hospital for the boy's parents. Eventually, Rae shows up and is so grateful that this cowboy, Granger, found her son and saved his life. As generally caring people, they stay in touch -- Rae offering updates about Carson and Granger inquiring as to how he is progressing. Before long, Granger and Rae become interested in each other and decide to go on a date.

The story that unfolds is one to which most people will relate -- from the frustrations with dating and trying to get to know and understand someone new to balancing dating, work, and home life. All the while, wondering if the decisions one makes are the right ones. The twists will keep your eyes glued to the pages and the turmoil will keep you interested.

A love for animals is a central point in these stories and for those who spend a lot of time volunteering to help animals, this passage may feel uncannily familiar:
"It rained the night before, so she wore her rubber boots, purposely stepping in puddles and mud. She took in a deep breath, reveling in the scent of the damp ground mixed with hay. At this moment, there was no place she'd rather be. Tending to the animals was more than enjoyable to Allie. She fed them and sheltered them but the cows and sheep and chickens gave her so much in return. They fed her soul. With every encounter, Allie was enriched: a nuzzle from a cow, a gentle head butt of a sheep or the way the chickens walked around Allie's leg and pecked at her shoes. They didn't want anything in return. There was no motive, no passive/aggressive behavior. Their emotions were diaphanous. Their love unconditional."

As you can see, the author, Carol Treacy, has written an eloquent tale with just enough detail to make the story come alive. She was born and raised in Studio City and Tarzana and now resides in Petaluma, California, where this story takes place. She continues to write about animal rights issues, believing that one day compassion toward animals will be the norm and that non-human animals will be seen as fellow earthlings, living in harmony not subjugation.

This book would make a great gift for anyone who loves fictional stories. To get a copy, you can find it on Amazon here. Or to get a bonus gift of the truffles mentioned in the book, buy direct at http://caroltreacy.com/.

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Elevation 486, Twin Falls, ID #2

After having raved about one of the few upscale dining restaurants in the quaint town of Twin Falls, Idaho, Elevation 486, I headed back a few months later. On their website, they were still showing the spicy sesame bowl with coconut rice and I was excited to have it again.

We were seated at a large table in the middle of the dining room. I ordered a Manhattan with Maker's Mark whiskey while everyone else ordered a beer.  I didn't notice the sesame bowl on the menu so I asked the server and he said they had just removed that from the menu. He wasn't sure what could be made vegan and said he'd go back and check.

When he brought the drinks out, he basically said there was nothing he could serve me. So, I started looking at the menu and asked if the pastas could be made vegan. I basically had to make a suggestion because he couldn't think of anything. So I asked if the special of the day -- the Penne with Wild Mushrooms could be made with a red sauce. He said they didn't have a red sauce. Then, I asked if it could be made with just olive oil, mushrooms, and peas leaving the cream and parmesan out. He stated it wouldn't be as flavorful as premade dishes. I said that was fine.  He finally came back and said they could do it. This was frustrating. Most servers can work with the chef to figure out what can be made vegan without the patron doing all of the work. And stating that it wouldn't be as good as a dish already on the menu usually goes without saying. I was pretty disappointed with this service.

The salad that accompanied it was pretty good.

But, in the end, the dish was a plain penne pasta served with olive oil, sauteed mushrooms, and peas. It was fine, but nothing special. I was just glad to have a hearty meal in Twin Falls regardless of the lack of flavor.

I left the restaurant not wanting to return. What was once a vegan-friendly restaurant is now a vegan-unfriendly restaurant. The service was poor, the prices high, and food substandard. I guess I'll check out their competitor, Canyon Crest, next time.

Elevation 486
195 River Vista Place
Twin Falls, ID 83301
(208) 737-0486

Elevation 486 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

White Bean and Kale Soup

Everything about this soup sounded good -- a warm broth filled with cannellini beans and kale. It turned out to be a wholesome soup, but lacked a bit of flavor. I found this White Bean and Kale Soup in Simple Recipes for Joy by Sharon Gannon. I'd recommend it if you are looking for a simple, wholesome soup, but if you are looking for a lot of flavor, you may want to add a bit of paprika or even sriracha to it.

White Bean and Kale Soup
Serves 8 to 10

  • 1 large white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 1-inch strip kombu seaweed, cut into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp bouillon cubes, dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, with their liquid
  • 2 cups loosely packed finely chopped kale
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, place the onion, kombu, stock, oregano, rosemary, sage, onion powder, garlic powder, and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered for 15 minutes.

Place 1 can of the beans with their liquid in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the blended beans and the remaining can of beans wit their liquid to the soup pot. Add the kale and cook, covered, for another 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sage's Cafe, Salt Lake City

Unexpectedly, I ended up back in Salt Lake City early enough for my flight that I was able to enjoy dinner in the city. So, not having done much research on places to go for dinner, I chose Sage's Cafe because it was all-vegan and had been there for a long time. Both are pluses in my mind!

We drove through Salt Lake City to a dodgy part of town known as the Central 9th Business District until we stumbled across this stand-alone restaurant. It is quite large and located in a little green house once known as the original Jade Room though I'm not quite sure what that was.

It looked more like a diner inside with old-fashioned black vinyl booths and a bar with diner-style stools. The decor was otherwise quite plain. The server immediately brought us some lukewarm water sans the ice cubes.  I was not in the mood for an alcoholic drink so instead I ordered the housemade hibiscus soda. I found it to be very tart so the agave nectar they gave me on the side helped.

The menu is very extensive with small plates, salads, raw foods, sandwiches, pastas, entrees, and desserts. We started with a couple of appetizers. I went with the Mushroom Escargot, which was made of thinly sliced, roasted shiitake mushrooms simmered in herbs, red wine, and balsamic vinegar. When combined with the carrot butter pate on the French bread crostini, this dish was excellent. Warm roasted mushrooms with a hearty carrot pate on fresh bread is a great way to start a meal.

We also ordered the Pesto Bruschetta. Another great 7 grain bread topped with basil walnut pesto, tomatoes, rice mozzarella, and almond parmesan. I loved this appetizer.

For my entree, I ordered the Nut Burger made of cashews, almonds, and garbanzo beans. Perhaps I wasn't prepared for how big this burger was, but it was too much for me to eat. The 7 grain roll had an avocado spread on it that had very little taste as did the burger. The bread was way too thick and the burger was way too plain. All in all, I gave this one a thumbs down.

The salad was just lettuce and carrots with a runny tahini dressing so nothing special here either.

My friend got the Mushroom Stroganoff with linguini noodles. While the pasta was tasty, the name was deceiving as we were expecting a thick stroganoff-like sauce. Instead, there was a thin sauce with lots of mushrooms and a lemon aftertaste. It was good, but not what we were expecting.

So, all in all, I would say this restaurant is probably hit or miss depending upon what you order. Our appetizers were really good. The entrees not so much. And the drink wasn't that flavorful either. The prices are pretty cheap with my burger only being $7 and the pasta only $8. The service wasn't that great either.  If you are going to only be in SLC for a day, this isn't the restaurant I'd recommend you go to, but if you are there for a week, definitely check it out. The menu is extensive and other items are likely to be better than the entrees we ordered.

Sage's Cafe
234 West 900 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
(801) 322-3790

Sage's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 12, 2014

PIGS Animal Sanctuary, Shepherdstown, WV

I've been to a few animal sanctuaries in my life, but only one in my immediate area. My boyfriend, Chris, found one that is only an hour and a half outside of DC that I had never heard of so we made a trip to go visit it. PIGS Animal Sanctuary is located in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and is a place of refuge for abused, abandoned, neglected, and unwanted animals. It is called "PIGS" because when they first opened, they just had pigs. Now they house almost 500 animals.

The Executive Director, Melissa Susko, was kind enough to take us on a tour, which is something she only offers twice a month. We started at the cat area where there were so many cats of various backgrounds. There were feral cats and cats with neurological disorders. She spoke passionately and respectfully about all of them.

Around the corner, was a separate place for cats diagnosed with Feline HIV. They were beautiful.

Next, we went to see the large pigs. There were beautiful, friendly pigs in a huge area. Most of them were in the pond and covered in mud. So cute. A few came up to say, "hello," including an older pig with cancer. She explained how they removed several masses, but they just kept returning. The mud protects them from sun damage, but, behind their ears tends to get sunburned anyway. Some had skin cancer behind the ears.

Then, she showed us all of the pot-bellied pigs. PIGS was opened when having pot-bellied pigs was all the rage. Once they became full-sized though, no one wanted them and they ended up at this sanctuary.

There was a dog area where all the rescued dogs were who couldn't live with humans or other animals. Most were in their own pens.

Lastly, she introduced us to the horses and donkeys, each with their own remarkable stories.

PIGS is an amazing place and Melissa's passion for the animals is evident as she tells their stories factually, respectfully, and passionately. Even if you can't visit PIGS, consider a donation. This amazing place costs $25,000 per month to operate and all of it is funded by donations. To read more about them go here. Thank you, Melissa, and all of your volunteers and Board members for all that you do for these wonderful animals.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Omar's Rawtopia, Salt Lake City

I was flying into Salt Lake City airport on a Wednesday morning and thought I'd only have one meal in the city. So as I began my research, I came across a little restaurant called Omar's Rawtopia. The reviews for it were great, the pictures of the food looked spectacular, but the website was very basic. I wasn't sure what to make of that, but figured I'd give it a shot anyway.

Located in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Rawtopia is nestled on a block with other small businesses like clothing and antiques. I walked in from the street and to the right there was a case filled with vegan desserts. It looked more like a take-out joint as there were a bunch of things for sale in the front and in the back, there was a very small, simple dining room. I wondered if many people stayed to dine in. There was only one other table occupied at that moment.

Regardless, I was happy to be there. Having just landed and hungry as I could be, I took a look at the menu. I started with a special drink they were serving that day. One sip of it though reminded me that I need to ask a question at any restaurant claiming it is "raw vegan." Does this have honey in it? The answer was "yes" and, once again, I was foiled by a restaurant claiming to be vegan, but serving honey. *sigh* After a bit of back and forth, I decided to let the issue rest and ordered a bottled kombucha instead as that was the only non-smoothie drink without honey. Disappointing to say the least.

The dining room was very simple with its small, blue wood tables, vinyl chairs, and fresh flowers. I began talking to the server about the restaurant. They opened back in 2005, 9 years ago, and are doing so well that they are moving to a larger space. Yay! I asked if Omar was a trained chef. He was actually a geologist who had a passion for good, healthy food. Everything in the restaurant is organic, gluten-free, and vegan with the exception of the use of honey. The food is washed with purified water and takes at least two days to prepare.

The menu, though extensive, is quite simple. There are appetizers, soups, salads, rolls, pizzas, and entrees -- many with a Lebanese influence. It was so hard to choose, but I finally ordered and handed over my menu in a committed way.

I went with the cleverly labeled "bean burrito." As beans must be cooked, it wasn't actually made with beans and it wasn't in a burrito. Instead, there were sunflower seeds and walnuts soaked and processed into a mushy bean-like substance and mixed with herbs and spices. It was served with romaine lettuce and cabbage that you used as a wrap. And it was topped with fresh avocado, cucumber, celery, tomato, red bell pepper, onion, olives and cilantro. It was a bit odd as it was a gooey mess, but goodness gracious was it good! Once layered in the cabbage leaf with the veggies and topped with macadamia nut sour cream and the house made hot sauce, it was an amazing mix of flavors that made my tongue jump for joy. The raw olives gave it the oomph it needed.

Also, the crackers served with it were incredibly good. They were raw crackers made of veggies dehydrated. I bought a bag for $5 on the way out!

So all I have to say is "wow." Who would have thought I'd find such a treasure in Salt Lake City. This restaurant is one of the best raw vegan restaurants I've ever been to. If only I'd had room for dessert!  The service was great, the food was spectacular, and the prices were consistently high for a raw joint. If you only have one day in SLC, this is the place to go. I can't wait to come back again in the near future.

Omar's Rawtopia
2148 Highland Drive
Salt Lake City, UT 84106
(801) 486-0332

Omar's Rawtopia on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Most Simple Dressing

I wanted a quick, easy dressing so I looked to my Simple Recipes for Joy cookbook for an idea. This dressing couldn't be simpler. Just put olive oil and lemon juice over greens and you are done. The only flaw with this recipe is that it doesn't state how much greens to use. My advice is to use at least an entire pound of greens with this dressing.

The Most Simple Dressing

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pour the olive oil over the salad first, and gently toss so that all leaves are coated. Add the lemon juice, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, then toss again.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Jardines, Ottawa, IL

Having had such a great experience with Mexican at La Fondita Mexican in Ottawa, Illinois, we decided to do Mexican another night as well while in this small town. This time, we found ourselves at Jardines.

Jardines is a huge Mexican restaurant in downtown Illinois. What really makes it stick out is its decor as you will find an array of random decorations such as fake plants and flowers, fountains, murals featuring Mexicans and their territories, and paper streamers. There isn't a color that isn't in this restaurant giving it a warm, happy-go-lucky feel! We were seated in the main dining area near other large groups that we knew.

As is standard, we were served the complimentary chips and salsa except that there were very few chips and a note on the menu that each basket of chips would be $1.50. That's a downer as we gobbled up the chips in no time. The salsa was pretty good.

And, of course, we all got margaritas. Yum.

I called ahead to this restaurant to ensure that there were vegan options and they were very nice. They stated that did not use an animal broth in their rice nor did they use lard in their beans so that they could serve vegetarians. Nice! As usual, I went with the fajitas, but this restaurant really surprised me. They offered three types of vegan fajitas: roasted veggies, cactus, or soy chorizo. Wow! It was a really hard choice, but I went with the soy chorizo. The soy chorizo was cooked with tomatoes, peppers, and onions and served lettuce, tomato, rice, and beans. It was good, but dry and way too filling. I could only eat half of the soy chorizo and wished, in the end, I had ordered the roasted veggies as I'm more of a veggie kind of person. But, it was still pretty good.

The service was a bit slow, but that was probably because there weren't many people working and there was a large party in the dining room. The fajitas were $12.95, which was pretty expensive for this little town, but not overpriced. And the food was good with several options for vegans. Next time I come back, I'm trying the roasted veggies or cactus!

711 LaSalle Street
Ottawa, IL 61350
(815) 434-2833

Hacienda Los Jardines Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Endangered Species - Filled Chocolate

Endangered Species chocolate can be found at most Whole Foods. What is Endangered Species chocolate? Well, despite the jokes I get from my meat-eating friends, I can assure you that it does not contain endangered species. The brand is called such because they donate 10% of their net profits to partner organizations that support species conservation, habitat preservation and humanitarian efforts. They currently donate to the African Wildlife Foundation and The Xerces Society. I love the idea of giving back, but how does that chocolate taste?...is probably what you are wondering.

I love their normal chocolate bars and was so excited when they came out with the creme filled line. What makes this line unique is that all of the creme-filled bars are vegan. There are six flavors. Most have a really nice taste to them, but you have to keep in mind that they are not filled with liquid cream. Instead, they've taken the ingredients and made a dry cream inside -- some I found had a really nice flavor and some tasted a little too fake. This dry cream created a pretty dry chocolate bar overall as well.

My favorite one was the Almond Butter because it contains real almond butter, giving it a delicious flavor.  Inside each bar, you'll find ingredients like dark chocolate (chocolate liquor, cane sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, and vanilla), powdered cane sugar, organic palm oil, sea salt, natural flavor, and sunflower lecithin. I just wish I knew what the natural flavor was.

There is Coconut Cream, which is pretty good.

And I also enjoyed the Raspberry Orange Creme Filled chocolate.

I wasn't a big fan of the Sea Salt and Lime because it just didn't taste like natural flavor.

Other flavors include Lavender Mint and Blueberry Vanilla.

You can buy Endangered Species chocolate bars on Amazon here. I especially love that they are Non-GMO Project Verified, certified vegan, certified gluten-free, and Rainforest Alliance certified. Overall, I think they are a nice option when you want something different. Some of the flavors are better than others, but I think they are worth a try.

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