Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mayim's Vegan Table

Mayim Bialik, the child star of Blossom, has gone vegan and wants to show the world how accessible this healthy diet and lifestyle can be through her new book called Mayim's Vegan TableWho knew that Mayim Bialik was vegan?! Even more amazing was discovering that not only is she vegan, but she also has a PhD in neuroscience and is raising two sons completely vegan. I am so impressed.

She teamed up with Dr. Jay Gordon, a prominent pediatrician practicing in Santa Monica, California, so that this book would not only be a source of great vegan recipes, but also sound nutritional information about the vegan diet. My favorite part of the book is the first 44 pages before you even get to the recipes.

In the first section, Mayim explains why everyone could benefit from a plant-based diet and uses the word "vegan" proudly. This book really focuses on families so she refers to children throughout the book. She states, "We don't want to deprive you -- and french fries happen. But we're letting kids know that there are foods that we're not going out and getting as a routine food." Everything in moderation.

They talk about all the reasons to choose vegan foods -- for your health, the environment, and ethical considerations. Once all the basics are out of the way, they cover the nutritional aspects. They debunk the myth that babies need cow's milk. "What's true is that cow's milk is specifically designed to efficiently grow...a baby cow." 'Nuff said. Cow's milk increases the tendency for tonsillitis, runny stuffy noses, and ear infections. Then they review all of the nondairy milks and provide a chart of plant-based foods that are a good source of calcium.  They continue this same approach for cheese, butter, ice cream, eggs, and meat -- providing sound advice and alternatives.

They review how to have a healthy diet based on plant-based foods, then talk about typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices. Lastly,  they review all of the foods that should be stocked in your kitchen in order to make cooking easier. This includes nondairy milk, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, condiments, and spices.

Finally, they get into the recipes. As I was looking through the recipes, it seemed like they tried to include mostly easy-to-make recipes. They all seemed fairly simple. With the changing seasons, I've been in a soup mood lately so the first one I tried was the Tomato Soup with Israeli Couscous. It was delicious. This Middle Eastern-inspired soup had a veggie stock base with chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, mint and cilantro with Israeli couscous. Chris remarked that it was one of the best things I'd ever made!

Then, I tried the Minestrone. This Italian soup was loaded with celery, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, cannellini beans, zucchini, kale, and pasta. In the end, I wished I had used more squash instead of potatoes as Mayim suggested because it was a very heavy soup. But, regardless, it was delicious and I ate it all week long for lunch!

Mayim's Vegan Table provides sound nutritional advice for anyone looking to switch to a more plant-based way of eating. And if you are already vegan, you might learn a thing or two anyway. Mayim and Jay break down everything so it is easy to understand and the recipes are easy to make too. I think this is a great book for parents seeking to understand the nutritional aspects of plant-based diets and find easy recipes to make with their family.

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

Monday, April 28, 2014

Izakaya Seki, DC

Yearning for a new place to try, I started asking around and immediately decided to try Izakaya Seki. A small Japanese izakaya located in the U Street corridor sits inside an unassuming brick townhouse away from the hustle and bustle of 14th Street.

As we walked in, we immediately noticed just how small this place was. The first floor has traditional sushi bar seating where every seat is at the bar so you can watch the chefs do their thing. It is very simple with a wooden bar and white walls -- not a lot of frills. There is also a second floor for a total of 40 seats. We were told there was a 30-45 minute wait on a Wednesday night and after groaning and sighing, we decided we might as well wait. There isn't much of a waiting area so we had to share this tiny little table with others who were waiting. We started with a carafe of genshu -- Naruto's Sea Bream. This unpasteurized sake was dry, rich, and velvety with a tropical finish. We really enjoyed it.

The chef Hiroshi Seki is a 66-year old chef who spent more than 50 years in kitchens. His daughter runs the restaurant and serves as the general manager and together it seems they keep this place pretty busy. We were finally seated after about 40 minutes. Unfortunately, I was seated at the end of the bar where the food was set for the servers to pick up so I was looking at fish heads most of the night. Yuck.

I inquired about the vegan options of which there were a few, then ordered three small plates. The first was the Ume (pickled plum) Rice Ball, which was a seaweed-wrapped rice ball with soybean paper and sweet, pickled plum inside. You eat it like a sandwich. It was a lot of rice, but, overall, I really liked it.

Next, I got the assorted mushrooms in olive oil instead of butter. This is a simple plate of shimeji, shiitake, and ering mushrooms. What? A mushroom that I've never had? Say it ain't so!  Well, I loved these mushrooms mostly because they felt exotic, they were cooked well, and the scallions brought a lot of flavor to this dish.

Lastly, I had the tempura special. I really liked the variety of root vegetables, hot peppers, and asparagus included in this mix. They gave me matcha salt because the sauce it normally comes with is not vegan.

Other options include daikon radish salad, cucumber salad, and oshinko pickled vegetables. I was having a great time until I realized that my tempura was cooked in the same fryer with those fish heads. Normally I try not to think about that, but when you are able to see them cooking it, this becomes disturbing.

Overall, it was fun, but the options are pretty limited. The service was good and the plates ranged from $3.50 to $10 each so I think they are priced well. Given a choice though, I much prefer Izakaya Daikaya in Chinatown as they have more vegan options, better food and better drinks.

Izakaya Seki
1117 V Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 588-5841

Izakaya Seki on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 25, 2014

Kombucha Wonder Drink

Kombucha really has been touted as a wonder drink so why a company would name itself Kombucha Wonder Drink is no wonder. It has become all the craze lately as it is being sold in health food stores and regular grocers nationwide. So why all the hype? Kombucha can be traced back to centuries ago when wise men would descend from high in the Himalayas to harvest spring tea in the valley below. According to a formula passed down from generation to generation, the tea was fermented to create an effervescent elixir said to restore health, promote longevity and bestow mental clarity to all who drank it.

Kombucha Wonder Drink hails from Portland, Oregon where Steve Lee, co-founder of Stash Tea and Tazo, began producing it in 2001 after having met an elderly woman in Russia who shared her secret for longevity and vitality -- a jar containing a starter from her kombucha culture.

There are many brands of kombucha out there, but I think that Kombucha Wonder Drink has some of the most unique flavors. They have nine flavors and I have to say that I love them all. They all are based in a really nice brew of oolong tea and organic kombucha, which is made of water, cane juice, oolong tea leaves, yeast, and bacteria cultures.

If I had to choose one, I'd say I like the Asian Pear and Ginger the best. You mostly get the sweetnesss of the Asian Pear with just a hint of ginger. This one comes in a bottle or a can and I kind of prefer the can because it stays colder longer.

Other flavors I love include the Mango, which has a light mango and peach taste to it. The Cherry Cassis is not tart at all and instead delivers all the goodness that cherries have to offer. And then there is the Essence of Lemon, which is like a scrumptious lemon pie!

One of the most unique flavors is the Essence of Juniper Berry, which has a very unique herbal taste to it that is magnified with a clean, refreshing touch of spearmint.

I also discovered there is one flavor in a can that is not in a bottle -- the Green Tea and Lemon -- loved this one too.

The biggest health benefits stem from the kombucha fermentation process, which creates beneficial organic acids that have been known to aid digestion and detoxification.  Kombucha Wonder Drink states that they pasteurize their products for safety and although pasteurization results in the absence of live cultures and other bacteria, the beneficial organic acids formed during fermentation remain active.  Many people prefer raw kombucha because the pasteurization process results in less probiotics being present in the final product.

In response to that, on their website it states, "While some believe that live cultures are also beneficial to the gut, there is no evidence that kombucha cultures survive in the stomach or reach the intestines. In fact, because these cultures require oxygen, there is no evidence that they even survive the bottling process. However, the organic acids that remain active after pasteurization are what make Kombucha Wonder Drink so appreciated for its naturally uplifting flavor and ability to improve digestion and help detoxify the body."

One of the more controversial topics around kombucha is how much alcohol is left after the fermentation process as alcohol is produced in fermentation. Most companies claim it is less than .5% so it isn't much of an issue.

I also noticed that this brand adds carbonation to its kombucha instead of allowing the carbonation to occur naturally. Forced carbonation results in less probiotics as well so that is something to consider as you are evaluating all the different brands of kombucha.

I, for one, believe in the health benefits of kombucha and I also just love the taste. Kombucha Wonder Drink has some great flavors and is light on the carbonation so you get the cool taste of fermented tea infused with organic fruit concentrates and a little bit of the bubbly. Just be aware that the pasteurization process and forced carbonation that Kombucha Wonder Drink uses results in less probiotics than brands that keep their product raw and allow their kombucha to become carbonated naturally through the fermentation process. On the positive side, Kombucha Wonder Drink is certified organic and is, therefore, non-GMO. To try it yourself, you can order it on Amazon here. To find a store near you, go the store finder here. Enjoy!

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

31 Days of Dark Chocolate Dreams by Peanut Butter & Co.

I love, love, love the peanut butters that come out of Peanut Butter and Co. From their hot, spicy peanut butter to the dark chocolate one, they really have created gourmet peanut butters. Their new book, 31 Days of Dark Chocolate Dreams, just came out and I had the privilege of testing one of the recipes. It is a small hardcover book that has beautiful pictures of each recipe. The only disappointing thing about the book is that even though it is based on their delicious vegan Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter, most of the recipes are not vegan. It just means you need to veganize them, which is easy enough to do for those who are familiar with how to do that. But, in the future, I'd recommend they include vegan options in their next book.

Included are recipes for dark chocolate dreams stuffed French toast, trail mix bars, mousse parfaits, and peanut butter cups.

The recipe I tried was the Dark Chocolate Dreams Banana Smoothie.  This rich, chocolatey, protein-packed smoothie was delicious! I just replaced the yogurt with a vanilla soy yogurt and the milk with an almond milk and voila! I got a great smoothie!

Dark Chocolate Dreams Banana Smoothie
Serves 1

  • 1 cup vanilla soy yogurt (I used Nancy's cultured soy yogurt)
  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 3 Tbsp Peanut Butter & Co. Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup almond milk (I used Almond Breeze vanilla unsweetened)
  • 4 ice cubes

Place the yogurt, banana, peanut butter, almond milk and ice cubes in a blender. Blend on high speed 1-2 minutes or until smooth. Serve in a frosted glass.

You can purchase the book on Amazon for $12.95 here.

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sweetgreen, Mclean, VA

Sweetgreen is exploding! Since their modest opening in 2007, this simple salad shop offering locally sourced, organic ingredients has become so popular that they have expanded into four different regions. Now located in the DC metro area, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, it isn't uncommon to see lines around the block to get into some of these locations.  So there I was walking through the Tysons Galleria mall and, lo and behold, a Sweetgreen opened up right in the middle of the mall near Macy's.

It was noon on a Monday and it was packed. I ordered my usual Spicy Sabzi salad because I heart it. It is loaded with baby spinach and shredded kale with spicy quinoa, spicy broccoli, carrots, raw beets, basil, sprouts, and roasted tofu. Such a great mix! This time I switched out the carrot chili dressing for the lemon tahini and it was so good. A winning combo!

I also tried one of their Sweetpress drinks, which are fresh, cold-pressed juices. The energize is my favorite so far with carrot, orange, grapefruit, ginger, and cayenne, it has more of a carrot flavor with the spiciness of cayenne. These drinks are very expensive though at $9.50 for a single serving, but cold-pressed (not heated) drinks have a very short shelf-life and are loaded with nutrients so anytime you need a nutritional boost, I highly recommend cold-pressed juice if you can find it.

I also noticed they had an organic lentil soup that is vegan as well. I'll have to try this next time.  So -- great job, Sweetgreen, on getting into Tysons Galleria!  That just makes the dreaded shopping trip a little brighter.

Previous review
June 19, 2012

1743 International Drive
Mclean, VA 22102
(703) 639-0355

Sweetgreen on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 18, 2014

Nellie's Sports Bar, DC #2

It's Friday night. You are with a bunch of friends. You just ate dinner and had a glass of whiskey and are ready to start the night. Where do you go? Well, I guess it depends on your mood. But, if you are in the mood for a great time with friendly people, you head to Nellie's Sports Bar.

As the neighborhood gay sports bar, Nellie's sure has created a welcoming scene for all. We arrived around 10 p.m. on a Friday and were immediately coaxed over to the bar by the friendly bartender. I had him make me something fruity and in the tradition of Nellie's, it was, of course, a strong drink.

Then we headed upstairs and grabbed a table.  After enough drinks, one must eat something unhealthy. So we ordered the tater tots. Yum.

We hung out for a few hours as the place filled up. Everyone was friendly and outgoing from the employees to the patrons and we had an awesome time. Good drinks, good appetizers, and good times. That's Nellie's. Duh!

Nellie's Sports Bar
900 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 332-NELL (6355)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Flow Foods - Chocolatl

One way to really boost the level of antioxidants in your body is to consume raw chocolate. Raw chocolate is pure chocolate that is minimally processed and is an abundant source of beta-carotene, zinc, chromium, and magnesium. There are many raw chocolate producers in the industry and one of my favorites is Flow Foods. Flow Foods makes raw chocolate pieces, bars, and chocolate sauce.

I found their chocolates when I was shopping in Berkeley, California. They call their brand "Chocolatl" and it is one of the finest raw chocolates on the market. The chocolate pieces come in three flavors and I love all of them.

My favorite is the Goji-Maca. Made with the purest of ingredients including raw cacao, coconut sugar, raw cacao butter, raw cacao powder, maca root, goji berries, mesquite pod meal, shilajit, vanilla bean, and Himalayan salt, the mix of maca powder and goji berries will knock your socks off. You will get the richness of raw chocolate sweetened with coconut sugar with the added layer of goji berries in chocolate pieces that are just the right thickness for snacking. And, just so you know, maca root is great for increasing energy and endurance so this a great snack to eat prior to running a race!

The Cordyceps-Maca flavor was also very good as it is made with cordyceps mushrooms, maca root, and lucuma. I love that these chocolate pieces are covered in cacao nibs for extra crunchiness too. Cordyceps mushrooms have many health benefits as touted by Chinese medicine. Whoever thought you could have great chocolate with so many health benefits built in?!

There is also a Mystic Mint flavor that includes a 5-mushroom blend, maca root, and wild blue-green algae. Blue-green algae is a good source of protein, b-vitamins, and iron.

Additionally, they came out with a number of chocolate bars. The only one I had the pleasure of trying was the Illuminate Bar made with cacao, coconut crystals, and cacao butter. I found the bar to be a smoother texture and taste than the chocolate pieces. It was also very good.

They say that Chocolatl is "a delicious treat that heightens mental and physical well being with essential antioxidants, minerals, and uplifting brain chemicals." I believe that to be true as raw cacao provides five times more antioxidants that roasted chocolate.  And I love that most of the ingredients are organic as well. To buy some for yourself, you can order the chocolate pieces for $7.99 per box or the bars for $4.25 each here. Now you can have your chocolate and eat it too.

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

We Animals by Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo-Anne McArthur's new book entitled We Animals offers a captivating and intimate look at the lives of animals used for humans' convenience. As an award-winning photojournalist and activist for more than 10 years, Jo-Anne's book includes more than 100 photographs shot over the last decade in 40 countries.  McArthur investigates the ways in which humans create perpetual barriers that allow us to treat non-human animals as objects to be used for fashion and entertainment, food, and research.

Each photograph includes a short narrative about how it was obtained, the location, and the situation. For example, one picture depicts the sad story of Foggy the Hippopotamus as he lives out his life in captivity in the Calgary Zoo.  Another picture shows how an circus elephants spends his time when he isn't in the circus lights -- shackled to a stake in the ground for many hours of the day.

The pictures of animals used for food were most disturbing. In one, you see a baby cow with the following excerpt: "After the calf's birth, and once the mother had licked and nuzzled her baby and watched over her as she stood for the first time, one of the farm hands picked the calf up and dropped her into a wheelbarrow, taking her to the other side of the farm where the veal calves are kept."

I also enjoyed the section on research because not only did it show the animals who are tortured for the purposes of research, but it also showed the heroes -- the animal activists who rescue them.

The photography is some of the best I've ever seen as Jo-Anne is a very talented photographer. These pictures will touch your heart in ways that may change your views forever. If nothing else, this book makes an incredible coffee table book because even without reading any of the narratives, you are sure to be moved by the photography alone.

It retails for $40 and can be found on Amazon for $36 here. You can view a selection of photos from We Animals here.

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cava Mezze Grill, DC #2

After my recent review of Cava Mezze Grill, their marketing department immediately contacted me asking if I wouldn't give it another try. Sure, why not. I'm not sure what difference it will make, but I'll take a free meal when I can get it. So they gave me a few tips that I wasn't aware of and I headed back over to Cava Mezze in Columbia Heights for a quick Monday night meal.

As I mentioned in my last review, Cava Mezze Grill is a Greek-inspired Mediterranean cafe. What I didn't realize is that there is a salad option for which you can choose from a number of healthy greens including a supergreens mix, romaine, arugula, mesclun, or baby spinach. One of the things I didn't like about my last visit is that they loaded my bowl with way too much rice and there weren't many veggies at all. I didn't even see the lettuces!  So this time, I still ordered a bowl, but I asked for only one scoop of brown rice along with the supergreens mix. Then, I added hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, and harissa. For my protein, I chose their delicious falafel. And for the toppings, I loaded it up with tomato & cucumber, cucumbers, pickled onions, quinoa tabbouleh, kalamata olives, and more. This time, they asked me if I wanted a dressing and I chose the lemon herb tahini.

Was I pleased this time? Yes!  The supergreens mix was chock full of shredded kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and chicory and was really good. That mixed with just the right amount of rice and quinoa and all the veggies I desired made for a delicious bowl. I still think the harissa is a bit too strong of a flavor for the bowl, but there are only three spreads that are vegan so I had to choose that one again.  I also loved the lemon herb tahini -- a great dressing! My only recommendation is to start allowing quinoa as a substitution for the rice. Right now, it is just a topping they sprinkle on top. If they had allowed me to sub a scoop of quinoa for the rice, it would have made this meal perfect.

I really like the unlimited toppings for just one low price as well. So, Cava Mezze and your marketing team, you have turned me into a fan. Well done.

Cave Mezze
3105 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 695-8100

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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Woodlands, Chandler, AZ

I was stuck in a remote town in the desert of Arizona and desperate for some real food so we found this Indian restaurant listed about 40 minutes away and began the trek. Woodlands is a vegetarian South Indian restaurant located in Chandler, Arizona about 20 minutes south of Phoenix.

When we arrived, we immediately realized it wasn't all I thought it would be. Located in a strip mall, it was a tiny little take-out joint with inside seating for about 20. We took a look at the menu and were pleased to see items that were marked "vegan" so we ordered and took a seat at a booth. The restaurant had a plain interior with cheap tables and black chairs. Towards the back, there was a toppings bar with lots of options. We chose the hot peppers to add to everything we had ordered and waited for our food.

We started with the Iddly steamed rice and lentil cakes. These plain, mostly flavorless cakes were served with a somewhat-runny sauce that left much to be desired. That's not to mention that everything was served on styrofoam plates, which I only tend to see in cities in the middle of nowhereland. So weird.

For our entrees, we ordered two curries. I had the Vegetable Curry that had green beans and cauliflower in a coconut-tomato-based curry. My friend ordered the Dhall Curry, which had lentils with mustard, cumin, and spices. Neither of them were anything special.  And we also asked for super spicy, but they weren't spicy at all.

We also ordered the Parotta Kurma, which turned out to be really odd. They took the bread and sliced it up into pieces, then put a red curry on it. The bread was chewy and slightly spicy, but just odd.

All in all, it wasn't worth the drive out. The guy at the counter wasn't very helpful or personable. The meal was mediocre at best. And the entrees at $8.50 each really could be priced less for what we received. Oh, and the styrofoam and paper plates for those dining in the dining room were pretty tacky.

4980 W. Ray Road
Chandler, AZ 85226
(480) 820-2249

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Green Restaurant, Phoenix

I had only one night in Phoenix to catch up with one of my oldest and dearest friends and based on reviews and the menu, I decided to go to Green Restaurant. Green is a 100% vegan restaurant that features new American-style comfort food. They also try to use organic ingredients when possible. But, it was really the chef's statement on the website that made me want to visit. It is owned by Damon Brasch, a vegan chef and restauranteur who is now living his dream by having opened this restaurant. He wanted to create a menu that would please any palate and that was influenced by many different cultures and cooking styles.  And it was so successful that there are now two locations as well as a separate vegan dessert place called "Nami."

My friend alerted me that it was a very casual place so I was prepared to dine super casual on this Friday night. When we arrived around 8 p.m., it was packed and there was just enough seating for our group so we snagged it right away. We took a look at the menu for a long time. As everything is vegan, it was very difficult for me to choose what I wanted. The menu features appetizers, bowls, salads, sammies & burgers, and sides so there was a lot to choose from.  I was also pleased to see that they served beer and wine as well. Once we made our selections, we ordered at the counter, then sat down and waited for our food.

I started with a locally brewed beer -- Four Peaks Peach Ale. Then, our appetizers started arriving. First, we had the green hummus made of garlic, poblano chilies, and chickpeas with fried pita. This one was a winner.

Next,we had the spicy buffalo wings, which were probably my favorite item from the whole night. They were tender with great spice and served with a delicious vegan cucumber ranch.

Our last appetizer was the samosas filled with curried potatoes, peas, carrots, and garlic served with a tamarind dipping sauce. These were okay, but nothing to write home about.

For my entree, I ordered the Clexico Burger. This was their homemade burger with organic garbanzo hummus, cheddar cheese, mayo, and spicy chipotle sauce. The burgers were a bit too meaty for me and not vegetably enough, if you know what I mean. And there were no veggies -- no lettuce or tomato so it was just a lot of fake meat with a nice chipotle sauce. I thought the burger was good, but definitely not what I should have ordered given the other healthy options.

I ended up wishing I had ordered the Singapore orange bowl that my friend had. Filled with fresh broccoli, zucchini, and faux meat, it was delicious.

Another girl got the Coconut Curry Bowl filled with broccoli, zucchini, and potatoes in a curry sauce.

My out-of-town friends tried their famous version of a Big Mac, the Big WAC! This was way too much burger for me. It was two patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame bun just the way I remembered. I have to admit that it was good, just too meaty and too much.

In the end, I was so glad I chose this place. Though I wish I had ordered the fresh bowls, I was still satisfied with everything I tried and some items were exceptionally good. All of our bowls and sandwiches were about $9 so pretty cheap. And I love that they offer beer, wine, and soft serve ice cream. This place is a win-win.

Green Restaurant
2022 N 7th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(602) 258-1870

Green on Urbanspoon