Austin, TX, is a fun and friendly town reminiscent of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, L.A., Oakland or Brooklyn but with a feel all its own. Namely, the feel of sunshine on your pale PNW skin. Mmm… vitamin D.
I loved the 6 or so days I spent there recently.
Texas Vegfest was the catalyst for the trip and marked the midway point of my adventure — I wrote more about it in another post. To prepare for Texas VegFest, I kept a strict regimen of diet and exercise — walking around town until massive blisters sprouted on my feet and consuming four square meals of Austin’s finest daily.
The festival is at scenic Fiesta Gardens along the water in East Austin. Perfect weather, vegan food from all over the state, vendors from all over the country, animal activist groups, awesome speakers, bands — you really couldn’t ask for a more enjoyable day. Here’s Christy Morgan speaking:
My high school friend Kat, who is getting a PhD at UT, attended with me — her sister is vegan, and most of the vendors answered Kat’s questions about veganism. Kat’s scientific, inquisitive, and frank nature made her an ideal omni companion — she sampled everything (even the vegan crab cakes!) and gave me her honest opinion about what she thought.
Tons of fun — great job, Texas Veg Foundation. I’d highly recommend Texas Vegfest as an excuse to visit Austin, as if you need one.
After arriving on a Wednesday evening around 6 p.m., starving, at my home base for the next 6 days, the Firehouse Hostel (very clean and nice place, though loud due to its proximity to Sixth Street), I consulted my Austin vegan dining bible and found Hoboken Pie to be just a few blocks away.
Hoboken Pie served probably the best pizza I’ve eaten since going vegan – crisp, bubbly cornmeal-bottomed crust with gobs of melty Daiya, topped with mushrooms, caramelized shallots, and olives (my selections). Only in Texas does a 14” pizza serve 1-2 (I’d say more along the actual lines of 2-4) but I managed to eat ½ the pizza with relatively little effort – the rest served as two breakfasts and one late night drunk snack. It’s not a big place, maybe 2-3 tables, but the staff were all these adorable tattooed boys who happily gave me vegan-friendly bar recs.
Casa de Luz
I dined at macrobiotic heaven Casa de Luz (or “Casa,” as the cool kids call it) three times on my stay – once for lunch and twice for dinner. Each time was a different experience, since the offerings rotate, and I didn’t regret the duplicity because it’s a fairly unique experience – I can eat freeto pie or gutbuster burgers in Seattle or Portland, but this sort of hippie goodness isn’t readily available near me.
The way is works is this: for $12, you (and everyone else) get hot tea, iced tea, a bowl of soup, a salad, and a plate of assorted deliciousness: beans, rice, veggies, and greens topped with various sauces — it’s great for people like me who dread making decisions. If you want dessert or a second helping, you just pay more.
Here’s the assortment of what I ate:
You can sit inside or outside, alone or with other people (though on a busy day, you’ll probably sit with other people). This is the group I dined with for lunch — I only knew one of them coming in:
Casa is rumored to be popular with local celebrities, which I can confirm because a guy who looked at lot like Owen Wilson and turned out to be Owen Wilson was there at lunch. As much as I would have loved to tell Owen Wilson how much I love Wes Anderson’s movies, I didn’t work up the courage to speak to him.
Owen Wilson is in this picture but you can’t really see him, as he is engulfed in the glow of fame and natural light:
I always wanted to be a Tenenbaum, you know?
While it’s mostly meaty and the rice isn’t vegan, I thoroughly loved Curra’s cactus, mushroom, and soy chorizo tacos and avocado frozen margarita. I think a few other menu choices were vegan, though I probably wouldn’t go here unless I also had a thirst to quench and a sobriety to destroy — it was kinda far off the beaten path.
Whole Foods got its start in Austin just a few blocks away from the current mecca on Lamar. The flagship store is nuts: it’s got a juice bar, a salad bar, a cookie bar, and even a bar bar, serving fine craft beer. I ate a quick dinner there one night consisting of pesto-Daiya portobello, kale-avocado salad and soup, and breakfast tacos another morning.
Seriously: breakfast tacos to a Seattleite are like breakfast pizza or breakfast cake or breakfast leftover Ethiopian food, but they’re an actual thing in Austin. $4ish got me a massive creation of tofu scramble, soy chorizo, potatoes, guac, salsa, and a variety of other toppings. Two corn tortillas could not contain the delight.
Yeah, it looks kinda sloppy-gross, but it was oh-so tasty.
This crunchy co-op near the University reminds me a lot of Madison Market – same sort of offerings, same vibe, same crowd. Which means I loved it. Their popcorn tofu made the PPK 100 this year for good reason – it’s amazing: salty, spicy morsels of chewy delight. I made a plate of this with beet salad, chased with a Red Rabbit maple walnut donut, washed down with awesome local kombucha.
Mmm… buffalo sauce.
Capital City Bakery
This tiny food truck is in parking lot near the university along with Conscious Cravings, a vegan-friendly falafel stand, and something else that I can’t remember. If you don’t follow owner Kristin Davenport on Instagram, do it now, and then dare to tell me you don’t want to chow down on everything she makes. You just can’t not love her gorgeous baked goods, which happen to be as scrumptious as they are beautiful. And she’s adorable!
After waffling between a massive oatmeal sandwich cookie, a vanilla cupcake, and a frosted brownie, I went with the brownie, which turned out to be the best decision of the trip: it was the chewiest, densest, chocolatiest brownie I have eaten in a long time, possibly ever. The brownie alone would have been amazing, but the smooth peanut butter-tinged frosting and drizzle of fresh ganache elevated it to uncharted levels of indulgence.
Goddamn, girl – you are going places.
I guess this is an Austin vegetarian staple, and there are two locations – a dining companion at Casa de Luz told me the Cesar Chavez location is better. I wasn’t overly wowed but I enjoyed my meal.
The way it works is this: half the place is a sorta cafeteria-style deli and bakery, and the other is a natural foods store. If you decide to eat, you get your choice of a salad, an entree, and a couple of sides (they’ll throw in a tortilla) for a reasonable price. Not everything is vegan, but I was happy with my selection — soya in sauce, potato salad, a tofu/sunflower seed tamale, and a mushroom-potato-pepper hash. It was all a little oily, but good.
Arlo’s vegan bacon cheeseburger is supposed to be amazing, and I am remiss to say that I did not try it. This food cart is usually located at Cheer Up Charlie’s, though long lines for it formed at VegFest. I was part of one of these lines.
Their seitan tacos are also fantastic — chewy cubes of seitan, slightly crisped, lettuce tomato, and a creamy chipotle dressing.
Me So Hungry
I missed out on the ATX Vegan Drinks at Cheer up Charlie’s, but decided to check out the bar after VegFest. I wasn’t really hungry, but the fellow in the group nice enough to share their picnic table with me had positive things to say about his Me So Hungry tofu banh mi, so I figured, “well, I need breakfast tomorrow, so…”
Me So Hungry isn’t 100% vegan, but will make most of their items vegan, including subbing a vegan sauce for the non-veg one. Despite being a weird pink color, the barbeque tofu was perfectly spiced on chewy toasted bread.
I met Marie and Daniel of Red Hot Vegans and Austin Vegan Drinks while waiting for my banh mi at Cheer Up Charlie’s – Daniel was wearing a vegan shirt, and in a rare act of kale lime ginger margarita-fueled outgoingness, I introduced myself to their group. Marie and I made plans to meet up for lunch on Monday at Vegan Nom. Only Vegan Nom is closed Mondays.
Tea-themed cafe The Steeping Room was no consolation prize: picture Remedy-level tea selection, GLT-caliber sandwiches, and awesome soups and salads. My tempeh bacon, tofu, tomato, and vegenaise sandwich with cashew caesar salad served as both lunch and airplane dinner. Between that salad and those at Casa de Luz, I didn’t have a boring dressing experience the entire time. The Steeping Room’s strip mall atmosphere is a little chain-y, even though there’s just two locations, but the wait staff was super nice and doted completely on Lily, Marie and Daniel’s absolutely precious dachshund.
Daniel tipped me off to this Detroit-style (sauce on top of the cheese) pizza cart by the Violet Crown Social Club, which will sub Follow Your Heart (old-school in the Daiya age!) for dairy on their offerings. I went there on my last night in town, and my order of this square, chewy-crusted pie didn’t last long.
I was going to save it half for breakfast the next day, but then was all like, “YOLO!” and ate the whole thing.
They serve both hard ice cream and vanilla soft serve. Deciding between the two was difficult, but as a reformed Dairy Queen fan, the thought of a creamy vanilla soft serve sundae topped with Chick-o-sticks and housemade salted caramel sauce tickled my fancy.
It was delicious.
If anyone tells you not to go to San Antonio (“I think if you didn’t grow up in Texas, the Alamo could be verrrry underwhelming” – jackass Texan friend who will remain unnamed. It’s the freakin’ Alamo, dude. Davey Crockett? Jim Bowie? Remember it? I’m not from New England but the Battle of Bunker Hill still means something to me because I’m a citizen of the U.S. of A.), don’t listen to them.
San Antonio has a completely different feel from Austin’s Seaportoakciscolyngeles atmosphere – more frontier, while still hip and fun. Do as I say and not as I did and plan on spending more than 4 hours there (“you need 4 hours in San Antonio for Margaritas and TexMex alone!” a client tweeted at me).
The Alamo is frustratingly crowded and a little hokey, but you aren’t a real American until you’ve seen it – the moment I crossed the threshold, a latent appreciation for country music and light beer awakened within me.
I balanced this newfound love of 4×4s and firearms by dining at a commie pinko vegetarian restaurant: Green Vegetarian Cuisine, a lovely 1.5 mile or so walk up the scenic riverway away. It was crowded, but I found a place on the patio bar and sipped unsweetened hibiscus iced tea.
My Daiya-smothered enchiladas were not the best of Tex Mex cuisine (the sauce sorta tasted like Prego. Also, what is TexMex cuisine? As a Californian, I’m pretty sure we eat a ton of TexMex, only we just call it “Mexican food,” and it’s not any worse than what you find in Texas, despite what every Texan will tell you), but they were tasty nonetheless – I should have trusted my gut and gone with one of Green’s macro-ish bowls, which looked fabulous.
What really blew my mind was the selection of baked goods – the feather-light frosting, awesome ganache, and perfect crumb of my s’mores cupcake made up for the somewhat average entree.
Neil has a friend who bought a Cricket trailer and then camped out in Austin with a bunch of hippies and some goats for a month. I arrived in town right before he left for Santa Fe to search for the treasure of Forest Fenn, but prior to doing so he took me dancing at this Austin favorite. Seriously, every friend who has been to Austin loves this bar. The place was packed on a Wednesday night with young and old alike two-stepping (which is actually kinda three steps?) to awesome alt-countryish bands. Tons of fun. Be sure you boogie with everyone wearing a cowboy hat.
Some people don’t like doing the tourist things in cities, but I do. I mean, when else do you have the opportunity to enter the building where so many educational, LBGT and women’s rights are taken backwards?
It’s a really pretty building though.
If I were Rick Perry, what would I do?
Equal rights for all! Abortions for some! Miniature American flags for others!
Austin is home to the world’s largest bat colony, and every night right at sunset, they supposedly swarm out from under the South Congress Bridge en masse to nibble on the insects that live by the river. I twice stood on that bridge, freezing, and the rabid little f*ckers never appeared.
South Congress Street
If you’re looking for cowboy boots (umm, not vegan), cute boutiques, and vintage clothes, SoCo is a fun place to shop — Uncommon Objects is especially neat. There are also classic Austin watering holes like the Austin Motel (whose sign has made its deserved appearance on this Instagram account, hehe), the Hotel San Jose (lovely outdoor patio bar), and the Continental Club. The coffee shop next to the Hotel San Jose had vegan muffins, and Christy said that a dosa cart was vegan friendly, but I didn’t really explore the vegan options around here.
Sixth street downtown
… is ridiculous. Think Belltown, multiplied by infinity — a spectacle of drunken “this is why people hate America” debauchery. There’s nothing but bars for blocks and blocks and blocks. A coworker who attended UT warned I might get punched in the face if I went there, but it was right around the corner from my place of lodging so I needed to check it out, right? Sh*tshow. (Not on my part.) Walk a few more blocks east and you get to good stuff.
I totally rode that mechanical bull though.
I loved Cheer Up Charlie’s! This place on E. Sixth (the good part of Sixth) has a large outdoor area with lights and picnic tables (okay, many places in Austin have a large outdoor area with lights and picnic tables), a parachute, stage, cutesy murals, and a couple of vegan-friendly food trucks.
No wonder Austin Vegan Drinks meets here often.
Eastside Showroom is next door to Cheer Up Charlie’s and a local favorite, I’ve been told. I met a guy claiming to be the owner’s ex-brother-in-law at Bimbo’s right before my trip, and he recommended it to me. This fellow seemed a little bro-y (but nice), so I wasn’t sure whether Eastside Showroom would be my scene but it totally was. It was basically just Canon or Tavern Law, but in Austin. Seriously — the bartender serving me that night grew up in Issaquah. Good cocktails, decent beer selection, classy atmosphere.
The same jackass Texan friend who told me no-go on the Alamo recommended Barton Springs as a beloved place to cool down on a warm day — he was right this time. The 80 degree weather wasn’t hot enough to make the frigid water tolerable for a dip, but I washed off my dirty, blistered feet in it. (Seriously, who plans a walking-heavy vacation and only brings flip-flops and boots with heels? This girl.)
I don’t really get the fascination with Chuy’s, a TexMex diner, but everyone I talk to who has been to Austin seems to love it — the picture I posted of a pricky pear margarita got tons of likes and “I love that place!” from random people. Maybe the food is good — the menu isn’t very vegan-friendly, so I dunno. Chuy’s is by Barton Springs and worth stopping in to cool down though, if you’re passing by — my drink was refreshing.
Kat likes to blues dance, and took me to a dance studio in a shopping mall way the heck up in the north of town (tangent: we drove by Donut Taco Palace 3 on the way home. The fact that one Donut Taco Palace exists makes me happy — three of them makes me ecstatic.) The first part of the evening was a lesson, for which I was thankful, and then we danced until 1 a.m. to an awesome live band. A couple of my partners clucked at my choice of dance footwear, but every Californian is born with an innate ability to do everything in flip-flops, so there.
Veronica recommended this Hyde Park bar for its proximity to Mother’s Cafe (where I did not eat because I was too full but is an Austin vegetarian staple) and its big-a$$, strong, cheap ($5) soy White Russians. Curiously, they are garnished with an olive, but since olives are the best garnish ever, it’s no biggie.
If you enjoy hotel bars, you’ll like this historic hotel that was across the street from my hostel. The Driskoll Hotel is old-school Texas (lots of guns and taxidermy) but the staff is friendly (had a nice conversation about llamas vs. alpacas with one of the bartenders, which isn’t entirely random) and the people watching is fabulous (old man on a date with an escort, anyone?). A good place for a classy drink and an ego boost — hello, lonely out-of-town middle aged men.
Sidenote: I guess Air B-n-B is a dating site now? One of the valets stopped me as I entered to ask whether I was from Boston, because he saw me coming out of the hostel and apparently had date with an an Air-B-n-B girl who was staying there. Go figure.
I didn’t go to:
- Alamo Drafthouse — movies aren’t really my thing and I live in the CD, so… Central Cinema. I don’t care if the latter is based off of the former.
- Cathedral of Junk — it was closed.
- Smut Putt Heaven — too far.
- Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum in San Antonio — not enough time. REGRETS!!
I love Austin, but it’s kinda the opposite of New York: Austin would be great to live in (unlike New York), but you really need a reason to visit because it’s essentially just a sunnier version of home and I don’t know if there are the same non-stop attractions of a bigger city.
However, flights and lodging can be cheap (I paid a total of about $400 for both — $230 for flight and $170 for hostel), so if you need to get away and have never been, why not?
Or you can just visit Georgetown on a warm day.
The second Texas VegFest was worth the trek from Seattle to Austin, for sure — people both here and there were surprised that I would travel halfway across the country for a vegan food festival but I:
- had vacation time
- had been wanting to check out Austin for a while
- am just that much of a dork.
I’m not from Texas, had never been to Texas before, claim no allegiance to Texas, and even sometimes make fun of Texas (West Coast FTW!) but I had an an excellent time in Austin and especially at Texas VegFest.
Here’s why it rocked.
1. Weather and venue
Texas VegFest is held at Fiesta Gardens, a scenic piece of land along the central lake/river that cuts through town. Being outdoors on a nice day made the experience that much more special. Each booth was a clean white tent, and there were plenty of places to sit, eat, listen to music, and relax, as well as a big covered stage area in the center for shade.
2. Great food and booths
I really liked that there were both samples and the option to purchase actual meals — you didn’t feel the urge to freeload as much as some other food festivals I’ve been to and still got a great taste of what the Texas vegan scene has to offer. Food trucks from all over the state drove in for the occasion, allowing attendees to sample goods from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, etc. It was all new to me, so I didn’t discriminate. And massive vegan kolaches? Be still, my Czech-blooded heart!
Also, while the focus was on food and fun, animal activist groups like Mercy for Animals, Sea Shepard, PETA, Compassion over Killing, and a whole lot more had booths — wonderful to see such a strong ethical component to the day.
3. Awesome attendees
Many of the attendees seemd pretty actively, obviously vegan, wearing vegan shirts, necklaces, etc., but not in an abrasive way. Folks were normal — any omnis or vegcurious folks in the crowd wouldn’t think that vegans are weird. Everyone was polite and milled around without pushing — a very laidback experience, despite the size of the crowd (a guy in line behind me for funnel cakes said that last year they were expecting 1,500, got closer to 2,500, and this year anticipated more — I might have made those numbers up, but, yeah. Lots of people).
Heck, I couldn’t tell whether these guys were there for crowd control or fun or both — they were enjoying their vegan mac that much:
4. Fantastic Speakers
Isa Chandra Moskowitz? Colleen Patrick-Goudreau? Christy Morgan? The guy who founded the Hillside Quickies/Plum dynasty? These are serious caliber representatives of the vegan movement, and they were there, imparting their wisdom on us. Well, I guess Isa was sick, but still. STILL.
5. Cute tshirts
These shirts are totes adorbs! I would be happy to wear this to the grocery store or gym or even with jeans for a casual weekend afternoon. It’s great year-round advertising!
6. It’s all vegan!
I knew that everything I put into my mouth at Texas VegFest would be 100% plant-based, though it wasn’t overtly advertised that way — this drove the message home even more clearly. Vegan food can be approachable, affordable, and delicious.
And, I mean, look at those tacos. No, really — LOOK AT THOSE TACOS. Vegan or not, you want to cram them in your gullet, right?
7. Vegan funnel cake
8. Live music
The bands playing at Texas VegFest rocked — vegans are fun too! It was just lovely to sit in the pavilion area and listen to a 6-piece indie band while eating some aforementioned funnel cake, and made veganism seem more like a lifestyle, not just a diet.
9. Org. actively participating in social media
As I was live tweeting Christy’s talk, I noticed that the Texas VegFest Twitter handle was too. In fact, I found out about the festival last year through Twitter, and this is basically the reason I attended — that constant reminder of potential for good times goading me into finally buying a ticket to Austin. Great for building exposure!
Texas Vegfest is a suggested donation of $5 — basically, the cost of a soy latte, with tip. The easy currency exchange (no breaking bills with $1s) made the line (pictured) move much quicker.
Want to see/read more?
I sat down with Ben Greene, vegan personal trainer, author of The Vegan Athlete, and owner of Greene Multisport, a few weeks ago because I started going to the bootcamps he holds on Saturday mornings at Miller Playfield (thanks, Dawn!), think he’s a really fun and friendly guy, and wanted to get to know him better.
Over tea, I kept asking him what inspired him. What inspired him to go vegan. What inspired him to become a personal trainer. What inspired him to start his own business. I’ve edited that out from what follows, but it happened.
Feeling self-conscious, I made a joke about my limited vocabulary. He pulled up his sleeve to reveal the word “Inspire” inked on his wrist.
Ben is indeed an inspiration. Born premature, with cerebral palsy, he’s overcome these physical limitations to complete marathons and triathlons.
And did I mention that he’s a super-friendly, very genuine fellow? An inspiration in that regard too.
Anyhow, enough italics. Here’s Ben.
How long have you been vegan?
2 ½ years, and I was vegetarian before that for 3 years or so.
A lot of reasons. What pushed me over the edge was the Meet Your Meat video narrated by Alec Baldwin. Once I saw that I couldn’t do it any more. I preach nonviolence and compassion for animals.
Tell me more about your book.
It’s meant to be a book for beginners, not for someone trying to be an elite level athlete – a beginners’ guide with an emphasis on exercise. Everyone can benefit from it. It includes meal plans, an exercise program, and a how-to guide to being vegan.
What made you decide to write a book?
I was approached by a friend who is a fitness writer and he didn’t know anything. [laughs] I wanted to inform people, to tell my story, and try to help as many people as possible with it.
Why did you become a personal trainer?
Exercise became important to me when I was 16 or 17, and I wanted to share my love of fitness. I have a few limitations and I wanted to show people they can do whatever they want.
What’s your exercise philosophy?
Exercise should be fun – you shouldn’t dread it! Think back to gym class as a kid. You were running around, constantly moving. I want to bring back that joy.
What do you want people to know about you?
I’m a non-pushy trainer. I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do, and I want to get to know clients on a personal level. I want to teach them to make healthy choices on their own.
What’s the next step for you?
My goal for the end of the year is to open my own studio. The ultimate goal for it is to be a little gym. I’m enjoying it. I’m having so much fun today – this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Finally, what’s your favorite animal?
That’s the hardest question you’ve asked! I really like puppies. I like grown-up dogs too, but I like puppies more.
Ben hosts bootcamps at 11 a.m. on Saturday mornings at Miller playfield on 20th and John and has organized a competition with great prizes on March 30 that will consist of:
- 100 sit ups.
- 100 step ups.
- 50 push-ups.
- 50 dips.
- 20 burpees.
As many times as you can do them in 30 minutes. I am already anticipating my celebratory Highline Bloody Mary and the impending physical inability to get out of bed the next day.
- March 30, 10:30 – 11 a.m. at Miller Playfield
- Email email@example.com to register
- $15/person (pay the day of registration)
- Teams of 2 or 5
- All fitness levels!
- Great prizes for the winners!
Please let me talk about a dining establishment that I positively adore: Pike and 11th’s Cafe Pettirosso.
It’s a new obsession, and I don’t even know how to pronounce its name. I keep calling it “PettirAhhhsso” but my jerk coworker Neil was making fun of me for this other day like Hermione effin’ Granger — “it’s PettirOhhhsso…”
Pettirosso’s menu isn’t extensive, but has 4 or 5 really solid vegan meal options, as well as the bestest raspberry bars on the planet. It’s not just a “we can go there because they have one decent thing I can eat” kind of omni-co-dining place (*cough* 22 *cough*) — it’s the type of joint you hit up with a vegan pal.
And, it’s open 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday, meaning you don’t have to wait for hipster waitstaff to work off their PBR hangovers if you want to eat before 11 a.m. on the weekend (like everywhere else on Capitol Hill).
I love the industrial yet romantic decor — Pettirosso is hip enough for a date night or casual enough for brunch with buds, and you totally won’t be judged if you go in for a solo mimosa (which I haven’t ever done or anything. Nope, of course not).
But let’s talk about the food.
Coconut tofu scramble. Pettirosso’s take on this breakfast classic is fairly original, served in a light coconut sauce. A recent dining companion and I tried to figure out what the green things were (“I think they’re something exotic, like lemongrass!”) before confirming that they are just fancy-sliced scallions. Tricksy, Cafe Pettirosso. The roasted potatoes and peppers didn’t knock my socks off, but roasted root vegetables in any form are delicious and I like that you get both toast and a fruit cup.
Good, but not my favorite item on the menu. That distinction goes to…
Shawn’s Mac and Cheese! I heard a rumor that these are the same folks who run Bang Bang Cafe (Looks like they’re at least involved with it), and Pettirosso’s mac and cheese is similar to theirs in its spicy, creamy, oily deliciousness. Seriously, best vegan mac on the Hill — that’s right. I went there. Object all you want, Plum lovers — it’s my blog and I say what I want.
Another option that keeps me coming back is the…
Tofu Breakfast Bagel! You wouldn’t think that fried tofu, cabbage slaw and a peanutty sauce would be the perfect bagel toppings, but they are. They just are. The savory sauce soaks into the bagel, the tofu makes it feel like a legit upscale breakfast sandwich, and pickled cabbage is just good on anything.
Did I mention there’s a bar too?
So, yes. Cafe Pettirosso. A hidden gem. Go eat there and revel in the deliciousness.
When I opened an email from the folks at Vegan Cuts asking if I wanted to review a snack box, I didn’t hesitate. I had been wanting to sample one of these boxes from the moment learned of their existence, so this was an exciting moment.
This is a two-part review.
Part one (say this in your best Ira Glass voice): a review of the products in the box, because while they may not be in the next box, they are available on their own.
Part two: the box as whole entity.
Also, this is the January box (I’m a little delayed in my writing of this) so if you got the February box and are all like, “you’re crazy, girl — none of this was in my box!” — well, that’s why.
Beanfields bean & rice chips in nacho and pico de gallo — it was love at first bite with these chips. The nacho flavor tastes just like vegan Doritos and are so cheesy-good that you won’t notice that they’re corn- and gluten-free. Even my mom didn’t realize or care — she can be a little critical of vegan dairy substitutes, and we happily snacked on these together. The pico de gallo is zesty and, again, you will not mourn the lack of traditional tortilla. I’ve been picking them up at Central Coop, and bought a 6-pack off of Vegan Cuts for the Oscars party I’m hosting this weekend. Highly recommend checking out Beanfields if you haven’t.
Pür gum– On Valentine’s day, I was all like, “I’m single, b*tches! I’m eating garlic today!” Then I remembered I was meeting a olfactorily sensitive friend after work to climb and he would be downright disgusted if my breath smelled like anything other than a pristine mountain stream. Pür to the rescue! This gum is as minty and fresh as the gum you’d buy at the supermarket, but doesn’t have aspartame, unlike the gum you would buy at the supermarket. Contrary to most natural gums though, this stuff actually holds together like the gum you buy at the supermarket. Which makes me ask: why can’t you buy this gum at the supermarket? Again, highly recommend.
Nutcase Crunch – This mix of coconut, pine nut, pecan, and almond is billed as a Paleo alternative to cereal, but I found it to be best as a rich, nutty topping on real cereal. A tablespoon on oatmeal transforms gooey blah into “hey, I can eat this,” while that same tablespoon on soy yogurt adds needed texture. Given the simplicity of the ingredients and preparation, one might just try adding the raw components to a blender, but I definitely enjoyed the sample.
Simply Straws glass straw — when I was growing up, my brother had a friend whose mother had her arms ripped off and eaten by a bear in Alaska (yes, you do not make these stories up) and she only drank from glass straws. So, in a weird way, glass straws kinda creep me out. Like, I can grasp cups — why do I need a straw? Is owning a glass straw practically asking to be mauled by a large hairy carnivore? Well, she already had the straw…
But then I got a really sore throat (seriously, what sort of person with minimal contact with children gets strep in their late 20’s? Me, apparently.) and I was so grateful for this straw. Straws make drinking easier and more fun, and when you are legitimately having trouble staying hydrated because it feels like daggers to swallow, sometimes novelty does the trick. So, I got over my weird glass straw phobia, and now am really looking forward to using my Simply Straws glass straw on a daily basis to sip water at my desk.
Cuppow lid – I don’t have a lot of mason jars hanging around my house and do have a ton of travel mugs, so I’m probably going to give this to a guy I used to date who for some weird reason only drinks out of old jars. (Mini rant time: you don’t can, and I respect your thriftiness and get that you don’t earn much, but cups are, like, 99 cents at Value Village, and it’s freakin’ awkward drinking a Manhattan from a tiny glass honey bear. You’re 30. years. old. Invest in some proper effin’ glassware.)
However, I love the idea of the Cuppow lid in theory: why buy a whole new travel mug when you can repurpose what you already have? Plus, you can hook it up to a really big mason jar for extra caffeine buzz. Not my cuppow tea (garrr) but a very cool concept.
Surf Sweets gummy bears — I’m not that into gummy candy, but these sugar-coated little bears are tart and natural-tasting. If I had a kid, I’d put a pack in his or her lunchbox, for sure. Also, they have 60% of your daily vitamin C, so they’re healthy, right?
Berry Plus laundry soap — I was a little wary that this stuff would make my skivvies smell like fruit loops, but I was really impressed by how fresh and clean and mild-scented my laundry came out — the main ingredient is soapberry, which bears no resemblance to the bluish-purple lab-created “berry” I had been envisioning. Berry Plus comes pre-measured in these cute little test tubes (microdoses), which are recyclable but seem a bit wasteful — my only criticism of an otherwise awesome product.
Freekeh Foods– I don’t know when I first heard of freekeh, but I’ve been wanting to try it for a little while. I use the present tense here because I still haven’t tried it. I know, I know, you get a freekeh gift, you play with it, right? The thing is, I haven’t been motivated to cook much lately (been inexplicably busy, combined with the general Seattle winter blahs), so if I waited to write this review until I cooked it… I would never write the review. The box even included a recipe, for Pete’s sake. I am lazy. Worse food blogger ever. Still, I’m excited to have it in my pantry for a sunny day when I have someone exciting to cook for.
Kelapo coconut oil sample — I don’t really know what to say about this. I like coconut oil. I’ve had coconut oil before. I am grateful for more coconut oil to try. I don’t use coconut oil as much as I should because I don’t like the coconutty flavor it gives everything. However, my one roommate is on a cleanse (who isn’t on a cleanse these days?) and cooked up some amazing cauliflower cutlets in coconut oil last night, so I might use this soon because her coconut oil cauliflower smelled delicious.
iTrain $25 gift card – this is a great idea: downloadable musical sets with a recorded voice keeping you motivated. I’m trying to get back into cardio exercise again, but am not all that motivated on my own and spend waaay too much money on a gym without a treadmill (because climbing is super fun!). So, a pleasant female voice gently but emphatically telling me to get my butt into shape is excellent motivation to run outdoors and actually get a workout. If only she sounded more like my scary middle school gym teacher and less like the nice computer on Star Trek…
I had a lot of fun with my Snack Box, and definitely am hooked on a few new things (I <3 you, Beanfields). It was so exciting to discover the package on my doorstep, open it up, and paw through the goodies inside. I am seriously considering subscribing just to feel this joy on a monthly basis — $19.95/month (which includes shipping) for all that is a bargain, and I can only assume future boxes will contain the same variety of bonanza.
Plus, you’re not just paying for products — you’re paying for curation and discovery. The Vegan Cuts Snack Box is a fantastic way to get out of a rut and explore something new. While I didn’t 100% love love love everything, I liked it all enough to make it worthwhile and am grateful to have been exposed to a few new vegan goods.
Some things (like Beanfields) I see and think, “there’s no way that could be tasty,” and without them appearing in a box on my porch, I never would consider sampling them. And then they’re amazing!
Other things sound trendy and are trendy (anything Paleo, amirite?), but you can’t really know what you’re going to like or dislike until you try them.
Others I have never heard of before (like iTrain) but one I am exposed to them, I love.
My only criticism is that the contents of the box are not all edible or easily, quickly consumed — when I think “Snack Box,” I think… snacks. Between my lady roommate and myself, the kitchen has enough stuff already, and we don’t need more items to gather dust in our collective (in my former colleague Melissa’s words) “-er drawer.”
And while a few months ago I would jump at the challenge of freekeh, right now I just don’t have the motivation. I don’t even have the motivation to open a packet of coconut oil and saute veggies. So, I guess my one suggestion would be to make the box more compatible with the instant gratification American lifestyle.
Overall though, two thumbs up. Recommend.
Today, more or less, marks my 10 year anniversary of becoming vegetarian (not vegan — just vegetarian), more or less.
This is a vegan blog (and everyone knows vegans hate vegetarians — jk! jk!) but I still think it’s a pretty significant step to my current dietary stance.
Many of my friends in college were Franco-American Catholics who, at 18, still celebrated lent. (This would change in a few years as they all replaced God with booze. Much more fun.)
My friends gave up sweets and chocolate and trashy magazines on our first Ash Wednesday together, and (college being a time of experimentation and all — I grew up without religion), I decided to use Lent to indulge an idea I had been toying with for a while: give up meat.
I originally was going to just give it up for 40 days, but I haven’t consciously consumed the flesh of anything that walks or flies since then.
I’ve had a few slip ups (ordering pepperoni pizza out of habit in the first few months) and eating fish for “convenience” (basically, being terrified of telling my parents that college had turned me into a communist that first summer home and then during my semester abroad in Russia in 2005), but I still count Ash Wednesday as my vegiversary, especially since I can’t remember when I officially made the transition from vegetarian to vegan four or five or so years ago.
In giving meat up, I’ve actually gained. I eat a more diverse variety of food, appreciate cooking for myself, and have built connections with like-minded people, not to mention the huge benefit of just feeling better about my impact on the planet and its living creatures.
The 10-year anniversary gift is traditionally tin or aluminum. I’m going to go buy myself some canned beets.
image by shazam791 via Creative Commons.
This post comes from my friend Xurxo Martinez (pronounced “sure-show”), who lives in Madrid but studied with me at UW. He posts pictures of the wonderful lunches he prepares to Facebook and Flickr and makes us all jealous. I admire both the stunning composition of his shots, vibrant yet simple, and the unusual ingredients and flavor combinations he uses.
As someone lucky enough to have tried his food when he lived in Seattle, I know that each of these meals are as delicious as they look! Not all his dishes are vegan, but here are a sampling of those that are.
Orange salad with a tapenade of black olive, fennel seeds, and tarragon
I wanted to use orange in a salad, mixing its sweetness with something salty. Thought about one I tried once in Granada with olives, a little lettuce and onion. But then I remembered this one, from one of Mark Bittman’s videos for the NYT, replacing thyme (too obvious) with tarragon and putting it—and fennel seeds too—inside the tapenade, not only as a side flavour. To me it makes for a more complex flavor, a better contrast for the well-known orange taste. Then I added some pumpkin seeds as a crunchy contrast, more for the texture than for the flavor.
Steamed violet potatoes (Vitelottes), purple cauliflower —when cooked it loses that color and gets just green— and carrots
I simply love steaming everything (I’m trying steamed fruits that then I keep for a couple days in the freezer. Then it taste like confit fruit without the excess of fruit). The Flavor is so intense, and it gives so many options on the texture side. I specially love small potatoes, cooked with the skin. Is a surprise to discover its real taste. You just need a little bit of olive oil and salt to make it even better.
Chickpeas, black quinoa, and broccoli
Chickpeas were boiled, the quinoa was made in a rice cooker and the broccoli was steamed.
Quinoa is such an versatile food. I find that the black version tastes stronger, earthly. I wanted to mix it with something “meatier”, and that’s where chickpeas enter. Broccoli was the contrast, something “greener” and sweeter. And the colors really work, obviously. Better served warm.
Purple cabbage, Squash, and chard
All the ingredients were steamed.
I’m more used to use purple cabbage in salads, so crunchy and different. But when you cook it (is really good boiled with apple and then mixed with pine nuts) is sweet and deep. The Squash is also sweet, but has a different texture. Chard was the contrast element. A trickle of olive oil and sherry vinager sticks everything together. Better served cold.
Korean rice cakes pan-fried in a wok with eggplant, broccoli, butter squash, red bell pepper, and onion.
As it happens with the Chinese ones, the Korean rice cakes absorve the flavor of the ingredients it is cooked with, and needs to be soaked for 4-8 hours before being fried. The result is a mix of the cake’s chewiness and the veggies almost crunchy. Instead of salt I like to use just soy sauce when cooking with the wok, and add some Japanese spices mix named Shichimi Togarashi. So you have some kind of pan-asian dish with local vegetables (i.e. no pak choi [bok choy]).
Oh, and why the black tupperware?
Well this is the food I prepare in the mornings to take with me to work, and this is my favorite tupperware. Is a japanese one from the shop Muji. I don’t think they sell it anymore. A friend gave it to me seven years ago. It really works because is black, the proportions are similar to an horizontal photo, and framing the food really works. After starting with the series (just because a co-worker told me once “your food is always weird and nice, you should take photos of if”) I realized that in a way I was doing a version of ’scanwiches’. Sometimes you have something hidden in one corner of your mind, just waiting for the right moment to wake up, combine with some other reference or idea, and become something new.
Another personal story about the bento/tupperware is that I basically didn’t use it (not even twice) for the first 3-4 years. Somehow I decided to take it to Seattle, and there started to carry it with me almost everyday, because I used to take it with me to my study place (a complex in south campus, in the Health Science area, by the lake). Now I use it everyday, even if the hooks that help to close the lid are broken. I guess that it reminds me of Seattle.
One of the things I love about the Internet is the ability to watch something funny and then embed it on your blog without worrying about copyright and stuff.
This clip from the folks who do Portlandia sends a fellow who has never been to a strip club into Portland’s all-vegan strip club, Casa Diablo. Hilarity ensues.
Kinda reminds me of my own Casa Diablo adventures, only with delicious vegan eats.
Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!
While squirrels should be appreciated every day of the year, it’s so great to see that they get a bit of additional recognition today. Squirrels are really the cutest: their bushy tails, their little paws, their fluffy bodies… awwww.
Coincidentally, my low-key co-rec soccer team is called the Squirrels (founder Randy wanted an ironically unthreatening mascot). Here we are after our first (and only) win of last season:
We had an end-of-season party on Saturday (an equally nerdy teammate noted how close to Squirrel Appreciation Day this fell), so I wanted to make a nutty treat to share.
Continuing this month’s truffle theme, I opted for amaretto hazelnut truffles. Truffles are like infused liquor: super easy, yet impress everyone who doesn’t know better (which is most people, I’ve found). These have a little bit of crunch from the filberts and an ever-so-slight alcoholic kick.
If you roll them sorta sloppily, as I did, you’ll notice that they look a little like nuts. Maybe?
Amaretto hazelnut truffles
- 1 1/2 cups vegan chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 TBS amaretto liqueur
- 1/4 cup hazelnuts, chopped
- Melt chocolate chips and coconut milk in a small saucepan; remove from heat and stir until smooth. Stir in amaretto and vanilla. Stir in hazelnuts.
- Drop spoonfuls of chocolate onto a parchment- or waxed paper-covered cookie sheet and chill ≈20 minutes, until chocolate loses its shine. Remove from waxed paper, roll them into balls, and roll in the cocoa powder. I found it easier to place the cocoa powder on a plate and roll the chocolate into balls on the cocoa powder.
- Place truffles back on cookie sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Store in the fridge and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before eating them.
Makes 18-24, depending on how big you make them.
Not long ago, some friends and I formed a whiskey drinking club. We convene monthly to drink whiskey and talk about drinking whiskey. We call it… Whiskey Club.
It started as a Twitter conversation between Dawn and me (because I enjoy whiskey and Dawn does not but wants to) and turned into a flurry of 140-character messages involving 5 or 6 friends. Katy started a Facebook group, and Whiskey Club was born.
Erika hosted the most recent meeting, a swanky Prohibition-themed party complete with costumes and live jazz — Erika has an amazing voice and Katy recruited an orchestra friend with a double bass, so she sang while he plucked. We sipped bourbon and scotch from teacups, speakeasy-style.
Erika prepared a delicious spread, and I brought some of these truffles. The hooch adds a hint of vice without overwhelming.
If you live in Seattle and enjoy brown liquor, won’t you join us next month?
teacup image by Carlos Javier Sanchez
adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook
- 1 1/2 cups vegan chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 TBS cheap whiskey
- cocoa powder (1/4 cup? 1/2 cup? I just dumped a bunch on a plate.)
- Melt chocolate chips and coconut milk in a small saucepan; remove from heat and stir until smooth. Stir in whiskey and vanilla.
- Drop spoonfuls of chocolate onto a parchment- or waxed paper-covered cookie sheet and chill 20-25 minutes, until chocolate loses its shine. Remove from waxed paper, roll them into balls, and roll in the cocoa powder. I found it easier to place the cocoa powder on a plate and roll the chocolate into balls on the cocoa powder.
- Place truffles back on cookie sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Store in the fridge and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before eating them.
Makes… a dozen? 15? That sounds about right. Original recipe says 24, but I think I made them a little bigger than the book did.