Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sometimes I Eat Vegan Junk Food: The Cheese Edition

I can't imagine any of my vegan friends would agree with this, but I occasionally miss the days at the beginning of my vegetarian/vegan journey when we didn't have so much vegan junk food at our disposal.  There were only a couple of vegan cheese options, which were not always easy to find, and not necessarily the most flavorful.  This nostalgia is generally fleeting and I am grateful for all of our options these days, but junk food is junk food and I eat it in moderation.

That being said, a few new cheesy vegan treats hit the market in 2014 and I tried them.
Earth Balance is cranking out veganized versions of childhood favorites this year.  They started with Vegan Cheddar Flavor Squares (image from their website) that look and smell like the cheese crackers I used to find in my grandparents' pantry as a kid.  These are salty and crisp, but don't taste as cheesy as they smell.  I'm glad I tried them, but I can't see myself buying another box.  I found these at the wonderful Republic of V in Berkeley and I believe they are sold at Whole Foods throughout the country. 

Vegan White Cheddar Mac and Cheese and its regular Cheddar counterpart are Earth Balance's answer to the blue box mac and cheese many of us grew up with in the US.  Making this brought me back to a time when I was charged with making the blue box stuff for two kids I was babysitting as a 13-year-old.  I had added the full amount of milk the directions called for and it was a soupy mess.  This time, I added half the almond milk (unsweetened, unflavored!) listed and it was just right.  Creamy and cheesy with the exact same shape and size of pasta, this is a very good vegan replica.  Don't take my word for it, though.  Watch this adorable video of one of the sweet vegan babies I know chowing down on the cheesy pasta.

For a time, Vegan Essentials was selling frozen mozzarella sticks.  Considering my ill-fated attempt at a homemade, baked version many years ago, I added a package to my cart with an order over the summer.  I chose to bake them in the toaster oven rather than fry and they turned out well.  The breading is Italian-spiced and the cheese filling stays put, maintaining their shape.  This was a fun indulgence that reminded me of a 50s-style cafe that existed in my hometown when I was a kid.  We would go as a family and my brother and I would order mozzarella sticks to dip in marinara sauce.  I'm still surprised someone has managed to veganize these.  They were fun to eat, but sadly, it seems that the company is no longer in business.

This concludes our special, cheesy junk food edition.  Now back to reading the cookbooks I received over the holidays...

Sunday, August 3, 2014


In 2001, I learned what a Snickerdoodle was.  It was Spring Training and I had baked a plethora of cookies, so many types I can't recall the number, for the Angels' players.  I'd baked them at home in LA and carefully flew with them to Phoenix, perfectly stacked in zipper bags, getting hungry glances from the airport personnel.

At the time, I was dating an Angels employee and I was hanging out outside the door to the Angels' clubhouse, probably reading a cookbook.  I struck up a conversation with David Eckstein (he became my all-time favorite player as of that spring), who was about to make his Major League debut that April.  When I told him I'd baked cookies and they were in the clubhouse for him and his teammates, he asked, "Are there Snickerdoodles?"  I shook my head "no" with chagrin.  But as soon as I was home in LA, I looked up a recipe for Snickerdoodles and baked a batch for the next time I knew I'd be able to pass them along to him.  They've been one of my most requested cookies ever since.

I have used this Gale Gand recipe from the beginning and they veganize beautifully.  I double the cinnamon sugar for rolling, substitute Earth Balance sticks (left on the counter to reach room temperature) for the butter, brown rice syrup for the corn syrup, and Ener-G egg replacer for the eggs.  I find Ener-G to be a better egg substitute in cookies than flax eggs because the ground flax flecks show in a lighter cookie dough and will slightly change the flavor of the cookies.  Ten minutes per cookie sheet was the magic number for me this evening and I make sure to follow the instruction to leave the cookies on the cookie sheets for several minutes before moving them to a wire cooling rack.  They need to continue cooking outside the oven during that time.

This is the first time I've made them in quite a while and I'm sure my colleagues will happily eat the entire 44-cookie batch tomorrow.  Starting a work week with cookies sounds like a good idea to me.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Natural Products Expo West 2014

Try as I might to break this treacherous habit, I procrastinate.  I find myself, nearly three months later, writing about the Natural Products Expo West that now feels like ancient history to most.  Because this has been covered by many and long ago, I will attempt brevity.

The new (or new-to-me) products that stood out the most to me are:

1.  Emmy's Organics.  Emmy's is a family-owned-and-operated vegan, raw, gluten-free, certified organic company that offers delectable macaroons (dipped in chocolate or not), buckwheat granola, and chocolate sauce(!).  Delightful co-founders Samantha and Ian sent me home with a package of each macaroon flavor, a box of Apricot Vanilla Super Cereal, and a jar of chocolate sauce.  What I love about Emmy's treats is that they are rich and sweet while also being full of nutrients and committed to integrity.

2.  North Coast Organics.  Most of us in the vegan community are aware of the dangers of conventional deodorant/antiperspirant and choose options that contain natural ingredients instead, but are less effective than their mainstream counterparts.  I had been using unscented Tom's from Trader Joe's for some time until North Coast Organics came into my life.  Another family-owned-and-operated company, North Coast makes 100% vegan, cruelty-free, USDA Organic, certified organic by EcoCert deodorants, lotion bars, and lip balms.

I have been so incredibly impressed by these deodorants, using them exclusively for months.  The two scented varieties don't irritate my sensitive skin and there is also an unscented option.  Most importantly, their protection lasts all day.  Since they are coconut oil-based, they are easily massaged into skin if there's a little lingering on the surface.


3.  Bee Free Honee.  The honey alternative, made from USDA certified organic apples, launched four new varieties at Expo West:  Slippery Elm, Mint, Chocolate, and Ancho Chile.  Of course, I'd love to have a bottle of each with which to experiment at home, but I'm most excited about the Slippery Elm.  I'm a singer and many singers treat a sore throat with a hot water, lemon, and honey mixture.  As a vegan, honey hasn't been an option, but slippery elm has medicinal properties that soothe a sore throat.  This is my new go-to remedy.

4.  Hilary's Eat Well.  This non-GMO certified company has been making wonderful vegan burgers for a few years and is now introducing a line of dressings.  There are four new dressings (Ranch Chia, Creamy Remoulade, Apple Fennel, and Balsamic Thyme), each delicious, and three out of the four contain specific health benefits through the inclusion of Omega-3s, Eyebright, and dandelion root.  I had a small taste of each at the Expo and am hoping to get my hands on full bottles soon!

 Also noteworthy are Daiya's new cheeses and pizzas, Tender Grown raw leaf chips (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts chips), So Delicious's new unsweetened coconut yogurt (both regular and Greek styles) and Cococcino (coconut milk coffee drinks), Life Factory's new line of to-go containers and glasses, Amella's new caramel sauce, The Good Bean roasted chickpea snacks, Brussel Bytes raw Brussels sprouts chips, Hope Spreads dark chocolate dips, Parmela's new Creamy Treenut Cheeses, Love Bean fudge, and Phoney Baloney's coconut bacon.    

One interesting trend was the multitude of beauty products geared toward teenage girls.  There were deodorants, skin care lines, nail polishes, and hair care specifically for that age group.  

I'm deeply grateful and honored to have gone to Expo West this year with the team from Happy Cow.  Be on the lookout for their new cookbook debuting in a couple weeks! 

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Sometimes things come together in a way that is more than coincidence.  I've been thinking about writing more personal posts.  Stretching beyond my shyness and letting you in on my personal life could nourish you and me both, but what if you're not up for reading anything deeper than my usual restaurant and recipe reviews?  Amid all this thinking, I had the great fortune of finally meeting Gena of Choosing Raw in person for the first time last night.  We talked about everything from career to eating disorders to travel over tea at Real Food Daily.  When I brought up more personal blogging, she encouraged me, saying that opening up on this blog could help people.  And so it can't really be a coincidence that this is the end of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  The universe is asking me to dive in and share my experience.  (Caveat:  I'm going to leave out some details because I know if I'd read about the intricacies of someone else's eating disorder when I was in the thick of it, I would have used it as a how-to manual.  The purpose of this post is to help, not hurt.)  Here goes...

I grew up in a nice suburb of LA with my nuclear family.  I have great parents, but something deep in my psychology had me feeling unloved, misunderstood, and lonely.  I've also struggled with insomnia, stress, and some minor obsessive compulsive tendencies since I was very young.

I've always been more of an introvert, but I had a circle of friends and did well in school.  I had a couple bullies in elementary school and then a new one when I started middle school.  My PE locker was next to a girl who teased me for wearing a bra, which I needed even though we were in sixth grade and 11 years old.  She teased me to the point that I stopped wearing one for a while in favor of tank top undershirts.  I was lean; I'd just started developing earlier than other girls.  Probably a less sensitive kid would have let this teasing roll off her back or would have had a snappy come-back, but it upset me.  That same year, two of my closest friends were in cotillion and constantly bragged about their size zero dresses.  My mom was a typical stay-at-home mom who tried various diets and complained about her thighs and butt on a regular basis.  When I try to pinpoint what triggered my body dysmorphia and disordered eating, these are the external elements that I feel likely contributed.  However, those things might not have affected someone else and I know they were compounded by my own sensitivity or maybe predisposition.

I became very focused on the calorie and fat content of foods and asked my mom to buy whole wheat bread, skim milk, and Special K for me.  Fat became my nemesis and low-fat, low-calorie food my friend.  During recess, I would tell my friends the nutritional content of what they were eating.  This must have been obnoxious to them!  I don't know where I gained this knowledge or why I anointed myself the unsolicited recess nutritional consultant of my peers.  I was reading nutrition labels far earlier than any of the adults I knew.  Perhaps I heard something in a science class or on a commercial or the news.  Regardless of the origin, I used my understanding of nutrition for evil.  I used it against my own body. 

I must have started seriously restricting the following year in seventh grade.  Our science class that year was anatomy and physiology, one of my favorite subjects.  There was a brief nutrition module in that class and we were required to keep a food journal for a week.  I distinctly remember making up meals to write in my journal because I knew I'd get in trouble if I revealed how little I was eating.  I would wake up earlier than everyone else in my family, making noise in the kitchen as if I were eating breakfast when I wasn't.  I'd make myself lunch and throw it away at school.  When I realized how wasteful this was, I switched to bringing a puffed-up paper bag that looked like lunch, but was, in fact, empty.  I was sneaky.  One of my few saving graces was that we usually ate dinner as a family and I would always eat if my parents were watching. 

I was obsessed with my weight and was proud of the low number I was hitting on the scale.  When I got to eighth grade (this was the year I cut pork from my diet), my boyfriend encouraged me to gain a little, but I wouldn't.  Even a 13-year-old boy could see something was wrong!   

One of my friends saw me throwing away my lunch every day and told her mom, who told my mom.  My mom did the best she could.  I would come home to low-fat candy bars she had quietly left in my room, hoping I'd eat them.  She kept a stock of Tiger's Milk bars (these were among the first protein bars) and tried to force me to eat them, but I would hide them around my bedroom.  She sent me to therapy (I don't think it was an eating disorders specialist), but I refused to talk to the therapist.  I'd sit in a chair for the full session and give one-word answers.  I was ashamed to be in therapy; I lied to my boyfriend and told him I was babysitting those days.  Eventually I was allowed to stop going.  I wonder what would have changed if I'd been made to see an eating disorders specialist.

In high school, I had different friends, friends who were not focused on dress sizes.  I would eat a little for lunch, usually raw veggies or maybe a yogurt or rice cakes, most days.  Low-fat sweets were everywhere in stores (think Snack Wells and the like) and I would sometimes eat those.  I was still skipping breakfast and was unwilling to eat food with any significant amount (over three grams) of fat.  I continued to be obsessed with the number on the scale and on my clothing tags.  I added exercise to my regimen and Kate Moss was my body idol.  Now, I realize that I experienced amenorrhoea for several years as a teenager.  I didn't think twice about it then.  I thought it was normal because I was young, but it's a common side effect of restrictive eating.  

The summer after I graduated high school, my best friend and I traveled to Geneva, Switzerland for seven weeks.  We stayed with her family and I was never alone during meals.  I ate three meals a day there and I had no control over what was served.  My digestion did not do well with the richness of European food after about seven years of low-fat, restrictive eating, but I was eating nonetheless.  It was the first time since I was a child that I came close to eating like I imagine "normal" humans eat and I grew an inch and a half.

My first two years of college at UC Santa Barbara were full of restricting, skipping meals (mostly lunch), and exercising.  I usually ate a couple meals a day; a bowl of Special K with skim milk for breakfast, a salad with lemon instead of dressing for dinner, and the occasional, carefully-measured spoon of low-fat peanut butter or fruit for a snack.  I learned from eating ice cream that my body could no longer handle dairy fat.  One of my biggest moments of shame was being so hungry from restricting that I snuck food out of a friend's dorm room.  I made one attempt at bulimia.  Thank goodness I was unsuccessful.

I gave up red meat the summer between my freshman and sophomore years.  Going to the gym five to six days a week became an escape from an uncomfortable roommate situation sophomore year.  My mom also took me to a nutritionist she was seeing that year.  It gave me a little relief to learn about other foods I could eat and to keep a food journal, but I only got to have a couple sessions with her. 

I spent the third year of university in an education abroad program in Toulouse, France.  It was the first time I lived on my own and had to provide meals for myself.  My diet was primarily vegetarian, but contained few vegetables.  Since I didn't know how to cook, I was limited to things that were easy to prepare.  A normal day had me eating an apple or a yogurt for breakfast, canned corn and chickpeas for lunch, and rice and lentils for dinner.  That's a lot of protein and starch and an almost complete lack of fresh foods, so it's not surprising I gained weight there.  This was also the year my parents separated.  I handled it by taking on the role of the adult and the space-holder for both my parents and my brother.  Somehow I saw my emotions as less important than anyone else's and I was busy taking care of their feelings while nobody was taking care of mine.  I shared my feelings with my journal and took long walks around Toulouse with my Walkman and mix tapes (yes, Walkman).  I talked to my best friend about it, too, but long-distance charges were hefty back then and e-mail a rarity, so I was mostly without a support system.    

Back in the US for my senior year of college, my eating was a mess.  I bought a steamer and learned how to make steamed chicken, rice, and vegetables, but I also drank Slim Fast, usually in place of a couple meals a day.  I took laxatives.  I drank diet Coke.  There was a serious lack of nutrients in my diet and I was consuming a lot of chemicals in those diet drinks.  I was also going through a lot of emotional upheaval dealing with my parents' divorce and my upcoming graduation that would be quickly followed by starting law school.

I moved back to LA that summer before starting law school.  Skipping breakfast and lunch became my norm.  But I had a big shift when I became vegetarian early that October and realized I had to learn how to feed myself.  I continued skipping meals, but I also had access to the Food Network for the first time.  I taught myself how to cook by watching the early Food Network chefs (Emeril Lagasse, Sara Moulton, and Ming Tsai) and applying their skills to vegan recipes.  My New Year's resolution that year was to try veganism for six months.  I had no vegan community then and very few resources, so I knew what to eliminate from my diet, but not what to add to it.  I ended up with some minor health issues and went back to being vegetarian after the sixth months were over.

A boyfriend moved in with me around that time and I started eating what he wanted to eat, which was mostly cheese pizza, Chinese food, and Coke.  I gained weight.  And then I got really, really sick.  One night, I woke up with abdominal pain so horrendous that I couldn't even walk.  My then-boyfriend convinced me to sleep it off and it was gone by morning.  Those attacks recurred, though, every time I ate cheese, so I eliminated cheese from my diet (13 years later, I haven't eaten cheese since).  That worked well for a long time.  I also lost a lot of weight in the snap of a finger just from eliminating cheese.  Then, nine months after that initial attack, I had an instantaneous attack after eating olive oil-topped hummus.  I went to the doctor the next day and a week later had my gall bladder removed because it was full of 32 to 36 gall stones.  Normally, this was not something a 25-year-old girl would have, but the doctor told me that years (by then, 14 years) of eating a low-fat diet was likely the cause.  Simply put, the gall bladder holds bile that processes fat as fat moves through the gall bladder on the way to the intestines.  When that bile doesn't have fat to process, it can crystallize and become gall stones.

My weight was stable and healthy for seven or eight years after that surgery.  I have two things to thank for this:  vegetarianism/veganism and yoga.  Veganism changed my relationship to food in a healthy way because eating was no longer only about me.  I learned the impact that my food choices had on the lives of innocent creatures and on our planet.  Moreover, I learned about vegetables and fruits and ethnic cuisines I never knew existed.  My food world expanded.  I started reading vegan food blogs and vegan nutrition books, diving deep into self-teaching about nutrition and its impact on overall health.  This came naturally and intuitively to me.

I have never, ever wavered from my veganism since I made the commitment over eight years ago.  I don't consider this a matter of willpower or challenging in any way.  I'm never tempted to eat something non-vegan, no matter how delicious or "sustainably" sourced someone claims it is.  Veganism is a complete no-brainer to me; it's a hard-wired fact of who I am.     

Yoga completely changed my relationship to my body.  I was skeptical when I started, but soon found that my body felt great after class.  Before I knew it, I was hooked and going to class about four times a week.  I had an incredibly community of yogis.  My body was changing, toning, becoming more flexible, and I felt graceful.  I learned how to listen to my body's cues, whether they be pain or that great feeling of conscious extension in a pose.  My then-boyfriend noticed my posture change; I was walking taller and prouder.  I felt good about myself.  My anxiety about food and my weight lessened greatly due to taking care of myself.

This healthy routine lasted about five or six years until I moved away from my yoga community.  I joined a great studio closer to my home when I moved, but the vibe is different and not quite as supportive.  There are incredible teachers there; I just haven't connected as deeply with them as with my original teacher.  Instead of pulling myself up by the bootstraps and going despite this, I've let my in-studio practice become sporadic at best.  I go in phases where I have a very regular practice at the studio or using YogaGlo, but I always let something get in the way.  I'm still trying to find the right balance or motivation for a regular practice without a solid yoga community to inspire me.

As for food and my weight these days, well, I'm in a challenging phase right now.  Somewhere along the line, I created a three meals a day requirement for myself.  I stick to this unless I sleep in really late and eat a big lunch instead of eating breakfast.  I'm not much of a snacker.  I don't restrict, but when I am going through heartbreak or intense emotional anxiety, the first thing to go is my appetite.  I keep the three meals rule during these times; I just won't force myself to eat.  My challenge right now is that last year was a difficult one for me and I have gained weight.  Part of the problem is that, at night on my own, I'm not eating well and often eat too much.  I'm figuring out how to change this in a healthy way.  Despite not currently eating at my best, I am always pretty crunchy-granola about what I do eat and how I approach health care, so when I overeat, it's mostly healthy foods.  Also, LA is teeming with new (and classic) vegan restaurants and a lot of my social activity includes meeting friends for meals.  This part, I think is healthy and I'm not concerned about it.

I won't weigh myself at the moment because I think that could be damaging, but I'm guessing I've gained about ten pounds and my clothes are fitting differently.  Body dysmorphia still haunts me.  It always has.  It's not something that has an off switch; it's something that needs to be constantly managed.  I'm able to love my body for how it works, but I admit I'm not always happy with how it looks.  I wish I could tell you that I never deal with this anymore, but 26 or so years later, it's still a part of my daily life.  Maybe it always will be. 

As I'm writing this novella of a post, I'm reminded that, for me, I do best with a routine.  I thrive with a regular yoga practice and structured, healthy eating.  If most of my eating is structured, my anxiety around food is at its most still, and indulgences aren't a big deal.  I generally make lunches for the week on Sundays and what has worked best in the past is if I make dinners for the week at the same time.  That gives me something healthful to grab as soon as I get home from work so I don't choose something less nourishing when I get home hungry at 7.  So, I have my game plan and I know what I need to return to in order to feel physically and emotionally healthy.

I want to emphasize that structure is what works best for me.  It might not be the best path for someone else who has a history of disordered eating.  Other people thrive eating six small meals a day or three meals plus snacks or with simply allowing themselves to eat whenever and whatever they choose.  When I talk to others about nutrition and healthful eating, I steer them in the direction of what helps them feel most emotionally and physically strong.  Healthful eating is a path that should be individually tailored to each person's needs. 

I hope knowing my journey is helpful to whomever is reading.  It's been incredibly therapeutic for me to write it.  Please know that I'm open to questions and to coaching anyone who is going through a similar experience.  I'm here for you.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Palm Greens

When I was a teenager, one of my dad's clients used to let us borrow his vacation home in Palm Desert every year for Spring Break.  My brother and I were each allowed to bring a friend and I always brought my dear friend S.  We'd spend those weeks lounging by the pool, driving golf carts, and playing Super Mario Bros. 3

Fast forward to now with S living in the Bay Area with her husband and two adorable kids and our Palm Desert trips firmly in the past.  Or so we thought.  S was in Palm Desert at the end of January for an annual  three-day work conference and I happened to be able to join her on her last evening at the JW Marriot.

Since I had the day off work, I decided to drive down early and enjoy the hotel amenities while S finished her conference.  This was my view as I read pilot scripts on the balcony, listening to the sounds of the ducks as they swam by in pairs.

S has recently become interested in eating organic and I knew I had to take her to Palm Greens Cafe for dinner.  Palm Greens is a vegan-friendly restaurant in Palm Springs that is committed to serving organic food.  Dinner there is more formal than lunch, with table service, dim lighting, and the lunch counter obscured by a Japanese screen.  We were both quick to choose our meals.  I went with the
Vegetable Shepherds Pie (mushroom gravy, whipped garnet yams and Yukon gold potatoes with house salad; gluten free and vegan).  The creamy, slightly sweet yams perfectly offset the winter vegetables underneath.  We also shared a lovely apple crumble, but my photo turned out too dark.

I've been to Palm Greens for breakfast and lunch several times.  The atmosphere is much more relaxed during the day, with customers ordering at the counter from large wall-mounted chalkboards and sunshine pouring in through the windows.  

Bradley's Ultra Green Smoothie (spinach, kale, mint, banana, apple juice, ginger, probiotic, aloe vera, spirulina)

Grilled Tempeh Reuben (grilled tempeh, sauerkraut, swiss or vegan cheese, on Jewish rye bread, with vegan Russian dressing and a pickle on the side)

   Vegan French Toast

Vegan Haystack (tempeh patty, tempeh bacon, vegan pepper jack cheese, bbq sauce, pickled jalapenos, lettuce, on whole wheat sunflower bun). 

S and I are planning to make this an annual tradition, which means more Palm Greens menu sampling is in our future.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

LA Vegan Valentine's Day 2014

For all the LA lovers looking for a vegan Valentine's Day meal, the following restaurants are offering prix fixe menus:

Crossroads ($75/person, includes five courses and a complimentary glass of champagne per person; served February 14-16).  If I were going, I'd order the Bloomsdale Spinach Salad, Italian Wedding Soup, Oven Roasted Chanterelles, Artichoke Ravioli, and Decadent Hot Fudge Sundae.   

Sage ($75/person, includes six courses and a complimentary bottle of wine (Echo Park location) or two cocktails per person (Culver City location).  If I were going, my choices would be the Hearts of Palm Salad, Butternut Squash & Beet Soup, Winter Vegetable Tempura, Crostini with Dill Cashew Cheese, Gluten Free Penne with Coconut Cream Pesto and Asparagus, and a scoop of KindKreme for dessert.

Matthew Kenney's M.A.K.E. ($150/person, includes six courses and a glass of champagne each; $200/person, includes eight courses and a complimentary bottle of wine to share; $250/person, includes nine courses and five wine pairings; served February 13-16).  These menus feature:  Oyster Mushrooms, Warm Cauliflower Soup, Wilted Chicory, Beet and Fig Carpaccio, Celeriac Agnolotti, Cheese Course to share ($250 menu only), Rose Hip Tea Ice ($200 and $250 menus only), Chocolate Dipped Strawberries ($200 and $250 menus only), and Chocolate Layer Cake.

Real Food Daily ($68/person, includes four courses).  If I were going, I would order the Roman Cheese Plate, Sicilian Red Lentil Soup, Calabrese Stuffed Pepper, and Creme Brulee.

Shojin ($38/person, includes three courses; served February 13-14).  The downtown LA and Culver City Shojin locations will be offering a Valentine's Day banquet of French Onion Soup, Green Forest and Yuba Wrap Sushi, and Seitan Steak with Garlic Herb Butter.   

LA Vegan Crepe ($25/person, includes three courses and complimentary apple cider).  If I were going, I would choose the Smoked Salmon Carpaccio with Tartare Sauce and Mini Pita, the Veggie Lovers Crepe, the mysterious Valentine's Dessert, and tea.

While Crossroads, with its romantic ambiance, incredible food, and beautiful presentation would be my top choice, any of these restaurants would be a wonderful treat for the love in your life.  Or you could always whisk your love away to Paris...

Friday, January 31, 2014

LYFE Kitchen

One of my omnivorous colleagues has taken an interest in my veganism.  It's amusing because our first conversation was him asking me where I live and then suggesting a ribs place in my neighborhood, to which I had to answer, "I'm vegan."  Since then, he has purchased stock in Tofutti and somehow, of all places near our office, found LYFE Kitchen.  We went for lunch last Friday.

I'm a little baffled by omnivorous LYFE Kitchen.  When it was in its initial phase a couple years ago, I read a lot about it on VegNews and in other sources.  It seems obvious that the intention is to showcase Gardein and compete with Veggie Grill (even LYFE's interior is very similar to Veggie Grill's color scheme).  Chefs Tal Ronnen (of Crossroads) and Art Smith (he's worked with Oprah) are behind the chain, which led me to think it'd have a lot of publicity.  Despite all this, I didn't hear or read a word about the restaurant opening in Culver City last March.  None of my vegan friends have mentioned it in person or via social media.  Perhaps the all-vegan Native Foods directly across the street is more appealing?

This Ginger Mint Chia drink (filtered water infused with ginger, lime, mint, strawberries, and chia seeds) was so good that I'm going to recreate it at home.  I love that it was naturally sweet and full of nutrient-rich ingredients.

The Crispy Gardein Chicken Sandwich (shishito pepper relish, organic romaine, chipotle aioli on a nine-grain bun) was pretty good.  In all honesty, the equivalent sandwich at Veggie Grill is much better.  I was expecting it to be spicy and it was mild, although I did like the shishito pepper relish as a flavorful touch with a tiny bit of smoky heat.  The kale side salad was fresh with a delicious, lemony vinaigrette.  We also shared the sweet potato fries in the background. 

There are a couple other menu items that look interesting, such as the Tofu Tacos and Gardein Sausage and Daiya Mozzarella Ravioli.  I can't say I'll be back anytime soon, with all the other vegan options we have in LA, but I'm happy to have had the experience and I'll always welcome a new vegan-friendly restaurant into the mix. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gracias Madre

Gracias Madre's stunning West Hollywood location opened Friday evening, drawing the likes of Leonard DiCaprio, Toby Maguire, and me during its inaugural weekend.  Although I missed Leo (sigh), a friend and I spent a leisurely few hours dining on the open-air patio on an 80-degree Sunday.
The patio is about as big as the interior dining space.  It features a fireplace, heat lamps, umbrellas are coming soon, trees, and plentiful seating.

I ordered Chilaquiles, "tortilla chips simmered in a spicy tomato salsa, topped with cashew crema, cilantro and avocado, served with black beans."  After passing the avocado along to my friend, I dug into these crisp, hot chips, experimenting with the different salsas they brought me to try.  There was a salsa verde and two different habanero salsas of varying heat levels.  These delicious chilaquiles were the perfect brunch meal.

My friend ordered this lovely Ensalada de Frutas, created from "farm lettuce tossed in chipotle vinaigrette with local guava and mandarins.  Topped with almonds and served with grilled crustini and cashew queso blanco."  She was full and satisfied after eating this local, seasonal salad, noting the dressing had a bit of a spicy kick to it.    

Neither of us could resist an Horchata Latte, even though I rarely drink coffee.  Look at that beautiful angel latte art!    

Gracias Madre has an extremely lengthy list of alcoholic beverages, specifically tequila.  This is something I know almost nothing about, but those who do will be impressed by the care with which this list has been cultivated.

As long as I'm on the subject, I'll share that I visited the original Gracias Madre in San Francisco nearly two years ago.  The space is small and cozy, punctuated by an open kitchen where customers can see all the action.  I ordered the Quesadillas de Calabaza (Be Love butternut squash and caramelized onions folded into tortillas with cashew nacho cheese and pumpkin seed salsa) and Flan, both of which are on the West Hollywood menu, as well.   

I have tentative plans to visit Gracias Madre again with another friend this week and I can hardly wait to taste more of the menu.  Within one visit, it has become one of my favorite restaurants in LA.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Rabbit Hole Cafe

I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles called Agoura Hills.  Back then, the only health food restaurant we had was a short-lived casual place called the LoCal NoChol, which stood for Low Calorie, No Cholesterol.  It's been gone so long that I might be the only one who remembers it.  That was the last health food restaurant I knew of there until now.

Just down the street, a lovely, vegan-friendly cafe recently opened.  The menu features vegan breakfasts, sandwiches, and comfort food.  They even have vegan, gluten free bagels slathered in Earth Balance.  The bagels are grilled and arrive at the table warm, cut into fourths for easy noshing.  On my first visit, I had an everything bagel and a vegan Potato, Cheese, Egg Wrap that came with one of the best salsas I've ever had.

This Soggs Forrester sandwich was a grilled cheese with grilled, marinated mushrooms on sourdough.  The mushrooms added a rich, savory element to this childhood classic. 

The Curry Tofu Salad Sandwich is essentially scrambled tofu on a Ciabbata roll.  While not my favorite, I really liked the spices and veggies in the tofu salad.

I'm looking forward to trying The Rabbit Hole's reuben, mac and cheese, and shepherd's pie among many other dishes.  This quaint-in-the-best-way, mom-and-pop cafe has become one of my go-to lunch spots to visit when I'm in my home town.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Isa Does It: Harira and Roasted Potato & Fennel Soup

I have barely read past the Soups chapter of Isa Does It.  I'm sure the rest of the recipes are equally enticing; I am simply captivated by the sixteen soup offerings and want to make almost every one of them.

Knowing I had to start somewhere, I made the Roasted Potato & Fennel Soup (pictured at left).  This did double-duty, as it called for breaking in the beautiful 16-cup Cuisinart food processor I received as a holiday gift.  The soup is pure comfort food, yet low in added fat, and contains only a few more ingredients than the title suggests.  It's akin to eating a lightened-up bowl of mashed potatoes.  My only modification was to omit the onion and add an extra potato in its place. 

On the right (and on the book in the background) is Harira.  Harira might be my new favorite soup.  Spicy, hearty, and satisfying, this dish is also low in added fat.  It features lentils and peeled eggplant that softens and soaks up the traditionally Moroccan spices.  Chickpeas, fresh herbs, and angel hair pasta also populate the tomato-based broth.  I modified this perfect soup only slightly by omitting the onion and using quinoa spaghetti rather than angel hair.

Next on my agenda are the Alphabet Soup and Wild Rice Soup.  Then maybe, just maybe, I'll move on to the second chapter.