Saturday, April 30, 2011

Is Half a Vegan Better Than None?

You know Val, even if you ONLY look at your vegan questions from a nutritiona­l aspect you have to ask yourself what is good for you and what is, well, in essence, poison. My last holdout was fish. I figured hey, they eat their freakin' babies for chrissakes­. When I read a government study finding mercury in 100% of the fish taken from streams it struck me that with the other warning I kept in the back of my mind, (we're only "supposed" to eat swordfish twice a year due to it's high mercury levels), what we're trying to control is our poison ingestion!

The clarity came with this: THEY are telling us it's unequivoca­lly poison and they're telling me it's ok to have it but to limit my intake of it. Do you believe THEM?

How can ingesting any poison at all, knowingly, be a sane thing to do?

Val, with these questions about individual kinds of animal foods you're dancing around in a minefield. Dr. Esselstyn told me once that people don't like to hear bad things about their bad habits. Eating animals is bad for you so instead of merely trying to justify which is the least harmful, stop eating animals.


Marty's Flying Vegan Review


Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Gobble Green Breakfast Bean Hash

Wow. This is perhaps the best Gobble Green dish to date. I am not sure it has anything a all to do with breakfast unless you're into a bit if savory early in the day.

This dish is balanced in texture and taste.

It has beans, corn and sweet potatoes in a sauce with a perfect touch of heat. The corn and onions give it a nice balance of sweet.

I microwaved it for 3 minutes, stirred, and returned it for another 2 minutes and it was heated uniformly. The beans had a nice texture and went mushy at all as can sometimes happen with nuked beans.

This dish can easily sub for lunch or dinner. Throw some Daiya on and grab a chunk of vegan cornbread.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Why I'm Thrilled youtube banned the MFA video

I am thrilled that youtube banned this video.  The video itself is a disturbing and revolting look at the treatment animals are subjected to on a dairy farm.  If any vegetarians continue to think that their milk and cheese consumption is cruelty free then seeing these gentle dairy cows in their last moments of life should dissuade them and leave no doubt about the merits of going vegan if animal welfare is your motivation.  There is no happy meat or guiltless dairy.

I'm am so glad this video won't disappear in the youtube swamp of other videos of animal cruelty.  When something is banned it becomes forbidden and I only hope that by doing this, youtube has created an even greater audience for it's viewing.

It will make you want to vomit or stop running in the human race but you can view it at the Mercy For Animals website by clicking here.

NYC Vegetarian Meetup at John's of 12th Street

I had no experience with a Meetup group and so with typical abandon I jumped into the deep end and went to the NYC Vegetarian Meetup at John's of 12th Street in NYC.  Of course I chose not to just start out slowly where there were 5 or 10 people in a nice quiet setting but 80 people cranking away on vegan Italian food.  It's even better than your typical get-together because unlike many social situations where you know no one and have nothing in common, a bunch of vegans and vegetarians seem to go from awkward hellos to engaging and interesting conversation pretty quickly.  The only downside of a meeting this big in a place like John's is that there is nothing on the walls, as you can see in the picture, to absorb the sound and it can get pretty noisy.  After 9000+ hours in and around airplanes I'm used to saying, "What?"

The back room of John's

I forgot which beers were vegan and so did the waiter but came back in less than a minute with the answer and I started my evening with a Peroni.  I haven't had a decent Eggplant Parmigiana in a restaurant pretty much since I started eating a vegan diet.  It's either dipped in egg or milk or there's cheese in the breading so with John's vegan offering in front of me I saw this as an offer I couldn't refuse.

The only snafu was that the waiter put my tablemate's Seitan Parm in front of me and my Eggplant Parm in front of her and we both delved in for a few bites before we realized we didn't get what we ordered.  After a plate swap all was set right at our vegan table.  I never thought to ask if she had ordered the real cheese or Daiya.  This omission on my part is just another example of however hard we try, when eating in a non 100% vegan restaurant there is always room for error.  (Click here for my rules for eating vegan in a non-vegan restaurant).

Eggplant Parm disguised to look like Seitan Parm.   No wait, it IS Seitan Parm!
The last time I was at John's I had the Seitan Rosa.  The few bites I had of the Seitan Parm were on the softer side texturally.  The seitan was a thin cutlet and although breaded and I'm assuming deep or pan fried there wasn't much of a crunch.  I found the same thing, in terms of a crust, lacking on the eggplant. I do think the sauce is delicious with a rich tomato base, light seasonings and a hint of sweet.  My vote still goes for the Seitan Rosa as the star of the seitan offerings.

My eggplant parm was like going home again culinarily.  I love eggplant and although the texture of the dish could have been improved slightly by a bit of crisp on the eggplant, from a flavor standpoint it hit the mark dead center. If you like Daiya, and I do, this dish can be described as a creamy soft, (very soft),  meld of all the flavors.

Eggplant Parm lost it's way on the table but finally, a few bites lighter, comes home.

Eggplant Parm a bit closer.
And what can I say about the genius who invented this vegan treat.  A little grainier than real ricotta it still satisfies the vegan sweet tooth.  It's rich, sweet, creamy, and crunchy and with a cup of good coffee ended the meal perfectly.

Cheese-less delicious cannoli
This was my second visit to John's in about so many weeks.  Click here for my first review.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Blockheads. From Vegan Debacle to Cautious Mexican Delight

There's an old adage about the 2 things that happen when a cat sits on a hot stove.  One: It will never sit on a hot stove again.  Two: It will never sit on a cold stove again.

So you can understand, after I was served a chicken burrito during my last visit to Blockheads, why I might not have wanted to sit on any stoves.  I had numerous email exchanges with the owner, Ken, about vegan diners and what we expect.  I was assured that there was going to be staff training and new sections on the menu just for us and our pain in the butt foodal requirements.

"Just to update you, the new in-house menus at Blockheads include a box that points to our vegetarian and vegan options."  from Ken, email 3/14/11


"Our waiter's will be trained to steer anyone expressing vegetarian concerns to the menu box where I feel all their questions will be answered. Our waiters will also be instructed to treat vegetarian concerns seriously and to not make the type of mistake that began our correspondence. While Blockheads does not profess to be a vegetarian restaurant, vegetarians and vegans actually have a wide selection of very good options here. I thank you for pointing out to me that this was poorly conveyed. I think the new menu copy and waiter training addresses this shortcoming. 
Thanks again,
Ken" from email 2/12/11
 Here is the new menu section:

Attention Vegetarians & Vegans: You can eat our Spanish rice, brown rice, corn and flour tortillas, beans, salsa cruda, roasted corn salsa, salsa bambino, tomatillo sauce, sofrito sauce, guacamole, grilled tofu, tofu “sour cream”, soy cheese, and vegetables. In these items we use no chicken stock, butter, lard, or animal rennet. For any entree, substitute soy cheese, tofu “sour cream”, whole-wheat or low-carb tortilla (5 grams carbs). Note: Our Jamaican Jerk Sauce contains chicken stock. Our BBQ sauce contains honey.

I don't think this can be much clearer.  The only thing that raised my eyebrows was that the Jamaican Jerk sauce contained chicken stock and my order last time was for the Jamaican Jerk tofu.  I think anytime a restaurant has a customer who says "vegan" or "vegetarian" it should raise a huge red flag, almost as if I said I would go into spasms and die right there on the floor of the restaurant, knocking over tables, chairs, diners, and very expensive glassware should I be served these items.  It's never like that.  No vegan is going to die from eating an animal product mis-served.  The why shouldn't ever be the issue though.  Just the fact that it "is" should be.

On this evening my wife, (omnivore), and I went to Blockheads with our daughter, (vegetarian), and her classmate, (omnivore).   First the drinks.  My hat is off to the drunkard that invented this drink.  Bulldog. A margarita with an upside down short Corona.  Sheer genius being able to drink two drinks at the same time and not even have to use your hands.  The drink is a bit tart as the margarita isn't of the sickeningly sweet variety.

This is what  happens when you are tripping on acid and staring into the twirling world of a frozen margarita machine whilst drinking a beer.  
So now here's the thing.  Blockheads is a noisy dark hipster-ish restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  Trendy isn't the right word but it's a busy hopping place.  I must have used half my iPhone battery illuminating the menu.  I guess the eagle eyes are going with age.  My flashlight, (always in my pocket ever since 9/11), was just way too bright for the ambience.  I don't mind shooting a few flash pictures but turning the place into daylight was a bit much.  Plus, I wanted to see what most people, (who don't carry around a flashlight), would be able to see.  That vegan stuff is in pretty small print.  There's a lot of it and it's not in "list" form but just written out.  I found myself going back over it more than once while cross checking the menu items.  No big deal.  I was happy to have the information on the menu where everyone can see it.  My hat is off to Blockheads for responding to the issues I brought up.  To me this is major in a few ways.  Not to break my arm patting myself on the back but here is something that I've changed in the vegan world for the better.  Not a BIG thing.  Just a SOMEthing.  I was proud of seeing it in print, even if I'd have made the pica selection a bit larger.

Now our waiter was a nice enough young man, friendly and earnest.  When he got to me I just said, "I'm vegan.  Do you know what that means?"

His answer, "Uhm, you don't eat meat?"  He has an accent and his english isn't the King's so I make the assumption that it's not his first language.  (It's better by far than my knowledge of his native tongue).  It's noisy.  I don't want to shout but want to be heard and I want to hear him.  (OK, I guess the hearing is the second thing in my 55 year old body to start to slide.  But that's ALL that's sliding!!!).

So now I'm worried.  I'm thinking about the training given to the staff which I was told about in Ken's email.  See, not eating meat only closes one tiny door.  It doesn't close them all.  Chicken stock, cheese, lard, all kinds of things are NOT covered when one uses the lack of meat in a diet as the definition of "vegan."

But I also realize something.  This has always been, is now, and will always be on my shoulders if I eat at any and all non vegan restaurants.  I must educate.  I must teach.  I must explain.  I must query and question and verify.  I was given a wonderful diving board in the form of that little vegan itemization on the menu but it's always up to me to jump off it as high as I can.

So I start and explain that I don't eat dairy, chicken, any animals or anything that is made with anything that was once a part of an animal or any animal ingredients.  The tiny things are where we get tripped up it seems.  Unless you're just served chicken in which case it doesn't matter if there's stock in the sauce.  We did have a discussion about how hot the different sauces/salsas were.  At first he said the sofrito sauce wasn't vegan but when I asked him to check he came back and said it was, just like it said on the menu box.

I order everything with soy cheese, (it's vegan Daiya), soy sour cream on the side, (vegan), and tofu.  Now I think any time anyone in a restaurant orders something vegetarian or vegan or just uses the word "tofu" the wait staff should be trained to call over a manager to clarify the order and make sure it is right and exactly what the customer wants.  At least that red flag should come up.

My wife and I shared a Quesadilla with Daiya cheese and vegan chili.  It was drippy and gooey and at first bite I wasn't sure if it was real cheese or not until my wife said, "Yup, Daiya!"  The chili added a nice beany texture to the dish but I think it overloads it.  The center was a bit too wet.  I have to stop trying to make everything I eat healthier and learn to just enjoy a little bit of decadence every once in a while.  I asked about the sour cream and the manager, "EL" came over and took it in the back where HE could see.  He came back a second later so I'm assuming it was correct on the plate and said it was, in fact soy sour cream.

Lousy picture of a decent quesadilla.

My burrito with a whole wheat tortilla, daiya cheese, rice, beans, tofu and spinach and was delicious.  Next time I will leave out the spinach as that seemed to dominate the flavor profile.  The tofu wasn't as present as I'd have liked but the thing was huge.  You will never order a burrito here and go home hungry.  The sofrito sauce was the best of the lot having a distinctive cilantro overtone.  The soy sour cream is just that but adds a nice coolness especially if you're going to pour El Yucateca hot sauce on everything after first bite.  The guac was good and had a nice bit of chunk texture.  I feel food like this, common mexican food,  is either over the line or not and Blockheads serves food which is definitely over that line by far.

Sauces, L to R, Sofrito, Soy Sour Cream, Salsa, and Guac.

You get your vegan food, side by side with the carnivorous meals, and you can feel like you're a part of society again.  Thanks Blockheads.  You as a vegan must absolutely preempt and verify that you got what you wanted.  You must do this anywhere you eat unless your covered under the "100% vegan" umbrella.  And you will pay for it.  Regular tofu burrito $10.95.  Mine with soy $12.90.  Add my $1.25 for the guac and ...$.75 for the sofrito sauce and my entree came to $14.90.  Not a lot for any entree in Manhattan and I was glad to be able to order it.  One day the meat will be what cost more but until then, I'm happy with these choices.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vegan Passover Plate

While the brisket and fish made their rounds and a lamb bone was held high I pondered the meaning of freedom that the Passover Seder represents. The story, called the Haggadah, is replete with ritualistic slaughter and traditional seder food preparation brings forth cooked animals.  Although I have attended many seders as a vegetarian this was my first as a vegan. Previously I ate fish and dairy so, with the addition of a specially cooked piece of salmon, there was plenty for me to eat.  This year was a bit different. I just never noticed the totality of the meat centric dishes.

Aside from a cucumber salad in a sweet vinegar dressing and Harosset, (a fruit compote), there was nothing being offered of a vegan nature.  My cousin told me she hooked me up by picking up a corn and black bean salad,  a marinated bean salad, and a vegan Mediterranean vegetable soup.  I pulled out 2 casserole dishes from way in the back of the cabinet and went to work.

A nice blend of veggies, tomato base and seasonings.

I wanted a unique dish in a quantity which would allow me a dinner sized portion and a sample for the other 18 people at the seder if they wished to try a vegan dish.

After some internetting, (new word alert),  I chose the Eggplant Matzo Mina, a Sephardic passover dish which is a marriage of a matzo lasagna eggplant parmigiana.  It's from Nava Atlas' and the recipe is here.  The substitutions I made were:

recipe was doubled
Whole wheat matzo
Porcini mushroom powder
Muir Glen Tomato Sauce
Muir Glen Fire Roasted Diced Tomato
Adobo Seasoned Petit Diced Tomatos.

This started to take on a Mexican-ish flair when I couldn't get Daiya Mozzarella and went with 2 packages of Daiya Cheddar, (both used up completely), and started to think of some flavors melding better with the sharper cheddar flavor.  I also had to travel with the dishes and although I'm a decent cook and can follow a recipe as well as the next guy, I am not that familiar with good travel prep for food.  (Should you cook the dish, refrigerate it or not cook it and refrigerate it, just put it together and leave it at room temperature and then cook it?)

I made the sauce, assembled the dish, covered it with tin foil and put it in the fridge for the hour or so until we were leaving.  Then put it in the oven covered for about 40 minutes.  The Daiya still had a stringy look to it so we uncovered it and left it in a bit more.  I also put a little extra sauce on top of one dish.  In both, the matzo was a little "crispy" like regular matzo but the inside of the casseroles was perfect.  Everyone who ate it enjoyed the dish and some had seconds.  My daughter's dislike of Daiya seemed to fall by the wayside and she too like the dish.  One key I think is to go easy on the cheese layers, don't put 1/2 inch of cheese one each layer.

Of course I forgot to take a picture before it was put out on the buffet table.
Personally I think this was the most colorful plate at the table.
Happy Passover to all.  Freedom for all.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Huffington Post comment regarding staph in food

If you know something is dangerous you have 2 choices; either take all sorts of precautions to try and mitigate that danger, (and of course don't whine if you still get hurt), or just find something else to do. 

There is mercury in fish, ecoli in your meat and now staph in your chicken. Eating animals might be a pleasure for your palate but becoming vegan might now be the safest option you have for your health. There is no disputing the fact that we can live a healthy energetic life eating a delicious 100% plant based diet but there is plenty of evidence to weigh in against eating animals merely because they taste good. 

The animals in our food supply are becoming laden with poison. Instead of trying to use better cooking "procedures" or fight a (losing) battle against the food supplier's profit motive to reduce the contaminants in food, vote with your dollars and start learning how to cook vegetables with alternate proteins such as seitan, tempeh and tofu from one of the hundreds of vegan cooking sites. Vote with your dollars for your health, the environment, and the animals and stop worrying about how contaminated your meat is.

Marty's Flying Vegan Review

Click here for a link to the original post.

This Is the Game Changer!

If you know something is dangerous you have 2 choices; either take all sorts of precaution­s to try and mitigate that danger, (and of course don't whine if you still get hurt), or just find something else to do.

There is mercury in fish, ecoli in your meat and now staph in your chicken. Eating animals might be a pleasure for your palate but becoming vegan might now be the safest option you have for your health. There is no disputing the fact that we can live a healthy energetic life eating a delicious 100% plant based diet but there is plenty of evidence to weigh in against eating animals merely because they taste good.

The animals in our food supply are becoming laden with poison. Instead of trying to use better cooking "procedure­s" or fight a (losing) battle against the food supplier's profit motive to reduce the contaminan­ts in food, vote with your dollars and start learning how to cook vegetables with alternate proteins such as seitan, tempeh and tofu from one of the hundreds of vegan cooking sites. Vote with your dollars for your health, the environmen­t, and the animals and stop worrying about how contaminat­ed your meat is.


Marty's Flying Vegan Review


Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Saturday, April 16, 2011

John's of 12th Street. Traditional Italian and vegan at the same table.

See?  It can be done. This is not merely gratuitous proof but overwhelming proof done exceedingly well. There are so many situations where we have no choice but to break bread with those who insist on eating meat. Unfortunately we're often left with few culinary options above and beyond the grilled veggies or salads.  This all changes here.

I wonder who has walked on this hundred year old tile floor.  
You should put John's of 12th Street on your list.  If you don't find yourself eating at John's you're missing out on seeing what a restaurant owner can do to attract the vegan/veto vote.  I don't mean one or two items marked as vegan, I mean a whole menu.

This isn't hidden in a little box on the bottom of the menu.  The owner is ADVERTISING his vegan menu.
"From soup to dessert"
Stepping into John's is stepping into the past.  There are inlaid marble panels on the lower wall imported from Italy and (twice) restored murals depicting the city states and their coats of arms from the era before they were united into Italy.  The restaurant was a tad on the dark side and we shopped around, since the place was still setting up when we arrived for our early dinner a bit before 5, and ended up at the well lit window table.  I imagine as darkness descends on the city the candles on each table create a remarkable dining environment.

A hundred years of wax?
Funny, I did have to ask for the vegan menu and Bobby our waiter said he didn't think I was the "type". I did have my Mickey Mouse Disney T shirt on but next time I'll be sure to wear my Grateful Dead garb.  I did have my earring in so that should have keyed him in right away.  Oh well.

The menu is impressive, and honestly, what I dream is that we can find a menu like this in every single restaurant sometime in the future.  This isn't a menu of omission, pawning off spaghetti and meatballs sans meatballs as their original vegan creation, this is a menu DESIGNED FOR US!!

Options like you normally don't find.  Enlarge this and see what is offered.
Reading the menu saddened me.  I didn't have the stomach capacity, (although still impressive when I want it to be), to eat every thing I saw, and I wanted every thing I saw.

I started with garlic bread.  I know it's made with olive oil in many places but butter still can be an ingredient and it's nice to just say "vegan" and be done with it.  I still said "vegan" a lot since there is a whole lot of cooking going on that I don't care to indulge in and really really really didn't want to be writing about mistakes during this dinner.  (There were none made.  Yay).

The caesar salad had baked shitake mushroom chips.  Mike, the owner,  told me they were soaked in soy and then baked.  They added a nice smokiness and crunch to the salad.  The dressing had a bit of seaweed in it.  Although nothing can duplicate the exact taste of a true caesar made with raw eggs and anchovies, this dressing came close.  Creamy and sea salty, it hit a certain mark.  I still think $9.95 is steep for a salad but I really don't know how much a caesar salad is since I don't order salads in restaurants.  In any case we tagged almost 30 bucks onto the bill in salads.

Vegan Caesar Salad and Vegan Garlic Bread
I finally "settled" on the Seitan Alla Rosa which is cooked in a sauce with artichokes and fire roasted peppers and a marsala wine mushroom sauce.  Shitake and button mushrooms were part of the smothering of the seitan.  The seitan was light and fluffy but still had a nice toothiness to it.  There were many layers of subtle flavors and for once I didn't pour hot sauce or sprinkle red pepper flakes all over my food.  The marinara sauce on the pasta was made just right with a hint of sweetness in the background.

Seitan alla Rosa

Seitan Alla Rosa without the flash.

My wife ordered the Seitan Parmigiana.  Usually she goes for the "formerly living creature" parmigiana so this was an incredibly welcome change.  That and she loved the seitan.  Since she eats cheese she told me she'd order the seitan again but with real cheese.  I say, "kudos," and one step at a time.  I'm always happy when a non vegan validates my claim of goodness.  I know my palate has changed over this last year

Seitan Parm with Daiya

Closeup of the seitan.

Now we get to desserts.  Oh man, this is where I lost all control and self worth.  I never had Lula's Sweet Apothecary Ice Cream before and I may have to restrict myself to a 500 calorie a day diet of real food now that I know this stuff exists.  Good Humor trucks beware! If someone finds an old ice cream truck and a block of dry ice this city will lose all roving ice cream vendors.  This stuff was so rich and delicious and had that crunch of the chocolate chips.  Amazing.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip.
As if these people weren't the devil incarnate they went ahead and made a vegan cannoli.  I'm a goner.   The cannoli has the same texture as ricotta and a sweet vanilla flavor on one side and chocolate on the other.  The scorze is light and crisp and sweet.  What a perfect combination of dessert.

No, no, of course one flavor isn't good enough. 
Now for the bad news.  Well, it's not bad considering what we ate.  John's is a place to go and dine, it's not a pizza joint but a Manhattan Restaurant. Considering we had more of a feast than a meal and 4, count them, 4 desserts, this wasn't all that bad.  Although I will be eating cereal for all my meals for the next week.
Cash or check only.
John's doesn't have the vegan menu published on their website yet but the link in the title is to menu pages where it is listed.

John's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Vegetarian juice bar, Miramar, FL

I found this pic from a lunch I had a few weeks ago and it is too colorful to not post.  Vegetarian Juice Bar is a no frills place in Miramar, Florida that I have posted about before, (and have another post in the hopper), and look forward to eating at when I'm around Miami.

Talk about eating a full color meal!
I stopped by for a quick lunch.  Apparently the quantity of the food is the same no matter how many items you want but the more entree items you add the more the dish costs.  The Veggie Delight I ordered last time I was here had 4 entree items over the rice but this lunch I ordered with only one item and rice. And salad. And a plantain.

The Vidalia salad dressing in a bottle right off the supermarket shelf was  handed to me while I stood at the counter.  Pour it on and sit down.  It's indicative of how laid back and slick-less the attitude is here. Like you'd get at your friend's mom's table.

The fish was fried but not crispy with a ligt sauce. Onions and peppers. Rice has a nice flavor with lentils, (or was it pidgeon peas?).

Note: Just to eliminate any confusion, as pointed out by jenny in her comment, the fish is mock fish as are all the proteins in this wonderful 100% vegan restaurant.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Veggie Grill Irvine, CA

After my debacle at Twisted Noodle I was jonesing for a meal I could enjoy.  I didn't want to worry about ingredients and I wanted something that tasted good.  I wanted a place where everyone else could enjoy the food too.  I also wanted something I couldn't get in NYC.  Native Foods is on my list but I have to go back there by myself.  A few years ago my family had a meal there and I was the only one, (a vegetarian at the time), who enjoyed it.  I think there were many reasons, and this isn't a negative review of Native Foods at all, but until I come back raving about it they're not willing to give it another go.

Since my mom is not as mobil as she used to I had to eliminate another favorite, The Wheel of Life in Irvine.

But they do like Veggie Grill!!  Well, everyone except my brother but, well, hey, ya know.

Portobello Burger slathered with grilled onions and salad.
My mom seemed to enjoy the Papa's Portobello Burger.  It was the only dish I didn't taste but it looked and smelled fantastic.

Burger with cheese.
The burger had a nice "meatiness" to it and the cheese just gave it that wonderful fatty gooiness that I miss.  It's a cross between cheese and a queso nacho sauce.

Chop Chop salad.
I don't do flips over salads in a vegan place but this was totally consumed by the carnivore who ordered it.

These are killer wings!
If I could only order one thing at Veggie Grill it would have to be the wings.  Basically it's a specially produced Gardein product that has an incredible mouthfeel.  It's got a crispy coating that carries a nice blend of spices and makes a great vessel for either dipping sauce if you don't happen to have a spoon or straw.  One is a ranch and the other BBQ.  Now there is a new product that I didn't see and didn't hear about until we were leaving.  It's a Chipotle wing.  Usually it's marinated but we got a cup of the sauce and just dipped.  It had a pleasant level of heat to it and I'd like to try an order to compare.  We went through 3 orders of wings at the table.  Now granted, one person wasn't hungry when we left to get the food but seemed to work up a good appetite for wings by the time we came back

My Carne Asada ... or very little of the carne and a lot of the table.
My Carne Asada was amazing.  It had a nice level of heat and earthy flavor.  The red onions gave the sandwich a bit of crunch.  I might have skipped the tomato because the whole thing is slathered in sauce and tends to be a bit drippy.  Fine for at home in in store dining but nothing I'd want to eat in the car (or plane).  The meat itself has that same Gardein meatiness.

All the breads were soft and had a nice touch of sweetness.  These are not crusty rolls or hero buns and I found them to be a good match for the contents which were also soft.  There was no burger squirt as sometimes happens with a soft burger and hard bun and you bite into the sandwich and the contents come squishing out the back.

This takeout meal was a perfect ending to a less than stellar culinary visit to California.

The Veggie Grill (Campus Drive) on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 11, 2011

Poor Poor Natalie Portman

Apparently Natalie Portman slid off the vegan wagon because she missed a few things and wanted a more convenient life.  (I should be so misfortunate).

There is nothing convenient about being a vegan.  Nothing.  We live by a set of ethics that trump ease.  We read nutrition labels like mad scientists and download apps that tell us if unconscionable collections of consonants came from anything that was ever an offspring.

Every meal in a restaurant is an inquisition, 20 questions and a measure of trust and honesty of a not so basic knowledge of culinary ingredients.  You have to make the Sophie's Choice of "it's good enough," or throw down the fork in defeat.

Every meal with non vegans is a kindergarden class and a series of inane, "yeah but what if you were ..." and "Is your watchband leather?" questions.

You know what?  Sometimes you just want to relax at dinner.  

I totally understand the desire.  I look at a slice of pizza and don't think, "Mmmm," but, "Why no Daiya or Teese?"

There is an undercurrent as I move through my day of smells and memories of good tastes that I can no longer enjoy without the thought, "Yes it smells good but what IS it?"

I have put up with aching feet because I vowed to buy no more clothing made from animals and my options are so limited that I bought a size just a smidgen too small rather than a size where my feet were swimming in a non leather shoe.  I work outside and when it's raining outside I wear my old leather work shoes because they're more waterproof and fight the discrepancy between what I believe and want in this world and my need to not go through a day flying with wet cold feet.  Hopefully in the future there will be a plethora of choices but we don't have that today.  When I take the NYC subway to MooShoes I pass a THOUSAND shoe stores to buy ethically.  Hardly convenient.

I understand being in a restaurant and craving something sweet after a meal of chips and salsa and there isn't one thing I can have.  I do understand cravings.

There is nothing easy about being a vegan.  Nothing convenient.  There is one thing though, that at the end of the day we have that "they" don't and that is the satisfaction of living by our ethical commitment.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Look ma, I'm a neurosurgeon or anyone can spell vegan in Laguna, CA

I'm out in Laguna Woods on a family visit.  It happens that it's also my birthday and restaurant chosen for the birthday dinner is Twisted Noodles.

Asian = Ethnic = Vegan Possibilities

I got to peruse a copy of the menu before we went.  Everyone was all excited for me because they had "vegan" options.  I was even excited about it.  It was like everyone found a place that could treat a rare disease and finally I'd be saved.

Possibilities go to reality as "Entries (sic) can be made vegetarian or vegan..."  

I'm looking at the menu thinking this might actually be a great meal.  They know vegan, they have tofu, they are calling my name.  It's what got them a table of 7 people.

Part sushi bar, part sports bar.  See that TV.  When we walked in it had the RODEO on.  In a place that wants vegan business.  They haven't made the connection.  My wife, on my behalf, asked that the channel be changed.

I walked up to the bar and pulled up and started searching for the beers.  I looked at the waiter and figured I'd save a few minutes so asked him if he knew which beers were vegan.  He basically said, it's beer, there's no animal products in beer.  Uh oh.  I'm getting a little bit of a bad feeling here.

I order the

A3. Tofu Delight (8) Deep-fried tofu served with sweet chili sauce
A4. Vegan Delight (8) Combination of fried tofu and butternut squash served with sweet chili sauce

and I'm just thrilled to see "vegan" on the menu.  They must surely speak my language.

Someone put that used dish of chili sauce on the plate as this was from the second order and they, well, forgot to put a new one on.

The vegan delight was a combination of chunks of butternut squash and tofu, deep fried.  As you know I love anything deep fried.  I thought the coating was a bit softer than I'd have liked and the tofu held a bit more liquid than it would have had it been pressed.  Still, fried stuff dipped in sweet chili dipping sauce, who could say "no"?

That sure is a huge mound of white rice!

CT11. Phrik Khing Red chili paste sautéed with green bean, carrot & kaffir leave and a choice of protein $6.95

I ordered the Phrik Khing and it looks fantastic.  This thick sauce is just crying deliciousness.  I take a bite of the salad which is iceburg lettuce, purple cabbage and carrots.  I dig into the entree and it's great.  The tofu batons are just the right consistency and the veggies are cooked perfectly, just a nice crunch left.  But I look in my plate and see this:

Hmm, what's that white sauce?

I sort of stop in mid bite.  Oh waiter?  Here's the way it goes:

"Hi, uhm, what's in the salad dressing?"
"Uhm," (searching for the word), "in English its ma ... may .... "
"Ah yes, mayonnaise."
"Mayonnaise isn't vegan, it's made with eggs."
"Oh, then not mayonnaise.
"Can you send the chef out."
"I could but no English."
"What language does he speak?"
"What language do you speak?"
"Can you go ask him what is in the dressing?"

Wait one minute.

"He says the dressing is vegan."
"But it has mayonnaise?"
"Yes, mayonnaise."

I'm done eating.  Plate full of food, fork down, done.  Anyone can put the word vegan on a menu.  If you cant follow through and deliver then don't invite me in.  Whatever the dietary restriction is, you had better deliver.  Don't say gluten free and serve wheat.  Don't say sugar free and put in fructose.  Don't write checks you can't cash.  And don't FUCKING lie to me about what's in the food!!!

That's outrageous.

But as a wonderful surprise a cake from Babycakes was ordered.  Mmmm, that was delicious ... AND VEGAN!

In a last ditch attempt to grab some dinner I drove to Irvine Center and made a mad dash to Veggie Grill.  Alas, the picture was all I got to drool over as they close at 10 and we got there around 10:30.  Some chips and salsa in Dave and Busters was the majority of my dinner meal.  Vegan for sure today though.

Like looking through prison bars at the free world.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Oh Disney, A Vegan Cries

Dear Disney People,

I come to your mecca 2 times a year.  Although there are 2 vegan options at The Lucky Fortune Cookie, (Korean BBQ or Teriyaki Tofu), a vegan option at Cocina Cucamonga, and a vegan chili at a place near the Haunted Mansion, (who's name escapes me and a search for "vegetarian chili" on turned up no hits), I dream about a bread bowl full of VEGAN Cajun Gumbo.

My forays into Disney are a cross between a well planned military timetable and utter confusion, which might be two ways of saying the same things.  My daughter and I waited online at the Royal Street Veranda for about half an hour and when we finally got to the window, guess what?  They were out!  But they'd have more in 20 minutes.

Honestly, I never heard of Disney running out of anything.  Ever.

So to the good people at Disney, I ask why you ran out.  If you were in the process of restocking the counter and a drum of Gumbo fell over, well, sad, but accidents happen.  If you're selling more vegan gumbo than you planned for I'd say it's time to throw a few more vegan options on the menu boards.

While I'm suggesting things, would you please put a little tiny "v" on menu items that are vegan?  I asked a popcorn vendor if there was anything in the popcorn besides popcorn and oil and she said, "Well, butter."  Do we really have to find information about our meals from blogs and email lists?

Do you really have butter in your popcorn?

I ate a pretzel, which surprisingly was the stalest I've ever eaten but when I asked the vendor what was in it he said he'd ask.  It just so happened that another cast member was restocking and kindly just hoisted the box up so I could see the ingredients.  I didn't see anything that looked un-vegan but I'm not a scientist.  So I ate the pretzel.

Please realize that vegetarians can eat anything vegan and enjoy it while vegans can't.  When you run out of one of our limited options, it's not a tragedy but it sure is disappointing.  Oh, and call Daiya and put some vegan cheese on burritos, pizza and other things we can eat.  Daiya is changing the world.  Or call the Teese folks at Chicago Soy Dairy!
I love this display in Tomorrowland.  I'm down 30+ pounds and have another 30 to go.  I somehow find this inspiring.

My daughter, niece, wife and I had a great time as usual.  Please give us vegans a few more options.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Don't Shy Away

I got this comment on my blog, Marty’s Flying Vegan Review, (, about a post involving a vegan meal at an IHOP.  It got me thinking and here's the result.
“I live in Florida just outside of Jacksonville and when I saw your post I said "Wow this guy is brave". I would have run into a grocery store for some fresh fruit first. That "fake" butter looked really strange. Are you glowing? lol
Curious why you wanted the vegetables cooked real soft. I'd be afraid of anything touching their grill or cutting services. Glad it worked out for you!”
I know I can always run into a grocery store and get an apple but where would this blog be then?   That’s my backup and there are places I’ve been where I’d do just that.
I also don’t like when I order cooked veggies and they come out warmed, still on the raw  side, and merely covered in oil as proof of their travels into a pan.  It makes me think that at best the chef was in a hurry.   
I strictly follow the words and advice of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, (, which I heard in a pod cast many moons ago. "Do your best.  You can't control what you can't control.  Do what you can and don't do nothing because you can't do everything."  Or words to that effect.
I will not eat anything that has any animal ingredients but until we transform this world I have to deal with the fact that sometimes, in some places, if I choose to eat out I will end up with traces of stuff I don't care for.  I can't drill down into a restaurant's ingredients or cooking processes to assure everything is 100%.  What percent of waiters or chefs know that bone char is used in the manufacture of some sugars, let alone if the sugar used in their dishes were made that way?  
(Almost every candy bar has the disclaimer that it is made in a facility that processes milk products.  It’s your choice if "trace" is ok or you're going to perhaps not support a growing company that must share production facilities but is solidly on the vegan path.) 
There also has to be a fair amount of trust, so if I ask something be prepared vegan and it's not, I can just return it with a request that it be corrected or I can hit the ceiling.  That all depends on the transgression and the response when brought to the attention of the waitstaff/management. 
I will never forgive the owner of Johnny Chih’s in Westhampton, NY, ( for not understanding, (or caring actually), that it wasn't ok to serve me stuff made with ONLY chicken stock because it had no "chicken" in it. Yet I will be giving Blockheads another chance because they (said) they re-trained their waitstaff and redid their menu to make their vegan choices more clear.  Big Nicks is off my list because after they said they'd retrain the staff I still got a waiter who had no idea what I wanted and gave me soy cheese with casein even after my 5 minute explanation.  There was recently an article about a facebook posting by a chef, (true or not), who previously worked at Tavern on the Green in NYC’s Central Park, (now closed), who intentionally served wheat pasta to diners who specifically requested gluten free ... and supposedly laughed that they never knew.
That being said we all could starve if we avoided eating anything raw that might have been fertilized by cow manure.  Or cooked if we didn't meticulously wash every molecule of animal remnant off every leafy green we ate.  It just realistically can't be done.
So I go in and ask for no butter, no dairy, no stock, no this and no that but have no control if a chef is cooking in a frying pan, or on a flattop, that still has bacon grease on it, (I hope not!), or some butter or milk or cheese.  If he wiped it off is that good enough or do we need it steam cleaned and atomically blasted?  The only way we're going to assure ourselves of that is to eat only at vegan restaurants.  (Even then you can’t be sure.  See Quarrygirls expose here: I try to do that as often as possible but flying with another crew member who demands meat on his plate at every single meal is the norm for me and often we don't have time or the means to eat separately.  I have friends and family with the same set of dining rules.
We are burdened enough, and I use this word loosely, with merely explaining who we are and what we believe in and how it translates into preparing our food almost every time we eat out.  There are more and more places with “vegan” on the menu so we’re making inroads for sure.   At places with indicated “vegan” selections, when inquiring about other options that might be “veganized” I still have to say, “No, honey isn’t good, No, fish sauce isn’t good.”  Where we think we’re understood due to in house training, it’s not a given that our servers really understand.  One shouldn't assume.
We have to keep educating wherever and whenever we can, one person at a time.  It’s what we do as quiet activists.  As part of the fight for animal rights, better health, a cleaner environment, at whichever stop you boarded the vegan train, we explain and educate but still we're going to, I believe, have to put up with these minor traces of animal products in our food.  I will keep eating out, asking, telling, educating and of course sending food back to be re-done.  I hope it becomes easier for us in the long run.
The only other alternative is to never dine out with our less than enlightened friends, co-workers, and relatives, which for me is not an option.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hoped for so much more at Hilton O'Hare

The Hilton at O'Hare airport is a beautiful huge facility.  A full service hotel is usually not a good choice for me and here's why. There are usually no microwaves or fridges,  (but this facility gave me a fridge at no charge an it was there, literally, before I got the second light switch turned on in the room).  O'Hare has no rental cars available for private pilots so we're dependent on a ride from either the facility where we park the plane or the hotel.  In either case I don't like being dependent on someone else's schedule.  Too many times I've had my timetable planned out and then heard, "Oh, and we just have to drop this guy at terminal 3," and I just lose a half hour.  This is true no matter where I stay but the company is less likely to provide a rental car if the hotel is so close.  There are also very few dining options near by and without a car you're sort of stuck.  I do know there is a CIBO that carries Soul Vegetarian seitan sandwiches, (see my other post here), in a terminal but it's on the other side of security.

But of course, dear reader, you don't tune in for logistics planning, you come here for the food.  And that's also a problem at most full service hotels for two reasons.  First is selection and second is price.  Most full service hotels at airports have plenty to offer culinarily to the meat eater but hardly a thing for vegans.  It, more than likely, will be special order.  I talked to the waiter and while I won't say his eyes glazed over I think he knew the end result was that I was going to be talking with the chef and offered no menu selections.

Chef Chris came out and showed me a bag of gluten free corn pasta.  I told him I wasn't gluten intolerant and he said all the pasta had egg in it.  Ah.  OK, I explained that I wasn't married to pasta and he could just make me a delicious vegan dish.  Apparently the menu will be changing over next week and that was the issue.  I didn't press it further.  Sometimes my mind isn't quick enough to think, "What did I just hear?"  Were there no vegetables?  Were all the veggies just rotting in a busbox in the back waiting for next week?  Were all the veggies quietly being eliminated?  Had the ghosts of the Chicago Stockyards finally pushed every protoplasmic organism in the kitchen with a cell wall out the door?  Is Dr. Atkins alive and in their walk in?

My dish came.  It was the corn pasta.  It had big hardly cooked and hard chunks of carrots and somewhat softer zucchini and cauliflower chunks.  There were a few green beans.  And parsley.  The sauce was thin but did have a nice flavor.  My 11 year old daughter gets more inspired when she cooks.

A show of hands now.  Who at home couldn't make this?
Chef, the challenge isn't to make 200 covers and go home.  It's not doing the easiest thing you can do to turn my table at 10 PM.  It's rising to the occasion and doing something creative when a culinary challenge comes before you.  It actually might even involve thinking ahead just on the off chance a vegan gets lost and stumbles into your restaurant.  My job is a game of "What if ..."  Play it sometime.  Please don't serve me something I could have made at home and when I'm charged $20 for this please don't make me wonder why I didn't slap together a sandwich in my room with the food I brought from home.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Vegan menu at Mexican Radio, NYC

Isn't it nice when you find yourself welcomed with open arms?  We get a whole column to chose from at Mexican Radio!

They know we're coming and have prepared in advance.

One of the issues in any restaurant is the ingredients used to prepare the non protein ingredients.  Mexican restaurants have traps galore, with many using chicken stock in the rice or lard in the beans.  My 11 year old vegetarian daughter forgot to ask and when she took her first spoonful of the Corn Chowder she got a mouthful of something that didn't grow in the ground.

Our waiter was very helpful and took the time to work out my meal even though he was hurrying to get our table of 10 taken care of.  My favorite Mexican dish is a Chimichanga, you know I'm a sucker for anything fried, and this is basically a fried burrito.

I got mine with rice, beans, vegan soy cheese, seitan, onions and peppers.  Although the shell wasn't as crisp as I'd have liked it was still a good chimi.  The guac had a hint of spice, (not that it mattered much with 3 different bottles of hot sauce at the ready), the pico was bright and the soy crema added a balancing coolness.  As for the contents there was nothing in particular that stood out but every bite had a nice flavor and there was enough seitan pieces to give you the feeling that you were eating something substantial.

You won't leave hungry, that's for sure.
There is a cheese sprinkled on the beans which I was assured was vegan and the rice was cooked in veggie broth.

That's a chunk of seitan in the middle.
As I've said before, Mexican food is either above the line or isn't.  Mexican Radio produces consistently decent food which is above the line.  The carnivores enjoyed their meals as well so this was a perfect choice for a mixed group.  I think I'd put working through their tequila selection, one shot at a time,  on my bucket list as well.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

NYC Vegetarian Festival

I had purchased a VIP ticket, and to coin an aviation term, I was spiraling into a depression when I was assigned a flight the same day as the New York City Vegetarian Food Festival.  The way the schedule worked out I would have about 10 minutes to pick up my bag of goodies, take a quick look around and still be at work on time.

As I rolled down 7th Ave at 0845 I saw plenty of parking spaces and figured, since this was Sunday and there are no parking restrictions, I'd see how close I could get to the Altman Building on West 18th Street.  I rolled into a parking space right on the corner, a mere half a block away, at about 0900.  I had a bunch of business cards with the blog on it and my ticket on iPhone and figured I'd see what I could see.  There was no one on line.  The very first thing I could see was the real life incarnation of one of my first Twitter followers:

This was actually shot when I was leaving and there WAS a line.  Unfortunately I didn't have time to wait and purchase anything.  I will, I promise, hunt you down in Hoboken!

Inside the building was an amazing site as table after table was manned, (and womanned), and being set up.  There were tables for causes and tables for products.  It was a health food store on steroids.
I walked around and said hello to many of the vendors and volunteers, sneaking a quick taste, (actually allowing the folks to use me as a guinea pig and hone their sales spiel before the serious buyers showed up), at some and picking up literature at others.  I'll give you a more detailed description of the VIP bag when I get home since it's in my car at the airport in N.J.

There really was something for everyone here.

Yes I did glance back at the Snail more than once.
To name but a few, Meetup, Rescue Chocolates, Teese and the Chicago Soy Dairy, Plaintain Chips, Earth Balance with their new Organic Soy milk and butter replacement, Loving Hut, PETA, Sea Shephard, Rynn Berry and new software for the iPhone, Clean Plates, another food guide for NYC, Faux Gras, (yes it was me that messed up your 2 displays but I had to take a little swipe and now I DO KNOW WHAT THE BUZZ is about, Our Hen House, MFA, Loving Hut, A Peanut Butter vendor, many many vegan baking people and vegan candy/protein bars, Foodswings (I so wish I could have stuck around and taste your food!), Ayinde of Ieatgrass legend, and a many more that I just can't remember right now but the full vendor list is here.

There was someone I wanted to say hello to everywhere I looked.

When I left the lines had already formed and the Cinnamon Snail was in full crawl.

I knew if I got any closer my mouth would start to water as I was thinking about lunch already.

Standing almost on 7th Avenue.  There was another line from the door to 6th Ave.  I heard some people waited for 3 hours to get in and others gave up when they saw the line wrap around to 19th Street.
I sort of thought that there was way too small a space for this many people but I can't help but rejoice, yes rejoice is the word, that this was such a blowout.  I already know I'm taking a vacation day next year and showing up at 6AM if need be.

My biggest disappointment was missing all of the cooking demos and not having time to talk to so many more people.  This is how we grow folks, 4000 facebook likes at a time.