Sunday, May 27, 2012

Blown away in Indiana ... not by a twister, but by vegan in Italy

Quite the whiner I can become sometimes but I was just blown away in a good way, and in Elkhart, Indiana, no less.

The other pilot was going to find an Italian restaurant that catered to my vegan foodal needs and first did a search for Italian restaurants.  Then he searched for whole wheat surmising those who had whole wheat pasta would be a notch above the rest in terms of health and differing dietary needs.  He called one and said his friend was vegan and was greeted with, get this ... "Oh we have some vegan customers, no problem."  Huh?  What?  Are you kidding?  I mean, just when you think it's not safe to go in the water anymore this pops up.  What an excellent job he did finding the place.  I was psyched.  I had no idea how psyched I should have been.

But, all my positive energy and good thoughts of sugar plum fairies dancing, uh, wait, different dream ... well, lets just put it this way.  In aviation we have a saying, "Trust ... but verify."  So I packed a few things in my cooler bag, having earlier resigned myself to finding a place to eat offering only white pasta and tomato sauce.  I took my vegan salad dressing, my Yves meatless crumbles, and my mozzarella Daiya cheese.  I also took my soy creamer should a nice cup of decaf have my name on it.

Now Per Bacco will come up on Google maps as Bruno's Pizza and there is just no explanation until you get there and find out the building is owned but the same people.  So here's a picture just to help you find the place.

How would you like to be greeted like this?

"Is one of you the vegan?" when we walked into the place.  No, I mean uber cheerfully, like Hey, you're finally home buddy, welcome.  We were expecting you and we know how to take care of you.  Candy the waitress was just so full of energy and pre-empted so many of my usual questions by saying things like, "Well, our bread is delivered so I can't vouch for it but our Ciabbata is house made so here's some garlic and oil to get you started."  I'm quietly shocked and awed.  Folks, there is nothing to indicate the presence of vegan knowledge here, unless you see the Butternut Squash ravioli on the specials menu. (It wasn't vegan as that particular dough had egg in it.)

Ciabatta with Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil
 Yum, yum, yum, chomp slurp slosh.  Delicious bread and wonderful flavor.  what could be bad?

Oh, and a salad with mixed greens, carrots, beets, tomatoes and dried cranberries.  Dressing you ask?  You didn't have to because Candy already said it's a house made balsamic with no honey or cheese.  (OK, I did ask to make sure and you know old habits die hard but she did reassure me.)  It was such a nice Balsamic.  None of this $4 supermarket junk here.  What a great combination of the fruit, veggies and sharp sweetness of the dressing.

I went and talked to Marisa the chef/owner at Candy's invitation and laid my Daiya and Yves on the counters.  "There's a Whole Foods coming in Mishawaka," I told her.  "If you like this stuff you can probably get it there."

I also told her to not taste the Daiya out of the bag but to melt it on something and try it.  Candy told me they had a few vegan customers and I thought if I could sell them on these processed imitation foods they could incorporate them into the offerings and become a major, (the first Elkhart restaurant offering vegan labeled options will be Major of course), well, force in change.

I told Marisa to make anything she wanted with the ingredients, a little arrabiata, to make it like a bolognese sauce using the vegan whole wheat pasta.

So like 2 minutes later this shows up.  Ohhhhhhh, cheese bread.  My heart missed you.  Thank you Daiya!

It turns out Marisa loved it and told me, when we said good bye, that she was definitely going to buy the product and put it on her menu.  (Score one for the animals).  Turns out she was chomping on the Daiya Cheese Bread in the back as well. 

Now Candy apparently lived with the hippy population of Elkhart and had experience with vegan food and made her own vegan cheesecake to feed her former roommates vegan friends.  When I asked her to take a taste she said, "Not a big fan."  Later she came back after tasting and said, "I am amazed."  I actually don't remember exactly what her words were but that's what she said.  One eighty, as we call it in aviation.  (180 degree turn is a course reversal.)

Now for the entree.  This is what Marisa put before me.  A delicious thick tomato sauce with hot peppers mixed in, the Yves mixed in and the Daiya on top.  I mixed the Daiya into the hot pasta and it turned into a creamy rich delicious amazing dish.  Let me go so far as to throw the word awesome out there.  Candy said that Marisa had made a bunch more and was chowing down on vegan fare in the kitchen.  She loved the stuff and was quite possibly going out after dinner service to be first on line at Whole Foods.  

So you might ask what kind of meal I'd have had if I hadn't brought my own ingredients.  I'm guessing a veg centered meal, possibly a putanesca or primavera.  Where's the vegan?  Well the staff knows about cheese and butter an chicken stock and will make sure your meal is prepared vegan.  You don't have to teach them what it means.  I wanted a more hearty old style Italian meal and this was it.  The flavor of the sauce was so rich I ate half of that entree.

I hope you get to Elkhart and I hope you find a vegan bolognese on the menu when you get there.  To me this was more of an opportunity to show a chef who was already half way to where I think all chefs should be a few more options to encourage the consumption of more vegan meals.  To push them, to list them, to put a vegan special on the menu every night, to have a vegan section permanently on the menu, to open up the floodgates of curiosity about what is out there in the vegan world to restauranteurs.  It was a night of educating and from what I was told, it seemed I had excellent students.

I also ended up speaking to the front desk clerk at the hotel here.  His wife is expecting.  Now it turns out she had so much milk in her life she is now lactose intolerant and somehow the topic of vegan cheese came up and I poured some of my Daiya into a cup for him.  Then the hotel chef comes by.  Guess what we're talking about.  I left a sample of Daiya for him too.  (Daiya, how about a little comish if you find yourself shipping massive quantities of your product to Elkhart, Indiana??  Huh?  Huh?)

Vegan, make more vegans is all I have to say.

Friday, May 18, 2012

PureFit Nutrition Bars: Review, Discount and Giveaway

As a charter pilot I'm on the road 150-200 nights a year.  Sometimes I start my day at 3 or 4 AM and some days I end at that time.  The point is there is very little I can count on in terms of regular meals at regular times.  Even on a normal day what do you do if you find yourself at 37,000 feet over Des Moines and your stomach starts to growl?  It's not like you can just swoop into the next rest stop.  (How many rest stops have vegan options, anyway?)

But I do carry a parachute.  Bet you didn't know that.  Actually I carry a few and they're my food parachutes.  One of these is PureFit Bars.

They're high protein, (which isn't not ALL that important to me as I don't think lack of protein is really a big issue for me), vegan, (the most important issue with anything I eat), gluten and wheat free, (good to know if you're Celiac or gluten intolerant), and Kosher.  While we're on that theme, ALL of the PureFit bars use the above descriptors.  No label reading if you want to try a different flavor, no grabbing a different bar and getting home and seeing an ingredient in small print you missed at the store, no eggs, milk or honey in any of the bars.

At just over 200 calories per bar I don't feel as though I need to skip a meal to make up for an indulgence and the hunger pangs go away without the resulting sugar crash.  Speaking of sugar, the bars are sweet without being cloyingly so.  Consistency is like a nut paste with chunks, more like a Halavah than a butter and they all have distinctly different flavors.

The Peanut Butter Crunch is your basic in your face peanut butter.

The Granola has a maple-y flavor although maple syrup isn't listed as an ingredient.

The Almond is reminiscent of the intense almond flavor of the cookie I used to get in Chinatown.

I'm still on the fence about the Chocolate Brownie.  Although I like it, to me it's an alternative flavor, not my go to source for my chocolate fix.

My absolute favorite is the Berry Almond.  What is not to love about this combination where you get a nice balance of both flavors in every bite?

PureFit is offering a 25%, (holy shnikes Batman), discount on any purchases of PureFit from their website  Just enter the code MARTYVEG when you check out.

Now for the good news.  I finally realized that if I can fly airplanes I can get over my fear of doing a blog giveaway.  I had all this stuff written out and was about to take the leap but then found Rafflecopter in use on another blog and if it can be this easy, well, rock on.

Oh, I just want to let you know that PureFit sent me 5 bars to review and that's ok. Normally I pay for everything I review but then again, I wasn't about to open 5 of anything at once so it all comes out in the wash.  Just saying.

I enjoy these bars as you can plainly see from my at home stash:

So here it is:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rutherford Pancake House-vegan options galore in NJ

Rutherford Pancake House is a storefront diner in Rutherford, NJ.  It has a bunch of vegan options interspersed with loads of standard diner food.  Apparently some vegans complained that the vegan menu was somehow "discriminatory" so the vegan options are now interspersed with the regular items.  I personally don't see how this makes life easier for US but perhaps offers the non vegan diner a "hmmm" moment as they gaze through the options.

Since almost all of my meals on the road are eaten out I crave some items that I have left far behind.  One of them is a good vegan "mainstream" breakfast.  When I'm home I do the green smoothies or hot cereal thing and on occasion will cook vegan chocolate chip pancakes for my daughter but for the most part vegan breakfast on the road is fruit and oatmeal and potatoes.  That's what hotels serve as items that are accidentally vegan.  Bread products are always suspect, (quay commercial bread has milk), and the only thing to put on them is peanut butter.  To me that's lunch anyway.  Waffles are usually of the "do -it-yourself" kind and I know there is milk and egg in the batter.  Eggs are always out on the buffet line with either ground up or sliced dead animals so really, my options for the free breakfast, (or paid breakfast), doesn't usually include a delicious tofu scramble!  Lo and behold Rutherford PH.

I know, I know, I can cook.  And I can cook up a batch of anything when I'm home but often I'm just not into the labor of baking vegan challah bread and then working from there onto the sausage, (although I do love the Julie Hassan recipe in "Vegan Diner,"),

and then the vegan "egg" mixture ... ya know, sometimes you just want to be cooked for.  So once again, Lo and behold Rutherford PH.

These first pics are from a lunch we had about a month ago and the second a few weeks ago.

Yes, everything on this plate is vegan.
I've had their vegan waffle and it was delicious but in the end it was still a waffle.  I haven't had one in ages, and with the sausage and pure maple syrup was certainly a treat.  Light and airy and all soppy with the syrup and Earth Balance.

The soy milk shake was of course vegan and vanilla but looks green here for no apparent foodal reason.  I'm sure there's a very good photographic reason.  It was deliciously sweet and by no means anything but an excuse to have an ice cream like dessert in a glass.  A wonderful beverage but Chicago Diner still has them beat.

The vegan burger was alright I thought it was not a real replica of the patty I'm looking to, well, replicate.  It was a vegetable patty.  It was soft but so was the bun and the burger squirt was minimized and in my book most any kind of patty is better with Daiya.  Now their fries are outstanding.  They aren't the soggy pile of oil soaked potatoes many places put out but are deeply colored and nicely, (not overly), salted.

Peeve:  Why do you serve coffee with soy MILK and not soy CREAMER?  It doesn't have the smooth fatty mouthfeel of creamer.  Do I really need to bring my own?  ... uh, well, as you can see in the pic below, I did.

I vowed to return for the French Toast and about a month later we did.

After I ordered I had one of those moments only a vegan can relate to after you think you have all of the non vegan ingredient possibilities covered and realized, "OH NO, WHAT ABOUT ... ??"

That was the challah bread used in the French Toast.  The waitress, who was working her first day, assured me that the traditional egg bread was indeed vegan and baked in-house.  (Ahhhh.)  It's also stated plainly on the menu that there are two kinds of Challah bread, one being vegan.  Here'a a caveat, once again, to all of us who dine in "mixed" restaurants.  Repeat-repeat-repeat the word vegan as an adjective to everything.  As in, "I'd like the vegan french toast with the vegan sausage with the vegan butter type of spread with the vegan ... vegan ... vegan ... "  Because although we had a great dining experience and our waitress had all the bases covered, vegan-wise, I've had my experiences where a runner put the regular sour cream on my vegan everything else plate.  And when it comes, you guessed it, RE-verify.

Here is my perfectly cooked vegan french toast with a rich eggy-ness soaked cooked bread that I oh so missed.  The Earth Balance and pure maple syrup added the final touches in richness and caloric indulgence.  Adding a piece of the vegan sausage with its salty fennel savory just sprang my mind back to the delicious and (yes, easier), days of pre vegan breakfasts.  I like when a restaurant becomes a time machine.

The other entree was the Seitan Cheese Steak Sandwich with sautéed peppers and onions and daiya cheese.  I loved this sandwich.  The bread was perfect and the whole thing held together.  My only improvement would be the seitan be shaved and not in small pieces, more like the original it strives to emulate.

I see the most interesting dinner options from a Seitan Marsala to a Vegan Moussaka.  Since dinner is only served on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and only after 5PM, (1700 in case another pilot stumbles onto my blog), it's going to take a bit of planning and some thought.  Why some thought?  Well, if I take someone who normally eats a SAD here they in all likelihood will order something from the animal side of the menu, something familiar, so I cause the use of animal products to be used in a meal.  If they agree to go to a vegan place I'm assuring a compassionate meal for both of us.  I learned several years ago you can't tell someone else what to order, especially if they are waiting for the familiar and take a bite out of seitan.  The results are not always positive and I've possibly turned them off to trying something like that again.  So that's the kind of thing I think about when I am sitting around an airport waiting for the rich and famous to return to their hired chariot.

Rutherford Pancake House is a place I definitely will return to and hopefully soon.