Thursday, March 22, 2018

Imagine Vegan Cafe Is Open Again!

It's been a long, sad couple of months, but my home away from home — Imagine Vegan Cafe — has reopened after an unexpected building maintenance issue put them temporarily out of business. They had some issues with the old pipes in their building, and crews ended up having to tear the floor apart to fix the pipes! So they were closed for about two months.

I usually eat at Imagine once a week (or at least every two weeks), so I've had some serious withdrawal. But their much-anticipated grand reopening was yesterday, and they came back with a BOOM by adding Vegan Mozzarella Sticks back to the menu!

My friends and I went last night for dinner, and I ordered a whole plate of these for myself. I disclosed to the table that I was not sharing, and they'd have to get their own. I did end up "loaning" Pam a cheesestick when her order came out later than everyone else's. But I made her pay me back when she got hers.

Just look at that gooey cheesiness! Owner Kristie is making these in-house, and they're just perfect. When Imagine originally opened, they had Teese brand cheesesticks, but Teese stopped making them. After that, Kristie would occasionally offer homemade ones on special, but these are back on the regular menu. And I hope they stay that way!

The restaurant was PACKED last night when we were there (and I heard it was slammed all day). People have really missed this place!

To balance out my cheesestick gluttony, I ordered the Fried Chicken Salad with Ranch. Ha! More fried! More junk food! But hey, there were salad greens, right? Imagine makes and bottles their ranch, and I've been hella missing it over these past few months. I probably poured a quarter-cup of ranch on this salad. And I purchased a bottle to take home.

Pam got the Vegan Drumsticks, Mashed Potatoes, and Garlic Kale. She couldn't keep her hands out of plate long enough for me to snap this photo.

Megan got the Vegan Turkey Cutlets with Gravy, Mac & Cheese, and Collard Greens.

Melissa went with a veggie plate, so I didn't take a pic cause y'all know what veggies look like. Shay was the responsible one who only ordered a side of spinach since she also had a whole order of cheesesticks to herself. 

Here's our crew! Megan, Melissa, Shay, and Pam (minus Jennifer and Simon, who'd just finished their dinner and we arrived).

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Ostara Eats

Yesterday was the first day of Spring! That makes me sooooo happy. Of course, it's unseasonably cold here this week (45 degrees! WTF??), but I know it'll warm up in a few days. And I keep reminding myself that at least I'm not dealing with snow like my friends in the Northeastern US (sorry y'all, that sucks!).

I always celebrate Ostara, the pagan celebration of the Vernal Equinox. Ostara (also known as Eostre) is a fertility goddess who heralds the arrival of Spring. And as you might have guessed, Eostre is the origin of the name for the Christian holiday of Easter. Ostara is also the reason Christians use fertility symbols, like bunnies and eggs, in their holiday fun. Back in the day, when Christians were trying to convert people who practiced ancient religions, much of the old ways were co-opted into the Christian holidays in an effort to convince folks to switch over.

Anyway, history aside, it's nice to get back to the roots of spring celebrations with this ancient Ostara tradition. People typically consume eggs at Ostara to symbolize the earth's fertility, but of course that isn't vegan. So I always make dishes with vegan egg substitutes. This year, I went with the Curried Cauliflower Frittata and Collards & Sausage from Vegan Brunch. Plus, buttered whole wheat toast.

It was so fun to cook from Isa's Vegan Brunch again! I've had this book for years — such a classic. And when it came out, it was one of maybe 20 cookbooks on my shelf (now I'd estimate that I have at least 500), so it got used a lot. Yet somehow, I'd never made this Curried Cauliflower Frittata. It's so simple. Crumbled tofu, sauteed cauliflower, curry powder, and some more spices, pressed into a pie pan and baked. It holds together well for slicing after it's been cooked.

The Collards and Sausage is really great too! I'd made it once before, but it's been so long. The sausage is homemade steamed seitan (I had some in the freezer from another Isa recipe), but you could easily use Tofurky here. The collards are lightly sauteed, rather than cooked to death like we usually do down South. I do love slow-simmered collards that have been cooked for hours, but these were really good too and reminded me more of kale.

I also had a vegan Vanilla Buttercream Cupcake from Muddy's Bake Shop because it was a holiday, so why not?! This was the last of several I had in my freezer from a few months ago. It thawed beautifully and tasted like a fresh cupcake.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Stuff I Ate

Happy Spring!! So excited that spring has finally sprung, and I'll do a full post on my Equinox eats tomorrow. But tonight, I only have time for a quick Stuff I Ate post.

So here goes! We'll start with this Vegan Hot Dog! Smart Dog with homemade kraut and Dijon. I love the fancy Field Roast dogs and Tofurky brats, but sometimes you need to kick it old school with a Smart Dog.

I've been eating a lot of hot dogs lately, mostly cause these come eight to a pack (and Paul only ate a couple). Besides enjoying them on buns, I also tried mixing some in my leftover Boozy Baked Beans (see yesterday's post) for Beanie Weenies! Served with leftover Colcannon and Corn on the Cob with vegan butter and everything bagel salt. This was last night's dinner.

Last Friday night, I grabbed some takeout from Crazy Noodle. Got my very fave soup there — Mandu Guk. This is a Korean soup with vegetable dumplings, chewy Korean rice cakes, cabbage, and shiitakes. It's usually not vegan at Crazy Noodle, but they're happy to make it vegan if you ask. They also happen to have the best ramen in town.

Yesterday's post-run breakfast was a FitQuick Pizza Protein Waffle topped with pizza sauce and sauteed kale, bell peppers, and black olives. YUM.

Here's my new favorite snack (that I CANNOT stay out of) — Whole Foods brand PB&J Bites. They're crunchy and peanutty on the outside and filled with sweet, strawberry jam. God, these are good.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Boozy Baked Beans

A few months ago, Paul's brother Donnie and his partner Jackie gifted me with a few beers from their family-run brewery, Sobel's Obscure Brewery, in Pennsylvania. I promised I'd come up with a few vegan recipes using their beers, and I've had a lot of fun with this!

Cooking with beer brings out such a depth of flavor in any dish. Last month, I posted my recipe for Vegan Beer Chili using their S.O.B. Prehistoric Pilsner. A light pilsner is great for chili. This time, I'm adding their S.O.B. Inspirational IPA to my Boozy Baked Beans (recipe below!). Shown here with a kraut-topped veggie dog and vegan potato salad.

This isn't a new recipe. It's actually printed in my cookbook, Cookin' Crunk. But I've been refining this dish over the years, and I've really come to learn that an IPA works best here. The hops are slightly mellowed by the baking and the addition of ketchup and maple syrup. But you still get that fruitiness that pairs so well with beans.

On its own, S.O.B.'s IPA is easy-drinking and mellow with just the right amount of hoppiness. Some breweries go all out with hops, and those beers can be a little harsh, especially to an inexperienced craft beer drinker. But I think S.O.B. finds the perfect balance. By the way, if you're in the Pennsylvania region, check out S.O.B.'s store locator to find it near you. If, like me, you're far, far away from up North and need to try another IPA in this recipe, pick one that's lightly fruity without an over-the-top bitter quality.

Fun fact: This recipe was inspired by my granny. I have a distinct memory of her putting beer in her baked beans when I was a kid, but no one else in my family — including granny — remembers that. That said, when I created this recipe and tasted them the first time, it brought me way back. So either I'm right, and they're all forgetful. Or I dreamed this!

Boozy Baked Beans
Yields 3-6 servings

1 tablespoon canola oil 
1 small onion, chopped 
2 cloves garlic, minced 
2 14-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed 
3/4 cup IPA-style beer
1/4 cup ketchup 
1 tablespoon maple syrup 
1/2 teaspoon Liquid Smoke 
3/4 teaspoon sea salt 
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard 
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
1 tablespoon cornstarch + 1 tablespoon water 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 2-quart casserole dish and set aside. 

Heat the oil in a small skillet on medium heat. Add the onion and cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until onions are soft. Add the garlic and cook and stir for 1 more minute. Remove from heat. Set aside. 

Pour the beans into the casserole dish. Add the cooked onion/garlic mixture, beer, ketchup, molasses, Liquid Smoke, salt, ground mustard, and pepper, and cornstarch mixture. Stir to combine. 

Dissolve the cornstarch into the water in a small bowl. Pour the cornstarch into the beans and stir to combine. 

Cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, remove the foil and bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes or until beans are browned around the edges.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

St. Patrick's Weekend Recap!

I love St. Patrick's Day! Nothing makes me happier than to see people participating in holiday fun, so I'm always giddy when I see random strangers wearing green on St. Paddy's Day. Plus, we all know much I love beer! I also have a soft spot for Irish food, probably because way down the family line, I've got a little Irish in me.

My St. Pat's fun actually started several days before the holiday though. Our Crosstown Running Crew had our monthly group run on Wednesday, and we encouraged everyone to wear green. And then on Thursday, Misti, Paul, and I took part in my very favorite St. Pat's tradition — the Breakaway Running Pub Run! Misti and I have been doing this annual run for three years now, and I wouldn't miss it for the world.

We start at Breakaway Running — our local Midtown running store — and run to three bars. The more you drink, the easier running gets! We ran from Breakaway to Memphis Made Brewery, then to Hammer & Ale, and then to Slider Inn, where we also snacked on sliders and fries (a Vegan Triple B Slider for me!). We made some new runner friends at Slider, so we followed them to LBOE for a little more socializing before calling it a night.

On Saturday, I had a 10-mile long run planned, so I woke up early and had this pre-run breakfast of Irish Steel Cut Oats with vegan butter, maple, cinnamon, and walnuts. I finally got some of the vegan Bailey's Almande! So I made Irish coffee too!

I planned my route so that I would pass through the Cooper-Young neighborhood just as their annual St. Pat's parade was lining up. I missed the actual parade, but I got to see some of the walking groups and floats lined up and waiting to start. After my run, of course I had to have a green smoothie! This has kiwi, apple, banana, spinach, almond milk, pumpkin seeds, flax seed, and vanilla protein powder.

Around 1:30 pm, I met up with Andy and Tyler for green beer (the Siren Blonde Ale) at Crosstown Brewing Co. 

Then we stopped back by my house for a few Irish car bombs before heading downtown for the St. Patrick's parade on Beale. This was the first year I was able to use vegan Bailey's and Guinness for my car bombs! In the past, I had to use other brands of beer for my stout since Guinness wasn't vegan yet, and I always made my own vegan Bailey's. But now I can just buy the real thing! So cool that these two companies are now vegan-friendly!

Then it was off to the parade downtown! We scored so many beads!

After the parade, we went back home, and I whipped up some Corned Beet & Cabbage with Colcannon — both recipes from The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook. 

I had a lot of trouble with the corned beet seitan recipe, mostly because I didn't follow directions. I tried making it the night before in a slow cooker, even though the recipe says to cook it on the stovetop for four hours. I just didn't have four hours! The seitan was super spongey, so I tried steaming it in foil Saturday morning after my run. That still didn't firm it up, so I tried baking it. Ha! After all of that, the seitan was still too soft, not meaty enough. Thankfully, a few hours in the fridge did the trick, finally making it sliceable and meaty.

The colcannon is just mashed potatoes with olive oil and kale. Simple and delicious!

After dinner, we headed to Crosstown Arts for an art opening, and then we hung out with some of my co-workers at Crosstown Brewing before calling it a night. Good times!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Stuff I Ate

Here's a round-up of what I've been eating this week! We'll start with this Double Chocolate Brownie Protein Waffle by FitQuick with maple and raspberries. I've been eating FitQuick waffles after at least one weekly run for a couple years now, and I'm still not tired of them!

Here's a thrown-together Taco Bowl of quinoa, kale, kidney beans, and some Veg-All (from a can!) topped with avocado and a quick nooch sauce seasoned with taco spice. 

And here's a Loaded Avocado topped with brown rice, kidney beans, zucchini, corn, bell pepper, cherry tomato, and salsa.

Last Saturday, I went to an afternoon tea party for my friend Nathan's birthday. He made these yummy Baked Sweet Potato Chips topped with hummus (on the second and third tiers).

And he made Cherry Tomato Bruschetta with Everything Bread. I'm all about everything anything!

He also made a really fun vegan dessert by crumbling chocolate Oreos and mixing with extra filling from some golden Oreos to create a sort of chocolate buttercream, which he then piped atop the golden Oreos and topped with strawberries.

Here's a post-run Warm Oats & Protein Nice Cream bowl with blueberry protein banana soft serve. The oats were sweetened with maple syrup. 

And here is a bowl of Savory Spinach Oats with Tofu Egg. I mixed some frozen spinach, vegan butter, nooch, garlic powder, and Bragg's into my oats, and then I topped with pan-fried tofu that I spread with Vegg yolk as it cooked. Topped with habanero sauce, natch.

Still eating lots of Dave's Bagels. Here's an Everything Bagel with Leaf Cuisine Garlic Herb Probiotic Cashew Cheese. Found the cheese at Whole Foods in Little Rock. It's so good!

And finally, here's today's lunch! Our chef at Crosstown Arts and his team made hummus, baba ganoush, and tabbouleh for the resident artists, and they stashed the leftovers in the office fridge. I brought quinoa, chickpeas, and collards from home and topped with the hummus, baba, and tabbouleh. Perfect Mediterranean Bowl!

Hope y'all have a happy St. Patrick's Day weekend! It's one of my favorite holidays. I'll report back on Sunday with an Irish food and drinking recap. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Goddess Provisions: Ayruveda Box

My March Goddess Provisions box is one of my fave boxes so far! But before we dig in, I should mention that I've been a subscriber to Goddess Provisions — a vegan monthly box of mystical and magical supplies — since day one. They're one of my very favorite vegan companies, and I like to feature their boxes in a monthly post.

Without further ado, here's my March Ayruveda Box!

Ayruveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine, which is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses through diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing. I've long been interested in Indian culture and actually went vegetarian at age 14 thanks to the influence of my junior high BFF Purvi and her family (they moved to the States from India in the mid-90s). I'm also a big believer that Eastern medicine has stuck around for as long as it has because it works! 

That said, I wasn't terribly familiar with Ayruveda, so I was thrilled to have The Idiot's Guide to Ayruveda. I've read several of the Idiot's Guide books, and they really do a great job at breaking things down in simple, easy to digest text. I'm on chapter four already, and I've learned that my dosha (the energies that define my physical makeup) is vata. Now I'm digging into how that effects what I should and shouldn't be eating on the regular to balance my vata energy.

Also in the box was a copper tongue scraper. Tongue scraping is a big thing in Ayruveda, and it's supposed to remove bacteria and prevent bad breath. I've been using it in the mornings after I brush, but it's a little tricky with my tongue ring!

The box also contained Gonesh Sandalwood Incense Cones, which I failed to photograph. But they smell amazing. Long ago, the aforementioned Purvi gifted me a sandalwood pocket mirror from one of her visits to India, and I always loved the way it smelled. Sadly, it's been lost over the years, but this incense took me back.

There was also a Carnelian, a sacral chakra stone that's supposed to be good for balancing pitta dosha (although I'm primarily vata, I do have some pitta traits). I also love carrying carnelian for boosting creativity and helping with goal-setting.

Lots of smell good stuff this month! There's Tridoshic spritzer (a lovely aromatherapy spray that helps balance vata, pitta, and kasha doshas), Balanced Guru Scalp Treatment (which I haven't tried yet, but is said to be good for reviving your tired head after a long day), and Ahimsa Essentials Zen oil blend (a mix of peppermint, lavender, and bergamot – my faves!).

I love the Copper Cup Turmeric Latte Mix! This is a powdered mix with a dried coconut milk base, turmeric, and other spices. It's sweet and warming and delicious paired with hot water, warm almond milk, and agave. 

If you're interested in subscribing to the monthly Goddess Provisions box, use this link. I'm an ambassador, so I make a couple bucks from each sale using my link.