Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Nakd Bars!

Happy New Year! If you're like me, you've probably got plenty of health-related resolutions to uphold. As always, I'm hoping to eat more whole foods and work raw meals in more often. Don't worry — I'm not giving up fried tofu and fake meat. Just hoping to eat with better balance.

One way to do that is with super-healthy raw fruit & nut bars. For years, the only one I knew of was Larabar, and those are awesome. But a girl needs some variety. So I was thrilled with Natural Balance Foods, a UK-based company, offered to send me some of their Nakd healthy cereal bars to review.

Isn't this the cutest sampler box?

There was one of each flavor, all of which are made with a few simple ingredients — dates, nuts (usually cashews), raisins, cocoa (in some bars), and fruit. That's it! There's no added sugar or syrups.

Check out all these flavors!

I couldn't resist trying Ginger Bread first. It was just after Thanksgiving, so it seemed the perfect seasonal bar. It's made with ginger, cloves, and cinnamon and tastes like the holidays. Oh, and it has pecans instead of cashews.

I haven't had time to sample each one, but I've worked my way through about half the box so far. I started with the crunch bars because those had the lowest calorie count (right around 100), and I've scaled back my running mileage a bit for December, so I didn't need the higher calorie bars just yet (FYI though, the other bars aren't that high calorie. I don't think any exceed 150 calories).

The crunch bars have all the same dates, cashews, and fruit stuff, but they also have soya crunchies. I loved the crunch! The Banana Cruch was my fave of the crunch bars!

Of the cocoa bars I've sampled so far, I loved the Cocoa Orange the most because orange and chocolate just belong together. The line of cocoa bars contain around 5 to 6% natural cocoa.

But my very favorite Nakd bar was the Rhubarb & Custard! It had a texture that was slightly more moist than the other bars. I guess that's the custard part. It's just made with dates, raisins, and cashews, but I think the cashew content is higher, giving it a creamier mouth feel.

Even though the company is based in the U.K., their bars are readily available in the States too. There's a USA website where we can order, and right now, the Nakd Sampler Box is only $9.99, which is 40 percent off! So get over there and get your healthy resolutions started!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vegan Drinks: Holiday Edition!

Tonight was the last Vegan Drinks meetup of the year, so we decided to class things up a bit and go to a fancy joint. We met up for cocktail hour at Ecco on Overton Park, just a few blocks from my house! I'd have walked there if it wasn't so damn cold outside.

We had a nice turnout this time. Vegans just kept pouring in, and we had to keep moving tables together. We even had one couple show up kind of late, and the whole restaurant was full! So they ended up going somewhere else instead of waiting for an open seat. We've never packed out a joint quite like we did tonight.

When we arrived, I had to get our server to explain some of the fancy, big words on the cocktail menu. But I finally settled on a Capri Classic — Cocchi Americano, soda, mint, and cucumber.

It was light and refreshing, and I was totally happy with it. But when Cassi got her drink — the Conductor's Cup (Gentiane Quina, sparkling wine, lemon peel, and berries) — she wasn't crazy about it. I took and sip and actually preferred hers over the Capri Classic. So we swapped.

I didn't get pics of everyone's drinks this time, but most ordered something similar. For my second drink, I went with the red wine that was on happy hour special.

Ecco has a few vegan dishes on the regular menu (a quinoa salad, a couple veggie plates), but tonight, they made some vegan tapas just for us! There were Italian Chickpeas, Roasted Potato Wedges, Lemon Basmati Rice, Zucchini & Squash, and Mushrooms. We each got to pick three. Here's my plate.

And here was Cassi's plate.

I think most everyone at our table went with some combo of the vegan tapas offerings. The food was lovely, and it felt very fancy compared to our usual bar & grill meetups. One more year of Vegan Drinks has gone by! We'll do it all again in January!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Raw Girls Delivery!

A couple weeks back, I blogged about Memphis' newest vegan food truck by the Raw Girls, an adorable couple who create delicious, wholesome, cruelty-free juices and high-raw meals. The truck is new (and you can find out where it will be on their Facebook page). But the Raw Girls — Amy and Hannah Pickle — have been in business with their Memphis raw food delivery service for a few years now.

After I wrote about the new truck, Amy and Hannah surprised me with a "thank you" box of their raw goodies, delivered right to my door on the Sunday before last! The large cardboard box was packed with ready-made salads, raw meals, cooked soups, and even a couple of raw desserts! It's taken me about a week to eat it all, but I wanted to post a review when I finished everything.

The salad greens were packaged separately from toppings and dressings, of course. And that meant they'd stay fresh for days. Also soup toppings and garnishes, like nut creams and corn, were packaged separately too. I decided to pair my soups with salads for lunches last week.

First, I tried the Potato Leek Soup (made with coconut milk and topped with roasted corn) and the Wilted Kale Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables and Apple.

Both were fantastic. I think the potato soup was my favorite of the soups, mostly because I'm a big potato soup fan, and I love anything topped with corn. The wilted kale salad was great. It was made with baby kale (I think), which I'd never had. I liked how it wasn't bitter like some raw kale can be, and I loved the roasted root veggies.

Next, I combined the French Lentil Soup with the Yukon Gold Potato Salad with Radishes and Green Sweet Peas.

I should clarify that the lentil soup wasn't actually in my box. It's from their food truck, but I had a bit leftover, and it does come in some of their subscription boxes, so I thought it'd be nice to include here. It's about the best lentil soup I've had! Lovely combination of spices. Very warming and hearty. The potato salad was tossed with a creamy dressing that reminded me of Goddess dressing. And the very thinly sliced radishes were just a nice addition. This salad reminded me of springtime.

Then I had the Butternut Squash & Ginger Soup with Vegan Pecan Cream and the Salad of Blistered Grapes, Mixed Greens, Maple-Dijon Vinaigrette, and Shaved Almonds.

Soup was great. Just the right amount of ginger. And OMG, that pecan cream!!! I could have just eaten that by itself by the bowlful. So decadent. As for the salad, I have to say that I'd never heard of "blistered grapes." Had to Google. Turns out that means roasted! Roasted grapes were new to me, but it really brought out their natural sweetness, and that offered a nice balance with the tangy dressing. Fantastic.

In yesterday's Christmas recap post, I showed you this plate of Raw Girls Stuffing (walnuts, pecans, almonds, raisins, carrots, onion, celery, apple, herbs, and spices), Sweet Potato Casserole (with coconut milk, raisins, apples, and maple), Raw Cranberry Relish, and Celery Root Caesar Salad with Tomatoes, Peppers, Siberian kale, and Caesar Dressing.

This was a bunch of their holiday-esque meals that were included in the box. Just perfect for toting along to Nashville for Paul's family Christmas dinner. My fave on this plate was the raw stuffing. All nutty and oniony and celery-filled. It really tasted like cooked stuffing but so much healthier!

I also toted this Breakfast Quinoa along with me to Nashville since I was spending the night on Christmas night. I had this for breakfast at Paul's mom's house on Friday morning after a 3-mile run through her neighborhood. I always forget that quinoa can be a nice, sweet breakfast, but this was just awesome — roasted sweet potato, apple, maple syrup, and almonds. Yum!

Now for dessert! They gave me a Raw Chocolate & Almond Butter Ganache.

Oh man! Raw chocolate is so good! And add a little almond butter. Whew. I could eat this everything. In fact, I have been. It's very rich, so a little bite will do ya. I've been snagging a bite or two daily!

And they also included my very favorite of their desserts (that I've tried anyway!) — Meyer Lemon Tart with Almond-Coconut Crust and Pomegranate Seeds.

If you asked me to pick any flavor of dessert, I'd go lemon every time. I'm such a lemon person, and this is just creamy and lemony and perfect in every way. There's a cashew cream on top and the crust is made with chopped almonds and pecans. Even my omni boyfriend loves this. He's been trying to steal bites, but I yell at him when I catch him.

If you live in Memphis and would like to check out the Raw Girls delivery service, here's a link. Perfect for anyone who doesn't have time for all that raw food prep and perfect for your New Year's healthy eating resolutions! They offer juice cleanse programs too!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Epic Christmas 2014 Recap!

Christmas is over! I've already taken my tree down and packed away all my decorations. I'm ready for New Year's Eve now and the start of my annual January cleanse. But more on that later. This Christmas was a lovely one. Here's a recap.

On Christmas Eve afternoon, I drove to my parents' house in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Every year, we drive around town looking for some Chinese or Mexican joint that's still open for dinner. It's hard to find one in that little town. This year, my favorite Chinese place was closed at 4 p.m. when we pulled in. So my mom suggested Hiro, a Japanese restaurant. We drove there. Also closed. Finally, we discovered that Fuji, another Japanese place, was still open! We picked up some takeout to bring home and eat with Daddy.

I went with Fried Rice with Vegetables, which I later slathered with spicy mustard sauce.

And Avocado Sushi and Tofu Inari. So basically, my dinner was rice with rice. I can't think of a better way to celebrate the holidays than with CARBS!

After dinner, we opened presents! It was just my Mama, Daddy, and myself this year since Paul left for Nashville for his family Christmas on Tuesday night. Oh, and my dog Datsun got some stuff too! Mama got some new cowboy boots. (Yes, they're leather, which I don't agree with, but my mama isn't vegan).

Daddy got some new shades, which he promptly modeled.

I got lots of clothes, which I picked out back in November during my mom and my annual Black Friday shopping trip.

And I got these rad cat sneakers!!!

There were lots more presents, but I won't bore you with details. After we finished up with opening gifts, Daddy and I watched a bit of Elf until my BFF Sheridan texted to say that she was wrapping up with her family stuff and wanted to meet up. So I headed over to meet her and exchange gifts! Part of my gift from Sheridan were CDs recreated from mixtapes I made her in high school (like actual cassette tapes ... yes, we're old). And then we chatted while she prepped some vegan cinnamon rolls for her family's Christmas brunch.

Speaking of brunch, our big family celebration is Christmas breakfast at Granny's house. We arrived at 8 a.m. on Christmas Day, and I gorged on all this deliciousness — Tofu Scramble with Kalamata Olives, Vegan Biscuits and Gravy, Vegan Biscuit with Meatless Sausage and Jam, and a Hash Brown. While Granny makes the meaty stuff, my Mama prepares a meatless feast for me!

I get to see both grandmas at Christmas breakfast! Here's my Me-Maw (mom's mom) and Granny (dad's mom).

And here's the annual family portrait from Christmas breakfast! Yes, my parents are tall, and I am very short. I believe I got the short genes from Me-Maw. Also, I was kind of standing in the grass here, and they were on the sidewalk. #notfair

Immediately after breakfast, I had to rush out for my five-hour road trip to Nashville, where I was meeting up with Paul's family for dinner. I arrived around 4 p.m.

We had dinner at his brother Jim's house. I always bring my own food to Paul's family gatherings so they don't feel like they have to make me anything special. Or so I don't get stuck with one or two veggie sides for a meal. This year, I lucked out because the Raw Girls, a Memphis-based vegan, high-raw catering service, gifted me a box of their prepared meals to try (full blog post coming soon!).

I brought some of their more holiday-esque meals with me to Nashville and made this healthful vegan plate while everyone else ate ham, mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, and candied yams. My plate has Raw Vegan Stuffing, Raw Cranberry Relish, Sweet Potato Casserole, and a Celeriac Carparcio Salad — all from the Raw Girls! It offered a nice healthy balance to my indulgent breakfast.

I spent the night in Nashville Thursday and Friday night, so that meant there was time to visit my favorite Nashville vegan joint — Wild Cow. Paul and I went there on Friday afternoon, after the obligatory stop at Trader Joe's to stock up on things we can't get in Memphis.

We started with the Hummus and Pita appetizer because it's Paul's favorite. And I will never turn down hummus.

I had the Wild Reuben with grilled tempeh, avocado, Daiya, sauerkraut, and 1,000 Island dressing and Seasonal Veggies with Garlic Aioli. Very good reuben! And the beet/carrot/radish/cabbage combo was so perfect for a chilly winter day. Sadly, I had to throw out the bread on the second half of the sandwich and only eat the fillings because I ate too much pita before the meal came. #rookiemistake

Paul had the Far Eastland Bowl — brown rice, tofu, kale, peanut sauce, and carrot-daikon slaw.

Proof that Paul eats tofu! In fact, he ate ALL of his tofu and left most of the kale, which I packed up for leftovers. I'm not sure what is going on with Paul's mustache/beard combo, but I keep trying to get him to ditch the 'stache. It's very Walter White/Heisenberg.

Well, that's it! I headed home Saturday morning, and now I'm off work until January 2nd!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Very Crunk Christmas Breakfast

Omg, Christmas is just right around the corner! I just finished wrapping all my family's gifts, and I've handed out almost all of my friends' homemade gifts. But god, I am so ready to just be at my parents' house, opening gifts, and stuffing my face. The whole holiday preparation situation is just way too stressful.

We don't do a traditional Christmas dinner. We open gifts on Christmas Eve and go out for Chinese. And then on Christmas morning, we head to Granny's, and she makes a big ole Christmas breakfast. And yes, there are vegan versions of everything! No matter what your tradition, you've gotta eat some breakfast. Most important meal of the day, so tonight, I'll share with you a few morning meal ideas from my cookbook, Cookin' Crunk.

This will be my last holiday plug in the Crunk for the Holidays series, but in case you don't already have it, my book contains about 150 recipes for delicious vegan Southern comfort dishes, all based on recipes I grew up eatin' in my Arkansas hometown. So if you're looking for a good (belated) holiday gift, you can find signed copies here on my blog (just click the PayPal link on the right side of the page) or you can get 'em at a discount on Amazon, because Amazon.

Anyway, on to those breakfast ideas. Of course, no breakfast is complete with Tofu Scramble! I just recently gave away a jar of my tofu scramble seasoning, but you can still make your own using this recipe from Cookin' Crunk.

And bacon! My recipe for Tempeh Bacon is only in the book, not online. But it's super-simple and a nice wholesome alternative to packaged vegan bacon.

Biscuits and gravy are a must. I mean, is Christmas really Christmas without gravy? You could always go with a traditional Sausage-Sage Gravy. Recipes for the gravy and the Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits are in the book.

Or turn biscuits and gravy into dessert with Chocolate Gravy! You can find that recipe here (and also in the book).

Don't forget the potatoes! My Sweet Potato Hash (in the book) offers a unique autumn spin on the typical white potato hash browns. Plus, it has vegan beef (either homemade or storebought) for added protein.

Feeling lazy? You could just throw everything in a casserole dish and call it a morning. Here's my recipe for Breakfast Casserole! There's a layer of bread, a layer of tofu scramble, a layer of vegan sausage, and a layer of noochy sauce.

Alright, you should be full by now! Now go open some presents! Happy holidays! I'll be taking a blogging break for the rest of the week, but I'll be back with a Christmas recap on Sunday!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Survival Bars!

I'm all about bars these days. Not the kind that you drink in. I mean, LOVE those too. But I'm talking energy bars. Specifically raw fruit and nut bars.

Not all bars are created equal. Some, like Vega One bars, are loaded with protein and great for post-workout recovery. But others, like Larabars, are made with just fruit and nuts and provide simple carbs that break down quickly to provide fuel for a workout. So I think it's best to eat raw fruit & nut bars BEFORE my runs.

For years, I had Larabars before workouts, but after awhile I got bored with the same flavors over and over. So I switched to eating raw dates stuffed with coconut butter or almond butter before my runs. But that got boring too. Fortunately, that was around the same time a box of samples arrived from Survival Bar by Hallelujah Acres.

These are very similar to Larabars in texture, but they have a whole lot more stuff in them. There's almond butter, dates, agave, flax, raisins, brown rice protein, quinoa, sesame seeds, greens juice, carrot juice, and beet juice. If you eat an entire bar, these make an excellent meal replacement. They're cold-pressed, gluten-free, and 300 calories each.

But I very rarely find myself in a position to skip a meal. I mean, I'll stop EVERYTHING to make time for a good sit-down meal.

That said, when cut in half, these bars are great as a pre-run fuel. And I get two servings out of each bar!

They sent me Original, Cranberry Blast, and Blueberry Burst. The berry flavors varied slightly from the original, but honestly, I couldn't tell much difference in taste. I did favor the Original the most though because the lack of a tart berry flavor made the almond butter taste stand out. The bars have a wet texture that's very similar to the aforementioned Larabars. Love that texture!

These kept me full on my runs for at least an hour, which is about the time I start popping energy chews and gels anyway.

Lucky for me and my bar habit, in the past two weeks, two other raw fruit & nut bar brands have arrived in my box! So more bar reviews coming soon!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Solstice!

Today is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year and the official start of winter. But hey guess what? It may be the longest night, but starting tomorrow, the sun will go down just a little bit later. And we'll gradually have more and more daylight until, suddenly, it's spring again! God, I can't wait. I'm already through with winter, and it just started!

Anyway, Solstice is the day Paul and I exchange gifts with each other and the pets. But first, I made a little Yuletide feast. For the main, I made the Hearty Lentil & Mushroom Shepherd's Pie from Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas.

Shepherd's pie doesn't really photograph well, but you know anything topped with mashed potatoes is good. In this casserole, breadcrumbs line the bottom of the casserole dish (that's the crumbly stuff on top in this pic), and they're covered with a layer of lentils, spinach, and mushrooms. And that's covered with a layer of mashed potatoes. Yum!

On the side, I made the Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Citrus Dressing, also from Vegan Holiday Kitchen.

I'm really into root veggie salads right now. This one has roasted sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, parsnips, radishes, and apples. And toasted pepitas!

I washed this all down with mulled wine. And of course there was dessert — a Candy Cane Cupcake from Imagine Vegan Cafe. Cassi made these. She's doing all the baking at Imagine while Stephanie is on holiday in the U.K. This was super-moist and lightly minty. Just what I needed on Yule night.

After dinner, it was present time! Paul and I got each other what we always get each other — tattoo gift certificates from our friend Babak's tattoo shop, Ronin Design & Manufacturing. I'm getting a running-related tattoo on my foot soon, but I'll save it for when I can show you the pic!

Datsun loved his new rope ball, but he was clearly distracted by another toy out of the frame.

The dogs also got new Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Balls. Maynard was working on getting the treats out here. We'll see how long these last. My power chewers destroy every toy I give them, and since they've both had stomach surgery for eating things they weren't supposed to, I really have to watch them carefully. One hole and the toy goes in the trash. But these got great reviews on Amazon!

The cats got a bunch of catnip toys. Gelfing tried to eat his catnip pillow.

And Polaris chewed a hole in his immediately.

Pandora preferred the catnip snake.

And Ozzy stole Polaris' toy.

This Seymour. He's special. He's afraid of EVERYTHING so he lives on top of a set of cabinets. Never comes down. Eats there. Sleeps there. And yes, he has a litter box there. Anyway, we don't see him play often. But he got really into this catnip mouse. No idea what that brown spot is. Gross and mysterious top-of-the-cabinets stuff.

Akasha is unpictured because he refused to celebrate Solstice this year. Bah humbug! He stayed under the couch the whole time, completely uninterested in playtime. And Herman the squirrel lives outside at night. He came in several times this morning to get pecan treats though!

Hope you had a Happy Solstice today!