Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pumpkin Yumminess and Sugar Cookies

One of my favorite things about November is the abundance of all things pumpkin. I finally tried the recipe for The Best Pumpkin Muffins from Vegan With a Vengeance, adding some chopped walnuts. They really do live up to their name!

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. If I have one Thanksgiving tradition, it is making the pumpkin pie from Lorna Sass' Complete Vegetarian Kitchen. It's so easy and so good. It's basically tofu, pumpkin, and spices. It actually feels a little healthy, though the taste is totally decadent.
Now it's time to say goodbye to pumpkin, and hello to holiday cookies. I made my first batch of sugar cookies this year following this recipe that I read about on Vegan Crunk. Following Bianca's suggestion, I used whole wheat pastry flour. The final result was the perfect sugar cookie-buttery and sweet, but not too sweet.
I found the dough to be a little wet for a rolling pin and a cookie cutter, so the next time I make them I'm going to add more flour. These cookies would be perfect with frosting on top. I have had some bad luck in the past making sugar cookies, so this recipe makes me really happy! I might have a decent set of cookies to give out for the holidays this year!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Avocado Pesto and a Voodoo Queen

Only in New Orleans can you fill up on a brilliant avocado pesto tofu sandwich, wash it down with a sweetly tart watermelon limeade, and minutes later walk through a tombstone city whose most visited resident is a Voodoo Queen.
The Garden District is an area of the city that is punctuated by its late 1800's mansions, gorgeous architecture, ornate iron railings, and a generally Anne Rice vibe. It is home to Surrey's, an organic breakfast and lunch place on Magazine Street.

Surrey's is located in a residential neighborhood, and the inside looks like the renovated porch of an old, big house. Its walls were decorated with huge canvases painted with Louisiana bayous. In addition to non-vegan breakfast stuff (eggs and pancakes), Surrey's offered a tofu breakfast platter (a ginger stir fry); fresh squeezed, organic, and (mostly) local juices; Cajun-style hash browns; and an excellent avocado pesto tofu sandwich on sourdough bread.

The coffee was great and they had soy milk as well. The watermelon limeade was ridiculously, divinely refreshing. The service was excellent, very eager to point out vegan options and very sweet, constantly filling up our quickly emptying coffee mugs. If we had more time in New Orleans, we'd definitely go back. If we lived there, this would be one of our regular lunch places.

There is a huge Whole Foods in The Garden District, which has possibly the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. If we had more time, we'd have walked around this area a bit more. There are lots of little shops along Magazine Street, sort of the main drag in The Garden District. This is also the area to find one of New Orleans' cities of the dead, the cemeteries populated with above ground tombs. The water table lies four feet under ground, making in ground burials impossible.

Though brightly lit by daylight, I was hesitant to go into the cemetery. It wasn't vampire or ghost stories that frightened me, it was the maze like layout with uneven and broken tombs that could concievably provide excellent hiding spots for muggers and thieves that had me hesitant. I was jumpy the whole time we were there, which sort of makes sense, I guess. It would be a little weird if I was really comfortable in a place like this.
Though completely paranoid, my curiosity was totally piqued, and I was way too intrigued to just turn around and leave. We kept walking further in, turning at this tomb, walking to another. We saw black adorned mourners, and that oddly made me feel more comfortable since empty didn't feel right at all. Some of the tombs were crumbling, maybe due to vandalism, maybe due to weather, maybe due to vampires rising (maybe I shouldn't have re-read Interview with a Vampire while I was on the plane!). Eventually, we made enough turns to start heading toward the narrow entrance way in which we came in, and a huge tour group gathered there which almost made me feel silly to be wary in the first place. The crowd assembled around the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau's tomb, the most visited tomb in New Orleans. It is said that that an offering and an X drawn on her tomb will make your wish come true. I didn't try it, but it looks like a lot of other people did!

I found the intriguing thing about New Orleans in general, sort of perpetually in the background, is a combination of beauty and decay. It's tenacious and a little dangerous. There's a great quote about New Orleans in Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire:

"Hurricanes, floods, ...and the damp of the Louisana climiate itself worked tirelessly on every hewn plank or stone facade, so that New Orleans seemed at all times like a dream in the imagination of her striving populace, a dream held intact at every second by a tenacious, though unconcious, collective will."

I liked that description, and I could definitely feel that as we drove back to the French Quarter.
Moon Wok, a chinese restaurant on Dauphine Street in The French Quarter, offers a quick, inexpensive vegan meal. Vegan spring rolls were a nice appetizer. I was expecting tiny deep fried rolls. These were large, filled with greens and tofu and wrapped in rice paper. The main course was a tofu/veggie stir fry. Not the best I've ever had, but it certainly hit the spot.We splurged on a ghost tour, and I'm glad we did. We walked around the French Quarter at night with a guide that told us details about the history of the city that we probably wouldn't have come across otherwise.
Our last night there brought us to Sukho Thai, a fantastic Thai place in the Marigny, right by The French Quarter. This was by far the best dinner we had in New Orleans. We had the vegetable spring roll appetizer, filled with tofu, glass noodles, and veggies. The plum sauce complemented the spring rolls perfectly. Pad thai without egg and garlic tofu ended our stay in this city well. Completely satiated, we spent our last hours walking around the French Quarter, exactly where we started.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Vegan New Orleans

When most people think of New Orleans, Cajun and Creole food come to mind. Jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, muffulettas, po boys, and beignets usually make it to a tourist's plate. I found it difficult to find veganized versions of these New Orleans classics, though I had great vegan food throughout my stay in The Big Easy. Like a good little vegan traveler, I did some research before the trip. I checked Happy Cow's New Orleans listings, and I also found this post on World Travel as a Vegetarian/Vegan and this site to be great resources. After checking into Le Richelieu, our hotel in the French Quarter, we began to explore the area. We quickly ended up at Cafe Du Monde, right along the Mississippi River. I'd heard about their beignets (fried dough squares covered with powdered sugar) and cafe au lait, but I was careful not to get my hopes up about the vegan-ness of their famous offerings. While I didn't have any beignets (they have milk in them), I did have some much-needed coffee. With black coffee in hand, we walked up on the levee and watched the sun glisten on the Mississippi. The weather was perfect, the sun was shining, and we had a whole long weekend to enjoy in this beautiful city. Since we arrived pretty early, and breakfast consisted of Chocolate Green Super Food with Silk and some Terra Blues potato chips on the airplane (gotta love Jet Blue's free chips and individual televisions), lunch was in order. Before I talk about lunch, it's worth mentioning that the new Jet Blue terminal at JFK has a little gourmet food/health food store. They had all sorts of vegan bars and snacks. I picked up little containers of Silk that were perfect for the plane. I brought my own Chocolate Green Super Food packets, which is a truly awesome thing for vegan travelers. It is powdered green veggies, fruits, herbs, and cacoa. It makes you feel good right away, giving you energy, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and probiotics. Good stuff!
After checking out some book stores and strolling down along the Mississippi, we stopped at Sekisui Samurai, a Japanese restaurant on Decatur Street. Their vegan options included a nice, simple salad with carrot ginger dressing and miso soup. I was famished at this point so I quickly ate both. They came with my "Vegetarian's Choice" lunch special, which also included fried tofu smothered in a brown sauce that included zucchini, carrots, and plenty of fried onions. On the side are two pieces of battered and fried sweet potato.

It was great to have tofu with veggies, it was a satisfying meal. A bit too fried for me, I think I'd get some vegan sushi next time. The Fatfree Vegan Kitchen has a post about New Orleans, and it looks like Susan ordered the same meal as I did at Sekisui with the addition of some very delicious looking sushi.

We spent the rest of the day walking around the French Quarter, soaking in the incredible architecture, going in and out of shops, peaking into any courtyards that were visible from the sidewalk. There was an excellent cafe that had incredible soy lattes and soy chai right around the corner from Le Richelieu. Cafe EnVie was open from really early in the morning until somewhere around midnight. It was nice to stroll back from dinner, order a soy chai, and just keep on walking. We found the nights to be a little cool (in the 50's), so the hot chai warmed me up as we walked around. During the day, it was fun sitting at one of the outdoor tables people watching while sipping a wonderfully strong soy latte.

Eventually, the sun would set and the gas lamps would turn on. The French Quarter at night was magical. As we walked around, I felt like this place shouldn't really exist. It's like a mixture of a Disney World fantasy, something from long ago, and a really awesome dream. It feels unreal. Going on only four hours of sleep and pretty much walking all day left us tired pretty early. Our concierge recommended 13 at 517 Frenchmen Street. 13 is a bar that's open until 4AM. It also serves breakfast starting at 11AM. Vegan items on the menu include tofu scramble, cheeseless pizza, tater tots, BBQ tofu sandwich on po-boy bread, a black bean veggie burger, portabella mushroom sandwich, and a baked tofu and herb sandwich. The staff was super friendly and eager to point out the vegan options. Here is my portabella mushroom sandwich: We only ate at 13 once, and if I were to go again I would definitely order the BBQ tofu sandwich which was exactly what you would expect: hot diced tofu mixed with BBQ sauce on bread. It wasn't too mushy or too BBQ-ey, just right.
There's so much more to say about New Orleans, so there will be more to come! I loved the huge oak trees in the Garden District, the sad beauty of St. Louis Cemetery Number One, the history-rich ghost tour, and the bayou surrounding the city. I can't wait to go back!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Back from New Orleans

I am in love with this magnificent city! Since I've been back I've been a bit overwhelmed with work stuff, so I'll write all about my adventures in The Crescent City very soon...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Brunch and an Upcoming Trip!

I prefer to start my Sunday with a nice cup of fair trade, organic coffee. Sometimes I like it black with sugar, sometimes with some Silk creamer. I'm absolutely obsessed with Green Mountain Sumatran Reserve lately. It is just so smooth, rich, and almost syrupy.
I spotted Bianca's recipe for breakfast casserole last week, and I couldn't wait to try it. Her pictures look better than mine, and I didn't have any tomatoes, but here it is:
The casserole inlcudes a layer of whole wheat bread chunks, a layer of tofu scramble, topped with a layer of Gimme Lean chunks, and finished with a generous topping of nutritional yeast/dijon mustard sauce. It was easy to make, protein filled, and super good. Great comfort food! Yesterday, I made chai spice scones:It took maybe three minutes to prepare since I used a Simply Organic mix. This was my first time using ground flax seeds as an egg replacer. It was so easy! I just ground them in my coffee grinder, mixed them with water, mixed that with the spice mix, baked for 30 minutes and done! They were spicy and not too sweet.

I am very excited to say that I'm going to New Orleans for a little vacay! I've never been, and I CAN'T WAIT!!! I've been scouring the internet for some vegan dining options. I think I have a promising list. We're actually staying in two different hotels, one in the French Quarter and one by the airport at the very end of our trip. The French Quarter hotel jacked up their weekend prices so much that it just made more sense to stay somewhere else on our last night. We saved so much money it justified renting a hybrid car (I've never driven one, so that should be fun!). The first hotel is supposed to have a fridge and microwave, and the last one has a full kitchenette. I'm going to bring Vegan a Go-Go! and try some recipes to save some more cash. I'll be sure to write all about it when I get back.