With my Dad’s birthday nearing and their belated love for Breaking Bad in full bloom, I got the blue raspberry rock candy out of the refrigerator finally. It would be the ultra-pure Heisenberg garnish to his birthday cake!DSC_0058

Two big layers of blue-ish cake sandwiching a delicious vanilla buttercream. The stand-up mixer makes it so much better.DSC_0060

I prefer vintage frosting waves to smooth, modern frosting. I guess because I grew up drooling over those images in ladies magazines and cake boxes.DSC_0062

High and mighty, the meth cake was done.DSC_0066

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I picked up this ol’ cast iron Krumkake iron from an antique shop in Wisconsin somewhere, knowing it’d make an interesting addition to my kitchen items that have to be stored in the basement.
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I’d need a thin batter. A crepe batter. I used this one. It’s a really tasty batter. I think I ate more of it than I poured on the iron.DSC_0038

I warmed up both sides of this awesome contraption and gave it a quick brush of Earth Balance.DSC_0035

My maiden cookie was a success! DSC_0041

But I needed some practice wrapping them around the dowel quickly. DSC_0043

I got better with practice.DSC_0045

In the end, beautiful Krumkakes filled with fresh blueberries. DSC_0048

Sometimes when things aren’t vegan, I’m disappointed. And often it’s with personal care items. So when spied the cruelty-free bunny logo on the hair care product line used during my appointment at a fancy pants Brooklyn salon, I was super excited. AG Hair Cosmetics is mostly vegan, save for their keratin line. DSC_0101

So along with my fancy hair cosmetics, I shelled out a hefty buck for the crème de la crème hair brush, Mason Pearson. They’ve got an all-nylon version of their classic. I’d been searching for a vegan substitute for a boar hair brush for quite some time. I also bought their comb. I guess after all these years, I’m finally sick of using cheap almost disposable crud because it’s cheap. Now I never have to buy a hair brush again!DSC_0032

I think I love the fact that there are vegan macarons more than I love eating vegan macarons. Having been vegan for 17 years, I would have never imagined vegan options would come so far. It is a spectacular thing. That being said, I certainly do love eating these delicate treats. And I feel like I have to try each and every version I discover. So when an innocent hashtag search on Instagram lead me to discover Feel Good Desserts, a California-based dessert-maker, I quickly made an order of their 16-piece French macaron assortment… all of their flavors. And after some dry ice issues, I received my macarons. Here is my review.
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I was delighted at first glance. After all, when it comes to French macarons, looks really count. The tall cookies had great “feet.” The colors were pleasing and bright, but lead me to wonder about their coloring’s origins. Their website states a bit vaguely, “The natural colors and flavors are always organic and based on fruit, vegetables, or edible flowers.” DSC_0007

Beautiful, they very much were! Here is the banana, blueberry and raspberry. Taste-wise, I wondered the same thing I did about the coloring. They tasted a bit extract-y. (Was I spoiled by Sweet Maresa‘s French macarons (reviewed here), who frolics in nature to handpick her flavor enhancers. Maybe.) Feel Good’s macarons are delicious, trust me. Having had only two types of vegan macarons in my day (besides a home baker’s attempt here and there), I can’t help but make comparisons between the two. DSC_0012

My favorite flavors were the Chocolate set: Chocolate, Coffee, Hazelnut, and Vanilla. I could have munched on these one after another if.. well, I guess I could have. It’s easy to give in when the treat is gluten Free, soy-free,refined sugar-free–but not sugar free. In fact they are very sweet. The filling, too. DSC_0017

Let’s look again at these beautiful cookies.
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The characteristically light, air-filled cookie cross-section. DSC_0028

After this delicious “research,” I think I am ready to try my hand at making vegan French Macarons.  Stay tuned!

Her name is Chipwich. We took her in after she got stuck in our fence. Part Calico*, she has beautiful markings, a cookie dough face and vanilla feet. She is quite the pip, full of energy and an awe for life. *Calico’s are considered good luck, sometimes called money cat. They are genetic mutations and are not able to be cloned. They’re pretty darn cool.DSC_0038

She loves to play. And then sleep. DSC_0048

She didn’t do that door damage, that was Princess Thermos, but she enjoys attacking it.DSC_0063

A watchful eye sizes up things into “fun” or “will be fun at a later date.”
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Please help me find a forever home. DSC_0074

 

If you’re interested in Chipwich, please email me through this form!

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Karyn delivered–in save-the-best-for-last fashion. And after peeping her menus from her multiple vegan restaurants for many years, I was finally sitting in Karyn’s on Green, ready for Saturday brunch.
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I had the Breakfast Sliders: two delicious Belgian waffles for a bun, their yummy butternut squash “bacon,” a savory tofu “egg,” and almond bacon cheese, with a dipping pool of pure maple syrup and a side of home fries. What’s missing from this spectacular sweet and savory dish that takes the best of all breakfast staples? Nothing. It was close to perfection. DSC_0018

Note that packages of vegan processed foods were not part of the deal–no fake this or that. Just Karyn’s interpretation of popular breakfast components made from plant sources in-house. Can you taste the difference? Yes you can. Thank you, Karyn, for your high standards. They are the reason this dish will not soon be forgotten.  IMG_9356

Amazing food. And outstanding service. IMG_9358

And one more last sweet bite. Something reliable. Something I know I could grab a cupcake on the go and head to ORD. So why not Sprinkles‘ Cupcake ATM?! I know from my NYC visit to Sprinkles that their one vegan option (the Red Velvet) is stellar. So I drove through the Magnificent Mile in torrential downpours to park illegally for my final Chicago treat.

I attempted to use the ATM but it was not stocked with my vegan option. So I had to run inside. No big deal because the rain kept the tourist masses at bay. DSC_0002

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The reward: the best cupcake I’ve ever eaten. Did I say that before? Well, I’ll say it again. This vegan cupcake is the best of all cupcakes I’ve ever tried in my travels, locally and elsewhere. I dined on it in my car… just in case I needed to flee from the meter maid. (Notice that wax paper bag. Smart.)PicMonkey Collage3.jpg

Hey, Beautiful.DSC_0011

The first full day in Chicago, Illinois on my own started at West Town Bakery & Diner, a spacious eatery with that ol’ diner feel… and a stocked bakery case with vegan delights. Breakfast was in order, and a sweet one at that.DSC_0006

Sweet indeed. The Vegan S’mores Pancakes: Dark chocolate pancakes topped with Dandies vegan marshmallows (Chicago represent!), chocolate sauce, and graham cracker crumbles. And maple syrup, which seemed out of place briefly until I tried a bite. The thing is, these pancakes were deep dark chocolate pancakes, maybe even a little bitter… and they had a lovely exterior that had a hint of salt from the pan-fry. Maple syrup made them even more fantastic. DSC_0004

Pile of chocolate, please!IMG_9300

Even though I had just eaten chocolate pancakes, I still just had to get something at the bakery counter. There were many vegan items, from cake balls (pictured), to donuts, to cupcakes, etc. All identified by a white sign (as opposed to the beige). Perfect way to identify them for vegans while not scaring away food-ignorant omni’s who still think “vegan” is indicative of “not good.”  Anyway, the counter man was especially sweet as he gave me a vegan cake ball free of charge!
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It was time to return to the loop in the daylight hours. The place was swarming with tourists. Taste of Chicago, a very popular food festival where a slew of area eateries set up in Grant Park, was going on… but there was like no vegan representation! Not even with any of the food trucks! C’mon, Chicago. Anyway, I was back at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. I like this thing.DSC_0033

People all scrambled up. IMG_9328

Can you spot me?IMG_9337

Trying my best at a selfie. Look, I’m covered in smeared handprints. DSC_0029

I resisted checking out the Skydeck at the very handsome Sears Tower, as it had a 90-minute wait. And I am also resisting calling it its new name, Willis Tower. DSC_0011

I also checked out the Married… with Children fountain (formally known as Buckingham Fountain.)  DSC_0053

Lunch was calling my name after a long afternoon of sightseeing. I headed to the all-vegan Kitchen 17 for their award-winning Seitan Gyro. I had high expectations and they were exceeded. DSC_0061

The vegan gyro version included their delicious housemade seitan, housemade tzatziki, tomato, cucumber on a warm, fluffy greek flatbread. It was outstanding. Definitely on my top 10 sammies! It was so good I was able to phase out the loud conversation about the Israeli Palestinian conflict.  DSC_0063

What made it spectacular was that housemade seitan. It was not tough or dry; it was cut thin; it had flavor. These are the three requirements to good seitan. And housemade is always a huge plus. In fact, so many eateries have housemade seitan in Chicago. It is truly impressive. And it’s nice that the others, for the most part, get their seitan locally from Uptons Naturals.IMG_9347

Dinner time. I hit Dragon Lady Lounge, a vegan Korean and Latin fusion kitchen and bar.
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I got the Kim Chi Vegan Hotdogs: two spicy housemade vegan meat dogs (infused with kim chi), onion, tomato, cucumbers, avocado, vegan mayo, ketchup and mustard, on a hot dog bun. Served with scrumptious seasoned fries. The dogs were very good. And the variety of fixin’s, just what I needed. It hit on all the taste buds. DSC_0001I ate quickly and quietly and headed back to my room. I was beat! One more day and I’ll be home sweet home!

With this midwest jaunt winding down, it was time to head back to Chicago so check out some of their great vegan options before time runs thin. We returned to Chicago by way of Madison, Wisconsin, hitting two spots we missed on the way out west. First, Bloom Bake Shop in Middleton, WI.DSC_0017

It is now evident to me that a “vegan option” in a midwest bakery means many vegan options, not just one selection. In Bloom there is a whole section devoted to vegan goodies, most if not all that were gluten-free.  DSC_0006

Including pretty cake donuts. I really wanted to try these but they turned out to be opportunity costs. So I took a picture, eating them with my camera.DSC_0008

My selection (in the foreground) the “Be Classic,” a traditional blonde on blonde that presented so delicate and lovely I just had to try it, and the “Cookie Wookie,” a take on a whoopie pie with two gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. In the background, CP‘s boysenberry cupcake and blondie. Beautiful and delicious.  IMG_9271

What is also lovely is this little sign from Madison Vegan, which helps vegans find options in the cute city. There aren’t many options in Madison (I think) considering it’s a big university town with sustainability values. C’mon Madison! DSC_0004

Another vegan option in Madison is Green Owl, a cute space covered in vintage owl bric-brac. The spot is mostly veagn, save for some clearly marked items on the menu. That’s right the non-vegan options get the labelling. Heh.DSC_0024

The restaurant was a bit empty, as was most of the places we hit on our trip. Or maybe that’s just how it is when you live in a city of less than 8 million. You don’t need to rub elbows with anybody. I like it a lot. DSC_0019

I got the Vegan Schnitzel because I liked the idea of eating a traditional German meal in Wisconsin. But I was a bit disappointed they used a frozen texturized soy protein patty. It’s hard for me to eat these but I do on occasion.  And I can’t help but think of it in it’s frozen form. CP and I both left with entree regret. DSC_0020

When we finally arrived in our weird boutique hotel in the northern suburbs of Chicago, we did not want to treck back downtown in the terrible rush hour/construction traffic. So we explored an offering in the upper crust Highland Park. We had to hit Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan’s teahouse that offered vegan sandwiches, Madame Zuzu’s Teashop.DSC_0026

There was a self-love support group meeting in the space, which really dominated the entire interior. Which was a bit odd. But we ordered over the commanding voice of the woman leading the discussion. We ordered a sweet sandwich and a savory sandwich and split them. The sweet, a banana chocolate hazelnut spread. The savory, their daily special, arugula and hummus. Both sandwiches were very simple and basic–not very exciting–though their twitter had announced they were utilizing a vegan cheese spread we had not heard of, Nary Dairy, but our server didn’t know anything about it. The stop was a bit of a novelty. Having grown up in the 90′s, we had Smashing Pumpkins nostalgia.DSC_0030

Next, we decided we had to see downtown and, despite some major event related to Taste of Chicago, we headed to Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate, the selfie capital of the city, to see the city and take some pictures.DSC_0033

Our selfie skills were nothing compared to the millenials who crowded the structure and had all sorts of strategies of capturing themselves with their phone… it was disturbing and fascinating at the same time. DSC_0043

Peoples Organic in Fargo, North Dakota is a franchise that capitalizes on the increased awareness of food sourcing and why it matters. The large modern space with a full bar was set amidst a strip mall area just off the interstate. They have coffee concoctions, wholesome grub, and… alcohol. It is great option for locals who are a bit more discerning. Or like the hashtags #organic, #local, and #fairtrade.DSC_0010

Table signs seem to be a “thing” out here in the Midwest. They’re functional and another way the eatery can express themselves and their values. I was Heirloom Seeds. CandyPenny was Non-GMO. But further, we hoped that our dishes would arrive quickly.
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The tofu scramble came out with the intense classical music crescendo. Delicious potatoes (what I nibbled on first as usual) and a wet, 90′s-like scramble that was veggie-laden and very yummy. Peoples Organic is a welcome vegan breakfast option in the otherwise devoid Fargo, North Dakota.DSC_0008

It was time to loop back around, starting our return to Chi-town. So it was back to Minneapolis for another vegan option. This one was lunch at French Meadow, a huge counter spot with a whole lot of vegan bells and whistles.DSC_0028

The towering chalk board span the very high ceiling… they had a lot to offer. The menu was marked with v-bombs, directing my eyes. There weren’t many but each would make for a very satisfying lunch. Between staring up at the chalkboard weighing the pros and cons of my decision and gawking at the beautiful vegan offerings in the bakery case, I was a bit overwhelmed. Happily overwhelmed.DSC_0012

Speaking of the beautiful bakery case, look at those cakes! There were also cookies, tarts and pies that were labeled vegan. But I had to get my some Black Velvet Beet Cake.DSC_0015

I went retro and order a veggie burger. It was the ideal burger in many ways. The patty was housemade and packed with flavor, the bun was housebaked, and there were fresh texture pieces that livened up the option. But the patty was very soft and fled from the sides of the bun as I ate… as happens with veggie burgers often. But those pieces of burger that were left on the plate? Those were delicious to eat on their own.DSC_0025

So here is Lauren’s Black Velvet Beet Cake. I was thankful for a vegan cake option so up my alley. I enjoyed each bite of cake thoroughly but had left a good amount of the thick frosting on the plate. DSC_0023

After we headed north in rush hour traffic to the University District, we were met with disappointment. Kitty Corner Cafe (and their vegan stuffed waffles) dared to take a vacation. I was particularly peeved as I had been having food fantasies about them since researching this trip. But we made lemonade out of lemons, calling Cupcake, also in the University District, to confirm vegan options and closing time. We were in luck!DSC_0032

Cupcake was a cute and colorful spot, as cupcakeries usually are. And they had 3 vegan options today.DSC_0035

I had the Salted Nut vanilla cupcake. My co-pilot, a Coney Island–a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and a ton of nonpareils. Sweet tooth satisfied, Minneapolis! I guess, technically, it was satisfied already with the beet cake…IMG_9249

We did a lot of driving today. And antiquing took up a good deal of time. I got some goodies I’ll need to somehow fit in my suitcase. I also got a ton of idea for my classroom design in September, which will be vintage or “shabby chic.” I’ll sign off with these this picture of a collection of Little Golden Books, a nostalgic piece of my childhood, and a collection of retractable pens. Just because.
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Morning in Sparta, Wisconsin started with a much anticipated roadside attraction: the fiberglass mold graveyard on the grounds of FAST (or the Fiberglass Animals, Shapes, and Trademarks Corp.) The owner is fine with you wandering around at your own risk—perusing the molds and taking pictures–and so we did. There were recognizable molds, like Bob’s Big Boy or the very attractive large ice cream cones with both waffle and sugar cones, and a ton I wished I had the opportunity to see what came out of the mold. But there were only several colorful fiberglass pieces.
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After a bit of a drive, we made it to our breakfast destination, Modern Times in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was very hungry and ready to chow down with fierce ferocity. I got the Polenta Rancheros,  housemade polenta patties topped with black beans, ranchero sauce-basted tofu, poblano sour cream and cabbage salsa. It was very good but pretty wet. It needed some starch to sop up the deliciousness. PicMonkey Collage1.jpg

Next was Glam Doll Donuts, a bombshell of a donut joint with a separate case of vegan versions of their delicious flavor combinations. The place hit all the marks–extraordinary donuts superior in every aspect and adorable vintage decor with plenty of room for photoshoots with the donuts. Plus all their donut names pay homage to glamour queens of America. PicMonkey Collage2.jpg

There were plenty of vegan options to choose from but I chose their Varga Girl, a light, airy donut filled with a delectable almond cream and iced with a drool-worthy coat of chocolate… and topped with toasted almonds. DSC_0415

It was perfect in every way: the donut was not too greasy and had wonderfully nostalgic mouthfeel; the almond cream had a spectacular texture and taste; and the chocolate icing tasted like chocolate, not a waxy flavorless encasement but a dress of richness that let the donut’s almond notes sing. It really was amazing.DSC_0419

Ok, never mind the teeth marks. It’s all about the cream filling.
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We stopped at this fantastic used book store so I can pick up some sci-fi mentor texts for my 5th graders. It was a great stop but left our lungs dust-filled and ready for a brisk walk.PicMonkey Collage3.jpg

We headed lakefront to the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway to walk around Calhoun Lake, part of Minneapolis’s Chain of Lakes. The chain of lakes right outside downtown Minneapolis is a popular destination, second only to the Mall of America. Ugh.  DSC_0439

Finally, a late lunch at Ecopolitan, a building with natural health services and a raw, vegan cafe. DSC_0442

Of course it was the raw, vegan cafe that drew us in. We started with the Cashew Cheese Log rolled in sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and fresh basil, served with sweet marinated onions and very hearty flax crackers. And a balsamic reduction. The exterior of the log had all that flavor, inside–deliciously creamy, soft and subtle. DSC_0447

For my entree, I chose “Surprise Me,” an option where the chef creates a unique dish for you. It was risky but they were out of the one thing on the menu I felt strong about. I was indecisive about what I wanted. So I received this stuffed pepper loaded with their zucchini noodles, a ground nut concoction, fresh avocado and drizzled with a nut cream and surrounded by vibrant sprouts and veggies. It felt so good to eat raw… everything was so fresh and flavorful. My tastebuds stung and tingled with delight.DSC_0450

Next it was onward to Fargo, North Dakota, our most western point on the itinerary. As summer and being further west has the sun going down at almost half past nine, we took advantage of the prolonged daylight. We  squeezed one more meal in. This quickie was from Red Raven, an esperesso “parlor” / performance and art space in an old firehouse.DSC_0462

The sammy: a curried chickpea “salad” on toasted seeded bread. It was simple but really good. Nice work, Fargo.DSC_0460

The Art Deco Ambassador Hotel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)DSC_0152

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Mexican chocolate cake from Outpost Natural Foods (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)DSC_0164

Lake Michigan at Bradford Beach. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)DSC_0193

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Vegan dairy options at Babe’s Ice Cream. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)DSC_0213

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Monty’s Blue Plate Diner‘s vegan menu. (Madison, Wisconsin)DSC_0222

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Heathen Vegan Shoplifter’s Delight open-faced sandwich. Portobellos, fried Bandung tempeh, red onion, and fresh avocado with lemon tahini dressing on a baguette.DSC_0219

The Infinity Room at the House on the Rock, a glorious and fascinating place, suspended and overlooking the forest below.DSC_0235

Section 2′s carousel was breathtaking. These pictures hardly do it any justice.DSC_0246

Circus collection was also a draw. This man collected everything old and neat and housed it in this maze-like structure. It was dizzying and fantastic.DSC_0293

Everything moved and jangled. DSC_0300

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Sweet Corn.IMG_9170

IMG_9105Home very briefly, it was time already to head back into these United States… by way of Chicago. But first, a scenic overlook in which we gaze upon the isle of Manhattan, New York City’s shining man-child and it’s pleasingly sharp rectangular Central Park.

We’d arrive in Chicago hungry, ready for a quick bite at Upton’s Breakroom, the vegan seitan sausage king of Chicago’s counter spot. We had the delicious vegan McMuffin-like Breakfast Sandwich for a 5-spot and a Stumptown Cold Brew for a 4-spot. PicMonkey Collage1.jpg

Closer. DSC_0100

Next: Fritz Pastry, for one of their mega-sized vegan donuts with the lil’ donut hole on top. PicMonkey Collage2.jpg

I got the Birthday Cake donut, their donut based with vanilla glaze and rainbow sprinkles. Donut was yummy but really big. But I am so content to eat vegan donuts that I can’t complain about them being too big. But know that you and a friend would be just fine with splitting one! Also at Fritz on the weekend, some vegan brunch options… maybe if we hadn’t already eaten breakfast.DSC_0110

Next we headed to the Logan Square Farmers Market. Here, there are more sweet vegan options–Bot Bakery, creative vegan baked goods from the styling Ms. Betty Bot. I got a vegan macaron… because I have to try all vegan French macarons. Firstly, it looked like a French macaron, with the smooth cap cookie with those characteristic “feet.” Then, a light texture in my mouth. This ain’t no cookie, it’s a macaron. Well done, Bot!PicMonkey Collage3.jpg

We headed north towards our final destination (Milwaukee), taking a moment to hit a brewpub near Rockford, Illinois on my list for their soy curl BBQ sammy. It was the vegan option I liked best when perusing Pig Minds Brewery‘s menu back home. But the place was full of vegan options–it was all-vegan! Excited, we order the Macho Nachos, homemade corn chips, homemade chili, homemade cashew cheese, and fresh veggies. Yes, homemade  being the most important word above. No packages opened! We also had to try a couple of the brewery’s beers. In adorable 5 oz. glasses.PicMonkey Collage4.jpg

Then there was the fantastic Buffalo Porky BBQ: House-Smoked Beer Marinated Soy Curls, tossed in our homemade buffalo sauce topped with a homemade slaw on a lightly toasted hoagie bun. Unbelievably good! This was a killer vegan sandwich in an all-vegan brewpub in an unlikely place. Bravo, Pig Minds!DSC_0137

Finally dinner in Milwaukee. It was onward to County Clare, an Irish inn and restaurant with a full vegetarian menu and labeled vegan options! And I quote from their menu, “Meat and potatoes are our trade; Now let’s try some greens and potatoes.” How fantastic is that! I love an omni place like this.PicMonkey Collage5.jpg

I got the Vegan Corned Beef Deluxe Vegan, homemade seitan on marble rye with (a ton of sinus-clearing, tear-inspiring) horseradish and whole grain mustard, sauerkraut, red onion and thick tomato slices. I was so thankful for a hearty vegan option in land of meat and potatoes in Dairyland.  DSC_0144