Hello, beautiful berries.IMG_0246 So here is part 1 of what I did to the Hummingbird cake: I made my sister’s birthday parfaits out of it! There’s nothing coconut whip and berries can’t make better.DSC_0077 Yeah, that’ll do. IMG_0253 And the second birthday treat: Heathers the Musical. How very.IMG_0205

 

My first go at Hummingbird Cake, vegan style, was a bit of a fail. So I won’t share the recipe. But I was hopeful that the traditional South banana and pineapple spiced cake would be a success.DSC_0024 Thank goodness for parchment circles. DSC_0031 Also parchment strips under the cake while frosting help, then you just pull ‘em out.DSC_0035 All done and looking pretty.DSC_0056 Pecans party.DSC_0050 Now, the truth. The cake was way too dense. Though the flavor was great, the texture put unappetizing images in my head. DSC_0059 What do I do with the rest of this? Oh, I love a challenge!DSC_0069

When they first opened their doors on 6th avenue in Manhattan, I thought GustOrganics would be a place I’d have an easy time eating at. But I was disappointed looking at the lack of tasty vegan options years ago… It irked me because it contradicted with all their “green” labeling. It was enough to have me dismiss the place entirely. Until I heard they now have a complete vegan menu every Monday! They are participating it Meatless Monday, a plant-based movement many restaurants in far more vegan-friendly cities across the country are embracing. So now, it was time to give them a try.PicMonkey Collage.jpg

But first, some mojitos.IMG_0153

I got the priciest dish on the menu, the Seitan Steak with a garlic baked potato and sweet roasted carrots. Across from me, their baked avocado and sweet potato wedges. PicMonkey Collage2.jpg

I always appreciate a housemade seitan. This was a bit dense but yummy just as well. The sweet carrots were such a great break from the dish’s savoriness. Well done, Gusto! IMG_0158

And I will have a gorgeous (and meatless) night, thank you very much! I’ll be back on some other Monday to support this vegan direction… and, of course, to eat delicious food. IMG_0162

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While taking a botany class all-week at the gorgeous New York Botanical Garden, I thought it was fine time to do some blog reporting in the northern-most borough of New York City. The Bronx. The Bronx has a handful of vegan gems, mostly Rastafari-owned Ital counter spots/health food stores, that grow more valuable when you consider what surrounds the eatery–The Bronx.

Since I was a child, the Bronx perplexed me. When we’d visit my grandmother, crossing the “Frog’s Neck Bridge,” (kid interpretation) and see the “Carvel” sign (another kid interpretation; it was really a Citgo sign), I knew we were in Bronx. There are spray painted buildings I can still picture in my head: one big one of a Smurf and another that read “Dead End Kids.” Lots of loitering on the street. My dad locking the doors. Litter. I associated all of those things to the proximity to Grandma’s and her almond biscotti that I called “Sticks.” But there were other things I picked up on as a kid but didn’t really understand. This was, after all, New York City in the 80′s. The Bronx in the 80′s. Parts were considered a ghetto. There was poverty, racism, the tension my Dad had with his 4 kids in his crappy car in the ghetto. Those were different times for a million reasons. But the Bronx always stood out to me because I hadn’t seen anything like it or felt anything like it before.

Decades went by and that allure gave way to associated annoyance as the Bronx thoroughfares became a traffic-heavy obstacles in between me and heading North out of the city. But rarely did I ever have a destination in the Bronx, save for trips to the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden. I took a conservation class at the Zoo when I was an undergrad and now, a class at the Garden. It was time to go beyond the borders of these beautiful parks to see how the real Bronx was doing.

PicMonkey Collage2.jpgBut first, some of the beautiful flora of NYBG…

IMG_0001…and this funny guy with his eyeball markings…

…and these cupcakes from Sweet Envy bakery in Nyack. Sweet Envy is owned by the friend of a new teacher friend at my table during the botany class. Amy of Sweet Envy makes vegan options, as great bakers often do. In this surprise 6-pack my table shared, a vegan strawberry lemonade! It was a wonderful and well-appreciated treat. PicMonkey Collage.jpg

Up close and personal. This was just one of the vegan options Sweet Envy offers. IMG_0008

Onward to the Bronx’s vegan options! My first stop had to be the aptly named Vegan’s Delight in Baychester. Vegan’s Delight offers standard Caribbean veggie fare, like patties and spooned mock meat stews and cooked vegetables.  Vegan Victuals  The Blog copyI ordered the Tofu Jerk patty but set it aside for lunch. It was, after all, 7 in the morning. It was still delicious at lunch. Its crust was still flaky and its nicely spiced tofu and vegetables inside were still warm. I took more pictures of it but my phone crashed and burned 2 days ago, deleting the pictures I took of the innards (along with everything else I had handed over to the phone and cleared from my head.)

Later in the week, I headed to H.I.M. Ital Health Food Market in Wakefield. H.I.M., named after Haile Selassie, the Messiah of the Rastafari Movement. In fact, Tarafi (from Ras Tafari) is derived from his first name. H.I.M. is a narrow shop with vegan groceries, incense, and other such spiritual items. In the back, a hot deli case at its center manned by a benevolent Rasta. IMG_0027

I asked the benevolent Rasta to choose the 3 selections from the hot bar for me. Though I got the determinedly best dishes, I wasn’t 100% sure what they were. There were a hill of creamy beans, a tofu with assorted vegetables, a hefty side of bulgur, and a deep fried, veg-filled bite. Everything was really good–spiced and sweet, well balanced. And more delicious than it presents.  IMG_0042

They had some vegan baked goods, too. Like this chocolate cake…IMG_0023

…and this pineapple-upside down cake I picked up. All-vegan deliciousness. IMG_0050

For the ride home on my final day, I headed over to Kingston Tropical Bakery in Edenwald. Kingston Bakery makes fresh bread that draws a crowd. But basking in the smell of the bakery while on line was pretty pleasurable. They are also known for their patties, including their all-vegan vegetable patty for $2 (cash only). IMG_0030

I ate the toasted hot patty while creeping along in the EZPass lane for the Throgs Neck. IMG_0033

Now, you must know that the vegetables in these patties are fresh and cooked and seasoned perfectly, making this pocket extraordinary. Sometimes when you see broccoli and carrot in a dish, it’s overcooked to mush or had frozen origins. These patties treat veggies right. Even the cabbage is exceptional. What a way to spend $2! IMG_0038

It was fun to explore the Bronx a bit. I think I reported on the best of the vegan options in the borough but maybe I’m wrong. I will further explore… some day!

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