Who Eats Better?

An Apple That Says, "I’m Sorry"

October 24th here in Korea is national Apple Day. The Korean word for apple is “sah-gwa” which is also the word used for “sorry.” The tradition of Apple Day is to bestow an apple upon someone deserving of your apology. Whether you need to admit guilt to a friend, confess a lie to a loved one, or beg pardon from your boss, it’s an adorable request for forgiveness that’s sure to be accepted.

On this day, I bequeath unto “Who Eats Better?” my sah-gwa as an apology for my neglect these past five months and pledge to make a better effort at keeping this blog alive. But what good is one apple to an allergic writer, her mouth-less website, and its remote readers? So, for the first time in “Who Eats Better?” history, this post and its contents were written, photographed , and published using only the following products:

How about them Apples? 

Simply Aloha

Contrary to popular belief, “aloha” doesn’t translate to “hello” and “goodbye.”  It simply means “love.”  That is how I could best describe America’s 50th state: simply love.  The Hawaiian people share their own unique culture and language that makes it completely distinct from the rest of the country.  I felt totally at ease and content during my 10-day visit; no wonder it’s a top vacation destination.  Besides spending every day relaxing on a beach and catching up with my wonderful college friend, Rachel, and her family, one of the best parts of my trip was the food!  The day my plane landed on the island of Oahu was the day I had just completed my 30-day vegan challenge.  I was ready to indulge, and that is exactly what I did.  Here are my picks, in no particular order, of my 11 favorite Hawaiian eats.

1. “When In Hawaii…”

Hank’s Haute Dogs doesn’t look like much on the outside, but this little diner is quite a star on Waikiki Beach.  Featured on one of my favorite shows, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, this hot dog stand boasts a unique menu starring the American staple.  Some twists on the basic wiener include a sausage made from wild boar, a “Fat Boy” wrapped in bacon and deep fried, and a “Lobster Sausage” as seen on the DDDepisode.  Their most unique dogs are only served on certain days of the week, such as the famous lobster dog served on Fridays and Saturdays only.  Since we visited in the middle of the week I decided to follow the popular Roman idiom and ordered “The Hawaiian”: a Portuguese sausage smothered with a sweet mango mustard and pineapple relish.  Accompanied by French fries and a coke, it was a pretty swell meal.

2.  Alex vs. Hukilau Burger

Another notorious dive featured on 50 First Dates and visited by Adam Richman of Man vs. Food, Hukilau Café is not for the faint of heart.  Its appearance mimics a basement cafeteria and there were more flies inside than people, but I was there to complete a mission: the legendary Hukilau Burger.  The already significant patty of beef is topped with thinly sliced teriyaki steak, cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, and a fried egg.  Merely a quick bite for Adam, it looked like Everest to me.  Buzzing flies and all, I conquered the greasy beast with pride (and perhaps a clogged artery or two).

3. Waiki-cocktails

With it being the most popular beach in the city, I couldn’t complete my trip to Honolulu without a visit to Waikiki.  Rachel and I went to the popular resort restaurant by the name of Duke’s.  It felt like a cliché Hawaiian honeymoon and it was fantastic.  An enormous endless salad bar (three trips, thank you) was the appetizer.  My main dish was the seasonal fish, a white fish called monchong, grilled with a cilantro miso glaze and topped with a mango salsa.  No Hawaiian meal would be complete without a fruity tropical drink.  Rachel had Duke’s special Mai Tai, and I went with the icy blended “Lava Flow”.  They were the perfect complement to sunset on the notorious beach.

4.  Leonard, M.B. (Master Baker)

If you ever find yourself on Oahu, please, for the love of baked goods, find Leonard’s Malasadas!  They are pastries sent from above.  If I could meet the creator Leonard, I would shake his hand with one hand while eating a malasada with the other.  The original bakery is in Honolulu, but there are several “Malasadamobiles” around the city frying the Portuguese donuts.  Instead of a hole in the middle, these treats come filled with various custards, or left empty like the original, and then are rolled in sugar.  We ate them fresh and hot out of the fryer and I think my feet floated two inches off the ground the whole time. 

5. Aoki Dokey!

Aoki’s Shave Ice is a landmark on the North Shore of Oahu.  It’s been family owned and operated for more than 25 years.  Hawaiian shaved ice is nothing new on the mainland, but have you ever had it served with ice cream and sweet azuki beans?  I regretfully declined the traditional beans, but vanilla ice cream and syrup-flavored shaved ice is delicious!  I felt like a happy kid eating the rainbow snack out of the trunk of the car in the parking lot displaying warning signs of falling coconuts and broken windshields.  Don’t worry, we parked in a safe zone. 

6.  Breakfast on the Big Island

Hungry and driving along the coast of the Big Island, we impulsively stopped at a small café, which turned out to have an incredible breakfast.  I ordered a fresh papaya, halved and filled with more fruit, creamy yogurt and sprinkled with toasted coconut.  It was served with thick homemade toasted bread and a poached egg, at my request.  Rachel had scrumptious breakfast sandwich on the same thick bread.  Although a little foggy, we had quite the view during our meal, although my favorite part about the restaurant was that the employees put out jelly tins for hungry geckos.  It was quite entertaining to watch them scurry and slurp. 

7.  “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”

After completing our near-six-mile roundtrip hike to the Papakolea Green Sand Beach, we were met with an El Salvadorian man selling coconuts he had harvested hours earlier.  Upon placing my order he promptly wacked off the top with an intimidating machete, poked in a straw, and handed it over.  He waited patiently while I sucked down all the juice and with another quick machete strike, he split the coconut to reveal the ripe meat.  It was actually much bitterer than the juice and the slimy texture kept me from finishing, but I hope it’s not the last time I drink fresh coconut milk. 

8.  The Southernmost Cocoa Puff

Being on the south coast of the Big Island, the majority of nearby businesses’ claim to fame is “The Southernmost….in the USA.”  The marketing scheme worked on us.  We stopped at Punalu’u’ Bake Shop, “The Southernmost Bakery in the USA.”  Since I’d already eaten my share of malasadas, I went with another Hawaiian favorite: the cocoa puff.  A delicate pastry packed with milk chocolate pudding and dusted with powdered sugar…it was the southernmost delicious dessert in the USA I’ve ever eaten.

9.  Aloha Beer!

Since I work at a brewery, I thought it was only responsible to visit the Kona Brewing Co. and sample some Hawaiian beer.  I chewed on crispy wild mushroom pizza while sipping on assorted ales. 

10.  Bubba Gump Would Be Proud

North Shore is famous for its shrimp trucks.  As Bubba said in Forrest Gump, “shrimp is the fruit of the sea.”  In a parking lot where the shrimp trucks park bumper to bumper, “there’s shrimp kabobs, shrimp gumbo, shrimp barbecue, shrimp sandwiches…”  I went with the shrimp creole from Dat Cajun Guy’s truck.  It’s safe to say that it is the best shrimp I’ve ever had.  The Cajun gravy was unlike any other, but the shrimp itself was so fresh and plump.  “I do know what love is, Jenny” and it’s that shrimp!

11.  Onolicious Luau

For my last night in Hawaii, Rachel and I attended a traditional luau.  Although extremely touristy, they still cooked the pork true to customary form: in an imu.  (Pronounced “emu” they had me thinking they shoved the pig in a giant Australian bird, but it is in fact an underground oven.)  We watched the ceremonial exhuming of the smoked pig and then loaded our plates at the buffet with all the typical fare: kalua pork, macaroni salad, and poi (mashed taro root).  We watched luau dancers and pyrotechnic performances as we finished off our sweet Mai Tais.  As the locals say, it was “onolicious!”

Before catching my flight, I gave one final Kona brewed toast to a Hawaiian sunset.  Aloha, Hawaii!

Boulder Brewery Bouncing

Since living in Boulder, Colorado, it should come as no surprise that I’ve developed a sincere relationship with craft beer.  I’m not sure if I’ve quite reached “hop head” status, but it’s safe to say I’m now a devoted fan of the IPA.  My dad has never been prouder!

My younger brother is also in the midst of cultivating a beer passion and this Memorial Day, we spent the better part of his visit in a serious beer daze.  Each day was spent experimenting with a different local six pack from one of the surrounding areas of Boulder.  The brews within the city limits?  Don’t worry, we’re getting to that. 

Our plan: to visit all of Boulder’s favorite craft breweries in one day.  Reality: it took two days, only because we were having too much fun, and savoring excellent flavors, to pass through quickly!  Take a look at our photographic adventure:

Vegan Challenge: I’m only human!

Although the challenge wasn’t impossible and was pretty fun, I had my ups and downs.  As with any challenging obstacle, the thought of cheating crosses your mind at least once, even if it’s, “I will not cheat!” we’re still thinking about the prospect.  We’re only human!  So I will use this post to admit my biggest weaknesses throughout my 30-day trial.  Before I continue I would just like to point out a few of my extreme strengths:

1. My boss brought cupcakes to work one day and I didn’t even lick the frosting. 

2. Every time my staff meal came with sour cream on top, I always scooped it off, even if it meant wasting a little of the food it was touching.

3. I stayed in one night when all my friends were together having chicken wings (and I love chicken wings…and my friends, of course).

4. I was not a sneaky cheater; it was always done in the presence of others and I made them well aware of what was happening, usually with a long monologue and rhetorical statements and questions like, “Does it really matter if I have one bite?”

Ok, so on to the bamboozlement!  I split my cheating into two categories: Shameless and Shameful.  “Shameless” doesn’t mean I’m exactly proud of these cheats, it was still cheating, but that I can back them up with really good reasons for my actions.  “Shameful”, however, I have no good reasons, I just gave in.

Alex’s Shameless, No-Regrets Cheats

Taste of Pearl – I paid $60 to sample 17 local restaurants and by god, I was going to get my money’s worth!

Chicken (just a bite) – I had just learned that my dear old, sweet dog was being put down in a matter of hours (she was very sick and it was for the best).  I did it for Rudy.  She would have wanted it that way. 

Guinness – Did you know they use fish bladders in the brewing process?  Me neither.

Alex’s Shameful, But Still No-Regrets, Cheats

Nacho Cheese from Taco Bell – it was a Mad Cow Craving no substitute could satisfy.

Black Bean Burger (made with eggs) – I knew the ingredients and I got it anyway out of spite (this was about two weeks in).

Movie Theater Popcorn – the bag was passed, my hand commandeered my brain, I didn’t even realize until later when I was washing the greasy butter off my fingers what I had done.
Guinness – after my shameless first beer when I learned about the fish bladders, I had a shameful second one…

 Marshmallows – remember my Jurassic Park candy logo?  Do you know how long that took?  Anyone would have caved! 

Overall, I would say I very much enjoyed the vegan challenge.  For only 30 days, I think the most difficult part was grocery shopping and knowing what substitutes and their brands to buy.  I had plenty of help and support with recipes, eating out, and dinner parties.  The challenge was fun and it’s inspired me to incorporate more veganism into my daily life.  Meat and dairy will become less prominent in my diet, but won’t be totally eliminated.  Let’s face it: I love my cheeseburgers….and pizza….and nachos….I just love to eat everything!

Vegan Challenge: Top 4 Restaurant Adventures

A sign explaining their “meats”

1. Native Foods 

I stumbled upon this vegan gem totally by chance one day. I went with a friend who thought it was simply an organic, all-natural fast-food restaurant so it’d be easy for me to find something to eat. It was my first time dining out during the challenge and I sensed a bit of dread. I was afraid to read an amazing menu and have to settle for a boring salad. Instead of picking up a menu, I went straight to the counter and asked what a vegan like me could order for lunch. The guy looked at me a little warily and said hesitantly, “everything” while handing me the menu. He wasn’t kidding. They make all of their own meat and dairy substitutes from scratch, even their tempeh (fermented soy beans) and “cheese”. They don’t even put quotations around their alternatives because everything on the menu is 100% plant-based. Everything!

I ordered the Baja Blackened Tacos made with tempeh and a spicy, “creamy chipotle surfer sauce.” It was really delicious. The tempeh was sliced very thin, and soft, almost the texture of a scrambled egg. The crunchy vegetables piled high on top with a warm, homemade corn tortilla wrapped around we’re enough to complete the dish, but the surfer sauce’s heat was what brought it all home.

Baja Blackened Tacos

2. Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant 

I came here after sampling their vegan crab cakes at a local event in downtown Boulder. They were so good! They actually tasted like seafood which came from the wakame seaweed mixed inside.

I came for happy hour so ordered a couple small plates: the raw peanut salad with veggies sliced thinly to resemble noodles, and a raw beet ravioli. I LOVE beets so I was a fan of the ravioli, very fresh and simple, and still tasty.

The best part about this restaurant is their produce comes from their own personal farm located about 30 minutes away. They don’t use any pesticides and new fruits and vegetables are brought in each morning to be used that day.

I left a little hungry because I tried to save money ordering tiny raw appetizers, and I regretted not trying their famous Jamaican Jerk Tempeh, so I will definitely be going back, even if it means a splurge of the wallet.

Clockwise from top left: the cool atmosphere of Leaf; raw beet ravioli; raw peanut salad.

3. Cantina Laredo

I came here for happy hour with some girlfriends for their giant margaritas, but also some dinner. Alas, as with most American-Mexican joints, the happy hour menu was completely meat- and cheese-centric. Now, I’m not going to rave about the food here; it was good, but pretty standard. I am, however, going to acclaim the service. When I explained to our server that I was vegan, he immediately pulled out their full menu and said they could make me something from there in a happy hour size. I went with the avocado and artichoke enchiladas smothered with a tomatillo salsa. It even came with rice and beans and he still only charged me half price. 

Avocado and artichoke enchiladas

4. Nepal Cuisine 

On Mondays, this place (only a stone’s throw away from my house) has a vegan buffet. No questions or explaining myself here, I could eat everything!  I love curry, so everything was delicious, but my favorite part was the rice pudding. I wasn’t a fan the last time I tried rice pudding, but topped with some cinnamon and fruit, it was amazing!        

My loaded plate from the vegan buffet and delicious rice pudding!

Vegan Challenge: Mad Cow Cravings

I predicted I would be missing cheeseburgers and bacon-wrapped hotdogs (they’re real and they’re incredible), but my actual hankerings weren’t what I expected.  Here are my top six cravings:

1. Butter

This one surprised me because I’ve never been a huge butter person before, pretty much only used it in baking. However, the first morning I woke up to eat breakfast during the challenge, all I wanted was buttery toast.

2. French Toast

I think the last time I had French toast was over two years ago, yet this craving lasted me the whole first week. And how about that, French toast is best with…

3. Butter

Yup, still there.

4. Nacho Cheese

Not real cheese, but the fake, congealed, bright-orange goo they put on chips and call nachos at carnivals, baseball games, or, much more accessible, Taco Bell. This craving haunted me in my dreams.

5. Honey

This wasn’t exactly a craving, but more a desire. I missed out on a seasonal orange blossom honey Braggot ale, a honey-chipotle dressing, and had to sacrifice my favorite Chai latte sweetened with honey…for 30 whole days!!

6. Butter

I seriously couldn’t wait to get my hands on some butter. I was a little concerned.

Vegan Challenge: The Dreaded Dinner Party

For me, being invited to a dinner party is a chance to catch a glimpse into other people’s idea of good food (and their medicine cabinets – don’t judge, we all do it.) For the new boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s a nail-biting date; for in-laws, it’s untimely; for grandkids, it’s “What’s in the jello?”; for co-workers, it’s just more work…you get my drift. There’s usually a love-hate thing going on with dinner parties where we kind of hate being invited, but we love free food. However, for a vegan, it’s a nightmare.

Fortunately for me, I have really amazing friends. Both times I attended dinner at a friend’s, my hosts more than compensated for my dietary restrictions. At each dinner, the bulk of the recipe was 100% vegan with just a few moderations, like omitting the cheese in a quinoa-stuffed pepper, or substituting tofu for beef in Vietnamese pho, in only my portions.

My block of tofu next to delicious, thinly sliced beef.

I did turn down a couple pizza parties and one chicken wing extravaganza, but I definitely lucked out in being able to attend dinners AND eat with everyone. I’m not sure exactly what it’d be like to be invited to dinner and not be able to eat. Oh wait, yes I do: horrible! I wonder if vegans just bring along their own meal, or eat before they go, or just stay home, just in case there’s nothing they can eat. The whole point of a dinner party is to create a sense of community by breaking bread at the table together, no? I imagine there’d be a sense of ostracism when it comes to being vegan, or having any limiting diet, at a dinner party. For the few times I turned down party invitations, or couldn’t share some plates at a restaurant, or when closing at work and my boss has made everyone cheesy fries or pulled pork nachos, I felt very frustrated. Not just because I couldn’t eat the food, but because I couldn’t join in with everyone. My extroverted personality is part of the reason I need to belong, but when it comes to food, I even more feel that desire to be a part of something special. When you can and will eat anything, the world is your oyster (mmm, oysters), and you can find a place almost anywhere.

This challenge has really opened my eyes to the idea that food really does create a common ground among our differences. When a group of people are eating together, it doesn’t make us all the same or share similar beliefs, but it does mimic a feeling of a family, or less extreme, a club or society. Even just eating at a restaurant, everyone is sitting at different tables and eating different food, but they’re still all sharing the same experience of eating out.

So if a group of people all eating different food at a restaurant can find a common ground, why as a vegan am I always feeling on the outside? I think it’s because I often feel singled out. I’m constantly explaining – once people hear what I order at a restaurant or when I say no to something – that I’m eating a vegan diet to which most people’s incredulous response is, “Why?” I then go further into detail about my 30-day vegan challenge and most people’s incredulity turns to acceptance and sometimes admiration. I’m not really sure if it’s because the diet is temporary or they really are impressed by veganism. A vegan couple I met immediately responded to my choice with, “Good for you!” At the time it made me really proud and glad they hadn’t responded like most people did, but later when I thought about it more, I decided it was kind of weird. I mean, if someone told me they were gluten-free, I wouldn’t congratulate them for their choice, or in some cases, their allergy. I then came to the conclusion that the question of “why” doesn’t really bother me. In fact, I enjoy explaining the challenge and talking about all I’ve learned. It’s actually inspired me to ask people more why they’re choosing what to eat. We choose our beliefs and we talk about those all the time, so why not ask and talk about our food choices more? We might learn something about each other,or, better yet, discover something new and delicious to eat!

Vegan Challenge: Happy Cow Haiku

Gentle through and through.

Big brown eyes, bigger belly.

Happy cow, say “Moo!”

Vegan Challenge: Molten Peanut Butter Frosting

Earth Day was last week and I was so excited to finally make a world-themed cake I’d been dreaming about for weeks. Of course, before I get into the cake itself, I want to mention some interesting facts I learned about the holiday. The concept was first conceived in the 1970s in response to environmental awareness on American college campuses. The date of April 22 was settled upon because it was the most convenient for college students: after spring break and before finals. It was only an American holiday until the 90s, but is now celebrated, on the same day, in almost 200 countries. There is even an Earth Day anthem set to the tune of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

So if there’s an anthem, there should definitely be a cake. I can’t say from where exactly this cake’s inspiration came from. When I was first thinking of themed Earth Day food I wanted to do cupcakes again like my Walking Dead brain cupcakes, but with each cupcake representing a different country. However, who has the time and space to create 300 cupcakes? It would have been un-Earth Day of me to leave any countries out. And only seven cupcakes representing continents is just not enough pastry. So I settled on a cake, but not just your average rectangular baked good.

I started by mixing up batter enough to make two separate 9×13″ cakes. One chocolate and one “veganilla” (has that term been coined yet?).

I mixed the two batters together in an attempt to marble the cakes, but it was a lot more difficult than I had imagined. You can tell my second attempt on the right was a little more skilled than my first attempt on the left.

At this point I dropped a little chocolate better on the counter and it landed in a questionable shape that confirmed I really had no idea what I was doing.

While the cakes were baking I made a creamy peanut butter frosting mixed with bits of crunched up Oreo cookies (that’s right, Oreos are vegan!). This frosting would go between the cake layers, and I made a vanilla frosting to go on top, which was dyed blue to mimic Kevin Costner’s “Waterworld.”

Can you see where this is going yet or did I throw you off with Kevin Costner? I used a very ingenious tool to etch some guidelines in the blue frosting and then filled in the shapes with the same vanilla frosting dyed green. And then…

Voila! My tribute to the world! Where Florida is bigger than Mexico and the Arctic is off the grid. Nothing personal to any of those places. I mean I do hate cold weather, but polar bears are my spirit animal. It was simply that I didn’t save any white frosting for a snowy continent, and most flat world maps also leave Antarctica amiss, so I was just following protocol. Anyway, back to the cake…

All in all, my cake contained six delicious layers. You have the igneous marbled layers, separated by molten peanut butter-Oreo layers, followed by a chocolate crust, and topped with a soft vanilla surface. Now do you get the idea?

The cake was “muy delicioso” if you only had a couple bites at a time. It was incredibly rich and sweet. While I’m not a fan of the oiliness of vegan frosting since the base is a lot of shortening and/or margarine, I do like that it always stays very soft, maintaining a whipped texture that I love.

Happy Earth Day and, in as many world languages as I know, goodbye, adios, arrivederci, anyeongee gey se oh, au revoir, aloha, aufweidershen, g’day mate….ok, that was pushing it, but not bad, eh?

Vegan Challenge: An Ode to Chickens

Run, chicken, run
With your head a none
It’s not much fun
Run, chicken, run

So keep your head
You’re not yet dead
Run, chicken, run

No cages around
To keep you bound
Run, chicken, run

One egg a day
Then out to play
Run, chicken, run

Grass and grain
No steroids or pain
Run, chicken, run

Feathers and plumes
Life’s not doomed
Run, chicken, run

Not very smart
But being chicken’s an art
So run, chicken, run