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:
1. “When In Hawaii…”
2. Alex vs. Hukilau Burger
4. Leonard, M.B. (Master Baker)
5. Aoki Dokey!
6. Breakfast on the Big Island
7. “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”
8. The Southernmost Cocoa Puff
9. Aloha Beer!
10. Bubba Gump Would Be Proud
11. Onolicious Luau
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!
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:
Alex’s Shameless, No-Regrets Cheats
Alex’s Shameful, But Still No-Regrets, Cheats
|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|
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|
|My loaded plate from the vegan buffet and delicious rice pudding!|
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:
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…
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.
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!!
I seriously couldn’t wait to get my hands on some butter. I was a little concerned.
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!
Gentle through and through.
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?