Veggie Heaven to close Dec 22nd after 16 years serving Austinites

I’m crushed. And seeing the crazy scene at Veggie Heaven today, with only four days to go until the close down, it seemed like a lot of people were trying to get their last fix in. There was a line out the door when we got there and their T-shirts were selling like vegan corn dogs at a circus protest. Even the news was there.

My friend had to park 6 blocks away but I got lucky because someone was leaving. One thing so great about Veggie Heaven is that they have the only free parking on the drag.

Today I got the fried tangerine mushrooms which I adore, they remind me of the Chinese delivery I’d get as a kid in Chicago. 

I had to get a steamed bun too, because this could be the last time I ever eat one in Austin Texas.

Usually I get the tofu and noodle bowl while I read the new Chronicle on Thursdays. It’s $4.60 and, I believe, the cheapest vegan meal in town.

I can even walk there. Or I could. I know it’s not the plant-based-diet people’s favorite place what with their use of gluten, sugar, cornstarch, and questionable fake meat but I will yearn for the food, the incredibly fast service, the ridiculously long menu, the Falun Dafa instructional videos, and knowing that they feed homeless people for free all day long. 

Goodbye Veggie Heaven. I will miss you.

AUSTINITES: Call your local representatives *today* to help animals

The Cruelest Show on Earth

For years a group of animal lovers in Austin have been trying to stop some of the worst forms of cruelty to animals in our time. Yes, I am talking about the damn circus where they regularly control elephants and other animals through shackles and pain. Austin For Cruelty Free Entertainment is working to ban bull hooks and chains and they can win this campaign if you take five minutes to call your city council members today. I hear time and time again that the best way to actually make political change is to work at the local level. Just a handful of calls can completely sway a council member because not that many people are engaged so don’t put it off! I don’t want to call either but they even made a script for us so it will be super easy. Here are the details:

Hello Everyone. Thank you for supporting our campaign to protect animals in circuses all these years. We are now at the most important and critical phase of this years-long process to pass an ordinance that will ban painful devices used on animals in circuses, as well as banning chains used on elephants in circuses.
We need your help right now to help us pass this ordinance. Here’s what you can do today to help us out:

1) Call our city council members and mayor today and ask them to support this campaign. It only takes about 60 seconds to make each call. You will be speaking to a council member’s aide who may ask for your name and phone number; please give that information to them. Here’s what you can say when you call:

“Hello. My name is (your first name, last name). I live in Austin. I’m calling to ask Council Member (name) to support Council Member Tovo’s proposal asking the city attorney to write an ordinance that will ban painful devices used on animals in circuses, one that also includes a ban on chaining or tethering elephants.”

Our city council wants to hear from you about important issues so please call them now so they’ll know how important stopping animal cruelty in circuses is to our community. One last thing: Our city council is very busy so please make your call very brief.

Here are the city council names and phone numbers and email addresses:

• Mayor Lee Leffingwell – 512-974-2250
• Council Member Mike Martinez – 512-974-2264,
• Council Member Bill Spelman – 512-974-2256
• Council Member Sheryl Cole – 512-974-2266
• Council Member Laura Morrison – 512-974-2258
• Council Member Chris Riley – 512-974-2260

2) You may also email our city council and mayor all at once by going here http://austintexas.gov/mail/all-council-members. Your email will be sent to all of them once you click the SEND button.

Here’s what you can write in your email:

“Hello. My name is (your first name, last name). I live in Austin. I’m emailing to ask Council Member (name) to support Council Member Tovo’s proposal asking the city attorney to write an ordinance that will ban painful devices used on animals in circuses, one that also includes a ban on chains or tethering elephants. Thank you.”

3) Join us at 10:00 a.m., on Thursday, December 11th, at City Hall where the city council and mayor will vote on a proposal asking the city attorney to write a law to protect animals in circuses in Austin.

We’ll need you to do the following once you arrive:

• Register your support for this proposal by voting at one of the kiosks located in the lobby of city hall. Two of our members will be stationed next to the kiosks to assist you with this step. This takes 2 minutes to do so please do this.
• If you feel comfortable speaking in support of this proposal then sign up to speak for 3 minutes during the city council meeting. You do not need to speak for the entire 3 minutes but you cannot go over 3 minutes either. Please be polite when speaking, give your full name and simply ask the city council to protect animals in circuses by banning painful devices used on animals in traveling shows as well as banning chains on elephants.
Follow Austin For Cruelty Free Entertainment on facebook or twitter for updates.

Thanksgiving 2014

Usually I do tons of wrap ups about Thanksgiving but this year was just too busy. And by busy I mean that I accidentally slept until 1:30 pm and had to scramble to get dinner ready on time for maximum relaxing. Instead of making a homemade roast I did the Meet the Shannon’s Apple Sage Molasses Holiday Roast on a gardein roast. I got hooked on gardein in Vegas and this was so good and easy, I think I’ll buy one every year.

Like last year I made the Diner Dressing and Sage Pepper Gravy from Vegan Diner. I tried to make a super fancy gravy that had dried porcini’s and other mushrooms but it didn’t taste at all Thanksgiving-y so I whipped up this reliable one at the last second. I also veganized a Martha Stewart recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Orange-Butter Sauce because I had a ton of oranges and I loved it. Then made three pies over the weekend all from Vegan Pie in the Sky, pumpkin pie, chocolate pudding pie, and banana pudding pie. The latter was my favorite but they were all good. It was a good cheat day but now I’m back to taco cleansing and margaritas.

Vegan Las Vegas

For Halloween I got to go to Las Vegas for the first time and it was surreal. From now on when people from other countries ask me where to visit in the US I think I will say Vegas because it’s the ultimate manifestation of the American experience. Doing research for the trip about where to eat it also seemed like Las Vegas was going to be the most vegan friendly destination ever. All anyone will really tell you is to stay at the Wynn because all of their restaurants are vegan friendly. The Wynn, however, was way out of my price range so we just had a meal there. It was difficult to figure out which of their 20 restaurants to go too because the vegan menus aren’t on their website but, after some searching, I found a pinterest board that has them all Wynn and Encore Vegan Restaurant Menus which was very helpful. I went to make a reservation for Sinatra but then found that they had a dress code and since Dan only had sneakers we had to find something else. Grr! As Austinites, we are just not used to dress codes. I finally settled on La Cave and it was a lovely experience, except for the ever present thumping music. I had the mushroom tortellini, arugula, and cashew cream sauce along with the Gardein chick’n, celery root puree, and lemon caper sauce. Everything was fantastic, it was supposed to be small plates but just one of them would have been quite filling. Luckily, I was able to walk it off since we were staying at the other end of the strip at the Luxor.

I was really glad that we stayed there, and not just because I got a hot deal. Everything is pyramid shaped and it’s connected to the Mandalay Bay shopping center. Along the walkway there are three very vegan friendly restaurants that I learned about on the eating vegan in vegas tumblr. We tried the over-hyped but still really good Slice of Vegas Pizza. It wasn’t the best vegan pizza I ever had but they did have a shockingly vegan friendly menu with sausage, chicken, cheese, meatballs, pasta fagoli, fried caluliflower, garlic bread, and several vegan desserts like cheesecake! Next door has Hussong’s Cantina which has many Mexican plant based options and Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar which has a vegan burger. Downstairs at the Luxor they also had vegan friendly tacos at T&T (Tacos & Tequila). So while the food at the Wynn was amazing if you can’t spend a hundred dollars at every meal the Luxor seemed like the best alternative. Plus you get to live in a pyramid. I walked through most of the other casinos which is fun and exhausting.

New York New York

Paris

And we got to see the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil which was so beautiful. Now I want to see all my favorite albums transformed cirque style!

On Halloween we dressed up as Axl and Slash which was really fun for the shows at the MGM.

The Vegas Strip made me feel really crazy and I learned that’s a common refrain. You endlessley walk through these casinos and there is loud, horrrible music being blasted every which way, and the noise from the slot machines, and people trying to get you to see naked girls, and people wanting you to buy their vacation packages, and people begging for money, and tons of indoor smoking. By day three I was desperate to get out of there so we took a cab to Komol restaurant, an incredibly vegan friendly Thai restaurant. We got tons of food, a appetizer platter with fried Tofu, spring rolls, fried eggplant, crispy spinach and fried sweet potato, Tom-Kha Soup, Gluten Sukiyaki-Thai Style, and orange tofu. They even had vegan Thai Iced tea. My favorite part was the orange tofu, it was super crispy and delicious. I’ve been craving it ever since. I realized after the ridiculously expensive cab ride that it was about a half mile walk to take the monorail back.

For our last big meal we went to Hakkasan inside the MGM. Even though getting into the restaurant was a maze like everywhere else in Vegas I loved that it was dark with soothing music. Dan had the most delicious cocktail ever, the Green Destiny with Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka, cucumber, kiwi and apple juice. It didn’t even sound that good to me and I ordered wine instead and then tried to steal his drink. Everyone I was with had a lot of trouble deciding what to get but as soon as I saw the Dim Sum plate, I knew there was no other choice. It had morel mushroom dumpling, a truffle beancurd rolla, edamame dumplings, and crystal vegetable dumplings. I think the mushroom was my favorite.

But honestly, even with all the amazing food, glorious shows, and so many of my favorite people I was never so happy to get back to Austin where everything is on a human scale. I think if I do Vegas again I will have to stay off the strip. And eat doughnuts because I was really sad to miss out on that.

.

Mendocino California and it’s Vegan Bed & Breakfast: The Stanford Inn

I was so overwhelmed by wonder and beauty of my last trip that it’s almost hard to blog about. I have so many pictures to share and things to rave about that I don’t even know how to put it all out there without just gushing. Let me start by saying my Mom is the greatest person in the world. She knew I’ve been going through such a super rotten unbloggable time this summer that she really wanted to cheer me up with a trip to visit her in Sacramento. We had a lovely time day-tripping to San Francisco and eating in vegan hot spots in Sac but the highlight was to be our drive out to the Mendocino coast via Napa. We stayed the first night in a little town in the valley and drank wine by the pool and already I started feeling better. The next day, as we drove to the coast, the views just got more and more beautiful.

When we got to the coast we stopped to see the Pygmy forest in Van Damn state park where conditions make it so the usually giant trees only grow 12 feet high. We had a picnic lunch on the beach. The water was sparkling and so blue. My pictures don’t do it justice.

After this we arrived at the Stanford Inn which I was a little nervous about since it was really expensive and all vegan. I didn’t know how my mom would feel. I needn’t have worried. As we drove up to the Inn we were already falling in love. It’s surrounded by an incredibly well maintained organic garden and sitting beautifully up on a hill. As my mom checked in I wandered through the lobby that sells dog and cat themed greeting cards and pretty much every vegan cookbook in existence.

When we walked into our room soft music was playing as we gaped at the horse + ocean view from our balcony.

The rooms are wood paneled which reminded me of the vegan version of the Great Northern Hotel in Twin Peaks. The room was bigger than the picture shows, I didn’t have a wide angle lens! I loved that the bathroom was stocked with wonderful vegan spa products. All the accouterments were top notch. You can’t tell from my picture but our room had a potbellied stove that was all set up for a fire. 

Every room in the Inn has a fireplace and though it wasn’t too cold I saw most of the chimneys lit and so we did ours too. I was glad because it did get quite a bit cooler and it was just lovely having a crackling fire. Every night they set up the fireplace so all you have to do is drop in a match. It’s like having Hogwarts house elves. House elves that you tip.

There were so many other little touches that made me feel like I was in the perfect place. You know how sometimes you go to a hotel and they want to give you a fresh baked cookie and you have to say no, I’m vegan, I don’t get a cookie. Well at the Stanford you get to eat the damn cookie.

Or how your hotel will have a coffeemaker but usually it’s terrible coffee and dairy cream so you have to find a starbucks or something? Nope! Not here! There isn’t a Starbucks anywhere around but there is complimentary soy milk in your freaking room.Or what about when the included breakfast has tons of stuff but you are lucky to find a bagel with jam because that’s the only option? Nope, at the Stanford you get your choice of fresh squeezed juices to choose from and then there is an elaborate menu of any breakfast item you could ever want from waffles to crepes to chilaquiles to a bennedict florentine with your choice of marinated tempeh, roasted tofu, sausage, or grilled portobellos. And of course they even have raw and gf options. Of course. The Ravens Tempeh Bennedict

When we asked the waiter what time they started breakfast in the morning we realized we were going to miss it the next day. No matter, he said, just let us know what you want. We will box it up and you can take it with you, and what juice would you like tomorrow. The entire staff couldn’t have been more graceful.

You know how sometimes you are really looking forward to the pool but it’s an outside pool that’s too cold, and there are a million kids playing so they have to over chlorinate the water? Well at the Stanford Inn the pool in in a lovely solarium complete with hot tub and sauna. The pool is a giant saltwater pool and several times I was the only one in the whole room.

The solarium had banana trees growing and other tropicals but there were beautiful flowers and plants all over the grounds.

And you are allowed to wander anywhere on the property, they even have complementry bikes that you can take down the river road or you can rent a canoe and paddle the river or the ocean and tour caves. You can pet the animals and stroll the beautiful organic gardens. And you can see the team harvesting vegetables that they are serving for dinner at night. It takes a lot of kale to run a vegan restaurant.During the day we checked out the shops in Mendocino and went hiking at the Headlands state park (there are three state parks within ten minutes of each other)We also checked out the Russian Gulch State Park. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the coastline was, it truly reminded me of Hawaii (aka my favorite place on earth).We stopped at the botanical gardens too and I was amazed by all the different gardens. Of course the hotel also has complimentary tea time from 2-4 so that just when you are done digesting your breakfast you get a lovely pick me up. We had some delicious date nut brownies. Did I mention all the food is amazing? Even if you can’t stay at the Inn I highly recommend stopping at The Ravens, their attached restaurant if you are anywhere near the area. My mom and I LOVED the food. I thought it was better then Candle 79 and Millennium which are the two vegan restaurants always taking the top of any “best of” lists. The dinner menu was balanced with Japanese, Mexican, and Italian influences and all the local ingredients were marked. Here is most of what we had over the course of several meals. Each meal started with a nice amuse-bouche and they also had a different featured spread for breads each night that we couldn’t stop eating. Every night there was a different soup too. We loved the cauliflower with shitake bacon.One night for an app we tried the Tamari-Maple Glazed Tofu with wasabi emulsion, sesame seeds and scallions which was practically a meal in itself. 

For main courses we tried the Spinach ravioli filled with broccoli, shallot, and hemp ricotta, with vodka cashew cream marinara, braised greens and cherry tomato garnish

The Grilled Cauliflower Napoleon – Layered grilled cauliflower, tomato, zucchini, eggplant, hemp seed cheese, with Balsamic reduction and basil-spinach infusion drizzle. Served with roasted fingerling potatoesThe Wild Mushroom Crepe – Wild mushrooms in a chickpea crepe, Forbidden black rice, braised bok choy, port wine reductionand The Sea Palm & Root Vegetable Strudel* – Local sea palm, carrots, onions in sesame phyllo, accompanied by a stir-fry of broccoli, shiitake, bell pepper and cashews. Served with Umeboshi and wasabi sauces 

Everything was impeccable, you really can’t go wrong. I loved that the wine list had all the vegan options marked and I do recommend trying the ’12 Rivino, Viognier from Mendocino, it was my favorite of the week.  I only made it to dessert one one night and tried the Mint Chocolate Ganache Tart – Almond and hazelnut crust. It was so decadent I could have died right there.

Oh, and did I tell you that the whole place is dog friendly and you they even have seating for people with canine companions. Of course you can bring your dog cause it really is vegan heaven. By the end of the trip we were planning our next trip back. Scratch that, by the first hour of checking in to the Stanford Inn we were planning our next trip back. I hope this doesn’t sound like they paid me to write this. I promise I didn’t but I would, Standford Inn if you are reading this and you want to hire me to blog about how awesome you are I could do it every day. Just let me come back. Maybe we can do a taco cleanse retreat :)

 

Sacramento – Bangkok@12

I had another amazing meal in Sacramento worth writing home about. This time was Thai food downtown, or maybe it was midtown I’m not 100% sure on the neighborhoods. We walked around the Capitol building first and, I would imagine, that would be the center of downtown. It’s a beautiful Capitol park with trees from all over the state. Some are bursting with oranges, and there are stately redwoods, and silvery olive trees, and towering palm trees.

Bangkok@12 was recommended to me on the PPK several trips ago but this was the first time we tried it. I was amazed by the vegetarian section of the menu and just when I decided what I wanted I saw something else I wanted more. They had all the standard apps but I had to try the potato curry puffs because they sounded so unusual “Thai style mashed potato and onion wrapped with tortilla, then fried to golden brown, served with cucumber salad.” They looked like quesadillas but they tasted very Thai. The cucumber salad served alongside was excellent too.

I ultimately decided on the Thai Orange Tofu which came out and looked incredible. The tofu appeared battered and fried, the vegetables were crunchy and fresh, and their were mandarin oranges and cilantro served up as well. Sadly, the menu didn’t say that the batter contained mustard which I don’t like but they were still quite, just not to my taste.

My mom absolutely loved her mango curry too. I think next time I will try the Bangkok noodles or the avocado curry. Or the pumpkin curry. It all sounded so good. Today we are headed through Napa on our way to the coast so I probably won’t blog again for a few days. But, rest assured, I will be doing all my favorite things, eating, drinking, hiking in the trees, and reading books by the pool.

 

Sacramento – Noble Vegetarian

My favorite part about traveling the west coast, well after the trees, the ocean, the flowers, and abundant avocados, is that there are tons of Asian restaurants seemingly everywhere you go. Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Indian and every cuisine in between are all over the place. Every time I come to Sacramento I get to check out a new place and this time my mom brought me to another Vietnamese themed all vegetarian spot called Noble Vegetarian. They have every kind of vegan meat on the menu so I wanted to try every one! We started with the vegeham paste wontons. My mom was very wary but she ended up loving them as did I. 

We were also very impressed with the vegeprawn spring rolls. I was a bit nervous since I’m allergic to eating the animal shrimp but I’m happy to report that they were indeed vegan and I had no ill effects. God, that would be the worst! 

Next, we tried the Vegebeef Vegetable Medley and it, unfortunately, reminded me of a Beef Vegetable Medley you could get at any shopping mall. No, I take it back, the vegetables had more bite than you’d find at the mall. It just wasn’t anything special. 

Finally the soup came. I had a hard time deciding which one to try, there was a whole page of the menu dedicated to vegan soups and this NEVER happens in Austin. In the end we went with Au-Lac Sweet and Sour because I just couldn’t decide and I saw it had rice paddy herbs.

I was excited when it came out to see that it was completely loaded with vegetables, tofu, more shrimp, pineapple, tomatoes, okra, and who knows what else. It was delicious. I was sad I didn’t have room in my belly for vegan flan. That’s twice now on this trip I’ve been too full to try it. URGH!

And that ends 2014 VeganMofo for me, I am super proud of myself for pulling it together after my dismal start. There is plenty more to come.