Monthly Archives: June 2011

The total cheapskate’s guide to lunch at Whole Foods

Sometimes I wonder if the other people I see at whole foods have budgets, or even jobs. Working by the store is both a blessing and a curse. For me, it is the most convenient place in town to get lunch but I always spend more money than I intend too (it is way too easy!) and buy things I probably shouldn’t (Big John cookies!).  I am also not a fan of the vegan/raw bar there and often end up getting a premade salad or wrap in an attempt to not break the bank. If I am really hungry or indecisive then I lose all willpower and I end up at the super bar (like most people seem to at lunch) and I spend at least 10 dollars, usually a lot more. Which is way too much for me. Also, since I’m a total cheapskate and it is priced by the pound it takes me forever to decide what is worth the weight.

This biryani, steamed kale & sesame tofu with peanut sauce, samosa & fruit cost about 9 dollars and was considered a victory

Usually, when I don’t have a lot of money I get rice and beans in a cup from the taco bar for a dollar (grab a little free cup of salsa, if you ask them add salsa it will be considered a “taco in a cup” and double the price). If I am really hungry I get a double layer of beans and rice for 2 dollars, or dump it on top of some mixed greens to up the healthiness factor and eat fairly cheap. I also always cruise through the produce aisle since they have fresh fruit samples and enjoy those as well. If you are going to get fruit it is cheaper to get it here in the prepared cups then to add it in at the salad bar too where everything is the same price.

When making a plate at the salad bar I used to always put a layer of spinach at the bottom since it is so light and healthy, but it’s still 7.99 a pound for anything on the bar so it always adds up more than I think it will. The other day, I was talking to someone who gave me this awesome tip; after you are done filling up on fruit samples, get your mixed greens for your lunch from the produce aisle where they are only 5.99 a pound. Put it in a produce bag and add it to your plate after you pay. It is the exact same greens for 2 dollars less!There is actually a whole wall now of precut and washed salad ready food right behind the vegan bar and it is even less at 4.99 a pound. It is all the same stuff from the big super bar and on a recent trip they had kale and asparagus and other expensive vegetables that weren’t on the salad bar. What a great deal! If you mix the precut vegetables with the rice and beans from the taco bar you can have an amazingly healthy lunch for less then 5 dollars. And if you are reading this whole foods, don’t worry I still spend plenty of money at your dang store on açaí smoothies, coffee, food for lover’s queso, delicious beer, and vegan ice cream.

What do you get at Whole Foods?

Hyden Park – “leaves-to-roots” cuisine

Last week I was really excited to learn that some local Austin chefs started a vegan supper club right here in our own fair city. I read about these places all the time in other places and have even heard of some meat centric ones in Austin. A lot of us have been hoping that a vegan one would pop up for some time. Some of us even thought about starting our own but not every body has the attitude and wherewithal to finish projects and do things so I’m super excited to report that professionally trained Chef Elizabeth & Kris have their act together and made us a fantastic seasonal meal last Saturday night. 

Their site describes their approach as: “A vegan supper club in Austin, Texas. Some folks are into “nose-to-tail” cuisine. We’re into “leaves-to-roots” cuisine and real sustainability.” My friend Kristen and I got there a little late (my bad!) and already there were about 10 people there talking and enjoying appetizers. The first course “cucumber, mint & ume boshi maki roll with saffron orange “roe” & shiso” was very fruity and minty and perfect for the temperature since it is about a thousand degrees out these days.I dug the faux roe especially, I don’t think I have ever had it before.

After the appetizer we moved right on to the main course which was also my favorite part “smoked tofu and japanese (white) sweet potato gnocchi with bok choy, napa cabbage,chrysanthemum leaves, shitake & beech mushrooms”This dish was so hearty that I really didn’t need anything else. I thought the plating was super cute, it kind of looked like those wee mushrooms were growing out of the center of dish which is just the kind of thing that I get ridiculously excited about. The gnocchi mixed with the other mushrooms and bok choy was so hearty and delicious, in fact, I probably didn’t even need the tofu because everything else was so filling. The pasta was perfect and I ate every last little bit on the dish.

Then we had the salad course “arugala with daikon spirals, watermelon radishes, green apple, strawberries, opal basil & strawberry ume dressing”. It was another beautiful presentation and I loved the fresh strawberries, apples and radishes.

Even though I had a lot to eat, at this point in the meal I really wanted ice cream because, like I mentioned it was a little warm and I just thought Chef Elizabeth would have made a terrific one. Instead we had lemon almond amasake custard with lavender blueberry sauce & sesame lace cookies, which by the way was gluten free. I loved the sesame cookie mixed with the blueberry sauce, it was a really unusual but delightful flavor combination. The custard was a little too heavy for me and I really wanted to lay down afterwords. They had a hammock in their backyard calling my name but I persevered and remained upright for the rest of the evening.

Overall it was a huge success. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

Cool It Down in Austin TX

Yesterday I was wandering around thinking about who has the best snow cones in town. When I went to research this very important subject on my magical computing device I found a bunch of maps to frozen treats in our wonderful but hot city and noticed they all contained places that choose not to serve vegan items. So I thought I would make a vegan google map of my favorite spots. It’s what I do. If I missed one of your favorite spots let me know in the comments and I will add it to the google map.

There are a LOT of other snow cone places and ice cream men (why are they all men? Someone needs to blog about THAT) circle my neighborhood at most hours of the day so I didn’t add everything, just everything noteworthy.

image by Lomo-Cam

Now if someone would just open a bar with alcoholic snow cones and a swim up bar then I’ll be in heaven.

vegan guide to Maui

I took so many pictures in Hawaii that it has taken me weeks to go through them all but I think I’m finally there! When you are taking a ton of pictures it all seems so great to take a million shots on multiple devices but sorting through them isn’t fun at all. In fact, it is kind of depressing because you remember how much you loved Hawaii, if you went to Hawaii. Clearly I am talking about me so I don’t know why I keep saying you. The problem is I have fallen in love!!!  I even looked at airfare to Honolulu. Yesterday I made a coconut pineapple drink and was wandering around in my sarong wondering how I ended up somewhere where it never ever rains anymore. It is all very confusing.

Maui was my favorite island and it was the most vegan friendly.

the beach at Pa'ia

We stayed in the surfer hippie town of Pa’ia on the Eastern side. I recommend staying here for sure for a lot of reasons. First, it is where Willie Nelson lives and as an Austinite that is extremely exciting. Second, it is a cute town with lots of vegan eateries and the best health food store in the state. They even have breakfast tacos!

 I wasn’t sure if I was going to find enough vegan goodies so I brought a ton of items like nuts, packets of Jason’s peanut butter, Cliff bars, ramen  etc on the airplane so I felt pretty silly when I first walked into Mana Foods and saw that it was as well stocked as our own Wheatsville co-op, if not better.
Pa’ia is on the eastern side and close to the airport and the last stop before the road to Hana so it is an ideal place to stay. It turns out you can easily drive everywhere in Maui, it seems like it is about the size of greater Austin but Pa’ia is so central that I would definitely stay there again. The first restaurant we went to was Fresh Mint, an all vegetarian Vietnamese place and it was honestly the best meal of the trip. I got this soy fish hot pot and it was fabulous, it had an amazing thick meaty texture, the flavor was spot on and tropical and I thought everything in Hawaii was going to be better than anything you can get here.The proprietor of the restaurant was super sweet and told us that this was the only food we would find on the island like that and he was right! I should have eaten there every day but I thought I should try other places too, we also had stuffed tofu which had Maui onions and other stuff inside that now I don’t even remember but it was great! I was really surprised by how much better the produce is in Hawaii then it is at home. I mean, I’ve had Maui onions and Dole pineapples here, but there it is a whole other thing. It is like tasting food for the first time.  We also tried cafe Mambo across the street, I had Sesame & nori tofu fajitas which sounded pretty awesome but it was really expensive and not nearly as good as Fresh Mint. At least I got a lot of food! It probably could have fed three people. 

We stayed at a house called the Mangolani which had a room for rent and it was really nice because they had tons of fruit trees and we could have whatever we wanted and they had a kitchen. For breakfast I made oatmeal and fresh bananas and it made me really happy. 

the nice thing about staying at someone’s house is they usually have dogs which just makes me feel a lot more at home.

We quickly learned that when it is raining on the east side it is sunny on the west side (and vice versa) so we decided what to do based on the weather a lot of the time. The center of the island is mountains so they trap the clouds which is why you get the varying weather. 
The north western side of the island is mostly resorts. Actually the entire west side is resorts but you can check out their beaches and they have public beach parks about every mile. We stopped in Lahaina to see the ancient  banyan tree and grab some fantastic tropical shaved ice on the way up  and then stopped at their health food store on the way back down.  Make sure you try some shaved ice, they have all sorts of exotic flavors and some of it is just amazing. It was fun to stop at the farmer’s market health food store and have a picnic on the beach across the street. 

They had acai bowls with fresh fruit that sounded fantastic but I couldn’t pass up the hot bar with its noochy tofu and coconut curry soup. 

We watched the rainbows and sunset and ate delicious food and I started to realize why everyone says Maui is magical.Another day we drove to the southwest side which I liked a little better than the northwest side. There were lots of beaches with snorkeling. We started in Maluaka Beach Park where we had heard we would have a good chance of seeing green sea turtles.it is so beautiful under the water in Hawaii. The water is so warm and clear and just full of life. I swam and swam forever and then suddenly I turned my head and I saw a turtle just like this I was so excited, I love turtles, in fact turtle was my first word. I have been looking for sea turtles forever, I hadn’t seen them in either Greece or Costa Rica so it was just thrilling to finally swim with one. I saw a lot of turtles on the trip. And lots of beaches that day. South of Maluaka we went to Big Beach and the Ahihi Kinau nature reserve at the end of the coast. Each spot was more beautiful then the last. They had these large man made coral walls along the coast and sometimes you could walk through them and stumble onto little beaches like Secret Cove

All I wanted was to look for more turtle but at some point we had to stop and eat. Joy’s Place was in Kihei, right up the road from these glorius beaches and had probably the healthiest food on the island. Lots of raw items and most of it was vegan. It was a tiny little place and was really expensive (are you noticing a theme), I was really glad that my tempeh wrap was fantastic. 
It was right across from another beach park so we picnicked and watched surfers and I thought about turtles.  

Another day we drove to Haleakala, the inactive volcano that formed Maui. You used to be able to go to the top to see the sunrise and then bike down all the way back to Pa’ia, but I guess that turned into kind of a nightmare with thousands of tourists riding down mountain roads and blocking traffic so they don’t have tours like that any more. We drove right to the top, it was like 50 intense switchbacks.

Most people go for sunrise but a local told us that it was a lot nicer for sunset so we decided to do that. We stopped at a craft fair on the way and went to a succulent farm called Rainbow acres that was just beautiful. The altitude changes so drastically one minute your on the beach, then hills, than it is tall trees and mountains, and then after a while there aren’t even trees any more. Not much can survive in the harsh weather. There is a goose called the Nene that lives up there, it is an endangered species and we were really excited to see one, no pic though.

It was cold at the top of the mountain and really fun to be above the clouds, in fact, the altitude made the whole thing a little too much fun and we were running around laughing and freezing. On the way back we stopped in a little town Haiku at a place called Veg Out. It wasn’t open that day but on another day we got to check it out, they had a full vegetarian menu with muffaletta sandwiches and falafel and it was pretty cheap highly recommended.

Another day we drove down to Hana on the famous highway that has about a million stops with waterfalls and hikes and swimming. It was so gorgeous. I have so many many pics.

I saw this sign at the bottom of a little hike.

and a great view of this horizontally growing bamboo and the highway at the top.

We packed food from Mana in Paia but a long the way there were vendors with fresh fruit, smoothies, and the best banana bread you will ever have in your life. When you see a vegan one DO NOT HESITATE. Buy that shit.

Hana was an adorable little town with a swimmin’ beach and a lookin’ beach with dark red sand.They didn’t have too much in the way of restaurants but on the way in we saw a Thai place in the town before and there was a fantastic farmer’s market too. They do have a general store which had delicious Maui Beer. We camped at Wainapapa State Park which was one of the most amazing places I have seen and the next day went to the Oheo Gulch which was equally gorgeous and also had camping. It was just wonderful and Hana had the kind of nightlife that I prefer. The Maui Brewing Co beers are all vegan btw as well as the Kona, try the coconut, seriously. The drive and the whole south eastern part of the island was my favorite part of my whole trip I think. It was just so ideal.

If you are going to camp at a state park you need to get a permit either on the internet a week in advance or anytime at any state office, there is one on each island. In Maui it is in Wailuku and which is really convenient, kind of at the crossroads by the airport in Kahului which has a couple vegan friendly eateries. We ate one of the many Vietnamese places, A Saigon Cafe. They also had all the big box stores like Kmart and what not there. So I hope that helps anyone planning a trip, if you have any questions, I’ll try to answer as best I can. Here is a list of vegan friendly restaurants. Oh also try and get a hybrid car, we only had to add gas once the whole time we were on Maui and as you can see we did a lot of driving! And check out my other posts on the big island and Oahu if you are going there. And I mentioned in the Oahu post Maui Tacos, it is a fast food taco place that is really fantastic and highly recommended. And if you would like to hire me as your vegan I will be happy to assist in exchange for airfare. Also: here’s more photos,  I advise that you look at them while listening to Hawaiian rainbow.com