Monday, April 25, 2016

A Cooking Hiatus!

vegan bolani
a super simple breakfast: A store-bought lentil bolani, a banana, some salsa, and the mandatory cup of hot coffee. I love these bolani breads so much, and I think the lentil one is my favorite right now. They're made with whole wheat flour and filled with lentils. They've got a lot of protein and they really feel like a satisfying and complete eating experience. Also, that salsa is seriously delicious. Thanks for the salsa tip from my friend Erika!

Obviously, I really love to cook. I probably wouldn't have a food blog otherwise. Two nights a week, we have giant salad for dinner, and I pretty much always cook dinner the other nights. Sometimes I make an old favorite recipe, but a lot of the time I make something new that I've never made before. I love trying out new recipes, and sometimes I'm cooking from a new cookbook that I've been sent to review. I'm sure you can tell that I really enjoy reviewing cookbooks too!

vegan ramen
Koyo Lemongrass Garlic Ramen, supplemented with kale sauteed with leeks and green garlic and grated carrot. Actually quite YUMz

vegan eats and treats

And yet, last week I just wasn't feeling it. I was sitting on the sofa, thinking about what to make for dinner for the new few nights... and all I really wanted was just to blow it off. So I did! Woo hoo! Such a luxury! I spent several days and nights just scrapping up various meals with things from the pantry and random veggies from the farmers market. Mr. V&ET always appreciates my culinary creations, but he was also such a good sport about fending for himself for a little while. So, I made myself various little odd ball creations and he would get take out or something pre-made from the grocery store -- and then we would eat dinner together.

ha ha - glorious culinary creation

Many meals were like this - steamed veggies, some fresh veggies, and some yummies to go with the veggies. In this case it was some canned refries from the pantry, some salsa, and some spicy Heidi Ho cheese sauce. Simple, super easy, and actually quite satisfying!

simple eats, vegan
A similar creation: sauteed broccoli rabe, refries - salsa - spicy Heidi Ho, sliced avocado, and an Obi probiotic "soda." A great dinner and super simple to make. I actually eat lunches like this fairly often, but I don't often also eat like this for dinner. I usually follow a recipe and make something more "cohesive" for dinner. 

vegan eats and treats

I know eating whatever you want from the pantry is normal living for most of you, but it's so rare for me. I lead a pretty structured life, which usually works pretty well for me. Twice a week, I sit down and go through my cookbooks and pick out recipes for the next several days, and then I religiously follow my list, and cook my pre-determined meals on the appointed days. Ha ha. It makes me sound like a nut, but it helps me to be organized like this because then I don't end up buying a bunch of random veggies and then watching them rot in my fridge. All that said, it felt super luxurious to just eat weird little combos of whatever I randomly found in the fridge and pantry. Somehow these didn't seem like meals worthy of feeding to someone else, so Mr. VE&T was happy to fend for himself.

vegan mexi wrap
One of my more excellent creations during my cooking boycott: A wrap made with: canned refries with lime juice / avocado / salsa / Heidi Ho / cilantro / more kale sauteed with leeks and green garlic /  all semi-rolled in some leftover lavash from the freezer. Quick and delicious!

some of the fun things I did with my extra time!

It was fun and relaxing to have so much extra time in the evenings since I didn't have to cook whole meals. In fact, I think I might take little cooking boycotts more often, just the joy of a break in routine, a chance to catch up on odds and ends in the fridge/pantry/freezer, and for all the free time it opens up. I enjoyed my little holiday! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Jambu! Jambu! Cute Vegan Shoes

 little flower designs on my shoes, little flowers in my garden

 It's always such a joy to find the perfect pair of shoes AND have them be vegan! For a while now, I've been wanting a pair of shoes that met a few specific criteria.  I was looking for something along the lines of a "substantial sandal," not too clunky to wear with skirts or shorts, but also secure enough that I could use them for a quick spin on my bike or a long walk with the dogs. When Jambu reached out to me about reviewing a pair of shoes from their new line of spring shoes, I had no idea I was about to find my missing mystery shoe!

Jambu makes a bunch of shoes, and only some of them are vegan, but they are always coming out with new designs even in their vegan line. I first stumbled across Jambu brand many years ago at a local sporting goods store. I found a super cute pair of shoes there, and then couldn't believe my eyes when they were actually vegan! It even said the word "vegan" on the label. So Cool. I've been a Jambu fan and loyalist ever since then.

Cruising through the Jambu spring line up of women's vegan shoes, I decided to try out the Deep Sea Vegan Sandal in Charcoal color. They also have some cute little slip-ons that look super comfortable. I'm glad I made the choice I did though, because I really love these shoes!

feeling snazzy!

It turns out that these Deep Sea Vegan Jambus are just exactly what I was looking for. First of all, I think they're really cute. I like the cute out flower designs, and the little floral print on the ankle strap, and the contrast stitching. So I feel fun and sassy when I wear them. The upper part of the shoe is made with a comfortable feeling and nice-looking vegan leather.

this is usually what happens on a leash walk with the doggies - two pulling in one direction, one pulling in another direction! ha ha. Stevie loves to go-go-go, and Snoopy and Dottie love to sniff and pee! These are great walking shoes.

They're also super comfortable. The inserts are made with memory foam, so they're smooshy and luxe-feeling on my feet. As soon as I got them, I got all excited and wore them for a dog walk. Of course I got a little blister on my pinkie toe (you'd think I'd know by age 42 about the art of breaking in a new pair of shoes), but the soles of my feet felt great. Now that my feet are used to these shoes, I don't get that blister anymore either. 

joy ride with jambus! wooooot! 

Lastly, I really like how these shoes feel like a sandal, but are secure like a shoe. I mostly wear flip-flops, but supposedly that's not great for your feet. Also, sometimes Mr VE&T and I like to go for little joy-rides on our bikes, and I don't necessarily feel like using my fancy bike shoes and "clipping in," especially since he just has a basic cruiser for a bike. I don't love riding in my flip-flops because my darling little toes feel so vulnerable and exposed. But these shoes are great for joy rides! They stay on nice and firmly, and also with the closed toe - my little toes are protected and looking cute all at the same time!

doggies helping me with my shoe pics

The local store where I used to be able to find Jambus went out of business, but luckily, Jambus are easy to find online, like at Planetshoes. The internet is pretty cool for a lot of reasons, including reading vegan blogs and shopping for vegan shoes. Plus! The folks at Jambu created a 10% coupon code for VE&T readers: the code is jambuveganeats and it's valid from now until May 31. Yippee! Let's be shoe twinsies.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

Troll-Themed Slumber Party!!!

teens talkin' on the phone

Well, I'm 42 years old, so my teenage years were a while ago. But way back in high school, I made a super, super special friend. JJTWH and I just fell in love - we had such a rich and intimate and vibrant friendship. We spent as many hours, days, and nights together as possible. We pretty much always wanted to be together, and when we weren't together we were probably talking on the phone with one another. 

JJTWH lived quite a ways out of town, whereas I lived right in the center of town-- just one block from our high school. It was inconvenient for our parents to drive us to one another's houses... so we managed to work this situation into countless sleepovers, even on school nights. We spent so many nights talking, listening to music, laughing, adolescent fretting, and - in particular - singing along to the super-cheesy Dolly Parton album "White Limozeen." ha ha ha

bedroom door closed for teenaged privacy, lights down low, red chili lights plugged in -- time for a dance party! I loved those lights so much - they were like christmas lights with bright red plastic "chili peppers" that glowed when they were plugged in.

Pretty soon, she was part of our family. After JJTWH and I went to prom together, my grandparents hung our prom picture on their wall and there it remained, until they both passed away. One summer during college, her parents had moved away from Santa Cruz, and I was off studying in Italy, so she came and spent the summer living with my parents. So, you see what I mean! 

Happily, all these years later we are still very close -- I even asked JJTWH to be the officiant at our wedding, and she did! We live about an hour's drive away from one another -- which isn't as great as being next door neighbors, but is pretty damn great. JJTWH has a most excellent daughter, who is 7 years old and is super fun and funny and smart and I love her so much. Now I get two friends for the price of one! 

So, after all those nights together as teenagers, something pretty great happened recently... we had a slumber party again! JJTWH and her kiddo came to our house and spent the night! AND it was JJTWH's birthday so I got to cook for her!! You guys, this was SO FUN for me. 

Vegan African Peanut Stew
Oh She Glows African Peanut Stew. and mystery trolls

For dinner, my friend requested something with interesting spices, since her daughter's lack of interest in spicy foods has changed the way they eat at home (at least for now). I had so many ideas, I couldn't decide what to make! Most of all, I wanted to be able to spend all my time with them and not cooking, so I decided on things that I could make in advance. One of my favorite recipes from The Oh She Glows Cookbook is this African Peanut Stew ~ recipe shared online here. It's so flavorful and delicious and chock full o' veggies. Everyone I've ever made this soup for has loved it, and so did my friend.

Don't worry, I made La Kiddo a bowl of spaghetti since I knew she wouldn't be interested in the other food I made. She loved her spaghetti, so everyone was happy!

Oh She Glows Kale Salad
The Best Shredded Kale Salad from Oh She Glows with mysterious troll tablecloth

To go along with the stew, I also made this kale salad from the OSG website and it was spectacular! We all loved it! Well, the grown-ups did at least. I don't think La Kiddo even gave it a go. I hadn't ever made this recipe before, but I thought it looked good and it was. Will definitely make again. I wish I had made a double batch, because it totally disappeared. It's amazing how huge batches of kale can just wilt into such a small salad... kinda like how a giant duffle bag of fresh spinach gets steamed and turns into barely half a cup. ha ha. The "parmesan" is made with pecans and nutritional yeast. It's really delicious. I recommend this recipe! 

This recipe is on her blog, but Angela at Oh She Glows is actually about to launch a new app - and I was one of many testers for it... so I actually made this salad using the app, on my ancient iPhone4s - and it worked great. I've never cooked from an app before now, but this one is so beautiful and easy to use and I'm really excited to see the final product (it launches today, April 11!). I plan on buying it because I found it really useful and fun to use. Some of the recipes are from her site, but others will be unique to the app. Also it has cool features, like you can take notes and you can cross ingredients off after you've added them... so it's different than just working off the blog. 

birthday trolls!? what is going on here??

So, uh... I guess it's time to address the elephant in the room. Ha ha. What's up with these cheezy trolls in my otherwise charming food photography??? WELL. At some point in high school, JJTWH and I decided that these trolls were just so ugly and so sometimes we would try to hide one of them at the other person's house. I don't even know how it started, but it was a little challenge between the two of us. Remember how I mentioned that JJTWH spent a summer living with my parents while I was overseas in Italy? When I came home from that trip, I quickly discovered that JJTWH had somehow come across an entire pack of troll-themed valentines (those little cheapo ones from grade school) and she had meticulously hidden them all over my bedroom. I mean, honestly, I continued to find them for several months. It was an unparalleled triumph.

my mom, the final victor

But then, I think maybe my mom got the last laugh. My mom loves to scour the thrift stores for good finds and somehow, somewhere, she had found this *complete* troll-themed Birthday Kit: hats, cups, paper plates, paper napkins, and even that hideous paper tablecloth. I guess she's just had this stuff tucked away for some time now... and when I mentioned how excited I was to have JJTWH over for a bday slumber party, my mom's eye's lit up. Ha ha. So, of course I had to surprise JJTWH with a beautifully prepared birthday dinner, plated on troll-themed paper china. PERFECT. 20+ years later, my mom takes the troll trophy!

Birthday cupcakes!

Of course there was dessert! I didn't get a glamorous, fancy picture of the cuppers I made, but I did get a totally adorable picture of La Kiddo before she surprised her mom with a birthday cupcake. I checked in with JJTWH before our big weekend, and asked her what kind of birthday treat she was in the mood for -- the directive I received was "something lemony or fruity." Fun! I always love fruity desserts. So, I turned to the trusty tome of vegan cakes, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and made a recipe I'd never tried before: Lemon Cupcakes with Blueberry Filling (and lemon buttercream) ~ recipe is reprinted online here. Oh man they were sooooo good! We all loved them!

Actual picture of the cute scene. La Kiddo showed up for our slumber party with a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and about 10 "stuffies," or stuffed animals. SO CUTE. Snoopy and Footie *always* sleep with us, but as soon as there's a kid in the guest room, we lose all our appeal. They both slept all night with JJTWH and La Kiddo. I knew our guests were awake the next morning when I heard them giggling because Snoopy was trying to lick their faces. It was so darned sweet. 

Fiesta Scramble, Vegan Protein Book
Fiesta Scramble, lime slices, and Guacamole
savory component of our morning birthday feast

I cannot even tell you how fun it was to wake up and have two of my world's favorite people right there in my own house!! SO FUN. Especially since we had a super breakfast feast ahead of us, and then plans for a fun day together.

JJTWH and I are in agreement that a proper breakfast has a savory, protein-y component AND a sweetie component, so I did not let her down. Following her request for spicy food "and lots of avocado," I decided to make the Fiesta Scramble from The Great Vegan Protein Book. I had read kzcakes' post about this scramble, and decided to go for it -- even though I'd never made it before. (One of my real specialties is making completely new-to-me recipes when I have company over, ha ha). To go along with it, I made a batch of Guacamole *food of the gods* -- using the recipe from Viva Vegan. I love that recipe because it's simple and perfect.

Let me just say, that scramble was an instant favorite. It was a big hit with all of us ~ full of well-balanced flavors, and packing a serious punch of heat from adobo sauce and fresh jalepenos. Sooo good. Probably not kiddo-friendly, but it was 100% adult-approved. In fact, I have already made it twice more since then for dinner. We really love it.

Vegan Carrot Cake Pancakes
Carrot Cake Pancakes
the sweetie component of our breakfast fun

For a breakfast sweetie, I made the Carrot Cake Pancakes from Isa Does It (recipe here). This is one of my all-time favorite breakfast treats, and I was so happy to share them with my special guests. They're packed full with shredded carrots, warming carrot cake spices, and pecans... and they are delicious and perfect and glorious. We were hoping that La Kiddo wouldn't object to "different" pancakes, and indeed she did not object! These were enjoyed and devoured across generational lines!

It wouldn't be a fancy breakfast without some fresh fruit: satsumas, navel oranges, and strawberries.

Vegan Brunch
My breakfast plate

My pal JJTWH and I share a great love of farmers markets and local produce. We often trade notes about our favorite vendors or our favorite variety of stone fruits or nerdy things like that. We like to bring each other foodie gifts all the time too. So, even though it was her birthday, JJTWH showed up with a jar of "Pearlicious" pear jam from a local farm called Prevedelli Farms. It was so delicious with the carrot cake pancakes! Actually, let's just say, it was so delicious even straight out of the jar. The whole jar disappeared so quickly... within days. It basically just tastes like a jar of pureed perfectly perfect pears. This farm also sells at my farmers market - but they're on a break until berry season. I plan on stocking up on pear jam ASAP (apparently you can also order off their website, if any of you are interested!).

La Kiddo, JJTWH, & me ~ in our jammies and bathrobes, wearing our troll hats, and ready for a day of fun together.

Santa Cruz is one of the winter homes for monarch butterflies, before they fly way, way back up north during the summer. It's pretty amazing. There were just a few left when we went, but it was still pretty neat. 

After breakfast, we headed off for some fun time at the beach and we saw the last of the monarch butterflies before they migrate north for summer time. It was a really wonderful weekend, and I missed them so much as soon as they left. I'm already dreaming of a future full of more sleepovers. 


ps. I followed my pal Cadry's advice and finally checked out Bloglovin, and added my blog to it. Do you use Bloglovin to follow blogs? If so: Follow my blog with Bloglovin And let me know if you have a blog there so I can follow you back. I'm just starting to use it. .

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Palm Springs & A Trip to Sam Cobb Date Farm!

Road Trip!
A ginormous bag of fresh veggies is my number one favorite road trip snack. I really enjoy endless nibbling when I'm on road trips... but I don't enjoy the feeling of being stuffed full with crappy junk food. So, if I bring along a huge bag of veggies and a big thing of grapes, I'm usually pretty good to go.

A couple of weeks ago, Mr VE&T and I drove all the way down to Palm Springs for our annual tennis-watching, grapefruit-eating, desert-enjoying spring trip. Mr VE&T is a devout tennis fan, and happily for us there is a super great tennis professional tennis event held every Spring in Southern California (the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, for those of you who are keeping track). I never saw it coming, but his enthusiasm has worn off on me, and these days I'm a pretty well-informed tennis fan myself. Plus, I am a also a fan of the desert, road trips, vacations with my bub, spring time in general, wildflowers, and swimming pools. So, it works out well for both of us.

My trusty little cooler packed full with roadtrip goodies: green grapes, giant bag of fresh veggies, Kevita for me and Iced Tea for Mr VE&T, and oranges. Once the cooler is packed, I'm pretty much ready to go. 

big batch of grilled tofu, recipe from "The Real Food Daily Cookbook."

The tennis venue has plenty of food options, but not many of them are vegan, and they are all big bucks. On the other hand, they are totally okay with letting people bring in their own food. So, for a frugal vegan like me, that is the way to go. This year I brought down lots of sandwich fixin's (bread, tomatoes, lettuce, etc), and a huge batch of grilled herb tofu for my sandwiches. This big tub'o'tofu lasted me a whole week and guaranteed super-yummy and super-satisfying sandwiches. I was quite pleased with myself!

pleased with my own vegan lunch planning
Lord knows, the world loves it some Smug Vegans. Ha ha! 

 sandwiches + tennis 

Here is a photo collage of all sorts of grilled tofu sandwiches featured throughout the week. Another great thing about bringing your own lunch is that you can just stay hunkered down in your seat and munch away while those players work so hard. Ha ha. Also, you can see that I have a cool little insulated lunch box. It worked great! We have a proper fridge at our hotel, so every night I would freeze an ice pack, and then load our sandwiches and goodies in with the ice pack in the morning. Even in the hot desert sun, the lunch box totally worked and the ice pack was still mostly frozen at the end of the day! How cool. Literally.

incidentally, it was pretty hot down there -- especially sitting in the sun and watching tennis all day! We both had sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hats, lightweight towels to cover our legs, and even special "wet towels" that we put under our sun hats. Ha ha. I think we looked like real weirdos. But we were comfortable and we didn't get sunburned! 

 spring wildflowers in the desert are most excellent

Another beautiful thing about going to the desert in the Spring is all the wildflowers. Uh, can you even believe it? On our drive down, we mostly just saw some green grass, but just one week later, after a spring rain, our drive home was pretty much 8 hours straight of amazing wildflowers. So beautiful and life-affirming. Why are flowers so special? Isn't it funny? You'd think we'd all be so jaded and adjusted to flowers by now... but somehow I don't feel that way at all. Each new patch of color sent me into rapturous fits of ooohs and aahs!

breakfast by the pool. I like it. 

The hotel we've stayed at for the last few years is pretty sweet, with a lovely pool and garden. Every morning I like to wake up early and do my yoga practice next to the pool. There are citrus trees and flowers everywhere, and birds flying overhead. The hotel also provides breakfast, though there's not much there for vegans. It's lots of baked goods and yogurts and cereal and bread that isn't vegan. But, they do provide a huge platter of fruit each morning, which I am quite enthusiastic about. There's a huge Whole Foods nearby, so I stocked up on some Kite Hill yogurt and other breakfast supplements and was a happy breakfast camper all week. I mean really, sitting poolside in the morning sun is a pretty excellent way to start the day.

Most days we would just head over to the tennis tournament and watch hours of tennis... but this year I requested at least one whole Non-Tennis Day. Mr. VE&T was totally stoked on that, and actually, I think our Non-Tennis Day may have been each of our's favorite day of the whole trip. We had a lot of fun that day, but I especially want to tell you about our trip to a date farm! I looked around at various date farms in the area and decided to visit Sam Cobb Farms. I fell in love with his warm and homey website. I love supporting family farmers and small-scale operations, and this looked right up my alley.

Me with The Real Sam Cobb

We drove out mid-morning on a Saturday and were delighted to find The Real Sam Cobb* manning his own booth! (note: the farm is only open to visitors and shoppers on the weekends). I love dates, but hadn't ever visited a date farm before, so I was pretty jazzed up. Mr. Cobb was so friendly and was happy to show us around a bit. 

*this is how he refers to himself on the website, so I introduced myself as The Real Amey Mathews

This is where our magical dates come from!

Isn't it beautiful? Remember, this is in the middle of the desert! Once the trees have grown a bit, and are large enough to provide shade, they actually create a very lovely and inviting canopy of shade. As you can see in this picture, it's necessary for farmers to cover the clusters of dates with cloth (the white one in the foreground) or paper (the brown ones) -- this is so that the birds and insects and coyotes don't eat them. I loved learning that coyotes like to eat dates!

He also taught us that the date trees grow quite slowly and that it takes several years for them to begin regularly producing fruit. Date varieties can't be propagated from seeds -- in order to ensure that you are growing the same variety, you have to harvest the suckers that grow at the base of other juvenile trees (kind of like with strawberries). Isn't that interesting? You can see come suckers growing out of the base of the main tree in this picture. If you plant a date seed, you'll get a date tree, but it will be its own new variety of dates. I guess this means that every time we throw out a date pit, we are passing up on the opportunity to grow a new kind of date!


On one "tour tree" there is one cluster of dates that Mr. Cobb has left uncovered, so that visitors like us can get a closer look, and so we can pick one off and eat it ourselves! I could have stood there like a little coyote and nibbled away at those dates all afternoon. I think maybe these were Zahiri dates, if I recall correctly.

I love this picture that Mr. Cobb took of Mr. VE&T and me. You can see that I am really in my happy place! 

nature is amazing!

Look at this stunning close-up of dates on the tree! I love those squiggly little threads that the dates grow on, and the beauty of ripening dates. If you've ever had fresh dates, they are also super delicious - they're plump and taut and yellowish, compared to the brown and more wrinkly look of fully ripened dates. Mr. VE&T and I each picked a date to enjoy -- and you can see all the little nubs where dates used to be, from the other hungry folks who had come by before us! 

just some of our purchases

At the farm stand, Mr. Cobb has a set-up such that you can sample all the different varieties of dates that they grow on his farm. I think there were at least 8-9 varieties? In truth, Mr. VE&T has never been a fan of dates... but guess what? It just turned out that he hadn't tried enough kinds of dates to know what he likes! Right away he fell in love with Mr. Cobb's Safari dates -- they are a really dry date with a lovely nutty flavor. To my joy and surprise, Mr. VE&T quickly selected two big tubs of Safari dates for himself.

sampling all the different dates was so fun and interesting! 

I loved all of the dates, and I loved getting to try them all back-to-back, so that I could really appreciate and detect the differences between each one. I bought some to bring back for our much-appreciated housesitters. Fortunately, our housesitters are also dear friends of mine, so I am intimately aware of their date preferences, and I knew just which dates to buy for each of them.

But, as for what to buy for myself? I had a personal favorite: The Black Gold date! Holy deliciousness, Batman. These dates are a bit chewy like a medjool, but not as soft or gooey. Their flavor is rich and chocolatey and caramel-y. They are officially my new favorite date. And guess what? Sam Cobb Farms is the only place in the world that grows them! Suffice it to say, I have already finished off my giant 18 oz tub... and have already called Mr. Cobb and placed an order for more. They should be on their way to me soooooon. If you want to try some for yourself, you can just call him up, give him your credit card info and mailing address, and order some for yourself. It's so easy! 

with arms full of cartons of dates... 
I was a happy date customer, for sure!