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Adventures of Nic and Nora Continued…

Sorry I’ve been so slow getting to Part II of the Nic & Nora installment. Considering there are only seven days until I’m officially done with all college work (and eighteen days until I graduate!), things have been pretty hectic around here! Plus, I’m sure you’ve all already read Nicole’s summary of our time together! :)

The second day of her visit, we decided to lay low and chillax at Pomona before making our way back into the city the next day. We went out for a leisurely brunch (well, lunch since we missed tofu scramble hours!) at Full of Life Café in the Claremont village. Then I took Nicole to the village gluten-free shop as well as my favorite local natural foods store, Ecoterra! From there, we headed to Pomona’s organic farm because I obviously had to show off California’s produce-producing prowess (say that five times fast!) to my East-coast friend!

Then, Nicole decided to be completely and totally awesome and take my senior portraits for me! I’ve been shooting a lot of senior portraits for my fellow graduates-to-be in the past month, so it was weird–and fun!–to get on the other side of the lens for a change. I think Nicole appreciated shooting someone who knew what it’s like to have awkward subjects who don’t know how to pose, so it went pretty smoothly! Here’s my favorite one:

Thanks, Nicole! I love them. And don’t worry, fashion-conscious readers, I have since gotten my roots touched up.

After a meal at the dining hall with my friends–hey, I had to give her the full Pomona College experience!–we spent a lazy evening planning out the next phase of our adventures, which began bright and early the next day! We met Alix (of Cute and Delicious), her boyfriend Shawn, and some of their friends at Pure Luck Restaurant in LA for lunch. After being greeted with a Tupperware of gorgeous, fresh-baked cupcakes (Alix, you’re too sweet!), we sat down to experience la comida de LA.

There are many reasons that Pure Luck has always been on my list of must-visit restaurants, but one of them is their insane selection of fried appetizers! I generally avoid fried foods, but I always make exceptions for special items–like, um, let me see, fried pickles and gnocchi?

Fried Dill Pickle Chipssliced dill pickles, dusted with cornmeal and fried in peanut oil–and Potato Palssmall potato dumplings (gnocchi), lightly fried in peanut oil.

Both were served with a special veganaise-based barbecue dipping sauce. Crispy AND cute–who can resist anything called a “potato pal?!”It just wants to be your friend and pop into your mouth.

If fried appetizers are the first reason I’ve always hungered for Pure Luck, jackfruit is definitely the second! Fruit…that’s used as a substitute for meat…what?…

In order to wrap my mind around this concept, I ordered the Tacos, one with jackfruit and one with grilled tofu to hedge my bets. I was served a plate of soft corn tortillas, each with their respective filling, topped with diced onions, cilantro, and fresh tomatillo salsa. Nicole gave me her extra cilantro because she’s one of the unlucky few who think it tastes like soap. Turns out, unripe jackfruit, like tofu, really has no flavor of its own and easily absorbs taco seasonings. In other words, it was delicious, and had a texture that others have described as being similar to “pulled pork” (I wouldn’t know!).

After lunch, we walked across the street to Scoops, then sadly parted ways. Nicole and I decided to spend the rest of our afternoon window shopping on Melrose (and walking off all that fried food!). Okay, so maybe we actually shopped a little. But we mostly just strolled along the iconic street taking photos. I nabbed this shot in a flower shop before the owner kindly told us to stow our cameras:

All of a sudden, it was dinner time! Funny how that happens. Good thing Melrose Ave. was also home to M Café, a macrobiotic, mostly-vegan gem. M Café has a mouth-watering menu, but they also have a wonderful salad bar display, so that’s what I opted for. Kale with Spicy Peanut Dressing? I’ll take it.

Curried Tempeh Salad? Sure, why not!

Kale, peanut butter, and tempeh are pretty much the three keys to my heart, so M Café had me at hello. If they’d had kabocha squash, I might have gone into foodie shock–close call!

I also tried one of the Inari Sushi. I hate nori seaweed, so sushi made with dried tofu skins (a.k.a. inari) is an exciting alternative that I didn’t want to pass up. Stuffed with brown rice and topped with lotus root, this little bundle was good looking, but a little bit dry. Still, it was fun to try.

Bellies full, we schlepped off to our downtown LA hotel that my darling mother was generous enough to book for us, watched Saturday Night Live, and fell asleep with visions of babycakes dancing in our heads…

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Nic and Nora Do Santa Monica

And by Nic, I mean Nicole from Another One Bites the Crust, everyone’s favorite New Haven vegan blogger! I picked up Nicole bright and early Thursday morning outside the West Hollywood Buffalo Exchange, and we headed straight to Santa Monica for a lovely lunch at Real Food Daily. This was our first time meeting each other in person, but we’ve been blogging/Twitter/Facebook/Gmail/Flickr (yes, basically every social media platform possible) friends for so long, that it was more like picking up an old friend–nothing could be more natural!

Sitting at a lovely inner-balcony table overlooking RFD’s juice bar, Nicole and I enjoyed some damn good salads.

The East coaster got her SoCal on and ordered the Mexicali Salad, while I, being the peanut butter fiend that I am, ordered the Yin Yang Salad: Cabbages, romaine, carrots, cucumbers, edamame, cilantro, sesame seeds, peanuts, and peanut dressing (I also added blackened tempeh!)

From there, we headed to the Santa Monica Beach and Pier. Besides her general awesomeness, the best part of having Nicole here was that I wasn’t the only one walking around with my DSLR glued to my face (in and out of restaurants)!

Taken of each other crossing the bridge to the beach.

If there’s one place that’s exemplary for taking random portraits of interesting strangers, it’s the pier. Kids, cyclists, beach bums, fishermen, artists, straight up creepy men…

 

Forgot to mention the ever-present dogs on music stands in that list…

This guy was such a ham! I usually try to sneak my people-watching portraits, but he couldn’t get enough!

After a grueling afternoon of window shopping, portraiture, foodie chatter, and walking with the sand between our toes (ha!), these two vegan bloggers needed some coffee. And not just any coffee–good coffee. Intelligentsia coffee. Silverlake is kind of on the way back to Claremont? Maybe?

Oh, what a soy cappuccino it was. The microfoam! The latte art! The humanity! Just kidding. Funnily enough, it was cheaper than Nicole’s $4.00 cup of specialty joe.

Silverlake also happens to be a hot spot for vegan restaurants. After debating between nearby Flore and Cru, we went with Cru. I guess we were more in the food for fancy schmancy than comfort food.

(Nicole’s photo)

We ordered the Bruschetta Rustica (Sunflower bread with traditional chopped tomato and basil spread and cashew cheese) to share, but it turns out Nicole really can’t do cashew cheese, so I may or may not have gotten a whole raw appetizer to myself! Sorry, Nicole, but I loved it! Not quite as good as Better Life’s raw bruschetta though…

For entrées, we both ordered the Body Ecology Bowl:

Sautéed kabocha squash and spinach over quinoa with homemade sauerkraut and salad. The kabocha was phenomenal (but what kabocha isn’t?), but it didn’t really seem to go well with the strange mélange of pickled vegetables. Next time, I’d order one of Cru’s classy raw entrées. Also, I think their desserts might use honey, so beware, vegans!

So much for day ones. Days two and three to come!

Better Life Cuisine

Better life, better food, better portion sizes, better prices, better…enzyme activity? Why hadn’t I been here yet?!

That’s pretty much exactly what I was thinking as I left Better Life Cuisine in Santa Monica a few nights ago after finishing a lovely raw meal that pretty much satisfied all of the above criteria. Of course, part of the answer to that question is that it’s a relatively new restaurant, and another part is that it’s an hour away (or more with traffic!). But theoretically, it’s a good question.

The name of the restaurant is on a forward-facing sign–but trust me, this is indeed a photo of Better Life!

Better Life is an all-vegan, all-organic, all-raw café, juice/smoothie bar, and restaurant (complete with a vast and well-stocked pastry case!). I know, it sounds too good to be true. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much trouble deciding what to order at a restaurant! I eventually settled on the Fiesta Platter. I love mezze platter type things (like The Voracious Vegan and her love for “snacky” meals!), and it meant I didn’t have to choose between trying different things.

The Fiesta Platter consists of Tuna, salmon, fried beans, guacamole, ricotta, bruschetta, pico de gallo, and flax crackers. As you can see, Better Life labels all their menu items as what they’re supposed to resemble, without really telling you what each one actually is. It makes ordering a little more interesting than it would otherwise be, but I think it’s cute.

The bruschetta (in front) was easily the best thing on the platter. After my first bite, I definitely wished I had just ordered the straight-up bruschetta plate! It’s Better Life’s “breadbar” topped with creamy pesto sauce, tomatoes, basil, and their parmesan. The breadbar was perfectly chewy, and the pesto sauce was out of this world!

Then, there were the five patés/salads (four of them nut-based): salmon, tuna, guacamole, fried beans, and ricotta, all of which were drenched in a delicious yet unnamed sauce. Gotta love the element of mystery. In fact, it was a mystery to me which lump was which until I asked my server! :)

The salmon and tuna were sweet and not too fish-like, but since I’ve never had fish and the smell grosses me out, something about them being named “salmon” and “tuna” salads put me off. I can’t even eat veggie sushi because the fishy taste of the nori makes me gag–it’s a problem, people! Considering that visceral hesitation, the fact that I still kind of enjoyed them says a lot!

I didn’t love any of the patés on their own, but piled together on the flax crackers with some “rawmesan” they made for a super satisfying meal! And that’s not to mention the perfect salad I had on the side…

Yes, that’s a kale salad! Possibly coated in cashews and nutritional yeast? Whatever it was, me likey. By the way, every entrée at Better Life comes with a side salad, and as you can see, they don’t skimp on the portions!

Speaking of salad’s, this is Better Life’s “Egg” Salad! I know–unbelievable. I got another meal to go (so I could have one less mediocre dining hall meal the next day!) and I chose this salad to go with it. I think it’s enough of a triumph to make vegan egg salad, let alone raw vegan egg salad! This wonderful dish consists of veggies (chives?) and shredded coconut meat in a dreamy, creamy yellow cashew-based sauce! It might not have tasted exactly like egg salad, but that’s only because it was better. Plus, it leaves you feeling glowing, not heavy. :)

The actual entrée I got to go was the Lasagna (we’ve all heard “rawsagna” one too many times, haven’t we?).

Marinara sauce, zucchini, mushroom, grilled onion, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella cheese.

Three different raw vegan cheeses in one lasagna? Yes, please! The ricotta was awesome in this lasagna–much better than it was on its own in the platter. I asked for a side of that heavenly pesto sauce to go with it too…

It rounded out all the flavors so well, that I’m almost ready to call Better Life to tell them they should permanently incorporate it into the dish!

If you can’t tell, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at Better Life Cuisine. Not only was the food a veritable party in the mouth (or is that just because I had the fiesta platter?), but there was so much of it! Raw restaurants are known for tiny portions, and Better Life spits in the face of that stereotype. And to get that giant, raw, organic entrée with a salad for only 10-12 bucks total? Now that‘s the way to bring raw into the mainstream!

Holy Yum Yum

It’s about time I give a shout out to one of my new favorite cookbooks, which I finally got a chance to cook from over winter break. The funny thing is, this book is so beautiful and its recipes so inventive, that it became one of my favorites from the moment I bought it, months before I could actually whip up any of its crave-worthy recipes. If it’s not obvious from the title, I’m talking about Vegan Yum Yum (I’m linking to it so you can buy it right now! It’s that good…) by Lauren Ulm, author of the beloved Vegan Yum Yum blog.

As I flipped through the book, I quickly realized that my usual post-it note system for marking “must make” recipes was not going to fly. My post-it notes were running low, and what’s the point of marking every single page anyways? With a beautiful color photo (taken by Lauren herself!) for every single recipe – recipes that are not only mouthwatering, but healthful and easy – can you blame me? Plus, sweet potatoes and chickpeas abound in Yum Yum’s recipes, which pretty much sealed the deal.

My first venture into the book was before I even had the book. Let me explain: the Super Quick Tomato Basil Cream Pasta has been on Lauren’s blog for more than a year, and one chilly frigid night in Scotland, I decided it was the only thing that could warm me up, heart and soul. Incredibly simple and “super quick” indeed, this recipe has become a staple for both lazy nights and dinner parties. It’s that darn good.
The first recipe we tried from the book once it was actually released were the Miniature Napoleons with Eggplant Cream, a.k.a the cutest appetizers in the world, which my mom assembled for a good friend’s birthday party. If you don’t have the book, the recipe’s here.

With preparing the eggplant, cutting all the veggies-to-be-roasted into uniform circles, and stacking everything up, these are superrr labor intensive (hehe, good thing it wasn’t me doing the labor!), but totally worth it. We had to tweak the eggplant cream a little (I think we added extra cashews, lemon juice, and salt), but once it was tweaked, it was damn good. :) These were a huge hit at the party, so make ’em if you’re looking to impress and have some free time.

This is the Golden Chickpea and Artichoke Salad atop some romaine lettuce. This salad was bursting with fresh, simple flavors, and the crushed toasted almonds gave it a nice crunch. I think it’d be better on its own though, but it was my decision to serve it on romaine, so can’t fault the book there. And, yes, that is an artichoke bowl.

Another recipe that really caught my eye was the Delicata Squash Stuffed with Cherry Apple Almond Couscous. Obviously, a beautiful presentation…

I used this roasted brown rice couscous from Whole Foods, and I really liked its earthiness paired with the sweetness of the apples, cherries, and squash. A drizzle of agave-mustard sauce brings it all together. Since I prepared this meal with my good friends Allison and Vince, it was all the more special!

Okay, so the next two meals may not be quite as beautiful as the former (though they’re still pretty nice looking), but they were hands down two of the best meals I’ve ever made. So just prepare yourself.

I’m serious. Are you preparing?


Italian Rice and Beans. A modest name for a scandalously good dish. This is why having a photo for every recipe in a cookbook is valuable–if I hadn’t seen the wonderful burst of color and texture in Lauren’s photo, I may have skipped this recipe!

It’s just brown rice, spinach, Great Northern beans, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and lemon zest with a few seasonings, but, holy yum, is this good. Let’s just say I fully attribute my half marathon performance the next morning to this carbo-loaded dish’s excellence. I know everyone hates this expression (and I do too!), but this was a party in your mouth.

Aren’t the colors gorgeous? Nature is an artist.

Another colorful and unbelievably delicious recipe in Vegan Yum Yum is the Creamy Sweet Potato Bake.

Sweet potatoes, kale, and pasta (I used TJ’s brown rice fusilli), drenched in a tangy, cashew-based alfredo sauce, topped with bread crumbs (I used brown rice ones–noticing a trend here?), and baked until crispy on the outside. Comfort food at its finest.

I would make this dish again, and again, and again. And maybe again.

Sick Days

As it often happens, my rainy day was followed by a sick day, or two (maybe three–we’ll see how I feel tomorrow). Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that my current bout of sickness has a lot more to do with my sick–yet wonderful!–suitemate and extreme levels of stress than it does the rain, but I like having a natural sequence to my posts. :)

I have a super sore throat, and last night I was running a bit of a fever, as far as I could tell. I hate, hate, hate taking conventional medicine unless it’s absolutely necessary, so I’ve been doing what any antibiotic-weary, holistically-minded vegan would do: loading up on vitamins and stuffing my face with ridiculously healthy food.

When I first woke up yesterday morning, I knew I’d need a fresh veggie juice. I basically asked for everything except for fruit, and ended up with kale/spinach/dandelion/parsley/garlic/ginger/lemon/bell pepper/cucumber/carrot juice! Whoa! Lotsa great cold/virus-fighting ingredients in there–especially the garlic, ginger, and lemon!

I followed that up with a Raw Greens Salad, to go.

It’s almost like my juice, deconstructed! Dandelion, kale, collard greens, cucumber, green onion, carrot, lemon, olive oil, garlic, and sea salt. Fresh and invigorating.

I really miss not having my leafy greens in the dining halls, so every once in a while, it’s nice to splurge on an overpriced salad like this.

I also picked up some Amy’s Split Pea Soup, because who wants anything but liquefied food when it feels like your throat is being shredded from the inside out? Even my raw salad was a bit hard to get down.

Anddd, more garlic and ginger. I’ve been taking garlic in the form of minced raw cloves for its antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, and making lots of fresh ginger tea for its anti-inflammatory properties. Wow, can you tell I worked for Dr. Weil much? I’ve also been drinking more than my fair share of coconut water (vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes!) and hot water with lemon.

Finally, I couldn’t resist buying a kabocha squash at the health food store. Besides soup, roasted squash has to be the perfect sick day food. Comforting, warm, and filling, but still light and easy to digest.

I sliced it up, slathered it in coconut oil, sprinkled it with sea salt, and popped it into a 400 F oven for exactly 40 minutes. It came out perfectly.

And yeah, the only thing better than roasted vegetables is roasted vegetables with hummus! (Well, peanut butter is better than everything, but that’s besides the point).

I just puréed some chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, lemon, cumin, sea salt, and a splash of water in my Magic Bullet, and voilà! Fresh hummus! (I stopped eating the hummus in the dining hall when I found out from my friend who did a “Real Food” assessment of our school for her thesis that its ingredients include a ton of weird additives and modified food starches–blech!)

If you haven’t tried roasted vegetables (especially squash, sweet potatoes, and potatoes) with hummus, you’re seriously missing out. It’s one of those food combinations that I wouldn’t mind living off of. I just love the contrast of the warm, chewy veggies and the cool, creamy hummus. Broccoli and cauliflower also rock with hummus because the florets soak it all up!

The last delicious bite.

It’s Summer! Smoothie, Salads, No-Bake Cookies, and Watermelon

First, I’m glad so many of you have entered the giveaway from my last post, and you have a few more days to enter if you haven’t yet! I know you want some fruit & nut bars…

I’m not fully back to normal yet, but my mom suggested I go back to eating more or less the way I normally do, so that’s what I’ve been doing!

For breakfast yesterday following a short 3-mile run, I had a Triple Blueberry Smoothie! A cup of frozen blueberries blended with a bottle of Wildwood Probiotic Blueberry Soymilk and some psyllium husk, topped with cinnamon and some dried blueberries. Obviously hoping to rev my digestion with the probiotics and psyllium!

Getting sick of this bowl yet? The probiotic soymilk was good–a slightly strong and funky soy taste, but most of Wildwood’s products are like that, and blended with the blueberries, it was perfect.

For lunch I had my first large mostly raw salad in a couple weeks! (I’d been eating a lot of steamed veggies and whole grains). It included mixed greens, romaine lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, and some Hickory Baked Tofu (from Whole Foods). I topped it with Creamy Miso Salad Dressing from The Vegan Table and some sesame seeds!

The dressing recipe is super simple with four ingredients–just miso, rice vinegar, olive/sesame oil, and water if I remember correctly. I thought it was a bit salty, so I added 1/3 block of silken tofu, some extra water for blendability, and a squirt of agave because I thought it needed something special. I liked it a lot better after that (I’ve done the silken tofu dressing trick before–it decreases the calories per serving and makes dressings decadently, lusciously creamy).

I also made Swallow-It-All Banana Balls from The Everyday Vegan. Okay, I love Dreena, but I can’t believe she named them that! There are so many sexual innuendos in the name of this recipe, it’s ridiculous! I bet my blog will come up for naughty Google searches now.

Anyways, regardless of their unfortunate title, these no-bake cookies are as tasty as they are wholesome, and the perfect treat for summer. With no added sugar or salt, these balls simply contain bananas, minced apple, dates, peanut butter, coconut, oats, cereal (I used Flax Plus), and flax meal. They’re then rolled in carob powder and more coconut. I love poppin’ a couple of these before I run. They’re just sweet enough from the dates and definitely nutritionally dense enough to be a pre (or post) -workout snack. Nice and chewy too! You’ll swallow them all! Haha.

This morning I ran 7 miles! I know it’s not that much, but it’s the longest run I‘ve ever done. Plus, it was 90 degrees! My friend told me that you can generally run double the distance you’re currently running, so I can stop training now, right? 7 x 2 = 14 > 13.1. Amen.

Anyways, when I got back (and jumped in the pool, obviously!), all I wanted was a huge a** chunk of ice cold, refreshing watermelon:

I had my last couple pieces with cracked black pepper because, if people can put salt on watermelon, then I can put pepper! It was a nice contrast with the intense sweetness of the watermelon.

Lunch today was simple, yet wonderful. I had roasted sweet potato wedges and hickory baked tofu over a fluffy bed of kamut grain and baby spinach. I topped it with some dried cranberries and a couple tablespoons of some leftover Balsamic Maple Sauce from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan I had sitting in the fridge (this is maybe the best sauce in the world, by the way. Tangy, sweet, and salty all at once without being overpowering–GREAT with roasted veggies and autumn flavors).

The sweet taters are just lightly sprayed with olive oil, drizzled with maple syrup, and coated in chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, sea salt, and black pepper, and roasted for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, flipping halfway through. I could eat this all day, everyday! Next time I’m adding some onions and maybe some toasted pecans!

Autumn Tempeh Salad in July

I know, I know. But it was calling my name. And we had a winter squash from our CSA, so it’s not as if you can reprimand me for the lack of seasonality or increase in food miles… ;)

The Autumn (or Winter) Tempeh Salad is from The Vegan Table, and as the first legit non-dessert recipe I’ve made from it, I have to say I’m impressed! Roasted squash tossed with tempeh cubes, dried fruit (I used cherries instead of raisins), red onions, celery, parsley, tamari, and a great spice blend–what’s not to like?

The flavor combo was really unique and well-rounded. The sweetness of the cherries and squash paired with the earthiness of the tempeh, and the light freshness of the parsely…man! My dad and I just loved this dish! Super healthy too; the only oil in the recipe is the drizzle used to roast the squash.

To make the meal even healthier (yay!), we served the salad alongside some lightly sautéed rainbow chard with garlic. Happy bellies.