Monday, 29 June 2015

Austin : Fun, Food and Friends

I'm on the road again and reflecting on the truly amazing whirlwind that was my Austin adventure. It's taken a little longer than I'd like to blog about it because it turns out that finding working wifi whilst you're living in a van and staying at campsites is not as easy as you might think. My new tactic is to ask to try the wifi before committing to stay which is working out much better as you can tell by the fact that this post is live on the internet! I'm currently somewhere in-between Bremen and Berlin and my next post will get you up to date with my European adventures but first, Austin.

Y'all know I love Austin, I've got to have mentioned it a million times here, on Twitter and when we've hung out in person. I'm pretty much obsessed. But why? Well, super cool in-the-city things aside (I'm looking at you Barton Springs and Alamo Drafthouse) you're also a short-ish drive from some super cool scenery that just makes you feel like you're really in Texas!

There are also a multitude of swimming holes out in the hill country including the Blue Hole in Wimberley where we took a detour en route to Fredericksburg. Being outside makes me happy!

Why were were en route to Fredericksburg you ask?! Peaches of course! Fredericksburg is famous for totally delicious peaches and we weren't disappointed with our visit to one of the many pick your own farms there. As well as getting to wander amongst the peach trees we also checked out this beautiful meadow full of wildflowers. Wildflowers seem to be everywhere in the Austin area and I love them.

Back in Austin and no trip is complete without a trip to Panther Field House. FNL Forever.

Obviously food is one of Austin's major draws, there's vegan food all over the damn place, and not just any vegan food, really freaking great vegan food. One of my favourite spots is BBQ Revolution who, despite irritating me occasionally by being closed when their site said they should be open, make food that is just so damned great that I could go back there again and again and not get bored.

I order the Smokey Soy Curls, Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad and Coleslaw and on this occasion Nick dug into a plate of No-Bull Brisket, Mac-N-Cheese and the same pasta salad I went for. These BBQ Plates come with a slice of white bread and sides of pickles and onions.

The soy curls had an intense depth of flavour that I wasn't expecting, they were wonderfully smokey and peppery without being too hot to handle or overpowering the flavours of the sides, and the bacon ranch pasta salad, a new addition to the menu since my last trip, was the perfect accompaniment to the smokey curls. BBQ Rev's coleslaw is crunchy, creamy perfection and I love their commitment to doing BBQ right with that slice of white bread - no pandering to the average vegan's penchant for wholewheat. I miss this place a lot!

Right next door to BBQ Rev is Bistro Vonish who do things a little differently, Chef Craig is focussed on local and organic produce and this truck has a fine dining slant that can't be found anywhere else in Austin. With that in mind we obviously ordered the mac & cheese. 

To be fair to the rest of Chef Craig's delicious looking menu this is the only chilli / paprika free mac and cheese in town so I quite literally HAD to order it. I was so glad I did because wowza, this was some top notch mac, it was not only creamy and perfectly cheesy it had that wonderful crispy layer that I remember from my dairy based mac days and that I hadn't found since.

With daily changing menus and delicious specials (Mac & Cheese Kolache anyone?!) I can't wait to see this truck move into a brick and mortar later this year.

One brick and mortar that I'm head over heels for is Sweet Ritual, this super fun all vegan spot has a frankly ridiculous amount of choice including fun sundaes like this one, the RedHotVegans.Com Sundae, which has toasted marshmallows, chocolate sauce and crumbled graham crackers (kinda like a digestive Euro friends). It's So. Damn. Good.

My personal favourite Sweet Ritual memory from this trip had to be the day they decided to celebrate their half birthday by offering Conenuts... a soft serve cone with a Red Rabbit Bakery doughnut sandwiched in-between the two. OKAY! Of course Stephanie, Nick and I met up there as soon as she got off work and we proceeded to smear ice cream all over our faces whilst talking about the awesomeness of this dessert for a good while. I went with a vanilla lavender glazed doughnut and topped my soft serve with colourful sprinkles. It was joyous.

More joyous Austin memories were made at Arlo's, home of one of the best vegan burgers I've ever eaten. I've lost count of the number of times I've eaten this burger and despite now having to switch their regular Bacun Cheeseburger patty for the Chick'n patty it's still excellent. Strangely I might even like it more now.

Arlo's is situated downtown outside a queer friendly bar, is open late and now has sides to go with this beauty of a burger. What more d'you want?!

Pizza was a huge feature of my time in Austin and one of my fave' pizza experiences was the night I celebrated my birthday with a whole host of Austin buddies and outa towners at Via 313. They use Follow Your Heart cheese which is amazing on pizza and just incase you missed me raving about this pizza last time I visited it's really freaking great. It's Detroit style which means it has a well oiled deep crust (but not like Chicago style deep dish) that they bake the cheese right into. It's then topped with wonderfully flavourful marinara sauce and then, if you so wish, you can add veggies. I would like you to keep your veggies away from my pizza so I always order the Classic.

Post-pizza and far too many drinks later we payed one of Austin's late night karaoke establishments a visit and I tormented my friends with horribly out of tune versions of Aerosmith's Don't Want to Miss a Thing and Aqua's Barbie Girl, y'know, just to see if they really wanted to be friends with me! They seemed to find my awful outa tune singing amusing so I guess they're keepers.

I rounded out my Austin trip with a brilliant day spent with friends making epic pizza's, driving golf carts and hanging in the jacuzzi. Jessica and Wes from Maximum Salad had the genius idea to veganise Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Bites pizza which, as you can see, was a tremendous success.

You can watch the video of the whole pizza process here! I came up with mac and cheese pizza which was obviously brilliant and Stephanie surprised my taste buds with a cauliflower and popcorn tofu pizza which I was sceptical about but she was totally right. It was delish'.

Until next time Austin, until next time!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Vegan Tuck Box - Snack Box Review

Vegan Tuck Box was the UK's first Vegan Snack Box and after spotting them at vegan fairs all over the country I was beyond excited when they contacted me to see if I'd like to review their subscription box. They sent the classic box all the way to Austin, TX so that I could try it which was super nice of them and it arrived quickly and mostly in one piece!

There was one chocolatey treat that didn't make it thanks to the Texas heat (it had been on my doorstep in 35 degree heat for a few hours before I found it) which made it quite literally explode! No biggie though there were still 12 things packed inside ready for me to enjoy. 

Nick and I shared the box as it seemed a little mean to exclude him from the snacking fun and we started with the Quibbles sour cream and chive cashews, I was a fan - I like snacking on nuts and this unusual flavour was fun to nibble on. The Polar Dream White bar from Premium Chocolatiers was a new one to me, I'd heard of the brand but I hadn't tried anything from them before and from the name I was expecting white chocolate but this was a milk chocolate bar. Nick was super into it, it reminded me of sweet easter egg style chocolate which isn't my fave but I know a lot of people love that type of chocolate.

The Coco Caravan raw chocolate and caramel bar was more up my street, I really enjoyed nibbling on it and when I say nibbling I mean devouring like some kinda chocolate starved savage! The box also included Angelic gluten free sunflower seed biscuits, an Olly breakfast bar, some Nudie Snacks toasted coconut chips and a Pearls of Samarkand Himalayan mix which I'm saving for our European adventures, it'll be a great hiking snack. Sadly I had to give the righteous raspberry and sweet basil dressing, the Provamel rice and almond drink the Roots vegetable chips away to my Austin buddies as I was heading outa town because I just had waaay too many snacks and things to fit into my bags but they looked great and are just the kind of things I like to see in a snack box. As I'm allergic to peppers Nick munched on the sweet chilli salsa pea snacks which he thought were pretty mild and satisfyingly crunchy. From looking at the Vegan Tuck Box website the thing that exploded was a Torino Noir chocolate stem which OMG I would have looooved.

The box also included a bar by health foodie leaning company Go Macro. I'd previously enjoyed their chocolate peanut butter chocolate chip bar and I loved this peanut butter protein bar just as much. My only issue with them is that they call their bars "the tastiest and cleanest bar on the market", calling food "clean" goes beyond a pet peeve for me and strays way over the line into the it makes my blood boil zone. Food is not dirty unless it is literally covered in earth or blood or faeces or something else that's actually dirty. Saying that your food is "clean" implies that the Tofurky sandwich or vegan doughnut I'm munching on is somehow dirty and not good enough which is total and utter BS. Lacy J Davis wrote a post about this same thing just the other day and she articulates her feelings about the #eatclean phenomenon really well.

Go Macro's food shaming issues aside I enjoyed all of the snacks in the box. I thought it was really well rounded and would be good for old vegans, new vegans, people making the transition or even your non-vegan friend who just loves snack boxes. It's curated by long term vegans Kelly and Chrissy who scour the globe each month to fill the box with fun and delicious snacks. If this month is anything to go by they include a tonne of really great vegan treats and on top of that they donate 20p from each box to Hillside Animal Sanctuary which is super cool.

If you're interested in giving this subscription box a whirl just enter "blog20" at checkout to get 20% off of your first box. Oh and if peeking into one box isn't enough to sell you on Vegan Tuck Box greatness you can see contents of the last three boxes right here on their site.