Friday, 30 August 2013

24 hours in Vancouver

After Vida Vegan Con my friend and fellow blogger Randi and I managed to fit in a whirlwind trip to Vancouver, we took the train and a bus which was super fun. The views from the train were beautiful and we both love going on fun train journeys. 

Despite taking along a huge bag of snacks for the ride we were ravenous when we arrived. Our large group managed to get a table at Bandidas Taquiera even thought they were super busy and we set about ordering immediately. We started with a huge plate of Pascale Marc Nachos to share which came topped with vegan cheese, onions, sweet peppers, corn and jalapeños on yellow corn tortilla chips. The vegan cheese used here was Daiya and these were suuuuper Daiyaey, something I definitely enjoy on nachos but which was a little much on a plate of enchiladas as Randi discovered. 

After the nachos I moved swiftly on to taco's, you could choose 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 taco's with any of 6 combinations of fillings. Because the nachos were huge and I'd heard the fillings were plentiful I went for four tacos which was just right.

I picked two Wolf & Goat tacos, one Bobcat and a Stella.

The Wolf Goat sounded amazing, hence ordering two, and I wasn't disappointed. They came topped with fresh guac, purple cabbage, pinto beans, fresh red salsa, cheese and sour cream. The Stella was a little more out there for a taco but I loved the combination of fresh spinach, roasted butternut squash, salsa, pinto beans, cheese & sour cream. The Bobcat was almost breakfast tacoesque with it's roasted potatoes, caramelised onions, purple cabbage, pinto beans, cheese, sour cream & roasted salsa. I have to say that I loved them all. I wish there was a taco place with such inventive flavours and great vegan options here in Brighton - if anyone knows of one lemme know!

After a morning exploring the sea wall and chasing a black and red squirrel (yes, black and red! I know!) around a park Randi and I stopped off at Panz to sample their set lunch menu.

Panz is an all vegan Chinese place located in downtown Vancouver and apparently the name translates to Compassion. Each lunch set starts with the daily soup and as I'm the worlds slowest soup drinker I was glad to see that it was a small portion!

I then picked a spring roll, steamed 5 grain rice and tofu with black beans and mixed vegetables.

I loved the presentation of this meal and everything about it was delicious. I especially loved the tofu and black bean sauce dish because all of the vegetables, including aubergine, baby corn, carrot, mange tout and Chinese mushrooms, were prepared beautifully and it didn't seem even a little greasy.

After lunch we walked to Gastown to check out the area and to do the tourist thing at the famous steam clock and on the way we stumbled upon The Juice Truck.

This vegan (at least I'm 99% sure it was entirely vegan) food cart had some delicious looking sweet treats and we couldn't resist a raw cacao coconut bar.

This delicious maple sweetened walnut, raisin and pecan stuffed bar was topped with a delicious layer of coconut flakes and it's probably the nicest raw bar-style dessert I've ever eaten. I was tempted to double back to pick up another one but we were running late to meet someone at Edible Flours and we needed to get walking. As it turns out it's quite a long walk from Gastown to Edible Flours West Broadway location and we gave up halfway, got on a bus and were still about 20 minutes late.

The bakery case was full of so many delicious treats that it was hard to choose what to order.

In the end we picked three things to share, a brownie, a cinnamon roll and a croissant. My favourite had to be the brownie, what can I say, I heart brownies and this one was super gooey and had the much sought after crackle top.

My favourite thing had to be the brownie, what can I say, I'm a sucker for a great brownie and this one was super gooey and had the coveted crackle top. As if this place wasn't already red enough the lovely owner gave us a fresh-from-the-oven peanut butter cookie to share, no charge. How awesome!

This became my joint favourite Edible Flours treat, I love a freshly baked cookie and this was up there with the best of 'em. I'll definitely be re-visiting this vegan bakery if I end up in Vancouver again, delicious baked goods in a fun, friendly establishment. What more could you wish for?

Whilst we were at EF we got chatting to a dude who was also travelling and reviewing vegan restaurants and we ended up bumping into him at our choice of dinner spot, 3G, so random!

As a massive mock meat fan 3G was right up my street and I dived right in with an order of Vegetarian Chicken Drumsticks fried with pepper and salt. I loved these and if they were on sale at a place near my house I might just eat them all the damn time.

My main was equally delicious, I ordered the Fresh Bean Curd Sheet with Broccoli and Mushrooms. Three of my favourite foods in one dish, how could you go wrong?

This came with a side of perfectly steamed brown rice and was one of my food highlights of the whole trip. The bean curd was beautiful and tender and the broccoli still had that perfect crunch to it. It was such a great meal and as I often think when travelling, I wish it were closer!

I'd never been to Canada before and I was really glad we made it even though it was for a super short time, don't worry though Canada I think I'll be back!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Having a Blast.

The last week's been full of awesome hang outs, meet up's and, of course, food. When Green Day announced a last minute show at Brixton Academy there was no question about it, we were going and we were going early - not to queue for hours to get on the barrier as I would have 10 years ago but to pay two of my favourite vegan spots a visit, Ms Cupcake and Franco Manca

I don't get to go to Brixton often enough and it's actually been well over a year since my last Franco Manca sourdough pizza experience.

Franco Manca don't do any speciality toppings or vegan cheese just plain simple tomato topped veggie covered pizza. You can tell that they trust in their preparation of the classics because there's a tomato, basil and garlic pizza right there on the menu. No cheese, no veggies, nothing. Just pizza at it's simplest. I was feeling fancy so I threw some mushrooms on mine.

This was the first time Nick had visited Franco Manca and he was super impressed by the quality of the pizza. Franco Manca are cheap by both London and pizza standards and they even have a great vegan beer on the menu, Green Daemon, which I'll be ordering again next time.

Obviously Green Day were awesome, it's not often that they play smaller (ha, I know, Brixton's not small but it is in comparison to a stadium!) venues these days and it's certainly not usual for them to play Dookie from front to back! It was epic and we had Ms Cupcake treats to munch on the slow train back to Brighton.

Friday saw a sunny start to the bank holiday weekend and I just had to pop to Street Diner to check out new kid on the block, Toston Tolon, and their vegan friendly arepas.

Toston Tolon's vegan option comes stuffed with black beans, plantains and chilli sauce. Unfortunately both of the cooling parts of the arepa experience, cheese and a mayo based dressing, are not vegan meaning that this delicious arepa burnt my mouth like crazy!

It was definitely delicious and if you have a better spice tolerance than me (um, so that's everyone then!) you should definitely give this unique vegan option a whirl. I would love it if enough vegans visited that it would be worth it for TT to add vegan cheese to their repertoire, I think the Veganic Pizza Cheese would be perfect here.

Obviously I had to chase it with some baklava from Sultans Delight because I'm actually physically incapable of walking past Brighthelm gardens on a Friday without grabbing a piece.

Sunday saw me breaking a long-time boycott and trying out Brighton's Loving Hut. The Brighton Vegans meet up group converge upon Loving Hut every Sunday and as well as the forging of new friendships there was the additional bonus of this frankly delicious Ocean Burger and chips.

The burger itself was made up of two delicious nori coated, breaded, and fried fish fillets, creamy coleslaw and, oddly, an apple slice which I removed after one bite and ate on the side. I'll definitely be ordering this again and I'd also like to try their Scramble Tofu Roll, Happy Chick'n Burger and Sweet and Sour Soya Balls. What can I say, I'm weak, consider this boycott well and truly over!

Sunday night saw Nick and I heading to Moshimo to learn to roll our own sushi. It was such a fun class, they'd never run the class with vegans before and whilst there were a couple of teething problems they'd thought it all through pretty well. We'd let them know about our dietary restrictions in advance so we had a totally different box of ingredients which included avocado, mock duck teriyaki, asparagus, cucumber, vegan cheese, kampyo and teriyaki mushrooms as well as a little pot of oil to rub on our gloves because everyone else was using mayo. 

The guy leading the class was great and made making sushi seem so simple.

Me and my structurally dubious teriyaki mock duck gunkan, or battleship, sushi.

Nick being awesome at rolling some cucumber maki.

I would definitely recommend this class to other vegans, it was super fun and we ended up completely stuffed full of sushi. There are even two drinks included in the price, saki or Asahi beer. The only thing they really need to change to make this class more vegan friendly is to have a separate chopping station for fish free sushi, going first at the chopping board worked well the first time around but we were much less comfortable chopping our second rolls on the board even in spite of the clean knife.

On Monday I met up with some people from the Brighton Vegans meet up group again for another Street Diner visit. I'd heard on Twitter that Honeycomb Cakes were trial running a raw, gluten free, vegan brownie so I headed straight there to grab one.

This raw brownie was made with both dates and prunes which made it extra sweet and delicious. It was a little crumbly in places but it mainly held together well. I'll definitely be buying it again and at £1 I think it's a total bargain. I'd love to see this adorable cake stand back with even more vegan options next time. Our group actually ended up eating three of these before heading to our next destination, Boho Gelato.

As soon as we joined the line snaking out of the door we were wondering what was going to be on the far left side of the cabinet where the vegan options are located. I actually squeeked a little when I saw the PB Sea Salt Caramel and I definitely willed the people in front of us in line to choose something else!

This was the perfect way to end the bank holiday weekend, great company and great ice cream. What more could you want?!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Almost that time again...

You guys! It's almost Vegan MoFo time! If you're thinking that it's been less than a year since the last time I blogged every day for a month, you'd be right. Last year's MoFo was in October and this year we've moved it forward by a month so that we can have a little more daylight and a little less pumpkin, two things I'm definitely excited about.

Just incase you haven't heard of it before Vegan MoFo, or Vegan Month Of Food, is an annual month long blogging event where everyone taking part tries to eat, cook and blog about vegan food as much as possible. The idea is to shoot for a post every weekday but for the last three years I've posted every day during the month, I'll be attempting to do that again this year.

It's become a MoFo tradition for me to reflect on last years posts and in doing so I just spent thirty minutes gazing at photos from Austin where I began last years MoFo month. Just look at this Peanut Butter Cup Sundae from Sweet Ritual.

When we got back from Austin I recreated this hot dawg and waffle fry meal from Frank's on Football Food Sunday.

I also took part in the great MoFo Kitchen Tour...

...made one of the most delicious pies ever on Pie-Day Friday...

...and discovered one of my favourite ever sandwiches on Cookbook Challenge Tuesday; the Monte Cristo Reuben from 500 Vegan Recipes.

This year I'm moving away from some of my regular themes, sorry Cookbook Challenge fans, because I'm going to be travelling and blogging from the road for half of the month. As I'm sure regular readers of my blog have noticed I'm terrible at blogging from the road so this is going to be a huge challenge for me. I'm hoping to stick to my themes but I suspect that some may fall by the wayside and end up being replaced with photos of me eating doughnuts!

As is traditional I'm going with daily themes and here they are...

Mac 'n Cheese Monday - This is one of the themes we came up with in the Vida Vegan Con MoFo Workshop and I'm running with it. I'll be posting about my favourite Mac 'n Cheese recipes as well as blogging about the Mac 'n Cheeses I'll be eating on the road.

Travel Tip Tuesday - General travel tips, from packing and planning to staying vegan on the road.

What I Ate Wednesday - Keeping it simple and showing you guys what I eat on a regular day whether I'm at home or away.

Thirsty Thursday - Another MoFo Workshop theme, I'm pretty sure one week will be about root beer!

Facsimile Friday - Re-creating some of my favourite foods from my American travel adventures.

Snoozeday Saturday - Breakfast in bed! These MoFo Workshop themes just keep on coming!

Football Food Sunday - This is the one theme from previous years that's sticking around but this year we'll actually be watching the 49ers games IN San Francisco! So excited!

As always I'm super excited to get blogging every day and I'll be writing round ups and running competitions over at the official Vegan MoFo blog just like last year. If you're still not sure if you're up for joining in with the MoFo fun pop over to the official blog and have a read of Katie's VeganMoFo On The Go post as well as mine on Official Themes and Blogging Prompts. It would be so awesome if everyone with a vegan blog would take part! You do only have until August 28th to sign up though so move fast.

Portland: Portobello & Departure Lounge

This is the third and final instalment in my Portland series (for now, maybe I'll get to go back one day), read parts one and two here and here.

One place I knew I had to visit during my stay was Portobello, I'd heard so much about it and whilst a greasy burger from a food cart out the back of a dive bar is probably more my style I wanted to fine dine it up with the best of 'em at this upscale vegan joint.

Stephanie, Mandee, Randi and I managed to snag a table just before the Vida Vegan Con hoards descended upon the city. We decided to go all out with starters, mains and desserts and Mandee and I started with the cheese plate which came with three kinds of cheese, baguette and quince paste. 

Honestly I was a tad disappointed with this plate, I know vegan cheeses are expensive but for $16 I was, um, a little surprised at quite how tiny this plate of food was. Maybe I'm just a philistine? I will say that everything on the plate was delicious and I believe that the cheeses were from Heidi Ho, Chao and Punk Rawk Labs; my favourite being the peppered cashew cheese.

Stephanie ordered the Beet Tartare which actually ended up being the highlight of the fine dining experience in my mind. This perfectly creamy cashew cheese and roasted beetroot dish was beautifully presented, came with plenty of delicious French bread, and, if this had indeed been served at a dive bar I'd have licked the plate.

Next up we have Asparagus Fries, we almost didn't order these which would have been stupid. Served in a cone to stop the light tempura batter from becoming soggy these crisp delicious fries were my second favourite part of the meal.

I think I ordered badly again with my main course because I really didn't love this Summer Pea Ravioli with Morels.

I love ravioli and I love both english peas and mushrooms but something about this dish missed the mark for me. I did however love Stephanie's Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables which was weird because normally I am not a gnocchi fan. The moral of this story is go to dinner with Stephanie, order what she orders, enjoy.

I couldn't pass on dessert because there was a Chocolate Hazelnut Bomb on the menu!

This chocolate explosion was topped with crunchy caramelised hazelnuts and it was an amazingly rich end to the meal which left everyone feeling stuffed to the point of bursting.

I would definitely go back to Portobello, the dishes I enjoyed still stick in my mind today (uuuhhhh that beet tartare) and I love that their menu changes with the seasons. If you go let me know what your favourites are!

Our next dining destination was Departure Lounge somewhere that I hadn't even heard of before Vida Vegan Con started, but after recommendations from both Isa and Grant Butler (VVC's restaurant review panelist) it seemed ridiculous not to pay them a visit.

Our group of four ordered many, many things to share and drove our not-so-food-photo-obsessed friend a little crazy with all of our picture taking. If you're reading this, sorry again. I still feel a little bad about being such an annoying dinner companion.

Departure Lounge is not a vegan restaurant but they do have a separate vegan menu and a commitment to creating out of this world vegan dishes. Good enough for me.

This dish of Wok Fried Brussels Sprouts with chilli, lime and mint was outstanding. I have no idea how anyone can make sprouts taste this good and on the strength of this dish alone I'd like to invite the chef to come and live with Nick and I. I'm sure Nick wouldn't mind once he tasted the food.

The next dish of Gingered Mushrooms came with sweet & sour rhubarb, watercress and ramp. As a lover of all things rhubarb I was delighted to see it represented in a savoury dish, breaking out of it's role as a filler of pies and crumbles. This was exceptional.

We ordered all of the sushi on the menu which included this Grilled Shiitake Roll with avocado, cucumber, scallion and carrot sauce which I adored.

Next up was the Ume Shisho Roll with pickled plums, cucumber and jalapeño. Whilst I loved the bold plum flavours in this dish I did (somewhat unsuccessfully) have to eat around the jalapeños!

The table also ordered these beautiful BBQ Tempeh Buns.

These steamed buns were stuffed with Korean BBQ sauce and spicy coleslaw. I didn't try one, I can tell when something's spicy enough that it'll kill my tastebuds and my dining companions agreed that it'd definitely push me over the edge!

This Greens and Seeds roll was the thing that got us all excited about Departure Lounge's menu. How could a place serving nooch sushi ever steer you wrong?! This roll was also stuffed with avocado, cucumber, herbs, pumpkin seeds & sesame and I'm pretty sure there was some wasabi or something in there too because this roll packed a strong horseradishy punch.

Last but by no means least the final part of our sushi selection hit the table, the Sweet Potato Tempura roll was a spicy miso spiked delight and I loved the addition of even more nori - delicious.

If I'm lucky enough to end up back in Portland this is somewhere I'll most certainly re-visit and now that I've blogged about it I'll be able to leave the iPhone in my bag and just enjoy the overall dining experience. The food here was stunning both in taste and presentation and I'd highly recommend it to any vegans with their sights set on Portland.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Portland Part 2

This is the second instalment of my Portland series, read Part 1 here.

One of my favourite PDX hangouts was the vegan friendly bar White Owl Social Club and it had nothing to do with this Mac & Cheese Burger...okay, that was a lie, it had EVERYTHING to do with this Mac & Cheese burger. That and the delicous drinks menu and bargaintastic happy hour. Oh and did I mention that they even have a black and white photobooth, so rad! Anyway, THE BURGER! Just look at it...

...isn't it just one of the best things you've ever seen?! It's mac and cheese, fried, in a bun, with a side of fries. That's the triple carb win right there. I don't think I need to say much more than this, I ate it five times in a week. 

I also visited on another occasion when I decided to branch out and Mandee and I shared a selection of goodies from around the menu. We went for the mac and cheese, which I thought was better in burger form. Fried pickles, um, amazing, I'm a total pickle convert. And the BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Burger with Fries. This was our attempt at ordering in a restrained manner, I love us!

Portland has a tonne of vegan friendly bars, I also went to both The Bye & Bye (where I took a terrible photograph of a delicious grilled cheese sandwich at 2am) and The Sweet Hereafter (where I hung out with many VVC attendees at the Unofficial Conference After-party).

I loved all three of these bars because of the plentiful outdoor seating, great drinks menus and the fact that food is served all hours. Whoever came up with the law saying that food must be served if alcohol is being served is a real winner! I wish we had bars like these in Brighton.

Alongside the super vegan friendly bars another thing I love about Portland is the Food Carts. Two of my most frequented carts were DC Vegetarian...

Both of these carts are situated Downtown on the corner of SW 3rd and Washington which means you can mix it up and order something from both carts if you wish. On more than one occasion I grabbed a breakfast sandwich or bagel with cream cheese from DC Veg and a Kale - Mango Smoothie from Sonny Bowl. The perfect breakfast combo.

Another highlight of the food cart scene was Homegrown Smoker. I've been wanting to visit this cart since I first heard about it back in 2011 and it certainly didn't disappoint. I was totally unable to choose between the Macnocheeto, a vegan mac 'n cheese burrito, and the Carolina Chick'n Sandwich so I went all out and ordered the Combo Platter instead.

The platter comes with your choice of two proteins, two sides and corn bread and I picked the Smoked Soy Curls, Smoked Chikn', mac no-cheese and STFU Puppies - corn fritters with remoulade sauce. My choices were definitely influenced by my chilli allergy / aversion and I was surprised that after discussing this with the person working that they still covered my chosen proteins with chilli sauce! It was all okay though, some careful scraping and liberal use of the remoulade came to the rescue and whilst this meal was still right at the top end of my heat tolerance it was totally amazing. 

This was the first time I'd ever tried Beyond Meat and I loved it, the texture was spot on and I still can't believe how meat-like it is. The soy curls were super smokey and flavourful and the mac no-cheese was out of this world delicious and creamy. I had no idea what to expect from the corn fritters but unsurprisingly I loved them and the corn bread was by far the best I've ever had. I will definitely be going back to Homegrown Smoker to order this again but next time I'll just be sure to specify no extra hot sauce!

There were plenty of other food carts I never got the chance to check out including The Cheese Plate, Native Bowl and Potato Champion. I did make it to Flavour Spot though and you can read about that here.

Moving back to brick and mortar vegan eateries Back to Eden is right up there with my favourite places in the world. On my first visit Nick and I just grabbed some soft serve, chocolate of course, which I insisted on topping with their house made caramel sauce even though the dude told me it was for ice cream not soft serve and it'd probably slide off.

He was totally wrong and it was brilliant, it even stayed on long enough for me to take a picture and it elevated my cone to the next level.

On my second visit with Randi I ordered the Quiche which was the most delicious quiche I've ever eaten vegan or not. It was perfect, really eggy and perfectly browned on top. Now, if only I'd managed to get the asparagus the right way up for the photo...

I followed my quiche with a 5" Strawberry Rhubarb pie, it had a perfect crumb topping and exactly none of it got saved for later!

Back to Eden is definitely on my re-visit list, the pastries and ice cream I tried were wonderful and if I'd had more time I could have stayed in there all day eating my way through their bakery case. I found out after my visit that Back to Eden is totally gluten free which blew my mind, I can't believe pastries this good were made without gluten and it makes me feel like I need to up my xgfx baking game.

One place I'd never envisioned myself checking out was Prasad but I'd heard so many good things about it over the weekend that I gave in and headed there with my slightly kale obsessed friend Randi. This restaurant is in the Pearl district and shares its space with a yoga studio, it was really busy when we visited but it was somehow still a relaxed and mellow environment - it must be all that yoga!

I'm not exactly sure what came over me when I ordered The Mightly Bowl which is made up of quinoa, steamed greens, lentils and a garlic tahini sauce. It was simple and tasty but looking at the menu there are so many more exciting choices!

I had a carrot and orange juice on the side which is one of my favourite juice combos. Whilst we were eating I noticed a note on the menu beneath The Mighty Bowl stating that Prasad believe that everyone deserves a warm, healthy, organic meal and therefor they offer this bowl on a donation basis, nobody is turned away. I think this is a wonderful thing for a business to do and they're not wrong, everyone does deserve a nutritious, filling, healthy meal no matter how much money they have. Nice one Prasad.

This last spot was probably the most surprising to me because I kinda went into it thinking, sure, bowls, how good can they really be? And, well, when you're at Canteen they can be pretty fanfuckingtastic!

I ordered the Portland Bowl which consists of a base of quinoa topped with steamed kale, baked maple tempeh, noochy cheese sauce, chopped local hazelnuts and grated carrot. They even have shakers of nooch so that you can go extra crazy with the cheesiness. This was a magnificent bowl and it's something I've been craving and working on recreating since I got home!

In the next instalment of my travel-ventures I'll be posting about two upscale Portland eateries, Departure Lounge and Portobello.