March 30, 2015

Healing in Nature with Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing)

My mom, recently retired, has discovered HGTV. I can't blame her for her recent obsession given that there is literally nothing on the hundreds of channels on cable. Also, some of the shows are pretty awesome, and I was hooked on them during my initial illness recovery. Between HGTV and Food Network, I always had something interesting to watch.

Look closely. There are buds on this tree!
While HGTV and Food Network can be addicting, one channel I haven't watched in years is Animal Planet. From what I remember, they used to have good programming, but now it's become somewhat of an embarrassment (though they do air Whale Wars which gives them some props).

When I was at my parent's house over the holidays, they introduced me to a cool show called Treehouse Masters that was on Animal Planet, believe it or not. I was that kid that saw a tree and was halfway up it before anyone knew it, dreaming of one day having a treehouse to call my own. They watched a bunch of episodes while I was there, and I often took to brewing a hot cup of tea or golden milk at the end of an evening and joining them.

In one episode, they introduced the idea of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku as it's known in Japanese. I'm always interested in learning new terms that can grasp at meaning and be more expressive than the current confines of the English language allow. Shinrin-yoku is a rich and alive way to explain the healing that one can experience when immersed in nature.

Shinrin-yoku is the concept that by just being present in nature, the forest has healing effects on the body. The scientifically-proven benefits include:

  • a boost in immune function
  • lowering of blood pressure and stress levels
  • increased energy and focus
  • accelerated recovery from illness and injury
  • improved memory, mood, and sleep

As you might imagine, there are many other reported benefits that have not been scientifically proven. I find this idea fascination, and deep down I know it to be true. Until not so long ago, we were people of the natural world, not people trying to box it out.

Antimicrobial essential oils in wood, phytoncides, are thought to be responsible for many of the positive benefits of forest bathing. I am curious if some of the benefits could be created with essential oils and aromatherapy in times like winter when it's not always feasible to get my nature time in. It's definitely not the same thing, but it may be useful.

It was insanely cold here for the winter, and I was missing my walks through the woods so much. Nature helps me to process things, it recharges me when I'm fatigued, and it generally makes me feel more connected. Temperatures were in the negatives for a big part of the winter, and there were several times that I needed a walk deep in the woods. If I wanted to turn into a beautiful icicle statue, I could've tried to venture out. Alas, I had to stay inside. Though I missed my nature therapy, it turned out more brilliantly than I could've thought. I had to find another way to go within and replenish my spirits, and that's how I became intimately acquainted with meditation!

J, Tucker, and I have been meandering through tree-lined paths ever since the temperatures began to rise. Between the nature time and the warmer (40 degrees is warm, right?!) temperatures, I feel like I've awakened from a long period of hibernation. All of the birds singing their melodies would agree. And soon, we'll see blossoms on trees and lush green grass, and I'll be swooning over this bright, beautiful earth all over again.

March 27, 2015

More Vegan Cheeses Come to Pittsburgh!

After a second round of chao quesadillas, I went back to the store to pick up more of Field Roast's new and amazing chao cheese for J only to find that there was none on the shelves.

While I was back there, I noticed the new Follow Your Heart cheese that is similarly made with coconut oil and decided to pick that up instead. They were out of many varieties but still had the slices and blocks in a few flavors. Not formerly being anything remotely close to a dairy cheese lover, I couldn't figure out which flavor to purchase. I picked up the provolone for us to try out since as far as I can remember, I've never had vegan provolone. And since I haven't had dairy cheese in forever, J will be my resident tester to determine how provolone-like it really is!

Then, I saw something even more exciting. Whole Foods Pittsburgh now carries Heidi Ho Organics cheeses! The company, from Portland, Oregon, has been around for several years, and they have a large fan base out west. I've wanted to try their cheeses (like the chia cheeze and the hazelnut-based cheeses), but it's hard when the shipping costs as much as the product.

While doing research for this post, I realized that Heidi Ho had gotten a deal on Shark Tank which I'm sure explains the wider distribution of the product. After seeing the news stories online, I can vaguely remember my mom telling me about that. Cable shows have gotten so strange, but it's amazing to see vegan companies like Cinnaholic and Heidi Ho reaping the benefits of these new negotiation and competition-like shows.

I just picked these up and haven't yet had a chance to taste them, but you can look forward to a review of both of these cheeses very soon!

March 25, 2015

Product Review: Field Roast Coconut Herb Chao Cheese

This past fall, I was browsing the aisles of a co-op in Asheville, NC and I spotted a vegan cheese that I'd never seen before, Field Roast Chao cheese slices. I assumed that it was a product that had been out for some time. My mistake! There are new vegan cheeses launching all the time, and as someone who doesn't eat that kind of stuff often, it's hard to keep up with what's new and not. I do love to try new vegan cheeses out though because 1) J loves cheese and 2) I can recommend them to family, friends, new vegans and have actual experience behind my recommendation. Well, my curiosity was distracted by hemp tofu, an item I'd never tried but had been dying to, on the bottom shelf which I placed in my basket before walking away from the cold cases, vegan cheese far out of my mind.

As I was on my way back to Pittsburgh, I started seeing Chao on all of my social media. It was a growing wave of pictures from all across the country singing the praises of this cheese. I got back to Pittsburgh and couldn't find it anywhere. I was so mad that I had been standing right in front of it and didn't get any!

Recently, I told a friend about Chao cheese, and a few days later he texted me, "You have to try that Field Roast cheese. It's soooo good!". He travels a lot so I made sure that he was in Pittsburgh before excitedly telling J that we were finally gonna get to try this awesome cheese.

The next day, we took Tucker to the park and stopped at Whole Foods on our way home. I was going to buy ingredients for a specific recipe, but I didn't know what the cheese was like. I figured I could create something at home with what I already had.

First thing was first. When we got home, we cut open the package and broke off a corner for each of us. I really loved the oregano and black pepper in it. J loved the texture and said how much it tastes like cheese. It's been about 12 years since I've had dairy cheese, so I have to take his word for it!

We decided to make quesadillas. I put red peppers and spinach in mine. J did the same but also added Tofurky Italian sausage. We assembled our fillings in brown rice tortillas and cooked them in a skillet until the cheese was melted and the outside of the wrap was crisp.

Our impressions: 

Me: I really liked it. It was very creamy; it didn't spread out too much, become too liquidy, or ball up when it was cooling. It had nice depth of flavor, and I'd most definitely buy it again. It tasted like all the good things I remember about cheese and none of the bad ones. I hope that our Whole Foods gets the other two flavors in at some point because I'd love to try those as well.

J: He loved it. The first thing he said after taking a bite was, "This is pizza worthy!" which is high praise in his book. And even after we ate a full meal of quesadillas and roasted potatoes, all he was talking about was making a pizza with that cheese. He even started to get freaked out because it looked and tasted so much like dairy cheese to him.

The only downside I see - and it's such a small one - is that the package says, "Do not freeze". I'm not sure what the result would be texturally, but I'd imagine it messes it up enough that it's not worth it. Sometimes it's nice to throw a half used bag of Daiya into the freezer for later use, and I know some people (especially those who don't live close to stores that carry vegan specialty items) like to stock up their freezers with items like this.

I've established before that J has very strong cravings for foods from his pre-vegan days. The fact that he was speaking so highly of this cheese should mean a lot to any of you who really love and miss dairy cheese. There are a lot of great vegan cheeses out there, but for the price point, I'd say this is most comparable to dairy cheese out of all those I've tried.

Have you tried Chao? What did you make with it? What was your impression?

March 23, 2015

Vegans Create!: Upgrade Your Plant Milks

You'll hear it time and time again from new and seasoned vegans alike: "Veganism encouraged me to get creative." Learning a whole new way of eating can be daunting, for sure. But when the heart is all in, there is no stopping us.

My creative foodie self didn't fully awaken until two important events occurred:

Firstly, I had 2 jobs that fostered my culinary creativity. One was at a cafe which showcased organic ingredients and vegan-friendly options. It was there that I learned my beginner skills; knife skills, flavor pairings, basic recipe development, etc. Following that, I worked at a raw vegan cafe and learned even more creative ways to approach food, this time from the raw food perspective.

What was most important in these jobs was that I was encouraged to explore my enthusiasm for food, and my managers took an active interest in helping me, answering all of my questions, and giving me the freedom to express myself through my job responsibilities. Needless to say, it wasn't the typical kitchen cook experience. Have you ever read Kitchen Confidential? Now that's a more accurate depiction of working in kitchens!

The second important event that unleashed my creativity was when I switched to eating mostly whole, unprocessed vegan foods. I did this for my health, during a dark period of illness, and so regaining my health was incentive enough to stick to my new path. Stick to the path I did, and I wanted to do it right. I read nutrition books and learned about different foods and what they provide for our bodies. I wanted to squeeze every bit of nutrition out of the foods that I could, and I wanted to feel as vibrant as the summer sun.

With my steadfast motivation, I worked up a storm in the kitchen with every spare moment that I had. In this phase of my life, I grew more than I ever imagined that I could. I've embraced my relationship with earth's nutritious gifts, and in turn I've been enriched in body, mind, and spirit.

This post is the first of a new series here, Vegans Create!, in which I hope to demonstrate easy ways that we can creatively satisfy our whole selves through our compassionate diets. Today, I am sharing a recipe for a fancied up hemp milk. I served it with a bowl of granola, which is how I like this best, but you can use it any way you'd like!

What I love about hemp milk is that it doesn't need to be strained. That means that if you don't have any vegan milk on hand but need some, hemp milk can be made in a minute without any mess! I made this on a day that I didn't have any greens yet, and I saw an opportunity to get some in. I added in romaine, a mild green which you most likely can't detect in the milk. You can also try using spinach. I also added in lucuma because I love it's deep caramel flavor and how it adds some body to the milk.

Enjoy this delicious hemp milk upgraded with greens and superfoods!

Upgraded Plant Milk
serves 2

1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp hemp seeds
1 Tbsp lucuma*
1 1/2-3 cups romaine leaves, roughly chopped
desired sweetener to taste**

-Add all ingredients to the blender (add in the romaine last) and blend until smooth.

*The lucuma is primarily used to thicken this up. If you don't have lucuma and want it to be thicker, try adding some of your favorite protein powder, a tablespoon or so more of hemp seeds, or a couple tablespoons of rolled oats.

**Because granola is already sweet, I didn't add any sweetener into the milk. If you would like a sweeter milk, add in a few dates or a Tbsp or so of your favorite liquid sweetener, or 2-3 drops of stevia.

March 20, 2015

A Speedy Salad Recipe: Spinach and Red Bean Salad with Herbes de Provence

I've been all about the fast meals lately because I have been so crazy busy! I ate this salad for a late lunch after having a tall glass of juice. The juice was made of freshly juiced oranges and coconut water, and if you were wondering, it was amazing!

The formula for this salad is straight-forward: bed of greens, any combination of vegetables, beans, and herbs de provence dressing. There are always different theories on how to get past that afternoon slump: a nap, eat some protein (trail mix!), carbs (carbs, carbs), light exercise/break from the computer. Well, I can say that I have had moderate success with all of these at different points in my life, but my go-to afternoon lift is most definitely greens. Juices and smoothies work well, but big salads are my preference. Sometimes I munch on my greens while I'm preparing the rest of the ingredients and can already feel some new energy circulating.

Spinach and Red Bean Salad with Herbes de Provence
serves 1

for the salad:
a few handfuls of greens
1/3 cup sliced cucumbers
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup red (kidney) beans

juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp of flax oil
splash of raw coconut aminos or tamari
1/2 tsp of herbes de provence

-Prep your salad ingredients and arrange them in a bowl.
-Whisk the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad.

March 18, 2015

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Another year, another birthday for my favorite vegan-friendly eater! Last year, I hosted and cooked the food for my dad's birthday party. It was really fun to do, but my mom took over the festivities this year. Of course, I was still in charge of the cake. I love to make birthday cakes for my loved ones!

My mom made a polenta entrée. It's a recipe that I shared with my dad in one of my cooking lessons with him. She used premade polenta and pan-fried it. It's topped with a balsamic thyme mushroom and onion sauté. She also made some Tofurky sausages, spiced carrots, and roasted asparagus. I had seconds, and I may or may not have eaten 2/3 of the carrots that she made. Ok, there's no "may or may not", I crushed them.

She made a non-vegan dish for her and my brother because neither of them liked the vegan food she made, but I think it's pretty amazing that she made a whole vegan meal for my dad (who isn't even vegetarian). Times are changing!

I usually have a whole rolodex in my brain of cakes and decadent desserts that I want to make for special occasions, but for some reason I was experiencing a block when deciding on my dad's cake. After a few days of keeping it in the back of my mind, I remembered seeing a gorgeous carrot applesauce cake on Allyson Kramer's website. After a quick glance at the recipe again, it was settled. That was the cake for him.

The next morning, my mom, knowing about the creative block I was experiencing, texted me and said, "Maybe you should make him a carrot cake. I think he would like that." And then, when my mom told my dad that I was making a cake for him, he said out of nowhere, "Is it an applesauce cake?".

I have never made an applesauce cake for him, nor do I ever talk about them. Isn't that a weird chain of coincidences? Synchronicities. I've been tapped in, I tell ya!

With my penchant for dressing everything up, I had to add an icing. I made a raw vegan cream cheese icing that was tangy and sweet and spooned it over the top before presenting the cake to the birthday boy. The cake was such a hit that everyone ate two pieces! This was a really easy cake to make, and I know I'll be making it again for other gatherings.

After dinner and dessert, my dad opened his presents. My mom and grandma pitched in and bought him a pair of hockey tickets, so he can squeeze in one more game before the playoff season starts. My brother and I wrote and recorded a song for him called Courageous Heart. The artist in me comes in many forms! The lyrics spun a fine tale, fiercely personal to him, and it had him both laughing uncontrollably and choking back tears.

I can safely say that my dad had an amazing and memorable birthday that was enjoyed by all (...of us with cake-stuffed bellies)!

March 16, 2015

Strip District Food Haul: Lotus Food + Soyrizo Tacos from Edgar's

My love and I recently went to the Strip District for 2 things: sriracha and tacos. We both had the afternoon off and thought getting our errands done and getting to walk outside on a warm, beautiful day sounded like the perfect way to spend it.

We forgot that this past weekend was St. Patrick's Day, so we were surprised by how many people were out and by how hard it was to find a parking space. People were stealing parking spaces from under us with such determination that I almost thought I was at Whole Foods. Hahaha!

After J grabbed a coffee from Allegheny Coffee and Tea Exchange, we walked a few blocks to Lotus Food. I used to come down here all the time for fresh tofu, but I haven't been in a while. We took our time browsing the aisles and loaded out basket with all kinds of goodies.

Of course, we got sriracha as well as sambal oelek and chili garlic sauce. J will go through this all before I even get a chance to touch it! Seriously though, he is a fiend for these hot sauces. I've come to enjoy tasting the subtleties of my food without too many spices and condiments, but fiery foods will always have a special place in my heart, too!

All but one of the above foods were on my grocery list. I picked up a few Thai young coconuts, canned jackfruit, tamarind paste, and a special treat, sweetened dried hot mango. I've only ever eaten fresh, ripe jackfruit before, and I'm interested in experimenting with its savory side. The tamarind paste is different than the one I have at home (the one that is running woefully low, too low for this pad thai loving household), but it was all I could find. I'm sure it'll be great! The mango was an impulse purchase. I see mango and chili together (see, I do love some fire!), and I can't resist. Even though I'm not one for buying sugar-covered fruits, I made a very delicious exception.

Also on our list was tapioca pearls, rice noodles, and spring roll wrappers. Now that summer is getting close, I'll be making lots of wraps with these rice wrappers as well as with nori and collard leaves. I bought the tapioca pearls to make boba for the first time at home. The boba I get at restaurants always has the black pearls, but since they had some ingredients I wasn't crazy about (ahem, artificial flavors), I got the white ones, too. I don't know if there's a difference, but I'll find out!

Lastly, I got some mochi because I can't go to an Asian grocery store and not get mochi. I could've sworn they had vegan mochi in the refrigerated section (at least they used to awhile ago), but I found these which had relatively good ingredients and weren't too sugary. J and I shared a red bean one on the way home and really enjoyed it.

After Lotus, we went to Edgar's to get soyrizo tacos. We both got two tacos, topped it with a few different salsas and put some pickled jalapeños and carrots on the side. Oh, how I have missed eating al fresco. While this winter wasn't nearly as difficult to get through as the last one, I've realized (even more) how much I thrive in warmer temperatures. Sorry, Pittsburgh, but I don't know if I can do this for much longer!

And how were the tacos, you might wonder? Well, I had to talk myself out of ordering more by focusing on my hottie of a date. Yeah, they're really good. I see many taco dates in my future.

March 13, 2015

On Making Food Beautiful

Whether rushing home from work and throwing together a quick bite, cooking for people who don't mind an aesthetically unpleasing meal, or not feeling like there is time in general to make food look great, plating food can be the last thing on our minds.

There are countless other situations in which the beauty of one's food becomes an afterthought, but I'm here to say that making a beautiful plate of food is always worth the time (and you'd be surprised how little time is actually needed).

Why I like to make my food beautiful:
  • Do everything with love. This is, first and foremost, the most important reason to me. My practice of pouring love into all I do not only changes the quality of my food, but also creates a respectful and caring vibe toward myself and those I love.
  • Be mindful. Being present and aware of my activities does so much for my general well-being and serves to strengthen character in a soft way. When I'm preparing my food, I am fully present in the act of food preparation. I want to do my very best, whatever that means in that given moment.
  • Recognize that people eat with their eyes first. That's why companies pay the big bucks for food stylists and commercials out the wazoo! To look at it from another way, if you're a vegan or eat a health conscious diet, you've likely had someone look at your food in a skeptical way as if to say, "That can't possibly be pleasurable." (side note: Um, yeah it is. Very much so!) People start to judge their food before they even put it in their mouth. Not only that, but bodies prepare for the eventuality that the food in front of them is about to be digested. Think about the term mouth-watering. You haven't even tasted it and your body is already reacting.

But what if the food is naturally ugly? Sometimes we have those dishes (Indian food, anyone?) that can be challenging to present in a beautiful way. Turn on those creative genes because it can be done! Try adding color with an edible garnish, beautiful plates, fresh vegetables or fruits, or a sprinkling of spices or freshly cut herbs. Adding fresh greenery will always boost the aesthetics of a meal and make people (including you) think "fresh".

Above all things, remember to prepare your food from a place of love. Love-infused food is more beautiful than any food ingredient. The love really shines through, and I've got years of loving food preparation experience to prove it!

March 11, 2015

100 Days of Meditation: 75 Day Update

It's been almost 2 1/2 months since I began meditating regularly. Time spent oh so wisely! In my last update, I outlined some of the effects I felt after just 3 weeks of meditation. I'm happy to report that things have continued to improve for me, and I can't imagine my life without this daily practice.

While I spent the first part of my new habit exploring different ways of meditation, lately I've started to discern which methods help me to grow the most.

A few of my new favorite meditation helpers:

  • Visualization. I've been using the power of visualization, chakras are really useful here, to manifest all kinds of gloriousness in my life. All I can say is that this has steered my life in a really positive direction. I see dreams taking shape, and I have had an abundance of motivation to put in the work necessary to merge my dreams with reality.
  • Mantras. I usually choose a different mantra for each day, but sometimes I feel the need to stick with one for many days. As you might have guessed, my mantras and my visualizations are inextricably linked. 
  • Headphones. Even when I'm all alone and it's perfectly quiet in my house, I have really loved wearing headphones for my meditations. It's like the music or guided meditations are a part of me, and I have much more rejuvenative sessions. When I listen to vibrational healing sounds, using headphones is next level. Feeling the vibrations from head to toe is an amazing sensation! 
  • Eye pillow. My best friend sent me a beautiful eye pillow that I love to use when I'm very tired and decide to meditate while lying down. I also love to use it for pre-sleep meditations. It has the Om symbol (how appropriate that it sits on the third eye!) surrounded by beautiful words, and it is filled with organic flax and "a generous amount of lavender".

It's been a miraculous 75 days, and I'm so grateful for this experience as it continues to unfold!

March 09, 2015

Dinner at Plant in Asheville, NC

I visited Plant in late 2014. Their menu changes from time to time, so you can check the menu online before your visit for their current offerings!

A few years ago, I was talking to my best friend on the phone, and she started gushing about this all-new 100% vegan restaurant that opened up in her town called Plant. Soon after she told me about it, I started to hear all the buzz from the vegan community. "You have to come visit soon," she said. She says this every time we talk, but the way she said it this time made me think I was in for something really special.

Well, it took me a few years to get down there, but it was so worth the wait. I can't believe how nourished I felt while eating, how full and happy I was post-meal, and how I was literally and unintentionally mmmm'ing out loud (which could be embarrassing to some, but their food was that good, so whatever).

The food was plated very beautifully and artistically, and I loved how they pieced each dish's components together to create a truly unique taste experience. I think you will see why this is one of the best restaurants I've ever eaten at.

We started off with two appetizers: the [Plant] Cheese and the massaged kale salad.

[Plant] Cheese was a cheese plate with aged cashew cheese, farmer's involtini, rosemary amber and fruit, red wine peppers, black garlic oil, and focaccia. Cheese plates are a new thing for me. I was never into dairy cheese that much, and I don't live near any restaurants that have vegan cheese plates. The cheeses were so creamy and rich in umami, the focaccia was perfectly airy on the inside and crisp on the out, and I loved the herb and oil drizzle that was on the apples. It was a really enjoyable dish to share at the start of our dinner.

The Massaged Kale Salad contained roasted delicata squash, grilled red onion, candied orange, pecans, and an herb-sherry vinaigrette. It was a brilliant starter for me. I love to have a generous helping of greens with my meals, so while I shared this with everyone at the table, I ended up eating most of it. It was bright, full of complex flavors, but not too over-the-top. The herbs were just enough to add to the complexity of the flavor without taking over the more subtle flavors of the vegetables. The candied orange was my favorite addition; it was bold and sweet in a natural way. Does that make sense?

For my main, I ordered the Chicken O' The Wood Apricot Adobo. This is the dish that made me go all Harry Met Sally on it. It was breaded Chicken of the Woods mushrooms (yeah, it tastes like chicken) smothered in apricot adobo sauce with a poblano-stuffed tamale, sauteed spinach, olives and chili, cilantro mojo, pickled onion, and sour cream. I hesitated to choose this entree because it was the most expensive dish on the menu. If you find yourself dining at Plant and have similar reservations, I'm going to offer you this advice. Just do it. This dish was worth a million bucks.

My bestie ordered the Red Curry Tofu which came with jasmine rice and kaffir lime cakes, thai basil, arugula, and teriyaki green beans. The galangal curry sauce was amazing. It's one of the better curries I've had.

My bestie's partner ordered the live lasagna with heirloom tomato, peppercorn macadamia cheese, marinated red pepper, radish green and pine nut pesto, pea tendrils, and lavender-infused oil. I had a bite and really loved it. I'm a sucker for macadamia anything and a lover of raw food, so yeah, naturally I loved it.

My brother, who is anything but an adventurous eater, ordered the Frites Plus Mayo (hold the mayo) and a side of broccolini. I gave him (someone who doesn't care for most vegan food) the same suggestions I give to vegans who are going to a vegan-unfriendly eating establishment. Look for sides and/or components of main dishes that can be ordered separately. The Frites was a side that they offer already, and the broccolini was served alongside an entree. He asked if he could have a side of it and they kindly obliged! I didn't try the Frites, but everyone else at the table did. They all said they were the best fries they'd ever had. Are you noticing a trend with our impression of Plant's food?

For dessert we got the Cannolo with handmade anise shell, candied orange ricotta, chocolate puddle, and mexican chocolate ice cream. I'd been anticipating this dessert since I had first looked at it on the online menu. Can you tell by the swiftness that I dug into it?! The ricotta was really amazing, and I'm wondering if perhaps they used macadamia nuts in that. There is a sweetness about macadamia nuts that other nuts just don't have. I wish I could've taken a whole crate full of these home with me. Just thinking about it now, I want to get in my car and give my friend a surprise visit ("and hey, while I'm here, let's go to Plant!").

Also, we tried the trio of ice creams. We chose cookies and cream, coconut cake, and lemon thyme. Can I just say this is the best vegan ice cream ever? The taste, texture, and flavor balance were on point. I like ice cream, but I always have a problem with them being too sweet. These coconut-based ice creams are pleasantly sweet, a mark that the recipe developer really understands their craft. When you're working with foods high in fat content, you really don't need to add so much sweetness. Creating food is always a balance; you want the tastes in harmony. This is what they do with their ice cream perfection. Of the above flavors, the lemon thyme was the standout, we all agreed.

My best bud and I both brought home some leftovers. I like to bring containers to restaurants in case of this, but I didn't bring one here. The container they gave me was compostable. Yay! They even had compost bins in the bathroom, so you can see that they have a serious commitment to environmental concerns. Oh, little hippie town Asheville, I love you so much!

All in all, it was a memorable night in the company of wonderful friends. I'm eager to return (hopefully sometime soon!), but until then I whet my appetite with their mouthwatering Instagram pictures!

March 06, 2015

Petit Vour Februrary Box

The end of February came around really fast. I was away from home, and my box was waiting for me for a good week before I could open it. Meanwhile, I had my hands full dodging spoilers on the internet!

You see, I love surprises. Love them. I was never the kid who searched around the house for my Christmas presents. I've always enjoyed the excitement of receiving a surprise far more than any growing curiosity of what it might be.

The main reason I love to be surprised by my Petit Vour box is because I know I'm going to love everything. There's no question in my mind. So, not only does curiosity have no hold over my love of surprise, but I don't have to worry about being disappointed by the contents either. You know how it goes. You order something and wait and wait for it to arrive only for it to not live up to expectations. That, friends, is not how Petit Vour operates!

I already knew (from an Instagram post) that a Lily Lolo mascara would be included in an upcoming box, but I wasn't sure when it was coming. Thankfully, I was able to scroll past unboxings on Instagram without really seeing what all was laid out for the camera. Success!

With my surprise awaiting me, I returned home and ripped open the box to find...

  • Lily Lolo mascara. I've only used one other non-toxic mascara before (still use it, still love it), and I was happy to try another. To make it even better, I've heard fantastic things about this mascara and this is a new and improved vegan formula! What I like about it: It applies so easily, and as promised, it really does volumize and lengthen lashes beautifully. Va va voom, luscious lashes! 
  • My Daughter Fragrances in Always Loved. These fragrances are made in small batches with only essential oils, resins, and absolutes, and contain no nasty fillers that you will find commonly in perfumes. Their scent Joyful is one that I've had my eye on for some time, and it's been a very popular item in Petit Vour's shop. When I saw Always Loved in my box, I was really thrilled. Finally I get a chance to sample a brand I've heard so much about! Always Loved is a blend of Bulgarian rose oil, Turkish rose absolute, bitter cocoa absolute, patchouli, vetiver, and cedar. It's described as "a true rose lovers potion", and I find it absolutely intoxicating.  
  • Ellovi mint chocolate body butter. Ellovi has already won me over with their tinted lip butter from a previous box, and this new product is just ridiculous! This body butter smells like a peppermint patty and the texture even reminds me of a creamier version of the inside. It smells so good that I want to eat it. Though J vehemently disagrees with me (how do you hate mint?!), you can't go wrong with chocolate mint. You can, however, go very, very right, and that's what Ellovi has done with this skin-nourishing treat. 
  • Balanced Guru Scrub Me Body Scrub. This is the first product I've tried from Balanced Guru. They use certified organic, raw, and sustainably-sourced ingredients for all of their products. I generally don't do body scrubs or exfolliants, though when I do I usually mix a bit of oil and sugar together d.i.y. style. This one is really nice because it is a base of coffee, coconut oil, and cocoa butter and the rest of the ingredients are extracts, oils, and butters like aloe vera, babassu oil, shiitake mushroom extract, lavender oil, cinnamon, sweet orange peel oil, and more. I love this company's philosophy, and they are definitely a company that I'd like to purchase from in the future. Their hair products and energy blends are of particular interest to me.

My final take on the Petit Vour February box? Amazing. I love every single item, and I'm not sure that I can pinpoint a favorite (or even a top two!). 

March 04, 2015

Pear Orange Smoothie Inspired By An Organic Avenue Juice

A few weeks ago, I was getting out my ingredients for a smoothie and noticed that I didn't have a ton of fruit options. My frozen fruit stash was dwindling, and my bananas weren't ripe yet. Familiar story. This is how I always come up with new and exciting combos. I did, however, have oranges (a staple for me in the winters) and a few ripe red anjou pears. I thought to myself, "I don't know if I'll like orange and pear together, but I'll give it a go!"

What an unbelievably good pairing! Once you get in the groove of making green smoothies, you have a bunch of go-to combinations and tend to stick to those. Some of my favorite wintertime pairings are cranberry and pear, banana and orange, and apple and banana (a classic). Now, I have a new favorite.

Last week, I was going through a notebook and found a sticker from a bottle of juice stuck to one of the pages. When I travel and have a really great product, I like to keep the label so I can try to recreate it at home. This particular juice was called Sweet Greens and came from Organic Avenue in New York City. I remember really loving the taste of this one, and I also remember being intrigued by a juice combination I had yet to try. What were the ingredients? Well, pear and orange along with swiss chard, cucumber, kale, lemon, and mint (all organic).

Despite my forgetfulness, I stumbled upon this beautiful combination once again (only took me a year!), and I'll not soon forget it. This smoothie isn't exactly like the juice that I had, but it celebrates the brilliant flavor pairing of pear and orange just the same. I don't have exact measurements as it's slightly different every time I make it. That's the best way to make smoothies anyway! In the summer, I'm sure I'll be adding in fresh mint to the mix to echo the amazingness of the Sweet Greens juice.

Pear Orange Smoothie

1 pear
juice of 3 oranges
1 cup Harmless Harvest Cinnamon Clove Coconut Water
~1 cup chopped cucumber
2 stalks of celery
juice of 1/2 a lemon
small handful of fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro
several large handfuls of greens of choice
1 inch piece of ginger, or to taste

Optional add-ins:
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 scoop of vitamin c powder
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 Tbsp hemp seeds
a few leaves of fresh mint

-Chop cucumber, celery, and pear. Place in blender.
-Juice the oranges and lemon straight into the blender
-Peel ginger and add to the rest.
-Lastly, add in herbs and greens and blend until smooth.

March 02, 2015

All-Vegan Buffet at Loving Hut

I don't frequent buffets, not like in my teens and early 20's when we (literally, time and time again) took over China Palace buffet before hitting up punk shows. When I do go to a buffet, it's always Zenith's Sunday brunch. That's been a tradition for so long, and it's the coolest atmosphere for a date with my honey. Despite my Zenith love, what I don't love about buffets is the overly-full feeling I come home with. I don't stuff myself silly, but I do tend to eat more than I would at any regular restaurant where I could take leftovers home with me. Hence, why I don't frequent buffets! Sometimes, though, you just want a wide variety of foods to choose from and the ability to take the portion size you want. What other buffets lack in Zenith's ambiance and character has to be made up somehow, right?

Enter Loving Hut buffet. It's not to be compared to Zenith (they're both so different and so amazing to have for the vegan community in Pittsburgh), but it's awesome enough that I'm willing to splurge ($16, yikes!), and I don't mind slipping into a post-meal food coma, which is a complete rarity for me.

If you've never heard of Loving Hut, it's a vegan chain restaurant that has over 120 locations worldwide. I don't know how we were lucky enough to get a location in the Pittsburgh area, but it's pretty awesome.

It's been in this area for years now, but I seldom make it out. I think it's mostly because of the location. Living in the city limits, it's much easier to run up the street for Thai food than it is to sit in Fort Pitt Tunnel traffic to make it out to the 'burbs for a meal. Nevertheless, we've found our famished selves out that way a couple times and decided to stop in for a bite.

The menu varies by location, though I'm not sure by how much. They do have a wide selection to choose from, ranging from the standard fare you'd find at any Pan-Asian restaurant to burgers. What stands out about them for me is that they focus on providing nourishing, wholesome vegan food. I have taken a particular liking to their hot and sour soup.

This past weekend, J suggested we go to their buffet. He finally checked it out a few weeks ago and was eager to return. When he told me about their offerings, I couldn't turn it down. So we, along with a friend of ours, drove out for a mid-afternoon gorgefest.

Every Saturday, they set up a buffet with variety that you can't get anywhere else. The food wasn't overly oily or overly sugary which is a major plus for me. They had spicy tofu, crispy spicy tofu, garlic tofu, lemongrass medallions, sweet potato daal, pineapple seitan, chow mein, mongolian beef and vegetables, sauteed mixed vegetables, spring rolls, cream of broccoli soup, fresh fruit, fresh greens, ranch dressing, brown rice, fried rice, and pandan and/or chocolate cake for dessert. I couldn't stop eating the pandan cake. I was too busy savoring every last morsel to catch a picture of it. It was bright green, moist, and nicely sweet with a dollop of whipped cream on top. No sugar bombs here.

Pandan cake! The end.