Cookbook Reviews by Rachel: Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas »
Overall Rating: A-
Level of Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate
Best for: Anyone looking for no-fuss ways to veganize their family celebrations.
You know how they call that time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s “the holiday season”? There are holidays all year round, it turns out. (Flag Day: June 14). What would fill the “seasonal” aisle of the grocery stores otherwise? So while you might think a cookbook called Vegan Holiday Kitchen should get reviewed in like, November (which happens to be when everyone else reviewed it), it’s with an eye to strategy and not simply a result of laziness that I bring you this late March report. This cookbook covers not only Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah, but Passover, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, and Independence Day. Plus brunch, which I guess is its own holiday.
PSA: Passover starts after sundown Friday, April 6. Easter is Sunday, April 8. Holidays approacheth! Do you have a plan?
Nava Atlas had a clear purpose with this photo-heavy offering: honor tradition, add the vegan element, and create special-occasion meals that are fun, not stressful. To that end, her recipes tend to the simple and don’t shy away from shortcuts (canned lentils?!). But the lack of elaborate preparation or unusual ingredients makes this a really awesome resource when you’re looking to cook in someone else’s kitchen (like I did for Thanksgiving), or if you’re short on time, or if you just think complicated recipes are scary.
I’ve made a lot of stuff from this book over the last six months (though it’s not an everyday go-to), but somehow I failed to photograph most of it. Here’s the Red Wine-Roasted Brussel Sprouts everyone loved in November (pre-roasting):
And here’s a sandwich I made on the Vegan Challah, which came out really delicious, if not quite as flaky as the original (secret ingredient: squash!):
While some of the recipes are restricted to particular holidays or seasons (Passover = lots of matzoh, July 4th = grilling), it’s also fun to mix and match. At Christmas, we brought Moroccan-Flavored Tofu with Apricots and Olives, in theory a Rosh Hashanah offering, to a friends’ house for fancy dinner; it got devoured with compliments.
Atlas is a good communicator: The recipes are written clearly and are easy to follow, and each is labeled at the top if it is or could be soy-, gluten-, or nut-free. I’ve wanted to tweak some of her instructions (less sweetener in the Agave and Mustard-Glazed Green Beans, for example), but haven’t had any disasters or failures, praise be.
My only major complaint is that, especially in the Thanksgiving and Christmas chapters, Atlas shies away from star-of-the-show, protein-heavy, centerpiece dishes that I think are pretty key to a vegan celebration. Stuffings and pilafs abound; hearty stews and tofus do not. Perhaps this is a rebellion against Tofurky, but I want my protein, dammit.
Anyway, this book will be my #1 go-to for figuring out what to cook in my mother’s kitchen to bring to a seder next month. I’d wanted to try the matzoh balls before writing my review, but I’ll just have to post about it later.
Final verdict: Solid, crowd-pleasing recipes designed for simplicity. Especially valuable for the wealth of Jewish recipes, more than I’ve seen collected anywhere else.
Product reviews: The Vegg, part 1 »
As a onetime lover of fried eggs, I was really excited by the promo photos of The Vegg. It proclaimed itself “the first vegan fried egg!” So, this was the first recipe I wanted to try when I received it this weekend.
Unfortunately, the Vegg is merely a powder for a vegan egg yolk. The recipe for the whites was not on the Vegg’s website, nor was it easily accessible on the Vegg’s Facebook page, nor had anyone else (according to Google) created said fried vegan eggs, nor was it in the materials sent with the Vegg:
I was on my own. This is what I did.
Makes 4 fried “eggs”
For the yolk
2 tsp. Vegg powder
1/2 cup water
Blend together. Pour into some container and pop in the freezer for a while, some hours. Maybe do this the night before if you’re gonna be making Veggs for breakfast.
For the white
1 12 oz. package of extra-firm silken tofu
2 tsp. agar powder
1/4 tsp. black salt (aka kala namak)
Blend all this stuff in a food processor. Set aside.
Put it together
Take your yolk out of the freezer. Run the container under hot water to loosen it up a little bit.
Heat your nonstick skillet to medium-high and grease it—I like to use Earth Balance. You could also spray oil. When that’s good and hot, use a spatula to spread 1/4 of the silken tofu mixture onto the skillet. Try to get it so it’s flat. It’ll be tricky, but stick with it.
You’re gonna let that cook for 7 to 8 minutes. Then you’re gonna try to flip it over. This is kind of hard, but it’ll be worth it. Then quick! Scoop out 1/4 of the yolk mixture. Maybe use a spoon to shape it into a yolky shape. Slap it on the white, and put a lid on that skillet for two minutes or so. You want it to be not frozen through, but you don’t want it to melt and fall apart.
Vegg is really yummy. God DAMN, this is so good. It is precisely how I remember egg yolks tasting, and when it’s warm, it’s the perfect consistency, too. It’s also composed of ingredients that I recognize, nothing too weird. But all in all, I’m not nuts about this preparation. It was the best just rubbing my toast all over the Vegg yolk and eating that like the slob that I am.
Stay tuned for more Vegg talk. I think I’ll try a Vegg custard next! But until then I will just be dribbling Vegg mixture all over my naked body, hopefully hitting my open mouth at some point.
Eat snack, save world. That’s the idea at least behind these new bar thingies. I know, like just what I need in my life is another rectangular food product that makes getting fat while sitting at my desk nearly inevitable (I’m looking at you Luna, Clif, Lara, et al). First-world problems…
These Two Degrees bars are gluten-free and vegan, which is of course awesome. And they have chia and quinoa in them, which is uber-trendy. But what makes them special is that for every bar you buy, the company donates a nutrition pack to a starving kid somewhere. Yay!
Except the nutrition pack itself isn’t vegan—the one the company sent me, along with 3 free bars, has milk powder as the first ingredient. Boo! I feel so conflicted. Can I support this or not?
The nutrition packs are made in Malawi, and are for “children with severe acute malnutrition”. Who am I to tell those kids how not to starve? But why should vegan foods like chia and quinoa be only for those of us shopping at Whole Foods (where you can buy the bars)?
What do y’all think? Is this something you want to get behind?
PureFit Bars: like PowerBars, but healthier! »
When Emily of PureFit sent me free samples of some of their nutrition bars, OF COURSE I ate them all. I love food, doy! But although the bars are nutritious and taste all right, I don’t know if they qualify as food. Every flavor I received has the word “crunch” in the title—Granola Crunch, Peanut Butter Crunch, Almond Crunch, and Berry Almond Crunch—but I was disappointed to learn that they were not, in fact, that crunchy. They reminded me of PowerBar's old formula, which had gone out of style by the time I was in high school.
Although I was bored by the blandness and disturbing, flesh-colored appearance of the Almond and Peanut Butter, I very much enjoyed the other two flavors. I love finding dried berries in things, so Berry Almond Crunch had added sweetness and texture. The winner, however, was Granola Crunch.
I realize this review is starting to sound like a late-20th-century flashback, but this bar tasted like Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, upon which I have fond memories of chowing down after a
heartbreaking lazy grueling game of Little League Soccer.
Regarding nutrition, the main advantage PureFit bars have over my personal favorite, Clif Builders, is gluten-freedom. Also, while Larabar and the like might taste a bit more similar to food, PureFit offers a heck of a lot more protein. So, celiacs and PowerBar-lovers who want to bulk up, look out for these!
Source: a long-overdue review! »
This is a review in several disjointed parts due to several factors, such as: many of us wanted to review it; and the person who called dibs really dropped the ball. But finally we consolidate the opinions of three Vegansauri. Enjoy!
Source claims to be “a multi-dimensional dining experience,” but I can’t verify that because I was adrift in a delicious lagoon of faux meat and cheese the entire time I was there. Also, how cute is it that the meat analogs are named after the noises the real animals make? Answer: SUPER-CUTE.
The waitstaff was really welcoming and eager to explain everything on the menu; everything can be made vegan! Music to my ears. The owner I met is super-friendly and possibly a bit overzealous, but WHO CARES because the food is delicious. While the friendly, sexy cashier (he totally was) explains the food to you, you can gaze into the mouth of the DRAGON’S FACE OVEN, in which Source makes all its pita, bread, and pizza crusts from scratch. No small feat.
Disappointingly (for me!) Source doesn’t not serve alcoholic beverages. What they do serve are kombucha-like elixirs made with a fermented substance called Jun. They are made with raw honey, which may or may not jive with you. They also serve raw yerba mate lemonades mixed with strawberry, blueberry, or straight-up lemon! My dining companion ordered the strawberry lemonade and OMG! It tasted like a strawberry daiquiri. So delicious, I was able to forgive the absence of rum.
I also noticed that my water glass kept refilling, as if by magic. Good service here, folks!
Let’s run down some of the food. After struggling to choose a dish on the extremely extensive menu, I went with an avocado oink bits burger, with the homemade cashew-based vegan mozzarella. I couldn’t believe my taste buds. I haven’t eaten a burger in over four years, and this is what I remember it tasting like. Their version is hearty, and even kind of has the look of a burger, thanks to the beets. But not in a gross way, I swear! This isn’t a Boca Burger-like substitution; it’s just, I don’t know, meaty. It’s obviously made with vegetables, yet has that grilled, burger-y taste. My omnivorous dining companion completely agreed: I wasn’t just being a crazy I-haven’t-eaten-meat-in-so-long-these-tofu-dogs-taste-like-the-real-thing-right vegan.
The cheese was so tasty, I wanted double the amount. The avocado and oink bits were a little lacking, but the burger was so delicious and MIND-BLOWING, I totally forgot what I had ordered and therefore didn’t even notice the other parts of my burger were shoved sparingly in the back of the pita. This is saying a lot, because I usually don’t forget things like avocado and vegan bacon.
More food: Buffalo cluck: spicy and saucy. Baked VEGAN spinach artichoke fondue: really on-point with the flavor, but the texture was chunkier than I would have liked.
Fries: super-interesting salt and sauce choices (rosemary salt with spicy BBQ ketchup? Hell yes). Bahn mi pita: Similar to the oink bits burger, the veggies and sauce had slipped to the bottom of the pita and broke the back of it, turning it into more of a salad; also, I wasn’t crazy about the chewier texture of the quack, but then again, I’ve never had real duck, so maybe it’s spot-on. Kraut bow-wow: Most food is made in-house, but the bow-wows are Field Roast apple sage sausages. Fine by me!
Philly cheese moo: OH MAN this is yummy, but I could stand a little more strength of flavor in the “cheese.” House salad: comes piled super-high on a tiny plate, really full-featured with a tangy dressing. Country shepherd’s pie: too brothy and bland, would not order again.
Cluck parm: This is the king of all sandwiches. It’s just so “cheesy” and tomatoey and crusty and GOOD. Get it, girl.
On to the desserts! Twinkees: YUM! Nothing like the Twinkies you remember, no: much richer, softer, and sweeter. It’s like angel food cake with canned icing, so good. Cupcakes: dependent on availability, but it was a pretty good, standard vegan chocolate-raspberry cupcake.
Review: VivoBarefoot shoes from Planet Shoes! »
Resident consumer here, with a review of more free stuff. This time, it’s these summery VivoBarefoot cuties sent to me by the good people at Planet Shoes. The first ones I chose sold out right before I tried to get them, so I settled for these (“settled”—they were free shoes). I definitely wanted to try out the “barefoot technology,” plus these had a removable, washable insole, and my feet have the STANK, y’all.
Not pictured: my feet and unshaven calves, because they are disgusting.
These say they run true to size, so I rolled with European size 39 (that’s 8.5 in real sizes). They’re described as “beige,” but I like to think of them as “yellow.” VivoBarefoot takes advantage of the recent barefoot running trend (or maybe it’s just a trend among my Facebook friends), so most of their shoes are marketed toward runners. I, however, tend to run about 10 steps before collapsing in pain, so I went with the more casual-looking shoe.
The first time I wore them, I left my home in San Francisco to go to Souley Vegan in Oakland, which involved quite a bit of walking. To be honest, I wasn’t psyched at first. My feet were sweaty (I didn’t have socks), and my calves were a mite sore. I guess this is what walking in bare feet would be like? Do padded, cushioned shoes make walking easier? I definitely felt the earth move under my feet, if you know what I mean. Even though I could feel the gravelly bits and sewer grates, it didn’t hurt, probably due to the super-thin yet puncture-resistant soles. It’s worth noting that the shoes didn’t cause blisters or pressure my ingrown toenails or bother my plantar fasciitis the first time I wore them, which is unusual for me. Everything is wrong with my feet.
As I became more used to the “barefoot” walking sensation the more often I wore them, I really started to like them more. Screw those weird “toning” shoes; walking with barefoot shoes makes me STRONG! Plus they look super-cute with skinny jeans and a wifebeater-style tank top.
Achieving balance and vitality the “easy way,” with YogaEarth drink mixes »
I didn’t realize until later that I might not have been the best choice for reviewing YogaEarth's Balance and Vitality* [Ed. note: Vitality is just vegetarian! See update at the bottom!] drink mixes. I do not practice yoga, and I would not describe my lifestyle as “active” (I sit at a desk for eight hours a day; how about you?); however, I’m always up for products for the lazy vegan, like drink mixes that promise to provide long-lasting energy, 16 percent of my daily protein needs, antioxidants, electrolytes, and other healthy mystery ingredients, and satiate hunger. So here we are.
Another thing to note is that I think drink mixes are generally kind of icky (Vega shakes, I’m looking at you): they’re gritty, they’ve got fake sweetener, and they come in weird flavors (maca can kiss my ass). However, YogaEarth’s mixes are actually good! It is hard to mix them up enough so that they don’t get grainy toward the bottom, but if you can, the flavors are light and fruity and don’t leave a nasty aftertaste. Bonus: You can mix it into tea, juice, water, (soy) yogurt, smoothies, cereals, etc.
Balance, the yellow packet, tastes a bit tart, rather like watered-down apple and beet juice when mixed; I liked it! The green packet, Vitality, tastes more like a tropical green tea than anything else, although it’s supposed to have additional tasting notes of kiwi and Irish moss. When I combined Balance and Vitality in the same drink, it was really hard to get it to a drinkable texture, so I didn’t do that again. However, I really loved Balance with hot ginger-apricot tea in the morning before a swim.
Speaking of swimming, I tested these in relation to working out as well. I don’t practice yoga, but I do exercise—in the swimming pool and in the weight room. So I followed the instructions on Balance, the pre-workout fuel: “Drink at least 90 minutes before physical activity.” Then I went to a session with my personal trainer (I am a yuppie now, guys). It was super-hard, and I credit Balance for keeping me from vomiting. Afterward, I decided to wind down with Vitality and some sauna time. I think the taste (not horrible, but my least favorite of the two) kept me from drinking too much water as I sweat my balls off, which I have a tendency to do. I didn’t notice changes in my energy, weight loss, or feelings of hunger after drinking them regularly, but maybe I’m just guilty of a few deadly sins.
This product gets good reviews not just from yours truly but also “Top 10 Dietician” (this is a thing?) Ashley Koff and Vogue magazine. So it’s healthy, tasty, and fashionable! Plus you feel like you’re doing your body a favor when you’re drinking it, so if nothing else, these mixes cause a great placebo effect, kind of like yoga (or at least, that’s what I tell myself to justify not doing it).
*UPDATE! It appears the Vitality one is not vegan—it has both bee pollen and Royal Jelly (some other bee stuff) in it. Balance seems to be OK.
The drink mixes were given to me for free, in exchange for my honest opinion.
Movie review: Forks Over Knives »
It was probably a good idea to see Forks Over Knives the night before starting an
elimination diet that’ll help me figure out my allergies; I left the theater feeling like I should just eat kale forever.
Okay, that’s not 100 percent true; I went to Whole Foods afterwards and got a pre-diet chocolate bar. But I bought some eggplants too! And the documentary’s presentation of the evidence supporting a diet that eliminates animal products—or at the very least, greatly reduces them—was pretty compelling.
Forks Over Knives isn’t from the Morgan Spurlock-school of documentaries—there are no gimmicky experiments here, just the stories of real people who are seeing some of the doctors interviewed in the film, and information from decades of research. So you know, it sometimes feels like you’re watching something educational—you are, but maybe sometimes we like to be tricked into that? Stick with it, though. It’s still a satisfying viewing experience, just in a different way.
The United States spends more per person on health care than any other country in the world. They also have some of the worst health outcomes among industrialized countries. There are former Soviet bloc countries with lower rates of infant mortality, and that is kind of messed up. It’s undeniable that there’s access to a lot of health-related good in the U.S.—world-class medical facilities, cutting edge treatments, delicious and healthy American-grown produce, great land for farming. But even with all that at their disposal, Americans are gaining weight, becoming diabetic, getting cancer—at alarming rates.
Forks Over Knives claims that we can prevent—and even reverse or cure—the majority of what ails us by getting the animal products out of our diets and switching to plant-based eating. This case is built largely on the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Campbell is likely best known as the co-author and lead researcher of The China Study, now a popular book that outlines his research of the diets and causes of deaths of thousands of people in China. Esselstyn works at the Cleveland Clinic, where he counsels heart patients on halting and reversing their diseases with a plant-based diet.
Campbell and Esselstyn’s work is fascinating, and their findings are some serious food for thought, but what really stuck with me were the personal tales of lives that were changed with a plant-based diet. Most of the people highlighted don’t present the image that pops into your mind when you think “vegan”: they included a diabetic mother of four, a meat-loving middle-aged man, a company of Texan firefighters, and a mixed martial arts fighter. But they all switched to a plant-based diet for one reason or another, and they all had impressive results that included serious, life-extending changes to their health.
I was impressed that the people featured in this doc had clearly made some health related choices that they shouldn’t have, but they weren’t treated like they were dumb or lazy or gross or failures. They were just following what they’d always been told about how they should eat, and trying to get through the day in an environment where the worst of food is always immediately available. The overall message of control over our own destinies was balanced with a realization that our environments have changed drastically in just a few decades, and it can be hard to make good choices even with the best information and intentions.
The film can get a bit repetitive at times—though admittedly, they were kind of preaching to the converted in my case. I’d like to see it with someone who is new to most of its information, who has never seriously considered that all this protein we’re told we should eat is maybe not the best idea. The message that meat and milk are the best way to go for protein—the only way to go, as many people see it—is so pervasive in our society that it can be hard to shake people of it. The first thing most people asked me when I stopped eating meat was “How will you get protein?” I think the tales of these healthy, vital people—some of whom were near death before going vegan—could change some minds.
Terri Coles lives in Toronto, Ont., where she enjoys barbecuing, feeding feral cats, going to local music shows and getting really mad about hockey games. She blogs about her adventures in plant-based eating at The Vegina Monologues.
Sura Korean BBQ: Oakland’s unlikely gem of vegan awesomeness »
Once upon a time I was walking down Telegraph Avenue in Temescal with a friend when we passed this restaurant that I would never in a zillion years have chosen. But this certain meat-eating person was like, “Oooh, Korean BBQ! Let’s go there!” and since I wasn’t really hungry I was like, “OK fine, whatever you want, friend-from-out-of-town, I will go sit with you and try not to grimace.” We sat down, ordered (seemingly) overpriced appetizers, and sat back to wait. Then Sura changed my life.
You know how some restaurants give you bread or chips and salsa to munch on before your meal? Here, they’re like, “Bread, schmead, let’s give people 18, maybe 21 different little side dishes to eat while they wait for their food.” Free. Without you ordering them. Each different, each incredibly yummy. We felt like we’d won the lottery or something.
The little dishes change often so you never know what you’re going to get, but can include pickled vegetables, spicy tofu, black sesame squash, sprouted mung beans, seaweed salad, kim chi, etc., etc., etc.
I’ve been there three times now, and though they don’t explicitly cater to vegans, with a little work a mind-blowing meal can be yours. UPDATE: This may be trickier than I thought. Fish sauce is a hidden challenge, sorry guys. Still, I think it’s worth trying to navigate, but do so at your own risk I suppose. Here are my pro-tips:
- Tell them right away, as soon as you walk in/sit down, that you don’t want any meat or egg dishes (dairy doesn’t seem to be so much of a problem). Every time I’ve been there they’ve brought out a weird hot-pot egg dish without asking. My omni friends ate it but you can Just Say No.
- You don’t need a barbecue table. Sit far away from them, as that is where people grill raw meat. Ick.
- When you order, tell them again about the vegan thing and make sure they don’t bring you any small plates with egg or meat. The vast majority of what they bring out is vegan anyway, and I’ve had them bring me EXTRA vegan stuff. Just be clear. UPDATE: MAKE SURE TO ASK ABOUT FISH SAUCE TOO! FISH SAUCE WARNING ALERT WARNING!
- While there’s no separate veggie section on the menu, they put little stars next to everything they can make vegetarian. Some things come with egg but they’ve been really good about following my requests to leave it out.
- Ask for barley tea.
The food is awesome:
Sanchae sotbap/herbed vegetables—herbed vegetables and mushrooms over rice
Doenjang bibimbap/House special green tea bean paste—seasoned vegetables with green tea rice and soybean paste. SO GOOD!
Other delicious things I’ve eaten but don’t have photos of:
- Hyunmi doenjang bibimbap/sweet brown rice—seasoned vegetable with sweet brown rice and soybean paste, cold.
- Beoseot/mushroom—tofu, mushrooms, and vegetables in hot pot. SO GOOD!
Sura Korean BBQ is located at 4869 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland, and is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. No website, but call (510) 654.9292.
Bonus: Sura’s only a few blocks from Scream Sorbet’s new shop. Waddle over for dessert, if you can manage.
Guest review: Hodo Soy Beanery tofu! »
If ingesting copious amounts of soy is bad for me, someone call 911 because I am likely to need an ambulance tonight. Milling around the produce section of the Whole Foods in Noe Valley, a tiny juicy bin tucked in between some lettuce and melons caught my eye. A tag sat modestly on top of the bin filled with the best tofu ever made: Hodo Soy Beanery tofu!
Yes, we are lucky enough to have this firm, white block of heaven at our fingertips hidden away for all vegan and vegetarian hogs alike. Hodo Soy Beanery uses 100 percent organic, non-GMO, hand-selected soybeans and painstakingly prepares them early in the a.m. so we can have the finished product within 12 hours of preparation! More than most of us can say, damn!
Many blocks of tofu came home with me destined to be made into crispy golden nuggets. A recipe for Spicy Banh Mi from Vegetarian Times BLEW me away last week. Imagine a crusty sweet roll, slathered with Vegenaise, sweet-and-sour marinated daikon shreds with a hint of cilantro. Then add the best part: fried tofu!
I tried making the sandwich with two different brands of tofu, and I must say the Hodo comes out WAY ahead because it is firm and filling. I challenge you to attempt to leave the fried tofu untouched before assembling the sandwich…good luck!