Interview: Meet Nicole Marquis, owner of HipCityVeg in Philadelphia! »
Healthful vegan fast food maven Nicole Marquis dreamed of serving fast food to Philadelphians and visitors to the City of Brotherly/Sisterly/Gender-is-a-construct Love. And when she built HipCityVeg, we did come, in arugula taco salad-chomping droves. Now it’s silly to even think of eating anywhere else in Rittenhouse Square! I mean, I guess you could think about it, but it’d be better to save your precious brain space for finding the best spot in Rittenhouse Square to sit with your gourmet vegan take-out deliciousness from HipCityVeg!
Nicole brought me into her adorable restaurant to have me try the groothie, an organic green smoothie made of a rotating blend of fresh local greens and fruit (amazing!) and one of the most popular dishes, the Crispy HipCity Ranch. This overflowing faux chicken burger was battered fried amazingness. I rarely go for that stuff but wow, am I glad I tried it! So ridic!
I love the decor of the place: the whole pieces of organic fruit spilling onto the counter (in an artistic way), hardwood floors, and pretty potted plants. So lovely!
Nicole e-mailed me responses to my questions about how she envisioned and created HipCityVeg, her role in supporting the fast-growing vegan scene in Philly, and her life’s mission to spread the delicious veggie love.
Vegansaurus: Are you native to the Philly area? Where did you grow up?
Nicole Marquis: I’ve lived in the Philly area all my life except for a period living in L.A. during college. I grew up in Lower Gwynedd, but have been living in Rittenhouse Square for a few years.
V: When did you become interested in vegan food?
NM: I first became interested in nutrition by reading Andrew Weil. Then I read Mad Cowboy and realized what animal cultivation was doing to the earth. After reading Eat to Live and The China Study, I realized that a plant-based diet is essential to my health. I became vegan a few years ago after being vegetarian for several years, but the change in conciousness was actually developing for a while before that.
V: How did you get involved with now-closed Philly vegan fine-dining restaurant Horizons?
NM: I worked in the restaurant industry for years, mostly as a server before managing a local night club. While working on another project I met Rich Landau and he recruited me to help run Horizons.
V: What made you decide to open HipCityVeg?
NM: I felt a mission to popularize plant-based food. When something has great importance to you personally you want to see it grow and flourish. I also wanted a world where I didn’t have to peice together a couple of sides every time I ate in a restaurant.
V: What has most surprised you about operating a vegan restaurant in Philly?
NM: I was surprised by the pent-up demand. People said they were waiting for this for a long time. Who knew?
V: How many customers do you get on average per day? More during certain hours of the day?
NM: We serve about as many people as can fit in the restaurant (and onto the sidewalk), really. Our busiest time in this location is around lunch.
V: What is your most popular dish?
NM: Our best-selling sandwich is the Crispy Hip City Ranch, which is delicious. But our overall best-seller is our signature drink, the Groothie. It’s a smoothie made of bananas, apples, organic greens, and a seasonal fruit. There really is nothing better for your body.
V: How do you envision the growing veg scene in Philly? Do you think it’s greater now for any particular reason?
NM: Philly is becoming a great vegan city. It really is a hip city. People here love to challenge their tastes, to embrace the fringe. But they crave real, clean, fresh food. I love my hometown.
V: What are your hobbies, activities besides running the restaurant?
I love yoga. I love the arts. I love eating in great restaurants. I love my family and friends.
V: Anything else you’d like to add?
NM: I want everyone to feel at home in my restaurant. I hope we share the vibe of love. We’re all family!
[Groothie and Crispy HipCity Ranch photos via HipCityVeg]
Product review: Yummi Bears vitamins are perfect for kids, and the kid in you! »
UPDATE!!!: Turns out, these are NOT vegan. They contain lanolin. However the company says that Yummi Bears Organics Immunity and Yummi Bears Organics Brain Health are both vegan.
When you’re a queer vegan like me, you learn to improvise in situations where inequality is at play. No same-sex marriage in your state? Road trip with your pleather biker fiancé to Northhampton! No vegan gummy vitamins on the market? Squash one of your regular vegan multivitamins and one of those wacky German vegan gummy animals together and chew it down before you taste anything horrible (like the part that isn’t gummy bear)!
The thing is though, times are changing. Rainbow marriage is on the horizon (you heard it here first, folks!) and finally, vegans have an awesome gummy multivitamin to call our very own. Hurray! Yummi Bears Organics Multi-Vitamin is completely vegan, as well as free from allergens, gluten, casein, gelatin, and GMOs, and all natural and organic. Yummi Bears make four varieties of vegan organic vitamins: a multivitamin with 16 essential vitamins and minerals; a Brain Health vitamin with DHA and B-complex; an Immunity Health with rose hips and astragalus (I LOVE ASTRAGALUS); and a Bone Health vitamin to give kids healthy bones, teeth, and gums (you know, when they’re not messing up their dental work with gummy bears).
The company sent me free samples of the Multi-Vitamin and Bone Health. How do they taste? AMAZING. They really taste like candy. Because, you know, they are candy. I felt insta-fortified after trying three of each (that’s the serving size according to the package, don’t hate!) and I know you/your kids would, too.
I really love taking vitamins, and I’m passionate about vitamin accessibility in the vegan community. I once considered living in a co-op near Lake Merritt but decided not to because it didn’t sit right with me that they had a communal condom drawer but didn’t share vitamins. I mean, I get that, but c’mon. Choosing safer household sex over safer household B-12 blood levels? They didn’t have their priorities straight. That’s why I moved to Philadelphia, where people share cigarettes and horror stories about traffic to the Jersey Shore. And now I have these amazing gummy vitamins to share—so far I’ve brought some to a young queer Jews of Philadelphia National Coming Out Day party, and I can confirm that I made exactly 3.5 friends while passing out gummy bears over by the hummus (that’s always where you’ll find me!). A great victory for supplementation proliferation and my heeb social life. Yay!
Get Yummi Bears Organics at Rainbow, Whole Foods, and other health food stores, or online.
Product review: Perfect Fit brown rice protein is superb in smoothies! »
I know there’s a lot of debate out there about what should go in smoothies. Greens? Nut milk? Berries? Durian mixed with agave and raw cacao sauce? It can be tough to decide what your smoothie should have in it—I know I’ve stood, mouth agape, in front of my blender for upward of two minutes trying to decide whether 1/4 cup of maca is overkill (note: it is).
There are as many ways to blend as their are ingredients under the moon, but I highly recommend whatever you put in your smoothie, you start it with a protein-rich or green-rich base. That way, you’re at least fortifying yourself when your smoothie consists of just cacao nibs and avocado (admit it, you’ve tried that combo at least once!).
Perfect Fit Protein by Tone It Up scared me with its name—I’m not interested in toning anything when I drink smoothies, except maybe my hair if it’s that time of the color cycle—but its ingredients are absolutely non-scary! I love that it has so much protein (15g serving! Woohoo!) yet includes only organic raw, gluten-free, non-GMO brown rice protein, stevia, and no common allergens. The company sent me a bunch of samples and I absolutely could not taste the flavors (in a good way!) in my usual berry-maca-almond milk-chia seed smoothie.
I highly recommend adding this stuff if you’re interested in a no-fuss protein boost without tons of added ingredients you’ll likely find in other vegan protein powders. This is a winner! Find it online.
Sunbiotics Probiotics Are Chewable Candy For Your Colon »
One of my life missions is to bring supplementation to the vegan masses through any means necessary (see: the B-12 patch and Omega-Zen). Something I’ve been wondering about lately is how to make vegan supplements taste like candy, because I feel strongly that taste matters a great deal when it comes to ensuring our population is adequately supplemented. If it tastes like acidopholous, you’re not going to take it very often, am I right?
If you’re jonesing for a probiotic that satisfies the palate as well as the body, you have GOT to try the new Sunbiotics Probiotics. They’re chewable! How cool is that? You can feel like a kid again, crunching one of these nickel-sized tablets and enjoying the benefits of improved intestinal bacterial health. I used to work for a raw vegan retreat center where the suppies staff got into big debates about what kind of sweetener should be used to feed and grow the probes. Some supplement companies use inulin derived from jerusalem artichoke, which is rad, but it can cause irritation and sensitivity in some individuals. I once took a bunch of inulin-containing probiotics right after I broke a seven-day green juice fast and my body was super sensitive and insta-broke out in icky blotchy hives. I took an Allegra prescription allergy pill I keep on hand in case I’m attacked by a patch of poison ivy or mangoes (did you know they’re in the same family? Plants are crazy!) and was fine but vowed never to take probes made with inulin again!
Lucky for me, Sunbiotics Probiotics mean I won’t have to! My friend Alex Malinsky, the mastermind behind Rawtella, sent me a free batch to try. These tablets are made with organic yacon root prebiotics and cut with lower-glycemic coconut sugar vanilla flavor. It feels like eating tiny round marshmallows made for astronauts! The one issue I have with them is that they taste so good, if you find yourself crying over a bottle of probiotics you might be tempted to take them all at once. Don’t do that! Find yourself a 12-step program and seek answers outside the supplement bottle!
Sunbiotics probiotics are raw, gluten-free, vegan, and organic—absolutely free from yucky fillers or preservatives, unlike some other supplements on the market. I highly recommend these to anyone who’s afraid to take supplements or who just wants a really solid vegan probiotic made with high-quality organic ingredients. Get them online or demand them from your local health food store!
Guest Post: Fabe’s Vegan Cookies: Face-Sized Deliciousness! »
I’ve been vegan for the better part of a decade now, and one of the best things about being vegan in the days before plant-based cheeses took over the world (remember? Those were sad, sad times) was monster-sized Alternative Baking Company cookies. Available almost exclusively at health food stores, these cookies reinforced that going vegan didn’t have to mean forgoing baked goods the size of your face.
These days, in the American-sized vegan cookie arena, there are tons of amazing contenders. ABC, who first stole our large, ethical cookie-loving hearts, recently released a line of gluten-free cookies that taste pretty good, but now lots of other big vegan (and xgfx) cookie options include (but are not limited to!): Liz Lovely, The Inspired Cookie, Nana’s, Fabe’s, Sun Flower Baking Company, and, of course, Sarah Brown cookies made by Eat Me!
Fabe’s recently sent me some samples of their various vegan cookie varieties. The chocolate chip (containing gluten) and the macaroon (gluten-free) were pretty solid, but the gluten-free dark chocolate was so delicious! Sweetened with only non-GMO beet juice syrup and palm sweetener, these tasted fudgy yet were still cake-like, far superior to textures I’ve experienced in other gluten-free vegan “cookies,” which were more like chocolate-coated oily Passover buiscuits. Fabe’s aren’t quite as large as some of the other large vegan cookies on the market, but they’ve achieved one of the finest gluten-free vegan textures and mouthfeels I’ve experienced so far in my plant-based-cookie-tasting journey! Definitely worth a try if naturally sweetened gluten-free cookies are your thing.
Guest Post: Rosie O’Donnell Announces She’s Vegan On Twitter! »
For those of you living in the middle of nowhere Arizona eating raw vegan food, meditating and not checking Twitter on your phone every ten minutes, I feel you: I lived that way for a couple years! I assume your main source of information is Vegansaurus, so we’ll just break it down for you: the awe-inspiring Rosie O’Donnell recently suffered a heart attack and has since gone vegan!
Yesterday Rosie O’Donnell tweeted: ”nine days later - nine pounds lost - eating a plant based diet #likebillclintonhttp://pic.twitter.com/8ItILfpl.
Some debate ensued as to whether she really was outing herself as vegan. I tweeted the news that she was vegan and a few people chirped that she’s not. I apologized for the misinformation, and, lo and behold, @Rosie tweeted me:
The vegan-lesbian tribe is getting so full these days! Yay! Since coming out as vegan, Rosie has received a barrage of vegan-positive tweets, Facebook posts, and messages across the far reaches of the Internets. Let’s keep spreading the veggie love and supporting her heart-healthy journey to an ethical, plant-based diet!
This is Vegansaurus raw correspondent Sarah E. Brown’s latest post! Read more by Sarah on Vegansaurus, and visit her personal blog, Queer Vegan Food.
Guest Product Review: Good Greens: Superfood Nutrition Bars That Taste Like Candy! »
Good Greens low-glycemic gluten-free vegan bars, which boast 40 antioxidants, 10g protein, Omega 3’s, are low-glycemic, and are free from animal products, could taste like chalk and still get a nod of favor in my direction, because I love supplements so hard. These bars boast some of the fanciest and hyped ingredients in the natural health/vegan world, including mesquite, nori, mangosteen, probiotics, flax, aloe vera, chia seed, mulberry, bilberry, broccoli sprout powder, Nova Scotia Dulse (can we please make this the trendy new lox substitute? Yay Jewish vegan pride!), golden berries, alfalfa sprout powder, beet juice powder, wheat sprout powder, cha de Bugre, Siberian Eleuthero Root Extract, DHA, green tea extract, camu powder, pine bark extract, macs, lucuma, chlorella, and spirulina all grace each label of these superfood-packed bars.
With such a crazy A-list of superfoods, there’s very high risk for flavor failure. It’s like those star-studded ensemble cast movies which have such glorious talent but as a whole miss the mark: Paris Je T’aime, New York, I Love You, New Year’s Eve, etc. (Note: These films certainly had redeeming qualities, so if you love them please excuse this analogy!)
Taste may not be the primary concern for vegan health freaks (myself included!) but Good Greens bars unabashedly shoot for mass appeal. They even have a code to scan with your smartphone to learn more about the products! Can you just imagine a bunch of people scanning these on BART? I (s)can!
While a lot of so-called nutrition bars fail badly when they try to cram so many insanely powerful nutriceuticals (or else are seriously effing unethical and won’t disclose whether they source their cacao from places that use child slavery—F you, CLIF!), Good Greens decided to rise above and make bars that are completely ethical and INSANELY DELICIOUS. I shit you not, these are like CANDY! So how do Good Bars orchestrate a symphony of superfoods without creating sheer mouth cococphany?
Actually, it’s pretty simple: chocolate! Nearly every flavor of these bars includes dairy free dark chocolate as the first ingredient. It turns out, dark chocolate is the great equalizer when it comes to flavor-balancing. These bars are sweetened with healthful ingredients but you’d swear otherwise. The chocolate peanut butter, chocolate raspberry, and chocolate coconut flavors will inspire you to break dance in your “Pigs are Friends Not Food” underwear until you hit your target heart rate!
Good Greens, which sent me free samples of each flavor, are available in health food stores and online.
This is Vegansaurus raw correspondent Sarah E. Brown’s latest post! Read more by Sarah on Vegansaurus, and visit her personal blog, Queer Vegan Food.
Rawxies: Heart-shaped raw vegan deliciousness! »
Rawxies (“foxy raw treats,” according to the company’s website) are gloriously delicious heart-shaped raw food bars sweetened only with fruit and coconut palm sugar. Coconut palm sugar has recently gained favor in various raw food circles, and reportedly has less of an effect on blood sugar than agave or cane sugar. Either way, it’s totally delicious, and so are these lovely raw cookie bars! Rawxies sent me some samples of each of their flavors.
Rawxies founder Callie England parlayed her raw food interest with her graphic design prowess to make healthful treats that are so effing adorable they will be guaranteed to impress your date/friend/gym partner with whom you share one of the two heart bars found in each colorful serving pack.
Combined with high-quality organic raw ingredients like poppyseed, almonds cacao powder, cacao nibs, vanilla rains, walnuts, and other delicious add-ins, and sweetened with dates and/or coconut palm sugar with tasty oat groats, these bars really are a cut above many other vegan snacks on the market.
Using coconut palm sugar essentially guarantees you’ll have the low-glycemic-loving raw crowd on your side, and abbreviating “essential oil” to “E.O.” on the package of the mint chocolate chip Rawxies made me feel I’m in a special raw vegan club that has shorthand only cool kids know—except now everyone who reads Vegansaurus knows (in case you didn’t already suss that one out!), so I guess all of us are in a special club, and can eat Rawxies with the knowledge of all of its ingredients, together!
Callie created Rawxies to bring foxy raw food to the masses. Their shape reminds me of the vegan Heart Thrive energy bars that undoubtedly got me through my varsity collegiate cross-country seasons (they were sold through Vassar’s meal plan!). I think that these treats are in keeping with Stephen James Organics’ bars in that they emphasize the fun, flirty appeal of raw food, though I guess a lot of folks feel the need to fight the “raw foodists eat twigs” stereotype! I’ve never worried about being accused of consuming twigs, since I admit to my propensity to down twig tea with abandon, but regardless of whether it’s essential to create raw food products that combat any crunchy public image, I think it’s great that so many people are making raw food more accessible and delicious!
Update: NuTru’s O-Mega-Zen + EPA supplement »
If you recall, our Sarah E. Brown reviewed NuTru’s O-Mega-Zen + EPA, a “vegan source of high-purity algae derived Omega-3 DHA and EPA.” She totally thought it was great, she just thought it tasted “like hell.” That Sarah, so spirited! Well, it turns out she was sent a version that’s no longer on the market, so NuTru sent her the current product to try. Here’s her updated assessment:
"The new, improved, product that is currently the only one available tastes like a faintly sweet vegetable-derived gel cap, which is exactly what it is. I am happy to report no fishy algae taste leaked into my mouthfeel experience whatsoever. The product is indeed as pleasing to the palate as it is to the body.”
There you have it! I’ve heard about this algae-derived omega, supposed to be just as good as icky fish supplements because algae is where the fish get the omegas in the first place! So now you can tell those “but humans are supposed to eat fish” people that they can suck algae.
My partner in vegan crime, Courtney Pool, and I tried vegan boba (bubble tea) for the first time at Vegan Tree restaurant. Wow, what amazing tapioca pearls of joy! How did we live so close to boba places in L.A. and not imbibe regularly?
We’ve decided we’re going to love boba forever and always from now on.
Great job, Sarah and Courtney! Congratulations!