Monday, April 27, 2015

New Follow Your Heart Cheeses!

How many of you have been vegan long enough to remember the — cue scary horror music — dark days of vegan cheese? I know that when I first went vegan in 2004, there were only two cheeses on the market. One was good, and I still enjoy it today (I'm talking to you, Tofutti slices!), but the other shall remain nameless. And since vegans didn't have many cheese options, we often tried making our own.

But this was pre-Miyoko's Artisan Vegan Cheese. We didn't know about cashews and fermenting back then. In fact, my first homemade cheese was from a recipe online that called for agar-agar, nooch, mustard, and some other random stuff. It was a wiggly, jello-like blob that didn't taste a thing like cheese.

Well, thank god we've entered a new age! Vegan cheeses are actually great now! And I like most better than I ever liked dairy cheese. That's the case with these new cheeses from Follow Your Heart. I've long been a fan of FYH, which I believe hit market shelves here in Memphis a couple years after I went vegan. And FYH still makes their original soy-based formula, but they have four new cheeses out now that are soy-free and insanely delicious. They sent me some samples!

There's Provolone and American — both available in slices, blocks, and snacks.

And there's Garden Herb and Mozzarella — both available in slices and blocks.

I tried the Garden Herb first, because GARDEN HERB!! This tastes like mozzarella but with hints of thyme and oregano. The texture is very, very similar to that of Field Roast's Chao cheese, and that's probably because both brands use coconut oil for the base. That coconut oil base gives the texture a thick, almost string-cheese quality when it's very cold, and it gets softer as it hits room temperature.

I'm sure Garden Herb would be awesome in a lasagna or on a pizza. But I couldn't stop eating it on crackers long enough to actually use it in a dish. Garden Herb cheese + crackers + red wine = my favorite kind of dinner.

Next, I tried the American snack-size cheese. This comes in a single-serve package that's perfect for toting along on a trip or in your lunch bag. I brought this to work to enjoy with crackers before my Thursday noon yoga class.

This really does taste like the American cheese of my youth!! And as good as it was on a cracker, I thought it was even better by itself. The cracker seemed to mask the mild flavor. I enjoy my vegan cheese unadulterated.

The Provolone slices are probably my favorite of the bunch! It's been YEARS since I've had provolone. And this tastes just like what I remember. The slices were perfect on a multigrain wrap with Field Roast Wild Mushroom deli slices, Wildwood Garlic Aioli, whole grain mustard, lettuce, and tomato.

As much as I really wanted to just eat the Mozzarella straight from the package, I knew I needed to put at least one of these cheeses to the melting test. So I grated some of the block-style mozzarella onto my French bread pizza last night, along with some Tofurky Spinach-Pesto sausage, roasted red peppers, and red onions.

I made two of these little pizzas, one with the cheese under the toppings and one with it on top. After 30 minutes in the oven, the one with the cheese on bottom (pictured above) was super melty and perfect. But the one with cheese on top didn't melt so well. The topmost shreds actually hardened a bit and didn't melt at all. So if you're planning to melt this stuff in the oven, either cover it with toppings or, perhaps, a bit of aluminum foil.

I did heat one pizza up in the microwave this morning, and it melts beautifully that way. The mozzarella made for a great pizza topping, but I had some straight from pack as a snack today. And that's definitely my fave way to enjoy it. The mozzarella really tastes just like string cheese, which is something I've missed. I have a feeling this new FYH cheese will be playing a big role in my life!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sheridan & Drew's Vegan Housewarming!

My friends Sheridan and Drew bought their first house recently. It's in Little Rock, where they've lived for years. But they've always been renters, and now they're owners! Here's a pic of them with their new house a few weeks ago before they cleaned up the yard. I love how this pic looks like the opening shot of some HGTV show.

This past Saturday night, Sheridan and Drew had their housewarming party, and Paul and I made the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Memphis to celebrate with them. Sadly, I failed to take any pics of them together at the party. I kept meaning to. Sheridan and I took about a million selfies though!

And I did get lots of food pics because I never forget those! Sheridan made an awesome vegan spread! There were Vegan Cream Cheese Tortilla Roll-Ups with black olives! I ate so many of these!

And a party just isn't a party without Vegan Pigs in Blankets!

Sheridan also made some Cheeseburger Rotel Dip using vegan crumbles and a noochy sauce. We renamed it Rotel YEAH! Because "burger dip" didn't sound very sexy.

There was Guacamole and Salsa.

And Chocolate Chip Cookies from the PPK! Best chocolate chip cookies EVER!

Dana from Vanishing Veggie came over! And she brought some more snacks — Vegan Chicken Salad and Crackers and some Kite Hill Almond Cream Cheese. But I failed to photograph those. Sheridan did get this shot of Dana ready to devour ALL the pigs in blankets.

Speaking of Dana, Paul and I hung out with her in the area of Sheridan's backyard that I like to call Magic Fairy Circle. It's this lovely, witchy area with trees, bamboo, and all sorts of crystals buried in the yard from the previous owner. If I lived here, I'd never leave the backyard!

Oh, and let's not forget booze! It was a party, right? Sheridan and Drew arranged an ice bucket filled with beers, and there was a bowl of coozies. CUTE!

I picked up some assorted craft beers at Whole Foods there. And this 8-Bit Pale Ale was the highlight for sure! Nice can, light hops.

Happy Housewarming, Sheridan and Drew!!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Vegan Fish Tacos!

It's Taco Thursday! Yea, it doesn't quite have the same ring to it as Taco Tuesday. But regardless of what day it is, tacos are always awesome. And can you believe I've never had a fish taco?

Nope. I stopped eating fish long before I went vegetarian at age 14. I just never liked fish all that much, and my parents didn't eat any seafood. So it wasn't something I really grew up with. But I did always love Captain D's when I was a kid. That battered, deep-fried fish was the only kind I liked. Not that I missed it. But when I took my first taste of the Gardein Fishless Filets last year, I thought, "OMG, it's like vegan Captain D's!"

Since then, I've had the Gardein filets a couple times, always deep-fried and served with fries (or chips as the British say), hush puppies, and slaw. But I've been thinking a lot about fish tacos lately, even though I've never had them. I googled "vegan fish tacos" and found this recipe on Homemade Levity, which calls for the Gardein filets. I picked up a package of filets at the Crosstown Kroger (which, by the way, has a better vegan product selection than our Whole Foods). And then, using that recipe, I whipped these up!

Fish tacos, where have you been all my life? Or should I say, fishless tacos? Man, these were so good! Vegan fish (baked in the oven) with pickled cabbage and onions, chipotle cream, cilantro from my herb garden, and a squeeze of lime. And I used whole wheat flour tortillas from Whole Foods.

I'm so glad I get to eat these again tomorrow! On the side, I had a corn tot with the vegan miso butter from Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen. It's a miso-olive oil-garlic spread that's so perfect for fresh corn on the cob!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

No Cow Bars!

I love protein smoothies and bars, especially for recovery after a hard workout. When I'm running (and I'm currently not due to injury), I follow every run with a protein powder-packed smoothie or a vegan protein bar. But I've found that so many "protein bars" don't actually contain as much protein as my Vega One powders.

But that's not the case with D's Naturals No Cow Bars. These have 21 grams of plant protein! A couple months back, they offered to send me some samples to review. Look at the cute box!

And here's what was inside. There are only three flavors, so they doubled up on Blueberry Cobbler. And there was also Mint Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Cookie Dough.

Taste-wise, I like just about every bar I try! But it's hard to find a bar that meets my protein needs when I'm being all athletic. And this one tastes great and is loaded with protein (from brown rice and peas). It's also low in sugar, rich in iron, and all-natural. The bars are sweetened with monk fruit and stevia, and that cuts down on the calories. Although I don't mind a higher-calorie bar when it's a meal replacement, sometimes I like protein bars as pre-breakfast snacks. These only have 160 to 170 calories. Perfect for a snack!

And the coolest thing about this company is that it was founded by 18-year-old Daniel Katz. Katz got his entrepreneurial start by buying items on Craigslist and reselling them on eBay when he was 12. And since then, he's developed his business skills and runs his own business! How awesome is that? Katz has a great product, so I hope he does well. Gotta support small vegan businesses!

I tried my first No Cow bar — the Blueberry Cobbler — after my Little Rock Half-Marathon. This was in Sheridan's car post-race, after I'd stood in line in the freezing, wet cold waiting for my gear check bag. I was starving and feeling pretty weak because I'd turned down all the free snacks right after the race. At the time, I was just too worn out to even think about taking any free food. Luckily, I'd packed this bar in my bag. When I finally got my bag and got into Sher's warm car, I ripped it open and downed it!

Loved the blueberry flavor. It comes from freeze-dried blueberries, so it's totally natural. As for the texture, imagine if you took protein powder, added a little liquid, and pressed it into bar form. It's very chewy, and it has that creaminess that protein powder has. I know it's weird to describe a bar as creamy, but I can't think of a better word!

As I've mentioned before, I ended up hurting my knee in that race. So I was out for a couple weeks. I did attempt a 3-mile run a couple weeks later, and although my knee started hurting at the end, I still managed to finish the run. So I rewarded myself with the Peanut Butter Cookie Dough flavor. This was my very fave! God, I love peanut butter!

I'd have written this review a lot sooner, but after that 3-miler, I knew I had to take it easy for awhile to really let my knee heal. So I haven't been running enough to justify a protein bar. But then, last Saturday, I just decided to eat one of these as a lunch snack instead. I was doing a booksigning at our Memphis Library's Bookstock event, and that went straight through the lunch hour. So I packed the Mint Chocolate Chip bar.

What a perfect and filling snack! When I ate this bar, I'd not eaten since breakfast about 4 hours prior. And this bar held me over until I left the event a couple hours later. Plus, there were little cacao nibs! I love anything with crunchy nibs!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Vegan Drinks: Ramen Edition!

Last week, I blogged about Robata, a new-ish ramen shop in Overton Square. It's vegan-friendly, and they have a full bar. So you know what that means? Vegan Drinks!

We had our monthly Vegan Drinks meetup at Robata tonight! Here's the gang!

I ordered an Izakaya Lemonade to start. This is made with citrus vodka, triple sec, sour mix, and matcha green tea powder. It was a little sweeter than what I'd typically drink. But it was strong, so that made it okay.

Cassi went all high-dollar and ordered some imported sake with vegan jello bits inside. It's something she had when she visited Japan, so she just had to have it even though it was an $11 drink!

We didn't realize until after we ordered that hot sake was half-price for happy hour. So we split an order of that after we finished our first round.

To start, I got the Plum Onigiri — steamed rice ball with umeboshi plum. The plum is on top and stuffed in the center. And those are little pickles on the side.

And Garlic Yakitori because garlic!

My entree came with a side of Vegetable Gyoza. Yum!

For dinner, I ordered the Yasai Ramen, a vegan rice noodle soup with seaweed/soy broth, corn, lettuce, and veggies. But honestly, by the time I got to this, I'd eaten (and drank) all the above, and I was so full that I took two or three bites and took the rest home for tomorrow's lunch.

Most everyone else got some variation on these same items. But Karen got the Shishito Yakitori — Japanese peppers. She said it tasted like okra!

And Vaughan ordered Seaweed Salad. 

Cassi and Karen both ordered the Age-dashi Tofu without the bonito (fish) and dashi sauce (fish). So it was just fried tofu with radish. Yum!

And of course, Cassi had to be difficult and go off-menu with her ramen order. The Yasai Ramen is already vegan and comes with veggies, but instead Cassi ordered the Yasai broth with fillings from another soup that isn't typically vegan. Hers had seaweed/soy broth with added seaweed and bean sprouts.

If you're local and want to hang out at the next Vegan Drinks meetup in May, here's our Facebook page!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Yoga Video Review!

As I've whined about mentioned numerous times over the last couple months, I'm a runner who can't run. And that's basically the worst. I started having knee pain around mile 7 during the Little Rock Half-Marathon on March 1st. But I kept running on it for 5 more miles because, well, that giant medal was pretty important to me!

We didn't get the medals at the end of the race due to a delay in their delivery to the race organizers. But they were mailed out a couple weeks back. I was so excited to finally have this giant thing! Little Rock is known across the country for their giant medals. And the half-marathon medals are about half the size of the full marathon medals. Next year, I'm going for the big one.

But if I want to run a half next year, I've got to keep taking it easy right now. I've been on short walk/runs that don't hurt my knee. I've been doing strengthening exercises for my legs and hips and lots and lots of yoga! A few weeks back, Gaiam sent me two new yoga videos to review. One was Yoga for Runners!

Even though I'm not running distance right now, I was able to put this video to the test before and after one of my 20-minute walk/runs (alternating two minutes running and two minutes walking for 20 minutes). There's a 20-minute pre-run practice and a 20-minute post-run practice. One day, I did both with a 20-minute walk/run in between.

The pre-run practice focuses on loosening up joints and muscles for a safer running experience. There was lots of cat/cow and some of these hip openers (pictured below) that I like to call dog pee-pee poses.

After the pre-run practice, I went out for that quick run. And I have to say that I did feel looser and more warmed up. I'm used to just rolling out of bed, downing a quick snack, and heading out the door for a run. But it definitely helps to do a little yoga first.

The post-run practice was my fave though. Because I'm so bad at stretching! I usually always stretch after every run, but I'm certain I don't do enough stretches, and I'm sure I don't hold them as long as I should. I figure that's part of why I keep ending up with injuries. The post-run practice offered some great stretches, and having a yoga instructor tell me how long to hold postures really helps. Here's one exercise from the video that I actually do manage to do after most runs! Love this one.

On the Yoga for Runners video, there's also a 20-minute Yoga for Conditioning practice to do on days that you don't run. I did that the next day, and it was very helpful. It focuses on realigning the bones and building body strength.

I usually put Maynard up when I do yoga in the living room, but he was laying on the couch being a good boy when I started the post-run segment. So I left him out. And then he decided to give me a dog tongue massage during Savasana!

Gaiam also sent me this Hot Yoga for Beginners video. Now I LOVE Bikram. Love, love, love it. But I can't really afford to join a Bikram studio. Not to mention that I have a hard time finding time for the hour-and-a-half-long practices.

This video is actually not Bikram though, just more of a generic hot yoga practice. Bikram is a very specific set of 26 postures. But this video features poses commonly featured in hot yoga classes that aren't necessarily Bikram. And it says you can do this practice with or without a heated room because who can really heat their workout room to 105 degrees in their home, right?

I did bring a space heater in the room with me though. And I cranked it up on high. The room got a little toasty since it was already about 78 and muggy in my house that morning.

This video has three separate 20-minute practices that can done on their own or all together. I did all three back-to-back. The first segment focused on heating up the body, the second on igniting the body, and the third on simmering down. That igniting segment contained LOTS of planks and chaturangas. Talk about igniting! My arms and chest were so sore the next day! Still are. But you know, good sore. Like the kind of sore that lets you know you did something awesome for yourself.

And I love that the video has one of my favorite poses — Lord of the Dance pose!

I'd definitely recommend both of these videos. But Yoga for Runners is my fave!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Paul's 35th Birthday!

Today was my partner Paul's 35th birthday. As you probably know from past posts, Paul isn't vegan. But in the past month, he's joined a gym, started running, and he's making an attempt to eat healthier! So for his birthday, he asked for proper running shoes (he's been running in shoes not made for running). I bought him some new Brooks Launch shoes! I also got him some of his favorite pancakes from Brother Junpier's. Not vegan, unfortunately. But baby steps.

Eventually, he says he wants to run a half-marathon with me. We'll see if it sticks. Hope it will. The Brooks Launch are some badass shoes.

I got Paul's pancakes as takeout and then came home and fixed myself some rice noodle ramen, which I ate while watching Game of Thrones. Then we met up with my friend/co-worker Shara at a festival downtown. Our newspaper, The Memphis Flyer, was a sponsor, so we got free beer tickets. That bought us a LOT of beer! This was a combo of various Leinenkugel shandys and beer from Southern Prohibition.

No birthday is complete without cake! But since we didn't have a big party this year, I didn't want to bake a big cake. So we just bought a couple cupcakes from my friend Cassi's Pink Diva Cupcakery. Paul wanted the Diva Delight (in the foreground - chocolate cupcake with chocolate mousse filling and whipped cream topping), and I opted for the Cherry Cupcake (in the background - vanilla-cherry cake with cherry whipped topping).

For dinner, Paul wanted to go to his favorite steakhouse, Folk's Folly. That sounds like a vegan nightmare, I know. But they're actually super-nice there, and when we go, they always make me a vegan Pasta Primavera dish. I loved the veggie-to-pasta ratio!

After dinner, we met some friends at Los Compadres. Here we are at the end of the night. Happy birthday, Paul!