Sunday, February 19, 2017

Gumbo Contest for Equality!

This afternoon, I competed in the Tennessee Equality Project's annual gumbo competition at the Hilton. It's my fourth year competing. But I skipped last year since Fat Tuesday fell so early that the contest was held during my yearly January reset eating plan! Plus, I just kind of needed a break last year. Making three gallons of gumbo is HARD WORK.

The event is a fundraiser for TEP, a non-profit dedicated to advancing and protecting the civil rights of the LGBTQ Tennesseans. They do great work fighting against homophobic bills (like the dreaded bathroom bill), and they push for pro-equality legislation (like Memphis' non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT city employees).

My team name for years has been Who Dat Crunk Vegan. I just keep reusing the same sign!

Each year, I try something different. And this year, I went the simple route with a classic Gumbo Z'herbes. Also known as greens gumbo, z'herbes was traditionally consumed on Good Friday, which was a day of abstinence from meat for some Catholics. I used Isa's recipe from the The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook, but I spiced it up with my own touches — basil, marjoram, thyme, cayenne, Liquid Smoke, and some Slap Yo Mama Cajun seasoning that I picked up in New Orleans last time I was down. For the greens, I went with collards, kale, and turnip greens.

I really loved this gumbo! It had a complex roux with a heat that builds. And even though I've typically added some sort of protein — tempeh, tofu, vegan seitan sausage, even beans — in past years, I think this was best as a stand-alone veggie-based stew.

For the first time in TEP gumbo contest history, there was a vegetarian/vegan category! It was judged in a blind taste test by my bud Justin Fox Burks from The Chubby Vegetarian. And there was some stiff competition with four vegan gumbos! My friends Stephanie, Don, and Kenzie also had a team, and they took home the vegetarian award! Bitches. Haha. For real though, their gumbo was amazing.

They made a gumbo with tofu and mushroom scallops, and their roux was on point. Just the right level of heat with lots of flavor going on.

I wandered around a bit during the contest and tried this yummy vegetable gumbo with crispy tofu. LOVED that tofu on top. I also loved that they used scallions as a garnish. I may try and step up my garnish game for the judges next year.

There was also this very veggie-heavy gumbo that had lots of okra. You can never go wrong with okra.

It was exciting to have so many vegan options! So many people stopped by the table and told me they were vegetarian and were so happy to be able to try more than one gumbo this year. In years past, it was always just me or Cassi (who competed last year when I sat out).

Anyway, here were my helpful teammates, Andy and Wes. I wouldn't let them help me in the kitchen since I like to cook alone, but they helped carry stuff and dish out gumbo.

And Andy handed out beads!

There was a brass band.

Random crowd shot!

Overall, great event from TEP. I'm glad it's over for another year though. I spent about five hours working on my gumbo yesterday, a couple hours reheating it this morning, and several more at the event. It's definitely an all-weekend affair. But such fun!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stuff I Ate

It's random meal round-up time! We'll start with some really yummy scores from the Raw Girls food truck. This totally vegan truck has two locations — one in Midtown outside Midtown Yoga and another in East Memphis outside Hollywood Feed. I dropped by last Friday for some treats. I got this Pear with Maple Roasted Chickpeas Salad — kale, chickpeas, Bosc pear slices, pecans, and a Dijon dressing. This was the perfect light snack before an art opening on Friday night since I knew I'd also be snacking at the event.

Later that night, my salad and art show snacks had worn off, so Misti and I split a Greek Flatbread from Midtown Crossing Grill. This tasty pie has red bean hummus, arugula, kalamata olives, cucumber slices, and radish slices.

The next day, on Saturday morning, I had a long run planned — 14 miles. Usually, I follow those long runs with a protein smoothie made with Vega Sport powder. But I'd picked up the Raw Girls Cherry Crumble (made with gluten-free oats and sweetened with coconut nectar) on Friday, and their Facebook page suggested trying this warmed with a side of ice cream. So I made Protein Nice Cream using a banana and some PlantFusion vanilla protein powder. I heated the crumble in the microwave for a few seconds and served with nice cream on the side. Perfect combo of warm and cold and protein.

I also picked up a Merry Fabulous Juice from the Raw Girls, and I had that as an afternoon snack. This had beets, oranges, pineapple, apple, lemon, cucumber, ginger, and basil.

On Monday, my company — Crosstown Arts — had a staff retreat at a lovely lakehouse in Arkansas, about an hour away from our office in Memphis. It was a nice getaway and lots of fun (we all wore wigs!), and we had lots of delicious vegan food. When we first arrived, there was breakfast waiting on us — Vegan Biscuits with homemade cookie butter and strawberry and blackberry preserves.

Plus, homemade Vegan Sausage and Chocolate Banana Toast!

Lunch was Falafel in Homemade Pita, Potato Salad, and Cucumber Salad. That cucumber salad has the BEST sesame-vinegar marinade, and I absolutely loved the homemade pita bread.

And for dessert, there were Blueberry Crumble Bars! Needless to say, I left that event completely stuffed and happy. And we got some important work done too!

I had a Crosstown Memphis Community Development Corporation meeting on Monday night when I got back into town. We were meeting at Midtown Crossing, and I wanted to eat something light since I'd been stuffing my face all day. I settled on the Greek Salad with added chili tofu and minus the feta cheese. The tofu as an add-on isn't on the menu, but they were happy to add it! The addition of protein made this a complete (but still light) meal.

Sadly though, by the end of the day Tuesday, I was starting to come down with something. It seems like almost everyone in the office caught some sort of cold after our retreat. Some got it worse than others, and mine seems to be mostly a head cold (no chest stuff yet!). I've been medicating with lots of Leap smoothie bowls (full review on those coming soon)! And juice! Like this Ginger Greens Juice and Sniffle Stopper Shot from Juice Bar. The sniffle stopper shot (lemon, cayenne, ginger, and a protective essential oil blend) really helped!

Last night, I was supposed to go to yoga class and then to dinner with friends at Imagine Vegan Cafe. But I canceled all of those plans in favor of going home, putting on my PJs, and whipping up some hot soup. I made this very green ramen bowl with Lotus Foods Jade Pearl Rice Ramen, baked tofu, miso paste, broccoli, kale, garlic, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, corn, and peas. Just what I needed! Of course, I followed that with a hot toddy because that's the best part about being sick!

That's it for now. Hoping to be on the mend by the weekend. I had my longest long run (20 miles) before the Little Rock Marathon planned for Saturday, but it looks like that's out. But I should be okay. I've still got two weeks before the race, so I hope to be back to 100% health by then.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Best Tofu Dishes in Memphis

When I went vegan in 2004, Memphis wasn't the most vegan-friendly city. I found a few things on menus here and there, but I did most of my cooking at home. And honestly, I still do, but not for lack of dining options. I cook at home to save money and eat a little healthier, but when I want to dine out these days, I have sooooo many options here. Those options range from classic comfort fare at Imagine Vegan Cafe to raw dishes at 2 Vegan Sistas to realistic mock meats from New Hong Kong to uber-healthy whole food-based meals at City Silo. 

But when I'm craving tofu specifically, I know just where to go! Here are my top eight picks for the Best Tofu Dishes in Memphis.

1) Blue Nile/Stick 'Em
The award for Very Best Tofu in Memphis jointly goes to Blue Nile and Stick 'Em. Blue Nile is an Ethiopian restaurant, and Stick 'Em is a kabob food truck, but both are owned by the same couple. And both serve the most amazing, chewy, seasoned fried tofu on a stick. I'm not sure what they use to season the tofu, but the flavor is unlike anything I've had before. It's a savory flavor that's very different from the taste of the traditional fried tofu you'd find in an Asian restaurant. In the restaurant, the Tofu Skewers come with white rice and sauteed veggies as an entree.

And on the truck, you get the option of a side of sauteed veggies, French fries, or a salad. I usually go with the latter. You can also order single kabobs in both places.

2) Pho Binh
This beloved Midtown Memphis institution has a legendary lunch buffet with several varieties of fried tofu — usually lemongrass tofu (THE BEST), green bean tofu, and curry tofu (but sometimes, they mix it up and include black bean tofu). Vegetarians and meat-eaters gather here for the tofu. It's the best thing there, no question. Pho Binh even sells tee-shirts that say "Memphis-style tofu." I have one! The best part? The all-you-can-eat buffet is under $9. The Mushroom Tofu is pictured here, but it's rarely on the buffet. Got to order off the menu for that! But real talk — the Lemongrass Tofu is greatest thing they serve.

3) Brother Juniper's
There are a handful of places offering tofu scramble for brunch, but Brother Juniper's has the best. The Fahim's Special (not on the menu, but ask for it) comes with roasted red peppers, portabella mushrooms, onions, and a special sauce. And you get a TON of it. Comes with amazing home fries and homemade toasted bread with made-in-house fruit preserves.

4) Zaka Bowl
Obviously, fried tofu is my favorite thing. But sometimes, you want something a little healthier, and Zaka Bowl has you covered. This totally vegan eatery serves chewy, savory baked tofu cubes in their build-your-own bowls. They're clearly marinated in a soy sauce base, but there are some other awesome flavors in there that I just can't put my finger on. You can't really see much tofu in this bowl because it's covered in vegetables. But trust me — it's there. Pro tip: Order your bowl with double tofu!

5) Deja Vu 
This downtown Cajun restaurant has a LOT of meat on the menu, but they also have a separate vegan menu. And they don't use any meat/dairy in their veggie sides. They also boast some of the yummiest, sauciest fried tofu. You can order the cubes with either curry sauce (pictured here), BBQ sauce, or teriyaki sauce. I love the curry!

6) RP Tracks
Home of BBQ Tofu Nachos! RP Tracks is locally famous for these nachos, and even non-vegans rave about them. The crispy fried tofu cubes are coated in a sweet BBQ sauce and served atop tortilla chips with black beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and jalapenos.

7) Midtown Crossing Grill
This Crosstown pizza parlor has several vegan options, among them the Bianca Banh Mi (named after yours truly!). Thin slabs of tofu are marinated in a sweet chili sauce, and they perfectly complement the red bean hummus and homemade pickled veggies on the sandwich. I also like to order this tofu as an add-on to their Greek salad.

8) Evelyn & Olive
I don't really have a good picture of this Jamaican restaurant's Black Bean Tacos, but just trust me that, under all that slaw, is a yummy tofu and black bean mixture. The tofu is crumbled and sauteed with Jamaican spices. Topped with slaw and kiwi salsa and served with a side of pigeon peas and rice.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Stuff I Ate on Valentine's Day

As I mentioned in last night's post, my partner Paul is out of town for Valentine's Day. We celebrated our holiday on Sunday (and you can read all about that here), but today, I chose to spend V-Day doing a little self-care. If you can't love yourself, how can you love anyone else, right?

Y'all know I totally nerd out for holidays, so of course, I themed all of my meals. This morning, I got up early and had a Beetilicious Ginger Candy Raw Fruit & Nut Bar by Wunderbar (full review and pics of these coming in a future post) before my run. Because of the beets, the bar was a little pinkish/reddish. :-) Then I headed out for a short 3-mile hill repeat run on the A.W. Willis Bridge in Harbortown. After my run, I had this very Valentine's-y Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberry Protein Smoothie.

That's one cup cashew-almond milk, 3/4 cup frozen strawberries, 1/2 frozen banana, 1 Tbsp. hemp hearts (because hearts!!), 1 Tbsp. raw cacao, and 1 scoop Manitoba Harvest Chocolate Hemp Pro70 protein powder. Sprinkle of cacao nibs for garnish.

Around mid-morning, I snacked on my the Love Pop (caramel popcorn with fudge chunks) that Paul gave me for Valentine's Day. Perfect desk snack while checking work emails! I love how this popcorn is both sweet and salty.

I went home for lunch and whipped up a quick Vegan Grilled Cheese and Vegetable Soup.

Of course, I had to cut the sandwich into a heart shape! But don't worry — I ate the scraps too. The grilled cheese was made with Daiya cheddar slices, Miyoko's Creamery VeganButter, and Dave's Killer Bread. The soup, which was loaded with stewed tomatoes, okra, corn, and green beans, is homemade (and home-canned) by my Granny using fresh-from-the-garden produce.

Back at work in the afternoon, I sipped on some herbal teas, as well as my homemade rose petal kombucha (it's so good, y'all!). I also snacked on some pretzel crisps (they're kind of heart-shaped!) and edamame hummus that I found in the breakroom fridge.

After work, I popped by Hollywood Feed's dog bakery and picked up some treats for my furry Valentines — heart-shaped Pumpkin Bars for Maynard and some Greenies treats for the kitties.

Dinner was another recipe from Isa's The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook, which I've vowed to cook from for every holiday in 2017. I picked out a couple of Indian recipes from the Valentine's Day chapter. These were, of course, intended to be shared with a partner for a romantic Valentine's meal. But I had this Cauliflower Tikka Masala and Pistachio Lentil Biryani all by myself, and that was just fine. More for me!

The tikka masala subbed cauliflower florets for the traditional chicken and boasted a rich sauce made with coconut milk, fire-roasted tomatoes, and spices. It was a perfect complement to the nutty biryani flecked with firm beluga lentils and crunchy pistachios and seasoned with toasted Indian spices. A lovely, fancy dinner all for me!

I had some grocery shopping to do tonight, and while some people might not consider that "self-care," I love to make meal plans and shopping lists and spend plenty of time perusing the aisles for the things on my list (and NOT on my list!). And then, after I wrapped up a trip to Whole Foods and Kroger and unpacked the groceries, I ran a bath and relaxed with a glass of white wine, a book, and some raw Love chocolate from Addictive Wellness chocolates.

Hope your Valentine's Day was great too!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Valentine's Day with Paul!

My partner Paul works in Nashville, so he's only home a couple weekends a month. And he has to work on Tuesday, so we celebrated Valentine's Day a little early.

On Friday afternoon, I received a special delivery at my office. Paul ordered me two tins of Love Pop — vegan caramel corn with melted dark chocolate and fudge chunks — from local popcorn makers Green Goddess Gourmet Popcorn. They sell several flavors of their vegan popcorn at Whole Foods, but last week, they sent out an email about a special edition Valentine's popcorn available by request. So I forwarded the email to Paul as a hint. Haha! It worked!

Paul didn't get into town until late Saturday night, so we spent Sunday celebrating our early Valentine's. In the morning, I made the Almond-Crusted French Toast with Strawberries from Isa's The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook. With a side of Gimme Lean vegan sausage and mimosas.

The almond-crusted toast was SO GOOD. I used day-old sourdough bread, and it was fried on the griddle in coconut oil. Then, of course, I doused mine in maple syrup. Like you do. Paul is pretty basic though, and he requested I make his sans almonds. And he didn't want any fruit. Just plain French toast and vegan sausage. Whatever. He doesn't know what he's missing. At least he loves vegan sausage!

After brunch, we met up with our friends Vaughan and Nicole to see a local production of Rock of Ages at Playhouse on the Square. Such a fun show!

And then the four of us went to the newly opened Izakaya for pre-dinner cocktails. Izakaya is a new Japanese steakhouse/fusion joint in an old converted mansion that was almost torn down. The owners of the restaurant purchased the crumbling mansion, once known as the Nineteeth Century Club, with intentions to tear it down and build a strip mall-style restaurant. But that kind of development doesn't fly in Midtown, and residents fought hard to save the historic building. In the end, they agreed to fix up the mansion and open their restaurant inside. It's a great historic preservation success story! But sadly, the menu leaves much to be desired for vegans. That said, I was eager to see the rehabbed space, so we agreed to check it out and have cocktails. Here's my Dirty Martini, expertly mixed (Tito's vodka, extra dirty, two olives) by our bartender Carlos.

And here's our double date posse — me and Paul, Vaughan and Nicole — at the bar.

By the time we wrapped up cocktail hour, we were pretty hungry. So we headed to Bhan Thai, Paul's favorite Thai place. They have an excellent Pad See Ew, and it's my go-to dish there. Honestly, pad see ew is my go-to at EVERY Thai place. I just can't get enough of that combo of chewy rice noodles, fried tofu, and garlic sauce.

This was so delicious that I actually ate every bite there even though I was stuffed about halfway through and should have packed up some for leftovers. I left miserably full but very happy.

It was a fun evening with Paul and friends! I'll check back in tomorrow with a recap of my solo Valentine's meals on actual VDay! Hope y'all have a happy love day!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Stuff I Ate

I've got a BUNCH of random meal pics to share tonight, so let's get started! Perhaps my favorite thing I've eaten lately was the Vegan Steakhouse Burger from Imagine Vegan Cafe! It's a new menu item — two veggie burger patties, veggie bacon, onion rings, and BBQ sauce. But y'all, two patties seems a little insane to me, so I ordered it with just one patty and a side of seasoned collard greens for good measure. DELICIOUS!

As I waited on my burger, owner Kristie came out of the kitchen to hand me a free bowl of their soup of the week! She wanted my opinion on this Greens & Potato Chowder. I told her it was delicious and had my seal of approval.

Another treat from Imagine! I dropped by on Saturday for a Vegan Soft Serve Cone. I LOVE that I have constant access to vegan soft serve now. I'm a lucky girl.

Here's another burger — one that was way healthier. I made this Hilary's Eat Well Veggie Burger at home. Topped with Daiya vegan cheddar, Sabra sea salt & black pepper hummus spread, lettuce, and tomato. Enjoyed with a side of potato-carrot soup leftover from last week. The Hilary's patties are loaded with greens, whole grains, and other veggies.

I got two new tattoos on Saturday — a women's liberation symbol on my left forearm and a 26.2 marathon tattoo on my right foot. My appointment fell right around dinner time, so I picked up some Raw Hummus Toast from the Raw Girls food truck to snack on during the tattoo process. Real talk though — the foot tattoo was so painful that I couldn't eat while it was happening. But I ate a fair amount of this before the process began, and I finished the rest when I got home. Sprouted hummus, sriracha, mustard, pickles, and raw sundried tomato "bread." It's one of my favorite menu items from the Raw Girls.

I had a meeting at Midtown Crossing Grill last week around dinner time, so I ordered my namesake sandwich, the Bianca Banh Mi — tofu banh mi with hummus and pickled veggies, salad with wasabi vinaigrette on the side.

For lunch today, I met my friend Susan at Pho Binh, home of the best tofu in town. They have a small lunch buffet that's mostly all tofu. I usually pile my plate high with lemongrass tofu, green bean tofu, curry tofu, and white rice. But today, I attempted to make a salad to help me not eat too much fried tofu. Sadly, Pho Binh is not known for their salad bar. It's a combo of strange things like olives, lettuce, pickles, jalapenos, and maraschino cherries. I did the best I could. Cabbage-tomato soup on the side.

Some random breakfasts — a V Raw B Energized Peanut Butter Protein Bar and Banana after a run.

A B Free (what's with all the companies just using the letter "B" instead of spelling it out?? "Be" is just two letters, y'all!) Gluten-Free Bagel with Vegan Chive & Garlic Cream Cheese.

A FitQuick Pizza Protein Waffle stuffed with Daiya mozzarella, spinach, and kalamata olives and topped with marinara. I recently re-upped my FitQuick stash. My, how I missed my pizza waffles!

A Valentine's-inspired breakfast of Love Grown Chocolate & Strawberry Hearts Cereal (made with beans) and cashew milk! I made some quick Tempeh Bacon in the air fryer, and I'll share that recipe soon. Needs some work. Texture was great, but my quick marinade/baste wasn't as flavorful as I'd hoped. Also had a banana on the side.

Here's a Fresh Greens Juice I picked up from Juice Bar earlier this week — celery, kale, spinach, cucumber, parsley, and lemon.

One morning last week, I suddenly got an urge to make energy balls. Strange since it was a work day, and I was already running behind. But I wanted them for morning snacks at my desk, so I googled and found this recipe from the Healthy Maven for No-Bake Oatmeal Protein Energy Balls. I subbed Vega One for the whey powder (hence the green color) and maple syrup for the honey. They also have oats, peanut butter, chia seeds, and raisins. Yummy snacks.

And finally — BBQ Tofu Nachos!! I had leftover tortillas, cashew queso, and pico from the BBQ Nachos from The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook that I made for the Super Bowl. But I didn't have any extra BBQ lentils, so I just crumbled some frozen (and thawed) tofu and mixed it with some Trader Joe's Sriracha Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce. Instant BBQ Tofu Nachos! With air-fried corn tortilla chips!

As you can see, I'm doing okay with my efforts to find balance post-cleanse. I'm definitely eating some indulgent stuff (looking at you, onion ring burger and fried tofu), but I'm balancing that with green juice, raw cracker breads, veggies, and air-fried versions of otherwise fatty things.