Saturday, August 14, 2010

Being vegan is so easy it feels like cheating

This is a recent simple lunch I brought with me to work: a Tofurky sandwich. It's so reminiscent of your pre-vegan days, you might feel a little guilty, as if you were cheating at the Vegan Game. Five slices of Tofurky Hickory Smoked Deli Slices, one slice of Galaxy Nutritional Foods Cheddar Flavor Rice Vegan Slices, tomato, alfalfa sprouts and brown mustard between two slices of Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Sprouted 100% Whole Grain Flourless Bread. Is it just me or do these sandwich components have extremely long brand names?

Nutritionally this might be the best sandwich ever created. Ever! In one delicious sandwich, you get 23 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber and 20% of your RDA of calcium. With only 320 calories you definitely have room for dessert.

Product of the Day: After patting myself on the back for using several products from the fabulous yet bargain-priced Giovanni line, I was introduced to MoroccanOil by two ladies-in-the-know, Alisa V.H. and Katie "Taysh" S. My hair says thank you, but my wallet is not speaking to you. The Original MoroccanOil Oil Treatment will give you seriously shiny and soft hair for about $40 for a 3.4 ounce bottle. Luckily it's oil, so you don't have to (and shouldn't!) put very much in your hair. It's quick addicting and I'm already using it daily. I apologize to your wallet in advance.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fun with pasta

No time for sass today. We're going to get straight to the FOOD.

The easiest vegan meal to make is pasta. EVERYTHING goes with pasta. Just pick your favorite vegetables and hop to it!

I made this pasta salad to take to work for lunch. Here I started with Ancient Harvest Gluten Free Organic Pasta (made with quinoa), and added steamed zucchini and yellow squash, grape tomatoes, black olives, sundried tomatoes, Italian dressing (Whole Foods 365 brand) and vegan grated topping from Galaxy Nutritional Foods. I usually only make two days' worth at a time because I'm a little picky about "leftovers." But you can probably make up to 4 days' worth and it would still be good.

Product of the Day: Lush Aqua Marina cleanser roll. This little is effective but gentle on sensitive skin. Apparently it's all in the seaweed. It looks like a very strange sushi roll. An added bonus is that it is technically a solid so you can put it in your carry-on bag when you fly. I don't see how I can ever go back to any other cleanser. I tend to use several of Philosphy's products but even they seem a bit harsh and synthetic in comparison to Lush products.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Big changes

Hello Vegecagoans!
Big announcement: I have recently left the Second City for the greener pastures of Denver. I have a few posts left to do on some of my Chicago experiences, but obviously my blog content will change dramatically from here on out.
My revised goal for the blog is to come up with easy meals and fun treats just to give you some ideas that you might not have thought of yourself. I'll also be talking about the vegan experience in Denver, but it's so easy to be vegan here that my blog would not be very interesting if these were the only entries.
Case in point: on Saturday night I tagged along with some non-vegans for ice cream at Sweet Action (52 Broadway), and much to my surprise Sweet Action had two flavors of vegan ice cream on the menu. They also had some vegan ice cream sandwiches available. That's right, I said vegan ice cream sandwiches! I love Denver. But where is the challenge??

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pick Me Up Cafe

I had walked by Pick Me Up Cafe (3408 N. Clark St.) many times over the last few years but it was not until yesterday that I was actually able to organize a group brunch there.

It was definitely worth the wait (although I wish I would have discovered this sooner!). Pick Me Up is my favorite type of place for group dining, with selections for everyone ranging from a calamari appetizer to vegan cake for dessert. The menu is a diverse selection of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, burritos, brunch fare and a huge drink list. A small green "V" next to a large number of dishes indicates these items can be made vegetarian or vegan.

After difficult internal deliberations, I settled on the berry pancakes, vegan-style obviously, with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. The cakes themselves were perfect, not too sugary, and the berries were exceptionally flavorful. Naturally I used liberal amounts of maple syrup too. The coffee was also awesome(!!), though I didn't get details.

Berry pancakes. Note R2-D2 and Emperor Palpatine on the table.

On a side note, Pick Me Up Cafe is just plain cute. All of the tables are decorated differently (we were lucky enough to get the Star Wars themed table) and it looks like a dorm room decorated by geeky hippies and hipsters. I mean that in the best way possible.

Product of the Day: Corona Light. Happy spring everyone.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Nacional 27

Paella for one at Nacional 27.

I was a little apprehensive to dine at Nacional 27 (325 W. Huron) earlier this month. Some friends from out of town had made reservations there to kick off Green River/St. Patrick's weekend on Friday, March 12. It's a hip restaurant and I had never been, so I decided to go anyway. Note: if a restaurant has margaritas or even mojitos on the menu, I can be persuaded regardless of food choices.

After checking over the menu I figured my best bet was the paella. The waitress, after reciting the specials for a solid 10 minutes, told me that because they did not have many vegetarian options she could let me have the paella for one, instead of the stated two-person minimum. I was pretty grateful for the accomodation. I asked the very knowledgable waitress for my usual requests: no cheese, no butter, no beef/chicken broth, etc. Then she asked "so you would like it vegan-style?" YES! Thank you awesome waitress and Nacional 27.

The vegetable paella is made up of roasted corn, peppers, chayote (squash), calabaza (another squash-y vegetable), orzo and green olives. Served piping hot. Also there was something leafy but I can't remember if it was basil or spinach. Either way, this was a delicious veggie dish at a decidedly meat-friendly restaurant.

Product of the day: Larabars. All of them. I had the cinnamon roll bar for breakfast this morning. Larabars have no added sugar, preservatives...nothing. These guys have quite a few calories and fat for a little snack, but they are just about right for a small meal or big snack, and the fat is mostly the good kind from walnuts. Walnuts are important for vegans because they are a good source of omega-3s, which we get less of than our fish-eating friends.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Beach weather

The daily temperature is regularly reaching the mid- to upper-40s here in Chi-town, and you know what this means: day-drinking outdoors. Yes. I don't care if I still need to wear mittens to prevent frostbite while I hold my beer, we're drinking outside, damnit!

You know what goes really well with beer? Burgers. More precisely, veggie burgers. Twice last week I had the good fortune to dine with friends at Dunlays on Clark (2600 N. Clark St.). The Dunlays veggie burger, available at dinner and brunch, is a delicious blend of rice, beans, walnuts, sweet potatoes and wild mushrooms. In addition to being delicious, this burger is actually quite nutritious. We've talked about the benefits sweet potatoes recently, and the substantial walnuts provide some much-needed and under-consumed omega-3 fatty acids. (Does anyone else think "fatty acids" is a horrible term for such a nutritious substance?) Dunlays also offers a small but decent selection of sides to go with your burger: on Thursday I ordered grilled asparagus, and on Sunday at brunch I caved and got the shoestring-cut french fries, to go with my mimosa, obviously.

Product of the Day: Imagine Foods soups. I just finished a carton of the Organic Creamy Broccoli Soup. It is delicious both while you are waiting for dinner to cook or when you wake up from a hangover craving green and salty food (another strange side effect of being vegan). The soup is low in calories and has no unpronounceable ingredients.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Grove

Hello friends. I've had a busy week with moving, a visit from my family and the arrival of my new puppy Seven. Well actually I've been on vacation this whole week, so don't feel too sorry for me. I moved most of my things last Thursday and my parents and brother helped me finish the move when they arrived on Saturday, along with the puppy and his dog-mother Pearl.

With all this moving and puppy-walking we were all pretty hungry Sunday morning, so we set out for the Panera a few blocks away. However, on our way we got distracted by a cozy little diner on Diversey called The Grove (501 W. Diversey Parkway). I had been here before and had some decent oatmeal, but nothing to write home about. I figured the family would like it though so we went in. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only did they have mimosas for $2.50, they had added a breakfast dish to their menu called "The Vegan Skillet." I seriously could not believe it. It was a very simple mix of hash browns, red and green peppers and onions topped with tofu "cheese." It also came with a side of toast.

Absolutely delicious! They were generous with the peppers and the tofu cheese gives this dish a nice boost of protein. Since I had last visited The Grove they had added a few vegan, vegetarian and other healthy options. Of course they still had all kinds of traditional diner breakfast offerings to cure your hangovers. This just goes to show you that even a "greasy spoon" (no offense, I love a good greasy spoon) can offer some great vegan options. It's 2010's only getting easier to be vegan, especially in a big city like Chicago.

Where have you found vegan fare in an unexpected place?

Product of the Day: IntelligentsiA Papua New Guinea: Agoga coffee. I am drinking this stuff like water this week and will be a little sad to go back to our office coffee next week. Let's be honest: coffee, sustainably produced and sourced of course, is the real glue between vegans and non-vegans.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Uncommon Ground

Greetings Vegecagoans. I'm pretty proud to say I've had an unusually productive Sunday. I did a bit of packing in anticipation for my move back to Lakeview, preceded by some Power Yoga with Rodney Yee on DVD and a brief encounter with the elliptical machine. This is what happens when one is powered by tofu (and half a pot of coffee).

On Super Bowl Sunday I had the absolute pleasure of going to brunch with Ali and Megan at Uncommon Ground in Wrigleyville. It was Ali's idea but I've been meaning to check this place out for a while. To put it briefly we LOVED Uncommon Ground. The restaurant, which has a second location in Edgewater, is a Stiletto Stoner's dream. The whole dining concept here is based on sustainable and organic ingredients whenever possible. They are committed to the community (from hosting local musicians to displaying local artists' work for sale around the restaurant) and a low carbon footprint. The Edgewater location even has beehives on its roof! I am mildly obsessed with bees and colony collapse disorder, so I'm always excited about local beekeepers.

Anyway, back to the brunch experience: when we first walked in we saddled up to the coffee bar to kill time while we waited to be seated. It made me feel like less of an addict that Ali and Megan were just as eager for coffee as I was. We sipped the delicious coffee and admired the work of a local graphic designer on the walls, the large fireplace and spacious lodge-inspired lounge area, where there were about one million babies waiting in strollers but miraculously none of them were crying. Not a peep. Is Uncommon Ground magic?

When we were seated, the waiter was very knowledgeable and helped me pick out a vegan veggie burger with sweet potato fries. I give this veggie burger a 10...this is exactly what they are supposed to taste like. I've never met a sweet potato I didn't like, so the fries get a 10 as well.

I took a bite of the burger before I remembered to snap a photo.

Hey Chicago it just started to snow!

Product of the Day: For you coffee fiends, please head straight to Caribou Coffee and get yourself a reusable coffee sleeve. I have the grey felt sleeve (pictured). Yes, it costs $4.99 but think about how self-righteous you can justifiably be when you are not using those disposable sleeves. Just a small warning: the people at Caribou are totally prepared for this and will gladly accomodate the use of your coffee sleeve, but at Starbucks they will just make fun of you. Learn from my mistakes.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl!!!

Before I settle in with some vegan beer and guacamole this afternoon, I had to share my favorite commercial of all time:

Tubers are tubular

My cousin Alisa and I were discussing the merits of sweet potatoes last weekend, and I realized that I eat them far too infrequently considering how tubular they are. Nothing against good old Russet potatoes, but pretty much every traditional potato dish can be re-made deliciously with sweet potatoes: mashed, baked, French fries, even just can't go wrong with a sweet potato.

Caution: Vegecagoan is going to be a bit educational today.

For this post I did a little research on the nutritional value of Russet potatoes and sweet potatoes. Check out the comparison of some of my fave nutrients:

Source: Nutrition Data ( which apparently trademarked the term "Estimated Glycemic Load
" or "eGL." But I made this chart myself!!!

Contrary to popular belief, partly due to that crazy Atkins phase Americans went through around the millennium, Russet potatoes are not "bad" for you. It is true that sweet potatoes are stars when it comes to fiber, Vitamin A and Vitamin C, but other than that they are quite similar to their friend Russet.

I expected the eGL of the sweet potato to be lower than it is. Estimated Glycemic Load™ is Nutrition Data's take on the glycemic index. A higher number means that when you consume a certain food, your blood sugar spikes. This is not good. Ideally you want to keep your blood sugar levels consistent throughout the day, or at least on a smooth trajectory. This prevents a ton of bad outcomes, ranging from sleepiness (a mental "crash") to breakouts. As a reference point, a serving of tofu has a eGL of about 2. This is very good.

That's enough for today. Now please don't make fun of me if you witness me succumb to the temptation of regular white French fries.

Quick recipe that you can easily remember: Cut a sweet potato into slices. Lay the slices flat on a baking sheet and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and fresh pepper. You might also try a little paprika. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.

Full disclosure: the tuber in the picture is actually a yam (and that's tempeh in the bottom left corner). It turns out that the yam is not the nutritional powerhouse that its döppelganger is, but I didn't know this when I was cooking earlier this week. Choose sweet potatoes...learn from my mistakes.

Product of the Day: Another Giovanni product...Giovanni Invigorating Conditioner - Tea Tree Triple Treat conditioner. I've been using this for about a week, in combination with semi-weekly treatments of NutraFix Hair Reconstructor. My bathroom is quickly filling up with Giovanni products. Great products, great prices, no critters.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Housing wanted: must be connected to a Flat Top Grill

I can't believe I haven't mentioned Flat Top Grill yet. This Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin chain is pretty much my dream come true: they let you pick out your favorite veggies, maybe throw in a few noodles, put a little sauce on it all and one of the cooks heats it up. The finished dish is brought to your table. I'm not sure why I don't do this for every meal. I'm currently searching for a new apartment and one of my new requirements is proximity to FTG.

For $8.99 I was able to put together a bowl of white noodles, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots*, mini corn, bean sprouts, spinach, peanuts, potato chunks, tofu and faux chicken meat, topped off with a combination mushroom sauce and lemongrass water. The restaurant is extremely vegan-friendly, and is great for people with allergies too. All the sauces are listed on a giant chalkboard detailing relevant nutritional information. Vegan sauces are marked with a "V." Could dining out BE any easier??

(Sorry for the lack of camera is not getting along with Picasa at the moment.)

*Always stop eating bamboo shoots when you are about half-way full. I once ate an entire plate of bamboo shoots and later that night thought about giving myself a stomach-ectomy. I'm pretty sure these guys expand in your stomach.

Product of the Day: Giovanni Touch Body Butter. I got the idea to try this based on a blog post at The Girlie Girl Army and ordered the Lavender Vanilla Snow body butter. I've never been much into body butter but this stuff is affordable, cruelty-free and feels fantastic. Sometime in my late teens/early twenties I unknowingly trained my skin to hate cheap products. This means that I spend most of my disposable income at Sephora (no really, I have recently become a "V. I. B." at Sephora which, given my income, is probably not something I should be proud of). Giovanni also has several lines of natural and affordable hair care products, most available on, which I plan to try out one at a time. Good thing I have Amazon Prime...and a serious online shopping habit. Does anyone know where to find Giovanni in stores? In Chicago?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Compassion for Haiti

Veganism is all about compassion. I don't know why this particular disaster really got to me, but I am pretty worked up about the Haiti earthquake. I know you are probably overloaded on reports from Haiti, but there is a reason for that: the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere just suffered an enormous natural disaster that shattered their unbelievably inadequate infrastructure.

If you are able, please make a donation to the relief efforts.

Help for Haiti: Learn What You Can Do

Or visit the donation sites of the American Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity. Or Wyclef's organization Yele Haiti. I know I'm a little slow to to post this, and I'm sure my compassionate readers have already made some donations.

In a week or two, this disaster will fade from the headlines, but millions of Haitians will still be living a nightmare.

Some statistics via the Huffington Post:

Current death estimates: The Red Cross says 45,000 to 50,000 people have died. The Pan American Health Organization puts the number between 50,000 and 100,000.

Bodies collected for disposal so far: 9,000. An additional 7,000 corpses were reportedly placed in a mass grave.

People needing help: 3 million.

Percent of buildings damaged or destroyed: Up to 50 percent.

Hospitals or health facilities in Haiti damaged, forced to close: eight.

Patients treated by Doctors Without Borders initially: more than 1,500.

Search-and-rescue teams on ground or en route Friday: 38.

Homeless people in Port-au-Prince: at least 300,000.

Water needed daily: 6 to 12 million gallons (enough to fill 18 Olympic sized swimming pools a day).