Drinking Vegan

Holy crap! It’s been a week since I last posted, how did that happen? I’ve been eating all the leftover onigiri, veggie patties, and sesame noodles I cooked up over the past week. Also, eating at Rico’s (vegan pulled pork sandwich om nom) and the Brown Couch Café in Oakland has been crucial in maintaining vegan-ness.

Beer is surprisingly non-vegan

Also crucial has been Barnivore, a website that lists which beers and liquors are vegan. Befuddlingly, there is a lot of non-vegan alcohol. Barnivore explains:

When making the product, dairy, honey, and other things (including, in one case, a whole chicken dropped in the tank) are ingredients in the final recipe. When filtering the drinks prior to bottling, companies can use things like isinglass (from fish bladder,) gelatin, egg whites, and sea shells, among other things. These products grab onto the impurities and make it easier to catch them in the filters, though there are many animal-free alternatives in use.

If it weren’t for Barnivore bookmarked on my phone, it would’ve been like walking through a vegan minefield during happy hour (though I admit, I emergency-texted Denise to look up the vegan status of a beer for me once or twice). Imbibing vegans, stay educated!

Pastry is hard, you guys

I tried to make those Jamaican veggie patties I mentioned earlier, but instead of light and fluffy, I ended up with thick and powder-y. Pastry is hard, you guys.

The filling was good, though (and not nearly as hard to get right). It’s just wrapped in an inedible travel container.

Edit: I made the onigiri too, and they turned out awesome. No baking involved.

Rainbow Grocery: The Best

Rainbow GroceryInside Rainbow Grocery

So here’s my contention: Rainbow Grocery is the best vegan-friendly grocery store in America.

I admit, I haven’t shopped specifically for vegan food anywhere besides the Bay area, but it’s hard to imagine it getting any better than this. They’ve got all the hard-to-find stuff! Berkeley Bowl is great too, but you just feel vegan-er after going to Rainbow. Just look at all that unfinished wood and exposed concrete! There’s a gigantic mural painted behind the registers “honoring farm workers and the earth.” And it’s a collective that’s owned and operated by the workers. How are you gonna get more vegan than that?

Vegan to-go?

Busy, on-the-go professionals like myself don’t always have to time cook a proper vegan meal during the work week, much less make myself extra meals to take for lunch. I’m on the lookout for things I can make in advance on the weekends that can last through the week. My criteria:

  • Must be delicious
  • Must store well, remain delicious after 3-5 days
  • Must be portable (no messy soups that will leak out of my raggedy tupperware)

Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

Onigiri. My good friend Andy and I grabbed these for quick breakfasts while I visited him in Taiwan. I think they’re usually filled with fish, but they can be made veggie.

Jamaican Veggie Patties
Jamaican veggie patties. Baking a pastry-type crust seems kinda difficult, but they look really tasty.

That’s all I have right now. Any ideas?

Noodle Time

Sesame Noodles

Mmm… noodles. Whenever I’m at work in Oakland, I’m always tempted to get sesame noodles from our nearby hand-pulled noodle experts, Shan Dong. Why pulling on noodles with your hands makes them better isn’t clear, but no one’s arguing with the results. So, being on the wrong side of the bay and craving noodles, here’s my homecooked, non-pulled attempt:


  • Dry soba noodles (How do you label quantities of noodles? I just made a medium-sized pot of ‘em)
  • Tahini paste (3/4 cup)
  • Sesame oil (2 tbsp)
  • Fresh spinach (3-4 cups, chopped coarsely)
  • Brown sugar (1/4 cup)
  • Soy sauce (1/2 cup)
  • Sriracha, or your spice of choice, added to taste


  1. Boil the noodles.
  2. Heat all the other ingredients (except for the spinach) in a saucepan over low heat.
  3. Add the cooked noodles and the spinach to the saucepan, and cook the entire mixture for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Serve piping hot. This is very important.

The ingredient amounts are all rough estimates since I’m writing this down after the fact. I think it’s close to what ended up in the pan, but I’m going to keep tweaking the proportions. All in all, I ended up with something pretty damn similar to my beloved Shan Dong noodles. Noodle time!

Late Nite Vegan: Grilled Cheese?

Sometimes, in life, you’re hungry. Not your average “I’ll take 20 minutes and whip something up” hunger, but something immediate and unforgiving—late night hunger. I’m up late working on this very website (those of you concerned about my hours, direct all complaints to Vegan Challenge partner Denise “Hey, you should add a comment system, and maybe a search box, and how about an RSS feed too” Cheng) and my stomach is calling out for something hot and cheesy.

I immediately scold myself, real vegans aren’t supposed to crave cheese. But just as my willpower starts to crumble, I suddenly remember—I saw this coming. In my fridge, I have a secret weapon: two packets of Daiya, the hot young gun in the mysterious world of vegan cheese.

Daiya vegan cheese

While the pan heats up, I try a little of the cheddar-flavored Daiya. It tastes like cheese if cheese was 75% whole wheat. I’m disappointed, but my hunger pushes me foward and I make my first Daiya grilled cheese. Heat did not improve the flavor; the sandwich fails to satisfy on any level. Unfazed, I try again with a few additions: thick slices of tomato, scallions, and a personal favorite, Crystal Louisiana-style hot sauce.

This time, I start noticing how melted and gooey the cheese is, how it has the same smoothness and creaminess as the real thing. I can still taste a little of the cheddar flavoring, but behind the scallions and the hot sauce, it’s not bad at all. I devour the sandwich.

Verdict Time: Is it the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had? No. But more importantly, it gets the job done. A grilled cheese in the hand, as they say.

St. Francis Fountain!

Vegan lesson #1: plan ahead. In a terrible haze of grogginess and despair this morning, I realized that New Year’s hadn’t automatically filled my cupboards with delicious vegan breakfast food. Or anything vegan at all, actually. I briefly considered trying to pass off scrambled eggs as vegan before I remembered I lived down the street from this:

St. Francis Fountain Diner

A vegan diner! Or just a diner with a few vegan options, but even in San Francisco hungry vegans can’t be picky. They served me this amazing vegan scramble:

In order of appearance: Green onions, salsa, melted vegan cheese (whatever that is), potatoes (skins on), onions, and avocado. I’m definitely trying this one at home.

Last few minutes….

…and so much that I have yet to make! Quinoa wrap, purple coconut rice, mochi, creamy kale soup, braised leeks, dal… not that these are exclusive to veganism, but what does it mean when, in just one month of exclusive vegan cooking, they’re still on my list?

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Gold star for Sunday Soup

One of my favorite things in Grand Rapids is Sunday Soup. It’s a mini-grant, potluck program of The Division Avenue Arts Collective, an all-ages sanctuary for artistic expression.

On the last Sunday of each month, diners file in and exchange $5 exchange for a ballot and bowl of soup. As they sup, grant applicants share grassroots projects for which they need a smidge of funding. After all of the presentations, diners cast their votes, and the applicant with the most votes takes all the proceeds from the event.

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Recipe mash-up: Vanilla sweet potato tart

I love pies, and more specifically, pie crusts. So when I botched a batch of vanilla mashed sweet potatoes, I decided to tartify it.

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After two long days at work (10 and 13 hours, respectively) and another one later in the week, all I want is to go home and plop down with a big bowl o’ comfort. Unhappily, that’s Neoguri for me.

Neoguri, egg and ground chicken by jasmeet on Flickr


Waste not, want not

I have this weird thing about waste. Stray seeds at the bottom of empty cracker boxes, water strained from a can of corn – guess what? I use them all. I might as well have grown up during the depression.

I like to think of myself as the queen of canned food cooking. It’s not always good, it’s often improvisation but it’s almost always an exercise in creative thinking.

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This week in sandwiches

Monday - Oh my dear!

  • Guest sammy from Short’s: ”Vegetarian sandwich with portabella mushrooms, artichoke hearts, radish sprouts, red onions, tomatoes, and Swiss cheese with a Kalamata olive-feta hummus. Served on whole wheat cold or grilled, your choice.” Mmmm… Hold the dairy!

Tuesday - Tempeh deli salad

  • Recipe from The Kitchn – I skipped the veganaise, used cannellini beans in place of garbanzo (way softer, creamier texture that makes up for the veganaise)

Wednesday - Mole pulled jackfruit

  • Mole is always so time consuming to make, but when I saw that this one uses star anise, I jumped. My replacements: I used golden raisins, only ancho chili, hazelnuts in place of almonds, 14 oz. canned tomatoes instead of fresh (trying to empty the cupboards). I stewed a can of young jackfruit in the unstrained mixture for eight hours.
  • Verdict: I’m no expert in mole, and my enchantment with it has always been with purposing chocolate for a savory dish. Mole usually has a heavy flavor, and this one was one of the fruitiest I’ve ever had. Young jackfruit has the consistency of pulled pork, but don’t let it sit too many days in the fridge – it’ll break down into mush.

Caturday - Smokey miso tofu

  • I love VeganYumYum, and in the eight months since I first read this recipe, I’ve made it countless times. Easy, tasty, perfect.

Short’s Brewery – A beer lover’s pilgrimage

Enlarge the slideshow (26 photos) and click on “show info” for captions.

I often say that Biking + Beer = Love, and hand’s down, Short’s Brewery is my favorite brewing company in Michigan. PB&J, Cup o’ Joe, Bellaire Brown, S’mores… It’s not only toothsome, it could go head-to-head with Oregon’s best.

When I learned that Short’s is not planning on distributing outside of Michigan, my heart skipped a beat and I wondered whether I could move out of Michigan after all.

Alas! Bellaire is too far to bike in a day’s time, especially in the winter. Lucky for me, lovely Ms. Miriam signed on as fellow adventurer and chauffeur on this holiest of Michigan beer pilgrimages.

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Forget Snap and Crackle

I don’t drink soda and rarely eat candy, but what I don’t consume in high fructose corn syrup, I make up for in popcorn. Michael Pollan and the gang would be disappointed.

It’s my go-to when I want something crunchy, something light but filling. It’s what I munch on not to throw off meals and it’s what I eat by the spoonful in place of them (sometimes even breakfast). And now that I’ve figured out how to pop kernels without oil, I might as well be floating on a cloud nine of popcorn.

Do not be mistaken: Popcorn is not my last resort.

Yes, it’s embarrassing. It’s a vice and something I’m not ready to confront. But I suppose it’s just as good a snack as any for the winter, so let’s get down to it.

It seems like there are as many varieties as there are Pantone swatches. For all you popcorn addicts out there, we have Mark Rumsey to thank. Last week, he gave me this little mental cheat sheet. From least to most crunchy, biggest to smallest popped kernels, cheapest to most expensive:

Yellow >> White >> Red >> Black

And there ya go! Come to the dark (black jewell) side.

I could almost give up cheese

In college, I met a person who was knocked out by a drunk bro. When he came to the next day, he was tucked under a blanket of dew in the center of a field. After some tests, he learned that he had lost the ability to taste.

“Do you eat healthier?”
“You would think so,” he yelled to me as he traded $20 for a box of extra cheese pizza. “But nope.”

He possessed a super power the envy of every person who pretends to like health food. He could have braved wheatgrass and Spirulina without flinching. Instead, his floor was tiled with Doritos bags.

It was a fascinating mental exercise, and I drew a conclusion: Food is sensual. It’s sight, it’s smell, it’s taste. It’s also sound and touch. Food sloshes, shimmies, slides, across that tender medallion known as the tongue. I can’t imagine anything else that rouses all five senses.

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Bulgur – Surprisingly common

I have a goal: Clear out the cupboards and pantry shelves. I hoard more types of rice, beans, grains and noodles than is reasonable.

Bulgur is a spring grain for me. I like making a cranberry-tarragon bulgur salad once it’s warmer, and it’s melodious with nuggets of goat cheese. What I love about bulgur is its nutty flavor, its chewy texture. It’s a grain to contemplate over, as though it were saying, hey, this isn’t going to happen any faster. You might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

I’ve been researching bulgur (I’ve got two bags to bursting) to learn other ways to use it, and there are a few interesting ways I would never have thought of:

I’m especially fascinated by the granola option. Since Matters is allergic to nuts and I love nuts, it’s been a fun mental exercise to figure out how things I enjoy can be veganized, then Matterized.

First up: mushroom sauteed with tempeh crumbles, chunks of avocado, stewed red beans and homemade salsa allllll over a bed of spinach and bulgur. Wow that was complex. I’ll keep you posted.