Monday, May 25, 2015

Casa Que Pasa: 1415 Railroad Ave.

I love a nice long three-day weekend, even though I am never as productive as I mean to be. I always head into that Friday night before a long weekend full of optimism and good intentions! For some reason, having 3 days ahead of me makes me think I'll have more time to devote to all of my various projects and interests, and then because I think I have more time, I actually end up playing around more and struggling to be disciplined as the weekend draws to a close... Yesterday, the weather was beautiful, the air fragrant with the scent of flowers, and the day loomed long and lovely and full of promise. So rather than stay in my comfy little study at home, typing away on my computer or reading articles for my research, I decided to walk downtown with my husband to Casa for margaritas and an early dinner/late lunch.

Casa is one of my favorite long-standing go-to places--it's been around for so long, there's something simultaneously comforting and appealing about its presence in my life. I was so very sad when they closed and so very happy when the new owners brought them back! I hope Casa is around forever.

I used to eat there as a poor undergrad during what seems like a lifetime ago now, and admittedly there is somewhat of a nostalgia factor that makes me want to return. Nostalgia and margaritas. The two go well together! Especially on a day when I feel like being carefree and irresponsible...

While there are a number of selections that can be made vegan on their menu, the core ingredients are essentially the same in each dish--flour tortillas, romaine lettuce, flavorful beans, yummy rice, and tasty pico de gallo. But you can get these core ingredients as a burrito, a cheese-less quesadilla, on a platter separated out (as in the "light lunch,"), or in my current favorite format, as soft tacos.

Yes, each dish is made from essentially the same thing, but I am ok with that--even more than ok. I sometimes get a craving for the comforting & tasty simplicity of Casa that no other place in Bellingham can satisfy. Those of you who have been in Bellingham a long time more than likely know what I am talking about. (If you, like me, still smile every time you see the painted headstone tribute to the 3B, then you probably know what I mean.) Sometimes food provides nourishment on multiple levels, and cravings are connected as much to emotion and association as they are to flavor. And because of that, I am grateful for Casa. And for three-day weekends. And for having some time to play despite my best intentions.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bellingham's Best Places

Back to Bellingham, Ski to Sea, summer holidays, and long sunny weekends often bring with them the wonderful joys of having friends and family visit from out-of-town. One thing I love about entertaining guests in this city I call home is it gives me a chance to play tourist in my own backyard, and I delight in sharing with others some of my favorite restaurants and can't-miss meals.

So in keeping with this theme, I have compiled a list of places to inspire you when you are doing some entertaining of your own, or when you feel like you want to indulge a little and pretend like you too are vacationing in Bellingham.

First on the list: Breakfast at Old Town Cafe. This place has something for everyone, and the staff are so friendly, you will feel right at home and very relaxed as you enjoy starting your day over good food and good company. My favorite vegan breakfast at the moment is a build-your-own tofu scramble with onions, mushrooms, and kale, with a salad & tofu dill dressing subbed in for homefries, and sourdough toast (no butter, of course).

After breakfast you can enjoy a nice leisurely exploration of some of the downtown shops, antique stores, and fun places like The Comics Place,  The Lucky Monkey  or the Bureau of  Historical Investigation.

Then get ready for next on the list: Lunch at Ambo Ethiopian. YUM. Mulu's lentils, cabbage, and veggies cannot be beat, and her injera is always absolutely perfect. Not only is this food Beyond Deliciousness, I always feel so glad after I eat it, nourished and happy and absolutely wonderful.

Follow up this dining experience with a walk on any number of the awesome local trails to help you build up an appetite for later when you can enjoy an awesome dinner at my Always Favorite Place: the Soy House. Everything on the menu at Soy House is amazing, and you may have a hard time making up your mind because they are so very-vegan friendly. From the veggie pho, to vegan spring rolls, to the "pancake" with tofu, to the awesome veganized Vietnamese pizzas, to any number of items, good luck deciding what to eat here! But don't worry if you are torn, it just gives you the perfect excuse to come back again later and try the other dishes that caught your attention. (Last night I had the vegan version of the vermicelli bowl - pictured above - and it was soooo good.)

If you are looking for something sweet and tasty to follow your wonderful dinner at the Soy House, don't forget either vegan ice cream at Mallard Ice Cream, or stop by Icing on the Cake for a sweet treat--you might get lucky and get to eat one of the YUMMY vegan chocolate cupcakes, but if for some reason there aren't any in stock, don't forget there are also some fabulous vegan chocolates to enjoy. (I actually had a dream once about the salted caramels. They are THAT GOOD).

Finally, unwind and watch your evening drift away at the Temple Bar, where you can have a nice drink and enjoy the ambiance that makes that place feel so relaxing, inviting, and yet somehow special. That's it for this weekend - my list of favorite restaurants & places that I delight in sharing with others because they make me happy and appreciative of the fact that I get to live in this wonderful city. Here's to an awesome spring and summer filled with good times and great friends!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Spontaneous Blueberry Brunch Muffins

Today we had a friend over for brunch, and this morning when we were planning what to make, my husband told me he really wished we had some blueberry muffins to go with our meal. I have a favorite recipe for blueberry coconut muffins that I absolutely adore, but I happen to be out of both limes and coconut at the moment, so that wasn't happening. I poked around a bit in my cupboard and fridge to see what was available, and then whipped up these blueberry-with-a-hint-of-lemon muffins.

Creating a good vegan muffin recipe is pretty easy, once you have the basics down. I know for me, applesauce is an essential ingredient, as is some kind of acidic ingredient combined with the vegan milk (whether it be cider vinegar or citrus fruit) to make a good "buttermilk."  Here's the recipe I came up with this morning for my spontaneous blueberry brunch muffins.

Preheat the oven to 400.

In a large bowl, mix together:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 and  1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar 
  • Zest from one medium-sized lemon

In a smaller bowl, first mix together:

  • 1 cup vegan milk (I used unsweetened organic soy) and the juice from one lemon

Then stir in to the "buttermilk":

  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon almond (or vanilla) extract (I also happen to be out of vanilla at the moment!)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

In another small bowl, crumble together 1/2 cup walnut pieces & halves, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon Earth Balance vegan butter. (This is for the topping).

Add the wet ingredients to the dry without over-stirring, and then gently fold in 1 cup of frozen blueberries. (I threw in a few chopped strawberries too, but that's totally optional.) Spoon the muffin mixture into the muffin tin and top them with the walnut sugar topping. Bake for 18-20 minutes, let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then enjoy!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Good Sandwich is Hard to Find - Unless you are @Boundary Bay Brewery!

I love a good sandwich, a sandwich that is well-made, a little unique, full fresh ingredients and LOTS of flavor. That being said, a good sandwich, especially a good vegan sandwich, can be hard to find. Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile may recall my past obsession with the field roast sausage sandwich of the now long-gone Pastazza, or the wonderful Tofu Sloppy Jane that Brandywine used to make. It was another sad day for me when they decided to stop making it. I learned to love the Portobella melt that replaced it, and liked that they would add avocado in place of cheese to give it a little extra richness, but then they changed the bread from the lovely baguette to a more olive-oily panini style "pressed" sandwich, and that was it for me. I was done. I don't want to eat a sandwich with oily bread, and when I tried to, it just made me miss other sandwiches I have eaten and loved in the past. (Don't get me wrong--I'm still a fan of Brandywine's vegan french fries, soups, and salads--I just mourn the loss of their once-delicious vegan sandwiches.)

Now keep in mind I have been pretty happy with Boundary Bay Brewery's vegan sandwiches. For quite some time now they have made a very respectable & tasty tofu sandwich, and it was something I knew I could count on. It was a dependably satisfying vegan option for me, simple but reliable, and so I must admit I had some anxiety when I discovered it was no longer on the menu.

But I gotta say, the sandwich they replaced it with is SO awesome,  I don't miss the other one at all. I am devoting today's blogpost just to this sandwich, that's how much I love it. At long last I finally have a favorite go-to sandwich in Bellingham: the Tofu Banh Mi at Boundary Bay Brewery.

For starters, they use a baguette-style bread (yay!) and the tofu is cooked perfectly. Add to that fresh cilantro, an AMAZINGLY tasty sauce, fresh cucumbers and carrots, and WOW this sandwich has all of the qualities I am looking for in a good sandwich. If you haven't tried it yet, and if you are like me and still lamenting the long-lost Tofu Sloppy Jane from Brandywine's past, lament no more. Thanks to Boundary Bay, there is now an awesome sandwich to help you satisfy your cravings for tasty-deliciousness! I've said it before and I'll say it again: Thank you Boundary Bay for being so vegan-friendly. (And I really hope this sandwich stays on the menu...)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pizza'zza: 2418 Alabama St. (in Yorky's Market)

Awhile back, someone contacted me to share information about local pizza places that were inadvertently using non-vegetarian crust mix that they got from Bellingham Flatbread to make their vegetarian pizzas, and Pizza'zza was one of the places listed. However,  I was also told that the pizza places using these non-veggie crusts were working to remedy the situation.

Since that time, I am happy to report that Pizza'zza no longer uses any non-vegan ingredients in their regular crust. (I believe their ingredient list is pretty straightforward - flour, semolina, olive oil, salt, yeast, water). I recently had the pleasure of eating a veganized vegetarian pizza from Pizzazza, and I really like it. Covered in veggies (mushrooms, artichokes, zucchini, peppers, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and roasted garlic), this cheese-less pizza was full of fresh ingredients and wonderful flavor.

The pizzas themselves come on one size: HUGE (!) and they will easily feed a number of vegans or else give you plenty of leftovers for days to come. Located inside the vegan-friendly Yorky's Market on Alabama, (where you can also buy Field Roast Chao Cheeses, Tofurky Quiches, vegan cream cheese, and sometimes even  yummy Earth Balance potato chips), which just happens to be on my route home, it is all-too-tempting and convenient to swing by on a Friday for a pizza and my favorite vegan cheese and snacks... I feel lucky to have a place like this practically in my neighborhood and want to say thanks to both Yorky's and Pizza'zza for being so awesomely vegan-friendly!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Gardein Meatless Meatloaf

You may remember awhile back when I mentioned my discovery that Target of all places had quite the selection of vegan meatless meat options. One of the things I picked up was the Meatless Meatlof by Gardein. Now I know meatloaf is considered by many to be a classic American "comfort food," and I also know that Gardein has so far not disappointed me when it comes to their ability to create tasty vegan products.

The Meatless Meatloaf is another example of Gardein getting it right. It comes with a really terrific gravy (that does have cornstarch listed as an ingredient, in case anyone out there like me has a corn allergy / sensitivity--I gambled on trying it anyway and thankfully it wasn't enough to bother me). I made the meatloaf and gravy one night for dinner when I didn't really feel up to cooking but wanted something tasty and satisfying. Served with a kale salad and baked potato on the side, this was truly a fantastic "comfort food" -based meal that satisfied my cravings.

The good news is, Gardein has done it again! The bad news is, the only place in Bellingham that I know of who carries it is Target... (And I recently had a slightly disturbing conversation with a Co op employee who told me that when it comes to vegan products, if I can get it at Fred Meyer or Target, they probably won't carry it at the Co op. She actually referred me to Fred Meyer for my Pacifica makeup and said "It's right on Lakeway!" Nice when my local community-owned grocery store goes out of their way to advise me to shop at a chain. Will make me feel less-guilty for shopping at the very-vegan-friendly Whole Foods once they finally come to Bellingham! But I digress...)

Anyway, thanks Gardein for doing it yet again and coming up with yet another tasty product that makes it even easier than ever before to be vegan. (And thanks to the Bellingham Target for carrying it!)