Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lotus Tea House, Waterloo

I have been meaning to check out Lotus Tea House forever. About a year ago, a non-vegetarian patient of the clinic where I work excitedly gave me a play-by-play re-enaction of her experience there the previous weekend, complete with glowing review. Since then I keep meaning to go and never getting around to it, which is kind of ridiculous because I am not a very popular person and I lead a fairly uneventful life. It shouldn't take a person like me a year to visit one of the few vegetarian restaurants in her small Ontarian city.

However, this weekend the local Kitchener-Waterloo corner of the Twitterverse became abuzz with news that Lotus would be donating 100% of their proceeds for the week of March 25 to March 31 to relief efforts in Japan. Visiting Lotus suddenly became an immediate necessity.

Paul and I went for lunch today, and before I tell you about our visit (just as excitedly as that non-vegetarian patient of our clinic) can I just take a minute and reflect on how positively wonderful mid-week lunch dates are? We normally save our dining out for weekends and special occassions, but there is something to be said for taking some time on a particularly long workday and treat yourself to some good company and deliciousness. It's all about the little things in life, my friends.

Lotus Tea House is a quaint and cozy little house-turned-restaurant on Regina Street in Waterloo. The place was packed. We had to wait a couple minutes for a table...on a Tuesday...at LUNCH! This is so exciting because it means that they are raising tons of money for the Japan relief effort. I've never been so happy to wait for a table!

We started with a pot of Fruit Tea. I was hesitant because other than hot chocolate, I don't like warm drinks (I survived both undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Waterloo without drinking a single coffee). I figured I would try it, and upon confirming my disdain for hot drinks, I would make Paul drink the rest. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my dislike for hot drinks stems more from my occassional stubbornness regarding trying new things than it does an actual god-given aversion. This tea was awesome!

Each entree comes with Soup of the Day, which was a simple vegetable broth with potatoes, carrots and cabbage. I have a documented fear of all things cabbage-ish but I had no problem with this one.

Each entree also comes with a spicy bean sprout salad - yum!

We shared an order of the Himalaya Triangles with Curry Sauce, which are kind of samosa-esque but are quite thinner and more crispy than the samosas that are typically sold at Indian restaurants around town. Delicious delicious delicious.

For my main, I chose the Cranberries, Cashew Nuts, Vegetables & Firm Tofu Stir Fry. Very light and flavourful - I love how the vegetables take up 3/4 of the plate!

Paul got the best choice of the day, I think - Golden Soy Nuggets with Stir Fried Green Beans in a Szechuen Spicy & Sweet Sauce.

I love this place! I'm honestly kind of irritated with myself for not trying it sooner. Aside from great food and friendly staff, the quaint and cozy house atmosphere had me dreaming of rainy Saturday afternoons with my favourite book and a pot of that fruit tea.

Now, I will mention that their mock meats are listed as "may contain" for things like eggs, dairy, etc., most likely relating to their manufacturing processes. If you avoid products of the "may contain" nature, proceed with caution (and try the meal that I ordered instead!).

The fundraiser for Japan is going on until this Friday (March 31) so you still have plenty of time to stop in and do your part while dining on some of Kitchener-Waterloo's tastiest vegetarian treats. Even if you can't make it in this week, keep Lotus Tea House in mind for the next time you are looking for a light meal or a relaxing, pinky-in-the-air afternoon tea party. We will be going back - often!

Lotus Tea House
79 Regina Street North
Waterloo, Ontario
(519) 880-1638

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bomb Cupcakes (and some Important Announcements)

I'm not sure how many more ways I can combine chocolate and peanut butter together, but I'm more than happy to spend my life trying.

I made these as dessert for dinner with a couple that shares our affinity for all things peanut butter and chocolate. My intent was to branch out and make them something different for once, because every single time we have ever had dinner at their house I have brought something PB and C. By this point, they most likely think that I am some sort of creep with vast quantities of stock in a large multi-national chocolate-and-peanutbutter conglomerate that is looking for investors. I actually settled on and began preparing to make Boston VS Brooklyn Cream Pie Cupcakes. And then I realized that I didn't plan ahead and essentially had absolutely none of the ingredients in stock. Back to chocolate and peanut butter it was, because at any given time our cupboard has a massive tin of cocoa and at least three jars of peanut butter. No planning necessary.

I decided to take a page out of the old Boston VS Brooklyn Cream Pie book for these by injecting them with peanut buttercream in addition to topping them with it. The results were pretty cool and I think I am now addicted to filling cupcakes rather than just frosting them. It makes them look all fancy without being much additional work.

My assistant cut a hole out of the center of each cupcake...

...and I filled a pastry bag with peanut buttercream and then filled each cupcake.

After that, we just topped each cupcake with some home made chocolate ganache and then another tiny dollop of the peanut buttercream. Et voila - fancy little cupcakes that look like they belong in the window of a pastry shop!

A peanut butter bomb is the one kind of bomb I can get on board with. Yes sir.

I also have some information on some cool happenings both on the Internet and in my neck of the woods:

1) VeganCuts.com is the hottest new vegan site on the web and I want you to be a part of it! Launched by the folks that bring you Vegan Backpacker, this is a site for all us cheap - errr conscientious - shoppers. If you're like me and love the high you get by holding up a grocery line with a fist full of coupons, this site is for you. Go on, sign up, and start saving - this site is going to singlehandedly dismantle the old myth that veganism is expensive and elitist.

2) Last year, when the earthquake hit Haiti, I launched Cupcakes Care About Haiti. On March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by one of the fiercest and most destructive natural disasters in recorded history. Naturally, the same feelings of helplessness and disenchantment washed over me as I watched the footage, this time with the added frustration of having a hectic work and life schedule that prevented me from doing another cupcake drive at this point and time. So, while I can't be as hands on as I would like to be, I'm going to do my best to research and spread the word about those who are able to organize fundraising events for our dear Japanese friends in their darkest hour.

Cafe Pyrus: A Call to All - Sunday, April 10, 2011
(16 Charles Street East, Kitchener ON)

Cafe Pyrus is hosting a full day fundraiser for Japan, beginning at 9am and going into the wee hours. It sounds like there will be live music, a silent auction and of course, that incredible Cafe Pyrus menu. Check out the Facebook event and contact the management if there is something you would like to contribute. You know TIV will stop by - just look for the girl with a table full of club sandwiches in front of her.

Lotus Tea House: 100% of restaurant earnings this week going to Japan
(79 Regina Street North, Waterloo ON)

Lotus Tea House in Waterloo, besides being famous in our town for serving its vast tea selection and vegetarian noms, is donating absolutely everything the restaurant takes in between March 26 and April 1, 2011 to relief efforts in Japan. Waiters are also donating 10% of their tips. WOW! We will for sure be stopping in at least once this week and I hope you will too.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Vegan Adventures in Los Angeles - Part Six: Native Foods (Culver City, CA)

The final instalment of our Los Angeles Vegan Foodie Extravaganza is upon us and while I'm excited to get back to regularly scheduled TIV programming, I'm a little sad too, because it's a reminder that the trip really is indeed over in every fathomable way.

While I have been vegan for years now and haven't regretted it a single moment, our visit to L.A. really energized my enthusiasm toward the cause and our interactions with those southern Californians cheerfully serving up veganism's most creative treats rejuvenated my own spirit.

Los Angeles is the center of so much exciting vegan activity and I have faith that the the energy, commitment and enthusiasm generated there will soon make its way around the world. The people opening and managing and running and working at all of the various restaurants I've mentioned over the past week are really on the front lines, pushing vegan innovation into never-before reached territories and inspiring all sorts of change around them. 2011 Los Angeles is proof that veganism is not the restrictive "life sentence" that mainstream anecdotes would have you believe. Its vegans are working tirelessly (and effectively) to abolish the stereotypes of the waif, boring vegan while transforming the scene into something that even omnivores can get excited about. While I was sad to leave such positivity and ethical awareness behind, I was inspired to bring a little bit of it back here to southern Ontario, where we too have many vegans working hard to promote a compassionate way of life.

I also want to take a moment to thank Quarrygirl and her amazing L.A.-based blog. Instead of wandering around L.A. and eating whatever vegan goodies I stumbled upon, her blog helped form our "foodie itinerary" and ensured that we didn't miss some of the best, lesser-known places (like Doomie's!).

So, without further ado, the stunning conclusion to Vegan Adventures in Los Angeles: Native Foods in Culver City.

This restaurant was way, way out of our way on Saturday. I didn't care. After hearing about it on Quarrygirl I knew we needed to make the trek to Culver City before catching the redeye back to Toronto. It was so worth the drive!

We started with Native Chicken Wings
From the menu: Our crispy battered Native Chicken wings. Ranch dressing on the side.

And then I got the Twister Wrap, which was quite reminiscent of the Twister wraps that I lived on during university, made by that evil fast food corporation (you know the one, don't make me say it) - but so much more delicious because no animals were harmed and because they are made with fresh greens that actually taste like fresh greens because they actually ARE fresh greens and not some freeze-dried and browning lettuce-ish garbage.
From the menu: Organic greens, fresh avocado and cucumber salsa, creamy chipotle sauce and your choice of crispy or grilled Native Chicken.

Paul got the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger and my God did he ever pick well. I don't know what in the love of crap was going on with this burger but "magical" is the only word that comes to mind. "Transcendent" might work too. THE GREATEST CREATION ON THE PLANET may seem a big excessive but it is seriously THE GREATEST CREATION ON THE PLANET.
From the menu: Our thinly sliced original Seitan, melted cheddar, caramelized onions, crispy tempeh bacon on a bun slathered with BBQ sauce and ranch dressing, lettuce, carrots, onions, and tomato and topped with crunchy battered dill pickles chips.

And then we moved onto dessert. Because I wanted something to dream about on that five hour flight home.

Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake
From the menu: Our cheesecake with pecan caramel and chocolate chips swirled in a chocolate cookie crust.

Chocolate Love Pie
From the menu: Thick and lustfully creamy chocolate filling in a delicious spiced almond crust.

Native Foods
9343 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 559-3601
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 11AM - 10PM

And just for the record, we did do some L.A. things of the non-gluttonous variety. Like......

...a visit to Grauman's Chinese Theatre....

...and we saw some stars...

...took a peek at how TV is made...

...did some shopping...

...saw how the other half lives...

...took a drive up the hills...

...visited the Santa Monica Pier...

...and even rode the ferris wheel!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Vegan Adventures in Los Angeles - Part Five: M Cafe de Chaya (Los Angeles, CA)

Saturday was our last day in Los Angeles and it was by far the most beautiful. The sun was shining and it was 25C and we got to do what we haven't been able to do for MONTHS here in southern Ontario - eat brunch on a patio!

M Cafe is a cheerful Macrobiotic restaurant with two homes in Los Angeles: one on Melrose and one in Beverly Hills. Our initial plan was to hit up the one in the 90210 while on the way to Santa Monica, but we had visited Beverly Hills the afternoon before and were a wee bit intimidated by the scenery. So, we opted for the Melrose location instead.

Actually, we picked Melrose because we were very hungry, it was closer to our hotel, and being that it was Saturday brunch and I didn't know what kind of crowds to expect, it had the greater patron capacity and a bigger patio. We did NOT avoid Beverly Hills because of a paralyzing fear of somehow hitting a 1.7 million dollar car and having to sell our house in order to pay for the damages.

Eating on patios is not something we take for granted here at home. The physical embodiment of the old adage about the little things in life meaning the most, we Canadians relish the days that we can eat our sandwiches at wobbly little plastic tables in the sun. There is a short, glorious window of time each year when this is a physical possibility and it certainly does not occur anywhere near March 5.

Jealousy certainly reared its ugly head on that little cement patio, as I thought of all of the little cement patios back home, buried under snow and sleet and salt and ice.

And then again when our delicious and attractive and innovative food was brought out to that little cement patio. I can't believe Los Angelans get to eat like this all the time!

Carolina-Style BBQ Seitan Sandwich
From the menu: Thinly sliced grilled seitan basted with our own zesty barbeque sauce and piled high on a house-baked whole wheat bun with grilled onions, pickles and creamy coleslaw

The Big Macro
From the menu: Whole grain brown rice & vegetable burger, special sauce, lettuce, soy mozzarella, tomato, pickles, onion, and sprouts on a house-baked whole wheat bun

To my knowledge, prior to visiting M Cafe, I had never been to a macrobiotic restaurant and I didn't even really know what macrobiotic was. To be honest, I still don't really know. However, the focus is on plant-based foods and that which is fresh and in season (which, in Calfornia, seems to be everything? All the time?).

However, they do serve some fish, so order carefully.

(As a funny aside, all the mock meats available in L.A. restaurants have messed with our brains - now back at home, we see commercials advertising a "chicken" something or a "steak" something and we keep thinking it's vegan!)

And because calories don't count when you're on vacation, we thought it was okay to have dessert at brunch. Before noon. Because M Cafe carries Babycakes cupcakes! I got the Chocolate. Paul got the Gluten-Free Red Velvet. Both were amazing, but I definitely snuck more than my fair share of bites from the Red Velvet.

My love affair with Babycakes began three years ago, with a vanilla cupcake on a hot summer afternoon in New York City (when my travel mates obliged my insanity by wandering all over SoHo looking for the bakery). My desk at work is armed with a Babycakes mug that I drink out of daily, but before M Cafe I hadn't had an actual Babycakes cupcake since that August afternoon and since M Cafe I have been wondering about the current Toronto-to-NYC flight fares.

I also wonder if M Cafe would consider a southern Ontario location? Even without the year-round patio, I sure could use some more Big Macros in my life.

M Cafe de Chaya
7119 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 525-0588
Hours: Monday thru Saturday 9:00am - 10:00pm, Sunday 9:00 am-9:00 pm

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Vegan Adventures in Los Angeles - Part Four: Bulan Thai Vegetarian Kitchen (Los Angeles, CA)

We eat a lot of Thai food here at home. In a city with a steakhouse and sportsbar on every corner, Thai restaurants typically serve as shelter from the standard veggie-burger storm for us local vegans.

Because we were in L.A. for such a short period of time, we thought we'd stick to restaurants that featured items that we don't have at home, saving the coconut curries and noodle dishes for our southern Ontario exploits.

However, Bulan Thai comes so highly recommended on the interwebz and it was so close to our hotel, and it was on Melrose, where we had spent the afternoon shopping. It really made little sense to pass it up.

I am really, really glad that we went. Because even though I've eaten at a lot of Thai restaurants in my life, I think this one just might be my favourite.

We started with an order of Steamed Dumplings
From the menu: Stuffed with mixed vegetables and bean-curd, served with a spicy soy vinaigrette

Mock Duck Curry
From the menu: veggie duck, fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, basil and pineapple in a coconut curry sauce

Pad Koo Moo aka "Drunken Noodles"
From the menu: pan-fried flat rice noodles with carrots, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, basil, chili and veggie chicken

Holy moley, people. If you are on Melrose, you must go to this place. I don't care how many curry dishes or how many drunken noodles you've eaten in your life, I promise you that you haven't eaten them like this.

If you are getting a little annoyed with me at this point, that's okay. I am kind of annoying myself, actually, with just how positive I am about all these restaurants. But the honest truth is that they were all absolutely incredible, Bulan Thai included. The entire time I was there I was trying to find something wrong with at least one of the dining experiences we had so that I wouldn't sound like such a bubbly optimist (a personality really, really doesn't suit me well). And I failed. I couldn't find anything to complain about. I just couldn't!

The food was wonderful. The service was quick and efficient. The prices were reasonable. Wins across the board for Bulan Thai.

Our visit also gave me the opportunity to work on my sorely lacking chopstick skills. And I did, for just enough time to take this photo. And then I moved onto my tried and true fork.

The good news is that my hero Sheldon Cooper says it's okay to not use chopsticks at Thai restaurants, because "Thailand has had the fork since the latter half of the nineteenth century."

Bulan Thai Vegetarian
7168 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 857-1882
Hours: Open Daily: 11am-10pm (Mon-Fri: closed 4pm-5pm)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vegan Adventures in Los Angeles - Part Three: Flore Vegan (Silverlake, CA)

We didn't adjust to the time change so well. I must have been a rooster in a past life because I get up at the exact same time every single day. 7:15am EST. It doesn't matter if I went to bed at 9pm or 4am, my eyes always open at 7:15am and I despite all my inner threats to myself, I sincerely struggle at falling back asleep. Sometimes, when the stars are aligned, I can force myself to fall back asleep but even then I cannot sleep past 9am, even if I only have four or five hours of sleep under my belt.

This means that in Los Angeles I was up and at 'em at 6am every morning.

At first this was cause for alarm, but after I flipped on the TV I realized that there is some divine reason that my internal clock is so rigid - early Friday morning, four back-to-back episodes of Saved By the Bell were being aired. FOUR! Oh, happy day.

So that tied me over until 9am, which was a more socially acceptable time to leave the hotel. We worked up an appetite by trekking up to the Hollywood sign and then headed to Flore Vegan in Silverlake for lunch.

For every restaurant we went to we gave ourselves extra time for the journey, assuming we were going to hit some of that legendary Los Angeles traffic. It turns out that we didn't have a hard time getting anywhere the entire time we were there. This meant that we were standing and salivating outside of Flore for twenty minutes or so before they even opened. It gave us ample time to agonize over the menu from their patio. What a heart-wrenching foodie experience...knowing that you have one shot at a restaurant and there are thirty some odd things you want to try.

We started with smoothies. Paul got the Raw Superfruit Smoothie (Blueberry, Mangosteen, Strawberry, Orange, Agave). I was still nursing a little bit of jetlag, so I got the Raw Mint Cooler (Mint, Cucumber, Apple, Agave) hoping it would calm my stomach.

It sure did the trick!

Next came the main course...

Avocado and Cheese Sandwich & Potato Salad
From the menu: The traditional hippie sandwich of cashew cheese, green leaf, tomato, daikon sprout, avocado and eggless mayonaise on 6-grain bread.

Tempeh Reuben & Potato Salad
From the menu: Grilled reuben served on rye with layers of cashew cheese, tempeh, sauerkraut, tofu cheese and 1000 Island dressing.

We selected well and everything was beyond amazing. All the same, I am still devastated over the fact that there are so many other things on the Flore menu that I won't get a chance to try. The Avocado-Seitan Salad, the Breakfast Burrito. Traveling is awesome, don't get me wrong, but going away always triggers immediate wanderlust and vegan food envy.

We were stuffed and satisfied but couldn't resist dessert. I chose the table closest to the dessert display (unintentionally of course) and so I spent our lunch weighing my dessert options.

I couldn't resist the Strawberry Shortcake. Seriously, who could? It was the cutest little cake in the display and I had to have it. And it tasted even better than it looked!

Flore Vegan is vegan dining as it's meant to be - delicious options with a focus on fresh, plant-based items. They go easy on the sauces and "extras" because they can - these fruits, vegetables and legumes are so flavourful all on their own and Flore puts together in the most perfect combinations, making for some of the tastiest sandwiches we've ever had. Should we ever find ourselves in the L.A. area again, you know we will be hitting up Flore for to try some of those other menu options.

Or I'll get the Avo-Cheese again, because it was that good and when something isn't broken you're not supposed to fix it. Or so I've heard.

Flore Vegan
3818 W. Sunset Blvd.
Silverlake, CA 90026
(323) 953-0611

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vegan Adventures in Los Angeles - Part Two: Doomie's Home Cookin' (Hollywood, CA)

I honestly don't even know where to start.

Visiting Doomie's was one of the most insane experiences of my little vegan life. In my nearly four years of a veg-based diet I have never encountered a dining incident quite like this one.

Never at a loss for words, Doomie's rendered even this blogging motormouth speechless.

The reasons that people adopt a vegan diet are numerous. What differentiates vegans from strict vegetarians is not just an abstinence from all animal product and by-product, but a passion for animal advocacy and a desire to bring an end to the exploitation of all living creatures.

Mainstream media tend to focus on the health and nutritional aspect of veganism and so the general public tends to view us as waif salad eaters, dismissing the vegan diet as "boring", "monotonous", or "too restrictive". I think our cause loses a lot of well-intentioned and compassionate folks because they think they will have to give up their tried and true favourite foods.

Enter Doomie's Home Cookin' in Hollywood, California.

Because the truth of the matter is that a lot of us vegans are not somehow above junk food. Most of us, of course, care about our well-being and in our everyday lives focus on the core of veganism: VEGetables. With that being said, a great many of us also love to indulge just as much as we did as omnivores. We have salt cravings and sweettooths and we will sometimes walk a mile and a half in an unfamiliar city just because we heard about someone offering up vegan cupcakes (a ThisIsVegan.com True Story: circa New York City, Summer 2008).

Doomie's focuses on these indulgences. On these cravings based on long-ago memories of foods we grew up on. It provides no calorie information and it spares no decadence. It is single-handedly destroying the "sickly little vegan" stereotype by serving up the foods that we grew up on in a way that will make even the most hardcore omnivores salivate. It's the fried chicken that we ate after church on Sundays and the chili cheeseburger we ate in the all-night diner during university. It is, quite literally "what you've been missin'".

Because there are many of us who went vegan not because we ever stopped liking the taste of meat and cheese, but because we stopped being okay with the abuse and exploitation that went along with that taste.

Doomie's is for us.

Jalapeno Poppers.
My in-laws host a Christmas Eve party every year. I first attended when I was 16-years-old and Paul and I just started dating and it was there that I tried a jalapeno popper for the first time. From that moment on, poppers became synonymous with Christmas for me. When I went vegan I knew they would no longer be a convenient reality for me and I was okay with that.
But thanks Doomie's, for bringing back some great memories.

Philly Cheesesteak
I've never had a meat-based philly cheesesteak so I can't comment on it - but Paul gives it the Authenticity Seal of Approval.

Spicy Chicken Sandwich
When I was in university, we spent every Sunday afternoon at this restaurant called Moose (sobering up from the night before, most likely). And every Sunday I ordered their spicy chicken sandwich. And then I went vegetarian and it was all over and I can't tell you how cool it was to eat a ridiculously authentic spicy "chicken" sandwich once again all while knowing that nothing had to die in order to satisfy my craving.

As you can tell, we were so stuffed from our other L.A. foodie exploits that we chose the fruit option for our side. Back here in Kitchener, my stomach rumbling as I near the end of a workday, all I can think about is this sandwich with a side of fries. Remind me again why I don't live in southern California?

But before I go, the piece de resistance.....


For all my agnostic banterings, it turns out there actually is a God.

Doomie's Home Cookin'
1253 N. Vine Street #9
Hollywood, CA 90038
(714) 883-7657
Hours: Tues-Sun, 12pm to 10pm

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