Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wunderbar: Small-Batch Artisinal Bars: a Review!

such sweet packaging! 

Wunderbar is here to save the day!!

This blog post is long overdue! Quite a while ago, I received this awesome box full of super-special bars from Wunderbar by Jen to review... and I've been wracked with guilt that I haven't written this post sooner! Especially because I really loved them. First of all, isn't that box cute?

the cheat sheet, like in a box of chocolates!

All the bars come wrapped in a little baggies, and the box comes with a sheet telling you which bars are in your box. I loved this part! It reminded me of when you have a box of fancy chocolates and you have to look at the little card to figure out which chocolate to eat next.

Wunderbars by Jen are all made from scratch and they are almost all vegan. There is one flavor with honey in it. I recall that there were a couple with yogurt, and it looks like she has made those flavors vegan since the time I received my samples -- that's awesome! I really like bars - I usually have a small selection in my cupboards for times when I need a quick snack. These Wunderbars are in the Larabar camp - in that they are moist, chewy, and filled with natural ingredients. On the other hand, these Wunderbars have such creative and awesome flavors -- they really are unique!

bars bars bars!

You'll see that some of my bars look small... Uh... That's because I couldn't wait and I took a knife and cut little bits off some of them to nibble on them. Hee hee. Look at these super fun flavors! Here are my thoughts on each flavor:

Spicy Banana -- Wow, I really loved this flavor. It was one of my very favorites. At first you get a perfect hit of the banana... and then there is a super sneaky heat at the finish. It's such a great and unexpected combo. This bar had a nice soft texture.

a super banana and a hot chile pepper falling in love while they fly through the air... obviously!

Beetlicious Ginger -- Isn't this a cool thing, to have beets in a bar? This bar has a firm and dense texture. The first thing you get is the wonderful aroma of the fresh ginger, and then you pick up on the earthy beets.

Fig n Chia -- Love!! So much great figgy flavor!! Figs are one of my foods and if you are a fig fan, you will love this flavor.

Apricot Almond Tart -- This bar has a great classic flavor combo, but also has excellent flavor and an unexpected richness. When I read the flavor name, I had an idea of what it would be like, but it was much more than I imagined. Such nice flavor, and such skillful spices in it.

Apple Walnut Pie -- Distinct and lovely. This bar is full of bits of dried apple. When these bars say something like "apple walnut" -- you can bet that they don't mess around. You will get a lot of apples and walnuts and it will be great! This bar also has a nice hit of cinnamon.

Peanut Butter and Jelly -- Ooooh, this bar is really a serious PB&J bar! It delivers a strong Peanut Butter presence with sweet, fruity flecks throughout for a perfect balance. I think it was strawberry flecks that I picked up on. This bar was excellent!

Mochalatta -- So full of coffee blast! This bar has a background sweetness that provides balance, but doesn't dominate and really allows the coffee flavor to through. If you like coffee, like I do, you'll love this -- it's got real ground up coffee beans in it!

Dirty Snowman -- Such a fun name. This fun bar has an appealing chewy texture, especially from the ample coconut in it. It's a great combo of coconut and some other nutty flavor -- peanut? almond? I wasn't sure, but I certainly loved it.

Carrot Cake -- Great spices in this bar, it was another one of my very favorites. This bar was soft and tender, and so super carrot-y that you could actually see the carrots in it!! I love the idea of a bar made with actual veggies. So good! It also has a great addition of walnuts, which I loved.

Peanut Butter Brownie -- This firm, dense bar has a generous swath of PB spread on top. The chocolate presence isn't super strong, but certainly isn't invisible. It's got great chew to it.

Gooey Granola -- I was surprised with this bar and how interesting it was. The flavors and textures of the various seeds and nuts really produced something special and the base is sweet and chewy.

Wunderbar will fly you around on a tasty adventure! 

In the vast world of "power bars," these bars are obviously quite unique in every way: made from scratch in small batches, super unique flavors, very wholesome whole ingredients, and you can even subscribe for regular shipments of your favorite flavors. In fact, these bars are so super fresh that Jen recommends storing them in the fridge and eating them within 7 days (or you can freeze them which is what I did). But they won't last too long because they are so good! Plus you can support an awesome small, woman-owned business.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Super Taco Potluck Party!

It had been quite a while since my pals and I had a big vegan potluck together, and that is just no good at all! So, we put our brains (and calendars) together and set a date!! We decided on a taco potluck, because what could be better than that? It was such a rad evening, so much delicious food, and such lovely conversation, and just great to be together. I am so lucky to have found such rad friends! 

 Cooler full of TopoPipo

You know your taco party is off to a good start when you have a cooler full of TopoChico. 
Aw, yeah! 

Kathy Hester's Queso

I made a ginormous batch of Queso, using the recipe from Kathy Hester's Vegan Instapot cookbook. I don't have an Instapot, but it was easy to convert the recipe. Holy bananas, this stuff is so good. This giant bowl of queso was completely demolished and was 100% empty by the end of the evening. And, suffice it to say, this queso had a lot of competition (as you will soon see), so that is indeed quite a testimony. It's not like we were just a bunch of starving vegans locked in an empty room with a bowl of queso. Au contraire! 

all ready to go snorkeling in a giant bowl of queso!!
(my doodles look funny because I am traveling and don't have my scanner) 

oodles of tortillas! 

I love making homemade tortillas, but we were going to have 10 grown-ups and a kiddo at this party ... and I didn't really have the time or energy to make that many tortillas. ha ha. Please forgive me. My friend Alana stepped up and brought an excellent array of tortillas: minis, regulars, fancies, and super fancies (with roasted hatch chiles!). Mr. VE&T is not afraid to be himself, and that includes confessing to his unhip love of crunchy taco shells. For that reason, any taco party we host will also include crunchy taco shells! 

beans beans beans, they're good for your heart

Look at all that good stuff! ha ha. I know this picture is hardly going to win any food photography contests, but all those recipes could have easily won some flavor contests! It was accidental that we ended up with so many black beans, but luckily, if you have a room full of hungry taco-loving vegans, no one will be upset about that.

Top Left: Spicy Tofu Scram with black beans -- my friend Nikki brought this concoction and it was seriously fantastic. I don't know what spices she used, and I know she just made it up because she always does that, so I will never know. It was one of my favorites of the evening! 

Top Right: Black Bean, Zucchini, and Olive taco filling - from Appetite for Reduction. I love this recipe, and I hadn't made it for a long while. It's spiced so well - not spicy hot, but just perfectly seasoned. And the olives add an excellent punch of flavor and tang.

Bottom Left: Quick Beans from The Taco Cleanse -- I love this recipe and I make it all the time. It really is so quick and easy, and yet somehow really transforms a couple humble cans of beans into something way more special and flavorful. I think it's kind of a taco necessity to have a big basic bowl of beans. A BBBB. 

Bottom Right: Soy Curl Fajitas from The Taco Cleanse. This is another one of my top 5 recipes from this excellent cookbook. You can't buy Soy Curls here in Santa Cruz anymore, so I resorted to ordering these online. I'm so glad I did. I'm kind of having a Soy Curl moment, rekindling my romance with this lost love of mine. Do you have any favorite Soy Curl recipes? Tell me! 

condiments to meet your many taco needs

You know how they always say that "accessories make the outfit"? (is that a thing people say? I have no actual idea). Well, condiments definitely make the taco. Or at least, they can elevate your taco to the next level. My pals Alana and Sophia really brought the goods:
Salsa Libano and Chipotle Aioli - both from The Taco Cleanse.
Giant Vat of Guac (plus some limes, salsa, and pickled red onions)
Mango and Jicama salad with jalepeno and herbs 
Curtido (cabbage slaw) - from Viva la Vegan

All these festive goodies make up for the brown collage of bean photos! Just look at all those colors and veggies! Flavors, spicy power punch, crunchy veg, creamy sauce, rich avocado, tanginess... all wonderful elements to include in your taco experience. I really think that the secret to a successful taco bar is in all the fun and fancy sauces and toppings! 

I am not foolin'

This was my dinner plate, at least the 1st pass. There was more after this. Man, those mini corn tortillas are so fun, because you can make yourself four completely different tortillas and try all the good stuff and still not be too full afterwards! I am officially a mini tortilla fan now. I was quite pleased with my taco creations. Just looking at this beautiful plate of taco glory makes me want to have another taco potluck! 

mini tortillaz 4 life!!

Strawberry Watermelon Agua Fresca with fresh mint

My friends Hannae and Brian brought a huge and amazing jar of Strawberry Watermelon Agua Fresca. Hannae is some sort of magical wizard at making elixir and tonics -- she and her friend have even been doing pop-up tonic bars around town. So cool. This stuff was just wonderful, and such a nice addition to the meal.

Since I'm not an alcohol drinker, I didn't even remember to take a picture of the elaborate margarita bar that my friend Jake set up. That makes me feel like a jerk! He brought fancy liquor stuff and juiced a million limes and was making people happy with nice margaritas. I always appreciate when my houseguests bring alcohol -- since I really don't know anything about it!

Dessert time! 

You gotta have some sweeties! My friends brought such excellent treats for our dessert:
Nikki brought Snickerdoodles and Alana brought a Lime Cheesecake. Omg. They were both so delicious and somehow totally perfect post-taco desserts. The cinnamony snickerdoodles were great because cinnamon is used in so many Mexican sweets.  And the cheesecake was creamy and tangy, both very appreciated after all the strong flavors of those tacos! 

I highly recommend taco parties with your friends! What could be better? 
Eat your own mini-tacos and rejoice!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Vegan Fun in San Marcos & Austin, TX

Howdy Y'all!

Recently I spent some time down in Texas: 4 days in San Marcos for a yoga workshop, and 4 days in Austin for fun. Mr VE&T flew down for the second half of the trip and we had a little Austin vacation together. It was so fun to be back in Austin -- it was my first time back since the glory of VidaVeganCon III, and Mr. VE&T's first time ever. 

first things first!

My friend Christy was so sweet - she picked me up at the airport and transported me to two of Austin's most important vegan destinations: The Vegan Nom taco truck and Capital City Bakery -- conveniently located right down the street from one another. We had such a nice time together, talking, connecting, and getting to know each other better. I was so touched by her generous time and company! 

If you only have one afternoon to be a vegan in Austin, I suggest these two excellent spots. The tacos at The Vegan Nom are sooooooooooo good. Should I keep adding more "o's"?? Ha ha. I love that place and I sure wish we had a Taco Nom truck here in Santa Cruz. And of course I also had a Topo Chico -- the super delicious Mexican sparkly water that is hugely beloved in Austin. I am a bit of a sparkly water afficionado (if I do say so myself!), and that Topo Chico is some damned good fizzy bizz! And then we went over to Capital City Bakery and decided to split a huge and gloriously decadent slice of Key Lime Cheesecake. Holeee Moleee. So fantastic, and without any hesitation, the best vegan cheesecake I have ever had. 

San Marcos Country-Western Dance Contest 
with a super killin' country swing band. So much fun! 

I'm sorry to say that I didn't take many pictures of the food I ate down in San Marcos -- I was pretty focused on enjoying my yoga workshop and the new friends I was making there. That sad, there was some good vegan eating in San Marcos. Not a ton of all-vegan spots, but plenty of vegan awareness and easy to get something good to eat:

* VERTS Mediterranean Grill - VERTS is kinda like Chipotle, but with Mediterranean flavors. It's a good place for veegs and non-veegs folks to go together. I got a falafel salad with lots of great veggies and sauces, and I really enjoyed it. 
* Wanderlust Food Truck - has several veganizable options, including a super-yummy Kale & Apple Salad
* St. Pitas has good falafel, a fried avocado sandwich, hummus & pita
* Earth Burger - I was so excited to check out this all-vegan spot, but it was slated to open about one week after I was in town. Drat! 

After four glorious days of yoga yoga yoga, I scooted on up to Austin to meet my #1 bub -- Mr. Vegan Eats & Treats! It was so fun to be reunited together in a fun place. Of course we got straight to work with excellent eating adventures! 

One of the first places I took him was to Capital City Bakery -- a spot I knew he would love. It is just such a sweet spot: cute as all get-out, excellent staff, and totally amazing baked goods. I swear to you - the pastries are so glorious and tempting. You can also get any of your favorite coffee drinks there, for an excellent fancy drink + pastry experience. 

After much deliberation, we selected a few treats for ourselves - a perfect brownie and a strawberry-filled poptart. I also got a scone "for tomorrow morning," ha ha ha ha. That didn't happen. 

Bouldin Creek Cafe

Our first morning together, we headed right on over to Bouldin Creek Cafe. Such a great spot, with an amazing array of vegan options... but also a selection of non-vegan options. I know that's not perfect for everyone, but since Mr VE&T isn't a vegan, it's always great for us to find places where we can both have a big selection of options to choose from. I had two huge and amazing breakfast tacos: The Tofu Ren (tofu scramble, jalepenos, garlic, sauteed onions) & The Timmy (vegan chorizo, red & black organic beans, shredded lettuce, locally grown tomatoes). 

Breakfast tacos are big news in Austin, and one of my top goals while in town was to eat as many breakfast tacos as possible. I was very successful with this important mission! 

Manana Cafe

We stayed at a sweet spot near South Congress, and on our morning walk we came across this beautiful cafe called Manana. They always have at least one vegan baked good for sale, great coffee (with nondairy milk choices), and they carry this very lovely and fancy local brand of vegan coconut yogurt called Kokonut. Kokonut yogurts are pricey, but my Austin pals assured me that it was worth a try. As far as vegan yogurts go, I am generally quite a soy-loyalist, but I really loved this yogurt a lot! It was super thick and rich and not overly coconutty, with a delicious flavor (I had the Bourbon Vanilla flavor). Austinites are lucky to have this awesome product! 

Last time I was in Austin, my beloved pals Nick and Jojo took me to Kerbey Lane Cafe, and I was so excited to take Mr. VE&T there. Talk about a vegan-friendly spot!! They have a huge non-vegan menu, but for a place that isn't dedicated to veganism, I think Kerbey Lane has some seriously legit vegan options. I got the Vegan Migas (a spicy tofu scram with tortillas mixed in) with rice and beans and green salsa and vegan queso. Can you believe they even have a vegan queso option!? In case you don't know "queso" is the word for "cheese" in Spanish, but down in Texas it refers to a cheezy salsa dip/sauce and it is seriously YUM. 

I also got a vegan pancake on the side because my very favorite thing is sweet and savory for breakfast. Needless to say, this was quite a filling feast! ha ha. No regrets. 

TopoChico = True Love Forever

On my previous trip to Austin, I had been introduced to the GLORY of Topo Chico. I am a devoted fan of sparkling water, and it's probably my favorite thing to drink. Topo Chico is a sparkling mineral water bottled in Mexico, and for whatever reason, the fine people of Austin have recognized it's magnificence, while many other communities remain sadly ignorant. I was overcome with emotion when I saw this huge TopoChico display at the Whole Foods Flagship store (a worthy stop in and of itself, by the way!!).  While in Texas, I drank at least 1 Topo Chico per day, often up to 3 bottles a day. I like to call them TopoPipo though, it's my special name that I made up when I couldn't remember their actual brand name at first. Happily, I've found a Latin market here in Santa Cruz that sells TopoPipos, so I can get my fix here at home too. Yeah!


A vegan potluck! 

You know what's super cool and warms my little vegan heart? Here's what: going to another town and having awesome vegan pals throw you a potluck! My always-wonderful pal Smurfy threw a potluck and I got to hang out with Jess & Wes, and I got to meet a fun new vegan friend too! :) Smurfy made some green enchiladas and vegan queso. I really loved that queso - it's from Kathy Hester's Instant Pot Cookbook and IT IS GOOD. There were some other goodies that I didn't photograph: great tacos and a big bowl of perfect beans. So fun! 

Since we were traveling, I couldn't really cook anything easily ... but I could splurge and pick up a Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Cake from the amazing all-vegan ice cream parlor called Sweet Ritual. ZOMG. Sweet Ritual is a great place to check out while you're in Austin. Let's just say that we went there "more than once" while we were in town. So many great flavors (with many different bases - cashew, coconut, almond, peanut, etc), waffle cones, a zillion rad toppings.... It's a great spot.  

By the way, Jess is one of the owners of Rabbit Food Grocery, and I didn't take any pictures there - but it is such a great spot to stock up on vegan goodies and gifts. I loaded up on jars of Nacho Mom's vegan queso, Frog Hollow chocolate bars, and various other goodies that can't be found in Santa Cruz. RFG is  super rad vegan grocery store, and it's always great to support small vegan-owned businesses! You can also order from them online and they have great stuff. Here's their website. 

A Consultation with the Doctor of Tacology

Smurfy, Jess & Wes are all part of the esteemed team of taco scientists behind "The Taco Cleanse." If you are unaware of "The Taco Cleanse," check out my posts about it here and here. I promise you, your life will be better with this book in your kitchen. It is so funny, so fun to read, and the recipes are amazing.

So, Smurfy busted out her official Doctor of Tacology lab coat! So rad. We had an impromptu consultation, resulting in an excellent prescription of More Tacos and More Topo Chico. Ha ha. All problems solved! 

Another stop at The Vegan Nom

Even though I'd already been to The Vegan Nom once, I needed to go back, and obviously I needed to bring Mr. VE&T here. I mean, honestly, I wish I could eat here every day. There is some serious taco mastery at work in that little blue taco truck. We met up with Smurfy again for a lunchtime taco date and the tacos did not disappoint. These taco wizards know what's up! 

It goes without saying that Mr. Vegan Eats & Treats was duly impressed with these magical tacos. Of course he was. They are the best. 

Another one of my favorite people in Austin is my friend Joanna and I was sooo stoked that we had a chance to go out to dinner with her and her awesome son and her fella. I would have been happy just to run errands together as long as we could hang out together. But we did better than that. She suggested dinner together at The Beer Plant - a 100% vegan restaurant and beer spot that is pretty new to Austin (new since the last time I was there). Holy Moly. This place is Wow. 

Mr VE&T and I were both blown away. SO many incredible choices on the menu and every single thing we had was just fantastic. I am pretty envious of Austin people who can go here any time they want. First of all - the best Buffalo Cauliflower I have ever had in my life. Spicy, amazing batter, amazing ranch dressing.

I was actually really in the mood for a big salad, and they have some pretty amazing-looking salads on the menu, but I felt like it would be silly to travel all that way and have a salad. So I ordered the Gyro, which came with a side salad. Perfect! The Gyro comes with "garlic rosemary seitan, romaine, red cabbage, cucumber, red onion, tomato, tzatziki, and parsley on pita." It was perfect - great flavors, textures, combo of spiced seitan with the fresh veggies, fresh pita, and cooling tzatziki sauce. I also made a nod to my veggie cravings and ordered a side of Roasted Shaved Brussels Sprouts. Oh my goodness, I wish I was going here for dinner again tonight! 

On our last afternoon in town, we managed to sneak in a visit to one more vegan food truck: Bistro Vonish. I had heard so many great things about this wonderful spot. Unfortunately, I arrived with a belly full of tacos and wasn't able to fully dive into their menu options. However, we were both in the mood for a cool drink - and so we got ourselves each a Hibiscus Mint Agua Fresca (so lovely and perfect!). I also got myself two kolaches for the flight home - savory one filled with white beans and sage that was quite magical, and a sweet blackberry one. When we got to the airport that night and almost all the food options were closed for the night (by 8pm, really Austin Airport??) - I was pretty stoked to have two delicious emergency pastries in my purse. A good action plan, indeed! 

I've been keeping the spirit alive ever since we got home - with lots and lots of tacos and Topo Chicos. I even hosted two taco dinner parties complete with an array of fillings, salsas, tortillas, and fun. My next post will be about a big taco potluck my pals and I had last weekend. Keep your taco levels high and let your spirit shine! 

ps. if you are ever going to Austin, check out Smurfy's amazing Vegan Guide to Austin

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Sweet & Cozy Easter Brunch

I've been having a happily full life lately - lots of yoga teaching, and also a trip down to Austin TX for some yoga learning (and tacos!). I'm working on a post about my Texan adventures and eats, it's coming soon! I hurried home and suddenly it was Easter morning! This year we had a very sweet and tiny gathering -- just us two, my parents, and my youngest nephew. It was a rainy day here, which made the whole thing quiet and cozy and mellow.

Easter Brunch

I am a fan of brunch at all times and under any circumstances! I love the pace and the decadence of it. I love the sweeties and the savories. I love the carbs and veggies and fruit all together. And I love the leisure of the company and the chatting. Our sweet little Easter brunch was no exception - we talked and laughed and remembered and looked at pictures from our Texas trip and it was all very sweet. 

if i ever got a tattoo...


Along the lines of keeping it easy and low-key, instead of fussing over some big casserole -- I just ran down the street to The Bagelry. We are lucky to have a spot in our community with really good bagels, and one of their locations is right near our house. Plus, bagels are always a hit with pretty much everyone -- so it was a good way to go. I got 2 sesame bagels, 2 onion bagels, 1 poppyseed bagel and 1 jalepeno bagel. All good choices!

Spreads and Fixin's

For a proper bagel bar experience, you gotta have lots of choices of different spreads. I put out two different peanut butters (I prefer the organic PB from Trader Joe's, but Musty & my nephew prefer Jif, ha ha!), grape jelly, Kite Hill cream cheese, and hummus. There were also some non-vegan options which shall not be discussed or photographed on these hallowed pages! 

I also put out fresh watercress, fresh dill, sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and red onions. I really like a few veggies on my bagel - they balance the super carb-athon of the bagel experience. Plus the crunchy cuke and the moisture and acid of the tomatoes and the pungent onion all go together so nicely. 

eat your fruits and veggies!

We had a huge bowl of organic strawberries and a huge platter of pan-seared asparagus. Simple, and perfect. I am lucky to have a bestie and a dear yoga student who both grow amazing organic strawberries and who each gifted us some berries before Easter!! I even sent home strawberry party favors with my parents and my nephew. 

berry party favors
my nephew has always loved strawberries, it was so fun to share with him! 

Hot Cross Buns

I really love hot cross buns a lot, but I also really love being lazy. This year I was feeling a bit extra-lazy since I had just gotten home from my trip to Texas... and I had pretty much made up my mind not to make any HBCs this year. But here's the thing. My dad also really loves HBCs and every year, when he comes to Easter brunch at my house, he gets super jazzed about them. So, somewhere around 9pm on the night before Easter, I decided I just couldn't go without! I didn't want to disappoint my daddy!

I used this great recipe from King Arthur Flour's website for Easy Hot Cross Buns. In place of eggs, I used aquafaba - which worked really great. (about 7.5 Tbsp aquafaba in place of the 2 1/2 eggs). I mixed them up, let them do their 1st rise and about 20 minutes of their second rise, and then I put them in the fridge overnight. I really like this method, which I learned several years ago. In the morning, I was able to let them rise for about an hour while I preheated the oven and went out for the bagels... and they only take about 20 minutes to actually bake. So they were perfectly fresh when everyone showed up at our house. Ahhh, a freshly baked bread product really is something special. 

For years I made HBCs that were "good enough," but weren't really great. This recipe makes really wonderful buns - light, fluffy, and perfectly flavored with just the right hint of sweetness. Of course, as soon as we got ready to eat, my dad beelined straight to the HBCs! I was so glad that I had motivated and made them at the last minute. What was I thinking??