Friday, July 2, 2010

Almost vegan: on the move!

My bags are packed and it’s time to go. The two years I’ve spent here have been great, but I have bigger and better faux-fish to fry.

Ladies and gentlemen, update your bookmarks.

Please be patient with me as I tweak the design and update all the links there; it’s likely to take me a good week or two.
See you on the flipside!

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review & giveaway: YOUBAR

If you’re a nutrition junkie like I am (sounds oxymoronic, doesn’t it?), you may have heard of YOUBAR. They’re a create-your-own-snack company that lets you invent and customize bars, protein shakes, trail mixes, cookies, and cereal. You choose the ingredients and amounts (as the nutrition calculator along the side tallies up what you’ve added) and name your snack, and they ship you your creation, handmade and custom-labeled. Cool, huh?

For example, to build a bar, you get to pick the base (nut/seed butters and dates), protein powder (soy, rice, or whey), nuts and seeds, dried fruits and berries, sweetener (honey, agave, or brown rice syrup), seasonings/chocolate, grains/cereal (granola, crunchy rice, or oat bran), and vitamin infusions. You can even customize the amounts and ratios of various components. The options are dizzying, and the possibilities endless.

For ease and convenience, you can also purchase predesigned/preformulated products. Joel at YOUBAR kindly sent me some samples recently of their most popular shakes...


...and trail mixes! Although some of these were not vegan, due to inclusions of whey protein, egg white powder, or honey, they still earned high nutrition marks with me thanks to their short ingredient lists and high percentage of organic ingredients.

The first thing I tried was the Blended Bliss shake mix, containing whey protein, organic cane juice, organic strawberries, organic bananas, and organic vanilla.

I threw it in my Vitababy with some strawberries, blueberries, and almond milk, and blended it to perfection. The sweetness and bright strawberry flavor made it a great addition to my morning smoothie.

I blended the Vanilla Dream shake, which is just soy protein, organic cane juice, and organic vanilla powder, with almond milk and blueberries, and it was just as good as the Blended Bliss variety.

The Breakfast Bar is dates, egg white powder, honey, cocoa powder, instant coffee crystals, and cinnamon. Of the bunch, this was my least favorite, but probably because of the cinnamon—I’m not a huge fan, and it contained quite a bit of it. The texture was great, though; dense and chewy, it tastes like it came out of your own kitchen.

On the other hand, my favorite of the bunch was easily the Honey Cashew bar, containing cashew butter, whey protein, nutty rice cereal, and organic honey.

SO. SO. SO. GOOD! The cashew butter melted in my mouth while the crispy rice cereal that studded the bar provided a gentle crunch, and the honey lent just the right amount of sweetness. I could seriously eat an entire box of these babies; they taste homemade in the best possible way—in fact, this bar reminded me a little of my no-bake almond butter balls.

The Mix Up Your Day trail mix has oat bran sesame sticks, organic cashews, almonds, dried pineapple, goji berries, and shredded coconut. The pineapple was a little hard to chew, but the crunch of the sesame sticks was nice with the raisin-like goji berries and the raw nuts.

The Best Trail Mix contains almonds, organic cashews, walnuts, organic sunflower seeds, dried sweetened blueberries, sweetened cranberries, and Sun Drops original chocolate candies. This was great! It tastes like something you’d want to munch on during a long hike or bike ride. The Sun Drops were a fantastic addition to the raw nuts and dried fruits.

Ok, I know what you really scrolled down for!
Since the shakes, bars, and trail mixes Joel sent me were individually packaged, I want to share the bounty with one of you! Here’s what you’ll win, and the contents of each:

Breakfast Shake: whey protein, egg white powder, organic cane juice, cocoa powder, organic bananas
Great Date with Chocolate bar: organic dates, whey protein isolate, organic honey, cocoa
Chocolate Peanut trail mix: dark chocolate-covered raisins, Oatios organic toasted oat cereal, organic raisins, apples, organic peanuts
***Please note that some of these contain non-vegan ingredients.***

HOW TO ENTER: Go to and play around at designing your own bar, shake, trail mix, cookie, or cereal. Then come back here and leave a comment below describing your creation!
For extra entries (leave an additional comment for each one):
–Link to this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
–Follow me on Google Friend Connect (or let me know you already do)
–Add me to your blogroll (or let me know I'm already on there)

The deadline for entries is Tuesday morning, July 6th, at 9:00am CST (which is around 3pm that afternoon for anyone in the U.K. and midnight that night for those of you in Australia). I’ll be choosing the winner at random. Good luck!

In the meantime, if you’d rather try building your own bar, shake, or trail mix, head on over to, where you can get 5% off your order by entering coupon code ALMOSTVEGAN at checkout!
(P.S.—While you're at it, why not enter Lisa's e-book giveaway?)

If you like this, you might also like...
Review: Sunland peanut butter
Honey almond power bars
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Monday, June 28, 2010

Raw vegan bliss in Dallas

(Don't miss part one of this trip!)

Before leaving Dallas on Memorial Day, Matt and I stopped at Bliss Raw Café & Elixir Bar for lunch. After the rawesome experience at 105 Degrees a couple days prior, I was excited to feed my body some more raw goodness.

We found Bliss Café on a busy street in north Dallas, next to a shack-like Mexican joint and across the street from a drive-thru liquor store (oh, Texas). It’s teeny! It also turns out they have no indoor seating, but luckily their patio is shaded and well-ventilated, so the hot day didn’t interfere with our meal at all.

We had to try some of their namesake elixirs, so I ordered the sampler trio, consisting of 2-oz. pours of three of their bestsellers. The Chocolate Bliss ("raw cacao superfood power blend, vanilla agave, tocotrienols, cacao butter, and orange oil") was thin, almost chocolate-milk-like, and had a deep, rich chocolate flavor. The Paradise Lemonade ("goji berry-aloe lemonade with superfood pizzazz") was fascinating; tart and fruity from the goji with a sour tang from the aloe. This one was Matt’s favorite. The Hemp Horchata ("hempseed and cinnamon silky delight") was creamy and smooth with just the right amount of spice. I thought the latter would be a sure bet for my favorite (I looove horchata!), but in the end, I couldn’t decide which I liked best.

Matt got the Bliss Burger, a sunflower seed patty served on an onion “bun” with lettuce, tomato, onion, and avocado. He enjoyed it more than he expected to, especially with the raw ketchup and "mayo" it came with.

I got the Cowboy Rawko Tacos, dehydrated corn tortillas with chipotle-sunflower seed "beans," guacamole, nacho cheeze, sour kream, pico de gallo, and sides of salsa verde and salsa roja.

Is that gorgeous, or what?! In my excitement, I neglected to ask them to hold the lettuce. If you read this blog with any regularity, you’ll know that I do not eat lettuce, salad, greens, or leaves of any kind. Can’t stand any of it; don’t ask me why. (I realize I may be the only salad-hating vegan out there!) But these tacos, with their pliable shells, piquant "bean" filling, and tasty toppings, were so good that I set aside my hatred for all things leafy and green and just dug in. Matt almost fell out of his chair when he saw me eat a forkful of lettuce, and insisted on documenting the unprecedented occasion by taking a photo.

I stepped outside to take a couple pics while Matt relaxed at the table.

For dessert, we had their raw cheezecake of the day, which happened to be raspberry. It was still a little frosty when it arrived at our table, but considering the sky-high temperature outside, we relished those first icy bites. The berry-cashew filling melted on our tongues and offered sweet respite from the heat of the day, while the tender date-walnut crust provided a pleasantly chewy complement. It was a cooling, refreshing end to a wonderful, summery raw meal.

Considering I snacked on raw cashews and apple slices during the car ride that afternoon, and we swung back by 105 Degrees for dinner that evening, I ate almost completely raw that entire day. Do I need to rename this blog "Almost Raw"?! Not yet, but who’s to say where the future will take me.

If you like this, you might also like...
Raw revelry at 105 Degrees
Dallas 2008 and 2009
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Almost vegan in Dallas III

The night before Matt and I ate at 105 Degrees, en route to Oklahoma City, we stopped in Wichita (about 3 hours southwest of Kansas City) for dinner. A web search beforehand had revealed that Wichita has ONE veg restaurant, which, to be honest, was more than I expected. I mean, serial killers aside, Wichita’s not all bad; I wrote previously about eating "the best baklava in Kansas!" there. Still, I was pleasantly surprised to have discovered Zen Vegetarian.

It was clean and quaint, and quiet for a Friday night. I’d scoped the menu ahead of time, so I knew I wanted the Macadamia Surprise (tell me you don’t love that name!). It was described as "Chunk soy protein sautéed with snow peas and macadamia nuts in a wonderful special brown sauce." Wonderful and special? Say no more! The "chunk soy protein" actually turned out to be seitan (which isn’t soy-based at all, but whatever), and carrots and baby corn accompanied the snow peas. The seitan and the nutty brown rice were nice and chewy, and the sauce was thick and slightly sweet. Besides just a couple stale macnuts, this was very enjoyable.

As good as mine was, I actually liked Matt’s better. He got Zen’s [brown] Rice Bowl with "soy ocean fillet," which was, again, seitan. Pan-fried to crisp perfection, it did indeed have a salty "sea"-taste to it, and with those snappy green beans and that killer teriyaki sauce, it was the winner of the night.

We carried on to OKC, crashed at a $40 hotel alongside I-35, and ate at 105 Degrees the next morning.

When we got to Dallas Saturday afternoon, we found that we’d scored a $220/night room at a Holiday Inn for just $59/night. (Internet, I heart you.) Jubilantly, we drove to our predetermined dinner destination—Kalachandji’s, a vegetarian Indian buffet that turned out to be inside a Hindu temple. It was a very unique setting, complete with muffled chanting audible from the worshipers down the hall. Sadly, I don’t have a pic of my plate, but I do recall eating rasam, veggie pakoras, saag tofu, vegetables korma, aloo gobi, brown basmati rice, and (believe it or not) veg lasagna, plus kheer, apple cobbler, and carob-walnut halvah for dessert. Omnivorous Matt actually enjoyed this place even more than I did.

On Saturday night, we went to a private house party of sorts, where we stayed very late. As such, we woke up on Sunday a little...bleary. Luckily, in my trip-planning clairvoyance, I’d prepared for such grogginess, and we hit the Oak Cliff location of the Spiral Diner & Bakery for brunch.

Remember when I ate at the Chicago Diner? This was similar, with a cute 50’s-retro feel, colorful décor, and punky, tattooed wait staff. I filled my coffee cup at their self-serve bar (which stocked soymilk, raw sugar, stevia, and several flavored agave nectars), while Matt had a berry smoothie made with apple juice and soymilk.

Matt ordered the Lumberjack platter; classic diner brunch food—biscuits and gravy, veg sausage, and tofu scramble.

Always in the mood for salty stuff after a night of drinking, I had Bryan’s Brutal Tacos—three soft corn tortillas stuffed with seasoned seitan, corn, peppers & onions, and spicy salsa, served with vegan sour cream, tomatoes, guacamole, black beans, and lime wedges for spritzing. This was SO much food, but let me tell you, it

We spent the afternoon driving around the Highland Park area, ogling the majestic homes there, before stopping back by the hotel and then refueling at New Start Veggie Garden, a vegetarian Asian buffet.

I ate all kinds of yumminess, including sushi, spring rolls, brown and fried rices, pumpkin soup, sesame "chicken," baked tofu, egg rolls, vegetable tempura, spicy noodles, string beans, and rice vermicelli.

They also had a small shop inside the restaurant, which of course I had to browse. I came away with a pound of curry powder, a pound of raw cashews, a jar of raw honey, and – most exciting of all – a massive bag of Himalayan pink salt.

I’ve read so much about this stuff and other bloggers’ love for it, but was never willing to pony up $10 for a measly 4 oz. at Whole Foods. So when I saw that this 5-lb. bag cost only $25, I snatched it up. It’ll probably take me years to use this amount of salt, but at 5 bucks a pound, how could I pass it up?

That evening, we dressed to the nines and went to a goth club in downtown Dallas called The Church. The place was incredible; everything I hoped it would be, with multiple bars, DJs, and lounges (including an awesome two-floored, chandeliered main room), a rooftop patio with great views of the skyline, and possibly the best music selection I’ve ever heard in a bar or club. All in all, we had a fantastic day and night.

Come back Monday too see our last meal in Dallas. Hint: it was raw bliss!

If you like this, you might also like...
Dallas 2009
Dallas 2008
All my other travels!

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Raw revelry at 105 Degrees

I’d heard about it. I’d read about it. I’d researched it online. I’d seen tales of it on other blogs, both from those who have dined there (like Kristen) and those who have actually attended the academy (like Michelle and Robyn). And finally, over Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to visit (and stuff my face at) Matthew Kenney’s all-raw restaurant 105 Degrees in Oklahoma City, OK. The Matthew Kenney, visionary king of raw, vegan, living, organic cuisine. The 105 Degrees, a groundbreaking, state-of-the-art facility housing the first-ever school for budding raw chefs. To say I was excited would be an outrageous understatement.

Matt (my Matt, not Mr. Kenney!) and I left Kansas City after work on Friday, and finally arrived in Oklahoma City after midnight. (More on our Friday night meal later this week.) We headed into the city shortly after 11am, navigated the Classen Curve with ease, and arrived at our destination immediately awed. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows are stunning, allowing you peer right in at patrons eating in one half (the café) and students working in the other (the academy). Inside the clean, bright space, the employees were dressed smartly, and the kitchen was completely open to the dining room (no ovens, no problems!). It’s readily apparent how thoughtfully designed 105 Degrees is. Everything there, from the lighting to the bamboo tables, is eco-friendly and sustainable. The smoothie I ordered to start even came with a glass straw.

Said smoothie was called the Blue Bee Milkshake—blueberries, local honey gelato, white chocolate, and bee pollen. Yes, raw vegan local honey gelato and raw vegan white chocolate. This was one of the best smoothies to ever pass my lips. Matt (who also sipped on a mimosa) was equally blown away by it.

Matt ordered a taco salad, which came topped with a huge fan of avocado and crumbled dehydrated corn chips. We all know I'm not a salad person, but I tried some of the corn chip bits, and they were much crunchier than I thought anything dehydrated could be.

My entrée...oh, my entrée. This raw mezze platter was absolute love at first bite. The marinated olives were herby and succulent. The eggplant chips were mildly seasoned with a crisp bite and a hearty chew. The macadamia hummus was impossibly creamy, and so rich that the mere 1/4 cup of it satisfied me. The hemp seed tabbouleh was crunchy and refreshing, and the warm nut-based falafel absolutely melted in my mouth. This was simply the best meal I could have ever hoped for at a raw food restaurant, and one of the best at any restaurant, period. "Delicious" does not even begin to tell the tale.

We would have been fools not to indulge in dessert! Matt let me choose, and I couldn’t resist the raw white chocolate mud pie. One word: DENSE. No, two words: DENSE and DIVINE. This was like an ultra-rich white chocolate fudge atop a dark brownie base, sitting beside a pool of cacao-nib-dusted ganache. In other words, an orgasm on a plate. We both utterly adored this.

I browsed through the shop for a few minutes, gazing longingly at all too many items, before leaving, sated and giddy with raw glee. As I’m sure Matt would tell you, I couldn’t stop talking about this meal...which is why it’s not surprising at all that we stopped back by 105 Degrees again on our way home Monday. (More about the days in between later this week.) I called ahead, and we picked up a couple smoothies. Matt got the Antiox-C (left), a blend of orange, lime, goji berries, black cherries, and raspberries, and I had the Maca Pitchu (right), containing raspberries, cacao nibs, maca powder, banana, and coconut butter. As Matt declared, "These raw people sure do know how to do smoothies, I’ll say that!"

(There’s another example of 105 Degrees’ eco-consciousness—those cups and straws are made of 100% corn and are designed to biodegrade in 30 days or less. Wow!)

I also got myself a takeout dinner of raw sesame noodles—kelp noodles (which I jumped for joy at the chance to finally try!) tossed in an almond butter sauce with spiced cauliflower, sweet peas, green onions, and spicy cashews. The slight crunch of the kelp noodles caught me off guard at first, but I soon began to savor the unique texture. Though the noodles are practically calorie-free, all the other elements of this dish combined to make it extremely filling—it took me two sittings to finish it off.

I just can’t say enough about 105 Degrees. It represents the very best in raw food and imaginative, nutritious culinary innovation. Five hours south of KC, it’s so close, yet so far away!

I’ll admit right here and now that I have a (no-longer-so-)secret dream of attending the 105 Degrees Academy. If I could guarantee it’d net me a lucrative career in food, I’d do it in a heartbeat. In the meantime, I’ll probably look at these pictures often and sigh at the perfection of the masterpieces I was lucky enough to get to eat there, all the while plotting how (and how soon) I can get back.

In my next entries, I’ll backtrack a bit and show you the rest of our Memorial Day weekend road trip to Dallas.

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All my other travels!

* * * UPDATE!! * * *
There I was, finishing up my workday, when my email pinged with a new item. What I discovered in my inbox was something I never expected...a Facebook message from Matthew Kenney himself!

Aaahh! To a food nerd like me, a personal email from Matthew Kenney is like an email from Elvis. Or Jesus. Provided either of them had internet access, of course. Anyway, I was totally thrilled—it made my day! Matthew, 105 Degrees deserves all the flattery one can heap upon it, and then some. Thank YOU for creating such an incredible foodie paradise!

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