My Favorite Vegetarian/Vegan Spots in Nashville

DCXV Mural

DCXV Mural

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I spent the past summer in Nashville for work, mostly stuck on a college campus with a mediocre cafeteria that lacked quality vegetarian options but was free for me while I was there. I quickly burned through the limp salad bar and ate more grilled cheeses than I care to remember, so whenever I got the chance I took advantage of Nashville’s numerous delicious restaurants, including a few spots with stellar vegetarian/vegan menus. If you’re ever in the Music City, give them a try!  (I’m currently deeply longing for dosa from Woodlands.) Here they are in no particular order:
Sunflower Cafe is a vegan cafe located in a small old house with two huge spools painted like sunflowers in the front. Their most popular item seems to be their veggie burger, which is no surprise. It is, no lie, one of the best veggie burgers I’ve had. In fact, I had many a veggie burger here during the summer and it definitely cost me; it was hard to leave here for no less than $13-15…but then again I was a sucker for the great sides, like the peanut noodles, and the vegan chocolate rose cupcake.  It also has a great deck to eat outside and enjoy a great summer read like Beautiful Ruins.
Sunflower Burger

Sunflower Burger

Woodlands is a cozy little restaurant tucked away on West End — and I’m not saying “tucked away” to be cute.  I completely missed it the first time I tried finding it since it is at the bottom level of a building that looks like a hotel or apartment building. The menu offers an extensive variety of Indian food, all of which is vegetarian. I had dosa for the first time here and I fell in love. A giant crepe stuffed with delicious fillings that is so huge it hangs off the already giant plate? Can’t go wrong. (Oh, and the naan and chana masala are also amazing.)
Dosa_Woodlands
The Wild Cow, located in east Nashville, is a favorite spot in the city for vegan food. I was addicted to their vegan buffalo wings but they’ve got lots of great options, like sweet potato black bean tacos. With salads, tacos, appetizers, sweets, sandwiches, and other entrees – there’s definitely a little something to fit whatever mood you’re in. Unfortunately, as many times as I ate there, I couldn’t find a picture so I’ll leave you with a drive-by of the Nashville skyline until I can visit once again.
Nashville Skyline

Snapshots of a Sunday

Sunday morning. It’s my favorite time of the week. The world is still and quiet. Dreamer and I take a walk around the block feeling like we’re the only people in Chicago.

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After walking him and giving him his breakfast, I begin my own breakfast with french pressed coffee. Grinding the beans, seeping the grounds, and pressing the coffee – it’s a ritual that carries me into a reflective state of mind.

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I take my coffee and lounge on the couch. I’ll browse and sip, read and sip, or just sit and sip. I love Sunday mornings because I can take in life slowly, like my coffee. The silence. The sun. The smell of coffee and flowers and herbs. I want to try to bring this calm, reflective time into my weekday mornings because Sunday is certainly not enough.

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The weekend always slips away too soon. There’s still a little time to savor the last cozy moments, but Monday hangs heavy on the brain. Dreamer tries to claim my bed even though his is literally three feet away, and I shepherd him away to climb in and read until I can wipe my mind enough for bed.

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Monday waits.

Honey Blueberry Polenta

My immune system is terrible.  2014 barely begins and I get another cold when I just had one last month.  Granted, my roommate was sick and I had just hung out with a bunch of children as part of a volunteer event shortly before I started feeling off.  Luckily, it was nothing major.  Just annoying congestion and coughing.  I self-medicated with a lot of rest and liquids, including some tea that caught my eye at the grocery store.

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Something else that made me feel better was getting a package of some things I left behind at my parents’ house.  Mom also sent some fun, random little extras including a tiny jar of some local honey and the cutest smiley face I’ve ever seen.  (And The Kite Runner, which I read all day on Sunday.  It was amazing.)

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One morning the polar vortex had me craving something warm and comforting for breakfast but I was sick of oatmeal.  I had just bought polenta a few days ago for a dinner so I figured some grits would be a great partner for the honey Mom sent.  (Let’s be real…I just wanted an excuse to eat a lot of honey for breakfast.  Might have put it in my tea too…) Thus, the incredibly simple honey blueberry polenta was created.

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1/4 cup polenta
3/4 cups of milk (I used coconut milk.)
Frozen or fresh blueberries
Honey

I brought the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.  I added the polenta and lowered the heat, stirring occasionally for about 3 minutes until it thickened and grits absorbed most of the milk.  Then I removed it from heat, added the blueberries with a stir, and let it rest for a couple minutes. (My frozen blueberries defrosted by just hanging out in there.) Finally I scooped some into a bowl and doused it in honey.  This probably makes about 2 small servings but for me it was one generous helping.

Just a note: In the pic above, I didn’t stir in the blueberries to make it prettier. ;)

What I’ve Been Cooking Up

A lot has changed since I last wrote.  Well, really one thing has changed but it’s a big thing:  I adopted a dog!  He’s retired racing greyhound named Dreamer, to be exact. I adopted him through a great organization called Greyhounds Only that rescues retired racers from tracks in Florida.  I had been thinking about adopting a dog for about a year; then I finally went to a Meet & Greet and fell in love with this guy.  It’s been 2 and a half months and I already can’t imagine life without him.  He’s a big sweetheart who just wants to nap and be friends with everyone.

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I can’t believe that it’s already 2014.  What’s harder to believe is that I only wrote 2 blog posts last year.  When WordPress sent my 2013 stats and I read that, I was horrified.  I thought, how did I let this happen? I swear I cooked in 2013!

This jolted me to revive this blog as part of my 2014 resolution to get back into writing.  I’ve neglected my creative side too long, and this is the year to change that.

So as a little warm-up, here’s a few recipes that I’ve had on repeat the past few months, as well as a creation of my own:

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Vegan Chocolate Chip Pancake for One from Food.com.  I went through a pancake phase, indulging myself in a different kind of pancake every Sunday, and it escalated to me finding a single-serving recipe I could quickly make during the week.  I just omitted all the optional ingredients in this recipe including the sugar and added chocolate chips.  It is really simple; I had the recipe memorized by my 3rd personal pancake breakfast.

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Vegan Black-Bean Quesadillas from Love My Vegan Life.  This quesadilla recipe has chipotle hummus instead of cheese and, strangely enough, it’s an perfect substitute!  The hummus lends it the creaminess you’d get from the cheese so you don’t even miss it.  I didn’t have pre-made chipotle hummus so I pureed a couple of chipotle peppers in adobo with red pepper hummus.

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 Tofu Popcorn “Chicken” from The Vedge.  This.  Just…this.  I made this quite a bit towards the end of 2013.  I never got it to look quite as “chicken-y” as she does in the blog, but I loved the flavor.  The coating is spot-on and when you have these the next day, they’re so close in texture (and almost taste!) to the animal version, it’s scary.  (I added a little hot sauce droplets to mine and dipped them in soy sauce.)

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BBQ Seitan Stuffed Sweet Potato with Mojo-Marinated Kale from ME!  I love sauce.  When I wasn’t a vegetarian, I loved barbecue and wings so much simply because the meat was a receptacle for delicious tangy, spicy sauces.  Once I learned how to make my own seitan, it wasn’t long before I started dressing it up in my favorite sauces.

Making seitan is actually not too intense of a process.  I use Terry Romero’s recipe from Viva Vegan, my go-to cookbook, but there are countless recipes out there.  You can also just buy ready-made seitan at some grocery stores.  I try to have some loaves on hand to make throwing together recipes, like BBQ stuffed potatoes, very quick and easy.

First I poked holes in my sweet potato and put it in the microwave to “bake” it.  Then I heated a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and sauteed the seitan until it was browned.  Then I turned the heat off, added barbecue sauce, and sauteed it for a few more minutes so that the seitan absorbed some of the sauce.  Next I split open my sweet potato and used a fork to mash the insides up a bit.  Finally I stuffed the seitan inside the potato and swooned over the delicious smell of slightly caramelized bbq sauce.

The mojo-marinated kale is also easy if you have the pre-made marinade.  Mojo is a citrusy garlic marinade used in Cuban cooking, and you can sometimes find it in the Latin section of the grocery store.  While I’d prefer to make my own to control the salt content, I had Goya brand marinade in the fridge so I put it to use.  I heated a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat and then added some shredded kale.  I sauteed that for a couple minutes til it cooked down slightly.  Then I added a few splashes of mojo, put the heat on the lowest setting, covered the pot, and let it simmer for a few more minutes.  The citric bite of the marinade made kale way more exciting and tasty than I’ve ever experienced, and it seemed to pair well with the smoky bbq stuffed sweet potato.

…Now I realize that I haven’t really written a recipe.  Since this is something I just threw together a few times, I don’t quite have exact measurements to share; but I’ll definitely be eating this probably another 5 times, so I’ll be sure to update this blog sometime with an actual recipe.  Nevertheless, I hope it’ll inspire someone to do a culinary experiment of their own.  :)

Cheers to a new year!

 

 

The First of Fall

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I’m winding down for the night, sitting in the burnt orange armchair in the corner of my bedroom with a halo of lantern lights.  Thankfully I’m on the downward slope of a sugar rush caused by a recent baking bug that produced pumpkin pecan tea cookies yesterday and salted caramel pretzel blondies this evening.

The blondies were inspired by Damn Delicious’s recipe, but I attempted a vegan version, replacing butter with coconut cream and egg with a flax “egg.”  I also made a vegan caramel, based off Fork & Beans’ recipe.  The result was more like a soft caramel soaked cake than a blondie, which really is not at all bad.  It was a sweet and salty combo made for this season.  I’ll have to give it another shot someday to make it more like blondies.

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I’ve been quite the hermit this week–working from home, staying up late.  I’ve binged through three seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix so I suppose you could say I’ve been productive.  Working from home with random foods in my fridge and pantry also forces me to get a little creative in the kitchen. My lunch this week has been a kale, lentil, and wild rice stew with pan-fried falafel patties.

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Once again, I had bought kale over the weekend for the sole reason of having some healthy greens in my fridge and once again I was not really psyched about eating it.  I also had some dried lentils that had been sitting on my pantry shelf for too long and some wild rice.  Fighting the temptation to walk down the street for some tamales, I decided to whip together a stew.  One pot dishes really are a wonderful thing.  The lentils, the rice, water, some vegan bullion cubes, spices and herbs, and kale thrown in towards the end–and bam, a vegan protein-packed stew.  I also had some Bob’s Red Mill garbanzo bean flour that happened to have an insanely easy falafel recipe on the package so I thought, why not have a side?

Then later on in the day, I thought, why not have a dessert.? I happened to have all the stuff for Cookie + Kate’s pumpkin pecan polvorones and they were heavenly little bites of soft pumpkin spicy goodness.

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They were just the thing to nurse a sweet tooth for a fall afternoon at home.

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Summertime for Vegetarians: Vegan Scrambler

Being a vegetarian in the summer is great.  Aside from having to avoid most of the traditional grilled fare at barbecues, nature’s bounty blesses our plates with fresh foods from bursting farmer’s markets.  Admittedly I haven’t been to the farmer’s market nearly as much as I would have liked this summer, but I did get the chance to go recently.  For this particular trip, I decided to run down to the market, which isn’t too far, but the sun was hot and the run was tortuous.  I picked up some  berries, small super-sweet tomatoes, kale, and something called garlic scapes, and I paid with a very damp $20 bill that I pulled from my armband.

First of all, I don’t know why I persist in buying kale when I don’t even like it that much.  Perhaps it’s because it seems uber trendy these days, but I do like that it lasts much longer in my fridge than any other greens, and I do like that it’s good for me.  So I keep buying it and I keep making kale chips or tossing it into whatever I can, such as a vegan scrambler!  (What a winning segue.)

Vegan scramblers, for those that don’t know, are scrambled “eggs” but it’s really scrambled tofu.  I never buy eggs and I’m not a fan of milk, so I usually eat vegan at home and vegetarian when I’m out.  Vegan in the sheets, vegetarian in the streets, if you will.  (This is actually pretty accurate considering the number of times I’ve eaten meals in my bed.)

Vegan scramblers sound a little odd but they are easy to make and really delicious.  It’s one of those “kitchen sink” dishes; whatever you got in your fridge, you can just chop it up and stick it in the scrambler.

This particular scrambler was tex-mex inspired.  I happened to have some vegan “soyrizo” so I cooked that in a little oil.  I chopped up the tomatoes, kale, and garlic scapes.  Garlic scapes were new to me before this dish, but they are essentially the green onions of garlic; they have a grassy, subtle garlic taste.  I added the garlic scapes and kale to the dish and sautéed with the soyrizo.

Then I added the crumbled tofu with a little water and some spices (turmeric for color, pepper, and this spicy mix from The Spice House called “Vulcan Fire Salt,” a mix of cayenne, salt, and various other fiery flavors.)  Finally I added the tomatoes and sautéed a minute or so longer, and then I served it to myself on a bed of blue corn tortilla chips.  I also happened to have some vegan cheese, which I don’t buy very often because it can be kind of weird, but sprinkled on top of this, it was amazing.  (not shown)

The sweet tomatoes were an interesting contrast to the spicy soyrizo and tofu and the subtle undercurrent of garlic brought it together.  It was so good I was compelled to make it again the very next day, and the pic below is of that scrambler.  I “forgot” to add kale to it that time.

Unfortunately summer is almost at an end but with fall comes a new prospects for the plate and an urge to buy school supplies.  Pumpkin butter and fresh notebooks, mmmm…can’t wait.

Vegan Scrambler

All the Small Things: Pupusas Stuffed w/ Vegan Chorizo & Platanos Maduros

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Sometimes in a small moment, I wonder if I am creating a lasting memory.  I did this upon my first visit to Chicago almost two years ago, standing with my little brother in his first apartment kitchen eating slices of deep dish pizza from around the corner.  I asked myself, will I remember this years from now?

Yesterday I sat at my brother’s table sharing a giant cinnamon bun we got from Whole Foods because the frigid day gave us a craving for one and Ann Sather’s was closed.  We listened to a Nina Simone record and he taught me about Wong Kar Wai’s films and sure enough I turned inward at one point not only to remember that time in the kitchen, but also to wonder if my brain would randomly call upon this current moment sometime in the far future.

Because of this strange self-awareness, I inevitably make memories out of many small moments.  These moments don’t really have much significance.  There’s really no reason for me to remember that the post office clerk yesterday answered my question of “How are you doing today?” with the cool, smooth enthusiasm of an old jazz radio DJ. “I’m supercalifragilistic!” And how he bid me a farewell as if signing off his show. “Have a great day, a great weekend, and a Happy New Year.  I’ll see you on the flip-side.”

There’s no reason for me to remember that on my personal brunch at 3rd Coast Cafe today, while enjoying my coffee and magazines, my thoughts were interrupted by the punching and ringing of an old-fashioned register I hadn’t noticed before.

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These are small moments with little significance, but pausing to ask myself if I will remember them, while makes me an observer of my own life for a second, forces me to appreciate the present.  And appreciation allows me to enjoy laid-back lovely weekends such as this one when I can just do whatever my whims call me to do without the pressure of what a fun weekend for a 20-something is supposed to be–whether that’s buying myself brunch and magazines, or making vegan chorizo and frying up the plantains that are finally ripe enough for maduros.

Because I’m trying to use up what’s in my fridge so I can start fresh for the new year, I had to get creative with dinner.  I fried ripe plantains in a little vegetable oil to make plátanos maduros and afterwards the vegan chorizo I made a couple days ago using Terry Romero‘s recipe from Viva Vegan.  Then I chopped it into smaller pieces and used them to stuff them into pupusas.

Pupusas, a traditional Salvadorean dish, are essentially fat corn tortillas stuffed with various fillings.  They’re simple to make since you just add water to Maseca (which is a maize flour you can usually find in the Latin foods section of the grocery store) until it forms a damp dough that you can shape into patties, stuff with whatever you want, and pan fry.  Shaping them is a little tricky, but this is a good step-by-step tutorial.

I haven’t made them in the traditional Salvadorean way quite yet; I have been opting to fill them with whatever I have on hand–in this case, chorizo and plantains!  Since I didn’t have the customary tomato salsa or slaw (curtido), I opted to blend a couple chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with a little vegan mayonnaise, slather it on top, and garnish them with some extra chorizo and plátanos maduros.

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It wasn’t the healthiest of meals, but it was pretty delicious for an iron-cheffed dinner.  I also made some hot chocolate with a bar of Olive & Sinclair (a Nashville-based artisan chocolate company) for dessert, just to make extra damn certain that I would spend the rest of the night in food coma.  Highly effective.

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