pizza + beer = the best grown up snack of all time. when i was a teenager, i remember thinking that my life would be so awesome when i could just kick it with my friends, a six pack and a piping hot 'za. unlike most adolescent fantasies about the coolness of being older, this one was actually right on! truly, nothing makes you feel like all is well in the world like a frothy mug of suds in one hand and a oozy slice in the other.

dock street brewery opened in west philly a couple years ago. i've been there quite a number of times, and overall, it's been a mixed bag. my complaints are usually aimed at the service (ranging from "just okay" to "seriously unacceptable") and not the hand crafted beers or the offerings of the menu. in fact, i've never had a bad beer there, and their vegan options, though limited, are consistently good. this past monday, though, was unarguably my favorite dock street experience yet. let's review:

it was a warm and easy monday. ryan and i both had the day off, and spent the first few hours of the afternoon cleaning the kitchen and shopping for groceries. most people despise grocery shopping, but i find it really soothing. anyway, off to a good start. but suddenly we realized that it was 4 p.m and we hadn't had a proper meal yet! even though our kitchen shelves were well stocked, we decided to treat ourselves to a late late lunch out on the town.

we chose dock street because ryan said he'd had a week-long itch for pizza that simply had to be scratched. oh, and because spring time afternoon beer drinking rules, too. an awfully pleasant bike ride later, we were cozily seated in the airy dining room of the brew pub. unlike so many of my other visits there, the place was nearly empty and it was a refreshing change from the normal overwhelming din and clatter. the lofty ceilings (which sometimes escalate said din to headache inducing wall-of-sound), let the afternoon light zip around, and the atmosphere was super relaxing. the server came over right away and she was sweet and attentive throughout our whole meal. even the decor and seating has come so far since the dock street first opened (intimate, low wooden tables and chairs banquettes where there used to be cold, metal, high top seating, and actual art on the walls instead of vast expanses of white!).

we each ordered beers: i got the rye ipa, which i have enjoyed many times before. ryan ordered the hop garden, and both beers were so delicious. dock street really nails their brews every time, which is to be expected, since they are all being made barely fifty feet from where we were sitting! "unfiltered and unpasturized," as they make a point of noting on the menu, these glasses were filled with pure, 7% - 9% righteousness:

while there is a specifically vegan pizza on the menu, i just wasn't in the mood for it that day. so i did something i've never done, and now i can't figure out why it took me so long. i ordered a non-vegan (but still vegetarian) pie off the menu, but asked for crumbled tofu instead of cheese. oh foolish me of the past - why didn't you think of this before? it changes everything. so what i got was the greek pizza: black olives, sun dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, toasted walnuts, tofu-instead-of-feta and hold the mozz, with a big old pile of salad greens on top! the greeks may have invented democracy and gay sex, but that all pales in comparison to the holiness of this pizza.

dock street's pizza is famous and for good reason. it's out of the brick oven and on your table in seconds, the toppings are always generous and fresh, and the crust is transcendentally thin in the middle and hearty and chewy at the edges. i ate the entire pizza (hey! it was the "small" one) and easily could have wrecked half of another. i find myself frequently griping about the lack of good food in my neighborhood, but i guess i need to shut my mouth, or rather, stuff it full of more pizza a la greek.



c is for come to me now

isa chandra moskowitz of post punk kitchen fame, as well as the author of vegan with a vengeance and veganomicon has uploaded some cookie photos from her upcoming cookie cookbook and let me just say:


not to mention that the photos are beautiful but also kind of funny with their bright, spunky backgrounds. my favorites include: black and whites (of course), peanut butter blondies, grapefruit shortbread and cream cheese brownie. maybe it's time to buy that gym membership i've been putting off for months...

if you like cookies as much as we do, make sure to check out her blog, and patiently wait for the book's release. meanwhile, her vegan brunch flickr ain't half bad either! and her brunch cookbook homestyle recipes worth waking up for drops may 25th, just in time for my birthday (hint hint)!




as i'm sitting here, late like 1:20, eating a big & awesome late-night sandwich (toasted slices of white bread with tons of delicious fillings) that ryan just made for me (sigh...what a guy), i'm looking through the random photo files on my computer. i come across the documentation of a particular adventure that steve, mary, and i went on a few summers ago. the gypsum factory (used to be right next to bartram's garden), a rich, disturbing labrynth of weird rooms and colorful graffiti. i had just purchased a digital camera then and, foolishly probably, took some photos in the bowels of that abandoned, empty place. too bad now it's all torn down into a pile of chalky dust. so it goes for american factories, so it goes.

the place had its own directives
its own signals.


step up to the plate

i'm not one to particularly take notice of the plates upon which my food is served in restaurants. this is probably because they are usually of a whitish hue and a deco variety (long rectangles, squares with beveled edges, plain ass white circular dishes, see example 1) and nothing too exciting.

example 1 - wonderful fresh spring rolls at Vientiane,
plate - not that exciting but who cares?

often times i'm willing to trade the plate for the palate. as long as the food is exquisite (ok, delicious is acceptable) the plate can be as trite as they come. hell, i even ate french fries out of a basket the other day and didn't bat an eyelash!

however, the real plating shines through at homecooked meals. and when i say plating, i'm not talking drizzles of coulis or chiffonades of basil, although once in a while we like to get fancy!

example 2 - getting fancy (microgreens are our friends) and
also my "dowry" plates

i'm talking about straight up ceramic and china dishes. aside from a set of 8 beauties (see above - example 2) that my mom got for me from an auction some years ago (i call them my dowry, but i assure you they are not) our house boasts a hodge podge of thrift store finds. bowls, mugs, cups and plates all take on their own personality and occasion. sometimes, in a bizarro twist, while a meal may not be all that exciting, a plate can elevate that food to a fun, whimsical eating adventure. well, maybe not an adventure, but seriously check out this plate:

example 3 - this plate is just full of whimsy

now check out the plate with a simple peanut butter, jelly and banana open face sandwich, alongside another open faced sandwich, this one with onions, tomatoes, tofutti cream cheese and microgreens:

example 4 - don't these sandwiches look cuter?

my point exactly.


redemption song

after our major bummer at the belgian cafe on wednesday, i somehow found myself back there last night. how did i end up in there, the same week so many expectations were shattered like a vegan peanut brittle, you might ask? well, last night i was scheduled to work until 5pm and my new friend and (as of yesterday) ex-co-worker anabell suggested that hey, why don't i stay till 7, help her close and then we can get a drink after work? was she treating? no. what was in it for me? i got to pick the location of the potential drinks. because she was also at the vegan dinner/downer, i suggested we give the belgian another shot, i knew that the seitan wings would not disappoint and i felt i owed it to myself and my fellow vegan to give the restaurant a chance to win us back.


unbeknownst to them, the belgian held in their hands a chance for atonement. and atone for their vegan sins they did! i started things off with the Obama-gang '09 beer. (apparently it is now called "inauguration ale" due to some legal issues?)

this belgian dark ale with 6.20% ABV, a limited edition run by the Ommegang Brewery in New York, was created to celebrate Obama's inauguration. i'll be honest and say that i ordered this beer based on name and wit alone, and it delivered, much like our new president. i've thought about it long and hard and i do believe this is one of the best beers i've ever had. dark in color and rich in flavor but still light and smooth on the palate with faint hints of chocolate and nutiness on the tongue (much like our new...nevermind), this beer was the perfect thing to drink while we waited for our food.

and the wait wasn't long before.....ta da! inventive and well prepared vegan food, was it really that hard, guys? we shared some (sub-par) "pomme frites" with a vegan basil aoli and smoked ketchup. give them a fancy name and description on the menu (double fried, fresh cut, blah blah) and they still couldn't get these fries right. i overlooked this due to how extremely pleased i was with the other two dishes.

the seitan wings are basically a crowd pleaser, hands down. crusted in corn meal, fried and smothered in spicy bbq sauce! paired with a little salad, some celery and the same vegan aoli served with the fries, these little nuggets of goodness tasted like success. one complaint - the vegan aoli is basil infused which isn't my first choice of flavor to go with hot wings. two complaint - make these wings hotter.

i'm so very pleased to have a new dish in my life, welcome to my stomach, stuffed tofu!!! this time, the fancy description rang true! "tofu marinated in Spaten Optimator, stuffed with dried cherries, cashews, cilantro, & garlic. served on a bed of sesame spinach" the tofu was crispy on the outside, succulent on the inside, the stuffings surpisingly got along well enough to party in my mouth inside their warm bath of beer.

nice work belgian, but next time, don't bring me down before you pick me up!


belgique tragique

as part of the 2009 philly beer week, the belgian cafe hosted a 4 course vegan dinner, paired with beers from high & mighty beer company. being healthy young people who love beer almost as much as we love vegan food, we called the belgian cafe last week to RSVP and were like "we're so there!" this event, which we'd been psyching ourselves up for for many days, was last night. team VR (including our esteemed friend and long time veeg queen halimah) arrived to the bustling cafe with parched throats and rumbling bellies, ready to be wowed.

not to be total ingrates, but wowed we were not. the beer was pretty solid across the board, though the high & mighty brew master will shelton, who introduced each of his beers throughout the meal, had a weird chip on his shoulder about how "big" (read: high alcohol content) american craft brews are. get this: part of his mission is to make beer with super low alcohol content. yaaaaaawn. i say, if you can sip slowly on only one or two beers and get a decent buzz going, right on! people in my position (low on cash), want awesome tasting beers to be extra boozy because we can only afford a few at a time! anyway, maybe it's just generation gap or something; it doesn't really matter, it just rubbed me the wrong way.

regardless, the beer was miles ahead of the food offerings, but let's take a look course by course:

first course
the drink: beer of the gods, a light, floral beer made with german yeast. it was a nice, drinkable beverage to start with.

the food: white bean and sage dip with pita. a safe standard, but touted robust flavors. the presentation, on the other hand, was on a 5th grade level. who wants to eat off dirty, wilted lettuce?

second course
the drink: novar red, a hoppy sour beer. the brewman said it was an "american twist on a flemish sour." the first whiff was reminiscent of cherries. the first hit of the sip had an almond extract feel, followed by a deep, malty, almost vinegar-y strangeness. i rather enjoyed it but i think my compatriots did not. a direct quote from halimah - "this is what the salad would taste like if it was juiced and turned into beer."

the food:
spinach salad with roasted grapes (in my opinion, they were wrinkled but had no roast-y flavor), black olives, and balsamic shallots. this was a really boring salad. maybe i'm just spoiled, but there was nothing fun going on on the plate. presentation wise, it looked like someone had literally flung a handful on the plate and sent it out of the kitchen. it wasn't even worth photographing.

third course
the drink: st. hubbins abbey.
this was my favorite beer of the night! it seemed pretty loyal to other dubbels i've had, but had these cool notes of cantelope. i could've drank many, many glasses of this.

the food: indian spiced tomato vegetable soup. this was also my favorite of the night! delicate spiced tomato broth with lots of chickpeas and vegetables, it reminded me of a soup-y version of chana masala. delicious!

fourth course
the drink: home for the holidays.
this was a dark, syrupy ale. i wasn't crazy about it, but rich, ultra malty beers aren't usually my go-to.

the food: tempeh mushroom stew with roasted brussel sprouts over basmatic rice pilaf. this was the biggest disappointment of all. i'd really hoped that the entree would blow it out of the water, but instead, it just blew. i've had better food from lunch carts, and i'm not just being a brat. the tempeh was in tasteless cubes, there was no seasoning on the vegetables. i feel like i might cry a little just thinking about it. i've had some incredible food from the belgian cafe kitchen, but this, my friends, was a resounding C-...and not worth wasting the battery power of my digital camera to document.

a beer float! vegan vanilla ice in two headed beast beer. the beer was super dark chocolate-y and bitter, and a bit hard to stomach after all the other food and beer we'd ingested. but it was good.

and that was it. the plates were cleared, we each pitched in $45, and i think we all felt a little lost. on the one hand, we had a lovely three way friend date, and it was fun being exposed to some new beers. it's so awesome for a restaurant to have a vegan dinner as part of beer week, and i don't want to slam it too hard but on the other hand, the food was not special, or even really that good.

should we have just gotten a PBC mixed case and whipped up an infinitely better 4 course meal at home? i hate to say it, but maybe so.



the falafel experience: are you experienced?

you know when people call in to radio shows, how sometimes they say, "hi this is johnny x., long time listener, first time caller..."? well that is how i've always felt about falafel. i've loved it for as long as i can remember, but have never tried my hand at actually making it. sure, there were a few hapless stints with dry mix from the box, but they paled so in comparison to the cheap and delicious wares from saad's or mama's, that i'd always just say "ahh, forget it, i'd rather spend 3 bucks on the real thing." sigh...how often i have bowed to the false god of convenience.

but today, with warm spring sunlight flooding the kitchen, ryan and i made falafel from scratch, and it was an experience worth repeating. there are a number of steps, but it's as easy as chopping some vegetables and using your food processor, i mean it.

the falafel experience: cobbled together from vegan with a vengeance (p. 98) and an old minimalist recipe from mark bittman

- in your handy dandy food processor, pulse 2 cups chickpeas (you can use canned ones, or dried ones that were soaked overnight - i used a little of both) with a tablespoon of bread crumbs and another table spoon or two of flour. you want to achieve a crumbly texture but NOT a puree. never a puree with falafel.

- then throw in a chopped onion, a few minced cloves of garlic, and a massive handful of italian parsley (the kind with the broad, flat leaves). also at this point, also add one teaspoon sea salt, a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and heavy pinches of ground coriander and cumin. you can certainly use pre-ground spices but i highly recommend toasting and grinding your own.
++ how to ++ take some cumin and coriander seeds and throw them in a dry pan over a high flame. keep your pretty eye on them so they don't burn. toss the pan around occasionally, and toast them until they are fragrant. if shit starts popping, immediately turn the flame off! let the seeeds cool for a moment, then, pulverize into oblivian with a mortar & pestle. this mix is gonna smell incredibly good so close your eyes, breathe deeply, and pretend you're in a spice market somewhere exotic, like bangkok or bombay.

- okay, back to the contents of your food processor. pulse everything (chickpea mixture, onions & garlic, spices, salt and parsley) until it is well combined, but again, NOT pureed.

- with a spatula, scrape your falafel mix out and transfer to a ceramic bowl. refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. this helps the mix stay together once you attempt to drown it in hot oil.

- you can use a deep fryer here, but man those things are a pain in the ass. instead, i suggest filling a small-ish non-stick pan 1/2 way up with vegetable oil. get it hot. bittman suggests 350 degrees F. if you don't have a thermometer (or just don't bother with all that), let the oil get pretty damn hot, then toss a piece of batter in it. if it sinks to the bottom, bubbles gather around it, and it quickly rises back to the surface, it's ready!!

- with your hands, shape the falafel mix into balls - whatever sized balls you prefer (no snickering!!). throw them into the oil, and don't touch them for 5 minutes. after that time elapses, flip each one over carefully with tongs. you will almost faint with delight when you see the transformation:

- you will probably have to do it in two batches. drain the done falafel balls on a paper towel and then assemble a crazy sandwich in a pita. to ours, we added tahini sauce (basically, tahini + water + lemon juice), homemade hummus, fresh spinach, carrots, tomatoes, sprouts, and hot sauce. oh my god! falafel is literally the perfect vegan food: a complete protein AND deep fried. suck it, crappy falafel mix from the box!



appliance desire - now in gunmetal gray

spotted in the kitchen section of target (why was i shopping there?! ryan had a gift certificate, seriously), this hunky, masculine piece of work, giving me the sexy eye. "come to me, darling," it purred. "use me, abuse me.":

alas, at $325, this is one appliance that is currently way out of my reach. but maybe one day i will hold it in my arms, and all of my baking fantasies will come true.



a li'l pep in your step

i've never been the biggest fan of salt. i always thought it was terrible and evil and bad for you (confused and uneducated much?) and that even a sprinkling on my food was not cool. plus, i thought that adding salt to food made said food taste like salt or salty. i've since learned the wonders of salt and it's ability to enhance the secret, subtle and/or natural flavors of a product or dish (ever put salt on an avocado and eat it with a spoon? yeah, you'll know what i'm talking about here). however, in my brief albeit contemptous relationship with salt, i flavored and topped off my food with the other half of our favorite acronym "s&p" (read: salt and pepper).

p, oh wonderful, savory, spicy p, how i always have and always will love you so! (conversley, my friend loves s but isn't the biggest fan of p, funny how things work out). i personally have enjoyed the multifaceted tastes of black, white, pink (now FDA approved!), green and even szechuan peppercorns. my favorite of all time is the "4 pepper blend" or "rainbow blend" pictured above. who wouldn't want a serious blend of kickass pep. did you know such a thing exists as pickled peppercorns, used mainly in thai cuisine? me neither! but i do now. and so do you.

if you would like to be an incredibly awesome food nerd (like me!) and learn how peppercorns were once used as a form of currency, are the most widely traded spice in the world (by monetary value!) or were used in the middle ages to mask the taste of rotten meat (not in this kitchen baby!) check out wikipedia's black pepper entry.

also, hot knives, one of my favorite blogs, recently combined two great things: booze and peppercorns. god bless 'em! and i'm not just saying that in response to the sneeze which the chemical piperine found in peppercorns causes by irritating the nostrils (food nerd ahoy!).



magic on toast

it's called a TLT: tempeh, lettuce and tomato. no need to gussy it up, perhaps just some sprouts or a few slices of avocado if you've got any around. but the real beauty of this sandwich echoes the ethos of the meat-y one it's modeled after - 3 ingredients that cooperate flawlessly. i've made this sandwhich more times than i can count, but every time i take a bite, it feels like the first time. oh, and like so many other things, homemade tempeh "bacon" is vastly superior to anything store bought. plus, you can spice it up however you like! below are some directions.

how to make tempeh "bacon" or smokey tempeh strips or whatever you wanna call them (loosely based from a recipe in deborah madison's vegetarian cooking for everyone):

- in a small bowl, stir together a spoonful of tomato paste (ketchup will do if you're in a pinch), and a few tablespoons of soy sauce and blackstrap molasses. try to get it well combined. you can add a drop of liquid smoke, too.

- cut up the tempeh into very thin strips. if you've got an awesome sharp knife, now is the time to use it.

- gently sautee any combination of sliced onion, shallot, fresh ginger or garlic in olive or safflower oil. at this point you can also add a bay leaf, some peppercorns, a clove, rosemary, chili pepper flakes or anything else your fake bacon lovin' heart desires.

- add the tempeh to the pan and then pour your molasses juice all over it. carefully toss it all together, trying to evenly coat the tempeh pieces.

- cover the pan, and let it simmer for awhile. you have to give the tempeh some time to absorb all the flavors.

- in another 15 minutes, prep you fixins. control yourself! like i said before, it is imperative to resist the urge to get all fancy. it's called a TLT, not a TLTOMASPP. one of those P's stands for pickles.

- assemble and tear it up! best lunch ever. also, you can eat the garlic, ginger, onions or whatever aromatics you added. they are intense but supremely savory little nuggets.



come back from san francisco, it can't be all that pretty...

oh but you're wrong, the Magnetic Fields, it is, it really is! see for yourself...

the farmer's market at civic center:

ruby gibraltar from farley's coffee shop on potrero hill -
semi-secret recipe, but i can say it contains a shot of roobis tea and steamed soymilk.
probably the best thing i had my entire trip (sorry rainbow salad!)

homemade spanikopita - a cooperative recipe endeavor
by sofi and me

vegan banana split sundae at maggie mudd in bernal heights -
HOMEMADE waffle bowl (made on the spot in a waffle iron)
with cherry pie, tarmack and coconut ice cream, bananas, nuts,
chocolate syrup, and whipped cream!!!!!
not to be eaten solo, that's for sure....

...picking up the waffle bowl and eating it like nachos
is highly encouraged when a spoon
just isn't gonna cut it!

taking pictures in front of a cool garage,
is it just me or is everything brighter out there?

part three of west coast adventures coming soon with a full description of "Convert a Carnivore" night at millennium!!

back east and shivering,

rocking the microphone and the micro greens

so aside from being a kick ass rocker lady afloat in a sea of boring rocker dudes, a punk rock fashion icon, and an outspoken vegan and feminist, chrissy hynde is also...a foodie?! she's recently opened an all vegan restaurant in her hometown of akron, ohio called the vegiterranean. the menu, heavily italian influenced, is so awesome it's giving me butterflies. peep it here.

what i wouldn't give to bury my face in the squash pizza: marsala butternut squash purree with wild mushrooms, cippolini onions, baby arugula,
topped with soy mozzarella...

my firstborn for the potato gnocchi w/ grilled artichokes, roasted red pepper with a parsley tarragon creamy pine nut pesto sauce...

maybe it's time to take a little VR field trip to sunny akron? those are words i never expected to say but hey - have food lust, will travel.