pretty recently, emily and i got all gussied up and headed over to jose garces' distrito, in university city. for some reason, i've always had a secret little flame of curiosity for this restaurant. i know of garces' other restaurants, tinto and amada, and neither ever really piqued my interest like distrito did. and let's be honest, i've never actually been to a tapas restaurant before, despite my many discussions of "how great tapas are", and that didn't help keep the curiosity fire at a low burn either.

a friend from work mentioned their 5 course tasting menu for $55 (i was more interested in the 3 courses for $35 myself) and i thought, "hey, that's not as insanely outrageously expensive as i thought it would be!" and then i got some birthday money from my dad, specifically to be used for taking myself and emily out to dinner (does my family know what i like or what?) and then it all just came together. i decided to call distrito to inquire if they wouldn't possibly mind whipping up a little something special for us, instead of just making us ask for 'no queso' and still pay the $10 price tag for a bowl of guac? the hostess/receptionist was waaaaaaay nice and accommodating and after a short while, our reservation was set for tuesday at 8 and a vegan tasting menu would await. we had no idea what we were in for.

(see this menu? we didn't need it, they brought us everything all special-like.)

the first thing i should point out is that the decor of this place is OOC (out of control). gold, bright pink, neon green, yellow, etc. our table top was gold glitter and the menu was white and hot pink. my eyes hurt a little bit, but my tummy was excited and that emotion outweighed all others. our waiter came over to take our order, at which point i mentioned the "call ahead" we had done and he promptly responded "ah yes, the chef has something special prepared for you all". WOOOO! we ordered margaritas (emily, the watermelon, i, the mango) and they were......the best margaritas i ever had. after looking at the menu just for fun, our first course came out.

course #1: traditional guacamole with homemade tortilla chips, smoked salsa roja and salsa verde and a chopped mixed salad with tortilla strips on top. firstly, the salsa verde literally tasted green. i don't know what was in it, but if green is an ingredient with a taste, it was in here. (this is a good thing, people). secondly, we all know how much i love avocados (remember?) and this was THE BEST guacamole i've ever had. hands down. it was so creamy it felt like my tongue was getting a massage. oh and it tasted good, too. the salad had a cumin-lime vinaigrette, cherry tomatoes, romaine lettuce, walnuts, orange segments and a lot of other things that tasted awesome. first course RULED!

the bowls were real fancy too!

course #2: this is where things took a turn for the.....BETTER. because that is when they delivered this baby to our table:

that beautiful vibrant (well, in real life at least) baby is called a "huarache" which is, according to wikipedia "a popular Mexican dish consisting of an oblong, fried masa base, with a variety of toppings. The name "Huarache" is derived from the shape of the masa, similar to the popular sandals of the same name." ok, laymen, it's a grilled flatbread pizza thing but ours had vegetable toppings and no cheese and no meat. what it did have was a cilantro-yucca puree topped with cherry tomatoes, jicama, radish and micro-cilantro. yes, that means tiny little microgreens of cilantro, before they are full grown sprigs. adorable and delicious. this was emily's favorite dish of the night. it was clean and pure with bold fresh flavors that really mingled nicely with the smokey crunchiness of the flatbread. alongside this spotlight stealer was a melon salad with three different kinds of melons, cucumber, yucca, pepitas, and a lime dressing with a dollop of lime sorbetto on top. this was really delicious and fresh, a palate cleanser of sorts but with no real cleansing properties, as it had some crazy awesome taste profiles going on, as well as the juicy ripe melon versus the salty pepita texture battle that won over my taste buds in a second flat. the real beauty of this dish was the uniformity of the diced ingredients. emily and i honestly marveled at the chef's precision in cutting.

look at those cubes, people!

not only was the waiter checking on us at just a perfect amount of "constantly" but it was between course 2 and 3 that the CHEF came out to our table to check on everything and say what's up. i was a bit nervous to be in the presence of such an open minded culinary master but dude was totally chill and it wasn't a big deal at all. he told us he was a vegan in college for four years and was actually pretty psyched to make this meal for us, which ruled because we were kind of nervous he would begrudgingly make us three courses of salad and cucumber soup. nay! he understood veganness all well and good. he told us he was going to buy some special ingredients except that no one reminded him of our reservation until 4pm that day and he had been working on our meal with just the kitchen ingredients ever since! bravo, sir!

before the third course, our waiter came out to inform us that "your night just keeps getting better!" and said that because the cost of ingredients for our meal was so low, we would only be charged $25 per person instead of the normal $35. wha-wha-whaaaat? passing on savings to the customer in the restaurant industry? that's kind of unheard of and em and i giddily and happily cheersed the glasses of our second drinks together. we totally rule!

course #3: this wins the prize for most adorable course which not coincidentally is why it was my favorite dish. one enchilada per person in a teeeeny tiny cast iron skillet, as well as two more tiny cast iron pots - one of corn and the other of black beans.

so tiny, so delicious. the enchilada was topped with some pickled jalapenos, radish and cherry tomatoes and filled with a yucca mash and smoky mushrooms. do you notice how the ingredients seem to repeat a lot? we did, too, but we DIDN'T CARE AT ALL. we knew the chef was working within the confines of his kitchen and we also actually really enjoyed the absence of tofu or seitan which really just let the vegetables shine through as they should: fresh and clean. the waiter told us that normally the corn dish would have mayonnaise and cheese mixed in. ours was straight up corn and onions with some chili powder and tasted like sunshine. the beans were your typical black beans simmered to perfect softness topped with some veggies. i thought of it as the entree but i guess with tapas everything is tiny and there aren't really entrees in the traditional sense. but these were tiny amounts of entree-like foods. i just want to keep talking about how tiny they were, ok? i mean look at that damn pot!

dessert: the waiter told us we'd be receiving a selection of sorbettos for dessert (not as exciting to either of us, because em works at capogiro and eats it all the time, and i go in for free samples all the time) but soon after came back to tell us never mind on the sorbet, the chef has something special prepared. and special it was! grapefruit brulee! a grapefruit cut in half, sprinkled with sugar and then torched till the sugar caramelized. topped with a scoop of coconut sorbet, this was the perfect ending to our meal. mostly because i don't think i could have eaten anything more substantial, but it was also just really amazing and wonderful as a dish in and of itself.

i think it was actually this bright

we then sat back, bellies full, but not too full and marvelled at what had just happened. while we were marvelling, the chef came out AGAIN to make sure everything was ok. yes, it sure fuckin was, sir. we thanked him profusely and then he won our hearts by saying, "thank you for the opportunity."

let's recap: funky over-the-top but fun interior, super not-annoyingly friendly wait staff, open-minded chef who accommodated our request - if we had stopped there and the food was so-so, i still would have given this place props. but then, THEN they had to go and blow us away with the food and THEN they had to give it to us for cheaper than usual. of course they told us to come back (and bring friends!, they said), and of course, we will.


a delicate swirl

tonight emily and i (ok, mostly emily) whipped up a most satisfying rainy night dinner. as we prepared to plate our dishes, em mentioned "sorry this isn't the most spring/summery dish" and i said "that's ok, this isn't the most spring/summery night". and there it was.

finding ourselves with an abundance of apples, em had multiple burners going as she prepared curried carrot-apple soup with golden tofu cubes from jack bishop's a year in a vegetarian kitchen. i manned the sink and cleaned every last dish and also helped with some basic soux chef preparations (open the can of coconut milk, wash the romaine, etc.). we make a damn good team...

it's amazing what just two extra minutes can do to elevate a bowl of soup to a BOWL OF F-ING SOUP! a delicate swirl of coconut milk, a sprig of cilantro and a few well placed golden tofu cubes makes sitting down to dinner on a sticky, wet, rainy thursday night feel like magic.


fun with bun-dts

baking and the summertime don't usually go together. on a sticky day, the last thing most of us want to do is make our kitchens and the adjacent rooms in our houses even hotter with an oven cranked up to 375 F. however, there hasn't been much warm weather to speak of in these parts (mostly clouds and rain, rain, rain), and you know, baked goods are appreciated by my palate (and my plate) during every season.

enter these adorable little treats, pina colada mini bundt cakes:

the flavor is straight vacation (pineapple + coconut is a time honored combo for maximum relaxation), the shape is ridiculously cute, and the texture clocks in somewhere between a cupcake and a donut! the recipe is adapted from my sweet vegan, a cookbook by hannah kaminksy, that i love to talk shit on (overwrought recipes, reliance on readymade ingredients, uninspired photography) but find myself turning to relatively often. sorry hannah! i will now stop talking smack, and just pass along the recipe for these badass tiny fruitcakes.

pina colada mini-bundts
makes 11 cake-lettes (sorry to that one lonely, empty spot in the pan)
takes about 45 minutes, cooling time not included

-preheat the oven to 350 F (see? not that hot for a june afternoon)

-pulverize 1 cup of unsweetened coconut in a food processor until it's like coconut flour.

- cream the powdery coconut with 1/4 cup margarine, 1/3 cup granulated sugar and 2 tblsps brown sugar. it helps to use a hand mixer or a stand mixer. i used "majestic yellow," the recently gifted kitchenaid of my dreams.

- add in 1 cup crushed pineapple (fresh or canned, but juices drained).

- sift in 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt, then mix all together.

- then stir in an additional 1/2 cup coconut (not pulverized), 2 tbps dark rum, 1 tsp lemon or lime juice and 1/2 cup coconut milk (this is my own substitution! the orignial recipe calls for soymilk, but how can you pass up the opportunity for extra beachy flavor and vegan richness?). mix til just incorporated.

- pour the batter into lightly greased mini-bundt pan. if you find the idea of a mini-bundt pan ludicrous or frivolous (don't be a nun!), you could just make these in a muffin pan. i admit, it's all form here, and not much function. observe:

come on, man, that's' a cute-ass pan

- bake for 30 minutes, maybe 35. pull the pan out at 30 minutes and stick a tooth pick into one of the mini cakes. if it comes out clean, it's done! if it comes out with bits of batter stuck to it, bake it for another 2 minutes, and then try the toothpick trick again.

- let 'em cool for a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack. let them achieve full room temp coolness before attempting the frosting step (next step, below).

- briskly whisk together 3/4 cup powdered sugar and 3 tblsp alcohol. you can use rum, tequila, grand marnier, or a combo of whatever's in your liquor cabinet (like i did). drizzle the alcoh-glaze on the cakes and then sprinkle with more coconut!

- inhale deeply, take a bite, and pretend you're in cabo, tahiti, the lost island, or somewhere else warm and bronze, not just a soggy west philly backyard.



window farms

fortunately, we here at vr headquarters live in a home with a backyard, suitable for a small (but lush!) garden. but what if you live in an apartment? or worse, new york city?

enter window farms. window farms "are vertical, hydroponic, modular, low-energy, high-yield edible window gardens built using low-impact or recycled local materials". window farms were passed on to me through facebook (it CAN be useful!) and i spent the next half hour poring over the website and feeling glittery happiness in my heart. "R&DIY" is a compound acronym i haven't yet seen in my internet travels, and in this case, it just seems to make sense. the window farms organization isn't looking to create one basic window farm model, they are instead "crowdsourcing" through a network of people all attempting their own window farm endeavors. the idea is to create a support network through which a variety of ideas and experiments can traverse and aid other, future window farmers.

i don't know if window farms will save the world, but with their minimally invasive nature, mostly recycled materials and seemingly simple enough technology, they sure seem like they're gonna help.


we'll always love big pop-pa

today i crossed to bridge and headed to the always pleasing enigma that is the pop shop in collingswood, nj. the pop shop has been on our radar ever since we heard they had 30 different kinds of grilled cheese, all available with a soy cheese substitute.

a lot of things are enigmatic about this place. first of all, it's in collingswood, which is a cute town in new jersey. yes, cute and new jersey in the same sentence (sorry all you jersians out there). second of all, it's prettttty kitschy, with a retro 1950's diner vibe where kids and the elderly abound. there's a lot of things that could potentially go wrong with that sentence. kitsch. 1950's diner vibe. kids and the elderly. somehow, the pop shop pulls it off.

finally, the true veganness of this establishment has always eluded us. the soy cheese is vegan. the soy cheese isn't vegan, but there's a different dairy free cheese. there's no vegan cheese at all. the veggie burger is vegan, the veggie burger isn't vegan, etc. etc. etc. every time we go to the pop shop we grapple with these issues. it seems like they're changing their vegan and veg options pretty frequently. restaurant owners can do whatever they like with veg friendly dishes, but when you have this printed on your menu, you better have the food to back it up:

We conscientiously and consistently strive to respect and accommodate vegetarian/vegan practices and palates. The majority of our menu does start vegetarian or vegan and can be altered to accommodate special requests if circumstances permit. For example, all grilled cheeses can be made vegan. Keep in mind that we are a creamery and we love dairy so your salad, sandwich or bagel may have spent some time along side some beautiful bovine bounty before it reached your table. Enjoy!
- The Pop Shop Kitchen Staff

i mean, throw me a [vegan] bone here! also, the staff isn't the most knowledgeable and often times isn't even sure what we mean by vegan. i know i sound like a complainy caroline here, but when you so clearly try to highlight your vegetarian/vegan food policy, is it so much to ask that the staff actually know what they're talking about?

enough kvetching, my trip to the pop shop today was phenomenal. best ever. the waitress was SUPER sweet and answered all my questions without a twinge of annoyance. best of all, yes, the soy cheese was definitely vegan! i ordered a veggie burger with soy cheese, dijon mustard, mixed greens, tomato, caramelized onions and avocado on a ciabatta roll with a side of spicy fries.

is that teese? what is that!!

the ciabatta was probably a bad choice as i took the first bite of the crusty roll and half the ingredients inside fell out. also mixed greens does not a neat burger experience make. i blame myself and my poor choices, not the kitchen staff. after some really difficult knife navigation, i cut my burger in half with mild success. half the burger and a plethora of spicy fries (cajun spiced fries with sauteed onions and jalapeno peppers!) plus trying to save room for dessert equals leftovers!! and i will very happily eat those leftovers tomorrow. the burger was delicious.

speaking of dessert, the pop shop offers vegan ice cream options (read: chocolate and vanilla soy ice cream). i decided if i was going to order one of these less than exciting flavors, i should probably go for a sundae and not a cone. i went for it, like taking back sundae (this is terrible, but is it as bad as "just another manic sundae"?). a scoop of each vanilla and chocolate topped with peanut butter sauce, crushed peanuts, oreos, bananas and cherries. it was a true sundae!!! one i haven't had the likes of in years.

that was our waitress, making my sundae. no whipped cream please!

they also have killer buffalo wings made from tofu which i've had before, but not today. and apparently they have a new option: vegan pancakes! good for you pop shop, i applaud you. next time, i'm looking at an ice cream soda. they have a painting on the wall that says "be a jerk" and today, i'm feeling pretty jerky.



accidental alfredo awesomeness

so........as some of you may or may not know, i am kind of a vegan chef master. i don't wanna toot my own horn here, but if my food can impress vegan royalty such as emily and lauren then i must be doing something right! right? That being said i threw together some pasta tonight that is worthy of blogging about.

7:30 p.m. hit and my stomach was mad a-gurgling. Alone and with not much to go on in the fridge i grabbed some cheeses and some pasta. I had every intention of whipping up some cheesy garlic pasta but that's not how it worked out. what did happen was a creamy alfredo pasta that tasted so real without the cheese, i didn't even top it off with parmesan or the jasper hills blue (my new favorite cheeses) i had lined up. And to my surprise lauren walked in at the last minute to enjoy it with me. In mine and lauren's opinion, the sauce blew the doors off any vegan cookbook recipes we have used. so below is the recipe.
ry's creamy alfredo pasta

serves 4 or so
ingredient list:
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large cloves of garlic halved
1/2 cup (or more)chopped fresh herbs, i used oregano, rosemary and basil from the garden
1 medium white onion, julienned
1 table spoon butter(earth balance)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 block silken tofu
1 lb. pasta of choice(fettucini or rigatoni)
1/2 head of greens(spinach, kale, chard)
10-12 cherry tomatoes halved
1/4 lemon juiced

in a small sauce pan over low to almost nonexistent heat add olive oil and garlic, simmer until garlic is golden brown. remove the pan from heat. in a large skillet add your butter, white wine and onions. simmer on medium til your onions sweat a bit then reduce heat to low to caramelize. add your onions to your garlic mixture. In the mean time get your pasta going. don't forget to salt your pasta, onions and garlic. seriously salt all that! in a food processor add your tofu and blend til smooth and creamy. then add your herbs, lemon juice and oil onion mixture. blend all this til smooth and creamy and salt and pepper to taste.Using the same pan as the onions saute your greens til wilty and hot. drain your pasta. add it back to the pot and toss with sauce, greens and maters!
VOILA! as much as i love cheese i sure do enjoy finding ways to imitate it! this also took about 40 minutes.

up high,


i heart guts

while helping my mom do some filing yesterday at her home office, i stumbled upon a piece of paper printed with a slew of the adorable little guys seen above. i literally squealed at how cute they were and prodded her to explain what they were and why they graced her desk so colorfully.

turns out those precious little guts are the product of founder wendy bryan's "string of bad hookups, dead-end relationships and bad boyfriends" (taken from www.iheartguts.com) . she started out with a simple drawing of a broken heart which turned into a t-shirt which, over time, evolved into pins, tote bags, stickers, more t-shirts and even plush toys. according to my mom, she has the whole family involved. her mom and husband help with accounting, packing and shipping!

the plush organs are my favorite. who couldn't pass up a stuffed spleen with the title "smells like spleen spirit!" or a li'l stuffed kidney claiming "when urine love". other favorite slogans include: stomach plush - "i ache for you", heart plush "i got the beat" and most of all the liver says "i'm a liver not a fighter".
testicle lapel pin says "have a ball!"

it's so bad, it's good. it's so cheesy, it's cute. hell, i'd put a guts vacation picture on my wall.

heart and stomach in kyoto, japan

in guts we trust,


to be or to adobe

last week em and i met up in south philly to check out a potential house (we moving south, ya'll) and decided to grab some dinner while we were at it. we went to the adobe cafe on east passyunk. we were REALLY excited. for a multitude of reasons.

the most important reason being that last time we went there, we completely and utterly failed at getting dinner. yes, even we sometimes fail. apparently the kitchen stops serving food at 11pm, which isn't unheard of. what IS unheard of, however, is when i asked for a menu at 10:45pm and you (the bartender) don't tell me (the hungry customer) that the kitchen is closing very, very soon. after some chit chatting and some beer drinkin, we finally decided what to order and armed with our choices, i headed to the bar to place our order only to find the kitchen was CLOSED.

confused? who cares. that was then, this is now. this time we were victorious. we think. well, we did order food, but we're not quite sure about the accuracy of the vegan title of said food. let's start at the beginning. the margaritas: definitely vegan, definitely boozy, really good:

the menu had a ton of veggie/vegan dishes so much to the point that we were happily overwhelmed with options. our first order of business:

em: is the soy cheese vegan?
waitress: ummmm, i'm not really sure if it's vegan. i think we might have a vegan cheese separate from that one. wait, let me ask this one guy that works here, he's vegan he would know.
em: well maybe you could just ask the chef?
waitress: this guy will definitely know better than the chef.

she comes back a minute or two later and tells us the resident vegan went on a delivery but she'll check with the kitchen. after a few minutes she passes by the table with a platter of food balanced on one hand and calls over her shoulder to us "it's vegan!"

well, that seemed a little sketchy, but we trusted her and the chef and went with it. i mean, they had tofu sour cream, vegan jalapeno aioli and so many seitan/tofu options, we figured they knew what they were doing. we decided to split an order of the vegan nachos, topped with vegan cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo and tofu sour cream. sounds good? SOUNDS GREAT. i haven't had nachos in a really long time and i immediately knew this was the app(etizer) for us.

see how the cheese stretches. IT STRETCHES! that's awesome, but also a bit puzzling. i've never seen vegan cheese stretch before. but guess what, we ate the whole damn thing, and it was worth it.

for an entree, i ordered the skillet seitan tips sandwich with a side of spicy french fries and a jalapeno aioli. em got a vegetable and "cheese" chimichanga and we went halfsies.

unfortunately, the sandwich was missing the zesty coleslaw that made this dish seem extra appealing. the seitan was done really well so it didn't matter, and although it was piled on a roll modestly adorned with lettuce and tomato, i slathered some aioli on there and went (half-way) to town. the fries were amazing. they nailed the fries and that's all there is to say about that.

after eating half the nachos and half the sandwich, there wasn't much stomach space for a deep fried bundle of fake cheese and vegetables. i somehow forced myself to have a few bites. the dish came with salsa verde and salsa roja, both a bit watery for my taste. the guac was good, simple and no frills, but not bad by any means. the spanish rice left a lot to be desired, pretty poorly spiced and bland. em pointed out that maybe alongside the punch packing chimichanga, the rice is supposed to be a plain counterpart. to this i say: meh. it wasn't very good and that's just a bummer. the chimichanga itself was deep fried to a golden brown crispy exterior with some cheese and peppers and onions oozing out when cut into. yes, i did say oozing. after a few bites i couldn't really go much further, but it was amazing.

all in all we were insanely full and very satisfied. the food was amazing and decently priced if not a bit on the high side. the margarita was just what it should be. the cheese.....the cheese. sigh, the cheese stands alone.

editor's note: i just called to sleuth out an end to this mystery and after holding a few minutes (worth the wait!) the kind gentleman on the other end assured me they have both a soy cheese AND a vegan cheese. well hallelujah, somewhere, somehow, a good vegan cheese exists.