Saj, and a Change of Direction

Hello All!

This will be my last post on this blog.  I’m going to merge this blog into my other, Renaissance Woman.  Why?  Several reasons.

Reason One: I may be a little OCD.  I started two blogs to keep my interests separate but, since the whole point of Renaissance Woman was I did NOT have to have a theme, I don’t see why I can’t do vegan posts on that blog.

Reason Two: I’ve talked a little about my car accident and its aftereffects on Renaissance Woman.  As I went vegan to try to regain heath, strength, and energy, merging the blogs will allow me to tie my diet to living as a disabled person.  I had no intention of doing this, much less talking about being disabled, when I started Vegan Wayfarer but I feel more comfortable doing so now.

Reason Three:  As work on my manuscript ramps up, I have less time to devote to two blogs.  I’m a sporadic poster anyway so might as well post to one blog as I am seized by inspiration.

Reason Four:  I’m seeking to simplify my life.  Donating stuff I don’t need, dialing back my book buying (though I feel a bit like Mel Gibson’s character from Conspiracy Theory-I get shaky if a few weeks have passed and I haven’t bought a book.  Any book, not just Catcher in the Rye.)  One blog will be much easier to manage.  I might even become a regular in my posts.

So, four reasons really-I don’t know if that counts as several.  Fair Warning: Renaissance Woman is theme-less.  I post about history, thoughts about writing, random things that catch my fancy, my poetry, and now vegan recipes and awesome restaurants.  I do hope all of you will consider following me at my other site: my undying gratitude goes to all of you who already do.

And now, read on about Saj Mediterranean Grill!

A few weeks ago, I filled in for my work counterpart.  This resulted in a looooonnnnng day and, by lunchtime, I was ready for a break.  Away from the building and my desk, somewhere that served good food.  Saj Mediterranean Grill is a fairly new arrival to the neighborhood.  It’s a toss up as to whether Mediterranean or Mexican food is my favorite (hummus or tacos?!) so I was looking forward to trying Saj out: when the opportunity came, I jumped at it.

The first thing I noticed is, Saj is busy.  The line stretched almost to the door.  A good sign when considering the quality of the food, not such a good sign when I’m on a clock and have an hour for lunch, including drive time.  I took deep breaths and maintained my equilibrium.  I’d take my food back with me if necessary.  I spent my line time perusing the menu, reading about the meaning of “Saj”, and wondering if the garlic aioli could possibly be dairy free.  The menu offers a wide array of if-not-vegan-easily-made-so options including wraps, salad, and pizzas.  A sign on the wall told me “Saj” is the flatbread baked on a domed or flat griddle called a Saj, and the garlic aioli is made with mayo.

There is a handy chart at the register that lists the sauces and their ingredients.  As neither the garlic aioli nor the tahini were dairy free, I decided on zaatar sauce.  I’d also spent my time in the line watching food go in and out of the large oven, placed so you can watch everything that happens with your food.  Saj’s website doesn’t lie: their ingredients are fresh.  By the time I’d reached the register, I’d decided on a wrap made with the wheat saj (flat bread) and, once I’d decided on a sauce, filled my wrap with spicy hummus, basmati rice, falafel, kalamata olives (one of my favorite things), and sauteed peppers and onions.

When my wrap arrived, the flatbread reminded me a bit of a crepe.  A little thicker but it did resemble a pancake rather than what I usually expected from flatbreads like pita or naan.  It was a bit sweet as well, though that was a good contrast to the salty ingredients I’d chosen.

My wrap wasn’t too salty, although I love salt so perhaps any future orders should contain more fresh vegetables.  I liked it though.  The briny tang of the kalamata olives did overwhelm the other flavors but please don’t consider that a complaint:  I appreciate that the staff didn’t skimp on the olives.  There was something pickled as a garnishment: the menu has pickled turnips as an option but the peppery bite-reminiscent of horseradish-made me wonder if the garnish wasn’t pickled daikon. The staff was busy so I didn’t ask but cleaned my plate of everything, wrap and garnish.  There were no leftovers to take back to work with me and I left the restaurant with ten minutes to spare.  Since my drive back was five, I made it back to work in plenty of time!

I purchased a beverage.  I usually don’t when I eat out as most commercial beverages contain too much sugar.  I did for this visit, as a special treat, and was glad I had done so.  I decided on an orange pomegranate San Pelligrino and the sweet/tart carbonation cut through the oil and salt of my meal.  I could have shared with a friend: there was too much sugar for me to finish the beverage but I was glad to have it while eating.  My entire meal came together to satisfy every section of my tastebuds and I’m looking forward to eating at Saj Mediterranean Grill again soon.

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Not a healthy beverage choice but it was tasty

 

A Bean By Any Other Color…

I’ve tried many new food items since becoming vegan: things I never thought I would eat much less like.  Things like pressed fermented tofu and seed cake, though seven-grain tempeh sounds more appetizing; and then there are all the beans.  My pre-vegan repertoire consisted of black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, and the occasional lentil.  My post-vegan pantry has expanded to include all of those plus cranberry beans, anasazi beans, black, green, red, and black lentils, yellow and green split peas, Christmas lima beans, and so many more.  Some of the tastiest and most versatile beans I use are garbanzo beans, aka chickpeas.  They make excellent crispy snacks if marinated and oven-baked, star in chickenless salad, chickpea and noodle soup, and not-tuna salad.

My enthusiasm for new and interesting beans may have gone too far.  I was at an Asian market (since become a diner so I need a new source for black salt) and was going nuts at the prices of bulk lentils, spices, black salt, and green garbanzo beans.  The friend I was shopping with said, “um…green garbanzo beans?”  “Yep”, I replied; “aren’t they cool?”  My friend looked like ‘cool’ wasn’t the first word that occurred to her but she made no other protest and a bag of green garbanzo beans accompanied me home.

As summer takes over in Colorado I eat more salads and, at long last, the time came for me to soak and cook the green garbanzo beans in order to make not-tuna salad.  I admit, a lessons I’ve learned from previous cooking experience sprang to mind as I prepared the beans. Lesson one: soup mixes comprised of multiple beans and/or grains look pretty until they’re cooked.  Then, black beans or black rice color EVERYTHING else in the mix and the entire lot turns brown.  What would cooked green beans look like?  However, I’d purchased the beans and was committed.  How bad could it be?

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Well…cooked and mashed green garbanzo beans are no longer green.  “Unappetizing” and other, stronger, words came to mind but I’m anything if not wasteful.  I mashed my beans, stirred in Just Mayo, mustard, chopped green olives, chopped celery, and 1/4 a sheet of nori, snipped into teeny pieces.  I was going to eat it no matter how it looked.

While the salad looked nasty; once I spooned it over a bed of red leaf lettuce and covered it with sliced Easter egg radishes, appearance was no longer an issue.

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Taste was no issue at all.  There is no substitute for soaking and cooking my own beans.  Taste, texture, cost…there is no comparison, although I admit I use canned beans because they’re convenient.  The beans in my salad were smooth and creamy, which bore no resemblance to actual tuna salad but, this far into my vegan diet; that isn’t a bad thing.  The salad is filling, tasty, and easy to eat at my desk at work.  And, the green garbanzo beans?  I think that all future recipes will keep them whole rather than mashed.

 

A Frond For Me, A Frond For You

I go to the grocery store with the best of intentions.  I am enticed by the vivid colors of fresh, organic produce and always have a plan for what I buy.  More often than not, those plans go by the wayside as I get busy with my job and working on my manuscript.  Since I can’t bear the thought of all that lovely produce going to waste, my intricate plans become soup.

I like making soup.  I rarely need a recipe for it and I can have dinner done in the time it takes vegetables to cook: often a half hour or less.  My soups all start the same: sweat chopped onion in a stock pot, add garlic, add water or vegetable stock, add washed grains if I’m using them, add vegetables after grain has cooked, add canned or pre-cooked beans, heat through, eat.  Tasty and simple.  My last soup was created because I’d purchased some beautiful collard greens intending to make a lemon-chopped greens salad, didn’t get to it, and needed to use them up.  Why soup?  Well…

…I’m not that familiar with how to cook collard greens.  I tried the Sicilian Collard Greens from Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet when I first became vegan but overcooked the greens.  The memory of the horrid bitter mass they became is still with me and I haven’t tried that recipe again.  My sister likes collard greens but, as she cooks hers with bacon fat, that recipe isn’t an option for me.  I perused my cookbooks and thought that a recipe for collard greens, wild rice, and black-eyed pea soup from Robin Robertson’s 1000 Vegan Recipes sounded good.  I had to adapt it as I had rice and greens and very little of the other ingredients but that’s what I love about making soups: you don’t need to follow a recipe.  Throw everything in a pot and it’s very difficult to go wrong.  I made notes of replacements I could make with what I had on hand and read my new recipe out to my family.  They entered it into their Weight Watcher’s App and, finding the total point value satisfactory, dinner was planned.

Robin Robertson’s cookbook was one of the first I purchased when making the switch to a vegan lifestyle.  I figured I’d have all I needed with 1,000 recipes and have found this cookbook to be eminently useful.  The best tip is to either steam or simmer tempeh for 30 minutes before using it in a recipe as doing so takes out that bitter aftertaste.  I also appreciate these recipes are more of a guideline.  I’ve made some recipes while adhering to every jot and tittle but some don’t include enough herbs and spices for my liking.  I thought as much with this soup recipe and added a few of my favorites.  Most spices are free on my family’s diet plan so I can indulge my inner mad kitchen scientist.

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My version of the soup was excellent.  The entire kitchen was filled with mouth-watering scents as the soup cooked and I adjusted the original recipe so everything was cooked in one pot.  This is a great idea if all the soup is going to be consumed in one sitting, not so much if you’re planning on leftovers.  I’ve found that greens left in soup overnight take on an unappetizing smell.  This happened to my delicious soup and I was reminded that I’d made this observation once already.  Hopefully, now that I’ve twice been left with no leftovers (something that annoys me), I’ll remember to cook only the amount of greens that can be consumed in one sitting.  If my greens are in such bad shape they won’t last while I heat leftovers, the freezer is always a viable option.

Nasty leftover greens aside, I can’t say enough good things about this soup.  It satisfies both senses of taste and smell, is soothing to the tummy, and-when paired with a slice of molasses cornbread-makes for a filling meal.  The cornbread is made from one of my mother’s recipes and I’m sharing it with her permission.  Since my recipe breaks enough from Ms. Robertson’s; I’m sharing it as well.  Two recipes in one post!

Side note: my mother uses Wholesome! brand organic stevia in her recipe.  If stevia isn’t your thing, feel free to substitute another sweetener.

Collard, Wild Rice, and Bean soup with Molasses Corn Bread.

The cornbread takes 40 to 45 minutes to cook so make it first.  You will need:

1 Cup yellow cornmeal

1 Cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp sea salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 Cup unsweetened apple sauce

3 tsp or 6 packets Stevia leaf herbal extract

1 cup unsweetened plant based milk (we use almond/coconut)

1/4 cup molasses

2 cups frozen organic corn kernels

1 TBSP ground flax seed meal

2 TBSP water

  1.  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly oil a cast iron skillet and set aside.  Mix the flax meal with the water and set aside.  Rinse the corn and let drain.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder.  Mix well and set aside.
  3. In a second bowl, mix applesauce, sugar, plant milk, molasses, and the flax egg.  Mix well and stir into dry ingredients.  Stir in the corn and pour the batter into the skillet.
  4. Bake cornbread until the top turns golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean; 40 to 45 minutes.
  5. Slice into 12 slices and serve plain or with desired topping.

 

Collard, Wild Rice, and Bean Soup.  You will need:

1 Bunch Collard Greens, stemmed and chopped

1 Medium onion, chopped

2 Cloves garlic, minced

2 14 oz Cans Organic Tri-Bean Blend beans rinsed and drained or 3 Cups mixed cooked beans, drained

6 Cups vegetable broth

1/2 cup Wild Rice Blend (I like Lundgren’s), rinsed

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander

1 tsp thyme

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

A kitchen timer!

  1.  Place the chopped onion in a stock pot over medium low heat and let cook 5 minutes.  Add minced garlic and let cook until onions are translucent, about 2 minutes more.  Add a small bit of vegetable broth if onions and garlic begin to stick.
  2. Add the vegetable broth, cumin, coriander, thyme, red pepper flakes, and wild rice.  Cook 15 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped collard greens and cook another 15 minutes.  Add the cooked beans and heat through, 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Enjoy!  Can serve 8 people if the portions stay around 1 cup.

Note: Only chop all the greens and add them to the soup of all of the soup is going to be consumed in one sitting.  If not, chop the equivalent of one large frond per person and cook in a separate pot of boiling, salted water until collards are tender.  This takes about 20 minutes.  Drain the collards and divide them among the bowls when the soup is complete.  Stir and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Burger Free at a Burger Joint

I checked my archives and couldn’t find when/if I’d ever posted about Red Robin.  It’s not a place I eat at a great deal but I remember it was one of the first eateries I visited soon after making the switch to veganism.  I remember researching what options were vegan and I remember utilizing a build-your-own burger option.  I checked Red Robin’s website and couldn’t find it but I did choose what I wanted veggie burger, bun, and condiment-wise, printed it, and handed it to the waitress.  If I remember correctly, Red Robin’s veggie burger isn’t bad.

I re-visited Red Robin last week.  It was a gorgeous day and my step-father had a gift card so, after a walk at the reservoir, off we went.  I was already primed for a veggie burger and fries when I noticed a new option in the appetizer section of Red Robin’s menu.  My local Red Robin was offering guacamole, salsa, and tortilla chips.  Burger forgotten, I placed my order.

There are not words to express how much I enjoy guacamole.  When paired with salsa and crispy, salty, tortilla chips?  I’m willing to walk the reservoir a second time, if necessary.  It probably was necessary because the waitress told me the guacamole was bottomless.  Yep, she said bottomless and I did find it necessary to eat a second helping.  In order to feel good about my level of protein, I ordered a side dish of the southwestern black beans to accompany my guacamole goodness and tucked in.

This was delicious.  There wasn’t room in either dish to mix the guacamole, salsa, and beans together so I’d take a bite of one and then the other.  I had plenty of chips: one order covered two helpings of the guac and one of the beans.

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Guacamole is, perhaps, difficult to get wrong, but Red Robin doesn’t miss the mark.  It wasn’t too salty and neither were the tortilla chips which meant the entire meal didn’t overwhelm.  The salsa and guacamole come in the same ramekin topped with jalapeno slices which aren’t too hot.  I would have said they could have used a touch more heat but my family was chortling at me as I began to turn red so, apparently, the meal was spicy enough.  I enjoyed it and it’s nice having a non-burger option at what is definitely a burger joint.

I can’t find the guacamole, salsa, and chips on Red Robin’s online menu so this option might be location specific.  Going to Red Robin?  I found this handy guide online.

Free Food at Fire Bowl

My blogging is finally paying off.  I was recently awarded a free entrée at Fire Bowl Cafe.  Of course, anyone following Fire Bowl Cafe’s Twitter or Facebook accounts were entitled to the same free entrée but, hey, free is free and a girl can dream.

Fire Bowl was promoting its new Lemongrass Green Bean Stir Fry entrée and all I had to do to claim mine was show the Direct Message I received via Twitter to my location’s manager.  Well, I don’t have a smart phone so figuring out how to show the message was a bit difficult.  I finally printed the photo but couldn’t figure out how to get the verbiage so took my black and white photo (I printed it at work) to the restaurant in hopes that mentioning it did indeed come from my Twitter account would be enough.  If not, I’m partial to the Thai Red Curry so the trip wasn’t going to be a total loss.  Fortunately, the manager knew what promotion I was talking about and I got my free entrée.  I may still upgrade my obsolete tech but the need is not yet pressing.

I ordered my stir fry with the fried tofu and added an order of the Soft Thai Summer Rolls because they’re delicious and you can have extra peanut dipping sauce of you ask.  Then, lunch and dinner in hand, (I get enough food for two meals) I headed home.  I was ravenous by the time I walked through my front door so divided my meal neatly in half and tucked in.

And now, to answer Fire Bowl Cafe’s question.  Did I like it?  Answer, yes.  I don’t know if it will take the place of the red curry but I did like it.  I knew I was going to when I popped the lid off the to-go container and inhaled.

The flavors blended well.  I sometimes find meals made with lemongrass a bit bitter but not this entrée: no one flavor overpowered another.  The dish was also perfect spicy, for me anyway.  I like hot food but not when the spice makes it impossible to taste anything else, or too painful to eat at all.  The level of spice in this dish added a pleasant tingle to the tongue while still allowing me to taste the sauce.

The green beans were a bit odd at first.  I tend to cook mine softer at home and these reminded me of asparagus in texture not taste.  After a few bites, I found I liked the crunch in what was otherwise a soft meal: tofu and rice.  Would I eat it again?  Well yes but, again, if I’m heading out there and paying for a meal, I prefer the red curry.  Would I recommend it?  Absolutely.  As a vegan, I wouldn’t eat it with the chicken or beef so can’t contrast those for you but try the tofu: the manager said the dish was the best with the tofu and I found no reason to disagree.

Not only was my entrée free but the to-go container came in handy.  The box for my old colored pencils was beginning to disintegrate and I couldn’t find anything at home to re-purpose.  After a good scrub, the to-go container for my Lemongrass Green Bean Stir Fry was perfect.  Thanks, Fire Bowl Cafe!

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The thoroughly cleaned to-go container is handy for my colored pencils.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s My Party and I’ll Fromage if I Want To

I have friends and family that are interested in my vegan lifestyle but I invariably hear; “I could never go vegan-I could never give up cheese”.  I understand.  Cheese was an important part of my life before becoming a vegan.  The sharper the Cheddar the better, Stilton; Gouda, Gruyére, Brie…yes, I did eat a great deal of cheese.

I haven’t missed cheese; not with brands like Daiya, Follow Your Heart, and Chao slices by Field Roast taking care of most of my needs.  There is no denying the texture is not the same and, excepting Daiya’s Gouda style farmhouse block, I haven’t found a vegan cheese substitute I like sliced and eaten with crackers.  Cheese and crackers along with grapes or a sliced apple is one of my favorite simple snacks and one I was willing to drop the cheese portion if I had to.  And yet, I couldn’t help holding out hope that I’d find a cheese substitute I’d find tasty with a cracker.

It turns out, I don’t have to give up my snack.  My local King Soopers has a vegan/vegetarian section that carries some Tofurky and Field Roast products, some Tofu, some cheese options, and something new.  I found Treeline brand cheese: a non-dairy product made from cashews.  King Soopers carries the Chipotle Serrano Pepper, Scallion, and Herb-Garlic flavors.  I’m always willing to try something new and, hoping it would prove delicious, I purchased a carton of the Scallion and took it home.

I was not disappointed.  Treeline’s product is smooth, creamy, and spreads easily onto a cracker so there’s no worry of breakage.  The flavor is pleasant as well.  Despite being made with cashews it doesn’t take at all like cashews.  Treeline isn’t heavy on the spice either.  I liked the Scallion so much that, when I was ready for another treat, I purchased the Herb-Garlic and didn’t find the flavor too strong.  I am looking forward to trying other vegan substitutes as they come to hand, especially that made by Miyoko’s Kitchen, but I am thrilled to have access to Treeline.  Now, I only have to find a place that offers the other flavors.

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My favorite cracker for cheese and crackers indulgence used to be Triscuit crackers.  Unfortunately, despite releasing new and interesting flavors-including a pumpkin spice-Nabisco has not sought 3rd party non-GMO verification for their Triscuit crackers.  Fortunately, Back to Nature makes a Harvest Whole Wheat Cracker that tastes exactly like a Triscuit but sports the non-GMO butterfly.  My snack life is saved!

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I don’t mind purchasing a product like Treeline as an occasional treat but there’s no denying it’s a bit expensive so I’m scouring my cookbooks for recipes I can try at home.  A few make-at-home cheese recipes will be ideal for the Holiday Season.  Have a favorite?  Let me know.  I’m always up for cheese and crackers and perhaps a little wine.

Comfort and Pasta

My workplace had a Halloween potluck earlier this week and were planning a chili competition.  I thought I’d bring something different and decided to make a corn chowder.  An added inducement to the corn chowder was that I could make it with ingredients I had on hand and any time I can avoid the grocery store I will choose to do so.

I used the recipe in The Part Time Vegan as a template, adding a few tweaks of my own, and ended up with a chowder that wasn’t bad.  Wasn’t bad isn’t usually what I go for so my corn chowder recipe needs work before it can be posted.  Having a recipe not turn out as I’d hoped is always a little bit of a downer so I decided to drown my sorrows in comfort food.  Enter pasta and, fortunately, the McDougall diet allows me to eat as much as I like.

With both comfort and temperance in mind, I decided to try a new pasta.  I got sucked into one of those sample stands at Costco which introduced me to Explore Cuisine’s Chickpea Pasta (which is not on the website but other tasty products are).  The woman at the sample stand assured me the pasta kept a chewy texture despite re-heating and I was persuaded to buy a box.

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I have tried other gluten-free pastas.  I like quinoa pasta but have found brown rice pasta ends up too mushy.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I boiled water and measured out the pasta.  I was concerned with taste as the pasta smelled well, beany, as it cooked but all my worries were for naught.  The pasta has a slight flavor that didn’t remind me too much of chickpeas and kept a perfect al dente texture.  My family liked it as well.  Though I don’t know this will replace quinoa pasta for me, I’m definitely interested in trying more of Enjoy Cuisine’s products.

Wondering what to eat with the pasta?  Here’s my Mom’s recipe for chunky vegan pasta sauce.  Neither she nor my step-father are vegan and they both choose this one over sauces laden with meat.  Let me know if you give it a try.

Sue’s Spaghetti Sauce

1 cup minced onion

1 TBSP minced garlic

1 jar Classico Traditional Favorites Pasta Sauce, Tomato & Basil

1 jar Prego Light Smart Traditional Italian Sauce

2 TBSP Hunts Tomato Paste

1 14oz can Muir Glen Organic Tomatoes, Diced, No Salt Added

1 15 oz can Tomato Sauce

1 15 oz can Simple Truth Organic Tri-Bean Blend beans, drained and rinsed

1 15 oz can Organic Canned Black Beans, drained and rinsed

6 oz Boca Veggie Ground Crumbles

Cook onions and garlic until onions begin to sweat.  All all other ingredients except beans and crumbles.  Cook 1 hour.  Add beans and crumbles and cook 15 minutes.  Pour over cooked spaghetti.

Prep and Cook time = 75 min

Serving Size = 2 cups

Serves = 8

Call Me Mellow Mushroom

I know, Donovan is cringing.

Anywho…

The day my friend flew into town she met up with another friend of hers in the airport.  The two of them were flying in and out on the same flights and it made sense for my mother and I to give both of them a lift to the airport.  The last day of my friend’s visit found us on the 16th Street Mall, meeting up with her friend and looking for a place to eat.

I’d planned on eating at Native Foods.  I knew there was a location on the 16th Street Mall.  What I did not know was that particular location was permanently closed.  The four of us were left standing on the Mall at a loss as to where to go next.  Fortunately, my friend’s friend had heard of Mellow Mushroom, had heard it served good pizza, and was supposed to be good place for vegans and non-vegans alike.  My friend pulled out her trusty smartphone and Google maps told us where to go.

The Mellow Mushroom suggestion saved the day.  There was chicken wings, pizza, and decadent desserts for the non-vegans and more than one option for me.  Tofu and Tempeh were both offered on the menu; something that’s so rare I had to take a photograph, although I had a hard time with the overhead lights.  🙂

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I’ll be going back to try both the Tofu and the Tempeh

I didn’t think I was hungry enough to do justice to either of those meals and ordered the pita sandwiches instead.  Mellow Mushroom gives good value for a dollar: I expected one pita sandwich and ended up with two.  I tried, I really did, but couldn’t eat them both.

I can’t say enough good things about Mellow Mushroom.  My sandwiches were perfect.  The hummus was creamy and was a perfect balance of tahini, garlic, and chickpeas.  No one ingredient overpowered another.  It wasn’t too rich nor too salty nor mixed with any exotic ingredient.  Just good, plain, hummus.  The lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers were fresh, crisp, and juicy, and the sprouts tasted clean.  Anyone who has had bad sprouts knows what I’m talking about.  I’ve had experiences where the sprouts taste like they haven’t been washed or else they’ve been washed but weren’t thoroughly rinsed.  Both are disgusting.

Not my experience at Mellow Mushroom.  As we were driving directly to the airport, I didn’t take my leftovers with me and it was difficult to walk away from the food.  I’ve got to go back to Mellow Mushroom and try the other vegan options, but I have a feeling I’ll be ordering the hummus pita sandwiches again.

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Another Restaurant Makes the Favorite List

 

There Will Be Beans

My friend’s visit from Wyoming was followed by another friend’s visit from Nebraska.  She has the book where she can collect stamps from all the National Parks and so we decided on a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We checked out Bear Lake and then, having never seen a waterfall before, my friend wanted to do the hike to Alberta Falls.  A hiking lover, I was game.

My hiking pace isn’t too fast and my friend was having some trouble with the lack of air in Colorado so the hike I anticipated taking an hour took two.  Even with our car snacks, we were starving after our visit to the Falls.  My family is used to my vegan lifestyle by now and Mexican Restaurants top the list of food choices.  My Mom had seen a restaurant when we’d first entered Estes Park and as my non-vegan friend said she was okay with cheesy-beany, we went in search and found Peppers.

Peppers is a bit difficult to get into: my family and I had to drive into the Safeway parking lot and come at it from the other side.  The restaurant looks unassuming and I didn’t know what to expect.  Fast food can be iffy but I knew that, at least, I would find beans.

Peppers was a pleasant surprise.  If you’ve been in a Qdoba or Chipotle, you’ll be familiar with the set-up.  There’s a bar filled with fresh ingredients and you can go down the line and choose what you want.  I ordered the Veggie Burrito from the menu and asked for the cheese and sour cream to be left off.  Peppers was the first restaurant that allowed me to have an extra at no charge because I was leaving off cheese and sour cream.  I chose the mango salsa and I highly recommend it.

My burrito was so large it had to be double wrapped and eaten with a knife and fork.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about sweet potato in my burrito but Peppers has made me a convert.  The sweet is off set with the slightly smoky rice and spicy salsa.  I could choose very hot, medium hot, or mild and medium hot was plenty for me.

I ordered chips and salsa as well, having no idea the burrito was going to be as large as it was.  The chips were lightly salted and the order came with two choices of salsa.  I chose another small tub of the medium hot and thought I’d try the corn salsa.  The corn was sweet and a perfect texture: no mushy salsa at Peppers.

 

I was able to recommend Peppers as I left the restaurant.  A family was crossing the parking lot as mine left and they called to us, asking what we thought.  I tell you the same thing I told them: Peppers is excellent.  If you find yourself in Estes Park, CO, stop in.  If you try the margaritas, let me know what you think.

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I liked the peacock wall hanging

 

The Yak and the Yeti

My family and I have a tradition of going out to dinner for birthdays.  When mine rolled around, I wanted to try The Yak and the Yeti  and my family agreed to go.  Then, the week of  my birthday, I broke a tooth and my birthday dinner was postponed.

I’ll spare you a description of my howls of agony, stemming both from the torment of the dentist’s chair as well as the cost of a crown, and leave you with a piece of advice:  do not assume that, because an olive has been stuffed with a pepper and almond, that its pit has been removed.  Such an assumption will lead you into error.  An expensive error.  Especially if you have an encounter with an un-popped corn kernel the next day.  But I digress.

At last, tonight, my family and I finally made our visit.  I perused the menu before going and was pleased to see this restaurant strives to be vegan friendly.  There are notes next to items on the menu that say they can be made vegan on request.  Forewarned and forearmed, we headed off.

The Yak and the Yeti is, by far, the most vegan friendly non-vegan restaurant I’ve been to in Colorado.  I didn’t have to ask about menu items.  The restaurant has a page in the menu called “The Yak and the Yeti Vegan Items” so there’s no need to search out what’s vegetarian/vegan in the midst of all the chicken and fish items.  Once I’d told the waitress I was vegan, any information I needed was forthcoming.  I ordered a Vegetable Biryani and was asked if the dates and nuts were a problem.  I didn’t immediately understand and said I didn’t have a problem with nuts and the waitress then explained to me that the topping was cooked in butter.  I thanked her and she graciously left them off.

Word of my veganism spread because, when a second waitress brought papadams and sauces, she already knew and told me which sauces contained dairy and which did not.  My family were fond of the yogurt sauce and mint chutney but I didn’t feel like I was missing out: the tamarind sauce is perfectly sweet/tart.  No vegan could ask for anything more, except maybe the spicy tomato sauce.

Sauce
Papadam Dipping Sauces

Fresh naan was brought to the table and my mother tucked in.  She’d chosen the buffet so had her food before my step-father and me and only ran into one option that was too spicy for her palate.  Spice is another way the staff of The Yak and Yeti strive to make their food available for everyone.  When placing the order, I got to decide how spicy I wanted my food.  The options are very mild, mild, medium, hot, very hot, and Indian hot.  I chose medium and it was perfect.

My Biryani had complex layers of flavor.  I expected saffron and curry but it was flavored with anise and pepper as well.  The spice doesn’t burn the tongue; rather it’s a heat that sneaks up.  I thought it was perfect but will admit I got rather flushed.  It’s the bane of very pale skinned people who love spicy food. 🙂  I don’t think I could go hotter: I’d probably explode.

Biryani
My Biryani

I ordered a vegan chai to accompany my food and have to say it was the best chai I’ve ever had.  I was asked if I wanted it made with coconut milk or soy.  I chose coconut milk and indulged in a drink so rich it served as dessert.

I can’t say enough good things about The Yak and the Yeti.  My entire family enjoyed everything they sampled and there are several other veg options I want to try.  The staff is incredibly friendly, helpful, and ready with answers before the questions are asked.

We were invited to tour the party rooms.  The large room was being set up for a party and I wanted to explore but felt a little odd touring someone else’s party so just poked around the edges.  If you are looking for a place to hold an event, consider The Yak and the Yeti.  The chandeliers in the main room are spectacular.  I’ll plan to go a little earlier next time and pay more attention to the party spaces.  I didn’t make it up to the upstairs room and am going to have to indulge my curiosity.

The Yak and the Yeti is going on my family’s favorite restaurant list.  We’re not big drinkers but the restaurant has its own line of craft beers made at the Arvada location.  One beer won’t hurt and I’ll bet it would go well with vegetable samosas.  We’ll definitely be going again.