Saturday, August 29, 2009

SunPower Natural Cafe: Worth the Splurge

I have been dying to try the mostly-raw SunPower Natural Cafe ever since I first read about it on To Live and Eat in L.A. Dying as in, I literally dreamed about it on a daily, if not hourly basis. I'm really trying to incorporate more raw foods into my diet and every dish that Foodeater described sounded totally irresistible. There was just one obstacle standing between me and SunPower: cash flow. That's right. I'm broke.

Well, not broke exactly. You see my t.v. show is on hiatus so I am living off of measly unemployment checks while I look for my next gig and, with rampant runaway production, who knows how long it could be before I find it! Of course I have savings, but I'm hoping those will go towards a big trip to the Yucatan later this year.

It's not that SunPower is particularly expensive, I am just trying to not eat out at all. This past week I realized how relatively easy it is to feed yourself on a strict budget. Last Sunday I spent a combined total of $26 at the farmer's market, Bulk Bin, and Vons and have been eating like a queen all week and I still have enough for at least two more meals for this week! Check out the haul. (I'll have some of the recipes I made this week on the blog soon.)

By the way, I feel like a total sucker for having bought canned beans all these years when you can get dried beans for about a fraction of the price. Never again!!!

Back to SunPower...earlier this week I had to make a stop at Comic Smash in Studio City to pick up Archie #600 (a.k.a. the issue where Archie proposes to that whore Veronica!) so I could mail it to my elementary school friends who used to spend summer mornings with me sitting around reading about the latest drama at Riverdale High. It was 9 bazillion degrees outside and the pup and I were sweating our brains out so I convinced myself that for my own health I needed to stop and pick up one of the SunPower shakes I have heard so much about. Even though I felt guilty knowing the shake would set me back 7 bucks, once I had made the decision to get one, I practically started drooling in anticipation. Imagine the soul crushing defeat I experienced when I tried to open SunPower's door and found it locked. It was 6pm and the place was closed! Quelle horreur!!!

Luckily for me, an employee saw me tearing up at the door and invited me in and said that it would be his pleasure to make me some take-out. How great is that?! This was a full hour after their (crazy) closing time! Soon I was leaving with my Cacao Superfoods shake in tow.

So, was the shake everything it's crack up to be? YES, yes it is. It was so incredibly creamy, chocolate-y, and had a little tang (perhaps that's from the goji berries?) It is everything you could ever want in a dessert. At 7 bucks it costs more than you're average shake, but it's also much better than the average shake, so it all works out. Ever since that le Cacao Superfoods and I met, I have been fantasizing day and night about having it again. I am not exaggerating. Is it weird to lose sleep over a beverage? I should ask Dr. Drew.

The only bummer with my beloved is the calories and fat content. The employee I spoke with estimated the calorie count to be somewhere around 450. I was able to use the shake as a replacement for lunch, however, and it definitely kept me sated until dinner rolled around. I don't even want to think about how many grams of fat that baby has with its half a cup of cashews. Eeeek! But a girl's got to cheat on her diet and budget every now and then!

I absolutely cannot wait until my next unemployment check rolls in and I can splurge some more at the insanely awesome SunPower Natural Cafe where the food is whole and the people are amazing.

P.S. Don't fear, the pup didn't get her sneaky little tongue into my drink. I know all too well the effect chocolate has on dogs thanks to a $650 bill from the animal hospital after Hayley go into a bag of chocolate chips that my roommate had precariously left lying around. Yet another reason why I need to be thrifty with the dollars. Siiiiiiiiigh...

UPDATE: After writing this post I was overcome by the urge to return to SunPower, so I flew over there and got myself a Sweet Kale shake. Holy moly it is blowing my mind!!! It is a lovely pale green and tastes just like pistachio ice cream! How do they do it?!

SunPower Natural Cafe
3711 Cahuenga Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
818.308. 7420

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Super Simple Mexican Black Bean Soup

I am soup crazy. At work, I often skip the cereal and smoothies and have soup for breakfast. Black bean soup is one of my all time faves, mostly because you just can't beat the creaminess that results from blending the beans, and it's very healthy to boot! Black beans are a crazy good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber among other nutritious properties.

This recipe is basic but delicious and only has a tiny iota of fat. I used canned beans here (only because I had them after "borrowing" them from work) but you should used dried beans if you can because they are way cheaper and it's far better for the environment due to the lack of processing and packaging. If you do use dried beans, be sure to soak them overnight beforehand. I do always, however, make use of canned enchilada sauce. The enchilada sauce is used as an easy alternative to using all the tomatoes, spices, etc. that makes other recipes for black bean soup more time intensive. Just make sure to get a brand that doesn't use weird chemical coloring or HFCS. I usually use Las Palmas brand which can be found in the Mexican section of any regular grocery store. For extra texture you can add corn kernals but personally I think this is the best recipe for the ultimate velvety mouthfeel.

Super Simple Mexican Black Bean Soup
1 yellow onion, roughly diced
4 cloves garlic, roughly diced
2 tsp. cumin
2 cans organic black beans
1 ten ounce can enchilada sauce
2 cubes vegetable bouillon
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Line a large sauce pan with a thin layer of water. Add onion, garlic, and cumin to pot and saute over medium heat, until onions soften, about 4-6 minutes. Add black beans and one can full of water. Add enchilada sauce, bouillon, and cilantro. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool slightly. Use a stick blender to puree soup to the texture you desire. If you don't own a stick blender of course you can pour the soup into your regular blender but that is a major pain in the ass, just invest in a twenty dollar stick blender already! It is a required tool in the arsenal of any avid soup maker.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My new favorite restaurant: Lemonade

Ladies and gentlemen, I recently happened upon the most amazing lemonade in the world. This is exciting news for people such as myself who, for example, recently had a spike in serotonin levels upon learning of Panera Bread's new frozen version of their famously tasty lemonade. The good news is that this vendor of the aforementioned citrus beverage also serves up really tasty food. The spot is the appropriately named Lemonade. I recently had a wonderful meal at their Venice location with my friend Canada.

The restaurant's concept is an upscale take on cafeteria-style dining. When you enter you are given a tray which you bring as you proceed through the line where people on the other side of the sneeze guard are ready to serve you. The first station is an array of cold salads, similar to the deli sides at M Cafe but there are twice as many options. You can choose from 1, 2, or 3 portions. Each portion is two scoops and you can have a scoop of two different items in that one portion if you so desire. Canada and I both opted for two portions with all different scoops. I was pleased to see that about 80% of the salads were vegan and the servers were all very knowledgeable about which contained animals products and which did not. After the salads, you encounter the sandwiches, the hot portions, the soups, and then the desserts. None of the sandwiches or the desserts are vegan, some of the soups and hot plates may have been but I was too busy staring at my colorful salad plate to notice.

At the cash register is a lemon-lover's wet dream: an array of more than five different lemonades. You can have samples of all of them and I highly suggest you do, although then you will end up like me: completely torn about which one too choose. I ended up going with peach ginger and Canada opted for blueberry mint. Both were completely out of this world. The were perfectly sweetened and the peach ginger had a delightful zing. Even if you ignore all the food, you must get your butt to Lemonade to try their signature drink.

My salad plate was made up of roasted beets with red onions and hazelnut vinaigrette, roasted cauliflower with golden raisins and a curry vinaigrette, sunchoke with fennel and mint vinaigrette, and French lentils. I gobbled all my portions up, enjoying every bite. They chefs did not skimp on the dill in the sunchoke salad which scores major points with me and the lentils were perfect--chewy, not mushy. I absolutely loved my meal.

I also had bites of Canada's quinoa, tomato and avocado, and farro salads. Again, all were wonderful. The tomato salad had big chunks of creamy avocado--it's a simple concept but made for an extremely refreshing dish.

With 3 locations around town (Venice, Downtown, and West Hollywood,) you have no excuse to not try this place out! Even if you don't try the food, the lemonade is worth a special trip.

3 L.A. locations
(Note: the website does not list the Venice location, but I promise, it exists)
1661 Abbot-Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Humphrey Yogart in Sherman Oaks

Summer may almost be over but that doesn't mean my seasonal hankering for milkshakes has subsided. Like clockwork, when May dwindles down and June is approaching, I start craving milkshakes like a tween craves a romantic evening with a Jonas brother. This yen isn't really a problem when I'm at home and can make a quick trip to Scoops to sate me but it's a different story when I'm at my boyfriend's place in the Valley.

The only options I was aware of for a cold, creamy, dairy-free treat west of La Brea are Ice Pan and Millions of Milkshakes, both of which are too far from the bf's. I contemplated making my own milkshakes with coconut milk ice cream and rice milk from the Studio City Whole Foods, but having an entire carton of ice cream in the freezer is far too dangerous for me--I have been known to tell myself that I should just polish off the whole carton in order to avoid eating it the rest of the week--does that make sense? No, it does not at all, but my ice-cream-obsessed brain is far from logical.

After doing some hardcore research, I came across Humphrey Yogart (sic--get it? because what they do with yogurt is like art?!) in Sherman Oaks and off I went. You will not find a plethora of vegan options at Humphrey like you might at Millions of Milkshakes or Ice Pan, but what you will find is a vegan, soy-based milkshake base and many vegan mix-ins. These mix-ins range from various types of fruits to espresso syrup and carob chips.

So far, I haven't been able to venture far from my usual combo: the soy base with Oreos. Occasionally I have chocolate syrup added as well (I have been assured multiple times by different employees that the syrup is vegan.) The result is a super-creamy, tasty and refreshing vegan milkshake! My only complaint is that I like my milkshakes to have some chunks in them but I am told they can't control this so they just sprinkle some cookie bits on the top for me. I really don't get it--can't they just stop the blender a little sooner to preserve some intact Oreos??? They always insist they can't, so it's smooth milkshakes for me. But no worries, I will still continue to suck these bad babies down.

Humphrey also stocks all sorts of weird health foods including a lot of vegan cookies, cereals, and granola bars. One of my fave finds is Nutlettes cereal. I've never tried them but I dare you to find a cereal with a more hilarious moniker.

Humphrey Yogart is in fact art to those of use whose milkshake habit is impeded by the lack of vegan milkshakeries in L.A. Get your tush over there pronto!

EDIT: Foodeater at To Live and Eat in L.A. told me that when she went to Humphrey a while ago the soy base contained whey, making it not vegan. I went back and read the ingredients and there was no whey or any other dairy product. Nay to Humphrey for originally serving non-vegan food to vegans, but yay for remedying the problem.

Humphrey Yogart

4574 Van Nuys Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vegan Cheese Takes Over the Neighborhood!

Upon learning that I'm vegan, 9 out of 10 people will respond by saying some variation of "Oh my stars, I would just keel over and die right here on this spot if I couldn't have my beloved cheese!" For the 6 years I was a vegetarian, I said the same exact thing. But then eventually I went vegan and, oddly enough, I never miss cheese. Well almost never--since I've gone vegan the only time I crave curds and whey is occasionally when I make spaghetti I think it might be nice to have parmesan to go with it. And I don't mean a fresh, gourmet parmesan. I mean the dry, shitty Kraft kind. It's not like I was never into cheese either (au contraire, I was known to go through a small wheel of gouda in one day and I would eat goat cheese smeared on anything and everything). You would think I'd get cravings occasionally, but for whatever reason I just don't.

So when a wave of vegan pizza options popped up around town I thought it was pretty cool but I wasn't in a huge hurry to try them. But when I realized that there was vegan pizza within walking distance of my house, I figured I should go support any establishment that offers vegan options. Off I went to Lucifer's Pizza.

Lucifer's uses Teese cheese from Chicago Soy Dairy. I ordered a pie that was half Hawaiian (sans the ham) and half mushroom. Let's talk about the non-cheese elements first. The crust was good, the mushrooms were fresh, and my favorite thing about the Hawaiian side was that it had a generous sprinkle of coconut flakes on it which was a totally sweet and yummy addition. I had a major problem with the sauce though. It tasted like they just opened up a can of plain tomato sauce and dumped it on. It was completely devoid of seasoning of any sort. It gave the pizza sort of a bitter taste. I tend to prefer my pizza sauce to be more in the vain of Papa John's which is slightly sweet and smacks of basil and oregano. Lucifer's sauce is just lame-o.

As for the was...ok. It didn't have much of a taste. It was pretty melted which is impressive for a vegan cheese. My biggest beef with the Teese was this strange tendency for it to stick to my teeth. Literally every time I took a bite of pizza, I had to use my napkin to scrape the Teese remnants off my incisors. Luckily I was eating this with the boyfriend, so I wasn't mortified to be constantly de-flaking my mouth, but I am here to tell you that this is NOT ideal first date food. Overall, my pizza was enjoyable but I am in no rush to run back to Lucifer's. The next time I'm there I will definitely just get a pizza with no cheese, because the Teese just really didn't do anything for me. Hopefully in the mean time, they will do something with that subpar sauce as well.

A couple days after I had gone to Lucifer's, I heard that ANOTHER pizza place in Los Feliz was now offering vegan pies, this time, with the infamous new Daiya cheese which is so cheese-like it has been known to cause vegans to questions whether it actually contains dairy. The place is Cruzer Pizza and, despite being a frequent customer of Cruzers neighbor Cap 'N' Cork, I never even knew this place existed. Cruzer is literally a hole-in-the-wall with a counter and no seating, so I ordered a half Hawaiian, half vegan pepperoni and mushroom pie to go and brought it to the boyfriend's for lunch.

In general, I am not a fan of meat analogs, but I thought if I was trying the fake cheese, I might as well try it with the other new vegan options offered. Both sides of our pie were insanely delicious. We have to start with the cheese. Cruzer uses a mix of Daiya's mozzarella and cheddar flavors, which seems like an odd choice--I don't remember cheddar as being a typical pizza cheese--but let me tell you, the two cheeses melt together in a delightfully gooey mess. I am struggling to find the words to describe the sheer awesomeness of Daiya, but I feel that any description I could come up with would be inadequate. Let's just say Daiya cheese on a pizza rocks my world. Oddly though, Daiya also has a tendency to stick to one's teeth but it is extremely minimal--nothing like the adhesive bond that Teese seems to posess.

Even more surprising than me loving a fake cheese, is me loving the fake meat Cruzer uses! The ham on our Hawaiian pizza was so delish! The thin squares are sweet and salty bites that thankfully don't taste enough like real ham to gross me out. The fake pepperoni (pictured at top) is not the greasy round slices one finds on regular pizza but instead are little spicy crumbles, more akin to bac 'n' bits in size and shape. As for the mushrooms, they are not dry, limp button mushrooms but are so big and juicy they might actually be portabellas.

Cruzer had me hooked from the first bite, so it wasn't long before I was dialing them up for a delivery, this time going for a pie with fake chicken and mushrooms. Everything was as delcicious as before...except the chicken which was too much like the fake meats that I hate--thick, chewy, and way too close to real chicken for me. But no worries, I just picked it off and crammed an ENTIRE PIE into my big German head (please don't tell anyone this). I had to run an extra 99 miles the next day to make up for it, but it was so worth it!

Until recently, I rarely had any sort of craving for cheese, but now that Daiya has entered my vernacular, I often find myself daydreaming about the gooey, stretchy, tasty pizza served at Cruzer. If Lucifer's has any desire to keep a vegan customer base, they need to ditch the Teese and start piling on the Daiya.

Lucifer's Pizza
1958 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Cruzer Pizza
4449 Prospect Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Monday, August 10, 2009

Exciting not-so-new news!

I dont know how I didn't read about this earlier, but I am very excited about Jonothan Safran Foer's new book Eating Animals. Foer is one of my favorite authors, having written the uber excellent Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and his new book sounds right up my alley. Eating Animals is a non-fiction work about Foer's choice to be vegetarian. From the blurbs I've read it sounds like he visited factory farms as part of his research. One of my favorite authors is writing about my favorite issues! What could be better? I normally get all my books from the library but I already pre-ordered this one because I won't be able to wait for the library processing time. Eating Animals comes out November 2nd. There's a little more information here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hello loyal readers,

I have been completely M.I.A. for a while and I apologize! I basically have no excuse other than being busy at work and having the social calendar of a turn-of-the-century debutante (read: I am just extremely popular, what can I say?) I am typing this hurriedly because I am off to catch a flight to Boston where I will be wreaking havoc for the next week, but I promise that as soon as I come back I will be uber-blogging and even trying to sneak in a little redesign!

Adios for now!!!