Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New York Classics, Vegan Style

As a native New Yorker, there are a few foods that one finds hard to live without, having consumed them practically since birth, but most of them sadly do not fit the bill for vegan requirements. The following are a few suggestions for keeping to a vegan diet without sacrificing some classic NYC delights:

This is the quintessential NYC food that I thought I would never taste again after going vegan. However, there are two excellent alternatives now:
Two Boots Pizza, with locations on 45th and 9th, in Grand Central Station, and in the East and West Villages, has two vegan options, the delicious V for vegan with a cheese made from tapioca, artichokes, onions, and a decadent basil pesto sauce (my personal favorite) and the Earth Mother, which boasts an assortment of veggies on a thick whole wheat Sicilian crust. Recently they added the option of ordering any of their pies with the vegan Daiya cheese.
Viva Herbal Pizzeria has a location on 2nd Ave between 11th and 12th, and another one on Broadway between 97th and 98th streets. They have many options which are either cheeseless or use Daiya cheese, with endless combinations of veggies, tofu, and seitan toppings. The crusts are usually whole wheat or spelt, and there are gluten-free options. They also offer an assortment of terrific vegan pastries.

Bagels and Cream Cheese
There's just nothing like a toasted bagel with a schmear, and luckily, many bagel shops throughout the city now offer not one, but many, tofu cream cheese options.
Brooklyn Bagel, my personal favorite, has a location on 23rd and 8th in Chelsea and 3 more in Astoria, Queens. They have a host of delicious options for bagels and mini-bagels, as well as several flavors of tofu cream cheese.
Ess-A-Bagel, with locations in Gramercy and Midtown East, has an even wider selection of tofu cream cheeses and classic Jewish bagels.
These are merely the standouts-- the number of locations now offering tofu cream cheese is so large now that I could not possibly name them all in this post. If you're craving a bagel, it pays to just pop into the nearest bagel shop and ask if they have tofu cream cheese. The answer is increasingly likely to be yes!

Hot Dogs
Hot dogs, I have to confess, are the ONLY meat food I missed when becoming a vegetarian. When I have a craving, I usually just pick up some tofu hot dogs from the health food store and prepare them at home, but sometimes on a summer afternoon, a yen to walk down the street while stuffing my face with a hot dog will strike. If I happen to be on the Lower East Side, I have a few options.
Crif Dogs on St. Mark's offers a vegan dog with veggie toppings which is quite reminiscent of a hot dog stand hot dog. If you don't mind buying from a place which also serves meat, their dogs are quite yummy.
Kates's Joint on 4th and B has several hearty options for vegan hot dogs, including those topped with vegan chili, vegan cheese, onions, and BBQ sauce. Their restaurant is entirely vegetarian and offers a host of vegan junk food options.

While the foods mentioned here may not be stellar examples of healthy eating, their vegan versions certainly pack less of a fat and cholesterol punch than their originals. Who says healthy eaters can't indulge??

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Food for Your Face!

If you go into a cosmetics store the options for skin care are endless and often confusing. Then if you read the labels on some of the "natural" skin care products, your head will really start to spin from the list of unpronounceable chemicals! Since I tend to have bad reactions to a lot of skincare products, I prefer to use food on my skin whenever possible. The following are some simple foods which are great for skin care:

Green Tea (good for irritated skin)
You can either gently rub a warm, wet tea bag on your face or simply rinse your face with some lukewarm tea. It gently cleanses and soothes irritation.
Apple Cider Vinegar (good for broken out, oily, or dirty skin)
This is good for blemishes and/or makeup removal. Dilute in water before putting on skin. Really deep clean. I wouldn't use it every day or your skin will get irritated.

Turmeric (good for red, irritated skin)
Make a paste with milk or soymilk and rub gently on your face like a mask. Leave on for 15 min or so then rinse off. Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory, so it helps to soothe red, inflamed skin. An ayurvedic technique.

Coconut Oil (good for dry skin)
Coconut oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities, so it reduces irritation and cleanses impurities while also moisturizing. Can be used on the entire body.

Aloe Gel (good for everything)
You can get aloe gel made for the skin, but it usually has a host of additives. Pure aloe straight from the plant is best, but you can also get food-grade aloe which has fewer additives. Sunburns, irritated skin, shaving bumps, aloe helps it all.

Corn Starch (good for heat rash, baby diaper rash, or sweaty, irritated feet)
Just sprinkle on like baby powder. You can, of course, also purchase corn starch baby powder, but it's usually double the price. There is controversy around whether talc is bad for humans, but cornstarch will definitely not hurt you (or your baby.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Southern Hospitality, Veggie Style

Memphis, TN and Nesbit, MS were the two sites of my recent vacation. I did not have the highest hopes of finding good vegan cuisine, or even much sympathy towards my diet in these locales, given their fame for specialties such as BBQ pork; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find not only several enjoyable food options but a Southern hospitality which extended to a complete respect for herbivores.

At Bonne Terre Inn, a quaint yet upscale Mississippi B+B situated by two lakes and a host of gorgeous, serene scenery, the proprietors were exceptionally sensitive to my requests, which were quite uncommon. Upon our arrival, the registrar scrutinized me as to my breakfast desires, and when I asked about soy milk for coffee and cereal, he immediately sent his wife, the hostess, to the store to procure some. While other guests dined on bacon and eggs, our complimentary breakfast consisted of: Kashi w soy milk (the hostess picked up two varieties for me to choose from), homemade Hash Browns, whole grain toast with strawberry jam, OJ, and a fruit bowl with strawberries, blackberries, and grapes. When I requested ketchup for my potatoes, the hostess exclaimed approvingly, "Ketchup? You ARE Southern!"

Bonne Terre's chef, whom I later discovered was actually the Inn's computer technician with a knack for cooking who had temporarily taken over the kitchen while a new chef was found, was kind enough to create a unique vegan menu for dinner for us the two nights we stayed. Meal one consisted of two salads, one of cucumber and fresh mint and one of beets and string beans (not a leaf among these salads, which is just the way I like it), followed by an asparagus and spring pea risotto, all of which was superb. The following night we started with a thick, cold tomato-based gazpacho, moved on to another beet salad with raw asparagus, had an entree of mint-basil pesto pasta which was so rich I double-checked to see it didn't contain cheese (the chef ensured me it didn't), and closed with a homemade raspberry sorbet so fresh and fruity we were picking out seeds. 

Our venture into downtown Memphis also yielded more food options than I had anticipated. At a bistro-style cafe near the National Civil Rights museum, I ordered a veggie burger, the only vegan item on the menu, and had the option of about 15 complimentary vegetable toppings (a hero sandwich was also available with any combination of veggies I might desire.) The burger was black bean-based and smacked of cumin, which was a pleasant surprise given the prevalence of soy burgers in New York. A few moments after we were served, the owner rushed out to assure us that more vegan options would soon be available, should we return in a few weeks. While obviously I won't be back anytime soon, I was pleased to see that the inclusion of plant-based meals was becoming a priority.

Later that evening, we were combing the streets looking for a dinner spot (and not finding too many meatless options) when a woman outside a small cafe with live music practically dragged us in to see the show, which was admittedly excellent. When we began to protest that we were in search of dinner she pointed us towards the menu, which boasted about 5 items scribbled on a chalk board. When I declared I was a vegan, she recommended the greens, which I was immediately suspect of since traditionally they are made with pork or turkey. "No!" she declared, "ours are MEATLESS greens! You gotta try them!!!" Her enthusiasm was so overwhelming that we decided to stay and eat bowl after bowl of greens for dinner while enjoying the blues act. They were not only decidedly vegan, they were absolutely delicious with a mildly spicy seasoning.

What Memphis lacked in variety for vegans (if any Memphis chefs are reading this I have two words for you: barbecue tempeh), it made up for in its astonishingly sympathetic catering to our needs to the best of its ability. The final note of kindness came in the airport, where a young man at a sandwich counter noted I had ordered the Veggie Sub and asked me if I would like him to change his gloves before preparing my food. The sandwich was nothing to write home about, but the extra mile of courtesy will ever remain in my memory of this vacation.