Small Town Vegan

Sign at a Texas BBQ restaurant

Despite the constant jokes, it can be pretty easy to be vegan in Texas. At least if you live in a city. There are tons of vegan-friendly restaurants and grocery stores with specialty foods. But what about the rest of the state? I talked with Kori, who lives in a small town about an hour from Austin to find out what it’s like to be a small town vegan.

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So for those of us who have never lived in a small town, tell me what that’s like. What grocery stores and restaurants are available to you? Do you have to drive far to find good food?

I live in a town of 18,600 people in central Texas. We have four BBQ restaurants, five Mexican restaurants, and four pizza places. We have many burger places and fast food, but the only place to get a good vegan or vegetarian meal is the movie theater which only serves lunch from 11-2 Monday-Friday :( Or a salad bar at the pizza place. And when i say a good vegan meal I mean a salad with more than just shredded lettuce and tomatoes.

As for grocery stores we finally got a Super HEB last year which has made things much easier. They sell tofu and some vegan alternatives as well as some frozen meals and breads that are vegan. I have found one restaurant within 30 miles from me that will make a dinner with tofu, and also I go to Austin, which is a little over an hour away, when I can because most restaurants have at least an option or two available to vegans.

So it sounds like you probably cook a lot of your meals at home. Is it challenging to find all of the ingredients you want? Is there something you’d really love to get your hands on that you just can’t find?

I cook a lot more meals at home now, but due to my schedule recently I haven’t been able to. We do have a natural foods store that opened last year as well about 20 miles from me, so I can get pretty much all I need. I do wish I could have more ready-to-eat options because I’m always on the go and have found these options closer to Austin.

I have realized that preparing foods a week or so in advance and putting in containers to carry makes life much easier. I think the largest obstacle I face is the attitudes of the people around me. They are mostly hunters and ALL meat eaters, and they can’t grasp why I won’t eat meat, especially what they kill.

A big help to me when I first went vegan was finding a community of vegans. It helps so much to feel normal for a bit. Have you found other people who think like you, either locally or online?

Online only. And a friend in Austin. My parents still will not recognize that I will not eat meat, even after four years. I have some friends that are more aware of vegetarianism and veganism, and they try their best to understand, but it would be amazing to be a part of a community that is more understandable.

What advice would you give to other people from small towns who want to go vegetarian or vegan?

Investigate your food when going out to a restaurant. You may order green beans or mashed potatoes, but they usually are made with bacon or ham. Southern cooks hide their meat and do it well. You have to ask, and they are usually very honest!! Also, find a way to talk with people who are like-minded. There are many benefits to these ways of life and hopefully one day people will see them but for now stick to your guns (haha no southern pun intended).

 

Cheap Vegan Eats in Austin: 2013 Edition

This is an updated edition of my 2011 Cheap Vegan Eats in Austin post. It’s amazing how much has changed in two years. Places have opened. And closed. Menu items have come and gone. And prices have gone up, knocking nearly half my previous list over $5. On the economic front, It seems like more and more of my friends and family have found jobs after long searches. But eating cheap never goes out of fashion.

  • Rice, beans, and salsa at Wheatsville or Whole Foods ($1.99). It’s basic vegan comfort food served up cheap. You can easily grab a piece of fruit to round things out, but stay away from the food by the pound which can add up quickly.
  • Or get your beans at rice at Bouldin Creek with the slackers banquet ($4.75). You’ll pay a bit more than you will at Wheatsville or Whole Foods, but you’re getting table service.
  • A cup of tempeh chili or soup ($2.99) at Wheatsville. Or go all out and get a frito pie ($4.99).
  • Wraps at Conscious Cravings are still just $5 (though tax is no longer included). I still really like the chimichurri seitan, but the seitan has been pretty spotty lately. If you want a safer bet, I recommend the masala chickpea wrap or either of the tofu wraps. With no extra charge for vegan cheese versus dairy cheese, this is still  one of the best deals in town.
  • Try a tofu bahn mi at Baguette House (pdf) for about $3. Ask for no mayo (and add sriracha if you know what’s what).
  • A slice of vegan pizza at Whole Foods ($2.50) or Bennu Coffee House ($3.75). Both come with Daiya cheese. Round out the meal with a coffee or a piece of fruit. Occasionally vegan pizza by the slice isn’t available at Whole Foods, but no worries. A small 6-inch pizza is only $5.
  • A biscuit with jam is only $1 at Biscuits and Groovy. Or try the MC Hammer (biscuit with tofu scramble and vegan sausage or bacon) for $3.

    The Jalisco taco from Vegan Nom

  • Tacos or nachos from the Vegan Nom. Almost everything on the menu is less than $5. Many items are cheap enough that you can get two tacos for less than $5.
  • At the Steeping Room, a bowl of soup is $5. Or for just a bit over our price limit ($5.75), you can get a cup of soup and a salad or scone. Soups change daily, though usually at least one variety is vegan. The coconut tomato is really great on a rainy day.

    Veggie Cabbage Roll from Lucy's European Cuisine

  • The vegetarian stuff cabbage at Lucy’s European Cuisine is only $4.99. This food truck is tucked in the courtyard of the UT Hillel.
  • Breakfast tacos all over town. It’s hard not to find breakfast tacos in Austin (unless it’s too late in the day), and they’re all pretty cheap. Look for good vegan options at WheatsvilleCherrywood CoffeehouseWhole Foods,  and Bouldin Creek. If you need to grab and go, Thunderbird Coffee has vegan Tacodeli tacos. And P.S., Tacodeli’s green sauce is vegan, despite it’s creamy appearance.
  • Smoothies! Sure they’re liquid, but a good smoothie is as good as a meal. Look for good all-fruit smoothies at Juice Box, JuicelandMonkey Nest Coffee, and Cherrywood Coffeehouse ($4.39-4.62). Watch the add ons because it’s easy to go over your $5 budget by adding lots of protein powders and exotic ingredients.
  • Order wisely at Tarka, and you can get a great deal. Their Madras soup is delicious ($2/cup or $4/bowl) as are the pakoras and samosas ($3.50). Be sure to ask for the vegan chutney as the standard one contains yogurt. Round your meal out with a roti ($1.75).
  • Zen used to be awesome until they changed their menu. You can still get a build-your-own veggie bowl for $4.60, though. I’m confident that the Teriyaki, Spicy Terikayi, Ginger-Lime, and Oyako are vegan, but I’ve gotten vastly different answers about the remaining seven sauces.

    Akara (black-eyed pea fritters) from Wasota.

  • About half the vegan menu at Wasota African Cuisine is under $5. I highly recommend the black-eyed pea fritters. And while I haven’t tried their veggie burger, I’ve heard great things about it. Be aware that everything at this food cart is cooked to order, which is a nice way of saying service is slow, but exceedingly friendly.
  • Check out the burger joint Arlo’s Food Truck, though don’t get a burger. Try their tacos or tomato basil dog with slaw and chipotle sauce for $5.
  • Two tofu tacos with Korean toppings in double corn tortillas ($5) at ChiLantro BBQ.
  • Ital tofu plate ($5) or Salvation Sandwich ($5) at One Love Kitchen. After a brief closure, One Love is reopening any day now at a new location, and they’re promising an expanded menu.
  • If you’re downtown, get a vegan hot dog ($4) from the Hot Dog King.
  • Falafel or Hummus Wrap ($5) at Tom’s Tabooley. I also love the Thai Salad with tofu (small $4.25). If your budget allows grab a piece of vegan halva or a packet of carrots to round out the meal ($0.50 each).You can also find their food sold all around town in cold cases.
  • Or grab a fast lunch at Maoz. Try the lunch special (falafel sandwich and salad bar) for only $3.99 or a bowl of soup for $3.75. Extra falafel balls are fifty cents each.
  • Veggie Heaven is the original cheap eats. Most of their menu is vegan, and several dishes are less than $5. Whatever you order, you’re likely to go home with leftovers.
  • Breakfast at Bouldin Creek can be a steal if you plan things right. Get a few breakfast tacos ($2.25-3.25 each), a bagel with  hummus or the yummy chipotle pecan pesto ($2.25), or a bowl of cereal, oatmeal, or granola ($2-5).
  • Sarah’s Mediterranean is a little Middle Eastern place inside a grocery store (or maybe a grocery store attached to a Middle Eastern restaurant. You decide.) Expect some of the best (some say, the best) falafel in town. Also expect a lot of corny jokes. Those come free with every order. You can get a falafel sandwich for just $3.99, or, if you’re like me and can’t ever make up your mind, get a plate of hummus and pita or babaganouj and pita ($2.99) and add on a falafel ball ($0.50 each) or veggie stuffed grape leaf ($0.65 each). Or both. Deciding is hard. On your way out, grab some halva from the grocery part of the store.
  • At Freebirds Burritos you can get a hybrid veggie burrito (including guacamole) for $5. The hybrid is smaller than a usual Freebird burrito, but still plenty big enough for a meal. You can also get a taco meal with two tacos, chips and salsa, and a drink for $5.
  • Grab 2 chole samosas ($4.50), potato and pea turnovers with a chickpea sauce and chutney, at Bombay Express.
  • Volunteer at Casa de Luz and you get their $12 dinner for free. You have to sign up ahead of time, so this one takes some planning.

What did I leave off the list? What’s your favorite cheap meal in Austin? Should I raise the price limit a bit next year?

Longhorn Food Court Closing: What’s Next?

Hummus and falafel from Moses Falafel

As you may have heard by now, the mostly-vegan Longhorn Food Court at Rio Grande and MLK in Austin is closing. While the food trucks in the lot knew the lot would be developed…eventually…they had no idea that eventually would be next week. Tenants only received about ten days warning, which left them scrambling to figure out what’s next.

A few days into that ten day period, and answers are starting to come in. For Conscious Cravings, the answer is a move up north. The trailer, which specializes in healthy wraps and salads, will set up shop near the corner of Burnet and Koneig, across the street from HEB. This area of Burnet is lacking in food options, especially health ones. Owner Rishi Dhir is optimistic about the move and even hints at a return to the UT-area before long.

Moses Falafel will be closed for the next few months. Owner Samuel Haviv has decided to make the best of the sudden closure and transform his business into a brick-and-mortar operation. He will use the next few months to look for financial backing and a suitable location. While this means we’ll miss out on his delicious falafel for a few months, hopefully this will lead to bigger and better things for this small falafel business.

The timing is also unusual for Capital City Bakery which had already announced plans to expand into a brick-and-mortar. Unfortunately, the new Cesar Chavez location isn’t ready yet, and likely won’t be for some time. Owner Kristen Davenport is looking for another central location that offers veg-friendly savory food nearby in order to recreate the magic of the Longhorn Food Court. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter for updates on her new location.

In the meantime, join other Longhorn Food Court fans for a good-bye party on Friday evening starting at 5:30 PM.

Texas VegFest 2013

Those of you who know me in real life know that about eight months of the year, my life is consumed by planning for Texas VegFest. And all that work is worth it. This year’s festival is fast approaching, and it’s going to be a great one!

Clear your calendars for April 6. You’ll be at Fiesta Gardens in Austin, enjoying great food, music, speakers, beer, kids’ activities (beer helps), and more. We have some really exciting partnerships and vendors this year, including our Premier Sponsor, Wheatsville Coop, a new vegan food truck, Unity Vegan Kitchen, and Atkinson Candy Co., the makers of Chick-O-Stick!

So check out our speaker line up, drool over the food options, and get ready for another fantastic Texas VegFest!

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Local folks, if you haven’t signed up to volunteer yet, do it now! It’s a lot of fun interacting with all the veg-curious people, and there are some pretty good volunteer perks.

Vegan Broccoli Kugel for Passover

Vegan Broccoli Kugel. Photo by mollyjade

I have a bit of an obsession with kugel. It’s comfort food, culture, and family history all rolled into one. For years, I’ve been trying to recreate a broccoli kugel I had a few times in college. Most of the recipes out there rely heavily on mayo, which isn’t what my taste buds remember. After a lot of experimentation, I’ve finally found my broccoli kugel.

If you’re cooking for someone else at Passover, be aware that many people don’t eat kitniyot at Passover, and this recipe contains kitniyot.

Vegan Broccoli Kugel

4 cups broccoli florets
12-oz package of silken tofu
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons neutral oil
vegetable bouillon concentrate (powder, paste, or cubes equivalent to 2 cups broth)
2 tablespoons potato starch
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
black pepper
half an onion, chopped
two cloves garlic, chopped
oil for sauteing

Boil or steam broccoli until soft. Process in batches in the food processor. You want little bits of broccoli, but not broccoli mush. Move the broccoli to a large bowl.

In the same food processor, process silken tofu, nutritional yeast, oil, veg bouillon powder, paste, or cubes, potato starch, three tablespoons water, salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Saute chopped onion in oil until soft. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, or about thirty seconds. Add to the broccoli in the bowl and mix. Fold the tofu mixture into the broccoli mixture. Put in a greased casserole dish and cook 30 minutes at 350 F.

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Looking for more vegan Pesach recipes? Try my no-fail vegan matzo balls or see my Vegan Passover Pinterest board.

Vegan at Passover and Improved Matzo Ball Soup

Vegan seder plate. Photo by mollyjade

Passover starts on Monday night at sundown. This is my favorite holiday. I’ve been collecting vegan Pesach recipes on Pintrest, both with and without kitniyot.Check it out if you’re scrambling to find recipes or if you’re curious how to make a vegan seder plate.

I’ve spent the weekend going back and forth between working on Texas VegFest and cooking up a storm. Among the dishes I’ve made, was a bit of an experiment with matzah ball soup. Eggless matzo balls have a tendency to fall apart as you simmer them. I was curious what would happen if I steamed them instead. And it worked!

Vegan Matzah Ball Soup. Photo by mollyjade

The one at top was boiled in salt water, the one on the bottom was steamed. The edges of the boiled matzah ball are a bit rugged, because bits of matzah ball dough fall off as the ball sits in simmering water. The steamed ball has smooth edges, and it’s just a touch chewier, which I thought was a good thing.

The recipe I used was from Larisa on the PPK and was adapted from the recipe on this blog. I think steaming would work with any matzah ball recipe, though if your recipe depends a great deal on flavor from the broth, you might want to up the seasonings in your matzah ball dough.

1/4 cup potato starch
3 tablespoons water
3/4 cup seltzer or water
3 tablespoons neutral oil
1 cup matzah meal
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chik’n broth powder (this is the equivalent for 1/2 cup broth)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (optional)

Mix the potato starch and water in a medium bowl. Add the other ingredients and mix together thoroughly. Use baking powder if you like your matzo balls fluffy and light (“floaters”). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. Don’t skip the hour wait. The matzah meal needs time to absorb liquid.

Using a tablespoon, scoop a large rounded scoop of dough. Roll it into a ball. You should get 12-14 matzah balls. Place a piece of wax paper in a steamer basket. Put the balls on top of the paper. Steam for 25 minutes.

Remove the matzah balls from the steamer and transfer them to a storage container. Don’t let them cool all the way on the wax paper as they have a tendency to stick.

Vegan Guide to Waco

Y’all, a photo of vegans and or vegan stuff in Waco that I can (legally) get where everyone is wearing their clothes (thanks, PETA!) doesn’t exist. But look! Dr. Pepper. Visit the Dr. Pepper museum next time you drive through Waco. Photo by Rich Anderson. Licensed under creative commons

I know, I know. Waco? But really, vegans live there. And for those of us in either DFW or Austin, vegans drive through there. I’m definitely in that category, and I’m always looking for a good place to stop halfway between Austin and DFW.

That said, I don’t live in Waco. So let me know if I’ve left something off or misrepresented something. [Updated 10/16/16]

Bangkok Royal—Thai restaurant with a special vegetarian menu, which you have to ask for. Alternatively, ask you waiter to suggest something vegan. Like all Thai restaurants, it’s a good idea to double check that your entree doesn’t contain fish sauce, shrimp paste, or egg.

BJ’S Brewhouse—According to Autumn Gray in the comments, the staff at BJ’s Brewhouse in Waco is willing to work with vegans to come up with off-menu options. That makes it a good option for getting drinks with a mixed group of friends.

Chipotle—What can I say about Chipotle? It’s fast, it’s filling, and it’s better than Taco Bell. Multiple locations.

Drug Emporium—A drugstore/pharmacy hybrid with lots of specialty and vegan-friendly products like Vegenaise, soy milk, and Earth Balance. The atmosphere can kindly be described as “a little worse for the wear.”

D’s Mediterranean Grill—The usual hummus, tabouleh, baba ghanouj, and pita. I haven’t tried their falafel, so I’m not sure if it’s vegan.

Enchanted Cedar—Located on I-35 just south of Waco, this cute little store and restaurant serves allergen-free treats like raw chocolates, smoothies, juices, fermented foods, cashew ice creams, as well as occasional daily specials.

The Epicurean Chef—Vegan personal chef serving the Waco area

Johnny Carino’s—A chain Italian restaurant, Carino’s has a few solid vegan options. Try the house salad (no cheese or croutons), Angel Hair with Artichokes (no cheese), or a create your own pasta dish with either Tomato or Spicy Marinara. And, lucky you, the bread that comes to the table is vegan.

Mama Fu’s—Casual Asian-inspired food. See a list of their vegan menu options here.

Pei Wei—Fast casual Asian food. See a list of their vegan items here at Vegan Eating Out.

Provender Store—Focused local and organic food, Provender’s menu changes seasonally. Menu has several clearly marked vegan items, including sandwiches, salads, and mains.

Souper Salad—Chain buffet with rotating vegan specials. They post their daily menu online and you can filter by vegan options. At the time of this writing, today’s vegan specials are Gazpacho Salad, Baked Potato, Sweet Potato, Fiery Roasted Corn, plus the usual salad bar vegetables.

Teriyaki Park—Edamame and the usual vegan sushi rolls (cucumber, avocado, veggie). They have a vegetable udon dish which may or may not be vegan (ask about eggs in the noodles and any nonvegan broth in the dish.)

Terry and Jo’s Food for Thought—Sandwiches, burritos, and pizzas that are vegan if you ask for “no cheese”

Torchy’s Tacos—Good vegan tacos are now available in Waco. Huzzah! It’s a bit tricky navigating the vegan options here. They’re listed on their website. You probably want to study up/make a cheat sheet before going. And, if your party is divided on Torchy’s (my friend Lazy Smurf refuses to eat there), it’s next door to Taco Bell. Tacos for everyone!

Which Which—At the First Federal building at Valley Mills and Lake Air and at Baylor. Choose your own ingredients so you know exactly what is in your sandwich. White bread is vegan; wheat bread is not. They recently changed their black bean patty recipe, so now it’s vegan. I recommend: a toasted hummus sandwich with tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers, black olives, olive spread, salt, and pepper. See the rest of their vegan options here.

Zoe’s Kitchen—A fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant chain with vegan items marked on the menu. You’ll find the usual hummus and veggie kebab plate, but also lentil soup, braised white beans, and rice pilaf.

My Vegan Bag of Tricks

Navigating the menu at restaurants can be a little tricky for vegans. While I’m spoiled for choices here in Austin, there are lots of restaurants where I can get an OK meal. Something that will fill my tummy. But there’s the other part of hunger, the part that isn’t satisfied by a plain salad with no dressing or by dry toast and black coffee. So many vegan restaurant meals need just a little something extra before they can be really satisfying. Until the day that every restaurant kitchen stocks Vegenaise and vegan pesto, I’ll just have to bring my own.

I’ve been sneaking in bits and bobs of soy creamer and salad dressing for years, but it leaves me feeling like that stereotypical little old lady smuggling rolls out in a napkin, except in reverse. So I’ve been looking for a more elegant solution for awhile now. And with the makeover SoyGo coffee creamer got recently, my elegant solution is ready.

Here’s my little bag of vegan tricks and how I use it. Starting at top left there’s salad dressing (Goddess and Sesame Ginger), chocolate coins and a Cocomel caramel, Justin’s peanut butter and chocolate hazelnut butter, Wild Garden shelf stable hummus, SoyGo coffee creamer, a sample of Parma and a baggie of nutritional yeast. You can find individual packets of vegan salad dressings at camping supply stores or buy large (and somewhat expensive) boxes at Amazon. I got my SoyGo from Rabbit Food Grocery, though most vegan specialty stores carry it. The Parma was a sample and I’ve also included a little baggie of nooch since my Parma samples won’t last forever.

Now my salads have dressing, my toast has peanut butter ( or hazelnut butter depending on how decadent I’m feeling), my veggie sandwich and bagels have hummus, my coffee isn’t black, and my pasta primavera or marinara gets an extra zing from a bit of Parma. And I won’t envy anyone’s Death by Chocolate so long as I’ve got a Cocomel and some really good chocolate in my purse. The one thing my little bag is still missing is shelf stable packets of Vegenaise. For now, hummus will have to fill that spot.

I think I’m even ready to hit up that Applebees in rural Arkansas that served me this:

"hot" tea from Applebee's

That’s right, I enjoyed microwaved Lipton in a plastic glass with a straw. It added just the right touch to my Oriental Chicken Salad (without the chicken, salad dressing, and fried noodles).

I’m giving away one Vegan Bag of Tricks (including the RuMe resusable bag). To enter, tell me about the worst vegan meal you’ve been served at a restaurant. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only. It ends at noon on Monday, March 4.

Review: SoyGo Coffee Creamer

SoyGo Coffee Creamer hanging out in my desk drawer pantry at work

For a few years, it’s been my dream to assemble a small kit that will give me the superpower to be able to get a decent vegan meal at (almost) any restaurant. One of the things that’s been holding me back was coffee. I’m a firm believer in a good beverage being a big part of a satisfying meal. Especially since I can’t drink much juice or alcohol for health reasons, I hate being stuck drinking water or something else plain while everyone else has super fancy drinks. Makes me grumpy.

I’m really lucky that in Austin, it’s rare to find a restaurant where I can’t get at least soy milk for my coffee. A lot of places even carry almond milk or, my top choice, soy creamer. But when I’m on the road or at the occasional chain restaurant with family, sometimes I’m stuck drinking my coffee black. I don’t entirely object to black coffee. The best cup of coffee I’ve ever had was a black cup of coffee while traveling pregan. But Denny’s coffee? I’d rather not.

SoyGo Powdered coffee creamer has been around for years, but it got rotten reviews. It clumped up or wouldn’t mix in to the coffee. But recently they reformulated and Rabbit Food Grocery started carrying it. I screwed up the courage to try it. To truly test its powers, I stopped to pick up a cup of coffee from a gas station. And I really liked it. The creamer blended in nicely, though you definitely need to stir or you’ll end up with sludge at the bottom of your cup. It whitened the coffee and mellowed any bitterness. Soy creamer is still my favorite (Organic Valley > Wildwood > Silk > So Delicious). But the powder is nice to carry in my purse for the occasional waiting room coffee emergency.

So finally the last piece of equipment for my superpower is ready. Middle of nowhere cafes, here I come!

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This review was not solicited by SoyGo or Rabbit Food Grocery nor was I compensated. I paid for all products mentioned.