Saturday, July 15, 2017

Amazing Estonia: Overnight Trip to Tartu

Beautiful Estonia!!

We also spent a couple days in Tartu, a hopping university town a couple hours south of Tallinn. We wanted to see the Estonian National Museum and also we just wanted to see a little more of this country besides the national capital. I'm so glad we did. Tartu is a beautiful small city, bustling with university presence, and we just happened to be there for Kid's Day, and the whole city center was full of kiddos of all ages having fun at about 1000 different activity stations that had been set up. It was quite grand. 

Hotel Lydia breakfast delights

We stayed at a kind of swank hotel called Hotel Lydia. We were only staying one night, and we decided to splurge. What fun! It was a really gorgeous hotel, right in the center of town. The staff was super helpful and helped us think of a bunch of restaurants that would have good vegan and non-vegan options. The hotel even had a beautiful spa downstairs. Mr VE&T went to the spa for about an hour, and were the only people there. Heck yeah! We pretended we were fancy people! 

Hotel Lydia has a huge breakfast buffet, the vast majority of which is decidedly not vegan. I was able to get soy milk for my muesli, and had bread with jam, fruit, and a few little veggies. They also made me a soy cappuccino, which was excellent. I love a breakfast buffet, even when there are just a few vegan choices, it still makes me happy. I am a breakfast fan forever. 

feeling fancy after a little time in the hotel spa!

Directly across the street from our hotel was the restaurant that we decided to eat at for dinner: Umb Roht. Wowsers. It was really good. They always have a vegan option on the menu. My mom and I both ordered the Broccoli / Crispy Kale / Snap Peas / Pine Seeds. It was very lovely - light, but very well seasoned and not insubstantial. The broccos were cooked perfectly and the kale was salty and roasted into kale chips... which made for a nice balance of textures and sweeter/saltier.  

Oh ho!
On the way out of Umb Roht, I noticed a poster advertising an all-vegan even they had coming up about 10 days after we would be there. I would have loved that, but even though we missed it, I loved that a non-vegan restaurant was interested in vegan food, and had enough respect for vegan cuisine that they would create a whole event around it. So cool. I felt like we had this experience at so many restaurants in Estonia, and I wish we had more of that where I live, here in California!! Major points for Estonia! 

More vegan options in Tartu

We only spent one night in Tartu, so I didn't have time to check out all the vegan spots that I'd found on instagram and that the people at our hotel recommended to us. Pahupidi (all vegan and gf!!), Kohvik Krempel, and Sade all had vegan options, and just walking down the street we also saw "vegan pitsa" (aka "pizza") at this spot Ruuni Pizza. I mean, really. A vegan in Tartu will be just fine. There's also a BioMarket (natural foods store with lots of vegan options) right in the city center.

We also made our way over to a very cool spot -- a "Creative City." This large building was a Soviet "widget factory" where all sorts of things were made: from zippers to submarine parts. Check out a link here for a little more info. Today it has been turned into a totally thriving community for cafes, a used book store, a printing museum, gallery space, a courtyard for flea markets and concerts, and workspaces for artists, designers, and others. It is SO COOL. The interior of the whole building was chic, edgy, super hip, and felt like it was bursting at the seams with creative energy.

In that building is a restaurant called Aparaat. For lunch time (when we were there) they have just two items on the menu: meat of the day or vegan dish of the day. The prices are extremely reasonable (I think my lunch was 5 Euro?). My dish was a rice noodles with veggies stir fry, served with a veggie cutlet, portabello mushroom, and a vegan cream sauce. So creative and interesting and unlike anything else I've had. 

For dinner, they have quite an extensive menu, including a whole lot of vegan options across the menu (appetizers, entrees, desserts...). Heck, yeah! 

Top two pictures: Estonian National Museum, outside of Tartu
Bottom two pictures: KUMU Estonian Art Museum, in Tallinn
(click here to see my post about our time in Tallinn! 

This isn't a food suggestion, but if you make it to Estonia, I really recommend the Estonian National Museum near Tartu. What a gorgeous, compelling, and incredible collection and display. This was probably the most engaging museum I've ever been too. All four of us ended up wandering at our own paces, in our own directions, for HOURS. Cultural artifacts, archeological displays, arts and crafts, meaningful object submitted directly from Estonian citizens, personal stories, political history, linguistic displays, and so on. SO much to see and learn and explore. It's also architecturally stunning. I would love to go back. At dinner that night, we were comparing notes, and we had all seen different things, been moved by different exhibits. It was truly remarkable. 

discussing the museum over dinner

a few Estonian Goodies that I kept for myself

I brought home several nice gifties for my friends and family from Estonia, and of course I bought myself some neat things too. I got a very cool Estonian tee-shirt (using up-cycled fabrics, made by an Estonian designer!), and the neat things you see here:
A beautiful little floral table runner on linen
Sporty socks featuring Estonian designs & by the Estonian sock company Etno
Sea Buckthorn fruit gums
Sea Buckthorn flour (!?)
Spruce tip powder (!?)

In hindsight, I wish I had picked up even more special things and food treats while there. Maybe I will find an Estonian vegan pal who wants to do a California-Estonia swap in the mail! In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for what to do with my two impulse purchases: Sea Buckthorn Flour and Spruce Tip Powder, I am all ears!! 

I'm sure you can tell, but I am officially a #1 fan of Estonia now, and I have been telling anyone who will listen all about it - and encouraging them to travel there as well. There is so much more that I would love to see, other cities, rural areas, the islands, cultural festivals... and on and on. I really hope to go back again someday. Until then, I'll put on my Estonian socks and dream about it. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Amazing Estonia: Our time in Tallinn

I have absolutely fallen in love with Estonia! In late May/early June, we traveled to Estonia with my parents. We spent a week there, before moving on to Denmark and Sweden (I'll cover each of those in separate, future posts), and Estonia has just stolen my heart. I'll also do another post about our time in Estonia's second largest city, Tartu. And then I plan some recipe posts with recipes inspired by our travels! 

Some info about Estonia: 
Before this trip, I knew very very little about Estonia, and after telling people about our trip, I'd be willing to bet that you don't know much either. Here is a fun and good quick video about Estonia. If you have AmazonPrime, I really recommend the documentary called "The Singing Revolution," about Estonia's non-violent independence from the USSR, which was largely spurred by singing songs celebrating Estonian pride and identity. Estonian is a small country (fewer than 1.5 million people total), and it has only been an official country since 1991. After years of oppression (Soviets, Nazi, Soviets again), they are emerging with a burst of energy that is just amazing: creativity, forward-looking, pride, passion, and drive. Estonian 14-year olds have the highest ranked educations in all of the European Union. Estonia is a global leader in online governance and there is lightning-fast wifi pretty much everywhere. Also, nearly everyone speaks nearly perfect English, so it is an easy place to visit.  

How is it Being Vegan in Estonia?
Well, like any well-traveled vegan, I set off for this trip with a suitcase full of powerbars, hummus, primal strip jerky, and so on. Turns out, I needn't have bothered. Estonia just blew me away with how vegan-friendly it was!! I mean, maybe even more than Santa Cruz? I was surprised and overjoyed to find vegan items (marked as such!) on menu after menu. On this trip, I was traveling with 3 non-vegans, so I didn't get to do a full-out exploration of all that Vegan Tallinn has to offer (I guess I'll have to go back!)... and even so, I didn't have any problem at all eating well. 

Estonia, for the win! 

not necessary!!

Tallinn is the nation's capital, and it is also the largest city in all of Estonia. 
It's up at the northern end of the country, just below Helsinki. There's a charming Old Town, a waterfront, an extensive modern part of town, and lots to see and do.

Reval Cafe at KUMU

One of the first places we stumbled upon was the Reval Cafe at the KUMU (Estonian Art Museum). Reval Cafe is a small chain within Estonia, with 12 locations currently, including that they are the official museum cafe here at KUMU. I wasn't expecting much, since most museum cafes in the U.S. don't have much in the way of vegan options, but - lo! - we were in Estonia, not in the U.S. and there were *many* vegan options on the menu. I actually had several choices and got to select! 

One thing I ordered right away was a big glass of Sea Buckthorn Juice. Look at that color! This stuff was seriously intense and good! Before leaving for this trip, I saw several Estonian instagram accounts featuring "sea buckthorn," a fruit we don't have here in California. So I was eager to try it as often as possible. It's a serious power fruit -- you can taste the Vitamin C! 

The KUMU is in a beautiful park called Kadriorg Park. The museum is quite lovely and totally surprised me with the quality of its collection, design, architecture, and feel. 

Revel in the Reval! 

Happily, there are several Reval locations in Tallinn (and Tartu), and we hit them up more than once. A great spot for everyone to come in out of the cold, have some coffee (non dairy milk is always available!), vegan and non-veg options for all sorts of eaters, free bread (!!)... it quickly became a favorite spot for all of us and suited the needs of our group perfectly. To be clear, they have loads and loads of non-vegan items, and lots more choices for non-vegans, but to offer consistently 3-4 very attractive vegan options at all their locations seemed very impressive to me. 

Top left: Vegan Tower with Tofu and Chickpea Cutlet
Top right: Parsnip-Carrot Puree Soup with coconut milk, tofu, and seeds
Bottom left: Falafels with Roasted Vegetables and Vegan Tzatziki
Bottom right: one of many, many soy or almond lattes that I enjoyed on this trip. 

I mean, honestly, those are some pretty legit options, right? That fancy one with the blossoms on it was seriously SO good and filling. And it was only 8 Euro. Shazam! 

We stumbled onto this spot called Rataskaevu 16 (which is also their address) when the vegan restaurant next door was all booked up (more on that later). We were all a little hangry, and this place was just right there... so in we went. Turns out, we lucked our way into one of Tallinn's most well-regarded spots. This is definitely *not* an all-vegan establishment, but they did have a very exceptional vegan entree on the menu, a few soup and starter options that were vegan or easily veganized, and offered non-dairy milk for post-lunch coffee. The setting is also very beautiful, right in Old Town Tallinn, with three distinct and super-stylish dining rooms, rustic and modern all at once, and with totally excellent service. They also had a super-cute (and somehow classy?) play area for kiddos, if that's relevant to your life. 

The entree I ordered was:
Lentil Cutlets with Tofu oven-baked beet, green soybeans, pistachio nuts, garlic and olive oil sauce
And it was really spectacular. Delicious, creative, wholesome, beautiful, filling, and not heavy. Honestly, here in Santa Cruz it can be hard to find nice non-veg restaurants that also offer vegan options, and especially vegan options that feel special and worth eating. 

Estonians are also crazy about their black bread, which works out well, because we were all crazy about it too. It's so good. Every single cafe and restaurant we went to offered delicious bread, almost always made in-house. There was a wonderful array of flavors and variety among the breads we tried. Sometimes the bread will have egg white brushed on the crust. Nearly every person we met in Estonia, and certainly everyone working at a restaurant, spoke very good English, so it's easy to ask and get clarification.

Very happy with my delicious vegan meal! 

Tallinn, 10:45pm
Because Estonia is quite far north, and we were there right before the summer solstice, we got to experience the glory of long, long days. It was so beautiful. Incidentally, it was also really cold. One day I wore 7 layers of clothing. Whoa. Next time I will pack warmer! 

7 layers of clothing!!!

Vegan Restoran V

Vegan Restoran V is about 2 doors down from Rataskaevu 16 (as you can see from their address on the take-away box. If you are only going to have time for one special vegan stop in Tallinn, this should be it. Before leaving for this trip, I did some snooping around on instagram, looking at #veganestonia #vegantallinn, and so on. Vegan Restoran V quickly caught my attention with their beautiful creations, and I was determined to take my family there. But the first two times we went, they were all booked up!! I mean, obviously, that's great that so many people want to be eating vegan food... but I want to be eating it too! The second time we stopped by, they were booked up, but I *wisely* decided to get a piece of fancy cake for take-away. Why didn't I do that the first time? This was their Snickers Pie and it was A+ Yumz: cookie base, caramel, cream layer, cake layer, thick chocolate layer. Would eat again. And again.

Food, food, glorious vegan food!!! 

Still I wanted the whole experience, so I finally I buckled down and made a reservation for our last night in Tallinn... (after a performance at the Estonian National Opera). It was such a wonderful meal - and perfectly fancy and special after a night at the opera. We all enjoyed what we had chosen. The food here is creative, delicious, satisfying, innovative, and super beautiful. 

A few highlights:

top row, middle: Starter Plate
hot diggity dog! This was a hit and we all loved it. Really, it's designed to be split between two people, but we were ordering a lot of food, so we just cut each piece in half. So many creative and delicious flavors -- especially the toasts with carrot "lox" and the little zucchini rolatini stuffed with cheese. So good.

center row, middle: Vegetable salad with rice noodles and Peanut ice cream
My dad surprised me by ordering this adventurous dish, and it was really good! The peanut ice cream was exactly that - but it was savory and served essentially as a salad dressing... but with the added textural complexity of temperature and creaminess. So cool! 

center row, right: Zucchini noodles and red quinoa salad with grilled avocado, tofu, and pesto
This was my entree choice, and I loved it. It almost made me want to buy a spiralizer so I can make myself zucchini noodles! 

bottom row, left: Grilled Tempeh on Vegetable Pile-Up with brown basmati rice and tomato coconut sauce
My mom and Mr. VE&T both ordered this dish, and they both loved it! I wish I had taken a bite, but I was too busy focusing on my own eating needs. 

bottom row, middle: special array of beverages! 
Estonians are crazy about beer! I'm not, but my dad and Mr. VE&T both enjoyed several beers on our trip. At Restoran V, I also ordered Estonian sparkling water (Varska), a sea buckthorn soda (yeah!), and a "ginger shot." We had seen these "ginger shots" on other menus and I was curious. In fact, we saw them throughout our whole trip - it's essentially very pungent ginger juice, usually cut with something sweet like apple juice. Very nice! 

sweet goodness

these are the feelings after eating at Vegan Restoran V

Of course we also had dessert! We got two selections from their cake display: Cheesecake and Chocolate Tart.  I especially loved the chocolate tart (I mean, duh!) - it was rich and smooth and creamy, and a perfect finish after our special meal! 

None of us left feeling overly stuffed or uncomfortably full - just a bunch of very happy clams! The food at Restoran V is so good, and so satisfying, but also quite healthy (without resembling "health food"). It wasn't at all greasy or heavy. It's pretty unusual to have such a big meal, that feels so special, and also feel like you're not going to explode afterwards. 

A typical breakfast at our sweet little apartment...

We had a great little apartment, very near Old Town, and well-situated for getting around on foot or on transit. Mornings were spent drinking coffee, deciding on the day's tourist action plan, and enjoying a nice breakfast together. We always maintained a good supply of Estonian black bread, non-vegan stuff for the others, tomatoes and cucumbers, fruits, and vegan and non-vegan yogurts. I also had brought along some shelf-stable packets of hummus from Wild Garden, and they were great for my breakfast bread. It wasn't hard at all to track down some delicious Euro vegan yogurts, they were available at pretty much every grocery store I found. Yeah! I have a deep love for euro soy yogurt, and I always try to eat as much as possible when I am traveling! 

be still, my heart
I love you, Euro Yogurt

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Tallinn, the Solaris Shopping Mall is a good place to know about. Downstairs in the lower level of the mall, there's a huge (and excellent!) grocery store that is open 9am-11pm. They had an amazing array of stuff - special Estonian gifts, crunchy taco shells, wasabi, and basically everything you would expect and more. 

Right next door to the big market is a BioMarket, an Estonian natural foods store with a wonderfully vast array of vegan goodies. Everything your little vegan heart desires and more: yogurts, ice cream, euro candies, Estonian treats, and more more more. There are two other BioMarket locations in Tallinn.

Also good to know about: Lido is a Latvian buffett restaurant on to top level -- super fun folksy Latvian decor. They've got LOTS of non-vegan options, but a sufficient number of vegan options at very affordable prices. I loved that I could get water with mint leaves and fresh cranberries in it! 

Cafe Gustav on the lower level has non dairy milk, and makes a nice *vegan* chocolate cake! Boy, I did not expect to walk into a random cafe in Estonia and find vegan chocolate cake on the menu. Right about now, I was really falling in love with Estonia, ha ha. 

Estonian Design House is a very chic shop featuring beautiful and artsy creations by Estonian designers. They have a bigger location in the Kalamaja area of town, but the shop in Solaris is great too! I bought myself an upcycled tshirt by an Estonian designer and I love it. 

Outside of the "Old Town" part of Tallinn, there are also a lot of great areas to explore - particularly the Kalamaja area. We went to the Teleskivi Creative City, "an old industrial territory springing to life, existing architecture finding new and alternative purposes." It's really pretty amazing - a former industrial building repurposed for shared creative workspace: cafes, restaurants, designers, a theatre, small shops, and more. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, many of the shops were closed. (This is a problem with these long days -- there's still so much daylight left and then you realize it's 7 pm -- or later!) But we still walked around a bit, and could see that it was a thriving scene. There were little art interventions posted on walls, posters for upcoming events, and the detritus of a bustling community. I would love to go back and see more - and to explore more of Kalamaja. There's so much to see there.

We did go back at least one more time, for dinner at F-Hoone. F-Hoone is a non-vegan restaurant with vegan options. I ordered the Pumpkin and Chickpea Falafel with Rocket & Quinoa Salad and Cashew Cream. It was very good, hearty, well-seasoned, flavorful and I would eat it again! I also ordered a Sea Buckthorn soda, in order to continue my vow of maximum sea buckthorn consumption. Why is this lovely product totally unavailable in the USA. SAD. 

It was cold on our trip, and we drank a lot of coffee! Plus, when you're out travelling, some times it just feels so good to hunker down in a cozy cafe with a hot cup of coffee, rest your legs, and chill out a little. Besides our beloved Reval Cafe, we also found a nice Caffeine near our apartment. I never had any trouble getting soy &/or almond milk when I ordered coffee. How cool is that? One word to the wise, decaf was pretty much non-existent, so it's sort of all or nothing! 

Yeah! Balti Jaama Turg is fun to say and it's even more fun to go there! This is a super cool market area, which had apparently just been renovated and reopened a few weeks before we arrived. It's part open-air farmers' market, part bazaar, part independent/local food court, and so much more. We had so much fun here and I could have spent even more time here:

Huge Open Air Market - with fruits and veggies and women selling flowers they have foraged. I loved the pickle-making bundles (top right): fennel seeds, a head of garlic, some sort of leaves, and a strip of parsnip (!). 

In the main level of the market, there are TWO all vegan food stalls: Toormoor (Raw, GF & Vegan -see below) and Veg Machine (Baltic Vegan Food). I mean, really, my mind was blown! There's also another big BioMarket here, and a large mainstream grocery store too. On the upper level are a mix of cool little shops. 

We were taking a picture of this little food spot, because it was super cute and there were two young girls sitting in the window making it even cuter. Then I realized that the sign said "VEGAN." Wait, what? We had just eaten a big lunch, so unfortunately I didn't need much, but the gals inside the shop were SO kind and sweet. I bought two raw chocolate truffles to enjoy later on (orange and almond) - and they were wonderful! 
I told Snoopy all about Estonia,
and now he is a fan too

Can you believe that there is a whole chocolate shop right smack in the middle of Old Town Tallinn that is 100% vegan and has super lovely chocolates, ice cream, and pastries. ZOMG! I almost died with enthusiasm. The chocolates come in HUGE pieces that are about 5 Euro each, but they are huge and delicious and will last you a while (or at least, they lasted us a while). This picture captures less than half of what was on offer. Why did I wait until our last day in Tallinn to discover this place?! 

I got two pastries, and 3 huge chocolates. No regrets, other than wishing I had found it on day 1 so that I could have tried more of their amazing creations. Most of these items were devoured without photo-documentation (oops!), but I did snap a pic of these two beauties: on the left is Chocolate Sea Salt, and on the right is Amaretto. Many of the flavors at Karu Talu are super creative: liquors, fruits, nuts, hot chili (!), it was really hard to chose. The chocolates are a bit soft -- sliceable -- but not fudge. They also have some that are more like chocolate bark, with more snap to them. I hope to go back someday, eat more cinnamon rolls, try more chocolates, and try their ice cream too! 

We also went to the Estonian Open Air Museum, which is a huge pastoral area with homes and structures from across Estonia that have been carefully relocated to this park/museum. You can see and learn about houses from different regions of the country, and about the customs of the different regions. It was also just so nice to get into the greenery and feel like we were going for a walk in the woods. We even saw a beautiful red deer! 

They have a restaurant there at the museum, and I was just totally amazed that even here there was a vegan option: cooked veggies, potatoes, black bread. Obviously, this is not gourmet food, but it's a heck of a lot more than I expected (my powerbar from my purse) and it was actually made with love and tasted better than it looked! At least now you know that you won't starve at the Estonian Open Air Museum! 

Other Vegan / Vegan-friendly spots in Tallinn that we didn't explore:
Since I was on this trip with my parents and Mr. VE&T (3 non-vegans), I didn't really get to explore the full array of vegan offerings in Tallinn. In fact, just from looking on Happy Cow and Instagram, I can see that there are so many places that we didn't go. Check out the Happy Cow page for Tallinn, it's really impressive! 

Beautiful Tallinn, 11:45 pm

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wunderbar: Small-Batch Artisinal Bars: a Review!

such sweet packaging! 

Wunderbar is here to save the day!!

This blog post is long overdue! Quite a while ago, I received this awesome box full of super-special bars from Wunderbar by Jen to review... and I've been wracked with guilt that I haven't written this post sooner! Especially because I really loved them. First of all, isn't that box cute?

the cheat sheet, like in a box of chocolates!

All the bars come wrapped in a little baggies, and the box comes with a sheet telling you which bars are in your box. I loved this part! It reminded me of when you have a box of fancy chocolates and you have to look at the little card to figure out which chocolate to eat next.

Wunderbars by Jen are all made from scratch and they are almost all vegan. There is one flavor with honey in it. I recall that there were a couple with yogurt, and it looks like she has made those flavors vegan since the time I received my samples -- that's awesome! I really like bars - I usually have a small selection in my cupboards for times when I need a quick snack. These Wunderbars are in the Larabar camp - in that they are moist, chewy, and filled with natural ingredients. On the other hand, these Wunderbars have such creative and awesome flavors -- they really are unique!

bars bars bars!

You'll see that some of my bars look small... Uh... That's because I couldn't wait and I took a knife and cut little bits off some of them to nibble on them. Hee hee. Look at these super fun flavors! Here are my thoughts on each flavor:

Spicy Banana -- Wow, I really loved this flavor. It was one of my very favorites. At first you get a perfect hit of the banana... and then there is a super sneaky heat at the finish. It's such a great and unexpected combo. This bar had a nice soft texture.

a super banana and a hot chile pepper falling in love while they fly through the air... obviously!

Beetlicious Ginger -- Isn't this a cool thing, to have beets in a bar? This bar has a firm and dense texture. The first thing you get is the wonderful aroma of the fresh ginger, and then you pick up on the earthy beets.

Fig n Chia -- Love!! So much great figgy flavor!! Figs are one of my foods and if you are a fig fan, you will love this flavor.

Apricot Almond Tart -- This bar has a great classic flavor combo, but also has excellent flavor and an unexpected richness. When I read the flavor name, I had an idea of what it would be like, but it was much more than I imagined. Such nice flavor, and such skillful spices in it.

Apple Walnut Pie -- Distinct and lovely. This bar is full of bits of dried apple. When these bars say something like "apple walnut" -- you can bet that they don't mess around. You will get a lot of apples and walnuts and it will be great! This bar also has a nice hit of cinnamon.

Peanut Butter and Jelly -- Ooooh, this bar is really a serious PB&J bar! It delivers a strong Peanut Butter presence with sweet, fruity flecks throughout for a perfect balance. I think it was strawberry flecks that I picked up on. This bar was excellent!

Mochalatta -- So full of coffee blast! This bar has a background sweetness that provides balance, but doesn't dominate and really allows the coffee flavor to through. If you like coffee, like I do, you'll love this -- it's got real ground up coffee beans in it!

Dirty Snowman -- Such a fun name. This fun bar has an appealing chewy texture, especially from the ample coconut in it. It's a great combo of coconut and some other nutty flavor -- peanut? almond? I wasn't sure, but I certainly loved it.

Carrot Cake -- Great spices in this bar, it was another one of my very favorites. This bar was soft and tender, and so super carrot-y that you could actually see the carrots in it!! I love the idea of a bar made with actual veggies. So good! It also has a great addition of walnuts, which I loved.

Peanut Butter Brownie -- This firm, dense bar has a generous swath of PB spread on top. The chocolate presence isn't super strong, but certainly isn't invisible. It's got great chew to it.

Gooey Granola -- I was surprised with this bar and how interesting it was. The flavors and textures of the various seeds and nuts really produced something special and the base is sweet and chewy.

Wunderbar will fly you around on a tasty adventure! 

In the vast world of "power bars," these bars are obviously quite unique in every way: made from scratch in small batches, super unique flavors, very wholesome whole ingredients, and you can even subscribe for regular shipments of your favorite flavors. In fact, these bars are so super fresh that Jen recommends storing them in the fridge and eating them within 7 days (or you can freeze them which is what I did). But they won't last too long because they are so good! Plus you can support an awesome small, woman-owned business.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Super Taco Potluck Party!

It had been quite a while since my pals and I had a big vegan potluck together, and that is just no good at all! So, we put our brains (and calendars) together and set a date!! We decided on a taco potluck, because what could be better than that? It was such a rad evening, so much delicious food, and such lovely conversation, and just great to be together. I am so lucky to have found such rad friends! 

 Cooler full of TopoPipo

You know your taco party is off to a good start when you have a cooler full of TopoChico. 
Aw, yeah! 

Kathy Hester's Queso

I made a ginormous batch of Queso, using the recipe from Kathy Hester's Vegan Instapot cookbook. I don't have an Instapot, but it was easy to convert the recipe. Holy bananas, this stuff is so good. This giant bowl of queso was completely demolished and was 100% empty by the end of the evening. And, suffice it to say, this queso had a lot of competition (as you will soon see), so that is indeed quite a testimony. It's not like we were just a bunch of starving vegans locked in an empty room with a bowl of queso. Au contraire! 

all ready to go snorkeling in a giant bowl of queso!!
(my doodles look funny because I am traveling and don't have my scanner) 

oodles of tortillas! 

I love making homemade tortillas, but we were going to have 10 grown-ups and a kiddo at this party ... and I didn't really have the time or energy to make that many tortillas. ha ha. Please forgive me. My friend Alana stepped up and brought an excellent array of tortillas: minis, regulars, fancies, and super fancies (with roasted hatch chiles!). Mr. VE&T is not afraid to be himself, and that includes confessing to his unhip love of crunchy taco shells. For that reason, any taco party we host will also include crunchy taco shells! 

beans beans beans, they're good for your heart

Look at all that good stuff! ha ha. I know this picture is hardly going to win any food photography contests, but all those recipes could have easily won some flavor contests! It was accidental that we ended up with so many black beans, but luckily, if you have a room full of hungry taco-loving vegans, no one will be upset about that.

Top Left: Spicy Tofu Scram with black beans -- my friend Nikki brought this concoction and it was seriously fantastic. I don't know what spices she used, and I know she just made it up because she always does that, so I will never know. It was one of my favorites of the evening! 

Top Right: Black Bean, Zucchini, and Olive taco filling - from Appetite for Reduction. I love this recipe, and I hadn't made it for a long while. It's spiced so well - not spicy hot, but just perfectly seasoned. And the olives add an excellent punch of flavor and tang.

Bottom Left: Quick Beans from The Taco Cleanse -- I love this recipe and I make it all the time. It really is so quick and easy, and yet somehow really transforms a couple humble cans of beans into something way more special and flavorful. I think it's kind of a taco necessity to have a big basic bowl of beans. A BBBB. 

Bottom Right: Soy Curl Fajitas from The Taco Cleanse. This is another one of my top 5 recipes from this excellent cookbook. You can't buy Soy Curls here in Santa Cruz anymore, so I resorted to ordering these online. I'm so glad I did. I'm kind of having a Soy Curl moment, rekindling my romance with this lost love of mine. Do you have any favorite Soy Curl recipes? Tell me! 

condiments to meet your many taco needs

You know how they always say that "accessories make the outfit"? (is that a thing people say? I have no actual idea). Well, condiments definitely make the taco. Or at least, they can elevate your taco to the next level. My pals Alana and Sophia really brought the goods:
Salsa Libano and Chipotle Aioli - both from The Taco Cleanse.
Giant Vat of Guac (plus some limes, salsa, and pickled red onions)
Mango and Jicama salad with jalepeno and herbs 
Curtido (cabbage slaw) - from Viva la Vegan

All these festive goodies make up for the brown collage of bean photos! Just look at all those colors and veggies! Flavors, spicy power punch, crunchy veg, creamy sauce, rich avocado, tanginess... all wonderful elements to include in your taco experience. I really think that the secret to a successful taco bar is in all the fun and fancy sauces and toppings! 

I am not foolin'

This was my dinner plate, at least the 1st pass. There was more after this. Man, those mini corn tortillas are so fun, because you can make yourself four completely different tortillas and try all the good stuff and still not be too full afterwards! I am officially a mini tortilla fan now. I was quite pleased with my taco creations. Just looking at this beautiful plate of taco glory makes me want to have another taco potluck! 

mini tortillaz 4 life!!

Strawberry Watermelon Agua Fresca with fresh mint

My friends Hannae and Brian brought a huge and amazing jar of Strawberry Watermelon Agua Fresca. Hannae is some sort of magical wizard at making elixir and tonics -- she and her friend have even been doing pop-up tonic bars around town. So cool. This stuff was just wonderful, and such a nice addition to the meal.

Since I'm not an alcohol drinker, I didn't even remember to take a picture of the elaborate margarita bar that my friend Jake set up. That makes me feel like a jerk! He brought fancy liquor stuff and juiced a million limes and was making people happy with nice margaritas. I always appreciate when my houseguests bring alcohol -- since I really don't know anything about it!

Dessert time! 

You gotta have some sweeties! My friends brought such excellent treats for our dessert:
Nikki brought Snickerdoodles and Alana brought a Lime Cheesecake. Omg. They were both so delicious and somehow totally perfect post-taco desserts. The cinnamony snickerdoodles were great because cinnamon is used in so many Mexican sweets.  And the cheesecake was creamy and tangy, both very appreciated after all the strong flavors of those tacos! 

I highly recommend taco parties with your friends! What could be better? 
Eat your own mini-tacos and rejoice!