Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Travels with the Vegan Overlord

Overlording is not the glamorous job that people think it is. Being so incredibly powerful and indomitable is hard, often thankless, work. Did you know that in France, overlords only work 32 hours a week and get like 3 months of vacation per year?! If only... But alas, even we American overlords need a break every once in a while. So last weekend, my trusty sidekick and I went to a place called "Austin" for a little R and E (rest and eating).

Austin, as it tu
rns out, is a vegan paradise. Although Houston has more vegan-friendly restaurants per capita, Austin's vegany places are situated nice and close together. Because Austin is a lot more walkable than Houston, this means that you can conceivably move from eatery to eatery all day long, working up an appetite with walks in between, which is pretty much what the Doctor and I did. Join me -- won't you? -- for a trip down Food Memory Lane:

Jo's Coffee
We went several times to the South Congress Jo's, which, as many places in Austin, is a "nostaurant" - a walk-up-and-order-your-food place with some outdoor seating where they save all the fancy for the food and bevvies. We didn't eat at Jo's, but we did have their fab iced coffee, w
hich is only a $1 if you bring your own cup (as is their tea and hot coffee). While waiting in line, I checked out their menu, which offers Vegetarian BBQ and Tofu No-Egg Salad.

Mr. Natural

We didn't have this cake while we were at Mr. Natural, but they would totally make it for you if you wanted. Mr. Natural is an entirely vegetarian/mostly vegan Mexican restaurant and bakery. They've got lunch specials, served up 6 days a week by employees who appear to be happily stoned. We both opted for the burrito lunch special, which came with refried beans, rice, and a salad, all for something ridiculously cheap -- around $7. It was officially the tastiest burrito I've ever had. And that's saying something, because I have had, like... a lot of burritos in my day.

Wheatsville Food Co-op
We hit Wheatsville 3 times on our retreat. This old-school-style food co-op has gone all out with their recent remodel: They've added a hot bar, soup bar, and salad bar in
addition to their deli. We had the popcorn tofu (duh -- of course), which is so amazingly good it has its own Facebook fan page, the ginger tempeh pasta in a peanut sauce (so tasty, it has taste-icles), and the vegan mac n' "cheese" from the hot bar -- texturally weird, but let's just say we didn't wind up with leftovers. We also bought some of their homemade vegan queso and a vegan oatmeal cream cookie to take back to the lair.

Veggie Heaven
Just like heaven, but with incredibly cheap vegan food and bubble tea. Usually I g
o for the Thai Rice Noodles, but this time we mixed it up and got the Curry Bun, the Open Sesame ($4.50!!), and the Veggie Chicken. My only complaint is that there wasn't a lot of "chicken" in the Veggie Chicken. That said, I was sufficiently stuffed when I left and still had plenty of dinero for adult beverages at Shangri-La.

Bouldin Creek
After said night of adult beverages, Dr. Cox and I were in need of some serious breakfast food. So of course, we went to Bouldin Creek Cafe, an all-vegetarian, mostly vegan coffee and food Utopia. I could write a song about Bouldin Creek
. I would climb many flights of stairs to eat Bouldin Creek's food. I would listen to 3 Journey songs if, at the end, I were promised Bouldin Creek's "Predictable Breakfast". Thankfully, all I had to do was to throw my body across an open table (the place is both incredibly busy and incredibly tiny, so getting a place to sit can be a challenge on weekends) and wait for the deliciousness to be delivered to us. We both predictably had the Predictable -- toast, hashbrowns, and scrambled tofu -- with a side of veggie chorizo. Damn good food, Diane.

Whole Foods on Lamar
Our Tour de Food was coming to an end, and we had yet to try the WF vegan donuts we'd heard tell about. Did we have room left in our stomachs? Thankfully, yes. The Whole Foods on Lamar is dizzying in its hugeness. They've got underground parking, escalators, and so many food bar choices that we found ourselves walking in circles with containers in hand, unsure of where to start. We opted for the sandwich bar, which had a flat bread I'd never seen before at Houston locations. It was a great sammy, served up by a little dancing man. But if you're concerned with "food pollution", keep an eye on these guys: Homedude was not a knife cleaner. The vegan donut was the first I've had and I think I passed out for just a second from its awesomeness.

...And that was the story of our Austin food getaway. Now that I look back on it, I'm realizing that there may have been a correlation between our Austin trip and my sudden inexplicable weight gain. Huh! Just a couple of other non-food places of note before I go:

Parts and Labour
I heart Parts and Labour. They're a clothing and et cetera boutique on South Congress that stocks its racks and shelves entirely with handmade, mostly local stuff, much of which is vegan and/or repurposed. If you need a vegan guitar strap, this is the place to go. If you need a Daniel Johnston onesie, also a great place to go
. Or if, like me, you need a screen-printed scarf with pockets and clips that attach to your pants for better bike-ride-ability, check them out.

Room Service Vintage
Part of being vegan -- at least for me -- is trying not to contribute to the production of material waste. It's all connected, ya know: production, pollution, institutionalized exploitation of the planet and animals. Buying vintage is one way to get swanky looking stuff for your lair without furthering the general ickiness of that cycle. And Room Service is a sweet place to get said swanky stuff for a really decent price. It is chock full o' goods. There's a whole section of vintage owls! I command you to visit them.

And that's all I've got for now, minions. Back next time with our regularly scheduled Houston program. Oh! And speaking of program, word on the street has it that the Vegan Overlord will be on KPFT (90.1 FM on your Houston dial, www.kpft.org on the interweb) on September 9th on Vegan World Radio along with Chef Craig from Mango's Cafe. Party on, underlings.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The New H-E-B!

6250 Westpark, Suite 133 (Weirdly, it's actually on Buffalo Speedway, but this is what the HEB website says.)
Houston, TX 77057




(Warning: The contents of this post are totally Houston-centric.)

There's a new HEB in the Loop! Not a Central Market (paaa-tooey): A real, live HEB that you don't have to drive into outer suburbia to get to. And you know what that means, minions. Cheap groceries! I have now been to the new HEB 2 1/2 times (the 1/2 was right after the grand opening when, after 5 passes through the parking lot, there was still no parking space to be found), which makes me an expert. Here's the breakdown:

Pros:
  • Cheap stuff! Their Boca Spicy Chik'n Patties were $2.75 a box. I'm crappin you negative. That's about $2 cheaper than Kroger or Whole Foods! It's even cheaper than Super Target.
  • They have lots of Amy's, Boca, Morningstar, and Ezekiel products! Like, a lot! And all cheaper than I've seen anywhere. And lots of other vegan goodies, too.
  • They have a bulk foods area. It wasn't nearly as extensive as Whole Foods', but I was able to get quinoa and nuts and stuff.
  • They carry tons of local and Texas brands like Katz' Coffee, which, as you know = fresher, better, healthier for everyone and everything involved.
  • A lovely produce section (which, as a lazy person who likes things that are frozen and in cans, I admittedly would not have visited had I not been forced).
  • They have mini shopping carts.
  • There's no stupid shopper card.
Cons:
  • As far as I can tell, you still have to actually go to the HEB to shop. I haven't seen any delivery services or anything. Grocery shopping, no matter how cheap, is always hor-ee-bul. Those fluorescent lights, the screaming children, the paying part? Ack.
  • It's freaking crowded right now. Apparently, the West U crowd has nothing better to do than to go to HEB. Like all day. If you're gonna go, go mid-afternoon or late at night, and bring football padding. I'm guessing the crowds will calm down eventually.
  • The first time I went, I brought my own bags as I try to always remember to do. When I turned to thank the girl who had bagged my groceries, she was looking at me with what seemed to be utter disdain. And if you're accustomed to Disco Kroger, the shoppers at this HEB are from a different non-disco-y planet. Which may or may not be a con for you.
  • Their bulk foods section will do in a pinch, but it's not all that - it's pretty small actually.
So, will the Vegan Overlord return to the Buffalo Speedway HEB? Survey says: Yes indeedy. I hereby give it my endorsement. Which is saying something for a grocery store.

(I borrowed that pic from www.swamplot.com which is chock full o' information about this store.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cheap Product Review: Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics

The other day, I was walking through a very not-cheap department store with my sidekick, Dr. Cox, telling a captivating tale of vegan conquest. At some point, I became aware that I was walking all alone telling my interesting story to myself. Dr. Cox had vanished! At first, I panicked, thinking that the Beef Council had kidnapped the good doctor (again--sigh...). But then I realized she was some yards back, having been seized by a display of bath products. So I doubled back to see what the to-do was about.

Dr. Cox was deep in a shopping trance, her pinwheel pupils dilated. I tried to reach her, but I was too late. Snap snap! Nothing. I'd seen this before. At this point, there was nothing to do but let this thing run its course. So, I decided to have a look-see.

We were standing in a Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics display. I was immediately struck by several things: A) The Marvel-esque green-on-black superhero labels, 2) the big-ness of everything: chunky bars of soap piled high (they just slice you off a piece from the log. With a sword, I think.), huge mega-jawbreaker sized bath bombs, and C) the "V" stickers on most of the display signs. I asked the salesperson if the "V" stood for "vegan", and to my surprise, she said yes.

Turns out, Lush products are 100% vegetarian and about 70% vegan, and they are totally cruelty-free. Their "About" page is kind of amazing: they're all about being animal-friendly,
planet-friendly, employee-friendly, and many other hyphenated things. They also have great designs: bath bombs in the shape of cupcakes and giant candy hearts, Yin-Yang soap bars. And, the products were inexpensive. Yay! All around! But the true test of any bath product, as you well know, is actually bathing with it.

After I had sniffed everything so much that it all smelled the same and had crawled on to a bench in the shoe department for a nap, Dr. Cox finally finished shopping and emerged from the display with a bag o' goodies. The saleslady threw in lots of freebies, too. Here are some microreviews of what I tried:

Vanilla
Fountain Bath Bomb ($5.95)
Hol
y moly. It had a real vanilla bean sticking out of it. It made me and the whole lair smell like a vanilla bomb had gone off. Tres bien. My sole complaint: it made the water a Gatorade yellow, and left a yellow ring around the tub. But it was a small price to pay for how awesome the experience was.


Demon in the Dark Solid Soap (I think the chunk was around $4)
Smells minty fresh. Apparently helps the washee slay demons. Not very sudsy, but it made me feel c
lean. And even more impervious.

Spice Curls Solid Soap (This chunk was around $3)
Fresh ginger, cayenne, clove, et cetera... It's orangey goodness left orangey bits on my washrag, but I really dug the smell and the clean.

Business Time Massage Bar ($8.95)

Not cheap, but so cool: It melts in your hands and softens them as you massage. You know how I can tell it's business time? Because it's Wednesday...


Herbalism Cleansing wash/ exfoliator scrub
(Free sample)
Smelled delectable. Made my skin feel like a baby's butt.

Rehab Shampoo (Free sample)
Omg. Made my hair feel like it had been to rehab without me and then returned to my head. So fresh and so clean clean.


And, there are a zillion more Lush products I'll be trying soon: Powders, deodorants, shampoo bars, shaving creams, shower bombs... All, of course, in the name of testing them for you, my underlings.

(PS, As you might imagine, I borrowed these images from the Lush website.)


Monday, August 10, 2009

What is That?: Nutritional Yeast


Here at the Poor and Somewhat Lazy Vegan, we have a general policy about weird ingredients--we don't like them. That said, every once in a while, a rogue ingredient crosses the VO radar that can't be ignored. Nutritional yeast is one such ingredient. It is absolutely tops: It is cheap, it is easy to get, it's chock full o' nutrients, and it is totally wicked delicious. So let's hop to it:


What is it?
Nutritional yeast is yellow flaky and/or powdery stuff that you can get in the bulk foods section of any natural foods store. You can also get it at vitamin shops and at some "regular" groceries (I know of a Kroger that carries it). It comes from molasses, and according to EFN.org, "
Nutritional yeast contains 18 amino acids (forming the complete protein) and 15 minerals." It's also got a crap load of B vitamins and chromium, which (apparently) helps regulate blood sugar. (Huh! Who knew...)

What do you do with it?
What don't you do with it?! Make a batch of popcorn and sprinkle it on top. Use it to make a cheese-esque sauce for your mac n' cheese-ish. Use it as a Parmesan cheese substitute on pasta or garlic bread. Use it to make gravy. Sprinkle some on a baked potato. Give it as a gift. Clean your floors with it. Okay, no--don't do that. But you can put it on pretty much anything savory.

Why, just the other night, Dr. Cox and I whipped up some pasta and made this cheese-y-ish sauce to go on top:

Superfly Cheese-esque Sauce
2 tbsp nutrtional yeast
1 tbsp flour
salt
pepper
water

Get a small pot. Put in nutritional yeast, flour, and enough salt and pepper to cover the top of them. Whisk together dry with a fork. Cover with water (don't add too much yet!), and turn burner heat to low-medium. Whisk constantly with fork to keep it from getting all clumped up. When sauce begins to thicken, add water bit by bit until you've reach desired consistancy. If you're feeling fancy, add a little margarine for a creamier taste. Pour over elbow pasta and toss for a Mac n' Cheese-like experience, or over whatever else you like cheesy.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cheap and Lazy Secrets of Whole Foods--Revealed!!

We've all got our beefs with Whole Foods. It's overpriced and overrun by the overrich. Visiting Houston's Kirby Whole Foods on a weekend is an act of masochism. It should be a video game (if you can reach the checkout without stepping on someone's Croc, you win!). Why, Vegan Overlord, would you include such an establishment in a blog dedicated to the pursuit of cheapness and laziness? you might be asking. Well, gather 'round, my minions. For once I reveal these cheap and lazy secrets, the bounty of Whole Foods will be yours, too. (Note: The following factoids are based on Houston area Whole Foods prices and offerings.)

Cheapies:
  • I had entirely given up on the Whole Foods salad bar/ hot bar area. It's like $9.99 a lb or something ridiculous. Unless you want an all-lettuce salad, not such a good deal. But then! I found the sandwich bar. Imagine Subway, but with fresh, organic ingredients and vegan options (beyond veggies and bread). You can get crusted field roast, grilled tofu, hummus, and even Vegenaise (!!). Their whole sammies are $5.99, and their 1/2 sammies are $3.49. No for reals. It's true.
  • 365 is the Whole Foods generic brand. Nearly everything you want is available in a 365 version. While it still puts you out maybe $.20 - $.50 more per item than a traditional grocery store on some things, on many other things, it's actually cheaper than say, a Kroger. The 365 brand tofu, for instance, is about $1.65. The soy and rice milk is something like $2. They make a mean vegan breakfast sausage, too.
  • Grab a coupon book at the info desk when you walk in. Coupons change from month to month and some of them get you great deals on stuff you actually use. If you really want to avoid human contact, you can even download the latest coupon brochure from their website.
For the lazy:
  • As you may have heard, I am not a huge fan of cooking. I also haaate going to the grocery, and Whole Foods is like, grocery to the nth degree. But alas, my cheapness precludes the option of going out to eat for every meal, which means I've gotta have some foodstuffs at home. So when I found out about the Kirby Whole Foods Personal Shopper program, it was like a slow-motion movie moment where the two lovers run joyously towards each other, only it was me and a Whole Foods personal shopper guy who looked uncomfortable. Check it out: You email them. They send you paperwork and put your credit/debit card on file. Then, you email them your grocery list when your cupboards are on 'E'. Later in the day, you go to the service counter and pick up your groceries. And if you spend over $50 (which, if you're actually buying groceries at WF, is inevitable), it's free. Free! You can even drop off your reusable bags for them to use when you're ready. And you never have to shop! My only suggestion here: be very specific. Describe each item you want in detail and you will be a happy camper with the results.
  • Other Whole Foods offer other services. For instance, one of the Who Foos in Austin even offers bicycle deliveries.
An Ode to WF Mock Chicken Salad:

O, Mock Chicken Salad
You seem to smile at me from the prepared foods case
You beckon me with your delicious deliciousness
I did not even know that I was hungry
Until I sampled you.

Alrighty then. So. Yes, you, too, my cheap, lazy underlings, can go to Whole Foods. And though I love to hate them, I have to admit they're the only place around these Trader Joe-less parts where I can get some of the things I need. And on that note, I'm Audi 5000, babes.

-VO

Monday, August 3, 2009

Recipe: 2 Fiddy Tiny Stir Fry

1 pkg. Thai Kitchen Instant Rice Noodle Soup (available at Whole Foods, some Targets, and some Krogers. It looks like a Ramen noodle pack but it's not. See? PS, Be careful: some varieties are not vegan.)



1/4 block of extra firm or firm tofu
1-2 cups frozen mixed veggies (the Vegan Overlord likes the California Blend)
1/2 tbsp. oil or spray oil

Heat oil in a pan on mediumish. Dice tofu and cook it in the pan. Thaw veggies a little bit in the nuker. Put a pot of water on to boil. When water comes to a boil, throw rice noodles in. Cook until noodle-ees are done, then drain water completely. When tofu is browned, add veggies to the pan. Sprinkle flavor packet and oil packet from the Thai Kitchen Noodle Soup package over tofu and veggies. Mix until coated. Put rice noodles in a bowl, pour tofu and veggies over. Eat it up. Alternative: Add cooked noodles to pan of veggies and tofu. Mix thoroughly and cook for a minute or two. Optional: Add a little bit of soy and Sriracha sauces for more flava.