Indulging in Asheville

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The little town of Asheville, NC should get more credit as a mini vegan mecca. Do folks know about the awesomeness of this place? Jeff and I have spent a couple of weekends there, and immediately upon leaving begin planning our next trip. It’s our retirement plan. Good food, drinks, local shops, rafting, hiking… what more do you need in life?

You wouldn’t expect a town in NC to be down with the vegan crowd, but Asheville gets it right with good options at just about every local eatery. The seitan company No Evil Foods, and the hempeh-tempeh company Smiling Hara are both based there, and we found many restaurants using their products as a tasty vegan option.

I’ll start with our favorite spots and give the rest a mention.

Our Favorites –  Food:

Plant – One of our favorite vegan restaurants, nationwide. Every bite of food – whether appetizer, entree, or dessert – is so flavorful and expertly prepared. It’s simple yet impressive. For appetizers we’ve had the gourmet cheese plate, plantains, and maitake mushrooms. The light crunch on the outside of those mushrooms, paired with the cream sauce… I couldn’t get enough. We love the Seitan Chile Con Queso so much we’ve had it multiple times. The cannolo, cheese cake, and ice creams are killer. Everything here is made from scratch, in house, which, as a chef, is the quickest away to impressive me.

French Broad Chocolates – This little gourmet chocolate spot is a must hit, if you have even the smallest sweet tooth. We tried both kinds of ice cream – toasted coconut and Costa Rican chocolate – a snickerdoodle, and all 6 of the vegan truffles. The vegan options are clearly marked and the staff is knowledgable and friendly. The strawberry balsamic truffle was my favorite.

Tacos & Taps – A drive-thru that serves tacos and growlers of beer. Yes, please. The vegan options included a BBQ tempeh taco using Smiling Hara tempeh, and the el diablo with No Evil Foods vegan chicken. There’s something exciting about a drive thru with quality vegan eats. We loved it.

Vortex Donuts – This awesome shop has a daily selection of vegan deep fried yeast donuts. You cannot go wrong.

Honorable Mentions – Food:

Laughing Seed – A mostly vegan cafe downtown. We enjoyed their healthier options over the dinner entrees, and the cocktails were great.

Rosetta’s Kitchen – An Asheville classic. Nachos, biscuits and gravy, tempalo wings. You will not leave hungry.

Bean – Serving vegan comfort food south of Asheville.

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Laughing Seed

Our Favorites – Drinks:

If you like craft beer, you have got to make a trip to Asheville. There are more than 10 breweries downtown alone, within walking distance of each other. And yes, we hit up each one.

The Funkatorium by Wicked Weed – Sour beers galore, my fave.

Twin Leaf – Loved everything we tried, and they have locally made hummus.

Burial – Good beer and good vibes.

New Belgium – So much outdoor seating, right on the French Broad River. Our favorite place to chill in Asheville.

Honorable Mentions – Drinks:

Asheville Brewing Company – I don’t remember anything special about the beer tbh, but they’re open late and they serve vegan pizza. Checkpoint.

Sierra Nevada – This one is 20+ minutes from downtown, but worth the drive if you enjoy visiting breweries.

Our Favorites – Random Fun:

Floating on the French Broad – We grabbed a tandem kayak from French Broad Outfitters and took the 2 hour float through the River Arts District.

Salvage Station – We stopped for a beer at this outdoor event space. Bars, a stage for shows and events, endless outdoor seating, hip decor, and it’s all right by the river.

Dog-Friendly Fun – We took Bubba on our most recent trip to Asheville, and he was welcome everywhere we went! Lots of dog-friendly hotels, and every spot we stopped with outdoor seating (including breweries and restaurants) brought out a water bowl for him.

Just walking around downtown is a blast. There are so many cool local shops, a womens museum, a pinball museum, a drum circle every Friday night… There are plenty of waterfalls and swimming holes within driving distance. Have you started checking airbnb yet?

 

Happiness & Hummus,

Chef Kristina

Politicians Encourage Dietary Changes to Save the Planet

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Politicians and environmentalists around the globe are picking up on the harmful effects animal agriculture has on our one and only planet earth. Seeing as meat has proven to be the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction, it was only a matter of time before scientists and world leaders took note. Former President Obama, while not vegetarian, acknowledged that animal agriculture is the second leading cause of green house gas emissions at the Seeds and Chips conference this past May. “What it does mean is that we’re also going to have to find ways to produce protein in a more efficient way,” Obama shared to a room bubbling full of policy makers, scientists and investors. It sounds like Obama may need some kidney beans and tofu in his life!

Barrack Obama is just one of many politicians beginning to implement dietary changes and speak out on the environmental deterioration caused by the consumption of animal products. Barbara Hendricks, German’s Federal Administer for the Environment, recently sought out to put a ban on meat and dairy in official meetings. While Hendricks understands telling citizens what they are and are not allowed to eat is out of the questions, she believes that political leaders need to set the example.

Although Western and European countries have grown to be more meat-centric over time, countries such as India, Israel and China intake less meat on average. This has been the result of environmental, religious and health concerns. As health and environmental studies grow in number, the growth of vegetarianism and veganism is showing to be quick to follow.

Signing off for the Sentient,

Sammi

Vegan Eats in the Queen City

Cincinnati is the place I call home, and each year it seems as if the city gets even more vegan friendly! Since leaving, my visits have led me to indulge in everything from cheesy croissant sandwiches, to “Crack ‘n’ Cheese,” to a mouth-watering raw vegan chocolate bar!  My stomach is rumbling just thinking about it! Here are some of my favorite spots to help me go up a notch on my belt buckle whenever I’m in town!

  • Rooted: The last time I visited Cincinnati and didn’t go to Rooted was probably before I knew Rooted existed! Beyond the allure of beautiful, sleek, minimalist decor are some delicious plant-based noms that will have you craving more and feeling energized afterwards! They have a plethora of cold-pressed juices and cold case items they make in-house when you’re on the go, and a full menu of raw and hot meals when you’re dining in.Everything is vegan besides the occasional use of honey in a few juices. Some of the meals include Quesadillas with their house-made cashew cheese, raw vegan Taco Wraps, and a raw Caesar Salad. Don’t forget to finish your meal off with some raw vegan chocolates from the chocolate bar, the Twix will not disappoint!
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  • Happy Chicks: Happy Chicks fits right into Northside, a part of Cincinnati full of record stores, antique shops and yummy food! Happy Chicks is a bakery specializing in celebration cakes, cookies and cupcakes galore, with all sorts of unique flavors. On Saturdays, the bakery sells croissant doughnuts with flavors like Strawberry Margarita and Lemongrass Matcha. They don’t only serve up delicious sweet treats, but their croissants are the best I’ve had, vegan or not. The croissants have a crunch on the outside that is the perfect start to the warm, soft, flaky pastry. Happy Chicks even makes croissant sandwiches that are out of this world (or city, at least)! Melty vegan cheese and fresh veggies sandwiched between two hot, mouth-watering croissants? I’m in!

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  • The Kitchen Factory: The Kitchen Factory is another Northside favorite, and the perfect late night bite! The Kitchen Factory isn’t entirely vegan. but their vegan menu items could confuse a carnivore! Their vegan Meatball Marinara Sub was able to confuse me at least, who thought the sandwich was so realistic looking and tasting that I was worried I forgot to specify to make it vegan! Not to mention, I could eat a bucket of their “Crack (Mac) ‘n’ Cheese!” Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s gluten-free, with a house-made cheese sauce that could make anything taste good and penne pasta, it is every bit as glutinous and cheesy as you could dream of! They also have a vegan ricotta they make in-house for their veggie pizza, served by the slice as late as 3 am on the weekends!
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  • Jungle Jim’s: Jungle Jim’s may not be a restaurant, but it is easily the IKEA of grocery shopping. Jungle Jim’s is filled with every food item under the sun, especially when it comes to international specialities and a vegan section you could get lost in! You can even find a little bit of Louisville with V-Grits cheeses in the vegan cheese section! Stop here to get that weird, exotic looking vegetable you’ve heard all about, four types of vegan mozzarella, or your favorite international condiments!

Signing off for the Sentient,

Sammi

In Love with Lasagna

One of my favorite things to make with our V-Grits Mozzarella Cashew Cheese Sauce… Lasagna! It’s not nearly as time consuming as you may think. If you want to impress your friends or family, this is the perfect dish.

We’ll start with a basic recipe using store bought ingredients, followed by even more recipes for ricotta, marinara, and parm. But to keep it simple, your favorite jarred tomato sauce and packaged vegan ricotta will work wonderfully. Here we go!

lasagna

CROWD PLEASING VEGAN LASAGNA

V-Grits Mozzarella Cashew – store list is here

Lasagna Noodles – you won’t need as many as you think

Marinara – Jarred or try the homemade recipe below

Ricotta – Packaged by Tofutti or Kite Hill, or recipes below

Bonuses: Basil & Parm – recipe below

 

Instructions…

 

OODLES OF NOODLES

Par cook your lasagna noodles – this means only boil them until you think they’re 50% done. You don’t want them to fall to pieces while you’re building this beauty, and they’ll continue cooking in the oven. They go a lot farther than you think. You can find regular, whole wheat, or brown rice noodles nowadays. After cooking, lay them out on parchment paper or foil with oil so they don’t stick together.

MAGIC MARINARA

Any variety of jarred will work. If you want to go big, our favorite recipe is below.

CREAMY RICOTTA

The easy way would be to purchase a packaged vegan ricotta, such as Tofutti or Kite Hill brands. I love making my own! So my 2 favorites recipes – one with cashews and one with tofu – are below.

 

mozzLAYERING THAT LASAGNA

The fun part! I typically use a 9×13″ glass pan. Spread a thin layer of marinara in the bottom (and up the sides just a bit) to prevent the noodles from sticking and burning. Layer the pasta evenly – you’ll probably have to slice it to fit. More marinara covering those noodles, and then next up is the ricotta – spread or scoop evenly. Followed by creamy V-Grits Mozzarella Cashew sauce, and another layer of noodles. I can usually only get 2 full layers of all this goodness. Then for that final top layer I do noodles, then marinara, then a little more V-Grits Mozzarella – but not spread out all the way out, so you can still see that bright red sauce. Check out the main photo above for reference.

SHAKE & BAKE

Ok, don’t actually shake it. For a full 9×13 lasagna it’s going to need a solid 40 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Top with plant parm (recipe below) and fresh basil. And then instagram it to impress your friends!

 

Feeling really inspired? Here are the marinara, ricotta, and parm recipes!

 

V-Grits Marinara Recipe

Put all this tasty stuff in a food processor and puree to a chunky consistency…

1 15oz can of crushed tomatoes

  • or 8-ish tomatoes, diced
  • try broiling them for 5 minutes first!

1/4 cup sundried tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp rough chopped onion

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup water

1/2 tbsp sugar or agave

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Then simmer on the stove lightly for at least 10 minutes. Throw in some fresh basil and oregano. You can also sauté some mushrooms in the pan before adding the marinara – and/or – some vegan beef crumbles for a meaty marinara.

 

V-Grits Cashew Ricotta

Into the vitamix or food processor goes…

2 cups cashews, soaked

4 tsp lemon juice

3-4 cloves garlic

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp white pepper

3/4 tsp onion powder

1 tbsp nutritional yeast

1/4 cup water

Then chop up these greens and stir them in…

spinach

basil

oregano

 

V-Grits Tofu Ricotta

This one can be nut-free or oil-free if desired too, depending on which cream cheese you pick. Using your hands, because that’s more fun, smash up…

1 14oz package firm or extra firm tofu

4oz vegan cream cheese (I like Tofutti or Kite Hill)

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp white pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

3/4 tsp onion powder

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

Then chop up these greens and stir them in…

spinach

basil

oregano

If you have leftover ricotta it’s wonderful on pizza, rolled up in thin zucchini slices, on toasted bread, etc etc, just don’t waste it for pete’s sake!

 

V-Grits Plant Parm

In a small food processor, process down…

1/2 cup cashews, dry/not soaked

3 tbsp nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp or less black salt (opt.)

You can also make this with almonds or sunflower seeds.

Are Humans Herbivores or Omnivores?

As much as I could get behind having the speed and strength of a lion, comparing humans to carnivorous or even omnivorous animals is like comparing apples to oranges! There are a vast amount of biological differences that keep both species thriving on completely opposing diets. Humans, for example, have hands that work well for picking fruit off trees or plucking ripe vegetables from the ground. Those same hands would probably come in short when it comes to catching prey or tearing animal flesh because we didn’t get a set of claws. Even if we did manage catch prey, not only are human teeth underwhelmingly flat like an herbivore’s, but our jaws also set us apart from any meat-thriving animal. Our jaws move from side to side to grind up fruits and veggies, unlike an omnivore’s jaws which move only up and down to tear chunks out of their prey and swallow it whole. When it comes to digesting food, our livers and stomachs create even more omnivorous road-blocks! Omnivorous and carnivorous animals have shorts colons and intestines as well as highly acidic stomachs that allow meat to digest and pass through quickly so the animals won’t get sick. Our long livers reflecting of an herbivore’s and comparatively weak stomach acidity keep our bodies from fully breaking down meat, or benefitting from it as an omnivore would. And when it comes to animal products such as milk, there could definitely be a reason that no other species on the planet besides humans consumes the milk of another species. If we no longer need the  milk of our own mothers, maybe it’s time for humans to get off the cow breast milk, too!

But humans have been eating meat for hundreds of thousands of years, so can it really be that bad? Dr. Neal Bernard, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, concluded that humans have never adapted to the animal-product focused diet we all have learned to crave. “To this day, meat-eaters have a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems,” Dr. Bernard states. There might be a reason we never got the urge to bite a chunk out of our neighbor’s dog, after all!

Signing off for the Sentient,

Sammi

Can Animal Agriculture be Humane?

Are “happy,” “ethical,” and “grass-fed” the trendy animal agriculture buzz words vegans have been waiting for?

Unfortunately, even if cows are fed grass of the lushest jade pastures and slept on their own personal clouds, the animal agriculture industry will infinitely be the farthest thing from happy or ethical. Humans have terrorized and abused animals so horribly and consistently that now it’s a hipster farming miracle just if the cows eat food that’s actually supposed to be in their diets. Is choosing not to feed cows to other cows really the best we can do when it comes to our treatment of our furry friends? Grass-fed and cage-free has never meant violence-free (as the rise of internet videos of these farms has led us to understand), but what are we saying about our own ethical conduct if not torturing animals before we kill and eat them is our end-all be-all? Of course not torturing animals before they’re killed is obviously better than a combination of the two, but letting animals live without being the receiving end of human violence should just be common, standard ethics rather than the phenomenon it is made out to be.

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The violence used in industrialized farming is only a part of the problem. It goes without saying that the animals raised in ethically marketed farms probably will be happier and healthier in comparison to animals encaged and being fed food that’s not meant for their bodies. However, happier and healthier doesn’t mean the animals will actually be happy or healthy. Regardless of the environment or conditions of these farms, the animals are still being used as machines to pleasure a human’s taste buds. Animals in dairy and egg farming will still get diseases from being used for their bodies beyond their natural capacity, as well as have their reproductive systems damaged, immune systems deteriorating, and their children torn away from them almost immediately after they first lay eyes on them. In farms that supply meat, animals are literally bred to be killed as babies so we can eat their flesh. There is no ethical hierarchy when it comes to the treatment of animals, but we as humans can choose to do better. Not to mention, grass-fed cow farms are still not slacking on the environmental destruction, and the glass of pus-filled, cow-blood-infused milk and plates of chicken periods (eggs) is definitely not our best look!

Signing off for the Sentient,

Sammi

White Castle Says “No Meat, No Problem!”

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Food chains around America are not hitting the brakes anytime soon on making plant-based gains! National fast-food Chain White Castle has teamed up with Dr. Praeger’s Purely Sensible Foods once again for a second veggie burger as cheap as a can of soda! The previous zucchini, carrot and pea burger will be served up alongside the new tempting sliders made up of hearty, protein-loaded black beans, corn and red peppers. You can even top it with a sweet and spicy Thai sauce spread over a classic dairy-free White Castle bun. It’s rumored that the new sliders are just on a trial run until June 1st, so head over to White Castle and find out what all the hype is about!

Signing off for the Sentient,

Sammi

Burgers Go Beyond Meat

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Months back, the new greasy, indulgent Beyond Meat burgers hit the shelves of health food stores around the nation, and omnivores and vegans are giving it a thumbs up! Not only does this futuristic burger replicate the taste of meat like it’s seitan competitors, but it also replicates the look and smell of real beef burgers! They’re packaged showcasing their bright, raw pink color made from the eye-tricking use of “beet blood.” The burgers even smell so appalling that you know the only reason they could smell so bad would be to imitate the aroma of all the mysteries of a meat patty. Also like a beef burger, as soon as these duplicates hit a hot pan or grill, these plant-based burgers brown on the outside to leave a juicy pink center to fool the most carnivorous omnivores.  At first the smell and taste were too realistic for me to enjoy, but by the third try I was jumping on the Beyond Meat bandwagon!

Beyond taste, this new product saves our loving, cuddly cow friends being completely cruelty-free, and it’s a better burger for our bodies and the planet. It’s no secret that red meat has had a not-so-helping hand in countless lethal diseases. The base of this protein-loaded (20 grams per patty) meat replacement is made up of peas, a far healthier and more sustainable product than cow meat. Just one cow burger requires 660 gallons of water, yikes! This burger has been worked on and perfected seven years in the making, and trust us, it was worth the wait!

Signing off for the Sentient,

Sammi

Heine Brothers’ Veganized

Heine Brothers’ coffee shop has been a local Louisville favorite for years, roasting 100% organic and fair trade coffee since 1994. After breathing in the tempting aroma of espresso shots and macchiatos, plant-eaters will be happy to find a plethora of vegan options on the menu! We’re spilling the beans on delicious, animal product-free Heine Bros finds!

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Vegan Heine Brothers’ Finds:

  • Almost any drink on the menu besides the Chaiberg and Beekeeper with the replacement of soy milk or almond milk without White Chocolate, Caramel
  • Cherry Almond Scone
  • Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin
  • Najla’s Trail Cookies
  • Najla’s Philly Wraps with vegan cheese, peppers and tofu
  • Najla’s Soy-rizo wraps with vegan chorizo, black beans, potatoes and salsa
  • Najla’s Quinoa Bowl
  • Frozen Lemonade
  • Smoothies
  • Tea Selection
  • Coffee of the day
  • Italian Sodas
  • Salty Caramel Syrup/Sugar Free Caramel Syrup
  • Dark Chocolate Syrup
  • Apple Crumble
  • Everything, Sesame and Whole Wheat Bagels
  • The Weekly Juicery menu items at the Brownsboro location

Veganizing Adjustments:

  • Ask for Soy or Almond Milk base
  • Ask for no whipped cream
  • Be aware that the Chaiberg, Mocha Iceberg, Caramel Vanilla Iceberg, etc. use milk powder and the Beekeeper uses honey, and therefore cannot be made vegan
  • Stray away from the regular Caramel and White Chocolate syrups which contain dairy

Now that you’ve got the 411, get your coffee fiending on at your local Heine Brothers’!

Signing off for the Sentient,

Sammi

 

Natural Bug Repellents

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It’s the season to soak up some sun! Accompanying the beautiful sunshine, sneaky, crawling critters might be coming out of hiding and on the lookout for a new home! If you’re looking for a safter, environmentally conscious, ethical way of keeping bugs out of your household, essential oils are your new best friend! Tea Tree Oil, Peppermint Oil and Clove Oil repel homebound bugs such as ants and fruit flies. Sprinkle drops of the oils around your home or grab a cotton ball and swab around doors, cracks, corners and windows for the oils to work their bug-barrier magic. Essential oils are not just for household pests, though! They can also come in handy if you’re out and about. If you’re on the go, blend a few drops of Tea Tree, Peppermint, Lemongrass, and/or Clove oils into a carrier oil (should be around a 6% essential oil to carrier oil ratio) such as coconut or almond oil and rub all over to make the mosquitos stray away from taking a bite! Not only do these oils repel bugs, but they give you a lovely clean, earthy scent that won’t make humans stray away too!

Signing off for the Sentient,

Sammi