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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Busy Vegan Bee Product Review: Amy's Kids Meals Baked Ziti

Since I'm currently livin' la vida no kitchen (true story), I find myself eating either very simply (salads, smoothies, etc.) or a little more on the "convenient" side (gardein products, frozen dinners, etc.). Today's post is a product review of one such convenience food: Amy's Kitchen's Kids Meals Baked Ziti.

Yes, I'm inching closer and closer to 30 years of age and I bought a kids meal. WHAT OF IT?!

But seriously, look at the picture on that package! It's vegan. It's gluten-free. And it comes with dessert! No way should this perfection be wasted purely on the young! There's even a little maze on the back of the box.
It was also on sale at Super Target, which was possibly the biggest incentive to try it out.

Here it is in its unwrapped, uncooked splendor.

I was excited to nuke this little tray of saucy ziti, broccoli with Daiya cheese, rice focaccia (WHAT?!), and apple crisp. Again, I gotta say: Isn't this the most pleasant little kids meal ever?!

And it was! The ziti noodles were perfectly tender and was overall perfectly saucy AND cheesy. The broccoli was sliiiightly overcooked following the package directions, but still good. The star of this meal was, by far, the rice focaccia. Oh my gosh! The herbs gave it so much flavor, and even though it came out of the microwave (but only for a short amount of time - the directions actually say to pull the bread out really early on), it had a fantastic texture and taste. LOVED IT. And the apple crisp was, of course, perfect. It seems to me like someone would have to try really hard to mess up an apple crisp, ya know?

My final thoughts: the Baked Ziti Kids Meal from Amy's Kitchen is worth buying! For me, though, since I'm on a budget, I would only purchase this if it were on sale or I had a good coupon. This meal is flavorful and fun and is great for kids AND adults.

What were your favorite meals when you were a child?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Meh-ze 119, Vegan Flan, and Low-Quality Cell Phone Pics, Oh My!

Yesterday was a super-fun day, and a much-needed day after a stressful work week. I couldn't find the charger for my little point-and-shoot camera, and didn't want to lug around my "nicer camera," so I went camera-less (Gasp!). And wouldn't you know, there were many photo ops that presented themselves, so I did something I never do:

I took food pictures on my crappy cell phone.

And now I'm about to do something else I have never done before:

Post said cell phone pics on this blog.

You'll forgive me, right?

So I was in St. Petersburg that morning, helping my friends with their Ethics of Vegetarianism presentations at a local high school, which was an interesting experience / outreach event. (How cool of a public high school to bring in that kind of information!) Since I was in St. Pete, it only made sense to go to the beach afterward. My friend Amber drove out to meet me and we headed to nearby Treasure Island. This brings us to the first cell phone pic (and the only one I took at the beach).

I'd been talking about an absolute NEED to get to the beach for WEEKS now, so I sent this pic to a couple of friends with the caption, "Achievement Unlocked." Some time at the beach was so badly needed. We got some sun, jumped in the waves, and laughed at sand pipers and the reactions of men upon seeing The Lady in the G-String walking around.

Amber and I lost track of time (time flies at the beach!), but we had a plan to get to Meze 119, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant in St. Pete. I hadn't been there yet and since I rarely find myself in St. Pete, I wanted to make the most of this visit.

For starters, Meze 119 is tiny. Much tinier than I was expecting. They have a decent-sized menu and most of their vegetarian dishes can be made vegan, usually by just omitting cheese.

Their drink selections are... interesting. The only iced tea they offer is mint-green. It's unsweetened, but it comes with a sugar cane stick.
I did not like the sugar cane stick. I did not find that it offered a drop of sweetness. Our server said that some people chew on them, and I overheard another server saying that to other people a few times, too. I tried it, but it was... awkward. I started chiseling away at the stick with my straw, making it look like a hamster had been gnawing on it, but that didn't make a smidgen of difference, either. I asked if they had any agave nectar, and I never got the answer. They have a house-made lemonade (also with mint), bottles of natural sodas, coffees and hot teas (which did not appeal to me since it was 94 degrees that day and we had just spent 3 hours in the sun), and... Pepsi products. Yes, at a restaurant that prides itself on high-quality ingredients for their vegetarian and vegan fare, you can still get highly-processed, high fructose corn syrupy, artificially colored carbonated water. Does that seem strange to anyone else?

Let's move on to appetizers.

Meze 119 has a 'bourekas' puff pastry appetizer with fillings that change daily. Amber had said that the last time she was there, the bourekas weren't vegan, and they were pre-made, so they couldn't be veganized. That night's bourekas happened to be vegan, but the filling was strange: butternut squash, vegan sausage, and jalapenos. Still, we wanted to try the bourekas, and they happened to be vegan, so we went with that. Their hummus of the day was onion and rosemary, and rosemary in hummus just didn't sound terribly appealing. Plus I'm picky when it comes to onions.

And then our bourekas came with a rosemary tree in the middle of them!

Three decent-sized puff pastries, steaming hot when they arrived to our table. Steam spilled out of the stack as soon as Amber pulled the rosemary tree out. The triangle shape is nice for presentation, but the filling is only in the direct center of the pastry. The corners are just flaky pastriness. It took a couple of bites to get to The Moment of Truth.

Now, I love butternut squash, and I'm neutral about jalapenos, but I'm not the biggest fan of mock meats. Because this was labeled as including vegan "sausage," I was expecting something in a crumblier texture. What it actually was, was more like vegan "ham," which threw me off. Amber didn't like it at all, and I would have liked it better minus the ham and maybe with something else in its place. Kale? Black beans? White beans? Some kind of cheesiness, either with nooch and/or cashews or Follow Your Heart or Daiya?

These bourekas left a lot to be desired.

Amber and I both love falafel, so we each ordered a falafel dish. She ordered it pita-style and I ordered the falafel salad. What I received was a surprise: 10 pounds of salad with 4 falafel balls.

Seriously, there must have been an entire head of cabbage shredded onto this plate, with just a little bit of tomato, cucumber, and Romaine lettuce tossed in.

Amber said she only had two falafel balls in her pita. There was a serious lack of falafel going on here. The falafel itself was pretty good, though. The insides were a little mushier than I prefer, but the flavor was nice and even had a little kick to it.

They had a vegan dessert on their specials board that night -- banana cheesecake -- but Amber was already running late for a meeting, so we actually had to get to-go boxes within a few minutes of receiving our food. (I couldn't even fit all of that cabbage salad in the to-go box. Seriously.)

So, my conclusions on Meze 119: Overall kinda disappointing. I love and support meat-free, vegan-friendly restaurants, and I would still go back and try COMPLETELY DIFFERENT dishes and NOT expect a tasty beverage, but there are other restaurants I'm more interested in trying out before I return to Meze 119.

Because the timing was right, I was able to zip over to a volunteer meeting back in Tampa, taking place at Loving Hut (which is Tampa's ONLY 100% vegan restaurant). The last time I was at Loving Hut, I made a mental note to get the flan, once I realized that it was on their menu. As soon as I got to the meeting, I ordered that and a Thai iced tea. I was very pleased with both.

The flan was smooth and not just creamy, but downright SILKY. The sauce is SUPER SWEET, so I actually avoided that, but the custard itself? Magnificent! My friend, Lisa ordered one, too, and also enjoyed it.

And the Thai iced tea was perfect: sweet, creamy, smoky perfection. What a sweet way to end a day filled with activism, sunshine, new foods, and friends! Life is good.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Havin' a Ball

After crafting seed bombs the other weekend with Amber and Loukas,
we were starving, but without smart phones or a GPS handy, we weren't sure where to get vegan-friendly grub after 9pm on a Friday in Tampa that didn't require an hour-long wait. We knew there was always Pizza Fusion downtown, but that was pricier than we wanted, plus wasn't exactly what we were craving. Unfortunately, Petra on Busch Boulevard is still closed since the fire a month or two ago (does anyone know if they're going to reopen?), and we were all kinda jonesin' for some falafel. I'm not sure how Byblos popped into my head, especially since I'd never eaten there before, but a quick Google SMS text brought me their number, I called for hours and an address, and we zoomed off to the USF area. We made it with 25 minutes to spare!

I had heard good things about Byblos, but had never eaten there before. The USF location, Byblos Pitas, is take-out style along the lines of Moe's or Chipotle: Order your main, protein-y component (falafel or meat), then slide down the line, picking and choosing what you want with it as you make your way to the cash register.

I went with falafel, dolmades, hummus, and babaganoush with cucumbers for dipping (even though I ended up with warm pita bread AND pita chips, as well).

Not the healthiest of meals, but I was very, very hungry and this is what appealed to me. The falafel was PERFECT. And believe me, I've had some awful falafel (like burnt hockey pucks) since moving to Tampa, always from take-out places like Pita's Republic and the like. (Never, EVER trust anything with a drive-through.) THIS was very different, and very good. The babaganoush was the other star of my plate: creamy, smokey, eggplanty, lovely. Something about the dolmades, however, wasn't jiving with me. There was some flavor that I could not detect and it was throwing me off. I gave the rest of them to Loukas. Amber had her falafel wrap-style and also loved it. Loukas ordered the lentil soup and was very happy with that.

Before we left, the owner of the place chatted with us about the food. He makes the falafel fresh, in-house, daily. He even brought out the falafel mixture in a giant bowl, two fresh whole eggplants, and a giant container of soaked chickpeas to back it up.

He also recommended we try out their other location, Byblos Cafe, on South MacDill. That location is a nicer, sit-down restaurant and they have a bigger menu. You know that's gotten bumped up on my to-do list!

Even though there was no tabbouleh on the menu at Byblos Pitas, I still ended up with this song stuck in my head for TWO FULL DAYS. That's 48-hours of this song below, on loop, in my mind. It definitely impaired my thinking and comprehension for those two days.

Where is your favorite falafel place?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pet Shelter at Rose Brooks Center in Kansas City

Be prepared to cry after watching this video about a brave woman who survived a domestic violence attack and her beloved dog who helped her.

In 2012, Rose Brooks Center will become the first domestic violence shelter in the region to welcome four-legged friends.

Last year, a woman called our hotline after her boyfriend had beaten her - almost to death - with a hammer. Immediately we found space for this young woman and arranged for the police to bring her to shelter. There was one problem. She had a 110-pound Great Dane whom she refused to leave behind. You see, the dog had saved her life by lying on top of her during the attack and taking the majority of the blows. As a result, he sustained many broken bones, including a hip and two ribs. She refused to abandon her angel, as she called him. Knowing her life was in danger, we agreed.

The giant Dane was the first animal to live at Rose Brooks Center, but he has not been the last. It became abundantly clear early on that the incredible therapeutic benefit pets can have on a family greatly outweighed the cost and inconvenience of housing them.

Although ground has been broken for our new Pet Shelter, we are still needing funds to cover the expense of this project. Help us care for the entire family by supporting our new Pet Shelter.

The mission of Rose Brooks Center is to break the cycle of domestic violence so that individuals and families can live free of abuse. You can learn more about this amazing facility, located in Kansas City, MO, on their website HERE. You can also follow and support them on Facebook.

Donations can be submitted via THIS LINK HERE.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nature's Food Patch Clearwater, FL

Between sitting on futons much more comfortable than my own and attending the Gifts of Love Benefit Dinner for Sweetwater Organic Community Farm, my friend Lisa and I grabbed a late lunch at Nature's Food Patch, a lovely health food store in Clearwater.

This was my first time at Nature's Food Patch and I was impressed as soon as I walked in the door. It's an average-sized health food store - bigger than Richard's or Chuck's, smaller than Whole Foods - but very clean and modern-looking and well-stocked. Their cafe is smaller than Whole Foods, but their vegan options are 100 times tastier than anything I've ever eaten from a WF's hot bar.


Unlike any random mish-mash meal I've put together at Whole Foods, I totally ate and enjoyed every little thing on my plate at Nature's Food Patch.

My #1 favorite was the broccoli peanut salad (far right, above the delicious blackened tofu). Holy guacamole, I could have eaten a plate of nothing but that broccoli peanut salad. For some reason, every time I make something at home with Vegenaise, I never like it and can never eat it, but anytime I've had Vegenaise-y foods made by someone else, I tend to love it. This salad was by far the BEST Vegenaise-involved salad EVER. I'm still dreaming about it.

My other favorite was the Southern Kale on the far left. Made with stewed tomatoes and black-eyed peas and the perfect spices, it was such comfort food. Loved it! Of course, I thoroughly enjoyed everything on my plate and if I'm ever out in the Clearwater area, I'd definitely return to Nature's Food Patch if for nothing else than to buy 5 pounds of broccoli peanut salad.

NFP hosts vegan (and gluten-free!) cooking classes a few times a month, as well as speaking events. You can check out their calendar here. If you like what you see, or you already know and love Nature's Food Patch, check 'em out on Facebook, as well.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Help Wanted

Happy Monday, everyone! Today's post is about two different events that could use some support.

First up, the first annual Connecticut Veg Fest (for which I've been tele-volunteering) is happening on April 28th and 29th at the Hartford Convention Center. The festival is still accepting applications for sponsors and vendors, as well as accepting donations for their huge raffle. They are also in great need of VOLUNTEERS! If you can contribute in any way, check out their website and Facebook page, and please spread the word about the event. (Once their Facebook page reaches 200 fans, they'll be doing a random giveaway!)

The other event is an online event. An online vegan bake sale, to be exact. The folks behind the Peace To All Creatures zine is hosting a charity bake sale on March 18th & 19th, with all profits being split between four animal charities: Animal Coalition of Tampa, Darlynn's Darlins (which I've blogged about HERE), Dogs for the Deaf, and Friends of Arlington Animal Services. How does the online bake sale work? Refer to THIS POST HERE. This online bake sale is seeking BAKERS to donate vegan baked goods for the bake sale. Spreading the word will also help make this bake sale successful.

Thank you for spreading the word!

Friday, March 9, 2012


I stumble upon so many great articles as I mosey around the interwebs. Sometimes I'll share those links on the Hungry Vegan Traveler Facebook page, and other times I just forget and then I can't find the links later. Today, rather than overloading everyone's FB feed, I'm going to post a little links round-up of cool travel and vegan articles I've found lately. (But if you aren't a fan of HVT on Facebook yet, go change that ASAP!)

via Vegan World Trekker - Vegan Mobile Apps for Your Travels. I don't have a smartphone yet (one more month until contract renewal and phone discount! Woo!), but when I finally upgrade, I'll definitely be getting the HappyCow app.

My blogger buddy Amber in Kansas City went to San Francisco recently and shared some truly beautiful meals from her visit on her blog, Almost Vegan. PS. Her first cookbook, Practically Raw, is making the rounds and is available on Amazon. Check it out!

via Travelettes - 10 of the World's Most Inspiring Female Travelers Inspiring indeed!

via Volunteer Global - Volunteer Abroad Trips By Ladies, For Ladies

The folks behind the zine, Peace to All Creatures, are hosting an online bake sale on March 18th and 19th. All the profits will be split among four different charities, one of which is Darlynn's Darlin's, which I blogged about back in December. Check out their blog for more info on how to participate in their bake sale and please help spread the word about their event!

The Girls Gone Green is a non-profit organization based out of Jacksonville, Florida, whose mission is to "uncover the reality of many environmental, animal and health issues." They recently posted this cute video on their Facebook page, highlighting the many events they organize in Northeast Florida. What an inspiring group of vegans!

By now, many of you have probably seen the "Boyfriend Went Vegan" ad campaign from PETA. There are many things I do not like about PETA or their tactics, and their blatant sexism is one of them. This particular ad campaign has gone too far. It upsets and offends me on so many levels that I just could not even put my feelings into words. Eventually, the Ms. Magazine blog addressed it.

Links aside, I mentioned on Facebook earlier this week that I was considering going on a smoothie cleanse. Well, I didn't go on a "cleanse" exactly, but I naturally ended up leaning toward one. I had 2-3 different smoothies each day this week, one of which was always green. Here's what I noticed:
1. My blood sugar was stable all day long and never crashed.
2. The smoothies gave me plenty of energy throughout the day.
3. They were super-convenient. I took two smoothies to work each day and they would last me through my entire shift.
4. The smoothies helped curb my cravings and grazing habits, specifically at work. There's SO MUCH JUNKY FOOD at work, most of which I can't eat anyway because it's not vegan, but still, the crap that happens to be vegan is still no good, but I would often catch myself eating it because it was there, or I was feeling rushed, or my blood sugar was dropping. Instead, if I felt hungry, I would sip a smoothie and the cravings/grazing instincts would vanish.

Drinking fruits and greens all day led me to crave healthier foods, too. Dinners all week were either soups or brown rice with steamed veggies, and they were completely satisfying. I have felt cleaner and lighter these last few days. I plan to keep up my daily smoothie habits, and I'm excited to experiment with different combinations to jazz things up and prevent boredom.

And now I leave you with this great video of a vegan meal made only from ingredients purchased at a bodega / convenience store, which shows how simple vegan cooking can be!

What cool vegan and/or travel-related articles have you come across lately? Link me up in the comment or on Facebook!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Henry Miller's 11 Commandments of Writing

When I was younger (middle school and high school), writing was the only thing I wanted to do "when I grew up." During my first year of community college, however, I lost the urge to write, and that urge left for several years.

Then I started this blog two years ago and it rekindled my love of writing. Now I'm also writing for a few different websites and newsletters (and I'm totally available to write guest posts, if you were wondering) and, for the first time ever, I feel like an actual writer.

[I also identify as a true activist now for the first time ever, but that's another post for another day.]

When I read Henry Miller's 11 Commandments of Writing a few weeks ago, I thought, Now there's some advice I need to take. I'm sharing those commandments here, too, to remind myself, and to pass on Mr. Miller's wisdom to my fellow writers out there.

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5. When you can’t create you can work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

What other writing tips and advice have been most helpful to you? What is your biggest writing struggle?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Drunk Kitchen

I am totally smitten with My Drunk Kitchen. I am only partially hesitant to admit that I spent about two hours of my Friday watching back to back episodes on youtube. (And after only one episode in, I was ready for a drink and a cooking assignment, but mostly just a drink.)

If you've never heard of My Drunk Kitchen, it's truly a brilliantly entertaining concept: Host Hannah Hart gets drunk, and then cooks something, with plenty of silly and delightfully punny commentary throughout. And who doesn't appreciate a good pun?!

Unfortunately, MDK is not a vegan program, but Hannah did create an all-vegan episode. Enjoy!

"The cheesecake is a lie!"

Dear Hannah Hart,

Let's drink and cook together. You could use more vegan episodes, and I wanna get punny with you.



Friday, March 2, 2012

Now Watch This

Have you heard about the new documentary, Hungry for Change? It's brought to us by the same folks who made Food Matters. Hungry for Change looks like a great documentary about the truth behind diet fads and weight loss and advertising and health. (And it features the dude from Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, and Kris Carr, who is just too stinkin' cute!) If you sign up on their website, you can tune in for their FREE worldwide online premiere March 21-31, 2012.

Doesn't it look amazing?! I'm super-stoked for the premiere.

I also watched the trailer for Vanishing of the Bees this morning. Bees are pretty darn important and awesome. I'm sure this documentary is fascinating.

And then I watched the short film, Sacred Economics, about the power of money and how to reconnect with our community through bartering and sharing.

So much cool stuff on the Internet / Youtube today! And today is another Writing Day for me, and well, you know how that goes...