I travel from Chicago to Atlanta 1-2 times a year for work, and I always spend my time between meetings and shows stuffing myself with vegan biscuits and spending as much time with my friends and family there as I can. My little brother and his wife (and their new baby!) live about an hour outside of the city, and my friend Leigh, who puts on Atlanta Veg Fest, is also a local who always steers me to the best things to eat.
With my brother at Ponce City Market
Tony and I booked a long weekend in the city to visit the baby and…eat as many biscuits as we could. (Chicagoans – if you can’t make it to Atlanta, Ste Martaen offers what I consider to be the only truly legit vegan biscuit in the Midwest.) One our first full day of this last trip, we were bumming around Little 5 Points (eating biscuits at Sevananda Co-Op) when Kyle from Tinkertown Pies hit me up on Instagram to invite me over to his vegan pie shop in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood.
We drove over, and wandered around a bit trying to find it before realizing, and being totally charmed by the fact, that Tinkertown is actually inside a bike shop called The Spindle. (In hindsight, the chalkboard outside that read, “secret pie shop inside” should have been a clue.” We ordered slices of peach basil and cherry rosemary and got chatting with pie shop owner Kyle, about everything from the city’s new “renegade scooter” program and cemetery-grown rosemary. The cherry rosemary pie was absolutely unreal, and Kyle was sweet enough to send me the recipe so I could make it at home!
So, in addition to sharing this dreamy recipe with you, I’m also going to run you through our quick trip. The pie filling is pretty simple and straightforward, the magic is all in the streusel, and you’ll find the recipe for that below.
Tinkertown Cherry Pie Filling
Mine wasn’t as magical, but it was still pretty magical.
For the filling:
About 2 lbs cherries, pitted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4-5 Tbs tapioca starch
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs amaretto or kirsch*
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
*If you’re anti-booze in your baked goods, or simply don’t have any on-hand, you can substitute with cherry juice.
Wash, stem and pit the cherries. Split about a cup of them into halves.Place the cherries in a bowl.
Mix the sugars, tapioca and salt in a separate bowl.
Add the liqueur and extracts to the cherries, and mix.
Add the dry ingredients to the cherries and mix to incorporate.
Pour pie filling into a prepared pie crust – you can make your own, or use a store-bought crust.
Crumble streusel atop the pie. (Tip: I gently patted the streusel into the cherries so it formed a nice crust as it baked.)
Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until delicious cherry juices are bubbling up.
Let stand to cool at least two hours before slicing. Better yet, chill it in the fridge after.
Three Days in Atlanta
Breakfast: We made it just in time for the last of the breakfast hot bar at Sevananda Co-Op, but fresh biscuits had just come out of the oven so it was far from being left-overs.
We crossed the street and Tony checked out Stratosphere Skateboards. Tony spent a little while talking to the shop owner about old guy skateboard stuff and then we went next door to Junkman’s Daughter. (Chicagoans: imagine if The Alley and Hollywood Mirror had a baby.) In that same plaza, we hit up Aurora Coffee for some nitro cold brew (it was called Shallow Grave, so obviously I had to) and then we bummed around the neighborhood, which is made up of lots of resale shops, tattoo shops, record stores and head shops. It reminds me a bit of when Clark and Belmont (Chicago) was still grungy and punk.
At the Center for Puppetry Arts where I almost exploded with joy.
After we’d popped into nearly every store in the area and gotten sufficiently sweaty, we drove over to Old Fourth Ward and, as I’ve already mentioned, enjoyed a couple slices of pie while hanging out with Kyle from Tinkertown Pies.
It was time to check into our hotel at that point, so we headed over there and cleaned up a bit before driving out to Cumming (heh) to visit my brother and his family.
One the way back into the city we stopped in Sandy Springs (it reminds me of Naperville – I keep wanting to translate Atlanta for Chicagoans LOL) and had dinner at Cafe Sunflower. On a previous visit I had dinner here with Leigh, but she navigated the manu and ordered all the best stuff. This time I had the Moo Shu Vegetables which was bafflingly served wrapped in two huge flour tortillas like a burrito. Still, the vegetables and plum sauce were tasty and I was starving so I wolfed it down.
I’d saved an anise cake from Tinkertown Pies, so I laid in bed eating that before conking out for the night. Atlanta is so hot and you spend a lot of time in the car there – it’s kind of exhausting.
We drove out to Dulce Vegan, which is a cute little bakery and cafe in what looked like a popular strip of restaurants and bars. We both got breakfast sandwiches with tofu “egg” – but I was smart, and got mine on a biscuit, whereas Tony was a weirdo and ordered an English muffin. Mine had tempeh bacon and a smoky chipotle aioli and it was stupid good. We also shared a ginger-peach scone that was buttery and delicious. I really wanted to take some pastries back to the hotel with us, but we were headed to a few more places and I didn’t want them to melt so I sadly went without – next time!
Breakfast sandwich from Dulce Vegan
We caught the Jim Henson exhibit at the Center for Puppetry Arts and as expected, it made us both almost cry like 30 different times. I’d also just been reading a book called Street Gang, about the fascinating story of how Sesame Street came to be, so it was extra emotional for me to see all the Muppets up close and to read about cult classics like the The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and to see those amazing creations in person.
The center is in Midtown, which also happens to be home to Cinnaholic, a somewhat-secretly all-vegan cinnamon roll shop so we decided to eat dessert for lunch.
A bunch of people suggested we check out East Atlanta Village, so we headed that way next. Either it’s cooler at night, or you have to want to hang out at a bar to enjoy it because I’m sad to say we walked around what appeared to be the whole area in just a few minutes and didn’t find a lot to do. They were also filming a movie on the street, which happens a lot in Atlanta, so it’s possible that they were blocking off some places we would have liked. Either way, there were tons of colorful murals and it was a nice day so we enjoyed the walk.
I was hot and exhausted, so we went back to the room and watched a couple hours worth of Ancient Aliens before we went over to Ponce City Market. I’d been there previously with my brother, who is obsessed with the decidedly not-vegan burrito at Minero. (I got the cauliflower tacos sans cheese, and the chips and guac and they’re both really good.) Ponce City Market is kind of a fancy mall with a big food hall with some fun vegan options – like scoops of cookie dough, or popsicles from King of Pops (which is EVERYWHERE in the city). We saw so many hilarious, shameless Instagram influencer photos being taken in and around this place, it was kind of like being in Brooklyn again.
Since this was our anniversary dinner, we decided to go to Herban Fix. Plus, after a day of biscuits and cinnamon rolls I was craving vegetables and this place is a very veggie-forward vegan restaurant. Again, Leigh took me here the first time so I remembered the pom pom mushroom steak and a few other dishes that were really, really good.
After that we saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the Mr. Roger’s movie, and as expected – cried a bunch more. It was a very emotional day.
Pom pom steak from Herban Fix
I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my brother on my last full day in the city, so we went back to Sevenanda for the breakfast hot bar (this time we got there early, so they had a few more dishes available) and we loaded up on sandwiches and sides to bring out to Cumming with us.
We spent most of the day at my brother’s, holding a sleeping baby and trying to make his hateful little dog Mookie like us (he eventually let Tony pet him, but he never warmed up to me). We busted out the food and I gleefully watched my brother dig into vegan chicken salad and spicy collard greens. He said if he could eat like that every day he’d be a vegetarian. I resisted the urge to tell him he could eat like that every day, but Aaron, if you’re reading this – you could!
I’d hoped to meet up with Leigh and her family before heading home early in the morning on Sunday, but we did the math and figured out we had to get up around 4am the next morning so we decided to grab dinner near the hotel and go to bed early.
For dinner we went over to Yeah! Burger. Not only do they offer three vegan burger patties (Beyond Burger, Impossible Foods and a housemade quinoa burger) and two vegan bun options, but they also offer Beyond Sausages. Lots of vegan condiments are available – like Follow Your Heart cheese slices, and Just Mayo. The most exciting part for me? Vegan ice cream sandwiches! Sadly, I was so stuffed from my burger and fries I decided not to get one – but next time I’m eating that first.
What I Missed:
I’d hoped to head back to Revolution Doughnuts, a place I’d previously visited with Leigh, but never made it. I also wanted Tony to try Soul Veg Atlanta, because the one in Chicago has gotten less-great over the years but theirs is still awesome. Green Sprout also looked good, but we only had so much room in our stomachs. Oh, and if you find yourself hungry in the airport, Grindhouse Killer Burgers has a housemade veggie burger and Impossible Burgers.
Anyway, it was a fun, quick trip and I hope to be back in a couple months for Veg Fest!
This is my first sponsored post in more than 10 years of writing this blog. I’ve received hundreds of offers to shill everything from essential oils to matching pajamas for your whole family but I’ve always turned them down because it took me a long time to earn your trust, so when I recommend a product or service, it has to be something I really believe in. Also, I don’t like being told what to do, and when brands pay you to blog about them, they usually want to tell you what to say and how to say it.
So what made me cave after this long? Curiosity, pure and simple. I received a pitch from HealthLabs.com about their Vegan Wellness Panel Test – a lab test that looks for 11 common deficiencies in vegans:
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
D-25 Hydroxy (Vitamin D-3)
My first reaction was defensive, as we vegans are constantly under scrutiny about where we get our protein, blah blah. But, then I was curious – I’m 38 years old, I haven’t eaten meat since 1998, I’ve been vegan a long time, and I don’t take any vitamins – I’d love to find out if I am deficient in any of these nutrients so I can make adjustments to my diet.
Now, before you start chasing me down the street with pitchforks, my dear fellow vegans, I am not saying our diet is inherently deficient. I’m just curious is my own vegan diet is lacking – and if not, you bet your butt I’m rubbing that in EVERYONE’S faces.
Speaking of deficiencies, it should be noted that the traditional Western diet (omnivorous – consisting of meat, dairy, eggs, fruits, vegetables… you know, everything) is commonly deficient. According to Web MD, most Americans do not get enough calcium, potassium, Vitamins A, C, E or fiber, among others. So while I’m tracking my protein intake on MyFtnessPal so I can sass any omni who asks me about it, I often wonder if they know where they’re getting their fiber?
I have agreed to take the Vegan Wellness Panel Test HealthLabs.com offers, and to share my results with you guys. If you’re curious about your own nutrient levels (or any number of other things they can test for – celiac, heavy metals and toxins, etc) you can get 25% off your test when you mention code bakeanddestroy25 (to use this discount you do need to call and order your test – 1-800-579-3914).
I found a participating lab near me, and I can just walk in with my paperwork from HealthLabs.com, no insurance necessary. A few days after I do, I’ll receive my test results via their secure portal and I’ll know if I need to up my nutritional yeast and kale or if I can tell everyone who’s ever acted like I eat grass to shove it.
I’ve attended the Sweets and Snacks Expo as an exhibitor a few times, but it’s a whole different world when the press pass goes on. Last year I went with a mission to find at least five really great new vegan products, and I did. (Check out last year’s post and finds here.)
This year I didn’t find as many new products – although I did find a handful, and some new flavors from old favorites. So I thought I’d mention a few throughout this post, which will focus on some trends I spotted instead.
1. All of the Beans
Just like last year, there were a ton of new snack lines (and additions to not-so-new-lines) featuring chickpeas, lentils, peas, and other legumes as the main ingredient. As someone who works for a quinoa-based snack brand, alternative proteins are something I clearly embrace.
These little nuggets showed up in everything from Peatos, a Cheeto challenger made with a combination of pea and lentil protein, to chocolate-covered chickpeas by Lebby.
I should note – the booth staff for Lebby didn’t seem to know much about the ingredients, explaining that they are co-packed in Turkey. I was curious how they got them so shiny without using confectioner’s glaze, which is not vegan, and didn’t see an ingredient on their list that could be used as a glaze. I found the booth for the confectionery that actually helped us develop a non-GMO vegan glaze for our chocolate products, and they told me they also did not think any of those ingredients could be used as a glaze, and cautioned me that it seemed like this brand was using a non-vegan glaze and not disclosing it. I have contacted Lebby to clarify this, and not received a response.
2. Refusing to Say the Word “Vegan”
Coming soon from Vegan Rob’s – the gothest snack ever!
So, that Lebby possible shadiness brings me to another trend. Last year I spoke with the folks at Little Secrets about why they don’t label their vegan-friendly products as “vegan.” Short answer? Because vegans. Basically, they have not certified that their sugar is vegan-friendly, and they received so many inquiries about it that they decided not to call their dark chocolate products vegan as a result. In fact, when I posted that I’d tasted them, I received many DMs from vegans warning me about the sugar.
I found this really interesting, as vegans have also collectively decided that Oreos are vegan-friendly, but as far as I know, there is no evidence that they have been transparent about the source of their sugar. (And don’t get me started about palm oil.)
This was frustrating, to say the least, as booth after booth I would ask if they had any vegan-friendly items and 9 out of 10 vendors would dance around the topic, replying that the ingredients are “plant-based,” or in one case, telling me “that depends on how vegan you are.”
That’s why I was so relieved when I found booths like Bixby & Co., Vegan Rob’s and Dandies, where items were labels “vegan” and the booth staff knew exactly what that meant, and that there’s no such thing as “depends on how vegan you are.”
3. So Puffy
Everything – everything was a puff. Every grain, every legume, even cheese was puffed. Again, as someone who works for a brand that sells quinoa puffs I am pro-this trend. I did notice that a lot of them were opting for whey protein as opposed to something both allergen and vegan-friendly like pea protein, and many of them have a corn base, like Cheetos. Corn puffs up light and airy, like Pirate’s Booty, but it doesn’t add much nutritionally. I hope to see more brands (like ours) using nutrient-dense, plant-based ingredients for their puffs since this trend only seems to be growing.
4. Uh, Is it Me?
Bixby & Co. was super cool, and were happy to answer my questions.
I had a few bummer experiences with brands this year – either because they didn’t really know their ingredients, didn’t know what vegan meant, or because they just didn’t feel like talking me to. Yes, I have a lot of tattoos, but I also have eight years of CPG experience with some pretty heavy-hitting brands, I dress cute, I am courteous, and I attend the show with the genuine intention of finding and promoting vegan products (which is a long way of saying, I’m not there for the samples – in fact, I refuse most samples because I don’t want a bunch of crap in my house).
It was especially a bummer when the brands’ PR teams had spent weeks convincing me to go check them out and then the activation team had zero interest in answering my questions with more than 1-2 word replies. I get it, those are long days, but I’ve worked those long days and I never miss an opportunity to talk about my amazing brand.
Case in point? Good Day Chocolate. I’ve always passed these by in the store because they’re made with confectioner’s glaze, which is made from beetles, and the ones I picked up were always made with dairy. So when the PR person reached out a took a shot in the dark and asked about vegan options and she replied warmly with a list of the vegan-friendly dark chocolates.
When I walked up to the booth, the first person I spoke with refused to use the word “vegan,” instead directing me to the dark chocolates “made without dairy,” as she put it. I picked up a package and flipped it over, surprised to find that the confectioner’s glaze had been replaced with vegan-friendly Carnauba Wax. I would have asked more, but it was clear that this person had no interest in speaking about vegan products so I waited until another person at the other end of the table was free.
I asked her the same question about vegan options, and received the same response – that the dark chocolate was dairy-free. There was a pause, and then she offered me a box of the Probiotic chocolate, saying it was the most popular dairy-free one. I worked for a huge kefir brand for several years and know that there are dairy-based and non-dairy-based probiotic strains, and would have loved to ask more about it, in addition to finding out when they switched to Carnauba Wax, but again, this person turned away from me and I was left with a really salty feeling about the whole brand.
Vegan Goldfish crackers! Prayers: answered.
Despite this experience, I posted a picture of the booth in my Story and, of course, received tons of DMs from people warning me about confectioner’s glaze. I would have loved to tell them that the company officially switched over, but since no one could be bothered to speak with me, I didn’t. In fact, one person sent me a photo she took, because she was standing at check out in Whole Foods Market, showing me that confectioner’s glaze was listed on the package. I wish I could tell her when the Carnauba Wax products would be hitting the shelves but… oh well.
Meanwhile, a member of the Vegan Rob’s sales team saw me from across the room and came over to tell me to visit their booth. Real talk? I wasn’t going to go near that booth because they’re technically a competitor with my brand. But his enthusiasm convinced me, and I ended up trying their snacks and finding some I liked. Now I’m a fan, and I’ve been posting about them on Instagram. I don’t need every brand to throw me a parade, but word of advice? If someone is interested enough to ask you about the ingredients, take five seconds to chat with them.
5. Friggin Meat Snacks
It is SUPER easy to walk away from a show like the National Products Expo feeling like the whole world is finally catching on to the ethical, health, and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. But, when you walk the floor of a show with conventional brands like Hershey’s mixed in with the avocado chips, you realize that vegans are still very much in a bubble. There were soooo many jerkys and meat bars thanks to the KETO craze (I guess everyone forgot Atkin’s was already a thing). But, on the upside, there were also a lot of vegan-friendly mushroom snacks, including Shroom Bars made with mushrooms and… lemon. I don’t know either, but I’d try it.
And now, for the vegan sweets & snacks:
Please note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click and make a purchase I may earn a commission. However, this is not a sponsored post and all opinions expressed here are my own.
Paulie Gee’s is one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago (find it among my other faves in my Chicago’s Best Vegan Eats Guide). It’s an omnivore, woodfired oven joint with extensive vegan options. We’re talking housemade faux meats, cheese that isn’t nasty old Daiya, vegan cake AND ice cream for dessert… I just love it. So I was EXTRA stoked when the owner of the Logan Square location, Derrick, asked me to compete in their first all-vegan Dough Down Throw Down pizza battle!
I got to choose my competition, and I had a long debate (with myself) about whether I should choose a vegan restaurant owner, some fancy chef, or one of my friends who has a small vegan business. I ultimately decided to challenge my friend Nahum, one of the chefs behind Ste Martaen and the Vegan Food Truck (and soon, Meet Stop) here in Chicago. I love Nahum’s food, and I love him as a person – so regardless of who wins I know we’ll have fun in the kitchen together and all the guests will have some killer pizzas.
Who: Me vs. Nahum!
What: A vegan pizza battle
When: Sunday, June 3, 5pm – 10pm
Where: Paulie Gee’s Logan Square
Why: Because for just $30 you’ll get 1/2 of each pizza, a cocktail and a housemade vegan dessert
People ask me all the time what my favorite vegan protein powder is, and up until last year when I joined a gym and stopped eating like a raccoon that lives in an all-vegan dumpster, I honestly had no idea because I’d never tried one. Flash forward to now when I down a nutrition shake every morning for breakfast and I’ve definitely separated the studs from the duds.
Everyone’s tastes and dietary preferences are different, of course, so don’t take these picks for gospel. They’re just some suggestions from someone who has tried a LOT of vegan protein powders in 12 short months. It’s my personal preference to blend my smoothies with a low-sugar blend of frozen berries and unsweetened cashew milk. I only ever drink them mixed with water in an emergency. So if you’re a simply water or ice-blender, these will all be slightly less sweet than what I describe. Also, most of these are considered a nutrition shake, or meal replacer, but always double check the nutrition panel to make sure your protein powder has everything you’re looking for.
This is my current favorite, as it has a really good chocolate flavor without being too sweet, and it blends really smooth and not chalky. The ingredients list is simple (only 12 ingredients in this flavor, which includes a variety of real-food proteins like hemp and pumpkin seed) so I don’t feel like I’m drinking a concoction as much as I feel like this is a whole foods smoothie. It’s also available in Vanilla, Mixed Berry and Banana, which I haven’t tried yet, and you can get it in single-serve pouches for travel. Buy it on Amazon
A couple years ago I met John “Bad Ass Vegan” Lewis at Green Fest in San Francisco. He was at the VeganSmart booth and persuaded me to try the Chocolate flavor, even though at that point I hated this sort of thing. But out of Midwestern politeness, I tried it, and was surprised that it was actually pretty good. Now this one is sweetened with Stevia, but it also contains several fruit powders as part of its whole food complex, and I believe those natural sugars cut the bitter aftertaste that makes most people have Stevia. These shakes come in lots of flavors ranging from the standard Chocolate and Vanilla to more adventures ones like Chai and Peaches and Cream. Available in tubs and in travel pouches. Buy it on Amazon
Ingredients-wise, this one isn’t my favorite, but I did pick up a jar of the Peanut Butter flavor when I found myself scooping peanut butter powder into all my smoothies for flavor. It tastes pretty good, and the ingredients are organic – but there are quite a few thickeners and preservatives in there that don’t show up in some of my other top picks. This one is available unflavored and unsweetened, or in a lot of flavors like Pumpkin Spice and Iced Matcha Latte. Sometimes you can grab it really cheap at Costco, or on Amazon, though, it even though it’s made with Stevia I haven’t found it bitter when I blend it with frozen fruit. Buy it on Amazon
This is a good option for an ingredient purist – no gums, no “natural flavors” and there’s even an option with no Stevia. With up to 26g of protein, depending on the flavor you choose, this is the highest protein option of all the ones I’ve tried. I like the blends they put together, too, it takes the guesswork out of adding superfoods to your smoothie. One other bonus to this brand, the multi-serving option comes in a resealable pouch instead of a big plastic tub. It takes up less room in your kitchen and it less to recycle or throw away when it’s empty. Four flavors are available right now. Buy it on SproutLiving.com
Sweetener: Stevia, or unsweetened
5. Carrington Farms
This is another one for clean label freaks – between only three and five ingredients! Obviously with such a short list of ingredients you aren’t going to get all the prebiotic, whole foods complex bells and whistles of some of these other options but the beauty is you can add whatever you want and not worry about drinking a bunch of weird thickeners and additives. This one only comes in two options – unsweetened and unflavored or in Chocolate. Buy it on Amazon
Sweetener: Stevia, or unsweetened
If you’re just looking for a vegan protein powder with no flavor or sweetener – either to make your own custom blend, or to add to baked goods and other recipes, try some of the options listed as “unsweetened” above.
Here are some ideas for healthy additions to your daily protein shake:
D’Vash Organic Date Nectar – I used to throw a whole, soaked date in my smoothie to sweeten it without spiking my blood sugar, but it never quite blended all the way and pieces always got stuck in my straw. So now I use this organic date nectar that contains 25% less sugar than honey.
Turmeric Liquid Drops – Turmeric is a great anti-inflammatory to add to your smoothie. I like it in liquid form like this because it’s concentrated, and your body absorbs it faster and better than in powder form.
Gelatinized Maca Powder – Don’t let the name scared you, this is a vegan ingredient. Gelatinized just means that the maca was heat-treated to remove some of the starch, which makes it easier to digest. This is a great additive if you’re experiencing hormonal imbalance.
Peanut Butter Powder – Peanut butter flavor and protein, minus the fat. I use this for flavor, mostly – it’s especially good with chocolate, duh. Sometmes for a late night snack, though, I rehydrate it with water and eat it with apple slices.
Vanilla and/or cinnamon – I never thought about these two ingredients, Amy Dumas is the one who first suggested them. Just like in baking, each of these adds a really nice flavor to your smoothie without contributing a significant amount of calories, fat, or really anything else.
What are your favorite vegan protein powders and smoothie ingredients? Tell me in the comments!
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click and make a purchase I could earn a comission. Additionally, some of the items in this post were sent to me for free by the companies, but my opinions and recommendations are my own, and I was not compensated for any of the opinions expressed here.
Duuuuuuuuuuude. The folks at Rule Breaker Snacks reached out to me to see if I wanted to try their new Birthday Cake flavor (they’ve had Deep Chocolate Brownie and Chocolate Chunk Brownie for a minute now) and I went from having zero expectations to being a fan in one bite. These chickpea-based brownies (in some cases, blondies) are gluten-free, free of most of the top allergens (nuts, dairy, eggs) and good god, so good. They aren’t in any stores near me (Chicago) but you can buy them by the case on Amazon – and you should.
2. Aloha Organic Protein Bars
Aloha and my company I Heart Keenwah did a product swap – it’s a fun thing food brands do, mail each other snacks. They sent us a million protein bars and again, I had no expectations. I’ve just been burned by too many gross, chalky protein bars. But theirs remind me of cookie dough – they’re chewy and sweet (but not too sweet). I tried the peanut butter chocolate chip one and it honestly tastes like dessert, but has the nutritional profile of a healthy snack. I’ll also be talking about their protein powder in an upcoming post about, um… protein powder.
3. Endorfin Foods Chocolate
I saw Endorfin Foods in a list of NorCal products for something I was doing for work. Curious, I checked out their website and almost fell off my chair when I saw they offer an Absinthe flavor. You might recall that I’m obsessed with controversial flavors like licorice and absinthe. While I do love the complex flavor of that bar, my favorite is their Coconut Mylk Chocolate with Ginger and Rose. It’s a must for any chocolate lover. I’m hoping they get expanded distribution this year, but in the meantime you can order them online, and keep an eye out for a collab bar with I Heart Keenwah.
4. Beyond Sausage
OK. Before we begin, let me tell you that these are $8.99/pack and a lot of people on Twitter have a lot of opinions about that. My opinion is don’t buy it if you don’t want to. Me? I bought four packs the day they hit the stores because I’m the fuckin’ 2 Chainz of vegan sausages. These gluten-free links are unlike any vegan sausage you have ever tried. They aren’t seitan. The taste and texture is so realistic I panicked. The casing crisps when you cook them, and has a snap. If you can get your hands on a pack it’s worth the (apparent) splurge. (Oh and if you’re curious about why some foods are pricier than others check out the “Food Biz” archive on my Instagram bio where I break down pricing and distribution from a professional’s POV.)
5. Shishito Gold Mustard
I don’t know why my job is coming up so much in this post, but I actually tried this mustard because of a collab we did with Punk Rawk Labs. My boss takes all of our social media pics, and after he received his package from PRL he chatted me online, “Have you tried this mustard? It’s legit.” Ravi isn’t one to casually hand out compliments, so I picked up a jar at Heartland Cafe, a local restaurant with a little natural grocery attached. I’ve been told mustard obsession is a Chicago thing, but I think it should be a people with mouths thing because it adds amazing flavor to everything – especially vegan cheese sauces. Shishito Gold Mustard is really bold, a little sweet, and kind of spicy but in a flavorful way, not a hurt your face way.
Bonus: Elmhurst Plant-Based Milks
I just read in Forbes (yeah, I read Forbes, shut it) that plant-based milks now make up 10% of total milk sales. Which, as someone who used to have to buy soy milk in a can from Asian grocery stores, is very amazing. Elmhurst actually used to be a dairy producer, until they shifted to a 100% plant-based model. Now they make “milked” nuts and grains in pretty white cartons that look really fancy. They were nice enough to send me a sampler and Teno finished off the Milked Peanuts with Chocolate in one day. Peanut milk s unique, to be sure, but really good in smoothies. My nut allergy friends are really excited about their grain-based options, and I like that many are available unsweetened.
It’s been nine years since I was a judge on the pilot episode of Cupcake Wars, but my tell-all post about the experience is still one of my most popular! At the time I just wanted to address the questions I was getting about my specific episode, but now I want to address some of the more general questions people search, leading them to my original post.
Again, it’s been nine years since I was on the show, but on my episode there was no shortage of people willing to take cupcakes home. When we filmed the pilot there were probably 50 people involved – hair and makeup, editors, producers, a zillion camera operators, sound engineers, show runners – and we were filming inside a giant tent on the UCLA campus. So imagine how much production got ramped up once the series was actually picked up.
Some of the cupcakes quite honestly weren’t worth keeping either from not being well-prepared or just melting under the studio lights. But the ones that survived were snatched up by the show staff pretty quickly.
2. How Do They Come Up With Recipes On the Spot?
In the interest of not getting sued by Food Network, I should say that I actually didn’t ask anyone about this, so my answer is simply speculation from the perspective of someone who has been on the show. That being said, I believe the contestants are told ahead of time what the general theme of each challenge will be so they can prepare.
It’s a pretty common practice for cooking competitions – Iron Chef does it. Sorry to disappoint if you’re someone who still believes reality TV and food competitions are 100% real and unscripted. I guess this would be a good time to let you know that the outcome of professional wrestling matches is also pre-determined.
3. How Do the Contestants Build Their Displays So Quickly?
On the pilot episode, the on-site carpenters were part of the show. I haven’t watched lately, but if I remember correctly that’s an aspect that didn’t make it into any of the regular seasons. For our episode, they did meet with the contestants before we even started filming to plan their displays, which leads me back to my theory that the contestants know the themes ahead of time. The carpenters worked off camera during filming to build the display, but all of that was edited to appear that they only had an hour to complete their work.
It also took two days to film the episode I was on – so even though the contestants really did only have 30 minutes to do this, or an hour to do that, it was spread out over multiple days.
4. How Do the Judges Choose a Winner?
This is probably the trickiest one to answer, which is weird because I was a judge, right? I can only speak for my episode, but on the first day of filming one of the producers was telling us about each of the contestants. It was a casual run-down, and not framed as instructions in any way. When he got to Elfie, the baker who won the episode, he said some nice things about her bakery and her personality and then he said, “She’s going to win.” It was definitely not “you are going to choose her,” it was more like a prediction. But I remember thinking it was a weird thing to say to the judges before the competition even started.
As the contest went on, it was clear that Elfie was, in fact, the superior baker, and she did end up winning. We judges had maybe a two-minute whispered conversation about who we were choosing, and I remember a production assistant looming over us insisting we hurry the whole time. (Which is also weird because it took two days to film this show – why are we in a big hurry all of the sudden?)
Nevertheless, we ended up agreeing with the producer and choosing Elfie as the winner. But I often wonder if they cast the show with a ringer, knowing full well who will win ahead of time. They definitely didn’t tell us who to eliminate, or in what order, so maybe it’s just chance that it ended up the way it did? Who knows.
5. How Do You Get on Cupcake Wars?
In my case, as a judge, the casting director and I had actually previously chatted about me possibly being on a different show she was working on. When they decided at the last minute that they needed a third judge she called me and I flew to L.A. the next day. But if you’re looking to compete on the show, keep your eye on the Food Network casting call page – it’s where they post about all of their competitions. They definitely also scout social media to see if any bakers are shaking things up on the Internet, too.
I hope that quenches people’s surprising thirst for knowledge about this show! If you still have questions leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!
Some links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click and make a purchase, I will earn a commission.
My friend Ashlee Piper’s amazing book Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.hits shelves this summer (but you can pre-order it now!) and I’m so stoked for her I decided to dedicate this #FridayFive to her favorite subject – giving a sh*t about the environment.
My favorite thing about Ashlee’s book is how incredibly practical it is. My second favorite thing is that she asked me to write a blurb for the jacket. She makes reducing your footprint fun, easy, affordable and stylish, too. So in her honor, here are five easy, stylish, and non-dorky ways you can cut back on waste every day:
1. Drink Like You Give a Sh*t
By now I hope you’ve weaned yourself fully from bottled water, and make a conscious effort to carry your own water bottle. I mean, it’s been proven time and time again that most bottled water comes from municipal sources (aka tap water) so why spend money on it? I’ve been using the same Klean Kanteen for eight years, so I’d say it’s more than paid for itself.
I also have a set of Stainless Steel Drinking Straws that I use at home for smoothies, cold drinks and the occasional milkshake. There are tons of varieties, including glass, and extra wide straws for thicker drinks.
2. No Diggity, I got to Bag it Up
Last year Chicago enacted a shopping bag tax, and while I don’t have the statistics on hand, my eyeballs tell me that it’s significantly reduced the number of single use bags used in the city – nearly everyone in every store brings their own totes. I’ve had the same set of Reuseit EarthTote bags for eight years now – I just throw them in the washing machine every once in a while. (If you’re wondering why everything is eight years old, it’s because I worked for Reuseit.com eight years ago.) Another way to cut down on waste when you’re grocery shopping is using Reusable Mesh Produce Bags with the tare weights printed on the tag, so you aren’t paying for the extra weight.
Ironically, we make a lot of garbage when we clean our houses. From the disposable plastics our cleaning products come in to the mountain of paper towels we throw away. Thankfully, a lot of store-bought natural cleaning products offer refills, which cuts back on waste, but ultimately you’re still tossing out a refill package. If you have the time and patience to make your own cleaners at home, there are tons of resources online and I’ve found many of them to be inexpensive, effective, and easy to make.
I haven’t been able to totally say goodbye to paper towels in my house (thanks largely to my dog) but Skoy cloths are a decent alternative. They’re made from cotton and wood-based cellulose, so they’re compostable, but more importantly you can use, sanitise, and reuse them over and over again. Designate different colors for different uses around the house and you’ll cut back a lot on your paper towel use.
4. Cooking Up Garbage
A few years back I wrote a long post about ways to cut back on waste in the kitchen, so I’ll just highlight a few here. If you’re a baker, definitely invest in a few silicone baking mats to not only cut back on how much parchment paper and aluminum foil you use, but also to save water as you can wash your baking sheets less frequently.
Try to use reusable containers instead of plastic baggies and plastic wrap, it sounds like common sense, but it’s easy to fall into the habit of storing leftovers in disposables. You can also take a page out of my grandma’s book and save the containers your yogurt and other foods come in, and reuse those.
You can also buy a lot of staples in bulk – things like nutritional yeast, flour, coffee, nuts. Store them in clear, airtight containers and you might find that you’re using them more often than when they were hidden away in plastic bags and cardboard boxes. For other staples that you typically buy in single-serve containers, like yogurt, try to buy the larger one and portion it out into reusable containers. Then save the tubs and use them to store other things.
5. Yep, You Can Reuse Those Too
Understandably, a big source of disposables for the ladies of the house are hygiene products. I mean, we bleed on them, of course we want to throw them away. Some women swear by washable and reusable menstrual pads – I personally tried them and found them to be sweaty and uncomfortable. But, there are lots of alternatives like the Diva Cup. They aren’t totally practical if, for instance, your office has a shared bathroom and someone might walk in on you rinsing it out. But, even if you use them half of the time you’re preventing a lot of waste and saving money, too.
Did you find anything new in this guide? How do you cut back on waste?
Starting Thursday, April 12, 2018, the “Impossible Slider” will be available anytime in 140 White Castle locations throughout New York, New Jersey and Chicagoland. I don’t normally share news like this on my site, but as a 20-year herbivore I was struck by the significance of fast food chain White Castle adding it’s third vegan option to the menu.
This news went out as an embargoed release, meaning media outlets aren’t supposed to post until tomorrow, but I’ve seen a few others go live today so why should I wait? Read the Press Release
The Impossible Slider Debuts At White Castle
Starting April 12, the “Impossible Slider” will be available at 140 White Castle restaurants in three states. Sliders will cost $1.99, and are available as part of a combo meal. With this, White Castle becomes the largest single restaurant group to serve the Impossible Burger by far.
The burger will be topped with smoked cheddar cheese (not vegan, optional), pickles, onions and served
on a dairy-free signature bun.
The Impossible Burger is made from simple ingredients, including water, wheat protein, potato protein and coconut oil. One ingredient — heme — contributes to the characteristic taste of meat and catalyzes all the other flavors when meat is cooked. This ingredient has caused some controversy as last year the company revealed they conducted animal testing with rats to develop this ingredient.
Will you be trying this burger at White Castle? Tell me why or why not in the comments.
Back in 2013, Teno and I got to spend Halloween morning baking BurgerTime-inspired whoopie pies on You & Me This Morning – which was cool, but not as cool as meeting Svengoolie on set. We stayed in touch, and reunited this week on the set of his iconic show.
For any squares reading this, Svengoolie is late-night a horror/sci-fi movie host (think Elvira or Vampiria, but you know, a dude). The character originated with Jerry G. Bishop in 1970, and was taken on by Rich Koz when the show was resurrected in 1979. Rich still plays Svengoolie to this day and he was kind enough to invite me to the studio earlier this week. I not only got to see what goes on behind the scenes, but I also earned a coveted role as chicken thrower, along with my friend Megan.
Here are some of the most interesting things I learned on set:
1. Svengoolie is Efficient AF
Filmed on a cozy, elaborately-decorated set, the show has a small-but-mighty crew consisting of Rich Koz, director Chris M. Faulkner, executive producer Jim Roche and a small handful of engineers who are technically employed by WCIU/MeTV, the station that airs the show.
In the few hours I was on set, they knocked out opens, closes, commercial breaks and even sponsored segments for three episodes. To put this into perspective, I once worked for a cosmetics brand that filmed three YouTube eyeshadow tutorials – it took two full days and a crew of 15 people, multiple stylists, and several of us from the brand. If I ever need an eyeshadow tutorial filmed in the future, I’m going to hire the Sven crew.
2. There is an Art to Throwing Chickens
If you’ve seen the show, you know there are two key times when the rubber chickens go flying – at the end of the opening monologue, when Sven delivers a groan-inducing dad joke or pun, and then again at the end as he walks from the door back to his coffin. What you may not have thought about, though, was that someone needs to throw those chickens.
Typically, a station staffer is responsible for this role, and the show’s FAQ clearly states that they do not accept chicken-throwers off the street. So when Sven asked if I’d want to come take on this honorable role, I literally took the day off work to do so.
Megan and I sat on small mats between the coffin and one of the show’s three cameras. The trick, as explained to us by Jim, was to throw ’em high, get some arch in the toss, and try not to hit Sven in the face or knock any shit off the tables or shelves. It took us a couple of takes to get it right, but pretty soon we were throwing chickens through the air like pros. There are about 20 chickens, in varying sizes and shapes, many of which were gifts (with messages scrawled on them in black maker). Once you throw all 20, which happens fast, you kind of crawl around, grabbing whichever ones you can reach, to keep the air full of chickens until the scene ends. Also, some of them make noises. More on that later.
3. The Sven Crew Are the Right Kind of Nerds
Sven’s pun-filled commentary about the films shows a breadth of knowledge about the films, their actors and directors and the genres themselves, that I’d always assumed was partially in thanks to researchers and/or writers working on the show. Upon meeting the crew, and talking to them off-camera about the films, I realized these guys are the researchers and writers.
Sven and Jim in particular are wildly knowledgeable about horror, sci-fi and slapstick, and as a woman who is also a fan of these genres I often find myself either being ignored, or being mansplained to, by male “experts.” This could not be further from the experience I had on set with these guys. Megan and I were included in every conversation and every joke, and if we weren’t familiar with a certain film or actor, we got a quick education without even the smallest inkling of a patronizing tone. If you’re a dude reading this, you’ll probably never get it so just move on – but I know all the women reading this are smiling. For a show that’s been on since the 70s, this was a pleasant surprise and made me an even bigger fan.
4. Sven is So Hot Right Now
In addition to executive producing, Jim Roche is responsible for booking Sven’s appearances, and travels with him to conventions and signings. I don’t want to put a label on it, but I was picking up some best friend vibes that made me happy.
It was amazing to hear that after all this time, the calendar is more packed than ever. (Check out the appearances section of Sven’s site to see if he’s coming to a town hear you.) After meeting these guys and seeing how much they still love putting on this show, I really encourage you to support their live appearances, and buy some merch while you’re at it!
5. I Love Puns and Dad Jokes, But Not as Much as Megan Does
And now, please allow me to tell you about what a joy it was to bring Megan with me to throw chickens for Svengoolie. First of all, I asked Megan because she’s a dear friend, and incredible artist whose work dabbles in the kitch and creepy.
Sven usually did 1-2 walkthroughs of a scene, then filmed three takes before moving on to the next one. (Seriously, so efficient.) This meant that we heard every joke at least five times in a row. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say there was a Doritos joke that made Megan laugh all five times. It was at that moment I knew I’d made the right choice about who to bring with me.
Half way through the day, when we’d already become certified professional chicken throwers, something happened. One of the chickens that makes noise, made a noise. A long noise. A loud noise. I believe this particular chicken was on the bottom of the pile, and the weight of the other chickens set off the squeaker in a haunting, low, drawn-out squawk. Megan noticed first and her eyes went wide, then welled with tears because in addition to being loud and inappropriate, the noise was hilarious. All four of our hands started flopping around in the pile, trying to find the offending chicken, while also trying to keep the other 19 chickens in the air, flying toward the coffin. Finally, Megan grabbed it, and flung it toward Svengoolie. As it traveled through the air, the squawk only grew louder, and lower, and it continued for 2-3 seconds after it bounced off the coffin and hit the ground again.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that my grown-ass friend Megan cried over the hilarity of an ill-timed chicken noise. Tears streamed down her face for several minutes after the rest of the crew had moved on. Hours later, in a Lyft riding away from the station, she started to laugh uncontrollably once more. And even the next day, she texted me about the noise. It was a glorious moment that I will never forget.
Witness My Professional Chicken-Throwing Skills
Want to see my artful tosses in action? Hope to hear the wayward squawk? The episodes Megan and I helped out with will be airing in April – check your local listings!