Sunday, September 28, 2014

urban vegan is now a plant-based review blog

First blog post at original blogspot blog on 3/28/06
I can't believe I've been blogging for 8 years... I was one of the blogosphere's early adopters. I started the Urban Vegan back in 2006, simply as a hobby and a way to connect with like-minded people. It's been a wonderful ride. I had no idea that blogging would lead to three cookbooks, cooking demos from New York to Portland to Paris, and countless wonderful friendships in between.

For both personal and philosophical reasons, I've decided to change the focus of Urban Vegan to a review-only blog. I'm pretty stoked about the fresh start. And I'm thrilled that plant-based diets are now much more common. But before I get to reviewing, here's why I'm changing my focus:

Personal reasons
1. I'm burned out.
Thinking outside the box is exhausting.
I love my day job, but it can be stressful at times with long hours. Plus, I work in the creative field – so I am continually digging into my psyche to create. By night, I then create and tweak recipes, review products, answer emails, do social media, write blog posts and take photos. Blogging takes a lot of time and organization. You can only give so much until you need time to recharge and take things in, instead of continual output. Reviews take up less energy; I'm just lending my culinary and plant-based experience to critique what someone else created.

2. I missed cooking for pleasure. 

I love to cook. Obviously, right? Since I've run this blog, every time I set out to make a meal, I felt compelled to write down the recipe or post the photo on social media. It's gotten way out of balance. Since I stopped posting recipes, I've rediscovered the pure joy of cooking.

3. I only have so much time. See #1. I've really been into running and marathon and half-marathon training, and I only have so much free time.

Philosophical reasons
1. I stand against this new culture of working for free... 
Poster from
It's chiseling away at the middle class – and at the real value of talented artists, chefs, writers, photographers, etc. The notion of working for free in the US is becoming so pervasive that people actually think it's normal. Guess what? Working for free is not normal or ethical.

Nowadays, our first exposure to working for free is often through unpaid college internships [which in some cases, are illegal, but in this economy, students do them anyway]. Writers, photographers, artists, and chefs are often asked to give away their content and art work for free or "on spec." Or we give it away for free by choice via social media, forfeiting our intellectual property rights. I am constantly asked to contribute free blog posts [which I used to do often but now will only do for worthy charities]. Recently, for example, a well-known athletic software company asked me if I would write a 500-word blog post for them on vegan nutrition for athletes. I said sure, if they would give me a free subscription to their service in return. No answer? No blog post. I do not work for free. [Say it with me, people. "I do not work for free." Power to the creatives!] Giving away content, art, recipes and photography undervalues what creatives do. Know what your work is worth.

Working for almost free is almost as bad. Many cookbook contracts, for example, have ridiculous stipulations that have authors largely doing their own publicity. When you factor in social media and day jobs, that's a lot of time. And just because you're a great cook doesn't mean you're a great publicist. I was very lucky. I'm grateful that my current publisher, Quarry Books did a phenomenal job of co-publicizing my most recent book Pies and Tarts with Heart But many of my vegan/vegetarian cookbook author friends have not been so lucky. "Cookbook author" sounds like a glamorous job, but it can sometimes amount to less than minimum wage.

I've given away tons of recipes and photos on my blog. In my case, my impetus was altruistic: I wanted to help animals, and raise awareness about factory farming and the then-new paradigm shift in the way we eat. I guess good karma came into play, because, working with my agent, it helped me land a bona-fide cookbook contract, and I think I accomplished all my goals. Since there are a plethora of fabulous vegan recipe blogs now, I humbly leave the recipes to them.

2. Whatever happened to quality and originality? When I started blogging 8 years ago, it was a completely innocent, honest world. There was less appropriation and more creative, fresh material and perspectives. It wasn't de rigueur for bloggers to post every precious [and not-so-precious] moment on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Now, the blogosphere and social media is largely filled with "noise." Sorry, but it's true. Everyone is a ______ [insert creative profession here]. My feed is polluted with regurgitated articles, recipes and craft ideas that have been done [and redone] to death. True originality is a rarity.

So there you have it. Part burnout. Part revolutionary [Power to the creatives!]. I'm excited to be embarking on my new adventure!

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Monday, September 15, 2014

green street rescue really needs your help!

"Will you be my forever mamma?" Cuddly, playful Mindy was found under a porch in Philly with her mom and siblings. She's being fostered at Green Street Rescue, waiting for a loving home.
If you've been following my blog, you know I volunteer for Green Street Rescue here in Philadelphia. Through Green Street, I was able to trap – and then adopt Buttons [RIP] and Pablo. With Green Street's help, I've also trapped and found homes for several other kitties including Laurel and Pumpkin. Thanks to Green Street Rescue and Saved Whiskers, a colony of 12 cats at the Philadelphia Art Museum were all trapped and neutered. Loving homes were found for 9 including these 2 cuties who were able to be socialized. My friend Vanessa and I care for the remaining 3 who had to be released because they were too aggressive to be socialized.

Horace was filthy, starving, afraid and covered with fleas when Green Street Rescue found him. See what a little love can do? He is waiting for his forever home.
Horace's tale is a typical Green Street Rescue story. He was filthy, starving, covered with fleas and scabs and had a bald tummy and infected tail when a kind lady found him on the streets of Philadelphia. He also had a UTI. Green Street covered the vet costs and the kind lady nursed him back to health and is fostering him. He turned out to be a real love bug and hasn't left his foster mom's side since his ordeal. But she is not able to keep him and he needs a forever home – someone who will love him and never-ever-ever leave him. Will it be you?

My friends at Green Street have rescued cats and kittens from horrifying situations in the city. Some cats were starving. Others were abused. Others were "dumped" like trash when their owners moved or decided they didn't want them any more. Green Street rescue is currently overrun and they really need your help. They need people to foster and adopt cats and kittens. They need donations of money – or supplies [like cat food, blankets, towels, toys, etc]

Read more about Horace, Mindy and all the other adorable adoptable kitties at Green Street Rescue. If you'd like to foster or adopt a kitty [or two or three!], contact Green Street or me. I'm happy to help facilitate! Feel free to email me with the subject line "Green Street Rescue" if you have any questions or would like to help, adopt, foster or volunteer.
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Monday, September 01, 2014

salad samurai by terry hope romero :: review and giveaway

press sample
disclosure :: I know Terry in real life
Fresh Fig and Tempeh Salad with Creamy Cilantro-Lime Dressing from Salad Samurai.

Salads. The ultimate vegan cliche, right?

Fact is, cliches exist for a reason. I, for one, gobble up a humongous salad for dinner on average about 3 nights a week. I don't eat my greens out of obligation or discipline: I truly enjoy hearty dinner salads and they're easy and fun to make. None of this side-salad-with-storebought-Italian-vinaigrette sadness for me, thank you very much. I know how to transform a salad into a meal by adding protein, crunchies, a killer dressing, and layers of complexity. Or so I thought...

Then I received a review copy of Terry Hope Romero's Salad Samurai: 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-to-Make Salads You Don't Have to Be Vegan to Love  All I can say is, Holy Guacamole. I'm an amateur. A young grasshoppa'. Terry is an old salad soul. Listen to her. Learn from her and you, too, can become a Salad Samurai.

Maple-Orange Tempeh Nibbles, my new favorite thing.
Excuse my rant, but these days, the marketplace is grossly oversaturated with cookbooks, plant-based and otherwise. [Yeah, I know, I've written a few] It's great to appreciate well-prepared, flavorful food but this foodie thing has gotten way out of balance. It seems everyone has a cookbook. But as I've learned firsthand, just because it's published, online or in print, does not necessarily mean a recipe or technique is new, innovative and/or palatable. Cookbooks have become undercurated [less quality control] and overmarketed [more about cha-ching]. Just like Instagram and Tumblr feeds tend to produce live streams of [mostly] visual noise, the blogosphere and bookstores have become a cacophony of culinary noise. There, I said it.

Back at the Ranch easy, customiazble and groundbreaking
My current measure of an excellent cookbook or blog is when the recipes taste great, the author has a unique style, and I can actually learn something new. Check, check and check, Terry. I thought I was a salad expert but I have already learned oodles from Salad Samurai As the full, adorable title suggests, everyone loves salad – vegans, omnivores and every species in-between. And this pivotal work includes something for everyone. It's useful for both new cooks and experienced culinary curmudgeons like me. If you're a newbie, you can make the recipes exactly as Terry prescribes. Those who are already facile in the kitchen can mix and match with abandon. Tempeh Bacon Bites? That 70's Tofu? Pickled Red Grapes? Maple Orange Tempeh Nibbles? Yes, please.

Some of my favorite recipes from Terri's previous books have been salad dressings. This book is worth it just for the dressing chapter alone. My favorites so far are the Back at the Ranch Dressing, made creamy with cashews, and the Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing which is surprisingly sassy, thanks to a roasted jalapeƱo pepper [which you can skip if spicy is not your thing.]

While the salad recipes themselves are mouthwatering, well-orchestrated and full of color, I really prefer deconstructing the recipes and leaning on their building blocks – Terri's dressings, proteins, crunchies, etc.  I can tell you that Roasted Hemp Seed Parmesan, Sriracha and Smoke Pecans, and Herbed Pea Ricotta have made their way into my weekly meal rotation – and not just for use in salads. The mix-and-match nature of this cookbook rocks and will keep inspiring you to take your salads to the next level.

The nice folks at Da Capo Lifelong Books are giving away a copy of Salad Samurai to one lucky US reader. Good luck, kids. And eat your greens!

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

vegan cuts double feature :: beauty and snack box reviews

Press Samples for Review
Ambassador Link

Monthly subscription boxes are all the rage, and there seems to be a box for everyone. Birch Box [a beauty product box], Bark Box [treats and toys for cats and dogs] and Lullubee [kits for crafters] to name a few. In fact, a co-worker friend recently enticed me to sign up for StitchFix and I'm hooked [I've been looking for perfectly-fitting skinny white jeans for 3 years now, and they delivered in one fell swoop.] But I digress: what about a fun, monthly box for those of us who like to sample the cool new plant-based, ethically sourced food and beauty products?

Enter Vegan Cuts! I've been a long-time fan of Vegan Cuts – and I'm not just saying that because they sent me boxes to review. You know me – I tell it like it is, and I liked it so much that I became a subscriber myself-- and I don't get any discounts. Cutting to the chase, I heart Vegan Cuts because they curate and promote fun, new vegan products. Plus, they create demand for vegan items – cementing veganism as both a lifestyle and a profitable business direction. And why shouldn't vegans make a profit as they purvey their respective passions? I so strongly believe in this business model that I decided to take them up on their offer of becoming an ambassador. First, if monthly subscriptions are not your thing, definitely check out the Vegan Cuts Marketplace, where they offer incredible deals on the latest, greatest vegan food, fashion and beauty and personal care items.

Here's how the boxes work. For $19.95 per month, including shipping, you get a box of cool products to try. In the Beauty Box, which I subscribe to, you get 4-7 items, and in the Snack Box, you'll get 7-10 vegan goodies to try. They range from trial size to full size, but bottom line is the value usually seems to exceed above and beyond $19.95.  These boxes make fabulous gifts for that "hard to shop for" vegan [You know who you are]. Also great for kids in college, to let you know you're thinking of them.

First, let's have a look inside a typical Vegan Cuts Snack Box. Each month's theme is different. They give you a little postcard, outlining what's in the box, a bit about each company and social media links. They sometimes also include coupons. This box included a sample of Loco Natural Soda, and also included a 50 cents off a four-pack coupon. The Choo bar was my favorite and I was so sad it was only a mini. I also loved the Earnest bar, the Loco Ginger Ale, despite the fact that I'm not much of a soda drinker. Since I love salty-crunchy snacks, the Tortatos, made from corn and potatoes, were right up my alley.

I was really skeptical about the Vigilant Eats Oat-Based Superfood because it looked like THIS when you added water as directed. But I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the taste – nutty, slightly sweet, chewy yet crunchy.

And any breakfast cereal that contains espresso is virtuous in my eyes. But seriously, look at that ingredient list – all whole foods, and many raw ingredients,

I was excited about this Roots powder since I drink a lot of smoothies.

Pretty decent 30-calorie nutrition boost, right? I liked the taste of this, but I didn't love it.

Another product that seemed perfect for me. Since I run a lot, I need more protein than the average bear, so I'm always trying out new protein powders.

This one provides 17 grams of protein plus  a slew of vitamins and probiotics. It's soy free and is sprout based. I tossed it into a post-long-run smoothie and really enjoyed the taste and texture. Creamy!

I took the Gluten-Free Soybean Noodle Soup to the office one day. It came with its own cute little fork. The pleasantly chewy noodles swam about in a mild broth, and it made a quick, nutritious lunch. I don't usually buy instant stuff like this, so I must admit, trying it out was fun.

I was shocked when I read the label. Twenty grams of protein? Plus tons of calcium, iron and fiber. Boom!

Vegan Cuts Beauty Box
Now, let's take a look at the Vegan Cuts Beauty Box. [Again, yours will be different, since this is a review from a box I received earlier this year.]

My favorite item in this particular box was these NCLA nail wraps. I love painting my nails [I find the ritual soothing, plus it makes me sit still] so I honestly thought I'd hate these. Plus, I wasn't a fan of the colors. But once I finally applied them, I was in LOVE. I definitely want to order more. They lasted so long, too. You get 44 – enough for 4 manis. If you have small nails, like me, you may need to trim some.

Here's what they look like on. I got so many compliments when I wore this mani.

Also received a sample pot of Schmitt's Bergamot-Lime Natural Deodorant. First things first, like most people who eat a plant-based diet, I find I can easily go without deodorant. Not that I would. But I can. I just don't emit offensive odors, even after 15 mile runs! – probably because I don't eat offensive [aka, dead] food. Still, for good measure, I use Thai Crystal Deodorant daily. It lasts forever and it's easy to apply. But Schmidt's deodorant smells so fresh and good. It's like applying all-natural perfume under your pits. I smelled fresh and clean all day each time I used it. If I didn't have long nails, I'd probably buy this again. My only gripe is that it gets under my long fingernail when I scoop it out.

Sunology Face and Body sunscreen samples. Nice product. Got the job done. I'll definitely be on the lookout for the full size bottles.

Reflexology Acne Spot Treatment. I'm lucky to have had clear skin most of my life. But like everyone, I get the occasional zit, even at age 49. This little baby dries out pimples without drying out your skin. The rollerball is a nice touch.

Being a lip balm fan, I was stoked to get two lip balms in this particular box. This Peach Lip Tint comes via Fanciful Fox.

It's super moisturizing, but I'm not a fan of the smell or the nubby texture. And the packaging needs a little TLC. But that didn't stop me from using it up.

My biggest gripe was that this was supposed to be a lip "tint." I applied it vigorously to my pale forearm, and as you can see, there's no tint. They should either add more pigment or simply rename it "lip balm."

Last but not least, I was thrilled to spy a stick of my very favorite silky lip balm by Hurraw! This is a night treatment but I've just worn it during the day, and I love it.

Just to give you some perspective, I just received this Vegan Cuts Beauty Box last week and actually remembered to take a photo. My favorite item was the on-trend, bright orchid Emani full size lipstick [a $16 value]. As you can see, these boxes are more than worth the money.

Which would you rather – the food box or the beauty box? To order, visit Vegan Cuts post-haste.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

how to be vegan :: review and giveaway

Press sample for review

Want to give veganism a go but not sure where to start? First stop, How to Be Vegan: Tips, Tricks, and Strategies for Cruelty-Free Eating, Living, Dating, Travel, Decorating, and More penned by plant-based "it" girl and former VegNews editor Elizabeth Castoria. I was lucky enough to meet Elizabeth at the very first Vida Vegan Conference and I can tell you, she's a peach – engaging yet down to earth and genuinely committed to animal welfare.

Well-designed infographics punctuate "How to be Vegan." Layout is clean and easy to scan.

The book outlines the hows and whys of how to go vegan, using a hip tone that's easy to read and understand. The 6 chapters outline pretty much everything you ever wondered about being vegan – from what to eat, what to wear and how to clean your home and body, to traveling how-tos, dating pointers and tips on how not to be that vegan. The last chapter includes 50 basic recipes by Robin Robertson to get you started on your plant-based adventure. I made the Rice with Beans and Greens. All this useful information crammed into 217 pages? Yes, please.

The nice folks at Artisan Books have offered to give a free copy of How to Be Vegan to one lucky US winner. Good luck!

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

vanilla macadamia-cashew whipped cream

Summer means bundles of juicy berries. Inherently sweet and dairy-free, a dollop of nut-based whipped cream is the perfect complement to the tartness of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, plus it fortifies your snack with an extra hit of protein, iron, fiber and minerals. Since nut-based whipped cream is an excellent pie topper, I included a recipe, along with 10 variations, in my latest cookbook Pies and Tarts with Heart: Expert Pie-Building Techniques for 60+ Sweet and Savory Vegan Pies. It's so ridiculously easy to make and is so versatile – the recipe below happens to be another variation on the original from this cookbook. It's also awesome on ice cream and other desserts and would make a great base for overnight oatmeal. But I must confess: sometimes, I just eat a small bowl [daintily, with a demitasse spoon] for breakfast. It fills me up: a little goes a long way.

I used macadamia nuts in this version, because they are buttery and uber-decadent. Macadamia nuts are rich, but I only used 1/2 because I'm not rich: they happen to be the world's most expensive nut. To ensure success and the most flavorful topping, please only use raw nuts and pure vanilla bean scrapings or powder. Be sure to soak your nuts for a full three hours or overnight. Using a high-speed blender, like a Vitamix will yield the fluffiest, creamiest whipped topping, but this recipe also works using a regular kitchen blender. Just be sure to whip it good!

Enjoy the long weekend. Happy 4th of July!

Vanilla Macadamia-Cashew Whipped Cream

  • 1/2 cup raw macadamia nuts, soaked and drained
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked and drained
  • Up to 3/4 cup non-dairy milk [I used homemade almond milk]
  • Scrapings of 1 vanilla bean pod or about 1/2 tsp pure vanilla powder
  • 1 to 3 T maple syrup, agave nectar or a pinch or two of stevia

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Whip everything in a blender, preferably high-speed, until perfectly smooth. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

If you prefer whipped cream even thicker, you can also whip in 1 T cornstarch, but I've been omitting it lately with great results.

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