Friday, August 5, 2011

Native Foods: Finally in Chicago!

When I left LA in 2003, I wasn't veg yet and hadn't yet experienced the magic that is Native Foods. But finally after months of anticipation they are now open for business in Chicago!

This is the Wicker Park location, with Lakeview (yay!) and South Loop locations coming soon. So the other day, I received an email that I was invited to their "VIP pre-opening party" the weekend before they open to the public on August 9th. The email was sent in the morning, but by the time I opened it that evening, there were no more available spots! Oh you can imagine my heartbreak. So I did what any vegan food-loving gal would do: I tweeted @nativefoodscafe and asked if there was any sort of waitlist I could add my name to. And much to my amazement, they were able to fit me in! 

My husband and son and I showed up for our "reservation" Friday at 2pm. The email invite said complimentary food/desserts, and I was under the impression there was to be a set menu of samples of appetizers, sandwiches and desserts that everyone would get to try a bit of. Which I was totally fine with because I was so excited to finally try Native Foods...but wow were we in for a surprise. 

We get in line and while we're sipping on Watermelon Fresca (a Native Foods specialty!) one of the employees lets us know that we can choose anything and everything we want (!!!) with the exception of beer and wine which was $2 and all the profits were going to a local animal charity. Oh my gosh it was tough to decide! Don't believe me? Click here for a look at their menu! So finally we decided to get the Native Nachos and Native Chicken Wings to start.

Native Nachos. Mmmmmm
Native Chicken Wings with Buffalo Sauce
 I enjoyed BOTH of these very much. Ryan liked the Wings better, and Julian didn't want any nachos but he LOVED the Wings (minus the sauce). So FYI: Wings are very kid-friendly!

After going back and forth a bit, we decided to order the Chicken Run Ranch Burger for Ryan, the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger for me, and a Freddie's Mac and Cheese from their "Kids Are Cool!' menu for Julian. 

Chicken Run Ranch Burger....other bun is under all the fixins!
Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger
Here's another view
Oh and by the way...those things stacked up on top of the burger? Battered and fried dill pickles! Those were delicious, I could eat just those with some dipping sauce!!

Freddie's Mac and Cheese
 Oh my gosh the food is wonderful! Overall I preferred the taste of the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger and the texture of the Chicken Run Ranch Burger, but they both blew me away. And don't even get me started on the Mac and Cheese. I contemplated stealing the bowl from Julian but then thought I'd look like a bad mom if my kid went hungry while I stuffed myself. 

Dessert? Don't mind if I do! 
 Ryan got a slice of the Chocolate Love Pie and Cheesecake to go and unfortunately I didn't get a picture of either one. Figures. (However, I tried the Chocolate Love Pie and it was YUM. And I gotta tell ya I don't like cheesecake so I didn't try it. Ryan said it was good though, for the record). BUT...I DID get pics of my choice(s): a Chocolate Cupcake and a Cardamom Rose Cupcake!
 Now again these were both delicious but I'm a chocolate lover at heart and they sure did me right with that cupcake!! I'll probably dream of that icing tonight, can't believe I just confessed that.

Local Happenings

They've got outdoor seating! Yes, there's more than one table.
My crazy kid.

After today, I am officially in love with Native Foods. Oh...and Ryan isn't even veg and he enjoyed his food, so bring your meat-eating friends and family and I'm sure they'll find something they'll love too! 

The staff was so nice and accommodating, the food was excellent, I loved the decor (elephants all over the women's bathroom!)....I would highly recommend Native Foods to anyone, veg or not! I will without a doubt be going back for more!!

Have you been to Native Foods? What are your fave foods from there??

Native Foods
1484 North Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, 60622
Song of the day: "Discotraxx", Ladytron 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula Hotel

Oh my, have I been waiting a long time to post about this. Let me start at the beginning:

 In the Feb 2010 issue of VegNews, they did a small feature on must-see veg-friendly places in Chicago. The one that intrigued me the most was the Peninsula Hotel.
 I have been meaning to go there for a year and a half and yesterday my friend Charisse and I finally went!! Yippee!

It was such a nice day, perfect for vegans who want to be fancy!
 We had 4:30 reservations. FYI, Afternoon Tea times are Monday thru Friday 3pm-5pm, Saturdays 2:30-4:30pm, and Sundays from 4-6pm. The hotel is so nice inside, I felt like a celebrity or something (I don't do stuff like this often, can you tell??)! 
There are much better pictures on the Peninsula's website...check it out here! Tea is served in The Lobby. Anyway, so the place was just filled with natural light and we were lucky enough to get a window seat. We could see the Hancock right outside, pretty cool.
View from our table!
 Unfortunately their vegan Afternoon Tea menu isn't available to view online. But that's why I'm here, folks! Got a pic for ya:
Now I'm a coffee lover at heart, but check out their list of teas from the main menu!
I told the waiter that I just couldn't decide between coffee or tea so I'd like some of both. Yeah, I'm that person I guess. The price includes one pot of tea per person, so Charisse went with Mandarin Rose Petal and I went with the Lapsang Souchong after the waiter's suggestion. He said the Lapsang Souchong has a "smoky campfire" kind of smell and taste. It sounds kinda funky but it was really good! I'd recommend it. Charisse didn't care for it much though, for the record. The Mandarin Rose Petal was awesome as well, I really enjoyed that. And here's our lovely vegan treat plate!

I'm so sorry for my less-than-stellar photos! After looking at our plates for a second we realized that the menu differed slightly from the food that we actually got. I'm not complaining, just wanted to note that. On the bottom we had our firm tofu with asparagus, a pumpernickel-arugula wrap and what looked like grilled veggie sandwiches. Here's the sandwich closeup. 
Charisse and I liked this best of all from the bottom plate. Oh and speaking of Charisse, she opted for champagne along with her tea, which is an option...just wanted to let ya know!
On the middle plate there were what looked like lemon-poppyseed scones, but they had more of a bread-like texture, so I'm not sure if they were scones or bread? I really liked them, though! Very light and subtle flavor. And on the top plate we had brownies, "fruit sparklers", mini peanut butter muffins, white chocolate and dark chocolate dipped strawberries (which were divine, by the way), and chocolate chip cookies. Overall, everything was just wonderful. The food, the tea, the coffee, the music (violinist and cellist, how cool!), the weather, the atmosphere...couldn't have been better! Sidenote: We were in there for quite a while though and we both got a bit bring a light sweater if you go in the summertime. 

After we finished our plates, our waiter came up to us and said that The Lobby normally offers its guests a dessert after their afternoon tea (kinda odd, we pretty much had two plates of nothing but dessert!) but it was a non-vegan dessert today. So he went ahead and brought us sorbet instead. How nice of him! Ugh and of course I didn't get a photo! But he brought us a scoop of passion fruit and a scoop of coconut. Both were delicious!! 

This whole experience has definitely made my list of top 10 must-do things in Chicago for any and every vegan, either living or visiting here! I enjoyed it so much, I will without a doubt go back again one day. Please do yourselves a favor and make sure to check this place out! I really think you'll love it. 

Thank you VegNews for writing about this place! I had a great time!

The Peninsula Hotel
108 E Superior St
Chicago, IL 60611
312-573-6760 (That's the direct number to The Lobby)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Recent Supermarket Discoveries

Even though I am in Trader Joe's and Whole Foods more than I care to mention, I still roam the aisles looking for anything new+vegan+yummy-looking every time I set foot into either place. And it usually pays off! Here's what I've bought and tried so far. There are a few other things at both places that have caught my eye besides the ones I am about to write about, but I'm not made of money, people! Those other items will have to wait till sometime in the future. $$

 Here's my latest find at Trader Joe's. I was checking out their "new items" shelf and right as I was about to shrug these little guys off as non-vegan, I see that little "V" in the bottom right-hand corner. Yep...had to buy 'em. They were a good price though, $1.99! Julian (my 4-year old wild man) was excited to try them too. Now while we both thought they were delicious, they reminded me of animal crackers. Ok, maybe a step or two up from animal crackers, but definitely reminiscent. Will that stop me from buying these again? Nope. They were yummy and a great price...what else is there, right? 
That was the only thing from Trader Joe's this week unfortunately. So looks like I'll be moving right along to Whole Foods discoveries!

Ok so I guess these have been out for a little while. But I swear this is the first time I've seen them at my Whole Foods! I've heard great things, so i had to give them a try. There are 4 patties inside. The first time I made a patty for myself and a cheese"burger" for Julian. Julian loved his burger and ate nearly the whole thing. I on the other hand only had ketchup and vegan mayo on mine and wasn't all that impressed. But a couple days later we had the other two patties and I dressed mine up a little more than the first time: ketchup, mayo, bbq sauce, pickles, spinach (I always use spinach instead of lettuce), and veggie bacon bits. Much, much better! After that second time around I decided I would definitely buy these again. I pan-fried our burgers but I can only imagine how good these would be grilled up and served with the works! I'm gonna have to try that before the end of summer, that's for sure! I'll report back on that....

 Well well, lookie here! I was on my way to get some Amy's mac n cheeze and spotted this on my way down the aisle. I've heard of the famous Candle 79 restaurant in NY but have never been. I was immediately intrigued and had to buy this. Also...there were three other frozen meals from "Candle Cafe" as well. I cannot remember exactly what they were, but I do know one was a seitan/lemon/caper sorta dish, and the other two were tofu based. A stir-fry and a ravioli dish perhaps? I'll look again next time I'm there. Now, as I've said before, I am not a big tofu fan. So while I will get the seitan meal and try it, I will most likely not be buying the tofu meals. If anyone tries them or has already tried them, please let me know what you think! Anyhow, let's get back to the mac n cheese!! I was so excited to try this out...I mean, who doesn't like mac n cheese right?
 Candle Cafe did not disappoint, let me tell ya! I really liked this and would buy it again as a treat, no doubt about it. Since I'm a cheapskate, I asked the cashier if I could get this for free under the Whole Foods "Give it a Try!" program. Normally I wouldn't be so shameless, but these meals are a little expensive! I think each one was $6.99. Hence...this will be a treat/indulgence sorta thing and not on my weekly shopping list. Maybe that's a blessing in disguise though; I could eat this for dinner almost every night, no kidding. For the record though, I do still love Amy's vegan Mac n Cheese!

Oh who am I kidding, I could eat these for dinner almost every night, for real. Oh how I've missed those ol' York Peppermint Patties....they call my name in the checkout line all the time. And here they are in a more delicious (and more expensive!) form! Whole Foods had an entire endcap devoted to different candies/treats from this company. I'd say about half of them were vegan and I plan on trying them all. I remember seeing dark chocolate covered banana chips and dark chocolate covered pretzel balls on that shelf somewhere, those are a must-try! But these patties are wonderful. No other way to describe them. The price though? Not wonderful. $6.99 if I do recall correctly. What's with me and my expensive taste? Geez. The other treats I saw were not as expensive though, I do remember that. 

Has anyone else tried any of these items before? What are your thoughts? 

Song of the Day: "Love and Happiness", Al Green

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Restaurant review: Urban Vegan

New vegan restaurant open in north side Chicago! Yes! And only about a mile from my house...double YES! Let's get right to it then...

 Urban Vegan is a mainly Thai place (also a few American-style food offerings like burgers and such) located in either the Lakeview or Ravenswood neighborhood, depending on who you ask. They have been open for about a month, and I couldn't wait to check them out! They had been getting good reviews on Yelp so I knew I'd have to try Urban Vegan sooner than later.  Being broke, I was gonna have to wait till next payday. But my friend Katie was kind enough to pay me for watching over her kids for about an hour (easy money, those kids are awesome), and I knew where that money was going right away! 
So naturally I stopped in this new spot for dinner. 

The place is tiny and cute with lots of natural light. The young lady who served us was very friendly and helpful. Oh and the music playing was of the Norah Jones/Ray Charles/Regina Spektor persuasion, I kind of enjoyed it. 

My dilemma was WHAT should I eat?? I mean, take a look at the menu here...what would you get?? Well, I knew right away I'd have to try the tempura. 

 Broccoli, eggplant, sweet potato, zucchini, and soy shrimp. Along with a yummy tempura sauce. Very good! I'd recommend this one for sure. In fact, I could see myself going back to Urban Vegan in the future just for tea and tempura!

After mulling it over for awhile I decided to go with the "Cashew Nuts" entree with seitan.

And here it is with the brown rice:

The brown rice isn't just brown rice, FYI. I could tell by the purplish tint. It was great though! The waitress said it's a mixture of brown rice and jasmine rice among others. Very good. As for my entree, I loved all of it but the seitan. And that's not Urban Vegan's fault at all. It tasted like the good 'ol seitan that we know and love, I just don't think I was in the mood for it to be honest! I've heard great things about the soy pepper steak, so I am definitely going to try that one next time. However, the rest of the dish was great. Very light tasting, perfect for a warm summer evening. But since I filled up on tempura, I took about half my entree home for leftovers. 

If you live in Chicago, you've gotta give these guys a try! And actually, I enjoyed this place so much I think I'd even put it on a "must visit" list for vegans/vegetarians visiting Chicago! I will definitely be going back there, there are so many more things I'd like to try. Oh, and I'll be getting more tempura of course. 

Urban Vegan
1605 W Montrose Ave
Chicago, 60613
(773) 404-1109

Song of the day: "Swimming Horses", Siouxsie and the Banshees

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fitness DVD Reviews....

So I don't know if any of you know this (or care?), but I had changed my blog name to Cupcakes and Quinoa (from VeganBunzOfCinnamon) because I wanted to incorporate more fitness stuff into my blog along with my love of vegan junk food and I wanted my blog name to reflect that. And I can't help but notice there's been a lot of "Cupcakes" and not much "Quinoa"! So here it is, folks...some quinoa...

I had been an avid gym-goer for years. My main passion was weight training, along with cardio. Now I'll admit that those years of weight lifting definitely got me stronger and more toned, but I started going less and less because it didn't feel enjoyable to me as much as it used to. And working out should be enjoyable, should it not? I mean, how crappy is it to drag yourself through a workout just because you feel you "have to"?

Anyway...last year I posted about Trying New Things, and Pilates was one of them. And something changed for me since then. I started looking more into Pilates once we got back to Chicago. Unfortunately there weren't any Pilates classes that I could take around me (money and/or childcare issues were a problem), so I started searching for DVDs I could use at home. Let's just say that I have been so happy with what I've found and my results that at first I would do the DVDs on my off-gym days but in the past couple of months I've abandoned the gym altogether and just stuck with these videos. Here are my favorites, in order of difficulty (strictly my opinion!): 

If anyone remembers, I actually wrote a "review" on this one about 6 months ago. And I still love it! It is in my regular rotation and still challenges me. I consider myself an intermediate/advanced beginner at Pilates and Pilates-fusion workouts (which all these DVDs basically are, from what I hear), and as I grow better with the mind-body connection and navel to spine breathing, I can still get great workouts from DVDs that I've been using for months, as in this case!

Next DVD:
This one is a bit more challenging than the first one, and it's also been in my rotation for months. I usually do this about once a week or ten days on average. The instructor's name is Lara Hudson and I just love her! Her cuing is great, she's not too peppy/annoying in the slightest (uhhh, Denise Austin, anyone?) and like I said earlier, as you improve your core strength, breathing, and flexibility, this DVD can still challenge you! I've been able to progress from modifying lots of the exercises to being able to keep up with Lara!

Number 3:
This instructor's name is Suzanne Bowen and she is awesome as well! She's also great with cuing and quite motivating. This DVD (as you can tell from the picture) utilizes a 6-foot band (don't try a 4-foot one like I did unless you're pretty damn strong to start with!) to intensify the workout and also just change things up a bit. :) It takes a bit to be as quick as she is with moving the band around in between exercises, but after you do this workout once or twice you'll get it. I love the stretch series at the end. Using the band helps you to go deeper into your stretches and it feels great after the workout. 

Lara Hudson again! This particular DVD is one of my top faves. I love the exercise sequences she came up with using the ball. Just make sure the ball you're using is the right size for your height! The ball I had was too small and that made it so hard to stay on the ball or do the exercises correctly, so I promptly went out and bought the right size! Here's a link to help you see which size is right for you. This DVD is challenging and fun, just like a workout should be, right? :)

 And here we have Suzanne Bowen again. Now, I feel that out of the five DVDs pictured that this one is the most difficult. But this is only my opinion, and I am in no way any sort of Pilates expert! Just a 30-something mom who enjoys Pilates-inspired workouts. 
When I first did this DVD I could only use 1lb weights (she recommends 1-3lbs) and I was hurtin' after the first couple of minutes. Now I'm about ready to move up to 3lbs...I'm so proud of myself. 

I love all these DVDs for a number of reasons. First off, I can do the workouts using no more than 3lb weights which I feel lessens the risk of injury GREATLY. Second, I don't have to trek to the gym with my son and take all morning to do something which should only take about an hour. Third, these workouts are all done barefoot! How great! Oh, and fourth, I have noticed my lower back pain has gone away almost completely, my posture and flexibility have improved and I'm no longer as tense in the shoulders as I used to be. Ohhh and fifth! My results in 6 months have been awesome...better than my years of weight training! I think I have found the workouts for me. I spent years trying to put on muscle when the best thing for me to do was just to simply strengthen the muscles I've got, (without trying so hard to add bulk), and these workouts do just that! You'll develop amazing core strength, which is so important to have especially as you get older, I'm sure. You'll notice yourself standing taller and being more aware of your breathing and overall posture. It's great! Anyone have anything to add about why you like/dislike Pilates? I'd love to hear some opinions!

And last but not least I have just got to tell you guys about my latest addiction: barre!
Wow...please tell me one of you have done this before?! I know I'm a little late in the game with the ballet/Pilates/cardio type workouts (I don't I?) but I love this stuff! This DVD gets me sweating every time. I'll admit, the first time I did it I was short of breath after the warm-up!! Now I can complete the workout but it is still challenging and fun of course! The instructor, Andrea Rogers, is wonderful. Just like Lara and Suzanne (oh, you didn't know I was on a first-name basis with them?), Andrea is great with cuing, motivating and to-the-point! I fell behind the first couple of times but as I learned the routine I am now able to keep up. There are lots of ballet movements throughout the DVD, I made sure to watch the tutorial at the beginning where she goes over the terms and positions. 

So there ya have it, folks. Some Quinoa to go with the Cupcakes! Has anyone done any of these DVDs before? If not, what kinds of workouts do you like to do? Would you consider trying one of these DVDs out?

Song of the day: "DARE", The Gorillaz

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Birthday goodness!

Ok so today was my 33rd birthday and it was a great one! I won't go too much into it but what I will cover is the vegan goodness of the day. 

First thing this morning my husband was nice enough to go out and get me vegan donuts from the always wonderful Fritz Pastry:

 Yep, that's a creme-filled one up top there! Very cool....
Oh and FYI I didn't eat all those myself! I had a donut-loving 4-year old helping me. 

And being as today was my birthday...I just hung around the house in my PJs all day and didn't feel bad about it one bit! 

For dinner we went to a place called El Nuevo Mexicano, I heard they had recently introduced a separate vegan menu and I just had to check these guys out!! Today was such a beautiful day so we took advantage of their patio seating. Ahh, summertime in Chicago is worth dealing with the winters!


Click here to see the entire vegan menu!

Since I'm a nerd, I had looked at the menu online last week (I dunno, do all vegans do that?) and already knew what I wanted.... Flautas de Verduras con Papa y Chorizo Vegano.

Now if you think this LOOKS good, then you have got to order one for yourself ASAP cause it was YUM!! I opted for the quinoa (as opposed to white rice) which proved to be a good choice because it was just like Spanish rice but with quinoa! I was very surprised and impressed. My friend Charisse went with the Enchiladas de Chorizo, Papa y Zanahoria en Salsa Tomatillo (with melted Daiya on top!):

Both dishes had quite a little kick if you ask me, but maybe you shouldn't ask me cause I am kinda wimpy when it comes to that. I enjoyed the flautas more overall, but both dishes were excellent.

Oh and don't think I would dare leave without dessert, my friends! I could not resist the Platanos Fritos con Nieve Vegano (fried plantains with coconut ice cream). And being the sweetheart he is, my husband asked the waiter to bring it out with a candle in it. And I got a lovely rendition of Happy Birthday sung to me by the waiter and my friends. 
Oh. My. Gosh. How can something so simple be so good? I don't know! But this was the perfect end to a perfect day. You guys, when (not IF, when!) you go to El Nuevo Mexicano, you have got to try this. It's best to have someone to share it with unless you're a fast eater though...the ice cream melts quickly. But still, this dessert sealed the deal and I will definitely be going back there again!

Me and Ryan

El Nuevo Mexicano
2914 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 528-2131

Song of the day: "Good Times" by Chic