Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Listen: The Artisanal Tofu Sounds of Communions

While I'm pretty sure that "Don't Hold Anything Back" by Copenhagen by way of Seattle four-piece Communions was not written about Artisanal tofu, it very well could be. Let's start with the fact that the song texture is a bit crunchy and hard edged on the surface thanks to the on again off again guitar arrangement. Inside, things are a bit softer. This is due in large part to the moments of silence from the droning guitar as it gives way to a soft acoustic one. Not enough? Hmm...well, if lines like "You could either pick me up or lay me down, you could throw me out or stick around" and the constant reminder of "You could be the only one with the way you shine" don't speak Artisanal tofu to you maybe, you just haven't been in the tofu game long enough.

The City of Tampa According to Tofu: Thinh An Kitchen & Tofu

Five spring breaks ago my wife and I spent a few days in Asheville. We were spending two nights in a hostel before moving to a bed and breakfast for a night before coming back to the hostel for one more night (if you didn't catch that the first time, you have my permission to reread the line until it makes sense). When we arrived at the hostel the owner took us on an abbreviated tour. As he showed us the kitchen he said "Some local commune gave us a bunch of homemade tofu. Feel free to take as much as you want while you are here. Hell, you can even take some with you when you go." A solitary tear rolled down my face as I thought about homemade tofu and why Tampa can't seem to get nice things.

Hey, it may have taken until 2016 but thanks to Thinh An Kitchen & Tofu, Tampa finally has gotten nice things (at least in the world of artisanal tofu making). Thinh An Kitchen & Tofu is a unique place. When you walk in half of the business is a restaurant that serves boba tea, Vietnamese desserts, Pho and other traditional Vietnamese dishes. The other half of the building is a grab and go with coolers of homemade tofu, soy milk and various meats that might be necessary for cooking Vietnamese at home. There are also a number of metal trays that hold freshly made items. It was here, in these metal trays, that I found the artisanal tofu I was looking to take home.

According to Laura Reiley, food critic for the Tampa Bay Times Thinh An Kitchen & Tofu churns out seven different flavors of tofu. When I visited they had only four (ha, only four, like four flavors of tofu is a normal thing around here). These four were original, lemongrass and chili, onion and mushroom. The mushroom and onion were sliced into large rectangles. They were priced at four for a dollar. I filled a miniature plastic baggie (yep, that's how you take things to go here) with eight of each. The lemongrass and chili came in two forms, large rectangles (like the onion and mushroom) and a block similar to how traditional tofu in a grocery store is sold. I grabbed four of the rectangles and a big block. I was absolutely astounded when they lady rang me up for the block of tofu and it only came out to two dollars. The only place that I have found tofu that cheap in this city is Whole Foods (organic, $1.99) and MD Market (full of GMO's, $1.29). The lady at the register asked if I wanted any sauces with my tofu (options include chili paste, soy sauce, fish sauce and another one  that I don't remember). I settled on some chili paste.

My Plate of Different Flavored Tofu from Thinh An Kitchen & Tofu

I would love to say that I waited until I got home and ate that tofu properly but I didn't. I ripped into the rectangles as soon as I got to the car. Each tofu flavoring was subtle, it wasn't going to overwhelm you with whatever it was covered with. I liked that because it gave you the option of eating it with a dipping sauce or using it in a recipe. The different tofus had a nice chewy shell on the outside of them. Inside they were soft and creamy, almost like a custard. It was absolutely and without a doubt the best tofu I've ever eaten. J-Fur wasn't as instantaneously taken in as I was. She would not go on record as saying that it was the best tofu she has ever eaten. But when I pressed her to name a place that had better tofu, she couldn't. I took that as a motion seconded.

I used the lemongrass and chili block to make Thug Kitchen's Spring Veggie Bowl with Red Curry Lime Sauce.  I adore this recipe but hate the time it takes for the tofu to finish baking and marinating. Already marinated and baked tofu made this a total win scenario. I was very pleased with how the tofu held up when I put it in Red Curry Lime Sauce to warm. There was no crumbling or falling apart and it kept its chewy shell and creamy interior.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Where We Eat: Buttermilk Provisions

Rumor has it Dana M., owner and chief baker of Buttermilk Provisions in Wesley Chapel, used to go on all out baking binges around the holidays. She would ask anyone important enough to be worth inviting to come to her place and eat some of the hundreds of donuts that she was baking. When I asked Dana about this rumor she laughed and said "I don't do that anymore. They want my donuts, they have to come here to get them."

Buttermilk Provisions can best be described as a bakery, coffee and tea shop. The shop is located in a strip mall just north of Wiregrass Mall. While the outside screams "typical Florida business experience" and "nothing unique to see here" the inside is anything but typical. The left side of the shop is lined with couches, chairs and coffee tables. This is usually where we wind up because Z-Bot prefers her coffee and donut experiences to be of the slightly more comfortable variety. The right side includes high tables, barstools and an entire wall covered by an old school chalkboard. This board has been decorated with chalk designed donut and coffee art, propaganda and quotes. It also serves as a coffee education zone (what makes a latte a latte?) and menu board. Buttermilk Provisions offers four rotating donut flavors per day. At least one flavor will be gluten free. Some days they offer vegan donuts, other times vegans will have to forgo the donuts and try out some of the vegan banana bread. Whether it is donuts or banana bread, Buttermilk Provisions makes it a point to have at least one vegan option daily.

My first experience with Buttermilk Provisions was a slightly dry slice of vegan banana bread that my friend brought to me at work during their soft opening phase. I wasn't really impressed with it so I felt no urgency to return. This summer that same friend told me that Buttermilk Provisions had rolled out a chocolate vegan donut. She, being a meat and dairy eater all the way, had gone out of her way to sample the donut. She loved it. When a second co-worker, also not a vegan, exclaimed how good it was, I decided it was time to give the bakery another go. I rolled in with my daughter last Friday and inquired about the vegan chocolate donut I had been hearing about. Dana informed me that they had a dairy free chocolate donut that day but she had unfortunately covered it with an egg filled caramel sauce. I'm sure my face didn't hide my displeasure. What the hell? Why go halfway vegan? (She later explained that people had been clamoring for her caramel sauce and she thought pairing it with the chocolate donut would be perfect. Once she finished she realized that she had now taken her vegan donut and made it not vegan.) I was informed that they had a vegan banana bread and I, begrudgingly, ordered a piece of it. For Z-Bot, I got her one of the halfway vegan chocolate donuts.

This time around I was blown away by the banana bread. It wasn't nearly as dry as the first time. I liked how the banana bread was dense and had only a slight banana taste to it. It wasn't overly sweet. There were chunks of vegan chocolate and walnuts spread throughout. They helped break up some of the denseness of the bread and assisted in making each bite a slightly sweet, crunchy, chocolatey affair. I was so impressed with the bread that when I returned today, and they had a vegan donut, I opted to get both the donut and the bread.

Banana bread with a fancy plastic cup of water

Today's vegan donut was a chocolate glazed, chocolate donut that was also gluten free. It was baked, like all Buttermilk Provisions' donuts are. Since I ordered the donut for Z-Bot, I only wanted to break off a small piece. When I did, about half the donut crumbled in my hands. It did not hold together very well. The donut was moist, something that is often times the downfall of vegan desserts. It looked, felt and tasted more like cake than a donut. Just know this. If you are vegan and expecting a donut that feels like a donut, uh, go to Brooklyn. If you are okay with a vegan donut that acts like a cake, go for it. I was pleased that the donut did not have any weird lingering aftertaste of earth balance or something fake tasting like that (another pitfall of vegan desserts). Vegan desserts are hard to pull off and Buttermilk Provisions seems to be doing a decent job of it. I'm interested to see if Dana continues to play around with more vegan donut variations or if she sticks with the tried and true.

The vegan chocolate donut and banana bread

Buttermilk Provisions serves about ten different flavors of artisan tea from Kaleisia. Their coffee consists of a cold brew, an espresso and a hot brew all from Buddy Brew. I decided a latte was in store for today. The latte was made with Buddy Brew's Double Dog Espresso (the same one I brew at home) and almond milk. Currently that is the only vegan milk that Dana offers. She has had a lot of inquiries for coconut milk but she is just tracking demand right now. Other options could come in the future or they could not. I liked that the latte wasn't overly sweet like other versions (ahem, Starbucks). You could really taste the Double Dog. This wouldn't be a good thing if the coffee wasn't up to par but, as far as I'm concerned, Buddy Brew's Double Dog is definitely a winner. The only thing I didn't like about the latte, my error of course, was that it came out warm. On a 90 degree day, I don't want warm coffee. I want it iced. But I failed to mention that when I ordered it. I've actually done this twice in the last few weeks. I'm so used to icing my own at home that I just assume everyone ices a latte. I guess I could've sent it back to have the barista fix it but I figured I wouldn't ever learn if I constantly have baristas fix my errors.

My almond milk latte, hot. Just how it should be on a stifling day in Florida

You want to make your own tea or coffee at home? Buttermilk Provisions also offers loose Kaleisia Teas and bags of Buddy Brew for sale. The Buddy Brew is especially awesome because I don't have to make the trek down to South Tampa when I run out. It is slightly more expensive than at the Buddy Brew roastery but it is the exact same price that Jug and Bottle and some of the other places that sell it around Tampa have it for. Buttermilk Provisions also has growlers for sale. 

Prices at Buttermilk Provisions are really inexpensive. This is a bit surprising considering that they use "locally sourced ingredients" and everything is "made from scratch daily." These descriptors usually mean that a business can tack on an extra dollar or two and nobody would flinch. The coffee and almond milk run you about four and a half. The banana bread is a little bit over two dollars and the donut is a little over one. Put that together and you've got two snacks, coffee and a tip for ten dollars. I am more than okay with that.

Just like Dana perfected her donut making craft over a number of years, Future Generations' new album has been an extended process. Eddie Gore had this to say about the new album: "This album has been at least 3 years in the making and we are extremely excited to finally be releasing it out to the world. We've grown so much through this process and I have to say that is probably the biggest theme through the whole thing: Growth." The album's new single, "Thunder in the City," fits nicely into my coffee, donut and banana bread runs because, well, it is summer in Tampa. That means everyday there is a period of lightning, thunder and rain. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Taste of Brooklyn

Back in April, an invitation arrived for J-Fur and I to attend a wedding in Brooklyn. We were stoked. We started making plans for a weeklong tour of the city. I bookmarked the sh** out of all the vegan restaurants in the area and began taking detailed notes about the different dishes I wanted to try. She scoped out tattoo parlors and laundromats (or whatever it is that she is into now-a-days). But then my job came calling, offering me a pretty unique two week summer gig. And Google came calling J-Fur, asking her to do a bit of technical support. Just like that our weeklong trip to Brooklyn became a two day one. That Brooklyn eating extravaganza I dreamed up? Reduced to a period of about four hours.

With only four hours to eat, I had to make my calories count. I sought out things that I can't get in Tampa. Our first stop was Dun-Well Doughnuts. Up until recently, there were absolutely no good vegan donuts in the Tampa area. With the opening of Buttermilk Provisions, and their one type of vegan donut, this might not be the case anymore. I say might because I have yet to give the vegan donut at Buttermilk a whirl. Anyway, Dun-Well doesn't play the whole regular donuts with one vegan option game. Everything at Dun-Well is vegan. This includes the lattes, ice cream, milkshakes, sundaes, donuts, horchata and egg type things. I really wanted to try everything that Dun-Well had to offer. I wanted to come back six days in a row, sampling a different thing each time. The doughnut sundae caught my eye. So did the milkshakes and the lime doughnut. But having just a four hour window forced me to make a decision. I only had one go at this, I had to make it right. So I went with the one most recommended on Yelp, the Peanut Butter and Jelly doughnut. J-Fur ordered a straight chocolate donut. Because there was a ten dollar minimum for credit card usage, J-Fur also ordered a tea and I tacked on a lavender lemonade. Our bill...ten dollars exactly. One thing about Dun-Well's brand of doughnuts, they are certainly not cheap.

The chocolate frosted and peanut butter and jelly doughnuts.

I bit into the PB&J and did a bit of a mind gasp. I'm not a doughnut fan in the least, but this one, it was delicious. The peanutty glaze was not sugary, like I feared, it still had a strong peanut taste. The doughnut was fluffy, sort of like a dough pillow for the rich peanut topping to rest it's weary head. The jelly inside the doughnut was a nice sweet contrast to the rich peanut glaze and doughy doughnut. I offered a bite to J-Fur who remarked "It's way too sweet" after she tasted it. I shook my head in disbelief. I think her tastebuds have just been worn down by all the Dr. Pepper. J-Fur and I both agreed about the chocolate doughnut, it was too salty. Had it been a chocolate and sea salt doughnut, it would've been right on the money. But because she only wanted a chocolate doughnut, it completely missed the mark. I'm not sure if Dun-Well offers a salted chocolate version but, if they do, perhaps it was bartender error that led to the less than stellar doughnut.

My last foray into the world of lavender lemonade came at Kaleisia Tea in Tampa and I wasn't super impressed by it (don't construe this as a knock on the lavender lemonade, it is more a celebration of how awesome the matcha limeade is). The Dun-Well Doughnut version was just how I like it. The lemonade wasn't super sweet and the lavender offered a slight little flavor boost to the drink. It was very refreshing on a sweltering day. 

While returning the handcrafted pottery plate that our doughnuts were served on to the dish collection area, I overheard the bartender talking about Champs Diner. This was one of the places that I had bookmarked. I decided to approach him with my own take on one of those deserted island questions. I said "If you only had four hours in town, were vegan, and really wanted to experience what New York vegan food was all about, where would you go?" He replied, "Champs Diner" is really worth it. So we headed that direction. 

Champs is only about a block away from Dun-Well Doughnuts. Like Dun-Well, Champs is completely vegan. The diner describes itself as serving "Americana comfort food with a no-fuss, laid-back attitude." I contemplated filling the table with various dishes so that I could just sample a bit of everything. I wanted some mozzarella sticks and buffalo wings and seitan asada fries and a grinder and reuben and Philly Cheesesteak. S**t man, I wanted the whole menu. When I realized that Champs was a cash only joint, I had to temper my desires a bit. I had come with limited cash so I'd have to stick with one menu item for me, one for J-Fur and one for Z-Bot. I settled on the buffalo chick'n hero, J-Fur ordered an Awesome Bowl and we ordered Z-Bot the mac and cheese.

Buffalo Chick'n Hero

The Buffalo Chick'n Hero consists of spicy buffalo chick'n, greens, tomatoes, sautéed onions and ranch dressing on a hero. I've eaten a version of this at my house and I love the combo of spicy buffalo sauce and creamy ranch dressing. For some reason, and I couldn't place what it was, the Champ's version seemed overly salty. I remember having the same type of issue with a lot of the items on the Chicago Diner menu back in the day. While the sandwich was still good, it fell short of the perfection that I was hoping for. 


The mac and cheese

You know what didn't fall short of perfection? The mac and cheese. This dish was total bomb squad. It was cheesy and creamy without the weird texture or aftertaste that a lot of vegan cheeses seem to suffer from. My daughter only ate a few bites so we took the leftovers home. Later in the evening I pregamed for the wedding by eating the rest of it. About the only negative with the mac and cheese is that it is very oily. Be careful with it, especially if you take it to go. You don't want your three year old to swing it and hit you and ruin a pair of your shorts. 

The Awesome Bowl

The Awesome Bowl was full of quinoa, tofu scramble, bell peppers, garlic sautéed kale, home fries and hollandaise sauce. With that list of ingredients, it sounded like it should be one of the greatest things I've ever tasted. It was. But a large reason for that is because I ate from the side that was not drowned in Hollandaise sauce. Unfortunately, for J-Fur, she couldn't finish the dish because it had too much sauce on it. She loved the part that had only a smattering. Next time, she'd do it on the side.

By the end of our meal at Champ's, I was stuffed to the point of almost being uncomfortable. I knew then that I would be unable to hack a beet burger, New York style pizza or Chinese food. I threw in the white flag and headed home, satisfied, but not downright floored.

Check out my other Tastes of posts:
New Orleans
New York

Monday, July 11, 2016

Food Flavored Song: Apple Pie by Rafferty

When I think of Apple Pies, I think of a mouthwatering blend of sweet, tart and crisp apples swirled superbly with cinnamon, brown sugar and, perhaps, a slight sprinkling of nutmeg or lemon (if I want to get a little funky). All of that is then blanketed and baked in a golden, flakey crust. Are you picturing what I'm describing? If so, I did my job. If not, I need to head back to my local writer's guild and tell them that their crappy (and free) descriptive writing class did not work. Maybe I'll even write up a bill and charge them for my time.

Back to that picture you had. Was the setting a church bake sale? Inquiring minds and s**t. Okay, take a gigantic brain eraser and get rid of everything you just imagined, except for the church. Because Rafferty's debut single, "Apple Pie," ain't sweet. It ain't the kind of thing that you'll want to dip your finger in and taste. You won't be clamoring to lick the empty bowl. A lemon? That's child's play. "Apple Pie" is grimy and sinfully fun. It is smokey and boozy and feels like a striptease at church. The music resembles something that your garage might house after you move that old organ that your grandfather's church just sold in. There's blasting guitars that start and stop on a dime while the organ, oh that organ, pulsates in the distance. Rafferty brings the fun by incorporating a series of clap tracks, belting out an "Ahhhhh, ahhh, ahhh" chorus and taking a page from the preacher's book with an intense call and response. If he brought the fire and brimstone instead of just begging for some of that apple pie, it would seem right at home.

Nope, your typical apple pie just doesn't fit with this track. If you want a dish that epitomizes what Rafferty has going on here, you need to imagine something closer to these Devilish Apple Pie Tacos. These tacos bring all that sugary goodness of the original, lock it away in some fried tortillas and then get covered with three types of cream (yep, they'll need some of that vegan magic to make them kosher). That sounds more like it.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Click (Music): Gazpacho, Meditation with an Edge, Underwater Karaoke and Um Chagga Lagga

"Better in the Summer" by A Billion Lions

A quick Google search of "food that tastes better in the summer" brings up a Lifehack article that lists eleven foods that fit this description. You know what is not on the list? Wine. You know what is? Gazpacho. I think someone over at Lifehack dropped the ball on that one. Cold soup? Really? At no time during the year does cold soup taste good. Simply slide out the Gazpacho, slide in the wine and everyone wins.

"Where the Demons and the Devil Speak" by In An Instant

In a recent interview with Philip Lickley at KBPS, In An Instant calls "Where the Demons and the Devil Speak" as their rawest track yet. What they actually said was the track is like "gazpacho in audio form." Unfortunately, due to time restraints, KBPS had to edit out that line. So now, when Jeopardy makes the statement In An Instant compares "Where the Demons and the Devil Speak" to this food, the world will just stare blankly. Thanks KBPS. The next step for In An Instant when it comes to this song? Make it even more raw by stripping it down and releasing an acoustic video. Which begs the do you make gazpacho even rawer than it already is? I don't have a complete answer for this question but I do think a pair of sequined shoes and a slow tap of command-c are involved.

"Life" by Daniel Amedee

Have you ever been kidnapped and forced into one of those meditative situations where everything seems so safe and calm and that causes you doze off, start to snore and be startled awake when the headmaster puts his pointy shoes in between you ribs? No? Consider yourself lucky. While this is my meditative past, my meditative future involves Daniel Amedee and his music. Amedee's urban folk was labelled by some musical genius as being "meditative with an edge." That means it will bring the relax but has just enough sharpness to keep you from falling asleep. Business idea: a line of Amedee inspired "Meditation with an Edge studios." All the meditation of other places but with more upbeat relaxation tunes.

"We Still Run" by Gonzalla

According to Gonzalla, "We Still Run" was a pretty simple song to write. It came together easily because it had a message. The message, which was intended for a friend in the hospital, was that "it's not over till it's over." I'd love to insert a comment here but in respect to those people that are currently in hospitals and needing to hear motivational mantras, I will refrain.

"Um Chagga Lagga" by Pixies

The picture that accompanied the press release for "Um Chagga Lagga" featured David Lovering, Black Francis and Joey Santiago sitting on a leather couch in front of a taxidermied wolf that looks like it is about to pounce. Meanwhile, newly permanent bassist, Paz Lechantin looks to be climbing (or falling) off an amp in the far background. Put this exact scene on the side of the road and you've pretty much summed up "Um Chagga Lagga."


"Wild Child" by Cardiknox

Why is underwater karaoke not a thing? I'm calling my agent right now to get a line of underwater karaoke bars in production. Business Idea: Carpool Karaoke (okay, so I'm still working on the name). It's like singing karaoke but wetter and harder to breathe.

"Get Me the Hell Out of Here" by Raw Fabrics

I find myself in raw fabric stores a lot because of J-Fur. I used to sit in the overstuffed chairs, usually within a knitting circle, and sing "The Wheels on the Bus." I think "Get Me the Hell Out of Here" is much, much more appropriate. Before I go there, do they make armor that is strong enough to protect against knitting needles but lightweight enough to be breathable and undetectable beneath a patterned sweater?

"Higher" by The Naked and Famous

This morning I woke up and stared at my hands. Where did all those blisters on my palms come from? I guess it could be from all the mulch shoveling I did yesterday. Or it could be from the rhythmic clap session that broke out during my repeated listens of "Higher." I'm thinking the second scenario is more likely. While there isn't anything groundbreaking from the band during this track (it sounds like the Naked and Famous, people), I'm okay with that because (it sounds like the Naked and Famous, people).

"Ginger" by The Front Bottoms

If you are trying to remember all those iconic movie scenes from the 80's, you could go and invade your outdated brother-in-laws closet, track down a VCR and watch each of those flicks one at a time but that is such a time suck. Who has time for such a suckage? Or you could just watch the video for "Ginger" by the Front Bottoms because it covers pretty much everything you need to know from 80's cinema. If it ain't in this video, it ain't important.

"Up to Us" by The Bouncing Souls

"WOOOOOAAAHHHHHHHHHHH, you were my rock, you were my stone!"

As long as there have been rock stars, there have been geriatric rock stars. And as long as there have been geriatric rock stars, there have been young rock stars writing songs in honor of them. This is what is going on in "Up to Us."

Get All of 2016's Click Tracks (when available) in One Spotify Playlist:

Friday, July 8, 2016

Food Flavored Video: Milk Bath by Petite Meller

Stereogum wrote an interesting article yesterday about what America is doing during this time of  political tumult (which they describe as Donald Trump getting the Republican nomination, only a marginally better Democrat, cops killing black civilians, an NRA controlled Congress and some ugly sexual assault cases). In case you are wondering the website concluded that when Americans aren't holding peace vigils or shouting at each other on social media, they are watching famous people sing old songs. Yawn. We can be better for sure, America. We have to be better.

At the bottom of this Stereogum piece I was appalled to learn that Fergie has a song called "M.I.L.F. $" with a pretty popular video (24 million views and counting). In this video Fergie, and some other people that I'm sure are famous, are swimming, drinking and dumping milk all over themselves. The whole thing might've been interesting if A)If someone other than Fergie was singing/purring/adjusting the pitch/I don't know what the hell you call that s*** that was happening B)Everyone in the video wasn't trying so hard to be sexy C)The people involved had some sort of sense of humor and D)Well, there isn't a D because I've spent too much time on Fergie as it is.

You are probably thinking, yeah Tender, we feel you but really how is anyone supposed to douse themselves in milk without being sexy, actually sing and not take themselves too seriously? I mean, don't be part of the problem Tender, actually offer up a solution. You are like those message board creeps that just troll along in people's....whoa, pump the breaks milk man. Before you take things too far, let me actually offer a solution which, might I add, I totally planned to do without your suggestion had you not interrupted me with your thoughts. You want milk covered and not sexy? You want singing? You want not taking things too seriously? Try on Petite Meller's "Milk Bath." This food flavored video is everything that Fergie's "M.I.L.F.$" is not.

Just the sounds: