Sunday, November 13, 2016

Where We Eat: The Vegan Hot Dog Cart

My refrigerator is currently overflowing with vegan versions of sausages and hot dogs. I blame some of this on game seven of the World Series, the rest is due to the giant squashes that covered my local farmer's market shelves. What I've found with most prepackaged vegan hot dogs is that they are really harsh on my stomach. If I eat more than one, which I sometimes get a hankering to do, I wind up with a stomach ache. As a result of this, I watch my vegan hot dog intake more than any other fake meat.

Yesterday was the annual Tampa Bay Veg Fest. Z-Bot, J-Fur and I arrived at Cotanchobee Park late in the afternoon when a lot of the crowds seemed to have thinned out. We had free reign to move about the park and explore the anti-animal cruelty product vendors at our leisure. There was one pretty long line in the park so I moved to explore it. Wouldn't you know it, Orlando's Vegan Hot Dog Cart had made the trek over to Tampa. The cart was offering three hot dog versions: the "Merica dog had ketchup, mustard, relish and saurkraut, the Olde Reliable was covered with five bean chili, vegan cheeze, onions and paprika and the Holiday dog included Florida orange-cran chutney, Carolina BBQ mustard sauce and fried onions.

I bookmarked the Vegan Hot Dog Cart (web, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)  about a year ago as a place I really wanted to try. Back in 2014 the Holiday Dog was ranked by PETA as the number one vegan hot dog in America. Seeing that it was here, right in front of me, it only seemed fitting that I would be all gung-ho about shoving a dog down my throat. But then I thought about my refrigerator. All those dogs I've been eating recently. It took all I had to pass the cart by. I wondered through the rest of the park looking for something vegetable based to eat. I passed by Ethiopian food, two Asian booths, a Caribbean stall (that had a lot of vegetables) and a falafel joint. I turned my back on BBQ Jackfruit Nachos, Banh Mis and plant based milk shakes. I reached for my wallet on numerous occasions but I always let go without purchasing anything. Deep down I knew why. I knew I was going back to that hot dog cart whether I liked it or not.

     The Award Winning Holiday Dog

I returned to the Vegan Hot Dog Cart and waited in a line that was, at this point, about six deep. The dog I longed for, the Olde Reliable, had sold out during my cruise around the park. I figured if the Holiday Dog was good enough for PETA, it was good enough for me. So I went there.

Holy f*** was this dog good. It went down much smoother than the prepackaged versions I've eaten. Texture wise, it wasn't as chewy as those versions. The dog (and bun) basically melted in your mouth. The orange-cran chutney, bbq mustard and fried onions flowed nicely with the dog. None of the flavors stood out, instead they morphed into one giant swirl of sweet, sour and crispy. Despite all the toppings, this wasn't one of those dogs that you have to clean up with a fork. They stayed nicely pillowed in between those two bun walls.

The only thing that I was less than enthusiastic about was paying $5.50 (with a credit card). This price seemed a bit steep for the size of the dog. But when you are an award winning food developer, you have a right to charge for your craft. Ultimately the price didn't deter me yesterday and it won't deter me next time the Vegan Hot Dog Cart and I cross paths.      

I'd pair this Holiday Dog with the swirling electro-pop beats in Erin McCarley's "Good."

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Click (Music): Japandroids, Stranger Things, Day Wave and Spicy Mac and Cheese

"Near to the Wild Heart of Life" by Japandroids

When I was a child, I ate like a child. My mac and cheese came powdered or in a squeezable foil packet. Now that I am a man, I eat like a man. My mac and cheese comes from cashews, contains Brussels Sprouts and is spicy as hell. This manly version of mac and cheese cooks up so well with "Near to the Wild Heart of Life" by Japandroids. First, there's the constant reference to fire in the song (including the repeated "and it got me all fired up"). That's the same fire that bites my tongue and stabs at my cheek with each bite I take. Then there's the ever present "I used to be good but now I'm bad." Despite the fact that the powdered and foil wrapped processed version of mac and cheese is full of dyes and junk and nothing nice, my friends and family continue to try and convince me just how "good" these versions are. They refuse to even give the time of day to my cashew laden, protein packed, veggie filled version. Fine, you continue to be "good." I'll put that life in the rearview and hang out here on the "bad" side of the dining room table.

"Make it Better" by Hazel English

I'm putting the pieces together of this mac and cheese and it comes time to dump in the chipotles. While I'm thinking two is fine, I realize that the can I just opened will sit in my fridge until it gets moldy. No way am I wasting food. So I live a little and dump that entire can into my blender. I puree that s*** up, pour it into my mac and cheese and take a bit. Holy hell I start to cry. My chest burns, my eyes water and no amount of soy milk can take this sting away. I'm forced, for the remainder of the pot of mac and cheese, to eat it cold. Not sure how many of you like your mac and cheese cold but I'd not recommend it. So, as Hazel English suggest, "Make it Better." I took her advice and made sure that the next time around I only put in two chipotles.

"Wasting Time" by Day Wave

Put Day Wave's shimmering new song "Wasting Time" into a duct taped paint can, swirl it around with some green food coloring, add a little announcement that he has just signed to Harvest Records and voila! You've got Toxic Wasting Time Mac and Cheese. It's perfect for keeping all those hangers-on away from your Thanksgiving table.

"This Glimpse of You" by You Are Number Six

Perhaps it is slightly too warm and not quite dark enough the deeper you get (think more of the rainbow that comes right before the cloudy day dissipates versus being solely the cloudy day) but if I was putting together the sounds for season two of Stranger Things, I'd have to look long and hard at "This Glimpse of You" by You Are Number Six. The layers of synths fit with what I imagine will be more dark unknown creature entertainment. The machine like hums work too. Even the hypnotic vocals that speak of demons and wanting more and feeling the changes would seem at home on the screen backing either monster or Eleven. If that doesn't work for the Duffer Brothers, how about a scene where Dustin makes some mac and cheese? "This Glimpse of You" is just filled to the brim with versatility.

"Public Display of Affection" by Eat Fast

Eat Fast don't just eat fast, they hit the top of the Hype Machine fast. In just 24 hours "Public Display of Affection" hit number one on the artists chart. Fast? Yes. But their rise to the top did take about 86367 seconds longer than it took Travis M. to eat a box of that mac and cheese.


"Joyride" by Ceasefire

Ceasefire took the boxed macaroni approach for their latest "Joyride" video. Instead taking a lot of time traveling to a bunch of different locales for "fast paced" shots around the globe, the band just had members of their Ceasefire militia send them their way. The result is a much quicker boil and pour video. I will say, despite the fact that this video came from a box, it seems to be a much healthier boxed version (like that organic one with a bunny on the box).

"Real Thing" by Pale Honey

I drove to my friends' house to watch game seven of the world series (yeah, I don't get regular television stations around these parts) and I noticed that they had built Castle Byers in their yard. Too bad Pale Honey's video for "Real Thing" wasn't one of those boxed mac and cheese ones like "Joyride." I so could've sent in a clip of their front yard and it would've gone perfectly with Stranger Things theme of this video. I could've also filmed their neighbors house because they had the whole alphabet and christmas light thing going on.

"Setting Fires" by The Chainsmokers featuring XYLO

"Setting Fires" is the last single to hit the internet from The Chainsmokers 2nd EP Collages. Some fun notes courtesy of Alex and Drew:

1) Drew sprained his ankle recently at a show so he will be sitting in a stool at their next shows like a wimp...
2) They are performing Closer with Halsey at the AMA's 
3) Closer is now 11 weeks strong on Billboard Hot 100 which is the longest streak of the year for any song

4) Alex is scared of Drains

"Domino" by Animal House

Have you ever wondered how a Domino plays soccer, eats waffles, buys coffee, deals with discriminatory restaurants, gets drunk and fails to make friends? Animal House delivers all these answers, and more, in their new video.

"Bad Catholics" by The Menzingers

The mac and cheese and deviled eggs have been laid out on the picnic benches. All the church members take their places for some food and communion. As you are about to dig into that bowl of cashew cheesed noodles you look across the way and see a lost love. You steal a glance at some of the people around her and they are all extolling her Catholic virtues. But you know a different side of her. You know the "Bad Catholics" side. Shaking your head you go back to looking at the kid across from you with his orange soda mustache while scooping out the cashew mac and cheese with the edge of your spoon.

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Listen: Deep Sea Arcade, Animal House and The Disco Fries

I've heard it said that vegan BBQ gives you wings. If you pair it with these tracks your set will be even radder:

Deep Sea Arcade is currently prepping for their first batch of new music since Obama won a second term. The lead single from the new album (due out next year) is "Learning To Fly."

The track melds the psychedelia-influenced sound that Deep Sea Arcade fans will recognize from their debut record with newer electronic influences that the band has picked up in the four plus years since.

"They want to lay her down but she's got them in her pocket." Maybe Animal House really is talking dominoes. But I have a hard time looking past how that line relates to my relationship to vegan BBQ sandwiches. I remember growing up and not knowing when or where my next meal would come from. So anytime one of my Amish friends' family made up a batch of their vegan BBQ I'd have one right then and there and then fill my pockets with three or four others. Here's to "Domino" and the hedonistic adventures of making music and stealing vegan BBQ from our Amish friends!

Such a wholesome meal that vegan BBQ is. Man Soundcloud sure could use a lesson on wholesome. It used to be such a clean, holy place. It was like only the people sitting in the front row of church would comment on there. Now it is filthy and overwrought like the backseat of some creeper's love mobile. Take, for instance, the latest comment on "Is It Over" by the Disco Fries:

Hi, people) Want sex? Am 21 yars old, very hot, but lonely girl... Find me here - , my nickname LaiGrimaldo22

Whoa, it just got real sticky in here and there ain't no more ciabatta to clean things up. Next time, I'm using a fork.

Cook: Red Wine BBQ Tempeh and Shrooms

My good friend Chef Chloe (I use the word "good" here loosely) posted a recipe for Red Wine Seitan BBQ in one of those Men's Fitness magazines. I think it is the one where men dress up in tight bathing suits and lean up against various sports cars in provocative poses. I came across the recipe not because I have a closet subscription to the magazine, but because my phone stalks all my searches and then inundates me with articles featuring all my favorite key words (like fantasy baseball, vegan and Donald Trump).

Normally I let Chef Chloe do her thing and just roll with it. But I was withdrawing hard from a night of pizza and seitan eating and I couldn't bear the thought of more gluten than necessary entering into my digestive system. So I decided to replace the seitan with a mixture of tempeh and portobello mushrooms. Go with seitan, do the tempeh mushroom mixture or add your own spin on things. Doesn't matter. The key here is Chef Chloe's BBQ sauce. It is absolutely stunning.

Red Wine BBQ Tempeh and Shrooms (adapted slightly from Chef Chloe)
(printable version)

For the Tempeh and Shrooms:
-tempeh block, cut into minute cubes
-1/2 cup of portobello mushrooms
-1 cup ketchup
-¼ cup dry red wine
-1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
-1 tbsp brown sugar
-1 tsp Dijon mustard
-1 tsp onion powder
-½ tsp black pepper
-olive oil
-1 large shallot, thinly sliced
-3 scallions, thinly sliced

For the caramelized onions:
-1 large onion, thinly sliced
-2 tsp pure maple syrup
-sea salt

For the sandwiches:
-4 ciabatta rolls
-1 cup arugula
-1 small tomato, thinly sliced

1. Make the caramelized onions: In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion. Season onions to your liking with sea salt. Place them in a skillet and stir frequently until they are very soft (about 20 minutes). Add maple syrup and let cook one additional minute. Set aside.

2. To prepare the BBQ tempeh and shrooms: In a bowl, whisk together ketchup, red wine, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, onion powder, and black pepper. Set aside. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and cook shallots, tempeh and shrooms until lightly browned. Add the sauce and scallions to skillet. Reduce heat to low, and gently simmer until sauce has thickened (about five minutes).

3. To prepare the sandwiches: toast ciabatta rolls. Layer some arugula, tempeh mixture, tomato, and caramelized onions on each roll. Eat it while leaning on your car provocatively wearing only some sexy underwear.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Food Flavored Artist: A Double Shot of Honey

What's better than one honey flavored band? How about two. Under one roof. For the same low price. You in?

First up is our sparse, distortion heavy version of that sweet confection. We call it our Pale Honey. There is a lot to love about this brand. It comes all the way from Gothenburg, Sweden. Their newest take is called "Real Thing." According to the beekeepers, guitarist/vocalist Tuva Lodmark and drummer Nelly Daltrey, "Real Thing" is what happens when minds get blown. It's about knowing what you want and going for it. It is both confidence and courage pressed and packed into one song. "Real Thing" will be included as part of the band's second album. The as yet untitled album is expected sometime in spring of next year.

Our second flavor comes from London. We call it Black Honey. This take, dubbed "Hello Today" reeks of shoegaze. It has a more potent, right in your face flavor than the Pale Honey. Being served alongside "Hello Today" is the band's brand new, debut video. The video, directed by Nadia Lee Cohen, finds Black Honey frontwoman/head beekeeper Izzy B Phillips squaring off against a fly-infested heart. According to Phillips, the video is about a girl trying to put her demons behind her. She is followed by an omen (the heart). It drives her to delirium. In an attempt to escape her past, she buries that omen in the desert. Check out the video and audio below:

Just the audio:

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Click (Music): Buffalo Cauliflower, Warning Labels, Donald Trump Swipes Right and PSSY PWR

"Cocaine Girls" by PSSY PWR

I ordered a batch of Buffalo Cauliflower while I was out celebrating a coworker's birthday on Thursday night. The texture was just right. The heat came with a warning, be careful, this stuff burns. It may cause permanent damage to your tastebuds. Also sent with a warning? PSSY PWR's new track "Cocaine Girls." +++ WARNING +++ Clunky, unpolished and unapologetic, PSSY PWR’s tongue in cheek lyrics and detonating sound must be played LOUD AF or your device will explode.

"Solid Air" by Bad Sea

Sometimes you swipe right and you get a complete mindf*** of a time (Donald Trump anyone). And sometimes a swipe right leads to fabulous music, mountains of buffalo cauliflower and precious twitter followers (I'm looking at you Bad Sea). Don't take those swipes lightly.

"Under the Grave" by Rozes

I couldn't believe my ears this week. Were middle aged women really telling me how much they love the Chainsmokers and Rozes? I'm going to show myself out, quietly. If you need me, I'll be the guy burying his head in vegan blue cheese (does that even exist?).

"Get Loud" by Trails and Ways

"Get Loud" is a rush of smooth power pop. It was finished 9 months ago on a balcony on the São Paulo coast. Trails and Ways Brazil tour capped a year of destruction for at least one of the band members. They were forced to face up to their vanity and closedness. "Get Loud" is the catharsis that occurs when guards are dropped, flaws are owned and confidence and desire is achieved through rock music.

"WWDK" by Go Suburban

Go Suburban is a Provo family act. It consists of three Swanson's, two of which are a father and son. That's gotta be a pretty cool feeling. I mean who ever thinks, as your driving away from the hospital with your newly born child, some day I'll be in a band with this guy. I know that wasn't what I was thinking. I was thinking, wait, that's it? I get to leave with this new human and noone is going to stop me? "WWDK" is about growing up. It is about all the things you don't know in life. It is about trying to figure out what that first W in WWDK stands for.


"I Wanna Boi" by PWR BTTM

Homophobes, homosexuals, straight, trans, whatever, at the root of it I think we are all pretty similar. We just want someone to keep our bed warm.

"Apple Pie" by Rafferty

The song my be modern but the video and the persona behind it summon the ghosts of tradition. Apple pie may be the best metaphor but buffalo cauliflower isn't far behind.

"All We Know" by The Chainsmokers featuring Phoebe Ryan

See Rozes above. Then pile on more blue cheese.

"Shaky Ground (Acoustic)" by Freedom Fry

One of my favorite songs of the year just got the acoustic, poolside treatment. You won't hear me, or my daughter, complaining.

  "2017" by Wildlife

From the mouth of Dean Povinksy:

"2017" is a desperate song. It's about a very common feeling our friends and others we know seem to be experiencing right now. We collaborated with one of our favorite artists, Anne Douris (Bossie, Stella Ella Ola) to lay a visual backdrop that juxtaposes the song's initially lighthearted sound with the inevitable crush of the question "why"? Why are we moving so rapidly toward such a hyper individualized bunch when we are meant to be more connected than ever? Why do we have all these addictions to what is ultimately such a meaningless, on-screen world, when we know that the way to thrive is to connect in the ways that have served us so well for so long: By locking eyes and holding on for dear life, making new connections and finding meaning in the real. The throwback images of large NYE celebrations-of-old up against the actual lyrics of 2017 create the perfect vibration between the lust after immediacy and the human longing to connect in real time.

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

Friday, October 7, 2016

Taste of Brooklyn (Part 2)

Only three days in Brooklyn, eh. That's simply not enough time. So, I went back. This time I spent three and a half days there! But with no wedding to attend, I was able to get in even more of good vegan eating. Here is a snippet of what I was eating and drink when I wasn't eating bagels.

Chickpea & Olive |  Smorgasburg, East River Park

I crawled out of bed our first day in Brooklyn feeling just a wee bit hungover. Thanks to some shenanigans caused by the federal government in conjunction with a rogue hurricane, my evening flight had morphed into a redeye with a 3 a.m. arrival. My only eats for the past twelve hours had been the free goodies that the airport crew passed out in order to appease their angry clientele. I needed some real food and I needed it now. Thankfully it was Saturday and that meant that Smorgasburg was raging over in East River Park. Chickpea & Olive here I come. Smorgasburg can best be described as a culinary free-for-all crammed into a space about the size of church parking lot. On the Saturday we visited, Smorgasburg was extremely crowded. Had it been just J-Fur and I, I probably wouldn't have been aware of all the people around me, but Z-Bot was along divaing it up in her giant jogging stroller. I steered that monstrosity (magnificently I must say) through throngs of bearded hipsters that always seemed to be going the opposite direction of me. You know exactly what I'm talking about.

Eventually we found our way to Chickpea & Olive. This vegan eatery is famous, at least on Yelp, for its beet burgers. I halfheartedly looked at the menu but really I had known what I was going to order since the day I left Brooklyn two months earlier. It was the beet burger melt with avocado or bust for me. The burger was served on thick toasted bread and sliced in half. I walked with it for a bit looking for some open space to relax and enjoy it. Talk about food porn. People walking by kept eyeing my burger and commenting on how amazing it looks. I'm pretty sure I heard a few catcalls as well.

When I finally found that coveted open space, I dropped everything and took a bite. I don't say this lightly: that was the most flavorful veggie burger I've ever had. The beet burger, vegan cheese and avocado all melded together into a blissful bevy of flavors and textures that held together bite after bite. The thick, toasted bread offered a salty, crispy backdrop of support for the burger to rest its magical head. Some people might balk at the price (13 dollars with avocado added). To those people I'd say, stop treating this burger like your typical veggie burger and start treating it like the hand crafted piece of art it is. You'll quickly realize 13 dollars is a steal.

Georgetown Cupcakes | 111 Mercer Street New York, New York

When my cousin suggested we pay a visit to Georgetown Cupcakes I have to admit, I was quite hesitant. My other vegan cupcake experience in New York, at famed Babycakes, had not gone over so well and I didn't want to waste precious calories on lackluster vegan desserts. When she told me that the place had been featured on some famous food television show and that they have a cupcake camera where you can sit at your computer and watch people make cupcakes all day, my desire to visit dropped even more. Can you say gimmick? But J-Fur and Z-Bot were interested and my cousin espoused their cupcake virtues to no end so I decided to part with some of my precious calories and give their vegan cupcake a go.

The one vegan option that was being sold on the day we visited was apple cinnamon. I could handle that. I'm all about fruit desserts. The cupcake was not overly sweet and moist. Just that in itself made it a better experience than Babycakes. But the pleasure was only beginning. The apple cinnamon cake was topped with an incredible icing that was really creamy. Best of all, this creaminess was not created by fake butter (or at least it had no fake butter taste). A fantastic vegan cake! I hate to admit it but ever since I ate that cupcake, I've been unable to go more than 12 hours without checking in on the cupcake cam. Sometimes I even find myself loosening...nevermind.

The Pulp & The Bean | 809 Franklin Avenue Brooklyn

I had four goals during this visit to Brooklyn. The first one was eat a beet burger from Chickpea & Olive. The second was to get a donut sundae at Dun-well Donuts. Once those two were out of the way, I set my sights on finding some Brooklyn Kombucha on tap. If there is one thing Tampa has going for it right now it is kombucha. I wanted to compare the two cities, see if they were as far apart as I imagined. I conducted an online search for kombucha on tap and the closest one to where we were staying was The Pulp & The Bean, a coffee shop in Crown Heights. Unfortunately the kombucha was all out. I wasn't really in the mood for a latte but Yelpers had kept talking about the soy rose latte, so I got one iced. I wasn't blown away by it. For one, it wasn't sweet enough for me. When I drink coffee, I like it to be sweet. The cool thing was that the latte wasn't overly expensive. I think I even paid less for it than some of the ones I get in Tampa. One thing worth noting about the Pulp & the Bean is their excellent customer service. I loved that even though they were four customers deep the barista ran thru my entire order to make sure she got it right.

Hungry Ghost | 253 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

I achieved goal number three by walking about a mile and a half to Hungry Ghost. The only reason the walk matters is that by the time I arrived, I had to piss really bad and there isn't a space for this at Hungry Ghost. I ordered my kombucha, grape is what they had on tap, and I drank it way too fast. It went down smooth, it was unique (not a flavor I had in Tampa before). It didn't strike me as being any better or worse than Mother Kombucha here in St. Petersburg. That's a good thing (both for Brooklyn Kombucha and Mother Kombucha). After chugging, I went across the street to Starbucks and waited in a long line to use their restroom. Best I could tell is that none of the other coffee shops in the area, and there were a lot, had a bathroom either. That's the only reason I could see so many people in Starbucks when there were a lot of other options around.

00 + Co | 65 2nd Avenue, New York

My final goal this trip was to pay a visit to 00 + Co. I mean there just isn't anything creative going on with vegan pizza in Tampa. If they have any it is simply some fake cheese thrown over their normal crust and sauce. At 00 + Co, vegan is at the center of everything they do. I convinced a large group of friends to join me here so we shared three different pizzas. There was a smoked carrot pizza topped with crimini mushrooms, shaved fennel and parsley-mint pesto. I loved the cheese and balance of flavors on this pie. We also ordered the confit and tomato arugula pie. This one didn't quite have the pizzaz of the carrot pizza. It left me wanting more. The farro sausage pizza was also really good, with a nice spiciness to it. The dough at 00 + Co was incredible. It was charred and chewy. The table also got an order of zucchini noodles and farro. This was my favorite dish of the night. I thought the farro sausage performed really well when placed on top of zucchini. 00 + Co is definitely not cheap. It is the kind of place that vegans can go when they want to splurge and have a nice romantic evening. That being said, I recognize the time and effort required to make vegan cheese so I can fault them for pricing their pies a bit high.