Plant-Based Meals that Deliver

Meal delivery services have proliferated faster than amorous rabbits in recent years, expanding from an obscure, niche business model to one as common as the standard grocery store. There’s something for everyone, they promise with bright, inviting graphics, splashed across the screen with tempting photos of various dishes. If you like to cook, you can get bundles of ingredients with recipes. If your expertise in the kitchen ends at the microwave, you can have finished dishes ready to heat and eat land on your doorstep with just the click of a button. For those feeding a family, still more options abound for bulk meal prep. Don’t even get me started on all the specialized diets, from paleo to gluten-free, sometimes available all on the same platform. How does one begin to pick apart the best choices, given such a superabundance of promising meals- And seemingly endless deals?

While most enterprises now offer at least a handful of plant-based entrees, as is the trend, only a select few boast a fully vegan menu across the board. Veestro is one that can claim that distinction, inspired by the need for organic, healthy, and above all else, tasty food that fits into a fast-paced lifestyle. For their part, the stated goal is provide more plants for anyone hungry for a healthier alternative to takeout, appealing to the omnivores among us as well.

Sign up for a meal plan to save on the bundle or cherry-pick just a few dishes a la carte to supplement your standard rotation. Deliveries arrive frozen, conveniently packaged for further storage in your freezer or immediate thawing and consuming.

Here’s where I must sheepishly admit that I first tried Veestro many months ago, but as a testament to fervent following, these proven crowd-pleases are still delighting eaters all the same today. Such is the case for this Three Layer Scramble, which stacks up with a base of quinoa, smothered by a soft tofu scramble with black beans and topped by shredded dairy-free cheese. Reminiscent of enchilada filling without the heat of chilies, the ranchero-style sauce definitely erred more on the mild side, but that’s nothing a dash of sriracha can’t fix. Emphasizing the whole grains with a generous portion, it’s a very filling morning meal that would be just as enjoyable at lunch or dinnertime, too.

Perhaps the Breakfast Burrito was designed to be a more handheld, grab-and-go option, but the piquant sauce on the side is what truly makes this dish. Pour it on with abandon to make it a “wet” burrito, fork, knife, and plate required. Light and bright, it revives the slightly parched interior and adds volumes of flavor. Though labeled as hot sauce, it’s really more like a smooth, blended salsa. Wrapped up in the grilled tortilla, you’ll be pleased to find tender, toothsome, black beans, tofu, and potatoes. Served separately, lightly seasoned hash browns seem a bit redundant given this combination, but certainly aren’t unwelcome here. Who could say no to a supple, buttery potato, though?

If an urgent call should go out for some homey, uncomplicated comfort food, the Shepherdless Pie has got your number. Creamy potatoes with quinoa make up the bulk of this dish, slathered with a savory mushroom gravy that leads with the distinctive cheesy taste of nutritional yeast. Though slightly grainy after a harsh freeze and thaw, that textural shortcoming is easily forgiven when mixed into the main meal. Very much reminiscent of a pot pie without pastry, this easy entree presents familiar and uncomplicated flavors for widespread appeal.

There are no downright failures on this menu, but admittedly, some small disappointments. Thai Chicken Stew combines a thick, rich tomato base with incredibly meaty chicken strips, complete with a boldly charred, grilled essence, but I struggled to any sort of Asian influence. Not a hint of curry, lemongrass, nor coconut could be found. Although it looks like fried rice on the side, don’t be fooled; it’s just plain brown rice with peas and carrots. If simply re-titled without a reference to more exotic cuisine, it would be worthy of a reorder, but promises more on paper than it delivers in person.

Also available as a full “detox” plan, juices can be added a la cart, with a classic green juice predictably leading the pack as a top seller. Apple juice as a stand-alone beverage lost its appeal around kindergarten, so admittedly, I was not particularly enthusiastic to find the diminutive plastic bottle of Johnny Appleseed Juice in my sampler box. Clearly not just plain apple, as the dark green hue would make obvious at a glance, the initial smells is of grassy celery. Thankfully, it plays more of a supporting role in the overall flavor, which was definitely vegetal, but mellow and mostly sweet. More than mere veggies, this blend boasts a decent amount of protein thanks to the addition of sacha inchi, giving it much more more than just straight sugar for a quick energy boost.

As much as I love cooking, one of the greatest luxuries in life is allowing others to take the reins, and simply be fed. Knowing that those meals are of reliably high quality, healthy, and ready when you need them makes Veestro a strong contender for anyone who wants a night off from kitchen duty. Best of all, since they ship frozen, you can stock up and save them for times of need.

Have you tried any other prepared meal services? There are new plant-based providers sprouting out everyday, or so it seems, and I’m curious to try them all!

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Snacks on a Plane

Fasten your seat belts and try to get comfortable; it’s going to be a long flight. You’ve downloaded hours of music and movies well in advance, kept your smartphone within easy reach, and even remembered the disinfectant wipes for those grimy in-seat remote controls. Long-haul flights are never fun, but you’ve prepped and packed well, done the research and steeled yourself for any length of idle time. Certainly, you’ve considered the food options, perhaps even locking in your ticket or choosing a seat. Vegan meals are more widely available than ever, providing essential sustenance when there’s no land in sight for half a day or more, but they still leave quite a bit to be desired.

Snacks are absolutely essential at this critical moment. Countless lists extol the virtues of sturdy grain salads, granola bars, and freeze-dried fruits, but what is it that we need to avoid? As I prepare to embark on an intimidating 14-hour flight, I considered the options for truly terrible choices to bring as in-flight foods.

BAD snack ideas that should remain grounded are as follows:

  • Yogurt, applesauce, and pudding over 3.4 ounces, which is the greatest amount of any “liquid” you can bring on board. That amounts to less than 1/2 cup, so why bother?
  • Dips and spread of all sorts, including but not limited to hummus, peanut butter, salsa, ketchup, and cream cheese. Packed separately, they can be considered a liquid, but you might be able to get around this restriction by bundling them into some kind of sandwich assemblage.
  • Peanuts in general, because you never know when you might be sharing space with an allergic passenger.
  • Whole fruits and vegetables. There are some exceptions to this (like bananas and apples) but many countries have restrictions on fresh produce. For your best bets, always cut and prepare them in advance, stashing them in ziplock bags for later. Smaller, peeled, or pitted, they’re usually easier to munch on without utensils, too.
  • Saucy dishes or overfilled containers, which could get very messy in case of turbulence.
  • Tofu/chickpea egg salad or fishless tuna salad in any format, because such strong odors are unlikely to be appreciated by anyone within a 10-foot radius… Which may very well be the whole plane.
  • Chips or crackers packed in zip lock bag. Factory-sealed is fine, rigid Tupperware will work, but I promise that any other attempts at conveyance will end in a sad handful of crushed crumbs.
  • Raw cauliflower, broccoli, or cabbage for most people. I mean, you know your body, but this kind of roughage just… Don’t sit well with most people. I’ll just leave it at that.
  • Excessive onions or garlic. Pretend you’re on a date with the other 100+ passengers on the flight; that dragon breath will not win you any new friends.
  • Caffeinated drink mixes, despite the fact that fun flavors might make it easier to drink more water. You don’t need extra energy to sit on your butt all day; the excess is likely to make you more agitated and anxious.

What’s on your no-fly list? Did you have to learn the hard way, or suffer from the poor decisions of your fellow flyers? Hopefully no one has to travel on an empty stomach after carefully weighing the choices!

Peace, Love, and Avocado for All

San Francisco is home to the original hippie, the flower child borne of the 1967 Summer of Love, though only faint traces of the counter culture movement remain today. Largely replaced by tech workers with smartphones in their pockets rather than floral ornaments in their hair, it disappoints me to no end that we don’t even have an outpost of Flower Child out in the bay area. Had it not been for a trip out to Austin, TX, I never would have even known of the peaceable chain.

During my whirlwind five-day visit, I managed to drop in not once, but twice; a real rarity for a food traveler with a bucket list of restaurants to eat at, not historical sights to see. Given more time, I might have simply taken up residence on those plush benches lining the walls instead of booking a proper hotel room. True to concept, the vibe is essential to the experience, setting it apart from other fast-casual dining experiences. Seeking harmony between all sorts of eaters, the menu is clearly labeled with abundant options for the vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, and omnivorous among us.

Vegetable-forward dishes allow peak produce to shine, like the simple heirloom tomato salad spiked with balsamic vinegar and shreds of fresh basil strewn about like confetti. Crisp cubes of watermelon sweetly contrast and provide balance overall. A rotating list of seasonal sides offers other savory treats like roasted yuzu Brussels sprouts, blistered snap peas, or curried cauliflower, depending on the time of year.

Poke bowls are a rising food trend for good reason, especially evident when the concept is applied to a fishless main. Tender cubes of marinated beets join forces with lighted brined mushrooms, both salty and umami, with all the fatty decadence of avocado to drive the combination home. Crunchy wasabi peas are an unexpected touch of whimsy in this ode to whole foods. The spicy bites are a good reminder that healthy eating shouldn’t be boring, nor are those choices black and white.

If there was a signature dish at Flower Child, the Mother Earth Bowl would be the undisputed winner of that title. It’s the one that everyone talks about in newspapers, magazines, and blogs the world over, each source breathlessly extolling the virtues of its copious components. The appeal is obvious just from a glance at the bare ingredients; roasted sweet potato and portobello mushrooms, broccoli pesto, charred onions, avocado, and cucumber, all perched upon a bed of ancient grains and lavished with red pepper miso vinaigrette. It really is like having the whole world in a bowl before you.

While I can’t get those same chill vibes out in NorCal, the flower children in the kitchen were generous enough to spread the love with this harmonious secret formula.

Mother Earth Bowl
From Flower Child

6 ounces Super Grain Mix: red quinoa, farro, and barley, cooked and tossed.
2 ounces sweet potatoes, roasted
2 1/2 ounces Portobello Mushroom, roasted
½ ounces Arugula
1 teaspoon daikon sprouts
1 teaspoon rice wine vinaigrette
1 tablespoon broccoli pesto*
1 tablespoon red pepper miso marmalade*
2 tablespoons cucumber relish*
¼ avocado, fanned
1 teaspoon hemp seeds

Broccoli Pesto:
1 cup broccoli, blanched
4 ½ tablespoons black kale, blanched
2 ¼ tablespoons roasted salted pistachio
1 1/3 tablespoons spinach
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon mint leaves
1 ¼ teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water

Red Pepper Miso Marmalade:
½ cup peppadew peppers, rough chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, rough chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, peeled & rough chopped
1 1/3 tablespoons miso paste
1 ½ tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
3 teaspoons tamari
3 teaspoons grapeseed oil
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cucumber Relish:
1 cup cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed, and ¼ dice
2 tablespoons. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon evaporated cane sugar
2 teaspoon sesame chili oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
½ teaspoon mint leaves, minced
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

Broccoli Pesto Directions
1. Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and emulsified.

Red Pepper Miso Marmalade Directions
2. Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and emulsified.

Cucumber Relish Directions
3. Combine all ingredients and mix until incorporated.

Mother Earth Bowl Directions
4. Roast sweet potatoes and Portobello mushrooms and set aside.
5. To prepare dish, toss arugula with sprouts and vinaigrette, then spoon Super Grain mix in
the center of the bowl.
6. Place sweet potatoes on top, next to Portobello.
7. Place arugula next to mushrooms and cucumber salad next to arugula.
8. Top with pesto, marmalade, and avocado across the center of the dish.
9. Finish with hemp seeds.

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Birthday Free For All

As a closeted couponer, there are few things that give me more joy at the checkout line than seeing the bottom of my final total drop out after scanning a few little slips of paper. It’s not uncommon for fellow shoppers to crane their necks away from glowing smartphone screens, startled to see such impressive savings. Where does all this free money come from, and how can they get in on the game?

Daily grocery shopping is nothing compared to the embarrassment of riches one can collect on their birthday. Planned out properly, you could eat for free for weeks, if not your whole birthday month! Plenty of roundups exist online, but few, if any, take veganism into consideration. After posting about all my loot on Instagram a few years in a row, I’ve decided to lay out the spoils of my plunder in one post for easy future reference. These options include smaller stores that have only a few outposts located on the west coast, and larger chains that you may or may not wish to endorse based on ethics, so your mileage may vary. Many more independent local shops will likely offer discounts if you just ask, so whenever you’re out shopping, don’t be afraid to mention it!

Starbucks: Sign up for Starbucks Rewards and get a free drink or prepared food item upon registration and for your birthday. Almost any of the drinks can be veganized thanks to the option to substitute soymilk, almond milk, or coconut milk. Just avoid the pumpkin spice, white mocha, caramel brûlée syrups, caramel sauce, java chips, and of course, whipped cream. Many stores now offer a highly serviceable brown rice bowl if you’re hungry for something more substantial.

Rubios: Although best known for their cheap fish tacos, if you sign up for the Beach Club mailing list, you can score a free grilled veggie taco right away, and a free entree on your birthday. My favorite pick is the Balsamic & Roasted Veggie Salad, with extra veggies and avocado because hey, it’s all free! Don’t forget to load up on as much salsa as you can carry at the self-serve salsa bar too.

Flacos: You’ve gotta hike out to their solo Berkeley location, but trust me, it’s worth a trip from anywhere. Just show up with your ID on the exact date of your birthday to get an entree of your choice, including rice, beans, and salad. That means you can dig into their superlative tamales, tacos, taquitos, or huarache, on the house!

Jamba Juice: Become a Jamba Juice Insider for $3 off your next purchase, and any small juice or smoothie your heart desires on your birthday. Opt for an all-fruit blend to avoid the yogurt or sherbet bases, or get a bit more creative. I’ve found that by ordering the Cookies ‘n Cream Protein Shake with soymilk and soy protein, it becomes a sweet vegan treat!

Yogurtland: Register for Real Rewards and let the froyo flow! Okay so it may be soft serve sorbet, since only the syrup-based options are vegan, but that still shakes out to over two dozen potential flavors to choose from. It’s not all fruit either; that dark chocolate sorbet is nothing to scoff at. Get your first free 3-ounce swirl as soon as you sign up, and another on your birthday.

CREAM: Speaking of sweet, get ready for dessert by snagging a free sundae at any CREAM location. Take your pick of one vegan cookie (oatmeal, banana chocolate chip, or “fudging awesome” chocolate), one scoop of ice cream (soy-based blueberry or mint chocolate chip) and any two toppings when you sign up for their CREAM Rewards Program.

San Francisco Soup Co. and Ladle & Leaf: They go by different names but these two soup-slingers are really the same brand. Redeem a free bowl of soup on your birthday after signing up for their newsletter at either shop, and don’t forget to snag a free roll while you’re at it! Vegan options are clearly marked on the board, and there’s always at least one available everyday. You can’t go wrong with a comforting lunch of split pea soup or southwestern corn chowder, but keep your eyes peeled for special offerings on the daily menu, which vary by location.

Proper Food: Growing in leaps and bounds, this one tiny startup now has closet-sized outposts all across the downtown San Francisco area. Download the Thanx app and register for the Proper Food rewards program to get discounts all year round, and $8 off any purchase on your birthday. That’s a free box of tofu spring rolls, hummus and vegetable platter, or bowl of oatmeal!

Moe’s Southwest Grill: Welcome to Moe’s! If you’re familiar with this ubiquitous rally cry, you already know that there’s plenty of tofu, beans, rice, and plant-based goodness to go around at this quick service establishment. What you might not know is that by signing up for the Moe’s Rockin’ Rewards, you can walk out with a completely free burrito on your birthday. Load it up with all the good stuff, including guacamole, and come hungry because these are some behemoth tortilla torpedoes.

Project Juice: Also available through the Thanx app, redeem a free wellness shot along with a 10% discount on anything else purchased on your birthday with registration. If you plan it right, you can combine this deal with $5 off for following them on social media, and get a seriously healthy discount on some liquid nutrition.

Veggie Grill: Download the Veggie Grill Rewards app to your phone to cash in on $5 off your purchase, both when you sign up and when your birthday rolls around! That’ll net you a free soup, mac and cheese, mini wrap, black bean and quinoa mini bowl, side of fries, cauli-mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh little salad, multiple veggie sides, or a dessert. With so many tempting choices, you can easily stretch that fun money into a satisfying snack or light meal.

Pinkberry: Go froyo! Join the Pinkberry loyalty program through the mobile phone app for free and you’ll instantly earn a generous swirl of the frozen creamy confection with four toppings from the array of fresh fruits, nuts, crushed Oreos, mochi, and popping boba. Non-dairy froyo flavors will vary by store, but you can always count on finding at least one creamy treat to cool down with. Coconut and salted caramel coconut provide a more ice cream-like soft serve indulgence, while simply fruit peach passion and tropical mango offer a lighter, more refreshing experience. Take a peek at all the ingredient information here.

Dunkin’ Donuts: DD Perks offers a free beverage upon registration and on your birthday, but there is a small catch: You need a card to create your account, which means dropping some actual cash in advance. The good news is that you can load as little as $5 to get started, and if you’re already inclined to make a stop for coffee, that shouldn’t be such a big sacrifice. Dunkin’ Donuts has even made the work of sussing out the vegan options easy by rounding them up in a handy guide.

Pressed Juicery: Create an account under your phone number next time you make a purchase, and you’ll be treated to any full-sized bottle you fancy when it’s time to celebrate your birthday. Make the most of this opportunity by trying one of the creamy nut milks that usually fetch top dollar.

Sprinkles Cupcakes: What’s a birthday without cake? Sprinkles understands that we’re not all up to the task of baking amidst all the festivities, which is why they’re kindly gifting all the lucky birthday girls and guys who join Sprinkles Perks with one cupcake on their big day. I hope you like red velvet because that’s the only vegan flavor, but hey, who could really complain about free cake?

Peets: More free coffee, yes, but not just any coffee. Fancy coffee that you can top with whipped coconut cream! Blend up a decadent Javiva with almond or soy milk, warm up with a cup of thick hot chocolate, or cozy up to a seasonal latte with billowing mounds of the exclusive tropical topping, in any size from small to large, all compliments of this national chain. Beware that Peetnik Rewards are only accepted at select locations, so call ahead to your nearest outpost to make sure they’re in on the deal.

Ike’s: I like Ike, and you will too once he treats you to a generous full meal for your special day. That includes any sandwich, along with a bag of chips and a drink. Almost anything on the extensive menu can be veganized, and some of the best combinations aren’t even listed in store so don’t be afraid to ask. One of my favorites is the Tom Brady; breaded meatless chicken, mushrooms, avocado, and non-dairy cheese. Sign up for the e-club to get this offer, or email customer service directly. They’re super responsive and very friendly!

Regal Theatres: I wouldn’t suggest you go to the theatre just to snag a snack without seeing a movie… But you certainly could, free of charge, when you go to any Regal Theatre after signing up for the Crown Club. Representatives have confirmed that their fluffy kernels, including popcorn salt and buttery topping, are all vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free. You’ll get a free popcorn valid within a week of your birthday, as well as other delicious discounts all year round to compliment your cinematic experience.

VeganBurg: If you’re craving more comfort than cleansing, head out to the Haight with that same FiveStars app booted up and ready to go. VeganBurg has made their name on juicy meatless patties, but the free swirl of soft serve they’re offering to celebrate your birthday is no trifling consolation prize. It comes only as a creamy vanilla blend, but will definitely hit the spot after a long day of hustling for freebies.

Milkbomb: As the name might suggest, this isn’t exactly the most vegan-friendly scoop shop in the bay area, but they do offer at least one or two flavors of dairy-free sorbet to satiate your sweet tooth. Sign up for their email newsletter and get a complimentary scoop on the exact day of your birthday only.

Sephora: Rounding out the list with some non-edible pampering, this one is for all you glamorous makeup enthusiasts out there. Become a Beauty Insider to earn rewards for your cosmetic purchases all year round and cash in on free luxury minis on your birthday. Those deluxe samples change every year and there’s always two or three options to chose from, but bear in mind that not all brands are cruelty-free, so do your research before showing up at the counter to cash in.

Baskin-Robbins: Believe it or not, this old school ice cream parlor is churning out some “accidentally” vegan treats these days. Flavors vary depending on the store and time of year, but the total selection of dairy-free scoops includes Horchata Ice, Lemon Sorbet, Lime Daiquiri Ice, Strawberry Sorbet, and Tropical Ice. Sign up for the Birthday Club and you’ll get to chill out with a free kids scoop (2.5 oz) of any flavor your heart desires.

Bamboo Asia: Get a taste of Vietnam, Japan, or India all under one roof, customized to your tastes! Bamboo Asia offers a free “lite” bowl through the FiveStars app, which includes any base of greens, rice, or noodles, one protein, one veggie, three toppings, and two sauces. For me, that means teriyaki tofu with eggplant chips, hella pickled cucumbers, and yes, avocado is included as a complimentary topping! There’s a meatless main on every station, giving you ample options for whatever world cuisine you’re craving. While you’re there, don’t forget to consult Yelp for possible check-in bonuses, which have ranged from free sodas to sweets in the past.

The Habit Burger Grill: The Habit Burger Grill has been offering free birthday Charburgers for years now, but only recently started offering veggie burgers as a regular menu staple. Now that’s something to celebrate all by itself! Join the CharClub and when your special day rolls around, order the veggie burger on a French roll, wheat or seeded bun, or wrapped in lettuce. The sourdough is grilled in butter, but there are so many other choices, you’ll have yourself a hearty meatless meal no matter what.

Do you know about more vegan birthday freebies to add to the list? Let me know and I’ll keep this post updated!

Souped Up

Tracking watery footprints all through the kitchen, there was no use pretending to be tidy. Saturated socks dripped with every step, more absorbent than the sponge idle in the sink. Washing away drought warnings, the rainy season has come to drown the bay area once again. Punishing storms drop gallons of water in an instant, drenching everything unfortunate enough to be outside at that inopportune moment. Of course, this is inevitably the time I would chose to venture out, certain that only light drizzle would fill the skies. Wrong, wrong again.

Cold, wet, clammy, and seeking comfort, I won’t even bother removing my jacket before banging a stock pot onto the stove. Soup is the only thing that can make the situation better; the simpler, the better. French onion is at the top of the list, rich and soothing, without any challenging preparation to contend with on a day that’s already difficult to endure.

In an Ayurvedic twist inspired by sweet golden milk, Golden Onion Soup glows with gilded turmeric and ginger-laced broth. Creamy coconut milk swirls throughout, lending body to this soulful bowlful, ensuring a satisfying experience down to the last spoonful.

So bring on the rain, I say! With a bare handful of pantry staples and a bit of restorative time in the kitchen, we can weather this storm. Just make sure you have an extra pair of dry socks at the ready.

Golden Onion Soup

1/4 Cup Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil
4 Sweet Vidalia Onions, Quartered and Thinly Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Garbanzo Bean Flour
1 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
4 – 5 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

In a large stock pot, melt the butter or coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat for about 30 minutes. The onions should be lightly caramelized and highly aromatic. Add the garlic, ginger, and salt, sauteing for 30 minutes more, stirring every 5 minutes. The mixture should be very soft and amber brown.

Add the garbanzo bean flour and turmeric, stirring to incorporate. Saute for just 2 – 3 minutes to lightly toast the flour before deglazing with the coconut milk. Whisk the miso paste into 4 cups of stock, until fully dissolved, before adding the liquid in as well. Bring the soup to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer gently for 15 – 20 minutes. Season with black and cayenne pepper and add more stock, if needed, to reach your desired thickness.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

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