Get Your Game On, Go Play

The loss of play in the average adult’s life is downright tragic. It’s not like we ever outgrow the desire to have fun. We don’t sit down one day, make a spread sheet of all the extraneous things we can stand to lose (like guilt, shame, and misplaced emotions) and decide that the things bringing us joy, for no other purpose than to be happier in that moment, should be crossed off the list. What gives? Why do you have to be a “child at heart” to do something outside of work, just because you want to?

Forget that nonsense. I’ve spent too many years without any play, and now I’m taking it back. I’ve found my happy place at Cidercade, open to all ages and levels of maturity. Take your family, take your friends, take your dates, or just take your damn self; I’m tired of needing an excuse to get out and make merry.

What Games Can You Play At Cidercade?

For one flat fee of $10, you get all-day access to hundreds of arcade games. We’re talking new and retro, including pinball, fighters and shooters, sports like air hockey and skee-ball, racing, music like guitar hero and dancing; pretty much everything else you, your parents, or your kids ever loved. If you play your cards right, you can stay active and treat this as a cheaper alternative to a gym membership too.

What’s There to Drink and Eat At Cidercade?

Of course, the abundant options for hard beverages on tap might negate all those gains. All the drinks are Austin East Ciders exclusives, with lots of limited edition flavors you won’t find in cans. I’m forever craving the cream soda hard cider that popped up well over a year ago, but have never been disappointed by the classics, categorized by sweetness. For the non-drinkers, there’s unlimited Maine Root Soda option for just $4. They’re all made with cane sugar too, no corn syrup, presenting a distinct upgrade over the sticky fountain beverages of yore.

The real crowning glory of this establishment is the pizza. Honestly, these handmade pizzas have no right being so good. It’s an arcade, after all; shouldn’t the food be an afterthought? That’s certainly not the case here, where the pies come out fast and hot. Crispy, thin, and beautifully blistered crusts support a wide range of topping options, including perfectly gooey, fully melted vegan cheese. Caramelized onions and mushrooms are a must for me, which always comes out perfectly cooked and richly umami. I hear there are even gluten-free options, but haven’t been tempted to venture a taste.

There are five Cidercade locations across Texas, in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, and Arlington. Set aside time for your next play date today.

The Hole Story About Austin Bagels

Bagels are such a unique, distinctive class of bread that they deserve their own category. Visually, texturally, and fundamentally, they barely even resemble other yeasted staples. Every element is critical to the overall experience, from the glossy, chewy crust to the dense crumb inside. Few have successfully mastered the art of bagelry, and not just for lack of the alkaline water found in New York City.

Where can you get the best bagels?

Aside from making your own from scratch, access to quality options remains limited, especially outside of major cities. Sad to say, nothing found in the bread aisle of your local grocery store will ever measure up. Fortunately, it’s not a dying art- Quite the contrary. Out of nostalgia, cravings, and blind ambition, more and more young bakers across the country are throwing down the dough to make genuine bagels, and not some glorified ring-shaped dinner rolls.

NYC has the street cred, but not the monopoly on raw talent. Austin lays claim to five independent, local bagel makers. Plenty of restaurants and cafes are doing great things with sandwiched and schmeared creations, but I wanted to go straight to the source for this gustatory investigation. I’m talking about hunting down the very best bagel in town.

How can you judge the best bagel?

While every cafe worth their coffee beans offers a basic bagel, I went straight to the source, examining only those who bake their own bagels. For the sake of consistency, I compared only everything bagels, being the most popular variety across the board, without any toppings. Prices ranged from $1 – 4.50 apiece, making the very best of the batch an affordable luxury. Each is filling enough to make a solid breakfast, even without adornment, so I’d call that a bargain for a full meal. Here’s where your dollars are best spent.

Who bakes the best bagels from scratch in Austin?

  • Rosen’s Bagels is a relative newcomer to the world of commercial baking, beginning life a mere five years ago, but has quickly taken hold as the front runner in local cafes and grocery stores. If it wasn’t enough to get a dozen delivered straight to your door, they now have two shiny new brick-and-mortar locations that are perpetually buzzing with hungry carbivores. Founder Tom Rosen has a simple formula for success, and is simply doing it right. The dough goes through a 48 hour fermenting and rising process to develop complex flavors, enhanced by the traditional addition of subtly sweet malt powder. Best of all, the everything bagels are double-seeded, tossed in the signature seasoning mixture on both sides to ensure no bald spots. Top and bottom halves are full coated for a serious flavor punch.

  • Rockstar Bagels has been rising to the occasion since 2009 with their malt-boiled bagels that positively shine in the early morning light. They’re the first local bagel to grace my table since they’re available at Wheatsville a la carte for mere pocket change. These plump rings sport an elegantly lacquered finish with a topping that tends to skew heavier on sesame seeds, enhancing the nutty, toasted flavor. Maybe that’s why I find them more compelling once split and toasted than simply warmed. Bulk bin grocery store bagels have questionable quality, even if they’re locally made, so always go to their walk-up window for the best, freshest batches.

  • Wholy Bagel stands apart from the pack by proudly touting their New Jersey-style bagel, boasting a notably fluffier crumb with a cracklingly crisp exterior. The combination of textures is unique, coming together as an a fully satisfying experience in a slightly unconventional format. Don’t forget that everything is bigger in Texas; when you order a dozen, it’s not a Baker’s Dozen but a Wholy Texas Dozen; 14 bagels for the price of 12.

  • Nervous Charlie’s can certainly be anxiety-provoking if you’re not prepared to wait on line. Perpetually swamped with hungry carbivores, it’s nigh impossible to beat the crowds. Most people are drawn to the loaded bagel sandwiches for a hearty breakfast, brunch, or lunch, but the ungarnished bread base itself is quite a prize. Plump, thick, and dense, each substantial ring demonstrates mastery of the dough.

  • Casper Fermentables adds more nuance to the local bagel conversation with their sourdough Montreal-style offerings. A passion for probiotics defines their offerings that run the gamut from kombucha to kimchi. Once a humble farmers market stand, Casper is the latest homegrown success to set up a permanent outpost in the Sunset Valley neighborhood. Now you can enjoy an expanded menu of ready to eat sandwiches and pastries, but the bagels remain the top seller. Even my New York-born father was impressed by the golden brown and mildly tangy, thoroughly chewy rings.

Honorable Mentions

Anyone baking their own bagels deserves props for doing it the right way, rather than the easy way. Not all of them rank at the top of my list, but they’re still far and away better than anything else you’d find on store shelves.

  • Big City Bagels and Subs tends to fly below the radar, putting more emphasis on the sandwiches than the bread, but the main issue is just getting there in time. Bagels are liable to sell out early, the shop sometimes closes early, and I can never seem to hit the road early enough.
  • Swedish Hill offers deluxe (albeit not vegan) fixings for dine-in guests, but the solo bagels are fairly forgettable. Not enough toppings to be considered everything; more like a few things. It doesn’t feel worth the price of entry to me.

New York may have perfected the art of the bagel, but it no longer has the monopoly. There are plenty of great bagels down south in the Greater Austin Area and beyond.

Fully Vetted

Dogs aren’t tough to understand. At least when it comes to my boy Luka, no words are needed to communicate just how much he hates the vet. Between the whining, crying, tail between the legs, ears back, and frantic escape attempts, it’s impossible to miss. Although my reaction isn’t so visceral, I have to admit, I don’t enjoy those visits much more. I’ve seen all too many upsetting scenes of mistreatment and outright disrespectful that I’ve come to dread even a routine checkup as if it was a personal assault.

No matter where we go, it always turns into an ordeal. After one too many borderline traumatizing experiences, we were both at wit’s end. In search of a better way, The Vets hit my radar as a completely new approach. Rather than piling into the car for an interminable ride of terror, they come to you for in-home services. The theory being that our pets, like ourselves, are much more comfortable at home, without enduring the stress or wasted time sitting around in a sterile waiting room.

Though naturally defensive of his territory, Luka knows dog people when he meets them, and quickly calmed down after spending a few minutes with our incredibly kind and compassionate vet techs. It wasn’t a numbers game, so we had time to talk, get to know one another, and build trust with my loving but inherently fearful pup. Lots of treats and a little play with his favorite toys went a long way. Finally, we were able to get baseline numbers and certifications where other vets had failed to even discern an accurate weight, given Luka’s typical state of hysteria at that point.

What services do The Vets provide?

  • Wellness exams for routine health maintenance
  • Emergency sick visits, available as next-day or same-day appointments
  • Microchipping and puppy exams for new additions to the family
  • Health certificates needed for travel, housing, and more
  • Vaccines such as Rabies, Parvo, Distemper, Leptospirosis, and Bordetella
  • Ultrasounds for pregnant pups (and cats!)
  • Dermatology that includes skin and nail care
  • Lab testing for diagnostic analysis
  • Euthanasia

The experience was in stark contrast to the misery we suffered just a few weeks ago to update Luka’s rabies vaccination at a nearby walk-in clinic. Despite arriving 15 minutes before the doors opened, we were already 18th in line, behind pet parents with multiples and a wide range of complex needs. We sat in the car (to stay away from aggressive dogs in the lobby) for over two hours, giving Luka plenty of time to build up a solid case of anxiety. By the time a technician could finally see us, Luka wasn’t having any of it. They muzzled my poor boy who wouldn’t hurt a soul because he was deemed “reactive,” only heightening his fight-or-flight response.

If only we could have waited. Here, on the same couch where he loves to nap and watch TV in my lap, he took his annual shots without so much as a yip. The difference was night and day. My one and only disappointment, personally, is that these vets don’t see human patients too!

Have you seen The Vets yet?

The Vets serve most major cities in the United States 7 days a week, morning to night. There is a better way to get help for our fur babies when they need it most. It’s a personalized, compassionate approach, creating a new standard for preventative pet care.

This post was made possible as a collaboration with Moms Meet and The Vets. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Way Better Whey

Some animal products can lurk just beyond detection on ingredient labels, hidden in plain sight. Adopting new names like false identities, they masquerade as benign, unremarkable ingredients, only called out by an allergen statement in small print like an afterthought. There are certain euphemisms you learn early on; even a child could tell you that “beef” means cow, and “pork” means pig. Beyond that, things get a little bit hazy. Whey is a particularly problematic ingredient, so far removed from the milk it came from that it can legally be labeled as lactose-free. Make no mistake, conventional whey is still 100% dairy-based and absolutely not vegan. However, in this golden age of plant-based alternatives, I’d like to think that those tides are turning.

California Performance Co. is on the cutting edge of food technology, working to redefine the entire concept of whey. V-Whey is the world’s first animal-free whey protein, made with Perfect Day to make a DNA-identical protein, bearing all the same nutrients, minus the cow. That’s why you’ll still see dairy as a potential allergen on the label. This dairy, however, is all vegan.

What are the benefits of V-Whey?

  • Anyone who has difficulty digesting other plant proteins like soy, wheat or, pea should take comfort knowing that whey is typically better tolerated by those with sensitive stomachs.
  • It’s a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. These are the building blocks for creating muscle, creating new immune cells, healing wounds, growing strong hair and healthy skin, and so much more.
  • Cruelty-free, sustainable, and better for the environment, this one goes well beyond personal health. Even if you’re not vegan, everyone should be concerned about the impact that feedlots have on soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and beyond.

V-Whey by California Performance Co. comes in three favors: Vanilla Sundae, Chocolate Brownie, and Mixed Berry. You have a classic neopolitan array of dessert-inspired tastes to quell cravings with 0 grams of added sugar. They’re sweetened with stevia to prevent blood sugar spikes, keep calories low, and still taste like a treat.

Most importantly, this is something you’ll WANT to drink. 23 grams of protein per serving are great, but useless if you can’t choke them down. It’s not a struggle with the silky-smooth consistency of V-Whey, mixing easily with water, non-dairy milk, or juice without a machine.

Vanilla Sundae lives up to the promise such a decadent title implies. Even when blended with just water alone, it tastes undeniably creamy, smooth, and sweet as dessert. It straddles the line between cake batter and frosting, which makes it a perfect ice cream alternative if you simply add ice. Cravings don’t stand a chance against this mix, which is ideal for adding into other recipes for its easily paired, agreeable flavor profile.

Mixed Berry underwent a startling transformation the second liquid hit. That stark white powder instantly blossomed into a florescent neon pink, stunningly rich in color as it poured from the shaker. Each sip was equally striking, starting with fresh strawberry notes in the lead, then morphing into a candy-like sweetness, and rounded out by a subtly tart, tangy finish. Genuine floral notes of whole fruit punctuated the experience for a fully immersive drinking experience.

Chocolate Brownie was my personal favorite of the bunch. It’s dark and deep, subtly bitter like a good bar of 80% cacao, tempered with just enough sweetness to soften the hard edges. Such incredible creaminess brings to mind truffles, ganache, and chocolate fondue, all melting together in one luxurious drink. This one is clearly designed with chocolate lovers in mind, doing proper justice to the world’s favorite aphrodisiac.

How else can you use V-Whey?

  • Smoothies and smoothie bowls
  • Hot oatmeal or overnight oats
  • Homemade protein bars
  • Add a scoop to pancake or waffle batter
  • Replace some of the flour in muffins or cookies
  • Mix with nut butter and spread on toast

Forget the gritty, chalky health tonics of yesteryear and welcome to the future. This is way better than conventional whey.

This post was made possible as a collaboration with California Performance Co. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Tapping into Tepache

When it comes to probiotics, it’s easy to go with your gut. There’s no need to take supplements to reap the benefits of all that good bacteria when there are hundreds of delicious options that pack an even bigger punch. Long touted as a healthier alternative to soda, kombucha has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity, raising the profile of many other natural probiotic beverages along with it. Kefir, apple cider vinegar, yogurt drinks, and even straight pickle or kimchi juice are on tap all around the world, crossing cultural boundaries and blending with modern tastes. Despite that, there’s one contender that has remained largely unknown… Until now.

What is tepache?

Tepache is the Mexican equivalent that predates colonial times. Fermented pineapple is the base, lending a sweet and tangy flavor without any added sugar. The best example I can think of is Big Easy Tepache for the time-honored techniques that deliver a refreshing experience bolstered with serious gut health benefits.

Like juice-based agua frescas, the flavors are limitless when it comes to tepache. The Original, a pure, clean study of pineapple vitality is a good place to start, demonstrating how versatile that gently effervescent base can be. Cocktails or mocktails come alive, quite literally, with billions of natural non-dairy probiotic cultures sparkling in the sun. Mango Mandarin, Strawberry Hibiscus, and Prickly Pear Lime add splashes of color to the tropical lineup in totally crushable cans.

Is tepache sweet?

If you crave bubbles with a bit of sweetness like me, you’ll want to stock your fridge for summer. Tepache has typical soft drinks beat by a mile; does your cola come with 7 grams of fiber and just 45 calories a pop? No, I didn’t think so.

Beyond the convenient aluminum can, tepache is also a prime source of recipe inspiration.

Just for starters, you could…

  • Blend it into fruit smoothies and acai bowls
  • Use it as marinade for tofu, tempeh, or seitan
  • Mix it into dressings for salads
  • Simmer baked beans for your next sensational BBQ side
  • Soak overnight oats or chia pudding

Don’t worry if you’ve been turned off by the harsh acidity of other similar probiotic drinks. Big Easy Tepache is certified toddler tested and approved, according to the founders’ own tiny Chief Taste Tester. Take it easy; tepache is for everyone.

This post was made possible as a collaboration with Moms Meet and Big Easy Bucha. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Cakes of Biblical Proportions

Some cookbooks are more aspirational than inspirational. You know the sort; heavy, hard covers with glossy photos splashed across the pages. If not for the text, they could qualify as art projects, printed and bound for posterity. Laid out deliberately in plain view for guests to notice, appreciating your good taste, such things are pure beauty have plenty of value all the same.There’s a place on every well-appointed bookshelf for recipes dedicated to 10 minute meals and entirely unobtainable food porn.

On rare occasion, if you’re lucky, you’ll come across a cookbook that fits both descriptions. Filled with lofty pastry goals that look like the stuff of sweet dreams, yet written in such a way that you could genuinely recreate these edible sculptures in real life, Sara Kidd bridges that gap with her groundbreaking release of The Vegan Cake Bible.

Deserving of culinary worship, these are not your mom’s bake sale tray bakes. We’re talking Caramel Swirl Bundt with Nougatine, Almond Sponge with Caramelized Apple & Ginger Meringue Buttercream, Vanilla Malt Marshmallow Birthday Cake, and beyond. By including a full breakdown of each individual component, you can easily mix and match to create the unique combination you’re truly craving.

Roast Carrot Cardamom Cake

It’s not just a set of instructions, but a full education that could rival the popular virtual pastry courses offered by highly esteemed culinary schools. We’re talking about the nitty gritty behind food science, shedding light on why ingredients interact the way they do, creating unique textures and flavors to better harness that power. Sara won’t leave you hanging when it’s time to stack things up, with tips and tricks to build sound foundations for towering cakes, no matter how tall. Naturally, plenty of time is given to decorating skills that go beyond a basic piping bag, creating treats as beautiful as they are delicious. There’s even a chapter about transporting your cakes when it’s party time!

As a certified Old Vegan™, I wish I had such a complete guide when I was blindly mashing bananas into everything, hoping and praying the results would be reasonably edible. Never could I have even imagined these feats of cake mastery, made accessible to anyone bold enough to call themselves a Baker. Though initially daunting, I promise, these luscious, layered creations are within your reach.

What’s even more incredible is the unbelievable number of gluten-free options all throughout these colorful pages. Her Gluten-free Vegan Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd and American Buttercream is a case in point, which she generously granted me permission to reprint here. However, I don’t think my little recipe card could do it proper justice; there’s so much more description within her original post, that I must implore you to make that one extra click to get all the info.

While you’re over there, don’t miss Sara’s full archive of sweet recipes, videos, and even baking classes for hands-on experiences with the master herself. Anyone even remotely interested in sweets will relish such an indispensable resource. Treat yourself, or someone you love, to the gift of truly incredible vegan cakes today.