BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Embracing Imperfection

Rarely do New Year’s resolutions resonate with me. Striving to improve one’s health, wealth, or general shortcomings are admirable goals, but the annual effort always feels so contrived. The calendar shouldn’t be the push for these efforts; as is proven year after year, that reminder typically affects change for a month, at best.

2017, however, already seems different. High on my list of personal ambitions is to let go of the perfection fallacy and embrace the beauty in all that is conventionally deemed “ugly.” Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and I’ve found a whole lot to love in the trend towards buying otherwise unloved, ugly produce. Lemons with blemishes; apples that are too small to meet a buyer’s standards; gnarled carrots that refuse to stand up straight. Otherwise delicious fruits and vegetables are discarded in favor of their immaculate, but often tasteless, brethren.

Imperfect Produce is making big waves in the supply chain to change all that. Delivering boxes on demand directly to consumers’ doors across the bay area, they’ve only been in operation for a little over a year and have already rescued well over 750,000 pounds of otherwise wasted food. Those numbers are no small potatoes (although they have plenty of those to share, too) and promise continue growing at a rapid pace, as they’ve recently announced plans to expand into Los Angeles.

This is where I need to go off script and say that this is not a sponsored post and I did not receive anything for free. I was simply inspired by the mission of this once-small startup, and am beyond thrilled to spread the Imperfect Produce appreciation. When I realized that their warehouse was just a short walk away, I high-tailed it out there to see where all the ugly goodness comes from, and I was welcomed with open arms.

Browsing through the line of workers busily packing food into their designated compostable boxes, the real tragedy is that among the immense stacks of produce, I could hardly pick out any truly unsightly specimen within. Perhaps it’s a case of excess supply or insufficient demand, but some of these were truly stunning edible gems, deemed unfit for sale for reasons no ethical eater could comfortably stomach.

Resolve to do more for the local community, your diet, and your bank account by simply eating uglier. You’ll spend a fraction of the cost that these fruits and vegetables would otherwise command at conventional grocery stores, and better yet, you’ll skip the lines at checkout. If that’s still not enough to convince you, go ahead and take 50% off your first box with the code “SPOON” at checkout. Pick exactly what you want from the current seasonal offerings and trust that no matter what it looks like, it will always be brilliantly fresh and delicious.

The delivery range is limited to us lucky Californians at the moment, but I think the overall message is one we can all get behind for the coming year. Celebrate all of life’s imperfections, no matter what form they may take.


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Dreaming of a White Chocolate Christmas

Gleaming in the early morning light, bright and luminous as freshly fallen snow, white chocolate is an irreplaceable staple for the holiday baker. Generous pans of fudge, slabs of peppermint bark, and boxes of cookies all shimmer with these sweet morsels, unrivaled in their versatility for ornamentation and flavor enhancement. The trouble, as every careful shopper knows, is that mainstream options contain far more dairy than cacao. White chocolate gets a bad rap for precisely this reason, to say nothing of the waxy hydrogenated oils that often bind the whole sugary messes together. While relatively limited vegan options exist on the market, the tides are slowly changing.

Homemade options are always a treat, and you’ll find boutique bars aplenty online, but what I’m talking about today are genuine chips, capable of holding their own in any dessert rather than functioning simply as a treat to eat out of hand. Right now, there are two types of vegan chocolate chips: Those that are good for melting, dipping, and drizzling, and those that maintain their shape, more resistant to the heat of the oven.

The newest chip off the block is somewhat revolutionary; 100% organic, no hydrogenated oils or questionable fillers in sight. Cocoa butter, rice milk powder, sugar, and vanilla are the only things that go into Pascha Chocolate‘s new rice milk white chocolate chips. For the obsessive label-readers or highly allergic eaters, this stuff is heaven-sent. Flatter than the traditional snowy peaks of conventional chocolate chips, they’re more like crisp white disks, ideal for melting down into creamy cacao creations.

Mildly flavored, they don’t beat you over the head with sweetness, but whisper gently of vanilla with a subtle buttery undertone. This nuanced approach is perfect for crowning more aggressively flavored baked goods, like these gingerbread bars pictured above, cutting their intensity without detracting from the overall experience. Although their more delicate composition means they’re more likely to pool and puddle when faced with a trip through the oven, they’re perfect for turning into white ganache or icing once your treats are fully baked. For your highest quality option with the cleanest label, Pascha Chocolate is your one and only choice.

If you’re craving a smattering of white chocolate freckles throughout your cookies or cakes, however, you still have one great option! While there are a few white chips out there designed for the kosher crowd, most of those taste of little more than wax and sugar, entirely eschewing cocoa butter and thus losing the essence of this simple sweet addition. Not so with the White Chocolate Chips offered by Chocolate Emporium. These are the little morsels of pale cacao goodness that I’ve been buying (and hoarding) in bulk for years.

Although they’re stubbornly resistant to melting down smoothly, that quality serves them perfectly for baked applications. They have a slightly softer chew right out of hand, but somehow manage to hold their own in the face of a 350 degree inferno. Their flavor would be described as subtle at best, but their main function should be to add sweetness, creaminess, and color contrast anyway.

When the chips are down, these two are your very best bets, and both should have a place of honor in your kitchen year round. Vegan white chocolate is still something of a rarity, so these sweet treats will undoubtedly elicit astonishment, wonder, and awe- Not to mention hunger.


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Short, Sweet, and Sharp

This is not a gift guide. To call it as much would be self-congratulatory exaggeration, promising far greater shopping insights than such a short list could deliver. The truth of the matter is that every year, I dream of highlighting my favorite products, sharing them far and wide, but every year I find that proposition entirely overwhelming. A serial online shopper, I’m guilty of stuffing my virtual cart all year round, amounting to scores of marvelous new finds that go entirely unsung, despite best intentions.

Besides, I’m not about to declare how you should be spending your hard-earned money, whether it’s on gifts for loved ones or yourself. Rather, this is just a short, sweet, and sharp round up of just the latest things I’m loving, and think that you might enjoy, too.

Short: Microplane has become synonymous with the product they’ve innovated, and for good reason. They continue to produce the incontrovertibly best tools for removing zest in short, attractive, and flavorful little strips, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of their range. All graters are not created equal, and now that Microplane offers a wide variety of shredding textures through their attractive Master Series, I could never go back to my cheap dollar store stand-in. From fine to extra coarse, these sharp tools are a simple but drastic upgrade for anyone who likes to zest it up in the kitchen.

Sweet: Opening up this box on Christmas Day really would be pretty magical for recipients of any age. Custom made to your tastes, the Magic Candy Factory lets buyers pick out flavors, shapes, and glittery finishes to fabricate their very own 3D-printed gummy candies. All vegan, delicious, and beautifully rendered, this just might be the big winner of the gift giving season. After all, who could ever be disappointed by a mango-flavored, sparkling, gummy octopus?

Sharp: They say you should never give a knife as a present because it will sever your relationship with that person, but I’m not buying it. I am, however, buying this W├╝sthof Epicure 9″ Double-Serrated Bread Knife, which cuts through even the toughest crusts just like… Well, you know. Those pointed teeth really dig right in and create clean slices with little effort. Leave your dull knife in the dust and consider upgrading your current arsenal with this well-balanced blade.

Now tell me, what are you currently loving, coveting, and craving? There’s always space for more on my wish list…


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Keep Calm and Shop On

The array of online retailers available for 24-hour, worldwide, no holds barred means all of your shopping whims can become downright dizzying after just a few cursory searches. Such a wealth of options should be a boon to the average consumer, seeking the best deals and widest selection, but the incessant promotions seem to pull in all directions at once. Overwhelmed rather than empowered, I find myself simply closing my browser and walking away more often than not, too frazzled to make a purchase for even the simplest of needs.

Seeking to filter out the extra noise, I’ve found true solace in the less celebrated, smaller virtual retailers, offering only items that meet a higher standard for quality. That means only vegan products can make the cut, to say nothing of the longevity, versatility, and visual appeal of the items themselves. She Is Worth It is a rising star in this field. If you haven’t yet surfed over to this shining outpost of cruelty-free goods, get ready to watch your wish list grow.

Offering products that are kind to the animals and your wallet, She Is Worth It features just three focused categories of top notch products: Cosmetics, bags, and sunglasses. For the indecisive or merely undecided, this selection makes shopping for a loved one with discerning tastes easier than ever, since you can’t go wrong with any of the options.

Don’t forget to treat yourself while you’re there! As my travels demand a wider variety of bags, I’ve indulged myself in some more stylish carry ons, which is why I was irresistibly drawn to the gorgeous quilted faux-leather backpack above. A rotating selection of items means that this particular option is no longer available, but even more dazzling purses, clutches, and handbags have been added to take its place.

As a special holiday treat to readers, She Is Worth It and I have joined forces to offer a mini shopping spree to one lucky patron. The winner can select either one beauty product or pair of sunglasses, just for giving this new online retailer a shot. Please visit the GIVEAWAY FORM HERE to log your entry, and don’t forget to start shopping now! The holidays aren’t too far away, after all…


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Spread Hope

Once relatively unheard of in the US, the popularity of hummus has risen to astronomic new heights within the condiment hierarchy. Now rivaling longtime champions ketchup and salsa for top honors, it’s more noteworthy when you can’t find this beloved dip at any establishment selling food. No where is the craze made clearer than in the mainstream marketplace, where even corner store bodegas are likely to carry at least one or two brands. For that matter, there’s a good chance you can even scrounge up a package of the creamy chickpea puree at your local drug store, right alongside the emergency rations of plain saltine crackers and white bread. It’s impossible to escape, as if anyone would ever want to, but such an overwhelming abundance of options does make it challenging to weed out the winners and losers in the field.

Hope Hummus sets itself apart from the pack by blending up unique yet approachable flavors that offer a delicious departure from the average bean dip. Sure, there’s still the austere plain and garlic options for the traditionalist, providing a solid standby for the pickiest palates, but greater gustatory adventures await the more intrepid eater. Heat things up with Thai Coconut Curry or Sriracha hummus, or explore new territory entirely with sweet Dark Chocolate hummus.

Though I can’t claim to have experienced the full range of inventive combinations, it’s only a matter of time before I can hunt them down, since my initial experiences have proven so gratifying. Picking favorites is never easy, but I need to give a special shout out to the Kale Pesto hummus, which combines everyone’s favorite leafy green superfood with basil pesto, lending vibrant, fresh flavor to this coarse blend. Primed for any party platter, it also strikes me as a promising candidate for enlivening creamy pasta sauce or topping a bowlful of piping hot tomato soup. Speaking of hot, Spicy Avocado hummus lights a smoldering savory flavor with piquant jalapeno peppers, tempered by creamy avocado. Though not nearly a five-alarm fire, it certainly boasted a well-defined spice that would appease any heat seekers in the crowd.

In this booming category, surprisingly few variations can be found on the classic staple, despite increasing demands. Hope Hummus is one company clearly thinking outside the plastic tub while always emphasizing high quality, organic ingredients. For a quick fix snack, consider branching out and trying their fresh twists on hummus next time.


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NuGo On the Go

The idea of going “back to school” has taken on a new meaning. Mere months after graduating, I find myself returning to campus bright and early each morning once again, eager to learn about the latest in photo technology. Now the difference is that instead of heading into the classroom, I plunge into the stacks of rental lenses in the equipment room, trying furtively to teach myself the intricate codes to their order and maintenance. These lessons are quite possibly even more difficult than those I grappled with as an undergrad, and while the days are long, the hours seem to evaporate in an instant. It’s the most I can do keep my head above water in the flood of paperwork, let alone steal away a full 30 minutes for a lunch break. After just a few hours in this position, I came to realize how little I appreciated those assiduous lab techs in my days as a student.

Times like these call for emergency sustenance; packable and compact, shelf-stable and easy to eat, healthy but of course, above all else, delicious.

The field of energy bars certainly has exploded over the past decade, expanding into a dizzying array of flavors, macro-nutrient combinations, and special dietary considerations. A blessing and a curse to those in need of quick snacks on the go, it’s difficult to discern when you’re actually picking up a cookie bar or sidewalk chalk dressed up in a shiny Mylar wrapper.

NuGo is a brand that’s been on the scene for ages, diversifying its offerings along different lines to accommodate shifting eater demographics. While their more old-school products contain milk and some admittedly questionable ingredients, their vegan NuGo Slim bars are more than enough to sustain the discerning herbivore. The company was kind enough to share a taste of their new Chocolate Mint and Toasted Coconut bars with me, and both were fine fodder for these busy days on the job.

Dressed in a cloak of dark chocolate, each one gives off the impression of a candy bar, but at half the sweetness, bear no threat of inducing a sugar coma. Although slightly dry, the texture is soft, with an easy bite that is not difficult to swallow- No pun intended. Imagine a very firm cookie dough binding together crispy rice cereal, and you’d come pretty close to the heart of these chocolate-covered protein bombs.

For those in need of a midday wake-up call, the mint option is the one for you. Sharp like spearmint rather than the more standard peppermint, it’s not messing around, leading with a fresh, bright punch of mint right from the first bite. Coconut, on the other hand, takes somewhat of a backseat to the chocolate, but still sings loud and clear with a comfortingly nutty resonance.

Though I can’t say either has instantly risen through the ranks to reach a new personal favorite, both are a boon to busy, hungry eaters of all stripes, with very impressive nutritional stats to boot. I’m certainly happy to have them on standby in my camera bag, ready in a flash when it’s time to go back to school all over again.


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The Ultimate Sushi Burrito Roll-Out

Wide-eyed, mouth agape, and stomach rumbling, I remember the very first time I heard of the concept. Sushi always had a special place in my heart and on my table, from a weekly after school maki roll habit to special birthday dinner requests, often cited as my last meal selection when asked. Despite my youth, I thought that such relentless passion had already exposed me to all the category had to offer. New vegetable, legume, or fruit combinations could shake things up from time to time, but there was nothing earth-shattering to be found in this time-honored edible art form.

That was until I came across sushi burritos. Hulking bundles rivaling the size of a newborn, these babies were instead swaddled in oversized sheets of slick, glistening nori, overstuffed with a rainbow of fresh and widely varied ingredients. Just one order would satisfy the average eater, if not push them right over the edge into a contented food coma. Back in the early days, there was only one: The Sushirrito, the granddaddy of them all. Scrolling through blogs that featured mouth-watering photos of the beast, I vowed that one day, I would venture out west, if only to taste this legendary creation for myself.

Almost a decade later, it’s safe to say that this is no longer a passing trend, but a hot ticket item that’s here to stay. Sushirrito has expanded its empire all the way out east to New York, with plans to unveil its 8th and 9th outposts soon. More tellingly, however, is the number of rivals now on the scene that offer up their own perspective on the giant sushi wrap. What might surprise you is the fact that all of these fish-centric establishments offer wholly vegan options, and the greatest variety is actually found across the bay, in Berkeley and Oakland. So who makes the one veggie sushi burrito to rule them all? It took me over a year of eating and countless packets of soy sauce, but what follows is my official* ruling on the very best of the bay area.

*Completely unofficial.

Pulling off the greatest upset in sushi burrito history, the young upstart Sushinista gets the gold star in this competition. Less than a year on the scene and still flying well below the radar, their offerings are some of the least traditional, but accordingly most inventive and exciting. Portobello mushrooms slathered in a mild green curry sauce are the shining stars of this menu, complimented by a range of seasonal vegetables and crunchy toppings that have previously included such unsung delights as persimmon and Asian pear.

Giving credit where credit is due, Sushirrito still carries the torch in San Francisco proper. Quite frankly, it’s hard to beat the obscenely rich mushroom fries found in the “Buddha Belly,” ringing with umami and wholly satisfying on their own. I’m tempted to call it a tie with my top pick, but points ultimately had to be deducted for sloppy construction. Kudos for providing a roasted garlic tofu aioli, but that added sauce frequently created soggy nori, leading to catastrophic blowouts while eating. You’ll eventually need to attack it with a fork in the end.

Big bonus point and serious kudos go to Sumo Roll for being the ONLY establishment offering not one, but two veganizable options. Although both the veggie-forward “Kabuki” and curried tofu “Midori” automatically come with egg-based aioli and one with slaw, just let your sushi burrito artist know about your dietary needs and they’re more than happy to customize. Ask for the tangy miso-ginger sauce instead, and you’ll be in business. Hat tip to Sumo Roll for providing what is quite possibly the best value around, serving up truly sumo-sized servings that don’t hold back on the flavorful fillings.

Placing Torpedo Sushi so far down the list feels downright heretical, considering the consistently luscious slabs of avocado and chunks of baked tofu wrapped up in every bundle. They simply got edged out for offering smaller portions, and occasionally bulking up their rolls with more rice than fillings. Burritos can be somewhat hit-or-miss based on these proportions, so I’d be more inclined to order the “Veganator” in rice bowl format instead.

Traveling back to downtown Berkeley, Sushi Secrets certainly doesn’t skimp on the goodies wrapped up in their “Denemon,” throwing unexpected ingredients like purple potatoes and corn into the mix. Unfortunately, their wraps also suffer from issues with structural integrity, and the sweet and sour dressing dominates the entire composition, drowning out any nuances that the unique vegetables might provide. Once unwrapped, the whole thing is liable to explode into your lap, and sadly, it’s not even worth the effort of picking up all the shrapnel.

Ordering sushi from a truck might seem sketchy, even when opting for a fish-free meal, but We Sushi has proven itself as a reliable source for sushi satisfaction. The “Vegan” burrito is solid, a fine fix if you’re craving vinegared rice and veggies, featuring sweet potato tempura most prominently, but nothing to rave about. It’s the beige cardigan of sushi burritos; reliable, comfortable, but nothing you’d want to show off in public. Go ahead and order up if you spot the truck parked in your neighborhood, but don’t go out of your way to hunt it down.

Pulling up the tail end of this edible parade, the “Tofu Teriyaki” burrito at Sushi Taka seems more like an afterthought than a feature. Ordered without spicy mayo, the wrap tastes only of seaweed salad. Soft tofu squares dissolve without any notable texture, and the promise of teriyaki flavor goes unfulfilled. In a word: Pass.

Honorable mention goes to Nombe, for taking the fusion concept to the next level and actually wrapping their sushi burritos in flour tortillas. These are a rotating item on the menu, but I don’t think you’re missing much if you don’t see them during your visit; the combination of carb-on-carb is just a total starch-fest, especially considering the fact that rice takes up more than half the bundle to begin with.

It’s safe to say that sushi burritos are officially having their moment out west, but time will tell if that enthusiasm of oversized maki rolls will continue their spread across the country. There are highlights and low lights to be found, with wide variations all over the board, but overall, there’s a lot to love about the concept.

Have you had sushi burritos? Have you made sushi burritos? Tell me about it, and let’s craft a better burrito, together!