All’s Fair in Love and Sushi

Do you believe in love at first bite? I’m far from the hopeless romantic type, giddy over every vague glimmer of attraction, but I sure do. Far from a mere plausibility, I can assure you that it’s a proven fact; I’ve experienced it on more than one occasion. Locking lips with one powerful bite that sweeps you off your feet in a moment of passion, you lose yourself in the moment. The setting, the people, the noise all melt away, leaving only the lingering taste sensation, and lust for more.

Blue Sake Sushi Grill is the most recent backdrop of one such fiery affair. From the onset, I knew this one would be a compelling catch, boasting a lengthy menu of entirely vegan maki and nigiri that go well beyond the standard vegetable garden. We’re talking about tomato ahi tuna, eggplant barbecued eel, ikura CaviArt– And those are only mere components that make up the larger rolls.

Don’t be shy; a little flirtation is a good way to get acquainted. Ease into the conversation with any of the clearly labeled plant-based appetizers, such as the Crispy Brussels Sprouts that could convert a hater. It’s not hard to find incredible fried Brussels in this city, with immaculately crisp, almost translucent leaves and tender, buttery interiors, but these take it to the next level. Slathered in zesty, savory, and subtly sweet yuzu-miso sauce, that plate alone would score serious points for a first date.

Recommending maki rolls from this fetching lineup is a daunting task, but the good news is that there are no losers here. The Cowgirl roll, which includes pickle tempura, sriracha-fried onion rings, BBQ-flavored soy paper instead of nori, vegan mayo, and tonkatsu sauce, is the overwhelming fan favorite. My personal favorite, however, was the Eden roll, comprised of grilled asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, sweet potato tempura, and topped with creamy edamame hummus. It truly does taste like a little bite of heaven, swaddled in white sesame soy paper.

Best of all, you can indulge on a budget during their daily happy hour, which naturally includes a wide selection of carefully crafted mixed drinks. If you need an extra push to give it a try, join the Bite Club to get a sweet discount of $10 off your first $20 purchase.

Laying claim to 15 locations nationwide as of this writing, with plans to continue that rapid expansion, it’s clear I’m not the only one swooning. If you’re still waiting for a branch to open up near you, don’t worry, there’s more than just eye candy on offer here! Blue Sake Sushi Grill was kind enough to offer the secret formula for their incomparable Brussels sprouts. If you’re the jealous type, though, be careful who you share them with; anyone could easily fall head over heels for this hot dish.

Continue reading “All’s Fair in Love and Sushi”

Water You Waiting For?

Why is it so hard to drink enough water on a daily basis? Such a fundamental element of survival should come as naturally as breathing, and yet the majority of people suffer through perpetual dehydration, without even realizing it. The excuses are pitiful, but plentiful:

  • I’m too busy to remember.
  • Plain water doesn’t taste good.
  • It’s too cold/not cold enough.
  • Bottled water is wasteful.
    I can’t drink straight from the tap.
  • Public fountains are grimy.
  • Caffeine is necessary in the morning.

Attempts at increasing any sort of fluid intake usually end in poor compromises for me, using sugary sodas, sports drinks, and juices as a crutch. I know I’ll feel better if I just swallow my pride along with a big swig of pure, clean, fresh water, but it’s never the most compelling option in the kitchen.

That’s all changed now that I have a Vitapod on the counter. This formidable machine works like a single-serve coffee maker with individual pods containing nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and most importantly to discriminating drinkers like myself, FLAVOR. Formulated by a panel of experienced doctors, the overall goal is to supplement up to 15 under-consumed vitamins and minerals that leave 9 out of 10 Americans under-nourished. The recyclable pods contain 90% less plastic than single-use water bottles, and will be 100% biodegradable by 2023.

Choose between 11 different flavors that include watermelon, raspberry hibiscus, green apple, and even cotton candy. In case you need an extra kick of caffeine, you can get your fix from the Iced Tea+ (60mg), Sports+ (100mg), and Energy+ (200mg) options, too. There are no artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners in any of the beverage mixes.

The real beauty of the Vitapod system is that it doesn’t even need a flavor pack to function. The built-in multi-pass filtration system purifies water better than market leaders. Plus, the machine cools water to 50 – 59 degrees, which is the optimal temperature for hydration, allowing the body to absorb water quicker than water that’s too hot or cold. Simply dispense your drink over ice if you’d like it cooler.

Infuse your brew and take it to go in a reusable bottle and you’ll never go thirsty again. Now if that doesn’t solve all your dehydration difficulties, I don’t know what will.

Save $15 on a Vitapod Machine or Vitapod Machine Starter Pack at vitapodworld.com when you use code MOM15. Expires 9/30/21.

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

Stuffed to the Gills

Just like people, shiitake mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes.

Uniformity might be prized for mass-produced, cultivated mushrooms grown indoors, but greater flavor can be found in nature. Forest-grown Sugimoto shiitake are exposed to greater variation in sun, rain, and wind which in turn creates a greater depth of the flavor, richer texture, and higher nutritional value. This method has withstood the test of time, serving Japanese growers well for over 1000 years with countless bountiful harvests to show for it.

Since it is impossible to control the weather, these wild shiitake mushrooms develop into two primary classifications, largely dependent on the season: Donko and Koshin.

Donko are gathered before the mushroom can fully bloom or open up. These shiitake are a thicker, chewier, and meatier, but smaller overall. The name itself from the Chinese word for “winter,” as they’re harvested primarily in the cooler months from January to April.

Koshin, bearing flatter but larger caps, are named after the word for “fragrant.” Brilliantly aromatic, they produce an ambrosial bouquet of umami before you even take a bite. Fully mature when harvested, they’re inactive during the summer months due to the high temperatures, but flourish in fall for plentiful late autumn yields.

Although they’re born of the same spores, the mushrooms change shape and texture depending on the time of harvest.

Both varieties perform splendidly in a wide range of dishes, but to maximize the unique qualities of such delicately nuanced, artisanal products, it’s important to know their strengths. The best way to honor the work of the 600 family farmers, who painstakingly nurturing these spores deep in the mountains, is to treat their shiitake with care and respect.

Utilizing the inherent textural advantages the Donko shiitake has to offer in creating a firmer, juicier bite, they’re the only type of dried mushroom that can be brought back to life as a satisfying base for stuffing. Most others would buckle under the weight if dressed with a mere teaspoon topping, but these sturdy caps stand up to the demands as superlative finger foods.

Quick, homemade nut cheese dazzles with fresh herbs and a luscious creamy texture that seems to defy its dairy-free components. Vegan yogurt adds a slightly tangy, funky note, like earthy yet mild goat cheese, perfectly paired with the rich umami mushrooms underneath. Thick enough to spread on a bagel like cream cheese, it has a distinctly buttery quality thanks to a touch of nutritional yeast and sweet white miso paste. To enhance the aroma that might be lessened in the Donko shiitake, additional dried shiitake powder gives this schmear an irresistible final savory punch.

Grown in harmony with nature, both Koshin and Donko Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms lend that same symphonic balance to every dish.

Continue reading “Stuffed to the Gills”

Tex-Mex Meets Veg-Mex

For a city with no shortage of exceptional Mexican and Tex-Mex fare, it’s a struggle to name one single greatest example of the art. However, it’s not hard to make a concise recommendation that covers all cravings. Nissi VegMex is the first place newcomers should visit, regularly winning praise from eaters from near and far. Authentic, bold flavors crafted from scratch with traditional methods are applied to plant-based proteins, so nothing is lost in translation.

Parked in Kenny Dorham’s Backyard, this modest trailer offers a short menu of top hits. Every entree is a knock-out so even if you come late and discover, for instance, that the very popular birria tacos are sold out, a second, third, or even fourth choice still won’t disappoint. True, it’s hard to match the Mexican version of au jus, pairing crispy tacos with sweet, sour, slightly spicy, and deeply savory stew for dipping, but you’ll forget all about it with one bite of any dish.

The “cheek’n” flautas were my first order and remain a nostalgic favorite. Served with well-seasoned rice and beans plus a refreshing little side salad, these crispy rolled tortillas come smothered with an artful drizzle of crema and avocado sauce. It really is a perfect meal, satisfying without over-stuffing, checking all the boxes for varied textures and tastes. Even my dad, a lifelong omnivore, declared that if all vegan food was like this, he could easily ditch meat for good.

Limited hours of operation are their greatest downfall. There’s no such thing as Taco Tuesday when orders are only accepted on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Delayed gratification is tough to contend with, but worth the wait, even if there is a considerable line during prime time. Real food made from scratch isn’t ready in an instant, so grab a drink from the bar or enjoy an icy glass of hempchata (that’s hemp-based horchata) and enjoy the scene. If you’re lucky, there might be a band playing on the stage to the right, luring other bystanders out to dance.

Where should you go if you want genuine Mexican food? What if you’re on a budget? How about vegan, or gluten-free option, too? Want a taste of true Austin in just one night? Nissi, Nissi, Nissi, and Nissi. If anyone says different, they must not be from around here.

Nissi VegMex
1106 East 11th Street
Austin, TX 78702