Silent Sunday: Midnight Snacks

Totoro Taiko Manju

Grilled King Trumpet Mushrooms

Stinky Tofu

Teppanyaki Cabbage and Mushrooms

Shilin Night Market
No. 101號, Jihe Road
Shilin District, Taipei City, Taiwan

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The Devil Eats Chocolate

“That’s very fattening.”

Dropping like a stone out of the clear blue sky, the unsolicited comment stopped me cold. I hadn’t even been aware of the man standing in front of my cart, blocking my slow procession down the aisle. An instinctual flicker of rage flashed before my eyes, as if I had been slapped and called out back for a fight. This? This innocent little chocolate bar I held in my hand, fattening? What had it ever done to deserve such a harsh insult, completely unprovoked?

I looked up quickly, startled by the intrusion. There was only one way to respond, as far as I could see.

Looking this odd stranger straight in the eye, I spoke clearly and calmly.

“Yep.”

Immediately, the decision was made under that advice. Into the cart went the candy, tossed nonchalantly. That was all such a careless exclamation warranted.

Pulling the cart away from the shelf, away from this intruder, an incredulous grin began to spread across my face. What a laughable claim! What a strange thing to interject! Perhaps I should be grateful he’s so deeply concerned with my nutritional well-being. As if “fattening” was a terrible condition that could be contracted and spread like a disease, it was so kind of him to take a stand against the evils of all confectionery the world over, starting with my misinformed purchase.

Taking my plunder outside the store, there was only one way to dispose of such dangerous contraband. Quickly removing the wrapper to dissect the scored rectangles, it broke like the flimsy villain facade it hid behind, shattering into dark brown splinters that glittered inside the foil sheath. Vanquishing the beast, piece after piece succumbed to a sharp bite of the teeth, and a slow melt over the tongue.

May this beast inflict its fattening ways over society no more.

Stella! Hey, Stella!

You’d think that with age, one develops a greater sense of independence. At least I did, but at approximately 10 months old, Luka began refusing to sleep in his own bed. It’s not like he was ever alone; a mere step away and within clear eye-shot, there isn’t space in my tiny apartment to place him out of reach. Nonetheless, that short distance is suddenly intolerable, a terrifying void into which his cries for help echo endlessly, pitifully, desperately. No matter how happily he’s climbed into that plush pineapple earlier this evening, it’s a different story the moment the lights go out.

Despite growing up with a dog through most of my childhood, I never let Isis sleep with me in bed. The sweet little ball of fur was liable to wake up in the middle of the night and either tear through irreplaceable stuffed animals or leave her mark in all new places, if you get my drift. For the sake of my sanity though, I started to relent, to do anything to stop Luka’s ear-splitting howls. Though we’ve mostly gotten along as harmonious bedfellows, it’s still a considerable challenge for me to slumber soundly through the night, as a lifelong solo sleeper. It’s not uncommon to wake up around 2 AM to discover Luka burrowing deep into my armpit, licking my bare feet, or rubbing his balls across my neck. Oh, the glamorous life of dog motherhood.

If we can both clock at least 6 hours of solid shut-eye before sunlight spills out from between the curtains at daybreak, I think that at least one of us has earned a serious breakfast treat.

Make that a replica Stella D’Oro breakfast treat, to be exact. A relic of old school Italian baking rarely found on grocery store shelves these days, such basic biscuits hearken back to simpler times, when just a subtle sweetness and a light crunch would do the trick. It had been many years since these crisp morsels passed my mind, but in conversations about cravings, a friend insisted that these were the only thing that she missed from her pre-vegan days. Clearly, this was a critical omission in great annals of eggless baking.

Better than biscotti, these essential s-shaped cookies are ideal for dunking into coffee, slathering with jam, or munching on the go. There’s no wrong way to enjoy them since their neutral palate pairs beautifully with any drink, side, or topping you can dream up. Just make sure you do stop dreaming in time to wake up for breakfast; you won’t want to miss out on these treats.

Yield: About 2 Dozen Cookies

Copycat Stella D’Oro Breakfast Treats

Copycat Stella D’Oro Breakfast Treats

Better than biscotti, these essential s-shaped cookies are ideal for dunking into coffee, slathering with jam, or munching on the go. There’s no wrong way to enjoy them since their neutral palate pairs beautifully with any drink, side, or topping you can dream up. Just make sure you do stop dreaming in time to wake up for breakfast; you won’t want to miss out on these treats.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 Cups Bread Flour
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Potato Starch
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Almond Extract
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Extract

Eggless Wash:

  • 1 Tablespoon Aquafaba
  • 1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or pieces of parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the bread flour, sugar, potato starch, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separately, combine the water, oil, and all three flavored extracts. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, mixing thoroughly to combine, forming a thick dough. You may need to use your hands or a stand mixer to completely incorporate all the flour.
  3. Pinch off golf ball-sized pieces of dough. Roll each between lightly moistened hands, forming them into snakes approximately 4 – 5 inches long. Twist into “S” shapes and place on your baking sheets.
  4. Prepare the eggless wash by simply combining the aquafaba and maple syrup in a small dish. Brush evenly over the tops of the cookies just before baking.
  5. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before enjoying or storing in an airtight container for up to a week at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

20

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 110 Total Fat: 1g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 103mg Carbohydrates: 23g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 8g Protein: 2g

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!

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!

Grace Under Pressure

The race is on: Stomachs are rumbling and the call for a quick, cozy dinner is at fever pitch. Even the thought of bundling up to grab Chinese takeout seems onerous, too exhausting after spending so much time on the road or at work already. Besides, once jackets are off and pajama pants are on, there’s no going back.

I have good news for you. Believe it or not, the makings of a hearty, warm, restorative meal are already sitting in your pantry, and they’ll come together in mere minutes, with minimal effort. You don’t even need to leave the plush luxury of your bunny slippers to make it happen.

Could there be anything more comforting than a big bowlful of velvety tomato soup? Whole cashews are cooked right into the mix for this almost instant blend, transforming humble broth and vegetables into an impossibly luscious, creamy bisque. Fire-roasted and sun-dried tomatoes join forces to lend a robust, full-bodied tomato flavor that tastes like it spent all day simmering on the stove; only you need to know it needed just a few minutes in the pressure cooker.

No fancy equipment? No problem. Bring out your standard soup pot and plan to simmer for a little bit longer. It may be difficult to wait, but it’s worth the extra time, and still beats greasy lo mein by a long shot.

Yield: Makes 4 - 6 Servings

Heat ‘n Eat Creamy Tomato Bisque

Heat ‘n Eat Creamy Tomato Bisque

Whole cashews are cooked right into the mix for this almost instant blend, transforming humble broth and vegetables into an impossibly luscious, creamy bisque. Fire-roasted and sun-dried tomatoes join forces to lend a robust, full-bodied tomato flavor that tastes like it spent all day simmering on the stove; only you need to know it needed just a few minutes in the pressure cooker.

Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Yellow Onion, Diced
  • 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock
  • 1 (28 ounce) Can Fire-Roasted Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1/2 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes
  • 1/2 Cup Raw Cashews
  • 2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Julienned (Thinly Sliced) Fresh Basil

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in your pressure cooker set to sauté function. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened; about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the salt and continuing cooking for about 10 minutes, until the onions begin to evenly brown. Be patient while caramelizing the onions because the more golden-brown they get, the more-flavorful your soup will be.
  2. Pour vegetable stock into the cooker along with the undrained can of tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, cashews, nutritional yeast, vinegar, and black pepper. Lock the pressure cooker lid in place and close the steam vent.
  3. Seal and cook over high pressure for 8 minutes. Once the cooking cycle has completed, quick-release the steam vent to quickly break the seal.
  4. Transfer the soup to a blender and thoroughly puree until completely smooth. Ladle into bowls and garnish with basil to serve.

Notes

No fancy equipment? No problem. Bring out your standard soup pot and plan to simmer for a little bit longer.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 130 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 500mg Carbohydrates: 13g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 5g Protein: 5g