Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vegan Traveling

The Topic: Traveling vegan on a budget with Associate Editor Jennifer Chen

The Dish: As I write this, VN Publisher Joseph Connelly and VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland are traversing thorough Thailand with 20 VegNews readers on VegNews first-ever Food Lover's Tour of Thailand. Now this may sound like bragging—I swear I'm not trying to make you feel bad—but I recently went to Kauai, Hawaii, for vacation with my hubby. It was my first real vacation in a long time, and while it was a celebration of our wedding anniversary, I still hate being too extravagant. A real splurge to me is the vacation itself and seeing as much of the beautiful island as possible. There are times to splurge (massages on the beach!) and times to save, so here are my tips for enjoying your vacation on a budget.

Peanut butter. I always like to carry a jar with peanut butter with me. This is leftover from my college days when I backpacked through Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. I usually pick up a jar wherever I am and paired with a loaf of bread, I have an emergency meal handy. A box of crackers or pretzels also works well. 

Airport eats. If you ever get to travel to San Francisco International's Terminal 2, consider yourself very lucky. It's a vegan haven. You can get a fresh green juice from The Plant Café. There's a whole section of vegan and raw snacks at Napa Farms Market. And if you bring your own water bottle, you can fill up at the filtered water stations. But since most of us aren't traveling through SFO Terminal 2 (darn!), here's what I do when stuck at an airport. Search for the nearest Starbucks. Not every airport will have vegan-friendly eats, but every airport will have a Starbucks. Now, I love supporting my local coffee shops, but I can count on Starbucks to have vegan meals like fruit salad, oatmeal with dried fruits, and bagels. For more travel-friendly eats, check out our web article on that very topic.

Free travel advice. I usually peruse through Lonely Planet guides before I end up at my destination and I love the in-depth information, but I found two great free resources: friends and travel brochures! Before I left, I asked friends on Facebook what I should do while I'm in Kauai and I got a lot of great tips on places my guide book never even pointed out. And the airport was teeming with tons of free travel brochures. While most of them are advertisements, I grabbed a few dining and activity guides and was able to find several health food stores and places that specifically listed that they were "vegan friendly." I found Island Tacos though an ad, and tried cilanto-lime tofu tacos that still haunt my dreams. 

Local health food stores. Like I mentioned, the travel brochures led me to several health food stores on the island. While not everything there is cheap, I was able to pick up dinner for two nights. The great thing about Hawaii is how culturally diverse it is—you can find Korean, Filipino, Japanese, and traditional Hawaiian foods. Health food stores are always guaranteed to have some vegan food. I sampled Korean scallion pancakes, chocolate silk tofu pie, and Vietnamese summer rolls from Papaya's Natural Foods. Compared to a fancy dinner out, my to-go meal was inexpensive.

Farmers' markets. I was surprised to find that Kauai has daily farmers' markets all around the island, so I made sure to hit one. I love fresh fruit and since Hawaii has so many fruits I can't have on the mainland, I went a little nuts. I got starfruit (three for $1), papaya ($1.50), pineapple ($4), Tahitian limes (four for $1), and a giant avocado ($1.50). I sampled a vegan coconut tapioca pudding made from a local bakery ($3) and a dark chocolate-covered banana topped with coconut shreds and nuts ($3.50). One thing I learned from a local farmer is that agricultural theft is a big problem for farmers, so when hitting a farmers' market she cautioned me to steer clear of anyone who doesn't have signage. The vendor may have stolen the fruits and veggies from a hard-working farmer for re-sell at the market.

The Final Word: If I've made you green with envy by now, my sincere apologies. But what I can offer is that you deserve to travel to awesome destinations (like the VegNews Vegan Yoga Retreat to Mexico). Create a savings account just for vacations and then travel to those must-hit countries and states on your bucket list. And when you do fly to a fancy destination that is a paradise through and through, it doesn't have to mean throwing frugality out the window.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vegan Baking As Cheaply and Easily As Humanly Possible

The Topic: Vegan baking for dunces on a budget with Editorial Assistant Hilary Pollack

The Dish: As a child, nothing mystified me more than watching my mother mix together a baffling concoction of powders and liquids in a giant bowl, pop gobs of the resulting batter in the oven, and reveal fresh chocolate-chip cookies in just a few minutes. Baking never gets stale, and making cookies, cakes, and brownies at home is beyond satisfying. Even better, it’s often less expensive—and tastier—than going store-bought, as vegan pastries are often attached to unsavory price tags. Working from scratch doesn’t have to mean bank-busting trips to the grocery store, and many traditional baking mixes can be veganized as well. A tray of fresh-from-the-oven muffins, cookies, or cupcakes is guaranteed to result in many pleases and thank-yous from bystanders, and doesn’t require loads of time or moolah. Filling your kitchen with the irresistible aroma of impending sweets alone warrants the effort.

Six Ingredient Wonders
If you’re baking from scratch, pick a recipe with a short ingredients list to avoid stress and waste. Whether for a friend’s birthday, an office party, or just a Tuesday afternoon, homemade cookies are always crowd-pleasers, and there are many recipes that only require a few things that are probably already in your pantry. When my wallet is barren but my resolve to bake is high, I stick to the six-ingredient rule, which dictates that whatever I’m making requires only six or fewer ingredients. Although this may sound challenging, it is oddly doable. For example, Super Easy Thumbprint Cookies require only vegan butter, sugar, vanilla, jam, and two kinds of flours, plus about 15 minutes of your precious time. As a bonus, their colorful fillings feign fanciness, so they make a sweet gift with the added value of looking time-intensive. VegWeb’s Best and Easiest Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies also have a mere six components, and resemble the childhood classics to a T. If you can’t be bothered with oven time, No-Bake Cookies are a delicious alternative that are so simple, you could make them in your sleep. Sleepwalkers beware, you might awaken face-first in a batch of these chocolaty delights. If you’re feeling ambitious and willing to go just one element beyond the six-ingredient rule, give these seven-ingredient blueberry muffins a whirl. Who can resist a warm blueberry muffin, spread with jam, agave, or melted Earth Balance? No one. That’s who.

(You Can't) Beat Box (Mixes)
Have no fear if you don’t have a knack for getting crafty, or if your funds are so limited that multiple ingredients stretch your budget; there is no shame in the boxed-mix game. Vegan baked-good mixes are plentiful and inexpensive, such as Wholesome Chow’s cake mixes, which will set you back a mere $4.50 and come in gourmet flavors like lavender and chai spice, in addition to classic chocolate and vanilla. Just add oil, nondairy milk, and vinegar. Or, try Cherrybrook Kitchen’s cake, cookie, and brownie mixes, which call for only margarine, oil, and water to make delicious vegan, nut-free, kosher creations. Surprisingly, Duncan Hines also has several vegan mixes, such as their Classic Yellow Cake Mix. As an amazing bonus, several of their frostings are vegan too. They even sport a recipe for vegan chocolate cupcakes on their website, decadently topped with their pre-made chocolate or mocha icing.

Sub Smarts
Learning to get down with substitutions is another crucial aspect of vegan baking. While the box or recipe may call for eggs, milk, or butter, cruelty-free replacements are available for virtually every need. Soymilk and almond milk are obvious choices for ditching cow’s milk, and bananas and applesauce are well-known as being great for replacing eggs. PETA recently released an Ultimate Vegan Baking Cheat Sheet that makes swapping ingredients a breeze, as it offers specific suggestions based on purpose. Even better, easy proxies may already be lurking in your fridge or cupboard. Looking for leavening? Puréed tofu is here to help. Want a denser texture for cakes or cookies? Instant mashed potatoes are a surprising egg-free way to achieve it. Once you’ve gotten the hang of vegan replacements, baking mixes that call for dairy are no longer a problem. 

The Final Word: Even if your bank account is sputtering and your baking talents are questionable, homemade or semi-homemade baked goods are not beyond your abilities or funds. Whether whipped up from scratch or out of a box, oven-fresh vegan cookies, brownies, cakes, and cupcakes are an easy and affordable way to treat yourself or your friends to a taste of cozy kitchen goodness.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top 3 Vegan Money Sucks

The Topic: Avoiding the three most-tempting money black holes with Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria

The Dish: Sometimes, it's not about knowing how to save money, per se, but instead about knowing how to not spend tons of money. Maybe the distinction between the two isn't totally clear. In the words of Inigo Montoya, "Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up." Saving money involves getting goods for cheaper than the sticker price, either by buying in bulk, using coupons (such as today's Living Social Deal for $20 of Whole Foods groceries for $10!), or doing something yourself (like making your own almond milk, instead of buying pre-made). But! You know that moment that tends to happen right around 7:48pm, when it's been a long day at work and you know that you should probably eat something for dinner, so you wander dazedly into the grocery store and fill your basket with frozen peas, a block of tofu, almond butter, and peaches, only to get home and discover that those ingredients don't actually make themselves into a meal and you've managed to spend $28 dollars? That, friends, is where not spending money comes in. Here are my top three money sucks to avoid!

1. The Grocery Store. Yes, you have to go there to buy groceries. Avoiding this one all together might be impossible, but planning ahead can save you big time. Do your best Virgo impression, make a list before you go, and stick to it. Even if you happen to discover that the store stocks an impulse-buy section with vegan chocolate peanut butter cups and whole-wheat fig bars—walk on by!

2. The Salad Bar. It's so shiny! As someone who is about as attracted to shiny things as your average raccoon, this is a problem for me. Salad bars gleam with pre-chopped potential, artfully arranged add-ons, and mountains of maybe. You know that you can purchse all the ingredients for a salad at a lower cost by simply buying the vegetables and chopping them yourself. If you do get sucked in by the salad bar's siren song, remember to stick with light, space-taking items like romaine lettuce and grated carrots, and avoid pre-made tofu dishes like the plague.

3. The Bar That Has Great Vegan Food. First off, let's take a moment to be grateful that there are bars that have vegan dining options! Yay! Even teetotalers can find themselves at the local watering hole because of the novelty of finding vegan hot wings or nachos. As someone who has, possibly on too many occasions, told myself that I'd just go to Millennium for a couple drinks and maybe an appetizer, I've discovered something incredible: When you're drunk and there's awesome vegan food all around you, you're going to eat it, regardless of what your intention was when you walked into the joint. This is especially true if, like me, you go in thinking that your low tolerance for alcohol will make for an unexpensive evening. Just imagine your (read: my) surprise when lo and behold, sometime around drink number 1.4, you're ravenous and have suddenly ordered all of the appetizers on the menu, and the bill has now jumped from a mere $20ish to a whopping $600ish. (Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but it's definitely how expensive the meal will seem.) How to avoid this pleasure trap? Either eat substantially before your evening out, or keep the food menu as far from your barstool as possible.

The Final Word: Money sucks are all around, but with a heightened awareness of their budget-busting powers, you can not only save money smartly, but also not spend money accidentally.

Awesome black hole image via NASA