Thursday, May 09, 2019

Vegan Shoe Review: Tahoe Encore by Jambu

 Oh, Hello!

Last month we travelled to Florida to visit Mr VE&T's mom on the Atlantic coast. It had been a while since we'd been back there and I had sort of forgotten how much I enjoy Florida. Springtime was the perfect time to visit too - not too hot, very few bugs, and not too much action on the beach. We stayed at a cute little hotel about 1 block from the beach and had a nice little beach walk together every morning. Can you see that I was seriously in beach mode?? We actually live near the beach, but here in Santa Cruz the water is extremely cold. It was such a luxury to just jump in the ocean and frolic with joyful abandon!

For our trip, I brought along my beloved new pair of Tahoe Encore sneakers. This is one of the spring styles I was sent to review from Jambu shoes, and I have been wearing them A LOT. They're a simple slip-on sneaker, and for my feet, the fit is perfect: pleasantly snug so that I feel quite sure-footed in them, but not tight or constrictive.

The beaches in Florida are pretty spectacular - even if it was a little windy on this particular day! 

I was able to wear these shoes straight out of the box, with no socks, and my feet were perfectly happy! The Tahoe Encore sneakers are "water ready" so you can also wear them in the water. I've actually wanted a pair of water shoes for a while - I remember when we went to Croatia and the beaches were made of pebbles.... all the locals had water shoes, while we clumsily hobbled around. There are also some really pretty streams in the woods here in Santa Cruz, where we would like to be able to explore and walk the dogs, but water-friendly shoes are a must. So, I'm eager to put these shoes to use in the water! 

Sun, Sand and Sneakers! 

The lighter-colored fabric on the Tahoe Encore sneakers is a micro-buck (vegan, of course!!), and the darker fabric is a mesh. These sneakers fit with a nice snug feel, but are quite breathable as a result of the mesh. The insole is memory foam for maximum comfiness, and because these are also water shoes, the insole is made with a material that never felt clammy when I wore them with no socks. A lot of shoes end up feeling yucky with no socks, and I haven't had that issue at all with these. (That said, I also enjoy wearing these with socks - just not when I'm in Florida!! ha ha) 

Mr. VE&T snapped that picture on the top left - when I had tucked my hotel key and sunglasses into my shoes to go for a dip in the ocean! So cute... always looking for a good shot, that guy.

the beaches in Florida have these beautiful shaded paths to the water.

So far, I've worn my Tahoe Encore shoes for zipping around to and from class, dog walks, errands, to my workout, and even on a couple light hikes. Really, I have been wearing them all the time! I love that they're so easy to slip in and out of, but that they also look cute, like a proper sneaker. 

On my feet, they're SUPER lightweight, and very comfortable to wear. I wear a size 9 and these fit me true to size. That said, if you want to wear them with hearty socks, or if your feet run a little large, you might consider trying both your usual size and a half-size up and seeing which works better for you. They don't have a ton of arch support, so if that's something you need, you may need inserts (but unfortunately, you're probably already be used to that!). They also come in 6 different color palettes. 

Incidentally, these were also great travel shoes - really lightweight in my pack, comfortable for walking around all day, breathable, quick-drying when they got wet... I'll definitely remember that for future travels! 


Use the code VEGANEATS19 to save 20% off any purchase at 
Offer good through June 30th! 

Jambu makes a lot of really great vegan shoes for women - sneakers, dressy shoes, boots, and sandals... but not all the shoes they make are vegan. So make sure you're shopping in the vegan section before you fall in love with a style that turns out not to be veegs. 

NoRooz Mobarak! A Persian New Year Celebration!

Happy NoRooz!

Happy springtime to you! If you are a long-time reader of my blog, you already know about my deep love for Persian New Year. I first started celebrating NoRooz about 25 years ago, when I had a boyfriend who was from Iran. I just fell in love with pretty much everything about this beautiful and meaningful holiday. So, even after he and I parted ways, I decided I would keep on celebrating NoRooz! 

This year we celebrated Persian New Year a little bit late... but technically the NoRooz season goes on for a good little stretch, so it's all good! For me, NoRooz is a lot like Christmas or Thanksgiving, I spend a few weeks scheming what dishes I'll prepare, I clean the house, I set up my Haft Sin display on the mantle... It all builds excitement and anticipation. 

One thing you need to be prepared for with NoRooz: SO MANY HERBS. This year I bought 5 bunches of scallions, 5 bunches of cilantro, 6 bunches of parsley (and then I had to send Mr VE&T out for more!), 5 bunches of dill, and a ginormous bag of baby spinach. Herbs galore! NoRooz is a celebration of springtime and the herbs are symbolic of the verdant growth of spring. They are also super beautiful and aromatic and delicious. Several years ago, I got a tip that I could do my herb mincing in the food processor - a major boon! The night before NoRooz, my pal came over and helped me de-stem and separate all my bunches of cilantro and parsley. So helpful and way more fun with a buddy!! 

Many Persian dishes also call for saffron - such a gorgeous and special ingredient. This is a dish of saffron threads soaking in rosewater... getting ready to be a part of one of the sweeties I made. I love all the beauty and aromas of the ingredients as I'm cooking and preparing for NoRooz.

Nan-e Barbari
I found this recipe on the King Arthur flour website several years ago and it's been a favorite ever since. The bread is a bit chewy, but not too dense. Those long ridges are made by pressing the end of a wooden spoon into the surface. Such a cool effect. This year I used my homemade "everything but the bagel" (with added nigella seeds) on top - so good! Next year maybe I will make 3 loaves, since this stuff always flies off the appetizers table in a flash!!

all sliced up and ready to be enjoyed!

Cheese and Herbs Platters
I made two cheese platters for hungry NoRooz celebrants! I started the homemade cheese about 5 days before the party, using the cashew chevre recipe from Miyoko's Artisan Vegan Cheese cookbook. It's actually really easy (especially if you cheat and use store-bought rejuvelac), but it does take several days to ferment and get the best flavor. I rolled each log in a mix of minced fresh herbs and walnuts. To go with the cheese was lavash, fresh herbs, sliced dates, radishes and olives. SO good!! I prepared two large platters and there was barely any left by the end of the evening.

Shirazi Salad
Every party needs a giant fresh salad - and NoRooz is no exception! Shirazi Salad is simple and perfect - cukes, tomatoes, red onion, olives, and a hearty dose of fresh herbs. This year my friend Kenan came over and spent the whole afternoon helping me in the kitchen. It was so fun and so appreciated. Kenan is Turkish and knows his way around a good salad! In fact, he was so super helpful that we even had time to sit down and take a rest for 45 minutes or so!!

Ghormeh Sabzi
Oh, the magic of Ghormeh Sabzi!! So flavorful and perfectly rich - boatloads of fresh herbs, some portabello and onion sauteed for umami, kidney beans, and dried Omani limes for seasoning... this is a really special dish and a NoRooz classic! Can you see the big round dried limes in the bowl up near the top of the picture? Dried limes are a very special and underappreciated ingredient! I used one of my very favorite and most special serving bowls for this dish - a huge bowl that I bought in Portugal several years ago. 

Vegan Kuku Sabzi

Kuku Sabzi is traditionally an omelette full of minced herbs, chopped walnuts, and barberries. After years of trial and error, I settled on a good recipe based on the mini tofu quiches from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's recipe. Yet, trying to wedge those little quiches out from my mini muffin pan was an unappreciated amount of labor and struggle on a day when you need every minute! So, I've been working my way back to trying to prepare kuku sabzi in a more traditional form: a giant piece cut into wedges. Using my usual recipe, this time I put the batter into my biggest cast iron pan, put the pan on a pizza stone in the oven, and baked at 375 for about 30-35 minutes. It takes a while to backed through, and the pizza stone really helps the bottom cook at the same place as the top. 

 This is one of my top top top favorite NoRooz dishes. Seriously, you should try them. The flavors are so harmonious, and unless you're used to Persian food the flavor combination will be new and unexpected! If you don't have barberries, just use cranberries or leave them out all together. You will love them either way!

Sabzi Pillow
A proper Persian rice is one of the highlights of any Persian feast, and sabzi polow is the dish to make for NoRooz! This is rice mixed with a bazillion minced herbs, some sauteed leeks, some vegan yogurt, and vegan butter. The rice is rinsed and parboiled before being slowly steamed to create a crunchy "tahdig" crust all around the exterior. The crunchy bits are the best part!! 

The final act of flipping the polow out of the pot and onto the serving platter is always a moment of hope, prayer, and trepidation - will the crust be undercooked and not sufficiently golden? Will the crust be overcooked and burnt?? This year I was delighted with my golden crunchy tahdig, even if a little spot stuck to the pan and had to be cosmetically repaired! I'll choose that dilemna over insufficient crunchiness every time!

Amoli Rice
I don't make this rice every year, and I know it's kinda crazy to have two rice dishes, but there were plenty of folks in attendance, and this dish is just so delicious. This recipe is from Silk Road: A Vegetarian Journey. It's a visually beautiful dish, with an elegant combination of sweet and savory flavors: rice with candied orange peel and grated carrots, barberries (and/or cranberries), raisins, almonds, all tossed with a dressing of fresh herbs, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil - and served over baby arugula. It's just so lovely and colorful, and the flavors and textures are great together.

Aash-e Reshteh

This soup is a NoRooz necessity! And as long as you use veggie broth, it's authentically vegan! When I was making the aash this year, I was just transported to a flood of NoRooz memories - kinda like eating a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving time. The aroma of the herbs and spices cooking together is so distinct and so evocative. This is a hearty bean soup with three kinds of beans and lentils, along with noodles, beets, onions, lots of seasoning, mounds of herbs and spinach... It's so satisfying and actually so healthy. 

The food of NoRooz is special and elegant, but not overly rich or decadent. I love this about the holiday actually! It's so seasonally appropriate that foods celebrating springtime wouldn't be meant to leave you feeling overly bogged down or heavy. Instead they are full of freshness and life! 

Magical garnish!!!
This little bowl may not look like a beautiful picture, but this is a sublime concoction of finely sliced onions cooked into oblivion with dried mint and turmeric until the flavors meld and harmonize and become absolutely stunning. This is meant to be a garnish for the aash-e resteh, and I always make a double batch so that my friend Jasmine and I don't have to fight over it! Ha ha. 

My dinner plate of celebratory joy!
Here's my plate full of Persian food - colorful, beautiful, varied, delicious, healthy, elegant, and amazing. 

Party drinks!

I made two simple party drinks: a pomegranate limeade and a mint limeade. For the pomegranate limeade I just combined fresh pomegranate juice from the farmers market with fizzy water and a good dose of fresh lime juice from our lime tree. For the mint limeade, I made a batch of simple syrup, which I poured over a big heap of fresh mint while it was still hot and left it to steep for a few hours. Later I took out that weary mint and added the minty syrup with fresh lime juice, fizzy water, and several sprigs of fresh mint. Easy and delicious! It's nice to have a fresh, light drink with the rich and nuanced flavors of NoRooz. 


"What about desert?", you may be wondering. Oh yes, there was desert!! This year I was very proud of myself for only slightly overdoing it with three different sweeties, rather than completely overdoing it with 4-5 sweeties!! Ha ha. That's what I usually do. 

The first thing I made was a big batch of tut - Persian marzipan sweets made with almonds, powdered sugar, and rosewater. They are so beautiful and elegant. They're meant to resemble little mulberries, so after they've been formed into oblong shapes, they're rolled in sugar and then you put a little pistachio slice in the fat end so that it looks like the stem on a mulberry. If you have a food processor, this is an extremely easy and quick recipe, with very lovely and elegant results. If you don't have a food processor, I'm not sure what to tell you! Borrow one from your neighbor? 


Look at these beautiful cookies!! Persian culture values beauty and elegance - you can see it in their poetry, architecture, music, miniatures, and of course also in the food. Several years ago I bought this beautiful wooden Kolompeh press from - Fariba's website has a TON of amazing recipes and she also has a great bazaar with her baked goods (several of which are vegan), as well as beautiful objects that she brings back from her visits to Iran. I've bought several things from her over the years and I love them all.

I was so excited to use my kolompeh press at last, and to make these gorgeous and sophisticated cookies! These cookies don't actually have any sugar in them - the dough is savory kinda like pie crust, and the filling is made with dates and walnuts and a Persian spice mix. They're very light and lovely! I sprinkled the tops of some with ground up pistachios and left others plain so the design would be more visible. I was so happy with how they turned out and will definitely make them again!!

Dessert platter full of pretty sweets!

Here you can see my tuts, my finished kolompeh cookies and some sohan as-ali. Sohan were the first Persian dish I ever learned to cook and I love them so much. Usually there's a bit of drama with candy making, but this year I was patient and relaxed and they came out perfectly! Was this just a fluke of good fortune, or am I getting the hang of it?? Next year will be a true test! Sohan are a toffee of sorts, made with almonds, saffron, rosewater, and topped with pistachio bits. Oh man. They are just amazing. 


Are there any holidays that you celebrate that most people don't celebrate? NoRooz has become one of my favorite times of year and I feel so much energy and anticipation and joy during this whole time. It's funny to be at the market shopping fory 100,00 bundles of herbs and having other people ask "what are you going to do with that??" One year I went to the Persian market about any hour away, right before NoRooz, and the whole store was bustling with excitement and happiness. It was so wonderful to be part of the collective vibe of the holiday. 

Either way, springtime and rebirth and renewal and the return of light are all beautiful things to embrace and recognize with ceremony and joy. Happy spring to you!!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Trip to Sam Cobb Date Farm for Fresh Dates!

doo doo doo... la di da ... doo doop doo wop 
That's the sound of me doing a happy dance whenever I get to stock up on more dates from Sam Cobb Date Farm - but especially when we get to visit the actual date farm! 

I love this picture of Sam up in the date tree! I *think* this was a medjool tree, if I recall correctly.

Every year when we go south to the Indian Well Tennis Tournament, we save one whole day of our trip for exploring and having fun in the desert. I always insist on a stop at Sam Cobb Date Farm - I love loading up on boxes and boxes of dates and getting to sample all the varieties.  I love visiting with Sam and Maxine, and supporting their family farm. I even love the drive there, past the Coachella Valley Preserve, past the wild flowers, and over some big rolling bumps that make the car ride feel like a roller coaster.

getting a tour around the farm

This year's visit was especially fun because my mom and my aunt were with us. They have both received many boxes of dates from Sam Cobb Farms over the years, because their dates are one of my favorite gifts to give people. So it was super fun to bring them along and they got to see the farm and some of the date trees, and meet Sam and Maxine, and buy some dates of their own!

Sam just happened to drop by when we were there, which was great. He showed us around the farm (they also have more farmland and more date trees in another spot). In addition to a life-long passion for agriculture and farming, Sam has also had a long career in soil conservation. And it turns out that my aunt Laura worked for the same agency earlier in her career. So they had a great time connecting over the early days of soil conservation and how it has evolved.

A few beautiful date trees

It's so special and amazing to learn about where our food comes from. I think there's something very innate about understanding what we're eating, where it came from, and even who grew it. That's a big part of why I love going to the farmers' market every week, learning about the farmers, learning about what grows locally, and when... So it really feels special to see all these date trees and to learn more about where this magical fruit comes from.

Sam was telling us about the 7-year cycles that date trees have. All in all, it takes 21 years for a date tree to begin enough fruit to really be considered a crop! But after that, they can live and produce for a long time. Also, did you know that every single date pit is a potentially new variety of date?? The only way to propagate the same variety is to take the offshoots that spring up at the base of the tree (you can see some in this picture). Those are allowed to grow for quite a while before they are removed and planted on their own. In the next picture (bottom right) you can see a whole row of baby palms all lined up in pots... awaiting the next chapter of their palm lives! 

Farm fun!

See the white bags on the tree? That's to keep birds and other creatures and critters away from the date clusters as they ripen on the tree. Sam Cobb Date Farm has a website so you can order direct, and I usually end up making a few orders a year - after I run out of my spring time stash, and always for xmas presents. But when you drop by for a visit in person,* you can try all the different varieties of dates that they grow. I think it's eight different varieties? It's so amazing how different they all are!! Some are super gooey and sweet, some are firm and sweet, some are much more dry and nutty in flavor... it's such a range. It's fun to sample them all and see that we each had different favorites. 

*The farm is open on the weekends 9am-5pm, October-April

These were the varieties Mr VE&T and I selected:

Jumbo Medjool, Black Gold (my personal all-time fave! rich, in-between soft and dry, great flavor), Safari (Mr VE&T's favorite - they're dry and chewy and nutty), and Zahidi. My mom chose Medjools and Bahri dates (super smoosy, small, golden, and very sweet). My auntie got two boxes too - but I am naughty and don't remember which ones she chose! We all came home with lots of dates! 

Picking dates off the tree! Nom nom.

How cool is this? Sam let us each pick a date right off the tree. OH MAN. So fresh and perfect. Have you ever eaten a date that's a little over the hill - kinda stale, crystallized maybe? Well, this was the opposite of that! ha ha. I hope you get to have this experience someday! 

What to do with all those dates??
I mostly just eat my dates as a sweetie nibble - I love to rip them in half, remove the pit, and fill the little empty pockets with peanut butter, almond butter, or tahini. Sometimes I get super fancy and add coconut flakes or cocoa nibs or a whole almond for some crunch. Even chocolate chips are good in there! But usually I'm happy with the basic. Of course I also use them for cooking - some of the special cookies I made for Persian New Year had dates in the filling, and the 5-star amazing cookies I made at Christmas time had lots of dates in the filling. There are a lot of great recipes that use dates as a sweetener! What are your favorite date recipes??? I still have lots of dates to eat, so I'm all ears! 

Palm Desert Adventures: Eatin' Vegan at Indian Wells

Indian Wells // BNP Paribas Open

A couple weeks ago, Mr. VE&T and I made our annual trek down to Palm Desert for our yearly tennis and desert adventure. But this year was extra special because we had two special guests: my mom and my auntie! It was so superfun! As you can see from our attire, the weather this year was downright mild - even chilly - compared to usual. Jeans and long sleeves in the desert!

This is the 5th or 6th time we've gone down, and it's always a fun adventure. Every year is a little different, but we have our favorite experiences and restaurants too, of course. I don't know how many vegan tennis fans there are out there, but I thought I'd write up some of our favorite spots in case you're ever in the area! 

Mamma Gina's simply must come in first place. It's always our favorite place to eat dinner when we're in Palm Desert. Honestly they don't have a *ton* of vegan options, but they have *some* and the scene is excellent. Mamma Gina's has two locations, one in Palm Desert, CA and one in Florence, Italy. That's a good sign! 

First of all, they have some seriously stupendous focaccia, and they give it to you for free. Friends, I am such a focaccia snob, and I'm pretty sure I would happily go to this restaurant if this was the only vegan thing on the whole menu! ha ha. But it's not. They have minestrone soup, pasta e fagioli soup, a couple good pasta dishes that are vegan if you just leave off the parmesan, and and incredibly generous and mega-garlicky side of spinach that totally satisfied this traveling vegan's need for greens - if you know what I mean. 

We always like to eat in the bar, where there's tennis on TV, the menu is a bit smaller but way more affordable, and the mood is quite festive. It's super fun for us to be in a space where everyone's watching and talking about tennis. Usually, when you are a tennis fan, everyone else is just talking about basketball and football or whatever. Also **important** we have never once eaten at Mamma Gina's without spotting at least one A-lister professional tennis player who's also having dinner there. They always eat in the main restaurant, so you may need to poke your head in over there - but MG's is a real hot spot for the players. Some of the players we've seen include Caroline Wozniaki, Fabio Fognini, Diego Schwartzman, Andre Rublev, Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin Del Potro... and I'm sure more that I can't think of. Pretty cool, right!? 

a little ways away in Rancho Mirage

This place is a short drive north from Palm Desert/ south from Palm Springs. Thai food is always good, and tends to be vegan friendly - but this place is *super* vegan friendly (no fish sauce!), and offers lots of great choices. You know how sometimes when you're traveling, it's hard to get enough vegetables? And you just end up longing for huge bowls of broccoli and kale salad?? Well, this place really hits the spot. The servings are huge, and we were all thinking "we'll eat the leftovers for lunch tomorrow" (ha ha ha) and then we proceeded to eat it ALL. I guess we really were hungry, because I didn't even take pictures of the food. But hopefully the picture of a table full of 100% empty plates will show you how great Talay Thai is! A great spot to know about when you're on the road. 

Honestly this place is not particularly vegan friendly. Mr. VE&T is (sadly) still not a vegan, and loves to come here to get a sandwich to bring to the tennis. So why I am even telling you about it? Well, in addition to the deli, they also have a great bakery with several vegan breads including some truly dynamite focaccia.  They also have a sweet little Italian store with a ton of Italian specialty ingredients. I always love snooping around the shelves and looking for special snacks and treats. 

Honestly, there are a lot more spots in Palm Desert that we haven't explored since we're usually down at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden watching tennis all day and we like to get an early start. There's a good Whole Foods at the North end of town, which we usually end up going to at least once or twice to stock up on various supplies and snacks. There are a handful of other vegan friendly spots that seem to open mid-morning and close by early evening, so we've never made it to those places. 

At the tennis!

As far as the grounds of the tennis tournament go, you can buy food there or your can bring in your own food. There are actually quite a few appealing or semi-appealing vegan choices, but a simple diet Coke is $5, so that gives you a sense of the premium you'll be paying. 

Since I'm both frugal and particular, I always opt to bring in my own sandwich and loads of snacks. My typical sandwich is baked tofu, tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, avocado, and mustard - basic and satisfying! This is the same basic sandwich that my family makes everyday when we go camping in Tuolumne Meadows during the summer - so, although it may sound not too flashy, it has a nourishing and nostalgic place in all our hearts. For other snacks I also always bring some fresh fruit, baby carrots, and a power bar of some sort. Oh, and trail mix! 

They'll make you pour out any drinks before you enter the grounds, so don't bring fancy drinks. Just bring an empty water bottle - there are plenty of places to fill your water bottle once you get inside. Some years it's *really* hot and you need to drink a LOT of water. 

Hey, that's not a tofu sandwich!

One day we had a tragic mishap and lost our lunch bag! We had all prepared our special tofu sandwiches, and gathered all our various snacks. As we got to the court, we were all sort of scrambling around to find the best seats, someone in our group set our lunch bag down as a way of "claiming" some seats.... all fine and good except that's not where we ended up sitting, and the tactical manouever was forgotten!

When our tummies started rumbling a couple hours later, panic ensued when we realized that we were missing our lunch! Steps were back-tracked and we still couldn't find our bag or our lunches. So Mr VE&T went and fetched us all some vegan burgers from Cassell's - one of the vendors in the park. I think he was gone for about 1 hour, standing in line, waiting for the food, and then getting back in to the court. That's another good reason to bring your own food! These came with cheese on them, and my aunt and I (she's vegan too) peeled off the cheese and carried on... A burger wasn't our first choice lunch item, but it was better than no lunch at all. Funny enough, we stopped by later to complain about the cheese and found out that it was actually vegan cheese!! We could have enjoyed our cheeseburgers if only we'd known! ha ha.

After all the matches were over, I said "let's just go check one more time..." and we went to where they had been staking out seats - and now that the crowds were gone - there was our trusty lunch bag with our lunches inside! (It's a nice refrigerated bag, so the food was actually still good inside too!). Hoorah! All the people who had been sitting there said "we were wondering whose bag that was!" Ha ha. All's well that ends well.

If you enjoy the leisure and expense (ha ha) of dining at the grounds, there are several nice options besides cheese burgers. Here's a link to all their concessions - though the menus aren't listed, unfortunately.

I'll give a special mention to PizzaVino - they make a good Baby Kale Salad that's vegan if you get it without cheese, and they also make good pizzas - which you can order with Daiya cheese or cheeseless. Their minestrone is also good and also vegan. 

We really love going to this fun event - so much tennis to watch, great weather, and beautiful desert terrain to explore. If you're ever thinking of going, let me know!