Monday, July 18, 2011

Vegan HQ Border Control

Here are Vegan HQ we like to keep out house free from non-vegan food items as much as possible.  This policy is essentially in our name, VEGAN HQ.  Border control is something we take seriously.
Do you know how hard it is to find a good border control photo online without getting right wing rubbish?  Even this is from the website of a convservative Christian who refers to the US president as Barack Hussein Obama...

Despite out best attempts, sometimes things get through the front door and into the house.  Mostly they are due just to honest mistakes.  I mean, getting an understanding of all the silly names food manufacturers give to animal products can require a PhD in food science.  

I know what you're thinking.  Is Dr. D a scientist or a chef.  And if you're not, you haven't spent enough time at Dosa Plaza.

The other day I came home and noticed a fruit pie package sticking out of the overflowing rubbish bin in the kitchen.  I was excited.  A new unhealthy vegan treat option!  Or so I thought.  I had a quick look at the ingredients, and at first glance it looked vegan.  But then I looked again.

Once upon a time I'm certain there was a frozen apple pie that was vegan in the supermarkets.  Does it still exist?  Not in this form anyway.

Instantly my dreams of hot apple pie and soy ice cream after a busy day of lectures or clinicals was dashed.  TALLOW.  When I first went vegan almost all the soaps on the market in NZ were made from tallow, so the word was heavy on the minds of all vegans.  These days that isn't the case, and one could easily enter into the world of veganism without even hearing the term.  But tallow general means beef fat, or mutton fat.  An innocent yet gross mistake was made and animal fats made their way into Vegan HQ as a result of confusing documentation.

3 strikes and you lose your vegan powers.

Another animal-product made it's way into Vegan HQ today, this time going unconsumed before detection.  And it wasn't paid for either, it was a free give-away that was sent to us in the mail.
New improved recipe needs one minor improvement.  The removal of all the chicken deaths.

As a hungry student, at first I was excited.  Uncle Ben's express rices actually do come in a few animal-friendly flavours.  And when I first scanned the ingredients again I was filled with a little bit of hope that I might not have to go shopping to eat this afternoon.  The only possible ingredient I could see on the list was 'natural flavours', which strictly speaking is about as vague as you can get without just saying 'stuff that has taste'.  So I did what any good vegan would do.  I called the company to find out for sure.  

Do you still count as a customer when you haven't bought anything?

The conversation went like this:
"Hello, Uncle Ben's customer service, how can I help?"
"Uh, yes, hi.  I just received some Uncle Ben's Express rice in the mail for free.  And as everyone in our household is vegan I just wanted to check the ingredients to see if there are any animal products in this sample."
"Sure, what flavour have you got sir?"
"Ah, ironically Savoury Chicken Flavour.  But it doesn't clearly list whether it has animals in it or not."
"Oh, I'm sorry the natural flavour includes real chickens."
"I see.  But it doesn't say that clearly on the ingredients."
"Yes, there is real chicken in the natural flavour."
"Okay.  I guess I'll be throwing this out then.  Uhm, so the next thing, could you please not send us animals in the mail again please?  It doesn't please us."

Things to look forward to now that I'm back at university:
Posts while procrastinating on assignments
Less posts in general from me
Posts about vegan options I have when I'm at AUT campus on the Shore
And I'm guessing posts about the vegan options I have when I'm on my clinical in the hospital

Thursday, July 7, 2011

For those special occasions.

Every now and then the situation arises where you want to have a special meal.  You know what I mean, the type that you feel calls for wearing a shirt that has buttons in the front, and a collar, and I don't just mean t-shirts that have pictures of buttons and collars on them.

Occasions like this also call for some fancy shoes.  By fancy, I mean they aren't just the smelly old canvas Chuck Taylor's or vegan-labelled Macbeths.  For a vegan occasions like this are awful.  If you look at the menus of most of the nicer restaurants around town, and by nice I mean places you call up in advance and make a reservation, you'll find dishes full of animal parts, like ox tails, or anemic baby calves.  And dessert is straight out of the question.  For some reason Western gourmet cuisine is entirely focused on cooking up dead creatures, and if you abstain from 'death-for-no-reason' you're out of luck when it comes to eating out gourmet-styles at a nice restaurant.  I mean, just have a look at an episode of Master Chef to get an idea of how death-centric western gourmet cuisine is:

Actually, this video is unrelated, but it's awesome.

Auckland has a load of different vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants, but for the most part none of them are places that you would actually wear a tie, unless you were being ironic wearing a tie with a polo shirt to Sunflower/Vege Cafe on High Street.  But who on earth would even think of wearing a tie with a polo shirt?

Hipsters evidently.

So you can be glad to hear that the Heritage Hotel's restaurant Hectors and their Lobby Bar have vegan specific menus.  In fact, the Heritage Hotel's Lobby Bar menu is strictly vegan.  Have a look for yourself at the menu here.  As a result, I've been hearing of more and more vegans heading out to the Heritage Hotel for those 'special' meal occasions.  For example, Tom from Vegan HQ put on a button up shirt and had a vegan High Tea with Jo a few months ago.

When I met Tom he had a big pink Mohawk.  Still vegan 12 years later.

Vegan High Tea at the Heritage is perfect for those vegans who want to do something that feels fancy, in a setting that is fancy, without having to pay loads of bucks for gourmet food.  You get tea or coffee with a nicely presented stack of vegan nibbles, as you can see in the photo of Jo below:

My theory is that it's called High Tea cause it's stacked up high.

You can read a description of all the bits and pieces included in the High Tea by checking out the menu linked to before.  

This Monday Romelli and I took a trip on our tandem bike for some High Tea.  I called up in the morning to make a reservation, cause that's what you do when you eat at a fancy place.  When I said it was for High Tea the French sounding lady on the other side immediately asked whether this would be a vegan High Tea or a standard High Tea.  Being asked, without prompting, if I wanted the vegan option was refreshingly awesome.

I had to borrow a shirt with buttons on it from my brother for the special outing, as I'm too much of a bum to own a button up shirt.  I stuck the pedals back on the tandem, Romelli put on some new shoes, and we pedaled off for our High Tea.  I'm not normally a button up shirt kinda guy.  Both of the last times I wore a button up shirt I made it into the newspapers.  The last time for promoting safety at intersections.  The time before that is pictured below:

Protesting means I can eat what I want and still stay fit.

When we got there they knew that we must be the vegans.  We opted to have our High Tea in the Lobby bar area, as opposed to the restaurant where Tom and Jo had their High Tea, pictured above.  We sat down on a sofa, and were waited on by the staff.  They brought out our stack/rack thingy with all the plates on it, which I'm sure has a name, but I don't know what it's called.  The sandwiches had the crusts cut off them, and were perfectly sliced.  That is how you turn a sandwich into a gourmet snack.  Each of the vegan sweets were great.  The chocolate on the apricots was smooth and lovely.  The cupcake thing was a little dry, but had nice icing and lemon-y sugary stuff on the top which made up for it.  The scones came with vegan whipped cream.  High Tea isn't something you eat when you are starving.  It's something you order when you want something special, to feel like you are fancy even if you aren't.  It's a great thing for a celebratory meal with family, or something nice for an anniversary.

The staff at the place let us in on a little secret; the current owners of Hectors are actually vegans themselves, hence the increasingly vegan friendly menu of the Hotel.  

So next time you graduate, or want to take out your vegan love interest to a place to make them think you are fancy, you know that you have options available beyond The Burgerie on K'road.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ways to tell you are at Vegan HQ - Number Three

For a period of time this evening, starting around 9:50 pm, for some unknown reason, my Facebook account went down.  In the vacuum that was created grew a desire to bake something, and my mind had been thinking of macaroons since earlier this morning.  Checked online for some recipes, found one for which I had all the ingredients, speculated that they would taste even better coated in chocolate, and I was GO!

The result:

Vegan HQ: Where your dreams come true and we eat chocolate coated macaroons at midnight on Monday nights.

3 cups of shredded coconut
1/3 cup icing sugar
1 cup of coconut milk
2 tblsp of No-Egg, arrowroot or whatever other egg-replacer you use
2 teaspoons vanilla essence

Mix the shredded coconut and icing sugar in one bowl, the wet ingredients and the egg-replacer in another, then combine.  Spoon onto a baking tray that has some baking paper down on it.  Bake in the over for about 20-25 minutes, or golden brown on top, at about 165*C or something like that.

If you want chocolate just melt chocolate and dunk them in.  Best way to melt chocolate is to put chocolate in a metal bowl, and place that bowl into a pot of boiled/super hot water, and bam it melts.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In search of the perfect vegan burger: Part One - Velvet Burger

Here's another series for this blog, the search for the perfect vegan burger in Auckland.  Burgers can be good as.  They can also be disappointing.  When I was in junior high school there was a McD's just down the road, and some friends of mine would be given money everyday to buy some burgers.  Going vegan means turning our back on the most awful excuses for food that has ever been devised, like McD's.  Seriously, why do people ACTUALLY willingly pay money for such awful food.

Seriously?  Why?

There are a number of places around Auckland that do vegan burgers.  The most recently brought to my attention was a somewhat new to Auckland place called Velvet burger.  When Romelli was in Dunedin with Avalanche City earlier this year she sent me a text about a burger she bought called the Animal Rights burger from a place down there called Velvet Burger.  Her text wasn't really a celebratory text about finding a vegan burger in the South Island, it was a complaining text, because she had just unwittingly consumed some dairy/egg products with her burger.  Calling a non-vegan burger 'Animal Rights' shows a certain lack of research into your target market I think.

Dairy cows are actually also animals, which is why no one who understands animal rights consumes dairy.

The same week that the Original California Burrito Company started pumping out burritos Deirdre came home with a couple burritos and mentioned that there was now a Velvet Burger just around the corner from the burrito place.  Sometimes you receive information, which at the time seems inconsequential, but as the future arrives you realise that this information is vital for the success of your life.  For example...

By the way, Romelli has never seen Wayne's World.

As fate would have it, one Thursday night Romelli, Ariana and myself were going to pick up some dinner of burritos before an Alaska show, but our timings were all wrong and we got there just too late, the shop had closed.  Never one to be defeated when it comes to food and eating food, especially eating vegan food, I suggested that we just head over to Velvet Burger around the corner.  Burgers and fries are always worth a good pre-show filler.

Velvet Burger is located on Fort Street, near the bottom end of Queen Street.  It's in what I call, for no real reason, the backpackers quarter of town.  It's never been the nicest part of town in my books, but it's getting better.  The Animal Rights burger actually refers to three vegetarian burger options: Falafel, Tofu and Mushroom burgers, served with non-vegan aoli and pesto (I'm assuming the pesto is non-vegan, the waitress who served us seemed not to know or be too interested to ask).  We pretty much all decided on the falafel, Romelli going for the smaller vege burger option, The Wee Vegan, which also has the three burger options, but instead of having pesto and aoli comes with some hummus.  Thinking on it now, if I go there again I think I'll ask for hummus on my AR burger.

This is what tasty falafel looks like.  Interestingly enough, it's also what a semi-dry burger looks like.

The falafel at Velvet Burger is actually really good falafel.  But overall, the burger wasn't much to speak of.  I mean, falafel with some lettuce, onion and tomato with a little bit of tomato relish on a bun isn't fantastic, especially not for $12.50.  Especially not when you can go just about anywhere on Queens Street and get a more filling, more saucy kebab for like $7 or $8.  And there are some good falafel kebabs to be had in the city.  Overall verdict of the burger - doesn't rate highly on the search for the perfect vegan burger at all.

Romelli did order some chips for us to share, and they were pretty good.  But they were just chips really.  We didn't try to kumara chips, but I see that Moira from An Auckland Vegan blog (which I only found recently, and it's pretty much a blog very similar to this one.  Also met Moira randomly on the street on Saturday, she recognised me from the photos) has also done a post about Velvet burger and rated the kumara chips pretty highly.  Could be worth further investigation.  Food is always worth further investigation.

To be honest, no matter what vegan food is always pretty tasty and I'm ALWAYS happy to be eating it.

What Velvet Burger does seem to have in it's favour is that it's a good place to hang out.  This is something that most of the other burger places around town don't really have.  For those so inclined, Velvet Burger also serves some alcoholic beverages.  There is ample seating.  Unless you turn up on Thursday nights it seems, as the back section of the place was all reserved for what was either a game of Texas hold'em or some elaborate role play game that only nerdy animal rights activists in Wellington seem to play.  If you are in town late at night, at the bottom of Queen Street, and you want a burger, head to Velvet Burger.  You will get a burger.  But I'd never purposefully head down there for a burger.

And thus the search for the perfect vegan burger in Auckland continues.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Flavour - Halfway down Dominion Road

Recently there has been a bit of media attention about a certain stretch of Dominion Road, in Auckland, which has been identified as a potential site for a "China-Town" tourist attraction in our city.  It's approximately half way down Dominion Road, according to my calculations, having ridden my bike the length of Dominion Road on a number of occasions.  

The Mutton Birds may disagree with me on this, as the halfway house they describe as being half way down Dominion Road seems like it's more at the beginning of it to me.

Apparently this little section of shops is 78% Asian-owned.  Which is good news for vegans who love to eat as many vegan dumplings as they can in one sitting (my record as it stands is 52).  It is in this stretch of road that you will find a rather inconspicuous little restaurant which goes by the name New Flavour.  At one point in time the writing on the front window read "Manual Noodle Dumplings", which has since been replaced by the more accurately translated "Handmade Noodle Dumplings".  

I first found out about this place myself a little over a year ago.  My younger brothers would often have left over dumplings in the fridge when I went to visit.  Finally, after one of a show of one of my brother's, which my parents came down for, we took a late night (after midnight) trip to New Flavour.  From there my obsession grew.  There was one week where I ate there four times, with a different group of friends each night.

Here's a camera fact: Holding a camera above your head gives uncertain results.  It is also impossible to take a photo of all 12 people sitting at one table just by holding the camera above your head.

Not being far from the Wednesday bike polo spot also adds a plus to this place.

This Wednesday a group of 12 Auckland Vegans (Tom, Rom and Me repping Vegan HQ), and one vegan baby made an early trip to New Flavour in order to eat as much food as we possible could.  We started by ordering TEN plates of dumplings (approx. 200 dumplings).  A good way to start an evening at New Flavour.

A mountain of food.  Don't be deceived, less than half the dumplings we ate that night are pictured here.

Steamed and pan-fried.  The choice is yours.

New Flavour is most well-known by vegans for the dumplings, $8 for a plate of about 20, $9 if you want them pan-fried.  One plate of each is usually a good idea.  Or five plates of each in our case.  But aside from the dumplings New Flavour also has a variety of other vegan-friendly dishes on their menu.  There is a page dedicated to tofu, though some of the tofu dishes are tofu/meat combos, and the sweet and sour tofu balls have egg to bind the tofu balls.  The general rule with the menu is that anything that isn't vegan is clearly not vegan (I mean, things like pig's spine is clearly not vegan, and rather disturbing to be honest).  Even the sweet and sour tofu can be made vegan if you just ask for tofu chunks instead of tofu balls.  The staff are pretty accommodating, they do understand that some people don't eat eggs and meat etc, so just have patience and talk to them if you are unsure about anything.  Duncan even requested that they make an extra satay version of the tofu with spicy peanut sauce, and boy did they deliver.

Tofu and peanut satay.  Fantastic.

One of the waitresses bringing more dumplings.  If you frequent this place, you will know her well.  She is a master at making dumplings.

At the beginning of the menu there is a list of entrees.  Pretty much all of the vegan entrees (again the non-vegan ones are fairly obvious) are amazing.  Some are a bit unconventional, such as the shredded potato salad, which as far as I can guess is marinated potato with garlic, lemon juice, chili, coriander and loads of awesome.  This visit we also had some of the seaweed salad, a first for me, but definitely not a last.

Seaweed salad in front of Tom, a plate of shredded potato salad near the dumplings, and a bunch of potato salad clasped in some chopsticks in the air.

The food just kept coming.

There are also a selection of vegetable dishes on the menu.  One regular favourite is the potato, eggplant and capsicum dish.  On this night we stuck with reliable fried beans and chili.  Speaking of chili, when eating dumplings one must know how to do so correctly.  At New Flavour everyone gets one bowl, one saucer, one tea cup and one set of chopsticks.  The name saucer should give you some hints at it's function.  It is the dish with which you assemble your dumpling dipping sauce, out of the soy sauce, vinegar and chili that is placed on each table.  My sauce is often chili heavy, but I blend a bit of all three together.  I also like to pick a few dumplings at a time to sit and soak in my sauce.  This also means that I can have a few dumplings in reserves at all times.

Dumplings on the soak, with a bit of seaweed salad and fried green beans in my bowl.

A big crowd pleaser at New Flavour is the sizzling tofu.  This comes out on a heated iron plate, with a lid on top, sputtering and sizzling away.  The waitress usually struggles to find a clear place to put this hot dish down, as the table will already be full of plates of dumplings, veges and tofu.  Once the lid is removed the dish continues sputtering away.  This is an important point to consider when deciding what to wear to New Flavour.  White shirts are out, unless you strategically sit far away from the sizzling tofu.  If wearing white, I would also stay away from Tom and Rom, who were responsible for a whole lot of mess on our visit.

Sizzlin' Tofu.

Part of what make the experience so great really is the eating loads of food.  Like loads.  Having a table so full of food is a good sight.  And all the vegans I know are crazy when it comes to eating lots of food.  Cost is usually what stop us, but New Flavour manages to pull together not only low cost food, but really good tasting low cost food, and top notch dumplings.  How can vegans resist?

Chili sauce dripping from my chin, I'm focused on eating dumplings.

Dumpling sauce is a good look.

Overall, the prices are cheap.  It's fairly easy to go with a few friends, order some dishes together, eat too much for one meal and pay less than $12.  Dumplings are $8 for about 20, salads are around $5 for a small, $8 for a large, and most of the other dishes are around the $10 mark.  Rice is $1 per person, and as far as I can tell is completely bottomless.  The tea is also bottomless, once your pot is empty, just leave it visible with the lid off and your waitresses will refill it for you.  On our vegan takeover visit, ordering way too much food, we ended up paying $15 each.

Mission accomplished.

One last thing I think I must mention about New Flavour is the opening hours.  New Flavour isn't some daytime place that suits can visit for a business meeting, or people can stop by at on their lunch break.  Heck no.  New Flavour is open from 5pm-3am Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, and 5pm-4am Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  That's right.  They are open to 3 or 4 AM.  That puts this place in a category all of it's own.  Feel like a feast of dumplings at 2am after the band you watched has finished?  No worries.  Fill up your car up with a bunch of friends and you're away.  And hey, if you got a baby with you, no problems.  They have a high chair for the little one.  What else do you need?


Monday, June 20, 2011

Ways to tell you are at Vegan HQ - Number Two

The cookies you are making are devoured at the same rate that you are making them.  25 cookies per tray, one tray every 15 minutes.  5 hungry vegans in the kitchen.  You do the maths.

Yumma yumma yumma

Romelli likes to put green things on everything to make it look better.  Like coriander leaves on her cakes.  Or bits from a fern plant on cookies.  Or...

Sometimes Romelli goes overboard with the decorations.

Do you want to make these cookies?  Here is a recipe I stole from Christian's blog:

This makes about 100 small cookies, cause you want them to be small and you want to have like at least one hundred of them.  They are called Country Ma'am cookies apparently, I just call them chocochip cookies.

2 cups of vegan margarine
1 1/2 cups of brown sugar
6 Table spoons white sugar
2 teaspoons of No-Egg with 4 Tbsp of water (for my cookies I just used one 125ml pack of soy yogurt, which worked wonders, but you could use arrowroot, No-Egg, or whatever, mixed with water, whatever tickles your fancy)
3 tsp. vanilla essence
3 cups of plain flour (or a bit more I find makes them come out just a little bit better)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups minimum of vegan choco chips/drops

Cream the marg, sugars, No-eggs, and vanilla together.  When it's all creamified add the flour, baking soda and salt.  Once all mixed to the max add your choco chips, and mix them through.

Your oven, by the way, should be heated to 180*C, do that before you start so it's hot hot hot.  

What you want to do is roll little bits of cookie dough, like a teaspoon sized drop, in your hands and shape them into a little ball.  Stick those balls on your baking tray, no need to grease it, cause you don't need to grease trays when you are making cookies most of the time.  I GUESS you could stick some baking paper down, but it doesn't really matter at all.  I manage to fit 25 cookies on my tray.  Stick them in the oven for 8-9 minutes, not too long though, just long enough.  Then take them out, let them cool and eat them as fast as you can.

You can practically taste the cookies just looking at them.  But you can't really.  But I can.  And they are amazing.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ways to tell you are at Vegan HQ - Number One

You get given an ENTIRE BOX of soy yogurt from the foodbank that is about to go off, and your flat devours it in less than 24 hours.

And we have another box just like that in the freezer.  Frozen soy yogurt FTW.