Cookies and Cuppies! Oh My!

A few weeks ago, I received an sample package of Intention Cookies from Bountiful Vegan. These gigantuan treats are totally vegan and their little packages contain special mantras that are said to bring positive qualities into one's life (so long as you repeat the magic mantra while noshing on the cookies). I'm reviewing them one cookie at a time. Today, I sampled this Harmony Cookie — a sugary Lemon Snickerdoodle:

Let me just tell ya. I ate this thing and I totally felt some inner harmony goin' on. Yep. That's because lemon and snickerdoodle are two of my favorite flavors and when you put them together, well, it created a bit of a harmonious party in my mouth. The texture was spot on for a snickerdoodle — chewy with a hint of crunch. And the natural lemon oil didn't overpower the cinnamon 'doodle taste.

By the way, you can get your own Intention Cookies on the Bountiful Vegan website. Or head over to The Urban Housewife and get in on Melisser's Intention Cookie giveaway.

Speaking of cookies, I FINALLY made those Cookies 'n' Cream Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World:

I don't know what I was holding out for, but I think these may be my favorite from the whole book. I've always LOVED Oreos, and I'm so thankful that Paul Newman's folks offer the non-scary ingredient version in Newman-O's (which I used for these babies).

I made the cupcakes for my buddy Wes, who celebrated his 49th birthday yesterday!

Wes used to be my next door neighbor, but now we live one street apart from one another. He's like a second mom to me — cooking me dinner, babysitting my pets, and just being there whenever I need some conversation. Happy Birthday Wes!

The Pbu Revolution!

A few weeks ago, the awesome Shelby over at La Belle Vegan dollaped her oats with a mysterious substance she referred to as Pbu. That post led me over to Curly Top's blog where I was turned on to Pbu global domination. Apparently, a cute curly-headed girl named Emily is taking over the blogosphere with her delicious homemade peanut butter spread.

Count me in — I had a generous couple spoonfuls on my Pbu Steel Cut Oats with Maple Syrup and Fresh Blueberries this morning:

What's Pbu (pronounced pboo), you ask? Emily's awesome idea involves mixing peanut butter with a little almond milk, a dash of salt, and some optional cinnamon for an unbelievably smooth and creamy lower-fat version of peanut butter. It's lower in fat because it's thinned out with the almond milk, but that milk gives it the consistancy of super-thick PB smoothie. And everyone knows that anything that tastes like a PB smoothie has to be the best food ever, right?

Emily's recipe and Pbu FAQ sheet can be found on her blog. I actually halved her recipe since I knew I wouldn't go through 2 1/2 to 3 cups of Pbu before the almond milk in it goes bad. But I made a whole jar's worth, and it'll be topping my oats, my toast, my celery, my everything all week long.

All hail Pbu!

Happy Anniversary to Us!

My boyfriend Paul and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary Saturday night, although the actual anniversary date is today (Sunday). We took a road trip to Nashville for the occasion because we'd been dying to try the food at Mad Donna's – a hip, casual joint with vegan options for me and meat options for Paul (yea, he's into all that).

Here we are in Mad Donna's upstairs lounge, in front of a Betty Page painting:

Mad Donna's totally lived up to our expectations! The atmosphere is totally laidback with photos of gay icons — Donna Summer, Judy Garland, etc. — lining the walls. The prices were affordable, and they had a $3 long island iced tea special going on. And they have drag queen bingo!!!

As for food, I tried the To Wong Fu:

Crisp cubes of fried tofu are smothered in a coconut panang curry sauce with spinach, red and green bell peppers, red onions, steamed green beans, and a mound of jasmine rice. The tofu was perfectly cooked — chewy and crispy — and the sauce was delectable.

I'll spare ya'll photos of Paul's Flat Iron Steak, but he said his dish was also delicious. I'm not sure how dead cow can be delicious, but I'll take his word for it. We'll certainly be eating at Mad Donna's again in the very near future.

Phuket Aquarium

This post about Phuket Aquarium was first written in 2009. Now updated in July 2012 with new photos and information.

I never seem to tire of the Phuket Aquarium even after (about) 20 visits over the years, maybe more. We went the first time in 2001 when our daughter was a few months old and loved her reactions to the fish. We took her again a few months later and noticed how, as an older baby she paid more attention to the marine life. As she got older, different things fascinated her, and once she could start asking questions, well then Dad the Diver could start explaining all kinds of interesting fishy facts! It's been the same with our son who is now 7 years old. They always have new questions and it's always fun to visit the aquarium with them.

Kids at Phuket Aquarium

Arapaima at Phuket Aquarium

(above) Our kids impressed by a giant Arapaima, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. There are always changes at the aquarium, each time we visit there's some new marine life to see.

Phuket Aquarium is located at the end of Cape Panwa, to the SE of Phuket Town. I like the area a lot, one of our favourite restaurants is in the Panwa area, and there's some lovely scenery, particularly if you turn off the main road down to the aquarium and take the smaller road along the west side of the cape with views across Chalong Bay. On the way you also pass the turn off to Khao Kad viewpoint. Here's a view from outside the aquarium:

View near Phuket Aquarium

The entry fee is not high, just 100 Baht for adults, 50 Baht for kids.. and yes it's a bit cheaper for "us locals", but not a rip off anyway. It's not a huge aquarium, but has expanded little by little over the years and there are plans for more. In the first room by the entrance are many small tanks, with all kind of fish.

Phuket Aquarium Displays

Kissing fish at Phuket Aquarium

There's all kinds of species from moray eels to lionfish to angelfish, batfish, lobsters, razor shrimpfish .. most are local species found in Thailand. Also some oddities like electric eels. These are all in the smaller tanks. Also around the walls are educational displays about marine life and environmental awareness.


Education at Phuket Aquarium

Kids in the tunnel at Phuket Aquarium

The walkthrough tunnel (above) was not there when we first visited, it only opened in 2005. Not a huge tunnel to be sure, but still, there are some little sharks in there - blacktip and leopard sharks, jacks, a big Napoleon wrasse, stingrays and more. Always a hit with the kids! And with me!

The first video above shows a leopard shark swimming around the big tank, viewed from inside the walkthrough tunnel. The second video shows our kids checking out the fish from the outside of the big tank. "Ooh, look at that!", says my son. Always something to learn, something new to see. And here's the same little boy from a couple of years ago being shown something by his Grandma ...

Phuket Aquarium

There's another pretty big tank that contains several huge groupers. And plenty of small tanks containing such little beauties as shrimps or seahorses. I love seahorses. Beautiful little things. Please don't eat them.

Seahorses at Phuket Aquarium

Grouper at Phuket Aquarium

When you exit the indoor section of Phuket aquarium, you'll find a little snack and drink shop and a souvenir shop - some of the items for sale are tacky, some are pretty nice. The Aquarium and attached marine biological center do good work, and with the entry fee being low, a small purchase is helpful.

You'll see some steps near the shop heading to a nature trail which leads you along the coastline for a couple of hundred meters. There are lots of signs explaining plant and animal names and with environmental information. Further on you pass a little boat that the kids always stop to play on, then a long jetty which leads out to several boats including a research vessel which is often moored there. There's a small kids playground too.

Sign about birds at Phuket Aquarium

The aquarium is more than just a show, there is also a marine biological center here with an endangered species unit.. and my favourite part - the turtles! Here at the aquarium turtles are bred/reared and also injured turtles are looked after. We sometimes see big turtles with bits of flipper missing or chunks missing from their shells, no doubt as a result of contact with a boat. I love turtles :)

Baby Turtles at Phuket Aquarium

Turtles at Phuket Aquarium

Phuket Aquarium - Location Map

View Phuket Aquarium in a larger map

BBQ Sammich & Tater Salad

I've been working on my recipe for vegan barbecue for months. I knew I MUST include a barbecue sandwich in my cookbook since pulled pork sandwiches are such a big thing down here. Even though pulled pork is nasty, I wanted something that would simulate that meaty texture. I've tried seitan (too chewy), tofu (not chewy enough), and finally a tempeh/shredded carrot combo (perfect!).

Here's my Tempeh Carrot BBQ Sandwich with Poppy Seed Coleslaw on a homemade whole wheat bun:

The tempeh has a bit of a chewy texture, but not as much as the seitan did. When I tried this with seitan, it was like eating bread with a bread bun — way too chewy! I added grated carrot to the tempeh for more of a "pulled pork" look and some extra veggie nutrients.

The Poppy Seed Coleslaw recipe is also going in the cookbook. It's vegan mayo-based because that's what I like, but I'm sure a fat-free vegan mayo would work for the calorie-conscious (there's also a homemade tofu mayo recipe in my cookbook for those who prefer DIY).

The whole wheat buns are from Jessy's recipe. These are Dee-licious, but as you can see, mine didn't rise properly, Instead of rising up, they flattened out. But they were still tasty. It's not the recipe's fault though — I subbed all whole wheat pastry flour for some of the white flour in Jessy's recipe, so I'm sure that's the problem. Hers always look perfect!

On the side, I made the Creamy Avocado Potato Salad from Vegan Brunch:

Since I'm a huge guacamole fan, this stuff was awesome! But I did have to add a whole bunch more salt and some garlic powder to bring it up to par.

The recipe in VB serves four, but I didn't want the avocado to turn brown in my leftovers. So I cooked the whole recipe for potatoes and placed them in a bowl in the fridge, un-dressed. Then as I've been eating this each day, I mush up half an avocado with the other spices and some cherry tomato and mix with one serving of the potatoes. It's a good way to make a recipe like this for one person.

Mae Salong, Garden in the Sky ...

Environmentalist would surely cringe at the sight of denuded mountain tops.  The spectacle of temples, villages, farms and gardens perched precariously on the steep slopes is, however, a sight to behold.  Add to that the thrill of negotiating the serpentine roadways nestled snugly on the saddle of a motorbike.  The sights, sounds, smells and the occasional sensation of the back tire breaking loose as you over-break into a hairpin turn.  It all makes for a nice little day-trip.

A quick Google and you can read about those who settled this area and how the present day tea plantations and tourism replaced another profitable but illicit crop.  I simply want to share my view of a day-trip with a friend.  One of the many plusses of living in the Chiang Rai area.

These last two images are of a little place we passed on an isolated back road somewhere between home and Mae Salong.

Tomato Rosemary Heaven

A couple weeks ago, Nora from Pride & Vegudice responded to a Facebook status I'd posted about having too much free time one weekend. She insisted that I use my plan-less weekend to make the Tomato Rosemary Scones from Vegan Brunch. Though I ended up not having time to make the scones that weekend, I finally heeded her advice the past Sunday night:

I've been eating these magnificently awesome scones for breakfast every day this week with a tall glass of So Delicious Coconut Milk and a side of iced green tea. These are so amazingly good!

Even my omni boyfriend (who's vacationing in Memphis for a week ... he lives three hours away) loves 'em. He's been dipping into my stash of frozen scones ... much to my chagrin. But at the same time, I'm happy that he likes vegan food. I always freeze half a batch of any baked breakfast good and then thaw them out the night before I plan to eat them, that way they're still oven-fresh.

These are bready enough for breakfast, but savory enough to eat with dinner. And the texture couldn't be better. Isa has truly mastered the scone with this recipe. After the Vegan Brunch tofu omelet, I think this scone recipe is my second favorite I've tried thus far.

Raw Solstice Celebration

Not only was Sunday Father's Day, it was also the Summer Solstice — the longest day of the year and the official beginning of summer. Since summer is my favorite season, I couldn't resist a chance to celebrate with my friends. The Father's Day celebration at my parents' house was over by 5 p.m., so I had a chance to attend my pal Judith's Summer Solstice party.

Here's Judith lighting the traditional Summer Solstice fire — which represents the sun — in her firepit:

Since Judith is almost 100 percent raw, she made a huge smorgasbord of raw goodies. Here's my plate:

Mango Salsa, Stuffed Cashew Tomatoes, Flax Crackers, Some Delicious Raw Pate, Something Purple and Yummy, Homemade Pickles, Raw Squash Salad, Coleslaw, and Carrot BBQ

Judith's yard is filled with toys, like this exercise ball that I'm doing push-ups on:

And this hexagonal ball contraption that my boyfriend Paul played on:

Here's Paul chatting with our buds Vaughan and Barbara after our Welcome the Sun ritual (by the way, Paul isn't drinking two glasses of wine ... he's holding my cup so I could take a picture):

We had lots of fun playing weird musical instruments, noshing on raw goodies, and welcoming the sun. Happy Summer!

Happy Father's Day, Papa Crunk!

For the past couple years, my family has grilled out for Father's Day. It's a new tradition, but I think it has potential to stick around for awhile. This year, Father's Day fell on the Summer Solstice, the best day of the year for grillin' out. Here's Papa Crunk and I before chowing down:

And here's Grandpa Crunk, lounging in a recliner:

We had Yves Spicy Italian veggie dogs (actually everyone else had meat dogs and burgers) with sauerkraut, potato salad, baked beans, and chips with guacamole and salsa:

Yum! Granny made the potato salad, most of which was not vegan. But she made a special vegan version with dairy-free Italian dressing for me. And she made it all fancy on top with pickles and red bell pepper for garnish:

For dessert, Granny made the best thing ever - Chocolate Hot Fudge Pecan Pudding Cake:

It's a dessert she's veganized for my cookbook and it is so amazing. It's similar to the hot fudge cake at Shoney's, soft gooey cake over a layer of chocolate fudge. I served mine with a scoop of French Vanilla Soy Dream.

I'll share pictures of my friend Judith's Solstice celebration tomorrow.

Fried Green Tomatoes, Sandwich-Style

Ripe red tomatoes are still scarce this time of year, but the farmers market is filled with green tomatoes. And that means one thing to this Southern gal — fried green tomato time! But rather than eat them as a side dish, I developed this tasty Fried Green Tomato & Tofu Sandwich:

The recipe is going in the cookbook, but it's basically a couple of cornmeal-battered green tomato slices paired with marinated, baked tofu and a maple-mustard sauce. I served mine on Ezekial bread, but this would be nice on a thick, hearty crusty bread as well.

I've been eating these for days now. Once I'm happy with a dish, I tend to re-create it for meals day after day until I run out of ingredients or get tired of it. In this case, I finally ran out of tofu. But I'm looking forward to the next sandwich when I get some more.

By the way, I spent a wonderful Father's Day with my family followed by a lovely Summer Solstice with a few raw food friends. I have pictures, but no time to post them tonight. Expect all that tomorrow.

One Tambon One Product (OTOP) Fair

We seem to be visiting Sapan Hin quite often recently. The whole area has recently been tarted up and Sapan Hin is now a very nice place to come and exercise or have a picnic by the sea, and just a few minutes from the centre of Phuket Town. In early May we came for the Halal Expo, and at the end of last month we were back for the OTOP (One Tambon One Product) Fair, with handicrafts and food from all over Thailand. The "OTOP" program is a government initiative to encourage production and sales of local village (Tambon) crafts, ceramics, clothes, foods, household items... something that maybe typical of that area or is commonly made there. The OTOP program helps to promote these products.

This is a very local affair. We went twice during the week long event and I swear I saw only 1 other foreigner. The event was not promoted in tourist areas, we only knew about it because we happened to drive around town a few days before the start and saw promotional posters. I guess organisers may assume that only locals are interested. I beg to differ.. these kind of local fairs are just what I like!

We first took a walk around Sapan Hin, lots of people taking walks, jogging, enjoying the sea air or just sitting in the late afternoon sun. Sapan Hin has become a really nice place to come and chill out!

Exercising at Sapan Hin, Phuket Town

View towards Phuket Town from Sapan Hin

About 2 days before visiting this OTOP fair, we'd bought some new furniture for outside our house. And wouldn't you know it, there was plenty to be had here at very good prices. If we'd not just got some, we might well have got it here. I like this kind of rustic wooden stuff carved out of slabs of wood, natural shapes, big and chunky.

Furniture at the OTOP Fair

Meanwhile, my parents were happy to find a wooden mobile to take home. In the Central Festival mall a few days earlier they were quoted over 300 Baht for one of these. Here at the fair only 100 Baht. So they got two!

Plenty of food stalls around selling drinks, snacks, insects... I have never tried to eat insects. I suppose some people like it. Indeed some people were buying insects at this very stall. Not for me, thanks.

Fried insects for sale

Another stall specialised in tamarind. I do like a bit of tamarind, either eaten alone or made into a sauce. One of my favourite dishes is Kung Pad Nam Makam - fried prawns in a spicy, yet sweet and also a bit sour sauce.

Tamarind stall at the OTOP Fair

Another stall was selling a snack made from pork rind, what you might call pig snacks or hog lumps. Very good with a cold beer, just like back in the UK :)

Snacks for sale at the OTOP Fair in Phuket

We also found a stall selling wooden boxes.. you know, those kind of decorative wooden boxes which are sure to be useful for something, or at least useful as a gift. Everyone has something they want to put in a box, so why not an attractive Buddha box, ideal for "putting things in".

Painted Buddha boxes at the OTOP Fair Phuket

All our wandering up and down rows of stalls was bound to make us thirsty. And I was happy to find a Chumphon coffee stall. My wife is from Chumphon, a town about 400km from Phuket, about halfway to Bangkok. Good coffee. I've been there about 20 times. The coffee man was happy to hear I have a Chumphon connection.

Coffee from Chumphon at the OTOP Fair in Phuket

Tasty coffee and even tastier fruit juice. This stall had strawberry juice, lime juice, watermelon juice. 20 Baht per cup. I had 3. It had been a hot day. You gotta love all the fruit you can get in Phuket!

Fruit juice stall at OTOP Fair in Phuket