My 5th Vegan-iversary

Black Friday isn't just some crazy excuse for mass consumurism. It's also my vegan-iversary! It all started in 1994. I ate turkey on Thanksgiving Day and something just didn't set right in my 14-year-old mind. I'd already gone "semi-vegetarian" by then (eating only poultry and an occasional piece of fried catfish ... never cared for seafood even when I ate meat), and seeing that giant turkey carcass on the kitchen counter really grossed me out that year. So I went vegetarian on Black Friday in 1994.

Fast forward to 2004. In celebration of having 10 years as a vegetarian, I decided to try veganism on the day after Thanksgiving. It was really just a month trial run ... to see if I could do it. Thirty days later in late December 2004, I realized how easy being vegan could be. So I made the decision to be vegan forever.

This year, Black Friday marked my 5th vegan and my 15th vegetarian anniversary! Since my mom and I have started a new tradition (as of last year) of doing our holiday shopping on Black Friday (because we're crazy enough to fight the crowds for a good deal!), I've also began a new tradition of dining with her at my favorite Memphis breakfast joint for a vegan-iversary brunch.

Here I am at Brother Juniper's, about to stuff my face with the most delicious tofu scramble:

And here's a shot of my vegan-iversary brunch plate — the "Fahim's Special" at Brother Juniper's:

Fahim's Special is a crazy-good tofu scramble made with a balsamic vinaigrette, kalamata olives, portabella mushrooms, and other veggies. It's served with tasty garlic home fries and whole wheat toast with all-natural strawberry fruit spread! I couldn't ask for a better post-Thanksgiving, vegan-iversary, Black Friday brunch!

Thanksgiving Redux

Ya'll know I love food ... more than one probably should. But on most days, I carefully watch what I eat. I count calories. I work out. I plan meals by the week, all to ensure that my love of food doesn't turn into a full-on food addiction. But Thanksgiving is one of the few days of the year when gorging oneself is not only accepted ... it's encouraged. So every year on the last Thursday of Novemver, I stuff myself until I can't breathe. Here's a shot of my first plate at my family's Thanksgiving dinner this year:

Top (left to right): Vegan Mac & Cheeze, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans, Corn, Vegan Cream Cheeze Mashed Potatoes. Bottom (left to right): Greens & Turnips, Mama's Best-Ever Vegan Cornbread Dressin', Homemade Cranberry Sauce, Slices of Field Roast Celebration Roast, and Marinated Slaw.

Except for the turkey, my mom and Granny make everything vegan. I get my own casserole dish filled with my mom's famous vegan dressin, and my mom uses Earth Balance in all the sides. She even used Tofutti sour cream and cream cheeze in the mashed potatoes, and none of the omnis could tell a difference. I made a small pot of vegan mac & cheeze, so I could eat it while everyone else ate baked mac & cheddar cheese casserole.

I used to cook a Tofurkey, but for the past several years, I've been baking a Field Roast Celebration Roast instead:

I like the texture and taste of the Field Roast better, and it's smaller so that means less leftovers. Nothing against leftovers, of course. I've been eating Thanksgiving plates all weekend! But Tofurkeys are so big that I'd have more leftovers than I could eat in a week.

My second plate was filled with one slice of all three of these delicious vegan pies. Granny brought a Vegan Pineapple Marshmallow Cream Pie:

She used Soy Whip, Dandies vegan marshmallows, and crushed pineapple in a graham cracker crust! I'm definitely stealing this recipe from her for my cookbook.

She also brought over one of her famous Old-Fashioned Coconut Pies, another recipe she developed for my cookbook. This is my favorite pie in the whole world ... ever:

And I made a Smlove Pie from the Veganomicon:

I've made this recipe several times before, and this rich chocolate tofu pie with peanut butter caramel, candied pecans, and chocolate ganache is always a crowd pleaser.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the gluttony of Thanksgiving Day (and the days of leftover gorging that followed), I'm ready to get back into my old healthy-eating habits.

Hey testers! I FINALLY posted another recipe on the tester site — my Choco-Choco Praline Pecan Cookies. Check it out when you get a chance!

Being Owned by a Dog (Golden Retriever) ...

With all ideas for household chores or carnal adventures exhausted for the day, the wife suggested we pack up Cookie in the truck and head to the Saturday Walking Street in Chiang Rai.  Feeling a slight chill in the air we dressed in long sleeves only to find things a few degrees warmer in the city.  Sleeves were only comfortable when we once again neared home later in the evening.

As it was just the three of us, Cookie was not banished to the back of the truck but happily sprawled on the floor, with the backseat up and out of the way.  The only thing that got a consistent rise out of her, was the sound of the turn signal.  That sound seems to trigger something in her mind, so she was up and checking out whether we had arrived, I suppose.

Being a free spirit and only put on a leash for control or restraint, she takes the leash as an invitation to advance and propel my forward motion.  Forty kilos in four wheel drive can produce a tremendous amount of torque, I assure you.  Finding herself in an unfamiliar and somewhat constrained walking environment she actually performed quite well and refrained for jerking my arm out of the socket.

At home visitors are often treated as puppies or chew toys as she wreathes in joy and bashes the furniture with her tail.  Surrounded by vendors and ambling shoppers she took on a whole new demeanor, as she ignored all those around her.  Most people seemed to ignore her as well.  Of course, there were those who stepped aside while pressing their arms to their sides or raising their hands to their chest.  Children were admonished by anxious parents who sought to teach them to fear all animals, I suppose.  Many not looking down, seemed to have no idea she was even there.

There was one amorous street dog who was briefly smitten by Cookies charms, but most of the four legged friends we met, belonged to vendors and resembled more the pocket or handbag varieties.  True dog lovers, some released their diminutive charges to share a proper doggy greeting and sniff.  We bumped into a couple we know, who said they really only recognized us from a distance because of Cookie.  I guess you know you have arrived when people see you as an extension of the dog, instead of the other way around.

A couple hours of roaming around and all our purchases made, it was turning quite dark and we still had a long drive home.  Opening the back door, Cookie eagerly leapt to the comfort and familiarity of her place on the floor, happy to enjoy a quiet, uneventful ride home. 

I can hear a cynic out there saying, “It’s only a dog.”  Well, for you that might be true, but for us she is an integral part of our lives.  She fills the void with love, charm, humor and constant companionship.  You don’t know what you’re missing, until you are owned by a dog.

La Flora Resort, Patong Beach

Now, it's not normally like me to recommend staying in Patong Beach. I prefer quieter places.. which means anywhere but Patong. BUT of course there are lots of people who like Patong, like the abundance of everything a tourist could want, like the busy streets and don't like it too quiet. OK, horses for courses, but one of the reasons I am now recommending La Flora is the first review I saw on TripAdvisor - the hotel got a great review, but the guest said "It all seemed so touristy, I really felt sad looking at all the Westerners lining up at McDonalds and Starbucks, come on, you're in Thailand eat Thai food!" - Amen! But the reviewer loved La Flora. An oasis in the heart of all the craziness that is Patong. It's sitting at top spot for Patong Beach hotels in the TripAdvisor ratings.

La Flora opened in 2008, right on the beach in Patong, right in the middle of Patong. It's a sister hotel of La Flora in Khao Lak, a place which I remember from 2006. You know, the tsunami. It's still strong in my mind. Our son was born on January 11th 2005. Just 2 weeks after the tsunami. La Flora in Khao Lak was hit hard. The Kings grandson was killed near La Flora. So the name La Flora has some meaning around here.

La Flora in Patong - so if you want to be in the middle of Patong, in the middle of the most touristy place in Thailand, but also want a fantastic resort... well, La Flora has to be a top choice. Location - most central possible. Want bars, restaurants, shops... great. I say again, not for me, but if you want to be in the center of everything, La Flora looks GREAT.

La Flora - Booking & Reviews

La Flora - Rates and Reservations
La Flora - Hotel Reviews
My Patong Beach Hotel Suggestions

La Flora - Photos


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Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016
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Happy Tofurkey Day!

Hey guys! Just wanted to make a quick post to wish all of ya'll a Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your Tofurkeys and Field Roasts. Stuff your bellies with cornbread dressin' (if you're from down here) or stuffing (for those up north). And whatever you do, eat lots and lots of delicious vegan pie.

I'll leave ya'll with this photo of a new cookbook creation — Vanilla Spice Cupcakes with Pumpkin Pie Buttercream:

Thai Meets Indian

Several weeks ago, I received a bundle of books to review from the Book Publishing Company in Summertown, Tennessee (an awesome publisher of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks). One of those books was Buddha's Table: Thai Feasting Vegetarian Style by Chat Mingkwan.

Chat's book features all sorts of classic Thai dishes sans the meat or fish sauce. Some are things I've never heard of like Pandan Sweet Jelly or Galangal Coconut Soup. Others are more common in Americanized Thai cuisine, like stir-fries, hot 'n' sour lemongrass soup, cucumber salad, and lots of curries.

The first recipe I chose to try was the Yellow Curry, a coconut curry influenced by traditional Indian fare:

Though you can't really tell from this picture, the curry contains soft white potatoes, kobocha squash, red bell pepper, coconut milk, and cubes of frozen (and then thawed) tofu. The recipe didn't actually call for tofu, but I need my protein ... and tofu is delicious in a curry. It did call for taro, but I couldn't find any at my neighborhood Asian market.

Also, the dish called for both coconut milk and coconut cream. However, the only thing resembling coconut cream I could find was Cream of Coconut ... and seeing as how that contains a ton of sugar, I knew that wasn't right. So I subbed the rest of my MimicCreme (a delicious vegan alternative to heavy cream) instead. The result was delicious, and the non-coconut flavored heavy cream didn't take away from the rich flavor of the coconut milk.

Expect more tasty dishes from Buddha's Table in the very near future! Some of the recipes call for really strange, new (at least to me) ingredients like lily buds and lotus seeds, and I'm anxious to seek those things out at Asian markets around town.

Sunny Side Up!

I used to love fried eggs, and just before going vegan in 2004, I was starting to enjoy them prepared sunny side up. Before I'd always preferred the yolk cooked all the way through. So you can imagine my excitement when a blog reader named Rocky (who runs this Shepheard Illustration art website) mailed me his vegan Sunny Side Up Tofu Egg recipe.

The recipe involves carving tofu into a fried-egg shape, and I didn't do the best job there, but I assure my ugly little fried tofu "egg" was delicious:

Isn't it cute? The yolk, a gelantinous substance made with carrot juice and arrowroot (though I used cornstarch), was delicious mushed up with the pan-fried tofu. After shooting this photo, I used my fork to mix the yolk with the "egg," just like people do with real eggs. And I seasoned it liberally with black salt for an eggy taste.

Rocky gave me permission to post his recipe (with what he says is an improved yolk recipe from the one he sent me several weeks ago). So here goes.

Rocky's Sunny Side Up Tofu "Egg"
Cut tofu (I used one pound of firm tofu to make three thick tofu eggs) into the shape of a fried egg, thin at the periphery and thick in the middle. Insert broad bladed knife horizontally through the tofu near the bottom. Where the yolk should be, cookie-cut out a yolk hole with a shot glass all the way down to the blade. Remove blade. Fry in vegan margarine-both sides until golden brown. Set aside.

Now make yolk:
(note: lt stands for what looks to be larger than a tablespoon but looks like a tablespoon. Not sure what it's called).

2 large tablespoons (lt) flax seed oil
1 lt melted vegan margarine
1/2 lt arrowroot (more later) dissolved in teaspoon hot water
1/4 lt carrot juice
1/4 lt vegan mayo
some salt, pepper and garlic salt

Mix well, microwave 25 seconds.

Add 1/4 more arrowroot to 1 lt hot water.
Stir in to prior mix.

Stir well until very thick so it doesn't run way too fast.

Add to egg hole and spread liberally over top of tofu.

Put in microwave another 10 - 15 sec.

Pepper and salt again.

Serve hot. Dip egg with toast if you like.

Busy Days, An Update ...

Today, Cookie lost out to the mountain bike once again.  I suppose it wasn’t really her turn, having been to the dam just the other day.  I always feel guilty leaving her behind, though.  She so loves to hit the trail.  Anyway, after two hours of hard riding on the trail I’m awash with endorphins and basking in the afterglow.  No worries here.

On a health note.  My recent physical found me fit except for my consistently elevated cholesterol.  Down from the mid 250s of my Bangkok days I still came in at 220.  Over the last month, a regiment of healthy living and the marvel of modern pharmaceuticals, has put me at 108 as of yesterday.  Imagine that.

The combination of intermittently cool weather (today is actually chilly) and guests has produced a whirlwind of recent activity.  Repeats, included another trip to the Black Village and Doi Din Daeng Pottery with a guest.  New for us, (we are seldom out after dark) was a walk down Chiang Rai’s Walking Street one late Saturday afternoon.  Stumbled upon parking quite by accident.  Walked the street in the fading light of the day.  Had something to eat and headed home just as it got dark and the crowds seemed to be pushing in around us.

We also got up a 3am to drive to Phu Chi Faa for the sunrise.  Not a spectacular day for photos but it was still a good experience.  It was anything but lonely up there with a surprisingly good turnout.  I didn’t enjoy the lack of sleep, however, so doubt I will be eager to do a repeat performance anytime soon.  I probably could have done without the incessant talking and singing of the group just behind me, but what can you do.

Apart from the weather being perfect for outdoor adventures, this is a great time to visit government offices.  With all the farmers bringing in the harvest, offices are all but deserted.  We updated our motorcycle driving licenses, from one year to five, with no wait at all.

The Land Department in Thoeng was equally deserted and the staff ever so helpful.  My wife got the notion that perhaps I should be put on the chanote (land ownership papers) as having the right of residence there for the rest of my life.  As a foreigner I cannot own land so everything is in my wife’s name.  Unlike some, I have no misgivings about our financial arrangements or the peculiarities of Thai law.

Being twenty years older, I am usually the one voicing concern about my wife’s wellbeing after I am gone.  Recently she started pondering what would happen if something untoward happened to her.  To protect me from overeager relatives who might inherit the land, she came up with this notion of giving me right of abode so I couldn’t be sent packing.  The land department staff were quite helpful and quickly came up with the proper forms to be filled in.  The fee was next to nothing and even considering the stack of forms, copies and bureaucratic procedures involved, everything went quite smoothly.

A friend from Hawaii has just arrived in Bangkok, so I have booked a flight for my wife to go down for a visit.  I volunteered to stay home and look after the house and dogs so she could enjoy a girls only, time on the town.  We very seldom have any time apart, so a few days surely won’t hurt either of us.

As we are having guests over for dinner a bit later, perhaps I should rap this up and go about making myself more presentable.  My biking clothes are a bit ripe so it is off to a steamy hot shower for me.  On a chilly overcast day like today, who knows I may just get lucky after washing away the trail dust.  Wish me luck.

Know Your Roots

Long, long ago back in May 2008, I blogged about a new creation for my cookbook — Seitan Root Veggie Pot Pie:

It was everything I love — hearty winter root veggies and tender morsels of "chicken-ish" seitan — stuffed between two flaky whole wheat crusts. The perfect comfort food.

But that original recipe needed a few improvements, namely I'd made way too much filling for one pie. In in an effort to perfect the measurements in the recipe, I finally tried it again last night. The result was a perfect pie, filled with just right amount of sweet potatoes, white potatoes, turnips, carrots, and seitan.

Veganizing Better Homes & Gardens

A few weeks ago, I picked up a very retro-looking copy of Better Homes & Gardens Meatless Main Dishes from the Kitchen Witch new and used bookstore in New Orleans. Though it's a vegetarian cookbook, it was printed in 1981 and almost every recipe is LOADED with dairy or eggs. I purchased the book for the challenge of veganizing a few of the recipes.

I chose to start with this Mediterranean Stroganoff:

A rich, cream sauce with fresh broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and olives tops healthy quinoa pasta. Of course the recipe didn't call for quinoa pasta, but that's what I had on hand ... so that's what I used. Probably healthier that way anyway. Honestly though, the recipe tastes perfectly sinful. I used a ton of vegan dairy substitutes, including my new favorite thing — MimicCreme! I picked up several cartons at a health food co-op in Jackson, Mississippi (about 3 hours south of Memphis) since it isn't sold here.

I don't typically share recipes from other people's cookbooks, but I heavily adapted this one. It called for heavy cream, sour cream, ricotta cheese, and parmesan. So, um, I made some serious changes. I'll share this one, and hopefully, Better Homes & Gardens won't hate me.

Veganized Mediterranean Stroganoff
(adapted from Better Homes & Gardens Meatless Main Dishes)

2 cups cauliflower, chopped
2 cups broccoli, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
2 Tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
3 cups button mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups MimicCreme Non-Dairy Cream Substitute or soymilk
1 vegetable bouillon cube, crumbled
1/3 cup sliced black olives
1/2 pound firm tofu, drained
3/4 cup Tofutti sour cream
1/4 cup vegan parmesan cheese
12 ounces quinoa pasta (or other pasta)

Steam the cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots in a steamer basket until tender. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions.

In another saucepan, melt the margarine. Add onions and saute 2 to 3 minutes or until soft. Add sliced mushrooms and cook for about 7 minutes or until the mushrooms shrink down a bit. Add garlic and saute one more minute.

Quickly stir in flour and then add MimicCreme or soymilk. Crumble in bouillon cube. Stir until thick and bubbly. Carefully fold in steamed vegetables and black olives. Turn off heat.

In a separate bowl, mush tofu with your hands for about three minutes or until it achieves a ricotta-like consistency. Add sour cream and vegan parm and stir to combine. Slowly add the tofu ricotta/sour cream mixture to the cream sauce in the saucepan. Return to a low heat and cook several minutes or until heated through, but not boiling. Serve over hot pasta.


In other news, the awesome Zel Allen (author of Nut Gourmet) has posted the recipe for Nutty Oatcakes (which I posted about on Monday night) on her blog. Check it out here!

Adopt a Turkey, Don't Eat One

Okay, so I totally ripped off that blog title from Veg Out with Us. But that's where I got the inspiration today to start a new Thanksgiving tradition — adopting a turkey from the Farm Sanctuary.

Meet Gideon — the turkey I chose to sponsor for a $25 donation to Farm Sanctuary:

There were several turkeys to choose from, but Gideon's little red skin flap was too cute to resist. The donation money will help Gideon and his turkey buds live peacefully at Farm Sanctuary's locations in California and New York.

Since 1986, Farm Sanctuary has rescued more than 1,000 turkeys, placing them into loving homes. They also educate folks about the plight of commercially-raised, factory-farmed turkeys and provide recipes for meat-free Thanksgiving dinners.

I've been meaning to start a turkey adoption tradition for years. But I finally hopped over to the Farm Sanctuary's website today and made a donation after reading this post on Veg Out with Us. I gave up meat in 1994 on the day after Thanksgiving, and 10 years later, I liberated myself from dairy and eggs on the day after Thanksgiving. Adopting a turkey every year seems like a fitting tradition.

Nutty Oatcakes

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to receive a box of three cookbooks to review from the Book Publishing Company in Summertown, Tennessee. The regionally-run book company produces loads of popular vegan titles by such esteemed vegan chefs as Joanne Stepaniak and Louise Hagler.

The review package included The Nut Gourmet by Zel Allen, a vegan cookbook filled with recipes involving — you guessed it — nuts! After thumbing through the cookbook, I settled on Nutty Oatcakes for my first review recipe:

These are flaky breakfast flatbreads made from rolled oats and ground walnuts. They were wholesome and absolutely delicious spread with Apricot Cashew Butter, another Nut Gourmet recipe:

Okay, full disclosure: I subbed dried peaches for the apricots in the recipe so it's technically Peach Cashew Butter. For some crazy reason, my Kroger doesn't carry dried apricots, though they sell every other dried fruit on the planet. I figure peaches and apricots are pretty similar though.

Anyway, this homemade cashew butter is totally fruit-sweetened ... no white sugar or artificial sweetener here. It's a little different from the cashew butter I buy at the store, but mostly because I'm not used to sweet nut butters. This would also be delicious spread on some whole wheat toast.

Pre-Thanksgiving Party!

Because one day of gluttony just isn't enough, our local vegetarian group Food Awareness held a pre-Thanksgiving party to help gear up our tummies for the big day. About 45 folks — some vegetarians, some vegans, some omnis — packed into fellow member Vaughan's house for a Saturday night filled with delicious vegan food, wine, and a random late-night poetry slam. Here's a picture of the folks still hanging on at the end of the party:

Left to right: (Top) Vaughan, Barbara, Michael (Bottom) April, Me, Greg, and a nice German girl named Lena ...

Here's my first plate, loaded with savory goodies:

There's Carol's AMAZING vegan mac & cheeze, my cornbread dressin', a roasted sweet potato, Vaughan's super-spicy kale, some pineapple rice, lentils, and almond quinoa.

I made my mom's veganized recipe for Cornbread Dressin'. It's not the sexiest-looking dish, but it's very, very tasty. My mom's will ALWAYS taste the best, but I think I came pretty close this time. It seems to get better and better every time I make it. Practice makes perfect, I guess.

Barbara made some yummy Edammame Dip for pre-dinner snackin':

And we had tons of dessert! I took a photo of my dessert plate — loaded with pies, cake, cookies, you name it. But it didn't turn out so well. Here's a sample of what went on it though ... like this delicious Vegan Sweet Potato (or maybe it was pumpkin?...I can't tell the two apart!) Pie:

Or Stephanie's (Poopie Bitch) Bourbon Pumpkin Pecan Pie (just look at her fancy embellishments!):

And Stephanie's (yes, she totally outdid herself with TWO beautiful pies) old-school Apple Pie:

We even had a raw Sweet Potato Pie, courtesy of our raw friend Judith:

By the end of the night, I was miserably stuffed ... just how one should feel after gorging on an amazing vegan Thanksgiving smorgasboard. Now I just hope I still have room left when the real Thanksgiving comes...

Mai Khao Beach - Seaside Cottages

There is a question that comes up quite often, maybe asked by people who don't realise that Phuket has moved on since the 1970's. "Where can I find a beach hut or little bungalow right by the beach in Phuket?". Ah, well, I am sorry to say that for the most part, beachfront land in Phuket is now much too valuable to allow such cheap accommodation to exist. On the main beaches in Phuket like Patong, Karon or Kata, no chance of finding that kind of accommodation. In fact I was not sure there could be anything like it in Phuket, but was recently in contact (via Facebook) with Mal, owner of the Seaside Cottages which is found on Mai Khao Beach, the very northernmost beach in Phuket, north of the airport. Mai Khao Beach stretches for about 10km from the airport right up to the northern tip of the island near Sarasin bridge. That's a lot of beach.. and so far there is not TOO much development on Mai Khao. OK, you have the Marriott and Sala Phuket and a few other things but this area of Phuket remains quite rural.

Mai Khao Beach view near Seaside Cottages

Land behind Seaside Cottages

The Seaside Cottages has been open for a couple of years. They offer simple accommodation in bamboo huts, slightly more rugged wooden huts and a couple of fancier concrete huts. No aircon, no cable TV. Little huts right by the beach. There is also a restaurant, but otherwise, just nature. The huts are set back a bit from the beach - they found that if the rooms were too close it was not good in low season when wind blows in across the sea. They closed up last low season but might try to stay open this time. Mal told me they are pretty fully booked for the next month. They are listed on Tripadvisor, which does seem to help and also on Hostelworld. The prices start at 500 Baht/night for the little bamboo huts up to 2,000 Baht for the concrete huts. If you want it quiet and simple, good choice.

Seaside Cottages

Seaside Cottages

Hut on the beach sir?

If you want a few days doing absolutely nothing, sit on the beach, lounge in a hammock, it's for you. The restaurant is not super cheap, and it would be a bit of a hike to find anywhere else to eat, though they can arrange bike rentals for you, and when I was there the owner gave some customers a free ride out to the main road to catch the bus. It's a small and friendly place and I am happy to have found a place like this in Phuket that I can recommend. Oh and if you have a tent they will let you pitch it on the grounds too for about 200 Baht a night.

Oh, one drawback, at least for now.. there is a resort being built next door. You can't see too much construction from the front, but there is bound to be some noise. The other drawback might be getting bored with having miles of beach all to yourself. Anyone looking for parties and crowds, look again! Mai Khao Beach will surely get more developed in years to come, but for now, this part of Phuket is still nice and quiet.

For more info and bookings - Mai Khao Seaside Cottages Website.

Phuket Hotels - More Info & Online Booking

Jamie's Phuket Hotel Recommendations
Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2015
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Food Is Better In a Bowl

There's something totally satisfying about a big ole bowl of whole grains, veggies, and a healthy protein. The combinations are endless — beans/broccoli/rice or tempeh/squash/millet ... you get the idea. I think I've found my favorite healthy bowl combo with this Monk Bowl from 30 Minute Vegan:

It's simply quinoa, baked tofu, and steamed broccoli, carrots, and zucchini. All that goodness is layered in a bowl and topped with soy sauce (I used Maggie seasoning), nutritional yeast, and flax oil. Oh, and I added a few spicy squirts of sriracha for good measure.

Then I mixed it all together and enjoyed bite after bite ... until it was all gone and I was wishing for more. The tofu was probably the highlight. It's Furama Savory Baked Tofu, which I buy at my neighborhood Asian market. It has a hint of five-spice powder flavor, and it's the firmest tofu I've ever eaten. I baked it again after marinating in some soy sauce for a few minutes. Delish!

Treat Time!

When I say "Datsun, want a treat-treat?," my big ole' puppy always comes running. Even if he's been a in a dead sleep. So I knew when I got a copy of The Simple Little Vegan Dog Book by Michelle Rivera that I'd absolutely have to try my hand at making homemade dog biscuits.

These Yeasted Gourmet Dog Treats were a huge hit with Datsun. See ...

He really wants me to stop taking pictures and give him the damn treat. I took at least ten of these photos, and his patience was wearing thin. When he finally got a chance to gobble down the biscuit, he looked up at me as if to say, "Can I have seconds?" I made him bones, flowers, and cute little pumpkins using cookie cutters:

The recipe is really basic — flour, yeast, veggie broth (I used water because I couldn't find unsalted broth), and soymilk. The yeast gives them a bit of rise, but the treats sit in the oven overnight (with the heat turned off, of course) to get crunchy.

In fact, they were still waiting in the oven when I arrived home from work tonight. I'd forgotten all about them and set the oven to pre-heat for 30 minutes or so to bake some tofu. Then I noticed the aroma of something baking even though I'd thought the oven was empty. Oops! Luckily, the extra cooking time just made the biscuits crunchier ... and Datsun seemed to like that even more.

By the way, the Vegan Dog Book is published through the Book Publishing Company out of Summertown, Tennessee.

Holy Mole Chili!

I tend to get stuck in a chili rut ... always opting for the traditional version with chili powder and a tomato base. Nothing against plain ole chili, but when I saw the recipe for Emo Potato's Mole Black Bean & Winter Squash Chili, I was totally blown away:

This thick stew has a base of soaked and blended dried pasilla chilis mixed with cocoa powder, almond butter, tahini, and even brewed coffee! It sounds crazy, but all that stuff mixed together makes for one hell of a mole sauce. Check out the recipe at Emo Potato's blog.

The mole is simmered with a cubed Delicata squash (any winter squash would do) and black beans. Of course I topped mine with a glob of Tofutti sour cream and (not shown here) gads of hot sauce. And I alternated bites with Garden of Eatin' blue corn tortilla chips.

Eggless Frittata

When Vegan Brunch first came out out, every blogger and their mom made the Swiss Chard Frittata. But for some reason, it kept getting pushed down my to-make list, always losing out to the VB tofu omelet or tofu benedict. Well, I finally got around to making that frittata for this week's breakfast:

I'm not sure what I was waiting for! It only has a few simple ingredients and it includes super-healthy greens for a morning power boost. I've made a number of vegan frittatas in my day from various cookbooks, but this one has the most authentic texture and taste. I bet you could even fool an omni with this recipe.

This morning, I served myself a generous slice of frittata, a piece of whole grain toast slathered in Earth Balance and raspberry fruit spread, and a glass of iced green tea. Thankfully, the recipe made four servings so I'll be enjoying the same breakfast for three more days!

Vegan Dog Food

Meet Datsun, my loveable, energetic 80-pound mutt:

He's not vegan. He typically eats Pet's Promise Daily Health kibble, which is made without any animal by-products. All the information I've read leads me to believe that dogs can lead a healthy life as a vegan since they're natural omnivores (like humans). But honestly, vegan dog food is expensive. Considering that I also have six kitties to feed, packaged vegan dog food isn't really an option. Plus, I get nervous about messing with Datsun's nutrient intake ... even if it is completely safe to feed him a vegan diet.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was contacted by the Book Publishing Company (the publisher of many great vegan titles, like The Uncheese Cookbook, Tofu Cookery, the New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook and more). They asked me to review a few of their titles, one of which was The Simple Little Vegan Dog Book by Michelle A. Rivera:

This cute little volume is loaded with information on what dogs can and cannot eat (no to onions and chocolate, yes to brown rice and pumpkin). And it's filled with recipes for creating delicious home-cooked vegan meals, treats, and special occasion cakes for your pooch.

I've decided that, rather than switch Datsun to a totally vegan diet, I'll feed him his Pet's Promise kibble in the mornings and a home-cooked vegan meal every evening. The recipes in Rivera's book make large quantities (and I'm even doubling those cause Datsun's a big guy), so you can freeze individual portions for quick weeknight meals.

So far, we've only tried one recipe — Snoopy's Great Pumpkin, Rice, and Beans:

It's simply canned pumpkin blended with red beans and brown rice. Since dogs don't need salt, it has no added seasoning. But I sampled the dish before passing it on to Datsun and it was pretty darn tasty. As you can see, Datsun agreed:

He licked his bowl clean and then begged for more. Even the cats (who are definitely not vegan) were totally jealous. They inspected his bowl after he finished eating, hoping for a crumb or two.

I'll be posting dog food dishes that I try from the book pretty regularly. Next on the agenda is a big batch of dog biscuits. Datsun and I will let you know how that goes.

Update: So one of my very observant commenters (thanks Susan!) noticed that my link to the Pet's Promise website pulls up a letter from the company stating that their products will no longer be available after January. Suck! Since I'd like to feed Datsun kibble at least once a day to supplement his vegan meals, anyone got any suggestions on a good natural dog food that doesn't cost a million bucks? And preferably is available at Whole Foods?

Getting Older and Making the Best of It ...

Still pumped from yesterday’s exertions at the gym and anticipating that wonderful throbbing pain that follows a good workout after a long absence.  I found myself drawn by the clear skies and crisp morning air, to hit the trails on the mountain bike.

Past successes can embolden one.  Leading to the search for the boundaries and limitations of ones abilities.  Welcoming and even tempting ones fate.  Thus emboldened I set off with little thought or preparation.  A vague notion that there lie between the river and the mountains, an area of the valley yet to be explored.  No maps or Google Earth, just a sense that it was over there, somewhere.

Traversing our village, the rubber plantation and another village, I soon found myself on tarmac and making good time toward my jumping off point.  At speed the hum of fat nubby tires on asphalt or crunching over gravel, along with the cool breeze, is almost hypnotic.  Gears make maintaining cadence easy but the slower ascent of a gradient breaks the trance and forward momentum slows.  I guess one has to take the ups and downs in stride.

Stopping briefly at the construction site of a rather large western house that I have noticed on previous rides.  I heard my name, called out by a worker on the rooftop.  He had been part of our team of builders a few years back.  Enquiring about trails in the area, it turned out that the next soi on the left, was the jumping off point that I had hypothesized.

I was soon making time on a hard packed, gravelly surface.  Enjoying that familiar crunching sound.  It wasn’t long before being presented with choices of direction.  Even in a remote village, there are often small Thai signs pointing the way.  I found one that said the Ing River was 1.5 km down a path to the left.  That seemed a good choice, though I knew it could lead to a dead-end on the banks of the river.

Soon enough I found myself on the side of the river that forms sheer clifflike drops to the muddy waters below.  That outer side of a bend where the water undercuts and leads to calving reminiscent of glaciers.  The narrow trail seemed precariously close to the precipice but I continued on, being careful not to get too close or spend too much time taking in the view. 

Leaving the river, the trail took a turn for the worse.  Deeply rutted and overgrown, there was no visibility to speak of.  Offshoots were many but one tries to keep to the most trodden path, hoping for a break in the foliage or a slight crest, to get ones bearings.  All the while questioning the chances of backtracking to whence one came and whether this was all a big mistake.

Before long and to great relief, things opened up to an area crisscrossed by narrow cow trails.  Spotted in the distance, was a little ramshackle hut.  Approaching closer I noticed people inside, who despite being surprised, were friendly and helpful as they pointed me in the general direction of travel.  From the dark unseen recesses of the hut a female voice offered to show me the way if I were single.  I assured all, that I was dutifully fearful of my wife and didn’t think she would appreciate me taking up the offer.

Laughs were shared and the lone male understood that I was not looking for the easiest route, considering the direction from which I had stumbled upon them.  As usually happens, I finally came upon a familiar place.  This time, I was on the wrong side of a company gate, that had blocked my progress once before.  The guard let me out and seemed not too disturbed by the crazy farang dressed in black microfiber and spandex.  A little lighthearted conversation is usually all that is needed to put people at ease.

Less than three hours later I was safe at home, just in time to make my daily Skype call to Hawaii.  Today was a reminder of how important it is to speak Thai.  There were still moments, I have to admit, when I questioned what I was doing out there alone.  I find it is often those questioning moments that make life interesting and add to our pool of experience and self-knowledge.  So I guess that leaves me still searching for my limits, in my own age-appropriate manner.  I don’t much like getting older but I’m trying to make the best of it.

Get Stuffed!

When I was a kid, I loved my mom's stuffed bell peppers. She'd quarter a pepper, boil it, and top each quarter with a rice/beef/cheese combo. When I went vegetarian at age 14, she started making mine with rice and cheese only. It's been years since I've eaten that, and I don't even know if my mom makes that dish anymore. But I decided to re-create a vegan version for my cookbook — "Beefy" Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers:

I steamed the peppers, stuffed 'em with a mixture of quinoa, TVP, and tomatoes, and then roasted the whole thing in the oven for awhile. Dare I say it, but I think they're as good as my mom's were ... just a little different. I tried some without vegan cheeze (like the one above) and some with mozzarella Teese. In my recipe, cheeze will be optional. These were also tasty with a sprinkle of nooch.

On the side, I tried Happy Herbivore's African Kale & Yams Mash from Pudge-Free Holidays:

I've been eyeing this recipe since I bought Lindsay's e-cookbook last holiday season. It's a spicy mashed yam (mine were actually sweet potatoes because I've never even seen a real yam down here) mixed with pureed, seasoned kale. Topped with hot sauce, this was a delectable (and super-healthy) side dish.

By the way, the awesome Jessy of Happy Vegan Face found the recipe online for the Live Un-Stirfry with Cauliflower Rice recipe that I posted about on Tuesday. Here's the link, but ya'll still outta buy 30 Minute Vegan because it's amazing! Also, check out Chocolate Covered Katie's charity page drive — Operation Chocolate-Covered Kindness. When you view her page, she'll receive money from FoodBuzz, and she's sending all the money to The Enough Project (a group working to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity).