Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Traveling Iowa - Veg Friendly

My territory for work takes me across 67 counties in Iowa and up into a small part of South Dakota. In a state where hogs out number people, you sometimes get weird looks for asking what is vegetarian or vegan on a menu in the middle of no-where Iowa. I have some suggestions for your car and for fast food eating. Here are some road-tested rules for traveling.

Rule #1 – Plan ahead and Pack your Car!

Small healthy snacks for your car are essential. Don’t be tempted by the overpriced sugar filled snacks at the convenience stores. As you will see from the list below – there is always food in my car. No one goes hungry when traveling with me!

Take care of yourself before hunger ever strikes. Ideas for snacks that travel well include:

  • Peanut Butter (This is a necessity just in case – see rule #4)
  • Refillable water bottles – fill them before you leave home
  • Larabars or granola bars – perfect size to fit a few in your glove box!
  • Apples or pears
  • Banana chips & apple chips (kids of all ages LOVE these!)
  • Nuts
  • Carrots
  • Celery

Rule #2 - Know your fast food menus.

Unfortunately, you can’t walk into a fast food venue and see items marked as vegan or vegetarian. However, most fast food places have their menu, and nutrition information, including ingredients, posted on their website. The thing about Iowa and Fast food – is that the small towns all seem to have the same exact fast food restaurants. There is not a lot of variety.

Panera – Thank goodness for the black bean soup. This is my staple on the road!

Also vegan at Panera: Sourdough bread, low-fat Vegetarian Garden Soup, salads with no cheese or meat. I am not sure why – but it is really hard to get them to change up the sandwiches and make them to order. I usually stick to the soup!

Taco Bell – The Fresco Burrito has no cheese! If the Taco Bell you visit has no Fresco menu, my all time favorite is a bean burrito, no cheese, plus rice.

Taco Johns – In rural Iowa Taco Johns seem to be much more prevalent than the Bell. Unfortunately, the soft tortillas are not vegan. Go for a bean taco, no meat, no cheese. The secret here is ALWAYS look at your taco before eating. I am not sure why, but they always mess this up. The upside, is that if you are frugal like me, you take back the first taco they messed up, ask for another and get a coupon for free food the next time you visit! (If you go into a situation knowing it will be messed up – there is always a bright side to look forward to!)

Subway – You can rely on almost all of the small towns in Iowa having a Subway. There is not a lot for protein, but you can make a salad to order at Subway or get a veggie sub. The breads that are vegan include: Hearty Italian, Ciabatta, Roasted Garlic and Italian (white). The wheat and honey oat breads have honey in them.

Rule #3 – Research the Community Before You Leave Home

With so many small towns in rural Iowa we are fairly limited on our expansion of fast food variety. Many small towns have a Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or Mexican restaurant that will offer some variety if you are traveling. Although, these small places don’t always have websites to check for nutrition information ahead of time. If you are traveling wider than Iowa – some great sites to check out include: Happy Cow is a great resource for travelers and has a list of tried and true vegetarian, vegan and vegan friendly places to eat and shop in cities around the world. If I find a vegan friendly place to eat that is not listed on Happy Cow, I suggest to the owners or managers to add their restaurant as a resource for other travelers. This is a helpful resource listing common fast food places and what exactly can be found vegan on their menus.

Rule #4 – If all else fails Rely on the Peanut Butter you packed in Rule #1

If you have a jar of peanut butter or nuts in your car – you have protein to get through the day. If all else fails, I dip my apples, banana chips, carrots and sometimes my fingers into the creamy goodness of peanut butter!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More Comfort Food!

Here is my favorite soup recipe, Corn Chowder! For soup this recipe is fairly quick.

I made corn chowder a few times with soy milk and I ended up with those funny curdles in my soup. Nothing looks appetizing with curdles of milk in it! A friend of mine who runs a vegan restaurant suggested using coconut milk. It is now my favorite ingredient in any “creamy” based soup. This soup does not come out tasting like coconut at all. It is just wholesome and tasty. Also, a note for vegetable bouillon cubes. The low sodium cubes have really good flavor and a lot less salt!

Corn Chowder

6-10 Potatoes (I add LOTS of potatoes! You cant go wrong by adding more)

1 medium Onion chopped

2 Vegetable Boullion Cubes

4 Cups Water

1 tsp Salt

1 package Frozen corn

1 can Coconut Milk

Chop potatoes and onions into small cubes. Cook potatoes and onions in vegetable broth for 15-20 minutes. Add coconut milk and frozen corn. Simmer for another 15 minutes. Use a potato masher to mash soup – not too much – just enough to help thicken. Eat and enjoy!

If you like really thick corn chowder, you can let sit for a couple of hours or cover, refrigerate and heat up again the next evening. The soup thickens the longer it sits.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Comfort Food

I’ve been cooking up lots of comfort food lately. Food that makes you feel safe, secure and remind you of better days. For me comfort foods include soups, stroganoff, brownies and cheesecake. Thankfully, I have found a vegan alternative to ALL of my favorite comfort foods.

There are fabulous recipes for brownies and cheesecake in Sinfully Vegan by Lois Dieterly. Try the “I can’t believe their not Sinful Brownies”

My mom was the inspiration for the Vegan Stroganoff recipe below.

Craving Stroganoff?
Try this! Quick, easy and delicious!
1 Package Boca Crumbles
1 Vegetable Bouillon Cube
1 Cup Water
2 TBSP Corn Starch
1 TBSP Soy Sauce
1 tsp Garlic Salt
1 Cup Soy Sour Cream
1 PKG Favorite noodles

Heat first six ingredients on low until sauce thickens then add sour cream and noodles. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Vegan Living in Des Moines

As a recent transplant to Des Moines, a new adventure in searching for places to eat and things to enjoy has begun!

My stomach misses Iowa City – home of all things good and vegan in Iowa. However, Des Moines has quite a few “Vegan Friendly” restaurants that I have come to enjoy.

  • Cool Basil - 8801 University Ave, Clive Iowa (50325); Great selection of Thai food and good vegetarian sushi!
  • A-Dong Restaurant – 1511 High Street, Des Moines, IA 50309-3109; Really fresh Vietnamese food, with a separate vegetarian menu!
  • Bandit Burrito – 5340 Merle Hay Road, Johnston, IA 50322; Bandit has a “Soy-Chorizo” you can add to your veggie burrito and fabulous guacamole.
  • PF Changs – 110 South Jordan Creek Parkway, West Des Moines, IA 50266-8141; Located next to Jordon Creek Mall, Changs has a small vegetarian menu, as well as a Gluten Free menu!
  • Ritual CafĂ© - 1301 Locust St Ste D, Des Moines Iowa (50309) (at Grand); Small menu with some great veggie selections!

Groceries – There are a few markets in town outside of Hy-Vee’s small health food section. These are the places I found that actually have good organic produce. I still travel up to Ames or back to Iowa City to hit the Co-ops and stock up on my bulk food items!

  • Trader Joes - 6305 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines Iowa (50266) (at S 64th St)
  • New City Market – 4721 University Ave, Des Moines Iowa (50314)
  • Gateway Market - 2002 Woodland Ave, Des Moines Iowa (50312)
  • Campbells Nutrition – When I arrived in Des Moines, everyone raved about Campbells. Unfortunately, it is not worth raving about if you have ever been to a co-op. The prices are high and the selection is small. I was very unimpressed, and in fact a little depressed when I first entered the store. (I think my expectations were a little too high!)