Santa Monica Blues: Real Food Daily

You know those moods you get into when nothing goes well? And even though you’re obviously having the time of your life being in Santa Monica (etc etc), even if somebody from Penguin rocked up and offered you a book contract you’d manage a grimace at best?

Well that was my mood in Santa Monica. Apart from being disastrously difficult to reach by public transport (despite the 704), a woman who had clearly never had a shower sat down in front of me and I couldn’t physically move. While I was trying not to retch (the smell was indescribable) I ran through twenty million things like: this woman has been victimised by the US’s terrible social security system; it’s disgusting that there are no benefits; she might have had a catastrophic medical bill to pay; depression can make even keeping clean challenging. But despite my liberal attempts at justifying this lady’s state, I couldn’t ignore two things: there are free showers down by the beach, and that I would be on a bus with her for an hour. It was tough, but even admitting that felt hard. My one hour of hardship was nothing compared to her life, so I shouldn’t ever complain.

Second strike: We rocked up at a hotel in Santa Monica that I thought I’d organised through a PR for the one free night of my trip, but turns out I was an idiot and hadn’t confirmed it. So we were on the road sooner than we had planned to be.

And here’s where my foul mood started: even though we went to Real Food Daily, I couldn’t shift the black cloud of irritation. So, now we’ve put the meal into perspective, let me give as balanced opinion as I can of the meal.

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1. It didn’t open until 11am. What is with late opening times in LA? It’s not like anything even shuts late…

2. I ordered the veggie burger with all the trimmings (seiten bacon, cashew cheese, and avocado). At 13 dollars this should be included anyway. It pushed the price up to 16 dollars which was a lot.

3. The plate was accompanied by a caeser salad with crouton chunks. These could probably be donated to the local geological society under “lumps of lava”. They were inedibably hard – I was concerned that if I ate more than one chunk I’d be returning to the UK with no teeth. Not ideal.

4. The seiten bacon and cashew cheese were absolutely delicious, and the lentil burger was ok. The best thing about the whole plate? The tangy and creamy caeser salad dressing.

5. No wifi. Do not come here if you need to arrange urgent road trip preparations or book hotels. (From painful experience).

6. The service was amazing. Our server was lovely and cheerful and friendly.

7. The bakery part of RFD looked like something out of this world. Amazing. I only wish I’d had room after the burger to try something, like a slice of pie or slab of chocolate cake. Sigh.

It didn’t manage to turn my bad mood around, but it did fill a sizeable hole in my stomach. And the server was fab – did I mention that?

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Zpizza: Living in a bubble of joy and happiness in WeHo

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There can’t be many people who come to West Hollywood and don’t want to set down roots at once. Unless you’re a Tea Party member or an anti-abortionist, homophobic republican. Then I imagine that West Hollywood constitutes hell on earth: people living happily without being bothered by other’s intolerances; happy couples (regardless of gender) pushing prams of children; dogs of all levels of fluffiness; and a zebra crossing painted the colour of the pride flag.

I’m already looking at how I can relocate here.

One of the biggest boons to WeHo (apart from the open mindedness and liberal attitudes) is that you can get vegan pizza pretty much on tap. And it’s gluten free. I mean, this is MADNESS. Last night I popped out to get a coffee along Santa Monica Boulevard and pretty much got accosted by dozens of pizza sellers trying to get me to taste their wares. Ok, so maybe not dozens but at least two. Both times I offered my default look of sorry and “I can’t.” But I ACTUALLY COULD.

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I settled on Zpizza and ordered a small “Berkeley Style” pizza which was slightly burnt but who the hell cares because I was actually eating a pizza, complete with Daiya cheese and weird chunks of quorn or something (which I avoided). But the sauce was great, the base was super, and the location was the best for people watching tiny dogs, traffic agro, and men with cute tattoos.

Bliss.

Mohawk Bend, Silverlake, LA: the best vegan brunch ever

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I am cynical, disgusting person filled with negativity and cloud. Now we’ve put me into perspective, let me just rave for five minutes on how incredible and bowled over I am by Mohawk Bend in LA.

We rocked up on the Saturday of Easter Weekend and were the first ones there. No matter: we got excellent and quick service from an absolutely lovely waitress and we were lead through to sit in the vast space at the back of the restaurant. Mohawk Bend used to be an old movie theatre and the ceiling is vault-like, the brick work is exposed, and the cocktail area is intimate, just as it should be.

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And I know I keep mentioning it, but here’s another difference between London and LA. In London, all the vegan places are like Cafe Gratitude: they pump out great food but it’s all very worthy. This menu was heavy and full of sugars and fast (yay!), and there was an actual bar that served drinks and cocktails. It stays open until 2am. In London, it’s presumed that all vegans are in bed by 7. And this is what I love about LA. Although a lot of people are omnivores eating vegan isn’t seen as eating weird: it’s just something that you do. Vegan food is experimental (it has to be to work out how to get all the awesome flavours that animal products normally impart) and the “vegan group” of people aren’t seen as weirdos here. It really is paradise.

What made me warm to Mohawk Bend all the more is that on IMG_4741its menu things were only marked if they were not vegan. So non-vegans could have bacon if they wanted, but by default, pretty much everything on the brunch menu was vegan. I mean, WHAT THE HELL IS THIS FUCKERY?

I opted for french toast (because I haven’t eaten french toast in three years) which came with a side of sticky peanut syrup and fresh strawberries. I knew the strawberries were superfluous, the server knew they were superfluous, hell, even the strawberries were like “Why am I even on this goddamn plate?”. Yet there they were, trying to convince me that I wasn’t a fat pig as I channelled the moistest, gooiest, stickiest, french toast in the world towards my mouth.

Add a pint of pink grapefruit juice to that, and we’re all set for a day trawling LA’s art galleries. Bingo.

Tidbits from West LA: Top four

I’m pretty sure that every time I come to the US I wax lyrical about Trader Joe’s. Something I think is understandable. But I have to wax lyrical about four things specifically, and they really don’t fit into an overarching blog post, but two are TJ related, hence why it was mentioned in the first place. So here are the four most exciting things about vegan food in the WeHo, in my humble (and hungry) opinion.

1. Trader Joe’s spicy peanut vinaigrette. Hell, this could liven up an old shoe if that’s all you had left in the house for dinner. This creamy, salty, slightly sour, spicy, and most definitely delicious vinaigrette is usually poured liberally over a kale, red grapefruit, and avocado salad in my house. But it’s impossible to buy in the UK, and utterly delicious. So Trader Joe’s, please relocate to Brixton, immediately!

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2. Almond Dream chocolate bites. My dreams came true (all of them) when I found out that Almond Dream was being stocked in Waitrose, UK. I have basically lived off Mint Choc Chip Ice Cream for the last six months and now I’ve discovered Almond Dream bites which are like miniature choc ices but they’re vegan and it’s like a sharing pot of rainbows and unicorns. I honestly can’t think of anything better. In the whole world.

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3.  Vromage. Let’s see if you can guess what this is by the name alone? It doesn’t merit it’s own page because WOE IS ME I haven’t visited this place yet. It’s a vegan cheese shop. I can’t believe that I am 1.1m away from this place yet haven’t been. It is, however, Easter Sunday which means freaky-ass opening times over the whole city (plus I’m in my hotel room drinking wine and working on a project very slowly) so just can’t justify taking the time out. This obviously saddens me more than ever, but it is firmly marker-penned on my schedule for my next trip to LA.

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4. Trader Joe’s Cherry Garcia. There’s like a litre of this stuff. It’s pink with plump purple cherries and nuzzlings of dark chocolate scattered liberally throughout. Need I say more? It’s fabulous.

An ode to fish sauce, Vegan House, LA

There are many reasons why we chose to go to a Thai restaurant when we were staying in Filipino Town, none of which are remotely interesting.

But this place happened to be a short 25 minute walk from the airbnb apartment where we were staying. Apparently there are more than 20 vegan Thai places in the LA area, and I really can’t work out why. No amount of googling will tell me – if anybody knows why Thai people have all gone vegan when fish sauce is such a mainstay of all ther dishes, it would be great to hear.

It was just a local take-out with some authentic Thai tables and chair atmosphere included. I even got bitten on my foot by an ant which made me recall Bangkok vividly.

As well as the usual suspects like Pad Thai and Green Curry, there were also BBQ’ed tofu balls and green apple salad, both of which sounded delicious. However, being the tedious and dull person that I am, I went for Thai Gren Curry and Papaya Salad, two meals done well, would surely be contenders for the last supper.

The food was ok, and I could ensure that there was no fish sauce had been used anywhere near the dish: It was as enigmatic a Thai meal as I’d find in London. It just made me crave Rosas in Soho more than anything else in the world.

I also ordered tea, which came in a wildly disconcerting orange hue. I had to mention it so I could include the picture and warn you. It tasted a little like it looked: like a rusty iron pipe had been submerged in milk.

Despite all this, the service was wonderful, and the location, super convenient.

Why my salad “dazzled”, and other vom-worthy descriptors. Cafe Gratitude and graveyards, Los Angeles

My last trip to Cafe Gratitude was to the Berkeley branch, where the server asked me what I was grateful for when giving me a slice of cheesecake and wouldn’t go away until I’d given her an answer. (I think I fobbed her off with “the cheesecake?”). I like it a lot; the vegan food is exceptional, and unless you’re on the Paleo diet, chances are you won’t even notice there’s no meat-matter on the menu.

Just south of Melrose, I’d just spent an hour trekking from Vine/Hollywood to Hollywood forever cemetery. This sounds a lot more awful than it was, especially if I tell you I got my eyebrows waxed en-route. But Sam was bemoaning my lack of enthusiasm when it came to embracing the “glitz and glamour” of the city (correct), so after we walked along the grotty stretch of road that constitutes the Walk of Fame, I suggested a detour to the strangest cemetery I’ve ever been to. And I’ve been to a lot.

They’re peaceful, reflective places. This one looked more like a brochure for a housing estate, such was the grandeur of the tombs. As well as Johnny Ramone’s, there was also a tomb on an island on its own lake, and hundreds of metres of mausoleum space complete with a baby grand piano and casually strewn roses. It was all very melodramatic.

Added to the melodrama was a half finished grave, a set of seats, and a sun canopy, which gave the impression that the service had been abandoned mid-speech as the congregation suddenly realised the coffin had gone walkies.

Needless to say, being around so many dead people had made me famished, so I headed a few blocks south to cafe Gratitude, where the correct answer to any probing questions about my state of mind today would probably be “being alive”. However the server asked instead: “what have you seen today in a different light?”

This was taking philosophical questions to a level of conversation I wasn’t prepared to encourage pre-lunch, so I squinted at her until she left. I promptly ordered the caeser salad which was called something like “dazzling”. She looked a little confused when I asked for the “caeser”, until understanding dawned on her face and she said “oh you want to be dazzled.”

When I’d finished throwing up in my hand, I asked for water and a green smoothie called something like “impossible” or “magnanimous.”

This aside, the food at Cafe Gratitude is the best specifically vegan food I’ve eaten in London or the U.S, without doubt. It’s interesting, clever, beautiful balanced food. Sam had the “Yo soy fuerte”, which was a Mexican torta with chorizo tempeh, avocado, tomato, chipotle vegan mayo and lettuce, encased in ciabatta. It was incredible, as was the beet and carrot coleslaw which came with it. I had an enormous bite of it, and although the caeser was clever – Brazil nuts were used to make the fabulous Parmesan taste, and avocadoes and capers gave a creamy/tangy zing – after having spent 50 hours on a train I was ready for something eye-wateringly tasty.

The smoothie tasted (in an excellent way) like blitzed raw cookie dough even though it was made with kale and various other sprouting ingredients.

The table next to us talked about being on set with actors, and those opposite were talking about a screenplay. It was clear the type of people who visited – it was almost like being back at the Guardian, yoga mats and clean living included. I just wish that people wouldn’t assume that because I don’t want to be part of the mass slaughter of animals, that I want to open up about what I’m actually feeling when I’m about to order lunch. Because the answer is almost always going to be, uninspiringly, hungry.

California inspired salad: pink grapefruit, kale and avocado

 

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Disastrously, the only salad picture we got was from a distance!! Sam eating salad in Zion NP

Ok, so the combination of ingredients might not immediately jump out at you as the most delicious combinations of vegetables and fruits you’ve encountered. But trust me, once you’ve put all these together you’ll be in heaven. This salad was so good that I made it eight more times while I was in America. That’s right, EIGHT more times. This includes mixing together all the ingredients in the dark in Zion National Park after we’d just arrived in the campsite and had forgotten our camping lantern.

Another time I sliced open my thumb hacking at an underipe avocado in the Grand Canyon Mather Campground (also in the dark) in my hurry to slice all these ingredients up. The most memorable of these salad making escapades was probably in a Quality Inn motel just outside Flagstaff where my partner and I had just hiked to the top of Humphrey’s Point (12000ft+) and were just dying. I prepared the salad in a massive washing up bowl, sprawled on the bed, feet up, while watching Big Bang Theory.

Seriously, this is a salad that will carry you through any situation. Best of all, none of the ingredients need to be cooked, although a handful of oven-roasted almonds could only add to the dish.

I’ll stop droning on and give you the ingredients now, shall I? Just a hint: the wonderfulness of this dish really helps if you have a Trader Joe’s nearby and can buy the spicy peanut vinaigrette. If not, then I’ll also give you a nice little vinaigrette recipe that works wonders!

And, best of all, because my photographs of the salad itself are so lacking, and you only have Sam’s rapturous face to carry through your belief that this is in fact the best salad you’ve ever eaten, below are a range of images from Zion NP. Because it was pretty.

Ingredients:

A handful of Kale, shredded

A head of Romaine

Finely diced red onion

Two fresh, ripe avocados

One pink grapefruit cut into chunks

(If more crunch desired, add some almonds)

Spicy peanut vinaigrette dressing (Mix a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter with a dash of soy sauce, rice-wine vinegar, chili flakes, a pinch of brown sugar and two tablespoons of whatever oil you have around. Vegetable is probably best. Beat it all together until it’s a smooth liquid with the consistency of a soy milkshake.)

 

Method:

Literally, just mix everything together and slather in dressing. Serve with crunchy bread if desired, but I don’t think it needs even that. Maybe some crouton would be delicious with this, but the avocado is filling enough in my opinion.

 

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