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.

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Fresh, yet another vegan restaurant in Moscow. (Yawn)

First things first, go here if you want great vegan food. Now we’ve got that covered, a few thoughts.

Maybe it’s a Russian thing, or maybe a vegan thing, but everyone is very hasty to take your order here. Similarly to clear. And to give you the bill. One thing I’ve also found, is that servers look a bit dazed when you enter the restaurant. I haven’t been turning up one minute before closing or at 3pm, just normal eating hours, yet they look shocked that you’d come in. I had one woman in Fresh, where I’m sitting now, just wordlessly hand me the menu and block my entrance. Weird.

  

The menu here is incredible. As well as being in English (bonus) it’s full of things you actually want to eat, as opposed to many vegan restaurants that are a bit worthy.

According to the website it’s a Canadian import, and it feels more a low-lit Pret than either of the other more Soviet style establishments I’ve been in since I arrived in Moscow.

There’s lots of mention of chia seeds, carrot fettuccine, and there’s a great salad selection. All of their deserts are vegan including blueberry cheesecake and panna cotta. Despite this, I just went for Carrot Cake – damnit!

  

Coffees come with any milk you might require, and breakfast looks like something any hungry vegan might crave – avocado toast, oatmeal with almond milk, or tofu scramble. I’m in love already and I only ordered the thai style burger – a protein heavy burger (much needed after all the walking today) with coriander and a peanut sauce. I ordered a glass of wine too, which means that I couldn’t order more food. I don’t know whether it’s because I skipped breakfast, or have been out since 8.30 in the snow, but I’m still ravenous. 

Maybe posting a picture of the burger and the menu will help. And my carrot cake if it ever arrives…

  

Ps. The vegan carrot cake with coconut cream was the tops. Just sayin’

Recipe: Roast pepper and olive tapenade tart

Maybe it’s because I did a lot of cycling today (and it was so windy in London so my thighs were working extra hard) but I’ve been craving olives all day.

Olives are my popcorn. I could, and do, eat them by the handful. Black and wizened or fat, green olives, as large and acidic as unripe apples.

But eating olives out of the jar is a really unappealing habit (or so I’m told) so this Saturday evening, with some free time, I made an olive tapenade (minus anchovies!) and spread it on pastry.

It’s baking in the oven and the whole house smells delicious. Sam keeps wandering in and poking his head round the door to ask if it’s ready yet (and to check I haven’t licked the bowl I made the tapenade in clean). He’s thoughtful like that.

Update: tart was fabulous, especially with the sweet peppers and salty olive combo. It’s also so quick to make, and great with a simple side salad.

Hope you’re all having a lovely Saturday!

Tapenade

Ingredients

A cup of green or black olives, pitted

Two cloves of garlic

A squeeze of lemon juice

A glug of oil

Half a red chilli

Method

Blitz!

Tart

Ingredients

Roll vegan pastry

Four mixed peppers

One red onion

Olive oil

Balsamic vinagar

Salt and pepper

Method

Slice peppers and onion and put in baking tray. Cover with olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic. Season. Cook for 20 minutes or until roasted.

Roll out pastry to fit the tray. Cover tray with light layer of olive oil and blind bake for ten minutes at 180 degrees.

Spread tart with tapenade and pop in the oven for another few minutes.

Scatter the vegetables over the tart and cook for another ten minutes or until crispy.

Serve with olive oil drizzle.

Vegan in Athens, Greece @Avocado

In the land of souvlaki, gyros, and BBQ-ed meat, I hadn’t expected to be able to eat anything. At the airport I was contemplating buying the entirety of WH Smith’s stock of hummus.

But 24 hours later I’m demolishing the largest burger I’ve ever eaten, and it’s totally vegan. Sam’s making his way through a cauldron of Goan soup: “This is perfect for this weather- it’s so warming.”

Contrary to popular belief, Greece is cold. I hadn’t expected Athens in March to be colder than London, and certainly not as raining,

So finding this gem of a cafe on Happy Cow (my vegan restaurant bible) was a delightful surprise. There’s enough food to sit and plough our way through for a good hour while the drizzle stops, and the menu is as extensive as any vegan restaurant in London.

I ordered the avocado burger without cheese (it’s a veggie restaurant) and out came a mountain of fresh red onion, an inch thick lentil burger, a cm of avocado, a fair mound of potato chippings, chipotle sauce, lettuce and tomatoes. I’m in heaven.

The fresh orange juice is just as good as expected from a city where oranges grow on trees along the pavements.

Service is great and the staff speak perfect English. The ambience is very much bare wood and chilled, Bob Marley style music. But it’s the menu, the vegan chocolate tart, the quiche, the salads, and the amazing sound smoothies – cocoa and almond milk anyone – that would have me back in a shot.

Banana and chocolate peanut butter icy almond milk goodness

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Peanut butter glory!

Two days ago I was waxing lyrical about my new favourite summer drink: banana almond-milk iced cooler. Except, I realised, as I was rooting through my fridge trying to find some olives to accompany a day-old enchilada, I could make it better.

But how to make a frozen, creamy, luxurious, iced banana beverage better, I hear you cry? Well how you make all things better-by adding peanut butter! I’ve been after a post-gym recovery drink for some time and this seems to hit the nail on the head.

As a vegan, I struggle to put away enough protein sometimes, especially in the summer when every day sees me cycling 15 miles along London’s busy roads, plus a trip to the gym and the pool as well. Tofu is expensive here, and beans and pulses just don’t cry summer weather to me. So I look for my protein in peanuts, which I sprinkle on salads, add to cold soups, and put in curries.

Peanut butter is a great healer (seriously, I eat the stuff by the spoonful, hence the need to do all the physical exercise…) and there is none more exciting than “Peanut Butter & Co’s Dark Chocolate Dreams.” I bought mine at Wholefoods Market in Kensington but if you can’t find any I imagine a scoop of your favourite crunchy or smooth nut butter plus some cocoa powder will do the job just as well. If you use plain peanut butter and cocoa powder, you might find you need to add whatever your favourite sweetener is to it (I use agave syrup, but I imagine maple would be incredible), or it could be a bit bitter.

Simply follow the recipe for the banana almond milk drink, and omit the honey/agave for the chocolate peanut butter.

Healthy, nutritious, post-work out, perfect for summer iced drink! 

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