Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review of Vegan Dishes at Thai Taste

I've enjoyed living in South Austin for the last several years, and feel lucky that we have such a wide array of different culinary options within a few mile radius of our apartment. Less than a half mile away, we have Thai Taste, which never disappoints! I had never really had Thai food before, but my husband was a fan for many months before taking me there for dinner one night. There have been many nights when I would rather call in an order instead of cooking something, and they always provide large portions that can also serve as my lunch the next day.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Healthy Vegan Sloppy Joe Recipe

I'm a sucker for comfort foods, and one of those meals used to be Sloppy Joes made from a can of Manwhich with some ground beef. Since I no longer eat animal products, I challenged my husband to create a vegan version. He's tested this recipe several times, and I am in love with this. I hope you enjoy it, too!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Knocking Out Our Student Loans One at a Time

My parents definitely raised me right in that they provided me with $200 in a checking account when I was only 13 years old. Dad handed me my checkbook and taught me how to balance my account when I made small purchases. My brother and I always worked hard around the house and while we didn't earn an allowance, we did receive the occasional treats or new shirt. Aside from shopping trips with my mom and grandma, I later realized that I didn't need lots of things to be happy. Hence my adventures in to minimalism!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Benefits of Adding Greens to Your Plate

Whether you're plant-based or an omnivore, eating greens isn't just for Popeye. I could go on and on about the benefits, but that's included in the infographic from Vegan Mainstream below.

Monday, July 15, 2013

DIY Mini Banner Garland Decor

I am quite the Pinterest addict. I'll sometimes take a long break from the site, and then find myself getting sucked in to all the beautiful photos and projects that await. I loved several of the mini-banner garlands that I kept seeing and vowed to make one of my own one day. This project started over a year ago and over this past weekend, I finally finished it. I promise it doesn't take more than a couple of hours total, but you'll need some patience.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Easy Vegan Tofu Scramble Recipe

We've always been a fan of Happy Herbivore's Tofu Scramble, and eventually we began to tinker with the recipe and make it our own. We enjoy making this on weekends and eating it with some whole wheat flour tortillas as breakfast tacos. Try it out and let me know what you think!

Monday, July 8, 2013

My Look Book: Piecing Together My Perfect Future

In high school, I distinctly remember my art teacher assigning us a project for creating a sort of look book. It was more of a designer project where we found a floorplan that we liked in a design magazine, then chose images of fabric swatches, furniture and paints. That was my freshman year, and smack dab in the middle of my wild imagination for how life would be by the time I graduated college, found my amazing first job, and started the family with the man I loved. Except there was a catch: I was neither in love, nor did I have a set career in mind, and my expectations were way off.

Once I hit my senior year of high school, I began dating a guy who I would later marry. Falling in love followed and before I knew it, we were off to college together and within another year, signing our first apartment lease. Moving in with him wasn't really a tough decision at all since I knew it would save money by splitting the rent and food instead of living in the dorms again for a second year. Soon after we moved in, I began to dream about what our little apartment could one day look like. 

We only had some hand-me-down furniture, a vintage and tattered couch, our new dining room table, a couple of cheap computer desks, and my brother's old bedroom furniture. At this point in my life, I wanted to work at a magazine as an associate editor, so our mailbox was always full of magazines including Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, and Better Homes and Gardens. I felt like such a middle-aged mom subscribing to those magazines, but the homes featured inside of them were almost always stunning. 

I began to thumb through the magazines and tear out images and tidbits of info, much like that high school project I described earlier. What resulted is my heavy "Look Book" which contains bits and pieces of how I envisioned my future home. It's funny now, since I tend to laugh at how naive I was about everything, including my dream to own a home by the time I was 25. What was I thinking?! Not about student loan debt or the impossibility to even save for a down payment on a home years after working at my first job, obviously! I'm not sure why I thought it would be easy, but it's something that I can smile about now. 

While moving this last time, I grabbed the Look Book off my shelf and considered tossing it away. Before I put the book down, I opened it and felt a little nostalgic looking at it again and seeing the choices I so carefully taped inside of this book. Each page consists of cardstock and images taped to ever so gracefully to create dozens of mini-collages that represented what I thought my house would look like. It's like an imaginary fairy-tale that I was creating. I couldn't let it go, and many of those images still reflect my style. 

I saved dozens of article about finances before I even really knew how to budget, organizational tips that I still use, and omnivore recipes that I no longer crave. I don't have the heart to throw it out since I know I invested several hours compiling these together. It's interesting to look back and see how I've always been in some way a little too prepared for life and in the same sense, totally unaware of what challenges I had before me. For now, we'll keep chugging along as usual, and I'll continue striving to understand what I really want in life.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Interview with Vegan Food Is Everywhere

Even in Austin, it can be tough to find some vegan food on a whim. I often think of my favorite places, but sometimes it's either too late in the evening or probably really crowded. I was recently approached by Caroline Golinski, one of two minds behind Vegan Food Is Everywhere. I was interested in hearing more from her about the project, and how they are working with others across the world.

This is a great way to share and add vegan dishes in your city to help others find plant-based meals on a map. Check out the interview below!

LRJ: Tell me a little bit about Vegan Food Is Everywhere!

Caroline: Vegan Food Is Everywhere is a crowdsourced vegan food map. It's quite literally a map filled with vegan food. It has over 1,600 restaurant dishes mapped so far, all of which have been added by vegan food lovers around the world. Our goal is to map every single vegan dish at every restaurant in the world!

Here's how it works: you take a photo of your food when you go out to eat in a restaurant, and add it to the site. You type in which restaurant you're at, what the dish is called on the menu, and how to order it vegan, if it isn't already vegan. Then vegan food seekers can look at the map and see all the vegan dishes nearby.

You can use the website to spread awareness of just how easy it is to find vegan food, even at non-vegan restaurants; to keep track of your vegan food discoveries; to share secret or little-known vegan menu items with other vegans; and to discover awesome vegan options wherever you happen to be.

LRJ: What inspired you to create this site?

Caroline: We love exploring restaurants in our city, and are constantly finding new places that have great vegan food. Asian, Indian, and Mexican restaurants in particular, tend to have lots of veganizable dishes, and some restaurants even label vegan dishes on their menus. Yet, people of the non-vegan and newly-vegan varieties continue to claim that it's hard to dine out as a vegan.

So we built VFIE to shatter that myth, and show people just how easy it is to be vegan. We want to help new and aspiring vegans find their vegan footing, and stick with being vegan, even when they find themselves in an unfamiliar restaurant. This project makes it easy for vegans to share their knowledge of restaurant food, helping aspiring vegans to learn the ropes. We hope that VFIE will inspire people to go vegan, as they realize that it is within their grasp, because vegan food really is everywhere!

LRJ: What do you envision for Vegan Food Is Everywhere in the next couple of years?

Caroline: We envision an amazing website that's so fun and useful that people can't stop talking about it! We want VFIE to become a household name... in vegan households, anyway. But hey, if we were talked about in non-vegan households, that would be even better!

That will mean getting more dishes mapped on the site, which really depends on the community. There are several cities around the world (e.g. Toronto, Las Vegas) where folks have been doing an amazing job of filling in the map. We'd love to see similar gusto in the other major cities around the world. Although it might take some time, we won't settle for anything less than complete, global coverage of every vegan or veganizable restaurant item.

We will also be dreaming up and building more features for the website. Some features will be purely functional, and some will be downright fun (prizes, anyone?).

We do have other vegan websites we want to build as well, and there's potential that they could connect with VFIE down the road to form a network of websites that inspire people to go vegan.

LRJ: You mentioned on your site that you have some new features that you'll be offering. What are some of those features, and when can users expect them to roll out?

Caroline: Since launching VFIE, we've already released a bunch of new features: a mobile site, user accounts, a list of every dish you've added, a list of dishes you want to try, dish and restaurant comments, and many more.

Currently we're building a location search, so you'll be able to jump straight to a specific city or street. At the same time, we'll be releasing location specific URLs, so folks can share a direct link to their city.

There are a whole slew of other features we want to build as well. We are already planning to build a "vegan food newsfeed", collaborative editing of dishes and restaurants, a rating system, better social features, user rankings, an achievement system, and more. It will also be interesting to eventually incorporate flags for organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, and other food classifications, helping to draw members of those movements towards veganism, while simultaneously drawing vegans into those movements.

The timeline for these features is hard to pin down. Historically, we tend to launch one new feature every 2–4 weeks. We operate on a shoestring budget, with just one developer working on the site who does all of the design and programming, so it's difficult to predict when the new features will be rolling out. We also listen to the community for new feature ideas, and so timeline and priorities are frequently adjusted based on the feedback we're getting.

LRJ: How many people are on the VFIE team?

Caroline: As far as the programming and administration of the site, there are just two of us. Rob does the design and programming, and I handle the communications and marketing. But we do want to stress that this is a community project; we are just the stewards. We consider the VFIE team to consist of everybody who has ever contributed anything to VFIE.

LRJ: What are some of the top cities where you see activity for VFIE?

Caroline: The most active city changes every week, as new people are constantly discovering the website and excitedly mapping their cities. Right now I think the top cities are Toronto, Canada; Los Angeles, CA; Washington, DC; Las Vegas, NV; Galway, Ireland; and Melbourne, Australia.

LRJ: How can vegans around the world help build the map?

Caroline: Add dishes to Vegan Food Is Everywhere every time you go out to eat. Add those food photos from your last vacation. Add those dishes that you've been posting on Twitter and Instagram. Then share the website with everyone you know. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, any forums you frequent, and your local vegan group's site.

If you have a mobile phone, you can install our website as a web app so that you'll remember to use it when you're dining out; instructions for how to do this are on our Facebook page.

We can build all kinds of fancy new features, but ultimately it's the community who we are counting on to take this site, fill it with awesome vegan food, and shout it from the rooftops.

Editorial note: I'm excited to help put more vegan dishes on the map of Austin. We're lucky to have a vegan-friendly city and I know there are lots of dishes that I even I don't know about yet. Check out the Vegan Food Is Everywhere site and see if you have any dishes you would like to add.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Downsizing Our Lifestyle and Dining Table

One of the first things that I wanted to sell as we moved a couple of months ago was our dining room table. I'm not too attached to sentimental items, and you may think it's weird that a table would be sentimental to me, but there's a good reason. Many years ago (about six, to be exact), Kendan and I decided to move in together. Although my mom wasn't too thrilled that we were "shacking up", she took me to a local furniture store where she agreed to purchase half of a dining set for our new little apartment with me covering the second half.

I didn't have a job at the time and was focusing solely on school. Looking back, I know this definitely helped me out personally, as I was able to get out of school sooner, but that's another blog post entirely. Anyway, we walked in to the local furniture store and there were many different options. I chose a nice dark brown set with white padded seats. If I had to choose a style, I would say it was a mix between modern and traditional.

We put it on layaway and I remember putting down some money that I had received from family for the holidays. We paid a little on it each month and finally by the time we were ready to move, it was paid off. Kendan and I were probably considered minimalists back then, but only because we hadn't really owned anything before then. We had a bookshelf from Kendan's childhood bedroom, the brand new dining set, a washer and dryer set that was a least a decade old (and still have!!!), and borrowed furniture from my brother.

This dining set went though four apartment, two upholstery sessions to change out the fabric on the seats, and was slightly dinged from a couple of moves. The problem? We rarely used it! There were times I would use it when I was working on a hobby, but for the most part, it was usually holding a pile of something that it really shouldn't have. So when it came time to move, I knew I wanted to sell it and get me something much smaller since I knew my next dining area was smaller.

It had been used plenty of times, saw many good meals, and shared some laughed around it with friends and family. But when it came to actually needing a practical pice of furniture, I knew I needed something smaller to match my new lifestyle. The day that I sold the table, I called my dad and asked, "Can you make me a table?" He's probably one of the most talented people I know when it comes to creating things.

We talked for a couple of hours and I told him what I was envisioning. I talked about going retro with a formica top, but the main thing for me was size. Kendan and I wanted something small that we could put up against a wall. Something that would be perfect for a small family like ours. Dad sent me a picture two days later of the finished table and I was blown away. It was tiny and I LOVED it.

My mother-in-law painted it for us and even added a personal touch underneath the table which included some paintings of butterflies. Why, you ask? So we can tie a sheet that will hang beneath like a hammock for our unborn child.

It's the perfect little table or us, and I beg you to ask yourself the question, "What do I really need?" and "Why don't I downsize, too?!"