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Flat Top Grill and Strawberry Fields, you make me swoon.

Every time you don’t enter to win prizes and give money to Ride to Light, Josh Hooten cries.  Wait.  How about I will MAKE him cry if you give money?  That sounds like it will get more money.

At some point, I realized I have quite a few entries about vegan eats around central Illinois.  You know, that part that isn’t Chicago?  Down here, guys.  Anyway, I made a category just for these posts, so if you find yourself passing through the Land of Lincoln (or Carbondale, which is southern Illinois), and you want to know where you can stop, please check it out!

In July, my friend Felicia had an art show in Champaign-Urbana (Two towns that meet to form a college, and they often share street names so make sure to double-check which town the place you are going is in).  It’s only an hour away, but I haven’t been to Champaign in years, and i’ve only gone to attend a show and leave.  I knew that they had an awesome health food store, Strawberry Fields (fun fact, Katie from Sweetpea used to work here), so I wanted to make a day of it and see what else they had.  The good thing about college towns is that even if they’re not very big, they are usually way more veg*n friendly.

After snatching up Brian’s sister, we went to the show to get all full of culture.  The show was called ‘Of Dreams and Fables’, you can see the pictures I took (and all of my other pictures of her work) on Flickr.  Felicia is the one who did the art for my zines, and made me this bomb-ass Buffy purse that is still The Best Thing I Will Ever Own.  It has the name of every episode painted around the sides!

 

Okay, onto the food!

Once upon a time, when Brian might’ve been going to school in Champaign, I read about this place called Flat Top Grill that has vegan options. It’s a make-your-own stir-fry place, and I was really excited to finally try it out.  When I told Lauri where we were going she said, “Uh, you know there’ a Flat Top right across from my work, where you have visited me 20 times in the last year, right?”  Oops! And now I know that they are a Chicago based chain, with locations in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and one all the way down in Birminghan, Alabama!

  1. I will tell you straight-up, Flat Top can be scary and confusing the first time.  It is usually packed to the gills, but we were there on a Sunday before school had started back up, so it was almost empty and that made it easy for Lauri and the waitress to take my hand and explain everything to me.  They give you a big bowl (and a small bowl if you’re getting meat, meat is kept separate), you write your name on a stick so they know who it belongs to, and off you go to the buffet.  Afterwards, you can add different colored sticks so they know not to cook it with the meat, to have it made into soup or wraps, to add a small piece of flat bread, etc.
  2. I got so much more than I expected.  Not only did the have seitan, tofu, veet, vegetable pakora (and Quorn for egg eaters), not only are there the color coded sticks, but there is a HUGE chalkboard with every sauce on it, and a ‘V’ for vegan next to most of them.  Also, you can mix the sauces any which way you want to make your own flavor.
  3. This is the perfect place for vegans and non-adventurous omnivores to eat together, since they have so many options.  If your uncle wants to eat rice and chicken with bbq sauce and nothing else, he can!  You can skip the carbs and load down your bowl with spinach and other fresh veggies, add tofu, and use a fat-free ginger water if you’re trying to be uber-healthy (I don’t think you can stop them from sauteing your food in oil, though).  The best part is, the difference between one bowl and unlimited?  $1!  If you really load your bowl up you probably won’t want two, but I was determined to get two, so I did.  Also, loading up on things that cook down a lot, like spinach, means you end up with a lot less cooked food, so you can easily get two, especially if you go in really hungry.

So here are my bowls.  Forgive me for the bad lighting, but we were in the back and it was kind of dark.

My first bowl was noodles, veet (I think, mock chicken), zuchini, sweet potato, garlic, spinach, and peanut sauce.

This bowl  was rice noodles, seitan (I think), pad thai veggie mix, peppers, tons of garlic, and a sweet basil sauce.

What they have at each location varies.  For instance, the one in Bloomington/Normal has tofu as an add-in (with the stick) option instead of ON the buffet.  Some places serve breakfast, but I don’t think any of it is vegan.

When we walked into Strawberry Fields (which is in Urbana) I said, “Maybe they have like, A vegan brownie at the cafe.”  Oh boy, was I in for a treat!  I ordered almost one of everything, but held back because there was so much more in the baked goods case than I could’ve hoped for.

That is Brian’s man-hand, to give you an idea of how big that sucker is!  The cupcake wasn’t my favorite, mostly because there was so much really sweet frosting, that I made to give half of it to Lauri.

Bars!  Apple crumb, peanut butter chocolate, strawberry shortcake, and a coconut chocolate almond thing of amazingness.  Brian and I cut them into 1/4ths and it took us three days to eat them.  Now I am really, really hungry!

So that’s that!  There is a place called The Red Herring that is vegan (I remember someone took over and tried to add cheese and eggs to the menu, but it looks like they’re back to normal now), but it’s a student run place, so they weren’t open in July.

 

posted: September 8, 2011
under: food, pictures, vegan in illinois

Making donuts, or why I can’t be trusted to make good decisions.

Obligatory reminder to please please please check out and enter the raffle if you haven’t, prizes and good karma await you!  Even if you just pass the link around, that would be a big help.  Onward!

Saturday was Brian’s 29th birthday, a day which usually really excites him, but the last few birthdays have been kind of…crapped on, but we managed to have fun anyway.  Two years ago, we rented a pinball machine place for two hours, ate pizza and cupcakes, good times were had.  Last year, I made him mint chocolate chip cookies AND a key lime pie AND peanut butter cucpakes, and our friend Nick gave him a present that is Not Safe For Blogs, but it involved music and assless chaps.  This year, Brian was not up to a party, so I decided I would make him donuts.  This is kind of selfish as I haven’t had a donut in five freaking years, and we live in the home of Mel-O-Cream donuts, a midwest chain.  But then I realized that he would probably be mad if I deep fried things without him, so I surprised him with a bowl of risen dough and a borrowed Fry Daddy.

To back up, we started our day by going to the Farmer’s Market.  No wait, we started our day by being woken up for the third day in a row of guys fixing the roof, which literally shakes our whole room, at 6:30 in the morning.  Also, I took a Zyrtec.  That was Bad Decision #1.  When we got home, I was already about to fall asleep, so for our post-market breakfast  I threw together some tofu/daiya/tofurkey breakfast sandwiches.

Then I brought my pillow downstairs, we turned on Arrested Development to drown out the banging, and I took a nap under a dog.  When I woke up, the roofers were gone (it was 100 degrees for all three of the days they were up there), I felt like crap, and Brian was about to leave to have lunch with his mom.  While he was gone, I made the dough, did some dishes, and cleaned out the fridge.  Then he came home and with jazz hands, I revealed the surprise.  Pro tip:  jazz hands make everything more impressive.

Since I know you’ll ask, I got the recipe from Kelly when I put the call out on google+ for vegan donut recipes.  It’s from her new book so I can’t post it, but I was given other suggestions so here’s one, and apparently there is a recipe in Vegan Celebrations as well.

While our results weren’t perfect, it was a learning experience.  We used a plastic cup to cut them, and I think the lack of a sharp cut led to them not puffing up as much as they should.  I made a coconut milk glaze (which I made a little too thin), and then I had planned to make this curd but with lime juice and zest.  Then I realized I had used all of my cornstarch to make the glaze (I had to make my own powdered sugar), so I tried using tapioca flour, which…well, it wasn’t curd.  I was able to thin it out with the lime juice and more coconut milk, but then when we tried to fill the donuts from the sides it leaked out.  So they were messy, but delicious.  Now I know that donut making isn’t THAT scary.  It is gross when you smell like oil from head to toe afterwards, though.

(Bigger photos are on flickr)

Here is where the bad decisions come into play.  Thanks to the lack of sleep over the past few days and the Zyrtec, and the fact that I ate a ton of donut holes (only one whole donut, though), I took another nap and had to peeeeeeeel myself off of the bed at 6:30 to feed the dog.  Fried foods and I are not friends, and the sugar rush and crash didn’t help.  We went out to dinner with friends and I gleefully said, “I’ll just have the garden salad.”  I felt much better after I ate a big bowl of vegetables.  Then I ate another donut.  Because I am STUPID.  I went home and slept for eleven glorious hours.

This morning, I opted to deal with the burning eyes and general crappy feelingness in exchange for staying awake.  I did NOT eat the last donut.

 

posted: September 5, 2011
under: elsewhere on the internet, food, pictures

St. Louis Vegan Goodies

Last month, Brian and I went to see The Thermals in St. Louis.  Funny side story, they were opening for Matt and Kim, and Brian and I had no idea that Matt and Kim are super fucking popular until we were eating across from the venue and saw the line wrapped around the block.  I didn’t bother trying to sneak my camera in because it was clear we wouldn’t be getting into the stage area and I was right!

 

We had some issues getting around town at first, thanks to road construction and dear god, I never want to hear an electronic voice say “Recalculating!” as long as I live.  So we ended up with less time than I had planned, and kind of had to fly through our pre-dinner destinations.

Our first stop was Sweet Art bakery.  They’re all vegetarian and have vegan bakery items daily, and they tweet those selections each day.  I asked the day before what they would have and they told me, so I knew what to ask for.  I was hoping to get a sandwich to tide me over until dinner, but since we were running so late I just decided to loot the bakery.  Unfortuantely,  it wasn’t cupcake happy hour, but I got two cupcakes and a brownie, which I promptly ate and it was big, fudgy, and delicious.

I’m sad that I didn’t get to eat lunch, just a glance at the menu on the wall made me excited.  But the cupcakes were awesome, I ate the vanilla xgfx one with chocolate buttercream after the show,  and the cherry almond one the next day.  The frosting wasn’t too sweet and there wasn’t too much or too little of it.  I am definitely going back every time I go to St. Louis!

 

 

After quickly dashing to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to look for Field Roast slices for a friend (and failing), we headed over to Pi Pizzeria.  Brian and I tried to eat here when we saw Ted Leo, but the wait was horrendous.  This time we planned ahead and showed up almost two hours before the doors across the street at The Pageant even opened (which made the line around the block even more bizarre).  The wait was still horrendous, and we couldn’t wander too far because we had one of those vibrating ‘your table is ready’ things to hold onto.  It was crowded and loud inside, and I was really hoping we would get a table outside.  I almost had a stroke when a guy showed up, alone, thirty minutes after we had and was almost immediately seated at a two-person table outside.  But I have no idea how they decide who goes where and when, so I kept my stroke to myself for the next 45 minutes that we had to wait.

 

So was it worth it?  For the ambiance, no.  I felt crowded as fuck and we could barely talk.  For the pizza?  Hells yeah!  Pi has daiya, match meats, and all kinds of toppings.  Their thin crust is vegan, supposedly to get a vegan deep dish you have to call the day before (?) so they can not butter a pan.  I knew this was going to be a pricey pizza, so I resisted the urge to dump fifteen toppings on and went with artichoke, sundried tomato, and roasted garlic.  Brian had mushroom on his half, and the waitress asked if he wanted daiya or dairy cheese on his half (um, ew, they’ll melt together).  Also, since we didn’t get drinks or an appetizer the price wasn’t too crazy, I want to say $20 but I don’t remember for sure.  It’s definitely a treat, but vegan pizza that isn’t just a cheeseless Papa John’s pizza usually is.

I don’t know if they take reservations, but in the future I wouldn’t try to eat there on a weekend or at dinnertime without one (or maybe try one of the other locations that isn’t right across from a huge music venue).  We still ended up missing part of the first band.  P.S.  The Thermals were aweeeeesome.

 

 

 

posted: July 27, 2011
under: food, pictures, products

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