Booze & Beverages, Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

World Food: Brunch at Boot & Shoe Service, Oakland, California.

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I think we need to sit down and have a serious conversation about brunch. Isn’t it just breakfast? Who eats breakfast before 11am? Who eats breakfast without cocktails? Who even eats breakfast? Why? Why do you do that?

Brunch in Oakland really got me thinking about brunch. Halfway through my first Bloody Mary, surrounded by the hum of a brunch service in full swing, I had a revelation. I suddenly felt like – writer to writer – I could have a serious conversation with Carrie Bradshaw. About brunch. I feel like that chick nailed brunch back in the ’90s and there’s a lot I could learn from her.

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We went to Boot & Shoe, in Oakland for brunch, because what’s the golden rule? Always eat where your buddy works. I really think we should all go and get that tattooed on ourselves so we never forget. I also think it’s a great sign that Brett still chooses to dine at work on his days off. I work in a bookshop, but on my days off I go to browse in bookshops elsewhere, capish?

Anyway, back to brunch. We started off with a round of Bloody Marias/Marys, garnished with celery stalks, queen green olives and pickled green beans. Incidentally, I love the above photo of Natalie. She looks like she has a big leafy green beard.

P1030512Brett and Brendon ordered for us and we shared each dish, tapas-style. Is this normal brunch behaviour? As a brunch novice, I’m not sure. I’m not particularly bothered as any other method of brunching is clearing incorrect as this way, we got to try half the menu. Interesting fact: Chrome’s internal spell check highlighted tapas but not the verb form of brunch, which I thought I had made up. Anyway, we started with crispy fried potatoes slathered in crème fraîche and spring onions.

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Next, we indulged in warm beignets served with a sticky strawberry compote. The beignets were smaller and more delicate than their New Orleanian counterparts, and they were dusted in a cinnamon sugar that made each one taste like a little snickerdoodle pillow of joy. I love the boys’ hands hovering in the background – their eager paws stalking the beignets are living proof that sharing plates with a snap-happy food blogger is…

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Next up, we had this little beauty: fried farro and heirloom tomatoes, topped with parmesan shavings and a fried egg. Look at that plate. There are seven ingredients in that dish – farro, red onion, tomatoes, parmesan, egg, parsley and butter. It was absolutely mesmerising – the saltiness of the butter, the tangy fresh tomato and the creaminess of the egg combined to rock my world, one bite at a time. I’d never had farro before and honestly, it was like discovering quinoa all over again. Farro is a grain, chunkier than rice and more toothsome than giant couscous. What really struck me about this dish – and god, I’m sorry for yawning on, but it really is worth talking about – was the strength of the individual ingredients. There’s something really brassy about charging $16 for such a simple dish, but the strength and quality of the ingredients justified the price tag.

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Margarita pizza. Boot & Shoe seems to be known on the online reviewer circuit as a pizza place, but I think that’s a fairly reductive view of an exciting menu. The pizza is, however, exceptional.

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Ratatouille with wood oven toast and a poached egg. I won’t lie – I can’t remember what this tasted like, because it paled in comparison to the farro dish that I still sometimes think wistfully about over a glass of wine on a quiet Sunday night.

P1030521… but this sassy minx of a dish made me forget all about the farro (well, for a a few minutes anyway). This is pain de mie french toast topped with a white nectarine and raspberry compote. Sweet, indulgent and full of fruity flavour, it was a happiness on a plate.

P1030524I finished with a Boot & Shoe classic: gin with homemade tonic. It was sweet, with a herbal flavour and distinct quinine kick. I really want to learn how to make my own tonic, man. I almost bought a kit from Oaktown Spice Shop, but decided against it for reasons unknown. Anyway, Brett said the flavour differs between batches, depending on what the chef felt like adding to the mix that day, and this batch had a sweet aniseed flavour.

Note, Boot & Shoe don’t take reservations but it’s absolutely worth the wait – particularly if you chill with a cheeky G&T or Bloody Maria whilst you wait for your table.

Boot & Shoe Service | Website

Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

New Orleans in Instagram

I think Instagram posts are going to become a regular post-trip fixture around these parts, gang. I just really love Instagram (even though right now it keeps crashing on my Samsung Galaxy Ace and pissing the shit out of me, but I mostly blame this terribly phone for that).

2d8161da1d8b11e3abce22000a1f96d4_7Behind the counter at Clover Grill, a 24hr diner on Bourbon Street. Their tagline is “Because food simply tastes better after midnight” which is something I wholeheartedly agree with.

79826a941d8511e3979522000a9f309d_7 (1)I love the flickering gas lights that cast eerie shadows against the houses and illuminate the city streets in New Orleans. They’re so spooky and gothic.

d3bf7ce61d8911e3b03722000a1fc75a_7Oh ho ho, yes, that little strumpet is a vegetarian po boy. When I get around to posting the Ba Chi Canteen food porn pics, your taste buds will blue ball so hard you’ll have to eat something delicious in a frenzy of gastronomic masturbation. This is a sweet chilli tofu po boy – a vegetarian po boy! I can’t believe it’s taken me three vegetarian New Orleans trips to discover a place that slings a decent vegetarian po boy.

f3c48bc41d8b11e38d1822000a1f8cf0_7Oak Alley Plantation – as seen on Interview with the Vampire, one of my favourite films set in New Orleans. I feel like I need to apologise to Nisha for the filter I used here because I didn’t notice it made her look a bit jaundiced. You are a beautiful dandelion, Nisha.

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Awesome neon on Bourbon Street. According to the internet, “gumbo ya ya” means “everyone talking at once”, but I always thought it was a Cajun term for gossip or folk stories. Anyone know the true meaning and care to share?

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The wrought iron balconies are awesome. I believe this is an example of the Spanish-style ironwork dotted throughout the city, but I may well be wrong because I was never without a drink in my hand.

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This lil dude hung out with us on Nisha’s porch for a couple of hours before Napoleon, Nisha’s dog as opposed to the dead military leader, almost trod on him. I scooped him up and held him for 20 glorious seconds before he did a tiny frightened froggy wiggle and I had to let him go. I am so proud of this photo. Please admire his dignified froggy face in an awed silence.

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Late night beignets and iced coffees at Café du Monde. Look at all that sugar and check out Smokin’ Tofu’s take on the iconic coffee house here

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It rained on my last day in New Orleans, but between showers Nisha and I nipped into the Saint Louis No. 1 Cemetery for a mooch between the crumbling tombs.

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Road trippin’ back to New Orleans from the bayou. My legs are absolutely polka dotted with mosquito bites after an ill-advised late night jaunt to the swamps. Terrible fucking idea.

Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

World Food: Boot & Shoe Service, Oakland, California.

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Most mornings in Oakland, California, Brendon and I took a stroll to meet his boyfriend and my buddy Brett at Boot & Shoe Service for breakfast pastries and frothy coffees. It’s an Italian style café restaurant with a full bar, bright courtyard garden and chilled vibe. People tap-tapping away on their laptops, the merry rattle of a cocktail shaker and the sound of our flagrant gossiping was the soundtrack to our mornings.

(*Note: not to be mistaken for Brendan, who is my beau back in England.)

P1030504The breakfast pastries were freshly baked each morning and were a bargain considering how much love went into those doughs. Okay, I admit that I might be a tad biased, but I don’t think you can get a better croissant in Oakland. Just sayin’.

P1030426By the end of my week long stay in Oakland, we managed to work our way through the entire selection – although naturally I steered clear of the prosciutto pastry because of death. That said, the selection changes all the time, so there’s always something new to try and that makes me feel sad because I’m hardcore missing out. Oakland natives and visitors alike, I urge you to shotgun pastries and think of me.

P1030430Anti-clockwise from top left: orange currant scone, chocolate chip cookie and pain aux chocolat. Sadly, none of these are vegan.

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Brett of My Boyfriend’s Kitchen hard at work making dough. Scone dough? Croissant dough? I forget. Anyway. Top tip: for awesome breakfast every morning, make friends with the guy who bakes the pastries.

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The lightest, fluffiest almond cake in the world. It was like a crumb cloud of almondy dreams in my mouth and every bite took me closer to my happy place (which, for future reference, is a pint of Strongbow, Orange is the New Black and a snoozing animal in my lap).

So, to conclude, Boot & Shoe Service is awesome. We also had a veggie brunch there, which was so majestic it deserves its own post. Consider this the amuse-bouche before the  brunch post. Oh god, the brunch post. There will be blood(y marys).

Boot & Shoe Service | Website

Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

California in Instagram

Would everyone just die of embarrassment if I did a “California in Instagram” post? What if I include some macarons, a picture of my toes in the Pacific ocean and a pastel coloured cocktail in a jam jar?

Enough being hilarious, I’m doing it.

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Pumpkin ale in my face every day because everyone keeps saying “Fall is in the air” even though it’s about four hundred degrees out and I smell of old sweaty bloomers.

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Brunch. I did brunch! I’m a lady what brunches! It was so SATC I can’t even stand it. Incidentally, this buttery fried farro dish will haunt me for the rest of my days.

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Farmers’ market tomatoes in every tomato hue imaginable. I love tomatoes – room temp, or lightly warmed by the sun. Refrigerate a tomato and forever suffer the consequences.

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We didn’t buy any tomatoes at the farmers’ market though because my pal Brett grows them himself. If somehow the scientists could put a pin in saving the planet and curing insufferable diseases, I’d really like a tomato-vine perfume. Thanks.

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This photo is allowed because those aren’t yo mama’s macarons. Those are Bouchon macarons. They were better than the best Parisian macarons that have ever touched my lips, and when I go to Paris pretty much all I do is walk around in a beret Instagramming macarons. Leftie is raspberry and rightie is fig. Thank frig for fig. I think this whole trip thus far has been sponsored by figs.  Figs and tomatoes. I love a good fig. I mean frig. I mean fig.

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If you want to gain twelve stone in one sitting, I recommend you make friends with a pastry chef. It’s okay if you follow up with a gin and tonic (with homemade tonic) because everyone knows G&Ts are counter-calorific.

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Isn’t Natalie just beauty personified.  Honestly, just stick her in Napa and call her Dionysus.

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This photo is after I regained my composure and got back to the serious task of drinking tasting free wine. The sommelier was like, “Are we ready to get started on the red?” and Brett’s boyfriend said, “Well, we’re already deep in the pink so what’s stopping us?” and I was near hysterical for far too long for a grown up. (Also, check out those Smokin’ Tofu earrings from Black Heart Creatives!).

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HASHTAG NO FILTER. This was my first night in Oakland. The clouds looked like they were on fire. I took this photo whilst Brett ran to get his neighbours. Whilst he was gone, the dryness of the ten hour flight caught up with me and my nose burst into a glorious nosebleed. It was either the dryness or the beauty of the sky, not totally sure.

Anyway, it’s 8.30am in Oakland and I have a bag to pack… because later today I’m heading to New Orleans. I feel like I’ve only been in California for five minutes and I’m already preparing to leave. I could live here. I say that every time I travel, but I could honestly live here.

You can follow me on Instagram here btw.

Oh, and also: this is my 100th post on Smokin’ Tofu – and hasn’t it been a wild ride. The blog is almost one year old, and I’m feeling sassy, so please don’t forget to vote for Smokin’ Tofu at the Vegfest UK awards. Muchas gracias!

Cookbook Reviews, Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

Cookbook Review: World Food Café: Quick and Easy Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey

World Food Cafe Quick & Easy

Uh huh. Check out that bad boy, all lime green and bright fuchsia up in your face. I know Miley isn’t twerking on it, but it is still worthy of your attention. The nice people at Frances Lincoln sent Smokin’ Tofu a copy of World Food Café: Quick and Easy Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey so I could slap on my bitch face and judge it to hell.

It just so happened to arrive the day I had tickets to a triple screening at the Prince Charles Cinema. My boyfriend and our pals Richard and Natalie hit the Before trilogy running, armed with vegan snacks from Cookies & Scream, courtesy of Natalie. I hadn’t seen any of the Before movies, but here’s an interesting little side note for you. Writer and director Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation), is a vegetarian. Throughout the Before trilogy, you see the characters eat and drink all sorts of things, but never a morsel of meat touches the lips of either character. I am so into that.

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Anyway, each film is set in a different part of the world (Vienna, Paris and the Greek Peloponnese peninsula), much like each chapter of this wonderful book. Each chapter covers a different trip undertaken by the couple – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Chile, Cuba, Japan, Laos, Helsinki & Lapland, Namibia, Syria and Vietnam.

A week after the movie marathon, Brendan and I finally had the chance to knuckle down and do some serious eating. World Food Café by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott is a travel book as much as a cook book, and we loved poring through each chapter, trying to decide what we wanted to eat first and where we’d most like to visit.

The recipes are quick and dirty – expect lots of butter, feta and yoghurt – but, for the most part, they’re very easily veganised. There are also a good handful of vegan recipes, and very few of the non-vegan recipes hinge entirely on the dairy ingredient(s). Each page is beautifully illustrated with colourful, glossy photos of both the food and the country of origin. Admittedly, I wish there were a few more of the recipes themselves, but we can’t have everything, can we?

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The writing and photography are certainly evocative. I can practically smell those paper bags of freshly fried nachos, taste that Vietnamese café au lait. From avocado shakes to za’atar spice mix, I’ve learnt a little about the cuisine of twelve countries that I haven’t stepped foot in (and, in turn, I’ve added to my travel wish list).

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In the end, we settled for three dishes: buttery Bhutanese asparagus with crumbled feta; apple, saffron and honey butter rice (also from Bhutan), and Bengali curry in a hurry, which was quick, simple and exquisitely spiced. It was a cinch to throw together all three dishes simultaneously, and the sweetly spiced buttery rice will be an autumn hit in Smokin’ Mansions.

If you fancy World Food Café: Quick and Easy Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey, you can get yourself a sweet little discount of 20%. No, really. I insist. Give Bookpoint a bell on 01235 400 400 and quote the code 46WORLDFOODCAFE (offer code is valid until the end September 2013). It’ll be yours for £16 and a song, which is £4 off the RRP. Then you too can eat sweet buttery apple rice from the pan and dream of greater surroundings.

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Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

New Orleans Countdown: 2 Weeks

So, last month I said I was venturing to San Francisco in September, and then travelling on to a second mystery location. Well, I leave for SF a week today, and two weeks today I will be preparing to fly to…

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… New Orleans to see this lil son of a bitch:

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New Orleans is a brilliant city, bursting with live music, macabre history and awesome cuisine. Last time around, I ate white bean gumbo, held a baby alligator, drank daiquiris for breakfast and generally had a whale of a time.

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It will be a totally different experience to my previous two trips. The first time around, I packed drunk and forgot my camera charger. People who turn their noses up at holiday photos baffle me because I literally remember jack from that trip as I have almost no photos to jog my memory. Anyway, we were only in town for a few days before hitting the road and driving all the way to California. The second time around, I went with my brother on our Great American Adventure of 2011, and we had an absolute blast eating beignets in Café du Monde, taking ghost tours and vampire walks around the French Quarter and drinking ourselves into early graves.

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This trip will be totally different though, as this time I’ll be with my girl Nisha (who possibly has the best Instagram feed in the world, FYI). Nisha is New Orleanian born and bred, and I can’t wait to experience the city from her insider perspective. And to eat ALL THE VEGETARIAN THINGS.

Also, last week I was blogger of the week with Quill, a company I frequently write for. Go here and read an interview with yours truly about Smokin’ Tofu!

Travel, We Are Adventuring: World Food

World Food: Le Pain Quotidien, Amsterdam.

P1020727Isn’t this just the best window in the world?

P1020728 Hostel cat looking out the window thinking hostel thoughts. We stayed at the International Budget Hostel IstanBlue. Great location, but unfortunately we came home one night to find a sign stuck on our bedroom door asking us to report to reception. “Emergency building work” (aka bedbugs) meant a member of staff had to move our shit from our room whilst we were out. Niiiiiiiice. It wasn’t the end of the world but it was a pain, we had to share a single bed for the rest of the trip and our new room mate was the Loudest Man On The Planet.

P1020759Anyway, Amsterdam is a brilliant city. It’s vibey and beautiful, with its khaki canals and constant whir of bike spokes. We spent most of our afternoons drinking sugar-water slushies and playing pool, exploring the different neighbourhoods and checking out the veggie eateries. Sadly there isn’t a brilliant selection of vegan-friendly restaurants and most veggie options tended to be heavy on the cheese-front, but we had a great lunch at La Pain Quotidien.

P1020755Vegan items are marked on the menu with a little carrot symbol, so I enjoyed a thick black bean hummus on toast with fresh raw veg and my boyfriend had quinoa salad with hummus and roasted veg. WE ATE LIKE KINGS.

Of course, one thing Amsterdam does really well is falafel via Maoz, but as there’s one in London I decided against doing a Maoz Amsterdam post, even though we ate there like three times in five days (and I hate to say it, but the salad selection is better in The Big Smoke so…).

Le Pain Quotidien Website | Happy Cow

(EDIT: It’s an international chain. I had no idea! Hurrah.)

EDIT 2: I FORGOT TO GIVE YOU MY AMSTERDAM JAM: