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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Carob Chia Oatmeal (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free) + Vegan Food Adventures: Austin, TX

This breakfast recipe comes from one my favorite vegan blogs, Oh She Glows. Carob chia overnight oats has become one of my new favorite breakfasts because it's very reminiscent of cocoa krispies cereal, a childhood favorite no doubt. This is cocoa krispies 3.0, the healthy gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, sugar-free, additive-free, stomach ache-free -too much? sorry- version.

Today's ingredient spotlight goes to...

• Carob - A healthy alternative to chocolate, carob is full of nutrients and health benefits. Unlike chocolate, it is caffeine-free, naturally sweet, does not contain the stimulant theobromine, which has a diuretic affect meaning that it makes you have to use the bathroom and can therefore dehydrate you; on the same token, it can be beneficial for releasing toxins. Also unlike chocolate, carob does not contain oxalic acid, which is known to inhibit the absorption of calcium and zinc in the body. People are also surprised to find that it has 3 times the amount of calcium of milk and cocoa powder! Carob contains Vitamins A, B, D, and E, plus potassium, copper, manganese, nickel, and iron. Additionally, it has shown to be effective in increasing metabolism, lowering cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar. Carob is also high in fiber and antioxidants and is a great source of protein [source]. Compared to chocolate, it has a more nutty flavor and frankly it doesn't appeal to everyone but I encourage you to try it for yourself. :-)

All of that isn't to say that cacao doesn't have its own set of health benefits, because it does, but carob seems to be healthier. If minimally processed, cacao powder packs a nutritional punch as well. The problem is that the commercial varieties of chocolate have denatured the pure cacao with high heat processing and the addition of refined sugar, milk and other less than optimal ingredients. It does contain caffeine so the recommended intake is less than that of carob powder. With that said, cacao is one of the greatest sources of antioxidants and is also rich in minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc. Consuming cacao actually lifts our mood and promotes mental clarity due to the endorphins that are released when eaten. Other benefits include its ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

• Chia Seeds - These tiny seeds were considered a superfood in the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures and were thought to have extraordinary powers. Chia seeds were seen as an endurance food. After all, the Mayan word for "strength" is chia. They are high in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, B vitamins, manganese, potassium, and calcium. As a matter of fact, one serving provides 18% of the recommended daily allowance for calcium and contains about 5 times the amount of calcium in milk. 2 tablespoons of chia seeds provides 3 times the amount of iron in spinach and 3 times the amount of antioxidants in blueberries. Research has also shown that they regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. Because of their high fiber content, they keep us fuller longer and help to improve digestion - great for weight loss. For all of my vegetarians and vegans, chia seeds are also a complete protein. When combined with a liquid, they form a gel as they expand up to 3 times their original size! [source]. Chia seeds have a very mild flavor and are a perfect addition to smoothies, soups, yogurt, desserts, and oatmeal. 

Carob Chia Oatmeal (Vegan Overnight Oats)
Recipe from Oh She Glows

YIELD: 1 serving


• 1/3 cup gluten-free oats
• 2 Tbsp chia seeds
• 1.5 Tbsp carob powder(Or cacao powder- See note)
• 1 cup almond milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice
• Sweetener, if desired* (See note)
• Berries or other fruit

1. In a bowl, mix together the oats, chia seeds and carob powder (or cacao powder).
2. Whisk in the milk and sweetener, if desired, and stir until smooth.
3. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

• If you're not a fan of carob or would just prefer to use cacao powder, use 1-2 teaspoons, or to taste, to substitute. Carob doesn't have as intense of a flavor as cacao, which is why it's recommended to use 1.5 to 2 times more carob.
• Carob is naturally sweet so you may or may not need any extra sweetener. I personally like to add in 10-15 drops of liquid stevia.
•  You can find organic chia seeds in the bulk aisle of Whole Foods. Buying in bulk will save you money!

This past weekend, my dad and I took a mini vacation to Austin, Texas. I hadn't been in my adult life (go ahead... gasp in disbelief...) and have been curious for awhile to see what the buzz is all about, because every time I told someone I hadn't been since I was too little to remember, they gasped and said I was missing out. Well, I was tired of feeling like I was missing out! And I'm at a point in my life where if I want to do something, I do it as soon as I can because time is precious and fleeting and there's no time like now. 

Austin is known for its vegetarian/vegan health-conscious restaurants, live music and of course the nightlife on 6th Street. I've never been much of a party girl but the healthy restaurant establishments and live music reeled me in. The Whole Foods headquarters is located in Austin too. Needless to say, we had an absolute blast. Before we went, we planned out all of the restaurants and other entertainment festivities we wanted to check out (thanks, Yelp!). I'll take you through our trip with pictures and commentary and maybe  give you some ideas of what you can do if you ever find yourself in the "Live Music Capital of the World..."

Our first stop was Mother's Cafe & Garden. One of my friends recommended we try this restaurant. They offer many tasty options for those that follow a gluten-free, vegetarian and/or vegan diet. Mother's has an unpretentious and old-school feel, which I loved. I started off with a salad accompanied by their popular cashew tahini dressing. I can see why people rave about it - it was that good. 

For my entree, I opted for the vegan enchiladas verdes with tomatillo sauce and vegan cheese. I could tell that they used Daiya mozzarella cheese because it's the same one I buy from Whole Foods and used in my last post for the Mexican pizza! The enchiladas were mighty tasty. And as you can see in the bottom picture, my dad enjoyed his veggie burger. I thought it was just okay but having said that, I just tried the patty by itself, without all of the toppings and bread. You can see he took off the top part of the bread... he prides himself on doing that. ;-) In case you were wondering, my favorite veggie burger is still Spiral Diner's in Oak Cliff. 

For dessert we shared their vegan chocolate cake. It was moist, perfectly rich, and downright decadent! As usual, we found ourselves asking, "how is this vegan??" It just proves that you can eat meals free of animal products and still be more than satisfied, and even more so, in my opinion, knowing that no animals were harmed in the process. Overall, we were impressed with Mother's and will definitely go back again!

Later that evening, we had tickets to the Esther's Follies musical comedy/magic show. It boasts high marks from everyone who has been so we had to give it a go. I am proud to say I'm now a part of their fan club! That's saying a lot because I don't find many things funny, or at least the things that everyone else thinks is funny. Their skits are mostly centered around political satire and also current events to keep everything fresh and relevant. We were laughing the whole way through. A magician also makes several appearances throughout the show. He was our favorite!!! I think the coolest part about Esther's Follies is that there's a huge window behind the stage and they incorporate random people walking on 6th Street into the show. Must-see if you're ever in Austin!

We then went to the Driskill Hotel bar for a drink and to enjoy some live music in the lounge area. The Driskill is located on the famous 6th Street. It is beautiful beyond words! It's a legendary landmark in Texas and one of the world's finest hotels. 

The picture on the left is me on 6th Street. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into but 6th Street is madness! I've never seen anything like it, probably because I've never been to New Orleans, but there were crowds of people partying and dancing in the street. The street is actually closed off after a certain time because there are so many people. 

I would've been happy spending all night at the Driskill bar/lounge but we had to experience 6th Street at least once and I'm glad we did. We did see a few really talented musicians playing in bars. My dad and I love, love, love music so it was inspiring to see people pursuing their passion and paying their dues with dreams of making it big. 

Our last stop was a bar down the way on 6th Street called Easy Tiger. I loved the atmosphere of this bake shop & beer garden. Even though it was on 6th Street, it was far removed from the chaos. It was a welcome departure. People were playing ping pong outside and enjoying the outdoor bar with pretty lighting. There was a river flowing to the right of the restaurant. Inside downstairs in the bar and seating area, it was cave-like with rustic decor. The one downside was that it was super loud. Also, we had a pretzel and ... beer cheese. I had to. And it was amazing. It was my only non-vegan food on the trip so I think I did pretty well all things considered.

Saturday morning we went to Bouldin Creek Cafe for breakfast. It has several gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. I decided on the tofu scramble and sweet potato tamales. It was my first time eating tofu! I liked it but it was mixed with several different ingredients and spices so I don't know if that counts. I thoroughly enjoyed this meal! It kept me full all day. We also ordered a vegan chocolate espresso cupcake and a gluten-free vegan ginger whoopie pie to-go. They were both delicious! Any time I find vegan and gluten-free desserts, I can't pass 'em up. Desserts are my weakness after all...

After breakfast, my dad and I headed to Barton Springs Pool, which is a man-made pool filled by water from Main Barton Spring, the 4th largest spring in Texas. The water is super cold but refreshing on a sweltering hot day, and you can bet it was... 100 degrees to be exact. 

Afterwards, we ventured to Juiceland and had ourselves a few refreshments to cool off and fuel up. It's such a charming juice & smoothie place! I felt like I was in a tropical destination. I had a green smoothie (surprise, surprise) with kale, spinach, apples, peaches, chia seeds, and spirulina and my dad had a mango, acai and banana smoothie. We also had to try the coconut water which we drank straight from a young Thai coconut. It doesn't get more beautiful than nature in its purest form! I adore this place. If you're ever in the area, go!!

Dinner on Saturday night was at a holistic wellness center's dining hall called Casa De Luz. It's an oasis tucked away from the rowdiness of Austin's nightlife. The menu is fixed meaning they serve one set meal for one price (tax included, no tips) for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it changes everyday. It's self-serve for salad and soup then they bring out your main entree. 

They offer dessert as well, which was divine. We had the pecan tort and coconut pudding. The meals are all plant-based, vegan and gluten-free with no processed food in sight. This was like heaven for me! And surprisingly enough, it was my dad's favorite meal and experience. I was a bit worried thinking it might be too weird or bland for him and he was skeptical too but Casa De Luz far exceeded his expectations. I loved the vibe here... so serene and calm. You don't want to leave. It's another must-see if you're ever in Austin. 

Afterwards, we went to The Elephant Room downtown to listen to some live latin jazz music. This was a definite highlight of the trip. It's an underground bar/lounge in an intimate setting. The band was called The Brew and they were exceptional!

We went back to the Driskill bar and lounge afterwards, walked 6th Street again but decided that we couldn't handle another night of craziness so we retired early. 

After checking out of the hotel Sunday morning, we went to brunch at The Steeping Room located at The Domain, an outdoor shopping center in Austin. Their main offering is teas and tea sandwiches but they also serve other lunch and dinner dishes too. Everything sounded delicious. We waited an hour to be seated but luckily the food was worth the long wait. I had the vegan "B.A.T" (tempeh bacon, arugula, tomato) with a basil veganaise sauce, a salad and a vegan currant scone. My dad enjoyed his mixed veggie quiche. Outstanding overall!

Phew. So, we didn't pack a lot of activities in our 2 and a half day vacation or anything. Ah, I'm a planner, what can I say? I had the whole trip planned, tentatively of course, but everything went seamlessly. There was only one miss and that was a restaurant called Frank's. It's a hot dog joint but it had great reviews and I wanted to try their veggie dog but it was terrible. The vegan chili pie was okay but it was made from TVP (textured vegetable protein - bleh). My dad liked their pale ale beer though. I'm not a beer drinker and I even liked it. I should've known though. Their specialty is pork, not veggie dogs. I'll try The Hot Dog King next time. I hear they have the best veggie dogs in town!

"If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present." Lao Tzu


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