Restaurant Review: Vegan Pizza [California]

One of my favorite parts of traveling is finding new vegan places to eat.  Last night I arrived in Anaheim, California and resigned myself to a dinner at the local Taco Bell.  But I figured I should check the Happy Cow app, and sure enough, it delivered in spades!

I found a 100% vegan pizzeria about a mile from my hotel called Vegan Pizza.

I opted for the walk, to check out the place but was pleasantly surprised they also delivered.

I walked up to the little shop in the middle of a nondescript Socal strip mall.

Once inside, the shop was warm, and stocked with vegan snacks like jerky and baked goods.

Nice, clean and bright interior.

I ordered the BBQ chicken pizza, and an order of cheezy garlic sticks.  My order was to go and after 15 minutes I was in the back of an Uber ride on my way back to the hotel for some COPS and pizza.

Pizza perfection.

The pizza was absolutely perfect.  The crush was doughy but not too much, and soaked up enough of the BBQ sauce to make it extra tasty.  The BBQ sauce was thin, but really flavorful.  What I really liked about this pie however was that they minced up the gardein into small bits (almost like ground up) and not just slapd of fake chicken.  This lent to the weight and flavor of the pizza.  It was awesome.

The cheese bread left more to be desired.  The daiya was scant as was the flavor.  And, the measly dipping sauce needs a larger portion.  So, that was a little bummer.

Lame “cheesy” bread.

I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I ordered delivery a couple of days later.  Their site showed delivery, but the calendar was greyed out so I had to use Doordash (which is fine).  Overall the whole transaction was effortless.  I mean, I still had vegan pizza delivered to my hotel.

I couldn’t pry myself from another BBQ Chicken pizza, but this time I added in an order of buffalo wings.  I was pretty stoked to try them, as Portland has some pretty awesome vegan wings (ala Veggie Grill, and Fire on the Mountain).  But when I pried open the little tin container, I was FLOORED to see a wimpy portion of Gardein breaded chicken nuggets!  The tiny side of buffalo sauce was hardly enough to cover even one of them, let alone a whole flock.  So I was pretty bummed.

Apparently, this passes for buffalo wings in CA :)

In the end, I was just so happy to find this place.  They need to stick to what they are good at – pizza.  Just pizza.

 

Vegan Mac & Cheese Shootout!

There have been a ton of advancements in the vegan food scene, but finding a good, boxed mac and cheese has been sorely missing.  Even though it is disgusting (and slightly embarrassing to admit),  sometimes I miss the Kraft macaroni and cheese or even the velveeta days.  So, on a recent trip to Whole Foods, I grabbed one of each vegan mac and cheese.   Here are the contenders.

DAIYA CHEEZY MAC

Daiya was the only entrant that featured the liquid cheese pouch.  The pasta cooked easily (how can you mess it up, really) and had a really good tenderness.  After mixing in the pouch of liquid cheesy goodness, I gave it a taste.

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And there was a ton of it!  The texture was gooey and slightly sticky, but had a really good flavor.  It reminded me of the aforementioned Velveeta garbage I used to eat.

The only problem?  HOLY SODIUM!  The amount of sodium in this actually made me stop eating.   Each serving has 580mg of sodium – and there are 3 servings in the package!  That is almost 75% of the RDA of Sodium in one small box of mac and cheese.  So while the flavor was good, I would only eat 1/3 of the package, and probably only once a year.

SO DELICIOUS MAC & CHEESE

I was excited about the So Delicious mac.   They make some really good vegan products so I figured they really couldn’t mess it up.  The So Delicious still packs 450mg of Sodium, but there are 2 servings in the box, so it’s a paltry 900mg per box versus the blistering 1700mg of the Daiya.

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The shells cooked up easy and had a great texture.  But the sauce.  Man, we need to talk about the sauce!  It was HORRIBLE!  It tasted like a mix of wet dirt and wheat grass.  And you know me, I am a pretty positive guy.  But it literally tasted like ass.  I spit out my spoonful, and threw the whole pan in the trash.

ANNIE’S HOMEGROWN SHELLS & CREAMY SAUCE

Annie’s had a much tamer Sodium content (at 270mg per serving and 2.5 servings per box).  I assume they achieve this by adding more veggies and less “fake cheese.”  So this mac comes with the claim of sweet potato and pumpkin.

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Again, the pasta was easy and tasted good.  But, again once I tried the sauce, it was almost puke worthy.  The flavor was incredibly bland, and the “pumpkin and sweet potato” flavors tasted like moss and wet cardboard.  I am not sure how they pulled off such a flavor, but it was absolutely abysmal.

At this point I was really bummed.  I mean my options were enjoying the flavor of the Daiya, and ending up in the ER with cardiac arrest form 1700mgs of sodium, or eating something that tasted like wet cardboard and triggering my gag reflex.

But I had one more box to go.

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TRASHED:  Two steaming piles of grossness.

EARTH BALANCE MAC & CHEESE

I cracked open the box, and the low grade cardboard felt welcome in my hand.  The box was designed pretty simply and I found myself nostalgic for the Kraft days as we boiled the straight “dynamite stick” shaped pastas.  No fancy elbows or shells here!

The bright orange, super processed cheese powder also wafted a cloud of cheesy goodness as we blended everything in a giant bowl.

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The sodium cops show up again with this entrant, at a total of 1375mgs of sodium in the package.  But at this point, I was so bummed, I would eat this or an entire container of Morton’s iodized salt, so I figured I’d give this a go.

And boy am I glad I did!  This was the most nostalgic of the samples I tried.  The flavor pretty much mirrored the one I remember from my Kraft M&C days.  As the steam lifted out the bowl, my mouth watered, and I put a forkful of the dynamite stick pastas into my mouth.

It was truly glorious.

THE VERDICT

Being that we either traded a catastrophic sodium count for a wet cardboard/wheatgrass flavor, I will pick Sodium as the lesser of the 2 evils.  Because we can choose to eat it in moderation.  Like once a year moderation.

So that leaves us with Daiya or Earth Balance.

And to help distinguish, you need to decide how important the nostalgia factor is.  Because if it is high, choose Earth Balance.

But if the best flavor and texture is what you are looking for, you should totally grab a box of Daiya.

My Manifesto on Gun Control

Like a broken record, it has happened again.  And, like a broken record, legal gun owners must mix defensiveness with their mourning for the victims.  And, I am pretty sure it will happen again.

Perhaps the one potentially positive outcome from these shootings, is that the national consciousness comes together for a discussion about guns and gun ownership.  That debate is often heated, and polarized with little needle movement from either camp.

In my opinion however, we do need to look at current and future gun policy with an eye to both rights preservation and compromise.

I submitted my thoughts to Vice President Joe Biden’s “Gun Control Committee” in the wake of the shooting in Newtown and was thankful to hear from his staff that my comments were included.  Most of that stance remains unchanged.

Continue reading My Manifesto on Gun Control

Review: Northridge 4×4 [Silverdale]

When it comes to my Jeep, I am really picky as to who gets to touch it.  I do all my own maintenance, and my inner circle of Jeep friends get to wrench on it.  But sometimes you just need to get a gear job done and need to take it to a reputable shop.

Last May, it was time for 4:88s so I took the Jeep to Northridge 4×4 in Silverdale, Washington.

I have had a long relationship with the guys at “NR 4×4” so I fully trusted them to do the job and do it right.

Continue reading Review: Northridge 4×4 [Silverdale]

Product Review: SpiderWebShade for JKU

There are few things in life, than a hot Summer day in a Jeep, topless, and doorless.  I swear it is the best form of therapy available. But, there are days where the thermometer is in the triples where I have been stuck in traffic and have been roasting.

But there was never a middle ground.  It was either run the top as a bikini, or run topless and roast on those peak Summer days.

The fine mesh is really well made and is available in a lot of different colors.

Enter SpiderWebShade, the middle ground.

SpiderWebShade claims to block up to 90% of the sun’s rays while also allowing enough air for the topless feeling.  While roaming around Jeep Beach, I met the crew from SWS and they hooked me up with a free shade.  Once I returned to the hot and sunny Oregon Summer, I was eager to install it.

Installation was easy and the instructions provided were clear and straightforward.  A new shade did require some sun to help soften the material and there was some strong arming here and there.

SpiderWebShade time!

First impressions were really positive.  The shade did in fact block a lot of the sun’s rays and I soon lost the signature tan line from my sunglasses – good news for the skin cancer prone that drive Jeeps.  The only downside was that I found myself actually chillier more than before.

Those sun rays also bring along heat with them, so when you block most of them you also block most of the heat.  In more humid climates, this is probably not as much of a concern.

I was super stoked to try out the 4DR JK SpiderWebShade in the oven of a Moab Summer.  So last June I installed a new blue shade and my crew rolled down 84 toward the Utah desert.

Rocking the SWS in a hot tub in Moab, Hell’s Revenge.

Just as I thought, the shade was absolutely invaluable.  As the temperatures approached 110, we were relatively comfortable running topless in the shade-free areas of Moab.  As the nights dipped the temps, the shade seemed to also reduce some of the wind associated with running a topless Jeep.

Overall, the SpiderWebShade is an essential piece of kit for any Jeeper than runs topless.  With an easy installation, I might reserve it for those wheeling trips that take us into warmer climates, and those couple of weeks of peak Summer in Oregon.

**FULL DISCLOSURE: Both shades were provided to me at no cost for the purposes of this review.  It in no way affects the outcome of my review.

Vegan in Bend, Oregon

Bend is one of my favorite cities to visit.  It has the high desert weather, some amazing wilderness, amazing beers, and a pretty decent vegan scene to boot.  Also, Cline Butte OHV area has some nice options for wheeling.  Only thing is, you need to know where to go.

Hopefully this guide will help for your next trip.

Continue reading Vegan in Bend, Oregon

Product Review: Gardein Porkless Bites

While roaming our local New Seasons today, something caught me eye in the rainbow of colors in the Gardein freezer section. It seriously is starting to look like Rainbow Brite puked Skittles all over the place.

Anyway, the pink highlight color on the bag drew my eye and I snagged the last bag in the freezer.

The bag promises it contains a packet of awesome sauce.  So with that, we planned on making it part of tonight’s dinner.

Pardon the messy stove but these splattered a little!

As with all of Gardein’s fake meats, these were simple to make.  Simply toss the frozen bites into a skillet with some oil and cook thoroughly.  Toss in the awesome sauce, and serve over a bed of whatever starchy goodness you want.  We went with some sticky rice.

Continue reading Product Review: Gardein Porkless Bites

Trail Review: Crushers [OREGON]

I always laugh at the often obscure names given to trails in our area.  Some, I am sure have a backstory (Stick in the Nose is an actual trail name) while others I think are a lame attempt at sounding intimidating.  But Crushers has always had that scary spot in my mind.

Not just due to the name, but due to the massive boulder field that is the trail.  It is probably the ultimate rock crawling trail in this area.

The trail begins with a common filter that has a pretty easy line even though it looks menacing.

My Jeep on the filter. Photo (c) Matthew Duffy

After the filter, the trail meanders through a short section of forest where tight trees and tippy rocks test the hard and soft tops of the crew.  But with a little road building to offset the lean, we all came through unscathed (although I taco’d my tie rod pretty bad).

Mike spots Matt through the last of the tight forest.

Once out of the woods, the trail opens into a wide boulder field.  It is pretty much open play, with no real determined trail.  You will see above the exit from “upper crushers” and the trail for “lower crushers” clearly stays at the lower end of the boulder field.

Vu tackling a nice line on lower crushers.

This is a really great trail.  I ended up turning around about mid way through though, as my tie rod was bent bad and I had very limited driver steering.  I plan on going back soon though to finish the whole run.

Duffy on an upper section of the boulders.

A good spotter (read: experienced) is a must on Crushers, as is some good articulation and undercarriage armor.  I would also highly recommend a winch and good recovery gear.

Product Review: Daiya Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac

I didn’t feel like dinner.  I felt like some vegan sin food.  And I was longing for those old school, bad-for-you velveeta experiences.

While roaming the aisles tonight at Food Fight, I decided to try the new Daiya Cheezy Mac and grabbed a box.

Continue reading Product Review: Daiya Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac

Product Install: Rugged Ridge Spartan Grille

I was one of the early adopters of the “bedlined grille” look.  My OEM paint was chipping from winter road debris, and I just thought it made sense to have a durable, easy to repaint grille coating on the front of the Jeep.  However, when it came to repaint it this Summer I got the great idea to use a new, polyurethane liner and totally messed it up.

So it was time to find a new grille.

And, while this is not a review, I have been really happy with my new Spartan Grille from Rugged Ridge.

I hope this install writeup will help anyone that comes across a couple of the trickier parts of this install. Check out my unboxing video for the Spartan Grille!

Continue reading Product Install: Rugged Ridge Spartan Grille

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