My date took me to a vegan restaurant in Berkeley, Herbivore The Earthy Grill, and he ordered the Ginger Ramen Noodle Soup. He let me try it (followed by a few other spoonfuls because I couldn't help myself) and wow! I was blown away by how amazing this soup was. I really loved that there was kale in the soup. The broth was incredibly savory and made my insides feel warm and cuddly.
For lunch one Saturday with a date, veggie, fish, and pork tacos on soft corn tortillas at Mijita Cocina Mexicana in the SF Ferry Building.
Mall food courts are notorious for being fast food hubs which usually means lots of highly processed foods. But all is not lost. There are ways to find healthier options or minimize the nutritional overload. Here are some tips.
Nix the meal deal and order two things a la carte. Thing one will be either a burger or a burrito, and thing two will be unsweetened iced tea or a bottle of water. Lemonade or juice is not necessarily healthier than soda because it has as much as and sometimes even more sugar than soda.
What are some other ways you eat healthier at the mall?
I was at a Whole Foods in Chandler, and I was walking past their Japanese food station when I saw these grilled veggies skewers. I got excited and actually put my nose up close to smell them only to realize that the skewers and rice were all fake replicas of the dish.
I'm telling you, some of those companies that make these plastic display foods, are getting better and better. Heck, I couldn't even tell until I got up close, lol!
Before we get to the vegan pizza and meatballs, shall we take a moment to gawk at a mini tower of pizzas. Two are vegetarian and the other two have meat. Ummmm-yeah!
When I go to restaurants, I often order a vegan dish and then ask them to add a side of chicken. As you can imagine, I get the one eyebrow raise of confusion look back at me. I can't have cow milk because of allergies.
Believe it or not, I have been in restaurants where when I ask whether a dish has dairy in it or not, I've gotten back, "Oh no, it doesn't have dairy in it. We just use a little butter." You would think that everyone knows that butter comes from a cow, but um, unfortunately, no.
So, I have found it more effective to ask for vegan choices because I guess the term vegan is a bit more clear - no animal or anything from it at all in the dish.
Last week, fellow foodie @dragonflytweet and I ventured to Happy Valley (yes, this is a real area in Phoenix. I love the name!) to visit Mellow Mushroom, a franchise pizza chain with a definite hip quaintness which raises it above a Pizza Hut kinda thing in many, many ways like the fact that they have interesting vegan, gluten-free, and vegetarian choices...which is fantastic!
Owners of the Phoenix Mellow Mushroom are Jay and Diana Beskind, two of the nicest people you'll meet. Son Jason Beskind is the culinary influence in the kitchen. I have a special <3 for family owned businesses.
Another quick side note, each Mellow Mushroom franchise is given an art budget to decorate their place with art from local artists. Supporting local art most definitely scores huge brownie points with me.
I love Mellow Mushroom's tagline, "Happiness as expressed in pizza." I would most certainly agree with the statement that pizza = happiness!
At Mellow Mushroom, I found happiness right away in the fact that their pizza dough is vegan, and I could order a vegan pizza with cheese on it. Hurray! Normally, I order my pizza cheeseless. I got a simple tomato, black olive, and artichoke hearts pizza.
Mellow Mushroom uses Daiya vegan mozzarella shreds on their vegan pizzas. The fact that Mellow Mushroom uses Daiya is HUGE because tell me how many pizza places do you know that serve regular pizza and also have a vegan cheese option? Not many...I know 'cause I ask every time I go eat pizza out with friends. Typically, you'll see Daiya used in vegan or vegetarian restaurants that have pizza on the menu.
I have to say that the pizza dough at Mellow Mushroom is really tasty and I love the thick crust ends. Their dough is made with Georgia Spring Water and molasses. Besides pizza, they make pretzels out of the dough. If you want a vegan pretzel, be sure to ask specifically because they normally apply butter on the pretzel.
Mellow Mushroom also offers a gluten-free pizza as well. Woo-hoo! You see why this place just continues to dazzle me. I really appreciate the fact that owners have considered widening their options so that those like me with food allergies or intolerances can enjoy pizza like the rest of our family and friends who don't have restrictions.
The only thing with the gluten-free pizza dough is that it is not vegan, as they use egg in it. (I have an allergy to chicken eggs as well.) That was a bummer for me because I was really curious to try the gluten-free crust.
Besides the wonderful vegan pizza I had, the best part of the meal for me was the meatballs. Typically, the meatballs come like this all sandwiched and covered in cheese. I thought it clever how they cut the meatball in half and stuck a slice of mozzarella in the middle. Looks gorgeous!
I was able to order the meatballs without cheese. The bread crumb sprinkles was a nice crunchy touch. I also really like their tomato sauce. It has a nice sweet tang to it which is how I dig my sauce. I took an extra meatball home with sauce and mixed it with gluten-free spaghetti from Trader Joe's for lunch the next day.
Their was five of us at the table with five pizzas, and the one pizza that stood out for me was a pizza that is unique to only this Mellow Mushroom. The pizza is called the "Fun Guy" which has 5 different mushrooms: Shiitake, Crimini, Button, Portobello, and Oyster Mushrooms which sit atop Mozzarella with a house-made Grilled Mushroom Vinaigrette sauce.
I did take two bites because I am a mushroom fangirl, and how often do you see shiitake, crimini, and oyster mushrooms in your typical pizza joint? Yeah again, almost never, so this mushroom presence gets five stars in my book. Woa! For you vegetarians or mushroom lovers, I highly recommend getting this pizza.
Other Noshtopia goodness you'll find on the Phoenix Mellow Mushroom Menu include:
On the PBS food show I was on "Check Please Arizona," one of the places I had to go visit was Cornish PastyR. For those not familiar, a pasty is a filled pastry commonly associated with Cornwall in South West England. The pasty looks like a cousin to the calzone and empanada.
At Cornish Pasty, they were able to make me a pasty using vegan crust, and then pulling out the brie and egg-white brush.When you pull out the dairy and egg, the pasty starts getting slimmer in fat and calories.
I ate half the pasty for lunch and the other for a snack later on in the day. I think pasty's are fun food because it comes in a pocket and the possibilities for fillings are endless. It's a great way to sneak in more veggies into your day!
When it comes to drinks, most people focus on the calories and sugar but not really the sodium numbers. It's equally important to be concerned with daily sodium intake because too much salt intake can lead to high blood pressure which can then lead to a heart attack, stroke or kidney disease.
Health experts recommend 1,100 - 3,300 mg of sodium per day for healthy adults. Your average American consumes 2,300 to 6,900 mg per day.
I was on the McDonald's website looking for sodium information for some food stuff but and then happened to look at sodium numbers in the drink section, and was surprised to see that plain old 1% milk has almost 50X the amount of sodium as a regular Coke. (Based on serving size, you have to almost double the servings of milk to be about equivalent with the Coke.)
And interestingly, milk has almost the same amount of sugar as the Coke...the number is only roughly 5g lower. And chocolate milk, holey cow, the equivalent serving size of Coke gives you almost 50g vs. 29g of sugar, and nearly 300g vs. 5g of sodium.
Clearly, in this comparison, Coke is nutritionally better than chocolate milk. How scary is that...because on common sense alone most of us would assume that milk is healthier than soda. Well, no it isn't if you look at these numbers.
It's stunning! Just to give you a little sodium perspective, a 1 oz (28g) serving of Lay's Kettle Cooked Original Potato Chips has 110 mg of sodium. The jug of plain 1% milk has more sodium than potato chips.
I was also surprised to see that Diet Coke has 3X the amount of sodium as Regular Coke. There may be 0 calories, but there is triple the amount of sodium.
Out of all the McDonald's drinks, the best of the choices sodium wise was the Minute Maid Apple Juice and a 12oz cup of Iced Tea which has 0 calories, 5mg sodium, and 0 sugar.
Next time you're ordering drinks, be conscious of the sodium content as well.
Note: all drink images copyright belong to McDonald's