Masa of Echo Park-Vegan Deep Dish Pizza

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This past weekend, while on the way back from Venice Beach, we stopped at Masa of Echo Park. I had this restaurant bookmarked on Yelp for awhile now, and was so curious to try their deep dish pizza.

Pizza will never be the same again, the amazingness of this dish completely ruined all other pizza for me.

We had to wait for a while for our pizza, which only made it that much better when it finally arrived.

First, we started with vegan garlic bread, with chunks of Teese mozzarella on it.

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We were told that the deep-dish pizzas take longer to bake, so we happily snacked on our garlic bread.

However, about 20 minutes later, we were told that they made our pizza non-vegan, by accident. The staff was extremely apologetic and bought us a glass of wine.

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Finally, our pizza arrived. We chose the veggie pepperoni, black olives and sun-dried tomatoes as our toppings.

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The pizza absolutely lived up to the hype I read about on Yelp. The crust was thick, yet flavorful, without being too greasy. The toppings were generous, yet not sliding off.

The best part was there was plenty for leftovers and it tasted even BETTER the next day for lunch!

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I will definitely be back!

What is your favorite pizzeria? 

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Vegan Dessert-Coconut Banana Ice Cake (Raw, Vegan, Gluten-Free)

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I am not huge on desserts. I hardly ever crave sweets, and even when I do, one or two bites of a dessert is plenty for me. My weakness definitely lies in salty, savory foods. I could take or leave a cupcake, but would have a hard time doing the same thing with chips or fries.

I am also a horrible baker. I guess I am just not motivated enough to become good at it, or I am simply too impatient to allow things to cool or rise properly. Almost everything I have baked comes out to be a complete, lopsided disaster.

This created anxiety when I needed to make a cake for my 9 year old step-son’s birthday, this past weekend. I searched through Pinterest, and when I find this no bake cake, I knew it was the one I would make.

I really loved how few, yet flavorful ingredients it contained, and I especially loved that there was no added sugar!

As long as you have a food processor or blender, this recipe is pretty simple. You first start off by making the crust with pecans (toasting them first added such a nice flavor), dates, cocoa nibs, shredded coconut and sea salt.

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The filling was soaked cashews, lemon juice, vanilla extract, coconut oil, agave, mashed banana and shredded coconut.

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After the filling is on, you pop it into the freezer, bringing it out to thaw in the refrigerator, about an hour before serving.

I thought it came out really well, and got positive feedback on it. The crust was my favorite part and the banana + coconut was a great combination.

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Another great combination was pairing it with a little Almond champagne!

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Click here for the full recipe.

The Road to Veganism: Part 2-My Vegan Journey

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My journey to veganism has been full of twists and turns, and not as smooth as my transition into vegetarianism.

I easily gave up meat without ever looking back and never having a craving. I remember going to The Bodies exhibit soon after becoming a vegetarian. The similarities between humans and animals became even more apparent to me, (I remember thinking, “our thighs look exactly like shredded beef!”) and my awareness of animals as living and feeling beings was heightened, further solidifying my decision not to eat them.

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However, cheese was not as easy.  I rarely ate eggs or drank milk in their whole forms, both had grossed me out since I was a kid, I only ate them when they were ingredients in pastries, crackers, etc.

I first considered veganism in March 2008, after I read Skinny Bitch. This book really opened my eyes to the suffering of animals in factory farming and how consuming dairy still supported harm to animals.

I slowly started fazing dairy out of my diet. I first started by not buying any dairy products for my home. I did use some of the vegan cheese substitutes to help the transition. I would still sometimes order items with cheese on them when I ate out, but I soon realized I wanted them less and less. This also helped me cut down on how much I was eating out.

Eventually, I stopped even wanting cheese. It was THE weirdest thing. I constantly hear from people, “I could NEVER give up cheese!” Well, I was one of those people. I can remember many occasions saying that aloud. However, once you stop eating it as much, you stop wanting it. It truly is like a drug, and once you wean yourself off, the cravings start to cease. This is coming from the person who used to melt globs of cheese in a bowl, and eat it as a snack!

Within the first few months, I lost 10 pounds, without any changes to my activity level, just by eliminating dairy. My diet started improving into a much more healthy, whole foods focus. I started cooking nearly every, single meal at home. I begin bringing my lunch to work each day, and planned to eat before I went somewhere socially. I carefully scrutinized menus before going to a restaurant, to pick the healthiest, animal-free choice.

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My health begin improving. I especially noticed a difference in my digestion, skin and energy levels. Not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually, I felt better. I finally felt free of the guilt I carried around from eating animals. It had been an ethical conflict within me for so long and went against my values; I was finally living congruently with what I believed.

I found veganism to be much more challenging than vegetarianism. It was much harder to eat out and virtually impossible in social situations, at someone else’s house. I tended to eat before I went somewhere or else bring something of my own.

I still was not as experienced in cooking. I tended to make the same meals over and over again, and stick with what was safe. Soon enough, I begin craving cheese and having dreams that I was eating pizza (true story).

I stuck with veganism pretty faithfully for about 1 ½ years, before I begin sneaking in a bite of cheese pizza here or there, or using the excuse that’s “that all there was available,” and eating something with cheese. Slowly, cheese begin creeping it’s way into my diet again.

My health definitely noticed. I gained some weight and felt sluggish. I would reflect back on when I was strictly vegan and remember how good I felt.

I kept this up for about two years. I ate cheese, felt guilty again, and wondered why I was keeping myself from feeling my optimal best.

I was definitely not at my healthiest, and my body felt it. I drank far too much coffee and diet soda, plus wine at night. I was eating out way too much and packing on the pounds. I was constantly tired, got frequent migraines and started having symptoms of acid reflux again (something that had completely went away, when I first went vegetarian).

I would frequently want to make improvements, but when it came down to it, I was too lazy to make my health a priority. I made the excuse that I ran and went to the gym, so that should be enough. I would try to quiet the voice in the back of my mind that reminded me how good it felt when I was completely vegan.

I lost my dad in March 2012, to a violent crime. This tragedy hit me like a train, and somehow I knew I needed to deal with it in a healthy way, because it would be far too easy, but detrimental, to begin a pattern of unhealthy coping mechanisms. I begin a much more dedicated yoga and meditation practice to help me through the journey of grief and loss.

In August 2012, at an annual check-up, my Dr. told me my blood pressure was so high, that we should seriously consider medication. This was a HUGE wake-up call. I was 28 at the time and in NO way did I want to start down a path of medicating myself for something that could potentially be controlled. I knew that if I made some changes to my diet, my blood pressure would probably even out.

I had just finished reading Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet, and knew the time had come to make some changes. I did her 21 Day Adventure Cleanse, to kick start myself back into veganism, and completely gave up coffee and soda (read more about that here). (For recaps on the 21 Day Cleanse, click here.)

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Once again, I felt amazing and wondered why I had ever stopped eating this way?!

This time around has been easier. I have branched out in my cooking and learned more recipes to give myself variety in my diet.

I will be very honest and admit that one thing that has helped is the accessibility of more vegan junk food. I consume in moderation, but I definitely have those days where I am just craving something fatty and tasty. Before, this would lead to the pizza dreams, however, now I can access foods that feed that craving, and jump back into green juice, whole grains and veggies the next day.

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Travelling still proves to be problematic. I had a hard time eating completely vegan when I was in Shanghai last year. I hope to travel to France, Italy and Switzerland this coming summer, and I am sure it will be challenging, to always find 100% vegan meals.

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I am not, nor will I even be 100% perfect. I may slip up here and there. I only recently got rid of any animal-tested make-up. I consider this to be an ever-evolving journey and don’t expect to arrive at vegan mecca anytime soon. However, I am definitely much more committed to living my life in a way that is the LEAST cruel to other living beings. I am committed to not let anything I buy or eat, cause harm to someone else. It can be difficult to do everything 100% correctly, and sometimes I feel vegans put that pressure on each other, but I feel better knowing I am doing all I can, with the knowledge I currently have. I may learn new things and make more adjustments in the future, but for now, my body, mind, soul and heart feel so much better for being true to what I believe in.

Vegan Food in the Heat: No Cooking Required

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I have to admit that VeganMoFo has been a little bit challenging. I have not been cooking much lately, there is a ridiculous heat wave occurring in Southern California, and it has not been less than 90 degrees the past few weeks.

I am drooling over some of the other posts such as; Teriyaki Seitan Asada tacos,  Five Cheese Baked Mac n Cheese, Hot Pumpkin Mug, BLT Mac & Cheese and Eggplant Lasagna with Ricotta Cheese, However, I start sweating just thinking about turning on my stove or oven.

I tried to get more creative this past week and make some dishes that did not require heating up my already hot kitchen.

I first made Spabettie’s Spicy Coconut Almond Dipping Sauce. This is such a classic, it has few ingredients, but makes such an amazing sauce! I used this as a dipping sauce for a collard green wrap.

I first trimmed off the collard green steam, then filled it with sliced bell peppers, carrots, cucumber, tofu and avocado.

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The sauce truly transformed  raw vegetables into a full meal that was high in nutrients and required no additional heat.

These meal did the trick for the time being, but I am definitely looking forward to cooler temperatures. I really miss baked sweet potatoes, filling soups, homemade pizza and hearty stir frys.

The Road to Veganism: Part 1-My Vegetarian Story

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I thought it was appropriate during VeganMoFo to share my story about my journey to veganism. I am often asked why I do not eat animals and the short answer is because I love animals, but here is the longer version.

I did not start out as a vegan. I was first vegetarian, the transitioned to a vegan.

I had felt guilty about eating animals for a LONG time, years even. I proclaimed to be an animal lover. I am a crazy dog lady and would feel the conflict between letting one type of animal sleep with me, yet eating another. How were they different?

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Like many people, I tried to push these thoughts out of mind. I never had to kill my own food, nor see it in it’s unpackaged form, so it was easy to put distance between the realities of how a living creature made it’s way to my plate.

From 2001-2005, I worked at Clark’s Nutritional Centers. I learned so much in my years there, mostly about the connection between what I ate and my health. I had sadly never given this much thought before. More and more, I felt so much guilt for continuing to eat animals. I started trying to only eat “free-range, grass fed” products, but even that did not sit well with me.

One day, in March 2006, I decided I was not going to eat meat that day. That extended into a week, which extended into a month, which extended into a few months and I finally realized I would never eat meat again. I did not miss or crave it and turning vegetarian was relatively easy.

I was a junk food vegetarian, for a while. I mostly ate fake meat products and it was still relatively easy to eat out, I still enjoyed fatty, convenient, cheese laden dishes. Even though I was not at my healthiest, I felt so much better ethically. I got rid of so much guilt and was able to eliminate my pet/plate complex.

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I started doing more research on vegetarianism and found so many helpful blogs along the way, that taught me a great deal. They pointed me in the direction of other cookbooks, websites, books and documentaries that furthered solidified my decision. Some of my favorite cookbooks that I discovered were by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero (Veganomicon changed my life). I am infinitely grateful that they taught me how to cook and realize all the possibilities in meals without animals.

The more I learned, the stronger I felt in my decision. I learned more about the horrors of factory farming and treatment of factory animals. I learned about the environmental impacts of factory farming. I learned about the negative health effects that are associated with a diet high in animal protein. I learned about the connection between how I ate and my body, emotions, heart, soul and mind.

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I have never again craved meat, and I can pretty assuredly say that I will never eat it again (of course, I cannot answer to the deserted island  “what ifs.” I do not know why people love posing that scenario to vegans.).

One of the books I read during this time was Skinny Bitch, and so began my journey to veganism…..

Check back for my Part 2 next week….