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Are you a gluten-free vegan and miss delicious bread?

Are you a gluten-free vegan and miss delicious bread?

By on May 30, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

Taina Asili

Recently, I became enthralled with a new Netflix four-part documentary called Cooked, where chef Michael Pullon takes watchers on a journey of understanding the origins and science of food more deeply. On an episode entitled “Air” Pullon discusses bread, and introduces us to a Québécois baker based in the Berkshires who maintains the traditional method of sourdough bread making. He talks about how important the different microbes are to breaking down gluten, and hypothesizes that many people who identify as gluten-intolerant might in fact be able to digest the sourdough bread of this traditional baker. Well, when I realized that Berkshire Mountain Baker was less than an hour from my door step, I was floored, and practically jumped out the door right then. I LOVE BREAD. PERIOD. But I have been increasingly struggling with digesting gluten for at least the past five years, and now avoid gluten products all together. I find it to be very difficult to get great tasting vegan gluten-free bread. Many gluten-free breads either have eggs in them or are too heavy and still difficult for me to digest. So when I heard that there was even then potential for eating bread again I jumped at the opportunity. My three year old daughter and I set off on a special road trip together up I90 to the Berkshires. After a gorgeous ride through the mountains we landed at the bakery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Berkshire Mountain Bakery’s new sit down location. They have a case full of beautiful freshly baked breads (including gluten-free breads), sandwiches and salads, and sourdough crust pizzas fresh out of the oven. One their pizzas options on the menu is a vegan pizza with marinara, tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, red onions and pine nuts. Let me just tell you right now, it is divine. Perhaps it was because it has been so long since I had wheaty gluteny delicious crust before — or perhaps it is because these bakers are next level amazing at their craft — I don’t know — all I can say was this was the best pizza I have ever had in my life. It may even be better than the pizza I had in Sicily (don’t tell my father in law). And...

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Soul Food and Puerto Rican Flavors In Harlem

Soul Food and Puerto Rican Flavors In Harlem

By on Mar 8, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

Taina Asili

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I was recently invited to perform at Celebrating Puerto Rican Women: Today, Tomorrow and Always, a special event in East Harlem dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of Puerto Rican women. It was a huge honor to come down from Albany to sing in celebration of three incredible Puerto Rican women who have given tremendously to uplifting and healing their communities, and communities throughout the world. And since we were coming to one of the food capitals of the world, I knew that I wanted to arrive early to get some lunch and try something new. After googling “vegan” and “Harlem” for one minute, I knew that Seasoned Vegan was the place I wanted to check out. One of the attractions was that it is owned by a mother and son duo, Brenda and Aarin Beener, who describe their food as “gourmet vegan soul food.” We set our GPS straight from Albany to Seasoned Vegan and off we went. After a long ride in the car (admittedly, we did not pack enough snacks for the road) we arrived at the restaurant very hungry and tired. My daughter was feeling particularly unwell, and from the moment we walked through the door the staff went into action to accommodate us and get my daughter what she needed right away. I was super impressed, and knew we had chosen the right place. But we still needed to taste their food to be sure. For lunch, we were meeting my brother Louie, who resides in the Bronx. Many of his food favorites are very different from mine, and he is definitely not a vegan, so my hope in choosing this restaurant was that we would find something he could enjoy as much as me. We were in luck! The food was as good as you might imagine. I ordered a berry lemonade smoothie for my daughter, which she loved, and a tortilla pizza which she also enjoyed. My brother ordered a burrito, and with a big smile on his face, he asked me to quote him in saying, “it has my approval.” I ordered a gluten-free vegan chicken smothered in gravy, with a side of sweet potatoes and greens, and it was excellent. Gaetano had the chopped cheeseburger, and described it...

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Eating Vegan in Old San Juan

Eating Vegan in Old San Juan

By on Feb 26, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

Taina Asili

For the past several years, my brother has stayed in Old San Juan for about a month each winter to run a college program (I know, lucky him!). Three years ago, when I was visiting Puerto Rico with my family, he recommended we check out a vegan-friendly restaurant called Cafe Berlin located in Old San Juan. To be honest, in all my years visiting Puerto Rico, I hadn’t really spent too much time in this area before. I prefer to be close to the beautiful nature of the mountains or beaches, or with my extended family, rather than in the high tourist and high traffic area of Old San Juan. But, upon my brother’s advice, I decided to really spend some time getting to know Viejo San Juan a little better, allowing myself to embrace being a Nuyorican tourist for a while. Well, I confess, I enjoyed myself thoroughly! We did it all — museums, eating piraguas in the plazas, flying kites on the grassy hill, and watching the sunset over the ocean at El Morro. We even saw an exquisite projection light show on the history of Puerto Rico that got our artistic minds going wild. And my brother was right, Cafe Berlin was a vegan haven in Puerto Rico. This February, Gaetano and I took our first trip to Puerto Rico without the kids. We were shooting a music video and only had a short amount of time to accomplish this task. But before we began our journey to the west coast of the island, we decided to make another stop back in Old San Juan for a romantic dinner at Cafe Berlin. The menu has a huge selection of vegan and gluten-free possibilities, all criollo (traditional flavors) inspired, with exciting twists of taste. That night, I was having a craving for one my favorite Puerto Rican dishes, mofongo, and it just so happens that they have an excellent vegan mofongo on the menu. I enjoyed the homemade meatless “ground beef” and eggplant,  as well as the delicious criollo sauce. Gaetano ordered the criollo tofu, which is also my brother’s favorite, and it is almost as good as his own fabulous recipe. The tofu is simmered in a sauce with a taste reminiscent of my abuelita’s red beans, and is served...

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5 Tips For Visiting Family As A Vegan During the Holidays

5 Tips For Visiting Family As A Vegan During the Holidays

By on Nov 22, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Taina Asili

Our family is Puerto Rican and Sicilian, and for us, the concepts of family and food are almost synonymous. Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are particularly important times of the year for our families to get together and express our love to one another with sharings of our favorite cultural foods. When I became vegan, I needed to find a way to stay connected to the food I love and the people that cooked it, while simultaneously honoring my own choices and new food traditions. The great thing about culture is that it is not a stagnant body of water, but rather, an ever flowing river, gathering new things and letting go of some of the old along the way. We see evidence of this as families from Puerto Rico and Sicily, two very multicultural countries, that are now residing in the even more multicultural US. Our food is a profound story of our history and our present day, changing over time and location. This is how I approach my family during the holidays each year, as the beautiful river of food and culture continues to flow, and my story becomes a part of the journey. Here are 5 tips I offer to you as vegans to help you integrate your food tradition into your family’s holiday: 1. Honesty is the best policy. Generally, I find it helpful to let my family know what my dietary needs are as soon as possible before a gathering. If it is new to your relatives, it is helpful to give them time to adjust, and can help to reduce awkward moments during the holiday. Occasionally, my family will crack a joke or two, but overall they truly love to make us happy and well fed, and will usually do whatever they can to make that possible. It is helpful to explain what vegan means, by specifically requesting no meat (including fish), dairy, honey, or eggs. It’s even more helpful to tell them what you love to eat, and even suggest some simple things they can make, buy or replace. I have seen so much joy come from hosts who watch us enjoy the special meal they have put together for us when...

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Gluten-Free Vegan NYC Bagels

Gluten-Free Vegan NYC Bagels

By on Nov 13, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Taina Asili

One of my favorite things I love to eat in the world is a good old bagel from New York City. I regularly travelled to NYC a in my childhood to visit my grandparents, one set who lived in East Harlem, and the other in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I can’t remember the exact day that I first ate a bagel during my childhood, but I have distinct memories of the pure joy I received getting a fresh warm bagel from the bakery. Today, my family still experience this collective joy when we fly or drive into the city. JFK and LaGuardia are the primary airports we use for international travel, and we often find ourselves practically jumping off the plane to get to get to one of our favorite bagel shops as we quickly as possible. It is our favorite reward after long travel, and our acclimation back to home. My excitement visiting the city recently turned to sadness as I accepted the fact that my body does not like gluten. I could probably giving up any bread product on the planet, with the exception of an NYC a bagel. But being that NYC is one of the hippest cities in the world. I thought it would be worth a shot to see if any of my favorite spots were now carrying gluten-free bagels. By the grace of goodness they do! One of our favorite bagel shops we run to is Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company, particularly the one on Broadway in Queens. It is not too far from the airport and very close to where Gaetano’s family live. I’m my most recent trip there I learned that they in fact do carry gluten-free bagels, and it was absolutely delicious! However, be aware that they sell out fast, so grab it early. The next day, I went to grab another gluten-free bagel at 10am and they were all out. But because we are in NYC I did not give up hope. After a Google search and some phone calls I found another great bagel shop that carries delicious gluten-free bagels. New York City Bagel and Coffee House has a fun atmosphere with a lot of eating space...

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Eating Local in Portland, ME

Eating Local in Portland, ME

By on Oct 21, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

Taina Asili

Since 2009 my band, Taina Asili y la Banda Rebelde, has visited Maine to perform at one of the many festivals they have at Harry Brown’s Farm in Starks. For the past six years we have driven north to join with our New England family in epic festival adventures. After a beautiful night of singing and dancing, our morning ritual is head to Portland, where we sit down at Local Sprouts Cafe and recap on our previous night of fun over a plate of the most delicious local food. I remember the excitement I felt the first day I walked into this cooperatively run cafe, and saw a menu full of vegan and gluten-free options and a map on the wall which indicated all the places in Maine from which their food derived. As a mom, I was glad to see that they had a large children’s area full of toys. And as a musician, I was happy to see their beautiful stage and full piano situated near the front window. And as someone invested in caring for our environment, I was impressed with their delineated bins for recycling, compost, and landfill waste. And as a vegan food enthusiast, I was delighted by their delicious food options. On this year’s stop there, Gaetano and I both ordered one of their many tofu scrambles, which also include toast and organic home fries. I ordered the “Bones,” which was a tofu scramble with curry-roasted Maine root vegetables, organic greens, and onion. Gaetano ordered the “Garden Backyard” tofu scramble, which included organic Lalibela Farm black bean tempeh, organic greens and house salad. In my opinion, tofu scramble can be hit or miss at different restaurants on our travels, but my experience at Local Sprouts has always been consistently delicious and super flavorful. And though I am gluten-free these days, I have loved their vegan pancakes drenched in their highly quality Maine maple syrup. And they have many more vegan options to choose from, including a number of vegan gluten-free desserts. If you are ever in Portland, Maine, especially with children in tow, treat yourselves to Local Sprouts...

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