Vegan Nom Noms Gear: Tortuga Backpack Review

tortugalogoI realized after my three month cross-country road trip through America that I should probably talk about my Tortuga Backpack, as a lot of people asked about it and it’s with me all the time!

Let’s start with this…the Tortuga backpack is freaking awesome. You may have seen the picture to the right already, but here it is for you:

tortuga-travel-backpack-45-degrees-right_grandeHow can I get so excited about a backpack you may ask? (Okay shhh I like storage, but anyway…)

Here’s why:

– It’s a small company and product actually designed and created by backpackers.

– It opens like a suitcase, no rummaging around and pulling everything out to get to that thing at the bottom of your backpack!

– It’s carry-on size for pretty much all airlines! No checked luggage! I can personally vouch for this on my many flights with KLM, Easyjet, AirBerlin, Frontier and Alaska Airlines so far. Only one you might wanna check with is Ryanair.

– It fits a lot of stuff. Yes, it’s a carry-on, but I can happily survive two weeks with the Tortuga without doing laundry, infinitely if I have access to a washing machine.

-It has a separate padded laptop sleeve. Very important for me, since I take my computer everywhere and want to keep it safe. Makes going through airport security way quicker.

Padded hip belt. I don’t care if it’s not cool, my old backpack would kill my neck and shoulders for days just walking from the train to my hostel. The hip belt is a lifesaver! Especially when you’re like me and tend to hoard vegan cookbooks and heavy food items wherever you go!

–  Simple black color and design. It means it’s good for backpacking or bringing with me to a business trip. Whether I’m being hippy Nicole or working Nicole it’s got me covered.

No leather! I emailed the company to double-check, and the Tortuga is made of ballistic nylon. The lining is made of a ripstop polyester.

Pictures? Okay you can have pictures too. I even took one wearing my bright blue exciting leggings (ahem…pajamas)…you thought I would get dressed for you? Ha! No.

backpackers backpackView of the Tortuga opened, with an accurate depiction of what I tend to pack. Yes, cookbooks and Earth Balance Mac n Cheese. I’d have put all 10 boxes in, but I only have two left. Americans, feel free to send more! ;-) You can see my trusty Kleen Kanteen I just got in America too, just make sure to empty that one before airport security!Tortuga Backpack Closed | Vegan Nom NomsTortuga closed view. IMG_4459Okay, not the best picture in the world, but you get an idea of the size. I am 5’9” (175 cm), for reference. You might have problems if you are really small, but! Tortuga has a smaller backpack called the Tortuga Air, so you can check that out too here!

How much does it cost, you ask? $199.00 Okay, it seems like a lot, but it’s very sturdy and I use it all the time, everywhere. I am a very cheap person, but I would pay for the Tortuga again. Better than buying a cheaper one and having it fall apart halfway through dragging it across the world with you and better than when I had a very similar, but cheaper backpack that made my neck constantly hurt for weeks!

Curious? You can check out their website here. They have many, many much nicer pictures than I posted of the backpack from every angle and review! Perfect as a gift for a traveling friend or, well…yourself. I don’t judge, I bought it for myself too!

What’s your favorite backpack or suitcase for traveling? Do you like these gear posts, should I do more? Let me know in the comments!

10 Whole Foods Cookbooks – No Weird Ingredients

When I first went vegan, there weren’t as many vegan cheeses, veggie meats, condiments, etc. Now I find that pretty much any novelty product I used to eat before being vegan I can find a vegan version of in the store. This is great, but as vegan meats and cheeses are my weakness sometimes I go a bit overboard. This is not a post on dieting, I swear, but lately I’ve started to become more aware of a connection of feeling tired and cranky when eating too much vegan processed food. Coupled with all the traveling and eating out and I’m trying to learn to make more meals using whole foods and not relying on ready-made products.

You’d think this would actually be easier, since all I need is simple vegetables, beans, grains, etc., no trip to the vegan grocery store, etc., but this type of eating is actually totally foreign to me. I ate out a lot growing up and definitely did not come from any sort of hippy family. Throwing together some complicated meal using vegan substitutes comes together way quicker in my head then pulling together 4-5 whole ingredients with some spices, oddly enough.

So, you see why I needed help. I’m still in the process of re-training my brain and learning more about whole foods. I by no means am going to cut out all processed food all the time, but now that I realized I have a culinary weakness, I must conquer it! Plus it’s way cheaper and I am still detoxing from five months of travel over the last year.

I have asked around and scoured the internet for good cookbooks that don’t rely too much on ready-made vegan products and focus more on whole foods without reaching into the crazy obscure vegetable land. Below is what I found. Some of the cookbooks I own, some not, which I’ve noted below. The cookbooks are in no particular order.

(Paleo Vegan) – I am not on a paleo diet by any means, but I still like the idea of challenging myself to different ways of cooking and this book caught my eye during Vegan Mofo when I stumbled upon Chic Vegan’s review of it. It’s supposed to focus on “fresh, whole foods such as nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, wild-crafted greens and mushrooms, and healthy fats (as well as the occasional cheat of beans or grain-like seeds)”. So it’s almost grain-free as well, for those of you who don’t do gluten.

(The Great Vegan Bean Book) – I am a sucker for books that focus on one specific type of food. I don’t know what it is, it started with The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook years ago. Perhaps it’s just simpler for my mind to process…all I have to do is stock up on that item and then I can make all the recipes in the book…huzzah! Anyway, the recipes are mostly either naturally soy- and gluten-free, or written with soy- and gluten-free options and for those who are into it, the book is also written with consideration for those avoiding oil and has great review on Amazon. The white bean Pecan Paté, Roasted Root Veggie and Kidney Bean Hash, Southern-style White Bean Gravy and Lemon Coconut Chickpea Muffins particularly caught my eye. This is at the top of my to-buy list once I cook through some of my current cookbooks more.

(Straight from the Earth) – This book is actually written by the owners of a farm and focuses on fresh produce and whole foods. Some recipes that caught by eye were the Quinoa Banana Skillet Bake, Slow Simmered Beans with Tuscan Kale, Thai Lettuce Rolls, and Very Chocolately Chocolate Brownies. Also the Eccentric Caesar because I am obsessed with caesar salad.

(Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons) – Another theme cookbook and this one is just in time for winter! The book is arranged by season based on what ingredients are more readily available at that time and there is even a section of selection of accompaniments such as quick breads, dumplings, muffins, and scones. The review on amazon confirm it stays away from hard-to-find ingredients, but it does seem to use some vegan cream in recipes. Everything in moderation, right? The Sweet and Sour Sauerkraut Soup and Mac and Cheese soup especially caught my eye.

(Blissful Bites) – Right off the bat, the Amazon description says this book is about “how to make healthy, delicious, animal-product free meals without a lot of effort.” Healthy vegan food for lazy people? Perfect. Also arranged by season, the picture on the cover makes me hungry and recipes like Macro Mac-n-Cheese, Peanut Soba Noodles and Raw Chocolate Mousse caught my eye.

(Vegan Indian Cooking) – Once you stock your spice collection with the necessary spices, this book focuses on mostly whole foods with vegetables, beans and grains. I love me some Indian food, so an all-vegan Indian cookbook sounds right up my ally. Recipes that caught my eye were Besan Poora (Chickpea Flour Crepes), Street Corn Salad, Jeera Aloo (Cumin Potato Hash), Punjabi Khardi (Chickpea Flour Curry with Veggies), Band Gobi (Punjabi Style Cabbage), Samosas, Cabbage with Mustard Seeds and Coconut, Methi Palak Aloo (Fenugreek Spinach Potatoes), Sweet and Sour Potatoes,  and Spicy Plantains. Yum.

(Vegan Italiano) – I got this cookbook for about $2 used on Amazon and brought it back to Germany with me. The cookbook isn’t fancy and there are no pictures, but if you can get past that it’s filled with lots of simple recipes with not too long ingredient lists with no strange ingredients or vegan meats, cheeses, etc. in sight! I am especially excited to try out some of the risottos, the Spinach and Eggplant and Zucchini, the different pasta dishes and the Grilled Peaches and Apple Cake desserts! It is exactly what I was looking for, all simple whole ingredients that don’t need to be processed down. I’ll let you know how it goes once I cook more from here, having trouble deciding where to start!

(The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen) – From the same series, this one I also got for $2 on Amazon used, but it focuses on Mediterranean foods in general, not just Italian. I like it because even though a lot of the recipes only have 4-5 ingredients, I’m not so familiar with Mediterranean cooking so wouldn’t have necessary thought of the different combinations found in the book. Also Sicilian Eggplant Relish, Catalan Grilled Vegetables with Almond Sauce, Black Olive Bread, Zucchini-Lemon Couscous, Greek Currant Cake, Braised Pears in Red Wine, Squash Gnocchi and Mushrooms Stuffed with Bread Crumbs sound delish. Again, if you can get behind the fact that there are no pictures it’s a winner. Plus at $2 on Amazon you can’t go wrong, right?!

(The Oh She Glows Cookbook) – I can’t do a whole foods cookbook round up without mentioning the Oh She Glows Cookbook! I bought this when it first came out and it’s pretty great. It has a picture for every recipe and some good everyday recipes on stuff like how to make your own granola bars, almond milk, etc. I’ve only made a few recipes from the book so far but I quite like it. The Luxurious Tomato Basil Pasta picture will make you drool all over the book and it was super delicious, plus I really, really, need to make the Life-Affirming Nacho Dip in there that everyone is raving about. I need my life to be affirmed by nachos.

(Isa Does It) – Somehow I do not have this book yet. While I believe there are some vegan processed products in there like seitan, I’m adding this up here as when I asked the internet “What are your favorite cookbooks for mostly whole foods, simple vegan recipes” the resounding answer was Isa Does it! Vegan MoFo this year alone was an ode to this book, so perhaps I ought to jump on the bandwagon.

Now, since the holidays are coming up, even though I am trying to cut down on my cookbook addition, I would not complain if one of these ended up in my stocking. Going through these books again to write this post has me totally hungry and wanting to buy all the cookbooks!

Have you tried any of these cookbooks? What did you think? What are your favorite recipes from the cookbooks you’ve tried? What other cookbooks focused on simple whole foods do you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

First Attempt at Homemade Ethiopian Food

Homemade Ethiopian Food | Vegan Nom NomsI am addicted to Ethiopian food. There, I said it. It is just so good, but going often to the Ethiopian restaurant can be expensive and since I’ve banned myself from eating out except for birthdays networking and the occasional Vokü here in Berlin, I had to find a way to feed my addiction. I had bought some berbere (Ethiopian spice mix) online awhile back, and it was time to use it!

What surprised me is that all the ingredients for the two dishes above were quite cheap. I bought a huge green cabbage, bag of red lentils, tomato paste, bag of carrots and bag of potatoes for less than €13 at Netto and I have plenty of veggies after making two dishes for plenty of other things. Let the money saving begin!

I used the recipe from Vegan Richa for Atakilt Wat for the dish on the right made from cabbage and potatoes. You can find the recipe here.

The red lentil dish Yemiser W’et was made from Kittee’s recipe over at Cake Maker to the Stars. You can find the recipe here.

I had some teff flour sitting in the freezer (because I’m afraid of moths) for ages and finally got to use that too.  I used this recipe from Yum Universe, but I fermented the batter two more days until it was more sour and added a teensy bit of sugar. It came out okay, but I must say this is the one place my food vastly differed from an Ethiopian restaurant. I’m not sure if it’s because they mix the teff with other flours at an actual restaurant or if they use an older teff sourdough starter or if there is just some magical touch, but the homemade version I made didn’t quite match up. Ah well, room for improvement!

Overall, once you have the spices, making your own Ethiopian food is not as hard as it seems!

Let me know in the comments, have you experimented with Ethiopian food? Favorite recipes? Any injera tips or tricks? Inquiring minds want to know! :-)