Eating Green From A Vending Machine

This winter has, for lack of fancy words, sucked. It has sucked so hard words can no longer describe just how much it sucks. I know everyone has been hit hard because of Polar Vortex, Polar Vortex 2: Die Harder, Polar Vortex 3: The Quickening. The snowstorms are becoming far too normal. I’m pretty sure people in Chicago have forgotten what a sunny sky is. Don’t want to take my word for it? Check out this infographic from ABC7 here in Chicago.

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Suicide rates also rose 670% this year 

Oh, what? It was only a 670% increase in snowfall from last year? No wonder people with Seasonal Affective Disorder are just lining up and walking out into Lake Michigan. What’s a little more gray in our lives? THAT’S ALL WE KNOW NOW!

Which explains why we desperately cling to anything that even remotely reminds us of summer. I went out yesterday for a walk and saw people in shorts because the meteorologists were predicting 50 degrees. Did it hit that high? Nope. But we HOPED it would.

It’s also why I’ve been craving things like ice cream, lemonade and fresh green salads. I’ll take summer however I can get it. So when I read Internet superstar Bonnie Burton’s CNET article about a new Chicago company bringing fresh salads to a vending machine near me, I jumped at the chance to track down one of them down.

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There’s a food court behind that McDonald’s!

Turns out that Farmer’s Fridge, the company behind this new startup, put one into the Garvey Food Court which A) I did not know existed even though I’ve walked past that street corner hundreds of times and B) is only 5 blocks from our apartment.

The food court itself looks like any other food court with the only notable exception of the very large, built from reclaimed wood, Farmer’s Fridge vending machine. They did a great job designing the space for the machine.  Ropes ties off the queue line. You’ll be waiting for your turn on a fresh patch of fake grass. And as I mentioned, the machine itself is built out of reclaimed wood.

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I only freaked this man out a little.

The first day I made my way to the food court, I discovered that the machine was incredibly popular. By 1:30 the cupboard was bare with only 1 or 2 salads left in the machine. It was for the best though, because the price of $8 dollars had me second-guessing how bad I wanted a salad.

The next day I convinced myself to try one of the salads (if I got there in time). I rationalized that $8 seemed a bit pricey, but it was healthier for me than eating at a McDonald’s or a Chipotle where I would end up spending just as much. They have plenty of options to choose from including: Antioxidant, High Protein, Detox, The Cheater, Crunchy Thai, Mediterranean and North Napa. But for me there was no other choice than the Mediterranean. I like my salads with some fruit in them. It tricks my brain into thinking I’m still eating something unhealthy because of the added sugar. And the Mediterranean salad had what I wanted: mixed greens, goat cheese, mixed berries, almonds, carrot, sprouts, flax seed & white balsamic vinaigrette.

You can also get add-on proteins like lemon pepper chicken, tuna or salmon salad, or even lemon tofu for an extra $2. Unfortunately they were completely out of the lemon tofu so I opted for the chicken.

IMG_5624The salads and proteins come fresh each morning, jarred in a BPA-free plastic jar. At the end of the day Farmer’s Fridge discounts the price of the salads before removing them and donating them to a local food bank. It’s a pretty good system they have worked out.

Just how good is a salad served up in a plastic jar? First of all, it’s a good-sized salad. Based on the size of the jar I was worried I’d still be hungry 20 minutes later, but that’s wasn’t the case. It was actually fresher than many of the restaurant-served salads I’ve had. The berries (strawberry, blackberry and blueberry) tasted fresh, the mixed greens were crisp and crunchy and the sum of all the ingredients blended into one tasty salad.

I don’t know how much the chicken added to the salad. I could barely taste it over the balsamic vinaigrette. I’m still interested in trying the lemon tofu, but I can’t see opting for the protein on a regular basis. I also wish there was more goat cheese in the mix, but I’m a sucker for goat cheese. I’m a sucker for cheese in general.

IMG_5626Would I get one again? Yes, because I need to try that Crunchy Thai salad. As a person trying to watch their pocketbook, however, I probably wouldn’t get them regularly. Making salad at home is still the cheapest way to get some greens. Yet, if I were a businessperson who only has a short amount of time to grab some food, I would probably pick this over a greasy meal.

It’s hard to say go out and try one for yourself, because right now there are only two of these “veggie machines” out in the wilds of Chicago. They’re supposed to be adding 20(?!) more soon. If you’re in the Loop, though, I’d definitely say give these salads a try instead of your usual fast food choices.

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Two Bites in Suburbia gets a domain!

Feel free to update your bookmarks to http://twobitesinsuburbia.com/. You can use the old link, but come on, I’m paying for a real domain name!

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Will McDonald’s Be Making a Veggie Big Mac?

Santa Fe Veggie Signature McWrapWould you eat a veggie burger from McDonald’s?

The Internet hopes so! This post on the Chicago Sun Times website pointed me to this Change.org petition asking McDonald’s to provide a more “meatier” meatless option than a salad. They point to Canadian McDonald’s who recently introduced vegetarian and vegan McWraps (which honestly sound SUPER tasty.) I mean, they’re Santa Fe Veggie wrap alone would get me into McDonald’s more:

Fresh tomatoes, red onions, shredded lettuce, fire roasted corn & black beans, with crispy tortilla strips. Topped with monterey and cheddar cheese, with chili lime glaze and southwest sauce – all wrapped in a warm whole wheat soft-shell tortilla.

Those are better options than the current offerings at McDonald’s, but I see why people are still hoping for a meatless burger. You go into McDonald’s you want the burger experience. I can’t lie, I miss the taste of the McDonald’s buns. And honestly, vegetarians and vegans like more than vegetables. They like protein just like everyone else. I know this may come as shocking to some of you.

My big question is, would it be good? I remember when Burger King introduced the BK Veggie Whopper all those years ago. After ordering Whoppers for years with everything but the meat taken out, I was super stoked to try me something new. The results were, let’s say, craptacular. The burger didn’t really have any major flavor. Plus it had the side effect of making you super gassy.

So, would a McDonald’s veggie patty be any good? Would it give you the all the flavors of a Big Mac? Or would it taste as plain as the Burger King patty did? Sadly, for all of those billions served, only 86K people have actually signed the petition, so we may be waiting awhile.

A spokeswoman for McDonald’s had this to say:

“In our experience, menu items at McDonald’s are most successful when enough customers choose to select them,” and that customers who want a meatless option “could order McWraps without chicken and with extra veggies.”

But I think that’s why the petition is a good idea. Vegetarians don’t always want a salad in a pita wrap. They want something other than lettuce.

Please, anything but more lettuce.

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Whaaaaaat? Barrel-Aged Sriracha!

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So this exists. Barrel-aged Sriracha. Drink it up. Let your eye holes soak it in.

Small admission. I’m not the obsessed fan of Sriracha that I should be. Like bacon I get a little tired of hearing about it. But unlike bacon, I’d definitely give this a try. The site describes it thusly:

Aged in whiskey barrels for 1-3 months to give the sauce an interesting oaky and rich character that you won’t find in your standard Thai chili sauce.

I’m sold. You should be too. The only downside to this tastesplosion? It’ll cost you 25 bones. If you’re still interested, you can pick it up over at CoolMaterial.com.

(via That’s Nerdalicious)

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Vegetarian French Cassoulet

IMG_5610I know the very idea of a vegetarian French cassoulet is an idea of contradictions. French love a few things: butter, pastry, slapstick comedy, pencil-thin mustaches and meat. Also, from what I told they also love hating on Americans, but I’ve never been there so I can’t say firsthand. Part of me feels that the stereotype has been given the mythic proportions treatment, but the other part of me feels like, “Well can’t really blame them. We’re pretty gross.”

But this IS a vegetarian French cassoulet. Meat substitutions and vegetable stock replace the typical meaty ingredients. Just go generous with the salt. I was a bit conservative and I think it needs more than “to taste.”

I’m also skipping the bread crumbs because it gave the texture a more mealy grit to it and unless you’re talking about grits, it’s never a good thing for food to be described as mealy or gritty.

Vegetarian French Cassoulet (adapted from The Mediterranean Cookbook)

  • 1/2 pound Trader Joe’s “Beef-less” Strips cut into a dice
  • 1/2 pound Tofurkey Italian sausage cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 15-oz cans navy beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14 1/2-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe can either be cooked in the oven or using a crockpot

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees if using the oven.

Place “beef” and sausage in a large casserole or crockpot. Set aside. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and then add the onion, red pepper and garlic. Saute until onions and pepper are soft, about 10 minutes. Add to the casserole or crockpot. Add beans, tomatoes, thyme and vegetable broth to casserole or crockpot and stir all ingredients to combine.

If using a casserole, bake, uncovered for 90 minutes. Or cook in a crockpot on low for 6-7 hours.

Serves 8

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Cheetos Cheezy Salsa Mix Cheetos

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I fully support and approve this new delicious surprise from Cheetos. I look forward to trying their Super Cheezy Mix as well. Good luck finding them though. It took me going to a Downer’s Grove suburb to find them at the Jewel there. I haven’t seen them anywhere in Chicago.

*Update* Just found them at a local CVS, so they do exist within the city proper.

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The One Where I Hate On Milwaukee But Not Really

At The Cheese CastleNow I don’t blame Milwaukee itself for the miserable trip we took up there, but man what a waste of a couple days. I was desperate to get away from the gray of Chicago, so what better thing to do than replace it with the gray of Milwaukee? It’s only a couple hour drive and it’s something different to do. I Priceline’d a 4-star hotel and we headed out on a 2-day adventure north.

What we ended up with was a trip where we curled into fetal positions, sick from the bar nuts we ate and the alcohol drank at the hotel bar, and watched Blades of Glory before ultimately being woken up by a goddamned seagull tapping on our window. Did I mention the walls were so thin we could hear water running constantly?

Breakfast wasn’t much better. We ate the buffet, which was surprisingly decent for a hotel buffet, but we never had a server. Apparently we could have ordered pancakes, waffles, and omelets as part of our buffet experience, but we didn’t find that out until some random server came up and asked if we’d even been helped. Too bad we were already finished with our meal.

4-star hotel.

But that’s not Milwaukee’s fault. That’s Priceline’s fault for saying the Hyatt Regency was a 4-star hotel when it felt more like a 2-star affair at best.

It also didn’t help that my back went out 2 hours after we got there. All of the plans we had, which mostly involved food and museums, were pretty much scrapped as we headed back to Illinois, defeated and not nearly as full of beer and cheese as one could hope.

I do blame Milwaukee for their drivers though. I’ve never had so many people tailgate me in a city before. What kind of bumper car logic is taught up there? All I’m saying is stay off my ass.

We’ll probably go back to Milwaukee so we can go on the brewery tours and check out the art museums, but it will be a bit before we do.

But that’s not to say it was all bad. We were able to go Palomino Bar &fried goodness, which of course means LOTS OF DEEP FRIED FOOD. And this is why I wanted to go to Palomino. Not because they were known for a decent selection of vegetarian options, although that is a plus, but because they had an appetizer called the Aw-Fuck-It Bucket.

Aw-Fuck-It BucketLet that roll around in your mind lobes for a while. It’s an appetizer that in and of itself gives up on the argument that you shouldn’t order it. And why shouldn’t you order it? It’s a platter of deep fried awesome: cheese curds, corn dogs, corn fritter, tater tots, jalapeño poppers. The main disappointing thing about this dish is that it didn’t come in one of those buckets you see normally reserved for casinos. I wanted it to come in a pail with Aw-Fuck-It etched on the side. It sounds like a mistake, and I wanted it to look like a mistake.

Deep fried cheese curds are a midwestern thing. I don’t care if they’re served somewhere else, but only midwesterners can invent such an idea. And I thank them for it. I love cheese and deep frying it only makes it better. Cheese curds are part of my childhood. My grandparents used to bring back bags of them from their trips to Wisconsin, I’m assuming from Mars Cheese Castle, and to this day I love those little clumps of cheese.

But if you happen to find yourself at Palomino, a place from the outside that looks like a typical neighborhood bar, please to avoid the corn fritters. More like hushpuppies and dry beyond belief, they were the second big disappointment of the appetizer. Possibly even more disappointing than it not coming in an actual bucket.

The rest of the food? Delicious. I had the seitan Faux Boy and Katie had the chicken and waffles, which came with three giant pieces of chicken and one large waffles. I’m glad I didn’t go with more deep fried though, because that bucket expanded in our stomachs, even though that Vegan Fried “Steak” sure was tempting.

How’s my weight loss going? Not well. Not well.

Seitan Faux Boy

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