Monthly Archives:

September 2019

Food

A Bloomin’ Tasty Caramel Confection

September 26, 2019
Bloom vegan caramel sauce

Photo courtesy of Bloom Caramel.

**This piece was originally written for Citizen Fare online magazine — it’s quite a bit longer than usual, but I promise it’s a good story! **

First of all, I should probably offer a confession: I have a slight addiction to caramel. Maybe a bit more than slight. Sweet, sticky, scrumptiously rich and oozy — what’s not to like? As ubiquitous a flavor as it is, though, most people probably don’t think much about what’s actually in caramel (or maybe that’s exactly what you spend your days pondering — whatever floats your boat). News flash or not, these are the facts: most caramel is made with butter, cream, sugar, and a bucket-load of other additives, which sadly lands it on the no-no list for vegans and those with non-dairy and other diet restrictions. Or at least, in today’s buzz of the all-natural and plant-based, this reality is food for thought.

Better than simply thinking about food, though, is eating it, which is where Bloom caramel comes into this picture. An organic, dairy- and gluten-free, vegan caramel sauce, Bloom caramel contains exactly five easy-to-pronounce ingredients: pure cane sugar, coconut milk, vanilla, salt, and spices. Currently, you can find it in vanilla, salted, cardamom, ancho chili, matcha, salted coffee crackle, chili cinnamon, and even stout beer flavors.

The sweet concoction is the brainchild of Chris Bailey, a Portland chef and food entrepreneur. With a background in food research and product development at the Food Innovation Center at Oregon State University, Bailey was familiar with the process of launching edible endeavors and had previously created a line of vegan, gluten- and dairy-free soup starters. The leap to caramel, borne from the same principles, hit a sweet spot.

“For me the root came from the desire to offer options that serve the vegan/vegetarian community,” Bailey says. “I think it’s important to have a vegan-friendly, lactose-free caramel alternative.”

Coconut might not be the first ingredient to pop to mind when thinking of caramel. Yet there’s no denying that coconut’s star is rising on the buzzy health and wellness scene, and Bailey spotted a perfect time and environment to launch his vegan caramel recipe.

“We see [coconut] being utilized more, whether it’s coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut water, so having primarily coconut-based caramel fits that growing awareness of coconut and also alternative milks.”

That said, don’t be fooled into thinking you have to say farewell to any of the sugary goodness of traditional caramel in order to make it vegan. Just the opposite, in fact.

“With products like Bloom, I don’t consider [it] a substitute,” Bailey explains. “I mentioned ‘alternative’ — this is something that people who aren’t vegans can enjoy, too, because there’s such a different flavor profile to it. It’s just as satisfying as a traditional cream- or butter-based caramel.”

“The name Bloom was meant to evoke [a] healthy, alive feel, something always growing and buzzing to it.”

In addition to the vegan, non-dairy factor, a key aspect that sets Bloom apart is the actual making of the caramel. Bloom is clearly a labor of love of its creators, and its production speaks to the attention and conscientiousness of the philosophy behind the brand. Every jar is handcrafted in Portland, Oregon, produced on a limited scale in roughly 30-gallon kettles in the Bloom test kitchens — which may seem large but is practically home baking compared to the massive mechanized production of most mainstream brands. That personalized approach and care is at the heart of the Bloom identity.

“Right now it’s still a very small-batch, localized process,” Bailey says. “We have more control [and] quality assurance — we see what’s going in, we taste every batch here in North Portland. We’re actively overseeing the process [so] we have control over the ingredients that go into it and make sure everything is as consistent as possible every step of the way.”

Let’s not forget, the ingredients are the key to a product — at least, if you care about that sort of thing (which Bloom clearly does). The recipe seems almost laughably simple, which is exactly the beauty of it. They slowly caramelize pure cane sugar, then add in coconut milk, double-fold vanilla extract, a hint of sea salt, and organic spices. Voilà: creamy caramel goodness. On top of that, almost all of the ingredients are local, sourced from suppliers in and around Portland and the Pacific Northwest region. Circling back to the authentic and hands-on core of the Bloom character, the caramel is very much a product of and linked to the community it originated in, to which Bailey gives a generous slice of credit for its quality.

“The Portland community is really thoughtful and educated around food,” he says. “I think it speaks to the landscape [and] access to good food. Portland is nestled right by the Willamette Valley and these verdant growing regions, so it really starts from the ground up — you have these farmers and a robust presence of accessible fruits and vegetables, which leads to these handmade items. It’s part of a bigger landscape of just good products. From there it encourages more craft artisans who all share a similar value system of [considering] what goes into their products and what they’re making.”

In other words, every step of the way, the caramel is laced with a purity and care rather unique in today’s manufacturing scene. That might seem like a lot of hoopla for a sugar sauce, but it makes for one darn delicious outcome. And in Bailey’s view, this is what truly makes Bloom stand out.

“I think the depth of flavor we get really speaks to the ingredients we use: pure coconut milk, organic cane sugar, double vanilla and Oregon sea salt — the sea salt really makes a difference, too.”

Which brings us to a very crucial point: what does this stuff actually taste like? Sure, we all know what caramel tastes like, but coconut caramel? (Also, it’s worth pointing out that there’s a world of difference between true caramel and caramel-flavored). Despite the recent craze around everything coconut — milk, oil, butter — it can be a somewhat polarizing flavor. Not everyone wants his or her coffee to taste like an Almond Joy or piña colada (spoiler alert: it won’t).

“I think people are surprised by the flavor of the caramel. They think of coconut, and they think it’s going to have that artificial suntan-lotion-y flavor; they appreciate the deep, more nuanced flavor,” Bailey says. “We have a steady vegan community here that’s only growing, but even in the non-vegan community [the feedback] is really positive.”

I don’t pretend to be a food expert (though I am a self-professed caramel-aholic and have a near-infamous sweet tooth). And in the interest of full disclosure, Bailey did send me free “samples” of Bloom caramel — which turned out to be full-size jars of each flavor. Let’s just say the first two jars were half-empty within two days. There is a slight hint of flavor different from typical caramel, but it’s not overtly coconut-y (and certainly not essence of sunscreen). The taste has a lusciously smooth, rich, almost buttery note, followed by a spike of spice depending on the flavor — salted and cardamom are my favorites so far. Best of all, there’s none of that sickly sweet fake taste you get with many caramel-flavored sauces and syrups. And considering that the vanilla caramel won a Good Food Award this month, I’m clearly not the only one hooked on Bloom. If you’re not sure how to use it, Bailey has a few suggestions: in coffee, for dipping, as an ice cream or other dessert topping. Or take a page from my book and just eat it with a spoon from the jar (I highly recommend).

Now that your mouth is presumably watering, how do you get some? Though currently mostly centered in the Pacific Northwest, Bloom’s reach is expanding, and the sauce can also be found in specialty food stores from Atlanta, Georgia, to the greater DC area to Brooklyn, New York, and even Vancouver and Ontario, Canada. A list of stores where it’s available will also soon be posted on the Bloom website, and it can be ordered online. And Bailey doesn’t see an end to the Bloom story anytime soon, with plans for more flavors in the works, as well as a line of syrups perfect for coffee. The company is even exploring a maple caramel made with maple sugar, following requests from outlets in Canada (I’m keeping an eye out for this one — maple is my jam).

“There’s a big coffee culture here [so it’s about] getting more of the product in [café] hands and seeing how they can use it,” Bailey says. “There are a lot of cheap substitutes to caramel, so we’re never going to compete against the $2.99 Smucker’s caramel that’s loaded with substitutes — nor do we want to. [We’re trying to] make people aware of the capability of how far caramel can go.”

If this caramel is anything to go by, that’s pretty far. Whether you’re vegan or dairy-free or not, you’d have to possess a completely AWOL sweet tooth (and/or dead taste buds) to not enjoy this crave-worthy sugary concoction. But don’t take my word for it — there’s enough caramel to go around. And though it’s certainly a sweet treat, you can rest easy knowing there’s nothing artificial or funky in it. That kind of gives it a freebie pass, right? According to Bailey, the Bloom philosophy is all about authenticity and life, which is something we can all get behind — especially when it’s a caramel-icious sweet life.

“The name Bloom was meant to evoke [a] healthy, alive feel, something always growing and buzzing to it.”

Javaholic/ Kansas City/ Wanderings

Coffeeshop Love: Nomads Coffee & Cocktails

September 20, 2019
nomads coffee kansas city

In my mind, anything that mentions travel, exploration, and/or wandering (obviously) is immediately worth an investigation. A tribute to explorers — literary and literal — worldwide, Nomads Coffee in Kansas City exactly fits that bill. It would be easy to walk straight past it, nestled in a subtle brick shopfront on eclectic 39th Street. It certainly isn’t the most colorful or eye-catching spot on the street. But that would be your loss. This charming café has become my go-to coffeeshop work spot, and it’s safe to say I’m a little obsessed.

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Bar interior

To fully capture the atmosphere of Nomads Coffee, it’s really best to imagine yourself as a slightly disaffected nineteenth-century writer or a gruff world traveler (or at least following in the footsteps of one). The entire café is a bit dim, with dark wood floors and furniture and deep blue walls. Sophisticated, in an ever-so-slightly gloomy way. Take a spot at the dark-wood bar, curl up in a cushy armchair, or pick an intimate café table and get settled in. My spot of choice is at the bar along the front windows, with a perfect view out onto the goings-on of quirky 39th Street.

Nomads Kansas City Coffee bar interior

To complete the travel theme, shelves throughout the café are stocked with books with a global explorer bent (think Jack London, vintage travel memoirs, old issues of National Geographic). The walls are lined with photos of Alaskan dog races, mountain explorations, maps, suitably gruff explorers, and people and places around the globe.

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Interior

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Bar photo wall

It’s the type of place where you might expect to come across a grumpy older Hemingway ordering a cocktail or a grizzled old explorer recounting tales of his latest expedition into the jungle or Arabian deserts (though in reality the clientele is more on the young and hip side, thanks to students from the nearby KU Med Center and the vibrant culture of 39th Street).

All that said, in reality the café isn’t at all gloomy. Despite the somber (if charming) aura, the staff and customers are always friendly, and the café is usually bustling, classic and peppy oldies tunes playing in the background. (Just absorb the old-world vibes and be glad no one there actually acts like a grumpy old mountain man).

Nomads Kansas City Coffee Cocktails

No literary or global enclave would be complete without drinks, of course! The coffee menu here is classic — none of that foufy frappuccino business — but the lattes are delicious. Plus, there’s also a full cocktail/beer/wine menu (this is an extra plus in my book because it means they’re open late, unlike many coffee shops). If you’re feeling peaky, they have a tasty selection of pastries and cookies, plus quiche, classic and hearty sandwiches, and breakfast burritos. Café fare, but the type you actually want to eat.

Full disclosure: I only tested the ham and cheese croissant, but it was scrumptious — buttery and perfectly flaky, with a subtle spike of Dijon mustard inside — and the rest of the menu looks quite tasty. The quiche is definitely next on my list!

So the next time you’re around 39th Street, wander over to Nomads Coffee for a coffee or cocktail — who knows, maybe you’ll actually run into that rugged world explorer I keep expecting to see.

 

Kansas City/ Wanderings

Kansas City Mural Madness

September 12, 2019
Kansas City murals street art Mural

When you think of city street art, Kansas City may not immediately spring to mind. But it turns out KC is a veritable canvas of murals. A mural tour has been on my bucket list for a while, but it was only recently that my friend Emily (shoutout to my always-game wandering buddy!) and I found a free — and not 100-degree — day to do it. And we had to do it right, obviously — full mural madness. Electric scooters required.

Actually, Kansas City has way more murals than I expected, and we didn’t nearly make it to all of them. However, I think we made the rounds pretty well, and the results were pretty darn cool in any case. Follow along with us!

Generally, maps are a no-no for legit wandering. However, Kansas City is a spread-out city, and I love a good list, so I had a detailed list and corresponding map for our mural tour. Obviously, you can follow whatever path you want to see any (or all) of these. Our escapade started in River Market, then went down to East Crossroads, plus a few extra in the Crossroads, Brookside, and even Independence. And, of course, we stumbled across at least a few unexpected gems. As with any wander, the best discoveries are always the ones you find by accident.

*A full list of the Kansas City murals we visited, with addresses, will be at the end of this post.

River Market

Our first stop was the kooky and colorful Betty Rae’s Ice Cream mural. This was by far the hardest to get pictures of, as there was the usual crazy line of people bursting out of Betty Rae’s. That said, the vibrant, cartoonish ice cream drippings are definitely worth a look. And hey, you can always stop for a cone while you’re at it!

After that, we headed on to the Lewis & Clark mural around the corner at River Market Antiques. As far as I know, this is one of the older murals in KC, and it doesn’t have the graffiti vibe of a lot of spots on our list — it’s more like a classic painting. It fits in perfectly with the storied brick buildings of River Market, a little slice of Missouri history.

Kansas City murals street art River Market Lewis Clark

East Crossroads

At this point, we hit the scooters — mostly, in truth, to get to our chosen coffee spot before closing time. A separate Coffeeshop Love post will be coming on that, but suffice it to say, we made it, and the coffee at Thou Mayest’s newest home, Thee Outpost, is not to be missed (also shoutout to the friendly barista who didn’t even give us an evil eye for coming in two minutes before closing). If you haven’t given the electric scooters many cities now have a try, do it — now. I’m not sure I’d use them for a regular commute, but they’re a fun and speedy way to get around, and worth it for the nostalgia trip back to fifth grade alone (I suddenly wish I hadn’t sold my electric scooter…)

East Crossroads might just be the Mecca of murals in KC. The grittier sister of the Crossroads Arts District around 19th and Main, this neighborhood has true street art — and it’s everywhere. We hit a few preplanned spots (I’ll list the addresses), but my best advice is to go to about 18th and Oak and start wandering. From Art Alley (a long passage covered street to roof in graffiti and murals) to a Kansas City Royals wall, there’s a splash of paint around almost every corner. Just be sure you don’t miss the vibrant Production Wall, in the Made in KC lot, and eclectic Art Alley, between 17th and 18th around Locust and Cherry Streets. Meander around east of Oak Street from about 17th to 19th, and you never know what you’ll stumble across.

 

Crossroads and Beyond

Fully caffeinated and a little high on art, we headed west to the Crossroads. Just past the Kansas City Star building, the lovely rainbow of the “Love You Like A Summer Night” mural hides behind Messenger Coffee (also a good stop if you’re not already java-ed out). Then on to Main Street, to Tom’s Town Distillery and Gallup Maps for a little Art Deco and antique flair, respectively.

We couldn’t pass by the Strong Women Empower mural, of course (cheesy selfies are a must). For those who know the area, this spot, across from Up Down bar, used to house the Kansas City I’m So In Love mural. Never fear — that classic has been relocated. We hit it next, incorporated into the Imagine That art at Imagine That (a lovely tribute to this arts organization for developmentally disabled adults). Along the way, we stumbled across the KC skyline splashed across the Spira Care building, another beautiful surprise. You see why I wander?

Full disclosure: I cheated a bit on the Damn Fine and Love the Square murals —  I had already visited and snapped pics of those, so I included them for good measure. Maybe a little outside the downtown mural tour track, but they were too good to not throw into the mix!

Obviously, this was a whirlwind tour! To do the art full justice, you’ll really have to go take a look yourself. And while you’re at it, you’ll probably discover even more we didn’t hit. Check out SpraySeeMo and @grafittikc for more Kansas City mural moments (plus more detailed info).

**If you want to follow our tour, here’s a list of the murals we visited and their locations. I included the artist when I could find it. Most titles, however, are just my own descriptions.**

Betty Rae’s (412 Delaware St.) @jtdaniels_art

Lewis & Clark (115 W 5th St.)

Production Wall/Made in KC lot (18th & Locust St.)

Art Alley (between 17th & 18th, near Locust & Cherry Sts.)

Rainbow Faces (1822 Cherry St.) @rifrafgiraffe

Ten Hundred (19th & Cherry St.) @tenhun

Until the Rave Summons (around 17th & Locust St.)

Retro Noir (501 E. 17th St.) @sikestyle & @lucidflows

Revilo Octopus Panda (500 E. 18th St.) *This building is unfortunately now partially collapsed*

Vulpes Bastille Fox (1737 Locust St.) @sabertooththomas

Sebastian Coolidge Woman (1608 Locust St.) @sebastiancoolidge

Tropical Starry Night (17th & Oak) @pyramidguy

Pyramid Girl (446 E. 17th) @tylercoey

I Love You Like a Summer Night (1624 Grand Blvd) @abbyyemm

Tom’s Town (17th & Main St.)

Gallup Maps (1733 Main St)

Strong Women Empower (1919 Baltimore)

Spira Care KC skyline (1916 Grand Blvd) @rifrafgiraffe & @amiayars

Imagine That (200 E 20th St)

Independence Love the Square

Damn Fine (Brookside)

 

Musings

Current Obsessions: September

September 5, 2019
September obsessions musings Kansas City

Is it really September already? Then why is it still 95 degrees? Anyway, weather complaints aside, I’m actually quite ready for a new month and season. As we kick off September, here are a few things taking up possibly-unhealthy amounts of my days/thoughts!

 

Currently Baking: Mocha protein bars

In general, I’m not really a protein-packing, workout-fuel sort of person. But I bought a container of protein powder for a (Pinterest-sourced, of course) recipe — which, as you know if you’ve ever bought protein powder, come only in Hulk-worthy sizes. So as I was wondering what to do with my vat of protein powder and tragically out of chocolate in my apartment, I came across this recipe. Anything with mocha immediately catches my eye, and I have to admit I’m now hooked. It basically tastes exactly like mocha brownie batter, and it’s ridiculously easy to make. I have trouble getting it to set into actual bars, but as I have no qualms eating brownie batter, that totally works for me.

Currently Coveting: SWISSGEAR suitcase

Is it odd that I’m shopaholic-lusting over a suitcase? Maybe, but I’ve been looking for a suitcase that mimics a vintage steamer trunk (but doesn’t require actually lugging around a heavy trunk) for ages. Most seem to be $500-1000 (yes, seriously), and this one is $150 and available at Target, so I’m basically sold. Not that I need a new suitcase. But oh Target, you’re killing me!

Currently Munching: Mud Pie Bakery blueberry crumble bars

Chances are, I’ve mentioned Mud Pie on here before (once, twice, a million times). It’s an adorable coffeeshop in a bright yellow house on quirky 39th street, and I’m unabashedly obsessed. All their food is delicious, but I recently tried their gluten-free blueberry crumble bars, and I’m now addicted. Perfectly crumbly and sweet, these berry bars hit the spot for breakfast, dessert, a snack — you name it. (And you’d never guess they’re vegan and gluten-free.) It doesn’t hurt that you can hang out in Mud Pie’s adorable living room as you munch, either.

Currently Reading: The City of Brass

If you’ve caught any of the million Harry Potter references around here, you might have guessed that I’m a bit of a fantasy fan. With magic, djinn (genies), and history, The City of Brass is right up my alley. It’s a bit like Aladdin or Arabian Nightsfor grown-ups. Admittedly, it’s taking me a while to get through this one, but mostly because I keep pausing to take notes in the margins (yes, I’m a nerd).

Currently Wandering: Kansas City murals

It turns out Kansas City’s street art game is pretty darn awesome! This has been on my bucket list for ages, and my friend Emily and I recently hit the streets (and electric scooters) to check out the best murals around downtown KC. Rest assured, a full post on this is coming soon — once I sort through the million pictures I took. For now, keep an eye out for a burst of vibrant paint if you’re wandering around Kansas City (which I highly recommend).

Currently Listening: The Earful Tower podcast

Ok, this is slightly cheating, because I’ve been obsessed with this for a while now. But I recently got a shout-out on the podcast, so let me relish it a bit! Anything Paris-related immediately gets a spot on my radar (in case you missed the Eiffel Tower reference), and this podcast has some great tips and insight into both Paris behind the scenes and the Parisian expat community. Basically, I’m considering it crucial life research. Plus, the host has a charming Australian accent and a penchant for lovably corny jokes — how can you go wrong?

 

 

Javaholic/ Kansas City/ Wanderings

Coffeeshop Love: Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City

September 1, 2019
Can someone please tell me where the summer went? Scratch that, where the year went? Seriously, I swear it was just January and I was cheering when the temp hit double digits (now I’m just praying it doesn’t hit triple digits). I don’t know about you, but I’m now counting down the days until fall. Crisp air, colorful leaves, Halloween ghoulies? Bring it on. That said, summer is a time of exploration. Granted, any time is an opportunity for exploration in my opinion, but there’s something particularly carefree and wanderlust-filled about summer. I’ve been neglecting my Kansas City coffee expedition a bit, and I needed an excuse again to wander and think/write/drink coffee 24/7 — or at least justify the amount of my budget spent on coffee by saying it’s blog research. So I decided to make up for lost (java) time. This weekend, that meant a little jaunt over to Liberty, Missouri, to check out Hammerhand Coffee. To be fair, at only 25 minutes from downtown KC, Liberty hardly qualifies as a road trip, but I’m fairly clueless when it comes to north of the city, so it felt like an expedition. Particularly when you factor in that I spent the first hour there hunting down a police station, who called a tow company, who battled my stubborn car locks, because I locked my keys, purse, and phone in my car … but that’s another story.
Ok, on to the important stuff. In case you’re (shockingly) unfamiliar with the small towns of Missouri, Liberty is a historic frontier town just northeast of Kansas City, founded in 1822, and now home to William Jewell College. Think stately brick campus, rambling old Victorian homes, and an abundance of kitschy yet charming shops.
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty cafe interior
Hammerhand is right in the historic town square, across from the Art Deco county courthouse and surrounded by quaint circa-late-1800s storefronts. Considering all this, it’s surprisingly hip and modern, the type of cafe that wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyn hipsterland. Housed in a narrow turn-of-the-century brick building, the grand wooden staircase, stained glass window accents, and iron fire escape give it an old-world vibe. Yet the decor is crisp, modern, and colorful — mid-century style furniture, bright white walls, succulents, faux vintage lightbulbs, turquoise touches. In a whimsical nod, there’s even a Chemex with a live beta fish swimming around. It feels like a cross between a homey neighborhood joint and a student study crashpad, with both lively chattering groups and tables covered in notebooks and laptops. Liberty doesn’t feel like a college town, but almost everyone there looked to be under 25, so I would guess the students, as usual, gravitate toward the caffeine sources.
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty cozy interior
In the art of full disclosure, the coffee had a slightly odd taste. Not bad, just different. I realized, though, that I haven’t actually had regular milk for quite some time (they ran out of almond), so that might have just been me. That being said, my latte was rich and smooth, and they nailed the latte art (yes, it matters!). The rest of the menu features the standard drip, cappuccinos, cold brew, etc., plus seasonal drinks, housemade syrups, and a selection of pastries. About your usual coffeehouse fare, though it all looked scrumptious. They supposedly also carry a rotating selection of beer and wine, though I didn’t see any sign of that (to be fair, it was also a Sunday afternoon).
Hammerhand Coffee Kansas City Liberty latte art
Overall, the chances of most people just passing through Liberty, MO, is about zip, and most large cities probably have dozens of Hammerhand-esque java joints. That said, it has a certain flair, with its 19th-century-frontier/hipster mélange, and the coffee is pretty damn good. If you happen to be in the KC area, it’s definitely worth a stop.
**This post was originally published in August 2018 on beanopiablog.com.**