Monday, November 26, 2012

Dos Coyotes Border Cafe


I stopped in for lunch recently at Dos Coyotes Border Cafe in the Market Square at Arden Fair. The first thing I do at any chain restaurant serving Mexican food is to ask which beans are vegan, if any. At most restaurants, it seems as though only the black beans are vegan. At Dos Coyotes, however, the refried beans are vegan but the black beans are not.

I ordered the Southwest Burrito with rice and refried beans, and asked that the cheese be omitted. The burrito included guacamole and salsa, although I had them leave off the salsa and then I picked a different one from the salsa bar near the counter. The burrito came with a side of chips, and it was a tasty and filling meal.

It appears that other items on the Dos Coyotes menu can be made vegan, such as the Border Bowl (a burrito without the tortilla) or the Coyotes' Yin Yang Salad (a vegetarian version of this chicken salad is available, which includes jicama, red bell pepper, scallions, cashews, snow peas, and mixed greens on a flour tortilla with sesame dressing). You should always make sure to specify that you don't want cheese or sour cream.

Check the special Chef's Menu too. Currently, for example, some Dos Coyotes locations are offering a vegan Spicy Tortilla Vegetable Soup. It wasn't on the menu at the Dos Coyotes I visited, but there's a recipe for it on the restaurant's website.

In addition to the Dos Coyotes at Market Square there are Dos Coyotes Border Cafe restaurants in North Davis, South Davis, Roseville, Folsom, Elk Grove, and East Sacramento. More information is available on the Dos Coyotes website at

Monday, November 19, 2012

Yellowbill Cafe & Bakery

I stopped in at Yellowbill Cafe & Bakery recently to see how it differed from Magpie Cafe, which has the same owners. As it turns out, Yellowbill serves as the bakery for Magpie Cafe, and they make a delicious vegan Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie. It's basically two peanut butter cookies held together with a creamy peanut butter filling. I highly recommend it!

Yellowbill also has refrigerated cases where you can find containers of Magpie's salads, a few of which are vegan. My favorites are the Black Rice Salad and the Golden Beet Salad. But I haven't tried the Purple Potato Salad or the Bean Salad yet, so those could turn out to be favorites too. You can also find Magpie's wonderful Chocolate Avocado Mousse in the refrigerated cases.

If you are interested in trying one of their coffee drinks while you're at Yellowbill, they can substitute almond milk for regular milk in their drinks, upon request.

One other thing I'd like to say about both Yellowbill Cafe & Bakery and Magpie Cafe: I love the names! The yellow-billed magpie is one of my favorite birds, and apparently the owners of these cafes share my feelings. Here is what they said on the Magpie Cafe website: " The Yellow-Billed Magpie is native to the Sacramento area, and is the only bird found solely on the California mainland. It is easily identifiable by its bright yellow bill and contrasting black and white coloration." I think it's a beautiful bird, especially in flight.

Yellowbill Cafe & Bakery is located at 1425 14th Street (near the corner of 14th and O), and their telephone number is 916-668-7514. Their website address is, and their Facebook page can be found at They are open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. They are closed on Sunday.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Food Stamp Challenge -- Day Seven

"Simplify, simplify," read the words on the mug in the picture of my breakfast on Day Seven of the Food Stamp Challenge. This advice, offered by Henry David Thoreau in his immortal classic Walden, may represent a survival strategy to those who are actually dependent on food stamps. But to the rest of us, it should serve as a reminder that there's a price to be paid for our excesses, and that price will be paid, not only by us, but by future generations as well. My decision to switch to a vegan diet ten years ago was based in large part on the connection between meat consumption and world hunger. Participating in the Food Stamp Challenge helped to remind me that hunger is not just a global issue, but a local concern as well.

This message is especially significant as Thanksgiving approaches. During the month when we express gratitude for all of our blessings, it's a good time to reflect on those in our region who experience hunger on a regular basis. According to an article in the February 23, 2012, edition of the Sacramento News and Review, approximately 178,000 Sacramentans received CalFresh benefits in 2010. And as hard as it may be for people to feed themselves and their families on their minimal food stamp allowance, there are tens of thousands of people in Sacramento who don't even have the safety net of food stamps.

There are many ways that those of us who don't have to worry about hunger can help those who do. The most obvious way to help is to donate food or money to your local food bank. Two of my favorite food banks are:

River City Food Bank -- To make it even easier to donate food, River City Food Bank has partnered with Goodwill Industries so that each Goodwill Xpress location in the Sacramento region also has a bin where people can drop off food for the food bank. And if you'd like to know which nonperishable food items from their wish list are on sale at your local grocery store, River City Food Bank has a list of sale items, updated twice weekly, at the following link: They've also started a new program called Virtual Food Drive so that you can shop online for groceries to donate. Check it out at

Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services -- Registration is open for their Run to Feed the Hungry, which takes place each year on Thanksgiving morning. Other ways to donate to Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services can be found at

I'll be writing a check to Alchemist Community Development Corporation ( to help them as they continue to find ways to make fresh, local produce available to low-income families. Whether by making it possible for people to shop at the farmers' market using their CalFresh benefits, setting up farm stands in low-income neighborhoods, or encouraging convenience stores and corner markets to offer fresh produce, Alchemist CDC is always working to put healthier foods on everyone's tables. And to cap off my participation in the 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge, I'll be attending an Alchemist CDC fundraiser tomorrow night, featuring a six-course vegan dinner prepared by traveling vegan chef Joshua Ploeg. It will be a welcome change after seven days of my own cooking!

At this point, the recitation of what I ate today is pretty anticlimactic, since I'm mostly finishing up leftovers. But to round out the week, here's what I had:

My breakfast, shown above, was rice with vanilla rice milk and cinnamon sugar, apple slices, and tea with lemon.

For lunch, I had leftover pasta with mushroom sauce, finished off the last of my oranges, and ate my last carrot. (Wow, that's a really orange lunch!) To drink, I had iced tea with my last lemon wedge.

Dinner was my last potato, baked and stuff with leftover chili, the last of my cabbage, sautéed with garlic and red pepper flakes, and the last of my apples. Once again, my beverage was ice water.

Thanks to everyone who has followed my experiences this week. Monday, Sacramento Vegan will return to its regular function, informing vegans what menu options are available to them in local non-vegan restaurants.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Food Stamp Challenge -- Day Six

I've been interested to read posts by some of the other participants in the 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge indicating that they couldn't afford to buy fruits and vegetables on the food stamp budget. As a vegan, I know that it's not a matter of whether people can afford to buy produce or not, but rather a question as to what they choose to purchase instead, usually meat and dairy products.

Of the $34.18 that I spent on food for this challenge, $15.89 was spent on fresh fruits and vegetables. An additional $3.00 was spent on two cans of tomatoes with green chilies and a package containing six small packs of raisins, bringing the total amount I spent on all fruits and vegetables to $18.89, more than half of my $34.30 budget. Most of my protein came from beans and peanut butter, and I believe that I've eaten a healthy, varied diet during this challenge. Frankly, the foods I've eaten in the past six days are probably more healthy than the foods I usually eat.

For those who are looking for ways to follow a vegan diet as economically as possible, there are a couple of cookbooks that offer guidance.

Eat Vegan on $4 a Day: A Game Plan for the Budget Conscious Cook, by Ellen Jaffe Jones, contains not only low-cost recipes, but strategies for grocery shopping and cooking as well. Each recipe lists the cost per serving, and there's a nice mix of really simple recipes and those that require a little more work. I wish I'd had this book before I started the food stamp challenge!

Vegan on the Cheap: Great Recipes and Simple Strategies that Save You Time and Money, by Robin Robertson, contains 150 recipes that cost between 50 cents and $2.00 per serving. I don't have this cookbook, but I'm putting it on my holiday wish list.

You can also look on the Internet for inexpensive vegan recipes. Enter the words "cheap vegan recipes" into your search engine and a profusion of options will appear.

My grocery supply is starting to dwindle, but I have more than enough food to get me through tomorrow. Here's what I ate today:

For breakfast, I was tired of oatmeal and rice, so I sliced up my last yam and half an apple and sautéed them in a little oil, then sprinkled on some cinnamon sugar. I also have more vanilla rice milk than I'll need for tomorrow, so I accompanied my breakfast with a glass of rice milk.

My big meal of the day was at lunch time, since I had a class to attend between 6:00 and 8:00, which cut into my dinner time. So I recreated the potato, cabbage, and garlic hash that I liked so much the other day, spread peanut butter on the last of my celery, and cut up half an orange into wedges. My beverage, as usual, was iced tea with lemon.

Dinner, when I got home from class, was leftover minestrone soup, half an apple cut into slices, and a glass of ice water.

One more day!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Food Stamp Challenge -- Day Five

My week on a food stamp budget is finally winding down. I still have plenty of food left to make it through my seven days, although I don't know if my "side dishes" -- apples, oranges, carrots, and celery -- will last until the end.

Today's breakfast was oatmeal with peanut butter, apple slices, and a cup of tea with lemon. Adding the peanut butter to the oatmeal made it so filling that I wasn't hungry at lunch time, which was probably just as well since I had a meeting from noon to 3:00. I cut up a carrot to take to the meeting, along with a bottle filled with the rest of the iced tea from the pot I made the night before Day One. By the time I got home, I was pretty hungry but didn't want to eat a full meal so close to dinner time. So I ate four celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter instead to tide me over. I also made a new pot of tea so I'll have iced tea for the remaining two days of the challenge.

That meant I was starving when dinner time rolled around. So I had an enormous plate full of leftover pasta with mushroom sauce and half a Valencia orange. It may not look pretty in the picture at the top of this blog post, but I wolfed it right down.

I've been surprised by the level of interest shown in the topic of following a vegan diet on a food stamp budget. The number of page views this blog has recorded has sky-rocketed. It used to be that on a good day following a new post, I might have 200 page views. In the past 24 hours, however, I've had well over 700 page views. If anyone has a theory about why this is such a hot topic, I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Food Stamp Challenge -- Day Four

The Sacramento Housing Alliance's stated purpose for organizing the 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge is to help raise awareness about hunger in our region. Their Facebook page has also provided valuable information about the importance of food banks when people can't make their food last until the end of the month; the existence of areas known as food deserts, where it is difficult for people to easily obtain healthy food; and today, Veterans Day, shocking information about the number of veterans that are in danger of becoming homeless and going hungry.

But beyond the knowledge I've gained about food policy and politics, I've also received a few personal benefits from the challenge:

1. It's taught me to value the food that I have and to try to do a better job of avoiding waste. I've decided to keep a plastic bag in the freezer for all of my vegetable peels and ends so that whenever I know I'm going to make something requiring vegetable broth, I can make my own, rather than buying expensive processed broth at the store. It's also forced me to find ways to use up some of the produce that generally goes bad in my refrigerator, such as the cabbage and celery I buy for my minestrone soup. Since it's not possible to buy just a little bit of these vegetables, I'm happy to have found that I actually like celery sticks with peanut butter, and I really, really like that potato, cabbage, and garlic hash that I accidentally made.

2. I've discovered that, if necessary, I am capable of making do with less. What remains to be seen is whether I will try to make do with less when the challenge is over, which would free up money for things that really matter.

3. I've learned that it's possible to get by without drinking wine every night. Another lesson that, if continued after the challenge ends, would also free up money for the important things.

4. I'm pretty sure I've lost a couple of pounds, although I won't know for sure until the challenge is over.

Still, after four days, I'm starting to get a little tired of the challenge. I'm well-fed, but the monotony of my food choices is starting to set in. Of course, I'm only committed to three more days of this challenge, while food stamp recipients face the challenge every single day.

Except for breakfast, today's meals were leftovers, which isn't as pathetic as it sounds. After all the cooking and dishwashing I did the first two days of the challenge, it's nice to have leftovers that I can just microwave. So here's what I ate today:

Breakfast was once again rice, this time with vanilla rice milk, raisins, and cinnamon sugar. I had half a Valencia orange and a cup of tea with lemon.

Lunch was a bowl of minestrone soup, carrot sticks, and a glass of iced tea with lemon.

Dinner was a baked potato filled with chili, half a tomato with a little salt, and a glass of ice water.

Three days to go...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Food Stamp Challenge -- Day Three

The picture above represents my last purchase for the 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge: three mushrooms that I bought for 66 cents at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. I have twelve cents left from my $34.30 budget, but doubt I'll be able to find anything to buy for twelve cents.

But I needed these mushrooms to supplement the can of Del Monte Mushroom Pasta Sauce I purchased at Dollar Tree. The sauce had not one single visible piece of mushroom, so I sautéed these three small mushrooms and added them to the sauce. Pasta with canned mushroom sauce was probably not my most nutritious meal of this challenge, considering that the second most plentiful ingredient listed on the sauce label is high fructose corn syrup. But the label assured me that a single serving would give me 45 percent of my daily requirement of Vitamin C, not to mention 9 percent of my potassium, 15 percent of my Vitamin A, 2 percent of my calcium, and 4 percent of my iron.

That wasn't why I bought it, though. I just knew that after all the time I was going to spend making the labor-intensive chili and minestrone soup, I was going to want to have an easy dinner option too. And I guess that's another reason why having to rely on food stamps isn't easy. It's not just the part about trying to stretch the small amount of food stamps so that the food will last until the next benefits are available. It's the time that it takes to create a meal plan and then cook things from scratch.

So tonight's dinner was quick and easy. In addition to the pasta with mushroom sauce, I chopped up about half of the remaining cabbage and a clove of garlic, then sautéed them lightly in a little oil and seasoned them with salt and red pepper flakes. Not bad. The accompanying beverage was once again a glass of ice water.

Working backwards, lunch was a plate of sauteed yam and apple, sweetened with cinnamon sugar. Since this budget doesn't leave any room for dessert, this sweet lunch was a welcome treat. I also had celery sticks spread with peanut butter, which I'm really starting to enjoy. My drink was iced tea with lemon.

Breakfast was oatmeal with rice milk, cinnamon sugar, and chopped apple. I also ate a few apple slices, and had a cup of hot tea with lemon. My breakfasts will start to be repetitive now, alternating between oatmeal and rice. But even when I'm not participating in the food stamp challenge, my breakfasts tend to be repetitive, usually a rice cake with peanut butter or a whole-grain bagel with margarine or Tofutti. So I don't mind having the oatmeal and rice for a change.

I end Day Three feeling well-fed, but missing snacks, dessert, wine, and the ability to go out to eat. I'm sure there's a lot I'll take away from this experience, but one big thing will be a big reminder to not take the good things in my life for granted.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Food Stamp Challenge -- Day Two

Since I'm a vegan, I knew when I signed on to take the 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge that a very large portion of my $34.30 budget would be spent on produce. And where better to buy produce than the farmers' market? Or so I thought. But I discovered that there are pitfalls for CalFresh benefit recipients who want to shop at the farmers' market.

The first problem is that, until very recently, most Sacramento area farmers' markets did not accept EBT cards. A special device is needed to process EBT card payments, and farmers' markets tend to be a cash-only business. Fortunately, Alchemist Community Development Corporation stepped in to help solve that problem. They've got a table set up at five of the local year-round farmers' markets where people can use their EBT cards to buy vouchers to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from participating farmers. Not all vendors at the farmers' market will accept the EBT vouchers, however. So when I went shopping at the farmers' market last Sunday, the first thing I did was to stop at the Alchemist CDC table and pick up the list of participating vendors, and I made my purchases only from vendors who would have sold to me if I had EBT vouchers instead of cash.

Another problem was that the produce at the farmers' market seemed to me to be more expensive than the produce at a grocery store. Apparently, there are a couple of reasons why that might be the case. First, the farmers' market under the freeway at the corner of 8th and W is patronized by a relatively high-income clientele, with shoppers coming from nearby Land Park, Curtis Park, Midtown, and other neighborhoods that can afford to pay higher prices, so the vendors may be charging what they think the market will bear. The prices would probably be lower at a farmers' market in a less wealthy neighborhood. Another problem may have been that some of the produce I was buying was at the end of its growing season, which would make it more scarce and therefore more expensive. In the past, Alchemist CDC has helped to encourage EBT recipients to buy produce at the farmers' market by giving CalFresh customers who spent at least $10 at the farmers’ market an extra $5 to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts. This Market Match program was so successful that all the funds Alchemist CDC had for this purpose were expended.

Fortunately, between the farmers' market and Sprouts, I did manage to buy all of the produce on my shopping list, much of which was featured in the meals I ate today. For breakfast, I had a bowl of rice with vanilla rice milk and cinnamon sugar. I sliced up half an apple and chopped part of it into the rice, and ate the rest of the slices plain. I also had a cup of tea with lemon.

The minestrone soup I made for lunch was full of fresh vegetables -- tomato, celery, onion, garlic, zucchini, and cabbage. I used the vegetable broth I made yesterday from peels and ends of vegetables that would otherwise have been discarded. Usually, I put small white beans and salad macaroni in my minestrone soup, but for this batch, I used up the rest of the Dollar Tree pinto beans and I added small pasta shells, since Dollar Tree didn't have salad macaroni. It was delicious, and I'll eat the leftovers for at least a couple of meals during the remaining days of the challenge. I also had half of a Valencia orange and a glass of iced tea with lemon to drink.

Dinner was an experiment. I had quite a bit of cabbage left that I didn't need for the minestrone soup, so I decided to try to make potato pancakes using one of my potatoes, some chopped cabbage, a little minced garlic, salt, pepper, and oil. They wouldn't stick together, though, so I ended up with kind of a potato hash. It was actually really good. It was accompanied by half a tomato, sliced and lightly salted, celery sticks with peanut butter, and a glass of ice water.

And so ends Day Two.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Food Stamp Challenge -- Day One

This is the first day of my seven-day food stamp challenge. As I mentioned in my November 5th post, everything I eat for the next seven days will be made using items I purchased for a total of $34.30 or less. So far, I've spent $33.52, and I have 78 cents left. The produce was purchased at either the Sunday farmer's market at 8th and W or at Sprouts. Everything else, including the oil and seasonings, was purchased at Dollar Tree, except for the vanilla rice milk, which was purchased at Sprouts.

The term "food stamps" is actually outdated. Low-income people who qualify for the state's CalFresh Program receive an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card that they use much like an ATM card. The amount of benefits they receive is based on the U.S Department of Agriculture's Thrifty Food Plan, which estimates the cost of food for an individual who is eating a nutritious diet at a very low (thrifty) cost. While the amount that the Sacramento Housing Alliance has set as the maximum budget for this week's food stamp challenge is $34.30 ($4.90 per day), I would actually qualify for a little more if I were really receiving CalFresh Program benefits. The allocation for a woman in my age group would be $36.50, or approximately $5.21 per day. The USDA's food plan chart is an interesting document, listing not only the cost for the thrifty food plan, but for low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal plans as well. If you're interested in seeing how your food budget would be categorized, the chart is available at

Before I went to bed last night, I brewed a pot of tea and put it in the refrigerator so I could have iced tea for lunch for the next few days. I also left a cup of pinto beans soaking overnight so I could make chili for dinner.

My breakfast today consisted of a bowl of oatmeal, to which I added a pack of raisins, a little vanilla rice milk, and a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. I also had half a Valencia orange and a cup of tea with lemon. This wasn't much different from a breakfast that I would normally eat, except that I generally use steel-cut oats, which are considerably more expensive but also more nutritious. Still, this was a satisfying breakfast.

Lunch was a baked yam sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, celery sticks spread with peanut butter, and a glass of iced tea with lemonade. It was good, but not quite filling enough. Afterward, I threw the yam peel, the celery ends, a few small cloves of garlic, and some salt and pepper into a pot of boiling water to cobble together a vegetable broth for the minestrone soup I'm going to make tomorrow.

I made chili for dinner, using the pinto beans I soaked last night, two cans of diced tomatoes with green chilies (I puréed one can in the blender before adding it to the chili), half an onion, three cloves of garlic, a green bell pepper (the onion, garlic, and bell pepper were all sautéed in a little oil first), water, chili powder, salt, pepper, and some red pepper flakes. I was a little heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes, but the chili was still pretty good. I also had carrot sticks. Normally, I would have had a lovely glass of red wine with a dinner like this, but since my $34.30 is supposed to cover all of my food and beverages for the week, wine is out of the question. Besides, food stamps can't be used to buy alcohol. So a refreshing glass of ice water accompanied my chili dinner.

I've survived the first day of the challenge, and I think I ate pretty well. There's a lot of leftover chili, which will figure into my menu plan for the remaining days. Following a strict budget is forcing me to be more organized about my meal planning and more careful about avoiding waste, which isn't a bad thing. I'm hopeful that, in addition to raising my awareness of the difficulties faced by CalFresh benefit recipients, this challenge will help me to be more mindful of my food choices and food value after the challenge is over.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Vegan on a Food Stamp Budget

During the month of October, I participated in the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge, trying out some of the wonderful vegan dishes prepared by chefs in local restaurants.

In a few days, I'm going to participate in a different kind of challenge: the 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge. For seven days, I will eat food that costs only as much as the average food stamp recipient receives in Sacramento County, which is $34.30 per week.

The 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge is a project of the Sacramento Housing Alliance, which has posted the following guidelines:

1. Spend no more than $4.90 per day, per person. This includes both food and beverage.

2. During the Challenge, try to only eat food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food you already own (this does not include spices and condiments) unless you factor the cost of that food into your daily budget.

3. Avoid accepting free food or beverages from friends, family, or at work, including at receptions, briefings, or other events where food is served.

Why am I participating in this challenge? There are three reasons:

1. Solidarity with people who are living in poverty. This challenge will help draw attention to the difficulties faced by people whose current financial circumstances have caused them to seek government assistance to provide food for themselves and their families.

2. To prove to those who think it costs a lot of money to go vegan that adopting a vegan diet doesn't have to be an expensive undertaking.

3. To prove to myself that I can do it.

The dates of the 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge are November 9th through 15th. However, I have a prior dinner commitment on the night of November 15th, so I have scheduled my personal challenge to take place between November 8th and 14th instead.

Over the weekend, I created my meal plan and went shopping for the groceries I'll be eating for this challenge. Here's what I bought:

At Dollar Tree, I spent $16 on the following items:

• A 16 oz. carton of quick oats
• A 26.5 oz. can of mushroom pasta sauce
• A box of 80 tea bags
• A package of 6 packs of raisins
• A pound of spaghetti
• A pound of small pasta shells
• A 24 oz. package of white rice
• 2 10-oz. cans of diced tomatoes and green chilies
• An 8.5 oz. bottle of a soybean/olive oil blend
• A 12 oz. package of dried pinto beans
• A 10-oz. jar of peanut butter
• A salt and pepper set
• A 3 oz. jar of chili powder
• A 1.76 oz. jar of crushed red pepper
• An 8 oz. jar of cinnamon sugar

At the farmer's market under the freeway at 8th and W, I spent $11 on the following items:

• 4 apples
• 4 potatoes
• 3 yams
• 2 zucchini
• 2 tomatoes
• 1 onion
• 1 garlic bulb
• 1 green bell pepper

At Sprouts, I spent $6.52 on the following items:

• A package of celery
• 2 lemons
• 3 oranges
• A head of green cabbage
• 4 carrots
• A 32-oz. carton of vanilla rice milk

I have 78 cents left from my $34.30.

I plan to blog about this experience every day during the week that I'm participating in this challenge, so be sure to check back beginning November 8th to find out what I'm eating. I'll also share any observations and insights that I may have as a result of this experience. If you're interested in participating in the 7-Day Food Stamp Challenge, you can sign up at!/events/327970127302175/.