Project Food Blog #9: The Coup: Breaking Ground in Cowtown

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Surrounded by acres of cattle fields, cowboy boots, and hay stacks, the last place you’d expect to find a thriving vegetarian restaurant is in the centre of a beef-loving city known by many as Cowtown.

Calgary, Alberta is known for their juicy beef and world-famous Calgary Stampede, but many aren’t aware of the vegetarian movement that has been gaining momentum over the past decade.

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Ten years ago, Tabitha Archer and Dalia Kohen met as 20-year-olds while slinging bacon and pouring coffee, perhaps an odd vocation for two long-time vegetarians, but a vocation that would serve as inspiration for a better future. With the world as their oyster, they would share their aspirations over steaming hot coffee and crisp mountain air, dreaming to one day open a vegetarian restaurant.

‘We all must eat, so why not do our part with social and environmental responsibility?’, they questioned.

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Like many successful people, their ambitions were met with criticism, concern, and discouragement from others; many thought their risky business venture would never make the cut. Tabitha and Dalia stood their ground believing that Calgary was now ready for its first vegetarian restaurant. They grabbed the bull by the horns- or rather, the weed by the root- and began a journey on a road less traveled.

Because sometimes, taking the road less traveled is what makes life truly worthwhile.

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In November 2004, The Coup opened its transparent doors, inviting herbivores and carnivores alike to experience their creative vegetarian fare and vibrant, hip atmosphere that supports local, whole, and organic foods. Much to the surprise of their critics, the community welcomed them with open arms.

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Their mission was simple, yet empowering: The Coup would be a space to gather, socialize, and meet new people while enjoying creative vegetarian cuisine made from scratch. Supporting local farmers is a priority and their unused food is composted for use as soil in their vegetable garden. To help reduce waste, customers receive a discount on take-out fare if they bring in their own containers and to offset their own waste, they plant trees every year with Tree Canada. Tabitha and Dalia also give back to the community by donating a percentage of their profits to local charities.

Now this, was something I could sink my teeth into.

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With my pen, tiny notepad, and camera in hand, I grabbed my two best taste-testing buddies and experienced all that The Coup has to offer.

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I was willing to eat as much as required to accomplish my mission.

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Dining on a Tuesday around lunchtime, we were quickly greeted at the door and seated by the large, front window overlooking a street view of monochromatic concrete.

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The concrete interior, however, was revived with bright paint and vivid decor, resulting in an unpretentious eclectic charm. Fun and unapologetic, this restaurant doesn’t try to be something it’s not. The walls are bursting with funky peacock blue and canary yellow, accented with local artwork and vivid, fresh green plants.

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Earthy green painted wooden table tops and matching wooden chairs pack the intimate and casual 40-seat room with a small bar at the back featuring a plethora of local and organic wines, beer, and liqueurs.

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The restaurant was about half full, made up of casual, cowboy boot wearing Westerners and laid-back hipsters from university students to the retired crowd. While snagging a table was no problem on a weekday, there are often long waits on the weekend due to The Coup’s strict no reservation policy.

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Our server, referred to as ‘Hell-yea’ on the receipt, was the shy and sweet hippie type with curly tussled hair whose big doe eyes lit up the room and enticed us with each of her favourite menu picks. She was patient with our questions and walked us through the small but varied and seasonal menu, starting with soul-warming drinks, leading us through small bite appetizers and all-time favourite entrées. I was pleased to find out that adapting vegetarian menu items into vegan fare was ‘no problem at all’, with Hell-yea winking her pretty eye as if she had done it herself a million times.

Something to warm our souls, the hot mugs arrived to our table in just a few minutes.

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The heavenly aroma of luscious coconut and spicy cinnamon floated through the air as the Coconut Chai Latte was proudly presented to our table with a knowing smile from Hell-yea.

Chai tea, almond milk, coconut milk, cinnamon, and a touch of maple syrup were steamed together to create a drink that was creamy on the palate, warming the insides as it went down. The whimsical and playful coconut was brought back to earth with the serious woody flavour of the Chai. With each sip I was transported to a sunny, tropical beach that made me forget about the snow, cold, and ice teasing me through the frosted window.

Well, almost.

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The short ingredient list of the Matcha Latte (steamed almond milk and Matcha green tea powder) appealed to my love for simple, uncomplicated food. The fluffy, green clouds intrigued me in a strange way, but then again I’ve never been one to shy away from green drinks.

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The Matcha Latte was offered with a shot of pure maple syrup as most customers find the combination alone quite bitter tasting, but I didn’t mind the lack of sweetener. While it was the complete opposite of the luscious Coconut Chai Latte, I loved its minimalist quality and how the sharpness of the Matcha was caressed by the creamy, steamed almond milk. It warmed and energized me without filling me up before the meal.

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Not long after lingering over our hot mugs, the appetizers came out at just the right moment.

We shared the exuberant Beatnuts Paté composed of mixed nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, beets, garlic, lemon, kosher salt, dill, and olive oil. The Goat cheese, which is normally stacked on top of the paté, was served on the side for an easy vegan adaptation.

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Its vibrant deep pink hue was unexpected and inviting as were the crisp, fresh slices of juicy cucumbers. The paté was crunchy and thick thanks to the processed mixed nuts, but it wasn’t heavy due to the lingering sweetness from the beets and gentle tartness from the lemon, dill, and garlic. Everything was smoothed out with a splash of olive oil that made this unique paté one to remember.

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Other appetizers included the Sesame Yam Dip and the Sundried Tomato Hummus served with toasted organic Foccacia bread and blue corn chips (a substitute for the non-vegan lavash).

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Made up of yams, kosher salt, date paste, and pure sesame oil, the Sesame Yam Dip was creamy and smooth, but a bit too fruity and sweet.

The Sundried Tomato Hummus was a crowd pleaser: smooth and savoury with a bite from the garlic and sundried tomatoes. It went well with both the toasted Foccacia bread and chips, making this the favourite dip at our table.

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The entrées also arrived at the right moment, just as our conversation turned to thoughts of our next course. Eric and I shared the El Tacos that were made up of naturally sweetened beans, avocado, shredded carrots, quinoa, and salsa grilled in a sprouted grain tortilla served with a side of soy yogurt .

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The El Tacos are a creative and delicious take on traditional beef tacos. The beans were heated up with chili powder, jalapeno and chipotle peppers and cooled down with a touch of sweetener. The fresh shredded carrots and beets provided a juicy, crunchy texture and the quinoa and salsa mixture was an unusual twist that surely beefed up the tacos, making this dish one that you could easily share with another. The only thing I missed was a traditional crunchy corn taco shell packing everything in.

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On the side, Organic Hash Potatoes that were crispy, flavourful, and garnished with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and chopped green onions, pan seared and seasoned to perfection.

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We also shared the Club Med Salad, a hefty portion of falafel, pickles, olives, shredded carrots, sundried tomatoes, sprouts, and banana peppers on top of organic mixed greens.

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Thick, lush, and creamy with a sharp, peppery quality, the Tahini Lemon Garlic dressing had me coming back for more and made eating a bowl of vegetables downright exciting. While the vegetables were plentiful and fresh, the falafel was lacklustre in taste and dry in texture.

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To wet my whistle during the meal, I sipped on fresh Cranberry Mango Ginger juice that was the perfect combination of sweet mango, followed by a kick of tangy cranberry and spicy ginger going down the hatch.

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Dessert was the only time we noticed the wait during our meal, taking about 20 minutes to arrive. I sampled the flirtatious Organic Chocolate Torte complete with a chocolate spelt crust drizzled with raspberry compote and garnished with mint.

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Rich, chocolaty, and moist, the chocolate spelt crust was the highlight of the torte. The chocolate filling, however, was tofu based and resulted in a strange, spongy texture and a dull, bland flavour that left a lot to be desired. Even the fruity and tart raspberry compote couldn’t save this tofu heavy pie.

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I would have loved to see this pie brought to the next level with a less processed tofu alternative. 

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Up next, a classic frozen dessert that we were all excited about: The Banana Split.

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A delectable show-stopper that made our jaws drop and mouths salivate, the Banana Split was made up of organic banana, peanuts, warm chocolate sauce, and raspberry compote on top of 3 scoops of vegan ice cream sprinkled with toasted coconut. The portion was large enough to share, but it was so delicious we wished we didn’t have to.

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The vegan ice cream was undeniably smooth and rich with a salty peanut crunch and a waterfall of cascading sauces, without tasting overly sweet or syrupy. The mix of warm chocolate and cold ice cream was almost sinful on the palate satisfying every greedy bite.

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The three of us enjoyed a relaxing meal together reminiscing old times and devouring mouth-watering, simple food. We finished our meal feeling energized and full, but not at all weighed down.

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Smiling and satisfied, our romance with The Coup was drawing to a close. Just as we were leaving, I spotted from the corner of my eye The Coup cookbook featuring The Coup’s most loved recipes of all time.

It wasn’t ideal, but I figured I could make a long-distance relationship work…

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As soon as I stepped off the plane, I walked into my kitchen and cooked my little heart out. I didn’t stop until I was covered in flour, beet juice, coconut milk, and other unidentifiable ingredients.

These are a few of my favourite dishes that I adapted from the cookbook (with permission) so you can experience The Coup in your very own kitchen! All of the recipes below are quick to prepare and incredibly delicious.

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I also made my own version of a vegan Chocolate Torte. I will be featuring a step-by-step post of the torte this week so keep your eyes peeled. Click here for a PDF of the recipes.

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The Coup’s popularity is exceeding expectations and its vibrant and creative cuisine- aside from a few soy heavy items- are breaking stereotypes about vegetarian and vegan food. Even celebrities like Moby and Casey Affleck have been known to pop in for a tantalizing bite. The service is down to earth, the portions are hefty, and the price tag is easy to swallow with entrées in the $7-$13 range.

Dalia and Tabitha are strong entrepreneurial women who have paved the way for vegetarian fare in Cowtown and have inspired those around them to discover a new way of eating that is not only delicious, but also friendly to our earth, animals, ourselves, and those around us.

I walked away from The Coup, with cookbook clenched in hand, feeling more inspired and empowered than I have in a long time.

Sometimes you just have to march to the beat of your own drummer.

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Yeehaw.

The Coup, 924- 17th Avenue South West, Calgary, AB., 403.541.1041. Hours: Monday: Closed; T/W/Th 11:30am-3pm & 5-10pm; Fri 11:30am-3pm & 5-11pm; Sat 9am-3pm & 5-11pm; Sun 9am-3pm & 5-9pm. www.thecoup.ca

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This is my official entry for Challenge #9 ‘You’re the Critic’ in Project Food Blog. Voting is now open! I appreciate your support. :)

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{ 160 comments… read them below or add one }

Camille December 5, 2010

Oh my goodness, that food looks to die for!
I wish I lived closer so I could pig out there :)

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Amanda (Eating Up) December 5, 2010

You look so cute in cowboy boots! That restaurant seems like a cute place to share a meal with people. Your chocolate torte looks incredible!

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Katy @ A Healthy Shot December 5, 2010

Love your descriptions of the food… I’m absolutely drooling ;-) And the cowgirl pictures are so cute!

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Kristina @ spabettie December 5, 2010

this all looks amazing, I can’t wait for your torte!! :)

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Roz December 5, 2010

Holy smokes, the Coup looks AWESOME!!! Next time I’m in Calgary I’m going for SURE! And as always, amazing pictures!!!!!

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Nichole December 5, 2010

I love this restaurant! It’s definitely one-of-a-kind here in Calgary, but it never disappoints! Even my meat-loving boyfriend enjoys it.

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Laura (Blogging Over Thyme) December 5, 2010

Great post Angela! I really felt like I got a great feel for the restaurant, ambiance, and food at this place. Loved your photographs as well! That beet dip is such a beautiful color. Of course, I will be voting for you, as always ;)

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Madeleine@ Stepping to the Brightside December 5, 2010

What beautiful countryside AND the perfect restaurant to critique. You make a cute little cowgirl, hehehe. Gorgeous job, as always! :)

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Red December 5, 2010

I am totally just about to pack up right now and head to Canada! That restaurant looks awesome and the landscape is beautiful!

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Gillian December 5, 2010

You’ve done it again and have gone above and beyond! So impressed Angela, you’ve got my vote!

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Mrs. Muffins December 5, 2010

What a fun restaurant! I love finding new places. I must visit Canada sometime…. I’m not too far, after all, here in Ohio!

xx

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jen at chocolateandginger.com December 5, 2010

Nice to see you had fun in “cowtown” :) The Coup is one of my favourite restaurants (and best vegetarian restaurant in town) and I go there a few times a month! My favourite recipe in their book is the cashew yam burger. I just wish they had their miso gravy recipe in there, its the best dipping sauce!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 5, 2010

I can’t wait to make that burger!!! Next on the list :)

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Maggie Muggins December 7, 2010

I second the yam burger, it’s hard for me to order something different when I’m at the Coup.
I haven’t been there in a couple months but your descriptions make me want to gather the troups and go for dinner. I’ve also been debating about getting the cookbook for a while.
I’m behind with your posts but did you get a chance to go to Gratitude Cafe in Kensington? It’s not as good as the Coup but they’ve got some nice items on their menu.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 7, 2010

I have not been to GC, but I want to try it out next time!

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Lauren December 5, 2010

You got my vote :)
I could tell how much detail, time, and effort you put into writing this post. Plus, the food looks delicious. The coconut chai sounds heavenly!

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Jennifer@ knackfornutrition December 5, 2010

Good luck on Round 9! I’m pulling for you!

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Brittany (Eating Bird Food) December 5, 2010

Wow – The Coup looks amazing!!

I’ll definitely be voting for you. :)

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Teg December 5, 2010

I live just a few blocks from the Coup!! It’s one of my favourite places to eat in Calgary.

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Kristy @ KristyRuns December 5, 2010

The Coup looks so good!

P.S. Angela, you take the BEST photos in the blog-world. Amazing. Simply amazing.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 5, 2010

thank you :)

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Liz @ Blog is the New Black December 5, 2010

AMAZING post and your pics are wonderful.

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Leah @ L4L December 5, 2010

This is the best entry I’ve read so far! So many wonderful adjectives! Love that you made some of the recipes as well! Can’t wait to see the torte!

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Katy (The Singing Runner) December 5, 2010

You made my mouth water by just reading this! You described the food so well, it was like I was there! I wish I lived nearby so I could try The Coup!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 5, 2010

i’ll be featuring lots of recipes from the cookbook on the blog….there are soooo many I cant wait to try out.

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Emily Malone December 5, 2010

Way to represent for the vegetarians and vegans, Angela! Great job! :)

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Ariffa December 5, 2010

You’re in my city, you’re in my city!!!!
I still haven’t checked out the Coup but I’ve heard very very good things, I think i might just go an order everything you talked about on this post =)

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table December 5, 2010

The Coup looks so cool! Great review. I wish we had something like the here. Atlanta’s one “gourmet” veggie restaurant just went under.

P.S. I am digging your boots!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 5, 2010

those are OSGMOM’s boots hehe ;) well her clothes too!

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Gina December 5, 2010

Oh my, what beautiful and delicious looking food! My jaw dropped when I saw that chocolate torte ;)

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Lauren S. December 5, 2010

Angela, I was so excited to find that your post was on The Coup. I am a Calgarian and love that restaurant so much! I am glad you finally got to discover it and am pleased you enjoyed it as well!

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Jessica @ Dairy Free Betty December 5, 2010

Wow Ang,
What an amazing post! I didn’t even realize it was a foodbuzz one until I was finished, but I was thinking, this would be an awesome entry for foodbuzz hahahhaaa

I’ll have to check out this place next time I’m in Cowtown… and will test out your recipes for sure!!

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Kensy Balch December 5, 2010

Oh my goodness! The Coup is one of the best restaurants in Calgs. I’m from Edmonton, AB but going to the school out east in the states. Your last couple posts about AB has made me crazy homesick and appreciate the beauty of where I am from.

Angela, I adore your blog. You are truly an inspiring individual. Keep doing what you’re doing.

:)

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Jessica @ How Sweet It Is December 5, 2010

That meal looks incredible!

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bitt December 5, 2010

It’s a lovely combination when someone can photograph and write well. Very in-depth review. Good to know a veggie won’t starve in cowtown.

I love how you adapted the recipe with avocados! Well done.

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christina cadden December 5, 2010

Looks so pretty there!

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Charlie December 5, 2010

All this food looks amazing!

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Alaina December 5, 2010

That is the best review!! You should go into restaurant reviewing on the side ;-)

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Bria December 5, 2010

Angela, I love your posts because they talk about brand names and places that I recognize, being a fellow Canadian/maritimer and all :) I will definitely check out this restaurant next time I’m in “Cowtown” (usually once a year).
You’ve got my vote ;)

~B.

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Bronwyn Coyne December 5, 2010

Now I have somewhere for my brother to take me next time I visit him in good ol’ cowtown. :)

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Sierra December 5, 2010

Wow, Angela, you should be a writer! Your descriptions are amazing!!! Thank you so much for making so many things from spelt flour instead of wheat! Being wheat-free is a lot less hard thanks to you! Can you post a recipe for the tacos sometime? They sound amazing!!!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 5, 2010

thank you :)
They dont have the taco recipe in the book, but there is a bean type recipe I might try to adapt at some point!

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Allie (Nutty FlexitALLIEan) December 5, 2010

just made the lemon tahini dressing–omg delish! Good luck with #9!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) December 5, 2010

wow that was fast! ;) Isn’t it good? I have been mixing it with all kinds of veggies this weekend. A great snack too.

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Allison December 5, 2010

That meal looks amazing:):) And you had an excellent review! If i was up there i would definitely want to go! But since i cant, i am gonna go make your versions:)

I’ll be voting tomorrow!!!

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Ashley December 5, 2010

Loved reading this post after a fun day of snowboarding, sipping tea on the couch. :) You really made the food come to life with the way you described it and the photos were extremely vibrant. Great twist to recreate some of the recipes at home!! Good luck this round!!! :) xo

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Tiffany December 5, 2010

Wow! All of that food looks amazing! Congratulations for making it so far!!

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Averie (LoveVeggiesandYoga) December 5, 2010

“Sometimes you just have to march to the beat of your own drummer.”

Actually, I do this every day. I never set out to be this way, but I just am. I recently posted that to try to conform would be harder than marching to my own beat. Even tho it’s not an “easy” path always.

Ok I’ll shut up about me now :)

This whole post is awesome, starting w/ your boots and the pics of you ending w/ the desserts (choc torte!!) and the entrees and the sentiment, vibe, and loveliness that you captured.

Love the description of your hippie server, and also what these ladies are trying to do in cow-town. Build it an they will come, type of thing.

Excellent post, Angela! :)

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