29 March 2012

off to Europe

Well, muffins.  Here we go!

Matt and I are heading to Europe tomorrow.  In case you're not one of the several thousand co-workers I've alienated with incessant chatter about it, here's our itinerary, which'll be peppered with amazing vegan food and picture-taking.

Paris: 2 days.  Je suis tres excite!  (Lookit me pretending I can speak French.)  I'll be forever indebted to Vegan Paris for showing me where I can eat.  Emily, the author, even has a Kindle book for $3.  Well, of course I bought it.  Luckily, I have a Kindle.  (Thanks, Mom!)

Lucerne: 2 days.  Switzerland!  Mountains!  I got advice from Vegan World Trekker and Lonely Planet on this one.  Fewer vegan-friendly restaurants than in Paris, but we are intrepid.  We carry on.  Mountains are worth it.

Vienna: 4 days.  I'm so excited about traveling here that I am vibrating off the couch right now.  Thanks to The Urban Housewife, I'm set for eats.  I can barely wait to get to the Innere Stadt and walk the Ringstrasse and sip tea in a real Viennese coffee house.

I've never been to any of these lovely locales, but thanks to the magic of googleywebs, I'm prepared to walk right in and speak English until somebody gets so annoyed with me they stuff vegan croissants in my mouth to shut me up.  (Just kidding.  We'll be posing as Canadians, not Americans.)

So muffins!  I might not see you for a while.  When I come back, I will present you with the deets.

You're totes jelly.  Join the club.  My co-workers will keep you company.

27 March 2012

Bloomington: Osaka

Poor Sister and Talia.  Their dove, Kaito, passed on.  What a lovely dove he was!  We all know how much it majorly sucks when a pet dies.  So I made Sister tell me where she wanted to eat.  "Cheap sushi!" she said.  "Stuff my face!"

Those may not have been her exact words.

Or... anywhere near her exact words.

But I swear she said Osaka.

2631 W 79th St
Bloomington, MN 55431
(952) 884-3633

Osaka's great for cheap sushi.  You look at the menu and see normal prices, then you look at the sushi order form and see that everything is between 30% and 50% off.  So you CAN stuff your face!  Just like Matt did.  (He gets a little carried away when sushi is involved, as you may have gathered already.)  And even if you live on the other side of the Twin Cities, there's an Osaka for you; they've got 'em in Apple Valley, Coon Rapids, Eden Prairie, Golden Valley, Roseville, Rochester, and Fargo.  Fargo!  Maybe I'll go there someday.  I could use a refresher on my you betchas and fer sures.

Kay vegans: when you enter Osaka, the host or hostess will ask you if you'll be dining in the Hibachi or Sushi section.  Unless you plan on watching meat get thrown around, you want sushi.  As you peruse the menu, depending on which location you're at (Eden Prairie is good for this), you may be lucky enough to hear Osaka's special happy birthday song come over the loud speakers.  It's not your normal Happy birthday to you thing.  It's... special.

Get some edamame to share.  It's five bucks, and you're starving.  It's perfectly salty and firm.  Then notice that the menu may not have sweet potato rolls on it, but the sushi order form DOES.  That is your ticket to an amazing meal, friends.

Another secret: the miso - which usually is submerged in dashi (fish) broth at other restaurants - is vegan.  Yusss.  I slurped that down in about eight seconds.  It's warm, comforting, salty, and beany.  Beany in a good savory way, not in a this-just-came-out-of-a-tofu-package way.  The scallions felt particularly fresh.  And only $2.50!

Between the two of us, Matt and I shared 3 avocado rolls, 1 avocado-cucumber-asparagus roll, and 3 sweet potato rolls.  I ate maybe 2 rolls, total.  So I don't need to tell you how much Matt ate.  And he keeps such a great figure!  How 'bout that.

The AAC roll was... just don't order it.  Even $2.50 might not be worth it.  I ate one piece and kind of enjoyed it - it was bland, but very fresh and pleasantly crispy.  I had another and had to spit out what was leftover.  The asparagus was super fibrous and difficult to chew.  I think this was just a bad one - I've had better ones in the past, but the roll's still not my favorite.

Our old standby, the avocado rolls, were lovely.  I really enjoy the simple creamy flavor, and how satisfying avocados can be in such a role.  (Oh god, I made a pun.  Sorry.  I'll bribe you with pretty food pictures if you keep reading.)  These babies were also $2.50 each.  Don't tell Sister, but I like to put a slice of pickled ginger on each piece of avocado sushi.  It's so tasty.  Apparently, doing so is insulting to the sushi chef.  She yells at me when she catches me with ginger... so I do it all sneaky-like.  Sh.


Here's what you've been waiting for: the amazing sweet potato roll for $3.  Amazing!  They drop sweet potato in (vegan!) tempura batter, deep fry it, and slide it into rice and nori and delicious sauce, just for you.  It's like the french fry of the sushi world.  It's so good, you could eat a grillion of 'em.  Just ask Captain Adventure.

By the end of the meal, Sister and Talia's moods seemed a little improved.  I think it was the happy birthday song.

24 March 2012

New Zealand: traveling vegan

Guess what guess what guess what!  Just guess!


You know all that stuff that everyone always says about it, like, "Everything is beautiful," and, "They have so many protected wilderness areas," and, "Everybody is just so NICE," right?  It's all true.  100%.

In case you're wondering (because I know you are), plane tickets are $2000, even when you find a super great deal on a travel site for $1500.  Because you'll buy those cheaper tickets... and then the agent will wait two months and tell you the airlines changed your flight, so you have to spend $400 to change your tickets back to what they had been in the first place.  JEEZ.  It sucked.  But it was our honeymoon.  So we didn't nurse that wound forever.

Other than that expense, there's only one other downside to New Zealand: lack of vegan fare.  NZ is doing loads better than the US in terms of animal agriculture - just drive all over the country like we did and you'll see loads of happy sheep eating grass so green it's practically neon.  For this reason, people there don't worry about their food animals.  The dairy industry is thriving.  Veganism is on the fringe.  SO fringey.  You gotta basically use your Lonely Planet guide or the Googleywebs to find a restaurant with a vegetarian option or two, then finesse the server into bringing it to you without cheese.

First, let me praise our airline - V Australia - for offering delicious vegan food.  On the website I was able to pick our seats, then choose our meals from an extensive pull-down menu.  One choice was vegan, but there were also options such as vegetarian Hindu and straight-up vegetarian.  Matt enjoyed his Hindu meals.  I loved my vegan meals.  These flights were 12-13 hours long (LAX to Brisbane), so we got 3 meals each way.  I received yummy salads, bread, stewed veggies, juice, rice, and even biscuits.  Dude.  I was impressed.

Because we took this trip before I started blogging, I regret to inform you that I have virtually no food pictures to show you.  Bear with me.  What I DO have are amazing pictures unrelated to food, courtesy of Captain Adventure.

Queenstown: it's like Aspen, but on a lake.  We looked out the window as our plane drifted to the ground and thought: we could live here.  Take one whiff of that crisp mountain air and your jetlag will vaporize.  We were SO excited to be there that the bags under our eyes vanished and every step was a leap of happiness.

Our first NZ meal occurred at Bella Cucina.  ADORABLE.  I got butternut squash risotto, but I had to ask the server to please make it dairy free.  Worked out well.  Mm.  Then we got our bill, laid down a 20% tip as usual, and went about our business.

When we got back to our hotel later that night, I discovered in my trusty Lonely Planet that the food prices in NZ include the tip.  You don't HAVE to tip.  Um...  So that's why my risotto was 28.5NZD.  Glad we figured that out early!

@Thai was our next Queenstown dinner adventure.  As always, ethnic food is often simpler to veganize.  I had a delicious spicy curry.  Matt and I enjoyed the view out the second-storey window - did I mention Queenstown is gorgeous?  Actually, to be honest, our focal point was the hostel across the street with floor-to-ceiling windows.  It was like watching an ant farm.

Then: Indian.  Elaichi was adamantly recommended to us by a couple different locals, and we had a hell of a time finding it.  It's inside a mall, but you have to go up some stairs and down others and out the door and up the wall and down the rabbit hole and finally, after clicking your heels and spinning, you'll find it.  And when you taste your food, you'll know it was all worth it.  This was possibly the best meal we had on the whole trip, and so easily veganized.  Thank you, Queenstown.  When I move there, I'll eat at Elaichi every day.

Glenorchy:  We took a fantastic Pure Glenorchy tour (we saw the Dead Marshes and stuff!), which was worth every cent.  When I signed us up, I requested a vegan meal and I had no expectations.  They gave me a really good sandwich!  The bread was especially moist and dense.  We ate in Isengard.  There were hobbits.  I mean sheep.

Te Anau:  After a magical speedboat ride, we ate in an adorable coffee house/Japanese restaurant in Te Anau called the Pop Inn Cafe.  The ice cream case said, "SORRY NO TASTE TASTING."  The Engrish burned our eyes, so we looked the other way.  This was our view out the window.  We sat on stools and soaked it up.

A New Zealand winter is a cold experience, dear readers.  Not because it gets particularly cold compared to Minnesota, but because you spend so much time outside admiring the scenery and then, when you finally go inside, there's no central heating.  Anywhere.  Thus, we turned to tea.  I snagged a soy chai - yum!  Matt got soup with tofu and noodles, but unfortunately it was made with dashi (fish) broth.

Waitomo:  'Member how my intestines and cheese got into a fight?  Huhu is where it started.  I was like, can't we all just get along?  And my intestines were like, dude, we'll be fine, and then the next day the cheese was like, I &%$#ING HATE YOU ALLI.  Cool.  Well, the restaurant's... nice...

Huhu has since taken what I ordered off the menu, but it was risotto cakes.  They were shaped into balls, glued together with - gulp - cheese, and deep fried.  If you were to wind up there, I think you could find something else to order.

Rotorua:  HA!  You'll love this.  Matt and I love sushi, as you may know.  During the honeymoon, we were in our avocado rolls phase, where we'd just go out and get six rolls of the stuff and be totally satiated.  Well, we figured we could do the same thing in Rotorua!  We wandered into a highly recommended Japanese restaurant and told the server we'd like six avocado rolls.

Yes, plain avocado.

No, no other veggies.

Yes, SIX of them.  We do this all the time.  It'll be great!

Finally we convinced her that yes, we really DID want this order.  Next time we saw her, she landed two gargantuan avocado-mayonnaise rolls in front of us.  And I mean enormous.  We quickly requested the rest be made with no mayo, and we shortly had all six - freakishly large - avocado rolls.

The first ones were okay, but as we kept eating, we realized the avocado was not ripe.  The chef must have only had one or two fresh avocados and used hard ones for the rest of our rolls.  So we tried to be polite to our server by choking down as many as we could.  But we couldn't finish.  So we got a take-away box and pretended we'd eat them later.

Happily, no digestive issues ensued.

Rotorua redeemed itself: Fat Dog Cafe provided us with an INCREDIBLE meal.  The fantastic food is enhanced by the artistic coffee shop ambience.  And joy of joys: the menu is full of vegetarian options!  I even ate a vegan panini!  Oh, Rotorua, I forgive you for the sushi.  Just let me eat at Fat Dog every day.

PS, Rotorua smells like farts.

Moving on...

Whakatane:  We took a White Island Volcano Tour.  It was unreal!  Once again the hospitality and kindness of New Zealanders amazed me.  Because I'd told them I'm vegan, they fed me vegan food for lunch.  Well, vegetarian.  I scraped the mayo off my sandwich and I was back in business.

Hamilton:  City Centre B&B did us well for breakfast.  If I told you how much of that granola I ate, I'd have to kill you.

Matamata:  I FED A LAMB.  You guys.  It was my lifelong dream come true.  And if you take the Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tour, you too can has fun with lamb.  Wookit its widdle face.  Adoo doo doo.

Clearly, vegan + cute animal = MINDLESS BLISS.

The Shire's Rest Cafe, where the tour meets, has some vegan options on the menu!  I didn't eat any of them.  I was busy.  Did you not see the picture?

Wellington:  What an amazing city.  If I lived in NZ, I think it'd have to be here.  Not only is it super fun and pretty, but it's also way more vegan-friendly than the rest of the country.  On our first day here, we took the Wellington Movie Tour and had an absolute blast!  I pulled the hi-I'd-like-to-book-your-tour-and-by-the-way-I'm-vegan trick again and was served a Subway salad at lunch.  Kind of lame, but better than nothing, and the rest of the tour was worth it.  Cause, uh... we got to see Rivendell.  BAM.

We spent both our mornings in Wellington at a little gem we stumbled upon called Victoria Street Cafe.  We had chais (OMG YOU ARE SO SURPRISED) and I got to have delicious oatmeal porridge!  There's something about well-prepared breakfast foods that is SO lovely.  KK Malaysian was a great find, too.  We got yummy spicy noodle curries - this place is touted as Wellington's best Malaysian restaurant.

Christchurch:  Poor Christchurch, all full of earthquakes.  It was definitely a great place to visit.  Orari B&B fed us well in the morning, and we took a Hassle-Free Tour and - TA-DA! - I had requested a vegan lunch and by jove, that's what I got.  Plus we went to Edoras.  Jeez.  Perfect day.

AND THEN... we had to go home.

Overall, I fared well, but not ideally.  I made sure to stock up on granola bars and fruit whenever we swung by a grocery store.  What helped the most, though, was the super kind attitude of every New Zealander we encountered.  If I had the chance, I would go back in a second.

Plus, I don't know if you noticed, but I got to FEED A LAMB.

23 March 2012

Minneapolis: Turtle Bread

It's getting to be hungry.  It's raining.  Kinda chilly.  I WANT SOUP.

Turtle Bread
3421 W 44th St
Minneapolis, MN 55410
(612) 942-6013

Maybe not everyone knows Turtle Bread for its soup.  It's just the thing when I don't feel like cooking!  We live within walking distance, so it's our old standby.

Turtle Bread is known by un-soupy people for its, well.  Bread!  Have you seen Ratatouille?  You know the scene where Colette is showing Linguini how to tell if bread is really good?  And she says it's not the appearance or the smell, but the SOUND.  That is what the bread here is like.  You squeeze it, it'll crackle like it's Paris.

I love bread as much as the next person, but I can't make a meal out of it.  That's why I go here for the soup.  They had my favorite when Matt and I went - Garbanzo Spinach Soup.

Ta da!  With the complementary slice of fresh lovely crackling delicious French bread.  And a Tropical Naked Juice, because I love me some smoothie.  Pureed veggies in the soup, pureed fruits in the bottle.  I am set.

KAY anyway.

This soup is super creamy and comforting.  It's full-bodied and fresh-tasting.  I love it.  Sometimes I come here, see they don't have Spinach Garbanzo, and then leave.  Other times, I suck it up and order something else.  I'm never disappointed.

Perhaps you're familiar with the way Turtle Bread works: they only serve the full menu of sandwiches, salads, breakfast foods and other yummy gems until 2:00pm, at which point they switch over to deli-style.  If you come here for dinner like we do, you can grab fancy cheese from the fancy case, a baked good from the bakery case, pre-made sandwiches from the sandwich... case, and salad and soup from the cashiers.  Usually they have at least one vegan soup, and often 2 or 3.  It's all delicious.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a vegan sandwich!  I'd never encountered such a thing at Turtle Bread.  Looks good.  I'll come back and try it sometime.  As long as it's not exactly the same sandwich as the one in the picture.  In three weeks when I come here again.

Our friend Sarah works here, so she asked us if we were casing the place when she saw Matt getting fancy with his camera and the bread.  When I explained what we were up to she said eight words that changed my life forever: "Did you know we have vegan cake now?"

I told my stomach we had incoming, and Sarah mentioned that not only is this cake vegan, it's also the best cake they have.  Uh.  Hold on a sec.  This is Turtle Bread, renowned for its cakes and pies and things.  And an employee and trusted friend is telling us they've finally created a vegan baked good and it's BETTER than everything they had made in the past?

Next thing I knew, Matt and I were in vanilla heaven.  This slice had so much authentic vanilla bean flavor it could have been ice cream.  It had a hearty, moist, dense bite to it.  Little structurally unsound, but we were willing to overlook the design flaw.  The flavor certainly made up for it.  It was so rich, I was glad to share - I couldn't have eaten that whole thing on my own.

Things can be a tich expensive here in the hoity-toity land of fancy cheeses and fresh olives.  But a relatively cheap cup of soup with a slice of bread will fill you right up.  And when you can't resist that vegan cake?  You can spare $4.

You're welcome.

22 March 2012

Minneapolis: The Bad Waitress

Because waitresses suck.

No, not really.  Waitresses are great.  'Specially Bad Waitress waitresses.

2 E 26th St
Minneapolis, MN 55404
(612) 872-7575

Because to eat here, you choose a table, sit, check out the super vegan-friendly menu (you may be too hungry to notice, but you can order breakfast all day), write your order on the slips provided (don't forget to include the name of your table's superhero!), and bring it to the counter to pay.  They'll bring the food to your table.  More like the GOOD Waitress.  Food is all I ever needed from you.

Do you ever have those moments when you look across the table and your BFF is sitting there, just as ravenous as you are, and she says, "We're so hungry we're pulling on our earrings!"  And then you realize: we're both pulling on our earrings.  And we're SO hungry.

I love Becca.  She made me laugh so hard later in the meal that I got salad dressing up my nasal cavity.  OW.  Balsamic and lemon were NOT meant to go up there.

You'll be totally shocked to note that I got a soy chai.  (I do it for you guys.)  The foam is actually just as tasty as the drink itself.  Very good, spicy, and particularly gingery.  A small is $4, but we didn't get charged extra for the soymilk.  Sweet!  Embarrassingly (least it would be if I ever experienced that emotion), I got a little over-excited and drank an inch off the top before remembering to take a picture.

BBQ, in a rather ironic move, ordered the Vegan Faux Sloppy Joe for $8.  It comes with chips and salsa, but she requested American Style Fries instead - which are nice, fresh, and crispy on the outside.  I hear the hash browns are great too.

But the Sloppy Joe.  YOU GUYS.  It tasted FANTASTIC.  So fantastic that I almost devoured Becca's whole plate.  It's sloppy!  It's Joey!  It's fresh!  It's an amazingly flavored mix of tofu, tempeh, and veggies, with that authentic Sloppy Joe taste!  Good and smoky, mushy and crumbly at the same time.  You gotta try this thing.  I don't even like Sloppy Joes.

Every time I come here, I get the Organic Mixed Baby Greens Salad for $7.50.  I just can't resist a truly well-prepared salad!  If you handed me a bowl of iceberg with cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, I'd balk.  But this thing?  HEAVEN.  The baked tofu MAKES it.  Sometimes they use tempeh with similarly extraordinary results.  The dressing is super tangy (especially when up your nose), and the cranberries and walnuts add a delicious sweetness.  Everything is fresh and lovely.

Then there's the cake.  Oh my sweet goodness gracious.  You have not LIVED until you've tasted this cake.  They must use the very highest quality cocoa powder, cause not only is the cake amazingly fudgy and moist, but it also has an incredible chocolate flavor.  As Becca said, sometimes you taste the sugar and oil more than anything in a baked good - but here, it's the chocolate.  We were so okay with that.  Chocolate layered with chocolate, topped with chocolate and more chocolate.  That slice of happiness is worth all 5 bucks.  For shiz.  Check out that hallelujah lighting job.

Everything else on the menu with a V will delight you, my hungry friends.  Except the vegan vanilla milkshake.  Too artificial in the ice cream department.

This place gives you everything you've ever wanted in a meal.  You don't even have to tip your Bad Waitress.

20 March 2012

Edina: Crave

Kay, guys.  You have a special occassion?  Your family wants to take you out and eat fancy fancy meat while you enjoy delicious vegan food?  Or you enjoy blowing $15 on a main course?  (Come on.  I adore you.  Spread the wealth.  Have you seen my Kenya fund lately?)


3520 W 70th St
Edina, MN 55435
(952) 697-6000

Crave pretty much personifies Edina.  There may be a Crave nearer you these days - we got 'em in the Mall of America, the West End in St. Louis Park, and Downtown Minneapolis.  AAAND two in Florida.  And one in Nebraska.  Who knows where they'll go next.  Prolly your backyard.  Your backyard'll get so fancy.

This is another place that has a myriad of gluten-free options and a smattering of vegan ones, so hooray!  Both Seestor and I can eat here.  And we don't even have to pay.  Thanks Mom!  (She even gave me a cool gel pen.  Could this night get any better?)  The palatte is super varied - there are foods inspired by Japan, Italy, Korea, Switzerland, the ever-vague "Mediterranean" region (which means hummus and/or olives, I've discovered), and the US.  If there's one thing I've taught you so far, I hope it's that ethnic food = vegan options.

By the time we sat down, I was so hungry I literally had no idea what was coming out of my mouth.  So imagine my delight when our server brought me a Blueberry Mint Fizz!  It's a characteristically fancy schmancy pop that'll cost ya five bucks.  But it sure is tasty.  It's got this fruity-fun flavor combo jiving with the carbonation, augmented fancily by the fresh mint leaves floating at the top.  The taste is light, not too sweet, and authentically blueberry.

Still low on blood sugar, I tried to read the menu instead of eat it.  I watched everybody order without hearing a word of what they said - oh.  EXCEPT, readers, the sushi at Crave has gluten in the rice.  Kind of silly.  I mean, why would they have GF soy sauce if you can't get GF sushi to dip it in?  Seestor ordered sashimi (the fish without rice or nori) and rallied with the GF soy sauce.

Anyway, I passed through the ordering process, and then I think there was some concern about Steve Jobs having been a vegan and an a-hole at the same time when he was in college.  Giving vegans a bad rap.  Apparently, he thought being vegan meant that he didn't have to clean himself because he was so healthy on the inside.  He got over it before he entered his turtleneck phase.

Then, joy of joys, a flatbread landed in front of me.

This would be the Caprese Flatbread for $13.  If you want it vegan, as pictured, let your server know to leave off the cheese.  But look at all the goodies on there!  Tomatoes.  Fresh spinach.  Balsamic reduction.  And AVOCADOS.  Avocados are my weak point.  I will do anything for an avocado.  These were perfectly fresh and creamy and lovely.  They went well with the balsamic flavor.  Of course, as you'd expect from such a fancy place, all the ingredients were of a very high quality.  They blended nicely together.  I even got a sprinkling of crushed red pepper.  It was kind of like bruschetta, but flat.

I ate the whole thing.  (Yes, homies.  I was THAT hungry.)

[EDIT] Thanks to our lovely friend Valynne, who used to serve at Crave downtown, I know now that the flatbread wasn't vegan.  Even without cheese.  BUSTED.  Check her comment below for a list of the only truly vegan items.  Thanks Valynne!  You're the bee's knees! [/EDIT]

If you're not into pizza without cheese, you can always take a gander at the sushi menu - as long as you're okay with gluten, they've got yummy veggie and avocado rolls.

Thanks Crave!  I'm now 15% fancier.  Well!  Time to go play in the mud!

(Vegans don't have to clean up, you know.)

15 March 2012

traveling vegan: a general how-to

Introducing the other half of my blog - its conjoined twin, if you will.  Before I write specifically about places I've visited, I've got some 'splainin' to do.

Determine the official language of your destination.  If you speak and read that language fluently, you're gonna coast.  The gift of 100% comprehensive communication takes you a long way, whether you're buying groceries and checking the ingredients, or eating out and asking your server about a menu item.  Just don't go to a Peruvian steak house in the middle of the Amazon - yes, this picture is exactly that - and expect vegan pizza.  Common sense, my muffins.

I just called you muffins.

If you don't know the local language, improvise.
+ Stick to cities.  Small townies have a tendency to think you are UBER-weird if you request something that's not on the menu or wander through the local market in search of nutritional yeast.  They prolly don't know what vegan means.  The odds of their ability to completely accommodate you are slim because they won't have the numerous resources of a big city.  Of course, sometimes our travels take all of us to small towns, so once there you can try cooking with whole foods.  Should be a snap if you've got access to a market.  If that's not in the itinerary, I give you permission to cheat.  As if you needed it.  I'll tell you all about how I've been forced to cheat myself in later posts.
+ If there's a food you can't live without, bring it or buy it there.  I personally abhor packing ANYTHING I don't need unless we're talking food.  I often take my breakfast foods with me - amaranth and granola - because those can be expensive and/or difficult to find.  I always carry snacks on planes and trains, just in case.  And in a new place, having a guaruntee about at least one meal or snack can be a major stress relief.  Just don't try to take your kombucha on the plane.
+ Research local dishes, markets, and restaurants ahead of time.  If there aren't any compatible places, at least you know before you go!  That gives you time to pack what you'll need and bring it with you.  But seriously, the chances of there not being ANYTHING you can eat are so small I wouldn't even worry about it.  Know where your vegan-friendly places are before you go, so you won't have to do a massive and stressful end-of-your-rope search when you get there.  There's nothing worse than being hungry out of your mind while walking down a busy foreign street, hoping against hope that the next food vendor will have at least a freaking apple and that you won't collapse from exhaustion before you get there.  Knowing a restaurant is vegan-compatible will also give you an edge when ordering - if you've looked at their website in English and know what they can do, you'll have an easier time with your server, even if you have trouble communicating.  Try using Happy Cow and checking out the extensive resources listed on Circle Our Earth.
+ Learn a few key phrases in the local lingo.  Such as vegan, no dairy, no meat, no eggs, vegetables, beans, rice, no I'm not crazy, and it's not my fault - blame Alli.

When planning with tour companies, B&Bs, or other organizations that offer food, tell them you're vegan - IN ADVANCE.  They want your money real bad and will do virtually anything to accommodate you, provided you give them time to prepare.  They're also used to dealing with special diets, so they won't balk at yours.  Give them all the basics about what vegans can and can't eat.

If you have to cheat, be nice to your digestive system.  We all get desperate.  Sometimes, there's just no other option but to tuck into an omelette.  Know what foods your system will tolerate.  I've told you guys that I go defcon III when I ingest cheese.  I assume meat would wreak the same havoc on my insides, as well as any straight up dairy product, like a container of yogurt or a glass of milk.  However, eggs are easier to digest, and if you gotta eat a baked good like bread or the local equivalent, any eggs or dairy that've been baked into it will generally be okay.  Once you've consumed the non-vegan food, drink lots of water, eat fiber, and try not to chow down on anything afterwards that might upset you in the least, like spicy dishes or sweets.  I don't want you wandering the globe with a roll of toilet paper.

Respect local traditions.  Um, duh.  I know none of you would walk up to a Maori tribeswoman and scoff at the fact that she's eating a fish.  Just follow the Prime Directive.

Have a great trip, my muffins!

14 March 2012

oh how easy it is to be vegan

I find that the number one misconception people have about my life is that it must be SO hard to be vegan.  Well, it makes sense.  It does seem difficult to give up meat, cheese, ice cream, milk, eggs, and yogurt, especially when we're all surrounded by these foods in restaurants, grocery stores, at home, and in advertising.  And especially when you just want a cookie, just ONE COOKIE, dammit, and all the cookies as far as the eye can see contain products that came from cows and chickens.

But dude?  It's easy as pie.

Yes, okay, it was kind of hard at first.  I had a lot of lapses, especially when a free non-vegan baked good appeared at the office building I worked at.  But I was transitioning from vegetarian to vegan - so I didn't crave meat or anything.  (Jana Klein definitely did NOT see me eat a chicken nugget when we were in eleventh grade.)  Seriously, by the time I was 21 and went vegan, I had been vegetarian for 9 years and was totally over meat.  The smell didn't even tempt me anymore.

The most difficult part of dairy to give up was cheese.  Well, obvies.  It's addictive.  It's got this stuff in it called casomorphins, and as the name would suggest, we react to that stuff just like we'd react to morphine: by forming an addiction.  Casomorphins are literally opioids.  And when you stop eating cheese - or using it, depending on how you look at it - you feel withdrawal.

I remember in particular one day a few months after I'd gone vegan, when Becca knew I was having a bum day and wanted to cheer me up.  She marched me into Noodles and made me order that pinnacle of dairy artistry, Wisconsin Mac & Cheese.  She knew I missed eating that masterpiece.  I thought, since I felt crappy, that it would make me feel better.  So I ate it.

And felt SO ICKY.

Becca and I agreed never to mention it again.  Um... don't tell anyone.

Fast forward to New Zealand last summer, when I realized what I'd ordered was not, as I'd derived from the menu's description, vegan - but was, in fact, full of cheese.  I had to eat it.  I mean, I was starving, and there wasn't anything else.  And I didn't want to send it back.  Being vegan's kinda weird in NZ.

I then had digestive system issues you don't even want to know about.  WAY worse than that time with the Mac & Cheese.  Think about it: this was the first time I'd had cheese in almost 7 years.  I've lost the enzyme we in the West use to break down lactose.  (Yeah, did you know most people in the world are lactose intolerant?  We're born with the enzymes to break down our moms' breast milk, but beyond that it can be a real struggle to start on dairy.)  I wasn't used to this sticky, gooey, clumpy stuff plugging up my insides.  I have become lactose intolerant by my own doing.  COOL!

So now I hope you're beginning to see how it's rather easy for me to avoid dairy if I were ever tempted. Which I'm not.  Ever.

Here are some tried and true reasons I consider it easy to be vegan.  Other than the fact that I get total systems shutdown if I eat dairy.

1. In my moral justice system, animals are equal with humans.  This is why I went veg in the first place, and it remains my nearest and dearest pillar.  I love my cat.  In't she cute?  She's an animal.  I wouldn't EVER make her do anything she didn't want to do (except maybe to stop eating dead bugs that've been rotting between the windows and screens all winter).  What if I had a pet cow?  Wouldn't I love her just as much?  I sure as hell wouldn't enslave a PERSON and make her give me her breast milk and sell it at a profit.  So why would I want an animal to go through that?

2. Vegan food makes me SO healthy.  I get every single vitamin and mineral required by the human body.  Protein?  Beans, grains, and several veggies keep me stocked up.  (Although we don't need as much protein as the meat industry would have us believe.)  Calcium?  Dark, leafy greens, baby!  Calcium-fortified almond milk and OJ give me a boost too.  B12?  Haha!  Luna Bars!  I eat those things every day.  I'm healthy.  I don't look like a skeletor, and I'm not overweight.  And I have so much ENERGY!

3. The environment can't support factory farming indefinitely.  The animal agriculture sector of the US produces 18% of our total greenhouse gas emissions.  Also, we're using food to feed animals.  Aren't people starving in other parts of the world?  Can't we do something else with that food?  If none of our arable land were used to feed livestock, we would have... jeez.  SO MUCH FOOD!  And even more land to grow it on!

Now for some practical reasons.

4. I surround myself with supportive people.  My friends, family, and husband fit the bill there.  When I go out with people, they usually let me pick the restaurant (THANKS YOU GUYS).  If you're a fledgling vegan, I suggest you try recommending places to eat, instead of waiting for your buddies to pick something totally incompatible, like Perkins or Denny's.  And when I'm invited to a home-cooked meal, the hostess always makes something vegan.  I always offer to bring something, anyway.  And, perhaps most importantly, my peeps are emotionally supportive.  Especially Matt.  He eats meat and stuff, but when we go out to dinner together, he orders vegetarian out of respect for me.  AW.  He's so great.

5. I buy my own groceries.  Well, duh, right?  Kay, if you're gonna be vegan, you probably don't want to have meat and dairy products in your fridge.  But what DO you want in there?  Well, tons of fresh fruits and veggies.  Your pantry should be full of grains, beans, baking ingredients, and condiments.  I think I have about 10 different kinds of vinegar in my kitchen.  Once your kitchen is well-stocked, you can...

6. Cook for yourself!  So satisfying.  Get a trusty cookbook or two and you're set.  You have complete control over what's gonna go into your body.  I enjoy eating food I've cooked even more than eating at restaurants.

7. When you go without all that non-vegan stuff for a while, you stop craving it.  We already discussed cheese.  But really, it applies to everything.  Prime example:  I don't crave candy anymore.  The taste, as far as I remember it, seems so artificial.  Used to eat it all the time.  Now I'm... kind of even sick of Oreos.  Which are vegan.  Freaky.

8. I always carry extra food with me.  That way I'm not put in a position where I have to either get that fainty-hungry-low-blood-sugar feeling or eat something that isn't vegan.  Instead, I pull a Luna Bar out of my purse.  Problem solved.

9. I eat constantly.  Your stomach might not work this way, but mine seems determined to resist the structure of huge portions three times a day.  Every day I have a big granola breakfast, tea, lunch with soy yogurt, a Luna Bar, a teatime snack (often more granola), and dinner, sometimes with dessert.  This strategy keeps my energy up without giving me that feeling of icky too-fullness.

[edit] 10. I only eat food that TASTES GOOD.  You eat over-steamed veggies and unflavored rice all the time, and you will hate being vegan.  I have fallen in love with so many vegan foods - that is part of why I no longer crave dairy and stuff.  Even a meat-eater who hates vegetables would agree that everything I put in my mouth is delicious.  I don't have vegan blinders on.  I got the same taste buds as everybody else.  And my food is truly high-quality. [/edit]

So the moral of this story is: OH HOW EASY IT IS TO BE VEGAN.  I'm thinking of making it into a musical.

13 March 2012

Minneapolis: Tiger Sushi 2

Don't do what I did, which is go to the Mall of America Tiger Sushi, AKA NOT Tiger Sushi 2, and expect all the worthwhile veggie sushi to be on the menu.  I mean, what's the POINT of Tiger Sushi without Bam Bam and Dark Edamame?!  NOTHING!  I guess vegans aren't welcome at the MoA.  Suck it, stupid mall!

Through intensive counseling, I've come to properly deal with my anger.  My emotional reaction to the MoA has returned to mildly irritated.  'S been a long road to recovery.  Now gimme my Bam Bam.

Tiger Sushi 2
2841 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55408
(612) 874-1800

Matt and I have scoured the metro area for the best fish-free sushi.  We used to always order 6 plain avocado rolls to split, but... people would look at us.


Trust me.  If you have taste buds, you must come here for vegan sushi.  They understand that vegetarians ENJOY flavor.  Flavorful vegan sushi, you guys!  Is your mouth watering yet?

If you investigate the menu, you'll see a green V all over the place.  That simply means mostly vegetarian.  Well, that ain't gonna cut it for me.  If you want absolutely no fish flakes or eggs in your food, tell your server.  No big deal.  She'll fix it for you, free of charge.

The two shining stars of world-wide vegan sushi are the Bam Bam Roll ($10) and Dark Edamame Roll ($12).  One'll probably fill your belly.  But they won't come to you vegan unless you ask your server.

Now.  The Bam Bam.  It's a roll of extraordinary freshness in which the massive avocado chunks shine. Dip that spicy sucker in the delicious strawberry sauce, savor the sweet potato, jalapeno, and inari (fried tofu), and you will be in food heaven.  For real.  There is no way I can impart the amazing taste experience you will have while eating this roll.  You just need to try it yourself.

This little beauty is the Dark Edamame Roll, so named for the sauce gellin' with the edamame, which is not only dark, but spicy!  The mango, avocado, asparagus and red bell pepper inside meld with the sauce and explode in your mouth.  LITERALLY.  No, j/k.  Or am I?  You decide.


Like the Bam Bam, the Dark Edamame Roll is has a totally unique flavor that will blow you away.  I mean it.  It's crunchy, fresh, and packed to the nori with flavor.  You can put that soy sauce back.  You won't be needing it here.

Just in case I haven't yet gotten through to you about how EPIC these two rolls are, let me tell you what Matt and I always do here: we share one Dark Edamame and one Bam Bam.  Then Matt, whose stomach is designed for packing it in, will eat ANOTHER entire Dark Edamame Roll.  Captain Adventure, indeed.

Aaaand we maybe come here once a month.

Okay, twice a month.

Sometimes three.

No, I will not go to counseling for this.  Eat my Bam Bam.

[EDIT 3/17/2013] My magical fairy godmother (or, a very nice person named Amanda who reads my blog) had a nasty surprise when she came here for her birthday dinner.  Certain things just are not vegan!  The soy sauce at your table has fish sauce in it, and if you don't explicitly request your sushi to be vegan, it could contain such horrors as carrots marinated in fish sauce, tempura veggies fried in the same oil as meat, and straight up fish sauce on top of your Dark Edamame Roll.  And now I shall send a message to Tiger Sushi, in the hopes of changing things for the better.

12 March 2012

Minneapolis: Birchwood Café

Dear Birchwood,
Please make me all the sandwiches.  Ever.  For life.

Birchwood Café
3311 E 25th St
Minneapolis, MN  55406
(612) 722-4474

This meal was a lovely and unexpected treat, made possible by my Auntie.  If you cough within her hearing range, she'll make you tea in the blink of an eye.  If you're cold, the fire snaps on and a blanket falls into your lap.  And if you're hungry... Oh man.  If you even poke your head into the kitchen, she's making you vegan cookies and bean dip and lentil stew before you can say "Let me help!"

So Auntie took Seestor and me to Birchwood yesterday, much to our delight.  "What a fun neighborhood!" I always exclaim here.  "Look at all the bikers!  All the sunshine!  All the hippies!  These are my homies!"

Yeah, so what if I do get a bunch of looks?  I know what they're thinking.  They're thinking, OMG MY NU BFF.

Maybe later.  Sorry, my peeps, I'm busy.  I have a sandwich to order.

Birchwood has a counter-order situation, for those of you who haven't yet experienced its magic.  Check the menu on the walls while waiting in line - look for the circled V - then order.  Don't forget to move to the next register to pay and pick up your dessert and/or drink.  Take your number, find a table (WARNING: this may be difficult - take out is just as yummy), and wait for your main course to materialize in front of you.

This pretty little thing was a ginger soy chai.  Yum!  It was sweeter than other from-scratch chais I've had lately, but I found it to be a benefit.  It complemented the spices well.  However, if you're looking for mega spice in your chai, this may not be the one for you.  For the coffee enthusiasts among you, Seestor wants you to know they've got Peace Coffee here.  Liquid gold.  She drank too much and started floating toward the ceiling.

Auntie ordered this cup of butternut squash soup (next to a vegetarian black bean burger) for $3.50, and was very adamant about one thing - a thing she absolutely insisted I share with you: soup's not as good as mine.  Haha!  I thought it tasted swell.  It had a nice herby backdrop that let the taste of squash shine through... but as I'm sure Auntie would agree, it'd be better with a squirt of Sriracha.

You ready for this sandwich?  Non-vegans and vegans alike, prepare to have your sandwich paradigm shifted.  This bad boy is the Tofu Thai Sandwich at $10.  And every time I eat a sandwich at Birchwood, it is THE best sandwich I've ever had in my life.  This time was no exception.  The tofu is prepared perfectly, and its creamy-crumbly texture and flavor blend amazingly with the cilantro schmear, SPECTACULAR spicy peanut dressing, and other veggies.  The foccaccia was salty and oily, so it also tasted like happiness.  It just all meshed so well!  Man.  I just.  You don't even.  Srsly.

It comes with your choice of chips and salsa or mixed greens.  You prolly want the chips.  My greens were good, but covered in this vinaigrette that tasted so... vinegary.  TOO vinegary.  It was all I could taste.

We finished with this lovely GF apple-raspberry crisp.  It was the ideal way to convey a sweet raspberry flavor.  I go bananas for raspberry.  And it wasn't too sweet either, which I found refreshing.  Let the fruit speak for their own sweet selves.  They know what's best.  Those yummy GF oats and sprinklings of raw quinoa on top sure didn't get in their way.

Don't wait up for me, Birchwood homies.  I'll be back.

Don't call me, I'll call you.

10 March 2012


Hi friends!  My, you look wonderful today.  Is that a new haircut?  You are just glowing!  And it was great to see you.  You add sunshine to my life.

Yes, I need something.  You're smart.  You know about Africa.  Short story: click on this button and pay to benefit Kenyan kids whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS.

Long story: You'll be paying to send me to Kenya and work with these kids.  They come from a slum in Nairobi called Dagoretti.

One of these sweet girls lives here.  Her name is Marlene, and her family's kitchen is on the left there.  Yep.  It's a tiny table with dishes and a few food containers.  No indoor plumbing or electricity.  To the right of the kitchen is the wardrobe.  And that corrugated-looking blue is a sheet separating their house from that of their neighbors.

Here you can see the same kitchen and wardrobe, which are pressed against the full-sized bed with Little Mermaid sheets.  Marlene's whole family, siblings and all, occupy this space.

Sob story over.  Friends of Ngong Road swooped in a few years ago and decided to give kids living in this area a fighting chance.  They provide education, medicine, and support based on donations and sponsorships from "rich" people like us.  You know, these kids do think we're rich.  To them, we are!  Ngong Road currently sponsors 300 children.

The most fun part of Ngong Road is summer camp!  The kids get SO happy.  Then they climb on you and do your hair and giggle and wiggle and stick their fingers in your nose.  This was the young kids camp, a year and a half ago.  We made sure everyone was smiling.  It wasn't hard!

I also went to the older kids camp near Mount Kenya.  Like at the first one, we made sure everyone got fed.  We took the kids on safaris, hiked up Mount Kenya, explored the local community, taught kids how to make friendship bracelets and books, and facilitated all kinds of super fun camp games.

Below is Benson.  He's a good dancer.  ADORBS.
This year, Ngong Road is planning 4 camps, and I might wet my pants, I'm so excited.  The ones I'd like to attend are:

Seniors Camp: for kids 14 and older near Mount Kenya.  We'd explore and teach life lessons.  I be whippin' out that teaching license I have.

Grammar Camp: for kids age 10 - 13.  We'll set up in Nairobi and have the kids learn and play games.

Young Kids Camp: kids under 10!  The most adorable of all the camps.  Massive game fun in Nairobi.

So my friends.  I need your help.  The flight is expensive for us Americans!  That's why, between now and May 15 - the deadline for signing up - I'm hoping for $1500 to magically drop into my interweb pocket.  That covers everything I'll need once I'm in Kenya, including the part where I help the chilluns, and most of my plane ticket.

Anything you give will help.  Thank you, from the bottom of my little vegan heart.