Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Vegan Vacation, Part Two: New York City

It comes as no surprise that NYC is THE place go for amazing plant-based meals. A quick search of will retrieve hundreds of results for vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly locations.  So, when we decided to visit NYC during our vacation in New Jersey, I was understandably giddy.  Truth be told, I was really hoping to try Candle 79 or Pure Food and Wine, but things didn't go according to plan.  Never fear!  I still had an awesome time and enjoyed delicious vegan food at a restaurant I'd never heard of, but that I will definitely be spreading the word about.

We started the day later than expected, but with six people sharing one bathroom, that's kinda predictable.  After a nice big bowl of steel-cut oats with bananas, strawberries, walnuts, and flax seeds, we headed out to the big city.  We instructed the GPS to avoid tolls, and apparently, this means you get to drive 35 mph through every small town along the way. I'd be lying if I said it didn't irritate me.  After all, this was the highlight of the trip for me, and I didn't like being made to take it slow.  We finally made it to Liberty Park and found the ferry to take us across the choppy water to the big city around 2pm.  Yep, like I said... Late start.  The girls really enjoyed the ferry ride, and Charlotte sat perfectly still, just like a big girl.  I was surprised that she wasn't the least bit nervous, being that she's only been on a boat once when she was two months old.  My kid is one tough cookie.

We arrived in lower manhattan and immediately headed to the 9/11 memorial.  It was the one thing I knew I HAD to see.  Having never been to NYC before, I didn't know what to expect in such a sacred place, but I was so pleasantly surprised.  In such a busy, bustling city full of noise, people were noticably calm and subdued, showing complete respect for what those new fountains represent.  It felt like, no matter where we were from or what we believed, everyone there was together.  We all shared in the same emotions at that moment in time.  That was the day when we explained to my niece what the memorial was about.  She didn't know why we wanted to walk miles and miles to see these structures, but I think she understands now.  That day is so engrained in me, a part of my life that I'll never forget, but I'd never considered what it means to those born after it happened.  I wonder if the history books will convey the story in a way to make them "feel" it the way we did?  Will my daughter ever be able to comprehend why standing there brought up so many emotions in me?  Something to ponder, I suppose.

After paying our respects, we ventured on.  We weren't hungry yet, but figured we should start walking in the direction of dinner, since we'd likely be starving by the time we arrived.  I pulled up my HappyCow app and searched near me.  I saw a spot that caught my eye, called Sun in Bloom.  It looked like they had salads and juice among other healthy fare, so we headed that way.  I really enjoy the architecture in NYC, I must add.  Walking through the city was like a feast for the senses.  So much is happenig at any given time, that it's hard to know where to look, but that's all part of the fun. 
I snagged this pic from their Facebook page, but this is actually from their Brooklyn location which appears to be a sit-down restaurant with an extensive menu.

When we arrived at Sun in Bloom, we were disappointed to see that it was more of a "grab and go" kinda place than a sit-down restaurant.  They had a large refrigerator case filled with packed kale salads, nut milks, juices, etc., and behind the counter was a plethora of tea and coffee choices.  We decided to have dinner elsewhere, but did opt to try a little something there.  My brother and niece shared a gluten-free, vegan brownie that was quite a hit with the fast-food, junk-food-loving kid.  I picked up a carrot walnut muffin, also vegan and gluten-free to save for later, and had an English breakfast tea for the walk to dinner.  I forgot to get pictures, but the cafe was super cute and bright, and the muffin was ridiculously good!  They don't go stingy on the walnuts, either.  If I lived near there, I'm sure it would be a regular stop.

My mom suggested we try a place she found called The Butcher's Daughter.  The name alone got my attention, but when I checked the menu out on my phone, I figured she was on to something.  It was 1.1 miles further to walk, but we all agreed we were fine with that.  I have to add here, I LOVE my Tom's shoes.  They're practically all I wore on this trip, and my feet never hurt. 

We passed some more gorgeous buildings on our way to Kenmare Street, and finally found our destination.  I fell in love as soon as I saw it.  This quaint little bistro-style restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, greenery hanging from the ceiling, and a bright interior, it was perfect.  The weather was absolutely beautiful that day, so they had the front doors wide open, which made it feel like we were sitting outside, even though we had taking our seats at the large community table in the back.  The whole front of the restaurant is lined with windows bringing lots of natural light in, and with the heavy distressed-wood table, it felt like sitting in a garden.  I hadn't even tasted one morsel, but I knew I was gonna enjoy my dinner here. 

Our lovely server came to the table with mint-infused water for us all.  That's right, mint water is their go-to free beverage!  After glancing at the menu, I asked to have a wheatgrass shot, but she informed me that they were out.  Sad face. :-( However, she suggested I try the Liquid Vitality tincture, which contains ginger, honey, yuzu (not sure what that even is, but who cares?), and echinacea. It was really neat... Spicy, tart, sweet.  And I figure, being in new allergy region during fall, the components would be a good way to keep healthy on the trip.  Definitely a thumbs up from me.

After studying the menu and considering ordering one of everything, I finally settled on The Butcher's Burger, a vegetable-black bean patty with cashew cheddar, Bibb lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and special sauce on a brioche bun with roasted potato wedges and Harissa mayo.  I never order burgers, but it was calling to me.  And I figure I HAD to try the signature dish, right?  My mom and brother ordered a special Thai zucchini noodle dish.  Anyone else find it funny hat I'm the one who got the burger while my two omnivore companions opted for the raw food?  We were pretty amused by this turn of events.  

When our food arrived, we were so hungy, we forgot to take pictures.  I snapped this one after Charlotte had stolen a potato wedge.  There was no making this kid wait.  I must admit, this was one of the best damned veggie burgers I've ever had!  Most of the time, they get soft and soggy, and start to fall apart halfway through, but this was crispy and hearty to the last bite.  It was much heavier than what I'm used to eating, but I really enjoyed every bite of it.  That bun!  It was crispy on the outside and feathery light and soft on the inside.  Definitely not gluten-free, but worth it.  Mom and Matt really enjoyed their noodle dishes, as well.  I really wish I'd taken photos since they were so pretty.  Oh well, maybe next time I go there, and I hope that's soon.

Since this was my one NYC vegan food experience, I went all out and ordered dessert.  Of course, the raw chocolate ganache was calling my name.  Charlotte learned a new word that day, "chocolate".  We all shared the slice, but I could've easily eaten the whole thing.  It was amazing!  Creamy, not too sweet, served with a side of berries and jam, it was divine.  If you're ever in the area, so yourself a favor and try this adorable bistro.  There are so many creative items on the menu, from a cheese board and pates, to hearts of palm salad, to kale chips, and even a pulled "pork" BBQ  sandwich made from shredded portabello mushrooms, as well as daily specials.  I can't wait to go back!


Before leaving, I stopped into their gift shop and picked up two organic cotton tshirts, one saying "We sell designer kale." and another reading "Beet it."  I'm gathering quite the collection of veg-supporting shirts.  

After dinner, as the sun was setting, we began our long walk back to the ferry, which took us through Chinatown.  It was quite an experience seeing all of the little shops and markets along the way.  I was sad to see how many dead animals were hanging in the windows, and the smell of fish was overpowering at times, but for the most part, it was an enjoyable walk.  I purchased four new scarves for $5 each at a souvenir shop, so that was a nice find, too.  We somehow got lost and ended up too far east having to backtrack.  It was so fun spending the day doing something new to all of us.  My mom had been to NYC before, but with a native, so this was the first time she had to act as your guide.  I think she did pretty well, and gettin lost actually allowed us to see some more amazing architecture.  

This was her look the entire way back to the ferry after dark.  I think she was amazed. ;-)

We finally boarded the ferry and headed back with two very sleepy girls around 8pm.  The GPS got us lost on the way home, but not too far out of the way.  By then, we were used to it.  

Bye, bye, big city.

Once we arrived home, I had a big spinach salad and went to bed exhausted but on cloud nine.  Even though we didn't get to see nearly as much as I had hoped, I still had a great time and felt satisfied.  I figure we'll get closer to Times Square next trip.  Maybe then I can try the famous raw and vegan restaurants.  And I'll be sure blog about it. 

The next installment in the Vegan Vacation series will focus on Asbury Park, NJ, what to do at the beach in October, and how to find vegan food in a very not-veg-friendly restaurant.  Hint:  be very kind to the server.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Vegan Vacation, Part One: New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ

Note: I've decided to make this vacation review a series of posts due to the length. So... Part one...
"Mama!  Airpaaane!  Airpaaane, mama!"

I have to be honest.  When my mom informed me she was moving to New Jersey a couple of months ago, my first thought was "on purpose?".  Because really, who CHOOSES to live there?  I've only ever seen one episode of Jersey Shore, and it definitely didn't add that state to my "must visit" list.  So, needless to say, when my little brother and I decided to use our vacation time to visit mom, I wasn't exactly excited.  (I'd prefer to use valuable time off for things such as beach romps and relaxing island retreats.). However, my mind was completely changed.  I can see now why the northeast is such a desirable destination, especially this time of year.  

Let's start at the beginning...
My brother, Matt (isn't he handsome?), my niece, the baby, and myself flew out of Nashville on a Saturday afternoon, and it was a beautiful sunny day, hence the massive wash-out in our picture.  I may be partial, but I think Nashville has one of the nicest airports.  I never have any problems getting through security, and transportation is always a breeze.  The girls did great on the plane, too.  This was Aubrianna's first time ever to fly, and she was like a pro.  Never once did she seem nervous.  Charlotte had flown a few times last year, but this was the first time since she became mobile, and I was worried about having her sit in my lap for two hours.  Fortunately, she only became restless in the last thirty minutes, and I was able to distract her with the iPad.  What on earth did parents do before modern technology?  After a very bumpy landing, we touched down in Newark and began our lovely vacation with Mom and Gary. 
Sure, there are dirty parts just like anywhere else, but most of what we saw of New Jersey was gorgeous.  I can see now why it's called "the garden state".  Everywhere I looked, there was color.  The leaves were beginning to change, and the weather was amazing the entire time.  It was sunny and warm, but not hot, just cool enough to wear a jacket.  

Our first night in South Bound Brook, we had dinner at The South Side Grill, a sort-of Italian restaurant on one side with a sports bar on the other.  The menu was pretty meat and cheese heavy, but I was able to get a lovely salad with roasted red peppers, snap peas, and shitake mushrooms with a side of Asian miso dressing.  The serving size wasn't disappointing either, definitely dinner sized.  Gary gave me his sweet potato fries, too, so Charlotte and I were set.  Not a bad way to begin the week.  

On Sunday, we all loaded in two cars and ventured to Lambertville, NJ and New Hope, PA for the day.  These two towns are absolutely beautiful!  They sit on opposite sides of the Delaware River and are home to many local artisan shops and bistros.  There wasn't a chain restaurant in sight, and everywhere you looked were historical buildings.  Waterways weave through New Hope lending a fairytale feel to picture-perfect locales.  The old brick sidewalks still remain, giving these towns amazing character.  For a self-proclaimed hippy, it was heaven.  
After walking the entire length of New Hope, we stopped for lunch at Zoubi's, a European-style bistro on West Mechanic Street.  Kate, our server, was very knowledgable about vegan cuisine, and recommended the day's butternut squash soup and their mushroom farro dish for me.  She served us a basket (ok, maybe two) of sourdough fresh from the oven with cold-pressed olive oil and herbs.  HOLY GEEZ, was it amazing!  I rarely eat bread, especially in all of it's gluten-loaded glory, but I was on vacation!  As a side note, sourdough tends to be easier on digestion because of the fermentation process which sours the dough, and I didn't seem to have any ill effects after eating it.  Score!
The soup was very simple, just puréed squash with sea salt and scallions, but it really hit the spot on a fall day. 
Charlotte couldn't wait to dig in to the farro, so excuse the baby hand in my picture.  I promise you, the presentation was beautiful before she mauled it.  It was served with grilled baby bok choi, asparagas, and roma tomato.  I LOVED this dish.  It was so creamy and peppery, not too salty, and the mushroom flavor was the most potent part.  It was quite perfect.  My family all enjoyed their meals as well.  Matt ordered the same dish as me, and he agreed with my review.  Just perfect.  Also, check out this patio!
Gorgeous!  I felt like I was in France. (I've never been to France, so just let me have this, um-kay?)

Toeing the line, so to speak.
Edible landscaping!
Does it get any better than this view?
The mighty Delaware.

You guys, these towns.  I just fell in love.  Lambertville and New Hope are wonderful little green-loving gems.  I can't wait to go back.

Up next, The Big Apple!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"SweetTarts" Smoothie

It's been a long time since I had candy, but from what I remember, SweetTarts had a slightly sour and sweet flavor that I used to love.  I didn't set out to recreate that flavor, but this morning, it sorta happened by accident.  I did my usual "throw whatever I have available into the blender" routine, and when I took a sip, I thought "this is very familiar...".  After a few sips, it clicked.  It reminded me of those little candies I ate as a kid (and adult, who are we kidding?).  I thought I should probably share the recipe in case any of my readers crave sour-sweet snacks that aren't so healthy.  

"SweetTarts" Smoothie

1 cup chopped celery
2 frozen bananas
1 cup frozen pineapple 
1/2 cup raspberries
2 dates
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 scoop vegan protein (I used PlantHead vanilla raw vegan protein.)

Just blend all ingredients together until smooth and enjoy.  I topped mine with shredded coconut and cacao nibs for a little crunch, but that's totally optional.