Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Look at that beautiful face!

           It is almost Thanksgiving here in the States and I am most definitely looking forward to eating a ton of delicious food.  My wife always makes the best meals for the holidays and since she’s Canadian, and since her Thanksgiving is in October, I get 2 Thanksgiving meals.  What a sweet deal I landed, eh?  Generally speaking, each year we have meals that features new dishes or variations on the old standards that make each holiday unique and never dull.  Not once has there been a meal that’s disappointed.
It’s odd to think that since I used to always associate the holidays with specific dishes and any variation on that would feel catastrophic.  Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and broccoli casserole were absolute musts and I would eat them until I would collapse.  But now?  Now, each holiday is something new and different – variety truly is the spice of life and I don’t miss the animal-centered meals that used to constitute my traditions at all.  I don’t mind doing something different.  Doing something different has become our tradition.  This brings me to my next point.
Just because something is a tradition, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it.  We’ve outgrown many traditions as human civilization has advanced without giving it a second thought.  It used to be traditional to use leeches in medical procedures but I don’t see people being treated with leeches in every hospital across the country.  Why?  Because it’d be silly to do so when we have the knowledge to make better decisions.  The same can go for the traditions we hold around our food options.
Why raise turkeys by the millions just to be tortured, killed, and then consumed by us for one or two meals out of the entire year?  Just for tradition’s sake?  Turkeys don’t deserve that weak excuse and if you’ll keep reading, I hope to explain why that is.

To start, turkeys are incredible creatures.  My wife and I were able to discover this firsthand when we visited both the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary and the Farm Sanctuary location in Watkin’s Glen in New York.  They will stroll right up to you if they’re in the mood and let you pet them.  It’s very cool to see how brilliant their colors are in person and to feel how soft their feathers are and how unafraid they are of humans.  It would be like petting someone’s dog or cat that would come rubbing up against your leg.  If they’re feeling particularly friendly, they’ll show off by spreading their tail feathers at you.  I must’ve taken over thirty pictures of all the turkeys I saw while at the two farms.

They are incredibly social and I could’ve watched them cuddle next to each other or walk around in their enclosure together all day.  Not only that but turkeys can identify each other by the noises each makes and can form bonds with each other that lasts forever.  Their mothers will also sleep with her poults (baby turkeys) under her wings at night until they can be on their own.  I had no idea but their heads can also change color depending on their emotional state.  This may also blow your mind:  wild turkeys can fly.  What’s more, turkeys can adjust their sight to gain a 360-degree view.  I think the coolest fact, however, is that they have such an amazing memory for location that they can recall a place they’ve been only once before.  Turkeys in the wild can have a roaming range of up to 1,000 acres and can remember where they found food the previous year and return there in hopes of finding food again.
Sadly, there are way too many turkeys that don’t make it to safe havens like the ones I visited last year.  Millions of turkeys are raised and killed each year for those holiday meals.  Right from birth they know only terrible conditions.  Most of the turkeys raised will never feel the grass under their feet or the sun on their heads.  More and more turkeys are being consumed and so bigger and bigger turkeys are in demand.  To reach this goal, most are genetically enhanced to reach a weight that they would never achieve in nature.  These overgrown turkeys suffer health issues because their frames were never meant to carry the weight.  Think of all those supermarket tabloids or the daytime TV shows that show morbidly obese humans that are over 400 pounds.  Just like our bodies weren’t meant to carry that much weight, neither are turkeys’ bodies.  Remember how I said wild turkeys can fly?  Unfortunately, domesticated birds can’t due to their larger frames.
Since they are crammed into tightly packed barns where they only receive a few feet of space to stand or sit, many turkeys suffer from incredible stress.  Imagine being crammed into a bus or train and being stuck squished between people you don’t know for any amount of time.  You’d go insane within five minutes.  Imagine having that for your entire life.  Due to the stress turkeys feel, they have to be painfully de-toed and de-beaked to avoid them attacking and injuring each other.  The process is performed on newborn poults with shears or a hot blade and without any pain medicine.
Sadly, within just a few months of age and due to the genetic manipulation to increase their size, the turkeys that are sent to slaughter can be injured by the rough treatment they experience during the shipping process and many die even before they reach the slaughterhouse.  No matter if you are buying a “humanely raised” turkey (which is a bullshit expression no matter what you were told or what you believe) or not, all turkeys are hung upside down for slaughter while they are both alive and conscious of the process.  Not only is the process barbaric but there is such disgusting conditions on these farms that the chances a turkey is covered in some sort of disgusting by-product of other animals is probably quite high.
You don’t need me to tell you that turkeys face terrible conditions at the slaughterhouses.  You probably have heard or seen reports from such places that service familiar turkey companies like Butterball.  Sadly, such stories tend not to be the exception to the rule.  Cruelty abounds in the animal food service like with THIS story.

This all brings me to my next topic.  If you feel sad over the conditions these smart and beautiful creatures feel and you want to do something to help the few that make it out of those conditions alive, I highly urge you to donate to Farm Sanctuary.  Currently you have the chance to ‘adopt’ a turkey for just thirty dollars.  That thirty dollars will go to help care for the turkeys at Farm Sanctuary.  It’s such an easy thing to do and the feeling you’ll get knowing you helped improve their life is worth it.  If you don’t want to adopt one or if you are reading this and they don’t have their annual adoption drive, then you can always make a donation for all of the animals at their locations because not only have turkeys suffered, all farmed animals have suffered.  We’ve adopted turkeys in previous years and this year we’ve adopted Cecilia (Who is so cute.  Just go look at her inquisitive stare!).
I can hear you ask, “But what about my turkey at Thanksgiving [or any holiday]?!  What do I do instead?”
Fear not!  There are plenty of options out there nowadays for you to try.  Tofurky still has one of the best go-to options for those craving a turkey substitute.  Quite honestly?  Their roast is very good with gravy and I never thought I’d ever eat anything from a company called “Tofurky”.  Seriously, give it a shot if you can.  Not only that but a great company called Field Roast has a few options for you to try (also quite good!).  You could always try your hand at homemade roasts using seitan if you feel confident in your cooking skills.  My wife has made a few homemade seitan dishes during the holidays and they have all been amazing.  They might not taste the same as that turkey did but when you combine the knowledge that you aren’t hurting another living being and you’re eating a bit healthier, you won’t even care.  Many of the vegan roast options also have a similar consistency as animal flesh so if you’re just craving that experience, you won’t be lacking in that department either.  Or you could just as easily make several amazing vegan dishes without any animal flesh substitutions.  You are only limited by your imagination and the amount of spices you can throw together.
"See? Going turkey-free is easy as can be!"

See, who needs those silly food traditions when you can try cool, new, and even tastier options?  Besides, eating turkeys at Thanksgiving only really came about in the 19th century.  We think of the first Thanksgiving meal coming shortly after the arrival of the pilgrims to the New England area.  That leaves a few hundred years where turkeys were not apart of any fall celebration.  So, as easily as turkeys became apart of our traditions, so to can it become separated from our traditions.  It just takes one meal to start things off for you!  If I can do it, anyone can!
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, and you’re reading this, what is it that you do  for food around the holidays?  Let me know!
I hope you all have an awesome and safe Thanksgiving this year filled with good times and great food!  I shall update about the meal we will have on my next post.  Since my wife is making dinner tonight, the house is filling with mouth-watering smells that are making it difficult for me to concentrate on writing.  I will have to end this here and try to sneak a bite or two before we eat.  Until then, keep calm and vegan on!

To learn more about Farm Sanctuary and/or their turkey adoptions, go HERE.  They’re also on a number of social media sites including Twitter at: @FarmSanctuary
To learn more about Tofurky, go HERE.  They, too, are on Twitter at: @Tofurky
To learn more about Field Roast, go HERE.  They are also on Twitter at: @fieldroast
For more on turkeys, go HERE or HERE.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ecuador & Peru: Part 1

            I was going to wait to discuss my vacation until I had finished editing my photographs but if I did that, I’d never end up talking about the trip.  It’s quite sad how many photographs I take on vacation.  I’m still editing photographs from vacations we took five years ago.  So in the interest of memory’s sake I shall at least discuss the first few impressions of Ecuador that I had as a vegan.  You know, incase anyone of my readers here wants to go there some day.
            First of all, here is Ecuador:
            That may seem odd to those reading this if you’re not from the U.S. but it really is necessary.  Geography and Americans are like the continental drift:  as time goes on, the distance between the two groups grows.
            …Anything?  Come on, that’s a decent geology joke.  Anyway.
            I was quite apprehensive about our trip to Ecuador.  I had visions of the streets roaming with pickpockets, volcanoes spewing down in every town we stopped (it seemed like every travel book said some active volcano was right next to wherever we were staying), and having terrible food poisoning throughout the trip.  I must also point out that this didn’t happen just because we were going to South America, per say.  I also got nervous before our trips to Ireland, Costa Rica, and Germany.  Any destination far from home where I either don’t speak the native language fluently or where I expect culture clashes to occur can fill me with dread.
            Then you add in the fact that I’m vegan and I have to somehow convey this message whenever we eat out?  Checking out the Happy Cow site didn’t do much to calm my fears much either.  Even 1 review of, “I tried to tell them I’m vegan but I could definitely taste dairy cheese,” can be enough to fill me with panic.  I had taken Spanish for 2 years in high school and off-and-on while in college but even with a small refresher using Rosetta Stone, I still couldn’t remember every fruit and vegetable out there.  What if I thought a word that was in a dish was a vegetable but was really some sort of animal product?  Yeah.  Fun.
How I knew everything would be ok. Bumblebee was at the Quito airport!

            So, with all of this apprehension, we arrived safely in Quito after a long day of flying.  After walking through the airport and taking a taxi that seemed to zip in-and-out of lanes with a speed barely slow enough for the human brain to process, we were dropped off at our hotel in the heart of Quito.  Being almost ten o’clock, we didn’t feel like eating anything despite having nearly nothing of substance to eat all day.  Instead, we decided to just eat a snack bar and some homemade bread we had stuffed in our backpacks.
Quito!  From the slopes of Pichincha

            Because we were there for only a limited amount of time, and because we wanted to see as much of the country as possible, we crammed as many activities into one day that we could.  After hiking around the slopes of Pichincha volcano (exhausting, by the way, if you’re not acclimated to the heights. We went from about 10,000 ft. to about 13,000 ft.) and parts of the old town, we went for a late dinner at El Maple, which was about a ten-minute walk from our hostel.
            It was a bit difficult to find, however, since Happy Cow’s directions were both a bit off and vague.  I walked up and down the block it was supposedly on and tried to get directions from people inside a fast food joint (awkward much?  Being a vegan and going into a chicken fast food place for directions.).  That didn’t pan out.  I finally found someone inside an internet café that had heard of it and we were on our way!

            It was a cool little vegetarian restaurant with brightly lit rooms on the inside.  We had one room all to ourselves for most of our meal but that’s probably because we were eating after eight and most people in Ecuador seem to have dinner either earlier or later.  Either way, I was looking to devour some food.  Besides a very small breakfast in our hotel that morning, we hadn’t had much since.  Eating one or two meals a day would be a regular thing for us on our vacation.
Breakfast at 1 of our hostels.

            With the apprehensions I spoke of earlier running through my mind, I nervously ordered dinner for myself.  Thankfully, the meal turned out to be quite good!  For an appetizer we had ordered a plate of diced potatoes covered in some sort of sauce (sorry, my memory is fading) and for a main meal we each had a plate with rice, seitan ‘steak’, lentils, a plantain, and a tiny salad.  I was worried about the raw salad because everything I read said to avoid raw salads but I figured that was mainly aimed at people eating in omnivore restaurants, so I ate it anyway.  Besides, when you’re ravenous, you will eat anything.

            Even though the meal was delicious, it definitely wasn’t an American-sized meal.  Needless to say, I was still a bit hungry even after the meal but it probably would’ve been fine had I had more food throughout the day.  Thankfully, worrying about the raw salad was pointless because I had no trouble that night or for most of the three-week vacation.  I’m not sure if that is due to veganism or because I was just lucky but I’ll take it.
Restaurante Manantial

            The next day was another day where we had one main meal but this time it was a late lunch at Restaurante Manantial, a vegetarian restaurant.  Again, the place was impossible to find because there was no sign outside to indicate where it was and the directions on Happy Cow were vague.  Again, we were hungry as hell when we showed up.  The portions for our meals were small but that was my fault.  I misunderstood the guy at the counter and asked to have the fixed menu for my wife and I.  The meal cost us about six dollars and while the food was good, it wasn’t enough for people who were starving.  And again, I ignored the warning about raw salad and ate some anyway.

            That night my stomach was just killing me.  I even passed fast food joints where I knew there wouldn’t be anything to eat with a look of longing.  We ended up ducking into a place called the Toronto Restaurant, a buffet place, because if I was going to resort to eating in an omnivore establishment, it was going to be in a Canadian-themed restaurant in Ecuador.  My wife didn’t partake but I devoured the hell out of a ton of potatoes, broccoli, rice – to name a few.  It was a pit stop made out of necessity rather than desire, really.  I was really nervous because it was our first stop into an omnivore restaurant and a buffet to boot.  My mind’s paranoia was screaming at me not to put anything on my plate but my stomach won out.  I’ll admit that I’m not really proud of this food stop.  Not because the food was bad but because after leaving, I felt like someone sneaking out of a one-night stand’s apartment with disheveled clothes at five in the morning.
            Overall, my initial fears around food were somewhat misplaced.  Up to this point I didn’t really have trouble communicating that we were vegan and didn’t eat certain foods.  I enjoyed Quito a lot more than I thought I would even though there were quite a lot of people.  The food for vegans and vegetarians is pretty decent and there are several vegetarian and vegan restaurants throughout the city.  If you ever make it there, you won’t go hungry.  Just make sure you don’t do it like I did and eat one or two meals a day (womp womp).
            One thing that made me a bit sad was the amount of street cart vendors that had piles of dead animals roasting on open grills.  The smells wafted through the air around these carts and there were quite a few people eating off of them.  It was a sad sight for a number of reasons, not least of which was the image of all the animals being raised for these food carts.  Plus, it just looked so incredibly unhealthy.  If even half of all the food carts that we saw in Ecuador and Peru started to operate in the States, every single one would probably be shut down for poor sanitation.
            South America also has a lot of stray dogs roaming the streets and every sad or sick or malnourished dog I saw, I could only think about our Collie.  I wish I could’ve taken care of each one of them.  I had to resist the urge to go pet every dog I saw.  My wife, on the other hand, picked and chose which dogs she would or wouldn’t pet, leaving me exasperated as I tried to urge her to back away.  I secretly was glad she ignored me to show the dogs a small sense of compassion.

            Other than that, however, it was a positive experience in Quito.  I would definitely go back.  I think this is as good a place as any to end things for part 1.  Perhaps I will pick it back up at some point in the future.  Until then, keep calm and vegan on!

If you want to learn more about El Maple, you can go HERE.  You can find them on a number of social media sites including Twitter at: @elmaple  (they have yet to tweet anything, however.)
If you want to learn more about Restaurante Manantial, you can go HERE.
The map of Ecuador was found using a Google search.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

VeganMania 2014!

            I’m sorry for the delay in an update.  We finally went on our vacation to both Ecuador and Peru in September and it was a blast!  I enjoyed myself a lot more than I was expecting despite a few bumps in the road along the way.  I shall be updating about the food and sights in another entry but I’m still in the process of editing my nearly 4,000 photos that I took while there.  A bit overboard?  Perhaps, but when everything I saw was amazing it’s hard not to take a photograph.
Just a few of the vendors

            Today, I figured I’d update about this year’s 6th annual VeganMania that was held on the 11th.  It was our 4th time going to the event and the 3rd time since they moved the event to the Broadway Armory.  I always look forward to the event for a number of reasons.
I quite enjoy the speakers that they have each year.  There’s always a broad spectrum of speakers – someone for everyone to listen to.  My wife knows more about the ‘famous’ vegans in the community and even though she tells me about them, without a face or direct exposure to the people she’s talking about, I have the same blank face your dog has when you say anything more complex than “sit” or “treat” to him/her.  It never fails that each year there’s some speaker she knows about and I respond with, “Who was that?” This is followed by a confused look on her part but that’s because she doesn’t understand why I couldn’t automatically recall some name she mentioned six months ago. (I have the memory of a goldfish…)  However, after sitting through the talks, I always come away with new people in the community to appreciate.
In the past I’ve enjoyed talks given by – but not limited to – Jenny Brown (from Woodstock Farm Sanctuary), Dr. Oppenlander (author of the fantastic book, Comfortably Unaware), Erin Red (host of Red Radio), Kristin Lajeunesse (of the Will Travel For Vegan Food blog), and Ellen Jaffe Jones (speaker, author, & athlete; wrote Eat Vegan on $4 a Day).
David Robinson Simon

This year was no exception.  The 1st speaker we caught was David Robinson Simon, lawyer and author of Meatonomics.  My wife has the book but I haven’t been able to read it just yet – an issue I plan to correct very soon.  Surprisingly, I did remember my wife telling me about the book and the author before we showed up.  See?  A broken watch can be right, after all!  Mr. Simon touched upon a few points that he expands on in the book.  For example, he talked about how the meat and dairy industries work with the government in a myriad of ways including their effective lobbies in Washington.  He also discussed the true cost to taxpayers for that hamburger you buy at that golden arches burger joint.  The talk was fascinating and despite vaguely knowing the issues addressed in the talk, it is alarming to hear cold, hard facts coming from someone who obviously put a lot of work into the research and cares about the topic.  I’ll talk about the book in-depth once I read it.  Stay tuned!  Needless to say I highly suggest checking out his book!  It will blow your mind.
Left to right: Mariann Sullivan and Jasmin Singer

            The next speakers were the hosts of Our Hen House, Mariann Sullivan and Jasmin Singer.  Again, I knew of them thanks to my wife listening to their podcast.  Other than recognizing the name of their podcast I didn’t really know what to expect.  They gave a talk on what struggles a newbie might have in the world of veganism.  It wasn’t necessarily a topic that concerned me since it’s been awhile since I’ve been a newbie vegan, but it was quite funny and you could totally feel the enthusiasm the two had talking to the audience and for sharing their experiences with veganism.  After the talk I told my wife that there was yet another podcast I would have to start following.  Check it out!

Another reason I love VeganMania is the food, d’uh.  Every year I stuff myself with as much food as I can when I’m there.  There are around a dozen or so different restaurants and other vendors who have dishes for you to try in the food court.  And everything looks and smells so good!  I try to vary my selection when we get there but sometimes there are a few favorites we just have to visit.  I’ll sometimes try something from the Chicago Diner or Native Foods Café since I love their food but then I try to get something from one or two other vendors (at least).  This year, I tried some soft serve ice cream from Temptation, a gyro-like plate with BBQ seitan bits from another vendor, a salad from Native Foods Café, a raspberry chocolate cupcake from Chicago Diner, and a few bites from food my wife had, too.  Besides the main food court there were a few businesses set-up through the main room that were giving away samples of their products.  My stomach was quite happy by the end of the day.
My seitan gyro

My wife's kale burger - so good!

My salad from Native Foods Cafe.

Tofurkey samples, which were so good!

Yet another reason I go is to refuel my vegan batteries.  I’ve said it before but it’s cool to be around others like you when you’re in a relatively small minority of the larger population.  Everyone seems to be in a good mood when they’re there and the vibes are infectious, which, given the current state of the world, I should probably avoid catching to be on the safe side.  It’s very cool to see vegans, vegetarians, and the veg-curious all come together in one place.
My swag!  Too much?

Lastly, probably my favorite reason for going is all the vegan merchandise.  My wife and I are suckers for funny and/or in-your-face bumper stickers.  I never thought I would be one of “those” people when I was younger but I can’t deny that I am.  I love watching people in my rearview mirror as they read the stickers and either shake their head or laugh or take pictures of their favorite ones.  I picked up just two this year but I think they make good additions.  The “eat humans” sticker is from Action for Animals and the “humane meat” one is from Herbivore.  I also like my vegan message shirts that I sometimes get.  I’d go broke if I bought everything I wanted to get while there.  I picked up a t-shirt from Compassion featuring an elephant breaking out of chains with the caption, “Animals Are Not Property”.  It’s pretty b.a.
All in all, a very fun time!  I can’t wait for the next one.
Sorry for the lack of decent pictures.  I was using my phone’s camera this year and the quality kind of shows.  I’ll step up my game with the next entry!  Until then, keep calm and vegan on!

You can not only find Compassion HERE but on Twitter at: @compassionco
You can not only find Herbivore HERE but on Twitter at: @herbivorecc
You can not only find Action for Animals HERE but on Twitter at: @action4animals
You can find David Robinson Simon a number of ways online like HERE.  Follow him on Twitter at: @meatonomics
You can also find Mariann and Jasmin from Our Hen House a number of ways online like HERE.  Follow Our Hen House on Twitter at: @ourhenhouse
For the skinny on VeganMania, go HERE.

I’ve mentioned a few others here before but:
You can find Erin Red on Twitter at: @erinred
You can find Ellen Jaffe Jones on Twitter at: @EllenJaffeJones

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Listen Up, Publishers!

            Wow, has it been almost a month to the date since my last entry?  The time has just really flown by for me.  That’s mostly due to obsessively going over plans for our upcoming trip to Ecuador and Peru.  There’s a lot one has to do when you have 2 countries to traverse over 20 days and you have no idea on the reliability and timing of public transportation.  Sadly, a lot of time was wasted making myself paranoid with reading other travelers’ reviews.  (Note to self: never ever read people’s reviews.  Especially not from anyone who isn’t accustomed to roughing it in the slightest.)

This would've been useful this last month.

            It’s our first time visiting the two countries but we love to travel.  Life’s too short not to explore the world.  My wife’s more of the traveling gypsy spirit than I am, but I’m getting a lot better since we’ve been married.  Before I met her, I had only been to a few states here in the U.S.  Since we’ve been married, we’ve been to Europe, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica.  This will be our first time in South America.
            Since becoming vegetarian, however, we’ve only been to Costa Rica, England, and Germany.  I honestly thought being vegan in Costa Rica would be rough but it was quite easy.  You would think that for a place surrounded by water there wouldn’t be much in the way of vegan food but that turned out not to be true.  I’m hoping for more of the same in Ecuador and Peru (come on, HappyCow!).
            The most frustrating thing in the planning stage before any of our trips as vegans, at least for me, is reading non-vegetarian/vegan travel books.  There are probably 3-4 vegetarian places listed in each travel book that we’ve checked out for everywhere we’ve been to and that’s a generous number.  I love the phrases in the travel books that describe the vegetarian restaurants, too.  “Hearty enough even for meat-eaters!” or “You won’t believe how filling it is even without meat!”
            Uuuuh, no d’uh.  How about animal-based restaurant reviews done by vegetarians?  “Odors from burning flesh that aren’t as noxious to stomach as you’d think!” or “Token salads that give you more than two cherry tomatoes!”  Or, if you’re at some rustic, outdoorsy BBQ joint, “As long as you can ignore the stuffed animal heads on the walls, your French fries and corn on the cob will be quite enjoyable!”  (Come to think of it, that’d be pretty amusing.  Why am I giving these ideas out for free?)
            This is even ignoring all the reviews of special events that you can see when you go to towns they list in the books or attractions you can see or places to stay.  It’s amazing how many animal-centric things you can pick out while reading something as innocuous as a travel book.  That’s not to say that I have to flip through pages of obnoxiously omnivore-based language.  It’s just interesting to see it from an “outsider’s” perspective.
            My main reason for this is that we need an actual vegetarian/vegan travel book for us worldly wanderers.  Now, there are a few decent to great sites and blogs and vlogs out there for us on the topic of vegan food abroad.  For example, Kristin Lajeunesse has been killing it with amazing pictures and stories based on her travels around the world.  Seriously, if you’re vegan and you love travel and different foods, check her site out HERE (how cool is her site’s name: Will Travel For Vegan Food?).  My wife and I were able to listen to her at a recent VeganMania event here in Chicago.
            There’s also a pretty cool site called Vegan Backpacker that is run by two Canadian vegans, John and Jill.  I’ve only recently stumbled upon it but they do seem to have a lot of cool tips for traveling as vegans abroad.  I even saw an entry about Peru, which I’ll be looking into before we leave.
            However, there is still no full-fledged Lonely Planet styled travel book.  Sure, there probably won’t be much money in it for the publishers but a vegan can dream, right?  There’s got to be a big enough niche market out there where this would be popular.  I find it hard to believe that even a small travel book couldn’t be published on the cheap and distributed to major markets or made available for purchase online.  After all, how annoying is it for vegans to have to either write down every important piece of information they see online or to have to carry an iPad around because there’s no book they can take with them?  I mean, to be quite honest, I never bring electronics with me anyway when I’m on vacation.  I have enough of electronics when I’m home and having a book with me is easier.  I’m not constantly worrying somebody is going to steal a book or I’m going to lose a book like I would if I had to bring along a laptop or a tablet or a smart phone.
            Am I missing a resource that’s out there that somebody can recommend?  Because if not, I guess I’ll just have to roll up my sleeves and write one myself (or go halvesies with another vegan writer… hint hint, internets!).
            Until that day comes, however, keep calm and vegan on!

You can find Kristin Lajeunesse online a number of ways – including Facebook – but one way is to follow her on Twitter at @KristinLaj
You can also find Vegan Backpacker on Twitter at @veganbackpacker

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Restaurant Review: The Chicago Diner: Part Deux

            I know I have reviewed The Chicago Diner before (check out the entry and feast your eyes upon the pictures of delicious foods!) but I’ve never been to their second location in Logan Square.  We’ve always loved the original location but today time was a bit more pressing to us than preference so we went to their newer location.  Even though it was the same company, I had this weird feeling like we were cheating on the Halsted Street location.  I know that I’m odd, thanks.

            While the Halsted location had a 1950s café vibe to it, the Milwaukee Avenue location in Logan Square felt a bit more upscale.  There were longer booths in the middle of the restaurant and a bar directly to the right as you entered.  Along the far wall was a big “Meat Free Since ’83” sign hanging from a wall.  We were seated at a smaller two-seat table along the wall and began scouring over the menu.  Let me tell you that that was no easy task.  Every time we go in there I find it nearly impossible to narrow my choice down to one dish.
My mocha shake (on left) and my wife's Lucky Leprechaun Mint shake (on right)

            I ordered my regular mocha shake, since nobody should ever leave The Chicago Diner without trying one of their shakes, and somehow resisted ordering the larger size.  This turned out to be a wise decision since I stuffed myself on the food.

            For appetizers – yes, plural – we ordered the Thai Chili Wingz and the poutine.  We seem to get the poutine whenever we go there but how can you pass up fries covered in vegan sour cream, ‘bacon’, Teese vegan cheese, jalapenos, green onions, and gravy?  You can’t, is the right answer if you know what’s good for you.  However, I think the most amazing appetizer I’ve had there are the Thai Chili Wingz.  HOT. DAMN.  They were amazing!  These seitan ‘wings’ could probably fool many omnivores if they didn’t know it was vegan.  They came with a chili lime marinade and served with Sriracha Ranch dipping sauce.  I was seriously considering the notion of getting an order to go.

            For my main dish I ordered the Caribbean risotto.  I was having a very tough choice deciding because the avocado tostados, scrambled tofu deluxe, and pierogi quesadillas (!!) all sounded so good.  This was a bit of a gamble for me, however, because I’m still hit-or-miss on eating beans.  My wife was pretty surprised I even ordered this.  I figured that it would be tolerable since it was in a risotto and I love risotto.  I could eat risotto every day.  Grilled veggies and plantains surrounded the risotto.  Despite my love-hate relationship with beans, this dish was really good!  The rice, beans, and plantains reminded me of our vacation to Costa Rica and it got me in the mood for our upcoming trip to Ecuador and Peru.

            So, definitely check out their second location in Logan Square if you’re in Chicago.  It’s a cool place with the same fantastic food.  I already want to go back.  I think my insatiable appetite is partly why I’m the broke vegan.
            Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

The Chicago Diner in Logan Square is located at 2333 N. Milwaukee Avenue.  Check out my previous TCD review for the link.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Restaurant Review: Native Foods Café

            I apologize yet again for another gap in posts!  My wife’s family recently visited us from Vancouver, British Columbia, so I was unable to post for a while.  I was too busy drinking, eating, and being merry.  It was also the week of my wife’s birthday and since she’s the talented one when it comes to baking, she really wanted to go nuts and she baked several pies, a cake, and even ice cream.  To say that I’ve spent the last few days trying to recover is an understatement.  I thought that I would update with yet another restaurant review to get back into the swing of things.  Besides, I’ve been meaning to update about Native Foods Café for a long time.
            I absolutely love Native Foods Café and if they are reading this (HI!), I hope they know they should make a new restaurant out in the Chicago burbs.  My stomach would quite appreciate it.  I might be able to make it to one of their restaurants more than once every other month if that was the case.  For those of you lucky enough to be near one, Native Foods Café is a very cool chain restaurant that is popping up in more and more locations.  They serve what they call “fast-casual” vegan food, which basically means you get to a counter, order your food, and sit down until they bring the food to your table.  Usually, the food arrives within minutes of you ordering.
The ones in Chicago all opened up within the last few years and we’ve been to all three locations.  Each one is a bit different in style but the staff, food, and atmosphere are all equally great.  I’m partial to the one on Clark Street, which also has outdoor seating, since it’s easy to get to from Union Station and the lakefront.

            Our most recent visit took place this last week when we wanted to grab lunch with my wife’s mother and stepfather.  They are omnivores but are pretty open to most of the vegetarian or vegan places we take them.  Native Foods was on the top of our list of places we knew that all of us would enjoy and nobody would leave hungry.  Their ingredients are homemade and their dishes are made fresh each day.  Their homemade seitan and tempeh are both quite delicious!
            This trip was a bit lighter than usual.  Normally, as many of you readers are aware, my wife and I try to starve ourselves before we go out so we can stuff ourselves on the food at the restaurant.  However, this time we had to limit our meals because we had plans to eat dinner with my family for my wife’s birthday.  Such a shame because since Native Foods Café changes their menu every so often, there were a few items I would’ve liked to have tried.  At least what I did have on this visit was fantastic!
            My wife had the Ancho BBQ Brisket, which looked really good.  That’s a possibility for me on our next visit.
            My wife’s mother and stepfather both had the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger, and they both really enjoyed it!  As my wife’s mother said, she gave the meal two thumbs up.  It kept them full for most of the day, too.  If you were planning a day of walking around the city, this would probably be a good meal to fill up on before continuing on your journey.
            As for yours truly, I had the Twister Wrap with sweet potato fries.  The wrap had salad greens, avocado, cucumber salsa, chipotle sauce, and Native Chicken (which you can get either blackened, grilled, or crispy).  It was amazing!  I’m a sucker for sweet potato fries so it’s no surprise I liked that part of the meal.  As long as they have this on the menu, I would highly recommend ordering it.  Omnivores would like it because it’s hardy but doesn’t contain anything too “weird” for them.
Twister Wrap!

Since I didn’t take a lot of photos for this visit, I thought I’d add on the meal we had at this same location during our previous visit.  My wife and I split a polenta appetizer.  Unfortunately, since the menu changes, I forgot the specific name of this dish.  It was also quite delicious and I hope it comes back on the menu.  Just look at how good that looks!

I had the Philly ‘Cheese Steak’ for my main meal.  Now, I have to admit that I’ve never had a Philly Cheese Steak when I was an omnivore and I had never been tempted to eat one before.  It looked disgusting and like a heart attack on a plate.  So I’m not sure what possessed me to try this dish but I am quite happy that I did.  It was surprisingly good – if not a bit messy!  The portion – like everything at NFC – was large and worth every penny.  It’s not currently on the menu but if you see it when you visit, get that, too!  Heck, order one of everything.

            They also have a customer loyalty program, which can come in handy if you go there with any sort of regularity.  For our last visit, for our two main meals we were able to save ten bucks off our order because of it, and like I said, it’s not like we go there every week.  It’s free to sign-up for it so there’s no reason not to get it.
Artwork hanging up at the Clark Street location.

            So, with that, I will let you go back to salivating over the pictures I posted.  If you have a Native Foods Café in your neighborhood or in a location you plan to visit, I highly recommend stopping in for a quick bite to eat.  If you’re an omnivore or someone who is veg-curious and are looking for somewhere to eat-out at, check this place out.  You can load up on food for a decent price.  And for us broke vegans, what more could you ask for?
            Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

You can check out Native Foods Café HERE to find locations near you and to see their current menu.  You can find them on a few sites including Twitter at @nativefoodscafe

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Restaurant Review: Healthy Sins Vegan Cafe & Naked Sprout Organics Market in Lockport

            Hello, one and all!  Sorry for yet another delay but since I’ve returned from my cousin’s wedding, I've been working constantly up until this last Friday.  10 days in a row sure can fly by when you’re not looking.
            Since I last left you, a lot has happened.  First of all, I booked a vacation for this fall to Ecuador and Peru!  It’s going to be amazing.  Or at least I hope it will be amazing!  It’s the first time my wife and I have been to either country but it’s part of our world domination tour.  We’ve been to Ireland (nearly all of it), Northern Ireland, London, Germany, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica (to name but a few) so far.  I’m really looking forward to finding new vegan places in each country and reporting back on them.
            You’d think that’d be all, but you’d be wrong.  We also booked our (last major) vacation for 2015.  Brussels, Amsterdam, Bruges, Paris, various cities in Luxembourg, and wherever else we can manage to visit are all on the list.  This will mark the first time we’ve been to all of these places.  I told you: world domination tour.  I say it’s our last major vacation because after that, we might stick to small trips here and there.  We just wanted to go out with a bang.  It might seem a bit crazy but we generally live like misers for most of the year.  Plus, my wife never uses her vacation time so that helps to pay for our tickets.  I just didn’t want you all to think that the title of my blog was a bit misleading.  I still wear the same clothes I’ve had for over a decade.  See? Broke.  With that being said, I may be posting fewer restaurant reviews in an effort to save money.  SAD, I know.
            Anyway!  Now that you’re all caught up, let’s get to the heart of the entry.  I wanted to get to a restaurant we went to in Lockport, IL a short while back.  I just never got around to mentioning it thanks to all the craziness going on in my world.  It’s a shame because the restaurant in question is quite good and worth the trip if you’re even remotely close-by.  You see, we went to Healthy Sins Vegan Café for a raw lunch.

            I’ve never been to Lockport despite the fact that I’ve lived about 45 minutes away for most of my life.  I wish I had visited it sooner because it looks like nothing has changed since the 1930s.  You half-expect Bonnie and Clyde to run out of a bank at any moment.
I found the speakeasy!

            It’s got a small but cool main street and you can walk along the Illinois and Michigan Canal that runs next to their main street.  It makes for a peaceful Saturday if you’re looking to get away.

            The restaurant itself was very cool and unexpected given the 1930s vibe from the town.  The restaurant has artwork hanging up along the walls and the tables themselves are in the shape of leaves.  I’ve felt that the one problem with raw restaurants tends to be that the meals look smaller than you would want for the price you pay for them.  Don’t get me wrong – I love raw restaurants and Chicago has/had a few that are quite good.  But, as the Broke Vegan, it’s not a type of restaurant I’d go to each week.
            That being said, this restaurant’s portions were decent.  I did spend quite a bit but that’s mainly because I wanted to make sure I had enough variety to give a decent review.  We ordered two appetizers, two main meals, and two desserts for about $60.  By comparison, we ate at the Loving Heart (see the review further down the blog) for about $25-30 and ate like kings.  If we were just going there any other normal day we probably would’ve only spent about $45 or so.  That being said, we went for lunch and were full for most of the day.

            Our first appetizer was an order of bagel bites.  The ‘bagels’ were dehydrated bread slices (probably made of a combination of flax and some sort of seeds if I had to guess).  There were six slices and each slice had its own topping.  There was a pesto, a pumpkin seed cheese, a taco ‘meat’, an egg salad, a tuna, and a ‘sloppy joe’ topping.  I would have to say that my favorites were probably the taco meat, the egg salad, and the sloppy joe.  I loved the variety and the unique ways they were able to create raw, vegan toppings.

            The second appetizer was an order of nachos that featured dehydrated chips.  The dish came with taco meat, guacamole, salsa and onions, and sour cream drizzled over it all.  These. Were. Fantastic.  The menu says it’s a meal in itself and that’s no joke.  We probably could’ve just had the two appetizers and two desserts and been content.
            My wife ordered the pizza after much debate and was really impressed with it.  It looked delicious and I probably would order that the next time we went.  The waitress had recommended it to her and said it was a popular choice.  So if you’re new to the raw scene and don’t know what to get you might want to check that out.

            I ordered the sloppy joe’s because I grew up addicted to sloppy joe sandwiches and whenever I see a sloppy joe option on a menu, I have to give it a shot.  It wasn’t too bad but not my favorite raw dish.  I was originally going to go with a raw pasta dish and probably should’ve because I think after eating all that other raw taco meat, I was on raw vegan meat overload.  It was an interesting take and I dig their attempt at it but by the end of the meal I was about ready to explode.  The dish also came with a small side salad and a small fruit salad.
Why can't I eat the picture?!?

            The dessert I had was a raw apple pie, which – and I cannot stress this enough – was amazing!  It tasted like it was cooked and was probably one of the best raw desserts I’ve had (not counting homemade).  That was worth the trip to Lockport alone.  Just look at the picture!  I’m drooling even now.
            All in all, I would definitely return here and I recommend it to anyone who wants good food and is looking for a little indulgence (as far as spending a little cash goes).  The staff was super friendly and the décor and vibe were cool.

Just down the street is Naked Sprout Organics Market, which makes its own juices and smoothies.  I would also recommend stopping inside to grab a drink before you head back home.  I had an oatmeal cinnamon smoothie, which might sound odd but was pretty good!  It had a bit too much nutmeg for my liking but was tasty none-the-less.  My wife, however, had the strawberry-lemon cheesecake smoothie and – hot damn – it was so, so, so good!  It was like I was really drinking a mashed up cheesecake.

            I promise not to be gone for as long as I have been for my next entry.  I have a few things lined up to talk about.  Hope everyone is well!  Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

You can check out Healthy Sins Vegan Café HERE.  They are located at 928 S. State Street, Lockport, IL, 60441.
You can check out Naked Sprout Organics Market HERE.