Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Friday, May 23, 2014

Social Outings: Part 1 of – Let’s Say – 1 Billion

            Holy frijoles, Batman!  I had no idea so many people would take a gander at my last entry.  Thanks for the views and I hope it was entertaining.
            There are a lot of things I wanted to get to but I think those will wait for a few days.  Another restaurant review and my first book review are coming up.  Yeah, you heard me – more food pictures to drool over.
            No, what I wanted to mention in this entry is probably the one and only thing that has been a slight annoyance since going vegan.  No, not the lack of meat or dairy (like so many of my omnivore friends have asked), but the persona non grata vibe I sometimes feel when it comes to social outings with friends.  I call it (as of right now) the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Syndrome, because like Rudolph I’m never invited to play in reindeer – I mean – human games.  (Quick thought: perhaps Rudolph wasn’t invited not because of his nose, but because he was vegan?)

"My veganism will allow me to be the most qualified reindeer for this job!"
Perhaps it’s the workings of my already paranoid mind, but whenever there are outings to restaurants or fast food joints I seem to be forgotten about.  I know my friends don’t mean to do that on purpose, either.  It’s totally subconscious but I think I know why it happens.
            First, let me reiterate the fact that I don’t think I’m being forgotten about on purpose.  My friends are awesome people and I’m not walking home as if I’m Charlie Brown.  Okay?  Got it?  Friends = good.  That should save me from any hassle from my friends.  Moving on.
"Veganism didn't cure my early onset balding. SIGH!"
            That being said, I shall give you one example that happened just recently.
            I was at work and a few of my coworkers were trying to gather a group to go to some place to eat after they all got out for the night.  That place changed from Denny’s to some burger joint (I’ve forgotten which one).  Either way: ew.  Despite there only being about 4-5 of us in the area when the plans were being drafted, nobody seemed to address me specifically.  I wasn’t annoyed; on the contrary, I was quite amused because I knew I could get a lot of material out of this for the rest of the shift.
After a few minutes I piped in and said something along the lines of, “No, I’m all right, guys.  I don’t need want to go but thanks.”
There were a few sarcastic replies but one coworker said something like, “Matthew, you wanna come?  You know you’re invited.”
From there, several sarcastic comments were bandied about but I assured them that I was fine and couldn’t go anyway.  I really couldn’t due to obligations I already had.  That didn’t stop me from being sarcastic the rest of the night by saying the various, “It seems everyone’s going but me… since I wasn’t invited.”  While I didn’t care too much about not going out to eat, I guess the more I thought about it, the more a small part of me was a bit irked that I really hadn’t even been addressed when plans were made.  I didn’t even care if they were going to some burger joint.  That wasn’t the point.
The point was, I like to socialize, too!  That’s what I think omnivores sometimes forget and why I was ignored from the initial conversation.  So many of our interactions outside of work take place around food that they forget that what they’re really doing is bonding.  Food just happens to be a part of that whole social exchange.  What’s more, vegans like to socialize and have friends just like everyone else.  Shocking, I know!  I didn’t want to go because I wanted to eat a burger.  I wanted to go because I wanted to talk and engage in fun conversation.  As someone who tends to lean toward introversion, I tend to cherish the few times I am invited somewhere.
That’s why I don’t think omnivores do things like that on purpose – at least, not to me.  I think once you take out the food equation, omnivores think, “Well, they clearly wouldn’t want to be in a place that is serving the foods we like,” and then they go about scrubbing our names from the list of ‘People To Invite Out’.  It may be true that I don’t like the food but it’s not like I haven’t been to family functions or work events that have served animals.  I just ignore it, content myself with the fact that I’m doing good by the animals and to myself, and carry on unless somebody asks me about veganism.  Generally, my veganism never ever comes up.
Not only that but most places they like serves at least one dish that I can enjoy.  Even a garden salad is something for me to eat.  Everyone worries I’m going to be wanting whenever I go somewhere.  Then they open the menu and find several items that are already vegan or vegetarian that can easily be turned vegan.  It amuses me.  Besides, in the unlikely event that no food is available it will not kill me to wait a half-hour to go home and find something to eat.
No, omnivores just forget that we like to talk.  Plain and simple.  Doesn’t mean I can’t give them a good ribbing for forgetting me from time to time.
I suppose we just need to work on tearing down those mental blockers people tend to have.  Maybe t-shirts need to be made?
“I’m Vegan But I Still Want To Be Friends!”  For some (obvious) reason I’m picturing a cow and a pig hugging.  Get on this, creative people!
Does anyone else have experience with this phenomenon or had different thoughts about why it happens?  Like I said, I am not sitting in the dark listening to Morrissey (a vegetarian, by the way!) while I lament about not having friends.  I HAVE friends and they are great.  I like observing people and their behaviors is all and since going vegan, I’ve been getting good at it.
QUICK DISCLAIMER:  I am sitting in the dark but I’m not listening to Morrissey.  It’s Coldplay.  But it’s not because I’m depressed and alone!  I swear. Ha
Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

P.S. - The picture of Morrissey comes from THIS site.  The picture of Charlie Brown was grabbed from HERE.  The image of Rudolph was just a stock picture from Google.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Woodstock Farm Sanctuary

           I’ve been meaning to post this from day 1 of this blog but it’s taken me forever to edit all of the pictures I took while at the sanctuary.  Now, you may be wondering to yourself, “Self, why is this mildly attractive, but poor excuse for a writer, writing about a farm?  That has nothing to do with being vegan or broke.”  And I’d say to you, “MILDLY attractive? …Good point.”  But why write about Woodstock Farm Sanctuary?  Because, if you care at all about animals in general or farm animals that are subjected to routine abuse, torture, and murder specifically, then you need to know about Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.  If you went vegetarian or vegan for animal welfare reasons, then you need to know about Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.
If you don’t know about the important work that Woodstock Farm Sanctuary does, then you really need to get caught up!  Jenny Brown and her husband, Doug Abel, started the sanctuary, just a bit outside of the main town center (yes – that Woodstock), roughly a decade ago.  Let me tell you from personal experience that the scenery is wonderful.  I had a hard time picturing a farm sanctuary in New York for some reason.  Perhaps that’s because when I think of NY, I can only picture New York City.  I just assume the whole state is the city.  Kidding.  Kind of.
            Jenny, Doug, and their interns and staff go about caring for and rescuing – when possible – almost any farm animal they can take in.  These are animals that come from a whole host of heartbreaking conditions such as being rescued from factory farms or from religious ceremonies that require animal sacrifice.  The animals on their farm – who would otherwise meet a grim and nightmarish end – get to live out the rest of their lives in peace and surrounded by love (given in huge heaps by both the staff and visitors).

            The farm is spread out on a lovely piece of land with mountains rising in the background and surrounded by trees.  Besides their own home on the premises, they have a handful of barns, a small animal hospital, a guest B&B, and a visitor center.

"Hey, I'm walkin' here!"  Typical New Yorker!

            They first began rescuing chickens and a rooster but grew into a sanctuary that also includes goats, rabbits, pigs, sheep, cows, ducks, and even a mule named Diane (rescued from a long life being forced to work at the Grand Canyon).  Sure, a mule might not be a typical ‘farm’ animal but once you meet her, you are glad she’s there.  There is also the odd cat and dog roaming the land and love to say hello when you visit.

Pogo the cat searching for attention

            My wife and I first visited Woodstock Farm Sanctuary last September when we went on an anniversary road trip through Toronto, Montreal, and New York.  We weren’t originally going to make Woodstock a stop but I knew my wife really loved the work they were doing there and enjoyed Jenny Brown’s book, so I figured we’d make a detour home through NY state.  I really hadn’t had much experience or knowledge about the farm or those running it other than what my wife had told me about Jenny and her book (The Lucky Ones – check it out!) that she had received on her birthday.  Jenny’s story alone is amazing and worth reading about!  Basically, I knew what they did but it wasn’t like I was following everything they did.  FYI, I have since changed my ways.
            Before we even stopped at Woodstock, we actually met Doug at the Toronto Vegetarian Fest just a week or so prior.  After chatting with him, we were even more pumped to visit the farm.
            They are only open on Saturdays and Sundays for visitors and so we arrived bright and early on Saturday.  We wanted to get their right when they opened up so we could avoid any large crowds that might show up.  We did have the place to ourselves for the first few minutes besides a small family, which was perfect.  Plus, we wanted to make sure we had enough time to say hello to all of the animals living on the farm.  It was a brisk fall day on the farm, which was slightly frustrating because I would go from being too warm with a hoodie on to being too cold without one.  Otherwise, with the sun out we really couldn’t complain.
Tim the turkey - who seems to seek out cameras!

            Upon entering the main sanctuary area we were greeted almost immediately with the local residents.  We saw a cute and friendly turkey walking around without a care in the world.  After we made our way to the visitor center to pay for admission to the farm (which included the tour for free), we were able to walk around the area until the tour started.  We walked around the main barn just next to the visitor center and spent time saying hello to Diane the mule and a few of the goats that were chilling just outside the barn.
Diane the mule and totally friendly! She enjoys a good back scratch.

            Soon after we arrived, our tour guide showed up to lead several of us around the grounds.  What I wasn’t expecting was Jenny Brown herself to be leading the tour – a totally cool surprise!  Throughout the walk, Jenny talked to us about the various animals living on the farm and the stories of how they came to be there.  You can really tell the love she has for each and every one of those animals and it’s really quite infectious.  If you told me I’d have an emotional bond to chickens ten years ago, I probably would’ve scoffed.  But you can’t help but think about what it would be like if you were in the situations many of those animals had been in and on a lot of those animals, you see the physical scars left by their former captive lives.
I was quite jealous this guy was getting a nap.

            With each stop on the tour, besides getting to pet and sometimes feed the animals, Jenny also talked about the typical conditions each type of animal would face on normal farms.  It was sobering and just helped to reinforce our decision to go vegan.  If you aren’t vegetarian or vegan before going in, by the time you leave, you might be heavily leaning that way (at the VERY least).  Otherwise, I don’t know what else would convince you that going meat-free is the way to be.

            Along the way we were able to rub the bellies of pigs as they napped, fed a few adorable cows fruit (nothing quite like getting saliva all over your hand!), and watched Scott Sticker, the shelter’s manager, get swarmed and playfully knocked back as he attempted to feed the goats.
"You gonna feed me or what?"

Dylan the cow munching on some fruit.

The second attempt, after Scott, for snacks.

            It seemed as if every stop introduced a cuter animal than the last.
Maribeth - the cutest calf you'll ever meet!

            Once the tour was sadly over, we were able to chat with Jenny and other tour group members by the visitor center.  Despite being busy she still gave time to talk to those interested in carrying on the conversation; although, I’m sure she really needed to refuel after that tour!  After we gushed about how much we loved the farm and the work they did, she smiled and gave a friendly, “Well, come on back and volunteer!”
Jenny Brown & me

            Oh, trust us, we will!  We saw her about a month later at the Chicago Vegan Mania and anyone who can get a chance to hear her talk, go do so!  The work they’re doing to help the lives of farm animals is important and needs more support.  If you get the chance, I highly urge you to volunteer some time at the farm.  Not only would you be having fun getting to work with such sweet and amazing beings but you’ll also get the satisfaction in knowing that you’re actively doing something to benefit animals that had only previously known pain and fear.  Or, at the very least, stay at the wonderful B&B and get a great vegan breakfast after listening to the farm (and wild) animals throughout the night and into the morning.  While the sanctuary is only open on the weekends for most visitors, the B&B is open year-round.  Also, since the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary is funded not only through their on-site visitor store and the admission fees but also donations online, I would also ask that if you can afford even a dollar to give they’re worthy of your hard-earned cash.  The money not only goes toward the animals and their care, which can include food, medicine, and shelter, but also toward trying to rescue and find homes for other animals in need.
I believe what he's trying to say is, "Come on by and visit!"

            I also realize that the title of my blog is titled the broke vegan and a trip to New York may not seem like something a broke person might do.  That may be true but if you get the chance, I strongly urge you to visit.  It’s an experience that will stick with you and it really helped refuel our vegan activism batteries, so to speak.  We saved up for our trip and made it happen and the detour didn’t add much to the cost of our vacation.  The stop in Woodstock itself was relatively affordable (including food, lodging, gas, and souvenirs).  If two broke vegans can do it, you can, too!

            Words cannot do the fun we had justice.  We had an amazing time on our vacation and saw a lot of phenomenal things but Woodstock Farm Sanctuary was probably the most fun I had on the whole trip.  I am definitely going to go back!  What about you all?  Has anyone been there?  What are your thoughts?  Any memorable moments that stood out for you?
            Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

Dylan is totally keeping calm and vegan on!

You can follow Woodstock Farm Sanctuary online on a number of places including Facebook and Twitter.  You can donate and learn all about the people, the animals, and the work they do on their main website HERE.  You can also follow them on Twitter at @WoodstockFarm

EDIT UPDATE:  The story about Diane's past was apparently incorrect.  Woodstock has informed me that she was actually a plow mule for a bit of time in Idaho and came eastward to New York through several horse traders before finding a home at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Restaurant Review: Loving Heart

            Another restaurant review?  Yes!  Because everyone loves new places to eat and pictures of food seem to lure people to read blog entries.  I know how to market to my audience.  But an important part of all of these restaurant reviews is the fact that a lot of these places are relatively inexpensive.  For these caf├ęs or restaurants that we go to, we are just as full leaving after a meal as we would be leaving a typical omnivore restaurant (Olive Garden, Red Robin, etc., etc.,).  It’s good info to know since everybody and their mother seems to ask vegans, “Oh, I’d go vegan but it’s sooooo expensive to do!”  These are typically the people who also eat out 4-5 times a week because they don’t feel like making meals at home.  So, do you love to eat out but have only $20 left to last you until tomorrow?  Go to one of these places for a filling meal and you’ll go to bed with a happy stomach.  This entry featuring Loving Heart is no different.
            My wife and I went to Loving Heart last week to celebrate her graduating a 2-year college program.  Out of all the places we could’ve gone, Loving Heart was at the top of her list.  I’m super glad it was, too.

            Once we made it past the endless expressway traffic and the side streets that were no better, it was a matter of locating the actual building the restaurant was in.  If you blink, you’re going to miss it, but maybe that has more to do with me being blind than not seeing the sign. Hm.  The restaurant is a hop, skip, and a jump away from Lake Michigan and it’s just a few blocks away from Urban Vegan.  Go to Loving Heart in the afternoon, walk around the lakefront, and then hit up Urban Vegan for dinner!
            Anyway.  The interior is pleasant, warm, and inviting.  Once you directly go inside, there is a wall on the right that has a bunch of famous vegans and facts about going vegan.  Directly next to the posters is the counter and across from the counter, against the left wall, are a few tables.  There is a small divider after the tables that somewhat separates another dining area.  After scanning the menu we placed our order and waited for the woman behind the counter to call us for our food.  At 5pm, it wasn’t that busy so we were able to order and eat pretty quickly.
            It was nearly impossible to decide what to eat because everything sounded so good!  I hate it when that happens.  And like most of our trips out, we pretty much starved ourselves so we could gorge on the food there.  We ordered two appetizers, two drinks, and three main meals all for about $40.  If you’re going alone, it’ll probably be about $20 – less if you don’t order a drink.  How sweet is that!

            I ordered a banana mango smoothie, which is both gluten and nut free and quite good.  My wife had a hot cinnamon and ginger tea latte.  For you fellow coffee drinkers, they do have both hot and iced coffee drinks available.  The iced coffee comes with soymilk.
Look at that amazingness!

            The first appetizer we ordered was a rice roll (it comes with two rolls for the order).  I really enjoyed this one and it’s a roll version to a salad version that’s available.  It comes with a ginger pesto sauce, avocadoes, spinach, their house special soy-beef slices (very good!), seaweed, onions, red bell peppers, and cilantro.  I don’t know how Asian restaurants do it but I’ve always had the best ‘beef’ and ‘chicken’ options at these restaurants than anywhere else.  I really liked this and I’m not even a huge pesto fan.  This can be gluten free if needed.

            The second appetizer we ordered was an order of pot stickers that were steamed.  They were stuffed with zucchini, cabbage, carrot, tofu, sweet potato noodles, onion, and mushroom.  The order is nut free for those of you who need to know.  They were also very good.

            My first main meal I ordered was the order of BiBim Noodles.  It’s basically a salad mix on top of noodles but it is so good because the sauce is a blend of spicy, tangy, and sweet.  Fantastic!  It comes with avocadoes, their house special soy-beef slices, carrots, zucchinis, carrots, lettuce, red bell peppers, and wheat noodles.  It’s nut free and there is also a gluten free option available.  Good god was this so good!  Check it out if you go.  The combination of salad with noodles and their sauce was perfect.
There really is truth in advertising!
            The second main meal, which I shared with my wife, was their Heaven Wrap.  This, too, was very good!  It comes with raw red bell pepper hummus, spinach, their house special soy-beef slices, red bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, and onions.  The hummus contains cashews incase that’s a concern.  This was really good and if you want something a bit lighter than a noodle dish, then get this.

            They have a bunch of desserts available, from which my wife was going to order something, but the two options my wife wanted were out.  Bummer.  I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything else.  I didn’t want to explode.
            Part of the fun of going to these vegan or vegetarian places is getting to talk to the people who work there (or who happen to own the place).  Outside of the big, major vegetarian/vegan restaurants (i.e. – The Chicago Diner), when you express how you really enjoyed the food or show your excitement over their establishment, they seem to truly love what you have to say.  You can see the joy right on their faces and what’s a better way to bring people together than to share in food?  And since there aren’t a ton of vegans out there, any feedback and patronage is probably quite appreciated.
            As a funny side-note, since my wife and I tend to order so much whenever we go out, a lot of servers seem shocked at the amount of food we order.  When we were at the Loving Heart, our server was almost going to walk away after we ordered two appetizers and two meals but stopped short when we placed an order for a third main meal.  I wonder if she doubted our ability to scarf all of that food down?  Either way, it was all fantastic and I highly suggest you spend your money there.
            Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

Loving Heart is located at 838 W. Montrose Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60613
Their phone number is 773-561-5399

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Earth Day 2014

Look at that spectacular globe!

            May already?  It feels like it was just February.  It doesn’t hurt that the weather still acts like it’s February.  I’m still wearing a hoodie and jeans outside.
            But today I thought I’d update about our Earth Day 2014.  Earth Day would be a perfect time for people to realize just how beneficial going vegan would be to the planet.  Raising farm animals for humans to eat is one of the biggest causes of climate change, which endangers everyone and everything on this planet.  Going vegan would be more helpful to the planet than driving a little less or replacing your light bulbs or recycling your paper bags (all of which are GOOD things to do but it’s vastly more beneficial to just go vegan).  It’s been said that going vegan is like taking a million cars off of the roads for an entire year.  Now imagine if we could get the percentage of vegans in the U.S. up above 1% that it currently is at.  That would be a huge!  You really can’t say you care about the environment or the planet, in general, if you don’t go vegan.  It’s easy!  If you’d like to learn more about the history of Earth Day, click HERE.
For various holidays throughout the year, my wife tries to make meals that have a cultural tie to that event or foods that have a theme.  On Earth Day, my wife and I typically eat special ‘Earth Day’-themed meals (dishes generally served with lots of color), take in one of those DisneyNature films (they donate part of the ticket sales the first week they’re out to various charities.), and whatever else we have time for.  This year was no different.
For dinner, my wife made a few dishes that had various colors in them.  First, she started out with a strawberry-mango guacamole from The Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon.  When she first mentioned the guacamole I pictured a typical guacamole just with red and yellow streaks in it.  However, to my surprise, the guacamole was actually strawberries, mangos, and avocados diced up in a bowl.  Not that it mattered because it was still amazing!  The recipe made a lot of guacamole and I probably could’ve just had that for dinner and been satisfied.  I would definitely check out that recipe if I were you because while those 3 things may not sound like they go together, they do.  There was a really good balance of flavors going on.

Next up, my wife made Brian Patton’s meatball Parmesan burgers that she had seen in an issue of VegNews Magazine.  They were more like sliders but even so, I could only eat about 3 of them since I had already pigged out on our other dishes.  She also made homemade Rustica buns from Joni Marie Newman’s book, The Best Veggie Burgers On The Planet (so far, that’s accurate).  The buns had sun-dried tomatoes in them and the burgers had marinara sauce, pesto, and vegan mozzarella cheese.  So, as you can probably tell, there were a lot of colors even in the burgers.  I’m not a huge pesto fan so 3 burgers probably would’ve been perfect even if I didn’t have other dishes to eat.
The pic doesn't do the burgers justice!

Lastly, my wife made another one of Brian Patton’s recipes – green bean fries.  They ended up basically being green bean tempura but they were really good, nonetheless.  Hell, tempura in general is just really good.  This recipe was from The Sexy Vegan’s Happy Hour At Home cookbook.  How sexy I felt after eating way too many green bean tempura fries is debatable.  The fries were accompanied with a tahini dipping sauce, which went well together.  I suppose if colors weren’t important you could just use soy sauce as a dipping sauce instead of the tahini but you’d be missing out if you did.

We rounded out the day with the DisneyNature film, Bears.  We’ve seen every one of their films that have come out on Earth Days in years past.  They’re all pretty entertaining and they’re a good way to expose people to the fact that humans aren’t the only creatures on Earth that form relations and have feelings.  I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s not hard to form an emotional bond to the animals they follow in each film.  Plus, like I mentioned, they donate part of their ticket sales in the first week to various charities that tend to deal with the environment or animals.  If it’s still out, I suggest checking out the movie.  John C. Reilly also narrates the movie.
So, that was 2014.  It was relatively low-key but the food was quite delicious!  I hope everyone had a good Earth Day.  Did anyone do anything special this year?  Let me know!
Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

You can find Joni Marie Newman in a number of places online but you can follow her on Twitter at: @jonimarienewman
You can also find Brian L. Patton in a number of places online but you can follow him on Twitter at: @TheSexyVegan
You can also find Angela Liddon in a number of places online but you can follow her on Twitter at: @ohsheglows

P.S. - The photo of the Earth was found using Google Image search and can been seen