Saturday, February 28, 2015

New York City! (Part 1)

 pre-flight snack at Tampa airport
 After my 4th child was born, I decided to take each older child (along with my nursing/co-sleeping baby) on special vacations since life was busier and my attention spread out thinner. (And I love and NEED to travel, or I go stir crazy.) That's when I took my second oldest on Amtrak to D.C. and NYC. My oldest son chose to visit St. Louis. My daughter, who was 5 at the time, had the foresight to declare she wanted to hold off on her trip until Baby was old enough to be left behind. She waited patiently for 3 years, ha!

our airplane snack choices
 We had been planning all along to head down to Miami, a place I've never explored (and a location for an American Girl Place, one requirement). But then we start talking about New York, and it's hard to fight the urge. I let her decide, and NYC won out because she was too young to really remember our last trip there. We were weirdly captivated by the idea of visiting during the heart of winter. We were able to afford this trip entirely because of credit card rewards. I started digging and found rewards I didn't know we had. Our flight and hotel were covered! The week before we went was the big northeastern blizzard, so we were concerned we would get snowed out. But since NYC didn't get hit as bad as expected, it all worked out fine. Despite my mother calling me repeatedly the week we left to tell me how crazy I am.

 We had it all planned out. Our flight was going to arrive at 8:30. I assumed that we would have enough time to retrieve our luggage, hop on the air train from Newark, call in food from some great place that closes at 10 or 10:30, pick it up and take it back to the hotel to relax. We didn't make it out of Penn Station until 10:15, though, so we had to formulate a new plan. The closest place opened was Maoz Vegetarian at Times Square.

 We shared an order of falafel with cilantro sauce and tahini plus fries and brought it back to our room to eat. The amazing bonus to our trip was scoring a suite upgrade. We had a bedroom plus a living room and small kitchen which included a fridge and microwave. That was so unexpected and awesome since the room was free to begin with.

 This is our favorite subway stop in Brooklyn...

 because it leads us here:
where dreams come true.

 The first night we arrived, we thought it wasn't even that cold (but we changed our minds by the next day). While we were walking to the subway the next morning, we talked about how much we wished it would snow. When we walked up the steps into daylight toward was snowing! It felt like a scene out of a movie.
 I got glazed because I believe it to be the best possible doughnut. Sis got blueberry. We shared a lavender lemonade. These doughnuts are just so amazingly soft and light and perfect.

 Aren't there plates cool? On instagram they said they were a gift from their parents and that people had been stealing them. I hate thinking about vegans or those wanting to eat vegan doughnuts stealing custom made wood plates. I hope they get them back.

 Since we were already in the neighborhood (They are about a block apart.), we hoped we would still have some room for brunch at Champs Diner. It turned out that my Directions took us to the old location which is almost a mile away from Dunwell Doughnuts. Therefore, after walking two miles and then waiting for our food, we were ready to eat again. My dumb mistake was not realizing that the old location is now home to a vegan store from the same owners of Champs Diner. We could have went in there, but I didn't realize it.

 We shared two dishes (and my daughter and her tiny tummy had to take a lot of her portion back to the hotel for supper) - this perfect breakfast platter...

 and mozzarella sticks!!!
 They deserve the 3 exclamation points because they taste good and because it's such a fun menu item.

 Champs Diner, which was new to us, is awesome, and I could have eaten every meal here (and we did eat here again) during our visit. Sometimes I will visit a restaurant like this where I will think it's good, but I could have eaten just as well at home. I feel like Champs does it better than I might do at home, which is the mark of a great vegan place to me.

 Later that afternoon, we had reservations at American Girl Place. Samantha Rose (a gift from Googie and Papaw for Christmas) and Sadie Sunshine came with us. It's all very, very sweet.

 In the café, they bring your dolls a highchair and a cup and saucer. You get to keep the cups and saucers plus the napkin rings, which are hair bows. If you do not have a doll, they let you pick one of theirs (and they even have boy dolls) to sit with you.

 When I made the reservation, I was told they could accommodate vegans. Instead of little muffins waiting on the table, we had fruit kabobs.

 Our appetizer was fruit and veggies.
 She loved her sparkling drink. My daughter loves drinks. She loves tea and sodas and anything special. She did not inherit this from me as I mostly only drink water and have a difficult time even drinking that.

 The only entrée choice was salad. I asked if they could make her a pasta or something but was told no. Fortunately, she likes salad. (My 9 year old son wouldn't have eaten.) These salads were really large. I appreciated that it contained beets and wasn't just lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes. The problem with our meal was: we were both so tired of chomping. There was so much chewing involved in this meal combined with the appetizers. I wrote a suggestion on the comment card that although everything was good, what would make it even better was offering a different vegan option or at least adding beans or pumpkin seeds or something to the salad. I never really mind going to a restaurant and having limited options to eat, especially when it is one like this where the experience and ambiance are a part of the meal. However, if it's prix fixe $25 apiece (plus the specialty drink), I hope it's fair.

 By the end of dinner, I was pouting a little (probably from lack of simple carbohydrates and protein) watching the girls next to us receive their fancy non-vegan desserts and thinking how unfair the world is. I thought we weren't going to get dessert (or that it was going to be more veggies and fruit). But they brought her out this cute flower pot lemon sorbet, so all was well!

 Overall, we had a great day here. The restaurant and store are darling (and expensive for all and maddening and annoying to some, I'm sure), and we got to participate in a craft time. I banned all kinds of plastic dolls in our home for many years, but my daughter is 8 and only has a few more years of childhood enchantment and dolly fun, so I've loosened up. (And truthfully, no one squeals and gasps more than me looking through the historic dolls and clothes.) Sadie Sunshine (who isn't a "real" American Girl doll) got her hair styled in the salon, and their wardrobe has increased! This is thanks to Grandma and Grandpa who gave us a big gift card for Christmas. My favorite thing about the meal were the conversation starter cards on the table. We had a great time asking and answering questions back and forth.
 That night, I was able (with my daughter having a super time with a babysitter) to enjoy Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man. I really enjoyed my first row mezzanine seat and loved the performance!

That's Day 1 1/2. To be continued!
*Also, since blogging is apparently so elusive to me these days, I thought I might do better posting daily pics on instagram. Follow me if ya want! @veganandsoforth

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Askinosie Chocolate Factory Tour

One fun activity we chose to do in Springfield, Missouri (on our visit this summer) was touring Askinosie Chocolate Factory. I had been wanting to take the kids to do this for years because we love factory tours, and we really love factory tours that include vegan food. We had wanted to do it during our chocolate unit in homeschooling (since we were only a few hours away in Arkansas) but never made it.

The tour, given by this cordial, knowledgeable young man, started with a history and background of the company and Mr. Askinosie (who left his job as a criminal defense lawyer to make chocolate). These are the candybars they sell in their store front and in local establishments. Most of them are vegan, but several are not. They are pricey at $8.50/bar.

Hi, cocoa pod!
I wish I would have typed this soon after our visit because the details are a little fuzzy, but this is one of the first steps in the chocolate making process. Let's just take a moment to think about how wonderful chocolate is and how grateful I am that machines like this exist

We first got to sample cacoa nibs, which obviously the kids didn't enjoy plain. I told her to smile because that would be rude to make a face, and this was as much as she could muster.
They are the first small batch chocolate maker in the U.S. to press their own cocoa butter, and they are apparently the first small-batch makers of natural cocoa powder.

I asked him several questions about the "may contain milk" label, and I felt satisfied by his assurance of cleaning practices. This was very good for me to see it in person because I am someone who is sometimes too grossed out to eat something that says "may contain milk" no matter how much I know it probably doesn't. (I am really trying to get past my OCD on this.)

Although they are not organic certified or fair trade certified (so the farmers do not have to go through the required financial obligations), they claim to be directly involved with the growing practices and pay above fair trade prices: "We go to great lengths to make sure the farmers do not use chemicals and pesticides; not only do they sign a contract, we visit these farms yearly and can personally verify their practices. We also make sure that our beans are shade grown and that the cocoa trees are intercropped with other trees and crops. Our cocoa beans are not certified, however, in part for the same reason we aren’t Fair Trade certified—the certification process for the beans is very expensive and our farmers can’t afford it. Though we are not certified organic, our beans can be traced completely back to their origin. We have the name of every farmer who contributed to each crop."

Another nice thing this company does is called Chocolate University. They involve local elementary and middle schools in different worthwhile programs. Local high school students get the opportunity to travel to Africa to learn about not only chocolate growing and Direct Trade practices but ways to inspire their own community and become more socially responsible. Factory Tour proceeds go toward Chocolate University.

At the end of the tour, we got to taste test many of the different bars (and they will let you taste test any of them before you buy, I believe). The kids expressed mixed reviews because they do not all love dark chocolate as much as I do. They LOVED the tour and expressed how much several times afterward.

We wished we could have afforded to try some of the other products, such as hot chocolate mix. I was also interested in purchasing a rice bag that had been harvested by schools in Tanzania or the Philippines - 100% of the profits are returned to the local schools for their lunch programs.

Askinosie Chocolate is located in old downtown Springfield. I enjoyed driving around the area on our way out, reminiscing, since I hadn't spent time here in 15-20 years - seeing certain places I recognized such as the spot where an old movie theater existed when I was a little girl and the area where my dad worked on the railroad. I thought the area was neat, and I want to go back and explore more when I have time.
Our chosen bars: dark chocolate from the Philipines and the toasted hemp seeds bar. The hemp seed bar had a bit of the texture (a plainer, healthier texture) of a rice crisp chocolate bar, which was nice.

An interesting fact is the strings that tie up the packages are made by women from a local shelter. They make the strings from the bags (see below) that hold the cocoa beans shipped to the factory.
We walked a few doors down to see the building where they store their cacoa beans.  
If you like DARK chocolate, then you would like Askinosie chocolate. I'm not an expert review-er, and my taste buds aren't so refined to tell you that it has a "fruity,"  "woody,"  "sharp," "earthy," "clean," or "acidic" flavor like other reviewers online. I can say that we really liked the special touch of "askinosie chocolate" spelled out on the bar.
Thank you, Askinosie Choclate, for the fun tour and for making vegan chocolate in a seemingly very nice way.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer and So Forth

In June, we roadtripped it back to Arkansas to visit family and friends. Ryan had to work while we were there, but it's nice that he can just work in Little Rock without having to use vacation days. We were gone for 15 days. We spent time with my parents, sisters, niece and nephew, and some of our friends. The kids and I also drove to Missouri to stay with my brother and his family for a few days. It was good to be "home."  
spinach, kalamata olives, roasted garlic, and artichoke
with olive oil instead of red sauce at ZaZa's...
one of my favorite pizza topping combos
On the subject of vegan: we met my youngest sister one day at Mellow Mushroom in Little Rock, which opened RIGHT AFTER we moved, good grief. We were also happy (and also bummed that it happened AFTER we left) to discover that ZaZa's Pizza in Conway now carries Daiya. (We always brought our package of Daiya with us for them to use.)
We have missed our old Whole Foods! It's a lovely location for a Whole Foods. We just loved everyone there and were always treated so nicely (despite the fact we are a lot of people and we do things like lick the sample tongs). We actually found out they are planning to move locations soon, which will be weird. (I also worked here for a short time many years ago.) I will happy as I was to return to our home away from home, I quickly realized how much better the selection is in Tampa. So there's that. (And it wasn't me that licked them, by the way, and I gave them to an employee.)
He fell right over to sleep against my chest while we were shopping.
In Missouri, the kids and I had lunch one day with my parents' best friends from my childhood. We ate at The Grotto in Springfield, which is vegan-friendly. I enjoyed my salad (which was a fulfilling greek-style salad), and the kids enjoyed their hummus, etc. Our friends chose this place to eat after googling vegan restaurants in Springfield. And I love that they did that because even though we rarely see each other, they know me. And that was pretty much the theme of this was really nice to be around familiar people again. To watch my nephews play baseball. To reminisce and catch up with four of my best friends from high school.To see my kids giggle with their cousins. To eat cucumbers out of my aunt's garden and tomatoes out of my dad's. To cry along with relatives who were happy to see us and sad to see us go.
I write all of that to say: I'm in a bit of a weird phase right now. We love Tampa. I like Florida better than I like Arkansas and Missouri for enough reasons that Florida probably wins. However, if we choose to stay here, we are choosing a life without the people we love in it. So if I live there, I'm not 100% content, and if I live here, I'm not 100% content. I know that's the way life is, and you just have to find a way to be content, regardless. Maybe most people aren't 100% content? I'm a restless person, in general, so I have that against me. These are just some of my thoughts right now.
 My parents also decided to put in a saltwater pool upon our departure. Seriously, y'all.

Another big event of the summer (ok, not so big - but it happened) was my birthday this week. Ryan wasn't even here - he was on a business trip, and some other dumb stuff happened the night before that ended up taking up most of my day. But I did make myself a chocolate pie because it's always a good time to have chocolate pie. I let the kids decorate it themselves with strawberries, ground up chocolate chips, and candles. 5 candles seemed like a better number than 39, apparently.
HAPPY birthday.
It had been a dilemma: chocolate pie or pumpkin pie? I was going to pick pumpkin since I don't have it as often but didn't have enough time for it to set. So since we had to buy pie crust and Soyatoo anyway, we made a pumpkin pie the next day.
And then I'm going to eat salad today.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Another School Lunch Post

When I blog so infrequently, it's a bit of a challenge to recall what the foods were that I took photos of. I really don't know why I continue to take pictures of so much of the food we eat. It's a habit or an addiction, I guess. Or maybe just optimism that one day I will blog again regularly. I'm going to take a shot at some of these school lunches from the past many months.

baby carrots, grape tomatoes, strawberries, baked Snapea Crisps, and part of a Tofurky kielbasa, and pizza that appears (judging from the crust, but I could be wrong) to be a leftover piece from Mellow Mushroom

watermelon, a mandarin orange, toast with Earth Balance, pasta with black beans, olive oil, nutritional yeast, etc.

grape tomatoes, cucumbers, salad with dressing, watermelon, pasta with tomato sauce and nutritional yeast, etc.

Gardein slider (I think this was the Chik'n one, perhaps.), tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, chips, and vegan marshmallows

mini pitas, hummus inside the container, carrots, a mandarin orange,  Hilary's veggie bites, applesauce

 raspberries, chips,  a Justin's PB cup, an Amy's bean burrito

Back to Nature Multi-Seed Rice Thin Crackers, hummus, smoked almonds, blueberries, carrots

blueberries, celery, Stretch Island (no added sugar) fruit chews, an Amy's gluten-free burrito

carrots, a leftover Valentine's Day cupcake, cantaloupe, and your guess is as good as mine as to what's inside that sandwich...I'm guessing nut butter and fruit spread. On a side note, the little Wilton decoration is not something you see with me often but is a result of my love (and respect to the fact that she eats vegan and healthy typically) for my candy-obsessed girl whose eyes widen with glee at the sight of all things chemically colored and preserved.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fun Friday: Trader Joe's Opening and Frozen

Look what we got in March!
The kids and I decided to go to the grand opening because I needed groceries, anyway. I had read in the news that they were expecting a big crowd, including traffic police. We soldiered on, undeterred! They weren't kidding. There were long car lines coming from every direction, trying to get in. At first, I thought, "Forget this; we'll come back another time." But as I circled back around, I thought, "All of these people must want in for a reason! We can't miss out!" And the longer we waited, we more I felt I NEEDED IN! So I circled around and around until finally the policeman ushered me into an available parking spot. 

The 5 of us walked slowly through the crowds, taking in every aisle. The kids eyed the samples as they generally do, like you would assume it is the first food they've had all day. I felt as I have before - that Trader Joe's isn't as vegan friendly as Whole Foods. They just don't have everything I want or need. And there seems to be ambiguous sugar in everything packaged. What is all of this sugar? Does my obsessive compulsive bone sugar aversion want to eat it?
However, we clearly found plenty of things to purchase. I made mental notes of all the great prices. I have really been wanting to make a page that tells me which stores I frequent have the best price for each item we buy. (For example: Daiya is $4.79 at Nutrition Smart, $4.99 at Whole Foods, and a whopping almost $5.59 at Winn Dixie. This is important information to us because we love our Daiya.) What do you recommend I buy at Trader Joe's as opposed to other places?
The good news: when I fill my cart like this at Whole Foods, I know I'm looking toward at least a $350 debit. My full cart at Trader Joe's: a little over $150!
That night, we finally joined the club.
I splurged on these instant download printable popcorn boxes which were a few dollars on Etsy. They were so cute and fun, I don't know if I can go back to popcorn in bowls. (The kids decorated the table with handmade snowflakes.)

I also printed off these for our "party."

Look at the guy in the back. How happy is he?
I had really been craving icecream cake recently. When I was little and stopped eating eggs first, I always had an icecream cake for my birthday so it feels nostalgic to me. I don't remember what all of these layers were. I know there were cookie crumbles for the crust, there was vanilla, there were crumbled Justin's pb cups...

and there was chocolate icecream, crushed nuts, ganache, whipped cream...I don't know, maybe other things, too.

It ended up being better the next day as I hadn't allowed it to freeze long enough before we tried cutting into it. But it achieved its Frozen-themed purpose. And I'm glad I got it out of my system because it reminded me that I'm just not a huge icecream person anymore. (Soft serve is a different story.) My kids totally loved it, though, and thoroughly appreciated it. And I had to listen to Let it Go in the car on repeat for about two weeks straight.