Category Archives: Travel

Happy Vegan New Year!

I hope all you vegans have a wonderful 2011, full of kabocha, tempeh, kale, quinoa, mashed cauliflower, and a hell of a lot of peanut butter. :)

Omnivores, vegetarians, and other non-vegans: I hope you go vegan this year! What could be a better new year’s resolution? Seriously.

We’re busy preparing for our “New Delhi New Year” party tonight, which is basically my attempt to spread the pyaar (“love”) for India that I gained on my adventure there in October.

My mom made Chana Samosas with peas; I plan on making Cranberry Cashew Biryani and 2nd Avenue Vegetable Korma (from Isa’s new Appetite for Reduction book). Oh, and there will be rum-spiked mango lassis.

I can’t wait to ring in the new year with bright colors, bindis, and Bollywood. How are you greeting 2011?

Happy Halloween, Babycakes

I can’t decide which is scarier: Halloween, or how long it’s been since I last posted.

For once, I have a valid excuse though. I’ve only just returned from a two-week long adventure (and I mean adventure) in India – the first trip organized through the cooperation of VegNews and VegVoyages!

Of course, I have an epic Indian food post in the works, but in the meantime, allow me to show you how magical gluten-free vegan bakeries celebrate everyone’s second favorite autumnal holiday. (We’re all on the same page about Thanksgiving, right?!)

Like most of you, I celebrated “All-Hallows-Even” with my friends on Saturday night; I mean, Sunday’s not exactly the most convenient night to have a ghoulishly good time, is it?

Come the evening of true Halloween, I found myself facing a lonely six-hour drive back to Tempe (did I mention that my friends live in LA?). Being the strict observer of holidays that I am, this plan posed a bit of a problem. I wasn’t about to let a long drive get between me and a good time.

So, I did what any self-respecting, gluten-hesitant vegan would do. Donning my baby-pink piggie hat, I headed over to Babycakes NYC in downtown LA to stock up on sugary treats for the road.

A chocolate “cake ball” here…

A powdered blueberry donut there…

And a few spookies (spooky cookies, of course!) to bring home to share…

By now, you probably have an image in your head of me, sitting in my car, wearing a pig hat, and stuffing my face with a dinner’s worth of gluten-free baked goods. That is actually a pretty accurate description of how I spent my 385-mile-long Halloween. I assure you, the irony of the situation was not lost on me.

Oink oink oink.

Sweet Treats

Just a little Friday afternoon pick-me-up!

If you live within a reasonable distance of any vegan donut and milkshake vendors, I highly suggest that you stop reading and promptly head over to such a place. If not, I hope my photos of these Pacific Northwest treats will suffice. :)

Sip. The infamous vegan milkshake cart that beckons weary grocery shoppers on their way in and out of Portland’s People’s Food Co-Op. There’s nothing cuter, really. My sister opted for the classic Cookies & Cream shake…

While I–somewhat predictably–got Chocolate Peanut Butter. Technically, it was chocolate coconut peanut butter because I decided Coconut Bliss ice cream was worth the extra $1.50. There’s something about an overflowing milkshake in a old-school diner glass that really tugs at your heartstrings, isn’t there? Or maybe that’s the peanut butter…

In my humble opinion, shakes > donuts, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t a veritable kid in a candy shop when I stepped into Seattle’s Mighty-O Donuts. Actually, I was a 22-year-old in a donut shop; but my eyes lit up the same way, I swear. I think my sister could attest to the truth of that statement.

Not only is that a French Toast donut; it’s an organic French Toast donut that was thoroughly enjoyed alongside a wonderful soy latté on a cloudy Seattle day.

Chomp. Chomp. Chomp.

Breakfast at Babycakes

Recipe for a good morning downtown:

Step outside into the crisp morning air, surprisingly fresh for LA.

Stumble into Spring for Coffee for soy cappuccinos. Don’t forget to dust them with cinnamon.

Oh, hey, you’re just two blocks from Babycakes NYC! What up, wheat-free, vegan pastries? All hail, coconut oil!

Sample each and every kind of gluten-free teacake sitting on the counter. That includes banana bread, pumpkin bread, cornbread, and cranberry-apple toastie, by the way.

If you’re feeling feisty, maybe have more than one of each. We won’t tell.

Order a spelt biscuit, flaky and “buttery,” unnamed jam and vanilla sauce oozing from its center.

Enjoy every last bite.

Leftover jam, we’ll let slide–but there better not be any crumbs.

Adventures of Nic and Nora Continued…

Sorry I’ve been so slow getting to Part II of the Nic & Nora installment. Considering there are only seven days until I’m officially done with all college work (and eighteen days until I graduate!), things have been pretty hectic around here! Plus, I’m sure you’ve all already read Nicole’s summary of our time together! :)

The second day of her visit, we decided to lay low and chillax at Pomona before making our way back into the city the next day. We went out for a leisurely brunch (well, lunch since we missed tofu scramble hours!) at Full of Life Café in the Claremont village. Then I took Nicole to the village gluten-free shop as well as my favorite local natural foods store, Ecoterra! From there, we headed to Pomona’s organic farm because I obviously had to show off California’s produce-producing prowess (say that five times fast!) to my East-coast friend!

Then, Nicole decided to be completely and totally awesome and take my senior portraits for me! I’ve been shooting a lot of senior portraits for my fellow graduates-to-be in the past month, so it was weird–and fun!–to get on the other side of the lens for a change. I think Nicole appreciated shooting someone who knew what it’s like to have awkward subjects who don’t know how to pose, so it went pretty smoothly! Here’s my favorite one:

Thanks, Nicole! I love them. And don’t worry, fashion-conscious readers, I have since gotten my roots touched up.

After a meal at the dining hall with my friends–hey, I had to give her the full Pomona College experience!–we spent a lazy evening planning out the next phase of our adventures, which began bright and early the next day! We met Alix (of Cute and Delicious), her boyfriend Shawn, and some of their friends at Pure Luck Restaurant in LA for lunch. After being greeted with a Tupperware of gorgeous, fresh-baked cupcakes (Alix, you’re too sweet!), we sat down to experience la comida de LA.

There are many reasons that Pure Luck has always been on my list of must-visit restaurants, but one of them is their insane selection of fried appetizers! I generally avoid fried foods, but I always make exceptions for special items–like, um, let me see, fried pickles and gnocchi?

Fried Dill Pickle Chipssliced dill pickles, dusted with cornmeal and fried in peanut oil–and Potato Palssmall potato dumplings (gnocchi), lightly fried in peanut oil.

Both were served with a special veganaise-based barbecue dipping sauce. Crispy AND cute–who can resist anything called a “potato pal?!”It just wants to be your friend and pop into your mouth.

If fried appetizers are the first reason I’ve always hungered for Pure Luck, jackfruit is definitely the second! Fruit…that’s used as a substitute for meat…what?…

In order to wrap my mind around this concept, I ordered the Tacos, one with jackfruit and one with grilled tofu to hedge my bets. I was served a plate of soft corn tortillas, each with their respective filling, topped with diced onions, cilantro, and fresh tomatillo salsa. Nicole gave me her extra cilantro because she’s one of the unlucky few who think it tastes like soap. Turns out, unripe jackfruit, like tofu, really has no flavor of its own and easily absorbs taco seasonings. In other words, it was delicious, and had a texture that others have described as being similar to “pulled pork” (I wouldn’t know!).

After lunch, we walked across the street to Scoops, then sadly parted ways. Nicole and I decided to spend the rest of our afternoon window shopping on Melrose (and walking off all that fried food!). Okay, so maybe we actually shopped a little. But we mostly just strolled along the iconic street taking photos. I nabbed this shot in a flower shop before the owner kindly told us to stow our cameras:

All of a sudden, it was dinner time! Funny how that happens. Good thing Melrose Ave. was also home to M Café, a macrobiotic, mostly-vegan gem. M Café has a mouth-watering menu, but they also have a wonderful salad bar display, so that’s what I opted for. Kale with Spicy Peanut Dressing? I’ll take it.

Curried Tempeh Salad? Sure, why not!

Kale, peanut butter, and tempeh are pretty much the three keys to my heart, so M Café had me at hello. If they’d had kabocha squash, I might have gone into foodie shock–close call!

I also tried one of the Inari Sushi. I hate nori seaweed, so sushi made with dried tofu skins (a.k.a. inari) is an exciting alternative that I didn’t want to pass up. Stuffed with brown rice and topped with lotus root, this little bundle was good looking, but a little bit dry. Still, it was fun to try.

Bellies full, we schlepped off to our downtown LA hotel that my darling mother was generous enough to book for us, watched Saturday Night Live, and fell asleep with visions of babycakes dancing in our heads…

Nic and Nora Do Santa Monica

And by Nic, I mean Nicole from Another One Bites the Crust, everyone’s favorite New Haven vegan blogger! I picked up Nicole bright and early Thursday morning outside the West Hollywood Buffalo Exchange, and we headed straight to Santa Monica for a lovely lunch at Real Food Daily. This was our first time meeting each other in person, but we’ve been blogging/Twitter/Facebook/Gmail/Flickr (yes, basically every social media platform possible) friends for so long, that it was more like picking up an old friend–nothing could be more natural!

Sitting at a lovely inner-balcony table overlooking RFD’s juice bar, Nicole and I enjoyed some damn good salads.

The East coaster got her SoCal on and ordered the Mexicali Salad, while I, being the peanut butter fiend that I am, ordered the Yin Yang Salad: Cabbages, romaine, carrots, cucumbers, edamame, cilantro, sesame seeds, peanuts, and peanut dressing (I also added blackened tempeh!)

From there, we headed to the Santa Monica Beach and Pier. Besides her general awesomeness, the best part of having Nicole here was that I wasn’t the only one walking around with my DSLR glued to my face (in and out of restaurants)!

Taken of each other crossing the bridge to the beach.

If there’s one place that’s exemplary for taking random portraits of interesting strangers, it’s the pier. Kids, cyclists, beach bums, fishermen, artists, straight up creepy men…

 

Forgot to mention the ever-present dogs on music stands in that list…

This guy was such a ham! I usually try to sneak my people-watching portraits, but he couldn’t get enough!

After a grueling afternoon of window shopping, portraiture, foodie chatter, and walking with the sand between our toes (ha!), these two vegan bloggers needed some coffee. And not just any coffee–good coffee. Intelligentsia coffee. Silverlake is kind of on the way back to Claremont? Maybe?

Oh, what a soy cappuccino it was. The microfoam! The latte art! The humanity! Just kidding. Funnily enough, it was cheaper than Nicole’s $4.00 cup of specialty joe.

Silverlake also happens to be a hot spot for vegan restaurants. After debating between nearby Flore and Cru, we went with Cru. I guess we were more in the food for fancy schmancy than comfort food.

(Nicole’s photo)

We ordered the Bruschetta Rustica (Sunflower bread with traditional chopped tomato and basil spread and cashew cheese) to share, but it turns out Nicole really can’t do cashew cheese, so I may or may not have gotten a whole raw appetizer to myself! Sorry, Nicole, but I loved it! Not quite as good as Better Life’s raw bruschetta though…

For entrées, we both ordered the Body Ecology Bowl:

Sautéed kabocha squash and spinach over quinoa with homemade sauerkraut and salad. The kabocha was phenomenal (but what kabocha isn’t?), but it didn’t really seem to go well with the strange mélange of pickled vegetables. Next time, I’d order one of Cru’s classy raw entrées. Also, I think their desserts might use honey, so beware, vegans!

So much for day ones. Days two and three to come!

Los Animales de Costa Rica

Un poco más Costa Rica comin’ atcha today! This time in the form of animals.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m more of a food/people/pets/street photographer–landscapes and wildlife are NOT my forte. Partly because they generally don’t hold a lot of interest for me, and partly because I don’t have a telephoto lens. My Canon 50mm f/1.2 L prime lens hardly ever leaves me camera, and even when it does–as it did for the following wildlife pictures–I’m still only using my basic zoom lens at its maximum 75mm (with my crop sensor, 75mm equates to about 115mm). So that’s just my warning not to judge these photos too harshly; they’ve been majorly cropped, and the quality is, well, let’s just say I had trouble posting them and my photographic integrity suffered as a result. ;)

The majority of the animals we saw were on our guided tours. Whereas you, as a tourist, might walk two miles through the jungle and not see a thing, more practiced eyes can spot camouflaged wildlife 100 yards away in a treetop, so that’s what you’re paying for! My whole family did a canopy tour (which included zip-lining!), and my dad and I did a mangrove boat tour. My photos are from the latter tour because…would you bring your most treasured possession on a zip-line?!

On the mangrove tour, we saw a lot of camens, which are sort of like small crocodiles. In the water:

And out:

Also, toucans! It’s unreal how colorful they are.

Another bird we saw a lot of was the blue heron. I think I scared our tour guide, Oscar, when I started firing off 8 frames per second as this heron took flight. My camera sort of sounded like a machine gun. Photo poaching?

And my mom’s favorite (NOT): bats! The spotlight you see is our guide’s reflector, which he used to help point out animals.

The coolest animal sightings by far were the monkeys! From our boat, we saw three groups (tribes?) of monkeys swinging through the trees: howler, spider, and one I can’t remember! I couldn’t even tell you which kind this one is, but check out that epic jump!

Monkeys are one of my favorite animals (I feel like one every time I eat bananas and PB, which doesn’t really make sense now that I think about it…), so it was amazing getting to see them in the wild!

I know this sounds weird, but I’m not sure the following sloth is even real. This photo was taken in Manuel Antonio, one of Costa Rica’s national parks, and our tour guide was definitely a scam artist! He was really aggressive in getting us to purchase the tour despite our lack of real desire to do so, and everything he said was of doubtful veracity. He also “knew” in advance exactly where all the animals would be. My dad thinks I’m silly, but I almost suspect this sloth to be a fake–a sloth robot/replica, if you will. Fine, it probably isn’t, but look at how it’s “waving!” I just don’t know…

Of course, Costa Rica is know for its exotic wildlife, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of adorable pets hanging around, jonesing for their portraits to be taken! A.k.a. back to my photographic comfort zone…

This is Cockie! (Nice name, right?)

Immediately after we were shown to our room at the Margarita B & B in San José, Margarita’s dog Cockie plopped down on my pillow. Now that’s my kind of B&B: cuddly friends included!

Here’s one of Margarita’s other dogs! Look at those angel eyes.

Tito, Rancho Pacifico’s owners’ pup, was definitely our favorite though!

This guy’s ego was inversely proportional to his size. Yes, he had quite the attitude. We spent a lot of time with him poolside.

Instead of a tennis ball, Tito played with this spiky rain forest seed pod. These pods were everywhere. Man, this dog is livin’ the life, isn’t he? Organic dog toys falling from the sky, a mountain-top resort for a playground, a constant train of guests cooing over him!

Tito was our favorite, but he wasn’t the cutest. That award goes to these puppies, who belonged to Alex, one of the hotel staffers:

I think Alex is only going to keep the brown one, so unfortunately, they’re going to be separated. Still, I’m sure the black one will find a great casa! :)

Back to food next time!