Friday, July 30, 2010

Ay! Desnudos!

"Ay! Desnudos!" These words slipped out of my mouth in a whisper this morning as I was checking my garden and noticed this tomato plant with hardly a leaf on the vine.

Back story: My husband and I enjoy listening to a wide variety of music, and one of our favorites is an album of Cuban music. We always giggle over the lyrics on this album, rife with the descriptive term, "desnudos" referring to a couple on a beach, a couple hiding in a back room, etc. My husband can poke fun at the brazen cultural difference here, since he, himself, is born of a latin culture, and Spanish was his first language.  He and I together worked out a translation of "desnudos", since having immigrated at the age of 6, he had not heard much in the Spanish language about nudity.  We decided that desnudos means "denuded", or "naked". This may be one of those "had to be there" background stories, but it is part of the fabric of our relationship.

So back to the tomatoes: after reeling from the initial shock of what can happen in one day to a tomato plant, I quickly found the culprit.

A Tomato Worm! I'm sure this is not the real name of this creature, it's just what I've always called them. He reminds me of Heimlich from "A Bug's Life" only not as cute. In addition to denuding this portion of the plant, look at the number Heimlich is doing on this would-be heirloom black tomato! Watching Heimlich's steady progress, I recalled a wonderful documentary on Buddha we were watching the other day. I think it was on PBS. Siddhartha Gautama, who would later be known as Buddha, was a young prince, cloistered and sheltered from the cares of the world. Attending a planting festival, he became very sad as he witnessed a line of ants crawling across the earth, and realized the organized colony underground would soon be destroyed by the action of planting crops for human beings. It was in that moment that Siddhartha recognized the value of all life. So, in the spirit of Siddhartha, I resolved to try to find a peaceful resolution to my dilemma.

I don't know if you can see the curved, sharp, red stinger at the wrong end of this critter, but it made his removal a bit daunting. However, since these guys are very slow-moving,  I was able to clip the whole branch from  the plant without being stung.  "Now what?" I thought.  If I toss the whole thing in the woods, how long will it take Heimlich to find my garden again? Speculating on this was futile, I realized, since my Buddhist sensibilities would not allow me to consider killing him, and besides, squashing something that juicy would be nasty. So I walked as far away from the garden as I could and tossed Heimlich and his brunch into the woods. I'll let you know if I see his little face again.

To end on a good note, I want to share with you a new photo of the Chinese Long Beans. Heretofore the pre-bean blossoms have been white or yellowish, but now, for whatever reason, they are such a pretty lavender. The sun was bright, so the color in the photo is a bit washed out, but it is still a pretty picture. I am so enjoying my wonderful garden.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Voluptuous Salad!

This delicious salad was born from inspiration (Morgan's Cobb Salad, currently featured on her wonderful blog and a good refrigerator cleanout. I don't often take the time to wash and chop for lunch, usually opting instead to eat last night's leftovers. But this morning I took one look at Morgan's gorgeous salad creation, and I had to consume some facsimile thereof.  I am fortunate to have so much wonderful food in the house right now, and it just takes a little organization to be sure I use it all before it goes bad. This salad was a great vehicle to that end.

My salad included:  Red and green butter lettuces, sliced organic carrots, a chopped tomato from my garden, half an avocado, chopped, black olives, chick peas and Lightlife bacon, cooked and crumbled.  I shook up a quick, simple, creamy dressing from the dregs of a bottle of "Seeds of Change" Red Pepper Vinaigrette and a couple of forkfuls of Veganaise.  I don't know why I didn't remember to throw a handful of sunflower seeds on top, which did flit through my mind while I was preparing the rest of the veggies.  That would have been good. But this salad was really very delicious, luxurious and filling just the way it turned out.

I am eager to try Morgan's Cobb salad too, it looks like it is worth thinking ahead enough to go out and buy the items I was missing today.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Garden Photos

Two posts in one day? Well, normally there aren't enough hours in the day, but today I was inspired by Alicia's photos of her pretty little yellow cherry tomatoes. I thought to myself, "yes, she should be proud - healthy, organic, self-sustaining, carbon-footprint-reducing," And I feel proud too!  Here are a few shots of my garden today. It is producing so beautifully, and I haven't even fertilized - there is a harvest every single day!
Chinese Longbeans

Zucchini Blossom
Longbean Blossom

One of My Own Recipes

Vegan Vodka Sauce

This sauce, creamy, rich and elegant, contains no dairy and no animal products.  Serve it with pasta of your choice.  I used whole wheat/sweet potato gnocchi.  A sprinkling of fresh parsley completes the dish, or parmesan cheese can be added by non-vegans.

24 oz. jar Marinara Sauce (my favorite is Barilla)
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
12 oz. block of silken tofu
¼ cup vodka
a generous grind of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

To Make:
In a blender, combine all ingredients except nutmeg, salt and pepper.  I pour the vodka into the sauce jar, cap it and swirl it around to get all the sauce out. Blend slowly at first, then at a high speed until it is smooth and homogenous.  Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper, a little at first, blend and taste, adjust seasoning and blend again.  Cook the sauce, covered, over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring periodically. 

I came up with this recipe while learning about the properties of unfamiliar foods I would be using as a vegan. I already understood veggies and beans, but I needed to learn about vegan "cheeses", tofu, "milks".  When a vegan cheese melts, what does this mean? In some cases, not much, it just gets a little softer. So I began branching out and thinking of other ways to achieve a "creamy" consistency. Rather than melting, I began thinking of blending, and worked with silken tofu. Tofu can have a pronounced bean aftertaste, which I don't mind, but non-vegans might, so I next began thinking of strong accompanying flavors -- tomato, garlic, vodka -- Vodka Sauce!

In my mind, this is the ultimate comfort food, pillowy, sticky, tender pasta enveloped in a smooth, flavorful sauce. Pre-vegan, I discovered that freshly ground nutmeg greatly enhanced anything I made with cream, even savory flavors, so I included it here and I think it works well.  I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wow -- I Like Fruit Now!

I never understood the appeal of fresh fruit. Even as a child, when kids all around me were opting for a shiny red apple over, say, split pea soup, I didn't get it. Although as I put it that way, I begin to understand what an odd child I was. Actually, the idea of fresh fruit was tantalizing to me, the bright, shiny colors, the pretty shapes, the promise of sweetness .  .  .  but the disappointment of biting into something so lovely to find it mealy and flavorless or hard as a rock and bitter was a turnoff.  Honestly, over the course of my life I can count the times I enjoyed fresh fruit on only one hand. Each time I was surprised by a flavorful fruit, I hoped to replicate the experience and was, again, disappointed. I caught on pretty quickly that I just had different taste buds from most other folks, who continued to ooh and aah over food I ate only because I knew I should.

What has always appealed most to me (pre-vegan) is the savory (like creamed spinach, sauteed mushrooms) the starchy (macaroni and cheese, chicken and dumplings), the fatty (fish and chips), the piquant (capers, pickles), the spicy (Mexican, Thai, Indian).  Growing up, our special occasion food, our comfort food, was usually rich with fresh vegetables from the garden, which have never been a disappointment to me. When I grocery shop now, the bountiful greens and root veggies are what delight my eye. But the other day at the store, I smelled something -- something sweet and rich, seductive and mysterious. I smelled peaches. I had never smelled peaches before, unless it was one of the notes in someone's perfume. This is very strange, I realize, since I live in Georgia! The peaches have been there all along, but they didn't call to me, my chemistry was not compatible with them. I am 5 months into being dairy- and meat-free, so I believe it is as if layers of sludge (most likely dairy -- I am sure now that I am lactose intolerant) have been sloughed off and I have taste buds that are like new, and able to process certain fresh flavors that were heretofore masked. I put several of these lovelies in a bag and took them home.

Since purchasing the peaches, in our busy summer household a couple of days have gone by. This morning, as I was sipping my coffee, I noticed there were only two left, and they were both in the very early stages of rot. Overripe, the fruits had begun to shrink in slightly upon themselves. Very soft, but not yet mushy, the velvety surface had tiny wrinkles forming, not unlike parts of my own middle-aged face. The scent had become intoxicating. Those rotting peaches were so appealing to me, I had to have them right away!! Like a woman possessed, I quickly cut them from the pits, and (don't ask me why -- I had no reason to think this was a good idea) I grabbed a handful of fresh mint from a glass of water on the counter and roughly tore it into pieces, enhancing what turned out to be a very pretty picture and an amazing flavor.  Pausing only long enough to snap a photo, I then chose a comfy chair with an ottoman, put my feet up and had the most satisfying fruit experience of my life.

Now, I notice the little voice in my head, out of habit, saying, "Well, that was great, but don't get your hopes up, you know how it goes with fruit," But I suspect there will be a difference for me from here on out. I did SMELL the fruit for the first time, did I not?  I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chick Peas Romesco!

I made this wonderful dish a couple of evenings ago. I served it as a main entree the first night and as a side dish after that. I ate it again last night as my entree, on a bed of barley cooked in organic veggie broth, with a salad of red and green butter lettuces, my homegrown heirloom tomatoes and homegrown basil. I am not getting tired of eating Chick Peas Romesco, and will miss it after I finish it off for lunch today.  This delicious recipe is from the vegan bible Veganomicon, by  Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Everything I have made from this book has been wonderful and I highly recommend it.

As is my custom, I followed this recipe loosely, avoiding a trip to the store for only a few ingredients. In this case I only had one red bell pepper, and one can of chickpeas, so I added a can of cannelini beans. I did not have a serrano chili, so I used a generous shake of red pepper flakes. I didn't have red wine vinegar so I used Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar. I used fresh rosemary and thyme, and more of these than is called for, since the dried herbs can be a stronger flavor. And finally, adding sugar if I don't have to makes me start to twitch, so I poured in a couple of tablespoons of sherry instead for sweetness. I love how sherry rounds out salty and acidic flavors, especially in sauces or soups where it doesn't matter how much liquid you add. I was actually surprised that I had on hand all the other ingredients:  Almonds, canned tomatoes, olive oil, cloves of garlic, shallots, chickpeas.

The flavor of this dish was quite unique, and actually blasted me right back (should I say how far? Oh heck you already know how old I am) 27 years ago when I was in Spain at the tender age of 18.  It was my high school graduation trip and I was in the Spanish Club! In spanish cooking, almonds figure prominently, ground, as in this dish, and otherwise. It really changes the flavor and texture of the food. I had to use care cooking this dish, making sure my 16 year old son was on the other side of the house. He is deathly allergic to tree nuts and could go into anaphlaxis  if he breathes or eats almonds. Therefore, this type of recipe won't come around here too often. So let me go now, and enjoy these chick peas' last hurrah!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Harvest Brunch

Getting back into a routine post-vacation, I started my day early this morning with a workout before the Georgia heat got oppressive. Afterward, since it was still early, I figured I could sneak a quick trip to Walmart before showering. I gambled here since, in this small town, I normally see folks I know while shopping. Luckily my gamble paid off and I was in and out with only the check-out clerk as witness to my post-workout stinkiness. Walmart is where I go for a lot of kid- and husband-food, but it also features more and more organic or otherwise appealing produce. Since I am often at Walmart to shop for the rest of my family, I have been thrilled to find enormous armloads of beautiful collard greens for only $2.88! Not only are the collards cheaper at Walmart, but they are also of much higher quality than at the more expensive stores, larger, greener, fresher. Today there were NO COLLARD GREENS at Walmart! What's going on?  I didn't realize how much I depend on this one small thing in life.

Moving on, by the time I had finished unloading and putting away my Walmart stash, I realized it was 11:00 and I had not yet had breakfast. I was very hungry, but not for the oatmeal with dried fruit I usually have at an earlier hour. No fresh collards, so I walked out to my veggie garden which was full of delicacies. How fortunate I felt -- back to balance after the collard green-deficit-panic.

Storebought tomatoes could never rival these still warm from the sun and fresh off the vine. I sliced a couple of these delicious fruits and piled them on toasted slices of day-old sourdough bread that was spread with Veganaise. Then I sprinkled them with a little salt and pepper -- sublime! I am not kidding. This is such a simple thing to eat and is unbelievably delicious. I am craving it again already. I am very grateful for this wonderful, enduring harvest. Every day I have more to pick! Maybe next summer I will try growing collards!

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Homerun!

Yes, last night's dinner was a homerun! Because of its originality? Umm, around here, not really -- there's always lots of pasta going on. Because of its deliciousness? Getting warmer . . . Because the carnivore LOVED it? Bingo! The man loved it so much he didn't speak, mouth full, furrowed brow, pointing at the bowl and nodding.  This is very exciting for me.  My ideal, like that of the rest of you vegans, is a household full of delicious healthy family meals.

It can be frustrating at times to see loved ones dealing with imbalances, whether the common cold, seasonal allergies, pimples or moodiness. Now that I see how much healthier, how much more at peace I am as a direct result of my clean diet, I am quite certain that many of these imbalances my loved ones suffer could be rectified or lessened if they enjoyed the food I am serving instead of the animal proteins they eat out of habit. So yes, I am thrilled my husband loved the "Rustic Pasta" I made from Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet. I had never made this recipe before, because, at first glance, it seemed very much like what I throw together quite often from whatever I have on hand. But upon closer inspection, the sheer amount of veggies in this dish, along with the unusual addition of shoyu, transforms this simple pasta dish into something much more fabulous, "restaurant quality," my husband deemed it, and we go to some good restaurants! With a full larder, I was determined not to run to the store for one ingredient, so instead of a head of cabbage, I used a small head of broccoli plus a julienne of several leaves of collard greens -- cruciferous veggies still represented! My pasta of choice was whole wheat linguine. The effort was beyond worthwhile and I will make it again.

Before I began writing today I was perusing The Kind Life website's discussion boards, which I always find very interesting and educational. Of particular interest to me today was a discussion thread about school lunches/treats/birthday parties. I stepped back and took a look at myself and wondered how it is that I find myself here. Like those commenting, I am frustrated with the lack of sound nutritional choices in the lunches offered in public schools, for my children, but also for some who rely on these lunches and breakfasts as their main sources of food. Unlike others, I am awakening to this issue after my season of authority has passed. This may seem like a copout to you folks with young children.

"Just be a Mom," you may say, "tell them what to eat,"

This is a perfectly reasonable suggestion on the surface.  We are the parents, we should be the ones guiding our children. But I would also offer this -- even with teenagers as brilliant, talented and inventive as mine, (not too biased, am I?) a parent must constantly monitor the flow of hormones, moods, outside influences etc.  And I do mean constantly -- a pendulum will swing very abruptly and unexpectedly.  A parent's influence can at times be as likely to act adversely as conversely.  We tread the tightrope of parenthood, trying to balance authority and connectivity. This problem lessens as soon as the child is out of the nest and is more autonomous. But I am not ready for my little birds to fly away just yet. At my kids' ages, I choose my battles, and I realize that with all my suggestions and even mandates, ("You must at least have a spinach salad with that pizza!") part of growing up is becoming adept socially, and finding one's place in a wider world, outside of a cloistered existence. This is where I can only hope my children make the choices I would make for them, and if they don't, it is up to me to bring them back to balance in those hours back in the nest, under my wing for just a little while longer.

About 5 years prior to my vegan transformation, I began learning about the food industry and making small changes for my family's health. I splurged on organic milk, cheese, vegetables and occasionally meats. This is tough on a family's budget, but besides the health benefits, my family noticed the organic food actually tasted better, so it was a directive easily enforced. I realized quite some time ago that my kids' friends saw me as a bit of an odd bird with my organics and whole grains.  My kids were embarrassed by their Mom who was unlike the others, and I had flashbacks about my own mother, the only one who didn't serve wonderbread and twinkies. As it turns out, my mother was a woman ahead of her time, and, ironically, as much as the world is changing for the better regarding the information and practice of nutrition, I may still be a woman ahead of my time as well, at least here in the deep south. While I embarrass my kids, let's not forget that's a major job requirement for the mom of a teen, much like it is the job of a teen to be embarrassed. When you reach this stage you will get it, believe me!

As I have said, I do choose my battles, and the dinner table is not one of them.  It needs to be a friendly, welcoming, connecting place. I choose vegan, but at this stage of their lives I cannot make them be vegan. I offer many healthy options, and insist upon a scant few, but celebrate my daughter's choice of my homemade mashed potatoes, for instance, over french fries, or a fresh sliced peach instead of a pop tart. I also celebrate the fact that my son sees an improvement in his acne when he eats more spinach. Very soon my kids will be in complete control over their food choices, and I can only hope my influence will benefit them the way that my own mother's influence has benefitted me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Plate Was the Prettiest!

-- And the most delicious, I bet. Last night I put together a simple meal from leftovers and fresh veggies, realizing that, as usual, I was spending more time and love on my own meal than on the meals of the others in my home. I don't feel guilty about this, since all are welcome to partake of my delectable creations if they wish. I always offer it to everyone else first.  I do provide alternatives as well, though my heart is not always into the preparation or ordering of these items. Reminder: for those of you who don't know my family, I have one adult(ish) husband and two near-adult kids, all of whom are still getting used to my major lifestyle change which happened abruptly on February 11, 2010.

My son had a friend over for a sleepover, so I also had to consider a guest.  I ordered pizza, extra large, extra cheese, and a box of cheese breadsticks, exactly the same as the pizza, but with no tomato sauce.  Pretty unhealthy, huh? I offered collards, no takers, except for my husband.  Still, some had spinach salads (no bacon or egg). My husband usually requires an animal to eat, and sometimes he is on his own with this, as I am finding it tougher and tougher to touch dead flesh. Last night I just took a frozen (still rock-hard, so not as offensive to me as thawed would have been) tilapia filet and put it in a pan of vegan butter and deglazed it with a splash of chardonnay. He loved it with some of my famous salsa on top. This batch of salsa included one of my homegrown cucumbers I couldn't fit into the jar of my latest batch of umeboshi plum vinegar pickles (from Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet, but I was using cukes instead of radishes since I had 'em). I also had some cilantro from the store that I chopped and added to the salsa. Each batch is a little different. I really love going out to the garden every single day and picking enough tomatoes and other veggies to whip up the next batch of salsa. It is a summer staple, best consumed fresh, and we can eat it in so many ways.

Now, to the rest of my plate: The evening prior, I had prepared the Broccoli Polenta from Isa Chandra Moskowitz' and Terry Hope Romero's Veganomicon. I love this cookbook. To me it is like The Joy of Cooking for vegans. The polenta, like everything else I have yet prepared from this book, was sustaining, inventive and yummy. The first night I made it I served it with a jarred marinara sauce, and last night I topped it with my salsa -- just as good, maybe better. The little muffin-tin timbales of polenta reheat well in a warm oven for about 15 minutes. I like the outside to be slightly crunchy, the inside firm, moist and springy.

The batch of sauteed collard greens was perhaps my best ever! It was so exciting -- my family laughs at me as I get so jazzed up about greens. See the giant bouquet of greens at the top of this blog? While I am washing and chopping these, I often find myself bursting into song, with gratitude, "Greens glorious greens!" (to the tune of "Food, glorious food" from the musical, Oliver). Really, collard greens prepared well are my most favorite food. I believe I finally have the preparation down to a science.  I heat a dry pan to medium high heat (7 on a scale of 0-10). When all ingredients are ready to go, I pour some very good extra virgin olive oil into the pan and immediately plunge the chopped collards into it, still moist from being washed. A smashed, chopped garlic clove then goes on top of the greens. Snap, crackle goes the hot pan as the water droplets explode -- make sure the pan is covered for this part. Then I let the covered pan sit on the hot burner, unstirred, for about 3 minutes. The oil will burn at this heat if the greens are not added right away, and the garlic will burn if you put it on the bottom, it has to go on top. At about 3 minutes of undisturbed cooking, I begin to smell, not something burning, but almost. I quickly take the top off and stir, stir, stir the greens and garlic with two spoons, like one would toss a salad. This only takes about a minute. Then I take the whole pan off the hot burner and set it aside, covered. At this point it looks like some greens are overcooked and some are barely cooked at all, only starting to wilt. By the time I set the table, everything in the pan is PERFECT! I really love the crispy, brown pieces of greens with the very lightly cooked pieces. This cooking technique has resulted from a lot of trial and error, so it may take a while for you to get it just right too. I rely on a certain smell to tell me when to start stirring, this is the trickiest part. But once you take the pan off the burner it can sit indefinitely. It won't overcook and will remain warm for quite some time.

I rounded out my meal with some storebought fresh bread -- this time sourdough with roasted garlic. I topped mine with storebought hummus with olives. Everyone else had the bread too, guess they didn't have enough bread in their pizza and cheese bread sticks.

So you see we are still a funky little household, where I am just going to keep doing what I do for myself, and hoping it is rubbing off, if only a little bit, on those I love. On this night, I was happy to not be the cause of the death of a land creature (just her suffering while she produced the milk for the cheese --see Chapter 3 of The Kind Diet) and I did care for my husband's cholesterol needs as I prepared the food he ate. Baby steps . . . but in the meantime, I sure do love the food I eat! Thanks again, Alicia, Lindsay, Morgan, Isa, Terry and the rest of you who continue to inspire me!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No Post-Vacation Weight Gain!!

We returned from our Florida road trip on Sunday. I hopped on the scale, feeling a bit fluffy from the not-so-regular diet I followed those nine days. Reminder:  I did mostly follow a vegan diet, but remain unconvinced that everything was prepared without butter. And dark leafy greens are hard to come by in South Beach. Nevertheless I did not purposely eat animals or their products, except for the butterbeer in Hogsmeade, that is.  But I digresse. The result on the scale:  a three lb. gain.  Believe it or not, I was pleased with this.  I typically carry home an extra 5-7 lbs. from a week in, say, Cancun, or the Bahamas.  But this morning, after less than 48 hours in my own home, with my own collards and the veggies in my garden and beans in my cupboard, I am back down to normal -- a zero vacation weight gain!!  I guess those three lbs. were just due to my sluggish system from the unfamiliar foods!

Upon our return, I found my garden burgeoning and lush.  So I whipped up a batch of my famous salsa.  I have mentioned my recipe before in this blog, but it varies according to what I have on hand.  This time, the ingredients were 100% homegrown, except for the EVOO, lime juice, salt and pepper. I used:

4 ripe medium tomatoes, plus a handful of cherry tomatoes, all diced
one jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, diced
one half of a medium red onion
one small sweet bell pepper, diced
one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lime
salt and pepper to taste

Just combine all this.  Unbelievably, all that luscious juice was produced from the veggies.  Really the only liquids I added were the one tablespoon of oil and less than that amount of lime juice.  The homegrown veggies are just so bursting with flavorful juices that all it takes is a little salt to release them. I ate this on a baked potato with some american veggie cheese. Ole!

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Vegan in South Beach!

My family and I just enjoyed a nine-day driving tour of Florida which included a day visiting My brother-in-law, Max, along with his wife, Lisa and son, Eric, where we explored Cape Canaveral, a handful of days in South Beach, Miami, and a day visiting Hogwarts and Hogsmeade among other things at Universal Studios, Orlando.  The whole trip was wonderful and we were grateful to be able to commune with many extended family members.  There were some vegan challenges and triumphs, and I am glad for the experiential education of how to fare in unfamiliar circumstances.

I LOVE South Beach!  The energy is amazing, and I found the culture to be continental, with folks from all over the world filling the streets, hotels and restaurants.  The atmosphere reminded me of some of my favorite European cities.  I enjoyed a tequila shot with lunch (sipped slowly).  I love the presentation here with blanched carrots, a sprinkling of cayenne pepper, limes and "Sangrita de Pigeon" (pigeon's blood --eww!) Really, the sangrita is equal parts tomato and orange juice, with a drop or two of tabasco.  It was so spicy and refreshing, sipped along with the tequila, and so much less bloating than the beer my husband was drinking!

Speaking of my husband, here he is on our balcony at the Fontainbleau -- the most amazing view in Miami Beach!  We were so fortunate during our stay here to be able to commune with my husband's three little sisters (really grown ladies now) who live in Miami. I love these girls as if they were my own sisters, and they are like cousins to my kids.

Here are, left to right, my daughter, Wynne, sister-in-law Sabrina and sister-in-law Ariella.  We were having dinner on Lincoln Road -- Pizza for the non-vegans, a huge arugula salad with about 25 veggie pizza toppings for me.

Here is Wynne with Liana, another sister-in-law.   This is the lunch where I had my tequila.  At this lunch I also had some delicious vegetarian enchiladas filled with broccoli and cauliflower, and topped with the traditional sauce, with rice and beans on the side.  I had to get a little stern with the server while ordering this delicious meal.  I had asked for the meal without cheese.  He replied that the meal would then no longer be enchiladas, really trying to talk me into eating cheese. I calmly explained I do not eat dairy products and asked if he had any other cheeseless choices on the menu.  He eventually relented and brought me the meal the way I wanted it, and it was delicious. I was grateful for the tequila's assistance in maintaining my calm throughout this exchange.

Ironically, at some of the finer establishments, the menu selections were less flexible for a vegan diet -- cheese figured prominently on most salads, and these were mostly iceberg greens anyway, which don't appeal after a while, and I could only do my best ordering from what I could find.  Here is one dinner I crafted from side dishes.

I had to be a bit flexible myself here, as I was really hungry and craving potatoes, which I am sure must have had butter since they made me a little sluggish for a while.  The spinach was pretty good but a little overcooked, and the mushrooms were delicious for the first few bites but cumulatively turned out to be oversalted. Still, in the grand scheme of things I was grateful not to be eating a plate of cheese or meat, and to be in wonderful company.

Besides the fun company of my "little sisters" the whole trip was a wonderful chance to explore something new with my own little family.  Here I am right on South Beach with my son, Hans and daughter, Wynne.

When we had to say goodbye to the girls and South Beach, we drove up to Orlando.  From the time my son was 5 years old, he and I, and later Wynne, have bonded by reading J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Since we have all grown up with these wonderful books, we decided to visit Universal Studios, where Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are featured.  This attraction has only been open for a couple of weeks, so it was predictably overcrowded, but we did find that the crowds thinned out as the hot day wore on. By the evening, we were exploring the wizarding world without too much trouble.

While Hans and his Dad were on a roller coaster, Wynne and I decided to pop in to the Hog's Head Inn for butterbeers -- yes you heard me, butterbeers.  This was one of those times in life when I decided to put aside my standards and make a choice that would be the exception for me.  I rationalized this choice thus:

* I would never again have a butterbeer.
* The trip to Hogsmeade was the culmination of a positive lifelong bonding pattern with my kids.
* Who knows how much butter I had already consumed that week despite my best efforts at the unfamiliar restaurants.
* I was curious about how this fictitious blend would actually taste.

Judge if you must.  This actually turned out to be an interesting experiment on how this kind of junk affects a mostly vegan-clean body.  The drink was delicious, though it had a chemical aftertaste.  Instantly my sinus blew up like a balloon.  For about 24 hours I dealt with drainage and phlegm (sorry, don't know how to put that any more delicately). The next day I had a sore throat and was very sleepy all day.  After a big pan of collard greens upon my return, I feel much better.

I know this is a longer post than most, so thanks for bearing with me.  There is much to share. An important vegan note about this road trip is that I was disappointed in the road food.  Wendy's used to have an oriental chicken salad that I could get without the chicken and it would be fine if I didn't use too much dressing.  They have now "upgraded" all their salads which means they are all swimming in cheese or bacon.  I tried picking all the blue cheese off one salad and was so nauseated by the smell that I eventually had to throw the whole thing away. On the road, my belly was most often filled with sunflower seeds.

All in all, we had a wonderful trip, vegan missteps and all.