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.

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