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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bouncing Back

You've been hearing a lot of this around the ol' blog this past week:

I was struck down by a mighty cold all week. I don't think it was the flu... but maybe it was. I don't know. All I know is that it sucked a lot. It crept in quietly, as just a scratchy throat for two days, and then one morning, I woke up and felt like I had been hit by a truck. I could barely breathe, at one point I sneezed so hard that I tipped over (luckily I was standing near a wall), I sounded like Bea Arthur, and, at the peak of my stuffiness, I caught myself eying the plunger in the bathroom, thinking, If only that thing had never been in a toilet...

Today, though, I am happy to say that I am on the rebound! A few days ago, I had sworn to the Immune System Gods that I would never take a breath for granted, that I would take up karaoke and running and yoga as soon as I could breathe normally again, which means I should probably start limbering up. I'm not at 100% yet. Once I'm able to sing in the car again and NOT sound like Bea Arthur in this clip...

THAT is how I will know I have fully healed.

So, I have no foods to share with you. If I took pictures this week, it would have been of endless cups of soygurt and applesauce and echinacea tea. Needless to say, I didn't go anywhere, either, as I didn't want to spread this sickness around. Even though I'm only at about 81% right now, I am just OVERJOYED to feel THAT well!

Wellness is awesome!

Good things are on the way (again)!

PS. If you aren't already a fan of Hungry Vegan Traveler on facebook, what are you waiting for?! I aim to update it daily (or near-daily) with a nugget of vegan and/or travel info from across the web.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Vegetarian Food Festival at the Southwest Florida Buddhist Temple

This past Sunday afternoon, with no real plan, I headed out to the Vegetarian Food Festival at the Southwest Florida Buddhist Temple in St. Petersburg. I didn't have many details on the event at all - just an address and a time frame - but was excited to support a veg*n event in the area.

The entrance to the temple kind of snuck up on me and I turned in just in time. I was not expecting to encounter so many statues, right there in front of me. I admit, an audible "Whoa!" escaped my mouth.

(I didn't actually say it Joey Lawrence-style, unfortunately. It was more like a whisper.)

After parking in a fairly full lot, I headed to the nearest entrance and kicked off my shoes before entering the temple.

It was very soon after entering that I realized the actual food festival was behind the temple, as I could see it through open doors on the other side of the building. Oh well. I already had my shoes off, so I figured I'd wander around inside for a minute.

It was a beautiful day for a vegetarian food festival.

The set up was like a bustling market. A bit over a dozen booths were set up, each manned by a local family, selling a variety of Vietnamese foods, ranging from traditional to unique.

Veggie chicken wings, anyone?

I noticed a crowd gathering around a particularly busy booth where sugar cane juices were being made.

I had a taste, and was pleased to find it wasn't as sweet as one would expect from freshly juiced sugar cane. It tasted very fresh and had a hint of citrus, as well.

I did some more strolling, juggling juice and my camera, and then came upon a vat of pho. At this point, I was starting to realize that a cold might be coming on, and soup sounded pretty awesome.

It was perfect. Rich, flavorful broth... juicy shitake mushrooms... crisp mung bean sprouts... tofu... bright tastes of cilantro... I wasn't crazy about the mock ham and mock beef and left most of that behind, but everything else about this was delightful. I couldn't quite master the art of eating rice noodles with chop sticks, so by the end of this bowl, I had chopsticks, a spoon, and a fork. Whatever.

Before leaving, I took a stroll through the little statue garden in front of the temple. As I mentioned previously, the weather was just perfect.

Tickle, tickle!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sick, Sad World

Well, it happened. Being exposed to too many adults who don't know how to cover their mouths when they cough (SERIOUSLY) has caught up to me. I have a slightly sore throat, and I'm hoping that it doesn't get any worse. I'll be spending the day drinking gallons of hot tea and eating applesauce with fruit. I generally frown upon over the counter medicines because I think they're pointless and a big waste of money. I'd rather follow Hippocrates' advice of Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food. Of course, a balanced, plant-based diet is generally a good safeguard against illnesses, but apparently it's not enough when you're within close proximities of people who won't cough into their sleeves for days at a time. (Is it SO HARD, people? Really?) Yeah, I'm a little bitter. I've never been good at being sick, even slightly, like now.

I guess this down time will give me a better opportunity to scour the new cookbooks I picked up from the library last week. Anyone have any recipe recommendations from the following books?

Okay, Feasting on Asphalt is not quite a cookbook, and though there are recipes in it, they're not quite vegan-friendly. I just have a big foodie-nerdy-crush on Alton Brown. Plus, this book is about him on the road, which makes it double awesome for me.

Here's hoping I'll bounce back soon (as in, TOMORROW).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Friendly Face

This has nothing to do with veganism or travel, but who doesn't love puppy pictures?!

This furry little monster isn't mine; she's just visiting. She's trouble, but her silliness makes up for it.

She's also a nice (though very easily distracted) walking companion.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

More G-Ville Grub

Gainesville is so much more vegan-friendly than I would have ever expected, even after my first visit to the town just two months ago. Something I noticed this time around is that tempeh is very popular in G-ville. In fact, the streets are lined with tempeh.

That's not actually true, but it's close to true. Artie's Tempeh is located in Gainesville and they stock many area restaurants with tempeh goodness. There's even a Tempeh Shop, which I hadn't known about until after I returned. (Florida residents, you can order online!)

My first taste of Gainesville tempeh was at The Jones Eastside. The actual restaurant experience was disappointing. For starters, I went there with two conventional meat-eaters who did not like ANYTHING on the menu (and The Jones serves meat). This restaurant is TEENY-TINY and the wait for a table would have been too long for our time frame, anyway. They left to find food elsewhere and I placed an order to-go, which was estimated to take just 15 minutes. 45 minutes later, my order was up. Just in the nick of time. The rude waitress didn't add much to the experience, either.

So WHOOSH! I went with my Thai Peanut Tempeh Wraps in tow, hoping that they were worth the wait and hassle. Luckily, they totally were.

My two tempeh wraps came with a side of sauteed sesame veggies ('cause I can never have too many veggies). Seriously, this wrap was stellar, and I think the most credit needs to go to the Thai Peanut sauce. And the sprouts (because I love sprouts).

After eating much too quickly, as I was pressed for time, I found myself in a blissful daze of complete satisfaction. I may or may not have smacked my lips publicly. The warm, savory, flavorful wrap left me feeling quite content. I would consider going to The Jones again, but only if I had absolutely no other obligations, as that tiny little diner fills up fast.

Later that night, I tried out The Top, an adorably decorated bar and grill on Main Street. This restaurant came highly recommended, and they already won me over with their kitschy decor and advertised vegan coconut rum cake, so I figured this would be a win.

I like to try something different at new restaurants, so when I saw a Fried Green Tomato TLT, I decided to go for it, wheat sensitivity be damned. I'd never had fried green tomatoes before, so I was excited to taste them for the first time.

Unfortunately, this sandwich did not live up to my expectations. For starters, the bread was way too thick. I guess if you liked bread, this would be a good thing, but I don't care much for bread (and not just because of my wheat sensitivity), and I felt like I was eating a sandwich made with two halves of an entire loaf of bread. The thick, fluffy bread dwarfed the flavors of the sandwich's contents, although there wasn't much to taste of the slice of fried green tomato, as it was paper-thin and all I could taste of it was the breading. (Sad.) The ginger slaw on the side was okay, but nothing to write home about.

HOWEVER, The Top redeemed itself (and not just with its adorable army of cute, hipster waiters) with the vegan coconut rum cake. I'd never had a rum cake before, and apparently the rum should be noticeable, according to my dining companion. I couldn't detect the rum, but I could detect the perfect amount of sweetness and coconut and vanilla and deliciousness. They brought out a big freakin' slice, too.

Between the two of us, we just couldn't finish it. This slice was definitely a 3-person job.

The next day, three other ladies and I went to Flaco's for lunch. You may recall that I visited Flaco's when I passed through Gainesville in November. It was a delicious and inexpensive experience, and I was hopeful that the other ladies would enjoy it.

I ordered a Sunshine Bowl, which was pretty much the same as what I ordered last time, only with lentils instead of black beans. Still awesome, still delicious, still hearty and filling and warm and wonderful. (Remember: it was a chilly week in north Florida, so warm meals were most welcome.)

And just like last time, our timing was perfect. After we placed our orders, a line had formed, all the way to the door. This place is popular!

And yes, my meat-eating companions did, indeed, enjoy Flaco's.

My final meal in Gainesville was going to be a badass-looking salad from Leonardo's, but when I walked over there, I discovered that the menu I had read online was not the same as what they had in the restaurant, which was a little disappointing. I continued on foot down University and found Gyro Plus nearby, whose menu was peppered with that beautiful V word: VEGAN.

The woman behind the counter was friendly and knowledgeable about the plethora of vegan options. My jaw pretty much dropped to the floor when she said ALL of their desserts were vegan.

That piece of news made it very hard to focus on "dinner," when I had this glistening showcase of sweet baklavas immediately to my right. But I reigned myself in and went with the falafel platter. (I'd been craving falafel for weeks at this point.) I also added a piece of cashew baklava since I'd never seen that offered anywhere before. Believe me, if money weren't an issue, I would have ordered one of each pastry (for the sake of the blog, of course), but I had to show some restraint.

Back at the hotel, I dug in.

Man. When falafel is good, life is good, don't you agree? These tender, flaky, just-slightly-crispy balls of spiced heaven were just what I needed to thaw out my face and hands after a walk in the cold night air. I savored every morsel. The tabouli was pretty good, too, and I'm kind of picky about tabouli. The hummus was slightly-thick and went well with the tabouli (a little of both on the same forkful). And tahini sauce kind of makes everything a little better in its own way, I think. This was a perfect meal, with the falafel being the star.

The baklava was pretty great, too! Sweet, syrupy, flaky, and warm. I couldn't detect much cashew flavor, but was that a little hint of heaven I tasted? MAYBE!

Gyro Plus gets a big stamp of HVT approval for their selection, prices, and delicious tasting food. Granted, this was not as healthy a meal as that non-existent salad would have been, but it was a nice second choice.

I didn't have time to sightsee in Gainesville this time around, but being so close to the University of Florida made it interesting. I learned that their student population gets around in one of three ways: by foot, by bike, or by Vespa. Seriously, I spotted so many scooters around campus, that now I kind of want one! My sightseeing this time was limited to food, but that's one of the best ways to get to know a city. After this trip, I have a new-found appreciation for Gainesville. Even as we were leaving the town, I passed two additional restaurants that advertised a VEGAN MENU, right on their outdoor sign-age! I clearly have unfinished (vegan) business in Gainesville, and I look forward to returning.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gainesville An-Other-Go-Go

I spent the last 5 days in Gainesville, so unfortunately, that roof top pool won't exactly be around again anytime soon.

I ended up having some pretty good eats for my second visit to Gator Country. (You can read about my first taste of G-ville here.) I wasn't able to take any pictures the first day, but I can recap for you.

Day 1: Lunch at Bahn Thai. From the outside, Bahn Thai looks like a decent enough place. Inside, it smelled kind of funny (couldn't quite place the scent) and the interior decorating was hilariously atrocious! Walls with mismatched purple stripes painted in various directions, funky 80s-style leather chairs, and they played what my dining companion called "Kindergarten Nap Time Music." Luckily, the food was really good. I received perfectly-lightly-fried tofu on a bed of assorted, colorful veggies. Perfect.

Dinner was random, since I'd been running on just 5 hours of sleep and had a long, long day. I popped into Mother Earth health food store and picked up a green drink (apple, cucumber, carrot, spinach, parsley). I was impressed with the variety of products on the store's shelves. Neat store!

Day 2: Went to Sandy's Place, a Greek-American restaurant on a colleague's recommendation. I was expecting typical Greek fare: hummus, babaganoush, falafel, dolmades, etc. Well, they had dolmades and a Greek salad, but everything else was quite meaty. It was a cold day and I wasn't really feeling a dolma platter, but was thrilled to learn that their Garden Lentil soup is vegan ("All veggie!"), and ordered a bowl of that. It was perfect and hearty and delicious, especially on such a cold, dreary day. I was a bit tickled that I could find something vegan in this little strip mall tavern that looked like a hunting lodge, complete with mounted fish on the wall. Between the decor and the weather outside, I felt like I was back in Missouri!

That night, a couple gals and I went to Boca Fiesta, and this is where my camera emerged from my bag. I was really impressed with Boca Fiesta's menu; they had something for everyone, which was perfect, because I was the only vegan of the group/the week.

Don't you love it when vegan items are clearly labeled? I know I do!

After debating for just a few moments, I went with a taco salad, because I have a hard time saying no to taco salads. I went with the "stir-fry veggies" as my main ingredients (other options were okra, tempeh, and TVP). The salad also came with black beans, rice, lettuce, and avocado, and cilantro pesto on the side.

THIS WAS SO GOOD. It was filling, too, which meant I just couldn't tackle the VEGAN DESSERT NACHOS. *sigh* Next time, Boca Fiesta. Next time.

If you're wondering, Where's breakfast?!, they mostly consisted of Larabars and Pure bars. These two flavors were particularly nice for breakfast:

My typical breakfast consisted of a bar OR lukewarm instant oatmeal and lukewarm black tea. (The Holiday Inn where I stayed didn't offer any breakfast, just coffee and tea, and they had a warped opinion on what "hot" water really is.) It got me through the mornings decently enough, though. At least they had free wifi (but is that so rare anymore?).

More good G-ville foods coming soon.

Friday, January 14, 2011


You know what's hard? Being right next to a rooftop pool for 5 days

and NOT swimming in it. Why wouldn't I take advantage of this?, you ask. Because the highs have been IN THE FORTIES all week! Pure torture!

Still, I have to say that I have never been more proud of the state of Florida as I was when I heard the other day that it is the ONLY state in the US, including Hawaii, to NOT have any snow.

Anyway, I have lots of food to share with you from the past week. Unfortunately, none of it is from the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart, but I'll be back on track with that next week. Meanwhile, I hope all of you Kickstarters out there are feeling fabulous!

Stay tuned and keep warm!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Taste of Jamaica in Tampa Bay

As you know, it was a special meal in Jamaica, and the trip itself, that brought me to start this blog. I'll remember that day for years to come. It's been almost an entire year since I went to Jamaica, and unfortunately, I won't be able to make it down there anytime soon (and by "soon," I mean right now). However, I have found a place in Tampa that serves up some delicious, vegan-friendly Jamaican fare that isn't as good as what I had at Food Fa Life, but it's the next best thing.

It's a pretty unassuming place, too. (Lovers of Hole-in-the-Wall eateries, take notice!) Island Cuisine is nestled in a shopping plaza. If you didn't know just where to look, it'd be pretty easy to miss.

Can you spot it yet? Let's get a little closer.

Ah! There it is!

Island Cuisine serves meat, but they have a vegetarian menu (that is also vegan) of tofu, veggie chunks, and crazy mock meats, and all of the side dishes are vegan (except the macaroni & cheese and the potato salad).

I went with the tofu and peas & rice and collards. The portions at Island Cuisine are generous!

The tofu is awesome! It has a great, chewy texture, and it's stewed in a spicy (but not hot), tomato-based sauce. And let me say, those collards are THE BEST collards I've ever had. Perfectly tender and flavorful. You can't even see the peas & rice because it's buried under the other foods. You'll notice a few plantains thrown in there, too.

Island Cuisine has been at this location (2301 East Hillsborough Ave) for the last 10 years. The owner said that if you're interested in a specific vegetarian option, to call ahead. (For example, the first time I visited this place, they were out of tofu, so I called ahead the next time and - yay! - they had tofu.) Also, this is more of a take-out eatery, though there do have a couple of tables and chairs outside in the front.