Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bobby's Burger Palace and a Vegetarian Conundrum

My co-workers were making a trip to the new Bobby's Burger Palace in downtown DC and invited me to come along.  They know I'm a vegetarian, but since most of the burger places in DC have a veg option, they invited me to tag along.  I checked the menu before I left and while there are no veggie burgers on there, I knew there were salads and sandwiches, so I was happy to give it a try.

I did get one of the salads (more on that later) but what I found to be more intriguing was a conversation we had with the people in line behind me.  Well, it wasn't so much of a conversation than a blunt statement, but let me recap.

Since there was a lot of buzz about Bobby's Burger Palace, the line was long, so we had plenty of time to review the menu and decide what to order.  I thought the toppings on the burgers looked good, so I wondered aloud if I should ask if I could get a burger without the meat, but just with the toppings.  My co-worker ended up asking an employee monitoring the line if this was an option.  The employee rep said he wasn't sure.  The guy behind us asked my co-worker if he was a vegetarian.  When I replied, "He's not, but I am," the guy shot back "Well, a better question is why a vegetarian would go to a burger place?"

It was our turn to order, so I didn't get a chance to respond.  But, here's what I would have said:

I Love Bobby Flay - It's true.  I watch Throwdown and squeal like a little girl.  I now pronounce chipotle "chi-po-tah-ley."  I still rave about a meal I had at Mesa Grill a few years ago.  If I ever meet the man in person, I'd probably resort to babbling idiocy.  If he has a new restaurant, I was going to try it.

I Love Trying New Restaurants - This wasn't your average fast food joint.  It was a cool concept with different menu items.  If there's a new place in DC, I'm going to check it out and find something to eat there.

I Like Being Included - When your co-workers want to go out to lunch, it's nice to be able to tag along.  My one co-worker who I went wish frequently tags along with me to Java Green, a vegan cafe near my office.  So, I was happy to accompany her to her choice today.

Anyhow, this whole encounter today made me think of the flip side of the equation . . . should all restaurants have at least one vegetarian option on their menu? 

Ultimately, running a restaurant involves making business decisions, and what goes on the menu is a big part of that decision.  If a restaurant doesn't feel they have customer demand for a vegetarian option, they're not going to put it on their menu.  That may be why Burger King has veggie burgers on their menu, but other fast food operators don't. 

It could also be a quality decision.  Take the burger place argument. Let's say they want to make their burgers from scratch, rather than frozen.  So, perhaps they haven't found a veggie burger that they can make from scratch that fits with their kitchen's flip time. 

But, here's the thing - I'd argue that including more vegetarian options is a great business decision.  As articles like this one suggest. More and more consumers are looking for meat free options, even if they're still omnivores.  And this Vegetarian Resource Guide Blog notes that:
  • In the National Restaurant Association's "What's Hot in 2011" survey of more than 1,500 professional chefs, over half rated meatless/vegetarian entrées and vegan entrées as a "hot trend."
  • Health and nutrition claims on menu items are increasing as consumers look for healthy options in restaurants as well as at home. Mintel found 42 percent growth in such claims from the first quarter of 2005 to the first quarter of 2007. Items labeled vegetarian, low-fat, gluten-free, trans-fat free, or low-calorie grew the most rapidly.
There's also a report you can order -  Vegetarian Means Business - if you want to learn more about it.

There are a variety of reasons folks might elect to order a vegetarian meal.  Like, me, they may have concerns with the treatment of animals in the food industry.  Like Bill Clinton, it could be a health choice.  It could be a religious choice.  It could be a taste preference.  But, the numbers are growing, and the foodservice industry should tap this market as soon as they can.   And, ultimately, an omnivore will happily eat anywhere, and, if the omnivore is in the company of a vegetarian, they'll both end up eating at the restaurant with a vegetarian option.  For example, when my husband want to go out to eat together and he wants a burger, we would likely go to Elevation Burger or BGR, both of whom have terrific veg options.  He gets his beef burger, I get my veggie burger and we're both happy. 

Crunch Salad from Bobby's Burger Palace

So, looping back to Bobby's Burger Palace, yes, their menu has vegetarian options, namely a "griddled cheese" and the Crunch Salad I ordered.  Honestly, I went in with low expectations - I knew the restaurant was showcasing burgers and I wasn't expecting the salad to be the star.  It was solidly in the "ok" category.  A nice surprise was that, although it's not in the menu description, the salad includes kidney beans and chickpeas, which are a tasty addition that adds heft to the salad.  The balsamic vinaigrette was also very good, and didn't have soy.  I found this out by accident when it was accidentally left on my salad when I asked for it not to be included.  But, the good news was no allergic reaction, and the dressing was also very, very good.  The white cheddar chunks were tasty, and I also liked the flavor of the tortilla strips.  The green onions also added some nice flavor.

The downsides - the quality of the lettuce was not so good.  When a salad is advertised as romaine, I expect lots of dark green leaves, but this salad was pretty pale.  Also, when a salad is advertised as having "Chopped Vegetables" and there are a ton of neat toppings on the menu (avocado, watercress), I had higher hopes for something other than just tomatoes.

So, would I order the salad again?  Given all the cool salad places near my office, probably not.  Would I try a griddled cheese?  Maybe - I am trying to cut back on dairy, but every once in awhile, I cave.  Would I call to see if I could get the LA Burger or the Napa Valley Burger as just the toppings on bread?  Definitely - I will try that soon, and try the sweet potato fries as well. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Concoction Again: Farro with Kale and Mushroom Sauce

I was in concoction mood tonight, and decided to hit our local market after work.  I picked up yellow onions (I prefer red, but they were looking sickly), kale, cremini mushrooms and some pale yellow peppers from Scenic View Orchards, which supplies a number of produce items to the market in the summer months.

I finely diced half of the onion and sliced the mushrooms.  While those were cooking up in some olive oil, I seasoned them with freshly ground black pepper.  Then, I finely diced the peppers and tossed them in as well.  I added some minced garlic, and once it was fragrant, squirted in some tomato paste.  From there, I added white wine, oregano, red pepper flakes ,sea salt and basil.

Yellow peppers from our local market.
As that bubbled, I chiffonaded (is that even a word?) some kale.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this technique, it's cutting greens into ribbon like strips.  Here's a helpful tutorial.  The curly kale was a little challenging to roll, but I made it work.  I was hoping the chiffonade would help it wilt faster and I was semi-successful in this regard.  However, I decided to throw a lid on it to help it along.

We served this over leftover farro.  It was spicier than I intended (methinks the peppers were not "sweet" as advertised), but husband and I like spicy, so I was ok with that.  If you don't have farro or aren't into it, I think this would also make a nice pasta sauce.

A Few Random Notes and Some Versatile Bloggers

Slightly self-indulgent of me to go ahead and post this pic of my snack, since I just tweeted it.  But, I was thrilled with how well it photographed and even happier with how it tasted, so I thought it might be fun to share it with folks who aren't on Twitter (Hi, Mom!).  The foodage in question diced avocado with yellow and red pear tomatoes.  The chips in the back are Stacy's Multigrain Pita Chips. Pita Chips are a terrific alternative if you're looking for something snacky that's not fried, and the fact that these are multigrain makes them even healthier.  They're also vegan and don't have any soy ingredients.

Avocado has been helping me as I wean myself off my cheese addiction (read or watch Forks Over Knives for more on Caesin) and I love snacking on it.

Anyhow, in the theme of little things that make me happy, I'm going to take a slight departure from talking about all vegetarian food, all the time to give a shout out to my friend and fellow blogger, Lisa Calandriello.  Lisa and I went to college together and "found" each other at DC's Yoga on the Mall last year.  Since then, we've bonded over yoga, practicing together at Tranquil Space.  In addition to being an awesome yoga teacher giving amazing assists - her Eagle assist completely changed my ability to be in that pose - Lisa has a terrific website and blog that you should check out.

Given all of these terrific things about Lisa, I was so flattered that she chose to mention this little blog project as part of her contribution to the Versatile Blogger Awards.

Part of the award is telling your readers seven random things about yourself, and thus, you are treated to some non-food related things about me.

1.  I love to knit.   My grandmother taught me when I was six.  My first "project" was a cream colored swatch that was a disaster, but I've steadily improved.  You'll most often find me knitting little toy animals to give as new baby presents or hats to donate to the DCJCC December 25 Day of Service (mark your calendars, DC folks!), but I also occasionally will tackle something more complicated.

2.  When I was in high school, I wanted to be a film critic.  I still love movies and will happily go to a movie theater by myself if I can't find someone who is willing to sit through three hours of black and white German cinema or Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Jenn, you were a sport for seeing that one with me!).

3.  I last drove a car on an actual road, in traffic in 1996.  But, now that I live outside of DC, I'm learning to drive again.  I am consoling myself with the fact that I will no longer need to cajole my husband into driving me to Whole Foods whenever I run out of Earth Balance or Daiya.

4.  I have a Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential, which is a professional designation for association management staff.  Even before I qualified for the exam, I needed five years of work experience and 100 hours of professional education credits.  And then I had to learn a lot of random things like environmental scanning, Russian table service, balance sheets, retention rate calculation and answer questions about them on a multiple choice exam.  But, I did it!

5.  Whenever I go on vacation, I try to involve some sort of boat.  When I went to Greece, I took a cruise to Aegina, Poros and Hydra.  When I went to Costa Rica, I went white water rafting (and got thrown out of the raft!).  I was happy as a clam in Chicago doing the architecture tour on the river.  A vacation isn't a vacation for me unless I get to do something on a boat.

6.  When I was in high school, I was very active in our drama club, which was called Theater Workshop.  I couldn't dance and sing at the same time, so I did props and set decoration for all the musicals.  But, I did act in our children's theater productions.  I was always cast as the villain.

7.  Even though I hate to bring this up, I'm running out of interesting things to say, so I'll add this out there.  I was on Jeopardy! in 2000 (the episode aired in March 2001).  I didn't get a single answer wrong, but I had issues with the buzzer.  I ended up coming in second place and I won a Caribbean cruise.  So, I got to go on a boat!  For vacation!  For free!

Another part of the award is to give a shout out to some other blogs you read, so, in addition to reading Lisa's blog, I encourage you to check out:

Skydiving for Pearls: My high school friend Abby has a terrific blog about her life as an opera singer and actress in NYC.  It's terrific to get to follow Abby's life.  She's an extraordinarily talented performer, and she openly shares all aspects of her professional life and how it shapes her world.

Hip Tranquil Chick:  Kimberly Wilson is more of an "accomplished blogger extraordinare" than an "up and coming blogger,"  but I adore Kimberly, who I got to know through attending classes at her yoga studio, Tranquil Space.  Every time I get my Hip Tranquil Chick email alert, I know something I'm going to read is going to make me smile.

Resourceful Mommy:  While I'm not a Mommy myself, I enjoy reading this blog by my college friend, Amy.  Amy is also very accomplished in the blog world, and that's an understatement.  She's a terrific writer and has some amazing insights on family and daily living.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Food Network Star Recipe, Veganized

I love the Food Network, and I'm especially fond of Food Network Star, where culinary hopefuls battle it out for a chance at their own series.  This season's winner was Jeff Mauro.  His concept, Sandwich King, makes "every sandwich a meal and every meal a sandwich."   All of his recipes look amazing, but, like most of the food featured on food competitions, tend to be meat-centric.  The one I saw on his show this afternoon was no exception - Greek Tacos with ground lamb.  But, since I love Greek food and it featured lots of produce, I decided to attempt to make it over into a vegan meal.

It was a fairly easy swap.  I made the cucumber, tomato and onion relish as directed, except I forgot that we didn't have red wine vinegar in the house.  Instead, I used apple cider vinegar.  Removing the seeds from the cucumber definitely helped from keeping it to watery - using a spoon was the most efficient way to do that.

For the "lamb," I sauteed some striped eggplant.   After removing the eggplant from the pan, I added some seitan.  I then made the sauce as directed - minced red onion, freshly minced garlic, tomato paste, oregano, salt and pepper and red wine.  Since I was making a vegan version of the recipe, I didn't make the yogurt sauce.  And, instead of making it a sandwich, I made up a pot of farro to use as a base. 

It may have been heresy to Mauro's concept, but it worked.  I liked the contrast between the warm, wine-y, meaty seitan/eggplant mixture and the cool relish.   The farro added a nice chewy texture as well.  The recipe was also a hit with our dinner guests, my cousin and my cousin's 14 month old daughter, who is quite the gourmand for a toddler! 

My favorite part of this recipe was my inaugural use of tomato paste in a tube.  I was always hesitant to make anything with tomato paste, because I feel like I never end up using the whole little can.  The tube allowed me to just squirt out what I needed to add enough flavor and color to the sauce.  I know it's been around in this form for awhile - why it took me so long to take advantage of it, I have no idea.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Vegetarian Goes on the Road Part V: If You Happen to Be In . . .

I've spent a lot of time recapping my road trip and mentioning eating on the go - airports, rest stops, etc.  However, I also wanted to highlight some fine dining, aka "white tablecloth" restaurants in some of the cities I visited that happened to have nice vegetarian options:

Columbus, OH: Rigsby's Kitchen,  - Rigsby's Kitchen is located in the Short North area of Columbus, which is a vibrant downtown area with a number of restaurants.  We had a business lunch here, and I was very impressed with the menu.  I had the D'Angelo, a pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh parsley.  There weren't a lot of veg options other than that on the lunch menu, but, I took a peek at the dinner menu and saw some additional veggie choices - including a roasted beet salad and eggplant parmigana.

Windsor, ON: Nico Ristorante - Nico Ristorante is a tiny, elegant restaurant in Windsor's Little Italy, just a few blocks from the river that separates Windsor from Detroit.  The menu changes frequently - seven or eight dishes are handwritten in the front of the menu daily by the chef.  But rest assured that you will have a variety of vegetarian options!  I had an absolutely astounding tomato and fennel salad, as well as a gnocchi with a delicious mushroom sauce.

Grand Rapids, MI: Bentham's  - Bentham's is located in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, an enormous historic property in downtown grand rapids.  At Bentham's, there are a few good vegetarian options on the dinner menu.  From the small plates, I sampled the kumato tomato salad and the asparagus hummus with grilled flatbread.  For dinner, there was an option called the "vegan vacation," which had roasted veggies, tofu, legumes and rice.  I thought about ordering it without the tofu, but I instead opted for the mac & cheese, which included smoked gouda, artichokes, broccoli and tomatoes.  It's listed as including chicken on the menu, but the kitchen was happy to leave it out.

Valparaiso, IN: Bistro 157 - Bistro 157 is one of a number of restaurants that opened as part of the revitalization of downtown Valparaiso.   I got a great tip from one of the folks we were visiting whose wife is a vegan.  If you call the restaurant a few days ahead, they'll be happy to have vegan options available.  We didn't give them enough notice, but I still was able to have a nice vegetarian meal from their regular menu.  The Greek Salad with Haloumi Cheese was very good.  I also was able to get a version of their rigatoni without sausage - it came with a tomato confit, broccoli rabe and roasted fennel and was quite good.

Bethesda, MD: Food & Wine Co.   - Okay, this is cheating a bit, as Maryland is home.  But, while I'm recommending higher end restaurants with good veggie options, I have to give a shout out to Food & Wine Co.  Located in the old Pizzeria Uno's at Wisconsin Avenue, Food & Wine has a robust menu with a number of veggie choices.  Last Saturday, I enjoyed a roasted beet salad with pistachios and goat cheese, as well as the Spaghettini with asparagus, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant and parsley.  The eggplant was cooked amazingly well, and the dish was very flavorful.  Other veg options on the menu include a portabello burger, tomato-watermelon gazpacho and a variety of interesting house made pizzas.

Here are some tips for vegetarian fine dining, no matter where you are:

Don't Be Afraid to Ask if It Can Be Made Veg: My experience is that most fine dining and higher end casual dining restaurants are happy to make vegetarian versions of menu items.  These types of restaurants are more likely to make your meal to order, so special requests are more easily accommodated.  You may have less leeway if the restaurant has a set, prix fixe menu, so in those cases, call ahead.

Use the Internet: Almost every restaurant has a PDF of its lunch and dinner menus online, so you'll be able to get a sense of veg options before you sit down.

Check out the Vegetarian Group's Resource Guide: This handy site has listings of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in all 50 states & Washington, DC, as well as the Canadian provinces and Puerto Rico.  And, if you're going further abroad, VRG also has some links to international options.  You can also send updates on your favorite restaurants to VRG!

Readers, what are some of your favorite vegetarian friendly fine dining restaurants?

A Vegetarian Goes on the Road Part IV: Eating Along the Highway

When I was about to embark for two weeks of business travel that involved a lot of highway driving, my biggest anxiety was what to eat for lunch on travel days.  In my mind, most places off highway exits and at rest stops didn't seem likely to have veg options, and I wasn't sure what I was going to get to eat on car trips.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was for me to find filling and yummy veg friendly meals at fast food establishments.  Almost every fast food restaurant out there has a salad option, but most of them have chicken.  Good news - most fast food restaurants warm up their chicken before adding it to the salad.  Why is this good news for us vegetarians?  It means that it's amazingly simple to just get a salad without chicken.  I was able to do this at Burger King and Wendy's.  The Wendy's Almond Berry Salad (pictured above) was especially good.  It's a seasonal item, so it won't be available year round, but there will still be other salads on the menu and I'm sure they'll be just as good.

While we didn't eat at any of them, a number of the gas stations we stopped at had a full service Subway restaurant inside.  Subway is a good option for lacto-ovo vegetarians and not a bad one for vegans.

A number of rest stops/convenience stores had fresh fruit and vegetable snacks.  WaWa in particular had a good selection.  Pair the fruit or veggie packs with trail mix and you have a good back-up meal.

Readers, what are your go to options for vegetarian food along the highway?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Vegetarian Goes on The Road, Part III: Convention Eating & St. Louis Restaurant Spotlight

Some of the Many Vegetarian Options available at ASAE 2011
The first part of my two weeks of epic travel was four days in St. Louis for my professional association's annual convention.  I have to give props to ASAE for providing terrific vegetarian options at every function.  Not only did fresh fruits and veggies abound, but there were entire stations in the exhibit hall that were purely vegetarian, and all of the seated meal functions had filling, veg options.  Additionally, at almost every event, meals were clearly labeled as vegetarian and clearly spelled out lists of ingredients.  It was great to be able to concentrate on business and networking and not worry so much about what I was going to eat.

Roasted Beet Salad from Lucas Park Grille
Since there were so many events at the conference, I only ate a sit down dinner at one restaurant, but it was a treat!  A group of fifteen colleagues and I came together for a reunion dinner at the Lucas Park Grille.  One of the vegetarian offerings was "Match Meatballs."  I was pretty sure Match had soy in it, but I decided to check with our server to be sure.  Normally, when I ask this type of question, the server runs back to the kitchen to check with the chef.  However, our server not only knew right away what the ingredients were, but was able to run through the menu to share which dishes were vegetarian or could be made vegan.  I was impressed at her preparedness. 

For my meal, I opted for the roasted beet & goat cheese salad, followed by a vegetarian risotto, which included mushrooms and frizzled leeks.  Both were delicious!  A variety of salads and sides are also veg friendly.

A Vegetarian Goes on the Road Part II: Getting Creative with Breakfast

A filling, veg friendly breakfast is just minutes away!
It's a cliche that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it's a cliche for a reason.  You've (hopefully) been asleep for at least seven hours, you probably haven't eaten in nine.  What you eat in the morning sets the stage for your energy level the whole day.

When you're on the road for work, breakfast is extra crucial.  You will likely have little control of your schedule or your meals, and you've got to be "on" for meetings, alert for navigating unfamiliar cities and maintain energy while you're away from home.  I know when I have a good breakfast, my day tends to go a whole lot better.

But, what do you do when you're a vegetarian and away from a well stocked home kitchen?  If you're lucky, you'll be at a first or second tier hotel where you'll have access to a breakfast buffet where you can get a variety of fresh fruit, and, if you're lacto-ovo, a veggie omelet.  At some of the nicer short stay hotels - Hampton Inn, Spring Hill Suites, Fairfield Inn, Hyatt Place, you'll get a free breakfast - cereal, bagels, apples, bananas, etc.  Since most of the short stay places have free wi-fi, you can catch up on work while you nosh.

But, what to do if your breakfast options aren't appealing, or if there aren't any at all?  I recommend the following back-up plan that I recently mentioned on Twitter: coffee maker oatmeal

This is a quick and easy breakfast you can make in any hotel room that has an in room coffee maker.  Before you leave for your trip, pack the following:

  • Small bowl.  You may consider a few disposable ones if you don't want to deal with washing your bowl out in a bathtub.  The coffee cup that comes in your room will also do in a pinch.
  • Spoon(s).  See above if you want to go disposable.  You can also likely grab one from a convenience store or restaurant if you forget to pack one.
  • Instant oatmeal packets. I recently used Whole Foods Instant Oatmeal - Multigrain & Flax
  • 'Fixins." Dried fruit, nuts, etc. - whatever you need to punch up the oatmeal.  I use dried cranberries and almonds.  Pack extra - you can eat a mix of fixins as a snack!
In the morning, pour your water in the coffee maker as if you were about to brew a cup of coffee, but don't add in the little individual coffee thingee the hotel provides.  You'll get hot water almost instantly.  Stir it into the oatmeal, add your fixins, and eat.  You can even sweeten it a bit with the sweetener that comes with the coffee if you desire.

If you are lucky enough to have a dual cup coffee maker like the one above, you can even make your oatmeal and your coffee or tea at the same time.

A Vegetarian Goes on the Road, Part I: Airport Dining

Those of you who know me in real life know I travel quite a bit in my capacity as an association executive. I go to conferences, visit members, staff events, etc.  As a result, I spend quite a bit of time in airports and exploring new places, large and small. Over the second and third weeks of August, I will have been/be on the road quite a bit.

So, as a special edition of this blog, the next several entries will be specifically focused on how to be a vegetarian on the road - navigating the airport food court, figuring out breakfast options, grab and go options off the highway, veg options at catered events and spotlights on veg friendly restaurants in various parts of the country.

This first blog will focus specifically on Airport Tricks.

Delicious Vegan Friendly Salad From Potbelly!

This particular trip had me flying from Baltimore to St. Louis by way of Chicago, and then looping back St. Louis -> Chicago -> Newark for the second leg of my trip.  Last Saturday, I departed out of BWI.  I wasn't sure what my food options would be.  In my opinion, of the three DC metro area aiports, BWI ranks at the bottom in terms of food options, so I was skeptical that I'd be able find a something veg friendly.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a good vegan option at Potbelly.  If you omit the cheese and egg on their Chickpea Veggie Salad,  you get a filling, vegan salad - chickpeas, cucumbers, tomatoes, onion and lettuce.
Black Bean Burrito Bowl from Burrito Beach

Usually, any layover in Chicago involves a massive sprint between terminals and inhaling trail mix. On my way to Newark, flight delays gave me the opportunity to sit down for a less rushed dinner at O'Hare.  The Food Court at Terminal 3, near Gate H has a variety of options (click here to see all the food available at O'Hare).  I elected to go with a bowl from Burrito Beach - lettuce, black beans, fajita veg and a tiny bit of cheese. 

As someone who spends a ton of time in airports, allow me to share a few tricks to make your air travel veg friendly:

  • Plan ahead! A number of airports have dining guides, like this one from National Airport in DC.  The catch is knowing in which terminal your gate is.  I take this for granted given how often I fly, but you'll probably be able to tell from a terminal map.  You can consult the website and see what eateries will be available to you on your trip.  Also, get to the airport a little earlier so you have time to explore.  You'll thank me when you aren't rushing around at the last minute with no time to grab a sandwich or salad for your six hour flight!
  • Pack What You Can.  Yes, the liquid restrictions are still in effect, so don't plan on bringing soup or a bottle of kombucha through security.  I wouldn't try and bring anything with refreezable ice packs either.You can, however, bring hardy items, like a nut butter sandwich, that you plan to eat that day, as well as non-perishable snacks you can plan to eat throughout the week.  For this trip, I packed Barbara's Bakery whole grain fruit bars and Annie's Cheddar Bunnies.
  • You'll Find Something - You Just Have to Look.   Don't despair if it only looks like burger joints at every gate.  In my experience, you can get a fruit cup at almost every airport eatery, trail mix at the news stands and granola bars at kiosks.  Most airports also have Au Bon Pain, Subway, Great American Bagel Co., or another sandwich shop that will be happy to make you a veg friendly treat. If you luck into a full service Starbucks, look for the protein power pack or the fruit & cheese tray.  And if your only choice is a plain garden salad, you can punch it up a bit by buying nuts at a news stand and mixing them in.
  • Bonus Tip: International Flights.  Most of you are aware by now that meals are no longer served on domestic flights.  However, if you're traveling internationally, or are fortunate enough to be bumped up to first class, you do get a free meal.  The three times (oh yes, I've counted!) I've been bumped to first on American Airlines, I was pleased to find that vegetarian options (fresh salads, yummy pasta, fruit) were easily available.  I will suggest when you are flying internationally, you contact the airline ahead of time to request a vegetarian meal in advance.  If you have flexibility in international travel, go with British Airways.  They have more than one vegetarian meal - my options on my last trip to and from Germany were lacto-ovo, Jain, vegan . . . and the list goes on!  When you book your international flight, you can request a special meal at that time.
Readers, what are your tips and secrets?  Or, do you have any questions about particular airports or train stations?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Adventures in Vegan Convenience Part II

My weeklong vegan adventures continued this week with a few meals out and cooking with our new pots and pans.

Last night, we went to Evolution Burger.  While a majority of their menu items include beef patties, they also offer a vegetarian burger (Veggie Burger #1) and a vegan burger (Veggie Burger #2).  If you have allergies, ask the counter for the ingredients list.  That's how I discovered the vegan burger was soy free and thus safe for my consumption.

A while ago, I did a post about salad options in Downtown DC.  At that time, I neglected to mention Devon & Blakely, since I primarily went there for pre-made sandwiches, namely their English cheddar and avocado on whole grain.  But, it has a terrific number of vegan options as well.  There's a selection of soups, all of which are clearly labeled to note if they are vegan or vegetarian.   Anyone with any sort of food sensitivities will feel comfortable eating here  - I also saw labels for gluten-free and dairy free.  There are also a number of vegan sandwiches.

The salad options are a lot of fun.  You can opt for a small or large salad, mixed leaf or spinach.  You then take your bowl of greens to the counter.  At that point, you choose from a variety of toppings, including tons and tons of fresh veggies, as well as beans, sunflower seeds, nuts and other vegan friendly toppings.  There are also a number of dairy-free dressings.  Today, I opted for a spinach salad with chickpeas, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers, dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper.  I also had a cup of the vegan lentil soup, which was hearty and full of veggies.

So, while I've been enjoying all of these convenience foods, tonight, I was determined to cook with our brand new ginormous saute pan, as well as some of our other new cookware.  We had an eggplant in the fridge, so I diced that and sauteed it in olive oil with red onion and yellow and red grape tomatoes.  I then threw in some chopped kale, added vegetable broth, and put a lid on the whole thing to steam the kale down.  I seasoned it with salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder (alas, we were out of fresh garlic - I thought we had a few cloves) za'atar and fresh parsley.  I then stirred in some whole wheat rotini (and yes, it was vegan) and the last of my current stash of mozzarella daiya.

The broth added an extra dimension of flavor to the dish, so I think I'll try that trick again soon.  However, it had a higher pasta to veggie ratio than I would have liked.  Rather than making two cups of pasta, next time I'll cut back to a cup and a half.  We'll still have multiple servings, but the veggies will stand out more.  White beans or chickpeas might also be a nice addition, and this mixture can also nicely go over quinoa, farro, couscous or the grain of your choosing.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Adventures in Vegan Convenience

My experiment this week, now that our kitchen is back in operation, was to try and make it a full week eating only vegan meals.  Easy enough if I was cooking, but a variety of things have gone haywire since Monday - massive metro delays, meetings going well into overtime, etc. - that have put my plans to cook up a storm awry.

Breakfast has been easy - avocados & tomatoes, whole grain bread & Earth balance and, this morning, farro with spinach & daiya.  We had leftovers of Sunday's Seitan dish, but they've since been depleted.  I've barely had time to scarf down food at my desk, but, lunch in my work neighborhood fortunately has tons of convenient vegan options.  Instead of white pizza with veggies or grilled cheese (my usual "I have no time to eat!" standbys), I've opted for rice and veggie bowls from Java Green and vegan sushi from Oh Fish!

Convenience vegan dining!  Samosas, bean salad and baby carrots.
Tonight, I finally got home around 7:30 p.m. in no mood to cook.  Rather than throw in the towel on my nascent experiment by ordering pizza, I decided to walk over to our local market to see what they have in the way of vegan convenience foods.  I've explored convenience foods before, but never through the eyes of a vegan.

Our market has a terrific little deli.  It was very easy for me to find prepared bean salads that were vegan.  One was three bean (kidney, pinto and chickpeas) with diced veggies in an apple cider vinaigrette, and the other was a black bean salsa with corn and tomatoes.  Directly across from the deli, I was able to pick up some vegan samosas from Saveur India, a local Indian restaurant.  I knew the frozen section had a wealth of lacto-ovo veg options, but I wasn't sure what was available in terms of frozen vegan options.  However, I found a Sukhi's Vegetable Frozen Naanwitch and an Amy's Kitchen Black Bean Tamale Verde.

We happen to have tons of fresh-cut produce and whole fruit in the fridge, so it will be easy for me to supplement all of the above with fresh food.

So, while a crazy week doesn't seem like the ideal time to experiment with a vegan diet, it has shown me that you can enjoy healthy vegan options when you're strapped for time and patience.  Granted, I am blessed with a number of local grocery, quick-serve and casual dining options that go above and beyond for vegetarians and vegans, but I think the variety of plant based foods out there is only increasing.