Thursday, August 28, 2008

Quick Mexican at home

Let me get one thing out of the way: I do cook. Like, really cook. Not “cook,” but cook. With recipes, fresh ingredients, prepping, chopping, etc. I usually cook at least twice a week. This month, though, has been crazy. You’ve probably gotten the impression so far that I’m an oft-traveling little freebird—not so. I’ve traveled more this year than any other, and more in the month of August than I usually do in a full year. See, Nine Inch Nails are on tour. I had to go to Lollapalooza in Chicago, because when else could I ever see NIN and Rage Against the Machine on one ticket?! And the week-long road trip last week was too good to pass up. November may be similar – three more NIN shows are all possible, plus Nick and I are going on a cruise the first week of the month – but right now, I’m settling back into the groove of being at home for multiple weeks at a time, which is especially important since I have only nine weeks left to train for my first marathon in October.

I explain all that because when I show you what I “cooked” last night, you may laugh at me.

I just needed a quick dinner for me and Nick. Awhile back he and I ate at an all vegetarian/vegan restaurant in town called Eden Alley. He had tacos, with “meat” made of tempeh and TVP, and he really liked them. So I’ve been telling him for weeks I was going to make him something similar at home. Thus:

See, I’ve got no beef with fake meat (har har). I would personally take a slab of tofu or tempeh over a fake meat product any day, but sometimes they really are just the best fit for a dish, especially veganized omni dishes. It’s an easy and convenient 1-to-1 substitute for meat. And it gets my boyfriend to eat vegan with me!

I’ve had great luck with LightLife products, so I fully expected this taco “meat” to be delicious, and it was. It was moist, it crumbled all on its own, and it tasted great.

Nick eats like a horse (a very sexy horse, mind you), so I knew I’d need to stretch the meal out a little further. I donated most of the meat to my anti-bean boyfriend, and for myself, made a 50/50 mix of “meat” and black beans. I am a bean FREAK.

A few spoonfuls of a delicious locally made salsa completed this quick supper.

But hey, at least I home-baked the fresh corn tortillas!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vegan Tex-Mex

Short and sweet today. Nick and I went to a restaurant I love, Cactus Grill, on Sunday. In general, I’m very anti-Tex-Mex – it’s authenticity or bust. (That goes for all cuisines, in fact. When Emily, Tyler, and I walked into an Indian restaurant in Omaha last year and saw Americans working, we should have known better. That was the nastiest Indian food ever.) Tex-Mex is still edible; it tastes just fine. I’ll always tag along if people I’m with want On The Border, but you’ll never hear me suggest it.

Cactus Grill is different, though. First of all, they make no bones about being Southwestern, not Mexican, food. They have the typical Mexican dishes, but a lot of SW variety as well. They also add Southwestern twists to a lot of their traditional Mexican food. In addition, they put emphasis on the non-greasiness of their food – no trans fats, and nothing’s dripping with oil. Their chips are even super-thin so as to absorb less of the cooking oil. All in all, it’s just a very different kind of restaurant to me than other places that are considered Tex-Mex.

They’re also great at accommodating special requests. There’s no cheeseless bean enchilada on the menu, but they’ll do it. On Sunday I got my other favorite dish there (besides the enchiladas), El Yuca tacos. Drool away.

It’s two soft flour tortilla tacos filled with black beans, corn, and pico de gallo. (I skipped the cheese and chicken they’re supposed to come with, and added extra beans.) Even more of their amazingly flavorful black beans are served with it, alongside their very unique (indescribable, really) Southwestern rice. Their rice is so crazy good that I ate most of it before I remembered to take a picture. A dollop of masa (cooked sweetened cornmeal) and guacamole I took from Nick’s plate rounds it out.

And there’s so much food that the leftovers make a huge and tasty lunch.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Almost vegan in Dallas

So sorry for the hiatus. Last week was not fun personally, and food-wise was quite boring. But I can make up for the absence with this lengthy entry on road trip food!

I’ve been out of town—I road tripped to Oklahoma City, then Dallas, then St. Louis to see Nine Inch Nails. I had a blast, and ate some INCREDIBLE food along the way. I was a little less almost-vegan at times (I ate eggs twice, plus some non-vegan desserts) but still vegetarian. I also remembered to take pictures of almost everything.

Friday, 8/15/2008

The one picture exception (which I regret greatly) is the first meal of the trip. A crappy cell phone picture is all I’ve got for that. I departed from KC on Friday morning with my friends Emily, Tyler, and Henry, and less than 5 hours later we were in Oklahoma City, craving Middle Eastern food. We unexpectedly found a place right off the highway (1 N. Hudson Ave, corner of Hudson and Sheridan), called the Olive Branch Café.

I ordered the vegetarian platter, which cost me a very reasonable $6.25. And as you can usually expect with Middle Eastern food, the plate was huge. It had a big pile of tabbouleh, three baby falafel, and a small mountain each of hummus and baba ghanouj. It also, of course, came with a giant basket of pita bread on the side.

Delicious. At one point I noted to my friends that the hummus reminded me of the hummus at Holy Land Café, one of my two favorite Middle Eastern restaurants at home in KC. While we were paying our bills after the meal, we were talking to the staff about how we were from out of town and happy (if not a little surprised) to find good Middle Eastern in Oklahoma City. When we told them we were from KC, the older man asked us in his thick accent if we had heard of a place called Holy Land. As it turns out, he was the one who opened it! "I taught them everything they know," he said. Apparently he sold Holy Land and moved to OKC awhile back to start up Olive Branch. Don’t you just love coincidences?

Saturday 8/16/2008

After the NIN show in OKC, we drove to Dallas. We got there just before 3:30am, I think, and checked into our hotel, the Hotel Indigo on Main, and passed out. After waking and getting up, we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and walk to lunch.

We went to the amazing Cosmic Café (2912 Oak Lawn Ave, It’s an extremely eclectic (as you can see) all-vegetarian restaurant right near downtown Dallas. Emily and Tyler and I had eaten there on the trip to Dallas we took last November to see Tori Amos, and we knew without a doubt we were going back. On the last trip, I had ordered the Buddha’s Delight—aloo palak (Indian spinach and potatoes), which came with a veggie samosa, pappadum, rice, a tiny cup of dal, and whole wheat naan. This time, I tried the Bombay Sage, which was basically Indian enchiladas—spiced lentils with tomatoes rolled in flour tortillas. It came with pappadum, whole wheat naan, and mango chutney.

YUM. I actually took two of the rolls, dumped out the filling, and gave the tortillas to Henry (cuz who needs to eat three flour tortillas in one sitting?). I tore up the last tortilla and mixed it in with the filling for a delicious warm “salad.” Here’s a blurry picture of the lentils inside.

Emily and Tyler got the same thing, the veggie quesadilla. I’m not sure what was inside, but it came with avocado, basmati rice, and black beans (most of which I ended up eating).

Henry got the "Herban Renewal": avocado, cream cheese, spinach, mushrooms, mozzarella, and herbs on naan. Not my cup of tea (considering the mushrooms and cheese) but some of you may find this appetizing.

For dessert, we ordered the same thing we did last time—a dish so simple yet transcendent that I’ve recreated it at home many times since. They call it "Sweet Awareness," and listen to this brilliance—it’s peanut butter, tahini, and honey, smeared on naan, stuffed with bananas, and topped with a mango drizzle. OH MY GAWD.

There are no words.

Saturday night, we also went to a place we’d gone in November. It’s a very unique Mexican restaurant in Deep Ellum called Monica’s Aca y Alla (2914 Main St,

Last time, I got the Mexican lasagna—a fusion casserole-style dish with black beans, roasted corn, and cheese smooshed between corn tortillas, baked, and served in a pool of two-tomato coulis. This time, I went for the Angel enchiladas, an idea so simple and good I’m ashamed I’ve never thought to make such a thing at home. It was enchiladas stuffed with seasoned, roughly-smashed potatoes. Genius! It came with sides of rice and fat-free (and therefore lard- and butter-free) re"fried" black beans. Their thick tortilla chips and spicy salsa made the perfect complement.

Emily ate veggie too. She got the Cha-Cha burrito, a flour tortilla stuffed with guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese, and black beans.

For dessert, we all shared an extremely non-vegan dessert. It was the one we got last time and fell in love with—how could you not?! It’s a Cuatro Leches cake. Yes, you read that right—not Tres Leches, but Cuatro. Who knows what the fourth one is! The spongy yellow cake soaks up the milk and becomes unbelievably moist, and a paper-thin layer of frosting tops it off. "True" vegans, hide your eyes.

The only other thing consumed that night was lots of rum. No pictures of that, though!

Sunday, 8/17/2008

We brunched al fresco at a place we’ve been itching to try—the award-winning Breadwinners Café, next door to a bar we also like called the Quarter (3301 McKinney Ave, My meal was decidedly non-vegan, though I did make alterations. I got the San Antonio Scramble (I’ve told you, I do enjoy an egg every now and then). It was a pile of scrambled egg (I got Egg Beaters) topped with some amazing black beans (I had them hold the cheese and sour cream). On the side I got a food that I adore but rarely eat, since I eat breakfast or brunch out so seldom—breakfast potatoes! In general I’m a ketchup hater, but breakfast potatoes are one thing that require it for me. I also got a side of steamed broccoli and a little cup of salsa. Simply scrumptious.

We were all craving Indian for dinner, so we consulted the GPS, which led us out of Dallas and to Las Colinas, to a restaurant called Mayuri (397 East Las Colinas Blvd Ste 180, It sat on an adorable little street with shops on one side and pretty condos on the other.

Once again, I went non-vegan. I had a specific sauce craving, and so I got paneer tikka masala. Honestly, it was the best I’ve tasted; rich and thick. Emily got one of my favorite Indian dishes ever, dal makhani (stewed lentils). Here you can see my dish in the middle left, and Emily’s in the top left. Naan made the meal complete.

Monday 6/18/2008

After a 7-mile treadmill run at the hotel that morning, I was starving. I got a huge bowl of fruit, dry wheat toast with jam (I’m a jam fiend, by the way), and a large coffee for breakfast from the hotel café. Simple, healthy, tasty.

We didn’t really eat lunch, due to the late breakfast we ate and the early dinner we knew we’d be eating. We did share a slice of caramel apple pie at Café Brazil in Deep Ellum in the afternoon…but we devoured it so quickly and eagerly that I forgot to snap a picture of it.

For dinner, we decided to round out our sampling of the local ethnic food, and visited Thai Lotus Kitchen (3851 Cedar Springs Rd,

It was unassuming and super-tiny inside.

The food, though, was out of this world. I’d truly put it in my top three Thai experiences of all time. I ate the Prik Khing, which (heartbreakingly, since I can’t eat it again) is a dish unique to Thai Lotus. It was tofu cubes, red bell pepper, carrots, and green beans in a red curry-peanut sauce; jasmine rice on the side. Gah!

That sauce just floored me. Henry also ate veggie and got the Thai basil stir-fry with tofu, bell pepper, baby corn, bamboo shoots, carrot, mushroom, and basil leaves in a spicy brown sauce, plus rice.

Emily and Tyler got pad thai, but not vegetarian. Check it out, though—mmm.

Dessert was a plate of mango sticky rice.

Subsequently, we went and rocked out at the Dallas NIN show.

Tuesday 8/19/2008

With heavy hearts, we left Dallas after breakfast at the hotel (more breakfast potatoes, yeah!). Just south of Norman, OK on I-35 we stopped at Mason’s Nut Shop so I could buy a 3-lb. bag of pecans for my grandma. We collectively decided that instead of trying to find another place to dine in OKC, we should just go back to Olive Branch. I ate light, but perfect for me—good old hummus and pita. This time, I remembered to get a picture.

Wednesday 8/20/2008

Nick and went to St. Louis for the last NIN show. Nothing to tell there, really—ate snacks on the road, and a yucky bar pizza with the cheese peeled off before the show. I managed, though. Perhaps the rum helped.

Thursday 8/21/2008

Nick and I drove home after having stayed the night in STL, and were starving upon our return. We got Chipotle—for only the second time in my life. See, for years I’ve been very anti-Chipotle, ever since I took a bite of it in high school and detested it, and then learned how fatty and high-calorie it all is on top of that. But a couple weeks ago, Nick finally got me to give in and try a veggie burrito bowl. I’m happy to admit that I was wrong about Chipotle being a nutritional black hole. Well, conditionally: it’s all in how you make it. Twice now I’ve gotten a bowl (who needs a 300-calorie white flour tortilla?) with just a little bit of rice, a ton of black beans, fajita veggies, roasted corn salsa, pico de gallo, and guacamole. Seriously good. I’m officially a convert.

It was an amazing week, chock full of good food and great music. It doesn’t get any better than that.

If you like this, you might also like...
Almost vegan in Chi-town

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Dumplings and peach cakes

Thursday, 8/7/2008

Breakfast: same as always. To be more specific, I eat about 1/2 cup of Fiber One, about 1/4 cup of Kashi puffed wheat, and about 1/2 cup of light vanilla soymilk. The number of Triscuits I eat with my hummus varies, anywhere between two and eight. I should also mention, since I haven’t before, that all this is what I eat AFTER I work out in the morning. Before working out, I drink a cup of coffee (fair trade organic, in fact) with light vanilla soymilk.

I also, each weekday, take with me to work a jug of tea. Someone once brought me from Taiwan the coolest little tea-brewing gadget ever. (They’ve since popped up everywhere, but my authentic, foreign one is definitely the best.) It’s a sturdy plastic bottle, about 20 ounces, from which you unscrew the top to drink. To brew, you turn it over, unscrew the bottom, and put loose leaves in the little removable basket that sits in there, and fill it with hot water. It has some sort of cloth covering, I don’t know what it’s made of, that slips around the bottle and can be tightened at the top. I assume it’s to keep you from burning your hands (the plastic gets very hot). On one side of the sleeve, there is Chinese lettering. On the other side, it says “Piao I Travel Buddy.” It’s neat. So anyway, every weekday I use it to make my favorite blend: a good amount of ti kuan yin oolong, a few pinches of white peony, and one or two jasmine dragon pearls. If you like oolong at all, I HIGHLY recommend you try ti kuan yin. It’s by far the best oolong I’ve ever tried.

I had more leftover spaghetti marinara for lunch (told ya) and an apple in the afternoon. As expected, Nick and I had Chinese for dinner. We went to a place near 39th and State Line called Po’s Dumpling Bar. We’ve been there once before. The first time, I got the tofu hot pot – it was excellent. It had lightly fried tofu triangles soaking up a delicious spicy dark soy-garlic sauce alongside a plethora of vegetables – broccoli, carrots, baby corn, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and more that I can’t recall. It came with brown rice, mmm.

Last night, though, I went for something lighter. I ordered the steamed vegetable dumpling appetizer (I needed to try the restaurant’s namesake dish, after all). It came with six dumplings, and they were BIG. (I’m very sorry for the grainy cell phone pictures, but of course, I had forgotten my camera again.) They were filled with very finely shredded vegetables – I detected carrot, celery, and cabbage (“finely shredded’ is possibly the only way I can stand to ingest cabbage. See sidebar at right for foods I hate). I ate them with a soy-sesame dipping sauce.

Since that made for such a small dinner, I ordered another appetizer alongside. I was originally going to order the red-bean-paste-stuffed sesame balls, but it came with eight of them, and that wasn’t something Nick would have helped me eat. Instead, I went with another dish that caught my eye and my curiosity. It was called “Peach Cakes (filled with red bean paste).” Now, I am NOT the type to order something in a restaurant without knowing exactly what it is and what it contains. I could tell, though, that Mr. Po, who happened to be our server, would have had a difficult time trying to explain anything in English. So I took a walk on the wild side and ordered them blindly.

They were the weirdest looking things I’ve ever seen (almost). They came in a metal steamer basket, and they really looked (not that you can really tell from the picture above – sorry again) like blushing little white peaches. I picked one up. It had the tone and give of a marshmallow, but with a smooth sheen on the outside. I sniffed it. It gave me just the slightest whispering whiff of peach – and not fruity peach, but floral. I bit into one, gleefully marring its plump flesh. As it turns out, it was made of some kind of pillowy sponge cake (which, by the way, did not taste eggy at all…but who ever knows). The decorative leaf tasted like marzipan. Inside, a goldmine of sweet red bean paste sat snuggled into the core.

Altogether? Just plain weird – and tasty. Sweet but not too sweet, soft but not at all gooey, delicate but not insubstantial. They perplexed me – in the best way.

I left Po’s surprisingly full, and was sated for the remainder of the night.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

An average day

Wednesday, 8/6/2008

It was a simple day. Boring, even. I ate relatively little again. There was the requisite Fiber One + Kashi puffed wheat + light vanilla soymilk, followed by several Triscuits with hummus, for breakfast. I ate leftover spaghetti marinara for lunch, and some grapes in the afternoon. All I felt like doing for dinner was snacking, so – big surprise here – I ate more Triscuits with hummus, plus some Kashi Heart to Heart cereal, and a tiny bowl of puffed wheat with soymilk.

Don’t fret, most of my days are not so dull or minimal. I do, however, go on kicks – partly because I live alone and have to eat all my own leftovers, but also because when I eat something that hits the spot, I tend to eat it the following several days as well. I’ll be eating spaghetti marinara for lunch the rest of this week, I’ll warn you.

The next couple days should contain more interesting food, though, and hopefully some pictures. Tonight (Thursday), Nick and I are eating out, probably Chinese; Friday, we’re going to dine at an undecided location for our belated anniversary dinner; Saturday, I’m going to some friends’ barbecue.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ragu and honey

Tuesday 8/5/2008

For breakfast, I had my usual: Fiber One mixed with a little Kashi puffed wheat, with light vanilla soymilk, followed by several Triscuits with hummus. You will come to realize after reading this blog 3-4 times that I have that exact breakfast pretty much EVERY morning. You’ll no doubt get tired of reading it.

I was strangely not hungry most of the day after that. It made especially little sense because I worked out fairly hard in the morning, and it was my first workout since last Thursday. (I would NOT have taken all those days off if I hadn’t been on my feet for many hours each day at Lollapalooza.) I skipped lunch entirely (an exceedingly rare occurrence) and just ate an apple and a cup of grapes in the afternoon. My tummy finally woke up at the end of the work day, so I had about half a dozen almonds before heading home.

I’m still lagging in motivation to cook, probably due to the vacation, so I made my go-to lazy meal: whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce. Today it was angel hair, and it’s always Ragu Old World Style.

Plain old original Ragu is what my mom fed me when I was little. (As a child, and up until I was 19, all I ate was orange crackers with peanut butter, spaghetti with marinara, pizza with the cheese peeled off, ramen noodles, some kinds of chips, plain bread, and sometimes tacos. Seriously. Sometime I’ll tell you about it in more detail.) When I escaped from the dorms after my first year at KU, I started trying every marinara sauce on the market – just to try them, I guess. I’ve eaten dozens upon dozens of storebought marinaras, and dozens more restaurant marinaras. I’ve even made multiple versions of homemade marinara. My homemade marinaras are good – but they’re not Ragu. Sure, it’s probably just a result of growing up with it, but no pasta sauce I’ve ever had tastes as good as Ragu. So finally, less than a year ago, I realized I had no good reason to keep trying to find other marinaras to test out, because none of them measured up. I then went back to buying Ragu, and haven’t turned back.

So, anyway, the long and short of it is that Ragu is not vegan. Barely. It contains the tiniest, most unnecessary amount of Romano cheese. To put it in perspective: halfway down the (still relatively short) ingredient list is dried minced onions. In the entire jar, there are like 20 of those teensy onion flakes. Several ingredients later is the Romano cheese. There must be less than a teaspoon in that big jar. Do I have a problem with this? Yes. It’s completely useless. It can’t even contribute to flavor in such a miniscule amount! I have seriously considered writing to Ragu and asking them to drop this worthless ingredient from their sauce. However: do I have a problem with eating it? Honestly, no. The taste I love makes it worth it to me to ingest a few milligrams of cheese each time I eat a serving.
*End rant.*

P.S. Does anyone happen to know if Ragu has a sauce that’s entirely vegan yet tastes exactly like the Old World Style? (I’ve tried a handful of others, including the Light and the Organic, and they didn’t make the cut.) If so, please tell me.

And finally, before bed, I had a handful of Kashi Heart to Heart cereal. It contains honey.

Whether or not vegans are "allowed" to eat honey is up for debate. The majority, it seems, vote no. I personally think it’s fine. I see all the reasons not to, but there are some very compelling reasons to not worry about it. (Slate had a good article about it recently.) Considering I eat vegan for health and not the environment or animal rights, I am fine with eating honey. Sorry to those offended by that.

Alright. Anyone reading may now be starting to understand what I mean by “almost” vegan. My hope is that that is more of a lure than a turn-off. I eat healthfully and inexpensively but, perhaps most of all, practically. I hope that anyone reading this glorified food diary of mine will continue to read it, whether for new ideas, a different perspective, or just proof that one can eat pretty damn close to vegan with mental ease and gustatory delight.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Almost vegan in Chi-town

I’m going to kick this blog off with an unconventional post. No home-cooked meals, and no hometown fare. We’ll start right off the bat with what many consider to be the most difficult time to eat vegan: vacation.

My boyfriend Nick and I went to Chicago for the weekend for Lollapalooza (which was fantastic). To my knowledge, I ate non-vegan foods no more than a handful of times—and only once in a more-than-miniscule amount. The meals I had were wonderful. If only I’d taken pictures...I need to remember to start doing that whenever possible. Pictures would/will make this blog far more interesting. But for today, we must divert to diary format.

Friday, 8/1/2008

I ate a banana while scrambling around in the morning, and a cup of grapes on the way to the airport. No snacks on the flight—it was only an hour long. After we landed at O’Hare and picked up our rental car, we drove to the little suburb of Niles to check into our less-than-spectacular Days Inn. We embarked in search of a quick lunch, and found it at a little place called Gourmet Pita. Though it wasn’t the cleanest, prettiest, or friendliest Middle Eastern restaurant I’ve encountered, my meal did not disappoint. For just $6.25, I got a huge plate with a bed of plain rice, four pieces of falafel, and an enormous scoop each of hummus and baba ghanouj, along with a ton of pita bread. Everything was good, but most notably, it was the best baba ghanouj I’ve ever tried. I’ve never really been a fan – I’ve always thought it trembles in the shadow of my beloved hummus – but this stuff was tasty. There was so much food that – gasp – I couldn’t finish it all. That is almost unheard of.

We spent the evening at the park for the show, and much to my delight, they had multiple vegetarian/vegan booths. I got something called a "benevolent burrito" from Crescent Foods—brown rice, black beans, sweet potatoes, and homemade salsa with tomatoes, onions, and carrots, all wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. Pretty damn awesome for concert food. I got it without cheese (or lettuce), and I picked out the cucumbers in the salsa. It could have used a little more seasoning, but I really can’t complain. I also slurped up the last few bites of Nick’s lo mein—greasy, but too good to pass up. Nick and I bought a vegan chocolate chip cookie at another booth and shared it later for dessert.

Saturday 8/2/2008

Nick and I woke up early for the hotel breakfast, and found that there wasn’t much to have woken up for. I had a piece of wheat toast with a little packet of jelly, and then brought a tiny bowl of Frosted Flakes back to the room to mix with my Fiber One and eat dry. (Are Frosted Flakes vegan? It seems like they would be but you never know. Like I’ve said, I don’t read labels religiously.) We paid a visit to the Sears Tower in the mid-morning before going to Frontera Grill for lunch.

Frontera Grill is one of two of Rick Bayless’s restaurants (the other, fancier one is Topolobampo, which was next door). I love Rick Bayless, probably mostly because I love Southwestern and Mexican flavors, and he is the most visible face of Southwestern cooking today. I’ve always wanted to visit his restaurant, and was thrilled to have the chance. The décor was colorful and friendly, and the place was busy, bustling, and vibrant. It also served me, I’m afraid, my least-vegan meal of the trip. We had some well-fried tostaditos with two salsas (a roasted tomatillo and a red chile) to start ($2.95). Since we went for brunch, there were plenty of meatless options, but they pretty much all had eggs. I decided to go for it—like I’ve said, I do love the occasional egg, and considering I only eat about one a month, I don’t sweat it. I got what I think were called sopitos ($10.95): three little corn masa patties all topped differently—one with fried plantains, one with scrambled egg, and one with chicken. I replaced the chicken with black beans, though they warned me their beans contained pork lard—I didn’t worry about it, especially since I ate less than a quarter cup. They brought my plate out (the whole thing was swimming in a yummy chipotle-black bean sauce) and they had accidentally given me two with black beans, and none with plantains. They offered to bring me plantains on the side, and I ended up with a very large plate of those. They were delicious, after I scraped off the crema. The black bean sopitos were good, although (sorry to say it, but) I liked the egg-topped one the best. I admit it. Nick insisted we order dessert (not because he wanted any, but because eating there was such a rare opportunity). So I did something I would not do elsewhere—I got a fatty, $8 dessert. A blueberry empanada—heavenly. Nick ate the raspberry ice cream it came with, and I ate the tender, jam-filled empanada and the sea of macerated blueberries and raspberries it was nestled in. Obviously, it must have contained butter. I gave myself a pass.

Have I lost readers yet? Any die-hard vegans reading this may have steam coming out of their ears after reading about that last meal, if they even read that far. I’ve already given you a bad impression of my diet, haven’t I? Don’t worry, there won’t be too many meals like that one showing up here. If you can forgive me my non-vegan transgressions, please do read on.

After being floored by Rage Against the Machine (and crushed by the crowd) back at Lolla, we went with Nick’s brother Jason and his girlfriend Tamara to a bar they like called Cleo’s. It was neat—it reminded me of Karma mixed with Velvet Dog. I had planned on getting the hummus plate (you better believe it) that Jason and Tamara had told me about, but when I discovered they had a free appetizer buffet, I didn’t bother. I ate several small pieces of their Mediterranean pita pizza, after removing most of the black olives (there were just too many) and peeling off most of the cheese (luckily there was hardly any), along with my rum and diet coke.

Sunday 8/3/2008

Nick and I actually slept in, and by the time we got up and about, it was lunchtime. Nick wanted Italian, and though we tried to look up places downtown, we ended up going right down the street to a place called Graziano’s. After bread and olive oil, I had the vegetable-and-lentil soup that came with my pasta. My entrée was brown rice pasta with marinara sauce and broccoli—rather expensive at $14.95, but good (and it did come with all that other stuff, anyway). I splurged for dessert (remember, this was a vacation!) and got the small plate of chocolate banana ravioli ($2.95). It just had two tiny pieces—bananas and chocolate wrapped in wontons and fried. The chocolate oozed out like blood when I cut them open…mmm. It would have been vegan if it didn’t come with that little scoop of vanilla gelato which, I admit, I nibbled on. I was so full after this meal that my stomach was distended for the following several hours.

All I had at the park was a bottle of diet peach Sweet Leaf tea. G. Love and Nine Inch Nails rocked hard, and back at the hotel after midnight, I was still full enough that all I felt like eating were the couple pieces of bread I had brought home from Graziano’s.

Monday 8/4/2008

We were up early to catch our flight, and I ate another bowl of dry Frosted Flakes + Fiber One in the car. Not surprisingly, our flight was delayed (2+ hours) so we had lunch at the airport. There was a Chipotle imitator there called Burrito Beach, and I got a burrito bowl with black beans, red rice, salsa, and roasted corn. I really liked it. Their beans and rice were better than Chipotle’s, but their salsa wasn’t, and it was disappointing that it didn’t come with guacamole, and that the corn cost extra. I wasn’t hungry again till we got back to Kansas City around 2pm, and then I had a Kashi honey almond flax (yeah, honey) granola bar on the car ride home. I went to work for a silly two hours, and had some Wheat Thins with peanut butter. All I had the time and energy to do at home was to make a big batch of hummus—plain this time, as opposed to my usual Indian-spiced version. I ate an apple and some Triscuits and hummus, and went to bed very early.

So I wasn’t perfect this weekend in Chi-town. I had an egg, some teensy amounts of butter, a spot of pork lard (ugh), and some residual cheese. But Chicago was very veg-friendly, and considering all I ate this weekend, I am quite happy. Stay tuned for more (mis)adventures in almost-veganism.

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