Latest Posts

Travel Hacks For Vegans Who Love Food

Hi, I’m Joi and I’m a vegan that is often speeding down the runway… unless I’m in homebody mode (which is often). That’s me. A girl of extremes. Jet-setting or relishing Hermitsville.

IMG_1251

Simple healthy bowl that I made at home, with brown rice medley, steamed broccoli, miso-tahini-lemon juice dressing (so easy to make and much cheaper than bottled dressing), topped with raw pumpkin seeds

I’m sort of wallowing in Hermitsville as we speak (I haven’t traveled in a month!), trying to be healthy because I’ll soon be eating my way through NYC and San Francisco, but getting back to the point of this post, traveling vegans need to do a fair amount of thinking ahead if you absolutely love food and want to do it right (spoiler alert: I don’t always do it right). By “doing it right,” I mean not only stave off hunger, but indulge in mind-blowing options that you’re not going to get at home.

Without further ado, my best tips for travel, along with some food porn from recent travels, because what’s a food-focused post without food porn?!

First rule of Vegan Traveling: Be Prepared!

I like to pretend that I’m always the savvy vegan traveler. The girl with a snazzy picnic basket full of healthy and delicious vegan delicacies to snack on when on a trip. The girl with the printed out itinerary of where I’m going to go for a jaw-dropping progressive dinner in a noted vegan-friendly city.

In reality, I’ve been known to not prepare, and there I am, traipsing around the airport in my inappropriate-for-traveling platform heels, hating myself as I scarf down a small can of Pringles because I had no time to eat all day, counting down the hours till I land because I figure surely some phenomenal vegan restaurant will be open and serving… and inevitably, there’s a delay and I land after everything closes, so I’m regulated to boring veganized versions of whatever is on the room service menu. Regrets, I have a few. It doesn’t have to be that way! It shouldn’t be that way.

Pro Tip: Pack your carry-on with healthy snacks (and maybe one not so healthy snack) with enough to keep you satisfied in case of inevitable delays.

Some of my favorites that travel well (ie, do not have a strong smell or make a ton of mess around you):

Louisville Vegan Jerky (Pete’s Smoked Black Pepper) I have a problem. One I open up the pouch, I cannot stop eating this stuff. I don’t like fake meats usually! But there’s something about the seasoning and chewy texture that is irresistible. I buy them in bulk online because at about 7 bucks a pop at Whole Foods, this is a very expensive addiction. But I promise you, it’s worth it. Plus, look at all that protein (bonus: show off to all those people who ask you where you get your protein)!

Go Raw Pumpkin Seeds I don’t know how they get these to taste so good, but damn! I prefer seeds with shells (you eat less of them and there’s something strangely soothing about popping a shelled seed in your mouth and taking out the seed with your teeth). Too messy for travel, however, so these raw shelled seeds do the trick and have the perfect amount of salt. Make sure to consume them with a bottle or two of water.

Although I don’t love eating sweets when seriously trying to stave off hunger, I’ll sometimes eat a Luna Bar or Complete Cookie, but you can’t go wrong with packing your bag with some dates if you know you need some sweet stuff (or want to avoid salt because you get dehydrated when flying). Or better yet…

Favorite treat: single serve packets of Justin’s Hazelnut Chocolate Butter. People. You will never ever crave Nutella again. Perfect to dip into this if the plane is experiencing mad turbulence and you’re like fuckit, I’m gonna die anyway. I might as well eat 5 of these things

Pro-tip: you hear your plane is delayed, so you’ll be landing at the 10pm magic hour when restaurants are closed. Do a search on Yelp for late night vegan food. Make your plans now and you won’t feel so full of despair. If you’re lucky enough to have a city like Denver as your final destination, you will be pleasantly surprised (City O’ City might be my favorite vegan restaurant in the world due to its life-saving late night menu and ultra cool vibes). You’ll never suffer through overpriced lame plain pasta from room service again.

Second Rule Of Vegan Traveling: Embrace Your Destination!

Research and planning for what you’re going to eat once you’re at your destination is part of the fun (why don’t I do it more?). Thank goodness for the Happy Cow & Yelp (link to my vegan collections!) apps.

Pro Tip: Make a list of must-visits! Especially if you’re visiting one of the aforementioned vegan destination spots (BTW did you know that Rome has a vegan grocery store with an entire vegan cheese section? Be still my heart!)

Try to find veganized versions of local specialties (hot chicken in Nashville, beignets in NOLA, poutine in Montreal…)

Speaking of, while poutine isn’t my thing (I prefer my fries plain, crispy and salty), when I was in Montreal last month I had both an orange chocolate croissant and a life-changing sandwich!

Montreal3.jpg

There’s something about the flavor combination of orange & chocolate that’s positively divine!

Montreal4.jpg

Pulled “pork”-style sandwich made with yuba (tofu skin), smothered in hot BBQ sauce and pickles. #IDie

My friend who is a local, took me to a lovely brand new vegan restaurant, Invitation V! I try to make it a point to always support new vegan establishments.

IMG_1090.jpg

This exquisite entrée featured mashed taro root surrounded by crispy tofu skin + maple-roasted root veggies

But what if you’re going to a place where your options are limited?  I know your pain. I’ve done road trips through vegan food desserts like Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri.

Third Rule Of Vegan Traveling: Heaven help you, but sometimes you just gotta  know your chains! Especially if driving long distances in the middle of nowhere is in your plans. But hey, did you know TGI Fridays has the Beyond Burger? Not a bad option.

It bears mentioning again, you’ll want to prepare for these trying times. Pack a way bigger travel bag (I’ll do an entire post on this!) and plan to get fresh fruit and veggies along the way. Silver lining: Farm stands may even be in your future!

I could probably write an entire book about my vegan travels (I’d need to feature the dark days of road trips in the 90s of course so that people can see how easy it is to be vegan nowadays). Feel free to share your vegan travel tips in the comments!

Trying To Embrace Summer

. . .in August in Mississippi there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a soft, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and—from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. – William Faulkner, Light in August

Yes. By August, people in the South are so out of their minds due to oppressive heat and humidity, that they hallucinate fall. I jest. Here we are with all of the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend vibes in the US and while most people are welcoming summer, I’m half dreading it this year. I’m likely not the only Yankee that is already wishing for fall by the time the hot hot heat sets in (that is, right about now, oh no, that was right about three weeks ago). With each year that I live here, I love the summers less and less. I need an attitude shift, so bear with me here. I’m about to get optimistic. My summer depends on it.

IMG_1167.JPG

This was before 9am and the “feels like” temp was already 90!

Southern summers are not for the weak. The sun is relentless (major dislike). And then there’s the ever present humidity, which I admit to liking because it reminds me of happy times spent in my backyards in Brooklyn. I used to pretend that I was living in New Orleans, even back then. I filled my yard with as much lush, fragrant tropical foliage as possible. I had plaster cemetery-esque cherubs everywhere and a cast iron patio set. Candles and fairy lights at night… and I used to yearn for wrought iron balconies above me instead of ugly fire escapes and clothing lines!

Pardon the segue here, but I need mention to non New Yorkers that having a yard in your Brooklyn abode is a special thing. Weekends would be spent almost entirely outside with numerous iced coffees followed by wine, and there would always be friends and family to join me. The first apartment that I rented had a yard filled with trash. I made my landlord empty it out and I transformed it into the urban tropical paradise I had always wanted. Several years later, I rented a new place with a smaller yard, but there were other cool elements, the best being that instead of trash, it had been taken care of and loved by the previous renters. There was the ivy-covered brick wall rather than a chain link fence that I had to disguise with grapevines. A deck, rather than cracked concrete that I had to cover with containers filled with flowers. Although I didn’t put as much time into the new garden, I cherished it just as much.

I still love to spend a good amount of time outside, except now I have a screened-in porch to protect me from the elements as I work on my laptop. But that’s the extent of it. Danny does most (OK, all) of the yard work. The planting. The mowing. The watering. I just can’t do outside here! The elements are way rougher. Swamp horseflies are no joke. The mosquitoes and gnats make you feel like you’re going insane. And the heat. There is no fucking respite until October. Anyone who ever thought that New Yorkers are tough never knew one that lived in the deep South.

But I’m supposed to be optimistic in this post, so let me stop going down that path. After all, I used to love Summertime and its inherent possibilities. I was the most inspired, then, wrote with a fervor late late into the night, out on my deck, with a glass of Chianti in hand, taking breaks to stare up into other people’s apartments. I was unable to ever see the stars and I didn’t know what I was missing until now, living out here in the swamps where there’s a lot less people and a lot less light.

IMG_1198.JPG
Summer at Sunset is gorgeous here in NOLA!

Here goes my bucket list for Summer:

-Seek out pools! Hotel pools here open up to locals in the summer and there’s always The Country Club (not your rich uncle’s country club, but the one and only in NOLA)!

-Watch the sunset as much as possible from the back porch or my boat… + bubbly

IMG_1161.jpg

-Take advantage of hitting up night spots that are remarkably less crowded now that it’s summer and there’s less tourists and college folks (hotel rooftop bars are a glorious thing).

-Sunday Funday frozen drink French Quarter crawls (planning on it this weekend, in fact!)

And I wouldn’t be me without putting down some food and health-focused stuff on the bucket list:

-Two days per week will be devoted to raw foods (I love summer fruit and could likely survive quite happily on watermelon all day but I’ll supplement that with big salads for dinner) and instead of fasting 19-20 hours, I’ll shift that to 16 on those two days.

IMG_1207.JPG

Verdict: delicious but not sure it was worth the hefty $5 price tag

-Cooler dinners on the horizon! It’ll be a breath of fresh air to make lighter fare. I’m thinking sandwiches, wraps, veggies on the grill and abundant salads featuring more than just lettuce and tomato. I already make my own salad dressing from miso, lemon juice tahini and sambal, but I’d like to experiment with new recipes, too.

-Work out or practice yoga earlier in the day when possible (Mondays, Tuesdays & Fridays are the most likely days for this). Whenever I work out in the morning, I leave with a really fresh perspective on the day! On that note, more yoga and less gym.

And finally, travel. Leaving the state of Louisiana, so that I can appreciate it even more when I get home. Happy summer, y’all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegan (& Engaged) At Disneyworld?!

Confession: I’m a bit of a Disneyworld nerd.

IMG_1034.JPG

Like many American kids, I grew up going there with my family almost every summer and the nostalgia is strong.

IMG_1064

I even have ears! Nightmare Before Christmas ears!

But now I have even more reason for all the feels to be stronger. On my recent trip with my family to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, Danny asked me to marry him. Literally everyone I know was like, “the best part about you getting engaged is that it happened at Disneyworld,” and by best they mean, no doubt, weirdest because I guess I don’t fit the “type” you’d expect this to happen to. I mean, I’m not exactly all about that “waiting for my Prince Charming” BS. This is fucking-A true. I’m not even the “engaged,” type. But come on, this is the “happiest place on earth,” isn’t it? I like being happy! I spent too many years being unhappy. Possibly even a decade of intermittent unhappiness. But that’s a story for another time.

IMG_0963.JPG

Me, being happy, at the Canada pavilion in Epcot

I won’t deny that there’s this sort of creative/magical feeling inherent in my time at Disney and it’s pretty cool that Danny also appreciates this. He doesn’t have the childhood memories spent there like I do. He just digs it. And he’s a Star Wars nerd, so there’s that.

That said, while it isn’t exactly the happiest place on earth to be vegan, they’ve come a long way since the 90s. I recall going and eating only baked potatoes and sides of vegetables, with the occasional boring veggie burger.

My pro-tip to vegans, vegetarians and heck, anyone else with good taste, is to eat at Epcot if you can arrange to eat the majority of your meals there (we get park hopper passes so that we can do this).

IMG_1037.jpg

Custom made cheeseless pizza with arugula and olives at Via Napoli in Epcot World Showcase

Staying at one of the resorts that’s walking distance to Epcot is also a great idea. The food is actually good in the World Showcase restaurants, especially Morocco, where you can choose from sit-down dining in two restaurants, or get a quick bite from a counter service place. Hummus and falafel is always a lifesaver. And the best part is that there are decent cocktails (frozen drinks in Morocco, margaritas/mezcal drinks in Mexico) and wine (France, Italy, sake in Japan) options. Disney drinking is even more happy-making!

IMG_0956.jpg

There’s always Dole Whip. And you can get boozy Dole Whip at Epcot & the Animal Kingdom!

Honorable mention goes to the Sci Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant in Disney Hollywood Studios. This is going to sound shocking, but they do incredible things to a veggie stir fry. Plus, you’re sitting in a make believe drive-in theater watching old campy sci fi clips!

Disney Springs, a no entry fee land of shopping and nightlife, has a variety of restaurants that offer decent vegan options. I happily discovered that the newest one, The Edison, actually has the Impossible Burger! Not to mention, the decor is Steampunk chic (well, Disneyfied Steampunk chic) and they serve craft cocktails. I can’t think of a place that could be more up my alley on Disney property!

IMG_0996.jpg

Impossible Burger, IMO the best meat-like vegan burger out there

Restaurants in general still have slim pickins for vegan desserts (unless you consider fruit a dessert, but I sure as hell do not). If you love baked goods like I do, you will rejoice at the fact that there’s Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC, a vegan and soy-gluten-free bakery right in the heart of Disney Springs. Amazing, right? They have soft serve, cinnamon rolls (divine), donuts, cookies and cakes.

IMG_0945

Obligatory Haunted Mansion shot

Check out more photos in my saved stories on Instagram. I was only away for 5 days, but it was such a fun mini-vacation. But I have the travel itch once again! On that note, I’ll be in NYC and San Francisco for work in less than a month (was in Montreal earlier this month).

In case you’re wondering, no it won’t be a Disney-themed wedding nor a Disneyworld honeymoon. I love going there, but I think I love trips around the “real world,” even more.

IMG_1007.jpg

Nerds!

Carnival 2018, My Favorite Yet!

Lent is over and I’m just now sitting down to gather my thoughts about this past Carnival season. I feel like it was the best one yet in my 7 years celebrating. It wasn’t the special or unique costume that I typically spend so much time planning, but this year threw together kind of last minute. It wasn’t the chillingly delicious vegan King Cakes that I tasted, either (two new varieties this year!)

JoiMardiGras18.jpg
I blinged out a new wig but wore an old costume

It wasn’t all of the parades I went to, though those were as great as they always are, even if I only made it through one entirely because my cranky self got a little fed up with the people around me displaying poor parade etiquette. And yes. Parade etiquette is a thing. If you visit NOLA for Carnival, read up on it.

IMG_0694.jpg

Krewe of Bacchus – the only parade I made it through!

It wasn’t the huge haul of sparkly throws that I received. With each year, I feel that I’m happiest with just a few specialty throws as keepsakes.

IMG_0081 2.jpg

Some cool throws from Nyx (and yes, that’s my cat’s paw in the top left)

It might have been the start of a magical Mardi Gras day, when Danny, Carolyn and I walked a bit with St. Ann in the Marigny and then took a detour to get a Champagne and popcorn breakfast at Effervescence, which we actually had been to last Mardi Gras for the first time, as it was having a soft opening for the city’s biggest holiday.

IMG_0722.jpg

Right after a Champagne and popcorn breakfast

It might have been the secret vampire speakeasy that was a welcome respite from the French Quarter mayhem. We practically had the place for ourselves and I got to sip on Death in the Afternoons. How perfect is that?

IMG_0724.jpg

IMG_0735.JPGIt might have been the fact that with each year, new memories build up and with that, Mardi Gras gets better and better. I felt like I actually had memories to look back upon and cherish, similar to how I feel about Halloween and Christmas. It might have been the fact that my love affair with all things New Orleans has reach its fullest potential? Next year can only be better.

Food Can Be The Best Therapy

I’m going to come clean and admit that this has been a terrible month for me. Anything good that happened is negligible, a blurry photograph at a happy occasion that’s bound to happen again anyway. All good things were cancelled out by the death of my beloved 17 year old cat, Chick, 2 weeks ago on March 12.

IMG_0792

His face has always made me melt

This was the last photo taken of him, on a Sunday night, while I was watching Homeland, and I was blissfully unaware that Lymphoma was speedily destroying him. Six days after this photo was taken, I took him to the vet because he hadn’t been himself all week, hiding, barely eating and having difficulty breathing. It was a Saturday. I dropped him off for X-rays and the vet called me later with the grim diagnosis. Of course I was prepared to hand over whatever money it took to heal him. I’ve maxed out my credit cards before to bring him back to health. Only… only I was told there was nothing that could be done except to take him in to be euthanized when the time came. When his quality of life seemed to be compromised. That time came just two days later. Blue Monday. One week and one day after this photo was taken, he was gone.

Chick was kind of my world for 16 and a half years. I had found him in the Bronx in July 2001. He was sitting on a windowsill. The window was open, about two flights up in a PreWar building, and he was staring at pigeons, looking like he might leap at them and fall to the ground below. I went right in and picked him up and never put him down again. This was my cat. At that time I had 3 other adored felines at home, but no matter. My cat. And right now I have two other cats that I love, but Chick was special. You know that you’re not going to have them forever, but I half refused to believe that. I thought I’d have at least several more years of waking up with him sleeping next to my face and giving me that heartbreaking wide-eyed stare when I opened my eyes in the morning. Two other cats and a boyfriend sleep with me, but Chick was always what I touched first thing. Ugh, this sucks. I’m crying again.

I cried for what seemed like three days straight. And then off and on for about another week. And I’m crying now and it’s been 15 days since I last held and kissed him as he left his body.

My final night with Chick had to have been orchestrated by my guardian angels. He had come out from behind the couch to the bedroom and jumped into bed (which he hadn’t done all week, so rare for him to not be next to me as I slept). He placed himself on my pillow and fell asleep as Danny played him music (Chick loved guitar!), with his head in my hand. His favorite things.

Dammit to hell. Crying again.

My point today, though, is not to dwell on this. Don’t you know, I’m much more of a private mourner? That I howled and sobbed when entering the vet’s office to pick Chick up after I heard the diagnosis that Saturday, was excruciatingly embarrassing. I made a scene. I hate scenes! There I was, conjuring up my best impression–only it wasn’t an impression but truly so fucking genuine– of a black-clad Sicilian woman at her child’s deathbed. Of course I was wearing black because I wear black everyday anyway, but… this was a display that I couldn’t even control. And I was in public. Damn Sicilian blood making me all publicly passionate. While the vet assistant consoled me, not for the first time I wished that I were more controlled like my Dad’s Eastern European side of the family. I clearly remember my grandmother and her sister didn’t shed a tear at their father’s funeral. Yeah, that will never be me. Bring on the smelling salts so that I don’t faint at the gravesite. Hold me back so that I don’t try and jump on the coffin on the way down.

Grieving sucks. You know what makes it almost bearable? Eating. Eating and drinking. And working out like a fiend. And throwing myself into work. But really, eating and drinking. That’s some awesome shit right there. Not that I drank myself to sleep or anything maybe once. There was a night when Danny and I sipped wine in the hot tub, both of us crying as we reminisced. I think it’s important to go ahead and force yourself to enjoy life when mourning a death, whether that be your best furry friend or a human loved one.

IMG_0823

Raspberry Lemonade Vegan Donut + Bubbly

I had an annoying experience whilst on my quest to get that donut, by the way. While standing on line, a woman in front of me asked, “Are you sure you really want that donut?” Ostensibly she was trying to make conversation (have I mentioned how much I despise small talk? She couldn’t have known), but I was taken aback by this question because the implication was… well, I didn’t even need to speculate, because she followed that up with, “when I buy things like that, I always hate myself afterwards.”

It got me thinking. Besides the fact that strangers should keep their neuroses to themselves, I realized many of us waste too much time in life regretting donuts. I’m not even that into donuts and eat only one or two a year, if that. When I buy one, I really fucking want it, so leave me alone. But damn, did this woman need me to tell her, “I had to put my cat to sleep on Monday and I can’t rid myself of the image of all light and life leaving his eyes. I can’t rid myself of the feeling of his body quickly losing warmth as I kissed his face for the last time. But I sure can drown my sorrows in this sugary vegan baked good, along with copious amounts of wine later. You gonna judge me for that too? Be my guest. Just stop talking.”

Actually, what I did instead, and by all means, praise me for my graciousness because normally I’m pretty blunt and have been known to offend others, was put on my very rarely seen “Southern Charm,” that I’ve been learning from ladies of Louisiana. The woman told me she was from New Jersey, here in NOLA for the first time, and did I know of any good places to get something to eat. She made a disparaging remark about the South, once she heard that I, too, am a Yankee born and raised, not so far from New Jersey, in fact right across the Hudson. I pointed her in the direction of my neighborhood favorites, while I could have just as easily pointed her in the direction of some French Quarter tourist trap. I actually have way too much pride to do something so awful though. By hell or high water, this woman would leave NOLA in love with its food and culture.

The younger version of myself, say, the age I was when I first encountered Chick almost 17 years ago, might have been beleaguered with doubt. Is she saying I’m fat and that I should avoid sweets? Do I look unhealthy? Do I really need this donut after all? And then, then I might have said something extremely rude to her like, “How about you mind your fucking business?” because I used to pretend I was tough. I used to cover up a lot of self doubt and insecurities with a sharp tongue and a middle finger. I used to punch walls and break things and I didn’t care if anyone witnessed it.

Amazing what almost 17 years has accomplished. Amazing how you might reevaluate yourself when you lose something or someone that has been a significant part of your life for over a decade and a half. An entire generation of you growing up, perhaps becoming more zen or more assertive or whatever the better–no not better– the more mature version of you needs to be.

I hadn’t intended for this blog post to be so reflective. I actually thought I was just going to show some flashy pictures of sweets and libations used to heal my emotional scars. There’s just so much that happened in the 16 years and 8 months that I had Chick. Love affairs, break-ups, cross-country moves and major career changes. I owned a business. I worked with people with Developmental Disabilities. I completed my yoga teacher training. I moved away from my birthplace, my family, across the country. I traveled the world. I lost my other three cats (all lived to old age, not as old as Chick, though).

IMG_0848

vodka/sour cherry in one of my favorite vintage Couroc glasses

Bronx. Manhattan. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Lawrence, Kansas. Kansas City, Missouri. Uptown, New Orleans. Faubourg Marigny, New Orleans. Bayou Sauvage. Cairo, Egypt. Barcelona. Lisbon. Florence. Berlin… So many places, I cannot keep track. So many moves, so many travels, so much writing (never enough), a couple novels in fact, and there was that bar I owned and operated for about 4 years during all that, so many people in and out of my life… my life constantly in flux up until… very recently. Sixteen and a half years. My companion at my side throughout. In fact I was able to nurse him back to life after a surgical procedure almost killed him when he was 3. I took off time from work. I visited him daily in the hospital that kept him for several weeks. At home, in the bathroom he wouldn’t leave to eat or drink, I fed him with a spoon. His nose went from dry and white to pink and damp. He gained enough weight so that his spine didn’t stick out making him look like he belonged on a Halloween card. He lived another 13 years after that.

Yes. That donut was just what I needed, lady. And I didn’t hate myself after eating it, nor do I now, two weeks later when that donut is but a saccharine, distant memory. I have not eaten another. Got that donut out of my system, lady. I’m back to my typical healthy eating regimen. I’m back to not spending more time at the gym than at home because that’s not healthy either. But know that I devoured that fucking donut, lady.

 

Chick displaying amazing tolerance, given the fact that he was 11 when I brought 2 hellion kittens named Klaus and Sparrow into the house. 

I encourage all my loved ones to do the same, to devour things, if and when they ever have to. I’ll even bring over the donuts and bubbly if you don’t want to be by yourself.

Homebody Time

This blog typically focuses on my travels and while it may seem that I am constantly eating out, know that when I’m not traveling, I tend to cook most nights at home. Oh and I become the biggest homebody, like, ever. I may not leave my house other than to go to the gym and come home. Because I live in a rural area, about a half hour from civilization, I need to plan my meals well and hit up Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Costco to stock up for the week.

This is a vast departure from my past life of  eating out almost nightly, especially when I lived in New York and didn’t have time to cook more than once or twice a week. The truth is, there’s not a lot that gets me excited to eat out here in New Orleans. Don’t get me wrong. I have my favorite places, but I can count them on one hand. There is one (1) total vegan restaurant in New Orleans and I don’t like it (there is also a vegan cafe in my yoga studio that is amazing and a lifesaver, but it’s not a full service restaurant and has limited hours… by that, I mean, it closes before my typical 9pm dinnertime). Let’s not dwell on the negative, though, because I love so many things about New Orleans. You don’t move here because you’re seeking a progressive city (we don’t even recycle glass, sadly). Besides, the few places that do have options are pretty phenomenal. Like, for my birthday, I got to eat Acarajé, Brazilian black bean fritters with cashew peanut coconut paste, at Carmo, a local vegan-friendly establishment.

IMG_0758.jpg

Food lust!

For health and budget reasons, cooking at home is an optimal choice and it’s taken a while, but I’ve come up with a few things that I’m proud of serving to guests (and my non-vegan boyfriend). But… if other people aren’t involved in dinner plans, I’m like the laziest cook in the world and stick to steamed veggies in miso broth and jasmine rice plus tofu made magical and crispy in the air fryer I recently bought.

I’m on a mission now to branch out a bit and get creative with vegan cheese. For years, I’ve been making variations on a basic cashew cheese that’s more of a cheesy dip or sauce. People go crazy when I serve it (especially when I turn it into a spinach artichoke dip). Because I’m prone to eating a whole lot at once, I add stuff like potatoes and cauliflower to lower the fat content, and it’s no less delicious. Adding some tapioca makes it stretchy and dreamy. I poured it over nachos recently and my friend could not believe this was vegan.

At Christmastime, I made a vegan lasagna. Lasagna was a favorite dish growing up and my mom’s was the best. Last year we made it but the verdict was that it was too dry and it needed much more cashew cheese (it can take on a ricotta-like consistency if you add less liquid and some oil).  This year, I decided to make it decadent AF, with both cashew ricotta and Daiya (we couldn’t find Miyoko’s VeganMozz at the local grocery store). And holy mother of lasagna, but this stuff was like manna from heaven. Even Mom agreed!

IMG_1803

It may not look pretty but it was so delicious

The holy grail of fresh, buffalo style mozzarella is Miyokos VeganMozz. I am addicted! It comes at a hefty price tag, but I’m buying at least two 8 oz packages a week. I’ve got it bad, friends. And that is so so good. Before the weather got chilly, I would have a daily appetizer of vegan Caprese salad with VeganMozz. I could weep it was so good, so close to the “real” deal.

IMG_1122.jpg

I die over Miyoko’s VeganMozz on pizza!

Although Carnival is now just a bead and glitter-studded memory (it was so early this year), visions of king cakes sprinkled with gold still dance in my head (to the beat of the big band, of course).

goldenkingcake.jpg

vegan king cake, anyone?

I mean, who can feel deprived in a city where for 6-8 weeks, you have access to at least a dozen varieties of vegan king cake? My favorite this year was blueberry-filled and generously laced with purple, green and gold icing.

With that bit of gorgeousness, I finish this post. This has been a winter of minimal travels, other than Costa Rica in January, Dallas/San Antonio in late Feb and Phoenix a couple weeks ago. Here’s to a Springtime full of direct flights, warm, not blistering hot temps (sometimes it already feels like summer) and new culinary adventures!

Vegan Vacay: Costa Rican Yoga Retreat

Practice in Paradise (how cute are the blankets in the shape of an elephant?!)

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? On one hand, I’m mad at myself for not attempting an early January resolution post. But it’s not like I even had a breather at that point to pen a list of annual desires.

My trip to Costa Rica last month was the perfect post-holidays reset that I needed. For Christmas and New Years, I was in New York visiting family. Then I came back to New Orleans for 10 days and then off to San Jose, with a four hour ride to Uvita, Costa Rica for 7 Days in Paradise… a yoga retreat headed up by my longtime friend and yogini extraordinaire, Melody. A vegan yoga retreat has been on my bucket list for years for so many reasons, but the timing never really worked out right for the ones that I really wanted to attend.

The view from my villa

How it all came about: last May I was in the midst of a huge vacation-planning promotion at work. The weeks leading up to it were kind of stressful, but in a good way, because I love my job and I love being instrumental to a person’s good time, especially when it comes to travel and/or food. Melody’s yoga retreat came across my feed while I was taking a break, and I didn’t even have to think twice about it. I decided I was in, despite me never ever in my life having planned a get away so far in advance. My job requires a fair amount of travel, so it’s hard to make commitments, but I was determined… not to mention, I was inspired by everyone around me enjoying a real vacation that didn’t involve me doing almost all the planning.

Sunset view from my villa’s patio

In January 2017, I had gone to a resort in Cozumel, Mexico that I wasn’t all that crazy about, mainly because it was all-inclusive and although I had been assured that vegan meals wouldn’t be a problem, I didn’t realize it meant that I’d be regulated to the salad bar (or servings of overcooked piles of vegetables drowning in oil and plain tortillas). If you know me, you know I’m really into food. Like, really really into good food. Sure, I can find joy in a big bowl of veggies, rice and beans but that gets boring after two days. And hey, it’s nice to even have dessert. Indulgence is expected on vacation, right?! I left Mexico swearing off resorts forevermore (though I was assured by friends that I needed to look into luxury health-focused resorts).

vegan lasagna, one of my favorite dinners

All deserts were made daily on the premises, including this divine coconut ice cream

When I saw in the description of Vista Celestial that phenomenal vegan food was a feature, I was sold. That, plus daily yoga on a jungle platform, spacious villas with views + amenities, pools, hot tubs… yeah. I had been to Costa Rica before and absolutely loved it – the culture, the food, the climate, beaches and rainforest. It seemed idyllic to have access to yoga and great food daily, not to mention excursions off the resort property (hikes through the rainforest!)

Our view at dinner every night

From the moment I arrived, entering the spacious open dining area on the top of a mountain, until the moment I departed, I felt a level of bliss that is normally only experienced when I’m halfway through a bottle of Montalcino sitting in an outdoor cafe in a Medieval walled city in Tuscany. I’ve had one dream that I’ve been back to Vista Celestial and I think I might have woke up teary-eyed. The daily sights of lush rainforest, the interaction with the awesome staff, the decadent and often healthy (the two are not mutually exclusive!) food, the invigorating-yet peaceful- daily practice, plus getting to know our small group of hilarious, insane New Yorkers (we had the resort all to ourselves)… it was really just a perfect time. And yes, vegan dessert every single night. A particular favorite dessert was a passionfruit chocolate tart. I’ll never go back to a typical all inclusive resort again.

The video shows the scene outside my villa. We were up high on a mountain and every villa had its own little hot tub on a private patio.

View at breakfast

I don’t typically write about my yoga practice, but I’ve been at it for about 20 years (I’ve taken a couple years break here and there, but I always come back). During the week in Costa Rica, I feel like I deepened my practice. There’s something about practicing in the open air and surrounded by the rainforest. We’d practice every afternoon for 75-90 minutes (save for the one early evening when we were invaded by bugs).

I felt especially fortunate to get to practice with Melody for a week. It had been ages since I took one of her classes, what with me having moved out of New York (gasp: it will be ten years next month! What the hell?) I have two dear friends that I know for decades that are masterful teachers, Melody and Gail. Both are in New York. I like several yoga studios in New Orleans and I also have a strong home practice, but you’re incredibly privileged to have teachers that you know and love personally as well.

Our intrepid group… we found a secret waterfall this day

On the topic of friends, I admit that I haven’t been the best at a. keeping in touch with friends and making sure I see them when I’m back home and b. making friends here in New Orleans. I’ve lived here 6 years and I can count my close friends on one hand. It’s just weird. Naturally, now that I live a half hour outside the city (and virtually in the middle of nowhere), I’m pretty much a hermit. I feel ready, though, to make a change this year. More time with friends!

Besides Costa Rica, up until the end of February, I’ve stayed put in New Orleans. After all, it was Carnival Season and where else would I want to be, but in the magical land of costumes, king cakes and parades?

Back to traveling next week, Dallas and San Antonio and then Phoenix in early March. I had plans to do some European travel in the early spring, but with a lot of stuff going on personally, I’m moving that trip to November, after hurricane season is safely put to rest.

I won’t end this post with promises I can’t keep. So much is going on and I have a bunch of cool Carnival photos that I want to share. Perhaps this week…