Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chicago and Amtrak

In my last post I told you I was going to NYC. I like to promise I'm going to blog soon because I think if I say it, I'll have to make it come true. But who are we kidding? I'll just quit saying it. I wanted to blog every night during my trip, but my head couldn't wait to hit the pillow at the end of each day. (Sorry about this long post; you can read it in bits. And this would have been posted two weeks ago, but my html has been driving me bonkers. I still can't fix all of the spacing...but I'm going to give up.) It was a fun, successful trip, including lots of great vegan food and so forth.

This was my first journey with Amtrak, and only these two guys accompanied me. I had decided to take each of the big kids on their own little adventure with Mom (and baby, my extra appendage for the next year and a half or so). My 7 year old was up first, and although NYC might not sound like the most logical, laid-back place to take two kids, I really wanted my trip to include no driving or carseats. (Baby HATES the carseat.) And my 2nd child hasn't been there as many times as my oldest child. And I'm familiar with NYC enough to get around. And it just makes me happy.

We booked a sleeper car (above: two seats that turn into twin bunk beds) on the way out, but we didn't get one on the return. We saved money that way, and I was curious to find out the difference for the sake of future trips with the whole family. I think that although the sleeper car was definitely the better way to go (very cute and fun!) if it's ever possible, a regular coach seat would suffice just fine.

One part of the sleeper car that my son particularly enjoyed was the dining car. Meals were included, and I was too cheap to pay for meals on the way home, much to his dismay. (We had plenty of food packed to eat.) I think it's entirely possible to eat vegan on Amtrak for a several day journey, even if you didn't pack food. Now, would it be possible to become full if you were also heavy raw or gluten-free? Eh, probably not. I brought my own oatmeal packets (above) and enjoyed the grapefruit. (They did offer oatmeal; I just preferred to use my own with built-in sweetener.) They also had soy milk.

For the lunch and supper meals, they offered veggie burgers and pasta, etc. My son ate those, although I'm pretty sure the burgers were vegetarian, not vegan. (During travel and eating out, etc., although my eating habits remain exactly the same, I am not a picky label reader with my kids. As long as it's vegetarian and not overtly non-vegan, I'm fine with it, if that makes any sense. This is not my ideal, just the way it is.) I mostly just ate as much dry salad as I could stand since it was free.

They DO, however, sell a Vegan Burger in the lounge car on most trains. I didn't end up purchasing one because the list of ingredients was way too long (and included sugar, etc.) for my OCD healthy standards, but I like knowing it's available for my kids and Ryan on future trips. The lounge car also sold chips, salted nuts, oatmeal (with sugar) cups, and maybe even fruit, etc.

You could always bring a small cooler if you weren't worried about the amount of luggage you were carrying. That's another bonus, if you ask me, about Amtrak. You can bring more "stuff" with you, as opposed to flying (even your bike, it seemed). We, however, tried to keep it light because I did not know what to expect, getting on and off so many times. We brought a tiny stroller, two small backpacks, and one very small pull bag.

It was a surprise to me that they seat strangers together in the dining car booths. At first, my social anexiety disorder was not impressed, but I quickly learned that this can be another great aspect in the Amtrak experience. We always sat with really nice, interesting people. I had to smile and nod a lot to one lady who said things like, "Well, I guess being a vegetarian is long as you get plenty of WHERE do you get your protein?" and, "I think homeschooling can be okay...if you know what you're doing." She also kept trying to offer my son bacon or yogurt, etc. AFTER I told her we didn't eat it. "It would be okay if he had a piece, wouldn't it? I'd love to give him a piece." Me: "No, REALLY - he's never eaten meat. We DON'T eat it."

We had a layover, around 3 hours, in Chicago on the way there and back. Our next stop on the way to New York was D.C. We were really looking forward to this 4 hour layover because my son had learned a lot about the different monuments and such this year and had never seen them (and I hadn't been since I was 17). We were able to hit most of the main ones by walking and then taking a pedi-cab. And I'm sure Chubs here was overly fascinated to be in our nation's capital for the first time, as well.

Because it took so long to get across town (Duh, it was Memorial Day Weekend; why didn't I realize this?), my dreams of hitting up Sticky Fingers before jumping back on the train were dashed. That's okay, though; my son's education comes before my gluttony.


Besides, I was still happy from our jaunt to Native Foods (all vegan!) in Chicago. This was my first time to sample one of the THREE newish locations in the area. (I have been to N.F. in California multiple times.) The one on South Clark was in walking distance from the train station! (We always paid to put our bags in a locker during layovers.) I was happy to see the line going out the door during this visit and the one on our way back home (and happier that we arrived before the line grew). There were a lot of business people coming in for lunch. This says to me that hopefully Native Foods will continue expanding, eventually to a city near you! Our Native Foods' eats (and I'm not going to write much other than the descriptions to avoid saying, "It was sooo good!" over and over again):

Pizza Fingers and Steamed Broccoli

He also ordered the Native Chicken Nuggets with vegetables and ranch dressing for dipping, but I didn't get a picture. I thought it was fine, but as my pickiest eater, he wasn't a fan.

  Freddie's Mac and Cheese
  Quinoa super pasta with a cow-friendly cheese sauce and broccoli trees. Soy and GF.

Classic Deli Reuben
Thinly-sliced deli-style Native Reuben Seitan piled high on grilled marble rye. Topped with homemade sauerkraut, Native Horseradish Cheese, and a slather of Russian dressing. 

The pink color is kind of freaky, no?
Was very tasty.

Chili Cheese Fries 
Seasoned potato fries smothered in our homemade 
Native Chili. Topped with Native Cheese and diced 
red onions. 

I like that these chili cheese fries felt much healthier/less greasy including light, homemade cheese.

Chimi Chop Salad

Chopped romained, crunchy grilled veggies and corn kernels, sweet roasted peppers, garlic croutons, warm shaved Native Peppered Seitan, tossed with chimichurri sauce, and drizzled with ranch.

I realized with this salad HOW MUCH I prefer chopped salads. It's just so much nicer to eat a salad when the lettuce is the same size as the rest of the salad ingredients. Don't you think?

Oklahoma Cheese Burger
Thinly sliced Native Original Seitan, melted cheddar, caramelized onions, and crispy Native Bacon on a bun slathered with BBQ sauce and ranch dressing, romaine, carrots, onions, and tomato. Topped with crunchy battered dill pickle chips!!!

Let's get another look at this bad boy. 
There's just so much going on here.

Strawberry Shortcake Parfait
Moist vanilla cake layered with almond creme and fresh sliced organic strawberries.

Light and not too sweet.

(above and here, on another day - one of our fave desserts the whole week)
A rich cream cheesy filling, ginger granola crust, 
sweetened just right and served with blueberries on the side.

Good Luck Cupcake
Made in-house using the finest ingredients including  fair-grade cocoa powder and trans-fat free veg shortening.  Flavors include Chocolate, Vanilla, Cardamom Rose.

We also got a brownie that wasn't photographed. It was good but not my favorite here; when unwrapped, all of the chocolate chips fell off everywhere.

NOTE: I know by now you are thinking, "Didn't you just go TWICE? Wasn't it just you and a 55 pound boy? Aren't those big portions? Don't you have 30 pounds to lose?" Yes, yes, yes, and yes, BUT we always ordered extra food to take back onto the train for the next meal, which is why it might seem like a lot.

Lavender Lemonade
French lavender steeped with fresh lemons. 
Sweetened with organic sugar.

Free refills!!!

We had plenty of time during our second layover to head up into the Skydeck of the Willis (Sears) Tower. It is located in walking distance between Union Station and Native Foods.

A passing shot of the Shenandoah River in honor of our friend, Shen.

I will try to blog about the rest of our cross country trip soon...
oops, there I go again.

Until then...

stay cool, dudes.