Friday, April 3, 2015

New York City! (Part 2)

Continuing on - our February NYC trip:
  It's so difficult to cram everything into such a short trip that I made a probably unwise choice to take off for a new place very late that night (in the cold). It took longer than I had planned to find our way there, part walking/part subway/part taxi. My daughter fell asleep in the taxi, and I should have just turned around and called it a night. But I had been following the progress of the newer and bigger Dirt Candy (with owner/chef Amanda Cohen) on instagram for months and was so excited that it was opening the week of our trip. I didn't get a better photo of the exterior or interior of the restaurant, but it's all very pretty.
 After our arduous journey to Dirt Candy, we walked in to the hostess apologetically telling us that they stop seating people at...about 15 minutes before we got there - maybe 10:15 or so. However, the owner came over and let us in which was fabulous and so appreciated.
 One menu item I'd always heard about that I knew I wanted to try were the jalapeno hushpuppies with maple butter. They were good. SO spicy that I had to start picking out some of the peppers. They were still so fresh inside that they were on fire.

 We shared the Broccoli Dogs. I love the concept of Dirt Candy, which is making delicious meals using vegetables, without relying on fake meat products. The "bun" was probably (?) gluten free - it seemed to be.

 The "dogs" were the broccoli stalks, and it was all covered in broccoli kraut and a mustard sauce. Overall, it was good and a fun concept. The "chips" were crispy salt and vinegar broccoli rabe.


 We chose the Onion Chocolate Tart (with smoked almond ice cream) at the suggestion of the table next to ours. This might have been our favorite dining experience had it not been so late for my girl. We had great conversations with people on both sides of us. I don't know if that's how it always is there! It was interesting ordering a dessert with onion. I think the other dessert choice contained celery. Overall, I was impressed with the innovation of Dirt Candy and hope they do great!

 I'm including this photo because she was so exhausted by the time we made it back to our room. I told her to just get in bed, and I would do everything - brush her teeth, get her in her pj's, etc. I pulled at her coat, and it popped off the hood, and then we had a good laugh.
I also promised her I would tuck in Sadie and Samantha.

The next morning:
Hi, Brooke Shields and Today Show hosts!

We went up to the Top of the Rock, something I'd never done.

 If you ever go to FAO Schwartz, you need to be there right when they open. That's what we had done last time, which Sis was too young to remember. The employees line up and cheer when you enter, which is very fun and cheerful.

My sweet girl was in sweet heaven. I think she was more impressed with the candy than the toys...

which inspired our next destination: Dylan's Candy Bar on the Upper East Side.

 I had heard they had candy from Premium Chocolatiers, which we've enjoyed ordering before. It took awhile to find it because this place is so big. I even asked a couple of employees who didn't think they carried it. I actually had to call PC from Dylan's who confirmed it was definitely there, so I insisted to an employee we must find it. (It was in the allergy/specialty section.) We ended up spending way too much money on Peanot Cups, NoNo's, and No Whey bars, etc.

 She also filled a bag with as much candy as we could deem "probably vegan" from the walls of scoopable candy. (My guess is she probably still has about 3/4 of this in her room. I think she loves the idea of candy more than she actually loves candy. Or it's that she wants to save it because if she eats it, it will be gone quicker. My boys would have eaten the whole bag by the next day but not her.)

 We really like the NoNo's. The company started making them with a marshmallow filling. But then they switched over to the chocolate filling, which the kids had tried at Christmas. I'm not a marshmallow person (like she totally is), but these were GOOD. Maybe even better than the new chocolate version, and I'm usually a chocolate purist.

Side note: there is no information on the website about whether the ingredients in their products are genetically modified/organic or fair trade, etc. I emailed the company and was told "they are not certified in either but try to comply with both."

We continued walking up the street to my first love.

And I ordered one of my favorite foods of all time, the Cajun Seitan Sandwich. I was a little embarrassed when I looked back at how many pictures of these I have on my blog. And I've referred to it as a "utopian metaphor" between my husband and me.

These have showed up a few times, too: citrus herb marinated seitan skewers.

Sis got to enjoy cheese sticks for the second time this trip. So good.

To be continued!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

New York City! (Part 1)

 pre-flight snack at Tampa airport
 After my 4th child was born, I decided to take each older child (along with my nursing/co-sleeping baby) on special vacations since life was busier and my attention spread out thinner. (And I love and NEED to travel, or I go stir crazy.) That's when I took my second oldest on Amtrak to D.C. and NYC. My oldest son chose to visit St. Louis. My daughter, who was 5 at the time, had the foresight to declare she wanted to hold off on her trip until Baby was old enough to be left behind. She waited patiently for 3 years, ha!

our airplane snack choices
 We had been planning all along to head down to Miami, a place I've never explored (and a location for an American Girl Place, one requirement). But then we start talking about New York, and it's hard to fight the urge. I let her decide, and NYC won out because she was too young to really remember our last trip there. We were weirdly captivated by the idea of visiting during the heart of winter. We were able to afford this trip entirely because of credit card rewards. I started digging and found rewards I didn't know we had. Our flight and hotel were covered! The week before we went was the big northeastern blizzard, so we were concerned we would get snowed out. But since NYC didn't get hit as bad as expected, it all worked out fine. Despite my mother calling me repeatedly the week we left to tell me how crazy I am.

 We had it all planned out. Our flight was going to arrive at 8:30. I assumed that we would have enough time to retrieve our luggage, hop on the air train from Newark, call in food from some great place that closes at 10 or 10:30, pick it up and take it back to the hotel to relax. We didn't make it out of Penn Station until 10:15, though, so we had to formulate a new plan. The closest place opened was Maoz Vegetarian at Times Square.

 We shared an order of falafel with cilantro sauce and tahini plus fries and brought it back to our room to eat. The amazing bonus to our trip was scoring a suite upgrade. We had a bedroom plus a living room and small kitchen which included a fridge and microwave. That was so unexpected and awesome since the room was free to begin with.

 This is our favorite subway stop in Brooklyn...

 because it leads us here:
where dreams come true.

 The first night we arrived, we thought it wasn't even that cold (but we changed our minds by the next day). While we were walking to the subway the next morning, we talked about how much we wished it would snow. When we walked up the steps into daylight toward was snowing! It felt like a scene out of a movie.
 I got glazed because I believe it to be the best possible doughnut. Sis got blueberry. We shared a lavender lemonade. These doughnuts are just so amazingly soft and light and perfect.

 Aren't there plates cool? On instagram they said they were a gift from their parents and that people had been stealing them. I hate thinking about vegans or those wanting to eat vegan doughnuts stealing custom made wood plates. I hope they get them back.

 Since we were already in the neighborhood (They are about a block apart.), we hoped we would still have some room for brunch at Champs Diner. It turned out that my Directions took us to the old location which is almost a mile away from Dunwell Doughnuts. Therefore, after walking two miles and then waiting for our food, we were ready to eat again. My dumb mistake was not realizing that the old location is now home to a vegan store from the same owners of Champs Diner. We could have went in there, but I didn't realize it.

 We shared two dishes (and my daughter and her tiny tummy had to take a lot of her portion back to the hotel for supper) - this perfect breakfast platter...

 and mozzarella sticks!!!
 They deserve the 3 exclamation points because they taste good and because it's such a fun menu item.

 Champs Diner, which was new to us, is awesome, and I could have eaten every meal here (and we did eat here again) during our visit. Sometimes I will visit a restaurant like this where I will think it's good, but I could have eaten just as well at home. I feel like Champs does it better than I might do at home, which is the mark of a great vegan place to me.

 Later that afternoon, we had reservations at American Girl Place. Samantha Rose (a gift from Googie and Papaw for Christmas) and Sadie Sunshine came with us. It's all very, very sweet.

 In the café, they bring your dolls a highchair and a cup and saucer. You get to keep the cups and saucers plus the napkin rings, which are hair bows. If you do not have a doll, they let you pick one of theirs (and they even have boy dolls) to sit with you.

 When I made the reservation, I was told they could accommodate vegans. Instead of little muffins waiting on the table, we had fruit kabobs.

 Our appetizer was fruit and veggies.
 She loved her sparkling drink. My daughter loves drinks. She loves tea and sodas and anything special. She did not inherit this from me as I mostly only drink water and have a difficult time even drinking that.

 The only entrée choice was salad. I asked if they could make her a pasta or something but was told no. Fortunately, she likes salad. (My 9 year old son wouldn't have eaten.) These salads were really large. I appreciated that it contained beets and wasn't just lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes. The problem with our meal was: we were both so tired of chomping. There was so much chewing involved in this meal combined with the appetizers. I wrote a suggestion on the comment card that although everything was good, what would make it even better was offering a different vegan option or at least adding beans or pumpkin seeds or something to the salad. I never really mind going to a restaurant and having limited options to eat, especially when it is one like this where the experience and ambiance are a part of the meal. However, if it's prix fixe $25 apiece (plus the specialty drink), I hope it's fair.

 By the end of dinner, I was pouting a little (probably from lack of simple carbohydrates and protein) watching the girls next to us receive their fancy non-vegan desserts and thinking how unfair the world is. I thought we weren't going to get dessert (or that it was going to be more veggies and fruit). But they brought her out this cute flower pot lemon sorbet, so all was well!

 Overall, we had a great day here. The restaurant and store are darling (and expensive for all and maddening and annoying to some, I'm sure), and we got to participate in a craft time. I banned all kinds of plastic dolls in our home for many years, but my daughter is 8 and only has a few more years of childhood enchantment and dolly fun, so I've loosened up. (And truthfully, no one squeals and gasps more than me looking through the historic dolls and clothes.) Sadie Sunshine (who isn't a "real" American Girl doll) got her hair styled in the salon, and their wardrobe has increased! This is thanks to Grandma and Grandpa who gave us a big gift card for Christmas. My favorite thing about the meal were the conversation starter cards on the table. We had a great time asking and answering questions back and forth.
 That night, I was able (with my daughter having a super time with a babysitter) to enjoy Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man. I really enjoyed my first row mezzanine seat and loved the performance!

That's Day 1 1/2. To be continued!
*Also, since blogging is apparently so elusive to me these days, I thought I might do better posting daily pics on instagram. Follow me if ya want! @veganandsoforth

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Askinosie Chocolate Factory Tour

One fun activity we chose to do in Springfield, Missouri (on our visit this summer) was touring Askinosie Chocolate Factory. I had been wanting to take the kids to do this for years because we love factory tours, and we really love factory tours that include vegan food. We had wanted to do it during our chocolate unit in homeschooling (since we were only a few hours away in Arkansas) but never made it.

The tour, given by this cordial, knowledgeable young man, started with a history and background of the company and Mr. Askinosie (who left his job as a criminal defense lawyer to make chocolate). These are the candybars they sell in their store front and in local establishments. Most of them are vegan, but several are not. They are pricey at $8.50/bar.

Hi, cocoa pod!
I wish I would have typed this soon after our visit because the details are a little fuzzy, but this is one of the first steps in the chocolate making process. Let's just take a moment to think about how wonderful chocolate is and how grateful I am that machines like this exist

We first got to sample cacoa nibs, which obviously the kids didn't enjoy plain. I told her to smile because that would be rude to make a face, and this was as much as she could muster.
They are the first small batch chocolate maker in the U.S. to press their own cocoa butter, and they are apparently the first small-batch makers of natural cocoa powder.

I asked him several questions about the "may contain milk" label, and I felt satisfied by his assurance of cleaning practices. This was very good for me to see it in person because I am someone who is sometimes too grossed out to eat something that says "may contain milk" no matter how much I know it probably doesn't. (I am really trying to get past my OCD on this.)

Although they are not organic certified or fair trade certified (so the farmers do not have to go through the required financial obligations), they claim to be directly involved with the growing practices and pay above fair trade prices: "We go to great lengths to make sure the farmers do not use chemicals and pesticides; not only do they sign a contract, we visit these farms yearly and can personally verify their practices. We also make sure that our beans are shade grown and that the cocoa trees are intercropped with other trees and crops. Our cocoa beans are not certified, however, in part for the same reason we aren’t Fair Trade certified—the certification process for the beans is very expensive and our farmers can’t afford it. Though we are not certified organic, our beans can be traced completely back to their origin. We have the name of every farmer who contributed to each crop."

Another nice thing this company does is called Chocolate University. They involve local elementary and middle schools in different worthwhile programs. Local high school students get the opportunity to travel to Africa to learn about not only chocolate growing and Direct Trade practices but ways to inspire their own community and become more socially responsible. Factory Tour proceeds go toward Chocolate University.

At the end of the tour, we got to taste test many of the different bars (and they will let you taste test any of them before you buy, I believe). The kids expressed mixed reviews because they do not all love dark chocolate as much as I do. They LOVED the tour and expressed how much several times afterward.

We wished we could have afforded to try some of the other products, such as hot chocolate mix. I was also interested in purchasing a rice bag that had been harvested by schools in Tanzania or the Philippines - 100% of the profits are returned to the local schools for their lunch programs.

Askinosie Chocolate is located in old downtown Springfield. I enjoyed driving around the area on our way out, reminiscing, since I hadn't spent time here in 15-20 years - seeing certain places I recognized such as the spot where an old movie theater existed when I was a little girl and the area where my dad worked on the railroad. I thought the area was neat, and I want to go back and explore more when I have time.
Our chosen bars: dark chocolate from the Philipines and the toasted hemp seeds bar. The hemp seed bar had a bit of the texture (a plainer, healthier texture) of a rice crisp chocolate bar, which was nice.

An interesting fact is the strings that tie up the packages are made by women from a local shelter. They make the strings from the bags (see below) that hold the cocoa beans shipped to the factory.
We walked a few doors down to see the building where they store their cacoa beans.  
If you like DARK chocolate, then you would like Askinosie chocolate. I'm not an expert review-er, and my taste buds aren't so refined to tell you that it has a "fruity,"  "woody,"  "sharp," "earthy," "clean," or "acidic" flavor like other reviewers online. I can say that we really liked the special touch of "askinosie chocolate" spelled out on the bar.
Thank you, Askinosie Choclate, for the fun tour and for making vegan chocolate in a seemingly very nice way.