My How Things Have Changed

Airport Food

Airport Food

Once upon a time, eating vegan out of the house was difficult, to say the least. While it's still not the easiest option, I'm finding that I'm hardly ever stuck with a salad or baked potato.  Traveling through the airports this year was a breeze.  I found something palatable everywhere I went.  In Chicago's O'Hare there is even a deli (sorry I forgot to make note of the name) that advertises it has vegan foods.  I picked up the Soul Gourmet Grilled Southwest Tofu Salad and was more than pleasantly surprised by it's barbequed yumminess.  They also had a slew of vegan wraps to choose from too.

And if that isn't shocking enough, I keep hearing rumors that Real Food Daily is slated to open a restaurant in LAX (the Los Angeles Airport), although I can't find mention of it on their site.  Jane and I laugh at the thought of that.  People already think California is the land of fruit and nuts, can you imagine how they'll respond getting off a transcontinental flight, only to find a VEGAN restaurant.

Vegan Travel Tips

Road-TripTraveling as a vegan can be a challenge, as most of you are aware.  Of course, if you are traveling to a vegan friendly area, such as Portland, OR, you probably don't have to do anything in advance!  But we all know that it can be difficult to find good vegan food on the road.  Jane and I have put together a strategy that we find works pretty well for us.  I thought I'd share it with you today.  (We don't do all these things, all the time.)  Feel free to chime in with any thoughts or ideas you have, because there is always room for improvement.

Before travel research your destination:

  • Contact your Hotel or B&B to find out if they can accommodate your dietary restrictions.  Be specific!
  • Find out which restaurants are vegan-friendly in the area.
  • Scope out the local health food stores, food co-ops, and farmer's markets.  Note the addresses.  You may even want to print out maps to help you, as the maps that you get from the car rental places can be lacking.
  • Find your emergency food.  For us, it tends to be Taco Bell.  We know we can always get a bean burrito without cheese to tide us over.
  • If you are traveling outside the country, do research on local cuisines.  Many cultures are not as meat and dairy-centric as we are and you can find dishes based on lentils or beans...

Prepare some food to take along with you.  Lets face it, airport food leave a lot to be desired, and delays are pretty commonplace.  So it's always a good idea to be prepared.  We usually bring along some combination of the following:

  • Sandwiches we've prepared in advance.  We usually bring a total of three to share.
  • Fruit (if necessary, peeled and sliced).
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Trail mix - we usually just throw together some combination of the dried fruits and nuts we have on hand.
  • Protein bars.
  • Primal Strips -- we just encountered this vegan jerky on our last trips; now a staple in our home.
  • Jane usually brings along some powdered miso soup.  Just add hot water.  (When getting miso, make sure there are no bonito flakes.  This is a dried fish powder.)

Strategies while you are on the road:

  • Bring protein sources (bars, jerky, meal replacement powders).  You can usually get a salad, veggies, and pasta eating out.  Vegan protein can often be a challenge.  If you have your own stash, you can supplement later.
  • The coffee maker in your hotel room is your friend.   You can boil water to reconstitute a number of different things.  And you can use the pot to heat up soups -- just be considerate of the next guests and don't put anything but coffee grounds in the basket -- and clean out the pot well.
  • Ask your hotel to empty out the mini bar so you can use the fridge for your food.  We've had some success with this.  Some hotels just won't do it.  But they may be willing to provide you with a mini fridge if they have one on hand.
  • Consider staying someplace with a kitchen for at least part of your trip.  Being able to prepare your own food can be quite helpful.
  • You can find food at any grocery store --  salad, along with a vinaigrette dressing that doesn't require refrigeration, are easily purchased.  You can supplement that with some hummus and a loaf of bread and some fruit and you have a delicious meal.
  • Bring a can opener with you.  If you can't find anything else, you can always buy cans of beans or chickpeas at a local grocery store (and salad...) and you've got a reasonable meal.
  • We also like to buy tortillas to make wraps.  If you can't find vegan mock meats, you can usually get grilled veggies at the supermarket salad bar, and hummus, or canned beans.  Jane often makes a wrap as follows:  tortilla, lettuce, black beans, roasted red pepper, avocado slices.  It's delicious and you can find the ingredients anywhere.
  • Prepare food in advance.  Jane often makes granola bars, and chickpea cutlets to bring along.  Once she even made muffins.  She put them in a tin and we had them for a few days.

Traveling with a car.  This opens up a wide range of options.  Jane's finally convinced me that you can just throw stuff in the trunk for "just in case."

  • Bring a cooler with some large size ziploc bags. You can get ice easily...  fill the ziplocs and you can store things in the car for awhile.
  • We have brought a blender with us (not often) since I really like to have my shake for breakfast in the morning.  It's also allowed us to make a variety of hummus and bean spreads.
  • Bring your favorite snacks and easily portable foods.  If you wind up finding suitable alternatives on the road, you can always bring these things back home with you.  And it's great to have something you're willing to eat on hand.

When staying with non-vegan family/friends:

  • Discuss in advance what you eat.  Most people can handle rice and beans easily.
  • Offer to bring something to share.  Or offer to cook something (make sure you can get your hands on the required ingredients).
  • Regardless of  how well-meaning your hosts are, always assume you will need to supplement your meal, and bring a stash of protein bars, or jerky, or other meal replacement.  If it turns out you don't need it, you can always bring it home again.  But far better to be prepared.

One final note, we had our hummus confiscated at the Bozeman Montana airport!  It was sealed!  The security dude told me if the hummus was on a sandwhich it would have been okay.  Go figure!  We've never had a problem at LAX, but each airport is different, and we've always found the security at the smaller airports to be far more stringent than elsewhere.  So, if you are bringing food items with you, bear in mind the creamy stuff might be problematic.

How To Travel As A Vegan

2 J's Milk Alternatives

2 J's Milk Alternatives

So, we're back.  I'd love to say we had a wonderful trip, but unfortunately I threw my back out my first night there.  I'm slowly getting better, but it is still rather uncomfortable to sit for long periods of time.   I won't go into details, because this is a blog about veganism, but man...  If you're having guests  (we were staying at my cousins at the beginning of our trip) you should do a little to make them feel welcome.  Soap, shampoo... a reasonable bed to sleep on.  We're not in college anymore people.  Sleeping on the floor doesn't work for us!!!!  (My cousins are older than we are, so they should have a clue.)  The rest of our trip wasn't as much fun as it could have been because of my back, but we made the best of it.  Wow Montana is GORGEOUS!  But I really wanted to talk about traveling while vegan.

Mayo Options at 2 J's

Mayo Options at 2 J's

We were a little apprehensive about what we were going to eat, so Jane did some advance sleuthing on the internet.  She scoped out the local health food stores along our route, and that basically saved us.  She even printed out maps to these locations, so were were able to find them without any trouble.  I'm happy to announce that we were fully vegan our entire trip with the possible exception of our B&B breakfasts.  The inn keepers assured us our meals were vegan, but unless you do the actual food preparation you have to accept that you'll never really know what you're getting.

Before we left home, Jane packed us a lunch and some goodies for our flights.  She made us sandwiches, and we had nuts and a bunch of fruit, and she also brought about 10 protein bars, fearing our food options for the rest of the trip.  All this extra food proved to be a good thing even before we got to Montana since our two 1-hour flights with short layover turned out to take over 9 hours!  But we did get Biscoff cookies (vegan) on our Delta flights.  Yum!

2 J's Cheese Alternatives

2 J's Cheese Alternatives

Our plan was to stop off at the food co-op in Bozeman after we landed.  Since we didn't get out of the airport until 8.30 pm and we had a 2+ hour drive into the wilds of MT, we skipped it.  My cousins are gluten-free and said they'd have some vegan fare for us.  But we had no dinner that night. We got in at 11 pm, and they didn't think to offer us anything, even though we were supposed to eat with them.  (We'd kept them apprised of our constantly updated ETAs.)  Thank God my wife is a girl scout! (Another hosting hint people: offer your guests food and water when they arrive!)

Our stay with the cousins was okay.  We did get vegan food, but no discernible protein.  Since we had our stash of protein bars and nuts it wasn't a total disaster, but it would have been nice to have something other than grilled veggies and rice.  Normally I don't hold people responsible to feed me when my diet is so far from the mainstream, but wife-of-cousin is a licensed dietician, and said it wouldn't be a problem to feed us.   Just goes to show you that you can't really count on anyone else.

Frozen Foods at 2 Js

Frozen Foods at 2 Js

After cousins, we drove up to Great Falls.  We checked in to our B&B and went in search of provisions and dinner.  On Jane's list was one option in Great Falls:  2 J's Market.  I wasn't expecting much.  WOW!  The selection was amazing.  We bought a ton of food there simply because we could (also, we had access to a fridge in our B&B).  We bought mixed greens for salad, picked up a bottle of salad dressing,  wraps and vegan cold cuts, vegan cheese, an avocado, Primal Strips, and some ice cream.  And a variety of beautiful fruit.  And for dessert, a pint of Purely Decadent Chocolate Brownie Almond.  Then it was off to Taco Bell for bean burritos, no cheese please.  We brought all our goodies back to our room and had a nice spread for dinner.

2 J's Bulk Food Section

2 J's Bulk Food Section

After we made our reservation at both B&B's we phoned and asked if they would be able to accommodate a vegan diet.  They both assured us they had experience feeding vegan guests.  Our first breakfast, at The Collins Mansion, was an oatmeal bake which was good, if a little dry.  But the second morning we had a baked banana thing with home fries and fruit.  Jane was laughing with that we could go into diabetic coma, the bananas were shockingly sweet as they were topped with marshmallow.  When we asked about them, the hostess assured us they were vegan, the marshmallows were made with no egg white.  We explained about the gelatin, but she wasn't particularly receptive and insisted they were vegan.  We picked around the fluff.  You have to go with the flow when you're not eating in your own home!

Bozeman Food Coop Produce

Bozeman Food Coop Produce

We spent the day at the Montana State Fair.  Jane made sandwiches for us, and we brought along some fruit.   That was actually critical.  There were NO vegan food options at the fair.  The closest thing was the fried pickles.  But I'm sure the batter ruled them out.   There were also fried oreos, fried jalapeno peppers, and fried meatballs -- on a stick of course.  And just about everyone we spoke with raved about them.

Unfortunately I really couldn't stay at the fair that long.  I actually got a massage during the fair and managed to stay on my feet until around 6.30, but then we needed dinner, and I needed to lie down.  Once again we hit Taco Bell for our bean burrito fix.  Then back to 2 J's for more salad and vegan ice cream.

Bozeman Food Co-Op Bulk

Bozeman Food Co-Op Bulk

After Great Falls, we drove through Helena.  Another Taco Bell stop for lunch and then off to the Real Food Market.  Another beautiful store.  We picked up some more salad for dinner and a some vegan soup and a loaf of french bread and vegan cheese.   We arrived at our second B&B, the Howlers Inn, (a federal wolf preserve)  and settled in to make dinner.  Our room was equipped with it's own kitchen, which made things simple.

We had the B&B prepare breakfast for two days of our stay.  Our first breakfast was an oatmeal bake.  Sound familiar?  I was laughing with Jane that there must be a Montana B&B Breakfast Cookbook they all use.  Thankfully, we had vegan french toast for breakfast the next morning.  Again, I'm not 100% positive the breakfast was vegan, but the hosts truly cared.  (If you're going to stay in Bozeman, we really recommend this place.  The hosts are friendly and helpful, everything is clean, and they get the concept of breakfast...  free flowing food and beverage.  Unlike the Collins Mansion -- coffee, tea, or water.)  They're also pretty accommodating of alternative eaters.  One morning they had vegans (us), gluten free folk, one vegetarian, and "regular" eaters, and took everything in stride.

Bozeman Food Coop Spices

Bozeman Food Coop Spices

For our afternoons around Bozeman, we had Primal Strips, a delicious vegan jerky,  and other snacks.  If you haven't tried them, you should.  They are amazing.  We really enjoyed the teriyaki flavor.  Yum.   One day we ate at the Bozeman Food Co-Op.   We visited them twice.  Once to pick up a few provisions.  Gorgeous place.  We were jealous.  Although we don't have difficulty finding vegan foods here, the food co-ops and health food stores we visited in Montana were much nicer than what we frequent here.  How unbelievable is that?

Before heading to the airport we also stopped at Huckleberry's Natural Market.  They're attached to a regular grocery store, but you can find tons of vegan food there.  Again, beautiful store with a wide variety of products.

Montanna Fields

Montanna Fields

If it sounds like all we did was visit grocery stores, that's not the case, but I wanted to point out all the food options available whenever you travel.  Also, I really couldn't sit down to eat, so restaurants (which appeared to be VERY limited) weren't really an option for us.   I'm sure there are plenty of locations where we wouldn't have been as successful an we were in Montana, but there are strategies you can take to make your travels as a vegan easier.  I'll touch on that in my next post.

Howlers Inn Wolves

Howlers Inn Wolves

Anyway, Montana is gorgeous, at least in the summer.  And you can make it a vegan friendly trip if you don't mind preparing your own food.

Vegan Travel

I read a rather funny description of flying as a vegan in Monday's New York Times.  The article was authored by Wayne Pacelle, of the US Humane Society and let me tell you, I can relate!  Pacelle talks about his travails trying to get peanut butter through security -- "The security agent insisted that my carry-on food product was a cream, and therefore a forbidden substance. A rather strange discussion ensued in which I tried to explain that peanut butter was a solid with a “creamy” consistency. Creamy was, in this case, an adjective. And the peanut butter should not be thrown in the trash."

Although Pacelle doesn't offer tips for getting through air travel, he does mention he is occasionally served Biscoff cookies onboard certain airlines (but doesn't tell us which ones) and says they taste great and are a safe choice for vegans.  If you're curious, you can find them here at Amazon.  (Note: the Biscoff with Chocolate, the Sinful Biscoff, the Snowflake Wrapped Biscoff, and the Nutcracker Wrapped Biscoff all contain milk, and are therefore not suitable for vegans.)

Our strategy is to bring our own vegan goodies.  We tend to keep a few vegan protein bars in the house, and always have nuts on hand, so that covers any spur of the moment activities.  If we have time to plan ahead, Jane makes sure to bring us things that travel well.  Often we'll bring a travel container of hummus, some vegan pretzels, and fruit.  And if I'm really lucky, Jane will bake some goodies ahead of time (banana nut muffins or brownies), and we'll have those too.

Although there wasn't a lot to the article, we do share Pacelle's dream of one day being able to walk through every airport and find wholesome vegan fare that is easily accessible.

Native Foods

Jane's mom is here for a visit, so we took a quick trip down to Palm Desert (a resort town in the California desert) this weekend. The weather was excellent there. (Unfortunately, it was in the 90's here this weekend too, so we could have just stayed home!) But we enjoyed the usual tourist treats: swimming at the hotel pool, gambling at one of the Indian casinos, and we visited the Living Desert, a zoo and arboretum.

Jane and I haven't made up our minds how we feel about zoos. On one hand, most of the zoos we've frequented in the last decade or so have been involved in significant animal conservation, and the animal habitats are carefully designed. On the other hand, it's not the animals native habitat, and the aviaries are particularly troubling to us. But this is fodder for another post. So back to Palm Desert...

As vegans, we know that eating on the road can often be challenging. We've learned to 2008 03 - Native Foods TacosNative Foods close to the hotel we were staying at. We'd heard lots of great things about Native Foods, but aren't close to any of their locations. So we knew we would be stopping there on this trip.

We loved it! Our meals were fantastic. Jane and her mom shared the Baja Surf Tacos. They were quite tasty. The black beans were a little bland, but were much improved with the home-made hot sauce (warning: it's HOT).

2008 03 - Native Foods Portobello Sausage BurgerI ordered the Portobello Sausage Burger. The sausage was sliced seitan. It was one of the best vegan burgers I've ever had. The service was good, friendly and solicitous. The prices were right and the food was delicious. It's not fine dining, but the restaurant has a nice ambiance and outdoor eating.

We didn't have any dessert or additional sides. Jane later regretted that as she'd split a lunch with her mom and our dinner at the casino left a lot to be desired, especially from the vegan perspective!

The rest of our meals on this trip were unremarkable. Thankfully, the hotel room had a mini fridge so we were able to stock up on some vegan snacks. But we really could have used a Starbuck's Vegan Brownie, or some other vegan dessert!!!

Vegan Road Trip

Friday morning Jane and I loaded up the car for a long weekend trip to Arizona. Our primary reason for the trip was to visit a younger cousin who's away at college in Prescott. We also decided to visit Sedona since it's been nine years since we were there last. It was a beautiful autumn weekend in the Southwest.

But enough about our trip, let's talk food - since that's what this post and this blog are all about!

This trip required a bit more forethought than usual because we knew that food would be an issue. So, prior to our departure, Jane went out and got some goodies to take along. We had: grapes, apples and tangerines; there were also Triscuits and pretzels, and dried apricots. Sounds like overkill, but these wound up saving us from scrounging for more than one breakfast/lunch.

Before we took off on Friday morning Jane also prepared our lunch for the day: hummus in pita, and some carrot sticks to crunch on. I love Jane's hummus, but the sandwiches suffered a bit sitting in a car for a few hours before we ate them. They tasted just fine, but the were practically falling apart, what a mess! Good thing we brought along some wipes!

I'm not going to detail all our meals, or the restaurants we ate at. Suffice it to say, that eating out vegan style can be a bit of a challenge. One meal we even wound up inadvertently eating cheese. The menu detailed the items in a dish, no cheese mentioned. The plate showed up, the restaurant was dark and we didn't identify the cheese until the meal was half eaten. Bummer.

I'm sure we're not the first vegans this has happened to, and it served as a reminder to ask about what we're ordering.

But the most important thing we learned on this trip is that Taco Bell is a vegan's friend. The black bean burrito without cheese is a yummy vegan meal. We had three in three days.