Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy Independence Day

Hi folks!  Just dropping in to say Happy Fourth (on the fifth, I realize).  I hope you all enjoyed your day.  I actually ended up having one of my best Independence Day celebrations so far.  John and I, along with our awesome friend Alyson, spent the day at Burton Chace Park in Marina Del Ray, grilling veggie-style and picnicking in the sun before seeing the fireworks show over the harbor.  It was great weather, and John did quite a fantastic job cooking up our food on the park's public grill.

Love my dollar-store picnic plates!

We had SmartDogs (which are now grillable, for which I am entirely thankful since nothing matches up to a grilled hot dog), corn, seasoned sweet potatoes, Gardein burgers (not pictured--that came in my second helping!), and individual salads with lettuce, tomato, and (my favorite) Trader Joe's Goddess Dressing.  We also had some chips and accidentally vegan Oreos to nosh, since we were in the park from about 2:30 until 9:30.  We had a blast people- and dog-watching, and there were even some musicians performing in one of the picnic pavilions for tips.  It was great!

I've also been sitting on this picture for a few weeks, and I thought now would be a good time to share. We went to Big Bear Lake for a few days back in June, and while we were there, we checked out their zoo, which is actually a rescue zoo rather than a traditional zoo.  For example, they recently saved a bear (who they adorably named "Pooh") from being exterminated after he had stolen honey from a local producer.  They also give medical attention to injured animals and when possible, release them back into the wild after they are rehabilitated.  I was able to snap this picture of two bald eagles.  I had never seen them so close before, and I was pleasantly surprised by how majestic they truly are in person.

I'll be back in the next few days with a restaurant and concert review, some news about a new project I'm working on, and maybe some more discussion about being vegan and visiting zoos.  I've also updated my picture (with my new specs on) and changed my "About Me."  Have a very happy Friday!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Updates. Lots of them.

Hi everyone!  It's been a couple of days more than one year, but here I am again.  I had intimated that things were about to get crazy, without going into details, but now that some time has passed and things have settled down (at least a little), I thought I would post an update.

Last year, as spring was turning into summer, I was presented with an opportunity.  My company was doing layoffs (like every other company), and they had mentioned the possibility of voluntary severance in January 2011, but only for certain segments of the business.  In May, I found out that they were actually pretty much offering the voluntary severance to everyone.  John and I had a long talk and decided that this was our chance to do something we had wanted to do for years.  So I took it.  It was not an easy decision.  I had to leave a job I maybe didn't love, but was comfortable with, and that allowed us to live comfortably, and I had to leave quite a few co-workers who I actually loved a lot, to take a really big chance on a really unsure thing.  John was focused primarily on acting, but he wasn't getting the kind of work that would ever allow him to fulfill his career goals, and certainly not the kind of work that would ever make enough money to change our situation. Also, we didn't particularly care for Massachusetts anymore.  It's no mystery if you read through my winter 2011 posts that I didn't think I could deal with another hard winter again, and although Massachusetts is a lovely state with any number of reasons to recommend it, I had lived there for 12 years, and John had been there the better part of his life.  We needed to get out.  So we decided to stop being safe and began to plan a move to California.

I left my main job at the end of July, while I continued to serve as stage manager for Worcester Shakespeare Company's Summer 2011 season.  When that wrapped, we booked a flight to Los Angeles.  We stayed with our very good friends Sheri and Carlos while we looked for an apartment.  The final day before we had to fly back to Massachusetts, we found a great little place in North Hollywood that was in our price range and would take us, even though we didn't have jobs.  The whole apartment could fit into two rooms at our place in Worcester, but we knew sacrifices had to be made.  We signed our lease and flew back to Worcester to pack up and return to LA for good.  

There was about a month between the time we got back and the time we planned to leave. It was an insanely stressful flurry of packing, trying to sell at least half of our things (including my car), and trying to fit in as much time with our friends as we could.  I have never in my life felt so torn in so many directions.  We were excited to be starting a new chapter in our life, but so sad to be leaving dear friends behind (as well as John's mom), and so stressed out, hoping that we could get everything sold, packed, or otherwise taken care of in a very short period of time.  Even writing about it now makes me feel the ghost of the old nervousness in my stomach.  We planned to drive a moving truck ourselves, but at the last minute went with a Pods-type moving service.  It would allow us to pack up storage cubes ourselves, which would then be transported and we would drive John's car with a smaller amount of luggage and things we didn't feel comfortable letting out of our sight.  We saw the storage cubes put on the truck on the morning of October 14 after three days of emptying our third floor apartment with the help of our friend Wayne.  We spent our last night at John's mother's house and drove out of Worcester bright and early on the morning of October 15.  That day, some of the anxiety lifted finally.  We knew that if we had forgotten anything, there was really nothing we could do about it anymore.  The first day we made it all the way into Ohio (and that is with a 3 hour stopover to visit some of John's relatives in Pennsylvania) before stopping for the night.  

The next morning we woke to a flat tire, which we were able to get fixed near our hotel, thankfully.  John also started to feel a little bit under the weather, but it was on and off. The second day we only made it to Terre Haute, but after the distance of the first day, that wasn't too bad.  The third day, we decided to start making a vacation out of the cross-country drive.  We headed south and drove through St. Louis, stopping to visit the arch, and then we stayed overnight in Kansas City.  We went to hear a jazz band play that night, and it was wonderful.  The next day, we drove into Kansas proper, and then took a few campy side trips to visit a very large ball of twine, which may be the largest, although Minnesota has its claim as well, and take a few pictures at the geographical center of the contiguous US. 

Halloweeny Ball o' Twine

Middle of Nowhere, USA

We stayed the night in Nebraska, and I was very excited to pick up my 48th state, as Nebraska was on the short list of states I had not yet visited.  

 Yee-haw for number 48!

Unfortunately, John was feeling extremely ill with sinus issues that night, and I was afraid we were going to have to bring him to a doctor.  The next morning, he was a little better, and after a very spicy breakfast at a local diner, he seemed to be back to normal.  Our luck seemed to be improving--FINALLY!  We continued on through Colorado, staying in Grand Junction the following night, and then as we moved into Utah the next day, we decided we had time for a side trip.  We had both really wanted to see Yellowstone, and we thought, why not now?  So we turned north and stayed in Idaho for the night to pick up my 49th state and be ready for a day in Yellowstone the next day.  (Now Alaska is my white whale, the only state I have yet to visit.  Someday!)  


Yellowstone did not disappoint.  It was amazing, and the weather was great--cold, but not actively snowing.  After spending the full day in Yellowstone, we left the park through the Grand Tetons, seeing the sun setting in the snow-covered mountains, and traveled south through Wyoming, staying overnight in a little cabin in a tiny town past Jackson.  

Slightly drenched by a freak rainstorm/geyser/steam combo

Sun setting behind the mountains

The next day we drove all the way to Las Vegas, trying to make up a lot of time, knowing that we needed to be in North Hollywood to meet the storage cubes by Monday.  We stayed overnight in Vegas, made a cool $50 or so playing $5 each in the casino (that's about our speed, as far as gambling goes), and then set off for our new home the next day.  

"Terrible's" seemed like the silliest possible casino, so of course we chose it.

We arrived in North Hollywood on the afternoon of Sunday, October 23.  The next day our things arrived, and we spent the last bit of energy we had to bring it all up to our wee little second floor apartment.  For the first few days, just finding a place to sit was a problem. But eventually, we figured it out.  

It took about three weeks for us to unpack everything, find a place for everything, and get settled.  At that point, John started going out for acting jobs.  He got the first thing he auditioned for--a short film for TropFest Australia, the largest short film festival in the world, and the film went on to place in the top 16, which is a pretty amazing honor considering the sheer number of shorts competing. John has gone on to book job after job, averaging well above the norm--not that I am surprised.  His talent and work ethic may be the only two things I have not questioned over the course of this wild journey, and I believe this is only the beginning of greatness for him.  The satisfaction of watching him do what he was born to do, and do it so well, cannot be put into words.  I am thankful every day that we had the opportunity to do this for him.

As for me, I have gone through a difficult period of being kind of lost and confused.  Not in a bad way, but almost in a necessary way.  I have been skating for 7+ years, doing mostly unfulfilling work to make a living, and trying to let my hobbies be enough, but now without the distraction of the structured job, I have had to examine some things about myself, and it has not been a comfortable process.  I have had to confront a lot of feelings and regrets, and I am still trying to tap into who I am and what I want out of my life.  I am currently unemployed but extremely busy, working on a lot of video projects as director/shooter/editor, editing and shooting for actor demo reels, editing text, sound editing for audio projects, reading a lot, and doing a lot of driving, as we only have one car, and I don't like being left without it when John has a job.  (It also comes in handy that we can use the car pool lane and that I can drive around to find a spot when John is auditioning, as traffic and parking here are INSANE.)  I am also thinking about doing a lot more writing, getting back into acting myself, and doing stand-up comedy (yes, really).  

A little reminder that is usually up on the fridge to look at every day.

Part of what has kept me away from blogging, even after things were moderately calm again, was embarrassment.  We have not been vegan throughout this process.  At first it was because it was just so difficult to find the time to eat right.  During the trip, it was nearly impossible to find places to eat and we lived off of cheesy pizza.  But then after things were settled and it would have been easy to return to eating vegan, it was, at least for me, about comfort eating and dealing with loneliness and fear by using food.  We stayed vegetarian at least, but I couldn't be dishonest and come on here and write about the vegan lifestyle when I wasn't living it.  I had also started smoking again, and my unemployment, although voluntary, combined with the smoking and the not-veganness, made me feel like a big fat failure.  Don't worry--I'm not in that place anymore.  But it is important for me to share it because one of the other things I have realized is that I don't share my feelings.  I share my opinions and my ideas for sure--frankly, more than I should.  But when it comes to feelings, I keep them safely hidden.  That obviously needs to change, and making these confessions in kind of a public way is not about being a drama queen or seeking attention and encouragement.  It’s about being honest with myself and my friends so that I don’t end up spending a lot more time wasting my life on things that aren’t important.  Friendships and community are the things that I most value from my blogging experience, and the things that have brought me back to it in spite of my hesitations.

I have been vegan again since April, with only a few exceptions (which I'm not going to beat myself up for, because not beating myself up is part of the new programming), and in one week, I'll be celebrating my six-month anniversary of not smoking.  I have struggled with cigarettes on and off for years, quitting and starting back more than ten times, but I've only made six months once before now.  Six months means a lot to me.  I quit on my birthday, and my six-month anniversary is my dad's birthday.  Both of his parents died of lung cancer, so making this quit a tribute is something that keeps me from picking up the cigarettes again when I feel sad or confused or scared.  We have made some good friends here already, and it is wonderful to be in a new place where there is so much to explore.  I am still freaking out a lot, wondering if I will find work, wondering if we are going to be okay here, wondering what I should be doing with my life.  But I am learning to be the person I want to be inside, apart from the labels (and stress) I place on myself.  And that is something.  

I don't know what direction this blog is going to take going forward.  I probably will still talk about vegan food sometimes.  My next post will probably be about our new favorite place to eat here in the San Fernando Valley.  But I probably will talk about other things too, like travel (plenty of photos from the trip apart from what I've posted here already) and maybe books and movies, and any of the other things that might come to mind.  And if you want to come along for the ride, you are very welcome.  I don't know where we are going, but I think we can have a lot of fun getting there.  

Sunset on the Pacific at Cabrillo National Monument

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One Love Cafe

Quite a while ago, John and I stopped by One Love Cafe, a vegan-friendly restaurant here in Worcester.  I dutifully took pictures and made notes, and then never blogged about it. So I figured, why not remedy that now?

We started with the fried plantains.  We first had fried plantains last year when we went to New Orleans Jazz Fest, and one of the tents was serving them with a side of jama-jama, a deliciously simple spinach dish.  John fell totally in love with them, so they seemed like a great appetizer choice.  I don't generally use oil much at home, so this was also a bit of a treat for that reason.  The plantains were cooked perfectly.  John said he would rather eat them than French fries, and for him, there is practically no higher praise!

For my entree, I chose the Rasta Pasta, a tricolor pasta dish with veggies and a cheezy, spicy tomato sauce (sprinkled with Daiya).  It was creamy, fresh and delicious!

John chose a tofu vegetable curry dish with rice.  As you can see it was saucy, and it was spicy without being too hot.  We both cleaned our plates, and washed everything down with a pitcher of water flavored with a watermelon slice.

The service at One Love was outstanding, the food authentic, and the price was great as well.  The small cafe could probably get crowded at certain times of day (we went in the afternoon and it was empty), and the food does take a while to come out (it is cooked to order and there was only one person working when we were there), so if you choose to visit, be sure that you can let yourself give in to the relaxed atmosphere.  Listen to the Jamaican music, smell the spice in the air, and enjoy!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vegan Georgia on the Road: Mississippi Trip Pt. 2

Well, I didn't quite reach my goal of finishing up talking about my now-ancient vacation back in April/May.  Life kind of just got really crazy in the last two weeks.  Not just a little, but A LOT.  Something that has been brewing for a while finally became real, and there has been a lot for John and I to discuss.  It has to do with my job, and I can't say a lot about it here (not that I really want to; my blog is about my life outside work, and that is the way I like it), but suffice it to say, I'm going to be going through a large change within the next few months.  I will be leaving my current job at the end of July due to a reorganization (my choice, although it might not have been if I waited for a few months), and it's very likely that we will be relocating as well.  More on that as it develops.

But instead of focusing on the future, I'm going to share what I did in the past.  Specifically, my visit to my grandmother on Easter this year.  My grandmother has always loved to cook big dinners for family visits on holidays, but she has had some health issues recently and many of us have gotten dietary restrictions, it's become a lot harder to feed us all.  Since my mom and I were going vegan, we decided to bring our own food for the Easter get-together.  We brought a green salad with goddess dressing, Hoppin' John salad, and a lemon pie.  I was having a crazy craving for lemon pie, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make a satisfactory vegan version, since the one I used to make was definitely egg- and dairy-laden, but it was a case of Fatfree Vegan to the rescue.  I adapted this recipe, making it a little bit less fat free by using Earth Balance in my graham cracker crust and lite coconut milk to create a sweet drizzle.  The taste was just what I was looking for!  It made a perfect light spring/summer dessert.

Beyond the great meal that we had, we also got the chance to visit with my grandmother, aunt, uncle and my cousin's daughter for the entire afternoon.  The dishes that we brought also opened up a really interesting conversation about food, and it turns out the rest of the family is pretty interested in eating more healthfully as well.  We talked a lot about saturated fat, and about how my grandparents' longevity (my grandfather died at 95 and my grandmother will be 90 in December) and my grandmother's relatively good health into old age is probably attributable to diet.  My grandmother in particular was a vegetarian for all intents and purposes for a number of years due to stomach problems, and she, unlike many others of her age, has not had to deal with extreme heart disease and other diet-related issues that plague most of the population.

I'll leave you with this picture of three generations.  Yes, that is my hot mom on the left, looking like my slightly older sister, and that is my awesome grandma in the middle!  More to come soon, as I still haven't even gotten to the New Orleans part yet.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Easy Lunch Ideas for Working Vegans

This is the second part of my meal plans based on the awesome development of my mom and stepdad adopting a primarily plant-based diet.  See my breakfast post here: Vegan Breakfasts

I love lunch.  I am one of those people that needs to have a real lunch every day.  That doesn't mean I want to down a calorie-bomb sandwich necessarily, and it doesn't exclude things like soup or salad.  But when I see someone eating a bag of Fritos or sadly trying to make eating a yogurt last thirty minutes, I just feel depressed.  That being said, I am always running late in the morning, and like many working people, I only have half an hour to prepare and eat my lunch, and that is on a slow day.  I am fortunate to work in a place where I have a microwave, toaster, and refrigerator at my disposal, and I definitely take advantage of that.  For those people who aren't as fortunate, I expect lunch can be a much more difficult meal to deal with.  My mom, who I'm providing ideas for, is in basically the same situation as me, except she gets a full lunch hour.  She is busy, so speed of preparation is of the essence, and also like me, she wants a meal she can look forward to all morning that will keep her going through the afternoon when five o'clock seems way too far away.  Up front I will say, these ideas aren't going to blow the doors off of how you think about lunch.  I am going to talk a lot about salad, soup, and sandwiches.  But since I went through it for my mom, I wanted to share it on the blog as well, in the hope that it might be interesting for other folks as well. 

Tofu "Egg" Salad Sandwich

1.  Salads
  • Start with a whole lot of greens and then go crazy with vegetables.  Add whatever you like best, or whatever seasonal items looked great at the grocery store.  My favorite salad ingredients include carrots, onions, radishes, snowpeas, bell peppers, avocado and tomatoes.  (Other people would probably add cucumbers and celery to that list as well, but I hate them and I refuse to support cucumbers unless they have done the right thing and become pickles.)  Add nuts or seeds for crunchy texture and healthy whole-food fat.  Add beans (chickpeas are great!) or baked tofu/crumbled tempeh/soy chick'n for a protein boost.  When it comes to dressing, homemade beats storebought every time.  Maple syrup and mustard with pepper and garlic powder is a simple, quick and tasty honey mustard sub with no oil.  Flavored vinegars make a good dressing on their own, and silken tofu is a good base to make creamy dressings.
2.  Soups
  • Non-dairy milks and pureed vegetables make great bases for creamy soups.  Real milk and cream are easy to replace, so you aren't missing anything.
  • Vegetable broth-based soups with veggies and noodles
  • Bean or lentil soups
3.  Sandwiches:  I am a sandwich girl through and through.  I usually start my lunch plan with a sandwich and build around it.  These are very minimalist suggestions, easily elevated or simplified by choice of bread, condiments, etc.
  • Tempeh BLT = awesome. 
  • Hummus and veggie sandwich
  • Baked tofu sandwich with veggies
  • Vegan "tuna" salad (recipe here: click for deliciousness )
  • Vegan "egg" salad
  • Grilled cheeze or simple quesadillas
  • Veggie "lunchmeat" (if you're into that sort of thing, and sometimes I am)
  • PB&J or a variation
4.  Dinner Leftovers:  I don't usually have leftovers, because I live with a guy who doesn't really eat all day, so usually what I cook for dinner gets eaten.  But I will sometimes cook a simple second dinner just to create leftovers for lunch, if I have the time and stovetop space.
  • Pasta with sauce (could run the gamut from marinara to mac & cheeze)
  • Rice and beans
  • Chili
  • Stew
  • Stir fry vegetables with rice
  • Burritos
  • Baked potatoes (cook a few extra the night before and eat with your favorite toppings.  Ideas would include:  broccoli & cheeze sauce, vegan sour cream and veggie bacon, chili, salsa.)
5.  Snack Plates:  This is not something I do much on weekdays; I tend to go for it more as a light lunch on weekends when I have eaten a bigger breakfast, but it could definitely be a work lunch too. 
  • Dips:  Black bean salsa dip (simply a can of beans and a jar of salsa mixed up in the food processor); Hummus; Mexican layered dip (refried beans, vegan sour cream, guac and salsa)
  • Things to dip:  Crudites, pita, tortilla chips

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Vegan "Meat" and Potatoes

When I think about it, I have to say that it is nothing short of a miracle that John and I became vegans and stayed that way for any amount of time.  With me, the biggest issue was dairy products--the more unhealthy, the better was my philosophy.  I loved cheese and ice cream, and even after knowing how much better I felt without them, and after knowing how many problems I had to go through in my detox process, I craved them for a long time.

For John, the problem is a little bit different.  It's not just a certain food that he "misses" or craves.  It's more like the idea of hearty comfort food-style dinners, which for him have always been based around meat and starch.  Even now when I ask John if he has any requests or suggestions for dinner, he asks for something like meat and potatoes.  He's always asking for chicken parmesan and potatoes, or meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  He has been working non-stop with acting jobs lately, so when he asked for something meat and potatoes this time, I turned to Vegan Comfort Food by Alicia Simpson to find a way to fulfill that request.  I used both the meatloaf recipe and the mushroom gravy recipe, adapted out some of the oil in the meatloaf, and made a delicious, fairly healthy, extremely filling comfort food meal.

The "meat"loaf is made out of TVP, and the green beans are canned (which is the only way I like them, since I grew up eating), but there is hardly any added fat in this meal, aside from the gravy, which is roux-based.  Most importantly, John loved it.  It made him feel like he wasn't missing anything at all.  Vegan eating does not have to be about what is not on your plate, and I think that is something that people who haven't tried it don't realize.  I certainly didn't!  I've said it a million times, and I'll say it a million more--I knew nothing about food before I left animal products behind, and becoming vegan is the best decision I ever made!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Vegan Georgia on the Road: Mississippi Trip Part 1

Hi everyone!  It's been a while.  I went on vacation and then ended up somehow missing out on May entirely, it seems.  I am always the kind of person who needs a vacation after the vacation, and this time was no different.  We had such a great time on our visit down south, and we got to spend a ton of time with friends and family, but by the time we got back to Massachusetts, I was pooped!  Also, when we got home, spring was in full swing, and my allergies knocked me out.  I'm not normally such a sickly person, but I guess the freakish weather (from the crazy snow over the winter, to the pollen explosion, to tornadoes last week) is affecting me this year.  The allergies turned into bronchitis and I just didn't feel like thinking or talking about food for quite a while.  But I'm back now, and I think I'm ready to return from hiatus for at least a little while.  I am going to be working with Worcester Shakespeare Company again this year, and that makes my summer a lot busier.  I love it, but the time commitment doesn't leave me time for much else!

One of the best things about the trip to visit my family was helping my mom learn about being vegan.  Before we even went home from the airport, we visited a number of grocery stores to stock up and go over the basics.  It was great!  I was also very pleasantly surprised to note that while the health food store in Jackson, Mississippi, is stocked as well as could be expected, the "regular" grocery store has a great deal of vegan-friendly food (like dairy substitutes) as well.  In fact, it's better than my local non-health food store, because there are vegan cheeses available!  So she could potentially have one-stop shopping, which is an advantage over what I have here in Worcester.  It's also good, since she actually lives about 1.5 hours away from Jackson.  She has been shopping there anyway though, just because the prices and selection is so much better, and she's down there for work fairly often.

The first night, my mom requested that I make a dish I had made when she and I met for a weekend trip to St. Simon's Island, Georgia, when I had just been vegan for a few months. We stayed in a small vacation cottage, and bought groceries and made our own food, which is what I generally like to do for longer trips.  We didn't have pantry items though, so I had to buy everything we were going to need, which calls for simplicity in the recipe choice.  I made bean tacos, and it turns out my mom has been talking about them to my stepdad ever since, so they wanted me to reprise that recipe for them at home.  I changed it up a little, since I could, and it was even better than it had been the first time I made it.

Three Bean Chili Tacos        

Corn tortillas

Chili filling:
One onion, diced
One red bell pepper, diced
One green bell pepper, diced
Two cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
One can pinto beans
One can black beans
One can red kidney beans
1/2 cup TVP (optional)
Chile powder, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, & salt to taste

Shredded green cabbage
Diced tomato
Fresh cilantro, chopped
                                                                                  Vegan cheese (optional)

Begin by preparing chili filling.  Saute onion & pepper in cooking spray or water over medium heat.

I may teaching my mom something about cooking vegan, but she still has the superior knife skills.  Check out that dice!

In a separate stock pot, add tomatoes and beans with liquid from cans.  Bring to a simmer. Add spices, and onion/pepper mixture.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Add TVP and cover to rehydrate.  

In the meantime, heat tortillas according to package directions, and prepare toppings. When TVP is fully rehydrated (at least five minutes), build tacos as desired, using a slotted spoon for the chili.

It's been quite a while since I wrote down a recipe, so I apologize if I missed anything.  I'm much more of a suggester than a demander when it comes to recipes anyway, so feel free to adjust and adapt as you wish.

As you can see, I've named this post "Part 1."  There is plenty more to tell about my trip, so stay tuned!  I've set a goal to finish recapping my Mississippi/Louisiana adventure by the end of the week.  I hope you all had a wonderful month of May, and I'm glad to be back with you for June!