Saturday, August 31, 2013

Before VeganMoFo begins......

Before VeganMoFo begins, I'd like to cover some background.

My name is happy vegan #1, and I live on an island in the Florida Keys. Actually I own the Deer Run Bed and Breakfast with happy vegan #2, on Big Pine Key (that's about 30 miles give or take from Key West). We are both vegan, but were raised conventional (meaning yup, we ate meat, and unwittingly participated in the exploitation of animals).

I don't like to say that not much effort was put into our meals when I was growing up, but looking back, I think there is some truth to that. My mother was primarily responsible for meal planning and cooking, and I don't think she liked to cook. I think she liked to bake since I remember her smiling a lot more when cake was involved. I am exactly the same that way. When I was in my very early teens, somehow I began to take over a bit in the kitchen. Mom taught me basic kitchen skills, but our kitchen was usually in a state of disrepair, as dad was renovating it, so it seems, for almost the entire time I was growing up. One thing that kitchen did have, however, was a double oven. To this day, I've only lived one other place that had 2 ovens, and it's not here. It figures.

Growing up we had what I consider typical, for the times, meals. We always would sit down together as a family for dinner. We almost always had a salad served at every meal, and I still follow this practice. We had a special bowl to serve the salad in, in fact my brother still has the bowl, and I'm pretty sure that is a cherished item. We would have meat at my house maybe 3 times a week. I never liked cooking it, I never liked touching it, despite the fact that I had a HUGE disconnect of where my food really came from. This is hard to believe for so many reasons, much of which is boring anyway. I remember my specialty dish as a teen was pepper steak. The recipe was modified by me out of a penny-pincher's cookbook. It had red and green peppers, onions, spices and sliced meat. I served it over rice on a giant platter. When it came time for my portion, I would slide the meat to the side, and indulge in the peppers & onions with rice. I would do the exact same thing with sausage and peppers (which was a pretty big deal in my house, considering that was dad's favorite). I didn't realize at the time that even on a subconscious level meat was torture on a plate, but I think looking back that's exactly what was going on with me.

My path towards being vegan began the way it does for so many others... education. Somehow a PETA pamphlet made it's way to me. At the time, I was in my very early 20s. Mind you, this was decades ago, the Internet didn't exist and information was much more difficult to acquire. I read something about veal and baby cows, and what goes on to get veal. I was horrified. I stopped eating veal immediately. Not that it was something I'd eat often, but for me at the time, it was a "luxury" I'd "indulge" in occasionally. I still feel shame admitting this. After I learned about veal, there was a natural progression as more information made it's way to me. By process of elimination, I removed veal, beef, poultry, fish, then dairy and all by-products from my food choices. Dairy took me the longest, and it's mostly because I bought into the dairy industry propaganda that dairy wasn't cruel. Epically wrong. I found myself relying on dairy for everything, despite the fact that I was completely lactose intolerant. Back when all this was going on in my life, vegan was relatively "fringe." Meat substitutes really didn't exist, and forget about dairy substitutes. I remember going to the health food store and blowing the dust off a shelf stable box of soy milk, then making that purchase. I got home, opened the box, poured it on my cereal, and after tasting the combo, proceeded to toss the entire lot into the trash (more shame... food waste).

Finally, I was invited to a "Fur Free Friday" event on Black Friday in NYC's Fashion District. I dragged a bloody fur through the streets with a friend, and afterwards there was a gathering in a park. There was food, and lots of literature. One thing is for sure, once you see something, it's impossible to unsee it. I got an education that day in animal cruelty that changed me forever.

It took a while longer for me to get rid of the animal products that were in my closet. I was torn between not wanting to throw items away that an animal's life had been taken for (i.e.: belts, shoes, blah blah), and the shame I felt in wearing them. I stopped wearing those items, but they remained in my closet for a very long time. Finally, I found appropriate charities and ways to more respectfully deal with those items. For many years I am now, what I consider to be, an ethical vegan.

Happy Vegan #2 has a different story, but I prefer he share that on his own time. I will say that there has been a lot more harmony in our household together once he decided to go vegan too. I don't think either of us totally realized just how much a) resentment I felt that he wasn't vegan and b) pressure he felt from me, even though I never spoke my frustration to him.

When we bought Deer Run, it was a major life change for us both. We moved thousands of miles from friends and family to come here. He wanted to move here much more than I did at the time, and the "compromise" was I would do the B and B if, and only if, we did it vegan and as a true "green" business.  He agreed and here we are.

Very few people supported our business vision as far as the "vegan" part. In fact, so much negativity came forth from others that we actually stopped telling people what we were planning. Remember, this was close to 10 years ago, vegan was still more "fringe" than it is now.  When I say I never had a doubt that we'd hit the ground running, that's the 100% truth. And, I was right.

Now that I run a vegan business, my life has become much more food-centric. The bulk of my culinary training (which was desperately needed, refer to long ago "lentil loaf" blog post.....) has been conducted privately either in chef's kitchens/homes, or in my own home. My first culinary course started with the basics including a health and safety program called "Sani-Safe" which was also taught privately to me. From there, I learned basic cooking techniques, and recipes. Back when I started, baking was a very small slice of my training.

I am not a chef, rather I consider myself a cook. I am, however, a professional baker, and have had much more training now in that regard. That is truly where my passion lies. My other passion is eating food. Like a majority of other vegans out there, I love good food. My trips are planned around food, my days are focused on food, and basically there is almost no part of my life that isn't somehow touched by food. Because I spend so much time in the kitchen, I make it a point to watch my own eating habits closer than probably the average person, and I make fitness a priority. I took up running a few years ago when nothing else seemed to be working holding me at a stable weight. Running has mostly done the trick. Although I don't run fast and I only do a few miles every day, I get it done.

I face many challenges being a vegan living in an area in which being vegan puts one in the minority. The Florida Keys have a long history of fishing, both for sport and for eating. People take lobster, crabs and other sea creatures for eating. I find these practices difficult to deal with on a personal level. Not only do I cringe when I see these things occur, but I am constantly subjected to the environmental damage these activities do. Driving up and down the Keys, simply look at almost any power wires on a bridge and you will see massive amounts of monofilament line and lures from people who cast poorly, then simply cut their lines. I am constantly picking up the trash that washes in from commercial and recreational fishing/lobstering activities, and also frequently pick up broken traps that some fisher people do not collect. There are some people who pay for "x" number of trap licenses, but then throw "y" number instead (more traps). Then if a storm hits, very often they will not collect the disabled/broken traps that litter the shorelines and flats because essentially they were illegal anyway, they don't have their tag #s on them, no way to track them. To them, it's just another "cost of doing business," but to me it's a torture chamber for animals, an eyesore for me, and an environmental hazard to people and animals in the area. I also happen to be a certified wildlife paraprofessional, and have been involved in too many rescues, and recovery efforts, of animals that have suffered from this type of careless disregard. Poaching is also a problem, as there's never enough enforcement available, and sometimes people will just take a chance and see what they get away with. Thankfully, there has been a pretty big uptick in cracking down on illegal activities and I've rejoiced anytime there's been convictions with jail time meted out for those committing crimes against the environment.

Shopping for food in the lower Keys really isn't difficult, and I'm going to talk about that through MoFo. Dining out in the lower Keys also isn't difficult, many more places are vegan friendly since we've put Deer Run on the map. Yet, the only other 100% vegan commercial kitchen that I'm aware of in the Keys belongs to Sugar Apple in Key West. So, although places are vegan friendly, they aren't vegan. This usually is something I can cope with relatively well, but not always. Imagine being a vegan in a beautiful restaurant, dining on delicious vegan food, all in Paradise. Then, it all comes crashing down when kitchen staff parades live lobsters through the restaurant on a "you catch it, we'll cook it" theory. It's happened, and very recently. It brings me to tears of sadness, frustration and anger because I realize we have so far to go.

VeganMoFo is a month long celebration of vegan food. I will be tossing some of my ethics into some posts, most likely because you see I am what I consider an ethical vegan. I'm not vegan for my health reasons, although that's been a really great by-product. No, I'm vegan for the animals. I'm vegan because I made a conscious decision to do the least harm to animals. Anyone who comes here and is "surprised" by our beliefs must not really look at my web page, my Facebook page, my reviews, or my blog. I completely "outed" myself from the vegan closet a very long time ago. I hope to change people's minds one vegan bite at a time.

I weep when I see animal suffering. I choose to make the kindest choices I can. I educate myself at every turn, despite the fact that much of what I've seen, read and heard through the years has at times been so violent and devastating that I've taken to be physically ill. The fact is, if I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem.

I hope you enjoy my VeganMoFo posts. I want to have a fun-filled month of posts, while I tell you about life on my island as a vegan. Hopefully this little blurb about me has helped you understand a little bit more about me. If you don't like me, that's just fine as not everyone likes everyone else. If you don't like me, but are interested in becoming vegan, that's very cool because all it takes is one "click" on your computer and you can find lots of other great people and sites.

Fasten your seat belts everyone, VeganMoFo starts tomorrow! Thanks for joining me!

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I make plans, the Universe laughs. That pretty much sums up my time lately, culminating in our super quick trip to NYC.

I had this blog post all planned out far in advance. It was supposed to be chock full of lovely photos and witty writings about my fabulous jaunt to NYC. For now, I'll live with "it is what it is." This post should rightfully be broken down into 2 days, but I'm just going to get through it at once. Here we go.

The other happy vegan and I made plans a while ago to attend the WTFveganfood End of the Road party in NYC, which actually was a benefit for the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, put on by the wonderful and talented Kristin Lajeunesse.  If you don't already know about Kristin and her WTFVeganfood project, you must either visit her on Facebook or at Reading this paragraph, I know now the problem was "I made plans."

Refer back to opening paragraph: I make plans, the Universe laughs.

I had about a 3 day gap between our day of departure from when I had some family visiting. Seemed like a reasonable amount of time to make the final preparations for the trip north, and do some work here at the inn.  Fatal flaw, right there.

We had some more major problems behind the scenes with the County of Monroe and their shenanigans which completely boiled over on our planned departure day (there's that word "plan" yet again). My head was literally pounding. We were supposed to head up to the mainland shortly before dinner hour, check into the hotel, have dinner at Sublime, and then get to sleep early as we had a flight scheduled at dawn. We also had some other business issues to deal with, which left me absolutely no time at all to research the restaurants and logistics of traveling within NYC... you know, basically what's the closest/best places to eat, best use of our very limited time in the city, blah blah blah.

The day before departure, we were absolutely tortured by the aforementioned tomfoolery. Massive amounts of time and energies were wasted because of it, so much so that by the time the torture concluded, we were exhausted, stunned and hours behind schedule for our plans and departure. This meant no eating at Sublime on the mainland. Instead I was scrambling making some last minute changes and preparations, as mentioned hours behind schedule. By the time we got to our overnight hotel destination, it was close to midnight. By that point, the only food available was my "emergency travel provisions" that I take whenever there's a road trip on tap. For me, this time the provisions were this:

Very small emergency food kit for this trip.
This silver packets are dried vegan coffee creamer (more on that later).
Look at that pitiful pile. What's missing is one of the Primal strips. That's what I chose to have for dinner in the hotel at about 1am, a mere few hours before our first flight. Sigh.

We woke up for our really early flight, and made it to the airport with time to spare. Food offerings were limited, and truth be told, I was feeling pretty crappy due to the stress from the day before. The hotel coffee was so awful, I actually regretted using one of my rationed vegan creamer packets in it. Down the drain it went.

Once on the plane, we settled in, and everything seemed to be going ok. I was a little hungry, so I again broke into my emergency travel provisions, choosing the spirulina ball (I like those little treats a lot!) Once we landed, we even had time before our connector to grab a mega-quick morsel of food. We found a place called "Moe's" which apparently is some type of food chain, but had vegan stuff. He ordered this:

Beans, rice and veggies in a fried bowl......
While I ordered this:

Inside is a bunch of beans, rice and veggies. I totally forgot I was avoiding gluten,
but remembered as I took bite #1. I opened the burrito, scraped out the insides, ate that,
and let the other happy vegan eat what he wanted of my tortilla.
Overall, we were delighted simply to find vegan food in an airport that didn't
come from a vending machine or my tote bag.
We boarded the flight to NYC, and found we were not seated together. I'm a much better flier than I used to be, yet I still enjoy a security blanket (travel companion). I didn't have it. I steeled myself, and figured "just grow up already!" The flight was bumpy almost the entire time. I began to feel a little queasy. I was already feeling crappy from the stress, and then things began to become amplified. The landing was the roughest I can remember from any flight in many years, and I was not happy. Covered in sweat, I grabbed my bags and dashed from the plane, through the airport to find some fresh air. Those hopes were dashed as soon as I burst outside the airport doors and found a crush of vehicles and people among polluted foul smelling city air.

My palm trees were far behind me.

We hailed a cab, and were treated to the first of several white knuckle rides through the streets of New York. By the time we got to the hotel, I collapsed in bed. Gone were my plans of researching which restaurants and when. Instead, as I napped, he ran around the corner to a veg place and ordered me something off the menu he hoped I'd like, and brought food back to the hotel for both of us. He loved his, me.... not so much. I was hungry, so I ate most of it and went back to sleep for about an hour.  Upon waking, we made a couple of last "run throughs" of practice for a flash mob that was planned for the party (more on that later too).

I was still feeling crappy, but hoped it was just due to the flight and stuff, so we cleaned ourselves up, and I put on my "sassy city girl" outfit #1 which was my perfect city dress with city walking shoes. We both looked like we didn't belong in Paradise anymore.... dressed in black from head to toe. We can still blend! I thought to myself "success!"

We walked around and I noticed this cute "angel cat" painted high on a building.
I wanted to go to MooShoes. We hailed a cab since MooShoes was more than a few miles away. Next up was about a half hour hell ride in a yellow torture chamber as far as I'm concerned. My stomach was rolling by the time we made it to MooShoes. We had less than 1 hour to shop, not enough time by any stretch, but it's all we had. MooShoes was like a Vegan Mecca for me. One of my only goals besides eating my way through NYC was to go to a bricks and mortar all vegan store.  MooShoes sure fit that bill! Once inside, we met John, and we met Lisa, two of the nicest, most helpful people you'd ever want to be around if you happen to be 2 vegans who definitely were out of their element in NYC. As we tried on different shoes and boots, we also met Marlow....
Meet Marlow! Isn't he handsome?!
He's the resident shop cat at MooShoes.
Marlow is a bit grumpy lately. MooShoes is fostering 2 new kitties.
Marlow is not amused by the invasion.

Inside MooShoes!

Wall art @ MooShoes. LOVE!

Yup, Vegan Fashions For All!
Thanks MooShoes!
MooShoes did a constant stream of business as John and Lisa tended to us. We each settled on a pair of shoes (he got work shoes, I got boots, all of which are being shipped) and I also picked out a really beautiful vegan message shirt for the other happy vegan. It was beginning to get dark by the time we left MooShoes, and we figured dinner was in order. I had done the bare minimum of researching, and we made reservations for a late dinner at a fine veg place in NYC. John (MooShoes) put together a fabulous list of "must eat at" places for us, and we figured we'd hit what we could the next day, but since we already had reservations, we'd stick with them for dinner. Big mistake.

The other happy vegan hailed another cab. I was still feeling crappy, and I was thinking it was stress related still from the events of the day before with the business meeting coupled with a very rough day of travel in planes and cars. I was pushing through though as there was no way I was going to miss 1 minute of NYC. 36 hours and not a moment to spare, right?......  We got to the restaurant. It was tiny, and cramped. The menu was ok, but not as great as I hoped. I was feeling worse and worse, I couldn't shake what happened at the meeting the day before. The other happy vegan, equally upset, kept trying to calm me down, and asking me to not let what happened ruin our trip. Our food arrived, and I photographed it. The photos didn't turn out, I learned this today when I downloaded them.

I tasted my food, and thought it was sort of funky; I didn't care for the flavor combinations. I ate only a few small bites of it. The smells of the other happy vegan's food began to wear on me as well. He looked at me, and saw I was apparently deteriorating quickly. We took almost my entire order of food "to go," skipped dessert, and ..... hailed a cab. This particular cab ride was the worst ride of my life. Don't ask me how, at that hour of the evening, there was so much traffic, but there was. That driver at one point hit 55 mph through the decrepit city streets. I'm not exaggerating when I saw pedestrians scrambling to get out of his way. He was hitting the brakes, then the gas so hard it didn't seem to matter we were in seat belts. All I remember the cabbie saying was something along the lines of all the OTHER drivers in New York are crazy.  Um, sure.....

I bolted up to the room, and within minutes was violently ill. The drives through the city, the rough flight, the lunch and the dinner all came back in a flood over me that had me literally crawling on the bathroom floor (too much information?) The poor other happy vegan..... hotel rooms sure do get small in situations such as this. He ran to Duane Reed to get me anything he could off the shelf, and returned in short order with a bag of items that were meant to help, but I couldn't even look at. Bless his heart, he did come back with some ginger ale, which I opened up and left sitting on the ledge for later when it was no longer fizzy.  I cleaned myself up, and slid into his Mercy for Animals t-shirt, because I had also forgotten to pack pajamas. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that.... the night we left we found ourselves in downtown Ft. Lauderdale looking for a 24 hours CVS or Walgreens so I could buy something to sleep in. We found 1 Walgreens, which had 1 pair of crappy non-fair-trade (of course) rayon "vacation pants" which I am sorry to say I purchased.

Safely tucked into my hotel bed in my non-fair-trade vacation pants and a giant MFA t-shirt, whimpering, I began to wonder if I would be well enough to make it to the following night's party. I didn't want to say my thoughts aloud, because to say them would be to manifest them.

I couldn't sleep. I couldn't get comfortable. Pity the other happy vegan at that moment, trust me.

The next morning I still felt crappy, but not AS crappy. He let me sleep late. This irritated me because sleeping late meant no Dun-Well Doughnuts visit for us. Not that I could actually EAT anything, but I desperately wanted to go. I took a sip of my non-fizzy ginger ale, as he came up with crappy coffee. The smell of it made me nauseous, so no coffee for me. As he sprinkled dried vegan creamer into his cup and took a sip, he cursed wasting another packet of the stuff on brown water. Down the drain it went.

After another hour of me whimpering, I got up and showered. I wasn't feeling well enough to put on another "sassy city girl" outfit, so I pulled on my jeans and a tank top, and off we went to discover lunch.  Honestly, I didn't want to eat, I was still thinking that would be a huge mistake. Worse yet, he wanted to go back to where he got the takeout from the day before! I decided there would be no more take out from that place, no more talk of the fancy place that also may or may not have food poisoned me, and that I would not take any more cab rides in NYC. We used our little phone GPS and made our way to a place called "Terri." Terri is nothing fancy, but it appeared to be clean, and it was totally vegan. The people behind the counter were smiling, and very friendly. The place had fun music playing, and was doing a brisk, constant, stream of business. He ordered a buffalo un-chicken sandwich with some potato salad, and I ordered a plain green salad and some potato salad too. The other happy vegan LOVED his sandwich and thought the potato salad was great as well, although he said he likes mine better (aw......) I only wish I was feeling better, as their menu had far more things I would've liked to have tried as compared to the fancy place the night before. I picked off the red onion from my salad (I should've asked....), and picked around the onion in my potato salad (also should've asked about that).  I couldn't take the taste of anything that wasn't 100% bland. How unfortunate considering there were so many things on that menu I would have loved to try. I ate 4 bites of (yay! organic!) baby greens, and those big chunks out of my potato salad. I was truly hungry, but simply couldn't eat. Sitting in the middle of NYC, surrounded by vegan food everywhere, and I'm not eating. This definitely was not on my plan.

What's that sound? Universe are you laughing again?

We walked through the streets, stopped in a few stores, and made our way into one of the most fabulous vintages shops I've ever been in. Ever. Really and truly, ever in my entire life! I was frustrated, I wasn't feeling 100%, and the slightly musty smell that would never have even been noticed by me under any other circumstance suddenly became all I could focus on. Sadly, we both agreed we should probably just get me back to the hotel for some rest. It was the night of Kristin's party, and we both were thinking the same thing, but not saying it.... "would I be well enough to go?"

We made a short pilgrimage to FIT.
For anyone who doesn't know me.... or for those that THINK they know me, but really don't...
fun fact: Decades ago, I dreamed of a life immersed in fashion design.
It would have started here, but never did.
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that once in a blue moon, I think....
"what if" - or- "if only."
Carpe Diem, baby; Carpe Diem
We hoofed it back to the hotel, as cabs were off limits. Once we got back, I crawled into bed and watched mind numbing crap on TV as NYC vibrated outside my window. With every minute that ticked by, I was becoming more and more upset about what was happening. He did his best to soothe my frustration, including being a constant source of no longer fizzy ginger ale.  I dozed in and out of consciousness, and finally it was time to assess the situation. I got up, walked around, and realized that despite the fact my still-pounding headache (which was not responding to medication) remained with me, I felt much better than before. We got ready for the party. He forgot his cufflinks, so we improvised and used 2 of Lil Bub's buttons on his cuffs. He had the coolest outfit of anyone thanks to my prior thrift shop planning for weeks and months, which included a tux shirt (hence the Bubtons) and a vintage tux jacket, paired with vintage denim, an animal rights t-shirt, vintage white scarf with fringe, and a white straw Panama hat. I wore the same black cocktail dress and shoes that I searched months for when his first born got married not too long ago. We both put on our sassy sunglasses, and began to hoof it to the party (no cabs, remember?) The line was out the door when we arrived. One of the elevators was not working, so we had to wait, and make fast friends when getting in the elevator. Every 5 minutes or so he would whisper in my ear "are you ok?" Gratefully, I honestly was able to answer "I'm good!" and mean it.

We got inside the party, and began to mix and mingle. I truly felt the stress begin to leave me for the first time since we left that disaster of a meeting. We made our way to the bar; the bar which we had both paid for as an open bar.... and I realized I was still too fragile to go for the vegan wines and IPAs that were there. I stuck with non-alcoholic beverages the entire night (delicious and a wonderful selection, by the way, but boy was I looking forward to the bar selections as part of my grand NYC plan!) and began to make my way back into considering food. Here I was at a vegan food catered event, there was NO way I was not going to partake. I grabbed the first thing off the first tray I saw, and scarfed it down. It was the best thing I'd eaten since arriving in NYC. I ran to the corner, kicked off my walking shoes, and put on my glittery stilettos. I looked at the other happy vegan and announced "I'm in party mode" and we began to finally enjoy our time. Speaking of time.....

As I also mentioned briefly above, we practiced for a flash mob which was surreptitiously planned by Kristin for the party. When I say we practiced, I mean we PRACTICED! We memorized the routine and had it down cold. This was no easy feat considering what we've been up to work-wise in the last few weeks, along with the other demands upon our time. But, we managed. I even practiced it in my glittery platform stilettos (everything Fred did, Ginger did backwards and in heels). We knew the dance was supposed to be at about a certain time. We made our way downstairs around the appointed time, but nothing. We killed some time downstairs, I used the ladies room, and still nothing. Somehow we made our way back upstairs, and then eventually about 40 minutes after the appointed dance time, someone came upstairs and announced "the speakers upstairs aren't working...." which we thought was a cue for any dancers to get downstairs for the impending dance. Little did we know that by then the entire flash mob was over. We were so out of the loop that the other happy vegan even asked someone else later in the party "what happened to the dance?" to which they replied "we think it got cancelled" as they too were apparently a "mobster."

These shoes were made for dancing (or an assault depending which end of the spike you're on!)
Sadly they missed the big flash mob, but the passing cabbies got to see our
vegan style flash mob on the way back to the hotel.
Neither one of us were going to let all the practice go to complete waste.
I love my sparkly shoes. They have shiny silver platforms and shiny silver spikes.
I love them so much, I wore them one morning while flipping pancakes.
One ringy dingy..... Universe, is that you?

We didn't even know we missed the dance until this morning, yes, Saturday morning, when we saw something posted on Facebook about it. All I can say about this is that the other happy vegan and I flash mobbed ourselves back to the hotel after the party like dopes. Yes, people were looking at us like idiots. I prefer to think it was mostly because we had good outfits on, and everyone wished they had outfits as good as us at that moment too (tidbit.... we walked past 4 fur stores on the way back to the hotel, the irony was not lost on the passersby as I ripped the tux jacket off the other happy vegan so anyone could get a better look at his animal rights t-shirt).

The party was the highlight, it really was. We met some really fun, and interesting people. We met many people who are very involved in activism, and committed to veganism. We met some people who are just beginning to explore plant based eating, and some people who were not vegan at all, but now have a lot more information to think about. We bid on one of silent auction baskets, and I was delighted I was the high bidder (OMG... the fashionista basket!!!! Vaute Couture! Cri De Coeur! Pansy Maiden! Compassion Couture! and so much more!!!!) and I met the Vegan Zombies (yeah, I bothered one of them for a photo to which he graciously agreed, but it came out so lame I refuse to post it). We played in the photo booth (I made at least 6 attempts to upload photos at the event, no one else had a problem, but the anti-tech geek came out in me and I couldn't get them to post).

Mine is somewhere on here......

We wrote on the "Before I Die" board (very cool idea, and very fun to read what others wrote.....)

LOL..... I love "go home w/the Vegan Zombie"...
and no, it wasn't me who wrote that!
I got a good laugh when I saw the "write on Before I Die board."

I almost cried when I saw "rescue my dad."
I smiled a lot when I read "I'm good."  Way to be.
We met the people who won the Florida Keys swag basket in the silent auction which included the stay at our place; we're so excited for them! Funny thing, we were actually in the middle of an excellent conversation with them on the terrace when that "speakers aren't working" announcement was made, which we erroneously thought was a cue that the flash mob music was going to start. So, we excused ourselves from the conversation and headed downstairs for said nonexistent, already happened, flash mob. Fail.

The Universe: "hahahahahahhahahahahah."

The food trays continued to pass us fast and furious. I tried everything that passed me, and almost tackled the server who had the gluten free mac and cheese bites. I think I had an out of body experience from those morsels of joy. Was it a coincidence that after our first 2 run ins with her, any time she saw me after that, the tray seemed to magically fly into the air away from me as she shouted out "these are for the UPSTAIRS PEOPLE!" Maybe that wasn't directed exactly at me after all.... seemed that there was a secondary flash mob going on, and it involved the mac and cheese bite fans.

We waited on line for the desserts, and as we were waiting we began to chat with the photographer, who was a very nice, friendly professional. We spoke about the challenges of being self-employed, as well as the freedoms it affords us (which we all seemed to agree exist, yet most small business owners/self employed rarely take advantage of). He suggested to us to do the photo booth, but I explained I had a lot of time invested in that dessert line and I wasn't going to uninvest it. I promised him I'd bring him back a canoli and we'd do the booth after dessert. True to my word, I brought him his canoli (and one for me!) and we played in the photo booth. That was more fun than I expected, especially since the other happy vegan by that point had a few glasses of wine in him. He and his wine, partnered with my "I'm in party mode" spirit definitely had us barreling full steam ahead through the evening.

Kristin even had amazingly talented live music at the party, which was so good we stopped, stood, watched and listened to. Shame on me for not knowing their names, because they deserve more than an excellent "plug." Jay Astafa was the caterer, a 20 year old from Brooklyn who I say is a future star in the world of vegan food. When I think back to what I was doing at 20, I'm practically ashamed. I had no focus, no plan, no nothing. Jay's food was outstanding, both in taste and presentation. I wanted to shake his hand and thank him, but he was working so hard I didn't find any opportunity to do so. He is to be commended. Vegan Treats of Bethlehem PA provided the desserts. VT is the leader in the field of vegan baking, and I think there's no one out there who does more beautiful or varied vegan baking. I've been a fan for as long as the storefront has existed. VT puts conventional baking to shame, while setting the standard for vegan baking. Conventional bakers.... ka-pow take THAT!

And then, it was over. The music stopped, the place cleared out, and we found ourselves again on line to take the one working elevator back down 16 flights. We got to the street, and it was the moment of reckoning... after party, or not? I desperately wanted to stay out. We were all dressed up in the heart of NYC, 1800 miles from home. I was exhausted, and I knew he was too. I left the decision up to him, it was the only fair thing to do. The hammer came down, and he said he didn't think he could do it. I said no problem, I understood, and truth be told I really did. We laughed the entire way back to the hotel, flash mobbed for a good part of it, and stood in front of those fur stores, pausing while I pointed to his animal rights shirt, and reminded those in the area that fur is very cruel, very uncool, and dead. Remarkably no one on the street disagreed with me, in fact I got a few "go girl!" comments and he even got a "great shirt" comment from someone passing by.

When we got back to the hotel, we crashed almost instantly. There was no after party for us. No clubs til 4am, no middle of the night vegan diner raids or anything else. Eyes slammed shut, we had to get up early for the flight home the next morning.  Time for the Universe to check in......

We got up early and packed. I had packed exceptionally light, and had enough room to fit all the swag from my fashionista basket into my case, as well as a few other things I picked up (I bought an adorable shirt for my little nephew from the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary!)  Just as we finished packing, the first of about 2 dozen texts began to come through from the airline. Our flight was delayed, which meant we'd miss our connector. Travel plans crumbled.

Hello? Hello? Are you there, it's me...... Universe.

The flight was delayed. It was undelayed. It was delayed and undelayed again. Then again. After too much time on the phone with the airline, we ran to Whole Foods (it's all we had time for at this point) and I scarfed this:

We're in NYC, surrounded by amazing vegan food, and I'm in Whole Foods
jamming down oatmeal, fruit and a cup of coffee.
In it's defense, it was organic, fair trade and the best coffee I'd had since leaving Deer Run.
We went back to the hotel, checked out, hailed a cab (for the love of dog, I hope I never have to be in a taxi again, ever) and were dropped at the airport. Our flight was delayed even longer than disclosed earlier through those texts and long, numerous calls; we were told that we'd probably miss any connecting flights to Florida for the entire day.

Who's giggling.... Universe, YOU again?!!!!

We finally boarded our flight, and sat on the tarmac for a while. Delays piled longer. We knew we'd be staying in the connecting city for the night, and began to make plans (ut oh....) for dinner in that city. Once we got to the connecting city, we learned that we didn't miss our connector, but "something" was "wrong" with the flight. Customer service had no further info, but told us to "RUN!" to the gate. So we did. Upon arrival, we saw an entire mob of people standing. No one appeared to be sitting anywhere.... all standing. We ran to the ticket counter, and were told there was a malfunction with the plane. The connector was massively delayed, so we could still make the flight! They looked at our boarding passes, and said "you're fine, just wait with the others." So, we started to wait. And wait. And wait. Turns out, the malfunction was quite major. The entire plane had boarded and was preparing to leave when it was determined something with the oil and brakes were not working (ok.... refer to several paragraphs above about me liking a security blanket when I fly. This was NOT good news). The airline made the entire plane deplane. The luggage was taken off, and a new plane was prepared. This took hours. Everyone who was there had been there for hours. I ran off to find some emergency airport provisions (I found hummus in the airport!) and use the ladies room (last stop for me had been the hotel that morning, yikes!) By the time I got back, we had about another 20 minutes wait time, but finally began boarding.  As soon as we got up and showed our boarding passes, we were flagged. Turns out, we were not "fine" as the other attendant had indicated, but rather we had been "checked out" of the flight for being late. They scrambled and found seats for us (thankfully), but again we were not seated together. We got on the plane, and found our seats. Sorry to say I had one very miserable man to my left. Times like that, I leave someone alone to their misery, real or imagined. On my other side I had someone who couldn't comprehend what "turn off phones, and electronic devices" meant when the attendants made the announcements; repeatedly.

The flight was otherwise relatively uneventful, and we made it back to Florida. It was too late to eat at Sublime, but made it to Whole Foods (where else, right?) with about 20 minutes to spare. We did some very quick shopping, scarfed down some soup, and hit the Turnpike for the very long ride back to my beloved home. We pulled into the driveway after 1am, greeted by warm fuzzy faces, including Peri who seemed perplexed that we had left him, but happy we were back.

The journey was over. And remarkably so was my headache. The final parting shot occurred this morning, when I attempted to remove my fake nails. Didn't they look lovely?

When did I take possession of my mother's hands?!!!!

It took about an hour to get the nails off. I had to do it, there's no way I can work in things like that. When one of the nails popped off as I was stuffing my bag into the overhead on the plane, I absolutely should have let it languish on the floor. Instead, I crawled around looking for it, much to the delight of other passengers, and many knowing headshakes from the ladies. I stupidly glued the darn thing back on, which only resulted in more removal time today. Note to self: leave the artificial nails to anyone else but me. I'm a baker, and the two just don't mix.

NYC, you have so much to offer, but I think it will be a while before I'm back in your 'hood.  I'm taking my un-manicured hands and going to lace up my sneakers tomorrow. I'll  run as far too many thoughts of vegan food and vegan clothing float through my head. It's going to be a good long while before this happy vegan gets off the rock again any time soon. I'll Carpe Diem so long as it's in Paradise, USA.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Kitchen Tips & Ramblings

I'm getting ready for Vegan MoFo, having already prepared for one post (a miracle to actually be ahead of schedule for at least one thing, for one day, on any subject in my life!) That being said, I'm also striving to get used to writing more regularly, as I used to, in preparation for the commitment.

I've been working so much in the kitchen this summer, an inordinate amount of time for the "slow season." I thought I'd get a quick post up here for you about some tips which seem so obvious, yet I had to figure most out for myself.

My first tip is to buy the best quality you can on any kitchen utensils and tools. If you are serious about cooking or baking, even as a "home" cook, you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and you shouldn't be bogged down by inferior equipment. Something as simple as measuring cups matter. I use stainless cups for dry measurements. I have several sets, and they are all relatively good quality (sturdy handles, good welds on the handles) but I never thought about them before, until I bought an inferior set. What makes it inferior? Well, sure they're stainless, but the handles are thin. So much so that when I fill a cup with sugar or flour, the handles will actually bend from the weight of just one cup. I use them, but that big 1 cup measure is the last one I ever go for in my drawer.

I buy multiples, and I mean multiples! I have approximately 10 sets of teaspoons. Most are stainless (the ones that are not are very old before I had this business, but still functional and I will use them until they  break). This becomes important when you have thoughts of "cross-contamination." If you dip a measuring spoon into flour, it immediately becomes contaminated with gluten. If you are baking or cooking for someone with Celiacs disease, this becomes ultra important. I never use any measuring item, spoon, bowl, cup or otherwise for anything other than it's one time use. This may not be as important in your home use, but for me it's non-negotiable. I see people with allergies to nuts, gluten, soy, nightshades, and so much more. Even if I am making something that is not allergen free, I still use my safe baking and cooking habits; this is part of my training and I make good use of said training. You can see why having multiple sets of certain things can become pretty helpful.

I also have about 10 glass measuring cups. I no longer buy measuring cups with handles that are "closed" handle style. I need my cups to stack in my cabinet. If you have cups that have a rounded, attached handle, they obviously will not stack. Space saving is also ultra important in my teeny galley-style kitchen. I've also amassed a decent collection of stainless steel mixing bowls. I put the same practices into place when using bowls as I do with spoons. When I make 2 baked items in the morning (for example mini-corn muffins as a side dish, and regular muffins as the 1st course) typically you'd see 4 stainless bowls in the sink when I'm done, because I've used one large bowl for the dry ingredients, and 1 medium bowl for the wet ingredients on each recipe. I have no time to wash bowls in between recipes, and truth be told most of my bowls go into my dishwasher as a sanitation issue because my dishwasher is superheated due to Board of Health regulations. I think I have about 20 (maybe more!) stainless bowls, ranging from absolutely huge, to the teeniest you can imagine. I've purchased them in restaurant stores, auctions, our local thrift shops, and other places. Anytime I see a stainless bowl, I grab it and assess if I have enough of that size already, or will it be a good one to add. Mostly I realized how important this was when I took a class with Rita Romano when she lived in Key West. She had a back building on her property (maybe it was a converted large garage, I'm not sure) which was absolutely a cook's dream. Front to back stainless counters with shelves underneath absolutely LOADED with stainless bowls. She tore through bowls making recipes like nothing I'd ever seen before, it was impressive how fast she made her recipes. The last thing she needed to do was stop and wash a bowl, ugh! I wish I had her bowl collection (bowl envy, imagine that).

Always do as much prep ahead of time as possible. I've never regretted doing too much prep ahead of time, EVER, because there's simply no such thing as too much advance prep. It takes time, boy does it ever, but it will pay off on the days you find yourself rushed, or simply not wanting to spend hours in the kitchen. I have some recipes I make over and over, so I've come up with ways to really streamline. This includes my herb & spice mixtures. In the fall, pumpkin muffins, scones, cookies & cakes get really popular everywhere (even in the beautiful tropical Florida Keys). I make a large jar of my pumpkin pie spice mix ahead of time, and have it on hand instead of measuring every ingredient separately. I also do this for large quantity recipes I make on a regular basis. I know what my most popular recipes for special orders, so I keep my empty glass spice jars (I order a lot of things from Frontier), run them through the dishwasher, and then fill them with herbs or spices for the large batch recipes I make. It doesn't sound like that's a timesaver, but it truly is. If I opened my cabinet right now, you'd see about 30 bottles of pre-mixed, ready-to-go, spice jars for my different types of hummus. Some of my recipes have over 12 different seasonings in them, that's a lot of jars to be dragging out of the pantry or cabinets. Instead now I just pull one out, it's ready to go.

For gluten free considerations, the biggest "tip" is to avoid cross-contamination. If you're someone like me who does not have a gluten free kitchen, yet does a lot of gluten free cooking & baking, it's essential that you have the ability to separate tools and equipment from that which will contact gluten items, or if you cannot have separate tools and utensils, that you have proper equipment to sterilize the equipment before coming into contact with gluten free ingredients. When I have orders to fill, I always do my gluten free things first. This is about minimizing risk. If I do my regular baking first, there is a chance there will be flour dust in the air, or something remaining on the counter. Not likely, but possible. So I eliminate that risk by doing the gluten free first. Also, it's imperative if you are offering someone gluten free, that it really IS gluten free. Gluten free is trending right now, some of it is because of false information (like people think they'll lose weight by going gluten free), but for some people being gluten free is a life long way of living due to profound health issues. Oats generally by their nature are gluten free, but they become non gluten free when they are processed on shared equipment. This is why, for example, if I want to offer a gluten free oatmeal cookie, I have to buy certified gluten free oats, not just oats. Soy sauce and tamari is another big offender, very often having wheat as an ingredient. I have a designated special area in my fridge for gluten free storage. I've also made sure that it's on the top shelves so no cross contamination could occur by something possibly dripping or falling down into that storage that may have gluten in it. That may seem extreme for some, but for me it's simple enough, so why NOT do it?

Living gluten free used to be kind of a pain for many people due to lots of reasons, not the least of which were mislabeled products, unlabeled products, or lack of decent products. One of the products that has really been a wonderful addition to my gluten free collection is from a company called Coconut Secret, it's called Coconut Aminos. They're soy free, gluten free aminos. When I bought them the first time I thought "this will be crap, they will taste like coconut" but I was so wrong. They taste like soy sauce. This product has been a saving grace for me with so many of my recipes when gluten free guests or soy free guests come through my B and B. I also keep that gluten free condiment separate from the bins that house my conventional vegan condiments, just to be extra safe with cross contamination issues. In my fridge I have Bragg's liquid aminos, soy sauce, tamari, gluten free tamari, and Coconut aminos. Some of the bottles look similar, I don't want to grab the wrong thing in a brain fog one day, right?

Don't be a slave to gadgets in your kitchen. I've covered this before, so won't go into depth here, but rest assured you really CAN live without a lot of those cool one trick ponies the kitchen stores try to tell us we need. Again, this goes to my opening tip... buying good quality. A good food processor will multi-task, as will a high end blender (like a Vitamix). I have an exception to my rule on this, and that is a garlic press. I have one, it's a good one too. I press pounds and pounds of garlic with my little garlic press. Some chefs will say crushing it with the side of a knife is enough to release the cellular compounds we want (cutting doesn't do the same thing on a cellular level by the way). When I was shopping my hummus samples to new accounts, for example, I had some serious feedback from business owners who really know hummus, and knew what they wanted. Crushing garlic with a knife vs. crushing garlic with a press resulted in different flavors in my hummus, and for someone with a palate that discriminating, I wanted to oblige. My garlic press is the only one trick pony in my kitchen at this point (hm.... I DO have donut pans.... whoops!)

Here's a few more, that really don't need elaborating:

Get an oven thermometer, and use it.

Cast iron cookware is your friend and can be purchased used. You can clean it, it will be like new, and last several generations.

Always use a kitchen timer (not that Facebooking ever causes us to lose track of time....., right?!)

Stay hydrated while cooking and baking. It took a pastry chef to point this one out, how foolish of me!

Weigh your ingredients when baking. Yup. Do it.  Remember "the art of cooking, the science of baking."

Take good care of your equipment. You deserve the best equipment you can get (which, by the way doesn't need to always translate to the most expensive equipment!), so you better take care of it. Respect your tools and equipment. Clean things well, and have proper space to store your items so you don't have an avalanche of crap coming at you when you open your equipment cabinet.

And, last, try to minimize the "science experiments" in your fridge. You put all that effort into your food prep, cooking and baking, why let something languish in the fridge? Rotate your stock properly, clean your fridge weekly, and expect a deep clean about once every four to six weeks. If you let things go too far past that schedule, you'll find yourself being a slave to your kitchen, that's never a good thing.

That about does it for now, see you soon!

Friday, August 16, 2013

I'm Joining Vegan MoFo!

I've lamented far too often about being so sluggish on the blog for quite a while. Remember the good old days when I'd get a post up sometimes 5 or 6 times a week? I'm putting the pressure on myself to get back in the saddle here, and to do this, I'm committing to Vegan MoFo as a blogger!  Yay!

Wait? What's that?  You say "Vegan MoFo, what's THAT?!" Silly rabbit, it's "Vegan Month of Food" (Vegan MoFo, get it?) Vegan MoFo is a worldwide cyber event by the way. I'm here to represent our beautiful Florida Keys, and I'll be doing so with pride!

There's no strict guidelines, but the goal is for all participating bloggers to shoot for 20 posts in 30 days (this begins in September by the way.... this year the event month is September...) There's really no set in stone format either. I can write about recipes, eating out, product reviews, or basically anything related to vegan food. I've reached out on Facebook to get ideas what people would like to see me write about, and the first 2 suggestions I think were already epic.... eating out as a vegan in the Keys, and grocery shopping in the Keys as a vegan. Those ideas are absolutely subjects I will write about, in fact I've already begun to prepare for this ahead of time by taking photos and making notes about my experiences when I go out to eat, and boy oh boy are the grocers going to wonder what the heck am I doing as I shop for the next few weeks with a camera in hand tooling down every aisle.

If you have any subjects you think would be great for VeganMoFo, please send me an email, post a comment here, or post a comment on our Deer Run Facebook page.

I'm pretty excited to be committing to this, and truth be told I also hope this will be something to kickstart me back into the habit of making time for more regular posts for you as well.

The countdown to Vegan MoFo is on!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Holy Crap!

I just looked at the date of my last post. Dang, seriously, where DOES time go?  I set goals for keeping the posts current on this blog, and then other obligations get the better of me.

Lately I've been playing tourist. It's a good thing trust me. When family is in town, we go to great lengths to get things organized behind the scenes so we can hang out and relax. Unfortunately there are still some things we cannot control, like meetings, phone calls, and such. Yet, for the most part we've been able to contain most of the static, and get down to the nitty gritty of doing nothing. Well, not really doing nothing, but like I said, playing tourist.

We went to the monthly Save-A-Turtle of the Florida Keys meeting at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, where Dr. Doug Mader was the guest speaker. He brought a tegu (see photo) and a Burmese python named Pink. Pink was rescued from a hoarding situation in Key West... she was captive with far too many other animals and snakes living in a station wagon. She now resides at the Sheriff's Animal Farm on Stock Island, and is a "teaching snake" which essentially means she's an ambassador for her species. For me, this was a very eye-opening presentation. We went with visiting family, which includes my young nephew. He was a brave little dude.... jumped right in and helped hold Pink!

Meet Pink. Here she is being held by some of the doctors & techs from Marathon Veterinary Hospital.
Taken at the monthly SAT meeting this Monday past.
(check out Pink wrapping her tail around Dr. Cathy's right arm!!!)

This is a tegu, an invasive species here in Florida.
This tegu was most likely an escaped pet from someone, I do not know the circumstances
of how she came to live at the Sheriff's Animal Farm and become a teaching tegu.
Look! I got an "action" shot, her tongue is out!
We went out on the boat, not too far, but it was so beautiful. The water was clear, so clear. I finally got to play with one of our Zyaks (I hope I spelled that right) which we have been testing here since the tornado took out our glass bottom kayak. I floated in the ocean for over an hour on one of the Zyaks, and I was rewarded with sunburn. Yes, the other happy vegan has the responsibility of coating my back anytime we're out in the sun, but with all the action going on (including young nephew finally loving jumping off the boat over and over and over!) my back was neglected.  Boot camp was interesting tonight to say the least, ow ow ow. Anyway, the Zyak is like a boogie board with a polycarbonate viewing lens. You lie face down on the board, stick your face into the face hole, and paddle around. I really hoped to see some stuff swimming around, but I think my paddling scared any life away. Instead, I was treated to many types of sea grasses in the pristine water. It was so soothing.

The scene of the sunburn crime.
Who could possibly blame me for floating around on that darn Zyak for so long!

There was an inordinate amount of cooking and baking going on this passed weekend to get ready for the visit. I made a sworn promise to myself that I would not cook or bake while company was in town. Come on, anyone who hosts company knows there's always one person who gets stuck in the kitchen preparing the meals, clearing the dishes, etc. That of course falls to me here, so to counter-attack, I spent the entire day in my kitchen on Saturday. This included calling ahead early last week to take orders for my business accounts and have them ready for pick up or delivery ahead of time. There was complete and total success on the cooking & baking goals. I made black bean soup, roasted butternut squash soup, Italian "sausage", "pepperoni", "egg salad," potato salad, olive tapenade, black bean hummus, regular hummus, veggie burgers, cakes, many kinds of cookies, and more. 

Perfection. A supersized pan of vegan organic fair trade
chocolate ganache begins to set up!
(you can see a photo of the actual finished cake on our Facebook page)

Organic, vegan black & whites, made with fair trade ingredients.
Anytime I meet someone who knows what a black & white is,
well I know where they're from, and they know where I'm from!
We have plans to actually go out to the reef (weather permitting) before the troops head back out of town. My fingers are crossed that the stars align for this. You know me.... I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to water (understatement of the year), so we need pretty much perfect conditions to get me out there. This time of year, storms pop up out of nowhere... not a fun thing for this really wanting to stay happy vegan but not willing to sacrifice her sanity in a storm at sea.  Keep good thoughts on that one, ok?

I'm celebrating my 1 month anniversary with painfully little sugar in my life. I say painfully because until literally this last Sunday, I allegedly was the most miserable person on the planet without my sugar. If you asked the other happy vegan, he might allude to the fact he is of the opinion that I may have been a bit moody as I detoxed off the sweet stuff. I stuck with it for the most part (not gonna bore you with specifics). Last Sunday was the first day in all that time that I felt really great, and I mean absolutely fantastic. I felt happy. I felt energized. I ran, and turned in an incredible time for someone like me so uninspired regarding running. I cleaned the house from ceiling to floors. I played with the cats, and walked outside with Peri on his leash.  Things really fell into place. I'm still WANTING sugar, and I mean the hardcore sugar stuff... sweets, chips out of a 50 pound bag smothered in peanut butter, and blah blah blah. But, I'm not going there for a little while longer. My reward for hitting goal was to push the goal for a little longer. That's it. No food rewards. No shoe or clothing rewards. Just the fact that I made it, and so why not go for a little longer. I've also mostly eliminated gluten. I have nothing against gluten, and no scientific reasons to eliminate it, I just wanted to not have to worry about those extra sugars as well.

A couple weeks ago, I would've stabbed the other happy vegan for a piece of spaghetti or a crumble of cookie, but relax, he's safe now.... I'm no longer inclined to stab him, besides he hid the forks.

Tonight when I pulled in from the gym, I was just about to walk up the stairs when I saw this little lovely bedded down next to our stairs. She looked so comfy, I made sure to be extra quiet and not startle her. She let me take her picture, and I went on my way upstairs. She stayed. In fact, she's still there now, I think she's going to sleep there tonight. So, on that note, I say sweet dreams little one.

Sweet Dreams Sweet One!
Oh, ok, here's one more bonus picture for you. Earlier today when I was getting dressed for a run, I noticed Aggie rolling in the sun. She's a little on the chunky side still, despite our measured and timed feedings. She's such a beautiful and photogenic feline. She always finds a little patch of sun and basks. She pretty much has her priorities figured out.

All Aggie, all the time!

Please continue to follow us on Facebook, while I do my best to post entries on a more regular basis. Hope springs eternal!