Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Celebrating The Divine Diana Nyad and The Cafe, Key West (VeganMoFo continues!)

I missed a post yesterday that I had planned. The day spiraled out of control with so many errands, deliveries, and obligations. I had an inkling that the day would be busy, but by about 10-ish, I knew there was no hope to pull off everything on the "to do" list. It was also about the same time that a text came in to the other happy vegan's cell phone.... something along the lines that there was going to be a party at someone's place in Key West that evening.... would we like to go and meet Diana?


Ok, the above "thunk" was a reenactment of me hitting the floor the moment the text was conveyed to me.

We said yes.

I began to attack my "to do" list with the force of a Tasmanian Devil (Bugs Bunny Taz.... not real life Taz). I was getting things done, including a few things Pop needed taken care of, all with my eye on the clock. The MoFo post I had planned is going to wait, because basically yesterday evolved into a celebration of Diana Nyad, and a visit to the Cafe', a mostly vegetarian restaurant (yes, that is the full name) for a very fast bite to eat before the party.

Diana is, understandably, and well deservedly, the toast of the town right now. Not just our town, but every town. She's still in Key West, and everyone wants to see her, touch her, talk with her, and pretty much simply "be" in the presence of such greatness. I'm on the very long list of admirers, you already know. Once I got everything I was able accomplished, I left the remaining items on "the list" with no guilt at all. I directed my attention to the kitchen for some quick baking. I was raised, as was the other happy vegan, that when you're invited to a party, you bring something. It doesn't have to be expensive, or fancy, but the rule is never show up empty handed. So, we were invited to a party being hosted by someone we did not know, but the rule still applied. When it doubt, bake cupcakes! Not just ANY cupcakes, bake vegan, organic cupcakes!

I baked coconut Key lime cupcakes to bring to the party.
Here's some of them.
I use local grown organic Key limes.
It's the "not so secret, secret" to making these cupcakes amazing.
Bottled Key lime juice will not do...
nor will Persian limes, or any other kind of lime.
Big Pine Key grown organic Key limes.

After I got the cupcakes baked, decorated, boxed and wrapped, I cleaned myself up and got ready to go. About 5 minutes before heading out the door, the first of a few texts came in saying that a parade had been organized to celebrate Diana, so she would be arriving at the party a little later than initially planned. With barely a missed beat, both of us decided there was time for "The Cafe" for a really quick bite to eat, hooray!

We headed out the door, cupcakes in tow, for Key West. We stopped on the way and picked up a bottle of Moet so I could give it to Diana when I met her (not all champagne is vegan-friendly, but Moet is, you bet!) This time of year in the Keys is pretty quiet. The summer holidays are over, kids are back in school, there may be a touch of autumn in the air up north making people want to nest at home, and blah blah blah. For me, this is a perfect time to be in the Keys... I love the roads being less traveled, I love going places and pretty much seeing all the people I know, and just really appreciate the beginning of my own "summer vacation," as backwards as it may seem compared to the calendar. There was virtually no traffic the whole trip down to Key West. We made the trek in record time, while I chattered the whole ride down about how I hope I don't "dork out" the moment I meet Diana (more on the "dorking out" aspect further...)

When we got into town, we found ample parking, another reason to love this time of year. We headed into the restaurant, I've written about "The Cafe" many times on this blog, it's a staple in my favorite places to eat in Key West. Of all the visits we've made to the Cafe through the years, it figures that this one during VeganMoFo was when we were pressed for time, so didn't get dessert or appetizers, plus we both ordered the same thing ... yet it was still a well-timed visit for the topic, and let's take a peek in photos, before I get back to my brush with the great Diana Nyad.

This is the sign that hangs above the entrance at The Cafe.
I never asked, but I think their sign was designed/painted by
an artist in Key West who signs her work "Ginger."
The Cafe always has local art for sale on it's walls.
This looks like Ginger's style.
Although I've never met the mysterious "Ginger,"
I am a big fan. Someday I hope to buy an original "Ginger"
work of art to hang in my personal space.
Until then, it's always a special treat when Ginger's art is on the wall.
The Cafe also delivers... see the scooter to the right?
And, lots of locals visit The Cafe via bicycle.
People like to decorate their bikes with swag & bling, we're island ya know.

This is the room you walk into. It has dining tables,
the register, the place to pick up take out orders, and the bar.
The little white cards you see wrapped around the pole are index cards
that patrons have colored & written cute things about The Cafe.
There used to be MANY more of those cards; they were EVERYWHERE!
I even made my share of them.
One day we went in there, and they were mostly gone.
I used to like reading the cards, they were so clever.
It's ok though, now there's more room for Ginger's art anyway.

Too bad this picture came out so dark. This is the back dining room.
It has a large banquette across the back window.
It used to have a step up, and a table with stumpy little legs.
You'd have to sit on the floor if you wanted to eat at that table.
They had little throw pillows scattered there, and it was fun to eat in the window
watching the world go by outside.
I convinced the other happy vegan to eat in the window only once.
He wasn't happy about it, but complied to shut me up.
Rumor has it that it's difficult to get up and down the older we get.
Not that I'd have first hand info on that.... I age backwards.

A little blurry (such a crappy camera I'm using) but this is the
blackboard with the desserts of the day.
There's THREE vegan desserts on here, I've had them all!
I think there was vegan Key lime pie on the menu, but I chopped the bottom off...
I've had their vegan Key lime pie in the past.
It was delicious!

This photo shows the other half of the entrance dining room when you walk in...
see the window to the right, that's the street out there.
The Cafe has 2 tables by each window that seat I'd say 4 to 6.
There's a bench under each window for seating, then
chairs as you can see on the other side of the tables.
The art on the walls is for sale.
For an early Tuesday evening, they were doing a brisk business!
Everyone love The Cafe!

This is a large mixed media from the artist Ginger.
Now do you see why I love her stuff so much?!
Always so vibrant, and usually very whimsical.

This large painting is beautiful, and there is virtually
no more beautiful subject matter than a sea turtle.
There was no sign next to this painting.
I asked, and apparently this piece is also for sale.
Just stunning.

Both of us happy vegans ordered the seitan peppersteak with Daiya.
Sandwiches at The Cafe are always served with their house made bean salad.
The other happy vegan loves it, me not so much.
I'm sorry to say, I am not a fan of kidney beans.
For a small up charge, you can get a beautiful side salad.
That's what I always do.
I pushed the beans aside to show how generous the filling portion
is inside their sandwiches!
This is my seitan peppersteak with Daiya on ciabatta (yup, I ate bread last night...
it WAS a celebration, remember?)  with the side salad.
I really dislike sprouts, and pushed them aside.
I forgot to ask them to leave them off.
Mango vinaigrette for me too!

The other happy vegan also requested a side order of their grilled asparagus.
It is finished with pink sea salt.
When asparagus is really in season, they offer the most beautiful, petite stalks
available. They grill them to perfection.... slightly caramelized.
The other happy vegan always offers me some, but I know better...
refer to many prior posts about food territory issues between us.

I should've taken a picture of the cookie, not the sign.
Their cookies are the size of cake plates!
Oh so vegan!
The minute we arrived, we were greeted by one of The Cafe's long time servers. The wait staff at The Cafe has always been gracious, professional, and friendly. Some times in Key West, things can get a little too "island" if you know what I mean. Never had that experience at The Cafe. I mention this because we were exceptionally pressed for time last night, and they didn't miss a beat in making sure we got our great food post-haste, with a smile.  Anyway, as soon as we sat down, we ordered without even looking at the menu. The Cafe bills itself as "A Mostly Vegetarian Cafe," which indeed it is. Almost anything that is offered with dairy cheese can be made with Daiya so it's vegan. There is no meat on the menu, but there is some fish. This explains the "mostly vegetarian" part of their name. What I do especially like about The Cafe is that vegan options are very clearly marked on the menu, and they're not limited to a puny selection. There's quite a vast selection of vegan offerings. Also, the Cafe has a nice craft beer selection, sake, and also makes sangria. They have a good selection of natural sodas, always have at least 2 iced herbal teas every day, coffee, hot herbal tea, and other beverages that can be veganized (like iced or hot chai tea). Soy milk is available for lightening coffee and tea instead of dairy milk for vegans, or anyone else wisely avoiding dairy.

While we were eating our dinner (with blinding speed I should add), another text came through that the parade was behind schedule, and the arrival at the party would be even later. It really didn't matter to me, I was simply thrilled to be invited, and time was of no consequence for me.  I took a few photos (as you can see), we paid our bill, waived a "see you next time" to the friendly people working, and headed off to meet our friends who were taking us to the party, just around the corner.

This was the chariot that took us to the party!
Once we met our friends, we visited, and then made our way over to the party whizzing through the city streets on the go-cart with cupcakes and champagne in hand. Diana was not there yet, and more texts began to flow explaining that she was doing some media interviews, and again who can blame her. If it were me, I wouldn't say "no" to anything! This is her time, this is her moment! Take every bit of it that you earned Diana! The party was beautifully catered. We made the rounds a little bit, the other happy vegan knew more people than I did, but that's always the way it seems. Most of my work takes place right here at the inn, while his obligations take him off site more frequently than me. I poured myself a glass of wine, but that was more of a "something to hold" issue than wanting to drink anything. I talked to a few people I didn't know, but that's another thing in the Keys, people don't seem as standoffish as I was accustomed to up north. People seem more relaxed, and generally speaking, happier. Everyone continued to marvel about Diana and her accomplishment through the evening. The hours clicked by, and still no Diana. The food was being eaten, the cupcakes were long since devoured. Finally, we decided to "call it a night." Some people had left before us, and it's important to remember that the majority of people there, besides those on Diana's team, are locals. We have jobs, families and other obligations that preclude us from staying out too late.

I was a little disappointed, but you know, it was an honor just to be invited. I grabbed the champagne and we began to walk down the alley, chatting and laughing. About 3/4 of the way down the alley, our friends saw Diana's long time friend Bonnie round the corner into our alley.... then just steps behind, there she was.... Diana Nyad. It was just our tiny group, and Diana with 2 friends. A beautiful, warm Key West evening, small alleyway up to the secret apartment dimly lit, smells of late summer flowers wafting through the air, and just us. No 100+ party people vying for Diana's attention. Just us! I admit, I squeaked with excitement, it just popped out, couldn't help myself. Our friends went up and greeted Diana. The other happy vegan did the same. Me? I was beginning to break out into a sweat just trying to hold my composure. They introduced me to Diana. One on one, we spoke. I know everyone wants to speak with Diana, to be in the presence of her greatness. She's a generous, warm, funny woman who I swear makes every person feel like they are the only person she cares about speaking with while she's with you. I was able to say things I've wanted to say for a very long time, among them: thank you and I love you. She joked around for a few minutes. She looked beautiful, and joy radiated from her it really did. I was overwhelmed, but didn't (yet) dork out completely. She posed for just a couple quick snaps. We said goodbye, and she began to make her way to the party. I turned to walk away too, but then remembered the champagne. I had completely forgotten about it, setting it on the ground when we started taking pictures. I turned around, grabbed the bottle and chased her "wait! wait! wait! This is for you Diana!" And with that I pushed the (vegan) bubbly into her hands with another "congratulations, I'm so very happy for you!" then basically whirled around running back down the alley, completely dorking out at that point shrieking "eeeeeeeeeeeeee! Diana Nyad is sooooooooo great!!!!!" while doing a happy dance.

Sadly, my photo op with Diana was not one for the books. Her friend that took the shot had no experience with the worst camera in the world (mine) and so it's one giant blur (stabilization issues, remember?) of someone in a blue "Cuba Swim" t-shirt (that would be Diana) and someone else in a black & white polka dot dress (that would be me).

Being vegan in the Keys may have challenges at times, but it has it's rewards too. What more could you possibly ask than a great vegan dinner at The Cafe, picking up a great vegan bottle of champagne, and meeting a modern day sports hero all on the same day? Maybe it's not really fair to simply call Diana a modern day sports hero, because truth be told, she's so much more. Diana is, for me and so many others, an ambassador to the truth that dreams really do come true.

We love you Diana Nyad! We love you The Cafe! We love you VeganMoFo!

What is YOUR dream? Whatever it is, I have it on good advice to simply "find a way."

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