That time we visited Scotland and Ireland

Both countries lived up to the hype and my own personal hopes.

Rather than sketch out a full narrative on our 10+ day excursion, I’m going to challenge myself and aim for the 10 words or less review of each place (accompanied by a few photos to give, you know, context)

Edinburgh: birthplace of Scotland. Old meets tourist on cobblestone streets.

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St. Andrews: must-stop for golfers, botanists, beach walkers…and single ladies.

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Dingle: agrarian paradise held together through kindness, culture, and beer

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Dublin: Guinness-built international destination; class lines, once deep, now blurred

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Without hesitation, I would recommend putting both countries on your list for your next vacation. With nearly 86 miles under our feet (and 400+ in the car), we only scratched the surface of these nations.

We change from the insides out. When the joy is sparked, you can’t hide it:

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On a cold, rainy day in the South

it’s hard not to miss home. We had a chance to return to the Valley of the Sun in early February. Feels like eons ago already. Knocked off several hikes, see the Frida Kalho exhibit at the Heard Museum, visit two breweries [Four Peaks and Wren House], eat good vegan eats (Loving Hut, Pita Jungle, The Coronado, Picazzo’s] and lots of family and friend time, and a day at the Waste Management Open.

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Composting at the Waste Management Open?! I am all over that.

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In true Millennial fashion, Danny and I are at a brewery, together, on our phones.

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With Mom outside of the Heard Museum. Yes, sleeveless in February — BRING IT!

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Being a ham next to my Dad

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We brought our own lanyards.

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Which one is the out-of-towner?

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Out on the Go John trail in Cave Creek

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Saguaro dabs. I dab.

 

Airport etiquette (an oxymoron?)

In pursuit of professional development (and crossing off another city from Aaron’s travel bucket list), we ventured to Austin, TX so I could attend the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference (#15NTC) – I will geek out on this experience in a future post.

While we didn’t fly out together on this particular trip, Aaron and I often watch (and lament) our fellow passengers throughout the entire air travel process. I admire (but don’t envy) people who spend a great deal of their time traveling through the friendly skies. Because, from my experience, these skies are not so friendly. And, they certainly do not offer the opportunities to see humanity act in its finest form.

Why is that? What about boarding a metal cage with wings and some inflatable sides causes people to turn from this:

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to this:

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Is it the confined space? The narrow aisles? The layovers? Hangovers? Or, is it simply because this type of activity fully reveals that most of us are selfish creatures who lack empathy and awareness? Aaron opined about our travels last year during a particularly time-crunched deplaning opportunity. One of the flight attendants kindly asked folks who didn’t have a connection to “stay seated, allowing those passengers with connections the opportunity to exit the plane quickly.” Take a wild guess how many people stayed seated on that flight?

Maybe I’m being unfair. I don’t travel by air that often – about five to six times a year, on average. I acknowledge that my experiences wouldn’t qualify as valid data for a research project. But, there’s just something that seems to emerge from even the arguably most practical people upon entering an airport.

Airport travel can be stressful, especially for those of us who like to control situations. You essentially surrender your control in order to fly. This may explain why people are so unwilling to give up even more when asked. For example, because most flights are booked to the gills, overhead bin space becomes a premium. And, if you are not in the first or second boarding group, your bag may not find a home. To counter having to check bags during the board process, airlines have moved towards offering checking your bag at the gate – a great way to circumvent baggage fees (unless you fly Southwest because they still rock the “bags fly free” motto).

Each time I have witnessed this plea from the gate attendants, I see so few people take advantage. Yes, if you check a bag, you will have the additional step of retrieving it at your final destination, which may add another 7 to 10 minutes to your journey. But, how much time will you delay the boarding process if you’re that person who just can’t find a spot to put your bag? Or, the person who starts manipulating items already in the overhead bin in order to make space for theirs? “Oh, I’m sorry sir – can you actually put your bag under your seat? My enormous duffle needs to fit up here.”

I realize this post may be verging on the petty, but I think I just feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment, as I often do when I see a chance for people to put others ahead of them. It’s more than just not checking a bag or staying seated when others are trying to make flights. It’s the avoiding eye contact with people boarding, internally begging them not to sit in that open seat next to you. It’s the carrying on loud conversations in confined spaces on topics not needing to be shared by the public. It’s allowing your children to watch movies with no headphones. If I have to hear that Dora the Explorer song again, I’m pulling that chute.

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What have your air travel experiences been like?

Walt Disney World and vegan eats

Besides evenings chocked full of activities for other organizations, my failure to fully complete the 31+ days of Veganuary recipes can also be partly blamed on a mouse.

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Yes, that’s evidence of Mickey Mouse and me breaking it down on the dance floor. The impetus for all of this happening was to celebrate the marriage of my good friend and Teach For America trenchmate Kacie (and her now husband Preston!). Kacie’s fondness for WDW, and Preston’s fondness for Kacie, led to this magical occasion in Orlando.

Not only was this my first time at Walt Disney World – this was my first time in the state of Florida. (thus knocking another unvisited state of the list!) In this post, I’m going to focus mainly on the food. The sights, sounds, and rides of the four parks will be featured in subsequent narratives.

Bottom line: eating vegan isn’t easy at Walt Disney World, but it’s possible and likely some of the best service you’ll receive.

Before we left, Aaron and I did our homework, thanks to other bloggers for jotting down their plant-based eating journeys of the various resorts, parks, and surrounding restaurants. Overall, there were two shining gems among the rougher choices, and both of them happen to be at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

1) Sanaa, Animal Kingdom Lodge

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Touted as “African cooking with Indian flavors,” this restaurant was on the must-hit list. In fact, it was the first eatery we dined at post-arriving to the grounds (reservations recommended).

On the basic menu, Sanaa offers a vegetarian sampler featuring Lentil Dal, Chickpea Wat, and more. Unfortunately, the naan here is made with ghee, but there are lentil chips as substitutes. Even better: there is a full vegan menu. I let our server know, and boom: it appeared.

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Major decision time. I ended up opted for the three-salad sampler (chickpeas with cucumber and tomato; watermelon, cucumber and fennel; and Bhel Puri) and an order of the Chana Tiki appetizer.

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Everything was delicious. We’re talking poppin’ flavors in fresh-high quality food. It didn’t hurt to also have Cigar City available:

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Sanaa set a high bar for the rest of our Disney experience. Needless to say, expectations fell short along the way. However, this first day continued strong as we ended up having dinner in EPCOT.

2) Tangerine Cafe, EPCOT

Another suggestion that came from both our bride-to-be and several other online resources. Located in the Morocco section, Tangerine Cafe provided some of the best falafel and couscous salad that we both have ever tasted. I went with the vegetarian platter, which came with falafel, lentils, tabouleh, hummus, bread, olives, and this crazy good Tangerine couscous salad.

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Aaron – not a surprise – went for the vegetarian Falafel wrap, which he loved (not vegan).

Editor’s note: I just read that the lentil salad is actually not vegan. Well darnit. Who puts mayo in lentil salad?! Also, if you abstain from honey, you can request honey-free pita bread.

3) Boma – Animal Kingdom Lodge

On the final day of our magical experience, we landed at Boma for the last possible breakfast seating (10:50am) before our flight. Boma was the first restaurant that came out of most people’s mouths for vegan-friendly recommendations. During both breakfast and dinner service (no lunch, folks!), the restaurants offers an enormous range of options on a buffet.

Thanks to some sleuthing that morning, I knew that the chefs here went above and beyond for guests with food allergies or dietary restrictions. Our server, Dilly, brought out Chris (who apparently is Internet famous) from Detroit, MI. He kindly walked us through the various buffet options, which were plentiful – from fresh fruit to tater tots (with the most amazing spices!) to steamed veggies and much more.

But – then he threw out the offer I was hoping for (I have little shame since hot breakfast is such a rare treat out). He offered to make us vegan Mickey waffles AND a tofu scramble. While we waited, I made a small plate to at least sample some of the buffet offerings (the copious amount of tomatoes made me so happy):

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And then, these arrived:

10955798_10103610984659692_8395477499621154745_nOh Mickey, you’re so fine. You’re so fine you blow my mind. Hey Mickey!

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I credit the blur to the sheer ravage hunger I was feeling on the inside. Everything was outstanding. I can’t even tell you the last time I ate waffles. These had a nice crunch on the exterior (the ears in particular) and a soft, warm doughy quality underneath. The scramble had a tinge of spice and was quickly inhaled.

Continuing to exceed my expectations, chef Chris brought us some chocolate chip cookies that accommodated the eight major food allergies. They may have been from Enjoy Life, and as you can see, there are no photos of them because they were gobbled up. They were a nice blend of both crunchy and soft cookies. I would never – ever – have known they were egg/soy/treenut/dairy/gluten/etc. free.

These were the highlights of our food tour – which is a bit disappointing. Unfortunately, my phone died during the wedding or I would have captured the incredible quinoa loaf served for the vegetarian/vegan crowd at the reception. Accompanied with sauteed mushrooms, steamed veggies, and topped with a sun-dried tomato-balsamic reduction, it was one of the best wedding dishes I have ever tasted.

I will note that despite not having photos, I was able to secure a vegan burger at the Magic Kingdom (on a gluten free roll as the regular rolls are not vegan) with plain corn on the cob. It was easier to be labeled as having a food allergy than trying to explain the ins and outs of veganism.

Our own resort – Coronado Springs – was not a grand haven for non-meat eating as well. I had two meals here: a roasted-veggie pita with a balsamic reduction (which I learned recently may contain various fish oils, so this might be something one should ask about), and the one-two breakfast punch of oatmeal with sliced almonds and fruit. Nothing out of this world exciting or overwhelming. These meals served more as “filling” than “fulfilling.”

Here’s something I didn’t know: you can actually bring food into the parks. I kept snacks in my purse at all times, which saved us some extra $ and allowed us to typically eat only two meals out a day.

Also, one last plug: from the research files, I learned the popcorn at the parks is vegan. I really hope this is still true because it was finger-licking good. I almost requested a second souvenir bucket. Almost.

There are tons of additional resources out there on eating vegan at Disneyworld, including:

At some point you’ll say: “Oh, these are all naming the same places.” Undoubtedly, as Downtown Disney undergoes revamping, there will be more options on the grounds. Until then: Animal Kingdom Lodge – no mater which places you visit – is a must see. Plus, there are savannahs on the grounds where you can watch cranes, zebras, antelope, and giraffes from your dining room window (or your room if you are super fancy).

Have you visited the Mouse and have a favorite place to dine or snack at? Please share!

The List: Top Ten Destinations to Visit

A few months ago, Aaron and I were inspired to create a list of where in the world (is Carmen San Diego?) we wanted to go – money and time not a hinderance. This project idea arose during an episode of Anthony Bourdian’s “Parts Unknown” – one of the only TV shows we watch.

Aaron crafted the rules: it had to be either a state, city. country, or specific location within one of those (basically, no continents but we did clarify that Australia would be considered a country for this exercise); could include up to five “Honorable Mentions”; and the top ten places needed to be in preference order.

As seriously as studying for final exams, Aaron and I mused, scratched out, and let out gasps of “Of course!” as we each independently selected our places. About 10 minutes later, we revealed our lists to one another.

First, my five honorable mentions:

New Zeland

Sweden

Vancouver, Canada

Japan

Mississippi Delta (ok, I know this isn’t a “country” or “city” but AT let it slide)

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And then, the big reveal: the top 10 places I selected on this random day that I want to see before I leave this world:

10) Spain

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9) Yellowstone National Park

8) Czech Republic

7) Glacier National Monument (Alaska)

6) Norway

5) Savannah, Georgia

4) Greece

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3) Germany

2) Hawaii

1) Ireland

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Aaron’s list had some similarities and a couple of ones from left field (Egypt!). Our overlaps were on Ireland, Hawaii, Greece, Alaska, and Spain.

Well, time to pack.

Planning 101: Foraging Fare While Traveling

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Three weeks done. One more to go. I’m halfway through “Team of Rivals” on CD and have logged more than 2,500 miles on my Corolla (check engine light still shines brightly one year later). I’ve driven by the Nantahala River, over the bridge connecting the Outer Banks to Manteo, through Pisgah National Forest, and near the infamous battleship in Wilmington. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the most daunting task for me this year wasn’t necessarily the hours behind the wheel or ensuring my transmission didn’t give out winding up Highway 276 in extreme fog. I was more concerned about: what am I going to eat? (Perhaps less of a surprise since I love to think about food)

Fortunately, this here thing called the Internet makes lessens any dietary concerns thanks to sites like Yelp and other vegan resources (shout-out to Vegan Carolina!) giving the 101 on places that accommodate the plant-based lifestyle.

The photo above comes from Flaming Amy’s Bowl in Wilmington [note: she does apparently have a Burrito Barn in Wilmington as well!]. Back in Phoenix, we had a similar Mongolian-style “build your own bowl” restaurant called Wok Wok that sadly closed in just a couple of years. I was ecstatic to find this gem in New Hanover County. It offered tons of vegetables, plant-proteins (tofu, black beans), and vegan sauce options. If you go, go hungry: all-you-can-eat deliciousness.

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The following day, I ended up at the Tidal Creek Co-Op to mooch free WiFi in between presentations. Above, please meet my lunch: sweet and sour tofu with roasted vegetables over brown rice and a banging salad. While you are seeing the only three hot bar options, they were: 1) incredibly tasty; and 2) all vegan. I could have eaten my weight in that tofu.

Although I lack photos of several delectable meals, I did spend a great deal of time at Earth Fare cafes in Charlotte and Huntersville. Again, free WiFi drew me in, and the $16 salads I built (alright: slight exaggeration but I’m sure I could build a salad that large quite easily) absolutely satisfied. While the Huntersville one was larger, I do have a to give a thumbs down to its layout (not conducive to organized plate filling from hot/salad bar) and no ingredients list for the items, so I had to be extra mindful of what I grabbed.

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Please ignore that pathetic thumb nail. I found this gem at the Tidal Creek Co-Op and HOLY SMOKES DO I WANT MORE! I shall find a recipe soon. Does someone out there have one to share?

Other saving graces on this trip:

  • Green Safe Cafe in Asheville (I almost refuse to eat anywhere else in the #AVL when visiting – the citrus kale salad bowl is, by far, my go to item).IMG_20140318_115816
  • Cabo Fish Taco in Charlotte: now, I doubt my beer battered tofu tacos were vegan but THEY WERE INCREDIBLE (it was beyond noisy in the restaurant and I was stationed as far away from our server as possible); many other options available for the non-fish eating crowd (apologies for the blur of a photo)IMAG1500Just ONE more overnight left next week (Boone!) and you better believe I already know where I’ll be dining. I’ve also made great use out of my cooler bag by carting my own fare to and fro: lots of veggies and hummus, apples, cuties, bananas, and Lara bars.

Are you as anal retentive in planning where you will eat meals on for work/vacations/a random Thursday night?

Traveling the Back Roads of Carolina

In this final month of my Donate Life career, I will be spending much of my time behind the wheel, traversing North Carolina from one Driver’s License office to the next as part of our annual DMV awards program. This is my third year taking on this cross-state adventure, and it has taught me a great deal, including:

1) Driving is exhausting.

2) Books on CDs = one of the best inventions ever. During this week, I started “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” Fascinating thus far (on disc 6 of 36).

3) There are dozens of hidden gems around this state that I would never have heard of until traveling through country roads.

4) Not a hidden gem = getting stuck behind farm equipment.

During the first week, I traveled to Clinton, Wilmington, Elizabeth City, Morehead City, Yanceyville, Carrboro, and Manteo. As much as I despise the time (sitting) in the car, I do so enjoy the 20 – 30 minutes I have with each office, meeting the DMV examiners, celebrating in their offices’ successes, and impressing on them how much they are appreciated. (I DARE you to tell the examiner at the driver’s license office next time how much you appreciate them. Despite what misgivings 99% of people have about DMV offices and staff, they put up with your bad attitude, have to ride in strangers’ cars [some of who crash said cars during road tests] and deal with a slew of logistical challenges that most of us in the general public never know about. They are dedicated public servants who are parents, grandparents, animal lovers, travelers, and more. In simple terms: be kind and stay positive next time you are renewing your license!)

IMAG1423Cheesy veggie bowl of goodness

Before I left, I wanted to ensure there was some good food to eat for both Aaron (and selfishly for me upon returning late). The above bowl was a combination of vegan cheese sauce over some steamed kale, broccoli, cauliflower, all atop some bulgur and black beans with a plop of salsa. Easy. Simple. Delicious. I will say, though, that I’m not sure if I am still yet on the bulgur train. I tried preparing it with boiling water poured over the bulgur instead of stove top, and it definitely did not cook completely (followed prep instructions in Veganomicon).

One of my standbys – Rice and bean casserole – turned into a soup (because someone didn’t bother to measure out how much brown rice she had left…oops.) Guess what?

IMAG1425It was still freaking awesome!

Chalk up that mistake to a positive outcome. Finally, I prepped Red Lentil Dal (Forks Over Knives cookbook) and – sadly – I did overcook my lentils. Blast! I even allowed them to cook for less time than in the recipe, but I know I should have been paying a little closer attention.

1393806231144Lemon zestiness!

Not sure if I’ll make this particular recipe again. Maybe at least once more and avoiding the mush.

Seems to be a good life goal.