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!

10947259_10103610985023962_8687163987092169712_nShadow scramble of fresh jalapeno, red & green bell peppers, tomatoes.

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!

So…now what?

New job?
Check.

New house?
Check.

New relationship status?
Check.

The last few weekends, while despite still having much to do, have offered a change of pace compared to the previous 25+ of 2014: a sense of quiet and satisfaction. There is time now – or at least we have the time available – to enjoy our new home. We have yet to plant our first tree (and – at this point in the game – we might put this on the 2015 to-do list), but we have continued to build out our space in other means.

We’ve broken bread with several friends; connected with our neighbors; hung frames on our walls; and tidied up the bins where things have just lived since July.

I hope this new “free time” includes me making a concerted effort to delve back into the world of writing. Since I last left the blogging sphere, I joined a book club with folks from the area. Our first assignment and subsequent discussion was marvelous (we read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which I enjoyed – sci-fi meets religious overtone projection of a post-climate change apocalyptic western US coast). Getting back into literature from a pleasure standpoint (not to mention the other three books that I read during our Honeymoon: Hyperbole and a Half, Dark Places, and And the Mountains Echoed) also ignites the desire to create again. And, not merely the ramblings of “This was my day. It was nice. Maybe I ran?” but deeper, more meaningful (or perhaps how I define meaningful).

While the old flame of prose and pontification continues to burn, I’ll at least share a couple of photos from the day that forever changed my life: September 19.

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How are wedding plans coming?

That has to be one of the most popular questions directed at me over the last three months, and for good reason: it’s a major life event. People are kind enough to remember, inquire about said event. However, since the start of 2014, I feel that my answer has not sufficed the hungriest of mouths:

“Fine.”ding

“Good.”

“Well, I really haven’t been doing all that much…”

Initially, I jumped on the wedding blog bandwagon, seeking out ideas for how to create the perfect vintage décor. Mason jars! Burlap!

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I had ambitious goals of crafting invitations, gifts, centerpieces, and the like. Not that I have abandoned such dreams. But, something started to happen the more I dug deeper into the wedding advice channels:

 

I began to panic.

 

Clearly, a major life event will likely be complemented with a good dose of stress, which is not always a negative. Stress can help one focus, follow-up more quickly, and take decisive action. But, the thought of experiencing stress more than six months before the actual wedding frightened me. If I already felt on edge in February, what would I be like in August? Don’t even think about September, the actual month.

Immediately, I enacted a cease and desist order on pawing through wedding publications: in print, online, didn’t matter. I had worked myself up to a frenzy inside: was it okay that I wasn’t having a wedding shower? Maybe I should begin setting make-up appointments. What about wedding shoes? Should I be caring more about flowers? Would I need to hire a calligrapher to do our wedding invitations? All I could see was dollar signs increasing and my to-do list growing.

So, I stopped. I walked away from even thinking about our wedding for a couple of months. One of the many benefits of finding a partner who is a stronger “J” on the Myers-Briggs profile than you is that a great deal of our required tasks were done. We have a venue, caterer and DJ. We have someone to marry us and the rings to symbolize the commitment. We have the desired dress for the occasion, notions of our vows, and our first dance song. What else is there?

Over the last two weeks, we’ve delved back into the world of “wedding planning.” We’re looking at invitation designs, making plans to pick out our cake, creating our desired playlist, and sketching out our ceremony. I’ve allowed myself to start thinking about the more nuanced aspects of the day, from what might be placed in my hair and ears to what song we should use as our exit music.

In the end, it’s about the people who have enriched our lives, and having the experience of celebrating this momentous occasion with many of them. Because in the end, will anyone care if the wedding invitation arrives sans calligraphy or if our floral displays came from Costco?

 

2014: The Year of the Stress Test

ImageIn the last two weeks, I’ve bit off nails, developed a reoccurring canker sore, and permanently frozen my shoulders in an upright and locked position. Hello, stress. It was inevitable that the “s” word should appear, although I wasn’t expecting it so soon. See, everything seemed to be sailing smoothly, swimmingly, insert your favorite water metaphor here. Our wedding plans are nearly complete with deposits placed, outfits selected, and key logistics shared. In my forward thinking at the end of 2013, I thought that event of the new year would be the one to cause the ulcers, the headaches, and the “s” word to rear its ugly head.

Alas, that has proven to be the least stressful.

We will be listing the town home for sale in the next two weeks. Granted, I was a young lass when my childhood home donned a “For Sale” sign, but I recall the stringent requirements of maintaining order and cleanliness for months. At that time, all I had to oversee was the 12′ x 12′ chamber dubbed my room. Now, it’s 1200+ square feet that lingers in some almost ready state. This upcoming weekend will involve final staging efforts (kudos to our designer genius friend Lara!) and continued minimizing/storing/hiding/sweeping/dusting/unearthing. The actual steps to show the home have to remain free from my mind a bit longer as visions of me driving around Durham with two cats howling in the backseat begins to attract the formation of hives.

Speaking of homes, our future abode is not progressing as we had expected due to delays with city permits and poor weather. Originally, our target move-in timeline pegged us at late March or early April. Now, it’s May – when in May? Not a clue. We did a drive by last weekend and sadly saw zero foundations poured. Keeping our fingers crossed good news is coming down the chute…(oooo – good one, Katie).

And then, as life loves to do, other things have cropped up: an initial tax review for 2013 leaves me owing the government more than I could have imagined; a cantankerous gum is prompting an early dentist visit next week; oh, and THE CATS STILL DO NOT LET US SLEEP. I even took Milo to the vet, explaining to her with hands thrown up in the air, that nine months of not sleeping past 4:45am was just not cutting it anymore. Could he have a hyperthyroid? Diabetes? Kidney problems? $250 and a battery of tests later, we find that Milo has slightly elevated cholesterol, but other than that, he is peachy keen. Lovely. Answer? Give him more food. One week later, we’re still waking up at 4:40am.

Finally, there are some other potential changes that may require me to make some tough choices – positive choices, for sure, but ones that stoke the flames of guilt. While still a work in progress, it’s also exciting to have unexpected opportunities that may, or may not, come into fruition.

With all that obnoxiousness out of my system, I can say that I’m fortunate to have such a committed, compassionate partner who allows me to vent but also ensures that I recognize the blessings we have in our lives. Still, this year will not be easy, and it may not always be fun. But darnit, this year will be the best of my life so far, and one cannot ask for any more!

The Legacy of Lace: Finding a Wedding Dress in a Sea of Chaos

dressLast Saturday afternoon, my friend Jen and I checked off what most women consider the pinnacle of the wedding planning experience: saying “Yes!” to the dress. As I’ve touted before, I consider myself a more atypical woman/bride when compared to the traditional or socially-projected image of what a bride should be. Yes, I was excited to prance around half naked as attendants bustled over me, cinching corsets and lifting trains of fabric up behind me as I struck poses in front of mirrors and mirrors.

Wait, was I?

Reflecting back, I was just so unclear of how the process would work in real life. Sure, I had watched a TLC show or two in my time. But, I wasn’t visiting high-end boutiques where dress prices started at the equivalent of our house’s down payment. Instead, Jen took me into the lairs of Bridal Mart, the pride of Burlington, NC, where dresses of all designs/shapes/sizes consumed the warehouse space located in rather vacant outlet mall.

Other women had warned me: “You need to arrive RIGHT when it opens or it will be packed!” But, I had things to do that morning (run 20k was on the list, which was fantastic), so dress shopping would need to wait until I was ready. The temps were still below freezing, and gusty winds likely kept more at home on that Saturday. As we arrived around 12:30pm, the store was a hum of activity but nothing compared to the frenzy I imagined based on the dispensed advice received. (Cue imagination: H&M, day after Thanksgiving, Justin Bieber in the middle of the store – that’s what I was anticipating.)

As we started to paw through the racks, Jen emphasized to me to keep an open mind. Yes, I had visions of my “perfect” dress: tea-length or a bit shorter, white, a ballerina skirt. I had no strong preference for the top: single-strap, halter, corset, sweetheart. I wanted to ensure I had a dress that was: 1) comfortable; 2) danceable; and 3) flattering. Simple preferences, right?

The racks were organized by length, style and price (you better believe there was a sales rack!) Each dress received a look of scrutiny from me, and Jen continued to press that even if I didn’t think a dress would look good on me, I would often be surprised when actually trying it on (she modeled for Bridal Mart back in the day, so I considered her advice rooted in evidence-based experiences and worthy of following).

Finally, a dress caught my eye! It was much longer than I desired (it had a TRAIN) but the combination of fabric and design was incredibly appealing. Jen plucked it off the rack and held it, as we hunted for two more to bring back into the dressing stables (no, they were not rooms. It was like being in a high school locker room again, and frankly, I mean that almost too literally. I think I was the second oldest bride-to-be there.) Jen found this shorter dress with – hold the phone for a minute – feather whisps hanging off the body. If we were getting married in Vegas, I might have considered it. Durham = not quite so much. But, to appease Jen’s clear adoration for this flashy ensemble, I promised to don it for a quick glance. The third dress I brought back was a shorter gown as well with a great deal of lace – almost vintage looking.

Alright – here we are in the stables and all humility is thrown out the window as you strip down to be inserted into one dress after another. The first dress – wow. It fit me to a tee. It was so elegant – the moment I saw myself in the mirrors, I was taken aback. I had flashbacks of playing dress-up as a child, and it felt both awkward and inviting. Was this really me? I was surprised how much I liked the dress, so I kept it on the “hold list.” The feather dress saw a quick demise (I wouldn’t even allow Jen to parade me out in front of the mirrors) and the lace followed quickly thereafter – I discovered that a lace top would not comply with my comfort rule.

Then, I saw a shorter dress with a black sash on a mannequin, and I immediately wanted to try it on. Flagging down someone to help with this process proved challenging, and once that was accomplished, the art of removing said dress from mannequin was a whole separate layer of struggles.

Mind you, as all of this is taking place, there are entourages for the various brides-to-be sitting on couches and benches, watching (and judging) everything. I was not a fan of their gazes: many seemed less-than-friendly, especially as I tried on some of the funkier, shorter dresses. Welcome to the South, Katie.

Once we successfully stripped the mannequin, I tried the dress on, and I really, really liked it – it was a single strap top, and super cute and flirty. But, I wasn’t in love with the skirt, and there was something about that first dress that stuck in my mind…

I tried another dress, and then slipped back into the first gown one more time.

Yes, this was the dress. The seamstress came over, and we discussed the potential for shortening it into a tea-length, which appeared to be possible and made the dress even more beautiful in my eyes. This was a one-of-a kind dress, and the fact that it fit so perfectly seemed – forgive me for superstition here – a sign.

So, I said “Yes!” and rang the bell, signaling the completion of a critical step for a bride-to-be. Then, I heard the ringing of the credit card machine. Less of a desired step, but – the dress was on sale, AND it was under budget. A double-win that could only be celebrated with a beer alongside a great friend at the Wooden Nickel Pub in Hillsborough.

Oh, did you want to see the dress? I’ll gladly show a picture…

in 229 days.

In the meantime, this is probably my favorite shot from our engagement photo session – meow.

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Recap: Navigating My First Wedding Expo

This past Sunday, five of my kindest, up for anything girlfriends joined me at the Jim Graham Building (NC State Fairgrounds) for The Wedding Show 2014.  I did register beforehand, indicating myself as a “Bride To Be” (this will be important later), but had not looked into much else regarding the vendors slated to be in attendance. I received some GREAT advice from my friend Dani and various wedding blogs. One pro tip Dani gave me was to make labels ahead of time with my contact information and share them with the girls to enter contests, provide info to places, etc. I received many compliments on this technique (so cheers to you Dani!)

1554413_10201550424186207_207527824_nDo I look…excited? Scared? BRIDEZILLA IN WAITING??

I did have a few categories on my list to visit: DJs, tuxedo rentals, decor ideas, invitations, and photo booth inspiration. We wandered down the rows, taking in the myriad of pitches and hearing the sound of dollars going cha-ching. There were some food samples available (alas, very few vegan options), so I implored my friends to try, try, try away and report back!

1538657_10201550422266159_742035538_nChocolate fountain FTW!

One of the highest praised cake samples was a chocolate stout cake made by Teal Petal Cakes in Raleigh. Keeping that on the radar, for sure. About midway through our journey, we stopped to watch the bridal show sponsored by David’s Bridal. Who stole the show? It wasn’t any of the brides. It was the adorable five-year-old boy rocking his tux with STYLE (alas, no photo to prove his ridiculous cuteness but take it from me: he was legit).

1488658_10201550400545616_1743293315_nThis was one of the most highly rated dresses among our crew. Her hair is pretty adorable too!

After two hours, I was exhausted, which seems almost impossible for the extrovert. I talked up DJs left and right – from those who offer dry ice dance floor (what year is it?) to those who focus on making unique mixes to radio personalities, all I could up with was: DJs are really expensive.

1501796_10201550404705720_401710920_nSo, you want to be my DJ? Can you remix O.A.R. with Al Green?

And where were the free mimosas?! Of course, we found the Korbel table. I imagined towers of glasses with flowing champagne. Those are likely the shows that cost more than $12. We did walk away with tons of fun, reasonable ideas for transforming our vintage, burlap theme into a reality. I was so thankful to have such good companionship through this event in the wedding planning process. What else to do after attending a wedding expo than lunch? We spent the next two hours laughing, eating, and laughing some more at Neomonde Deli. I am such a sucker for all things Neomonde, especially its beet salad. Mmmmmm….

Here are some of the highlights that you may see again come September. Time to get the pursuit of crafts on….or farm those out and take on a supervisory role (I’ll be sitting in that chair, cheering you all on!)

1488874_10201550420226108_793208426_nVintage signs – soooooo hipster!

1510535_10201550418906075_1104722878_nFun way to display photos, and a much better use of chicken wire, no?

1521772_10201550394665469_818525915_nWe LOVED the “LOVE” sign – some tea lights and we’ve got this

1527100_10201550397985552_1646555914_nLiked both the sunflowers and the wood carvings used for bases

1538635_10201550395065479_58766977_nBURLAPPPPPPPPP!

1511667_10201550392265409_1282216938_nMore Mr. and Mrs. and chalkboard signs!

For those of you who have done this before, what’s one piece of advice you wish someone had shared with you? For those of you who have not or will not, what is your “must have” or “must see” when you attend a wedding?

Mid-week Top 3 Hit List

Beneath sagging eyelids (yes, it is after 8pm), I want to share three highlights from the week thus far:

1) This recipe:Slow Cooker Spicy Pinto Chili with Corn and Kale. Now, I did not have the guajillo chilies in my dish, and I thought it was spicy enough for my wussy palate. We squeezed in a bit of lime and added some crushed tortilla chips – c’est bon!

2) Tasting our wedding menu. Raise your hand if you have eaten a cauliflower steak before? This girl now has, and it was tremendous. Aaron took care of the chicken tasting for us (thumbs up!) No surprise: lots of delicious veggies available on our buffet table. Sauteed spinach/red onion/baby carrots, arugula and beet salad, rosemary red potatoes, and vegetarian spring rolls (with this unreal peanut sauce. My response to what I thought about it: “I could bathe in this.”

3) Impromptu date night tonight: well, a post-work beer and some spicy chips of Thai delight. Aaron and I hit up Mattie B’s Public House to check out the Lagunitas tap takeover. We split a Hairy Eye Ball and a Sucks (which, if you have not had, does not suck!) We split an order of the Thai Tumble homemade sweet potato chips – delightful!

Writing daily takes a level of discipline I am still seeking. So far, so good. 12 days left…wait a minute…