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Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

27 Nov


Sometimes, it can be difficult to find good veg-friendly food in certain areas, especially New Jersey shore towns.  Typically saturated with seafood and pizzerias, there are few opportunities to enjoy a good vegan meal down the shore.

I spent the day yesterday in Cape May, which is no different.  In the summer there is a place called Zoe’s and another called Gecko that reportedly have one or two vegan or easily veganized options.  Unfortunately, neither one of them was open on a cold rainy day-after-Thanksgiving.

Cape May is a lovely town, historically known as the nation’s first shore resort still decorated with beautiful Victorian houses now converted into bed-and-breakfast inns.  I enjoy it in the summer and in winter — but I just hate trying to eat there.  Few places have more than an iceberg lettuce salad — which wouldn’t be so awful if they didn’t also have the nerve to charge $12 for it.  One thing that annoys me, not just in Cape May, but in any place, is when I ask for a salad, such as Caribbean Chicken Salad without chicken, and the price is the same.  If that ingredient is not substituted, then why charge full price? — especially for iceberg lettuce!

Last time I was in Cape May for President’s Day weekend, I was pretty bored with my food choices, and eager to return to my hotel room for the cookies and smoothies I had packed.

Well, yesterday I visited for the day and discovered a new option at the Lemon Tree, right on the Washington Street Mall pedestrian walkway among all the quaint shops.

As I passed by, I could see a menu written on a chalkboard display announcing a homemade veggieburger served with sprouts.  How tempting!

But with caution, and a reluctance to get my hopes up, I entered the restaurant and asked at the counter, “Does your veggie burger have eggs in it?”

Much to my disappointment, the woman behind the counter responded with a yes.  As I thanked her and turned around to leave, she eagerly said, “We have other vegetarian options.  We have a veggie wrap.”  She pushed a menu toward me and I accepted.  Sure enough, they had a veggie wrap of grilled squash, zucchini, onions, and carrots.  Cautiously, I asked if there was any mayo or cheese in it, to which the woman responded, “It only has what’s in the menu.”  After I agreed to order one, she immediately offered “fresh hand cut fries, and fresh squeezed lemon juice.”  What a way to upsell!  She was very convincing, and so I ordered all three, even though I wouldn’t normally eat fries.

She was right, however, about the fries being the real deal — the skins were still on some of them, and they all varied in size and shape, unlike those fake fries from typical fast food places.  Even the carrots in my veggie wrap were definitely hand cut!

Another thing that stood out about my wrap was that after putting the grilled veggies in it, they also grilled the bottom of the wrap so that it had a crispy bottom.

Overall, fillin and satisfying.  I’m glad to know there is a winter time, or any time, vegan option in Cape May.


Food Paparazzi

11 Nov

As I loaded my plate yesterday at Mumbai Bistro’s buffet-by-the-pound, I eagerly took out my camera to photograph it before eating.  As the flash flickered in the dining room, I paused and wondered, what am I doing?  Who takes pictures of their food?  Why?

As I asked myself these questions, I also had one answer — I do, I take pictures of my food, and so do many of my vegan/veg-curious friends.  I have definitely been in vegetarian restaurants in which our whole table whipped out cameras to photograph beautiful meals as they arrived.

What compels me, as well as my other vegan friends, to take these pictures?  I have yet to meet or dine with a nonvegetarian who does the same thing.  As I think of my relationship with food, I realize that I simply view it differently now, as a vegan, than as I had before.  I plan menus at home around seasonal produce, and note the passage of time as these fruits and vegetables come and go.  My bookshelves have completely been overrun by vegan cookbooks, pushing out my English and Spanish literature books long ago.  My travel plans include decisions about where to eat — even a trip to New York or Philadelphia is ten times more exciting now, with the anticipation of eating at a vegan restaurant.  My memories are anchored around what I ate and where: “Remember that day when we had that chocolate infused chili on vacation?”

Years ago, when I still ate cheese, if I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich or mozzarella sticks at a diner, the food was not so fascinating, colorful, or tasty enough to remember.  I ordered, I ate, I left.  But now my experience with food has changed.  Many times, especially in the beginning, my restaurant food choices were very limited (iceberg lettuce and tomato, anyone?). But as time has passed and a few new restaurants have sprung up in my area, I have improved my ordering skills.  I peruse the menu for ingredients, and often design my own satisfying dish.  These are my memories and experiences that I enjoy documenting and sharing as other people might photograph vacations and dance recitals.

As a vegan, my food choices may have limited me from the animal products world, but in turn it opened up the vastly larger plant world.  I look forward to trying new vegetables and fruits unknown to me, but also rejoice in recreating the familiar ones in more and more ways with each season.  Ethnic foods in particular have added diversity to my palate, and have become an exciting option for when I cannot find a vegetarian restaurant.

Having this much significance in my life now, my conscious eating is something I experience daily and thus becomes central to my life.  Of course, not all vegans care this much about their food, and I’m sure there are plenty of meat-eaters that will claim the same joy I’ve described.  I can only speak for myself and for my fascination with food’s power.  Chosen poorly, it has the power to harm; chosen consciously, it has the power to heal.  Its flavor has the ability to bring joy or disappointment.  It brings people together to connect over their celebrations and common desires.

After thinking about it last night, I decided today to go through my picture files for other examples of foods I’ve either cooked myself or ordered at restaurants over the past few years, and describe what I remember.  Here are some photos of some of the foods I’ve made or ordered and felt were important enough to photograph.  (Some of the images are low quality, especially if I took the picture with my phone camera, so I do apologize — I am no photographer!)

Vacation Pictures

My honeymoon in Saint Martin.  Left:  my favorite mango daiquiri drink garnished with a starfruit and gooseberry.  Right:  Ital food from a Rastafarian restaurant called Freedom Fighters Ital Shack, serving an all-vegan natural menu.  Cucumbers, avocados, sprouts, plantains, barley, and seasoned TVP.  It was served with home-brewed sarsaparilla tea, somewhat visible in the corner.

“Second” honeymoon in Jamaica.  My options at this resort were very limited, since they were cooking everything with butter.  I was actually sick for three days before realizing it.  Then I just ate mostly fruits and fresh salad for the rest of the week, along with unlimited rum.  Left:  a fruit called guinep.  It’s eaten by biting the skin so that it cracks open, removing the pulp and sucking on it, then spitting out the seed.  We bought two bunches and kept them in our room to snack on throughout the week.  Right:  typical decorative fruit displays at the resort restaurant.  I would have chowed down on it if I could!

Washington, DC.  Lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian, where the cafeteria serves many native foods categorized by region.  This meal included purple potatoes from Peru, as well as wild rice and mushroom entrees.  It was my husband’s uncle’s idea to eat here, and it was fantastic!

Lancaster, PA.  A wonderful family trip in which ten of us stayed for President’s Day weekend.  It happened that Valentine’s Day also fell on the same weekend.  Left:  my Valentine’s Day meal of capellini pasta, marinara sauce, grilled veggies, and an edible orchid — which I did eat, and found to have a surprisingly buttery texture!  Center:  huge fruit salad for breakfast at a neat little cafe.  Right:  an awesome fried tofu, hummus and veggie wrap served at a brewery.  It was amazing, but unfortunately when we returned the following year, they no longer had it on the menu.  After anticipating it as I planned the trip, and of course thinking about it all day while sightseeing, it was quite disappointing to not have it that night!

Lititz, PA.  A great mid-week getaway just this past summer, where we stayed at the Speedwell Forge Inn and Wolf Sanctuary.  It was quite an awesome bed and breakfast, which deliciously accommodate vegan guests (or any dietary needs) — the food was terrific but I had forgotten my camera for breakfast.  Instead, this picture is of a chocolate chili and wild rice risotto I had at Cafe Chocolate.  They have several delicious vegan entree options, and some of their chocolate is vegan — like their amazing truffles!  We also had chocolate-strawberry shakes with chunks of dark chocolate floating in them.  These were my best memories of this trip!

Restaurant Pictures

Green Cuisine in Stone Harbor, NJ.  Eggless “Egg Salad” on pumpernickel bread with fresh fruit.  Yum!

Thai Basil in Piscataway, NJ.  A vegetable yellow curry.

Horizons in Philadelphia, PA.  Peruvian Mushroom Crepe with squash, really big Lima beans and a really yummy sauce.  Perfect restaurant to celebrate our second wedding anniversary.

All the Way Live in Philadelphia, PA.  A  medley of five raw appetizers on a bed of baby greens.  Green wakame salad with sesame seed oil, nutmeat made from walnuts and savory herbs, BBQ baby bella marinated mushrooms, quinoa with cilantro and fresh vegetables, and black bice with kale, onions, peppers and burdock root.

Careme’s in Mays Landing, NJ.  The second all-vegan gourmet dinner co-sponsored with American Vegan Society.  Read about the third one here.  (In order from left to right) first: butternut squash soup with pumpkin-spice croutons garnished with vanilla almond milk froth and baby watercress.  Second:  green asparagus tempura with pickled radish lime zest, and a warm tamari chili soy sauce.  Third:  ruby beet tartare with watercress, endive, green apples, pistachio nuts, and Dijon mustard.  Fourth:  garbanzo bean panisse with young carrots, sweet onions, cumin, crispy shallots, barley, and tomato-currant relish.  Fifth:  dark chocolate caramel sorbet with chocolate streusel, puffed rice, and an almond milk froth.


Tons of fabulous food at a raw food potluck this past summer.  Left:  the salads and savory foods.  Right:  the awesome desserts!

(In order from left to right) first:  potato salad.  Second:  mac and (not) cheese!  Third:   peanut butter chocolate pillows from a Vegan Cupcakes Invade Your Cookie Jar recipe.  Fourth:  chocolate orange spice cake with dulce de batata from a Viva Vegan recipe.


First wedding anniversary party.  Left:  a huge spread of all vegan appetizers including cabbage salad, fennel salad, cucumber salad, hummus, vegan ranch dip, guacamole, fresh salsa, fresh veggies, and tons of other stuff that aren’t even in that picture.  Right:  the top of my wedding cake (vegan) from the previous year, and just peeking in the bottom of the picture are two desserts from recipes in Ani’s Raw Desserts.  Those desserts were much better than my cake.  On our wedding day, the caterers gave us our cake top sealed in a cardboard box, which we kept in my in-laws freezer for the year.  When we opened it, I realized it hadn’t been wrapped in plastic or anything — it just sat in the cardboard for a year and tasted awfully freezer burnt!!  We ate a bite anyway, just to celebrate, and moved on to the good (and fresh) stuff.

For my thirtieth birthday, my husband made this tempeh chili for the party — all by himself using a recipe he found on the Internet — and he ordered this vegan gelato cake from Dreamz Cafe in Millville, made with mango and strawberry flavors.

At Home

Some random foods I’ve made in the last year or so.  (From left to right) first:  butternut squash and orange soup.  Second: pumpkin waffles.  Third:  veggie pizza with Daiya cheese.  Fourth:  “meat” lovers pizza with Daiya cheese, Smart Ground, Tofurky sausage, Yves Pepperoni slices.  Fifth:  grilled Daiya cheese and tomato made with a panini press.  Sixth:  Chocolate banana cake with chocolate ganache on top.

Now with this blog, I intend to continue documenting good vegan food in my own kitchen as well as in restaurants in and around New Jersey.  With opportunities three times per day, I’m sure I’ll never run out pictures for this blog!

Culinary Students Go Vegan

2 Nov

The culinary arts students at Atlantic Cape Community College have been studying the diversity of cuisine, especially with respect to special dietary needs.  At Carême’s restaurant, where students test their culinary creativity while running a restaurant, the students have now had three opportunities this year to wow a crowd of vegans and veg-curious.  It began this past spring when the American Vegan Society and the Dean of the Academy of Culinary Arts teamed up to co-host an all-vegan fine dining experience that would be a special treat for local-area vegans and vegetarians as well as an important learning experience for the students.

As the Dean explained during the second vegan dinner in September, she expects all her students to graduate with the experience of cooking for specialty diets as marketable skills in acquiring restaurant jobs.  She also noted, as a paraphrase of a comment made at one of her industry conferences, when a group of people look for a restaurant, if there is even one vegan or vegetarian in the party, they will choose a restaurant that accommodates that person.  Therefore, restaurants who refuse to adapt will lose the business of that whole group.

So take that, steakhouses!

The students, many of which are about to graduate this semester, brainstormed and designed the menu together, and cooked from fresh ingredients, including herbs and micro-greens from their on-campus greenhouses.

Once again, the crowd was wowed as each of five courses appeared at the tables.  First, a corn and coconut bisque arrived, garnished with fresh cilantro, cherry tomato halves, and drops of red pepper oil and green chive-infused oil.  The smooth body of the soup, along with the burst of fresh corn niblets delivered rich flavors with every spoonful.

Next, we savored the smoothness of a brilliant green edamame-truffle hummus on triangular fried flatbreads, topped with curled pepper ribbons and parsley.  The creamy and crispy textures blended exquisitely in bite-sized pieces.

The third course combined cold vermicelli noodles with raw pea shoots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots in raw spring rolls, providing a cool and crunchy texture in a hint of a spicy sauce.

Despite the abundance of these first three courses, the students had more for us.  Wild mushroom risotto and eggplant provided a rich and creamy bed to charred tofu, sesame seeds, watercress, and micro-greens known as bull’s blood.

In keeping with the fall season, dessert was a green apple cobbler with rice syrup and hints of ginger and cinnamon.  The tartness of the apple and sweetness of the cobbler  were both enhanced by the ginger.

Some attendees were so full, they requested take-home boxes.  Instead, the students returned with these creative swans as containers for their leftovers.

We concluded our dinner with a well-roasted coffee and soy milk, of course, and a few short words from the hosts.  At the conclusion, the lone vegetarian student chef in the program thanked us for our support and told the following tongue-in-cheek joke:  “Why did the tofu cross the road?  To prove it wasn’t chicken!”

As these students complete their restaurant class and move on to graduation or additional studies, a new group will be taking on the project in spring, at least once, and so a new generation of chefs will be educated on the rich flavors derived from the plant kingdom.