what we ate on our road trip.

We’ve been back for about two weeks from our epic road trip that lasted almost an entire month.  Here’s a screen cap of our trip à la Google Maps:

And here’s the play-by-play:

A. We left Kansas on May 25th and drove about eighteen hours to my brother’s place in Raleigh, North Carolina.
B. We stayed in Raleigh a couple of nights.
C. We drove up Route 17 and spent the next 15 days commuting back and forth between my mom’s place and my sister’s place in Norfolk and Ryan’s folks’ house in Chesapeake, VA.  During that time frame we made one trip to Salisbury, MD and one trip to Richmond.
D. We drove up the Eastern Shore, spent two nights and two-ish days in Baltimore and caught two Orioles games.
E. We drove from Baltimore to D.C. and spent a couple of days with our friend Tim.
F. We left D.C., saw F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grave in Rockville, stopped in Frederick, MD for a minor league game, and drove to Cumberland, MD, where we spent the night.
G. We stopped for a few days in Pittsburgh to stay with our friend Dezeree and her mom, and we caught a Pirates game there.
H. We headed home, drove for about fifteen hours straight from Pittsburgh, got caught in an epic thunderstorm on the outskirts of KC, arrived home around 3:30 in the morning on June 21st, slept for a few hours, unpacked, and then saw The Flaming Lips bring the house down at Liberty Hall’s 100-year anniversary.

Vacation was AWESOME.  We got to see a ton of friends, spend a bunch of time with family, and we ate SO MUCH AMAZING FOOD.  We were worried about how difficult it would be to eat vegetarian on the road, but I think we did pretty alright.  Here’s some of the food we ate back east:

1. Kosmic Karma pizza from Mellow Mushroom in Raleigh: Man, I wish we had a Mellow Mushroom out here.  This thing was amazing; it had spinach, roma tomatoes, feta cheese, and a pesto swirl—their crust is gluten-free (not that we care, but that’s great for some people) and it was this ooey-gooey-cheesy dream pizza.  SO GOOD.

We also grilled some Boca burgers at my brother’s place, which are always great.

2. We had to get Cook-Out milkshakes in NC, even though we couldn’t eat any of their food.  I’m pretty sure there’s nothing vegetarian on the menu there except for the milkshakes.  Sad face.  I miss their hush puppies.

 

3. We got bean tacos and jalapeno mac and cheese at Tortilla West on 75¢ taco night.  TW wins mega points for having an entire section of their menu dedicated to vegetarian and vegan food.  It all sounded pretty good and they have great beers on tap, so it’s a cool hangout (even though it’s full of hipsters!)  Like I said before, Norfolk is like a mini mecca for vegetarians and vegans, thanks to PETA’s presence in the city.  It’s so refreshing to have options.

4. I was SO EXCITED to introduce Ryan to one of my favorite little restaurants in Norfolk: The TEN TOP—and he fell in love with it too!  I used to eat here all the time when I lived in Norfolk; it’s a cute, tiny place with really cheap INCREDIBLE food.  The first food photo was Ryan’s dinner: the black bean and corn chili, which he’s still raving about (the box was SO HEAVY!  He could barely eat half of it!)  I got the warm goat cheese and caramelized walnut salad, and it was one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten.  It was also huge and I had to take some of it home.  Ryan loved The Ten Top so much that he went back again when he went out to lunch with his brother and sister-in-law.

5. There’s no place like this that I’ve found living in Kansas, and it’s a real shame, because we’ve pretty much quit eating Chinese food out here, but Dragon City in Norfolk has AN ENTIRE VEGETARIAN MENU to go along with their normal Chinese menu, and it’s full of not just tofu dishes, but real mock-meat entrees.  They have mock shrimp, chicken, and beef, and though I tend to stick with tofu (the first photo below is of my General Tsao’s tofu), Ryan tried the mock chicken (second photo) and really liked it.

6. Sadie and I have been BFFs since we met when I was eight years old, and even though we only get to catch up once or twice a year now, it’s like we never miss a beat.  This time we got a chance to meet up with her and her partner for two meals: first, lunch at The Jewish Mother in Norfolk, where Ryan and I ate the best black bean burgers we’ve ever had (and forgot to take pictures of!) and then before we left town we got dinner in Richmond at the amazing 821 Cafe, which has a ton of great vegetarian food on the menu.  Ryan got a veggie burger (top) and I had this absolutely INCREDIBLE buffalo tofu sandwich.

7. We were wandering around Fells Point in Baltimore killing some time before the second Orioles game we had tickets for, and we decided on Italian for lunch.  We walked over to Little Italy, I did a quick search on Yelp for cheap pizza, and it lead us to Isabella’s Brick Oven, where we split a small white pizza that was really great.  I loved walking through Little Italy because the whole neighborhood smells incredible; like oregano and simmering tomato sauce.  And of course, we couldn’t leave Fells Point without getting a Natty Boh (though we somehow mistakenly wandered into a Steelers bar…but the bartender was really nice!)

8. After hitting a couple of museums with our friend Tim (who very kindly put us up for a few nights) in ye olde District of Columbia, we were looking for something to eat for lunch and we stumbled upon this new place called Merzi, which is like a fast-casual concept (think Chipotle) but for Indian food.  You get to pick your base (naan, basmati rice, etc.), then add your protein (in our case, veggie: chickpeas and onions and tomatoes), and then choose a hot sauce or cold chutney to put on top.  My rice bowl was great—I got the spiciest sauce and a chutney too, but the samosa that Ryan and I split could have been better.  Still, I really wish we had a place like this nearby, because I pretty much always feel like eating Indian food, and I’d eat it every week if I could afford it and also had a convenient place like Merzi kicking around as an option.  The price wasn’t bad (again, comparable to Chipotle) and the food was flavorful and good.

So those are some of the food highlights from our trip back east—we also ate a bunch of great home-cooked meals and ballpark food (we had these french fries at PNC Park which were TO DIE FOR).  All in all, I guess it wasn’t terribly difficult eating vegetarian on the road/in any of the places we ended up, but there were times when we were really tempted to give it all up, like when we smelled the burgers at Cook-Out or drove by sign after sign advertising crab cakes on the Eastern Shore.  And right now I’m still kind of burned out on Taco Bell, but since we’ve been back I’ve been cooking at home a lot and I’ll post about that next.

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what we’ve been eating

I feel like this photo-heavy post should be subtitled “How to eat vegetarian in the Lawrence/KC Metro.”  It’s a huge post not because we’ve been dining out more often, really, but because I’ve been lazy and busy and bad at updating.  Hopefully once the semester ends (SO SOON) and our farm share starts up again I’ll have more to talk about in terms of cooking at home.  But for now, feast your eyes.  We’ve been eating a ton of great food.

I don’t remember when we made this trip to Zen Zero, but we both ordered vegetarian dishes this time (after my fail mistake a few months ago—screw you, fish sauce!) and aside from having to stare at the delicious shrimp chips while our friend chowed down, our food was good.  I ordered an old stand-by, the Vietnamese Spring Roll salad, pictured first (vegetarian when you sub tofu for the chicken and shrimp AND ditch the wontons, according to our server) and Ryan ordered the Green Curry.

We’d been dying to try Mexquisito since it opened a while ago—it’s owned by the same great guys who own Tortas Jalisco, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.  They have a clearly-labeled vegetarian section of their menu with several options.  I ordered black bean tacquitos, pictured first (UH-MAZING) and Ryan got the tacos de papa (potato tacos of some sort) which were SO GOOD.  Drool.  We can’t wait to go back.

We’ve also been to Moe’s…more times than we probably want to admit.  I’m obsessed with their black bean quesadillas.

We’ve hit up the India Palace lunch buffet, and this time they had my favorite on the buffet—Saag Paneer (bottom right in the photo directly below).  Chow down time!  I also love their Samosas.  This time, they didn’t have the Vegetable Korma, which is Ryan’s favorite.  Oh well, there’s always next time.

We also hit up the salad bar at Dillons for a lighter dinner one night.  I like splitting my box between salad and fresh fruit (see below).  The prices aren’t too bad and the stuff is usually pretty fresh (this is at the 6th and Wakarusa location).

Elsewhere in salad-bar-world, we’ve recently discovered Sweet Tomatoes out in Overland Park: OH MY GOD, I LOVE THIS PLACE.  You walk through the salad bar part first, where there’s a huge variety of prepared salads (last week there was some lemon-pecan thing) and different kinds of lettuce/spinach and toppings, along with some pasta salads and stuff like that, you load up your salad plate and then you pay at the register—AND THEN you get to experience the wonderful, carb-y world of stuff past the salad bar, where you’ll find a ton of soups (always at least one vegetarian! usually more than one!), focaccia breads, baked potatoes, cornbread and sliced bread and rolls, pastas (I would skip these, actually; they tend to be not that great), a small fruit bar, and a motherfuckin’ soft-serve ice cream machine.  It sort of has a cafeteria-type feel to it, and you’re often dodging small children and their parents, but this place is legit.  The best part, hands-down, is how clearly they label their offerings: if something is vegetarian, it’s clearly-labeled as such.  If it’s not vegetarian, it’s not labeled vegetarian.  So easy, and their labeling is meticulous.  It’s a bit pricey when it comes down to it, so it’s not exactly an all-the-time stop for us, but they have coupons often and sometimes you just want to stuff your face, right?  Plus, Sweet Tomatoes has made me a believer in tomato soup, which I swear I never liked much but their tomato soup is not only vegetarian but DELICIOUS.  I want to drink that stuff.

And finally, last week Ryan went to our favorite sandwich shop of our meat-eating past and ordered a veggie sub and swore it was good, so over the weekend I decided to give it a shot.  And lo and behold, he was right—we no longer feel the need to skip over Mr. Goodcents when thinking about vegetarian options.  The same thing that makes Mr. Goodcents better than Subway is what makes it worthwhile to go there and eat essentially a cheese and veggie sandwich: their veggies actually taste fresh and delicious, and they pile them on.  I also like their bread a lot and I love the way they dress their subs, with red wine vinegar and a bit of oil and salt and pepper and oregano.

So that’s some of what we’ve been eating over the last few months.  At home it’s been veggie burgers and pizza and pasta until the semester ends and things calm down.  I’m excited to go back home to Norfolk in a month and hit up all of the awesome vegetarian eats out there, and we’ll be sure to document that as well.

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all vegetarian boxed lunches are not created equal: or how i ate a brownie and a pepsi for lunch and wasted food

So now I officially feel pretty stupid for complaining about the vegetarian boxed lunch way back in this post, because I think we experienced the holy grail of seriously gross and inedible vegetarian cuisine this past weekend when we volunteered for another History Day event.  Here’s what the lunch looked like:

Okay, that’s a Pepsi, a bag of carrot and celery sticks, a “Mediterranean Veggetable Wrap,” and a brownie.  Now, there were actually two vegetarian wrap choices: the one pictured, and some other non-Mediterranean wrap, so I’ll applaud the catering company for the variety.  To bad the variety was DISGUSTING.  The options weren’t labeled beyond identifying them as vegetarian, so I had no idea what was in the box before I opened it.  I had to open the wrap to inspect it to see if there was anything that would trigger my mushroom allergy (spoiler alert: there was what looked like a portabella mushroom in there, so I’m glad I checked); here’s what it looked like:

So that’s some weird-looking pesto-type spread, some kind of feta-like cheese, and a bunch of soggy, cold, (potentially grilled?) veggies: some zucchini and squash, something that resembled red onions, maybe some tomato and carrots?  And upon poking around with my fork I located what looked suspiciously like a mushroom.  Great.  I couldn’t eat it, in part because I was afraid of triggering my allergy but also because IT LOOKED TERRIBLE.  One of the women on my judge’s panel let me check one of the “regular” veggie wraps, which looked like the same exact crap minus the pesto-ish spread.  I ate the brownie and carrot sticks and drank a Pepsi for lunch that day, while people around me were eating Turkey-Bacon-Asiago sandwiches.  I would have KILLED for the veggie sandwiches they had at the last History Day; those boxed lunches included chips!  And pasta salad and a cookie!  I seriously wish catering companies would just TRY HARDER.

We did, at least, have a total blast judging History Day entries again.  Ryan got documentaries this time and I was judging websites; we saw some pretty cool stuff and met some awesome kids.  Ryan and I are marking down 4.5 hours apiece for this one, and now that summer is around the corner, we look forward to finding more volunteer opportunities soon.

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our first cook-out as vegetarians

Sorry for the lack of updates lately.  It’s getting to the point in the semester for both of us where things are officially starting to get crazy.  Luckily it’s almost April, which means it’ll mostly be over in a little over a month, and we’ll finally be able to get back to the blog.  For a quick update, this afternoon we’re attending our first cook-out as vegetarians, and we’re going armed.  We’re bringing our own small grill (so we don’t have to worry about cross-contamination/meat getting on our food) and these two products:

We’ll blog about our reactions sometime after the cook-out.  The MorningStar Farms burgers just look like bigger versions of the veggie burgers we already like.  The Yves “The Good Dog” fake meat hot dogs were on sale so we figured we’d give them a go, though I’m a little nervous after my past experience with LightLife Smart Dogs (they were AWFUL).  If these are better, it’ll make grilling this summer a lot more fun.

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dealing with donating to charity and the ensuing stack of solicitations

A recent post on my favorite consumer-watchdog website The Consumerist captures some of the frustration that Ryan and I and our friends have all experienced when donating to charitable causes: the dreaded stack of mail that almost inevitably shows up from the organizations that we donate to or, even worse, OTHER organizations which have flagged your address as the address of SOMEONE WHO DONATES TO CHARITY AND WHO MUST WANT TO DONATE TO ALL CHARITIES.  This is annoying for a number of really obvious reasons: first, for the environmentally-conscious consumer, it creates waste that you now have to deal with (hopefully by recycling the solicitation materials).  Nobody likes junk mail.  Second, your donations (along with many other peoples’ donations) have likely paid for these solicitations.  When we select a cause to support monetarily, most of us don’t love knowing that part of our donation goes to overhead costs like mass mailings; it feels icky, even if it is effective.  (I’m not having a lot of luck right now finding sources on how effective this practice is at generating more donations, but I’ll keep looking and update when I find something).  Third, and this is just a wild guess, but I tend to assume that in general, people hate being asked to part with their hard-earned money, especially when they’ve likely already donated to a cause.  It’s tacky.  It’s like accepting a gift from a friend, and then telling some other people that your friend is a totally-awesome gift-giver, so then those people go around asking your friend for some gifts.  Right?

The worst offense here is, I think, the fact that some of these mass solicitation mailings look very…expensive.  Our friend Tim has complained about those gorgeous full-color LARGE maps that Médecins Sans Frontières sends out to previous donors, and Ryan and I agree that it’s tacky that they send these out.  We’ve gotten several of those, along with other additional mail from other organizations, printed on fancy paper and cardstock with color photos and celebrity endorsements and pleas for assistance to insert random organization/cause here.  What’s so awful about this is the prospect that these practices would steer someone away from philanthropy—for example, we’re making it a point to no longer donate to Médecins Sans Frontières, even though I love their mission.  Look, I’m not knocking transparency.  Lord knows, transparency in charitable organizations is REALLY IMPORTANT.  But none of these mailings so far have been geared toward shedding light on the organizations’ practices and progress—they have almost all been solicitations for more donations.

So what do we do about this?  The obvious answer is to refuse to donate to organizations which sell your name and address and spend significant amounts of money on fancy mailings, but this is easier said than done.  We often don’t know which organizations are the offenders until we donate; then we’re stuck going through the hassle of removing our names from mailing lists (which, let’s face it, it sometimes ineffective).  The website CharityNavigator (which I don’t really like as much as GiveWell) lists some tips for stopping solicitations by mail, all of which seem to be generally good pieces of advice, though donating anonymously might turn off some of the donors who want to reap the tax benefits of donating.  The one piece of advice that they offer and which I’ve also seen elsewhere is to refrain from spreading around your charity dollars too much and stop giving small amounts of money to many charities; they note that “Small donations, such as $25, barely cover the costs the charity incurred in soliciting the gift. To recoup those costs, many charities will simply sell the donor’s name to another charity doing similar work.”  Sound advice, but problematic if you care about a number of causes and have limited funds to donate.  Obviously we need higher levels of transparency and more accountability involved in the non-profit world (just as we need more of both of those things in the for-profit world as well).  I don’t have any viable solutions at this point (this was more of an expressing-frustration post) but I’ll keep thinking about this and we’ll definitely come back to this topic later.  Send us any thoughts you have or any experiences you have with particularly bad offenders of this (or alternatively, any great organizations who don’t solicit! I know Ryan hasn’t gotten any mail from the Against Malaria Foundation).

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one last thought..

Has anyone noticed that the “‘n” suffix seems to be a vegetarian trend?  Is anyone keeping an eye on this?  Grill’n, chick’n, bac’n… I think I might start calling myself a vegetari’n.

review: light life “backyard grill’n burgers”

Here’s my fairly quick review, since I feel pretty out of my league discussing food.  Ashley and I both agreed on two basic elements of these burgers:

1) The texture was great–they feel exactly like burgers in your mouth.  (This is a far cry from those black bean burgers, which felt like black beans in your mouth.)

2) The flavor was really bland–almost like a blank palate.  These burgers weren’t bad per se, they just didn’t taste much at all.  We both ended up putting a lot of ketchup and mustard on our burgers.

Diagnosis: 3/5 veggie stars up.  B-.

photos!

Here are the photos, which I’m including because they’re awesome.  Again, I cannot recommend the Against Malaria Foundation highly enough.

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why the amf is so awesome

I was a little bemused when I discovered earlier this year that GiveWell.org no longer recommended Village Reach, instead encouraging readers to donate to the Against Malaria Foundation.  I decided to trust GiveWell (their calculations do seem rigorous) and go with AMF.  It turns out they run a pretty awesome organization; they update you an inoffensive number of times (maybe 1-2 emails every few months, and they have NEVER mailed me).  The best part about those updates is that they give you photos of where the malaria nets you helped fund were distributed.  Their interface is extremely user-friendly and provides thorough information: