Monday, January 10, 2011

Goodbye and Hello

"I know, we're not where I promised you we'd be by now. But maybe it's a question of who'd want it anyhow." - The Swell Season, "The Rain"

After much soul-searching, I've decided to retire this labor of love called "The Vegan Good Life" and start fresh with a new blog.

I've made no secret of my struggles to eat vegan in every single scenario as I tried to switch from lacto-ovo vegetarianism. My biggest challenges: some vegan products taste, at best, just okay (ahem, vegan cheese); some things cost more (soy yogurts, for example, are double the sale price most pay at supermarkets); and social situations with an excess of foods, especially ones I enjoy eating. When there's an abundance of pies at Thanksgiving, does it matter in the scheme of animal welfare if I have a slice of pecan pie? Also frustrating was worrying about a dollop of milk in butternut squash apple soup at my local soup place, or when traveling wanting to try tiramisu in Italy (but didn't) or running around looking for soy gelato in 25 places. Vegan clothes are a whole other ballpark. I am an avid thrift shopper and clothes swapper and don't see anything wrong with acquiring a second-hand Irish wool hat for $4 if it's going to help homeless cats or a silk dress at a swap.

"Easy" is the most frequent word I hear touted by vegans, but food choices are anything but. They are emotional, tied to economics, family support, and product availability, among other factors. What's easy for one person might not be so for another. Most people are simply going to tinker with their diets over the course of their life, and I am one of them.

I've kept the name up until now because I wanted to be a different type of voice in the community. I simply can't relate to the blogs of people kissing their cupcakes or non-stop joyous attitudes. That's just not real life, that's an image you're trying to sell. There is a real disconnect to how veganism is being marketed to people, and how difficult people find doing it completely when they try it (so then not doing it at all, a great failure for animals). If I've learned anything, it's how much I dislike dietary labels, which is why I want a blog name without one.

I sincerely wish this absolutist issue was not so taboo and people were able to accept and embrace the challenges and accept not being perfect. People shouldn't be made to feel like a failure, or that we're in a game of "I'm the better advocate than you are." I truly in my heart believe we should focus less on "being a vegan" or "going vegan" and instead emphasize eating a plant-based diet as much as possible, eating smaller portions, and wasting less versus signing up for a 100 percent commitment, which most people won't or cannot be able to do. Theory far too often trumps reality, but I'd rather live in reality, and set goals that are attainable.

Benjamin Button wrote in a letter to his daughter he hoped she'd live a life she was proud of. I live a life I'm pretty proud of. Perfect? Never. Apologetic? No way.'s time for a change, because that's what life is about. My new blog is called American Dream Finder. It is my chronicling of my life in my own pursuit of the American dream. But like this blog, the dialogue will not be limited to any one topic and is welcome to people of all beliefs. And, yes it will continue to showcase all the great vegan and vegetarian food in my life.

If you'd like, I invite you to follow me, link me on your site, or just come on by for a visit whenever you feel like it. I shall be here having "a cuppa" with my musings, travels, eats and the like. As a good friend said (and I use this in the context of bloggers who pour their hearts out), "we don't write for ourselves, we write to be heard." I hope we can continue the conversation together, even if you've only been a reader and not a commenter, and create a better world for ourselves, animals, people, and our planet.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, January 3, 2011

But What Do You Eat? Dining Out Edition

The question every vegetarian or vegan gets. As I wonder, how do people feel comfortable eating factory farmed meat, milk and eggs at every single meal?

During a recent snowstorm, on the news they were interviewing people outside a grocery store, and a woman was listing what she deemed necessities: milk, eggs, butter, and cold cuts. It struck me they were all animal products. I also thought, how necessary are cold cuts? Of course if you ask my family dog, that's another story.

Here's a sample of what I've been eating in the past month:

An Arnold Palmer (a mix of lemonade and iced tea), $2.25, and falafel, $5.25, at Maoz Vegetarian (this location recently opened on Eighth Ave. at 43rd and 44th Sts. in New York City) I was super excited another veg option is available, especially in a high-traffic tourist area, but you can find great falafel at many places.

To go at Maoz: vegan rice pudding, $3.50.

At Empire Hunan, a Chinese and Japanese restaurant in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, bean curd soup, $1.75.

After sharing steamed vegetable dumplings, $4.50, devouring sesame fried tofu with veggies and brown rice, $9.50. A feast, and made more frugal by splitting the dish. Don't waste food (and money) - if you have leftovers, take them home, and bring your own takeout container when you can to reduce takeout waste.

To end, fragrant lychee fruit, $3.95, also to share. After the season of over-indulging (which is thankfully over), fruit is a refreshing and welcome change to complete the meal.

At cozy Mario's Trattoria on Ninth Ave. at 37th and 38th Sts. in New York City, garlic knots, $6.

The Mediterranean chopped salad, $9: green and red peppers, red onions, artichoke, tomatoes, cucumbers with oil and vinegar.

Heck, I can even eat at a steakhouse! My dad choose Charlie Brown's Steakhouse for his birthday dinner. So full from the salad bar (included in the price of the entree), I barely had room for my pasta primavera, $11.95 with garlic bread. I took it home in reusable container, and paired with a salad I got two more portions.

A dining out tip if you're looking to eat veg: don't just look for vegetarian entrees. Look at the other sections and see you can leave off the meat. If you are ordering a meat entree sans meat, ask if they'll give you a price reduction. I've had $1 to several dollars taken off. For example, at P.J. Finnegan's in Westwood, New Jersey, they took a few dollars off the chicken stir fry when I asked since I was just having the veggies and rice. Call me cheap - I prefer frugal. But it's more principal. I don't expect to pay for an ingredient I'm not having. Never feel embarrassed about respecting your hard-earned money. I don't.

Know you can find great vegetarian and vegan food dining out even if you don't have access to all the veg dining options. I dine primarily at non-veg restaurants. If you feel adventurous, ask the waiter or waitress to have the chef surprise you. Don't feel suprised when you don't miss the meat.

Friday, December 31, 2010

A Letter from Benjamin

Today, simply giving thanks for another year that was granted, and having a grateful heart for another year to follow. Sharing a few words of hope and inspiration to close out the year from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a motion picture based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald tale about a man who ages in reverse.

"It's never too be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit. Stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. You can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that stop you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."

My toast, to hope, change, spiritual evolution, exploration, pride, dignity and making the world a better place. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

And So This Was Christmas (Swiss-German Style)

My parents were both born and raised in Switzerland (not far from Germany), and our Christmas Eve celebration has a traditional Swiss twist: cheese fondue. While not vegan, this vegetarian meal fed 6 people, with no leftovers. I skipped fondue one year because it wasn't vegan, but in communal situations like this, it became harder to pass on it each year, so my own personal rule applies: eat vegetarian when it's something I'll really savor and love.

The ingredients, simple: a mix of Emmentaler and Gruyere cheeses, garlic (to rub the pan, then soak in a bit of white wine) and cornstarch. Serve with white wine. We also have kirsch at the table for dipping, but I pass on it. My sweetheart chef prepared the meal.

The napkins and the daisy plates were thrifted. I liked the vintage feel of the plates. I almost always prefer retro looking things over modern.

A stollen, a traditional German loaf-shaped cake with dried fruit, spices and covered with powdered sugar. My father picked this up on his recent travels to Switzerland.

Swiss chocolate. Remembering my travels to Switzerland.

Back at my parents' house on Christmas Day, part of their cheerful collection of miniature Swiss chalets picked up at the markets in Germany. Wouldn't it be cozy to stay inside one?

Beef Bourguignon for everyone else, for me: my favorite vegan Field Roast Grain Meat Co.'s Celebration Roast with sauteed mushrooms, along with red cabbage, string beans, and my mom's homemade spaetzle.

Not feeling deprived at all over not doing gifts (aside from charitable ones). One of the highlights of the season: going to church on Christmas Eve, where I took in the quiet beauty of the sanctuary. Hearing the soloist sing "O Holy Night."

Hope you enjoyed the simple pleasures and beauty of the season!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Welcoming the Winter Solstice at Alice's Tea Cup

December 21st marked the winter solstice, and I welcomed it with a happy heart. "A forest greets a snowy evening. Year after year, the holly king passes the torch as it was intended," Tori Amos signs in Winter's Carol on Midwinter Graces, a sonic love letter to the season. The summer queen surrenders, as fate and the stars has written she must, but will make her return.

Cold, snowy days await, begging you to stay indoors, linger over a pot of tea or cup of cocoa, make a pot of soup, put on your flannel pajamas and your comfiest socks, read, watch a film, play a board game, go back to bed, dream. Snow play awaits: sled down a hill, make a snow angel or a snowman, or just marvel at the beauty of it all. The heat of summer demands the body rest and soul slow down, as does the brisk cold of winter. Keith Donohue, in his poetic Angels of Destruction (a great winter read), talked about the "endless nirvana of doing nothing at all" that summer offers. The same can be said of winter days and nights. For this, I celebrate.

I gave a proper welcome to winter at New York City's Alice's Tea Cup. Whimsical costumes for the youngest of tea drinkers to get in touch with her inner princess or fairy.

A miniature version of their Alice in Wonderland set for playful tea times at home. A potential guest list: any mix of children, adults, teddy bears and dolls.

For the adult party: a pot of herbal chai (roobis, or red, tea with cinnamon, ginger and anise), with soy milk, $6.

Half a soup and half a salad is $13. Warm pear and belgian endive salad, with watercress, caramelized onions, and port vinaigrette, hold the stilton cheese.

I was told there's always one vegan soup of the day. Today's: carrot, served with a roll with basil.

Blackberry Cabernet sorbet, $6, to end the enchanting meal. No vegan scones or cookies were available that day - they were sold out.

Flashback to the winter solstice tea party at Alice's Tea cup last year, and my Valentine's party there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Colonial Christmas

Back at the Bergen County Historical Society for both their history open house and colonial concert. Was a colonial ghost making an appearance in the far bottom right corner? These mysterious lights showed up in all the photos I took in this room.

Right above the room, the temporary headquarters of George Washington, who stayed in the Steuben House while the army was encamped between Soldier Hill Road in Oradell and Van Saun Park in Paramus.

Back at the Black Horse tavern, soul-nourishing butternut squash soup with an herbed biscuit, $8, and hot mulled cider, $1.

Whimsical Dutch Santas in the gift shop.

A visit to the Dutch out kitchen is a must. Would it be wrong to want to live by candlelight alone?

Roasted brussels sprouts is quickly becoming one of my favorite vegetables of the season.

Notice the kitchen tools. Consider the labor that went into food harvesting and preparation. With no labor required on our own part in growing it, I think sometimes we take for granted the easy accessibility we have to food today, contributing in part, to food waste.

Not milk and cookies, but hay and apples. Why?

To attract the horses of Sinterklaas.

Mistletoe by the fireplace.

In the hustle and bustle that is inevitable this time of year, take time to savor your favorite traditions this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Out to Dry

I recently watched the film Winter's Bone, about an impoverished family in the Ozarks. Laundry hang drying was a common back-drop in this dark film, and too often, it is portrayed in media images and popular culture that give it an association with poverty.

My view on hang drying laundry: it is an act of environmentalism, economic empowerment, exercise, meditation, and beauty.

Living in a garden apartment complex in New Jersey that does not allow residents to dry laundry outside, I hang dry year round on a drying rack in my apartment, clothes on hangers on my shower curtain rod, and towels on the racks. Even sheets and blankets air dry.

When I travel abroad, I adore the sight of laundry hanging out to dry. I think of our ignorance on the matter. What is so offensive about the sight of our neighbors trying to save money and energy? If a small act can help provide cleaner air and more money in wallets, I support it. I also ponder how detrimental it would be if everyone consumed resources at the rate Americans do.

Fondly recalling laundry out to dry, on the balconies of Barcelona.

In romantic Tangier.

In a Lisbon courtyard, with bicycles at the ready for a trip to the market.

I spied a laundry rainbow.

Floating over a quaint cafe in Rome.

Above the canals of Venice.

In colorful Burano.

Check out Project Laundry List's Top 10 Reasons to Line Dry.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Frugal? Don't Apologize

How often I hear an apologetic or guilty tone invoked when uttering the words, "I'm frugal." Do people who live beyond their means and spend lavishly do this? Say it boldly, world, "I'm frugal." That doesn't mean don't travel, don't dine out, don't shop ever. I may dine out, but I'll bring my reusable takeout containers for leftovers (to cut down on packaging waste, but also food waste, which is essentially financial waste), and I may order water with lemon as a beverage to cut down the bill. I will travel, but will look for inexpensive accommodations that offer breakfast to take care of one of my daily meals.

Frugality to me is about not wasting, using what you have as much as possible, and being respectful of your hard earned money. It is an undervalued virtue. Save for winning the lottery or discovering a long lost Great Uncle Hans in Switzerland has bequeathed me a fortune, I don't think I'll ever have a large bank account. Having known what it's like to be unemployed, I take money matters very seriously. Even if I had a lot of money, I'd still enjoy frugal living.

Here are some frugal delights I've been savoring as of late:

Holiday entertainment from the library: books, magazines, CD's, films. Favorite films to watch each year: Elf, Home Alone, White Christmas, and though not technically a holiday film, The Sound of Music. Like Julie Andrews, one of "My Favorite Things" too is "silver white winters that melt into springs."

Writing Christmas cards while listening to holiday music. I picked up an assortment of cards from the C.A.T.S Resale Shop, for just 10 cents each.

Candles, 20 cents each, also from C.A.T.S. Resale. I adore candles, especially in fall and winter, and acquire most of them through thrift shops.

Cozy dinners at home - this one mushroom gnocchi. The pretty blue plate? Thrifted, of course.

Home baked goodies from the church bake sale: brownies to share, 25 cents each, raspberry jam, $4, I passed on to someone who will love it, and granola, $3. Check out Cate's Homemade Gifts on Liberal Simplicities.

Taking in holiday lights. We haven't had a good snow in northern New Jersey yet for a real snowman, but this cheerful lit up version greeted me on a brisk night's walk.

Our new freecycle shelf at work, which I started next to the book swap my co-worker started. Someone left this EO rose and chamomile scented lotion (a $9 value), which I immediately scooped up.

In January, I'll be co-hosting a winter clothing swap at work (I'm a proud frugalista), and we'll be including unwanted holiday gifts to give them a happy, grateful home, and for some frugal fun when everyone's credit card bills will be arriving.

Don't feel deprived - feel emboldened by frugal living.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gifts Not For Sale

Not fancy jewelry, nor expensive gadget, nor new winter coat. It is time and a rekindled magic with her loved one that Tori Amos hopes for in "A Silent Night with You." Anyone in a long-term relationship, married or not, can't help at some point but look at new couples and be a bit envious of a phase that is seemingly impossible to recapture. "Young lovers pass me by with their glow, that used to be us not so long ago."

My sweetheart and I will not be exchanging Christmas gifts again this year. We've long agreed we have everything we need, and if we want something, we'll buy it ourselves. I don't feel deprived because I have no pricey bauble or item to unwrap - quite the opposite, my life feels very rich. Much like Tori does, I will be hoping for precious time, which so slips through our hands quicker and quicker. You can't unwrap it, but it's more valuable than anything you'll find in a department store.

Also on her Midwinter Graces, in "Pink and Glitter," Tori declares "our joy isn't about a present or a grown up motor toy" - it's the celebration of a daughter, present enough for so many.

Here's to appreciating all the love in our lives this holiday season - of family, of romantic partners, of friends, of a pet.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Time, New York City

No matter how many times I've seen it in my life, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center never fails to fill me with childlike awe and wonder. With warm chestnuts in hand, I marveled at it all.

Skaters at Rockefeller Center.

Magical angels line the pathway to the tree.

A pop-up book in a window at Rockefeller Center.

The holiday windows at Bergdoff Goodman pay tribute to travel and adventure.

Even the buildings (this one Cartier) are wrapped in bows.

The UNICEF Snowflake.

I dreamt I had an Eloise adventure at The Plaza, but alas, it's back to New Jersey I go, grateful, still, to be part of the excitement of it all.