Friday, May 27, 2011

Faux-tropical paradise, with ducks.

Hi, my little sugarplums! I wish I could say I was writing to you from balmy Florida, but I barely looked at the computer while we were down there, so I’m writing it from where I usually write these things: the bathroom. (Kidding.) Anyway, Red had to go to Orlando for a conference and I wanted to escape a week’s worth of forecasted rain, so we jetted south last week. We were very lucky to stay on the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. It is basically a luxurious Fake South Pacific, but they had lots of sushi and vegan-friendly food (as opposed to Loews Portofino Bay, aka Fake Italy, where all the pasta at this one restaurant was made with eggs, but they did have Vespas). They also had a pool and sunshine and lots of ducks wandering around quacking for snacks. And dogs! They are a dog-friendly resort, and Red and I became BFFs with a hyper little corgi-Jack Russell sweetheart named Ike. It was a total win, is what I am saying. We did absolutely nothing photo-worthy, not even visit Hogwarts—and we sort of wanted to, but it is so expensive and we didn’t have a lot of time, so we bagged that—but I did take lots of pictures of our food for you.

But first, logistics. Just like I did before we went to Sanibel, I hit the Internet to gauge our options. Loews provided most of their menus online, so I was able to get an idea of what we could eat on the various resorts (Loews has three Orlando resorts linked by a shuttle system: Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay, and Hard Rock). It looked like we’d be good to go at Royal Pacific and okay at Portofino Bay, but we kicked Hard Rock to the curb for veg-unfriendliness. Red also found a Whole Foods nearby, for those urgent kombucha cravings. (I don’t know why I wrote that. I hate kombucha.) We were confident we wouldn’t starve, but we still packed granola bars.

The view from our room.

Our first order of business was dinner, because we were very hungry after we finally made it to the hotel and I get cranky if I miss meals. We wandered downstairs to the bar (‘scuse me, the Orchid Court Lounge) and begged some sushi and alcohol from Taren, my new favorite bartender. She is from Tasmania and gave us pieces of the pineapple she was slicing for garnishes after she saw me staring at it. Taren is the best.

We had a couple false starts at breakfast, because once we determined that they offered the particular variety of Kashi cereal with dried blueberries—the only vegan Kashi they had on hand—that’s what I kept trying to order. It’s called Blueberry Clusters or something. One morning I got the correct cereal with extra fresh berries (totally not a problem), the next I got the wrong cereal entirely and had to send it back, and on our final morning I gave up and had berries and potatoes. That was no hardship, believe me, but I had a hell of a time trying to explain that damn cereal. Red got off light, because he ordered Raisin Bran. Happily, only once was there confusion with the soy milk.

Behold, a breakfast montage:

Do you want to see ducks? Of course you do.

Not too sure what these are. Any ideas?

More french fries, please!

We were lucky to be able to have lunch together every day before Red had to go back to work. Mostly we ate at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop, which needs to up their sushi-rolling game because my poor chopstick skills do not make otherwise well-made sushi fall apart.

Our poolside lunch at the Bula Bar featured one of the tastiest salads I’ve ever had:

On my own, I usually read by the pool or the little canal thing they’ve got going on. Then I read some more. Sometimes I did a little yoga in our room, but mostly I wanted to be outside. This was the view from my lounge chair:

The day before we left, Red wore this shirt:

That afternoon, we were hailed by a fellow vegan! He was also in town for the conference and was peacefully eating his PBJ when he saw us. “Sometimes you’ve gotta pack your own,” I said. He agreed. Yay for finding our tribe, even in the unlikeliest places!

Twice we had pizza and hummus for dinner at Jake’s American Bar, which is what you’d get if you tried to do Rick’s CafĂ© AmĂ©ricain without the Nazis. Or Sam. (Also, holy shit, there really is a Rick’s in Casablanca now. I want to go to there!) The first time, I also had a veggie pita because we didn’t know how much hummus we’d be getting—so much, we took the rest back to our room. That restaurant was amazing: Upon hearing he had two hungry vegans, the chef came out and talked over our options with us, offering to make us something special. I don’t think I’ve ever chatted up a chef before. He rocked.

One night, we decided to dress up (for vacation, anyway) and check out Portofino Bay. We tried to go to Bice, their swanky restaurant, but that was the place with egg-tainted pasta, so we went to Trattoria del Porto, which was still very nice and not a bad Plan B at all. We both ended up with the same dish—whole-wheat penne with vegetables—but it was tasty and they had Italian beer, so we didn’t care.

A kind fellow tourist took a picture of us in which we both look decent (and, more importantly, I don’t look sunburned):

Portofino Bay: Come for the atmosphere, but the dining options need some work.

We had lunch outside right before we left for the airport, and this little fellow came to see us off:

Lizards are probably nothing special to Floridians, but I thought he was pretty cute.

Well, darlings, there you have our idyllic jaunt to sunny Orlando. I loved our time away, but I loved coming home and snuggling Lucy even more.

Finally home.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Grill, baby, grill.

Recently, Red and I got a new grill. This week, we fired it up for the first time! On the menu? Veggie kebabs, savory tofu, and coconut rice!

Here are all the kebabs lovingly lined up on the grill. Notice how thoughtfully Red made an all-onion kebab so I wouldn’t have to pick them out!

We’ve got green peppers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and fresh pineapple. Red so bravely slew and skinned the pineapple, fearsome prickly thing that it was.

Instead of adding the tofu to the kebabs, I marinated it overnight in a teriyaki-ginger sauce (this one, if you care, and you should because it was yummy) and Red grilled it in slabs. Notice how he got the perfect grill marks!

Onion close-up for all of you who, ahem, like that sort of thing:

De-skewered and ready for nomming:

Here’s the rice. We used 30-Minute Vegan’s recipe, which is reliably easy and delicious. The black-eyed peas make it really satisfying all by itself, too.

Final product:

It was the perfect almost-summer dinner. We felt so completely suburban that we had to watch The Wire to recover.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

In which I didn’t mean to let the muffins get moldy.

I don’t really like zucchini. I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t seem very cooperative. It turns mushy in stir-fries and gets squeaky when you bake it. It’s tasty if you shred it and make it into fritters and fry it, but that takes time and work and I quickly get sick of frying things in the summer heat (and since we’re talking about zucchini, it’s almost always in the summer). Zucchini bread is good, but trying to keep up with the never-ending stream of zucchini yields a shit-ton of bread and inevitably I run out of people to give it to.

I returned from my trip to Charlotte to find three zucchinis in the fridge. “Where did these come from?” I asked Red. Turns out, his parents had given them to us, which was very thoughtful but didn’t help me figure out what to do with them. I looked at them for a few days. They mocked me every time I opened the fridge. “Ha ha, now you have to eat us,” they sneered. Bastards.

Finally I cracked open Vegan Brunch and found a recipe for Zucchini Spelt Muffins. Well now, that sounded easy and wholesome, so I went for it. I cackled as I shoved my zucchinis into the food processor, jubilant that they hadn’t defeated me. To sweeten the deal, as I was preparing to pop the muffins into the oven, I received an invitation to a yoga class/vegan potluck at an acquaintance’s house! The timing couldn’t have been better. My muffins would be the perfect post-yoga snack.

They came out very well. They were a bit like a healthier zucchini bread—not as sweet, and I didn’t go as heavy on the spices as I normally would because I like to follow new recipes pretty closely the first time. My fellow potluckers agreed that they were a great counterpoint to our other snacks: super-sweet crumb cake (so good, I brought a piece home), baguette slices with a pesto-chickpea spread, and tofu scramble. I was happy. My muffins were a hit.

Since we still had plenty of muffins left over, I started taking them to work for a midmorning snack. Removed from their brunch companions, they were a bit blander than I had originally noticed, but I figured that if I toasted one and added a little Earth Balance, it would rock. Imagine my dismay when I went to do that, only to discover that my four remaining muffins were playing host to a very healthy colony of mold! What gives, zucchini muffins? You were a week old and I’d kept you in the nice cool refrigerator! How dare you repay me thus? Compost bin for you, ungrateful vegetable-based wretches.

I guess that explains why the muffins I’d eaten in the day or two before tasted a little weird. My immune system got a mini-workout there. For real, though, anyone know why my muffins went all moldy? I was pretty bummed about that.