Charlotte vegan eats

These days I do not spend a lot of time in Charlotte, NC. But when I do, I have a few favorite spots that I tend to visit along with the occasional new place.

One night I met friends at Thai House in University City. I really love the fried tofu appetizer. I order their vegetarian Massaman curry whenever I visit. I’ve had a hard time finding a veg version of Massaman that I like in New York, which probably seems strange, but is true.

For another visit with a friend, we had lunch at Le Kebab Grill, which I’ve been to a few times. Hummus, falafel, warm dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) – how can you go wrong?

Saigon Palace on South Blvd is still my go-to Vietnamese spot. I have to admit I order the same thing every time…they make the best veggie cold rolls, and the tofu and vegetables in garlic sauce is pretty tasty.

The night Pocky and I tried to go to the Flying Biscuit for dinner (our usual breakfast spot) we arrived and found they were closed. So we walked over to CO instead. CO is a pan-Asian chain with rice and noodle dishes, sushi and Vietnamese sandwiches. They have a separate vegan menu – just ask for it. The crispy edamame spring roll, the tofu summer rolls, spicy udon, and com chien (fried rice) are yummy. Next time though, I have to try the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. It’s always interesting to try vegan versions of the banh mi, sometimes they have tofu or seitan. One of the best I’ve ever eaten was vegetables and mashed spicy black beans. I should probably re-create that at home this week.

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Last up – Suarez bakery, my surprise find. For those who know me or follow on instagram – you’ll be familiar with my love of doughnuts (donuts). For years I was disappointed by the vegan “cake like” doughnuts sans frosting that were everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, “I’ll eat a good vegan cake doughnut, but for years they typically weren’t anything to get excited about. The choices now are incredible – Voodoo doughnuts, Dunwell or Cinnamon Snail in NY, Bloomer’s in Toronto, or the Holy Donut in Maine – all have spectacular offerings that even the pickiest non-vegan doughnut connoisseur would eat – old-fashioned, glazed, cruller, potato, etc.

So, I googled vegan donuts in Charlotte, and up popped Suarez bakery, which was a shock because they are a traditional bakery that I have walked past many times never realizing that inside…my favorite guilty pleasure awaited. They only have a few vegan options, but their doughnuts are legit. I’ll be dreaming about their vegan-glazed doughnut until the next visit.

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Exploring Burlington VT

After a short visit to Brattleboro VT, we headed to Burlington. We stayed in the area near the waterfront and Church Street Marketplace. The area seemed to have a large university crowd, which may be the normal scene or it was because we were there the same weekend that parents were moving their children into dorms and apartments.

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The Lake Champlain waterfront park is a fantastic spot. It has a boardwalk with benches, and a walking and bike path. We even stumbled across a few small beaches while walking on the path. The bike path also travels further around the city.
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We spent a bit of time in the Church Street area at restaurants and exploring the stores. On Saturday morning we went to the Burlington Farmer’s Market, which is held at the City Hall Park. They have fresh locally grown produce, crafts, sweet and savory snacks, coffee and juices, meats and cheeses, local restaurant vendors, and maple everything. I started with a cold brew coffee. I had to have something maple…so I purchased a habanero infused maple syrup from Benito’s. Seems like it would be amazing on tofu and tempeh.

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As we walked around I spotted so many stalls with hot vegan food, but not what many Americans would think of as typical breakfast food. I’d eat a bowl of curry or a warm grain bowl with beans and veggies any time of the day. We decided on the Tibetan Cuisine vendor and I am so happy we did. We shared a curried lentil and rice dish and vegan veggie buns. This farmers market seemed more like street fair than a farmers market. It’s a local Saturday morning staple in the community, grab breakfast, do some shopping and chat with the neighbors all in one space. I’m really glad we went.

For the most part, we went to restaurants that were walking distance from our hotel. A few of our local favorites – the Nepalese & Himalayan Sherpa cuisine at Sherpa Kitchen was fantastic.My favorite item on Sweet Waters menu was the lavender vodka lemon drop; it was delicious.

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Zabby and Elf’s Stone Soup was a charming organic café, they have soup, a hot and cold bar, but their sandwiches were my favorite. The vegan club and the vegan Reuben were tasty. We also stopped at a Ben & Jerry’s — a new thing for me now that they make a few vegan flavors (yummy). There was a line out the door.

Glad I researched the local breweries, both places we went to were winners. My preference runs on the darker side – English bitters, browns and German Dunkels, while my other half enjoys IPA’s and lighter beers.

We chose Zero Gravity and Queen City Breweries, both farther from where we were staying than other breweries but a better mix of options that appealed to both of us. They also happen to be across the street from each other. We decided to walk (half hour from our hotel). With all of the eating going on during this trip it seemed like a wise choice.

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I was definitely ready to sample some beer once we arrived at Zero Gravity. It was a welcoming space with inside seating and a patio. They serve a few food options, you can buy cans of some of their beer or fill a growler with what’s on tap.

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Next we headed across the street to Queen City – follow the arrows on the side of their building – their space is around back. It’s set up more like a traditional tasting/tour operation. Though they did have snacks. Queen City has some bottled beers for sale or the option to fill up a growler.

Pocky timed our brewery adventure so that we’d walk to the hotel post drinks while the sun was setting. So we made our way to the path that’s parallel with the beach and marina and enjoyed our stroll with similar like-minded folks.

At the end of our trip, we took a scenic route to Manhattan, NY. We drove through Ironville and Eagle Lake. One piece of advice – generally know where you are going before making a drive near the lake. There was a stretch of time where we had no cell service. It’s a gorgeous drive and worth the time. We stopped in Albany, NY to have lunch at Berben & Wolff’s Vegan Delicatessen on Lark St near Center Square.

Sandwiches were a trend on this trip…the tempeh chickpea salad sandwich was tasty and massive. Pocky had the wing burger – both came with chips and a pickle, as one would expect at a deli. I would eat there all the time if they had a spot in NYC.

North East Road Trip to Vermont

Recently, Pocky and I went on a road trip to Vermont. The first day we left New York City and drove to Brattleboro, VT. We had both been there before, separately. Last year I visited with one of my girlfriends so I already had some places in mind that I wanted to hit up.

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Brattleboro is an eclectic small town. Main Street is a few blocks up from the Connecticut River and has antique stores, outdoor gear shops, bookstores, coffee shops, art and theater, a vegan café, Thai cuisine, and other restaurants and breweries. There is also a food co-op and the art deco – Latchis Hotel in that area. For vegans roaming around Vermont, Brattleboro should be on the must visit list. On this trip, we stopped at Whetstone Brewery, which has two decks overlooking the river and tasty food and beverages.

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We also stopped at Mocha Joe’s coffee – their maple latte is my favorite. Superfresh! Organic Café is another gem with vegan, vegetarian, and raw options. Their breakfasts are the bomb.

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That night we stayed overnight in Keene, New Hampshire (hotel points); it’s about a thirty-minute drive from Brattleboro. Keene’s downtown area has a similar vibe. It seems as if they turned a small area of older brick industrial buildings into shopping, restaurants and hotels. These few blocks though, are surrounded by a neighborhood with two story houses dating back to the 1800s. We decided to make the short walk over to Main Street and ended up having a fabulous dinner at Thai Garden.

The next day we drove further north to Burlington, our base for the next few days.

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One of our adventures while in the area was a trip out to the Shelburne museum in Shelburne Vermont – about a twenty-minute drive from Burlington. We were there for hours. The sprawling property began as a way to exhibit horse-drawn carriages. Over time, it transitioned into an amazing property full of historic buildings, trains, a one-room schoolhouse, a lighthouse, a jail, a general store, a covered bridge, and the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga. They also have herb and heirloom vegetable gardens, spectacular views of the mountains, and a café. The property is also full of apple and other fruit trees, even in the parking area.

A massive round red barn, and two other barns house many types of carriages, including a hearse carriage.

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The train was definitely one of my favorite sights. The interior of the old train, including the sleeping compartments, was very ornate and had a 1920s esthetic.


The steamboat was also fun to roam around. It had the staterooms and the kitchen set up, and it was possible to walk around the mechanical areas and view the massive steam engine. The general store had cool old items – shoes, clothing, and food. There was an apothecary set up in the back with a ton of old bottles full of herbs and concoctions. Upstairs dental, medical and eye doctor offices with old chairs, and instruments were on display.

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Some of the other buildings contained paintings, sculptures, quilts, glass, china, toys and more. They even had a room with old creepy dolls. We ended our time there with a short break at their café.

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Art collage

The next blog will feature our time in Burlington and our road trip home. Click the links for more photos of the Shelburne Museum or Brattleboro VT.

A season of performances at the Metropolitan Opera

I had been to the Met before but it was to see a performance of the American Ballet Theatre. For that performance my seat was in the orchestra, which was amazing and expensive…the Met is a very well dressed crowd, everything from business wear to cocktail and formal dresses, though they’d still let you in with a more casual outfit on.

This season I was on a fairly tight budget and decided to try to see roughly the same amount of performances as usual for less money, which meant more balcony, and less orchestra seating.

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This season I was determined to attend the opera. My choice was Verdi’s Egyptian tragedy Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. For Aida I had Family Circle tickets, which is situated at the top of the building, whew it’s high up, but it’s affordable. The acoustics were fantastic but visually it was more difficult to clearly watch the performers. Violeta Moore played Aida. The production received some harsh critique and I’m not am opera expert…but I really enjoyed it.

Next up at the Met – two performances by the American Ballet Theatre, both featuring Misty Copeland. For each performance, I had seats in different sections of the Family Circle balcony.

I attended Don Quixote, with Misty Copeland in the role of Kitri, Aaron Scott as Sancho Panza, Jeffrey Chirio as Basilio, and Roman Zhurbin as Don Quixote. This ballet was an over the top flamboyant production, the perfect escape, and the two and a half hours flew by. Copeland and Chirio didn’t have much chemistry but she was amazing as always — perfect phrasing and gorgeous lines.

Next up was the romantic ballet Giselle with Copeland in the role of Giselle, Roman Zhurbin as Hilarion, and Alban Lendorf as Count Albrecht. This was a new ballet for Copeland, and her graceful lines and strong lightening fast turns were perfect for this gorgeous classic ballet.

Let’s return to the Family Circle section – for those on a budget this is an extremely affordable way to watch performances at the Met, but with a few things to bear in mind. In this section there are railing in front of all the seats with a built-in display to show the English translation of the Opera. The downside to this is if you are petite like I am, you will need to lean forward in order to have a clear view of the stage. It’s definitely difficult to see the performers facial expressions from that high up. With that said, I wouldn’t mind sitting up there for some of the performances but I’ll probably invest in opera glasses.

 

Day Trip to New Paltz, NY

New Paltz, New York makes a fantastic day trip or weekend getaway from Manhattan. For my first visit, a friend and I decided on a day trip. It’s roughly an hour and a half drive (depending on traffic) from Manhattan. Once we made it past the local urban sprawl it was a lovely scenic drive.

Because we only had one day — we planned to hike a section of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail (22-mile-long), wander around the town, and see where that left us with time.

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Many cities in the US have created trails for public use on abandoned rail corridors, for instance Charlotte, NC has one, Indiana has a few, and of course NYC has the Highline — a 1.45-mile-long elevated walkway built on a disused New York Central Railroad line on the West Side. These trails are a fantastic way to reuse existing routes with scenic views, or a way to create walking and bike paths through concrete jungles full of automobiles and noise.

As we drove down Main Street, it was apparent that New Paltz was an eclectic community full of arts, entertainment, shopping, and a variety of cafés and restaurants. The GPS took us to a middle point of the rail trail, and luckily there was a spot left in the parking area. We grabbed our packed lunches, and after a short discussion, chose a direction and set off.

The trail passes through the towns of Rosendale, Gardiner, the Historic Huguenot District in New Paltz, and ends in Kingston. The section of the trail we walked was its own oasis in the middle of town. It’s a hidden path surrounded by greenery with small creeks and wooded areas. In some spots it seemed secluded while other sections of the trail had businesses and homes beyond the trees, with pathways leading to some of the private properties. We spotted horses, ducks, and other small creatures scurrying around. After a while, we found a bench and had lunch out on the trail.

My one piece of advice – pay attention because the path is wide enough for two people to walk but many people bike the trail, so be prepared to move over and let people pass. I wish we had had time to walk more of the trail so that we could experience the sections with bridges, views of the Wallkill River, and the Shawangunk Ridge. Next trip.

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After walking the trail, we headed to Main Street to check out the local scene. The drive through town with the Shawangunk Ridge as a majestic backdrop was gorgeous. On the way, we came across fruit and vegetable stands, including Dressel Farms, which has ice cream, apple picking, and signs indicating that strawberry season is days away. My vegan self passed on the ice cream, but my friend ordered what she claimed was a very tasty shake.

A few popular food spots to check out if headed that way — Mexicali Blue, Huckleberry, New Paltz Indian restaurant, China House, and Bangkok Café. We found two chocolatiers, Lagusta’s Luscious and Krause’s.

For the book lovers –Barner Books and Inquiring Minds are across the street from each other, just off Main Street. I liked Barner Books, probably because they had vintage typewriters for sale. I’ll let you in on a secret…I have this romanticized notion about writing a novel on typewriter.

Our final stop of the day was the Village Tea Room. Yes, it’s a traditional teahouse with cakes and sandwiches but they also have a full menu including vegan options, if tea isn’t your thing. I recommend the Monk tee. They also have a signature vanilla cake (not vegan) that looks like a bee hive with apricot preserves, honey butter cream and petite chocolate bees on top. The apricot jam looks like honey oozing out of the layers. My friend ordered a slice to go. I heard it was yummy but not too sweet.

For my next visit, I want to see the Minnewaska State Park, which is situated in the Shawangunk Mountains. It’s a hikers paradise replete with waterfalls, lakes, and dense forests. There is also the Mohonk Preserve with streams, fields and mountains that spans 8,000 acres of land, or the Nyquist-Harcourt Wildlife Sanctuary with 56 acres of grasses and plants. And after all that hiking, maybe a visit to one of the local wineries or breweries is in order. With all of the outdoor adventures this could turn into a regular weekend getaway.

 

 

2017 VegFest Charlotte

In years past, Vegfest Charlotte was held outdoors and had a street fair vibe. That sounds good but the unbearable heat was an issue. I would walk around and look to see which vendors were there, start to feel way too hot, find a bottle of water, feel marginally better, and then try to decide on food. After a bit of indecision I’d realize that I was too hot to eat, grab a fresh juice from a stall and whatever cupcake or other vegan treat looked good – and take it home.

This year Charlotte Vegfest was held at an indoor facility, aside from a few vendors set up outside, in Freedom Hall at the Park Expo and Conference Center. Parking was easier and the cooler temperature made lingering and sampling much more attractive. The fest featured sustainable organizations, the Humane Society, and food from local restaurants. Local vendors such as The Greener Apple and Pop Up produce were on hand, as well as known commercial companies Dr. Bronner, Renu Energy solutions and Food not bombs. A series of speakers including a vegan body builder and local chefs were on the line up, and there was also a speed dating session – I have no idea how that went…

Popular restaurants such as Nourish, Fern, Living Kitchen, Zizi’s, Viva Raw, and Lenny Boy brewery were on hand. In the Pop Up and Food Truck category local favorites Move That Dough Baking Co and The Masa Casa brought food and beverages for sale. Beverly’s Gourmet, a line of fresh prepared meals available at Whole Foods and other stores selling vegetarian and vegan food, also had a stall. Beverly’s makes a Persian barley soup that I must have whenever I am in town. Ben & Jerry’s was also there with their new vegan ice cream’s –- coffee caramel fudge is my new favorite!

Those who frequent food festivals know it requires stamina and some cash if you want to do a bit of sampling. My advice – go hungry with someone who will share food – that way you can sample more and maybe spend less. Pocky and I had a bit of a nom nom extravaganza. He and I tend to like varied flavors sensations and food from different regions of the world. That can be okay though, because we often want to order different items and then share or just try a bite if it doesn’t sound terribly interesting.

Unfortunately, we never made it to the extremely popular Soul Desserts becasue each time we made our way to their stall, the line seemed even longer. We did try JP’s Pastry, which is vegan and gluten free; their Vanilla cupcake was fantastic.

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Juice Bar makes fabulous elixirs – the “Fresh Greens” and “We Got the Beet” were refreshing, and the “Orange You Glad” was another favorite. I also grabbed a cold brew from Parliament Coffee roasters.

Vegganers Luck offered a Chick’N Waffles w/Fried seitan on an almond buttermilk waffle that was pretty good – seems they might have a food truck soon. Zizi’s had a tasty “CHICKEN” PARM-LESS SUB that was mock fried chicken, breaded, in a marinara sauce.

One of my favorite bites was the Pastel de yuka from catering company Soul Cocina. The roasted pocket was stuffed with spinach, brown rice and lentils. They also had tamales for sale. Next time I’m in town, I hope to find them at a farmers market.

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Another favorite – Nourish – a home delivery food service served up one of my favorite dishes, a Vegan Mac with buffalo cauliflower, yum! We also had their delicious sweet potato fries.

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My new favorite find though, is the artisanal plant meat line from Asheville based No Evil Foods. They fried up “The Prepper” (chicken-esque), and the Stallion (Italian sausage), and El Zapatista (Mexican chorizo) that can be grilled, marinated, and etc. El Zapatista was my favorite. Their products were really flavorful and spicy. I also like their throw back packaging – a butcher shop brown paper. They also had a few different types of jerky; the Chipotle Jerky is fantastic. Their products are available for purchase online and in some stores. Check them out.

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All in all, it was a great way to spend a few hours. Charlotte Vegfest had a great offering of plant-based food from local restaurants and caterers, food product producers, as well as interesting sustainable organizations. This was by far my favorite year that I’ve attended.

 

 

 

 

 

Theatre and Dance Highlights from NYC in 2016

Last year offered so many options of new works and old favorites that I missed quite a few performances that I wanted to see, such as Othello, The Front Page, Heisenberg, Michael C. Hall in David Bowie’s Lazarus, and more. I also missed Alvin Ailey’s annual dance season as well. Last year my work schedule was hectic and I spent a bit of time in Africa, which made seeing short runs of Broadway and off Broadway performances difficult. Most of what I managed to attend was fantastic.
Alan Cumming is one of my favorite actors, so when it was announced that he was taking his cabaret show on the road, I had to buy a ticket for his Carnegie Hall show. Whether acting or singing, he is ever the entertainer. Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs was a charming evening of musical theater with a few contemporary songs thrown in, witty banter and surprise guests: Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss and Ricki Lake. The set had a little something for everyone and was long enough to make me feel content but also desiring a little more.
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Eclipsed – this performance would make a good short or behind the scenes PBS performance. The play centered on life in Liberia, Africa in 2003. It depicted the difficulties that women faced during that time, specifically the reality of life in a region under rebel control. Eclipsed was poignant, sad and funny. The acting was fantastic and the ensemble was balanced and well cast. The female cast included Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, Zainab Jah, Lupita Nyong’o, and Saycon Sengbloh. The men were also good, but not standouts. Perhaps it resonated so strongly with me because I work in peacebuilding and spent time in Liberia last year, but honestly, I think it had more to do with the storytelling by Danai Gurira and acting from a superb ensemble.
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The newest incarnation of Arthur Miller’s the Crucible felt like a dark and eerie film noir. The play featured a star-studded cast familiar to theater, film and television audiences including Ciarán Hinds, Sophie Okonedo, Ben Winshaw, Saoirse Ronan and a large ensemble. Though many reviewers complained of Ivo van Hove’s staging, noting that it didn’t offer enough context, I didn’t need a roadmap of period associations to understand exactly what was happening. The young actors brought the play to life with their scary and at times vulnerable portrayals of young girls accused being witches, while the rest of the cast embodied a community stirring up fear and looking for answers that didn’t exist.
Most people are aware of the hilarious musical The Book of Mormon; it’s irreverent storyline and potty mouth dialogue. I first experienced this show during its first national tour and couldn’t get some of lyrics out of my head for months. Typically, I don’t see productions more than once, aside from dance performances that often rotate the pieces performed, but one of my Uncles came to NY for a visit and I couldn’t find reasonably priced tickets to Hamilton…He hadn’t seen The Book of Mormon, which I figured he would like as he is a little cheeky himself, so that was that. Now, it’s been a few years but the lines were just as funny as the first go around and the writers have updated a few cultural references, which provided unexpected laughs as well.
The last play of the bunch – Blackbird by David Harrower, featured Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams. I really wanted to like this play, but I just didn’t. It is about a pedophile and his victim, she was 12 and he was 40 at the time. In the present — Williams character 27 years old, confronts Daniels character at his workplace to relive the past. I didn’t see the original casting of this play when it was off-Broadway, perhaps I would have enjoyed that version more. The monologues were too frenzied and for most of the play I found the acting unbelievable. They can’t all be winners…
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One of my favorite performances of the year was Swan Lake by the American Ballet Theatre. I know, I know – most ballet companies perform Swan Lake, and yes, I’ve seen it before. Though I won’t divulge how many times. But…I was determined to see Misty Copeland dance. Copeland is the first African American female principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in NY and that’s a huge deal. When I was young, I practiced ballet, tap and modern dance. Let’s just say there wasn’t much diversity in my ballet world. I could watch Copeland solo for hours, her amazing lines, fluidity and graceful movement on stage is stunning. When I read that she would dance the role of Odile/Odette l in Swan Lake last season, I had to go because I didn’t want to run the risk of her never dancing that role again, and missing it. She was spectacular. It was a little emotional to look around and see so many beautifully dressed young girls watching an older image of themselves onstage in one of the most famous ballet roles in history. Copeland is an example that hard work and perseverance leads to dreams coming true.