Monthly Archive: May 2011

Adios and bonjour

As promised, here comes the Euro flashback series…out of order, mind you, but better late now than never.

Paris day 1: May 20th

Once upon a time, two girls left Madrid to play in Paris. 

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Ok, I’ll cut the sh!t.  Laura and I said adios to Spain and the rest of our fam and headed off to enjoy some fun in France.  We woke up crazy early, long before the sun was even aware of it’s being a new day.  In the chaos of packing and stressing about what I was forgetting, I only managed to get a few hours of shut eye.  Laura was in the same boat, though, so we were both looking like haggard train wrecks when we stumbled out of the Westin Palace heading for the Plaza de Cibeles

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[No we aren’t ballers, accommodations in Spain were on mom & dad]

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Tip to future travelers: the subway in Madrid doesn’t start running until 6 am.  That ruled out plan A.  Plan B was taking the Atocha station airport buses.  Wrong.  They too begin operations at 6 am.  We had to be at the airport by that time, so it was a good thing we did a little research the night before.  Luckily, we discovered the Plaza de Cibeles was only a bit further of a walk; and more importantly, offered airport buses through the night and early morning. 

So there we were, me with my green monster of a suitcase, and Laura with her mega backpack (I wish I had a photo because she was honestly more mule than human with that thing on her back), doing circles in the Plaza, trying to figure out which stop was the correct one.  We found a nice gent to help us.

I’m pretty sure the conversation went something like this:

American idiots:  Hola?  Sabes donde esta el autobus de aeropuerto express?

Hombre (in spanish):  Ask those guys over there.  They would know, they are doctors.

Us (looking confused):  Ellos?  (pointing to group of men in business(ish) attire)

Homeboy (looking more annoyed now):  Si. 

Us:  Ooookkayyyyyyy?? (exchanging skeptical looks)

We went over to the “doctors” to ask about the bus.  They were very nice.  They were NOT doctors.  Is there some other use of the term doctors in Spain that also means transportation employees?  Because that’s what they were.  We think.  Who knows.  In any event, they pointed us to the correct area over on the side of the Plaza where a line of people with luggage was clearly formed in anticipation of the Airport bus’ arrival.

Soon enough we were onboard, headed to the airport. 

If you’ve ever flown with EasyJet, you know it’s not exactly a luxury airline.  It’s pretty much the Datsun of airplanes.  Unless you are an exceptionally light packer or you are ok with wearing everything you own in transit, you’re likely going to end up paying extra for your baggage.  My advice, travel in pairs.  You get 20 kilos per person (approx. 44 lbs.) or 40 kilos between two people.  My bag was 21 kilos, but Laura saved the day with her 15 kilo pack, thus bringing our collective total to well under the weight allowance.  If you’re thinking that 44 pounds is a lot, you’re right.  Normally I wouldn’t need so much weight, but EasyJet also allows one carry-on.  Not a purse and a carry-on.  ONE.  SINGLE.  Carry-on.  So my computer, camera(s), books, mags, food, wallet, yadda yadda all needed to find a home.  Some made it into my purse, but most got shoved into my suitcase for the flight.  This is why my poundage caused an abnormally heavy weigh in. 

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Laura was kind enough to capture this delightful moment.  Praise be to God we made it safe and sound to Paris.  I slept through most of the flight, though I do remember Laura asking me a few questions at one point.  Can’t be to sure how that conversation went.  I’m sure I was a very entertaining travel buddy since I was basically sleep walking and talking from then until when we got to our hotel.  Later when I asked Laura about something from the flight, she acted like I was speaking in a foreign language, so maybe she wasn’t all there either?

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I do have a particularly fond memory of us buying RER tickets post-flight to take us the heart of Paris.  As we deposited them into the slot in the turn-stall to get into the platform area, we passed a highly confused woman.  I actually laughed out loud as she maniacally waved her old fashioned airplane ticket in front of the RER gate.  Do you have a visual?  Frantic woman.  Train turn-stall.  Airline ticket flapping in the wind.  Somehow she had managed to leave the airport, but was still attempting to use her flight ticket to get somewhere.  Sadly, her two teenage kids were of no help and the three of them stood there blocking everyone else from getting to the train as they continued to wave their tickets all over every part of the gate you could imagine.  They may as well have been rubbing the tickets on their heads, it was about as sane of a maneuver as the one they were going with.  I can pretty much guess how that turned out.  I may have tried to help her, had she not been clearly speaking in tongues.  But probably not.  Ok, ok, truthfully I have no idea what language she was speaking.  Either way, I wasn’t going to be of any help, even if I had mastered Rosetta Stone before embarking on my travels.  The RER was still a mystery to me at that point.

Sooo…back to the commute.  According to the transit map we had quite a few stops on the B3 route until we reached Luxembourg, the closest station to our hotel.  We settled in for a long ride.  I chomped on some Muesli and dreamed of French Press coffee.  Next thing we knew, we were at the stop before ours.  What?  It couldn’t have been so quick?  Had we even made any other stops yet?  Were we about to launch back out of the center of Paris as quickly as we had arrived.  The answer to that, is yes.  Somehow we had made it onto an express train.  Oops!  We bolted for the doors just fast enough to escape a very timely mistake.  The earlier stop added a few extra few blocks to our schlep, but eventually we found the Hotel Excelsior Latin

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It was cute, nice, inexpensive, and in the heart of the Latin Quarters.  Perfect if you ask me! 

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This adorable little plaza was around the corner.  Can you imagine anything more quintessentially Parisian?  Well, maybe you can, what do I know about the city of light!?

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We almost lost our lives in the elevator of death (see above left), and the felt walls were a bit…unique (see above right). 

But we decided it was charming (if nothing else), and what’s not to love about that?  Don’t worry, we delighted in the humor that was the contrast between this hotel and the Westin Palace. 

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We were in the room for fewer than 5 minutes before we were back out in search of breakfast.  I had spotted the famous PAUL a block away, so that was destination number one. 

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Here’s where we first realized our communication shortcomings.  Neither of us knew French.  I mean, I knew the ridiculously basic phrases like “hello” “thank you” and “where’s the metro” as well as the ever practical “another beer, please.”  But aside from that, it was not good. 

I underestimated how helpful it was in Spain being able to speak Spanish. 
Rather than sound like an idiot trying to invent French words, I smiled, spoke in English, and prayed they wouldn’t judge me (too much).

Laura: Tea?  Breakfast?
Barista: Oui.
Me:  Soy?
Barista:  Eh? 
Me:  Lait?  Soy?
Barista:  No.
Me:  Ok.  Merci.

And then I went across the street to Starbucks.  Fail.  Or not.  Depending on how you look at it.  I will admit, I’m a bit embarrassed that I went to Starbucks in the country a coffee press is named after.  But I can’t tell you how many places I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a cafe americano avec soja

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People watching is almost as fun as any other tourist activity and I really do mean that.  We sat at an outdoor table and waited for our drinks to cool…and after a few minutes of soaking in the street scene we headed off to conquer the city on foot.

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Angel on the left, devil on the right…I think it’s supposed to be the reverse, no?

Here’s a brief look at our walking tour: St. Michel –> Notre Dame –> walk along the Seine –> Pont Neuf –> Louvre – > Tuileries –> Champs Elysees –> Pont Alexander III –> Eiffel Tower

And here it is in photos:

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Once we reached the Eiffel Tower, we set out to find lunch.  No longer on mom & dad’s dime, our budget was drastically different from the past weeks’.  We were also both looking for dairy free options.  Sans formage in France, hmmm…what to do, what to do…

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Grocery store!  

Once we saw hummus and babaganoush, it was a no brainer.

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We each got a baguette and piece of fruit too, then set up our little picnic on the lawn next to the Eiffel Tower.

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Laura’s baguette was seedy, mine was au natural.  Also, she got a Perrier whereas I gave into the seductive aspartame bubbly that is Coca Light.

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Then we each shared the dip-ables. 

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Blini did a nice job with the houmous (aka hummus).  It was super thick and had a strong tahini flavor.  The moutabbal (aka babaganoush) was unlike any other baba I’ve tasted, but I liked it a lot!  It was quite dense, but as soon as it warmed to room temp, the oil surfaced and it was more recognizable. 

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Meals like this could make me think twice about French food.  Relaxing, vegan friendly, simple…but best of all, enjoyed with my sister while looking at one of the most iconic monuments in the world.  Not too shabby Paris.

[To be continued…]

Feliz apple pie oats

There are one million reasons my mom deserves a party.  The most obvious one is that today is her birthday, but the most important one is that she deserves it. 

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She had the grueling task of raising three kids who didn’t say no to a single activity.  I love you mom.  I will never be able to thank you enough for the years that you devoted to raising us.  Beyond being my girl scout leader, class volunteer, and team mom; the hours you clocked as my personal chauffer, paper editor, lunch packer, and cheerleader are what impacted me the most.  I don’t know where I’d be without your love, support, and guidance. 

[This is easier said in hindsight, because that night you made me rewrite an entire paper because it didn’t make any sense was not one of my favorite moments]

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! 

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I celebrated in my own way.  By sleeping in ‘til noon and making apple pie for breakfast. 

Please note: I am not as lazy as that last statement makes it seem – I worked night shift last night and my body is still completely out of whack from the time change.  Apparently I don’t bounce back from travel as well now that I’m a bit older (I realize attempting to stay up all night in the hospital is probably the most ridiculous thing to do in my situation, too, but that’s life my job). 

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So about these apple pie oats.  I’ve made them the past 3 days now because I’m definitely addicted (and being able to make my own oats is still a novelty after such a rough time finding dairy free breakfast options in Europe). 

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The ingredients don’t necessarily have to be illegally smuggled substances, but it makes it more rebellious and therefore more enjoyable. 

Apple from Madrid, muesli from Morocco (and peanut flour from TJs). 

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup muesli (with dried fruit & pieces of dates)
  • 1/4 cup peanut flour
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp nondairy milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 granny smith apple, chopped
  • stevia (to taste)

Directions:

Add everything except the apples and mix well, then add in apple slices and re-stir until apples are coated in peanutty oaty goodness.

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Microwave for 2 minutes.

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You can add more liquids as needed (if the apples are fully submerged, they cook more).

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Et voila!  Feliz apple pie oats!

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It’s good hot and/or cold – both are equally delish.  My most recent creation was topped with greek yogurt, so you can give that a shot too if you’re down. 

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You will 100% love this.  Unless you’re not a fan of apple pie or rainbows or winning.  In which case, perhaps you should reevaluate things. 

Back in the states

My flight(s) home were a disaster, but I’m here now! :)  I’ve actually been back for a couple of days, but I’m still trying to readjust to the time change.
I was sad to leave vacation mode, but if I’m being perfectly honest, I was very ready to return home.

I plan on doing more detailed posts (most likely in flashback fashion) about my trip and being vegan while traveling through Spain and France, but for now, I’m going to soak up everything I missed while I was away.

Shockingly (or not shockingly, depending on who you ask), what I missed most of all wasn’t even food related.  I’ll spare you all the mushy sentiments, but I missed my beau immensely.

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It’s weird being away from him for such a long time.  I’m very much my own person (cue the Destiny’s Child song), but it’s hard to deny how much he’s a part of me.  Anyway.  I’ll cut it off there so nobody starts gagging (ahem, Laura).

So it was absolutely heaven to be greeted in the terminal by my adoring husband.  With a Whole Foods in his hand.  [seriously]

I actually wasn’t hungry, but then I saw the Kombucha and…my Pavlovian response was embarrassing to say the least.

So here’s my top five things I’m happy to be reunited with:

1.  Kyle

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[awwww]

2.  New running shoes

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[the return to exercise (!!)…tri-training here I come]

3.  Fermented tea

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[and the consequential drain on my wallet]

4.  Home-made oats

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[with apple slices, raisins, peanut butter, cinnamon and vanilla extract]

5.  My kitchen

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[oh cooking, how I missed you!]

I made us both dinner, which we ate together.  This isn’t necessarily rare, but doesn’t happen that often due to our different schedules and slightly different diets.  That said, Kyle is eating very little meat these days and actually requested tofu for dinner.  No problem.

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Asian stir fry with tofu.

Prep time: negligible (full disclosure, I had quinoa already going in the rice cooker).  Cooking time: 15 minutes

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I literally threw the frozen veggies in the pan with water, Bragg’s liquid aminos, sesame oil, and covered it to thaw.

Then I drained and pressed the tofu (not very much though because the excess liquid just cooks off in the stir fry anyway).

Once the veggies were cooking I tossed the tofu in.  Then I added more Bragg’s, a dash of soy sauce, a sh!t ton of ginger powder, and a (really) big spoonful of Tropical Traditions coconut peanut butter.

Simmer.  Done.

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Served over quinoa.  Easy and delish.

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Welcome home me.  :)

Question: When you go on vacation, how long ’til you get homesick?  Or even slightly antsy for your own bed, shower, friends, family, food, whatever?

I think it varies based on where you are.  In Europe, I think two weeks is when I start getting a bit worn out.  Of course it totally depends how much you are doing.  Our travels were PACKED with very little down time to stop and breathe.  Having relaxing locations without tons of sights to see mixed in with museum & monument heavy cities is ideal.  And if we are talking about Hawaii, forget it.  I could live in a beach paradise for eternity.

“not very good”

I gave France multiple chances.  One, two, three seven strikes you’re out…

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I wanted very much to prove that you can in fact be a vegan in a country that celebrates meat and cheese.  And maybe it’s easier if you speak the language, or aren’t in touristy places, but knowing how to say "sans fromage" and "je suis vegetarienne" didn’t seem to help much.  Even smiling and saying in my sweetest, non-American accent "je voudrais une salade" wasn’t working out that well for me (how many boring salads can a girl eat!*).  But trying to order outside the box in France is a pretty hopeless cause.  Their national cuisine happens to be focused around things my stomach doesn’t tolerate (and for the record, neither do my taste buds).  Almost every single dish had some component (fromage, jambon, creme…) that made my stomach turn.** 

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And yet, ever the optimist, I kept my hopes alive through it all, waiting for the French to redeem themselves.  [To be clear, there were several non-food related incidents that contributed to the growing tally of annoyances we all had.  So this isn’t some personal vegan vendetta against Paris]

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Then, like a cat on it’s ninth life, we had the most pleasant dining experience and Paris was back in the game.  I’m aware that I’m mixing metaphors all over the place, just roll with it. 

Laura and I discovered this sushi restaurant (Cote Sushi) our first day in Paris, but pretty much ruled it out as a possible place to eat because it was so far out of the way.   In reality, it wasn’t that far away, but we figured we wouldn’t be in the neighborhood of the Arc de Triomphe again given our highly packed schedule (FYI home base was The Latin Quarter).  As it just so happened, we were!  And so we navigated the streets off the Seine like we were pros, just to take the rest of our gang to the previous day’s gem of a discovery.

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It was easy to find again because we were literally living by the map the day before, but for those who don’t have photographic memories or insanely impressive navigation skills, it’s a bit hidden by some construction and scaffolding. 

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When we entered my eyes immediately honed in on the wall of take-away goods.  I knew everything was right in the world because there was Kombucha AND seaweed salad.  Praise the Lord. 

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We had been doing some serious happy hour-ing prior to dinner, so there was a continuation of the fun (this time with Japanese beer).  I, however, ordered a Kombucha.  Or at least I tried to.  The (adorable) waiter’s reaction was one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.  I think the conversation went something like this.

E: I’d like a Kombucha, please.

Waiter: This? [pointing to it]

E: Yes.

Waiter: Uh.  Ees no good.  Not very good.  [Imagine him speaking in a half French, half Japanese accent]

E: No, that’s ok.  I like it.

Alene & Ethel (chiming in): She likes it. 

Waiter: (looking skeptical)  No.  Not very good.  Not very good.  [Clearly he only knew one English phrase]

E: Uh. Ok. Water then?

If there’s one thing I learned while on vacation, it’s to trust the servers.  They know the menu, and they know what dishes customers like, and (especially in touristy places) they know what foreigners want to try.  I’d rather have someone who knows their sh!t steer me towards a menu’s MVP roster, rather than pick something I think I’d like (in another language no less).  So that’s why I abandoned my precious swamp water order.  Now I’ll never know if the fermented tea was any good, but at least I didn’t spend 8 dollars (5 Euro) going against the expert just to satisfy the stubborn side of my personality. 

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The place is small.  Really small.  There are a few seats at the window, a few at the bar, and then one table in the middle.  That’s it.  Pretty sure they couldn’t accommodate more than 10 people.  We had the waiter’s full and undivided attention (which was a nice thing for a change since he was truly one of the nicest Parisians we had met thus far).

Anyway.  Guess what I got as a starter!?!

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Seaweed salad!

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So happy.  So so so happy.

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Laura and Ashley shared edamame.  And everyone else got miso soup, too. 

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For the rolls, we went pretty classic.  Lots of salmon, lots of tuna, lots of avocado.

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We got a huge plate of sashimi as well, which I didn’t eat.  

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Extra wasabi and extra ginger. 

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Time to dig in!

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I diligently read the ingredients in each and every roll and STILL we ended up with a cheesy surprise.  What’s with the desire to add fromage to every mother effing meal.  Even sushi!?!  Ugh.  So obviously that roll was out of question for me and my sister (who’s also lactose intolerant).  The other rolls were delish though.  One of the rolls had basil wrapped in the rice paper surrounding the rice and insides.  Not my favorite twist on sushi, if I’m being completely honest.  However, I was so starved for veg-friendly food at that point, I was really in no place to be super picky. 

Plus I had ginger, glorious ginger, by the pound(s). 

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And then we walked it all off going up and down the Arc de Triomphe.  Twice.

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*A lot.

**There are some qualifiers to this, which I will go into detail about at a later point in time.  Trust me, I could will write an essay on the drama.