Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why I Love Train Travel

Admit it - you hate airports, too. The eternal lines, the x-rays, the serious lack of leg room, that awful recycled air...and then there's the commute to/from the airport, with the extra cost of taxis. Plus, you know, the jet fuel...

Unless I have to get across an ocean, I prefer to travel by train. Yes, it takes a lot longer, and, yes, I'm a romantic, but trust me, trains are the way to go. Pack your corkscrew, your magazines, your phone charger and your journal. It's time for a train ride.

Here are 5 reasons why I love trains:

#1 Down-time

Like me, you probably have stacks of books you've been meaning to read, scores of un-listened-to podcasts, journaling to catch up on, etc. Give yourself some time off and take the train! Nobody's gonna interrupt you. Wireless service might even disappear periodically...especially in Nebraska. Don't forget your pillow and a light blanket. Just in case you deserve a nap.

#2 BYOB (More than 4 ounces!)

Yes, there's a dining car and a cafe car, but nobody cares if you bring your own pic-inic basket. This is especially good news for vegans! Bring a bottle of wine, a bunch of grapes, six sandwiches and some chocolate chip cookies (or whatever your favorites are) and settle in. Don't forget a napkin.

#3 Location, Location, Location

I took the light rail downtown to Denver's Union Station and rode it all the way to Union Station in downtown Chicago, where I could easily connect to the Metro rail. Trains don't require vast open acres of Tarmac - they can shoot you right into the heart of the city. You can still take a taxi if you want to.

#4 Carry-on

I like to travel light...for me that's a duffle bag weighing in at 30 lbs and a tote of food and water that weighs a lot less when I arrive at my destination. On trains, you don't have to worry so much about the size and shape and weight of your bags - there's more storage space to go round. If you happen to have a lot of luggage, you won't get hit with a bunch of fees like at airports. Just don't pack more than you can carry!

#5 Nobody's gonna hijack a train.

Sorry, but the West ain't so wild anymore. Banks aren't shipping boxcars of gold by rail, and cowboys are roaming the range in pickup trucks. Security is not so much an issue here, especially compared to airports. Bring your art supplies and your pocket knife along. You can skip the cavity search, cuz trains travel on tracks, yo.

What are your favorite reasons to travel by train?

Friday, August 21, 2015

My Michigan Vacation

I left Colorado for the first time in over a year to reunite with my family and enjoy the beaches of Lake Michigan.

This great body of water is a part of me, it replenishes my soul. Its overpowering beauty still fills me with the same awe I experienced as a child, when I saw Lake Michigan for the first time and thought I saw an ocean.

Beach time with brothers and sisters is the best! Our favorite beach is the Dam Beach in Elk Rapids. It's a natural beach with indigenous grasses that was once in peril of being paved! We signed petitions and campaigned against the paving, and the beach prevailed. Kids today can still enjoy announcing, "I'm going to the Dam Beach!!!"

In Elk Rapids, I also got to see my sister's new food truck in action! She is following her dreams, and just launched MMMM Truck with her husband this summer. I'm really proud of her! And I've never seen a kitchen so shiny, truck or otherwise.

Family time means family dinner! We're all a bunch of foodies who love organic ingredients and super-clean kitchens. Summertime in Michigan means fresh local produce is everywhere - at Meijer, at the farmer's market, in somebody's back yard. The beautiful Lunchbox Orange peppers above originated on the patio of @ModernBricoleur before they found their way onto a pizza.

What to do with a whole head of cabbage from a friend's garden? Make okonomiyaki! If you use two skillets, you can get an assembly line going. Cook the first side in one skillet, then flip the pancake into the second skillet by placing Skillet 2 over top of Skillet 1 and reversing their positions - no spatula required! Flax meal works great as an egg replacer for the pancake batter. This recipe is super flexible; plant-based eaters can add whatever veggies they want, paleo eaters can make their own additions, and everybody gets lots of Omega-3 from the flax meal.

Home cooking is the best! @ModernBricoleur made a perfect sweet potato pie. I've never had sweet potato pie before, and now that I have, I think it is even better than pumpkin pie! We had dessert before dinner, with a Spicy Buddha/Oolong tea blend. I love sister tea parties!

The last thing on my bucket list for this vacation was a visit to Founders Brewing Co., my favorite Michigan brewery. I was afraid I was going to have to skip it, but fortunately, my bus to Chicago was delayed! I heaved my bags over my shoulder and hustled across the street to Founders for a Double Trouble IPA.

I had an amazing time in Michigan. I got to reunite with my family, share stories and recipes and laughter and tears. I left for Chicago feeling recharged, happier, younger, and more certain of my purpose. I'll tell about the Chicago leg of my journey in another post. For now, I'll sign off with my best wishes for all my readers to enjoy a happy, healthy, magical summer!

Me at Grand Haven State Park, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Photo by Grace.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Let's Catch Up!

I'm on my way to Michigan for a summer vacay - one that is sorely needed! I booked myself on an 18-hour train ride on the California Zephyr from Denver to Chicago, and I'm gonna try to use the alone time to get caught up on my reading and my blogging!

I haven't updated in what...two months?!? Gee whilikers! I'm gonna pass the blame on to my job - managing a restaurant, or assisting in the management of a restaurant, is a time-consuming and exhausting occupation that makes one altogether weary of food. When I'm not at work, the last thing I want to do is make more dirty dishes.

Still, I miss getting creative in the kitchen and blogging about it. I'm out of practice! I made brunch for me and my boyfriend last weekend: tofu scramble and blueberry muffins. The scramble came out AWESOME but the muffins were a total flop, like...literally.

I obviously wasn't using a recipe. I was playing around with coconut flour again, and I guess I had too much liquid, because they sort of bubbled over the silicone cups and never got any farther than the goo phase. It was tasty goo, but about as far from being muffins as, well, porridge. Yup, I can fail as hard as anybody else!

Anywho...I have a couple more "Where Vegans Eat" posts to finish & back date while I'm on the train, and I'm gonna do lots of cooking with my sisters while I'm in Michigan and step up my game...because Vegan MoFo 2015 is right around the corner!

I've been super excited ever since I discovered that this year there will be daily assignments! A challenge like that is the perfect incentive for me to post every day in September. I'm already coming up with lots of ideas, which means you can look forward to lots of posts next month!

I'll even try to post a few times in August, about my annual Michigan vacation and any other hijinks I get up to!

R. Cowgirl

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Camping in the National Forest + Where Vegans Eat in Fort Collins, CO

In observation of Independence Day (and celebration of a long weekend) I went camping with my boyfriend in the Roosevelt National Forest. We traveled north from Denver, almost to the Wyoming border, and camped at Red Feather Lakes.

What a beautiful place! What serenity! After working over 50 hours a week for the last month, I had a compelling and urgent need to get away from civilization, to immerse my soul in the silence and beauty of the forest. Here, the only sounds were the songs of birds and the breezes rustling leaves up in the treetops. I wandered the forest, picked wild flowers, and hopped on rocks to my heart's content.

I watched the sun set while roasting marshmallows for s'mores, fell asleep on a blanket under the myriad stars, and watched the sun rise as I stirred the coals of last night's fire to rekindle it for morning coffee...and some breakfast s'mores. Dandies Air-Puffed Vegan Marshmallows are a must for vegan campfires!

The next day, we explored a bit further -  my boyfriend took the Jeep off-road to an even more remote campsite. We set up camp at the base of a rocky outcrop and then proceeded to climb to the top. Hiking and rock climbing are two of my favorite things to do in Colorado, and my efforts are always rewarded with breathtaking vistas!

Energy bars are a necessity on long hike/climbs. I really like the Vega line created by Brendan Brazier, the vegan triathlete. The Vega One is my fave - it's fully loaded with greens and antioxidants, omega-3, probiotics, 14 grams of protein and it tastes like a candy bar. Like Snickers, it really satisfies - unlike Snickers, it's hella good for you!

I still plan on climbing a 14'er this year, so I tested out a couple camp meals - mac 'n cheese, lentil curry and rice. There was a lot of feasting on this trip, since we didn't have to carry our food to the campsite. Besides s'mores, there were brats & beans, snacks galore and lots of cold, Colorado beer. I think my favorite part of the trip was building the fire.

On the return trip, we stopped in Fort Collins for lunch at Tasty Harmony. I was ravenous, as I always am after a stint in the wilderness, and craving fresh greens. I was also really grimy, and I'd been wearing a hat for the last 3 days, so I opted for patio seating. I'm sure a vegan restaurant in Fort Collins is used to dirty hippies, but I wasn't quite ready to return to civilization or to eat indoors.

I decided on the nachos to start, with a small Caesar salad and the Artichoke Quinoa Cakes, accompanied by a couple of Skinny dip summer peach ales from New Belgium Brewery, also located in Fort Collins. It was a perfect finish to an incredible weekend...

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Where Vegans Eat: Linger, Denver

Linger, Denver's finest "Eatuary" was once upon a time a mortuary called Olinger. Now it's a trendy tapas bar with a rooftop patio. How cool is that? 

What's even cooler is that they have vegan options! Really tasty vegan options. I've always been a fan of the small plates concept. One small plate, a cocktail and dessert equal a perfect selfie date. Bring your boo or your bestie and order a bottle of wine with several small plates to share so you can sample more selections.

Linger's menu is inspired by street food from around the globe, but chef Justin Cucci takes it to another level altogether. The Masala Dosa and the Roasted Beet Salad are out of this world! Neither could I resist the Marrakesh Express, a concoction of overproof rum, pomegranate shrub, lemon, absinthe, and mint. Have mercy

Linger is located over in LoHi at 2030 W 30th Avenue. They're open daily for lunch and dinner and for brunch and dinner on weekends. Sit on the rooftop patio if you can - you'll get some incredible views of Denver and the Front Range while you dine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Where Vegans Eat: Voodoo Doughnut, Denver

I braved the line at Voodoo yesterday morning to get some vegan doughnuts. There's typically about a 20-minute wait, both times I've been there I've just managed to slip inside the door. Yesterday, everybody wanted doughnuts. As I waited, I watched the line extend outside and down the block. I was glad I arrived early. 

I could barely see my bike through the window! I wonder what kind of doughnut that dog is going to get...

The wait is worth your while. First, there's racks upon racks of pretty doughnuts to gaze upon. There are  Also, it smells like doughnuts. Finally, when you get up to the counter and get your big pink box of doughnuts, a grin of pure happiness will begin to spread across your face. 

Choosing your doughnuts is also fun! Imagine my delight when, on my first visit to Voodoo, I discovered that the entire bottom shelf of doughnuts in the carousel display are vegan! 

On my first trip to Voodoo I got a Fruit Loop, a Grape Ape and a Voodoo Doll, which is a raspberry-jam-filled doughnut that comes with a pretzel stick for poking. They were all so good that I got one more of each, plus a few new confections to try, namely: a Portland Creme, a Colfax Creme, and an Old Dirty Bastard. 

They survived the bike ride to my art studio pretty well. That was a nice bike ride, with the yummy doughnut smells. Voodoo Doll lost its arm and got a bit sticky, but that's what voodoo dolls are for. I was too hungry to wait and since the Colfax Creme was a bit squashed I attacked that one right away. It's a custard-filled doughnut with maple frosting. I've always had a thing for custard cremes.

Voodoo Doughnut is at 1520 East Colfax Ave., Denver, Colorado. This is the only Voodoo store outside of Oregon! Bring cash! It's a cash-only establishment, but if you forget there's an ATM inside. A vegan dozen will only set you back about $15. 

Where do you get your vegan donuts? Comment below!

& don't forget to #whereveganseat when sharing your photos! There are currently 5,127 posts on Instagram about #whereveganseat around the world. Yeehaw!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Where Vegans Eat: Beet Box Café, Denver

I popped in at Beet Box this morning for a big Bhakti Chai and a cinnamon apple scone to-go. This sweet little bakery is completely vegan and my favorite place for coffee and donuts.

Usually I show up early when no other place is open. Beet Box has free wifi, lots if tables and tons of natural north light from the big garage windows facing 22nd. I have enjoyed many working brunches in the big back room, editing my forthcoming Cowgirl Curry Cookbook.

Not only are there all kinds of donuts, muffins, cupcakes and cookies, there are also croissants! Sometimes I'm in the mood for a chocolate croissant, other mornings I prefer a savory, like mushroom & spinach or curried cauliflower. After 11, Beet Box serves Sammiches! I've tried almost all of them, and my favorite so far is their Chickpea of the Sea, pictured above with a locally-brewed Kombucha.