RSS Feed

Category Archives: Road Trip

Outside of Central Pennsylvania there are plenty of great vegetarian things to explore. Whether on a road trip or visiting friends, it’s always fun to be inspired by great veggie meals away from the local scene.

Spread the Word and Help!

Spread the Word and Help!

There are still victims of Hurricane Sandy who are without electricity in some of the hardest hit areas in New York City and New Jersey. The many problems many of us have only heard on the news; no heat during a brutal second winter blizzard, no gas for generators, no way to cook food or stay warm.

There are wonderful people helping and we can help them. The award-winning Vegan food truck, The Cinnamon Snail is driving to the hurting locations and giving away hot vegan food to the residents. With donations through PayPal (thecinnamonsnail@gmail.com) you will be giving a warm vegan meal to a struggling neighborhood.

This past summer I was too busy to review my one visit to New York City but I had the privilege to seek out the location where The Cinnamon Snail set up. They are a hugely popular food truck and all of the food they serve is vegan. They have been nominated and won many awards such as the prestigious Vendy Awards and most recently VegNew 2012 – Favorite Street Cart.

The food they serve is vegan, delicious and they are the friendliest bunch of metro-NYC folks I have ever been served by. Working hard in the summer heat on the street in the Flat Iron District June 2012, it was evident that I wasn’t the only one to notice their upbeat attitude. Their tip jar was overflowing with crumpled bills of appreciation. Oh, and they donate ALL of their tips to charity; on August 26, 2012, The Cinnamon Snail team made a generous donation of $8,000 to Farm Sanctuary.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I had a crusty Tofu Bahn Mi and grabbed a couple of their doughnuts. I got S’Mores and Creme Brule flavors and wished I could carry more. Not a fan of sandwiches nor bread in general, it was uncharacteristic of me to finish a huge crunchy Bahn Mi. I think it is humorous that I didn’t make it very far and sat devouring my sandwich on a bench just yards from the food truck; I ate it like I hadn’t eating a good meal in days.

In actuality, I was surrounded by so many vegan options in NYC but this meal stood out as one of the very best. Imagine how much more meaningful it will be to the people in Rockaway Beach and Staten Island who haven’t had a hot meal in over a week. The Cinnamon Snail is also providing them with a charging station for their phones and mobile devices.

This is something you can do to help, instead of feeling like it is too overwhelming and terrible to think about, Spread the Word and Help! Retweet this (@VeganLunchTruck @occupysandy #sandyrelief), reblog this, share it on Facebook with vegans and compassionate groups of people and donate to The Cinnamon Snail’s humanitarian effort through donations through PayPal (thecinnamonsnail@gmail.com)!

You can’t beat…

You can’t beat beets! That what my Dad always says and I have to agree with him. This vibrantly colored root vegetable is frequenting local food markets and CSAs right now. Amy shared a couple with me from her bounty and yesterday I put one of them to good use by making a batch of my Walnut Beet Burgers. They were as quick and flavorful as I remembered and I was glad to have blogged the recipe I came up with last year.

Beets from NYC certainly aren’t local for us so it will make more sense when I share that we went to visit Arron & Amy this past weekend. Arron’s week of performances in City Center culminated in my favorite ballet of all time, In the Upper Room. His artistic prowess was lauded in the New York Times a couple of days ago. The reviewer found his phrasing in the piece unbeatable, comparing him to one of the world’s top ballet dancers.

Arron Scott is so stylish a dancer that, even when he’s beside Mr. Cornejo in “In the Upper Room,” it’s to him I look to see just how a phrase should be accentuated.

I seem to be blogging backward because even before going to the city to visit with Amy (her first time seeing In the Upper Room) Jim and I had some wonderful times together earlier that day. We made time to finally stop in Bloomsburg and had lunch at Prana Juice Bar and Namaste Cafe. Columbia County is just a hair outside of the limits that are set for the judging for the Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards but it is still home to one other very few all vegetarian restaurants in central Pennsylvania.

Prana was having a Harvest Festival and it was in full swing during the time we chose to visit. This may have caused minor delays and unsynchronized arrival of our food being served but the staff was great about it all. They were cheerful and not in a spacy and oblivious way. They were aware of the increased patronage of the day and recognized it to us in a way that was a pleasant matter of fact and didn’t come off as a whiny excuse as it could have. The place was very busy but we were well taken care of as we placed the order, were directed to seating of our choice, getting our order correct and checking that it was to our liking.

We sat at a cute two-seater in a small room toward the front of the building where we could enjoy the live entertainment that was on the front porch, pleasant acoustic guitar performances graced the length of the festival. It was during this time that some of the other guests were the only unpleasant issue we had. One mom’s free-range parenting style allowed her elementary school aged girls to bang their small pumpkin gourds on the keys of a piano that we sat 3 feet from. She stood over them, enjoying the cacophony until I had to tell her that Jim and I couldn’t hear what each other were saying. Soon after, a young man in his late teens came wandering in and started looking under the cushions of a plush couch that was on the other side of our table. I assumed he had lost something but he turned to explain to us he was looking for spare change, ” …hoping to find $.50.” He went on to share that he was hoping to buy a small portion of one the cleansing juices, “…before I have to poop.” I grabbed up my change purse and gave him 2 quarters so he would be able to… um… get on with his business somewhere other than the dining area.

The juices do sound incredible and I am hoping the fellow got a schmecken of the Pranayumma, carrot, apple and beet juice because it would be my choice. We stuck to water though and ordered the Organic Soup du Jour, a thick vegetable stew with so many hearty and tender veggies we couldn’t count them all. It was well seasoned and might have even classified as a mild vegetable chili, a perfect bowl and a crisp Fall day.

We also shared and Avocado Jalapeno Cilantro Hummus Wrap. The hummus wasn’t super spicy but the flavors of jalapeno and cilantro were just enough to set it apart from the traditional. Fresh and perfect avocado wedges, crunchy but mild onions and other veggies were all wrapped up together with a nice sprig of kale to make a huge wrap. A few slices of gala apple and seedless grapes blessed the plate and added fresh color and flavor as a garnish, very nice.

Prices were pretty reasonable for the quality of food, portion size and customer service we received. The staff really seemed to care about how our meal was and we assured them that we would be returning. Prana Juice Bar and Namaste Cafe isn’t just a groovy idea, it is a well run restaurant that should be on every vegetarian’s radar. We were assured that it is rare to come across a menu item that can not be made vegan (vegan cheese choices on sandwiches) and the kitchen and staff are eager to please all dietary needs without being preachy, judgmental or conversationally aggressive.Prana Juice Bar and Namaste Cafe on Urbanspoon

You can’t beat a nice run before a long trip in the car. Yet one step earlier in our day we made a stop in Mifflinburg to participate in a local fundraiser for the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail, the Flat ‘N Fast 4-Mile run/walk. I used this well maintained and new rail trail for quite a few of my longer training runs before my first marathon this year. Jim biked as I logged many a mile so we were very appreciative of the location and condition of this trail. The entry fees and festive race were all in support of the trail, we got on board by pre-registering a few weeks prior.

When you pre-register for something you never know for sure what the weather will be like or how you will be feeling the day of the race. The weather was perfect and but poor Jim had been pretty sick the day before and wasn’t quite up to a 4 mile jog followed by a drive to the city and then also attending the ballet. He decided to just collect his race shirt and rest while he waited for me at the finish line.

The race was well run, they provided a shuttle to the start line and transported warm-up clothes back to the finish line for all runners. I chose to warm up by jogging to the start line but did take advantage of clothing transport by tossing my gloves in and collecting them later. They also had markers for specific pace groups so that the slower runners and walkers wouldn’t get trampled by the speedsters.

This was the first time I ever toed the line with the sub 9:00 minute milers. It made me feel almost legit as I stayed up with a woman who looked like she could be in my age group as long as I could. I had to let her go after the first mile and she came in 6 runners ahead of me by averaging an 8:25 minute mile. She took first in the 55 – 59-year-old women. Luckily I am only 50; she took veterans but I got 1st in my age group of 50-54!

As we waited to collect my award, a cool ceramic mug with the race logo and year printed on it, Jim entered a raffle for a basket of local goodies. I told him that I hoped they would choose his ticket since I wanted him to come away with something since he didn’t run that morning. I screamed with delight when they called his number. He was such a good sport about letting me still run the race and driving to the city, his support is unbeatable and he deserves prizes like this all the time.

Season’s Splendor

Autumn is such a beautiful time of year. Nature’s colors and annual harvest of produce are a feast for the eyes. It was so gratifying to be able to take an afternoon last week to hike Nittany Mountain. It has been a couple of years since I was able to and that made it a very special outing for me. I biked to the trail head, hiked to the top and committed to the entire white loop of trails that treated me to a couple of vistas. The leaves were close to peak but because it was a weekday I ran in to very few other hikers. The solitude on Nittany was an added bonus before I biked home.

Although artichokes are not a vegetable of autumn, I got a couple on sale at our local grocery outlet. I quickly steamed them and served them with a Creamy Vegan Dipping Sauce that doubled as a salad dressing. This was delightful recipe I found for one of the warmer days last week.

Jim and I ran a local race last weekend called the Clearfield Pumpkin Run 5k. It started early on a super chilly morning. but we both had a really enjoyable time. We didn’t run together and I saw Jim speeding ahead before I settled into the groove. This was my first race since my full marathon last month. The course had a mile loop through downtown Clearfield where they were also having a fall festival. Then we ran along the river and cut across a bridge. The next couple of miles were in very pretty residential areas. Finally we cut back across the bridge to the finish line and I met up with Jim to walk a bit and “cool down.”

We always like to try to stay and cheer the award winners but it was still quite chilly. I saw that I had won first place in my age group so I found a place to stand in the sun and happily waited to receive my cute medal. They also gave some awards to people who ran carrying pumpkins for the whole race, that was a lot of fun.

The day before had also been chilly and our lunch was full of colors of the season and a pumpkin-like squash was one of them. I steamed some butternut squash and brussels sprouts and blended a little hoisin sauce in with them. That and a side of rice warmed our bellies and tickled our taste buds.

Autumn frequently makes me feel nostalgic for some reason. On our return trip from Clearfield we stopped at a cute diner in Philipsburg that was like trip down memory lane. We made a stop at the Retro Eatery specifically for their veggie burger, the Ritchie Valen Burger. As far as I know, Ritchie Valens wasn’t a vegetarian but all of the menu items are named after famous icons of the 1950’s. This burger was a homemade, super thick, black bean cake grilled on both sides, nestled in a thick soft bun and topped with lettuce, tomato, and guacamole. We got ours without the cheese it normally comes with but it was a quite a hearty sandwich without it. Clearly a front runner in the race for the Pennsyltucky Veggie Awards – Best Veggie Burger of 2012.

We also ordered some extra appetizers to go along with them. We got the sample Somewhere Over the Rainbow Platter (choice of 3 apps) and tried the French Fried Zucchini Sticks, Fried Green Beans and Rocky Graziano deep-fried cauliflower. Each of these normally comes with ranch or cheese dips but we opted for good ol’ ketchup for ours.

The Retro Eatery opened spring of 2011 and seems to have a steady clientel. It doesn’t have that greasy diner smell that you might expect. The interior of the dining and public areas are all bright and very clean. We enjoyed the free Wifi, loved the pinball machine and jukebox and thought it was cute they had Loony Tunes on one of the 4 tvs.

The service was prompt, appropriately friendly and most helpful. When we ordered the sample platter, we had originally chosen fries as one of the choices. She let us know that, just in case we were thinking of getting burgers that they all came with fries. Thank you very much, we WERE getting burgers and changed our order to include the cauliflower instead. She also checked back and asked if we were enjoying the platter and we assured her that it was fun to try a few of 3 different things instead of full orders of all three. She agreed and shared that she felt a full order of the green beans is sometimes a but “waxy” for her. Like I said, appropriate comments and very helpful.

So much to enjoy this autumn, we hope you are enjoying the beauty and bounty of this season too.
Retro Eatery on Urbanspoon

Something to Celebrate

There are certain moments in life you want to break open some caviar and pop the cork for and I just had one of them. I ran my first full marathon last Sunday at the 31st Wineglass Marathon. My finishing time was 4 hours 34 minutes and change. I ran the whole way and finished with a strong kick and a bellow of ecstatic pride as I crossed the finish line on Market Street in Corning, NY.

If the reference to caviar on a vegetarian blog has you confused, that was my little teaser of a way to introduce a classy and savory product that can make any vegan celebration feel ritzy. Scroll to the bottom if you are interested in just the 411 on this treat I purchased (through Spencer’s Market of course) or read my marathon weekend recap which is seasoned with vegan foodie moments.

Corning, NY

Rockwell Museum


Since this past June, much of my extra time has been taken up with training to run a full marathon, that’s 26.2 miles. It made me have to juggle time I have for family, work and enjoying other things like writing for this blog. I did my best to take advantage of this time in my life when I can actually train and run a marathon; I did it simply because I can.

I used a terrific resource that I recommend very highly, Marathon Training Academy. Listening to their free podcasts over the past couple of years gave me hours of quality information so I knew that becoming a member would pay off in many ways. The Smart Training Plans they offer allowed me to avoid overuse injuries that many other training regimens seemed to always cause me.

Veggie Batard

After 16 weeks of putting this blog on the back burner and training hard to run my first marathon, Jim and I headed off to the Finger Lakes region of NY state for a long weekend that ended with my race. We took advantage of some of the perks that came with signing up for the race like free admission to the Rockwell Museum of Western Art.

Foodie highlights included a stop at many of our longtime favorites. Market Street Brewing Company was our first lunch and we enjoyed hot crusty grilled Veggie Batards. It was chilly and drizzly outside, this warm and hearty sandwich was worth taking off my gloves for and added a few carbohydrates as my race day approached.

Watkins Glen, NY

I have loved Watkins Glen, NY since our science club to a trip to the area when I was in 7th grade. I wanted to allow some time to stop, visit, help at the Farm Sanctuary but their late September hours and my schedule didn’t allow for it. I don’t want to just pop in and have posed photos taken as if I were a tourist at a petting zoo; when I visit I want to roll up my sleeves, step into my wellingtons and give a good day’s work for the animals that have been rescued.

I had read that the local ice cream parlor, The Great Escape, had vegan ice cream. Honestly, we were stuffed from the sandwiches and had supper plans where we intended to stay but we just had to support any place with vegan ice cream. We have driven by this stand for years and were excited to pull up and see this sign verifying our dessert was waiting inside! Unfortunately, they were out of the mix which they make all of their 26 flavors vegan but pointed out some vegan ice cream sandwiches in the freezer.

Sun Burger

I hate to say it but they looked like they had been there a while and by the texture of the crystalized filling, I think they had been. What a disappointment but I will try The Great Escape at least one more time before I pass firm judgement.

We spent the night in one of the quaint cabins at the trusty Seneca Lodge. A cold rain persisted so we cranked the space heater and waited for our bellies to have room for one of the best veggie burgers ever, The Sun Burger! Any visit to this area is scheduled around a meal at Seneca Lodge. The salad bar alone is worth the visit and we have been enjoying their Sun Burger for decades!

Wineglass 5k

I have yet to mention that Jim registered for the “first annual” Wineglass 5k. For weeks it was an ordeal of phone calls, emails and aggravation because he never got verification that he was registered. Our check never cleared so he finally re-registered online. He fully expected to be registered twice when we picked up our racing bibs and swag at the expo but it was not the case. They must have completely misplaced his first mail in registration.

We checked out of Seneca Lodge early in the morning but not before I decorated Jim’s calves with the icons from the Wineglass Marathon. I used a black Sharpie and they looked like big tattoos. He looked totally Wineglass Weekend geeked out!

He fit right in because a lot of the runners that were participating in the half (13.1 miles) or full (26.2 miles) marathon the next day were using this as a warm-up race. Me? No thanks, walking around a bit and drawing a chalk message to support Jim was enough of a warm-up for me.

One of the exciting things about this weekend was the chance to get to see Joan Benoit Samuelson, the very first winner of the women’s Olympic Marathon. Unwitting readers might think that Ms. Samuelson must be about 130 years old since the first Olympic Marathon was in 1896. I totally understand the confusion but Joanie is but 5 years older than myself; the women’s marathon wasn’t added to the modern Olympic games until 1984! For years women were excluded for reasons as ridiculous as it was thought that their uterus might fall out.

Joan is a pioneer and it was a thrill for me to see her run right by me. As I stood a few hundred meters from the start near an illegally parked car on the 5k course, I gently waved my hand to alert runners to cut back in a bit. One of them… THE Joan Benoit Samuelson. I like to think that I saved her from injury so that she could continue on and enjoy he 1/2 marathon the next day.

I didn’t see her finish and her time wasn’t listed but I think Joan came in just before Jim. I was so excited and screaming for him that my photo of him is terrible. Jim set a personal record of 24:10.33 (07:48 minute mile average) and sprinted across the finish line in great form. He was 9th in his age group out of 23 men that are 50 – 59 years old. Well done Jimmy the Eye!

31st Wineglass Marathon

After Jim’s race, we took a bit of time to drive a stretch of the marathon course that I was a little vague on. Did I mention the length of the course was over 26 miles? Oh, I did, right. Well, there was a section between miles 14 and 20 that I had been having a hard time visualizing so we munched on some homemade hummus and veggies as we drove that section. I then remembered that I had horses and some neat farmland to look forward to along those roads. It made me aware that the shape of the country road was not really the best and reminded me to watch my footing for potholes as well as any other women runner’s dropped uteri that I might trip on during those miles.

Silliness helped keep the mood light and took my mind off of stressing about the race the next day. We did a goofy photo shoot in our hotel room comparing the swag Jim got for the 5k to what I got for the marathon. Jim got a winter beanie, his racing bib, a little plastic cup with the 5k logo written on in pen and a grape juice box. I got a hot pink tech fabric t-shirt (women’s cut!!), a b-chip racing bib, a commemorative wineglass with logo and year, and a split of NY state champagne!

I have to say, the one thing I was glad that my over-functioning self did was make supper reservations for one of the pasta dinner specials offered in Corning. The town had many businesses donate the proceeds of their pasta meals to a local Fund for Women. We saw that Holmes Plate offered an unlimited spaghetti meal with marinara sauce, bread and salad. I made reservations a month in advance and called about 10 days before our trip to make certain all was in order.

When we arrived a few minutes before 5:00 PM, the place was almost empty and I even remarked to the hostess that perhaps I had been foolish in making reservations. She assured me that, they were fully booked. Over the next hour I saw literally dozens of hungry runners turned away at the door, the place had filled within 15 minutes! I almost felt guilty as Jim and I sat at a cozy 2-seater enjoying a Lady & the Tramp style relaxed spaghetti meal as frustrated marathoners stomped back out the door past us.

My evening was relaxing and I got a pretty good night sleep. The lobby of the motel next morning was filled with early to rise runners. We all made our way to the starting line in Bath, NY. Jim dropped me off about .3 mile from the start so he could easily drive to the one spot we had decided he would meet me, half-way in the town of Campbell. That allowed him the vantage point of also watching the half-marathon runners start. He was able to get a nice photo of Joan Benoit Samuelson running by in her bright yellow shirt.

The weather was pretty ideal for running. I was able to toss the old ratty long sleeved shirt I was wearing at the 4 mile water station and for the rest of the race I was able to regulate my temperature by taking a $.75 pair of gloves on and off. I foolishly wore them the day before and almost lost them. That was my second lesson learned, save race gear for the race.

Walking (only) to the start line.

I fueled well, the vegan Hammer Nutrition products I carried settled pretty well. I only felt a little pinch in my hamstring about mile 6 which, when I look back at my mile splits on my Nike+ records, was my fastest mile. I may have gone a bit fast for miles 4 – 8 but they felt pretty good and weren’t ridiculously so. If I have to look back on how I could have improved my entire race it would be to have been more aware of that and tell Aunt Flo that this perimenopausal gal is not up for any more visits. Maybe if my uterus had just fallen out before the mile 16 port-a-potties I would have been closer to my goal time.

Seeing Jim at the 1/2 way point was the best, he had 2 signs made to cheer the runners on, “BEST PARADE EVER” and “POWERED BY PAD THAI”. He also wrote me some cute chalk messages that lifted my spirits.

The final 6 miles were the farthest and most difficult I had ever run. I kept thinking, “This is brutal, I want to walk.” Then I would set my mind straight and think, “No walking, it will only take longer.” I slowed down during miles 22- 25 but only ever walked for a few seconds to and that was to take a drink at a water stop. If I wasn’t drinking, I told myself to running. I had practiced this on my longer training runs and I was so glad to have suck with it.

After mile 25, I realized the whole race was winding to a close. We crossed a final bridge into downtown Corning and saw the Brightroom photographer. I did my best to look like my feet didn’t feel like ground vegan burger as the camera snapped photos of me. I rounded the corner onto Market Street, the final stretch. From the moment I passed the 26 mile marker to the finish I incrementally stepped up my pace. The crowd was so supportive with cheering us all and encouraging my ever-increasing pace. One woman screamed at me, “That’s it! Kick it at the end, I love it!”

I crossed the finish line with my arms in the air and an exhausted sense of accomplishment. I was so grateful for the medal to be put around my neck and be handed a space blanket. Unfortunately, the bottleneck of Cub Scout volunteers offering water paid the price of my not being ready to come to a stop so quickly after my hard push at the end. I apologize to any of them who had to see me get sick.

Jim met me at the end of the block and I spent the rest of the day recovering. Things are going pretty well and I haven’t really been sore nor are my feet blistered at all. I think all of the above (sans splattering the Cub Scouts) is a big reason to celebrate.

I may never be choose to run a marathon again but I know that I can and that is pretty amazing. So was the Cavi-art, a vegan caviar that is made from sea weed. I plan to try a few recipes with it. To celebrate our weekend of successful racing, we opened my split of champagne and had both the orange and black traditional-style on toast crisps. The orange was a bit more oceanic in flavor but both were very nice. The texture wasn’t quite as soft as tapioca and held the flavor well.

I am not into reproducing all animal products exactly with plant based foods but there is something about the glamorous visual image of small glistening morsels in a small heap on a special appetizer. We have had the image hammered into our brain through many visual medias and with the knowledge that vegans can have special glorious life moments too, it was pleasing to give something like Cavi-art a try after finishing my first marathon (26 miles, 385 yards).

Leaping the Gaps in the City of Bridges

Posted on

Yesterday was a day of contrasts and comparisons. Jim and I made a trip to Pittsburgh so that he could revisit his college the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He wanted to see how they are handling teaching art students to stay cutting edge at a time when digital and other technologies are advancing by leaps and bounds.

A huge storm blew through the morning of our visit. Although I had scoped out the riverside Eliza Furnace Trail for my 7 mile run, the rain was bad enough to force me into a first ever treadmill run. The hotel was dry and warm and I became terribly dehydrated for the rest of the day. It was a stark contrast to how my runs usually leave me feeling and I joked that maybe I would only ever run on a treadmill on Leap Day; once every 4 years is plenty for me.

While Jim toured the school and picked the brains of the instructors, department heads and directors, I took a little walking tour of the area. I soon didn’t need my umbrella and my hands were glad to take up my camera. The images that drew my attention became a theme of stark architectural contrasts. Old and new were side by side. Gothic spires, “no smoking” signs, modern busses and ancient massive chain link barriers all lived within this small section of Pittsburgh and I was charmed by their differences in such close visual proximity.

There were many fading ghost signs that Jim is fond of. I made sure to photograph them juxtaposed with the shining facades of Fifth Avenue and PPG Place. It was easy to get overwhelmed by all of the eye candy and I occasionally drew the attention of some locals who encouraged me to make sure to see some of their favorite buildings.

The time I had on my own just seemed to fly as I walked to different spots to align the gaps of the canyons of buildings so they would align just right for my photographs. I made my way back to the Art Institute to meet Jim for lunch at the restaurant run by the school’s culinary program, Pittsburgh Taste of Art.

Since the online menu was out of date, I called a few weeks ago to try to determine what we could look forward to as vegans. I was pretty excited to see how a culinary school would handle the challenge and received a message on our answering machine assuring me that their current menu had many items that could easily be made vegan. Jim also alerted his liason to our dietary limitations and was assured the kitchen would be able to accommodate us.

I was quite hungry when we met for lunch and was excited to see what the school would have to offer us. Jim introduced me to the staff at the school with whom he was meeting and I was glad to hear he was excited by all the Art Institute was offering the students. As they chatted about the programs, I took a peek at the menu. At first glance I couldn’t determine exactly what they could easily veganize. When our waitress came and shared the specials, I asked her for a bit of help in knowing what might be available.

Her look of surprise quickly clued me in to the fact that all of the assurances I had received on how simple it would be to accommodate us wasn’t going to be that easy. In spite of being told that if we gave advanced notice they could have something specially prepared, the heads-up seemed to have slipped through the cracks. None of the specials were vegan nor could be altered to be so. The salads could have things taken off of them to make them vegan but no protein was being offered to replace it and the one pasta dish could have to gnocchi taken out and made into a tomato based soup.

Honestly, nothing but the one salad sounded appealing with all of the cheeses, proteins and pastas taken out. I was really disappointed that a culinary school wouldn’t want to shine and please the palette of a vegan diner rather than just meet their needs. The Beet Salad was only going to be missing goat cheese and I was intrigued by how it would tasted with the thyme vinaigrette so I ordered that. Jim was thinking the same thing, we didn’t want to make trouble. It is why we had called ahead, and the visit wasn’t about the food.

The salad was presented in a fashionable way; a bed of mixed greens glistening with dressing and topped with wafer thin rounds of golden and red beets. It was garnished with a sprinkling of pistachio nuts. The colors and arrangement of the fresh elements were beautiful. The volume of what should have been and entreé was barely more than a side salad. No goat cheese had snuck onto the plate but there was also nothing added to bump up the meal and make it a little more rib sticking.

Despite knowing were were vegan, the waitress brought the table two plates of bread that was topped by the pattern of melted cheese that I recognized from many a focaccia. I asked about the cheese on the bread and the waitress agreed that it looked like cheese but then again offered no substitute. I was surprise to realize that they felt that serving a vegan diner seemed to mean more of what not to serve us rather than what we could eat. I had to offer the suggestion of serving any other bread and she brought out a nicely warmed ciababtta. It was very good but I don’t think it is the role of the customer to bridge the gap when the waitstaff has the knowledge of what the kitchen has to offer any dietary limitation.

The salad was fresh and fine but nothing special. I couldn’t taste any thyme in the vinaigrette and my serving was mostly oil so it might not have been well blended. Though the beets were pretty in an chef’s version of what could be overlapping magenta and yellow printer’s circles, they were barely substantial enough to taste. I was still intensely hungry at the end of lunch.

The company and conversation filled any void that would have made the lunch hour feel like a complete washout. My time at the school was quite enjoyable but I cannot recommend the restaurant for all of the extra work I went though to try to get more than part of a meal.

We drove across town to fill the big empty in our bellies somewhere along Penn Avenue. The place I was shooting for, Brillo Box, was closed so was glad to have a few back up plans. My navigation required me be careful not to take any bridges that would get us too far off track. In Pittsburgh, there are plenty of bridges that crossed rivers, railway lines and cavernous gaps that make the area beautiful but a challenge to navigate. Since we had come from a different direction than we ever had before, it sure was cute to see Jim’s excitment as he realized that we were pulling up in front of Quiet Storm.

Regardless of some of the reviews that have complained about the service or snobby waitstaff, we knew we could get plenty to eat at Quiet Storm. We had seen very little of anything less than professional attitude… until yesterday.

We entered and waited where the sign directed us to stand if waiting for a table. Some people came in as we stood there and I assumed it was to pick up take out. They were tended to first. Eventually the one of two waitresses said she would be right with us. We stood for almost another 5 minutes before another waitress, who looked like a young Samantha Morton, told us to sit at the table by the window. Another 2 minutes passed before she brought us menus and told us that our waitress would be with us soon.

The place wasn’t slow but still I noticed that our waitress was avoiding us at all costs, she would deal with anyone who seemed to be a regular even if they came in well after us. She would dwell, chatting with customers who came in for take out then spend time chit chatting with the kitchen staff rather than come out front. She never did come over to our table and another 5 minutes passed before young Samantha Morton returned to take our order.

By that time, we knew exactly what we wanted. I had warned Jim that I had read a review saying that the Green Chile Dip was not too different than the hummus so we started with the Vegan Queso and nachos Jim ordered the Albuquerque Jerky with a side of corn and bean salad and I ordered a the Banh Mi with a side of slaw. I had just made another of my own Dutchified Banh Mi Chay they day before but still in the mood for this kind of sandwich.

Our appetizer came our right away and was warm and satisfying. We realized that this dip too was something like hummus mixed about 50/50 with something much like Food for Lovers’ Queso. We really were starving but made a note to ourselves that we could made something like this very easily at home sometime.

The sandwiches came out before we had even eaten half of our appetizer. They were fine portions and were made with fresh ingredients but I ended up putting my slaw in the sandwich to fill it out a bit. Jim’s was more corn and beans and smoky Lightlife Fakin’ Bacon mortered together with more hummus and wrapped in a lightly grilled flour tortilla. We agreed that any Banh Mi I make at home is about 100% better; their tofu was flavorless and tough after having been frozen then no benefit of seasoning it. The meal was filling and good but not great.

We wanted to get back on the road and Jim took our check to the cash register. The waitress that had been avoiding us did so again by making a phone call and the younger of the two eventually came to tell Jim that he would have to wait until the phone line was free to use our check card. As I went to rummage up the right amount of cash, Jim could hear the other waitress on the phone trying to engage the person on the other end, “Talk to me,” she kept saying, “Talk to me.” She knew Jim was waiting to pay and was doing nothing to cut the call short and it seemed as if she was actually trying to prolong it. The moment I came over with cash, she got off the phone and went into the back. It made me wonder if she was talking to anyone at all or just getting perverse pleasure out of making us wait more.

I don’t know if I have spanned the gulf between finally making good vegan food at home rather than being inspired by getting it out or not. I do know I am so over Quiet Storm, they would have barely gotten a BiNaH Rating of 3 today. I was wrong to have rated them after just 2 visits and I think I need to amend their over all score. My original 4.5/5 was a leap of faith in the wrong direction and I need to think carefully to make sure I balance out each experience.

Leap Day in Pittsburgh was special because I was with Jim in what I consider to be his city. Next time we return, I look forward to exploring some new places to fill the gaps of disappointment some of the old ones have left in their place. It is a city of beautiful contrasts and investigating it with Jim always makes my heart leap with gladness.

Sssssteam Heat

A fence that once divided a front yard and the sidewalk in Centralia, PA.

Yesterday I took a nice road trip with my folks to what had been the town of Centralia, PA. For 50 years this poor ghost town has had a mine fire burning underground. It still had a population of about 1,000 in the early 1980’s but is less than a dozen today. I saw one house left standing on the eastern end of Wood St. I only knew it was Wood Street because of a hand-made sign tacked to a tree, all street signs have been taken down. All properties in the borough were claimed under eminent domain by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1992 (and all buildings therein were condemned), and Centralia’s ZIP code was revoked by the Post Office in 2002. The one house was that of but a few residents that continue to reside there in spite of the failure of a lawsuit to reverse the eminent domain claim.

Old highway.

It’s a sad story but the idea of an underground fire that has burned for half a century is just fascinating. There is a long section of highway (PA 61 and 54) that had to be rerouted in 1999. The abandoned section accessible on foot but there are warning signs throughout the town because sinkholes have been known to open suddenly.

The destroyed stretch of highway is less than a mile in length but is a buckled, warped and undulating mass of asphalt. It has been distorted by the heat of the underground fires to the point the pavement has cracked and broken into wide fissure that emit a spooky steam. Sometimes the ground can get quite warm and you can feel the bottoms of your shoes effected.

Less a fascination but still a curiosity is how is has become a mile long canvas for graffiti. This is literally street art, mostly spray painted and poorly crafted by coal region pubescent angst. Occasionally there is a rare gem of creativity to be taken in. Once we saw a small war of plastic cowboys and Indians being waged across a steaming cavern. The miniature scene was gone, washed and worn away as most of what I had remembered from May 2010.

Spray Dude!

If anyone ever plans to visit Centralia for photographic reasons, consider that the steam is much more pronounced during different weather conditions. I thought the cold would have made it stand out so we chose to return in the winter. Unfortunately, the breezy day and less humidity made it much harder to notice in any area. The ground didn’t warm our shoes as it had in May 2010 and all that we could get photos of were some interesting graffiti. I won’t say which ones I added but I left two.

Not sure the bandaid is helping.

It was really breezy and made spraying paint a challenge as the morning went on. We retraced our steps, check out the cemeteries, had a snack in the car and drove back by way of Danville. The town always has me hungry for soup. The hospital always has great veggie soups but today I wanted to take my parents to Brews n Bytes.

They are coming along with their repairs and had a couple of hot and spicy soups on the menu. My parents got the Potato Jalapeño and I chose a big bowl of the vegan Tomato Thai. I overheard the waitress sharing other soups they feature daily including Saturday being the chef’s choice. Tuesday is Black Bean, Wednesday was the Tomato Thai that I really enjoyed, Thursday is Indian Split Pea and Friday is Chili. It is going to be hard to ever travel though Danville without stopping for soup.

I got home in time to run a very nice 7 miles before 5 PM; it was my first sub 9.5 minute mile in quite a while. That blistering pace (for me) helped work up and appetite for a steamy dish that had been tempting me since it was announced on Monday, Aarvark Kafé was up and running again and I was determined to make time to get a bowl of vegan Chili. Jim picked me up at the end of my trail run and we drove straight to the restaurant.

Aarvark Kafé Vegan Chili (spicy on top, medium on bottom).

I was chilled upon reaching the restaurant (not from carrying Carrot Cake Cupcakes there this time) because of not stopping to changed out of my sweaty running clothes. Hot chili was just what I needed. Jim ordered the spicy and I got the medium but we share some of each. We both preferred the seasoning and added heat of the spicy version and told the chef since he is planning on adding it to the permanent menu. I hadn’t run with my camera so my only photo was taken with my phone. Trust me, the flavors and heartiness of this vegan Chili is much better than my photo can show.

From Centralia’s underground smoldering, Danville’s soup that was too hot for Mom, my burning lungs as I kicked it up around mile 4 of my run and a bowl of spiced vegan chili that was just right – the heat was welcome on this late February day.

Upper East Side Heat

20120212-104743.jpg

%d bloggers like this: