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I’m Not Vegan (and Neither are You)

The one thing that running/jogging does for me is allow me time to think. It is time I can get away from the lure of the computer, cell phone, the responsibilities of keeping a house, maintaining a property or other life’s duties. Running is “me time” and the random things that come to my mind have frequently become posts on our running blog, See Jain Run.

As I ran on the shoulder of the road the one day I came upon a patch of motor oil that I hopped over to avoid. I avoided it mainly not knowing if I might slip in it and my quick reaction made me chuckle. I had acted as though I was avoiding stepping into dog waste or onto a dead animal or something dangerous. My free associating then took me to, “Well you wouldn’t want to step in oil, you are vegan and the dinosaurs died for that you know.”

That really got me thinking; no one in our modern day society is really vegan then. Anyone who uses fossil fuels, directly or indirectly can’t call themselves vegan. I mean I don’t drive, never have but I take the bus. So what if I choose only to ride my bike? What about my bike tires? Running shoes? Sure they might not have leather uppers but what about the plastics they are made out of?

Think about pre-packaged foods. Those seaweed snacks that come on those non-resealable plastic bags with a plastic tie so they don’t get crushed and a desiccant so they don’t dry out can not be good for the environment. I don’t live anywhere near seaweed so they had to be produced and shipped from quite a distance. Many vegans eat Sabra hummus as a staple, even packing the small prepackaged containers in their family’s lunch boxes. A lot of places aren’t set up for recycling those plastics and if they are how many people bring them home to recycle?

I think being a caring role model in life that is mindful and does a greater service to the earth and all living things than being a strict vegan who is obnoxious. Those who lead by sincere examples in their own lives have a stronger positive influence than those who stuff images of brutalized animals into peoples faces (at vegetarian festivals for Goddess-sake). Eat local and don’t shove it in other’s faces. I can think of some thoughtful life-long hunters who are more mindful and have a better impact on this planet than so many of the Johnny-come-lately-vegan-for-a-year individuals who set bad examples and waste so much of the planets resources in pre-packged nibbles.

I can tell you this through my own personal experiences, people have to be open to ideas to accept them so why not share what is important in a thoughtful way. Education is important but having a vegan potluck following movies that “educate” about animal brutality or ill health and gruesome imagery is so unthoughtful. My failures were on a much less graphic scale but they did touch people in negative ways. I sat with factory farming brochures and all I got were arguments. I asked family members not to give our young son hunting or fishing themed toys and clothes as gifts and alienated many of them. A gift is a gift, I didn’t have to be obnoxious.

Nothing about this has a positive impact.

Nothing about this has a positive impact.

Being mindful is key in my opinion. I have had more influence and the positive ripples have gone much farther just by leading a mindful vegan life. I have had people tell me that they had never met such a pleasant vegan before in their lives because I didn’t look down on them nor preach to them about my life choices. They ask me if it ok to order meat in front of me and who am I to tell them not? I was an ominvore – vegetarian once too. Having someone tell me that a head of lettuce might scream when it gets eaten is just as cruel as ranting about the plight of calves raised for veal and de-beaked chickens. All that ever got me was arguments and teasing and changed me from a confidant young woman into an introvert for living what I believed was an ethical way.

Being “tolerant” is also no way to be; live with genuine compassion and acceptance. If there are cruel, harsh or imposing individuals around you, excuse yourself. You don’t need to have your buttons pushed to make you feel like you have to hop on (or off) any bandwagon. You don’t have to defend what is or isn’t on your supper plate and you don’t have to go hug the living animals that were saved from being eaten. Talk about awkward. Just eat your yams and help muck out a stall later. Photos at animal sanctuaries are pure self promotion (why do you think they are called “selfies”).

It’s no wonder so many of the chefs on popular cooking shows “hate vegans.” I am tired of making trouble in other people’s homes or restaurants so I eat before I go usually. Yes, that means that there is dealing with not eating when others are but the only other option is the rude “bring your own” food. Like someone’s cooking won’t be good enough.

The next time you hear of someone leading a one wo/man mission trying to draw attention to raise awareness or money, ask yourself if it is really benefiting the larger cause. Attention seeking brings negative attention too. Live by example, give to your favorite charity, don’t wear animal products and don’t advertise it. Most of all, don’t go for a run.

So, yes, I am still vegan – or not, depending on if you ask the dinosaurs or the bug I swallowed while running.

Shit Vegans Say

Thank you Ari Solomon. Love, Love, Love these!

eden – a vegan cafe

While in Scranton we stopped at two totally different cafes. The first, Fig, might be hinted at as a bit pretentious, newly nestled in the safety of its spa related home. Eden is just the opposite.

I cannot think of anyone, and I do mean ANYONE, who wouldn’t, shouldn’t or couldn’t like Eden. The well established café stands out at 344 Adams Ave. in Scranton as the areas only vegan restaurant. Holy tofu! At 150 miles away and just under 3 hours from our front door, Eden is the closest 100% vegan restaurant to us! It’s about the same as distance going to Pittsburgh but faster. Ok, it’s a real road trip but with the reviews had I read on Yelp and Happy Cow, I knew we were going to just love it. I dearly wish we had a place like Eden close to us.

There are many parking garages in the general area to choose from and I suggest that because much of the on street parking is for very limited time. From where we parked, we were able to walk past the court-house, lawn and take in a lot of the Occupy Scranton activities. I am thinking there is more to Scranton than meets the eye.

Typical of the whole Eden experience, the clean design of the exterior doesn’t scream for your attention and it’s whats inside that really counts. You can start to get an idea that this place is impressive when you read the specials menu just outside the front entrance.

Upon entering, the wood colored tables, window counter, benches and chairs in the small dining are as well as the offset counter for placing orders seem pretty typical for a cafe. What starts to really grab your attention, if the menu hasn’t yet, is the warm and friendly staff.

We were cheerfully greeted by Lindsay the Counter Girl who understood that we were overwhelmed just looking at the specials. We scanned them and decided to take regular menus to sit down and look over. I think it took us over 10 minutes to calm our excitement and reassure ourselves that everything on the menu was vegan.

Although the specials were singing their siren’s song, trying to lure us into ordering a taco or one of the warm potato bowls, we opted to order from the regular menu.
We returned to the counter and placed our orders with the enthusiastic Lindsay whom we had overheard saying it was her last day. We wished her well and she walked us through the ordering process and gave us a number to place on our table.

Along with the number, we took back our drinks. I got an Oogave Root Beer to go with my Chili Cheeseburger and Jim got a kind of Tazo tea. As we chatted and sipped our drinks, I was able to access the WiFi with the pass code I had been given (just ask when ordering). We enjoyed looking around at the 11×14 chalk drawings of different animals and the copper ceiling panels. The latter gives away the age of the building Eden has made its home but everything about the restaurant is clean and welcoming.

There were always at least a couple of other tables occupied out of the 7 double seaters inside. The food orders kept coming out regularly (some were take-out) and I never saw anyone having a problem with what they ordered. It is definitely a family friendly restaurant with a separate kids menu but I am thinking kids would like a lot of the other menu items too.

Jim’s cup of Chipotle Corn Chowder came out first and we were both thrilled with the warmth, texture and taste. Served with a little bag of our favorite Westminster Crackers, Jim liked the good corn sweetness and it reminded me of the good old Aunt Kittie’s brand soups except it had a nice chipotle afterglow.

Eden get its vegan buns fresh daily from Scranton’s own National Bakery. I could really tell that with my Chili Cheeseburger and after the sub-par ciabatta earlier in the day, this was a welcome sandwich. The chili was mellow and reminded me a lot of the very first vegetarian chili I used to make with kidney beans and TVP – it really made me smile. The burger itself was a thinner chewy patty with veggies like corn, peppers and carrots in it. Although I never really got the cheese aspect of this sandwich, I got some sweet pickle relish for an additional charge and the whole burger was a warm delightful feast.

Along with a spear of 1/4 of a nice gherkin, I also chose a side of Homemade Coleslaw with my burger. The cabbage (green and red) was coarsely shaved and so crispy fresh and was mixed with some shredded carrot. The dressing, dense with tasty celery seed, was sweet and complex but just a little oily. The odd thing was the orange color of the dressing which we assume might have something to do with their vegan mayonnaise choice because we noted a similar hue in Jim’s sandwich.

I hindsight it’s pretty clear that Jim was trying make up for the sandwich that fell a little short earlier in the day at Fig. He ordered a Tuna Melt on with a vegan American Cheese and wheat bread. He too had a pickle and got a side of the Homemade Smashed Potatoes.

The Tuna Melt shared that orange color that the Coleslaw had and the soy protein was blended well with it along with a little pickle relish. It’s not the way we typically make our sandwich fillers, we like big old hunks of stuff, but the pimento spread like flavor was pretty nice. With the healthy serving of warm and melty cheese and toasted bread, it too fell into the category of vegan comfort food.

If I considered all of the above comfort food, I have yet to share the most soul soothing of all that we ate – Eden’s Smashed Potatoes! Topped with just a little bit of vegan butter, the pile of warm and savory sage seasoned softness was like a big hug for our tummies. They weren’t overly salted, were chunky but soft and had just the right amount of pepper. I want them just like that for Thanksgiving this year.

This goes to show you that you don’t have to go to New York City to eat in a 5 star vegan restaurant – just find your way to Scranton! You won’t be served any avant-garde balsamic reduction flourishes over micro greens, you will be served great food and plenty of it. To counter some of the criticism written on Happy Cow, Eden has plenty of healthy choices. If you don’t want to order a meal with meat substitutes in it there are wraps, salads, soups and rice dishes. The pleasing environment (Coldplay-esque music), dedication to plant based meals and care given to making sure customers are properly served make this a top notch dining experience. I am reaching out my hand to the most north-easterly corner of our good Pennslytucky region and hanging on to Eden, they serve up great meals in the best vegan way. Follow them on FaceBook and Twitter too.
Eden-a Vegan Cafe on Urbanspoon

Charred Onion Soup

Poor Jim got all excited when he heard I was making this soup. He had misunderstood me and thought I had gotten some delectable greens and was making Chard Onion Soup. Oh well, this variation on French Onion Soup is touted to be a bit more classic in the French style according to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

I have mentioned before that I hesitate to share recipes in cookbooks that are still in print because the good cooks who have worked hard to put them together need to make money by our buying them, or giving them as gifts (thank you Amy!). What I can share is that the onions I charred (see photos above) were halved and brushed with olive oil. The ones on the left are before broiling and the ones on the right are after 10 minutes under the broiler.

They were getting soft as was the suggested indicator to remove them but I wish they had gotten just a bit more charred. I don’t know that it made all that much difference to the soup.

I followed the recipe to make the Charred Onion Soup vegan and it was pleasing. The one thing I missed in the recipe that I have used in the past is some caraway seed. I just love that flavor in a soup like this and really yearned for it. I was glad our garden has a nice batch of parsley, it was my favorite kind of topper and gave the dense onion flavor of the soup a nice freshness. Maybe next time I will add some chard just for Jim.

What Vegans Eat

Loving Hut

On our drive home last week, we stopped at one of the international vegan chain restaurants, Loving Hut, in Ledgewood, NJ.

It is located in a tiny strip mall along with a tattoo parlor and some type of formal wear store. It’s located along a one way stretch of road so you are glad to finally pull in, most parking is in the back.

Walking into the Loving Hut you immediately get the impression that it is directly linked to a religious following, it is. All Loving Huts are owned by The Quan Yin Method, their supreme master Ching Hai’s photographs are seasoned throughout the restaurant. Jim and I are secure in our religious beliefs so even if the napkins came out as recruitment papers we wouldn’t be swayed. We were glad the food was vegan.

What did bother me was the large tank of fish that decorated the length of the front window. How was it that the gouramis in the tank could be enslaved? The Quan Yin Method followers refrain from: taking the life of sentient beings, from speaking what is not true, from taking what is not offered, from sexual misconduct and from the use of intoxicants. I guess the owners of Loving Hut in Ledgewood feel the gouramis offered up their freedom and they didn’t take it from them.

I usually have to overlook a lot more than trapped gouramis and religious leader’s booklets when I go out to eat. At least the fish weren’t sizzling on a plate beside me. We eagerly looked over the menu and decided to start by splitting some Nori Stars.

The Nori Stars, 8 pieces, were very hearty with their dense brown rice. The centers held slivers of fresh carrot, avocado and tofu. A shallow bowl of thick soy sauce came on the side. It was all very good but I missed some wasabi (it was supposed to have wasabi) and pickled ginger.

Golden Charm

Jim got an order of Golden Charm and I got Spicy Cha-cha. They were similar except for the textured proteins – mine was breaded and something like vegetarian shrimps and Jim’s was soy chicken-esque. Both came mixed into red and green bell peppers and onions that weren’t over-cooked. Imagine the protein hunks and veggies all tossed with a grainy Mrs. Dash type seasoning and presented with a big serving of dense brown rice and some steamed veggies (mine came with a lime wedge).

Spicy Cha Cha

The entrées were fine, a little heavy and weren’t spicy at all in spite of having little hot peppers beside the name in the menu to designate spicy, neither were. Both were supposed to come with jalepeños, neither did.

All of the portions were generous and we got most of our meals to take away with us. The meals came very quickly and the waiter was attentive and courteous. We also enjoyed a couple of specialty beverages, a Go Green Delight (with 7up and mint) and a Peaceful Pink (with cranberry, lemon and soy milk).

The big tv in the dining area had the sound off but was constantly broadcasting ads and dance numbers that were all related to The Quan Yin Method. Along with the giant soda refrigerator, it was a tiny bit surreal.

I shouldn’t be officially reviewing this restaurant because it is an international chain. It is also 100% vegan and I think that, for perspective, it’s important to see how it stacks up against some places that are just vegetarian friendly.

I am sure that lots of families come and enjoy the meals there, it’s not family unfriendly. The main part of all of their menu items is geared toward meat-like substitutes. They flat out state that they offer “an accessible starting point for those making the noble transition to a plant based diet.” That’s fine but it doesn’t all have to be overly dense and poorly seasoned.

The blatant proselytising isn’t something I would want to dine amidst for many meals, it’s almost creepy. I am glad Loving Hut is a vegan chain but the place is a single star above average.

Mad Mex

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From a very small chain based out of Pittsburgh, Mad Mex Happy Valley has been dedicated to vegetarian and vegan options since they came to the area. It’s more difficult to find the entrance in the winter since the interior is deep within the Days Inn on S. Pugh St. but you can see and enter the outdoor seating area in the summer, just off of Highland Alley. Parking on the street can be tricky but as a patron of the restaurant in Days Inn we have, probably wrongly, used their parking spaces too. If you don’t mind walking up from the Pugh St. parking garage, that is the most reliable.

Inside Mad Mex there is a lot of twisted (literally and figuratively) Mexican inspired artwork. It gives it a kind of creepy but entertaining feeling and it is one thing that puts the mad in Mad Mex. Another mad element is the crazy specials that they have. A good example is the drink specials on Groundhog Day are dependent on whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not. Once in the summer they had corn on the cob with a chipotle sauce as a special.

Inside can get ridiculously loud especially when college is in session during happy hours. The loud music and voices just bounce off the concrete floors as the metal legged chairs add their scraping screeches to the cacophony. Seating outdoors at this time is at a premium. Either choose a different time or be forewarned – Mad Mex is a mad house at these times.

The staff say you can get the password for Wi-Fi at the Days Inn check in desk but what a pain in the butt. If you need to get online that badly while you sip your margarita you will do it. It’s just not worth the trouble for me.

Lunch at Mad Mex is hit or miss. They just don’t seem to be staffed for it during the off-season when Penn State isn’t in session. Evenings are much more reliable, the staff is always hustling and thank goodness there are more of them after 4PM.

There are plenty of vegetarian options at Mad Mex. I highly recommend reading over the vast menu before you even go so you don’t overlook what might be your personal favorite.

Jim and I frequently get the Pick-a-Dippa and a bowl of the Chickpea Chili to share. With the Pick-a-Dippa you get a bottomless basket of tri-colored corn chips and you can choose any three of the…

Pineapple-Habenaro, Avocado-Tomatillo & Original Salsa


Mad Mex® salsas:
Original
Fire-roasted tomato-chipotle
Pico de gallo
Pineapple-habanero (HOT)
Avocado-tomatillo

Freshly-made dips:

XX Cheese Dip
Pepita Hummus
Guacamole
Kaya® Yucatan Black Bean Dip

Chickpea Chili with cheese and sour cream

The chips are “meh” but the dips are pretty good. Even the Avocado-tomatillo has a little peppery heat to it. We like using the chips to also eat the Chickpea Chili.

Vegan Chickpea Chili

If you don’t ask for the tofu cheese and or sour cream, the Chickpea Chili will come with dairy products. The cup and bowl sizes are what you would expect and the flavor of the vegan chili is quite good. The chickpeas are firm and surrounded by a thick green tomatillo chili soup with gently sautéed Spanish onions. It is probably a little spicy for a lot of the mainstream locals but I think it’s a mellow chili and isn’t the only vegetarian soup at Mad Mex but it’s our favorite.

So many of the burritos and enchiladas can be made vegetarian with tofu or portobello mushroom. All you have to do is looks for the little green cactus on the menu and you can see the items worth reading about.

Pennsyltucky Tofu

With so many choices, I will let the burritos and enchiladas to your explorations and focus on the Pennsyltucky Tofu appetizer. It came out in a huge bowl and (according to their nutritional datasheet) was only 2 servings! Six of us feasted happily on it and Pick-a-Dippa as we waited for our lunches and were pretty well filled up. It was a little party of 1/2″ cubes of deep-fried tofu! They were covered in a glaze of ponzu or lightly spiced General Tso’s sauce and sprinkled with chopped peanuts, sesame seeds, whole mung bean sprouts and cilantro. Fun and tasty, everyone at the table enjoyed it. I plan on getting it sometime as an entrée.

Kids might like this place but both indoor and outdoor seating revolves around their 2 bars s I don’t think it’s for everyone, especially during happy hours September – May. Big kudos for the menu making the veggie options easy to find but stop advertising free Wi-Fi like it’s on the menu. The food is good, moderately priced and plenty to choose from for a vegan or vegetarian. The staff is fine but not always on top of things, I assume mostly due to the high turnover linked to hiring college students and always needing to retrain them. Above average for sure, vegetarians should know about Mad Mex in State College.
Mad Mex on Urbanspoon

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