Day 199: Potluck Perfection!

Day 199 of the Nowhere To Be Project left me with a ton of farmer’s market vegetable finds. What to do? The air was a bit cool and crisp today in the mountains so I decided to roast them. I was beyond hungry too (as usual) which gave me the idea to add some tofu to the mix. I ended up with an amazingly rich and flavorful feast to celebrate the arrival of fall. This dish is just perfect for potlucks because it satisfies vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores alike, it presents beautifully on a platter and best of all can be served hot or cold.

Instructions
1- Gather, wash and trim the seasonal vegetables you have on hand. I used a halved artichoke, asparagus, whole mushrooms, Belgian endive leaves and garlic cloves. I steamed the artichokes and endive briefly in water in the microwave to give them a head start since they take a bit longer to cook.
2- Arrange the vegetables on a foil lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and a good balsamic vinegar before adding freshly ground salt and pepper to taste.
3- Toss cubed firm tofu (dried of all liquid by blotting with paper towels) in a small bowl with enough avocado oil to coat lightly and soy sauce to taste. Now add a bit of cornstarch to the bowl and toss gently before placing on a separate foil lined baking sheet.
4- Place both baking sheets in a 400 degree preheated oven and roast for about 45 minutes or until browned and crispy. For even more flavor, sprinkle the veggies with grated vegan parmesan cheese for the last five minutes of roasting. I also add fresh chopped herbs before serving for added zing.

Day 197: Superveg

Author Celia Brooks with her latest book, Superveg!

On day 197 of the Nowhere To Be Project I had the pleasure of attending a book event with Celia Brooks, the author of Superveg (among many other titles). My favorite local book store, the Bookworm in Edwards, Colorado, hosted the fun veggie-centric evening to highlight Celia’s latest book. Superveg is so much more than a cookbook. It is a testimony of the author’s self-professed passion for vegetables.

The lovely Superveg spread at The Bookworm!
The Skinny B Smoothie was so fresh and sweet!

Superveg presents the 25 vegetables Celia has selected as “super” based on their nutritional makeup and general utility. It just so happens that stunning photography and delicious and uber-nutricious recipes are included in this lovely anthology. Celia Brooks simply brims with exuberance, which makes her love letter to vegetables all the more appealing. The author is a vegetarian, but many of her Superveg recipes are vegan. Never fear though fellow vegans…she includes vegan substitutions for those that are not! I absolutely cannot wait to try everything!

A delicious micro-broccoli salad with lemon and mint made by the one and only Celia Brooks!

Day 190: Review of Vail’s Tavern on the Square (a sort of vegan dining option)

I dined at Tavern on the Square on Day 190 of the Nowhere To Be Project. The Tavern is a casual yet upscale dining option in Vail. It is attached to The Arrabelle, a luxury hotel owned by Vail Resorts (Rock Resorts) located in the Lionshead corridor. The prices are a bit inflated in keeping with the local norms. I was alerted to the fact that they offer a full vegan menu by the “Vanilla Bean” app and decided to give it a go for dinner.

We dined outside on the patio with a lovely glass of Malbec and a breathtaking view of the mountain which was alight with stunning fall colors. After we were seated, I asked the server for the vegan menu. He apologetically confessed that it has been scaled down significantly for the off season. He went on to list a few salads, a hummus appetizer, the Impossible Burger, and sorbet as the obvious vegan options. I chose the Impossible Burger with a side salad.

I’ve eaten many Impossible Burgers and they are always enjoyable. This one, although extremely dry, was tasty. The bread to meat ratio was really off though, with way too much bread. My husband had a cheeseburger which came with the same huge bun. The difference being that his burger had about four times the amount of meat that my Impossible Burger did, making the bun a much better fit for his meal. A vegan cheese option and/or a vegan “special sauce” would definitely add some flavor to the Impossible Burger and might help to reduce the dryness.

The service was very attentive and the million dollar view was well worth the trip. I’ll more than likely visit Tavern on the Square again, if for no other reason than to lay eyes on their elusive “vegan menu”.

Day 185: Estes Park, Colorado

Day 185 of the Nowhere To Be Project was spent roaming the streets of beautiful Estes Park, Colorado. This charming lake and mountain town is just 70 miles from Denver and boasts easy access to Rocky Mountain National Park. The downtown area offers large green open spaces, ample parking and is dotted with small boutiques and eateries.

I was lucky enough to visit when a local market was being held which granted me the chance to load up on local vegetables and crafts. As an RVer, I was most impressed by the designated area in town for RV and bus parking (this almost never happens:). If you’re traveling to Northern Colorado, a visit to scenic and friendly Estes Park is a must!

Day 181: A Rose By Any Other Name???The Impossible Burger Controversy Flies at The Rose in Edwards, Colorado

On day 181 of the Nowhere To Be Project I lunched at The Rose in Edwards, Colorado. The Rose is located at 97 Main Street West (suite 102B) in Edwards, Colorado. This was my second visit to the quaint café, both being at lunchtime. On my first visit I sat outside on the small patio. This time I was inside which presented some unique challenges (keep reading).

The establishment’s website describes the restaurant as one that is focused on locally-sourced foods which is always a draw for me. The bigger draw though is the Impossible Burger, a plant-based delight created by Impossible Foods. As a vegan, I am always searching for plant-based options and have literally chased this burger across the country since I found out about it a few months back.

Before I get into specifics about The Rose, I should address the controversy over the Impossible Burger. Recently, the CEO of the company revealed that the product was tested on rats to receive FDA approval. Cruelty-free products are the goal for most vegans, myself included, so this has obviously ruffled some feathers. After considering his statement and the methods employed, I feel that the company had little choice in the matter in order to achieve the greater good of having a vegan meat product approved by the FDA (thus widely available for consumption). Animal testing was not something that the company approves of, ever wanted to do, or plans to do in the future. Sadly, without it the product would not have come to fruition. Now, back to The Rose…

The Rose appears very small from the outside, but opens to several rooms upon entering. I would describe the decor as “industrial tea room”. There are comfy couches and tiny two-tops. There is also a bar and a pool table, so the social vibe of the space likely changes depending on the time of day. My guest and I were seated at a small table and instantly noticed many, many flies occupying the space. They were in the air, on the furnishings and buzzing in our faces. I asked to open a door to the outside and was permitted to do so, but was told that it probably would not help because they had been having an ongoing issue with the flies! We were a bit grossed out and considered leaving, but decided to ride it out.

We began with hot tea (they have a nice selection of interesting loose leaf teas) and the fried pickle appetizer. The tempura-style pickles were amazingly delicious and the addition of the sriracha flavor was unique. After the pickles, both my guest and I enjoyed the Impossible Burger. It was topped with avocado and more pickle, and was served with a side salad. The bun was good, but would have been even better if toasted. While we loved our meal, the flies were certainly an issue that left us both wondering if we’d return. Hopefully, they can get the issue resolved because there is potential for charm at The Rose Restaurant & Bar in Edwards, Colorado.

Day 170: The Legend of the Pubsub

On day 170 of the Nowhere To Be Project I enjoyed a little bit of heaven in my hometown. This ethereal feeling wasn’t found through visiting old friends, or family or even my favorite haunts. The joy was created by a Pubsub. If you’re from the south, you’ve no doubt delighted in a Pubsub as well. If not, you’re probably wondering what, exactly, a Pubsub is.

Unwrapping a Pub sub is a feeling like no other!

It all begins with Publix, a southern supermarket chain. Within the walls of every Publix lies a deli where the legendary Pubsubs are created. The are many varieties of subs to choose from, but my favorite is the veggie with no cheese on Italian five grain bread. The subs are laboriously made to order which, along with their cult-like popularity, explains the lengthy lines found at each and every one of the 1,231 Publix deli counters no matter the hour.

If you asked five Pubsub lovers where the deliciousness lies, you’d get five different answers. For me, it’s all about the bread. Oh, and the fresh cut veggies. Ohhhh, the garlic pickles! And the…

What makes a Pubsub legendary?

Day 166: Is Being Vegan on Viking Cruises Easy?…It’s Complicated

Day 166 of the Nowhere To Be Project was spent reflecting on our two-week British Isles voyage on the Viking Ocean’s ship the Star. Over the next few days I will post reviews of different aspects of the trip (Dining, Itinerary, Service, etc.), but I wanted to begin with a post about the vegan options on board as I have had many, many questions on this topic.

I notified Viking that I was vegan well in advance of our trip and the ship’s restaurant manager Joan (pronounced Joanne) was aware of this from the outset. She approached our table on embarkation day after I inquired with the wait staff about vegan options for lunch in the World Café (the casual dining buffet). She explained the process for special dietary requests to me at that time which goes as follows:
1- decide at least a day in advance where you will dine
2- obtain a photocopy of the menu
3- select the items you’d like
4- return the menu to the restaurant manager by 9am on the day you will dine

This process sounded simple enough and I was pleased. Not so fast! Despite following Joan’s instructions to the letter, the process of being vegan on the Viking Star was a comedy of errors. No matter which dining option we chose, when we arrived the wait staff seemed put off and confused about my diet. The only case where the chefs had been notified in advance of my arrival was at the Chef’s Table. All other meals were made on the fly, took forever to prepare and almost always included non-vegan ingredients (cheese, whipped cream, honey, etc.).

A pre-ordered “vegan” wedge salad served with bleu cheese:-/
A “vegan” burger served with cheese:-(

On the fifth day of the 14 day trip, I decided that the simplest option for me and the staff was the World Café for lunch and dinner where the dishes are labeled. However, “vegan” and “dairy” labels are not used by Viking and nearly all the vegetable-based dishes included invisible butter and/or cream. The only labels used by Viking are “gluten free”, “sugar free” and “vegetarian”. I inquired with World Café’s wonderful sous chef Clifford about this and he said he’d mention it to the “higher ups”. He was always willing to help in explaining the vegan options to me, but they were so few among the prepared dishes that I usually had to have something made special. Despite his enthusiasm, he was usually overwhelmed with his job duties which made accommodating my needs difficult for him. He was also limited in terms of available ingredients. In a nutshell, I ate pasta with garlic, olive oil and vegetables for nearly every meal and by the time I received it, my husband was eating dessert. Meal time became very stressful and I felt bad having to ask for special treatment just to eat. I worried aloud to my husband more than once about those on board with food allergies. If my dietary restrictions had been due to allergies, I undoubtedly would have become very, very ill.

Creamed spinach prepared with whole milk instead of nut milk:-$

After learning the hard way in the restaurants on board, I relied on room service for breakfast each day. Hang tangs are placed in the staterooms each evening for the following morning. Instead of selecting the listed options, I wrote in almond milk, avocado and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil each night and had no problems with what was delivered the following morning. Just a note that almond milk and avocado were not available by “special order” anywhere else on board despite my repeated efforts at obtaining them.

My daily “special order” breakfast
Specially prepared pasta in Manfredi’s…served with pepper and no oil! Yuck!

Vegan diets are becoming more prevalent each and every day and Viking MUST take action to adapt. We love nearly everything else about the company and are confident that they can work this out. In fact, this was our fifth voyage with Viking in just a couple of years and we booked our sixth while onboard (a river cruise on the Elbe River). It is my hope that Viking takes charge of educating their staff on vegan food preparation or it may be my last. The staff is so eager to please, but lacks the time, tools and knowledge of vegan food to do so on the fly! In short, a vegan option (other than fruit and salad) should be planned and included at every meal (labeled accordingly).

A success at Chef’s Table…mushroom tarte!

Day 146: Sailing the Waterways of the Tsars on a Viking River Cruise

Day 146 of the Nowhere To Be Project is dedicated to a full review of my most recent river cruise in Russia. Of all of the cruises I’ve done (over 50), this was the most unique. As a child of the Cold War, I was taught to fear Russia. Of course this background made it even more appealing when the chance to visit arose due the mystery of it all. It was also different from my other voyages with Viking because a travel visa was required. I took Viking’s advice and used Generations Visa company and was able to procure the appropriate visa in about six weeks. Viking also arranged air travel (it was included in the cruise fare via a sale) through Lufthansa which has become a favorite for international travel. My husband and I flew from Orlando to Frankfurt and then on to St. Petersburg. We were greeted by Viking staff just outside of the customs area and were then transferred by motor coach to our ship.

We arrived at the Viking Truvor on May 6, 2017 and were very warmly welcomed aboard with a toast of Russian vodka. The Truvor was different from the more modern Viking Longships. While comfortable and immaculate, the ship seemed chopped up and lacked the light and open feel of the European ships. We were in what was described as a “deluxe stateroom”, cabin 206. The amenities and furnishings were in line with those that we experienced on our previous Viking voyages (bedding, linens, use of space, bath products, etc.). Russian-themed movies were on a rotating loop throughout the cruise which was good because there were not many other television channels available.

Our voyage on the Truvor began with four full days in St. Petersburg. The ship was docked in a quiet residential area of the city. During our time in St. Petersburg we visited the Hermitage on a Viking tour (included). The museum itself was breathtaking, but the crowds were insane and more than uncomfortable. We also joined two additional included tours of Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin and an up-close tour of the city itself. Our favorite tour in St. Petersburg was an optional excursion to a Soviet-era Kommunalka (shared housing). It was remarkable to sip tea with a woman who expressed (through an interpreter) nostalgia for communism. The architecture of St. Petersburg pits modern versus ancient in stark contrast. We dined out several times during our time in St. Petersburg and visited a few pubs. Communicating with the locals was never a problem and we found them to be as curious about us as we were about them. On the fourth evening of our Waterways of the Tsars journey we set sail for Mandrogy along the Neva River. The cruise director provided an interesting narrative on the ships’s speakers to highlight key sights visible from the ship as we dined on regional favorites in the restaurant. We cruised from the Neva River through Lake Ladoga and into the Svir River to reach Mandrogy.

We feasted on a lovely buffet breakfast on day five of our voyage before our noon arrival in Mandrogy (yes, the signature Viking sautéed mushrooms were there:-). Mandrogy is a tiny riverside village of brightly painted homes and skilled artisans. We had just a few hours in Mandrogy, but managed to stock up on a stash of unique handmade items including matryoshkas, lacquered jewelry and hand-knitted mittens and shawls. After a snowy afternoon in Madrogy we were ready for the warmth of happy hour back on board the Truvor and were pleased with the Russian wine offerings. We set sail for Kizhi, Russia at 4pm and found the onboard evening activities on the Truvor bountiful. There were Russian lessons, cooking demonstrations and cultural presentations offered throughout the cruise. Live music in the lounge was also a popular draw.

We were awakened in the early morning hours of day six of the voyage to the sounds of ice hitting the ship. We were the first voyage of the season and the ice had not yet been broken through. We made our way on deck to find that the Truvor was tailing a cutter. The cutter was literally plowing the way for us through the icy waters. Due to these conditions, we were not able to reach the island of Kizhi. With no pending destination, we ate and drank our way through the day, making this a good time to discuss the food on board. As with all Viking voyages, regional influences prevail. This meant a lot of soups, boiled meats, cabbage, and root vegetables. I had adopted a vegan diet just a month or so before embarking on the journey, but had not notified the staff of this. Even without special accommodations, I was able to eat fairly heartily. My husband, who isn’t vegan, enjoyed the piroshki (Russian meat pies) and the borscht, but also managed to get his steak and potatoes on board quite regularly.

We traversed the Volga-Baltic waterway to reach Goritzy at the one week point in our journey. We were eager for some fresh air at this point and were happy to join our fellow passengers for the included Krillo-Belozersky Monastery Tour. We were taken by bus to Kuzino to view the medieval monastery and churches. We also toured a local school and were given the opportunity to meet the students and purchase some of their artwork. Once again we learned that most Russian citizens are as fascinated with American culture as we are with their culture. It really is a small world! We met the ship in Kuzino at 3pm (it had sailed from Goritzy while we were at the monastery) and sailed for Yaroslavl. The staff of the Truvor went above and beyond to ensure that there were plenty of opportunities for engagement throughout the cruise and this evening was no different. There were more Russian language lessons, trivia challenges and Russian-themed entertainment to fill the hours. Perhaps the most popular event of the evening was an optional vodka tasting. My husband imbibed while I observed. The highlight was hearing about the pivotal role vodka plays in Russian culture from a waiter who was born and raised in Siberia.

On day eight of the voyage we awoke to the statue of mother Volga on the starboard side of Truvor after which we entered our first lock of the itinerary. We arrived in Yaroslavl at 3pm. Yaroslavl is part of the Golden Ring of quaint historic cities and is peppered with old homes and churches. We joined an included walking tour of the city and happened upon a lively street fair. At the fair we tasted local treats and purchased handmade tiles, a signature item of Yaroslavl, before gathering back on board the Truvor for our 7pm departure.

We awoke in Uglich, Russia on day nine of our Waterways of the Tsars voyage. The activity for today was tea with a local family. We were divided into small groups and taken by van to the homes of local families. The family we met consisted of a grandmother, her daughter and her grandson. The family lived together in a tiny three room home. They grew most of their food in their yard and supplemented their income by allowing Viking guests to visit their home. We enjoyed homemade pickles, tea and, of course, vodka, before making our way back to the ship for an optional matryoshka doll painting class. The farewell celebration was hosted at dinner with a toast and a parade-type tour of the galley for all passengers.

On the tenth day of the trip we arrived in Moscow where we would remain docked for four days. The ship docked in an area just outside of the metropolitan area. It took a decent walk through a park to reach the subway which was easily navigable. We joined the included Up-Close City Tour at 1pm on our first day in Moscow to get a lay of the land. We spent the rest of the evening roaming the city alone. Moscow is a very wealthy, safe and heavily-populated city. The dining and shopping options are limitless and go way beyond the impressive Gum department store. We stayed out rather late on that first day in Moscow, soaking up the Russian culture as much as we could. The rest of our time in Moscow was just as fascinating with a tour of the Kremlin and a Moscow By Boat tour. We were really wowed by this modern metropolis!

Our Waterways of the Tsars journey ended in the early morning hours of Thursday, May 18, 2017 when we were transferred to the Moscow airport by Viking staff. Throughout this voyage (our longest yet with Viking), each and every staff member was exceptional. The ship was kept spotless, the food was good, the wine selection was outstanding and the itinerary was magical. There was always something to do on board during sailing times and there were plenty of opportunities for free time both on and off board. Our fellow passengers were friendly, well-traveled, mostly retired, and hailed from America, Australia and the United Kingdom. We were awestruck by Russia and its people and would absolutely consider visiting the country again.

Day 141: Beaver Creek – The Disney of the Vail Valley

I hung out in Beaver Creek on day 141 of the Nowhere To Be Project. I might describe Beaver Creek as the younger plastic step sister of Vail. It is located above the town of Avon, just twelve miles west of Vail. Like Vail, Beaver Creek offers four seasons of outdoor fun along with upscale lodging, dining and shopping. Unlike Vail, Beaver Creek has a decidedly manufactured feel to it. I would liken this to the vibe one gets while strolling down Main Street USA at Walt Disney World.

The multilayered village area of Beaver Creek is a slope side sea of brick filled with hotels, shops, art galleries and dining venues. The center of the action is shared by the Vilar Performing Arts Center, a popular spot for concerts, and a plus-sized ice skating rink (winter only). Mountain sports options are just steps from the village and include hiking, biking and a ropes course in the summer, and snow sports in the winter.

It was a perfect sunny day today, so I lunched al fresco at 8100, the mountainside casual dining option at the beautiful Park Hyatt Resort. I went with the grilled vegetable sandwich minus the feta and was shocked when it arrived cold. I wrongly assumed that grilled vegetables would be hot. No such luck! The view from the patio at 8100 was great, but the sandwich wasn’t even close to worth the $17 price tag, even by Beaver Creek standards.

What are Beaver Creek standards, you ask? I would go with pristine, pricey and very well-manicured. In sum, there are many things to love about Beaver Creek particularly for those who prefer a country club experience. If you’re looking for hyper-controlled luxury in the mountains, this may just be your spot.

All opinions are my own and I am never compensated in any way.

Day 140: Sacred Abundance at White Bison in Vail

On Day 140 of the Nowhere To Be Project I enjoyed another fantastic meal and just had to share it with you! I dined at White Bison in Vail. The restaurant’s namesake (the White Bison) is sacred in Native American culture, reportedly bringing great abundance to those who spot one. I’ve visited this restaurant a handful of times, mostly due to their outstanding open air terrace overlooking Gore Creek. Today’s experience was so pleasant that the view became secondary. Similar to most other restaurants in Vail, their menu is meat-centric. The difference at White Bison is that the staff and chef go above and beyond to accommodate the dietary needs of their diners. This level of service, paired with a desire to please their patrons, is so refreshing in an area where that authenticity is often absent.

We chose three menu items to share, all of which were already meat and egg free. Minor tweaks in the preparation made them dairy free as well. This amazing feast began with an appetizer of their flavorful crispy French fries. We usually don’t eat fries, but we spotted these on a fellow diner’s table and just had to try them. They were excellent!

Next we had the charred Caesar salad without cheese or anchovies, and with the addition of a nice vegan garlic dressing. Again, this dish was outstanding. The watermelon seeds and paper thin fresh beet slices helped to make this a standout. Even more char on the romaine lettuce would not be a bad thing though.

Finally, we shared the gnocchi which was drizzled with a luscious truffle oil. The dish was very unique with the addition of baby carrots, fava beans and snap peas. The savory blend of flavors was like nothing we’ve ever tasted. It quickly became our favorite recent meal and something that we will absolutely order again.

Be sure to try White Bison on your next visit to Vail!

As always, opinions and experiences are mine. I am never compensated in any way.