Livin’ the all-inclusive life

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View from my beach chair in Montego Bay, Jamaica

I finally got a passport at age 33. This seems to surprise a lot of my friends and colleagues. Who doesn’t have a passport, right?

This has made me feel feelings about my race and economic privilege relative to my family. We never had passports growing up because we vacationed every three years and we went to Northwest Iowa to visit my dad’s family. On the rare occasions that international travel opportunities presented themselves while I was in school, my mother’s response was somewhere on the spectrum of “we can’t afford that” and “hell no.” (She’s maybe a bit overprotective — she still texts to make sure I made it okay when she knows I’m traveling.) In college I chose to spend a semester in Washington, DC instead of abroad, because it seemed more practical/attainable and after college I worked political organizing jobs with long hours and tiny paychecks for lots of years. Clearly, some of my friends and colleagues could afford to travel, but it just seemed liked something other people did.

The idea of international travel has only felt possible (financially, timewise) to me within maybe the last three years? And I didn’t need a passport for Puerto Rico when my friends and I went in 2014. But this year we chose Jamaica as our Spring Break destination (yes, adult spring break is a thing we do. Five of six of us live in silly cold places with long winters, so we travel in March to someplace warm and beachy).

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TBH, who cares how good the food is?

All of that context aside, I was holding onto a pretty major concern about international travel: what the hell was I going to eat? I’ve heard many stories about friends who try mysterious foods or compromise on vegetarianism  while traveling, and while that sounds fun, spending most of my trip holed up near a toilet definitely doesn’t. I was super relieved when my friends suggested an all-inclusive resort option (meaning all meals, drinks and activities are factored into the cost of your hotel room). Of course, familiar food isn’t necessarily ibs-friendly food, so I still packed in: two packages of Udi’s gf hamburger buns (8 total rolls, or enough to have one at lunch and dinner each day of the trip); eight single serving pouches of Justins’s nut butters; four NuGo bars; four Clif bars; and four packets of oatmeal. IBS has made me a light packer clothes-wise, since I always need room for food.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Montego Bay, and while I have nothing to compare it to, my friends said it was pretty standard compared to similarly-priced all-inclusives they’d stayed at. Food is served buffet-style at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and there are several “restaurants” (really just dining rooms that serve themed food) on site. Our package included dinner reservations at their Jamaican and Italian restaurants, and the rest of the time, we were buffet-bound.

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Carb city, population: me

Breakfast was the most challenging meal for me, and I leaned heavily on the rolls and almond butter, with fruit and usually potatoes from the buffet. The buffet was well labeled with both vegan and vegetarian items identified, as well as gluten free. This was super helpful, as my downfall is often eating the thing that looks least harmful, only to find out a few hours later that it was probably cooked in butter.

I took a couple of plate pictures from the buffet. This what a pretty typical lunch: Pumpkin rice, potatoes, a cooked vegetable (not delicious) and some kind of bean stew or salad). I only saw tofu on the first day of our trip and it was raw, cubed, and served over pasta. Odd. The highlight was the burger shack near the pool where we went for grilled cheese sandwiches (for my friends) and fries (for me) sometime between lunch and dinner. Most of my friends are vegetarian, and it was hard to stay full on the fairly limited protein available.

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Buffet dinner: rice and a bean/vegetable stew. Yum?

The “restaurant” dinners were a lot sketchier. We were assigned reservations at the Jamaican place the first night and they had one vegetarian option on the menu. It was a coconut curry that was more like a tiny portion of soup with a large plate of rice. We ended up paying for bottles of wine at dinner, because the free wine was the foulest substance I have ever willingly ingested. When we checked out, the front desk clerk through there was a mistake because we had so many wine charges on our bill. Whoops. The Italian restaurant was the best night for my friends and the worst for me. There was nothing I could eat on the menu, but a note indicated that entrees were served with roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables, so I asked for a plate of that. Pretty lame to be eating plain potatoes and steamed veggies while your friends get pesto gnocchi, but it was our last night.

Of course, the end of the story is that the vegetables were cooked in butter and I was pretty sick the next morning. The ride to the airport was stressful, but I felt okay by the time I boarded my plane.

So what did I learn? First, that I can leave the country and eat and not be terribly sick the whole time. Baby steps. Second, that I have actually learned how to take care of myself pretty well and I just need to do what I already know how to do.  Third and finally, next time I go the all-inclusive route, I will pay more for a child-free resort. #notsorry

The saga continues

My 2016 has been off to a chaotic start. The new job I started in November turned out to be a terrible fit for me, and I resigned earlier this month. I took a work trip in January that introduced me to an epic cold virus and I was coughing and congested for four very long weeks. Oh and the Supreme Court decided to take up a very historic abortion access case, and since I work in the reproductive rights/abortion access field, things have been busy.

Somehow in the midst of this, I realized I needed a new primary care provider, since I have moved and switched insurance companies in the last year. Given the stress of the job and the long illness, my ibs symptoms were not as controlled as they once were and I was struggling with anxiety and depression. I go to One Medical in DC, which is a sort of concierge practice (they charge a membership fee, but in return the care and access to doctors/appointments is so much better than anywhere else I’ve been in the city). And I chose a PCP in the office near my house who has experience working with LGBT patients, because it’s just a lot easier to work with a doctor who isn’t uncomfortable talking about my personal life. (You’d be surprised.)

I made and cancelled two or three appointments because of last-minute work things before I was able to get in to see the doctor. By this time I was pretty sure I needed anti-anxiety medication and/or anti-depressants, and probably an IUD because my period pain has also increased and nothing but muscle relaxers can tame it. I’ve been resistant to to all three of these things because I know that ibs is at the root of my problems, but also that doctors don’t generally know what to do with ibs except throw drugs at it.

And this is where things take an unexpected turn because this PCP happens to be a holistic doctor who specializes in helping people find the nutritional roots of their medical problems. This is the doctor I have been looking for since at least 2011, when my ibs started getting bad. And I found her exactly when I had given up on taking a holistic approach and just wanted someone to whip out a prescription pad and put a bandaid on my problems.

This was the first doctor I’ve worked with to talk about ibs beyond “eat more fiber” and “try meditation.” That’s the good news. The bad news is, I’ve been feeling surprisingly ambivalent about this development. Finding a solution to ibs requires work. And adjusting to new supplements. And possibly making some real exceptions to my 21 years of vegetarianism. Would all this be worth it if I actually got past ibs? Definitely. I’ve had symptoms for so long, I can’t really imagine my life without it.

So far, I’ve started taking a new multivitamin, an intestinal repair supplement, a new probiotic, and a liver support supplement (and to be honest, by “started taking” I mean “inconsistently taken for a couple weeks”). I’ll try an elimination diet after my trip to Jamaica in a few weeks. And hopefully, I’ll be using this space to keep track of my progress.

 

Meal planning and vegan pozole

Both G and I travel for work quite a bit, so the past two weeks have been a lovely post-holiday break where neither of us has had to go anywhere. When we’re both in town, we take turns planning meals for the week – our schtick is making dinners that yield enough leftovers for at least one day of lunches. G is an urban homesteader, so we always have plenty of canning jars for packing lunches around the house.

2015-02-17 22.13.13-1Pre-G, I was a Ziploc tupperware kind of girl, but I am fully converted to these glass jars. They’re inexpensive and they last forever – my ziploc tupperwares were forever getting warped by the dishwasher or microwave and stopped sealing properly after a few uses. They’re much easier to pack in a workbag – they store upright, so you don’t end up with the dreaded “curry bag” at the end of your commute. Also, they’re glass, so no potential weirdo chemicals will leach into your food.

Anyway, this is my week to plan. We decided to switch off weeks because G is a Virgo and loves planning, like, a lot, and shortly after we moved in together last year, I realized she had unofficially taken over meal planning. As someone who loves to cook and try new recipes, I didn’t want to completely hand over the kitchen responsibilities, so we try to take turns as meal planner/head chef and sous chef.

G is more of a “kitchen classics” cook, and when she likes something, it goes into a regular rotation, while I have Pinterest boards full of meal ideas and like trying new things all the time. It works out pretty well to have a week of recipes we know and love alternating with a week of experiments.

Our menu for this week is almost entirely new to me; I’ve made the potato soup before, but not for G:

And everything is vegan, gluten- and soy-free. #winning

I’ve never had pozole before; it’s one of many Mexican dishes that my mom doesn’t like, so I grew up thinking it was gross, despite have no idea what it was. I don’t remember my grandma making it all that often, but if she did, my mom probably made us chicken nuggets or something.

2016-01-10 19.20.17But G and I went to a brunch at my boss’ house on New Year’s Day, and she served traditional (pork) pozole and it smelled amazing. G had at least two bowls. So I’ve been on a mission to find a pozole that we can enjoy together.

We settled on the recipe from Epicurious, because it included ground cloves (which G identified as the mystery spice that made the pozole so amazing) and red kidney beans, which seemed heartier than the pinto beans other recipes called for. We served it with roasted potatoes for me, because IBS. I LOVED this soup, but G is on the fence. This one has too many ingredients for her, and the zucchini and corn felt extraneous. This is also not a very brothy soup, and we all took a little extra broth with our dinner portions, so the lunch jars are more stew-like. I would fix this by adding maybe two cups of water or broth after serving dinner, and letting it simmer a little longer, while G thinks we ought to cut the amount of each ingredient so the water to stuff ratio is more balanced (and ditch the zucchini and maybe the corn entirely — not happening, sorry).

This recipe fed three of us for dinner with four very full pint jars leftover for lunches. We may tweak it in the future, but I’m excited to have finally tried pozole.

 

#2015TopNine

Well, 2015 happened. And I didn’t blog very much. So I’m sharing my top nine posts from Instagram as a sort of recap in hopes that I’ll get inspired to pick up the blog again in 2016.

2015-12-31 06.47.22Top row, left:

My lady and I took an epic winter holiday trip (flew from DC to Charlotte, drove to South Carolina, drove to northern Florida and back, and then flew again from Charlotte to DC) involving lots of family time, kid time and time spent in the car. It was fun, but by the time we made it back to Sout Carolina on the 27th, we were ready for a little downtime. Enter Good Life Cafe in Columbia. This place is all vegan (sweet!), gluten-free (score!) and raw (oh, okay). No judgement of people who do the raw food thing, it’s just a little tough on the ibs belly. Also, Good Life was having a pretty rough night of it. We arrived about 6:30 pm and learned they’d had a rush earlier in the day and were out of quite a few menu items. And everything was served cold – like refrigerator cold – which muted a lot of the flavors so the food seemed really salty. Without anything carb-y on the menu, my stomach suffered a LOT from this meal.

Top row,  middle:

We stand with Planned Parenthood around here. My partner and I both work in reproductive health/abortion rights and it’s been a shitty year. But our cute selfie was famous for a couple days. Fun!

Top row, right:

I went to Vegas. I already posted about this, but the gist is, i couldn’t find anything to eat, but I found a vegan boozy milkshake. I still don’t like Vegas, but I liked this milkshake.

Middle row, left:

I started a new job! And attended a fancy gala for the Texas Freedom Network in November. I LOVED this gala, because their vegetarian entree was vegan and gluten free. And delicious. But seriously, I spend a lot of work events hungry and/or slightly tipsy, because I had a glass of wine and couldn’t eat anything. It was really nice to be able to eat and drink like a normal person.

Middle row, middle:

Vegan. Tomato. Pie. With a gluten free crust! My lady continues to recreate awesome recipes for me to eat. This was a mix of red and green tomatoes and it was weird and also really good.

Middle row, right:

Do you have Isa Does It? Because this cookbook changed our life. So many awesome, easy recipes that we both love. This is her malai kofta recipe, and even though it wasn’t the prettiest dish, it was one of the most delicious things we cooked all year.

Bottom row, left:

We moved! (Seriously. Lots of things changed in the 2nd half of the year.) And we love out new place. So we got a ridiculously huge holiday tree to celebrate. And then we got in trouble for bringing it in through the lobby instead of the basement. Sigh.

Bottom row, middle:

This was the year of weddings – I was invited to six and made it to five. This one was the day before my birthday in Lyons, Colorado. Amanda and Hayes are cutting their wedding ice cream sandwich. Also, my amazing friends made sure I could eat at all of their weddings. Yay love! and yay eggplant!

Bottom row, right:

New job required me to spend two weeks in Texas for orientation and training. I had a great time, ate some awesome food, and learned not to start a meal with chips and salsa (ouch). My coworkers and I found Licha’s Cantina by accident, and this was my best meal in Austin. This is a black bean-filled blue corn masa cake topped with avocado and some other veggies. Also, Licha’s was so cute, the margaritas were delicious and the service was awesome. Love.

Best of the Worst, part 1

No photo available of early cooking adventures, but here's Sarah and me at a wedding in May.

No photo available of early cooking adventures, but here’s Sarah and me at a wedding in May.

I’m taking this week off work, since we just wrapped our organization’s annual conference (which deserves a post of its own) and Sarah is out of town, so I’m phoning it in a bit on the food front for a couple days. While we eat pretty well when we’re cooking together, I revert to bachelor mode pretty quickly when she travels, so there’s a lot of cold cereal and toast/corn tortillas with butter happening these days. I’m also replenishing my introvert batteries – after being ON for eight straight days (on-boarding and training new staff, managing the final days of conference planning and then managing the conference itself – and training workshops) this introvert is more than happy to watch some bad tv and read on my porch for a couple days.

All of the above is context for the story that I want to share. I was microwaving a baked potato for dinner last night and remembered the first time I baked a potato on my own. I was probably 10 or 12 years old, definitely old enough to use the microwave by myself, and I asked my mom how long it would take to bake a potato. When she responded “45 minutes,” I set the microwave and wandered off, probably to read somewhere. I had no idea that there was a significant difference in the time it took to bake a potato in the oven versus the microwave, until my mom got home about 30 minutes into my cooking time and rescued the sad, desiccated Russet. Our microwave smelled like burnt up potato for months afterward.

After I went vegetarian at 12, my mom spent a couple years managing my diet for me – she was really worried I wouldn’t get enough protein, and I would have subsisted happily on potatoes and bread without her intervention. When I turned fourteen, she declared I was old enough to cook for myself and she wasn’t going to make two separate entrees at dinner any longer. I didn’t learn to cook a lot of things, or how to cook them well, but I had her permission to experiment in the kitchen and that was pretty rad. I also learned the difference between a colander (used for draining or rinsing food and often made of plastic) and a steamer basket (holds food above a small amount of hot water, made of metal) when I tried to cook artichokes for the first time and ruined a colander, a small stock pot and three artichokes.

And family time in April. My mom is the one with the biggest hair.

And family time in April. My mom is the one with the biggest hair.

My mom also bought me my first vegan cookbooks and laughed until she cried when my first vegan cookies came out so round and hard that they rolled off the baking pan when I tilted it slightly while taking them out of the oven.

I guess I’ve been thinking about these things since last night because it really has been a while since I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and I miss it. It’s easy to default to frozen pizza and enchiladas, but I know I’ll be happier and feel better if I take the time to cook for myself, even when I’m only cooking for myself. (But if you’re in need of frozen food recommendations, Daiya’s frozen pizzas are the best allergy-friendly ones I’ve found, and Amy’s Mexican food meals are excellent. Just sayin’.)

Vegas equals terrible

Hey! Do you know what is a great way to procrastinate when you’re supposed to be packing/cleaning? Blogging. So great! Also, DC, like much of the Eastern US, is a frozen hellscape and I never want to go outside again.

Shut up, Vegas.

Shut up, Vegas.

Flashback to last week when I attended the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s conference in Las Vegas and it was gorgeous and sunny and perfect outside. Of course, conference means I was inside during the days, but I managed to sneak outside for a few minutes each day and feel the sun.

So the weather was amazing, but the food part of the week was hard. I don’t remember whether the conference registration asked about dietary needs, but there was definitely no consideration given to vegans or other restrictions either at the hotel where we stayed or by the conference organizers. I’m hoping this posts comes off as more like, “here’s how I solved by problems” than really cranky, but I’m still really irritated, so that might show a bit.

Anyway. My standard conference survival kit is honed down to: a pack of Udi’s gf burger buns (softer and less dense than their bagels), Chex brand gf oatmeal packets and 2 boxes of granola bars (one high-protein and one more of a snack bar), plus fiber supplements and a daily probiotic. Usually I don’t need all of the food I bring, but it helps to know I’ve got an emergency stash in case things get weird. My travel to Vegas was okay; it’s always tricky to time meals and fiber supplement with flights and layovers, but it worked out and I found a Qdoba in the Dallas airport that had shockingly fresh-tasting vegetables for the middle of winter. Normally, I don’t get excited about Qdoba, but traveling with dietary restrictions has given me a massive appreciation for chain restaurants. I feel much safer eating somewhere that I can google beforehand.

Concrete picnics are the best picnics

Concrete picnics are the best picnics

The conference started mid-day the day after I arrived and I spent the morning working in my hotel room, assuming I would just head down around noon, grab something to eat and pick up my name badge. Except that the hotel had literally nothing I could eat at either the restaurant, cafe or mini market; I didn’t leave enough time to go exploring a nearby casino for a buffet or foodcourt; and the nearest Chipotle was 1.8 miles away. <cue sad trombone>

I ended up buying a “protein box” and a bag of potato chips from the hotel Starbucks. The box was about $5 and included a hard-boiled egg, a multigrain roll, a packet of peanut butter, some cheese, half an apple and some grapes. I ditched the roll and cheese, supplemented with my own bread and a granola bar and managed a pretty filling lunch. (I do make occasional exceptions to veganism to eat eggs if there aren’t other protein options available. 18 year old me is making a super judgy face right now.) Anyway, I only learned of the existence of these boxes at Starbucks in December but it’s a pretty rad thing to know about when you’re in an unfamiliar place and trying to feed yourself. Starbucks is literally everywhere except the moon these days.

That's right bitches, I am eating ALL your kebabs

That’s right bitches, I am eating aaaall your kebabs…but not the mushrooms.

After conferencing all afternoon, we were invited to a “poolside happy hour” with a hosted bar (that means free!) and heavy appetizers. And they really went all in on the appetizers. They had a table full of sushi, a mashed potato bar, a kebab station, some sort of animal chops…and nothing vegan. I actually asked one of the hotel staff, in case there was like, a secret vegan table I hadn’t found yet, but no, they just didn’t order anything. He kindly pointed me in the direction of some vegetable kebabs which had been hiding under a warming dish and said sympathetically that it was very unusual for a large event like this one not to have anything vegan at all. But as Eric Gordon in Billy Madison says “Well, sorry doesn’t put the Triscuit crackers in my stomach, now does it, Carl?”

So first of all, my stomach behaves waaaaaay better when I start a meal with a carbohydrate of some kind. A glass of red wine followed by grilled veggies is basically taunting my IBS. Secondly, I always feel really awkward when there’s only one thing I can eat at a social event, because my instinct is to take more of that thing, since everyone else has more options…and then I worry that other people are looking at me like, why does she think she gets all the veggie kebabs? Save some for the rest of us, jeez. So there’s no way I’m getting a full meal out of this event. And now I’m hangry and surrounded by strangers that I’m supposed to be mingling with when all I want to do is stab them with my little kebab swords.

The Chandelier from the outside

The Chandelier from the outside

Since the event was a bust, I left with some friends to check out the Cosmopolitan casino near out hotel and look for vegan food. Of course, since we were in Vegas, the first thing we did was locate the Chandelier bar at the center of the Casino. The photo does not do this thing justice. It’s a three-level chandelier that you hang out inside, surrounded by strings of crystals and lounging on plush sofas and drinking fancy cocktails. They don’t serve food (of course) but I had a drink with butternut squash puree and bruleed marshmallow foam, which is like a snack, right? After drinks we went to a place called Holsteins, where the only thing I could eat was fries, but at least I could eat them. We got two orders for four people, and I’m pretty sure I polished off an entire order by myself. Sorry guys. Holsteins had really good fried pickles, and they also had this:

Cue choir of angels

Cue choir of angels

a vegan raspberry coconut milkshake. With coconut whipped cream and a toasted vegan marshmallow. And vodka. I didn’t really want another drink, but boozy milkshakes are a thing that I have never experienced, since I never saw one till after I’d given up on dairy. This is when I started to forgive Vegas for being awful. Or maybe that was just the vodka.

In any case, the following day of the conference was equally frustrating. The lunch they served was beef, salmon, and mozzarella cheese sliders. When I asked about a vegan option, I was told they could “whip something up for me,” so I asked that it also be gluten free and they brought out a plate of spaghetti, took it back and brought (eventually) some gluten-free noodles and sauce. This is the part where I should mention again that the hotel staff was awesome and I really appreciated their responsiveness. It just sucks to pay a couple hundred bucks to attend a conference, plus the cost of a cross-country flight and three nights in a hotel, and give up three days of work and then not be served food that won’t make me sick.

This is why I’m a little, um, intense when it comes to hosting trainings and conferences for my job. I have asked hotels to change catering menus, to add vegan proteins or gluten free bread products…we even had a chef in Atlanta go out and buy some tofu because the event manager failed to communicate our menu requests in time for him to add it to the weekly order. But here’s the thing – no hotel has ever refused to meet our needs. Some are better than others at the execution, but as a conference organizer, it’s on me to do whatever I need to do to make sure no one goes hungry, and it’s not that hard. And now I have to go back to cleaning.

To infinity and Beyond Meat

It's beef...made of peas!

It’s beef…made of peas!

So can we talk about Beyond Meat? How do we feel about it? Why is there Beyond Meat? Who is it for?

I’ve always had mixed reactions to imitation meat products…it took me a while to come around on Boca burgers, Tofurkey and soy hot dogs. I think it’s because I don’t usually miss meat. I gave it up so long ago that I don’t really think of it as food anymore. And I’ve figured out how to cook tofu and tempeh pretty well.

Since my lady is now soy-free, my tofu skills aren’t as useful and we’re always on the lookout for protein (other than beans) that we can both eat. We’ve had some good meals based around Beyond Meat beef crumbles – they can be a little dry if they’re just sauteed, but added to a dish like SG’s vegan shepherd’s pie or this awesome tater tot casserole that I made for our Winter Solstice potluck, they’re pretty good.

Sometimes Twitter is too much power...

Sometimes Twitter is too much power…

I suspect that the target audience for Beyond Meat might be people who are struggling to give up meat or really missing it? I tried their chicken strips back in December – following the basic saute cooking directions – and my (omnivorous) lady thought they were pretty good. If they didn’t contain soy, she would eat them by choice. I wasn’t impressed by the texture. The strips were just…really…chewy. Kind of stringy? They’re pretty easy to cook, and the flavor isn’t bad, but I just didn’t get it.

So I happened to mention this feeling on Twitter a couple days later, and got a really sweet response from them. The problem is, I don’t know how they could improve. It’s not you, Beyond Meat, it’s me.

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned to SG that I was craving chicken fingers (weird, right?) and she showed up at my house with Beyond Meat chicken strips that she coated in gluten-free breadcrumbs and fried and served with chipotle mayonnaise. Yum. The texture of the breadcrumbs made the chicken strips more tolerable and the meal definitely hit the spot. So we had some leftover strips from that meal in the freezer and I decided to try something a little different last night.

If you're not roasting your broccoli, what are you doing with your life?

If you’re not roasting your broccoli, what are you doing with your life?

I started with sauteing six strips with some chopped garlic just until they defrosted and then added 1 cup of vegetable broth. I let them simmer until the liquid was absorbed/had boiled off and then let them cook a little longer to try to crisp them up.

I actually enjoyed the strips more once they absorbed some liquid – they weren’t as chewy or stringy. SG said the texture was more tofu-like, which probably means she didn’t like them as much. I served them with roasted broccoli and quinoa; I definitely need something to offset the texture of these strips. SG recommended cooking them in a cast iron skillet next time to get a crisper texture after the liquid cooks off. So…anyone have favorite Beyond Meat products or preparation techniques?