Vacation: New Orleans – The Vegan Experience

New Orleans is not a vegan city. However, there is veganism to be found–you just need to know where to look.

Click here for New Orleans Vegan photo album.

Prior to vacation, I prepped by watching vegan videos on the you tube. Specifically – the Vegan Roadie’s New Orleans review, which was very helpful.

It must be noted that the vegan in you will cringe when you see alligator paw key chains sold in the tourist shops, but that’s not what this post is about. Let’s talk about the food.

Restaurants

The restaurants we visited were:

The two big ones are Seed and Cafe Carmo. Both are musts. Simple. The vegan beignet is at Seed and for that alone you need to go.

Vegan Beignets at Seed
Vegan Beignets at Seed

Cafe Carmo has a really nice menu and their dishes are superb. Lot’s of local flavor, and they have book readings there. It’s a gathering spot for the conscious minded and has a great vibe too. I can’t compare or rank either restaurant, but Seed is fully vegan. That’s one point for them.

Dat Dog is on Frenchmen St. in the French Quarter. They offer a Field Roast hot dog. Just eat it. It’s delicious. Greatest hot dog ever.

Vegan Hot Dog at Dat Dog
Vegan Hot Dog at Dat Dog

Holy Crepes is in the French Market and has a vegan friendly menu. Vegan crepes – you read that right. And they are delicious of course.

But my favorite spot was The Gumbo Shop. No frills – just a really good vegetable gumbo, and a plate of black beans so authentic that will make any Cuban think they were back in Havana. Really — it was that good.

Black Beans and Rice at The Gumbo Shop
Black Beans and Rice at The Gumbo Shop

And I can’t forget to mention the Mac and Moon’s Macaroons at the Auction House Market – it’s a food mart that has vendors that have vegan friendly menu items, but more importantly, a fully vegan stand featuring vegan macaroons. And they serve bubble tea. There I tried their rolled ice cream as well. The macaroons were the clear winner.

Rouse’s supermarket is vegan friendly. They have a nice vegan section. And with regards to prepared foods, you need to try the brussels sprouts. Also check out the gumbo spice aisle–you’ll really dig that. I included it here because of they have an eating section – and did I mention their brussels sprouts?

Overall Impressions

It’s not Philly, and they have a long way to go. But—they have some great selections. And as veganism continues to grow, I’m sure more selections will pop up.

If I had to recommend one place, it would be The Gumbo Shop.

Oh – and spices they sell at Gumbo Shop are fantastic.

Vacation: New Orleans – The Tours and Museums

The tours in New Orleans are well worth taking. We took a ghost tour, a voodoo tour, the swamp tour, and a tour of the Whitney Plantation. And the museums are also great and affordable. We visited the WW2 Museum, the Jazz Museum, and the Voodoo Museum.

Tomb of Maria Laveau
Tomb of Maria Laveau

To view photo albums click on the links below

Whitney Plantation

If I were to recommend only one of these activities, it would be the Whitney Plantation. There are many plantation tours available, but this one is given from the from the perspective of enslaved peoples. If you don’t walk out with either tears in your eyes, or a huge lump in your throat, you have no soul.

They close the tour with an exhibition of the 1811 German Coast uprising. This uprising never took place – but it was planned. And the 50 people associated with planning the rebellion were found guilty, beheaded, and their heads were displayed on stakes alongside a roadway. Slave holders were ordered to bring their enslaved people to stand in front of a single head for an hour a day for a month, as a warning against planning a rebellion. The display had the heads of 50 people on a stick with their eyes removed, and name tags. Oh – and the worst part, the majority of them were ages 10-13. I was there with my girls, ages 12 and 15, looking at these kids as if they could be their classmates. This was raw and powerful.

1811 German Coast Slave Revolt - Whitney Plantation
1811 German Coast Slave Revolt – Whitney Plantation

We needed a chaser after this, so we went to Preservation Hall and heard some fantastic jazz. The girls said this was the best day of the trip, and I have to agree.

Voodoo Tour | Ghost Tour | Jazz Museum

Prior to this tour we we went on voodoo and ghost tours respectively. These tours actually helped lay the ground work for what to expect at the Whitney.

The ghost tour, for example, explained how deeply rooted Roman Catholicism is in the local culture. Why does this matter and why does this relate to the Whitney? Well, after enslaved peoples were given their freedom, four of them built a church to practice their faith. They didn’t want to use the slave bible, because that was whitewashed. This, by the way, is why people that descended from the institution of slavery do not practice the Roman Catholic faith–they simply can’t trust it. The church was a magnificently built church, and is the first black church. It’s still standing today on the Whitney, and the Whitney foundation is responsible for maintaining it—why? Because the state of Louisiana will not recognize it as a historical building. This is because only catholic churches only get this designation. Church and state anybody?

Also, the ghost tour covered the LaLaurie mansion in the French Quarter. Uhhhm—this is some uncomfortable stuff. The dude was a doctor and would practice and experiment on the people he had enslaved in his house. He was a really good doctor as legend tells us, but this means that there was a lot of uncomfortable experimentation going on. There is a story about enslaved people with body parts sewn on them from other enslaved people, looking like rag dolls or dangling marionettes. I’ll stop there.

This was a very cruel era in American history. And we learned that history sucks. These tours warmed us up for the Whitney – but nothing can prepare you for witnessing the cruelty depicted on the plantation.

The voodoo tour covered the origins of the voodoo faith and demystified it. Voodoo is a religion brought over from Africa and pays homage to elemental spirits, for example, fire, water, etc. To pray to these spirits, catholic saints were used and adopted as their gods, for example, Chango = Saint Barbara, or Santa Barbara in Spanish. Over time the religions intertwined. Interestingly, bad voodoo came in the form of poppet dolls from France that resembled voodoo dolls. In order to whitewash religion, the evil dolls became associated with practices of the enslaved people.

Sunday was a religious holiday and practicing Catholics took the day off, and therefore since slaveholders were not working, neither were enslaved peoples. Enslaved peoples were allowed to gather in specific park and practice religion, play music, and simply be together. This is the spot that created jazz. It is referred to today as Congo Square. All three tours touched up on this.

Back to the Whitney – there wasn’t really cultural gathering spot similar to Congo Square. Enslaved peoples probably stayed on the plantation on Sundays.

The voodoo tour also talked a lot about Marie Laveau–why she is famous, who she was, etc. We walked past her house, and her grave. The graveyard was interesting. The takeaway there was the economy of death created by the Roman Catholic church – death is serious business in New Orleans. We even saw Nicholas Cage’s grave. Interestingly enough, he was one-time owner of the LaLaurie house. While owning it he hit a string of bad luck. A voodoo priestess told him to get a plot next to Maria Laveau to reverse his fortune. All previous owners of this property experienced some sort of bad luck, this probably hast to do with the spirits alive in this place. It is now owned by a corporation, and as we all know, corporations are people too. Maybe this is a way of breaking this curse?

After having been on these tours, gumbo now has a different taste to me, and jazz sounds different. Okra is front and center in the dish, and in jazz–where I used to focus on piano, rhythm is central.

And speaking of jazz – they need a jazz tour.

At the jazz museum they had a display about Professor Long Hair. I never heard of him before. Now I know all about him. He had long hair and lived a difficult life. But he was one hell of a piano player.

Swamp Tour | WWII Museum

The swamp tour was just that. Alligators. But driving out there I was reminded of Waterboy and Bobby Bushay. The highways are built on a swamp, and houses are elevated. It was rather interesting to see. And it makes you wonder how much longer this state can exist.

Swamp Tour
Swamp Tour

World War Two museum was really good. The display walked you through the story of the war. It kind of brushed over the bombing of Japan and focused a lot on key victories. There was a display that showed all the fascist leaders that were responsible for the world. History has a way of repeating itself. There is a teaching moment here, and I used it to explain to the girls that similar things are happening today with the rise of fascist and autocratic leaders in key areas of the world. War is inevitable, especially with the looming recession and election cycle coming up. Only difference is, America doesn’t have the manufacturing capabilities to rescue itself this time around. We outsource everything. They walked away scared of that thought, as we all should be right now.

Anyway – back to the vacation – we also visited the voodoo museum. It’s a small museum in the middle of the French Quarter. It contains a lot of altars where one can make offerings, and a description of the displays and some historical artifacts. It is also a church. I got my cards read there with Madame Cinnamon Black. I’ll be alright according to the cards I drew and her interpretation of them.

Madame Cinnamon Black with Bernadette and Elizabeth
Madame Cinnamon Black with Bernadette and Elizabeth

Next time I go, I’d like to hit the vampire and pirate tour. Also – need to focus more on jazz. It’ll be a shorter trip.

My recommendation to anybody going though is that the Whitney is a must see.

 

Vacation: New Orleans

Last week I had the opportunity to take Bernadette and Elizabeth to New Orleans.

See photos here.

This was my first time going. I was warned against taking a trip to New Orleans in the middle of August. I went anyway – and if you’re going with a family, I’d suggest that this is the time frame to go in.

We did have some rain, but it served as a nice cold drink of water. It rained for like ten minutes each day, and when it stopped – the weather felt great.

It’s not pronounced New Orleens, it’s not pronounced, N’Awlins, it’s more like, Nw’Aarliins. There is a hard W in the word when those native to the area pronounce it. I will abbreviate it as NOLA for the rest of this post.

I tried to design the vacation to be a collection of experiences. And with that said, as a vegan, the food spots were identified up front, and the activities were loosely planned around the location of each restaurant.

Before I get started on describing the vacation, I should say that first and foremost, it really is a tourist city. The French Quarter (FQ) is all Airbnb’d, and those that remain in the FQ help facilitate the tourist economy that exists. It seems that the effects of Katrina are long reaching and NOLA will probably never recover. Two million people left the city after the storm. That’s crazy.

What to do

But with that said, the city is really good at tourism. There are plenty of tours for all ages – pirate tours, vampire tours, ghost tours, voodoo tours. It’s kind of difficult to choose from the array of tours. And if you decide on a ghost tour, you have to decide on which ghost tour you’d like to do. I went knowing I wanted to do tours, but I was taken aback by the variety and quantity offered.

Lodging

With regards to lodging, there are plenty of hotels, and of course, plenty of Airbnb’s. We stayed at an Airbnb for $67 a night. It had a great kitchen and it was directly between two vegan restaurants that were on the very short list of vegan eateries.

Transportation

Walking. It’s that simple. Taxi’s are per person – for example, to get from airport to where you are staying, it’s $15 per person. If you are planning a tour outside of the FQ, most likely, there is a tour bus or shuttle that will take you. Food, restaurants, shopping are all located in walking distance from where ever you are. No need to rent a car.

Our Schedule and Activities

Don’t want to make this post too long – so I’ll do a separate post on the tours and the food. But below is our schedule of what we did.

The links will take you to the photo album of the event.

Odds and Ends

We flew in and arrived to our Airbnb in a taxi. We asked the taxi driver about local supermarkets. He pointed us to Walmart and Whole Foods. Whole Foods it is. We settled, then called another taxi to take us to Whole Foods. He pointed us instead to the local grocery story, Rouse’s (I believe it’s called). There they had everything we needed including a food bar, and it was way cheaper than Whole Foods. The food bar had the best brussels sprouts I ever tried. One trip to the grocery store was all we needed for the trip. In retrospect, maybe we should have purchased another loaf of bread.

Regarding our Airbnb, it advertised that we had wifi, but we didn’t. And TV was dependent upon one’s ability to cast from a laptop or smart phone to the chromecast. Since we had no wifi – we had no tv. We didn’t have wifi until Wednesday. And still, even after we got wifi, we weren’t able to cast because I had to download apps and at that point I was just happy to have wifi. I got what I paid for. The company that provided the place was Sonder. They have Airbnb’s in most major vacation destinations, and position themselves as next level hotel. That’s great, but if I paid a bit more, I would have had TV. I won’t use them again.

The first day

We decided to walk into the French Quarter to familiarize ourselves with the city and to talk to locals about recommendations. As we were walking into FQ, which was about a 15 minute walk, we ran into very nice lady trying to sell time shares. Turns out because I was the only adult I didn’t qualify for the presentation, and couldn’t get the discounts for the tours at the other end of the presentation, but she gave me all the information I needed to structure the vacation for the rest of the week. Thanks.

Our mission was to head over to the French Market and get a vegan crepe, and get Bernadette a biegnet from Cafe Du Monde. CDM was on the way so we stopped there first. That was a serious line. Then off to the crepes. Yummy. That night we ate in. The crepes were really good. And because we had not TV, we picked up some books, which were all devoured by Thursday.

The route we took was simply up and down Decatour street, which is like an urban boardwalk. They were selling the same things in every store, and there were tour brochures on every corner.

The good

History. NOLA is known for debauchery and Mardi Gras. But beneath all of that is a history that makes all of that possible. It’s really worth visiting and taking in sites that will help piece that history together. It makes your time there so much more meaningful. If you’re interested in this, take tours that focus on historical context as opposed to gimmicky ones. Of course, you can always take the gimmicky ones. Understanding the history will put the food and music into perspective. For example, gumbo is the major food. A key ingredient to gumbo is okra. Do you know the origin of okra? Ahh – they covered that in the Whitney Plantation tour. Ladies used to put seeds in their braids as they were brought from Africa.

What about Jazz?

It was everywhere. NOLA is the birthplace of jazz. Still not sure why Utah’s basketball team is called the Jazz. Jazz as talked about in the voodoo tour we went on, as well as in the Whitney Plantation tour. We even swung by Congo Square. The birth place of jazz. Preservation Hall is a must. And honestly, just walk down Bourbon St. at any time during the day. It’s in the air in that city.

Veganing

It wasn’t as hard as it seems. Seed, Cafe Carmo, but most surprisingly, The Gumbo Shop. Rouse’s also had a nice vegan section in the grocery. And the food there was great.

The bad

Alligator claw keychains. These were every where. Alligator jaws. Why are these being sold?

Overall

It was fantastic. I would recommend going in August with younger children. It gets hot, but it isn’t crowded. Make sure you hit the Whitney. That is a must.

Vegan Thanksgiving Ideas

I’m preparing Thanksgiving meal for a lot of people this year. Normally I’ll do acorn squash dishes, which are cute, but for a lot of people it might be difficult, and might not make a good main for people accustomed to a grand centerpiece. So instead, I’m focusing on fall colors, and thinking of a collection of dishes a little closer to a traditional thanksgiving meal. For the centerpiece I might go with oven roasted cauliflower covered in a ginger tomato sauce surrounded by umami infused chickpeas. This will make a beautiful and delicious plant-based center. Oh, and yeah, can’t forget the chili. That will steal the show.

But the center is only one portion of the entire feast. There will be a variety of tastes and I’ll be cooking for non-vegans, so I need to think of comfort foods. Mac and cheese is a Thanksgiving comfort food. I’ve begun combing the interwebs for some recipes and here are two I found I’ll be experimenting with:

Regarding the second recipe, I’m interested in the pumpkin based goopy cheese. I think that has other applications.

I’ll let you know how they work.

 

 

 

 

 

Road trip to Pittsburgh

Just returned from a road trip to Pittsburgh, we were there to see the Arctic Monkeys. Driving from Media it was a long trip. Never realized how many trees Pennsylvania has. I didn’t count, but there are a lot – you’ll have to trust me on this.

The concert was fun. Although I’m not familiar with all of their songs, I feel I heard them all before somewhere–there music is instantly accessible and supremely catchy. I even bought a t-shirt that I will wear every now and then.

Had the opportunity to run through downtown Pittsburgh as well. It is a beautiful city. Trees and green are interspersed throughout in an organic way. I’d like to re-visit with some more time.

The road trip put Pennsylvania into perspective. Two football teams, one on each end of the state, and tons of green in between.

Back from Vacation

Recently visited Argentina for Spring break. We had a fantastic time, but it’s also great to be back. Below are some quick impressions on my experience there. I’ll have more to add in upcoming posts and photos are forthcoming.

Traffic

Traffic in Argentina is unbearable. A half hour drive in Buenos Aires can turn into a 2.5 hour exercise in patience. I like Septa (public transportation) – it’s relatively predictable and can be an easy scapegoat when late, as in Septa is having electrical issues again. But in Argentina, there really isn’t an excuse for being late. It’s just accepted, and I think traffic patterns have a lot to do with that.

Urban centers would benefit from having more bicycle lanes. Buenos Aires is flat and super congested. It can be a prime bike riding city. Making it more bike friendly would go a long way in taking some cars off the road. This is a quick fix that could go a long way.

Fruits and Veggies 

Fruits and vegetables taste the way they are supposed to taste. In the US, we get them imported, and by the time we get them they are frozen many times over. But there, an apple tastes like an apple, and carrots are wonderfully big and orange. And when cooked on a grill as in an asado, vegetables become the most delicious thing ever, especially onions.

Vegan in Argentina

It’s tough to be vegan in general, but in Argentina – wow, it’s really tough, especially for new vegans. In the US we are spoiled in that we can eat some foods from packages. There, mostly every packaged food (including potato chips) contains some form of milk. Tofu, tempeh, and plant based milks are all very hard to find. The fresh fruits are so good there, one can argue that packaged foods aren’t really necessary, however, if accustomed to comfort foods like Chao cheese, get ready for cravings. Oh, and no nooch!

I’ll post some photos of our trip to La Boca when I have a chance.

We also had an opportunity to visit La Ventana, which is a wonderful tango and gaucho show. Tango music is just lovely. Didn’t take any photos of that though, no cameras allowed.

Overall it was a blast. Thank you Argentina!

A Day at the Museum

Last month I took the girls to the Philadelphia museum. Here are the photos of the trip (Bernadette and Elizabeth deserve photography credits for these). My favorite wing is the modern wing, where they have Cy Twombly’s retelling of Homer’s Iliad, which uses a violent, and child-like approach to capturing the atrocities of war. It’s a magnificent piece. I’ve been to the museum often, but each time it’s better than the last. They do a great job of creating an atmosphere for the pieces they are showing, and recreating the time-period for some displays.

I leave you with an image of a happy cow.