Sunday, August 19, 2018

Vegan in CT

I’ve lived in four cities since graduating from college, so I’m pretty good at doing the moving thing.  I have my own personal stash of boxes into which the contents of my apartment fit perfectly.  I’ve mastered the moving “hacks”— including using socks to protect my glassware and dish towels and t-shirts to wrap the dishes and picture frames.  And I can quickly navigate the process of setting up utilities, changing my address, and setting the cats up with a new vet.  The worst part is usually dealing with the DMV—I always end up going back more than once because I’ve overlooked a small detail on the forms—gah! 

Moving also means figuring out where I’ll eat in my new city.  Brooklyn had been a series of dichotomies—vegan restaurants proliferated, but there were also plenty of places which were definitely NOT veg-friendly.  There are certainly less vegan options in CT than in Phoenix, Boston, or NYC.  But I’ve found that there is a thriving veg community spread across The Nutmeg State!  The Happy Cow app and Vegan Connecticut Facebook page keep me in the know.  There’s also a wonderful event called Compassionfest held in Hamden twice per year, where all the vegans unite to eat and buy cruelty-free products.

If you’re in town and looking for a veg-friendly restaurant, here are some recommendations:

West Hartford
-Flora – a plant-based restaurant with especially tasty desserts!
-India – the menu indicates which items are vegan and gluten free!
-Zohara – several items which are vegan or can easily be made vegan with a few adjustments.

-The Spot Coffee Shop- there’s a yummy quinoa salad on the menu!
-bar taco – a few choices which are vegan or can be made vegan, and the servers are great about it.
-Black Bamboo – there’s a vegan section on the menu!

New Haven
-Lena’s CafĂ© – there’s a vegan vegetable salad with lots of avocado!
-Claire’s Cornercopia- it took me about 10 minutes just to read through the extensive vegetarian menu.  The black bean soup was phenomenal!

-Ion—awesome menu with a full vegan bar and terrific desserts!

-Bloodroot—these lovely ladies run a vegetarian restaurant and feminist bookstore right on the water.  There’s also a cat who moseys around!

-21 Oak—a small restaurant with phenomenal food


-B.Good – chain with quite a few vegan options on the menu

-Bareburger – reminds me of B.Good.  They even have vegan milkshakes!

Grab a meal at one of these places if you're in the area, and stay tuned as I embark on Year 2 here-- because for the first time in three years, those boxes are not being put to use this summer!

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Aretha Franklin: Respect

Saturday, August 18, 2018


This June marked my 8-year veganniversary!  Way back in 2010, shifting to a vegan lifestyle was a major change for me.  I was addicted to dairy and definitely a picky eater.  On one occasion my friends took me to a vegetarian restaurant and I couldn’t find anything on the menu that I was willing to try.  So when I announced that I was going vegan, it was a shocker-- on the surface level.  When I think about it, though, it actually made a lot of sense.  I come from a family of animal lovers.  I had been deeply disturbed by the idea of eating meat my entire life, and I found cooking with raw meat particularly unsettling.  I was picky because I’d found what I liked to eat within my limited horizons—I had not been exposed to vegetarian options growing up on Long Island or in college, where vegans and vegetarians ate salad and pasta in the dining hall at Providence College in the early 2000's.  Vegetarianism, and definitely veganism, seemed like a strange world where people ate tofu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Then I started reading about animal cruelty.  My roommate had a copy of The Kind Diet, which I devoured.  I then went through The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Becoming Vegan, and Skinny Bitch in rapid succession, crying as I learned about the abuse and slaughter of pigs, chickens, cows, and other animals in the food industry.   I immediately went vegetarian, and then transitioned to veganism over the next 3 months.
Everyone had an opinion.
My mom was super concerned:
                “What will you eat?”
                “You’re going to become malnourished.”
Friends poked fun:
                “Natalie will be having a glass of water for dinner tonight.”
My students were confused:
                “Are you trying to lose weight?  If you turn sideways, we won’t be able to see you!”
I knew that people would have various reactions, but didn’t realize it would be such a problem for some, and that my lifestyle would become the center of conversation at lots of meals over the following years—that for some reason, people felt the need to explain why they had to eat meat, and then proceed to eat lots and lots of meat in front of me.  Was this a subconscious effort to negate my veganism by digging their heels in as omnivores?  I do not know.

The first vegan dinner I attempted to cook was awful. It involved Earth Balance, lima beans, and corn.  I thought to myself, either vegan food is really bad, or I’m not very good at this—or both.  Shortly after that, I tried to make a vegan chocolate peanut butter cake for my roommate’s going away party and it resembled two giant pancakes slathered with some kind of lumpy chocolate ganache.  It tasted good, despite the presentation!  A step in the right direction!  I remember spending hours in the kitchen of my Phoenix apartment (listening to Ani DiFranco) and learning how to cook vegan dishes that summer.  It was food I had never tried before, but which was delicious and didn’t leave me feeling disgusting, physically or fundamentally. 

Things have changed substantially since then.  While it’s my regular routine to review the menu before I go to any restaurant, many more establishments offer vegan dishes, and label them as such on their menus!  That little v-in-a-heart vegan (be still my vegan heart!) symbol is appearing on many more food packages.  There are tons of varieties of non-dairy ice cream and milk to be found at regular grocery stores, not to mention Amy’s products and vegan chocolate.  Those Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups are popping up everywhere!  I can walk into Stop&Shop and find cruelty-free and vegan shampoo.  These products were just not widely available when I started on this road.  Also, more people are choosing veganism.  Last week I was at a work event and found myself talking with TWO other vegans as we picked up our boxed lunches.  I’d become so used to being the only vegan—I wasn’t sure this day would ever come!

Since going vegan, I have lived in four cities and traveled to many more, having lots of adventures exploring the vegan options in each.  I’ve attended vegetarian food festivals and met others who’ve committed themselves to a cruelty-free lifestyle.  I’m not malnourished—in fact, I’ve run three half marathons!  I’ve become a pretty good vegan chef, hosting dinner parties for friends, and cooking vegan Thanksgiving dinner every year.  The chocolate pancake-cake is a thing of the past—it’s now my dream to open a vegan bakery!  And I have a niece who, at dinner, looks around the table and frankly states—“Aunt Natalie does not eat meat”—because it’s no longer a big deal.  Embodying compassion for animals—in the foods I eat and the products I buy— has made my life more fruitful (literally and figuratively), and I’m eager to see veganism become more mainstream over the next 8 years.

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Ariana Grande: "God is a Woman"

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Brooklyn, the Resistance, and Vegan Food

I went out and ran five miles this morning, which is my farthest since June.  I'll be running the Brooklyn Half in May, which I'm excited about, and I've got to get back at it if I'm going to finish that race!  I've been rather down in the dumps since the election, and spending a lot of spare time reading up on the news.  There are some really terrible things going on, and I'm not making the world any better by sulking.  And so I run.  And resist.  

Brooklyn is a liberal enclave, and people are making their voices heard.  This morning I went to buy a vegan muffin and the bakery was taking donations for Planned Parenthood.  It's not surprising to see something like that at a vegan establishment, so before I tell you about some of my favorite vegan joints here in Brooklyn, I suggest that, if you are looking for like-minded liberals to hang around, particularly in these challenging times, that you befriend some vegans.  And while you're at it, just go vegan.  Isn't it, at its essence, a refusal to accept and participate in violence against the innocent and the notion that some beings are superior and more deserving of basic welfare and ultimately life?  Just think about it.

Brooklyn.  So many places for a vegan to choose from.  I'm just dipping my toes in the water.  Here are a few of the places I love so far.

I'm designating myself a vegan ice cream connoisseur, because I don't know anyone else who spends as much time eating vegan ice cream or scoping it out.  So when I say that Van Leeuwen makes the best vegan ice cream, it is not a statement I make lightly.  It is so rich that one must savor every spoonful.  It is just not the type of ice cream that you scarf down.  For one thing, it's not cheap.  Besides that, the ingredients are the finest-- coconut cream and cashews are at the base of every flavor.  And the flavors!  The last time I walked in, the nice man had me sample butternut squash and berry cobbler, and I wanted to try them all!  I've had cookie dough, salted caramel, and the berry cobbler, and they were all to die for.  Oh, and there's an ice cream truck, too.  And they sell the ice cream in the grocery stores around town.  Come to Brooklyn just for Van Leeuwen ice cream.

I came here on a Sunday for brunch and I would like to return to try a few more of the dishes.  It looks like they have some nice choices for dinner.  In terms of brunch, my mom had pancakes and I had a burrito minus the wrap, and both were tasty.  They also have a full bakery with all sorts of cheesecakes and baked goods displayed in the front.  I tried the banana bread and, while it was good, I wasn't blown away by it.  There's a really nice bookstore next door, which is worth checking out for the children's books.

I brought some non-vegans here for brunch because the menu had a good mix of vegan and non-vegan items.  We loved the place.  It was much more spacious than some of the other places in the neighborhood, so bringing my niece in a stroller was not a problem.  The food was so fresh and delicious.  It seems like you should arrive early if you want to try the vegan french toast, because they were all out by the time we arrived.  Darn.  I had a vegan burger with some fantastic fries, and my sister and her fiance both had the roasted pear salad and the Vietnamese rice salad.  I will definitely be going back to try some of that vegan french toast.

I hesitate to even mention this place because it's my absolute favorite and I don't want everyone to find out about it.  I go here pretty frequently, and there a number of delicious veg-friendly items on the menu, including two types of falafel wraps or salads, chickpea stew, and some really really yummy smoothies.  Oh, and the brussel sprouts.  I dream about those brussel sprouts.  They always have great music playing, too.  I just love it.  Part of the reason I haven't tried out more restaurants is that I'm always eating here.  

It was here that I tasted the most perfect banana bread I've ever eaten.  I also had the gluten free carrot walnut muffin, which was good, but not like the banana bread.  They've got a bunch of tables and a nice little sandwich menu.  I've been meaning to try their potato salad.  Next time.

Alright, this one isn't in Brooklyn, but I had to throw it on the list.  Chef Coscarelli is my vegan role model, so clearly I had to try her place in the Village.  And I feel it's completely legit to include By Chloe on this list, because there will soon be a location opening up in Williamsburg.  It's definitely a vegan fast food joint, and I guess everyone else was just as excited about it as I was, because the place was packed.  We had to stalk people to get a seat-- so I mean packed.  My brother and I chose the guac burger with sweet potato fries and some kind of flavored lemonade.  The food was good, keeping the idea of fast food in mind.  The fries were pretty salty.  I would go back to try some of the other items.  Chloe's bakery, Sweet, is also located next door to that location, but we were too full and exhausted from the stress of the experience to venture in.

Also not located in Brooklyn, there's really no excuse for having it on this list other than that the baked goods are fantastic.  It was the first vegan and gluten-free bakery in NYC and Babycakes was one of the first vegan cookbooks I bought.  I think my brother and I had one of everything- so I can tell you that the cupcakes, banana bread, doughnuts, and brownies are splendid.  Oh, and they have vegan soft-serve.  I didn't have room left, but it must be wonderful.  

That's all for now.  Updates on Williamsburg coming soon.

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Lady Gaga- "Million Reasons"
I'm in love with this album.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

On Being Vegan in NYC

I'm sitting at my desk, cat sleeping in my lap, snow streaming out of the sky and coating the neighborhood below in Brooklyn.  It seems like a good afternoon for writing.  I haven't done this in awhile.  Everything that took place this year took me away from writing.  It was a challenging year. I moved away from Boston in the summer, took a new job, moved closer to my family.  I'm still figuring out how to live in NYC.

I've lived in a few cities now, and I would define New York as both good and bad for vegans, depending on where you are and whom you are with.  Let me clarify.  There are plenty of great vegan restaurants, bakeries, and even a bar-- that I know of.  I've read about most of them, but I haven't even hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of exploring here.  On the other hand, it seems like less people that I encounter here understand what being vegan means-- which is very surprising to me.  I think I assumed that since Brooklyn is a very "blue" area, people would be more progressive in their thinking.  At work, when lunch is ordered, I have been presented with a sandwich including cheese multiple times.  Someone asked me if I would eat a meal that included meat if the meat were picked out.  Maybe I need to spend more time in Williamsburg.  Veganism is definitely more mainstream than when I started this thing almost seven years ago.  It could be that while there are more veg-friendly spots popping up everywhere, the average non-vegan just doesn't frequent those establishments.  Who knows.  The last thing, which is a personal challenge, is that there are so many of the delightful foods that I grew up eating-- Italian food and pastries, for example-- surrounding me-- and they are definitely not vegan!  I guess it was easier when I was living in Phoenix and Boston, and the pizza was sub-par (sorry, it's true).  

When I moved to Boston I was surprised by how many wonderful vegan options were available, and I grew to love them all-- especially Fomu ice cream.  I vow to use the next few months discovering vegan Brooklyn, and reporting back here.  

And in case you were wondering, the first vegan joint I visited was the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck.

Onward and upward.

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Sia - "Elastic Heart"

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Vegan-Friendly Lifestyle Changes

Today three different people approached me at work and asked for advice about healthy lifestyle changes for the new year-- related to a vegan-friendly diet and reaching fitness goals.  I felt super flattered and also inspired to actually write in this blog after a bit of  a hiatus.  I do think  that going vegan is the best thing  you can do for your own  health and the well-being of  animals and the planet as  a whole.  That being  said, if you don't think you're able or willing to take the full plunge just yet, making some small changes in your daily life and the way you eat are definitely steps in  the right direction.  I've been vegan  for close to six years, and while the rest of my family has not adopted this lifestyle, they have made some considerable veg-friendly shifts which I think others can do as well.

Small Shifts

Non-Dairy Alternatives
The case to stop drinking dairy milk is strong  Switch from cow's milk to one of the many other delicious options carried by most regular grocery stores.  I prefer almond milk, but if you're concerned about the amount of water used to grow almonds and the ongoing drought in California, there are definitely plenty of other choices.   Take your pick: soy, coconut, rice, flax, hazelnut, hemp, quinoa, and cashew milk each have their own distinct flavor and texture.  Soy and almond milk come in a variety of flavors, sweetened and unsweetened-- I prefer vanilla.  It's great in cereal, smoothies, baked goods-- you name it.

Earth Balance
Substitute it for butter.  It's made with natural and organic ingredients, and unlike margarine, does not contain  hydrogenated oils-- which means no trans fat.  My family spreads it on Italian bread and bagels and uses it for baking all kinds of delicious treats, vegan and traditional.   It can be expensive in some stores, so you will want to scope out the prices in your area.

Dark Chocolate
My family is obsessed with chocolate. My mom has made the shift to Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips, which do not contain  any dairy.  The company itself does not endorse these as vegan, but they make my cut.  Dark chocolate has many health benefits-- it contains anti-oxidants and I've read that it can even  improve brain  function.  There are also many brands of fair trade chocolate, including Endangered Species, Fair Trade, Green and Black, Divine, and Taza (out of Boston!).  I would not be vegan if I could not each chocolate, and luckily these brands are widely available in stores like Whole Foods, Shaw's, Stop & Shop, and  Target.

Healthy chips with hummus or salsa replace cookies and other unhealthy snacks.  Do you know how many healthy chips are on shelves these days?  Processed foods are not great, but I would  venture to say that most of us are not going to renounce ALL of them any time soon, so chips from Food Should Taste Good, Stacey's, Beanitos, and other healthy brands can replace yucky snacks like Cheetos.


Vegan-friendly breakfasts have never been much of a challenge for me when I'm eating at home.  I eat cereal with almond milk and fruit every morning.  Vegan cereals include Chex, Cheerios, Quaker Oat Squares, Bear Naked granola, and Kind granola.  You will want to make sure that you are choosing a cereal which isn't loaded with sugar.  I usually go with a plain cereal like Chex and mix in  a bit of banana nut Bear Naked granola and some fruit-- which is a wonderful start to the day.

I'm pretty into sandwiches.  Peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread (some brands do contain milk) is a very easy vegan lunch.  I also frequently make "salad sandwiches," which involves spreading hummus on one side of the bread, avocado on the other, and putting everything that I would include in a salad in between: spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, and bell peppers.  I typically make a huge mess while eating this, but what else is new.

There are tons of easy veg-friendly recipes online.  If you have Pinterest, do a search and create a board.  I wrote a post a while back about easy vegan dinners.  My family often eats the diced veggies and quinoa dish for dinner.  Since then I've become a fan of the book One-Dish Vegan, which includes lots of easy dishes.  I also enjoy this easy Italian Orzo Spinach Soup.  Try a veg-friendly meal a few nights per week!  Cook a big meal on Sunday night and eat leftovers throughout the week!

Eating healthy or choosing veg-friendly options doesn't mean eating "rabbit food" or sacrificing flavor.  In fact, it's about enjoying better food which makes you feel energized, satisfied, and ready to tackle your new year's fitness goals (more to come on that later)!  Making a few small changes in your diet is pretty darn simple, so you don't have to be intimidated by the idea of adopting a full vegan lifestyle.  One thing  at a time!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

An Ode to Root

Recently my favorite vegan joint in the Greater Boston area shut down.  There was no warning or explanation-- just boarded up windows one day in August signifying the end of Root Allston.  Maybe there is something about this location which does not bode well for vegan establishments, for the same thing happened with Peace o'Pie when I first moved to town in 2012-- here today, gone tomorrow.  Only I didn't care so much about Peace o'Pie because I'm not very partial to faux cheeses.  Root was my fave for a number of reasons, and I spent lots of meals there with family and friends over the years, from Taco Tuesdays to vanilla or pumpkin pancakes on the weekends.  I ate there with my parents after I successfully ran my first half marathon.  Sometimes I popped in for an LA wrap or some of the hand cut fries with homemade ketchup.  Oh, and the sweet potato home fries! Wah.

There's a new vegan cafe called Whole Heart Provisions opening in place of Root.  I will give it a try, but unless they will have pumpkin pancakes this fall, I'm not sure it will live up to Root.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Semi-Vegan Baby Shower

My niece, Philomena, is one month old.  When my sister was about 8 1/2 months pregnant, during the dreadful winter of 2015, I threw her a baby shower with mostly vegetarian/vegan food for lunch.  My sister is not vegan, so it didn't make sense to host a shower with all of my favorite foods.  I did my best to be fair.

The Theme
You are My Sunshine - the decorations were yellow, and included sunflowers, lemons, and some handmade items I created during the many snow days I spent pent up in my apartment

The Menu
-Trader Joe's sparkling lemonade
-Hummus and pita bread
-A variety of vegan and traditional wraps from the bagel store where our dad works
-Chef Chloe's Artichoke Pesto Crostini
-My mom's famous spinach pie

-A traditional cake
-Vegan coconut-lemon cupcakes

coconut lemon cookies with a packet of sunflower seeds

The Pictures