Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Filipino + Vegetarian = Oxymoron...Or Does It?

The catalyst that set my Kind journey into motion was receiving The Kind Diet from my bff and her husband J, the last people on the planet I would ever expect to buy me a vegan cookbook.

Firstly, they're Filipino.

Secondly...actually, there really isn't any other reason. They're Filipino. 'Nuf said.

If you google "oxymoron" the first thing that comes up is Filipino Vegan.

When I point the finger in their direction and blame them for this vegan whirlwind, the bff throws her hands up in protest, claiming that she saw Alicia Silverstone on Oprah and knew I like shopping at Whole Foods and really just wanted me to make her the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.

Fair enough.

But here's the crazy thing. Little did I know, around the time I embarked on this Kind Journey, the bff's husband, J, started taking his own steps towards a Kinder, healthier lifestyle. Like I said, these guys are the last people I ever would have expected to buy me a vegan cookbook, so I could never in a gazillion years have envisioned J himself actually start moving away from eating meat...especially his beloved steak.

For one, he's Filipino.

Yes, we already covered that, but it bears repeating.

He's also the type to get a tad cranky when his red meat stores start depleting. Celebratory dinners out with these guys usually revolved around steak, and it's always been a bit of a risk heading out with them knowing that J hasn't had his steak fix in a while...the carnivore within can be an unpredictable beast if left unsatisfied, and until the steak arrives at the table, nobody is safe.

Yah, J really really loves his steak.

As Rob the Husband and I started flirting with The Plant, J would throw in some playful vegan digs here and there on Facebook...
"That cow had no chance. (sorry my vegan friends, I tried)" - Feb. 5

And when I posted a picture of  Petunia Piglet...
"Mmm... Sweet baby back ribs... You are not helping buddy" - Feb. 15

Then his FB status updates took a different turn, and I experienced the epitome of a WTF moment...
"21 days of Vegetarianism. Any day now I feel that I shall revert back to my carnivorous ways. The thirst for carcass might be too much to overcome... Please pray. For the cows." - Feb. 28

21 meat-free days? Hmmm...

I shrugged it off as a glitch in The Matrix or a shift in intergalactic planetary alignment causing radical behaviour in certain human lifeforms. The situation would surely adjust itself over time.

Then Hell froze over.
"101 days since the vegetarian lifestyle change. Energy up. Healing factor improved. Strength and endurance up. Dominate your day." - May 21

Seriously. Dubya Tee Eff.

J avoiding meat? That was like Homer Simpson avoiding donuts. Captain Jean Luc Picard avoiding Earl Grey tea. Transformers avoiding energon. Cookie Monster avoiding cookies...oh wait, Cookie Monster DID in fact tone down the cookie consumption in recent years. Perhaps there was hope after all.

When I talked to J about his meat-abstinence, he raved about how great he was feeling during his workouts and how much energy he had. He wasn't sure this was going to be a permanent thing, but in the meantime, it turned out Hell had in fact frozen over, and this meat free thing was working out awesome for him.

And then came Vegas.

We all knew it was coming. His wife's b-day in Vegas, the land of indulgence, populated by insanely delicious steakhouses all over the strip. Yes, it was only a matter of time...
"This 150-day vegetarian streak is seconds away from ending. Reverting back to my carnivorous days here in Sin City. Salivating as I write this post... Here we go!" - July 7

But wait...
"Could've had a juicy steak. But noooooo... I just had to have the eggplant parmigiana. Which was fraking amazing! Streak continues. Samussesses are proud. Joe will disown me as a friend. Stay tuned..." - July 8

J. In Vegas. Had option to order steak. Got eggplant instead.

Does. Not. Compute.

Something was holding him back. Something was keeping him from taking the plunge. Could it be that he knew how incredible The Temple that is his body felt after all these months not having to process the carcasses of land-dwelling animals? Could it be that he was a tad hesitant to contaminate The Temple after all this progress? Could it be that his palette had evolved an appreciation for The Plant?

Or could it be that he just hadn't gone to Craftsteak yet?

So for the bff's official birthday dinner, we did indeed go to Craftsteak.

Put up against 16 oz of Craftsteak rib-eye, The Plant didn't stand a chance...

I figured upon taking his first bite of cow carcass in 151 days, one of two things would happen...

Scenario A: J would find that his palette had changed and the steak didn't taste nearly as good as he remembered it.

This happened to Rob the Husband when he tried a Starbucks Double Shot about a month ago. He used to drink these daily and loved his fix of espresso and cream with a passion. After several months of living free from caffeine and dairy, he decided to try one again, and was seriously unimpressed flavour-wise. Plus he had an upset stomach for the rest of the day. I had the same unimpressive taste experience with feta cheese (which I used to ADORE) and my former favourite yogurt cookie from Evelyn's Cafe in Banff.

It's like watching reruns of Saved By the Bell and realizing it's just not quite as awesome as you remember.

No, scrap that. Saved By the Bell is still every bit as awesome as I remember.

Hmm...let's see then. It's like going to that restaurant you used to love when you were young because they had a buffet with a sundae bar, but now you realize that sundae bar is and has always been nothing more than watery soft serve, stale gummy bears, and sprinkles that are all mixed up together because people use one spoon for all the sprinkles even though there are three different kinds, resulting in sprinkle cross-contamination, where you get the rainbow ones mixed in with the chocolate ones and vice versa, and they get all stuck together because sometimes people use their own ice cream spoon to scoop the sprinkles, which is just gross, especially when they are coming back for seconds and you know that spoon has been in their mouth.

Scenario B: The steak would taste every bit as amazing as J remembered it, resulting in a transcendental, almost religious experience.

Well, in the case of J and his first steak in 151 days, it was Scenario B.

Dude really, really loves his steak. He savoured every bite of that Pittsburgh style chunk of cow flesh. 

See that smile? That's how I imagine I would feel eating a tub of Haagen Dazs. Though I have found some seriously delicious non-dairy ice cream alternatives (helloooo Purely Decadent Peanut Butter Zig-Zag), I need to be honest and admit that nothing tastes quite as awesomesauce as my Banana Split or Bailey's Irish Cream Haagen Dazs.  

J's smile was short-lived, however, as his digestive system brought him back to reality. It was a good thing he took the time to really become acquainted with each and every morsel of that rib-eye, because he'd be spending the next couple of days digesting it.  Shortly after finishing the steak he admitted that it wasn't sitting so great. He said he could almost feel the animal fat sticking to his insides, and he felt heavy and off. 

After dinner we continued the birthday celebration at David Copperfield (who was AMAYYYYYYYZING!!!!) and then met up with more friends at Gold Lounge, where the effects of the steak were really taking over...

The bff hadn't had meat in a while either, and wasn't feeling so good after her Craftsteak shortribs. 

The non-meat eaters, on the other hand, were feelin' just fine...

In all seriousness, my bff didn't even get on the dance floor for some birthday shimmying and we had to cut the celebratin' short because both of them genuinely weren't feeling well.  

Steak facepalm

And J's FB update that night?

"Broke the 151 day no-meat-streak today with a $51 dollar 16oz rib-eye prepared Pittsburgh style at Craft steak. It tasted great at the time...

Regretting it now...

Tum tum owie..."
- July 10 (1:39am)

I was instantly reminded of Skinny Bitch p. 123..."Chances are, because your body is now pure, the vice item will make you feel a little nauseous, or headache-y at the very least...Do not discount these negative feelings. They are your new, healthy, clean, pure organs speaking to you."

Go figure.

As expected, the steak stayed with him for a while...

"Oh fermenting..." - July 10

And our next dinner out (at La Cave) was a very different experience from the night before...

"Back to my 'vag'etarian ways..." - July 10

Indeed, it was a very different experience from the night before.
J even lost his Gardein virginity to Rob's Gardein with celery puree...and liked it.

He even bought some when we got back home...

Yes, I follow my bff and her husband grocery shopping all the time. Nothing wrong with that. 

Unfortunately, their home cooking experience with Gardein was not so great and J swore off pseudo veggie meats, but their Kinder and healthier lifestyle changes continue... 

‎"Released from the grip of certain foods, your body will begin to heal itself..." - July 24

Oh em gee he's quoting Alicia :)

Yes, the bff and J are officially flirting with a kinder and healthier lifestyle, and I'm having so much fun peeking in on their journey. From the delicious documentation of the bff's forays into Kinder cooking....

Parmesan creamed spinach and baked eggplant sandwiches

...to their 4 year old daughter's insightful observations...

"Mommy, this family doesn't eat meat anymore." 

...these guys are totally moving in a direction I never, Ever, EVER expected. And I am shocked and amazed and delighted by it. 

The thing is, when you figure this Kinder lifestyle out, it really is one of those things you want to jump up and down about and proclaim to the universe. You want everyone in the world to get on board, especially those you care about, because you know it's the direction we all need to head in, not just for our health and for the well being of billions of needlessly suffering animals, but for the sustainability of our planet. 

The truth is, we just can't keep up our current state of animal consumption. The Earth can't keep up. Moving away from animal products is simply evolution. So when I see people I love getting on board with making Kinder choices, of course I'm thrilled, because I know the earlier they figure it out, the better off they will be. 

Especially when the aforementioned people I love are the same people who unwittingly got me on board. 

I didn't see it coming. I'm sure they didn't see it coming.

I mean, come on, they're Filipino.

Just goes to show that with a little bit of motivation, perseverance and determination (yes, here comes the cliche), anything is possible. You just need to put your mind to it, go for it, possibly break a sweat. 

And knowing the motivation, perseverance, and determination of my fantastic bff and her fantastic husband, when it comes to their own Kind journey, I'm sure we ain't seen nothin' yet.

Oh Hot Sundae, how you remained a mere one hit wonder, I'll never figure out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vegan Vegas Vaycay

Ahhh Vegas. The land of crazy happenings. Where Michael Buble gets his food quicker than me and not betting max on a Wizard of Oz slot machine means the difference between winning $500.00 and $353,000.00.

But I'd rather not think about that. Moving right along...

Rob the Husband and I were thrilled to spend Weekend 24.0 in Vegas celebrating the bff's birthday. We knew eating Kind in Vegas was going to be a challenge, as practically all of the nicer restaurants there serve foie gras...even the ones that boast stellar vegan options.

Here comes the foie gras rant...ready...GO!

Foie gras is such an unnecessary, pointless, cruel product. There is just no humane way to force feed a duck with the intention of engorging its liver to ten times the normal size, and I can't fathom why any restaurant would feel the need to have it on their menu as a delicacy. Any talented chef shouldn't need to have such a controversial product blemishing his or her menu.

Rob and I have been boycotting foie gras for years now, avoiding eating at any restaurants that serve it. Unfortunately, it seems as though Every. Friggen. Restaurant. in Vegas serves it.

This was at Julian Serrano at Aria where we stayed. Some good looking vegetarian options on the menu, but come on, foie gras CREAM?


Lucky for us, Wolfgang Puck does not serve foie gras (yay!), and he has restaurants a plenty in Vegas. On our first night there (Friday 24.0), we met up with the bff and her husband at Lupo at Mandalay Bay. Rob had made resos earlier that day while we were waiting in a 90 minute border line up. He had inquired about vegan options when he called, and I guess they made a note of this, because our server was prepared with vegan suggestions that weren't on the menu.

Even the breadsticks guy advised us to stay away from the white bean dip for the breadsticks, as it was made with bacon fat. Lucky for us, the olive tapenade was animal product free, and the breadsticks were just goodtimes.

We have the same picture from her birthday in Whistler the year before.

We like breadsticks.

It was at this point that we realized Rob had left the sd card for our camera at home, so I didn't get a pic of my delicious beet salad (minus the cheese), but borrowed the bff's camera for my delicious pasta pic...

It was a lot prettier when they put it down in front of me before I ate half of it. Not a whole lot of selection when it came to vegan options here, but they were very helpful and knowledgeable and happy to oblige. And this pasta was seriously delicious.

Saturday 24.0

Rob was never a big buffet guy to begin with. He is a grazer, and doesn't eat much in one sitting, so buffets were never a smart option for him. They make even less sense for us now, considering we can't eat the majority of the food they set out, so we had totally written off the idea of buffet dining in Vegas. However, upon checking into Aria we were informed that we had two free buffet breakfast/lunches, and you can't beat free, so we gave it a go. 

The Aria buffet was a bit of a let down in the vegan option department, but like I said, it was free, and you can't beat free. The sushi was nice and the asian noodles were really good. We deliberately came for brunch instead of breakfast, because we knew we'd be screwed for vegan breakfast options. Oatmeal anyone?

This was our first buffet experience since crossing over to the vegan side, and it was hilarious watching people load up their plates with craploads of meat, totally disproportionate to what you would see at a sit down meal, just because they could eat as much of it as they wanted (and meat's the most expensive thing after all, so let's cram as much of it into our systems as we can...screw the salad).

I never used to gorge on meat when it came to buffets, but I'd definitely score an extra piece or two (or five...or eight) of bacon. It's just so weird seeing it now...makes me want to hand out a copy of Skinny Bitch with chapter 4 (The Dead, Rotting, Decomposing Flesh Diet) bookmarked to everyone with half a foot of meat piled up on their plates. Ahhh, the crazy vegan perspective.

We spent a lovely day shopping (hellooo Anthro)...

...went back to our room to soak my sore feet

(oh hello Anthro bag full of sale items)

...and met the bff and her husband J at Craftsteak for her birthday dinner.

Craftsteak is restaurant that I would normally avoid because of the foie gras, but it wasn't my choice and I wasn't going to miss my bff's b-day dinner,

so I saw eating there as an opportunity to be super nice and tip super well and then leave a pleasant suggestion about removing the FG from the menu.

It turned out that I had nothing to worry about, however, as I was very pleasantly surprised upon receiving the menu to see that the foie gras was nowhere to be found.

Now, I don't know whether they took it off temporarily or whether their menu changes seasonally or whether I was just stoopid and couldn't find it, but I was Soooo. Very. Happy. to see that it wasn't on there. Score.

J was especially excited to be at Craftsteak because he was going to be breaking his 6 month meat-free streak. And break the streak he did...but that story deserves a blog post all its own :)

With the arrival of our lovely vegan friend Mags and the pescetarian Aquaman, we ended up with a 1:1 vegan ratio at our table.

Was this carnivorous steakhouse up to the challenge? Indeed they were...

Because the menu here is a la carte, we were prepared going in to just order a few sides and try to make it work, but they offered a vegetarian platter (easy to veganize by eliminating the butter), which put together a sampling of a whole bunch of their sides, allowing more variety on each plate. And it was delicious.

The chef himself came out after our meal to say hello, and he mentioned that they get a ton of requests for the vegetarian platter, explaining that everything on it is selected to provide a range of tastes and textures to keep it interesting. Swell.

The sorbet for dessert was swell too.

We also had sorbet at Lupo the night before...seems like sorbet is the default vegan dessert option of choice for most restaurants. Lovely though it may be, it does get redundant.

All in all, 'twas a swell night. Dinner was lovely, David Copperfield was crazy amazing, Gold Lounge was goodtimes, and gambling into the wee hours of the morning was cut off prematurely by the realization that we had to wake up for church in the morning.

Sunday 24.0

Brunch buffet again...this time at Luxor.

They had a few vegan options...you know...hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush...it filled us up.

 I was pleased to see bok choy there. Yay greens.
But now confession time. I effed up. Big.

Worse than cheating with the Millenium Falcon. Worse than my Cali roll faux pas.

I ate meat.

See that brown stuff at 1:00, upper right corner, between the rice and salad? I thought it was bean adobo.

No. It wasn't.

Stupid beef and bean starting with the same letter.

Anyhoo, after a day of watching Lion King and shopping (during which I bought a hairshirt to wear as punishment for accidentally eating the beef adobo...until I realized hairshirts aren't vegan), we met up with our troupe for dinner again, this time at La Cave at Wynn. We knew we wanted to eat at Wynn because of its vegan initiative (yay Steve Wynn going vegan!), but a lot of their restaurants still serve foie gras, so Rob sourced one out that did not have it on the menu, and had a variety of creative vegan options.

Salt Roasted Beets, Vegan Cheese, Pistachio

Mushroom Tortellini, Arugula, Tomato "Cream" Sauce (soooo good we ended up ordering two)

Fiery Artichoke, Roasted Red Pepper, Olives, Marinara Flatbread

Gardein with Celery Root Puree, Lemon Caper Sauce

Great food. Huge table.

My only complaint about La Cave is their complete lack of vegan desserts. I mean, if you boast a menu with great vegan options, why the hell wouldn't you offer vegan dessert options? Even Lupo and Craftsteak at least had sorbet. This place had Nothing. 

Wynn dining verdict: Huge Win for dinner. Epic Fail for dessert. Would go back in a heartbeat.

Monday 25.0

Our last day in Vegas...yay cabana rental at Liquid! Our own pool and they bring the food and drinks to us...does it get much better? I think no.

My apple and endive salad...subbed out the cheese and subbed in a lemon vinaigrette. Heaven.

Speaking of heaven...

Yah, I could stay here forever.

Alas, 'twas not to be. We had to say farewell to our friends and head on over to the airport (after Rob surprised me with my Stella Falabella), where we got fb updates about their beautiful, classy, amazing dining experience at Sensi

...while we too had what I'm sure was an equally classy, amazing dining experience at the airport...

Sensi could easily be one of my favourite restaurants in the universe if if wasn't for the stupid Sonoma Foie Gras on their menu. Because my friends are awesomesauce, beautiful people, they thought of the ducks during their dining experience there and took the opportunity to plant a Kind seed...

Love them :) The ducks love them too.

Our Vegan Vegas Vaycay ended off on a pleasant yet unexpected vegan note. Rob went to get some snacks for the plane, and came back with vegan cookies from a smoothie bar. Go figure.

And they had a nice little message to go with them:

I agree with the cookie wholeheartedly.