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A vegan B&B and other adventures

Mark and I were invited to an open house at The Wildlife Center of Virginia this Saturday and decided to make a weekend out of it. The Wildlife Center is in Waynesboro, which is not terribly far from Charlottesville, which I’ve always wanted to explore. We got to see their hospital facility and then meet their non-releasable, resident animals. We weren’t allowed to see any of the patients, of which they see between two and three thousand a year. But it was cool to see where my parents’ money goes (Mark requests a donation to this place from my parents in lieu of Christmas gifts each year).

I thought this kestrel was just adorable!

Many of the other people at the open house were eagle fans. In addition to several other eagle patients, the center is raising several eaglets from the Norfolk Botanical Garden that were orphaned when their mother was tragically killed by an airplane, and most of the visitors have been watching them grow on the center’s eagle cam. We weren’t able to see these eagles, but we did see a couple of non-releasable eagles, such as this guy.

They also have a lot of owls. You might as well know now that I am totally fascinated by owls.

After visiting the Wildlife Center, we drove about 40 minutes east to a town (if you can call it that) called Schuyler, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where out in the middle of nowhere (we had absolutely no cell phone coverage at all) there is a most exciting establishment: a completely vegan bed & breakfast! The White Pig is a B&B and animal sanctuary, specifically for potbellied pigs. It’s a beautiful restored farmhouse:

The innkeeper, Dina, and her husband raise pigs they have rescued. I wish we had stayed two nights instead of one because we did not manage to find time to explore the farm or even see the pigs: we’re definitely going to have to go back. We DID see numerous non-living pigs. My friend Pig was right at home!

It’s a very interesting – and very wonderful – feeling to be staying in a place, especially one so remote, where everything is vegan, including the toiletries. There is even a “no meat on the premises” policy! I don’t generally feel unwelcome when I stay in a “normal” hotel or inn, but let me tell you, I felt damn welcome here! The back of the house:

An old barn next to the house:

Smark being silly:

After settling into the White Pig, Mark and I drove about half an hour into Charlottesville, looking for dinner. We found Lemongrass, a cute little Vietnamese/Thai place near the University of Virginia that had vegan meals noted on the menu. I noticed that some of the things marked vegetarian but not vegan were almost definitely really vegan as well, and in fact, asked about the tofu summer rolls, which fell into that category. Our waitress said I was right that the menu was sometimes wrong about the vegan items and checked with the kitchen to verify the summer rolls were also vegan.

I had the Orange-Tamarind Tofu, which was really good.

Mark had the Cashew Seitan. Let me tell you how Mark felt about the cashew seitan. None of the meals marked vegan were also marked spicy (although as I said, I believe several, if not all, of the vegetarian dishes may really be vegan), so when we ordered I asked them to bring us the selection of “hot stuff” you usually find at Thai restaurants, so we could spice them up. They didn’t remember to bring the hot stuff out, but Mark – the boy who will literally pour an entire bottle of Tabasco sauce over just about anything I serve him, and I cook fairly spicy to begin with – informed me the cashew seitan was so delicious it didn’t need hot sauce. I couldn’t refrain from stealing half of it from him, either.

Later that night we stopped by Whole Foods (I can’t decide if the Charlottesville store is bigger than my local store in Fairfax, or vice versa, but it’s pretty huge) and picked up some Sheese and crackers, which we ate sitting on the porch of the White Pig, drinking the vegan red wine and eating the vegan chocolates we’d been left, and gaping at the stars, which we don’t ordinarily get to see unobstructed by city and suburban lights.

The next morning we went down for breakfast and found two yogurt granola parfaits waiting for us, which I forgot to take a picture of, but which were delicious. Then it was time for blueberry pancakes, which Mark informed me were better than my pancakes. They were. The only time I ever cook breakfast is when Fortinbras is over and demands that I make him pancakes (he can be a bit demanding). So starting what promised to be a long day with a perfectly cooked homemade breakfast was delicious and wonderful. It was also so weird to be able to eat breakfast food while out! So weird that at first Mark avoided buttering his pancakes because we’re so used to just assuming we can’t do that. I had to remind him we could eat everything!

I also ordered box lunches from the innkeeper for us, which I didn’t photograph. They included “chicken” salad sandwiches, which Mark didn’t love because he’s not a fan of mayonnaise, but which I thought were really good. We packed up the car, including the lunches, and were off to Monticello, home of our third president and a prominent founding father, Thomas Jefferson. I’ve always wanted to see Monticello and it lived up to my expectations. Although it was sweltering (95 degrees!), it was just lovely. We had some time before the tour, which I had booked earlier, and stopped into the cafe, where they serve food made with produce grown in Jefferson’s garden, and I was shocked to find a vegan wrap available, although I didn’t buy it since we had our box lunches. I tell you, I barely feel weird any more as a vegan! The world is beginning to find me normal!

Not much else really has to do with veganism or even animals in the rest of this post, but I’ll share a few photos because Monticello is simply breathtaking, and well, it is Independence Day!

The house itself:

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house, but the kitchen is not actually in the house (!), so I can show you that:

Part of Jefferson’s beloved garden – he was a huge fan of vegetables and in fact introduced several of them to our country:

I’m telling you, it is ridiculously pretty:

I had never seen a blooming artichoke before:

A random view from the grounds:

Another:

We had a really great weekend. I highly recommend that any of you in the DC metro area make a weekend trip to the White Pig, and if you haven’t seen it (and even if you have), Monticello. In fact, any of you who plan to visit DC from other areas may want to consider including this as a side trip. Charlottesville and Monticello are just over two hours from DC, as is the White Pig. After a few days battling crowds, traffic, and the general unpleasantness that is DC, believe me, you will cherish a night or two in a serene setting, especially one that’s all-vegan!

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Random Product Reviews

A few weeks ago, I visited my favorite store, Super H and picked up a couple of interesting products, which I have taken the time to review for your edification. I’ve noticed that a lot of food bloggers seem to receive free products that they in turn review on their blogs. I’ve never received any free products. So I have to resort to buying bizarre items in the grocery store and reviewing them. Life is tough, my friends.

First up is my personal favorite:

Meatless Spaghetti Sauce with Pickled Cucumber! Because WHY NOT?

This was a tiny can and I feared there would not be enough for two so I chose to try this product on an evening when Mark was not dining with me. Because what if it was so awesome I didn’t want to share?!?

First impression upon opening the adorable little can? Well, that it resembled cat food, to be honest.

I didn’t let that deter me, however, because Brachtune really likes cat food and she seems pretty discerning, so I figure maybe she’s on to something.

To prepare this exotic dish, I removed the contents of the tin to a microwaveable bowl and heated it for a few minutes.

I then spooned it over some prepared pasta.

My thoughts? Well, that it was pretty disgusting, actually. It was greasy and weird and oddly sweet, and after considering Brachtune’s culinary opinion a little further I remembered that she considers plastic bags and her own butt to be great delicacies, so I decided that an uncanny resemblance to cat food wasn’t necessarily an indicator of good grub after all. However, I did consider the possibility that Meatless Spaghetti Sauce with Pickled Cucumber is a great idea, just one that does not translate well to canned versions. So I whipped up my own version of the same using chopped homemade seitan, cucumber relish, and chili paste …

… which I also served over pasta.

This, with its significantly lower amounts of oil and sugar – yes, sugar! – was an improvement on the canned stuff, but I still found it in my best interests to defrost a frozen pesto cube and toss it with the remainder of the pasta for the rest of my meal.

Next up, Soy Pudding. Great for dessert!

We don’t usually eat dessert unless we have company, but I was feeling a bit peckish after dinner tonight and, recalling that the Soy Pudding I bought at Super H was about to expire, I figured there was no time like the present to try it out. My original plan was to throw away the syrup it came with because it contained high fructose corn syrup and make my own ginger-flavored topping, but at the last minute I decided that would be cheating. The syrup comes in a little packet taped to the pudding tub, which is pretty classy.

I didn’t expect this one to be too bad, quite frankly. It’s really just soft tofu – how bad can it be? And I like ginger, so despite the fact it’s made with high fructose corn syrup, how bad could that be?

Mark’s a lot more squeamish than I am, however, and I’m going to tell you right now he went into this venture with a bad attitude.

I can’t help but think that if he’d cleared his mind of any prejudices against tofu for dessert this would have gone over better with him.

He valiantly tried a bite in an attempt to be supportive of my efforts to bring you unbiased product reviews.

But I’m afraid he ultimately issued an unfavorable review of Soy Pudding.

As for me, I found it much more palatable than the spaghetti sauce, but also to taste very much like tofu drizzled with ginger-scented high fructose corn syrup. I think I’ll stick to chocolate.

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Chinese-Style Orange "Beef"

I usually go to Trader Joe’s about once a month and stock up on stuff. Last night was a Trader Joe’s night. I found a new product: “Beef-Less’ and “Chicken-Less” strips (I assumed I’d be able to find a link for you but alas, no) in the produce department and decided to pick up a package of each for making quick dinners after late nights at work. And somehow the very next night became just such a night. I got home around 8 and wanted to make something fairly fast, so I broke out the “Beef-Less” strips and threw together an “orange beef” stir-fry. Ordinarily I’d have preferred to use a fresh orange so I could use the zest in the dish as well but I didn’t have any and it was already late, as well as rainy and dreary, so I just used orange juice from the fridge instead of running to Wegmans.

Chinese-Style Orange Beef

1 package vegan “beef” strips, such as Trader Joe’s Beef-Less Strips
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 hot pepper, sliced
1 head broccoli, chopped into florets
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp shaoxing wine (or sherry)
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp chili paste
1 Tbsp bean paste
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cold water

Chop the broccoli and steam until crisp-tender, leaning towards crisp (it will cook another minute or two in the stir-fry, so under-cook slightly).

Chop the bell pepper, slice the hot pepper, mince or press the garlic, and if desired, snip the “beef” strips into bite-sized pieces using kitchen shears.

Whisk together the orange juice, agave nectar, shaoxing wine, soy sauce, chili paste, and bean paste.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water.

Heat a wok over medium-high heat, add 1-2 Tbsp peanut oil, then add the garlic and hot pepper. Stir fry for 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the bell pepper; stir fry for a minute.

Add the “beef” strips and fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the broccoli and fry for 30 seconds or so.

Pour in the sauce and stir, then add the cornstarch mixture and stir until the sauce thickens and becomes slightly shiny.

Serve with rice.

This was a pretty good, fast meal. The “Beef-Less” strips were okay. I’d probably buy them again as they were very convenient and tasted fine. I asked Mark what he thought of them and he said, “pretty good”. I asked him if he could be any more specific because I wanted to review them on the blog and he said, “they are better than I could do!” But then he added, “they aren’t as good as that secret seitan recipe you made a couple of times. That was sooooo good. You should make that again.” He was talking about Kittee’s Gluten Log; it was a test recipe when I first made it. So I guess that’s that. But Kittee’s recipe, though amazing, really needs to be made the day before for best results and the Beef-Less strips can be ready in 3 minutes, and on some days, convenience wins.

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