Brookland Cafe, bluebells, babies (of the raccoon variety), and a trophy for Smark

Although we live nearby, Mark and I rarely venture to DC, which frankly, I do not like. If I need or want to do something in a city, I’ll usually drive up to Baltimore, where I am from, where I know people, where the streets make sense (They are a grid! They don’t look like someone threw a bowl of noodles on the floor and turned it into a map!), and where one is able to park their car. Mark and I lived in DC near Georgetown for a year, and more than once Mark drove home to our neighborhood, couldn’t find parking, and had to drive back to his office and sleep there because there wasn’t anywhere to put his car. Since we moved to Virginia, my forays into DC have been mostly limited to meetings for work, shows at the 9:30 Club (which I love), and occasional trips to the Smithsonian.

This is part of the reason you rarely see restaurant reviews on this blog; DC has plenty of options for vegans, but I’m barely familiar with them because I avoid the place (and I usually insist on Ethiopian when I am there!). But Mark was in a chess tournament near the Mall last Saturday, so after helping raccoons in the morning, I met him out there. After his tournament, we went out to dinner at a new vegan-friendly restaurant, so I thought I’d do a little review. And blab about my life, because you miss that, right?

I’ll go in chronological order, more or less. Mark, brave soul, drove downtown in the morning to register for the tournament, and I did my regular raccoon routine. We have 15 babies right now, but I think it was about 8 last weekend. This is Vinegar, and like Bender, he can’t roll off his back to right himself. (Most raccoons can – Vinegar is too fat!)

Once all the babies were fed and all the cages clean, I took the metro into the city and found Mark, who was doing well in the tournament. I didn’t hang around the chess place, though. I crossed Pennsylvania Ave…

…and headed towards the Mall.

I was hoping to see the rocket Antares during its takeoff, but the takeoff got scrubbed, for the second time, at the last minute. (It finally took off the next day.) I was disappointed, but I did think the Washington Monument looked a bit like a rocket prepared for liftoff with the scaffolding currently surrounding it. (It’s under repairs due to the earthquake we had in 2011.)

Did you know that the Smithsonian owns one of the original Paris metro signs that I loooooooooooove? (Oh, Paris; you pull off crazy streets and a lack of parking with so much more class than DC.)

I wandered around a couple of the Smithsonian’s gardens for a while…

… then headed back towards Mark. I witnessed a duck walking down the sidewalk outside the Natural History Museum. Why??? I guess she walked up from the Tidal Basin, but that seems rather dangerous. In retrospect, I wonder if I shouldn’t have tried to relocate her, although she seemed to know what she was doing.

Mark was outside waiting for me…with a trophy!!! He won every game of the tournament!

We went to Brookland Cafe for dinner because I had read online that they had a vegan menu and I wanted to check out their selection of vegan bar food. And I REALLY wanted a beer (it was hot!). It’s about 3 blocks from the Brookland CUA station. I had insisted we take the metro even though many stops were closed and we therefore had to take a shuttle for part of the way because I’d never been to Brookland and my base assumption for DC is there is no parking, but actually there was plenty of parking. That was around 6:30 on a Saturday; not sure if that makes a difference. The interior:

Mark was starved after his mental exertions, so we ordered an appetizer of jerk “chicken” tenders. These ended up being a veggie burger cut into strips and covered in a jerk sauce. I wasn’t expecting a veggie burger, but the sauce was tasty.

For his main, Mark ordered the mock fish sandwich. The “fish” looked and tasted like the fish filets I sometimes order from May Wah…which is good because we love those things.

I got the BBQ sandwich. This one was Gardein, I think even the sauce.

For our sides, we both ordered the “explosion” fries, which is a mixture of all four fries they have: regular, sweet potato, lemon pepper, and red pepper. Those were fun. Neither of us could finish our sandwiches, so we took the leftovers home. Because they were based on frozen products, it would have been fairly easy to make any of these dishes at home (except maybe the fries), and I prefer go to restaurants for things I can’t easily make at home, however, everything was also very delicious, the service was extremely attentive and friendly, and I like supporting places that have vegan menus, so I would definitely return. If we lived nearby, I could see Mark and I going there regularly for a beer on nights I didn’t feel like cooking. I would very much prefer it if they got rid of the television, though, and used real china and silverware instead of disposable plastic. I’m kind of hoping the latter is just a temporary measure for some reason.

Before I go, can we talk briefly about how much I love spring? One of the highlights around here is the Virginia bluebells. A couple of weekends ago I went to Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area to check them out.

That was extremely pleasant, although I think Bull Run Regional Park is still my favorite place to see them. I missed them there at their peak, but I did head down there one night after work this week.

Although the blanket of blue wasn’t as heavy as it would have been a couple of weeks ago, it was still beautiful.

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Greetings from Los Angeles

Hello from L.A.! I’ve been here for nearly a week and so far I can say L.A. is hands down the best city I’ve ever been to for food. It seems like there is a vegan restaurant on every corner, and every one I’ve been to has been really good. We’re here for 11 days, and ordinarily when I’m staying with friends or renting an apartment, I look forward to cooking in several nights. But, my friends, 11 days is not enough to eat everything I need to eat in this town!

Our second day here, our friends were trying to decide where we should eat dinner and, after googling, suggested Native Foods, mostly because it was nearby. I didn’t realize at first the restaurant was completely vegan, and was overwhelmed once I did. I finally chose the bacon cheeseburger because I thought it was a funny thing for a vegan to order:

Mark ordered the reuben:

Both were delicious and the chef even stopped by our table to see if we liked it. The omnivores we were with also enjoyed their meals – although I’ve found non-vegetarians usually don’t like fake meat, the bacon cheeseburger even went over very well. Unfortunately, things disintegrated to this shortly before we left:

Our hosts Jathan and Travis requested that I make dinner the following night and to that end took me to their neighborhood produce store. A produce store is pretty much all the greatness of Super H minus all the badness. That is, it’s a store almost entirely filled with produce, including exotic Asian fruits and vegetables, with a couple of aisles of rice and other staples, but with no meat, squid machines, or tentacles. I’m terrible at deciding what to make under pressure, but Mark came to my rescue and suggested stuffed peppers, I think mostly because Jathan and Travis found some TVP and were somewhat frightened of it and Mark thought it would be funny if we made them eat it. I made the recipe up on the fly; it was wild rice, TVP, onion, veggie broth, tomatoes, a chili pepper, and various seasonings. I also made a quick pasta dish to accompany it. I’m pleased to say that all plates were cleaned so I guess I didn’t screw it up too much, and the TVP wasn’t too scary.

Then we moved from Jathan and Travis’ house to Fortinbras’s place in Studio City, where he took us to Lotus Vegan, which he hadn’t been to although it’s right down the street from him. Apparently he’d been waiting for me. He got a “chicken” lunch:

And I got the yellow curry with “fish”:

Fortinbras was in raptures over both meals, but when he ordered dessert, I thought he was going to explode from happiness:

This chocolate cheesecake was probably – okay, definitely – the best vegan cheesecake I’ve ever had, or at least it was until we returned later that night with Mark in tow and tried the strawberry cheesecake which may have been even better. Now, remember Fortinbras is not even remotely vegan, but he still thought it was one of the best cheesecakes he’s ever had, vegan or not. He was also head over heels in love with the coconut ice cream that he ordered to accompany it. Fort’s going to be a regular at this place now.

For dinner, Fortinbras, Mark, and I went to Leonor’s Vegetarian Restaurant, which is not entirely vegan (it is vegetarian), though they are planning to begin using Daiya instead of their current non-vegan soy cheese soon. They were very helpful about making sure our meals were vegan after we asked about the cheese situation. It can be tricky to find vegan Mexican food, so I was excited to order these “shrimp” tacos:

They were pretty good, although I really prefer burritos to tacos.

In the midst of scouting out used bookstores today, I stopped for lunch at Daichan, which serves “Japanese soul food”. It’s a cute little place filled with Japanese tchotchkes.

I had the vegetable poki, which was not necessarily the most exciting meal I’ve ever eaten, but a nice, healthy, refreshing lunch, especially after all the other stuff I’ve been cramming down my throat since I got out here, most of which has been amazingly delicious but not exactly health food. It also seemed like something easy to replicate at home, which I think I will be doing.

Tonight Mark and I went to Pure Luck. I told him that they were known for their carnitas tacos made with jackfruit, although since he also prefers burritos to tacos, he ordered the carnitas burrito:

I ordered the BBQ sandwich, also made with jackfruit:

Both of these were really, really good. Mark declared my BBQ sandwich to be the best thing we’ve had here, although he thoroughly enjoyed his burrito as well. I think he might make me go back to Pure Luck again before we leave, he liked it so much. Although I’m trying to fit all the restaurants I want to try in, I won’t argue about going back there.

All in all, the food in this city is absolutely AMAZING. I thought San Francisco and NYC were good for vegans, but now I don’t think you can beat L.A.

Mostly I’ve been eating, but I’ve also done quite a bit of thrift and book store shopping. I absolutely loved Small World Books in Venice Beach. They had a great selection and a cat named Conan. All book stores need a cat, in my opinion.

Today I went to Iliad Bookshop, which is a huge and wonderful used book store. I really wish this store was in Northern Virginia. I have no idea how I think I’m getting my suitcase home after visiting this place; it’s going to weigh a ton. Of course they also have a cat! She looks very much like Brachtune except she’s missing an eye, due to mistreatment by her former owners before she was rescued by the book store staff.

Think it’s strange I saw a one-eyed cat? Well, the aforementioned Travis has a no-eyed cat, Radar:

Travis actually rescued Radar a few years ago after seeing a story about him on the DC news: he was in an animal shelter volunteer’s car when it was stolen right out from under her. He was eventually found again, and Travis felt the need to adopt him after watching the news segment. Radar is a super, super awesome cat. Watching him play is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. He’s also very sweet and affectionate and slept with Mark and I most nights we were there.

When Travis adopted Radar, the shelter made him adopt Radar’s buddy at the same time because they had bonded. Demon has both his eyes and I guess he’s supposed to look out for Radar, but Radar doesn’t seem to need much help, and moreover, Radar seems to enjoy attacking Demon. Nonetheless, they are best friends, and Demon is an extremely cute, affectionate, and playful – and very large – boy. He also slept with us, although he took up most of the bed.

I’m running into tons of cats here, but as this has gotten very long I’ll spare you any more photos for now. It’s great that I’m getting so much kitty contact, but I’m starting to really miss those kittens of mine. Their sitter tells me they are doing fine, but I’ll be extremely happy to see them when we return home.

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San Francisco 2009

Hello from San Francisco! President Obama stopped by to see me – his cavalcade drove right past my hotel a short while ago. I was here for work for the first half of the week but now I’m just here for pleasure. And pleasurable San Francisco always is. SF never fails to disappoint literature-loving vegans. Obviously I’ve not been cooking anything, but I have managed to snap a few photos of stuff I’ve eaten. Although I brought my dSLR, this has been a more shopping-heavy rather than scenery-heavy trip so far, so I haven’t actually taken it anywhere with me and these are all iPhone photos.

I arrived Saturday morning and met up with my friend, V, who quickly whisked me off to vegan brunch in the Mission near her apartment. Here she is awaiting her next mimosa:

My hotel is close to Golden Era, where I ate several times last year. I’ve only made it over there once so far this year, and I got the pho.

It’s a little culty at Golden Era: these Supreme Master postcards are slipped under the glass on every table. Nonetheless, the food is amazing so I keep going back.

I should have taken photos of the crazy weather on Tuesday, but I was in my work conference and didn’t have a chance. It was like a hurricane though, with severe winds and heavy rain. From the hotel in which the conference was being held, I watched about a dozen people have their umbrellas turned inside out and then whipped out of their hands (Tuesday night, the streets were positively littered with broken, abandoned umbrellas), I saw two newspaper vending boxes blow over (they are so heavy and squat I found this amazing), I saw a man get beamed in the head with a flying sign, and I feared the street lamp by the hotel was going to blow over. It really did look like a hurricane. By the time my sessions were over for the day, it had calmed down, and I never got caught in any heavy rain myself.

Although I usually run through Chinatown on every trip, for whatever reason, I’ve never devoted a few hours to really exploring it. Until yesterday.

I was very happy to finally visit The Wok Shop in person, and they have a bunch more stuff than they do online. Amazingly, the only thing I walked out with was an Italian oil can: nothing really wok-related. I’ve been needing the oil can for a long time, though, and it was cute and I was trying to be on my best behavior, purchase-wise.

There’s a vegetarian Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, but they were closed on Wednesdays. Fortunately, nearly every restaurant has several veggie options. I got a lunch special that started off with hot and sour soup …

… and ended with “hot tofu”.

Another thing I’d never done before was head over to Berkeley, although I did want to go to school there. A friend’s co-worker had sent me a list of Bay Area used bookstores and as most of them seemed to be in Berkeley, I figured I’d better check it out. It was amazing. SO MANY BOOKS! I was in book heaven! One bookstore even had FOUR resident kitties! When I’m away from home, I really miss being able to pet kitties and end up chasing down any strays I find and showering them with (sometimes unwanted) attention. Here are two of them, waiting to be fed after scampering around the store being totally adorable:

Between City Lights yesterday (which is located right on the edge of Chinatown, and which one of my very favorite bookstores in the world, and which is where I bought four books) and Berkeley today, I have purchased over ten books. I’ve also already read 3 and a half books since I got here; three of which I brought with me. I have a lot of books to lug home.

Another great thing about Berkeley is it’s very vegan-friendly. Soy cheese is an option at every pizzeria, for example. Not by the slice, though, so I had to order an entire pizza for myself:

I just took what I couldn’t finish back to the hotel with me and ate it a few hours later.

And my food adventures don’t end there! Tomorrow night I have booked a table for V and myself at Millennium for a special pre-birthday dinner for myself. I’m very excited! That will be my last night here, then Saturday I head home to Mark and Brachtune. Mark reports that Brachtune is doing very well and is pigging out, eating 3+ meals a day, which is great news.

And with that, I need to go get ready to hit the town with V tonight. I will report back on my Millennium experience in a couple of days!

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More from Sydney

Howdy! I’m still in Sydney! I haven’t had a chance to cook any more, but last night I ate in a vegan restaurant and managed to take (rather bad) pictures. Smucky had decided that Newtown was a very Renae-like area and that we should spend the evening there. Several people had mentioned The Green Gourmet as a good vegan restaurant, so we grabbed dinner there. Newtown seemed very San Francisco to me. Which, yes, by extension means I felt right at home there! The Green Gourmet had an almost overwhelming number of options; nearly all of it mock meat. It was a decided reversal of fortunes for me and Luke and Smucky. I’d had nearly the same pasta dish three times already because it was the only thing on the menu I could eat, but Luke and Smucky both found only one thing on the menu at Green Gourmet they wanted: Singapore Noodles. Ha hah! I, however, could not decide and opted for the buffet instead so I could try a bunch of different things.

First I started off with a crazy green tea/lime/mint beverage:

I can’t say that I loved it; the green tea tasted like powder (it was powdered green tea), and it was $4.50, which I found extravagant. Beverage prices are pretty ridiculous here. Good thing the exchange rate is in my favor!

Luke and Smucky ordered appetizers: spring rolls and fried wontons, which I forgot to photograph. They said the fried wontons were better than the spring rolls. I went up to the buffet to get a few different appetizers (which I also neglected to photograph) and sat back down to eat them with my friends, only to be interrupted a few minutes later by a waitress who struggled to inform me that I was supposed to weigh my buffet food before eating it because it was priced by the pound. Oops. That was an epic fail on my part. (I’m picking up Smucky’s slang, by the way.) We agreed I’d just pay $3 for the plate.

Then I went up a second time and helped myself to a bite or two of just about every item they had. This time I managed to go to the scale as instructed before eating, although I hadn’t realized I was expected to pay at the time of weighing, so I hadn’t brought my wallet up with me. I eventually straightened all of this out and sat down to eat. Here is what I had:

I have no idea what it all was, but it was all very good. Not a lot of actual vegetables, but the fake meat was really good.

Here is Smucky’s Singapore noodles:

On the walk from the train station, we passed a place called Burgerlicious. Once we were in Green Gourmet, Smucky commented he couldn’t believe he’d walked past a place called Burgerlicious and ended up in a vegan restaurant. Don’t feel too bad for him, though. He liked his noodles and ate the entire plate!

In non-food adventures, Tuesday we took a train to the Blue Mountains and saw the Three Sisters:

Smucky and I enjoying the view:

And here’s what that view looked like to us:

Wednesday we took the ferry from Circular Quay (which does not rhyme with Renae as one might expect, but is instead pronounced “Key”) to Manly Beach. Here another ferry just like ours returns from another trip:

I LOVE all the mass transportation options in Sydney! I was talking with a new friend last night and she said some of the buses are less than reliable (she called them “phantom buses”, when they fail to appear), but other than that annoyance (which is a problem in DC as well), the train system is extensive and regular, the buses I have been on have been clean and comfortable and not terribly late, and they have their own lane on the freeway which means you avoid (the very heavy) traffic into and out of the city, and there is a monorail, water taxis, and ferries.

The ferry alighted in Manly Beach.

We took a walk, upon which we found tourists crowding around something, which turned out to be a lizard. I’m pretty sure this is a wild iguana, which I found very exciting.

I was a bit excited for nothing, however, as we ended up seeing numerous lizards as we continued our walk!

But I thought it was great anyway! Here is an ocean water pool that appears to be open to the public that we passed:

I liked the ornament that adorned it:

As we walked from Manly and towards a little cove of sorts, the water was very calm and there were a few snorkelers, as well as this lone canoer:

(Actually I’m not entirely sure if that’s a canoe or a kayak, but it seems smaller than the kayak I’ve been in so I’m guessing canoe.)

I felt a little creepy taking photos through my telephoto lens of this couple, but one thing I’ve seen a bit of on the beaches here is older couples who appear happy and affectionate, and it’s something that makes me happy. I think it says something about living in Australia!

Yesterday we went jet boating. I didn’t take my camera because it’s a very wet endeavor, but here is a photo I took from the ferry of the same sort of jet boat we were on:

The jet boat was a lot of fun. In fact, I’ve pretty much decided I want to be a jet boat operator when I move to Sydney.

Everything you’ve heard about Australia is true: the people really are the most friendly, most laid-back on earth! And get this: they queue at bars!! For some reason, that fact astounds me more than any other. One thing that strikes me is the huge number of American businesses though. In fact, there are so many familiar places here it barely seems as if I am half away across the globe. I’ve been in Target twice, which seems weird and wrong. Sydney seems to me like a cross between Baltimore and San Francisco with a twist of Miami and a healthy dose of London. Which if you know me at all is a recipe for AWESOME!

I’m meeting Smucky’s family today. I’ve met his sister once before, while in London if you can believe that, but I’ll get to meet her newish daughter, her boyfriend, and Smuck’s mum and dad for the first time. Then tomorrow morning his mum is driving is to their beach house in Mollymook where we will spend a few internet-less but relaxing days. Since I won’t have internet, you probably won’t hear from me and I won’t be able to moderate comments, so if you are a new commenter or if you’re commenting from a different location than usual, it might not show up right away. I’ll probably be back mid-week with another post, which may be about my trials of eating vegan in a little beach town three hours from the big city…hopefully the oven there works!

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