The Washington Post ran an article on creating care packages for college students recently. It reminded me of the vegan care package post I wrote a few years ago, when I had one niece in college. She has since graduated and moved on to law school and her younger sister plays college tennis. I suspect they are working very hard and in need of some treats, so off to the store I went to pick up some vegan snacks.
Gas prices are high, but I hope that won’t stop you from a little travel this Summer. My last road trip was to visit my parents in Indiana, which is definitely NOT the most vegan-friendly place on the planet. Despite that, I still find plenty of vegan food to sustain me when I visit.
What always surprises me the most about being vegan is that the people who I think are going to be the least likely to support my vegan lifestyle tend to be the ones who are the most considerate and interested in my good health.
My dad and step-mom are always very accommodating and want to make sure I get enough good food. Why this is surprising to me is that my dad is a hunter, and for whatever reason, I believe in my heart he “gets” why I am vegan, and my step-mom was so excited about finding a “vegan burger” on the menu at Cheeseburgers in Paradise, of all places, that she couldn’t wait to take me there for dinner.
Nonetheless be prepared when traveling. Know your options in advance and be flexible. Are you driving? Taco Bell and Subway are good options for road trips. For instance, I know when I visit my parents, who live in different cities, that there aren’t any vegetarian restaurants, so I have researched online veg-friendly restaurants in both areas. Also, I always bring food with me and stop by the grocery at the first chance when I visit my family.
In my opinion, it’s just best not to make a big deal out of it, but I refuse to suffer. I always make sure vegan food is available whenever I travel, but know I will certainly encounter delightful surprises along the way. Being vegan is good Karma. You never know where a delicious piece of vegan chocolate cake will pop up.
Being vegan and traveling can sometimes be a beautiful thing. My recent trip to Austin, TX, was one of those times. VegNews wrote up Austin a couple of years ago, and Happy Cow lists many vegan and veg-friendly restaurants in the area. Armed with this vital info, my boyfriend and I hopped a plane to Austin to escape what seemed like a never-ending Chicago winter. Our flight departed on schedule and once we landed on-time (yes, on-time — practically a miracle in my opinion.), we took a 50 cent bus ride into town. (Seriously, the bus fare is only 50 cents. Is it really 2008 in Austin?) We dropped our bags at a 4-star hotel (where we landed a great deal on priceline.com) and headed out for margaritas.
The next morning we awoke to sunny skies and temps rising to a near perfect 78 degrees by the afternoon. Our first trip together was going swell. I began thinking our luck was about to run out, but it had only just begun. We headed out to rent bicycles. We decided to forgo a car so we could ride bikes all weekend on the bike path around Town Lake. Plus, it turns out Austin has a good public transportation system with local buses and trolleys. (No car necessary. It turned out to be a very “green” trip.) We rode bikes all day and took buses to dinner at night — one vegan feast after another.
Town Lake Hike and Bike Path: It’s not really a lake, but a 10-mile loop bike and running path. It’s just as crowded on the weekends as the Chicago Lakefront path, but still worth it. If you take a break and sit by the water, you will see turtles, ducks, swans, and other wildlife enjoying life in Austin.
Visit Casa de Luz for a macrobiotic vegan brunch, lunch, or dinner buffet. The menu is healthy and delicious. We went for lunch and then back again for Saturday brunch. You will leave full and very satisfied, but not feeling guilty because all the food was truly healthy. While you’re there you can check out their tiny macrobiotic store or even take a yoga class.
From downtonwn Jump on the #7 bus and head to Mother’s Cafe and Garden, a vegetarian restaurant with a lot of vegan options. This restaurant reminds me of Blind Faith in Evanston but with more vegan choices. (Did you hear that Blind Faith? We want more vegan options.) We enjoyed two meals at Mother’s: dinner and Easter brunch. Very tasty.
The Whole Foods market in downtown Austin is unlike any Whole Foods I have ever seen. They have an entire prepared foods counter of just vegan foods: half are cooked, half are raw. We had some amazing raw “tuna” that I pray they bring to a Chicago location very soon. I tried to take a picture of the sign above the counter as proof of this vegan wonderland but was stopped by an employee who asked me if I had a permit. Please! If I was trying to steal secrets, I know better tactics than whipping out my camera in broad daylight. Haven’t they heard about the vegans who go around with hidden cameras in their bags filming animal cruelty at factory farms? Nonetheless, you must go visit when you’re in town. It’s a huge store — 80,000 square feet! We stopped by to pick up goods for a picnic in Pease Park. Yet another nice bike ride and much quieter except for all the people playing Frisbee-golf. Never knew such a sport existed.
We met non-vegan friends at Manuel’s for a very good dinner where we ate vegan enchiladas filled with spinach and mushrooms, topped with a verde sauce. I was prepared to just eat chips and gauc and call it a day, so it was a nice surprise to to enjoy a good meal at a non-veg restaurant.
Austin is the live music capital of the world, so we set out to hear some acoustic guitar at the Cactus Cafe in the student union on the University of Texas campus. I’m no expert on music but it was good. Probably a little more subdued then other options around town, but right up our alley.
Saving the very best for last…
Dhaba Joy is this tiny little cafe near U of T. It’s connected to a cool toy store, where I picked up a fun book, Porn For Women. (Hold on…it’s not what you think! It’s a very silly book. Check it out.) It’s not really a place you would think of for dinner, but that’s when we went and it turned out to be my very favorite. I had a tempeh “chicken” salad sandwich with a side of mac and “cheese”. I couldn’t have been happier, but I love sandwiches and a side of somethin’ yummy. As we ate dinner, I stared longingly at the baked goods on display at the counter. Hmmmm. (I know I should have been staring longingly into my boyfriend’s eyes, being our first trip and all, but how could I when there were cupcakes calling out to me.) I knew there was no way I had room for a cupcake right then. I also knew we would be back. How could we not? They had a cupcake called Love, and that’s just how I feel about cupcakes. So off we went to the Cactus Cafe to listen to music. As soon as the music stopped, we were on our way back for cupcakes and Oatscreme (soft-served “ice cream”). The Love cupcake was like a Hostess cupcake except better because it was vegan. Yum. Yum. Yum. The Oatscreme was also very good, but my heart was with the cupcake. It’s a good thing we didn’t go there until our last night in Austin, because I would have wanted to eat every meal here.
If you ever go to Austin, you must go to Quack’s for vegan chocolate truffles. The chocolatiest vegan goodness I may have ever had. Whenever I eat something unbelievably good, my thought process go likes this, “Damn, this is good. How is this possible?” This was one of those moments. Eat one there. Take one to go. You will be glad you did.
I don’t know yet where the next trip will be, but I can’t wait to discover another vegan wonderland.
Empower yourself and learn how to cook. Just like any other skill, once you learn the basics, it just takes practice. And yes, time, but it’s worth it when you can feed yourself healthy and tasty vegan food easily. Before you know it, you’ll be a highly skilled vegan cook and know what’s what in your own kitchen.
There are several cooking schools, restaruants, and other businesses around town that offer vegan cooking classes. I suggest taking hands-on classes, but it can be interesting to watch demonstrations too. Besides taking vegan cooking classes, it’s also a good idea to learn proper knife skills as a starting point. Check out the class schedules at some of the following places for more information. Enjoy and happy cooking!
The Chopping Block in Lincoln Square and River North
Fundamentals of Vegan Cooking on May 5 at the Lincoln Square location. Knife Skills offered several times a month for $40–one of the least expensive knife skills classes in town. I took this hands-on class years ago and recommend it for anyone who wants to use knives more efficiently in the kitchen.
Heat and Spice Cooking School in Uptown
Learn how to cook vegan Thai, Indian, and Mexican cuisines. I have taken the vegan Thai class and highly recommend the chef and the food. Spicy and delicious!
Cooking Fools in Wicker Park
Currently no vegan classes on the schedule, but this is where I learned to make seitan. Call and ask for a vegan class! Perhaps they will add one to there schedule.
The Wooden Spoon in Andersonville
Currently no vegan classes on the schedule. Call and ask for a vegan class.
Raw Food Preparation
Cousin’s Incredible Vitality on West Irving Park
Interested in the raw food movement? Learn how to prepare raw food and become a certified raw food chef. Check the website for upcoming classes.
This raw food catering company also teaches raw food preparation in your home.
Lakeside Cafe in Rogers Park
No classes are currently scheduled. Check their website in the future because this local veg restaurant offers inexpensive vegan cooking classes on a wide variety of topics.
Class schedules vary by location, but I have often seen vegan cooking classes offered. Some demonstrations are even free.
Cooking Shows on TV
Christina Cooks: Check your local television schedule. (It is on Saturday afternoons on my local PBS station.)
Delicious TV Totally Vegetarian with Chef Toni Fiore
Check local listing for TV schedule.
It just keeps getting easier and easier to be vegan in Chicago! Check out the following:
Vegan soy ice cream is now available at Just Indulge in Wicker Park.
Drew’s Eatery in Lincoln Square is serving baked goods from Sweet Dreams Organic Bakery & Cafe (Glenview). Sweet Dreams bakes up vegan and non-vegan goods. Perhaps Drew’s is serving some tasty vegan treats? If not, be sure to request that they do.
Heck, why not request vegan food everywhere you go! Don’t be shy. Consider it community service for the animals and vegans of the world. :-)
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