Last week was our 18th wedding anniversary and we decided to do something that we have been avoiding for the past few years. Driving in Bucharest. Well, that’s not entirely true as we did spend some time in 2021 there in order to get some tattoos, but in general it is a huge headache and something that was just…ick.
But there are some tourist attractions that I really wanted to see and figured I could pull the Anniversary Card to make it happen. It worked like a charm.
The plan was simple; spend the morning sightseeing and stop at some kind of cafe for a coffee or a drink and then finish off our day of sightseeing at Ceauşescu Mansion and then a nice vegan dinner. But then we both remembered that this is Romania and things rarely work out the way you planned, especially in Bucharest.
The good news? We did manage to get in some sightseeing so you’ll have some pretty and historic sights as well as some delicious vegan food!
Let’s start with this beautiful tapestry made by an unknown Romanian artist for Ceauşescu Mansion.
As you all recently know, I achieved a goal of mine by climbing to Caraiman Peak which is in the Bucegi Mountains in Romania. It was a wonderfully thrilling and terrifying experience and you can read all about it here.
But though the trip was mainly about climbing the mountain, it’s always nice to make the short drive to Sinaia and visit what has become a vegan staple in the area, Ramayana.
Ramayana isn’t a vegan restaurant, unfortunately. But it’s the only place you can get any vegan food that’s not a burger. There are quite a few places where you can eat with your non-vegan friends and family, if you never get tired of eating the same old vegan burger. Ramayana is, or was, the only place you could get more than one vegan food option and after a complicated first visit, things have only gotten better.
So guys, I did a thing. A big thing. A thing that I am so proud of myself for accomplishing that I just can’t contain myself.
I climbed a mountain….again (technically).
A few years ago me and Cos (my husband) hiked from Peștera to Babele on one of our first trips in Romania. I had never climbed anything other than a few hills during my time in Germany and this was hard. I had only been vegan for about a year and I was still close to 100kg in weight, but I did it. I made the whole hike without using a telecabina (gondola in English) or calling out for the Mountain Rescue crew.
Before going vegan and taking control of my health and my life, I was a mess. 127kg at the fattest ever and mostly sedentary, typing away on my laptop as my romance author penname, N.D. Jackson. And now, 5 years after cleansing the animals from my diet and my life, I was able to do this. THIS BIG THING!!!
And there at Babele, staring at the Sphinx I decided that I would make my way to Caraiman Peak. It was a totally arbitrary decision and location but for me it was just a test or a milestone to see if I was fit enough and brave enough to do it.
And then the pandemic happened.
And then 2022 came upon us and I just knew this was my year.
And it was.
July 2022, to be exact, was the month that I did a trip far longer than Babele and up to the actual top of a real mountain.
To do this properly you need the right equipment of course, including a solid pair of broken-in hiking boots, a windbreaker and trekking sticks. But what you also need is the right fuel, which for animal eaters can be fairly easy to find.
For vegans? Not so much. But after a few trips to different grocery and health food stores in town, I found a few options.
One of my favorite things to is travel to new places and explore new cultures, history and art. I love to see how people live all over the world and whenever I can find time I like to go pretty much anywhere that has a few items of interest.
My partner and I had been planning a trip to the Danube Delta and then COVID struck and we postponed it. Twice.
But we finally got there and we took a rather circuitous route, starting with Constanța to see the port and the Black Sea, which is a place my husband and his family often spent summers when he was a kid. The day was nice and warm and we walked around the city before taking in the Museum of History and Archeology which was incredible. There really is a lot of Roman history to be found in Romania, in addition to the Austrian and German influences found throughout their history. It was a wonderful day of sun and history and exploration.
So we started with Constanta and if you don’t know it is the birth place of tennis player Simona Halep and actor Sebastian Stan! Just a little bit of fun trivia for ya.
I missed yesterday’s post because the Hub’s and I went to Targoviste, Romania for a day trip to do some sightseeing and see what kind of vegan food we could rustle up after a day in the sun.
Targoviste was beautiful! Absolutely gorgeous. We saw the Princely Court & Princely Palace, not to mention Chindia Tower which served for hundreds of years as the home for many members of Romanian royalty, including the infamous Vlad Tepes during his second reign. It was a wonderful day of sightseeing and history and learning new things, and the day was only made better by finding a place vegan food options that went beyond French fries, eggplant and tapenade.
We first arrived at Targoviste in the midst of what can only be described as a downpour. The weather alleged that it was meant to be intermittent showers until late afternoon but it was a total downpour for more than an hour so instead of sightseeing right away, we went to Ganbare, a Japanese restaurant, and took full advantage of all the vegan food options.
I have to say that Ganbare did an excellent job with the vegan options they had available and the only downside was that they didn’t label them as vegan so new vegans or unsuspecting/unlearned vegans will probably skip this place and that would be a huge mistake.
So recently we were feeling a hint of cabin fever and decided to get out, only all the fun places in the mountains and the countryside were packed with others who had the same idea, so we ventured into the city.
Which city, you ask?
Bucharest. It’s only about 75 kilometers from Ploiesti so within an hour–give or take for traffic–we can be there with the frustration of city driving behind us. The day was nice and sunny, we got there just late enough to bypass rush hour traffic and parked quickly, so it was mostly an easy journey.
I’ll tell you later all about my new tattoo, complete with vegan, cruelty-free vegan ink. For now, let’s talk food.
Funkink Burgers, formerly known as Sarah’s Burgers, is a fully vegan establishment. The cool thing about this place besides their artisan burgers? It’s a collaborative effort with an NGO, Romanian Vegan Association, to “promote a vegan lifestyle and reduce the consumption of animal products for ethical, economic reasons, to protect health and the environment.”
Pretty cool mission statement, if I do say so myself.
After sitting on a stool for hours until my butt was numb, all I could think about was burgers. Vegan burgers and fries, and homemade vegan dipping sauces. Sign me up. Now.
The walking path to get to Funkink was a lot like wandering the side streets of Paris, basically a labyrinth of cobblestone streets that feature bars and eateries from around the world. I spotted an American style sports bar, an English pub, several German pubs because Germany is a HUGE influence in this country, and even a Scottish pub that promised “authentic Scottish fare”.
Whenever we’re in the mood to get away for a while without actually hopping a flight somewhere, Sinaia is one of our go-to places. It’s about a sixty-minute drive from our apartment and it has gorgeous scenery if you just want to walk around, visit a castle and be in the outdoors.
Because of the events of 2020 (and beyond), as I like to call the year that wasn’t, it’s been a long time since we’ve done any real traveling, so this was a much needed trip.
The trip started with a visit to Peles Castle. I’ve been there before but there’s always so much to see, plenty of great photo opportunities and on a nice, sunny day, the perfect place to walk around for a bit.
After an hour or two in the sun, you know what it was time for.
Then I went vegan and stopped eating cheese and an odd thing happened; I stopped putting cheese on EVERYTHING. And what’s crazier is that I stopped adding a sprinkle of cheese here and there because I no longer craved it. So began a year of experimenting with pizza and mac without using cheese. I tried all the #veganhacks that included using sweet potatoes, Russet potatoes, carrots, cauliflower…all of it. They were okay but none of them made mac & cheese a crave-able dish for me anymore.
Oh, the dismay.
So I did a deep dive into it and there’s a good reason I stopped needing cheese on dishes when I got off animal cheese. In a word, casomorphin. It’s what makes cheese so addictive, but don’t just take my word for it. Wikipedia explains it here. If you want the TLDR version, here ya go:
Once I had that information, I didn’t feel like a bad vegan for disliking most vegan cheese options available to me in Germany and then Romania. So I decided to get creative about it.
Rather than using vegan cheese whenever I got a craving, I would go for other things like tapenade, pesto or romesco because they are flavorful, vegan and way more calorie friendly than any type of cheese, and my primary focus initially was weight loss, so calories mattered too.
Then I discovered a way to make a cheese-like sauce that was still vegan and calorie friendly, and it satisfied my need for mac & cheese, which let’s be honest was really a craving for carbs drenched in sauce…right?
All you need is: plant milk, turmeric (if you find it raw, grate it straight into the sauce), nutritional yeast, garlic granules, smoky paprika, mustard (optional), salt & pepper.
I employ the ‘low & slow’ method, which means it takes about 10 minutes (maybe longer if you’re using a lot of milk) to get the not cheese sauce nice and thick so it’ll stick to your pasta of choice.
Add the nutritional yeast one tablespoon at a time, letting it simmer and dissolve before adding more, and be sure to taste it in between just to make sure it doesn’t get too salty. Set a timer for 10 minutes and keep going until you get the thickness you prefer.
For this particular dish, I kept it pretty simple with pasta, 30 grams of sauteed garlic, and soy pieces. Add not-cheese and stir. If you’re feeling extra, pop it in the oven for 10 minutes to get a little bit of crust on top but it’s totally not necessary because this vegan mac stands on its own.
Just a quick note here: turmeric doesn’t just add the color of American cheese to this dish, it also comes with plenty of health benefits that include anti-oxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties, which is a nice change for cheese, don’tcha think?
Let me know if you decide to make your own version…what do you put in it?
At this point I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all got the hang of Buddha Bowl’s, right? I mean you take your favorite 5 to 7 vegan ingredients and turn it into a yummy and nutritious bowl.
I know you’re probably wondering how in the hell did I get to another Buddha Bowl with our whole Midnight Tokyo Diner theme as of late? That’s a pretty easy answer and not a very interesting story, actually. The Hubs had one directive for his meal: eggplant. Again, this probably goes without saying but eggplant is not my favorite vegetable, in fact I would argue it is in my top 5 least favorites. Along with avocado and beets too!
So I decided to do something I could taste–eggplant fries–along with a bunch of ingredients we both LOVE.
So…another Buddha Bowl.
My secret for a perfectly seasoned and crispy piece of eggplant? Veggiegurt. Toss the eggplant in yogurt, salt, pepper, cumin, garlic and smoky paprika and set aside while you blend the crispy breading. For these fries I used a 70-30 blend of flour and cornmeal because I wanted the emphasis on the crunch. Pop in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes and you have a delicious snack with your bestie.
The rest of the recipe is pretty straight forward: mashed sweet potatoes with butter and nutmeg. Steamed broccoli and a mixture of onion, bell peppers and TVP strips made this a perfectly healthy vegan meal, but one that feeds your inner fat girl.
If you’re feeling brave, feel free to add a quick cooling yogurt sauce, which is what I did. It was veggiegurt, basil and parsley along with a few other herbs & spices.
You don’t have to be a chef or even love to cook to whip up a healthy vegan Buddha bowl for you and your loved ones, all you need is a few vegetables, a nice spice rack and a willingness to learn.
In a couple of months it will be my 3 year veganniversary and I have to admit that the overall transition was not as hard as I thought it would be. Quitting smoking was harder to do and the body of evidence available at the time was far greater about its harms but for me it was fourth time’s the charm before I kicked that nasty habit for good. Finding out that eggs are as bad as cigarettes for your heart made it easy to give up my morning sunny side up on an everything bagel breakfast. There was no way I’d let eggs get me when I’d already kicked cigarettes.
Anyway now you have context to know that becoming vegan was a lot easier than finding actual vegan meals to eat while traveling. Obviously that depends on where you go and what the vegan population/culture is like there. In Germany you’ll find some pretty good options but not all over. In Romania, I’ve eaten at vegan restaurants in Bucharest and Cluj, otherwise it’s a la cart city.
Which brings me to a recent ski trip to celebrate the release of my book, How Could I Forget, to Poiana Brasov.
This is the view from the small slice of baby mountain where my husband refreshed my ski recollection. We skiied once before in Austria a few years ago but I was about 80 lbs heavier and basically needed to re-learn this sport. This time my legs were smaller which meant I could wear the ski boots all day without excruciating pain. Anyway this was day one. Check in. Change. Rent gear. Ski until the mountain shut down.
Shower. Stretch. Food.
We chose this place, Vanatorul, because they had a vegetable soup (harder to find in these parts than you might think) and a totally vegan mushroom stew. It was a no-brainer.
Fresh sweet potato chips for an appetizer! BUT only because there was no vegetable soup without meat, because apparently that’s something you have to clarify.
Despite burning a million calories on the mountain, we decided to split everything we ordered, including this platter of grilled vegetables. Light green zucchini, eggplant, red bell peppers and a couple mushrooms filled out the platter. It was only about 200 grams of food.
The mushroom “stew” with polenta was completely vegan and pretty good. It wasn’t hot and the mushrooms were soggy but the mamaliga (polenta) made it a hearty choice for the cold town of Poiana Brasov, especially since we walked here from the hotel!
The food wasn’t great but it was good and it was hot and it was vegan, as promised. I gave it a solid B on the food but the Palinca was too strong without enough flavor.
But there was some pretty great art!
Romania has some pretty great traditional/ethnic art like this all over the country. There’s so much detail that I wish my photography skills were better.
Just in case you’re walking and you go too far.
On day two we hit the mountain again, this time the logical part of my brain was in control and I told myself I wasn’t going nearly as fast as it felt. It also helped that The Hubs made me keep my eyes open and focused on him instead of the snow beneath my feet. I managed to get down more than half the bunny slope without falling. Or freaking out. Mostly.
Then I wanted my husband to enjoy the trip too so I sent him up on the gondola to do the entire mountain a time or two while I practiced, which I did. And that means I fell. A lot. Okay just four times but it felt like a lot more. Thank goodness for Zumba, a strong core and affordable ski rental equipment because I only bruised my ego. And my left calf.
Side note: Ask if helmets and other equipment is made with leather or synthetic fibers if you’re all about that #crueltyfreeliving
After a full day of skiing I burned a zillion calories and I was ready to eat.
We walked and walked and walked, finding nothing but side dishes. So we chose a place that offered vegetable soup, for real this time, and we hoped for the best.
The soup was tasty. Well seasoned with a good amount of hot broth. A little oily but the highlight of the meal.
It warmed me right up and primed me for the focaccia bread which was pretty good.
The grilled vegetables were not good. They were both under and overcooked, and the boiled potatoes were sufficient with salt & pepper from the table.
It was not a fun food experience but we found a giant arcade building with ping pong, life size chess, pool, bowling, darts, a climbing wall and mini golf. I know, after a long day of skiing we must be crazy right?
It was a fun experience though. A few games of ping pong and then my husband wiped the floor with me at pool and we made our way back to the hotel.
The next morning it was very foggy and rainy and my anxiety would not let me venture up on a mountain with skis on my unsure feet.
The trip was fun and I conquered (mostly) my fear of slamming into a tree on skis. I came home relaxed, refreshed and ready to dig back in for a bit. Plus…my book is LIVE!!!