Garlicky Vegan Mac & Not Cheese

I LOVE mac & cheese…at least I used to love it.

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:

Source, Forbes 2017

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.

vegan alternative to mac & cheese

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?

Not Another Buddha Bowl ~ Featuring Crispy Eggplant Frites

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.

Enjoy!

Traveling While Vegan: Poiana Brașov, Romania

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 Forgetto Poiana Brasov.

poiana brasov ski vegan

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 noteAsk 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.

Big mistake.

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?

We are.

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 view from our room in Pensiunea Alex

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!!!

A Day at Seven Ladders Canyon

I talk a lot on this blog about vegan cooking because it has been such an important part of my weight loss and fitness journey, but it isn’t just food. It is also about the things that I have been able to do since the weight has come off and my physical fitness has improved. One of those things is hiking, something I never thought I would do, never mind enjoy doing.

We recently hiked Babele in Romania and because the telecabina was not in service that day, what was supposed to be a relatively short, 5 kilometer hike ended up being just over 13 kilometers. That was a very long day which I promise to tell you all about, but now we’re talking about 7 Ladders Canyon.

Seven Ladders Canyon, or Canionul Sapte Scari (in Romanian) is located in the beautiful county of Brasov, which I’m kind of in love with because it is so scenic and serene, plus the endless sea of green is just about the most soothing view I can imagine. Back to Seven Ladders, which should actually be called “A lot of hiking before you get to the seven staircases that will take you up and up and up through the waterfalls”.

A quick view of what you see as you start the journey towards the “ladders”. The day was gorgeous, about 30 degrees Celsius and pretty much cloudless, and best of all? The humidity was at a bare minimum this day.

The hike itself was fairly easy, even for me, but still we ended up doing about 14 or so kilometers, which is quite a feat for me.

We packed for a day hike because we were planning to do a different hike but the line for the telecabina was outrageously long and would have eaten up all the hiking hours of the day. So, we hopped back in the car and drove to this place with our hiking boots, hiking poles (which apparently are a thing) and lots of ice cold water because that’s how I like it.

Here is a photo of me with the brand new hiking poles/sticks, which it turns out can be SUPER helpful on the more treacherous parts of the hiking trail. For the most part it was fairly easy as long as you were very, very careful, but some parts required my deep anti-anxiety breathing so that I wouldn’t freak out. Luckily my hubs is an excellent hiking partner.

And as you can see, even nature was on my side, giving me a nice rainbow as if to say, “Good job, here’s your reward.”

Of course we brought snacks.

Yummy vegan snacks, that we didn’t really stop to eat, aside for splitting a banana and half of 2 energy bars. We had a hemp one and a sour cherry & mulberry and both were delicious, satisfying and they didn’t weight us down!

 

We also packed this yummy vegan jerky which we ended up eating on the car ride home since we got stuck in traffic for 90 minutes!

The ladders were worth the hassle!

I like these trips because they serve as an excellent reminder why I do what I do, and why I am so committed to being healthy and fit. This is something I would have very likely missed out on completely if I hadn’t changed my lifestyle and started taking care of myself. It isn’t about waiting until you’re where you want to be to start living, it’s living on the road to where you want to be.

And the best part of all? I had to buy a new breathable shirt and for the first time in at least 20 years, it was a Large. No extra, no double letters or double digits. #goals #happyvegan #healthyvegan

Vegans On Holiday: Hunedoara, Alba Iulia, Deva & Sighisoara (Romania)

One of my favorite things, aside from food, is traveling. In every place I have ever lived, I have done some serious exploring of the local and near-local sights. Of course I never get to see everything but I get to see a lot so I won’t complain. Much.

Recently the Hubs and I took a 3 day getaway to see more of Romania. There was a castle because of course there was a castle I happened upon thanks to a Facebook recommendation, Castle Corvinilor and that was our second stop on the first day.

From a distance it looks imposing but up close it looks like…a castle. Very cool and still incredibly imposing, only less so.

But as these things tend to go, the view from inside the castle…much better.

The view from one of the inside “windows”.

The day was off to a great start even though the temperature was around 30° C by the time noon rolled around. I made sandwiches for the road because there are very few roadside shops that have ANY vegan food offerings other than fries, which let’s be clear, I will never pass up an opportunity to eat fries but sometimes it’s nice to have more than one option for food.

The first night we ate at a place called Remeny’s and the food was…okay. We had garlic bruschetta toasts to start which was delicious. The soup was bland and overly hot, but to be fair it was vegetable soup. Then we got…you guessed it fried potatoes and a grilled vegetable plate from the a la carte section. The gin & grapefruit cocktail I had was pretty delicious, if a little light on the ice.

The next day we were in Alba Iulia which I have to tell you was my ABSOLUTE favorite part of this trip. Who knew this place had such a rich history?

A few things I learned:

The Thracians (as in Spartacus) are Romanian

The Romans made it this far and conquered parts of this land

There are a lot of torture chambers

The museum on Roman history in Romania is AMAZING

After spending the morning soaking up the beautiful sights and the incredibly hot rays of sun, we spent a few hours on the road towards Sighisoara, but…food.

Twenty minutes at a rest stop and we found a Chinese restaurant in a small town called Deva, with vegan options.

My day was made. I burned a zillion calories walking all around the citadel in Alba Iulia, plus the museum, a fortress and a fantastic obelisk and I got to eat spring rolls, a delicious mushroom potato dish covered in a thick, spicy sweet soy sauce. And we can’t forget vegan noodles!

I am truly sorry to say that this was one of those times where I was too hot, too hungry and yeah, maybe a little bit too cranky to think about taking photos so you’ll just have to take my word that it was a great find. Good Chinese food has, so far, been lacking in this part of the continent.

…parts of another amazing fortress!

Finally we made it to Sighisoara, which for those of you who don’t know, still has tons of leftover influence from its days as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which means lots of German (a good thing for me since my Romanian language stills are floundering). It turned out that the German influence came in very handy when it came to eating in Sighisoara.

Thanks to Alte Post, a German Gasthaus, we were both able to find (only 2) vegan dishes while our travel companions found plenty of animal-based dishes too.

We got started with beer and muraturi, which is just Romanian for pickled vegetables. They taste a little different than American style pickling but they are very, very delicious. The sauerkraut was part of the German thing, but it was still damn tasty.

Tofu steaks and grilled vegetables with a balsamic reduction. It was good but ordinary, exactly what I’d make if I was feeling super lazy during the week. But again, better than fries. Mostly.

I appreciated their restaurant having a nod to Romania with the vegan sarmale and mamaliga, but it was nothing to write home about. Everything was under-seasoned but after another long day with a lot of walking, it was nice to have a full meal instead of a table filled with side dishes.

But the highlight for me in Sighisoara, was Teo’s Cellar.

Of course.

But this is what you see when you first enter because it’s also a B&B right inside the citadel…as in part of the citadel!

This guy, Teo, was great. His cellar was very cool with all these different ways to drink his different creations while he told us all about the awards he’s won all over Europe and the world. We did a tasting of Palinka, Tuica and Cognac and they were all so delicious I didn’t know what to buy/taste first.

In the end we bought 3 small bottles for friends & family and 1 big bottle of Palinka for ourselves.

We made an impromptu stop at Rupea Fortress on the way home because…it was there!

Overall it was a great trip, very relaxing and I learned a lot. Having vegan options, no matter how slim, is always better than not. The key is to do your research ahead of time to avoid frustrations. We had three options listed but it turns out having salad and fries for some places counts as “vegan options”.

Is Vegan Sushi A Thing?

Prior to becoming a vegan, I went through sushi phases. When I was a teenage girl reading romance novels and dreaming of practicing law in New York City, a big part of the dream was eating sushi with my girlfriends. And I did enjoy it.

For about two weeks.

There was something about the blend of seaweed (nori), soy sauce and raw fish that absolutely did NOT agree with my taste buds. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to actually like the taste of sushi, which went a long way in re-crafting my vision of the future. As you can imagine, when I went vegan a few years ago, I stopped thinking about sushi altogether, assuming that it would no longer have a place in my life.

So imagine my surprise when we happened upon a sushi restaurant that had two all important words for any traveling vegan, vegan options.

I really wanted edamame and miso soup because miso is one of my top 5 all time favorite soups, but there were three different vegan sushi rolls so I knew I’d get to try them because my husband used to love sushi.

I’ll admit that this miso had a lot more ingredients than I was accustomed to, including mushrooms and sesame seeds. It was still delicious, if different, but I can usually count on miso soup being a satisfying, low calorie food option. Not so much with at least a full tablespoon of sesame seeds.

I didn’t need to add anything to the soup, not even soy sauce, which in my book is considered a win.

The edamame beans were…fantastic. Perfectly steamed (I guess) and served with pink Himalaya sea salt, they were tasty and fun to eat.

They were warm this time, which is the first time I’ve ever eaten them warm. There’s a nice restaurant in Culver City, CA that serves the most amazing chilled edamame. It was the first place I’d ever had them and by far, my favorite way to eat them. But Sushi Han in Ploiesti, came in a distant second.

So what exactly does vegan sushi contain?

Good question.

The red you see in the photo above is tomato and bell pepper. It’s a “Vega Roll” with cucumber, tomato and lettuce sushi roll, with some red bell peppers thrown in for texture and flavor. It wasn’t my favorite because there was also avocado on it, but the Hubs liked it. My favorite was the little green topped ones you see in the left corner of the photo–Hosomaki Hiashi–made with rice, seaweed and something called chuka which was slightly sweet, very green and damn tasty.

The other was avocado and rice which I didn’t even bother to try because…avocado.

The options were underwhelming for me but the chuka roll was delicious as was the soup and the edamame.

There was a noodle dish because we can’t forget my love of Asian noodles, but it was greasy and the Udon noodles were actually spaghetti. Overall it wasn’t worth a photo or mentioning, which is something that was never true before when it comes to sushi. Usually the hubs and I have to compromise when he’d want sushi. We’d have to find a place that did a good teriyaki or udon too, so we’d both be happy.

Now, thanks to a vegan lifestyle, we can both enjoy sushi.

Not Just A Vegan Diet

Today I want to talk about another aspect of being a vegan or rather, striving to be a better vegan, and that is living a vegan lifestyle. For some that means a strict adherence to non-animal products in every aspect of life but for most of us, that means ridding your life of as many of those products as possible…or as you are comfortable with because it’s a lifestyle not a rule.

The thing about trying to go vegan in other areas of your life is that most of us have NO idea just how many of our daily products contain parts of animals, at least that was true for me. It wasn’t until I got a newsletter about an “all new totally vegan skin cream” that it even occurred to me that there might be something in there that shouldn’t be.

And so began my quest to find good quality but cost friendly vegan skin care products.

Of course the number one tool in my arsenal is…water.

The first stop was this all natural store that sold a lot of vegan vitamins and I know what you’re thinking, aren’t all vitamins vegan? The short answer is nope. The longer answer is that many of the smooth capsules that make swallowing pills halfway bearable are made from the family of glycerols which is a nice word for animal fat (like suet or tallow). So if you don’t want to eat animal fat, you might want to be on the lookout for ‘plant glycerin’ made from plant fats.

And now we’re back on track. This place had some nice skin care products but they were cost a bit more than I wanted to spend so I went with a body lotion and a day moisturizer with SPF for days spent sightseeing.

The body butter is incredible, soft and creamy with lots of plant and fruit stem cells to keep skin tight and youthful. The other is way too thick for me, but kind of perfect when you’re doing high altitude sightseeing even on an overcast day. I don’t love it but I find it useful. The body butter was the equivalent of 15 USD or EUR and the benefit balm was about 12.

When we lived in Germany it wasn’t too difficult because although it was tiny, they do have a surging vegan community. But moving to Romania meant not only could I not find the Olaz (Olay in the United States) face moisturizer that I’ve been using for years before going vegan but I couldn’t find ANY plant based skin care products. *sad face*

Then one day we were driving past this municipal building that for some reason has a bust of Ronald Reagan in the terrace area (not kidding)…

and I spotted a familiar drug store chain, the same store where I purchased everything from vegan toothpaste (for the hubs), deodorant, bodywash and yes, skin care products!

After doing a happy dance, I went inside and found Alverde, an affordable brand of vegan skin care products!!!

It’s a store brand too, so you know it’s affordable. Thankfully there’s this weird marriage between Germany and Romania so there are so many products to choose from that I just bought a few to see which ones I like. Also because we won’t be here long so I better soak up all the vegan lotion just in case I have to back to coconut oil.

Luckily I speak enough German to read all the labels for you. These are all types of moisturizers, two for day and one for night.

If you’re not sure if a product is vegan, you can look for the labeling like this or read the ingredients label. Typically if it just says glycerin that means it is animal derived, otherwise it specifies that it is plant or fruit-based.

It really is up to you to decide where the line is for you but do yourself a favor and check out what’s in your favorite skin care products just so it is an informed decision. We all do the best we can, but more information is always better.

What are your favorite vegan skin care products & brands?

Eating Vegan in Bucharest

My husband has often joked over the years that the national vegetable of Romania is pork, a fun little quip backed up by his parents, family friends and the spread on the table for any given occasion. There is a maximum of mean–specifically pork–and cheese on the table, plus bread.

What is sadly lacking is vegetables and good vegetables are even harder to find because, who needs flavor when there’s so much in the meant, right?

Wrong.

But it’s made finding places to eat pretty much impossible. So when we visited friends in Bucharest recently, I felt a bit more hopeful since the population is larger and big cities tend to be more ahead of the curve when it comes to making changes for their clientele. Of course we did some research before we made the hour long drive to the city and found Aubergine, a restaurant that was not vegan but did offer a few vegan dishes.

This was as close to a win as we were gonna get and since it was cold and snowy and rainy, I was ready for a damn good meal at Aubergine.

The inside of this place was great, in the historical Old Town part of the city, which meant the layout was super old school with a small first floor bistro area and bar. If you want to see the real dining room, or rooms, then you’ll need to head up a gorgeous winding staircase to take you to the second floor where the walls are decked out in re-purposed doors and serving trays that serve as art. The atmosphere was chill and the waitstaff was nice. And if you’re an English speaking tourist you’ll be happy to find the servers all spoke at least a minimal amount of English and the menus are in Romanian and English.

So far, I was feeling hopeful so I ordered an unfiltered Zaganu and waited for something to take the chill off my bones.

The vegan appetizer platter had eggplant caviar, which my hubs LOVED because he loves eggplant and I do not. The hummus was delicious, flavorful and so buttery soft I moaned as I bit into it The falafel was crisp on the outside and soft and full of flavor inside, which just the right amount of cumin. The mushroom caviar was delicious but I prefer my mushrooms warm. As delicious as the whole appetizer was, the picked veggies at the bottom of the platter were the most memorable. I can’t pinpoint exactly what was in it, but I only left one piece of each for the hubs.

Our friends had a platter of falafel three ways which was pretty good, once you scraped off all the dairy-based creams smothering them.

The dish was vegetarian but I still say our vegan falafel was better!

Did I mention the bread? The delicious turmeric and whole grain bread that were the perfect vessel for the tasty appetizers!

The hubs ordered a mushroom quinoa sote which came out on this beautiful plate. The dish was hearty and satisfying but afterwards he didn’t feel sluggish or heavy. And I have to say that the mushrooms were cooked to perfection and the addition of the sprouts gave it an extra earthy flavor that made the dish memorable.

 

I ordered the vegan shwarma with a side of couscous. This was a good meal with a base of hummus, fresh greens, several types of mushrooms, onion and bell peppers. Honestly it didn’t need the couscous because it was satisfying on its own, but eating too much is still something I struggle with on occasion and finding a restaurant with actual vegan food and NOT side dishes is one such occasion.

Everyone was too stuffed to enjoy dessert and honestly I’m not a big sweets eater so it was no problem for me. After three coffees (for them) and a shot of Jameson (for me) we were ready to battle a freezing cold Bucharest!

Traveling While Vegan: Creativity & Compromise A Must

One of the things you might have guessed about me is that traveling is at the top of my favorite things to do list. Honestly, I’m not that picky. Okay, I do have an extensive list of places I would like see and the things I really want to do when I get there but what I mean is that I just like to go to new places. Whether it was going from Charleston to Carbondale when I was in college, a quick day trip to Salem when we lived in Massachusetts or a weekend in San Diego when we lived in California…I want to go to there.

We haven’t been too many places in the 18 months since making the change to a plant based diet but aside from a few memorable places in Germany, eating out has been kind of a drag. If you’re lucky then maybe you’ll find a vegan option or two, but what if you’re in the heart of carnivore country and the notion of a animal free meal is as likely as riding a unicorn to get there?

You get creative. You cobble together something resembling a meal with the side dishes. Some form of potatoes–usually fries because everything else has at least butter if not also cream or milk–and broccoli is my go to option but only if they don’t have a problem steaming new broccoli without butter for me. Sometimes you get something amazing like grilled asparagus or roasted Brussels sprouts but usually it’s nothing as glamorous as all that. So…you compromise. Usually I end up ordering a salad, the bigger the better, with French fries and then booze. I can get a little greedy and get a shot and a beer or maybe, if I’m feeling good, a couple cocktails.

But when I get home I have to fix something with some sustenance to it.

Which brings me to the most recent trip: Busteni

Busteni is a small mountain town in Prahova County, Romania with some amazing scenery and a gondola from which you can see it all. This place was gorgeous even though it was just a tad too late to get the full beauty of the autumn colors. And even though it was too windy to ride this particular gondola and even though I moaned and groaned about it, a ride on another gondola much later in the day proved the wisdom of their decision.

I took this shot on the sidewalk outside the train station!

Since this was an up and out the door early kind of day, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat before making the long-ish hike to the telecable building. As we passed eatery upon eatery where there was not one dish without either meat or cheese, though most had both meat and cheese, I saw French fries in my culinary future. And you know what was most annoying? That there was so much variety from traditional Romanian restaurants to Italian, Irish, Hungarian and even a Bulgarian place. But we finally found a place with a lentil soup that sounded like the perfect way to start a day of walking and climbing, but they didn’t have it. After it became clear that we didn’t have many options our waitress said the magic words, “We have a vegetable ciorba.” The hubs and I looked at each other, smiled and asked for two big bowls. Along with some crusty bread and two tall beers.

And then we were off.

 

The gondola took us up first to 1500 meters which was pretty cool and at about the halfway mark is when I began to understand why the other gondola, the one that went up about another 1,000 meters, was closed. There was wind, more than enough for this Chicago girl, but it was enough to ride safely up the mountain so I don’t want to imagine how windy the other was.

2k meters high!

We did a lot of walking and a lot of climbing and the old me would be so disgusted with the new me because, yeah, I had a good time. When the day started my light makeup looked good and my afro was mostly shaped and shiny. But that took no time at all to undo and I didn’t even care. I climb even higher than the 2,000 meters and I made it, something I couldn’t possibly have done 22 kilograms ago! Sure, I huffed and puffed a little but my lungs didn’t burn and none of my muscles gave out.

Yay, me!

We walked around the town and stopped at a few artisan tents to see what was on sale and I found a beautiful ring made of lapis lazuli that I haven’t stopped wearing since.

Then it was time to eat and we did the dance that all traveling vegans know all too well. We stopped at about six different places to look at menus and see if any eateries had vegan meals and if not, who had the best a la carte options to put a meal together. Ultimately we settled on an Indian style restaurant that was the only lowlight of the day.

The mushroom masala was…okay. It was seasoned nicely but nothing to write home about. Unfortunately.

We ordered pizza because nothing else was vegan. Nothing. Else. Here’s a little tip for you: If a place can’t make small adjustments to make a dish vegan, chances are good that all the food has been made ahead of time (at least) and not fresh to order.

The pizza was also lacking with no tomato sauce to speak of, barely cooked vegetables that slid off with every bite and a dough that left a lot to be desired. I wasn’t surprised but I was totally bummed because it was the worst cherry on top of a pretty good plant based sundae.

But it was a great day and that’s what matters…right?

Peles Castle, Sinaia & Onion Soup ~ A Plant Based Conundrum

Castles. I love them. Wherever I find myself in Europe there is always a castle nearby and you can count on me to want to hit up. But not in the “I want a White Knight and King’ kind of way. No, more in the way that the halls are so filled with history and the many lives and struggles that took place amongst the beauty and finery. Walking through the halls of a castle is like literally walking back in time even if you don’t know the history you can pretty much guess.

I wanted to it up Dracula’s castle first but since this was just a quick day trip, we opted to go to Sinaia to check out Peles Castle. It was gorgeous and let me tell you that much like Marionberg in Wurzburg, Germany, getting to Peles was an ordeal. Though unlike that gigantic fortress this one was kind of a hidden gem. I mean, not too hidden since it is a pretty famous landmark, but unlike almost every other castle I’ve visited in the past 5 or 6 years, this one doesn’t stand like a beacon on the mountain top.

Instead, you walk up this winding road after going through a really beautiful park, but then abruptly, you start to wind down in an entirely new direction. Quite the misdirect if you’re a King or Queen worried about invaders.

Once we got to the castle though, it was totally worth the walk! The weather was nice and sunny and with nothing more than a light sweater, I barely broke a sweat. But I may have heaved up a lung or two before we got to the gorgeousness!

After a long tour of the inside, which was gorgeous with the highlighting being the arms room, filled with swords, guns and the like from all over the world, reflecting just how intertwined this particular kingdom was with other parts of Europe. If you want to know the details…you’ll have to visit Peles Castle yourself!

With the tour complete, it was time for some refreshments!

A double shot of Jim Beam and a Bergenbier was the perfect thing to hold me over until lunch…

We had lunch at a hotel in town because internet research indicated they had vegan options on the menu.

*Eyeroll*

Anyone who has traveled or tried to eat out while vegan knows this trap well. As a blogger I totally understand SEO and metadata and tags and all that so I should have known, but I was in a beer and booze haze, feeling all good from an afternoon of history and castles and weapons, and I left my cynicism somewhere in the Bucegi Mountains. Because when they said ‘vegan’ they meant what most non-vegans think that vegans eat. Salad.

Yep, salad.

But there was a delicious onion soup that was–so they rosy cheeked waiter said–no butter or other animal products so I thought…why not.

The waiter was nice enough to take some whole grain bread and get the chef to crouton-ify it for us since the croutons that came with the soup were coated in Parm. The soup was just how I like it: hot, onion-y and delicious!

My husband always jokes that the national vegetable in Romania is meat and boy was he NOT joking. While he and I ate this soup to start with and we moved to this…

Roasted veg, braised red cabbage, potatoes & asparagus for us! Say ‘ce face’ to my Mother in Law, Maria!

…this is what the rest of the table got:

Pork covered in a cheesy cream sauce and mushrooms…covered with cheese. As you can see, they prioritize animal products over vegetables and grains so any hopes we had of even one vegan meal were quickly dashed. Once again, it was a side dish bonanza.

Aside from the meal which, for us, was mediocre at best, the day in Sinaia was amazing. Peles Castle was a treat and a great way to start out traveling in Romania.

Who knew there was so much German & Austrian influences in Romania? Biggest surprise of the day!

Now, enjoy a few images from Bucegi Mountains!

 

Me trying to get a good selfie when the hubs decided to photo-bomb me!