On the 31st, bf and I packed up what was left of our possessions and headed west. Eight days and 2700 miles later, we arrived at his mom’s house in Ripon, CA, where we’ll be staying until we find jobs and a place to live. I took a little bit of food with me just in case, but wanted to live off what I could find on the road, which I knew full well might be just iceberg salads and saltines. And way too much caffeine.
For lunch on the first day we stopped at a Ruby Tuesday’s somewhere in Alabama or Mississippi. I had read online that their veggie burger was vegan, so I thought I could get a nice hot meal. Unfortunately the waiter couldn’t confirm that it was 100% animal-product-free, so instead I got the salad bar and a baked potato. Upon first glance I didn’t really see any protein I could eat on the salad bar, but upon going back I was pleased to find edamame, black beans and sunflower seeds.
Here’s my baby after his first trip out on a leash. I worked on leash training him for a few weeks before we left. I felt bad about his being cooped up in the carrier for twelve hours a day, so I tried to let him out at least once a day to stretch. He didn’t necessarily like being on the leash, but offering treats made it more enjoyable. This was taken from the driver’s seat – every square foot of my car that I didn’t sit in was packed with stuff.
That night I had to eat Taco Bell for dinner, as there were no other options where we were staying. The hotel did have a free breakfast though, so in the morning I had some of their food and some that I brought for a nice breakfast.
At lunchtime we came across Juanita’s Family Mexican Restaurant just off the interstate in Tracy, TX. I first checked that the beans were vegetarian, and figured I could at least have some beans and chips. I ended up getting a pretty great meal, on the cheap – a big bowl of beans and a guacamole salad, with the most guacamole that has ever been on my plate. I ended up mushing most of it together and scooping it up with chips.
That night while bf was looking for a hotel, I went to the SuperWalmart in search of some simple, relatively healthy food. There was nary a decent hotel to be found in Vernon, TX so I ended up eating it off my lap before we got back on the road.
The next day we packed PB&J’s for lunch. Near dinnertime I had to stop at a Cracker Barrel to drop off a book on CD (check out their borrowing program, it’s pretty neat and definitely helps pass the time) so we just ate there. I figured I could at least get french fries and a salad, and that was precisely all I could get. Cracker Barrel is really not vegan friendly, as anyone probably could have guessed. They have applesauce on the menu that I was going to get too, but they were out that night.
Las Vegas! The next afternoon we arrived in Las Vegas. Our original plan was to spend two nights in Vegas and two nights at Disneyland, but we were already spending quite a bit of money, so we agreed to stay in Las Vegas one more night. We ended up staying two extra nights, for four nights total. It was a good amount of time to stay and be able to see everything without being rushed, and by the end of the four days we were very ready to get out of there.
Our first two nights were spent at TI (formerly Treasure Island), which is a nice hotel that we enjoyed. I had read that Burger Bar is vegan friendly and it was recommended by a friend, so we trekked all the way down the strip to Mandalay Bay to try it out. Their beer selection was impressive. I had the New Belgium Wit.
I was hoping the vegan selection would be a veggie burger that I could pile with toppings, but alas, it was not. It’s actually called the Vegas Vegan, which is cool. The meal is roasted veggies between two deliciously marinated portobello mushrooms, served with burger fixings and fries – I subbed sweet potato fries. I also added avocado. I think maybe you’re supposed to try to pick it up and eat it like a burger, but I definitely used utensils. I think picking it up would have been a sloppy disaster.
Overall the meal was very tasty, but a little too oily for me. I had an upset tummy for a while after. But, it’s a bonus when you’re food looks like a crab.
The next morning I got up and went straight to Ronald’s Donuts, which any good vegan knows is a must in Las Vegas. I tried to go right when we got into town, but it was Sunday and they had closed just an hour earlier. It was well worth the wait, and just as good as I had dreamed. The lady was very helpful in helping me choose my dozen – she pointed out the four trays that weren’t vegan (which were all cake-style, I assume they use egg or something), told me what everything was, and even recommended which ones she thought I should try. One warning – they only take cash. She was very nice and held my box while I ran to the store to get some. Who doesn’t carry cash on them in Vegas anyway? Me, apparently.
I ate these bad boys over the next five days, even after they started getting stale, and with a little help from bf, who said he didn’t want vegan donuts but had to admit they were quite good after trying.
For me, the holy grail of breakfast pastries is the apple fritter. My mom used to buy them from Publix when I was a kid, and I love them so. Ronald’s apple fritter is ginormous – see my thumb for reference. I’m working on a recipe to replicate the apple fritter in baked form, and eating these was a great reference for me to remember exactly what they’re like. There are two in the picture above, one under the other.
This is what she called a “soy cream filled” donut, which was like a Boston Cream. Another great thing about Ronald’s – they don’t mention the V word anywhere in the store. There are all these unsuspecting “normal” people in there eating vegan donuts unawares.
Here’s a maple bar (which the lady said “eh” about, but we really liked), and what I think was called a cinnamon roll, which is hiding under the bear claw in the group photo (which bf took to calling the baseball glove, and eating one finger at a time). The cinnamon roll tasted a lot like what I think those packaged honey buns taste like. Again, see my hand for ridiculous size reference.
By the way, every time I ate a donut my stomach was really unhappy with the amount of sugar I was ingesting. But it was totally worth it.
Back to the actual food. Vegas is famous for its buffets, and we really wanted to try at least one. I couldn’t find anything as to how veggie friendly any of them are, but I figured with the variety of food that was supposedly offered, I could at least find enough to eat. If nothing else, the salad bar and some veggie sushi, which they all seemed to offer. Turns out I did really well at each of the buffets we tried, three total. The first was the Bellagio.
(Note: As there wasn’t a proper wait staff or someone who could answer questions, I went with instinct on what was vegan and what wasn’t. So don’t take my word that something shown here is vegan. I used common sense, and when in doubt I didn’t take an item. Who knows why people put certain ingredients in things though, there is a chance that I ingested something I wouldn’t have had I known exactly what was in it.)
First plate at the Bellagio: a pretzel roll, grilled veggies, spinach salad w/ cucumber, chickpeas, almonds and balsamic vinaigrette, white wine marinated mushrooms, pickled veggies, and a bean salad. The standout of this plate was the mushrooms, they were incredible. The loser was the bean salad, which I was really looking forward to but couldn’t eat, as it was full of caraway seeds. I can’t stand caraway seeds.
For the second plate I went to the Asian station: seaweed salad, carrot salad, wakame salad, veggie sushi, cucumber salad and miso soup on the side. The wakame salad was surprisingly bland, but when mixed with the seaweed salad it was good. The carrot salad was also quite bland, it tasted like it wasn’t dressed at all. The miso soup was very tasty, some of the best I’ve ever had.
By the third plate I was getting really full, but wanted to eat some veggies: patty pan squash, asparagus, mushrooms and bok choy. And another pretzel roll for good measure.
Their desserts are amazing to look at, so look I did. Then I had some raspberry sorbet with strawberries and pecans.
Crazy but true story. While in line at the Bellagio some people waved at us, and not ten people ahead were two of our friends from Gainesville, who we didn’t know were in Vegas. Out of all the restaurants in Vegas, and all the times of the day, and all the people in line, they were right there. So crazy. So we ate lunch together and met up again later to hang out. Nobody was really hungry for dinner, but I needed some fuel, and luckily I found this roasted veggie wrap at the Venetian food court. It did my tummy right and kept me going for the rest of the night.
My favorite part of Vegas is just walking around looking at the hotels and casinos. Yeah, I did my fair share of gambling (Jacks or Better video poker is my new fave), but the decor of some of the hotels is just astounding. We checked out the Wynn, which I believe is the newest hotel on the strip, and a must see for anyone who enjoys whimsical, colorful decor. People looked at me funny while I took pictures of the floor and ceiling, but I don’t care. I love this place. The tiling alone must’ve cost millions.
Another one of my favorite things we saw was the ceiling at the Bellagio, near the conservatory. Each piece of this display was handmade.
The conservatory is free and has lots of pretty flowers, and Americana-esque displays made of natural materials, including a miniature replica of the entire hotel covered in seeds and bark and such.
Again, back to the food. The next afternoon we went back to the Wynn to try their buffet, which is supposed to be right up there with the Bellagio. It did not disappoint. I felt that there was less selection for me, but in general the food was more fresh and seemed like better quality than anything else we ate in Vegas.
These plates were huge, by the way. The first plate held salad with vinaigrette, a baguette, mushroom salad with balsamic reduction (they came in the little glasses), baby carrots, pasta salad, and gazpacho, to which you got to add the cucumber and bell peppers. All of this food was delicious, but the standout was the mushroom salad. When I turned it out onto the plate at least four cups of greens were hiding in there, as well as the balsamic reduction, which was just enough to coat it all.
The second plate was all from the Asian station. There was other food I could’ve tried, like Mexican, but this looked really good so I loaded up. Edamame, bok choy, kim chi, udon noodles with tofu and miso, a veggie spring roll, sushi, and miso soup. The miso soup was good, but less good than the Bellagio’s. Everything else was average, except the noodles. Oh my goodness, the udon dish was to die for. I could’ve easily eaten a whole bit plateful if I wasn’t already getting full. I’m going to try to replicate it, although I have NO idea how they made the miso sauce that everything was coated in.
I was going to skip dessert this time, but looking at them made me want something sweet, so I had pineapple sorbet with oreos and melons. Weird maybe, but good.
After lunch we placed some sports bets (poor bf likes to bet on sports, but always seems to lose) so we went to the ESPN Zone at New York New York to watch and have some beers. We stayed for a while and got hungry, so we grabbed a table and had dinner. I was thinking I could get the veggie sandwich I got at the ESPN Club in Orlando back in June, but it turns out the ESPN Zone and the ESPN Clubare two very different places with different menus. I got some summer rolls which included jicama and daikon, and came with a very tasty peanut sauce and chili oil. I also ordered fries since I didn’t know how filling the rolls would be.
BF’s van had been making a funny noise, so the next morning we had to take it to the shop. They said it wouldn’t take very long, so we set out in search of food and hoped they’d fix it while we ate. We were feeling a little under the weather (read: hungover) and wanting Mexican food, and we came across Roberto’s, which looked promising. Checking out the menu, they had a vegetarian fajitas lunch special which sounded good, so we sat. I was very happy when it came out and had more than just onions and peppers. Broccoli and cauliflower! I think they were from frozen, but still very tasty.
For dinner on the last day we checked out one more buffet, The Spice Market at Planet Hollywood. I had read online that they had a good Middle Eastern station, with hummus and the like. This buffet was…okay. I wouldn’t be upset if I had to eat there again, but given the choice I would rather go back to Bellagio or Wynn.
First plate: salad, marinated wild mushrooms, couscous salad, sushi. The salad bar was pretty weak, but the mushrooms were good. The couscous salad could’ve been really good, but the couscous was a bit undercooked. They used an herb in the salad that I couldn’t put my finger on, maybe chervil or tarragon? Those are the only two I can think of that I wouldn’t recognize.
Second plate, the aforementioned Middle Eastern food: hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouleh, grape leaves, falafel, basmati rice, dried fruit and pita bread. This food was kind of hit or miss. The pita was pita and the hummus was hummus. The baba ghanoush was a little too tangy for me, but I’m not a big baba ghanoush person anyway. The tabouleh was mostly parsley and hardly anything else, and I didn’t eat much of it. The grape leaves and falafel, however, were great. The falafel had just been cooked and was nice and hot and crispy. The rice was good, with almonds and golden raisins, and the dried fruit was very interesting. It was rehydrated with some sort of sweet syrup, with flavors that I’m not sure of.
By the third plate my body was getting tired of being stuffed, but I really wanted more veggies. Grilled squash and asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower, and stirfry. There was absolutely no room for dessert.
On the drive in from Las Vegas to CA I was really excited at the prospect of cooking my own food for the first time in weeks. My body was beginning to revolt from being fed restaurant food. I have a full kitchen here at bf’s mom’s house, but they don’t cook very much so my options are still limited. It will be simple foods for me until we find a place to live, which is probably exactly what I need.