Fun In Florida & A Trip To Texas

Well, I thought June was going to less busy than May was.  Not true.  Between visiting and applying to the school I hopefully will be attending in September, applying for funding for said school, a friend moving to town, six (6!) baseball games, a wedding celebration picnic, a potluck, a housewarming party, a four day trip to Vegas (life is tough, I know), a bake sale, and an eye doctor appointment, my schedule is ridiculously full this month.  I think I was telling myself June would be easier just to get through May.

So I’ll at least tell you about May, and that will be one less thing on my to do list!

I flew on eight different airplanes in May, which is probably more than the total number of flights I take in a typical year.  My first trip was back to my homeland:  Florida.  The main reason was to attend the wedding of a former bandmate, but I figured as long as I was there I ought to visit friends and family as well.

Dan & Becca’s wedding was at the Hyatt Grand Regency Cypress, which is a very nice resort hotel not too far from Downtown Disney.  Due to the time difference, I arrived at MCO just after 7PM, which was when the rehearsal dinner started.  This was how I knew we were in for a very, very nice wedding – every single guest was invited to the rehearsal dinner at a beautiful Italian restaurant on International Drive, where there was a slide show, speeches, a nice dinner and an open bar.  There wasn’t much for me to eat, but I was mostly just happy to be on land with a glass of wine.  When most everyone was done eating the bride brought her mother to meet me.  She had helped with much of the planning, and Becca had told her about my veganism, and she was so concerned about me having something to eat!  Concerned in a warm, motherly way.  She told me to just ask the waitstaff for whatever I wanted, and so I asked for a plate of grilled veggies.  About 15 minutes later the waiter delivered a very large, very pretty and tasty grilled veggie platter.  Score.  Becca’s mom checked in with me multiple times over the next few days to make sure I was okay.  So nice!

The next morning we slept in and went to my friend David’s favorite haunt, The Ale House.  (Little known fact about me – I worked at Disney World as a musician for a month over Christmas break one year in college, and we frequented this particular Ale House after our long days.)  I figured if nothing else I could get the old french fry/house salad combo, but I took a risk and asked if they could do veggie fajitas, and veggie fajitas they did!  I got a huge platter with the usual suspects of onions, peppers and mushrooms, as well as broccoli, squash and baby carrots.  I couldn’t even finish it all!

The wedding was that night, and I finally took some pictures.  While it was quite hot outside, the ceremony was very nice (and short) and the weather held up.  It was my first Jewish wedding, so it was interesting to see the traditions like The Ketubah, The Chuppah, The Hora (or chair dance), and all the males wearing yarmulkes.  And again, they didn’t skimp on the food or beverages.

At the cocktail reception immediately following the ceremony, there was gazpacho in martini glasses (which I was afraid I was going to drop).  No picture of the soup because gazpacho looks like gazpacho, but I thought this little display of hot sauce was cute.  There were also quesadillas, and they had set aside a few without cheese.

Dinner was very fancy.  I felt like I had about 20 utensils.  Disregard the Miller Lite in the background…

The appetizer was interesting:  angel hair pasta between two portobellos, with tomatoes and balsamic syrup.  Everyone else’s came with boursin cheese and pesto as well.  I thought this was so creative!  You don’t normally get two portobellos on your plate.

The salad was bibb & endive, dried cherries, grape tomatoes, almonds, hearts of palm, baked olives, crispy shallots, parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette.  This is a picture of my tablemate’s salad, because I started eating mine before I remember to take a picture.  Mine came without the shallots and parmesan.

Not much of anything in the listed entree was vegan, so they brought me grilled veggies and some sort of lentil-tomato mixture.  I was getting full by this point, but I must say that the lentils were surprisingly good.

So we ate a lot, drank some, danced a little, and did all the other typical wedding things.  Here are the bride and groom during their first dance.

Doesn’t Becca look gorgeous?  Dan and Becca are such wonderful, warm, giving and energetic people, and I’m so glad that I got to be there.

Here’s the old crew.  Everyone else is spread around Florida, but some are moving to Boston and Wisconsin soon, so it was really nice to get everyone together.  (I’m third from the left)

And since you can’t see her in the above picture, here’s the cutest three-month-old half-Asian baby I’ve ever met, Tori.

The next morning there was a breakfast buffet, which I though was a nice way to gather again and say goodbye before everyone went their separate ways.  Afterwards, my mom came to get me since my parent’s house in Ocala is only about an hour north of Orlando.  We went shopping for a little bit, then home to bake pies and prepare diner with my dad.  My grandparents came over as well, and I finally got to meet my brother’s fiance.

My dad made the rice with some interesting curry-ish flavors and prepared the corn (as well as some chicken for everyone else).  I roasted every veggie I could find in the fridge, and broiled some seitan my mom bought at the health food store, flavored with dijon and tarragon vinegar and probably oil and some other things.  It turned out nicely flavored and crispy-chewy.  Almost everyone at the table tried it and said it wasn’t bad, which made me happy.  Mom cut up the fruit salad, which is obligitory at our big family meals.

The pies!  My mom makes the best pie crust, so she gave me a tutorial.  Apparently I cut the flour and butter too finely.  But they still turned out great!  We made both blueberry and blackberry pie, and mom even bought some vegan vanilla ice cream.  This was so good.  I may or may not have eaten pie for breakfast the next morning.

Speaking of the next day, I got up and got ready and jaunted off to Gainesville, which is only about another hour north of Ocala.  I met up with my friend Janeen and we headed to Satchel’s, our lunch destination of choice.  Sathcel’s is popular with the indie/hipster 20-somethings, as well as the townies.  It’s cutely decorated with bright colors, there’s always art on the wall, they use unmatched dishes, and there’s a “junk” store in the back with fun stuff to buy.  Some people don’t like it for these exact reasons, but I like it just fine.  I had heard that they added soy cheese to the menu, and I wanted to investigate.

They do have soy cheese, and the soy cheese is good.  Janeen is allergic to soy, and instead of having to buy two separate pies for more money, they offered to split the pizza – half soy, half regular cheese.  We were both a bit skeptical but willing to try, and it turned out great.  They did a good job keeping the cheeses from mingling.  After eating we went in the back and I bought a super-cute bag by BlueQ, and we continued shopping the cheap stores all over Gainesville.

For dinner we met friends at our favorite Mexican joint, Las Margaritas.  I now live in the land of plentiful, authentic Mexican food (northern California), but I still miss Las Margs.  Dinner was great, friends were great.  We went out to see some live music afterwards and I ended up running into all sorts of people I didn’t expect to see, which is a particularly great thing about the Gainesville music scene.

The next day was my last full day in Florida.  I met Janeen for lunch at Cafe C, a new place on NW 8th Ave across from the police station right by 6th St.  They made me a nice veggie sandwich with guac and hummus, and a side of black bean salsa.  Tasty, and reasonably priced.  I said my goodbyes and headed back down to Ocala, where the family had dinner at Amrit Palace (affectionately referred to as Armpit Palace), a great little Indian restaurant on State Road 200 where I am always happy to eat the veggie samosas and chana saag.  I went out and sang some kareoke with my brother and his fiance, then called it a night.  Dad drove me back down to the airport, the plane was delayed due to weather causing me to miss my connection at DFW, and I had to stay in Dallas for an unreasonably long amount of time hopping from standby list to standby list.  But that’s a different story.  Alls I know is that United Airlines might be on my do-not-fly list now.  The only airline that is cemented firmly on that list is Northwest and that’s a very long, very horrible, and very unrelated story.  I did eventually get back to SFO just after midnight, went home, called in sick the next day (my birthday) cause I felt like crap, and was then treated to dinner at Millennium for my birthday.  So at least there was a happy ending.

My next trip was a “business trip” to San Antonio, Texas, but I did eat a few things in between, so here they are.

CSA part one:  watermelon, green onions, dandelion greens, parsley & lettuce

CSA part two:  carrots, rhubarb, navel oranges, gypsy peppers, tomatoes & strawberries

Look at this beautiful tomato!  I’m sure I’m going to be getting lots of tomatoes this summer, and to be honest I’m not sure what to do with them!

I thought the shape of the little head of lettuce and the peppers was perfect for being stuffed or holding some sort of filling, a la lettuce wraps, but I was being lazy so instead I just bought a tub of hummus.

It was still a great meal, and required much less cooking than my dinners normally do.

When I get a big bunch of herbs my mind usually goes to pesto.  Even with parsley.  So I boiled some pasta, made an alfredo sauce loosely based on the recipe in The Uncheese Cookbook, and whirled up some parsley pesto.  I topped some chicken seitan cutlets and tomato slices with the pesto and broiled for a few minutes on each side, stacked it all up, and called it dinner.  This meal was just okay; it lacked something to elevate it to awesomeness.  I’m thinking vegan parmesan might’ve done the trick.

The day before I left for Texas I had some of the alfredo sauce and pesto leftover and green onions that needed to be used lest they go bad, so I tried braising the onions in white wine, stock and some seasonings.

My opinion:  Don’t braise green onions.  Unless you reeeeeally like green onions.  Find something else to do with them.

To go along with the onion pasta, I used up the dandelion greens.  I had only had dandelion greens once before and they were insanely bitter, so I knew I wanted some strong, sweet flavors to go along.  I started by caramelizing a few shallots then added the greens, a handful of dried cranberries, a dash or vegetarian worcestershire sauce, and some chicken broth powder.  The greens cooked down into nothing!  I got two small side servings out of a big bunch.  They were quite tasty though.

On to my “business trip”.  I put it in quotes because it’s not really business, per se.  I work for the Law School at UC Berkeley (you’re learning so much about me today!), and like most American law schools we utilize the services of the Law School Admissions Council, or LSAC.  LSAC has an annual conference every year where admissions officials can go and learn and network and be lavished upon just a little bit.  My boss was going to be away at a differenct conference, and the woman who also work above me wasn’t dying to go (she went last year), so it fell upon me and luckily another coworker got to go as well so I wasn’t alone.  My goals were to see The Alamo, not starve, and make a decent effort to be sociable and learn things.

I had requested vegan food on my conference registration form with fingers crossed, and when I got there, there was a note in my packet that said “Ask a waiter at for the special meals you requested”, or something of that nature.  That means they paid attention!  It was a nice surprise.  Dinner that night was a fancy opening night sort of thing, and upon asking a waiter, they went into the kitchen and came almost right back out with a nice looking plate of rice sauteed with apple and lots of roasted veggies.  It was good, but didn’t exactly fill me up, so I nicked some chips, salsa and fruit off the buffet.  I didn’t really take any food pictures because in my effort to Actually Accomplish Things, I didn’t want the other attendees to think I was nuts.

I figured breakfast would be the hardest meal to adapt, so I brought along individual cups of peanut butter to make sure I was at least getting some protein.  Yeah, it was Jiff or Skippy or some horrible brand like that, but it was better than nothing.  Breakfast every morning was pretty much potatoes, toast with pb, fruit and black coffee.

Lunch the second day was a little more difficult.  They either forgot about me or didn’t think I’d need a special meal, but after looking over the buffet and not seeing much I could eat other than fruit, I asked a waiter.  His estimated 2 minutes was really more like 20, but again I got a plate just for me.  I believe that meal was barley with pineapple and more veggies.  They really have the grains with fruit thing going on.

The next two lunches were easier for them to adapt.  One day had an Italian theme, so they already had pasta, marinara and veggies ready to go.  The next day there was a veggie wrap on the buffet with cheese, so they made me one without.  Overall, the staff at the Westin La Cantera took good care of me.  Speaking of the hotel, I spent a few minutes trying to be artsy.

I call this one “Lanterns”.

And this one “Mirrors”.

On the second night, they brought in charter buses and whisked us off to a real live rodeo.  I know we vegans have opinions on rodeos and the like, but it was a group activity and I was trying to be a good attendee, so I decided to go and just have fun.  The “ranch” we went to was an obvious setup for groups like ours to come in and rent the joint for the night.  It had a kitchy Hollywood-western style greeting area which gave way to an open hall with a mechanical bull, a fake gun shooting gallery, and a moving game-type-thing where you could sit on a metal horse and try to rope a metal calf.  After spending a while in there we moved out to the rodeo.  There was a clown, bull riding, and ladies barrel riding on horses.

After the show we went inside to a different hall area with the Texas bbq buffet and a live band playing mostly country.  I was worried about eating, but their ranch beans were stated to have “no bacon” which I had to assume meant vegetarian in Texas-friendly wording.  I also had chips and salsa and black eyed pea salad.

Veggie tacos!  Proof that there IS vegetarian food in Texas.  Sometimes.

My favorite parts of the night were drinking Lone Star beer, listening to the band which was actually pretty good when not covering Jimmy Buffet (they did a kick-ass rendition of The Devil Went Down To Georgia), and trying to take a decent picture of these chandeliers.

Texas really loves Texas.

We had free time Friday evening, with buses to downtown provided.  My cohort and I sped over to The Alamo to make sure we could see it, since they close at 5PM most of the year.  We did get to see The Alamo, and while it wasn’t the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, I can now watch Peewee’s Big Adventure with more confidence.

(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please do yourself a favor and watch this.)

We ate dinner at a place on the River Walk called The Naked Iguana, I think.  They had the v word right on the menu, and that’s an easy sell for me.  The food was just okay, but the margarita was quite good.  We spent the rest of the evening walking around the River Walk, which I thought was uber-touristy but nice, being the only two people in the audience for an early dueling pianos show, and stumbling upon a free rock show sponsored by a local radio station.  It was a good time, and I would definitely consider going back to San Antonio to explore more and learn more of the history.

Well.  My my.  That was a long post.  No wonder I’ve been putting off typing it up!

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13 Comments »

  1. Oh, I wish someone would invite me to a Jewish wedding with a ton of fancy food. I’m not crazy about wedding, but I think a traditional Jewish one would be fun. The portabellos are making my tummy growl.

  2. what a post! i’m glad you got some food in you during all those adventures 🙂

  3. broccolihut said

    Schmancy wedding food! I love your entree–I bet it was the envy of all the other guests.

    That is one gorgeous tomato!

  4. Sophie said

    oh my gosh, i don’t even know where to start! the wedding sounds amazing. i’m so glad that everyone was accomodating to your eating needs. awesome csa goodies!

  5. Mandee said

    The wedding food looks amazing, it’s so nice when you get a proper meal prepared just for you 🙂

  6. Melisser said

    Phew! That’s a lot of work not to starve over a few trips! hah. Glad you made it.

  7. mihl said

    This post is too much for me! In a good way, of course. So many great foods and awesome wedding eats!

  8. Mom said

    “The old crew” cleaned up pretty good, as we say around here.

    How blessed you are to be able to see great sights, enjoy good times with family and friends, and eat delicious food along the way.

  9. Wow, where to start… It just looks like such a beautiful event, delicious food, and lovely people. Consider yourself lucky!

  10. Janeen said

    You didn’t mention the part where you could hardly leave me, but reluctantly did.

    I miss you and was so glad to have time with you. ❤ Janeen

  11. Diann said

    The Florida food and wedding pictures are so lovely. And I’m glad you found a little something in San Antonio to eat. I don’t know why a city that size doesn’t have more vegan options.

  12. shellyfish said

    Wow – such a rich post! So many yummies, not even sure where to start. I’m so hungry now. For pie, and portobellos and veggie tacos… that lantern photo is just stunning.

  13. […] I came back from my trip to Texas there was nary a lick of fresh food in the kitchen, nor any cooking inspiration.  So I decided to […]

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