Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Vegan on the Road: Seattle, Washington

Everyone knows that Seattle is vegan-friendly, right? But the thing I discovered on this trip that I loved is that you don't have to go out of your way to find vegan food.

I happened to have been traveling with three non-vegan coworkers, and I was determined not to be a pain in their backsides. (Meanwhile, they were so lovely and determined to accommodate me. We were all four bending over backwards.) So rather than try to sort out where to eat on our arrival at lunch time, we opted for the food court at the Westlake Center mall. I figured a vegan can always find one decent option in a food court, huh? Well, honestly, I had half a dozen! Indian, Thai, Chinese, Greek, Mexican, Japanese... they all had something. But here was the greatest thing. When I walked up to the Greek joint, Mediterranean Avenue, and said that I'd like a Greek salad with falafel minus the feta, the counter person immediately asked if I was vegan and advised me on all my options. "The dressing has dairy. I'd recommend olive oil and lemon juice. Also, the pita bread has dairy, would you like some tabbouleh instead? The tahini sauce for the falafel is vegan." It was delightful not to have to ask all those questions!

One of the many gorgeous fruit stalls
at Pike Place Market.
When deciding on dinner that night, the ladies broke out their smartphones, determined to find someplace with good vegan options. We settled on Wild Ginger, a Pan-Asian restaurant specializing in satay, with a fairly extensive vegan breakout menu. I don't eat soy, so there were fewer options for me, but clearly there were enough to make a meal. In the end, I opted to keep it simple and ordered asparagus satay (four stalks of grilled local asparagus with orange teriyaki sauce and fresh pickles) and the market vegetable, which happened to be spinach served with brown rice. You know how sometimes you eat something simple and it just seems like a revelation? I left wondering how exactly you get spinach to taste that good... and I LOVE spinach. I eat it all the time! But there's just something about how perfectly they prepare these simple dishes that makes them transcend what you're used to. And the pickles! Oh my word, the pickles!

One note about Wild Ginger - if you go, call ahead. We were lucky to get seats at the counter. They were fully booked with reservations.

My final meal in Seattle was the next day's breakfast. We went to Pike Place Market, and I figured I'd grab some fruit. (Which I did. The most luscious peaches, oh my!) But as we were walking among the flower stalls, I heard a girl walking past say "vegan bakery" and got the impression she was speaking about someplace in the market. From that moment on, I was on a mission! Did I find it? Oh yes, I did!

Cinnamon Works,
across the street from the market proper.
Cinnamon Works is not an all-vegan bakery, but they did have a nice selection of vegan, gluten-free, and vegan/gluten-free options. I got an enormous marionberry scone that served as breakfast for not one, but two days for a mere $3.25. My coworker Gay bought a loaf of vegan banana bread for $4.00 that was to-die-for. While I enjoyed the other places we ate in Seattle, this is my Must Visit recommendation. (And you know you're going to the Market anyway. All roads lead.)

One day, I hope the rest of the country will be as vegan-friendly as Seattle!

Vegan Aboard: Eating Cruelty-free on Celebrity Cruise Lines

First of all, I'd like to apologize for the dearth of delicious food photos with this post. I was traveling for work and I just didn't think it was seemly to whip out my camera at meals. It's extra sad because the presentation of the food I'll be talking about was lovely! Now, on to the topic at hand.

A special buffet lunch in the Epernay dining room.

When I first was asked to spend a week aboard the Celebrity Solstice on a cruise to Alaska, of course I was delighted! But I was also worried about how difficult it might be to maintain a healthy vegan diet on-board. Cruise lines are famous for their extravagant but animal-laden menus. I immediately reached out to our company's travel agent, Gabriela from Aragon Travel, who knew exactly what I needed to do. She told me that she had noted it on my reservation, but advised me to make sure and attend the first seated dinner and speak to my waiter to make sure the kitchen was aware and would accommodate my requests. I felt confident after that conversation that dinner would be taken care of, but breakfast and lunch I wasn't so sure about.

My mind was set at ease the minute we arrived on the ship. We boarded the Solstice early, before the staterooms were ready, so the staff encouraged us to enjoy the buffet in the Oceanview Cafe. Immediately, I saw that I'd have no problem. The buffet included a stir-fry station and a pasta station where you could select your own ingredients for a cooked-to-order dish, a salad bar, an antipasto bar with a selection of marinated vegetables, a taco bar, as well as a variety of other rotating dishes. (The frequent appearance of Indian food was also helpful, and the samosas were delicious!)

They also had an ice cream bar, and I decided that it was a long-shot, but I would check to see if they had any dairy-free treats. I saw that they had sorbet and asked whether it was definitely dairy-free. The attendant immediately left the station to go find a supervisor and make certain. And it was! They then impressed me further with their excellent training about food sensitivities. When I mentioned that some of the mango sorbet had fallen into the raspberry and that I am allergic to mango, the attendant scooped off and disposed of any bits that may have been contaminated, then went and washed the scoop before serving me.

That evening at dinner, I spoke to my waiter as Gabriela recommended. He promptly went to speak to the chef. When he returned, he said that the chef would make a special dish just for me that evening, and that for each subsequent meal, I would be given the menu a day in advance to select a dish I would like them to veganize. That first night, he brought me an elegantly-plated and completely scrumptious ratatouille. From there on out, I got to choose.

Helpfully, their menus already indicated which dishes were vegetarian, lactose-free (which usually meant dairy-free), and gluten-free (which, while not an issue for me, helps when one is avoiding eggs as breadcrumbs can be hidden egg carriers). Of the five courses available each night (appetizer, salad, soup, entree, dessert), there were usually two - sometimes three - that were easily veganizable plus a sorbet for dessert. From the naturally vegan watermelon gazpacho or kale and pear salad, to the modified wild mushroom risotto or vegetable korma, the food was fresh and lovely every night.

If I had any questions about how carefully they were considering my requests, they were quickly done away with. On the second evening, I had requested a rigatoni dish sans cheese. When my plate arrived, the waiter explained that they had double-checked and found the rigatoni contained egg, so they had substituted rice-based pasta that was vegan. And one evening when I was visiting colleagues at another table, the waiter from my table tracked me down to take my order for the next day!

For breakfast, there were many choices that were probably vegan, but at that hour of the morning I could never be bothered to ask. I made a fine meal out of what I was sure of. There was plenty of fresh fruit, as well as home-fried potatoes with peppers and onions, grilled mushrooms, a variety of nuts and seeds (set out for the oatmeal, though I never asked if it was made with water or milk - I just grabbed the berries, nuts, and seeds). Also? Some really delicious hashbrowns.

The pinnacle of vegan-friendliness, however, was room service. Typically, room service in hotels is very rigid about what they will serve and won't make substitutions or alterations. But on the last night of the cruise when I was completely knackered from a day of working and packing, I decided to give room service on the ship a try. I could have ordered salad and crudites, but I really wanted a cheese-free pizza. When I asked if they would make one for me, it seemed like they were surprised I even had to ask! Within 20 minutes, a gorgeous veggie-packed cheese-free personal pizza was piping hot at my stateroom door.

I was tremendously impressed with how helpful, accommodating, and well-trained the kitchen staff and wait staff on the Solstice were, and can only imagine that they are a reflection of Celebrity's policies as a whole. I will have no hesitation about my ability to enjoy traveling with them in the future. They made my cruise a terrific experience!