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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Class of ’64..50 Years Later..SERIOUSLY??



OMG—it’s hard to BELIEVE that all these old people were in my class at Trousdale County High School/Hartsville, TN. But time cares for no man (and even LESS for a woman) and here we were, gathered after 50 years of livin’, lovin’ fussin’, fightin’, marryin’, unmarryin’, procreatin’, grand-procreatin’ and puttin’ on airs.
Class of '64! We are a great lookin' group! Can you find The Elf?
 
So off Big Solid and I went to the lovely foothills of middle Tennessee. Fortunately, I laid some vegan groundwork prior to our departure so the trip would not only be filled with fun reminiscing but also meet my need to eat. This endeavor only added credence to the theory that if you make plans, call ahead to ascertain vegan options and politely offer to contribute your own food if it’s OK.  Remember that not EVERYONE understands what a vegan is so questions and suggestions should be fielded with aplomb. For example, when talking to a restaurant about the vegan options on their menu, the young woman said, “Well, we have appetizers and some salads. You can have some fried cheese.” It was a teaching moment.

We were most definitely prepared with a cooler FULL of stuffs…vegan pimento cheese, tomato and cucumber salad, avocados, vegan Andouille sausages (for the reunion meal), non-dairy creamer, Boca crumbles (always a good salad topping), vegan Parmesan cheese, and Daiya vegan cheese shreds (for baked potatoes). Of course, the trick to carrying all these wonderful vegan options it to actually REMEMBER to take them with you to the restaurant or eating establishment instead of leaving them in the hotel ‘frig.

We decided to take the lazy route to Nashville and avoid the traffic of the big cities (Memphis/Nashville) or Birmingham and drove up the lovely Natchez Trace Parkway. And it was indeed lovely for about the first 6 hours…neither one of us had ever been on the AL/TN portions of the Trace and the topography, scenery was just beautiful. As was the fauna…we saw lots of deer and a bazillion wild turkeys. HOWSOMEVER, bein’ as we are senior citizens, our rear-ends got increasingly achy so by the time we were approaching Nashville, desperation to get the end point of the trip in Lebanon TN increased exponentially. I’ll spare you the gory details of getting off the Trace at the wrong place and the testy conversations that followed.

Our first dining experience, once we made it thankfully to Lebanon and the Hampton Inn, was a conveniently located Outback Steakhouse within walking distance. Perfect as we were NOT getting back in the car. We met my cousin and her husband there; I had a baked potato with broccoli and my cheese. Was so hungry, I didn’t even THINK to take a picture of it but I suspect you can conjure up an image. Big Solid had grilled salmon and a Manhattan. Sandra Lynn and Jerry split an appetizer (crab stuffed mushrooms) as they’d eaten a while back. It had been several years since we’d seen each other, so we had fun visitin’ and makin’ plans for our big meal together the next night.

Breakfast at the Hampton is doable vegan wise if you choose the oatmeal. Otherwise, it’s very limited. So, I had toast with avocado and tomato/cucumber salad. The non-dairy creamer is a life-saver on the road as almost NOBODY carried non-dairy milks.
From that cooler! Breakfast!


We drove over to my home town of Hartsville TN later that day to just sort of soak up the memories of my grandparents, their lovely home (which was actually a funeral home and they lived upstairs), to visit my Mama’s grave (some of Daddy’s ashes were sprinkled over her years ago so they’d be together).  We naturally plotted the trip to arrive at lunch time so we could visit and eat at Dillehay’s Café…an institution in Hartsville for many many years. If you EVER want a great home cooked country meal, Dillehay’s is about as good as it gets. My brother always makes it his first stop when he visits. That being said, there was nothing on the buffet line that I could have…including the vegetables which were cooked either with meat or with butter. The slaw had salad dressing in it…but you know what, I DIDN’T CARE. It was so nice to be there, see folks I’d not seen in many years and watch Big Solid eat and ENJOY THE HELL OUT OF a piece of friend chicken, cornbread and slaw.  I had a glass of tea—thoroughly fun.
Dillehay's home cooked FOOD!!

Since I was pretty hungry, we found a newly opened Mexican restaurant on the square, Hartsville Taco Factory—what a FIND!! I got them to veganize a Veggie Quesadilla (no cheese and no sour cream) and HOLY JUMPING BEAN BATMAN…it was OUTSTANDING. It was also HUGE!!
Vegan Quesadilla
Hartsville TN is a very small town of about 2000 folks; there is no stoplight in town. It was taken down a few years back when deemed not necessary; a 4-way stop would work just fine. That’s how much traffic in the downtown area has slowed down. As a former tobacco production/auction center, the decline in the growth of tobacco and the economic downturn has had a significant impact on the area. Most of the stores that I knew as a kid are no longer there but the square looks good and the new Mexican place shows that there is still an active dining population. I was going to include a picture of my grandparents’ home (one of my most beloved places EVER) but it is now so run down, I just could not even bring myself to photograph it. It is occupied and the folks who live there have dozens of old/junk cars lining the street and in the yard (at least an old RV in the yard). There are piles of old building materials stacked on the front porch where my cousin and I spent many a night swinging on the porch swing and listening for my Grandfather’s feet shuffling loudly up the walkway from his nightly trip to town to buy some Bull of the Woods chewing tobacco. Instead, I show you a picture of how I remember it as painted by my Daddy several years ago.
'Papa's House OR Throp and Oakley Funeral Home...est. 1852

Friday evening, we went to a lovely restaurant in Lebanon TN that is housed on the grounds once occupied by the famous Castle Heights Military Academy (1902-1986).  The restaurant was Sonny’s on Castle Heights and was in an old home. The city of Lebanon has done a marvelous job of preserving that whole campus and many/most of the beautiful old buildings that housed staff and students (including Duane and Greg Allman of you-know-who). 
 
Great Old Castle Heights Main Building
 
Sonny's On Castle Heights
Serving primarily Italian food, I called them a week in advance to discuss vegan options and to arrange for a little birthday surprise for Big Solid. They were MOST accommodating and also included advice to be sure to meet James, the most famous bartender in the area. Apparently James has a following all his own, garnered from the past 44 years of mixology. So, six of us (my cousin and her husband, their older son and his wife and Big Solid and the Elf) were seated on a sun porch with views of the campus. That in itself brought back memories of seeing the cadets marching and parading back in the day.
James and The Elf

My meal was lovely…a regular small salad with a nice blood orange vinaigrette. I DID remember to bring my Vegan Parmesan. My entrée was a grilled vegetable pasta with a very light olive oil and balsamic sauce. The pasta was gluten-free (they had assured me that all their pastas were egg free, so I thought I’d try the GF) and it was a bit on the tough side. But the flavors of the vegetables and sauce was lovely.

 
Big Solid’s chicken piccata was not particularly to his liking but he soldiered on (pun intended).  The wait between courses was a bit long as the restaurant began to fill up and it appeared that our server was over-whelmed (we sat down at 5:30 and left at 8:20) Everyone else seemed to love their meals. Big Solid was served their signature Italian Almond Cake for his birthday surprise while others had another signature Italian dessert, Tiramisu. I enjoyed the desserts vicariously.

REUNION DAY!!
The big day was on us before we knew it. Spent some time in the exercise room (had to look slim and trim) and visited Sandra Lynn and Jerry (my cousin and husband) for a while. It was so nice to sit out on their front porch with a cool breeze blowing and just talking about everything—that’s an always connection, isn’t it? Got back to the room, gussied up and headed out. Along the way, we visited some more old friends in Cottontown TN and gradually made our way to the Cherokee Steak House for the BIG DO!!
I had talked with the staff at the restaurant and was cleared to bring my own vegan stuffs (Andouille sausages/plant-based of course). The turnout was great and I saw people I had not seen in, well, 50 years. I told Big Solid, who was a SAINT for coming with me in lieu of the fact that he was missing the MS STATE/LSU game AND it was his BIRTHDAY, he would just have to introduce himself in case I found myself staring at a fellow classmate like they had two noses. The meals were served and I got my sausages (after a slight snafu that was quickly remedied) along with a nice BIG pile of steamed broccoli. The baked potato that I ordered never made it to the table but that was fine…I had plenty to eat. We watched some slides of ourselves at a much younger time in our lives; laughed, giggled, winced, and groaned through it. After all was done, we excused ourselves and returned to the hotel…did catch the last quarter of the MSU/LSU game and HOLY COW what an ending.

So thanks for the attention to this modestly vegan focused and heavily reunion/old times centered blog. I wish someone with some real energy and drive would do to Hartsville what the B.T. C. Grocery has done for Water Valley MS (see blog post of 8/6/14 “You CAN Go Home Again"). Hartsville has some great people and a great history. Wouldn’t it be awesome to generate that into growth and prosperity?
The 1964 Yellow Jacket women's basketball team. We were awesome!
OTHER IMPORTANT STUFFS

SPIDEY-NURSE
Spidey-Nurse is knee deep in IMPORTANT NURSE WORK and will get back to us next go ‘round.

NEW FEATURE
I am working on a new feature we are calling “The Venerable Vegan” and I am soliciting your participation, if you please.  It would be fun to see/read the stories of old farts like me who did not become vegan until later in life. So, IF you did not jump into the VEGAN lifestyle until you were eligible for AARP (50 years young) AND would like to share how you came to that decision, it would be SO COOL!! Would love to hear not only how you decided but the impact it has made on your life/health, the challenges you’ve face, your go-to places/recipes/resources and any other pertinent information as well as a picture. Before and after pics are also encouraged, if you have them. It is NOT a forum for selling anything, for advancing a political agenda, for railing at the universe about a cause or issue, or personal gain. It is strictly sharing how becoming vegan rather late in life has made a difference for you. Let’s have fun with this. Please contact me at jswearen@gmail.com if you are interested.

Til next week, y’all, breathe deep, eat plants and love life.
The Elf

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Vegan Feast at the City Grille and SPIDEY-NURSE is BACK!!



Well, now that we have the BIG TRIP behind us, it’s time to get back into the groove. Wanted to lead off this week’s blog with a review and recap of a vegan meal we had at the lovely City Grille here in beautiful downtown Madison MS.  There’s a bit of history here, so indulge me.

A FEW DEGREES OF SEPARATION
Chef Zack Athearn opened this restaurant (a long time dream) about 18 months ago and has quickly established it (and himself) as a mecca for good food.  The restaurant, located on Highway 51 in the old Blockbuster location, is open for lunch and dinner 6 days a week. On Sunday, the City Grille serves up a luscious brunch from 10-3. You can access their web page at http://www.thecitygrille.com/ or find them on Facebook and Twitter (@thecitygrille).

Now, about that history..it turns out that Chef Zack’s Grandmother, the late Peggy Roberts, was a dear friend of my Daddy (Jack Patterson). AND, both Bill and Peggy lived at Deerfield Country Club where Big Solid and I got to know them as well. Isn’t that just like Mississippi—forget these 6 degrees of separation. In MS, you are usually only separated by 1 or 2 degrees.

For some reason known only to the ether, Chef Zack and I kept missin’ each other regarding the possibility of creating a vegan entrée. Well, we finally got face to face at the Madison Chamber of Commerce’s Night Out and the deal was sealed.  Zack was only too happy to say he’d love to do a vegan meal for me, so plans were rollin’.

We made our reservations with our BFFs (Jesse and Mary Evelyn Dees) a few days ahead of time so Zack would have ample time to do his thing vegan-wise. And BOY DID HE EVER!!

First and foremost, when we got to the restaurant, we were immediately happy to note that it was spacious and quiet. We have become so noise aversive, that a quiet restaurant is a must for us. We enjoy the company of the Dees as well as anyone else we may be dining with, so it’s fun to actually TALK to them and not have to shout. Secondly, it does not bode well for me to be in a restaurant where you are seated within an elbow of the table next to you. At City Grille, there is room and there is peace. So, we were already off to a good start.

Justin, our server, seated us at a booth and took our drink orders…yes, City Grille has a full bar as well. Chef Zack came out to greet us and tell me that he had some ideas cooking in the back that he hoped I would enjoy. (An aside…never in MILLION BAZILLION years did I expect what he did). He did not share with me what he was preparing and so I took that as a cue NOT to ask. What fun…to be surprised. That being said, I also enjoy a chef to elaborate on what s/he is preparing. As Big Solid and the Dees were perusing the menu for appetizers, Justin brought out drinks…first big TEST of the night was Big Solid’s Manhattan. He was most pleased with the drink that was served him…no small feat for a bartender around these parts. Big Solid is a Manhattan connoisseur and this did not disappoint.
Justin!! Server of excellence

Edamame Hummus/crispy bread
Appetizers ordered were not vegan by any stretch of the imagination…Mary Evelyn got the Lobster Roll and Big Solid got the Duck Chips.  Jesse was going to order the Pork Belly but Chef Z said that the quality of late was not up to his standards so it was not on the menu. Mary Evelyn said that her Tempura Lobster Roll was one of the best appetizers she’d ever had and commented on delicious the dragon sauce was. Big Solid said the Duck Chips were incredible…unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn’t taste them or the Tempura Lobster Roll.

And THEN…MY APPETIZER was brought out. HOLY MOLY!! It could have fed the whole table. A lovely presentation AND a fantastic edamame hummus.  We all enjoyed this dish and still had enough to take home for the next day.

Heirloom Tomato Stack
As Justin was clearing the table of our appetizers and putting them in ‘doggie bags for us’, salads began to arrive. One of the delightful things around City Grille is that a house, garden or Caesar salad is included with your dinner entrée. However, I got a SALAD in the form of an heirloom tomato stack with pureed cauliflower and zucchini between the layers, topped with grilled zucchini and portabello mushroom. Sprinkled around the plate were pickled little bitty onions and radishes. Oh Lord! It was delicious.

The main courses came out next, with Justin making sure we had ample time for conversation and eating, which was appreciated. No one wants to be rushed when the food and company are so good. Jesse and Big Solid both had the Bone-in Pork Chop; Mary Evelyn selected another appetizer to be her entrée…the Colossal Crab Cake, which she thoroughly enjoyed. And then Chef Z ‘hisownself’ brought out my entrée. O.M.G!! What a dish! It was a gloriously flavored vegetable risotto topped with grilled portabello, eggplant and cauliflower; a balsamic reduction offered a nice flavor boost. I LOVE risotto and Big Solid doesn’t…so this was a special treat. AND the seasoning/flavor of the vegetable broth and therefore the body of the dish was just exquisite. I think I had a ‘tastegasm’. And once again, the presentation of the dish just added to the overall enjoyment. You know, when someone takes the time to not only make a dish good but also make it LOOK good, you’re doubly blessed. Sure is a sight better than “We can throw some sides together for you”.
Vegetable risotto with grilled portabello and cauliflower--HOLY COW IT WAS GOOD!!
Well, after that, we were so full we were all about to explode BUT Chef Z had ONE MORE SURPRISE up his very busy sleeve.  DESSERT!! And thank goodness, Justin was savvy enough to assure it did not go to waste by bringing us ALL forks and dessert plates.  So, the dessert was a Summer Berry Medley (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries filling four cinnamon biscuity thingies). I forgot what the clear sauce was but it was awesome. We jumped into that plate of lusciousness like sugar was a vitamin. That was the ONLY dish of the evening that we did not have enough left for the next day.
Summery Berry Stack...not a molecule was left!
So, I guess the moral to this ‘food-a-logue’ is that a wonderful vegan meal CAN be done in this area…we’ve already seen that to be the case and now we add another restaurant, City Grille, to our V-LIST. Chef Z commented that he is seriously considering adding items to the regular menu that can be veganized. We applaud that and hope it happens. So, thanks Chef Z for a wonderful evening and a delicious dinner. We most definitely will return!!
Chef Zack Atheran and the Elf, the HAPPY Elf!

THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SPIDEY-NURSE!!
Shannon aka SPIDEY-NURSE
As you will recall, a few weeks back, we introduced you to Shannon Hall; my buddy, my colleague (we were like joined at the hip for many years on the road and in the air working together) and my initial introduction to being vegetarian (see the entry of 5/28 titled “Counting Calories…Or Not”).  Facing some fairly significant health issues, Shannon lost 70 lbs by becoming vegetarian and incorporating exercise into her daily routine…and she did it as a road/air warrior. When you travel for work, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a challenge...

Well, life intervened with many changes (you know those top stressors) at once and a lot of the ground that was lost was regained. So SPIDEY-NURSE has embarked on a vegan and cleansing journey. And let me tell you, for a Wisconsin girl who loves her cheese…this is indeed a commitment. Shannon agreed to share her journey with us in hopes it would provide everyone who struggles daily with temptations and stress-relief eating the knowledge that they are not alone. Her first post was in our July 30 blog “Cooking My Ass Off and Lovin’ It” where she talks about the challenges of ‘getting it back’. We here at ToV hope to have posts from her frequently…you never know who this may help get something going for ‘theirownselves’!  BTW, the moniker SPIDEY-NURSE came from Shan's preternatural ability to sense care delivery issues and turn them into 'teaching moments' for care givers.

 So, thanks SPIDEY-NURSE and very dear pal. Here’s Shannon in her own words:
~~~~~~~~~~
Two months down this gentler road has left me so much happier, and well slept! I must say, one of the most amazing things about the vegan lifestyle is how much better I sleep! I cannot explain the rationale for that, but after a healthy 9 hour nap like last night the whys don't seem to matter much. Lessons learned in the last two months?
  • You can serve carnivores a lot of things if you don't tell them it's vegan. Attending yet another golf party and finding myself not wanting to bring a container of hummus again, I dug around in Roberto Martin's "Vegan Cooking for Carnivores" and found a recipe for Beluga lentil caviar. I served this up on a pretty platter with vegan sour cream (vegan Mayo and lemon-I couldn't find the real thing!) and whole wheat pita pieces and a la kazaam! It was a hit!
  • Fresh garbanzo beans...fry/steam 'em, season 'em & shell 'em as you go! Awesome healthy snack...now I just have to find a consistent supplier!
  • Vegan or not, there are healthy choices and unhealthy choices and veganism can very well become "carbism" without a lot of conscious effort.
  • Gardein is far and away the best meat substitute I have ever tasted! I have given this to several carnivores who simply thought I was duping them. Again, this is a processed food, and so a conscious effort at moderation is necessary to avoid all the salts and other by-products used to make this taste SO good, but WOW! It is simply amazing. 
 GOOD-BYE SWEET LIBBY
Am closing this blog entry on a sad note. Libby "Babalooie" Swearengen, rescued off the means streets of a major city and adopted by us in May 2009 at the age of 9 crossed that Rainbow Bridge Saturday September 13. It took her about 5 minutes to fix herself in our hearts that May and now we are dealing with that gaping hole her absence leaves. We knew nothing of her history but her personality did shed some light.  She was not affectionate in the usual sense of wanting to be held or petted. In fact, she hated that. She did not know how to play; she was not aggressive toward other dogs because frankly, my dear, she just didn't give a damn about them. She took FOREVER to eat because she had to think about what she was doing and she LOVED barking at the school bus. She adored her pink 'sweater' harness because it meant 'walk' but we never ever saw her wag her tail. Her MOST favorite spot in the world was on an old suitcase made into a window seat AND if one of the other rescues we had was in it, she would paw at my leg and whine until I made them get down and she could regain her rightful and most hallowed spot. She ws the most 'orneriest' dog EVER to try to give medicine to and she had her share of meds as she got older and older and frailer and frailer. But she always knew where I was and was in that space with me. Last night, I was awakened from my sleep by (and I could have SWORN it to be true) the sound Libby made when she scratched on the back door to be let in.  My heart went to my throat and tears pricked the backs of my eyes but I knew better. I prefer to think that she was tellin' me "Mom, I'm ok and well now. Thanks for those 5 years."
Libby, her pink 'sweater' and me--2012

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Elf and Big Solid Go to Asheville



Apologies for having been away for a while…first it was to prepare for the TRIP, then it was the TRIP and then it was recovering from the TRIP. SOOO, now it’s time to catch y’all up on our excellent adventure. The good, the not so good and the fun.

We make no bones about it…we LOVE Asheville North Carolina. It is a mecca for foodies like me who are plant based, a bohemian arty town (some folks call it “Boulder East”), it’s a springboard to the Blue Ridge Parkway with all the hiking and trails that you can wish for, it is also within easy driving distance to another little town we love called Hot Springs which is a haven for hikers on the Appalachian Trail (or as we now call it ‘The AT’). I can release my not-so-inner hippie and Big Solid can people watch.

I don’t know what it IS about being on the road, but damn, it seems as soon as you pull out of the drive way, it’s time to eat something. I think we made it as far as a little ways into Alabama on day we left before stopping for food. Since we were overnighting in Birmingham with our/my step-son, we didn’t get away tile late morning so by the time we got into Alabama, it was time for lunch.  Vegan eating on the road can be a challenge, so we try to watch out for Subways. We stopped at the Subway in Livingston AL—located of course in a service station. You know how sometimes a stranger can just make your day? Well, the gal who fixed our sammiches surely did…she was personable, funny, engaging, and an absolute joy. In this day and age, happening on a person who actually ENJOYS what they do is a rarity and this gal was having a ball. I WISH I’d taken her picture because she made our stop delightful as did the very elderly gentleman who very, VERY slowly made his way into the Subway, eased his overall clad self into a booth. We started talking about the weather and how hot it was. He said, “It can’t get too hot for me. I love the hot. When everybody else is burnin’ up, I’m happy.” Gotta love it. Anywho, I had a veggie sandwich…the delightful server couldn’t quite GET that I didn’t want cheese or bacon or mayo but that just gave her another thing to enjoy (and me too).

We got away from Birmingham fairly early the next morning and once again, got hungry pretty quick. Big Solid never met a Waffle House he didn’t like, so we had a nice little breakfast along the way.  I have learned that dry wheat toast and a side order of sliced tomatoes makes a fine breakfast when all about you are eating omelets, sausages, bacon, waffles, pancakes and the like.  I have also learned to take my own non-dairy coffee creamer as Waffle House does not offer non-dairy alternatives.
The Vegan Waffle House breakfast!
As is typical, we got lost or we’d rather think, misguided, and got to Asheville exactly at the 4 p, check-in time. We stayed in a lovely little rental house in the Biltmore Village area, having decided that we’d rather be closer to town than our previous trip when we were about 15 miles out. Our neighborhood was a wonderfully eclectic area set in very hilly terrain. Heck, we didn’t have to go anywhere to hike…just out the front door. As SOON as we got settled and all our stuffs put up (clothing, travel Keurig, k-cups, Wildwood Creamer, booze, ‘sausages’, etc.) and sat out on the neat little back deck for a bit to unwind, it was time for SUPPER!!

I think the best way to organize this blog now is by restaurants we visited in order of preference and enjoyment.  First and foremost is--

LAUGHING SEED CAFÉ

Our first meal absolutely had to be Laughing Seed Café on Wall Street in downtown Asheville. This is a MUST eat place for us. We had a great server named Rachel and were able to sit outside (unheard of in the MS August heat).  I celebrated with a Kir Royale and Big Solid had a beer, I think. Our dinner was DIVINE!! Big Solid got the non-veganized version (meaning it had cheese in it) of the “Low Country Rollups--Sweet and tangy tofu barbecue wrapped in whole-wheat tortillas, baked with Monterey Jack cheese, and topped with tahini-mustard sauce. Served with brown rice and southern slaw" (not pictured).” I got what I ALWAYS get at least once at Laughing Seed and that is “Spinach-Pesto Manicotti--Zucchini ‘noodles’ stuffed with live sunflower-spinach pesto, cashew ricotta, and fresh basil; served over sun-dried tomato marinara with house-marinated olives.” Now, the coolest thing about this dish, aside from the fact that it is UNBEARABLY GOOD is that it’s all raw. Never in a million years would I have EVER thought I’d like this dish….until one time when Shannon Hall (aka SPIDEY-NURSE) and I were working in Asheville, she was game enough to try it. I tried it and had a tastegasm. Ever since, it’s a must have dish for me.

Spinach Pesto Manicotti (raw and DELICIOUS!)
Meal Two was a lunch meal. Bein’ as I was on VACATION, I started my lunch off with a Bloody Mary. Big Solid had the Dragon Bowl--An all-raw version of our Harmony Bowl. A layer of cauliflower/nut rice, an assortment of seasonal vegetables, arugula, avocado, and sunflower seed/beet pate topped with housemade kim chee and our organic purple kraut. Served with miso-tahini sauce”. I wavered between a sandwich and the lunch special of the day which was a mushroom cacciatore made with lion’s mane and oyster mushrooms. I opted for the sandwich. I immediately wished I’d gotten the mushroom dish as I have always wanted to taste a Lion’s Mane mushroom. They are just too cool and supposedly taste like lobster. In any event, I wound up with the Veganized “Havana Cuban --Herb- and spice-battered organic tempeh, crispy housemade pickles, black bean spread, tomatoes, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, and Asheville’s Lusty Monk mustard on our housemade focaccia”. It was still a great vegan version of my favorite sandwich on the face of the earth….a Cuban sandwich. Big Solid said his salad bowl was ‘the bomb’.

Dragon Bowl
Tempeh Cuban


 Meal three we were joined by a good friend who spends a month in the Brevard area each August (he too finds the heat of MS in August unbearable) and again, we were there for lunch. A Bloody Mary was once again my appetizer – they do make a good one and it’s healthy because it has an asparagus in it. This time, I got the daily vegan version of the “Gourmet Grilled Cheese-- Selection changes daily and on the day we were there, the selection was artichoke hearts and grilled red pepper”. Of course, we ALWAYS get their signature jalapeno-onion fries. Big Solid had the Cuban sandwich which you’ve already seen. Our companion, Ed Payne, had the “Salad Niçoise--Tender mixed greens tossed in red wine-beet vinaigrette with haricots verts, radish slices, red potato, artichoke hearts, red pepper, house-marinated olives, and capers and topped with shaved Parmesan.”  Ed is not vegetarian or vegan, so he roughed it for us.
 
Pimento Cheese and Ed!

AND
Since Ole Miss was playing on TV that night, we decided to order Laughing Seed entrees for supper and take them home with us. A totally Brilliant idea! I got the Vegan version of the since Big Solid had loved his order so much the other day. So for his take away dinner entrée, he got the “East West Quesadilla--A creamy Indian-inspired filling of potato, yams, scallions, roasted red peppers, and cheese, flavored with curry and layered with spinach and our classic mole sauce. Topped with red salsa and Monterey Jack cheese and served with black beans and a tossed salad.” No pics of these two dishes; we must have been in a football feeding frenzy and overlooked the photographing of food stuffs.

Our Last Supper in Asheville was of course spent at Laughing Seed. We mad an agreement NOT to order something we’d already had so we went for it. Big Solid had the “Tico Burrito --A whole-wheat tortilla filled with spiced tico tofu, molé sauce, brown rice, grilled peppers and onions, and Monterey Jack cheese. Topped with red salsa, feta cheese, guacamole and cilantro sour cream. Served with organic blue corn chips and a tossed salad.” I had the BEST DISH OF THE TRIP The Daily Entrée selection of a Panag that was absolutely spectacular. No description available but let me tell you, it was delicious!
Vegan Panag

Tico Burrito
 PLANT

I have raved about Plant for a long time. It is an all vegan restaurant in Asheville that, once again, SPIDEY-NURSE and I discovered a few years back while working in the area. It typically rates as one of the best all vegan restaurants in the country.  Big Solid and I went on our second night, anticipating at least one of two more meals there. We made reservations fairly early to avoid any crowds yet it was pretty crowded when we got there. And, much to our dismay, very noisy. It’s a very small restaurant but it just seemed like they had added a few more tables, making it even more crowded. We had a glass of wine each and then ordered.  Big Solid had the “APPLEWOOD SMOKED PORTO’HOUSE* chard with live mustard & garlic · loaded polenta ·  fennel salad·  grape tomato ·  v1 steak sauce” and I had the “WALNUT CRUSTED SEITAN enlightened cauliflower · broccolini ·  caper-raisin sauce · pickled easter radish.” Now, I love good seitan and the times I’ve been to Plant, I’ve always gotten a seitan dish. I asked the chef on a previous visit how he made it so delicious and he said he didn’t make it…he found that Ray’s Seitan is better than he can possibly make, so he orders it from Ray’s. I could not find a Ray’s Seitan site but there are lots of interesting sites that discuss it if you google it. But, I digress…the meals we had at Plant this time were not up to the usual excellence. My walnut crusted seitan was good but the crust was a bit tough..almost like it had been sitting in a warmer for a while. And, Big Solid was not bowled over with his dish either. So, Plant, while still on the “V List” has slipped to a spot below Laughing Seed on this trip.

Walnut Crusted Seitan
Applewood Smoked Porto'House




KATMANDU
We LOVE LOVE LOVE to try different ethnic cuisines and Asheville certainly has its share of good ethnic restaurants. Nepalese is one of our favorites and there just happens to be a Nepalese restaurant in Asheville. I had “Vege Chau Chau--Pan fried soft noodles with fresh vegetables and ginger garlic” and Big Solid had “Machha Tarkari--Atlantic salmon cooked with fresh curry powder and curry leaf”. My dish was absolutely divine…very simple but seasoned so nicely. It’s a Tibetan meal (and you know I think I was Tibetan in a previous live) so I had to have it. The server was very knowledgeable of the dish and the restaurant’s ability to veganize it and the roti/bread. Big Solid’s Salmon dish was good but I don’t think he enjoyed it as much as I loved mine.  The reviews of Katmandu are mixed on both Yelp and Urbanspoon but I LOVED it.
Vegan Chau Chau

Salmon with curry
 
SPRING CREEK TAVERN
On one of our hiking days, we drove to Hot Springs NC which is about 40 miles from Asheville. You feel like you’ll NEVER get there because the road is pretty twisty and windy and lots of elevation and the down into the town. The town is popular and famous for being on the Appalachian Trail and therefore a haven for folks who are hiking it—either as a partial hike or a through hike. We hiked along the French Broad River on the AT but it got a bit steep for our old legs, so we bailed and headed back to town to EAT at a place we’ve frequented before The Spring Creek Tavern. It’s right on a small creek (duh) and it was nice to sit outside, have a cold brew and a nice lunch. It’s amazing to me that a town the size of Hot Springs (resident population of about 300) offers vegetarian options on their menus and most of the veggie options can be veganized. I am not a big beer drinker but it just seemed the thing to do, so I got one—a Scotch Ale called Wee Heavy. It was really good but I only drank about half before passing it on to Big Solid. He had a wrap and I had a salad, so it wasn’t a big deal for lunch—just nice, peaceful and fun. The staff is very attentive and wants to make sure you enjoy your food. We met a man who was celebrating his dog’s birthday by getting him an ice cream cone…most restaurants allow pets outside on their decks or patios. A nice touch.
Wee Heavy Scotch Ale
Big Solid and the Elf
 
CORNER KITCHEN
For our penultimate supper meal (saving our last dinner for, of course, Laughing Seed), we stayed in the Biltmore area and went to a lovely restaurant named Corner Kitchen. Once again, I had been there before and remembered it being delightful—in my pre-vegan days. The menu did not seem to cater to vegetarians or vegans but we decided if nothing else, I’d get a salad and/or appetizer.  We ate outside (so nice to be able to ENJOY August) and our server was an absolute gem. I never did get his name but he was terrific. When I told him I was vegan, he suggested that I get “Fried Green Tomato Goat Cheese Stack with Warm Sweet Potato Salad and Grilled Zucchini” and they would take out the goat cheese. He also brought out a lovely little chef’s plate for Big Solid and then had the chef make one for me that was vegan. Big Solid had “Pecan Crusted Mountain Trout with Sweet Potatoes, Green Bean Salad and Bourbon Sauce”.  Since we were both still pretty full from lunch, we did not indulge in any additional courses. The Warm Sweet Potato Salad was an unexpectedly wonderful surprise…didn’t sound that great to begin with but, as usual, I was wrong. It was a most pleasant evening meal and we were happy campers. 

My Martini and My New Favorite Hat

Little Chef's Plate -- veganized

Fried Green Tomato stack YUM!!


MISCELLANEOUS MEALS
Gazpacho and Roasted Veggie Sandwich at Mayberry's in Brevard, NC

Three hummus appetizer at Rezaz in Biltmore Village

Falafel at Rezaz

Big Solid's Balsamic Braised Lamb Shank--Oh dear

The owners/operators of Allgood Coffee in Weaverville, NC. I lost their names!!

Great little Coffee place in Weaverville, NC. Has non-dairy alternatives and vegan food!!
 
Non-food oriented highlights of the trip were hiking both the French Broad River at Hot Springs; catching up with a guided hike to the Black Balsam Knob.  Almost entirely devoid of trees above 6000', the summit is more reminiscent of New England than North Carolina; a trip to the Arboretum and it’s incredible Bonsai Garden; a lovely little visit with a Facebook friend and her husband who were in the area from South Carolina; and a surprise chance to see one of my favorite authors (Jeaniene Frost) at Malaprops bookstore in downtown Asheville.


'Summiting' the Black Balsam Bald--we are not Mt. Everest material


Hiking the AT along the French Broad River

Jeaniene Frost and the Elf

One of the great Bonsai trees in the Arboretum's Bonsai Garden

Our Facebook and real people friends the Goldbergs
After our final meal at Laughing Seed on Saturday, we spent the evening packing up and loading the car to make an early break for it on Sunday morning. We intended to drive all the way home and we did….of course, making a stop at a Waffle House along the way. It was a terrific vacation and we look forward to returning to the area in another August in another year. It amazes me that a town of about 90,000 (Asheville) supports a totally vegan restaurant as well as a vegetarian restaurant; AND most restaurants in the town offer vegetarian/vegan options on their menus. I am firmly convinced that if someone took the time to try a vegetarian (with vegan options) restaurant here, it would work. So, who’s up for that?

Farewell, Laughing Seed--we miss you.