With a limited time before having to catch a flight, we seized the afternoon one last time with another hike in nearby Griffith Park. The park is huge, with a ton of different attractions set apart within the mountains. This time we opted for a short hike to see the ruins of the old Los Angeles Zoo. Though the park has a zoo that is operating currently, the abandoned zoo attracts many visitors. Shockingly small welded cages and stylized, painted rocks remain from its early years of operation, mostly built in the 1930’s under Roosevelt’s New Deal. Today intrepid human animals of all ages explore the crevices of the tiny enclosed habitats. DSC_0044

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Seabirds Kitchen would be my final meal in California for now. Seabirds started as a food truck, appearing on the Food Network’s Great Foodtruck Race’s second season. Today, Seabirds sits pretty in the hip LAB Antimall.IMG_9972

Though they had a steep price tag, I chose the Artichoke Drumsticks. Huge breaded artichokes, these were not only an amazing idea, but they were executed perfectly. Crispy, artichokey, divine. I would have appreciated a creamy dip along with the maple mustard and hot sauce. Maybe like a creamy spinach dip. IMG_9964

You got to see a close up… Oh yeah. IMG_9971

Next, the Beer Battered Avo Taco: fried avocado, their Seabirds sauce, cabbage, red onion, lime. What a delicious and flavor-packed few bites! Wish I had another day to try other eats at Seabirds. I am very impressed. PicMonkey Collage

PicMonkey CollageYou know a place like Doomies. They’ve got “down-home,” gluttonous eats, the kind you mostly swore off as a vegan. Their space is a bit dank and sticky, which is part of the overall dining experience. I ordered the Vegan Big Mac off the “secret menu.” Because, you kind of have to.

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The Big Mac arrived promptly and it hit us. The familiar nostalgic smell, so distinct.: the smell of a Big Mac. The look of a Big Mac… or, at least, the one depicted in McDonald’s ads. (We all know the Big Mac looks drastically different than those ads upon delivery.) What made that smell? How did they get it at Doomies?

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2 all-soy patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. About as big as my head. Did I eat it all? No way, barely a quarter of it was finished by the time we stopped picking on it. It didn’t help that it weighed a ton (a clear departure from the “real” Big Mac) and was pretty much impossible to get in your mouth. Most definitely a When in Rome selection.IMG_9963

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Sometimes, menus and offerings change, as was the case with the vegan crêpes that used to be on the Elderberries. But then you wind up enjoying a more basic option that is satisfying in its simplicity. This was the case during my morning visit to the eclectic cafe. I wound up starting the day with a toasted everything bagel with with cashew cheese, tomato, onion, and avocado, some potatoes, and a cup of well-needed good coffee topped with some almond milk foam. It had been a very long morning that originated in Vancouver, Washington around 3am.PicMonkey Collage

IMG_9883IMG_9879If you would have told me almost two decades ago that there would be shops crafting creamy, flavorful, fermented cheese-like products that were all-vegan, I would tell you that you were cuckoo. But nut cheese certainly is hitting the big time! Over the last few years there have been several vegan cheese shops to open up their doors, specializing in creating (or stocking) scratch-made nut cheeses. Quality food establishments are also taking care to embark upon creating their own nut-based cheeses to substitute the packaged, processed foods that really have no place on a eatery’s menu.

In Los Angeles, Vromage reigns supreme, supplying a ton of interested parties, vegan and non-vegan alike, with quality nut cheeses. I stopped by one morning to chat with the very friendly owner, Youssef, and taste a hefty doling of samples, from mild to sharp.

IMG_9876With elevated consumer tastes creating market shifts, plant based cheese is hot. All folks cheese-related, dairy and non-dairy, have their eye on Youssef. He’s a true craftsman of his trade, admitting to eating dairy solely for the purpose of product research. How else can he create a vegan cheese that will be accepted by a non-vegan, he asks. Perhaps when he perfects his varieties, he’ll never look back. And perhaps his customers, who encompass a wide range of eating ethos, will not either.

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I got the Asiago and a variety of Gouda, two of my favorite sampled bites. I am hoping that they last enough to enjoy back in New York as we didn’t have the time or wine to enjoy them in California. I’ll just be poolside blogging until then.
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The Pacific Northwest is heavy. Such things I forget. IMG_9841

Having no appetite (!) I barely nibbled on the Mighty Mofo at Chaco Canyon Cafe, A vegan Reuben sandwich with housemade seitan, sauerkraut, mustard, cucumbers & sprouts, served on a soft sourdough. And sprouts. IMG_9842

In Seattle, wherever you are, it’s grey. Except when it’s glorious. But not today.
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– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The West Coast Donut Showdown:

The West Coast of the USA consists of 3 states: Washington, Oregon and California. In the past few couple of days, I’ve had vegan donuts in all of them. Here is a comparison:

Washington:
Mighty O is Seattle has long been etched in my mind as the first all-vegan donut operation. Not those O-shaped packaged treats that I would see in the early health food stores that were dense, dry cakes sharing no characteristics with true donuts. These were real-deal from the start and they blew the vegan option doors wide open. They opened in 2003, though I didn’t try them until 2008. I watched from afar, hoping someone was paying attention on the East Coast. Mighty O gets mad cred for their fantastic donuts… and they get my business every time I’m in Seattle.

So the West Coast contender is the Raspberry Riot, to the left. This is their delectable vanilla cake donut with a raspberry glaze. The cake donut is perfect at Mighty O. And the glaze, simple with real berry flavor. These are dignified donuts that check all the boxes. (On the right, a mini cinnamon sugar, because they remind me of childhood.)
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Oregon:
Voodoo Doughnuts opened up around the same time, but I am not sure if they offered vegan donuts from the start. I mentioned “dignified” in my Mighty O rundown… These donuts are not about dignity; they’re about wackiness. They’re a “thing,” inventive and silly flavor combinations have created quite the allure. I wasn’t the only airline passenger carrying on a pink box from Voodoo. During peak times there are massive line-ups at their stores in Portland, so much that there are weaving gates to contain order. I have only ever gone at the crack of dawn, as I did today on the way to PDX.

And Voodoo’s berry contender: The Grape Ape doughnut, a raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting, grape dust and lavender sprinkles. This grape is all artificial, so take that real berries! Though it was a whimsical few bites, I couldn’t have much more than that. But its kitsch value certainly counts for something.
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Now, did you feel a pain in your heart today? (evil laughter)IMG_9913

California:
Donut Friend is in Los Angeles. They’re the new kid on the block. And they’re the new kid with a huge selection of mostly vegan flavors all named for punk and “alternative” (Is this still a word?) bands that reinforce the notion of their good taste. They take the best of donut innovators before them to create the best donut on the West Coast. That’s right, Donut Friend, you win the prize of my esteem.

What was the reason for the win? Well, this beautiful berry donut Polar Berry Club, named for a post-hardcore band from New York, which couples delicious real berries and a lemon glaze on top of their sticky glazed donut. As heavenly as the toppings are, they do not hide a dryish, bland donut base (I’m talking to you Voodoo.)… the donut alone without its headdress would kick butt. I savored every bite like those suggestive Ferero Rocher commercials. Admittedly, they swayed the win by merit of their expansive and scrumptious inventory.
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Other Donut Friends I bought are included below. Do you recognize all the bands? X-RAY SPECULOOS: Cookie Butter inside a traditional donut, with chocolate glaze and sea salt on top.IMG_9907

S’MORRISSEY: A chocolate cake donut filled with toasted marshmallows and topped with chocolate glaze and graham cracker crumbs. (Ok, that one was easy!)IMG_9906

ANGRY SAMOA: A vanilla cake donut dipped in chocolate, and topped with caramel, toasted coconut, and chocolate stripes.IMG_9904

This one was a Sufjan Stevens one that isn’t on their website. Otherwise known as a “jelly donut.”IMG_9909

RITES OF SPRINKLES: A moist cake donut with your choice of glaze and sprinkles.IMG_9910

Ok, no more donuts for awhile!

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The day’s activities would involve a pitchfork and a wheel barrel. But first, a bit of breakfast: great coffee from Archive Coffee Bar, which has vegan donut holes from Bigwig delivered Tuesdays & Fridays (bummed I missed them!) and a strawberry and chocolate-stuffed vegan crêpe from Oregon Crêpe Cafe & Bakery.IMG_9587

I was joining the Wednesday volunteer party at Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary, a safe haven for a variety of animals–horses, cows, goats, pigs, donkeys, sheep, llamas, and other assorted critters in need of love and safety. If you volunteer, you get to meet the lovely beings (and human beings) who spend their days at Lighthouse while helping with sanctuary’s needed chores. It’s a win-win. Here are the pics I snuck in between pitchforking and wheel barreling.IMG_9789

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I have to admit that it was the possibility of meeting Helen, the sanctuary’s blind bison, that had me reshuffling plans and hauling it over to Scio from Portland on what was to be a day of laid back vegan eats. I was so glad I had made the trip. Meeting her made my day.IMG_9634

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After a long morning of work, I decided to take the Mt. Hood Express shuttle to the historic Timberline Lodge. The Timberline Lodge was the site of the exterior shots of the fictional Overlook Hotel where Jack Torrance was always the caretaker. The lodge has long been on my list of must-sees, but unknown road conditions and the possible need of snow chains made me dismiss it. But this new-ish shuttle (and the road condition cams on Timberline’s website) made it totally doable. The $2 shuttle allowed some scenic window gazing downtime while saving the engine of my economy rental.IMG_9760

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Sitting smack dab in front Mt. Hood, it was far colder than I was dressed for. Winds swept the tall mounds of snow, remnants of winter.  It was mostly overcast during my trip, which made it difficult to see the glorious Mt. Hood. But I know I would be back close by soon enough.DSC_0035

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I hung around the tremendous fire in the lodge and waited for the Cascade Dining Room to open for dinner. They accommodated my veganism well. Here is the breakdown:IMG_9793

Amuse bouche of beet and wild rice with balsamic reduction.IMG_9795

Fresh baked bread was heavenly. IMG_9797

A Pinot Noir & beet sorbet! A nice surprise.IMG_9800

My veganized dish: pasta with with Maitake mushrooms, leeks, radishes, Fava beans, pine nuts and chives. Earthy, fresh and bountiful. It was a welcome dinner after a day of no eats.IMG_9804

Another glorious day on the West Coast with plenty more to follow. Goodnight, Pacific Northwest.

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Are you ready for it?…

The United States of America is gorgeous. From shore to shore, the spectrum and range of natural beauty is astounding. This many say (or sing), but such things are more effective when felt, sharp-like, when one is inside (or atop) it, gazing and love-filled that there is still wild out there. That 5 minutes from the Los Angeles sprawl lays 53 miles of rugged hills and mountains. And, today, on the very top of the highest peak of Griffith Park, me, on our hike to the top of Mt. Hollywood.

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The first hummingbird I’ve ever seen. A darling.

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We made it to the top of Mt. Hollywood via Beechwood Trail. A glorious view behind the sign.IMG_9522

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Afterwards, it was time to gather my things and head to lunch in Venice Beach at Plant Food + Wine. As a long time vegan, I’ve been reporting on Matthew Kenney’s food since Pure Food & Wine, the New York City he opened with then-partner Sarma Melngailis. When he strayed from that partnership, I tasted his eats again in Oklahoma City at his now-defunct culinary school and restaurant 105 Degrees. Then, his recent return to New York City and his upscale pizza and nut cheeses at 00+Co. Now, at Plant Food + Wine, a kind of burn to the now defaced Pure Food + Wine, at his new culinary training program, I bask in the California sun and relish every bite, sure that he has proved himself a plant-based master with tremendous credibility.PicMonkey Collage

Wanted a bit of a traditional sandwich, I opted for a roasted tomato and cheddar sandwich on warm, rosemary covered, delightfully oil-oozing Focaccia bread with an avocado aioli and delectably dressed greens. The sandwich was magic after a long morning of hiking. I ate it quickly knowing I needed to get back to LAX to fly north, knowing I also needed dessert, knowing I might get a ticket on my car. Parking the vehicle was a fog. IMG_9560

My basil lemonade.IMG_9561

Service in Los Angeles is always so pleasant. My waitress described each dessert one by one, though I already knew that I was destined to order the Banana Split. It’s a rule I have. If it’s offered I must get it. A modern renditions of this traditional favorite, this banana split was like no other. Three canoes of creamy, not so melty, flavor-packed, richly decadent vegan ices creams. Vanilla hemp was perfection and practically polka dotted through and through with real vanilla beans. The chocolate maca was thick like a gelato, not overpowering and contrasted with the plate-painted hot fudge intensity. The strawberry goji was alive with real berry flavor, boosted more so by the second plate-painted sauce, a strawberry one. These three ice creams were spectacular, new number ones in their field: the best vegan ice cream I’ve ever tasted. IMG_9564

Where’s the banana, you ask? The playfully-placed dehydrated thin banana chips were more than enough to merit this a banana split. Would have this benefitted from an additions of some sort of cream? Maybe. But maybe not. Well worth the $14 (ack!).

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It was another wonderful day in California. But it’s time to move onward and upward, briefly. I’ll be back in a few days, Los Angeles.

Los Angeles a city that feels immediately comfortable to me, like an old friend. So it’s doubly comfortable visiting an old friend in Los Angeles. Friends that know you got to eat… and eat we did! First at Chavela. They have a excellent menu with so many delicious totally plant-based traditional Peruvian dishes to choose from.  PicMonkey Collage

We started with chicharron de hongo y coliflor, crispy batter-friend cauliflower and mushrooms with a sweet and a spicy dipping sauce. Deliciously spicy that welcomed a drench in one of their creamy dips. DSC_0003

Our entrees, clockwise, were the truffled black pepper pasta with shiitake mushrooms, kale and winter squash, quinoa elbows, housemade cashew black pepper alfredo; achiote cauliflower steak served with a dreamy, oddly airy potatoes au gratin, smoky tomato and ancho romesco, and herb salad; and, mine, the mole verde enchilada, two enchiladas stuffed with summer squash and anasazi bean filling in an organic non-gmo corn tortilla, and drizzled beautifully with cashew nacho cheese and lime crema on a bed of organic quinoa.IMG_9402

Each dish was spectacular. DSC_0006

To follow our meal, we had to get dessert at little pine, Moby’s newish restaurant in Silver Lake. There are some wonderful things happening here.PicMonkey Collage2

So here is the dessert breakdown, which kind of blows me away. To the left, a baked alaska: vanilla cake, strawberry ice cream, hot fudge, and candied rice krispies topped with a torched meringue. To the right, a s’mores ganache: graham crust under a tall, rich chocolate ganache, and a toasted meringue. And, mine in the center, their “pie of the day”, a huge banana cream pie. IMG_9422

Totally amazing vegan options helps Los Angeles rank high in my book. The gorgeous scenery, old friends and pleasant, laid back attitude also help tremendously. What a welcome, LA!

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Undeveloped Long Island: It is so easy to hate where you’re from. It conveniently holds blame for all the ails of your upbringing. It takes no offense. But it’s other things, you just need to look beyond the paths you’ve worn well. Like anywhere, it can be new and fascinating if you determine this possibility ever-present.

cceb7d68b5df78fe8e69028d13c814e2 Brooklyn-born Charles Pratt was a big deal in New York City in the late 1800’s. He was an oil man and industrialist, and he founded Pratt Institute, the still-thriving art school in Clinton Hill. So, like many tycoons of the day, he had his mansion built on the North Shore of Long Island on the<“Gold Coast.” He also bought land in Glen Cove for his 6 sons and 2 daughters.  Welwyn, the estate of Charles’s son Harold Irving Pratt is now Welwyn Preserve, a 204-acre county park and preserve with beautiful view of the Long Island Sound and diverse plant and animal life. The mansion that was Harold’s home is now Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County.

Pictures along the way: The Long Island Sound. There are clear views of Westchester County and a slew of sailboats.
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Colorful seashells from the lapping Sound.IMG_9124

The far-sandier than usual coast of the North Shore. The rocks were removed by a previous owner and replaced with sand. IMG_9066

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Close to the protected Osprey nesting area, salt marsh surrounds the West Pond.IMG_9083

Who on Earth would think that Opuntia humifusa (Prickly Pear cactus!) would be found on Long Island?IMG_9086

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Preserved woodlands. There used to be so much more trees.IMG_9091

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We stumbled upon some abandoned buildings from the Pratt estate. Graffiti artists have redecorated.IMG_9110

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The greenhouse structures were pretty intact. In one section, new wooden beds were installed.IMG_9121

A delightful bit of easy exploration on Long Island’s North Shore.

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