I had been patiently waiting for restaurateur Ravi DiRossi’s Cienfuegos to go all-vegan… then I forgot about it. But then I remembered and went relatively soon thereafter for a friend’s birthday soirée.

We tried most of the small plates on the menu. They were all fantastic, though photographed poorly in the dark ambiance. Here–kale, forbidden rice, and black bean empanadas and Cuban charred corn drenched in lime crema and pumpkin seeds. 

The mother load, front to back: fried guacamole (amazing!) and a bowl of plantain chips, Cuban sliders, yucca fries in a herb pesto. 

Back to the fried guacamole. This was a spectacular plate. The horribly flashy photograph below was my desperate attempt to capture it. But it did it no justice.

I was on cake duty. As in, I picked up the cake in the 4 hours I had to kill. . this is one of the tough parts about being a teacher. Who else gets off work at 3:10? Anyway, I headed to the West Village to By Chloe’s bakery and dropped it off at Cienfuegos for serving.  It was a bit dense but tasted yummy.

And my day ended as it started, in the dark and on a train. 

I am pretty sick of the land being a scratchy shade of dry beige. The animals are marching out of their dens, ready for spring. Myself included. But far more exciting, this fox. Who sees beautiful foxes in their path randomly? Luckily me today.

The fox, a Red Fox, was walking about Robert Moses State Park. Near all the deer. Then it strutted away into the brush.

More animals out and about, this cute fawn munching on some vittles.

And these goats in Norman J. Levy Park in Merrick. They’re star attractions.  They also help maintain the grounds when they are not loafing about with benevolent expressions on their faces.

March’s Full Worm Moon, as photographed on the train platform when my morning train was delayed “because of equipment trouble.” 

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Something happens that I’m head over heels.  I never find out till I’m head over heels.

I was singing this fantastic song in my car the other day, and I thought: I totally agree. So I enjoy something at a moderate and healthy level. Fine and dandy. And then… a slide into utter and absolute infatuation. People, places, songs, foods, winter coats. [Record scratches] Winter coats?!

Yes, winter coats. It’s like I’m collecting them now. With years of being unsatisfied by the availability of a quality vegan winter coat, maybe I’m making up for lost time? I know, I know. #firstworldproblems. But coats are important to me. I don’t like to surrender to the elements; I like to be inside of them, whatever they may be. But that had been difficult, till now.  And best of all, you there is no need for me (or anyone) to contribute to this needless pain and suffering.

Why do vegans not wear down? Because feathers are for the birds, not us. Even if conditions of collecting down feathers are not from live geese (pictured here), if they’re plucked from corpses after slaughter (possibly from a “spent” foie gras bird) if feathers are “traceable,” if there is paperwork signed somewhere that some level of oversight may exist at sourcing site, or there’s a public relations document that describes said outfitter’s commitment to “sustainability,” feathers come from the skin of a duck or a goose. Greenwash words can’t change that reality.

But no fear, the ubiquitous winter puffer need not be filled with feathers plucked from a live (or dead) goose… nor do they need to contain the hide of a most certainly dead animal. Yes: yet again, vegans can rejoice and reap the benefit of the unique market conditions that open up new product options. With demands for increased mobility and performance, more sustainable materials, allergy and sensitivity free materials, as well as market awareness to consumer trends regarding animal welfare, winter wear suppliers and outfitters are offering alternatives to feather/down insulation. And because I have become obsessed with tracking them all down, here. Take this quick compilation of down alternative information, please.


Who are the star innovators of featherless down? PrimaLoft was the originator. When the U.S. Army needed a water-resistant and synthetic (read: cheaper) alternative to ripping feathers out of geese, PrimaLofft was created. And that was 25 years ago. No wonder their insulation is the trusted source in big whig winter gear outfitters North Face and Patagonia, among others. Sleeping bag outfitters then contributed to the synthetic down selection with well-respected Polarguard® 3D and Climbashield in their arctic bags. Growing still, many well-known brands have created their own proprietary synthetic insulations to supplement their lines and meet market demand. And most recently, in 2014, there was 3M. (You know, like Scotch tape?) They created Thinsulate™ Featherless Insulation in 2014 with the intent to mimic down.

So how can you stay warm without the down? There are so many choices! In the interest if not having to mind this post too much, I am mostly naming the brand and synthetic insulation. Peruse the companies’ sites to see the most current and available styles.

The Canadian Arc’Teryx uses polyester-based Coreloft™.  They have plenty of fitted and feminine styles for women. As far as I can see, they don’t use fur in any of their outerwear. Their website proclaims a bunch of blah blah on their down sourcing.

 

Burton has their own, too. Thermacore Insulation™ boasts breathability and mobility for when you’re “shredding.” Because they’re Burton, expect hip styles and colors.

 

I am putting Coleman here because I am happy to hear that they have gotten rid of down in all their sleeping bags and outerwear after learning of the pain involved in the industry standard of down sourcing. It looks like they’ve also created their own insulation: Coletherm®.

 

Columbia, or who I like to call the poor man’s North Face, also has their own proprietary featherless insulation: Omni-Heat®. Omni-Heat® is supposed to have the highest heat-retention of any of the synthetic downs. What what!

 

Eddie Bauer has Weatheredge®. But most of their line is standard down. The Westbridge Parka is their only synthetically insulated cold weather coat.

 

Land’s End has their own ThermaCheckk®-300 for some warm base layers, but it seems they use PrimaLoft as insulation in their synthetically insulated jackets. And they’ve got some cute patterns… though they’re more for casual wear.

 

If you have lots of bucks to throw down, Helly Hansen has some great cold weather coats that are synthetically insulated, like the Blume Puffy Parka and the Luna Parka. And you know they know about keeping warm since they’re based in Norway. They use PrimaLoft

 

If you want to sport that mamoth on your sleeve, Mammut has a few choices that have PrimaLoft.

 

 

 

Is it me or is Marmot the new “it” outerwear brand? They offer their own proprietary polyester-based insulation called Thermal R.

 

I’ve recently added Merrell‘s Arctic Glow Featherless Parka and Silversun Featherless Puffer (vest and jacket because I’m obsessed) to my winter line-up. Both have Thinsulate™ Featherless Insulation. And they were almost 80% off at Sierra Trading Post at the time of my purchase.

 

The mighty North Face has its own synthetic insulation: ThermoBall™ powered by the also mighty PrimaLoft. Their women’s styles are beautiful and feminine. (Am I not supposed to say things like that?) A fan of the Denali fleece myself, I love how North Face help a ton of people sport animal-free warm wear. North Face also shares its PR clearly on its site: Responsible Down Standard. Yeah, yeah, thanks.

 

Another big boy, Patagonia has its own synthetic insulation, too. Their Nano-Air® featuring their FullRange™ insulation seems like the cat’s pajamas. But I feel like I am not outdoorsy enough to sport Patagonia, like it’d be a kind of misrepresentation. If you care, Patagonia’s Traceable Down Standard is also available.

 

Rab is a UK-based outfitter with some great featherless down options included in their 2016 line. They use PrimaLoft and Thinsulate™ Featherless Insulation and the lighter weight Cirrus™ synthetic insulation from 3M.

 

So if you have even more money to dispose of, you can go for a cold weather coat from France’s Rossignol. They use the Thinsulate™ Featherless Insulation. Points for the logo.

 

 

 

Scott has some nice offerings with PrimaLoft featherless down, which it looks like they call Insuloft? Scott seems pretty hardcore. As in, no prices on their website.

 

Along with base and mid layers that many of these brands offer that are animal-free, Spyder has purdy down-free jackets. But they don’t reveal much on the make-up of the synthetic insulation. I’m a bit more sold by something with a name I think.

 

Sunice. I never hear of this brand either. They have a small selection of sensibly priced cold weather pieces.

 

Under Armour has a trademarked synthetic insulation: ColdGear®. They offer a pretty large selection of basic insulated jackets and base layers with varying degrees of insulation.

 

 

Notes:

This list is in no way exhaustive. It seems that most, if not all, outdoor outfitters can keep a vegan warm with available options.

Though I am a woman and mentioned some women’s styles, there are a ton of synthetically insulated men’s options by these brands, as well. In some cases, even more.

For research, Back Country‘s storefront is a great resource.  You can search for coats and filter for “synthetic insulated.” Many other sites, you’ll simply need to read the style’s tech specs/description. Remember to double-check that fur trim is faux (industry standard these days) and that there are no other animally-derived trim or materials. Some of the outfitters above may offer real fur on some of their coats. You can do a quick check at the company’s website to see if you want to purchase from a company who offers fur.

Once you have a brand and style you like, shop around electronically. Or, if you don’t have pressing needs, wait for an inevitable sale at winter’s end. A good, warm jacket costs a bit more than may seem reasonable. But it should last you many, many years. Resist trendy cuts, colors, or prints and go for classic.

And stay warm!

———–Addendum———-

Though this post is about vegan options from well-established outdoorsy brands, there are a few vegan coat options from 100% vegan companies that are not to be missed.

HoodLamb (see my post here

New York City-based Vaute Couture

Toronto-based Wully Outwear (formerly Mammouth Outerwear)

Additionally, Unicorn Goods has a great collection of vegan coats from many brands in many styles. It’s basically a comprehensive depot of links, though availability is limited on outbound links.

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The things you think are visually appealing as a little kid are stored for continual appreciation even decades letter. For me, gasoline, water and black top.   

Premature daffodils in the backyard, appreciated by an outstretched slug, appreciated by me. 

A snow-dusted Central Park on a grey winter day while I am supposed to be in professional development. 

Brooklyn’s growing skyline behind the lingering pink on the Gowanus. My morning walk to work is meditative, ending abruptly at the sound of the custodian’s leaf blower. [Note: He also uses the leaf blower when cleaning up the cafeteria after lunch periods. Genius!]

More escape from professional development classes. I miss walking through this campus. I also miss not having student loans. 

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Typically the weather during my mid-winter school break, the week of Presidents’ day, is poor. The usual snow chances have me avoiding travel and “hunkering down” at home in hibernation mode, perhaps planning Spring and Summer adventures. This year, however, had me stricken with early onset Spring fever. I needed to bust out everyday–trying to outrun psychic burdens, the news, emotional lethargy and the like. And this irrational state was compounded by having no obligations whatsoever. More often, escape would be into nature, within its simplicity, its beauty. And living on Long Island, there is plenty of beautiful places around. And being that it is Long Island, these beautiful places are pretty much empty. Like I like it.

Marine Nature Study Area in Oceanside, New York is a peaceful 52-acre preserve excellent for bird watching. Though the preserve boasts over 216 observed and recorded species of birds, I was smitten with these fellows–Red-winged Blackbirds–and didn’t really see many others.

What I was perceiving as playfulness was really the males’ territorial behavior. Their instincts of site and mate fidelity had them keeping a watchful eye on me, the intruder. It is amazing to think about all the systems of nature which conspire to aid species propagation. Across the board in the bird world, females are pretty darn boring looking; their feathers are drab, an almost camouflage–oversized grey sweatpants of the animal world. A female bird who is not seen or messed with can take care to raise protected fledglings that get the gusto to hunt and create shelters with ease and confidence. And the blood line continues. These animal behaviors are fascinating to compare with human animals who have complicated matters a great deal with a slew of social constructs and an infinite number of distractors. 

Marsh grass on blue.

The long empty walk ways take you far into the marshes. Stop for a moment to see how much life teems at every step, even in the dead of “winter.”

School of fish.

Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge is my favorite place on Long Island. Though it is a bit of a hike out east, I’ve driven far further for far less. First site on the trail were a group of cardinals, bright red boys bouncing about and shyly fluttering away. I managed to get a little closer to this guy who was testing his courage behind the security of a branch. 

Swans. Meh, not so into them. 

Winter overgrowth.

The real draw of this refuge are the assertive birds who go for theirs. It’s simple. Extend your palm outward with a small pile of seed. They will come. The little, nimble birds are the best customers, though I was tempting a tremendous Blue Jay who had been working up the nerve. No dice. Their feet tickle. 

Though most would grab a seed and go, others paused to give you a once over.

I can do this all day.

Then a group of wild turkeys walks by. This place is magical. Another fascinating feathered species.

Lest you forget that Long Island is an island. You can walk up Fire Island lighthouse‘s 182 steps to peer down its long-ness. To access, walk through a salt marsh and spy on feeding deer along the boardwalk from Robert Moses’ parking lot. 

Surrounded by the blue stuff. I always want to be.

We walked up that thing. Not to sound like Beavis & Butthead, but lighthouses are cool. There are lighthouse aficionado clubs that visit lighthouses all over the world. I would like to do that and be the lone tour member under 60 years of age. I am a fan of old timers. My peers and and those younger than me are typically much more annoying to deal with. 

The sun, like the one you see in cartoons and kids drawings.

When the seductive sun returns and undresses you, leaving the Southern hemisphere on the sly and randomly, you make an occasion of it. It was Spring in February!

We had the plan to head to the Jersey Shore off-season for lunch before this forecast. Partly because going to the Jersey Shore during peak season is a total pain in the arse. But sure, a beautiful day in the bright blue sky can help overshadow that it was a bit more crowded than we’d prefer. Our destination: Talula’s and their Temple III vegan pizza option. Why? Housemade vegan sausage and housemade cashew cheese. That is quite the allure. It was delicious, in all those ways pizza can be.  Soft and wet and crispy at the same time. Regulating taste variance with each bite. The colors. The crust. The fraction lesson.

And an ice cream stop seemed appropriate. Cookman Creamery, though purple and pink and pretty, had more vegan toppings available at my last visit. Perhaps it’s a seasonal thing? 

I’ll stick with Vanilla.

See you soon, Spring.

The Canon G9X reminds me of my grandfather’s old camera, especially in this nifty case. It’s a great camera, but there’s no viewfinder… which kind of kills the whole nostalgic feel of it.  But it sure takes a pretty picture.

Another go at the Sprinkles red velvet for a work function. 

Red house on a Snow Day. 

And the Snow Moon.  I set the tripod out on the back porch, froze my butt off and this is the best I could do. The elusive moon never looks more beautiful than in your eye. 

A patient male cardinal in winter waiting for lunch.

Another male cardinal, all bright and vivid, probably gets more of the cardinal ladies.  

The posterize setting with the stud cardinal.  

I take the train at the crack of dawn and get to watch Brooklyn wake up.

Water and air in Asbury Park.

 

How exciting to have even more vegan Girl Scout cookie options this year!

That’s right, ABC Bakers–the Girl Scouts’ west coast cookie manufacturer–added a new 5th vegan cookie option to their repertoire. I reported on the first three options a couple of years back. The next year, the east coast (Little Brownie Bakers) got with the program, joining ABC Bakers in adding the new vegan Thin Mint to their line-up. This year, ABC Bakers adds the S’mores… not to be confused with the sandwich cookie S’mores that Little Brownie Bakers also launched this year: not vegan.

Though these cookies have that fantastic nostalgic taste, possible the result of processed ingredients and waxy, cheap chocolate, I am far more excited to use them as a base of a real s’mores around a fire some time in the summer. It’s the very thin encasement of vanilla cream that leaves a bit to be desired. It just isn’t enough to be s’mores-like. 

But c’mon, 5 types of vegan Girl Scout cookies?! Rejoice!

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The Tofu Scramble. It is becoming ubiquitous. Always a welcome sight on an omni-menu, I’ve had the dish all over the place–as many vegans have. From Anchorage, Alaska to Yellowstone National Park, I’ve appreciated the dish. (My favorite? Probably Wayward Cafe in Seattle, Washington?) But even with lackluster execution, I’m endeared and grateful that so many cafes are giving it a try. An attempt becomes almost “cute” in its intention. But there are many ways to make a bad tofu scramble, especially if you’re new to the game. I plan to detail some of those pitfalls here while reporting on two scramble options in Port Jefferson, New York.

Starting at Local’s Cafe in downtown Port Jefferson. With views of the Long Island Sound and the hullabaloo of the Connecticut ferry terminal, Port Jeff’s downtown is a model of what Long Island “best case scenario”: small shops that aren’t box stores, scenic views, eateries, artsy stuff, a place to walk, a friendly down-home feel… a feeling of a community. There is even a communal fire for free marshmallow roasting in a central parking lot, complete with sticks of jumbo marshmallows. It’s place where Local’s Cafe can thrive. And they are. When we arrived on a Saturday afternoon, the tables were completely full of patrons on their laptops.

We ordered the Scramble Our Way–tofu, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and arugula on pita bread. But first a few vegan mini cupcakes which had great frostings but whose cakes were inedibly dry unfortunately. It’s a shame to think of how many open-minded omnivores impulsively tried one of these only to have their prejudices validated. Vegan baked goods are weird; I knew it.  

Onward. You can often judge a tofu scramble “by its cover.” Tofu still white and glistening? You know it didn’t absorb much flavor. Or it wasn’t pressed enough to extract the water that renders a marinate useless. This is probably the most common offense committed by tofu scramble attempts. Local’s scramble was pleasant thanks to the accompanying vegetables’ flavor, but the tofu was just, well, wet and flavorless. Tofu can offer flavor and texture, but only under knowing hands.
Like most animal flesh, tofu needs you to impart flavor into it. It is your blank canvas. But it’s a canvas that is soaked and stored in water. So first, dry it off! Pressing the tofu is always step one. Once you get rid of a bunch of that water, you can marinade it with a flavorful concoction of your choosing. But abide by the rules of making a good marinade, please. You’re not just throwing some Bragg’s on it. You need saltiness, acidity, spices, sweetness, pungency, a fat. And you need time to let it absorb. Like how folks marinade meats for days and even weeks. Marinating tofu is time well spent. Getting the water out will not only improve flavor but it will improve the texture too. It will be less wet and sponge-like. And, especially if you crumble the tofu after pressing and before marinading, it won’t be white anymore.

This brings up “cubed” tofu scrambles. The crumbled tofu scramble is a strong preference for me. It’s about texture. It you cube tofu uniformly for a scramble you get less of an opportunity to offer coveted texture variance, the cornerstone of delicious scrambles. The center of your tofu cubes remain spongey, wettish, and often white. A crumbled tofu will cook out even more moisture. And will be even more flavorful because of it! Some little scramble pieces will brown really well; larger scramble bites with offer some chew. There will just be a heck of a lot more surface area to spend time on the pan and brown up. A marinade will also absorb into these smaller crumbles more thoroughly. These are the things that make a great tofu scramble. And the cubed scramble is not really a “scramble,” if you want to get technical.

Next scramble was a Corner Copia Cafe, a homey space in Port Jefferson Station. It is one of those places where you wonder where the vegan tie-in comes from. Like why is there a vegan breakfast platter offered here? Nowadays, with shifts in food awareness and healthy eating, vegan is simply easier to find. I guess one of the owners previous being a former Kosher caterer contributes. 

Corner Copia’s scramble presented more as a more traditional scramble. Its yellow hue, potatoes, toast… like a diner. But beyond first glances, attention to detail falls a bit short here. It’s pretty bare bones. And flavor-wise, the scramble was over-seasoned. One really strong note: salt! Like time, you can’t get it back. So use it wisely.

Though sometimes a tofu scramble is flavorful enough to be on its own, a pile of tofu can get boring. Just like many piles of just one thing can. This brings me to the next tip, accompanying vegetables within the scramble pile. A great scramble is scrambled with other vegetables–for texture variance, for aesthetic pleasure, for more and varied flavor. Charred broccoli pieces of varying sizes, asparagus, wilted greens, and finely chopped good quality mushrooms are my favorites. Then afterwards, great scrambles are garnished: avocado, herbs, green onion, a drizzle of sauce, etc. Unless they’re roasted or flavored assertively in some way (pico de gallo?), loose the tomatoes or vegetables that only offer moisture. Not a fan. Think it through and complement flavors.

I look forward to more scrambles sprouting up far and wide! And I look forward to offering constructive criticism for the propagation of better and more thoughtful plant-based options. Just one of the things worth fighting for in a time where the whole world’s standards seem to be declining.

As a recap, here are the rules of good tofu scrambles:

  1. Press the tofu. And not just for 5 minutes.
  2. Crumble the tofu.
  3. Also not for just 5 minutes, marinade the tofu. Marinade should be be complex in flavor.
  4. Pan-fry it with other vegetables, perhaps themed with your marinade. Attain browning and slight charring.
  5. Garnish it.
  6. Serve with a separate pile of some form of well-seasoned crispy potatoes and greens.
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