With spring definitively here, the bulbs I planted last September are starting to poke out their heads in the backyard… like these late daffodils with the complicated faces. 

Trees are finally blooming. And so I stored my winter coats and sweaters away. 

I’ve gushed about tulips plenty, but how about the beauty of the tulips’ leaves–like pale green cozy cotton sheets that can tuck you in.

These are the Anemone Blanda Blue Shades blooming a bit earlier than expected.

More tulip porn.

As I basked in the backyard sun, so did this opossum, hanging about a neighbor’s “meth lab chic” shed. 

Just what he heck was this nocturnal animal doing up and at ’em? Not sure.

I finally went to Govinda’s for their lunch buffet after a Brooklyn errand. A great value and must-do for any vegetarian in the NYC area. But I probably should have must-done it two decades ago.

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Are you really productive on Sunday? I am. There is something about the last day (of the weekend, in this example) that pushes me to action. Of course this ‘Sunday urgency’ exists today, Friday, as it is my last day here in Paris, France. With a full day at my disposal, I hoped to fill this time with as much as possible. Mainly, beautiful things to look at. One of my favorite past times.

I started at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Now, I never had a goth phase, thank goodness, but I have always enjoyed old cemeteries a great deal. So this was a must on my site-seeing list. Rows and rows of mausoleums, patina, the attempt to accurately capture grief and display it in memoriam, these old ways of honoring the departed are far more cathartic than a simple chisel of a dove or the like on new fangled headstone. There were many versions of mourning women, like below, in Père Lachaise Cemetery. I was hunting them down through the winding streets of tombs. But since this was only stop one, I had to be mindful of… time. Cruel time. I supposed I didn’t want to spend the last day of my trip contemplating my mortality, even if my soul was in good company.

Like a very early crush of mine, Jim Morrison. I became kind of infatuated with Jim Morrison when I was like 12 or so. While other tweens were digging on Kirk Cameron or Jonathan Taylor Thomas, I loved the dead lead singer of The Doors. What that says about me, I don’t know. I can make some guesses, but I’d rather not deconstruct prepubescent rationale and the indelible mark it leaves on years that follow.  

Rest in Peace, Lizard King. Yes, I said Lizard King. And I can still recite the entirety of The Soft Parade in all its weird, drug-induced randomness. 

Houses for grief.

Men with beautiful women crying on their graves. 

This day was all about breathtaking stone work. From the mausoleums to below, the Arc de Triomphe. Commissioned by Napoleon after he had a military victory, this got me thinking. Is there anybody still creating these grandiose, perhaps ostentatious, displays of pride, patriotism, love, grief, zealousness, etc? Is there stone left for such endeavors or will they be constructed with plastics that leach endocrine disruptors that are Made in China? 

All snarkiness aside, this was a spectacular site. 

For scale. 

Paris is inundated with tourists right now. It was so difficult to go to The Louvre and not get some whackadoo with a selfie stick in your picture. And with a two hour wait just to get in the museum, I can only imagine what the situation would be near Mona Lisa. That’s if you can even get near her. Another time.

There are beautiful buildings everywhere. Kind of overwhelming.

Like here at the Le Palais Royal. Such a deep and rooted history these Old World cities have.

A quick stop for lunch at the all-vegan Cloud Cakes. This place was an absolute godsend. It’s by all the wonderful sights and it is top-notch vegan eats. 

First, a Buddha Bowl with a mix of cooked and raw veggies that hit every spot you need hit. I usually don’t go for bowls but this was the perfect, restorative lunch on a warm day of walking about. Inside, a mix of greens, sweet potato, broccoli, seasoned chick peas, avocado, quinoa, radishes, and a delicious creamy dressing. 

And a vegan croissant. Perfection.

Real layers. This is the best vegan croissant I ever did have.

And a tiramisu cupcake. I don’t mean to go nuts here, but I feel like this was the best vegan cupcake I’ve ever had at a bakery. I know, I know. Maybe the fact that I had walked 10 miles before this meal without breakfast can be playing into this proclamation. No, it was that good. 

And it truly was a tiramisu cupcake, soaked and everything.

They had other goodies too. 

Security was tight at the next two sites, being that it is Good Friday. First, The Sainte-Chapelle. Breathtaking Gothic architecture, stunning stained glass. I literally had to catch my breath when I walk into the chapel. To see the light streaming in through these panes… 

Good Friday at Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral. Great idea. This place was swarmed! There was mass going on and the longest line to receive the Eucharist I ever did see. It stretch out the door and around the block. Somehow I got in through a less popular entrance, not realizing mass was going on. 

More stunning stonework. I am running out of adjectives.

Communion.

What a house of worship.

After my 15 mile on foot, I headed back towards Bastille where my backpack was waiting. But first, a stop at Vegan Folie’s which, after Cloud Cakes, was perfunctory and solely for you, dear blog. But sure, I’ll get a little something.

I got this dome cake. 

It was okay. Nothing to write home about. 

They also had these long sandwiches that seem to be all the rage in Paris. The kind that Jerry Horne brings home to share with brother Benjamin in Twin Peaks.

Ok, last but not least as I am beat and losing the ability to formulate coherent sentences. This is my room service from the Hilton. It’s their own vegan option, listed on their room service menu as “Raw Vegan Salad.”  I was certainly not expecting such a beautiful dish to arrive. The blurry fruit salad was also wonderful.

Here it is, my final meal in Paris.

And because I really loved this big marzipan bar I bought at the airport in Amsterdam, I will put it here too. Two final surprises from two fascinating cities that hosted me this week. Goodbye, Europe!

After the world’s most perfect train ride, I was back in Paris again, finally learning how to take the Metro. I was also back in the room I stayed in days before. With Eiffel Tower views. Can you see it over there across the way from my balcony?

And what do you know, it was dinner time already. Luckily, there was no hustle and bustle involved in finding my next meal. I didn’t have to strap on my backpack. I didn’t have to screenshot each step of walking directions on my phone so as to not drain my battery. I had booked a reservation at the all-vegan Gentle Gourmet, a fancy pants eatery a block from my room. Coincidence? Er, no. I did that on purpose.  

Have you ever been disappointed with a meal that started with an Amuse-bouche? Me neither. This was some sort of gazpacho. White asparagus? Perhaps other light green to white vegetables puréed. 

My dish. Oh heaven help me. Allow me to do a reading from the Lush Green menu description: Seitan lacquered with a cherry juice reduction, fava bean mousseline, glazed mini vegetables, accompanied by a sauce made with wild garlic. Now, read that again but use the voice of the teacher in A Christmas Story when she reads Ralphie’s essay. Now, re-read this part: Seitan lacquered with a cherry juice reduction. Nothing? Ok, maybe it is just me. 

Let’s look at it this way. Rest assured, I was a member of the clean plate club in a matter of minutes. I tried to eat slowly, daintily, like a pouty French girl who didn’t want to eat very much. That lasted 4 seconds. Though I could have used a bit more seasoning on the playfully plated vegetables, this dish was so darn good.  

Of course I had to get dessert. I was in Paris and they have macarons! Vegan macarons in Paris. 

This one was peachy. Not the adjective, but the fruit. The vanilla one, OMG. I will have to stop by tomorrow to buy some for the road. 

After dinner, I wanted to see more of Paris. I walked to Vegan Folie’s, an all-vegan bakery that was… closed. Thanks for the misreporting, Yelp. What was I going to do anyway? Eat cupcakes after my dessert? Yes. Perhaps I will make it back tomorrow? Who knows. 

I saw some interesting Paris-y stuff along the way. Like this building displaying its EKG. 

And these beautiful flowers attacking this other building. But mostly, I was daunted by this tremendous city with its winding rues and constant motion. I feel like if I lived in this city all my life, I’d still not know my way around. 

This view helps showcase the maze. It’s from the top of Montparnasse Tower Panoramic Observation Deck. Because I am a total tourist. And because the sun was going down.

Though the view from the observation deck is 360 degrees, I was crushin’ on Iron Lady again. 

The pink breaks from the clouds was a subdued sunset, but was still quite beautiful. Goodnight, Paris. I will see you in the morning. 

One thing that Europe does right is their train stations. Besides being within massive and ornate cathedrals, they are always wide open and airy, contain several flapping pigeons for effect, and are very easy to navigate. Like this here Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Why are they so beautiful? Perhaps because the rails are so much more popular a travel option than in the much larger United States. And so much cheaper. When I purchased my airfare to Paris, I knew my main destination would be Amsterdam. But a plane ticket there was three times the price than to Paris. So I bought a train ticket from Paris to Amsterdam for like 70 euro. Now I was back at the station for quick train ride to Schiphol Airport to pick up the Tulip Express, a bus, to Keukenhof, my bucket list item I came here to conquer.

I have been eyeballing Keukenhof for a few years now. In Lisse, Netherlands, it’s one of the world’s largest flower gardens… with over 7 million flower bulbs. The Spring garden is a huge tourist draw, complete with signage and a special bus route that only operates during the season. I stood in one of those lines you are content to be in, the kind full of people who would stand in line to see a bunch of tulips.

I had been to a tulip festival before many years ago in Washington state. The fields of rows of bloomed tulips left a vivid impression in my brain, even though I was a disgruntled youth at the time. I want to be clear to interested parties that Keukenhof is not that. I thought it was and perhaps do many others. It is neat and pretty displays of bulb varieties. It’s neat, landscaped and maintained. It has walkways that no doubtedly meet some kind of code. It is beautiful, as you will see, but it was the fields of unending tulips that I wanted to get in more. It took some determination and effort, as most worthy things do, but I found a way to get in them. In fact, I was the only one in those fields, as they are not part of Keukenhof’s admission and are guarded with signs marked “privaat.” Whatever that means, har har.

But first, the gardens.

A beautiful variety of daffodils. I love them too. They just seem like cute and happy beings to me. Although these ones seem more complicated.

Big, tall tulips, slightly shy.

These red tulips had almost a fluorescent hue.

Pretty teacup tulips. The kind Willy Wonka would drink from. 

Eager for spring to stay. We’re just going to close ourselves till then. Leave us alone.

I call this Bad Wedding Bouquet.

Pink is not my favorite color by a million. But I’ll take a pink tulip any day.

What a mess of tulips this is! I wanted to jump in it, but…

These peony-type tulips are a nice break from the velvet smooth petals that seem to zip together like a change purse. So, don’t put your change in these kinds of tulips.

So there are the fields in the distance. I spied them from the windmill in the picture below this one–a tip from a Dutch Fairy Godmother who was working the side entrance. She took a liking to me, perhaps sensing my enthusiasm and American accent, and let me know when the side gate would open to allow me into the surrounding fields, suggesting I head up to the windmill to develop a strategy of where to hit. 

When the side gate open, tulip farmers nodded me through like bouncers at a club. Eager and erratic, I started off without knowing where the heck I was going. I speed-walked through a farm, passing confused cows, and precariously weaved about man-made irrigation canals past equally confused ducks, to see all I wanted to see. Though some drove by and snapped pictures of the beautiful fields, no one entered them. I was all alone in these rows of tulips. It was heavenly. Here are the pictures as I frolicked through the fields.

Two hours later I emerged from the fields–windblown, rained upon, sniffling, elated and with hundreds of pictures.

From boarding the bus back to the airport to stepping off the train at Amsterdam Centraal, it was exactly one hour. On the way back to my room, I stopped at Mannekenpis for some of their “Best in Holland” fries. I found myself on another ‘good company’ line. this time, the kind full of people who would stand in line to eat fries. I was particularly passionate about this place because they offered a vegan mayonnaise to drown them in, as Vincent Vega reports on in Pulp Fiction. 

This vegan mayonnaise is a fairly new development. And I was happy to be able to do as the Romans

A bouquet of deep-fried potatoes after a day of flowers. 

After a long day without much sustenance, I was happy to have made a reservation at Betty’s Vegetarisch Restuarant. A vegetarian Amsterdam institution, the small restaurant has been operated by Betty and her partner since 1988. They have no menu. They offer a three-course prix fixe. The no-menu thing is pleasing as it is always a difficult decision to choose one dish when your time is limited to one visit… maybe in a lifetime. For me, a meal while traveling is an opportunity not to squander and it is deliberated upon with great care. Sometimes that puts a bit of pressure on the decision. I was happy to have the experts decide on what to feed me. When it is all-vegan, I’ll take whatever you got.

Betty does the cooking, while her charming husband Lien hosts. Lien passionately explains each dish as he proudly sets them in front of you. This was the first course. The drawback of no menu is that I have no reference of dish components to cross check. I certainly cannot describe these dishes as Lien did. So here are my very basic descriptions to what were three very delicious, flavor-packed dishes with many many components. Left to right: a wonderful potato latke, two pan-fried Trumpet mushrooms, white asparagus with peas and tahini sauce, (my favorite) bean and mint spread which I cannot recall any other detail on other than its fresh, deliciousness, and a sunchoke hummus. Served with slice of airy, fresh bread.

The second course: So many components that I can’t recall! Ugh, I do not like that I cannot do these descriptions justice and that I cannot tag this post appropriately. A special roasted bitter squash, black is it color. A pilaf with saffron and golden raisin. An onion and pine nut chutney. And a lentil curry. The small piles reminded me of Ayurvedic eating with tastes tapping briefly into the 5 elements. Perhaps Lien mentioned that? It is hard to concentrate on what he is saying when these dishes are put in front of you.

Along with that plate was this other, with more delicious Indian-inspired piles: A creamy pepper curry that was my favorite, a bowl of another lentil curry served with a dollop of yogurt, and a delightfully dressed salad of various delicious green things you can probably make out from the picture. Both plates, along with the appetizers, was a lot of food. I did not expect to eat so much and kind of felt obligated to keep eating though I was very full. The intimate setting and service heightens this obligation. Also, between all of these plates there was a lot of protein. Though each was really yummy, a composed, complete and balanced meal might have been easier to eat… and serve.  

And as if I wasn’t full enough, dessert! I chose a buttercream layer cake with a cashew-based buttercream to up the level of protein even more. The spiced cake was very good but I probably would have been satiated with the berry compote and cream alone. Betty, you really filled me up. If you plan to reserve with Betty, here are some tips: make a reservation and remember to confirm it; don’t eat anything all day; bring a date–it’s a romantic place with its dim lights, great wine, and sensually described courses; and finally, give the date at least three hours. The food is made fresh and Lien takes great care in his service. In the end, I had to run out without saying goodbye as my Uber driver was waiting. That sounds like some new fangled fairy tale. My Dutch Fairy Godmother turning a bitter squash into an Uber car and I race out in a rush.Overall, Betty’s is the kind of place a vegan food blogger can not pass up. It takes you out of the tourist hub of Amsterdam. A delightful dining experience I was happy to be a part of.

On my final morning in AmsterdamI headed to the all-vegan Dophert for breakfast. This bright and lovely eatery was the perfect final meal in Holland. 

Having had the opportunity to sleep in finally, I was long overdue for coffee. This little bitty mug of Americano was not going to do much, but boy was it a dreamy two gulps.

My breakfast: They had a vegan croissant and they had a tofu scramble that came with toast. I subbed the toast for the croissant. It was so good. The light and airy croissant was so delicate, though not very buttery. The scramble was so full of flavor and the side of tangy, creamy mayo and balsamic-coated greens took the taste over the moon. Perfection. 

I did not take a picture of the tiny piece of cake my sweet server gave me with my coffee. Its texture was so buoyant and light.  I wound up buying a slice of this pound cake in a the lemon poppy seed flavor for the train ride back to Paris. They also had carrot cake and a peanut butter brownie cake.  Well done all around, Dophert–whatever that means.

Random Amsterdam fact: Everyone rides a bike in Amsterdam. They are everywhere! Just look…

Rows and rows of them.

Goodbye, Amsterdam. I’m heading back to France.

Maybe it’s Europe or maybe it’s seeing Before Sunrise in my formative years, but train rides are pretty romantic. The moments of building inertia then the surrender to a lulling undulation of the train car back and forth is evocative. Still inside the motion of a setting, all paintbrush stroke-like. Being in private surrounded by people. And other such sensory experiences that cannot translate easily… And speaking of not translating easily, I am on my way to the Netherlands (via train) for my main Spring Break destination, the tick of my bucket list: Keukenhof to visit its Spring garden. A tulip festival on plant steroids. First though, Amsterdam.

After arriving at the station, I made a b-line to Koffie Ende Koeck for their vegan High Tea. And what a wonderful way to begin my stay in Holland!

There was plenty to eat. From bottom to top: 3 savory tea sandwiches–smoked tofu, cucumber cream cheese, and a zucchini pancake topped with pickled beet. Middle layer: an oatmeal scone with elderflower jam and clotted cream and a yogurt parfait. On top: A slice of chocolate layer cake, a Dutch apple tart and a blueberry crumb bar. A fantastic spread from this charming all-vegan coffee shop and bakery.

Of course I had to pack some to go. 

Strolling around the gorgeous streets of Amsterdam, I found several all-vegan shops: Vegabond, a vegan convenience store with lots of snacks I regret not buying as I type this, and Vega-Life, a fashion and footwear store that is all-vegan. 

Scenic Amsterdam.

Amsterdam exudes Old World beauty–centuries old  churches and various other solemn spired gothic buildings. My room’s view (left) is directly across from them… though behind them, carnival goers shriek as they’re flipped and toppled about. Much like “the pot” and the Red Light district (Rossebuurt),  I guess that’s kind of Amsterdam: dichotomous. 

Dinner is a holiday, every night. I celebrated this holiday at the all-vegan Meatless District. (Though you may simply see “MD” on the outside.) 

This entree that you see here, this was one of the best dishes I’ve had in a very long time. Besides it being plated beautifully, it was absolutely delicious. In case it isn’t discernible, it is potato gnocchi–decorated with dollops of nut mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, 2 spoonfuls of pesto, and two toasts. A sprinkling smoked salt and a delicate pond of balsamic vinegar and oil packed a tremendous punch. Amazing.

Let’s look at it from another angle. It’s like a bouquet of flowers for me. 

Today I was in Africa and all I got was this crummy picture.

I was basking in the warm, arid breeze of Casablanca. Well, its airport’s tarmac when I realized what my day of travel had done. You wait on this line, sit in this seat, wait on this other line, deliver concise perfunctory responses, and sit in this other seat, possibly for hours, and things happen. You step out of a door and the entire world is different from what you know. Like the feel of this air, a mix of jet fuel and cultures and social norms unknown. It’s amazing how far you can get in a day, and how far away you can feel, when you’re away from any remote sense of familiarity. 

And then I remember why I love to travel. It’s just you. Everything else is different. Stripped of routine, a day becomes a blank canvas, your blank canvas. And everything you are underneath all that stuff you do in your regular life emerges. And you remember that she is fervently curious, adventurous, eager for action with direct and immediate consequence. She dismisses lengthy and exhaustive deliberation–on anything–and embraces a potent of freedom forgotten. She stands on her balcony and {queue the rising music for effect} she takes it in. Ok, enough of that third person perspective.

I arrived in Paris, France today and found my accommodations in Bastille. After a day of travel and an early train to Amsterdam the next morning, I had to head out to see at least one sight before finally getting some proper sleep. Of course, it was the Eiffel Tower on the Champ-de-Mars.

Just like the pictures, the Eiffel Tower is beautiful. Though an icon from afar, “Iron Lady” was most impressive close up, like a soft expanse of intricate and delicate fabric, yet iron.

What is conveniently cropped out of the pictures are the hoards of vendors and tourist scams happening on the ground. Yuck.

I was happy to have caught her at dusk. 

And having no proper vegan meal for quite some time, I needed a quick, fool-proof, all-vegan meal if I was to fall asleep happy. I headed to Hank, a burger joint with high standards. They make their sauces, they have delicious burger concoctions that I cannot read or understand and, therefore, I choose one randomly. I got Le Grand Menu with a La Rockeuse hankburger (with “creamy fig & fresh rocket sauce”), a side of wedges, a drink and a chocolate chip cookie.

The burger was absolutely delicious. And not because I was living off 2 Lara Bars for the last day and a half. I mean, just look. It was the creamy and subtle sweetness of the fig sauce, along with a hearty and flavor patty, that did me in. 

And potato. Even when they’re not great, they’re amazing. Now, finally… sleep.

One last glimpse of my room’s view from the balcony and one last blast of light from Iron Lady and I’ll be on my way.

While I finish a busy week before Spring Break travels, here are iridescent heads of mallards at the Massapequa Preserve glistening in the sun…

The crocuses in the backyard, like me, who are just sick of waiting…

The daffodils, worse for wear, finally standing up with the sun…  

And winter music is still on rotation…

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The Refuge in Melville recently created an all-vegan menu… so that I can be fully satisfied. Well, not really me but, let’s say, more people in general. Such exciting twists are born of the changing tides in the food world. Plant-based is being embraced is a huge way… and beyond salad or a hummus wrap. Eateries are putting thought and care into their plant-based offerings. And if you build it, I will come.
The range of Refuge’s vegan menu hit the standard cravings–a pizza, a healthful macro bowl, burgers–along with an Italian and Latin option. All of this variety aligns with the restaurant’s regular menu, which is a mix of Latin and Italian-ish.

CP’s Quarter Pounder in the distance, I tried the Seitan Tacos. I gobbled these down quickly. They were flavorful–smoky BBQ seitan with pops of sweetness from the corn and nice notes from the slaw. Though it was named as apple veggie slaw, I didn’t taste any apple. It was mostly seaweed I tasted. But this was a pleasant surprise! Overall, a bite with all components, along with a nibble of the fresh cilantro garnish, was delicious. A note: I would have preferred some pronounced browning for a taunt bite of sausage skin to vary the texture a bit more. 

From the other side. And plantains–sweet perfection. 

CP let me try a bit of her Quarter Pounder. It was a great patty: taste, texture, chew. All you want from a veggie burger… but it suffered slightly from an issue of bun:burger ratio. A more airy potato bun may help cut the density of the bun. But to shoot for perfection: lose the packaged vegan cheese and create a nut-based cheese spread with some sharp tang.  This would complement the taste and texture.  

Next, the Beet Sliders. These were my second choice during my first visit. So I had to return. Disclaimer: I love beets. I would eat an enormous and only slightly roasted beet like an apple if I had no regard for my digestive system. So these were easy for me to love. But also: because I love beets, I have more notes for this dish. First, seasoning. A little more salt with the roasting would help beets stand up to the inherently flavor-dulling bun. Also, I got the same slaw that was on the Seitan Tacos, which didn’t really complement the sliders. And the Goddess dressing was not detectable if it was on them.

Though I feel like the flavor profiles of different dishes should merit their own unique sauces and garnishes, these sliders would also benefit from the imaginary cashew spread I made in my mind for the Quarter Pounder. And its own slaw. These are little details in comparison to the appreciation I feel for having the opportunity to eat from such a varied all-vegan menu at an omni eatery. And they are made with love and tremendously high regard for the potential of plant-based cuisine. 

I am so excited to have a new option on Long Island. I look forward to the continued growth of the all-vegan menu! Well done, Refuge.

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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. 

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