Thursday, December 31, 2009

happy new year!

Okay, this is something I never do, but it's a new year, and time for something different.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I decided to stay up for New Year's Eve and ring in the new year. (Or, maybe I just wanted to make sure the *old* year really left!) I like to think I'm an optimist, but 2009 certainly had its fair share of challenges. With that thought in mind, I decided to break all the rules and give myself a treat for New Year's Eve.

Now for most of you, this probably doesn't sound all that wild and crazy, but keep in mind that, outside of vacations, I hardly ever indulge in sweet treats. I managed to completely change my habits about 2-1/2 years ago. I gave up fast food, frozen meals, soda pop, chips, candy, soy ice cream... just about anything even vaguely unhealthy. And I started exercising. And I lost a lot of weight. I feel great. I am absolutely not ever going back to that person I was before.

But I also know that sometimes you just have to break the rules. So what did I do? I made brownies. Now, I really really love oooey gooey chewy fudgey brownies... and I haven't managed to produce one since I went vegan almost 10 years ago. "How It All Vegan" has a good recipe for a rather cake-like brownie, but I've had my doubts that it was possible to produce a chewy version without the usual non-vegan ingredients. But I'm happy to report that I was wrong.

I went to a few vegan recipe sites, and did some research. I found a few promising ones on (a great site for vegan recipes, by the way), and in the end, ended up taking someones modification of someone else's recipe, and making my own modifications. This is what I ended up with:

These are really, truly "gooey chewy" - not cake-like at all - which is exactly what I was craving. And given that I'm pretty useless in the kitchen, I am beyond thrilled with the results! They're also super rich, at least to me. My limit was two - and that took some effort!

Anyway, given my lack of skill, I wouldn't normally share this, but since my non-vegan hubby has pronounced these "pretty good" (high praise from him!), I'm going to give you all the recipe I used:

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup vanilla Silk soy milk
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup (softened) Earth Balance margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
(a little powdered sugar added for the photo, but not needed)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix well. (This makes a very stiff batter - a big wooden spoon will help to mix it.)

Pour (push, shove, smoosh) batter into an oiled/floured pan. (The recipe I adapted this from calls for a 9 x 13 pan. Mine is closer to 8 x 12, and it worked fine. In fact, I would have had trouble spreading it into a larger pan, though I think the end results would be fine.)

Bake for approx. 30 minutes. The recipe I adapted from said 25 to 35. I took mine out at 30, but I really think they should have gone a bit longer. However, my current oven runs a bit on the cool side.

Now, a couple of notes: yes, I realize that using regular white sugar makes this "not vegan" in some circles. Use your own judgment and substitute accordingly. Also, the original recipe called for 1/2 cup vegetable oil, but all I had on hand was peanut oil - so I used 1/4 cup of that, plus 1/4 cup of Earth Balance, and it worked fine, though it might be why the batter was a little hard to work with. And again, if gooey-chewy isn't your thing, than these brownies aren't for you.

Wishing you all a bright, shiny, wonderful New Year, full of lots of good vegan eats!

update from my WDW trip

For those of you who asked (and anyone else who was wondering), yes, I did write to Disney and tell them about my recent experiences dining at Walt Disney World.

Because my major gripe was the fact that the forms I filled out, via e-mail, before the trip turned out to be completely useless, I decided to e-mail my thoughts to the same people. I was careful to share both the good and the bad, giving praise where due, but also sharing my disappointments. In addition to sharing details about all of my table-service meals, I also gave my thoughts regarding counter-service in general, and the veggie burgers in particular. My only goal was to help educate Disney, in hopes that perhaps things could be better for other vegan diners.

I am happy to report that Disney wrote me back, and it wasn't a silly form letter. This was a very carefully thought-out reply, addressing my specific concerns. As I had already guessed, their main concern is the safety of their diners. While they didn't specifically say this, I'm afraid that, as vegans, we'll have to accept that we are now lumped in with allergies. Again, to anyone with an allergy, I mean no offense, and I truly admire Disney's efforts to make things safe. But I can't help feeling that dining has just gotten more complicated for the average vegan.

However, they did express concern over the fact that my e-mailed form had clearly not reached its target. Hopefully, they will fix this problem.

And, as a "goodwill gesture", they are sending me a Disney gift certificate. I didn't expect this, but since I did pay quite a bit for a couple of rather disappointing meals, I'm going to happily accept it. Had I been on the dining plan, it would have been different. But when you're paying that kind of money for what you hope to be a really good meal, and you leave disappointed (or worse, hungry), it's tough.

So, do I think Disney can do better for vegans? Yes. But even with the recent disappointments, I still eat better at WDW than I do at just about anywhere else. And, while some trips are better than others, I really do believe that Disney listens. I will happily plan many more trips to Walt Disney World, and I have no doubt that there will more good than bad to report in the future.

(And for those of you who are just looking for tasty food pictures... stay tuned. I might have a small treat for you tomorrow.) :-)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

a bashful vegan WDW holiday - day 9

Sunday, December 13 - our last day. Breakfast in the room and off to make the most of our last few hours.

Just one more meal to report, and it's a repeat. I knew that we'd be on a plane around dinner-time, so I wanted to make sure I at least got a real lunch, so we hit one of my favorites - Sunshine Seasons, in the Land pavilion at Epcot. Once again, I got the Tofu and Vegetable Noodle Bowl from the Asian station. Given that this is tasty and filling, and that no manager is required to place the order, this will remain one of my favorites.

I also noticed some decent vegan side items available here. Available in one of the cold cases, between the "stations", they had a variety of different types of salads, including Tabbouleh, and this Cous-Cous salad (both vegan). It was actually pretty tasty, though too much food for me after the tofu noodle bowl. It's probably something I could have bought and brought back to the room to eat later. I'll have to remember that for next time.

Well, that's all folks. After lunch at Sunshine Seasons, we headed back to the resort for our shuttle to the airport. And now it's back to life as usual, in central Ohio. Thanks for reading, and Happy Disney Dining!

a bashful vegan WDW holiday - day 8

Saturday, December 12, and our last full day at Disney. Breakfast in the room, and then off to a morning at the Animal Kingdom. After a ride on Expedition Everest, and wonderful visit with some old friends, we headed for the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and my first look at Kidani Village. This is the new DVC section recently added to the resort. Along with the rooms, a new gift shop, and a great pool area, they also added a new restaurant - Sanaa. This choice was clearly a "no-brainer" - this restaurant actually has a dedicated vegan menu! Of course, that means that my review is pretty unnecessary - of course this is a good choice! I have to confess, though, after a disappointing week of Disney dining, it was really nice to go somewhere that I knew I wouldn't leave hungry.

Again, we showed up before the first seating of the day, and were treated to a wonderful round of African singing by the restaurant cast members. We were quickly seated, and it became apparent pretty quickly that we had a great server... who's name I didn't get, and I feel awful about that. She was knowledgeable, and helpful - and made the meal even that much better.

While we didn't get a window seat (most of those tables looked like they were designed to seat more than two people) we could still see the savanna, and the whole restaurant is very beautiful anyway. (Sorry no interior shots, but here's a picture of the check-in desk. See the hidden Mickey?)

The menu is sort of unusual in that there are a lot of "smaller" dishes. It's really nice how they set it up, though. A lot of the food is designed to be shared, and our server really helped to make this possible, even with a vegan and non-vegan. For instance, we ordered the Indian Style Bread Service, which comes with three types of breads, and three accompaniments. There are only two types of bread that are vegan, but she allowed us to order those two, along with a third non-vegan choice for my husband. The person who actually brought the bread to our table actually messed up the order, but our server caught it before we could take a bite, and brought a second, separate plate for me. The fact that she actually saw this, and fixed it so quickly really impressed me. She was on top of things! Here's a shot of the Roti and Paratha, both vegan:

I believe the Paratha is the one on top - sort of like pita bread, only a little softer. It was very tasty. The Roti was really more like a cracker than bread - brittle and crispy - but nice with some of the toppings. I chose the Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus (bottom right), and the Mango Chutney (top). Hubby added on the Red Chili Sambul (bottom left), which might not have been vegan.

Both the hummus, and the mango chutney were good. Actually, these with the Paratha bread were one of my favorite parts of the meal.

I also decided to try the Salad Sampler - three small servings of three different types of salads. With some help from our wonderful server, I chose (from left to right in the picture below) Roasted Beets, Roasted Potato Corn and Spinach, and Watermelon Lime and Radish.

As the server had suggested, the watermelon was actually my favorite. (I notice that this isn't on the vegan menu currently posted at AllEars, but that predates my visit - it was definitely on the vegan menu earlier this month.) The roasted beets were also good, if you like beets (I do). I have to confess, though, that the potato-corn-spinach salad was a little too different for me - just not that crazy about the flavor.

I had almost ordered the Chickpeas with Cucumber and Tomato salad, but Rocky decided to have that as his salad choice with his sandwich, so at the server's suggestion, I chose another, giving us more things to try, and to share. It was a good choice - I'd choose this over the potato-corn one next time.

Instead of an entree, I asked for one of the appetizers. Our server was more than happy to do this, arranging for it to arrive at the same time as my husband's sandwich. I figured that with both the bread, and the salad sampler, I wouldn't have room for a full entree. I will probably try something different next time, but I'm glad I did it this way this time. I ordered the Potato and Pea Samosas, with Tamarind Chutney. There were only two samosas, but they were quite large, and very filling. They really did work as an entree for me. The tamarind chutney wasn't really my thing, but I still had mango chutney left over from the bread service (and the offer for more, if I wanted it). While not "too" spicy, the samosas did have a little kick, and I felt that the sweet mango was a better compliment to them.

Amazingly, this menu actually boasts THREE vegan dessert options! I wish I had had some room left, but the samosas were quite filling, so I had to pass.

For dinner, I'm afraid we just made do with stuff in the room. I can't even remember what we had left at this point, but we must have found something. So, nothing to report for dinner, but lunch was really good. Yes, the flavors are a little exotic, and Sanaa won't appeal to everyone. But the options are amazingly plentiful for a vegan - no prior notice required.

a bashful vegan WDW holiday - day 7

Friday, December 11 - yup, breakfast in the room again. Actually, I had a little trouble with breakfast - still recovering from all that food I ate last night!

By lunchtime, I was feeling better, and I was actually hungry. We were at the Magic Kingdom, so I decided to once again, brave the veggie burger, but this time, I tried Pecos Bill's Tall Tale Cafe. Different restaurant, same procedure. I tried every-which-way to just order the veggie burger with the tapioca gluten-free roll, but the cast member was clueless. I gave up, said the "A" word (allergies), and waited for the manager. It didn't matter that I had already seen "the book". I had to look at it and confirm that, yes, this is what I want, I'm ordering this of my own free-will, and I will take all responsibility for the consequences. This time, I did order the fries, and the manager didn't stop me. Was there a possibility of cross-contamination? Probably. Does that make me a bad vegan? Maybe. Am I worried about that? No. Unlike Cosmic Ray's, this restaurant doesn't have chicken nuggets. They do have a full fried chicken meal, so I suppose it's possible they fry those together. I didn't ask, didn't want to know. But if the possibility bothers you, by all means please *ask*.

Well, no matter how you embellish it, this burger is just bad. Don't hate me - just my opinion - but I liked the Boca burgers a heck of a lot better, especially on the old buns (which, in hindsight, may or may not have been vegan). It wasn't very enjoyable, but at least I didn't leave hungry. Here's a picture of the plain burger, before I embellished it:

Dinner was whatever we could find left in the hotel room.

Okay, not much for this post, either, but the next one will include a real live actual "good" table-service review - I promise!

a bashful vegan WDW holiday - day 6

Thursday, December 10 - same old breakfast. :-)

Actually, this is going to be my shortest post of the trip. Lunch was just left-over salad and a bagel in our room. I wanted something light, because I knew that dinner would special...

And here's where I have to ask for your patience. You see, this was the night I ate at 'Ohana, and had the most amazing meal of my entire life! Chef TJ out-did himself, creating a 7 course vegan FEAST just for me! So why is this post the shortest one? Because this meal was so special, was so incredibly amazing, that I just have to share it with as many people as possible. So I have written a nice detailed article on this meal alone, and submitted it to AllEars, in the hopes of getting a "guest blogger" spot. If all goes well, I will be posting a link here on my blog soon. Trust me - it's worth a look, if not a read. If for some reason that doesn't happen, I promise that it will get posted *somewhere*, in its entirety, sometime soon.

a bashful vegan WDW holiday - day 5

Wednesday, December 9, and again, my usual breakfast in the room.

Oh, I did miss one small detail from yesterday... Tuesday evening, we decided to enjoy a leisurely stroll around World Showcase, and I decided to try a little something that had been recommended by other Disney fans. I don't often drink (well, almost never, really), but it was a vacation, so I splurged on a margarita from Mexico. I did actually try to take a picture of it, but sadly, it didn't turn out. (If you're going to take a picture of food outside, at night, I think you need to find a suitable backdrop, or something.) I had confirmed in advance, via e-mail with Special Diets, that the margaritas are actually vegan. However, the cast member couldn't absolutely guarantee that there wasn't a possibility of cross-contamination during preparation, so if that's a concern, you may want to ask. Anyway, it was actually very tasty - expensive, but by Disney standards, probably not a bad deal. (I believe they're $8.99 for a pretty decent-sized drink.) I ended up trying two of these during my vacation: the strawberry, and the "fiesta" (strawberry, mango and lime). The fiesta is certainly pretty, but I'm not a big lime fan. However, both the strawberry and mango were really tasty.

Today was a fairly boring meal day, so I'll just throw in another detail. I did make it a point to stop by the Boardwalk Bakery, when there wasn't a line, and ask what they "could do for a vegan". I usually do this most trips - sometimes I get lucky, sometimes not-so-much. This time around, not-so-much. They did say they could bake me an entire vegan cake with 48 hours notice. It's a nice option, but I'd have to have a special occasion, I think, to justify it, and I couldn't eat a whole cake by myself. (Well, maybe over the course of a week. Okay, yeah, I probably *could*, but I definitely shouldn't!) Aside from that, they normally have Divvies, but were out. I'm afraid that was it.

So, today was shopping day. We always have to go to Downtown Disney at least once, though I must confess that I hadn't really thought through just how crowded it might get this close to Christmas. It was a madhouse! But, yes, I should have expected that. So after working up a hunger standing in the longest line ever at World of Disney, we headed for Earl of Sandwich, where I got my usual house salad. It used to be that you could more or less custom-order it. You'd tell them what you want as they prepared it. However, I'm guessing that the crazy long lines they get here made that impractical. You can make special requests, but you have to do it when you order. I just asked for the house salad, no croutons, with Italian dressing. Everything else on this salad is vegan. I enjoyed it, and at $5.95, it seemed like a reasonable deal. (I did have to add a snack bar to make a meal out of this. Earl of Sandwich does sell chips and fresh fruit cups as well.)

We ended up hitting Epcot after this, and sort of skipped our ritual mid-day break. In the end, we decided to make it an early night, and just had dinner in the room. (I had a microwaved baked potato, and some frozen peas. Okay, I probably also had some sort of treat from my stash, too.)

a bashful vegan WDW holiday - day 4

Tuesday, December 8, day four, began the same as all the rest, with breakfast in the room. You know, if you're anything like me, you tend to eat a little less healthy on vacation. It's hard not to. What I've found is that simply starting every morning out with my usual routine healthy breakfast really makes a difference in how I feel. There's nothing wrong with treating yourself now and then, but starting the day off right just really makes me feel better.

So today we headed for Epcot, and what I expected to be an amazing lunch. People just rave and rave about Le Cellier, in the Canada pavilion. Of course, the most talked about items are the cheddar cheese soup, and the dairy-heavy desserts. However, I have heard from a few vegetarians and vegans who were treated to a special meal. In fact... well, whatayaknow. I was about to tell you that it even says on the bottom of the menu that they are happy to accommodate special dietary requests. However, that no longer appears to be the case. Hmmmm...

Well, anyway, we arrived early for our lunch ressies, eager for a special dining experience. As we had an early lunch ressie, we arrived before the restaurant was open, and were treated to a song from the cast members. It appears that a number of restaurants on property have sort of an opening ritual, before the first diners of the day are seated. It was cute, and very "Disney".

It's a nice restaurant, though very dark. Le Cellier means "the cellar", and it's meant to look like a cellar (a wine cellar, I believe). I couldn't get any good pix of the interior, but here's a shot of the outside:

We were seated, and as per the routine, our very nice server got the chef to come to our table. Now let me start by saying... he wasn't rude. The chef was polite, and I believe "doing his job". However, once again it was clear that he had not been warned in advance that I was coming. The notes I had made on my e-mailed form had never reached him.

He was willing to make me "something", but, while polite, he did appear a little put out. Now, had this been a more casual place, my opinion would be different. But let's face it: when you eat at a very classy, very expensive restaurant, you expect a higher level of service. When asked what I would like to eat, I gave my usual response, which was "what would you recommend?". Okay, so perhaps that's a bit wishy-washy for the less creative types, but honestly, I don't know what he *knows* how to cook. I can't cook myself, so I'm looking for suggestions on something he thinks he can prepare that will taste good. And I'm not picky. If it's vegan, odds are I am going to enjoy it. Finally, he says, "well, I guess I can try and find some tofu, and put together a little stir-fry dish. However, it's going to take me a little while. Could you, perhaps, order an appetizer, to give me time to get it all together? We can do a vegan version of the tomato stack for you."

Now here's the thing. If he had simply suggested that the tomato stack was a wonderful vegan appetizer, I might very well have ordered it anyway. But by implying that I had to order an appetizer, in order to give him some time... well, it just didn't sit well with me. However, I complied, and yes, the Tomato Stack, with caramelized onions, cucumbers and Yuzu vinaigrette (minus the blue cheese) was a pretty fancy, and pretty tasty appetizer:

After the chef had left to go find tofu, the server brought out our drinks, and Rocky's salad, and the wonderful bread sticks that others have raved about. I should have thought to ask the chef, but it had slipped my mind, so I asked the server to please check if any of the bread sticks were vegan. It took her a while to find out, since the chef had left in search of tofu, but the answer was "no", and no vegan substitute was offered.

When my entree arrived, it was tasty. I wish I was better at identifying flavors as this was actually pretty unique - not your run of the mill stir-fry, though I couldn't tell you just what it was flavored with. I was pleasantly surprised by the taste, and did enjoy it. (Tofu, tomatoes and some mixed greens, in a light, flavorful broth.)

But, it was a fairly small serving. Now, maybe that's not a fair statement. At home, I'd probably consider this a normal dinner; and I suppose the classier restaurants actually tend to have rather small-ish servings. And, if I had some bread to go with this, and a decadent dessert to follow, than I probably would have thought this was the perfect size.

Which brings us to dessert. Our server asked if we wanted any, and my response was something like "well, vegan dessert is sort of hard to come by. Unless the chef has already gone to some trouble, than I think I'll pass." To which she responded that she would go check and see what was available. The answer was a sorbet, or some fresh fruit. I politely declined. Now perhaps their sorbet would have been amazing, but at this point, I just felt a bit disappointed overall, and didn't want to make this any more costly than it already was. Of course, if the chef had gone to any special trouble, I would have happily accepted. That wasn't the case.

Bottom line? It wasn't a bad meal, but I actually left feeling a tad bit hungry, and it was the most expensive we have ever had at Disney... and more importantly, the chef had made me feel a bit like I was a bother. I hate that. I honestly almost didn't become a vegan because I couldn't stand the idea of putting other people out. The only time I ever eat out is on vacation, and part of why we vacation WDW every year is because it's the one place where they don't make me feel like a bother... or at least that's the way it used to be.

In closing, let me just say that both hubby and I are not much into really fancy restaurants. We're homebodies, and what you could probably describe as very casual diners. Le Cellier is really just not our kind of place, I guess. And if money were no object (or if I was on the dining plan), and if I hadn't gone out of my way to fill out that silly online form, I probably would have left Le Cellier content, if not thrilled. However, things got better from this point on, so perhaps I just had a bit of bad luck.

Okay, enough of that. Now onto dinner. Having had a big, fancy lunch (well, expensive, anyway), we both wanted something small and simple for dinner, so we headed to the Beach Club Marketplace to see what we could find. This is really more of a "shop with a little food counter", than a restaurant, but they have some nice options we can't find right at the Boardwalk, and it's close enough to walk to and bring back to the room. (Well, it's a little bit of a walk, but we don't mind.) In addition to the usual fruit cup and chips and side items, they also have made-to-order sandwiches and salads. Hubby got a nice turkey sandwich, and I went for the salad.

Now this actually turned out to be one of the happy surprises of the trip. I don't know if my picture does it justice, but this was a BIG salad. It cost $8.99, but I actually got two full meals out of this salad, and hubby ate some of it, too. I had the choice of Romaine, or mixed greens for the base (I chose mixed greens), and I added cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, shredded carrots, and almonds. (They also had some sort of hot peppers, onions, and walnuts and cranberries - the last 2 items might be seasonal, though.) I chose the Zinfadel vinaigrette dressing. I asked for the dressing on the side - not a problem. Back in the room, I just put the portion I wanted in a separate (Dixie) bowl, and saved the rest in the mini-fridge for later. Worked perfectly, and it was just as good the next day. I added a bagel from the room, and this made a very nice meal.

So, it wasn't a bad day - just a little disappointing. But things got better, so stay tuned for more!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

a bashful vegan WDW holiday - day 3

Today wasn't too terribly exciting, food-wise, so I'll start by saying that I did actually have a number of tasty snacks stashed in my room. While there are, actually, a fair number of vegan treats available in the parks, it's nice to have something special available in the room, so I usually either place an order online at someplace like Vegan Essentials, or Pangea before the trip, or stop by my local natural foods store and stock up on treats. This time, I splurged on a couple of Go Max Go candy bars. Have you tried these? They are vegan versions of popular candy bars: Snickers, Milky Way, Almond Joy and 3 Musketeers, and they are GOOD! I also had a nice supply of vegan microwave popcorn - a staple at my house.

I'm really not quite sure why (well, maybe partly to save money), but I didn't sample a lot of treats in the parks this year. Usually, though, at least a couple of soft pretzels, and some cinnamon-glazed almonds get sampled every trip, as well as a Kaki Gori (snow-cone-type-thing, available in the Japan pavilion). Divvies chocolate chip cookies were also pretty easy to find this trip.

Well, today started the same as every day, with breakfast in the room. We were headed to Disney's Hollywood Studios, so for lunch, we hit one of my favorite counter-service places - Backlot Express. I had my heart set on their Grilled Vegetable Sandwich. When ordered without the cheese, this sandwich is vegan, and really really good. In the past, this has always required a short wait, but I never had any trouble simply asking the cast member for the sandwich "minus cheese". However, I found that the cast member taking orders had to wait for a manager to assist, before the sandwich could be modified. I had to explain that "no, I don't have an allergy - I'm a vegan". The manager pulled out the big ingredients book, and I had to take a look at the list and verify that the sandwich was safe for me to eat. But the end result was, as I had hoped, a very tasty sandwich, with a side of black bean salad. This remains one of my favorite counter-service options at WDW.

For dinner, we found ourselves at the Magic Kingdom. One of my favorites here is actually from the Tomorrowland Noodle Terrace - which is only "open seasonally" (or, in other words, almost never), and wasn't open now. Columbia Harbour House still has a vegan chili, but it didn't appeal to me this evening. So, we headed for Cosmic Rays, hoping that I could just order a vegetarian burger on the vegan tapioca roll, with fries.

It wasn't to be. Once again, the cast member wouldn't modify anything, and didn't seem to understand the term "vegan" - I had say the "A" word before I got any coherent response. Once I said "allergies", I was again asked to wait for a manager. The manager arrived, and pulled out the big ingredients book. I politely explained that I just wanted a vegetarian burger on a tapioca roll. "Oh, you mean the gluten-free roll, right?" So he opened the book to show me the ingredients. While he did seem to know what "vegan" means, he was extremely careful to explain that I must read the ingredients and decide for myself if it is safe for me to eat. He was also quick to point out that the french fries are cooked in the same oil as the chicken, so I won't want those. In the end, I did manage to get a veggie burger on a (very dry, very crumbly) vegan tapioca roll, with a side of apple slices. I didn't starve, but it was not one of my tastier meals. Yes, the tapioca rolls are vegan - they have no eggs, no dairy, no wheat, and no flavor. By the time we finally ate, I was a bit disheartened, and completely forgot to take a picture. However, I did have a second veggie burger later in the trip - there will be a picture on day 7.

By the end of the week, it was quite clear that things had changed at Walt Disney World. While I appreciate Disney's attempt to accommodate everyone, it has definitely become more difficult for the average vegan to place a simple order. I really believe that this is as much a liability issue, as it is a concern for the guests' well-being. In short, as far as I can tell, regular cast members can no longer modify anything - you order of the menu, or you get a manager. While a manager will modify whatever they can based on ingredients on hand, and will follow your requests, they will insist that you read the ingredients book first and clearly state that you are aware of what you are ordering, and that it fits your needs. (In other words, if it's not okay for you, it's your own fault.) Also, even if you clearly explain that you are a vegan, and that trace amounts of offending foods aren't going to hurt you, they will still insist on preparing your food in a separate location to avoid cross-contamination. Not that I don't think that's a good thing, but at a theme park, I personally tend to be a bit more lax, and would rather speed things up a bit than take the extra precautions.

Please understand, I applaud their efforts, and I respect that many of you may think this is wonderful. But for me personally, it made this trip a lot more complicated. However, simply knowing what to expect is half the battle, so I'm sure my next trip will be easier, and hopefully your will be, too.

Monday, December 21, 2009

a bashful vegan WDW holiday - day 2

Well, it's taking me longer than I intended to get to this, but I promise I will share the whole vacation eventually. :-)

Day 2, Sunday December 6, starts with breakfast in the room. Actually, that's how we started every day. While I would like to try a sit-down breakfast at Walt Disney World someday, it's such an easy meal to do in the room that it never seems worth the hassle. I bring my favorite cereal, and order soy milk from Actually, I guess I should talk about that, too. For our last three or four trips, we've gone online and ordered groceries from It's a wonderful little service - you choose from a pretty decent selection of items, including things like soy milk and Earth Balance margarine, which are hard to pack in your suitcase, and they go shopping and deliver everything to your resort. Disney's great about storing it all, if your room isn't ready yet. So far, the cold stuff has always been cold, and the frozen stuff has always been frozen.

On our last several trips, this worked without a hitch. I couldn't have been happier with the service. We got what we ordered, at the time it was promised, in perfect condition - and each time, I received calls confirming that the order was received, and confirming when it was delivered. Sadly, this was not the case on our most recent trip. I hoping that this was just "one of those things", but... we didn't receive a call when the groceries were delivered. Not a big deal - I was looking for them, called and was informed that they had been delivered, called bell services and they were there. However...

The order was wrong. Several items were missing, and in their place I found two frozen cheese pizzas. That's, obviously, a problem. I did not order anything even vaguely resembling a pizza, and of course, I don't eat cheese pizza. Also, in place of the vegan Earth Balance margarine was a non-vegan Smart Balance. So I called Garden Grocer, ready to accept that mistakes happen, and just wanting them to fix it. Instead, the woman on the phone tried to say it was my fault. I must have ordered the wrong thing. (I didn't - I had the print-out of my order right in front of me.) Okay, I must have made some special requests. (I didn't. Everything I ordered was off their list.) Well, sometimes they have to make substitutions. (Okay, this would explain the margarine, but *not* the two pizzas.) Well, clearly Disney must have screwed up and given you the wrong order. (No - all the bags were clearly labeled with my first and last name.)

Finally, she agreed to pick up the wrong items, and deliver the right ones the next day. In the end, it all worked out. But I was not particularly impressed with how it was handled. While I *might* use them again, I would at the very least caution anyone trying their service to put a special note on your order: no substitutions, items must be vegan, call my cell phone if questions (or something like that).

But onto more pleasant things. Breakfast in the room (the soy milk did arrive, and I had brought my own cereal); packed a snack bar (of which I think I eventually ate a total of two on the trip), and hit the parks. Today was Magic Kingdom day, with reservations at the Crystal Palace. I was looking forward to this for two reasons: I had heard that they are very accommodating to vegans, and I was looking forward to meeting Winnie the Pooh. Well, I struck out on both counts... but before I detail that, I want to mention that the two best meals of the trip came later. I promise this isn't all doom and gloom!

We arrived at the Crystal Palace about 15 minutes before our lunch time (I think it 11:35am). We usually try to eat early for all our meals, in hopes of missing the biggest part of the crowds. Of course, most of the table-service restaurants are pretty well booked, so I'm not sure that it really matters for those. We got a pager, and waited on the porch for our name to be called. The place was pretty crazy. When they did call our name, we had a heck of a time pushing through the masses, in order to get to the door. But this is Disney, crowds are to be expected, and the restaurant really didn't seem that crazy once we got inside.

We were seated, and the waitress asked me about my "allergies". That was the theme of the week. There isn't a box for "vegan" on the online reservations system, so I just marked "allergic to dairy, eggs and shellfish", and hoped that the forms I filled out with Special Diets would take care of it. The waitress was very nice - I can't fault her for anything. She was attentive, and available when we needed her. Per the usual routine, she asked the chef to come to my table.

After a brief wait, the chef arrived at our table, and asked what I needed. I explained that I was a vegan, and explained that I had provided some information to Disney Special Diets in advance. It became immediately clear that he did not know I was coming. Okay, I was a bit disappointed, but as long as he was willing to work with me, that was fine. Well, he wasn't all that willing. In fact, during our brief conversation, he seemed downright annoyed that he had to deal with me. In all of my visits to Disney, this was the rudest I had ever been treated by a cast member. Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. I will say, though, that he made me feel bad for being a vegan, and that's something no Disney chef has ever done.

But, grudgingly, he walked me through the buffet. It was pretty clear that he didn't know much about veganism. I did my best to explain what I do and don't eat; however, I'm a little nervous to send other vegans here because I'm not absolutely certain that what he described as vegan really was. But I'll share my experience with the caveat that anyone eating here should ask questions and make their own decision before eating any of these items.

First, he showed me the salad selection - the area where I usually have the most luck, and that turned out to be the case here. He said that most of the salad choices were vegan, but unfortunately the fruit salad clearly said "honey- lime dressing", so I avoided that one. There were the usual leafy greens with a couple of vinaigrette dressings, some plain chunks of watermelon, a cous-cous salad, cucumber salad, and potato salad. Here's a shot of the part of the salad buffet:

(The bottom row, from left to right, shows Moroccan Cous-Cous and Parsley Salad, Seedless Cucumber and Pickled Ginger Salad and Potato Salad - all said to be vegan.)

I tried most of what I mentioned above. The potato salad was just not really my thing, and while the cous-cous salad was fine, I really prefer my grains hot. But the mixed leafy greens and watermelon made a suitable start to my meal.

The chef also told me that all the bread was vegan. I can't be certain, but these rolls looked to be the safest, and I couldn't taste anything in them that would tell me otherwise. Of course, I did eat them plain and dry.

Next, he showed me around the hot foods. I had trouble getting decent shots of the rest of the buffet, due to crowds, but most of the dishes were not vegan. The ones that were: broccoli, Cinnamon and Lemon Infused Basmatic Rice, mixed stir-fried vegetables, and Ratatouille. I was also told that the children's green beans were vegan, but my taste-buds told me that might not be true. I thought I tasted butter, so I avoided them after the first bite. Here's what my plate looked like:

Okay, I have to say that, other than the green beans, this was all pretty tasty. The Ratatouille was quite good - so good, in fact, that my non-vegan hubby is going to try and reproduce it at home for me this weekend! The rice and other vegetables were fine, too, though given the choice, I wouldn't normally put cinnamon rice with Ratatouille.

All in all, it was a "fine" meal, and I didn't leave hungry. However, that was all I got. The chef did not offer to make or modify anything else. He made it pretty clear that this would have to do - nothing else was available.

What about dessert? The chef said that if I let the server know when I was ready, he could probably get me some Tofutti. I don't often eat dessert at home, so even plain vanilla Tofutti is a bit of a treat for me. It was the beginning of the trip, and I was happy with that. What really surprised me, though (and not in a good way), was the small serving and lack of effort that the chef went to. Now, bearing in mind that every table around us is filled with people getting GIGANTIC servings of all sorts of sweets and treats, you'd think that I would have gotten at least a normal-size bowl of Tofutti, and perhaps a Divvie's cookie on the side. Nope. What I got was, seriously, about three spoonfulls worth of plain vanilla Tofutti, in a teeny-tiny serving dish. I'm not sure if that's evident from this photo, but those scoops were probably made by a melon-baller - not a traditional ice cream scoop.

Now, despite being an omnivore, I really do have a wonderful, loving husband who looks out for me. Knowing my love of strawberries, he made a special trip to the dessert table, found a bowl of plain strawberries, and brought back a nice little plate full of them. With my butter knife, I was actually able to embellish the Tofutti myself, and while still a small serving, I did enjoy it.

Last but not least, I should mention that this is a character meal, meaning that while we ate, critters from the Hundred Acre Woods were making the rounds, signing autographs, and posing for pictures. Sadly, I managed to miss Winnie the Pooh - but I don't fault the restaurant for this. The place was pretty packed, and despite my planning, I managed to be at the buffet when the big bear passed our way. However, I did get to meet Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore. And, while I pretty much hate looking at pictures of myself, I'll share one of them:

Would I go back to Crystal Palace? Maybe. But if I do, it will be lowered expectations and possibly a meeting with a chef a few days before the meal.

As for the rest of the day, we opted to eat a small dinner in the room - baked potato and frozen peas, ordered from Garden Grocer. Nothing special, but it worked.

That's all for today. It's my big holiday weekend, and I have vowed not to spend the whole thing in front of the computer. But I will be back - with bigger and better meals (well, a couple at least). In the meantime, I wish all of you a very happy vegan holiday season!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

a bashful vegan WDW holiday - day 1

As I have so completely enjoyed reading similar blog posts from other vegans, I am going to write out a complete food report of our recent Walt Disney World vacation, listing pretty much everything I ate during our whole trip. I am sad to report that some of this will probably serve more as a "what not to do" primer, but if it helps any other vegans to have a better vacation, then it's worth it.

First, let me just start by saying that I had a wonderful vacation. Walt Disney World never fails to amaze me. In my opinion, the magic and wonder are as alive as ever. But, this is the bashful "vegan" blog, so onto the food.

Day 1 - Saturday, December 5. I mentioned the cookies in my last post, but didn't clarify. They're made by the AlternativeBaking Company (ABC), and are available from most online vegan sources (as well as, surprisingly, the Columbus airport!). As for the flight itself, they did offer a couple of free snacks, neither of which was vegan (for those who avoid honey) - honey-roasted peanuts and some sort of cheese cracker.

We arrived close to lunch-time, and the Clif bar I'd had at the airport was wearing off. (For the record, I always carry Clif bars on vacation - I had one with me pretty much at all times. While I don't often eat them at home - too many calories for my newer, healthier diet - they are such a blessing on vacations. Tasty, filling, and easy to carry - I rely on them when vegan food is scarce or inconvenient.) As we were staying at the Boardwalk Villas Resort, we decided to just make a quick stop at the Boardwalk Bakery for something easy. I settled for a fresh fruit cup and some chips. This was one of the few times I forgot to take a photo, but it was nothing memorable. I'm glad that fresh fruit is pretty easy to find at Walt Disney World (though a bit pricey), but in general it's not a substitute for a meal.

By dinnertime, I was looking for something a bit more substantial, so we headed for an old favorite: Sunshine Seasons, in the land pavilion in Epcot. The Asian station here used to offer a vegetarian entree, which was actually a combination of all their veggie side dishes. It was tasty and filling, and is sadly no longer listed on the menu. However, it's possible that you could still request it - it looked like they still had all the dishes that make it up. Instead, they now offer a Tofu and Vegetable Noodle Bowl, which I decided to try. It was a scoop of stir-fried veggies, a scoop of the lo mein noodles, a scoop of soft tofu cubes, and some vegetable broth. Quite tasty and filling - I was actually very happy with it. To finish it off, I went ahead and got some Divvies chocolate chip cookies. While these are not my absolute favorite, I'm just thrilled to see vegan cookies sitting out in the open. (They also had gluten-free brownies readily available.)

Over-all, not a bad dinner. And the end of day one. I will be posting each day separately, so be on the look-out for day two, and our first of four "sit-down" meals!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

a quick teaser

I'm back! I have returned home from a wonderful Walt Disney World vacation, and I have lots to blog about! However, I also have tons of dirty laundry, bills to pay, all sorts of work to catch up on... so, instead of trying to blog a whole vacation in one sitting, I'm going to do it one day at a time. But even that's more than I have time for tonight. So, I'll just start with a couple of general comments.

Okay, I really *really* really hate to say this, but on the whole, my vegan dining experiences for this trip were disappointing. There were a couple of very wonderful meals that were all I could have hoped for (and they will get extensive attention), but they were the exception to the rule. This is what I learned, regarding sit-down restaurants: CALL AHEAD, AND SPEAK TO A CHEF! Disney actually told me *not* to do this, but everything I *did* do was a complete waste of time. Lesson learned. More on that later.

For now, all I've got time for is one tiny happy surprise I found before I ever got to Florida. To my total and complete surprise, the Columbus airport actually sells vegan cookies! And not just any vegan cookies, but really good ones! I have since checked out two other airports (Orlando, of course, and Denver Colorado about two months ago), and never found any. Given the dinky size of the Columbus airport, I was shocked to make this wonderful discovery. Needless to say, I stocked up for the trip.

Next post will have actual Disney food in it - I promise!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

a few little notes

First, I just have to share with you all that one of my favorite bloggers has posted an awesome update! Vegan Satori has given us yet another amazing travel-log - everything he ate on his most recent Walt Disney World trip, along with pictures! Click here to read this amazing blog (and be sure to bring a snack, because his tasty descriptions are sure to make you hungry!).

Next up, I just want to clarify a little something that a nice reader named Molly pointed out to me: the intro on for the Vegetarian/Vegan Counter-Service Meals In the Parks page states: "I believe that all Disney french fries are vegan, except for those clearly advertised as McDonald's fries. (I believe that McDonalds has discontinued the beef flavoring, but they may contain dairy and wheat)." Well, as far as I know, there are no longer any McDonald's products in the parks. I believe they have all been phased out. However, there are still two McD's on Disney property. So, for any vegetarians who might have taken this as a signal that McD's fries are now, in fact, vegetarian, I'm afraid this might not be the case. It appears that McDonald's is again (or still?) using beef flavoring in their fries. This will be corrected on the next update, but I wanted to give everyone a warning.

And last but not least... I received a wonderful e-mail from a reader names Michelle. She was nice enough to fill me in on her latest trip to the WDW. Just to give you some highlights that might be helpful to future travelers: She had an awesome breakfast at 'Ohana (Lilo & Stitch character meal). After speaking with the chef, she received an amazing tofu scramble prepared with tamari sauce, snow peas, and other goodies. She also received a vegetarian enchilada with veggie cowboy beans at Whispering Canyon Cafe. The chefs at both Tusker House and Crystal Palace (both buffets) also made sure they were well taken care of. Her only disappointment was the princess breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table. (I will say again that the draw here has never been the food. It's the thrill of eating in the castle with princesses. But given the price and difficulty in getting ressies, you *really* have to want this.)

And yet one more update! As I was typing this up, I received an e-mail from Doug, telling me that the WDW Special Diets people have told him that "you can go to the Main Street Bakery at Magic Kingdom and speak with a manager or chef, and they will prepare a "to go" box meal to pick up for lunch or dinner later in the day (but they don't take advance requests before the day you want it)." This is totally news to me, but I might just have to check it out for myself on my next trip! Speaking of which, that next trip is getting closer. Expect some really detailed updates from me in the not-too-distant future. Until then, happy Disney dining!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

just checking in

No, I haven't disappeared. I'm just being a bit more "bashful" than usual, I guess. Okay, okay... truth be told, I'm having trouble coming up with new Disney vegan bashful news between trips. If we ever move to Florida, I'll keep this blog jumping. :-)

In the meantime, I thought I'd do a little surfing, and see if I could come up with any new vegan Disney news... and sadly, what I found is a whole lot of out-of-date references. It's easy to start a vegan Disney blog, but not so easy to keep one up, I think. I will continue to keep my eyes and ears open, though, for any and all news that might appeal to my tiny handful of readers.

There is one vegan blog I have enjoyed quite a bit, and she just recently finished up a 5-part post on her trip to Walt Disney World, complete with food pictures! The rest of the blog is also worth a look-see... but be forewarned - I usually get very hungry when I read this blog, LOL. This is one vegan who knows how to find good eats! Be sure to visit Megan's blog at Say It's Not Soy. There's a link on the right side to her Walt Disney World posts, or this link will take you there directly. Despite all of my WDW trips, Megan managed to find some treats I didn't know about! (And, she gives yet another stellar review of 'Ohana - I *so* need to eat there!)

Now, back to my trip-planning. Yes, it looks like we may have another Disney trip planned for later this year! The details are still being worked out, but despite a lack of funds, we've decided that WDW is a large part of what makes life worth living. Right now, I'm battling with the desire to buy a new copy of Passporter. During our 12 years of WDW trips, I've probably bought a couple dozen Disney guidebooks - and read every one cover-to-cover. You would think I wouldn't need any more guidebooks, but Passporter is different. It has all the necessary tools for planning a trip, keeping all of your notes and ressie numbers and important papers organized, and it's the best way to save all your memories after the trip is over. And their website is full of more information and a very busy and helpful message board. I have tried several different methods for trip planning - spreadsheets, index cards, various notebooks... all with varying degrees of success. But still, none of them works as well as a Passporter. (No, I don't own stock in the company, LOL - just a satisfied customer.)

Here's hoping that all of you have Walt Disney World trips in the making, too!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

possibly helpful disney link

A very nice blog reader, Michael, pointed out to me that Disney does, in fact, have a page up on their website now regarding Special Dietary Requests. At a glance, there isn't a whole lot of useful information there (nothing more than I've already shared with you), but there is a phone number that they recommend you call 14 days before your trip. I haven't tried it yet (wish I had an excuse to!), but I will definitely be giving it a try on my next trip.

I often get asked about the best way to get your needs met at the full-service restaurants. I usually recommend the following:

(1) Make a dining reservation through Disney Dining, and ask them to make a note about your dietary restrictions on the reservation.
(2) Call the restaurant directly 72 hours before your meal (either through the direct phone number, if you can get it, or by being transferred there through the usual reservations number), and ask to speak to a chef. Explain your situation and discuss options.
(3) When you check in at the restaurant, always ask to speak to a chef. Do not rely on the wait staff to be able to help you.

While I still recommend this, a couple of e-mails, including Michael's, have reminded me that step number 2 may be easier said than done. I have confessed before that I'm really, really, REALLY bashful, and that I pretty much ignore my own advice and skip step number 2. I still usually manage okay, but I do miss out on some the extraordinary meals that other vegans have reported getting. However, bashfulness is only part of the problem - getting through to a restaurant directly can be difficult. Cast members don't generally give out the direct numbers, and would prefer not to put you through.

Part of this is because they have been told that by simply noting your dietary needs on your reservation, you will be taken care of when you arrive at the restaurant. In my experience, this is only partially true. Yes, sit-down restaurants (with a rare exception here or there) will do their best to make sure you get fed. However, they can only work with the ingredients they have on hand, and with any knowledge they already have stored up. If you call ahead, they can get in any necessary ingredients, and possibly research more recipes. Your choices will almost certainly increase with prior arrangements.

With that being said, let me say that, if the phone calls don't work, you can always go to "step 2 - plan B". As soon as you arrive at Walt Disney World for your vacation, go directly to the restaurant itself and ask to speak to a chef in person. You might have a short wait (I'd recommend you avoid the busy meal-rush times), but I've never been told "no". Depending on when your meal is, they may not have quite as much time to prepare, but even a couple hours notice is better than none. Now, this is extremely time-consuming, and rather a pain, depending on where your meal is - that's why I call this "plan B". However, it should be effective. Personally, I'd only bother with this for the most expensive or most "special" meals. But for those, it could very well be worth the effort.

If you will be staying at a Disney resort, you could also try working with your Lobby Concierge. Again, like with the phone calls, I've had mixed results with this - depends entirely on the cast member working at that time. But if you can catch the right person, they might be willing to connect you to the restaurant chefs.

Of course, hopefully this new number on Disney's website will help us all to eat better with less effort. If anyone tries this, I'd love to hear how it works out for you!

And if all else fails, just remember that the chefs are generally all very eager to help. Even without prior notice, you still stand a good chance of getting "something". And, the more specific and creative you can be with your request, the better they can work with you.

Good luck, and Happy Disney Dining!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

amazing disney dining review

For anyone planning a trip to Walt Disney World, you've just got to check out this new blog by Vegan Satori. This vegan has given a nice, long, detailed report of his latest vegan Disney dining experiences, just full of photos and tasty morsels of advice. I must confess that I actually learned a few things from him...

which leads me to an apology, and a word of advice. According to Vegan Satori, the standard buns used for the veggie burgers at the counter-service locations are *not* vegan, as I had been previously told. Either I received some incorrect information, or they changed at some point. There *are* vegan buns available - but you have to ask. I will follow up on this when I can, but in the meantime, if this is a concern for you, please *ask*before taking anything for granted.

To end this on a positive note, though, this new blogger reported getting some good service where others have not, leading me once again to believe that most of the bad experiences I hear about are the exception, and that for the most-part, Disney cast members continue to go out of their way to take care of us.

Happy Disney Dining!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

picnics and the animal kingdom lodge

Two bits of exciting news! First, you may have all heard about the "Picnic in the Park" being offered at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The park is now offering a "picnic lunch" all wrapped up in a nice reusable bag. You purchase the lunch, and then you can eat it at any of the nice "picnic spots" around the park. This is such a beautiful park that a picnic sounds like a pretty good idea. However, when it was first announced, the meal options were pretty much what you would expect: meat, meat or meat. But never fear - Disney has come through for us veggie lovers! They now offer a portobello mushroom and vegetable wrap, along with a number of veggie and fruit side options! I have yet to confirm if the wrap is vegan, but I'm guessing that it will be. You can check out the menu and details here, at If anyone tries this, I'd love to hear your opinion!

And in our second bit of exciting news, the new restaurant, Sanaa, at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, has officially opened. This restaurant is part of the new Disney Vacation Club section added onto the lodge. Unlike the other two (wonderful) restaurants at the lodge, this one was designed so that the savannah comes almost right up to the windows, offering some amazing views of grazing animals while you dine. I had hoped that, as with the other two restaurants, this one would be reasonably veggie-friendly - and it appears to be even better than hoped! They actually have both a vegetarian menu and a vegan menu! How's that for veggie-friendly! Thanks to, the first reports from diners are in, and while the menu is just a bit exotic for some, in general the reviews seem to be positive - though I haven't yet heard from a vegetarian or vegan. I'm not sure when my next trip to the World will be, but you can bet I'll be adding Sanaa to my "must try" list!

That's it for today. My plan is to begin work on an article about the off-site veggie-friendly restaurants in the Orlando area. I never seem to be able to tear myself away from Disney property on my own visits, so I'm going to have to rely entirely on the information I've received from others. If you have any info or advice, please let me know! I know this is a subject of some interest to vacationing Disney diners, so hopefully I can shed at least a little light on the subject.

Happy Disney Dining!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

popcorn and ice cream

Just a couple of vegan Disney news bits I wanted to get out there...

I just got word that the popcorn at Walt Disney World may have changed. As I'm not there (bummer!), I haven't been able to confirm this myself yet, but Lisa (another observant guest), mentioned to me that the popcorn kiosks no longer display the Orville Redenbacher name. As I've mentioned before, after some effort, I had found that the popcorn sold at Disney parks was, in fact, vegan. They used a combination of corn, canola, palm and coconut oils to pop it in. This may still be the case, but since the popcorn itself has changed, I cannot be certain that the oil is the same anymore. I plan to find this out at my earliest convenience, but for the time-being, please be aware that it *may* not be vegan anymore. (If anyone has more information, please let me know, and I'll make sure I post it!)

I also received a very nice e-mail from Elizabeth, with an unfortunate story about the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor at the Magic Kingdom. She knew that both Toffuti and Rice Dream were reported to be available here, and she was eager to try a non-dairy ice cream. She proceeded to ask for some, and the cast member working the counter asked her if she had an allergy. She responded "no", to which the cast member responded with "I'm sorry, but that product is only for those with allergies". What?!!! She nicely asked to speak to a manager, and eventually she did get her frozen treat, but it wasn't without difficulty. In my heart of hearts, I really want to believe that this was a one-time fluke - a misguided cast member that simply didn't understand. But I felt it was important to pass it on.

Here's my feelings on the subject: I really, really hate to lie, but I have to admit that the word "allergy" certainly gets more attention than "preference, diet or vegetarian/vegan". I still believe that it is important for us to use the "V" word, because it gets the word out there. The more of us vegans that speak up, the more the world will start to recognize this as a reasonable path, and understand that vegan options need to be made available. However, I won't begrudge anyone who feels the need to mention allergies, if you feel it will help you get an animal-free item. And as far as Disney is concerned? Never be afraid to ask for a manager. While I hope you never have to, as long as you are polite, most often Disney managers will do what they have to, to make things right.

Thanks Lisa and Elizabeth for the heads up! Happy Disney Dining! ºoº

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

just a couple of notes

While I have a couple ideas for future posts, I seem to be a little low on motivation at the moment. So here's just a quick little note to let you all know that the bashful vegan is still bashful, still vegan, and still a Disney geek - and I do plan to post more in the future.

For today, I want to share with you all the most amazing e-zine *ever* - AllEars. Yes, I know I tend to go on and on about the website, but I haven't mentioned the newsletter before. It's an amazing way to get a bit of Pixie Dust dropped in your e-mail box every week. And don't just take my word for it - this newsletter just published its 500th issue, and they've topped over 117,000 subscribers! Is that amazing or what? Their latest issue talks about how the newsletter has grown - and it's just chock-full of happy Disney stuff. Here's the link to sign up: AllEars - the unofficial newsletter about Walt Disney World

And for a bit of Disney news: Spoodles, a mediterranean restaurant located at Disney's Boardwalk Resort, is set to close soon, and will re-open this fall as Kouzzina by Cat Cora, a celebrity chef from the Food Network's Iron Chef series. Now, I don't actually know that much about Cat Cora, and I have no particular reason to think that this restaurant will "veggie friendly", but I will say that Chef Cat Cora clearly has her heart in the right place, so I have high hopes. She has joined the fight to protect Canadian seals, and pledged to boycott all Canadian seafood.

That's it for today. Happy Disney Dining!

Friday, April 10, 2009

hoo-dee-doo hoopla

In November of 2007, hubby and I decided to be truly adventurous and give the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review a try. This is a dinner show found at Fort Wilderness. It features some good old-fashioned country-western song and dance, slapstick, corny jokes, and a lot of meat. It's not normally the kind of thing that hubby and I would go for, but so many people rave about it. I suppose curiosity had gotten the better of us, so we decided to see what all the hoopla was about.

Now, I had two different concerns with this dinner: (1) I'm a vegan, and (2) I'm bashful as all-get-out. Well, it turns out that both concerns were valid, and this probably isn't an experience I will repeat. But I'm still glad I tried it once, and perhaps my review will help others decide if it's for them.

Ressies are a necessity for this popular meal, so I called ahead and made sure that they noted my special dietary needs. I intentionally booked "Category 3" seats, not just because they were the least expensive, but mostly because these seats are the farthest from the stage, and I assumed that this meant we would be safer from the general mayhem. Here's where I will quickly add a warning given to me quite some time ago by another bashful diner: if you're shy, do *not* go to this show alone. Like a lot of places at WDW, the cast members seem to make it their goal to make solo diners feel "included". At this particular event, that can mean targeting you for some serious attention - the very last thing a bashful diner wants. This was most decidedly not a pleasant experience for her. (Of course, if you're the more out-going type, by all means indulge in this special attention.)

When we arrived at Walt Disney World, we picked up our tickets for the show at our resort's Lobby Concierge. Again, I explained to the cast member my concerns about finding vegan food here. Again, I was assured that they would take care of me. And here I made my biggest mistake - I took her word for it and didn't follow up. Vegans, please learn from my mistake and call this place directly 72 hours in advance, and don't give up until you speak with a chef. I should have, I knew I should have, but I wimped out.

So, our night arrives for the big show. We hopped a bus to Fort Wilderness, hoping we would be able to find Pioneer Hall when we got there. We were under the impression that we'd need to switch to an internal bus. It wasn't necessary. Pioneer Hall is a short walk from the main bus stop, and we actually found the place with very little stress and without having to ask for directions. We checked in, and were directed to a line for our photo op. Our picture was taken by a bail of hay, and we were told we could pick it up later... for a fee. ($29.95 - we passed. But I just have to ask - why do they print off several copies before they even know if you'll buy?)

Shortly after, we're seated on the second floor balcony, with a nice view... of a pole, LOL. Now mind you, we did pay for the cheapest seats. And really it wasn't that bad. If I leaned over a little, I could see around the pole. It wasn't ideal, but it was good enough for us. I was far more worried about being picked on then having a good view. And wouldn't you know it? Being on the balcony, in the worst seats, does *not* save you from embarrassment! Five minutes into the show, we're turned toward the stage when we hear something behind us. We turn around to find Dolly right at my hubby's elbow. She gives him a huge smile and asks where he's from. The whole cast, spread around the room, goes into a really really corny song about different states, all the while Dolly's by our side, singing right to us. ("They're from Ohi-o, hope to die-o." Was that the best she could come up with?) However, my darling (also bashful) hubby was just so relieved not to be Frank! This poor guy on the floor, about 3 tables back from the stage, was singled out later by Dolly also - only she sat on his lap, ran her fingers through his hair, and most definitely made him the center of attention! Hubby and I both would have died if that had happened to him!

Now, as for the food... as soon as we were seated, I immediately told our server that I was a vegan. And pretty much immediately, I got the impression that I should've gone to greater lengths to make prior arrangements. The server just started rambling off that, "well, this has butter, and that won't work, and this is no good... hmmm... I think we could get you some grilled vegetables, and we might be able to find you some white rice. Would that be okay?" Now, perhaps I should've pushed, but generally, I take what's offered because I hate making a fuss. And honestly, if done right, grilled veggies over rice can make a nice meal. Here's the problem - they seemed to be entirely lacking in spices. I don't know how they managed it, but this was about the blandest meal I've ever had at WDW. It was plentiful, and filling, so that was a plus. And it actually looked quite nice on plate. However, it looked a lot better than it tasted. Points for presentation, but they need serious help in the flavor department. Here's a photo:

That, along with a little salad (sans dressing) was about all they could muster. For dessert, I recieved some plain fruit. Again, not terrible - just boring. And I will say this: had this been a $10.00 meal at a regular restaurant, I would probably have been satisfied. Instead, I paid the same price as everyone else (currently $50.99 for one adult - for the cheap seats!), for considerably less.

This next photo is a little fuzzy, but it gives you a pretty good idea of the view we had (when I leaned over a bit, to avoid that pole on the left).

This next photo shows the cast singing and dancing out on the floor. A good portion of the show has them prancing around the room - hence the "bashful" warning.

Here's one of my better shots of the action on the stage. The cast is certainly good at what they do.

And, last but not least, here's a photo of my favorite part of the show, though I'm not sure the same can be said for this poor fella. He was one of the audience volunteers that performed in the last number. During that number, he wore a HUGE cowboy hat that obscured his intire face - he couldn't even see where he was going. However, when they took the hat off, the little guy was so nervous that he refused to take his hands off his face. The big cowboy dude is saying "Here's a certificate to commemorate your experience. I know you can't see it right now, but it will be a nice souvenir to have later." Too cute!

So, in closing, I will say this. While it's corny to the max, the show itself is very cute. It's definitely good, clean family fun. But if you're bashful, be prepared for possible unwanted attention, and if you're a vegan CALL AHEAD, and don't rest until you've spoken with a chef.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

quick tip

I have a couple of bigger updates in the works, but tonight will just be a quick tip.

Thanks to Sally, I've been reminded that there's something I recommend to just about every vegan who writes to me, but I have yet to mention it here: bring your own food. Now this might sound like a contradiction. After all, I spend a lot of time suggesting the best places for vegans to buy food in the parks and resorts. However:

Going to Walt Disney World is supposed to be fun. And "hungry" isn't fun. In fact, if you're anything like me, "Bashful" quickly becomes "Grumpy" when mealtime runs late. Now, after 15 trips I usually have a pretty good idea where to find a vegan item when I need it - I almost never have to go hungry. But that's with lots of practice. And even so, I still never leave the hotel room without a vegan energy bar in my little waist-pack. I usually don't need it, but it's nice to know it's there.

And it's more than just not going hungry. Maybe you have a comfort food, or a particular treat that makes you happy. Or maybe there's just a regular item that you eat every day, and that if you don't have it, something just feels off. If it's at all possible, bring it with it, or have it shipped to your hotel to arrive when you do. Or order it from Garden Grocer, or pick it up on the way to the resort. It's a vacation - you want to feel pampered, not deprived.

As for bringing food into the parks? Okay, here's the deal: the official Disney policy is that they do not allow outside food into the parks. The reality, though, is that after having my bag full of snacks checked at security countless times, not once has anyone ever said a word about my food. As long as you do not have any bottles or booze, or a full-size cooler, security won't say a word if you're packing snacks. And even if they do, Disney does officially make exceptions in the case of special diets. Just explain that you're a vegan, and that you can't find this item in the parks. But trust me - they won't say anything.

Again, I'm the last person to recommend breaking the rules, but in our case, it really is a matter of dietary need. And it's not just for the parks. There's no harm in keeping some food in your hotel room as well. I am hoping that my little blog will make it easier for you to find plenty to eat at Disney, but if a little planning will your trip that much sweeter, why not?

I'll leave you with an image of one of my favorite treats, though this one *is* available at Walt Disney World. Just check out the truly decadent chocolate shop at Downtown Disney. :-)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

table talk, part 2

Okay, I've shared some of my favorite table-service memories, but to give you the bigger picture, I think I need to share some of the less-than-perfect meals, too. Forewarned is forearmed, or something like that. But just as a reminder, every dining experience is unique, and I still say that, for vegans, the service you get can mean a lot more than what's on the menu. Catch the right chef, and it could be your lucky day! Call ahead, and your odds most likely improve as well.

In an attempt to be more organized, I'll try to group these by park. Let's start at the Magic Kingdom. Crystal Palace is a buffet with "character" - you can dine with Winnie the Pooh and friends. While I haven't tried this one myself yet, it actually gets high praise from other vegans as one of the most accommodating buffets. It's on my list to try. The Plaza Restaurant is another good choice that I haven't tried yet. There's a vegetarian sandwich on the menu, veganizable by request. And I've heard they usually stock Tofutti and Rice Dream for dessert. Liberty Tree Tavern was a bit disappointing. Dinner is a family-style meat-fest, but lunch usually offers a vegetarian option. The menu has changed since I ate here about a year ago, but at the time I felt it was just "okay". Tony's Town Square Restaurant was another that just didn't live up to my expectations - very generic pasta dish with little flavor. A call in advance might help here. Last but not least, we've got Cinderella's Royal Table. Rating this place on food alone, I'd have to call it "okay", at best. I was served a rather simple pasta/veggie dish. However, it remains one of my favorite meal memories because of the atmosphere - there's just something magical about eating the castle.

Moving onto Epcot, Futureworld... haven't tried Coral Reef, but the menu isn't too promising for vegans. To be honest, I think the idea of watching other diners feasting on seafood, while happy little fishies swim by their table just turns me off. I'm guessing I'm not the only one, because I've never read a review on this place by a vegan before. Garden Grill, on the other hand, is one I would try again. I ate here as a vegetarian and had a very tasty ravioli dish. Last I heard, they were offering a veggie cous-cous dish, but they have plenty of fresh veggies to work with, and seem happy to accomodate. They do suggest you call ahead, though, for the best options.

Hitting World Showcase, we have some rather exotic choices. Le Cellier (Canada) gets good reviews from other vegetarians and vegans. They are reported to be very accomodating - I plan to give the place a try someday. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Norway) is a bit riskier - I've heard good and bad, depending on who your chef was at the time of your visit. The buffet itself is rather limited, so you'll need a helpful chef. Biergarten (Germany) has, in all honesty, kept me away more for its design than its food. Being bashful, the idea of being seated with other diners kind of freaks me out. However, I've read at least two reports from other vegans who said that they were treated to a very nice meal here - again, dependant on the chef as the buffet is mostly not veg-friendly. In France, we have Bistro de Paris, and Chefs de France - I've heard that the later is much more accommodating, but have no first-hand experience to back this up. Nine Dragons (China) is definite no-go - response from Disney has led me to believe that every dish here has some sort of hidden meat ingredient, and they aren't comfortable altering them. Sadly, Restaurant Marrakesh is a no-go, too. Their best option, veggie cous-cous, supposedly contains dairy, though it seems that they're a little evasive about the question, making me think this isn't a safe choice. You might find something at Teppan Edo or Tokyo Dining (Japan), but again, I haven't tried them, or heard enough to give an opinion. Tutto Italia (Italy) - same thing.

One I get asked about a lot is San Angel Inn. As someone who loves Mexican food, like many others, I thought this would be a no-brainer - Mexican dishes usually lend themselves well to vegan versions, and this place even has a separate vegetarian menu! Well, I was sadly disappointed, as were other vegans I've heard from. It seems that when you remove the dairy, the chefs here completely lose all ability to think. I ended up with a plate of black beans in tortillas, with a side of black beans. It was edible, but that's about it. I'm going to pass on a suggestion - skip San Angel Inn and hit Cantina de San Angel (the counter-service place) instead. They will put together something for you that tastes better and costs much less. (Thanks for the suggestion, Lisa!) The best part? You can still wander the pavilion and enjoy all the ambience of the restaurant without enduring a bad meal!

Disney's Hollywood Studios: I've already raved about 50's Prime Time Cafe, and given Brown Derby a thumbs-up. Hollywood & Vine is supposed to be a decent buffet choice for a vegan, but I haven't tried it myself - this is one you might want to call ahead on, just to be sure. Mama Melrose's, for some reason, is one I keep meaning to try and just never seem to get there. I've heard that they will work with you - it looks promising. Sci-Fi Dine-In is one I have trouble reviewing. I hear so many non-vegans complain about the food here, but vegetarians and vegans seem to be pretty happy - something you don't see very often from a place that pushes burgers and shakes. I ate here years ago as a vegetarian and enjoyed my meal, though my meat-eating husband did *not* enjoy his meal. It's a cute place, though - worth a visit at least once.

Animal Kingdom... Rainforest Cafe was not a favorite for me, but other veggie folks have enjoyed it. I was a bit uncomfortable with the set-up (very noisy, tables much too close together), so that may have influenced my opinion. I ate there many years ago, but haven't felt the need to try it again. Tusker House already got a full review from me, but I will add a note here: my "less-than-perfect" experience had more to do with a rather unhelpful chef and much-too-high expectations. The truth is that I did have a number of options and didn't leave hungry. Other vegans *love* this place. Yak and Yeti, the newest choice, is one I hope to try someday. While the menu is limited, I just happened to stumble on a couple of vegans asking the staff what they could do, and it seemed that they were very willing to work with them.

Well, it looks like I'll have to share the resort restaurants in a future post, because this is just too darn long already. I'll leave you with a photo of the Mexico Pavilion. Just remember, enjoy the pavilion, skip the restaurant.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

quick note

No time for a full post tonight, but I just found another wonderful Disney vegan blog - how cool is that?! Y'all have to check this out: Vegan in Disney World. Shame on me for not seeing this sooner!

I'll be back soon, with a "part 2" to my table talk. I realized two things about that post: first, I left out a LOT of restaurants (which was inevitable - there are so many!), and second, I focused completely on the "good" experiences. Of course it's more fun to talk about the good ones, but knowing what to avoid is important, too. So, look for a follow-up soon, with more good, a little bad, and maybe one or two uglies.

Happy Disney Dining!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

table talk

If money (and calories) were no object, I'd eat all my vacation meals at Disney's table service restaurants. With very few exceptions, my experiences have ranged from pretty good to outstanding - which never ceases to amaze me, since I often go hungry at regular restaurants in the real world. Now, admittedly I live in "cow country", and I've (gasp!) never actually eaten at a real-life vegan restaurant, so my experience is limited. Never-the-less, I am of the opinion that Disney does a pretty good job of taking care of us veggie people.

Because money and calories *do* count in my world, I have to choose my dining experiences wisely. While having access to all the menus certainly helps, as a vegan I've found that choosing the right restaurant is a little more complicated than that. Many of my best Disney dining experiences have been meals not found on the menu. Whether or not I go home hungry often has more to do with the attitude of the chef than what the restaurant traditionally offers. (It's worth noting, though, that as a vegetarian I did often order off of the menu, with just the occasional small modification - the menus were a much better gage for me then for making a good dining decision.)

As for general table-service dining tips, I think I've given these before, but as a quick reminder: when you make ressies, mention your dining restrictions. I'm still not certain if this helps, but it certainly can't hurt. For extra attention and better options, call the restaurant directly 72 hours in advance and speak to a chef - this allows them time to gather special ingredients and make sure they have what you want/need. And, when you're first seated (whether or not you have ressies or called ahead), always ask to speak to a chef. I can't stress this one enough - though some wait staff are more knowledgeable than others, there's no substitute for the help you can get from a chef. (I recently heard a horror story from a couple of vegans who were happily munching on some animal-laden dishes from a buffet because of a misinformed server.)

Okay, now for the good stuff - let's talk restaurants and meals. Now it wasn't all that long ago that my table service suggestion sounded a bit like a broken record: Boma, Boma, Boma. Sadly, though, I recently received a detailed food report from Lee, letting me know that things have definitely gone down-hill at Boma (Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge). The special attention, personal vegan masterpieces and total pampering have pretty much been eliminated. While it still probably ranks as one of the better buffets for a vegan (much of the regular items are already vegan), it's not the "magical, unforgetable" experience I had come to expect.

But never fear - there is good news! The force behind most of my magical Boma experiences has simply moved to a new venue. Chef TJ can now be found at 'Ohana (Disney's Polynesian Resort), where I hear is still a vegan's best friend. I cannot rave enough about Chef TJ - if you have the pleasure of enjoying a meal with him, you will never forget it. Though 'Ohana is generally known for its grilled meat-fest, thanks to Chef TJ, Lee and his wife were instead treated to a 7 course vegan meal lasting 2-1/5 hours! While I haven't tried 'Ohana yet myself, it has suddenly risen to the very top of my "must try" list.

For a special, romantic, slightly-more-extravagent meal, I would recommend California Grill (Disney's Contemporary Resort). While it has been a few years since my last meal there, it made an impression on me. We were able to schedule our meal to coincide with the Magic Kingdom fireworks. I was served something called "Vegetarian Unplugged" - not found on the menu, but was available by request. You would definitely need to call ahead to see if it's still available, but if so, I highly recommend it. They had to make a couple of slight modifications to make it vegan, but I didn't notice anything lacking - a beautiful presentation of several different and unique dishes.

One of my regular happy haunts is Kona Cafe (Disney's Polynesian Resort). Hubby and I do lunch here almost every trip - lunch crowds are small, and it makes a nice break during the middle of our day. There used to be a vegan dish on the menu. While it was gone on my last visit, and short chat with the chef produced a wonderful alternative - a sweet and sour tofu veggie dish over rice noodles. This is just one of those places where I've always felt that they're eager to work with me.

Another favorite is 50's Prime Time Cafe (Disney's Hollywood Studios). With its focus on old-fashioned family favorites, it's a bit of an unlikely choice, but again, it's the service that makes all the difference. There's currently a stuffed grilled pepper on the menu that is easily veganizable - but be sure to ask, because the jasmine rice they usually use has whey in it (thanks for the heads up on that, Lee!) This is also one of the few places where I am always offered dessert - a nice treat for a vegan. The whole gimmick behind the place is to make you feel like family - and this extends to us vegan cousins. It took me years to tackle my bashfulness enough to try this place, but I was so glad when I finally did. I always feel welcome and cared for here.

The Rose and Crown restaurant (Epcot - UK pavilion) is one I plan to go back to. If I'm being completely honest, then I'd have to confess that part of the attraction for me is those British accents. I just love chatting with the servers here! But I was also treated to a wonderful curry dish that was unique and satisfying.

A few others that I would consider good bets: Garden Grill (Epcot - Land pavilion) - they seem eager to help, and they have a lot of fresh veggies to work with. They do encourage you to talk to a chef in advance, though. Brown Derby (Disney's Hollywood Studios) - while not my personal favorite dish, they do have a vegan Noodle Bowl with Wok Fried Coconut Tofu that many have raved about. Artist Point (Disney's Wilderness Lodge) - while I haven't tried this one in quite some time, I have been assured by more than one patron that their vegan Potato Chive Pot Stickers are "to die for". And, if money was no object, I wouldn't hesitate to schedule a special one-of-kind dining experience at Victoria and Alberts. Advanced (VERY advanced) reservations are an absolute must, as is a very detailed discussion with the chef at least 72 hours in advance - but I have no doubts that they would be willing to work with you, and give you a meal you would never forget.

While that's hardly a dent in Disney's huge selection of offerings, hopefully that gives you all some ideas. Are there any particular restaurants you were curious about? Just send me a note, and I'll share what I know, or what I've heard. Happy Disney Dining!

And, since pictures are worth a thousand words, here's an example of what I call a "TJ special" - an amazing tofu veggie dish that Chef TJ created for me back when he was at Boma.

And, because I'm feeling particularly brave today, I'll even share a old (very old) photo of me! Yes, this bashful vegan, after 15 trips to Walt Disney World has yet to get up the guts to have her picture taken with Mickey Mouse. However, she somehow managed to pose with Chef TJ, after an amazing meal at Boma (which should tell you something about just what I think of him!).