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!