Sunday, December 26, 2010

happy holidays! more coming soon...

Just a quick message to wish everyone a merry holiday season, and to let you know that there is plenty more I plan to share, about my recent Disney trip... but it's going to be a few more days before I can start posting again. The holiday season, year-end at work, the whole "catching up from vacation" thing, and a nasty cold have all slowed me down. But I'll be back with plenty more good stuff soon!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

wdw dec. 2010 - la hacienda de san angel

Now for another stand-out meal highlight of our trip. On December 9, my hubby and I joined some Internet friends for dinner, at the new restaurant in the Mexico pavilion at Epcot - La Hacienda de San Angel.

We had a wonderful time getting reacquainted with a couple of friends we had met on previous trips, and a few more that we were meeting in person for the first time. Everyone was so nice - we couldn't have asked for better company (and this is saying a LOT coming from someone as bashful as me).

I was, honestly, a bit worried about this dinner. Even though I knew I should contact a chef before the meal, I didn't do that. The only "pre-meal" work I did was to e-mail Disney Special Diets and ask them if the beans and tortillas were vegan. (They were, and the contact from the restaurant assured me that if I asked for a chef, I'd be taken care of.) I figured that as long as they had beans and tortillas, I wouldn't starve - but of course there's a big difference between not starving, and having a nice dining experience. My biggest concern this evening, though, was more of a bashful thing. I didn't want to make a big production in front of these new friends. Silly, I know. They probably would have enjoyed a big production, LOL.

As we were being seated, I found the opportunity to quietly tell our server that I had allergies and needed to speak with a chef. (I know, I know... I try to use the word "vegan" as much as possible, but when I'm in the slightest doubt of a cast member not understanding me, it's just so much easier to say "allergy". They ALL understand that word. For the record, I always explain that I'm a vegan - and, if necessary, what that means - when I speak with the chefs.) He was very polite and quietly said that he would take care of it.

As the other guests were checking out their menus, the server quietly brought the chef to my side, and he quietly discussed options with me. After clarifying what I could eat, he asked if I had anything in mind. It's terrible, but I never do. I gave my stock answer, which is "Do you have any suggestions? What would you like to make for me?" He offered me two ideas, and sadly, I completely forgot the first one. (Yes, I need to work on my reporting skills!) The second option was a couple of vegetable tacos. I chose that. I was imagining something rather simple - and would have been content with that. What I got was, simply, out of this world. I wish I knew how to describe these, except to say that there was a wonderful combination of sauteed veggies, and the whole thing was just brimming with flavor. I have always been a fan of Mexican food - but nothing I've ever had, before or after going vegan, matches this. It was wonderful.

The picture really doesn't do it justice. While not a HUGE meal, it was perfectly-sized for me. There are two flour tortillas there on the bottom, and then it was just loaded up with veggies - lots of white corn, peppers, onions... and I think maybe even some cactus. I enjoyed every bite of this meal, and the entire experience.

When you are seated, they also bring tri-colored tortilla chips with two types of salsa to your table. I did not ask, but I'm pretty sure all of that was vegan with the possible exception of the "red" chips. (In fact, my non-vegan friends were even discussing just what they might use to make those chips so red. If you don't know, consider yourself lucky, LOL.) They also provided us with warm corn tortillas and black beans (neither of which I tried, as I already had plenty to eat, and didn't want to bother confirming "vegan-ness" - but my guess would be that they both were vegan).

To be completely honest, though, I must confess that I also ordered one of their classic margaritas. It was vegan... and it was VERY potent. I don't drink very often, but I sometimes celebrate a bit at Walt Disney World. I have enjoyed a few of those frozen margaritas they sell at the stand by the giant pyramid. This was nothing like them. I was feeling tipsy after a few sips. If I had more than one of these, I don't think I could have left the restaurant on my own two legs. Drink at your own risk. :-)

And to round this out for others (like myself) traveling with non-vegan friends and family, my non-vegan hubby also enjoyed his meal, and I heard no complaints from anyone else we were dining with. I know that this was one of those "off the menu, chef's own creation" meals that you can't count on, but the experience was so wonderful that I will definitely be back.

Monday, December 20, 2010

wdw dec. 2010 - veggie burgers & salads

This is going to be a shorter post, about some of the standard counter-service items I tried on our trip.

First, I didn't take any salad pictures, but my two favorites salads from the last trip are still my two favorite salads. :-) Probably the best "deal" is the house salad from Earl of Sandwich, at Downtown Disney. Just make sure you specify "no croutons" - it's the only "possibly non-vegan" item on the salad (and, of course, choose an appropriate dressing - the Italian is a safe choice). It's a very large salad at a very fair price ($5.99).

However, I still prefer the "made to order" salads available from the Beach Club Marketplace. It's not the most convenient location unless you happen to be staying at (or near) Disney's Beach Club Resort, but it works out for us. At $8.99, it's a bit pricey for a salad, but since I always take it back to our room, I can usually split it up and get two good-sized salads out of it. There are quite a few veggie toppings available to choose from: carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, hot peppers and olives, and some of what might have been "seasonal" offerings: sunflower seeds, cranberries, and another type of nut... sorry, that's all my brain would hold, LOL. (For any non-vegans, there are also two types of cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and croutons.) The raspberry vinaigrette dressing is wonderful. I always order the dressing on the side, and they put it in a little cup for me. With this method, the salad will easily last a couple days in your room's fridge (if you have one).

And, now onto those "last resort" veggie burgers. I have good news, and bad news. The good news is that there is a new option for a bun, available at *some* locations. As previously reported, the Angus burger multi-grain bun is (more or less) vegan (e-mail me for complete ingredients list). And, in my humble opinion, is definitely a step up from the gluten-free roll. (Note, though, that this new option is *not* gluten-free.) The bad news is that the veggie burgers are the same as they were a year ago - not very good. Perhaps they have their fans, but I haven't found any yet.

I ended up finding enough other options on this trip that I only resorted to a veggie burger once, at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe, at the Magic Kingdom. The ample toppings bar helps, and I do like this bun better, as I said. It's more substantial, less crumbly - but it's still lacking a bit in flavor. Bottom line, though - I just don't care for these burgers, in any bun, with any variety of toppings. (Not the best photo. Bad or not, I was hungry, and I almost forgot to take the photo.)

I should also mention that, if you're interested in this new bun option, you may need to be VERY specific with your request. I followed the "now standard" procedure of telling the cashier that I had an allergy, and needed to speak with a manager. This time, the cashier actually pointed to the manager and said "he's over there" (not very classy, in my opinion, but it wasn't too big of a deal). Once with the manager, I tried the "v" word, but ended up having to explain what a vegan is (usually the managers are familiar). He then tried to get me to order the veggie burger with the gluten-free roll. I was persistent, saying that I had heard about the option of an Angus burger bun. He hesitated, but eventually got out "the book" (a big black binder with the ingredients for every item sold at that location). I verified that the bun met my requirements and asked if I could order the veggie burger with that. He took care of it from there, and I got what I wanted.

It wasn't the highlight of the trip (I promise there are better meals yet to report!), but at least this time, I was prepared. I will state again that any vegans wanting to eat at counter service should (A) try to eat at "non-peak meal times), (B) know what you want and be specific, and (C) be prepared for an additional wait. I did, I was, and I was. All in all, this was a much smoother trip than last time, because of that.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

wdw dec. 2010 - babycakes

Okay, time to sit down and do some serious blogging. Last year, I pretty much did a chronological trip through everything we ate, day by day. This year, I think I'm just going to focus each post on a different restaurant, meal or Disney "thing", in no particular order.

For this first post, I just have to rave about the new, all-vegan, all-gluten-free bakery at Downtown Disney - Babycakes NYC Bakery.
Notice anything missing from this picture? Yup, me too. This is the building that houses the wonderful new bakery, but there is absolutely no signage outside. The manager says it's being worked on. I hope so, because this is something people need to know!

Once inside, though, it's not hard to find. (From the above door, just turn right, and you can't miss it.)

You'll notice that the sign doesn't actually say "vegan" or "gluten-free". I actually think this is a brilliant move. This is the only real bakery at Downtown Disney. I think they'll bring in a lot more business from non-vegan tourists who just see the word "bakery", and don't look any further.

Here's a couple shots of the display cases:

While the selection isn't huge, it doesn't need to be - because every item they sell is incredible. The first thing I actually tried was a chocolate chip cookie. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of it. Fortunately, the reason I don't have a picture is that my *non-vegan* husband gobbled it down before I could get the camera out! If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

While all of these items are best fresh, I found that they kept very well for a couple of days if I put them in a zip-lock bag. (I have no idea how much longer they would keep - there's no way I could keep from eating them any longer than that.)

And on a non-vegan Disney note: zip-lock bags should be on everyone's packing list. I can't tell you how many uses I have found for them on vacation.

When you get something from the bakery to go, they will either give you a nice little clam-shell-type box, or an adorable "Chinese take-out" box.

There are a variety of cupcakes available. I decided to try the red velvet. Wow, was this ever rich! The frosting is incredible - not the usual bakery-type "just takes like sugar" stuff, but really rich and creamy. I meant to take a picture of it out of the box as well, but somehow it ended up in my tummy before I got to that.

Next up, we have their chocolate crunch donut. (No, I didn't eat all these items in one sitting. As tempting as that may be, each one of these treats is incredibly rich and decadent!) I will confess that I'm not a huge donut fan. (Stems from a few months actually working in a cheap donut shop when I was younger - *not* a pleasant experience.) However, since I hadn't had a donut since before going vegan (more than 10 years ago now), I decided I'd give it a try. I'm so glad I did! This was so much better than I thought a donut could be. Actually, this is what cake donuts should be - like cake with toppings. I can't recommend this one enough!

And, last but not least, my favorite item: brownie bites. Okay, so they look a little small - but there is so much flavor packed into these little gems! They are more of a "cake-like" brownie, instead of a chewy one -but they are so much more moist and chocolatey than anything I've managed to bake at home. I so wanted to buy a dozen of these and take them home!

Not only did I make two trips to this bakery (and wanted to make more!), but I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet the manager, Emily. She is just the sweetest person ever - and so excited to be running this location! She's not only a vegan, but a huge Disney fan. I know that she'll do everything she can to make this bakery a success.

I was so excited to hear about this place. Now, having actually tried it, I'm even more excited. Babycakes NYC Bakery is going to be at the top of my "must-do" list for every future Disney trip. I hope it will be high on your "must-do" list, too!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

i'm back!

Okay, major updates coming soon. I have returned from a wonderful week at Walt Disney World, and I have pictures and stories! This post is mostly just a teaser as getting back to the real world has me completely zonked, but yes, there will real updates very soon.

Just a brief overall thought about the trip: from a vegan food standpoint, it was better than my last trip. I think this was based on two things: luck, and lower expectations. There were a couple of big disappointments last year, so I went into this trip not expecting too much, and instead had a couple of pleasant surprises. There *is* good vegan food to be had at the World. You just have to know where to look, don't be afraid to speak up, and keep your expectations reasonable.

So, more coming soon. I'll just share two happy thoughts before I wrap this up: Babycakes NYC bakery ROCKS, and Chef TJ is my hero. :-)