I guess I'll start at the beginning, a very good place to start (please pardon what will probably be a plethora of lyrical puns). Like I mentioned in my first mini-post, we spent pretty well all of day 1 traveling from Philadelphia to Los Angeles by way of St. Louis, flying Southwest Airlines. In case you've never had the pleasure (I hadn't), it's a different experience than any I've had on other airlines. They do this first-come-first-served seating thing, where you're assigned a queue when you check in. The earlier you check in, the better place you get in "line," which means you have an advantage in the melee that occurs during boarding. We missed that on the flight out, boarding just about dead last since we checked in at the airport, so we had to sweet-talk a young man into giving me his seat so I could sit with Mister.
Southwest flight attendants are quite friendly and on our flight from Philly to St Louis, we had a whole crew of flamboyantly gay men, one of whom donned a bedazzled apron when he served drinks and snacks. That's right - snacks. I don't know how Southwest stays in business - two free checked bags per passenger, free drinks, low fares, and free snacks, which were passed around by a smiling man saying to take as many as you want. Unless, of course, the established airlines are just taking us all for a ride...
I had no expectations for the veg-friendliness of the St. Louis airport, but Mister was pleased to find a Dunkin' Donuts (his happy place) and I was happy to find the requisite Starbucks. There were two things that really surprised me, though, upon landing at Los Angeles:
1. the airport was much smaller than I expected it to be. Of course, we only saw the Southwest area.
2. there was very little in the way of vegetarian fare at the airport and nothing vegan. I thought this was odd, considering how veg-friendly California is supposed to be.
After sleeping like a couple of rocks, Mister and I beat our alarm to waking up for our first full day in the Golden State. We took advantage of the hotel-provided breakfast and were on our way to Anaheim. Mister and Brother(in-law) went to Blizzcon; Sister, Nephew, and I went to Disneyland:
|Pumpkin Mickey Mouse on Main St|
We stopped by Frontierland next because Sister thought I would enjoy a cajun restaurant in Disney's version of New Orleans. I had a delicious veggie po'boy with baked beans (sans pork) and a fruit salad. It was delicious and inspired one of the items on my short menu (to follow) for what remains of this week.
After lunch we traveled to the Haunted Mansion, which was all decked out for Halloween in the style of "The Nightmare Before Christmas," one of my favorite holiday movies.
After saying hello to Jack Skellington, we made our way to Fantasyland via Cinderella's Castle. It's far more colorful and Victorian in style than the one in Disney World, but it is also undeniably smaller and less faerie-tale-esque. I'd still be pretty darn happy to live in it, though (with that kitchen, of course)!
|prettiest darn drinking fountain I've ever seen|
|Me and Sister-dear|
|my two favorite Disney Villains of all time - Cruella DeVil and Maleficent|
While Nephew was eating some lemon gelato, I popped into a Sephora store on the strip and came out with these two treasures:
|also, my new zebra-print scarf!|
After Disney, we went to a little place in San Clemente for dinner called Carbonara. The food was delightful and their bread was amazing. Even more amazing than my Butternut Ravioli and our glasses of SuperTuscan was the dessert tray. Sister and I couldn't resist these little bits of heaven - Strawberries on Chocolate Mousse in candied almond shells with dark chocolate coating inside. I think it would be safe to say there was nothing vegan about this dessert, but it was my vacation and sometimes, you have to break the "rules."
Day 3 of our California Dream saw Mister and Brother off to Blizzcon again, while Sister, Nephew, and I flexed our shopping muscles at an outdoor mall, The Spectrum. This place was incredible - a carousel, ferris wheel, and a train for little ones, as well as multiple fountains and sidewalk cafes, both of which I love.
We lunched at Veggie Grill, which was incredible and a little overwhelming. It is a completely vegan restaurant, right down to their delectable chocolate pudding and chipotle ranch dipping sauce. I'm not ashamed to say I was literally salivating while pondering the menu.
My lunch included the All Hail Kale salad with candied walnuts and a citrusy vinaigrette, accompanied by the to-die-for sweet potato fries and chipotle dipping sauce.
Sister indulged in the Baja Fiesta Salad with crispy tortilla strips on top of papaya and mango.
Nephew's lunch consisted of "chicken" nuggets and sweet potato fries. It also came with chocolate pudding that Sister gave me because she doesn't want the little one developing a taste for sweets.
After a filling but not terribly bloating lunch, we headed over to Urban Outfitters. For my wedding, three years ago today, a friend gave us a generous gift card to Urban Outfitters. Unfortunately, the one in Philadelphia sucks, so all I've successfully purchased there was a pair of socks. I was happy to see many more things in this one that I would be willing to put on my body. I ended up with a pair of fingerless gloves and the adorable owl book I used to keep track of my adventures.
We also stopped into a few other stores where I could go broke (White House Black Market, I'm looking at you), I got two fun sweaters from Wet Seal, we played on the carousel and got coffee at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and did a little people watching at the outdoor cafe. I have to admit, I felt like a rockstar and I was completely amused by how dolled up everyone was - the teenagers are so good at emulating their favorite celebrities, Sister and I made multiple sightings of Mylie Cyrus and Taylor Swift. The moms were pretty high fashion, too. Moms on the East Coast generally relegate themselves to jeans and sneakers. These moms? Stilettos, skinny jeans, big bug sunglasses, styled hair, dripping with jewelry but not in a trashy way... it was pretty impressive.
We stopped into Trader Joe's for some provisions, including "Two Buck Chuck," which Sister insisted that I had to try. I was still adjusting to the idea of buying wine at a grocery store. We also got a Shiraz-Cabernet blend as back-up.
|San Clemente beach|
|more San Clemente Beach - not a bad picture for an out-dated cellphone|
|adorable little gate in Sister's white picket fence|
Back "home," Sister played SuperMom, baking our spaghetti squash while ordering pizza and putting the little one to sleep. I'd never had spaghetti squash before, so while the Misters chomped on spinach pizza, Sister and I had Spaghetti Squash Marinara with our Two Buck Chuck (which was actually pretty drinkable!).
The next day, all five of us packed into the 1992 Camry sedan and headed to Blizzard Entertainment to see where Brother spends most of his waking hours. On the way, we passed the Gingerbread House, which is the most photographed house in the area and has apparently managed to do wonders for upping property values.
|scary ork on a beasty outside of Blizzard|
|glamour shot of the ork|
Afterwards, we lunched at another sidewalk cafe "inside" another outdoor mall. This time, Native Foods tempted our palates.
|doesn't everyone have an outdoor fireplace in their outdoor mall? I mean, it has to get cold sometime, doesn't it?|
|fountain view from cafe|
|Mister's Gyro Bowl with a toasted pita, seitan standing in for the standard lamb, and vegan tzatziki sauce saturating the seitan and veggies|
|Sister's Soul Bowl with veggies, beans and rice, BBQ sauce over Ranch Dressing and a hunk of cornbread|
|My Hollywood Bowl - grilled tofu on skewers, painted with peanut sauce and laid atop broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and carrots, as well as brown rice and more peanut sauce, with a side of sweet potato fries|
We decided to walk off lunch and Sister and I happened upon a little koi pond. This "little" fella wanted to say, "hello!"
|me and Mister|
After dinner, we retired to Sister/Brother's house to watch Star Trek XI and drink some wine. The next morning, our last full day in Sunny San Clemente, the family picked us up and we had brunch by the Pacific Ocean at the Beach Garden Cafe. Ironically, I could not get enough fresh fruit during this vacation, so I was thrilled by the size of my fruit salad - mostly cantelope and pineapple, which was fine by me.
|view from our sidewalk table|
After brunch, we strolled the Avenida del Mar, including a fruitful stop into Oliver's Olive Oil which resulted in three delightful herb-n-spice blends finding their way into my bag (after I paid for them!). That place is amazing and I will happily stop in each time I visit Sister in the future. They have dozens of olive oils and balsamic vinegars that you can taste before you buy. There are also artisan salts in glass jars or samplers and special home-made pastas. This store is a foodie's heaven.
After a filling brunch and an afternoon in the sun, we were feeling a little drowsy, so we stopped by the Coffee Bean for a pick-me-up. Amazingly, even though I specifically said to the young barista, "No Milk," my Americano was still not black. I'm hoping that the hazelnut flavoring is an opaque, Bailey's color, but for now, Starbucks and their the-same-every-time Americanos are winning in my heart.
|sunset at our hotel the last night|
After some Family Pictures the next day, Brother drove us to LAX for the return home, whereupon I got detained by security, keeping my record of never making it home easily intact. They felt the need to keep the Huckleberry jam I had purchased during our layover at St. Louis, and I was free to go...so I went directly to Starbucks for a nice, black-as-night, Hazelnut Americano and a banana. On the long way home, I went through the Vegetarian Times and Real Simple magazines I had with me and constructed a short menu, which I'm going to shop for in a few moments. The menu is:
1. Hot Dogs with Sauerkraut and Baked Beans, inspired by the simplicity of the baked beans at Disneyland reminding me that I've become so caught up in putting some new gourmet feast on the table every night, I've forgotten how fun it is just to have "normal" food.
2. Moroccan Lentil Stew with
3. Buckwheat-Black Bean Soup, also from the October 2010 issue of Veg. Times. I may sub out bulgur for the buckwheat...we'll see.
I'll leave you with some final pictures of the haul I brought home:
|my spiffy 1980s-inspired sweater with the more sedate black v-neck beside it and my new black fingerless gloves on top|
|my three seasoning blends from Oliver's, plus two jars of my beloved McCormicks Garam Masala which I finally found at Albertson's. It took a lot of self-control to only buy two.|
|I love Snickerdoodle coffee and apparently, only people in California agree with me.|
|This is a baby Murloc, a mythical sea creature from the World Of Warcraft. Mister made the mistake of showing me how adorable they are when he was playing one day, so he made up for it by standing in line for 30 minutes at Blizzcon to get me my very own little Murloc. His name is Gurky.|