Sunday, August 19, 2012

Blur Box Set

So, I didn't make it to Hyde Park to catch Blur close the Olympics, nor do I have the cash to pony up for their new box set, Blur 21. (I have all their albums and a few too many box sets on my shelf already.) Blur was one of the great bands of  the 90's and 00's and one of the greatest British bands of all time. They have been one of my all time favorites since Leisure. Even if you don't get the box, enjoy a little Brit-pop on your Sunday Sunday. Below is Blur's latest single Under the Westway released to either coincide with their appearance in Hyde Park or a precursor to another album. Great stuff!

Abbey Road Crosswalk Webcam

Hey Jude, can I get a refill!
Though it's been awhile since any Beatles walked crossed the road to shoot an album cover, the crosswalk near Abbey Road studios is still there, 'Waiting to take you away!' or at least to the other side of the street. Jenni and I spent an afternoon taking the tube over to St. John's Wood to see it and the exterior of the famous studio. It was the first and only time where a cross walk was our destination. Abbey Road is actually a pretty short street and the cross walk can be dangerous, especially since most tourists stop in the middle to get their photographs taken. I think the London cabbies might only brake for Paul.

If you can't make it to London, but are curious who might be crossing the famous zebra stripes you can now see it on webcam. A friend of mine sent me a link that allows you to see Abbey Road in real time. Just, "Don't do it in the road!" Somebody will be watching you.

Green Drinks

If you watched the London Olympics you might have caught a horrified Mary Carillo pounding down a sludgy, neon green drink with Olympic runner, Oscar Pistorius. What Pistorius was drinking is part of a growing trend toward making healthy, fresh juices, and many of them green (meaning they contain spinach, kale and other green vegetables.) You don't need to be an Olympic athlete or even Jack LaLane to benefit from these magical, nutrient rich concoctions. They can be part your daily routine for maintaining good health.

According to Healthy Healing by Linda Page:

Green drinks have anti-infective properties, carry off acid wastes, neutralize body pH, and are excellent for mucous cleansing. They can help clear the skin, cleanse the kidneys, and purify and build the blood.

They also taste light and refreshing. Whether you want to cleanse your body and  'reboot your system' like Joe Cross in Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead or simply get your veggies to go, consider trying a fresh juice each day and see how you feel. I have been drinking a green juice every day for the past three weeks based upon the Mean Green Juice from Joe Cross, and I have been feeling great.    

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Old Town of St. George St. George's Parish Bermuda

Bermuda's first capital and first major port, St. George's is a great place to spend the day shopping and wandering around. The Sea Venture, which brought the first Englishmen to the islands in 1609, wrecked off the coast of St. Catherine's Beach near St. George's. The town, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site has been inhabited ever since. Highlights for us were St. Peter's Church, Somer's Garden and The Bermuda Perfumery.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


I don't use near the number of apps on my iPhone that I used to. But I've been using Foursquare quite a bit lately. Foursquare allows you to find restaurants, gas stations, shops, services, etc. You get badges and points every time you 'check in.' Foursquare shares where you are and what you're doing with your friends, and it can also post your activity on sites like Facebook or Gogobot.

It doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me how many points I get or whether I'm the mayor of this place or that, and badges? We don't need no stinking badges. But one thing Foursquare is starting to do more frequently is feature 'Specials' when you 'check in.' They're coupons, really. If there is one thing we can all use a little more of right now; it's cash, right? For the past several weeks my local Jewel has featured a $3 off 'Special' for spending $10. You just show the 'Special' on your phone by unlocking it when you 'check in' and display it at check-out. My local health food store, Naturally Yours, has featured 10% off 'Specials.' It's probably the best thing I've seen from one of my apps. An app that pays you back. Restaurants and many of the stores I shop at have been featuring $5 off for $10 spent if you use AmEx, even at the comic book store my sons frequent. I just used the AmEx 'Special' at our favorite Thai restaurant. So, with food prices and everything else on the rise, it might be worth your time to add Foursquare to your device. It's a free app too. It's great being social, but everybody likes a little payback now and then.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Harira Soup

Harira is a Moroccan soup that's typically served during Ramadan. It's fantastic and dead easy to make. Like a lot of equatorial cooking the flavor comes from your herbs and spices. You'll really taste the cilantro up front on this one with a nice lemony aftertaste. A nice, clean little soup.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups of diced onions
1 stalk of celery
6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 quarts of water or vegetable broth
1 cup cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup dried lentils
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons unbleached flour mixed with 1/2 cup cold water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
8 to 10 lemon slices

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, parsley and cook, until the onions are soft.

Add to that the cilantro, salt, pepper, tumeric, paprika, caraway seeds, ginger, cinnamon, and bay leaf and stir until mixed.

Add the water or broth, chickpeas, lentils, and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.

Before serving add the flour mixture and stir in the tomato paste. Heat through.

Adjust the seasonings and serve with sliced lemon in each bowl of soup.

You're off on the Road to Morocco!


When my dad used to talk about reading 'the news' more often than not he meant reading The Sporting News. If he said he was reading an article, that meant, Popular Mechanics. Don't get me started on all the Hot Rod and Car Craft magazines that added several books to our King James Bible: the books of Mustang, GTO, and Barracuda. "Today we will reading from the teachings of St. Caroll of Shelby. Let us pray." 

I can make fun of Dad all I want, but I'm no better. For a travel junky like myself I've developed my own 'news' sources. I read the travel sections of USA Today, Huffington Post, CNN and any number of blogs such as Gadling or BootsnAll on a daily basis. If I'm looking for something specific I may dive into the links I have on my own blog. I'm always pricing this and that and watching my email for price drops from Airfarewatchdog, Luxury Link or GroupOn. Even if I'm not going anywhere.

If like me, you find it's increasingly difficult to manage this endless amount of travel information, consider the recently launched Skift, founded by Jason Clampet recently of Frommer's and Rafat Ali of paidContent, aggregates travel content from across the Web. Much of it is industry based, but there is plenty for the casual consumer as well. I've been reading the 'news' on there for the past few days and it's becoming my main source for information.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cambridge Beaches Resort and Spa - Sandys Parish Bermuda


Vegan Tuna Salad

Un-tuna salad sandwich with Kalamata olives

 It's been really hot here lately.  The last several days, we've topped 100F degrees.  Miserable.  Needless to say, we didn't feel like starting up the oven to cook anything.  In an effort to have some yummy comfort food, we found a terrific recipe from Earth Balance's website,  Of course they plug using their brands in the ingredient listings, but you can use whatever you have on hand.  We left out the seaweed flakes, because we didn't have any, and it still turned out great.

My children are fussy eaters and even they loved this sandwich.  I think that's the best testament to how good this salad is.  We like to put it on regular sandwich bread with salad greens.  It's hearty and easy to throw together.


    2 cups cooked garbanzo beans, drained
    1/2 cup Earth Balance® MindfulMayo -soy free olive oil variety
    1/3 cup celery, chopped finely
    3 tbsp. red onion, peeled and chopped finely
    3 tbsp. dill pickle, diced
    1 1/2 tbsp. nori seaweed flakes
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1/2 tsp. sea salt
    1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
    8 slices whole grain or gluten-free bread
    8 slices fresh tomato
    4 large romaine lettuce leaves

On a large plate, mash garbanzo beans using fingers, potato masher or back of a fork.

In a medium bowl, stir together Earth Balance® MindfulMayo – soy free olive oil variety, celery, onion, pickle, seaweed, garlic, salt, and pepper. Fold in the mashed garbanzo beans and combine thoroughly.

On bread, layer lettuce, 2 slices tomato and a generous scoop of Save the Tuna salad. If you like, spread an extra layer of Earth Balance® MindfulMayo – soy free olive oil variety on the bread. Cut in two, on the diagonal and serve.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Chlostess" Creme-Filled Cupcakes

Don't mind my sub-par decorations, these cupcakes taste fab!
I'm not a natural cook like Brad.  I like to bake though, as long as it's nothing too crazy.  Cupcakes seem like a good option most of the time.  I have the very awesome Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and have loved every recipe I've tried.  But there is a new contender for awesome vegan cupcake recipes, and her name is Chloe Coscarelli.  Chloe won the Food Network's Cupcake Wars, competing against non-vegan chefs.  The recipe she won with, Ginger Nutmeg Spice Cupcakes, is featured in her new cookbook, Chloe's Kitchen, but I chose her Chlostess Creme-Filled Cupcakes as my first recipe to try.  I'm so glad I did!  Although I didn't get near enough filling into each cupcake (my first try), and my curly-cues are a little wonky, they taste amazing!  Let's be honest,... sometimes you can tell a cupcake is vegan.  You cannot tell with these cupcakes.  They're just plain good.

Here is the recipe as detailed in Chloe's Kitchen:

Chocolate Cupcakes
1-1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
1 Cup sugar
1/3 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Cup cold coffee or water
1/2 Cup canola oil
2 Tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Creme Frosting
1 Cup nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening
3 Cups powered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 to 5 Tablespoons soy, almond or rice milk

Chocolate Ganache
1 Cup semisweet chocolate chips (dairy-free)
1/4 Cup canned coconut milk, mixed well before measuring
2 Tablespoons canola oil

To Make the Chocolate Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two 12-cup cupcake pans with 14 cupcake liners. 

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together coffee, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.  Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined.  Do not overmix.

Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3rds full with batter.  Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it.  Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting. 

To Make the Creme Frosting:

Using a handheld or stand mixer, beat the shortening until smooth.  With the mixer running on low, add powdered sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon nondairy milk at a time, as needed, until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.  You may not need to use all of the nondairy milk.  Beat on high for 2 more minutes until light and fluffy.

To Make the Chocolate Ganache:

Melt chocolate chips and coconut milk in a double boiler or microwave.  Whisk in oil until smooth.

To Assemble Cupcakes:

Fit a piping bag with a small round or Bismarck tip and fill with the Creme Frosting.  Insert the tip into the center of the top of each cupcake and squeeze the bag to fill the cupcake with about 2 to 3 teaspoons frosting.  There is no need to scoop out of any of the cake.  Spread the top of each cupcake with a thin layer of Chocolate Ganache and pipe a 4-loop design with the Creme Frosting.

Everyone in the family loved these cupcakes, so I declare them a success!  We can't wait to try the other recipes in Chloe's book.  I highly recommend picking it up.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Vegan Peanut Butter & Chocolate Truffle Cookies

They look good, don't they?  I attempted to make vegan chocolate chip cookies yesterday and they turned out awful!  Today, I am redeemed in the baking arts with these super easy, super yummy peanut butter & chocolate chip truffle cookies.  This recipe was adapted from one found on the very awesome


1 Cup creamy peanut butter (natural is always best)
1 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
Equivalent of one egg (I used 1-1/2 teaspoons egg replacer mixed with 2 Tablespoons of water)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 Cup vegan chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the first four ingredients.  Mix well.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto greased cookie sheet or one covered with parchment paper.
Bake for 9-10 minutes.  Let cool on the cookie sheet for at least 5 minutes before removing.

Super easy, super delicious!  This is also a great recipe for little ones to help with.  Baby A helped me add the ingredients and was my taste tester.  Baby B declared these are the best cookies he's ever had, but he says that about almost every cookie he eats - except for the cookies I made yesterday...


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Vegan Pancakes

It's Sunday, my favorite day of the week. The day I do my long runs, make updates to the blog, and try to get the laundry and a million other things done. My favorite thing to do is to make a big English-style breakfast for Jenni and the boys while I listen to my travel podcasts.

I've been making breakfast since I was about 7. At least once a month I would get up early and reduce my parents' kitchen to a heavily floured and drippy rubble. (In high school this ritual would begin at 3 or 4 am when I rolled in from wherever I'd been.) I no longer inflict the same level of damage on the pots and pans, nor do I have to do as much explaining. I've mastered pumpkin pancakes, buttermilk pancakes, chocolate, blueberry, Swedish and potato pancakes. Here is a fantastic vegan pancake recipe that I modified from Vegan with a Vengance by Isa Chandra Moskowtiz from the Post Punk Kitchen. Fantastic and quick.

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 tbs vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups soy milk
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
Maple Syrup

Oil a large skillet over medium heat.

In a large bowl sift the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl combine the wet ingredients. When mixed add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until combined, a tablespoon or two of flour if it's not the consistency you like.

Use a 1/3 cup or a ladle and add the batter to the skillet and cook until browned on both sides. Transfer the pancakes to a plate.



Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World

We've had a lot of change around our house lately.  It's never dull anyway, but a bigger issue has presented itself; a major health scare that will require surgery and months of recovery.  Due to this health issue and our constant evaluation of how deliberately we are living this life, we've decided to embrace living vegan.  I have tried veganism before (for almost a year) and really enjoyed it.  It was only due to some travel challenges, and ultimately laziness, that I reverted back to dairy.  I feel reinvigorated thanks to some wonderful podcasts I have found, in particular, Big Fat Vegan Radio and Vegetarian Food for Thought.  After educating myself and sharing these insights with the rest of the family, we have decided that we will all live a vegan lifestyle now.  I am so excited and truly enthusiastic about this decision.  I have been reading voraciously about every vegan subject I can find, listening to hours of podcasts and have once again attempted to cook for my family.  Brad is our primary cook and is damn good at it, so I generally don't have to do more than put together the odd sandwich for the boys.

Our boys are 7-1/2 years old (you have to include the 1/2!) and have been vegetarian since conception.  They have questioned this lifestyle only a couple times, and usually in relation to someone at school making fun of them for not eating meat.  They are comfortable being vegetarian, but vegan is a different issue.  As vegetarians, they can "pass."  They can have most snacks or birthday treats at school, they can eat cold lunch at school, like pb&j or cheese sandwiches, and can eat out at many restaurants.  Vegan is harder.  Better, but harder.  Right now we are living 'vegan at home.'  So far, this has been a raging success!  Even Baby A, who is somewhat addicted to sharp cheddar cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches (yuck!) has made the transition well.  In fact, he's my most enthusiastic partner in this switch.  Baby B has been a little grumpy, but ultimately on board.  Outside our vegan haven at home?  It's going to be a challenge.  Because of this, I have been checking out tons of books from the library, trolling the vegan mommy blogs and bought the book, Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World by Erin Pavlina, founder of  

As I read it, I realize that we are already doing many of the things she suggests for transitioning to a vegan lifestyle.  At least my children have the benefit of having been vegetarian their entire lives.  She does have some excellent tips about transitioning at different ages, how to handle social situations (my particular fear for my boys) and how to travel as vegans.  

I plan to write more about our progress into this new plant based, peace centered journey.  There are some wonderful recipes that we have recently discovered that we will post soon.  Because of the health set back this summer, our travel plans for the rest of the year, (and maybe into next year as well), have been halted.  So for now, there will be more focus on the vegetarian part of The Vegetarians Abroad, instead of the travel part.  I'm sure Brad won't be able to resist blogging about some travel issues though.  He's so passionate about travel that even if he can't do it, he will stay abreast of all the latest.  :)

All the best,

Friday, June 29, 2012

Eat Fresh

It's been nearly 20 years since Jenni and I started being more deliberate about the foods we wanted to eat. I can still remember holding a package of Tyson chicken breasts in our kitchen in Peoria sixteen years ago and asking Jenni, "Where do you think this chicken came from?" That conversation led us down the road to being the vegetarians/vegans we are today. Jenni and I are hardly trendsetters. A lot of people across America are thinking about what they eat and why, something people around the world never stopped doing.

One of the coolest things I've seen in my little town is our restaurant, Caffe Italia, which has its own garden right next to the restaurant. I love Caffe Italia. Although they don't offer nearly the number of vegetarian selections I'd like, their food is great and at least for the most part, I know where it comes from.

Fort Scaur Sandys Parish Bermuda

Fort Scaur and Park Sandys Parish Bermuda

Sunday, June 24, 2012

101 Places Not to See Before You Die

It's the middle of summer here in the hot and humid Midwest and we've had to postpone our August trip to Denmark and Sweden. Though I'm disappointed that instead of wandering the streets of Copenhagen and picking my way along the Swedish coastline I get to have surgery and lay in bed for 4 weeks; I can at least comfort myself that I've seen many of the 1000 Places to See Before you Die and missed almost all 101 Places Not to See Before you Die. (I, too made the mistake of visiting the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA.) As I'm still alive and kicking at this writing I still have time to see some truly great and truly awful things on this incredible planet of ours.
I picked up Patricia Schultz's 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and Catherine Price's response, the slightly less lugubrious and satirical 101 Places Not to See Before You Die at our local library after listening to an interview Rick Steves did with Patricia Schultz. Obviously, they're pretty different books; one organizes the world into regions and countries, and like Rick Steves' guidebooks, recommends the best, most unique places to see in each location; the other is an often hilarious send-up of places you would not want to see or be, for instance you would NOT want to see Pamplona from the perspective of the bulls running the streets during the annual Running of the Bulls #14, or be on an Overnight Train in China on the First Day of Your First Period #7.

I enjoyed reading both of the books, one to satisfy my bookish sense of curiosity and the other, my boundless sense of the ridiculous. Reading 1,000 Places to See Before You Die reminded me that I need to put a lot more cash in my travel account. I may never get around to staying in a Yurt in Mongolia and Jenni's already told me I will visit India without her, but I'm confident that I'll make it to Tuscany at some point. Thanks to Catherine Price, I know I can cross visiting A Giant Room Filled with Human Crap off my list #23.

I usually have little bad to say about my trips or the places I've been. Enjoying travel as I do, I generally have a sanguine attitude about whatever might happen. However, as I was thinking about places 'not to see' I have at least five I wouldn't recommend. Feel free to send me yours.

5) San Jose, CA. I hate to pick on San Jose again. But while driving the Pacific Coast Highway  from San Diego to San Francisco, Jenni and I arrived exhausted in San Jose, CA. It had been a great road trip to that point and something I would recommend to everybody. We had a terrible time finding anything to eat and anything to do in San Jose. As I mentioned above we visited the Winchester Mystery House. I found it a huge waste of time and money, a very large, empty and claustrophobic experience. I called it the anti- Hearst Castle. Maybe I just needed some sleep, maybe I wasn't there long enough, or maybe I needed a million dollar Internet start-up under my belt. Regardless, San Jose has been on my list for some time.

4) Manchester, England. Fortunately I'm far enough away that no Man U fans can get to me as I write this.  After driving up from the south during one of our trips to England, I found myself stuck for the night in suburban Manchester to await an early flight back to Chicago. I didn't find Manchester an easy place to drive, so after a few hours out and about we called it a day. The roads were congested and our hotel was nearly impossible to find. When we did get to the hotel, we sat down in the bar and realized our hotel was hosting a wedding party that evening. It turned into an all night fest of drunken Mancunians banging on the walls, knocking on our door and celebrating/fighting loudly beneath our window. We didn't get much sleep and embarked for the airport early the next morning. Spending several hours in the Manchester airport, which I hadn't enjoyed arriving in, also tops my list of places not to see again. Short of Wrigley Field's toilets and the gents at New York, New York, I've never been anywhere that smells so strongly of urine, and like any public toilet, not a place you want to linger.

3) Las Vegas, NV. Also on Catherine Price's list #84, I dislike the Strip in Las Vegas. I know Vegas is America's naughty playground, Sin City, the 'What Happens in...' place to be, where you can gamble all night, visit over the top shows, and rave along with Deadmau5 at the Wynn. But though I've visited for conferences, March Madness and bachelor parties, I hate being stuck in a casino on the Strip for any length of time, and more than that, wandering down the Strip in the evening. It could just be my way of looking at the world, but spending days with the background tinkle of slot machines, the endless miles you're forced to walk inside the massive casinos and shops, or simply watching the hookers work the floors, it all conspires to make me feel cynical and depressed. Sorry Vegas, I know I'll see you again soon, but I'm not looking forward to it.

2) Phoenix, AZ. There was little I enjoyed about my time in Phoenix, brief though it was. On our way down through the smog I actually felt our plane heat up. When they popped open the door it felt like a soda can opening up. As with Las Vegas, I have friends who have defected from the Midwest's hot, humid summers and wet, frigid winters for the consistently asthma friendly Western lands of Phoenix and Tuscon. Phoenix and it's suburbs were the brownest places I've ever been and like Dallas gave me the feeling I was in a city that shouldn't be there. Many of the places we drove through were rundown and trashy like the neighborhood we lived in back in Chicago, but without trees or grass. After spending a couple of sweaty days there considering a job, I was happy to drive up to the greener and far cooler cities of Flagstaff and Sedona for the remainder of the trip.

1) Central Illinois in winter. I can't let my home-state off the hook, can I? I have lived in Illinois for 41 years. The company I work for transfers employees in and out of Bloomington regularly. It's also a hub for consultants and external contractors from around the world. I have yet to see a newbie not struggle with the capricious Illinois weather, especially after Halloween. Even one of my Lithuanian coworkers seemed a bit down one year, and this was a guy who had no problem defending Stalin. The temperature on Halloween, itself might drop 20 or 30 degrees from an Indian summer-like day to a sudden deep winter-like night and then flip flop again and again for the next month. Winter arrives in November and remains a presence until mid-March. It can sometimes linger into May. It isn't so much the length of winter that's a drag in Illinois; it's the gray sky hanging over you, the sudden, feet deep snow, punctuated by the inexplicable warm day that's followed by an ice storm. We can, at times get a lot of snow, about every 4 years, but there's not much you can do with it in a land that's so flat but plow it and go to work. You need mountains, or at least hills, to really enjoy snow. And in years without snow it's just a long season of browns, still very wet and usually, very windy. There isn't much to do but watch football and basketball, and wait it out. I have some good winter memories, but those are because this is my home and my family is here. It's unlikely you'll ever see a travel brochure with the line, "Come see Iowa, Illinois and Indiana in January! Come for the ice, stay for the slush!" But if I wrote 101 Places Not to See Before You Die, 'Central Illinois in winter' would be my number 1.  

On a side note, 'Central Illinois in summer' tops Jenni's must miss places.

Brad and a centurion at Caesar's Palace

Sunday, June 10, 2012

City Museum, St. Louis, MO

The entrance to City Museum and MonstroCity.
When I was six years old my parents took me to Chicago to audition for a movie. I'm not sure why; I doubt I exhibited any particular acting ability. I did not get the part.  And my brief dalliance with showbiz ended as quickly as it had begun. 

For me, the high point of the trip was visiting Chicago's Field Museum. Though I remember little about my time with the casting agent, I clearly remember seeing the museum from the car and walking inside for the first time. All the way to Chicago I had been promised dinosaurs if I behaved myself at the audition. And though the dinosaurs didn't come to life like they later would in Night at the Museum, I absolutely loved it,  asking my parents when we were going back as soon as we left.

I've visited a lot of museums since then. From the tiny Dickson Mounds behind my childhood home, to the Art Institute of Chicago, where I briefly worked, to British Museum in London, where an inquisitive Londoner heard my Chicago accent and asked me if I was a gangster like Al Capone (I said I was). But I would have to say one of my favorites has to be City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. 

Harry and Jack climbing in MonstroCity
Built inside the former International Shoe Company and constructed with reclaimed and re-purposed industrial materials City Museum is one of the most creative uses of space I've ever seen. Jenni and I took our boys for a visit on a very hot and steamy Memorial Day Weekend to celebrate the end of another school year. 

Designed by local artist Bob Cassilly and a team of artists City Museum feels like art in action, like Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids turned their junkyard into an attraction and started selling tickets. Opened in 1997 the museum has been added to every year since, thrilling up to 600,00 visitors per year. Everywhere we turned there was something unexpected; tunnels to climb through, multistory slides, ramps to run up and down, and outside, with MonstroCity, the largest jungle gym I've ever climbed.

While we stared at the giant whale on the first floor listening to water rushing from somewhere (the "Puking Pig"), a blue-shirted guide came over and explained the museum to us. He pointed out the details in the hand sculpted caves before us, directed our attention to the enormous mosaic floor we were standing on, and reassured us that we would not lose our wrist banded children in the multitude of tunnels above, below and around us. We did not feel reassured. "You can even come back tonight, when we have the lights turned out. We're open til midnight."

With that, our boys climbed a refrigeration coil up into the ceiling and promptly disappeared. And though I didn't see any other middle aged parents doing this, I quickly followed them. I was later offered an encouraging "Way to go, Old Guy." from a smarty pants 30 feet beneath me as I climbed to the top of the dome on the roof. 

I'm not a fan of small confined spaces, certainly not dark ones, nor can I remember enjoying climbing on rebar welded high above a picnic area, but as we worked our way around the museum again and again, we became acclimated with the layout of the museum and its charms inside and out. By noon we were old pros.

Looking up inside the Enchanted Caves
Brad and his mortal coil.
Our favorite section was probably the Enchanted Caves, dark and cool in the morning, filled with ominous music from a Wurlitzer pipe organ. (Later in the day it filled with teenagers looking for a remote place to do what teenagers like to do.) Jenni and I climbed up the meandering metal stairs and watched the boys climb in and out of holes and slide down chutes that once sent shoes to the loading dock.    
On the outside of the building, MonstroCity, constructed of rebar and pieces of cranes, featuring airplane cockpits, a fire engine and a stone tower was probably a close second. The boys and I climbed and scurried through one rebar tunnel after another, our sweat sticking to us in the mid-morning haze and probably dripping onto the furious dodgeball players in the ball pit below. We tried to find different ways to get to various slides and high points until sliding back down to the snack bar for more water. While climbing I finally encountered a couple of brave adults climbing on the ever warming metal bars, which made me feel good, some reckless tweens, who scared me, and one seemingly lost three year old that concerned me till I found his dad.
Though it hadn't been part of the plan, we paid the additional 5 bucks to visit the roof. And I'm glad we did. The roof area, 'Atop the City' was great fun. It featured a school bus dangling over the edge of the building, which the boys jumped in and looked out of, a Splash pond, a small working Ferris wheel and rope swing in the middle of a metal dome. More slides and more rebar to climb. We spent about an hour on the roof, Harry swinging from the rope at the center of the dome, the boys and I climbing to the top of the dome through a cage built into the wall and ceiling and riding on the Ferris Wheel.

Thankfully we did more exploring inside after that, visiting the Skateless park on the third floor where the boys ran up and down the skateboard ramps and walked around Beatnik Bob's and its assortment of midway oddities. I was able to talk the boys out of riding the toddler size train as well as out of visiting Toddler Town itself. We walked past Circus Harmony which features circus performers plying their trade, but save one juggler there wasn't much going on. The vintage clothing store, the Baleout, on the fourth floor just reminded the boys of their grandparent's house, so we didn't have so much as an espresso from the hipsters hanging out there. I expect the boys have about 15 years before vintage will take on any allure for them. I pounded out a few boogie-woogie riffs on the ancient and supposedly haunted baby grand piano near the stairs, which was fun. The boys have about 5 years until that becomes embarrassing to them.

We broke for lunch at a local restaurant and returned to do it all over again later in the afternoon, finding new nooks and cranies to explore until Jenni and I finally had to put a weary foot down and drag the boys back to the hotel for some rest. We did not return for the lights out version of the museum.

I'd have liked to visit some of the more static exhibits but I'll have to save that for another time. On the way home I was treated to, "When are we going back to the museum." So, I'm sure we'll all be back to do it all again.

Brad feeling big headed.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Vegetarian Abroad

I’ll be honest, I don’t think about being a vegetarian that much. Though I live in a Midwestern town full of steak houses and fast food joints and am the only vegetarian most of my friends have met; it’s rarely a subject I think about (updating this blog notwithstanding.) I do, however, sometimes find myself in a conversation at a social gathering, a party or a bar, where the subject comes up. It’s usually when I’ve been offered some meaty dip or a plate of chicken wings that I’ve politely declined. The person will look at me with a mixture of surprise and suspicion and say, “Really? I try not to eat a lot of meat.” I’ll laugh and watch them discretely place whatever they've offered me back on the table. “Do you eat fish?”

I was out and about recently having one of these conversations and talking about travel. The person I was talking to asked if it was difficult to travel as a vegetarian. I said it wasn’t any harder than being one here at home. But that’s not really true. A long time ago, I found it very challenging to be a vegetarian on the road. If I were to venture well off the grid like many of the travelers I follow on the Web, I’d still be pretty hard pressed to eat as well as I do at home. 

So, here are some tips to traveling as a vegetarian or a vegan:
  • Make sure to get the vegetarian/vegan meal on your flight and eat it. You’ll get served first and it’s better than the meat alternative. Sometimes it’s a little gross, but hey, you’re on a plane and someone is giving you food. It could be the last meal you get for a while. Eat it.
  • If you’re going somewhere you don’t speak the language, besides ‘hello, good-bye and thank-you,’ be sure to learn the word for ‘vegetarian.’  We used ‘vegetarianus,’ over and over again when we visited Hungary. I’m not sure how much good it did us, but we tried. Keep in mind, even if the person you’re speaking to understands what a vegetarian is, ‘vegetarian’ might mean something entirely different to them. Vegan could just blow their minds. I got into an argument in London over a bowl of soup I was sure wasn’t veggie friendly. No matter how the waiter tried to reassure me the soup was vegetarian I was sure it wasn’t. I’ve worked in kitchens where vegetarian-vegetable was made with chicken broth and I was sure this one had been too. I never did eat that soup. Sorry Jaime!
  • Pack your snacks. We always load up on one bar or another, dried fruit, nuts, etc. I packed bento boxes full of snacks for a conference in Las Vegas when I knew I was going to be trapped on the Strip without a car for a week. You’ll get pretty tired of those Cliff bars or whatever you pack by the end of your trip, but they look mighty tasty if you’re on foot or stranded miles from nowhere. I’m looking at you Amtrak. Since we have kids we’re always dragging snacks around. I don’t think I could travel without them. And if you really hate that vegetarian meal on the flight, you're set.  
  • Research your destination. Many places have vegetarian societies or at least one or two vegetarian restaurants. Find them, check the reviews, give them a call or add them to your smartphone and itinerary. Before we had mobile technology Jenni and I would make printouts of where we thought we could eat. Happy Cow or the International Vegetarian Society can help you. If you’re still using Frommer’s or another guidebook, you can sometimes find information for vegetarians as well. We always check.
  • Cook your own. The older I get the more I simply prefer my own cooking. I cook every day. When we’re on the road we often get an apartment or a hotel room with a kitchen. After we settle in we go to the local shops and buy groceries. It's a nice way to meet people and see what the locals eat every day. If you don’t have a kitchen, you can always improvise. I’ve made my own coolers using whatever I could find and filled them with ice from the ice chest. And if I lack a stove I simply buy bread, peanut butter and jelly or whatever else I can cobble together. At the end of the day making your own meal is a lot cheaper than paying for one you don’t want in a restaurant. 
  • Speaking of restaurants. If you don’t see something you can eat on the menu, ask the waiter if the kitchen can make you something special. Being a stranger in a strange land can make even the most extroverted person a little sheepish. Don’t be rude, just tell your waiter you’re a vegetarian or a vegan and see what they can do for you. I’ve been amazed that many times the kitchen welcomes the challenge and are really accommodating. I’ve also had to walk out of restaurants where there wasn’t any other choice. (See above.) Nothing wrong with that either. 
  • Be social. There is no end to the number of apps at a traveler’s disposal: Yelp, Foursquare, VeganXpress, Urbanspoon. These link you to people and places. Put them on your mobile device. Any one of these can help you find something veg-friendly in an unfamiliar place. You might even be able tweet about it if you are part of the twitter community. When Jenni and I were driving the length of California years ago we felt like Lawrence crossing the Sinai. We arrived in San Jose exhausted and famished. I’ve never been more satisfied with a meal than I was with those IHOP pancakes. But we just got lucky. Looking back I can’t think why it had been so hard for us to find food. It was northern California for God’s sake.  But that was when we didn’t even have cell phones. 
Those are some things that have helped us. If you have suggestions feel free to share. I'm sure many of you are more adventurous than we are and have had to work a bit harder.