Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lula's Vegan Ice Cream

Vegan ice cream selections at Lula's Sweet Apothecary in NYC

I have a ton of photos from my recent vegan adventure in the Florida Keys to sort through, and I'll write about that soon. In the meantime, I finally went to Lula's Sweet Apothecary the other day. Everything is vegan at Lula's. In addition to the hard ice cream flavors pictured here (including peanut butter Oreo, espresso, chai, mango), there's soft serve chocolate and soft serve cake batter (which really tastes like cold and creamy cupcake batter). They're super generous with giving out little flavor samples. It was hard to choose, but I finally settled on chai ice cream in a cone. It was awesome. I will be going back often.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

Harbor Seal, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ
Photos and food from the Florida Keys and Miami coming soon...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Akumal, Mexico: The Place of the Turtles

Akumal is a short ride from Playa del Carmen, but it's like a different world. The word "Akumal" means "The Place of the Turtles" in Maya. While Playa del Carmen is a lively city on the beach, Akumal is like a sleepy little village. Both have shops, bars, and restaurants, but Akumal's draw is the laid back beach and not the night life. Home to a sea turtle sanctuary, we saw no less than SIX sea turtles, three adults and three cute little juveniles when we were snorkeling there. When I go back to the Riviera Maya, I'll definitely spend more time at Akumal.
To get there from Playa, we walked to a street with some collectivos. We managed to find one that was going south. The collectivo is basically a mini van that goes up and down the highway, stopping at various destinations, depending on where the passengers want to go. It's sort of like a cab and a bus combined, and it was way cheaper than renting a car or getting a private taxi. The collectivo was packed filled with people before we left Playa, and just when I thought we were dropping people off, more people got on. It was squishy and weird but definitely interesting, sort of fun, and cheap. When we finally got to Akumal, the collectivo dropped us off on the highway, and we had to walk to the beach. At first, it was a little confusing because there was so much construction going on. We had to go over a walking bridge, dodge some construction debris, then find this freshly cemented path:Eventually, the path turned green and shady. We stocked up on water and snacks at a little grocery store that had this wooden mermaid hanging in front of it. I love mermaids!

I had a blast shopping at MexicArte, a folk art shop filled with jewelry, ornaments, and art crafted by local artisans. The beach was calm and relaxing.

We picked a shady spot near a palm tree, rented some snorkel equipment right on the beach at Akumal Dive Shop, then swam with a barracuda, some needlefish, French grunts, a bunch of other fish, and sea turtles. What a lovely end to a great trip!

There were quite a few vegan options at the Akumal restaurants, all within walking distance of the beach. The beach bar had veggie burgers, and two more restaurants had veggie options. We settled on the Turtle Bay Cafe.

I had the lentil burger. It was deliciously smothered with beets, carrots, lettuce, hummus and mustard. Yum! All that and a deliciously refreshing limeade for about six US dollars.

I'll definitely go back to Akumal again! Now, I'm off to the Florida Keys. I'll be diving in Key Largo and taking a sunset kayak tour in Key West. More on that soon!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Delicious Vegan Food in Playa del Carmen

For years I've heard that it's hard to be vegan in Mexico. My well-travelled vegetarian friends have told me that "there's no tofu or soymilk in Mexico", "there's lard in everything", and "even if you ask for something without cheese, it will come with cheese because they put it on everything". I didn't want my diet to keep me from enjoying the beaches and incredible scuba diving of the Mayan Riviera. Before leaving for our trip, I tirelessly searched the internet for vegan-friendly options. It sucks to be hungry when your traveling, so I wanted to be prepared. Armed with a list of eight possible restaurants, we confidently made our way through the heart of this fun and quirky beach town. Looking back, two places were our clear favorites: 100% Natural for snacks and light meals, and Babe's for dinner and drinks.

The first day we arrived in Playa del Carmen, we checked into our hotel and walked over to 100% Natural. Since it was so close to where we were staying, and since it offered the most fantastic fresh juices, guacamole, and some tofu options, it became one of our regular stops for the rest of our stay. Most of the seating is outdoors, surrounded by big trees. The weather was perfection: about 75 at night with a slight breeze, 85 during the day. It was a pleasure eating outside!
I loved the prices: this enormous and insanely delicious juice was something like three US dollars. My favorite juice combinations were the California (apple, lemon, orange, and pineapple juices), the Bali (pineapple, lemon, spinach, and orange), and the Oasis (pineapple, strawberry, and orange). 100% Natural also has veggie burgers and a fried veggie/noodle dish with plain silken tofu.

After dinner, we'd walk around Quinta Avenida and wander in and out of all of the little shops.I loved the architecture and laid-back attitude. Though there was no boardwalk, it sort of had a boarwalk-vibe in that there were tons of tourists walking up and down this pedestrian only street just steps from the ocean. Some stores were just crammed with affordable tourist-y trinkets. I loved the bright colors! Other stores sold Mexican art (Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were well-represented on almost everything from magnets to stationary), and still others sold Havaianas and T-shirts. I almost bought one of these jellyfish lamps:Dia de los Muertos figurines were everywhere. This bride and groom were life-sized! The last thing I expected to find was Thai food in Mexico, but we ended up eating some sort of Thai influenced dinner pretty often. Babe's is a noodle bar. That is, they serve delicious noodle dishes and huge, cheap and delicious icy drinks. It's casual, Thai, simple, fresh, and fun. This isn't authentic Mexican food, but it was delicious, cheap, and filling. Our favorites were the spring rolls and the spicy fried tofu.

Speaking of authentic Mexican food, it was kind of hard to find something sin pollo, carne, pescado, huevos and queso. Our one night at an authentic Mexican restaurant was just OK. They put some kind of weird cheese all over the guacomole and the fried veggies and rice were just mediocre.

Prepared for the worst, I actually packed some food and made sure our hotel had a kitchen. This worked out really well, we were able to cook and save some money. Plus, it was so convenient to store last night's leftovers in the fridge, then heat them up for lunch the next day in the microwave. Breakfast usually consisted of tofu scramble or oatmeal. I brought silken tofu, tofu scramble mix, and little oatmeal packets.

There was a Starbucks right around the corner from where we were staying, and while we totally supported Java Joe's often for delicious espresso, it's worth noting that the Playa Starbucks has soymilk!
In my next post, I'll write about of many sea turtles and more great vegan food!