Veg Jaunts And Journeys: Hassle-free Compassionate Tourism For Vegans

Since the age of seventeen, Kim Giovacco knew she wanted to be a travel agent. Fascinated by cultural diversity spanning the globe, Kim pursued a degree in geography which helped her to land a job with a map company in New Jersey. From there she moved on to oher positions within the industry; the Korean tourist office in New York and eighteen years as an office manager in Boston for a government agency tasked to create jobs in Singapore. This final position allowed her to travel throughout Asia, make international contacts, and expand her hands-on experience in travel and tourism.  During this period, Giovacco also served in a volunteer position on the board of a co-op and discovered new ways of doing things that were contrary to the perspective of the corporations and conglomerates of which she had long been a part. She adopted a vegan lifestyle and gradually came to the realization her values were no longer aligned with the work she was doing. From this understanding came the idea of starting her own company. Thus, Veg Jaunts and Journeys was born.

 

 

Kim began small by arranging vegan honeymoons and anniversary celebrations. She charged an hourly rate, researched the itineraries, and the clients would book the trips themselves. She naturally progressed to booking the entire travel arrangments for her clients. She got some training and learned how to do it. Since May of 2016, Kim Giovacco is living the dream she has harbored since her teens.

 

Kim Giovacco

The idea of creating tours evolved out of twenty-five years of traveling alone or with close friends. Giovacco always arranged her own trips rather than booking tours. She did this for two reasons: First, she didn’t want to pay the single supplement, which is essentially a fine for traveling alone. Organized tours are usually based on double occupancy, and singles are penalized. The extra fee can be anywhere between $500 to $1,000, depending on the length of the tour and the quality of the lodging. For cruise ships, the single rate can be double the price.  Secondly, on a standard cruise, vegan options are limited. While non-vegans have choices across the entire menu, if you are plant-based, there may only be one or two options from which to choose. Why pay all that money for food and be limited to one or two items? Kim saw a vacuum that needed to be filled.

 

 

When Kim created Veg Jaunts and Journeys, she had the single, vegan client in mind. Of course, couples are also encouraged to participate, but there are no penalties for traveling alone, and the dining venue is always vegan or vegetarian. The rare vegetarian restaurant on the tour itinerary will always offer a wide range of vegan options. Kim scopes out plant-based restaurants around the globe, and as the world rapidly becomes more vegan-friendly, opportunities abound for the plant-based traveler. “In the tour I took to Berlin in August, we were there for eight days, and only ate at vegan restaurants. I think we didn’t even get to 25% of them, that’s how many there are there. And pretty much every mainstream restaurant we passed had a sign outside that read vegan options available.”

 

 

Vegan restaurants are evolving from the fast-food type of comfort food to healthier options, and Kim consults with her clients as to the types of food they prefer before booking restaurant venues. Her tours tend to be small and intimate, from six to twelve people. Another interesting aspect of her service is that she doesn’t necessarily travel to the typical touristy spots. Giavocco takes her clients to visit rooftop gardens, tea manufacturers, on walking tours, to visit markets and vegan festivals and on green tours related to eco-tourism, to name a few.

 

Brewery in Berlin

Lodging is usually arranged in residential areas where vegan restaurants are more likely to be located. The group takes subways and local transit for a ten to fifteen-minute ride into the cities. This gives the traveler a more authentic experience of the country they are visiting rather than exposing them to one tourist site after another. If one has an interest in these sites, there is an entire unscheduled day where the client can choose to split from the group and explore on his/her own. Kim helps them with maps and directions and they will usually meet up later at a designated restaurant or hotel. The small groups tend to stick together, however, and form bonds of friendship by the tour’s end.

 

 

Veg Jaunts and Journeys is not limited to overseas travel. Kim Giovacco is also busy putting together itineraries within the United States. Some of these tours are close to her and her partner’s new home in Asheville, North Carolina where she is becoming familiar a presence in the thriving Asheville vegan scene. She has recently been asked to join the board of the Asheville Vegan Society. Kim is collaborating with another company to offer vegan tours to animal sanctuaries, vegan restaurants, local breweries, and nature trails in and around Asheville.

 

 

Asheville is a hub for vegan markets, restaurants, festivals, and animal groups that draws people from neighboring states that have not yet awakened to the needs of their burgeoning plant-based population. These plans are still in the organizational phase, so be sure to subscribe to  Veg Jaunts and Journeys to be apprised of new tours as they are created.

 

 

Europe is way ahead of the United States in fully embracing the social imperatives of the vegan movement and where veganism has become more mainstream. In the United States, this movement is still in its infancy. Giovacco arranges many of her tours to catch some of the most interesting vegfests in the country with speakers that draw a large audience. She handles the schedule, the travel arrangements, restaurants, and lodging, so all you have to concentrate on is having a great time!

Whether you are thinking of traveling overseas to exotic locations like East Berlin, Bucharest, Vienna, or Prague or stateside to Nashville, New York, Boston or New Orleans, vegan travel has never been easier nor more accommodating. Never again will you have to pick at a salad while everyone else is enjoying the bounty of a full menu.

 

 

Traveling alone or with a group, Veg Jaunts and Journeys will help you create a hassle-free vacation that is designed with your needs in mind. Contact Kim Giovacco at Veg Jaunts and Journeys for more information.

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About!, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles, and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She is the author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” and is a co-founder of the plant-based cooking blog, Time For Change Kitchen. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Read more

Red Meze – A Hidden Gem In Johnson City, Tennessee

by Jennifer Muller

 

I like to think of myself as somewhat of a foodie nerd. I travel to eat. Prior to traveling, I scour the internet attempting to create a foodie itinerary for the ideal dining experience. I raise my research standards to an even higher scale when I relocate to a new area. When I moved to Johnson City, TN two years ago, I followed my normal method to find every potential outstanding eatery available in Johnson City. Even with my extensive search, Red Meze somehow eluded me. I happened upon it a few months after moving here while scrolling down my Facebook feed. Shocked that I could have overlooked authentic Turkish cuisine, I immediately drove down there and happily discovered Johnson City’s best kept secret gem.

 

 

Red Meze (formerly The Mediterranean Garden) is located at 2203 McKinley Road in Johnson City, TN. It is housed in Burlington Park, a refurbished old textile mill that is now a housing and commercial mixed-use building. I find the GPS coordinates usually take people to the opposite side of the building, making it difficult to find the restaurant. The easiest way to get there is to turn onto W. Walnut Street from N State of Franklin Rd. and drive past McKinley Rd. You will then see Red Meze on your right. Please do not do what I did my first time trying to find it and get so turned around that you end up driving through the empty field next door.

 

 

This is one of the restaurants I have been raving about to Danielle and Rich, so I was honored to meet them for lunch one Sunday. We told the server that we were vegan and soon the owner, Sengel, came out of the kitchen to discuss the vegan options and answer all our questions. According to Sengel, the first page of the main menu is or can be, vegan except for her Tzatziki sauce – a sour cream based sauce, and the Sigara Boregi – pan-fried dough stuffed with feta cheese. The back of the menu had a few sandwiches which were either vegan or could be with some minor modifications.

 

 

There is a separate Classic Turkish Home Cooking menu that has two options which can be vegan. The Eggplant Yogurt Kebab can be made without the yogurt sauce on top. The Turkish Veggie Stew is vegan, but Sengel informed us the rice that comes with it contains butter.

We asked Sengel if she keeps the meat separated from the vegan items and she informed us that the meat is grilled and kept in the back of the kitchen, while the vegetables are kept in the front of the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination. She also uses organic ingredients when possible.

 

Hummus, Falafel and Baba Ghanoush with Pita Wedges

 

Now to the food. I have dined here several times and have tried many items on the menu, and I have to say, that they do amazing things with eggplant. The eggplant here is so flavorful, and unlike any eggplant I have eaten elsewhere. My favorite menu item here is the Baba Ganoush – a Turkish eggplant dip served with pita. On this occasion, I ordered the lentil soup & pita, which is just a combination of lentil, onions, and spices. I also ordered the garden-three platter that had the falafel, garlic hummus, and baba ganoush. Everything I ate was light and flavorful. As usual, I could have eaten multiple orders of baba ganoush.

 

Lentil Soup

 

Danielle ordered the eggplant pita without feta. The lack of feta was replaced with additional eggplant to compensate. I enjoy introducing people to new restaurants they grow to love, so I was a bit nervous introducing Danielle to my recommendation. Fortunately, she raved on about how delicious the sandwich was with the combination of flavors and that she wished she had ordered two.

 

Grilled Eggplant Pita with Hummus

 

Rich ordered the Turkish veggie stew on the Classic Turkish Home Cooking menu. They replaced the vegetarian rice with pita. The stew was stocked full of vegetables with a tomato-based sauce. I had a bite and decided that if I could ever do without their eggplant, I would order that.

 

 

Turkish Veggie Stew

 

We finished off the meal with the excellent Turkish coffee served in demitasse cups. Turkish coffee is unfiltered coffee served sweet with a variety of spices. The trick is to drink the coffee until you reach the coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup, and then stop before drinking the grounds. The rich, sweetened, spiced coffee was a perfect end to the meal.

 

 

Red Meze is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 11:00 am – 9:00 pm and on Sunday from 11:00 am – 2:30 pm. The phone number is (423) 328-7685. Red Meze can also be found on Facebook.

 

Originally from Louisville, KY, Jennifer now resides is East Tennessee. Jennifer and her daughter are avid travelers searching for new healthy vegan dishes along the way. When she is not globe-trotting, Jennifer enjoys cooking spicy vegan meals at home with her two fur-babies; her dog, Amy, and her cat, Anna. Contact Jennifer directly to share your restaurant finds, make a comment, or just say hello.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Read more

Green Olive Market and Café

By Jennifer Muller

 

Earlier this year, I noticed a new market called The Green Olive Market had opened in Johnson City, TN. My interest was piqued and I made a mental note to stop by, but I had not yet gotten around to doing so. Word-of-mouth started to travel that a few weeks ago, The Green Olive was serving Ethiopian food!

 


The owner, Meseret Melesse (Marci), is a delightful bundle of energy. She is currently in the “soft-opening” phase of operation until the final preparations can be made. For now, she cooking the dishes fresh each morning and serving them buffet style. Once she has her kitchen fully operational, she is planning a grand opening, at which point she will be offering a sit-down menu while possibly keeping the buffet as a special twice a month event.

 


Of the roughly fifteen items on the buffet, all but five or so were vegan. Some of the vegan options on her buffet were Miser W’at – a semi-spicy red lentil stew,  Kik Alitcha W’at – mild stew of yellow split-peas, Gomen – collard greens, Alitcha Vegetables – a delicious stew of cabbage and carrots, and an excellently made Shiro W’at – a stew made from chickpeas that are sundried, roasted, and ground. The buffet also provided plenty of freshly-made injera – a spongy Ethiopian flatbread – with which to eat all the delicious items. Ethiopian food is not served with utensils, you eat it with the bread. However, utensils are provided if you prefer not to eat with your hands.

 

 


The food was authentic and flavorful, though I tend to enjoy food that is spicier than most people like. After the grand opening, I hope there are spice level options. Other than that, the taste is delicious. There is also a traditional coffee service from 3 pm – 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday. I experienced this service and was treated to the strong, flavored-packed goodness of freshly roasted coffee.

 


During the soft opening phase, the hours are 12:30 pm – 8 pm. After the grand opening, the hours will be 11 am – 9 pm. Veggin’ Out and About! will be following the progress of the grand opening and will report more in detail as that occurs.

Located at 800 West Market St in Johnson City, The Green Olive is roughly 3 miles off Exit 20 on -26. Drive towards ETSU until Roan becomes Market Street. You’ll see it on the right-hand side of the road.

Originally from Louisville, KY, Jennifer now resides is East Tennessee. Jennifer and her daughter are avid travelers searching for new healthy vegan dishes along the way. When she is not globe-trotting, Jennifer enjoys cooking spicy vegan meals at home with her two fur-babies; her dog, Amy, and her cat, Anna. Contact Jennifer directly to share your restaurant finds, make a comment, or just say hello.

SaveSave

Read more

Mona Lisa Gelato & Café

by Danielle Bussone

 

 

It seems that small strip malls are where it’s at these days for discovering quaint little restaurants serving up big flavors. Mona Lisa’s Gelato & Café has been around for seven years.  In Johnson City, TN, it is located at 305 W. Oakland Ave., a connecting street between Roan and State of Franklin, only a mile or so from I-26.

I’m appalled to learn I’ve driven by Mona Lisa’s about a million times without giving it a second thought. Since becoming a plants-only eater, I tune out anything that smacks of dairy or meat. Recently a  reader of Veggin’ Out and About! turned me on to this little jewel.

 

 

Mona Lisa’s is owned and operated by Sheridan and Steve Nice. Sheridan is the chef and recipe creator, and Steve handles marketing, social media, and other such concerns. The two operate an organic garden and have taught a local orphanage how to farm organically. The often trade their homemade gelato for organic produce from the orphanage, which then goes into building their daily menu items. Mona Lisa’s may well be the only garden to table restaurant operating in Johnson City today.

 

 

While the menu is mostly geared to the carnivorous crowd, there are a few items for vegans and vegetarians.

 

 

I ordered the Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich. This is not typically a vegan dish, but they substituted the meat for tofu to accommodate my needs.

I have to say; it is unlike any Bahn Mi I’ve ever experienced. The French colonization of Vietnam introduced aspects of French cuisine to the country’s culinary heritage. Traditional ingredients of Bahn Mi include a French roll or baguette smeared with some kind of mayonnaise or creamy sauce followed by layers of cucumber, cold cuts, or another meat filling (or tofu),  sweet and sour carrot and daikon pickles, a layer of jalepeños, and finally a good portion of fresh cilantro. Mona Lisa’s Bahn Mi was nothing like that.

 

 

This sandwich was more like a panini, with a crisp flattened bread, fermented vegetables, fresh jalapeños, tofu, and cilantro. If you ordered this sandwich expecting to receive a traditional Bahn Mi, you might be disappointed. However, your disappointment will be short-lived once you bite into this little taste of heaven. The crisp bread and crunchy fermented veggies marry beautifully with the soft texture of the tofu and the pungency of the cilantro in a way that surprises and delights. I think this tasty little sandwich deserves a name of its own!

 

 

Rich ordered the Thai Noodle Bowl. Thai rice noodles are served in a vegetable soup of carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, and fresh jalepeños drizzled throughout with spicy sriracha sauce. Sheridan is one of the few chefs in the Tri-Cities area who is not afraid to add heat to a dish that calls for heat. Too often, restaurants cater to the boring middle of the road in an attempt to appeal to a larger audience. The price that is paid that the international experience gives way to the staid preferences of the majority. Mona Lisa’s Thai Noodle Bowl has a kick that will make your eyes water!

 

 

At first, we didn’t even look at the gelato bar. Since we don’t eat dairy, we didn’t feel that was an option. However, Steve scooped up some blood orange sorbetto for us that was dairy-free and OMG delicious! This was something that was being whipped up in the kitchen and had not yet been brought out to the gelato bar. Unfortunately, you’ll have to take my word for it. We scarfed that down before we thought to take pictures.

Typically, there is at least one vegan sorbetto option with flavors like pink grapefruit, key lime, lemon cello, blood orange, or tangerine.

 

 

 

Don’t wait seven years before you check out Mona Lisa’s Gelato & Café in Johnson City, TN. It’s about a mile from I-26 from the State of Franklin exit, turn left to go under the overpass, and then right onto Oakland Ave. It’s right next to The Mellow Mushroom.

 

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About!, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles, and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She is the author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” and is a co-founder of the plant-based cooking blog, Time For Change Kitchen. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Read more

Spice World International Market – A Must-Visit Market in Johnson City, TN

by Danielle Bussone

 

 

New Apna Bazaar was once a fledgling concern in Kingsport, Tennessee.  After seven successful years, it outgrew its tiny, overcrowded space and migrated to a busy strip mall in Johnson City, TN. The name was changed to Spice World, and the store was a significant improvement in space and location. Cluttered, over-filled shelves gave way to clean lines of orderly products from India, refrigerated shelves of fresh produce, and freezers containing exotic items one can find nowhere else in the Tri-Cities region.

 

 

Five years later, Spice World took over the empty business next door, doubling its size. This acquisition provided an excellent opportunity to expand into other markets, and Spice World has recently morphed into  Spice World International Market.  I have been shopping at this family-owned store since it was the diminutive Indian market in Kingsport. When it moved to Johnson City, I began driving the thirty minutes extra so I could continue purchasing spices in bulk and fresh produce and herbs that are challenging to find elsewhere. I consider it well worth the drive.

 

Bulk herbs and spice blends

 

Hard to find produce, herbs, and spices.

 

Plenty of fresh produce to peruse.

 

Spice World’s owner, Chirag Patel, is knowledgeable and friendly. If you can’t find an item, he will order it for you. Over the years, I have learned from Chirag how to use products with which I was unfamiliar. I knew nothing about Indian food when I began, other than the fact that I liked it. Now I’ve become a relatively competent Indian cook and a familiar explorer of his aisles.

I once asked Chirag if he carried jackfruit and was delighted to be presented with a fresh one upon my next very next visit. You can now find baby jackfruit in cans on his shelves; far more convenient than wrestling with the whole fruit, which can be a messy endeavor.

 

Jackfruit in brine.

 

 

Chirag Patel and his lovely wife and partner, Pallavi

 

It is almost hard to believe how much Chirag and Pallavi have accomplished in twelve short years. From a  cramped little market with only two aisles, the Patels have turned their store into an international supermarket carrying a plethora of supplies from India, Asia, and the Middle East. Yet, Spice World has not lost its homey charm. Chirag is usually around, beaming a broad, authentic smile and chatting with customers on a first-name basis. He will always stop what he’s doing to answer questions or to explain a new product. One often sees his father there, manning the cash register or stocking supplies. His wife’s nephew is often seen busily stocking shelves or assisting customers. I’ve also met his brother filling in on one occasion when he was visiting Chirag from India. It truly is a family concern.

 

The uncluttered aisles are prominently labeled, but Chirag will gladly direct you to whatever you are seeking.

 

You can find a variety of rice, grains, and specialty oils on shelves against the back wall.

Rice, grains, flours,  & specialty oils.

 

Always available is an enormous selection of spice blends and whole and ground spices in bulk. Organic options are available as well.

 

 

 

As a vegan, I appreciate that the meat is separated from the vegetables in the frozen sections. Chirag works with a butcher who cuts and packages the meat for him fresh with each order. Chirag then freezes it for a longer shelf life.  The meat freezer is along the back wall, easily accessible but entirely removed from the packaged vegan and non-vegan meals.

 

 

A  wide assortment of frozen vegetarian prepared meals (defacto vegan), breads like naan and paratha, cut vegetables, frozen appetizers and snacks and non-vegetarian prepared meals can be found in the freezer section of Spice World.

 

Teas, Coffees, Crackers

 

Packaged Foods

 

Thai Curry Pastes, Soy Sauces, Soup Mixes (I LOVE the Vegan Tom Yum Paste!), Hot Sauces, Rice Noodles, and other Asian Ingredients.

 

Canned fruits, Coconut and Goat Milks, Shiitake Mushrooms, Seaweeds & More!

 

Beans, Sauces, and Indian Condiments

 

I usually make a beeline directly to the cookware area where I’ve found lots of useful items that are now part of my kitchen arsenal.

 

Interesting and Useful Cookware, Gadgets, & Supplies

 

If you arrive famished, no problem. Pallavi keeps an assortment of home-cooked foods available at the checkout counter. I’ve sampled all of the ones that are plant-based. These are what one might think of as Indian street food and are quite good. Most are fried, so I don’t partake of them often. Chirag can heat them for you at the counter.

You may imbibe on chai latte as you shop. The dhokla, a cake made from chickpea flour, is delicious; in fact, I liked it so much I had to learn to make it myself. It is the first thing Indian I learned to cook with Chirag’s sage advice. Now it is a favorite at my table.

 

Indian Homemade Snacks Can Be Purchased At the Counter.

 

Spice World International Market is a beautifully stocked grocery store tailored to meet the demands of the burgeoning Indian, Asian, and Middle Eastern communities of the Tri-Cities area. For chefs such as myself who enjoy preparing international cuisine, it is a godsend.

 

If you love to cook and live in the Tri-Cities area, (Johnson City, Kingsport, and Bristol, TN), you owe it to yourself to check out Spice World International Market. You are likely to find everything you need to go crazy creating healthy, delicious meals with astonishing flavor.

 

Spice World is located only about a quarter of a mile off I-26 on the corner of State of Franklin and Browns Mill Road in Johnson City, TN.

 

You may run into me prowling the aisles for novel culinary items. If you do, ask me what’s cooking!

 

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About!, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles, and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She is the author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” and is a co-founder of the plant-based cooking blog, Time For Change Kitchen. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Read more

Kalm Bistro, A Vietnamese Restaurant in Gray, TN Offers Plant-Based Options!

by Danielle Bussone

 

While visiting EarthFare in Johnson City, and cringing at the exorbitant prices of their organic produce (Don’t get me started…), Rich and I happened into a conversation with a fellow foodie. She told us about a Vietnamese restaurant a few miles away that offered a vegetarian menu. We were so excited to learn of this! We adore Vietnamese cuisine, and both of the restaurants that have recently opened up in the city had nothing we could eat that did not include shrimp paste or fish sauce. To our delight, there seems to be an upsurge of interest in East Tennessee of this exotic cuisine.

 

 

Kalm Bistro is a little gem of a restaurant nestled among several bright little stores in what appears to be a relatively new strip mall. Located In Gray, TN about a half mile off Interstate 26, exit 13, Kalm has only been open for a little more than a year. There is no sign from the street nor in the mall billboard, so you have to keep your eyes peeled to find it. This is a tee-niny little restaurant whose advertising has strictly been word-of-mouth.

 

 

Kalm Bistro does not open until noon, so we had to quell our excitement for another hour. We arrived at 12:04 and already most of the tables were filled. That’s a great sign that we were in for a treat! Kim, (who is co-owner of Kalm), greeted us immediately and showed us to our table. She handed us a menu which offered six vegetarian options, which as it turns out, were also vegan.

 

Kim, co-owner of Kalm Bistro

 

Kim has been interested in cooking since she was a little girl. Her dad, however, would never allow her into the kitchen for fear she would hurt herself with sharp knives. Her grandfather, however, recognized Kim’s love of cooking and convinced her father to allow her to attend cooking school when she was old enough. Eventually, she and her family started Kalm Bistro, the capital “K” in the name represents the “K” in her name, Kim.

 

 

So, let’s get to the food! We started with a spring roll. Comprised of fresh, crisp vegetables, aromatic herbs, rice noodles, and a slice of fried tofu, it is a combination of soft and crisp textures is complemented by a sweet and savory hoisin dipping sauce. YUM!

 

 

I ordered the Pho, a rice-noodle soup with an onion-based broth, generous slices of tofu, bean sprouts, fresh herbs, and lime. This was a new broth flavor for me; I’ve come to realize that every Vietnamese chef makes his or her own special broth for Pho. This one had a lovely, delicate flavor which allowed the characteristics of the herbs to sing.

 

 

 

Rich ordered the ramen noodle dish. Its flavor is difficult to describe. It tasted to me like a light infusion of peanuts in a sauce with a little turmeric, but I may be completely off-base here. I can tell you though; it was delicious. The thin curly noodles were tossed with a variety of fresh, slightly crisp vegetables, fried tofu, and bean sprouts. The portions were generous and filling.

 

 

 

Discovering Kalm Bistro was one of those happy accidents that occur when discussing food with strangers. We will certainly be visiting Kalm Bistro again when returning to the Johnson City area.

 

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About!, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles, and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She is the author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” and is a co-founder of the plant-based cooking blog, Time For Change Kitchen. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.
Read more

Real Thai Fusion Delivers Big Flavor At Affordable Prices

by Danielle Bussone

 

One of the best-kept secrets on the Emerald Coast Parkway is Real Thai Fusion. Tucked into a boutique shopping center in Miramar Plaza, it is not difficult to overlook this sparkling gem of a restaurant. Decked out in Asian decor, Real Thai Fusion is small enough to enjoy an intimate meal for two but will accommodate larger groups as well. I enjoyed the layout which is clean and not over-crowded.

 

 

I have not hesitated to make the thirty-minute trek to Destin on three separate occasions during my visit to Fort Walton Beach. This is how much I like the food at Real Thai Fusion. It is some of the best Thai food I’ve had anywhere.

While there is usually a steady stream of customers dining in and numerous take-out orders being picked up, for a restaurant with meals of consistently high quality,  I have been astonished at the number of empty tables available. I mentioned this to my waitress, who told me that this is a slow season for Thai food. When the weather begins to cool, the place will fill up with customers desiring to warm their bellies with spicy Thai cuisine. That makes sense. With ninety-plus temperatures outside during my stay in Florida in September, one would have to be a serious foodie to pile on more heat. Guilty as charged!

 

 

What sets Real Thai Fusion apart from the typical Thai restaurant is the freshness of the ingredients, the lovely presentation of the food, and the depth of flavor achieved by the chef. One can choose the level of spiciness of each dish. I adore spicy foods, but I also want to be able to taste the individual ingredients which are often masked by the overwhelming heat of chili peppers. I find at Real Thai Fusion that the perfect level of spice for me is medium, or number three. It is enough to leave a little bite at the back of one’s throat while allowing you to enjoy the full flavor of the dish. If you are very sensitive to heat, you may want to sneak up on it and order mild spice or no spice at all.

 

 

 

A lemon wedge is carved to look like a bug of some sort (perhaps a snail?) clinging to the edge of a water glass.  No detail is overlooked in the charming presentation of each course.

 

 

At lunchtime, Mondays through Fridays, you may be served a pre-appetizer at no additional cost. This is a delicious thin soup with garlic and green onions served with a small spring roll with sweet and sour sauce on the side. The chef at Real Thai Fusion understands the needs of vegans and will steer you to plant-based choices or will remove offending ingredients to make a dish that adheres to your requirements.

 

 

 

On my first visit, I enjoyed the incredibly fresh Summer Rolls filled with crisp, fresh vegetables and vermicelli, served with a homemade Thai peanut and hoisin sauce.

 

 

On my second visit, I returned with my sister who ordered the fried spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce. I generally abstain from eating fried foods, but I have to admit I shared a couple of these crispy delights with her. OMG!

 

 

 

 

 

Pad Eggplant is eggplant sautéed with mild Thai spices, onion, bell pepper and a generous portion of Thai basil that yields an unbeatable flavor. This dish, prepared in a dark, savory-sweet hoisin sauce, is melt-in-your-mouth delicious! I chose tofu as my protein option, and it comes with a side of white rice. I didn’t realize at the time that one can order brown rice if one so chooses, which I will certainly do next time

 

 

 

Royal Pad Thai is a well-known Thai noodle dish. The rice noodles are stir-fried with bean sprouts, carrots, scallions, ground peanuts, and egg with homemade Pad Thai sauce. The chef removed the eggs for me and replaced them with tofu so I could enjoy this famous dish without guilt.

 

 

 

 

 

Real Thai Fusion is worth the 30-minute drive from Fort Walton Beach, and if you happen to be in Destin, you should not overlook this delightful oasis in the midst of an overwhelming array of fast food restaurants and shopping centers. With only two days left in Florida, I’m seriously considering making the trek back to Miramar Beach for another fix of excellent Thai food. Keep in mind that your dish is freshly made to order and preparing food from scratch takes a little extra time. Be patient; you’ll find it is time well spent.

 

 

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About!, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles, and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She is the author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” and is a co-founder of the plant-based cooking blog, Time For Change Kitchen. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.
Read more

Spice Up Your Travels With A Taste Of India in Winchester, VA

by Danielle Bussone

 

As you must know by now, Rich and I are huge fans of Indian cuisine. Indian food is a perfect fit for plant-based diners with a penchant for robust spice blends and mouth-watering preparations. Indian fare varies from restaurant to restaurant just as it does from region to region within India. This provides us with endless opportunities for exploration of this exotic cuisine as this visit exemplifies. Rich and I are delighted to report on dishes we have not previously encountered.

 

 

 

Yesterday, upon returning from a family affair in Syracuse, NY, we stopped at Winchester, Virginia for a sleepover and a meal. Luckily for us, Taste of India Winchester must have been signaling to us telepathically because our fine-tuned culinary antennae honed in on their transmission and directed us right to their location, just as we finished checking into our room.

 

 

 

 

 

Taste of India is a gorgeous restaurant decked out with large comfortable booths, glass-covered tablecloths, a bar with seating, and a splendid buffet area with free-standing tables and chairs. The buffet is served at lunchtime from 11am to 2:30pm, Tuesdays through Sundays. The restaurant is closed Mondays. The buffet boasts at least three vegan items on the menu at all times. There is also a fourth item that may be either vegan or vegetarian, depending on the day. The bar serves a variety of beers and wines but no hard liquor.

 

 

Buffet Area (Tues-Sun 11am-2:30pm)

 

Bar serves beer and wine

 

The first thing I noticed upon opening the menu, is that there is a separate vegetarian section in which vegan options are clearly listed as VEGAN! As much sense at this makes, it rarely ever happens. I usually have to go through the menu ingredient by ingredient, hassling the waiter with dozens of questions, and still I’m not really sure if I’m getting a truly vegan product. Taste of India Winchester has taken the guesswork out of the equation, with the exception of the appetizer section, where one does still have to ask. That list is not long though, and the staff know what they are doing, so even that is not a problem.

A welcome plate arrived with three types of sauces and a crispy flatbread, almost like a cracker, imbedded with cumin seeds. One of the sauces was a sweet tamarind chutney, the second was a chunky savory mint and cilantro green sauce, and the third a crisp onion condiment with tomato puree and spices. All worthy of recognition!

 

Welcome Plate

 

For starters we shared a combination of two fried dishes which were very similar; a Samosa, a traditional triangular-shaped fritter stuffed with Potatoes Masala and peas, and Aloo Tikki, a similar tasting potato patty dipped in chickpea batter and fried. These were served with another amazing sauce, which is apparently a combination of the three mentioned earlier and with an added layer of something extra.

 

Samosa (left) and Aloo Tikki (right)

 

The store owner and manager, Kamal Khatri, has agreed to share his recipes for these fantastic sauces, which are staples of Indian cuisine. Rich and I will be returning in the coming weeks to do a video of of just how these exquisite flavors are achieved so that you will be able to make them for yourself!

Now on to the main course!

For my entree, I ordered Vegetable Patia, a slightly sweet dish of mixed vegetables stewed in a blend mangos and Indian spices and served with jasmine rice.

 

Vegetable Patia

 

Mattar Mushrooms, a house specialty

 

Rich ordered Mattar Mushrooms, a house specialty of mushrooms and peas in a rich and savory stew, also served with rice. They were perfectly spiced with a melt-in-your-mouth yumminess that is hard to describe. Of course, we shared so we each enjoyed both dishes, which were perfect complements of one another.

 

 

We also enjoyed Poori, a balloon-shaped airy unleavened flatbread that must have been quick fried. It left us licking oil from our fingers from its exterior, while still savoring layers of the soft interior. This was a first for me. While I’m not generally a fan of fried food, once in a while I figure I can indulge.

 

Poori

 

This is a definite two thumbs up for some of the most superb Indian food we have found in recent memory. Taste of India Winchester is located conveniently off I-81 and is a perfect place to stop for lunch or dinner to break your travels whether heading north or south across this great country.

 

Fortunately for us, the impending chutney/sauce/condiment video makes our return a fete accompli. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some more of the many vegan options on the menu! 

 

Check with us in a month or so when Kamal shows us how to make his marvelous condiments!

Read more

Wolf Farm Natural Elements –A Marketplace For Local Farm Products in Abingdon, VA

By Danielle Bussone

 

Steve and Becky Wolf are living their dream. After working in management positions for over 20 years, raising their kids and putting them through college, the empty nesters decided they wanted to get out of the rat race and the stress that comes with it and finally do something for themselves.  “There is still stress, of course,” says Steve, “because you’re running a business and you’re worried about finances, but it isn’t the same kind of stress. These are things we are controlling, rather than having to get something done for someone else.”

 

Steve and Becky Wolf

 

So, they moved to Abingdon, VA in the fall of 2008 and by the next spring they were living on their own farm. Steve had been a manager for a door and window manufacturer, and Becky had been in management for Walmart. Now they have taken their business experience and have opened a retail store, Wolf Farm Natural Elements, carrying farming supplies, animal feeds, fertilizers, minerals, plants, seeds, and just about anything you need for your garden or small farm.

 

 

From a modest beginning, about a year and a half ago they began selling their supplies from from their garage/warehouse at their farm, and at the Abingdon Farmers Market on Saturdays and Tuesdays. The carried their supplies in a two wheel covered trailer and sold them from the parking lot in town. “I felt like a drug dealer,” recounts Steve with a laugh. “Customers would come to my space at the market and I’d say, ‘meet me at the parking lot.’ They’d give me money and I’d give them a bag of feed.”

 

 

Locally grown organic flower plants, herbs and vegetable starts, blueberry bushes, and planting supplies.

 

Wolf Farm Natural Elements sources its products as locally and sustainably as they possibly can. The Wolfs carry a variety of flower plants from an organic company, Blue Door owned by Tom and Deni Peterson, who also sell cut flowers at Abingdon Farmers Market. T & T Farms and Greenhouse, an organic operation owned by Tamara McNaughten, provides the Wolfs with blueberry bushes and vegetable starts. You can find Tamara on Saturdays at the farmers market in Abingdon as well with her array of food plants and freshly harvested organic vegetables.

 

 

 

Wolf Farm does carry an organic feed for horses, cows, chickens, sheep, rabbits, and so on. They also have another line that is an in-between line for some farmers. Its non-gmo certified. The seed is certified that it doesn’t contain genetically modified organisms but it may contain pesticides. It is an interim step for farmers who may eventually go organic but at present can’t spend the extra money for organic feeds that are significantly more expensive, $17.50 non-gmo vs $29.50 a bag for organic, a $12 difference in price. “New Country is starting to expand,” explains Steve. “They are putting in a new mill in Texas where they’ll be able to source more organic material down there and between the two plants they’ll have less freight costs.”

 

 

Richard Moyer of Moyer Farms provides organic seeds for Southern Seed Exchange out of Mineral, VA, which is where Wolf Farms Natural Elements sources all of their seeds. The Moyers also offer a wide variety of vegetables and mushrooms at the farmers market. Fingerling and seed potatoes are provided to Wolf Farm by New Sprouts Organic from Black Mountain, just outside Asheville, NC, and they get all of their feeds from New Country Organics of Waynesboro, VA.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wolfs carry a lot of quality tools, such as a Japanese digging tool. It has a cove to the blade so you can dig with it like a trowel, you can cut with it, harvest cabbage or lettuce heads with it, just an all round tool which comes in both stainless or tempered steel.

The other tools come from Yoeman and Company out of Iowa, also called Yo-Ho. Wolf Farm Natural Elements’ warehouse is packed with fertilizers, including all-purpose, specialty fertilizers with concentrated nitrogen, phosphorous or potassium, minerals to build up magnesium or calcium, lime, diatomaceous earth, kelp, all kinds of animal minerals, chicken scratch, worm castings, potting soil, seed starter mixes, trays, peat baskets, etc. “We try to have as much certified organic OMRI listed (Organic Materials Research Institute) products as possible, meaning they are acceptable products for use in organic farming practices.”

 

 

As well as quality products from responsible vendors, Steve and Becky produce some products of their own; soaps, body butters, natural hand sanitizers and a lavender mist that is wonderful for adding a non-toxic scent to towels and sheets.

Whatever your farm needs, do yourself a favor and visit Wolf Farm Natural Elements. You can support your local community by shopping at a market dedicated to supporting local organic businesses. This helps to expand an ever-widening web of interconnectedness that puts money back into our own community in a cycle that benefits everyone. This is a model I’m hoping will continue to expand.

Wolf Farm Natural Elements, located at 25245 Lee Highway, in Abingdon, VA opened on April 1 of this year and celebrated its grand opening on Earth Day.

 

Read more

Dan Kerry – On A Plant-Based Mission In The Big Apple!

 

 

by Danielle Bussone

 

Dan Kerry is on a mission to teach people how to liberate themselves from food-related disability and disease by eliminating animal protein from their plates and replacing it with whole foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. It has become clear over decades of scientific research that many diseases are life-style related and can be improved and even reversed by simple changes in one’s diet. Simple changes in the way you eat can literally save your life!

 

 

Dan is a recent graduate of Food For Life, a teaching program designed to promote a healthy plant-based lifestyle. Food For Life is the brainchild of Dr. Neal Barnard, President of Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine based in Washington, DC.  Accepting only a handful of applicants each year, the program is designed to teach people suffering with Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes, Obesity and other food related diseases how to improve or even reverse health outcomes by simple changes in their diets.

 

 

Dan has jumped into this activity with both feet. He is currently teaching a 21-day quick-start weight loss classes in his community in Manhattan, NYC. Using the curriculum of Physician’s Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM) for the series which targets the lifestyle of western civilization, Dan seeks to demonstrate how these classes can enable students to take control of their health by making better food decisions. The classes are a combination of cooking classes of easy, tasty meals that compose a plant-based diet. It is accompanied by a video of the founder of PCRM, Dr. Neal Barnard, who explains the nutrition and science behind a plant-based lifestyle. Each class is designed to focus on a particular food and each series is designed to focus on a particular issue whether it be diabetes, cancer, weight-loss, etc. Each class is designed to show how clients can make the most of that information.

 

 

For the last five years, Dan has worked as a life coach, helping people to live happier and healthier lives. Something felt missing to him and he began to look into expanding his practice. Serendipitously, his younger brother introduced him to the film, Earthlings, which is more about the ethical side of a plant-based diet. The film had a profound effect on Dan. “It changed my heart,” he said simply. “It changed my heart.” He could no longer participate in the cruelty connected with consuming animals. He didn’t know how to go about it, but he knew it was something he had to do. Then Dan discovered that he just felt better and he wanted to continue to feel better. This led him to look at the nutritional aspects of being a vegan. He took Cornell’s e-program on plant-based nutrition, started following Michael Greger’s NutritionFacts.org, and was eventually introduced to PCRM through an email communication with Dr. Greger.

 

Dan Kerry Receiving Food For Life Training Certificate

 

Dan became plant-based Feb 2, 2014. “It is always interesting to me that the change to a plant-based lifestyle is often so profound that people remember the exact date they made the switch,” Dan recalls. He discovered that he felt better, more energetic and the arthritis issues he had been dealing with completely disappeared. “It is all the things that one can expect when switching to a plant-based lifestyle.”

Dan is teaching classes out of his home in Manhattan, is partnering with a local yoga studio to teach classes. When I asked Dan about the responses he’s receiving from his students, his response was surprising. “It’s interesting. I thought the biggest challenge would be the purely plant-based approach, but what I actually found was that the students understood some of the issues with the animal products. They were really more shocked about the issue of cutting out or minimizing the oil in their diet. They had not looked at cooking from this perspective. They were actually shocked at how tasty the vegetables were that we produced without oil; it still had its flavor, it was still moist, and all these things.”

 

 

Dan is creating a plant-based eating guide for his students to assist them in choosing restaurants that will support their goals. “One of the things I got to think about in my own journey and in talking with New Yorkers, because it is very common to eat out in New York. People eat out about 30% of the time, it’s the lifestyle of the city. It’s good to have these recipes but most of the people eat out about 30-40% of the time. So how would that work if they want to have a social life with their friends. I started to look at the restaurants in my neighborhood and I started to reach out to them. I was surprised that in my neighborhood there were at least twenty restaurants that were able to provide two or thee main courses and then sides that were totally vegan. We reached out to these restaurants for information. Some of them responded, some didn’t, some are vegan so we know what they will provide. We just want to give people that extra boost for going plant-based and dealing with the social challenges of going plant-based can really get in the way of going all the way in this lifestyle. No one wants to be the troublesome person who asks the waiter too many questions or sends the food back when it has animal protein in it. So I wanted to cut out that barrier to their transition. We have already asked the questions of the chefs and the managers. I really wanted to make it easy for each person who attends our classes.”

 

 

Dan and his wife, Angie, are looking for their first child in March. They are excited to raise a vegan child, giving him or her a healthy foundation on which to build its life.

You can learn more about Dan Kerry’s plant-based Food For Life classes at his website: theplantstrongproject.com.

 

 

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She is author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” released January 1, 2015.   Danielle’s region is SW Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina and anywhere she happens to stop for sustenance along the road. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.

 

Read more

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive weekly news and updates from VegginOutAndAbout.

You have Successfully Subscribed!