Eating Vegan in San Fran!

During our one-week trip to California, we only spent two beautiful, glorious days in the big city of San Francisco. San Fran has always been known for its activism, openness, and emphasis on love and equality, coupled with its stunning natural beauty and penchant for the unique. From block-to-block, there’s no city in the world quite like it.

We knew we’d be spending a few short days in the city, so Terry had been amping me up about the gourmet vegan food world captivated within many of San Fran’s distinctive districts. We walked around the gorgeously forested Golden Gate Park, dotted with wild buffalo, museums, ice cream stands and winding storybook creeks and rivers.

Our first food stop was La Méditeranée in the Fillmore District, a family-owned Mediterranean restaurant that served up old-school Turkish coffee, homemade Baklava, and a full vegan menu. Open since the 70’s, the place was small, quaint and warm, with a flurry of friendly waitresses guiding us through the menu and to our table.

The waitress steered me toward the veganized Mediterrean plate, a standard hodgepodge of plant-based mid-east dishes. It featured grape-leaf Dolmas, baba gounesh, hummus, olives, mixed greens, and homemade falafel. The food was just as incredible as the atmosphere and service – straight-up perfect.

The next day we drove around the bright, rainbow-adorned Castro Dstrict and stepped through an alley of wall art, one of my favorite things to discover in a new city. Gigantic faces boldly declaring equality, unity, peace and love decorated every wall as we wound our way down the street and stepped out into the Mission District.

My friend was ecstatic to take us to Gracias Madre, an artsy tavern serving up organic, locally-sourced vegan Mexican dishes (say whaaaaat!). I was stoked to discover that they served a HORCHATA LATTE, two of my favorite things combined in one.

I was so in love with my mole enchiladas stuffed with potato and zucchini, black beans and kale that I could barely contain myself in public. My boyfriend also got cashew cheese nachos, which we’re definitely made and fried in-house. It’s been a few days and I am still super obsessed with this place!

I also grabbed some vegan ginger snap cookies from Hot Cookies, a quaint little cookie shop in the Castro District. We stopped there after a few drinks and a lot of dancing, and sadly, I forgot to take a picture.

I ate a quick, healthy breakfast at the hotel. After adventuring around the city, we drove through the Pacheco Pass, a long and windy northern California road that cuts through the region’s abundant farmlands. We stopped at a fruit stand to grab avocados, oranges, pickled garlic, eggplant and asparagus to grill at T’s mom’s house in Merced, our final destination. The prices were rock-bottom, and the fresh fruit was top-notch.

We spent the night in the quaint town of Merced, and woke up to an impressive spread of fresh fruit and locally baked bread laid out by T’s mom. I filled up on freshness and grabbed some snacks for the road back to Santa Cruz.

The last meal of our adventure was on the plane to Hawaii, after a long day of traveling. We took a bus from Santa Cruz to San Jose, then the BART to San Fran, an air train to SFO Airport, sprinted to our gate to catch a flight to LAX, then sprinted from our arrival in LAX to our plane departing to Honolulu.

It broke all my traveling rules – we didn’t stock up on enough snacks, we didn’t eat before getting on the plane, we didn’t drink enough water. We were starving, grumpy and lethargic on the plane, and decided to cave in and purchase food. I was stoked to find an all-vegan, non-GMO Tapas box from Delta. It was packed with gluten-free seeded crackers, quinoa and red pepper dip, hummus, almonds, organic dark chocolate, a lemon fig bar, and more. It was surprisingly cheap, filling and satisfying, and I was happy to vote with my dollars to keep the option around.

All in all, it was a busy and fulfilling trip that totally re-stoked my love for vegan food and rekindled my dedication to living a life of kindness. Thanks much, San Fran!

5 Keys to Happy, Healthy Travel

Whether your flight is early, late, short or long, it takes a lot out of us. Every time i see a plane land at the airport, it unleashes a hoard of tired, hungry, cranky, and dehydrated zombie-like humans that look effing miserable. If you’re trying to sustain a healthy lifestyle, flying can be even more daunting.

I’ve done my fair share of travel, and standby travel at that – so I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way. These 5 steps are easy, cheap, and help you stay happy and healthy no matter where you’re headed to.

1. BYOB

I know this one seems obvious, but it’s sooo easy to forget to byob when it’s 5am and you’re headed to the airport. Plus, airlines seem to barely even hand out water these days. I bring a full water and chug it on the way through security, then fill it back up and sip on that sizzard throughout the flight.

2. Bring Electrolytes

Not only do I bring a water bottle, I also bring an empty shaker bottle with an electrolyte packet to drink. Depending on how long the flight is, you might want to bring more than one. My personal rule is one packet per 5 hours of flight.

3. Snacks on SNACKS

Back in the good ole days, the airlines used to feed you. While they’re forced to feed you on international flights, you’re lucky if you get more than a packet of five mini-pretzels and 4 oz of water flying domestic. So, I keep myself stacked with items that won’t get taken away at security. My faves are fruits, veggies, hummus packs, Lara bars, protein packets, and nuts. I would not recommend bringing any nut butter – mine always gets taken away. Sad.

4. Melatonin is LIFE

I used to have the hardest time sleeping on planes, but was scared to take any sleep aid because most of them give me terrifying nightmares. Which, naturally, I don’t want to experience in the air.

However, personally, melatonin is my bestie during times of travel. On a 12-hour flight to china, I spaced them out so nicely that I slept for eight beautiful hours straight. For long flights, I like to take two 3-5mg tablets at first, and then take 1 every 4 or 5 hours as the flight goes on.

5. Bring a Book/Journal/Planner

I’m not sure why, but traveling – even en route – brings about a lot of clarity. There’s been many, many times when my electronics die or I’ve exhausted my playlists or the movie selection is lame (or not free) and I’ve wished I brought a damn book. Flights are a great place to plan out your day/week/trip/life, or catch up on a great book. BRING IT ALL.

Finding My Path & Purpose

 

Life has been a blur these days. If you haven’t noticed, my posts have been few and far between, yet so much life has happened between the cracks. I’ve quit my dream job as a Development Coordinator at a non-profit, and started my own business with my boyfriend. I went to Germany with my family, embarked on my first faith-based mission trip to Nepal, and have gone vegan. I’ve changed up my life, and every step has been for the better.

Going to Nepal absolutely deserves its own post – if not several – but I will say this: it was incredibly humbling and healing. My faith and relationship with God have deepened and strengthened, and I felt my head clear and my heart open to the path and purpose God intends for me. Part of that includes having confidence in my business endeavors and the abilities I’ve been gifted, and cultivated in the professional sphere.


Another part of my deepened faith is a recommitment to veganism. In working to make a positive impact in Nepal, I had a difficult time coming back to normal life in Hawaii and working for myself. I wanted to keep working for good and for God, and reducing the harm I contribute to is one way to do so.


My goal in this life is to do as much good and as little harm as a I can, to people, the planet, and other creatures alike. That includes treating others with kindness and patience, and understating where their hurt comes from. This love for other people – even strangers, far away, and very different from myself – is what’s continued to drive me to recommit to a plant-based diet. For the animals, yes, but also for the people living in communities polluted by animal agriculture, those working under harsh conditions in factory farms, etc. We all spend our time and thoughts searching for our purpose. While mine isn’t completely crystal clear, I know I’m meant to do good in any way I can. Right now, and through the rest of my days.

To more posts and positivity,

Nicole ❤


It’s been a few years since I’ve set foot in Europe, after a few beautiful trips to Belgium, France, Italy & Prague. I absolutely adore everything about Europe. The cobblestone streets, the crisp air, brick and mortar bridges, towering castles and bustling cities. On some lucky nights I drift off and dream im wandering down a century old street sipping an espresso and immersing myself in the rich and wide ranging language sand cultures.


This week, my family and I hopped on a cramped flight to Detroit and flew standby to Munich, Germany. By some magical trick of luck, we not only made it there on our first attempt, but my mom, sister and I landed the last three seats on the aircraft. Which, even luckier, happened to be in first class.


My life has changed so much since my last European adventure, and it was incredible to venture that way again in such over the top luck and luxury. 


What was also awesome was the breadth of vegan options in first class. Along with my champagne, I dined on a fresh greens salad, a mix of warm nuts, and summer squash, tomato and vidalia onion tart. For dessert, they didn’t have much, but they did have fresh fruit and fig compote – sans the selection of fine cheeses – and poof! Vegan dessert, y’all.


ALSO, breakfast. BREAKFAST! 
I was a vegetarian on my previous rendezvous across the continent, so I’m excited to see what Germany and Prague have in store for me as a vegan. 
I’m blessed, thankful and beyond lucky to be on this magical trip. Travel brings out the best in all of us, and so much truth, peace and clarity.
Happy travels!

Nikki

Travel Tuesday: Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

Although I love writing and literature, I was wary about traveling to Shakespear’s iconic birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon. I pictured a cheesy tourist trap in the American sense, with tacky gift shops and crowded photo op’s. What we discovered after a gorgeous, idyllic drive from London to the (DIRECTION) was something entirely different.

Despite millions of visitors, Stratford-Upon-Avon hasn’t lost it’s unique, small-town charm. There’s cobble stone streets crammed with tea houses and shops, their awnings giving way to traditional apartments above. There’s rivers running through the heart of town, adorned with swans, wooden riverboats and framed by cobblestone bridges and riverside restaurants with water wheels.

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Travel Tuesday: British Butterfly Garden

   

Shakespeare’s birthplace offers many charms, from sleepy riverboats cruising down cobblestone-flanked rivers to fairy-tale cottages and windmills dotting the town’s outskirts. My favorite part about the picturesque Stratford-Upon-Avon wasn’t high tea. It was the breathtaking butterfly garden that I could’ve wandered around in for hours.  

   
The butterfly sanctuary is a haven for humans and insects alike. There’s iguanas lunging lazily on the netting above and gorgeous plants of every kind shoved into every possible space. Although indoors, the garden is lush and welcoming. Even the butterflies (which are literally everywhere) barely flinch as you walk by and inch closer to check out their unique beauty.

I absolutely adored this place. Butterflies were landing all over us, and even would walk onto our fingers from a nearby leaf without the slightest hesitation. There were all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns, each gorgeous in their own right. The energy inside the garden was peaceful, precious and overwhelmingly special.

  

    
 

Travel Tuesday: Vegetarian in London!

Eating animal-free on the go can be troublesome stateside, but in Europe, it’s a cinch. Even in London, I was amazed by the plethora of plant-based choices at pubs, mom & pop’s, hotels and the like.

Warning: If you’re vegan, it’s a whole different story. Cheese, butter & sometimes eggs are prevelant in meat alternatives. All of these choices are sans-meat, but not all are vegan.

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My first (& one of my favorite) vegetarian meals was at a local pub, recommended by the concierge at our little hotel. There, I immediately spotted vegetarian bangers & mash, a meat-free take on classic English fare. The plate featured yummy veggie sausages (the “bangers”) atop a pile of mashed potatoes & peas. I’m not a huge fan of peas, but the English seem to put them on everything – whether they be mashed, creamed, mushy, or firm. I think I’ve officially hit my lifetime limit of peas. Anyways, I loved that I got to try some English food the veggie way, particularly at the very first pub we went to!

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Thankfully, beer is always a good choice anywhere in the world 🙂 Our trip was off to a really good (animal-friendly) start.

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Just like in the States, ethnic food is an easy way to garauntee that delicious, healthy & plant-based abound. In many cousines, veg dishes aren’t just an accident or tossed in the menu to appease vegetarians – they’re main dishes, delicacies and staples. One of my favorite things on the entire planet is Lebanese food, and local spots were dotted all along London’s quaint streets. I feasted on a Batata Harra wrap, a spicy mix of diced potatoes and sautéed veggies, creamy sauce and hummus. It was so delicious I honestly almost cried! I love pairing spice with creamy, and this wrap was cheap and totally blew my mind.

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Thankfully, we were wise enough to order some baba ganoush, an hummus-type dip made of cooked eggplant, oils, tomatoes, onions and spices. Ours even featured some pomegranate and bell peppers, alongside homemade Lebanese pita bread. Yum!!

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As if the meat-friendly meal couldn’t get any better, it totally did. Every table finishes off with a plate of fresh fruit and varieties of Baklava. Each one was so insanely delish that we were fighting over the crumbs like little kids. My favorite was the one in the back with green filling – an uber-yummy pistachio delicacy.

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Another English staple is the crispy, greasy, fried fish & chips – with, of course, a side of peas. I was stoked to find two different pubs that served up a vegetarian-friendly version. The fish filling is made of a certain kind of cheese, which sounds really odd – but the thick texture of the cheese and fishy seasoning were surprisingly close to the real deal. Again, if you’re vegan, this wouldn’t have been an option, but it’s still a welcome gesture that it’s even offered.

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English tea time: a beautiful, adorable, and necessary food-related experience while on the British isle. Tea time was quaint, cool, and a total blast – and eating meat-free was a cinch. My sandwiches came with peeled grapes & brie, and were arguably the best little sandwiches on the menu. I’m totally going to make these at home, tea party or not. The second tier (you work your way up) was filled with yummy scones and clotted cream, followed by some super-sweet little desserts. If you’re vegan, again, tea time would be a toughie.

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We also stopped by an adorable little French cafe on the river outside of Windsor Castle. We feasted on warm bread, a beautiful pea & pumpkin soup (there’s the peas again!) and this delicious, flaky pastry stuffed with goat cheese, olives, and ratatouille. Yea, you read that right. I’m salivating just writing about it – the flaky pastry and ratatouille combo blew any soup & sourdough Stateside experience out the window.

IMG_0405American airports are known for being crammed with overpriced fast food and mile-long Starbucks lines. To be fair, they have been getting a little better with their food chocies, but still pale in comparison to every experience I’ve had in Europe. The UK was no different – we found ourselves starving & overtired, struggling to pick what and where to eat. Since we were also nearly out of money, we popped into a convenience store and found an awesome combo deal for a drink, wrap & snack. I chose this insanely good wrap and a side of edamame & hummus, coupled with an all-natural, no sugar added ginger rootbeer. Why don’t we have this many healthy, affordable options in the States??

I had an amazing time in England – I honestly can’t wait to go back! And, of course, eat more food 🙂 happy travels!