Summer Plans

Hi, folks! Just a short post today, as I have to prepare loads and loads of animal-free bacon-y goodies for today’s (well, last Friday’s by the time you read this) Vegan Bacon Tasting, hosted by the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC). As such, I thought I’d let ya’ll know about my summer plans, since they involve lots of cool (well, I think, at least) animal justice-related endeavors, including a sanctuary internship and a field work project for my Geography major.

First, I’ll be spending five days a week working full-time at Heartland Farm Sanctuary, a five-year-old sanctuary just outside of my hometown’s city limits. In addition to feeding the residents, cleaning out their barns, accompanying them on medical visits (including to a licensed Reiki practitioner!), and giving them lots of love, I’ll also be helping out the leaders of Heartland’s summer camp for schoolchildren and assisting in some event-planning.

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As I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I’ve become increasingly committed to learning how to more adequately communicate with other animals, to really listen to the folks with whom I seek to work in solidarity. I’m eager to further pursue this practice at Heartland this summer, both by working there and through my aforementioned Geography field work project. Through this project, I intend to highlight the marginalized voices within animal justice work, including women of color, slaughterhouse workers, and the animals themselves. In doing so, I hope to challenge the animal justice movement’s privileging and exclusionary visibilizing of white, wealthy men in order to advance a more radical agenda of animal justice, as laid out by the movement’s oft silenced voices. I would greatly appreciate any reading/resource suggestions from ya’ll, as I’ve only just begun constructing the syllabus for this project.

Anywho, I’ve got to go get up to my elbows in vegan bacon grease, so I wish you a lovely week and look forward to hearing any resource recommendations you might have.

In solidarity, Ali.

Recap of the 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies Conference

Hello, all! As I mentioned last Monday, I had the pleasure of spending last weekend at Binghamton University for the 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies North America Conference, along with seven of my fellow members of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition (VARC) and one VARC alum. Today, I’d like to share with ya’ll some of what I found as the most compelling insights from the conference, and well as what I think needs improvement.

First, a bit of background on the awesome organization known as the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS): co-founded in 2001 and still currently headed by powerhouse intersectional activist Anthony J. Nocella II, ICAS began with the intent of defending the radical politics and activism of the Animal Liberation Front. Today, ICAS — grounded in animal liberation — promotes solidarity with all oppressed groups with an aim towards collective liberation for all beings, functioning as an academic-activist research center that seeks to foster holistic, intersectional social justice spaces, networks, scholarship, research, and education. ICAS now has chapters/offices on each continent, and has hosted conferences like the one I attended last weekend since its inception.

Completely on our college’s dime, I any my fellow VARC-ers drove a big ol’ 12-seater van three hours north, arriving on the Binghamton campus just in time for the last panel of the conference’s first day. Though I was disappointed to have missed presentations on interspecies intelligence, human exceptionalism, and the idea of parasites as companion species from earlier in the day, I excitedly attended a panel that included presentations on neoliberal green capitalism and critical perspectives on the current state of animal advocacy.

The first presentation — given by Livia Boscardin, a doctoral student in Sociology at University of Basel, Switzerland and entitled “Green Growth, Happy meat, and Resource Species: Animal Exploitation in Neoliberal Green Capitalism” — focused on the link between ethical consumption practices (“green” products, “happy” meat, and vegan consumerism, in particular) and capitalism (check out my post on Veganism & Consumerism for more details). I appreciated Livia’s framing of vegan consumerism as a co-optation and de-politicization of the radical idea of animal liberation, as well as a way to isolate the animal justice movement (more on this term later!) from understanding  the interconnectedness between all struggles for liberation, such that we continue to perpetuate violent ideologies like racism, sexism, transphobia, and ableism.

Livia Boscardin presenting (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Livia Boscardin presenting (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Also during that first panel, the aforementioned Anthony Nocella gave a presentation called “Challenging Racism & Ableism within Animal Advocacy,” in which he laid out an “eco-ability” framework that understands how ecological destruction intersects with human identity, and how discrimination against the disabled body is intimately linked with discrimination against non-human animals. As examples of ableism within animal advocacy, Anthony pointed to the “sexy vegan” image that privileges thin, able bodies, as well as oft-cited philosopher and Animal Liberation author Peter Singer’s eugenicist view that humans should be able to kill babies born with developmental disabilities because they ultimately won’t be “useful” to society. As for examples of racism within the movement, Anthony identified the prevalence of vegan Thanksgiving events that encourage folks to celebrate a “compassionate” holiday, while failing to acknowledge the day’s origins in the Native American genocide (and thus that the holiday can never be “compassionate,” even if animals are left off of the table).

After a restful evening in a nearby hotel where most of the conference attendees were staying for the weekend, our VARC cohort returned to the Binghamton Campus for our first full day of panels. I started off the morning at a panel on anti-speciesist pedagogy, which featured a presentation by Binghamton senior Trevor Reddick entitled “An Argument for Native Studies: Toward a Critical Animal and Anti-Colonial Pedagogy.” Paralleling much of the postcolonial theory in which I’ve been interested for a couple of semesters now, Trevor pointed out how colonialism — not a phenomenon of the past or of elsewhere in the world — continues to shape the way we move about and interpret the world, such that we understand ourselves, our modes of being, and our theories and inherently superior to all other peoples (including non-human animals) with whom we share the world. Trevor proposed the integration of Native Studies into educational institutions as a manner of challenging this framework under which we operate, suggesting that by familiarizing ourselves with indigenous worldviews we can begin to interact with the world in less violent ways. While I quite enjoyed Trevor’s presentation, I do wish that he had mentioned that, for this type of work to truly challenge the hierarchies of domination that exist between industrialized and indigenous cultures, those of us embedded in the former must step down from the podium and make space for those of the latter to guide human modes of being in the world, rather than voyeuristically looking at other cultures for our own benefit.

Pedagogy panel (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Pedagogy panel (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Additionally in this pedagogy panel, Binghamton Lecturer of English JL Schatz gave a talk called “Teaching Critical Animal Studies: Beyond Gradeability,” in which he introduced an interesting idea that he had just begun to practice of allocating ten percent of his students’ grades to their “internalization of course material.” At the end of the semester, JL explained that each of his students must reflect upon how well they integrated course material into their daily life, and provide a brief essay on how they rigorously engaged with the course texts so as to move beyond mere consumption of information. As examples, JL suggested that students who adopted (temporarily or permanently) vegan diets in light of their readings on speciesism, or those who called their friends out for making misogynistic jokes thanks to their texts on feminism, would receive exemplary grades in this internalization aspect of the course. I would love to hear the thoughts of any educators out there on this practice!

Later that day, after a delicious lunch generously provided by conference organizers, I checked out the “Theorizing the Biopolitics of Animal Life” panel, featuring a presentation by VARC alum and all-around awesome person Lauren O’Laughlin, who is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington. Lauren’s fascinating presentation — entitled “(Un)Sexing the Animal: Thinking Critically About Intersex Fish Panics” — examined how scientific discourse surrounding environmental chemicals known as endocrine disruptors (EDCs) reflect the pervasive belief that intersex bodies are unhealthy, inferior, and undesirable. Pointing to scientists who frame as an ecological catastrophe frogs who have both testes and ovaries, Lauren urged us to “articulate environmental concern in ways that do not erase queer pasts and presents.” Omg, VARC alums are the best.

Lauren and I voicing our dissent of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) (photo: Anthony Nocella).

Lauren and I voicing our dissent of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) (photo: Anthony Nocella).

We current VARC members had the immense pleasure of hanging out with Lauren all weekend (they shared a hotel room with us and rode in our van with us), and were able to gain much insight from chatting with them. One thing that really stuck with me from speaking with Lauren was their use of the term “animal justice,” as opposed to “animal rights” or “animal liberation.” Lauren, like me and many others, finds problems in a rights-based framework, and finds the animal liberation ideology to be overwhelmingly masculinist, so feels that “animal justice” most adequately reflects their work as of right now. The term jived with me, so I’ve begun to use it as well.

I took a break from the final panel and ended up having a fantastically productive, imaginative, and inspiring discussion with Anthony and Lauren about the future of VARC and radical animal work in general, before heading back to the hotel for a rousing few rounds of Hearts (my card game of choice).

On Sunday — the last day of the conference — my good friend and fellow VARC co-leader Rocky gave an impressive presetation on the masculinist rhetoric of scientific objectivity integral to discussions surrounding the deer cull  that takes place on the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve (VFEP) every two years (for more info check out the Poughkeepsie community-run SaveOurDeer.Webs.com), which provided a perfect conclusion to our conference adventure.

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While above I’ve reflected upon some of my highlights of the conference, the weekend did disappoint my fellow VARC members and me in a number of ways. For one thing, a number of presenters espoused implicitly racist and colonial ideologies in their presentations, such as the activist who insisted that we “educate” soup kitchen organizers to only serve vegan food to a population whose agency and bodily autonomy are already constantly infringed upon, or the white scholar who railed upon the Native activism organization Idle No More for their “speciesist” traditional practices. Additionally, many (if not most) presenters employed ableist language in their presentations, even after Anthony explicitly listed examples of such language in his presentation on the first day of the conference. Finally, even speciesist ideology made an appearance at the conference — further proving that veganism alone is not enough to challenge internalized speciesism — such as in the research that a Master’s student was about to undertake, which relied upon the assumption that one cannot engage in farming practices without viewing non-human animals as tools for human use. Despite these disappointing aspects of the conference, I’m hopeful for the future of animal justice work and critical animal studies, for most of the younger activists with whom I spoke took radically progressive, intersectional positions in their activism.

All in all, I’m very happy that I got the chance to attend the conference, and look forward to staying up-to-date on the groundbreaking work constantly happening in the realm of critical animal studies. Perhaps I’ll see some of ya’ll at next year’s conference!

In solidarity, Ali.

Vegan in Florence, Part 3

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Well, dear readers, my adventures in Florence, Italy have come to a close, but I still have one more round of vegan Italian cuisine to share with you all. The last few days of my trip included day trips to the nearby towns of Siena and Fiesole, both of which boast magnificent churches and stunning views of the Italian countryside; a dinner party with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousin; and a theater jaunt to see the previously on-Broadway show Stomp. And of course…tons of tasty vegan noms. Here are a couple culinary highlights from my final days in Florence:

Il Vegetariano

Via delle Ruote 30r, Florence, Italy 50129

My travel companion Gabe shows off the front of Il Vegetariano.

My travel companion Gabe shows off the front of Il Vegetariano.

I first discovered this 30-some-year-old staple of Florence’s vegetarian scene three years ago when I spent the summer with my aunt, and eagerly returned to introduce this popular, all-organic eatery to my travel companion Gabe. Luckily, from that summer I gleaned the experiential know-how about how Il Vegetariano works, so that I could lead Gabe along in the process. You see, Il Vegetariano’s set-up differs from that of a traditional sit-down restaurant, functioning in a more cafeteria-style manner. Upon entering the restaurant, the diner proceeds past the two dining rooms to greet the kind bespectacled man behind the ordering counter, seated beside a colorful blackboard that lists the daily-rotating menu of small plates, salad bar, entrees, and desserts. The diner puts their order in at the counter, pays, picks up a tray, and stands in the line in front of the salad bar/dessert counter to wait for another kind balding man to grab a freshly made plate from the kitchen, and/or to choose from an array of raw and cooked vegetables to enjoy in a salad. Finally, the diner can choose a seat in one of two mahogany-clad dining rooms with exposed brick walls, or on a covered patio just behind the restaurant.

Dessert case, salad bar, ordering station, and pick-up counter at Il Vegetariano.

Dessert case, salad bar, ordering station, and pick-up counter at Il Vegetariano.

During our visit, Gabe and I opted to enjoy the warm weather and took a seat on the patio. Peckish after meandering around the city all morning, we dove into our bowls of immensely savory brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes, cauliflower, and parsley. Herbaceous and full-bodied, the pilaf’s flavor showcased just how complex simple vegetables and grains can taste. Of course, considering that Il Vegetariano describes their wide dessert selection as their specialty, Gabe and I simply had to sample a slice of a crumbly tart jam-packed with succulent pears and apricots. Certainly no complaints there, especially when my entire meal cost less than 10 euro.

Brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes and cauliflower.

Brown rice pilaf with roasted artichokes and cauliflower.

Pear-Apricot Crumble Tart

Pear-Apricot Crumble Tart

Gelateria Perche No!

Via dei Tavolini 19r, Florence, Italy 50122

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Gabe once again serves as my restaurant model.

Venturing out for gelato after enjoying lunch at home became a favorite ritual of mine and Gabe’s during the latter portion of our stay in Florence. While we most often headed to Festival del Gelato due to its close proximity to our apartment, Gabe and I opted on one occasion to sample another of Florence’s famous gelaterias, founded in 1939 and known as Perche No! (aka “why not!”). Upon first entering the small shop, I noticed and hugely appreciated that the gelateria had separated its non-dairy gelatos into a separate cooler, making ordering much simpler for myself and others who avoid dairy. On the day that we visited, Perche No!’s non-dairy flavors included banana, dark chocolate, pear, soy-based hazelnut, soy-based vanilla, strawberry, lemon, and raspberry. Funnily enough, Gabe and I both chose the soy hazelnut and raspberry to satisfy our daily gelato quota. While both gelatos held the exact flavor essence of their respective fruit and nut bases, the soy hazelnut proved less creamy than the rice-based hazelnut that we often enjoyed at Festival (strange, considering that rice milk tends to hold a much thinner texture than soy milk!). Regardless, Perche No! boasts some darn tasty gelato.

The "senza latte" (without milk) case at Perche No!

The “senza latte” (without milk) case at Perche No!

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Miso di Riso

Borgo degli Albizi 54r, Florence, Italy, 50122

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A couple of weeks before arriving in Florence, my mother emailed me to express her excitement that she had discovered a newly opened vegetarian restaurant called Miso di Riso (translated to rice miso) along the main pedestrian street in her neighborhood. As such, I made it a point to accompany my mother to lunch at the eatery during one of my final days in Florence. Brightly lit, filled with verdant potted plants, and boasting a plethora of vibrantly colored décor, Miso di Riso provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere in which to enjoy some macrobiotic-inspired vegan noms.

After ordering, my mother and I check out the dessert case to find such tantalizing creations as two mixed berry tarts, as well one with a semolina crust and chocolate ganache filling. While we opted to head to Festival del Gelato for dessert after our meal, Miso di Riso’s bakery selection definitely impressed me.

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Soon after we had sufficiently ogled at the dessert case, my mother and I received our plates. I chose to sample a savory tart of cauliflower and seaweed with a remarkably flavorful crust, accompanied by a meltingly tender pile of curried cabbage and a lightly dressed salad of gorgeous greens and shaved carrots. As for my mother, she opted for the tofu burger, complete with vegan mayonnaise and coupled with a colorful sauté of mixed vegetables, as well as a salad similar to mine. While both my mother and I “mm”-ed with delight at the features of our plate (the tart and burger) as well as at the impeccably fresh salads, the vegetable side dishes left us unimpressed—though tasty, they struck us as dishes easily made by any home cook. This new restaurant has a great base (and space!) on which to build, but it definitely requires improvement.

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Le Fate

Borgo Allegri 9r, Florence, Italy 50122

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About seven minutes before my mother, Gabe, and I planned to leave to see Stomp, my mother decided to call the restaurant at which we wanted to have dinner, only to find that they had no open tables for the night. Scrambling to find another eatery for the evening, we soon recalled another newly opened vegetarian restaurant that we had passed by on one of our evening passeggiare (walks), called Le Fate (translated to “the fairies”). With moments to spare, we secured a reservation and ran out the door to the theater.

That scramble for another restaurant resulted in one of the best gastronomic decisions of my trip, as the meal that my family and I enjoyed at Le Fate will live on in the Seiter family memory for years to come. True to its name, Le Fate boasts a rather enchanting dining room and a mystical menu: the four appetizers find inspiration in the four elements (earth, water, wind, and fire), while each of the entrees corresponds to one of the twelve astrological signs. Upon noticing the struggles of our English-speaking family to decipher the Italian menu, our charismatic waiter called the chef out of the kitchen to explain in detail every dish—VIP treatment, eh?

As a pre-meal amuse bouche, we each received a small crostini of house-made whole-grain bread spread with what I took to be an artichoke pate, served upon a leaf of soft and lemony sorrel. For an appetizer, the table opted to share a platter of house-made vegan cheeses and fruit compotes. Though I couldn’t discern the exact flavors of each of the cheeses, I could tell by the textures that two of them certainly featured agar-agar seaweed as a binder, while the other two seemed to be aged nut spread-type cheeses. Unfortunately, the latter two lacked the creaminess integral to satisfying cheese, though their flavors proved intensely complex. I have absolutely no complaints about the sweet and expertly spiced compotes, however.

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While I found the vegan cheeses a tad lacking, there was absolutely nothing subpar about any of our entrees. Indeed, every bite (both of my own dish and stolen from the plates of others) offered a new flavor and mouthfeel, providing for a hugely interesting and astronomically delicious meal.

The only diner of our party to order the dish that corresponded to their actual astrological sign, I chose the Vergine (Virgo) plate as soon as I heard the chef say “dates,” “fennel,” and “homemade basil tofu.” The bowl of homemade noodles coated in a creamy, succulent sauce of dates and caramelized fennel that I enjoyed that night still enters my dreams. Providing textural contrast to the silky pasta were leaves of bitter radicchio spread with house-made basil tofu and topped with orange segments and toasted hazelnuts. An inspired dish.

My mother opted for the Gemelli (Gemini) plate, which featured a bowl of fluffy-on-the-inside-crusty-on-the-outside biscuits in three savory varieties, accompanied by a number of spread and toppings: a mild golden chutney of onions and apples, a rainbow-colored salad of minced peppers, a fluffy and cloud-white vegan mayonnaise, oil-marinated heirloom white beans, and quenelles of smooth hummus. Um, wow.

Finally, both Gabe and my father chose the Capricorno (Capricorn) plate: creamy black lentil soup topped with a puree of white root vegetables, served alongside perfectly round balls of falafel with carrot-tamarind spread, and rounded out by a salad of mixed greens and ripe berries. Need I say more?

Though we all found ourselves too full to enjoy dessert, we did end the meal quite enjoyably by speaking with the bubbly owner of the restaurant—a longtime vegan and astronomer who gave us each our horoscopes before leaving. Le Fate’s inviting atmosphere, it’s enormously hospitable waitstaff, and its inspired and tantalizing culinary creations have earned a top spot on my list of most memorable travel restaurants, and I can hardly wait to return during my next trip to Italy (crossing my fingers that it’s soon!).

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Though I probably experienced one of the more perfect spring breaks of my entire life during the past two weeks, I’m happy to find myself back at school and among the community of my on-campus vegan living cooperative. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the spring on Farmers Market Vegan!

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan in Florence, Part 2

Welcome, dear readers, to round two of my special post series for the month of March: “Farmers Market Vegan Goes to Italy”! My last post, reaching you from the art-filled city of Florence, offered you a taste (pun very much intended) of the first of my vegan adventures during my two-week stay in Italy; check it out to fulfill your daily quota of quaint cafes, traditional Neapolitan pizzas, and dairy-free gelato.

In the days following my last post, I and my travel companion Gabe have continued our slow and steady touring of the city, journeying to Piazzale Michelangelo, an elevated square in Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city (and the trek up the steep winding roads to the Piazzale will also take your breath away).

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In addition to the sightseeing above and the restaurant exploration below, I also discovered a storefront of the vegan cosmetic company LUSH, which practices ethical product sourcing and actively combats animal testing. Further evidence of a growing consciousness of animal rights in Italy!

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Of course, Gabe and I have also continued our survey of Florence’s vegan scene. Our second round of culinary gems include:

Mercato Sant’Ambrogio

Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti, Florence, Italy 50121

Touted as Florence’s second-best open-air market (close behind the Mercato Centrale), Mercato Sant’Ambrogio offers a colorful bounty of fresh produce alongside artisanal bread, marinated jarred veggies, and other goods. Open everyday except Sunday, the market is located just around the corner from my parents’ apartment, and my mother and I pay it a visit on most mornings (in much of Europe, grocery shopping happens on a daily rather than weekly basis like in the U.S.). Spring has arrived here earlier than in the States (not too excited about returning to a snowy New York in a couple of days), and the market accordingly boasts piles of green goodies like artichokes, fava beans, delicate greens, and Romanesco cauliflower alongside early fruits like strawberries and pears. Much of the produce has made appearances in the dinners that I and my mother have cooked at my parents’ apartment, including steamed artichokes served with vegan aioli; platters of roasted veggies; crisp and simple salads; and breakfast bowls of fresh fruit, granola, and hazelnut milk.

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From top right: globe artichokes, zucchini with blossoms, Romanesco cauliflower, enoki mushrooms, mixed lettuce, and fava beans.

La Raccolta

Via Giacomo Leopardi, 2r, Florence, Italy 50121

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The La Raccolta storefront.

The La Raccolta dining room.

The La Raccolta dining room.

A natural foods store complete with non-dairy milks of every ilk, ancient grain bread, dried seaweeds, and a well-stocked bulk section comprises the front of La Raccolta, while through a doorway in the back you’ll find a macrobiotic restaurant in an inviting dining room with walls lined with brightly colored art of various African animals. Along with the Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, the grocery section of La Raccolta has provided an almost-daily destination for me while in Florence, fulfilling all of my soy yogurt, non-dairy milk, granola, and apple cider vinegar needs. Due to the pretty steep prices of La Raccolta’s restaurant, however, I’ve only dined there once during this particular stay in Florence—but boy, do I always enjoy my meal there.

Vegan items make up the vast majority of La Raccolta’s impressive menu, complete with whole-grain pasta dishes, seitan scallopini, and macrobiotic-style vegetable dishes accompanied by lip-smacking sauces. Despite such an extensive menu, however, I’ve ordered the same dish on all three of my past visits to La Raccolta (I first ventured there three summers ago when I lived with my aunt for three months): the mixed platter. This substantial plate is composed of 7-10 separate preparations of roasted, steamed, and sautéed veggies embellished with creamy sauces, accompanied by fresh raw salads and more hearty grain and bean dishes. On the platter pictured below, I found (from the top of the plate and working clockwise) a gingery sauté of cabbage and carrots; herb-roasted potatoes; a crisp salad of lettuce and shaved carrots in olive oil and vinegar; a delicately flavored mash of fava beans; parsley-packed orechiette (ear-shaped pasta) with broccoli in a creamy sauce; herb-roasted kabocha squash; steamed purple cabbage in a bright yellow-orange sauce; and steamed broccoli and green cabbage in a tahini sauce. All so simple, yet so lovingly prepared and bursting with freshness.

After such a pleasant savory experience, I couldn’t help but sample one of La Raccolta’s many vegan dolci (desserts): a multi-layered pastry similar to phyllo dough stuffed with almond cream and topped with caramelized pears (known in Italy as mille foglie, or “cake of one thousand sheets”). A transcendental experience.

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Festival del Gelato

Via del Corso, 75r, Florence, Italy

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Gabe and I have made a point of enjoying una coppa of gelato once per day, for no afternoon ritual can beat reveling in creamy, artisanally prepared yumminess that tastes exactly of the real fruit, nut, or other edible that comprises its flavor. One of Florence’s most popular gelaterias, Festival del Gelato finds itself right next to the Duomo, one of Florence’s most popular tourist attractions. In addition to a number of fruit-based gelatos that contain no dairy (including mango, strawberry, and lemon), Festival boasts two rice milk-based gelatos (cappuccino and nocciolia, aka hazelnut), neither of which, as an added bonus, contain sugar! Surprisingly, Festival’s rice milk gelatos prove creamier than those based in soy milk that I’ve enjoyed at other gelaterias, though their fruit-based gelatos tend to harbor an ever-so-slightly more diluted fruit flavor than other gelatos I’ve sampled. I feel like the spectacle of their neon lights make up for this disappointment, though.

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That’s all for this round of vegan Florentine extravaganzas! Look out for my next post on eating vegan in Florence.

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan in Florence, Part 1

Don’t miss your chance to win a prize pack—including free product coupons, a t-shirt, and a vintage-style metal lunchbox—from Tofurky! Be sure to enter Farmers Market Vegan’s latest giveaway by Friday, March 22.

Buongiorno from Florence! As I mentioned in my recent post regarding the connections between eating disorders and digestive complications, you, dear readers, can expect a number of posts relaying my adventures in Florence, Italy during the upcoming weeks. My parents have subletted an apartment here until late April—joining my aunt, a longtime resident of the city—and have graciously invited me to spend my college’s spring break in the art capital of Italy.

In the days leading up to my departure, I encountered many inquiries from friends concerning the availability of vegan food in Florence. To their surprise, I informed them that navigating Italy as a vegan proves incredibly easy—moreso, probably, than navigating many areas of the U.S. For example, a vegan in Italy can always find an animal-free pasta dish, even if that comprises of a simple bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce (it’ll be the best damn spaghetti and tomato sauce you’ve ever had, too). A vegan in Italy can always order pizza with tons of veggies and no cheese. A vegan in Italy can always enjoy gelato, since all fruit-based gelatos contain no dairy or eggs. A vegan in Italy can gorge themselves on every type of bread imaginable. A vegan in Italy can always find the freshest of vegetables—grilled, marinated, tossed in green salads, and served with plenty of olive oil. A vegan in Italy can always find olives. What more could you need?

Gabe's first true gelato experience!

Gabe’s first true gelato experience! Mmm, vegan blackberry and rice-based hazelnut.

In addition to the inherently vegan aspects of Italian cuisine, I’ve also noticed a proliferation of uniquely vegan goods and restaurants in Florence. I know of four well-stocked natural foods stores, all of which boast soy/almond/rice/hazelnut milks, soy yogurt, marinated tofu, seitan, vegan mayonnaise, and animal-free pastries. Five all-vegetarian restaurants have done successful business for at least the past four years, one of which has enjoyed a cult following since 1981. Hole-in-the-wall panini shops have begun advertising vegan sandwiches on their outdoor menu displays. Waiters understand the word “vegan” rather than having to interpret my horribly pronounced “Che sono qui senza latte ni carne?” (“Is there anything here without milk or meat?”). Yes, eating animal-free in Florence poses no difficulty for your average vegan traveler.

During the first couple days of our two-week stay in my parents’ Florentine apartment, my travel companion Gabe and I acclimated ourselves to the city in the most effective and enjoyable manner possible: trekking on foot through the cobbled streets. On most of our excursions, we simply stepped out of the apartment and started walking, map in hand but with no plan. The familiarity of Florence and ability to navigate it surprised me; I hadn’t visited the city since the summer of 2011, yet I remembered the streets, shops, and neighborhoods that I’ve known sporadically since infancy. Our walking adventures led us through the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio (the outdoor produce market near my parents’ apartment), to grocery shop at La Raccolta (my favorite natural foods store and macrobiotic restaurant), across the Ponte Vecchio and to the arsty Oltrarno neighborhood (which literally translates to “the other side of the river”), through the Palazzo Pitti and its Giardino di Boboli (the palace-turned-museum and adjoining gardens), and of course through all of the piazzas that form the basis of Florence’s street layout. A more structured adventure took us through the home of Michaelangelo’s family—known as Casa Buonarotti—led by my talented art historian of an aunt.

My parents and cohorts (Gabe and Connor) getting ready to tour Michaelangelo's house.

My parents and cohorts (Gabe and Connor) getting ready to tour Michaelangelo’s house.

Needless to say, throughout our meanderings, Gabe and I reveled in the artful simplicity of Italian cuisine. Below are a couple of favorite eating experiences from our first days in Florence:

Le Vespe Café

Via Ghibellina 76R, Florence, Italy 50125

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This adorable café, clad in painted Florentine tiles and aqua-blue décor, provided haven for my parents when the WiFi in their apartment died for a week. Offering free internet access alongside a selection of organic and vegan-friendly baked goods, smoothies, juices, sandwiches, and salads, Le Vespe Café provides an ideal homey atmosphere in which to while away the hours with spring break schoolwork. Gabe and I have spent a number of our afternoons working in the café, but have only enjoyed a bit of edible fare, including a berry smoothie and a cardamom-cinnamon spiced latte known as Indian Kofi. I hope to return to Le Vespe during the lunch hour to sample their tofu scramble, homemade veggie burger, tofu salad, and vegan red velvet cupcakes.

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Il Pizzaiuolo

Via de Macci 113R, Florence, Italy 50122

My parents stumbled upon this unassuming, wood-fired pizzeria on the first night of their three-month stay in Florence, only to find out later from my aunt that the Florentines regard its pizza as the highest quality pies in the whole city. On the third night of my visit, Gabe and I joined my parents, my aunt, and my 11-year-old cousin to experience the traditional Neopolitan pizza that the city of Florence (apparently) raves about. Though not a vegan establishment in any sense of the word, Il Pizzaiuolo does offer a number of animal-free pasta dishes (one of which my father enjoyed that consisted of spaghetti, tomato-basil sauce, and capers) and veggie-loaded pizzas. Two pizzas on the menu—the Marinara with tomato sauce, oregano, and olive oil; and the Boscaiola with tomato sauce, mushrooms, artichokes, oregano, and basil—are vegan as-is, while even more pizzas lend themselves well to veganization. For example, I opted for the Vegetariana with tomato sauce, eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers and requested no mozzarella cheese, which the waitress happily obliged. Indeed, the Florentines have judged Il Pizzaiuolo correctly—the tender yet crunchy crust, charred flavor from the wood-fired oven, sweet tomato sauce, and succulent veggies all serve to render Il Pizzaiuolo’s namesake items mouthwateringly delicious.

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Vegetariana pizza with eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and arugula.

Bosciaola pizza with mushrooms and artichokes.

Boscaiola pizza with mushrooms and artichokes.

5 e Cinque

Piazza della Passera 1, Florence, Italy 50125

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I frequented the all-vegetarian 5 e Cinque during the summer that I lived with my aunt in Florence three years ago, and excitedly returned with Gabe for lunch while in the city’s Oltrarno neighborhood. Sporting not but five tables (hence the name) in a brightly lit dining room on a small piazza, 5 e Cinque serves a selection of artisanal yet unpretentious vegetarian dishes (many of which are vegan-friendly) and specializes in the thin, crunchy-on-the-outside-creamy-on-the-inside chickpea flour pancakes known in Italy as cecina (and in France as socca). During our lunchtime visit, Gabe and I both started off with a slice each of cecina, hot out of the oven and brought to our table almost immediately after we ordered. While we waited for our entrees, Gabe and I munched on some soft, salted bread for which we didn’t even get charged (Italians have a habit of bringing to your table supposedly free items like water then adding them to the bill without telling you). To follow, I licked clean a pilaf of farro (an ancient wheat berry) and spicy broccoli served over a succulent puree of winter squash, while Gabe reveled in a steamy bowl of curried vegetables served with a scoop of couscous. Impressively delicious and surprisingly inexpensive, 5 e Cinque holds a special place in my heart.

Cecina, hot out of the oven.

Cecina, hot out of the oven.

Ahh, Italian bread...

Ahh, Italian bread…

Spicy farro & broccoli over squash puree.

Spicy farro & broccoli over squash puree.

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Curried veggies with couscous.

Gelateria della Passera

Piazza della Passera 15, Florence, Italy 50125

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Just across the piazza from 5 e Cinque resides a tiny gelateria that offers house-made, artisinally prepared gelatos of unique flavors. To boot, they feature a blackboard of that day’s available flavors, separated into those con latte (with milk) and those senza latte (without milk, vegan, yay!). On any given day, their vegan selections include a number of fruit-based gelatos (that taste like the essence of fruit packaged in a creamy dessert) as well as at least one almond milk-based gelato. On this particular visit to Gelateria della Passera, I opted to try the pera (pear) and carezza (almond milk base with chamomile) flavors; the former boasted tiny flecks of pear skin while the latter held an intense flavor of marzipan. Divine.

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Stay tuned for my next post of Florentine adventures!

Until next time, Ali.

Digestive Woes of Eating Disorders and Why I’m Not Gluten-Free Anymore

Hello again, dear readers! After a much-needed month-ish-long break from the blogosphere, I’m thrilled to return to the good ol’ blog, especially because, boy oh boy, do I have some exciting posts, reviews, and giveaways lined up for all of you. For the next two weeks, my posts will come to you from Florence, Italy—a city near and dear to my heart, where I’ve visited my aunt every other year since the age of three. This year, I’m fortunate enough to spend my college’s spring break there with one of my very good friends and my parents. Rest assured, I’ll be providing you, dear readers, with plenty of reports of Florentine vegan eats and adventures, intertwined with two super fabulous giveaways. Moral of the story: keep a close eye on Farmers Market Vegan for the month of March! (And beyond, of course).

The post to break my blogging hiatus, however, does not concern Italy or free vegan products. Rather, it continues the conversations proliferated by National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week 2014. Though the event concluded a couple Saturdays ago, I feel it hugely important to make an ongoing discussion of this highly stigmatized topic.

As so often happens, the inimitable Gena of Choosing Raw planted the idea seedlings for this post. Two weeks ago Gena featured three highly thoughtful posts in light of NEDA Week 2014—a mention in the first of which particularly caught my attention. In her post “Five Reasons to Embrace Recovery,” Gena lists the fact that recovery can save your life (a notion I touch upon in my narrative on Our Hen House regarding my recovery through veganism). In addition to the immediate physical symptoms of eating disorders, Gena notes the significant long-term health tolls EDs can take on one’s body. For me, the most notable of these are digestive disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

If you’ve followed Farmers Market Vegan for a substantial amount of time, you’ll know that I’ve battled digestive stress for about three years now, very much in conjunction with my ED recovery. I chalked up frequent abdominal cramping, gas, and less-than-happy trips to the restroom to my assumed consumption of insufficiently washed produce, spoiled leftovers, and certain hard-to-digest foods. To mitigate these supposed culprits of digestive woe, I incorporated any and all foods touted as digestives into my diet—fermented foods; spices like ginger, fennel, peppermint, and their teas; etc. I joined in the recent widespread condemnation of gluten. I supplemented with digestive enzymes and probiotics. I developed a short series of yoga postures known to facilitate digestion. Nothing significantly improved my symptoms.

This past December, I finally decided that something beyond food choice and sanitization proved responsible for my ongoing digestive troubles. Indeed, a visit to my internal medicine doctor provided me with a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)—a functional disorder of the large intestine that affects bowel contraction, resulting in cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and other fun symptoms. Every case of IBS is highly individualized, meaning that there exists no one medication or treatment for the disorder. Luckily, IBS does not affect long-term health or cause other health complications, but can significantly impact daily quality of life (and oh boy, does it). While it’s difficult to know that I’ll have to deal with IBS symptoms for the rest of my life, I’m super happy to give a name to my digestive woes, rather than to worry at every meal about how my stomach will feel afterwards, or to hypothesize about other more severe health complications that might cause my symptoms.

Interestingly, a number of women I know who have a history of disordered eating also now suffer from IBS which, according to recent research, proves a common correlation. Out of 73 ED patients involved in a 2010 study, 97% suffered from at least one functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) (a category that includes IBS). Another study prior to this one found that, out of 89 respondents, 87.6% had an onset of their ED prior to IBS symptoms, 6.7% had an onset of IBS prior to their ED, and 5.6% had an onset of their EDs and IBS the same time. Additionally, the latter study noted that those who suffer from EDs and IBS tend to share certain personality traits—perfectionism, negative self-evaluation, self-blame, chronic stress— and early developmental factors—childhood trauma, physical and sexual abuse. They also overwhelmingly tend to be women.

I find it the fact that there exists such a correlation between EDs and IBS fascinating—and completely logical. On a rather obvious level, disordered eating behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, and restriction all but guarantee digestive complications. Less conspicuous, though, are the psychological similarities between both disorders: EDs and IBS prompt a “hyper-vigilance to internal sensations” and eating behaviors, as noted in research by Perkins et al. As I mentioned above, I first attributed my digestive complications to certain foods I consumed, demonizing gluten, peanut butter, and other foods known to cause digestive troubles. Such a habit reminds me of Steven Bratman’s definition of orthorexia as “a tendency to assume that every single physical symptom is a direct result of something we’ve eaten,” and thus signals to me a severe hindrance in my recovery largely inspired by digestive ailments. Developing a similar mindset towards food as that which plagued me during the most intense periods of my ED, I became essentially scared of certain foods due to my perception of their responsibility for my digestive troubles. To me, it comes as no surprise that many other women have experienced this phenomenon, especially considering the common advice given by internal medicine practitioners to keep a food journal to help identify “trigger foods,” or those that tend to cause an individual digestive upset.

Thankfully, with a clear plan of how to deal with my IBS came the much more relaxed mindset toward food that I had worked to cultivate throughout my recovery. Since I consume such a wholesome diet, it seems nonsensical to me (and medical practitioners to whom I’ve spoken) that treating my IBS would necessitate a dietary shift, or a naming of “trigger foods.” Instead, I’ve started taking a prescription-strength probiotic as well as a teaspoon of psyllium husk (a portion of an Indian plant that is essentially all soluble fiber) stirred into my morning smoothie everyday. These remedies have worked marvelously since I began employing them, and have considerably aided me in shunning the “food is enemy, food makes your gut unhappy” voice inside my head.

With this foregoing, I’ve re-embraced the foods that I perceived to upset my digestion. Most notably, I’ve begun eating gluten again, and with vigor. Both my body and soul have responded with amazing positivity towards bread, sandwiches, and other glutinous foods—my goodness, does it feel good to bite into the chewy-crunchy-creamy layers of a chickpea salad sandwich again! Though dubious at first that a reintroduction of gluten would not cause me digestive upset, it makes sense to me now, especially considering the fact that “dietary variety also helps to help bolster digestive strength,” a fact that Gena has witnessed first-hand from working with a GI doctor. So, dear readers, you can expect to see some glutinous recipes appearing on the blog from now on (though I’ll be sure to include gluten-free substitutions for those of you who suffer from actual gluten/wheat intolerances).

I think that the connection between eating disorders and digestive complications both emphasizes the long-term health detriments of EDs, and suggests a more understanding approach to treating digestive disorders. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, and/or if you’ve had similar experiences.

And with that, I’ve got a plane to catch! My next post will reach you from Florence, Italy.

Until next time, Ali.

Thanksgiving Adventures in NYC 2013

Fair warning, dear readers—I’m planning a hibernation from the blogosphere from the moment I conclude this post until Saturday, December 21. As the end of the academic semester nears, my studies (read: mountain of essays) require my full attention, and the ol’ blog must fall by the wayside for a bit. Fear not, however, for December 21 marks the beginning of my winter break, during which I plan to return to my thrice-per-week posting routine of yore. Additionally, I’ve let go of a handful of extracurricular commitments for the spring semester, in part to allow for a sustained level of relatively high-frequency blogging. So bear with me for the next three weeks—the end of the academic tunnel shines bright!

Though I’m already anticipating winter break, I actually just returned to campus from a three-day Thanksgiving extravaganza in New York City, accompanied by my dear parents. Last November marked the onset of our family’s current Thanksgiving tradition of celebrating in NYC, and we enthusiastically did so again this year.

Deeply appreciating the irony of enjoying Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant whose culture lends absolutely no consideration to the problematic holiday, my parents and I returned to Korean vegan restaurant Hangawi for the second consecutive Thanksgiving. Seated on colorful pillows at sunken wooden tables while not wearing shoes, I reveled in my family’s redefinition of a holiday steeped in the slaughter of over 5 million turkeys, the impending blatant consumerism, and the violent colonialism of American settlers still present today. Instead, Thanksgiving for me now means reuniting with my beloved parents, exploring an ever-exhilarating city, and chowing down on sizzling stone bowls of crispy brown rice and succulent veggies.

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In the above collage encompassing our dinner at Hangawi, the top two photos on the right depict shared appetizers of a plate of tempura-fried kabocha squash, broccoli, eggplant, and carrots (aptly named “Fritters Galore“); and another of shiitake mushroom caps stuffed with what I believe to have been a mixture of sautéed tofu and herbs. Light, crispy, and served with a sweet dipping sauce, the fritters provided a delightful beginning to our meal, while the stuffed mushroom caps served as an intriguing dish bursting with umami flavors. For our entrees, all three of us ordered the sensory experience of a sizzling stone rice bowl—my own Organic Zen Stone Bowl contained crispy brown rice, juicy wilted mountain greens, toothsome mushrooms, and shredded zucchini and carrots in a mild dressing of chili paste. In between mouthfuls of hot rice, we snagged bites of spicy and sour kimchi from a communal plate. Too enamored by the savory portion of our meal to pass up dessert, my parents and I opted to split a slice of spiced soy cheesecake, garnished with slices of fresh persimmon. This cheesecake may constitute the most impressive edible that entered my mouth during my four days in NYC, and my father more than adequately reiterates this sentiment with the following quote: “This cheesecake is easily better than any dairy-based cheesecake I’ve ever had.” Coming from a man who has celebrated his birthday with a cheesecake every year since childhood, I’d call this quite the victory.

The next afternoon, after an enlivening yoga practice at the ideologically vegan studio of Jivamukti, I eagerly introduced my parents to my most recently discovered restaurant gem of M.O.B (check out my rave review of the establishment here). Though rather abbreviated from their dinner menu, M.O.B’s lunch menu still includes their impressive vegan charcuterie in the form of a hearty, chewy crimini mushroom-lentil burger loaded with “secret sauce,” Brooklyn Brine pickles, and cashew cheese on a fluffy sweet potato bun. My father, myself, and my good friend Gabe (a native Brooklynite who met up with my parents and I for lunch) each ordered the burger, while my mother opted for the daily M.O.B.—a flatbread in the shape of the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge heaped with sautéed kale and shiitake mushrooms, horseradish aioli, and shaved nut cheese. M.O.B. also offered a special that day of roasted brussels sprouts in paprika aioli, which my mother and I could not forgo.

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After bidding goodbye to Gabe, my parents and I trekked northward to Williamsburg to experience the unparalleled decadence of Dunwell Doughnuts. I had patronized Dunwell’s on multiple past NYC excursions with Gabe, and brimmed with excitement to introduce my parents to the unquestioned best doughnuts in NYC (not the best vegan doughnuts, mind you; the best doughnuts. Period). Positively captivated by the glass case of fluffy, glazed fried dough, my father ordered six doughnuts for the three of us to enjoy during our remaining few days in the city. My father’s obsession only grew upon first bite of a maple-glazed doughnut, and demanded that we snap multiple photos of our family at the shop to share with his siblings on Facebook (funnily enough, one of my father’s sisters married a man named Dunwell, which only furthered my father’s insistence on photo-taking). Along with the maple-glazed that my father first enjoyed, the varieties of our half-dozen doughnuts included chocolate-glazed with almonds, chocolate-glazed with coconut, and strawberry buttercream-frosted with coconut (otherwise known as the “Pink Lady).

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Plenty of walking around Williamsburg helped us work up another appetite, pointing us toward another favorite family restaurant of Angelica Kitchen for dinner. Forgoing appetizers (except for a small dish of kimchi. You can’t miss Angelica Kitchen’s pickles!) since we knew to expect gigantic entrée portions, my parents and I ordered our main dishes straightaway. My mother opted for the night’s special of a tomatoey lentil stew topped with roasted brussels sprouts and accompanied by steamed greens and pickled vegetables, while my father and I both ordered the “Dish a Dixie”—a new, southern-inspired addition to the menu consisting of grilled tempeh in barbeque sauce, a crispy coleslaw in a creamy almond dressing, steamed greens with maple-glazed pecans, and a generous wedge of maple cornbread with green chilis. While I adored the robust nuttiness of the tempeh (produced by an artisan company in Philadelphia), my father found the flavor too strong, and questioned whether one could truly call the sauce “barbeque,” since he thought that it lacked adequate tanginess. Even if the tempeh did not live up to its full potential, the cornbread—an absolutely perfect balance of moist, dense, fluffy, and bursting with corn flavor—certainly helped to redeem the dish, as did the surprisingly delicious coleslaw.

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For our final full day in the city, my parents and I ventured to two restaurants that we had never before patronized: Peacefood Café for lunch and V-Note for dinner. I had heard glowing reviews of both eateries from multiple reliable sources, and found myself quite impressed with both. At Peacefood Café, I experienced a craving for a good ol’ salad, and opted to try the Asian Greens Salad—a mix of tender baby greens, crunchy jicama, shredded carrots, and diced tomatoes in a bright, tangy dressing of garlic, ginger, cilantro, ponzu, and sesame, all topped with thin strips of marinated baked tempeh. Paninis caught the eyes of both of my parents. My father—ever infatuated with seitan—ordered the Fried Seitan Medallion Panini with cashew cheese, arugula, tomatoes, and pesto, while my mother—ever infatuated with Mediterranean cuisine—ordered the Mediterranean Oven-Dried Vegetable Panini with cashew cheese, basil-spinach pesto, and tender broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. In between bites of our salads and sandwiches, we munched on a plate of Indian-spiced chickpea fries—crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside—with the creamiest aioli I’ve ever experienced (yes, I licked the aioli dipping bowl clean).

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Too satisfied from our entrees to consider dessert, we opted not to partake in the many offerings in the bakery case; though, considering the tantalizing variety of sweets, we certainly must return to Peacefood Café in the near future.

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From upper left continuing clockwise: raw coconut cashew cheesecake topped with pistachios; gluten-free veggie biscuits and iced cinnamon rolls; banana bread; strawberry shortcakes; carrot cake with cream cheese frosting; peanut butter cheesecake (all vegan, of course!).

After lunch, my parents and I moseyed over to Broadway to catch a 3-hour matinee performance of my favorite Shakespeare play—Richard III—before heading to the upper east side for dinner at the vegan wine bar and bistro known as V-Note. V-Note’s atmosphere provides an immediate sense of comfort: cream-colored faux-leather benches line the mahogany walls, fluffy geometrically patterned pillows grace every seat, and candles burn brightly. Seated at the back-most table, my parents and I began scanning the extensive (yet not overwhelming), varied, and unique menu, complete with full sections of starters, salads, entrees, and sides. Though we could have easily created a meal simply by sharing a number of starters (as I’m sure many V-Note patrons do, given its purported status as a tapas-style restaurant), my parents and I decided to split one appetizer and each order entrees, my father seeking to also leave room for dessert.

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We began the meal with the Mushroom Calamari Fra Diavlo—herbed and breaded mushroom rings served with a tangy cocktail dipping sauce and a squeeze of lemon. Though lacking the hearty, “meaty” texture of many robust mushrooms (indeed, I thought the rings proved a bit soggy), the calamari harbored a satisfying slippery texture, a toothsome crunch from the breading, and an unctuous flavor, while I probably could have drank an entire glass of the homemade cocktail sauce. While I found the appetizer a tad lacking on the texture front, I forgot my slight discontent as soon as I took the first bite of my entrée, the Tofu “Salmon” with Mushroom Scallops—a slab of beet-marinated and grilled tofu topped with a dilled leek tartar sauce and shaved fennel over crispy black rice and tender broccolini, served alongside medallions of lobster mushrooms atop a white wine-mushroom reduction. To my immense surprise, the tofu reflected quite accurately the smoky flavor and flaky, charred texture of grilled salmon steaks, especially when coupled with the piquant tartar sauce. Seeing as salmon constitutes the only animal food for which I’ve ever experienced cravings of any sort, this dish left me duly contented (not to mention incredibly close to licking the plate).

As for my parents, Mom ordered the Creamy Three Mushroom Risotto—a mix of shiitake, trumpet, and cremini mushrooms studded with sweet peas in a Dijon mustard sauce—while seitan-loving Dad opted for the Seitan Cordon Bleu—breaded seitan cutlets served with dilled and truffled mashed potatoes, sautéed swiss chard, and a shiitake reduction. Needless to say, both of my folks sang the praises of their respective dishes.

Only my father had tummy space left for dessert, and excitedly partook in the Chocolate Ganache Cake—a three-tiered cube of creamy chocolate ganache and peanut butter mousse served alongside a scoop of ice cream. Pure decadence.

While my parents and I had reservations for brunch at Candle 79 the next morning, we had to cancel due to complications to my travel plans because of the train derailment on the Metro-North railroad. Rest assured, I returned to school safely, though the events certainly shook both my parents as well as the greater Vassar community. My heart goes out to the families affected by the accident.

On that rather somber note, dear readers, I bid you farewell for the next three weeks! Wish me luck in scaling my mountain of schoolwork.

Until next time, Ali.