Monday, June 29, 2009

Vacation, Vegan Style (Part 2)

Ah, my poor little blog...I have been terribly negligent, wrapped up long ago in some birthday blues (ahem- that was in April) and then just pure lack of motivation which turned into anxiety- you know how once you've put something off long enough, it suddenly looms enormous & overwhelming and it's embarrassingly a few months later...so let me just get to it already & share with you all the best vacation ever! So we last left off with the super fun wedding in Virgin Gorda and then we were off for some real relaxation in Vieques...

Oh, wait- also my Hard Candy giveaway from forever ago- the randomly drawn winner
(expertly overseen by the reputable professional over see-er cats, Booboo & Thelonious): Melody over at Melomeals!

Okay back to my post...before the actual relaxing part begins, I had to get over my tiny plane anxiety...I've been in some small planes before but this little 10 seater takes the cake and see the storm clouds blanketing the sky? As we waited at the San Juan airport to board, I was not a happy camper.
After a painstakingly long 25 minutes later where I felt every hop skip jump & dip our puddle-jumper made and of course, grasping my mala beads & chanting mantras the whole entire time, we landed safely. We picked up our car & off to the cool little place I found online: Tower Lofts at Villa Venti

Designed by architect, John Hix of the famous Hix Island House Vieques, we were able to experience his whole bringing the outdoors indoors at about half the cost. These minimalist concrete structures have no windows & outdoor showers. I have to admit being the city girl that I am, wasn't too thrilled about not having windows & perhaps finding more nature indoors than I would like...but the space was just amazing and super calming.

This is the view from the bed and yes, that's right, no windows...
We had our own private rooftop terrace with the most amazing views, our outdoor shower had the same views....




Unfamiliar with Vieques? It's a part of Puerto Rico. Vieques is the small island just off the coast of PR where the US Navy & Marine used to conduct bombings until years of bitter protests got them to finally leave in 2004. Because the Navy/Marines had occupied much of the island, once they left, whole tracts of untouched beaches were open to the public. The appeal of Vieques is that it isn't overly developed. There are no real big hotels except for a W Hotel making it's way in soon to take over the only big chain hotel, the Wyndham.

The allure of Vieques? Secluded paths like this one....
...leading to gorgeous empty beaches like this one, Blue Beach...which we renamed our private beach since there were only about 8 other people spread out so far that you could barely see them.

Another wonder in Vieques is the largest brightest bio-luminescent bay in the world- couldn't get a proper picture but basically when the water is agitated at night, billions of tiny microorganisms light up...stick your hand in the water & swish it around & the water lights up...really amazing. Hard to get the picture, think of your hand in the water with a glow around it...

We took a mangrove/biobay tour- it's the mangroves that make this bay the largest bio bay in the world. Mangroves support an amazing amount of wildlife from baby fish to oysters to herons and everything in between.

Vieques is also home to wild horses...you have to drive carefully because there are always horses around...like these horses hanging out in front of school.
The old part of town is charming as well-

And what's even better- decent vegan food options! Especially cool was the Sol Food cart at the entrance of the National Park/Beaches...

Marked "vegan"- a delicious quinoa salad and yummy marinated chickpea & bean salad...

Also yummy were these arepas- tasty flour puffs one flavored garlic, the other coconut along with tart lemonade made for a perfect snack and that orange stuff is the most delicious hot sauce ever- made in Vieques called Coqui Fire in various flavors of hot. My favorite was passionfruit.

Other vegan deliciousness to be had in Vieques? El Quenepo is vegetarian-friendly and will accommodate vegans- I was thrilled. My entree was a West Indian fried ravioli- basically a giant samosa with mango chutney, which was good but a little too sweet, but still yummy.

The best thing ever was the summer roll appetizer- it was so delicious. The micro greens had a distinct flavor, so delicate & so flavorful. This was my favorite.

Just a few doors down was Bili's, where I had a tasty vegetarian paella with chickpeas, raisins & pinenuts- made for great cold leftover at hot beach the next day!

Most evenings we were greeted by Brahmin cattle at the gate back at our place because they share the land with a farmer...it was pretty cool. They will ignore you by turning their behinds to you, except the little baby in the middle- staring straight ahead at us. Before we pulled up, I saw two of the younger ones playing & jumping each other- was so sweet.

As we pack the car up and head back to the tiny airport for the tiny puddle jumper, onto San Juan and then home, Toby & Pete barked their goodbyes. These two sweet dogs were rescued by the hotel owners. Pete had been tied to a tree & left to die and Toby had been abandoned at the airport. They are the sweetest dogs ever and I am grateful to stay at a place where the owners love their rescues as much as I do. The Vieques Humane Society has made a huge impact on the island- there are a few strays but they have been very successful with their spay & neuter program & adoptions, just another reason that I heart Vieques.

Last stop in my next post, a quick night in San Juan on the Enchanted Isle of Puerto Rico!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Vacation, Vegan Style (Part 1)

We've only just returned from our lovely vacation a week and a half ago but the abrupt reality of taxes and what now seems like the never-ending audit makes our vacation feel like a long ago dream.

Ah, but thankfully I have pictures to remind me that it was no dream...well actually I still have my tan alongside peeling skin (yuck) and mosquito bite marks to remind me as well but that just didn't sound as romantic.

Our trip began with a wedding in Virgin Gorda, BVI which then segued into much needed quiet time in Vieques, PR. As any prepared vegan traveler does, I did quite a bit of research into restaurants & food options for the places we were going to and armed myself with Primal Strips & ProBars as backup.

Getting to Virgin Gorda from New York required a flight to San Juan, then a transfer to a small 2o passenger plane to Tortola and then finally a 20min ferry onto Virgin Gorda. We left on a 6am flight & arrived in Virgin Gorda around 2pm, needless to say we were a bit tired but our complaints were cut short when we ran into the many Australians friends that had also arrived for the wedding (the bride is from Queensland). They flew 27 hours and were ready to party. I was impressed.

Here's a shot from the small passenger plane from Tortola- it's been a very long time since I have been on a plane that small & was a bit nervous (however compared to the tiny puddle jumper later on to Vieques, I would have been grateful for this plane!):
When we arrived, we knew we didn't have much time to really relax because there was another ferry to catch to take us to the welcome cocktail party on Sir Richard Branson's private island, Necker Island. The wedding party was staying there for a week so we got to party for a little bit the way celebrities do on Necker alongside Sir Branson. The party was quite decadent so it was really a shame that I was tired to begin with and after a few drinks I did not last long into the evening. No real pictures to share because it was dark on the island save for torchlight & two giant bonfires but it was a pretty amazing experience.

Here is the ferry that all the wedding guests were shuttled on- there were a few great actors & actress in attendance as well but the natural beauty of the sunset was the true show:
The next day, I was well rested & ready to explore The Baths which is THE thing to see in Virgin Gorda. We took a quick taxi ride and paid a small fee to enter The Baths which is a national park. Chickens, chicks & roosters abound. This is where I first realized that roosters crow all day, not just in the morning when the sun comes up.
To get to The Baths which I had assumed was simply a beach, you had to go down a 300yard trail/path. When we reached the bottom of the trail, we saw gorgeous turquoise water & giant rocks.
However the beach was quite small & the water was hard to swim in because of all the rocks, but we found a spot to settle in...we stayed on the small beach for about 40mins til some passerbys mentioned that we should go check out the path to The Caves and after some thought, we decided to check it out.

I can't believe we had been wasting our time sitting on that small beach when the true astounding beauty of The Baths was in the caves! Crawling through giant boulder formations & small tight trails, we discovered grottoes and to date the most amazing natural beauty I have ever seen. The pictures do no justice, everyone we passed on the caves were filled with awe.

Here is a pic of why it is called The Baths- grottoes like these, still as a bath. If you're brave, there are little paths through the water & rocks where you can dive off...
Emerging from the grottoes into stupendous rock formations, so many different landscapes in one place- simply breathtaking.
The paths take a little work to get through, holding onto rope to walk on slippery rock, crouching & climbing onto small ladders which can only fit one at a time...but even a city girl like myself managed in her flip flops.

In this pic, you can see the small queue forming below, waiting for us to come down so that they could go up. We lucked out that day because no cruise ships had pulled in- had the cruise ships been there, the trail would have been packed.

There was more to see like Devil's Bay, but by now we were ready for some food and opted for going back up & have a meal at Top of The Baths.

Veg options abound: Fried tofu (sans mayo dip) and a yummy lentil dish!


Meals were quite easy on the British Virgin Islands- there's always some West Indian veg curry roti to be had...and for breakfast, our hotel grilled some tomatoes, potatoes & and added a little guac spread. I also had a delicious vegan plate made up for me at Chez Bamboo- the owner is a transplant from NYC, which was cool.
The bride wore a gorgeous Oscar De La Renta gown. Both bride & groom looked so happy. The wedding took place on the beach at Little Dix Bay. Dinner was a giant buffet spread. I helped myself to some couscous, asparagus & salad followed by some mushroom pasta & roasted potatoes.
Here Fcat & I take a photo with the groom's sailing yacht, Athena in the background.
The reception ended with a great fireworks show and the after party moved onto to the boat.
It was a lovely affair and we were happy to have been a part of it. After all this celebrating, we were ready to head to Vieques for some rest & relaxtion...

Friday, March 20, 2009

In Search of Sand & Sun

Okay this picture of ProBars & seitan jerky plus

this picture of Alba vegan sunscreen and Kiss My Face bug repellant, etc plus

this picture of little kitties waiting patiently...

means, we are off on to what we hope is a fabulous vacation for the week!

Share with me your best vacation spot & I'll be doing a fun little giveaway from Hard Candy when I get back...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Long Journey Back to Blogland

Like Odysseus and his long journey home, I have finally found my way back to my beloved blog. Yes, my audit loomed over me like menacing Cyclops and when it was all over, procrastination & doubt about my blog direction set in like Circe casting spells, but I am definitely happy to be back in blogland!

Oh so many months ago, I was off to L.A. for a last minute shoot...we always make sure to have cute little welcome gifts along with the production books waiting in the hotel for clients & crew. I found these A Scent Of Scandal soy candles. They are super fun & the best thing of all, they are a vegan company! My assistant producer picked one up just for me- it says "producer/hustler". Technically, they are referring to film producers which is completely different, but doesn't matter because I hustle too- big time. This was perfect at the end of a long work day to light my minty fresh candle, put on a robe & order room service.

Here are some shots of the house we shot at- didn't get that many great shots because I was busy hustling & making sure everything was running smoothly....
Here's a peek at a tiny portion of the designer clothing brought in for our celebrity and boy were the clients unhappy when the stylist let the celeb walk off with 15 pairs of very expensive shoes...
Those bags hold a multitude of pillows & fabric that we of course never ended up using...but the prop stylist is always ever ready.
So much more to this gorgeous house that was on the market for something like 20 million, but then again that was in December when the economy hadn't quite yet headed as south as it has now- was just such a hectic shoot, fire marshals, giant generator, and big time photographer that I had never worked with before...all I wanted to do was lie out by the pool.
For me, no trip to L.A. is complete without stopping at Swingers for the tofu chilaquiles- love me the Swingers menu with items specifically marked "vegan"...
After a brief respite home- working on prepping my audit over the holidays & working to get our street cat acclimated & vice versa (I mean, no joke- the first week of him crying all night in his crate was making me cry, since I was already stressed from work load & audit.), I was off to Orlando for another shoot.

At the airport, am always thrilled to see a Cibo Express- not sure if they are just at Jet Blue terminals, but they always carry a vegan deli sandwich...
Lucked out in Orlando finding the kind of modern, minimalist home that my clients are always searching for...this was a rare find:
Can you spot our celeb in the corner there? Orlando went off without a hitch and at this point I was so pooped, I barely took any behind the scenes photos.
Here are things I treated myself to during my exhausting work & audit schedule:

Candle 79's paella (one of my favorites, along with the ancho-chile brownie sundae-no pic, posted way too many times already):
Rice flour rolls with kale and mock ham from Vegetarian Dim Sum House:
Sacred Chow's soy meatball hero & tempeh reuben:
Sacred Chow's cesar- which is the most amazingly yummyiest salad ever...
A creme filled chocolate cupcake from Moo-Cluck which I picked up at Whole Foods- just like a hostess...
And yes, every now and then I also made some delicious things like Fronch Toast from VWAV which I made with raisin cinnamon bread with a side of Field Roast Artisan Apple Sage sausage. I like my Tofurkey sausage, but Field Roast is just a whole other world...
My first recipe for Dreena Burton's Eat, Drink & Be Vegan, which SKO got me for Christmas- the cajun tofu is simply delectable- served with some argula, grapefruit, bean salad & roasted fingerlings.
When I returned from Orlando, I had to turn in all the stuff that I had prepped for the audit. That was such a relief to just have it out of my hands & off my shoulders, not that it was over mind you, just that it was out of my hands. The nerve-racking day came & went- it went as well as it could have except that they requested to come see my home office, which is my only office. There are very definitely rules about what constitutes a home office and I had to get prepping.

Here's a glimpse of what the tax man saw when he came to visit:
Mr. Taxman sat right in my new chair (yes, that would be the official first piece of new furniture in our place- a Cherner chair for a steal at the DWR outlet because of a minor scratch) and grilled me about my work & receipts. Yes, I blabbed about everything because I was so damn nervous. Of course, once they put you through the wringer, you sit on pins & needles waiting for them to get back to you for the final outcome...um, still waiting. Ridiculous.
Our official second piece of "new" furniture that we won on Ebay for a great price. The Reve dresser sells for $2700 at DWR and it was a steal at $500- granted it is scratched on the side & a few other nicks & dents, but never used and the way Booboo sees it, it's already broken in so a few accidental scratches from her won't be a big deal.
And our little street kid, Thelonious, seems to be adapting to kitty condo living just fine. He remembers nothing of living on the cold, hard street just down the block. Just wishing that no animal or person ever had to live that way...we help where we can. Please adopt a rescue or stray if you can!
To get through these stress-filled months, I have relied on several things: Fcat's loving support, unconditional kitty love, friends & family, but also through reiki, meditation, crystal healing and chanting mala. Through the reiki, meditation & chanting, I was able to stay focused & grounded and basically sane. I chanted a Ganesh chant daily- to remove obstacles.

Here's a pic of our altar table- Fcat gave me a tibetan singing bowl for Christmas. It's a great meditation tool & also helps to charge my crystals.
One last note, the little blue box which Buddha sits atop is where I keep my reiki requests - when I was first made aware of the strays down the block and we were trying to help them find homes, I put a picture of some of the cats in the box with the intention that they would find homes. All five of the kitties in the pic have homes now... just goes to show you how strong prayer & intention can be.
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