It’s the Company that Counts: Day Three in NOLA
March 19, 2011

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Happy Saturday, friends!

Glad you enjoyed yesterday’s post! I love these diary-like chronicles of traveling. To answer many questions about my hair: yes, my hair is naturally curly, and it will vary from loose waves to ringlets depending on humidity. I don’t wear it that way most of the time because I actually prefer it straight (hence the customary blow drying), but I have to admit that student life is giving me less motivation to keep it straight lately: I’m just too busy. And there’s certainly no point attacking it with a blow drier down here, where the Louisiana climate will quickly curl it up again.

I woke up this morning craving oat bran, so oat bran it was:

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Oat bran cooked with chia seeds, flax, almond milk, and topped with banana, berries, and Justin’s chocolate almond butter. Delicious, and devoured quickly in Chloe’s elegant dining room, with its perfectly appointed vases and frames and upholstered seats. My bestie has such a talent for homemaking: when we lived together, I felt so grateful for her organized mind, her meticulous neatness, her knack for decorating, her appreciation of artwork. I think I do a good job of keeping my cozy little apartment in good order, and certainly I’ve mastered the culinary part of the domestic arts, but my talents pale in comparison to hers.

I sat down to draft a special guest post I’ve got on the lineup, and then it was time for a morning run. It’s a gorgeous day here—a gray morning gave way to a sunny afternoon—but I knew that if I waited any longer, I’d end up being pummeled by the afternoon sun. I set out for a breezy and warm loop around the Tulane area of Nawlins. The highlight was a long stretch along scenic St. Charles, with its stately homes and trolley car tracks:

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(Sorry for the cell phone pics!)

I even found a street with my name—sorta. Only one “n,” like me, though it’s the “J” spelling of Gena:

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I definitely spent the majority of my run listening to Chloe’s and my famous road trip playlist from 2004, which appears to be an interesting mix of Led Zeppelin, Rage Against the Machine, Courtney Love, and…the Dixie Chicks. Hmph.

A little while after returning home, I threw together some lunch food: a big kale salad, topped with a a some Ezekiel toast and the last of my raw mashed potatoes:

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After that, it was off to the Quarter for some strolling, shopping, and people watching. It was, as usual, a lot of fun:

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While strolling around, we happened upon an exhibit of Al Hirschfeld’s drawings of over six decades of Tennessee Williams’ work, on display at the Historic New Orleans Collection.

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Hirschfeld was a champion of Williams’ plays, and their most incisively lighthearted scribe. It’s a great show, and it was made all the more fun by the fact that Chloe and I are both huge Hirschfeld fans, and I’m a Williams fanatic. We had a lot of fun playing “find the Nina.”

When we got home, my friends Nat and Meredith joined us for a cocktail before our planned dinner at a local restaurant, Dante’s Kitchen. I had been duly warned by Chloe that this wasn’t a vegan spot by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d also peeked at the menu, and noticed the many local vegetable selections, so I was hopeful. When we arrived at Dante’s, I was indeed excited to see the huge chalkboard listing of what veggies are local and in-season:

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That image is actually courtesy of Jason over at Off the Broiler. Why? Because I stupidly left the memory cards for my camera at home. Blogger FAIL. I was fretting about this, and trying to figure out how I could get my blackberry to take non-horrifying photos, as we began to examine the menu, and I began my customary (polite) interrogation with our waiter: what could be veganized? Was he sure the carrots had no butter on them? None at all? Was the rice cooked in chicken stock? Etc.

As it turned out, my camera wasn’t needed tonight, because the menu—while very local and very seasonal—wasn’t very vegan. There was a vegetable platter prominently advertised, which was promising, but I’ve done enough restaurant dining to know how to probe, and probing revealed that it was sautéed in butter. Our lovely and kind waiter momentarily thought that he could have the dish made without butter, but then the chef said it couldn’t be. Which means that I was left with an arugula and beet salad (goat cheese omitted), some carrots, and some mashed yams with molasses and cinnamon. Given that Dante’s prides itself so heavily on its vegetables—in fact, I’d say that the overwhelming emphasis is on the produce selection—I thought it was too bad that it was so hard for them to veganize various items.

Even so, I was delighted that Chloe, Nat, and Meredith loved their meals as much as they did. And when Chloe mentioned that she was a little “annoyed on my behalf,” and complimented me on being friendly in spite of the restaurant’s limitations, I appreciated the sentiment, but also responded that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I look forward to a day when all restaurants accommodate vegans and omnis with equal graciousness and effort, but for now, I know what I’m getting into when I dine out. It won’t always be easy, and there’s no point being a diva: one meal is just one meal, and I’m capable of savoring a night out with good friends in spite of sometimes limited food options.

Tonight was a celebration of Chloe’s new blog and fledgling career plans, my return to school, and the fact that Nat is a soon-to-be FSG novelist!! (I’m only sorry that I won’t be around to torment him with copyediting queries.) That’s where my head was at: I wasn’t focused on what I could or couldn’t eat. As much as my life revolves around food, and as passionately as I love all things culinary, I realize that the whole experience of dining with friends goes far beyond what’s on my plate: it’s about company, conversation, and shared pleasure. And in fairness to Dante, the dishes I did order were totally delicious, and I filled my beta carotene quota for the day.

(Side note: in spite of this upbeat message, I’m really glad I followed instinct and had a hefty afternoon snack. Vegan travelers, if you’re not sure how well a restaurant can accommodate you, err on the side of caution, and snack well before your meal. You’ll almost never regret it.)

And with that, another day of friendship, food, and frolicking along the bayou concludes. See you back here tomorrow.

xo

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    29 Comments
  1. It’s wonderful to hear of your dining with friends being the most important aspect of that meal. I feel like it points out one of the best aspects of recovery from ED that you always mention on your blog: the ability for socialization to surmount anything food related when dining with those with whom you haven’t spent time recently. It conjures a very powerful scene of triumph to me 🙂

  2. I’ve been in this situation a thousand times over. It’s just the way it goes when in a nonvegan restaurant, which is usually the case if the crowd is mostly omnivores (and not my family, who I usually coax into going veg for the meal). It’s about being together and if I can get something to somewhat fill me up, I’ll be just fine. I always pack snacks so I never starve. BUT annoying that the restaurant couldn’t accomodate, however I prefer that they are honest because sometimes I feel they tell me less than the truth and I find out later when sick on the potty.

    • Honestly? I’m still convinced I tasted butter in the potatoes. Then again, my belly was totally fine, so I pray and hope they didn’t misinform me.

  3. It’s so true that we shouldn’t let a lackluster meal destroy a perfectly lovely dinner. That was (is) definitely something I struggled with when I first went vegan, especially because I love the social aspect of dining.

    But I gotta say I really don’t understand when a restaurant can’t make a veggie dish without butter. Were they marinating in butter in all day? Grrr.

  4. I’m happy to hear your thoughts on dining out in restaurants that are not particularly vegan-friendly as I am currently planning a trip to Amsterdam and think I will be in that situation a lot. Although I plan on making as much of my own food as I can the occasional restaurant meal will be a necessity so it’s always good to have a strategy and to remember to stay relaxed about the fact that you won’t always have a plethora of options to choose from.

  5. Oh my goodness! I live on Jena St. I can’t believe I caught these posts a bit too late. I am a vegan living in New Orleans that can feel your pain. We are one of the few major cities that has no all-vegetarian or vegan restaurant (used to, but it closed). Luckily there are various places that have many vegan options. I do pretty well with Asian, Mexican, Indian, and cafes. Hopefully next time you can have some better meals!

  6. […] Evening! I’m drafting this post from quite a few miles high in the sky, as I make my way back to NYC. I’m happy you all enjoyed the weekend recaps—especially my thoughts on vegan dining in a non-vegan city. […]

  7. Gorgeous pictures, looks like a wonderful trip so far. Too bad about Dante’s, I get so frustrated when I can’t get decent vegan options. And I’ve done that with memory cards before, I need to carry an emergency supply in my purse. 🙂

  8. I’m going to be travelling through NOLA on my road trip and am super excited about it! Bummer about the food, but I’m with you on the company. Most of my life, I was not able to eat the food everyone else eats, so it made me appreciate good company even more

  9. The oatbran and kale salad both look so fresh and good!

    Oh, and I’m officially jealous of your gorgeous, naturally curly hair.
    😉

  10. That’s ever so frustrating that they can’t make half the veg dishes without butter – does that mean that nothing is freshly prepared? Such a shame!
    It seems like the beet salad wasn’t too bad though…I love beets 🙂
    But yeah – if you’re a vegan, a handbag of snacks is a life saver! It’s sure saved my butt a few times 😛

  11. my hair is naturally curly as well but i try to keep it tame. however, anywhere humid or tropical and it’s a losing battle lol. i’m really enjoying the photos and reading about your time with you best friend! it’s so refreshingly positive and i’m so glad you’re happy and taking a break with all the chaos/hard work found in med school! i’d love to go to NOLA!

  12. The pictures are beautiful!
    It is sad that there aren’t more vegan options out there for us. At least better salads. I went to a wedding- it was a brunch and I was surprised with an amazing spring salad with a to die for balsamic vinaigrette and tons of fresh fruit. I have 3 servings- and was very full but still felt amazing.

  13. When I was vegan, I almost always ate ahead of time, or packed something in my purse. You’re definitely right about that…one of the best tips for vegans is to always be prepared! I really like your attitude about the subject. Instead of getting mad, you except the way restaurants are, and still stick to your chosen path of eating. Hopefully one day restaurants will be able to accommodate everyone with ease. Even though I am no longer vegan, I’m sure of the fact that if more restaurants offered vegan meals, I would often choose to order them.

    By the way, my name is Jen. I just recently started my blog, and am trying to get on my feet with the whole thing. I had a vegan blog ages ago, and you were one of my favorite people to follow back then. I’m glad to be reading your lovely posts again!

  14. Love your dining out attitude! I agree. As a vegan, my expectations of menu options at most restaurants are low. That way I’m pleasantly surprised if I wind up with a great meal. And either way it’s about enjoying the people I’m with. Beautiful pics of NOLA! Can’t wait to check it out next month! 🙂

  15. Wish I were there!
    Question – do you prefer flax seeds or chia seeds? And what does one offer over the other ? (fibre, etc)…
    I’m going to try to add more of one or the other into some stuff…and I also notice that some of what I read to make calls for “ground chia seeds” and “ground flax seeds”…I know flax seeds are supposed to be ground in order to not just lose their value…but chia? does that have to be ground?

  16. What a marvelous trip! Your pictures are stunning and I loved the information on Hirschfeld and T. Williams. Really interesting!

    How wonderful that you are all together to celebrate the significant transitions in your careers and lives!

    I’ve learned a lot about dining out more friendly. When I first went vegan I read one of your posts about letting it go when not getting an ideal vegan food. I wasn’t so good at that at the time. My balance now is to be kindly assertive in getting the best vegan dish I can get and then letting it go once I know what the situation is (and then pull out my packed hemp seed and nuts to add to my plate! LOL)

  17. Sounds like a perfect day!!! Isn’t New Orleans a fun and beautiful city?? I have not been there since I was young, but your pics make me want to go back.

  18. I whole-heartedly agree with and applaud the message of this post! I used to fret about dining out for various reasons, and if I had a bad meal I would be in a bad mood for the rest of the day. A few years ago, my brain clicked into gear that dinig out was about sharing laughter and love over the table, and suddenly the food just became an added bonus 🙂

    • I so agree! I recently went to visit my brother, who is very much an omnivore. He wanted to take me to a restaurant but felt guilty that I would only have limited choices. He thought the whole dining out social thing would end because of my chosen dietary lifestyle. It is all about hanging out, visiting, engaging in great conversation and enjoying friends. Our culture places food in the center of the social scene, instead of the people themselves.

      Thanks for the virtual tour Gena!

  19. Gena I love the pics of the French Quarter and the just “everyday sights” pics of New Orleans. It really helps me get a vibe for the city (I’ve never been) and one day, I will go. But til then, your pics are much appreciated! Forgotten memory sticks, cell phone pics, and all. Keep em coming.

    So sorry you had to play 20 questions with the waiter about what’s vegan and what’s not, sauteed in butter, etc. In those moments I feel like I am asking too many questions and am always left feeling a bit uncomfortable. It’s my own hangup; but reading you confidently ask for what you want and then NOT saying, well ok some butter on the veggies is fine if that’s the only way it’s going to be..well, it’s very awesome and will help me and no doubt others hold a bit more steadfast when out.

    And of course, three cheers for snacks. When traveling, and in my case especially with a small child…snacks are key!

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

  20. it’s such a shame that people with dietary limitations are considered “diva”s while dining out. It’s not always about what you like and what you don’t like, which is what it can seem. Also, it IS a choice, and everyone should respect that choice. This is America, where we are free to have what is best for us 🙂

  21. My partner and I do so much research before traveling about where to eat. You’re right that dining with friends can be more than the food and it never pays to be a diva. But when we’re traveling together, we always make sure to find a hotel with a kitchenette (or stay with friends!) so that we can prepare our own food! Traveling to different food markets in a new city can be just as fun as going out. So glad you’re having fun and thanks for all the reviews – New Orleans is a place I’ve never traveled and I would have been nervous about vegan options in that city.

  22. I have really enjoyed your posts about New Orleans. I have lived there (I would say “here” but I’m traveling at the moment) for the past year and a half and love it. Green Goddess is one of my favorites, and I love that salad too. I was a bit nervous for you just now when I saw your tweet about Dante’s Kitchen – yes, they’re amazing, but you’ve got to be a very disciplined vegan if you want to eat there, especially with the spoonbread they hit you up with right off the bat! But as you rightly point out, dining with friends is about so much more than food.

    In any case, I’m so glad you got to experience this great city, and I hope to run into your friends some time (and will definitely check out their blog).