Weekend Reading, 9.3.17
September 3, 2017

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

Two weeks ago, right after my summer courses ended, I spent some time getting to know Prague.

It was a trip I had committed to this spring, fresh on the heels of my breakup. I was eager for an escape, but it wasn’t just about that. I was also thinking about how I’ve delayed seeing more of the world for a long time now. My reasoning seemed sensible: I’d think about the cost of travel, the things I needed to do here at home, and the pressures of being in grad school part time (and having a partner who was in school full time). I told myself that, aside from weddings, travel was something that Steven and I should wait to do.

Then our relationship ended, and I was reminded that it’s wise to plan and save, but there’s also a cost in delaying life experiences too often or for too long. I cling to routine tightly, and while I’m glad that habit gives shape and meaning to my life, I also see that it can keep me trapped if I allow it to.

These thoughts were passing through my mind exactly when a flight alert popped into my email for discounted fare to Prague. It’s a city Steven and I had always said we’d like to go to together, one I’ve been curious about for a long time, and in an uncharacteristically impulsive moment, I bought myself a ticket.

Many months later, in the weeks leading up to the trip, I could feel myself growing nervous and hesitant, all part of my tendency to resist disruption. That I felt so ambivalent about leaving indicated to me that it was high time I wave goodbye to New York for a couple days.

I didn’t plan on sharing anything about the trip on my blog, not out of secrecy but because I wanted the freedom to go and have experiences without taking photos or writing down the name of places I ate or taking notes. I’m glad I didn’t document the trip too closely; it’s not easy for me to simply do or see things without simultaneously crafting a narrative about them, and this is a habit I’m trying to bring into balance. Still, it would be a shame not to share some of the highlights of being away.

One of the nicest things about this trip was that, while I had a certain image of what Prague would look like in my mind, I didn’t know a lot about the city or its culture before I arrived. I also did very little by way of planning or setting an itinerary before I arrived.

It wasn’t until my first couple mornings in the city that I figured out what all I’d do while I was there, and the priorities kept shifting around: I made a list of the city’s essential tourist attractions, but I kept getting distracted by activities that are a little more my speed (like neighborhood walks, or exploring coffee shops). I’m glad I saw Vyšehrad fortress, Prague Castle, Old Town Square, and music in the Klementium mirror chapel; I’m glad that finally, on my last night of my trip, I wandered down to the Charles Bridge at sunset.

But this trip mirrored others I’ve taken in that my favorite moments weren’t planned. They included walking by the Vltava at night, after dinner, thinking I really ought to get on the tram to go back to my apartment but wanting to delay my wandering a little longer. Stumbling on Vrtbovská garden by accident and sitting there for hours with my book. Walking through the Karlin district and finding cup after cup of incredible coffee. Getting a loaf of the best rye bread I’ve ever tasted at Eska bakery, then eating it for breakfast every morning, sliced thickly and toasted and slathered with local jam.

Before I left, I did enough research to know that Prague has plenty of vegan eateries and dining options. these include two well-known restaurants in Old Town, Maitrea and Lehka Hlava, the latter of which is nestled into a beautiful space with a painted starry sky mural. But Prague’s vegan scene is exploding, and there are so many other, newer, and off-the-beaten-path options. My favorites included two lovely and cozy Italian restaurants, Pastva and Incruenti, where I ate stellar pesto linguine and risotto, respectively.

For lunch, I loved Moment, which has an awesome atmosphere as well as tasty quesadillas, and Herbivore, which is a great place to sit, work, and help yourself to seconds (or thirds!) of the inexpensive, delicious, and hearty vegan lunch buffet. I was also a great fan of Happy Bean, where I could get killer seitan and hummus wraps, then sit in the park next to the beautiful Kostel Nejsvětějšího Srdce Páně church as I gobbled them down. There’s a local farmers market that gets set up near Happy Bean, too, and I was happy to catch it on my last morning in Prague, picking up some berries, bread, and dried fruits before I left.

I was staying in an apartment, which meant that I could cook breakfast at home and pack up sandwiches for simple eating on the days when I knew I’d be on-the-go. It also meant feeling just enough routine and sameness that I didn’t find the foreignness of a new place to be overwhelming. I found plenty of local health food stores and grocers (including Country Life, which also has an incredible vegan buffet), but it was actually easy to find most of my everyday staples, like fruit and soy milk and oatmeal, at any of Prague’s many tiny food marts.

It was sometimes hard to resist mapping certain kinds of meaning onto the trip. Was I there to help heal a broken heart? To shake off all of the lingering insecurity and woundedness? To remind myself of my independence? To prove that I could give myself the gift of seeing a new place?

I know that I went to Prague for all of those reasons, in varying degrees. But if I had to boil it down, I’d say that I had two hopes for the trip. The first was to get out of the safety of my life in New York and out into the world a little more—something that isn’t easy for me, and which will only happen if I give myself a push from time to time.

The second was to make friends with myself again. When I was little, I was blessed with a capacity to keep myself company in a way that made me feel content and fed. It has served me well through so many life experiences, until this past spring, when suddenly it seemed that I didn’t really know how to be alone with myself anymore.

A wise friend recently gave me good advice, which is that, as I gather up the courage and readiness to start exploring romantic connection again, I should also be trying to date myself—to plan activities and experiences that appeal to me in the here and now, rather than delaying them with the intention of sharing them at some point in the future. My trip to Prague was something I’d imagined one day doing with my partner, but then things changed, and I did it anyway. It was a great experience, and in some ways it was all the more rewarding because I had the gifts of solitude, quiet, and space.

Now the challenge is to keep this sense of peace and calm in my own company, to continue crafting a life that is satisfying and interesting and rich, rather than mourning or looking back on the life I thought I’d be having right now. It’s a challenge that is connected to a much bigger and broader desire to take life as it comes, without getting overly attached to visions or expectations, and it gives me plenty to work on in the year ahead.

If you get a chance to explore the magic of Praha as a plant-based eater, I definitely recommend all of the standard resources: Happy Cow, etc. But I also definitely recommend downloading the Prague Green City Guide before you go. It not only offers a very extensive list of Prague’s vegan restaurant options, but also awesome tips on finding vegan-friendly local boutiques, apparel, accessories, and more.

I also can’t say enough good things about the folks who run Taste of Prague. Not a vegan resource, but Zuzi, Jan, Karolina, Anna and Martin have their finger on the pulse of all of Prague’s culinary goings-on—including the latest in vegan options—and they have wonderful recommendations for activities and day trips that are more offbeat and personalized than much of what you’ll find through online searching or guidebooks.

On that note, I can’t believe that I’m back, it’s already Labor Day weekend, and September is very much underway. I wish you a nice long weekend, if you’ve got the time off, and I hope you enjoy this week’s roundup of food and reads.

Recipes

While we’re on the topic of travel, it feels appropriate to share a recipe from the two most experienced vegan travelers I know. Rika and Doni’s Thai fried rice looks so good: perfect for turning days’ old rice into something with new life and flavor.

I can’t get enough summery pasta recipes right now, and this ultra simple, fresh, garlicky summer spaghetti is one of my new favorite finds.

Could Jackie’s creamy tomato basil tartlets be any prettier? What a wonderful, late summer recipe for vegan brunch—and they’re gluten-free, too.

With a new semester on the horizon I’m all about easy, packable, satisfying vegan lunch options, and I’m bookmarking Sarah’s tasty buffalo chickpea wraps to make very soon.

I’d never heard of matbucha until I read Leah’s post on Food52, but I’m definitely intrigued. It’s similar to caponata in that it’s got onion, eggplants, and peppers, but it’s also got cooked tomatoes, lots of paprika, and a nice kick of heat. Yum.

Reads

1. Travel is definitely an opportunity to reflect on how food and mealtimes fit into other cultures. I liked this article on meal frequency and patterns around the world, not so much because it draws any value judgments or conclusions, but because it’s a reminder that there are so many ways to approach the act of eating.

2. I can’t resist: the Periodic Table, in haiku form.

3. As the number of cancer survivors in this country continues to grow, it’s more important than ever for there to be robust resources and support in place for those who are healing. This article talks about the importance of the survivorship movement for patients, especially those who find themselves grappling with anxiety or other mental health struggles after treatment.

4. I’m not sure why I was so touched by this video, but I was. A tree in Italy’s National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise was filmed continuously for one year, and the footage captured how local animals interact with the tree. If you watch the clip (it’s only about three minutes long), you’ll catch a boar, wolves, and two brown bears, among other animals, each of whom has their own way of relating to the tree as a part of his or her natural habitat.

5. While I was away, I missed the eclipse. I feel as though I had a chance to participate a little, at least, through social media. But I was also happy to see that The Atlantic temporarily reprinted Annie Dillard’s wonderful, 1982 essay, “Total Eclipse.” I hadn’t read it since an undergraduate writing class, and I was really happy to revisit it this week.

Classes are now now officially in session, and I have a busy few weeks ahead. On Wednesday, I’ll be back to share a new favorite, make-ahead, packable vegan lunch for transporting to school or work this fall! Till then, happy Sunday.

xo

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    11 Comments
  1. Your pictures of Prague are so beautiful! I think you’ve experienced Prague in the best possible way, by planning, but then ‘getting distracted by exploring coffee houses’! That’s my kind of travelling. I think sometimes people feel that they have to see the main attractions, but really it’s about just being in the place that makes it perfect.

  2. Sometime you just need to go for the sake of going, and I’m so proud of you that you did this Gena <3. Its good for the soul to just be somewhere different, a place that will shock you out of your bubble and narrow mindset – which we all have in our day to day lives. You are such a sweet and encouraging soul, and I'm so glad you chose to share this adventure with us friend :). Lots of love and hugs and wishes that the peace remains too. xoxo

  3. Learning to enjoy one’s own company is a great experience. It helps one and discover nuances in the ways one prefers to live life. As you continue to learn about yourself, you will become more satisfied with the outcomes of life.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us not only about what you did on your trip to Prague, but what the trip meant to you.

  4. I love travelling by myself, with or without a broken heart. I am glad you posted about this because I was watching your Instagram stories and wanted to hear more! I’ve always wanted to go to Prague, and this makes me want to go even more. And as always, I enjoy your insights and reflections. I am not a routine-oriented person, but I know many people who are and what a challenge travel can be, especially after more than a few days. But it sounds like you created just enough new, small routines to help you savour the travel even more 🙂

  5. Hi Gena, Thanks for a really great article – I’m glad that you enjoyed your solo travels! I visited Prague a few years back and loved to vegetarian restaurant scene – it’s great to hear that it’s still going strong. Thanks also for the recipe shout out – I hope you enjoy it as much as we do around here! -xo Katherine

  6. I love this post! After my divorce and subsequent breakup of my first neely single love affair in the mid-2000’s, I traveled solo for almost two months between jobs – some in Canada/us and some in Italy. It was incredibly powerful and looking back, quite healing in ways I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. It sounds like we are very similar travelers – I’d take a long neighborhood stroll, coffee shop and veggie restaurant in a heartbeat (for the most part) over long lines at museums and monuments. Now that I have a baby, I am so extraordinarily grateful for all the traveling I was able to do between then and when he was born in 2016. After that trip, I made it back to Europe nearly every year and although those trips included my now-husband, I will always have incredibly positive feelings about that first big solo adventure. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  7. Well, Gena, I may now have a new favorite frame you’ve written for weekend reading–I am SO thrilled you went ahead and did this, made this trip in the way you did, and then only after decided to write about the way you did it. In many ways, generally speaking, it is the BEST trip account by a vegan blogger I’ve ever read because it isn’t all hyped up from the beginning with the agenda that you, too, can eat vegan in Prague. In those kinds of blog posts I only feel like I’m visiting each plate of food they post. But in yours, I felt I was there with you, visually and emotionally, and enjoying how the mind can relax and open up to new experiences when given the chance. Like you, from the time I was small, I’ve always been able to be nourished and kept by my own company, and I deeply love that you went actively to find that within yourself, in this way and others. I also love your wise friend’s advice about dating yourself. That is just perfect, and I will tuck it into my own bag of “tricks.” It’s been so long since I’ve even cared to go on a date, because most date activities are not what I am able or would enjoy doing anymore. But to think of myself as going on dates that I would like with myself (and my dogs) that is just magic. <3 The food looks great as always, and I will click on some of those to explore. I had to laugh that I've already read 3 of your reading picks–top favorite–that periodic table of haiku!! So even when we are continents away, we're still in sync, my friend. I am still grappling with that Annie Dillard essay–while beautifully written, its sensibility did not "wow" me, like it did so many of my friends–until one told me that at the time she wrote this, she was in an unhappy marriage which she eventually left. So all the "off" metaphors may also have had to do with that, and may resonate more with others. Anyway, you've topped the charts once again, my dear–and best of all, because you didn't try to!! Keep going on dates with yourself and keeping things "secret" and savoring them until you're ready to narrate some part of what you've experienced. We are all the richer for that. Thankyou, Gena. You are a treasure! xoxo

  8. I enjoyed this post. As someone who is used to a routine, I know it would benefit me to try something different. I only worry that I won’t separate time to do my regular things while opening up part of my life to exploring new places and meeting new people.

  9. Hi Gena. Enjoyed reading this and am actually planning a trip to Prague soon so will be checking out the restaurants you mentioned.
    Sam

  10. This brought back fond memories of my visit to Prague many years ago. Pleased to hear Country Life is still there. At that time there weren’t a lot of vegan restaurants, but a group of Hari Krishna type folks offered really cheap and delicious veggie meals in the Old Town. Such a charming city to stroll solo.

  11. Love love love this. The last couple of years have opened up to me in ways I had never dreamed possible as I’ve been learning how to live without crippling anxiety. Travel is the one arena that I desperately want to find a way foward with, but that remains elusive. I hope with time I’ll find a way to change that.

    In the meantime, congratulations on a gorgeous and generous trip. Thanks for sharing it. <3

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