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Vegan, gluten-free, raw agave sweetened cupcakes from Babycakes
Last week was my birthday and I had an absolutely fabulous day! Living in New York is really a luxury because there’s a treat for everyone here. So as a gift to myself, I decided to explore a ton of amazing vegan and gluten-free places in the city. I don’t go out to vegetarian/gluten free places too often, mostly because they are pretty expensive and I tend to eat…a little bit too much . But, hey, it was my birthday! Here are some of the places I checked out.
Maimonides of Brooklyn (MOB), 525 Atlantic Ave.
This was definitely my favorite place. I had a birthday dinner here with some close friends (only two other vegetarians) and everyone loved it. Instead of greeting you with several helpings of starchy, gluten-filled bread, they provided kale chips. And even my carnivorous friends thought the kale chips were DELICIOUS. I had a quinoa salad with scallion, mint, and pumpkin seeds along with a gluten free flatbread (they call it the signature “MOB”). Yum yum yum….
The restaurant also had a really welcoming vibe. They have a DJ who places reggae-style music, high ceilings decorated with musical instruments and magazines that you can read if you want, and service that is warm and friendly. I definitely will be back!
Siggy’s Good Food, 76 Henry Street
I’ve been going to this place for awhile (it’s super close to where I go to school) and I always enjoy whatever I eat. I love that they have a full juice bar—I always get the “megagreens” with green leaves, cucumber, celery, and lemon. My friend Priya and I each had one of these during lunch. They also have some amazing gluten-free veggie burgers, quinoa cakes, and salads. And if you feel like treating yourself—which of course, I did —they have a full bakery with some gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan options.
V-Note, 1522 First Ave.
I ventured way out to the Upper East Side for this one, and it was worth it. I ate here with my family; they’re all meat-eaters, but even they were pleased. We started out with some organic wine. If I ever drink alcohol, I make sure that I am drinking wine because although it is high in sugar, it has a ton of antioxidants that help prevent heart disease. I had the barbeque tempeh with the organic avocado southwest salad. It was delicious!
Babycakes, 248 Broome Street
A birthday with no cake? NEVER! Babycakes came to the rescue with vegan, gluten-free, raw agave sweetened cupcakes. I don’t eat agave too often because it is made up of concentrated fructose, which coverts to fat if eaten in excess. If it’s a special occasion, however, an agave-sweetened cupcake is much better than a white-sugar cupcake, especially if the agave is raw and unrefined because less of it is needed to make it taste sweet. I had a red-velvet cupcake and it was creamy, sweet, and decadent. Felt like I was eating the real thing!
My brother (above) and I went out for drinks with friends after dinner at an awesome outdoor/arcade bar in Brooklyn called Cherry Tree. We stayed out till 3AM! Guess that’s what you can do with the abundant energy that delicious food gives you….
Overall, I had an amazing day. I may have splurged a little bit though, so it’s time to start cooking for myself for awhile. But don’t worry, that won’t stop me from posting in the “Eating Out” Series!
This is the dish I had when eating at Florencia 13 in the village with some friends from work. A salad with radishes, tomatoes, asparagus, onions and a side of Guacamole as dressing. Delicious!
I mentioned a week ago that you can eat properly almost everywhere as long as you are thoughtful and well-prepared. Today, I want to show you how to eat gluten-free and vegan at a MEXICAN restaurant. YUM!
Recently, some of my co-interns and I wanted to go out for food and happy hour. It was a good time for us to get to know each other outside the workplace and just enjoy ourselves. When one of the interns suggested Mexican, I was excited—I’ve got Mexican ordering down!
Things to watch out for:
While beans are normally a good source of protein for vegetarians, the beans at most Mexican restaurants are refried and full of lard. Yuk! Black beans, on the other hand, tend to be OK. So if you’re really in the mood for beans when you’re eating at a Mexican restaurant, say no to the refried and opt for black beans if they have them.
Tortillas, Tacos, Etc.
There are two problems with taco and tortilla shells. First, a lot of them are made with flour, which has gluten and is hard to digest. While Mexican places usually offer corn tortilla options, corn is a food that I approach with caution. Given the extreme mass-production of corn in the United States (its in almosteverything!) it is highly genetically modified, high in sugar, and void of nutrients. So unless you are in luck and find a restaurant that has organic, corn tortillas, try to keep the corn to a minimum.
Talk about sugar! Limeade concentrate, tequila, triple sec, oh-my! Obviously alcohol is not the most nutritious thing for anyone in any form, but margaritas really take the cake. Opt for red wine instead, which at least has some beneficial property when consumed in moderation.
How I Eat Mexican Style:
I love love love guacamole! Filled with vegetables and avocados, it is a wonderful combination of good fats and fiber to keep you full and happy. Most Mexican places will start you out with guacamole and chips. I’ll only have a few of the chips (or if I’m really exercising self-restrain, I won’t have any!) and then give myself a scoop of the guacamole to eat before my meal comes.
Vegetables and Salads
Some Mexican places have some sort of salad that is vegan and gluten free. The restaurant I went to this weekend had a vegan and gluten-free salad called “El montecito,” so I was in luck. I usually will order my salad with a side of guacamole to use as dressing. So much better than whatever sugary, processed dressing that they might have! If there are no vegetarian salads, however, I’ll order two sides of steamed vegetables with guacamole and make my own. Like I said, it’s important to be creative when eating healthy!
If I see that there are black beans on the menu, I’ll ask a ton of questions about them–are they vegetarian? how are they prepared?. If they are not fried and are vegetarian, I’ll add them to my salad to add as a nice protein to round out my meal.
A little less than two weeks ago, the Bloomberg administration proposed a ban on the sale of sugary drinks above 16 oz. in restaurants, delis, and other business establishments. Since then, food industries and super-size aficionados have voiced several concerns. Bloomberg’s plan has been seen as overreaching, ineffective, and a waste of efforts towards public health. While I agree that the banning of sugary drinks alone will do little to combat the problem of obesity, I also believe that it is a small but necessary step in the right direction.
Our country is addicted to sugar. Literally. A 2003 Princeton University study revealed that sugar has addictive effects similar to several dependency-forming drugs.
I have been living in New York City for the past 6 years and have experienced first-hand the addictive effects of sugar. While working in a high-stakes charter school, I rarely had time to make or buy my own lunch, so I ate the lunches and snacks served in the school cafeteria—which usually had tons of added sugars. I would also stay at school for late nights lesson planning, where my dinner consisted of teddy grahams and wheat-thins. I kid you not. Needless to say, I had some weight and skin problems. Once I left, I decided to cut out added sugars altogether and the withdrawal effects were insane. I felt depressed, anxious, and had constant cravings—I felt the same way that smokers tell me they feel when they try to quit. If university studies don’t convince you of the addictive qualities of processed sugar, I hope my firsthand experience does!
A lot of critics of Bloomberg’s policy—or policies regulating what Americans eat in general—say that we should be focusing on education. But being addicted to sugar is not a choice. Our sugar addiction has resulted from over-advertising sugary products just as did the addiction to tobacco. It also comes from the placement of sugar in nearly every food in the grocery store to cover up poor quality. Education did not work for tobacco, and it is unlikely to work for processed sugar. The only method that has worked for curbing tobacco addiction is banning and limiting smoking. Not only did this help curb our country’s addiction, but it also has reduced the number of hospital admissions rates for smoking-related diseases
Several studies support the fact that a plant-based-diet that limits itself to no more than one tablespoon of sugar per day can have the effect of reversing heart disease, kidney failure and numerous other diseases. It also has the effect of reducing hospital visits. Former President Bill Clinton himself follows such a plan and has been able to effectively reverse his heart problems after having heart surgery. Imagine the reduction of patients we would see in hospitals if everyone reduced his/her sugar consumption. Imagine the reduction in healthcare costs!
But what about free choice? Is Bloomberg forcing us to eat healthy? My answer: No more so than big food is forcing us to develop addictions. The constant influx of advertisements and prevalence of additives and additional sugar in our foods has made it nearly impossible to avoid. Bloomberg’s proposed ban is no more than a small counterbalance to our country’s addictions. Is it enough? Certainly not. But it may be the change of direction that New York City needs.
I am also super excited to take some time this summer to try out some new restaurants. I love meeting up with friends and family and talking over long meals. It gives me a chance to thoroughly enjoy the company of the people I love and the deliciousness of new food.
I know what you’re thinking. “But what can you eat when you go out?”
It took me a while to learn this, but even a vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, minimal soy and sugar eater like myself can find something to eat at most restaurants with enough preparation. Just tonight I went out to a pizza place (Adrienne’s Pizza Place on Stone Street) and was able to find a delicious vegan and gluten-free meal!
I’ll get into what to do at specific restaurants in later blog posts (Italian, Mexican, etc.) but just to wet your palate for now, here are some of the things I make sure to do when going out to eat:
Check the Menu Online
Like I said, there’s always something available for everyone—the trouble is being creative enough to find it. Sometimes finding the right thing to eat requires combining sides or anticipating taking out an ingredient. You have to get a little creative, which can be difficult to do on the spot or while you are in the middle of conversation. So it’s smart to look up the menu ahead of time so you can get an idea of what you can eat once you get to the restaurant.
Yes, you will become that person. You will ask to leave things out, to put dressings on the side, to order chicken salads without the chicken. Do it with grace. I usually start out by saying, “I know I’m about to be really annoying—I’m so sorry!” From my experience, if you immediately put yourself down, others are less inclined to be annoyed with you. But if I get a vibe that the place does not take such requests too seriously, I may even say I have an allergy…gotta do what you gotta do for your health!
Don’t Drink Too Much Water
It is important to drink a ton of water—but not during mealtime. It turns out that drinking too much water dilutes the enzymes in your body that help with digestion, which can lead to that tired and bloated feeling. So stick with a sip here or there and save your larger portions of water for an hour before or after eating.
Enzymes, Enzymes, Enzymes
When you’re eating out, it’s likely you’ll be eating foods that you’re not used to. So you probably will want some extra help in digesting it all. A good multi-enzyme supplement will give your body more of the enzymes that it naturally makes for the purposes of digestion. Take one or two digestive enzymes about twenty minutes before eating a big meal. I personally take Udo’s brand.
Eat slowly, enjoy your food, and engage in conversation with your friends. That’s why you’re there! And you can indulge…a little. If the place specializes in their crème brulee and your friend offers you a bite, it won’t kill you to take it—as long as the rest of your meal is healthful and it’s just one bite!
Happy eating! And stay tuned for my next entry, where I’ll talk about Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban for jumbo sized sugary drinks!