Toledo!

Last weekend, I got a little crazy. I packed my two small children into my car, loaded the trunk up with clothes, two pack N plays, and all 26 of my cloth diapers, and drove nine hours out to visit my brother in Toledo, Ohio. NINE HOURS in the car with two children under 2 1/2. And you know what?

It was incredible. I had tried to time it out so that we would drive during the times when the kids were more likely to sleep. My mother came with us, and we ended up leaving Newtown around 4- later than I had planned, but I skipped the kids naps so they crashed before we had even turned off of our street. The first 2 1/2 hour stretch was totally silent, and they didn’t wake up until we hit Bloomsburg.

We stopped and met James and Emily for burritos before James’ tutoring session (he got a work study job as a physics tutor at school!), and the kids were able to move around a bit and get out any residual energy. It was a really quick stopover, and we were back in the car within an hour, but not before dishing out a hunk of the traveling birthday cake:

My brothers and I all have birthdays in October, and growing up we often celebrated them together. This year we were all too far apart to get together, so this visit was a sort-of stand-in birthday celebration. I had picked up a (vegan!) chocolate fudge cake from Whole Foods, and dished some out to both James and R.S. It was so delicious, and probably the reason why my pants are still feeling a tad snug.

Somehow, we made it to Ohio without the kids falling apart, or falling asleep at the wheel- it was 4 a.m. by the time we pulled up to the cottage on the lake. Worth it, though, to wake up to this:

Gorgeous. I’ll admit, at first I was kind-of a wreck about being so close to the water with Jack, but the sliding door on the back of the house had an appropriately complicated locking system, so I was able to relax and enjoy my little vacation. Toledo was so much more than I expected- my original plan had been to come out and visit with R.S., but by Sunday I found that I really enjoyed the city itself! Mum and I did some exploring with the kids while R.S. went to the gym and class, and we ended up finding a great Middle Eastern restaurant with amazing vegan food! Aladdin’s Eatery:

Hummus and pita (so fresh!), and the Mujadara plate- seasoned rice and lentils topped with crispy caramelized onions, a cucumber/tomato salad, and a creamy tahini dressing. It was so good, we actually went back the next day and got the same thing, only stuffed in a giant pita pocket. They also had fresh squeezed juice-

carrot-apple-ginger, one of my favorites! It felt so good to get some juice in.

I also managed to track down a great little co-op in the Northern part of the city- Phoenix Earth Food Co-Op.

Fresh local produce! I wish I had snagged ore pictures of this place, because it was so darn cute (but very well stocked!), but I did end up getting some local kombucha and a container of homemade carob-goji energy bites. They also had homemade nut butters, sold by the pound, but we didn’t have time to get back before we left for home, so those will have to wait until next time.

It felt really good to go somewhere I hadn’t ever been before, and probably would never go if I didn’t have family there, and find things that made me feel at home. So many people have it in their heads that being vegan and/or maintaining a healthy lifestyle is so difficult, and near-impossible away from your home and your comfort zone. The truth is, it really isn’t. Most of the time, the resources and tools for healthy, wholesome eating are available to you wherever you go- you just have to open your eyes and look for them.

Of course, we didn’t spend all of our time wandering around by ourselves- R.S. was a wonderful host, and took us around the city and his school, The University of Toledo. The school and the area around it were breathtaking- old stone buildings and Victorian houses on tree-lined streets. It was something out of a picture, and so great to finally see where my brother lives his life.

We had a great time going out for pancakes each morning, and spending time hanging around the lake house talking and laughing. Jack was absolutely in love with his uncle- he is still talking about “Big Ron” and “Gonzo.” I can’t wait until the holidays, when both James and R.S. will be home. I think Jack will just lose it.

Carolyn was actually kind-of a crank the entire weekend (a beautiful crank, nevertheless!), and so I didn’t get very many shots of her. She spent most of the trip perched on my hip.

Toledo even treated us to a rainbow on our last night there:

What an amazing trip. I have to give a lot of credit to J & C- they were AMAZING. We actually left Toledo at 10 on Sunday. We hadn’t heard about the approaching hurricane until we arrived, and so we were eager to get home before it hit land. We drove most of the day, but made a stop in Franklin to visit my friend Kirstin, who is due with her baby boy in four weeks! We also got to view some incredible scenery during our drive:

Neither Jack nor Carolyn made any fuss until the last few hours of the trip. We made another stop in Bloomsburg on Sunday night to see James and Emily and grab dinner at La Fontana, but when we left, we hit two hours of standstill traffic on I-80. Construction coupled with a tractor-trailer accident meant we sat on the highway for hours before finally passing through. The kids fussed for about 45 minutes total, out of a 20+ hour round-trip drive.

I think they were pretty well spent from the trip, but I’d call that an incredible success. I am going to try my luck in January, and make another trip out to visit my brother. I’m hoping that this wasn’t just a fluke, and that my children are actually great road-trippers, because that opens us up to enormous possibilities in terms of vacations and excursions. I’ve heard great things about Toronto… 😉

It seems like things are falling back into place after Hurricane Sandy- most of my friends and family who were without power have had it restored, or at least have gotten some kind of estimation as to how long it’s going to take. Bucks will re-open on Monday, so I have that to look forward to. The kids and I are heading in to New York tomorrow to support a friend of mine who, although the NYC Marathon has been cancelled, has decided to run her own marathon in and around the park. We will also be meeting Patty for Vietnamese soup.

I’m looking forward to a great day with good friends and, of course, outrageous food!

Prana Juice Bar and the Namaste Cafe.

During my trip up to visit James at Bloomsburg on Saturday, I had the pleasure of having juice and dinner at Bloomsburg’s one and only vegan eatery and juice bar- and I’ve been flapping my mouth about it ever since. Prana was amazing, everything that vegan food should be- healthy, delicious, varied, and affordable.

Prana

On our way up to Bloom, I had done a quick Google search of vegetarian restaurants in the area, just to see what my options would be. Prana had come up, but it seemed too good to be true- I honestly thought it was a hoax. What would a place like this be doing in a college town like Bloomsburg? Our visit was primarily, of course, to visit with James, so I filed Prana in the back of my mind and vowed to pop in right before we returned home, just to see.

It worked out that we ended up heading that way for dinner. We were joined by Joy, who was up visiting a friend of hers- so good to see her, and so much fun to have her come by to share the Prana experience!

I was immediately taken with their entryway. The restaurant is located in an old house set back from the street, with beautiful wide steps leading up to a porch with outdoor seating. The front yard is dominated by what at first looked like an odd mish-mosh of plants. It took me a minute to realize that their entire front was a garden!

Honestly, it was such a neat concept, it wouldn’t have mattered much if the food had been mediocre- it was just so great to see a restaurant growing their own food. Check out the red basil! I need to know their secret- I have killed off more basil plants than I can count.

We took our time pouring over the menu. There were so many wonderful options, I’m not used to going to a restaurant and having an entire menu of food to choose from!

Ultimately, I went for the Bliss Burger. I am always interested in trying different versions of veggie burgers, since the possibilities are so endless. It’s great to see how different restaurants make them. Prana does a millet and quinoa burger, and it did not disappoint!

Outrageous! The bread is made from sprouted grains, which puts this burger in my top 3 (bonus points for healthy bread)! I also got some green juice- Om!

Joy got quesadillas, and everyone else got assorted smoothies.

These were a little spicy and totally delicious. The smoothies were all great, but the winner was definitely my Mom’s- the Joyous Almond.

The best smoothie I have ever tasted, hands down. Trying to re-create this would be hopeless without a Vitamix (which they have) because of the almonds, so I’m not even going to attempt it. I’m just going to look forward to the next time I visit James.

The kids were so good. Even though we have our rougher days, they really are some of the most well-behaved children I’ve ever seen, especially considering Carolyn was feeling a little under the weather.

They gave Jack a little teacup to drink his smoothie out of- too cute!

The damage. I could have stayed there all day on that porch- the environment was so soothing. The interior was just as lovely, with an extravagant room decorated to look like a garden, as well as another room with an elegant old sofa and a piano. It was so charming!

Bonus: the staff and owner were so nice! Some of the best service I’ve ever experienced in a restaurant, really knowledgeable and passionate about the food and the business. My mother and I talked their ear off after we finished eating- I just couldn’t get over how unique it was.

It was one of the best meals of my life. A vegan, organic food spot with a rockin’ juice bar in Bloomsburg was the last thing I expected to find during my visit with James, so the surprise factor made the experience that much more fun. I heard rumor that there was the possibility of a new location opening up in Doylestown, but I don’t have confirmation of that yet. Keeping my fingers crossed! In the meantime, I’m left to try to re-create their perfectly blended juices here at home.

P.S. Day 7, and still going strong! Today was particularly challenging because I spent most of it chasing down a stunning Nissan Murano, and then went straight to pick up from the CSA, so I didn’t have time to juice. I didn’t consume anything other than water until about 3:30 PM. It was so tough, but every time I reach the end of another day, I feel so accomplished- it makes it all worth it. I don’t feel much lighter though, and as I type this I realize that I never weighed myself to keep track of my weight loss. I’ll take that as an excellent sign that it’s not about the numbers 🙂 I feel better physically, and we all know that’s what really matters!