Julia’s Vegetarian Restaurant

During our recent trip to Carmel By The Sea, we came across this wonderful restaurant. It’s mainly vegetarian but almost everything can be ordered vegan.  It is the perfect place to grab a healthy bite and carb-load before the Big Sur International Marathon. It’s conveniently located in Pacific Grove, only a few miles from the running expo. Their motto is: 

“We are a bunch of fun, loving, festival going, home-cookin’ folk here to provide you with quality vegetarian food with flare”

We ordered fresh watermelon & mint “agua fresca” to drink. For entrees, I had their seasonal wild mushroom pizza with a gluten-free crust. 

My husband ordered a scrumptious tamale pie – a layered Mexican style casserole with polenta, spinach, mushrooms, pinto beans, poblano red sauce, served with a tomatillo guacamole and roasted vegetables. Is your mouthwatering yet?

Because I was only running the first leg of the marathon ( 5 miles) the next day, I decided not to order dessert. If I would have known that I would end running 17 miles, I would have also tried their Ginger Apple Spice Cake. I guess I have an incentive to come back next year 🙂    

I am glad we found this place. No doubt it would be our mandatory eating stop every time we visit the Monterey – Carmel area. I highly recommend it!

For more information about this restaurant, check out their website Julia’s Vegetarian Restaurant – Pacific Grove, CA

Earthbound Farm’s Farm Stand Market & Organic Cafe

If you live in the US and you consume organic produce, most likely you are familiar with Earthbound Farm. I personally love their organic arugula, spinach, and mixed greens. 

During a recent trip to Carmel By The Sea, we came across the Earthbound Farm’s Farm Stand, located just down the road from the original 2.5 acres farm.

As we walked into the Farm Stand, we learned from one of the employees that Earthbound Farm was established in 1984. Over two decades later, the company employed 150 growers on 30,000 acres. By 2015 nearly 50,000 acres were in production.  This is the largest producer of organic salads in the US.  It was the first company to produce pre-washed  and packaged salad greens on an industrial scale.

Earthbound Farm’s Farm Stand was established in 1992 as an outdoor seasonal farm stand to sell fresh and delicious Earthbound Farm organic produce. In 2003, they expanded the Farm Stand and opened an Organic CafĂ© (at the time, it was just the third certified organic kitchen in the country).

The market offers beautiful organic produce, flowers, earth-friendly gifts and locally-produced specialty organic packaged foods.

The Organic CafĂ© features hot meals, sandwiches, smoothies and a great salad bar fully loaded with all Earthbound Farm produce. 

We ordered colorful and organic fresh juices, salads, and dessert.

This raw vegan blueberry cheesecake was surprisingly light and not too sweet. Perfection, in my books!

The surrounding property is wonderful. You can enjoy your meal on their outdoor patio too!

Feeling like an ant in this gigantic chair – with my “sole” sis Wendy

You can also take a tour of their organic grounds or pick your own fresh herbs from the garden and berries from their patch. Since we arrived late in the day, we didn’t have a chance to do this but I am pretty sure we’ll be back next year.  This is a lovely place to stop on your way to Carmel By The Sea ( it’s just 10 minutes away).

For more information about the Earthbound Farm’s Farm Stand, click here

Rouxbe Essential Vegan Desserts

What is my next culinary adventure?  Rouxbe Essential Vegan Desserts.

It’s a 90-day online intensive course led by world-famous vegan pastry chef Fran Costigan. It’s based on her popular  Vegan Baking Boot Camp Intensive taught at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. 

 

The course includes 50 videos and  100 hours of coursework focusing on essential techniques and recipes so students can create vegan desserts with confidence. We’ll practice over 85 recipes to prepare decadents desserts ranging from pies, cakes, tarts and cookies to aquafaba, mousses, gels, trifles and sauces. Is your mouth watering yet? 

vegan-dessertsFollow me on this SWEET journey by subscribing to my blog.

I’ll be posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram as well @sunshineandkale.

For more information about this course, check Rouxbe Vegan Desserts 

My 10-Day Vipassana Meditation Experience at Joshua Tree (California)

I recently made this announcement to my family and friends:

“See u soon! Heading to my new home in a couple of hours: 10-Day silent (Buddhist) Vipassana Meditation Retreat at Joshua Tree National Park. Feeling excited and a tad nervous (no daily family hugs & kisses, no cooking, no reading, no journaling, no running, no social media, no TALKING for 10 full days… Just me and my cushion). I guess you can say that I find balance in extremes :-)”. 

These were my last words before entering the Southern California Vipassana Center a couple of weeks ago. 

Vipassana Parking

What is Vipassana?

Vipassana means to see things as they really are. It is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation, rediscovered by Gautama Buddha more than 2500 years ago. Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind.

How did I end up here?

My mom has been practicing Vipassana for many years. She usually calls me five minutes before entering the center in Barcelona: “OK you won’t be hearing from me for the next 11 days. I love you!”. Vipassana has always been my mom’s thing. I never considered joining her on this adventure. After all, if I truly wanted to learn about my “limitations”, as I once told her, I would sign up for the Two Ocean Ultra-Marathon in Capetown or I would climb the Kilimanjaro. Of course, Vipassana is not about “limitations”, quite the contrary, but that’s how I saw it then, as an extreme meditation practice of some sorts.

A series of events, however, lead me to this path. After completing an eight-week Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course with my husband, the thought of attending a 10-day Vipassana retreat crossed my mind.  “I can now meditate 45 minutes a day. How far can I push the envelop?” and “Can I really disconnect for 10 days?” Next thing you know, I logged in to the Dhamma website and put my name down on the waiting list (there were no openings at the moment). “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be”. A few months later, they contacted me. YOU HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED! “Oh dear!”.

I am glad I didn’t check out the daily schedule then or  I wouldn’t have signed up for it (going from 45 min to 10 hours of meditation a day was a little jump). I thought we were going to meditate 2-3 hours a day maximum.

This was our daily schedule:

4:00 a.m. Morning wake-up bell
4:30 – 6:30 a.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30 – 8:00 a.m. Breakfast break
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. Group meditation in the hall
9:00 – 11:00 a.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
11:00 – 12 noon Lunch break
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Rest, and interviews with the teacher
1:00 – 2:30 p.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30 – 3:30 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
3:30 – 5:00 p.m. Meditate in the hall or in your room
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Tea break
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
7:00 – 8:15 p.m. Teacher’s discourse in the hall
8:15 – 9:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
9:00 – 9:30 p.m. Question time in the hall
9:30 p.m. Retire to your room; lights out

Day 0 – Wednesday – Arrival

It was 104 degree when I arrived at the Southern California Vipassana Center (SCVC). It was 4:45 pm. As I followed the signs to the registration desk, I noticed that the atmosphere was very friendly. Since the course didn’t officially start until 8 pm, we were allowed to talk to each other.  We wasted no time! There were people in their early 30s, 40, 50s, 60s and late 70s. Women and Men were segregated.

SVCS

After filling out some forms, I turned in my belongings (purse, car keys, phone, notepads and pens). I was then given my room number, W1 – 15.  At 6 pm, we had a light meal (curried yellow dal) followed by orientation. We went over the Code of Discipline:

All who attend a Vipassana course must undertake the following Five Precepts: 1) No killing 2) No stealing 3) No sexual activity 4) No lying and 5) No intoxicants. We were also told that we needed to observe Noble Silence from the beginning of the course until the morning of the last full day (Saturday).

Vipassana W1

After the brief presentation, we proceeded to our rooms. My roommate was already there, a beautiful tall surfer-looking girl. I introduced myself “Hi, my name is Ciry, pronounced like the iPhone, spelled differently and more helpful”. She looked at me with an alert face. “Oh don’t worry! We can talk until 8 pm”, I told her. “Aaaa, OK!”. She told me that she was from a small island called Samoa. She was a mom of three. She wanted to attend this retreat for the longest time but never had the chance.

Separating our beds, there were two nightstands, two curtains, one window with a short ledge and an A/C unit. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind if we use the ceiling fan instead of the A/C. I had to mention this since we wouldn’t be able to talk again for the next ten days and I didn’t want to suffer (my body dislikes A/C). “Oh I am fine with that! I don’t like it neither!”, she replied. Perfect! Few minutes later, we headed to the meditation hall. No more talking for eleven days!

Vipassana Meditation

As we entered the hall, we were given our sitting placements (mine was E2). We listened to S.N Goenka’s recordings (Dhamma talks) and were introduced to the concept of Sila that provides a basis for the development of Samadhi (concentration of mind) and Panna (wisdom of insight). We were asked to observe our breathing. The instructions were pretty straightforward, simple but not easy:  Notice how the air enters and exits the nostrils.

After the Dhamma talk, we headed to our rooms. We were supposed to wake up 6 hours later but I couldn’t sleep at all.  The bed was hard like a piece of stale bread. No kidding!

Day 1 -3 – Am I alive? + Anapana Breathing

By the time I fell asleep it was almost 4 am. I was awaken by the sound of the gong (featured in the picture below)

Vipassana Alarm Clock

Vipassana Alarm Clock

We were given the option to meditate for two hours in our rooms or in the meditation hall.  I knew if I stayed in the room I would fall asleep so I went to the meditation hall. Now, I am not sure I would call it “meditation” since I was really a zombie for the entire two hours. 

At 6:30 am, we had a light breakfast followed by a short (sleeping) break.  We were back in the meditation hall by 8 am for another 3 hours of meditation. By 12 am, on the first day, I was DONE. I wanted to leave the retreat.  I remember sitting in my bedroom thinking: “Maybe this is not real. I must be in a hospital bed in a comma. Perhaps if I shed some tears, someone in the hospital will see them and realize that I am still alive!”. I really thought that something traumatic had happened to me.  Otherwise, how could I be in so much discomfort? A few minutes later, I fell asleep. I woke up an hour later (12:55). It was meditation time again! We were given the option to meditate in our rooms again, from 1 – 2:30 pm. I looked at the clock and went to bed.

When I woke up from my second nap of the day, I felt renewed and with purpose. “Take advantage of this week! Work hard! Give Vipassana a chance!”

On day 2 and 3, we continued practicing Anapana Sati or “mindfulness of breathing”. We were given instructions to narrow down our focus and to observe our breath as it traveled through the triangle area between the upper lip and the nostrils.

On day 3, I learned a life lesson. I woke up at 4 am and ran for the showers. “There is no way I am going to meditate in this state”, I told myself. As I was getting out, I heard a very loud (conventional) alarm; each room was equipped with one. I thought “Wow, that’s pretty awful. That person is going to wake up the entire building. How rude and unthoughtful”, I thought to myself. A few seconds later, my roommate ran to the bathroom. As she opened the door trying to avoid eye contact (part of the rules of conduct), I realized that the “rude and unthoughtful person” was ME. Aha! I had set up the alarm earlier and completely forgot about it.  I was rushing to the room feeling horrible. I wanted to say that I was sorry but I was not supposed to talk at all (verbally or through gestures). I walked to the meditation hall after turning the alarm off. My roommate followed my steps but decided to leave the hall within minutes.  “Gosh I ruined her day! She usually stays for the entire two hours”. I was feeling guilty.

A few hours later, I saw her outside of the manager’s room. “I am in trouble! She is going to complain about me being loud”. The manager was not there. I saw my roommate rushing to the room. I interpreted it as a sign of anger. Little did I know she was putting a care package together for me: Lemongrass essential oils and cough drops. Oh my goodness, she is not mad at me at all! She just wanted to help me with the sniffing. And there I was judging myself, worrying all day for nothing, judging my roommate (I was pretty sure she is going to report me). It’s amazing how we make these big stories in our heads. I smiled at this realization. Suspend judgment!

I wanted to thank my roommate for the oil and drops but I wasn’t sure how to since we were observing Noble Silence. So I placed her bottle of essential oil in the short window ledge between our beds and left my ginger body lotion and lavender shea butter foot cream next to it. Hoping that she would get the message. Next day, she placed some raw probiotics and papaya enzymes next to my creams. “Aha, she got it!”. We had “accidentally” created a trading post, a little spa and new heaven. And while this was not considered “talking”, there was some beautiful communication between us.

Day 4 – 9 Vipassana Meditation and Adhitthana

On day 4, we were introduced to Vipassana. We were asked to perform body scans and to observe gross and subtle sensations in our body with true equanimity, accepting the reality of the moment without creating aversion or craving.

By day 6, I started feeling very grounded and comfortable. I truly enjoyed meditating in the hall between 8-11 am and 6-7 pm. I was now using my breaks to stretch my legs, go for walks, and wash my clothes. I was quite awake. However, as we learned in this course, nothing is permanent (anytha – law of impermanence). By day 7, we were introduced to Adhitthana or Sittings of Strong Determination. Three hours a day we were to meditate with our eyes closed, without moving our arms or legs. During the first two sittings I struggled. My legs were completely numbed but I was determined not to move. I had tears in my eyes at one point but hearing S.N Goenka’s chanting at the end of each meditation calmed me every single time. By day 8, my body was getting used to it.

During the Dhamma talk, on day 9, we were told that we would be breaking silence next day at 10 am. S.N Goenka mentioned we wouldn’t be able to meditate anymore. He was correct!

Day 10-11 – Metta Meditation and Breaking Noble Silence

The morning schedule on day 10 was the same as usual except we had a brief discourse after our group meditation at 9 am.  Today we learned a new meditation technique called Metta. We were basically directing “loving-kindness” towards ourselves, towards people we love and ultimately towards all beings.  I felt this was an incredible powerful way to finish the course!

Right after Metta practice, we were allowed to break silence outside the meditation hall.  We were all smiles (no hugs allowed yet).  I literally ran to my room to talk to my roommate. Finally!  We had so much to say to each other. I told her I was into cooking. She told me that she dreamed two days before that we were in the kitchen together making vegan cheese. I told her I was finishing my holistic certificate from IIN. She told me she owns a Wellness Center. We talked non-stop for almost two hours when Angeles whom I met during registration came to our room.  “Hurry, before the kitchen closes!”. We walked to the dinning hall and met everyone else. I hardly ate that day. I just wanted to listen to everyone’s experiences.

Suddenly something funny happened. I was sharing my contact information with another attendee: “My website is sunshineandkale”, when my roommate turned around. The conversation went something like this:

She:“I didn’t know you were sunshineandkale”
Me: Whaaat?
She: “I follow you!”
Me: Whaaat?.
She: “Yes, I follow your website”.

I blushed.

Me: “Noooo you are confusing me with sunshineandsomethingelse.com. I don’t have that many followers”
She: Ciry, I have your website, bookmarked!”
Me: “Seriously? It can’t be!”
She: “Ciry is coming to work for us at the studio”, she told the girl sitting next to her.

I turned really red, tomato face. What at are the odds?

After lunch, we went back to our rooms. We continued talking for two and a half hours with our neighbor Kehaulani, a photographer from San Diego. Around 2 pm, we heard the sound of the gong. We had no idea we had another group meditation.  I don’t think anyone felt like meditating that afternoon.

After this sitting, we all went to the dinning hall to discuss a few issues (car rides, post-retreat cleaning volunteering assignments, etc.). This was followed by our last dinner at the center, a combination of delicious left overs including some spicy Indian lentil soup that I will soon try to replicate.

Vipassana - Tea Break

Our Coffee & Tea Break Room

This evening we were asked to go to bed at 9 pm to be fresh and awake for the final discourse at 5 am next day. We invited a couple of people to our room and continued talking, exchanging information. Around midnight, everyone left. My roommate and I continued chatting until we heard the gong at 4 am. “Wow”, we both said at the same time. We had been up all night talking.

 I can’t recall much about the last video that we watched but I do remember several suggestions made by S.N Goenka to keep practicing Dhamma: Keep a daily meditation practice of two hours (1 hour in the morning, 1 hour in the evening) and attend at least one yearly retreat of ten days. He also suggested five minute body scans everyday before going to bed and right after we wake up.

After the last discourse, we cleaned up our rooms a little bit (leaving it in good conditions for the next set of students). We had a quick breakfast at the dinning hall where we picked up our belongings and exchanged contact information. I stayed for a few minutes to take pictures of the beautiful people I met as well as the center. I was filled with joy and gratitude.

This was a life changing experience that I will cherish forever!

Vipassana Dhamma Sis II

My Dhamma sis and beautiful roommate

Vipassana Dhamma Sis III

My Dhamma Sisters

Vipassana Dhamma Sis

My Dhamma Sisters

Before heading home, I stopped by the Vipassana Bookstore located one mile from the Vipassana Center.

Vipassana Books

I am leaving you with a poem from one of the books that one of the Vipassana teacher recommended to me, “The Moon Appears When the Water is Still” by Ian McCrorie.

We must start from where we are,
not from where we want to be,
for where we want to be,
is to be content with where we are

Vipassana Book

If you have any questions about the Southern California Vipassana Center or about Vipassana in general, I would be glad to help!  Leave a comment below or find me in Facebook (@sunshineandkale)

Watch out for (vipassana) recipes coming up soon! Save

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Spring is here!

“It was one of those March days, when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade”. -Charles Dickens

And so I went to Chino Farms and its Vegetable Stand in Rancho Santa Fe, looking for fresh produce and inspiration. This is what I came across: Vibrant radishes and beets in beautiful reds, pink and purple hues. Stunning peppers in three shades of yellow and orange. Mustard greens, lacinato kale and lots of greens. A beautiful explosion of colors!

Chino Farms 2

CF10

Chino Farms 4

Radishes

Happy Spring, everyone!
~ From SunshineandKale
“Colors are the smiles of nature” – Leigh Hunt

About Chino Farm

Chino Farm is a small, local, seasonal, family owned vegetable farm.  They sell to the public as well as to some local renown restaurants like  Chez PanisseGeorge’s at the CoveMille FleursDolce Pane E Vino and Market Del Mar to name a few. They are located at 6123 Calzada Del Bosque, just off Via de la Valle.  Their hours of operations are 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays.  Their website is Chino Family Farm

The Superlife 10-Day Nutrition Program by Darin Olien – Part II

First, read The Superlife 10-Day Nutrition Program by Darin Olien – Part I

These are a few of the recipes that I prepared during the second half of the program:

Steel Cut Oatmeal with Homemade Almond Milk and Organic Wild Blueberries

Homemade No-Bean Hummus Lettuce Wraps

SL-Homemade No-Bean Hummus Lettuce Wraps

Instead of store-bought hummus, I decided to prepare my delicious homemade no-bean hummus. For the recipe, click here

 Just Beet It Salad!

Go Get’ Em Smoothie – Mixed berries with Spinach, Coconut Water and Mushroom Matrix.

Buckwheat Noodle Salad

Buckwheat Noodle Salad

SuperLife 10-day Review

This is a great program for anyone that wants to incorporate more vegetables into their life. I also recommend it to anyone that doesn’t have a lot of time to cook but wants to eat healthy(ier). The recipes are simple, with ingredients easy to pronounce too! OK, maybe you never heard of kelp noodles before or you are not familiar with nutritional yeast or mushroom powders, but you can easily find these products at your local natural health store.

A nice thing about this program is that each recipes takes approximately 15-20 minutes to prepare. That’s it! I also like that each recipe includes tips for “Athletes/Increased Energy Needs” and for people following a grain-free diet, a nut-free diet and a seed-free diet. There are also alternatives for the few smoothies that call for a scoop of Shakeology ( using in most of the cases spinach and/or almond butter). I am glad he is offering other options.

The program recommends washing all vegetables with the TherOzone Blue Leaf sanitizer. It’s supposed to be “the most comprehensive, cost-effective way to kill food-borne bacteria and remove toxins”. I didn’t do this. I think water and a tad of vinegar does the trick. He also recommends drinking distilled water with added Himalayan crystal salts. Oops, I accidentally skipped this part too, an important one. But I drank the recommended daily doses of (filtered) water ( 62 oz for my body) which is practically a miracle for a camel like me. Having a water journal really helped. Thanks Darin!

Overall, I really enjoyed the program and all the “rainbows” that I ate in the last ten days. My plate was colorful, nutritiously balanced and full of Sunshine&Kale!

For more information about this program check SuperLife 10-Day.

The Superlife 10-Day Nutrition Program by Darin Olien – Part I

Who is Darin Olien? He is the Indiana Jones of the Superfoods. He is a widely recognized exotic superfoods hunter, supplement formulator, and environmental activist who travels the planet discovering new and underutilized medicinal plants.

I learned about Darin Olien several months ago when he was interviewed on the Rich Roll podcast ( you can listen to his interview here).   He is also the founder of SuperLife, creator of Shakeology and the author  of “Superlife: The 5 Forces That Will Make You healthy, Fit & Eternally Awesome“. In this book, he suggests simple daily actions that promote life-long wellness through proper nutrition, hydration, oxygenation, alkalization and detoxification or what he calls the five life forces. 

SuperLife

Last Monday, I came across this post from Darin Olien’s  Facebook page:

“Last Chance! It is Leap Day!  Today is a day you didn’t have last year and you won’t have again today! If you aren’t feeling “healthy, fit, and eternally awesome” right now, I would challenge you to check out my SuperPlant program and get plant-powered! It is easy, delicious, and will have you on track FAST! Use the code LEAPINTOHEALTH (all caps) to get 50% off today only (2-29). Get the program here: http://bit.ly/SuperPlantProgram. […] One year from now you will wish you had started today!”

Three seconds later, I signed up for his program. This is what I received for less than $20 (regular price is $37):

  • 40+ insanely nutritious, but easy-to-make recipes.  
  • Shopping list 
  • Downloadable journal 
  • Live support and feedback from Darin

I decided to start this 10-day program on Monday, March 7th.  I am on Day 3 and I couldn’t be happier. After all,  I am “eating the rainbow” everyday.

These are some of the recipes that I prepared in the last three days.

SL- Prepping

Prepping for the week

Chocolate Banana Smoothie

SL- Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Rainbow Salad with Almond Carrot Ginger Dressing

Rainbow Salad with Almond Carrot Ginger Sauce

Rainbow Salad

 Steel Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries, Reishi and Cordyceps powder

Steel Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries and Mushrooms

Thai Wraps with “Peanut” Sauce

SL ZIngi Thai Wraps

Better than dark coffee or dark chocolate! Go Get’ Em Smoothie – Mixed berries with Spinach, Coconut Water and Mushroom Matrix.

Sl Go Get' Em Smoothie

Fiesta Salad with Vegan Ranch Dressing

SL Fiesta Salad with Vegan Ranch Dressing

Colorful, isn’t it?

Leaving you with some words of wisdom from SuperLife:

“When you eat the EXACT same foods each day, you’re getting the same amount of concentrated nutrients from them. It doesn’t matter how “healthy” the foods are individually, this approach could lead to nutrient OVERLOAD from one food, and DEPRIVATION of key nutrients that you would get from other foods”

“Think about how your food looks together on the plate. Is everything beige? What colors can you put on your plate? The phrase “Eat the rainbow” is full of wisdom — and vitamins!”

For more information on this program, check out the SuperLife 10-Day Program. I am not affiliated with this company. I am just a Darin Olien fan.

YES, I promise to write an extensive review at the end of the program. Until then, Bon Appetite!

UPDATE: Check out The Superlife 10-Day Nutrition Program by Darin Olien – Part II

Vital Restaurant & Juice Bar

On a recent trip Montclair (NJ), we discovered this casual Caribbean infused restaurant.  Their menu offers a great selection of vegan and non-vegan options and plenty of Jamaican favorites.

Vital Front

Vital Juice Bar -Blog

It’s nicely decorated with framed chalkboards and “earthy” messages:  “Your mind is a garden. Your thoughts are the seeds. You either grow flowers or you can grow weeds”.

Vital Sign II. jpg

Vital Signs III

We were seated almost immediately and ordered some drinks.  We enjoyed their signature Vitality smoothie prepared with pineapple, ginger, spinach and coconut water as well as their Milkless Milkshake made with raw almonds, dates, cinnamon and vanilla. Joining us in the background with its relaxing music, Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Vital Green Juice

Ciry at Vital Dining

For starters, we ordered their Stuffed Avocados with arugula, almonds, pico de gallo and house vinaigrette. Simple, yet rich in flavors!

Vital Salad

For the main entrees,  I ordered the Curry Quinoa Wrap with avocados, mixed greens and tomatoes. My husband ordered their Black Bean Burger with sun dried tomatoes spread, mixed greens and mango salsa.

Both dishes were offered with either  chips, okra fries or side salads. We decided to try the okra fries. Now, I am not  a big fan of okra ( I blame it on my Cuban family for making me eat Cuban Quimbombo)  but Vital’s fries won me over. I was pleasantly surprised with both its flavor and texture. 

Vital Wrap

Overall, the food was fresh and spicy, a feast for the senses! The service was fantastic and the Caribbean atmosphere was nicely recreated.  I can’t wait to go back to this place next year!   I strongly recommend Vital to everyone visiting New Jersey. 

For more information, check out their website: Vital Dining

SunCafe Organic

Last Saturday afternoon, I headed to Los Angeles to visit some friends. I had signed up for the Art Of Chocolate class on Sunday at Matthew Kenney Santa Monica Culinary and I wanted to stay close to the area. Lucky me, it was also dineLA restaurant week.

Dine LA

What is dineLA? It’s a 14-day dining event that takes place bi-annually in the summer and winter. During dineLA, hundreds of fine dining restaurants in Los Angeles participate in this showcase of culture and diversity as they offer prix fixe meals for a fraction of their normal price.   This year dineLA takes place from July 14th to 27th. 

After a quick look at the impressive list of participating restaurants we decided to check SunCafe Organic Cuisine, a new restaurant in Studio City. All we knew about this restaurant is that they offer organic vegan and raw options. We had no idea it was awarded Top 10 Restaurant in L.A & Orange County.

From their website,  “SunCafe is a celebration of food prepared in their natural state. Our chefs start from scratch with the freshest organic ingredients to create rustic World Cuisine for the liveliest, most flavorful food you may ever taste. All of our dishes and desserts are gluten free, or they have that option”

We made a reservation for 8:30 pm but arrived fifteen minutes early. This was good since parking was a little tight and the restaurant was packed. We ended up  parking on the street, in an adjacent semi residential neighborhood. As we walked to SunCafe, we saw their big bright orange-yellow neon sign. In the background a billboard stating: SATISFACTION. “Will see!”, I told myself.

suncafe The space is gorgeous, open and welcoming. The food looks amazingly healthy and the atmosphere is fantastic. I really think they need to update their website because their pictures don’t do it justice ( except for the one I am posting below)

suncafe

Photo Credit: SunCafe

Their dineLA fixed menu was very attractive too. For appetizer, a choice of: Lettuce Leaf Tacos, Sun Nachos or Mezze Plate. For entree, a choice of:  Mac & Cheese, Zucchini Lasagna or Mushroom Spinach Quinoa Risotto. For dessert, a choice of: SunCafe Shake, Cast Iron Cookie or Key Lime Pie (raw). Al for $25 per person. What a bargain!

However, since we were six people, we decided to order from the regular menu and share. For appetizers, we ordered the (Raw) Sun Bruschetta with  fresh tomato, basic, garlic, cashew ricotta on raw sunflower & buckwheat “bread”, balsamic reduction. Simply delicious!

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We also placed an ordered for (Raw) Sun Nachos with chorizo, nacho cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, jalapeño, green onion and cashew sour cream with both raw thin-sliced jicama “chips” and baked blue corn chips.  This is the best raw nachos I have ever tried! 

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For the main course, I ordered the Sun Pad Thai with golden beet noodles, sunflower sports, basil, cilantro, tossed with a zesty tahini sauce, topped with crushed pistachios. 

sun pad thai My friends ordered the Roasted Vegetable Curry, the Kale Colossus and a Pesto Pizza.

The winning dish of the night, however, was  the Mushroom & Spinach Quinoa Risotto. It was made with crimini mushrooms, shallot, garlic baby spinach and cashew milk. I’ve never tasted anything like it! Not even at Candle 79, my favorite vegan restaurant in New York City. This risotto is to live for. So rich and decadent, I spend the next 24 hours thinking about it. 

No wonder this was voted Top 10 Restaurant in L.A! As for the billboard, it was right: SATISFACTION guaranteed! 🙂

My Business Lunch Marathon

As you might know already, I eat 100% plant-based no  sugars and no grains or PPNSNG.  Every now and then, however, I like to “put a little bit of life into living”, as trainer Vinnie Tortorich like to say. For the special occasion, I usually drink a glass of wine or a beer. Last week, my entire team flew to town. They  came from Miami, Phoenix and Vancouver (Canada). Guess what one of them requested as soon as he landed? “Please take me to In & Out Burger”. Seriously? No way! I had better plans.”What about a place where we can all be happy?” First stop, the Stone Brewery World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido.

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I had been to this brewery a couple of times before but never since I started eating 100% plant-based. Still,  I knew I would be able to order something good off the menu. To my surprise, the menu was full of delicious vegan options! It was nice not having to ask the waiter if there was shrimp in the house-made kimchi or dairy in the tofu masala.

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I ordered the Shepherd’s Pie. This is spicy tempeh with locally grown vegetables, garlic and mashed potatoes. I asked the waitress to pair it with a good vegan beer.

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“I am in heaven”, said one of my co-workers, while chewing on some BBQ Duck Taco Trio. “No, my pull chicken and wild boar sandwich is the best”, said another one.  While their dishes didn’t look appealing to me,  we were all in agreement: The food here is fantastic! As we were leaving the restaurant, I learned that they have a  Meatless Monday Menu. YES, I will be back soon! The next day, we headed to the Karl Strauss Brewing Company for a late lunch.

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I ordered the Spicy Tofu Curry with bok choy, mushrooms, sunflower sprouts, citrus-glazed crispy tofu and thai basil green curry.  It’s usually served with long grain rice.  This meal was simply delightful. It’s sweet, tangy and rich.  The waiter couldn’t tell me if their beers were vegan or not ( strange, isn’t it?) so I opted out.

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The following day we went to King’s Fish House in Carlsbad. We arrived at the perfect time. This place can get a little bit crowded sometimes. I ordered one of their signature salads, the Roasted Beets Salad with baby arugula, toasted pecans, dried cranberries and grapefruit & red wine vinaigrette. No goat cheese for me. This is probably the best beet salad I’ve ever eaten.

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On our last day together, we only had 30 minutes to eat. Guess where the guys went for lunch? In & Out burger! Creatures of habit! I just stopped by Chipotle an grabbed a quick bowl of sofritas over lettuces. Nothing too glamorous! Still, I am amazed at how easy it is to eat 100% plant-based nowadays, at least in Southern California.

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And this concludes my business lunch marathon. Hope you enjoyed it!