In case you didn’t know, Connecticut has a lot to offer i.e. spectacular foliage, prep schools, lyme disease, ESPN, insurance, Martha Stewart, oversized luxury SUV monsters, the praying mantis, and women with 90’s Hillary Clinton haircuts and cashmere sweater sets. Alas, we are a diverse state, but until recently have failed at providing the ever growing non-hippie-private-school-educated-pseudo-gluten-free-vegetarians with plant-based restaurants. Enter Six Main, a wholly vegetarian and mostly vegan restaurant in the heart of Chester, which nearly suffers from the too quaint town syndrome, but saves itself by lacking a Life is Good store and fudge shop. See my thoughts on quaint towns here.
Inside this converted savings bank is a chic, white-linens-and-dark-wood-with-the-good-wine-glasses-and-small-menu kind of restaurant that takes the hip from hippie and does away with the extra letters. Although I love nothing more than the smell of patchouli and wheatgrass and a server wearing a shirt that says “I’m not a nugget”, there is a time and place for veg chic. New York has always been the go to mecca for high end vegan dining, but with Six Main on the map, Connecticut’s veg options are shifting from miso soup and veggie burgers to beet tartare and kimchee fried rice tempeh satay. I’ll take one of each, thank you.
A lot of my friends live in what they refer to as “the city”, meaning New York, one of nearly 300 major cities in the US, but according to them might as well be the only one. When visiting, I still stumble over where Queens and the Bronx are in relation to dreary old Manhattan. In fact, a while back I drew a map for my buddy of how I thought the boroughs were arranged. He found it so hysterical that he showed it to other city dwellers so they could have a laugh. I’m okay with this. Actually, in a strange way I’m delighted to not know much about the city because everyone else claims the exact opposite. What I do know is that it has insanely good vegan restaurants ,and for that reason alone, I remain a frequent visitor.
On that note, Tom and I recently visited Clementine Bakery in Clinton Hill (yes, I just googled “Brooklyn neighborhoods”). We go to Clementine a lot because of its proximity to my brother-in-law’s place and for its insanely delicious tempeh reuben. Loaded with homemade apple sauerkraut, marinated tempeh, Daiya mozzarella cheese, and vegan thousand island dressing inside of freshly baked sourdough bread, you cannot go wrong with this sandwich. Yes, it’s full of Daiya cheese which I’m normally not the biggest fan of, but there is a time and place for processed vegan cheese, and this is most definitely one of them. The vibe inside is cute retro hipster, with tattooed, cat-loving-girls-only bakers and Beyonce blasting in the morning. The service is slow, but it’s okay because I like being there and everything is made fresh. Enjoy your reuben outside with a local coffee and the alley cat regulars who attack unsuspecting dogs passing by. Leave your unicorn friend at home so he doesn’t scare the cats away, but make sure you buy him a reuben to go.
So Tom is from England. And lucky for him because his ridiculously cute accent is a huge part of why we started dating. And lucky for me, he turned out to be way more than just a cute accent. Yes, we frolic with unicorns, eat tempeh till our stomachs expand past the confines of our pants, and rant about the inadequacies of the dreaded “steamed vegetable plate” at restaurants. “Yes we are vegan, no we don’t eat fish, yes we eat a lot.” So you can imagine my initial fears of dining out in dreary old England. Translation: brownish, meat and potato type dishes with a fear of greens and names that sound more like bands than meals i.e. spotted dick, bangers and mash, toad in a hole, and bubble and squeak. Armed with a stash of granola and Vega bars, I timidly arrived in London, only to find the weather bright and sunny, and the food delicious! Now my stereotypical idea of England has vanished into the Thames as quickly as a cygnet diving for fish, and I am already craving a full english breakfast, vegan style of course. Below are some of the culinary delights we enjoyed during our stay.
So my family and I are going to visit Africa. When I think of Africa I picture lions, zebras and elephants like any other ignorant foreigner, but I also picture giant anacondas, typhoid fever, and lots of bottled water. In a nutshell, we have to get inoculated. This word sounds harmless enough- perhaps even enjoyable because of its similarity to words like intoxicated, innocence, and inner-tube. But let me be clear: getting inoculated has nothing to do with pleasantness and everything to do with large needles.
The office for infectious disease smells like its filled with them (translation: a too warm grey blue box reeking of latex and dirty people). I check in with a lady wearing scrubs decorated with kittens playing with a ball of string and chuckle at her perfectly executed presentation of the stereotypical hospital receptionist (translation: overweight middle aged she-man who used to care but now just rescues cats and watches reality TV). She’s tucked behind a glass window (I can’t help but notice the fingerprints and dried spit before she slides it open and hands me a clipboard). “Just grab a pen from the jar,” she tells me. I look at the jar of used looking pens and scolded myself for hesitating. It’s just a goddamn pen, I tell myself. I am here for disease prevention…disease prevention. I keep repeating this in my head to drown out my inner chorus of: this place is festering with disease…this place is festering with disease. The paper on the clipboard asks me if I have AIDS, if I’m pregnant, if I’m allergic to anything, if I take blood thinners or anti-psychotics, if I’m depressed, if I have heart disease…
No, I say to myself, but I’m a panic stricken vegan with germaphobia!
My unicorn friend is eating the fake green hanging plant in the corner. I roll my eyes and sarcastically ask him how a plant can grow without light. Green plants can grow anywhere, he argues, while chewing on a plastic leaf. I snort and turn my attention to the wrinkled Good Parenting magazine on the side table. I open it with my fingertips and discover that a few pages have been ripped out. Who rips out magazine articles? I wonder briefly. After learning that the first year of a baby’s life costs around 50k, I pick up a pamphlet on HIV. It takes me about 2 minutes to convince myself that I have it.
The doctor emerges from behind a grey door. He’s just finished up with my sister, who’s in some sort of post traumatic shock (translation: she doesn’t like hospitals or people generally, especially people who tell her to be very still for any period of time and stick her with large needles). I can’t say I blame her. Her boyfriend is smiling and tells us that the needles were “This big!” (gesticulating wildly and giving the impression that the needle was the length of a large cat).
My unicorn friend and I follow the doctor into his small office and I immediately feel claustrophobic. It’s another grey blue box. It has a window that looks out onto more grey buildings, and his desk is completely hidden beneath never-ending stacks of papers and charts cloaked in dust. A few family photos have managed to hold onto the edges of the mahogany surface. The wall opposite the window has a bookshelf lined with thick boring books that no one ever reads. The doctor tells us to have a seat, then launches into a freaking dissertation about the importance of vaccines when traveling to Africa. I want to say, Yeah, I know all this, that’s why I’m here you idiot. No, I don’t want to get Hepatitis from fruit salad or Typhoid fever from bacteria infested water. Yes, I’m fine with getting Tetanus. And Polio. Yes, yes…just DO it already! The longer I sit in this grey blue box of dust and disease, the more likely I’m going to contract a Staph infection! My unicorn friend calmly asks if the scar on his arm from a previous vaccination reaction will be an issue. I groan as the doctor goes into a detailed explanation of the hows and whys of vaccination reactions. I am stuck to my seat with sweat. I need to get out of here. After what seems like a full calendar year, the doctor asks us if we want to watch him prepare the inoculations. “Is it interesting?” asks my unicorn friend. My eyes swell like two glass orbs and I nearly shout, “Jesus, you don’t have the shots ready yet?”
Suddenly I picture a petri dish writhing with a typhoid amoeba monster and our sloth of a doctor coaxing it into a giant needle with soft encouragement. Beads of sweat form on my forehead and I grab my unicorn friend by the mane and drag him to the waiting room. It’s cooler in there at least. The lady with the kitten scrubs beams at us and I’m reminded of the fact that no one else has come or gone from the office since we arrived 108 hours ago. How many shots does this guy dole out per day? I wonder with increasing fear.
20 minutes have passed and I’m eyeing the air vent like it’s a MRSA filled enemy, floating into the grey blue office like the Ebola virus from Outbreak, just when Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo realize that it’s airborne…
Come on in, says the doctor with a toothy grin. I am fairly certain at this point that I am in Hell and this doctor is Satan and all I’m going to do for the rest of eternity is wait for and then receive shots in his infernal office.
The exam room is blindingly bright from the neon light buzzing overhead. There’s a bed covered in stiff white paper and a framed print of one of Monet’s waterlilies. I sit on the edge of the bed with a loud crunch after deciding that I’m getting the damn shots first. Two in each arm, Satan says with a smile. Oh, you sadist sloth! I want to yell. When the first needle goes in, I try to ignore my sister’s earlier bravado about vaccine reactions and subsequent paralyzation of the legs. They hurt like hell, but its pure bliss compared to sitting in Satan’s dusty office or the grey blue waiting room filled with MRSA.
Now that you’ve been to Hell and back and have enough vaccines to roll around in Malaria-infested waters with hippos and anacondas, why not invite them over for some grilled watermelon salad? I was very skeptical about grilling fruit at first, but now I realize that when you grill fruit it actually caramelizes and makes it even sweeter. A punch of balsamic reduction and some cashew cheese (Dr. Cow makes the most delicious vegan cheese I’ve ever tasted. Look here: Dr-Cow | Products | Aged Cashew Nut Cheese.), and you’re in for a serious flavor explosion.
Grilled Watermelon Salad with Cashew Cheese
1/2 (5 pound) watermelon, rind removed and cut into about 8 squares
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
splash of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt & fresh pepper to taste
2 cups arugula
1 container Dr. Cow cashew cheese sliced thin (or “cheese” of your choosing)
Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until reduced to a think syrup and set aside. Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium high heat. Drizzle enough olive oil over watermelon slices to coat and place on hot grill. Grill each side about 3 minutes or until grill marks appear. Season with sea salt. To assemble, put a handful of arugula on a plate and top with two slices of grilled watermelon, a drizzle of balsamic reduction and a few pieces of cashew cheese. Serves 4 unicorns with sore arms and paralyzed legs.
Every time I visit a town referred to as “quaint” or “nestled” in any type of landscape whether sea or mountains or whatever, I become suspicious. These overused adjective’s usually mean one thing only: fudge shops. Small town fudge shops draw fanny-packed Americans into their sugary arms like retired Floridians to egg salad sandwiches. And each of these lame towns always proclaim themselves as having “the best fudge in the country”. Who the hell eats fudge anyway?
These types of towns scare me. They always have that “Truman Show” look about them. The sidewalks are cobblestone and pristine, the shop windows are framed in gingham-checked curtains, and you instantly get the feeling that you’ve entered a time capsule. My unicorn friend picks up a complimentary map from the trolley conductor, but since the town’s only 3 inches long, I tell him we’ll manage. There’s a barber shop with the weird twirly striped thing outside the door, a “country” store that sells peanut brittle and salt water taffy, about a dozen or so antique shops (translation: stores filled with some old cat lady’s weird junk), little benches with bronze statues of small children at play, horse-drawn carriages driven by bearded men in top hats who speak with an accent that suggests they’re from the 19th century, and of course–the dreaded fudge shop. Salted fudge, fudge with nuts, fudge filled with coffee, fudge shaped into dogs, and fudge store novelty items: stuffed animals holding hearts and a small bag of fudge, magnets, teeshirts, and other useless crap that tourists scoop up with exuberance so they can show their friends back home. “We went to this quaint little town and they had the best fudge…”
These towns were probably great a long time ago, before they knew how marketable they could become by exploiting their charm to the point of nausea. All you have to do is clean up your town a bit (translation: add cobblestone, hanging flower baskets, street lamps, and an old cannon or some type of rusting weapon of yesteryear in the main square…there must be a main square). Then add a Life is Good franchise. Tourists love that spindly-legged do gooder. You should also have a “walking tour” of the town, described in a series of plaques every few hundred feet: “This is where Joe-I-did-the-american-dream-thing-Smith first landed” or “This is the oldest tree in America”, etc. The important thing is to make sure that this walking tour isn’t longer than about a 1/2 mile, not only because you’ll end up in the next town but because Americans don’t like to walk. Actually, if you really want to shake things up, open up a Segway rental shop and soon you’ll have fanny-packs zooming around your town like nobody’s business! And you can charge twice as much for everything. As long as it has the town’s name plastered all over it, tourists will overlook the golden “Made in China” sticker.
Now that you’re parched from stuffing your face with fudge and you’ve totaled your Segway, why not sit on one of those creepy benches with the bronze children and have some coconut water? Raw coconut water is the water found inside of fresh young coconuts. It is one of the most naturally hydrating liquids on earth. It’s full of electrolytes and has the same nutrient balance as plasma. The brand I love most is called Harmless Harvest. Unlike most brands, Harmless Harvest’s coconut water is unprocessed and raw, which allows for greater nutrient bioavailability and a superior taste. You can also purchase a young coconut from most natural foods stores and stick a straw in the top and suck the water out for yourself. Either way, it’s insanely delicious. Try it out and give it to your unicorn friends!