Come Say Hello At The Holiday Fair Extravaganza in Skokie, Illinois!

Hello, hello! The holidays are coming! Once Halloween passes this Tuesday, every store will be filled to the brim with decorations and everything to fill your gift list. Jingle Bells will be playing on the radio and those warm and fuzzy commercials tempting you to buy, buy, buy, will begin. Oh my!

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I always love the sparkle and the meaningful themes that this season is truly about. But don’t you feel like the holidays always come too fast and then are over in a flash? If only we could enjoy the merriment a little more, without all of life’s constant hustle and bustle, and stress. That is my wish to you, that you’ll enjoy this season to the absolute fullest, surrounded by friends and loved ones!

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I wanted to share a special event, with hopes that you’ll come by to see me! Just a few weeks away, I’ll have a table for book signing at the Holiday Fair Extravaganza in Skokie, IL. The event will take place at the Weber Leisure Center and supports local crafters and artists. Taking place on Saturday, November 18th from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., there will be lots of handmade fare, hot drinks and baked treats! Good ole’ holiday craft fair fun to start the season out in the most cheerful way!

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I just had a sudden craving for some peppermint bark and a raspberry linzer cookie (or five). Linzer cookkieeessss…..mmmmm….nom, nom, nom. I digress…

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My books will be available for purchase, with hopes that some of my tales will make it into a stocking or two, inspiring some winter reading and adventure! I may or may not be wearing an ‘ugly Christmas sweater’ for my own amusement…

If you live in the Chicagoland area, I sincerely hope to see you there! Click here to see a list of my works, with many more harrowing adventures to come!

My very best wishes to you from the very start of this season of goodwill and cheer!

Lovin’ That! Pete’s Living Greens

What’s next on my list of Lovin’ That!? Pete’s Living Greens. Some of you might remember when I got really sick with food poison back in January. I’d thought I’d gone to Hades and back, in such misery was I. The culprit was prepackaged lettuce, the kind that comes in a plastic tub. Usually it’s prewashed and it is of course, convenient. That’s why I liked buying it…

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Unfortunately, it can also be very dangerous to your health. Please check out my previous post, Prepackaged Lettuce, Let Us Not! After that terrible incident, I’d been making the effort to regularly purchase a fresh head of lettuce, to rinse and chop up myself. But I have to say, that too has had its frustrations. You bring it home in a thin plastic bag and it’s already moist (because they mist veggies with water in their display at the grocery), and so it goes bad just as quickly. If you take it out of the bag and put it back into the fridge, it wilts immediately. Argh!

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As a vegetarian…and now what I’d like to call a 98% vegan, I eat a lot of greens. I can’t have that fresh lettuce going south in one or two days. And I’m tired of wasting money! What to do?

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Introducing Pete’s Living Greens (and yes, I like to match the color of my drinking straws to the color on my soda water cans…I’ve gotta be me). Pete’s Living Greens do come in a plastic tub, but it is different

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It is plucked out of the dirt with the roots attached, neither precut nor prewashed. The label claims you get seven extra days of freshness because of the roots. I eat my lettuce far faster than seven days, so I can’t attest. However, I am very satisfied with Pete’s Living Greens. It stays bright, fresh, crisp, until I’ve eaten it all. Not one leaf going to waste. Lovin’ That!

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There’s very little moisture in the package, just a tiny bit of condensation. I pluck off as many or few leaves as I wish, and let the rest of the lettuce remain attached to its roots. Voila! Fresh lettuce for days. And affordable too! This head (which was much larger before I ate half of it) cost about $3.50…and remember, not a leaf goes into the trash. Finally, my lettuce woes have been solved!

*Pete’s Living Greens did not fund my lettuce eats. All opinions of lettuce love are my own!

Gobble, gobble! Go gobble your greens! Stay healthy, stay happy, stay inspired!

Patty Cake, Patty Cake…Poom!

As I was writing today, and studiously researching a few random facts of history, somehow my groundwork efforts led me to Dansons La Capucine by Parole De Chat. What’s that? It’s the most hilarious cat video, by the most clever makers of comical cat videos. Since they posted this particular work of brilliance back in 2012, I’ve watched it many times, and every time I enjoy a good laugh. I felt compelled to share it with you…

This isn’t their only video. They’ve made quite a few, each as funny as the next. This following video Miroirs & Chats made me laugh so hard today that I had to use half a box of kleenex to wipe away tears of laughter. I suggest watching it a few times, so that you can catch all of the priceless commentary…

Of course, we have a number of entertaining felines to thank for these giggles. Cats being cats, they’re awesome! But I must say, the guys who make Parole De Chat have a talent for comical narration that is hard to beat!

Here’s to loving and respecting our animal friends, and also wishing you many laughs and smiles today! 

Veleno Giveaway on Goodreads!

There is currently a special giveaway on Goodreads for your chance to win one of three signed copies of Veleno, sent straight from my desk to you! The giveaway ends on Halloween at midnight…

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There once was a great Venetian palace. The name of which, everyone did know. Inside its walls dwelled an esteemed noble family. All revere, ’tis the House of Orso!

Its patriarch, a rich and powerful merchant. With a wife very clever, such a beautiful sight. His daughters, four, a precious gift. How unfortunate now, each should meet their plight…

Orso dead? Perhaps by plague! Mirella turned strange, a widow made.

Fina gone, for a courtesan’s life. Noemi must escape, or make a woeful wife. Mafalda will rise in a cold, cruel pit. Paola sent off to a nunnery, might lose her wits.

Venice’s year, 1575. Pestilence arrives, Venetians fear for their lives! But in Orso’s house, strong daughters were made. Yet can courage be enough, to escape the grave?

To check out my Goodreads author page, click here! For your chance to enter the Veleno giveaway on Goodreads, head here! Good luck and happy reading!

Lovin’ That! Soul Vegan Lasagna

Next on my list of Lovin’ That! is Soul Vegan’s vegan lasagna! Soul Vegan is a wonder food provider in Chicago that makes the most amazing, healthy, tasty dishes…

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Even as a vegetarian, I indulged in their lasagna regularly. They sell pre-packaged slices, wraps and full meals at the Whole Foods in my area, and according to their website, they also provide for the local Mariano’s…

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The first reasons why I love this lasagna is that it’s delivered to the store very freshly made, is only chilled (not frozen), and provides a perfect portion size that doesn’t leave me hungry…

Further, I like meals that can be thrown together quickly. I get home, slide two or three bake dishes into the oven, and done. Especially on a chilly, dark night! (I’m not a fan of microwaves when I can help it. I prefer putting a few things into the oven and stepping away to relax before supper). When I return to the oven, voila! The perfect meal!

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I also love this lasagna because someone else made it (lasagna takes quite a bit of time to make). I enjoy it further because it’s a healthier version of this dish. But most especially, I love it because it tastes AMAZING. I prefer this delicious slice to any lasagna I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. It’s so good, I could eat it every day. I even served it to handsome and he said, “Mmmm, this is better than real lasagna.” That’s coming from a meat eater…

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What I also really like is Soul Vegan’s message. Love life. Live life. Care about your community. Lovin’ That! You can check out their values and offerings here. If you are in Chicagoland, be on the lookout for Soul Vegan’s delicious meals. Try this lasagna and tell me it isn’t simply divine!

*Soul Vegan did not fund my obsession with their crazy awesome lasagna. I stumbled on these addictive slices all on my own! All opinions are mine, all mine.

Love Life, Live Life! Stay healthy! Stay Inspired!

Not Your Usual Ghost Stories

In Evanston today, the weather is finally kicking into autumnal gear. There’s a chilly rain, the sky is dismal and the leaves are falling. My coffee pot just finished brewing and I’m ready to write…about something creepy. Bwa-ha-ha! With Halloween fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to share some spooky reads as I’ve done before [Halloween Treats For All]…

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I must first preface that I’m intrigued by reading people’s allegedly true accounts of their paranormal experiences. Do you like to scare the crap out of yourself like me? Then besides one of these reads, I suggest watching some episodes of Paranormal Witness. That show will have you sleeping with the lights on…

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And because I’m curious for reading accounts of people’s strange experiences, it’s had a little impact on my writing. My new thriller Veleno (which takes place during Venice’s plague of 1575) contains a few paranormal moments. These moments take place when a character is in extreme peril. Thus, I played with the question…was their experience real, or was it the mind’s reaction to stress?

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I was inspired in part by the spooky things people say have actually happened to them…

My dad and I regularly exchange books by snail mail. We also occasionally amuse ourselves with conversations about ghosts, Bigfoot, tales of coincidence, etc. It was a conversation about strange coincidences that had him send me a book about police accounts of the paranormal. The book was True Police Stories of the Strange and Unexplained by retired detective sergeant Ingrid Dean…

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I’m going to tell you frankly, these are scary accounts that are unique to paranormal stories. Why? Because police and emergency technicians are the first to arrive at the scenes where bad things have, or are about to, happen. They are also often out on patrol in the middle of the night, having to inspect strange calls. After reading Ms. Dean’s compilation of accounts, not only was I both a bit frightened and perplexed, but I’d gained an even greater respect for those who keep our community safe…

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Having found these accounts so unique, I decided to also read Cops’ True Stories of the Paranormal: Ghosts, UFO’s and Other Shivers by Loren Christensen. Yikes! I was terribly jumpy after reading this one…

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Take for example the first account…

Two police officers are on a high speed chase. The man they are following refuses to pull over and is driving recklessly. When entering a road tunnel, this man sadly loses control of his vehicle and crashes. The police pull up behind the wrecked vehicle just in time to see the man climb out of his driver’s side window and run down the tunnel. The police chase the man on foot for a distance. But then, the man disappears. Where did he go? The police search, no trace of the man. They return to the crashed vehicle only to discover that the man never left his car. He’s still behind the wheel, having passed away on impact. And yet, two officers witnessed him hopping out and running

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That gave me something to think about.

My view is that both of these books are for mature readers because they deal with some perilous happenings. With that being said, they both remained reverent when explaining real life situations. These accounts focus on the strange things police saw and experienced, rather than on people’s misfortunes.

These were not your usual ghost stories. Let’s just say, I’m glad I’m not an officer called out to investigate strange goings on in a desolate field in the middle of the night…

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I am also very glad that I’m not a truck driver out driving in the middle of the night…

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Since the police accounts were not your average ‘what goes bump in the night’ stories, I figured truckers probably see some strange things too. They do. No thanks!

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Imagine having to drive through dark, vast, desolate roadways for a living. All alone. Tired and lonesome. Keeping an eye out for deer, coyotes, or the rare hitchhiker. But wait…perhaps you’re not as alone as you think? Have fun reading Trucker Ghost Stories edited by Annie Wilder. Yikes! Super yikes!

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My dad just sent me this one. Ghost Ships of the Great Lakes by Dwight Boyer. He said after I read this book, I’d never look out over the lake in the same way again. I live just a few blocks away from the often turbulent waters of Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago.

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I would only suggest such a read if you are nutty for history, and for maritime history in particular. I read several of the historic accounts, and they are not so much ghostly as they are mysterious. Hundreds of ships have gone missing on America’s Great Lakes over the centuries, and the stories surrounding some of these vanishings definitely gave me the heebie-jeebies…

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You learn of the real people who were sailing, the wild storms and the dangerous feats they endured, and the strange facts surrounding their disappearances. I simply can’t imagine it. I could never be a sailor. They were beyond brave.

I admit that if I’m down near the lake on a stormy day, I now might look twice for any mysterious vessels floating by in the distance…

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Now if you’re inclined to give your brain a good shaking up, which apparently I do, there’s a few unique books out there about folks’ near death experiences, and of the doctors and scientists who are either working to support or debunk such claims. I’ve just picked up My Time in Heaven by Richard Sigmund, but have not read it yet. I have read Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences by Jeffrey Long & Paul Perry however, and it definitely offered me lots to contemplate…

Mind boggling. It’s all mind boggling…

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I can’t finish my brief list of the paranormal, strange, spectacular, spooky and harrowing without mentioning Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife by Mary Roach. Mary Roach is one of my absolute favorite authors. I’ve reviewed some of her other books here and here. This book takes a scientific view of life after death by reviewing those people, past or present, who have used experimentation to answer, What happens when we pass on? I recommend Ms. Roach’s books because she makes difficult science digestible, and is terribly hilarious and clever. Spook is not only entertaining and informative, but it will also have you looking over your shoulder for ghosts…yikes!

*Disclaimer: Be sure to read these books with all of the lights on. After reading, watch a Disney movie and sing along to the happy songs, so that you aren’t too frightened when it’s time to turn the lights off and go to bed.

The Blessing Of A Friend’s Garden

I’d set aside today as a strict writing day and nothing was going to pry me away from my desk, nothing! I’m working on my newest novel, a romantic odyssey set in ancient days, and the perilous passages were just ready to spill from my fingertips (because I’ve decided a romance needs lots of peril). But then I got a text from a girlfriend across town. I brought the garden for you today!!

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My friend doesn’t have a garden. These greens actually come from her friend’s garden. My friend is house sitting and some greens were just calling to be picked and eaten before they went to waste. And if anybody has any extra greens, I’m all too happy to eat them. Granted, I finished the chapter I was working on before I hopped in my car to zoom across town…

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I was gifted with a bag of lettuce, Swiss chard, dill, rosemary, chives and itty bitty tomatoes. Life is good! Have you ever sauteed Swiss chard with a little olive oil and garlic? Takes 2 minutes and tastes heavenly

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Tiddo the cat was checking out the herbs before I even knew he was in the kitchen with me. He wanted to see if the greens were some of that fresh catnip I nab from neighbors’ front lawns from time to time…

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Earlier in the week, this said friend also gave me some zucchini from said garden. Tonight, it took me all of 10 minutes to prepare supper. I made a vegetable tian with one zucchini, some Campari tomatoes I had on hand, and the fragrant rosemary. Drizzled over a little olive oil, sea salt and balsamic. It’s in the oven now…

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Rinsed the Swiss chard, plucked off the veiny tough stems, and will toss in the skillet just before the tian is ready (it wilts like a side of steamed spinach, but tastier)…

Goodness is it a blessing to have a friend with a friend who has a garden!

Stay inspired, eat your veggies, show someone you care!

Lovin’ That! Mercato At Starbucks

I’ve always gotten a kick out of reading other bloggers’ favorite things lists. Lists such as my favorite beauty products, or my favorite places to get a donut, or here’s what I got for for Christmas this year, or my list of best food trucks ever! I guess it’s entertaining to see the spectacular diversity in what others cherish and enjoy. These lists are always colorful, amusing, lighthearted and often informative…

So, I’m starting a new string of posts called Lovin’ That! to share some of my favorite things with you!

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First up, Mercato At Starbucks. Mercato is a new lunch menu that Starbucks recently launched in Chicago and Seattle. Now, I usually don’t stop at Starbucks because I make my own coffee each morning. But occasionally when I’ve run out of grounds and I’m in a hurry, I stop to treat myself on the go…

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That’s what happened a few weeks ago, and while waiting in line, I spotted what looked like some pretty tasty salads. I snatched up a cauliflower tabbouleh side salad with vegan written clear on the label and decided to try it for lunch. It was delicious and very healthy. I wondered if there was another salad that might be vegan too? Well, if you don’t indulge in the little cup of creamy salad dressing served with the green goddess avocado salad, then you’re good to go! A second green and healthy favorite on the menu!

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The point of their new menu serves two purposes. One, adding lots of tasty variety, including lovely looking sandwiches. Their roasted turkey and dill havarti sandwich sounds dreamy, along with everything else. Starbucks planned delicious new items that covered a variety of tastes and dietary considerations. Lovin’ That! But the second part of this menu, is that Starbucks donates all leftovers at the end of the evening to the hungry. Lovin’ That!

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The Mercato menu is a tasty step up from their past on the go lunch offerings, are made fresh daily, and any extras are given to those in need. Even though I don’t frequent Starbucks, as someone trying to eat a plant-based diet, I was very happy to find something that I could grab on the quick when I’m out and about. Eating vegan is tricky. It’s hard to find fresh, fast options. If you’re not in Chicago or Seattle, I hope they extend this to a city near you, so you can try it too!

*Starbucks did not fund my eats on the go. All opinions are my own.

Rock on friends…stay happy, stay healthy, stay inspired!

Holy Beets And Brussels Sprouts!

Hands down, the best plant-based meal I’ve eaten of late was at one of our local favorites, Roka Akor in Skokie. This Japanese grill smells heavenly, the ambiance is always hip and relaxing, the service is excellent, and the food is ever amazing…

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The amuse-bouche was a beet puree topped with a hint of greens. I’m nuts for beets, so I was very pleased to start the meal with this flavorful spoon. I could have eaten a bowl of this…

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Handsome started his meal with tender grilled scallops. I’ve had them before at Roka and know just how exquisite they are. Though my chopsticks did not sneak across the table to steal one this time, I was very tempted…

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The amuse-bouche had me wanting more beets, so I started the meal out by going to town on this salad. Not an almond sliver, or carrot shred, or beet medallion was left on that plate. Isn’t this dish so colorful? I could eat this fresh salad every day…

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For the meal, I ordered up the mushroom hotpot. Inside this cooking vessel above, the metal of which is inadvisable to touch due to its lava-like temperature, a steaming mushroom and rice mixture awaited. As our server dished out a bowl for me and a bowl for my date, I secretly wanted to snatch up both bowls. NO sharing the mushroom hotpot…mine, all MINE! Ha-ha-HA!

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I also had grilled vegetable maki with broccoli and sweet potatoes. You could taste the grill on those potatoes…

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Handsome ate a lobster. It was pre-cracked to display the most succulent morsels of meat for ease of eating. Though I did not partake, it was another temptation. I envisioned a snatch and run. My partner would later find me in the parking lot, broken lobster claws scattered around my feet, a crazed look in my eyes, not a single bite of lobster meat left…

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But I did not exact my shellfish fantasy, and instead inhaled a plate full of Brussels sprouts. The marinade on these sprouts rocked my taste buds! These sprouts also had a hint of seafood flavor to them. Ethereally thin bonito flakes (a Japanese tuna) were lightly sprinkled over the top. Definitely not a plant-based topper…oops!

Another fresh and savory meal at Roka, with plenty of options for this veggie lover! The smell alone coming off that Robata grill keeps us ever coming back for more. Holy beets and Brussels sprouts!

Sometimes Satisfying, Sometimes Not!

As I wrote in my last post, I am working on acclimating myself to being the best gobbler of greens I can be (aka, mostly vegan). I’ve been a vegetarian for some years, and am now trying to cut out more animal products, and eat even more plant-based foods…

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After 5 weeks, I wish I could say that I feel amazing (light as a feather and as glowing as Eve of the garden), but I don’t. To be honest though, I think that’s probably because this gal needs to get her booty to the swimming pool for some swim aerobics and stretching in the therapy pool. Let’s get these muscles moving! Where’s my goggles?

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As for my food adventures, I’m finding that some meals are quite satisfying, and some are not. Yesterday, I threw a quick lunch together using some leftover dinner veggies. Corn, asparagus, onions and vegan *cheese* shreds made for some ‘interesting’ veggie tacos that turned out to be quite blah. Thank goodness I’d packed some cruciferous crunch to accompany them. Radishes saved the day!

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I am proud however, that I used up my leftovers and stuck to a vegan lunch. I have to remember that not every meal I eat is going to rock my palate, especially when I’m experimenting with new veggie concoctions…

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But ooh, did I have a delicious meal at Terra & Vine in Evanston last week! We sat out alfresco, the weather being unusually warm for this time of year. Even where we sat for dinner, being close to dusk and in the shade, I was amply glowing from the heat (not perspiring, only dudes do that)…

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I’d perused the menu online in advance (a gobbler of greens needs to know what their options will be…though I also generally just enjoy salivating over menus). I was quite pleased to see a section title for Vegan (as well as Vegetarian). I thought that was quite thoughtful! But when we sat down at our table and I looked over the paper menu, those choices were missing. I asked the waiter about it. Unfortunately, they’d discontinued those particular menu options. Aww man!

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But very kindly, the server said that the kitchen could absolutely prepare the pasta dish I’d had a hankering for. Yea! In most restaurants, it’s not too hard to make menu choices (without becoming a terribly annoying, picky diner). For many dishes, just asking for no cheese or sauce does the trick (or on the side if you’re sharing). Now, I did try a bite of blue cheese on the salad, and a bit of aioli on the artichokes, toppers that weren’t vegan. But I’d usually have covered and slathered every fork-full of my meal in cheese and creamy sauce. So, let us just say I successfully reined in the cheese monster that lives inside me…

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I might have eyed that cheesy dish across the table with a bit of longing, but in the end, was 100% satisfied limiting my non-vegan intake. I mean, pasta and fried artichokes…what’s there to miss?

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All of this to say, whether you’re cooking at home, or dining out, eating mostly plant-based can occasionally be a gamble on taste. It’s also not easy to always make healthier choices. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. That’s ok.

As for me, I’m excited to keep experimenting, keep cooking, and keep playing with the menus I’m sitting to. And if a meal doesn’t turn out to be all that satisfying, well there’s always another one around the bend! Now If I could just find my swimming goggles…