Mr. Charming and I had previously took an adventure through Long Beach in 2009 to celebrate his birthday, which I wrote about here, but on our recent eight day California Coastline Adventure we hit it up again so that I could show Mr. Charming the Aquarium of the Pacific. My favorite aquarium! It's huge and you can literally spend hours here. They even have a penguin exhibit, (if you know me you'll know my love for them and if spirit animals were a real thing, a penguin would be mine) and I even adopted a baby penguin. (translation, I gave them money to feed one for a year, but I really would've rather taken a furry critter home with me. I think my baby schnauzer would've loved the buddy.) We started the day with protein smoothies, and each day I left Mr. Charming a card at the table or on his pillow to start our day. Then it was off to the aquarium!
After the aquarium we decided to walk around the harbor and then drive around to find lunch. And that's when it happened... That's when I fell in love with this city and have decided, if we move back here, Long Beach is in the high running to be a city of choice based on the healthy culinary fare options alone. And then I could visit my little penguin babies as often as I'd like. Haha. Ok, well maybe that wouldn't happen, but the food. Definitely the food.
We stumbled upon a shopping center that not only housed a Trader Joe's and a Whole Foods, but it also was home to THREE cafes that I could choose from to eat at. ALL three organic, ALL three with gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options. It was café courtyard heaven. Our first stop was Roots Gourmet, we perused their menu and though I could have a few of their options, they used soy oil in most of their dishes, and I was trying to avoid soy 100% on the trip as I usually do. Next was a great place called My Fit Foods, which offers prepackaged meals and snacks that are gluten-free or dairy-free or both, I almost snagged a crudité platter and chicken breast there but had one more place to check out first before committing. Our third stop was the winner, Veggie Grill. Found in most California beach cities, Veggie Grill offers an extensive allergen-free menu and just generally HEALTHY food options and I ordered a variety of foods to sample. Their grilled asparagus was topped with sea salt and fresh lemon juice, I also had the sweet potato fries which were cooked in rice bran oil, not paleo, but healthier than the questionable soy oil. And I also ordered a salad topped with fire roasted carrots & beets,. Which by the way, carrots, from now on, should ALWAYS be fire roasted. Divine.
I highly recommend adding Long Beach to your California coast tour if it's in your plans. Though we didn't spend anytime in this city oceanside, the eats and sights are worth a visit. And don't forget the other famous sights I mentioned in my first Long Beach post.
We wrapped our day back at the beach house where we baked up a decadent gluten-free and refined-sugar free strawberry pie. Just a pie crust made of egg and tapioca starch and cooked strawberries served with sugarless coconut milk vanilla ice cream. It was the perfect compliment to a chilly seaside evening.
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves, and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” Pico Iyer
As I type this I am listening to the latest album by Moriah Peters. She is an amazing Christian artist who played the soundtrack of most of our recent trip to California. A trip where I just wanted to feel Jesus. Where I wanted to just travel. See. Experience. Worship. As we just returned, I wanted to share our journey. We didn't have Wi-Fi our entire trip, which at first freaked me out, but ended up being a huge blessing. So on with it...
Mr. Charming and I just embarked on an eight day tour of California spanning from Solvang to Newport Beach.
Moriah's words are so many of the words I've uttered to my Heavenly Father many times over and I know I needed His strength, courage, hope and peace to allow me to connect, REALLY connect to the beauty that was surrounding us on this journey. To let go of the stresses, to let go of home and just explore. It was exhilarating and romantic and fun. Things that fear, anxiety and over-analysis can sometimes cloud. Or steal. I can't remember the last time I've felt pure JOY for that many days in a row. Feeling so thankful for His blessings.
Santa Barbara was our first stop, and we originally had booked a canvas tent at the stunning El Capitan Canyon. While I was excited about the canvas tent experience, temps had really dropped in the area and I was worried I was going to be super-cold, but I had brought lots of blankets in preperation. When we arrived (since it was midweek) they had a cabin open and offered to upgrade us! With hope and eagerness in my eyes I glanced towards Mr. Charming who had already started to accept the keys for me. (such a gentleman). I pulled him aside and told him that if it went against what he expected I would OF COURSE camp with him in the tent, as I wanted this to be everything we BOTH wanted. But he thought having a full kitchen would be good for both of us too, so he agreed that it was an awesome blessing!
For two days we relaxed, played board games in the cabin's loft and cooked food over the fire. Even though we had been upgraded, we still took advantage of the beautiful outdoors and cooked over the fire, enjoyed the stars from our camping chairs and hiked the grounds many times. A note: The area is home to ticks, mountain lions and snakes, so beware if you hike throughout the area and be back at camp before dark.
One of my favorite parts of our two day stay in Santa Barbara was visiting El Capitan State Beach. A quiet, private beach we had most of it to ourselves which allowed us to just enjoy the peaceful stillness of the waves softly crashing against the shore. I got to worship God in natural beauty, away from the hustle of work or the city and all was well with my soul.
And there is just something about splashing through the waves, even when the water is frigid, that makes you feel so ALIVE. So youthful. I highly recommend the area for its privacy and breathtaking scenery. The staff at El Capitan were extremely friendly and the amenities is like no other campsite you've been to before. A full on-site market offers an array of delicacies including gluten-free and dairy-free selections. I was eating Paleo while in town, but they even offered gluten-free graham crackers for those of us with allergies who are craving fireside s'mores. They got points in my book for this little detail.
They also have a children's playground (where I may or may not have swung on the tire swing), a heated swimming pool, a llama farm and onsite boutique.
It was an amazing start to the trip, and I know you're probably wondering about the FOOD. Like I said, since we were planning to tent camp, I had packed the car cooler with the food we were going to have in Santa Barbara. Day one consisted of our looooong drive to Santa Barbara, so Mr. Charming and I enjoyed protein smoothies in the car as well as snacks such as rolled lunch meat, sweet potato chips, fruit & veggies. That night for dinner when we got into town we cooked up foil dinners over the fire. Wrapped in foil (which I ONLY use for cooking when camping, so I'd say MAYBE once a year)... was apple chicken sausage, sweet potatoes and onions, all fire roasted and served with a Paleo compliant ketchup.
Day two's menu consisted of leftover onions and sweet potatoes, bacon and scrambled eggs cooked over a fire in bacon grease for breakfast (have you ever done this? If you haven't you need to. Right now. Go light a fire and cook eggs in bacon grease. I'll wait.) For lunch we headed to city #2 on our adventure, Solvang, and we were back to the campsite for dinner where we had an organic chili and avocado. We always like to stick with our traditional camping foods, as it makes it feel like we're truly camping.
I felt so at peace out there. And even tried a couple "firsts". Aside from visiting some new places, many new places actually, I climbed a tree. Something I hadn't done since childhood. I was a little terrified (don't like heights, like, at all, and bugs, I was sure if I saw I bug I'd fall from the branches and crack my head open) but I worked through it so we could get some cute photos, and then we carved our initials in the tree. I've always wanted to do that, and I can't think of a more deserving man to have my initials scribed into a tree with for all time than my Mr. Charming.
not all those who wander are lost..."
A Guest Post by Sandy
I had been to New Orleans twice before, the first time was 2005, pre-Katrina, and I wasn’t paying any mind to what I ate. Beignets, fried alligator, gumbo, po’boys, bread pudding – the works. There is no doubt that NOLA has some of the most interesting and delicious food fare, but isn’t exactly known for its clean, healthy—let alone vegan—eating! So when I went back to the “Crescent City” in early 2012, as a vegan, I found myself giving in and allowing all of that French-inspired, Southern goodness take over, wishing I hadn’t, but not knowing what other options were available to me. Was I to live on salad and peanut butter while I was on vacation? So much of exploring New Orleans is in fact the food!
Alas, I have learned much on my journey to healthy, vegan eating since then. My lifestyle had been very much an all or nothing attitude my entire life. I’d eat super healthy and then binge super terribly. The cycle was rough; I even ditched my ethics of not eating animals due to an insane mental hold food had over me.
Something clicked in 2014 though. I began to deal with the emotional attachment of food instead of “dieting”. I gave being vegan another go, knowing it was better for me both because of my autoimmune problems and because of my love of animals. I’ve stuck to it ever since and feel wonderful!
When I set out on 6 months of travel, I knew it could be a challenge finding food options, but I also knew enough about dining out while being vegan. This time, I would be in New Orleans for an entire month while staying with one of my best friends, Natalie. She loves dining out and is well-versed on all of the great restaurants in her city. However, when I read her a list of vegan-friendly restaurants off of HappyCow.net, she was perplexed. Some places she had never heard of, while others, she had no idea would be veg-friendly.
I am happy to say that New Orleans has definitely shaped up to be an allergen-friendly/more conscientious city over the past ten years! I was truly amazed. Two activities I took part in even had specific vegan-oriented fun. The first was the Crescent City Fall Classic, which is a 5K at City Park that Natalie and I participated in through her job.
After the race, there was live music and food vendors providing free samples as well as items available for purchase. Wouldn’t you know there was a section of tents that were strictly vegan? They gave away samples of vegan food and snacks as well as giving out animal rescue information and ways to get involved. I bought a box of “Rescue” bars for $30, and half of that money went to saving shelter dogs. I felt like my money went to good use, plus that box of bars that had all-natural ingredients fueled me for many mornings during the rest of my stay in New Orleans.
Another event Natalie and I went to was the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival, which highlighted a vegan gumbo contest! Popular restaurants, most of which were mentioned on my Happy Cow app, offered sample size bowls of plant-based gumbo. While many of the restaurants entered into the contest don’t usually offer many vegan options in their actual establishment, a couple of them, like Carmo and Dreamy Weenies do!
Below are some wonderful options if you’re plant-based. Keep in mind, while being vegan in New Orleans has gotten easier, sometimes it still is difficult finding healthy options. That said, splurge a little and do the best you can!
Dreamy Weenies and Dat Dog NOLA has some delicious options for hot dog lovers! Located in the French Quarter on North Rampart Street, Dreamy Weenies is absolutely amazing. With kosher and vegan options, cooked completely separate from the other hot dogs, this place makes everything in house. You can even get an Orleans-style andouille hot dog! For gluten free - get it bun free and always ask every establishment if their fries are prepared in a dedicated gluten-free fryer, if not, skip them!
With 3 locations throughout the city, Dat Dog is another great hot dog joint – especially if you’re on Frenchman Street late at night trying to soak up any alcohol you may have consumed! While they do serve veggie dogs, some of Dat Dog’s options, like alligator and duck sausage, don’t exactly sit right with me, but it is New Orleans after all, and I am grateful for the veggie options anyhow.
Carmo is a tropical café combining Carribean, Central and South American, West African and Southeast Asian cuisine. Sourcing fresh local ingredients, Carmo is a popular eatery and prides themselves on being green and sustainable. I loved their gumbo made with jackfruit!
Breads On Oak
This organic bakery not only offers tons of vegan options, but also has many gluten-free offerings. I only wished I went here more than once to try everything. So many options, so little time!
The Bean Gallery
This became a favorite hang out of mine when I wasn’t in the French Quarter. Located in Mid City, The Bean Gallery is a café that’s always packed, but offers some good coffee and options. I often got the “healthy bagel” while I sat there writing on my laptop.
I only ordered the raspberry sorbet from Stanley (yes, named after one of my favorites “A Street Car Named Desire”), but it was the best sorbet I have ever tasted! The environment was very pleasant and conveniently located right outside Jackson Square!
All right, enough food. Things to do in New Orleans? Basically, you can pretty much walk around the French Quarter and fall in love with colorful culture and music. Natalie called me a “Quarter rat”, but I couldn’t help it. I loved just sitting on a bench in Jackson Square, listening to the street musicians, and looking at street art.
I definitely recommend walking inside St. Louis Cathedral – it’s quite beautiful, as well as going on a cemetery tour, and listening to amazing jazz at Preservation Hall. Bourbon Street is something everyone should experience once, but other than the oldest bar in Louisiana, Lafitte’s, it’s not a must for me anymore. Frenchman Street has a bit more of an eclectic vibe if you want to bar hop.
Other NOLA musts: try and join a parade or wedding procession while you’re in town. So much fun! Outside of the Quarter, there are lots of great things to do as well: The World War II Museum, the Sculpture Garden in City Park, and Lake Ponchartrain are a few highlights. If you love Tennessee Williams like me, you might want to visit his house or visit during the festival. There is always some great festival going on, whether you love music, art, or food, so make sure you do some research before going!
For more on me, my travels, and novels: www.sandylo.com. Also, check out my recipes and articles on positivity at www.halffullmag.com!
Sandy was born in New York, but has found her heart in Nashville--and in each new city she visits! She is a published romance novelist, journalist, blogger and animal lover. She loves to cook, travel and dance as much as possible. Sandy also runs Half Full Magazine, a website about maintaining a positive attitude and hunger for life.
Nosh & Nurture was born of this journey I am on to better the health of myself, my family and those around me. What started as a simple compilation of recipes has grown to a all-around lifestyle journal with ways to incorporate organic products into your home, pantry and beauty cabinet. I also include stories on pregnancy, new motherhood, travel, Proverbs 31 marriage, and spiritual health, as I am a Christian who couldn't do any of this without my Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. For more of my story you can click here.
All recipes are gluten-free and dairy-free with a lot of soy-free, grain-free, sugar-free options.