Saturday, February 28, 2015

UNITED AIRLINES Vegetarian and Vegan In-Flight Meal Review

Summer 2014 San Francisco to London

Here we are again on our semi-annual journey abroad and once again, we booked with United Airlines. As always, we asked for special in-flight meals. My kids ordered the vegetarian special meals this year and I tried to order a vegan meal again but they did not have that on offer. So instead, I chose something called a Vegetarian Asian Meal, hoping it might be as close to vegan as I could get.  I couldn’t think of much dairy used in Asian meals so I thought it was a safe choice. As I have mentioned before, my kids and I always have a big, full meal at the airport before we board our long haul flight (see separate posts on our fav healthy veg-friendly restaurant choices in airports) so we not terribly hungry during the flight and tempted by the in-flight meal. But the journey is quite long, 11 hours in the air if we leave on time, and an hour or two on both ends, so many times we get hungry. We do try to bring a lot of snacks with us but often one of my sons and I will try some of the in-flgiht meal. I limit myself to the items that are wrapped in their original packaging, often bread buns, buttery spreads, jams, etc and I like to try to taste a bit of the entree to review it here, if it doesn't look too frightening. One of my sons often eats a lot of his meal, and my other son refuses to eat any of it at all and just sticks to the snacks we bring.

Since we left in the evening, we were served dinner right away and had the breakfast service hours later before landing. The Vegetarian Special Meal and the Vegetarian Asian Meal (vegan) were exactly the same, except the Vegetarian Meal had a container of plain yogurt on the tray and the Vegetarian Asian Meal replaced the yogurt with a whole grain bread bun wrapped in plastic.  

The vegetarian meal included a tub of plain yogurt

The entree was an Indian dish, with a small helping of Saag Paneer on one side (spinach and cheese--so much for no dairy on the Asian Vegetarian meal!), some Aloo Matar on the other side (potatoes and peas, often with curry sauce), and some Basmati Rice in the center. It was quite tasty, although I decided not to eat more than a bite of my entree.  One of my sons ate most of his entree and found it fine.  He even ate some salad and thought it was fairly fresh. I did eat the whole grain roll because it was protected in a plastic packaging and I had some plant-based butter spread on my tray too, which I spread on my bread and that was good for me! For dessert we were given a packaged “sugar-free” lemon cookie, which my sons both ate and I took a bite of,  but it had quite a bit of an aftertaste from the artificial sweeteners used, so I did not finish mine. 

The Asian Vegetarian meal did not include any yogurt but
instead had a packaged whole grain bun.

For breakfast the Vegetarians had a VERY light meal. We were given a container of Mott’s Apple Sauce, a whole grain roll, and some Smart Balance spread, which is vegan. Nice! All three were factory wrapped, which made me happy! I just could have used a lot more of it! Two rolls perhaps? With some jam as well? In any case, we ate our morning snacks and it was really just perfect.

Breakfast before landing was perfect.
If the plane is delayed at all, I believe it is always best to skip the in-flight meals, since the food often has already been delivered to the aircraft and is sitting in racks on the plane at less than optimal temperatures to keep it fresh for long.

Our luggage and meals being delivered to our plane before take-off.
Our plane was on-time on the way to London but delayed 4 hours
on the tarmac on the way back. We finally got off the plane and had
to spend another night in London.

My perfect airline snack! Some roasted almonds and water.

TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT (the in-flight meal...)
Some claim they died from eating an in-flight meal

Some blame the bacteria lingering all around us on a flight. There was a recent study done blaming the bacteria on the tray table and arm rests (among other places) for making passengers sick: 

"The Tray Table
A study from 2007 found methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, on three out of three planes tested for the "super bug." Specifically, it was found in highest concentrations on the flip-down tray table in front of each seat, with a whopping 60 percent of tray tables testing positive.
“The tray table according to our study had the highest prevalence of MRSA,” said Jonathan Sexton, research specialist at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, and lead author on the study, in an interview with Healthline. “The tray tables are not commonly cleaned and get used heavily. Travelers eat and sleep on them, which allows for bacteria and viruses to transfer to the table and get passed along to the next traveler in that seat. MRSA can be isolated from many different environments so it was not surprising to find it on the plane. This is a much higher rate of MRSA than in most public areas (save for hospitals). “Other studies that I have conducted found that 3 percent of personal vehicles, 3 percent of work offices, 37 percent of home offices, and 6 percent of public restrooms had MRSA,” said Sexton."

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

HEALTHY TRAVEL REVIEW: Santa Monica, California

My kids and I were headed to Southern California for the Thanksgiving holiday, and it was going to be a beautiful, sunny week, and I really wanted to stay on the beach. So I did a lot of research on hotels and wasn’t surprised to find they were all very expensive. Malibu Beach Inn was my first choice but their prices were way out of my budget, with rooms starting at $425 and went up to over $1000 a night. I’d love it but not a reality, nor does it seem worth it. So I checked out several of the nicer resort hotels on the beach in Santa Monica. They too were very expensive, but their prices started at $250.00 so we were getting closer to something possible (yet still a splurge). I have always loved the Loews Beach Hotel. I was in a wedding there years ago, and I remember how light and cheery the hotel is and it is ocean front, so it was my first choice. When I checked their website I found out they were renovating their lovely pool, and room prices were a bit lower than usual. So I booked it for 3 nights. A week later, they had a special on Travel Zoo (my favorite travel deal website), so I re-booked at an even lower price!

Loews Beach Hotel

You can beat watching the sunset over the ocean
from your own balcony!
We arrived at the Loews Beach Hotel on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. The lobby was light and airy as I remembered it and there was a VERY cool real time video  screen of the beach that fills the wall behind the front desk. Nice. 

Loved the real time screen behind the front desk when checking in
Upon c heck-in, we were greeted by Michele, who was cheery and efficient and she kindly upgraded us to an ocean front view room. WE WERE VERY EXCITED!  Our room was on the 5th floor and the view was beautiful….EXCEPT it overlooked the construction crews working on the remodel of the swimming pool area. That was kind of a drag. Also, the noise from the jackhammers during the pool remodel were unnerving, but I knew they would quit by 5:00pm. and I really looked forward to the days end when it was quiet and I could look out at the sunset over the ocean. 

Beautiful view from our room
(if you don't look down at the pool construction!)
The room was great with 2 very comfy double beds, and the bathroom was to die for! There was a beautiful deep bathtub, that I took full advantage of every night! I always bring some Epsom Salts when I travel so I can soak out the stress of long and stressful travel days, if there is a nice tub in the hotel room, which there certainly was here! 

I couldn't resist this lovely, deep tub!
The shower was nice and roomy and in a separate little room from the sink and tub. The GREATEST thing was there was a little TV in the bathroom, that faced the sink and the tub! It was fabulous relaxing in the tub at night watching my a fav show on TV, and my kids loved getting ready in the morning and watching something while brushing their teeth. It was really fun. 

Watching "Hawaii 5-0 while brushing my teeth!
There is no fridge in the room but I requested one and they brought one up for us to use free of charge for the week. On the way to the hotel from the airport, we stopped at Whole Foods Market and got some healthy treats for a quick breakfast snack, so we could relax in the room in the morning, and didn't have to rush out too early in the morning because we were hungry. They also had a Kerig Coffee Maker, which I know isn’t very "green" because of the plastic waste of all the pods, but I found it a bit more convenient and sanitary than a regular hotel coffee maker. Hotel coffee makers are usually pretty nasty and the pot always has a strong coffee smell and taste. It was really nice to have the nice Kerig machine. I don’t drink coffee so the staff brought up several green tea pods for me and I enjoyed them all week long. The hotel was perfectly located ocean front at a nice beach and also walking distance, to the Santa Monica Promenade, lots of nice restaurants, shopping, movie theaters and the Santa Monica Pier. We didn’t have a car and didn’t need one. That was a plus on the “green/eco-friendly” scale. The bath products were sadly low-end and I’d love to see them upgrade sometime soon to Aveda Products or something a little more natural and eco-friendly. The housekeeping staff and concierge were very helpful, friendly and efficient. 

As far as eco-friendly practices, the Loews website states that they use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, practice trash recycling as well as several other green initiatives. I didn’t see any evidence of this but you should check out their “green” initiatives on their website:

Real Food Daily

In the 1990s, when I worked in Malibu, my favorite vegan/macrobiotic restaurant was Real Food Daily in Santa Monica, and I went there often. So for our first night in Santa Monica, we went there for dinner. Real Food Daily started as a small macrobiotic-friendly restaurant in the early 1990s and still has many macro dishes on the menu. They have expanded the restaurant since then, so now it is twice as big as before, they have also raised their prices, and have added a vegan bakery on-site. Their menu is a little more mainstream than the old macrobiotic menu from a few decades ago, but everything on the menu is vegan and a lot is organic. They have daily specials that are always fresh and tasty. My old favorite though, is the Basic 2,3,4, or 5 where you pick 2,3,4 or 5 different items from a long list of choices to create your own balanced plate. There is a list of grains, beans, proteins, greens, pressed salads and house-made dressings. The house dressing is my absolute favorite and I wish they sold it in a bottle so I could take it home! I ordered the tempeh, greens (collards that night), and rice. My son had the basic two with mashed potatoes and tofu (the white plate!). My other son ordered a special, a seitan club sandwich that he said was tasty and filling. Both my sons ordered a milkshake, one vanilla one strawberry, that they both liked at first but eventually started to have a bad aftertaste and neither of them finished it. The milkshakes are made with Hemp Milk, and if you are not used to the aftertaste, it may not be the right choice for you. I ordered a fresh carrot/orange juice, which was room temperature, which is a little off-putting, but still tasted good. We couldn’t miss out on dessert, which, of course, are all vegan, so we ordered a few to share. One slice of coconut pie, chocolate tofu mousse with cashew creme (a nice version of whipped cream, but thicker and vegan), and a chocolate chip cookie, all which were very nice. The food is always good but I find that it is way overpriced now, but for a splurge and a nice, healthy, vegan meal, you can’t go wrong.

BTW, The Real Food Daily Cookbook is my go-to vegan cookbook, and I love every recipe! I got a signed copy at the restaurant when the book came out but you can get one on, of course

All vegan cookbook.
Some of my favorite recipes are the Tortilla Soup,
Corn and Bean Salad, and the BEST chocolate chip cookies!

and I just heard that Ann Gentry, the owner of Real Food Daily and author of the book, has just written another cookbook that is available now. I'm going to get one for sure!

Another exciting tidbit... Real Food Daily is the first vegan organic restaurant to open a place at the Los Angeles Airpor!t (or any American Airport as far as I know!) YAY, for healthy airport food! I haven’t tried it yet, but the next time I am in Terminal 4 at LAX, that is my first stop!

Real Food Daily
514-516 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA  90401
(310) 451-7154

Back on the Beach

Back on the Beach is wonderful for breakfast or lunch. It is located
right on Santa Monica Beach and serves fresh, healthy food.
Our first morning in Santa Monica was a warm, clear and beautiful beach day! We were so lucky to be staying on the beach!  I really wanted to have a walk on the beach and my kids were really hungry for breakfast, so we decided to combine the two and have a nice walk along the water down to Back on the Beach. Back on the Beach is a lovely restaurant right on the beach in Santa Monica, and one of my favorite places.  My family from all over California used to gather here every year to celebrate the winter holidays and we would have a lovely brunch together before we opened presents and then had a winter-time walk on the beach together. So I was anxious to take my kids here during our visit and I’m so glad I did! It was wonderful! The walk from the Loews Beach Hotel to Back on the Beach took about 25-30 minutes, but what a lovely walk it was. 

A lovely walk to the restaurant and you can't beat the view!

You could rent a bike at the hotel and bike down to the Cafe, which would get you there in half the time, but I was anxious to sink my feet into the sand and feel the ocean and enjoy every minute of the beach walk on a warm, fall day, so we meandered up to the Cafe! We arrived around noon and were seated right away. We decided to eat inside by a window rather than at one of the outdoor tables because, believe it or not, it was quite hot!- and we thought we would be more comfy indoors. 

There is plenty of outdoor seating at Back to the Beach
I was ready for lunch so I ordered the beet and black bean burger, which came with cashew cheese and smoked ketchup. Yum! My sons both had egg dishes, one a cheese omelette and the other had a “make your own scramble”, where you pick from a wide variety of veggies, cheeses, and herbs to put in your scramble to make it the way you want it. They both had smoothies too, which were a big hit. We all had a great meal. BOTB is NOT a vegetarian cafe, they have several meat dishes (grass fed beef, cage free eggs and Mary’s free range chicken), but they have a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes and their cooking is clean and fresh. We loved it!

Back on the Beach is a certified green business in Santa Monica, CA

Back on the Beach
445 Pacific Coast Highway
Santa Monica, CA 90402
310 393—8282

STAYING STRESS FREE: Walking or Biking

Palisades Park is great for walking during the day

Exercise to stay healthy and stress free. Beach Bike path from our hotel runs for miles up and down the coast and it is a wonderful way to get in some exercise and take in the spectacular view at the same time. If you want to get your feet wet, you can stroll along the sand instead. If you don’t want to get your feet wet, or dodge bike riders on the path, there is a lovely walking path above the cliffs in Palisades Park, right on Ocean Avenue. The windy path goes through a grassy, well-maintained park that overlooks the Pacific, with beach access (steps and bridges) in a few places, and plenty of benches to sit and watch the sunset. Be warned that Palisades Park has a fair amount of homeless people, but is patrolled regularly by SMPD on foot, on bikes, and in patrol cars.

PF Changs

PF Changs is my favorite chain Asian Restaurant, and always one of our fav restaurants to go to when we travel.  Their food is consistently tasty and fresh, and they offer a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian items. They even have a Vegetarian menu.  So it was definitely on our list of places to eat, during this trip. We headed to the PF Changs in Santa Monica for dinner our second night. It is walkable from our hotel, but a good 15-20 minute walk. The route to/from the restaurant goes through the Santa Monica Promenade, so it is a fun, busy and entertaining walk.  This PF Changs is always very crowded but we were lucky and were seated right away. We ordered some hot tea, veggie dumplings and edamame to start. There were four of us for dinner so we then ordered the Buddha’s Feast with baked tofu and mixed veggies, Ma Po Tofu with steamed broccoli, veg sauce, ginger and chili paste (it’s a little HOT), vegetarian fried rice, a side of garlic spinach and a side of green beans.

Ma Po Tofu with broccoli is one of our favorite dishes
  All were hot (temperature hot!), tasty and reasonably priced. You can’t go wrong here, especially if you are vegetarian and looking for a nice, healthy meal when dining out. YUM!

P.F. Changs
326 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA  90401
(310) 395-1912