On the Road with OCD

For the last few days, I’ve been living on a volunteer-run palm tree farm in Hamra, Israel called LivinGood Farm. This is a farm on the West Bank, right before Jordan. The farm packages and sells dates, grapes, and olives. They have a house about 15 minutes from the farm where all the volunteers eat, sleep, and live together. The farm is about an hour from Tel Aviv and an hour from Jerusalem. The work day starts at 6 AM when Ran and/or Eyal, the two farm managers come by the house. Everyone hops on the back of their pickup truck and off we go!

It turns out, travel is not all mojitos and sunbathing. Despite what the title “On the Road with OCD” implies, I don’t have obsessive compulsive disorder. However, I do have quirks. I obsess a bit. Especially when in new, stressful situations. As we all know, wherever you go, you still have to face yourself.

What challenges might you face whilst traveling and coping with your own quirks? Here are some that quickly became a hassle for me and drove me to leave the farm prematurely by no fault of the dates, the donkeys, or my wonderful hosts….

  1. Keeping to a schedule. If you’re completely on your own and independent, this may not present such a problem. However, if you use Couchsurfing, need a ride, or just want to meet up with people for activities, then you have to hope your friends are punctual. Personally, I find myself getting aggravated with people when they are late or are slow. This is especially true if I planned on going somewhere at a specific time and they are telling me not to worry. Then you get there and it’s dark or the place is closed or you just don’t handle change well… like me. It’s not about choosing to be tightly wound, it’s a mental response to unexpected, last-minute changes. When I travel alone, I can be at the airport 5 hours early or be at the meeting spot 2 hours early. If you are with someone who takes forever to get ready, isn’t anxious, or is otherwise preoccupied, you might find yourself at the airport after boarding begins…. I hate that.
  2. You’re gonna get dirty, and that’s fine, but not being able to clean up immediately after can result in stress. I recognize that I’m spoiled in this regard, as in many countries, washing machines aren’t in every building, much less a dryer. I can live without these things, but I rather not. As much as I enjoy the freedom and wildness of going a day or two in sloppy clothing, I can only tolerate so much before I feel like I have a bacteria petting zoo living in my crevices. Of course, this also goes for reliable clean showers, but most places I’ve been have had some form of water and soap.
    If all else fails, it’s always wise to have hand wipes available or a simple bottle of water and a small towel. Just for a quick wash down when the dirt or sweat or dust really piles on. This is when cold weather locations come in handy, as the washing needs are less dire.
  3. They tell me to chill out. There is a mess in the kitchen, a puddle in the bathroom, a plate left on the table, and a weird, yellowish spot on the wall. No one else seems to mind. They pass it by day after day without so much as a second thought. Meanwhile, I’m having a mental panic attack, running around room to room remembering everything that needs to be swept, mopped, moved, put away, and re-organized. Other people at the hostel or hotel or your host are all telling you to relax, you’re on vacation. You can clean later. When is later, though?! When you think you’re done for the day, and suddenly at 2 AM the mess comes back to haunt you?
    I rather just clean it now! I might spend an extra 2-3 hours making sure there’s no blood in the blender or dirt on the desk, but then I know I only have to sweep a little before bed. My mind can rest easy. Maybe.
  4. Checking out life outside the house has its ups and downs. For me, being outdoors is a lot easier than inside. I may get sweaty and dirty, but it feels acceptable, as if I am just part of nature. It’s not as horrifying to be gross while outside. On the other hand, if I am going out for night life or a busy restaurant, this can also set off some alarms. Heavily occupied places are a nightmare; I have a love/hate relationship with crowds of human bodies. Sometimes it’s fine and I am oblivious to the overwhelming state of things, other times it’s all I can think about, and panic and escape is imminent.  Which will it be? One never knows.
    One solution is just getting super drunk. However, this is not a good solution, it’s more of a defense and it could potentially go poorly. I don’t recommend this method, but I’ve never used alcohol for this purpose, so what do I know? If you’re stuck, you do what you must to survive. Otherwise, if stepping outside or finding an empty seat or corner is possible, do that. If a restroom is empty, a bathroom dance party is nothing of which to be ashamed. nzt nzt nzt fluushhhh pchtzzsszzttt! REEEMIIIXXXX!
  5. Being in a home that isn’t your own. As someone who utilizes free accommodations whenever possible, there are always hosts and roommates to face. As it turns out, most people are slobs. Which is cool and fine and dandy when I think about it rationally, but there is a little bubble in my brain that explodes whenever I see a messy abode. I tend to find myself cleaning up after others wherever I go. There’s no judgement, there’s no scolding, or loss of interest in them, I just need to clean! And clean. And clean… and clean some more. If I’m not doing the cleaning, I’m thinking about the cleaning. It’s in my mind, pounding like a migraine. Chasing me down like Wile E Coyote. I’m like a convict on the run from the addiction. I need it, man, I need it bad. I just need one more thrill. Gimme that Windex, hand me that Scrubbing Bubbles.
    Rather than trying to convince myself that I’m fine and it doesn’t matter, I just give in and do it! Don’t wait for dishes and clothing and mess to pile up, just grab it, clean it, and organize it. No fuss, no muss, no need to bust. The relief of seeing a cleared out space or a pile of items all in their proper places is Heavenly. Of course, sometimes this means dealing with the homeowner getting upset that he/she can’t find something or being upset that things aren’t in their ordinary chaotic state, but that’s not my problem. If they had cleaned up for themselves, we wouldn’t be in this situation! Now, would we?
  6. AgitaIn new, stressful situations, the tummy is the first victim. Even if you’re feeling good, feeling fine, and all’s right in the world, your body wants to see you suffer. Thus, stomach pains can arise. Burning, bloating, bowels from Hell, and various other medical conditions that the internet likely diagnoses as some form of cancer. Tums and Pepto won’t save you now! It’s PAYBACK TIME for all those moments you smiled and ate meals without winding up curled in a ball. You wanted to feel good, didn’t you? You just had to enjoy yourself, didn’t you? Well, now your stomach is catching up with you. Letting you know you made a major change and that’s just unacceptable.
    While working on the farm the other day, we were so far from a restroom and I had to use one so badly, that my fantasy was being kidnapped by an Arab, just to have an exit plan. That’s more of a tragedy than a plan, but it sounded so much better than moving sheets of metal in the sun while restraining the contents of my stomach. Release the flood gates! Just, not here and not now.

You know what, though? Despite the stress and anxiety and agita and loss of dignity, every bit of it is worth it. You will feel so good about yourself and about the world once you see how well you overcame and conquered your mental neuroses. It’s a huge accomplishment. Even if the symptoms win in the end, it’s better to have tried and failed than to waste your life letting it tell you to stop. Always do everything you can, you may surprise yourself!

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When Traveling Solo Gets Weird

As I’ve written in past posts, I love traveling solo. Doing it as a single female is so liberating and invigorating and it reminds me just how capable I am. FeministSuperFemGirlPower and all that junk. But, I’m also notoriously a complete and total space case. Which means I find myself in all sorts of wacky situations just because I don’t think it through.

From one solo traveler to another (or not), I want to share with you some of the toughest parts of being a solo traveler, particularly of the feminine persuasion, and some of the hilarious things that have happened to me along the way. Either this will prepare you for the craziness or you’ll totally and terribly relate.

Let’s get to it!

It starts in the airport when I have to pee. You know how it is, even if you barely brought anything with you, it’s still going to be super cramped in the restroom. So, like, people with a healthy level of social abilities can ask someone who looks normal to watch their stuff, Other people aren’t alone in the first place, so they can ask a trusted comrade to watch their things. However, I am the person who has to bring her backpack into the restroom with me.

Two things can happen now: If I am lucky, the handicap stall is available. In which case, I’m living the good life! Spacious, cushy, waterfalls, and fairies. Of course, I can’t even do this right. Often, there’s a sink in the handicap stall. It has perfectly good water and soap and a blow dryer. All of which I use. But, my name is Ariel and I am insecure, so I wash my hands again when I leave the stall, just so everyone knows I washed. Motivational posters tell me not to worry about what other people think, but motivational posters don’t have to deal with judgmental stares.


If I am not blessed with the luxurious handicapped stall, I am left to battle the bulge. Thus, I will likely walk away with a wound or a bruise, and I may pee on myself a little. They tell me this is normal after a certain age, I don’t believe them.

I once tried to leave my luggage right outside the stall door and keep an eye on it, it seemed safe. That is, until the police were called in to investigate. Here I was, dealing with some post-airplane peanut issues (I always overindulge), pants down, and I hear someone saying, “Whose bag is this? Please claim your luggage or it will be destroyed.” And now I’m tripping over my pee-soaked pants, disengaging the sticky metal lock on the door, and screaming at a cop, “That’s mine! It won’t blow up!”
Yet, it’s the 94-year-old Holocaust survivor who gets strip searched by the TSA.

After escaping this madness I should be going straight to my housing, I should be staying on track, I should be entering a secure, private restroom where I can pee on anything I want… if I want. Instead, I decide that looking at that weird statue is more important, or following that funny smell, or chasing after that flea-infested kitty. With everything I own on my back, completely depleted of food, energy, and anything resembling a brain, I immediately am off the beaten trail.

I’m an hour into my trip, my adventure, my cat-chasing, when I realize how tired and hungry and lost I am. I could have sworn I put an extra pack of peanuts in my bag… those are gone.

People are awful, but having someone with you who knows the area or knows the language or just knows how to use a map is something for which we should all aim. Being completely lost right off the bat is exhausting. Then again, meeting someone along the way who can guide you and teach you is pretty amazing, too. That feeling when you see the place you’re supposed to be going is something very special. Then my host comes out, smiles, and gives me a free meal! It’s the best.

Hosts can get weird, unfortunately. I’ve never felt like I was in danger or being threatened, but there have been many uncomfortable situations. The thing with Couchsurfing is, men always offer to host women. Women don’t often offer to host women (is that just me?) Either way, that means some of these guys decide it’s time to put the moves on you. Don’t ever feel obligated to accept their advances because of the accommodations thing. There are other hosts, there are other services, and there are hostels, if necessary.

Maybe I’ve matured… or gotten uglier… whatever it is, my last two Couchsurfing experiences, my host didn’t try anything creepy or sneaky. However, before that, every single person I stayed with would hit on me. Hard. If he’s telling me his brother or aunt or cousin is suddenly making plans to visit, so I need to share his bed, I’m abandoning camp! Thing is, it’s not a dating site! If it were, I’d expect dinner, drinks, and at least 6 months of commitment before we share your sleeping quarters. There’s just something so NOT romantic about you creepin’ on me, bro. Stop.

Enjoying the nightlife is a little tougher when you’re doing it alone. There seems to be a memo going around that I need to look like a drag queen on a catwalk in a Porsche if I am even going to attempt to check out bars and clubs. I’m not very competitive or envious of pretty people, but I also know I’ll never get my seltzer with lime if I’m in line with Angelina Jolie’s better looking cousin. But, I remain optimistic. Maybe I’ll stick around and make famous friends. Maybe I’ll learn to stop doing the Robot. Maybe I’ll even know the music they’re playing!

Sorry, I forgot, that will never happen. Which way is home, again?

I’m not sure if having a party buddy would help me in this case, but at least at the end of the night, we could go home and drink seltzer with lime on our own.

Staying motivated to keep exploring is a challenge. Once you’ve seen the locals sights and sounds, met some people, and got comfy and settled in, it can be hard to push yourself to do more. I go out and try something new every day, but during a long-term trip, I can lose my oomph. This is particularly true if there’s no subway or late night train and you don’t have a car. Remembering how much time, money, and effort will be involved in venturing further out may keep you close to home base, I hear this concern/complaint often. This is where the interwebs come in handy. Whether it’s volunteering, picking one particular area to explore, or making a friend with a car, try to keep things lively.

Admittedly, I take off a day or two from exploring quite often. Sometimes I just want to face my jet lag and allow it to swallow my day. And then there are days when you have to do work or laundry or buy food, so maybe those days aren’t the best for going out. Plus, if you prefer nightlife, you may be too tired and/or hungover to accomplish much during the day. Like that time I tried Absinthe. Ahh, good times. I puked so, so much. My host didn’t understand why I didn’t want to party the next night. How do you say “hangover” in Cantonese?

I’m sure there are a million and one more reasons traveling solo is a huge hassle and no one should ever do it – but that won’t stop us! I’d love to hear from you about your most embarrassing, exhausting, impossible solo travel moments!

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A Piece of the Middle East

Even your favourite countries aren’t perfect. As much as I love Israel and its people and its culture, it has its challenges. Here are some I’ve noticed, so you can prepare for the surprises of this special place!

Initially, arriving in a foreign country is so exciting, that one can let go of the negatives. It’s fairly easy to wave off the bad and focus on the good. However, if I want to be an honest reporter and traveler and blogger, I must tell you, Israeli is not all sunshine, hummus, and stray kitties.

I have compiled a list of some of the negatives of living in Israel. It’s up to you to decide if the positives outweigh the negatives or not….

Pricey, pricey! Everyone kept telling me Israel would be expensive, but as the most frugal person in all the land, I figured I’d be fine. And, truth be told, I am fine. However, even in my fineness, I am finding that stuff is so expensive! Like, if I were them, I’d be all, “Told you so!” It’s not the quality, it’s just that Israel exports most of their goods. This leaves the Israelis stuck with whatever overpriced imports they can get. There are all sorts of political explanations, as well, but I wasn’t an economics major, with good reason.

Traditional views and values. Israeli people are old-fashioned. Even some of the more open-minded, younger citizens still have that voice in the back of their heads that tell them feminine men are bad, and body art is weird, and all these values that they were raised to believe. Much like when I went to Taiwan and tattoos were uncommon. When I asked the guys why they didn’t have any, despite loving ink, the response was always, “My parents would kill me.” Different country, same attitude.
Of course, it’s funny, because compared to other Middle Eastern countries, Israel is the most progressive and welcoming to modern thinking. I just think family has a stronger influence on people than back in the States. Americans are rebels… from our parents, at least.

It gets hot. I like it hot, very hot. Not everyone does, though. Between the blazing sun and the humidity, the heat is happening! My tan is out of this world, but if you’re one of those people obsessed with the beach or who isn’t interested in sweating every second of your life, it might be rough. The good thing is, you know it’s hot and sunny, so you know when you need more suntan lotion or when it’s time to get out of the sun. All that sweating is hard to ignore, so you’ll keep hydrated. If you’re smart, that is.

Pushy people. Another dangerous tradition around here is that Israeli men come and they conquer. I don’t know if it’s because they have to be “masculine” for the ladies or just because that’s the only way they think they will get what they need. Either way, this machismo attitude gets old really quickly. When men (and some women) in Israel don’t get their way, the aggression is laid on heavily. You have to fight back or get stepped all over.

Being Jewish is a big deal. Nowhere else in the world will you find Jews everywhere! It’s kinda exciting! Thus, when I meet an Israeli and they see the Jewish star on my necklace, they act like I worked hard to earn it. As if it’s an honourary war medal. Although it’s nice to occasionally not hear about Jesus and see crosses everywhere, I rather just cut the religion thing out entirely. Same goes for Muslims. If you’re a Muslim, the Muslims are psyched! Forget it, if a Muslim meets a Jew or visa versa, it’s almost like there’s a need for everyone to explain that they accept you and love your people. You know that thing when you say “cheers”? When you’re supposed to give eye contact as a sign of trust? It’s that, but there isn’t alcohol… because Muslims don’t drink alcohol. To be fair, two sworn enemy cultures getting along is a pretty big deal. I’ll drink to that!

The food doesn’t stop. From early morning to late at night, there is falafel being made and sold at every corner. It’s not just sustenance, it is joy and peace and life. As a matter of fact, I may have discovered the fastest way to make enemies in Israel. That is, denying food offers. If an Israeli offers you beer, it means they accept you. If they offer you hummus, it means they really like you. If they offer you beer, hummus, and hashish, and tell you to meet them on the beach, they want you to fall in love with them. Handle this situation carefully. Rejecting an offer of love and food is no joke. Carefully consider this decision. However, don’t be surprised if he proposes after his second pita.

The other day, I also made the fatal choice of eating hummus and broccoli instead of pita. Three young girls just stared at me the whole time. Finally, the mother told them it was okay. The youngest girl (maybe 5 or 6) said something in Hebrew. Her mother laughed and translated, “She says, now she’s seen everything!”

Learning Hebrew is discouraged. After my second time being in Israel and not learning an ounce of Hebrew, I was really hoping to learn some this time. I still would like to do it! But every time I ask an Israeli about it, they all tell me the same thing: “Shalom, you know this? If you know it, you don’t need to learn anything else. Trust me.”

Sometimes too much is too much. Confidence is everything in Israel. You can’t be timid or shy. I know this because every Israeli I meet tells me this over and over. They actually get offended if I don’t act like their home is my own. Mind you, I was raised to respect other people, other people’s things, and other people’s homes. I don’t just grab what I want, put my feet up, and take a load off. Unfortunately, this really seems to bother Israelis. There’s no messing around or games. Which is great, but not really. I’m used to the games and using the clues to understand people, I try my best, at least. In a culture where everything is out in the open, what use are my psychology skills? On the bright side, there’s also a nice aspect of this. Israelis never want you to be modest or humble. If you are strong or smart or have done something impressive, they never expect you to lower yourself down or hide it, and they never seem to be jealous. They share your happiness and pride!

Talk and talk and talk and talk! When I get going, I can kibitz with the best of them. Sometimes my rants turn into tangents turn into lectures. However, that’s on occasion, that’s once in a while, that’s when I’m really feeling the energy. For the most part, I’m a listener and I’m happy that way. In Israel, if my partner and I aren’t interrupting each other, it’s assumed that there’s something wrong. It’s expected that you’ll sit at a wooden table with a beer and every conversation will sound like an argument, all while spitting out hummus and olive oil on each other’s faces (unintentionally… I think.) My hope is that hummus makes a good face wash.

Fear is looked down upon. As admirable as it is to face any fear and go into war, both literal and figurative, without thinking twice, that works best when it’s your own war. Rather than the case of Israelis, in which they expect you to be as traumatized and hardened as they are. You can’t back down, be soft, or give in. Whether you’re at the supermarket or at Tiffany’s, they expect you to haggle and not back down until the cashier is paying you money.

Israelis are tough people with high expectations of people. They work hard and speak harshly, and most of all, they expect you to follow their customs just the same. Standing out in Israel is uncomfortable and you will definitely get noticed for it. But it’s a land with room to change. Tradition is slowly being washed away, religion has less and less influence, and it really is the most progressive Middle Eastern nation. Once the men learn that life is not one big war and women realize that their children will get fed, without having to harm others, I think things will be a lot calmer around here.

If you’re interested in seeing my list of good things about Israel, check out my last post: http://sweettoothtravels.com/5435-2/

Please comment if there are any positives or negatives that I failed to mention!

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At Home, Away from Home

I did it! I became an official, legal citizen of Israel!
Am I Israeli by heritage? Naw.
Have I spent extensive amounts of time here? Naw.

Actually, I’ve spent a grand total of 4.5 months here, I know about 4 people, and I don’t speak any Hebrew.

So:
Why did I do it?
How did I do it?
What am I going to do now?

All shall be revealed! Well, maybe not. I don’t have any complete answers for these questions, except I do know the process I went through.

It begins with the fact that all people of Jewish heritage, typically meaning that your mother is Jewish, or Jewish converts are permitted return to Israel. It’s sort of like a backup plan in case of emergencies. Israel is the Jewish home base for safety and care.

This being the case, the flight to Israel is comp! In turn, I had to fill out a bunch of papers, do a couple of interviews, get health stuff, birth certificate, passport, and a letter of proof of Jewishness from “my” Rabbi. Mind you, I haven’t had a Rabbi of my own since I was about 15. But, I sent him an email, and after some convincing, he realized that I was definitely a full-fledged Jew. Maybe it was the fact that I was willing to become a citizen of another country just because it was free. *Stereotype alert*

Heck, not only is the flight free, but they also start you off with some health insurance, some money, a SIM card, Hebrew lessons (Ulpan), free education, and job and housing assistance. I mean, it’s a sweet deal, why would I pass that up?

Yada, yada, yada, jumping ahead, I made Aliyah! That makes me an olim (immigrant). I also just learned that it’s not the tax payers who must pay for these pricey trips, but it’s from the help of donors! Israelis LOVE olim, particularly Jewish olim.

Of course, I joke when I say it was just the free ride that convinced me to come here. While that factor and the benefits were a sweet perk, there’s something else about Israel that draws in nearly 30,000 new immigrants each year, and that number is rising.

Getting them sweet Fahrenheit digits. When I left home in New York, it was pretty warm, but it wasn’t warm enough for my face to melt into a puddle of hummus, so I decided to change that. Tel Aviv’s temperature will not be going below 85 degrees this week, just how I like it. I could have moved to Florida or California, I guess, but they talk funny.

Hold off on reality for a bit. As I mentioned, all the perks from the government help me to stave off my fears of the real world a bit longer, post graduate school. Of course, I plan to return to my regularly scheduled programming once I go home, but a couple of months to volunteer, take a breather, and live Spring Break ’17 is just what the doctor ordered.

Antisemitism is at an all-time low! Fortunately, I was never harmed in the name of antisemitism, but I have felt the heavy breath of it down my neck for most of my life. Usually, people just say extremely stupid and ignorant things to me and then follow it with, “Don’t get me wrong, I love Jews… you guys have all the money!” God bless America. In Israel, I hear the word ‘Jew’ a lot, but never followed with, “…should just go eat a bagel and stop getting involved.”

You can be a Jew just for the jokes… and the kvetching. On the reverse side of no. 3, if you want to talk smack about Jewish people (as one yourself), you won’t have to do it alone. Like all cultures, Jewish people have their flaws, but hearing it from a goy is painful. Hearing it from an unfiltered Israeli just feels right. Let some steam off and we can all laugh at the expense of the black hat, religious Hasidic Jews without shame. Mind you, my flight was half an hour delayed because the young fellas with peyas (banana curls) didn’t want to sit next to women. Oy!

ALL the snacks! Most cultures love to eat, especially their own foods, but Jews nosh. A little here, a little there.… That’s why most people in Israel don’t complain about pigeons, we just understand them too well. Being covered in crumbs is the most natural state of the Jewish folk. Feeling tempted yet?

You hate subtlety. Passive aggressiveness is what Americans thrive on, we hide feelings and thoughts and we rarely say what we truly feel. We wait until the person leaves, then the attack begins. When it comes to Israelis, there is no need to be couth or have decorum. If an Israeli doesn’t hear you, if your outfit is ugly, if you’re being a chazer (pig), if they disagree with you, or if they can’t stand you, you’ll know it. It’s off-putting at first, but eventually, you learn to hate it.

Families are extremely close. Israeli parents, essentially, send their kids off to potential death everyday, then send them to war at 18, then keep them in their homes and as close as possible until he or she gets married or dies. It’s an oddly mixed up but endearing way of doing things. A man in his 30s, living with his parents is not uncommon, because as soon as he gets married, he will likely be living a few blocks away, anyway. Of course, a man in his 30s who is not married is also fairly uncommon, it seems. You will never hear an Israeli say, “He’s just too obsessed with his mother!”

Less aversion to risk. Most places I travel, my host will do anything in the world to prevent me from getting lost. They usually act as though that would be the worst thing that could happen to me. In Israel, getting lost is how you learn, how you see more, and the best way to prove yourself. If I go out and figure out my way or just explore and see the area, my host feels he has succeeded in showing me Israel. Yesterday, I asked my host what happens if I get lost, he replied, “I’ll keep the lights on for whenever you find your way back!”

Fiery blood. Whatever an Israeli does, he never does it wrong. Regrets and failure are not obsessions around here. Everything experienced was something learned and appreciated. People take risks and never back down. Last night I heard a news story about a pizza maker who dealt with an Arab attacker at his pizzeria by grabbing a wooden pizza slab and hitting the guy over the head. Risky? Yes. Freaking amazing? Totally! I want to be him when I grow up.

You are invited. As I mentioned, Jewish immigrants are truly doted upon. When I tell people I just became a citizen, they shake my hand, they give me discounts, and they are really excited for me! However, it’s not just the Jewish immigrants that are welcomed. The refugee and non-Jewish immigrant numbers are growing, too. Although this is of slight concern to some locals

since the whole idea of this country is to be removed from the antisemitic attitude of outsiders and form a nation of like-minded folk, there is still a love and acceptance of all people. Anyone who respects and loves this tiny, tiny country is an ally and a friend.

BONUS: As a side note, if you need one more reason (as I did), know that Israel is the leading country in the world for the vegan movement. It offers the most varied and available selection of cruelty-free foods, has the biggest and most active activist communities for animal rights, and because of Kosher requirements, it could be said (though, highly debatable) that animals in slaughterhouses and farms are treated as humanely as possible. Although I am skeptical that this concept even exists, it has been said and some of you may support this minimized cruelty.

To answer the final question, what am I going to do now, my answer is that I am going to embrace this beautiful country. I am going to stuff myself with delicious produce and pita bread and halva. I am going to work with the refugees who came here to escape evil leaders. I am going to partake in a society that welcomes gays, women, immigrants, Muslims, and treats all animals, humans or otherwise, as living beings who deserve equal rights.

Israel is not perfect, but it’s a special country full of special people and I am so grateful to be here.

On the Road Again: Travel without Hassle

TRAVEL PREPARATION

How to be ready for (nearly) anything before and during travel

You booked the trip, you have some general idea of where you’re staying, and you know what you want to see and do. Now, why are you so nervous?

Planning a trip abroad is always exciting, but it’s funny how, as the date approaches, it can become more and more daunting. What if you get dragged off the airplane? Lord knows you’re not getting off that flight if they overbooked! What if they lose your luggage? Now you’re stuck using plastic bags as flip flops! What if someone uncovers an ancient burial site, removes a precious stone, and the ground forms a black hole which swallows up the restaurant you were dying to try out? What if you get a boo-boo?

Travel plans can go awry.

The good thing is, you can’t plan everything. You can’t prepare for every scenario. That means you can only do so much, then you just have to accept whatever may be! Your hands are tied.

That’s part of traveling! You wanted adventure and mystery and change? You’ll absolutely get it. Whether you book your flight, hotel, and tours in advance or you wait until last second, something will likely not go as you expected. After all, how do you expect to work out every last second of a trip while in a different time zone or speaking different languages or whatever other variables may challenge communication? Heck, it’s hard enough ordering take-out down the street, what makes us think we can plan a week across the world without any problems?

More good news! You’re not the only one to ever experience problems while traveling. There are phone apps and services to prevent problems, as well as clean up after the fact. If you’re prepared, maybe your moment of, “Ohmygod, where is my…” won’t be so tragic!

Limit what you bring along. Mo’ stuff, mo’ problems! Everything you bring should be minimal and, ideally, serve multiple purposes. Clothing that can function as day or night, casual or formal, toiletries that can clean, soften, and moisturize you all in one, a pack of supplies that can save your life, save your evening, or just save you time and effort. Obviously, also consider where you’re going. If you’re heading to a major city, you can probably buy anything extra. If you’re heading out to Bumblefart, Nova Scotia, you may want to prep a bit more. Though, if your luggage is lost or stolen, this can be a doozy of a challenge. As long as you put an extra set of clothing in your carry-on, at least you have a temporary backup. Your hotel, host, or a local market may be willing and able to help you get back on track until you sort out a Plan B.

Don’t skimp on a first aid kit. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that no matter what I’m doing, I end up getting hurt. My first day in Zürich, I cut my knee up so bad that people were offering me rides to the hospital (http://sweettoothtravels.com/my-week-in-zurich/). Even if you’re not as clumsy as a koala on Quaaludes, you still might get a paper cut from your boarding pass or find yourself suffering from a stomach emergency, or maybe a homeless man will grab your hand and lick it. It’s happened to me more times than I’d like to admit. Whatever the urgent matter, it never hurts to be prepared. Just keep it simple, Tylenol, Tums, bandages, hydrocortisone cream, and antibacterial. You can even throw in lotion and lip balm if you consider dry skin a catastrophe. If matters are worse or if you know you have a “pre-existing condition”, just know the insurance situation and what doctors and hospitals are nearby. As well as how your medication situation can be dealt with, if need be. Let’s hope there is no be needed.

Do your research. Don’t be like me. I usually plan to research where I’m going and know what to prepare, but then I get distracted and completely forget. Not to mention, since I’m always going off the planned course, I typically go in blindly. This is fine if you really have no concern for safety, time, or other factors that may affect you and your trip. However, if you want to be prepared for cultural rules and laws and things you MUST see and do, it’s smart to plan ahead. If you are a hiker or love museums or absolutely need to eat at a specific place, you’ll want to know how much time, money, and effort it will require in order for you to accomplish those things. Otherwise, you might go home disappointed for missing out. Again, as opposed to me who just has a frickin’ blast even if I just end up sitting on a bridge staring at trees for 4 hours. I’m easy to please, I suppose.

Know the local language… just a little bit. There are some phrases you’re inevitably going to pick up as you travel to a foreign country, if they speak a different language. Greetings are usually easy, words of respect and gratitude, how to announce your name, and definitely how to say, “CHEERS!” Asking about the restroom is usually a bit more complicated. No matter how many times you repeat it, chances are, when you gotta go, it’ll slip your mind. Either learning it beforehand or having it written down on paper will come in handy. Fortunately, chances are you’ll meet plenty of people who will try their darnedest to communicate in English. Though, this isn’t the case everywhere. Such as the time I was lost in Israel and everyone spoke Russian! Thus, I ended up making a panicked call to the United States to ask a family member to look on Google maps. I literally didn’t know anyone locally and no one was able to give me directions. Eventually, I found my way, but if I just knew how to say, “How do I get to…” and if I understood “left” and “right”, I might have been fine. Then again, how was I to know I needed to learn Russian before heading to Israel? Sneaky, sneaky.

Make sure things are settled at home. Did you close out that bar tab? Did you leave the dog outside? Is the tea kettle still whistling? Don’t leave the appliances turned on, yo. That’s amateur hour. Yet, it happens. People get so worked up about this paperwork and those socks and these layovers, sometimes we forget the very key, simple things… like forgetting your keys. You may not need your house or car keys while away, but when you return… yep, you’ll be quite upset if you’re locked out of your house. Remember to have mail re-routed or held up until your return. Make sure your credit card company and job and family and friends all know you’ll be out-of-town. Don’t let the whole neighbourhood know, though. You might come home to an empty house. You think you know your ‘hood until they rob ya! Just make sure no one and nothing is going forgotten. This is why lists are handy, rather than trusting what you’ll “totally remember” or what you “totally won’t forget”, just write it down and check it off as you do it. Don’t take any chances, unless you’re into self-sabotage and secretly love stress and grief. Meh. If you leave a trusted ally in charge of things, most of this will probably be handled, anyway.

Spend some time looking at technology. Most things that are convenient and expected in your part of town, may not be the norm where you’re going. Or, you just might forget that they’re additional things that aren’t a natural-born right. Phone connection, internet, data, credit cards (and money, in general), washing machines, etc. All of these modern conveniences are not always easily and immediately available. If you desperately need your internet and phone use no matter where you are, look into a SIM card and international data packages. Also remember to prepare cash, the right kind of cash, and find out if credit cards are an option at all. If you’ve never washed clothing by hand, you might want to start learning now. No matter how technologically advanced your trip is going to be, it never hurts to be prepared for things that may fall through. In Taiwan, I didn’t realize that most shops wouldn’t take my credit card, so I had to rely on what measly cash I had on me (http://sweettoothtravels.com/fall-love-taiwan/). There are also countries like Morocco and Cuba, where I am told credit cards are pretty much useless and you’re only allowed certain currency (without an added surcharge.) Yeah, you betcha, some countries do not want your crumpled, sweaty, doodled upon United States dollars! On the nice side of technology, also look at what phone programs are available. For your airline, your hotel, your destination, and whatever else you positively know. Personally, I always have Couchsurfing, HitList (for cheap flight-finding, just in case I’m bored), and offline maps and local information. Maybe a currency converter and language translator, too. You don’t want 10,000 of these since it kills your battery faster and limits data, but if those aren’t big concerns for you, stock up on information, updates, and time savers such as these. You also may want to figure out photo storage, because running out of space for new photos is quite the bummer!

Know all your last-minute necessities. Don’t forget that you might need to check your luggage unexpectedly or you might require a visa or 3 ounce liquids or… a bunch of other small but not minor flight and travel stuff. In the end, there’s not too much to travel, but there are little details that can make your relaxing vacation/trip more hassle than necessary. Avoid one extra, unnecessary eye roll, if possible. I always get frustrated when my airline doesn’t speak much English and I have no idea what they want from me and visa versa, but really, if I just had done and prepared everything, the conversation could be avoided altogether.

Prepare to be respectful. Whether you agree with a country’s rules and customs or not, you really ought to respect them. In many countries, there is limited freedom of speech. You can’t dress and speak and do anything you please. If you’re going into a holy space, cover up those arms and legs and boobies, please. If the locals are fasting or don’t eat certain foods, don’t bathe in pork grease and bourbon and then wonder why people treat you differently. They don’t hate you because you’re American, they hate you because you’re indecent. Yes, even if you’re not home, you have to obey local laws, as well. Seriously. Don’t steal, don’t pose inappropriately, don’t mock them, and if you’re working on your new racist comedy bit… don’t. Be a normal human being, if you can manage it. If you end up in prison, I hope you know a good attorney.

Be prepared for a perfectly imperfect adventure. Without putting pressure on yourself and the trip, try to expect that it will be life-changing in one way or another. Sure, something’s bound to get slightly tripped up, but with most culture’s hospitality and today’s technology, you’re typically covered. Whatever issues arise, just remember that they don’t have to ruin your trip, unless you them let. It’s all dust in the wind, man. No one wants to deal with it, but for the sake of seeing a new part of the world and being wowed and laughing maniacally and being confused and lost and absolutely astounded, it’s probably going to be worth any discomfort and inconvenience. You’re not home, you’re not in your own bathroom or kitchen and maybe you’re not even on your own continent! So, things are different. Sometimes this is wonderful, sometimes it’s exhausting. There you are, you might as well embrace the new situation. Either way, it will be over before you know it, so soak it in!

Please comment if there are any special tips you have to help myself and other travelers avoid hassle before or during travel!

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In the meantime, get satisfied!

 

I’m as Free as a Bird Now

For I must be traveling on, now
‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see

I’m leaving America.
You want to know why I’m leaving America – the land of the free and the home of the brave?
New York City, where, if you can make it, you can make it anywhere?

Because I am not making it here! It’s time to see where I am meant to be. Which is not to say that America or New York have done me wrong. I’ll be back, because I simply can’t leave it behind forever. However, how can I judge and know that THIS is where I want to be, unless I see what else is out there? Just because songs and movies tell me so, doesn’t mean that this is where I’m meant to be forever. After all, what do I care about expensive cars and throwing around billions of dollars? I don’t. But when everyone around you either has or wants or needs this lifestyle, that’s what becomes the norm. I’ve seen myself turning into that ‘money-focused, self-involved, kick ’em down unless you need ’em’ sort.
No. The buck stops here!

To be honest, I’ve played it safe and comfortable all these years. I’ve been kind and generous. I’ve given and seldom taken. My head’s on good shoulders and my heart’s in the right place. Yet, I’m still relying entirely on others financially. Of course, I realize finances aren’t everything. They aren’t the be all, end all. They don’t determine my worth or success. However, being a burden unto others, whether they don’t mind or don’t see it that way, I experience that as a burden unto myself. Long story short, I just can’t do it anymore.

Seeing how the job offers are simply not coming along and I have no roots here, I see no reason to stay. As my peers settle down into homes and jobs and families, I am still uprooted with no one but the family nature gave to me. While they are  wonderful and I am fortunate to have them,  it’s a constant reminder that I have nothing of my own for which I worked, nothing I’ve earned, nothing to give me depth and purpose. This results in feelings of defeat and emptiness. With all I have been given, how have I achieved so little? How can this be so!? I can’t bear the reality.

BEARS!

Maybe blaming my location is of no use, but how am I to find out the length of my reach if I never stretch? Maybe, no matter how far I travel, how long I trek, I will always feel this sense of urgency to change and have something different. Some people are just never content with what they have and they always want something more or different. That could be. But if I just need a break from the bustle and the chaos and a reminder of what matters to me and where I can get it, maybe then I’ll find that inner peace… or something that resembles it. In the meantime, I’ll be living the nomadic life for a bit. Hostels and volunteer work and seeking a career, a home, a place to belong.

“Terror” does not even begin to describe the feelings I have regarding this decision. My heart races, head hurts, and my breaths increase just at the thought. That’s what excites me about it, though. To do those scary things, make those leaps, and never let fear and self-doubt prevent me from trying. To slow down and remind myself that I am not meant to chase billowing, green bills.

I can’t say what my life’s purpose is, but I know that my everyday goal is to make life as beautiful for others as it is for me. To share my vision of a less awful existence and finding success in a cause for people, other animals, nature, and whatever else is out there. I guess I’ll find out and I hope you’ll all be with me during this scary and exciting journey!

If you enjoyed reading this, please be sure to like, comment, and share.

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In the meantime, get satisfied!

 

¿¿Borscht Pastelón??

What happens when a Jewish woman of Eastern European descent attempts to make a beloved Spanish dish? Something delicious? Or disgusting?
Tonight I may be dining on a delicious fusion cuisine for my Saturday night Cheat Meal or I may be wasting an entire, precious plantain. Find out right now on…

Sweet Tooth Travels Presents:

The ingredients in the ring:
1 plantain
1/2 can garbanzo beans (low sodium)
1/2 can black beans (low sodium)
1/4 can sliced beets
1 handful raw kale
A splash of milk alternative of choice – I LOVE the new SILK Protein Nut Milk
Hot sauce or chili pepper flakes – I used both!
Spices and herbs of choice – I threw in jerk seasoning and grounded pepper

Recipe:
Oven at 350 F degrees
Start the plantain cut in half in boiling water. It will take about 45 minutes for the skin to practically be falling off the banana. Once it’s nice and soft and yellow, you can remove them. Peel and mash! Just remember, these are coming out of a pot of boiling water… thus, they are hot. FOOD IS HOT! Hand burning is not part of the recipe, so I am not liable. Just saying.


In a bowl, mix beans and veggies (I splashed in even more hot sauce!) Blend this all together in a processor. Add a little of the juices from the cans, but not too much or it won’t be thick. You can also add veggie meat crumbles to this mixture.

 

 

If you suddenly realize that there is a crack on the bottom of your mixing bowl, don’t be dismayed, leaky nut milk and beet juice are beautiful!
Once everything is mashed, squish the plantains around the bottom of your oven-friendly pan. It’ll be like the crust of this pie. Then layer the bean mixture on top. You can also sprinkle your cheese alternative on top. If you’re me, you’ll add more hot pepper and sauce on top. But… I’m a little insane. Cilantro or parsley on top would be nice, too.

Finally,  throw it in the oven for ~10/15 minutes (longer if you upped the ingredients, obviously!)

AND, BAM! Spanish VOILA!
Alternative options would be adding more liquid and making this into a dip with non-dairy sour cream, avocado, salsa, and chips. Throw it in a tortilla. Add tomato sauce on top. Mix it in with your pasta, rice, or steamed veggies… whatever makes you smile! All I know is, this healthy and super delicious dish is ALWAYS best when made with heart and soul!
With Spanish food like this at home, who needs restaurants?
Not this girl!

Nutrition Facts:

1 Plantain
218 calories – 2.3 g Protein – 893 g Potassium –
57 g carbohydrates – 7 mg sodium – 27 g Sugar

1/4 cup black beans – 55
55 calories – 2 g Protein – 88 mg Potassium –
10 g carbohydrates – 110 mg sodium – 0 g Sugar

1/4 cup garbanzo beans – 71 calories
71 calories – 2.97 g Protein – 103 mg Potassium –
13.57 g carbohydrates – 179 mg sodium – 0 g Sugar

1/4 cup beets – 15 calories
15 calories – .55 g Protein – 110 mg Potassium –
3.25 g carbohydrates – 27 mg sodium – 2.3 g Sugar

Total: 359 calories, 7.82 g Protein… and you can do the rest of the math!

Take into account that a big portion of this will be shared with your dog. This is a super nutritious and satisfying meal that everyone will enjoy!
If you enjoyed reading this, please be sure to like, comment, and share.

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In the meantime, get satisfied!

 

My Week in Zurich

It all started when I decided to book a flight to Portland. Portland, Oregon. A city in the United States of America. Maybe a 5-hour flight… no biggie. So, how did I end up spending Easter in Zürich’s red light district? Simple: the flight was $3 cheaper! How could I pass that up?

Next thing I know, I’m flying an hour to the Montreal airport for a 4-hour layover. I sat down for a mid-travel hydration break and met a wonderful bartender from Israel. We chatted. Well, she chatted. Israelis like to talk. She told me about immigrating to Canada and how she desperately wants to return to her homeland. She told me everything! Of course, I gave her a nice tip and moved on. This is after she told me I should go outside for a bit because I could use a little tan. Yep.

Then I was back on the plane (I was NOT missing any flights this trip!) Another few hours, and I landed in Zürich Airport!

I was a little concerned because I had heard that there was no vegan food in Zürich and that it was a very expensive city/country. With this in mind, I was still determined to live off of $150 USD/$127.20 Francs for the entire week. This was helped by two factors: free accommodations I found on Couchsurfing and some help from Zuerich.com. I really would not have survived this trip without the help of the city guide, definitely check it out! A representative from the site, Julia told me about the ZurichCARD and told me about a great 2-hour tour of the Old Town, which I also really recommend.

What really amazed me about Zürich was that everyone has a completely different experience of this small city! I was staying in the infamous ‘Red Light District’ on Langstrasse (Long Street). Here you’ll find all the trouble you are seeking. 24-hour snacks and booze, sinful pleasures, entertainment, and easy access to nearly anywhere you want to go! However, this street isn’t one of shame and secrecy, it’s really a tourist favourite. You can grab a beer with some buddies, check out the club and music scene, or discover a special little space by Rolandstrasse. My host owns a community and culture space that you can’t miss! On the front, you’ll notice a huge painting of an old man wrinkled with joyful memories and a truly inspiring ram.
You see these two characters, and you know you’re in the right place. Check out if it’s open, which it normally is. You might find actors or music or food… or all the above if you’re lucky!
If you’re into partying all night, you will love this bustling neighbourhood. Seriously, I was in bed at 5 AM each night and when I went out in the morning, the clubs were still booming and there were still people sitting outside bars drinking a cold one. Swiss people know how to party.

However, I’m not much of a party animal, despite my poor sleep habits. After some fun, I was ready to see the more serious side of Zürich. I took my  ZurichCARD, which gave me access to all the trains, buses, and museums, and I went to explore!

The one place you’ll likely to get to know very well is the Zürich Main Station, also known as Zürich Hauptbahnhof– but you can just call it Zürich HB. This spot is the largest railway station in Zürich and it has everything and anything you could need during your trip. The Main Station is where you’ll find pretty much any transportation you need, as well as ticket booths, an information hub, a supermarket, a million shops, a restroom (for 2 francs), restaurants and food stands, fairs and fests, and the Landesmuseum is right next door! I had a great time checking out this museum. Experiencing a city is great, but it’s even better when you can learn all about its history, as well. And yep, entry to the museum was FREE with the ZurichCARD!
I also made sure to get cultured at very accessible and nearby Kunsthaus. They had a permanent collection that was free to view with my Pass but seeing the temporary exhibit would have cost a little extra. However, on a snowy April day, I was more than happy to spend 4 hours checking out some art! Admittedly, I was only admiring the art for 3.5 hours, but then I got lost for half an hour. I’m not ashamed to admit that, it happens every time I go to a museum alone. Every. Single. Time. But I was in good company!

                      This family also got lost. The poor man is dying.

I also had a really great time walking along the water, even when the weather was chilly. Cold weather in Zürich was surprisingly pleasant, too! Maybe it was the energy of being in a foreign country, but although I am typically completely opposed to the existence of cold, I didn’t mind throwing on a couple of layers of sweaters and wandering around for hours. Through the ritzy streets of Bahnhofstrasse, I went. This street is known as one of the most exclusive and expensive shopping areas in the world, so maybe just window shop…. Then I followed along and came across a blacksmith. Really. Which was right next to a place called DYNAMO! I didn’t know what this place was, but the door told me that there was a reggae concert with free entry, so, duh. I spent the next 4 hours dancing and jammin’ with the local Jamaican Swiss people. They do exist and they’re super talented! The concert was followed by a jam session, so I picked up a djembe that was floating around and got “airite” with these cool kids. I also made friends with a Croatian fella whom I made plans with the next day.

This is not him. This is a Jamaican Rasta mon!

 

 

The next day we met up at The Sacred. This is a vegan buffet where you pay by weight. We didn’t eat real food, though! I got myself some vegan gelato. The options were incredible! At least 15-20 types to choose from, all given a 1, 2, or 3. 1 meant it was made with soymilk, 2 meant it was made with almond or rice milk, and 3 meant it was raw. How exciting! After the ice cream man coerced me into trying nearly every flavour, I simply couldn’t choose between a level 2 sesame or level 3 currant, so I got both! I wasn’t the only one, I noticed that the gelato was very popular. Everyone had at least two scoops! Looking around the shop, I was really impressed with just how many food items The Sacred offered! Tofu, seitan, veggies, nuts, alternative meats, and of course, lots of yummy sweets and treats from which one could choose. Overall, Zürich was very vegan-friendly, actually! I’ll write more about that in my next post, but let me just say, nearly everywhere I went had multiple vegan options, there were several entirely vegan restaurants, and the grocery stores had spaces dedicated to vegan foods, and everything was clearly labeled as being vegan. I was overjoyed!

After we indulged in some sugary goods, my new friend took me somewhere I could not describe as anything less than MAGICAL! If you’re in Zürich on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, please find your way to Shanti Jay. You won’t regret it – unless you hate music, chai, and beautiful people. This little community of people was completely diverse, non-judgmental, and full of love, love, love. Before entering, we all took off our shoes and then proceeded to walk into the little fairy land. The walls are entirely covered in instruments, they won’t ever have to worry about wallpaper! We all sat on the ground and shared chai. There was a milk version as well as an almond milk one, both smelled equally delicious, and the almond milk chai was a little taste of heaven.

    I stole this picture from the site, as it was too dark inside for decent photos

We then moved to the “performance space”. In here there were more instruments, more people, and a microphone. Whether you are into string instruments, percussion, singing, stomping, or just sitting and contemplating the universe, there is a place for you in the drum circle. Maybe leave the trumpet at home, though.
I grabbed a drum and played some xylophone. Meanwhile, an Israeli man played guitar, a Swiss man played piano, a Polish couple meditated, my Croatian friend played a little of everything, a little girl who spoke 4 languages sang and danced and giggled, and an older man with crutches sat down and did some throat-singing. A truly remarkable sight.
As for the Old Town Tour, that was a super worthwhile experience. One this 2-hour tour, I learned all about Zürich’s history and culture, and I met the wonderful tour guide, Maria. This brave woman did the tour both in German and in English! This was also a great way to meet new people. I met a man from Bristol, England who was staying in Geneva for work and visiting Zürich for the day. After the tour, we went for a drink and found a local fair, where he won me a stuffed duck whom we named Albert. After all, we were right in front of the university Albert Einstein attended, so what better way to offer Einstein some respect than name a toy duck after him? We also came across some hooligans by the water, fortunately, they didn’t hassle us.
Zürich was a memorable and inspiring city. The people, the places, and even the swans I will always remember fondly. In the end, I stayed in my budget, ate some tasty food, saw some fascinating sights, and best of all, I met people I hope to maintain contact with for many years to come. They all hold a special place in my heart, and I am so grateful for their kindness, generosity, and welcoming arms. Oh, and there was chocolate. Lots and LOTS of chocolate! We’ll discuss that more in my next post about vegan eats in Zürich!
Thank you again, Zürich Tourism for helping make this trip so special. Of course, despite their guidance, all opinions in this post are my own!

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In the meantime, get satisfied!

 

No Need to Passover on Easter! Make it VEGAN!

Holidays can be a daunting task for vegans. Whether you’re making the holiday dinner, eating the holiday dinner, or shoveling chocolate into your mouth in a dark corner, there are so many things that make holidays tough.

First of all, your family will always call you “weird” or “crazy” and joke about feeding you meat… because that’s what families do. Second, you have to maintain some appearance of caring about the holiday (which, maybe you do, but I sure don’t!) And you have to wear clothing. Like, pants, bra, your dentures… whatever dressing up entails in your life. How awful! So, today I’m going to teach you how to be a nudist at family din- oh, wait, no. That’s not about what I’m writing. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m just collecting a bunch of holiday-friendly vegan alternative options for Passover and Easter. That’s pretty good, too, no?

Let’s start with Easter, because I know NOTHING about Easter. I am excited to learn what people do on this holiday. As I hear it, there aren’t bunnies and baby chickens. Which is good! People, if you’re buying children bunnies and chicks, you’re a dummy. Did I just write that? Yes, and you are. These are living creatures. They require care and time and they’re messy and have pungent odors, and they grow up! Yes, they GROW.UP. at which point, your kid may very likely throw that frickin’ full-grown chicken at you and say, “But, like, you bought it.”

Next thing you know, your digging through the poop of little Shmuffin Wigglebuttons looking for the diamond ring he swallowed.
Shmuffin Wigglebuttons is what I named your chicken, by the way. And he eats diamond rings. So….

I’m getting to the food stuff now, I really am! Easter. Food. Let’s do this.

Alternatively, you can do whatever this is:Food. Right! Okay, stop yelling at me! I’m doing my best!

According to the interwebs, the average American family has these items for Easter dinner: ham, scalloped potatoes, boiled eggs, hot cross buns, Simnel cake, and a whole bunch of jellybeans and chocolate!

Fear not, vegans can still partake in the festivities! Although, this is where I admit that I don’t know what Easter is celebrating. Something with Jesus, I’m assuming? Since Christian people cannot get enough of that guy, am I right?? Ha… ha… oh, boy.

HAM! So, Tofurky does sell a ham sort of thing, as well as ham slices. That’s the easy way of doing that. However, it looks like this, so you may want to reconsider:
A few vegan alternative meat companies make turkey options. Find the full list HERE.  If rubbery, processed alt-meat doesn’t get you salivating, Chubby Vegan Mom has another option, you can make your own! Let’s just accept that vegan ham will never look delicious. But it very well may be delicious! Check it out HERE.

I’m not sure what scalloped potatoes are, but potatoes are good! And this recipe by Vegan in the Freezer sounds easy and looks yummy! Check it out HERE.

After some extensive, in-depth research, I found out that Simnel cake is fruit cake with marzipan on top. I’ve offended enough people already, I’ll just say maybe Simnel cake isn’t my piece of cake. However, if you LOVE Simnel cake, try this recipe from Doves Farm in the UK! They make the best food, don’t they!? …don’t they? Well, hey, maybe you’ll like the cake, give it a try! Check it out HERE.
The hardboiled egg thing is a bit tricky since it’s… an egg. That’s like telling someone to make a fake carrot. People do that stuff, though. People are weird. People are SO weird that there actually is a hardboiled egg that is vegan. The Elated Vegan didn’t just make an egg, they made a “Proper” vegan egg. I’m gonna pass on this one, too, but you go for it. Tell me how that works out for ya. Check it out HERE.
Now, what are hot cross buns, aside from an amazing song everyone learns to play on the recorder? Also, when did I become so ignorant?? These are just some questions I have.
If I’ve sufficiently entertained you with my GREAT jokes, we can move on. If you’ve gotten this far, you deserve a recipe for vegan hot cross buns. It’s HERE on Vegan Dad‘s website. They look pretty darn tasty! It’s just a shame I’m so lazy. Otherwise, I might have tried them….

There are about a million vegan Easter dessert options on the interwebs, so I’ll just pick a few of my favourites. This first one is kind of genius if you want a chocolate Easter egg, but you’re unique and trendy and prefer guacamole. Kinda. Dudes- avocados are shaped like eggs! Check THIS out. Also totally feeling these chocolate peanut butter snacks HERE. If you’re super ambitious and want to make everyone else look bad, you can just make this insanely gorgeous carrot cake found HERE. Or stick to something easier and just as good with a no-bake strawberry shortcake. It’s adorable, you can check that out HERE.
And, like that, Easter is VEGANIZED! What about Passover, though? What goes on a Seder plate? Well, let me tell you! After all, I went to Hebrew School for 10 years, so I know a thing or two about searching Goog- um, let me just tell you, shall I?

Maror: an herb, so it’s safe. However, it’s a super bitter herb which I would not wish on anyone. No one uses maror! Just the meshugana Jewish people use maror. You can replace it with cilantro. Some Rabbis say it’s the correct herb, actually! While it’s still bitter, it’s not quite as unpleasant… and you can make salsa afterward.

Z’roa: This is a roasted lamb shank bone. Just a bone… on a plate… like, what? I mean, it represents the lamb who was sacrificed by some guy, but come on! Admittedly, I loved eating lamb when I was a kid, but then I learned about a little something called compassion, at which point I stopped eating lambs and starting eating small children. You can replace the lamb shank bone with the shank bone of a child… or a midget… or just put a beet there.

By the way, this is how I discovered how hard it is to find an image of a midget Rabbi. Do they even exist? This baby dressed as a Rabbi will have to suffice. Ha- look at him!
Note to self: Write theme song for Rabbi Baby television show.
Charoset: This one we’re gonna keep. It’s yummy. Even though charoset is intended to resemble the brick and mortar used by Jewish slaves back in the day, it does not taste like brick and mortar. Unless they made pyramids with apples, walnuts, and wine (figs and dates, if you like). Some people put honey in their recipe, so just keep that out or use agave nectar instead. Of course, make sure the wine is vegan, too. You can see the recipe HERE. Chazaret: Another thing you’ll quickly learn about Jewish people is that we love to torture ourselves. Whether it’s taking the difficult route, obsessing over death, or visiting our parents WAY too often, we are masochists. Thus, charazet is yet another bitter piece of the Seder plate puzzle. It’s lettuce, though, so it’s not too painful. Like lettuce, the journey in Egypt was soft at first and then turned bitter at the end. Clever, isn’t it? Ehh….

Karpas: This one is a little here, a little there, but either way, it’s vegan. Karpas is usually either parsley or boiled potatoes. They represent Spring and new beginnings. Hey, not bad, right? WRONG! You are absolutely WRONG! We don’t get to just eat some potatoes and smile, like we’re Irish or something. No! We have to take that happy veggie and dip it in salt water! Because we had something cheerful and lovely and then we covered it in TEARS! That’s what Jewish people do, we take the positive and we make it into something dreary and morbid! Jesus would never do that to his people, I bet. He gives them wine and crackers when he wants to guilt them. So, yeah, dip your fluffy, warm potato or parsley into some nasty salt water. Yay for the freakin’ holidays!

Alright, let’s get this over. Your last ingredient is Beitzah. An egg. Preferably a disgusting one that has been sitting on a plate in the synagogue all morning. You can make the vegan “PROPER” egg as mentioned above, you don’t have to deal with the farty smell, and everyone says, “Baruch Hashem!” (Thank God!)
Amen, Hallelujah, let’s eat some matzo and store-bought cookies!
I’m not entirely sure how coconut macaroons fit in here, but I know those are popular. Just keep in mind, Passover is the holiday without leavened bread, so don’t leaven the bread. Don’t touch, smell, or think about the stuff. Make THESE and everyone will be pleased.

Serve them with tea, coffee, or almond milk. No meat, no dairy, everything is parve, everyone is happy. You can also pick up Tofutti ice cream thingies, they make me think of Jewish holidays and they’re SO. SO. GOOD.

By the way, it’s considered a Mitzvah (good deed) to drink wine on Passover, so… it’s not ALL bad. Here are some other VEGANIZED recipes that may come in handy for the holiday:
Matzo
Matzo Ball Soup
White Horseradish
Red Horseradish
Gefilte Fish
Noodle Kugel
Matzo Brei
Potato and Mushroom Croquettes
Kishka

The only thing I can’t find is vegan sweetbread…. I used to love eating this. Don’t ask me what it is. Just don’t. But if anyone has a vegan recipe, please send it over.
And, now I’m sufficiently hungry and nostalgic. Who’s cooking for Pesach and inviting me over??

Enjoy the holidays!

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In the meantime, get satisfied!

 

I LOVE New York

Living in New York City (and surrounding territories) for 100% of my life, I’ve seen a New York thing or two. The rats, the fights, the “SHOWTIME! SHOWTIME!”…
It’s old news to me.

So, why the heck am I still obsessed with this city?
Why is the WORLD obsessed with New York City!?

I wonder if it’s because of the gorgeous view of the sunset in Coney Island, Brooklyn. That could be it. It’s rumoured that Doctor Sigmund Freud once said, “The only thing in America that interests me in America is Coney Island.”
I mean, he was a pretty smart guy, maybe he had a point.

Or maybe there’s something romantic about it that draws us in. After all, in 1948 a Greek immigrant promised to purchase his beloved the 150-foot high ferris wheel in the heart of Coney Island as soon as he could if she would wed him. Starting his career as a hot dog vendor, he eventually worked his way up in the ranks and bought it for her! Their son still owns it, and it’s a real hot spot for proposals….

“Marry Me”

On the other hand,

There’s something to be said for the incomparable beauty of a sunset over Manhattan. Not only are there gorgeous buildings in Manhattan, but the 55-story tower at One Bryant Park was the first skyscraper in the United States to achieve LEED Platinum Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. This building has it all! Water conservation technology, green roofs with compost from waste generated by tenants, and even an urban garden. Nothing goes to waste; rain and snow that falls on the building is captured and reused to flush toilets. According to the architects, the design of the building draws on “concepts of biophilia,” which they describe as “people’s innate need for connection to the natural environment.”

To this day, the building is considered one of the most environmentally friendly in the world.                          

It doesn’t matter where you are, this city is full of surprises.
I mean, everyone knows Central Park is where celebrities take their kids to feed the ducks caviar and bruschetta… but just look at this sweet, little bridge. I feel like any goblin living under there would be the cleanest and most handsome goblin ever!

With 843 acres in total in this lush park, it’s easy to get lost in a good book, a good conversation, or a really great daydream!
By the way, if you were wondering, no, the park isn’t natural. It was entirely designed and adorned as per precise orders. But, with 7 bodies of water, 29 sculptures, 36 bridges and arches, 58 miles of walking paths, 136 acres of woodlands 250 acres of lawns, 25,000 trees, and about 37.5 million visitors every year, I guess someone had to take charge of the situation. And heck, they sure did a fine job!

If you’re like me and plan to make Central Park your home one day, it’s sorta possible. According to the 2010 census, 25 people consider this park their home! Though, Central Park officials really seem to disagree, so don’t pack your bags just yet. Rather, why not keep busy by looking for a new species? In 2002, scientists discovered a new species of centipede in Central Park. At a little less than half an inch long, the species (called Nannarrup hoffmani) is one of the smallest centipedes in the world. We should all be so lucky.

After that, you can escape the wilds of nature for a bit and check out good ol’ midtown. Believe it or not, there’s more to 42nd street than Times Square. Though, I’m not sure where else you can get any M&M colour you’ve ever wanted.

Alas, even in the year 2017, there are still no vegan-friendly chocolate buttons inscribed with the letter ‘M’. Unfortunate, but that’s okay. There’s still plenty more to explore. The vegan options are truly endless in New York. If you’re craving something a little caliente, try these yummy seitan empanadas (VSpot)
My review HERE

Or find a blast from the past with Daiya mozzarella sticks and an egg cream from Champs Diner
My review HERE.

and then you can walk off some calories for a few blocks and grab a super sweet treat from Dunwell Doughnuts.
My review HERE.

And if you just want a freakin’ simple veggie burger and “chicken” burger slider,  if you’re into that… VBurger has that for you!
My review HERE.
Yeah.

Now, there are some things New York City doesn’t offer. I mean, what if you want to look at various french fries in glass cases without eating any? WHAT IF?

Just kidding. New York has that, too.

Why is this a thing that happened? I don’t know. I do not know. But it did, and it was spectacular. THE Sir Kensington of Sir Kensington’s “Fabanaise”– vegan mayonnaise – presented an art gallery of french fries that were being served around New York. They sell condiments, so it just makes sense.

But you’re sick of hearing about food, aren’t you? I get it, I totally get it. You want to get away from nature, get away from food, and you want to see more cool architecture, am I right? Something with a touching story. A building that represents America’s strength and pride and badassery. I present to you WTC version 3.0: The Freedom Tower! And it’s sidekick: THE OCULUS!!

With over 50 sharks, 250 laser beams, and Mr. T on standby at ALL times, these two can destroy any building that gets in their way. That’s why the Freedom Tower is the tallest building in the Western hemisphere and the sixth tallest in the world- because all other buildings cower when it comes near. Costing around $3 billion to build, you can’t afford this building. Freedom comes at a price!

Seriously, it’s pretty nice walking around the Oculus. I recommend it. Plus, it’s a hub, so you can catch a bunch of subways here, including the PATH train!

What else is downtown? More parks, more shopping, the punks, hippies, bums, and young and elite. Everyone finds their way downtown at some point. Either for a protest, a hot DJ, falafel from a food cart, or to buy some drugs (they make the free hugs feel better, I hear!)

But if you just want to relax and meet some new people, that’s easy enough, too. Everyone seems to want to talk! Coincidentally, it’s particularly common at the bar on a Friday night. Whether you prefer rooftop bars, underground speakeasies, or somewhere in-between, all the bars and pubs, anytime at all, the doors are always open somewhere.

Identities concealed to protect the drunk.

Heck, maybe you’ll run into someone you recognize. It could happen.

Psst! That’s Hugh Jackman. We’re enemies, though. Don’t worry about it.

Anything you think is missing from New York City or missing from my list about New York City? Please let me know! Or if you’re planning a visit, I’d love to give you some suggestions!

If you enjoyed reading this, please be sure to like, comment, and share.

Stay updated on my journey! Subscribe by email on the left.
Your support makes this adventure possible!

If you would like to work with me or submit your own post, contact me at:

sweettoothnothings@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SweetToothVegan

https://www.instagram.com/sweettoothtravels/

In the meantime, get satisfied!