Monday, June 27, 2011

American Epidemic: Technology ADD


I've touched on this topic before, but the national epidemic of Technology Attention Deficit Disorder (TADD) appears to be worsening. I think TADD is a very real affliction. Or perhaps it's just plain manners have gone out the door. Just because people can access Internet and phone anywhere at anytime doesn't mean they should and that it's appropriate in every setting.

As a food lover who so enjoys savoring food and doesn't think we do that enough, what a sad sight to see a person shoveling food with a fork in one hand, and looking down at the gadget in their other hand while in the company of others. Going out for a meal is a luxury, not an entitlement. I can eat far cheaper at home. But if I go out with my sweetheart, my friends or my family, I really look forward to enjoying the food in front of me and engaging with the person I'm with. When you take out a gadget during a meal and text away, as my friend Jennifer who pens Heart Laundry and has a writer site, said, another person is now with you at the meal all of a sudden. An uninvited third party. I also think the message you're sending is the person you're with cannot hold your attention for a full meal. When cell phones started appearing (and following cell phone rudeness), many were banned in dining rooms. I wish all gadgets were banned in dining rooms. They distract from those you are with, and to the people around you.

It's not just teenagers. Adults everywhere are developing the mannerisms and attention spans of teenagers. When I was eating at Rutherford Pancake House with my mother recently, in my line of view was a man I'd guess around 60, who I'm supposing he was with his sister or wife and the man's father. The entire time the man was typing away, and didn't stop until the food came. Next to me was a woman of 40 with her mother who kept typing away and at one point got a paper and started reading it. Observing awkward scenes like this, I always feel bad for the person across from their gadget-obsessed companion. I wonder, are people becoming so socially inept that one cannot keep up a conversation for an entire meal? I don't think Smart Phones are making us smarter. Quite the opposite.

My friend Kristin who celebrates the beauty of the written word (which we also don't do enough) on her poetry blog Wordfall, observed this in her post, "Whatever Happened to Solitude?"

"Today's culture doesn't support solitude and solitary thinking. Collectivism has become the new movement – groupthink. With the development and progress of social media, you're looked at as if you've got 2 heads if you don't want to belong to these sites....I don't need to see everyone's pictures, wall comments, pokes, etc. How would I have time to clear my own head at the end of the day? I'd much rather listen to the songbirds outside my window or other nature sounds. So many people have forgotten how important it is to tune out and decompress."

Isn't Kristin so right? Tune out. Decompress. We can't do that always on a device or turning to social networking sites to see what everyone's doing.

I was in an elevator and someone was speaking about an iPhone app that tells you how well you are sleeping. How does someone not know that on their own? Do we need technology to tell us how to think and feel?

In this New York Times article on the depressed summer job market for teenagers, one teenager said, "I worry it's going to be like this all summer, just sitting here bored with nothing to do but text or go on the computer." Can't comprehend what else there is to do but text and go on the computer? I hope this doesn't speak to the generation we're raising. Channeling Owen Meany: WELL MAYBE IF YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO PAY FOR YOUR PHONE AND THE MONTHLY SERVICE PLANS, YOU'D HAVE MORE MONEY!

A CBS News story in 2010 declared,

"You've heard of Generation X. Now meet Generation Text. A Pew Research Center study says nearly one out of three kids between 12 and 17 years old send over a 100 texts a day. At school these days, the cell phone is now as common as the backpack.

Teens say they don't know anyone who doesn't have a cell.

And four out of five teens admit to sleeping with their cell phones or keeping them near their beds."

How do so many teenagers and pre-teens have a phone with Internet in such cash-strapped times? When I needed a ride home from track practice or other extracurricular activity in high school, I had a quarter to make a phone call. It feels like the population has been sold on that these devices are not only a need, but an entitlement.

Social ineptness and rudeness, why is hardly anyone questioning the health implications of having people from young children onward on computers, cell phones, and other devices all the time? I increasingly see photos of children in schools in front of computers instead of text books. Young children everywhere are glued to their gadgets. To me, this is not progress.

Speaking of health and safety, drivers who text are taking it to a whole other level, with potential fatal consequences. Texting while driving likely caused more than 16,000 road fatalities between 2002 and 2007, a study released by the American Journal of Public Health, reported The Christian Science Monitor. When I look out the window of the bus, it's horrifying the number of people typing away in moving traffic. Are we this delusionally self-important to cause harm to other motorists because we think instant communication is so important? I'm not a fan of aggressive police ticketing, but in this case, ticket away.

Where are our priorities as a nation? Time and time again with food (one of the few things we consume that's a "need" versus a "want"), it's give me the cheapest thing available, no questions asked, the cost to our health, animals and environment be damned. I don't care if it's giving me diabetes, a chicken is boiled alive, or manure pools are polluting our waterways, I need to pay for that Internet access, including for my 12 year old!

Calculate what you pay on a monthly basis, then times 12, then times that over a decade, on your monthly bills. I estimated that I wasted at least $6,000 on cable television over a decade before I cancelled it this year. I could definitely use $6,000 for more important things.

Distracted states of America.

I'm really frightened by our population so willing to give hard earned money to phone, cable and oil companies, but thinks very little about its food, air and water supply. Even in the lean economic times of 2011, too many Americans of modest means seem more interested in status symbol designer handbags, shoes and clothes, all the while clutching the latest iPhone ignoring those they are with (my sister calls this "Karashianitis").

Above all, our society is distracted about what matters most and is unquestioning - except for when they ask, "Why isn't this cheaper?" Cheaper food (but we're throwing 25 percent of it in the garbage). Cheaper oil (but the drill faster, more, now mentality caused the BP oil spilling taking human and animal life). Cheaper clothes (even if child is toiling away in a plant in Indonesia or China). When a society doesn't question, it is ripe for control and manipulation.

In short, I worry about our nation's path and priorities, do you? America, can you hear me now?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Welcome Summer!

My kind of fast food: raspberries, nature's sweet candy and a summer delight.

On this summer solstice, reflect on your favorite summer memories as a child, and what you most look forward to. Has it changed much? Favorite childhood summer memories: watching fireflies, searching the backyard for a twig for a spear for marshmallows for toasting, swimming, and something we never appreciate: having the summer off.

Keith Donohue, in his haunting Angels of Destruction, talked about the "endless nirvana of doing nothing at all" that summer offers. We need a little more "nothing" in our harried lives.

Some delights I anticipate each year: going to the beach, lazy weekend naps, the air perfumed with honeysuckle, reading in a shady breeze on a lounge chair. Also...

Eating outdoors: on the patio, at a quaint cafe, on a picnic blanket, or at the farm. At Demarest Farm in Hillsdale, New Jersey, shaded picnic benches await just beyond this cheerful scene.

Lemonade stands. Learn about the history of lemonade from

It's comforting to know 50 cents can still buy you refreshment on a hot summer day.

Early evening strolls in the park with the family's adopted dog, Scotty, who doesn't seem to care at all (nor do I) if I'm not beach body ready (what a ridiculous concept). How much people fret needlessly over their appearances in the summer. Animals seem to have their priorities in order: love, food, home, play, rest (all cherished four letter words).

Farmers markets abundant with summer's bounty. At the Thursday Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City, Katchkie Farm has spearmint basil ice tea, $2, an infusion that transports me straight to the garden and not bustling 42nd Street.

I can just smell the basil looking at this picture. For me, no manmade perfume created in a laboratory can compete with the perfume of nature.

While I keep my suit on, I love swimming, including the peacefulness at night. R.E.M.'s poetic Nightswimming (from their Automatic for the People record) is a favorite anthem for summer.

"Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago.
Turnaround backward so the windshield shows.
Every streetlight reveals a picture in reverse.

Still it's so much clearer.
I forgot my shirt at the water's edge.
The moon is low tonight.

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
I'm not sure all these people understand.
It's not like years ago.
The fear of getting caught. The recklessness of water.
They cannot see me naked.
These thing they go away replaced by everyday.

Nightswimming, remembering that night.
September's coming soon.
I'm pining for the moon.
And what if there were two side by side in orbit around the fairest sun."

Enjoy the delights of summer.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Postcards from Abram Demaree Farm Stand

One of the things I'm most proud of as a New Jerseyian is our farms. Visiting a farm each weekend is an essential for me, since I'm in the midst of bustling New York City each weekday. Even if I wasn't, farms are just a cherished part of my life.

Abram Demaree Farm Stand in Closter is one of my favorites, and my mom and I often lunch there. We think it's as fine a way to pass a weekend day as any.

There's something about the sight of an old pickup truck in front of a farm that tugs at the heartstrings a bit, isn't there?

Homemade: one of my favorite words.

No pesticides, no herbicides. Who wants that lurking in their food? I often wonder why we spend so much money on clothes, expensive handbags, grooming, our monthly plans for gadgets, pouring money down our gas tanks on (voluntarily chosen) fuel inefficient cars - but we skimp on quality food. Why?

Sharing the split pea soup and baked macaroni cheese.

Other vegetarian staples at the farm include potato leek soup; tomato, homemade mozzarella and basil pesto paninis (below) or spinach and feta cheese paninis; salads to order; and a Swiss cheese spinach quiche. I'm already dreaming of their zucchini marinara in the summertime. Find homemade goodies like pies, chocolate chip or sugar cookies, and carrot or blueberry muffins.
We eat outside on their cheerful patio.

I love the craftsmanship of this old stove.

Forget what you've seen on television. This is my kind of Jersey Girl-pride.

Chickens across the way. Why can't all chickens be outside and not in some filthy wire cage in a factory?

A few weeks ago, this bird sat on its "nest" (just the gravel lot). Isn't nature amazing?

Isn't this farm amazing?

There's also a bring and sell shop with antiques and vintage clothing.

Lavendar fields line the road (speed limit 45), begging the harried soul, slow down. Linger. Admire me. You're missing all this great beauty!

I was really surprised to learn that the average farm household will get only about 13 percent of its income from farm sources, based on USDA predictions, according to The New York Times. We need to support these family farms! Even if you go in and buy a bag of peaches, a container of cherry tomatoes, or some corn. It matters! If you have children, take them there. On a recent episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, he did a flash card test with teenagers, and several thought butter came from corn and not cows. Yikes!

I was really excited to read about this site Farm Stay U.S., where you can find farms to stay at overnight. I hope to visit one, and if I do, I'll bring you along for the fun.

They next time you pass a sign like this, stop.

Find a local farm near you through LocalHarvest.

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Hometown: An Essay in Support of Main Streets

"Now main street's white washed windows, and vacant stores. Seems like there ain't nobody wants to come down here no more."

It was in the mid-1980s New Jersey son Bruce Springsteen sang these words in My Hometown, but they are as relevant as ever in 2011.

One of my favorite American painters is Edward Hopper, and of his collection I always am drawn to Early Sunday Morning. I saw it recently at the Whitney in New York City. I never noticed it before, but a tall building looms on the right side of the scene, and the audio guide mentioned it was a symbol of how the great juggernaut of technology and commerce was going to steamroll the current way of life.

I want to take you on a tour of some spots in my hometown, Emerson, New Jersey, where I was born and raised. I don't live here anymore, but do live in the same county. Unlike other communities, I can't point to the loss of a specific industry here (say, the auto industry in Detroit) for how the retail landscape has changed. But what has transformed here has and is happening in towns all over this nation. The juggernaut of online retailing, mega malls and food stores have indeed steamrolled the way of life I knew just one to two decades ago.

Not much of a community feeling here anymore. Growing up, this center looked very different. It included a Grand Union supermarket, a bowling alley, a pizza parlor, a deli, a cafe, a Chinese takeout, and Wendy Drew clothing store, among some others. I still remember buying my mom a nightgown as a Christmas present as a kid at Wendy Drew, seeing a special showing of Heidi at the movie theater, and eating pizza with my sister after going to see the Breakfast Club.

Now, it's a massive Stop & Shop, a Marshall's (a discounter of home goods and clothing), a dollar store (so cheap for a reason, but we think little of the workers who toil for us for the $1 goods, or the toll on the planet), a wireless world (I increasingly think bad for our health) and a bank. Depressing.

A puppy store and a psychic have been recent additions. Millions of shelter dogs are executed each year while people pay hundreds of dollars for a puppy that came from who knows where. Out of the entire town, this store saddens me the most.

A shuttered gas station that's been here as long as I can remember. An eye soar to the community.

A strip of stores, including two for rent, which were a Subway sandwich shop and a beauty parlor. A floral shop also went out of business across the street. The strip isn't much to look at, but here is a great bagel store, a nice jewelry shop, a deli, a doll shop and a hearing aid store.

Growing up, I still remember coming into the long-closed bakery with my dad and marveling at the rainbow sprinkle cookies. Bakeries, remember when town's had those? I really miss them.

In My Hometown, Bruce Springsteen contemplates packing up his bags and heading South, and telling his son, just as his own father did at the beginning, "Son, take a good look around, this is your hometown." I can't help think of the current exodus out of Detroit, like pioneers who sought a better way of life leaving all that was familiar to them. When you look around your hometown, what do you want to see - Costcos and Targets?

In an age of budget cuts to libraries, schools, and police officers badly needed in inner cities, somehow the state of New Jersey is managing to muster funds to bailout a failed mega retail development formerly known as Xanadu which has been rechristened - how I wish I was making this part up, "The American Dream." Every time I see pictures of it I think how ridiculous - there is New York City in the background with all of its culture, and here we are in New Jersey with our behemoth mall that sits on environmentally sensitive marshland.

My American dream is not a mall. I hope it's not yours either. My American dream does include thriving main streets, and I hope yours does too. I want to take "a good look around" and see bustling local restaurants, bakeries, chocolate shops, cafes, crafts stores, movie theaters, book shops, record stores, consignment and charitable thrift shops, and so on.

Please feel free to share your story of your hometown, your favorite main street memories, and hopes and fears about the existence of them in the future in the comments section.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Let's Go Back to The Kitchen

I love The Kitchen restaurant in Englewood, New Jersey. Probably because it combines so many things I love: using a lot of seasonal ingredients, celebrating American cuisine, its cozy dining room with Americana images on the wall from the early 20th century.

In a nod to parties during the prohibition era, they pass five complimentary appetizers. Since I'm a vegetarian, ours were all vegetable-based: potato pancakes, mini artichokes, mushrooms on toast, and my favorite, a date in a puff pastry roll (so unexpected!) No secret drinking here: we brought along a Mumm California Brut Rose.

Sharing the spring salad: strawberries and rhubarb with arugula in a poppy seed dressing, $8.

Grilled meat? No way. Their vegetarian plate: grilled king oyster mushrooms over quinoa with peas and carrots, white asparagus and Swiss chard, $20. Mushrooms are nature's mock meat for me.

My sweetheart Steve eats meat (I'm in an inter-dietary relationship!) He had the chicken with honey waffles. Since I'm not posting photos of anything I wouldn't eat, you'll just have to project it! I did have a bite of the waffles which were delicious.

Two sides come with the entrees to share: roasted parsnip puree (REALLY good) and collard greens.

And you thought we were too full for dessert. We couldn't resist the hot fudge sundae with homemade hot fudge sauce and two fresh baked cookies. Pricey at $8, but worth it. This is no Smucker's hot fudge!


"Little is known with certainty about the sundae's birth: it originated in the late 1880s or early 1890s; one of the first published sundae recipes appeared in Modern Guide for Soda Dispensers in 1897; and sundaes were very popular by 1900. Many accounts of the sundae's invention have been published, but there is no definitive evidence about it. The best-known explanation for the sundae is that it was created to circumvent Blue Laws banning the sale of ice cream sodas on Sunday. Beginning in the colonial era, Blue Laws were promulgated to prohibit certain activities on the Sabbath." - Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains, Anne Cooper Funderburg

I love listening to Tuba Skinny, which plays a lot of music of the same era The Kitchen restaurant pays homage to, but it feels even more right on a hot sultry day or night. Since my heart's desire is a chef (don't be too envious, ladies. When I see him, he usually wants to order a pizza!), I'm partial to their cover of Bessie Smith's Kitchen Man, quite fitting for today's post.

Flashback to my last visit to The Kitchen.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Retro Matinee Feature Showing: Swing Time

On the bus ride home from work, I pass a dance studio with a sea of young dancers in the window, or being hand held across a bustling street as a busy world races on by. I wonder if they know Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Or about the joyous (that's the only word that seems fitting) music of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin that fills the pictures. How much do we Americans not know or are forgetting about our rich culture history?

It seems almost every blurb on the back of an Astaire-Rogers film (there are 10) says it's one of their most beloved by fans, and it's easy to see why they would all be beloved. So far, I've seen Follow the Fleet, Top Hat, Shall We Dance, Barkleys of Broadway and my favorite so far, Swing Time. The Gay Divorcee is next in line.

Leonard Maltin summed up the appeal of the Astaire-Rogers films, but this also speaks a lot about our times:

"We live in such a cynical time that it might be hard for some people - younger people - to really appreciate what these films did for audiences then and still do for audiences that discover them today. Which is to make you feel better. They make you feel better about life. They make you feel better about yourself because they lift your spirits. And some people dismiss that as mere escapism, or as mere fluff. I don't think there's anything mere about it. I think it's art of the highest quality."

Isn't he so right? Our times do seem so cynical. Do people really feel better about themselves sitting on a couch wasting valuable leisure time as we glumly witness the dysfunction displayed on reality television. Does that lift spirits? Find me a family unit without dysfunction, there's is just on display for our judgement.

How much of culture today is about shock value. In the pop world, what will get people talking - a violent video? A meat dress at the Grammy's? Are these things really art? If it is, in my humble opinion, it's of the lowest value. Yet this is what millions of us embrace. It might be other's cup of tea, but it’s just not for me.

Cancelling cable this year and being more selective about what I watch is one of the best decisions I've made. I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Maltin, these films are art of the highest quality, which is what I want to fill my life with. Art that makes me better.

People need hope in their lives, and we need more hope in our culture. The Astaire-Rogers films were made in the lean economic years of the 1930s, but you can watch them in 2011 (far too lean for many Americans) and in two hours feel good about life. I want to feel good about life and have my spirits soar, don't you?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Walk Down Memory Lane with The Wilder Life

One memory that invokes feelings of nostalgia for me and my older sister is going home after school and watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie. We still use the show as a comparison for real life. When I made a squash soup too spicy (it really was!) one Thanksgiving, my sister teased, "It's just like when Nellie made cinnamon chicken for Almanzo and Laura doctored it up to ruin their plans." A bite on a leg? "I hope this isn't like when Ma had to cut off part of her leg when the family was away when she got an infection."

Wendy McClure's The Wilder Life, My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie is the perfect summer read for fans of the books and/or show. I vaguely recall having seen some Little House books at the Scholastic book fairs McClure mentions, but she as a child only knew the books. Reacquainted later in adulthood with them, she details her adventures visiting the Little House sites, exploring the history of the West, and even churning butter while watching a Little House episode where Laura breaks Nellie's music box (a classic!)

As a child, the books inspired dreams of frontier life.

"I wanted to live in one room with my whole family and have a pathetic corncob doll of my own. I wanted to wear a calico sunbonnet—or rather, to not wear a calico sunbonnet, the way Laura did, letting it hang down her back by its ties. I wanted to do chores because of those books. Carry water, churn butter, make headcheese. I wanted dead rabbits brought home for supper. I wanted to go out into the backyard and just, I don’t know, grab stuff off trees, or uproot things from the ground, and bring it all inside in a basket and have my parents say, "My land! What a harvest!""

It's easy to see what McClure loves about the books when she notes passages like this in Little House in the Big Woods.

"She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago."

Laura Ingalls Wilder lived from 1867 to 1957. Imagine the great progress and world events she witnessed: the expansion of the West and building of the railroads, the birth of the automobile and aviation industry, the Depression, two World Wars. The last year of her life, I Love Lucy was on the air. Could pioneers have imagined a little square box entertaining them instead of a fiddle? That one day people could have skipped the arduous wagon journey with a flyover country trip?

Consider what you've witnessed in your own lifetime, and what's to come. Born in 1975, the rise of the internet and the tragedy of 9/11 (and the wars that followed) stand out. If I live to Laura's age, it will be 2065. Imagine what the world will be like then!

Doesn't it seem like many of us so often long to go back while time marches forward?

"While we all certainly appreciate the pioneer ordeals, the covered wagons, and the long winters, somehow Sweet and Simple had become our own dream frontier, our Oregon that we'd like to reach someday, always just beyond the horizon."

There's plenty of things not to romanticize. Of a trip Laura took later in her adulthood,

"I could appreciate the glimpses of a shakier and less romantic time in U.S. history, where people crossed the country in search of better times and didn't always find them. More than once Laura mentions passing wagons coming in the opposite direction from Missouri, carrying people who didn't have any luck there."

How much of it was indeed luck. Who could reckon with Mother Nature? I think of the 10,000 Maniacs song, Gold Rush Brides, when Natalie Merchant sang, "The land was free, yet it cost their lives."

Ms. Merchant reminds us, "I see Indians that crawl through this mural that recalls our history." Being dismayed about how the Ingalls family had a less harmonious relationship with the Native Americans, she writes, with Ma Inglass, "She's racist the way some people's grandmas are racist. which makes it pretty awkward, of course, especially when you love your grandmother." When Laura asked Pa hard questions about the Indians, he would tell her to go to bed.

When visiting a cemetery in Burr Oak, McClure observed,

"I noticed how many of the inscriptions measured lifetimes not just in years but in months and days. All these people and all their days." While romantic a notion, think about how short life spans were, how precious it was, and how early death was a more common part of life.

Some things are worth longing for. Reading an article the same day I finished the book about teens and adults increasingly sending intimate photos of themselves through our "progress" of various devices, suddenly Laura and Almanzo's buggy rides by the lake sounds quite appealing. It made me sad that courtship seems to be dead. Would modern day Laura and Almanzo be unable to sit through a meal without whipping out their devices?

I now want to read the whole Little House series, and admittedly, googled, "Sunbonnets, where to buy." Hey, if adult women can walk around with the word "Juicy" scrawled on their behind, I can wear a sunbonnet! I haven't bought one - yet!

Check out McClure's humorous Twitter postings as Laura Ingalls Wilder, and her photo stream of Flickr. Learn more about the Little House books.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I Heart Vegan Food!

On my "bucket list" of life: do a road trip around America. I have fantasized of a sabbatical to explore the country. When I said I should take a year off like that Eat, Pray, Love author, my sister said I'd make it as far as Woodstock, New York. Um, that's two hours away!

Right now, I'm living vicariously through the Just Eats Tour with Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, and his crew, who are on road trip exploring vegan food and exposing our factory farming system most Americans choose not to think about. Why would we not want to think about what's going in our bodies or how farm animals are suffering in horrible conditions, yet we love our cats and dogs!

Gene's book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, was one of the sources that got me very interested in vegan living, and I've visited their shelter in Watkins Glen, New York, where I stayed at one of their bed and breakfast cabins.

My advice to people intimidated by "vegan": don't get caught up in signing up to be a "fill in the blank" label (vegan, vegetarian, anything). It's not all or nothing. I don't worry about being perfect and making ideal choices always. The goal is to be conscious of what you are eating, who it is impacting (animals, workers, people who live in the communities), and the planet.

While Gene and co. are exploring vegan eats crossing the country, I enjoy eating vegan food often in New York City's Hell's Kitchen (where I work), at home (doing easy swap outs like almond or rice "milk" instead of dairy), and in New Jersey where I live. Not featured here but are worth mentioning are two of my favorites in Rutherford, New Jersey, Sweet Avenue Bake Shop, an all vegan bakery, and Rutherford Pancake House with a great vegan section of the menu from tofu scrambles to vegan sliders.

To answer the question, "But what do you eat?" when eating vegan, and to debunk the myth vegan food is about deprivation, here is some vegan food I've enjoyed over the past few months that is proof that it's anything but.

Before heading into work, I picked up a vegan cranberry orange muffin, $2 (vegan blueberry also available), from the Thursday farmers market at Port Authority Bus Terminal. Check out vegan baking tips from Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale. With Earl Grey tea with soy milk, on thrifted plates in my cubicle. An Edward Hopper image overlooks to the scene.

Go lightly tip: stock your office kitchen with secondhand plates, glasses and silverware to allow colleagues to reduce their impact.

In Hell's Kitchen...

Grilled tofu tacos at Blockheads, with rice and black beans, $9.50. They even have tofu sour cream here! Sit outside on their cheerful patio, which I did at a happy hour with some friends.

I was treated to lunch by a colleague at Vinyl (there's also a Chelsea location). The lemongrass tofu wrap filled with jasmine rice and Chinese broccoli, which comes with their homemade chips, $9.95. Washed down with pineapple juice, $3.

At Chili Thai, the Massaman Curry: a thai-muslim influenced curry with potatoes, onions, and peanuts in coconut milk with tofu, served with a spring roll, $8.50. This came with a cup of vegetable soup as well.

Mocha soy soft serve with vegan chocolate brownie topping, $4, at Kyotofu. Two flavors monthly.

Sit by the window and watch New York City life go by. I reflect how much Hell's Kitchen has changed. Look at the New York City taxi in the window. Did you know the New York City's Taxi of Tomorrow is a Nissan minivan made in Mexico? I know!

Vegan burger at Mother Burger, $7.95, a blend of toasted bulghur wheat, carrot, chick peas, onion, sautéed red and green pepper, tahini and spices.

The New York Times said this of veggie burgers,

"Veggie burgers haven't merely become good. They have exploded into countless variations of good, and in doing so they’ve begun to look like a bellwether for the American appetite."

In supermarkets, I favor the BOCA Burger brand. I've found many chains like Friendly's, Applebee's and even Charlie Brown's Steakhouse offer a veggie burger (sometimes in fine print, other times you just have to ask). Knowing whether or not they are vegan can be tricky, but I like Kathy Freston's advice about not worrying about minimal amounts of animal products when trying to eliminate or reduce them in your diet. Unless you make all of your own food from scratch, it's hard to know all the time what's in your food.

Office eats...

We get treated to pizza and salad Wednesday, and one of my favorite slices is the pizza marinara with olives and capers (ordered from Uncle Mario's). This always brings me back to Italy where pizza marinara is everywhere on the menu. I had a similar pizza just outside of Venice.

At a weekly tea time, I brought in vegan apple strudel from Trader Joe's, $2.99 for a box of two. No wonder Maria in The Sound of Music declared crisp apple strudel one of her favorite things!

Check out the Trader Joe's vegan product list.

At Hummus Kitchen, vegetarian couscous with a choice of one side (had to choose their creamy hummus), $9.50. It also came with a vegetable soup. I paired this with a refreshing glass of pomegranate lemonade with fresh mint leaves. Can't make it back to Morocco, but this is close enough for now.

At a friend's birthday dinner at Zen Palate, the Mango Halo: mangos, cherry tomatoes, gingko nuts, snow peas and soy nuggets in a sweet kung pao sauce, with taro spring rolls and brown and red rice, $11.95.

Zen Palate's vegan key lime pie, $4.50. So airy and refreshing!

In New Jersey...

At Pancho's Burritos in New Milford, the sauteed spinach enchiladas with soy cheese and tofu sour cream with pinto beans and Spanish rice, $11. Beans are one of my favorite protein sources, and are great for at-home cooking since they are inexpensive and widely available.

At home...

A meatless meatball sandwich with Trader Joe's vegan meatballs. Topped with fresh basil from the garden.

A V-BLT: Lightlife vegan Smart Bacon, lettuce, tomato on multi-grain bread with Nayonaise (find it in the natural food section of supermarkets, Whole Foods or check your local health food store).

Lightlife Smart Dogs. At just 45 calories per dog, you can have two!

And of course, duh, all the fruits and vegetables you want! Strawberries from Old Hook Farm in Emerson.

Find vegan eateries near you through

Note that all of the photos (save for Zen Palate) were from non-vegan, non-vegetarian eateries. Vegan food is just showing up everywhere for good reason: it's humane for the animals, healthier for our hearts without all those saturated animal fats, and good for our Earth (would you want to live next to a factory farm? Me neither!)

I do think, personally, Americans seem to have too many animal products in their diet and do people really need meat at every meal? What are the costs of raising all these animals at the cheapest prices available?

Why are we so focused on protein, and not on fiber or vitamins? I often wonder when I hear people complaining about carbs why eating factory farmed meat is okay (one person I know told me they choose not to think about that). Spaghetti, no, drugged up, overbred chicken raised in filthy warehouse, yes?

A big part of my American Dream: a better world for farm animals than the one that exists now.