Monday, August 13, 2007

Fun in the Rockies

We took an last minute trip to Colorado last week (then came back from beautiful weather to crazy heat and humidity here in Illinois...sigh). We drove to Colorado with my sister (who suggested the trip because a friend of the family has a house in Estes Park, Colorado which they were unable to use this summer). It was great to have a nice house to stay at and you really can't beat free. It was also fun to have no computer and we don't have a TV at home so not having a TV at the house was a bonus. The kids and Rob got a TV fix and some swimming in the hotels on the way out and back. I have to say if you are looking for a hotel after midnight to send in the pregnant woman. We spent an hour looking for a hotel until I went into Heritage Inn (2185 U. Ave. Williamsburg, IA) and then the non-smoking room with two queen sized beds was there. I'm sure just a coincidence, but still. We thought about camping, but I'm a little close to my due date to feel like sleeping on the ground...I'm a wimp.

I did some quick searching for vegan places to eat on the way out and in Colorado. We stopped in Omaha, Nebraska first. McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe a very "hippy" place (they advertise over night parking is approved in their cool) and we liked the food, but were not blown away. It could have been the service. We received pretty bad service everywhere we went. I was impressed that we were able to find this place in Nebraska though. We started out with a Date Shake (see pic) without honey (excellent) and a Very Berry Smoothie (good). Dema had the Rasta Pasta (see pic) and didn't like it. It was not as good as everything else and we were disappointed in our waitress because of the cheese (it may have been vegan, but we didn't try it) on the garlic bread although we had talked about dairy and vegan dishes several times with her. I had the Tempeh Reuben without cheese and Dema ate most of it. Very yummy! Parker had the Red Bean Burrito which was good. Karen had red beans and rice. The best, in my opinion was Rob's Artichoke Mornay with Organic Tempeh. The Celestial Bananas for dessert was nice.

The kids had a great time climbing rocks and I'm pretty sure Dema could throw stones in water for a week if we would let him. We had to drag him away. I realized on this trip that although my kids are growing up in flat Illinois that they've seen mountains all their lives so they don't have the awe for them like I did. I remember being totally amazed the first time I went to the mountains, but Parker and Dema see mountains a couple times a year. It was nice to see some renewed interest from Rob in rock climbing. We used to climb when we lived in Maryland and Rob has fond memories of climbing out west with his guy friends. Since having children, Rob hasn't been into climbing (we do live in flat Illinois), but our trip to Colorado may have sparked something.

We were in Estes Park so we had to do the touristy thing at least one day and the kids loved it. We foolishly told them we have miniature golf and all this other stuff in Illinois so we should take advantage of what Colorado has and Illinois doesn't. Wait, but that means they will be begging to go to this type of place all the time. Then we decided we'd rather miniature golf and Bumper Boats, etc. be a vacation thing and let go. There were warnings about pregnant women on most of the rides so I took pictures instead. Parker didn't want bump anyone or anyone to bump him in the Bumper Boats. Although Dema was most excited about the race cars, they both said the miniature golf was their favorite.

While we were hiking, I kept having strangers ask if the baby was okay (meaning the one still inside me and not the 3 year old on my back). It made me laugh. The baby had it easy! I am so huge now that Parker is even making comments about my shirt not fitting and the baby being as big as Dema (please no!). I did feel the altitude much more on this trip than I did when we were in Colorado last (before the kids were born) so I wonder if this is due to being pregnant. It would have been fun to have the baby in Colorado. I've read beautiful stories of unassisted births in the mountains, but it was not meant to be. It was really nice to see so many children in baby carriers. I saw a couple other Ergos (the carrier in the picture) on our trip. I'm a big babywearing advocate and sell baby carriers so I tend to notice them. I saw ring slings, Hotslings, and Baby Bjorns (ugh!), but no wraps this trip. It was nice to do some real hiking instead of the flat stuff we have in Illinois. The views were great and the kids liked the waterfalls.

I was impressed with Dema and how well he hiked. He has those small little legs and it must have been quite the workout. Parker is so completely protective of Dema and was constantly trying to keep him from falling into water falls or getting hurt. Parker only complained of being tired of hiking a couple times and he wanted to go in the Ergo too, but we just distracted him and he was fine. I wasn't up to carrying a seven year old on my back this trip.

It was convenient having a kitchen on the trip. This cut down on our need to find restaurants (although I couldn't help, but want to try out some of the veg-friendly ones on my list). Rob and Parker made rice and beans one night and it was yummy. I couldn't resist taking a picture of Parker cutting up the turnips for the rice and beans. He talks about starting his own restaurant quite a bit (with our help). I hope he never looses his interest in cooking. I love seeing Rob and Parker work together in the kitchen. Rob makes the best rice and beans (one of the few things he will cook without following a recipe). This time he used: 2 turnips (cubed and lightly pan fried), 1 onion, 1 red pepper (diced), 2 tomotios (diced) and covered it all with water and cooked until everything was a little soft then added a jar of pinto beans, a jar of black beans, and 28oz. can of diced tomatoes, with chile powder (about 1 Tablespoon), black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Usually, we add spinach and carrots, but this time we just served it with a spinach salad with chopped carrots and made our own dressing from Vegenaise, ketchup, relish, and mustard. Dema enjoyed the salad as much as the beans and rice. The rice and beans were even better the next day and the dressing was supper yummy on avocado sandwiches with spinach and carrots for lunch.

Rob and I had fond memories of Boulder from our last trip to Colorado. We had fun hanging out and trying some restaurants two days. It was nice to see all the cyclists and we really wanted our bikes with us. Our first restaurant was the Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant at 2010 16th St. and the sign was so understated that we almost missed the place. For a completely vegetarian restaurant they were kind of funny about the vegan thing too. I think we had a new server because someone came to her rescue and seemed much more informed about the food. Another vegan couple came Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant in and the server we didn't have gave them a run down of all the vegan options where our server just remained clueless. Rob asked me not to take pictures which is too bad because the food was very good and great presentation. We ordered the three hummus plate first and were a little worried because it was so tiny (the black bean hummus was the best), but the entrees were plenty. Rob and I shared a Seaweed Salad. Rob had a yummy Artichoke Po Boy sandwich, Karen had the Falafel in Pita sandwich, I had Jamaican Jerk Tempeh with forbidden black rice which was excellent, Dema had a scrumptious sweet and sour tofu dish with tempura tofu with coconut in the batter, and Parker had a great Seitan Reuben. We were all stuffed and poor, but I had to see what the desserts were like and the kids decided they wanted the vegan chocolate cake and the blueberry/peach pie. The pie was the best. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the downtown shopping area for the things to see and play on and their favorite was "Bob the street performer". I liked the walkability of the area and the frequent, clean restrooms. I know, I sound like a old mom.

In Estes Park we had a surprisingly good restaurant find. I noticed in the restaurant guide that Poppy's Pizza and Grill advertised vegetarian and vegan options! When we first asked our server about the vegan options he was a little nervous, but soon brought out a manager who gave us the low down on everything vegan on the menu. He was very helpful. We ended up getting two pizzas, one for the kids and one for Rob and me. Our pizza had hummus for a "sauce" and was topped with sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives (our favorite!), and spinach. The boys' pizza had olive oil and garlic for a sauce and we added corn, vegetarian pepperoni, Kalamata olives, and zucchini. Both were great! We should have gone back. I won't even describe the horrible dining experience we had at Casa Grande on our way out of town. I blame this experience on Rob since he was craving chips and Mexican and I was against it. He said it was the worst Mexican he's ever tasted, but it really was the entire experience. Trust us and stay away.

After Poppy's, it started to rain so we went to a local bookstore close by named Macdonald. We found potato chip vacation books for Rob, some parenting books for me (Diaper Free and Disease-Proof Your idea of fun vacation reading), and some local books for the kids; What's Up with Altitude (we had fun discussions earlier in the trip about the food bar wrappers expanding and the toothpaste shooting out of its lid and this book explained it all in a very understandable and fun way), Whose Tracks are These?, My Water Comes from the Mountain (I love books about water and connectivity), and A Log's Life (which went well with Dema's question about the logs we saw on the trails). We also checked out one of the may mountain gear stores and Parker tried out the climbing wall. Dema was so sad he was too little to climb there.

We also tried out the Boulder veg-friendly fast food scene on our next day there. We tried Mustard's Last Stand for Tofu Reuben for me (it was a big reuben vacation), Soy Veggie Dog for Rob, and the Veggie Tempeh Burgers for the kids. It was fast food, but not bad. I think we should have gone to V.G. Burgers instead. For dinner we tried "Boulder County's Best Thai Restaurant", Khow Thai. We are a little spoiled with Thai at home because we have come to know the owner of the restaurant and she makes the food just way we like it so it took a while to warm up to the food and again we had the dopey server. Parker and I had the yellow curry which was a little sweet for our tastes, Dema had Khow Pad Supparod w/no egg (stir fried rice with cashews and raisins) which was good, and it was great to have steamed vegetables on the side (I love to add more veggies) and the entrees were already pretty heavy on the vegetables which can be rare in restaurants.

Speaking of Thai, on the way home we stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska at the Thai Garden (245 North 13th) and they a large vegetarian section which is so nice, especially for a Thai restaurant. Parker ordered his Yellow Curry, but the server said it was spicy and looked at us with a scowl. We assured her that he was okay and he's eaten Thai food for years and never had an issue with the spices. Rob and Dema shared the Pad Thai with tofu and no egg, but it was not very good so Dema ate some of Karen and Parker's Yellow Curry. I had the Vegetarian Pepper Steak which was good and Dema ate some as well. Overall, I would say it was just okay. I only took pictures of the kids eating the Vegetarian Chicken Nugget and the Thai Spring Roll appetizers. They had a koi pond in the restaurant and Dema had a nice time talking to the fish.

To end our trip, we stopped by the New Pioneer Food Co-op in Iowa City. We were going to eat across the street at the Red Avocado, but it was closed for remodeling (the theme of our trip since many of the places we stopped either were out of business, just closed a week ago, or closed for remodeling). I would pay a lot of money to have a co-op in Champaign-Urbana like New Pioneer. They have a great selection of groceries, nice hours, yummy deli with vegan items well marked, etc. We had the following sandwiches; Tofooled Ya!, Cashew on a Hot Tin Roof, Rock & Roll Avocado Tofuwich, and Garden Cheeseburger (no cheese). Parker had some black bean soup too.

The kids were a little disappointed when we told them we weren't going to the beach this year, but they ended up really liking Colorado and want to go back. I hope next time we get to enjoy some camping, more hiking, and maybe some real climbing.

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