Sunday, August 02, 2015

Fresh blueberries for breakfast, and chipotle black bean and veggie burger for lunch

I was thrilled to see Hotel 340 include fresh blueberries and cantaloupe 
For three and one-half years I have eaten a plant-based diet.  I've taken vacations and attended conferences, and I have been able to navigate my way around cafes, restaurants and banquets.

My "hobby" while traveling is to see where I can get a good vegan meal and a nice pool to swim laps. 

It has been a fun challenge and goal for my travels to see if I can stick with my vegan and environmentally-conscious commitments. Most recently my husband and I traveled to Chicago via Amtrak. We live in Duluth, Minn. and boarded the train in St. Paul, Minn. after staying overnight at a hotel near the depot. I packed a bag with oranges, apples and peanut butter sandwiches for the trip to St. Paul.    

The real china dishes was a plus. I hate using disposable dishes. 
The first night my husband wanted to walk around downtown St. Paul to see what he could find to eat. He isn't vegan so it's a lot easier for him to find something to eat. I wanted to stay in at the hotel because it had an elegant Art Deco lap pool that I wanted to swim. I swam and then came back and ate the apple and one of the peanut butter sandwiches.

In the morning we tried the hotel's complimentary breakfast. It included fresh blueberries and cantaloupe.   

Eating in the dining car is fun. 

On the train the next day, I made sure to keep my bag of goodies near my side, but was curious if I could find something vegan on the dining car. Seating on the family car is "family or community style," meaning if there is empty space at your table you sometimes end up eating with people you don't know.  We joined two women from Chicago who had attended a "One Direction" band concert in St. Paul. This was a fun experience for us.

To my surprise a chipotle black bean and veggie burger was on the menu. I ordered this as did the two women from Chicago, though they weren't vegan. They said they just liked these burgers. My husband ordered the cheeseburger. (The waitress asked him if he wanted bacon on it, "Geez, are you trying to give him a heart attack," I wondered.)

I was also pleased to see the vegetarian entree, but since it included feta cheese, I didn't order it.
And though I eat vegan for my health, I ordered a Pepsi and chips instead of salad, which I know is a lot of extra sugar, oil and salt that I don't need, but I figured we were on vacation and I could splurge. I know some vegans who don't follow their vegan diets when they vacation, but I do.

This is my chipotle black bean and veggie burger. I garnished it with ketchup and mustard.
This is hubby's cheeseburger. He ordered iced-tea for a drink. 
Water was offered free of charge.
Note Amtrak's environmental logo.

While I was pleased with the service of our Amtrak waitress and with the quality of the food, I was disappointed that the Amtrak uses plastic plates. I asked the waitress if they washed the plates and reused them, but she said the plates are disposable and thrown out after one use. When hubby and I took the train a few years ago ceramic/china dishes were used on the dining car.  If you look at the logo on the water glass and the coffee sleeve, Amtrak uses a leaf and the tagline or motto, "Rail consumes less energy than cars or air travel." Our waitress said the switch to plastic, disposable plates happened two years ago and there was a big discussion about it. "I don't like it," she said, "It's wasteful." 

Following the National River & Recreation Area Minnesota by train

Standing along the platform of the depot in St. Paul, an Amtrak official directed us to a car with seats reserved for us. As we had attempted to travel light, my husband had his backpack and I had a small suitcase that we put in the luggage compartment on one end the first floor of the car. The opposite end of the car contained four or five small bathrooms. Then we climbed stairs that round a corner and open up on the second floor of the car.

The train creaked and gently rolled back and forth as we sat in our coach seats. I say tried to travel lightly because I brought a small tote bag with food, books, maps and notebooks and a tote bag containing  my 17 inch Macbook Pro which isn't really heavy, but can be if traveling.  I brought the two totes along with me to our coach seats.

Soon, I decided I needed a cup of coffee. The club car has a snack bar on the first level and an observation deck on the top. Tables to play cards and/or visit, large windows all along the walls and up the the ceilings along with lounge like chairs and coffee tables with rails to hold cups are the main feature of the this car.  

An attendant sells snacks and drinks from the first floor. I stood in line to order my coffee and went back to coach to invite my husband to join me in the observation car so we could drink coffee and enjoy the scenery. 

The train whistle sounds soft and low as we see bluffs out our big windows. As our track follows the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a National Park Service volunteer sits at a table in the front of the car holding a microphone. He narrates our trip by pointing out interesting pieces of geology and history.  
In Minnesota our trained followed the Great River Road.
The Great River Road is any road that follows the Mississippi River.
(Image from

The volunteer, Arlan, walks up and down the aisle holding a shell with a perfectly round hole in it. 
He says that the shell is a mussel shell from the river and could anyone guess why it has a perfectly round hole in it? Some people guessed an animal or worm or something made it. I guessed that a Native American had made the hole. Thirty million mussel shells from the the Mississippi, he says, were used in the manufacturing of buttons between the 1850's and 1930's. 

National Park Service volunteer Arlan gave a nice narration of the scenery.
(Photo by Naomi Yaeger)

Now about 60 miles south of St. Paul, we follow Lake Pepin which is a lake on the Mississippi about 35 miles long . We see boaters, pontoons and houseboats. "This has been a transportation corridor for thousands of years," Arlan says. I'm thinking about the Native Americans who used canoes on the rivers and Arlan adds that many birds follow the river during migration. I see an eagle outside swooping outside of the window landing in the swamp. From the 1850s to the 1930s steamboats cruised the area, but in the 1930s the railroads put the steamboats out of business. 
We see barges. Arlan tells us they are full of grain or sand.  The sand is used in the oil industry to frack. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

A vegan traveler rides the Amtrak to Chicago

Sleeve for a coffee cup.

I eat a plant based diet and I try to tread lightly on the earth. Recently my hubby and I traveled from our home in Duluth, Minnesota to Chicago via Amtrak.

I ate very well on my trip and certainly didn't lose any weight because the food was so good.

We had friends who, when they heard we were going to Chicago, told us about deals that we could get on various airlines, but they didn't get the point. The point was to take the train.

There is no passenger train to Duluth, the closest location for us to catch the train was St. Paul. We rode the Skyline Shuttle from Duluth to St. Paul.  The Skyline Shuttle is a privately owned business which has several vans traveling daily from Duluth to the Twin Cities. Many people are catching an airplane.
Since our train was scheduled to leave at 8:05 a.m., we decided to book a hotel in downtown St. Paul the night before and relax and then walk to the depot in the morning to catch the train.We boarded the shuttle at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center at 3:20 p.m. The driver let us off near the state capital, which just few blocks from our hotel and the train depot at about 6 p.m.  

Riding the train is very relaxing.
Here my hubby is gazing out the window at the Mississippi River

We stayed at Hotel 340, which is located at 340 Cedar Street. Since my day-job is as the editor of a weekly newspaper, the Duluth Budgeteer, it was interesting to me that the hotel is across the street from the Pioneer Press and two blocks from Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media. Also the Metro Green Line light rail station is right behind the hotel.
When I booked the Hotel 340 I read that as a guest would have access to the St. Paul Athletic Club. This turned out to be a real treat for me as I am a swimmer and my goal is to swim laps everyday.
When I asked about access to the fitness club, I was told it was a $10 extra fee. In my head I was a little miffed, I didn't think I should have to pay extra for this, but soon my hubby and I visited the fitness club and I was in awe. The fitness club is contained within 340 Cedar Street on the third through ninth floors. It's very upscale.

The Saint Paul Athletic Club's athletic facilities are located on floors three through nine.

An elegant, sunlit swan-motif terrazzo pool on the 8th floor.
(Photo from the SPAC website)
The pool is titled in Art Deco motif, and the water felt wonderful. The website described it as: elegant, sunlit swan-motif terrazzo pool on the 8th floor. I felt like the queen of Sheba as I glided in the water with the evening light pouring through the large west facing windows. After my swim I asked the staff how much chlorine they put in the water and she said none. There is a special filtration process.
That's all for tonight folks. I  will post more tomorrow. 
There were a couple of vegan choices.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

A solar powered backpack

This summer I subscribed to soniastravels she has some great ideas on how to pack, what to see and where to stay. Today I was surprised when she talked about a solar powered backpack.The backpack appears at 1:22 in this video. And here is a link to the manufacturer: Birksun 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint

For me one of the easiest ways to reduce my carbon footprint is to adopt a plant-based diet. 
When we first moved to our new town (Duluth, MN) we lived close to my husband's work and he could walk, ride the bus or bike. And we felt we were doing our part to be sustainable. But later we purchased a house where the bus only comes by once an hour. That's not as convenient and I'm not organized enough to get out the door on time, sometimes I miss the bus and I don't want to wait for it. I have a car, so I end of using the car. Also I have a job as a journalist where I have to be out an about. So that's just easier if I use the car. Soon I am using the car much of the time.

About 9 years ago I learned that eating meat uses a lot more of the earth's resources. But I never crunched the numbers. This past week Rebecca and I attended a movie at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. The name of the movie was Cowspiracy.  By watching this movie I renewed my commitment that eating a plant-based diet is one of the best ways to lower my carbon footprint.

Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

WorldWatch, November/December 2009. Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC, USA. Pp. 10–19.

One hamburger requires 660 gallons of water to produce – the equivalent of 2 months’ worth of showers. [iii]

Catanese, Christina. “Virtual Water, Real Impacts.” Greenversations: Official Blog of the U.S. EPA. 2012.
“50 Ways to Save Your River.” Friends of the River.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Staying green while interviewing for a new job

I've made a pledge not use Styrofoam or bottled water.  
Staying green while interviewing for a new job can be kind of tricky when interviewers are trying to be polite and offer you food or drink. So if you are green, think ahead on how you are going to react to have the proper interview etiquette   

When I interviewed for my day job, my prospective supervisors and employers offered me bottled water. We were in a fancy conference room and I could see a little kitchen off to one side. I could see a sink and cupboards, so I told them that if they had tap water,  I would prefer that to bottled water.  But I didn't tell them I had taken a pledge not to drink bottled water. I didn't think my job interview would be the best time to bring that up. 

Also when I'm interviewing and offered a cup a coffee, I will quickly scan the area to see if it will be served in a Styrofoam or a ceramic cup.  If it is a Styrofoam cup I will politely decline, but I don't say why. 

So, if you are environmentally minded, made a commitment to staying green and also job hunting, think ahead to what small curiosities might be made to you during an interview and practice how you will react. Remember to stay polite and keep a smile on your face. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

airport design reflects the geography

Recently Miss Naomi traveled by air to the Ozarks. It is refreshing to see how much the airports and hotels have changed in the past couple years in order to incorporate eco-friendly aspects into their daily functions.

What a refreshing site to see. I always worry about whether or not it will be recycled when I leave trash behind on the airplane.

I had some magazines that I was finished with and I recycled them here when I got off my flight.

The Springfield Airport has a river theme. This design was on most of the information counters.

My hunch on the river design was confirmed. I think the EcoCowGirl/GeoGoddess would approve of the plan to reflect the geology of the Ozarks. (The EcoCowGirl/GeoGoddess is Rebecca)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Which protein powder is the best?

So today, the Rebecca, the Eco-cowgirl, writes about protein powders.
One of her friends had a brownie recipe calling for protein powder and the store had so many choice that it became confusing to know which was best. 

The Eco-cowgirl writes about protein powders here:

I totally understand the confusion on protein powders. There are so many options and even in natural food stores carry powders that aren't healthy. I'm with you that we should stay away from most soy-based products. We already have way too much estrogen and estrogen mimicking compounds in our environment.
So far from my research the best quality protein powders are hemp and whey. They have the complete amino acid profile our body needs and are the most bioavailable sources for your body

We already have too much estrogen and 
estrogen mimicking compounds 
in our environment.

I'm still on a mostly vegan diet so usually use hemp-based protein powders. The downside of hemp is that it can be a little harder do digest if you're not used to the fiber content and isn't usually the best tasting unless you blend it with something a little tastier like fruit. I like to use Manitoba Harvest brand hemp protein powders (chocolate is my favorite

And another good vegan brand that is better tasting and a little easier on the system when you're just starting out is Vega protein powders. They are a blend of sprouted brown rice, pea, hemp and saviseed protein, so you still get a complete protein blend and some of them even have greens added to them for an extra kick of nutrition.
I'm not quite as familiar with the whey protein powders since I haven't looked at them for a while, but I would suggest making sure they are from grass-fed cows that haven't been given hormones (rgbh). Some people say that concentrate is better than isolate because is it in a more whole food form, but I'm not sure that it really matters as long as the whey is from a quality source.
Another thing to look out for and try to stay away from is artificial sweeteners (splenda, aspartame, sucralose, etc.) and fillers (artificial flavors, soy lecithin, cellulose gum.)

stay away from is artificial sweeteners