Vital Dining: Great for Vegans and Foodies Who Love Them

FullSizeRender copy 2

Order this macaroni & cheese. Seriously.

For those of us in culinarily mixed-families, something usually has to give. That’s why it’s such a joy to find a restaurant like Vital Dining with lots of options for everyone from carnivore to vegan. And with a vegan chef in the kitchen, there’s no wondering if the vegan dishes are genuinely free of animal products.

It’s probably because I didn’t expect the dish to be vegan that I still dream about the macaroni and cheese at Vital Dining. Made with cashews for the creamy texture, a hint of curry sets it apart from the usual pasta and “cheese” dishes elsewhere. My dining companion and I were sampling several items at this Bloomfield Avenue eatery, so we felt like we shouldn’t finish every dish, yet we kept sneaking bites of the mac & cheese until it was gone. It’s an instant classic!

Way back when in Brooklyn, I used to frequent the wonderful (now shuttered) Brawta Cafe on Atlantic Avenue. As a vegetarian, there wasn’t much on the menu for me, but I loved the flavors in the Roti and Ital Stew. Now, with Vital Dining in town, I can enjoy the vibrant Jamaican flavors as reimagined by Chef Kwame Williams. As a vegan who is also an accomplished chef, he understands both the parameters and delicious possibilities of the cuisine.

Every meal begins with a complimentary sample of black-eyed pea hummus and plantain chips. Don’t hold back on these! It’s the perfect tease for the rest of your meal. If you’re looking for more appetizers, and you want a little heat, the Callaloo Dip is a perfect choice. It’s creamy, spicy, and served warm with whole wheat chips. Here’s a welcome tip: all the soups at Vital Dining are vegan — no need to ask about the stock!

There are several leafy green salads to choose from, but I tried the Stuffed Avocado, found in the salad section of the menu. More of an appetizer than a salad, the combination of the crunchy almond filling, creamy avocado, and spicy pico de gallo balances perfectly. I wanted to get all three flavors in every bite. The almond stuffing also appears in some dishes as a garnish. Wonderful.

We tried two dinner entrees: the Curried Cauliflower and the Cassava Dumplings. Both have unique flavors, and make a satisfying meal. The cauliflower dish is served with coconut rice and sautéed kale, both of which defy being rote sides with their balanced flavors.The cauliflower is perfectly cooked, and the curry sauce is vibrant without overpowering the other flavors. You’ll be using the rice to soak up any remaining sauce.

The Cassava Dumplings, a favorite with co-owner Nataki Williams, are an elegantly plated  and colorful dish. The dumplings are placed over a light and tasty sun-dried tomato puree which serves as the perfect foil to the crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside dumplings. Together with the savory spinach and stewed peppers and onions, the dish is a treat for all the senses. Highly recommended.

When choosing sides, there is a fantastic variety depending on whether you want sweet, savory, or a little of both. Naturally, the swoon-worthy macaroni and cheese is a must-try. The okra fries (which are one of the options as a lunch entrée side) are delightful, crispy, and will be gobbled up by the whole table. Also recommended are the smashed yams, sautéed greens (kale or spinach), and sweet plantains for a special treat.

FullSizeRender copy 3

Jamaican Carrot Juice, vegan style

The drinks at Vital Dining are made with the same care and thoughtfulness as the dishes. The house made Ginger Beer, Sorrel, and Vital Lemonade are all fantastic. Each has a distinct personality that resists overpowering the taste buds in order to prove its authenticity. The drinks menu includes healthful options like elixirs and smoothies, fresh juices that combine popular fruits and vegetables.

The most interesting drink is a reboot of Jamaican Carrot Juice, traditionally made with condensed milk. To keep the creamy sweetness of the original, the Chef swapped almond milk for the condensed milk and made sure to keep the sweet and spicy balance of the carrots and nutmeg. Don’t miss a chance to enjoy this treat!

Vital Dining is all in the family. Chef Kwame Williams and Nataki Williams have been running the restaurant for the last year with the intention of bringing healthy, delicious food to the community. The variety and quality is sure to bring vegans to the table again and again.

Vital Dining: 387 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair, NJ 07042 • Tel: 973.655.9500

 

 

Posted in Excellent Local People, Restaurant, Review, Things I love | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Badass From History: Robert Smalls

As bizarre as Facebook navigation can be, sometimes really great things swim by your sight line and make you stop and do more than just hit the like button. The image below is one of those times.

Robert Smalls Badass

If you want to read more about Robert Smalls in detail, check out Henry Louis Gates’ post about him on The Root. Take special note of his mother’s particular form of rebellion in his upbringing.

 

Posted in Activism | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Glad I Saw It: Vintage Gene Autry

FullSizeRender

A few days ago I spied some books left on the outside ledge at Whole Foods. I liked the colorful cover, but I have no knowledge of Gene Autry and I didn’t have time to flip open the cover. Still, I took a photo because seeing the books sitting out there waiting for someone to pick them up reminded me of BookCrossing. If you want to share some books with your community, it’s a fun way to send your beloved books into the world and follow where they go.

If you want to just share, consider dropping off (and picking up) some books at a Little Free Library near you. Find one here.

Posted in Glad I Saw It, random observation, Things I love | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

February Read: Three Out of #1000BlackGirlBooks

#1000BlackGirlBooks

New Jersey’s Marley Dias is collecting #1000BlackGirlBooks

Every publication from Vibe to Jezebel is talking about Marley Dias, the 11-year old New Jersey girl who is holding a book drive for 1000 books with Black female protagonists. No stranger to activism, Marley is clearly a DO person, not a WAIT person. And I love that.

I also love that the attention given to her heart-warming and inspirational project has brought up discussions about literature in junior high and high school that DOES have Black girls as the focus. Some concerns point out that high school staples like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Bluest Eye, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Color Purple, Annie John, Breath, Eyes, Memory often show Black girls and women as victims. (I haven’t seen much mention of A Raisin in the Sun, which has a variety of Black, female, extraordinary everyday heroes.) And while I’d argue that seeing the aforementioned novels as filled with victims is unfair, that’s for another post.

So, in the spirit of #1000BlackGirlBooks, I’d like to make a few reading suggestions you might not have yet read.

  1. Fresh Girl, by Jaira Placidefresh-girl-jaira-placide-paperback-cover-art
    • Similar in theme to Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, this novel was given to me as an end-of-the-year gift by a student who was graduating. She was a relatively recent immigrant from Haiti and had taken several of my literature classes over a couple of years. We’d spent a good amount of time before school and after school working on essays and college applications and so on, but she didn’t like to talk about herself. When she gave me a copy of Fresh Girl, she told me that this was her story. That I’d know who she was after reading it. I still have it 15 years later.
  2.  Kindred, by Octavia Butlerkindred
    • If you’re into science-fiction/fantasy, this is a must-read. If you’re into historical fiction, this is a must-read. If you’re into good books, this is a must-read. Basically, just go read this book that includes elements of time travel, slave narrative, and even mystery. And the best part is that if you like it, there are loads more where that came from.
  3. Earth’s Waters, by Nicole Blades
    • This coming-of-age novel has a protagonist you root for even as you watch her $_35making wince-worthy decisions. With echoes of Edith Wharton and Zora Neale Hurston, this novel will entertain you you’ll think about the plot and ending long after you’ve finished turning the pages. Also, make sure to read this first novel by Ms. Blades before her next novel, The Thunder Beneath Us, comes out!

I have so many more to recommend, and there are many ways in which We Need Diverse Books, but I think I’ll save some for later. And can I ask a favor? Please leave your suggestions for #1000BlackGirlBooks in comments.

 

 

Posted in Activism, education, People are Good, Things I love | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Glad I Saw It: Hot Chocolate (NSFW)

Dolce Federica chocolates are rich. And beautiful. And they make the perfect indulgence. They were featured at the Montclair Pop-Up in December and recently at the Montclair Food and Wine Festival. The intense and delicious Dolce Federica chocolates have a boutique style and an artistic creativity.

And boy am I glad to have seen what Dolce Federica has in store for Valentine’s Day. Hot Chocolate. I mean HOT chocolate. HOT. Check it out.

Kamasutra Dolce Federica 2

Oh, what’s that? You need a closer view?

IMG_5593

You’re welcome. This high quality dark chocolate is painted with edible mineral oil to create a coppery sheen. And they are only available on special order via the Dolce Federica website. As of publication, these gorgeous and risqué Valentine’s Day chocolates are not yet listed – But I’ve been promised they will be available by special order ASAP. Order soon to make sure they are available for the big day!

If you want something a little more traditional, Dolce Federica can do that for you as well. Click here for details about their Valentine’s Day Chocolates and Bonbons.

Be sure to get on the mailing list and follow them on Facebook to stay in touch!

Posted in Excellent Local People, Glad I Saw It, Review, Suburban Life, Things I love | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guns: Reaction Is Easier Than Prevention

Run. Hide. Fight. That’s what you’re supposed to do when a Bad Guy With a Gun (BGWaG) enters a building you’re in. Sounds like a great plan! Easy! And you might get to be a hero!

Naval medical center

It’s even what some would like children as young as Kindergarten age to learn. And it’s what the location of USA’s most recent (As of publication) shooter event advised: “All occupants are advised to run, hide or fight.”

Sadly, our society is much more willing to encourage fellow human beings to react to a Bad Guy With a Gun rather than prevent situations like this from occurring. We are so afraid of rising up against the tyranny and fear-mongering of the various gun lobby and manufacturing groups that we would rather train our children to crouch in corners and in bathrooms, or even throw pens and books at a BGWaG. At least if they are killed, they’ll be heroes. What a truly sick attitude.

Instituting a true Universal Background Check system, including permit to purchase, requiring basic hands-on safety and use training, making gun trafficking a federal crime, holding gun manufacturers to the same standards as the food and toy industries, and acknowledging that suicides and negligent gun deaths count as part of gun violence all need to happen if the USA can pretend to be a civilized society.

Firearm advocates like to point out that gun deaths are down. (They don’t crow about that fewer individuals owning firearms and medical improvements are to thank.)  But better than horrific is nothing to tout. This is especially true when children are so deeply affected.

Shouldn’t we be brave about prevention rather than expect our children and ourselves to be brave when facing an active shooter?

Posted in Activism, random observation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Glad I Saw It: Farmhouse Shutters

IMG_5215I don’t want kitchen curtains, but the windows need a little something over them. Azie, over at {verdigreen} on Glenridge Avenue, suggested I stop in to The Gypsy Farmhouse on Pompton Avenue in Cedar Grove to see what they have there.

Between the gorgeous rehabbed farm tables and funky collection of doorknobs, handles, hangings, and tchtochkes from all over, I could have spent all day there. And the owner is available, but hands-off. Perfect for browsing.

I haven’t found anything for over my kitchen windows yet, but I’m looking forward to my next visit!

Oh! And don’t forget to peek inside the sheds out back. Don’t forget.

Posted in Glad I Saw It, random observation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Giveaway: Butterfly Counting

butterfly-countingUPDATE: Congrats to Kenitra, who won the book!

I recently reviewed several great books for younger readers at the website Vegbooks. One of my favorites was a gorgeous counting book from Charlesbridge Publishing called BUTTERFLY COUNTING. You can read the full review here, but one of my favorite aspects is that readers can learn the word for “butterfly” in 25 languages. So cool!

I’m running a quick giveaway of this hardcover book for ages 3-7 (although I think a year or two younger would work) on my Facebook page. It’s an easy entry, and I’ll ship the book right to you — if you live in the USA. (Sorry — shipping overseas is expensive!)

So, hop (flutter?) over to the Vegbooks page and/or website and leave a comment on the BUTTERFLY COUNTING post or review telling us why you’d like this book to enter! Enter by this Sunday 10 PM EST.

Posted in education, giveaway, Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Glad I Saw It: Syrniki

IMG_5116

Syrniki: Pre-Frying

So really, this isn’t Glad I Saw It, but Glad I Ate It. Although, I was glad to see part of the process used in creating these delicious cheese pancakes from Russia: Syrniki.

Mostly ricotta, these pancakes have a slightly sour flavor that goes well with sugar (lots of sugar!), butter, or any variety of savory toppings, depending on your taste. I tried one with sour cream and roe. Quite tasty. Check out the chef’s math-focused blog post that includes his recipe.

I’ve had these particular Syrniki a few times, always delicious. The last time was at a friend’s New Year’s Day Open House, and they were just a small part of the huge spread imported from a combination of Brighton Beach and the host’s kitchen.

Don’t think I didn’t contribute. I quartered the pickles and brought a store-bought Stollen. I hope your New Year started on a similarly delicious note!

Syrniki: Frying

Syrniki: Frying

This is not the recipe from which the Syrniki I ate were made, but it sounds delicious as well: Saveur’s version of Syrniki.

IMG_5122

Happy New Year for the Belly!

Posted in Excellent Local People, Glad I Saw It | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Montclair’s Hala Ghanem Hosts a Fundraiser for Syrian Refugee Family

soad-and-yousra-900x525

News sites and even video images cannot convey the day-to-day stress and hardship of what it means to be a refugee. Those who have experienced such sudden and desperate separation from home can relate and retell experiences, but for those of us who live in relative comfort and security are left to imagine — or ignore — the plight of thousands upon thousands of families experiencing this right now. Today.

A Montclair resident and business owner, Hala Ghanem, is hosting a Humanwire fundraiser for one family of refugees from Syria, currently living in Lebanon. Hala, who is from Lebanon, felt drawn to this family because of her own childhood experiences.

Hala shares:

I grew up in Beirut during the civil war in the 80s and know first-hand what it feels like to lose one’s home and belongings as a result of war. It is something that no child or adult can easily overcome. It was 26 years ago, right before Christmas, that I lost my childhood home to a bomb with all its memories and sweet smells. In memory of that, I am dedicating this campaign to help Soad and Yousra’s family. I hope you will help me raise enough money to see this family through the winter.

Hala’s fundraiser is for a family with young teenagers, and the two daughters, Soad (13) and Yousra (12), are featured. She is hoping to raise a total of $4750 to help the family buy basic supplies of “food, blankets, diesel oil and wood” as requested by the family.  Imagine desiring just these basic needs as we wrap up the “season of giving” with our families.

Please consider sponsoring Soad and Yousra’s family; donations are secure and start at $5! One of the most popular “rewards” for donations has been a live video chat with both the host and refugee, complete with translator if needed. Skim through and see what best fits your wallet. Thank you!

postscript: I wrote this post about violence in Syria almost four years ago. Imagine living with this kind of violence and fear and instability for that long. Imagine it for your children.

Posted in Activism, Excellent Local People, People are Good, volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment