Stay-at-Home Dad 101: Time to Break Out the Black Chuck Taylors by Taking the Family to See Santa and Enjoy Dinner at Viking Pizza Co.

It’s crazy to think it’s been a whole year since I got my black Chuck Taylors for Christmas. Despite them only costing 40 bucks, I refrained from wearing them in 2017. I didn’t want to break them in and get them scuffed up, as if there were some epic event coming up in which I would need them in spotless condition; like my national TV debut or something…

Especially now that I’ve been at stay-at-home dad, for exactly 2 months as of today, it’s not like I really even get out of the house much anymore in situations where anyone would be need to be impressed by the sight of me.

But this past weekend, I decided to finally wear my unnecessarily sanctified Chuck Taylors that I got from my wife last year for Christmas.

It just so happens that Santa happened to be visiting this part of Tennessee, at a health store in Columbia, of all places. Sounds about right for a vegetarian/vegan family like mine to see Santa there, right?

Since the day was going so well and we were already having such great quality family time together, we decided to go out for dinner, at the same place we tried for the first time just the week before:

Viking Pizza Co. in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

We originally found the place when my son wanted to go on a “hike” on the giant hill next to the place. On our way back down the hill, he noticed a giant inflatable dragon through one of the windows. Being the biggest Pokemon fan I know, it’s the kind of thing that captured his attention.

When we got home, he immediately asked, “Mommy, can we go to the Viking pizza place with the big dragon?

That’s successful marketing right there: Place giant dragon on the restaurant floor. Have 7 year-old boy notice it. Have the boy’s whole family show up.

But once we arrived, my wife and I realized this was no gimmick. This was real pizza, cooked right there in the middle of the restaurant in a really expensive wood-fired oven.

And of course, because the folks at Viking Pizza Co. are paying attention to the fact that 6% of Americans are now vegan, I was easily able to order Daiya cheese on my veggie pizza. (They also have gluten-free crust, for those who prefer it.)

They were even courteous and proactive enough to bring over raw dough for my kids (and wife) to play with, which was a lifesaver, as it easily occupied my hungry son’s attention while our pizzas were carefully crafted; unlike a fast-food chain pizza joint.

The owners, Brandon and Kelly Jones, are so cool, down-to-earth, and proud that they have been able to bring a delicious, high quality, family friendly, restaurant experience in a town that is riddled with predictable and insulting-to-the-intelligence chain restaurants.

There’s a certain rewarding feeling you get when you take your family to a place like this. You know you are voting with your dollars what you want in your town. Just a few weeks ago, much of Spring Hill was emotionally affected by the iconic silo been torn down, so that a fried chicken chain-restaurant could go up.

So it’s yet another reason to want to support Viking Pizza Co. It’s like rebelling against the mainstream. There’s something quite viking about the concept…

Similarly, my wife and I are also huge fans of Legacy Coffee Company, which up until a few weeks ago, was a pick-up truck pulling a trailer. Now, they’ve set up shop inside of Viking Pizza Co.

We love supporting local! And it helps when local is awesome, like with Viking and Legacy.

So at last, I’ve broke in my black Chuck Taylors. I feel good about it. I just had to wait for the right deserving event.

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Stay-at-Home Dad 101: What I Eat During the Day, As a Vegan

The thought seemed intimidating when I was first immediately launched into my new career as stay-at-home dad:

“But what will I eat?”

Turns out, the answer was simple. I eat the same stuff I ate every day back when I commuted nearly an hour away to an office; only minus the oatmeal with trail mix and a banana.

I eat a little less because I am a little less hungry, and I suppose that might have something to do with the fact I’m not getting outside to exercise as much. When I worked at the office, I took my breaks walking or biking or running outside; as for now, I have an 18 month-old daughter and cold or hot weather to consider.

My calorie consumption begins each morning with a cup of instant organic iced coffee. (Honestly, it’s only 2 calories; but I’m not counting!) The entire container only costs about $5, the same amount of just one Starbucks latte.

While I could opt for the unsweetened vanilla almond milk in the fridge to add some flavor and creaminess, somehow along the way I discovered I genuinely like the taste of cold, black coffee.

But I do bring out the unsweetened vanilla almond milk about an hour later for my official breakfast, which is the manly vegan smoothie I invented. My recipe is high in protein and total fat, but contains very little saturated fat and zero cholesterol.

The ingredients, in addition to the almond milk: A whole banana, a cup of frozen blueberries, a half cup of plain oatmeal, a teaspoon of chia seeds, a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa or carob powder, and a tablespoon of peanut butter. Then I put that all together in the blender for about 20 seconds.

My lunch is quite predictable for me as well. There’s a brand of organic ramen noodle available at Whole Foods and Sprouts, called Koyo. They are around a dollar a package, and I cook 2 of them for my lunch. They are also high in protein, like my smoothie. I typically go with the “low sodium” version, but if it’s not available, I don’t let it bother my conscience: I usually consume under my daily allowance of sodium, since I don’t eat meat.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon, I may go for another cup of coffee, but I’m typically not really hungry after having consumed so much protein and good fats earlier in the day.

Depending on what’s for dinner, I may start prepping for when my wife and son get home. What’s really great is when my wife has already put together a crock pot meal the day before and placed it in the fridge. I can have that heating up during the afternoon so it will be ready for dinner. Plus, I can throw together a festive salad.

If I do stray from my ramen noodles routine for lunch, it’s only to finish off any leftovers from the night before, like my wife’s homemade vegan pizza; and maybe a bowl of cereal as well.

And consider, this meal plan is coming from a guy who said most of his life, “I got to have meat! I need more meat! I’m still hungry. I could never be a vegetarian. I couldn’t do it. Especially not a vegan!”

Obviously, there was dynamic character growth in the person narrating this story.

But I have embraced my identity as a manly vegan; and here more recently, as a stay-at-home dad as well.

Stay-at-Home Dad 101: Trick Your Kids into Eating Store Brand Cereal by Switching the Boxes

After my “drinking and driving” incident at the grocery store, I arrived home and took my Eggnog Latte-infused daughter upstairs for her afternoon nap. Then it was time to put away the groceries, which were still in the back of the car.

My wife had clearly written “Cheerios” on the scavenger hunt list, but after seeing I could easily save three dollars by buying the store brand, I did the right moral thing.

Sure, I personally would prefer the real version, but I also would prefer to save three dollars more than the classic perfect taste of that General Mills goodness.

As I was about to make room for the Kroger version of Cheerios in the pantry, I noticed there was only a little bit left of the actual Cheerios still in the bag. I learned at the grocery store that my daughter already has brand recognition with that yellow box.

So I emptied the remaining few ounces of the real Cheerios out of the bag and poured them into the fake Cheerios bag. Then, I placed that entire mixed bag into the actual Cheerios box.

The next several days will serve as a proving grounds, as to whether my daughter will know the difference. If this works, I will feel very accomplished.

This will be a major win.

If it doesn’t work, I’ll have a disappointed, intuitive little girl who will call me out on my bluff without; being able to necessarily legitimately say the words.

She will likely scold me with, “Dad-da Cheer-cheer, no no Cheer cheer!”

Either way, with pride, I shall embrace my identity as the cheap dad who takes just a little bit of the fun out of life, for the sake of saving a few bucks.

Why have Cheerios when you can have Toasted Oats?

What Do Vegans Eat for Thanksgiving? Bacon & Eggs, Lasagna, Pizza, and Lemon Pie

Keep in mind that veganism has increased by 500% since 2014. That means when I became a vegan back in March 2013, less than 1% of Americans were vegans. Now in 2017, that number has risen to an amazing 6% of America’s population.

That’s around 19 million Americans who no longer eat turkey for Thanksgiving, but who did just a few years ago. Imagine how that invisible shift that has been created in our economy- and how grocery stores have had to adjust accordingly.

So if you’re an outsider looking in, who is curious to fathom how a person who no longer eats meat, eggs, or dairy could possibly enjoy a wonderful feast for Thanksgiving… well then, you’ve come to the right place!

Just as it’s never been easier in the history of the world to become obese and/or develop onset Diabetes, especially here in America, it’s also never been easier to live the vegan lifestyle. It’s so easy to obtain food alternatives in most grocery stores these days. Obviously, America’s grocery stores are now being forced to cater to the dietary needs of 6% of America’s population; in addition to the mainstream.

So while we could have opted for the Tofurky as we’ve done every vegan Thanksgiving before this one, we chose instead to have more of an Italian theme; despite learning this year from MyHeritage DNA tests that my Italian side of the family is actually genetically Sephardic Jewish and Middle Eastern…

The assumption is that vegans are left with limited options for meals. But as a surviving vegan of 4 and a half years (meaning that I’ve yet to die from “not getting enough protein”), I have actually found I have much more freedom than ever before.

Turkey is boring. Even back when I still ate meat, I was never really that excited about turkey.

But just take a look at these pictures, which still only cover about 2/3’s of what our family ate for Thanksgiving:

Vegan lasagna with “cashew” cheese sauce, vegan English muffin pizzas, and even a hearty Southern style breakfast thanks to vegan bacon and scrambled tofu.

Plus, I can’t forget the desserts: from molten chocolate lava cake to lemon tart pie. And it’s not like these recipes are hard to find. Just Google them.

In case I need to actually say this, here it is: All the food was so delicious!

The non-vegan family members were not disappointed at all to be forced, by default, to join us in our traditional vegan Thanksgiving festivities.

What do vegans eat for Thanksgiving? Anything we want.

As long as it comes from the vegan food sources:

Veggies, fruits, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Our Morning of Americana at High Brow Brew (Featuring the 2017 Lexus IS 350)

Last Saturday before trekking 30 minutes to Gentry’s Farm & Pumpkin Patch in Franklin, Tennessee, my wife decided the perfect autumn morning just wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t start it out with a good cup of coffee en route to our destination.

So after choosing our favorite flannel shirts from our closets, we hopped in the Lexus IS 350 and made our way to glorious coffee.

Back in the summer of 2014, Lexus invited me to participate in their “True Grit, Pure Grace” Lexus NX Press Preview in Nashville. While participating in a scavenger hunt for that, part of our route was to get a coffee at a place in Franklin called High Brow Coffee + Tea.

Turns out, High Brow Brew is just across the street from the pumpkin patch. So now, three years later, in a different Lexus, I revisited that coffee shop that perhaps I would not have otherwise being aware of.

Stepping in to this place is like entering a museum of modern day Americana. Obviously, the coffee is every bit as good as you’d expect. To appease my ancient Central American and Spanish roots, I ordered none other than the Spicy Mocha, which consists of dark chocolate ganache and cinnamon cayenne peppers; mixed with an almond and coconut milk blend.

Though she’s used to it by now, my wife thinks it’s crazy that I would willingly drink hot peppers and spices in my coffee in the morning. But for me, nothing else makes sense.

In fact, perhaps I would perceive that drinking a pumpkin spice flavored latte is bit crazy. In any other time of the year, a pumpkin is just a strange looking gourd. But during the best and shortest season of the year, pumpkin spice becomes the official flavor of not just coffee, but pretty much anything these days!

Needless to say, my wife was very pleased to have her pumpkin spice latte; especially from such a quaint little coffee shop.

My son ordered the only artisan version of a Pop-Tart I’ve ever seen. I liked the visual of it so much, I currently use an image of it for my header banner on my Facebook page.

In addition to my family of four, my sister and her family were in town as well. Being from a small town in Alabama, High Brow Brew was something special and exotic. My sister compared us being there to feeling like we were actually in Portland.

(Wow. Even as I’m writing this, I’m somewhat tempted to drive back there and get another Spicy Mocha. I already miss that place.)

After all coffee and artisan Pop-Tarts were consumed, it was time to cross the street and enjoy the rest of our Morning of Americana at the pumpkin patch. But it wouldn’t have been the same if my wife hadn’t suggested we go out for coffee first.

She’s a smart woman.

Nashville’s Sunflower Vegetarian Café Also Caters to Vegan, Gluten-Free, & Oil-Free Dietary Restrictions

As The Manliest Vegan on the Internet, I have toured America in search of cities that cater to people with plant-based lifestyles like mine, from Lake Tahoe, California; to Asheville, North Carolina; to Atlanta, Georgia; to Pensacola and Destin, Florida; to Louisville, Kentucky, just to name a few.

But despite living in a bedroom community outside of Music City, I have pretty much not mentioned Nashville, Tennessee… until now.

Over the weekend, I made my way to Nashville’s Sunflower Vegetarian Café, which is fairly close to the I-65 exit, and fairly close to the Nashville Zoo. I have been craving a homemade garden burger (a vegan burger made of veggies, nuts, and/or nuts) ever since our family road tripped to Louisville last month but our schedule did not allow for it.

At last, I got my manly garden burger. For my side, I chose collard greens, and I am so glad I did!

Not only does Nashville’s Sunflower Vegetarian Café cater to my vegan needs, but they are very open and upfront about how their menu is friendly to anyone seeking food made without oils, gluten, or meat. They also have a children’s menu, as well.

So if you’re looking for a good vegan or vegetarian restaurant that also caters to anyone looking to avoid oils and gluten, but don’t want to drive into downtown Nashville to do so, I say just head over to Nashville’s Sunflower Vegetarian Café. The parking there is free and easy, too. Just drive behind the restaurant.

You will immediately feel welcomed and accepted just as you are. No one at Nashville’s Sunflower Vegetarian Café thinks you’re weird or sees you as a label on the fringe of society. You don’t have to explain the reason for your dietary choices. It’s a really great environment.

And obviously, the food is superb. I am very much looking forward to going back!

Freshening Up Mealtime with Moe’s; Even for Vegetarian/Vegan Families Like Ours

Anyone who has been reading my blog for the past couple of years knows that I frequently mention Moe’s Southwest Grill. Not only is it a ritual for my son Jack and I have dinner there right after we go see a movie together, but last November when my wife and I told him he could go anywhere to celebrate his 6th birthday dinner, he chose Moe’s– with no hesitation! Yes, that’s a true story.

In a time when parents are paying more attention than ever to what’s in the food their family is eating (for example, steering clear of GMO’s) and how it’s prepared, while at the same time catering to any particular dietary needs (like how I’m a vegan but my wife and kids are vegetarians), as well as, the often picky eating habits of children, Moe’s has naturally become our stress-free, go-to place.

Over the weekend, our 1 year-old daughter wasn’t quite feeling herself, so my wife Jill wrote down a lunch order that we could pick up and bring back to the house.

Once we arrived at Moe’s, I asked Jack, “Same thing as always, right?” He confirmed, having just mumbled back to the staff, “Welcome to Moe’s…”

The nice young man across the counter/food prep station began making Jack’s “cheese only” quesadilla and my wife’s vegetarian taco salad (cheese is the thing that keeps my wife from being a vegan like I am).

I got my usual: the “earmuffs with tofu”.  It’s a delicious bowl full of rice and beans, with tofu and mushrooms as my protein, along with grilled onions and peppers. (All proteins, whether meat or not, are grilled on a consistent production stream so they’re hot and ready as soon as you order.)

Then I build a salad on top, with salsa and guacamole; both of which are prepared from scratch daily. It’s a great dichotomy of warm protein on the bottom and chilled greens on top.

So in case you’re wondering, that’s what such a manly vegan as myself eats at Moe’s. With over 20 fresh and flavorful ingredients to customize my meal; there are just so many options. It’s quite a colorful masterpiece on my plate!

I let Jack pick out our table, then I made my way to the salsa bar (which is a must). Not only is all the salsa and guacamole prepared from scratch daily, but they always have extremely spicy options for pepper heads like me.

As we enjoyed our lunch together, I looked over and caught Jack dancing to Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit, “Beat It.” That tends to happen a lot when I take him to Moe’s. After all, did you know that Moe’s is actually an acronym for “Musicians, Outlaws, and Entertainers”?

 

 

Before we headed back home, we made our way back up to the counter to put in a to-go order for our family’s dinner. I ordered burritos for my wife and myself, while Jack predictably ordered another cheese quesadilla; being the picker eater he is.

My wife was delighted to see us return with not only an easy dinner, but also, her lunch. She reminded me several times not to forget the chips, which are flash-fried daily and come free and unlimited, along with the salsa as well.

So for dinner last Saturday night, we reheated the burritos and quesadilla in our oven. It is such a glorious thing to know you can eat a meal in your own home, yet not have to worry with a sink full of dishes.

Our family proudly supports Moe’s, as each one is locally owned and operated; which yields that true hometown feel. And even though we have dietary needs that most can barely cater to, Moe’s makes it easy for us. It’s family dining. It’s easy dining.

Have you been to Moe’s recently? We have.

 

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Moe’s Southwest Grill;

however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.