Thursday, June 29, 2006

Eating Vegan in Las Vegas

My wife and I went to Vegas for my 40th birthday. I was more concerned about eating vegan and eating well (and by well I mean healthily) in Las Vegas this time than I think I was four years ago, the last time we went.

I did get some tips and hints from a couple of on-line veg*n forums. I also stumbled across Surviving as a Vegetarian in Las Vegas.

A couple of places I would definitely recommend, and they both happen to be in the Alladin. One is the Spice Market Buffet. It's one of the best buffets on the stip, especially for vegetarians. They have a Mediterranean station with pita, falafels, hummus, baba ghanoush, dolmas, and tabouli. There was also an Asian station that had a stir-fried vegetables dish, including baby bok choy and lots of broccoli, and a spicy eggplant dish that wasn't really that spicy, though the eggplant was excellently prepared, considering that it's a buffet. Of course, there's always salad, and the American station did have asparagus and mushrooms that were quite nice.

I would also recommend P.F. Chang's. Apparently, this is a chain restaurant. I was not familiar with it before because there is not one in the San Francisco Bay Area that I'm aware of. Anyway... the food is excellent and there are many vegan options. There were nine vegetarian entrees, so plenty to choose from. We ordered the Coconut-Curry Vegetables, the Garlic Snap Peas, and the Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu. We also ordered Chang's Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps and the Vegetable Dumplings for appetizers. Our waiter was excellent (his name was John) and quickly picked up on my being vegetarian. He pointed out that the soy sauce was not vegan because of the sugar, and he brought us brown rice even though we didn't request it. The Lettuce Wraps were my favorite, and the Ma Po Tofu was nice and spicy.

We also ate at the Taqueria Canonita in the Venetian. It has an excellent location at the end of the canal, where the gondoliers turn the gondolas around for the return trip and belt out some Italian song for all the onlookers. We went there because the last time we went they had these excellent tofu tacos. Sadly, the tofu tacos are now gone. Yes, I did complain to the waiter. But I was able to get three tacos filled with mushrooms; it was an option on the menu, and they were quite tasty. But I was still disappointed about not having the tofu tacos.

We had a bad experience with the buffet at Paris. My wife really wanted to go there for breakfast because she heard it was really good. We got up a little late that morning (we had been up till 3 a.m. - but that's another story) and arrived around 10:30. After waiting in line for over half an hour, we were finally seated. Oh, did I mention the jackhammer? They were doing some renovation, and yes, some guy was actually using a jackhammer. Okay, so I was hungry, a little hungover, and irritated by the jackhammer. I wanted to leave but stuck it out because I knew Kelley really wanted to eat there. Because of the renovation there weren't as many seats available; no one wanted to sit too close to all that noise, which you really couldn't escape anywhere in the buffet. So, at 11:00 they begin switching over from breakfast to lunch. Kelley's waiting in line for eggs, which she really wanted, when the guy serving the eggs says that the lady two or three people ahead of her in line would be the last one getting eggs; she was not happy. They had already pulled the oatmeal and the other hot cereal (I don't remember what it was) and replaced them with soups, neither of which was vegetarian. So, a word of caution buffet eaters: pay attention to the times for breakfast and lunch, because they might change it on you while you're waiting in line.

We had breakfast our last day there at the Big Kitchen Buffet at Bally's, where we were staying. It was quite good. I had grits, which I love, and Kelley was able to finally get her eggs. Unlike many of the other buffets we've eaten at, including at the Luxor, Excalibur, Alladin, and Paris, the buffet at Bally's has natural light pouring in from the windows. No, there wasn't really any view to speak of, but it was pleasant to eat in natural light, while the other buffets are all enclosed or underground. And the food and service was good.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Summer Reading List

So, I decided that one of my summer projects would be to get lots of reading done. It's really hard for me to get much reading done when I'm working, so I always try to read as many books as I can over the summer. Last weekend, I went through my bookshelves and made a list of all the books I've started and haven't finished yet. I decided I should probably read those first. Here goes...

I'm reading several self-help books, including two by Phillip C. McGraw (Dr. Phil): Self Matters and The Ultimate Weight Solution. I'm also reading Self-Esteem by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning, Never Good Enough by Monica Ramirez Basco, Overcoming Anger by Carol D. Jones, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, and Life's Greatest Lessons by Hal Urban. I recently finished Undoing Depression by Richard O'Connor, and I have two other books on depression that I haven't started yet, but that I hope to get to this summer: I Don't Want to Talk About It by Terrence Real and Breaking the Patterns of Depression by Michael D. Yapko.

I don't read as much fiction these days, but have been reading quite a few history books: Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose, Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis, The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell, and An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin. After I finish Ambrose's book, I'll watch the mini-series; I still haven't seen all the episodes even though I own it on DVD. And then I'll probably start his book on Lewis and Clark, Undaunted Courage, that two of my uncles highly recommended to me.

I also have an interest in eastern religions, so I'm reading The Tao of Inner Peace by Diane Dreher, The Dhammapada, translated by Eknath Easwaran, and The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff, the sequel to The Tao of Pooh.

I'm usually reading something that has to do with teaching, and now is no exception with The Conspiracy of Ignorance by Martin L. Gross and The Excellent 11 by Ron Clark.

I'm also usually reading something on fatherhood or parenting, and currently I'm reading Father Courage by Elizabeth Brown Levine and Zen and the Art of Fatherhood by Steven Lewis.

My interests in music, notably jazz, are fulfilled by West Coast Jazz by Ted Gioia and The Masters of Bebop by Ira Gitler.

Besides flipping through my various vegan cookbooks, I'm also reading a couple of related books, Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating by Erik Marcus and How to Read a French Fry by Russ Parsons.

And with my father being sick with terminal cancer, I'm reading FatherLoss by Neit Chethik.

I actually am reading two fiction books, The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien and Dreamcatcher by Stephen King. And after reading Dan Brown's books, I'm making my way through two books edited by Dan Burstein, Secrets of the Code and Secrets of Angels & Demons.

And, finally, down to the last three, which are all kind of off by themselves: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, The Sudoku Code by Francis Heaney & Frank Longo, and Touching the Void by Joe Simpson.

I'm not sure exactly what this list of books says about me, other than delineating my interests and showing what's going on with me at this time in my life. It also seems a little anal retentive that I'm trying to finish all these books that I've already started before staring any new ones, but then I clearly haven't been very successful in that, because I seem to be always putting aside some book and picking up a new one that interests me.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

School's Out

I'm back after a long absence. The last day of school was Thursday, June 15. It was just so crazy those last few weeks of school, that I didn't have the time or energy to post anything, but now that I'm off for the summer, I will try to post something every weekday. Weekends, as always, are family time, and I try to stay off the computer.

I had a really bad attitude the last two weeks of school. As a teacher, you just get tired. It's almost as bad as new parent tired. Going to work was exhausting. I wasn't sleeping well. We were spending more and more time practicing for the fifth grade promotion ceremony, and I was spending less and less time actually teaching. I love teaching! If I could just teach, and not do any of the administrative stuff (report cards - yuck!) I would be a happy man. It's a little sad as the school year winds down, but I wasn't feeling that this year. I was feeling very out of sorts - resentful of all the time I was putting into the promotion ceremony. Parents just assume that we're going to put it on, but I don't really see it as my job. I would really like the parents to ask me and my fellow fifth grade teacher to put so much time, energy, and enthusiasm into it, but they didn't and I felt very taken for granted. I was hired to teach, not prepare students for a one-hour promotion ceremony. The time we put into it does not seem justified by how quickly it's over. And it's really for the parents, not for the students, and certainly not for me. I'm so stressed by the whole process, that it's not enjoyable for me, and doesn't provide any type of closure of the school year for me.

So, anyway, I'm really glad it's over. Now it's time for me to recharge my batteries and get myself sorted out again. And at some point, probably in July, it will dawn on me that I have to go back to work soon, and that I should start thinking about the new school year. But for now, I'm going to relax and work on myself (more about that later).