The Vegan Baby-sitters Club

About a week or two before our friends Eric and Emily Hartmann and their two little girls came to visit us in L.A., they told us they had recently gone vegan.

(Eric went to college with Kenley, was his band’s manager, and was a groomsman in our wedding. When he and Emily got married in Costa Rica several years ago, we were honored to be able to attend.)

Kenley and I must admit that we were a little concerned.

Now, if you’re a reader of this blog, you are aware that Kenley and I are most definitely not vegan. (See our rankings of the top 20-plus burgers we’ve tried in L.A.)

So he and I had to laugh when — on the same weekend the Hartmanns were scheduled to arrive — some other friends invited us to try Slater’s 50/50, a restaurant in Anaheim. The 50/50 in Slater’s name? That’s for their signature burger made of 50 percent beef and 50 percent bacon! Definitely not vegan-friendly!

Luckily, Los Angeles is a great place to be vegan. I did some research and found lots of dining options, and Eric also had some suggestions.

I went to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and stocked up on soy milk, organic Cheerios, apples, almonds, popcorn, pita chips and humus, and I even found some vegan chocolate-chip cookies.

We also were a little nervous about how our husky (Malia) and two cats (Buster and Machete) would behave around small children. You get a sense from the cats’ names that they have been known to have mean streaks.

This was going to be an interesting week. But we’re always up for an adventure, and we were looking forward to seeing the Hartmanns and meeting their daughters Olivia and Belle.

Day 1

Eric rented a minivan so we could all travel together, and on the first day our friend Ronnie (another former bandmate and groomsman) invited us to lunch at DreamWorks studio, where he works as a texture artist. All I can say is that if you ever get a job offer from DreamWorks, take it! The campus is beautiful. It almost feels like a resort.

There’s a cafeteria where the employees and their guests can eat breakfast and lunch for free, and there is outdoor seating around a small pond. The spread was impressive — a salad bar, sandwich stations, hot entrees and sides.

After lunch, Ronnie took us to a touch screen in the lobby of one of the buildings, where we watched a trailer for “Rise of the Guardians,” an animated 3-D movie that will be released Nov. 21. The film is kind of a superhero tale featuring children’s “guardians” — Santa Claus, Sandman, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy — who have to join together to protect the world from an evil spirit.

Then Ronnie took us to one of the many screening rooms for a super sneak peek at the project he’s been working on — a movie called “The Croods.” It’s expected to be out in March, and the trailer hasn’t been released yet, but a few bloggers have gotten hold of some images. From what we saw, it looks pretty clever, and the 3-D animation is amazing — a long way from when I saw “Jaws” in 3-D in 1983.

Olivia, who is 4, was excited to have a whole movie theater to herself.

Ronnie also took us to what might or might not have been a secret room deep inside DreamWorks.

Accessible only by pulling back a faux bookcase, the small, dimly lit space held evidence of a bar, a tap and a refrigerator, where one might store adult beverages — a perfect place for brainstorming ideas for the next movie, or maybe avoiding a co-worker you don’t want to talk to.

We hesitantly left DreamWorks so Ronnie could get back to work.

We drove to Olvera Street, which is considered the birthplace of Los Angeles because it’s where the first Spanish families settled in the area in 1781. We strolled along the market and stopped for a modern-day Mexican snack — chips and salsa, with margaritas.

From there, we headed to The Grove, where we did some window-shopping. We decided we should probably eat dinner before the children got too tired, so we stopped at Veggie Grill for our first vegan meal.

Veggie Grill is a fast-casual regional chain. The menu offers a selection of nachos, wings, mac and cheese, and burgers, but the dishes use veggie proteins made with soy and wheat. Emily and I split a Bali bliss sandwich, which was Indonesian-style tempeh, with lettuce, tomato and red onion. We also had a Baja fiesta salad, their version of a Southwestern-style salad.

Kenley had an all-American stack, which was a veggie steak with onion rings on top. And he seemed to actually like it!

It had been a long day, and the kids crashed as we headed back home. Emily put them to bed, and then we adults stayed up late, drank wine and caught up.

Day 2

We drove across town to a restaurant called Flore Vegan in Silver Lake. It’s a small but well-known vegan restaurant that Natalie Portman reportedly visited just a few weeks before we did.

We had to wait a while for a large table because the place is really small, but it was worth it! We had nachos with cashew cheese as an appetizer, followed by a burrito flore, which had tempeh bacon in it. Kenley ate almost the entire thing. Making progress!

For dessert? Vegan chocolate cupcakes. All the food was really good, and if it were closer to us, I’d go back on a regular basis.

After lunch we took a long, scenic route along Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset to the Pacific Coast Highway and down to Santa Monica, where we let Olivia and Belle put their feet in the sand.

We walked up to the Santa Monica Pier, where Emily, Olivia, Kenley and I rode the Ferris wheel. Eric and Belle waited for us on the ground.

It had been another long day for the children, so we decided to go back to our apartment and order pizza. You can request vegan “cheese” on any Pitfire Pizza, and I got to try their signature burrata pie, which has burrata cheese, carmelized onions, hazelnuts and a pesto drizzle.

Day 3

Saturday morning, we drove down to Laguna Beach, where Eric and Emily were attending a friend’s wedding at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna-Niguel resort. Kenley and I got to tag along for the day so we could baby-sit Olivia and Belle while Eric and Emily were at the rehearsal dinner.

We hadn’t been as far south as Laguna, and the coast is beautiful! We hung out by the pool and had lunch. Then, Kenley and I walked down to the beach and had a beverage at the bar while Emily and Eric got ready for dinner.

Our baby-sitting experience? Smooth and easy! Olivia fell asleep watching the movie “Cars” on TV. I was a bit concerned that Belle still seemed wide awake after bedtime, crawling around everywhere. But I held her for a little while, and after she settled down a bit, I put her in her crib, in hopes it would signal sleepy time. Seemed to work perfectly.

By the time Kenley got back from grabbing sandwiches for dinner downstairs, both girls were asleep! When Eric and Emily got back from dinner, they called us “baby whisperers,” but honestly I think we had just worn them out over the past three days.

I’ll be happy to baby-sit anytime — as long as it’s at the Ritz!

What we learned:

It turns out that Malia, Buster and Machete are much more tolerant around small children than we expected, letting Olivia pull their tails and “dress” them with blankets.

I was a bit surprised, in my short-lived vegan experience, that so much of what was on the menus was the same as what you’d find on a menu at any restaurant — burgers, burritos, pizza. I had expected the food to at least sound more healthful: fruit and vegetable plates or something. I didn’t feel like I was eating all that much better. But after we’d ingested what would have been a feast at any other restaurant, we noticed we didn’t feel quite as full or sluggish. I still want to try some of the other vegan restaurants around town, but I don’t think I could permanently give up bacon, cheese or ice cream.

The most difficult thing to adjust to was the children’s bedtimes. They woke up early, which I actually liked because we had a leisurely morning and could still get a good jump-start on our day. But we definitely had to end our day earlier than we were used to.


5 thoughts on “The Vegan Baby-sitters Club

  1. Thanks for the hospitality and the kind post… I enjoyed reading/reliving the visit through your post (which still has me grinnin’ ear to ear here)- hopefully we will see you again soon! Olivia still talks of her time there, specifically of her friends Malia, Buster and Machete… xoxo

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