Happy 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Though I've got a full day until the countdown, my Sydney-sider friends will be rocking in the new year in just a few hours, so I thought I'd go ahead and post my look back at the year that was 2009.

This year Veg Table and Vegan@Large were born! I hope to have a bit more time to do some community building on Veg Table in 2010, but in the mean time I sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the site, as well as all my readers here, followers on Twitter, and just the awesome vegan community in general.

In personal news, Tim and I witnessed some of our closest friends and family members get hitched! Lots of love to Amy and Stewart, Ali and Quinn, Brad and Becky, and Karen and Craig! And although I sadly lost a dear family member this year, there was still MUCH to be thankful for. Our travels for weddings and other events took us to Sydney, Long Island, Los Angeles, San Diego, Napa, New York, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Arizona. I've got the travel bug for sure and can't wait to explore a whole new part of the world next year.

I worked on three amazing bakesales, the first as part of the World Wide Vegan Bake Sale which led to the creation of the ongoing SF Vegan Bake Sale which continues to blow my mind in terms of funds raised, not to mention community building and some of the best vegan outreach there is.

Some other great strides were made this year in terms of mainstream vegan acceptance. Jonathan Safran Foer and Alicia Silverstone brought animal rights and veganism to new audiences through their books. Ellen Degeneres started doing easy vegan cooking demos on her talk show and Oprah welcomed chef Tal Ronnen (whose book The Conscious Cook I got as a Christmas gift and is food porn like WOAH) to show that vegan cooking can be gourmet and delicious.

Vegansaurus has an awesome wrap-up of the decade in veganism. I've only been vegan for half of the decade, but I'm so excited for the coming years for vegans. If you're itching for other year-end lists (because they're very hard to come by on the internet right now) I suggest really the only other essential list: The 30 Most Important Cats of 2009. Other than the glaring omission of Tony Danza, it's pretty much spot-on.

Lastly, I hope you all enjoy wonderful New Year's Eve and New Year's Day celebrations. I'm not doing anything of particular vegan note, but I may make some Texas Caviar. As a one-time Texan and lover of black-eyed peas, it's a New Year's tradition I can get behind. VegWeb has a great round-up of other black-eyed pea recipes to bring you all sorts of good luck.

Happy 2010, y'all!

Vegan@Large Roadtrip: Arizona

Monday, December 28, 2009

Seeing as how we're getting ready to move to the other side of the world (in less than a month!! Holy crap, what am I doing blogging when I should be packing?!?!?) we thought this winter break we'd take a chance to take in the most All-American sight there is: the Grand Canyon.

On Saturday we drove from my parents' house in Henderson about five and a half hours to the South Rim. Along the way we saw the Hoover Dam, a whole lot of mountains, and disappointingly no Elk, despite what roadsigns kept promising us. It really is pretty amazing and breath-taking, though I might have enjoyed it a bit more had I not been so cold and dizzy (I get terrible vertigo). The pictures can't really do it justice -- it's something you have to see for yourself.

By the time we drove another two and a half hours to our hotel in Sedona we were starving. We had planned to eat dinner at D'Lish, a vegan restaurant whose website claimed they were open till 9:00. When we got there at 7:45 they wouldn't serve us and told us that they were closing because it was slow. Hmm... sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was pissed, but luckily Tim had spotted a sign for another vegetarian eatery from the road.

So we turned around and to check out ChocolaTree which was a complete 180: cozy, friendly and inviting. The meals were fairly standard salads, soups and entrees. Tim got a veggie burger and I had a "Fiesta" plate of quinoa, beans, salsa, and tasty guacamole. Everything was super fresh. I liked that many of the dishes had options to be raw or cooked. Something for everyone (if everyone is a hippie). They also had some yummy raw desserts (like this pecan pie) and sold a ton of chocolates. Most are made with honey unfortunately, which seems like such an arbitrary non-vegan ingredient to cling to. But we grabbed a few made from agave.

The next day we decided to give D'Lish another chance. The website said they opened at 10 and we pulled in around 11 only to see the "Closed" sign in their window. Tim walked up to see if we had misread their hours, but it turned out that there were people inside who were marginally nicer and let us in this time. Oddly, they kept the "Closed" sign up the entire time and thus we were the only diners. I think someone needs to help these guys with their marketing.

Anyway, we split an herbed tofu wrap and a tempeh BLT and I was underwhelmed. It's 2009. Not every vegan dish needs to have sprouts on it. When you add an "S" to BLT it becomes a B.S.LT. Ya know what I'm sayin'? But, for a small town, it's hard to complain about having multiple veggie options. Sedona is an adorable mountain town with views to die for, but definitely not for the hippie-fearing. Lots of crystal shops and liberal use of the word "mystic."

We decided to fly out of Phoenix, thinking a bigger city might have better veggie options. We drove two hours to Tempe because I wanted to have dinner at Green, a restaurant I'd heard great things about and had an awesome menu. But alas, they are closed on Sundays. Foiled again!

Instead we ended up going to Blue Nile Cafe, an Ethiopian restaurant with extensive vegan options, clearly marked. In fact, on Sundays they also have a special organic, raw menu. We stuck with splitting a ten dish veggie combo. Lentils, chickpeas and stewed veggie galore. It was a wonderful meal to end our trip. You can see all the photos from my Christmas vacation here.

Christmas in the Desert

Just got home last night after a whirlwind holiday trip. I spent several days in Henderson, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas) which is the town my parents moved to about five years ago. It's still odd spending Christmas in the desert, especially when I grew up with snowy New York winters, but I suppose considering how my husband got snowed in for days while visiting his friends and family in DC, I'll gladly take a little sunshine.

My parents also went out of their way this year to make it feel homey and welcoming for us by making a vegan Christmas dinner for the whole family for the first time ever. I wish I could take the credit, but it turns out that now that Ellen Degeneres is vegan, and not just their hippie daughter, they're down with it. I made a vegan version of my mom's stuffed shells for Christmas Eve, filled with tofu, spinach, ground walnuts and Daiya, and covered in homemade tomato sauce, basil and even more Daiya goodness. Hooray for the Henderson Whole Foods which, in addition to the locations in Las Vegas, carries the vegan cheese.

My dad made some vegan potato pancakes that were awesome and did not fall apart. I'll have to get him to send me the recipe. For Christmas Day I made an easy little side salad and my Mom made vegan pot pies from scratch, inspired by a recipe they saw on the Ellen Show. For dessert I made this chocolate mousse topped with fresh berries.

And of course, no trip to Las Vegas would be complete without a stop at Ronald's Donuts. Word to the wise though, you best get there early if you want a good selection. They were nearly sold out when we got there at 2:00, but we did walk away with some awesome turnovers. The day after Christmas we embarked on a little roadtrip, which I'll report on next time. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday celebration -- or at least some relaxing downtime!

Vegan Food in Orlando, or, How We Made Lemonade

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sometimes when life hands you a giant crapload of sour lemons, it's up to you to make lemonade out of them. That's how the saying goes, right? Due to the recent unfortunate and unexpected passing of my cousin, I found myself in Orlando, Florida over the last four days.

I was born in Orlando but only lived there for about six weeks till my parents moved us to New York. So while I've got some affection for the place I knew little about it other than the ubiquitous theme parks. Tim and I joked that we were going to bum out everyone staying in our hotel when we walked through it in our mourning clothes, lamenting, "Enjoy Disneyworld while you can, kids. Life is short." Sometimes you have to make jokes to get through tragic situations.

Though most of our time was spent with family, we did have a few opportunities to explore the city in search of vegan food. One night we went to a cutesy yup-scale neighborhood called Winter Park in search of Cafe 118 Degrees, an organic, raw foods restaurant. It was closed by the time we got there so we ended up at a Turkish restaurant called Bosphorous instead. Maybe it was because I was a little tipsy and food always tastes better to me after a few drinks, but I'd swear their giant lavash and hummus was some of the best I've ever had.

The next morning, on the recommendation of a friend we grabbed Sunday brunch at Ethos Vegan Kitchen. We got the biscuits and gravy, the tofu scramble pictured here, and a cookie from their bakery. While we weren't blown away by the food, I did enjoy being able to eat out on their patio in a low-key environment. (They're across the street form Lake Ivanhoe.) Looking around at all the other tattooed clientele, I gathered that this is *the* vegan hipster hangout in Orlando. It would also appear that they may be a co-op? So bonus points for that.

Ironically, given the title of this post, we actually had a really hard time finding fresh lemonade. Orange juice appears to be the state drink and the only acceptable beverage. Top it off with a little champagne, like my mimosa at Ethos, and I can live with that.

Lastly, a big thanks to everyone who has sent their kind words and support for me and my family. It truly helped us all get through a very tough weekend.

In Memory of Nicky

Monday, December 7, 2009

I've sometimes been jealous of my friends who grew up with tons of cousins. My brother Bryan and I grew up with just one cousin, Nick.

I was seven when he was born and remember our trip to Orlando (my own birthplace) to go visit my new baby cousin Nicky and my Aunt Wendy. Several years later when I was in high school, we visited Florida again. This time Nicky was a rambunctious eight year old and I'll never forget how much he made me laugh with his goofy voices when while eating dinner at Cracker Barrel.

The last time I saw Nick was the day this photo of him was taken, at my wedding in 2007. I was really touched that family I'd lamentably seen on only a few occasions in my life flew across the country to celebrate with us. Nick was only twenty and we had to sneak him drinks at the after party where he and Wendy and I discussed some of our crazy family members, Hall and Oates, and how one of these days, Nick was going to have to come back to San Francisco to visit again.

Earlier today though, my only cousin Nick died. I'm still in shock, even as I write this. He hadn't been sick and they're not sure what happened yet. My understanding is that he showed up at his girlfriend's house with a headache, and within a few minutes passed out. By the time the paramedics showed up, he was gone. A year ago he passed out during Lacrosse practice and when taken to the hospital they told him it was just dehydration. No word yet on whether it's related or how this happened to such a healthy young person.

It's hard to know what to write to memorialize a young man, related closely to me, but who I'll regrettably never know very well. I'm thinking a lot about my family tonight, all so far away, wishing I could do something to help. Tonight though, there's nothing I can do but sit and contemplate, and so with a glass of wine, that's what I'm doing. You will be missed, cousin Nicky!

December Warm Fuzziness!

Whew, it was a busy weekend full of awesomeness. We managed to cram in Tim's company holiday party, a trip up to Petaluma to see my brother- and sister-in-law's new house, and of course, the SF Vegan Bake Sale.

I'm still kind of in shock and disbelief that we raised $4200 this time out! Those are going to be some safe bunnies and empowered foodies. Vegansaurus has a great wrap-up as usual and I've got some photos up here. My favorite part of doing these bakesales (and this has happened at least once at all three sales I've worked) is when some random vegan who hadn't heard of us walks up to our table and asks sheepishly, "You guys don't have anything vegan, do you?" And then I get to respond, "Why yes, it's ALL VEGAN! Feast your eyes on our glorious splendor!" (My exact words.) And then their eyes light up and the clouds part and sunshine and rainbows beam down.

Between the joy of these events, the sappiness of the winter holidays, and the fact that I'm soon leaving the city I've loved for the last 4+ years, everything's been feeling rather bittersweet. My baking cohorts will most certainly be missed!

The other thing about this time of year is that you somehow wind up with social obligations every day of the week. So between my day job, baking, moving, travels, holiday events, and shopping, I've been feeling a little scattered. This is my lame way of saying that I'm postponing putting up any of my Veg Table tour guide submissions until after the new year.

Or, hey, let's spin this: I am extending the deadline to submit! I'll be in touch soon with those of you who were diligent enough to send me your submissions in a timely matter. I love reading these! More vegan warm fuzzies!

A Vegan Tour of New York

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Like all good Thanksgiving trips, my travels to New York revolved around food, food, and more food. And like all my trips back to New York, I left extremely jealous of how ubiquitous the vegan options are. Beyond the dozens of exclusively vegan restaurants, I couldn't help but marvel that you can walk into any random bagel shop in Brooklyn and find Tofutti cream cheese -- in a variety of flavors! Here are some highlights along the way...

Sammies Galore!
I can't remember the last time I had so many vegan sandwiches. They're EVERYWHERE in New York. Pictured above are a tofu "egg salad" sandwich from Organic Heights in Park Slope and a Breaded Seitan Panini from Peacefood Cafe on the Upper East Side. Other highlights were a Tempeh Reuben made with Daiya from 'sNice (also in Park Slope) and a "Kevin Bacon" sandwich from Boneshakers (in Williamsburg), with a side of delicious homemade sauerkraut.

Sweet Cuppin' Cakes!
There aren't enough wonderful adjectives in the dictionary to describe how much I loved Babycakes. I stopped in twice: once to sample this brownie cupcake made with the most delicious frosting I've ever tasted and then again on my last day in NY to bring home a variety of sweet treats, the most decadent of which was a cookie sandwich stuffed with frosting.

AMAZING. And they make an effort to include lots of gluten-free options, and avoid refined sugar and flour where they can, opting for agave and natural sweeteners. Whatever they're doing, it's working! Their adorable, but tiny shop on the Lower East Side was packed each time I stopped by. And it's an all-lady business. Seriously, stop being so awesome, you guys!

Fancy Pants!

I was able to budget my money to be able to have two fancy pants dinners out in Manhattan. The first photo is of two small plates from Counter in the East Village. They've got a great selection of organic wines and cocktails and the dishes are great for sharing. I hear their brunch is pretty amazing too. Lastly, I finally got to eat at Candle 79 after several failed attempts on prior trips. Dessert was the highlight. I mean, vegan cannoli?? Definitely an "only in New York" dish that was heavenly. While my entree and appetizer were delicious, I have to admit I felt a little gratified in thinking that Millennium in San Francisco is better. So while NY may win the vegan restaurant war, SF takes this battle.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't thank my good friend Sarv for being a wonderful hostess to me in Brooklyn. Not only did I get to crash on her couch for the week, but her family invited me into their home for Thanksgiving and went above and beyond to make several vegan dishes for me that were great!

You can see photos from all my New York shenanigans including all kinds of embarrassing karaoke pics here.

Giving Thanks...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Since I'll be spending Thanksgiving away from my husband and family this year, I was glad to have a pre-Thanksgiving celebration yesterday with a bunch of rocking vegans. I made tangerine cranberry sauce from the recipe in this Vegan YumYum post (seriously, it is the easiest, most delicious thing to make. Why does anyone buy that gelatinous crap in the can?) and a whole wheat stuffing with homemade sausages. I've been on a diet that's eschewing refined sugar, refined flour and oils, and I had to break it to try the biscuits, mashed potatoes, and all sorts of desserts. Back to steamed greens for me today!

Anyway, one of the things I am thankful for this year is having found a community of awesome vegans, both here in San Francisco and online, with everyone I've met through blogging and Twitter. So often (especially around the Thanksgiving dinner table) vegans can feel weird and alienated, so it's great to remember that there are so many of us out there.

Here are some other things I am thankful for this year:

  • Being lucky enough to have not been hit by this economy. My husband's job has been solid enough that I was able to quit my soul-crushing job this summer, without worrying about how we'd paid the bills. I sincerely hope things turn around for my Dad, brother, and anybody else who's been out of work.
  • The ability to travel. The stars aligned for us this year to move abroad and I am thankful we have the freedom to pack up and move.
  • The friends I've made in San Francisco who, despite my east-coast upbringing, have really made California the place I consider "home."
And of course, a million other little things every day, but these are the big ones that stick out from this year. I'll be away from the blog next week while I'm in NY, so I hope you all have joyful Thanksgiving celebrations this year!

Become a Veg Table Tour Guide!

Friday, November 13, 2009

In planning my upcoming trip to Brooklyn I've been overwhelmed by how many great vegan and veg-friendly restaurants there are in the area. It's hard to know which ones are worth it, which I should skip. And of course I'll probably want to spend some time doing something besides eating, so if I'm making a trip to go to a special restaurant, what else is nearby and worth checking out?

With that in mind I've decided to add a new feature to Veg Table: Veggie Tours!

Veggie Tours will be guides written to cities around the world, from a Veg perspective, and I'm recruiting Tour Guides to write these features. Whether it's your home town, or just your favorite city to visit, if you know hot spots, insider dining tips, and attractions off the beaten path, I want to hear from you!

Potential Tour Guides can submit their Veggie Tours to sharon@veg-table.net. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Focus on the reader. While it's ok to throw in anecdotal experiences you've had, Veggie Tours should not be just a re-hash of your last vacation. Let the reader know what they should check out to have an awesome experience. Be creative, funny, whimsical, snarky, whatever!
  2. There's no word requirement, but think maybe a little longer than a typical blog post.
  3. Imagine the reader has 4-8 days to spend in a given locale. It might be helpful to list recommendations day by day and then include links to additional ideas.
  4. Photos make everything better. While not required, links to photos you've uploaded to Flickr (that we can publish) are very helpful.
  5. Submission deadline is Friday, Dec. 4, 2009. You can submit as many cities as you'd like.
I'll only be choosing one Veggie Tour for a given city. Chosen tours will be published on Veg Table on Friday, Dec. 11. Here's where your incentive comes in:

Why should I become a Veg Table Tour Guide?

  1. Once Veggie Tours are published on Dec. 11 I'll be holding a contest for readers to vote for their favorite. There will be prizes, including an iTunes gift card, assorted vegan cook books, and more! Look for more details on this coming soon.
  2. Self-promotion. Each Veggie Tour will link to whatever blog, website, cause you'd like to promote and we will include your Bio on our Tour Guides page.
  3. Nothing feels better than helping out a fellow vegan. Except maybe prizes and fame. (See #s 1 and 2.)
Feel free to comment or write me with any questions, and please help spread the word to any if your fabulous, well-traveled, creative, word-slinging, veggie friends!

Vegetables, yo! They're hella good for you!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I ended up signing up for the Plant-Based Nutrition course I was pondering a few months back. I have rather mixed feelings about it which I'll save for another day, but tonight I found myself in a class discussion of how to reach out to teens about nutrition. A classmate of mine had, I kid you not, written a "rap" to appeal to a young audience. I won't quote the lyrics, but the lead in was a list of diseases like Cancer and Diabetes, that can be prevented with a plant-based diets.

I can distinctly remember my 6th grade English teacher rapping a lesson one day. Even as an eleven year old white girl in the suburbs, I was pretty sure this was the lamest thing ever. Jason Schwartzman parodies this ridiculous trope of connecting with urban youth in a very special "Yo Teach" episode.
As I told my classmate, teenagers are actually pretty savvy about knowing when adults are co-opting their forms of expression in order to teach them a lesson.

At any rate, this is to say nothing of the bigger point which is that warning an eighteen year old about preventing heart disease is about as productive as warning your six year old about saving for retirement. You may plant a tiny seed, but they are not at an age where they're thinking that long term.

When I think back to high school it's almost infuriating that I ate after school at McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts on a very regular basis, yet I had the energy to dance in the Color Guard, perform in every school play, and stay on the honor roll while being ridiculously skinny. And now, ten plus years later with my vegan diet my BMI puts me at just slightly overweight.

I don't want to emphasize weight too much, but it's worth noting that since going vegan not only have I gained significant weight, but my skin has gotten worse, I've developed joint pain (I may have patellar tendonitis in my knee) and those superficial signs of aging are starting to appear. Wrinkles not just around my eyes, but on my hands too. Joy.

Of course many of these changes are just symptomatic of aging, but even in a relatively healthy vegan diet, there are certainly changes I can make (and am!) to my lifestyle to help slow and reverse these things. More on this to come. But my point is, it wasn't until I started actually experiencing these things that I started to care about the health aspect of my veganism.

So for people who do want to reach out to teens and young adults I would suggest appealing to them with tangible concepts that are relevant to their lives. Focus on the increased energy to help them in sports or dance. Mood-elevating benefits, boosts to cognitive function, clearer skin, shinier hair.

Just, for the love of god, don't rap about it. Don't spray it in graffiti. Don't hire kid actors in urban streetwear. Don't text them health tips. Don't try to use their lingo. You'd be amazed by how much kids will respect you when you're just real and honest with them.

Jonathan Safran Foer: Cute Jew; Domestic Terrorist?

Friday, November 6, 2009

I've always had a thing for adorable, nerdy Jewish boys. Blame my Long Island upbringing. So it should come as no shock that I've had a crush on Jonathan Safran Foer, ever since I discovered his vegetarian leanings in a video he narrated called "If This is Kosher" while researching vegan passover recipes a few years ago.

It doesn't hurt that he bears a striking resemblance to my husband. Y/N?

Anyway, I ended up not being able to go hear him speak at the local JCC last night as I'd hoped to. He's been getting some major buzz lately for his new book Eating Animals. (Like, every other article on vegansaurus has been about JSF this week.) While some might criticize him for not committing to being fully vegan, I personally think this is exactly the kind of outreach that helps our cause immensely. It's both a logical and emotional approach to the subject that can hit people on a personal level. And it doesn't hurt coming from a prolific author who's not necessarily dragged down with the label of "crazy animal rights activist."

Or is he?

This article from Huffington Post labels JSF as a domestic terrorist in its slightly sensational headline. I'm not going to summarize the article here because I actually want you to read the whole thing. It brings up a lot of important information that many people may not be aware of regarding the way our government regards terrorism, and which industries it's protecting.

I'm just going to share my takeaway thoughts after reading it:

#1 - Dennis Kucinich is awesome.

#2 - I'm blown away that animal rights groups are classified as greater threats to America than, say, right-wing activists that bomb abortion clinics and murder doctors who make this right available to women.

#3 - Where exactly is the terror here? Specifically in the case of JSF where the author of the article makes the case that his illegal exposure of the practices of a factory farm constitutes terrorism. Yes, I can see why this might scare or shock people, but he's not throwing buckets of fake blood and crying "murder." He's simply exposing people to the truth of what's actually happening in the animal enterprise industry.

#4 - While the author encourages readers to repeal the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, he doesn't give any resources for change. So, you can sign a petition and write to Congress here. This page also has links to further information and advice.

Kudos to anyone who can bring light to such important issues!

No Sleep Till Brooklyn

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Last time I was in New York was July, right as I was starting to work on Veg Table. I did my best to document my food finds, like Lula's Sweet Apothecary and  Curly's but damn, New York has so many awesome vegan restaurants I feel like I only dipped my foot in the pool. I've been to a decent number in Manhattan, but only one in Brooklyn, and that was five years ago.

You see, when I lived in Brooklyn I was vegetarian, but not yet vegan and it was during the poorest time in my life. My bank account didn't see triple digits for months some times. I almost never ate out, let alone at fancy vegan restaurants. (The fact that I lived in Bay Ridge, which is really more like North Staten Island didn't help.) So this makes me all the more excited that I'll be spending a week in Brooklyn over Thanksgiving break! I'll be staying with one of my best friends who I don't get to see nearly often enough, and hoping to catch up with other East Coasters before I flee the country.

So what restaurants must I check out? Within Brooklyn, I'm thinking Foodswings, Boneshakers, V Spot Cafe, and Organic Heights. In Manhattan I'll probably do peacefood cafe and then I've got a few more upscale restaurants to choose from. How would you rank the following:

Candle 79 - I ate at Candle Cafe for lunch on my last visit and wasn't blown away by the food, considering the price.
Blossom - They have a crappy website which is a pet peeve of mine, but perhaps I shouldn't judge.
Dirty Candy - I've honestly not heard much about them, but I love the name and their menu sounds awesome, though not all vegan.

I can probably only go to one of those three, maaaaybe two, so what should I prioritize? Also, any opinions on 4 Course Vegan in Williamsburg? I love me a good underground supper club. Is it hard to get a reservation? What's the experience like?

Let me know if there are any other restaurants worth checking out, or ones I've listed I shouldn't bother with. I'm also open to suggestions on how I should spend the few hours when I'm not eating. Got any favorite off-the-beaten-path things to do in Brooklyn? (Or, you know, those other boroughs?) And if you're a frequent diner in NY if you could take some time to update the Veg Table NYC pages, you'll be my hero. Maybe I'll even buy you an ice cream cone at Lula's out of gratitude.

The Next SF Vegan Bake Sale!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The next SF Vegan Bake Sale is coming! Mark your calendar for Dec. 5th from 11-4. Same great location outside of Ike's Place, so while you're waiting a well-worth-it hour for your sandwich, you can fill up on vegan doughnuts. We've got not one, but two awesome non-profit organizations lined up as beneficiaries this time:

Food Empowerment Project, whose website is a little light on details, but from what I understand, works with youth and low-income populations to make healthier, more informed food choices. And Save a Bunny, who, well, they save bunnies! Like these guys:Since our super crazy successful event a few weeks ago raised $2600 in under three and a half hours, one thing was certain about our next sale: we need more bakers!

Friends, even you non-vegan ones, would you be willing to spend a little time baking for the bunnies? If you're intimidated by vegan baking I can point you towards recipes that are delicious, virtually impossible to screw up and don't require any "weird" ingredients. (Like these banana chocolate chip muffins from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Joy of Vegan Baking. You can borrow my book!)

And, though I've not yet bought it, you can check out VegNews' recent foray into digital cookbooks, appropriately enough a collection of holiday cookies! VegNews is also sponsoring our bake sale this time around because they are awesome like that.

Anyway, if you want to bake, please let me know and I'll getcha more details. And if you just want to stop by and eat some scones and save bunnies, that's cool too. We recommend getting there early! And it will be my LAST bake sale in San Francisco before I move. Sadface! So now you have to come.

P.S. Don't forget you can follow our updates on Twitter!

Tony Danza Update

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apparently I've had some concerned readers wondering where we are with our kitty immigration drama so I figured I'd post an update. We've spoken to some Aussie immigrants who dealt with similar issues to get some perspective and here's what we learned:

Australia quarantine, because it has the strictest standards is also known for being the nicest. Also there are designated days where you can visit your pets. Cost is a major downside. His monthly fee is more than I paid for rent on my one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn five years ago. However, it looks like Tim's company may put us up in a hotel for a month, thus saving us a month of rent and balancing it out.

So quarantine it is. Our vet recommended an agency to us called Pet Express that works specifically on pet travel and immigration. So far they've been super helpful in making sense of the mountain of paperwork and jargon we're dealing with, and they will take TD to the airport for his journey. Again, the services aren't cheap but you're paying for peace of mind, and not having to stress about last minute problems that arise.

My only remaining concern is getting him food he likes. Not that he's one of those snobby Fancy Feast cats... he just has, well, a rather sensitive tummy. When his current brand of cat food was recalled recently and we had to temporarily switch him, the results were not pleasant for anyone. I haven't been able to find any Nutro distributors in Sydney. Does anyone know of something that might be roughly equivalent? 

UPDATE: I found Nutro distributors here!

Kind of gross to be writing about the one non-vegan product we allow in our home, but unfortunately TD doesn't have much of a taste for tofu. However, there is ONE VEGAN PRODUCT that he goes absolutely, inexplicably crazy for: So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt.

Yup, that's him with a container of it stuck on his face. The other day I had some with my lunch and seconds after I'd opened it, the delicious aroma awoke him from his slumbers. He spent the next three minutes wandering around the living room and subsequently crying because he couldn't tell where the smell was coming from. (Hint, kitty: it's always in my hands.) When he finally found it, he did his best to try to paw it out of my hands. He's lucky he's cute. This is what goes down every single time I eat this stuff. As usual he got to lick the cup afterwards and was in kitty heaven.

I wonder if they'll let me sneak his favorite treat to him in quarantine. Are there any vegan products your cat goes crazy for? Brighten my day with cute kitty stories in the comments.

Meatless, Communist Mondays

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I read this article on Huffington Post this morning and as usual when I read ridiculous things, I've been stewing and unable to get it out of my head.

So, yadda yadda yadda, a school district in Baltimore has implemented a "Meatless Monday" in its school cafeterias both as an effort to save money and serve healthier options. All of the local parents are down with it. So what's the controversy? Oh, waaaahhh, the poor meat industry is sad that people are waking up to the idea that Americans consume FAR too many animal products and that maybe it wouldn't kill them to skip it for one meal a day, one day a week.

But don't feel too bad for meat industry lobbyists, they've got everyone's favorite, completely rational and well-informed CNN anchor on their side: Lou Dobbs. Dobbs clearly agrees that this is a part of schools "indoctrinating" our youth. Indoctrinating them with what is unclear. Funny, weren't conservatives throwing that word around a few months ago when Obama was going to speak to school children? He was going to "indoctrinate" them with his lefty "stay in school" values.

Dobbs and his cohorts like Glenn Beck seem to want us living in some kind of idyllic 1950s suburbia (or at least their corporate sponsor's version thereof.) And yet they're putting down pretty traditional values like respecting the President, volunteering in your community, and you know, "EAT YOUR VEGETABLES."

The implication here is that schools are taking away children and parents' choice to eat meat. (I guess I forgot how pro-choice conservatives are known for being.) Somehow, they don't have a problem with the complete LACK of vegan or vegetarian choices for children, but once they can't get their uber-wholesome salisbury steak, the schools are suddenly a police state. And let's not also forget that parents still have the option to send their kids to school with home-made lunches.

I completely understand that this is not always an option for families, which is why I support the Physcians Comittee for Responsible Medicine and their efforts to get healthier vegetarian options into schools. But if parents really are outraged by this policy (which, to be clear, it doesn't seem that any of them are) then perhaps a little effort could be put in to your kid's lunch.

I won't even touch the fallacy presented by this video that meat is the only way to give your kids protein (and the idea that animal protein is a revered nutrient). Now that I'm taking a plant-based nutrition class I can't help but be appalled by how much misinformation the media puts out about health and diet.

Anyway, let's focus on the positive instead. Yay for Baltimore schools and let's just hope that more schools are working with great health directors who can provide reasoned, logical facts instead of political distortions brought about by corporate lobbyists.

Vegan Bake Sale Wrap-Up

Monday, October 19, 2009

This Saturday was the first official SF Vegan Bake Sale and it was a rousing success! When we did our first bake sale as part of the World Wide event back in June, we raised $3,000 over two days. So imagine our delight when in this one-day event we raised over $2,600! And we helped two kitties get adopted!

One hundred percent of the money earned went to charity - in this case Give Me Shelter cat rescue. We plan to hold an event every other month or so, with the next one falling around holiday time. These bake sales are great on so many levels because not only does it give us a chance to help out struggling nonprofits, but we're getting some truly delicious vegan food out to people who might not try it otherwise, helping to break down the myth that vegan food is bland or gross. As I've said before, that's my favorite kind of activism.

And it helps bring the community together. I met all kinds of kickass bakers, chefs, and just regular folks like me, whipping up cookies for a cause. In some ways I regret taking so long to get involved with the local vegan community in the Bay Area. I lived here for four years and only in the last nine months or so have I started becoming active. It's something I definitely hope to correct when moving to Sydney.
More photos can be found here, and you should also check out the wrap-up on vegansaurus! Thanks to Laura, Karin, and Abby for being amazing co-organizers.

If you came, let me know your favorite goods you tried. What would you love to see being sold next time? I've got to start coming up with ideas of what to bake in December... More savory goods? The Daiya cheese biscuits were one of my favorites.

Help Design a Bay Area Vegetarian Restaurant

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My husband and I sometimes talk about the all vegan deli-diner we plan to open someday. There will be all varieties of hash browns made to order, the best tempeh reuben money can buy, and of course my famous black and white cookies, amongst many other things.

I imagine it's a common fantasy for vegans - creating a restaurant that serves all your favorite things, especially those that are hard to come by in vegan form. So I was delighted to come across and ad informing me I could design my own veggie restaurant. Following the link took me to a page for GreenBar: a vegetarian restaurant coming to a Bay Area location near me!

It's just a quick online survey polling for demographics, but you can also write in the dishes you would like to see. If you're comfortable giving up your contact info, you can also enter to win an Amazon gift card for your participation. As if I need further incentive to spout off my opinions on food.

They anticipate that GreenBar will be a "casual fast food" type of joint, though they emphasize high quality. Sounds maybe a bit like Plant Cafe, but hopefully a little cheaper and all veggie, and maybe more conveniently located. (To me! Because I'm not moving in three months or anything.)

So while I probably won't even be here to see this restaurant open, you should let you voice be heard. Power to the vegan people!

Soaking Up California: Four New Restaurant Reviews

Monday, October 12, 2009

Apologies for the lag in posts. I started a new job last week at an independent school to help defray our moving costs. Today is Columbus Day (or Indigenous Peoples Day if you live in a city full of hippies like I do) so I've got the day off to catch up.

Ever since we announced a move date we've been feeling like we need to check things off our list of things to do in the Bay Area before we're gone. Unsurprisingly, most of the things on my list have included food. I've checked three new restaurants off my list in the last few weeks.

The first was Souley Vegan in Oakland. They sell some of their products in Rainbow, thus getting me completely hooked on their potato salad. They'd closed their downtown location a while back and re-opened not too long ago, not far from Jack London Square. We split a massive combo plate, the other highlights of which were the Mac and Cheese and Southern Fried Tofu. They also had a live band playing, ridiculously friendly staff, and an overall good vibe.
Last week we took a friend out for his birthday. We met up at City Beer Store in SOMA. It's not often I dine in that neck of the woods with omnis, so we took the opportunity to try Heaven's Dog. Restaurants with animals in the name don't often bode well for us, but this upscale Chinese restaurant from the same owners as the Slanted Door actually had a number of interesting veggie options. The best were easily an appetizer of "vegetarian pork belly" sandwiches which were made from tofu skin and mushrooms. Not sure it resembled actual pork in any way but that's probably for the best.

Then, over the weekend a friend invited us up to Napa. We've been dying to check out gourmet vegetarian restaurant Ubuntu for a while now, and it was well worth the wait. Most of the dishes are vegan or can be prepared so. We split a number of small dishes and recommend the fried chickpeas, the lemongrass curry, and the fregola. Everything was inventive and full of flavor. High quality, fresh ingredients make all the difference. It's pricey, but well worth it.

We found a cheap hotel and stayed the night and the next morning we ate at Ad Hoc in Yountville (just north of Napa). They have a prix fixe Sunday breakfast that, although is not remotely vegan by default, our server asked if we had any special dietary needs to accomodate. We happened to be dining alongside one of their cooks, but I'm fairly sure anyone could go in and ask for vegan options. They did not disappoint with thick-cut toast, and a variety of grilled veggies.

Lastly we were off to do some tastings. I have to admit that I've not always paid close attention to whether or not my wine is considered "vegan." Frankly, anything organic or biodynamic uses animal products in some phase of production, so it seems a bit nitpicky to me. (All hate comments can be left here.) We hit a few bigger places, but I think we could all agree our favorite was getting a private tasting at a small winery called Sullivan. Its proprietor told us all kinds of great stories about the process of becoming certified biodynamic. Apparently one part of this involved having "established" birds that work symbiotically with you to keep out pests. They're not purchased, you basically just have to work in close commune with your land.

We came home yesterday with three bottles, full bellies, and empty wallets. But it was all worth it to soak up some of the best food and drink that California has to offer. If you live in the Bay Area, let me know in the comments what else I need to check out before I leave.

Adventures in Kitty Immigration

Friday, October 2, 2009

When we tell people we're moving to Australia, the first question Tim and I usually get is, "What about Tony Danza?" If you've never met us, you're probably scratching your head. That's because I've not yet formally introduced my blog readers to our pride and joy, Tony Danza:
Look at what a gentleman he is. If you're wondering, yes, he's odd-eyed and deaf. He also has cerebellar hypoplasia which is fancy science talk for "tiny brain." Well, at least the part of the brain that controls motor function. None of his paws really move in tandem together and as a result he can't really walk a straight line. Tim rescued him from some irresponsible care-takers (TD's mom and dad also happen to be brother and sister) 12 years ago, so now he's my step-kitty.

Bearing in mind his age, medical issues and generally awful disposition we've struggled with whether or not he'd even be able to survive the journey. We took him to our vet yesterday though, which shed a lot of light on the situation.

Australia requires that imported animals get microchipped, undergo a rabies vaccine and bloodwork, and then there's a 6 month waiting period before he's allowed in the country. He got the first two yesterday and will get his bloodwork on Oct. 15th. Six months from then is April 15th which conflicts a bit with our anticipated January 25 move date.

So we've got three choices:

  1. Change our move date. Unfortunately I'm hoping to start school in March. It's unclear whether my visa will allow me to go over before Tim, but if it does, then that's a possibility.
  2. Leave TD with a friend, to whom we'd be forever indebted. Unfortunately TD doesn't play well with other animals, and if you don't already have a cat, you probably don't want one. There are also some potential responsibilities that come with it. If you're interested we should have a talk.
  3. Quarantine him in Australia. The thought of him stuck in a cage for several months is something I don't relish, but apparantly Australian quarantine is known for having the best treatment -- making it also rather expensive, however.
The last option of course was not taking him, but the vet seemed to think he's in good enough health to make it, so leaving him behind would be selfish. As much as I sort of liked the idea of moving into a home not filled with cat hair and never having to clean up hairballs and vomit... well, how can you say goodbye to this face?

More to come on the Tony Danza saga...

Delicious Daiya - Recipe and Photos

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When I first decided I was going to try out being vegan in 2005 I made an ill-fated trip to my natural food store to pick up some shiny new products including a block of soy cheese that was hard, gray, and smelled like sweat socks. "I've been tricked," I thought. The pizza cravings set in pretty quickly. There was a place near Tim's apartment that advertised vegan pizza that was pretty decent but we eventually learned they were using casein-based cheese. Bastards!

Eventually I learned of Follow Your Heart brand soy cheese which made a reasonable substitute in small quantities and I started making pizza at home. Sometime in 2008 I believe, Chicago Soy Dairy came out with Teese. It was basically love at first taste. It melted so much better and the taste was a little uncanny. (Tim actually didn't care for the nacho Teese because he thought it tasted too much like the real thing.)

And then along came Daiya. For months I've heard it being hailed as the holy grail of vegan cheese, so when Rainbow Grocery finally started carrying it, I stocked up. It is very good. Perhaps I've gotten spoiled, but it didn't blow me away like I thought it would. But it has a lot of advantages going for it: it melts much faster than other vegan cheeses, it lasts a long time in the fridge, it comes pre-shredded, and it is soy-free, made rather from casava root.

I bought kind of a ridiculous amount of it though and I'm still looking for dishes to use it up. Here's a little collage of meals I've made with it so far:
Starting at the top we've got a veggie pizza and a basic spaghetti marinara (made with Mariquita Farms tomatoes). The middle two are from a lasagne which was awesome. By far the best vegan lasagne I've ever had. Bottom right we've got tempeh marinara with breadsticks and salad. The salad had Daiya in it too because I find that it works really well as a Parmesan substitute as well as a mozzarella. That's what inspired the last dish.

When I was just vegetarian I used to make this all the time using Parm, and it was probably really bad for me. I modified the recipe to make it a bit healthier and will share it for you here:

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Broccoli, Chard, and Daiya

While your pasta water is boiling, chop up one stalk of broccoli into small pieces. Steam it in a covered pan for just 2 minutes or so so it's still somewhat firm. Add a tablespoon or olive oil, one chopped clove of garlic, a pinch of thyme, and a cup of chopped chard. (Spinach would work as well.) Add some vegetable broth keep it cooking and liberally add salt and black pepper. Once your pasta has nearly finished cooking add 1/4 cup of Daiya Italian cheese to the broccoli mix and keep stirring. Drain your pasta and toss it right into your pan to mix it all up.

Plate it and top it with some more Daiya and extra black pepper (you really can't use too much). It makes either one really large serving or two small ones.

If you've got any great recipes using Daiya let me know. Or if you can think of any meals you used to enjoy with mozzarella or parmesan and would like to see veganized, I'm always willing to give that a shot!

Help Me, Sydney-Siders

Sunday, September 27, 2009

As I mentioned in my last post the idea of moving to Sydney has been at least in the back of my mind for over six months now, and having not been able to really talk about it to any of the people I know in Sydney (because they're basically all my husband's co-workers) I've built up a number of questions. Now that we've set a date in January it's starting to feel real. We're realizing how many adjustments there will be.

Metric System! A whole new system of government! People spell things differently! They call arugula "rocket" and all kind of other different vegetable names! All new stores and brands!

There are all these every-day things I've become accustomed to, and I have no idea how they'll work in Australia. So I'm reaching out. Here are some questions:

  • Is there a composting program in Sydney? I doubt it's compulsory like it is in SF, but if I buy biodegradable bags can I compost at home and have someone pick it up?
  • What are some trusted brands/places to buy goods that are organic, eco-friendly, local, recycled, etc. I'm talking about both food (recommended farmer's markets??) and general household goods.
  • Does Sydney have Goodwill? Are there other second-hand/thrift stores in Sydney you recommend? (Both for clothes and housewares.)
  • Why don't you use craigslist? This has been disorienting. How do you find jobs? MyCareer is the best site I've found and it's not great. Please tell me there's a better site out there.
  • What are your neighborhood recommendations? My husband will be working in the CBD and it's unclear where I will be. We won't have a car so public transit proximity is a must. I'm torn between being in the east near the beaches, and being in the Newtown vicinity for the vegan-friendliness. What's good for a married, 30-ish, vegan, child-free couple?
Having done a little research on Sydney vegan bloggers, I'm tagging some here. Let's be friends!

Sydney Vegan Bake Sale
The Humanimal Eye
ZB's Vegan Recipes

Also, please let me know of any other awesome vegan bloggers in Sydney that I should get to know. (Or follow on Twitter!)

A New Adventure!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Well, I was going to wait till next week to announce this, but I hate secrets, and even though many of you know we've been speculating about this for a while, it finally became official this week:

Tim and I are moving to Sydney, Australia in January!

For those of you who don't know us in real life, his company is based there. When I went to visit him on business in Sydney this past February I fell in love with it and talks quickly turned to, "Do you think you could live here?" "What neighborhood would you want to live in?"

Well, the answers were "yes" and "we're leaning towards Newtown, Glebe, Surry Hills, Paddington and Bondi." (If you have neighborhood advice feel free to comment. I was only there for 10 days so my experience in those neighborhoods was limited.) Anyway, Tim worked out the details at work and now the only thing we're waiting on is the visas which shouldn't be a problem. And assuming, you know, that these crazy red dust storms don't become a weather trend. Probably not great for my asthma.

I'm very excited for the move because, well, I've always enjoyed moving around and as much as I love San Francisco, my career here has proven to be less than I'd hoped for. I'm strongly considering starting with a completely clean slate in Sydney and going back to school for something brand new: nutrition. My interests have been shifting away from the arts and increasingly focused on food. I ended up signing up for that eCornell class in plant-based nutrition that I posted about a few weeks ago. That starts in October so it will be a good taste of what's to come.

Luckily I discovered that Sydney is actually very vegan-friendly, despite what Outback Steakhouse might have you thinking. Veg Table lists eight vegan restaurants, and with all of the Asian-influenced cuisine, we didn't have any trouble eating while there. And much like San Francisco the city hosts a regular Sydney Vegan Bake Sale. Maybe I'll post a Sydney vegan food round-up next week to gear up.

Anyway we've got a lot to sort out over the next 4 months. (Literally we're moving 4 months from today!) I just landed a part-time job that goes through the end of December, so the timing is perfect. I like it when things start aligning. It makes me feel like it's meant to be. While we're unsure how long we'll live there or whether or not we'll return to San Francisco eventually, we are pretty sure that our time in Australia is going to be an amazing new adventure!

(Photo via Shishberg)

There's a New Supper Club in Town

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Don't get me wrong, my heart still belongs to Brassica, but it was very exciting last night to have an opportunity to branch out into another underground dining club. Mission Gastroclub is normally not a vegan event, but since my husband and I happen to be friends with its proprietor and brewmaster, Eric, we were honored with a plant-based meal last night.

The head chef for the club is named Neil, and I'm not allowed to disclose where his "day job" is, but he's a chef at a prominent Napa restaurant. His training was evident in some of the techniques and creativity used to prepare our meal.

The appetizer course was fried cauliflower with ketchup made fresh from the tomatoes scored from this weekend's trip to Mariquita Farms. Eric selects a beer pairing for each course. The first was and ESB that he brewed at home. It's a British style beer to go along with our fried pub-style food.

Next up was the salad, which actually may have been my favorite part as it combined so many unique ingredients. The base was dandelion greens, topped with green beans, cara cara oranges, cranberry beans and sous vide fennel. I'd heard of the sous vide technique before but I'm not sure I've had anything prepared that way. It involves vacuum-sealing the food and then generally boiling it, which allows it to cook without turning to mush and creating an interesting texture. Also, apparently I love cranberry beans! Who knew? The salad was paired with a Saison beer from The Bruery in Orange County.
The main course was a homemade vegan sausage over polenta with pepper slaw and tomato confit. I was a little nervous about the sausage after Eric's attempt to smoke silken tofu to put in it. Luckily he scrapped that idea and went with a more "traditional" wheat-gluten based sausage. It went great with the polenta and the whole course really gelled, particularly with the beer pairing, another homebrew -- this time a porter. I tend to shy away from dark beers but this one had a really rich, smoky flavor.

Lastly dessert was a vanilla panna cotta with strawberries, sous vide pineapple and agave syrup. I'm not usually a fan of gelatinous desserts (made with agar agar in this case) but this was unlike anything I've ever had before. It was my husband's favorite part of the meal. It was paired with an 1809 Berliner Weisse which was a little sour, a nice complement to the sweet dessert, and my favorite of the beers.

I was very curious to see how a chef who doesn't normally cook vegan food would stack up, and Neil proved that a good chef brings imagination to their dishes, whatever style the cuisine may be. My husband and I were the only vegans among the group, and everyone seemed to enjoy the meal as much as us. Perhaps I can convince these guys to do a vegan meal more often...

Click here for additional photos of our meal.

How Did You Become Vegan?

Monday, September 21, 2009

In light of the (still ongoing) debate that started here on Friday I've been thinking a lot about the tactics we use as vegans. I hate to use the word "convert" because it makes it sound like we're part of a religious cult, which is exactly the kind of reputation I try to avoid. But to some degree or another, we all promote this lifestyle.

So I'm curious to hear the story of what convinced you to go vegan? Was there a defining moment or a series of realizations? Did you go cold-turkey or slowly over time? Was there a specific book, website, organization or person that influenced the decision?

Mine was definitely a long journey that I'll now share. The first time I met a vegetarian I was in 6th grade. She was a CIT at the Long Island day camp where I was a camper and when she was telling me all the reasons why she didn't eat meat it made a lot of sense to me. When I mentioned this to my parents they told me it was unhealthy and silly and I more or less dropped it.

As I got older though, I was increasingly picky about the meat I ate. If I could see fat I wouldn't eat it. If it were too "bloody" I wouldn't eat it. Basically, the more it resembled an animal the more grossed out I was. Based mainly on the "squickiness" of it, I finally gave up red meat when I was 17 or so. In the year of college that followed I was living in Manhattan and ate every meal out, so this was pretty easy, but then I dropped out and moved to Michigan when I was 19.

This was the first time I was living on my own in a space that actually had a kitchen. Suddenly I had to go grocery shopping and cook my own meals. When I would pass by raw chicken meat in the store I simply couldn't fathom having to cut that up and cook it. I stocked up on veggie burgers instead and decided I would give this vegetarian thing a try. This was in 2001. After Michigan I moved to Texas where I was nervous that I wouldn't even be able to survive as a vegetarian. But I ended up having a few veggie co-workers who were helpful, and boy did I eat a lot of cheese.

When people asked my why I was vegetarian (which happened a lot while living in cow country. I even dated a guy who was a former cow inseminator on a dairy farm!) I usually answered "because meat is gross." Not a particularly deep answer, but I wanted to avoid getting into the uncomfortable topic that I felt it was "gross" to eat a sentient animal. If I wouldn't kill a pig in the wild, how could I justify eating pepperoni?

I moved back to New York to return to school in 2003. In 2004 the movie "Supersize Me" came out which led me to read Fast Food Nation. Even though I'd been vegetarian for three years, this was the first time I began reading about the atrocities of factory farming and everything that was wrong with fast food. I began examining my own eating habits and realizing that eating an Egg and Cheese McMuffin from McDonald's was probably not the best choice, so I swore off most fast food. 

And that led me to read Mad Cowboy which was concurrent with an Environmental Science class I was taking. When I started reading about the environmental effects associated with animal agriculture I was startled. And when the author Howard Lyman started encouraging a vegan diet, not just vegetarian I was torn. I sure did love my cheese and eggs. Plus I had a known a few vegans who seemed to me to be crazy extremists. I hated tofu, so what would I do for protein? I was also under the misimpression that most bread had milk in it, which just goes to show you how little most people know about what's in their food. I made some changes where I thought I could - I switched to using soy milk and would sometimes sub in Veggie Slices soy cheese. (Which I'd later learn were not vegan.)

In 2005 I moved to California and that's when I met Tim, the man who would later become my husband. He'd been vegan since 1996 so naturally I had a lot of questions, but still maintained that veganism would be too hard for me. After a few months of dating when I learned that I liked tofu after all I decided I'd try going vegan for a week to see if I could do it, if for no other reason than because it felt disrespectful to eat eggs and dairy around him.

I made a lot of rookie mistakes in that week, buying all kinds of awful fake cheeses and terrible soy products. But when I didn't try to replace the things I was missing and instead focused on trying out new foods and combinations I started to really enjoy it. One week turned into a month and a month has now turned into four plus years.  Over the course of this time I've educated myself a lot more about the health, environmental, and ethical implications of veganism. 

Though I'm certainly far more vocal about it than I used to be, I'm still  a bit of a reluctant activist. And in the past two weeks I've managed to write posts pissing off both vegans and non-vegans. I'd go crazy if I tried to please everyone or got too worked up over it though, so perhaps I should stick to writing recipes

But first I want to hear your story! Tell me about your vegan journey in the comments!

You Say Tomato...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

At some point this weekend I managed find time in between internet arguments to have a fun, beautiful Saturday. Although Slow Food Berkeley is not known for its vegan-friendliness, a friend of mine did invite me along to an event of their that happened to be right up my alley: tomato picking!

I dragged myself out of bed before sunrise so we could make the drive down to Mariquita Farms in Hollister, California. Essentially, it's getting towards the end of the season, so rather than letting the crop rot on the vine, they invite people to come take home as much as they can carry for a staggeringly cheap 50 cents per pound!

When you factor in the Zip Car cost, it may not be that great a deal, but you can't beat the freshness. We were sampling cherry tomatoes right off the vine and it was soooooo delicious. We got to chat with the farmers, who were also selling peppers and greens at great prices, and hear their stories. Some were heartbreaking like the spinach farmers who were basically bankrupted during the E. coli outbreak last year.

As someone whose lack of a green thumb has caused her to kill cactuses, I was in awe standing out in the massive vegetable fields. California's beauty never ceases to amaze me. 

Once we'd filled our boxes full of a variety of tomatoes (San Marzano, Green Zebra, Beefsteak and more) we hit the road in seek of lunch. Just about the only place with any Yelp reviews in Hollister was called Casa de Fruta. What a happy accidental discovery! It's almost like a theme park, what with its Casa de Carousel and Casa de Choo Choo. Unfortunately the Casa de Restaurant was pretty lacking in vegan lunch choices, but it made up for it with its marketplace. 

It had more  dried fruits and nuts than I've ever seen in one place, along with candy, produce and canned goods. I stocked up on pickles, dried mangoes, and rosemary flavored pistachios. Though I was exhausted from being in the sun all day, I managed to find the energy to come back to San Francisco for dinner at Saha.

Saha is an "Arabic Fusion" restaurant and I highly recommend it as a great place for vegans and omnis alike to find a great meal. They mark all the veggie items, and although it's on the pricey side I've never left disappointed. Last night I had a great dish of spinach, tofu, chickpeas and Yemeni noodles.

Now I'm off to make a sauce out of my San Marzano tomatoes to go into a lasagne. (Luckily enough Rainbow Grocery recently started carrying Daiya vegan cheese! I've already made a pizza and absolutely loved it.) I may also try out this fried green tomatoes recipe. If you have any other amazing tomato recipes I need to try, let me know!

Not Vegan Enough

Friday, September 18, 2009

I will always remember in 2005 when I was first considering going vegan and trying it as an "experiment." I posted on a vegan forum to find out how long it would take to build up a lactose intolerance. I wanted to make the commitment to veganism but was worried it would create too much of a rift at family dinners, so if I ate my mom's Christmas Lasagne in six months, would I get sick?

Most people were supportive and offered helpful information but one user immediately lashed into me saying that my parents are awful people if they don't support my veganism and wondering how I'll live with myself if I contribute to the evil dairy industry, and much more importantly, informing me that I won't be able to call myself a vegan.

And there it is. The label. I constantly hear people from within the vegan community telling other people "Well, you're NOT REALLY VEGAN if you..." (do this, eat that, support this, don't do something else.) On one of my favorite blogs, Vegansuaurus! I noticed  a recent comment thread devolving into this argument. Similarly, I know a lot of vegans, including personal friends of mine recently were upset about a website called Virtually Vegan because the writer includes recipes that occasionally use dairy and fish. Others were attacking Bryant Terry, writer of Vegan Soul Kitchen for not being fully vegan. And recently I was accused by another vegan, via Twitter of encouraging the exploitation of animals because Veg Table promotes restaurants that are not exclusively vegan.

What is this all about?? I understand the Abolitionist viewpoint that we must work to end all suffering. But how does attacking people who are FAR more aligned with you than average advance the cause? Some may say that they confuse people about veganism and what "real vegans" do and do not consume. Is that really such a big deal? If anything it opens up a conversation and creates a chance to explain why you eschew eggs or leather, or whatever the offending item is. 

And frankly the people who are vegan in diet alone, but still wear animal products are probably a lot more likely to be convinced not to. The people who are cooking mostly vegan meals but occasionally eat fish are more likely to eventually go vegan someday. As I mentioned earlier, I was vegetarian for five years before I decided to go vegan. But when I started being attacked by someone with an absolutist view, I'll admit, my instinct was to recoil and say "Well, if I'm going to be kicked out of the club because I'm only vegan for 99.99 percent of my meals then why should I try to be vegan at all?"

I came to realize of course that I wasn't considering veganism because I wanted the label. Veganism, in my opinion, is about making choices. It's not about putting yourself in a box, where everything outside of it is suddenly intolerable. When people say, "I could never go vegan because I like cheese too much" I say "Ok, then give up everything but cheese." And I guess some vegans would say that this makes me a bad person. That I'm then supporting the dairy industry and that instead I should show that person videos of what happens to dairy cows.

To use a non-vegan metaphor though, I believe that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. If I can get people on board with making some amount of change, even if it's not "all the way" then I consider that a success. 

I use the label "vegan" to describe myself because I enjoy being a part of the vegan community. I like my vegan friends and I like that we're reasonable enough that we can disagree on the finer points but still realize we're on the same team. And yes, our team sometimes includes shrill voices, judgmental members, and straight up whack jobs. What group or ideology doesn't? It's just important to remember why we made this choice. I imagine few, if any of us, did it for the label.

The San Francisco Vegan Bake Sale is Coming!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Those of you who are denizens of San Francisco like myself may recall that I participated in a vegan bake sale back in June -- the World Wide Vegan Bake Sale, for which the San Francisco proceeds went to benefit Animal Place and East Bay Animal Animal Advocates. Well thanks to some enterprising local vegans, we're turning it into a regular thing. Yay!

Do you want to help this time? Of course you can attend and buy lots of stuff but you can also bake for us! Although we'll have goods from Fat Bottom Bakery and other famed local bakers, you don't need to be a pro to participate.

Last time I baked Jelly Donut Muffins (from Veganomicon) and Black and White Cookies (from My Sweet Vegan, which is an awesome book!) and both sold out really quickly along with the tons and tons of other baked goods people wonderfully donated.

If you're not vegan but still like to bake and want to donate your wares let me know. I can recommend some easy, no fail recipes if you're nervous about vegan baking for the first time. Either way if you want to participate in any way, leave a comment and let me know or email me at sharon@veg-table.net. 

Some other info that would probably be helpful... The bakesale is Saturday, October. 17th and will take place in front of Ike's Place (3506 16th St at Sanchez) from 11 am to 4 pm. All proceeds to go to Give Me Shelter Cat Rescue(UPDATE: You can follow SFVeganBakesale on Twitter!)

You might as well get on board now because you can expect to be harassed for the next month otherwise. It's for the kitties! Do it for Cleo: