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.