Monday, December 22, 2008

Sayonara, San Francisco

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Abigail Young
What: One last hurrah in my favorite city 
WhereMillennium Restaurant, San Francisco, Calif.
When: December 21, 2008
Why: To celebrate an incredible internship at VegNews

The Scoop: Since September, I’ve had the pleasure of spending my days at the VNHQ, learning the ins-and-outs of magazine publishing, vegetarianism, and the art of cooking for a large group of hungry co-workers.  It’s been an amazing four months, and I’m still in denial about the fact that I’ll be hopping on a plane tomorrow morning, headed for the Midwest. 

To celebrate my time spent at VegNews, my boyfriend, Bill, and I had the honor of going to Millennium for a farewell dinner. Amateurs in gourmet dining, we knew we were in for a treat. 

Abby and Bill at Millennium in San Francisco, Calif.

Despite the dreary weather and cool temperatures, we made it to Millennium in good spirits and with big appetites. After drying off the December rain, we were seated at a cozy table for two. It took a surprisingly short time to decide what to order, even though the mouth-watering menu made us wish our stomachs were three times as large.

To start, we each ordered a small appetizer, our indecisiveness making it impossible to pick just one to share. Bill immediately singled out the Herb-Dusted Gold Potato Frittes with smoked ketchup, and I pretended to be healthy and chose the Seared Brussels Sprouts.

I initially scoffed at the idea of ordering fries at such an upscale restaurant. You can get fries anywhere, right? Then I took a bite, and happily ate my words (and quite a few fries). Thick-cut potatoes, sprinkled with sea salt and a tasty blend of seasonings, were made even better with a quick dip in sweet and tangy ketchup.  I quickly apologized for doubting Bill’s gastronomical judgment.

The Brussels sprouts were nothing to scoff at either, and were devoured—mostly by me—in minutes. Seared, seasoned, then served with smoky tofu and olives, these little guys were delicious. I don’t think either one of us thought such a notorious vegetable could taste so good.

Brussels sprouts and fries—this versatility is one reason I’m so impressed with Millennium. On one hand, they take something “accidentally vegan” and lowbrow like fries and transform them into a gourmet appetizer. They also tackle stereotypical vegan fare, like Brussels sprouts, that most of the nation considers bland and boring. That is, until Eric Tucker turns those little cabbage look-a-likes into culinary gold. 

The appetizers were finished with gusto, and I started to worry that we had ordered too much. My stomach was filling up and we hadn’t even made it to the main course! Alas, when you’re at Millennium, you always find room.

The meal was in full swing as the entrées came out. Bill had the Winter Spice Tamale, a tasty Mexican tribute stuffed with pumpkin and pinto beans, and served with chocolate-almond molé sauce, fresh avocado, and sautéed greens. I ordered the Cornmeal-Crusted Portobello Mushroom, served with a fresh side salad of marinated greens, carrot, thinly sliced onion, and mandarin wedges. Slices of flavorful Portobello had the perfect level of crisp on the outside while still being tender on the inside. I had no problem sending back a clean plate.

At this point in the evening, we’re finished—tapping out, throwing in the towel, surrendering to the gods of good food. We were ready to ask for the check when our waiter returned, asking “Would you like to see a dessert menu?”

“Yes, please,” we responded without hesitation. Oh, come on! You can’t leave without dessert.

To jolt us from our imminent food-induced sleep while we waited, we sipped organic, fair-trade coffee with soy creamer and a sprinkle of sugar. Our sweet treat arrived to seal the deal—the German Chocolate Torte, complete with classic coconut icing and a sweet scoop of chocolate ice cream. Paired with the full-bodied coffee, it was an ideal ending to a phenomenal meal.

One seriously delectable dessert, courtesy of Millennium 

The dessert quickly disappeared along with our coffee, leaving not one centimeter of empty space in our stomachs. Ashamed of the gluttony but in awe of the experience, we left giddy and grinning. 

It was a bittersweet walk to the Muni stop, as I realized this would be the last time—for now—that I would be in downtown San Francisco. As if to cheer me up, my favorite street performer happened to be at the corner of Geary and Powell, beating an infectious rhythm on his makeshift drum kit of plastic buckets and five-gallon jugs. We danced a little at the stoplight before catching our train home, and I said a silent goodbye to the city.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Very Veg Thanksgiving

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Abigail Young
What: Thanksgiving feasting and a tribute to The Smiths
Where: Popscene nightclub, San Francisco, Calif.
When: November 27, 2008
Why: To give veg-inspired thanks

The Scoop: Previous holidays have brought me unwanted stress, directly related to being the only vegan in my family. The inevitable, "What are you going to eat?" question arises, and my mother and I scramble to find a solution that the "traditional" folks won't be too offended by. You want to put vegetable broth in the stove-top stuffing? Blasphemy! It generally ends with a few side dishes on my plate and an internal sigh, lamenting the omnivore-crafted meal.

But this year, there were no more excuses for my whining. Being away from my Missourian family led me to host the 100-percent-vegan festivities at my cozy apartment. The dinner quickly gained RSVP’s from fellow 20-somethings seeking a home-away-from-home celebration. As a group, we decided to do it potluck-style, divvying up the dishes to alleviate any stress or financial burden. Needless to say, we went a little crazy and made more delicious food than could fit on the table.

A collaboration of compassionate cuisine

Lauren, another Missouri transplant, took an impressive made-from-scratch approach to her dishes. Her tofu potpie, candied yams, and tangerine-cranberry sorbet were phenomenal. Beca, Jersey-girl extraordinaire, brought her family-inspired classics to the table. A tasty veggie and pita bread appetizer plate with Mediterranean hummus kept us calm during prep time, while roasted asparagus with a crunchy breadcrumb topping, marinated mushrooms, and a trio of colorful roasted potatoes earned her gold stars at the table. The testosterone in the house, Ben and Jake, also fellow Midwesterners, brought fluffy, golden crescent rolls and a sweet salad made with strawberry-marinated greens and raw pecans. I whipped up my mom’s classic stuffing, VN’s famous Mac ‘n’ Cheese, a savory Celebration Roast, and the quintessential pumpkin pie. Are you hungry yet?

There was more food than should ever be consumed in one sitting, but we made a valiant effort trying—and paid for it. Luckily, we had post-gorging plans to help alleviate the food coma/calorie intake/overall bodily discomfort. In honor of our meatless feast, we headed to Popscene to dance our knees off at their 9th Annual Meat is Murder party, a tribute to The Smiths and their leading veg man, Morrissey.

330 Ritch was already packed with an array of scene kids, aging hipsters, awkward-guys-in-the-corner, and every other label you might expect to find at an indie dance club and/or anything related to The Smiths. The DJs were spinning killer Brit pop to get everyone’s feet warmed up, and the bars were packed with people not quite comfortable enough to show off their skills pre-inebriation.

Lauren Paulk and Abigail Young ready for a night of dancing

After a few impatient dances, This Charming Band took the stage and played a short but oh-so-satisfying set of audience-requested Smiths songs. Tracks like “This Charming Man” and “Cemetery Gates” filled the room, and we danced like fiends. Every classic hit was greeted with cheers from the crowd, followed by in-sync screaming of the melancholic lyrics. Lead singer Orlando’s voice matched perfectly to the brooding Morrissey projected on the club’s video screens. If you closed your eyes, the vocal resemblance was uncanny. We also ran—or should I say danced—into Melisser, The Urban Housewife, who came out for the show. It didn’t get any better than being with veg-minded Smiths fans, shouting the lyrics to “Take Me Out” as This Charming Band closed the set.

The DJs picked up where they left off, keeping the energy too high to stand still. We continued to tear up the floor until nearly closing time, and then headed on the long trek home. While my family was dearly missed, close friends and the all-veg celebration that took their place made for one of my most memorable holidays yet.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Friday Night’s Alright For Eating

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly + a pair of pedometists
What: A raw Friday-night dinner
Where: Café Gratitude, San Francisco
When: November 21, 2008
Why: To chew the fat with fat-free athletes

The Scoop: It was a dark and stormy workweek. After the Green Festival, which coincided with what must have been record-breaking temps here in Fog City, we enjoyed a few more days of Indian summer on Monday/Tuesday before someone turned off the heat and the chill-that-can-be-San Francisco returned in full fall fashion. Yes, dear readers in New England, Ontario, Chicago, or Minnesota, the mercury dipped below 60°F here, low enough to send nearly the entire city running for mittens, scarves, and space heaters. We're tough.

Braving the frigid conditions, Canadian triathlete Brendan Brazier, formulator of Vega, everyone’s favorite whole-food meal replacement, and his traveling companion Julie Morris, she of LA (though recently relocated from Portland), were in the Bay Area demo-ing said nutritional supplement at a few Whole Foods Markets. With their duties complete, the pair swung by the VegNews offices for a quick visit with the working-late-on-a-Friday staff, and to pick up complimentary “You Are What You Read’ VegNews t-shirts, which, of course, they promised to wear whenever they are out and about.

Next, it was off to dinner. We spun the big wheel and the needle landed on Café Gratitude, the perfect choice, since all three of us all delve in rawish foods whenever possible. We picked the 9th Avenue (SF) location, though any of the other four CG’s, which you read about in our September+October Food Issue, would have been just fine. This is a chain where the food is consistently good no matter the location.

We started with an order of I Am Generous, which equates to chips, guac, and salsa ($9). The “chips’ being, of course, dehydrated flax crackers. Brendan and Julie shared a bowl of I Am Thankful, or coconut curry soup with avo, tomato, cukes, and shiitakes. I ordered the I Am Giving kale salad ($9.75 for a half portion), thanks to VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria, who at our staff lunch earlier in the day talked about how she could go for a kale salad. This vegan yum yum mixes sea veggies, cukes, shiitakes, cilantro, scallions, sesame seeds, and tasty teriyaki almonds into the marinated kale. It’s as good as it sounds.

Brendan and Julie each ordered the I Am Fulfilled large café salad, which is what I normally get so I was happy to have been corrupted by Ms. Castoria, lest all three of us order the same thing, and how ridiculous is that? For $13 you get a hugemungaloid bowl of mixed greens, avo, carrots, beets, cukes, tomato, more flax crackers, “parmesan,” and those yummy teriyaki almonds, which I vote for adding to the menu as a side. You hear me?

I Am Thankful + I Am Fulfilled, courtesy Café Gratitude

I also ordered the I Am Cool milk-free milkshake—no reason needed. This tempting concoction blends raw hazelnut milk, vanilla, cacao nibs, and mint into a refreshing, light treat that had Julie formulating the recipe in her head for trial at home, using her Vita-Mix, of course. I asked for the large, 16-oz ($9.75), and took half of it back to Colleen because, well, in her not-so-subtle way, she asked me to.

During dinner I learned that Julie had just run her first marathon, in Portland. Regular Press Passers know that I just ran one, as well, making the world famous triathlete and two-time Canadian 50k champion the slacker at our table. At least for the month of October, 2008.

Julie Morris & Brendan Brazier, San Francisco, November 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Green (Festival) Day

Who: VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea + a couple o' colleagues
What: A day at the San Francisco Green Festival + and a post-fest evening on the town
When: Saturday, November 15
Where: South of Market district, San Francisco
Why: For work + for play

The Scoop: I like the Green Festival. It's a fun opportunity to taste a ton of new "green" food and drink (the elderflower kombucha by Kombucha Botanica is my new favorite), to get to meet and greet fellow green-media folk, to become acquainted with green conservation leaders, and to learn more about such things as socially responsible investing, renewable energy, and green technology. Never mind that there was maybe a little too much patchouli oil floating around, that I probably ate way more than my fair share of Clif bar samples, and that I spent more time working when I really wanted to be eating even more samples. It was still loads of fun, and not just because I also got to see a lot of friends and acquaintances who popped by our booth to say hi.

Lyndsay Orwig and Aurelia d'Andrea workin' it at the VN booth

This year, I was paired up with Lyndsay Orwig, VegNews' editorial-intern-turned-office-manager, to work the Saturday afternoon shift at our swanky double-wide booth. Together, we busted our behinds selling subscriptions, fielding queries, and distributing free copies of our current issue. After several hours-worth of shilling for a good cause—and for enduring an hour or more of tantric dance maneuvers provided by some random attendees who thought the space in front of our booth would make an ideal "stage"—we figured we earned the right to relax and have fun.

After retrieving my bike from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's valet parking station, Lyndsay and I headed toward 7th and Folsom Streets to Brainwash, a cafe-slash-laundromat, where Cult of Sue Todd—one of the many bands featured in our July+August Music issue—was scheduled to perform. When we got there, we didn't yet see anyone we knew, so we decided to pop in next door to Terroir, which totally resembled this place in my old Paris neighborhood that I adored, and which, therefore, led me to assume it would be a cozy wine bar. It was, but it wasn't until we'd committed to a glass that we noticed the not-very-vegan-friendly menu. I won't tell you what was on it, except to say that it included animal parts that many in the animal-rights movement are fighting to ban the production of. Oh well. Now I know.

As soon as we'd polished off our Malbec, we headed back over to Brainwash where VN Editor-at-Large Jennifer Pickens awaited us, as did The Traveling Vegetarian Yvonne Smith, VN Volunteer Extraordinaire Paul Saccone, and a few other friends we hadn't seen in a while. I was starving at this point, so after perusing the menu, I decided on a big ol' plate of French fries. Nothing like a spot of grease after all those healthy Green Festival nibbles. They were really tasty, by the way, especially when dunked into barbecue sauce. Yum!

Yvonne Smith, Paul Saccone, and Jennifer Pickens do "cool" like nobody's business

After rocking out to such classic Cult of Sue Todd hits as "Closer" and "Tampa," the band busted out a stellar rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." Even if you, like me, were never a fan of San Francisco's most famous musical hometown heroes, maybe you just couldn't help but wish you had a lighter to flick in the air for this one. When the musical segment of the evening ended, the motley lot of us migrated across the street to a really funky restaurant/bar/swing-goth dance club (really) that just isn't worth mentioning the name of, but let's just say the ambience didn't matter as much as getting to hang out with a cool gang of veggies for one warm November evening.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Prop. 2 Party Play-by-Play

Who: VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria, Peter Ryan, and some of the finest animal advocates on the planet
What: Yes on Prop. 2 Election Night Party
Where: The San Francisco SPCA, San Francisco, Calif.
When: November 4, 2008
Why: To watch and freak out as Prop. 2 passed!

The Scoop: Remember way back in April when a few VN staffers headed out to celebrate the seemingly impossible accomplishment of drumming up enough signatures to get Prop. 2 onto the California ballot? Well, maybe a ton has happened between then and now. Maybe a veritable army of volunteers has leafletted, canvassed, and in all other ways promoted the hell out of Prop. 2 all over the state, and maybe it was officially time to see their efforts pay off. After an excrutiatingly long day of refreshing the online swing-state maps and twitching in anticipation, I headed down to the SPCA, ready to hear some good news.

The scene was quietly energetic when Peter and I first arrived, as most people were glued to the television watching reports of the presidential election results come in. As at any good party, there were tables of food, specifically vegan Mexican food from Flacos and a selection of chocolate-mint mini cupcakes and butterscotch brownies from Sugar Beat Sweets. First things came first: finding and hugging Erin Williams of The Humane Society of the United States, who has worked tirelessly on this campaign. I found her, Karin Olsson, and Andrew Page—also of HSUS—glued to a smaller screen, that of a computer that would soon tell us Prop. 2's results.
What's the hardest part of being so close to victory? The waiting, believe it or not. While some people have been "cautiously optimistic" about the potential of Prop. 2 to pass, a certain senior editor has been convinced wholeheartedly that the passing was imminent from day one, which made the wait even more intolerable. Thankfully, someone thoughtful organized a little distraction called the presidential election. As news that Obama had officially won came in, a massive sigh of excitement and relief went up. Listening to his moving acceptance speech was probably the only possible thing that could have prepared us for the excitement that was about to be announced. Appropriately, the well-oiled, history-making machine that was the Prop. 2 campaign has been compared to the obviously successful, and well-organized Obama campaign.

When the time finally came to make the big announcement, Erin asked us all to keep it down just a bit—we didn't want shrieks of joy from animal advocates disturbing the animals at the shelter! Barely able to contain ourselves, we listened as she told us that, yes, Prop. 2 passed. We died. Some of us may have literally cried—a lot. The excitement, relief, gratitude, and exhilaration of victory was palpable in the room, as people hugged, clapped, and hugged again. Erin gave a brief, lovely speech and thanked everyone profusely, as did Karin and Nora Kramer. By the time the evening came to its close, the world had changed for the better.
An extremely happy Erin Williams and Elizabeth Castoria

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

October/November Marathon Surprise, Part 6

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly
What: The New York City Marathon + Dinner at Candle 79
Where: New York City, NY
When: November 2, 2008
Why: To support one of my favorite running buddies and one of my favorite restaurants

The Scoop: With the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival in the books, I hightailed the stolen minivan back to New York in preparation of one more trip into The Big Apple. The bookends of this trip have been the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, and today’s New York City Marathon in … well … see if you can figure that out for yourself.

Marathon runners are addicts, something that cannot be explained, only experienced. My friend, colleague, fellow publisher, Lantern Books co-founder, and VegNews' Spiritual Advisor Martin Rowe, was entered in today’s NYC Marathon. I felt obliged to show him some support, much the same way Noelle had for me a week earlier. Yes, Noelle is also an experienced marathoner, so we are all cut from the same vegan cloth.

Taking the train to my birth borough of Brooklyn, I had Martin’s game plan tattooed on me, and my fingers crossed that he would be where he said he would be at certain times. He’s precise like that. Well, Martin must have been under the influence when he sent out his guidelines, since he proposed we meet him on 5th Avenue when the race was being run down 4th. Runner's high, perhaps? Nevertheless, adjustments were made and positions staked out. With nearly 40,000 people entered in the race, and millions of spectators lining the course, finding someone in this sea of humanity would be about as easy as getting Sarah Palin to eat a veggie burger. Ah, try we must.

I knew other members of Martin’s inner circle were supposed to be at this same point, yet I could not find them. Still, with his schedule running on time, there’s Martin a few yards up finding a friend among the spectators and giving her a big hug. I snapped a few photos before he saw me, and when he did a large smile flashed across his face. Next, he proclaims, in his proper Brit accent, “Where is my wife? Why can’t she ever … ” before Mia materialized from the sidelines, just a few feet away, video camera rolling. Martin does a quick change of shirts—the photos of which I promise not to post—M & M hug, and off he goes. But you can see for yourself by watching Mia’s home movie, should you desire.

A little explanation might be offered here regarding Martin’s outburst. You see, he was running the race for the second year in a Rowe, and last time Mia wasn’t at the appointed places at the appropriate times. Or if she was, she was on the wrong side of the road. You get the picture. In the 2007 race they didn’t once connect. So this year things were already off to a much better start. And so was Martin.

While riding the subway to rendezvous point #2, I had one of those experiences that could only happen in New York. I met a gentleman from Holland, supporting his son, and a pair from Arizona, supporting his wife/her sister. They needed help navigating the NYC subway system, so we all hopped the train together and I got them to where they needed to be. By the time we arrived at First Avenue in Manhattan some 45 minutes later we were all old friends. My old friend Martin, on the other hand, was having a great race on a picture-perfect running day and I soon concluded that he must have been ahead of schedule. Time to hightail it to Central Park.

The next meeting point on Martin’s schedule was the east entrance to the park, on 93nd Street, 24 miles into the marathon. While I didn’t see him, I did see two other friends, A/R lawyer Amy Trakinski and her companion dog Snowman. She had just seen Martin whiz by—yes, Amy has marathon experience as well—so off we went to the steps of the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West to meet up with the athlete post-race.

Before I forget, Martin was running the marathon as a fundraiser for three charities, the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary; a secondary school in Juba, the southern capital of Sudan; and the Small Planet Fund. To read Martin’s blog, learn more about what these charities mean to him, and make a donation to one or all three of them, click here. Or watch the video of Martin's post-race pimping.

The race now over, Martin found us at the museum, where shortly thereafter Mia arrived. Martin ran a very respectable 3:37:45, taking 21 minutes off his 2007 time. Congratulations, Mr. Rowe!

VegNews Publisher Joseph Connelly and Satya Magazine/Lantern Books
co-founder Martin Rowe show off their marathon hardware

Before departing, Amy and Snow walked us to Café Blossom, where M & M refueled. I had a cup of tea then headed off to dinner at the amazing Candle 79, meeting up with my friends Florine and Saul Morrison from London, Ontario, and their daughter Florine Jr., who would be starting an internship at Candle the next day.

As always, the food at 79 was over-the-top delicious. If you aren't hungry, you will be after I indulge you in our indulgences. For starts, how about Grilled Seitan Chimichurri, Onion Rings with Chipolté Aioli, some Cornmeal Crusted Eggplant Napoleon, or the Special Jerusalem Artichoke Salad? Our main courses included Live Zucchini Enchiladas, Grilled Pomegranate Tempeh, and the Porcini Crusted Tofu. Saul was into side dishes: Grilled Oyster Mushrooms, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Maple Roasted Squash, and a huge portion of Polenta Fries (nobody could eat all of one). Yes, we then stuffed ourselves silly with the Key Lime Pie Tart and the Chocolate Brownies Sundae before management decided to treat us to a trio of House Made Sorbets and Ice Cream: Strawberry, Cinnamon, and White Peach.

Candle 79's Grilled Pomegranate Tempeh

In case you are wondering, any weight I might have lost when I ran my marathon on October 26 (remember that posting?) was quickly been put back on during this week. And yes, the food at Candle 79 is as good, nay better, than the above paragraph sounds. There aren’t enough adjectives in my dictionary to do justice to the final supper of my October Marathon Surprise.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

October/November Marathon Surprise, Part 5

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly, VN Distribution Manager Katie Paul, + VN Volunteer Extraordinaire Alexandra “Alex” Santilli
What: 13th Annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival
Where: Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, Boston, Mass.
When: November 1, 2008
Why: To promote VegNews at the largest one-day veg event in the land

The Scoop: This marathon of a trip has lasted so long it has now spilled over into a new month. With two days left in my campaign I feel like Obama and McCain, sprinting to the finish with a jam-packed schedule to close-out this adventure before returning to good ol’ San Francisco.

For the eighth consecutive year, VN has been on hand at the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, the overly impressive undertaking of BVS, the Boston Vegetarian Society. As running has been a main theme of these reports, it’s most certainly apropos that the event is held at—and in—the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, dontcha think?

There are two main components of the BVFF: The exhibitor hall and the speaker room. The event is free, offering many who might never venture to a veg fest the opportunity to see what we’re all about, without risk. And venture they most certainly did, filling both the hall and the speaker room to spill-over capacity at each lecture.

Alexandra Santilli and Katie Paul

With Katie and Alex staffing the table, I ventured up one floor to capture the impressive speaker line-up that consisted of Vegan a Go-Go author Sarah Kramer, whom you might remember from the little bash we threw in her honor back in October; Get It Ripe author Jae Steele, a fresh and energetic force whom I had not yet met; the venerable Dr. T. Colin Campbell, returning to the Festival for the first time since the publication of The China Study, VegNews’ 2005 Book of the Year; Karen Dawn, Thanking the Monkey author, who has, officially, attended every conference and event this year; Michael Greger, MD, whose lectures on up-to-the-minute vegan nutrition are always informative and never fail to tickle the funny bone; and 2008’s newest sensation, Hannah Kaminsky, the overachiever who had the nerve to publish her first comprehensive vegan dessert cookbook, My Sweet Vegan, at the youthful age of 19. Kids today. Anyone would have to agree that the roster put together by the BVS is first-rate all the way, and the 1,000 or so folks who filled every chair and inch of floor space in the speaker room would certainly agree.

Vegan authors Jae Steele and Sarah Kramer

Downstairs, the exhibit hall was no-less crowded, from the moment the doors opened until late in the afternoon. A walk through the large room, which was nearly impossible to actually walk around, felt like a veritable who’s-who of the veg community. There’s Josh of Herbivore, clothing and publishing magnet; Ryan and Dan of Chicago Soydairy, VN’s 2008 Company of the Year; Our friends Liz, Dan, and Andy from Liz Lovely, whose cookies which redefine the concept; the gals from Café Indigo, frantically cutting up their carrot cake while proudly displaying a framed sign from VN proclaiming it the Best. Carrot. Cake. Ever; Eileen of Simple Food, a company that makes five flavors of soynut butter that might just give peanut butter a run for the money; Jeanine of Snooty Jewelry, making certain everyone has their vegan bling; Mercy for Animals’ Nathan, representing the non-profit side of our movement; Leigh and Ken, owners of Georgia's Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe; and even Derek and Megan, he of and she of Oh Sweet Mama’s Vegan Bakery, walking around recording bits and bobs for their Vegan Radio program. If I didn’t mention you or your company, don’t fret—there's always next year.

Yes, BVS president Evelyn Kimber and her all-volunteer committee really know how to put on a show. Congratulations on another resoundingly successful festival. Will VegNews be back in 2009? We can’t wait.

As for my trip, tomorrow it’s back to NYC for another marathon (could it be?) and a bunch of Candles. Maybe 79.

Monday, November 3, 2008

October Marathon Surprise, Part 4

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly + VN Distribution Manager Katie Paul
What: Veronica Ramos’ Masters Art Show, plus lunch at the Greater Boston Buddhist Cultural Center
Where: Boston and Cambridge, Mass.
When: October 31, 2008
Why: For some Halloween culture

The Scoop: Since last checking in, I left NYC, stole a hot ‘n’ stylin’ minivan, and drove to Boston, where Katie Paul flew in to join me for the 13th annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, which you’ll hear all about tomorrow. Today, we were on assignment covering the opening of Masters in Science in Education candidate Veronica Ramos' exhibit of interpretive paintings featuring female animal activists. Veronica, a high-school art teacher and longtime social-justice crusader, was kind enough to give VegNews a sneak preview the day before the exhibit’s scheduled opening reception.

The walls at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design's Doran Gallery magnificently showcased Veronica’s unique talent, bringing to life images that juxtapose the passion of her activist subjects with each woman's particular brand of activism. “Thanksgiving in Paradise” presents Elana Kirshenbaum, founder of Rhode Island Vegan Awareness (RIVA), sitting at one end of a long table, a colorful plate of autumn vegetables before her, her right hand reaching out to a full-grown tom turkey sitting in a chair at the opposite end of the table, Elana’s pensive gaze matched by his regal posture. In “Sistah Vegan Begins Slaying a Few Dragons,” author Breeze Harper stands against a wall, almost as if in a police line-up, with what just might be a pregnant bare belly protruding between her powder blue blouse and white skirt. To Breeze’s right against the wall leans a sword with a lone red ruby encrusted in its handle; to her left, dangling from a thin, black string, hangs the at-once-recognizable, white-goateed-and-bow-tied head of fried-chicken magnate Colonel Harland Sanders, floating in space.

The largest painting on display is a self-portrait; “Take My Tusks If You Must, But Please Leave Me My Dignity and Spirit” could just have effectively been titled “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl at the Circus.” We see a preteen Veronica sitting in the bleachers behind a hunched over, tusk-less elephant, a sad eye staring intently at the viewer. Opposite the elephant is a smiling clown, oblivious to the pain and heartbreak of the innocent creature next to him. Veronica holds a single ivory balloon as if waving a white flag. Surrounding her in the audience are a half-dozen other circus-goers, laughing and smiling, blind to what the elephant and the sole person of conscience feel. The muted tones of the other humans in the painting expertly symbolize both the animal-rights and human-wrongs issues of keeping animals in captivity.

Artist Veronica Ramos poses with
“Take My Tusks If You Must, But Please Leave Me My Dignity and Spirit”

Those in the Boston area can catch the exhibit until November 18.

The second half of our day of culture found us at the Greater Boston Buddhist Cultural Center for a simple yet delicious meal. For just $6.95 each, we were served an appetizer bowl of soup, followed by a large plate that included four entrée selections surrounding an ample portion of perfect brown rice. The soup had a nice kick and a thin stock full of thick vegetables and warm spice. The macro-leaning main course included seasoned tofu, sautéed greens, a cucumber salad, and something with cabbage. Hey, give me a break, I’ve been on the road now for eight days and I’m eating so much it’s difficult to keep it all straight.

The $6.95 daily special at the Greater Boston Buddhist Cultural Center

After dinner, Katie ventured off to visit friends, temporarily lose her suitcase in a cab, and crash a Halloween party. I retired to my compound to prep for the next day's event, which you'll get to read all about tomorrow.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

An Arabic-Fusion Birthday Bonanza

Who: VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea
What: An amazing meal at an undiscovered gem
Where: Saha, in San Francisco's Tenderloin district
Why: To celebrate the passing of another year and eat some delicious food
When: October 30, 2008

The Scoop: I have to admit it: I'm not a big fan of birthdays—my own, in particular. There's nothing particularly fabulous about getting older, especially so since the "wiser" thing that's supposed to follow my advancing chronology seems conspicuously absent. Still, if the passing of another year means getting to treat myself to a fabulous multi-course meal, well, bring on the birthdays.

I can't remember how I first heard about Saha, but after perusing their menu online, I knew I wanted to eat there. Okay, so it's not exclusively veg, but it is very vegan-friendly—it says so right there on the menu! But what was most enticing was that this was to be my debut foray into the realm of Arabic-fusion cuisine.

Mohamed Aboghanem is one-half of the team behind Saha, and as the head chef, he draws culinary inspiration from Yemen, where he was born and raised, creating flavorful dishes that also draw from the cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Ethiopia, and other corners of the Arabic-speaking world.

When Jeff and I arrived on a drizzly Thursday night, we stepped through the foyer of the Hotel Carlton—a certified "green" hotel that gets its power from solar panels fitted on the roof—and past the front desk, and toward the Saha sign. Inside the lantern-lit dining room, we were met by a friendly host who led us to a comfortable table. In one corner of the room, a large party was also celebrating a birthday with dinner, but mostly, the other diners were couples who looked as though they might have chosen this restaurant for its romantic ambience.

The Saha Red Curry nearly caused an episode of public plate-licking

After ordering a glass of bubbly from the amazing wine list and tucking into the hummus and warm pita bread delivered to our table, we feasted our eyes on the menu and tried to choose which tantalizing dish we would begin the meal with—no easy feat. We were drawn to so many of the small plates—Bastilla, Fouel, Kibbeh—but with a little help from our gregarious server, we finally settled on the vegan Knaffe. We savored every bite of this beautiful dish featuring shredded phyllo atop cream cheese and wild mushrooms, served over a lovely puddle of coconut-chermoulah-chipotle sauce. Heaven! The second dish we ordered also featured vegan cream cheese, but the real stars of the Asparagus and Papaya Salad were the perfectly cooked spears of asparagus. Served with tender papaya slices and a mound of tiny arugula leaves, this was the perfect palate cleanser before the main event.

Our helpful server offered expert advice on wine pairing, so while we sipped our Austrian Blaufrankisch, we awaited the arrival of the Saha Red Curry, also on recommendation. The robust Palestinian couscous called Maftoul played off the subtle flavor of the curry, and the butternut squash and tofu balanced the meal. Unlike any curry I'd ever tasted—and I've tasted gazillions—Saha's specialty definitely earned a spot in my personal Curry Hall of Fame. I'd have licked the plate if I were at home.

Dessert was a no-brainer. We would be having the very vegan Bisbusa Yemeni Cake with Lemon-Ginger sorbet. Oh, and a glass of dessert wine, of course. The cake was sweet, but not too, and the sorbet was a bright and refreshing finale to a perfectly satisfying birthday meal. Will we be back? You bet!

Saha's dim lighting didn't dull the beauty of this delicious dessert of
Yemeni cake and lemon-ginger sorbet

October Marathon Surprise, Part 3

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly
What: A new live raw Italian bistro + the “Whale Wars” premiere party
Where: Sal Anthony’s City Gardener and The Maritime Hotel, New York, NY
When: October 28, 2008
Why: New restaurant to try + launch celebration of the new Animal Planet conservation adventure series

The Scoop: Ah, the luxury of waking up in The City and not having to get anywhere. I’m already here. The rain last night combined with the sounds of Manhattan do not necessarily equate to a good night’s sleep, but lack of shuteye is obviously a sub-theme of this trip, one that must be shaken off for the cause of blog journalism. Blournalism? No.

Still feeling quite well-nourished from last night’s Pure Food and Wine excursion, and with the weather a bit wet yet, it was a good day to stay in and catch up on my homework. These journalistic tales don’t just write themselves, you know.

A half-day spent on VN duties and email in the lobby of the famous landmark Hotel Chelsea, where the wireless is fast and free, felt both necessary and responsible. I might be in The City That Never Sleeps, though this doesn’t mean that My Work Ever Stops. Besides, a little labor also grants permission for another night of play. What a night it was.

My accomplice for the evening was Farm Sanctuary’s Development Director Samantha Ragsdale, who was as anxious as I to eat at Sal Anthony’s City Gardener. Although Samantha is as well connected as any vegan New Yorker, no one can know it all, and prior to my suggestion not only had she never dined at Sal’s, she’d never even heard of it. Yet another October surprise.

Walking over to join Samantha for dinner, she texted that she was running a tad late at work. With a few minutes to kill, I jumped into a Goodwill store and while flipping through the CDs stumbled across a (veg icon) Paul McCartney record, “Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” that I did not own. I do now. And it’s an import, to boot … or maybe just a boot. Yes, I may have found a bootleg for $1.99. Score.

Arriving at Sal’s after a day of digestion with no nourishment other than half a bottle o’ GT's Organic Raw Gingerade Kombucha, I was prepped and ready for my second raw meal in as many nights. Following Monday’s Pure Food and Wine experience, I had no expectations, having already scaled the Everest of Live Food. The distinctions between the two establishments offered a rather unique perspective that was only enhanced by their proximity to one another. Sal’s is literally around the corner from Pure.

PF&W is an elegant, tastefully appointed, linen-tablecloth dining establishment with a clientele that includes ex-Presidents, recognizable morning news anchors, and famous foul-mouthed shock jocks. In contrast, Sal’s has the look and feel of a NY neighborhood deli, complete with paper menus, plastic cups, and various food selections on display in a glass front counter.

Just as you can’t judge a magazine by its cover, looks can be deceiving here as well. The test would be not a comparison between the two dining experiences, which would be unfair to both, but simply whether the food at Sal’s was tasty and nourishing. Was it ever.

Samantha and I shared a huge slice of Raw Pizza ($4.75) and a large bowl of Zucchini Spaghetti Primavera ($9.50). The pizza was a quarter-acre-sized triangle wedge of “flat bread” heaped with fresh pesto-spiced tomatoes. Yummy. The “pasta” consisted of noodles o’ zucchini mixed with more fresh tomatoes, pine nuts, greens, and Italian seasonings. Double yum. The ample portion-sizes coupled with the 100-percent-organic cuisine makes Sal’s a true find for New York as well as for raw, vegan food. And a bargain.

Sal’s also offers a delectable display of desserts, which called out to us. Raw, fresh (made while we ate dinner) Strawberry Cheesecake ($5.50)? How about Chocolate Mulberry Balls ($2)? Super Food Chocolate Bar ($3)? Yes, any weight I lost in Sunday’s marathon was returning with a vengeance. Too bad I’m leaving Manhattan tomorrow.

We chatted with Sal before leaving, who explained that he owns the largest restaurant in Little Italy, but that this is where is passion now lies. A very interesting character, rest assured you will be hearing more about him soon.

But onto the second half of our double feature. We walked westward on 17th to the dashing Maritime Hotel, where the folks at Animal Planet were hosting a little media party for our friends at the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The former have made a television series about the latter, “Whale Wars,” which is coming to the airwaves on Nov. 7. The entire North Cabana was decked out with banners and videos of Sea Shepherd, including the mirror in the men’s room! Quite an impressive party. There was also a large spread of vegan food, an open bar, and presentations by Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson and Animal Planet GM Marjorie Kaplan. We had a sneak peek of the program, which some of you may already have seen as a preview in your local multiplex.

After the festivities Samantha and I lounged around with Johnny, Kristine, Kim, Alex, Shannon, and Tim from Sea Shepherd. This 31-year old organization does so much with such a small, tight staff; a true role model of efficiency. We also learned that the production crew from Animal Planet will be back out on the ship when Sea Shepherd returns to the Antarctic this winter to once again confront the Japanese whaling fleet. Look for season two of "Whale Wars" next year, and be sure to tune into the seven-part series this November and December.

The night was still fairly young (by New York standards) so we decided to go for a cup of tea at a local joint not too far from the Maritime. Unfortunately this not-so-nice place was closing up shop when we got there and wouldn’t even sell us a pastry take-out. So I’m not gonna mention its name.

Travel commitments and expo obligations will delay the last three installments of “October Marathon Surprise” until next week, so please do check back next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday when we conclude this series. You’ll hear all about Katie and me attending an art exhibition, the Boston Veg Food Festival, and maybe, just maybe, one final Marathon Surprise.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October Marathon Surprise, Part 2

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Cheif Joseph Connelly
What: Amtrak, The Daily Show, and Pure Food and Wine
Where: New York City
When: October 27, 2008
Why: There’s a first time for many things

The Scoop: With the marathon out of the way, the time had come to bid farewell to DC and head north to NYC. As I printed my Amtrak boarding pass in the Sheraton’s business center, I had the pleasant discovery that a previous user of the hotel’s computer had done an internet search for the “VegNews Veggie Awards 2008.” If the day starts with such an omen, you know it’s gonna be a good one. Was it ever.

If there is a patron saint of tightened calf muscles, she was certainly shining down on me. I needed to ship a box back to VegNews, and wouldn’t you know there was a post office diagonally across the street from my hotel. Gingerly crossing over, I arrived at the PO door at 8:30 to discover that the PO opens at
8:30. First in line, I dropped off the package and headed to the Metro, just one block away—nice when one is carrying approximately 75 pounds of gear. (Mostly raw energy bars.)

The Yellow Line pulled up at the exact moment I did, and with one quick transfer I was soon at the Union Square station. A few guys on the train had also run yesterday's marathon, so we traded war stories and they, Amtrak elitists, took me under their wing to navigate the labyrinth connecting one mode of mass transit to the other because, well, I can’t read signs. They’re kinda like instructions, you know.

Let me go on the record right here, right now, that train travel blows away plane travel any day. Big comfy seats, plenty of leg room, electrical outlets to plug in one’s laptop, and I didn’t even have to take off my shoes to board, which on this day my sore legs greatly appreciated. For those Californians reading this, I strongly endorse a yes vote on Proposition 1A, the high speed rail bonds initiative, next Tuesday. And of course, vote yes on Prop. 2, too.

I struck up a conversation with the woman seated next to me who was headed to Philadelphia to pick up her new company car. She saw my VegNews tote bag, which I shamelessly carry around for everyone to see. Cori is a “semi- and sometime vegetarian” and occasional VegNews reader who promised to subscribe if I blogged about her. Actually, I just made that up but you gotta admit, it sounded good.

With Cori guarding my stuff, I headed up to check out the Amtrak dining car. The menu included a $3.50 veggie burger and hummus and flat bread for just $2.50—bargain-basement prices. Next time I’ll plan to be hungry. My first Amtrak trip: success.

I arrived at New York’s Penn Station a little behind schedule—a minor inconvenience for which the conductor repeatedly apologized. Hey, it’s okay. At least I don’t need to cab or shuttle from JFK. I hopped the Eighth Avenue subway line, whose three trains have obviously been taken from the VegNews masthead. There’s the A(urelia), the C(olleen), and the E(lizabeth). In one stop I’m at my hotel, which, for my own protection from groupies, I fear I can’t divulge at this time.

Next, it’s off to a live taping of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” I met my friend (and former VegNews columnist) Rose Aguilar, author of the new book Red Highways, outside the West Side studio. Other than the marquee on the ground floor, the building is unassuming—you would never know this is the place from which the popular Comedy Central fake-news show originates. After waiting outside for nearly two hours, we get the last seat in the theater. So much for my reservation. Actually that’s not even true: There were no seats left at all in the audience, but for reasons unknown, three director-type chairs are set up in the sound/mixing board area, behind the headset-wearing techno-nerds playing with all those little nobs. Two of the chairs already have fannies in them, and being the consummate gentleman, I offer Rose the third. This means even though I had finished a marathon a smidgeon more than 24 hours ago, I had to stand the entire time. I hear your sympathy.

I was surprised that the show was filmed in “real time,” meaning no rehearsals, no double takes or re-shoots—what you see on television is exactly what happened “in front of the live studio audience.” The taping took just 25 minutes, though there was a “warm-up” act who performed a bit of stand-up while Jon put on his makeup. Tina Brown? No, Murphy Brown. Wait, that’s not it … Campbell Brown of CNN was the guest interview, hawking her new show "No Bias, No Bull." While I can’t say that the episode on this particular day was all that funny, and we missed Barack Obama by just two days, the experience was certainly worth the effort, even with the constant threats of having your cell phone taken away (no pictures allowed). Maybe Mr. Stewart is worried someone will snap a picture of him with a booger hanging out of his nose. My first Daily Show: Mostly a success.

Next up was dinner at Pure Food and Wine, New York’s preeminent organic raw vegan restaurant. Founder Sarma Melngailis joined Rose and me for dinner, and proceeded to instruct her staff to bring out nearly everything on the menu. I kid you not. We sampled five appetizers (Golden Chanterelle Mushroom and Yuzu Ceviche; Fennel and Oregano Scented Zucchini Manicotti; Pecan Mustard Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms with Pomegranate Reduction, to name a few), dined on five main courses (an Open Spanakopita Tart; White Corn Tamales; a dazzling Shaved White Alba Truffle—the main course off the “Pure Specials” menu; the classic Zucchini and Heirloom Tomato Lasagna; and a hearty Winter Vegetable Tagine), and stuffed ourselves silly with six desserts (a Trio of Dark-Chocolate-Coated Indian-Spiced Ice Cream Treats, which tastes even better than it sounds; the Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse; Carrot Cake; Lemon Cheesecake, and the completely over-the-top Classic Sundae, which, quite honestly, could be a meal in itself—for a small family).

Zucchini and Heirloom Tomato Lasagna

The Classic Sundae

After the indulgence Sarma presented us with personally inscribed copies of her book, Raw Food, Real World, along with a One Lucky Duck (her sideline business because, well, running a restaurant with 80 employees just isn’t enough) tote bag. Sarma is that kind of overachiever, a well-known character trait among those born on September 10. Rose then signed Sarma’s copy of Red Highways, as both are political junkies, and we all chatted around the bar with a few other guests and employees until it was time to roll back to our respective quarters. My first dinner at Pure Food and Wine: Resounding success (and highly delicious).

On this classic cool and crisp New York night, I wanted to walk a little of the dinner off on my cross-town trek, which I did. The perfect complement to one hell of a fun-filled day.

Tomorrow: Sal Anthony’s Vegan Raw Italian Food plus Captain Paul Watson and the kickoff party for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Animal Planet series, “Whale Wars.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

All you need is love (and vegan food)

Colleen, Kelly Crowley, and Justin Lucke on the rooftop terrace at Trellis in Menlo Park

Who: VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland + VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea
What: The weekend wedding extravaganza in honor of Google chef (and fellow vegan) Justin Lucke and the lovely bride, Kelly Crowley
Where: Menlo Park, Woodside, and Palo Alto, Calif.
When: October 24–26, 2008
Why: Because who doesn't love love, especially when it comes with a side of vegan wedding cake?

The Scoop: Justin Lucke is a lucky guy, phonetically and otherwise: First, he gets to do something he's passionate about every day, which is to cook delicious veg food for gobs of people. At Google. How awesome is that? He also falls into the lucky camp for meeting his permanent date, Kelly Crowley, and planning a vegan wedding to seal the deal. And guess what? Two VN staffers are pretty darn lucky too, since we were invited to partake in the nuptial festivities over a long weekend.

The fun began on a warm Friday evening, when Colleen and Aurelia made the 45-minute trek from San Francisco to Menlo Park to rendezvous with the to-be-marrieds and their respective families at Trellis Restaurant. Converging on the upstairs open-air patio, we helped ourselves to cool classes of wine, garlicky bruschetta, and mushroom-topped toasts before mingling. As we sipped and nibbled, we got to know some interesting people, including a super-nice guy named Anthony Zahn who just happens to be a Paralympic Bronze-medal-winning cyclist. While Anthony regaled us with tales from Beijing, we settled into our table, and before we knew it, the main-course minute had arrived.

Okay, so while Trellis is not even close to being a veg restaurant, they do offer a pretty good variety of veg menu options, and this night, we tucked into tasty plates of penne pasta with portobello mushrooms and still-warm slices of house-baked bread that we dunked into flavorful pools of olive oil. For dessert, we savored a perfectly-ripe-strawberry-and-tangy-raspberry mélange that needed no embellishment to enhance its deliciousness. We left the soirée sated and happy at a not-too-late hour so we'd be fresh for the following day's fun.

On Saturday morning, we headed back down toward Menlo Park, but veered off in the direction of Woodside, which is, indeed, woodsy, and also very chi-chi (Oracle's Larry Ellison lives there, for one). We drove straight through town and up to Huddart Park, where veggie burgers and chips awaited, as did fruit smoothies created using a bicycle-powered blender. Really. We ate, and then ate a bit more, then we played. We played Frisbee. And Smashball. And some more Smashball. And then, before we knew it, it was time to head over to Palo Alto for the actual wedding part of the weekend-long event.

When we arrived at the '30s-era Mediterranean-style Lucie Stern Community Center, the wedding guests had all settled into their seats in the grassy, flower-filled garden. As we took our spots, a wind-and-string trio provided a musical backdrop, and the next thing we knew, Justin and Kelly were walking down the verdant aisle. The gorgeous couple exchanged their vows, and a few of us sitting close enough to hear their words might've cried a little bit out of happiness for the newly betrothed.

After the ceremony, we moved en masse to another courtyard where servers dressed in black whizzed by with platters of lemon-oil infused kale crostini, stuffed mushrooms, mini glasses of puréed butternut squash-and-persimmon soup, and larger glasses of wine and non-alcoholic elixirs. As the newly marrieds posed for photos, we noshed and laughed and worked up our appetites for the main courses. Emeryville-based Back To Earth organic catering created an elegant, heavenly-tasting spread that included phyllo-wrapped autumn root-vegetable roulade, roasted cauliflower, kabocha squash with quinoa, and the loveliest of green salads napped in vinaigrette. The cake was made by a couple of gifted members of the Crowley family, as is their tradition, and considering they'd never made a vegan wedding cake before, the results were divine. My new favorite flavor combo? Banana and chocolate, for sure.

Colleen Holland doing her best to resist the powers of vegan wedding cake

No party is complete without a trip to the dance floor, so, as is VegNews family tradition, Colleen and Aurelia joined Organic Athlete's Bradley Saul, his wife Charity Grace Kirk, new friend Anthony, and the bride and groom for a full-blown boogie sesh. Though it was hard to tear ourselves away from those classic disco tunes, we needed to get our beauty sleep, so after four or five turns, we bid our farewells and left the party sated and full of merriment for our newly married friends.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

October Marathon Surprise, Part 1

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly
What: The 33rd Annual Marine Corps Marathon
Where: Arlington, Va., and Washington, DC
When: October 24–26, 2008
Why: To prove I get enough protein

The Scoop: In an amusing attempt to relive history while recapturing my youth, last April I somewhat-secretly began training for the 33rd Annual Marine Corps Marathon. Now, you may wonder, why would a vegan magazine publisher feel compelled to participate in such foolishness? One reason was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my running the 23rd Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 25, 1998. Here I am back then, post race:

A second motive could be to visit the East Coast during peak fall foliage season, combine it with a few business ventures, blog about it, and, in effect, reward myself with a (nearly) all-expenses-paid working vacation. A third excuse, well, sometimes I can be a little bit crazy. Don’t argue with me. Besides, pushing oneself is a good character-builder. So I’ve heard.

My venture was so well-thought-out that even the trek to the airport on getaway day was combined with a trip to pick up the latest stash of the famous oversized VegNews tote bags, just in time for your holiday shopping. Get them before they sell out!

The flight to Washington was uneventful, though made luxurious with exit-row accommodations and an empty seat beside me. After “renting” a half-dozen bottles of water, near the end of the trip the gentleman sitting in my row put two-and-too-many-trips-to-the-restroom together and asked, “You’re hydrating for the marathon Sunday, aren’t you?” Sherlock Holmes at 30,000 feet.

I chose an Ethiopian place near my hotel for Friday night's meal so I could carbo-load on tasty, fermented-teff injera bread. The place wasn’t veg and the food was only so-so—certainly nothing compared to my meal earlier this year in Minneapolis' Kilimanjaro Cafe—so I’m not gonna mention it.

Saturday I took it easy, venturing into DC to visit the pre-race Health and Fitness Expo, pick up my race number and timing strip, and find a hat to wear—one which would cover the solar panel I’ve had installed on the top of my noggin. This is where I found the adorably named “Gas Cap,” a lovely product from a little Colorado-based start-up that combines the best of head gear with the utility of the fuel belt you may have glimpsed many newbie runners wearing on their weekend training runs when you are out picking up fresh tofu for the kids on Saturday morning.
The Gas Cap is kinda like peanut butter and chocolate. Both are good, but together, well, now we’re talking. The hat has eight “pockets” into which you can stash those sport gels that are supposed to give you energy. I’m sure it makes for a pretty picture; thankfully, I don’t have one. Our friends over at Clif Bar make a version of the gels appropriately named the “Clif Shot” that I like 'cause, you guessed it: they're vegan, contain no crap, and taste good. Just like me.

Race morning I awoke at 5 am (2 am Pacific Time), though I really didn’t sleep much at all. For race support I enlisted Compassion Over Killing’s Maven of Outreach Noelle Callahan, figuring and wishing that if I needed to be killed at any point during the 26.219 miles, she would do so with compassion. I did; she didn’t.

I won’t bore you with my mile-by-mile commentary; suffice it to say that I started out OK then got progressively slower and slower as the day dragged on. Just like life. But I did finish. I wasn’t as fast as 1998, but hey, I’m ten years older. Here's the proof:

And then the real fun began.

After crossing the finish line I was overcome with emotion—and tightening calves. I stopped to stretch along the temporary fence, which then moved. I adjusted, then the fence moved again. Next thing I know the guy next to me falls into the fence a third time, passes out, and smashes face first onto the pavement. Since my name is Joe, not Peter, I couldn’t deny this poor wretch three times, so I tapped the Marine next to me (hey, that’s what they’re there for) who started yelling, “Medic! Medic!” Within seconds four other Marines were carrying the guy away on a stretcher, which I have to admit at that particular moment looked like a heck of a lot more appealing mode of transportation. I asked one of them if I could hitch a ride. He actually cracked a smile.

After walking around a bit and finding Noelle near the Iwo Jima Memorial (yes, this race begins and ends in Arlington National Cemetery, which is why it is often affectionately referred to as the Marine Corpse Marathon), I had the misfortune of sitting down under a tree. Big mistake. Within seconds, my right calf muscle tightened into a pain I can only describe as someone sticking a knife into me and repeatedly twisting it. I started screaming (I’m obviously a big baby), and out of nowhere a woman I’d never met grabs my leg and begins massaging it. I began thinking of all the other places that hurt when a second woman ran over, pushed her out of the way, shouting, “I’m a nurse!” and started to stretch my leg. Nurse Helen to the rescue.

I couldn’t move for two hours and missed out on the bagels and post-race BoDeans concert. But I did hobble over to the free massage tent and am happy to report that today I can walk once more.

So all you potential marathoners out there, reach for your dreams. And make sure you stretch.

Tomorrow: Amtrak, “The Daily Show,” plus a visit to NYC’s fabulous Pure Food and Wine.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Speaking Up for Animals

Who: Editorial Assistant Lyndsay Orwig + Farm Sanctuary’s Gene Baur
What: Radar Reading Series featuring the best emerging and underground writers reading and performing new work
Where: San Francisco Public Libary, main branch
When: October 14, 2008
Why: To support VN readers’ Favorite Animal Sanctuary

The Scoop: The VN offices are always busy, but with the much-anticipated Veggie Awards 2008 issue hitting stands as we speak, the long-awaited launch of the brand new VegNews website finally happening, and the upcoming election and the Yes! on Prop. 2 excitement, we're on hyperdrive. Yes, it is definitely an exhilarating time for animal lovers right now, and we've had the pleasure of sharing the excitement of these special times with vegan dignitary Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary.

Since opening its doors in 1986, Farm Sanctuary has been fully dedicated to the cause of rescuing factory-farm animals, educating the public about how the vegan diet is central to compassionate living, and advocating for the humane treatment of animals. Gene, who co-founded FS along with Lorri Bauston, is the author of a new book about the sanctuary and his experiences called Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food
On his book tour, Gene has visited Michigan, California, Oregon,  Washington, DC, and VN's hometown, San Francisco.  Gene joined us for lunch before his book reading at the San Francisco Library for the Radar Reading Series, and lucky for me, I got to attend the event in support of Farm Sanctuary and its humane cause.

Gene was the third speaker of the reading series that featured three other unique authors and artists, including Deez, a young, up-and-coming writer; Nancy Pearson, who read several of her beautiful poems; and Margaret Tedesco, a performance artist. When it was Gene's turn to speak,  he delivered a passionate talk focused on the plight of animals and the environmental consequences of the livestock industry, including its direct link to global warming. He also discussed his own experiences rescuing animals and his fight to prosecute specific factory farms on animal-cruelty charges, some ending with losses, others in victory. He wrapped things up by first expressing his support for Prop. 2 and explaining the proposition in detail, then talking about the vegan lifestyle and how it just makes sense—both ethically, and for the planet.

Before we knew it, the event drew to a close and it was off to Portland, Ore., for Gene, but not before signing books for the audience members. The event had a great turnout—a benefit for all in the fight against animal cruelty. It was wonderful to hear from one of the leaders in this fight, giving me even more motivation to continue forging ahead in the struggle for animals.

Gene Baur and a friend

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Put a Little Love in Your Hut

The Won Ton Noodle Soup at San Francisco's Loving Hut

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly + VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea
What: A vegan restaurant opening
When: Saturday, October 11, 2008
Where: San Francisco's Chinatown
Why: Vegan food, silly!

The Scoop: If there's one thing San Francisco needs more of, it's vegan restaurants. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: bring on the dosas, burritos, tajines, tamales, gnocchi, fried noodles, bibimbap, dim sum, pho, sushi, injera, and your won ton noodle soup, and make mine animal-free! Well, ask, and ye shall receive, apparently, because the Supreme Master Ching Hai folks—the ones who've given us Golden Era, Golden Lotus, Vegetarian House, and other Chinese-Vietnamese veg places around the world, have now given us Loving Hut.  

Joseph and I agreed to meet in Chinatown at 11:00 am on this sunny autumn Saturday to celebrate the newest addition to the global chain of Loving Hut cafés. Finding the restaurant wasn't a problem; we merely gravitated toward the crowd that converged at the corner of Stockton and Vallejo streets, and we were met with a festive hoohah that included dancing dragons spitting out chunks of cabbage, fireworks, drums, and lots of oohs and aahs from the crowd.

After the commotion settled, the hungry throngs poured inside the immaculate, slightly sterile interior for a taste of whatever was on offer, which happened  to be an eclectic melange of Asian and good-ol' American. From noodle soups and mild curries to veggie burgers and French fries, there was a little something for everyone. I opted for a bowl of Bun Hue—a spicy noodle soup loaded with fake meat, while Joseph went for the Won Ton Noodle Soup. And the Gurus Curry. And the Spring Rolls. And the Raspberry-Chocolate Cake. Okay: We actually shared. However, the soup was so filling there was barely room for anything else. Somehow I made it happen, though.

While we slurped our noodles and chopsticked our way through the curry, we felt the eerie sensation of eyeballs boring into us. Looking out the glass window onto Vallejo Street, we recognized a familiar face staring back at us: HSUS' Erin Williams! Turns out Erin—who, among other things, is co-author of Why Animals Matter: The Case For Animal Protection—was out in the 'hood distributing Prop. 2 flyers, and since it was lunchtime, she and a couple of cohorts thought they'd stop in for a nibble. 

We later discovered—by their own admission—that for Erin, Karin, and Walker, this was to be their third Loving Hut meal in two days. Looks like Loving Hut is already a hit.

Walker, Karin, Erin, Joseph, and Aurelia at Loving Hut