Sunday, May 25, 2008

Southern Comfort Night: The Full Belly Report

Who: (Almost) All the VN Ladies
What: Millennium's Annual Southern Comfort Dinner
Where: San Francisco, Calif.
When: May 22, 2008
Why: Who would want to miss when haute cuisine goes lowbrow?

The Scoop: Virginia Blue Ridge Mountain Oysters. Yes, those are the small round items with the skewers on the plate you see above. When dinner starts out with faux-bull balls, you know you're in for a certain kind of night. The VN team has made an annual tradition of attending this outrageously fun, decidedly down-home event, and we pretty much spend all year talking about what will be on the menu. This year's lineup was just as artery-clogging and decadent as we were expecting. Along with the "mountain oysters," appetizers included beer-battered onion rings, pickled okra, pizza rolls (in the foil), corn bread, bacon cheese bread, and large, icy buckets of the finest Pabst Blue Ribbon around.

From there things just got greasier. Deep-fried Tofurky sausages, anyone? How about salad with a highly thick and creamy bacon-ranch dressing? Remember, this was all before our entrées came out. We had the choice of tamales, barbecue seitan, hoisin-apricot tempeh ribs, or Doritos-crusted catfish. Yeah, you try and pick from that roster. Just in case there was any extra room in our stomachs, Miss Jazz's DIY brownie sundae bar—named for VN contributor Jesse Miner's chihuahua—completed the meal with brownies, rocky road ice cream, hot fudge and butterscotch sauces, and a smorgasbord of toppings.

To complement the over-the-top eats, a few of our group dressed to their trashiest nines, complete with blacked-out teeth and faux-pregnant bellies. As if all this weren't enough to make for a memorable evening, Executive Chef Eric Tucker took Colleen and Elizabeth into the kitchen for a quick lesson in deep-frying onion rings. Maybe they were ecstatic about it. Maybe they totally freaked out and blushed like schoolgirls. Maybe it's not, you know, every day that you get into the kitchen at Millennium.

Here's the whole group of lovely ladies, all of whom, amazingly, were still able to button their pants at the end of the night.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Will Travel for Food

Who: VN Senior Editor Jennifer Pickens
What: Long weekend in Asia
Where: Beijing, China
When: May 15–19, 2008
Why: Shopping + food + soymilk

The Scoop: With my one-year tourist visa teetering on the edge of expiration, I couldn't resist another trip to one of my favorite cities in the world: Beijing. I first began taking annual trips to Beijing many years ago in my quest to see all of the remaining original Seven Wonders of the World, and the Great Wall was at the top of my list. I loved it so much that I continue happily volunteering to tag along with anyone planning to go. These numerous excursions have resulted in "Jen's Beijing Travel Tips":

1) The Great Wall at Mutianyu is the best place for first-time visitors. Walk to the end of the refurbished part and you'll see a sign telling you to go no further; ignore it and continue your hike as far as you can. No one has ever stopped me!

2) If you look at the map and think something is just down the street, it's actually a very, very long walk and will most likely take hours. Trust me: Beijing is huge, and the scale of the map has tricked me many times. If you’re prone to getting lost, you probably will.

3) The best ways to get around is by subway and bicycle. Taxis are affordable, but traffic is so bad that you'll soon tire of watching pedestrians speeding by as you sit motionless in a clog of traffic. Bicycling is my favorite; though make sure the bike you rent has brakes! The last time I was in Beijing with Aurelia, I didn't realize I was brakeless until I zoomed down a steep descent and almost hit two young girls. But Beijing has a new bike rental system that's very convenient, with stations located near the subway stops. I do enjoy the subway as well; it's clean and easy to negotiate. Line 5 is especially polite and encouraging. While on my way to the lake district, the recorded announcement assured me "We're already at Beixingiao." Oh, already? Thank you very much.

4) is your best friend. Its Chinese/English translation sheet is invaluable and I love its veg restaurant list. This time, I was excited to visit one of my favorites, Baihe Vegetarian Restaurant, in the Doncheng District (see photo above). It's located down a tiny hutong (alley), so may be a bit hard to find, but it's worth the search! Located inside an old house, you'll pass through an interior courtyard with ancient circular doorways to get inside, and once there, you'll discover shelves lined with books. I dragged two meat-eating friends along, and the food surpassed the challenge with ease. We began with an appetizer of raw shredded veggies rolled in a thin, tortilla-like wrap, similar to a spring roll (that's me eating one of those, below). It came with two tasty sauces: a Hunan sauce and hot chili oil. Then came the One Thousand Layer Cake, a naan-type bread with a Nepalese taste and texture, baked in olive oil and herbs, which was the panel favorite. Next came the Braised Vegetarian Fish and Fried Vegetarian Beef with Peas. The "beef" tasted much more like chicken and the peas were fresh and plentiful. The faux fish was great—the seared seaweed lining the tempeh gave it a good, briny flavor.

5) Go to the grocery store and get yourself some fresh soymilk! And look for the brand with the Roman-alphabet label and the Green Food certification. Of course, the editor in me had to taste-test every flavor, and here's the lowdown: green cap is plain, white cap is sweetened, and the yellow cap is raw (and, in my opinion, the tastiest). I only want raw soymilk from now on.

Magical Mystery Tour

Who: VN Managing Editor + her partner in crime, Jeff Rogers
What: A bio-diesel bus tour, courtesy of V Restaurant
When: Sunday, May 18
Why: To scout locations for this veg restaurant-in-the-works
Where: The Mission and Potrero districts, San Francisco
Why: Because this great idea needs a home!

The Scoop: As a magazine editor, I get invited to my fair share of interesting events, but never had I been invited to take a biodiesel bus tour through the streets of San Francisco with a motley bunch of strangers--until now. Hosting this event were Emory Etheridge and Jefferson McCarley (that's them above) the two men behind V Restaurant. Their joint vision is to create the world's greenest restaurant. Right now, it's just a great idea, but they've got passion and drive, so fingers crossed for a late-2008 launch. But first, they've gotta find digs. Hence the tour.

Our meeting spot was a side street in the heart of the Mission. Stepping onto the bus, we got a warm welcome from Peter Jungclaussen, aka the Teacher with the Bus. (When he's not taking folks like us on urban tours, he's taking school kids on fun field trips.) Next, we were met by Emory and Jefferson, two charming, affable chaps who became even more endearing once they handed us a glass of organic wine and asked us to make ourselves at home while we waited for other guests to arrive.

Looking toward the back of the bus, I spied a familiar face: The Urban Housewife herself, Melissa Elliot! I'd met her a month or so earlier at another event, and had recently interviewed her for an upcoming feature in VegNews. Turns out Melisser, as she is known in the blogosphere, has been tapped to create the house sweets for V Restaurant. (She recently started her own custom baking company, Sugar Beat Sweets.) Very interesting. Even more interesting is that in her hands was a tray of some tasty-looking confections. This evening was improving steadily!

With wine in hand and thoughts of cupcakes doing cartwheels in my mind, I took a seat and started chatting with an interesting young woman named AnnaLise Hoopes (that's her, below). I learned she just moved to the SF Bay Area after earning her masters in education at Harvard, and that her passion is humane education. Her companion that evening was a fellow known as The Vegan Avenger, whom she met at last November's SF Green Festival. I met him there too, but never would've recognized him without his costume. Goodness, it's a small world!

Just after 6pm, Peter revved up the bus' engine and off we went. For about 2 minutes. We had to pull over because two guests--one of which was Josh Levine, the brilliant fellow behind Peoples Donuts--were jogging behind us, breathless, trying to flag us down. Oops! Okay: finally we were off, and 'round and 'round the 'hood we went. Along the way, Jefferson, our tour guide and MC for the evening, pointed out various points of interest, including potential restaurant spaces, other veg and non-veg businesses that are thriving in the community, and local landmarks. Finally, we headed off to Portrero Hill, passing the newest Whole Foods before making our final stop at Potrero Hill Community Garden, where we dined on chocolate-dipped strawberries, Tangerine Dreamsicle mini-cupcakes, and Chocolate Peanut Butter whoopie pies. It's amazing we didn't slip into a collective and spontaneous diabetic coma. It'd have been worth it, though!

Here's hoping Emory and Jefferson make their restaurant dream a reality. Because San Francisco--and the world, for that matter--could definitely use one more veg restaurant. We're rooting for you, guys!

East Bay Sunday

Who: VN Managing Editor Aurelia d'Andrea + her partner in crime, Jeff Rogers
What: An East Bay food-and-art excursion
When: Sunday, May 18
Where: Berkeley
Why: Because we're always hungry for food and anything art-related

The Scoop: After listening to countless friends and colleagues rave about the food at downtown Oakland's newest veg chowhouse, Souley Vegan, I couldn't wait for a free weekend to head east and into new restaurant territory. That empty Sunday finally arrived, and all week leading up to the day, visions of mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and barbecue tofu danced in my head. Man, was this going to be good. So, Sunday morning, Jeff and I skip breakfast to ensure there's plenty of room for all the stick-to-your-ribs fare we'd soon be indulging in. Before heading out the door, I gave a quick call over to Souley Vegan to make sure they were, in fact, open on Sundays. Guess what? They're not. After a brief episode of complete devastation, we moved on to Plan B.

Rather than allowing ourselves to get sucked into the heavenly Indian-food vortex at Berkeley insititution Viks like we always do, we stuck with the new-dining-experience theme and decided to give Ital Kalabash a try. This cute little veg restaurant (pictured above) in Berkeley serves Jamaican sandwiches, salads, and smoothies, plus sides like fried sweet plaintains and tostones. Yum-ola.

We each ordered a jerk sandwich with the works; Jeff got the "fish," and I the "chicken," and we devoured those in exactly two bites, washing it down with a shared glass of Ital Kalabash's icy, homemade ginger beer. We were dying to try the tostones (savory fried plaintains), but another sad note to the day was that they were fresh out of those. We were steered toward the fried plaintains instead, and again, those took all of three seconds to consume. We decided we liked the vibe of this place, but wouldn't have complained one bit if the portions were just a wee bit larger.

We'd have stayed and ordered seconds, but the clock was ticking and we needed to get to the Berkeley Art Museum to catch artist Sunaura Taylor speak as part of the MFA graduate student exhibition. Sunaura, who just completed her MFA at UC Berkeley, is a profound painter whose latest works feature sad subject matter: factory-farmed animals. The chickens, veal calves, pigs, and other beings made real on her canvasses were created with a gentle touch and sensitivity that is palpable; I got especially teary-eyed over the calves, and other museum-goers were clearly moved by Sunaura's work as well. After the artists gave their individual presentations, I had a chance to speak with Sunaura (that's her below, next to one of her larger paintings), and learned she's recently gone vegan after growing up veg. Hurray! We'll be featuring more on her in an upcoming issue of VegNews. Keep your eyes peeled.

After our art fix, we had to dash back to San Francisco since we had another veg-related engagement to attend. That one involved a bio-diesel bus, lots of wine, sweets, and interesting people. More on that later!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Windy City Green

Who: VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria, VN Distribution Manager Katie Donaldson, and former VN Editorial Assistant Extraordinaire Christine Petrozzo
What: Chicago Green Festival + related revelry
Where: Navy Pier, Chicago, Ill.
When: May 17–18, 2008
Why: Because we're greenies who like to eat

The Scoop: Next to the calm waters of Lake Michigan, the Windy City was recently taken by a green storm. After an opening ceremony hosted by Mayor Richard Daley, hundreds of exhibitors, dozens of A-list speakers, and thousands of attendees swarmed the festive premises of Navy Pier to celebrate the best and brightest of the green industry. From eco-friendly footwear to fair-trade chocolate there were plenty of opportunities to get swept up in the green tide. Is that enough eco/weather references for one post? Okay, we'll move on. The show hours were spent meeting new subscribers, checking out oodles of edibles, and getting the scoop on new organizations, products, and potential story leads. Suffice it to say that at the end of the day, there was nothing we wanted more than to kick back and relax over a leisurely dinner.

After successfully navigating the tourist-friendly El system, we arrived, ravenous, at The Chicago Diner. Immediately taken in by the diner-themed decor, we eagerly poured over their extensive menu, and nearly died from the excitement of vegan shakes and their famous Radical Reuben. Finally, the three of us settled on the Reuben, the Southwestern Chikin Burger, one order of Crab Cakes, a strawberry shake, a peanut butter shake, and a slice of Cookies and Cream cake. Does that all sound outrageously fantastic? Because it totally was. Phe-freakin'-nominal would also be an appropriate description. The dinner was so good, in fact, that even though we were slightly tempted to explore other eateries during our two-day stay, we unanimously decided to go back the next night for more Chicago-Diner goodness. If you're in the area, allow us to strongly recommend the potato skins, Super Gyros, and a side of the mac 'n' cheese. Oh yeah, the leftovers also made excellent in-flight snacks the next day.

If there's anything better than great food and a good cause, it's getting to share the weekend with friends. Below, see some of our favorite ice-cream makers, the men of Chicago Soy Dairy, who evidently didn't do too shabbily at their booth:

There's Something About Ubuntu

Who: Editorial Assistant Lisa Mickleborough + her parents
What: Lunch in the heart of wine country
Where: Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio, Napa
When: May 17, 2008
Why: When in Napa ...

The Scoop:
Like anyone, I love being visited by friends and family, particularly when they pick up and fly across the continent just to dote on their emigrant daughter. But hosting my very conservative, very old-world, very epicurean parents presented a new challenge: The visitors I’m used to expect little more than a floor to crash, cheap vegan food, a walking tour-guide—maybe a little toothpaste. My folks, however, had already visited San Francisco several times, would need to stay in a “proper bed” at a hotel, and would prefer to eat at high-end restaurants serving up slow-roasted body parts. Having lured them into the city’s finest vegan establishments—just to watch them poke cautiously at their cashew cream shitakes—I decided we needed to escape the city for the beautiful Napa valley, and try our gastronomic luck at the new, award-winning vegetarian dining and yoga establishment, Ubuntu. Named for the South African philosophy of reciprocal affirmation and community, the restaurant has earned myriad accolades and honors, including Food & Wine’s coveted Best New Chef of 2008 award. After cascading the breathtaking peaks and valleys of NorCal wine-country in our bronze rental car, we enjoyed an inventive yet simple spread of just-ripe marinated olives, crisp chickpea fries, and puréed mushroom and wilted kale-pesto pizzas—all incorporating the fruits of Ubuntu’s nearby organic garden. My parents were impressed. I dare say this was one of most exciting and satisfying meals I’ve ever had, and I’ll be going back again soon—you know, just to be sure. (Look for a full review of Ubuntu in the Sept+Oct Food Issue of VegNews.)

Here's a shot of my dessert: a beet-rhubarb-juice and candied kumquat Creamsicle Float that can only be described as both shocking and delightful:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Special Report: VegNews in NYC (Day 5)

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly + VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Day five of a five-day business trip
Where: New York City
When: May 18, 2008
Why: Farm Sanctuary Gala + Veggie Pride Parade + meetings galore with colleagues, friends, and magazine partners

The Scoop: Our NYC trip was winding down, but we still had a full day of activities ahead. After all, it was the first annual Veggie Pride Parade!

We met friends Paul and Linda Saccone for breakfast at one of our favorite vegetarian cafés, ‘sNice. We were still full from the previous night’s gala banquet, so we ate light: herbal tea and a shared apricot-bar. We never seem to make it to ‘sNice for any meal other than breakfast, but we hear its sandwiches are some of the best in NYC. Both the sesame “chicken” wrap with spicy peanut sauce and Philly-style seitan sandwich with peppers and onions come highly recommended.

We then headed over to the parade’s starting point in Greenwich Village (in the former meatpacking district, to be exact). People came dressed as fruit, vegetables, animals, and oh, rotting colons. Designed and created by VN columnist/comic extraordinaire Dan Piraro, this contraption was actually a mini-float complete with signage to explain the ramifications of meat-eating on one's system (namely “colostomy bag,” “butt cancer,” and “polyps”). We grabbed signs, and the parade began. We should mention that the decaying colon was actually representing the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, a wonderful organization in upstate New York.

Hundreds of us meandered through the streets of New York before ending up at our final destination, Washington Square Park, for a post-parade rally. Hungry from the hike, we munched samosas from Thiru Kumar’s dosa cart, a vegan institution in NYC. VegNews, as a sponsor, distributed complimentary magazines to attendees from our table. We were treated to a concert by The Cheryl Hill Band and a mock-marriage ceremony between parade mascots Penelo Pea Pod and Chris P. Carrot. Unfortunately, the rain was kicking in, which sent most people scrambling for cover. Four of us ducked into nearby Red Bamboo, famous for its faux meats. We shared the Creole Soul Chicken (crispy faux soy meat battered in breadcrumbs and Cajun seasonings), Buffalo Barbecue Wings (spicy soy chicken drumettes with garlicky bleu cheese dip), Dragonfly Dumplings (rice dumplings filled with shredded soy meat, veggie shrimp, carrots, and cabbage), and the Mediterranean salad (seaweed, carrots, sprouts, grilled tofu, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives on mixed greens). We lingered until the rain finally subsided.

It was then time to freshen up and head over to the NYC launch party for Karen Dawn’s Thanking the Monkey. Having received the “Outstanding Activist for Farm Animals Award” from Farm Sanctuary the previous evening, Karen was the belle of her ball (held at the very-fabulous Soho Grand hotel). Guests nibbled chips and guacamole, sipped sangria, and listened to readings by Karen and such luminaries as Paul Watson, Heather Mills, John Schneider, Persia White, and Rory Freedman.

Ahhhh, our trip to New York was coming to an end. We certainly made the most of every day and hope you have enjoyed getting the complete lowdown. Don’t forget to enter our Press Pass giveaway for one very spectacular goodie bag!

Special Report: VegNews in NYC (Day 4)

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly + VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Day four of a five-day business trip
Where: New York City
When: May 17, 2008
Why: Farm Sanctuary Gala + Veggie Pride Parade + meetings galore with colleagues, friends, and magazine partners

The Scoop: The sun was shining, and we were back in business. Today, Manhattanites were out in full-force, including 8,000 of them running a 10k race in Central Park. Our very own Joseph Connelly and Lantern Books’ Martin Rowe were also running today’s race and both performed exceptionally well (despite the humidity, according to California-based Joseph, and hilly terrain, said East Coaster Martin). To celebrate their achievement, we headed over to Whole Foods Columbus Circle for coffee and vegan scones (loved the oatmeal-cranberry) and spent the next several hours catching up. Martin, a very proper Englishman-turned-New Yorker, not only runs Lantern Books but also writes, edits, and works with wife Mia at her non-profit, Brighter Green. We decided to burn-off breakfast by meandering through the streets of NY back to our hotel. Before we knew it, it was time to primp and prep for the night’s big event: the annual Farm Sanctuary Gala.

If you have a chance to attend one of these glitzy fundraiser galas, do it. Not only does the money go to great organizations, you’re guaranteed a divine multi-course meal, celebrity sightings, engaging conversation with tablemates, and a fabulous goodie bag. In fact, we will state for the record that Farm Sanctuary galas have the best goodie bags of any event. But we digress …

Held at the unbelievably gorgeous Cipriani Wall Street (a former bank-turned-event-venue), we hit the cocktail reception at 5pm. Held on the mezzanine overlooking the grand ballroom, we sipped bellinis and nibbled on heirloom cherry tomatoes filled with pesto, faux chicken with spicy mango chutney, and sautéed mushrooms in crispy phyllo baskets. We had the opportunity to chat with David Life and Sharon Gannon of Jivamukti Yoga School, Russell Simmons, Dennis Kucinich, Shawn Colvin, Persia White, and many other wonderful individuals who are truly making a difference. We bumped into soy-candle entrepreneur Ari Solomon and green goddess Chloé Jo Berman—check out our sizzling July+August 2008 summer edition for features on both.

We sauntered down to the main dining room where 600 guests were being seated for dinner. Host Heather Mills (the former Mrs. Paul McCartney) had been working with the Cipriani culinary team to create an incredible three-course meal for the evening (rumor has it that she’s launching a line of vegan food products and has a cooking show in the works). We normally wouldn’t dwell on a dinner roll, but this was the best vegan dinner roll ever. It was warm, flaky, and buttery—we must learn how they did it. We begin with a “chicken”-minestrone soup, which was flavorful and delicious. We move on to a large arugula salad tossed in a light vinaigrette. For the entrée, Heather created a lasagna with béchamel sauce and tomato ragu—a unique take on the traditional Italian dish. Finally, slices of chocolate torte are served with fancy trays of hazelnut clusters and chocolate-dipped strawberries, and the evening’s festivities begin.

Television personality Melissa Rivers was the emcee of the night, and presenters included VN’s Rory Freedman, Emily Deschanel, Loretta Swit, and Persia White. A wonderful and moving speech by Farm Sanctuary’s Executive Director Jeff Lydon brought the crowd to its feet. We learned about this year’s victories, challenges, and, in two poignant videos produced by Joshua Katcher, met many of the animals rescued by the organization. The evening was truly inspiring.

Then, Susie Essman (funniest comedian ever) of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” hosted a live auction, where a Peter Max painting went for $15,000 and lunch in Los Angeles with Rory Freedman sold for $3,000 (see photo below with VN Publisher Joseph Connelly flanked by VN columnists, Rory and Dan Piraro). A special performance by Grammy Award-winning artist Shawn Colvin got people moving, and a mega-dessert buffet hosted by the famous VeganTreats carried us into the late night. On our way out, we picked up our goodie bags, bid farewell, and ended another perfect NY day.

Press Pass Giveaway! As we mentioned, the Farm Sanctuary galas have, hands-down, the best goodie bags of any event we attend. Swag includes cookies, soy candles, a cookbook, body wash, dog food, body crème, tea, chocolate, energy bars, and more, all packed into a Matt & Nat metallic tote bag. So just for you, we’re giving away one to a very special Press Pass reader. Just tell us why you deserve this bag by June 15 at noon, and we’ll choose one response. Good luck!

Special Report: VegNews in NYC (Day 3)

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly + VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Day three of a five-day business trip
Where: New York City
When: May 16, 2008
Why: Farm Sanctuary Gala + Veggie Pride Parade + meetings galore with colleagues, friends, and magazine partners

The Scoop: May is one of the best times to visit New York City, but we seemed to have hit a bout of bad weather. With our fully loaded schedule, we had to persevere and keep moving on our food-foraging adventure through Manhattan.

The city's trendy Chelsea neighborhood welcomed a new vegetarian restaurant in 2006 called Blossom. Owners Pamela and Ronen have recently opened the doors to a second location, the more casual Café Blossom on the Upper West Side (just a block from Central Park). While the original location boasts a two-story townhouse complete with a fireplace and cozy banquettes, this new space was sleek, modern, and very cool. With the drizzle outside, we took it slow and enjoyed a wonderful lunch with one of our NY colleagues. Our table shared the Autumn Sweet Potato Rolls (raw shavings of sweet potato filled with coconut noodles, jicama, carrots, and red pepper with a ginger dipping sauce). Given our Candle 79 meal the night before, we opted for salad entrées to keep things light. We had the Rocket Arugula (organic arugula tossed with green apples, marinated tofu, cherry tomatoes, and plantain chips with a lemon-tahini dressing), the Grilled Tofu Salad (grilled sesame tofu over mixed greens, arame seaweed, and sprouts in a carrot-miso dressing), and the Caesar Salad (fresh greens with herbed croutons tossed in a creamy dijon caesar dressing). All were delicious and very fresh. Lingering longer than we should have over steamy mugs of soy hot chocolate, we shared a slice of lemon cake and biscotti. On a gray day, there was no place we would have rather been.

But the day had to go on! We hopped on the subway and headed down to the Lower East Side to one of our favorite stores, MooShoes. An absolute must-visit on any veggie’s NYC itinerary, we ducked into its über-swanky new storefront on Orchard Street. The studio-like interior showcases gobs of vegan footwear—from sexy leatherette heels to summer espadrilles to casual sandals. They also sell handbags (love the Matt & Nat line) and a hand-picked selection of veggie cookbooks. Oh, and VegNews. That makes us happy. After catching up with co-owner Erica Kubersky (who, along with her sister Sarah, started MooShoes in 2001), we walked out with two new pairs of shoes. We just couldn’t help ourselves, and how could we not support this fabulous veg business? In the same neighborhood, one can also visit Bluestockings anarchist bookstore, Tiengarden Chinese restaurant, and Babycakes NYC vegan bakery, making it a great destination for visiting vegetarians.

Later that evening, we headed back uptown for another meal at—you guessed it—the award-winning Candle 79. We just can’t get enough! Meeting a business associate, we attempted to order conservatively so that we could make it through the weekend. We won’t go on and on about meal #2, but standouts included the housemade ginger soda, cornmeal-crusted oyster mushrooms, the live zucchini enchiladas, and the Chocolate Brownie Sundae (served in a martini glass). The restaurant was packed solid, and sitting nearby were VegNews columnists Dan Piraro and Rory Freedman (along with some of their friends, including our July+August 2007 cover gal, actress Emily Deschanel). Even in this city of eight million, you still bump into people you know everywhere you go.

Special Report: VegNews in NYC (Day 2)

: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly + VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Day two of a five-day business trip
Where: New York City
When: May 15, 2008
Why: Farm Sanctuary Gala + Veggie Pride Parade + meetings galore with colleagues, friends, and magazine partners

The Scoop: It’s true what they say—New York City never sleeps. While we were blessed with our Midtown accommodations, it took a few nights to acclimate to the all-night acoustics (read: blaring sirens and street noise). With no time to spare, we jump started the day with smoothies before heading over to visit Farm Sanctuary’s NY office. Located in a gorgeous old building near Union Square, the FS team was busy with final preparations for Saturday’s night gala. Former Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich had just confirmed, so last-minute changes were being made to the program, along with a thousand other tasks. Kudos to Development Director Samantha Ragsdale and her amazing team!

Next, we headed uptown for a lunch date which we were greatly anticipating. If you haven’t heard of Zen Burger, you soon will. Started by the owners of Zen Palate (a NY veg institution), Zen Burger is a vegetarian fast-food chain about to go national (see photo above). The restaurant across from Grand Central Station is its first, and a second location is scheduled to open this September in West Hollywood. On a block littered with every major fast-food chain, the façade has the look of a traditional establishment but with a cleaner, more modern feel. With a goal to match the flavor, price point, and convenience of the real deal, the place was teeming with business. Customers can order burgers, hot dogs, fish sandwiches, nuggets, breakfast items, soups, fries, salads, shakes, and sundaes. We, of course, opted for the vegan options—the ZenHarvest Burger (complete with ZenBurger’s “special sauce,” a zesty blend made with Vegenaise), a steamy cup of curried lentil soup, French fries, a chocolate shake, and a soft-serve sundae (the restaurant’s ice cream is provided by our friends at Chicago Soy Dairy). Our lunch date, and one of ZenBurger’s partners, Chad Carpenter, tells us that more vegan options are coming soon, including a scrumptious barbecue chicken sandwich).

Early that evening, we hit a fundraiser at a private home on the Upper East Side for Wellness in the Schools, a sister organization to the New York Coalition for Healthy School Foods, an organization working to get plant-based foods in the school system. If you have children, this is a wonderful, highly effective group with which to get involved. Healthy food for our kids results in higher productivity, fewer illnesses, and greater self-confidence. That’s a good thing.

Finally, we head off for what we know will be a sumptuous supper at Candle 79 with owners Joy Pierson and Bart Potenza (see photo below with Bart, Joy, Colleen, and Joe). We tuck into an upstairs banquette for what turns out to be a four-hour dinner. The meal was nothing short of magnificent—we start with an amuse-bouche of fresh cornbread with avocado butter; a watercress salad with strawberries, wild asparagus, and toasted pistachios in a lime dressing; a stuffed manicotti appetizer filled with sautéed mushrooms, tofu-basil cheese, and cashew parmesan drizzled with roasted tomato sauce and pine nut pesto; and grilled artichokes, served with blue-cornmeal battered onion rings, grilled asparagus, arugula pesto, and red pepper coulis. Oh, and we’re just getting started. Our table shares three entrées—a Moroccan-spiced chickpea cake with spring vegetables, red pepper-coconut curry, and apricot-date chutney; chipotle grilled seitan with potatoes, leeks, spring peas, and avocado salsa; and a wild mushroom fricassee with broccoli rabe, fiddlehead ferns, fava beans, and truffled polenta). I think it’s becoming clear as to why this dinner lasted four hours. For the meal’s finale, we dip into the housemade sorbet sampler along with my favorite, the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Bliss, a whipped peanut butter mousse encased in a chocolate shell with a berry coulis. Let’s just say that we walked the nearly 60 blocks back to the hotel to ensure proper digestion, and, well, make certain we were ready for our next veg-fabulous meal the following day. Bon nuit!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Special Report: VegNews in NYC (Day 1)

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly + VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Day one of a five-day business trip
Where: New York City
When: May 14, 2008
Why: Farm Sanctuary Gala + Veggie Pride Parade + meetings galore with colleagues, friends, and magazine partners

The Scoop: For vegetarians, there’s no place like New York for an astonishing range of what may be the best meat-free fare on the planet. While New Yorkers feel their city is the epicenter of the world, many argue that it is the center of the veggie universe. Although we have it very good in San Francisco, can any city really compete with NYC? Think Korean Buddhist food, Indian dosa carts, vegetarian dim sum, high-end hotspots, vegan bakeries, falafel stands, organic juice bars, farmers’ markets, cheese-free pizza, veggie fast food, raw eateries, Asian fusion, and the list goes on. Too bad this is the city of $3,000 studios.

At least once a year, we find ourselves in this veggie mecca. With the swanky Farm Sanctuary Gala on Saturday, we decided to build our annual NY trip around the event. We arrived Tuesday night (SFO to JFK via JetBlue—love it) and began our journey with lunch on Wednesday with VN Publisher Joseph Connelly’s parents, Ed and Josephine. Always up for a good South Indian meal, we hit House of Dosas on Long Island for delicious masala dosas (the star dish of South India, it’s an oversized crisp lentil crepe filled with spiced potatoes, onions, and cilantro—see photo below), pakoras (deep-fried eggplant, cauliflower, and potato fritters in a chickpea batter), and uthappam (a savory Indian pancake served with coconut chutney and sambar). A favorite spot of the local Indian community (the place is always packed), you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to the subcontinent for a truly authentic dining experience, complete with stainless steel dishware, highly efficient service, and the tunes of Bollywood streaming in the background.

We head into Manhattan to officially begin the trip. With a few hours to go before our dinner engagement, we wander the streets of Midtown to take it all in. We visit two Whole Foods (VegNews was displayed front and center at both stores. Yeah!), the Union Square Greenmarket, and a handful of newsstands to check on distribution. We notice that Jamba Juice has now taken over the city, which was not the case five years ago when smoothies were impossible to find. In true NY form, they’re six bucks a pop!

For dinner, we’re meeting friends Teresa and Jack at one of New York’s most acclaimed vegetarian restaurants, HanGawi, for Korean cuisine. As we walk through the door, the chaos of the city quickly subsides and we enter this calm and peaceful refuge. We slip off our shoes, slip into the sunken table, and begin our multi-course “HanGawi Emperor’s Meal” while sipping ginger tea and wine. We start with small clay bowls of pumpkin and sweet corn porridge—each were smooth, subtle, and warming. Our server then delivers parchment-paper-wrapped vermicelli that was absolutely divine (we would have been satisfied with just a large plate of these sautéed noodles) before bringing out a trio of appetizers for each person. We dove into stuffed shiitake mushrooms, vegetable-filled fried tofu triangles, and a bowl of mountain roots and greens. After a brief period to digest, and enjoy the zen-like ambiance, the entrées were served: Bi Bim Bap (sizzling rice and vegetables in a stone pot) and sautéed eggplant and mushrooms with multi-grain rice. To finish off the meal, we sipped a sweet broth laced with cinnamon. The food, company, and atmosphere were incredible—no visit to New York would be complete without a meal at HanGawi!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mother’s Day at Millennium

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly, VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, and VN Assistant to the Publisher Frankie McGee
What: Mother’s Day Brunch
Where: San Francisco's renown Millennium Restaurant
When: May 11, 2008
Why: To express our appreciation for our dear friend and VN volunteer, Frankie McGee

The Scoop: Frankie McGee is a San Francisco institution. A long-time vegetarian and super-supporter of local veg organizations, she's an amazing asset to the VN team—giving, wise, and gracious. Frankie assists us with everything from mailers and filing to kitchen maintenance (if we need a garlic press, one miraculously appears the next day) and organizational systems. Since opening our offices four years ago, Frankie’s been with us every step of the way.

To show our gratitude, we remind Frankie frequently how thankful we are. From time to time, we throw a “Frankie Appreciation Day” with gifts and her favorite lunch. For the past two years, we’ve treated her to Mother’s Day brunch at Millennium, since, in many ways, she is the matriarch of VegNews.

A warm, sunny day in San Francisco set the tone for a delightful midday brunch. As soon as we were seated, Frankie was served a bellini (peach nectar and Champagne—see the May+June issue for our favorite recipe), an on-the-house treat for all "moms." We then shared a plate of freshly baked breads: walnut chocolate-chip banana bread, almond-huckleberry streusel coffee cake, and cornmeal black-pepper muffins with spiced pecan butter. Salads arrived next, featuring mixed greens, shaved fennel, and organic strawberries in a sherry-hazelnut vinaigrette. We enjoyed every bite of our sumptuous entrées—Joseph and Colleen tucked into The Benedict (grilled, smoked tempeh, sweet onions, and sautéed spinach atop house-made focaccia drizzled with a Champagne béarnaise sauce), while Frankie savored walnut waffles with coconut-vanilla bean crème and strawberry-mango compote alongside rosemary roasted potatoes. Oh, and there’s more. Yes, that would be dessert. We had a choice of strawberry-rhubarb cobbler with orange blossom ice cream (absolute perfection) or a mocha-chocolate torte with a fig compote and hazelnut-butterscotch sauce (see photo below). As always, service was impeccable and the ambiance just right.

And VN has scoop! We’ve learned that Millennium will soon be bringing back its monthly brunch. Now we can relax over meals like the aforementioned each and every month. The restaurant’s other popular events include Aphrodisiac Nights and the upcoming Southern Comfort Dinner (where the VN staff will be celebrating VegNews' 8th Anniversary).

Political Party Animals

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly, VN Managing Editor Aurelia d'Andrea, VN Senior Editor Jennifer Pickens, plus independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, his would-be VP Matt Gonzalez, and a roomful of their supporters
What: A fundraiser/meet-and-greet
When: Sunday, May 11
Why: To raise money for the Nader/Gonzalez 2008 ticket
Where: Tony Serra's North Beach law offices in San Francisco

The Scoop: If you caught the last Clinton/Obama debate, you know all about contemporary politics' snoozefest potential. Whatever happened to revved-up rallies and energetic, heartening debates about issues that really mattered? Where have all the good politicians gone? Well, turns out we had a couple of 'em right under our noses in San Francisco last weekend, just waiting for folks like us to turn up to their fun, feisty fundraiser.

Lucky for us, we heeded the call and got a much-needed political recharge. Stoked! 

Ralph Nader, a three-time presidential candidate, is best known as a consumer advocate (his most famous book, Unsafe at Any Speed, exposed the auto industry's dirtiest secrets and became a national bestseller in the '60s). Former San Francisco supervisor Matt Gonzalez is a local hero, having run for mayor as the Green Party candidate in 2003 (he lost, but by a slim margin). Together, they're presenting themselves as a smart alternative to McCain, Clinton, and Obama, and had at least one VN staffer mesmerized with dialog about the dominant power of corporations over politics, and why you can't be anti-war yet still authorize excessive military spending.

To temper the soaring blood-pressure levels (which were rising in a good way), there was plenty of wine, food—all veg, hurray!—and fun people to chat with once the speeches were complete. The evening ended with a Nader booksigning (that's Joseph with Ralph Nader, below. Note the autographed copy of Unsafe in Joe's hand) and a series of photo ops. Look for Nader and Gonzalez on a ballot near you this November, if you dare!

Magical Madeleine Bistro

Who: VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria + Editorial Assistant Lisa Mickleborough
What: Pre-flight dinner
Where: Madeleine Bistro, Tarzana, Calif.
When: May 10, 2008
Why: How could we be in LA and not go?

The Scoop: As you've already read, Lisa and I enjoyed quite the event at WorldFest. After a day full of talking with people, checking out other exhibitors, and, of course, playing with puppies, we were famished. Was it fate that WorldFest was held in Encino—mere minutes away from Madeleine Bistro? Whether our dinner there was pre-destined or not, we knew there was nowhere else we'd rather go.

Since we had to keep an eye on the clock—missing our late-night flight back to SF was not an option—we decided we'd order just one entrée each and forgo all the incredibly tempting appetizers, first courses, and desserts. When we walked in and met Molly Anderson—who owns the restaurant with her husband and executive chef, David (whom you may remember from a little something called the 2007 Veggie Awards)—our plans took a turn for the delicious. Molly graciously did a bit of extra ordering for us. The first thing to arrive at the table? Doughnuts!

With such an auspicious beginning, it was hard to imagine what would come next. To our utter delight, plates arrived bearing the creamiest mac 'n' cheese either of us had ever tasted. Next? Very yummy mushroom potstickers, and Madeleine Bistro's signature appetizer, the beet tartare, which comes served on a disc of homemade vegan cheese (see above!). Are you sitting down, already? Because there's more: While we were still revelling in the appetizers, Molly came to the table with a burger and said, "You have to try the Bigger Maque." It was, literally, a vegan Big Mac. We died. Then, the entrées arrived. We died again, but rallied enough to thoroughly enjoy chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and rich, delicious gravy, and tofu scallops atop a bed of green beans and shiitake mushrooms. So that was it, right? Well, no, actually. But what kind of dessert could follow a meal like that? Oh, I think the chocolate soufflé that came next did a fine job. No joke: vegan chocolate soufflé. It was like eating a little cloud of heavenly chocolate cake batter. See its majesty below, in a photo that in no way does it justice. And, as though we hadn't been spoiled enough, there was also cannoli. You read that right. Cannoli.

It was absolutely worth it to run from the security checkpoint all the way to the farthest possible gate at LAX to have the opportunity to spend time with Molly and enjoy what was, without exaggeration, the best meal either of us had ever ever eaten.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

WorldFest 2008 (aka "Vegan Food & Puppies")

Who: VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria + VN Editorial Assistant Lisa Mickleborough
What: The WorldFest 2008 Earth Day Festival
Where: Encino, Calif.
When: May 10, 2008
Why: To represent the magazine and support the vegan community

The Scoop: Having encountered delayed flights, extremely tardy rental-car shuttles, closed restaurants, and less-than-scrupulous driving directions—only to arrive at our hotel to discover that the hot tub had closed for the evening—well, let’s just say that we were happy to hit our Sleep Number beds and begin a new day.

With the aid of a good night's sleep, hot showers, and a sparkly blue PT Cruiser, we made our way to LA’s largest Earth Day Festival to staff the VN booth and check out the cool roster of speakers and exhibitors. We were particularly interested in what was going on at the Field Roast booth, (um, hello apple-sage sausages!), but equally drawn to the non-food-centric Angels in Fur Dog Rescue booth, one of several non-profit dog-adoption groups present.

Event organizers Jill Hahn and Billy Hulting made us feel right at home, greeting us with warm smiles and much-appreciated VIP passes. Having plenty of trade- and consumer-show experiences under our collective belt, we knew to expect inquisitive, hungry crowds, but we were both surprised and downright moved to discover a solar-powered, completely vegan celebration of the earth and its inhabitants. Watching the diverse, upbeat crowds filing in under the bright SoCal sun and perusing the aisles of planet-friendly booths, it became clear that this event was about more than just subscriptions-hustling or networking. This was a chance to witness all kinds of compassionate folk coming together to honor and learn about the importance of empathy, non-violence, and responsible living, as well as the interdependence of the environmental-, human-, and animal-rights movements.

Okay, that's enough. I promised myself I wouldn't cry.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Lasagna-palooza 2008!

Who: The VN staff, the Castoria family, and hungry hordes from throughout the San Francisco Bay Area
What: Lasagna-palooza!
Where: HMB Parks & Recreation Department Community Center, Half Moon Bay
When: May 10, 2008
Why: Um, unlimited vegan lasagna!

The Scoop: While most of us VN staffers have families who support our animal-friendly lifestyles, no one on staff is more enthusiastically supported than our lovely Elizabeth Castoria of the now-legendary Castorias of Half Moon Bay. While still living with her folks, she would arrive home each evening to an abundant, homemade vegan spread. But it wasn’t enough for Louis and Susy to honor their daughter’s personal ethical choice; they decided to open their arms (and kitchen) and throw an open-community food festival to celebrate veganism. The entire family, having spent several weekends slaving over enough tofu-ricotta filling and secret-recipe tomato-“meatball” sauce to feed a small army (okay—make that 160 hungry people), served up heaps of green salad, fresh bread, and great hunks of warm, flavorful lasagna smothered in Teese (pounds of which were donated by the generous gents at Chicago Soy Dairy). After mingling with a diverse crowd of vegans and the veg-curious—not to mention a surprise run-in with Zepparella’s Gretchen Menn, one of our featured vegan musicians in the upcoming July+August Music issue—a few heartfelt speeches, and a meal so delicious it had many of us adjusting our belts and lining up for more, we all left inspired, sated, and a tad sentimental. Here is Elizabeth's fabulous familia: Susy, Louis, and sister Sheila:

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

And the Winner is …

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly + VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: The Maggie Awards, an annual magazine awards banquet
Where: The Westin LAX in Los Angeles
When: May 2, 2008
Why: With two Maggie nominations this year, we had high hopes for bringing home the top prize!

The Scoop: About two months ago, Team VN learned it had secured two nominations in the 2008 Maggie Awards. The Maggies, affectionately referred to as “The Oscars” of the magazine publishing world, is no small feat. This year, VegNews was up for one of the major awards, Best Lifestyle Magazine, as well as for Joseph Connelly’s compelling profile on activist Gretchen Wyler (“The Actress and The Elephant”) from the September+October 2007 issue. Needless to say, we’ve been sitting on pins and needles ever since.

Finally, the big day arrived. We flew down to Los Angeles on our favorite new airline, Virgin America (great service, affordable fares, and cool cabins). In need of a quick bite to calm our nerves, we head over to the only spot nearby to secure a veggie meal, Subway (gotta love the plethora of veg options near airports). We enjoyed a pair of Veggie Delite sandwiches (cheese-free, with avocado, toasted bread, and vinaigrette, thank you very much). No complaints!

The pre-ceremony cocktail party commenced at 5:30pm, and we had a chance to mingle with publishers from all over the country. There were racks filled with the nominated publications, and it’s always fun to flip through magazines in a range of categories (sports, automotive, health, epicurean, etc.). At 7:00pm, the ballroom doors swung open, and a sit-down dinner was served. Despite requesting a vegan entrée every year, we always end up with same thing: a salad, cheese-filled ravioli topped with roasted vegetables (the veggies were great), dinner rolls, and a decidedly non-vegan dessert. Thank god for Subway.

At last, the ceremony began. A high-tech multimedia show featuring all of the nominees kicked off the program (think glossy mag covers buzzing all over the film screen set to cool tunes). We then wait anxiously for the biggie: Best Lifestyle Magazine. Up against Vegetarian Times, Alternative Medicine, Mothering, and The Advocate, this was our year. We won! Oh my god! It was fantastic. VN publisher Joseph Connelly gave a heartfelt speech to the audience of 600+, making sure to acknowledge our fellow nominees (who were all in attendance). Unfortunately, we didn’t take top honors for our second nomination, but we’re still absolutely elated. Our staff works hard to deliver the best vegetarian magazine on the planet, and it’s wonderful to be recognized. Yeah!