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

Monday, October 20, 2008

Vegan à Go-Go! Book Bash

Who: The whole VN staff, legendary cookbook author Sarah Kramer, and 75 perky party-goers
What: The much-anticipated Vegan à Go-Go! Book Bash
Where: GingerRubio Salon, San Francisco, Calif.
When: October 3, 2008
Why: To launch Vegan à Go-Go! in high style

The Scoop: It's not every day that one of the world's best-selling vegan cookbook authors makes her return to the world of publishing—and you know how we like an excuse to throw a party. In celebration of Sarah Kramer's latest work, we held a little shindig at GingerRubio, an absolutely gorgeous salon tucked away on a side street in San Francisco's Mission District. The festivities got started right around 6pm when the guest of honor arrived. Sarah immediately got busy greeting guests as they arrived and chatting with her dedicated fans. Mini root-beer floats and Pink Lady cocktails whetted everyone's appetite for actual eats, and gave the party a fun, frivolous feeling. Friendly servers bearing trays of food—provided by Google chef Justin Lucke—swirled around the room offering guests such mid-century classics as Rocket Dogs (fancy Pigs-in-a-Blanket), Knuckle Sandwiches (open-faced no-egg-salad sandwiches on sliced baguette), and Doo Wop Dip (a classic onion dip, complete with crunchy onions on top), and Doris Day Mushroom Paté, which was served with the requisite crackers: Triscuits.

Upstairs, DJ Jazzy Aurelia kept the evening lively with '50s-era tunes, and our diligent tattoo artists, Abby and Lyndsay, made sure that everyone was as colorful as possible. While it was difficult to choose between various tattoo options—including one bearing the likeness of the guest of honor—most people elected to be adorned with the simple "vegan" tatt. We even saw one gracing a guest's neck! Speaking of the guests, we were in no short supply of cool company. In addition to Sarah, we got to mingle with Erin Williams—who's in California for the final push for Yes! on Prop. 2 before election day—Erica Meier and Noelle Callahan of Compassion Over Killing, Ann and Larry Wheat of Millennium, Ursula Calderon of Oakland's Micio Mambo boutique, fabulous vegan esthetician Jocelyn Clarin Richards, and about 75 other enthusiastic party-goers.

About halfway through the evening we gave out a few fabulous door prizes, including tubs of Sjaak's incredibly yummy chocolates and one very swanky Matt & Nat bag. Sarah entertained the crowd and answered questions, though she might not have wanted to admit that she'd never been to Millennium! After offering advice on how to get your stuff back from your ex, and letting us know which is her favorite recipe in
Vegan à Go-Go!—Nanaimo bars, in case you were wondering—Sarah got to work signing books. To make sure no one died of starvation while waiting to get their book autographed, servers made the rounds with Tollhouse-style Chocolate Chip cookies, which were extra gooey and delicious, and Betty Crocker Coconut Islands (pictured below). After the munching, mingling, and merriment, please consider Vegan à Go-Go! officially launched.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lyndsay's Cupcake Adventure

: VN Editorial Assistant Lyndsay Orwig
What: Solo time out on the town
Where: Urban Bread in the heart of San Francisco
When: October 5, 2008
Why: To become more acquainted with the city

The Scoop: Being fairly new to San Francisco, there’s still much I have to see and experience in this animated city. Being a newbie to California—having made the trek across the United States from Virginia last April—I’ve been searching for a certain feeling of life and excitement that I was just not feeling back home. Well, I definitely felt it the moment I stepped into San Francisco in early September! This feeling has led me to want to learn and see more about this unique and gorgeous city, so every weekend I’ve been here I’ve tried to discover just a little bit more of what the city has to offer!

This past weekend made it a little harder to make the rounds. First, there was the Vegan à Go Go! Book Bash on Friday, which was a huge hit, and then there was the World VegFest, which I worked all Saturday. To be totally honest, come Sunday, all I wanted to do was relax with a good book, but the city was bustling all around me, so I couldn’t give in. So off I went onboard the L train to Castro Station, where once having emerged from underground I was bombarded by the commotion of the Castro Street Fair. With stage performances in one direction and dancing and singing in another, it was hard not to be caught up in the joy and excitement. But I had a destination in mind, so on I went. My destination was none other than Urban Bread, a quaint little hangout located at 18th and Sanchez that serves coffee and fresh baked bread, which is all vegan excluding the ones that contain cheese in their titles. However, I wasn’t going for the bread, but for the cupcakes! I heard through the grapevine that the bakery also served vegan scones and cupcakes on the weekends, and boy was it true! I got to choose from a plethora of cupcake flavors including Pina Colada, Mexican Hot Chocolate, and Strawberry Daiquiri. Yum! Did I by any chance mention that I’m a horrible decision-maker? I finally decided on the chocolate cupcake, and I was not disappointed. It was delectably rich, and the frosting was to die for—so creamy and delicious! It left me wanting more, but I had to restrain myself. I guess I’ll just have to take another trip soon to try the other flavors—such a comforting thought.

So with my sweet tooth much obliged, I decided it was time to head home and get some rest before another big work week followed by another weekend full of exciting discoveries. I know there is still a great deal more to see in this wonderful city, and nothing makes me happier!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Incredible Green Hulk

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly + California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger
What: Commonwealth Club Lecture: Keeping California Cool
Where: The Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco
Why: To hobnob with former SF Mayor Willie Brown while witnessing live politics
When: September 26, 2008

The Scoop: I feel it's my duty to keep up with all things green, as it should be obvious by now that we're all on this planet together. When I was notified that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was delivering a lecture commemorating the second anniversary of my state's very progressive (at least when compared to the hot air coming out of DC) Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, aka AB 32, I decided to skip the VegNews staff lunch and travel to sunny downtown San Francisco to observe politics in action.

But first, since no Press Pass blurb would be complete without some food reference, I stopped in for a quick bowl of Won Ton Soup at the infamous Lucky Creation Vegetarian Restaurant in SF's Chinatown. Check out our previous Press Pass entry for more on Lucky Creation.

Chugging straight up the (Nob) hill, I arrived at The Fairmont where I was greeted by former SF Mayor Willie Brown who was impeccably dressed, and, of course, donned his trademark fedora. We said a quick "hello" as old buddies do before I picked up my press creds and headed into The Fairmont's Gold Room, aptly named for its great ornateness and gilded beauty.

The gilded interior of The Fairmont Hotel's Gold Room

The press was everywhere: An imposing bank of video and still cameras towered behind us print and electronic journalists. The Commonwealth Club, now 105 years old—almost as old as Willie Brown, according to the Gov—is the nation's oldest and largest public affairs forum. It has hosted nearly every US president since Theodore Roosevelt, a fact not lost on the ever savvy Schwarzenegger, whom referred to fellow Republican TR as his "political idol" while referencing the former prez's 1911 Commonwealth Club lecture, which addressed environmental issues. Such progress we have made.

Arnold delivered a pointed and upbeat 19-minute speech, talking up the progressive agenda of AB 32, the "most ambitious global warming bill" in the nation and the first to impose mandatory caps on greenhouse gases. He took pot shots at the Bush administration ("Washington is asleep at the wheel; we can not look for leadership there" and "(We're) not waiting for the Federal government") as well as the Motor City ("Detroit, get off your butt!"), the latter a reference to Tesla Motors, a new luxury-car company setting up shop in San Jose, Calif., that will manufacture zero-emission electric vehicles exclusively. He also claimed he went to MoTown and encouraged GM to make the Hummer 3 a hydrogen-only vehicle, but they didn't listen. At least he tried. Finally, he foreshadowed his upcoming Governor's Global Climate Summit, to be held this November in "Callifornya." No word whether the governor from the great state of Alaska will attend. If not, surely Tina Fey can stand in.

And not to disappoint the star-gazers, the Gov magically worked into his remarks his two most famous lines, "Hasta La Vista, Baby" and "I'll Be Back." Pure coincidence, I'm sure. A good time was had by all.

The Governator in action

NY Veg Expo + Liz Lovely Factory Tour

Colleen Holland and Joseph Connelly at the VegNews booth

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly + Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Business, but all pleasure
Where: Saratoga Springs, NY, and Waitsfield, Vt.
When: September 13–14, 2008
Why: To promote VegNews and continue our obsession with vegan cookies

The Scoop: Each year, VegNews sponsors or exhibits at nearly 25 vegetarian-related shows. We send staff to Chicago, Seattle, Austin, Toronto, Sedona, Portland, Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Boston, Raleigh, Washington DC, and, for the second year in a row, Saratoga Springs, NY. Not only do we love meeting VN readers and signing people up for magazine subscriptions, it’s important to connect with local vegetarian communities and support their efforts to promote the veg message.

And the folks in Saratoga Springs are doing a great job. Led by husband-wife-daughter team Dave, Jan, and Kristin LaJeunesse, they have built local awareness and organized the ultra-successful NY’s Capital Region Vegetarian Expo. This year, the one-day show attracted 3,000 attendees and 100 vendors, and was buzzing from start to close. Held in downtown Saratoga Springs, a quaint, picturesque town approximately 30 minutes north of Albany, the expo featured veggie food companies (with lots of samples!), animal sanctuaries, non-profits, vegan bakeries, and more. On our way out of town, we peeked inside Saratoga Spring’s beloved Four Seasons Natural Foods and only wished we had the appetite for its famous smoothies and hot and cold entrée/salad bar. In San Francisco, where Whole Foods and Rainbow dominate, it’s always fun to visit these old-school health-food stores.

At the show, we hook up with longtime colleagues Dan and Liz Holtz, who invite us to visit their Vermont cookie company, Liz Lovely. Forget the Ben and Jerry’s factory tour (which happens to be just up the road from Liz Lovely)—it doesn’t get better than this. If you haven’t sampled the company’s soft, gooey cookies with such clever names as Mochadamia Mountains, Chocolate Moose Dragons, and Ginger Snapdragons (Liz Lovely’s best-selling cookie), we suggest you do so immediately. These babies won our 2005 Veggie Award for “Product of the Year,” so you know they're good.

On Sunday, we make the leisurely (and stunning) drive to Vermont, stopping for lunch at a roadside organic smoothie shop operated out of a farmhouse kitchen. We then head to Waitsfield, a progressive rural pocket known for its laid-back ways. When we reach Liz Lovely, we’re greeted by Dan, Liz, and Bruiser (their very sweet canine companion), hear all about the company’s early days, their move from Philadelphia to Vermont, and company perks (which includes a daily staff lunch). We then get the full bakery tour and learn about the cookie-making process, from the proprietary spice blends to the secret behind their luscious chocolate coating (we know, but we won’t tell!). After our delightful afternoon together, we couldn’t be more thrilled for their success and look forward to watching what’s next for this vegan cookie company.

Liz Lovely's Liz Holtz and VegNews' Colleen Holland flank the just-made cookie shelf

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Who: VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea + VN Editor at Large Jennifer Pickens
What: An evening of humor, enlivened by pizza and drinks
When: Thursday, September 11
Why: To support one of our favorite VN columnists
Where: The legendary Purple Onion nightclub in San Francisco's North Beach

The Scoop: It's no secret Jen and I have a thing for Dan Piraro, and see him every chance we get. And by "see," I mean semi-stalk, what with "random" rendezvous everywhere from Brooklyn to LA and back again in San Francisco. And by "semi-stalk," I mean in a totally harmless way. Really. Seriously, though, what's not to like about the guy? He's funny as all heck, smart as any ol' Mensa member, and just happens to be an animal-loving vegan, so we really had no choice but to head to the Purple Onion for a little dose of Dan's Bizarro Baloney Show.

Since our tickets were for the 10:00 show, we had to wait in line outside the club for the earlier show to end. While we braced ourselves against the usual wind and fog, we chatted with Kevin Connelly, the associate director of Earth Island Institute, who just happened to be in line next to us and whom we hadn't seen since this year's Genesis Awards. Before we knew it, it was time to head down into the warm, non-windy subterranean fun-hole for some much-needed ha-has.

Unbelievably, the show was not sold out. In fact, we practically had the place to ourselves, which was a bummer, since it was a benefit for Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, but it did make for a rather intimate comedy experience. The show opened with the very funny Brian Malow dishing up humor of the scientific variety. No, I don't remember any of his jokes, but I remember we all laughed a lot, and there's nothing like laughter for working up an appetite. Lucky for us, the kitchen was still open and the pizza oven was still on, so we ordered ourselves a very vegan Margherita pie and devoured it in no time flat, which was exactly how long it took for before Dan took the stage. Talk about comedic timing!

As usual, Dan made us laugh with his unique brand of humor that veers from themes as divergent as contemporary politics and teenage transvestitism (the latter subject a direct reference to Dan himself—go see his next show if you want to know what I'm talking about). And, as usual, we cajoled Dan into having his photo taken with us. Thanks, Dan!

Jen, Ashley, Dan, Jeff, and Aurelia

On our way out, we stopped by the very European-looking Cafe Zoetrope across the street from the Purple Onion and discovered they, too, have a vegan pizza pie on the menu. More on that in another post.