Monday, March 31, 2008

Living the VegNews Dream

Who: The whole VN team + la vegan-entrepreneur crème de la soy crème
What: Birthdays and bubbly by the pool
When: March 15, 2008
Where: Candy Cane Inn, Anaheim, Calif.
Why: Because we’ll take any excuse to celebrate two of our favorite VN ladies!

The Scoop: It’s a tough life we have, we VegNews peons: traveling extreme distances only to be taken to a poolside suite; then, after a night of being force-fed at Native Foods, getting dragged out of bed to sample hundreds of vegan treats and personal products—at one point, we were even commanded to bring some samples home with us. Talk about a hostile work environment!

Okay, so maybe it was a little more like the ultimate vegan fantasy, and a little less like arduous labor, but, after nine hours of boothing and sleuthing, our feet were seriously sore. And, because it was Jenny and Katie’s birthdays, we were not ready to call it a night. Enter our hero, VN Publisher Joseph Connelly, who brought us delicious Vietnamese take-out from the nearby and newly opened Thuyen Vien, a specially made, giant Native Foods chocolate birthday cake with vanilla frosting, and several pints of Maggie Mudd Tarmac and Memphis Mudd Pie vegan ice-cream. Joining in the festivities were longtime friends of VegNews, and standout entrepreneurs, Vegan Essentials husband and wife team Courtney Ernster and Ryan Wilson, as well as the always entertaining Chicago Soy Dairy gents—producers of the first "ice-cream" made in an all-vegan facility. Later on, after heartfelt card-giving and candle-blowing, we dipped our tired, happy bodies into the glowing hot tub, and popped some Champagne. It’s tough work, but hey, somebody’s gotta do it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hollywood Hills Book launch Party

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly, VN Managing Editor Aurelia d'Andrea, and a gaggle of glamorous, compassionate people
What: A launch party for Gene Baur's new book, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Food Animals
Where: The Baur family home in the Hollywood Hills
When: March 15, 2008
Why: To support our fellow vegans

The Scoop: Joe and I nipped out from our Expo West duties for a few hours so we could lend our support to Gene Baur, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, and Orland, Calif., who was having his official book launch party at his folks' home in the Hollywood Hills. Due to co-pilot malfunction, we got a little lost on the way up, but knew we were getting close when Joe's Prius passed a string of parked cars plastered with "Go Veg!" stickers.

Inside the modest mid-century home high in the hills above Los Angeles, the vegan glitterati mingled over glasses of organic wine and small plates from the buffet catered by Tanya Petrovna of Native Foods. The juicy tomato skewers were divine! Here and there, a familiar face surfaced in the crowd. Hey! Do I know him? Oh, wait: that's James Cromwell of Babe fame, and no, I don't know him. But I do know her—that's Skinny Bitch herself, Rory Freedman. I love her! And there's another vegan author, the funny, glamorous Karen Dawn. (Read more about her and her latest book, Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals, in the current issue of VegNews.) And where can I get a coat like hers? (See Karen in said manteau above, pictured beside Emily Deschanel.)

After thoughtful speeches by Loretta Swit and Farm Sanctuary's Samantha Ragsdale, Gene took the podium for a few inspiring moments to talk about the way farmed animals have changed his outlook on life, deepened his compassion, and set the course of his life's work. A compelling, charismatic speaker, Gene had the crowd enraptured. It was a memorable evening made more so by the genuine feelings of empathy and compassion generated by this altruistic bunch of do-gooders. Being part of the vegan community is pretty freakin' awesome!

Expo(sé) West

Who: The whole VN team
What: Natural Products Expo West/Supply Expo 2008
Where: Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, Calif.
When: March 14–16, 2008
Why: Big-time business

The Scoop: Have you ever wondered what it’s like to have a private showing of the newest natural products held exclusively for you and 52,000 of your closest friends? That is precisely what the VN team found behind the double doors at the Anaheim Convention Center during Expo West. All the major producers of organic-type goodies (like soymilk/faux meat/organic fair-trade chocolate/organic home and body products) were there exhibiting their new product lines, new flavors, and new formulations. It was our solemn duty to test all the exciting new products and meet as many industry insiders as we possibly could during the three-day show. Suffice to say, we came, we met, we tested. We were lucky enough to have a booth adjoining that of Redwood Foods, the makers of Cheezly. All weekend long, they kept us supplied with hot, fresh pizza,  while the good people from Tofurky kept us sated with sandwiches for lunch every day. These may well have been what kept us sane with the intense over-stimulation of literally checking out thousands of booths. We also awarded 12 outstanding new products with highly coveted VegNews Magazine Best of Show awards. For a full list of the winners, be sure to check out the July+August 2008 issue of VN. If that wait is too long to bear, here’s a little inspiration: vegan frosting, vegan-owned companies, and stellar vegan skin care. It was a whirlwind trip, an almost-overwhelming show, and, all in all, a ton of fun.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Native Foods Night Out

Who: VN Staff
What: Kick-off dinner at Natural Products Expo West
Where: Native Foods in Costa Mesa
When: March 13, 2008
Why: Pass up an opportunity to hit Native Foods? We think not.

The Scoop: Every March, the VN clan hits Anaheim in full force for the world’s largest natural products show—three jam-packed days of schmoozing, product testing, and giving out copies of the magazine. To kick-off the weekend, we always hit one of our favorite vegan restaurants: Native Foods. With four locations (and a fifth coming soon), there's nothing quite like a meal at Native. It was a balmy March evening in Orange County, and our party dined al fresco around a large table complete with a fire pit in the middle. We started with Native’s signature appetizers: “Save the Chicken” Wings (housemade seitan deep-fried in a coconut batter with a side of Ranch dressing), Native Seasoned Fries, and Native Nachos (tortilla chips smothered with black beans, soy taco meat, salsa, guacamole, corn, and soy cheese). For the record, we could eat Native’s (un)chicken wings all day, every day. Having spent all afternoon traveling, we were absolutely famished and inhaled the appetizers. We then ordered individual entrées; everything from Katie’s Philly Peppersteak Sandwich (seasoned seitan with sautéed onions and peppers on an organic French roll) to Jenny’s Gandhi Bowl (Jasmine and brown rice loaded with steamed veggies, blackened tempeh, and a curry sauce) to Colleen’s Mad Cowboy (baked potato topped with barbecue tempeh, grilled vegetables, and Native’s famous Ranch dressing—affectionately named after former cattle-rancher-turned-vegan-activist Howard Lyman). We were all in veggie heaven eating this flavorful, innovative, delicious food. We couldn’t leave without dabbling in a few desserts: the Elephant Chocolate Cake (with cinnamon peanut butter icing), the Key Lime Parfait, and the Native Cheesecake. We were especially fortunate that Ms. Tanya Petrovna, founder of Native Foods, joined us for a while. She even had us taste-test her new coconut-battered oyster mushrooms (which were amazing). And VN has some exclusive scoop! One of our favorite veg boutiques, Humanitaire (located in a very stylish space next to Native Foods in Costa Mesa), is opening up location #2 in the rear of Native Food’s Westwood location. Nothing makes us happier than when veg businesses expand and multiply. Yeah!

Laos is for Losers (who forget to wear sunscreen)

Who: VN Managing Editor Aurelia d’Andrea
What: Phase Two of a SE Asian holiday
Where: Vientiane, Laos, & Bangkok, Thailand
When: Early March
Why: Because I forgot to wear sunscreen

The Scoop: In issue #50, I penned a VegVacations piece on Cambodia wherein I cautioned VN readers to slather on the sunscreen should they visit this part of the world, since the equator is practically right there and the sun’s intensity matches its proximity. Well, I neglected my own advice on my most recent vacay with painful, potentially skin-cancer-causing results. Leaving Koh Chang earlier than anticipated meant I didn’t get to volunteer at the local animal shelter as hoped, but I did manage to squeeze in one day of awesome snorkeling before redirecting my focus northward.

VN columnist Caitlin Sandberg recently returned from Laos (look for her travel story in the May+June 2008 issue) and it sounded intriguing in a non-beachy sort of way. So, off I went by overnight train, from Bangkok to the Laos border and, ultimately, the capitol of Laos, Vientiane. Days were spent temple hopping on my single-speed bicycle, cruising the Laos countryside on the back of a motorbike, and discovering new and exciting food. My favorite restaurant was simply called “Vegetarian Food” and offered a killer all-you-can-eat lunch buffet (see plate #1 of 4 above). I’ve got loads of food recommendations for anyone traveling to Vientiane—email me if you want leads!

Back in Bangkok at an early hour, I sniffed out a street stall on a quiet alleyway for a yummy breakfast of unrecognizable grains and beans topped with hot soymilk and a side of Chinese donuts for dunking (see below). My final night in SE Asia was spent eating dinner not just once, but twice, since two new vegan restaurants have opened up in the Khao San Road area since my last visit. The newest is Ethos, and the Tom Ka—loaded with fresh vegetables and tofu in a spicy broth—comes highly recommended. The English guy who helps run the place is pretty nice, too.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vegan in Victoria

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Lisa Mickleborough
What: A Canadian ex-pat returns for a weekend of love and leisure
Where: Victoria, BC, Canada
When: March 7–9, 2008
Why: To visit loved ones in my home and native land!

The Scoop: I’ve lived in San Francisco for almost three months and, while I would not say I’ve become homesick per se, when the opportunity presented itself to return to Canada for the weekend (thanks to a gentleman--see the photo below--who loves me enough to split my airfare), I felt I was in no position to pass it up. Although I am from Toronto, several of my nearest and dearest live in Victoria, BC. By land, air, and sea, I schlepped my over-stuffed suitcase (you never know when you’ll need seven black t-shirts) to Victoria, and stayed with Joey, loved-one #1. He took me around to Victoria’s vegan hotspots, including casual and cozy Green Cuisine, an all-vegan, mostly organic buffet and bakery, where we picked up some surprisingly inexpensive, house-made, organic tofu and tempeh for supper. The morning of day two was spent with loved one #2, Ms. Hilary, who took me to a bustling little retro nook called Lady Marmalade, which, while not entirely vegan, did offer some fantastic vegan brunch options. The service was friendly but slow, although we were so pleased to be reunited that we didn’t even notice. Later on, after an afternoon of rigorous thrift-store shopping with #1, we ducked into Lotus Pond, a charming little Buddhist vegan restaurant where we enjoyed a crispy lemon “chicken” platter and a smoky mock-fish dish served over perfectly sautéed gai lan. I may not have been homesick, but after such an indulgent weekend, it was certainly hard to leave. Hungry for more about BC’s vegan scene? Check out the May+June issue of VegNews when it hits newsstands mid-April for our Vancouver VegEscapes feature.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Small World Syndrome

Who: VN Managing Editor Aurelia d’Andrea
What: Day two of a much-anticipated holiday
Where: On the way to Koh Chang, Eastern Thailand
When: March 2, 2008
Why: To relax, stuff my face with good food, and be warm for once

The Scoop: So, I’m on a bus in eastern Thailand, heading toward the island of Koh Chang, lured by the promise of snorkeling, tropical fruit salads and fried noodles, and an escape from San Francisco’s endless, blustery winter weather. We’re riding along, about an hour away from the ferry port, when the bus pulls over to pick up a new passenger. She climbs aboard, and the first thing I notice about her is the bright red Food Fight Grocery tote bag slung over her shoulder.

No way!

I introduced myself to the lovely miss Karen Zacconi, who turns out to be a fellow vegan from New York who’s been teaching English in Thailand for the last several months. When we met, she had seven weeks of travel left before her return home. Some folks have all the luck! She was taking the leisurely route to Chiang Mai, in the north of the country, where she intended to take vegetarian cooking classes at Mai Kadee’s, an independent chain that happens to be one of my favorite vegan restaurants in Bangkok. (Tom) Yum!

Karen and I bid adieu at the ferry terminal; she heading north, and I, south. I didn’t know it then, but I, too, would be heading north in a few days, thanks to a run in with Mr. Owie Burnie Sunshine. More about that later.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Brunch in Santa Cruz

Who: VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Brunch in Santa Cruz
Where: Saturn Café, Santa Cruz, Calif.
When: March 8, 2008
Why: Post-yoga indulgence

The Scoop: Looking for a veg-friendly getaway this summer? A funky seaside town full of vegetarian eateries, bookstores, and yoga studios, Santa Cruz just might be that perfect travel destination. Just one-and-a-half hours from San Francisco and the city my Mom now calls home, a weekend in this progressive paradise is always just what the doctor ordered. This past weekend, however, time was short, and I only had a chance to visit one of my favorite dining spots. After finishing up a rigorous morning class at The Yoga Center, I moseyed over a few blocks to Saturn Café for a hearty brunch. A SC institution since 1979, the diner-esque vegetarian restaurant—complete with overstuffed booths, a jukebox, and a lengthy milkshake menu—is popular with locals and tourists alike. I settled into the Vegan Breakfast (a bargain at just $6.50), which included a perfectly seasoned tofu scramble, herb-roasted home-fried potatoes, and two thick slabs of sourdough toast with blackberry jam. It was fabulous, flat-out fabulous. Wanting to linger after I had finished breakfast, I ordered a soy chai latte, which was topped with about three inches of soy foam. I love foam, and if you like foam, you’ll love Saturn’s foam. The one downside to the Saturn Café is the service: it can often be abrupt. My gal was friendly, but I did have to wait longer than normal to place my order and noticed she was sitting at a table with friends enjoying her own breakfast. Other than that, it’s a good stop to make on your veggie tour of Santa Cruz.

Look for the lowdown on all my favorite SC spots in the next few months, only on Press Pass.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Singing for our Supper

Who: Editorial Assistant Lisa Mickleborough, Senior Editors Jen Pickens + Elizabeth Castoria, + Managing Editor Aurelia d’Andrea
What: Sushi and karaoke extravaganza
Where: The Mint, San Francisco, Calif.
When: February 7, 2008
Why: Japanese-style fun!

The Scoop: When I moved to this vibrant and entirely foreign city (I’m from Canada) to begin my stint at VegNews, I knew I would be in for some exciting after-hours adventures. I didn’t, however, anticipate that these adventures would include fellow VN staff members. But having been here for just a few weeks, I somehow reached the conclusion that it would be appropriate to invite three of my new superiors out for a night of karaoke—and they agreed. So after a long week of editorial toil, we set off for The Mint, San Francisco’s long-time favorite Karaoke Lounge. Open from noon until 2 a.m. 365 days a year, we were not surprised to find a decadently deco room filled with a combination of very serious regulars and thoroughly sauced amateurs. We were also delighted to discover an adjoining but independent sushi restaurant, Sushi Delight, offering scores of interesting vegan options and a veg-versed staff who regularly bring orders right out to hungry Mint patrons! Offering such novel delights as asparagus-tempura and pickled burdock root maki, we chose to feast on egg-free vegetable tempura, shiitake maki, and an assortment of other tried ‘n’ true veggie rolls. After a hearty meal and a few cocktails, we were set for a night of belting and boogieing we could only describe as both highly entertaining and astoundingly awkward. Here's the whole gang: