Thursday, August 28, 2008


Who: VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea, VN Publisher Joseph Connelly, VN Distribution Manager Katie Paul, + loads of animal-rights-supporting folks from throughout North America
What: AR 2008
Where: Alexandria, Va.
When: August 14–18, 2008
Why: To network, make new friends, educate ourselves and others, and have fun!

The Scoop: You have to love the annual AR conferences. First, the crowd is lively in a way that other conference crowds are not. And by lively, I mean you'll likely find everyone at the hotel bar at evening's end, laughing, shooting the breeze about serious and not-so-serious matters, and letting go of the stress that's generated when we learn about and are reminded of the horrific stuff animals endure.

Second, the folks at FARM—the conference sponsors—switch it up every year, hosting the multi-day event in DC half the time, and LA the other half. This year, I got to travel to DC for the first time ever, and couldn't wait to soak up that humidity like a sponge, to expand my animal-rights knowledge a bit more, and meet some cool, like-minded folks.

After a fitful red-eye flight from San Francisco and a two-hour layover in New York, I finally arrived in DC and shuttled myself to the Hilton, only to find that the room Katie and I'd be sharing wasn't yet available. Thankfully, the hotel pool had comfy reclining chairs, and since the conference didn't start until the next day, the two of us headed off to relax and unwind after our travels. Sharing the poolside ambience was a youthful gang of conference attendees glugging energy drinks and noshing what looked like Doritos corn chips. Cheesy Doritos? At an animal-rights conference? "I think those might be the new vegan Doritos I've heard about," said Katie. Are you kidding me? Where've I been? "Excuse me, but are those the vegan Doritos we've heard about?" Yes! Came the enthusiastic reply. "You want to try some?" Do we ever!

Newlywed Katie Paul modeling vegan Doritos

They were good, too. Darnit!

Next day, the two of us worked our butts off at our booth selling subscriptions, but we also managed to squeeze in some schmoozing and socializing. We were lucky to have our friends from Organic Athlete and Vegan Bodybuilding right across from us, so we spent quality time with Jeremy Moore and the always-fun-and-chatty Robert Cheeke, and we also met up with The Traveling Vegetarian, aka Yvonne Smith, plus the fun and funny Erica Meier from COK, new NYC girlfriend Emily Elkins and her two darling doggies Lola and Bella, and VN contributing writer Eric Prescott.

That evening, I had plans to meet with my new fun friend Dustin Rhodes, whom I met at Vegetarian Summerfest and whose wicked sense of humor kept us in good spirits despite the crappy weather. Dustin works at Friends of Animals and lives in DC, so he's equipped with insider knowledge on the best places in town to eat. We decided on Ethiopian and headed over to Dukem restaurant for what might've been the biggest veggie-combo-for-two-platter I've ever had the good fortune of indulging in. As usual, I ate twice as much of everything as Dustin, including the most delicious curried potatoes that tasted more Indian than Ethiopian, plus collards, lentils, peas, and salads. I'm actually considering relocating to east Africa now—or the East Coast at the very least.

Next, we headed to Busboys and Poets, where the joint was jumping and the atmosphere felt festive. Too bad our stomachs were at full capacity, 'cause I sure would've liked to try the vegan calzone (never had one of those!) or the vegan pepperoni pizza. Next time! After throwing back a few cooling adult beverages and chatting about everything under the sun, we realized the witching hour was approaching, and it was time to say so long. Dustin walked me to the Metro and we called it a night. Arriving at the Hilton in the early hours of the morning, I could hardly believe the size of the crowd converging at the hotel bar. Holy smokes, guys!

Saturday was to be my first time representing VegNews at the first of two panel discussions, and once I got that out of the way, the relaxation could begin. Popping next door to the Pangea booth, I shared a packet of vegan doughnuts and a cinnamon roll with Katie, who isn't the least bit ashamed of her sweet tooth, and who later indulged in an ice-cream cone from the Chicago Soy Dairy booth. We were on a sugar roll, because later we met and tasted the wares of young entrepreneur Emily Mainquist of Emily's Desserts, who is making some really delicious vegan-certified cookies that you'll hopefully get to try soon. My favorite flavor is Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip. No, wait: make that Coconut Cranberry!

Surprisingly, there was no sugar crash to prevent us from fully appreciating that evening's dinner and awards ceremony, so six-ish or so, Katie, Joe, and I lined up for the big buffet—an interesting melange that included quinoa salad, a tofu-and-veggies combination, and some breaded fake meat-type thing with stuffing inside—and headed into the great-big ballroom. Sharing our table with a nice family from Ohio, we chit-chatted until the first presenter took the stage. Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society gave the keynote speech, and big winners included HSUS' Paul Shapiro, who was inducted into the AR Hall of Fame, and animal activist/anti-landmine campaigner Heather Mills, who won the Celebrity Animal Advocate Award. Turns out she's a real champion for animals, and a generally lovely person. Hearing her speak made us all forget about our rather uninspired dessert: Tofutti Cuties served on a silver salver. No, really!

Celebrity Animal Advocate Award-winner Heather Mills, and VN's Aurelia d'Andrea

Monday, August 18, 2008


Who: VN Senior Editors Elizabeth Castoria + Jennifer Pickens
What: A weekend in the Great Northwest
Where: Portland, Ore.
When: July 16, 2008
Why: Portland is taking over the world, so we thought we'd tag along

The Scoop
: Sometimes the best plans are the ones you don't make until the very last minute. As I was recently packing for a quick weekend trip to Portland to visit two very handsome friends, I noticed Jen's Facebook status. Yes, Facebook status. We are freakin' hip. Anyway, her status mentioned that she was at that very moment packing to go to Portland to visit friends of hers, and, thanks to the instantaneous nature of the internet, it took all of five seconds for us to plan to meet up.

As it turned out, we couldn't have picked a better weekend, as the temperature rose well past 100 degrees, which is my absolute favorite kind of weather. Our first stop was, naturally, the vegan mini-mall. Taking turns in Herbivore, Sweet Pea Bakery, and Food Fight!, we were overwhelmed with all the vegan goodies and could have easily spent the whole weekend just boomeranging between the three. Since new tattoos were not on our agenda, we didn't check out Scapegoat, but I made my Portland-based friends swear that they'd go there if their body-art plans changed.

After a sunny trip out to Sauvie Island for some flower picking, we met up with Jen and her buddies at Bye and Bye, Portland's famous all-vegan bar. You want a vegan White Russian? You got it. (Okay, to be technical, I got it, and it was freakin' delicious.) In addition to their signature drink, the Bye and Bye, they had an enticing menu. The Old Timers, aka chili dogs, pictured above with me and my two favorite Portlanders—Jon and Tim—were a hit, as was the famous meatball sub. Jennifer was so delighted with her avocado-and-tomato-lined grilled cheese that she proposed marriage to it. The union, while sweet, was short lived.

The next morning, after a nice, long sleep-in, my hosts and I headed for the beach so that they could escape the heat. Unfortunately, we escaped it all too well—thunder and lightning greeted us as we got out of the car after a two-and-a-half hour drive. After the return drive, we were good and ready for dinner, and headed straight to Nutshell. If you've ever been stuck in a car on a too-long roadtrip and need to feel human again, go to Nutshell. The airy interior was a welcome change, and everyone inside was smiling. Oh, and then there was a little something called the food. Holy crap. We may have eaten more than any of us thought possible, and we couldn't have been happier. Let's just use the words risotto cakes, vegan aioli, zucchini carpaccio, tandoor roasted squash, smoky romesco sauce, the fluffiest focaccia ever, slow-roasted corn, and dilly potato salad. As if those weren't enough things to think about, we also tried the slightly spicy watermelon verbena soup, the crispy rice fritters dipped in avocado purée, and the blueberry-fennel salad drizzled with a coffee reduction. If there's one way straight into my heart, it's through this kind of food. Thankfully, Portland's only an hour's flight away!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Dose of Dosa

Who: VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria + VN Editorial Assistant Lisa Mickleborough
What: A dinner of dosa
Where: Udupi Palace, San Francisco, Calif.
When: August 9, 2008
Why: Do you really need much of a reason to eat great veg Indian food?

The Scoop
: Here's a little insight about how things work here at VegNews: we talk almost constantly about food. Any time of day, any type of food, so long as we're either imagining some ultra-awesome menu or recalling some of our most-favorite meals, we're happy. Since our editorial director, Aurelia, has spent a significant amount of time traveling in India, we can always count on her to regale us with tales of dosa, idly, and other South Indian favorites. Having heard about the utter wonder that is dosa since day one, I've been dying to try it. Enter Udupi Palace.

The San Francisco location of this authentic chain opened in June, and Lisa—also a newbie to the world of dosa—and I finally had time to go. With expectations high, we set out for the Mission District on a bustling Saturday night. Udupi Palace's interior is warm and inviting, and the place was abuzz with diners who all had huge plates of food in front of them. Once seated, it took us maybe all of 10 seconds to select the masala dosa and savory tomato uthappam from the menu. Our orders came on two silver trays, complete with a selection of coconut chutney and sambar. Incredibly, everything lived up to our expectations. The dosa was crispy and light, and the potatoes inside were like someone had taken the best mashed potatoes ever and jazzed them up with Indian spices. We died.

After completely stuffing ourselves (did I mention that the servings were huge?), Lisa got a cup of coffee to help everything digest. She was so taken with the chicory-blend flavor that she asked the manager where she could buy it, and he graciously gave her a bag to take home. As if the generosity of the servings weren't enough, the coffee was certainly an unexpected bonus. From here on out you'll be able to find Lisa and me at our weekly meetings that begin, "Hi, my name is Elizabeth and I'm a dosa addict."

Fun up the Waziema!

Who: VN's Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea + Editorial Assistant Lisa Mickleborough
What: Dinner and dancing
Where: Club Waziema and The Transfer in San Francisco
August 8, 2008
Why: Well, because it's fun

The Scoop: Having already been on an exciting not-for-tourists tour of San Francisco, when Aurelia suggested we head to her neighborhood and try an Ethiopian restaurant/dive bar known to locals for its all-you-can-eat vegan special, I was in. Now, I have to be honest—my past experiences with injera, the traditional Ethiopian flat bread, have bordered on traumatic, but with the promise of East African beer, a Midwestern-American jukebox, and Aurelia’s good company, I took a gamble knowing the night would have to be at least twice as fun as it was … traumatic.

Sitting deep in Club Wazeima’s unlikely dark, musty, wood-paneled bar setting, we waited for our food long enough to get a couple drinks in, thus inhibiting my squeamishness. We tore into the pizza-sized flat bread laden with homemade split lentils and peas, savory vegetable stew, rich mushrooms, collard greens and—coulda been the beer—but I swear there wasn’t a hint of the wet, too-tangy, deflated whoopie-cushion experience I recalled. Instead, this injera was soft, fluffy and mild—the perfect vehicle for the somehow-buttery, robust sauces. Whether or not we actually had room for seconds, we happily obliged as the chef came around with ladles of lentils.

From the NoPa neighborhood, it’s just a quick jaunt to the The Transfer nightclub in lower Castro where we met up with Aurelia's DJ friends including Anthony Lymon. The co-owner of Ginger Rubio Salon by day, I was pumped to meet him since his veg-friendly business space is the site of the upcoming VegNews-hosted Vegan A-Go-G0 Book Bash (Sarah Kramer's new cookbook). Anthony turned out to be very sweet and fun, and while dancing to new wave mixes sipping I-can't-believe-it's-vegan mixed drinks like Tanqueray tonics, twisted vodka sodas, and Malibu orange-crans, we came up with very original dance moves. (See below for one highly technical example, which I've dubbed, "Oh no, it's the cops!")