Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vegan Pizza Party!

Who: VegWebmistress Laura Beck and 40 pizza-hungry vegans!
When: December 13, 2009, Chicago, Ill.
Why: Because eating vegan Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is pretty much all anyone ever wants to do.

The Scoop: Vegan pizza is an elusive beast. For many of us, the only vegan pizza we ever get to indulge in comes from our own kitchen. If we're able to find a place with vegan crust, the pizza is usually cheeseless, dry, and bo-ring. However, if you're lucky enough to live in Chicago, Delisi's Pizzeria & Bar has your back. They regularly offer a menu that features not only Teese vegan cheese from the geniuses at Chicago Soydairy, but also several vegan meats, including pepperoni, seitan chorizo, and sausage. All of the meats are from Upton's Naturals, a local company specializing in blow-your-mind delicious seitan.

On Sunday, a group of 40 vegans gathered at Delisi's for a taste challenge to end all taste challenges. Organized by Julia from Snarky Vegan and Melisser from The Urban Housewife, the event promised to be a delicious battle of epic proportions. Our goal was to try several different types of Chicago deep dish pizza—half made with the pizzeria's regular vegan cheese, Teese, and half made with new vegan cheese wunderkind, Daiya—and declare a winner! This was a contest I could physically, emotionally, and spiritually get behind.

When we arrived, we paid our entrance fee (only $12, including soda, tax, and tip! Chicago prices, I love you!) and were given name tags. Next, the chef brought out a panzerotti, which is basically a deep-fried calzone. Hello, obesity! It was filled with tomatoes, Teese, Daiya, and a selection of Upton's seitan. I imagine it's what is served in heaven. SO GOOD. After that, the deep dish pizzas started to come out. They offered up a meat lover's special, Hawaiian pizza (complete with vegan ham), veggie special, and more. We loaded our plates and got down to the taste test.

A sight for hungry, pizza-lovin' eyes.

One bite into this marvelous deep-dish pizza and you'll wonder why you ever bothered eating anything else. Classic Chicago deep-dish pizza has no worldly match; it is spicy, hearty, and flat-out amazing. While opinions varied on which cheese was superior, the consensus was that both cheeses were delicious in their own right. Delisi's agreed and soon will most likely be offering both Teese and Daiya! How's that for service?

Attendee Jon enjoys his pizza afterglow, while Joy longs for her chance to indulge.

It's exciting to walk into what seems to be your typical, unpretentious, neighborhood pizza spot and find they're looking out for vegans, too. Awesome! Co-owner Brian Esterline estimates that about one-third of his clientele is vegan. That's a fact we can all use when we go into pizza places and request vegan options. I don't mean to get all cheesy (ouch!) on you, but if you build it, we will come. We will travel across states, climb mountains, and swim oceans for a tasty vegan treat. I've been known to forsake family and friends for a good vegan milkshake.

Speaking of ice cream, the kind folks of Chicago Soydairy were at the event and brought dessert! We all quickly found room in our expanded stomachs for cherry-vanilla, pineapple, and peppermint ice creams. I don't know how we did it, but what can I say? We were a strong group.

Chicago Soydairy's tasty frozen trio.

The event ended when we were all nearly incapacitated due to our overwhelming consumption. We laid in the booths and begged for relief. And then, we went for more pizza. Many thanks to the co-owners of Delisi's, Brian Esterline and Sean Anderson, and all of their fabulous staff for hosting the event. Now, who else is up for organizing one of these? It's an amazing form of outreach, to the pizza place and to other vegans in your community. When you do accept the challenge, be a doll and invite us, okay? We'll be there with our eating pants on!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's the Millennium!

Who: VN Editorial Assistants Liz Miller and Sara Constantineau
Dinner at a famed vegetarian restaurant!
Millennium Restaurant, San Francisco, Calif.
When: December 11, 2009
To pretend we're rich and fancy for one night (read: charge it).

The Scoop: Before Sara and I return to our respective hometowns for the holidays, we had one goal: splurge on a decadent vegan dinner at Millennium Restaurant! Was it worth getting all dolled up and braving an unusually chilly winter night to get the 411 on one of San Fran’s most esteemed vegan eateries? Well, duh.

After confirming our reservation with the hostess, we spent a few minutes admiring the charming retro vibe of the Hotel California—the building Millennium calls home—before being seated in the cozy, vaguely 1920s-decorated dining room. Maybe our table-for-two was the perfect spot for people watching, and maybe we did some good-natured gossiping while waiting for the waitress to arrive.

Of course, our first order of business was to take a gander at the extensive beverage menu. Sara started the night by sipping on a Current Affair, a cozy combo of vodka, vanilla agave, and crème de cassis, while I opted for the slightly spicy Fiery Basil-Grapefruit Margarita. Thankfully, the restaurant offers a complimentary breadbasket to tide guests over until their appetizers arrive. We figured it was only sporting to clear the entire thing, especially since the bread came with a deliciously addictive side of chickpea spread.

The happiest of hours.

Now, here's the thing about fine dining for the budget conscious: go big or go home. Sure, we could have split an appetizer, skipped the entrée, and called it a night. That sounds fiscally smart, right? Wrong. That sounds lame. After parting ways with the breadbasket, we happily welcomed the arrival of our appetizer, the Savory Bread Pudding Gratin. The verdict: Crazy. Delicious. This rich bread pudding had mushrooms, cashew cream, and a host of other savory ingredients that could convert even the most obstinate carnivore (yes, at Millennium, that is part of the goal).

Deliberating over which entrée to order was a difficult task (sometimes life is hard), but I finally decided on Pumpkin Curry, and Sara chose Masa Gnocchi. We asked our server to recommend wine to pair with our dinner, and she brought us two glasses of tasty, earthy red wine. Molto bene!

Molto bene, Millennium!

The only downside to indulging in such a rich, delicious meal? We were much too full to try any of the restaurant's seasonal desserts. It was truly our loss, because we could hear the Gingerbread Tiramisu calling our names. Oh well, now we have a legitimate excuse to return to Millennium in the near future. Seriously, we'll see you soon, Gingerbread Tiramisu.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

SF Vegan Bakesale, Round Two.

Who: VegWebmistress Laura Beck, VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, VN Associate Editor Abigail Young, and VN Editorial Assistant Liz Miller
What: San Francisco Vegan Bakesale!
Where: In front of Ike's Place, San Francisco, Calif.
When: December 5, 2009
Why: Because who doesn't want to eat cupcakes for a good cause? Crazy people—that's who!

The Scoop: As the sun rose on San Francisco this past Saturday, the VegNews crew was already up, preparing mountains of treats for the SF Vegan Bakesale. And we weren't alone; dozens of people from all over the Bay Area had been mixing, kneading, and baking for the big day. Local vegan bakeries, including Violet Sweet Shoppe, Sugar Beat Sweets, Fat Bottom Bakery, Cinnaholic, Idle Hands Baking Company, and In the Mood for Food (Um, when did SF get so many fabulous vegan bakeries? For the record, I fully approve!), along with more than 50 others, came together and served up the most amazing array of vegan treats I've ever laid eyes on. There were cupcakes, cookies, focaccia, tarts, cream pies, brownies, muffins, pecan pie, croissants, and SO much more. We even had gluten-free and raw treats, too. Talk about covering your bases.

This isn't even half of the table space, piled high with baked goods.

The sale started at 11 am and ran until 4 pm. It was a mad house the entire time, with baked goods and cash being exchanged in a fervor I imagine is matched only by a good day on Wall Street. Hundreds of people descended upon the sale to scoop up the goods, leaving with to-go containers piled high with delicious treats. I was lucky enough to help with the selling and organizing, but it would be a lie if I didn't tell you that most of my day was spent stuffing my face and gossiping with friends. I planned on enjoying only a few treats, but those plans were abandoned as soon as the Candy Cane Joe-Joe's cupcakes hit the table. And then again with the peppermint brownies, and yet again with the caramelized-onion focaccia. Forget it! If you need me, I'll be in hibernation until winter is over.

Oh, I almost forgot the best part! All proceeds from the bake sale benefited two amazing local nonprofits: the Food Empowerment Project, who works with youth and low-income populations to make healthier, more informed food choices, and Save A Bunny, who do exactly that. They save bunnies at the shelter and place them in loving forever homes. Okay, now here's the best part: there were bunnies at the event! I'm not sure if I expressed myself clearly, but just in case: BUNNIES! Floppy, hoppy, adorable bunnies. I wanted to take them all home and turn my apartment into a bunny lair but the boyfriend vetoed it. I might have to reconsider this relationship.

Two adorable bunnies keep each other warm.

When all was said and done, the bake sale raised more than $4,200 for the two charities. Yes, I'll repeat that for you. Four thousand two hundred dollars. Sit on that one for a minute. Personally, I was blown away by the truly inspiring generosity and general awesomeness of everyone involved with the sale. It's such a great way to spend a day. Colleen made the observation that it's the new hang out, and I have to agree. Everyone is in an amazing mood, but how can you not be when you're surrounded by vegan cupcakes and bunnies?

Peter and Khane, VN family, pose with Colleen and their box of goodies

This is the kind of event that makes activism fun. The SF Vegan Bakesale puts delicious vegan baked goods into the world (and into my mouth!), while raising money for very worthwhile causes. And as an official sponsor, you'll see VegNews at the next one. We'll be the ones covered in frosting, trying not to bunnynap Tyson.