Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vibrant Veg Fare with an Ocean View

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly + VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
When: April 19–22, 2009
Why: To celebrate spring

The Scoop: Now that the May+June issue of VegNews has been published, with a short window of respite time we hightailed it up to Mendocino to one of our favorite places in the galaxy, Stanford Inn by the Sea.

One bountiful ingredient of the Stanford Inn experience is dining in its award-winning, by-and-large organic, spacious and lovely vegetarian restaurant, The Ravens. Executive Chef Barry Horton is a maestro in the kitchen; his “conscientiously prepared organic cuisine” changes with the seasonal offerings of the property’s own Big River Nurseries certified-organic gardens, from where much of the food arrives freshly hand-picked and literally just a few short steps from the kitchen.

A few of the raised-bed gardens at Stanford Inn by the Sea's Big River Nurseries

It’s springtime, so both the ravens and The Ravens are in full bloom. Dozens of the restaurant’s namesake black birds buddy up to the rescue horses looking for dropped morsels, while our meal awaits us in the dining room. The Ravens is simply the crème de lá crème of veg restaurants north of the San Francisco Bay Area and south of the North Pole. Over the course of our stay we’ll indulge in three breakfasts and three dinners. That’s a lot of courses, of course, but we’re up for the challenge.

Breakfast at The Ravens is a healthy, hearty meal that allows you to skip lunch without missing a beat. A few standouts include the Stanford Inn Live Scramble: finely ground almonds and sunflower seeds mixed with onions, spices, tomato, and cilantro over a chiffonade of spinach. There’s also the Frittata, another new menu item, made from sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and wild ’shrooms, plus baked tofu with grilled tomatoes, vegan sour cream, and hash browns. Yum. The Vegetable Garden Scramble allows you to pick between tempeh or tofu; I choose the ‘peh. Magnificent. There’s also The Ravens Florentine, which consists of a house-made English muffin under a bed of steamed spinach topped off with tofu and all smothered in a lemon-tahini sauce. There’s plenty more to choose from including traditional breakfast fare such as Pancakes, Waffles, and French Toast as well as additional savory dishes. A total of 12 vegan entrées plus five “breakfast combination plates” fill the morning menu, which begins with a flute of freshly squeezed organic juice (orange, apple, tomato, or carrot) plus your choice of fair-trade coffee or tea, all included with your stay. With this extensive a menu, you could move in for a week or more and never have the same thing twice, if you were so inclined.

The evening meal is just as special. As the dining room looks westward, you watch the sun set over the gardens into the Pacific, creating wonderful hues of pink and bright orange in the energetic evening sky, setting the stage for a trip around the all-vegan menu.

A trio of appetizers at The Ravens

Starting with soup, we sip Tortilla (ground tortillas in a deep, spicy broth) and savor the creamy Zucchini Cilantro with crème fraiche. Light eaters will relish the Roasted Beet Salad (red and yellow in a Meyer-lemon vinaigrette), the California Salad (garden lettuces with blood orange, grilled fennel, and hemp seeds), or the Harvest Garden (wilted spinach under a roasted Bosc paired with almond and pine nut “cheese”). For entrées it’s the Beggar’s Purse (cilantro-lime tempeh inside a phyllo crust over a bed of spinach accompanying a sweet potato batonnets) and the special of the day, Sid’s Twins, in honor of one of the chef’s who has just become a proud father again and again: two grilled stalks o’ asparagus “cigars” wrapped in phyllo atop a pair of tempeh and herb-filled baby artichokes, accompanied by sugar-snap pea and carrot slaw, then finished off with a French fingerling cream sauce. Hungry yet?

There’s plenty more, but I’m already over both my word and calorie count. Joan and Jeff Stanford and their staff have created a most perfect retreat. Next time you are looking for a weekend getaway, look no further than Mendocino’s Stanford Inn by the Sea.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mendocino's Ultimate Eco-Resort

Stanford Inn by the Sea

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly + VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Stanford Inn by the Sea, an eco resort on the Mendocino Coast
When: April 19–22, 2009
Why: To escape the city for a relaxing getaway

The Scoop: With a heat wave hitting San Francisco, we decided to run away. Off to Mendocino, 150 miles north of the Golden Gate, for a few days of one of the toughest assignments in journalism: Reporting to you live from inside the hot tub at Stanford Inn by the Sea.

The Stanford Inn. Ah. If you have never been here, I’ll describe it: Heavenly. Magical. Peaceful. Relaxing. Rustic luxury in spacious redwood-and-pine-paneled, wood-burning-fireplaced suites overlooking lush, certified-organic vegetable gardens beneath a panoramic Pacific Ocean view. And then there's the heated salt-water swimming pool nestled in a greenhouse solarium, the award-winning veg restaurant, The Ravens, all topped off with yoga, massage, canoes, and bicycles. The icing on this luxurious cake? The resident and visiting dogs and cats (the Stanford Inn is a pet-friendly establishment), and even a raccoon or two who freely roam welcomed and coexisting with their horse and llama friends.

We arrive in time for the afternoon hors d’oeuvres (3:30 pm daily), which just happen to be desserts from the day’s featured cookbook, VN columnist Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking. After a customary stroll around the stately 10-acre resort, it’s time for pre-dinner relaxation in the solarium, tastefully appointed with a steamy-hot whirlpool, sauna, and the aforementioned pool, large enough for swimming short laps. And did I mention the blossoming banana trees? (Trivia alert: they are not really trees at all, but the world’s largest herb. You’ll learn all about bananas in the July+August VegNews.)

The Solarium Pool bathed in early morning fog

When you visit—and you must—be sure to attend a morning yoga session; both classes and private lessons are available. And book yourself a massage in the secluded cabin nestled amongst eucalyptus and redwoods on the forested eastern half of the property. If you are trying to work up an appetite, take a kayak or canoe out on the Big River, peddle a mountain bike along an old logging road (both available from the Inn’s Catch a Canoe & Bicycles, Too!), or hike the three-mile trail at Van Damme State Park, about two miles south of The Stanford Inn on historic Highway 1.

Joan and Jeff Stanford, the Inn proprietors, have created as perfect a getaway as can be imagined. One trip here will have you dreaming of returning and looking for reasons to do so. The Stanford Inn is truly an unforgettable place that, once experienced, never leaves you.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Best Day Ever

Lyndsay poses with her "Backstabber" vegan turkey sandwich.
It will be completely devoured in about .2 seconds.

Who: VN Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig + VN Editorial Assistant Melissa Feineman
What: Super-scrumptious sandwiches and so-good-it-should-be-illegal ice cream
When: Sunday, April 12, 2009, from here on out known as "The Best Day Ever"
Where: Ike's Place and MaggieMudd, San Francisco
Why: To see just how much utter deliciousness could be fit into one day. The short answer? A lot. For the long answer, see below.

The Scoop: Pop quiz: Can a sandwich change your life? If you answered yes, chances are you have already experienced the joy and wonder that is Ike's. If you answered no, you poor dear, then you must drop whatever you are doing and arrange a trip there as soon as is humanly possible. If you fall into the latter camp, perhaps you are thinking "What's the big deal? It's a flippin' sandwich for cryin' out loud." But that, my friend, is where you'd be wrong.

Let's start with the options, of which there are many. No matter what your dietary leanings, from dedicated omnivore to e"vegan"gelist, we're pretty sure you'll find something to please your palate. On the vegan side of things, not only are there vegan meatballs (more on those bad boys later), turkey, and cheese, but also a substantial range of vegetable-only delights.

Having perused the menu online ahead of time (which I recommend doing just before going. Too far ahead of time and you might find yourself gnawing on your hand, mousepad, or anything else that happens to be lying around just to stave off the hunger pangs), I already knew what I wanted, which was the "Not So Sloppy Ike." This is a vegan meatball sandwich with barbecue sauce and cheese. Lyndsay went for the "Backstabber," a vegan turkey sandwich with marinated artichoke hearts, garlic and herb sauce, and soy cheese.

We had been warned ahead of time that the lines can be long and the wait torturous, but lady luck was most certainly smiling upon us since we were eating no more than 15 minutes after we arrived. Ike himself (dressed up in his Easter Sunday finest), hand-delivered the sandwiches to our table, and after that, well ... I can't really tell you too much of what happened after that because I was so focused on my sandwich that the rest of the world just seemed to fade away. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what made it so incredibly, mind-bogglingly delicious. Was it the tangy sweetness of the barbecue sauce? Maybe. The satisfying bite of the "meatballs"? Perhaps. The mingling of complementary textures from crisp to saucy? Quite possibly. I've said it before and I'll say it again–this sandwich will change your life.

Now, any normal person might stop at this point and think, "Hey, I've just had the best sandwich of my life. I think I'm ready to go out on a high note and call it quits for the day." This type of thinking, though, will get you nowhere, and luckily Lyndsay and I were on the same page here. It was a beautiful San Francisco day. The sun was shining and the birds were chirping. The only possible move that made any sort of sense was for us to head up to MaggieMudd for a vegan-ice-cream blowout.

As a small side note here, if you ever intend to recreate "The Best Day Ever," which I highly recommend that you do, I would also suggest that you walk from Ike's to MaggieMudd. This journey takes about an hour if you don't stop anywhere along the way, and it provides you with just about enough time to make room in your stomach for ice cream.

Is there anything better than vegan mint chocolate cookie ice cream on a beautiful day?
No, I don't think there is.

MaggieMudd, like Ike's, is a place of diversity, so you can find everything from dairy to soy to coconut-milk-based ice creams. There is also an unbelievable selection of sundaes and blended drinks. Lyndsay opted for a Maggie Muddy Fudgy Sundae (just try saying that three times fast!) with "Death Squad" and "Chocolate Mint Cookie" flavors. I went for a cup with "Mint Cookie Swirl" and "ChocoRaspberry Cookie." Since mint chocolate is, as far as I'm concerned, the be-all and end-all of ice-cream flavors, I was really surprised to see two different mint-chocolate combos on the menu. The one I ordered was mint-flavored ice cream with swirls of chocolate and cookie pieces, while Lyndsay's choice was a chocolate ice cream with mint flavor and cookie pieces. The only apparent difference was that mine was green and slightly mintier in flavor, but both were excellent.

Just as Nelly Furtado sings, "All good things come to an end," and so, too, did "The Best Day Ever." It was mind-blowingly amazing, and I can't wait to do it again!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fancy Awards Weekend

Who: VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria
What: The Genesis Awards and day-after brunch
When: March 27–28, 2009
Where: Beverly Hills, Calif.
Why: Um, fancy parties celebrating animals are pretty stinkin' fun!

The Scoop: In years past, the VN crew has had a ball at the Genesis Awards. This year, it seemed like said good times might not roll at all, since the majority of the staff had scheduling conflicts. Thankfully, at the last minute, it all fell into place, and I headed south.

The thing about the Genesis Awards is that you know celebrities—and celebs who care about animals, no less—will be there. It's amazing to be in a room full of people who are being recognized for bringing animal issues to the forefront of public view through their television shows, documentaries, feature films, news reporting, etc., and to know that for every nominee, untold numbers of people were made aware about animals and the often horrific lives they endure for our amusement, food, and clothing. So, amongst the stars that made me starry-eyed were Emily Deschanel, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Joe Mantegna (who did a Fat Tony bit while presenting an award!), Jorja Fox, Marg Helgenberger, Ginnifer Goodwin, Carol Leifer, and my new husband, Nigel Barker. OK, fine. No, he's not really my new husband, but Mr. Barker, shortly before beginning casting for the next cycle of America's Next Top Model, has been working overtime to stop the Canadian Seal Hunt. What can I say? Saving seals makes me swoony. This year's entire awards ceremony was dedicated to that very cause.

So, after mingling a bit at the VIP reception, we sat down for dinner and the awards presentation. My tablemates included Rey Ortega, Jill Hahn, Billy Hulting, Jonny, Kristine, and Milan Vasic, Dave Rutan, Lisa MacMillan, and Ramy Hassan.

The dinner was, of course, absolutely delish. What else would you expect from Tal Ronnen? Baby bok choy, vegan chicken scallopini, and black-rice risotto kept all the guests sated during the awards. Considering the graphic nature of many of the clips from nominated works that were shown, it was especially comforting to have a completely vegan meal, knowing that even attendees who aren't vegan didn't contribute to animal suffering that night! The presenters were lively (it seemed like maybe a whopping five percent of them actually read from the teleprompter, while the rest went a little improv-crazy). Beginning with Jarrod Cooper and continuing through the evening, Michael Vick's surname was modified at liberty, most often by replacing the "v" with a "d." One of the more memorable off-script speeches came from Ellen DeGeneres. While accepting the Wyler award which she co-won with her wife, Portia de Rossi, Ellen said that she was cautious of attaching too many labels to herself, since as a public person she doesn't want to be misunderstood. "But," she said, "I've been openly gay for a while now, and that's going pretty well. So, I'm openly vegan!" The crowd did indeed go wild.

After all the awards, we moved to the silent auction and after-party. Um, let's just say that partying in a room filled with some of the most amazing animal activists on the planet is pretty freaking awesome. From HSUS, Wayne Pacelle, Paul Shapiro, Mike Markarian, and Dan Paul, just to name a few, kept things lively. VN columnist and professional cutie-boots Rory Freedman, Matt & Nat founder Inder Bedi, artist Gretchen Ryan and her husband Peter, and all-star activists Ari Solomon, Mikko Alanne, Kath Rogers, and Bryan Pease made the evening utterly fun.

Rey Ortega, me, and Moira, photo by Susan Weingartner

The next morning, in the sunny, seaside beach chalet of Moira Nordholt and Ron Proulx, a festive group gathered for the traditional post-Genesis brunch. Co-hosted by Moira, Ron, and Susan Weingartner, this was exactly what you think of when you think of brunch. Amazing food, outrageously fun people, and a love for animals all around. Could the weekend have been more fun? No. Can I hardly wait for next year? No.