Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So-Cal Chow

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Charlotte Gordon
What: A weekend getaway to Southern California
Where: The OC and Los Angeles, Calif.
When: July 25-26, 2009
Why: To get a healthy dose of vitamin D and search for the elusive Daiya cheese.

San Francisco has been laying on the fog thick. Especially in the Sunset District where the VNHQ is forever shrouded in Stephen King’s The Mist. What better time then now to brave the one-hour flight to Southern California for an overdose of vitamin D, outdoor entertainment, and Daiya vegan cheese?

That’s where I headed last weekend, and after greeting friends and family, it was time for Mission Objective Number One: Locate a pizza with a ridiculous amount of Daiya on it. Through intensive research (aka receiving the occasional Google Alert for “vegan cheese”), I discovered that Daiya has taken over LA. But has its stretchy, gooey goodness trickled down to the Irvine area? The Tustin Whole Foods answered me with a resounding “yes!”

It stretches!

Mission Objective Number Two: Stock up on vegan snackies for an outdoor nighttime picnic at the Hollywood Bowl, the largest natural outdoor amphitheater in the good ol’ US of A. The vegan pizza from Wholefoods was a pie to be reckoned with—we’re talking a vast stretch of dough and cheese. But the meal would not be complete without a Gardein Chick'n Salad with fresh bell pepper and green beans marinated in a raspberry dressing. My folks and I hauled all this grub up to Hollywood and feasted upon it in our box seats at the Bowl. The perfect accompaniment to this meal? Songstress Jewel performing her chart-topping hits with the Hollywood Bowl orchestra to back her up. This incredible night of song had a grand finale of fireworks to dazzle the senses.

The Bowl and its occupants remain intact while fireworks rage above.

What else was there to do but indulge in decadent raw food the next day at 118 Degrees? I ordered the Merry Monkey smoothie—it was a blend of nut milk, banana, almond butter, and other such tastiness—while my mom and grandma split the brunch special, which ended with an amazing cashew bar smothered in chocolate and raspberry sauce.

A tasty and stylish tidbit from the five-course raw brunch.

After packing away all this food, I did manage to waddle back to the airport to board a plane back to San Fran. Now, I sit in my swivel chair and diligently wait for sunshine and, more importantly, for Daiya cheese to takeover Northern California! In the meantime, I suppose I should get back to work!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Weekend Warriors, Part Two

Who: VN Associate Editor Abby Young, Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig, and Editorial Assistants Kailey Harless and Charlotte Gordon
What: Animal Rights National Conference, Part II
Where: Los Angeles, Calif.
When: July 16-20, 2009
Why: To represent VegNews at the annual AR conference

The scoop: We all woke up a bit tired from the late celebration night before, but with a nice workout and a cup of caffeine, it wasn't hard to recharge for another Animal Rights 2009 conference day. The crowd was noticeably thinner than other days, as vendors were leaving and attendees were heading home.

As a conference first-timer, I was most amazed by the long-time VegNews readers. We often had people stop by the booth just to say how much they adore each issue, or share how long they've been reading. Seeing their genuine excitement fueled us more than any cup of coffee ever could, and knowing that people thoroughly enjoy what VegNews staffers dedicate their lives to made every moment behind the booth worthwhile.

Over the weekend we met loads of people. We first spied Bryan Pease being interviewed for suprememastertv.com next to our booth, who stopped by the table to chat after his turn on-camera. Since he's an animal-rights attorney and the activism advisor for VegNews, it was nice to meet one of our very own!

We also chatted and posed with Nathan Runkle, founder of Mercy for Animals and the youngest activist ever to be inducted into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame. Lyndsay, Nathan, me, and Abby

You know what the perfect way to end a long, fun, yet exhausting weekend is? Dining well, of course. Abby and I ventured out into the pavement jungle in search of an affordable, vegan-friendly restaurant. Thankfully, we found the quaint and accommodating Par's Persian Cuisine, which offered both Lebanese and Italian fare.

Within seconds of looking at the menu, I knew what I wanted. Smooth, exquisite, garlicky hummus that I consumed with edible spoons: many, many wedges of warm pita:

Luscious hummus topped with olive oil and paprika

A crisp, fresh, bright tomato-cucumber-mint salad made for a cooling complement:

Diced cucumber and tomato mingle with mint and parsley

With full, happy tummies, Abby and I trekked back to the Westin and fell into a deep slumber. So what if it was only 10 pm? At least we were well rested for the daunting trip back to San Francisco. And by daunting I mean breezy. Virgin America knows how to treat a girl (big cushy seats? Please and thank you!), and San Fran is merely a hop, skip, and jump away from LA.

All in all, the weekend was a success. We learned from the AR lectures, dined well, met incredible people, and laughed constantly. This AR first-timer couldn't ask for more.

Weekend Warriors

Who: VN Associate Editor Abigail Young, Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig, and Editorial Assistants Kailey Harless and Charlotte Gordon
Animal Rights National Conference, Part I
Los Angeles, Calif.
June 16–20, 2009
To represent VegNews at the annual AR conference

The Scoop:
This year’s Animal Rights National Conference brought activists from across the world to Los Angeles for four days of thought-provoking lectures, stimulating conversations, and fast friendships. A lucky group of VN staffers, myself included, made the oh-so-excruciating one-hour flight to the world’s oldest meet-up of its kind.

Joining an array of exhibitors, the team set up shop to meet attendees and spread the VegNews word. Conveniently, our table was sandwiched between the two sole food vendors, Samosa House and SunPower Natural Café. Did we complain about vegan samosas in plain sight, or the generous raw chocolate-cookie samples sent our way? Certainly not.

Friday welcomed an excited crowd, eager to peruse the exhibition room between lectures. I had the pleasure of meeting many of our readers, as well as making friends with some new subscribers. Robert Cheeke of Vegan Bodybuilding fame stopped by and was kind enough to dole out free fitness advice to Kailey and me (upon our request).

After a long day at the conference, it was time for our anticipated outing to the much-hyped vegan fast-food haven, The Veggie Grill. In case you haven’t been, believe the hype.

Veggie Grill's All Hail Kale salad with crispy "chicken"

I inhaled my All Hail Kale salad, and snuck a few stellar sweet-potato fries from the table’s appetizer.

Sweet-potato fries with chipotle ranch dipping sauce

If the food and sunshine weren't enough, I had the pleasure of keeping excellent dinner company: author and blogger Erik Marcus, Mercy for Animals' Nathan Runkle, and the conference’s two Grassroots Activist awardees, Lauren Ornelas and Dave Bernel.

Their awards, among others, were presented at Saturday’s banquet. Attendees in their swankiest weekend wear honored the year’s top activists and organizations, dined on Match Meats entrées, and enjoyed an entertaining celebrity-hosted charity auction. Remember French Stewart? No? What about now? He garnered quite a few laughs from our table, which I wouldn't entirely attribute to the merlot.
Charlotte, Kailey, and I pose at the banquet

The night ended with a mixer at the hotel’s
high-dollar bar, combining a local LA Vegan Drinks event with the conference’s nightly reception. Despite the attire and the cocktails’ price tags, the tone was casual, celebratory, and a perfect end to the evening.

Real Food, Real Fun

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Charlotte Gordon + VN Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig
What: A delicious meal at Real Food Daily
When: Sunday, July 19, 2009
Where: Los Angeles, Calif.
Why: Because you need real food, daily.

The Scoop: It was the last night of AR 2009 in Los Angeles, and Charlotte and I were feeling a little cabin feverish in the conference’s hotel. So what did we decide to do? Go out on the town, of course! Lucky for us, Charlotte’s brother, Jon, lives in Southern California, so we were able to hitch a ride into the city where we decided to dine at the posh Real Food Daily, a vegan restaurant located in West Hollywood and known to be frequented by a number of celebrities—veg or otherwise.

After cramming five people into a very small car, we arrived in 15 minutes flat and stepped into the stylish restaurant, where we found out that we had to wait an extra 15 minutes—bummer. I wasn’t too upset because it gave me more time to scope out the scene, and being the movie guru that I am, I quickly spotted a familiar face—Bill Nighy from such classics as Love Actually and Shaun of the Dead. And sitting right beside him was none other than vegan superstar Alicia Silverstone! I know that not everyone experiences the same star struck-feeling that I do, but being a recent West Coast transplant, the celebrity sighting honestly made my night.

But enough of the celebs and back to the most important thing of the night, which of course was the food. The winning entrée of the night was the Salisbury Seitan due to the fact that it was ordered by three of the five people at our table, and it definitely lived up to its popularity with mashed potatoes, yummy gravy, and Caesar salad on the side. The TV Dinner and Total Reuben were also ordered at our table, and Charlotte and I were lucky enough to get a taste of both before they were quickly devoured.

Reigning champion of the night

We were stuffed after this satisfying main course, but we were not going to pass up on dessert—no way, no how! Charlotte and I shared the Chocolate Blackout Cake, which was über rich and delicious. As should be expected with food this good, the plate was clean within five minutes.

Lyndsay and the Chocolate Blackout Cake

So, it was back to the hotel for Charlotte and me, with our new cure for a case of cabin fever: great atmosphere, (vegan) celeb sightings, and good food.

Charlotte and friend Brenna

Monday, July 13, 2009

Starry, Starry Night

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Charlotte Gordon + VN Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig
What: Vegan Prom
When: Saturday, July 11, 2009
Where: San Francisco
Why: To dance the night away!

Who could forget the magic of prom night? The large stars hanging from the ceiling, the huge vegan ice-cream cake, and that really tall guy wearing that pink jumpsuit made of faux fur. I'm talking about first annual Vegan Prom put on by Vegan Outreach, of course. And somehow, Lyndsay and I were able to pull our awesome ensembles together in two hours flat for this event. Unfortunately, there was no limo waiting for us outside, and mommy and daddy weren’t in town to chauffeur us, so it was the typical mad rush to the bus stop—this time wearing heels. Guess what? Not one ankle was fractured. Amazing!

A medley of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits was bumpin’ when we arrived, and cookies and chocolate delights were abundant and just begging to be stuffed into our tummies and my pamphlet-sized purse for late night snackin’. Now, a resolution of mine has been to get at a Maggie Mudd ice-cream cake … somehow … someway. This evil plan must have been written all over my face that night, for Lyndsay and I were approached with the news that a two-layer ice-cream cake (bottom layer: chocolate, top layer: chocolate-mint goodness) was sitting neglected on a table, melting away. Of course it was our duty as fine upstanding vegans to help with the dilemma! We joined other prom-goers in devouring the delish dessert before it melted onto the pink table linens.

Oh no! It's melting!

We two-stepped our way through the night, mingled with some amazing folks from the Bay Area—such as Brian Grupe of Vegan Outreach (whom you may remember from our "20 Under 30" feature in our March+April issue) and VN Contributor Mark Middleton—and admired some '80's-inspired ensembles. Personal trainer Darren Middlesworth was also in attendance to see who would win his training session, which was up for grabs as a raffle prize.

Jesse and Erin pick the winning ticket!

We both anxiously held our tickets and hoped for the best. Who wouldn’t want a night for two at the Stanford Inn by the Sea? Or a romantic dinner for two prepared by chef Jesse Miner? Alas, our ticket numbers were not called, so we danced our way through the pain and pulled it together for a classic prom pic in front of the Starry, Starry Night-themed backdrop. So, yeah. Good food, good people, and $11,166 was raised to promote veganism—Vegan Prom was the bomb.

Me and Lyndsay, at the end of a magical evening

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rainbow Rite

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Charlotte Gordon
What: Rainbow Grocery
Where: San Francisco
When: July 7, 2009
Why: To experience Rainbow Grocery for the first time and secure a place among my vegan peers.

The Scoop: Having heard the name “Rainbow” so many times in the office and not being able to associate it with anything, I figured that it surely was linked to some vegan rite of passage. The sense of camaraderie that followed its mention as stories were shared and foreign (to me) vegan food was discussed only fortified this assumption—I finally decided to make the life-changing trek to this grocery co-op.

I packed my provisions (gum and a bottle of kombucha) and hopped aboard the L train. I got off at Van Ness and ventured to the somewhat seedy side of town. Navigating my way through sidewalk construction, I finally walked under a freeway overpass and saw the green awning that read “Rainbow.” I had made it to the vegan oasis in the urban jungle, and boy, was it worth the trip!

Rainbow's wide selection of veggie cheese.

There were no awkward run-ins with the meat section because, well, there is no meat section! What the store does have are all the vegetarian specialty foods you could ever hope to cram into one place: dairy-free ice cream galore, a fine assortment of vegan cheeses, and massive amounts of grains for stockpiling. The highlight of my trip? The baked-goods section, where label after label read “vegan.” From turnovers to cupcakes, a grip of treats were untainted with moo juice—it had to be documented. With my camera poised and ready, I was about to shoot every fluffy muffin and pinched crust when an employee politely informed me that pictures are not allowed. I pointed to myself and said “VegNews,” and that’s all it took to have free reign with the food photography. (Hmm, what other advantages come with my new VegNews status?)

Behold, vegan cupcakes aplenty.

I kept my eye on the prize (vegan chocolate-peanut-butter cupcake), and made it home safe. Now, with the milestone of discovering Rainbow under my belt, I feel a sense of empowerment. I now know where the widest selection of vegan specialty foods—aka cupcakes—are in San Francisco and am now a full-fledged San Francisco vegan.

The prize.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cookies for a Cause

Who: VN Associate Editor Abigail Young
What: The Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale
: The Streets of San Francisco, Calif.
: June 27–28, 2009
: Because sometimes it's OK to take candy—or cupcakes—from strangers

The Scoop: The buzz over the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale has been growing for months now: a massive, multi-country bake sale spanning one full week, raising awareness and funds for animal causes everywhere. This past weekend, all of the planning, measuring, mixing, and oven-wrangling paid off.

The SF bake sale team, featuring VegWeb moderator Laura Beck and Melisser from The Urban Housewife, first set up shop outside Ike’s Place. They served up the entire spectrum of baked goods, from traditional apple pie to savory cardamom-spiced rolls to rich, frosted cupcakes. Let’s count the pros of frequenting the sale on Saturday: I snagged some awesome vegan baked goods, scored the best vegan meatball sub ever, and enjoyed everything on-the-spot thanks to Ike's ridiculously sunny sidewalk seating. The single con? Maybe I got a teensy bit sunburned, but that's only because it was such a gorgeous day. (Note: wear your sunscreen!) It wasn’t quite 4pm, the end of the day’s sale, and the goods were all gone. Success.

Day two transported the table to the Mission District where scones, cookies, and doughnuts were flying off the plates almost faster than they could be replenished. The show-stealer had to be the Pride doughnuts crafted by Jordan, which were literally snatched up by passers-by as soon as they hit the table.

Jordan's proud doughnuts

I helped myself to a cinnamon-sugar doughnut made by Joel, one of the volunteers, and a couple agave-sweetened bite-sized carob cookies. Yes, it was necessary to treat myself both days. It’s for a good cause, after all.

Joel and Melisser show off their goods

And speaking of causes, both sales raised $3000 combined for Animal Place and East Bay Animal Advocates. How fantastic is that?

Who could say no to that face?

According to WWVB, the low estimate for total funds raised worldwide is $25,000. Congratulations to all of the volunteers, bakers, donors, and customers who helped make the bake sale a huge hit!