Wednesday, September 30, 2009

BlogHer Food '09

Who: VN Associate Editor Abigail Young, Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, and Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria
What: The inaugural BlogHer Food ‘09 Conference
Where: The St. Regis, San Francisco, Calif.
When: September 26, 2009
Why: To get in some offline time with the fantastic food blogging community.

The Scoop: After Friday’s wine-and-tempura tasting party at RN74, I was more than ready for the inaugural BlogHer Food conference to get started. Stepping into the St. Regis hotel, I arrived in time for my personal favorite past-time: goodie-bag collection. A quick check-in garnered me a reusable shopping bag full of edibles, housewares, and fliers, some more applicable than others. My top choice, hands down, was Nature’s Path Peanut Choco' granola bar. I could barely wait for an appropriate snack time. Since not everything was veg-friendly, I took advantage of the donation station, conveniently set up for any goodie-bag discards. Including these donations, 676 pounds of food was donated to the San Francisco Food Bank from the conference.

The morning got exciting as the first round of break-out sessions began, one panel featuring our very own Elizabeth. The packed room experienced a hearty, hour-plus discussion of food blogs’ politics, including hot-topic issues such as veganism, GMOs, class issues, Big Ag business, and more. Kim O’Donnel, fellow panel member and food blogger for True/Slant, also talked about her monthly meatless chats, as well as her weekly Meatless Monday recipe feature, showing the ever-expanding awareness of going veg. While risking nepotism, I will say the discussions resulting from Elizabeth’s own comments were both informative and inspiring.

By lunchtime, our stomachs were growling threats of mutiny, leading us to the gallery room for a conference-wide catered meal.

Colleen, Jill, Lauren, me, and Elizabeth on our way to lunch

Sharing a table with fellow veg-friendly bloggers Jill Nussinow, Lauren Ulm, and Heidi Swanson, we enjoyed a tasty, albeit light, meal, starting with a fresh salad (of course). Romaine lettuce, roasted cherry tomatoes, and kalamata olives helped calm the hunger, although it was the mushroom risotto that finally did the trick. Each bite was accompanied by the emcee stylings of chef Rocco Dispirito, who spent the better part of an hour talking up the meal sponsor. Seeing as how we had the veg option and said sponsor wasn’t the most veg-friendly, we decided to talk amongst ourselves about more applicable topics, such as the wonders of Rainbow grocery and the complexities of vegan cheese.

The afternoon continued with more insightful panels covering practical skills, creative development, and theory. It was fun to see such a vibrant community of bloggers gather offline, engaging in a day of discussion devoted to their passion.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mushroom Meet 'n' Greet

Who: VN Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria and Associate Editor Abigail Young
What: A pre-conference
Where: RN74, San Francisco, Calif.
When: September 25, 2009
Why: Meeting fellow food bloggers before the big BlogHer Food '09 conference!

The Scoop: Often times, Abby and I like to eat. Sometimes, we even like to eat together, and when the opportunity arose to attend a pre-conference cocktail hour with mushroom-centric hors d'oeuvres, we pretty much jumped at it. The evening was organized by Jessi Langsen of The Mushroom Channel, which is a PR blog for The Mushroom Council. As you might expect, there was a clear theme: mushrooms.

The very chic RN74 was a charming, if somewhat croweded, space for the fun. The place was packed—it was Friday night, after all—with diners, drinkers, and then us, the bloggers. Canapés of maitake mushroom tempura and shiitake veloute—which I was assured was vegan—came around every so often, which we eagerly devourved, having been instructed to come "dinner-time hungry." Abby and I got separated early on by the crowd, but both ended up finding fine chatting companions. It was fun to catch up with Jill Nussinow, The Veggie Queen, and Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder of BlogHer. Abby met Abi Jones, a local San Franciscan—something of a rarity in this crowd—who started Heat Eat Review.

Me, Abby, and Abi, at the evening's end

By the time we left we were all geared up for the following day's conference, about which Abby will have a full report soon!

Natural Products Expo East

Who: VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, VN West Coast Sales Manager Lara Bradley, and VN East Coast Sales Manager Jill Petzke
What: Expo East, a three-day business trip to meet with ad partners and scope out new products
Where: Boston Convention Center, Boston, MA
When: September 23–25, 2009
Why: We love to discover new vegan products for VN readers!

VN columnist/baker extraordinaire Hannah Kaminsky with me

The Scoop: The VN team attends dozens of shows every year to promote the magazine, but nothing quite tops the intensity, energy, and excitement of the Natural Products Expo. At this trade show, where thousands of new products are launched, we walk the show floor for hours to discover the hottest new vegan goodies to share with VN readers. This past weekend, three staffers landed in Boston to discover what’s brewing in new loot. Here are some of our favorites—and you can count on VN to dish more in a future issue of the magazine or on VegNews.com.

French Vanilla Coconut Milk Creamer by Turtle Mountain

Coffee Biscotti hemp ice cream by Living Harvest

Thousand Island dressing by Organicville Foods

Coconut Sugar by Essential Living Foods

Rice Cheese (newly formulated) by Galaxy Foods

Raw Cinnamon Agave by Wholesome Sweeteners

Thai Red Curry by Helen’s Kitchen

Recycled dollar-bill toothbrushes from Radius

Naked Almond Fudge ice cream by Coconut Bliss

Recycled flip-flops by Okabashi

Raw cleansing kit by Garden of Life

Chocolate Chip Pancake Mix by Cherrybrook Kitchen

Double Layer Fruit and Nut Bars by Clif Bar

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies by Everyday Gourmet

Recycled eye glasses from ICU Eyewear

Sesame Garlic Marinated Tempeh Strips from Turtle Island Foods

Dinner at My Thai Vegan Cafe in Boston! From bottom left, clockwise: Long-time veg activist Lisa Shapiro, VegNews East Coast Sales Manager Jill Petzke, VegFund co-founder Zia Terhune, VegNews Associate Publisher Colleen Holland

Friday, September 25, 2009

TGIF!

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Sara Constantineau and the rest of the VegNews crew
What: An afternoon outing to check out the 45th Annual Big Book Sale
Where: Underdog and the Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, Calif.
When: September 25, 2009
Why: We like big books, and we cannot lie.

The Scoop: All work and no play makes magazine editors a little restless, so this Friday we decided to take a little bit longer for our lunch break and head into the city for some food and some fun.

Our first stop was at Underdog in the Inner Sunset, where we grabbed a smorgasbord of vegan sausages and side dishes to go. After piling back into our cars and heading out to the marina, we dined outside in the bright sunshine, a nice change from the usual morning fog surrounding our office. Once we had out fill of veggie hot dogs complete with all the fixin's, we headed inside the Fort Mason Center to check out the Big Book Sale, put on by the Friends of the San Francisco Library to raise money for literacy programs.

Scanning the titles for something specific was a little impossible, but if you kept an open mind you could make some great finds. Everything from pre-1900 classics to manga to rock records was on offer. While I opted to carry my books by the handful, others pushed around huge shopping carts and loaded in choice paperbacks like groceries. When everything costs less than $5, it's easy to go a little overboard.
With full tummies and a bevy of new/old books to enjoy, we headed back to the VNHQ and got back to work with renewed vigor. If you are in the market for some cheap reads, be sure to check out the sale next year!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Power to the Peaceful/CARE 2009 Global Action Forum

Who: VN Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Joseph Connelly, VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: 2009 Global Action Forum
Where: Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, Calif.
When: September 13, 2009
Why: Empowering People to Create Solutions to Poverty, according to the festival's tagline.

The Scoop: Tuesday's Power to the Peaceful Press Pass focused on fun times—a review of the Saturday concert in Golden Gate Park. On Sunday, the PTTP people and CARE, the poverty-fighting NGO, extended the gathering to a second day for the first time, with the inaugural Global Action Forum and Celebration, a full-day conference with a bit more of a serious bent.

Musician and humanitarian Michael Franti is the spark behind both. After attending CARE's national conference in Washington, DC this past May, Franti was empowered to do even more, so he created the Global Action Forum to bring the work of CARE closer to his audience.

Yogis Seane Corn and Les Leventhal

The forum consisted of daylong yoga and Brazilian arts workshops, with proceeds donated to CARE. Celeb yogis Seane Corn and Les Leventhal led intense 90-minutes classes, the latter including a special performance by Franti, also a serious yoga practitioner (instant karma: the day before Franti had pulled Leventhal onstage during his finale).

Michael Franti and son, 10-year-old Ade Franti-Rye

The morning exercise was followed by three moderated "action workshops" on climate change, defending girls' rights, and global hunger. While every panelist was an expert, the hunger workshop in particular left me, well, hungry. Nothing was mentioned about the inefficiency of food (meat) production, nothing about the excess of the Western diet (other than how much food is thrown away—250 pounds per second in Europe alone), nothing about eating lower on the food chain, and nothing about genetically modified foods (until an audience member brought it up during Q&A). Ari Derfel, co-owner of Back to Earth, did make one passing "vegan" remark, though it might have had something to do with the T-shirt I was wearing. We did learn that Derfel is opening Terrain, "an all-organic restaurant in Berkeley's David Brower Center, "this fall.
Namkha Rinpoche presents Franti with Tibetan scarf

The event concluded with a reception (not veg, unfortunately), followed by an energetic performance by the talented Brazilian percussion band Tambores Remelexo, and, finally, an acoustic performance by Franti. Prior to taking the stage Namkha Rinpoche, an 18th generation Tibetan monk, presented Franti with a ceremonial scarf in honor of his work, which he proudly wore while he closed out the intense yet overwhelmingly successful two days of music, education, and peace. Mark your calendars—we're already looking forward to next year.
An acoustic close to an electric two days

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Power to the Peaceful

Who: VN Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Joseph Connelly
What: 11th Annual Power to the Peaceful Festival
Where: Speedway Meadow, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Calif.
When: September 12, 2009
Why: Michael Franti & Spearhead plus Alanis Morissette

The Scoop: Five a.m. thunderclaps threatened to put a damper on Michael Franti's annual Power to the Peaceful love fest in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, due to kickoff at 9:00 a.m. with a two-hour "1,000 Yogis for Peace" morning yoga practice. Maybe 1,000 yogis didn't show, and maybe it did rain a little, but the weather wasn't going to stop this 11th annual tradition that pre-dates yet coincides with 9/11 and which has grown into a call for world peace on the weekend closest to the 2001 tragedy.

PTTP epitomizes San Francisco, as one speaker told the assembled. Where else can you wander into an urban park on a Saturday and stumble across a free concert with top-shelf talent, displays of art, a healing sanctuary, zones for kids, booths for environmental and social justice organizations, and vendors selling eco-products? Oh, and 70,000 close-knit friends.
Power to the Peaceful, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco (9/12/09)

After sets by politico hip-hop artist Truth Universal, San Francisco poet Sellassie, Malinese guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, and the powerful vocalist Cherine Anderson (see her before she hits the big time), sultry songstress Alanis Morissette took the stage. The reportedly newly vegan Morissette, looking happy and healthy, delivered a hits-filled acoustic set that pleased all.
Alanis Morissette in San Francisco

The final act of the afternoon was, of course, Michael Franti & Spearhead, complete with the legendary Sly & Robbie rhythm section and Anderson on supporting vocals. The band was on, which may or may not have had something to do with the sweet smoke filling the air or Morissette's recurring guest star role on Showtime's Weeds. It's all just coincidence. To be honest, there seemed to be more of the herb at the Outside Lands Festival two weeks prior, but then again, who's token?

Franti obviously lives for this weekend (though his tour bus arrived in the early hours of Saturday he was still spotted at the morning yoga session). And he should. The festival he has created has now reached that stage where it is an annual San Francisco tradition, and much better than most of them. In his trademark bare feet he prowled the stage with more energy than anyone should be allowed to have, filling the gaps between songs with stories of his recent appendectomy and how he wrote his current hit song, "Say Hey (I Love You)," while in Woody Harrelson's bathroom. "Woody only has one medicine in his cabinet," confessed Franti, to a roaring crowd.
Michael Franti closes the Power to the Peaceful Festival

Friday, September 11, 2009

Happy Birthday, Joseph!!

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Liz Miller, and the rest of the VN gang
What: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly's birthday celebration
Where: GoKart Racer, Burlingame, Calif., and Vanida Thai Kitchen, San Francisco, Calif.
When: September 10, 2009
Why: Because I left Missouri to dress like Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

The Scoop: What midday outing requires a state id, closed-toe shoes, and two automobiles? These were the instructions given to the VN staff in preparation for Joseph’s birthday celebration. When the day arrived, we piled into two cars and journeyed off to our mystery location. Upon arrival it was clear that we would a.) be experiencing the most intense day of go-karting of our lives; and b.) that, birthday or no birthday, we’d show no mercy. At GoKart Racer they take the business of go-karting very seriously. Between the NASCAR-esque jumpsuits and the heavily insulated safety helmets, there was no doubt that we were ready—or at least looked ready—to burn some rubber.


The VN team ready to burn rubber!

In the 10 minute practice round VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland came in first place, leaving us all in her dust, while birthday boy Joseph came in a close second. Revved up and ready for the next round, VN Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria took the lead in the five-minute qualifying race. Then it was time for the main event, the 15-minute, no-holds barred speed race. Tensions on the track were high, and while it was—yeah, yeah—all in fun, we all wanted to win—or at least beat Joseph. The winding track and high-speed competition was fierce, causing a few of us to spinout, resulting in lost precious seconds on the clock. By the end of the race it was clear that speed-demon Colleen had again prevailed, and office manager Lyndsay Orwig had pulled into second place.

Thundercats are a go!

After our rousing afternoon of high-stakes racing we were all a bit tired, and more than a little bit hungry. For lunch we went to Vanida Thai Kitchen, a local favorite with tons of yummy veg-friendly options. After a hearty round of tom ka soup we all indulged in lunch combos. As soon as I saw “fried tofu” and “peanut sauce” listed side-by-side, I knew what I’d be ordering. The food was delicious, filling, and exactly what our post-racing palettes demanded.

Upon return to the VNHQ, we were greeted with homemade birthday desserts, courtesy of Elizabeth and Associate Editor Abby Young. Elizabeth’s decadent coconut-lime cake, made with Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free cake mix, was rich, zesty, and reaffirmed to all of us why coconut is so amazing. Abby used a secret family recipe to make her offering, a tasty pistachio custard pie exactly the color of key-lime. A fun afternoon was had all-around, and, again—because you can never say it enough times—a very happy birthday to Joseph!