Monday, January 25, 2010

Vegan Bake Sale Benefit for Haiti

Who: VN Editorial Assistants Kristen Haney and Liz Miller, VN Associate Editor Abigail Young, and VegWebmistress Laura Beck
Where: Mercury Cafe, San Francisco, Calif.
When: Saturday, January 23, 2010
Why: Because vegan baked goods always taste better when they're helping those in need.

The Scoop: After the devastating earthquake in Haiti, many of us were left discussing what we could do to help the suffering nation. A bunch of amazing vegans decided to put their spatulas where their mouths were and got to baking for the SF Vegan Bake Sale Benefit for Haiti.

Due to the seemingly relentless San Francisco rain, the bake sale was moved from Patricia's Green to Mercury Cafe. Luckily, the bad weather didn't seem to deter hungry vegans and omnivores alike. More than 30 bakers contributed their time and skills to the event, and the spread on the tables would make even the most determined dieters throw their New Year's resolutions out the window faster than you can say "adorable vegan mini cupcakes."

Gorgeous baked goods ready for the taking

Local bakeries Sugar Beat Sweets (who helped organize the event), Bike Basket Pies, and Cinnaholic all donated their delicious specialties, including mini cupcakes and brownies, whole vegan pies, and Daiya pizza rolls (!) and s'mores cinnamon rolls, respectively. Other yummy treats I snagged were a couple varieties of sugar cookies, some monkey bread that was absolutely bananas (get it?), and the peanut-butter-potato-chip cookies I brought in. Yes, I paid for things both my housemates and I made, and yes, I spent more than I care to disclose on things I promptly consumed.

Cinnaholic's savory Daiya pizza roll

While all of my delicious sugary loot and the subsequent sugar rush were reason enough to drag my butt through the drizzle, the best part is how insanely successful the bake sale's fund-raising efforts were. The sale raised $3,375!! Dang, that's a lot of sweets! Proceeds go to Food for Life Global and Partners in Health in Haiti.

Kristen shows off her baked-goods bounty

If you missed out on all the fun and feel-good vibes, don't fret. The next SF Vegan Bake Sale is right around the corner on Saturday, February 13, from 11am to 4pm in front of Ike's. With any luck, my sugar coma will have passed by then.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nature's Express Opens

Who: VegWebmistress Laura Beck, VN Publisher Joseph Connelly, and VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Grand Opening of Nature's Express
Where: Nature's Express, Berkeley, Calif.
When: January 16, 2010
Why: The grand opening of an all-vegan fast-food restaurant? Color me THERE.

The Scoop: We all know that you gain so much from becoming vegan, and the things you miss from your meat-mouth days are seriously negligible, but I'll tell you one thing: Fast food was THE BOMB. I know lots of vegans who turn their noses up at the golden arches, but I can't lie. One of the greatest joys from my childhood was pulling up to the drive-thru window at Jack in the Taco King, Jr. and eagerly awaiting my meal. The pure bliss I experienced before biting into some gnarly piece of fake food is hard to compare. I guess if you imagine riding a unicorn over a rainbow made of candy, you start to get close.

As I got older, fast food started to scare me. When I learned about the devastation inflicted upon pretty much everything in its path, I wised up and found delicious vegan alternatives. However, a small part of me still longs to walk into a fast-food joint and order a hamburger, some fries, and a milkshake.

Well, Nature's Express has come to Berkeley, and eight-year-old me couldn't be more thrilled. Actually, 31-year-old me couldn't be more thrilled either, because it's all vegan! Nature's Express is a fast-food chain (with locations in Rancho Mirage, Calif. and Yuma, Ariz.) started by oncologist Dr. Carl Myers. After seeing the dramatic health effects a person's diet can have, he decided to do something to make everyone a little healthier. With Nature's Express, Myers is getting us into shape one tasty breakfast burrito at a time. I like how this man thinks.

Nature's Express' celebratory storefront (photo by Cathryn Lovecraft)

The super-fun grand opening event on Saturday was packed with so many fabulous vegan faces that I can't even begin to name them all. VegNews' own columnist Colleen Patrick-Goudreau kicked off the event with an exciting speech, proclaiming how thrilling it is to eat life-affirming food, instead of food that destroys everything around it. She wrapped up her welcome by saying she believes one day, all food will be like that. I was feeling the love. Karine Brighten of Karine Brighten Events (a vegan event planner! So cool!) was on the scene, making sure everything ran smoothly. She didn't have to worry because everything went off without a hitch.

David and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Colleen Holland, and Joseph Connelly gather inside

Standing in the long line, it was hard to decide what to order. Did I want the Spicy Black Bean Burger or the Thai Peanut Wrap? I know, life is hard. I finally decided on the Bacon Burger with cheese and avocado, a side of Kale Chips, and a Blue Sky Ginger Ale. Biting into that burger, I had a serious flashback to being in the back of my parents wood-panelled station wagon.

One of Nature's tasty vegan burgers (photo by Cathryn Lovecraft)

It had the same feeling of a fast-food burger but 10 million times better because it was vegan! Not to mention, it's just a better product—melty vegan cheese, fresh vegetables, and a juicy patty. Perfection. I'll be back to sample Nature's Express' entire menu and perhaps move in. I hope they are okay with this.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fanciful Fare

Who: VegNews Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig
Where: Moscone Center, San Francisco, Calif.
When: Sunday, January 17, 2010
Why: To scope out new veg products—food, especially!

The Scoop: It has been rainy and cold in the Bay Area, and I was very tempted to stay home in my bed all day Sunday, and not show my face until the sun came out. Fortunately, I had the Fancy Food Show to coax me out of my slumber, where thousands of exhibitors present their food products and services to retailers and the press. Luckily, I knew what I was getting myself into after experiencing last year's show, so I came prepared with my umbrella in hand, a backpack securely on my shoulders, and an empty stomach.

This show is huge, with samples at almost every booth, so you need a strategy to survive the show without blowing up. My plan of action? Make a beeline to the natural- and organic-foods section. That's where all the new, awesome, veg goodies hang out, right?

There were a lot of familiar faces this year, including Annie Chun's, Edward & Sons—watch out for new waffle cones—and Xan Confections. A couple of my personal favorites were Follow Your Heart's vegan cheesecake, and the grain meats at the Field Roast booth—the coconut breaded cutlet alone made my day. Unfortunately, the majority of the show is not vegetarian, but I left feeling satisfied to say the least. The Fancy Food Show is always a great preview for the upcoming Expo West, which will be held in Los Angeles this March, and will feature natural and vegetarian food galore. Yes, I'm already preparing my backpack and stomach—but I'm hoping to leave my umbrella at home.

Monday, January 11, 2010

East Bay Vegan Bakesale

Who: VegWebmistress Laura Beck
Where: Issues, Oakland, Calif.
When: Saturday, January 9, 2010
Why: Because the Easy Bay came to party, vegan bake-sale style.

The Scoop: I usually don't have any trouble sleeping in on the weekends, but Saturday was a separate issue. You see, it was the first East Bay Vegan Bakesale, and I was promised there would be vegan cinnamon rolls. When it comes to cinnamon rolls, I do not play.

It appears that vegan bake sales are an epidemic in the San Francisco Bay Area. These things are spreading faster than swine flu, and I couldn't be more stoked. First, the San Francisco Vegan Bakesale (which returns February 13th!) took off, raising more than $10,000 for charity in 2009. Then, the lovely ladies of Fat Bottom Bakery decided that the East Bay needed its own. I couldn't agree more, as I think that pretty much every city needs one. There's been word of people organizing in the South Bay and Santa Cruz, too. Let's do this, vegans! Not only is it fantastic outreach, but it also provides me with more brownies, and that can't be wrong.

With great excitement (and extreme hunger—you must prepare for these events to create ultimate stomach room! Be strong, NO DINNER!), I headed across the Bay Bridge to Oakland. Driving down adorable Piedmont Avenue, the bake sale was easy to spot—first, because of the awesome sign the Laurel Elementary students made. Their school garden was one of the beneficiaries of the sale, along with Bad Rap Pit Bull Rescue. Secondly, there were about 10 million people crowding around. Seriously, you couldn't see the baked goods through the masses. Obviously, I'm a professional and very pushy, so I had no problem working my way through the crowd. Pro tip: Do not hesitate to throw elbows. These are vegan baked goods we're talking about. It's kill or be killed.

The fantastic, hard-to-miss sign designed by local students

When I got to the tables, I saw a variety of goodies that would send a diabetic straight into shock. Everything from raw cheesecakes to chocolate-chip chai cookies to mountains of cookies n' cream cake, they had it all.

I wasted no time plating my baked-goods contribution so I could fill the same tupperware with new treats to buy. After taking one of pretty much everything (and two of some things), I paid and wandered into Issues, the adorable shop that hosted the sale. They sell magazines (including VegNews! Hot!) and all sorts of sweet, unique things you just have to have or you'll die from lack of cuteness. After spending the rest of my money inside the shop, I headed back to the insanity of the sale.

The crowd continues to gather around delicious baked goods

The entire time I was there, it never slowed down. It was so fabulous to see roughly 1 million people (I'm bad at math) hovering over the tables and going gaga for the vegan deliciousness. I talked to a few people at the sale, and many of them weren't vegan. It's always the non-vegans who are the most excited about the yumminess. That's always the best. Yeah, our vegan cupcakes are the bomb, and they're not going to give you a heart attack either! Bam!

Bake sale organizers Ashley and Carolynn of Fat Bottom Bakery

In total, the sale made $2192. That's amazing! Numbers like that continue to shock me. I mean, aren't you supposed to make a couple hundred dollars at a bake sale? Vegans go big or go home when it comes to baked goods. They're sort of like our sport, because most of us can't throw a ball. Or maybe that's just me. Whatever. The point is, keep the vegan bake sales coming!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Chef Tal at Candle 79

Who: VEGdaily Co-founder and Ecorazzi Senior Editor Michael Parrish DuDell
What: Four-course meal prepared by The Conscious Cook author Tal Ronnen.
Where: Candle 79, New York, NY
When: January 7, 2009
Why: Because the combination of Tal Ronnen’s food and Candle 79’s atmosphere are what dreams are made of!

The Scoop: It’s official: no one is ever allowed to call vegetarian food “boring” again! Last night I had the honor of spending the evening at Candle 79—an upscale vegan restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan—and sampling the many culinary talents of celebrated chef Tal Ronnen.

Ronnen's expertly planned menu

For those who aren’t familiar with Ronnen’s work, he is the man responsible for helping Oprah go vegan for 21 days and the mastermind behind VegNews' 2009 "Book of the Year" and New York Times bestseller, The Conscious Cook. In his book, Ronnen says that after becoming vegetarian, he “became obsessed with the idea of creating vegan food that was just as mouth-watering and delicious as anything I’d ever had as a meat-eater.”

A sneak peek into the Candle 79 kitchen

Well, all of that obsession certainly paid off! The meal was out of control with such offerings as celery root soup, quinoa with Belgium endive and oranges, and a mouth-watering banana cheesecake.

Quinoa with Belgium endive and oranges—absolutely delicious!

However, the star of the evening was the third course: a scaloppini dish made with scrumptious Gardein chick’n. As my dinner guests and I took a bite of this perfectly prepared entrée, we all agreed that Gardein is going to forever change the vegetarian culinary world. All in all, this inspired meal proved just how dynamic and artful plant-based cuisine really can be and left each of us assured that, without a doubt, vegan food will take over the world. (Insert evil laughter here.)