Monday, August 30, 2010

Vaute Couture San Francisco Pop-Up Show

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Brooke Still and VN Associate Editor Liz Miller
What: Vaute Couture's San Francisco Pop-Up Show
Where: San Francisco, Calif.
When: August 29, 2010
Why: Vaute Couture was visiting San Francisco with a new line, and we just had to check it out!

The Scoop: Famed vegan coat designer Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart was recently on tour throughout California presenting her newly designed fall and winter line of Vaute Couture. As as Leanne fans and certifiable shopaholics, VN Associate Editor Liz Miller and I decided we just had to check out her San Francisco show. So we headed to the Mission on a sunny Sunday afternoon only to wish it was colder so we could properly bundle up in her adorable coats.

The pop-up show was held in a.Muse Gallery, where we were greeted by natural light, vegan chocolate cupcakes, hot tea, and Leanne's new collection, fresh off the runway of Fashion Week. I got the opportunity to live out my model dream, which was stunted at an early age when I stopped growing at 5-foot-2. First, I tried on Leanne's newest creations: the urban snow coats. The coats are the vegan answer to insulated, warm, wind- and water-resistant winter coats. No geese were harmed in the creation of these hand-stitched beauties, made at living wages in Brooklyn, aka Leanne's new hometown, having recently moved from Chicago. And each style is named after one of Leanne's favorite teachers.

Me in the Audrey coat—so warm!

Next, we moved on to the pieces that made Vaute Couture famous—her gorgeous winter coats. Again, Leanne uses all-vegan materials to create a unique, wool-like blend made from recycled fibers. The texture of the coat is so scrumptious, it won a Polartec APEX award—an award that normally goes to such giant mainstream companies as The Northface. The upcoming line had some new styles and updates of some old favorites. I fell in love with the Audrey coat, inspired by Audrey Hepburn. It's hard to fall in love with the details in all her coats, which are origami inspired with a blend of old Hollywood glamour. In addition to the treasures I tried on, Leanne is introducing for the first time a men's line, modeled in her look book by The Discerning Brute's Joshua Katcher. To top it all off, Leanne also showed us some of her mini dresses, tanks, tees, and soy-based knitted scarves, hats, and headbands. The scarf/muff creation is already at the top of my holiday wish list.

Some of the new dresses and windbreakers

Before heading back to Brooklyn for the launch of the new Vaute Couture line, Leanne dropped by the VNHQ. After spending time with her and her creations, we can't wait to snuggle up this winter with her compassionate fashion—coats like that make the winter cold worth it!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wine Country Weekend

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Gabrielle Pope
What: A relaxing weekend in wine country
Where: Napa and Sonoma Counties, Calif.
When: August 21-22, 2010
Why: Sun, wine, and food! What, you need more?

The Scoop: In honor of my boyfriend, who was down from Canada for the weekend to celebrate his birthday, I threw financial caution to the wind (hello ramen for the entire month of September) and planned an amazing little escape up to wine country. Somehow we managed to plan our trip on a weekend that brought magically sunny weather to the Bay Area, so there wasn't much to "escape" from, but we were happy to nevertheless head up to beautiful Napa and Sonoma Counties.

Do you know what the best thing ever is? GPS navigation. We rented a car equipped with GPS, and I wouldn't shut up all weekend about how ingenious and low-stress it was to program in an address and then just sit back and let the automated voice (whom we fondly dubbed 'Sexy') guide us while we enjoyed the scenery. After a requisite stop at Rainbow Grocery to splurge (the first of many) on some Dr. Cow vegan cheeses to complement our wine, I programmed in our first location: Ubuntu, a "vegetables" restaurant in Napa with a plethora of vegan and veganizable offerings.

Image courtesy of

Ubuntu specializes in creating small plates made with heirloom varieties of gorgeous fruits and vegetables, many of which are grown in Ubuntu's own organic and biodynamic garden. Its mission is to "bring to our customers a bounty of local biodynamically gardened produce handled with care and skill by talented artisans and chefs providing an unparalleled experience connecting our customers to the bounty of the earth." We ordered the freshest salad with three different varieties of tomatoes, two lettuces, and an avocado goddess dressing; marinated beets with eggplant and Meyer lemon blossom raisin paste; tangy artichoke grits with smoked corn husk and cilantro; and our favorite dish of fried chickpea clusters, Romesco stewed chickpeas, and arugula. The food was exquisite, and it was so refreshing to see tourists and locals alike getting excited about the vegetable masterpieces completely devoid of meat.

Creamy artickoke grits with heirloom vegetables

After more GPS-guided driving through beautiful Napa County and a stop at the The Hess Collection Vineyards for a sampling and to check out Donald Hess' impressive art collection, we headed for the The Gables Wine Country Inn in Santa Rosa. A Victorian mansion sitting on three acres of land including an inviting lavender garden, I'd chosen the Gables due to their willingness to prepare a vegan breakfast. The host couple at the inn were pretty much the nicest people in the world, our room was breathtaking, and the complementary wine tasting in a converted barn where we chatted with the other guests was a welcome touch. One omnivorous couple even admired, and then tasted, our vegan cheese.

Image courtesy of

Waking from a perfect sleep in our stately and eloquent room, I had breakfast on the brain. Our hosts pulled out all the stops with a full three courses complete with coffee and fresh orange juice. My first course was homemade toast with jam, which was followed by a Champagne glass filled with local fruit dusted with sugar before the star of the show: a savory potato casserole seasoned with fresh herbs and spices, featuring zucchini and peppers from the Inn's garden. Being accommodated as a vegan is always much appreciated despite the fact that I usually end up with a banana and dry toast, but in this case I was truly touched by the thoughtful and creative vegan menu, which fueled me long through more wine tastings and our journey back to the city.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Touristing in San Francisco

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Gabrielle Pope
What: Touristin'
Where: San Francisco, Calif.
When: August 14, 2010
Why: Because Saturdays should always be spent shopping, wining, and dining.

The Scoop: Brand new to both San Francisco and to the concept that summers are not actually warm in this city, I braved the chilly morning fog on my second weekend here and set off downtown to be a shameless tourist. Tempted by promises of doughnuts and Vietnamese food, I decided to head down to the Ferry Building where an old friend—the sun—had showed up to greet me. San Francisco’s Ferry Building is more than just some random building you pass through to catch the ferry to the East Bay. It’s a veritable food-lovers paradise with a produce market, chocolate shop, restaurants, bookstores, a boutique wine store, and more.

Photo via

Prioritizing doughnuts like any other self-respecting Canadian, I quickly found the Pepples Organic Donuts display. Made in Oakland, these cake doughnuts are beautiful to look at and even better to devour. I grabbed both Lemon Poppy Seed and Salted Caramel flavors for later. The Lemon Poppy Seed was to die for!

Photo via

After getting the requisite photo of the Bay Bridge and enjoying the sun, I headed back into the building to hunt down the Vietnamese fusion restaurant. Slickly designed, The Slanted Door drew me in with its promises of vegan options and requisite Vietnamese Spring Rolls. I tend to judge a Vietnamese restaurant by the quality of its rice paper rolls, and the Slanted Door’s refreshing rolls filled with tofu, shiitakes, cabbage, and mint, and served with a zesty peanut dipping sauce, exceeded my expectations. For my main, I wisely selected the lemongrass tofu. Made with local tofu from Oakland’s Hodo Soy Beanery (seriously, what’s up with Oakland and when can I move there?), this dish was expertly spiced with garlic and lemongrass, and complemented by onions, shiitakes, and roasted chilies. I should have trusted my gut and polished it up there, but in an effort to save room for wine tasting I got it packed to-go, later resulting in a lemongrass disaster at the bottom of my bag. When in doubt, kids, finish your plate.

Hailing from beautiful British Columbia with its abundant vineyards and charming wineries, you could say I’ve become a bit—enthusiastic, shall we say—about exciting wine varietals. In preparation for my trip out to Sonoma next weekend, I found a table at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants tasting bar and tried a trio of Northern California reds, which my knowledgeable server confirmed to be vegan.

Seriously now, I’m sitting in a wine bar with a full belly and excited palate…could this get any better? Yes, it could, as I also took that opportunity to break into the brand spanking new VegNews September+October issue, now on its way to eager subscribers. The issue includes an article about my homeland, the great white north (and birthplace of Daiya cheese), which may have made me homesick had I not been sipping reds and living the good life on a sunny Saturday in California.

Three beautiful reds and a peek at the new VegNews

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The 19th Annual Fairfield Tomato Festival

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Brooke Still
What: Fairfield Tomato Festival
Where: Fairfield, Calif.
When: August 14-15, 2010
Why: You say tomato, I say tomato, let's drive an hour for a fair.

The Scoop: My family lives in Traverse City, Mich., otherwise known as the (self-proclaimed) cherry capital of the world. And for the past 84 years, the cherry on top of each summer has been the town's National Cherry Festival—a week-long celebration of all things cherry: cherry pie, cherry candy, cherry ice cream, cherry queens, you name it. What I'm trying to say is that I know how to enjoy a good produce festival. So when my roommate asked me last week if I'd be interested in driving an hour inland to the Fairfield Tomato Festival, my immediate answer was, "yes."

Due to prior obligations of going to the oh-so-awesome Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, Veronika (roommate) and I couldn't head out to Fairfield until Sunday, though the 19th Annual Fairfield Tomato Festival had been kicking the whole weekend. As we drove through the golden hills of California, I finally began to feel that West Coast sunshine I'd been hearing so much about, and also I felt a little closer to Northern Michigan summers. When we arrived, we were greeted by a blocked-from-traffic Tomato Alley, making way for rows and rows of arts and crafts. This would be perfect for someone in search of an artisan touch for their home, but Veronika and I were on a mission: We needed to find those tomatoes.

Sunny Tomato Alley, Fairfield, Calif.

Since we arrived later in the day on Sunday, we had already missed the tomato-eating festival. But that didn't mean there weren't still plenty of tomatoes for us to taste test. More than 40 varieties of heirlooms in fact, which was actually a smaller showing than last year, when because of warmer weather, there were more than 150 varieties. We were still satisfied with the offerings, and maybe because it was the last day or maybe because we the volunteers were feeling especially generous, we were offered a number of free tomatoes. Cucumber, tomato, and black bean sandwiches, watch out.

Beautiful, ripe tomatoes at the Farmer's Market.

We also got a chance to meet Arthur Allen, author of Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato, a book that took him years of research and travel to learn all about the little red fruit. And Veronika and I were enjoying the farmers' market feel so much, we signed up to take the market home with us. Capay Organics Farm offered us a trial of their at-home farm fresh delivery service. So in a few weeks, Veronika and I can look forward to receiving a box full of in-season, organic, freshly picked fruits and vegetables. My answer is, again, yes.

While the Fairfield Tomato Festival was no National Cherry Festival (There was, in fact, no tomato queen), we still had a wonderful, warm Sunday afternoon enjoying fresh produce. I think it's safe to say we'll be back next year.

Me, holding our loot from the tomato tasting.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Outside Lands 2010

Who: VN Associate Editor Liz Miller and VN Editorial Assistant Brooke Still
What: Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival
Where: Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Calif.
When: August 14-15, 2010
Why: Because nothing says summer like live music, outdoor dancing, and free vegan beer.

The Scoop: San Francisco might not have the same sun-kissed summers as Chicago or Austin, but that doesn't mean SF's answer to the summer music festival is left out in the cold. Depending how you view it, in 2010, the third-annual Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival got a facelift: The festival was cut from three days to two, and the lineup included a more eclectic set of musicians. While the 2009 festival featured mainstream names including Tom Jones, Jason Mraz, Pearl Jam, Incubus, Lucinda Williams, and Dave Matthews Band, the 2010 line-up was significantly dialed-down, with a shorter list of heavy-weight headliners such as The Strokes, My Morning Jacket, Gogol Bordello, and Phoenix, decidedly skewing more indie-rock than soft-rock.

Brooke and I couldn't wait to take in the sights and sounds of some of our favorite acts. We arrived on Saturday just in time to catch the end of Electric Six's high-energy set, and then went in search of lunch. With tons of veggie options to choose from, we felt slightly overwhelmed, but finally settled on moderately priced veggie burgers—with two sides of free curly fries courtesy of the generous concessions man. Score! After mowing down our festival fare, we trekked over to the main stage to see self-described "gypsy punk" group Gogol Bordello tear it up with their raw, revivalistic blend of multi-national music, incorporating influences ranging from Eastern European-inspired accordion to Ecuadorian rap riffs.

A tattooed stranger fist-pumping during Gogol Bordello

After Gogol Bordello we crossed the field to the Sutro stage, where Bassnectar had just begun to spin his signature, soul-thumping sounds. Somewhere between Lil Wayne synths and his big beat "Seek and Destroy" remix we remembered why summer music festivals are awesome: kids with no rhythm shamelessly dancing in public at 3pm. It was fantastic. As Bassnectar wrapped up, we headed back to the main stage for indie darlings—and Brooke's favorite act of the day—My Morning Jacket. Their unmistakable melodic, crowd-swaying songs were just what we needed after Bassnectar's danceable set, and MMJ didn't disappoint, playing all of our favorites, closing with their classic from It Still Moves, "One Big Holiday."

My Morning Jacket rocks out

With our minds sufficiently blown by MMJ's powerful performance, we staggered across the field yet again to watch Wolfmother bring metal to the day's overall electric mix of music. We're not sure if it was the driving metal chords or the six hours between meals, but near the end of Wolfmother's set, our stomachs were definitely rumbling. We figured this was the perfect time to head over to the Chase Freedom Lounge, where our press passes (hey, that's the name of this blog!) allowed us to enjoy free dinner and drinks. On top of complimentary wine tasting and snacks, we enjoyed free beer and a vegan-friendly buffet.

Brooke enjoying the free vegan skewers and ale

Yes, it was a buffet situation, but a classy one nonetheless, offering vegan jasmine-coconut rice, salad, and marinated veggie skewers. Then, as hippie-children relived their youth to the sounds of Further at the main stage, we relived our own bygone 15-year-old fandom by dancing to Saturday's other closing act, The Strokes. Publicity was buzzing around the band's performance at Outside Lands, as it marks their first touring summer in four years, and the second of three stateside shows before finishing their forth album later this year. From Is This It early hits "Last Nite" and "Someday" to sophomore album favorites such as "I Can't Win," the set was full of the band's effortlessly catchy classics. After the band exited the stage, we filed out of the park, heading for home and some much-earned rest and relaxation. Definitely not to stalk The Strokes tour bus, whatever the papers might have said.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

VeggieFest Chicago 2010

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly, VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, VN Trade Show Manager Lyndsay Orwig
What: Largest free vegetarian food festival in the US
Where: Naperville, Ill.
When: August 7–8, 2010
Why: Beware Boston. Move over Toronto. There's a new festival on the block.

The Scoop: A century after Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle
immortalized the stockyards of Chicago, in an affluent suburb 30 miles to the west and in the shadow of McDonald’s Hamburger University, a small vegetarian festival began in 2005, attended by a few thousand believers. Science of Spirituality, a non-profit multi-faith organization that adheres to a vegetarian diet, started VeggieFest Chicago as a way of promoting its meat-free lifestyle to the community, one tenet of the international organization’s mission. Fast-forward five years. If you are unsure that the veg lifestyle has caught fire, or doubt that the beginning of critical mass for vegetarianism is upon us, you weren’t in Naperville, Ill., this past weekend.

Dozens of inspirational quotations lined the grounds at VeggieFest

VeggieFest is a free, two-day, outdoor festival that hits all the right notes. There's the rhythmic music that plays all day; the ample food court with delicious, moderately priced multi-ethic cuisine; the nearly 100 educators and exhibitors ranging from Mercy for Animals and Conscious Planet Media to Clif Bar, Sequel Naturals, and The Book Publishing Company; children's activities all day long; and the lectures and cooking demos which this year included Sarah Taylor, author of Vegan in 30 Days (* see below to win a signed copy) as well as two keynotes from Sant Rajinder Singh, founder of the Science of Spirituality.

Everyone loved VegNews!

Under mostly hot and sunny skies more than 20,000 people from as far Seattle to Boston, Quebec to Florida, strolled through the always crowded fairgrounds, soaking up food and info as fast as it could be served. VegNews even imported the crackerjack sales team of Randy and Bev Orwig (Lyndsay's parents) from St. Louis to assist us on Saturday, when we sold a record number of subscriptions in a single day.

Author Sarah Taylor flanked by Randy and Bev Orwig, subscription-selling superstars

VeggieFest Chicago is reaching a new audience through a successful combination of open outreach, enjoyable entertainment, a welcoming attitude, and a wonderfully supportive vibe. Hundreds of volunteers pitched in for months before the event, and then for two very long days, to pull off a festival that needs to be on every vegetarian's map.

Proud vegan attendee Nicole Hughes with event organizer Jay Mooney

* Press Pass Bonus: Leave a comment telling us about your favorite veg festival. We'll pick one winner this Friday, August 13 and send you a signed copy of Vegan in 30 Days.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Chicago Diner

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly, VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, VN Trade Show Manager Lyndsay Orwig
What: Dinner before the Big Event
Where: The Chicago Diner, Chicago, Ill.
When: August 6, 2010
Why: Because John Goodman says so.

The Scoop: Welcome mats emerged when VN landed where the Lollapalooza music festival, Northalsted Market Days, and the Veggie Fest Chicago —the main reason we were visiting the Midwest during the brutal dog days of August—were simultaneously scheduled on one glorious weeke
nd in and around the Windy City.

Our 10-strong entourage hit the town's nearly three-decade old The Chicago Diner ("meat-free since '83") in the hip Wrigleyville neighborhood where vendors were already setting up for Saturday and Sunday's Northalsted Market Days. Veg musician Joan Jett was the headliner as thousands of people loved rock and roll while sampling the arts, crafts, and delicious food at the country's second largest street fair.

The Chicago Diner's Mickey Hornick with VN Publisher's Colleen Holland and Joseph Connelly

Actor John Goodman recently ranked the Diner number four in the "Darn Good Diners" episode of his The Learning Channel series "Best Food Ever." Yes, that's numero quatro of ALL DINERS in the US, including those with artery-clogging, cholesterol-laden, very non-vegetarian menus. The TLC show featured the famous Radical Reuben, which Lyndsay chose, while John Beske, co-producer of the upcoming Chicago Vegan Mania and recent winner of an ice cream eating contest ordered this behemoth named The Halfpipe:

A wide-open hoagie topped with country-fried seitan steak, lettuce, tomato, French-fried onions and Twisted Chili Sauce.

Diner co-founder and all around good guy Mickey Hornick stopped by to pay his respects to Beske, who somehow managed to finish this mountain of deliciousness. Hornick posed with his fave mag publishers (as seen above) before we ended our meal with another Diner must-have, the signature milk shake made with Chicago Soydairy Temptation Vegan Ice Cream. Taste this:

VegNews Special: Choc Chip Cookie Dough Peanut Butter milk shake.

OK, the cast of
Seinfield we are not, but here is our entire dining party in front of the newly renovated soon-to-be-landmark Chicago Diner. Tune in tomorrow for a recap of the Veggie Fest Chicago, where you just might get to meet Lyndsay's parents, Randy and Bev.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Vegan Ice Cream Fix

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Brooke Still
What: A late-night sweet treat
Where: Holy Gelato! San Francisco, Calif.
When: August 3, 2010
Why: It was 8pm on a Tuesday—obviously I needed some vegan ice cream.

The Scoop: While the rest of the country is trying to escape the summer heat, we here in San Francisco are still trying to convince ourselves that it's not winter. It's hard to get in the summer-lovin' mood when the sun hasn't come out in weeks and your day-to-day attire consists mostly of thick socks and turtlenecks. Slight exaggeration, but really, it's cold. So in an attempt to pay homage to my third favorite season, I went out for some vegan ice cream last night.

I'd heard from some fellow VN staffers that Holy Gelato! in the Inner Sunset would be a great way to spend a weekday night—it's near my apartment, the neighborhood is adorable, and the vegan ice cream is decadent, some varities of which are supplied by Maggie Mudd. So roommate in tow, we headed over to the corner of 9th and Judah, soaking in the charming Inner Sunset along the way. We didn't manage to leave the house until after 8, but unlike the small-town Midwestern life I hail from, places in SF are open past dusk. Holy Gelato! welcomes customers until 11pm, which is exciting for me.

The gorgeous display of vegan ice cream and sorbet at Holy Gelato!

The décor was precious—an ice cream joint with a boutique-like feel, selling clothing and mugs across from the ice cream case. After sampling nearly all the vegan ice cream they had to offer, which comprises about half of their total selection, I settled on a small bowl with two scoops: One of Charlie Brown's Nightmare—chocolate, peanut butter, and cookies—and one of The Bomb—chocolate, peanut butter, marshmallows, and fudge brownie bits. Not to sound like Rachel Zoe, but when I had my first bite, I died. Literally.

My Charlie Brown's Nightmare and The Bomb dessert

Overally, Holy Gelato! was a monumental success. Delicious vegan ice cream in all the flavors I love. Now to keep this from being a regular Tuesday-night occurance...

Me enjoying the treat!