Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dining at Darbster

Who: VN Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria
What: Refueling between tanning sessions in Florida
Where: Darbster, West Palm Beach, Fla.
When: February 27, 2011
Why: To try a restaurant I've read so much about!

The Scoop: I recently had the very good fortune of attending the engagement party of one Stephanie Katcher. Yes, she's of the Joshua and Joelle Katchers, which means that I not only got the chance to celebrate her engagement (congrats Stephanie and Brad!), but got to see two good friends and meet their phenomenal parents, Michael and Cindy. Oh, and did I mention that all this family fun took place in Florida, aka a place where they have warm sun and beaches and pools and lawns and other places to sun yourself like a lizard, which is my absolute favorite thing in the world?!

Two cute Katchers: Stephanie, the bride-to-be, and Joshua

The trip was spectacular, to say the least, and not least of it was our evening at Darbster. After Joelle's review (read it here), I'd been dying to try this East Coast gem, and we headed there with all possible haste. From the review, I knew I needed to try the Palm Cakes (faux crab cakes made with hearts of palm) and sliders, both of which were totally delicious. As can sometimes happen when I visit a new restaurant, I might have gotten a teeny bit over-excited, and ordered just about everything on the menu. All in all, the four people of our party tried the mac and cheese, sliders, palm cakes, miso soup, kale salad, tempeh Reuben, Chick'n Parmesan, chocolate mousse, and an insane s'mores cheesecake. Hey! It takes a lot of energy to soak up sun!

The signature palm cakes

The food was great, and we even got to meet the executive chef, Seth, and owners Allan and Ellen. All three were really lovely; we couldn't have asked for better hosts. We did learn from Seth that we'd missed brunch that morning, about which we were all pretty bummed. The bright side? Now we have one more reason to head back to sunny Florida!

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Vegan's Daily Companion" Premiere Party

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
What: Launching yet another book by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau!
Where: Millennium Restaurant, San Francisco, Calif.
When: Sunday, March 20, 2011
Why: To celebrate the Great American Meatout and Colleen's latest book

The Scoop: As if one needs a special reason or two to trek to San Francisco's Millennium Restaurant at the end of a long, rainy weekend! Last Sunday was, of course, the 26th celebration of The Great American Meatout, started by FARM way back in the decade of big hair and spandex when most of you were busy being born. VN columnist and author extraordinaire Colleen Patrick-Goudreau picked the quite appropriate day to debut her latest book, Vegan's Daily Companion: 365 Days of Inspiration for Cooking, Eating, and Living Compassionately. That's like a mini-Meatout, every day.

A full house packed into Millennium's stately wine room, enjoying passed hors d'oeurves that were over-the-top delicious and scooped up before you could stammer, "Pass the hors d'oeurves." And exactly what tiny tasty temptations were served? How about Yuba Spring Rolls? Can you say Black Eyed Pea Fritters? Maybe some Beet Tartar? And don't forget the Sea Vegetables with Avocado. Hey, don't take my word for it; taste for yourself...

From miso-glazed tempeh w/ coconut-peanut sauce skewers (top)
to a beet tartare (above),
the appetizers were astoundingly good.

Next up was the woman of the hour. Colleen spoke about how Daily Companion came to be, read a few excerpts, and posed for many photos with her legion of fans. After three cookbooks in as many years, Daily Companion is a new direction for Goudreau, the first book to show her skills outside the kitchen, a side that followers of her Vegetarian Food for Thought podcast already know well. And up next is The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, which hits bookstore this August.

Author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau models her four books.

After Colleen's talk many of us stayed on chatting, catching up, and nibbling a few of the delicious desserts that somehow materialized right before our very eyes. Yours truly even plated up this array for CPG, fearing that by the time she got to the sweet table, only crumbs would remain. Yes, I'm that type of guy.

Four delicious desserts rounded out the night.

OK. Now go out and buy a copy of Vegan's Daily Companion. Where else can you find inspiring stories, photography, recipes, and much more every day of the year for $20. Well, two places. You can get a subscription to VegNews, and supplement it with a steady dose of VDC from CPG. We both encourage you to eat kale on Mondays.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Genesis Awards 2011

Who: VN Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria and VN Associate Editor Jennifer Chen
What: The Humane Society of the United States' annual awards ceremony for the media and entertainment industry
Where: The Century Plaza, Los Angeles, Calif.
When: Saturday, March 19, 2011
Why: To celebrate reporters, entertainers, and animal advocates who keep animal issues in the media spotlight

The Scoop: Twenty-five years ago, former Broadway actress and animal-activist Gretchen Wyler founded the Genesis Awards. At the time, a few awards were given out. Now, the awards have grown to include feature films, reality TV, talk shows, and TV news. The Genesis Awards honors journalists, media, and entertainers who lend their creative skills, celebrity status, and hard work toward awareness of animal issues. It's hard to believe that this phenomenal evening of star power has already been around for a quarter century, and even harder to believe that there was ever a time when it didn't exist.

It was my first time attending, and I was so excited to meet some of my favorite animal advocates, particularly Genesis award-nominee Victoria Stilwell, star of Animal Planet's It's Me or the Dog. Stilwell is a staunch supporter of animal shelters and adopting rather than buying a companion animal, which is a cause close to my heart.
Davis, accepting her Wyler award

Top winners of the night include former Sex & the City star Kristin Davis, who was honored with the prestigious Wyler award (named after Genesis Awards founder, Gretchen Wyler) for bringing media attention to the plight of orphaned baby African elephants who are abandoned after their parents are poached for their ivory tusks. Davis graciously thanked the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for its work on behalf of elephants, including caring for a 250-pound baby elephant Davis and her friend rescued while on safari in South Africa. Other winners include HBO's True Blood for their dog-fighting storyline (dog star Dusty made a special guest appearance on stage), How to Train Your Dragon for feature film (to which supervising animator Gabe Hordos, credited his adopted cat for helping him create such a lovable dragon), and the The Oprah Winfrey Show for a show covering dolphin slaughter. Stephen Colbert gave a tongue-in-cheek virtual acceptance speech for winning the Sid Caesar Comedy Award for a segment on bull-fighting. He quipped, "I want to thank you for this honor and also congratulate you for honoring me."

While most of the animal segments covered upsetting issues like puppy mills, factory farms, horse slaughter, and other forms of inhumane treatment, I was thrilled to see wonderful advocates being honored from local news reporters to top stars like Davis. Presenters included the ever-lovely and vegan Emily Deschanel, Tricia Helfer, Betty White, James Cromwell, and Ed Asner. It was a treat to meet HSUS President Wayne Pacelle, hard-working HSUS directors, and fellow animal advocates.

The delicious main course we wish we were still eating.

Our vegan meal was prepared by vegan celebrity chef Tal Ronnen and our main entrée featured chantrelle-dusted Gardein chicken, broccolini, and chantrelle-stuffed ravioli topped in a beurre blanc sauce. We nearly died. A fantastic after-party featured a silent auction benefitting HSUS, and I was fortunate enough to win my bid on a gorgeous olive green Vaute Couture coat. A veritable vegan spread awaited us with cupcakes, quesadillas, even Tofutti cream cheese-stuffed jalapeño poppers. Elizabeth and I chatted with Brendan Brazier, Carolyn Scott-Hamilton, the gals at Compassion Over Killing, and Gardein's R&D chef, Jason Stefanko.

Animal Planet will air the awards ceremony on April 30 at 7pm EST/PST with an encore on May 1. Pacelle sums up the night the best when he said, "At the end of the day, I'm hopeful because ... there are millions of others who share our passion." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Don't miss our photo gallery from the glitzy evening, and you can see the official photos from HSUS on Flickr.

Kristin Davis photo courtesy of HSUS/Tim Long/Long Photography

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Jeffrey Masson book in the Making

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
What: A Gathering of Savvy People
Where: El Cerrito, Calif.
When: Thursday, March 17, 2011
Why: To brainstorm author Jeffrey Masson's future book project

The Scoop: If this Press Pass blog has an ideal entry, it would be to boldly go where few vegans have gone before, then take you inside. "Out & about with the VegNews editors," with a twist of exclusivity. Last Thursday, a dozen invited movers and shakers, including a neuroscientist, a lawyer, an award-winning writer, and a non-profit exec, gathered in author and eco-feminist Marti Kheel's living room, overlooking the stunning hills of El Cerrito, Calif. The purpose? To hash out ideas and direction for prolific author Jeffrey Masson's 27th book, to be published by Bloomsbury Press (same as the Harry Potter series) in February 2012.

For two hours Masson and his 12 apostles sat in a circle, sharing delectable raw finger foods provided by our host and Café Gratitude, while debating the direction of what Masson—who turns 70 next week—says might be his last book.

Skip dinner and go for the desserts. All raw, so they don't count, right?

"Be brutal. Tell me all kinds of things," the author instructed as we discussed such varied topics as intra-species murder among non-human predators (rare, with no known example of an orca ever killing a member of his own species); the psychology of empathy in animals and apathy in humans (the direction I'd like to see the book take); and why Michael Pollan and Alice Waters dislike vegetarians (I would tell you but I don't want VegNews to get sued, though you can read about it here).

The discussion ping-ponged around the room in a cordial yet spirited manner, with many opinions offered and seemingly no conclusions drawn. But have no worries, as Masson has a proven knack for solidifying disparate concepts into reader-friendly, often best-selling prose, and the feeling in the room as the night drew to a close was one of hope and excitement for the man of the hour's next best-seller. The best title suggestion? "Are You My Other?"

For those who can't wait to read a bit of Jeff, Masson currently has two other books in the pipeline. The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving debuted last October and will soon be out in paperback, while Dogs Make Us Human, a photography books of canines from around the world, will be published this coming October.

I'd participated in one previous discussion for what became Masson's The Face on Your Plate, his 2009 book about veganism. Being invited to work with an author in the early stages of a project is a unique experience, one that any writer would cherish. Thanks go out to Marti Kheel, author of the excellent Nature Ethics, for hosting these events.

Jeffrey Masson, Marti Kheel, and Joseph Connelly

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Natural Products Expo West 2011

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Anna Peraino and the entire VN team
What: Natural Products Expo West 2011
Where: Anaheim, Calif.
When: March 11-13, 2011
Why: To find out about this year's best new vegan products, of course!

The Scoop: I had heard what I thought were tall tales of the food, beverage, and natural product Mecca that is Expo West, but to be quite honest, I didn't believe it. Boy, was I wrong. Imagine a grocery store multiplied by 50, filled with hundreds of thousands of people, and throw in millions of skillets, slow cookers, and toothpicks, and you have Expo West. The booths were massive (So Delicious' booth was not only two stories tall but also had a Nintendio Wii), the food and drinks were never-ending (think vegan quesadillas, pizza, 10 kinds of peanut butter, and Gardein galore in just one section of one of the 50 football field-long aisles), and the people were everywhere (The Spork Girls! Jillian Michaels! Fabio!).

So Delicious' two-story booth: one of many behemoths

Most of the VegNews team flew down on Thursday afternoon, and the weekend only got crazier from there. The days were filled with taste testing new products (chocolate walnut brownie ice cream, pizza, and orange sugar-covered marshmallow Dandies were three of the thousands), picking our 2011 Best of Show winners (want to know who we picked? Make sure to check out our May+June issue!), and catching up with friends. The craziness didn't stop there: with dinners at Native Foods Café (my burger consisted of a heap of seitan, Daiya cheddar cheese, tempeh bacon, BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, and fried pickle chips) and The Veggie Grill, it seemed like we never stopped eating. Well, to be fair, we didn't.

Native Food Café's Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger. Be jealous.

I'd like to sign off saying it was all fun and tasting spoons, but I'd be lying. A blackout at our hotel (waking up to a room full of lights at 4am? Jarring) and a two and a half-hour delay on our way home were definitely both unexpected (and quite unwelcome), but all in all, it was an awesome and completely exhausting weekend. Want more Expo West dish? Check out our Facebook album for pics, stories, and finds!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cupcakes for Choice

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Alexandra Chang

What: Baking, buying, and eating vegan baked goods to support Planned Parenthood!

When: Outside Mission Bicycle in San Francisco

Where: March 6, 2011

Why: Nothing's better than tasty treats for a great cause!

The Scoop: I love eating baked goods, and have yet to encounter anything too sweet for my sweet tooth. But what I love more is baking for a cause that’s other than filling my stomach. Cupcakes for Choice, organized by Laura Hooper Beck of and Robin Doolin, and supported by dozens of volunteer workers and bakers (myself included), all started because Congress voted to cut Planned Parenthood off from federal funding. Thank goodness for government checks and balances; at least now we can hope that the Senate doesn’t let this pass! In the meantime, as the Cupcakes for Choice event site notes, “we’re taking our anger and turning it into something good.” Since I know several women who don’t have health insurance and rely on organizations like Planned Parenthood for reliable healthcare, I decided to join in and spend my Sunday morning baking two-dozen cupcakes.

My beautiful (OK, I love them too much) vegan vanilla coconut cupcakes!

Sure, my kitchen got ridiculously messy and I woke up four hours earlier than I normally would, but it was completely worth it. As the boyfriend and I arrived outside Mission Bicycle on Valencia, we were greeted by rain and a smiling Laura Beck. It wasn’t exactly the weather we’d all been hoping for, but the table of baked goods was growing and looking better with every donation. A crew of UC Berkeley journalism students were also there with their cameras, ready to film the event’s every action and interview people on Planned Parenthood work and Congress’ decision. I overheard one girl saying that the House of Representatives was “turning back time and making archaic decisions.” I wholeheartedly agreed as I packed a box full of whoopie pies, doughnuts, cupcakes, and cookies—which all happened to be vegan—and handed my money over.

People buying vegan baked goods to support Planned Parenthood.

Even with the rain, people were drawn in. By the end of the four-hour bakesale, my beautiful cupcakes were gone, and Cupcakes for Choice raised a total of $1,500 for Planned Parenthood! Here’s to more events that help raise money for those who need it most!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Holistic Holiday at Sea

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
What: Taste of Health's 8th annual Holistic Holiday at Sea
Where: Key West, Fla.; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Georgetown, Cayman Islands; Cozumel, Mexico
When: Feb. 27–March 6, 2011
Why: VegNews is a sponsor!

The Scoop: For the eighth consecutive year Sandy Pukel and John Belleme (collectively, the "Taste of Health" guys) organized a late-winter cruise that combines elements of macrobiotic conference, tropical adventure, and liquid relaxation into a week-long sail around the Caribbean. After seven years on board a Costa cruise liner, the men jumped ship to a relatively new entry into the world of high-end cruising, MSC. Our home for the week, seen below, is a two-year-old little boat christened the Poesia ("poetry" for those who don't speak Italiano). Poetry it was.

The mighty ship that could: The MSC Poesia

Departing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida last Sunday, we stopped in Key West, Fla.; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman Islands; and the Mexican island paradise that is Cozumel. Each stop offered numerous excursions, or free time for those who prefer to swim, sunbath, or explore on their own.

Back on board I attended lectures, shared meals, or interviewed such vegan and macro luminaries as T. Colin and Tom Campbell, co-authors of The China Study; Vegan's founder Robert Cheeke; Qi Gong instructor Marcus Gary; Post Punk Kitchen's Isa Chandra Moskowitz; cancer survivor, VN columnist, and TV host Christina Pirello; and four-time NBA champion John Salley, whose smile and charm captivated all around him.

The food, expertly prepared by 35-year vegan chef Mark Hanna, author of Greens & Grains on the Deep Blue Sea, consists of a full breakfast, five-course lunch, and another five courses for dinner (plus a gluten-free option from a recipe provided by Isa). The cruise began in 2005 as a strictly macrobiotic adventure, and has evolved since into a "modern vegan" menu that still offers ample macro dishes. Something for everyone.

Colorful Kale Salad with Ginger Dressing... yum

When not eating or excursioning, exercise classes, lectures, and late-night gatherings—which included three ice cream socials, a Daiya cheese pizza party, and a cookies and "milk" night—take up the day. Translation: If you are coming on the cruise to relax, you might have a little problem with so much stimulation buzzing all around.

A few of my many highlights:

In Key West I climbed aboard a catamaran and went snorkeling in the open ocean...

Yes, the water really is that color!

Went river tubing with Robert Cheeke in Jamaica on his 31st birthday...

The one and only Robert Cheeke

Made many new friends including the wonderful Karpel Family.

All "decked" out: Vegan life is better!

To see more photos from the holiday, stop by the photo album on VegNews Facebook page.

This was my second year on the cruise. I admit I had been skeptical of the industry, and I'm not sure I'll ever go on a non-educational cruise (I'd never been on one prior). The Holistic Holiday at Sea is a health conference that takes place on a floating hotel, which the organizers have perfected by creating an immensely enjoyable and memorable experience. VegNews is a proud supporter of the event, and I suspect our partnership will continue for many years to come. After all, the Holistic Holiday at Sea is #28 on the just-released Vegan Bucket List!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

VegNews Great Adventure to India!

: VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: VegNews Great Adventure to India
Where: New Delhi, Agra, and the breathtaking state of Rajasthan
When: February 6–18, 2011
Why: Because VegNews Vacations are a great way to see the world, vegan style

The Scoop: Here's a little back story for you, in case you hadn't heard. When VegNews first decided to launch VegNews Vacations after a few years of toying with idea, we thought of it as an experiment. If it works, great! It will be a wonderful service to the veg community. If not, well, at least we tried it. But given the recession and uncertainty of the market for vegan trips around the world, we honestly thought it might not fly. Fast forward to the announcement of our first VegNews Great Adventure to India (October 2010) last March, and just days later, we were absolutely floored to have a sold-out trip, with a waitlist in the hundreds. When we announced our 2011 trips (another VegNews Great Adventure to India and a Food Lover's Tour to Thailand), the vacations sold out even faster. And after leading our second group just weeks ago in what was another incredible journey, I have no doubt that VegNews Vacations will be offering international getaways for years to come.

Publisher Joseph Connelly and I, along with our expert guides Zac Lovas and RK Singh from Veg Voyages, set off for the subcontinent in early February to travel through India with 25 VegNews' readers. In reflecting on why this trip was so spectacular, here are my top five reasons why I'd do it again and again:

1. The Group
Without a doubt, traveling with like-minded individuals is nothing short of phenomenal. Why hadn't I discovered this before? As someone who has done a lot of solo traveling, I am completely sold on sharing a travel experience with people you can really relate to. Every day brought great conversation (including what seemed to be a constant dialogue on veg restaurants and food), and sharing what we were experiencing with interesting, compassionate people really made the trip that much richer. Because of the group size, we were able to talk to different people every day, and wonderful bonds and lasting friendships were just a bonus of the already-stellar adventure.

2. The Sights
As amazing as traveling with other vegetarians is, it's even better because we were in India! You had to pinch us each day, as we just couldn't believe where we were and what we were seeing. Highlights include the Taj Mahal (one of the Seven Wonders of the World), the Gandhi museum in New Delhi, the Pink City, the breathtaking forts and palaces, the ancient stepwell, the temples (including one that was more than 3,000 years old!), the all-vegetarian village, and Animal Aid Hospital & Sanctuary. And that was just the beginning.

3. The Food
In short, the food was sensational. Every meal we experienced a different style or region of Indian cooking in a unique setting. And because many of us are food-obsessed, this was a huge part of the trip. But remember—India is very veg-friendly, but there is little to no knowledge of veganism. And since all VegNews Vacations are 100-percent vegan, it required a lot of effort to educate chefs and ensure that we were served only the very best vegan cuisine. Meal standouts include South Indian dosas, Indo-Chinese fusion, North Indian thalis, Rajasthani snacks, and Jaipur curries. And no meal would be complete without the incredible array of fresh-baked flat breads—from chapati to garlic naan (made vegan just for us) to onion-stuffed paratha. To the delight of guests, we always had soy and almond milk on hand (brought from the US) for those much-needed cups of coffee and tea.

4. The Hotels
There were no Hiltons or Holiday Inns on our adventure, but the places we stayed were one of the most memorable aspects of the trip. We hung our hats in centuries-old palaces, boutique inns, quaint bed and breakfasts, eco retreats, and lakeside villas—and were always treated like royalty. From being welcomed with fresh juice, a floral garland, and the requisite bindi to being invited for cocktails with the last recognized monarch in India, each hotel was totally unique.

5. The Extras
Besides seeing incredible sights, eating delicious food, and sleeping in palaces and villas (all while sharing the experience with a group of like-minded individuals), the little extras really made the trip over the top. We're talking morning yoga, sunrise hikes, the beautiful animals, the lovely Indian people and their unparalleled hospitality, Ayurvedic massage, the Hindi language lessons, the cooking class, the music, the dancing...

I could go on and on about the VegNews Great Adventure to India, but I'd rather let our just-launched photo gallery tell the rest of the story. Here's to traveling the world, vegan style!

The lovely Blair, learning to make Indian food in our cooking class

Just a few feet away from a blissful monkey, overlooking this majestic lake