Thursday, April 28, 2011

Berkeley Vegan Earth Day

Who: VN Associate Editor Jennifer Chen
What: Berkeley Vegan Earth Day
Where: Berkeley, Calif.
When: April 22, 2011
Why: To celebrate Earth Day with fellow vegans.

The Scoop: Minutes after moving to Berkeley with my husband, yellow lab, and three-legged cat, I knew I had made the right decision. Not only are there vegan cinnamon buns (Cinnaholic, I heart you), there is a vegan charcuterie platter at Gather that will make you squeal. Even better, Berkeley just hosted its very first Vegan Earth Day at the University of California Berkeley, an event that combined environmentalism with veganism. Karine Brighten of Karine Brighten Events produced the evening with co-sponsors Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy, which included a screening of the documentary, Call of Life, a panel discussion, and a reception catered by Millennium and Local Love.

Moments before the screening. Photo: Whitney Lauritsen

The film was eye-opening to say the least. The producers interviewed several university science professors from UC Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, Duke, and other schools about the growing threat to the Earth's life systems and how all species are interconnected. The film warns that factors such as over-consumption of meat, global warming, and deforestation are killing more species than ever before. A fascinating fact that I didn't realize is that when salmon travel back and forth from their breeding grounds, they carry important essential elements that helps the bears that eat them and the surrounding trees survive.

After the screening, four panelists—Hope Bohanec (In Defense of Animals), David Vlansey (Call of Life executive producer), Lauren Ornelas (Food Empowerment Project), and Alex Eaves (Stay Vocal)—spoke about veganism, the environment, food choices, and even how T-shirts can be an environmental hazard. Eaves shared a personal story of how he used to collect T-shirts at an alarming rate. He wore a different T-shirt every day from his collection and it took him more than a year before he went through all of them. After discovering how much waste is made just from making T-shirts (about 400 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make just one brand new T-shirt), he launched the clothing company Stay Vocal that is 100-percent reused attire.

Sushi provided by Local LovePhoto: Whitney Lauritsen

After the discussion and Q&A moderated by Rose Aguilar, host of local radio show Your Call, we were invited to a small reception and venue area to meet local vendors and organizations. My husband Brendan and I snacked on a new vegan nacho cheese from Nacheez and ate some tasty appetizers from Millennium while perusing the booths. The reception was jam-packed—you know how much vegans love food—and there were tons of happy vegan chatting it up and getting to know each other. Whitney Lauritsen, aka Eco-Vegan Gal, was the event photographer and documented the whole evening beautifully. After we left Brendan and I were still talking about the film and how we would re-think our consumer choices. We're both so happy that we moved to Berkeley, and I'm really looking forward to Berkeley Vegan Earth Day next year.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Date Night Dining

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Alexandra Chang
What: Happy Hour at Dash Café and Dinner at Asqew Grill
Where: San Francisco, Calif.
When: April 19, 2011
Why: To go out and have a relaxing time with the boyfriend, while eating plenty of delicious vegan fare.

The Scoop: After moving in with my boyfriend we started spending the majority of our time at home, which is hardly a problem. But getting out is important too (at least this is what people tell me), so I decided to take advantage of our local café’s weekday happy hour. VN Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig also recently gave me two meal tickets to Asqew Grill, turning my evening into a complete date night extravaganza.

While parking myself on my couch in front of the TV is great respite from a day’s work, there is nothing quite as relaxing and refreshing as grabbing a drink and snacks for discounted dollars. We headed to Dash Café, which recently started carrying vegan cupcakes (pictured below), cookies, and coffee cake*. For happy hour, the appetizers go for $4 and the wine and beer is a dollar off. To top it all off, the staff is friendly, the décor is cute, and the vibe is just the right amount of casual. Granted there were UCSF medical students studying nearby as we chatted away, but they didn’t seem to mind. Or at least they didn’t glare. We ended up ordering a plate of deliciously seasoned fries, a beer, and a vegan chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting to share. Dessert before dinner is always OK in my book.

Vegan cupcakes and cookies at Dash Caf


Enjoying some fries and beer

After filling up on all the necessities (sugar, salt, booze), we took a pleasant 20-minute walk to Asqew Grill in the Haight. I had never noticed, let alone been to, the restaurant tucked away between clothing shops. As soon as we stepped inside, however, I felt immediately comfortable. The whole place has a Western feel with a touch of SF quirk. A giant wooden menu is complemented with lopsidedly hanged photos and awards, all lit under vintage lighting fixtures. For dinner I ordered one seasonal vegetable skewer, which included slices of squash, zuchinni, tomato wedges, broccoli, and button mushrooms, and one portabello mushroom skewer. Every order also comes with a side or salad. The restaurant has three vegan options: citrus cous cous, coconut cilantro jasmine rice, and organic baby green salad. I went with the cous cous and ended up enjoying a very delicious meal!

The skewers over cous cous!

With a satisfied appetite, we took the walk back home. Either the food had gotten to us or we were just plain tired, but it took us nearly twice as much time. We meandered through UCSF, went up and down stairs around deserted medical buildings, admired views of city lights, until finally we reached the comfort of yes, our couch and TV. All in all, the night was a success, and we’ll be trying to go out more often than not.

*Dash Café says that they will only continue carrying vegan pastries if they sell well. So if you live in the area, get over to the Inner Sunset and show them how much vegans love sweets!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Adventures in the Inner Sunset

Who: VN Office Manager and VN Editorial Assistant Alexandra Chang
Where: The Inner Sunset, San Francisco, Calif.
When: April 10, 2011
Why: To get a break from the bustling Tenderloin, and check out some cool books!

The Scoop: I have now been a resident of the historical Tenderloin neighborhood for more than a year, and let's just say that I have many stories from this eclectic part of San Francisco. I've also been spending a lot of time at home lately, if I'm not at work, and I personally haven't been to the Sunset in months. When I heard about the Anarchist Book Fair taking place in the Golden Gate Park, I decided it was a good time to venture out, and meet up with my friend and co-worker Alexandra to check it out.

Checking out AK Press' awesome selection.

It was a lovely day, so I decided to ride my bike, and although I made a few wrong turns, I made it to Alexandra's humble abode in good time. We then set out to the book fair, which took place at the same location as the World Veg Day Festival, which usually takes place at the beginning of October. There were plenty of books for fair prices, which always makes me happy, and Alexandra and I took our time scoping out each booth. Our favorites were the booths of PM Press, AK Press, and Food Not Bombs, but all the booths were great, and offered good selections.

Alexandra with her fun purchase.

Hunger eventually got the best of us, and unfortunately there was not food at the book fair, so we decided to head out into the Inner Sunset for a late lunch. After much deliberation, we finally decided upon Loving Hut, because neither of us had been to the one in the Sunset before, and they were voted the 2010 VegNews Readers' Favorite Restaurant, so why not give it a try? Everything was good, but our favorite was our appetizer, which was the Ocean Basket. It was a fried basket of yam shrimp, mushrooms, seaweed fillet, green beans, served with a dill and Vegenaise sauce. It definitely hit the spot!

Loving Hut's Ocean Basket.

However, we were not yet satisfied, and longed for dessert. I have been dying to try Holy Gelato! for some time now, which serves up to 12 flavors of vegan gelato on a daily basis. There was no stopping me, so we were off to this sweet spot, and once we stepped through the doors, I was in heaven. How have I not been here before? There were so many flavors, and I wanted to try them all, but I finally chose the Mint Cookie and Charlie Brown's Nightmare served in a waffle cone. It was so good that I gobbled it up before taking a photo—so sorry! Alexandra opted for a warmer dessert, and grabbed a vegan cupcake and a tea from a nearby café.

After a day's worth of adventure, we walked back to Alexandra's house, and we said our goodbyes. Luckily, much of my bike ride home was downhill, and I arrived back in the Tenderloin in record time, feeling refreshed. I love my crazy neighborhood, but sometimes it feels great to get out—even for a little while.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sneak Preview of Animal Place Sanctuary

Who: VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: Sneak Preview of Animal Place sanctuary
Where: Grass Valley, Calif.
When: April 3, 2011
Why: To connect with animals while hanging with friends

The Scoop: A weekend away can do wonders for the soul. I love to escape to Santa Cruz, Mendocino, or anywhere where I can relax, eat great food, and connect with nature. My dear friend Allison Rivers Samson (the founder of Allison's Gourmet) invited me to her home in Nevada City, Calif., to spend the weekend with her family, and I jumped at the opportunity. Two days of balmy weather, strolls through the quaint Gold Rush town, long chats with Allison and her husband, and the company of their adorable four-year-old vegan daughter? I'm in. As if the weekend couldn't get any better, we spent Sunday afternoon getting a pre-season peek of one of the country's largest animal sanctuaries, Animal Place.

Rescued chickens and turkeys roam free at Animal Place.

Having moved to its new location just last year, the picturesque 600-acre farm is dotted with rolling hills, peaceful meadows, big red barns, and hundreds of rescued animals. We frolicked with rabbits, rubbed pigs' bellies, chatted with chickens, and waddled with turkeys. Their stories are heart-wrenching—whether victims of research labs, slaughterhouses, or hoarders—but the animals find life and hope again at Animal Place. They learn to trust, they bond to new animal friends, and they are free to walk, spread their wings, and live out their natural lives in peace.

Pigs are extremely affectionate and can't get enough belly rubs!

Animal Place Co-founder Kim Sturla and her team are working fast and furiously to prepare the sanctuary for visitors (of both the two-legged and four-legged variety). The property, a former cattle ranch, is being transformed into a beautiful haven for rescued animals which will also feature guest houses, an education center, and an extremely impressive four-acre veganic garden. Visitors will be able to tour the grounds, take a cooking class, volunteer, or stay the night. It's a true escape for everyone involved, and when the sanctuary opens again for visitors (most likely this summer), book a trip to this heavenly spot in the Sierra foothills. Nothing feeds the soul more than looking into the eyes of an animal who has a second chance at life.

Allison, Kim, and Colleen enjoy the lush surroundings at the sanctuary.

P.S. Grass Valley and Nevada City offer plenty of veg options, but our favorite is the family-run raw-food café, The Fix. We savored a portobello burger and raw sushi, along with coconut-ginger-lime milkshakes. Don't miss it!