Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Bit of Southern Comfort

Who: VegNews Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig, the rest of the VN Crew, plus a special guest
What: The annual Southern Comfort dinner
Where: Millennium Restaurant, San Francisco, Calif.
When: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Why: We just can't get enough fried, comforting food.

The Scoop: For those who are familiar with Millennium, their annual Southern Comfort night is something to look forward to all year long. It's also the one time in the year when the restaurant may be a little more casual than usual—plaid and mullets are in abundance, as is the beer. So we at the VNHQ were very excited when VegNews Publishers Joseph Connelly and Colleen Holland invited all of us to this special dinner. We were also extremely thrilled to have a special guest join us—former VegNews Editorial Assistant and VN Contributor Melissa Feineman, who is now living in the SF Bay Area once again!  Delicious food and friends—what more could you ask for?

 Lyndsay and Elizabeth having a good time

Shortly after our arrival, we were served a big bucket of a variety of beer, including such classics as Pabst Blue Ribbon (my personal favorite), Schlitz, Olympia, and Miller High Life. Then came the bread—homemade biscuits, oat-molasses bread, and jalapeño-scallion cornbread to be exact—served with an amazing smoky pecan spread. And that was just the beginning of the appetizers! We were then served Becca's Chili Fries with papadzul, Danielle's Deep Fried Kosher Dill Pickles, and Black-eyed Pea Chow Chow. This was our idea of heaven, but then we were given the third part of the appetizers, which blew our minds—a shredded cabbage and watercress salad with strawberries, spiced almonds, tempeh bacon, and poppy-seed dressing.

 The amazing appetizer—chili cheese fries,  fried pickles, and black-eyed peas

Did I mention that those were just the appetizers? The choice of entrées was up next, and boy was it a hard decision to make! Here were our choices (see if you can decide): a Steamed Beer and Kraut Brat with your choice of toppings, including but not limited to cheese sauce, chili, and pickled mushrooms; Tammy Fae Gomez's Midwest Tamale Pie; Jersey Diner-Style Ketchup-Glazed Meatloaf, served with mushroom-bourbon gravy, and sour-cream-and-chive smashed potatoes; Alice's Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich, with cilanto-red cabbage slaw, mayonnaise, Yucatan Diablo Sauce, and a French bread roll. It was a very tough decision, to say the least, but the chicken sandwich was the big winner, and the meatloaf was a close second.

Two entrées in one—the meatloaf and the popular buttermilk fried chicken

Straight from the ice cream sandwich bar—delicious!

We were completely stuffed, but you can't attend Southern Comfort night without fitting in the dessert. And this was no ordinary dessert, but Anne's Ice Cream Sandwich Bar! First, we had a choice of Oatmeal Raisin or Chocolate cookies, but most of us picked one of each. Then we had to choose two fillings to be mixed with the vanilla ice cream, including chocolate-covered pretzels, sprinkles, chocolate chips, brownies, Newman O's, chocolate-peanut butter rice crispy treats, pralines, and rice mellow. Finally, we were able to go crazy with the toppings, which included maraschino cherries, fudge sauce, caramel sauce, strawberry-chipotle sauce, and vanilla bean cream. The decadence nearly killed us, and it took us a little while, but we were finally able to stand up and say our goodbyes. Our satisfaction had hit 100 percent—that is until this morning when the waiting began once again for this amazing dinner! To check out more photos, just go to our Facebook photo gallery.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vegans in Vegas

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
What: Vegas in Vegas: Bachelor Party 2011
Where: Las Vegas, NV
When: May 19–22, 2011
Why: First-ever event for vegan men

The United Brotherhood of Vegans: Chef Jason Wyrick, Jack Norris, 
Ryan Henn, Joseph Connelly, Dan Mims, and Lt. Col. Robert Lucius

The Scoop: Vegans in Vegas organizer Ryan Henn's brilliant idea was "the first event designed for vegan and veg-interested men." A vegan bachelor party! In Las Vegas! Bring vegan men together for some brotherhood and bonding, y'know, 'cause being a minority within a minority ain't easy. VegNews jumped on as the title sponsor, and the next thing you know there was a wild four-day orgy happening in sin city that was going to ruin (or improve!) vegans reps forever.


VinV might have strayed slightly from original concept (about half of the attendees were women) into unique conference, yet in the end was still a first for Vegas. How so? I've been to more vegan conferences then, well, probably anyone, and I've never attended a class by a professional poker player on how to win at Texas Hold-'em (though there is one summer conference that will remain unidentified in which there is an annual Hold-'em tournament). Ed Miller, Vegas' resident vegan poker pro and author of five poker books, attempted to teach attendees the basics, and graciously donated his book sales to Mercy for Animals.

What else did you miss? The conference was a blend of the expected lectures from stalwarts including myself, Mercy for Animals' Nathan Runkle, and Vegan Outreach's Jack Norris, plus new faces such as Jim Morris, the 75-year-old former Mr. USA/Mr. America/Mr. Universe who has not fathered a secret love-child with his former housekeeper (as far as we know) and Lt. Col. Bob Lucius, the marine-turned-vegan building humane communities around the globe through his Karios Coalition.

Bodybuilder Jim Morris lost his shirt while in Vegas. He turns 76 in August.

How many other veg gatherings offer dueling piano bars; Purple Reign, a Prince (he's vegan, you know) tribute; or Improv at Harrah's Casino? None. We also dined at one of newly vegan Steve Wynn's restaurants, Wazuzu, inside the Encore Hotel (all of the restaurants in Wynn's hotels have vegan menus) and learned to cook via demos by Chefs Stacey Dougan and Jason Wyrick, the latter of The Vegan Culinary Experience, another event sponsor. Yes, a bachelor party with break-out cooking lessons. I did say it was unique!

Chef Stacey Dougan gives cooking tips at a local Whole Foods Market

Vegans in Vegas was original, fun, and a welcomed event in a city not exactly known as a vegan destination. Ryan Henn is changing that, helping to put Vegas and VinV on the "Bucket List" of must-do's, a conference you shouldn't miss. Let's all hope he decides to roll the dice again next year.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Weekend in Denver

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Anna Peraino
What: Visiting the two people who gave me life (or so they tell me)
Where: Denver, Colo.
When: April 22-24, 2011
Why: Because I love my parents (and vacations)
The Scoop: My parents recently made the move to Denver, Colo. from Houston, Texas, and so I decided it was my duty as a loving and selfless daughter to take a free flight (thanks, Mom and Dad!) to The Mile-High City and visit them. After spending almost every Spring Break of my childhood skiing the Colorado Rockies, it was fun to explore a city I had driven through dozens of times, but never spent time in. After getting in late on Friday night, we awoke on Saturday morning to chilly weather and cloudy skies. We spent the morning hanging out at the Denver Botanic Gardens, where we saw a ridiculous amount of tulips (my fave), daffodils, and hundreds of other flowers. Before we left, we checked out the Tropical Conservatory, filled with orchids, elephant ears, and some really cool zebra-looking leaves.

Zebra stripes are so in right now.

After vegging out at the gardens, we headed to VN-recommended veg eatery City O' City, a really cool and off-beat bar and restaurant right down the street from the Capitol. Being Perainos (read: eaters), the parents and I shared The Sherman, a BBQ tofu sandwich, the Max Burger (sans cheese, of course), some house-made French fries, and the Animal Lover's Pizza with cashew cheese instead of mozzarella. It was all supremely delicious—my omni parents scarfed it down! 

After coming out of our food comas, we headed to nearby Boulder to check out the town, and then went to one of the best dinners I've ever had (see, told you we were eaters). We went to Root Down, an omni eatery focused on sustainability and deliciousness. I'm serious, the food was amazing. While there is meat on the menu, Root Down is super veg-friendly, with markers on the menu for gluten-free and vegan items. I ordered the Organic Roasted Baby Beets to start, and then ate Organic Tofu Marsala with candied Brussels sprouts and a dried cherry-scallion risotto cake. Dessert was completely delectable—a seasonal fruit crumble stuffed with apples and topped with homemade coconut- and soy- milk ice cream.

Apple crumble and ice cream heaven at Root Down.

On Sunday morning the parents and I woke up early to get in a hike at nearby Roxborough State Park, where we enjoyed more chilly weather and spectacular rock formations. Before I knew it, it was time to head back to (also cloudy) San Francisco. I am pretty freaking stoked that my parents now live in Denver, and can't wait to go back again soon. 

Who are those good-looking ladies? 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Farm Sanctuary 25th Anniversary Gala

Who: VN Contributor, Jasmin Singer
What: Farm Sanctuary’s 25th Anniversary Gala
Where: Cipriani Wall Street, NYC
When: May 14, 2011
Why: Because Farm Sanctuary is the best place on earth

The Scoop: Everyone was dressed to the nines last Saturday night at the über chic Cipriani Wall Street in New York City for the much-anticipated 25th Anniversary Farm Sanctuary Gala. Co-founder Gene Baur was greeted with cheers as he reported that the number of animals killed in the US for food is going down. This hopeful tidbit was just one of the many moments that garnered enthusiastic feedback from the audience of animal-loving celebrities and passionate supporters—all there to celebrate the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization.

Gene Baur presenting awards

Way back in 1986, one lucky little sheep, Hilda, was lifted off a “dead pile” and given a second chance. At that same moment, a sanctuary, and a movement, were born. Since then, slowly but surely, awareness has risen about the horrors of animal production, largely due to the work of Farm Sanctuary, whose most recent campaign, Plate to Planet, explores the major role that animal agribusiness plays in environmental destruction. Twenty-five years after Hilda’s rescue, Farm Sanctuary provides refuge for hundreds of rescued farm animals at two bustling shelters—one in Watkins Glen, NY, and the other in Orland, Calif.

Celebrity guests were quick to point to Farm Sanctuary’s central role in spreading awareness. According to bestselling author of Veganist, Kathy Freston, the sanctuary movement can change lives. “When you get close up and you see their personalities and their individual characteristics—and their really adorable, hilarious traits—you fall in love with them,” she told me. “And then the next inevitable step is that you don’t want to eat them.”

Me with the lovely Kathy Freston

Indeed, Emmy Award-winning comedienne, Carol Leifer, credited her lightbulb moment to a visit to an animal sanctuary. “I was in the dark,” she said. “I had no idea about the suffering of farm animals. So I took baby steps, but I’m proud to say that a year later, I became vegan.”

Me with funny lady Carol Leifer

Simone Reyes, Russell Simmons' right-hand gal, told me, “Farm Sanctuary is a pioneer in animal rescue. They started a trend of rescuing animals when nobody else was even thinking about it.” Actress Ally Sheedy agreed. “Their educational outreach has been outstanding. People now know what the phrase ‘factory farming’ means.”

Simone Reyes smiling for the camera

As guests dined on the gourmet vegan dinner provided in part by Field Roast, awards were presented to leaders in the movement, including attorney David Wolfson, who offered a touching speech looking back on the ever-changing role that law plays in farm animal reform. Other recipients included Field Roast’s David Lee (whose award was presented by Best Actor Oscar Nominee, Jesse Eisenberg), and Farm Sanctuary’s own shelter director, Susie Coston.

Jesse Eisenberg presenting David Lee's award

Danielle Konya, creator of Vegan Treats and soon-to-be star of her own reality show for Animal Planet, not only provided the outstanding and artistic desserts, but was followed by a camera crew filming her every move. “It’s always good to come back to the face of why I do this bakery,” Konya told me, her camera crew close at hand. “It gets me re-inspired and excited all over again.”

The drool-inducing Vegan Treats table!

Hosts Wendie Malick and Fred Willard kept the event moving with their humor and charm. As Willard told me, his compassion for animals has been a lifelong driving force. “I’ve always felt that animals should be treated kindly. Even when I was a little child, I thought it was important to take care of an animal who was suffering. And I could never understand some people’s cruelty to animals.”

Hosts Wendie Malick and Fred Willard

Most notable perhaps was the palpable sense of hope in the air. Jane Velez-Mitchell—host of HLN’s Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell—put it best, “We’re at a crucial turning point. Things are unbelievably different than they were even five years ago. There’s an acceptance of this as a legitimate movement all across the country. We’re not fringe anymore. We’re mainstream.”

Jane Velez-Mitchell and moi

When asked what’s next for Farm Sanctuary, Gene Baur didn’t flinch. “We’re going to continue rescuing and caring for animals, encouraging people to reshape their relationship with them towards compassion, and away from cruelty and disrespect,” he said, understanding that as far as the movement has come, there’s still a long road ahead when it comes to ending animal cruelty. “It’s an ongoing process.”

Friday, May 13, 2011

NYC Tour 2011

Who: VN Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria
What: An East Coast Jaunt
Where: Brooklyn & Woodstock, NY
When: April 28–May 2, 2011
Why: Because New York is there!

The Scoop: I lived in NYC for two years during grad school, and after this little trip, I can't fathom why I left. New York (especially in the springtime), is phenomenal. With the excuse of a friend's wedding and a long weekend, I recently returned to my erstwhile home for a few days of friends, food, and farm animals. 

Bekah officially thumbs up Lula's

My first stop this trip was Lula's Sweet Apothecary. Holy freaking crap. Not only is this LES institution just about as cute as can possibly be, but let's talk about the ice cream. My nearly vegan and highly awesome friend Bekah Brunstetter (who was kind enough to host me), said that the towering sundae we ordered of Rocky Road and strawberry ice cream topped with hot fudge, coconut whipped cream, roasted peanuts, and, of course, a cherry, was better than dairy ice cream. Take that, dairy!
After feasting on said sundae, we tooled around town, and that evening I saw Bekah's latest play, Be A Good Little Widow, which was fantastic. Even The New York Times thinks so! Flowers were in bloom all through the city, the weather was gently warm and not yet the sticky heat of summer (which I actually love), and there was more eating to do! After the play we headed back to Brooklyn, and dined with The Discerning Brute himself, Joshua Katcher, at Vinnie's Pizzeria. Um, again, holy crap. The pie was enormous, delicious, and covered in Daiya, vegan sausage and pepperoni, mushrooms, and broccoli. The four of us who ate it had our work cut out!
Pie a la Vinnie's

The next morning was serious business. Let's talk for a moment about Champs. All I can say is go-lly. I could have probably eaten every single meal here and been totally fine, and I think I made a total of six or so visits here during the weekend. Lemme just say: SCONES! Really, really, really good vegan scones. Pictured below are the strawberry cream cheese and chocolate chip walnut flavors. I love scones, and these were perfection. Champs also offers extremely wonderful black-and-white cookies, bear claws, and a variety of sandwiches. On weekends, you can also score Dun-Well Doughuts there, and score I did. Though I ate them too quickly to snap pictures, the coconut and chocolate with peanuts flavors were both delicious.
Champs' scone perfection

After Champs, it was off to Woodstock to visit Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. It had been an unacceptably long time since I was last at a sanctuary, and this place was fantastic. I fell head over heels for Dylan the cow, and loved the way these big, sleepy pigs nestled into their comfy straw beds. 

Pig pile!

Altogether the trip was amazing, and I'll now begin working non-stop on establishing an east coast branch of VN, preferably one located in Champs and Lula's, simultaneously.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Vegas Goes Vegan

Who: VN Las Vegas Correspondent, Blair Stirek
What: Viva Las Vegan! at Vegas Uncork'd
Where: The Encore hotel in Las Vegas, NV
When: May 7, 2011
Why: To experience an all-vegan culinary showcase with some of the nation's top mainstream chefs.

The Scoop: As a long-time resident of Las Vegas, I can say that it's not the most veg-friendly city. So when I first heard about the Viva Las Vegan! event to be held at the very-fancy Encore hotel, I was ecstatic. I’ve never attended a public event in Vegas where I don’t have to constantly ask “what’s in this?” So when VegNews asked me to cover the event, I couldn't say yes fast enough and enthusiastically awaited the big day.

For a bit of background, Viva Las Vegan! is part of the Bon Appétit magazine-sponsored Vegas Uncorked, a who's-who gathering of top chefs around the country who take over the city to cook, eat, and schmooze. Steve Wynn, a successful Vegas hotelier, is a passionate vegan and arranged to host a Saturday afternoon event to showcase meat-free cuisine. Joined by celebrity vegan chef Tal Ronnen and a handful of five-star chefs, the goal was to educate the industry on how delicious and cutting edge vegan cuisine is.

Hotelier Steve Wynn takes the stage at Viva Las Vegan!

As attendees entered the Beethoven Room at Wynn's Encore hotel, we were greeted with cosmopolitan cocktails and glasses of sangria. I immediately started chatting with Cupcake Wars' winner and owner of Sticky Fingers, Doron Petersan, and the Humane Society of the United States' Director of Online Communications, Grace Markarian. Both mentioned their love for VegNews, so I was even more proud to be representing the publication at this first-of-its-kind event.

 HSUS' Grace Markarian and Sticky Fingers' Doron Petersan

Soon, Steve Wynn took the stage. I couldn't help thinking to myself, "This is Steve Wynn! Of the Wynn hotel! Oh, and he also owns the Encore. No big deal." But then my thoughts switched to how this man single-handedly has the ability to turn Vegas into a veg paradise. He shared how he went vegan (a friend gave him a copy of the film, Eating, while yachting in St. Tropez), how he's educating his 15,000 employees about veganism (by giving them all copies of the video), and how he is now offering completely vegan menus at all of his Vegas restaurants (including Botero, Lakeside, Society Café, Stratta, SW Steakhouse, and Wazuzu). His co-host, Ronnen—celebrity chef to Oprah Winfrey and author of the best-selling, The Conscious Cook—then took the stage. Ronnen has been hired by Encore to work with Wynn's restaurant chefs to help create the vegan menus. Then it was time to eat!

Six of Wynn's restaurants were in attendance, and each offered at least two dishes. I sampled pasta and clams (garganelle pasta in a kombu broth with broccoli rabe, sweet peppers, and oyster mushrooms) from Botero, roasted tomato bisque and a tomato salad with cashew cheese from Society Café, Crispy Gardein Milanese with arugula, fennel, and marinated tomatoes from Stratta, vegan clam chowder (a cashew cream base with smoked oyster mushrooms) from Lakeside, and veggie dim sum and sushi from Wazuzu. The dessert stations offered up "peaches and cream" with a crunchy peach cylinder, sangria-soaked peaches, and a citrus-soy rice cream, along with a classic carrot cake with pineapple marmalade and walnut tuile cookie. I finally found heaven in Vegas.

The incredible vegan clam chowder by Chef David Walzog of Lakeside

The beautiful (and delicious) chopped market salad by Chef Kim Canteenwalla of Society Café

And there's more! All of the chefs demonstrated how to make each of the dishes, and the guests received recipe cards for each dish to take home.

Vegas is quickly changing, and I encourage all VN readers to visit this budding vegan paradise. I'll be attending Vegans in Vegas in two weeks, and I hope to meet you there!

The perfect ending to a perfect day: a classic carrot cake by Chef Kimberly Valdez of SW Steakhouse

Friday, May 6, 2011

Four Events in Five Days

Who: VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: The Maggie Awards, a VegNews Vacation Reunion, a Restaurant Review, and a Film Screening
Where: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Campbell, Calif.
When: April 29–May 3, 2011
Why: A week in the life of a magazine publisher!

The Scoop: Being the publisher of a vegan magazine definitely has its benefits. Although our pace never seems to slow down and the workload continues to grow (I thought this was supposed to get easier?), we have an opportunity to attend all kinds of events and constantly meet interesting and inspirational people. In the last week alone, I attended one of the largest magazine award shows in the country, lunched with one of our VegNews Vacations guests at LA's Veggie Grill,  hit up a brand-new veg restaurant in San Francisco, and attended a film screening of a documentary that has huge potential to change the way people think about food and their health.

Last Friday, VN publisher Joseph Connelly and I made our annual trek to Los Angeles for one of the big industry award shows, The Maggies. We dined with the creative directors of Mother Jones and Yoga Journal (both based in San Francisco), ate some pretty decent vegan food (it's the Westin, but the meal was quite good this year!), met lots of people in the magazine world, and took part in a very entertaining awards program. Thankfully, Mother Jones, Yoga Journal, and VegNews all took home Maggie awards (including one for Best Magazine eNewsletter), so the spirits were high at our table of 10. Congratulations to all of our fellow publishers and award winners.

Tim of Mother Jones, Charli of Yoga Journal, Joseph of VegNews, and me at the Maggie Awards

Last year, we launched VegNews Vacations and have now been to India twice with VegNews readers. The trips are nothing short of fantastic, and one of the benefits is that we have made a lot of new friends from around the country. We've had several reunions from both journeys, and we met up with the lovely Brenda from Redondo Beach (VegNews Great Adventure to India 2010) this past Saturday for lunch at the newest Veggie Grill location in Torrance. We reminisced about the trip, talked about her new Etsy store, and ate a delicious array of food: buffalo wings with barbecue sauce and ranch dressing, the Santa Fe Crispy Chick'n sandwich, Papa's Portobello burger, the (best-ever) All Hail Kale salad, the mac 'n' cheese, and sweet potato fries. Yes, it was a good lunch, and, yes, we were full for the next 24 hours.

VegNews Vacation reunion at Veggie Grill! Me, Brenda, and Joseph

When our appetites finally returned, we were back in San Francisco and ready to try out the city's newest vegetarian restaurant. The Source, owned by former New Yorkers (and brothers) Andrew and Mitchell Fox. The restaurant bills itself as a "multi-dimensional dining experience," and we were impressed. The space is modern, the food is innovative, and the menu has something for everyone. We loved the Mushroom Onion Swiss Burger (served with cashew cheese and wrapped in a house-made flat bread) and the Almond Joy smoothie (freshly made cashew milk whirled with raw chocolate, coconut, and almonds). All of the pizzas and breads are made in the restaurant's brick oven, and a variety of juices, elixirs, lattes, and shakes are on offer to wash it all down. We are excited to welcome The Source to the San Francisco veg dining scene.

Overstuffed mushroom onion burger with cashew cheese and French fries, I love you

And to cap off the four events in five days, I headed down to Campbell on Tuesday night with Joseph for the Northern California premier of the the new film, Forks Over Knives. Joseph was on the post-film discussion panel along with The Engine 2 Diet author Rip Esselstyn and San Francisco Vegetarian Society President Dixie Mahy, and we hadn't seen the documentary since its latest round of editing. Whole Foods sponsored the event, the 200+ seat theater was packed, and the audience was very moved by the film. In essence, the documentary examines the relationship between what America eats (excessive animal products) and how sick we are (diabetes, cancer, and heart disease), and has enormous potential for reaching the masses. In fact, I predict that it will be nominated for an Academy Award. Forks Over Knives opens in theaters this weekend in New York and Los Angeles, and rolls out across the country throughout the month. Tell everyone you know!

The line formed early for the Forks Over Knives screening in Campbell