Thursday, June 30, 2011

Skywalker Ranch Weekend

Who: VegNews Associate Editor Jennifer Chen
What: A blissful weekend in nature visiting my husband at Skywalker Ranch
Where: Marin County, Calif.
When: June 24-26, 2011
Why: Because I missed him

The Scoop: Everyone in the office knows that for the past two weeks my husband, Brendan Hay, has been away working at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, north of San Francisco. He's a head writer for Lucasfilm and he and his team have been working non-stop. So I headed up north to spend some time with him and soak up some nature with vegan peanut butter cookies in tow, in the shape of Star Wars characters. Where did I get the cookie cutters? Using the force, of course (and William & Sonoma). The cookie recipe came from my favorite cookbook on the planet, 1,000 Vegan Recipes by VN Columnist Robin Robertson. The cookies were devoured before I could even put the plate down.

Eat one, young vegan Jedi.

Saturday afternoon, I joined the team for a tour of Hangar One, a vodka distillery, in Alameda, Calif. Housed in an old Army base, we got a tour of how the vodka is made and then we got to taste several of their best liquors—all vegan, by the way! The interesting fact I learned that with quality vodka is that you can smell the flavors by tilting your glass. The alcohol smell drifts to the bottom and the flavor rises to the top. So we tried a pear vodka and were told to hold our breath, sip, swallow, and then breathe out. Following that procedure allows you to fully taste all the distinct flavors. Our tour guide gave us a few flavors to sample then he combined them together to make creative cocktails. My favorite flavor? Chipotle pepper vodka. I also learned that quality vodka tastes smooth and our guide pointed out that if your vodka smells like rubbing alcohol then it will taste like it too.

Pear vodka from Hangar One: It's so smooth, it's criminal.

On Sunday, Brendan and I took a nice stroll along the grounds of the ranch. Let's just say it's beyond beautiful there. We saw plenty of lizards laying out on the stone walkways and even spotted a baby deer and mother deer nibbling on leaves. While I'm a city girl at heart, spending the weekend nestled in a beautiful forest, surrounded by animals in their natural grounds is a nice weekend retreat.

We took a ride off campus to the Marin Civic Center Farmers' Market to grab some bolani (amazing Afghani wraps) and fresh stone fruit before we stopped home in Berkeley to reunite Brendan and Buddy, our yellow Labrador. Let's just say I think Buddy wiggled his tail right off when he saw his dad after two weeks apart. Truly man's best friend. Thanks to the crew at Lucasfilm for a great weekend!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Vegan Pizza Party at Patxi's!

Who: VegNews Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria
What: Vegan Pizza Fest at Patxi's Chicago Pizza
Where: San Francisco, Calif.
When: June 16, 2011
Why: Vegan deep-dish pizza and wine is an offer you shouldn't refuse.

The Scoop: It's no secret that the VN team is ever-so-slightly obsessed with Patxi's deep-dish pizza. Since long before I wised up and realized that the multi-location, SF-based pizzeria actually does offer vegan options, I'd run past one location fairly frequently, and always inhale deeply on my way by, dreaming of deep-dish. Well, suffice it to say that when I finally found out that there actually were dairy-free pies just waiting for me to demolish, demolish I did.

When Laiko Bahrs, Patxi's very astute PR gal, invited the VN team to be part of the shop's first dedicated vegan pizza event, we jumped. After work, I eagerly headed for the Fillmore St. location. The mezzanine level of the restaurant was reserved for the pizza fest. The first thing I noticed was the extremely long table of pizzas. Deep-dish, thin-crust, and whole-wheat crust versions lined the table, all topped with Daiya cheese and combinations of vegetable toppings galore.

 Holy vegan pizza, Batman!

If there's one surefire way to make a group of hungry vegans happy, it's a table of fresh-from-the-oven, glorious pizzas. Patxi's had hosted a contest on Facebook where fans could create topping combos, and a few were featured at the event. Honestly, the flavors are a bit of a blur, as I pretty much inhaled a few pieces, and then fell promptly into a highly contented pizza coma. Oh, and I had the help of The Vegan Vine wine to completely relax. 
 The Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

Even though I'm not typically a big wine drinker, both of these offerings were really lovely, and paired perfectly with the pizzas. On hand to document the evening was Vegan Kitchen TV, and you can catch the recording of the entire live broadcast here

We came, we gorged, we rolled (slowly) back to the car. Yummy wine, great food, and warm, welcoming people? That's our kind of party. Thanks so much to Patxi's for organizing this event, and here's to vegan options in establishments of all stripes!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cinnamon Buns Across the Bay

Who: VegNews Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: A trip to to the East Bay for vegan cinnamon buns
Where: Berkeley, Calif.
When: June 10, 2011
Why: A visit to Cinnaholic was long overdue

The Scoop: It had been far too long since we ventured across the Bay for freshly baked cinnamon rolls at the all-vegan Cinnaholic bakery. So when some friends from England were in town recently, we knew their visit had to include a breakfast of these famous (for good reason) sticky buns.

As you walk into the adorable retro-style storefront, the sweet smell of cinnamon rolls lures you in. Batches of buns are baked all day long, so you know yours will always be fresh. Since Cinnaholic specializes in cinnamon rolls, choosing what you're going to eat is the easy part. It's the next step that presents a challenge, as now it's time to customize. On any given day, there could be 27 flavors of frosting, 30 options for toppings, a dozen specialty rolls, and even petite-sized baby buns—so the combinations are endless. For frostings, think butterscotch, caramel, cream soda, Irish cream, macadamia nut, pina colada, and root beer. For toppings, how about blackberries, brownie chunks, chocolate sauce, peanut butter, pomegranate seeds, shredded coconut, or walnuts. They even offer crushed candy canes and gingersnap cookies during the holidays.

After staring at the menu for about five minutes, I decided on vanilla frosting with chocolate chip cookie dough and sliced strawberries. It was amazing, I ate the whole thing, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

My customized creation at Cinnaholic—a fresh-from-the-oven bun topped with vanilla frosting, cookie dough, and strawberries

Let's say you want to leave it to the pros at Cinnaholic to design the perfect roll for you. What would that be? How about Mocha Almond (mocha frosting and toasted almonds), Oreo Explosion (vanilla frosting and Oreo cookies), or S'mores (vanilla frosting and graham crackers, chocolate chips, and marshmallows). There's always a specially priced bun-of-the-day, and UC Berkeley students get a generous discount. Coffee, tea, and hot cocoa are available, along with savory buns and the popular frosting shots. This unique vegan bakery is making believers out of the Berkeley community—one sumptuous bun at a time.

VegNews Publisher Joseph Connelly with his cinnamon bun (vanilla frosting and Oreo cookies) and our dear friend from England, Thomas Russell, who also went with the chocolate chip cookie dough/strawberry combo.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bay Area Adventures

Who: VegNews Editorial Assistant Anna Peraino
What: A food-and-booze-filled joyride around the Bay Area
Where: Sonoma, Petaluma, San Rafael, Oakland, Berkeley, and Moraga, Calif.
When: May 13 to 15, 2011
Why: The Perainos are foodies. Fact. 

The Scoop: My parents, happy as clams now that their two children live within 30 miles of each other, recently left the still-snowy foothills outside Denver (read more about my visit with them here) to visit my brother and me in the Bay Area. As is the case with my family, there was quite a bit of drinking, hiking, and most importantly, eating. What is it they say? The family that eats together, stays together? Something like that.

We began the weekend in Sonoma County, visiting wineries. After we'd had our fill of zins and merlots, we headed down to Petaluma's Lagunitas Brewing Company, where we spent a few hours sipping delicious, heady brews and snacking on peanuts, freshly made salsa, and avocado. Oh, and the live music was pretty stellar, too.

My brother, excited upon arrival

After happy hour, we headed to San Rafael to the beautiful home of my father's college roommate. We spent hours catching up, hearing hilarious stories about my dad's crazier days, and eating a delicious shabbat dinner. The hostess of the evening even made me vegan-friendly fare to nosh on, for which I was supremely grateful. After spending the night at my brother's in Moraga, the family started the morning at the Berkeley Bowl grocery store. Associate Editor Jennifer Chen always gushes about its awesomeness, and I must say, it lived up to my expectations. Next, we headed to Crixa Cakes, my brother's favorite bakery, to sample its delights. My vegan carrot cake was sweet, soft, and delicious, and the rest of the fam said it was their favorite, too! After one more stop at Flacos for some vegan tacos, we headed back to my brother's place to bake. (Did I mention we like to eat? I just wanted to make sure you got that.) My brother and his girlfriend baked us a delicious loaf of pain ordinaire with rye flour that they served with homemade tomatillo salsa and hummus. Post-food coma we took a hike around my brother's neighborhood, which hosted spectacular views of rolling hills, lunch greenery, a few happy cows, and Mt. Diablo in the distance. 

Photo courtesy of Estella Sanchez

Dinner Saturday night was at Oakland's Souley Vegan, where I noshed on barbecue tofu and mac 'n' cheese. I had my eye on some pie for dessert, but to be honest, none of us could hack it. After dinner, the family headed back to Moraga and promptly went to bed. Sunday was a day of little food and mostly NBA-playoff watching, and then the parents headed home. I, for one, headed straight toward a green juice.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mercy for Animals' Honoring Hidden Heroes Party w/ Bob Barker

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
What: MFA's Honoring Hidden Heros Party
Where: The Hollywood Hills home of James Costa
When: Saturday, June 4, 2011
Why: Donations of various kinds

The Scoop: I've heard that it is better to give than receive, and given the opportunity to sponsor anything Mercy for Animals does is pretty much a no-brainer these days. When VegNews learned that Team MFA was throwing itself a party ... to honor their undercover factory farm investigators ... at James Costa's stunning home in the hills above (and overlooking) Hollywood ... and that 87-year-old game show legend Bob Barker was going to be the guest of honor, we just had to "come on down." Um, sorry.

Joseph Connelly, Bob Barker, and Nathan Runkle
(photo courtesy of David Sobel Photography)

We jumped on board because pound-for-pound no organization is doing as much as MFA, with seemingly endless undercover investigations generating press, exposing the horrors of factory farming, and often leading to charges against the morons who kick cattle, punch pigs, and choke chickens.

Founded less than 12 years ago by then-15-year-old Nathan Runkle, MFA has fast become a force to be reckoned with. The org does so much it's nearly impossible to keep up. In addition to the undercover investigations, there's its Farm to Fridge Tour, dishing up viewings of their DVD of the same name in public places; its use of both traditional and social media to reach millions with messages of compassion; and rapid expansion, from humble beginnings in an Ohio attic to offices in Chicago (the group's HQ), New York, Columbus, OH, and most recently Dallas.

Don't take my word for it. A who's-who of animal supporters made the trek, many from across the country, including author Victoria Moran, animal-rights attorney David Wolfson, and activist extraordinaire (and birthday gal) Ashley Lou Smith (all New Yorkers). Here's Ash spotted with Mr. Barker's right-hand man, the equally charming Henri Bollinger.

Ashley Lou Smith with Henri Bollinger

Since this was Hollywood, what would a party be without filmmakers? I counted four: The always beautiful (and 2008 VegNews wedding bride) Marisa Miller Wolfson (creator of the forthcoming Vegucated), the equally stunning Shannon Keith (Behind the Mask, Skin Trade), buff and tanned Shaun Monson (Earthlings), and NKOTB Brian Wendel, the force behind 2011's must-see Forks Over Knives.

Passed savory and sweet hors d'oeuvres from Veganics Catering included Sweet Potato Black Bean Quesadillas, Nuttin' but Nut Cashew Cheeze Balls, Dark Chocolate Raspberry Fudge Delites, plus Snickerdoodle and Raspberry Shortbread Cookies. All were tasty and plentiful.

What do vegans eat? How about Dark Chocolate Raspberry Fudge Delites!

And finally there was the evening's program. Bob Barker spoke about the effectiveness of MFA's work, encouraged us all to break into laboratories, reminded us to spay and neuter our companion animals, and then presented MFA with a check for $250,000 to help fund its undercover work. VegNews wanted to match the donation, but we fell slightly short. A bit later, Nathan allowed me to briefly hold the check (you'd be amazed what it feels like to have a quarter-million dollars in your hands) before introducing me to his father, Mark Runkle. Standing next to me at that moment was Jenny Brown, co-founder and firebrand of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. When Jenny learned of Mark's identity, she shouted "Thanks for the sperm!" A different kind of donation maybe, but given what Nathan and MFA have accomplished, without a doubt just as valuable.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

San Francisco Staycation!

Who: VegNews Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria
What: An evening's vacation in my hometown
Where: San Francisco, Calif.
When: Thursday, May 5, 2011
Why: Why not take an hours-long vacation at home?

The Scoop: So, some people would call going out for the evening just a regular old outing, not so much a "vacation." Well, I say vacay is all in how you think about it. On a recent Thursday night, I took a little time off (that just happened to fall between the close of business and bedtime), and toured San Francsico. Along with my adventuresome roommates, I headed for the Sutro Baths, which, insanely, I'd never really visited despite having lived in the Bay Area nearly my entire life. Really, you might as well play tourist when your city happens to house a number of places that are frequented by actual tourists. 

The Sutro Baths ruins and flowers
We got to the Baths shortly before sunset, and the view was completely stunning. The ruins of the Baths are totally enchanting, as they are partially overtaken by the tide rushing in, and partially covered in a sandy beach. There are caves, swampy lagoons, jutting rocks, and basically everything you need to feel like you've happened upon the end of the world. (Just don't turn away from the ocean and face the parking lot—that kind of ruins the magical whimsy.) 

A duck and her ducklings in the lagoon right after sunset
Our need for scenery sated, we turned to another necessary element of any good vacation: food! One of my favorite far-away vacation destinations is New Mexico, where my dad grew up. Our family used to drive out there every few years, and I could never get enough of the sun, the history, or the food. I'm 99-percent certain that as soon as I hit retirement age, I'm headed straight for a tiny house in the middle of nowhere (potentially Truth or Consequences, but we'll see if I'm feeling heady at age 70) to bake away the rest of my days in the sun, wearing my own shriveled weight in turquoise jewelry. Suffice it to say, The Land of Enchantment has a permanent spell cast on this gal. So, after our non-desert beach foray, I was eager to try Green Chile Kitchen, a newish New Mexican restaurant here in town.

Green Chile Kitchen, photo via SF Weekly
Any menu that includes sopapillas (little fried bread triangles ubiquitous in NM) is OK by me. While the restaurant is far from completely vegan, the sopapillas are, as well as the fantastic veggie chile stew. Packed with green chiles (which are the secret to a long, happy life, in case you didn't know), I could easily eat this stellar stew every single day. 

With full bellies and a new collection of travel photos, we went home, just in time to go to sleep and be ready for work the next day.