Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Blessed Evening (No, really!)

Who: VN Assistant Editor Anna Peraino
What: Dinner from Papalote and Bon Iver live in concert
Where: San Francisco and Berkeley, CA
When: September 22, 2011
Why: Burritos and Bon Iver are both alliterative and life-changing.

The Scoop: You know when you have those days where everything looks like it's going to go totally 100-percent uncontrollably wrong, and then somehow it turns into one of the best days of your life? The evening of September 22 was one of those days for me. Three friends and I bought tickets to Bon Iver at UC Berkeley's famed (and by "famed" I mean Jerry Garcia, Joan Baez, and Pink Floyd performed there) Hearst Greek Theater. Now, most of you probably don't know me (hi, Mom!), but Bon Iver is one of my absolute favorite, love-you-forever, own-all-your-albums-and-singles-on-vinyl bands. They make sweet, sweet love to my ears and I listen to them daily—but more on that later. First, the drama!

So crappy thing about this concert: it started at 7pm, and my friends and I are all SF residents, and two of us have to make the lovely (read: obnoxiously traffic-filled) commute up from the South Bay. I was to meet a friend at 6pm, grab burritos, and then meet the others at a designated SF intersection at 6:45 sharp. Sounds easy, right? Most definitely wrong! My first friend was late, and we didn't get out the door until 6:30. Luckily, however, a bus that could take us (quite literally) to the doorstep of Papalote was rolling by as we began our walk. We made it to Papalote just as our piping hot burritos came off the grill—filled with potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, black beans, rice, guacamole, and the best salsa in the universe (I mean it!), these rolled-up delights are one of my favorite meals in SF.

Imagine this exact burrito, minus the plate and plus my lap. 

After getting the burritos, it was a quick two-block walk to the designated meet-up. Somehow, some way, all four of us arrived within minutes of each other, and so the quad was off! Unfortunately, the lovely (read again: obnoxiously traffic-filled) drive across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley ended up taking an hour, and we arrived at the Greek with 15-ish minutes until Bon Iver was to take the stage. Plenty of time, right? Again, no. All the parking lots were filled! As the clock ticked closer and closer to 8pm, we were almost resigned to driving a mile away (and down a really, really steep hill) to a second parking lot, but fate stepped in in the form of a coed talking on her phone. "Do you need a parking spot? I have one right around the corner." God bless us, every one.

Five minutes (and $25 later—we really couldn't thank her enough), we arrived at the venue, burritos in hand. The outdoor ampitheatre was filled to the brim with excited listeners, the four of us included. And magically, as if the universe was waiting for us to arrive (so nice of it!), Bon Iver came on right as we were taking our seats.

And let me tell you readers, the show was absolutely amazing. Eight musicians, two drum sets, a piccolo, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and a whole host of instruments collided in the musical glory that was that show.

Bon Iver and 8,500 of our closest friends! 

As if we didn't already feel the good juju all around us as we left the concert, as we neared our car, we saw a family of deer grazing in the nearby woods, two little fawns included! Five feet away from us! No joke! It was a blessed evening, filled with the best food, friends, music, and nature around.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rockin' at Rootstalk

Who: VN West Coast Sales Manager Lara Bradley
What: Rootstalk Festival
Where: Salem, OR
When: September 22–25, 2011
Why: For a little local reporting!

The Scoop: As the sole Oregon staffer, it was just a hop, skip and jump to head to the Mountain Rose Herbs Annual Rootstalk conference, held just outside of Salem. A gorgeous lush setting where skyscraper size Douglas-fir trees the commanding authority, was once again the setting for this three-day and night gathering of teachers and masters speaking on everything botanical: including herbalism, aruyvedic medicine, wild mushrooms and edible plants. More than 700 nature-loving folks attended the event wherein all proceeds benefited Cascadia Wildlands, a non-profit whose mission is to combine personal connection with nature and community.

 Me and CoreyJean, ready for fun

Shawn Donnille, longtime advocate of the veg lifestyle, enthusiastically put this event on every year to give back to the community. The mornings start off with yoga under the trees, followed by informative lectures with intermittent breaks for canoeing and hiking with Sierra Club members. I found myself hovering at the Viva! Vegetarian Grill food cart, and had my pick of an array of fast food from their all vegan menu. My dog, CoryJean, preferred their hotdogs, sans the onions, as I shamelessly devoured the steak sandwich dripping with cashew cheese. Folk music strummed the attendees’ spirits, while storytelling by campfires was the evening serenade. There was even a masquerade ball under the stars where mere humans were transformed into mystical faeries and frolicking forest creatures while drinking dandelion wine. A hoedown not to be missed, I am getting my fairy wings ready for next year.

  The most important element for any festival: the food!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Portland VegFest 2011

Who: VN Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig
Where: Portland, OR
When: September 17 + 18, 2011
Why: To hang out with some cool vegans in the city known as vegan mecca.

The Scoop: I love Portland. I have visited the city a few times—most recently for the first-ever Vida Vegan Con—and every single time I enjoy myself immensely. What can I say, Portland relaxes me—the food is great, the people are nice, and maybe I just have a thing for rainy, cloudy skies.

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to visit this fabulous city in the Northwest in order to table at the Portland VegFest, which took place at the  Oregon Convention Center, and was attended by 6,700 people. It's definitely one of the bigger festivals in the US, and there was a ton of free (and delicious) vegan food, as well as awesome speakers, including Wayne Pacelle of HSUS, Grant Butler of The Oregonian, and Dr. Neal Barnard of PCRM.

 The crowded convention center.

I had the pleasure to work at the VegNews booth along with past VegNews employee Katie Paul, her husband, Dan Paul, who was also representing HSUS, and VegNews Street Teamer Bronwyn Ewers, who lives in nearby Tigard, OR. We were neighbors with Chicago Soydairy and ecoVegan, both of which have been featured in VegNews and have wonderful products—they were inundated with hungry attendees for the entirety of the show.

Bronwyn, myself, and Katie working the booth.

Though the booth was busy, I was able to break for quick snacks. On Saturday, I bought a plate of delicious Ethiopian food from Sengatera Ethiopian Restaurant, and then on Sunday I picked up some Yellow Tofu Curry and a few Spring Rolls from VegeThai. Both meals were tasty and satisfying, and helped to get me through the rest of the busy day.

My bountiful plate of Ethiopian food. So good!

This was my first time attending the Portland VegFest, and I hope it's not my last. It was truly a fun and successful event, in one of the best US cities. I'll stop gushing now.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Natural Selection at its Best

Who: Former VN employee, Katie Paul and husband Dan
What: A dinner at Natural Selection
Where: Portland, OR
When: Sept. 17th
Why: To check out Portland’s latest fine dining venue

The Scoop: As a former VegNews employee, volunteering for VegNews during the Portland VegFest has become a much anticipated annual tradition for me. I live in Seattle, a vegan friendly city in its own right, but I am always thrilled to jaunt south to Portland for a change of scenery. This year, I was asked to take on another task: to review a new restaurant in Portland called Natural Selection. This weekend was beginning to sound more like an indulgent getaway, and nobody had to twist my arm to get me to participate. I looked forward to the weekend all week long, and now, a week after the excursion, I still can’t stop thinking and talking about it.

Our phenomenal main course: polenta with summer squash

My husband Dan and I drove down to Portland on Saturday morning, and spent the day at Portland VegFest enjoying the company of friendly Pacific North-westerners and sampling both new and familiar vegan foods. As we headed to the quaint neighborhood of Alberta for our dinner reservations at Natural Selection, we were regretting all of the pre-dinner munching damage that had already been done. But, as we walked into the restaurant, we instantly regained our appetites. I appreciate good interior design almost as much as I appreciate good food, and this restaurant has both. However, to say that its cuisine and design are ‘good’ would be entirely misleading because it was perhaps the most delicious and thoughtfully designed meals in one of the most inviting and thoughtfully designed spaces I have ever experienced. Yes, this is a superlative description for a superlative dinning experience. Natural Selection is an exquisite fine dining experience without the fussy pretense.  The décor matches the cuisine: rustic and modern with a warm European influence. The food is plated with precision, but the silverware is unmatched. The open concept space conceals nothing; all 360 degrees of the space is aesthetically lovely, even the dishwashing is a part of this view.  Every detail is inviting and unpretentious yet, at the same time luxurious and immaculate. This juxtaposition is balanced seamlessly, creating an authentic atmosphere.

The human element also contributes to the Natural Selection experience.  Chris and Aida greeted and served us warmly, and explained the food intelligently. Natural Selection is the kind of high-end restaurant where you can ask what ‘flageolets’ and ‘cipollinis’ are without feeling like someone’s going to make you where an epicurean dunce cap. We watched head chef, Aaron Woo work passionately and efficiently with his kitchen staff as we devoured the fruits of their labor.

Me, slightly before devouring dessert
What distinguishes Natural Selection from other fine dining venues is that chef Aaron reinvents his menu weekly, featuring grains and seasonal fruit and vegetables. Needless to say, this constantly changing menu requires a great deal of creativity and dedication. The payoff is that Natural Selection loyalists can always count on a different culinary experience every time they frequent the restaurant. Two different four course meals are offered at a prefix price, and every dish is also offered a la carte. Dan and I ordered the two prefixed four course meals and ate off of each other’s plates. Such a fun way to share a meal with a loved one or a close friend! In between each course a palate cleanser was offered to help prepare our senses for the next course. Our favorite dishes included sweet white corn soup with basil, peppers, carrots, and citrus; and creamy polenta and piperade with summer squash, tomatoes, squash blossoms, and eggplant. Ending the meal with two desserts: peach crumble and orange and pecan cake, really hit the spot and left us with a sweet impression that would have our taste buds officially won over. Yes; we just might make Natural Selection the catalyst for another Portland getaway. 

Next time we visit, we will be sure to try some drinks from Natural Selection’s drink menu, which is just as thoughtful and inventive as their food menu.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Alaska State Fair

Who: VN Publisher Joseph Connelly
Where: Palmer, Alaska
When: September 3, 2011
Why: To prove, once and for all time, that it's easy being vegan. Anywhere.

The Scoop: My first Alaska trek was to be quick and unscripted; then I spotted a story in the Anchorage Daily News about giant vegetables at the Alaska State Fair. Off went an email to the Fair's press contact, which I immediately forgot about it, too busy exploring the state's largest city. At 2pm my phone rings. By 3:30 I was on the fairgrounds in Palmer, 45 miles northeast of Anchorage and a few miles east of the hell-hole of (ug) Wasilla.

As state fairs go, this one was average size. Alaska's population, less than 700,000, is the only thing not large in the state. The massive veggies I saw equal the scope of this beautiful and vast paradise, with mountains and forests and rivers and wildlife all around. At all times. Breathtaking.

But back to the fair. An 11-pound zucchini? How about a 126-pound cabbage? Then there's the Alaska state record pumpkin, weighing in at 1,287 pounds. Yes, nearly 24 hours of summer sun has its rewards. For the record, the state record for a bunch of kale is 106 pounds. That's a lot of calcium. 

Pumpkin Champ: 1,287 pounds

Whole lotta kimchi: 126 pounds of cabbage

Now, since I am here, in addition to the developmentally advanced produce, I have to stake out the vegan options, yes? Did I, walking the grounds in search of anything animal-free. To my pleasant surprise, there was an abundance.

My tastiest find was Rae's Gourmet Tamales, impossible to miss with large round signs reading "New Vegetarian Chile over Rice" and "Black Beans and Rice Bowl," both $6. Ms. Rae and her daughter Jennifer always make sure at least one tamale is veg, and today it was green and sweet yellow corn with a side of rice and beans ($11).

Chile and Black Beans over Rice

Rae and Jennifer, mother-daughter tamale queens

PB and Jesus? Patron saint of peanut Butter? Holy Madonna, at St. Michael's Parish for just $2 you can get every kid's fave sandwich and attend Saturday night Mass.

I said everything up here is big, yes? Check out J & L Granny's Alaska-sized order of potato chips (below), an order of which will set you back $9 and take, oh, several weeks to polish off. Also on the menu: onion rings, curly fries, and fried zucchini. Ah, fat.

Vagabond Blues had an entirely veg menu, featuring a vegan Boca burger (with sun-dried tomato hummus), a Garden burger (hold the optional cheese), as well as soups, veg wraps, garlic potato chips, and even a veggie corn dog, plus fresh squeezed apple and orange juice.

Cute honors to Hoop 'n' Hula Milk 'n' Cookies. Treats sold for $2.50, with a 50-cent "doughnation" from each purchase earmarked for the "local or global" charity of your choice. They even offer Silk Vanilla as one of their liquid options. 

Oh, there was plenty more. On the savory side, how about deep fried "shroomies" and "sweeties" sweet potato fries; hot roasted corn on the cob at $4 per ear; more greese from Curly Bob's Deep Fried Vegetables ('shrooms, zucchini, onion blossoms); and The Pastie Shack—stuffed pocket pies—dishing up a veggie pocket?

For the sweet tooth, The Pastie Shack also offered cherry and apple pockets; what would a state fair be without Elephant Ears—fried dough in cinnamon and powered sugar varieties; and finally Becky's Original Kettle Korn, clean and vegan with a recipe of just popcorn, oil, sugar, and salt.

Ah yes, veganism abounded at the Fair. Even one of the non-food vendors proudly advertised her cruelty-freeness. Can you stand one more pic? Check out Su'z Alaska Natural Soy Products:

An unplanned visit where most would never imagine finding anything vegan felt like winning the lottery. Well, almost. Now, off to Mass with my PB&J. You reading this, Mom?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Vida Vegan Con, 2011

Who: Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria and most of the VN crew
What: Vida Vegan Con, the world's first vegan blogging conference!
Where: Portland, Ore.
When: August 25 to 28, 2011
Why: Why would we miss a first-of-its-kind event that combines media, awesome people, and fantastic vegan food?

The Scoop: When there's a totally vegan blogging conference held in the vegan mecca that is Portland, Ore., you go. That's all there is to it. The VN team first heard about Vida Vegan Con last year, and we've been eagerly anticipating it ever since. Finally, this past weekend, our excitement reached a fever pitch as we left the office on Thursday afternoon and headed for the City of Roses. Once the wheels hit the tarmac, we were off and running.

Our first stop was Vendetta, a cute bar with a lovely outdoor patio where a group of VVCers were gathered. Let's just say that we wasted no time in mingling among the very awesome attendees.

Allison Rivers Samson and Terry Hope Romero, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Fran Costigan, Colleen Holland, and me! (Photo via Allison Rivers Samson)

Yes, that is an all-star lineup if I dare say so myself. In the background you can see The Oregonian's Grant Butler, Native Bowl's Julie Hasson, and the flaxen locks of VN contributor Dynise Balcavage. Not a bad way to kick off a conference, if you ask us! After chatting for a bit we rushed over to a sneak peek screening of Vegucated, hosted by the film's creator Marisa Miller Wolfson.

Friday we spent galavanting around Portland. Our first stop? Duh, the vegan mini-mall. We met up with Michelle from Herbivore Clothing Company at Sweetpea Baking Company for some morning grub. Bagels, scones, bars, and big, strong lattes were in order. After stuffing ourselves and chatting, we headed to Herbivore to peruse the goods. Hello, adorable animal-rights themed hoodies, buttons, stickers, and more! We could have easily walked away with one of everything from Herbivore, but the most popular purchase was actually this cool One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book, which three of us on staff picked up. Then, we stopped at Food Fight! Vegan Grocery. We were like kids in a literal candy store. I couldn't resist grabbing a handful of Crazy Rumors Lip Balm, a packet of JJ's Sweet's Cocomels in Fleur de Sel, and a couple of Halo Bars for Assistant Editor Anna Peraino, who wasn't with us on the trip and freaks out for them. Is there any greater joy in life than freaking out your coworkers with surprise treats? Heck no. Friday night we headed back to the hotel for a kick off Champagne and cupcake reception, which VN hosted. You know who likes cupcakes and Champagne? Everybody, that's who. After our aperitifs, we headed to Portobello for a special meal with VN contributors. Chef Aaron Adams blew us away with his inventive, locally sourced, phenomenally delicious cuisine. Check out a course-by-course recap by our Raw Done Right columnist, Gena Hamshaw at Choosing Raw. A stellar, four-hour meal shared with brilliant colleagues? Things really don't get better.

 Colleen moderates the Travel Panel

Saturday and Sunday we got down to business. The days were jam packed with the bulk of the conference. The panels were fantastic, the speakers engaging, the food demonstrations delicious, and the Galarama a ton of fun. With so many fantastic vegan bloggers in attendance, there's no shortage of great coverage of the individual panels; check out Vida Vegan Con's Facebook page for a roundup of recaps. For the visually minded, check out our Facebook gallery

The panel was a total success, not to mention a blast. Kudos are due to the organizers—Jess Scone, Michele Truty, and Janessa Philemon-Kerp—who saw a need for something in their community, and took it upon themselves to fill it. It's creative, dedicated activism like theirs that will power the next phase vegan living, in whatever form it takes.