Monday, December 12, 2011

VegNews Vegan Yoga Retreat to Mexico

Who: VN Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria and Associate Publisher Colleen Holland
What: A week of yoga and vegan food on the stunning Pacific coast of Mexico
When: November 26 to December 3, 2011
Where: Haramara Retreat, Sayulita, Mexico
Why: Because I was invited!

The Scoop: When Colleen first told me about the idea of hosting the VegNews Vegan Yoga Retreat the week right after Thanksgiving, my first thought was, YES. Being warm is my lifelong project, I love yoga, and the food was guaranteed to be amazing, so I could totally not have been more thrilled to co-host (along with Colleen and the incredible co-creator of Laughing Lotus Yoga Centers, Jasmine Tarkeshi) this trip.
 Me, Jasmine, and Colleen, aka the luckiest gals on the planet

 Despite my initial excitement, nothing could have prepared me for just how phenomenal the trip would be. Haramara is situated on a hillside in the thick of the jungle that plummets to the beautiful Pacific Ocean. There isn't any electricity in the luxurious casitas, so everything is lit at night with highly atmospheric oil lamps. The pathways around the retreat are covered in natural arbors of vines and bouganvillea, and the sea sparkles constantly at the bottom of the hill. The scenery alone would have been enough to qualify the place as paradise, but there were a few other things that nearly killed me with ecstasy. The group of people who joined us on the trip could not have been more wonderful. From hard-core yogis to folks who just wanted a little getaway, everyone who came with us was a total delight—it was truly an honor to spend the week with each of them.

Oh, and then there was this little thing called the food. Holy heck! The entire kitchen at Haramara went vegan for the full week that we were there, and, under the direction of the highly talented Chef Hugo Gutiérrez, the staff created show-stopping meals three times a day. Were there three courses for each of those meals? Yes. Does the project of feeding myself now seem utterly hopeless because I can no longer just show up at the right time and be spoiled rotten with fresh, elegant cuisine? YES. If it were possible to clone Chef Hugo and have one of him cook for me in SF, let's just say I'd be largely unconcerned with the moral or ethical implications of cloning. 

 Hello, amazing vibrant veggie tacos and fresh salad

Jasmine led us in four hours of yoga every single day, and though I've practiced off and on for the last 10 years, I'd never connected the dots between the founding principles of yoga and veganism. It was a truly revelatory experience to learn from Jasmine not only how to attempt a crow pose, but how these two non-violent principles are interwoven. As someone who's only ever thought of yoga as a nice way to work up a sweat, I'm now so excited about deepening my understanding of the practice's more-spiritual side. The week at Haramara left me rejuvenated, relaxed, and really ready to go again next year! A huge thanks to everyone who made our first yoga retreat such an amazing experience. To check out many, many more photos, don't miss our Facebook gallery.

The retreat was a transformative experience, and it makes an appropriate final post for Press Pass. Yes, after four years of out-of-the-office adventures with the VN crew, we're moving away from the format of this blog. Keep an eye out for new ways to keep up-to-date with our after-hours escapades in early 2012. From all of us at VegNews, thank you for reading!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thanksgiving Potluck

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Joni Sweet
What: A vegan Thanksgiving potluck
When: Saturday, November 26, 2011
Where: My cozy apartment in San Francisco, CA
Why: To celebrate the best holiday of the year!

Mmm. Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings! 

The Scoop: Thanksgiving for me is usually spent eating all of the traditional favorites alongside my brother, sister, and Dad in Upstate NY. While the bad news is that I couldn’t afford to fly across the country to indulge in our annual tradition, I did host a really fun Thanksgiving potluck at my apartment in San Francisco with my boyfriend Jeremy. Together, we spent the day whipping the apartment into shape and cooking up a storm for our party of 10—nine of whom turned out to be East Coasters, with my longtime friend Iyla and her two guests hailing from my home region. If I couldn’t be in NY for my favorite holiday, at least I could dine with other orphans from the East Coast.

Tofurky roast with cherries, carrots, and sweet potatoes.

When everyone brought their dishes, I couldn’t believe the colorful, decadent feast in front of me. I marinated and baked two Tofurkys (one with ginger-garlic, the other with Tofurky’s recipe for a Caramelized Onion & Cherry Roast). Jeremy and I also roasted pecan- and fig-stuffed Delicata squash, tossed a leafy green salad with homemade herbed vinaigrette, and mashed sweet and Yukon Gold potatoes. No one was disappointed, though, when my friend Sophia revealed that she had also made mashed red-skin potatoes—two giant bowls of smooth, buttery deliciousness at one party? Count me in. As if that wasn’t enough, Sophia wowed everyone with her vegan egg-salad sandwiches and stuffed baby mushrooms. Iyla cooked a gorgeous carrot-apple soup, spiced with nutmeg and ginger, with a side of Southern cornbread. And because nearly everyone else brought a bottle (or two) of wine, we kept toasty for the entirety of the evening. No one even seemed to mind that we had to eat our soup in shifts because I didn’t have enough spoons.

The best guests at the best Thanksgiving dinner!
Never would I have thought that Thanksgiving without my family would be so warm and welcoming. After we indulged in hot apple pie topped with vanilla bean soy ice cream and baklava for dessert, we headed out to burn some calories with a night of dancing. Next year, I do hope to make it back to NY and have Thanksgiving with my family, but this year’s event will go down as one of the most joyous and genuine celebrations of gratitude for years to come.