Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Post-Thanksgiving Play-By-Play

The national day of gluttony has passed, and another holiday of gluttony is drawing closer. In a time of food and financial shortages, I am resisting the peer-pressure to gorge myself and empty my wallet.

Sadly, not only did a turkey have to die for the dinner I attended, but so did a pig and several fish. This is a common trend with people I've compared notes with and I'm very saddened by it. Why holidays and other celebrations equal an excessive amount of food (particularly meat) I cannot grasp. Our wallets, waistlines, consciences and the animals would all benefit from a little more modesty.

Luckily, my hosts were very accommodating with my vegan palate, and I feasted on spinach salad with pears and dried blueberries, grilled vegetables, butternut squash, rice pilaf, and cranberry sauce. I didn't even need my Whole Foods Market vegan dinner for one, which I ate the next day (although this could actually be a vegan dinner for two!) The curried apple pumpkin soup and the holiday roast were descent (I could have done without the curry in the soup and the roast needed gravy), while the green beans with almonds were totally undercooked. The mini pecan tart was the saving grace. Tasted just like the non-vegan alternative. That said, I much preferred the cooking demonstration I attended with the holiday portabella mushroom, gravy, cauliflower mash, and vegan pumpkin pie.

Here's a delightful video of "Celebration for the Turkeys," held annually at the California and New York Shelters of Farm Sanctuary. This footage is from 2006 and 2007.

Mark your calenders. Farm Sanctuary is also hosting a Winter Wonderland ball, Thursday, December 4th from 6-10 p.m. at The Art Directors Club, 106 W. 29th St. New York, NY 10001. General admission tickets cost $100.

Gene Baur, the President and Co-Founder of Farm Sanctuary, will be at Borders Columbus Circle NYC, at 7 p.m., Monday, December 8th for a presentation and signing of his book, a must-read, and now in-paperback, a wonderful gift idea or donation to your local library.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Thanksgiving Message

Two years ago for my birthday, I asked for a pair of leather boots. This year I asked for a turkey from the Farm Sanctuary. Times have sure changed. Gone are my leather boots from Lord & Taylor (donated to the C.A.T.S. resale shop), and I now have my adoption certificate of Serendipity, my stylish, non-leather boots from Payless, and a sense of relief that no animal has to suffer for some fleeting fashion whim.

This can be a depressing time of year for animal advocates. Millions of turkeys suffer so our nation can gorge themselves, and even for such tasteless, appalling events as bowling competitions with frozen turkey carcasses. Each day as I walk to my office in Manhattan, I pass streams of women wearing fur-trimmed coats, hats, bags, boots and beyond.

But I remain thankful. Thankful for the many advocates I have met, from those who organize protests to those who pass out pamphlets on their lunch hour. Thankful for the animals, who have shown such a capacity to forgive and love again, despite our abuse and exploitation. And thankful I have seen the light and am no longer contributing to their suffering.

Whatever you are doing today, whether it's eating a Tofurkey, a holiday portabella mushroom, or even a vegan pizza, we must be thankful for all that we have achieved, and optimistic for the future.

Whenever I get discouraged about all that lies ahead, I remind myself of one of my favorite quotes from "These Days" by R.E.M: "We are young despite the years. We are concern. We are hope despite the times."

Seasonal Fare at the Natural Gourmet Institute

The third visit to the Natural Gourmet Institute for their Friday night dinner was an absolute charm, as were my prior two experiences. I love eating fresh, seasonal foods. For $40 a person, tax and tip included, I think the quality, presentation and service you experience here is a tremendous value. I'd much rather eat out less often if it means being able to eat wholesome, gourmet vegan food like this. Being able to bring your own wine is a major savings. I like organic wine as much as anyone, but not at the $12 a glass price level I see at so many places.

Unlike my last visit, when a guest chef prepared and executed the menu, this time, the students of their professional program designed and prepared the offerings, with some guidance from faculty. The portions, thankfully, were much smaller. In a world of food shortages, these more modest plate sizes were welcomed.

Here's a snapshot into the evening.

An inviting table awaited.

Cream of Spinach Soup and Caramelized Onion, White Bean and Spinach Streduel with Roasted Red Pepper Coulis

Watercress, Radicchio, and Butter Lettuce Salad with Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Toasted Walnuts, Pomegranate Seeds, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Butternut Squash Risotto Cake, Spicy-Garlic Kale, and Wild Mushroom Ragu with Carrot-Ginger Sauce and Sage Pesto

Trio of Fall Tarts: Cranberry Chocolate, Pumpkin Spice, and Caramel Apple with a Cinnamon-Vanilla Steamer

Our talented chefs. With food like this, they have a bright future ahead.

I left full (but not over-full), content, and guilt-free. The steamer was to die for. In a Q&A session with the student chefs, they revealed it was made with a combination of rice and almond milk, vanilla beans, cinnamon and a touch of Agave nectar. Do try this at home!

Visit them at 48 W. 21st St., 2nd floor (between 5th & 6th ave), New York, NY

Public classes are also offered, including some vegan classes. I've personally never taken any.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Veggie Heaven, Teaneck, NJ

Not too long ago, I attended a fundraiser at Veggie Heaven, a vegetarian restaurant in Teaneck, NJ, specializing in mock-meat substitutes of Chinese favorites. Organized by the group, HEARTS for Animals, we dined on a heavenly vegan buffet while supporting Tom Rider, a former Ringling Bros. employee-turned-whistleblower, and the Animal Welfare Institute, in its lawsuit against the notorious animal abuser. The trial has again been delayed to February 3, 2009. Let justice, long-delayed, be sweet when it is finally served.

When my birthday rolled around, I thought it would be a fun place to go for my non-vegetarian loved ones to celebrate over a humane meal. Here's a sampling of some of our dishes...

Spring rolls and wonton soup

Mango chicken

Sesame chicken (the table crowd-pleaser)

Green tea cake (moist and delicious, but probably for serious green tea fans only)

Cheesecake (everyone loved this!)

We also had eggplant in garlic and the least-popular dish on our table, beef and broccoli. The only (universal) complaint...we all noticed a strong after-smell on our clothes and hair after we left. Perhaps some ventilation problem? Definitely wear something you can throw in the washing machine, or easier yet, get take-out and eat it at home in your PJ's.

Visit them at 473 Cedar Lane, Teaneck, NJ; 631 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ; or 57 Bloomfield Avenue, Denville, NJ.

Animal Welfare Institute Release on Ringling Bros.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Old Hook Farm in Emerson, NJ

The universe has smiled on me as I'm in my first year of veganism in the form of Old Hook Farm. While passing by it looks like nothing more than a nursery, inside is a hidden gem containing reasonably priced organic, home-grown produce and an array of vegan goodies.

Many of their pies are vegan, including apple, blueberry, cherry, peach, strawberry rhubarb, and the insanely good bumbleberry, which contains apple, rhubarb, blackberry and raspberry. The selection varies daily, but you can order ahead. Also look out for 50% price reductions on pies that have been baked more than a day ago.

Here was a tasty piece of cherry pie, which I enjoyed with a steaming pot of tea from my dishes from the C.A.T.S. resale shop.

The farm also carries Uncle Eddie's vegan cookies in oatmeal chocolate chip and peanut butter chocolate chip varieties. The former are good. The latter are heavenly. Both are wonderful with a nice glass of non-dairy milk. A bit pricey at $5.65 a bag, but these are worth it. Why couldn't I have an Uncle Eddie?

This Soyatoo Whipped Soy Topping goes great on my mint hot cocoa from Trader Joe's.

Other finds include vegan gnocchi, Soy Boy roasted red pepper ravioli,and Ah!laska organic chocolate syrup.

The best part...eating organically- and locally-grown produce and supporting the family farmer.

Visit them at 650 Old Hook Rd, Emerson, NJ. (closed Mondays).

Vegan Cupcakes at Sweet Avenue Bake Shop...Change I Can Believe In

I have to pinch myself. I'm beaming with pride like a new mother. I can barely believe it. New Jersey has a vegan cupcake bakery!

Yes, vegan foodies, Sweet Avenue Bake Shop in Rutherford, NJ, is here. I just had to go see this for myself. While the bakery also offers a small selection of cookies and muffins, I had tunnel-vision toward the cupcakes. You can see why!

The bakery has six cupcakes they feature always, and six additional flavors they feature that day. Cupcakes are $2.50 for plain, $3.00 for filled. As an occasional splurge, I consider these worth every penny. While overwhelmed with what to try, I finally decided on the Snowball (vanilla cake with coconut frosting and shredded coconut); Sexy Sadie (southern red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting), said to be their most popular flavor; the Chocolate Sundae (chocolate cake filled with chocolate Bavarian creme and topped with vanilla frosting); and the Old Skool (creme filled chocolate cake topped with chocolate ganache), that looks like the Hostess counterpart, minus the questionable animal fats. The Old Skool was my nostalgic favorite. I loved eating those as a kid (little did mini-me know what I was eating!) I was very greedy and ate the entire Old Skool myself, but shared the others for a taste test! They were a hit.

Several cupcakes later, we felt like some of my friends at the C.A.T.S. resale shop...

Visit them soon (and wear something with stretch) at 153 Park Avenue, Rutherford, NJ.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cruelty-free Thanksgiving Recipes

As much as I enjoy perusing cookbooks for inspiration, I love browsing the web even more for recipes. Much like my thrift store hobby, it's creative, fun, and better yet, doesn't cost $20 and collect dust on the top of my refrigerator. The animals rights groups score an "A" for publishing mouth-watering, comfort holiday food recipes online. And you need not be Emeril to pull them off. Here are some easy-breezy recipe sites. You'll wonder why turkey was ever on the table at all.

*PETA's VegCooking Holiday Recipe Guide. Includes hot artichoke dip, broccoli and cauliflower bisque, sweet potato biscuits, and pumpkin patch cheesecake.

*The Humane Society's Favorite Recipes list. Includes cranberry hot punch, butternut squash soup, faux turkey casserole, and miniature apple pies.
*Farm Sanctuary's Compassionate Thanksgiving Recipes. Includes holiday portabella with vegan gravy, millet-cauliflower mash, green beans almondine, and pumpkin pie with glazed pecans and tofu whipped cream.

I attended a cooking demonstration of these Farm Sanctuary recipes at The Loft Salon in NYC that was led by Christine Waltermyer of the Natural Kitchen Cooking School located in Princeton, NJ. You and your guests will love any and all of these cruelty-free and heart-healthy recipes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The C.A.T.S. Resale Shop, Westwood, NJ...Shopping for a Good Cause

When it comes to my charitable dollars, my wallet is open both to the national organizations like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States, and local animal rescue groups. One of my favorites is C.A.T.S. (Caring About the Strays). Located in Westwood, NJ, C.A.T.S. are the guardian angels to homeless animals in the Pascack Valley area. The group runs a resale shop also called C.A.T.S., where I've found everything from $3 GAP jeans and $4 Free People tops, to artwork, books, candles and more. I donate items frequently as well, including my now unwanted leather boots and wool sweaters. While I cannot turn back the clock and un-do my purchases of these products, I feel glad knowing they will be reused and are raising money for a cause I strongly support.

I love thrift store shopping. It's frugal, an adventure (since you'll never know what you'll stumble upon), and supports my ideals as an environmentalist (I'm reusing, and everything doesn't need to be brand new, does it?) And the best yet, it helps pay for food, veterinary care, and more. Cats roam freely in the store, where you can socialize with beauties like Charlie (pictured above), one of the store's gentlemanly senior citizen residents.

Visit them at: 80 Kinderkamack Road, Westwood, NJ 07675

Monday, November 17, 2008

Vegan Thanksgiving Dinner for 1 at Whole Foods Market

Not able to face the days after Thanksgiving coming up with creative ways to use your leftover Tofurkey? Tofurkey sandwiches? Tofurkey casserole? Tofurkey soup? Tofurkey breakfast hash?

My area Whole Food Market (Chelsea NYC) has come to the rescue, offering a complete vegan dinner for one for $19.99. This includes:
Curried apple pumpkin soup
Holiday roast, stuffed with wild rice and dried cranberries
Green beans with almonds
Mini pecan tart

Bon App├ętit!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What do you do between the horns of the day?

asks Michael Stipe in R.E.M.'s "I Believe."

Each day, I try and take 15 minutes and do something proactive for animals. That could mean visiting the PETA Action Center and sending out a quick e-mail (many are form letters and you simply need to fill out your name and address). Or e-mailing Dunkin' Donuts and asking them to add soy milk so I can indulge in a soy cappuccino (imagine the consequence of a major chain adding this to their menu).

Some days, I score small personal victories. Recently, I asked at my publishing job if they would supply soy milk for the office refrigerator for coffee/tea, tofu cream cheese for our Friday bagels, and a cheeseless veggie pizza for our Wednesday pizza luncheons. I got all three with no challenge, and to my pleasant surprise, co-workers are experimenting with the cream cheese, devouring the vegan pizza, and are fast depleting the Zen soy milk supply. I also suggested Gene Baur's Farm Sanctuary as the "Book of the Day," to my local library system, and it was soon featured on the home page of their county-wide web site.

Always ask. I think of the ASPCA motto, "We are their voice." We have to be.

With Election Day 2008 now a memory, we must not forget our activist spirit. Whatever you do for animals, whether it's attending an anti-fur protest, writing a letter to a company or to the editor of a local paper, or asking your local coffee shop for soy milk, do it with pride, and do it without apology.

To quote "Begin the Begin," another song off of R.E.M.'s brilliant Life's Rich Pageant, "Silence means security, silence means approval." And words we should all live by, "The finest example is you."

Dumping Dairy for Good, With a Little Help from Trader Joe's

Linda the Farm Sanctuary resident says, "Give soy milk a try, you'll like it."

Even though I was a vegetarian for nearly two decades, I always avoided the idea of veganism. Oh that's too restrictive, I would say. I would miss ice cream and pizza too much. Now, like many of us do when we flip through our high school yearbooks, I find myself wondering, "What was I thinking?!?" There is absolutely nothing to sacrifice.

Almost as much as I love animals, I love a good bargain. And I find it every time I hit Trader Joe's. These non-dairy items have made the transition a no-brainer.

*Soy milk creamer. A bargain at only $1.49 a pint, I use this in place of half-and-half in coffee and tea, and also to thicken soups. Also look for multiple varieties of soy, rice, and almond milk, delicious in cereal and especially in their mint cocoa.
*Soy Creamy non-dairy frozen dessert. Available in vanilla (great on their vegan apple strudel), chocolate (divine in 'milkshakes'), mango vanilla and my personal favorite, cherry chocolate chip. Bye-bye Ben & Jerry's! When the ice cream truck came jingling down my street this summer, I simply popped out a Tofutti Cutie ice cream bar and kicked up my feet.
*Earth Balance non-dairy buttery spread. You won't miss the real thing. Contrary to popular belief, everything isn't better with butter. Linda couldn't agree more.
*Tofutti-brand non-dairy cream cheese. My cinnamon raisin bagel would not be the same without it.
*Hummus. In varieties such as roasted red pepper, tomato and basil, and roasted garlic, this is a great substitute for cheese.
*Roasted vegetable pizza (in the freezer aisle). This is their own store-brand version of the Amy's Kitchen brand, and about $3 cheaper than what you'll find the name brand for in Whole Foods.

While you're there, don't forget to stock up on banana waffles, meatless meatballs, black bean and corn enchiladas, and Gardernburger BBQ riblets. They also have an impressive selection of inexpensive, cruelty-free personal care items, including peppermint toothpaste, aloe body lotion, shea butter soap and fragrance-free shaving cream. Happy shopping!

Trader Joe's Vegan Product List.
PETA's Dump Dairy campaign.
Farm Sanctuary Factory Dairy Production release.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vegan Dining in Watkins Glen

While my friends dined back on the farm... was time to hit downtown Watkins Glen. Dinner was a Gardenburger riblet sandwich with tortilla chips at the Crooked Rooster Pub.

Homemade vegan ice cream! I never see this on the menu. After a taste test, I picked the blueberry at the Great Escape Ice Cream Parlor.

Lunch at the Glen Mountain Market was a veggie BLT with chips and apple cider.

After day of hiking and wine touring, a carb-boost at Jerlando's was needed. Dinner was a house salad, wine...

...and a HUGE portion of spaghetti with mushrooms and garlic bread (no butter, please). This could have fed four people! Definitely split a dish if you go here.

The best for last. An apple reuben with a wheat berry salad at the Grist Mill Cafe. The most charming place of all!

It was so inspiring to see a slew of vegan options in non-vegetarian restaurants. Often, I'm lucky if restaurants have one or two vegetarian entrees I can "veganize." I was disappointed I didn't get to try the Stonecat Cafe (closed Mondays), since I heard great things.

I also hit Good Groceries market, where I stocked up on organic coffee and boxed vegan mac & cheese.

The soundtrack for the drive, Natalie Merchant's "The House Carpenter's Daughter" CD.

Farm Sanctuary friends...I'll never forget you. You've left an indelible hoof-, paw- and claw-print on my heart!

Farm Sanctuary, Watkins Glen, NY

This fall, I visited the Farm Sanctuary's upstate New York shelter in Watkins Glen. Surrounded by wineries and great opportunities for hiking, the highlight was staying at one of the three cabins on the farm and meeting the "ambassadors" of the farming community, as Gene Baur would refer to them. The cost of the cabin was $65 for members, plus $10 for each additional guest. Bathrooms/showers were a very short walk away at the visitors' center. The shelter and cabins are open May 1 until October 31. Book early, since they fill up quickly. I stayed overnight Sunday and Monday, but found a couple of restaurants closed Monday.

A view of the cabin's interior. There was also a pleasant seating area with wicker furniture. Towels and soap were provided.

A vegan continental breakfast was included. This included bagels with Tofutti cream cheese; cherry breakfast pastries; muffins; coffee and tea with Silk creamer; fresh fruit; and apple and cranberry juice.

Some were curious...

Others strutted their stuff...

Some were amorous...

Others simply snoozed the day away...

An unexpected personal tour guide...

Not destined for foie gras...

On the drive back home, I crossed paths on the highway with a truck filled with chickens, most likely destined for the slaughterhouse. I took it as a universal wink from the heavens that I have chosen the right path to become a vegan and advocate for animals.

Stay tuned for a vegan food update.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One Can Make a Difference

I had the great pleasure of meeting Ingrid Newkirk at a book signing in Borders Columbus Circle in NYC for her new collection of essays entitled, "One Can Make a Difference." Filled with more than 50 writings from everyone from Moby to Oliver Stone, this book is meant to inspire personal activism in even the most jaded of us. She was completely gracious and it was a true honor to meet one of my long-time heroes. Her speech on Speaking Up for Animals planted the seed in me to go vegan. She is truly one of the great orators of our day and of our movement.

"Looking out for your baby or your friend is easy. The test of moral fiber is to stick up for those you relate to least, those you understand minimally, and those you do not think are that much like you." – Ingrid Newkirk

Speaking Up For Animals video; Speaking Up For Animals podcast (March 3, 2008, Why Animal Rights?)


S'nice is a laid-back vegan and vegetarian sandwich and coffee shop in NYC's Greenwich Village. You'll find light vegan offerings for breakfast here. I've tried the tofu scramble wrap (Mexican-style with black beans) and vegan muffins (banana chocolate chip) and recommend both. They also offer an assortment of mock meat sandwiches and various salads. Recently, I tried a seasonal selection, the Thanksgiving leftover sandwich, served on a baguette filled with Tofurkey slices, gravy, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and cranberry chutney, served with a side salad. Delicious, and I didn't even have room to spare for a vegan red velvet cupcake or vegan chocolate cherry cookie. Look for the 'chicken' pot pie wrap on their menu in the winter. Just like grandma used to make, minus the dead chicken. My only negative experience there was the number of people hogging the tables during lunch time (the restaurant has supposedly returned free WiFi).

Visit them: 45 8th Ave, New York City (At W 4th St) or at their other location: 315 5th Ave, Brooklyn (At 3rd St)