Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Story of Hope to Close Out 2009

When I heard this NBC News story about young Zach Wilson, I couldn't help think of Ben Stein's words about teaching kids that "if they are fortunate enough to have extra time or extra money, they can help out at the old age home or at the local animal shelter." This one boy helped at a shelter, and it led to a pet food bank - the only one of its kind in Florida. Food banks are in communities nationwide for people, so why not for pets?

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Learn more about the Central Florida Animal Pantry.

Imagine if there were Zach Wilson's in every community in America, how even more a wonderful a place it would be.

Have a happy, healthy, humane 2010 filled with hope and joy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me (Again?)

I'm finally done celebrating my birthday. Well, it is almost 2010! On a very cold, blustery night, why not take a culinary trip to Mexico?

My friend treated me to a belated celebratory dinner at Pancho's Burritos in Westwood. To drink, a non-alcoholic strawberry margarita.

Vegetarian enchiladas. Your eyes aren't deceiving you - that is sour cream. But tofu sour cream! They offer soy cheese as well, but they were out that night. Sob.

Treating each other to a meal at a local restaurant is one of my favorite gift exchanges. Restaurants employ so many workers - cooks, servers, busboys, dishwashers, suppliers and so on. It's a great way to support the economy without going to the mall and buying a clutter gift. Spending time with my friends and sharing great conversation is the best gift of all.

Visit Pancho's Burritos, 20 Jefferson Avenue, Westwood, NJ, or check out their New Milford location (which I prefer atmosphere-wise) on 214 Main Street.

Flashback to my budget travels in Mexico, including my yummy vegan eats. Oh those grilled vegetable and pineapple fajitas!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Post-Holiday Wrap-Up

Still blissfully avoiding the mall. On the news, I saw some people were lined up at 6 a.m. outside stores Saturday. On a cherished day off from work, I won't be lined up anywhere at that hour. Repeat after me America, "it's not a bargain if you don't need it." On a chilly, rainy day, I was tucked inside with the candles, a book, comfy PJ's, a Golden Girls marathon (oh, those St. Olaf stories!), napping, dreaming, resting and rejuvenating - just what the winters are for.

I did acquire one thing. Can you believe this was by the dumpster when I went to bring out my recycling? I rescued it from a cruel fate in a landfill. It will look charming with pansies come springtime.

Brunch time! The Rutherford Pancake House has heavenly vegan breakfast offerings, but it's a bit out of the way, and eating at home is much more economical.

I do miss a number of things as a vegan, but scrambled eggs isn't one of them. Think of those battery cages. Try a tofu scramble instead. Saute an onion, add diced tofu and whatever veggies you have on hand, and season with turmeric, garlic powder and salt and pepper. Add vegan cheese if you have it, and it rivals almost any omelette.

Didn't slave away in the kitchen for hours. These tasty raspberry turnovers from Pepperidge Farm are delicious with a cup of coffee.

I was highly tempted to go back to bed Sunday, but with unseasonably warm temperatures, the park was calling my name. Fellow blogger and friend of animals Chessbuff at On Loving Animals shared his charming photos of Van Saun Park in Paramus, New Jersey. Here are a few of mine.

Magical bridges invite you for a leisurely stroll...

None other than George Washington is reported to have drank from the above spring.

Local groups like the Bergen County Historical Society connect you with the past. Check out their events page.

Doesn't this look like a lovely picnic spot? All that's missing is a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee in the winter (make that lemonade come spring and summer).

The Shelter Our Sisters' Pathway to Self Sufficiency. I was proud my friends and coworkers donated clothing swap leftovers to benefit this worthy group.

True for all...people and animals.

This hill, when snow covered, provides endless fun for kids with sleds, as it did in my youth.

In this CBS News story on nostalgia, Lemoyne College psychology professor Krystine Batcho observed that when something brings back memories, people are more likely to focus on people than items. "The things that people are most nostalgic for in their growing up years were simple things like having dinner with Grandma...or going camping -- as a family... Even if it's just getting together to have a simple meal, getting together to pray or whatever those experiences are that bring a family closer to one another." Something to remember during these trying economic times. People, not possessions, the soul remembers.

Visit your local park. Bring along a paper, a great book, your grateful dog, loved ones or just yourself.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

While Many Americans Were at the Mall...

I was nowhere near it. I spent a relaxing day off from work browsing local thrift shops, eating a cozy lunch with my parents, and hanging out with their rescue doggy.

I passed by the This-n-That Thrift Shop in Hillsdale, so I popped in. They were having a 50% off sale. These tea lights were just 25 cents!

Snow boots, half off were $4.50. Super cute with my $5 C.A.T.S. Resale Shop jeans, my new white romantic top from Beautiful Little Secret, and...

the Cameo I eyed at Revived Attire (just steps away from This-n-That). It was still there. Yeah! Just $4. I also scored these hardcover books at the C.A.T.S. store for $1 each. Their combined retail value, $50! I just can't get into ebooks. I don't want to curl up with a Kindle.

Lunch time! On a blustery December day, PJ Finnegan's in Westwood was packed.

Want to peek inside?

When I step in here, I feel like I'm transported back to Dublin.

I would have loved to linger over a pint of Magners cider. Too bad I was the driver. I don't drink often, so I figured, best not. Safety first!

Vegetarian and vegan options are few. I asked for a vegetarian plate sautéed in olive oil and onions and garlic. Love the woodsy, fragrant rosemary. My kind of pub grub! The plate: $7.50.

How I adore books, and music. I can't imagine my world without either.

The shopping I did this year? Charitable gifts for residents in need and food for a church pantry, and 12 holiday cards for $1 from Our Thrift Shop in Westwood. I also made charitable monetary donations and tipped my mailman, although I don't have much mail. That's it!

It's easy to think maybe Lucy on A Charlie Brown Christmas was right: "Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big Eastern syndicate, you know?"

It's not about being Scrooge-like. It's about rejecting this ridiculous societal pressure to spend ourselves into debt and to think showing someone you care about them means buying something. "I love you" doesn't mean sending relatives, friends and sweethearts to the mall. I got a card and a small gift from someone last Christmas, but the thoughtful sentiments on the card meant more than any gift. I still have that card.

My loved ones and I agreed no gifts this year, and we couldn't be more relieved. If we want something, we can buy it ourselves. Why is our economy so dependent on people buying gifts, many of which are unwanted and that many cannot afford? We'd rather do non-material things: go out for a nice, reasonable meal at local restaurant or see a film at the town cinema, both of which support the economy just as much as some sweater purchase. Even more frugal, spending time at the park with the dog when the temperature allows or sharing a meal or a cup of tea at home.

Cate from Budget Confessions says, "One evening right before Christmas, we get into the car (prepared with warm clothes and hot chocolate), turn on some Christmas music, and drive around our favorite neighborhoods looking at lights." Love it! These simple, pleasurable moments are what the holidays are all about to me. The gifts are best left for those in need and children.

Enjoy the seaon!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cheers to the Season

It's winter! Let's celebrate the winter solstice over a piping hot pot of tea.

How does Alice's Tea Cup sound?

A pot of organic ginger orange peach tea, $6. Lavender Earl Grey was a close runner up. Soy milk is available here. I adore drinking tea out of a charming cup. This one almost rivals Hyacinth Bucket's Royal Doulton with the hand painted periwinkles!

A hummus sandwich served with greens, $8. You can do half a sandwich and soup for $13. That night's vegan variety, black bean.

Vegan scones! Other vegan varieties included vegetable and blueberry oatmeal, $3 each.

Just mind their nice dishes, you don't want to be as jittery as poor Elizabeth.

Visit Alice's Tea Cup, 102 W 73rd St. (between Amsterdam Ave. and Columbus Ave.), New York City. Nearby: Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, and the New York Historical Society. Traveling in NYC? HopStop gets you around town.

Happy Winter!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Petit Déjeuner and Déjeuner: Paris via New York

I was nearby New York City's Chelsea Market attending a meeting for work, and couldn't resist stopping by Amy's Bread for their "Parisian Breakfast." Can you blame me?

A (soy) cafe au lait and a half a crusty baguette (hold the butter) with red raspberry Bonne Maman jam, $5.25. I brought the jam jar home to reuse as a container to transport salad dressing for lunches.

My cafe au lait even garnered a compliment from a gentleman standing in line, who thought it looked just charming. Don't you agree? I can't imagine a paper cup with a plastic lid.

Chelsea Market offers much for vegans. I didn't visit it, but One Lucky Duck now has a location there. Check out Sarma Melngailis' blog post, "I'm Not a Vegetarian." I think her sentiments on labels are very realistic and healthy, especially for those having trouble committing to veganism. I struggle myself and fall off the wagon. Me and cheese: a forbidden love.

Closer to my office, Macaron Cafe is my slice of Paris. Most of the staff are French, and the place is brimming with real Frenchies and those Frenchies-at-heart who just adore good, simple food.

The Farm Salad, $8.25. Evian or Perrier? Tap water please.

C'est cher, non? Oui. I usually opt to brown bag it, but sometimes, I need a little mental health time away from my cramped cubicle and fluorescent lighting. Have to have a little French music on the iPod. For good measure, I like everything from the campy - Georges Ulmer - to the modern - Kaolin. Even Belinda Carlisle covers French classics.

I was watching another French-inspired cook, Barefoot Contessa, on Food Network. She shared a favorite vinaigrette recipe. Ready? Olive, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard, with a dash of salt and pepper. Easy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I go 'thrifting' once a week to the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop in Westwood on my way to Old Hook Farm. It's frugal, fun, and best yet, all the funds go to support homeless animals.

Among them, meet Sylvester. His heartless 'guardians' tossed him outside since they didn't want to take him when they moved. If I didn't have allergies, I'd give him a home in a heartbeat.

I library-it the majority of the time for books, but who can resist these prices? When I buy, I usually like to pass books on. At work, someone organized a small book swap where you can donate and take what you like. Buying new? Support your independent bookshop. Mine is Shaw's Book Shop in Westwood.

Holiday candles, a pair for $1. I don't believe buying high priced soy candles, especially if you have to ship them. I get all my candles through thrift. They make a great hostess gift as well.

Penny for your thoughts? Check out their lovely cats looking for their forever home.

I visited Beautiful Little Secret, a new thrift store on 52 E. Madison Ave. in Dumont, NJ. Hours are Tues., Wed., Fri., Sat. (10-5:30) and Thurs. (12-8). I had a thoughtful chat with the owner. We both lamented over the disappearance of main streets, and what an important part of the community they are. She offers a community board for all sorts of things, including those looking for jobs. Kudos!

I couldn't resist. I bought this sweet white top with the $36 tag still on it for just $8, which I paired with a purple cotton scarf for $5. All vegan.

Winter clothes can be a challenge for vegans. My advice: don't feel like you have to wipe the slate clean and veganize your closet. I still use many non-vegan items. I don't need a conversation starter about how great you can look as a vegan.

My favorite conversation: getting a compliment, and seeing the look on their face when I say, "Thanks, $4 from the thrift shop!" or "Free! From a clothing swap!"

Another conversation: how Americans are always being sold on an idealistic lifestyle we cannot afford. I think of Project Laundry List's Alexander Lee's observation about how, "We work more and vacation less than any of the countries we compare ourselves to now. And we sit behind a desk to earn thousands of dollars to buy appliances." Add to this all the possessions (books, clothes, kitchenware) which cost a mere fraction when buying thrift. You can even get items for free using freecycle, swaps or the library.

Also kitchen table topic worthy: there are plenty of vegan items through second hand. You can even get Stella McCartney on eBay if that's your thing. But I don't think it is evil to buy a wool sweater or $5 leather shoes (vs. $200 new 'eco-friendly' shoes, whatever that means) second-hand. It's thrifty, and is keeping things out of the landfill and requires one less new item to be produced.

Besides, you don't think any of these bloggers are getting for free some of the high-priced items they're telling us to buy? I think so. The FTC is even looking to crack down on blogger freebies, according to The Wall Street Journal. It's questionable how enforceable this is, but I say always, buyer beware. They could be simply out-of-touch to the economic climate.

I don't let anyone define my life for me, or feel like I have to adhere to someone else's label. People have any assortment of taxes, mortgages, tuition, insurance and other expenses to pay, and no one is owed an explanation. I'm not in a competition to out-vegan anyone.

In Entre Nous - A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, American Debra Ollivier living in France recalled how her French friend would flip through glossy magazines and declare, "Fairy tales!" Precisely what I think of images of the high-priced vegan life.

Get your thriftiness on at your local charitable thrift shop or consignment shop. Donate or sell unwanted items to keep the reduce, reuse, recycle order in balance. These shops support your community, the environment, and are good for your wallet.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Week Would Not Be the Same...

without a cherished visit to Old Hook Farm in Emerson. I pass a packed parking lot of a nearby Shop-Rite supermarket on the way here, and it saddens me to think of all the wonderment those people are missing. Surely many (if not most) of their carts are filled with over-processed food.

A tree Charlie Brown would be proud of. I love the birdbath next to it. I adore watching the birds at my feeder, which I like to call the bird buffet. Unfortunately, so does my neighbor's cat. At least they have their freedom. Others do not.

I pass her as I enter the farm. Isn't she lovely?

I love these. Grill and have with a green salad with roasted red peppers. With their meaty texture, these are nice as a burger alternative as well.

I'm not such a bagged salad fan, especially when I can buy this. Lately, I like to pair red leaf lettuce with apples and walnuts. Add a roll, and call it lunch.

It's multi-functional: food and art.

Inspiration everywhere you look. Note the New Jersey farmer as an endangered species poster in the backdrop. It's hard to believe it's called the Garden State at all.

Try roasting the carrots, making carrot ginger soup, or carrot raisin salad (I use the reduced fat mayo from Trader Joe's, which is vegan).

Old Hook Farm offers many vegan products, including these mock bacon bits, which I haven't tried. I think for a Superbowl party or other gathering, it might be fun to make potato skins with vegan cheddar cheese and these bits. The grated vegan cheese I have had, and goes nicely on cheeseless veggie pizza, or on my spaghetti nights. Pass the garlic bread, please.

Vegan gnocchi! Pricey at $6.59, but at an Italian restaurant, it would be double, and almost certainly not vegan. Saute in garlic and add your favorite tomato sauce and fresh basil. Angela at My Year Without Spending gave fantastic non-consumer gift ideas for the holiday, including an herb garden. I love this idea! Check out the one she received.

Exit through greenhouse, and view the lovely holiday fare. You don't always have to buy. You can take it in visually and enjoy.

This fairy is lost in a book, as I often am.

Speaking of books, in Neil Gaiman's deliciously charming and creepy Coraline, a novel for all ages, young Coraline returned from a harrowing ordeal with fresh, inspired perspective on all that she had been missing.

She declared, "The sky had never seemed so sky, the world never seemed so world."

Look at the world around you, and be in awe at all the beauty it has to offer - everywhere.

Find a local farm near you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

C'est fini...

my weekly French class that is, until March at least. No more tackling the past participles or learning seasonal vocabulary. Today's useful phrase: Il fait froid (it's cold!) Why didn't I start learning when I was in the third grade?

In the meantime, I'm 'traveling' to France in unconventional ways, as I like to do. Literature is a great transport (and for time travel). I picked up Chocolat author Joanne Harris' Five Quarters of the Orange at my thrift shop’s 25 cent paperback sale, and am glad I did.

I seek inspiration from so many, even those who are far from my own dietary page. I get a sense of what life is like for a foreigner living in Paris in Confessions of a Young Woman. Gillian shows readers everything from how to prepare and eat an artichoke to how to tie the perfect scarf.

She thoughtfully quoted Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food in which he describes a survey that reflected the different attitudes towards food:

"Asked what comes to mind upon hearing the phrase "chocolate cake," Americans were more apt to say "guilt," while the French said "celebration"; "heavy cream" elicited "unhealthy" from Americans, "whipped" from the French. The researchers found that Americans worry more about food and derive less pleasure from eating than people in any other nation they surveyed." I've couldn't agree more that we have a dysfunctional relationship with food.

Speaking of food, David Lebovitz schools us in how to make a French vinaigrette.

He says, "One assumption that I'm going to make about the French is that they're not afraid to make things au pif, or "by the nose". I don't know if a precise recipe for sauce vinaigrette actually exists. But if there is, I bet few people follow it very closely."

I love this. I rarely follow recipes (except when baking when measurements do matter), which is why you don't see many original Vegan Good Life recipes. Get into the kitchen, and be fearless. What's the worst that can happen?

Add the vinaigrette to a simple green salad, like the one I had at a French picnic I attend each summer.

Or add to your tomato salad with fresh basil.

Do make friends with shallots, olive oil and herbs such as rosemary and thyme. Roasting also does wonders. Vegan does not have to translate into bland, steamed, tasteless veggies just because butter isn't in the picture.

You don't need a lot of over processed mock meats. Try a marinated bean salad.

For snack time, I'm not a fan of 'nutrition' or 'health' bars with their long list of ingredients. What's more natural than fruit?

Can't go wrong with wine....

...and listening to some French chansons to get in the spirit. I adore the music of Vanessa Paradis. I hate that Americans often make fun of her teeth. I think she's stunning. Why is there only one standard of beauty? Her long-time partner is Johnny Depp, who also wonderfully embraces his own sense of style.

Vanessa Paradis: Il y a