Thursday, July 30, 2009

Add Your Voice To Farm Sanctuary's Petition

Nothing natural about these living conditions.


Our friends at Farm Sanctuary need our help in gathering 10,000 signatures for their "Truth Behind Labels" petition to the USDA to tell them their "naturally raised" label is deceptive to consumers, with actual conditions being far from natural. Considering 10 billion farm animals are slaughtered in the U.S. each year, 10,000 voices should not be too much to ask for.

Well-intentioned consumers who do chose to eat a meat-based diet are purchasing products with the "naturally raised" label, believing these animals are given the most basic considerations they deserve in return for giving their lives for people's food supply: sunshine, fresh air, the freedom to move freely and perform natural behaviors.

But this is far from the reality, as we know. U.S. consumers have faith in the food supply, but are not only being misled by big agribusiness, but by their very own government, which is sanctioning such egregious conditions.

Please take a moment to sign their petition here, and forward to as many people as possible. Learn more about the campaign.

Flashback to my visit to Farm Sanctuary's Watkins Glen, NY, shelter, including humane and delicious eats around town. This is how life should be for these animals.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Passport to Havana

After being in windowless conference rooms at my company's annual editorial meetings all day Monday, a festive business dinner out at Victor's Cafe lifted the spirits.

Mojito! Mix together white rum or vodka, sugar, lime, sparkling water, ice, and mint, and get deliciousness. Did you known this drink's birthplace is Cuba?

Black bean soup, $9. Very tasty, but an entire bowl is too filling. I took half of this home.

The waiter said he'd surprise me when I told him I was vegan, and he pleasantly did. I love sweet fried plantains. Black beans were served with the entrees, so I could have skipped the soup.

Mango sorbet, $7, from il laboratorio del gelato. So creamy. Some of the best I've had in a while. Other flavor choices were lemon or strawberry. But expensive, I know! Veganize their tempting dessert offering, flan.

Normally I like to include all the prices for full disclosure, but since this was a business dinner, I didn't see the check, so I'm unsure about the cost of the mojito and the entree. This restaurant was lively and the food delicious, but it's definitely pricey.

We loved Lucy, but we also loved Ricky! Desi Arnaz...signing the Cuban classic, Babalu.

Who was Cuban Pete, the subject of another famous Desi song? Actually of Puerto Rican origin, he was mambo genius Pedro Aguilar, who once danced at the Palladium. The legendary nightclub shuttered in 1998, was demolished, and is now a New York University residence hall. A collective boo from the crowd when historical sites are destroyed.

Visit Victor's Cafe, 236 W. 52nd., New York City. Or make a similar meal at home and request the "Music of Cuba: 1909-1951" cd and "The Mambo Kings" DVD from the library and have Cuba night at your casa.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Living the Good Life on My Own Terms

Part of living the good life to me is about financial empowerment. We are trained by marketers to believe we are 'treating ourselves' if we spend a high sum of money on an article of clothing or shoes, or even a haircut.

I once thought like that too. I've thankfully evolved to a point where I'd rather 'treat myself' to a sense of financial security, which includes saving to invest in a home and for children I hope to have one day, and having a sense of contentment of paying my bills in full without having to panic about what day exactly is payday.

Living with less has proven satisfying. It's fun and creative to find ways I can extend pieces in my closet throughout the year, such as wearing a long-sleeved shirt in the fall under a cute top I might wear in the summer. I am no longer impressed by women in my office who wear a different outfit almost every day of the month, and envy the women who can reinvent one dress into several different looks.

"We don't have to have more in order to be more," wisely observes Debra Ollivier in Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl. Well-put!

Moreover, she tells us the French girl "does not confuse commerce with culture and the narrative in her life does not come from what she buys or sees on TV." We are inundated with images of a high-priced version of the vegan good life on many eco-sites hawking various products. But aren't $200 vegan shoes, $500 vegan coats, and $150 bamboo dresses a bit out of touch in a recession? This is just inaccessible to the masses. And how eco-friendly are some of these fabrics being touted anyway? There's some debate about how green bamboo fabric is.

What's wrong with using something you already own, even if it's non-vegan? I did donate some non-vegan items in my wardrobe when I first made the switch to veganism, but still have a few things I still use. And why not? If someone called me on it, I'd tell them the truth. I abhor waste, both environmental and financial, and will make more informed decisions next time. My life is not a glossy ad campaign.

I once spent $55 on haircuts at a local salon. I now spend $15 at Supercuts (skipping the shampoo and styling to save money). Goodbye $500-a-year gym membership. I now walk on the sidewalk or local high school track and use my pilates mat and lightweights, all for free. Thrift store shopping is now my primary source when I do shop for something, but even more frugal: clothing swaps.

Even the head of my company is a swapper! They have such a large extended family, that the kids exchange clothes, and he's barely had to buy anything. As Rachael Ray would say, "how cool is that!?"

I, along with two budget-savvy, waste-hating friends and co-workers held another clothing swap. We offered treats from budget-friendly Trader Joe's, including strawberry lemonade, olive hummus with pita crackers, and maple cookies. Thank you, reception desk flowers!

Among other items, I donated my adorable vintage-inspired pink Betsy Johnson dress, which no longer fits (darn you, soy ice cream!) It found a very grateful new owner.

Lace-trimmed, stylish H&M top: $0. Purple cotton Limited shirt, perfect for the office: $0. The satisfaction of acquiring clothes for no money, giving my unwanted items a second life, and using things already-produced instead of buying high priced 'eco-fashion': priceless. No bill will arrive in 2-4 weeks, either.

No it wasn't all vegan, but many of these items, sitting in people's closets unused, got a new home, including a very pricey Coach bag.

Most of the leftovers went to the This-N-That Thrift Shop, on 309 Broadway, Hillsdale, NJ. This shop donates to various charities, and we chose to have our items marked to benefit Shelter Our Sisters, an organization that services victims of domestic abuse.

The shop is holding a bag sale in late August (fill an entire brown shopping bag for just $8). When it's time to switch seasons, they'll donate what is unsold to a church in Paterson. Those unemployed (far too many in this economy) can go in a get an outfit for free with proof of unemployment. I believe shops like this, that provide such a wonderful service to the community, should be in every town.

Fashionistas everywhere are going green, and saving green, by swapping clothes, shoes and bags. Take a look...

Check out the full story.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ode to the River

Today...just a simple love letter to the river, penned and performed by Natalie Merchant, off of her album "Tigerlily," with photos and video generated by a creative, thoughtful soul.

Natalie Merchant, Where I Go

Climbing under
a barbed wire fence
by the railroad ties

climbing over
the old stone wall
I am bound for the riverside

well I go to the river
to soothe my mind
ponder over
the crazy days of my life
just sit and watch the river flow

find a place
on the riverbank
where the green rushes grow
see the wind
in the willow tree
in branches hanging low

well I go to the river
to soothe my mind
to ponder over
the crazy days of my life
watch the river flow
ease my mind and my soul
where I go

well I will go to the river
from time to time
wander over
these crazy days in my mind
watch the river flow
where the willow branches grow
by the cool rolling waters
moving gracefully and slow

child it's lovely
let the river take it all away
the mad pace, the hurry
the troubles, the worries
just the river take them all away
flow away

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Visit to the Rolling Pin Cafe

On a perfectly pleasant July day, I lunched at the Rolling Pin Café in Westwood, NJ.

Inside, their dining room is charming, yet very small. This is a popular spot, so it gets quite noisy, and I prefer to dine here when I can get one of their two outdoor tables.

What's more refreshing than raspberry lemonade, $2, on a hot summer day?

A cup of gazpacho soup, and half of a roasted zucchini, yellow squash and tomato sandwich with onion chutney, hold the cheese and mayo, with a small side of sweet potato salad, $8.25.

There are no vegan dessert options, but soy milk is available for coffee and espresso drinks.

Visit the Rolling Pin Café, 341 Broadway, Westwood. Open 8-4, Monday-Saturday.

Westwood has been offering free concerts Wednesdays in July. Up next: Tramps Like Us on July 23rd playing Bruce Springsteen music. No, it's not "the boss" himself, but close enough if you can't get (or want to spend the money for) tickets to his shows. Learn more. Visit your town's web site, check out your local newspapers, and stop by your library to see if free events like movies, concerts and other events are going on in your town. Many libraries screen movies, including Ridgewood, which shows a different foreign film each month.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Celebrating Bastille Day...Vegan-Style

My inner French girl took herself to New York City's annual Bastille Day celebration.

Fair-goers could try their luck at pétanque.

French-themed books for all. One of my favorites, Antoine de Saint Exupéry's classic The Little Prince. Among the wisdom famously delivered from the fox to the little prince: "On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux." Loosely translated: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."

Vegetables over couscous from LeSouk, which specializes in North African cuisine.


Tempting, je sais! Veganize.

Wine and sorbet together? Why didn't someone think of this sooner? Luckily, Wine Sorbet Cellar did.

It was a tough choice. The winner: sangria. So refreshing!

Want to learn French, or another language? There are a lot of free resources on the web. Check out's French language page, or sign up for Livemocha. Translate words using or get a little help from Babel Fish.

Request films in the language you are studying from the library. Hit the web for everything from hard news - Le Monde - to the fun and friviouls - French Elle and Paris Match. Check out music, including Belinda Carisle's fun cover album of classic French songs, Voila.

Bonne Chance!

The incomparable Edith Piaf.

Piaf's life was portrayed flawlessly by Marion Cotillard (with singing provided by Jil Aigrot) in La Vie en Rose. There's a touching scene in the film when a journalist asks towards the end of Piaf's short life, "If you were to give advice to a woman, what would it be?" to which she replies "Love." "To a young girl?" "Love." "To a child?" "Love." What could be more essential than that?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On This Bastille Day...

Food. A four-letter word for many Americans, yet it is essential to sustain life, and is one of the great pleasures of life, especially for the French, who are celebrating Bastille Day today.

The French rose up against the absolute power of Louis the 16th's regime by storming the Bastille prison, and have stood up against threats to their food supply, including genetically modified ingredients and homogenization. Remember when the French tore down a McDonalds in Millau, days before it was due to open?

We pride ourselves on our First Amendment rights, yet few take to the streets or utilize the power of the pen (or keyboard) to use their voice against an unjust society, including the degradation of our food supply. A complacent society gets what it deserves in some regard, yet that is to the great detriment of the animals who suffer because of this complacency.

We associate food with guilt, as we should. There is much to feel guilty about. The way it is produced (think GM-frankenfood; pesticides; growth hormones given to animals; deplorable conditions for the animals giving their lives for a cheap, nutrition poor food source). The little value we give to it while prizing instead disposable material possessions. How many people do you know with a household full of stuff, yet they shop at Costco for their food to save a few dollars? And the consumption of it: eaten on-the-go, in front of the tv or checking e-mail, just mindlessly, and so often in disposable containers that languish away in landfills.

"Food invariably brings out the best in the French and the worst in Americans. We Anglo-Saxons starve ourselves counting calories but what we're really craving is pleasure and ritual," observes Debra Ollivier in her entertaining read, "Entre Nous - A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl." (Foie gras mentions aside).

"Just as the American meal reflects our Anglo-Saxon obsession with time (it's fast, functional, and all-on-one plate), the French girl's meal reflects her own culture's obsession with time." Food is so nourishing to the soul, and I believe because of the food we consume and the way we eat it, our souls are left unsatisfied, and we are wanderers, always looking for a new shiny toy (a pair of shoes, a new gadget, etc.) to fill a void left in our stomachs.

We are overwhelmed with choices, yet never seem content. As Ollivier's French friend remarked visiting the states upon viewing a traditional U.S. supermarket, "How many brands of breakfast cereal and potato chips do Americans need to be happy?"

On this Bastille Day, let's pledge to get and stay active against the absolute power of big agribusiness. A revolution of our food culture, not just veganism but also smaller portion sizes, less processed food, seasonal eating as much as possible and the promotion of the sheer pleasure and unity food brings to the body and soul, are all part of the plan.

That is worth raising a glass of kir royale to, in my opinion.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Letting It All Hang Out for Mother Earth

Appearances. It's something our American society so often priorities over what is so essential. Think of all the time many spend grooming themselves, shopping for and donning stylish clothes, shoes and accessories, and working out at the gym, but when it comes to their eating habits, little thought is put into how the food being put inside one's body is produced (think growth hormones, genetically-modified ingredients, and pesticides, for starters).

The same extends to our homes. Is the physical appearance of that perfectly green, manicured lawn worth all the chemicals leached into our soil? Is the convenience of driving that large SUV and its style (often just to keep up with the Joneses) worth the extra pollution it is spewing into our air?

Some Americans are thankfully returning to a more simple way of life and getting back to the basics. Little lifestyle changes translate into major benefits long-term, both for the Earth and our wallets. But the visual is again coming into play. Some neighbors are annoyed at the sight of laundry hanging on a line (a sight I find completely charming and rustic). Isn't all the added pollution caused by powering those clothes dryers more outrageous when we think about it? Perhaps because air pollution is something we cannot always necessarily see with our eyes, many do not abhor it as much as we should.

With that CBS Sunday Morning's Bill Geist featured this amusing, bewildering and though-provoking piece on one woman's battle to combat global warming, one clean shirt, towel and sock at a time.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Flashback to my entry on Project Laundry List, the group behind the grassroots effort to promote the quite radical act of hang-drying.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Finally...Summer in NYC

The great weather is here (at last), but you don't need to have Mayor Bloomberg's wallet to enjoy summer in New York City. Here are some of my favorite and frugal ways to make the most out of the season.

The Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, going on every Monday through August 17th. To score a coveted lawn seat, you'll have to get there early (the lawn opens at 5). There are also tables on the sides.

Pack along some tasty vegan food. Hummus, crusty bread, fresh fruit, and vegan brownies all make for simple but delightful picnic fare. Or order a veggie-topped pizza (hold the cheese). Some veg food can also be found at witchcraft.

The movie doesn't start until dusk, so enjoy what on-the-go New Yorkers seldom get to do: nothing more than chat, eat and relax.

One vegetarian sandwich (easily veganize holding the egg and mayo) from Macaron Cafe, some hummus and carrots, and a glass of something delightfully sparkling later, the action began. First, a preview of the new Harry Potter film (Hermoine= great role model for young women), followed by a Looney Tunes cartoon.

What's the only natural thing to do before the movie starts? Get up and dance!!!

At last...Dog Day Afternoon. The truth is stranger than fiction sometimes. The true story of a bank robbery gone terribly wrong starring Al Pacino.

The Central Park Film Festival runs August 18-22. Even Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte will be there. On screen anyway.

Pack the picnic basket, grab a Frisbee or your latest library book, and take in the sunshine in Central Park.

Don't forget to stop by Strawberry Fields.

Lincoln Center's Midsummer Night Swing is going on now through July 25th. Always wanted to learn how to dance? Here's your chance. Take a lesson, enjoy live music, and cut up the rug for $15.

It's Bastille Day Tuesday. Contrary to Clark Griswold, you don't need to sport a beret with your name on it to be a Frenchie-at-heart (if only poor Rusty had known better). As usual, there will be a celebration on 60th Street this Sunday from noon to 6pm between Lexington and Fifth avenues. Last year, the hungry vegan (moi) did find something...some refreshing gazpacho. Learn more. Paris in New York keeps us Frenchie-wannabees in-the-know about films, music and more. The Paris Theatre usually has some French-inspired fare, including the now-playing Cherie. But my favorite spot for French films: my living room, watching a free dvd from the library.

Rock out for farm animals this Thursday, July 16th, at Kenny’s Castaways. The concert, a steal at just $10, will benefit one of my favorite charities, Farm Sanctuary and will feature Rorie Kelly, New Professionals, Neil Cavanagh, among others. Learn more.

Happy Summer!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Veganizing the Food Network

I know, there's no vegan show on the Food Network. *Sob* Yet. Contact the Food Network and politely suggest they add a vegan cooking show. Starbucks recently altered their menu to reflect customer feedback, and with no vegan options new on the menu, there was clearly not enough momentum on their My Starbucks Idea site. Let's band together for positive change, fellow armchair activists!

But back to the Food Network. Since going from lacto-ovo vegetarianism to veganism, I still find inspiration regularly on the channel. Overall, their chefs use fresh ingredients in most of their cooking, and I love the challenge of seeing what I can veganize. It's often easier than you think!

The first peaches hit Old Hook Farm, and I'm already dreaming of Nigella Lawson's luscious Peach Melba. Simply substitute dairy ice cream with soy (I use Trader Joe's vanilla). Don't want to use that many raspberries for her sauce? Just let some raspberry sorbet liquefy and substitute that instead. So simple. You can even skip the vanilla pod if you don't have it on hand.

Ina Garten, a.k.a. Barefoot Contessa, was inspired to make her Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette after eating a similar dish in a bistro in Paris. Just leave off the cheese, and it's vegan. She finished the meal, eaten al fresco on her porch, with an apple tart. Veganize instead the classic French Tarte Tatine.

I praise Jamie Oliver for exposing cruel conditions the animals people eat live in to his countrymen in the UK, all so many can gorge themselves on nutrition-poor, cheap food choices. No, he's not a vegetarian, but how many chefs in America have gone on national television to talk about baby chickens being macerated, or gestation crates for pigs? Zero. Watch parts of Jamie's Fowl Dinners here. Veganize Jamie's Pappardelle with Mixed Wild Mushrooms by omitting the dairy.

Doesn't Rachael Ray's Mediterranean Eggplant Steaks and Orzo Salad with Walnuts, Oregano and Tomatoes sound yumm-o? Just hold the cheese.

I'll skip Sandra Lee. What's with those wacky over-done tablescapes at the end of every show? I can't imagine the carbon footprint of all the items she loads up on at the craft store (most of which are likely coming from China). And did you ever notice the color coordination of her KitchenAid with the rest of her kitchen decorations?

One Food Network creation I won't be attempting to veganize: Paula Deen's Fried Butter Balls. Don't try this at home, kids, unless you have a cardiologist on stand-by!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day

It's the Fourth of July, can you believe it? Many of us may not always agree with the course the nation and its people are following. "Jefferson, I think we're lost," Michael Stipe declared in R.E.M.'s Little America. I'm not sure if he referred to that Jefferson, but I like to think he did. But our country's independence, and our freedom to protest for a better America for all its inhabitants (including animals), is worth celebrating.

That said, I am hours away from devouring a veggie burger smothered in vegan cheese hot off my parents' grill. Mango lemonade, carrot salad, corn on the cob and Trader Joe's soy cherry chip ice cream are all on the menu. I cannot wait!

Enjoy the simple pleasures of summer. Gazing at fireflies. Taking in the sweet smell of honeysuckle. Sipping lemonade in the sun. Eating watermelon.

As Tori Amos reflects in her haunting song "Gold Dust,"

"How did it go so fast, you'll say as we are looking back, and then we'll understand, we held gold dust in our hands."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Salsa y Salsa: Again! But So Good!

I know, I was just there...but Mayor Bloomberg called and pleaded with me to help keep the restaurant economy afloat in New York City!

A rain storm hit shortly after getting a table inside. No al fresco dining that day.

Sheltered from the rain, I enjoyed a virgin pineapple margarita, $6, along with "pepitas," roasted pumpkin seeds with ancho chili, cumin and cayenne pepper, $1.95. Two paws up for both! I don't miss the alcohol in margaritas, and it saves a few dollars, always a good thing.

Off of their lunch specials, I ordered the vegetarian tacos with pico de gallo, hold the queso, por favor, $8.95. Delicioso!

Canine-envy kicked in when I spotted six doggies across the street. As much as I'm fascinated by people watching, I love dog-watching!

Salsa y Salsa, 206 Seventh Ave. (at 22nd St.), New York City.