Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Vegan Sweet Life

Watched La Dolce Vita, The Talent Mr. Ripley (for the Italy and the Jude Law eye candy) and Roman Holiday? Check. Got a little carried away and got my hair cut shorter inspired Audrey Hepburn's transformation. Done it! Well, not that short. With my travel books from the library, I'm off to enjoy some of the vegan good life in Italy!

While there, I hope to eat some delicious vegan pizza and soy gelato, drink Campari, Prosecco and a Bellini (not all at once, though!), and just savor as much as I can.

Two important dates coming on Sunday, October 4th. The Action Against Hunger food drive in Northern New Jersey is being held. They hope to raise over 100 tons of food. Bring wholesome vegan items to any of these locations.

In New York City, Farm Sanctuary is holding its Walk for Farm Animals. President and co-founder Gene Baur and CNN's Jane Velez-Mitchell will be speaking too. Can't make it to any of their walks? Donate online whatever you can afford to give.

Can't afford to give right now? Resolve to do one thing for farm animals that week. Ask your company to supply soy milk for coffee for your office refrigerator if they don't already. Or check out their action alerts and become an armchair activist.

Some Italian music for the road, Eros Ramazzotti (plus Cher!)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Savor...Don't Run

"NYC Runs on Dunkin," says an ad for Dunkin Donuts. Those same words could describe the American cultural attitude toward food. Almost as important as what we are eating, is how we are eating. How can people put any thought into how their bacon, egg and cheese sandwich (for which three animals had to needlessly suffer: a pig, chicken and cow), when one is mindlessly eating it while walking down a busy street?

We run (and by we, I mean far too many Americans). We don't savor. We eat too much of foods that are bad for us, then feel guilty about it. We drink our coffee out of disposable cups with wasteful plastic lids, which will survive generations after the few moments of caffeine fix will. We get overpriced takeout in even more wasteful packaging: think plastic containers, plastic utensils (wrapped in more plastic), plastic bags. Plastic everything. We pay a premium for bottled water, but put little thought into how the food put into our body is produced, opting for the cheapest choice available. We pay $1 for value meals, but find the funds for premium cable, DVD collections and more. We eat out of convenience, microwaving $2 frozen meals to eat at our desks checking e-mail. We may hop on a treadmill to work off all of the food we shouldn't have eaten in the first place. We put little value on the real pleasure of eating. We speed through our day as quickly as possible. We repeat this cycle the next day.

This is not living to me, this is enduring. Our stomachs are full, but our souls are starved.

The disposable coffee culture is one I don't understand. I so wish we had a cafe culture in the U.S. (no, Starbucks doesn't count). I mean real cafes: think sipping cafe soy cremes in real cups (never, ever disposables), while people and dog-watching or lingering over the morning paper or the latest library book or a good chat with a friend. In a world of connectivity (e-mail, Facebook, cell phones), people seem to be oddly more disconnected from each other, I find.

I can't make it here at the moment, but I can get a soy hot chocolate, $3.50, from best thing closest to me: New York City's Macaron Cafe.

Make your own vegan hot chocolate at home for a fraction of the price. Try a version using cocoa powder, or just simply use your favorite non-dairy "milk" and chocolate syrup. Did you know the Hershey's syrup is vegan? Find out what other popular supermarket brands are too.

This friendly guy greets the cafe's visitors.

The owner here always has a friendly "good morning" as soon as you walk through the door.

Macaron is in New York City's Fashion District. As seen on Project Runway: Mood Fabrics.

I had the pleasure of hearing Project Runway's Tim Gunn introduce PETA Vice President Dan Mathews at his book discussion of Committed: A Rabble-Rouser's Memoir, in New York City some time ago. Tim even appeared in an ad for PETA. Tim, in my book, that means you're in.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oktoberfest: Bring on the Vegan Brats!

It's why are we celebrating Oktoberfest? Because wouldn't the world's largest fair be more enjoyable with warm weather? Exactly. Why all the beer and brats? The first Oktoberfest was held in October 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. Learn more. That's worth raising a beer glass to!

Some six million visitors are expected at Oktoberfest, which kicked off in Munich this past Saturday. Oktoberfest menus here are popping up everywhere. Want a cruelty-free Oktoberfest? Me too. Thankfully, our friends at PETA's VegCooking site always come through with festive and easy-to-make menus.

What's on their Oktoberfest menu? Doesn't this sound mouthwatering?
Beer-Basted Tofurky Beer Brats with Caramelized Onions and Hot Mustard
Sautéed Green Apples and Leeks
German Potato Salad
German Chocolate Cake

Check out other German fare, including potato pancakes and seitan stroganoff over eggless noodles.

What to wash it all down with? If you imbibe, beer. Is your favorite beer vegan-friendly? Barnivore tells you. I'm not much of a beer drinker, and only drink occasionally. My favorite beer alternative is hard cider, and Magner Irish Cider, and Woodpecker and Woodchuck are vegan. Cheers to that.

If you don't drink, sparkling ciders, like the pomegranate, apple or cranberry varieties at Trader Joe's, are refreshing too. Don't forget to pick up their German apple strudel, which is completely vegan.

Two years ago, I visited the real Oktoberfest in Munich for a day. Some glimpses into the festival.

It's not just about drinking. There are plenty of rides and fun for kids young and old.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dejeuner at Pourquoi Pas? Mais oui!

With my fall French language classes about to resume, I've been getting back into the spirit of all things française. One of my favorites: the food.

Many people associate French food with heavy ingredients, particularly butter, but that isn't always the case, especially if you're veg.

I had a little dejeuner at Westwood, New Jersey's Pourquoi Pas?, a charming little bistro. Going for lunch here, like many fine dining establishments, will cost a fraction of what it would for dinner.

A cheerful dining room. There are two tables outside as well. Bring your own wine: save a fortune.

J'adore le chien!

Who says everything's better with butter? We were given basil-infused olive oil with our bread, and asked if we would like butter as well.

Did the waitress telepathically sense a vegan? When saying the daily soup, she said it was dairy-free. A cup of the carrot, potato and leek soup (made with vegetarian stock) and a half of a roasted vegetable sandwich (hold the brie cheese), $9.50.

To share: pears poached in red wine, $6.50.

With pears now in season (the ones below are from Old Hook Farm), I can't wait to make one of my favorite fall desserts: Poire Belle Hélène. Check out the Urban Vegan's tempting version.

I asked the waitress if they had soy milk for their coffee. She said she prefers it herself, persuaded the chef to buy a container, and then no one ordered it. Always good to put in a verbal request in for soy.

While dining, a cellphone went off at the next table, and the woman not only picked it up, but actually put it on speaker so she and her dining companion could discuss her daughter's place cards for a wedding. Quelle horreur! Rudeness is getting out of control.

Want to learn a language or another hobby? Don't discard those community school fliers. They are a fun and inexpensive way to learn and meet others with the same interest. My course costs just $60 for 10 sessions (a course at FIAF costs $550. C'est trop cher!) It's not as competitive as a college class, but it's refreshing and fun to have a little French culture infused into my life after a long day.

Can't make it to Paris? Check out the stunning photos on everyday life there at ParisDailyPhoto.

Visit Pourquoi Pas? Bistro, 31 Westwood Avenue, Westwood, NJ.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

This Season's Must-Have Item: Financial Security

Frugalista. I've heard the term before (think frugal-minded fashionista). But it's now made it into a major ad campaign for Target.

As one reality New Jersey housewife might say, "Love, love, love!"

So you want to be an eco-frugalista? Me too. But I refuse to be seduced by ads hawking over-priced "green" fashion. Picture a model in an expensive bamboo frock shopping at her local CSA or basking in a field.

Did you know the FTC issued a consumer alert on bamboo fabrics? It states..."that the soft "bamboo" fabrics on the market today are rayon. They are made using toxic chemicals in a process that releases pollutants into the air. Extracting bamboo fibers is expensive and time-consuming, and textiles made just from bamboo fiber don't feel silky smooth." Read the full alert. Green UPGRADER takes a further look.

With Fashion Week in the news, we're also being lured to replace our perfectly good items, and hearing about "must-have" fashion pieces for the fall and winter, including on eco-sites. Is anything a "must-have" in this economy, short of food, shelter and medical care? Must-have's for me for this season and beyond are financial security and no credit card debt. Besides, I want to have my own sense of style. Who wants to be a carbon copy?

I see a lot of comments on sites about how hard it is to be green on a budget when they see ads selling all this high-priced fashion, which saddens me. Being green for me means being satisfied with living with a little less, finding creative ways to use what I have, and seeking out items already-produced, which are often a fraction of the cost and sometime even free.

Wallet Pop follows the swap excitement too.

Find fellow swappers online by searching for clothing swaps on

Swapping isn't just for clothes, MSNBC noted. Trade old CDs, books and video games on the web at and A parent? Trade your children's clothing, nursery furniture and more at

What does our swap look like? Here's a peek at our invite if you want to set one up at lunch-time at your workplace...

Looking for a stylish sweater to go apple picking? A warm scarf and hat to keep you cozy on those chilly nights? A new coat you can wear while sipping hot cocoa? Come find it at our fall-winter clothing swap! Leave your credit cards at home: It's all for free!

What are we swapping this time? Items of the season.

Clothes: coats/jackets, sweaters, shirts, jeans, pants, skirts, and dresses. All sizes desired. Beauty comes in all sizes!
Shoes: new or gently worn, only, please
Accessories: scarves, hats, gloves, jewelry, handbags, sunglasses, belts, and umbrellas
Unwanted gift items: picture frames, candles, and unused beauty products, etc.

At our last swap, some of the stylish pickings included a Betsey Johnson dress, Stuart Weitzman sandals, and a Coach handbag. Many major brands were represented, including Arden B., H&M, and The Limited.

We'll be donating the leftovers to the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop in Westwood, NJ, where the proceeds of items sold go to benefit homeless cats and dogs. Some items may be brought to the Salvation Army in Chelsea as well.

So after your slice of free pizza, come find a new look for free. You don’t have to donate to participate...all are welcome. Seasonal goodies will be offered as well. After all, "shopping" does work up an appetite!

That's it! We provide a few light refreshments, booked it on the day of our free pizza luncheons, and people will be giving their clothes a second life.

As stated, beauty does come in all sizes. But if all sizes don't participate, do add beauty products, handbags, accessories and more so there's something for everyone. We always have plenty leftover, which means more for the charity shop.

Don't want to swap, and want to make some extra money from your unwanted items? MSNBC tells you how, including selling through consignment shops, where you will often get a 50-50 take of items sold. Find a consignment shop, or search for them by category on

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

So Long, Summer!

Wasn't it just recently I was enjoying a cherry Italian ice, $2, from a pizza place on a hot August day?

New York Pizza Suprema
is just steps away from Madison Square Garden.

Not the only circus in town I avoided this summer.

Now, I'm pondering stopping for a soy hot chocolate at Macaron Cafe on increasingly chilly mornings, dreaming about the aromas of freshly-baked pumpkin bread, and counting down the seconds until new releases from The Swell Season and R.E.M.

To say a proper farewell to summer, a good friend of mine and I decided to have one last feast at Salsa y Salsa. Soon, I'll be dreaming about the lentil casserole and blackberry tea at Tea & Sympathy. Their scones and clotted cream aren't vegan, but these are.

A virgin strawberry margarita, $5.95. I've grown to prefer margaritas without the alcohol.

Sweet fried plantains, which I asked for with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar, $2.75.

Tosta de la Casa: lettuce with sliced red radish, refried black beans on tostada tortilla with a vinagrette dressing, $7.50. As we say to our family dog when he finishes a treat, "yummy, yummy, yummy!"

Our last meal here was the night of the Tori Amos show at Radio City Music Hall. Flashback to Tori Night!

Even if it's one of my favorites, I always go for the cheapest seats available to save some money. Not a bad view! Unfortunately, I had two people in front of me who thought it would be just splendid to take pictures for the first five songs, then have a nice chat, as if this was their living room.

In the technological age, so many people do not know how to live in the moment. How many times have I been in a museum (like the Target-sponsored free Fridays at the MOMA) to see people walk up to artwork, take a picture and just walk away without absorbing what's before their eyes?

From the night's show, Give, one of my favorites off of her new album. I interpret this song to be about how some people in this world are givers and some are just takers. I aspire to be in the former category.

"There are some, some who give blood
I give love, I give

Soon before the sun, before the sun, begins to rise
I know that I, I must give, so that I, I can live

There are some, some whose give, twists itself to take
they mistake, who, what made up the line, some say it was pain, or was it shame."

And as she says in Concertina, "Particle by particle she slowly changes." So true of how most change occurs.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

(Vegan) Dinner and a (Very Un-Vegan) Movie

Nearing the last chance for al fresco dining. Dinner at a local pizzeria in Westwood, NJ.

Mushrooms, spinach, sauce and a dusting of garlic powder were all this thin-crust pizza, $8.50, needed. BYOB here if you imbibe.

For movies, I almost always opt for a DVD, either from my library ($1 for new releases, free for the rest), or the Redbox ($1 plus tax). But when I do go out for a film, I prefer supporting the local downtown theaters, versus the jumbo-sized, over-bearing cinemas at the mall. Right next store: a great consignment shop, Fabulous Finds.

Is movie theater popcorn vegan? Usually. PETA Prime shows us how to make inexpensive vegan popcorn at home, the perfect snack to eat while watching a library DVD.

Julie and Julia: A Vegan's Perspective

Guess who's on top of the New York Times bestseller list with her cookbook? Rachael Ray? Giada De Laurentiis? Ina Garten? Not quite. Julia Child.

As a bit of a Francophile, I really wanted to see Julie and Julia, based on two memoirs. I was more interested in the part of the film that is based on Julia Child's "My Life in Paris," and follows her as she arrives in Paris, enters the famed Le Cordon Bleu, and struggles to write and get published Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julie Powell's story is of a disgruntled office worker tired of life in her crammed cubicle who decides to cook her way through Child's book in one year and blog about it.

Not much appetizing for a vegan of course, aside from the mouth-watering bruschetta Julie cooks for dinner. Here's a run-down of how the film deals with food:

Everything is so much better with butter, Powell asserts, and anytime you think a food is at it's best, butter allegedly still improves it. I'll stick with my extra virgin olive oil. She's also never eaten an actual egg, only has had it as an ingredient. After several attempts at poaching one, she's in heaven. On occasion, I do miss eating an egg, but than I remember battery cages, de-beaking, and maceration of male baby chicks, and I reach for my tofu scramble.

On cheese, Julia Child raves over a mouth-watering brie in a fine French restaurant. A vegan blog writer wrote they miss eating cheese as much as they miss drinking Pepto Bismo. Unfortunately, I cannot relate. Partly I think because there really aren't any true comparable alternatives on the market that don't contain casein. No matter how many times I recall the UN Report on Livestock's Long Shadow, I still have to push my cart quickly past to cheese aisle at Trader Joe's.

Killing Time
Most Americans don't have to do the dirty work to get the animal they eat onto their plate. That often takes place in hidden worlds by under-paid immigrant workers (think Fast Food Nation). But to make Lobster Thermidor, Julie has to do the deed herself. She has them in her car's back seat, and when she gets them home, after some procrastination, quickly shoves them in a pot and closes the lid. After the lid pops off, she runs out screaming, and her husband is left to finish them off. Confronted with actual killing, I don't think many are capable of it. Of course, when she's picking up beef from the meat counter for Child's legendary beef bourguignon, little thought seems to be put into the pain the animal went through. It's just another ingredient. (A side note: the live lobsters were actually put into a pot of steaming cool water during filming, and representatives from the American Humane Association monitored their health, according to The New York Times.)

Beef bourguignon? Non, merci bien. Try Mushroom Bourguignon instead (veganize using Earth Balance, Toffuti Sour Supreme (available at my local Stop & Shop in the produce aisle) and use eggless noodles.

Someone give this woman a bar of soap and a Lorna Sass vegan cookbook.
There's been some bad press about Julia Child's views on vegetarianism, but that's nothing compared to Julie Powell's childish rantings.

In 2003, she writes: "I am also eating like a f*cking vegan with a wheat allergy and a weakness for skinless boneless chicken breasts, and...while I have always found vegetarians a bit silly, since I have been eating like one my contempt for them is boundless. Jesus, what a boring, sad life it is. Wouldn't be so bad, if you'd just throw in some f*cking bacon. Or a steak."

From one blog writer who has a regular office job in a crammed New York City office observing this one, I can only say I was "underwhelmed" with Powell's old blog, The Julie/Julia Project as well as her new one.

I strongly disagree with her view that "curse words are vital parts of the language and I write accordingly." There's no need for vile language to get your point across. I was at a Tori Amos concert recently and the crowd cheered whenever she threw around the "f" word. Takes me straight back to elementary school.

She also bewilderingly stated: "I've always been a greenmarket naysayer, and I still am annoyed by some of the smug foodies who shop there." So someone who cooks their way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking wouldn't be considered a smug foodie? In fact, I'm skeptical she even did it. I don't see any photographic proof. And aren't the French so famous for their green markets?

She goes on to say in that entry, "Not pictured - Hatch green chiles!!!!! Heaven! Though it's hard to think of anything I want to eat with them that doesn't involve cheese and/or bacon."

Powell admits Julia Child was not a fan of her site, and it's easy to see why. Powell's potty mouth and unfocused whining seem arrogant. I guess almost anyone in America can get a book deal if you come up with a good gimmick.

Am I bothered by Child's views on vegetarianism? Not as much as Powell's. Child arrived in post-World War II France where every part of the animal was used. Further, as the New York Times pointed out, the French consume more fruits and vegetables, walk more, and as for portion size, "The French simply eat much less," noted Mireille Guiliano, the author of "French Women Don't Get Fat."

More importantly, to quote the Green Fork blog, "in Child's era, phrases like "manure lagoon," "gestation crate," "battery cage," or "bovine growth hormone" would have sounded even more foreign than "boeuf bourguignon" or "sauce béarnaise.""

Who could revolutionize cooking in our time? Lorna Sass, who the Green Fork blog calls "one of America's foremost experts on pressure cookers and whole grains." Check out her vegetarian and vegan cookbooks at your local library.

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Not in my river. Not on my watch."

- declares the Hackensack Riverkeeper's motto.

Canoes getting ready to pick up trash in the Hackensack River at the Riverkeeper's latest clean-up in Johnson Park in Hackensack.

I believe in being an activist in your own microcosm. Luckily for the Hackensack River, and its people and wildlife that depend on it, we have Captain Bill Sheehan and his crew of defenders.

Volunteers cruising the river for trash.

I walked the shoreline. What did I find? The usual: beer bottles, water bottles, soda cans, candy wrappers, plastic bags, even a battery (learn more about battery recycling). What a let-down that Seattle voters rejected a 20 cent tax on disposable bags (get the full story).

Just a few feet away from the river...

Reduce your plastic consumption. If you're already bringing your reusable totes to the store, and have a reusable water bottle and coffee mug, bring it up a notch. Take your own take-out containers to restaurants for leftovers. There's even a Facebook page to discourage plastic straws at restaurants. For water and soda, there just seems be no need for them.

At work, I've sworn off making coffee or tea with the extremely wasteful Keurig cups. I get my java fix in the morning at home with organic coffee from Old Hook Farm made with unbleached coffee filters, and stick to drinking tea (bags or loose-leaf) in a cheerful teapot and cup instead. I've decided free office coffee comes with a too high a price for the environment.

Some of the species of ducks that depend on the river.

What human or dog wouldn't love take a stroll on this walkway, especially with the leaves about to change?

Learn more about the Hackensack Riverkeeper's Meadowlands Festival of Birding, this Saturday and Sunday, September 12-13.

Meanwhile, our friends at Bergen SWAN are hosting a tour of environmentally-friendly sites throughout the watershed on Sunday, September 13. Learn more.

The Hackensack River was in the news recently. Hundreds of gallons of raw sewage were deliberately pumped into it from the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Secaucus weekly for 18 months. Read the horrifying story. Meanwhile, a federal study of mercury contamination that tested fish from nearly 300 streams across the country found the substance in every fish sampled. Get the story. Learn more about mercury.

Want to become an activist? Find a local chapter of the Sierra Club, or start your own. Become a role model, at your school, your workplace, or your town. Someone introduced me to her daughter by saying, "she cares a lot about the environment," and it's one of the greatest compliments I could have received.

After the clean-up, I hit the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop to donate a few items, and was thrilled to see vegan goodies were for sale outside the shop for their bake sale. Eating brownies to help homeless cats and dogs? Must I? Oh, okay....

Chocolate chip cookies too! Make your own at home and enjoy with organic non-dairy 'milk.' I favor Pacific Natural Food's organic almond beverage, just $1.69 for a 32-oz. container at my local Trader Joe's.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Late Summer Harvest

"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants," advises Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food. These were the wise words on wallet-sized cards at the Natural Gourmet Institute's Friday night dinner. More about those cards later.

This my fourth visit to the Natural Gourmet, and will not be my last. Students prepare a wholesome, 3-4 course vegan meal each Friday at 6:30 as part of their final project before graduation. The cost: $40, tax and tip included, and you can bring your own wine, which all New York City diners can confirm is a huge savings. Not cheap, but not outrageous either considering the quality of not only the ingredients but also the preparation. This is my favorite vegan dining experience in New York City, and I can see why this place draws both vegetarians and meat-eaters.

A bare bones classroom is transformed into an intimate, candle-lit dining room, with communal tables. The theme for the night: Late Summer Harvest. The only thing that would have made the night more magical is to eat outside under the stars.

To start: a refreshing sparkling ginger drink, made from the ginger and peach juice used for the night's dessert. I also sampled water with slices of cucumber. So simple, yet so refreshing. Do try it at home.

Migliorelli Farm beefsteak tomato with herbed 'ricotta', and corn from the same New York State farm. Bravo!

Tarragon-infused farro and vegetable trio, with creamy white beans, mushroom-artichoke ragout, and bitter greens. An omnivore couple across from me were commenting on how the mushrooms satisfied the savory craving. I couldn't agree more.

Ginger poached peach with vanilla bean ice cream. Sometimes I tire of sorbet being a vegan's only dessert option at most mainstream restaurants. I love poached fruit, so was happy to see this on the menu. Disappointingly, the peaches weren't poached quite enough, and I didn't detect any ginger flavor at all. The vanilla ice cream didn't live up to the heavenly cinnamon ice cream I had on a prior visit. Still, it was a light end to the charming meal.

Two cards were presented with each place setting to educate diners about making more informed food decisions.

One was the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides, listing the dirty dozen (buy organic) and the clean 15 (lowest in pesticides). Leading the dirty dozen list: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery and nectarines. The cleanest: onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapple and mango. Learn more.

Local and Organic Food Sources in Your Area was the other guide, with information about Local Harvest, a guide to small farms, farmer's markets, CSAs and more, and the Eat Well Guide, a listing of everything from farmers and caterers to coffee shops and bed and breakfasts.

Visit the Natural Gourmet Institute, 48 W. 21st St., 2nd floor (between 5th & 6th Ave.), New York, NY. Learn more about their Friday night dinners, their professional program, and their public classes, which include multiple vegan and vegetarian options.