Monday, November 30, 2009

Blossom: Part Deux

Since I was so close by, I dropped by vegan eatery Blossom Uptown after the Macy's balloon viewing. I'm rarely in this part of the city, except when I frequent Central Park in the summer. So I figured...pourquoi pas?

To drink, my favorite of late: New York City tap water.

Possibly the best butternut squash soup I've ever had. Served with cinnamon croutons and a slice of bread, $6.

When ordering, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. The soup would have been enough.

Fettuccine in a cashew alfredo sauce with soy cutlets, $17. Their version included spinach, garlic and mushrooms. Good thing I brought my reusable container. I brought more than half of this heavenly dish home to enjoy again.

I didn't have room for their chocolate cake, $6, which is making my mouth water just writing about it. But I will be back. The quality of the food and the friendly service makes Blossom (both Chelsea and Uptown) one of my favorite veg spots in the city. I like both Blossoms, but lean slightly toward the Uptown location.

Visit Blossom Uptown, 466 Columbus Avenue (between 82nd and 83rd), New York City

While there, I dropped off some literature for my Advocacy Campaign Team friends at Farm Sanctuary. Lit dropping is a super-easy form of advocacy for busy, on-the-go activists.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Let's Make It a "Good" Christmas and Hanukah

Kmart, Walmart, Gap, Banana Republic, among others: all open for business Thanksgiving Day, according to my local paper. Right below the story on the pre-Black Friday rush - an article on food pantries seeing record demand.

The day of dietary excess is always followed by a day of materialistic excess, but now they seem to be on the same day. I once heard the saying, "It's not a bargain if you don't need it." A simple yet powerful mantra to reflect on. No doorbusters for me today, only busting the myth that over-spending and shopping need to be part of a holiday.

"We've become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy," The Chicago Tribune lamented on Christmas Eve 1986. This statement can just as easily and accurately be invoked in 2009.

Even two years after Ben Stein reflected on what makes a "good" Christmas or Hanukah, his sentiments seem as relevant as ever, and creates clarity on what really matters most.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Says Stein:

"Maybe a good Christmas for this most blessed of nations would be when we as a nation and as communities made sure the homeless had a warm, safe place to sleep.

Maybe a good Christmas would not be about buying your kids the latest gizmo for listening to obscene lyrics, but about teaching them 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.

Maybe a good time would not be buying your parents sweaters they will never use, but taking a trip to see them and telling them how much you appreciate that they spent the heart of their lives taking care of you, feeding you, teaching you, putting a roof over your head, warming you with their love and concern.

Maybe the best time of all would be telling your husband or your wife or love partner that you would be lost without him or her and that you're sorry for the selfish things you did that year, and you'll be better next year.

Christmas and Hanukah presents rarely fit and rarely are to your taste. They sit in your closet and collect dust forever.

But gifts in this special, sacred time of love and caring to your family, your friends, and your neighborhood - those are never forgotten. They bring peace of mind for years."

Read the full commentary.

Find a local food bank through Feeding America. In Northern New Jersey, donate to the Center for Food Action.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve Magic

Each year the day before Thanksgiving, revelers young in age, and some just young at heart, gather outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to watch the balloons blown up for Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I was one of the wide-eyed spectators again this year.

Getting there as soon as it begins at 3 PM means beating the crowds, and just finding some of the balloons in a semi-deflated state.

Getting ready for showtime: Macy's workers.

Too short? Get a lift! There's a lot to see...

...just take a look:

Being a child of the 80s, I was a serious Smurf fan. I'm talking figurines, sheet set, Smurfette lunch box, Smurfette Halloween costume in the second grade. I even had a Smurf game for ColecoVision (remember that?)

Even a few doggies joined in on the fun.

Remember when simple things made so many of us happy?

Believe in the magic of feeling like a kid again.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksliving Dinner: Turkeys in Our Hearts, Not on The Table

This Sunday, I gathered with about 40 others in sharing a humane pre-Thanksgiving dinner held by God's Creatures Ministry.

Each place setting included a key chain that said "Contentment" and on the back a quote:

"Lord, help me to be grateful for what I have, to remember that I don't need most of what I want, and that joy is found in simplicity and generosity" - Enough by Adam Hamilton.

Whether you invoke this as a prayer or just a philosophy, they are thoughtful words to remember as we enter the holiday season of dietary and materialistic excess.

Now, for the meal. Can't go wrong with grapes alongside hummus and French onion pita chips from veg-friendly Trader Joe's.

My beverage choice: sparkling cider. I was the designated driver for the evening.

Tofurkey and all the trimmings: stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and rolls.

A sampling of desserts: rice pudding, chocolate cake, and my favorite of the evening, apple crisp.

I love tricky tray auctions! I was pining over this basket filled with Trader Joe's goodies. It went home with someone else.

I met so many caring activists, including representatives from the League of Humane Voters, Friends of Wayne Animals,, and the Animal Protection League of New Jersey.

Every Thanksgiving, millions of Americans place a turkey in their cart, just as it was another item such as cranberry sauce or green beans. I would guess that most give little thought, as they do with most animal products, about the life of the turkey. Many with crippling foot and leg problems due to their genetically-manipulated weight; transported under horrid conditions (they can be legally transported for up to 28 hours without food, water or rest); and slaughtered in even worse conditions (turkeys and other poultry are excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act), all according to Farm Sanctuary. Learn more.

They eat it simply because they are trained to. Because this is part of a "tradition." Well this is one cruel tradition I've broken from for two decades, and am proud to do so again this year. I don't want to celebrate gratitude and life by causing death, simply because that's what the rest of society embraces.

Be proud to shun turkey this year if you are the lone vegetarian at your table. In the film Ratatouille, the once embittered food critic Anton Ego who has had a new awakening said, "The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends." People are afraid or mock veg diets because they are new - unknown, different. Stand tall, knowing that you are a pioneer and friend of the new.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Just Bag It

At lunchtime, I've been brown-bagging lunch (in a reusable bag, of course!) for most of my professional career. There's so much environmental waste with takeout food (think food container, plastic utensils wrapped in more plastic, then put in a paper bag often inside a plastic bag). Bring your own reusable silverware, plate, glass and mug to work, and prove Kermit wrong: it is easy being green.

What's equally as wasteful: our hard-earned money. Check out the AARP's Lunch Savings Calculator. If you spend, for instance, $6.50 daily for a lunch and drink, and a bagged lunch is $3, you could save $70 a month. After four years, that's nearly $4,000!

The key to bringing lunch: variety, variety, variety. For cookbooks, I head to the library, but mainly, I take to the web.

VegCooking's Two-Week Sample Vegan Menus is filled with ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
*Just in time for Thanksgving, try a Tofurky Sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and Vegenaise, pretzels, and an apple. Why should you skip turkey? Here's why.
*Why have a meat chili, when you can have a healthier and humane alternative? Try ready-made vegan chili (i.e., Boca frozen chili; Yves and Lightlife refrigerated chili; or Hormel canned chili), tortilla chips, and fresh avocado drizzled with lime juice.
*Creamy pasta salad with artichoke hearts, crusty Italian bread and fresh fruit sound like perfect picnic fare.
*No mercury in this lunch. Try a Veggie "Tuna" Salad, pita bread or crackers, and fresh-cut vegetables. Check out 10 Reasons Not to Eat Tuna.

Thanks VegCooking!

Explore out ChooseVeg's vegan lunch recipes. No vegan show on the Food Network? No problem. Watch videos for eggless egg salad, carrot soup, ratatouille, and much more. Don't forget an occasional treat: chocolate chip cookies, the perfect lunchbox edition.

Soup's on! But not at $5 for a bowl. Make an entire pot for about the same price or less. Visit out's Vegetarian Soups and Vegetarian Chili Recipes.

Wraps=rip-off when you buy them at the deli. I've seen them for as high as $7. I start with a whole wheat wrap, add hummus, organic lettuce, and avocado or roasted red peppers. Ditto for salad. Who wants to pay $8 for some lettuce and toppings?

Feel like a 2nd grader again. Who doesn't love PB&J? There's even a restaurant, Peanut Butter & Co. Sandwich Shop, in New York City devoted to the timely classic. Pack your pb&J of choice (I prefer grape). Serve with carrots, potato chips, and non-dairy milk, like you get at the shop.

Now I wonder what people would say if I showed up to work with this?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"If you are what you eat...

...then I only want to eat the good stuff," proclaimed Remy, the food-obsessed rat (and aspiring chef) in Ratatouille. I couldn't agree more.

Here's food for thought: Do you know where the second most profitable McDonald's after the one in the United States is? Any guesses? Would have guessed France? C'est vrai, according to The New York Times. Someone call José Bové. Vite!

McDonald's France plans to open a restaurant in the commercial mall under the Louvre, adding to the 1,140 restaurants across the country. Mon Dieu, so many in Julia Child's "La Belle France"? What's next, Dunkin' Donuts?

As for me, I'm always trying to infuse the French art of dining here. Luxuriating over a delicious meal in a cozy, candle-lit bistro with great conversation. I found that at Champignon, right next to my Mexican haunt Salsa y Salsa. There's a more casual sister café next door selling coffee, sandwiches, and such, but mostly served in disposables (negative).

They have a $20 prix-fix menu: a glass of wine, soup or salad, and entrée (chicken or salmon). When I asked if they could veganize, they said yes.

Even in New York City, which is often touted as the most Veg-Friendly City in the U.S., you rarely see "vegan" on a mainstream menu. But you simply need to ask.

My wine: a glass of French rosé.

The daily soup was chicken noodle, so I opted for the salad. Loved the spicy and nutritious arugala.

Vegetables and linguini sauteed in garlic and oil. So simple, and so comforting. The waiter was very accomodating, and assured me there was no chicken stock, butter or other animal by-products.

Visit Champignon, 7th Ave. (btwn 21st & 22nd St.), New York City.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Say It Proudly: I am a Frugalista!

Shopping spree at Macy's? No way. My bag of donations for the CATS Resale Shop. In the bag? A DKNY blazer I once spent more than $100 on. I wish had the money back.

Thrift stores like CATS are a great source for Christmas decorations. I've found everything from 10 cent cards to 25 cent ornaments. Shop also for donated gift items (think candles, beauty products, picture frames).

Adorable blue snow boots for the youngest frugalista in your life from the This-N-That Thrift Shop, 309 Broadway, Hillsdale, NJ, where we donated clothing swap items to.

I love shopping thrift as an environmentalist. "Green" marketed fabrics are typically expensive and it's buyer beware. With bamboo, The Wall Street Journal reported, "To create fabric, it's chopped up and dissolved in toxic solvents—the same process that recycles wood scraps into viscose or rayon. Indeed, bamboo fabric technically is rayon."

What I also love: all the budget bloggers on the web, like My Year Without Spending, Budget Confessions, and The Thrifty Chicks. Michael Stipe says in R.E.M.'s Begin the Begin, "The finest example is you." I wish we had more examples like them about how we can be smarter with our hard-earned money.

It was nice to see photos of a clothing swap in Paris. Check out stylish fashionistas swapping at a "la troc party" on Emily's French Life. C'est super!

Don't ever let anyone put you down for shopping thrift or using what you have. If people want to feel better about their purchases because they spent a large sum of money, let them go right ahead. I'm proud to say I have no credit card debt (never have), I've paid for my vacations to Italy, Mexico, Paris and beyond outright, and I don't panic for my paycheck to arrive.

From a 50 cent bin at a thrift store to high-end consignment shops selling top designer labels, you can find stylish clothes for every income and preference.

I stumbled upon a Revived Attire, a new consignment shop on 321 Broadway in Hillsdale, NJ, and it was filled with my kind of eco-fashion.

I loved the way this chic black evening dress was paired with a Cameo necklace. I didn't try it on. But, hmmm, maybe I should have?

Cute! I love romantic ruffles. I'd pair this with a cardigan, a skinny belt and a black pencil skirt. Done.

I love dresses. Mini, knee-length, long. All good.

For once, I wished my feet were just a tad bigger. These adorable shoes were just $10!

I like to stretch my spring/summer wardrobe into fall/winter. I have plenty of dresses like this. In warmer months, I wear with ballet flats. When the temperature cools, I put a long-sleeved top underneath, and tights and boots.

Over-priced vegan shoes are all over. My 'new' vegan ballet flats: $10!

Even more frugal than consignment shops and thrift stores: the library. In addition to books, DVDs, and music, I pick up all kinds of magazines. I checked out Glamour, where I read about Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson's new album, Break Up. Groovy! My library system owns several copies. I heart the library.

You can hear the influence of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot. The legendary Bardot, of course: major friend of the animals. Check out the Brigitte Bardot Foundation.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hold the Butter on My Toast Please, Snoopy

It's almost Thanksgiving!

While not a happy time for vegans, there are reasons to make one feel like a kid again. Waiting for your favorite balloon to come down the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade while on the couch under a blanket with a mug of non-dairy cocoa. In New York City, kids young and old can watch the balloons being blown up the night before. It's simply magical. I'm 34, and still never miss A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Snoopy and Woodstock even cooked a vegetarian feast of pretzels, popcorn and toast, much to the dismay of Peppermint Patty and the gang.

And I love the idea of an entire holiday devoted to giving thanks. Sarah Ban Breathnech, in her book Simple Abundance, encourages us on a path guided by six principles: gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy. In a passage on gratitude, she quotes Melody Beattie, who stated,

"Gratitude...turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."

Not on my dinner plate this year, turkey. This beauty lives at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Flackback to my visit, and yummy vegan eats. My mouth still waters thinking about the cinnamon French toast.

This year, I also plan to give thanks over a Gentle Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by God's Creatures Ministry. Whatever your religious stripes, you can share a humane meal including Tofurkey, wine and desserts. The dinner takes place next Sunday, November 22nd at 3:00 p.m. in Lakeland Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 231 Parish Drive, Wayne, NJ. RSVP with a suggested $20 per person donation by November 18th. Learn more.

Not in the area? Find similar events all over the country on Gentle Thanksgiving. Find recipes including Cranberry Sauce, Sweet Potatoes, Cornbread Muffins, and Vegan Pumpkin or Squash Pie.

If you're not a vegan or vegetarian, consider just trying to eliminate animal by-products from a recipe when it's possible. When I switched from lacto-ovo vegetarianism to veganism, it was eye-opening how animal products are in everything, when many times they don't need to be.

Here's to gratitude, awareness, great vegan food, and the joy of feeling like a kid again. Oh, my favorite balloon? Snoopy, of course!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Who Wants Earrings When I Can Eat Vegan Creme Brulee?

Fine jewelry? Not my thing. My favorite ring is a $15 "splurge" from the CATS Resale Shop. Perfume? Not so much. Electronics? My 10-year-old television set and old cell phone work just fine.

Instead, I was treated for my birthday to one of my favorite passions in life: food! Here's a recap of my humane dining experience at vegan Blossom Restaurant in Chelsea.

To drink, New York City tap water. Free and refreshing. Even when I'm not paying, $9 plus tax/tip for a glass of wine is simply too much.

To start, a Caesar salad, $8 (there's a larger entree size available). I love trying vegan versions of classic recipes, and this didn't disappoint. It was much lighter than the standard take, and no chickens or cows had to suffer.

Two entrees to share. First, Phyllo Roulade: French lentils and root vegetables in a phyllo crust, a carrot-cream sauce, with caramelized onions and Swiss chard, $18. A hearty and satisfying meal.

I couldn't wait to try the Wild Mushroom and Seitan Stroganoff on their online menu, but the waitress said they didn't serve it and the web site wasn't accurate. Sigh.

I couldn't sample the Bolognese sauce in Bologna, Italy, but I could try the linguini Bolognese, $21, here. As the judges on Project Runway might say, "I was a bit underwhelmed." The sauce was good, but didn't pair well with the spinach linguini and the vegetables, including the broccoli rabe, overpowered the dish.

French food loving-moi loved the lavender coconut creme brulee, $11. What a treat!

Apple cinnamon 'sticks' with vanilla soy ice cream and caramel sauce, $10. A comforting fall dessert.

But...these prices are too high, especially the desserts. Creme brulee is a rarity, so that was worth trying once. The high quality of the ingredients are worth more, and paying for the Chelsea real estate is part of the deal. But their prices limit this to a once, maybe twice a year, restaurant to visit.

One thing never to skimp on: the tip. Hard-working waiters and waitresses often have to share their tips with bus boys and food runners, are almost never provided with health care coverage, and shouldn't be nickle and dimed over the tax and alcohol. I say if one can afford to go out to eat, one can and should leave a descent tip for good service.

In an economy still struggling, it was encouraging to see such a bustling vegan restaurant. Visit Blossom Restaurant, 187 Ninth Ave., New York City. Find slightly more reasonable prices at their sister restaurant, Cafe Blossom, 466 Columbus Ave.

My favorite fine vegan dining experience in New York City? The Natural Gourmet's Friday Night Dinners still takes the vegan cake.

Dine at home for a fraction of the cost. Check out chef Karl Schillinger's recipe for Spaghetti 'Bolognese'. With the chilly nights ahead, have Italian night. Drink some wine if you imbibe, throw on an Italian film and enjoy the La Dolce Vita-frugal-style!

Check out Alicia Silverstone's Caesar Salad from The Kind Diet, available at local libraries. I would try this an even simpler recipe for Vegan Caesar Dressing from VegCooking, and top with Trader Joe's chickenless strips or Morningstar Farms Chik'n Strips for an inexpensive and tasty lunch.

Follow Alicia's adventures in The Kind Life. Just in time for Thanksgiving, check out her pumpkin pie recipe.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vegan Pancakes and Cupcakes in the Same Day? Oh My My!

But it was my birthday!

I took the day off from work (which I highly recommend doing if it's an option). Two vegans I met at Cupcakefest told me about the Rutherford Pancake House's sizable vegan menu, and I'm so glad I tried it. Thank you, fellow vegans!

I was secretly hoping for hot cocoa with soy whipped cream to recreate the dairy version I'd have at a diner in pre-vegan days, but their cocoa has dairy. A perfectly wonderful and even better consolation: soy cappuccino, $3.49.

Vegan pancakes, $5.95. So light and fluffy! It left me wondering why all the pancakes aren't vegan. Veganize pancakes at home. Eat in your PJs on a blustery Sunday, and go back to bed. I can't wait for the winter hibernation weekends to get underway.

I shared the pancakes and the vegan Popeye tofu scramble, with spinach, avocado, and mushrooms, and served with home fries, whole grain toast, non-dairy spread and grape jelly, $8.95.

A side of vegan sausages, $2. Crispy and humane.

I also spotted a whole vegan lunch special menu, including soy quesadillas and soy grilled cheese with tomatoes. The owner told me vegans make up 15 percent of his business, which is very impressive since we are far fewer than 15 percent of the population.

Run, don't walk, to the Rutherford Pancake House, 40 Park Ave., Rutherford, NJ. Open daily, 7:00 am to 3:00 pm. Open for dinner Thursday to Saturday after 4 pm.

To take home from the nearby Sweet Avenue Bakeshop: The very best vegan cupcakes. Ever.

What did I want for birthday, my loved ones kept asking? A new robe? No, I have a very comfy one. Scarf and hat? Nope, still like the ones I'm using. Slippers? Have them. A coat? Last year's coat is still warm and still stylish this year.

I like non-materialistic gifts, like a ticket to see my beloved The Swell Season at Radio City Music Hall.

My favorite gift of all: my turkey, Rhonda, which arrived from the Farm Sanctuary!

"Let there be music, let there be light, but please don't make a turkey your holiday delight!" she declares. Have you adopted your turkey yet?