Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Lone Veg Presence in a Sea of French Chefs

French class is about to start after a nearly three month break (a lifetime when trying to study a language when you have a full time job and many other hobbies). In any event, all things French are on my mind: food, music, film and so on.

Flashback to a black tie French dinner I attend every year with my boyfriend, who is a chef with a fine French dining background. Last year's event was at the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park. This is a far cry from our usual weekend nights of a pizza or bowl of pasta and a DVD from the library.

Whether eating vegetarian or vegan, I'm never impressed with what the kitchen comes up with at these types of functions just because it is so uninspired. I can almost predict the green salad, steamed vegetables and sorbet I'll get before I even sit down.

On the menu:
Poached White Asparagus
Herb Mousseline and Petite Salad
Vegan: The same, without the mousseline. Needed a drizzle of olive oil. Photo too fuzzy/dark: project four white asparagus with a small salad.

Butter Poached Lobster
Fava Beans, Sweet Breads, and Lobster Tarragon Sauce
Vegan: Green Salad. I hate to say I told you so.

Braised Short Rib
Polenta, Fiddlehead Ferns, Artichokes, Baby Carrots and Zinfandel Sauce
Vegan: Fiddlehead Ferns, Artichokes, Baby Carrots. Expected.

A cheese course is typical after the entree in many French meals. Tête de Moine (a Swiss varietal), Quince Puree and Port Wine Reduction arrived. A fresh fruit platter usually comes here. I didn't have any cheese that night, but I will be honest: I don't have the willpower I did initially turning down cheese in communal situations.

Molten Chocolate Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream
Vegan: Sorbet, mango and grapefruit.

Petits Fours ended the meal. I couldn't resist a dark chocolate.

I'm used to being the only one eating vegan or vegetarian in such situations. I don't think my food made anyone's mouth water.

They didn't have my favorite French cocktail, kir royale, which is champagne with crème de cassis (a blackcurrant liqueur). But I did dance cheek to cheek with my sweetheart to La Vie en Rose (an Edith Piaf classic) in my vintage 1950's black dress from the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop, which was marked down to $7 due to barely noticeable discoloration on the bottom. Add to that my $4 heels from C.A.T.S, which just needed a quick $10 repair at my local cobbler, and off-white gloves from a now closed vintage shop. It was definitely a French-themed night at the Ritz: Vegan Good Life-style.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Goodbye, Hello: A Thrift Story

Goodbye Viktor & Rolf dress from H&M, never worn, $100 with the tags still affixed. I'm sorry I kept you for so long (a few years). I liked the idea of you (vintage-inspired), but didn't like your fabric and felt uncomfortable when I put you on. Too clingy. I saw you advertised in a glossy fashion magazine (Marie Claire to be exact) before I knew better and was wrongly seduced.

I hope someone else loves you can't wait to wear you. I donated you to the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop, and hope your proceeds can buy some cat food or pay for part of a vet bill. Actually, I should thank you. You were one of many valuable lessons to not "treat myself" to any more high priced fashions.

Hello, $5 GAP jeans! Online or in the store, you sell for $70. These are from the C.A.T.S. shop. With the seasons soon to change, you can find even greater bargains at thrift shops who are turning over winter items to spring. Many items at C.A.T.S. were just $1 last week.

This is my kind off "green fashion." More green in the wallet, more green for the charitable shop, more green for the planet (keeping things out of landfills and not producing new items).

One of the residents of C.A.T.S. up for adoption.

Do you have a fashion mistake lingering in your closet? Say goodbye. It's liberating. Give it away to a friend or relative, a charity shop or sell it on eBay, through a garage sale, or your local resale shop.

Find a charitable shop near you through TheThriftShopper.

I love that Oprah Winfrey is cleaning out her closet to shed unused items, and provided a list of where to donate everything from bridesmaids dress to eyeglasses and more.

I didn't love that her creative director on her show followed it up by telling women what they "must have." Among them: "spicy colors" (saffron and paprika: those are usually much more expensive than yellow and orange); a glitzy top; a fitted jacket; a printed jersey dress and a utility jacket. Even Oprah and her audience seemed skeptical about the printed jersey dress. Is there some secret meeting in Paris or Milan every year where fashion czars decide what the "must have's" are?

The fashion industry lives and breathes on getting women to no longer desire what they have and covet something they're told to like. I loathe the words "must have" and "on trend." I encourage all women and men to develop and embrace their own sense of style.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Can't Believe It's Vegan: Chocolate Cake Edition

It was hard to top the vegan lemon blueberry cake, but co-worker extraordinaire Kathy outdid herself with this vegan Mexican chocolate cake from RecipeZaar at our Tuesday tea breaks.

After most of the day in my cramped cubicle (doesn't working in New York City sound glamorous?), a cup of tea (I went for Tazo's Awake this time) and a slice of cake lifted the spirits.

Non-vegan crumb cake was also offered. Veganize it with help from VeganYumYum.

I cannot imagine my life without something a little sweet. I have no desire to a) be a size 2, b) live to be 110, or c) deprive myself of one of life's greatest pleasures – soul-nourishing food.

I go back to what Michael Pollen said about the French associating chocolate cake with celebration and Americans associating it with guilt. I guess I'm a Frenchie at heart.

Find vegan baking tips at Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, including endless recipe ideas. It often just involves a few swap-outs and's vegan.

Vegan has a stigma. It shouldn't. Eggs from chickens in battery cages don't seem to have a stigma. Those should. Eggs should not cost 99 cents a carton (that's 8.25 cents per egg). Those low prices come at a very high cost to living, sentient beings.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Peace, Love and River Cleanups

For keeping all of this and much, much more out of our waterways...

...someone should throw the Hackensack Riverkeeper a party.

Instead, they threw us one!

Captain Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, giving words of thanks to the crowd at their annual volunteer appreciation party.

The night's theme: Flower Power. The attire: hippie. Easy: all from my own closet. I didn't see this much tie-dye since my weekend in Woodstock. Born in 1975, I missed out on the sixties. If I had a time machine, it would definitely stop there for a while.

The environment was kept in mind. I took a cheerful plastic cloth home to reuse again.

Retro or not, every party should have a punch bowl.

Vegetarian Sloppy Joe's! Make them at home using BOCA ground crumbles, or try recipes using tofu or beans.

I love one-pot meals like this for entertaining. It keeps it simple. I'm often mortified by the amount of food (and food waste) at parties, weddings, etc., and that people spend so much for food many don't even want.

Spinach salad was available, but old school iceberg lettuce seemed like a fitting choice for sloppy joe's.

I always feel like a little kid around cupcakes.

Even the Mississippi mud pie was in the spirit. Veganize it at home.

Love tricky tray auctions. This wine carrier with glasses and cloth napkins would go so well for my summer picnics. Didn't win.

Nor did I win this cute little cloth tote.

The cleanup season kicks off officially on Sunday, April 18, in Overpeck County Park in Leonia. Learn more about river cleanups, and their other eco-programs. I'll be documenting the clean-ups I attend, so you'll be there too.

Monday, February 22, 2010

On This Day in 1732...

George Washington was born.

In celebration, the Bergen County Historical Society held a Country Ball Sunday in River Edge, NJ, complete with music, refreshments, and merriment. The suggested donation: $7 for adults, $5 for children, free for members (individual membership is $20 annually).

While it is important to look forward with a hopeful heart, it is also vital to embrace our history. "There is no death in remembrance," reflects Sarah Carrier Chapman in Kathleen Kent's The Heretic's Daughter.

Music was described as being used to lift melancholy. That is universally true then and now.

What is Anne Enslow (pictured with Ridley Enslow) playing? A limberjack.

Some young historians, with some very modern footwear, were on hand.

The assortment of historical-themed coloring books, $3.95 each, seems like a whimsical way to draw children into history.

A limberjack in the gift shop.

Refreshment time. Cherry pie seemed fitting for this event.

How about a mug of hot cider? Just ask the regal barman.

Decorations in the tavern seating area.

Look out the window and observe modern life. Reflect on what your life would have been like if you lived in Washington's time. Would you want to live in a different time and place than now?

Some very vegan footware: these wooden shoes were worn.

A rare white oak dugout canoe.

You can tour several buildings, but I felt truly transported in time when I stepped into this one: the back kitchen.

Come inside.

Meet the charming cooks.

Think you have a hard time cooking? Try cooking out of this dutch oven.

How does tea and biscuits sound?

The smell of the onion bread was making my mouth water. An apple pie was ready for the oven, and soon would nourish some lucky souls.

Learn more about upcoming events, including a History Cafe on the Lenape New Year and Pinkster Fest, a colonial celebration of spring. Seek out your local historical groups.

Visit to learn more about George Washington. Watch videos on the site if you don't have cable.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

So Excited For...

...spring! We're getting closer.

...the start of my French class in early March. How about a little French food to get in the mood? Doesn't pistou, a Provencal vegetable soup with basil and garlic sauce, sound so good? Here's a vegan recipe. I first read about it in Georgeanne Brennan's A Pig in Provence. I can't make to France, but I can make it to Marseille in New York City. Their version, $7.75, paired with crusty bread is hearty enough for an entire meal.

...the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which is coming to New York City's Symphony Space Monday, March 8 and Tuesday, March 9. Tickets are $21 in advance, $24 at the door. Check out their U.S. dates. I am not an extreme outdoors person by any means - a short hike is as far as I go. But I love to live vicariously through these adventurers. The cinematography is like National Geographic (one of their sponsors) come to life.

...the long-awaited return of one of my favorite singers, Natalie Merchant. I'm over the moon. She describes her upcoming album, Leave Your Sleep (due out in April), as "adaptations of poetry put to music." To me, her solo career and her work with 10,000 Maniacs is just that: poetry put to music.

Check out more performances from her BBC appearance.

Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience, set to the haunting photographs of Arthur Leipzig.

Monday, February 15, 2010

These are a Few of My Favorite Things...

I cherish my weekends. Work e-mails are done when I leave at 5 on Fridays. All can wait until Monday morning. This is my time.

How did I fill my Valentine's weekend? With all of my favorite things...most free or frugal-minded.

Free: a film from the library. A romantic comedy seemed fitting for this weekend.

Free: library books. I had a "blind date" with a book, a fun program at my library where you take a gift-wrapped book home. Don't like your date? Return it next time, no hard feelings.

My date, which came with a lollipop. I'll give my date a chance.

Frugal: splitting a dish. I split vegan pancakes with warm cinnamon-scented pears, $7.99, with my mom at the Rutherford Pancake House. Of course most frugal is eating at home.

Frugal: thrifting. I went to the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop, whose windows were adorned with hearts ($1 each), in honor of past and present companion animals who so fill our own hearts with love and happiness.

Free: cat socializing at the shop. I spent some quality time with my friend Dottie...

...and found Sylvester sneaking in one of my own favorite (and free) weekend pastimes: a nap.

Free: going to the park with the dog. I wondered if I was too old to go sledding?

Free: making a snow man. How about a baby one? I'm just the humble photographer, not the artist.

Frugal: not doing major gifts or eating at expensive places on Valentine's Day. "I love you" doesn't mean fancy jewelry, clutter gifts, gadgets or flowers for me and my sweetheart. We indulged in the sweetheart box from Sweet Avenue Bake Shop, four cupcakes, $16.

All yummy, and all vegan: Elysium Wine (chocolate wine cake) with blackberry frosting, spicy hot chocolate, red velvet cake, and pomegranate champagne. My non-vegan boyfriend loved them all, as did I.

Hope your Valentine's Day weekend was filled with people, animals, places and things you love and cherish. All days should be.