Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Greetings from Cupcakefest 2010

Cupcakefest. Noun. A day of music and vegan cupcakes to benefit Passaic Animal Shelter held annually by Sweet Avenue Bake Shop in Rutherford, New Jersey.

Flashback to last year's festivities. Now to this year's:

Donations of food and supplies. Have unwanted bedding and towels? Bring them to your local animal shelter.

For the Animals Sanctuary, located in Blairstown, New Jersey, was on hand.

Wear your love for animals.

Check out Compassion Over Killing's Easy Vegan Recipes. Find everything from an egg-free scramble, French toast and carrot muffins, "chicken" salad sandwiches and Sloppy Joe's, and apple enchiladas and chocolate peanut butter pie.

There were free mini cupcakes outside (chocolate and red velvet). Inside, the shop was more crowded than I'd ever seen it. It was great to see a humane business flourishing.

Modern science has veganized Snickers and Milky Way bars.

Cheers! margarita and piña colada cupcakes, $3.50 each. I sampled both. Two paws up! Heck, four paws up!

Two of my favorite summer flavors, lavender lemon and lemon raspberry, also $3.50 each (prices vary depending on flavor).

How I feel after eating a vegan cupcake from Sweet Avenue Bake Shop.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Support New Jersey Farms

Don't want your local farm stand to be sold and developed into a housing complex, strip mall or yet another CVS Pharmacy (how many does New Jersey need?) Simple: spend some of your dollar there.

I paid a recent visit to Abram Demaree Homestead on Old Hook and Schraalenburgh Roads in Closter, New Jersey. Check out this 2008 profile of the farm from The New York Times, which been a working farm since the 1700s. Let's keep it that way.

You can lunch outside on their quaint patio Tuesdays through Sundays. Vegetarian options include a spinach Swiss cheese quiche, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, chopped salad, and split pea soup - all made on the premises.

The view.

Fresh baked cookies. Ever look at the ingredient list on those grocery store baked goods? Alarming. If you made a rule, 'don't eat it if you can't pronounce all the ingredients' you'd go hungry fast in American supermarkets.

Homemade blueberry pie, $4.95. We bought one of these, and a strawberry rhubarb pie. Yummy à la mode or on its own.

Have strawberries? Try this easy and vegan strawberry pie recipe.

Jersey Girl tomato sauce. Love the vintage pie sign. Pie is the ultimate comfort dessert for me.

Lavender grows on the fields as you drive in. Buy it here.

For organic and local produce, right down the road at Old Hook Farm in Emerson (also featured in the Times), the first corn of the season! I feasted on this corn at a summer solstice supper.

A wonderful selection of organic, homegrown lettuce. So many pay 'convenience' costs of purchasing salads at lunch, but with a little effort, it's so much cheaper to bring your own. Who wants to pay $7 for lettuce and veggies you'll eat while checking e-mail?

When Anton Ego takes his first bite of ratatouille in the film of the same name, he in a flash mentally time travels to a day in his childhood when his mother made the soul-nourishing dish. Upon taking a taste of these New Jersey cherries, my mom and I were instantly transported to a family farmhouse in Switzerland with its cherry trees. Reflect on the food memories you have from your childhood.

Sunflowers from, you guessed it, the beautiful state of New Jersey: $5.99 a bunch.

Find a family farm near you through Local Harvest.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer Clothing Sale: 100 Percent Off

On a preview of an upcoming segment on online shoe retailer Zappos.com on CBS Sunday Morning, the commentator said what's constantly being drilled into all our heads: If Americans want to get the economy going, they're going to have to start shopping. Always, the consumer as the savior, as Alea wisely put. I say enough is enough.

Meanwhile, while walking out of Trader Joe's, I spotted a girl (about 12 I'd guess), carrying a Coach bag. The owner of a consignment shop told me teens come in there and refuse to purchase the copies, insisting they only carry "the real thing." Marketers are getting to females younger and younger, and Sex and the City and other media images don't help matters. Product placement ladies, we don't fall for it.

That said, I went on a shopping spree - for free - at our annual summer clothing swap, which I co-organize with two other women at work.

We offered light refreshments from budget-friendly Trader Joe's: guacamole, pineapple salsa, multi-grain tortilla chips, with strawberry lemonade to wash it down. One co-organizer requested their maple leaf creme cookies. They may seem more fall-like, but people seem to LOVE these year round. Plus, they're vegan!


The above was a fraction of it. We received a lot of fall items so set up a section with colorful posters that said, "Fall Preview," and also had a Sleepwear section. Someone even brought four pairs of new boy short panties (yes, new, with the tags still affixed). Many had quite a laugh, but guess what - they were all taken!

I don't know who can wear these types of heels. While I secretly wish I could sport black heels a la Diane Lane in the film Unfaithful, my feet beg for Sophia Petrillo shoes a la the Golden Girls.

These shoes are a bit more my speed. Cute polka dots. Not my size.

Necklaces, and a brand new satin clutch bag. I returned the black necklace I got at a prior swap (next to the red).

Brand new watch with rotating bands in a case.

A sampling of unwanted beauty products. Over half of these were taken, include new soap and bubble bath from Bath and Body Works, and Burberry and Tommy Girl perfume. Have unwanted lotion? Put it in your office bathroom for communal use after handwashing, which we did with the leftovers.

I'm not a fan of gifting scented lotions, sprays and such to someone unless you know they love that scent. Even then, I once received a pricey Origins set (which my friend knew I liked, but didn't know that I no longer did) and I ended up donating it. I also once got a White Musk Body Shop gift set from a friend - but that was her favorite scent, not mine (I actually wondered if it was a re-gift). I exchanged it for something else. Truth be told, I've received so many unwanted gifts (and I'm sure given many myself), I stopped doing gifts period.

My finds (I'm disclosing brand names as an FYI):

White top with black trim, Old Navy; white sweater, H&M; black beaded skirt, Express; and black sandals, Anne Klein.

Old Navy was advertising these long flowy skirts on television, but mine (brand JJ Club) was free. Green Abercrombie & Fitch top.

An Edme & Esyllte cotton top (about twice the length in the picture) and white cotton Gap cardigan. I also scored a cute beige sweater (not pictured), which will be perfect on the air conditioned bus and office.

Leftovers? To Salvation Army in Chelsea, New York City, C.A.T.S. Resale Shop (to benefit homeless cats and dog), and This-n-That Thrift Shop in Hillsdale, New Jersey, to benefit Shelter Our Sisters.

Okay to acquire second-hand wool, silk, and leather at swaps, thrift shops, eBay or other outlets for used goods? I say yes. Take a look at the 50 cent bin at the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop. The second hand market is flooded with unwanted clothes and shoes. I'd rather acquire a second-hand item, even non-vegan, versus going to the mall and buying something new. I'm now relying on swaps and thrift and consignment shops for my clothing needs.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I Like Lucy's, I Love Outdoor Dining

Perhaps because I'm an apartment dweller with no balcony, and reside in a cramped cubicle for eight hours five days a week that I love al fresco dining so much. Even without those elements, I'd adore it period.

A park bench, a picnic blanket, on my family's patio furniture on the porch, a side walk cafe - all favorites for a meal under the sun or the stars.

Escaping my cubicle temporarily, I paid a first time visit to festive Lucy's Cantina Royale, with its cheerful outdoor seating area. Dining here, my two co-workers and I declared we felt like we were on vacation!

The view: New York City's Madison Square Garden.

A virgin guava margarita, $4. So refreshing on a hot June day.

I love guacamole. I don't love how expensive guacamole seems to be everywhere (especially in Manhattan). Here it was $9. I split the cost of this three ways though.

A vegetarian burrito, filled with Spanish rice, beans, corn, tomato, cilantro, a squeeze of lime and a pinch of happiness, $10. Hold the sour cream and cheese. Note the Lucy's logo stamped on their tortilla.

Good thing I brought a reusable container - I ate half and had the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer's Here, Slow Down, Unplugged

In The Shawshank Redemption, senior citizen Brooks gets out of prison decades after he went in as a young man. He took one look at modern life, and declared the world went and got itself in a big, damn hurry. I think that might be the mantra of today.

Step Away from the Blackberry

One need not look far to see the modern world has an affliction of technology ADD.

"It seems like he can no longer be fully in the moment," Brenda Campbell said of gadget-obsessed husband Cord in a New York Times article, Your Brain on Computers, Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price.

On the first night of a family vacation with their 16-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter at a cottage in Carmel, California, "We didn't go out to dinner. We just sat there on our devices," Brenda bemoaned.

I recall seeing an ad for new Sprint device that allowed users to be working while at a fancy restaurant, or on the beach. The ad tried to reflect the message you would be away from your desk. It left me with what I observe: people are always working.

And it also seems so many cannot put their devices down. While people talking on their cell phone used to be the norm, almost every time I'm savoring a meal at a restaurant, someone nearby is furiously typing away on a device. While enjoying grilled vegetable cheeseless pizza and a cider on the patio of Jersey Boys Grill, a young woman (21 I'd say) was with her parents and she spent half the time texting and e-mailing. Conversation is becoming a lost art. Remember when it took a major storm for families to sit down and converse? Children younger and younger are already hooked on gadgets. The makers of these devices are no doubt thrilled.

According to the Times article, "At home, people consume 12 hours of media a day on average, when an hour spent with, say, the Internet and TV simultaneously counts as two hours. That compares with five hours in 1960, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego."

While my job requires me to be in front of a computer all day at work, I am blissfully unplugged on the weekends. My cell phone is almost always off. I rarely send a text message. I'm not on Facebook (Paul Rudd wisely remarked that if he wasn't friends with you in high school, he does not want to be friends with you now). Amen. And I don't want to project every emotion I'm having at every second. The only tweeting I want to hear? From the birds. I do love my iPod, but would return it in a hearbeat to live in a world before all this plugging in.

Tonight marks the summer solstice. The heat is on, and the body must slow down. Mother nature insists upon it. This summer, unplug unapologetically and unabashedly for hours at a time. Remember the world was once quite functional without cell phones or Blackberries.

Savor the season. Delight in the simple pleasures of a cold glass of lemonade on sultry day. Relish in a mid-afternoon nap on a weekend when it's just too hot to do anything else. Read a library book in the shade. Enjoy a swim at night. Do as Natalie Merchant did in "Where I Go," - go to the river and "ponder over the crazy days of my life. Just sit and watch the river flow." Be fully in the moment.

Happy Summer to all.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Destination Landfill? Not Anymore.

What are New Jerseyans tossing away as of late?

A wooden coat rack, in perfect condition. My rain coat, favorite Irish cap and umbrellas now hang from it.

A gorgeous arm chair, also in perfect condition. I've kept it, and am amassing quite a chair collection. There was also a pillow with it, which I've hand washed and donated.

Books. My sweetheart has an organic garden at work, and was happy to take the gardening book. I've kept the other.

A nice basket, two picture frames, brand new blueberry scented lotion and bath salts, and a still in the packing Winnie the Pooh t-shirt (there was a second identical t-shirt outside the package).

I've kept the basket, and will pass on the other items through donation, swaps or family and friends.

Two stuffed bears, the pink one with the tag from Kmart still on it. I bet a lot of little girls would love both, especially the cheerleader bear. I've donated both to a local charitable thrift shop. They will be snuggled with once again.

Shopping for stuffed animals, or want to donate? Consider a thrift store. To wash these, I use the method my mom uses: put in a pillowcase and wash in the machine.

A stylish top from New York and Co. Now freshly laundered, I've passed this on to a loved one.

Did you know the average American consumer - man, woman and child - consumes about 80 pounds of clothing a year, 85 percent of which ends up in the landfill? Check out this piece on USAgain, which collected 54 million pounds of clothing in one year. Visit USAgain to find a drop box.

The possibilities are endless: freecyle, eBay, garage sales, thrift donations, clothing swaps. The garbage - the easy way out - but not easy on the Earth.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Unwrapping a Birthday Dinner at Salsa y Salsa

Instead of exchanging birthday gifts with my friends, we go out for a festive dinner at a restaurant of the birthday girl's (or boy's) choice. For me, this is so much better than torturing myself over buying a gift who knows if they'll like. And how many times have you received an unwanted gift? I'd quickly lose count. I know many people who get undesired presents who just pass them on or worse, throw them out.

This way we're still stimulating the economy, providing jobs to wait staff, the kitchen crew, suppliers and so on, and not adding to clutter or the landfill. Now, on to the dinner!

For my friend's June birthday, she picked cheerful Salsa y Salsa. Isn't it cute? Love the checked reusable napkins.

Margaritas! Mango lime and cactus pear, $7.50 each (happy hour special, hello New York City prices).

Guacamole, $8.95. I LOVE guacamole. Even the name of it. It just sounds like it's going to be something fun.

Her meal, chili relleno: cornmeal coated poblano chili with three cheeses, roasted tomato salsa, black bean sauce and crema fresca, $11.95.

My friend eats meat, but feasts on vegetarian meals all the time. I think that's terrific. So many can't even imagine one meal without meat.

Mine: watercress salad with mango, avocado, pineapple, toasted pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds with ancho chili, cumin and cayenne pepper) in a lemon-line cilantro dressing, $7.95. I held the manchego cheese.

Her dessert, roasted coconut covered vanilla ice cream in goat milk caramel sauce in sweet sugar tostado, $6.

I may just have to try roasted coconut on some non-dairy ice cream, soon!

I had a dessert too: cinnamon sweet potato flan, $6.

We left with our stomachs full, and our spirits lifted by delicious vegetarian food (no meat missed here), great conversation (including one or two laughing attacks), and were already pondering what we'll have on a future visit.

Flashback to other yummy Salsa y Salsa outings, when I had veggie fajitas, veggie tacos, and sweet fried plantains and black bean and radish tostada salad.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Angels, Devils and Horses

If you are aspiring to follow a vegan lifestyle as much as possible like me, you may have two powerful forces pulling you into opposite directions. Here's me, for instance, in front of a communal cheese tray:

Angel: You should skip it, you'll only feel guilty after. Think about the cows.

Devil: But you love cheese! Mock cheeses are coming along, but you can't recreate a creamy brie or goat cheese. And isn't it better to eat it in communal situations instead of buying it at the store?

Angel: Stay strong! You were 10 pounds thinner when you were strictly following a vegan diet (true.) Remember how much better you thought you looked in your clothes?

Devil: You don't have to be perfect all the time. People aren't looking at you like you are pillar of morality - they are saying, "See, that poor vegan can't eat any of this."

It goes on and on (and in multiple scenarios), but you get the idea. The devil often wins. For all the vegans talking about how joyous it is, and how many videos I've watched online, I remain conflicted. Vegans can quote the UN Report on Livestock's Long Shadow all day long, but who really thinks about climate change when they sit down to eat? Food is emotional. Food is carnal. Food is often impulsive. Intellectual, no.

Now, to those horses. The high horses. Anthony Bourdain once made a snarky remark about vegans taking the joy out of life. I've encountered the vegans that he means. Those vegans, I agree.

For instance, there's a woman commenting on a popular eco-web site who has only given up cheese and made the vegan switch in the past six months, and suddenly, she's calling out celebrity aspiring vegans or vegetarians for not doing enough. Most people become a vegan or vegetarian later in life, but then so often the attitude becomes, "why isn't everyone as perfect as me?"

The lowest of the low to me are the vegans who almost seem to root for failure. Consider some of the comments on this Ecorazzi story about chef Mario Batalli joining the Meatless Mondays movement, rolling out at least two vegetarian entrees on Mondays at all of his 14 restaurants:

A "PR ploy to get free publicity," "a case of greenwashing your business image" and this:

"I would make a bet that those veggie options get almost no takers and after a few weeks they will be dropped from the menu because of poor sales, but when they are drop there won't be any press release and no one will hear anything about it."

So if his entrees don't sell, and vegetarian options at meat-centric businesses fail, the message will be loud and clear to them that there is no demand for vegetarian food. That is bad for animals.

The cynicism is overwhelming at times. Is no small step toward change is a good thing? Only a full fledged conversion, or nothing? There's no A to B to C and so on? It's A to Z?

I've even seen some criticize people's reasons for going vegan (should be for animals, not health) and that if a celebrity says they are vegan, they might not be technically a vegan, because they might not have fully rejected all forms of animal exploitation. Take it a step further: people start saying what Donald Watson, the founder of the Vegan Society who coined the term "vegan" would say about all this. Nothing like speaking for a deceased rights leader.

A web site, Let Them Eat Meat, run by an ex-vegan, interviewed another ex-vegan Jessica Pelkey, who said this of veganism and its comparisons to a religion:

"It's hyper-moralized and the members try to outdo each other. It can extend beyond just diet, clothing and product use into fighting the man however possible: don't wear Nike, don't support Silk Soy, don't feed your dog Iams, don't shop at Safeway, don't don't buy any clothes produced overseas, don't do anything at all ever again."

Sadly, I think a very vocal minority of the vegan community perpetuates this. While I love a good debate, I rarely feel motivated to get into online discussions anymore on vegan-friendly sites, since few people seem genuinely interested in dialogue. If you say anything critical of vegans or their tactics, they will generally start leaving comments disagreeing, ending with them patting themselves on the back for what amazing animals advocates they are. I actually had someone have the nerve to say I am not being a voice for animals if I continue to wear my old smelly leather track sneakers, which I indicated I wear at park cleanups or to walk my family's rescue dog. What happened to a warm, welcoming community?

I avoided even thinking about veganism for two decades of being a vegetarian because I thought it was too restrictive. I used to put half a gallon of milk and eggs in my shopping cart, and consumed a dairy yogurt a day. Now, I put organic almond 'milk' and soy creamer in my cart, bake with Ener-G egg replacer, make tofu scrambles at home instead of scrambled eggs and opt for soy yogurts the majority of the time. But if I hadn't been afraid of the "vegan" label for so long and living up to it, I might have made those changes years ago.

Remember, the emphasis I believe should shift toward "being" a vegan toward trying to follow a diet the best you can. Almost no one is going to want to "be" a vegan when they have to say no to everything all the time. As for the perfectionists and the "there's no cheating on veganism ever - that's like cheating on your spouse" or other far-fetched comparisons, I don't let the high horses make me feel like I'm not advocating for animals because of my choices. Perfection is more for reassuring people's egos, not about implementing real change.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Three Dresses: A Thrift Story

While visiting The Family Jewels Vintage Clothing, I was drooling over this 1920s era blue print dress, with its adorable red trim and red buttons on the back. I even admit to going back and considered purchasing on it. The price: $109, less 10 percent off.

I didn't. Party because those cute red buttons would be impossible for me to button by myself. I could just see myself knocking on my neighbor's door asking for help in the morning.

Buttons aside, I passed for another reason. I've bought many $100 dresses in the past. I used to think I was "treating myself," worked hard and deserved nice things. But eventually, I've tired or don't fit into every $100 dress I've purchased. I've donated some to thrift shops, brought others to the clothing swaps. With almost all of them, I experienced regret over the money I spent (especially when adding it all up).

Well, I knew the thrift world would deliver more budget friendly options.

White cotton dress, $8, from Our Thrift Shop in Westwood, New Jersey, which benefits a local arts school. It has the label cut out, so I'm not sure of the brand.

Forever dress, $8, from Revived Attire, a consignment shop in Hillsdale, New Jersey.

Once you catch the thrift bug, it's almost impossible to go back to conventional retail or justify paying high prices in vintage shops or for eco-fashion. The Sierra Club's The Green Life blog had a post about $180 organic jeans. I pay $5 at my local thrift shop for jeans, and think those jeans are just as good, if not a better, choice as a shopper mindful of the environment.

I no longer get seduced by ads showing models in rustic farmhouses or lush fields. I don't buy $500 vegan coats or $200 vegan shoes because Natalie Portman or Emily Deschanel does. I don't listen to female bloggers telling me I should covet these things. I scoff at the term "must have." I don't ask relatives or my sweetheart to spend their hard earned money buying me these things for birthdays or holidays. I don't feel I'm depriving the economy, as I'm still supporting businesses like consignment and thrift shops as well as local charities. Above all, I feel no personal deprivation. I only feel empowered as my bank account and sense of financial security grows.

Find a consignment or thrift shop the ResaleShopping.com, or a charitable thrift store through TheThriftShopper.com.