Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Now? Make That Never

At 5 a.m. this Friday, I was not to be found at any department store. I was sleeping "like a baby, endlessly rocking, gone from this world of cares," as Keith Donohue eloquently stated in his novel Angels of Destruction. I was not online after eating apple crisp Thanksgiving Day looking for deals on electronics, jewelry or apparel. An NBC News piece showed how you can take your over-priced gadget to the store and shop for even higher priced gadgets to get the best "deal." Even amid the Great Recession, upgrading from what we already have seems to be a national obsession.

Was Lucy on A Charlie Brown Christmas right - is Christmas run by a big Eastern syndicate?

Instead of running around a mall, I'm supporting the economy by....

Patronizing main street, independent restaurants, like Chapala Grill, in Bergenfield, New Jersey, which I picked to try for a belated birthday dinner my friend treated me to.

Feasting on vegetarian fajitas, $11.95, and a pineapple margarita, $6. We also took advantage of a 15% off coupon for the food items in the mail.

Giving business to the town cinema (this one in Westwood, New Jersey), which supplies jobs to local youths. In good times and bad, movies make a fun escape for all ages. Harry Potter: loved!

Donating to and shopping at charitable thrift shops (find one through While dropping off donations at a thrift shop of Housing Works, which helps homeless HIV-positive New Yorkers access medical services, housing, and employment, I picked up a brand new copy of Little House on the Prairie, a 6-disk season 1, for $18. I'll pass this on to a relative who so cherishes this show (as do I), not as a Christmas gift, but simply, "I saw this and thought of you at once gift."

Supporting animal friendly establishments, like New York City's all-vegan Blossom Cafe, where I dined after the Macy's Parade balloon inflation viewing.

Their seitan marsala: sautéed kale, roasted fennel, Yukon gold mash, mushrooms, and pan sauce, $21. A humane version of a dish more associated with chicken or veal. I shared the dish to off-set the high (for me) price of the entree.

I also shared their chocolate cake, $6: always a winner.

Supporting local food drives, like the one at my church. Find a local food bank through Feeding America. In Northern New Jersey, donate to the Center for Food Action.

Buying a charitable gift for a child in need. My church has an "Operation Santa Claus" program where you can purchase a gift (two gift suggestions are offered). I will be hitting Target to pick up the gift card that was requested - but to me, this is what holiday shopping is about - charity and children.

I also plan on attending a Colonial Christmas concert at the Bergen County Historical Society; purchasing Sting's If on a Winter's Night cd at an independent, main street record shop; having a tea party to celebrate the winter solistice, and will mail checks to any of my favorite charitites I haven't yet given to this year.

Depriving the economy by not shopping till I drop at the mall? I don't think so.

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

My first repeat post on this blog, but a message that feels as relevant for our times as ever, and worth revisiting on Black Friday. Here it is.

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 today.

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.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! was at the Bergen County Historical Society's New Bridge Landing, recreating what the first Thanksgiving might have been like. Read more. I'll pass on the venison and goose, but sign me up for the stewed pumpkin and corn grits.

While not appealing for those of us who shun meat, the video does interest me as a history lover, and gives you perspective the labor that went into food preparation. Think how much we rely on convenience foods, and of the long list of labels with ingredients we cannot even pronounce. I also reflect on how animals used for food may have led a more natural life, while today's food animals are full of growth hormones, antibiotics, and live in completely unnatural conditions.

On a more light-hearted note, I leave you with some snapshots from the Macy's Parade balloon inflation viewing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Very Gentle Thanksgiving

This Sunday past, I gathered with 55 individuals - some vegan, some vegetarian, even some meat-eaters like my mom and sweetheart who shared in a cruelty-free feast for the third annual Gentle Thanksgiving held by God's Creatures Ministry in Wayne, New Jersey.

To start: Trader Joe's white bean hummus and garlic hummus, with mini pita bread and chips. Check out their vegan list of offerings. My vegan TJ staples are tofu for eggless scrambles; soy creamer for coffee/tea; and almond milk for cereal. Also heart their vegan apple strudel and meatless meatballs (great for spaghetti or in sub sandwiches). To name just a few.

Trader Joe's pumpkin bread and cranberry sauce. I've veganized this mix at home using Ener-G egg replacer.

Tofurkey and the works: green beans, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and a biscuit.

Joe Dwyer, author of Shelby's Grace, was on hand. Shelby, found chained in a gas station, scared and hungry, now works as a therapy dog, and is a glowing example of how animals can forgive even after suffering the most egregious cruelty.

I coveted, but did not go home, with any of the fine raffle prizes. Love cozy pasta nights at home.

I could so picture this green candle and cheerful holly plant on my coffee table.

Sweet potato soup for frugal office lunches, apple crisp mix, cranberry trail mix, couscous: it's as if the person creating this basket thought of me personally!

Sweet ending: apple crisp and pumpkin pie.

My turkey that my family sponsored from Farm Sanctuary as a birthday gift arrived in the mail. Daphne was seized in a neglect and cruelty case this year, and lives at their Watkins Glen, New York shelter.

Said it before, will say it again: stand proud if you are shunning turkey this year, even if you are the only one at your table doing so (which is usually the case for me). I don't feel the least bit deprived I'm not doing something millions of others are doing just because that's what "they" say we should.

That said, educate, but be accepting of others choices. Someone at the dinner said he walked out of a Thanksgiving dinner and is no longer friends with the hosts because they didn't 'get it' about turkey. This gives vegans and vegetarians a bad reputation. Isolation is no way to foster a world of compassion. A veg lifestyle will simply not be everyone's choice - but reducing animal consumption through non-dairy; meat-free; and eggless alternatives is something realistically all can strive for to some level. If people can go veg, even better. Food for thought as we strive toward our goal of reduced animal suffering.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Love Letter to Fall

Why is the world in such a rush to get to Christmas? Can't we just savor each season without retailers demanding we get ready (read: shop) for the next? Frosty and Rudolph, you'll have to wait your turn. I'm still busy savoring the delights of Fall.

At the farmers market Thursdays at New York City's Port Authority, these vegan orange cranberry muffins from Prospect Hill Orchards are available year-round, but it feels so right to eat them on a crisp autumn morning. Vegan, sugar-free blueberry muffins are also available.

Also at the farmers market, homemade soups from Katchkie Farm, $4. Fall welcomed the arrival of their butternut squash soup.

At Abram Demaree Homestead in Closter, New Jersey, enjoying a baked apple, $2, on their pumpkin-dotted patio.

Staying cozy warm on their patio with the fire burning.

Seating for the younger farm-goers.

Cranberries in my stomach, cranberry-painted trees.

"Nature is the best painter," my mother declared as we were driving to a local farm. I couldn't agree more, and thought of this orange hued tree in Pascack Brook Park, which like a peacock, only sprouted its delights for the world for a short while.

Magical walkways in Van Saun Park.

Weather permitting, I hope to attend the balloon viewing of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade on Thanksgiving Eve. Learn more. Flashback to my photos last year.

My favorite: the Smurf balloon! Ah, wasn't the world happier with the Smurfs on Saturday mornings instead of infomercials selling ab machines?

Savor the delights of autumn. They won't be here much longer.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Why? Because it was my birthday! As if I need an excuse!

A dear friend treated me to a birthday eve meal at one of our favorite haunts, New York City's Tea & Sympathy. The mushroom shepherd's pie with peas and carrots, $13.95, and a pot of decaf Earl Grey, $4.50.

A Mrs. Bucket-approved dessert: Victoria sponge cake, $8. Loved the post office tea pot, and thought of Hyacinth's poor postman. She only uses first class stamps, you know!

I always save one vacation day to take my birthday off. Do I want to spend my birthday in my cubicle? No! Instead...

At the Rutherford Pancake House in Rutherford, New Jersey, I shared vegan sliders with a tamarind date sauce, $5.95, and vegan cheese quesadillas with roasted red peppers, spinach and portabella mushrooms and the most sweet potato fries I've seen on one plate! $9.95.

At all-vegan Sweet Avenue Bake Shop, also in Rutherford, a Boston cream cupcake, $3.50. Kind of makes you want to move to Rutherford, doesn't it?

To go: their classic white room cupcake - vanilla cake with vanilla bean frosting, $3. There's something so timeless and comforting about vanilla, isn't there?

Toasting to a California sparkling rose at the The Kitchen in Englewood, New Jersey, which celebrates the cuisine and the era of the 1930s. Love this unique concept, and the BYOB saves a fortune. I don't care if it is organic, I'm not paying $12 for a glass of wine anywhere.

About five complimentary passed appetizers come (they accommodated vegetarian), and I also had a small taste of their daily soup (roasted garlic and cauliflower soup - some of the best soup I've had in recent memory). Then it was time for the entree.

The vegetarian gratin, with butternut squash with faux bacon, caramelized onions and greens, $19. Entrees come with two sides: sweet potatoes with nuts and marshmallows, and collard greens. Classic comfort food, done right.

I know, the apple cranberry crisp is more seasonable, but the caramelized banana napoleon, $8 - just so tempting and delicious.

An aside about how good the food was at The Kitchen - a lively table was next to mine with about a dozen people also there for a birthday celebration. When the food came - silence soon followed. A man at the table declared, "It must be good - the conversation has ceased!" Ever notice how when the food is amazing you zone into your own little world? I also smiled thinking about how food brings us together - yet another reason it is one of life's great pleasures.

Depressed about being another year older? No way. Remember the words in P.S. I Love You expressed by Harry Connick Jr.'s character, "We're so arrogant, aren't we? We're so afraid to age. We do everything we can to prevent it. But we don't realize what a privilege it is to grow old."

I'm privileged to celebrate another birthday, and hope you view your own next birthday and each one after with a happy and grateful heart.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Event Alert: Gentle Thanksgiving Dinner in Wayne, NJ

"Animal cruelty is not an American value. But for the entirety of their short lives, turkeys on industrialized farms know nothing but fear and pain at the hands of humans." - Farm Sanctuary's Thanksgiving's Toll on Turkeys. That's nothing to celebrate, if you ask me, and I will not feel the least bit deprived passing on the turkey again this year.

As I so enjoyed last year, I'll be feasting on Tofurkey instead at God Creatures Ministry's Gentle Thanksgiving celebration on Sunday, November 21st in Wayne, New Jersey. Learn more about this event if you are in the area. Please mail checks for the dinner by November 17th if you plan on attending. Flashback to last year's celebration.

Learn more about Gentle Thanksgiving, and get cruelty-free recipes.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fashion Whys?

* Why do so many people buy (literally and figuratively) into "they" (who are they?) telling us what the "must haves" are this season and we should purchase the latest "trend" (but don't wear it next year, you'll be out of style!) If something is a "must have" perhaps "they" should send us all one - for free.
* Why should we drool over and purchase expensive fashion way beyond our means. No matter how much I love an article of clothing, I'll inevitably tire of it or no longer fit into it and pass it on. How many $100 skirts and tops did I used to buy at Anthropologie, seduced by catalogues of women basking in a French farmhouse or in a field? How I wish I had the cash instead. Those purchases were frivolous looking back, not a "splurge" or "treating myself" - my old way of thinking.
* Similarly, that if a celebrity is wearing something, you should go out and get it too. I hear all the time in the vegan community that an expensive coat or shoes have been worn by vegans such as Emily Deschanel, Alicia Silverstone and Natalie Portman so we should be coveting them. I understand the marketing value in our celebrity obsessed culture, however, I DO NOT have their bank account, nor do the majority of women.
* Why do we think that just because something markets itself as "eco-friendly" it must be. Are "natural" food products all really "natural?" A colleague who works in marketing expressed his view that Americans cannot tie themselves to a social movement (we were talking about the environmental cause) unless consumerism is attached. We definitely want to support companies that reflect our values, but we need to do our homework or it's buyer beware.
For instance, bamboo is still regularly promoted on environmentally minded blogs, but the FTC has issued numerous advisories on it (such as this one).
* Why should people interested incorporating veganism more into their life get rid of perfectly good non-vegan items in their closets that were purchased before becoming interested in animal welfare? I still have non-vegan items in my household I bought years ago, and use them unapologetically. I will even acquire non-vegan items second hand through swaps and thrift. I don't let any activist shame me for my decisions or let them try to micromanage my life.
*Why does the label affixed to the clothing or accessory have such an impact on how we view it? How much of it is psychological? Recall the I Love Lucy story of Lucy, Ethel and those "Jacques Marcel" dresses. While browsing at a consignment shop, two women were shopping and one announced the label of every item of clothing she picked up from the rack. Even once declaring, "Made in Italy!"

One major source of clothing for me now: seasonal clothing swaps I co-organize with two lovely co-workers. Leftovers went to charitable thrift shops, including New York City's Housing Works, and the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop in Weswood, New Jersey.

We provide light refreshments during the lunch hour swaps from wallet and vegan-friendly Trader Joe's. For fall: olive hummus and reduced guilt pita chips; pomegranate sparkling cider and spiced apple cider, maple leaf and snickerdoodle cookies, and apples.

Here are some of my finds.

I recently saw vegan sweaters touted on a popular vegan fashion blog. The cheapest one: $150. My "new" Heather B vegan sweater for fall/winter, free.

A cotton Old Navy skirt. Loved the autumn-inspired leaf pattern, and the whimsical pink trim.

The cheerful polka-dot shoes from Nine West, never worn; a black cotton cardigan, American Eagle Outfitters, and a Janette John 3:16 cotton dress that someone brought back from the last swap since it didn't fit her. I'm wearing the dress in fall with boots, leggings and a cardigan, and will pair it with ballet flats in spring and summer.

Lest you think I'm immune to the label lunacy: I confess this story to be true. This top was put out as a "preview" item early the day of the swap to advertise. No one claimed it before or during the swap, until my coworker who brought it in said, "You should take it, it's from Anthropologie." Suddenly, it was more attractive. I did take it, and have worn it with a long sleeve white Banana Republic swap shirt underneath. It goes perfectly with my Old Navy skirt.

Consider hosting a swap of your own for frugal fun everyone can enjoy in today's economic climate. Swap with friends, co-workers, family members - anyone! Include beauty products, gift items like candles and frames, and accessories so everyone can find something if there's an excess of one size. Donate the leftovers to a charitable shop (find one through

This female blogger's "in's": financial empowerment, embracing your own sense of style, a closet (and household) filled with only items you truly are using and love, and independent thinking. Out: uniform thinking, living beyond our means, trends and "must have's."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Weekend, With a Visit from our 16th President

My kind of star sighting: the honorable President Abraham Lincoln and his lovely wife Mary Todd Lincoln, at Bergen County Historical Society's Veterans Day weekend festivities.

Imagine the energy our modern world spends on vapid reality stars who are garnering fame to sell books, weight loss drugs, beauty cream - anything. Why bother with them, when history offers such more intriguing figures.

Reflect on the life of a soldier hundreds of years ago, and now. Give quiet thanks for their sacrifice.

Home of the brave. During a speech, it was reminded that if you see a hair of gray with a military cap on, know that in their younger years, they stormed the beaches, they scoured through jungles. Far from all familiar and loved, they fought for freedom. They deserve this time of recognition and gratitude.

To all veterans and to the families who have made such sacrifices, the words you cannot hear enough: thank you.

Now, for a bit of time traveling. Putting on her Sunday's best.

Fresh baked rolls out of the Dutch oven.

Cranberry sauce and potato leek soup on stand-by to nourish hungry volunteers and servicemen and women. Butternut squash and potatoes were nearby. All, making my mouth water.

Apple crisps ready for the oven.

Event goers could enjoy refreshments in the Black Horse Tavern, including slices of apple pie, pumpkin cake and apple cake, and hot mulled cider, $1 each for all.

The sign on the mantelpiece declared, 'Hard Times in Jersey." Indeed.

The garden, thriving in summer, now just a ghost of the season's past.

Wood for winter fires to keep home, body and soul all warm.

Lincoln spoke to the room about how horribly divided we are. Sound familiar?

On my long "to read" list is Bloody Crimes, James L. Swanson's tale of the chase to apprehend Confederate president Jefferson Davis after Lincoln's assassination and the nearly three week funeral that brought Lincoln's body back Springfield. His book "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer" was 'can't put it down' material for me.

Thanks to the Bergen County Historical Society for putting on yet another thought-provoking, introspective event.