Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Buy This Book! or My Interview With an Awesome Vegan Author

When I first heard that my former colleague and rockstar writer/editor Elizabeth Castoria landed herself a snazzy book deal, my first thought was “what the hell took so long?!” The girl's got talent by the bucketful, and it just so happens that her specialty sits at the intersection of creative writing, information sharing, and vegan know-how.

Pretty ... freaking awesome! The author gives good face AND good advice.
Elizabeth's melded those above-par skills and packaged them up for inquisitive would-be herbivores in her gorgeous inside-and-out How To Be Vegan (Workman Publishing/Artisan Books, 2014).

Written in her uniquely witty voice, How To Be Vegan answers all the burning questions you and everyone you know might have about living a plant-based  lifestyle, including perennial favorite “where do you get your protein?” It also includes loads of I-need-to-make-this-right-now recipes (developed by prolific vegan powerhouse/culinary genius Robin Robertson), awesome flow charts, and even a Venn diagram or two.

The best way to learn all about Elizabeth's book is to go out and buy it--for yourself, for your friends, your family, your neighbors, and maybe even your cat, if you roll that way. The second best? Read this interview!

Q.So much good stuff in this book! What was your favorite part of the writing process? 

Thank you! It was such a blast to write, and I definitely hope that people have an equally good time reading it. It was really fun to try and think up all the questions that someone who’s new to eating plants might have. It’s been so long (roughly 15 years!) since I made the switch that my lifestyle is a little bit on autopilot. So, getting to rethink all the things that I do to make living this way easy and enjoyable was definitely fun. 

Gorgeous, n'est ce pas? Makes you want to go out + get a copy! 
Q.What piece of advice do you share in this book that you wish someone had shared with you when you were going vegan?

Good question! Like most teenagers, I was a little bit needlessly intense when I first went vegan, and that carried on for a few years. I had pretty inflexible ideas about living this way, and I made some judgements that I wouldn’t make today. There’s a fun little diagram in the book that has two circles like you might see in a Venn diagram labelled “Judgement” and “Your Thoughts” and there’s no overlap between them. Frankly, I wish I’d had this advice (or, more likely, actually listened to it!) when I was younger because judgement of ourselves and others is such a waste of valuable energy. Like, I could have been mastering computer coding with all the time I frittered away worrying about other people’s business.

Q.I swooned over the section on vegan travel destinations. What's your favorite out-of-town escape and what makes it so special?

You were one of the people who inspired that section, you world traveler. I hope to catch up to your country tally someday! As far as the places I have been, I love New Mexico. My dad grew up in Albuquerque, and we used to take family road trips out there every few years when I was a kid. I’ve been enchanted with that land my whole life, and it’s something that just deepens as I get older. Last year I visited Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Truth or Consequences, and White Sands with my sweetie, and it was so lovely to get to share something that’s held such a special place for me with him. And, duh, green chile sauce is the food of the gods.

 Q. I did not know Nutter Butters were vegan and am very upset I haven't been eating these for the last 14 years. What other edible treats might readers be surprised to learn they don't have to relinquish when bidding adieu to dairy and meat?

Nutter Butters are one of the things that I love to treat myself to when I’m flying somewhere because just about every airport in the States has them, and flying makes me nervous, which necessitates treats. I think it’s pretty solid logic. A few other surprisingly vegan goodies (and by “goodies” I definitely mean things that are processed beyond belief and probably aren’t technically food—as in, delicious) include Oreos (even the birthday cake flavor!), Wheat Thins, Cap’n Crunch, and Fritos. Basically, everything at a gas station, minus all the jerky.

Q. You've sold 1,000,000 copies of your book and don't have to worry about working for a while. What does the future look like for the world's luckiest vegan author?

Oooh, I like the way you think! First, trip to Paris during which I’ll beg you to show me all the great places to eat around town, and we will drink all of the Champagne. All of it. Remorselessly. I know it’s a little cliche to say that I’d travel more, but I really would!

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Super-Naturelle Night

I knew it was going to be a good night just as soon as Jenny eased her Smart Car into the impossibly tight space (with one intent onlooker just waiting for bumpers to grind) almost directly in front of Super Naturelle's new headquarters. We were a little late getting to the opening party for this vegan culinary school on a steep Montmartre back street, but there's nothing like a little rock star parking to shift one's perspective and get you amped up for a night of fun.

Jenny from super vegan resto My Kitch'n, about to make her grand entrance.
The Super Naturelle HQ is tucked into a corner of a typical 19th century Parisian courtyard, in a space that was once an painter's atelier. Today, artistry of a different stripe is performed here, and it has to do with one of my favorite subjects: Vegan food. I had no idea what to expect, but knew that I'd be meeting Ona Maiocco, the gorgeous girl behind the Super Naturelle brand. I'd interviewed her by email for Vegetarian Paris, but we hadn't actually met in person, and I was excited at the prospect.

What I definitely hadn't expected was for the soiree to be a who's-who of the vegan Parisian gliteratti. Stepping across the threshold and into the open and airy space, I immediately spotted Amelie Pieron, who hosts amazing pop-up vegan events in Paris and Montreal. (I was lucky enough to attend one of her raw events a couple of years ago.)  Next, I spied Marie LaForet, a blogger and cookbook author who's work I've long admired. Could it get any better? Well, there was Ona herself, more beautiful in person than in her lovely photos--and behind her, Sebastian Kardinal, the dapper dude/creative talent behind the vegan lifestyle blog Kardinal.fr and VG-Zone. Woopwoop!

Sebastian, Elodie, Jenny, and Marie strike a pose.
Ona, in the vivid turquoise scarf, holds court in her palatial digs.
Everyone was friendly, the food was hyper bonne (of course it was!), and the wine was HELLO it was wine so it was obviously splendid. Paris's vegan community needs to come together like this more often. Let's open more plant-based businesses so we have more excuses to make merry!

Isa Chandra was there, too!

Vegan powerhouses/local celebs Amelie Pieron and Ona Maiocco.

This creamy, nutty, chocolately confection was the best thing I'd scarfed down in ages. 

Pretty awesome: Lovely Ona kindly gave me a copy of her nearly-sold-out cookbook. I can't wait to make the Apricot and Lavender Creme biscuits ((swoon)).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chocolate-Covered Gentile Joy

As a kid, I loved those occasional Saturday-night sleepovers at friends’ houses. Besides a night of giggles and girl talk, it often meant going to church on Sunday. For someone raised in a non-religious home, it wasn’t the prospect of a sermon or singing hymns that was so enticing, but the food. 

Whether it was a bland wafer and sip of faux wine or a bountiful post-Sunday school potluck, I loved the combination of ritual, new experience, and something different and edible on my tongue.  Today, the intersection of food and religion still fascinates me—from Buddhism to Islam and beyond. That's why, when researching a short piece I wrote for Vegetarian Times on Passover foods, I was excited to stumble upon this accidentally vegan treat:

As part of the investigative reporting process, I felt it was important to make a thorough examination and ensure they were, as you might say, "kosher" for vegans. They were. Definitely no dairy, eggs, or anything weird lurking inside, and they tasted pretty good, too. They're simply matzo crackers--which are essentially flour and water--coated (very thinly) in chocolate. If it's been a while since you've had, say, a Twix bar or some other mainstream candy thing with a crunchy component, you might be able to imagine that you're munching on that while you're munching on these.

Passover's not over yet, and I found these at my local supermarket. You might be able to find them at yours, too!

p.s. The box promises to deliver "real chocolate." Is there any other kind? Please say no.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Chez le Dentiste

I went to the dentist today. Care to hazard a guess on what this uninsured girl paid for an office visit and a cavity filling?

81 euro.

I'm kind of OK with that price.

What does it cost where you are for a visit to the dentist?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Teetotally Surprised

This isn't exactly related to Paris or veganism, but the last 31 days of not drinking have certainly been an adventure.

I embarked on this intentional dry spell for a few reasons, beginning with willpower. Do I possess any? I've been able to dig in and move past some other toughies over the years--a wicked nicotine addiction lasting more than a decade being the biggie. But--as anyone who knows me well will attest--I LOVE drinking. More specifically, I love the taste of a good red wine (or white. or rose. sparkling or not.).

I also adore the relaxing effects that alcohol delivers. Another thing most close friends and family know about me is that I'm an anxiety case. It's gotten better over the years, and I've never had to rely on pharmaceuticals to see me through it--because why should I? I've got booze! Alcohol really worked for me on that level, but deep down, I've always felt there were probably healthier ways to deal with those worrisome feelings.

And finally, I've really been wanting to take control of my health, but just have't been able to lately. I've gained a few pounds (five, to be precise) since moving to France, and it's really eroded my confidence as it relates to body image. And I've also experienced bouts of acne in the last  few years that I suspect are hormonal, but knowing that the liver helps regulate hormones, I wondered if a taxed organ might be impeding my body's ability to heal itself.

The experience was wonderful and weird and interesting. I expected to have wine cravings, but I really didn't. I did end up craving sugar, which is what our bodies convert alcohol into, so that made sense. I ate chocolate for breakfast probably 25 out of the past 31 days. But not before downing a glass of lemon water, followed by another glass of water with a dropperful of milk thistle, a powerful herb that supports liver health.

The hardest part of living "clean and slobber" (as my old friend Chris from my SF/SPCA days would quip) was the social aspect. Attending events where the wine was flowing and not engaging in the liquid experience was so overwhelmingly incongruous to my normal habits that my brain didn't know how to handle it. It sometimes felt like I was having an out of body experience, watching a tray of Champagne flutes float by and saying "non, merci."

Mostly, I said "no" to social engagements--especially parties or gatherings at old watering holes. I just didn't think it would be fun without booze, which got me wondering: Is going to bars and cafes just a big waste of time?

Three weeks in and feeling good!

Unexpectedly, my anxiety actually seemed to decrease without alcohol in the picture. I don't know what that's all about exactly--especially considering I would often drink coffee in those moments when I'd normally order un verre de vin rouge--but I welcomed it. And I didn't have problems sleeping like I thought I might. In fact, I slept really, really well, nearly every night.

On a purely superficial level, the best part about my month-long booze fast is that my skin really looks a lot better. More hydrated. Less acne. Less redness. Just better. And while I can't say for sure, I think I've lost weight. I'm really happy about that.

Another surprise is that I didn't really feel any different, physically. Not really any increased energy or anything like that. I don't know what I was expecting, but it seemed a little strange that besides clearer skin and possible weight loss, there were no real physical effects. I asked Jeff if I seemed any different, personality wise, as a drinker vs. non-drinker, and he said no. OK. Interesting!

Today is Chinese New Year. I'm having friends over for dinner and I may or may not have a drink. I love the thought of moderation, of not being dependent on anyone or any thing, and also of letting go of things that don't serve me well. I hope that it's not a slippery slope, and that an evening of social drinking won't "undo" the nice changes that have transpired in the last month. It's the year of the horse, and in the spirit of holiday, I'm charging forward at a good gallop, bringing good habits with me into the new year.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cafe Pinson 2 Takes Flight

Press night at Cafe Pinson 2, from the outside looking in

Pinson means "finch" en francais, so when I say another organic, plant-based restaurant has gotten its wings, I almost mean it literally. Cafe Pinson 1 opened just about a year ago in the Northern Marais and was successful enough that the team behind the 99-percent vegan cafe invested in a second location.

The ardoise

The new spot--which oozes a more rustic and homey vibe that its predecessor--sits on rue du Faubourg Poissoniere in an area fast becoming a vegan vortex; within a five-block radius, there are roughly six veg(etari)an dining spots to choose from, offering everything from meatless burgers to organic raw food

On a dark and damp Wednesday night, I set out to meet up with good friend Terresa from La Cucina di Terresa for the cafe's inaugural press event. Terresa was already engaged in friendly banter with co-owner Damian when I arrived, but soon we were ensconsed on a comfy settee where we sipped, nibbled, and schmoozed our way to a better understanding of the Cafe Pinson experience.

The best chef in Paris, Terresa Murphy, lifts un verre of bio bubbly

The crudite tray, wtih curried dipping sauce

More crudite. When are those sweet potato dumplings coming around?!

Little verrines of creamy vegetable soup were also passed round.

I spotted--and resisted temptation to dig into--a jar of pickled asparagus on a shelf.

Natural wines are an exciting addition to the menu, which also includes such tempting delicacies as beet and parsnip veloute; potato and spinach cakes with kale pesto; pumpkin-mushroom risotto; and lemon tiramisu. Detox juices and retox swills (hello, coffee!) are also on tap.

Cafe Pinson co-founder Agathe giving Parisian "smile."

The DJ was almost upstaged by the vegetable platter.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cool Cuisine

The rumblings began months and months ago: A new raw-food restaurant was due to launch at any moment in a Rive Droite neighborhood fast becoming Paris's new vegan epicenter. There was even a website to support the titillating notion, and a Facebook page, too. So why, then, won't anyone confirm an opening date, or respond to multiple emails begging for an address?

The two-course lunch special sets you back 14 euros
My reason for making repeated contact were more than personal; my next book, Vegetarian Paris, is about to go to press, and I really wanted to include this newcomer, especially considering that raw is a rarity in this city. (Pousse Pousse, a delightful little spot just a few blocks away, has been the only restaurant cru up until now.) I was stoked to hear it opened on December 21, while I was away in San Francisco. I couldn't wait to get back and see what it was all about.

We arrived 1ish on Friday, and were excited to see that we weren't the only folks hungry for something fresh. Settling into our table, I looked to my right and there sat Amelie Pieron, whom I'd met at a pop-up raw-food brunch she hosted in the 17e last year. (She has one last spot available at a pop-up dinner she's hosting on January 8. Get in touch if you want to try her amazing raw cuisine.) I was beginning to like this place already!

The menu at 42 Degres is eclectic, featuring pizzas, maki, soups, burgers, and desserts. Cashews are an integral component of many dishes, but they also make use of novel ingredients, such as parsnips, to replicate the look and texture of rice in their sushi rolls. The a la carte menu ranges from 7-9 euros for entrees and desserts and 11-14 euros for plats. The two-course daily lunch formule costs 14 euro; at night, you get three courses for 27 euro. The drinks menu features bottled organic juices, natural wines, kombucha, and not-very-raw coffee.

The beet "millefeuille" with cashew cream.

One waitperson serviced a busy lunch crowd and did it well.

Our waitperson was efficient but didn't exude a particularly welcoming vibe, but that was OK. The ambiance and our own anticipation made up for it.

The food, when it arrived, was devoured in approximately 5 minutes, and not because we're gluttons; the portions were small. (With the exception of the rather grand-looking bowl of vegetable "noodles" delivered to several other tables, which made us wish we'd ordered that instead.)  My dining partner found his a la carte portobello burger trop salee, though he managed to consume it in its diminutive entirety without further complaint.

I went for the two-course special, which promised a betterave millefeuille avec creme de cajou, and that's exactly what arrived, together with a tasty salad dusted with nut crumbs. I just wish it had been several sizes larger. When we joked about heading around the corner to VG Burger for lunch #2, neither of us was completely sure if the other was serious or not.

Dessert--a lemon tart with a nutty crust--was tasty and different from other raw desserts I've enjoyed, and not just because it was served warm. The filling had the consistency of a pudding, and seemed very "un-raw"--so much so that I asked if it was made, by chance, with soy. I was assured it was made with cashews, and that no soy is used in the restaurant. (I should have known better.)

The portobello "burger" with kale "chips."

The tarte au citron, which arrived at the table in a very un-raw warm state.

My verdict? Good but not great. Like many raw restaurants, it suffers from the less-is-more-money syndrome, and there are still a few kinks (like over-salted dishes) that need to be worked out in the kitchen. But generally, the food is tasty and I'm excited they're here to give visiting vegans and locals alike more varied dining possibilities.