Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Slew of Swell Changes

Four months is far too long to ignore a living entity like this poor blog. If anyone is still out there to read and accept my apology, hurray! I'm sorry for such a long absence!

Since my last post in April, I've eaten my way through several cities including Budapest, Barcelona, and Bakersfield, to name a few, plus San Francisco and the Spanish island of Ibiza to name two more. I've had one vegetarian Paris-themed article published (in UK magazine Vegetarian Living), launched a travel+wellness+beauty lifestyle magazine for vegan-leaning women (Swell! is still in its infancy stage, but you have to start somewhere!), wrote a gluten-free vegan cookbook for Callisto Media, and just had my third book, Vegetarian Paris, published by UK publishing house Vegetarian Guides.

(Would you like a free copy? Yes, you say? Then mosey over here for a chance to win one!)

Change is definitely in the air, but I'm not sure what direction life will take me (or, to be more "in charge" and "proactive" sounding, which direction I will take life). I dream of a mobile lifestyle where I chase the sun and swim daily in the sea, eat healthfully every day and stay stress-free, surrounded by humans and animals I adore. That's a dream in progress! Meaningful work is another part of the life-quest equation, and I sometimes wonder whether all the stars will align in a way that brings deep, unbridled joy--or at least high levels of satisfaction!

Well, while I sort it all out, I'll leave you with a few photos snapped over the last few months. And what about you? What are you doing/eating/reading/thinking/loving right now?

Good eatin' in Budapest at Napfenyes Etterem.

Vegans can sniff these out from kilometers away.

Vintage in Budapest.

Dreams really do come true: The raw vegan cake edition. (@ Mannatural in Budapest)

Last chance at summer! Late August in Ibiza.

See where it says "Travel"? That's my piece!

An early mock-up of my newest book. In the final version, my name isn't so front and center.

Barcelona treats.

Barcelona, looking a lot like San Francisco here (except for those silly trees in the foreground).

Will the real San Francisco please stand up?!

A little vegan oasis in ... Bakersfield!
Goodbye, summer!

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 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.