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.