Friday, July 15, 2011

Greetings from Nashville, Tennessee

Where yesterday, someone actually said goodbye to us with, "Y'all come back, now!" It has happened several times since, and continues to be disarming and lovely.

At the risk of sounding patronizing (those Southerners are just so fascinating!), I am completely charmed by the hospitality and friendliness of the South. I adore it. And it's home to The Wild Cow, a vegetarian restaurant serving everything from veggie burgers to fresh-daily vegan pastries.

We start with the Vegan Queso, served with tortilla chips and house made salsa filled with fresh vegetables (carrots? they really worked here). Also popular is the hummus plate, but given the choice of spicy, oil-swirled vegan cheese and everyday hummus, I choose the former every time.

The Philly Cheesesteak is a house favorite, and I order mine served with Spicy Kale, perfectly cooked kale with chili flakes and peanuts. The sandwich is piled high with seitan and peppers, and topped with vegan cheese sauce. Unless you specifically request dairy cheese, everything at the Wild Cow is vegan. This is a trend in several otherwise-vegan restaurants, like Doomie's in Los Angeles, and it's hard to imagine that dropping the dairy would make these restaurants any less popular.

The daily special is Bahn Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich served on a French roll, garnished with fresh vegetables. This one is excellent, filled with perfectly-seasoned seitan and topped with a radish-pear relish, cucumbers, cilantro, and vegan sour cream. There's Vietnamese Noodle Salad on the side, and it complements the sandwich without any redundancy in the ingredients. Would it be wrong to cofess that my eight-month-old, who up to this point I have carefully shielded from all things wheat and peanuts, loved this dish containing both with such reckless joy that I let him eat the better portion of it? So good.

We order a glass of the house hard cider, Wandering Aengus, and it is dry and not too fruity.

And desserts, baked daily by Karina and ViVi. The front counter is piled with cakes, pastries, and raw cheesecakes, displayed like a Southern bakeshop. We order a slice of Fuzzy Navel, spongy chocolate cake with peach filling and orange-tinged icing. We also order a Sweet Potato Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting. And a doughnut. (But it's made with flaxseed and tastes very healthy, so I'm not too concerned about that last one.)

My plan for Nashville was to simply eat loads of fruit, purchased from local farmer's markets. I'm happily doing that today (local peaches! tomatoes!), but I'm so glad we didn't miss The Mad Cow. It's vegan (well, almost) done right: fresh, unfussy, and tasty.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Vegan Community

Me and the lovely Colleen Patrick Goudreau at VegFest. (Apologies for the graininess; the company was much better than the photo quality!)

Last week, my daughter randomly looked up at me and exclaimed, "Mama, no one else is vegan."

It caught me by surprise, and I stammered that sure, there were lots of vegans out there. But of course, "out there" seems very far when you're small, and this three-year-old hasn't seen much of the world. Besides, sometimes adults feel like "no one else..." too.

When we do something different, it's easy to believe we're the only ones. That's the nature of being different.

I recently attended VegFest Colorado, and was reminded how vital community is. When we do something different--being vegan, for example--the support and encouragement of others make it possible. This support can take many forms. I'm thinking specifically of three kinds:

Those who inspire us
I am not easily starstruck. I've worked on television sets, passed celebrities on the street, been to award ceremonies and around movie premieres...not a big deal. Last month, I sat on a park bench next to Gavin Rossdale and his son Kingston while paparazzi swarmed nearby. It didn't phase me.

But last week, when I decided to approach Colleen Patrick-Goudreau , I tripped over words, began to sweat profusely, and dissolved into a total fangirl! (Of course, she was engaging and gracious, as I knew she would be. Still, sweating!) My response surprised me, but I realized that Colleen is someone I have incredible respect and admiration for, an example of what's possible when we commit our gifts to the values we hold. Definitely worthy of a bit of fangirling!

It is vital that we connect with those who have accomplished those significant things, reached the places we'd like to someday go. The show Whale Wars chronicles the work of Sea Shepherd's campaigns to protect ocean animals. It was my daughter's first exposure to direct action activism. I remember watching it with her on a hotel room television while she sat, entranced. When she had an opportunity to meet the organization's volunteers, it was a cool experience. She listened to how they only ate vegan food on board, not taking any fish from the sea, and she loved getting a cute tattoo out of it! We all need inspiration from those doing amazing work.

G looks demure, but is a hardcore vegan AR activist at heart.

Mutual peers
At this event, I met a vegan/vegetarian family who attended my church, discovered a vegan supper group just minutes from my home, and chatted with local vegan businesses I didn't know existed. Lately, I had happily been doing it on my own, while a vegan community waited just outside my door. Years ago, I co-founded Denver's
Brunch Revolution. Now, I'm inspired by Chomp, the local vegan supper club. In a few weeks, I'm attending a vegan dinner and connecting with some other vegan parents. I've joined several meetups. Easy community.

Maybe you don't have other vegans in your city, or friends who share your passion for activism. But if you're reading this, you probably know there's an amazing vegan blogging community to connect you to culinary, artistic, or activist vegan pursuits. Use it!

Those who we inspire
When I put together Vegan for Lent: A Guide to 40 Days of Plant-Based Eating, my hope was to enable people to observe Lent by abstaining from animal products. I was so happy to learn that many who used the guide are now moving toward plant-based diets. I'm glad I created something useful, something that played a part in people becoming more compassionate, more mindful, and more vibrant.

Of course, we don't have to do "big" things like writing books or producing vegan documentaries to inspire others. You can host a vegan potluck at your apartment, research vegan nutrition for a friend, or show someone the basics of leafletting. And some of the most effective vegans are culinary activists who bring baked goods to work and share recipes. All of these things encourage those wanting to live kinder, healthier lives.

So who inspires you? Who are your peers? Who do you inspire? And have you discovered vegan community you love? We all need it.

The budding activist, Z displays his first tattoo.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Raspberry Mango Smoothie

I am a gulper. I gulp. Chasing a toddler and newly-crawling baby, cats underfoot, smoothie in hand, dancing to some iteration of not-quite-kids'-music: Peter Franti or Jack Johnson or They Might Be Giants (which, really, might as well be kids' music), that breakfast smoothie is the last thing on my mind, and so I gulp it.

This, I am told, is the absolute wrong way to drink a smoothie. The right way involves "chewing" the liquid, so that it comes into contact with saliva and allows your mouth's enzymes to begin the digestive process before it enters the stomach. When done correctly, it is supposed to get warm in your mouth. (Am I the only one who cringes at the idea of warm smoothie?)

Whether due to preoccupation or an aversion to mouth-temperature smoothies, I am decidedly bad at this. But here's the solution: chewable bits, stirred or blended in at the end. These force you to savor smoothies, and can be soaked chia seeds, dried goji berries, semi-blended dates, even raisins. This time of year, I prefer fresh raspberries, which are abundant, and so delicious paired with the muskiness of mango.

Raspberry Mango Smoothie
1 large serving

1 cup frozen mango chunks
1 fresh peach, pitted, skin on (bananas, apricots, or additional mango also works here)
1 cup almond milk, fresh orange juice, or water
juice of 1 lime
dash stevia or agave to taste
1 cup ice
generous handful of fresh raspberries

Blend everything except the raspberries until completely smooth, adjusting the sweetness as you like. Toss in raspberries, and briefly pulse until the berries are just broken up, but the individual seeds remain whole (the smoothie should still be peach-colored, not pink).

Drink, hunched over a computer at the office while typing furiously, or running after your twelve children, comforted by the idea that even in chaos, you are properly chewing your smoothies.

Tomorrow I head over to Colorado Vegfest to check out vegan favorites like Colleen Patrick Goudreau and Howard Lyman. Can't wait. Also, I'm still putting together a quick demo on cake decorating. I shot it weeks ago, but in the excitement of summer, haven't edited it yet. Soon. Until then, enjoy your smoothies!