Sunday, December 9, 2007

Reasons To Love L.A. (Part 2)

Today is rainy and dreary in NYC, so what better time than to recount more of my time in sunny California? So if you recall, not only had we left yummy Native Foods with a full belly, we also had a list of other restaurants to check out.

We decided to sample some Ethiopian cuisine which we love love love. Would we feel the love too for Rahel's on Fairfax in Little Ethiopia? Well, I already love a restaurant that proudly mentions vegan twice on their storefront (just in case you didn't catch it the first time!).

There were so many things to chose from that we ended up with one of the many combination platters. This platter below is for two and what's interesting is that they split up the portions for two- in case you have food sharing/double dipping issues, which was not a problem because I was with Fcat, but I fully appreciated the gesture! What can I say that except that it was extremely tasty and I would be a regular if I lived here, though Fcat & I agreed that we preferred the injera at our NYC place, not that the injera was bad here, we just preferred ours a little thicker & spongier, but I am definitely not complaining. I highly recommend it.

There was another restaurant on the recommended list, but I will get back to that fabulous place in a little bit. Want to interrupt the eats journal with a roadtrip!

Fcat & I decided to take a little 2+ hr drive to Joshua Tree National Park. Let me preface this by saying that I am a full-on city girl. Never did the camping/nature thing- it's always been a beach or European vacation and it's a shame that I have never seen the natural wonders of my own country. I was excited for this trip, but as with most things, I always do the research- in other words, I am that person that reads the instructions/warnings that comes in every box. A bit uptight/worrier? Yes indeed.

Sometimes too much information can create anxiety, which definitely occurred as I read that we had to be sure to have 1 gallon of water per person per car in case the car breaks down and you are stuck in the desert without a soul in sight. I read about all the snakes & tarantulas which I proceeded to think of them as Booboo Tarantulas to quell the know furry & cute like my Booboo, but I know they do not bite unless provoked- unlike my Booboo. Then I wondered about scorpions...yes, this fun nature trip was creating much anxiety. I put on a brave face and reiterated to Fcat that we needed the recommended gallon of water per person per car...he bought only one and ignored me, which was probably best in the case of spending a few hours on the road with a worry wort.

Not long after being on the road, of course I needed a bathroon pit stop. I love Starbuck's dotted all over this Cali landscape- even the tiniest towns with a McDonald's & a gas station had a Starbuck's- hallelujah. This one only had a drive-thru & a pick up window with outdoor dealing. If I can get a clean bathroom and a soy latte on a road trip, I am easily overwhelmed with joy.
I buy 100% wind energy through ConEd Solutions so I was thrilled to see areas dotted with wind turbines.
We had stopped by Whole Foods where I made a lunch for the road. I was certain that there would be no real options for me. My road trip provisions: beet salad, babaghanous/hummus, tabouli salad, wheatberry salad, lentils & broccoli. The two falafel balls are for Fcat because for some strange reason Whole Foods makes falafel balls with egg (boo hiss).

Well, my packed lunch was tasty, but lo and behold there was no need because right at the west entrance of the park was Crossroads Cafe where they offered tempeh reubens & tofu scramble- I had provisions but it was good to know that I had options!

Here we are and slowly the anxiety starts to fade...(the gallon water warning is for summer months I think because it was quite chilly out in the park)

Wishing we had the U2 cd, I belted out my own version of the album...look at the cute Joshua Trees! It was so amazing to be in this strange natural landscape that my anxiety completely faded (well also I realized that since it was winter in the desert, snakes & tarantulas weren't out sunning themselves...). It was truly beautiful.

Me amongst the giant rocks and a raven- black dot to the right.
Majestic vista of the Mojave Desert which Joshua Tree Park is a part of:

Here's Fcat working on a shot towards the end of the was cold & the day had been long but I waited patiently while looking for Big Horn Sheep in their rocky terrain. Spotted none this day. Check out Fcat's shot from that day on his website:

Foreign landscape with a road running through it- was hoping to see a kit fox because they come out at dusk to start hunting, but no such luck.

Strange, abstract desert land- seemingly barren but populated by all forms of wildlife. I would definitely come back.

We started the drive home that wouldn't have been so long had it not been the Sunday after Thanksgiving where traffic began at 10am and lasted into the we wisely detoured off the highway to the Morongo/Cabazon Outlet Malls to take refuge from the traffic. Fortunately for my wallet, we only had 30 mins of shopping time til the stores closed so without much damage and 1 Stella McCartney for Adidas dress later, we ventured to Ruby's Diner, a 1940's styled chain diner.

I was so tired & so thrilled to have a carbonated beverage that I forgot that I don't use straws anymore...

I had a Gardenburger with jalapenos, salsa & avocado & fries. Unfortunately, they put mayo on the bottom portion of the bun, which I promptly just ate the other half because I didn't want to wait...all in all, not bad at all for a quick fix dinner. I was just glad that I was able to get more than a salad & fries. Thus fortified, we had a pleasant/traffic-less ride back to L.A.

And now my absolute favorite place in L.A. that we have discovered thanks to the wonderful recommendations by our waiter at Native Foods (well with the exception of Real Food Daily which we visited my last time in L.A. which was not at all good, though am willing to give it another try)...drumroll please: M Cafe De Chaya on Melrose.

I have heard of macrobiotic diets but wasn't exactly sure what it was, all I knew was that there were vegan options, but I had assumed that all the pasteries & baked goods were omnified. Macro diets are basically vegan without refined sugar and with fish. Hurray! All those baked goodies could be for me...

The cafe is really light & airy and deli style. I picked out an assortment of vegan sushi from behind the counter. Everything was fresh, clean and delicious. I had some different inari: hijiki & edamame stuffed in marinated tofu skin, tofu cake, garden roll and shitake avocado roll.

Look at their pretty desserts:
We had to try a mini chocolate cupcake- the cake was a little crumbly but still good & that chocolate on top was so good.

This berry tart was absolutely stupendous and the custard & crust would have stood up at Payard's (french patisserie in NYC) without anyone perfect.

An ice coffee & soy capuccino to round out our meal- those little packets are maple sugar packets!

We love this place so much - we returned in our last day...Fcat had the breakfast enchilada which was filles with scrambled tofu & tempeh bacon, covered with the most delicious & delicate miso/soy cheese which melted, browned & bubbled like real cheese!

I had the BBQ seitan & coleslaw with a side of kale in peanut sauce. This was my least favorite but it was still good. The seitan was a bit too think for me or maybe it needed to be heated a little more...the kale was so simple & so tasty.

Way too stuffed for dessert and you saw those great desserts so you know if there was any room possible to squeeze dessert in, I would have. I love this place! Macro places are perfect for vegan/omni couples because Fcat can have fish here and it doesn't seem like we are going to yet another vegan place. M Cafe, please come to NYC?

Well there were so many other resturants I wanted to try, but will have to save it for another trip...might be back for a shoot in February (yay!). Of course NYC has so many vegan places that I haven't even been to every one of them, I just got carried away by the newness of L.A. and it's vegan paradise and well the sunshine & blue sky...but the traffic did get pretty annoying and the fact that you have to drive everywhere which I do not. I will continue my love affair with L.A. but am definitely not ready to commit.

Look they have jade plants that are so happy from all the sunshine that they flower here. My jade plants have never flowered!
Can't wait to return next year!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Reasons To Love L.A. (Part 1)

Being a native New Yorker with my born & bred East Coast bias, I had never really been intrigued by L.A. or California but boy have things changed since becoming vegan...

California is the closest thing to vegan paradise that I have ever experienced. They speak my language there, well- even if they don't speak my language at least they are familiar with the term "vegan". My last visit involved a crazy hectic shooting schedule, I never realized that L.A. and the surrounding area was chock full of vegan/vegetarian eateries but this trip was a true epiphany. Fcat and I mused about how we might consider living in L.A.: steps to the beach, sunshine, blue sky a plethora of restaurants that cater to omnis & their vegan partners- sounds pretty perfect to me...

Let's get this show and tell (part 1- splitting this up so as not to bore or overwhelm with my usual mega posts) started:

Fcat has a friend with a West Hollywood bungalow that he only occasionally stays at- so we had this lovely home to ourselves:

It was so amazing to wake up and step out into the sunshine:

No morning was complete without a quick drive to Fairfax for breakfast at Swingers- a hip, retro 22hrs (6am-4am) diner with vegan options:

This was the only thing I ordered, over and over and over again because it was that good- the tofu chilaquiles which is tofu, black beans, corn, salsa in a mole type sauce served with blue corn chips. It was so tasty.

Love how the menu even differentiates bet vegetarian and vegan dishes- thumbs up for vegans!

For Thanksgiving, Fcat was willing to make the 40minute drive down to Costa Mesa so that I could have a vegan Thanksgiving meal at Native Foods. There was a Native Foods closer to us in L.A., but the Costa Mesa one was open for Thanksgiving! I was so excited...

The atmosphere was warm and lively for the Thanksgiving buffet.

The circular shape of the restaurant was unique and already an existing structure when the restaurant took the space.

Fcat and I came ready to feast and feast we did! I am that girl who loads a little bit of everything onto one plate at a buffet. This was the menu:
  • Native Wellington with Mushroom Shallot Gravy
  • Willy's Wheatberry Waldorf Salad
  • Gorgeous Green Salad with Maple Glazed Pecans and Pomegranate Pearls
  • Polenta Terrine with Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Seed Pesto
  • Garlic Roasted Mashed Potatoes
  • Seared Green Beans with Browned Panko
  • Native Stuffing
  • Fred's Fabulous Cornbread
  • Cranberry Orange Relish
  • Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Crem
  • Sam's Cheesecake with Blueberries
  • Apple Cranberry Cobbler with Vanilla Creme
  • Native Iced Tea, Coffee

Our meal was absolute yum. Everything was so delicious. Fcat loved it! (He loved it so much that he was wishing for it the next day.)We were stuffed, but there's always room for dessert albeit after a bit of a break where we just sat and chatted with the lovely staff- I mean really just great people. Our waiter was so sweet- he wrote down a bunch of restaurants for us to check out in L.A., several fortuitously close to our place.

The real highlight of our meal? Chatting with Chef Tanya Petrovna. She was so warm and vibrant and a great storyteller. She was amazing and her food was amazing. We could have talked to her for hours and we almost did- you know when you go to say goodbye to everyone at a party and end up talking for another hour before you get out that door- that's the vibe at Native Foods. Can't wait for the day when Native Foods comes to NYC, hopefully someday very very soon!!

It was truly wonderful to celebrate Thanksgiving in a place where we were able to joyfully celebrate the holiday where no animals were brutalized & slaughtered for our celebration. I even loved the parking lot, imprinted with proper vegan prompts:

The next day, we decided to go to the Getty Center Museum. What I enjoyed most at the museum was it's architecture and outdoor space. It was designed by Richard Meier and simply divine.

We had a light lunch at the museum cafeteria outdoors. I asked what was vegan and they immediately pointed me to the leek/parsnip/apple soup. We also got a portobello sandwich which I thought I could just remove the cheese, but I discovered that there was mayo mixed into the mustard spread...the soup was quite good.
We checked out the Edward Weston photography exhibit which was fascinating, but best part of the museum was really it's outdoor space.

I especially loved the cactus garden because I am partial to succulents, having a small collection of plants myself. I also loved the contrast of these prickly plants against the backdrop of the cityscape.

The Getty Center is located atop a hill which you can take a tram up or a fifteen minute hike up which we did because the wait for the tram was lengthy, plus we knew the walk would be pretty.

Sunshine and blue sky, yet urban city with access to nature, how could one not be happy here?

More to come...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving Thanks

Hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving! First and foremost, I am thankful for all the turkeys that were not slaughtered for our collective veg/vegan meals.

It's been a crazy couple of days. Fcat has been out in Los Angeles for the last couple of weeks working on some projects and at the very last minute, I decided to fly out to spend Thanksgiving with him (which meant I purchased my ticket on Sunday evening to leave Wednesday afternoon for a surprisingly decent price!) and to take a little break.

I love L.A.
Sunshine and light and tons of vegan friendly places, how could one not love it here?

My flight was fairly hassle-free for flying on one of the busiest travel days of the year. I prepared myself for a ton of waiting and long lines and perhaps because I was thus prepared, it wasn't bad even with the one hr delay sitting on the runway for takeoff...yes, I know I am a tease but I am saving all the fun and joy that comes with being in vegan paradise that is L.A. and the surrounding area for my next post...

This post, I wanted to share two movie screenings that I had been to recently which acutely reminds me that we should be extremely thankful for all that we have. Bryan Bantry is an agency that represents hair/makeup artists and some models. They also host movie screenings and I happen to have gotten on the screenings list- so I get to see a whole ton of movies in advance. Perhaps they host these screenings to people in the fashion/beauty industry to get a buzz going on? I have no idea, but I truly enjoy it. One year, we happened to see most of the movies that ended up getting Oscar nominations. Though honestly, sometimes I don't make it to a screening when the movie summary does not have actors or a work that I recognize, but oftentimes I do go to these lesser known movies and am pleasantly surprised.

Several weeks ago, I went to the screening of Persepolis. Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi, it is an animated movie in black and white in the same quirky style of the book. It tells the atuhor's story of being a young girl growing up in Iran as the Islamic Revolution swept in. Funny and frightening at the same time, it truly gave a sense of what it felt like to lose all the freedom that we so easily take for granted. The movie is in French and won the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. It opens in the US on December 25, 2007.

Last week was the screening of The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, Julian Schnabel's movie version of Jean-Dominique Bauby's book. Bauby was the editor of French Elle and living the high life when he suffered a massive stroke at the age of 43. The stroke left him with a rare condition called locked-in-syndrome where he was completely mute & paralyzed with the exception of his left eyelid. This movie is incredibly sad, yet inspirational and amazing. Bauby ended up writing his book through learning to communicate with blinking through the alphabet with his left eyelid. The movie is in French and opens in NY & LA on November 30, 2007. I urge all to see it if you get a chance and be inspired by the power of the human spirit.
An absolutely intense movie, I have had days where all I want to do is boohoo into a pillow- this movie will completely banish those days when you want to throw yourself a pity-party. It is an uplifting story shot brilliantly. Go see it.

These two movies were so strong that I have not stopped thinking about them since.
So during this holiday of thanks, I give thanks for the freedom that we take for granted in this country and also for the freedom of physical movement- that the sheer beauty of walking and talking is to be appreciated. Of course, I am always thankful for the love & support of my family and friends, but also for the wonderful world of vegan bloggers!

Lastly, another update on Jack, the little orange stray:
I never heard back from the dilapidated home owners about building a shelter for Jack on their property. However,I finally spotted him last Sunday evening, the temperature had dropped and he was huddled against the threshold of the run-down house that he hangs out in front of- it was so sad. I wanted to just snatch him up & run him home. I approached him with food and he dove into the bushes. I left the food for him in front of the bushes and proceeded down the next block to grandma's.

When I left grandma's, I walked by to check on Jack and saw the woman from house next door to dilapidated house. She was feeding Jack who was patiently waiting off to the side. She had named him, Scruff. I spoke to her about building Jack/Scruff a shelter and she agreed to let me keep it on her porch. Hurray! I was elated, but I had to figure out how to build the shelter and set it up in two days before leaving for Los Angeles. Research on Monday morning led me to someone from Urban Cat League, a rescue group in Forest Hills, Queens. This person builds stray/feral cat shelters for sale and I was praying that he would have one available and he did!

I was able to coordinate the pickup and setup of the shelter with much needed help from a friend. I am grateful for the help- this shelter is a 54 gallon container and bulky, I would have never been able to cart it on the subway alone. We drove out & setup the shelter on Tuesday afternoon. I was so excited that it all worked out that I forgot to take a picture of it. Hopefully, no one steals it and I can get a picture of it when I get back. I wonder if Jack has used it yet, apparently according to the cat rescue group guy- when it's cold, the cats find it and use it. I am thankful that Jack Scruff (his new name) has a warm place to sleep when it is freezing outside.

With much gratitude for all that I have, my next post will be chock full of thanksgiving holiday pics.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cyclical Down Time

I have been in a little bit of a funk. It's a cyclical thing. I call it "down time". So in this time, I have fallen behind on my posts and blog reading, but I do try to get myself out of the funk by getting out and about (albeit with much effort & reluctance, however, once I do get out, I do reap the benefits).

Music is good for the soul. Wouldn't consider myself a big jazz fan, but that's probably because I don't know that much about it, so when Fcat told me that his friend, who happens to be Wynton Marsalis' girlfriend had invited us to see Wynton & his band at Jazz at Lincoln Center, I half-heartedly agreed to go. It was a really good thing that I did because the performance was amazing & inspirational and Wynton is such a natural storyteller- he gave us a little intro or backdrop for each piece they performed. It was really great to know what to listen for and helped to understand the music much more, not that the pure beauty of the harmony wasn't enough though...was just nice to appreciate it fully. We also got to meet Wynton & his band afterwards which was fun. After all that, a late dinner at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant which I forgot to take pictures of, but I'm sure I have posted those dishes more than once...
Being musically inspired, I actually woke the next morning and played my piano (the expensive digital piano that I bought a few years ago which I hardly ever play).

Fcat and I also check out another vegetarian dim sum place, Buddha Bodai which was decent, but not as good as our favorite, Vegetarian Dim Sum House. I am willing to give it another try because I always give a place another shot in case they had an "off" day, though I was less inspired to take pictures of the food...The vegetable dumplings were good though, less so the turnip cake pictured below, nor the rice flour rolls...

This was taken right after the marathon- along 1st Avenue, littered with paper cups...
That morning, I made berry pancakes with chocolate chips & agave instead of sugar, along with a side of apples cooked in earth balance & cinnamon- a bit eclectic, but it all happened to work out fine.
Last week, I missed the PPK dinner but I did get to meet up with fellow vegan blogger Melisser, The Urban Housewife at Franchia a vegan teahouse with tasty Korean eats. The space is very zen & dark wood but the pretty floral ceiling contrasted the space quite nicely.

There is an array of teas, it is first & foremost a teahouse! - I had a jasmine tea served in a delightful cup & strainer.

Melisser & I had a hard time ordering because everything sounded so good. We started with a pancake assortment- kimchee, scallion and corn & cilantro (my fave- I love anything corn and anything cilantro!). They were delicious, light and tasty.

We also ordered the kimchee fried rice, which was nice and light also.

There was also tofu with kabocha squash which turned out to be more tofu than squash. The tofu also turned out to be fried, lightly fried but fried nonetheless. It was an okay dish, my least favorite. And see that big bowl of brown rice that came with the meal, we never got to it and I ended up taking it home because the waiter basically let us know that it would be thrown out...

Here we are- me & Melisser in front of the pretty teacups. Cute vegans abound!

I made fried rice from that leftover bowl of rice from Franchia. Waste not!

There was another day that I spent at Whole Foods where I discovered yummy things like Field Roast Grain Meat which is a company that makes artisan grain meat. I got yukon gold/apple/sage sausages & mexican/chipotle sausages. They are really delicious- similar to Tofurkey sausages, but a bit more delicate & complex, also a bit more expensive. I also discovered vegan rugelach (Jewish pastry cookie with fruits & nuts) from Lilly's Bakeshop and vegan apple spiced donut from Nutrilicious. I have not had rugelach since going vegan and boy, did I miss it!
Here's a dinner I made with the smoked apple sage sausages which I sauteed with apples, carrots & onions, a side of steamed broccoli, quinoa and cilantro mashed bliss potatoes.

I met up with Melisser another day for vegan dosas from the vegan dosa cart on West 4th & Sullivan. See how the side of the dosa man's cart proudly proclaims that it is "Purely Vegetarian" read vegan. Go vegan street food cart!
Look how they all line up- vegan & omnis alike...

And here's my special pondicherry dosa- crepe made from lentils & rice, stuffed with potatoes & veggies. It was fresh and light. It didn't blow me away, but it was filling & clean and a great deal for six dollars.

We then headed over to Atlas in the East Village, for vegan dessert & vegan softserve where we met up with a few of Melisser's friends. I was blown away by the dessert counter- look at all those desserts and they are all vegan. Jackpot!

Melisser ordered a sampling of goodies: death by chocolate, peanut butter bomb, brownie cheesecake, pumpkin cake & a cupcake. It was all tasty to me. Atlas is a tiny omni cafe with vegan sandwiches, entrees & desserts. I will be back for a meal for sure.

Meeting blog friends and having yummy desserts definitely helped my mood. By this weekend, I was ready for my friend, EH's annual pre-holiday party at his beautiful apt on the Upper Westside. It's always a fun party. There's the champagne server making faces...

EH also has a screen which has a slideshow of past pre-holiday party pics- always fun and sometimes embarrassing since EH does not edit...

Here I am partying with the cutest girl ever, Tasha- that pink bow really made her outfit.

Lastly, an update on Jack the orange stray kitty:
A couple of weeks ago, Fcat & I planned Operation Trap Jack with steel trap cage et al. The kitty rescue group woman who was going to help us trap Jack called me to tell me that it would be impossible to trap a cat that was not hungry, especially since many people were feeding him. It was quite upsetting to hear and also because not only did I not see Jack but there was two bowls of wet food uneaten. I was convinced that something happened to Jack because there was no way that little stray would leave wet food uneaten. A few days later, I took the subway out to see if he was around- I didn't see him but I did run into the homeowner whose house Jack is always in front of. I asked about Jack and he told me that Jack is still around and has been eating. Relief rushed through me and the homeowner told me that Jack has been around for a few years, but then he added that he didn't think that Jack would make it through this winter. My heart sank. I spoke to him of trying to trap Jack and he said that he would help when he returned from his trip in three weeks.

I realize now that the best I can do for Jack is to build him a shelter like these, basically taking a plastic storage container- cutting a hole several inches up (to prevent water from getting in), lining it in styrofoam and mylar (mylar is best because it reflects the kitty's body heat versus blankets which absorb & disperse bodyheat). They also recommend straw, but that's only if you have access to changing out the straw & making sure it stays dry, if not, then mylar is best. It's been quite cold in the evenings so I've been extremely anxious to make this shelter for Jack, but the homeowner went away without getting back to me so I need to wait til he returns before I can get permission to put the shelter on his porch. If you have the time or the inclination, consider making one or two for the strays & ferals in your neighborhood. It will help them get through the frigid winters and could save a few lives. I am also still brainstorming my fundraising event for strays for The McKee Project. Stay tuned!
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