Monday, December 24, 2012

Give Yourself the Gift of Good Health

I know several readers of this blog are already vegan, while some are just vegan-curious. Still others read the blog because they're my friends or family members (thanks, guys!). If you read Sacramento Vegan because you're thinking about becoming a vegan, or at least incorporating more vegan meals into your diet, maybe this would be a good time to start.

What's the best way to begin? Start with a little research. The book that convinced me to go vegan was The Food Revolution, by John Robbins, which explains all the ways in which switching to a vegan diet benefits not only you, but the entire planet. He also wrote Diet for a New America, which includes a large vegan recipe section. The picture below shows just a few of the books for vegans that I have on my shelves. One book that's conspicuously absent is Dr. Neal Barnard's book, The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook. I keep buying it, but I always end up giving it away to someone who needs it more than I do. I definitely recommend it for anyone who's thinking about going vegan, as well as for those who already have. If these books aren't on the shelf at The Avid Reader or an independent bookstore in your area, your local book dealer can probably order copies for you.

If you decide to switch to a vegan diet, where would you buy your food? Most major grocery stores have a natural foods section these days, offering a variety of vegan items. In Sacramento, we're also fortunate to have the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, which carries a large selection of vegan groceries and offers occasional vegan cooking classes through their Learning Center and Cooking School. The Gluten Free Specialty Market carries many vegan products as well (I just can't get enough of their vegan mini cupcakes from Miglet's!).

But since fresh produce is pretty much the cornerstone of veganism, you'll probably want to go outside the walls of your local grocery store and buy produce closer to its source. City officials have recently declared Sacramento to be "America's Farm to Fork Capital" in recognition of all the local farms that provide fresh, seasonal produce in our region. Two great ways to purchase these wonderful fruits and vegetables are to shop at one of Sacramento certified farmers' markets, or to order a weekly produce box directly from a local farm through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.

If you get tired of trying to make your own vegan meals, the whole purpose of this blog is to tell you what vegan menu options are available at local restaurants. It's easier to be a vegan at some restaurants than others, so you may want to check out the following establishments:

* The Green Boheme offers raw vegan cuisine, which is also organic, soy-free, and gluten-free. They also offer classes on raw food preparation, as well as pre-paid weekly food plans.

* Andy Nguyen's Vegetarian Restaurant offers almost exclusively vegan fare. The owner of the restaurant is a devout Buddhist, and so menu items have wonderful names like Universal Love Lemongrass and Peaceful Existence Clay Pot.

* The Plum Cafe & Bakery is a vegan restaurant in Midtown offering some really tasty bakery items. Good thing, too, since my sweet tooth didn't go away when I made the decision to go vegan!

* Any of Mai Pham's restaurants, including Lemon Grass, Star Ginger, or the Lemon Grass Asian Grill & Noodle Bar. While these are not vegan restaurants, the menus are clearly marked to indicate which items are vegan. The Vegetable Stirfry on Rice Noodles at Lemon Grass, the Ginger Sesame Tofu Salad at Star Ginger (pictured below), or the Jungle Curry at Lemon Grass Asian Grill & Noodle Bar are all outstanding.

If you do decide to take the plunge and go vegan, you'll be happy to know that there are lots of other vegans in town to keep you company, and there are vegan events throughout the year. For the past two years, the Sacramento Vegan Chef Challenge has taken place during the month of October, with local chefs creating special vegan dishes for the diners in their restaurants. Another fun event is the annual Sacramento VegFest, which is scheduled to take place on January 26th. The VegFest features food vendors, guest speakers, and cooking demonstrations. For information on other vegan activities, check out the website of the Sacramento Vegan Society.

I'll be taking a holiday break, so my next blog article will be posted on January 7th. Best wishes to you and your families for a happy and healthy 2013!

Friday, December 21, 2012

More Holiday Shopping in Old Sacramento

Old Sacramento is stocking stuffer paradise, for those of you who are still trying to find small last-minute gifts. Here are three stores I checked out today.

No visit to Old Sacramento is complete without a trip to Evangeline's, where they sell toys, costumes, greeting cards, magic tricks, and gag gifts. I can almost guarantee that someone on your shopping list wants to find something from Evangeline's in his or her stocking!

A fun place to shop for esoteric gifts or items with a metaphysical bent is Garden of Enchantment, where you'll find jewelry, books on spirituality and world religions, incense, greeting cards, CDs, and other treasures too numerous to mention.

For the cooks on your holiday shopping list, check out Chef's Mercantile, offering kitchen gadgets, cooking equipment and supplies, gourmet seasonings, and other tasty tidbits.

I made one last stop before I headed for home: the Fresh Roasted Nuts stand in front of Stage Nine, where you can buy little paper cones filled with cinnamon-glazed almonds, pecans, or cashews (and no, there's no butter in the glaze). The sign on the cart reads, "WARNING: PRODUCT MAY BE HABIT FORMING." No kidding!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Shopping at Locally-Owned Hardware Stores

Hardware stores may not immediately spring to mind when you head out to do your holiday shopping, but they certainly deserve a look. In addition to selling tools and great gadgets for the do-it-yourselfers on your shopping list, they often carry a surprising variety of housewares, toys, and other interesting merchandise.

A visit to Hollywood Hardware on Freeport Boulevard in Land Park turned up a very nice selection of kitchen items, Christmas decorations, candles, and unusual stocking stuffers.

East Sac Hardware, at the corner of 48th and Folsom, has a whole Christmas section. They also sell a few very interesting toys, including science kits for kids, greeting cards, and, of course, lots of small items that would make great stocking stuffers.

On your way back down Folsom Boulevard, stop in at Cafe Capricho near the corner of 33rd and Folsom, where they have some tasty salads that are either vegan or can be made vegan. I especially like the quinoa salad!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Even More Holiday Shopping in East Sacramento

The stretch of Fair Oaks Boulevard between Howe and Munroe is a great place to do a little holiday shopping. With only a few more shopping days until Christmas, here are a few places you may want to check out.

The venerable Grebitus & Sons in Lyon Village has been selling jewelry and high-end collectibles to Sacramento residents since 1926, so you know they must be doing something right! They also have a store downtown at the corner of 10th and L.

Also at Lyon Village is Le Grand Confectionary, makers of fine chocolate. I haven't posted about any of the other local confectioners because they don't generally offer any vegan sweets. But Le Grand Confectionary sells vegan dark chocolate bark made with either almonds or cacao nibs. They also have luscious fruit glaces, either orange or peach, dipped in dark chocolate.

If you like to make your own gift tags, cards, or wrapping paper for the holidays, you may already know about Stephanie Nishikawa's Paper Garden, which moved from Town & Country Village to the Pavilions earlier this year. In addition to cards and wrapping paper, it's a good place to buy stocking stuffers and craft items for kids.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holiday Shopping for Music

Sometimes I think I must be the only person on the planet who doesn't download music onto an iPod or Mp3 player. But in case someone else on your holiday shopping list still listens to CDs, consider shopping at an independent, locally-owned music store.

Dimple Records sells new and used CDs, as well as new and used DVDs. And apparently, they've opened a bookstore next to their Arden Way location selling both new and used books. In addition to the Arden Way store, Dimple Records is on Broadway in Land Park, and in Folsom, Roseville, Elk Grove, and Citrus Heights.

Another great independent music store in Sacramento is The Beat at the corner of 17th and J in Midtown, where their tagline is "New, Nearly New, and Rare Music." You'll have a great time browsing through all the treasures at The Beat, and you might just find the perfect gift for someone special.

After a hard day of holiday shopping, treat yourself to a nice Italian dinner and a glass of wine at Lucca Restaurant and Bar, about a block away from The Beat near the corner of 16th and J. Be sure to ask for their vegan menu, which they update seasonally.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Instead of Stuff, Give an Experience

For the people on your holiday shopping list who already have too much stuff (and isn't that pretty much everyone?), why not give an experience instead? Tickets to a performance, gift certificates for classes, or passes to visit museums or parks are all possibilities for the person who has everything, and then some.

One gift that my husband buys me every year is the Sacramento County Park Pass, which allows me to visit county parks without having to remember to take exact change for the $5.00 parking fee. And I have the added satisfaction of knowing that money from the sale of the park pass helps to maintain and operate our local parks.

Tickets or gift certificates to buy tickets make great gifts too. Which lucky person on your shopping list would like tickets to:

A play at the B Street Theatre

A dance performance by the Sacramento Ballet

A concert performed by the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra

A movie at the Crest Theatre

And these are just a few of the wonderful groups offering quality entertainment and cultural experiences in Sacramento!

Or what about a gift certificate for lessons or a class? Someone on your gift list would probably love to learn:

Yoga at It's All Yoga

How to speak French at the Alliance Francaise de Sacramento or how to speak Italian at the Italian Cultural Society

How to make vegan curries or grow their own groceries at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op

How to tango at Tango by the River or how to belly dance at Jodette's Belly Dancing Academy

How to play guitar at Skip's Music

And if you're not sure about what class to choose for someone, buy an eGift card from the Learning Exchange and let your friend or loved one pick their own class. Golf, photography, glassblowing, zumba, and web design are just a few of the classes offered through Learning Exchange.

Who knows? Gifts of learning or interesting experiences might turn out to be everyone's favorite presents this year!

Road Trip! Jack London Square Food Tour

Earlier this month, several family members and I traveled to Oakland for the Savor Oakland Food Tour of Jack London Square and the Warehouse District. I let the Savor Oakland staff know when I signed up that I am a vegan so they could arrange to have food I could eat on the tour. I'm happy to report that Carlo, our knowledgeable and personable tour guide, made sure there was something vegan for me at every stop along the way.

The tour, which covered several blocks and lasted about three-and-a-half hours, began at Chop Bar near the corner of 4th and Alice, where most of the group had banh mi sandwiches. I had the pickled vegetables that were served as a side dish, which were tangy and very good.

Carlo discussed the local architecture, history, and food culture as we walked, stopping every so often to pull treats of some kind out of his backpack. Since the first snacks he offered everyone else contained cheese, he brought me a delicious vegan sweet potato cookie from the Cookie Department, which is based in Berkeley.

The blue bottle on the building in this picture is the logo for Blue Bottle Coffee, which was the next treat Carlo brought for us. We stopped on a street corner while he poured a little New Orleans-styled iced coffee with chicory for all of us. I'm not much of a coffee drinker, and I was afraid the chicory would be bitter, but it had a very subtle sweet taste, and I actually enjoyed it.

Next, we stopped at the House of Chicken and Waffles at 444 Embarcadero West, which I couldn't imagine would have anything that I could eat. But they prepared greens for me without any animal fat, and Carlo brought me a container of fabulous potato salad from a restaurant called Souley Vegan.

The tour also included a wine-tasting stop at Urban Legend Cellars at 621 4th Street, where we tried the Sauvignon Blanc and the Cuvee Lola. I definitely enjoyed that stop!

The next stop was the Bocanova, a Pan-American restaurant at the corner of Webster and Embarcadero, where I had a really lovely quinoa salad with arugula, grapes, persimmon, pomegranate seeds, and a vinaigrette dressing.

The final stop on the tour was a beautiful little French bakery, Miette, where there was absolutely nothing that I could eat. Fortunately, Carlo came through with a Meyer Lemon Tart from Hail Merry, which completely satisfied my sweet tooth!

I really appreciate the willingness of the Savor Oakland Food Tour staff to accommodate vegans so that I could enjoy this tour with my family. I wish the same could be said of the walking food tour of Sacramento offered by Local Roots Food Tours, which will accommodate vegetarians, but not vegans. Hmm, maybe I should work up a business plan!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Even More Holiday Shopping in Midtown

Midtown is a shopper's paradise, especially during the holiday season. Here are four more places to visit as you work your way through your shopping list.

For someone with so little artistic talent, I sure seem to enjoy shopping at University Art, located at the corner of 26th and J. Not only do they have art supplies for serious artists, but they have a nice selection of gifts, cards, picture frames, and creative toys for kids. I can never make it through the holiday season without at least one visit to University Art.

The Moppet Shoppe at 2524 J Street is a children's boutique that recently relocated to Midtown from Elk Grove. If you have babies or young children on your holiday shopping list, the Moppet Shoppe has a nice selection of adorable clothes.

If you're like me, you're going to be giving a lot of people on your shopping list gifts of wine this holiday season. Why not make it locally-produced wine from Revolution Wines at the corner of 28th and S? They're even offering a 2008 Ruby Port, which I definitely will have to try soon!

If you're putting together gift baskets for people on your holiday shopping list, check out all the unique food and gift items at the member-owned Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, located at the corner of S and Alhambra. They have lots of great gifts for vegans!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Holiday Shopping in Old Town Folsom

I made the short drive up to Old Town Folsom yesterday to do a little shopping. My favorite store in Folsom's Historic District is Clouds, where they make and sell gorgeous pottery. In addition to the usual plates and mugs, Clouds makes teapots, garlic pots, toothbrush holders, pet dishes, spoon rests, and many other unusual items for the kitchen and the bathroom. I love their new Golden Poppy pattern, shown in the foreground of the picture below.

I always enjoy stopping in at Snyder's House of Jade to see the beautiful jewelry and other art objects the Snyder family has picked up during their buying trips to Asia. Jade, cloisonne, and other treasures make a visit to Snyder's feel like a trip to a museum!

I love the jewelry at Rainbow Bridge Jewelers, where the work of several different designers is featured. I find a new favorite every time I visit, although currently I'm fascinated by the Firefly line, made with Austrian crystals and Czech glass beads.

I really wanted to try to veganize this post in some way, but if there are any vegan treats in Old Town Folsom, I sure couldn't find them. Does anyone have any vegan recommendations for my next visit?

Friday, December 14, 2012

More Holiday Shopping in East Sacramento

East Sacramento covers a lot of ground, but all of the businesses featured in today's post can be found in a one-block area on Folsom Boulevard in the vicinity of 33rd and 34th Streets. At the top of the list is the new East Sac Mercantile, where vendors rent individual spaces to sell their merchandise. The items offered are an eclectic mix, including handcrafted goods, antiques, gifts for sports fans, and flowers. They're having a holiday happy hour next Wednesday, December 19th, between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Great time to check it out!

Across the street from the East Sac Mercantile is Krazy Mary's Boutique, a fun place to shop for the young women on your holiday gift list. They offer beautiful and unique clothing, jewelry, and accessories, as well as a nice selection of TOMS shoes. The owners of Krazy Mary's are also the owners of Sugar Shack on J Street in Midtown.

Behind Krazy Mary's is the Pink House, which sells women's shoes, handbags, and other accessories. While the shoes are not vegan, many of the gorgeous purses are.

It was pretty cold outside while I was visiting these stores and taking all these pictures, so I walked over to Coffee Works and ordered a latte with almond milk. I've got to get back there soon, because they've got a vegan coconut nog on their menu that will be available only during the holidays. Yum!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday Shopping in Land Park

While there aren't very many places to shop in Land Park, there are a couple of stores that really stand out.

One of my favorite gift shops is Collected Works, located on Freeport Boulevard just south of Sutterville. They are stocked with all sorts of fun Christmas merchandise right now, but they also have a nice selection of Hanukkah items. Collected Works has a second store downtown on L Street, right across from the Capitol.

I wish I'd been able to get a better picture of this great little shop, but there were too many cars in the way. If you haven't visited Trezhers on Riverside Boulevard before, you should check it out. They have lots of unusual gifts made by a variety of local artists and craftspeople. They also offer classes and workshops from time to time in case you'd like to try to make your own gifts. It's definitely worth a look!

Normally, I would suggest that after you finish your shopping in Land Park, you stop in at Here's the Scoop! on Freeport for the best vegan ice cream in town. Unfortunately, they appear to have closed, so I don't know where I'll get my vegan ice cream fix now. Does anyone have any suggestions?