Friday, November 29, 2013

Ten Locally-owned Stores that Make Holiday Shopping Fun

Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, the response of local businesses to the big box stores' Black Friday. Here are ten locally-owned shops I visit every holiday season.

A great place to look for unique holiday items is the gift shop at the California Museum, where you can buy interesting stocking stuffers, holiday decorations, and hostess gifts.

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 but they also have jewelry, toys, and other items with great gift potential. Collected Works has a second store downtown on L Street, right across from the Capitol.

I love the gift shop at the Crocker Art Museum. So many cool things to buy -- jewelry, objets d'art, books, cards, calendars, toys -- I rarely come away empty-handed, although sometimes I discover that the only presents I've bought are for me!

I can't let the holiday season pass without at least one trip to Old Sacramento, where my visit is not complete without stopping by Evangeline's, specializing in 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!

Every time I walk into the Gifted Gardener, at the corner of 18th and J, I wish that I was, in fact, a gardener. Alas, I have neither the talent nor the patience for tending the soil. Fortunately, one doesn't have to actually be a gardener to enjoy holiday shopping at this lovely little store, where they sell, in addition to gardening supplies, yard accessories, bird feeders, and a variety of outdoor-themed art works, both practical and decorative.

Ladybug Ladybug on J Street is a fun little shop, offering greeting cards, holiday decorations, stocking stuffers, and quite a nice collection of craft kits for kids.

Mixed Bag at 24th and K has become everyone's go-to place for fun stocking stuffers, festive decorations, and interesting cards and gift wrap. I know I'll be there at least a time or two before the holiday season is over.

Their upside down Christmas tree is gone, but PeraDice, located on 24th Street between I and J in Midtown, is still a great place to find stocking stuffers and unique Christmas items. Seriously, who wouldn't want an apron that says, "Dear Santa, I can explain!"?

Visions of Eden in Old Sacramento is another fun place to shop locally for the holidays, especially for the women on your list. Jewelry, handbags, scarves, and body care products are just some of the must-have merchandise you can find there.

For someone with so little artistic talent, I really 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.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Shop Locally for Books and Music

I subscribe to the theory that a person can never have too many books, which is why I give them as gifts so often. I love to wander through the Avid Reader looking for just the right books for the people on my gift list. I frequent the Avid Reader on Broadway, but there's also an Avid Reader in Davis.

For those of you who live up Highway 50, be sure to stop in at Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills, if you haven't already. It's usually off the beaten path for me, but that's my smiling face in the picture below, standing in front of Face in a Book during the book launch party last year for The Dog with the Old Soul. It was exciting to hear that someone actually had the courage to open a new bookstore, given the conventional wisdom that online shopping and eBooks have rendered actual bookstores obsolete.

If you're shopping for someone who wants music or movies this holiday season, Dimple Records has a great selection of new and used CDs, as well as new and used DVDs. In addition to the store on Broadway, pictured below, Dimple Records also has a store on Arden Way, and stores in Folsom, Roseville, Elk Grove, and Citrus Heights. The Arden Way store also carries books.

Would someone on your holiday shopping list rather make music than listen to it? Check out all the musical instruments and accessories at Kline Music on Sutterville Road.

Shop Locally for Unique Handcrafted Gifts

If you're looking for beautiful handcrafted items that can't be found in a big box store, plan a visit to these shops.

Artworks 21 is a very cool shop on J Street, between 18th and 19th, that sells a whimsical collection of gifts and art, mostly of the Mexican folk art variety. I'm never sure what to expect when I visit, but I always find something interesting and unique.

It doesn't feel like the holiday season until I've made the short drive up to Old Town Folsom. 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.

Taylor's Art & Soul in Old Sacramento sells beautiful jewelry, art, and gifts made by a variety of local artists. Definitely worth a look!

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. On Small Business Saturday, November 30th, they'll be offering special sales and activities, so that would be a great time to go.

One of my favorite gift shops in Sacramento is Zanzibar, located at the corner of 18th and L in Midtown. Zanzibar is a fair trade store offering beautiful jewelry, art, and handicrafts from all over the world. So many beautiful things!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shop Locally for Children's Gifts on Small Business Saturday

There's no need to battle through the hordes of shoppers at the big box stores when you're looking for presents for the children on your gift list. Check out the toys, games, and clothing offered at these locally-owned stores instead.

If you've got a little engineer on your holiday shopping list, the gift shop at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento has books, posters, tee shirts, and railroad-themed gifts, as well as a nice collection of Thomas the Tank Engine toys.

Support the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, a 77-acre preserve in Carmichael where generations of local children have experienced the wonders of nature, by shopping at the Discovery Shop. You'll find books, cards, games, and toys to help nurture an appreciation of nature for the children on your shopping list. And walking the Effie Yeaw nature trails while you're there will help neutralize some of the extra pounds you may have picked up on Thanksgiving!

A great place to shop for children's gifts is the locally-owned G. Willikers! Toy Emporium in Old Sacramento. They have a great selection of actual toys, as opposed to the computerized high-tech gadgets that pass for toys these days.

Dress your little ones in holiday finery from The Moppet Shoppe, a children's boutique located at 2524 J Street in Midtown. They even have complimentary gift wrapping!

Toys, stuffed animals, tee shirts, animal masks, and hats are just some of the things you'll find at the Sacramento Zoo's gift shop. There must be someone on your holiday shopping list who's hoping for a giant stuffed frog or a giraffe mask, isn't there?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Shop Locally for Food and Wine this Holiday Season

Whether it's groceries for your holiday meals or gourmet items for gift baskets, there are several locally-owned shops that may have just what you need.

If you have a foodie on your holiday shopping list, the 24K Cafe at Ancient Future in Midtown sells teas, chocolate, and other gourmet goodies. Have a bite to eat while you're there. They always have a few vegan menu options.

Shopping for someone with a gluten allergy? You may want to put together a gift basket with items from the Gluten Free Specialty Market on J Street in Midtown. They have an amazing selection of gluten-free food, beverages, and beauty products, as well as a very helpful staff. Not only that, they have an impressive selection of vegan items too, in case there's a vegan on your holiday shopping list.

At Lyon Village in East Sacramento, look for Le Grand Confectionary, makers of fine chocolate. Most local confectioners don't offer vegan sweets, but Le Grand Confectionary sells vegan dark chocolate bark made with either almonds or cacao nibs. They also have fabulous fruit glaces dipped in dark chocolate.

If you need wine this holiday season, and who doesn't, check out Revolution Wines at 28th and S in Midtown. They have a wine club too, in case you need to buy someone a really special gift.

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 too!

If you have a tea lover on your holiday shopping list, check out Tea Cozy, located at the Arthouse on R Street, which sells a nice variety of packaged teas, teatime goodies and accessories, and loose tea that you can buy in bulk. Perfect for these cold, fall days!

Support Local Businesses on Small Business Saturday

Last year, I wrote a series of blog articles encouraging people to shop at locally-owned stores during the holiday season as an alternative to patronizing the national chains that encroach further and further on Thanksgiving each year with their Black Friday sales.

With Small Business Saturday coming up this weekend (November 30th), I'm going to repost some of the information from last year's blog articles as a reminder of all the wonderful local shops that may have just the items you need for everyone on your holiday gift list. This series of articles will be posted during the next couple of days to give you plenty of time to figure out where you want to shop on Saturday.

If you have other locally-owned stores to suggest, please feel free to mention them in the "Comments" section. I hope to see you out there this weekend when I'm doing my Small Business Saturday shopping!

Tapa the World

One of the many benefits of attending The Roaming Spoon's vegan pop-up dinner recently was the opportunity to talk with other diners about their local restaurant experiences. For example, if I hadn't been sitting next to a particularly vegan-savvy young woman, I might never have known that Tapa the World had begun offering a vegan menu. Thanks for the tip, Ashley!

Less than forty-eight hours after hearing this exciting news, I stopped in for lunch at Tapa the World. I asked for the vegan menu, and lo and behold, I was handed a listing of seventeen different vegan items. It appears that they have taken the same approach as Lucca Restaurant and Bar -- looking at their regular menu to see which items can easily be "veganized" by omitting all the non-vegan ingredients. I wish more restaurants would do this -- it would make so many vegans very happy, and the restaurant staff wouldn't have to worry about keeping a lot of seldom used ingredients in stock.

I'm rarely able to go to Tapa the World without ordering Patatas Bravas, chunks of deep-fried potatoes served with a spicy tomato sauce, and this lunch was no exception. I know all the arguments about how fried food isn't good for me, but I couldn't resist.

I also ordered a bowl of delicious Harira Soup, consisting of lentils in a tomato-based broth and seasoned with a variety of interesting spices (I know I smelled cinnamon). It's a wonderful soup for cold fall and winter days.

Finally, I ordered the excellent Mediterranean Salad, a plate full of greens, Kalamata olives, peppers, artichoke hearts, and cucumbers. The one in the picture below is a small salad; a larger version is also available.

Yesterday, I went back to Tapa the World for lunch with my husband. We shared a plate of Aceitunas (olives) and I had a lunch-sized portion of Garlic Herb Vegetarian Pasta, ordered without butter. It was a very satisfying meal.

I've always liked Tapa the World, but now that they've made it so easy for me to order vegan dishes, I'm sure I'll be dining there more often.

Tapa the World is located at 2115 J Street, and their phone number is 916-442-4353. Their website address is, and their Facebook page can be found at The restaurant is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to midnight.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Roaming Spoon Pop-up Vegan Dinners

Pop-up dinners are all the rage in Sacramento these days, giving local chefs the opportunity to showcase their creations in a variety of temporary locations. The concept sounds interesting, but most of these dinners feature food I don't eat. So when the Sacramento Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson wrote an article last week about a pop-up vegan dinner planned for the weekend, I had to check it out.

The chef for the dinner was Sylvanna Mislang, formerly of the now-defunct Blackbird Kitchen & Bar. Chef Syl is planning to offer monthly vegan pop-up dinners through her new venture, The Roaming Spoon. Saturday night's intimate dinner was held at the Exhibit S gallery at the Downtown Plaza, where photographs of Sacramento farmers and chefs stared down at the assembled diners.

The evening began with cocktails and canapés, including black garlic schmear on Pink Lady apple slices and mushroom pâté on crackers. My husband Phil and I then joined ten other diners around one long dinner table. Chef Syl came out to welcome everyone and to introduce each course.

The first item on the menu was a beautifully-presented Watermelon Radish Carpachio. I wasn't the only diner taking pictures of this dish!

Next, we were treated to a Filipino Pansit Miki Guisado, nicknamed "Humble Soup" on the menu. The soup consisted of glass noodles in a flavorful broth, topped with carrot slices and garnished with citrus caviar and Thai basil flowers.

Our third course was Butternut and Garlic Gnocchi, delicious crispy morsels garnished with herbs and pomegranate seeds.

The gnocchi was followed by Feta Cashew Chez Mousse, consisting of Chef Syl's cashew feta cheese served with slices of Bosc pear.

Finally, the dessert was a fabulous Silken Tofu "Brulee." The tofu was flavored with coconut, as were the little gelatinous cubes on the plate. This was a lovely way to end the meal.

All of the food was creatively prepared and artistically displayed. The produce was fresh and locally-grown. In fact, Chef Syl personally harvested some of the ingredients at Rocking TH Farm in Fair Oaks the day of the dinner. It was obvious that she took a great deal of pride in her inaugural vegan pop-up dinner, and the diners all seemed very happy with her efforts.

The Roaming Spoon's website is still under construction, so the best way to get information about future pop-up dinners may be through The Roaming Spoon's Facebook page. I hope you'll have the opportunity to try one of Chef Syl's vegan dinners sometime soon.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Until I visited Mylapore in Folsom last week, I had never eaten the cuisine of South India. Just reading the menu took a long time because there were so many unfamiliar, yet intriguing, items. What made the experience better was knowing that all of the items on the menu were vegetarian, and many of them were clearly marked as vegan.

I wanted to order a dish that included a variety of items, but the Thali Meal that's offered on weekdays isn't vegan. So instead, I opted for the Assorted Sampler Platter, which features four different appetizers: Samosa, Medhu Vada, Masala Vada, and Vegetable Pakoras. Four dipping sauces accompanied the appetizers. The white dipping sauce appeared suspiciously un-vegan to me, so I asked the server about it. He said it was made with coconut milk, so it really is vegan.

I tried the samosa first, since samosas are a big favorite of mine. What's not to like about a turnover filled with curried potatoes and peas? Not surprisingly, this was the item in the sampler platter that I liked the best.

There was a huge pile of vegetable pakoras on the plate, vegetables dipped in a batter and then fried. The menu doesn't have a telltale chili pepper on the menu next to this item to warn you, but I thought the pakoras were very spicy. Fortunately, I don't mind if my Indian food is a little spicy.

The items in the picture above that look like donuts are medhu vada, described on the menu as fried lentil donuts. Once you get past the realization that they're not sweet, they're pretty good, especially when dipped in the various sauces on the platter.

Two masala vadas are buried under the mountain of pakoras in the picture above. A masala vada is a tasty fried lentil cake, flavored with onions, mint, cilantro, and chilies.

This massive amount of fried appetizers meant that I didn't have room for an entrée. I'll have to take another ride up to Folsom soon to try a dosa, which is a savory crepe, or an uthappam, which is a thicker version of a dosa. In the words of the convenience store commercial, there's just "too much good stuff" at Mylapore.

Mylapore is located in a shopping mall at 1760 Prairie City Road in Folsom, and the phone number is 916-985-3500. Their website address is, and their Facebook page can be found at The restaurant is open daily for lunch between 11:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served Sunday through Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Vegans Against Hunger

Just in time for the holiday season, Congress has made things a little less jolly for the nation's poor by decreasing their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps. A temporary increase that had been in effect since 2009 ended November 1st, which means that a family of four receiving SNAP benefits will see a decrease of $36 per month. As if that isn't bad enough, Republicans in Congress are trying to cut SNAP benefits even further.

According to "Hunger Hits Home 2012," a report issued last year by Community Link Capital Region, Sacramento Hunger Coalition, and Valley Vision, there are 220,000 food insecure residents living in Sacramento alone. Who are these hungry people? The report says: "Half of those who were found to be food insecure have children in the household; one-fifth were seniors or have seniors living in the household; and one-third have a disability that limits their functioning. These populations are prone to experience financial, mobility, and other limitations that make it very difficult for them to acquire enough food to meet their daily needs. People with health conditions also experience food insecurity at higher rates than the population as a whole. Two-thirds of survey respondents reported that they or someone in their household suffered from a chronic health condition."

One of the main reasons I went vegan more than eleven years ago was because of my concern about world hunger. All across the planet, millions of acres of crops are grown for the purpose of feeding livestock instead of people, which is a very inefficient way of producing food. I want to help Sacramento's food-insecure residents during this difficult time, but I don't want to do so in a way that goes against the very reason I became a vegan in the first place. What, then, can a vegan do to help the hungry in our society? Here are a few ideas:

• Give non-perishable food items to your local food bank. You don't have to donate food bank staples like canned tuna or packaged macaroni and cheese. Several vegan options are very much in demand: peanut butter, rice, canned fruits and vegetables, canned beans (black, refried, pinto, etc.), vegetable soups and chili, granola bars, and oatmeal. You might want to plan a holiday potluck with your vegan friends or family members, and ask everyone who's attending to bring cans or packages of vegan groceries to donate. If you live in Sacramento, you can check out the weekly grocery sales list on the River City Food Bank website to see what deals are being offered at local stores on frequently-needed items.

• Drop off food for the annual Thanksgiving turkey drive in your community. No, you don't have to donate a turkey, but there are numerous traditional side dishes made from vegan ingredients. You might consider donating cans of yams, green beans, or cranberry sauce. In addition to these items, organizations that provide Thanksgiving meals for the homeless need bags of fresh potatoes and onions. Sacramento's Loaves & Fishes has an online list of the groceries they need for their Thanksgiving meal, which includes several vegan items.

• Increase the purchasing power of Sacramento families receiving CalFresh (California's food stamp program) benefits by contributing to Alchemist Community Development Corporation's Market Match program. This program provides an incentive for families to shop at participating farmer's markets by giving them extra funds in the form of vouchers to spend on fresh produce and nuts. If they spend at least $10 with their benefits, they get $5 extra in Market Match vouchers.

• Help Harvest Sacramento glean fruit from neighborhood trees and orchards, which will then be donated to local food assistance agencies. As an added bonus, volunteers are allowed to take some of the fruit home to their families.

• Consider sending an e-mail to your Representative in Congress to let him or her know that you are opposed to cuts in SNAP benefits. You can find your Representative by entering your zip code at this link:

While private charity can't fill the gap created by the reduction in SNAP benefits, it can still help to make the situation less dire. Mother Teresa once said, "If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one." Your donations of time, money, or vegan groceries can make a difference in the lives of those facing hunger in our community.