Wednesday, October 22, 2014

v is for v street

Media preview party

"V" is for vegan; "street" stands for street food.
Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to the media sneak preview of V Street, the newest twinkle in the eyes of plant-powered über chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, of Vedge, Food Network and Williams-Sonoma fame.

If Vedge is a sophisticated vegan Audrey Hepburn, then consider V Street her little, spicy-but-wicked-smart, globe-trotting sister. Kate explained that V Street's menu takes its inspiration from global street food – with a vegan twist, of course. This made me happy because I know Kate and Rich love traveling and get inspiration by encountering unique flavors. Obviously, they were both genuinely passionate about this menu.

The Lima Mist

I arrived a bit late. Kate greeted me warmly at the door, as she always does. I had had a long day and needed a pick-me-up, so she suggested I try the Lima Mist: pisco and chica morada [basically, a fermented Peruvian corn beer], topped with popcorn. It reminded me of a margarita, puckery-sour from the Pisco, balanced by the salt from the popcorn dissolving into the sweetness. The popcorn cloud made me smile, especially when I realized it was a culinary pun – a nod to garua, the thick fog that blankets Peru's capital city for 4 months of the year.

Vegan Langos, inspiration via Hungary

I asked Kate what to try first and out came my new favorite thing: Langos. Smoked beets, creamy sauerkraut remoulade [really!] and fresh dill, perched upon a cloud-like pastry pillow. Listen, beet haters. The smoked beets nothing like beets; frankly, they taste and look more like ham [which confirms my theory that most people who like ham and bacon really just like smokiness]. Next time I got to V Street, I will order 3 of these. And then I'll order 3 more to take home.

I also sampled the the Korean Fried Tempeh, which comes in a soft tortilla, perfectly balanced with kimchee slaw. Delish! Unfortunately, my camera didn't cooperate, but trust me, it's a winner.


Vegan Waffle with ganache, miso caramel and sriracha peanuts.
For dessert, I sampled the Vegan Waffle with chocolate ganache, miso caramel and sriracha peanuts. Miso caramel? Brilliant to pair the cloying sweetness and carbiness with the intensity of the umami; all those layers of sweet and hot and bitter start tangoing on your palate. What I am most stoked about, though, is that V Street will be serving vegan soft serve. *** happy dance! *** They'll always have halo-halo– taro ice cream– but they will also offer a variety of luscious flavors. Kate is famous for her unique ice cream flavors [think "cereal milk" and "movie popcorn"] so I can't wait to see what she comes up with.


V Street – inviting ambiance 
The cozy space, just off tony Rittenhouse Square, is warm and welcoming, with an unfussy, industrial chic vibe.

Love the distressed metal chairs.
Even though Rich and Kate are culinary superstars, they were both as warm and down-to-earth as ever – and this easiness trickles down to their staff. They are the sweetest, nicest, best-looking vegan couple. You can't help but love them. But it's what's "inside" the food that counts – and their food speaks for itself. Go. Now!

V Street's  menu
Let me know what you think. Also, check out Vance's review.

  • 126 S 19th St.
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • 215.278.7943

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

alaffia everyday coconut skin care

Purchased by me.
Nothing to disclose.
Alaffia Everyday Coconut Body Lotion, Face Scrub and Face Cream
I've always taken good care of my skin. I've worn sunscreen and moisturizer religiously since I was 20, and I always wash my face and dab on moisturizer before going to bed. Plus, once or twice a week, I use a scrub to exfoliate my skin. But I don't like to spend a lot of money on fancy lotions and potions. I believe good skin comes from a combination of good genes, not clogging your skin with too much make up, a healthy diet, not smoking, and consistently wearing sunscreen, so I am not convinced that expensive products work.

For most of my life, I have used Lush's Skin Drink but recently stopped when I noticed it now contains parabens. These endocrine disruptors are linked to all kinds of nastiness including breast cancer. [Interesting that Lush's tag line is "Fresh, handmade cosmetics." Parabens are neither fresh nor handmade. When I wrote Lush and told them my point of view, I received a defensive, corporate form email.]

Long story short: I was looking for moisturizers and products to replace Lush products, without breaking the bank. Although I love 100 Percent Pure products, they can be pricey. One day, I spied Alaffia Everyday Coconut products in my local Whole Foods and amazingly, they were affordable. The 32 ounce bottle of Body Lotion cost about $14; the Alaffia Everyday Coconut Face Scrub was about $9 and the Night Face Cream was about $7. I love the smell of coconut, and I love a bargain. Plus, these are vegan, cruelty-free, fair-trade, and they donate a portion of their profits to charity. Ding, ding, ding! But how do Alaffia skin care products compare to higher end products? Read on.

Alaffia Everyday Coconut Nighttime Replenishing Face Cream
All Alaffia products have a pleasant, neutral coconut scent – not too faint but not overbearing; the scrub's scent is the subtlest. The face lotion has a thick consistency. I like it. My skin absorbs it easily and it does not clog my pores. Plus, the 12 ounce bottle will last me a heck of a lot longer than the 1.5 ounce, $24 pot of paraben-laden Skin Drink. Keeper!


Mostly pronouncable ingredients
Only one ingredient – phenoxyethanol – is questionable, but the Environmental Working Group lists it as fairly low risk. In case you were wondering, polysorbate 20 is an emulsifier and is also low risk, as is potassium sorbate, which is a preservative. I prefer 100% natural but I can live with these, especially because they are at the end of the list.


Alaffia Everyday Coconut Body Lotion
Since I run a lot, I take a lot of showers. And I always moisturize afterward, especially since my loft has drying forced-air heat and air conditioning. This lotion smells similar to the face cream. It's a tad thinner than I am used to, but I like it. It's easily absorbed and will last a long time. Keeper!

Similar ingredient list.


Alaffia Everyday Face Scrub
The Face Scrub is also a winner. I use a dime-sized dab in the shower, and it leaves my face feeling smooth and clean. The scent is extremely subtle. My only "beef"....er "tofu" is that the oil and sugar separate. But then again, it's not a bad thing because it's almost all natural. A little shake of the tube and everything is combined again.

More mostly simple ingredients.

Would I buy these products again? Yes, indeedy! Has anyone else tried them?

You can find Alaffia products at Whole Foods  and online


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Monday, October 13, 2014

just another mani monday

Purchased by me. Nothing to disclose.



I have a few obsessions like plant-based cooking, running and traveling. Nail polish is another. Don't judge! It's fun, defies age, encourages self expression, plus my vast collection takes up less than a shoe obsession would. I especially support indie and vegan nail polish brands, though I have been known to rock a drugstore vegan brand on occasion.

Here are a just few quick swatches of some vegan nail polishes from my collection with review notes. Pictured above is 2 coats of MILF by Illamasqua – a honeydew, green-yellow creme. Okay, so purchased it only because I loved the snarky name but this ended up being one of my favorite nail polishes of all time. Illamasqua polishes from the UK are high-end for sure, but they are butter [er....Earth Balance] smooth, highly pigmented and long-lasting. Sadly, they are no longer available at Sephora, but if you need a fix, look here. I've heard rumors that a US site is in the works.



Trustafarian by Butter London is a celery-green holographic polish. Shown with three coats. Butter London is pricey but you get what you pay for. Fabulous quality. Excellent wear.

If you don't want to break the bank on nail polish, try Jesse's Girl, which you can find at your local RiteAid for under $5. Shown, one coat of Jessie's Girl "Confetti" topcoat shown over black polish. It's very sheer on its own, which I don't recommend [see here] but layering it over black, dark purple or navy blue really brings this cheap-and-cheerful girl to life.

Which are your favorite vegan nail polish brands/colors? Any review requests?



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Thursday, October 09, 2014

review:: the green and the red, a novel

Press sample
Disclosure: The translator is my friend


Last year, when I first heard about the novel The Green and the Red by Armand Chauvel, translated from the French by Elisabeth Lyman, I admit I was skeptical. After learning that the main characters included Léa, owner of a vegetarian restaurant in a small French town, and Mathieu, a French "suit" trying to climb the corporate ladder in a local pork company, visions of stereotypes and clichés from both sides of the vegan-carnivore spectrum started twerping in my head. Remember, I am, perhaps the only woman in the world who could not manage to get past page 15 of Eat, Pray, Love, which I called "Gag, Puke, Hurl."

But I'm glad I did not, proverbially, judge this book by its cover because I was sincerely delighted with its contents. I breezed through The Green and the Red in a few days, and I was sad to close the book. It was a funny, honest and entertaining read that resonates beyond all dietary lines.  

The most successful humor makes us laugh at ourselves and others, but it also surreptitiously teaches us things in spite of ourselves. More poignant messages about animal rights and the environment are deftly interwoven into the hilarious scenarios that Chauvel paints. [I don't want to give any of the plot away, but I will say that Léa's adorable miniature pet pig, Charlene, plays prominently, as does Pervenche, her salty, hardcore animal-rights sous chef.]  

Chauvel pokes fun equally and eloquently at both obnoxious vegans and arrogant omnivores, alike. This novel will challenge your notion of tolerance and stereotypes –about both humans and animals – regardless of how you choose to eat.

 My favorite line from the whole book, in this age of divisiveness among vegans and vegetarians is, "There are as many vegetarianisms as there are vegetarians." Amen.

The Green and the Red would make a fabulous romantic comedy film. I'm thinking Zooey Deschanel could play Léa and perhaps Joaquin Phoenix could star as Mathieu? Who do you think should star?

Special kudos to the translator, Elisabeth Lyman. She did a stunning job of bringing this French novel to life for English speakers. Translating is a difficult métier. Not only do you need to be fluent in two languages, but you also need to possess the eyes, ears, and soul of a true artist and writer, who can see beyond language and into the true spirit of human nature. This is Elisabeth. Brava!

Trust me on this one, The Green and the Red is a great read. And with the holidays upon us, I can't think of a vegetarian or vegan who wouldn't love waking up and finding it in his or her stocking.

And if you're interested in seeing what else I'm into reading, follow me on Goodreads. 


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Saturday, October 04, 2014

soom tahini :: review

Press sample for review [Regular] 
Purchased by me [Chocolate]

How cute is this packaging?

Tahini is one staple I simply can't live without. I use it in baking, in hummus and other dips, as a base for sauces and salad dressings, and I've even been known to occasionally rock the tahini and jelly sandwich – much more sophisticated alternative to PB and J. Sometimes when I need a quick pick-me-up, I'll just nosh on a tablespoon straight from the jar.

SoomFoods is a newish company that produces tahini. Of course, since they're based in Philly, my home city, I was extra curious. So stoked when the nice ladies behind the sesame butter sent me a jar of their regular tahini to sample.

My kind of ingredient list. It should just say "Ingredient" – singular, not plural
Soom Tahini is crafted from just one ingredient – sesame seeds, specifically – Ethiopian White Humera sesame seeds. Honestly, despite the pervasive "foodie" culture, I never really thought about varieties of sesame seeds before, other than black and white. After doing some research I learned that many sesame seed varieties exist, each with their own flavor quirks. The White Humera is grown in the Humera region of Ethiopia.

Creamy-dreamy silky tahini
As a rule, I've nonchalantly grabbed tahini from the shelves of ethnic markets or natural food stores. Each brand I had sampled had the same signature, smoky-heavy flavor. So that's what I was expecting with Soom. One taste, though, and it was as if I had never before tried tahini. In addition to the signature smokiness – albeit more subtle – Soom Tahini also has a silky lightness and creaminess. The word that kept popping into my head was "luxurious." So far, I've used in to make my standby tahini sauce, as well as a few batches of salad dressing, and hummus. It imparts its light smokiness into whatever recipe you use it in. Apparently, chef Michael Solomonov who runs Zahav, one of my favorite restaurants in Philadelphia, orders 100 pounds of Soom each week. Zahav's hummus is the best I've ever sampled in a restaurant – and I've sampled hummus throughout Israel, Jordan and Syria.

Chocolate tahini? Yes, indeedy!
After that happy Soom tahini experience, I spied a jar of Soom Chocolate Sesame Butter calling out to me in a local market. I grabbed it, of course, and an hour later, half was gone. Yes, I ate it right from the jar and I'm not sorry. It was magnificent – imagine all of the wonderful qualities of the white tahini I just described, pimped with a decadent shot of rich chocolate to magnify the delectable smokiness. If you like chocolate hazelnut spreads [like Nutella, which in the US is not vegan], you will adore this.

Soom Chocolate Tahini may cause you to break up with your chocolate hazelnut spread.
The bottom line: I loved Soom tahinis and I will definitely buy them both again. They are now officially my go-to tahinis.

To see where you can buy Soom Tahini, look here.
To order Soom Tahini online, look here

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

urban vegan is now a plant-based review blog

First blog post at original blogspot blog on 3/28/06
I can't believe I've been blogging for 8 years... I was one of the blogosphere's early adopters. I started the Urban Vegan back in 2006, simply as a hobby and a way to connect with like-minded people. It's been a wonderful ride. I had no idea that blogging would lead to three cookbooks, cooking demos from New York to Portland to Paris, and countless wonderful friendships in between.

For both personal and philosophical reasons, I've decided to change the focus of Urban Vegan to a review-only blog. I'm pretty stoked about the fresh start. And I'm thrilled that plant-based diets are now much more common. But before I get to reviewing, here's why I'm changing my focus:

Personal reasons
1. I'm burned out.
Thinking outside the box is exhausting.
I love my day job, but it can be stressful at times with long hours. Plus, I work in the creative field – so I am continually digging into my psyche to create. By night, I then create and tweak recipes, review products, answer emails, do social media, write blog posts and take photos. Blogging takes a lot of time and organization. You can only give so much until you need time to recharge and take things in, instead of continual output. Reviews take up less energy; I'm just lending my culinary and plant-based experience to critique what someone else created.

2. I missed cooking for pleasure. 

I love to cook. Obviously, right? Since I've run this blog, every time I set out to make a meal, I felt compelled to write down the recipe or post the photo on social media. It's gotten way out of balance. Since I stopped posting recipes, I've rediscovered the pure joy of cooking.

3. I only have so much time. See #1. I've really been into running and marathon and half-marathon training, and I only have so much free time.

Philosophical reasons
1. I stand against this new culture of working for free... 
Poster from theshoppedesigns.com
It's chiseling away at the middle class – and at the real value of talented artists, chefs, writers, photographers, etc. The notion of working for free in the US is becoming so pervasive that people actually think it's normal. Guess what? Working for free is not normal or ethical.

Nowadays, our first exposure to working for free is often through unpaid college internships [which in some cases, are illegal, but in this economy, students do them anyway]. Writers, photographers, artists, and chefs are often asked to give away their content and art work for free or "on spec." Or we give it away for free by choice via social media, forfeiting our intellectual property rights. I am constantly asked to contribute free blog posts [which I used to do often but now will only do for worthy charities]. Recently, for example, a well-known athletic software company asked me if I would write a 500-word blog post for them on vegan nutrition for athletes. I said sure, if they would give me a free subscription to their service in return. No answer? No blog post. I do not work for free. [Say it with me, people. "I do not work for free." Power to the creatives!] Giving away content, art, recipes and photography undervalues what creatives do. Know what your work is worth.

Working for almost free is almost as bad. Many cookbook contracts, for example, have ridiculous stipulations that have authors largely doing their own publicity. When you factor in social media and day jobs, that's a lot of time. And just because you're a great cook doesn't mean you're a great publicist. I was very lucky. I'm grateful that my current publisher, Quarry Books did a phenomenal job of co-publicizing my most recent book Pies and Tarts with Heart But many of my vegan/vegetarian cookbook author friends have not been so lucky. "Cookbook author" sounds like a glamorous job, but it can sometimes amount to less than minimum wage.

I've given away tons of recipes and photos on my blog. In my case, my impetus was altruistic: I wanted to help animals, and raise awareness about factory farming and the then-new paradigm shift in the way we eat. I guess good karma came into play, because, working with my agent, it helped me land a bona-fide cookbook contract, and I think I accomplished all my goals. Since there are a plethora of fabulous vegan recipe blogs now, I humbly leave the recipes to them.

2. Whatever happened to quality and originality? When I started blogging 8 years ago, it was a completely innocent, honest world. There was less appropriation and more creative, fresh material and perspectives. It wasn't de rigueur for bloggers to post every precious [and not-so-precious] moment on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Now, the blogosphere and social media is largely filled with "noise." Sorry, but it's true. Everyone is a ______ [insert creative profession here]. My feed is polluted with regurgitated articles, recipes and craft ideas that have been done [and redone] to death. True originality is a rarity.

So there you have it. Part burnout. Part revolutionary [Power to the creatives!]. I'm excited to be embarking on my new adventure!


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Monday, September 15, 2014

green street rescue really needs your help!

"Will you be my forever mamma?" Cuddly, playful Mindy was found under a porch in Philly with her mom and siblings. She's being fostered at Green Street Rescue, waiting for a loving home.
If you've been following my blog, you know I volunteer for Green Street Rescue here in Philadelphia. Through Green Street, I was able to trap – and then adopt Buttons [RIP] and Pablo. With Green Street's help, I've also trapped and found homes for several other kitties including Laurel and Pumpkin. Thanks to Green Street Rescue and Saved Whiskers, a colony of 12 cats at the Philadelphia Art Museum were all trapped and neutered. Loving homes were found for 9 including these 2 cuties who were able to be socialized. My friend Vanessa and I care for the remaining 3 who had to be released because they were too aggressive to be socialized.

Horace was filthy, starving, afraid and covered with fleas when Green Street Rescue found him. See what a little love can do? He is waiting for his forever home.
Horace's tale is a typical Green Street Rescue story. He was filthy, starving, covered with fleas and scabs and had a bald tummy and infected tail when a kind lady found him on the streets of Philadelphia. He also had a UTI. Green Street covered the vet costs and the kind lady nursed him back to health and is fostering him. He turned out to be a real love bug and hasn't left his foster mom's side since his ordeal. But she is not able to keep him and he needs a forever home – someone who will love him and never-ever-ever leave him. Will it be you?

My friends at Green Street have rescued cats and kittens from horrifying situations in the city. Some cats were starving. Others were abused. Others were "dumped" like trash when their owners moved or decided they didn't want them any more. Green Street rescue is currently overrun and they really need your help. They need people to foster and adopt cats and kittens. They need donations of money – or supplies [like cat food, blankets, towels, toys, etc]

Read more about Horace, Mindy and all the other adorable adoptable kitties at Green Street Rescue. If you'd like to foster or adopt a kitty [or two or three!], contact Green Street or me. I'm happy to help facilitate! Feel free to email me with the subject line "Green Street Rescue" if you have any questions or would like to help, adopt, foster or volunteer.
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Monday, September 01, 2014

salad samurai by terry hope romero :: review and giveaway

press sample
disclosure :: I know Terry in real life
Fresh Fig and Tempeh Salad with Creamy Cilantro-Lime Dressing from Salad Samurai.

Salads. The ultimate vegan cliche, right?

Fact is, cliches exist for a reason. I, for one, gobble up a humongous salad for dinner on average about 3 nights a week. I don't eat my greens out of obligation or discipline: I truly enjoy hearty dinner salads and they're easy and fun to make. None of this side-salad-with-storebought-Italian-vinaigrette sadness for me, thank you very much. I know how to transform a salad into a meal by adding protein, crunchies, a killer dressing, and layers of complexity. Or so I thought...

Then I received a review copy of Terry Hope Romero's Salad Samurai: 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-to-Make Salads You Don't Have to Be Vegan to Love  All I can say is, Holy Guacamole. I'm an amateur. A young grasshoppa'. Terry is an old salad soul. Listen to her. Learn from her and you, too, can become a Salad Samurai.

Maple-Orange Tempeh Nibbles, my new favorite thing.
Excuse my rant, but these days, the marketplace is grossly oversaturated with cookbooks, plant-based and otherwise. [Yeah, I know, I've written a few] It's great to appreciate well-prepared, flavorful food but this foodie thing has gotten way out of balance. It seems everyone has a cookbook. But as I've learned firsthand, just because it's published, online or in print, does not necessarily mean a recipe or technique is new, innovative and/or palatable. Cookbooks have become undercurated [less quality control] and overmarketed [more about cha-ching]. Just like Instagram and Tumblr feeds tend to produce live streams of [mostly] visual noise, the blogosphere and bookstores have become a cacophony of culinary noise. There, I said it.

Back at the Ranch dressing...so easy, customiazble and groundbreaking
My current measure of an excellent cookbook or blog is when the recipes taste great, the author has a unique style, and I can actually learn something new. Check, check and check, Terry. I thought I was a salad expert but I have already learned oodles from Salad Samurai As the full, adorable title suggests, everyone loves salad – vegans, omnivores and every species in-between. And this pivotal work includes something for everyone. It's useful for both new cooks and experienced culinary curmudgeons like me. If you're a newbie, you can make the recipes exactly as Terry prescribes. Those who are already facile in the kitchen can mix and match with abandon. Tempeh Bacon Bites? That 70's Tofu? Pickled Red Grapes? Maple Orange Tempeh Nibbles? Yes, please.

Some of my favorite recipes from Terri's previous books have been salad dressings. This book is worth it just for the dressing chapter alone. My favorites so far are the Back at the Ranch Dressing, made creamy with cashews, and the Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing which is surprisingly sassy, thanks to a roasted jalapeño pepper [which you can skip if spicy is not your thing.]

While the salad recipes themselves are mouthwatering, well-orchestrated and full of color, I really prefer deconstructing the recipes and leaning on their building blocks – Terri's dressings, proteins, crunchies, etc.  I can tell you that Roasted Hemp Seed Parmesan, Sriracha and Smoke Pecans, and Herbed Pea Ricotta have made their way into my weekly meal rotation – and not just for use in salads. The mix-and-match nature of this cookbook rocks and will keep inspiring you to take your salads to the next level.

The nice folks at Da Capo Lifelong Books are giving away a copy of Salad Samurai to one lucky US reader. Good luck, kids. And eat your greens!

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