Sunday, September 21, 2014

24 hours in Versailles

Early Friday morning, while twisted in a pretzel pose on a yoga mat in the middle of the living room, I heard Jeff call from the other room. "Hey, do you have power in there?" Slowly unfolding myself, I straightened up and looked for some signs of connectivity. The digital clock stared back at me with a blank expression.


The gardienne of our building confirmed it: The guys in the green suits huddled around our building's front door had clipped the power to work on the lines, and the estimated time until reconnectivity was approximately 10 hours.

"Seriously?! What are we supposed to do?!"

Power outages are just opportunities for adventure in disguise. So maybe we didn't have WiFi nor a functioning landline phone, and only had limited battery power for our laptops, but we did have an entire day ahead of us and scads of possibilities for getting out of our usual routines. Plus, the sun was shining and it was 75 degrees. That doesn't happen very often in Paris!

Fanny rides sidesaddle in her own pannier. And yes, she is fastened to her carrier so she can't jump out!
Recent rains have turned the Bois de Boulogne into a fungi forest.
If you're unsure about whether a mushroom is edible, you can bring it to a French pharmacist for confirmation. They're trained to ID poisonous varieties.

"How about an overnight trip to Versailles? On our bikes?"

"Sounds great. Let's go!"

We packed one pannier each, plus an extra one for the dog. A change of clothes, a water bottle, laptop, dog food, et voila. Done! Almost.

"Crap. How are we going to make a hotel reservation without internets?"

About six months ago, I submitted the final manuscript for Moon Living Abroad in Paris, a new guide in the Avalon Travel/Moon Guides Living Abroad series. (I am also the author of Moon Living Abroad in France, and soon to be the author of an updated and revised edition of that book, to be published in late 2015.) While I don't yet have a copy of the finished book in my hands, I do have my original Word files, in which I included an entire section on Versailles. Under "Planning Your Fact-Finding Trip," I found the hotel and B & B listings. Perfect! Using my own resources, and with a single phone call, we had a same-day reservation at a centrally located hotel that accepts dogs. 

Look up toward St. Cloud, our first stop outside of Paris.

On a passerelle over the Seine, looking downriver.
A garden along the railway on the St. Cloud side of the Seine.
Versailles, here we come!

That way >>
We set off in the direction of the Bois de Boulogne, one of the forests that bookends Paris, on the west side. Once inside the woods, the air was fresh and smelled damp and earthy. The little cycling and walking paths that zig-zag through the trees were blanketed in fallen leaves, and beneath the oaks, acorns covered the ground. It felt autumnal and wonderful. The rain the previous night had unleashed giant blooms of white, yellow, and brown mushrooms, and the blissfully warm air lured joggers and dog-walkers by the dozens.

A little picnic break beneath the sun.

The sign affixed to this cute old building described it as Charles X's hunting lodge (boo, hiss!).

Riding through the beautiful forest lands that stretch between Paris and Versailles, we inhaled more deliciously fresh air, and enjoyed the birdsong and the gentle breezes, and stopped from time to time to get a good look at historical monuments, including a former King of France's hunting lodge, and anything else that caught our fancy: flowers, more mushrooms, small birds of prey in the trees.

We stopped for a picnic in the Domaine National de Saint Cloud, another one-time playground of French royalty. We found a sunny spot to sup and relax before heading onward toward Versailles. The entire trip, with plenty of breaks, took about three hours. We could have done it in a third of the time, but this was supposed to be about slowing the pace down and enjoying the unplugged outdoors.

Riding into Versailles, we got stuck in a traffic jam around the main market square, where all the fruit and veg vendors were packing up after a long market day. Squeezing through, we finally worked our way over to Avenue de Paris and our hotel, which was quiet and cute and staffed with very friendly people. Next stop: A cafe for un verre. Afterward, we roamed the streets, poking our noses into shops, investigating restaurant menus, and generally appreciating the change of scenery.

First stop in Versailles: A cafe to cool off with liquid refreshment.

Now that our turntable is functioning, I can make impromptu music purchases again. These perfect-condition gems came from a Versailles vintage shop. 

J'adore antiquities! 

I think there's a military parade in France every day of the year.

We didn't join the gazillions of other tourists at the palace, but we did appreciate its gilded opulence from afar.   

We rode the Owl Trail most of the way home from Versailles.

Fun in the forest.
This St. Cloud street is closed on Fridays, when it is transformed into a marketplace where you can buy fruits, vegetables, and even fresh falafel sandwiches! 

Back in Paris the next day, we lucked out again with blue skies and balmy temperatures. It was only 1:30 when we got in, and we were hungry, so what did we do? Cycle over to La Chapelle, of course, for Indian food.

Almost home!

A weekend tradition: Utthampam from Sangeetha vegetarian restaurant.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Slew of Swell Changes

Four months is far too long to ignore a living entity like this poor blog. If anyone is still out there to read and accept my apology, hurray! I'm sorry for such a long absence!

Since my last post in April, I've eaten my way through several cities including Budapest, Barcelona, and Bakersfield, to name a few, plus San Francisco and the Spanish island of Ibiza to name two more. I've had one vegetarian Paris-themed article published (in UK magazine Vegetarian Living), launched a travel+wellness+beauty lifestyle magazine for vegan-leaning women (Swell! is still in its infancy stage, but you have to start somewhere!), wrote a gluten-free vegan cookbook for Callisto Media, and just had my third book, Vegetarian Paris, published by UK publishing house Vegetarian Guides.

(Would you like a free copy? Yes, you say? Then mosey over here for a chance to win one!)

Change is definitely in the air, but I'm not sure what direction life will take me (or, to be more "in charge" and "proactive" sounding, which direction I will take life). I dream of a mobile lifestyle where I chase the sun and swim daily in the sea, eat healthfully every day and stay stress-free, surrounded by humans and animals I adore. That's a dream in progress! Meaningful work is another part of the life-quest equation, and I sometimes wonder whether all the stars will align in a way that brings deep, unbridled joy--or at least high levels of satisfaction!

Well, while I sort it all out, I'll leave you with a few photos snapped over the last few months. And what about you? What are you doing/eating/reading/thinking/loving right now?

Good eatin' in Budapest at Napfenyes Etterem.

Vegans can sniff these out from kilometers away.

Vintage in Budapest.

Dreams really do come true: The raw vegan cake edition. (@ Mannatural in Budapest)

Last chance at summer! Late August in Ibiza.

See where it says "Travel"? That's my piece!

An early mock-up of my newest book. In the final version, my name isn't so front and center.

Barcelona treats.

Barcelona, looking a lot like San Francisco here (except for those silly trees in the foreground).

Will the real San Francisco please stand up?!

A little vegan oasis in ... Bakersfield!
Goodbye, summer!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Buy This Book! or My Interview With an Awesome Vegan Author

When I first heard that my former colleague and rockstar writer/editor Elizabeth Castoria landed herself a snazzy book deal, my first thought was “what the hell took so long?!” The girl's got talent by the bucketful, and it just so happens that her specialty sits at the intersection of creative writing, information sharing, and vegan know-how.

Pretty ... freaking awesome! The author gives good face AND good advice.
Elizabeth's melded those above-par skills and packaged them up for inquisitive would-be herbivores in her gorgeous inside-and-out How To Be Vegan (Workman Publishing/Artisan Books, 2014).

Written in her uniquely witty voice, How To Be Vegan answers all the burning questions you and everyone you know might have about living a plant-based  lifestyle, including perennial favorite “where do you get your protein?” It also includes loads of I-need-to-make-this-right-now recipes (developed by prolific vegan powerhouse/culinary genius Robin Robertson), awesome flow charts, and even a Venn diagram or two.

The best way to learn all about Elizabeth's book is to go out and buy it--for yourself, for your friends, your family, your neighbors, and maybe even your cat, if you roll that way. The second best? Read this interview!

Q.So much good stuff in this book! What was your favorite part of the writing process? 

Thank you! It was such a blast to write, and I definitely hope that people have an equally good time reading it. It was really fun to try and think up all the questions that someone who’s new to eating plants might have. It’s been so long (roughly 15 years!) since I made the switch that my lifestyle is a little bit on autopilot. So, getting to rethink all the things that I do to make living this way easy and enjoyable was definitely fun. 

Gorgeous, n'est ce pas? Makes you want to go out + get a copy! 
Q.What piece of advice do you share in this book that you wish someone had shared with you when you were going vegan?

Good question! Like most teenagers, I was a little bit needlessly intense when I first went vegan, and that carried on for a few years. I had pretty inflexible ideas about living this way, and I made some judgements that I wouldn’t make today. There’s a fun little diagram in the book that has two circles like you might see in a Venn diagram labelled “Judgement” and “Your Thoughts” and there’s no overlap between them. Frankly, I wish I’d had this advice (or, more likely, actually listened to it!) when I was younger because judgement of ourselves and others is such a waste of valuable energy. Like, I could have been mastering computer coding with all the time I frittered away worrying about other people’s business.

Q.I swooned over the section on vegan travel destinations. What's your favorite out-of-town escape and what makes it so special?

You were one of the people who inspired that section, you world traveler. I hope to catch up to your country tally someday! As far as the places I have been, I love New Mexico. My dad grew up in Albuquerque, and we used to take family road trips out there every few years when I was a kid. I’ve been enchanted with that land my whole life, and it’s something that just deepens as I get older. Last year I visited Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Truth or Consequences, and White Sands with my sweetie, and it was so lovely to get to share something that’s held such a special place for me with him. And, duh, green chile sauce is the food of the gods.

 Q. I did not know Nutter Butters were vegan and am very upset I haven't been eating these for the last 14 years. What other edible treats might readers be surprised to learn they don't have to relinquish when bidding adieu to dairy and meat?

Nutter Butters are one of the things that I love to treat myself to when I’m flying somewhere because just about every airport in the States has them, and flying makes me nervous, which necessitates treats. I think it’s pretty solid logic. A few other surprisingly vegan goodies (and by “goodies” I definitely mean things that are processed beyond belief and probably aren’t technically food—as in, delicious) include Oreos (even the birthday cake flavor!), Wheat Thins, Cap’n Crunch, and Fritos. Basically, everything at a gas station, minus all the jerky.

Q. You've sold 1,000,000 copies of your book and don't have to worry about working for a while. What does the future look like for the world's luckiest vegan author?

Oooh, I like the way you think! First, trip to Paris during which I’ll beg you to show me all the great places to eat around town, and we will drink all of the Champagne. All of it. Remorselessly. I know it’s a little cliche to say that I’d travel more, but I really would!

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Super-Naturelle Night

I knew it was going to be a good night just as soon as Jenny eased her Smart Car into the impossibly tight space (with one intent onlooker just waiting for bumpers to grind) almost directly in front of Super Naturelle's new headquarters. We were a little late getting to the opening party for this vegan culinary school on a steep Montmartre back street, but there's nothing like a little rock star parking to shift one's perspective and get you amped up for a night of fun.

Jenny from super vegan resto My Kitch'n, about to make her grand entrance.
The Super Naturelle HQ is tucked into a corner of a typical 19th century Parisian courtyard, in a space that was once an painter's atelier. Today, artistry of a different stripe is performed here, and it has to do with one of my favorite subjects: Vegan food. I had no idea what to expect, but knew that I'd be meeting Ona Maiocco, the gorgeous girl behind the Super Naturelle brand. I'd interviewed her by email for Vegetarian Paris, but we hadn't actually met in person, and I was excited at the prospect.

What I definitely hadn't expected was for the soiree to be a who's-who of the vegan Parisian gliteratti. Stepping across the threshold and into the open and airy space, I immediately spotted Amelie Pieron, who hosts amazing pop-up vegan events in Paris and Montreal. (I was lucky enough to attend one of her raw events a couple of years ago.)  Next, I spied Marie LaForet, a blogger and cookbook author who's work I've long admired. Could it get any better? Well, there was Ona herself, more beautiful in person than in her lovely photos--and behind her, Sebastian Kardinal, the dapper dude/creative talent behind the vegan lifestyle blog and VG-Zone. Woopwoop!

Sebastian, Elodie, Jenny, and Marie strike a pose.
Ona, in the vivid turquoise scarf, holds court in her palatial digs.
Everyone was friendly, the food was hyper bonne (of course it was!), and the wine was HELLO it was wine so it was obviously splendid. Paris's vegan community needs to come together like this more often. Let's open more plant-based businesses so we have more excuses to make merry!

Isa Chandra was there, too!

Vegan powerhouses/local celebs Amelie Pieron and Ona Maiocco.

This creamy, nutty, chocolately confection was the best thing I'd scarfed down in ages. 

Pretty awesome: Lovely Ona kindly gave me a copy of her nearly-sold-out cookbook. I can't wait to make the Apricot and Lavender Creme biscuits ((swoon)).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chocolate-Covered Gentile Joy

As a kid, I loved those occasional Saturday-night sleepovers at friends’ houses. Besides a night of giggles and girl talk, it often meant going to church on Sunday. For someone raised in a non-religious home, it wasn’t the prospect of a sermon or singing hymns that was so enticing, but the food. 

Whether it was a bland wafer and sip of faux wine or a bountiful post-Sunday school potluck, I loved the combination of ritual, new experience, and something different and edible on my tongue.  Today, the intersection of food and religion still fascinates me—from Buddhism to Islam and beyond. That's why, when researching a short piece I wrote for Vegetarian Times on Passover foods, I was excited to stumble upon this accidentally vegan treat:

As part of the investigative reporting process, I felt it was important to make a thorough examination and ensure they were, as you might say, "kosher" for vegans. They were. Definitely no dairy, eggs, or anything weird lurking inside, and they tasted pretty good, too. They're simply matzo crackers--which are essentially flour and water--coated (very thinly) in chocolate. If it's been a while since you've had, say, a Twix bar or some other mainstream candy thing with a crunchy component, you might be able to imagine that you're munching on that while you're munching on these.

Passover's not over yet, and I found these at my local supermarket. You might be able to find them at yours, too!

p.s. The box promises to deliver "real chocolate." Is there any other kind? Please say no.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Chez le Dentiste

I went to the dentist today. Care to hazard a guess on what this uninsured girl paid for an office visit and a cavity filling?

81 euro.

I'm kind of OK with that price.

What does it cost where you are for a visit to the dentist?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Teetotally Surprised

This isn't exactly related to Paris or veganism, but the last 31 days of not drinking have certainly been an adventure.

I embarked on this intentional dry spell for a few reasons, beginning with willpower. Do I possess any? I've been able to dig in and move past some other toughies over the years--a wicked nicotine addiction lasting more than a decade being the biggie. But--as anyone who knows me well will attest--I LOVE drinking. More specifically, I love the taste of a good red wine (or white. or rose. sparkling or not.).

I also adore the relaxing effects that alcohol delivers. Another thing most close friends and family know about me is that I'm an anxiety case. It's gotten better over the years, and I've never had to rely on pharmaceuticals to see me through it--because why should I? I've got booze! Alcohol really worked for me on that level, but deep down, I've always felt there were probably healthier ways to deal with those worrisome feelings.

And finally, I've really been wanting to take control of my health, but just have't been able to lately. I've gained a few pounds (five, to be precise) since moving to France, and it's really eroded my confidence as it relates to body image. And I've also experienced bouts of acne in the last  few years that I suspect are hormonal, but knowing that the liver helps regulate hormones, I wondered if a taxed organ might be impeding my body's ability to heal itself.

The experience was wonderful and weird and interesting. I expected to have wine cravings, but I really didn't. I did end up craving sugar, which is what our bodies convert alcohol into, so that made sense. I ate chocolate for breakfast probably 25 out of the past 31 days. But not before downing a glass of lemon water, followed by another glass of water with a dropperful of milk thistle, a powerful herb that supports liver health.

The hardest part of living "clean and slobber" (as my old friend Chris from my SF/SPCA days would quip) was the social aspect. Attending events where the wine was flowing and not engaging in the liquid experience was so overwhelmingly incongruous to my normal habits that my brain didn't know how to handle it. It sometimes felt like I was having an out of body experience, watching a tray of Champagne flutes float by and saying "non, merci."

Mostly, I said "no" to social engagements--especially parties or gatherings at old watering holes. I just didn't think it would be fun without booze, which got me wondering: Is going to bars and cafes just a big waste of time?

Three weeks in and feeling good!

Unexpectedly, my anxiety actually seemed to decrease without alcohol in the picture. I don't know what that's all about exactly--especially considering I would often drink coffee in those moments when I'd normally order un verre de vin rouge--but I welcomed it. And I didn't have problems sleeping like I thought I might. In fact, I slept really, really well, nearly every night.

On a purely superficial level, the best part about my month-long booze fast is that my skin really looks a lot better. More hydrated. Less acne. Less redness. Just better. And while I can't say for sure, I think I've lost weight. I'm really happy about that.

Another surprise is that I didn't really feel any different, physically. Not really any increased energy or anything like that. I don't know what I was expecting, but it seemed a little strange that besides clearer skin and possible weight loss, there were no real physical effects. I asked Jeff if I seemed any different, personality wise, as a drinker vs. non-drinker, and he said no. OK. Interesting!

Today is Chinese New Year. I'm having friends over for dinner and I may or may not have a drink. I love the thought of moderation, of not being dependent on anyone or any thing, and also of letting go of things that don't serve me well. I hope that it's not a slippery slope, and that an evening of social drinking won't "undo" the nice changes that have transpired in the last month. It's the year of the horse, and in the spirit of holiday, I'm charging forward at a good gallop, bringing good habits with me into the new year.