October 10

Dabba Food Truck’s Edible Enlightenment

dabba_5_Spice_Logo_RT_final1While there is no way we are going to dethrone Portland Oregon quite yet as this country’s food cart nation, I have been seeing more and more food trucks traversing the streets of Napa Valley. With most of the trucks offering lobster, oysters and chicken, I’ve had no reason to give them a try…until now! truckDabba, whose mission is to make delicious food that nourishes and enriches people’s lives, is the most recent addition to the Napa Valley Food Truck fleet. Dabba is inspired by the much loved Marin based restaurant, Avatar’s. Brother and sister team Ashok Kumar and Kala Ubhi have been feeding their loyal fans bold, fresh “marin-dian” cooking since opening up their doors in 1989. The first time I walked into their Sausalito restaurant and asked for something vegan, Ashok didn’t tell me what I would be eating but to “trust me, you’ll love it”. And guess what? I did! And I happened to be sitting at a table right next to two Marin Humane Society staff members. Talk about make a vegan, animal rights activist feel she was right at home! Well, Dabba has taken Ashok and Kala’s adventurous spirit and brought it right here to us in Napa Valley. One of their other loyal fans, Andy Mercy, came up with the idea of sharing their unique, healthy and boldly delicious food with those of us who don’t live in Marin. He enlisted one of my favorite local Chefs, Michelin-rated Walter Abrams; branded the truck with an adorable orange surfing elephant and the journey began!

Kinda looks like a big metal lunchbox, doesn't it?
Kinda looks like a big metal lunchbox, doesn’t it?

 Dabba is Hindi for lunchbox and was inspired by a complex food delivery system in Mumbai that is run by a network of bicycle delivery men called dabbawalas. For over 100 years they have been delivering dabbas filled with hot, home-cooked lunches right to their customer’s offices and then picking up the empty dabbas to deliver back to the kitchens. An amazing and efficient system if you take a moment to think about it! Though the name Dabba is based on the dabbawalas in Mumbai, the type of Indian food created is inspired from the Punjab region located about 700 miles north of Mumbai in Northwestern India near Pakistan. The local cuisine in Punjab is heavily influenced by the agriculture and farming lifestyle of the ancient Harappan Civilization and is known for extensive vegetarian dishes. Many Punjabi people consume a vegetarian diet that includes basmati rice, locally grown vegetables, lentils and legumes, dairy and paratha – a flatbread made similar to a puff pastry. The Ubhi/Kumar family brought the bold and intricate flavors of Northern India and Chef Abrams teamed with them to add the fresh and healthy choices of Northern California. Chef Abrams spent a year at their Mill Valley restaurant – Avatar’s Punjabi Burritos – jotting down the ingredients of all the recipes they made. These recipes were all in the Chef’s head and had never been written down in the 20 years their restaurants have been open! He then worked on refining the process and created what is now being served at Dabba.

 The first thing you do is pick a style – “taco” or rice bowl (burritos and salads will be added to the menu soon). It is the perfect spot since the base of every meal surfboardstarts out as vegan. Then every order comes with their 25-year old family recipe (that is finally written down thanks to Chef Abrams!) of pickles, chutney, tamarind and spicy cilantro relish. The types of vegetables is constantly changing based on the seasons because they offer local, organic veggies whenever they are available. The vegan taco choices include pumpkin, eggplant, mustard greens and mixed vegetables. The veggies can then be ordered blackened, curry or jerk style (their original  Chef was Jamaican!). This bold, deliciousness is then wrapped in the amazing paratha bread which is made with extra virgin olive oil instead of butter. Chef made me 2 tacos of eggplant, curried kale, pickled carrots, pineapple chutney, tamarind sauce, fresh herbs, spicy chutney and basmati rice. It was bold, intense, delicious and spicy. Absolutely amazing! You can replace the eggplant with pumpkin which I plan to try the next time I head over for lunch!

vegan tacos wrapped in delicious paratha bread
vegan tacos wrapped in delicious paratha bread

Next, Chef followed this vegan yumminess up with the basmati rice bowl. He shared something interesting with me that I had never heard before. The basmati rice is considered the best rice in the world and the longer the rice, the better the quality. How cool! And Dabba uses the extra-long rice to add even more flavor and texture to their meals. My bowl contained a base of long grain basmati and chick peas and then he loaded it with mustard greens, spinach, tofu and blackened veggies that contained pumpkin, zucchini, squash and a few things I just cannot remember. It was just incredible. I brought the rest of the rice bowl home with me and finished it for dinner and it actually tasted even better – the Indian spices had even more time to infuse the tofu and vegetables with their bold flavors!

Add a side of the paratha bread to your rice bowl! Yum!
Add a side of the paratha bread to your rice bowl! Yum!

 Dabba was started as a delicious research and development kitchen for the bricks and mortar restaurant they plan to open soon in San Francisco. When the truck isn’t out looking for the best waves, they are available for festivals and private events in North Bay. It is also parked every Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Yountville at Ad Hoc’s Addendum picnic garden. It is a gorgeous, serene little garden full of tables and raised bed gardens. They encourage you to follow them on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter to keep up on schedule changes and their event calendar. You can also order your food online so it is ready for you when you pull into Addendum’s garden!

 

Ad Hoc's beautiful gardens
Ad Hoc’s beautiful gardens

For those of you who have been a loyal reader since I started my blog last August, you may remember Chef Walter Abrams. He is the founder of Apicius Nutrition – they manufacture the delicious and nutritious raw, gluten & dairy-free, non-GMO Hero bars right here in Napa. His story was one of my very first posts! It was such a pleasure to see him and catch up on what has been going on in his life for the last 14 months or so. A new restaurant on wheels that will very soon lead to a new restaurant in S.F., the Hero bars still going strong and now a brand new baby boy! What a wonderful year for Walter and his family!

 addendum signBe sure to visit Dabba very soon. The food is fantastic, the garden setting beautiful with lots of picnic tables and if the food truck is a big success, we may be able to talk Chef and his partners into keeping it here in North Bay indefinitely! Since I can eat only so many tacos, I’m counting on all of you to help me out on this!

Thanks for joining me on yet another delicious Napa Valley adventure and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 6

St. Clair Brown Winery – Garden to Table Urban Eatery

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After hearing wonderful things about St. Clair Brown Winery from friends, this is what I found on their website –

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, to all bravely await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.”

How could I not fall in love with a winery that has chosen this as their manifesto?! And that was just the beginning of the wonderful things they have to offer. St. Clair Brown Winery and their winemaker Elaine St. Clair make small lot, hand-crafted wines in a state-of-the-art facility in downtown Napa. They have much less space than many of the sprawling wineries so craft their wine in smaller tanks and equipment. Which perfectly suits the production of their 200 (or less) cases of wine. But Elaine’s skills don’t just end as a world-class winemaker. She also holds a degree in Fermentation Science from the University of California at Davis. In addition to winemaking in the 90s, she also co-owned Napa Ale Works and spent a decade brewing award-winning beer. She has since returned to winemaking exclusively until now – clearly, her love for brewing never died! Sharing the same building as their winery, they are currently constructing their own micro-brewery. Once completed, it will provide a 10-barrel, all-grain system that will allow them to produce up to 300 gallons of beer made fresh daily. gardenAcross the street, in what used to be a vacant lot, sits their Garden Eatery which is nestled in the midst of their beautiful culinary garden. Their philosophy is that part of what makes Napa Valley such an amazing place to live is access to so much homegrown and locally sourced produce. Because of this, they made the decision that the grounds would be planted with a completely edible landscape. They teamed with Master Organic Gardener, Peter Jacobsen, of Jacobsen Orchards, to help make this beautiful dream a reality. Peter has been a farmer and orchardist in Napa Valley for over 30 years who grows exclusively for restaurants including several of Napa Valley’s top Michelin rated eateries. His relationships with local Chefs seems to have really spurred the current farm to table attitudes. It is so vital for us to know where our food really comes from! And it gets even sweeter! greenhouseThe garden includes a glass greenhouse that they converted into a small eatery! You can sit inside the greenhouse or at any of the many tables set throughout the garden. Because of the incredible weather in Napa, we all gathered outside to eat, drink and be merry!

I reached out to St. Clair Brown Winery before heading over…because that is what I do! Being vegan for almost 5 years, when it comes to what I put inside my body I have got to gather the facts first. I don’t like surprises…especially when I am hungry! I had a really lovely email conversation with St. Clair Brown’s Executive Chef Andreya Nightingale. The menu offers several small plate offerings and even though the menu is small, she strives to include delicious options for us vegans. In fact, her father-in-law has been vegan for 7 years and she loves cooking for him! The menu is constantly changing too based on what is in season and available in the culinary garden. Though some of the ingredients may change she prepares 5 small plates that will always be vegan – hummus with coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, chickpeas and house-made nut butter; olives with garden herbs, lemon zest and garlic; almonds made with garden herbs and extra virgin olive oil; chocolate bark made with marcona almonds, lavender, rosemary, heritage sea salt and no added sugar; and the PB&J board. PB&J boardThe PB&J board was inspired by her father-in-law who loves his Friday evening PB&J with Cabernet! When I was there, the PB&J was a delicious house-made almond-pecan, cardamom nut butter, apples and pears poached with Syrah and Cabernet, and a small baguette baked by Model Bakery. I was able to taste the olives and almonds which were both delicious. They are made with fresh herbs and lemons picked right out of their garden and the flavors really shine through. The PB&J board is wonderful. Instead of a typical jam, the wine poached fruit was a delicious surprise. And, of course, the chocolate bark was intense, dark and delicious! Chef Nightingale is also testing a house-made vegan cheese similar to Miyoko’s Kitchen in Marin and hopes to launch it on her winter menu! I am very excited about that and will let you know when that happens! And she offers a salad – when I was last there it included roasted beets and carrots tossed in lemon-walnut vinaigrette with shallots, mint and oregano from the garden. Just ask for the salad without the burrata cheese and you have yet another vegan option!

menuTo pair with the small plates, the garden eatery also offers wine by the half glass, glass, half bottle carafe or bottle. The wines include Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rose, Estate Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also offer a tasting flight that include a sampling of four wines – the Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. All made by winemaker Elaine St. Clair and all fined without the use of animal products! And if you find a wine you love, it is available to purchase at the table or in the greenhouse. If you become a wine club member (which I plan to do next visit), you not only get 2 bottles of wine every other month but a free glass of wine whenever you visit the Garden Eatery!

St. Clair Brown Winery’s Garden Eatery is located at 816 Vallejo Street and is open daily from Noon to 8 p.m. Reservations are not required but are always appreciated and can be made through their website’s Contact Us page or by calling 707.255.5591.

I eat and drink aplenty – not only for my pleasure and enjoyment but for my readers. And this experience is hands down one of my absolute favorites! The garden is such a pleasant surprise tucked into this very urban area. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful, the food is fresh and wonderful and the wine offers exceptional structural balance and layers of complex flavors. Be sure to make time to visit this little diamond in the rough; you will be so glad you did!

Thanks for joining me on my latest dining and wine tasting adventure. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

September 5

Napa Valley Vegan’s Festival Extravaganza – Part 2

So Co Vegfest

The 2nd Annual Sonoma County Vegfest has been such a success over the last two years that they have already outgrown the Finley Community Center located in Santa Rosa and are on the search for a bigger and better venue for 2016! Over 1500 people attended the celebration of compassion this year – 500 more than just last year! There were almost 60 vendors, cooking demonstrations, presentations, animal rights information, the screening of Speciesism, a Kid’s Corner and of course, tons of vegan food to eat! With just a small $5 attendance fee and children under 13 free, it opened the event up to everyone!

Trailer to Speciesism

As I am sure you are too, I am noticing more and more VegFests and similar vegan events popping up all over the country including our neighboring county Sonoma just over the mountain. Hint, hint Napa – with all of the information out there about the horrors of Factory Farming, the negative health consequences of eating a diet loaded with saturated fat, and the solid fact that the production of animals for meat is destroying our planet, it is time to pay attention. The plant based movement is not going away but growing bigger and stronger every day! Just like so many of my fellow vegans, this festival made me feel right at home. I was able to connect (and reconnect) with others that feel the same way as I do so that I could recharge and keep up the good (nonviolent) fight! Some really exciting news I heard about the SoCo Veg Fest is that of the 1500 who attended half of them eat meat and two-thirds are ovo-lacto vegetarian. But they are curious in learning more and making changes. And being surrounded by good people, great information and delicious food helps in making change!

After attending the Taste of Napa earlier this summer and having only a few vegan choices, I was really excited and ready to eat every tasty vegan treat I could find. And, oh boy, did I! Some of my favorite vendors were at the Vegfest again this year.

MiyokoMiyoko Schinner and her team from Miyoko’s Kitchen were serving her incredible nut based artisan cheeses. I’ve been eating a plant based diet now for almost 8 years and am still just amazed by the improvements in the dairy free cheeses now available. Just 5 years ago when I made the change from ovo-lacto vegetarian to vegan, the cheese alternatives were so bad that I chose not to eat them. But now, Miyoko’s cheeses are so delicious and authentic they will easily satisfy all of your friends – vegan and non-vegan alike!

V-dog was there again showing dog guardians that their four legged family members can eat a healthy vegan diet too. v-dogV-dog’s kibble is corn, wheat and soy free and is made in the U.S. In fact, I met Linda Middlesworth, co-owner of V-dog, several years ago at Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals and my dogs have been vegan ever since. It is such a comfort to know that my dogs are eating compassionate and healthy food. And they absolutely love all of the fruits, vegetables and grains that I have added to their diet so they have a little variety!

Earth EliSjaak’s Organic Chocolate is located in Petaluma and makes the most amazing organic vegan chocolates and candy bars. My absolute favorite are their Eli’s Earth Bars – vegan, organic, fair trade and the best candy bars I have ever had! Sjaak’s also gives back 5% of every sale to non-profit charitable organizations that benefit children so children can embrace what matters – joy, peace and delight! I definitely brought a few of the Earth Bars home with me to share with my husband.

cupcakes
So many cupcakes to eat! Thank you Muir’s Tea Room.

I was also delighted to see Muir’s Tea Room back for the second year. They were still working on opening their new vegan tea room in Sebastopol when I met them at the Vegfest last year. Now they are open and thriving! They were inspired by Scottish conservationist John Muir and opened their tea room in December 2014 in downtown Sebastopol in a historic Victorian home. Offering a delightful respite, they serve the traditional Scottish/English high tea service with tiered racks of finger sandwiches, petit fours, scones, fairy cakes, pastries and a pot of tea. They also offer lunch items that include sandwiches, salads with homemade dressings and 2 house made soups daily. They proudly use the freshest ingredients, local and organic whenever possible! I am absolutely mad for cupcakes and theirs are some of the best. In fact, I had 2 while wandering the Vegfest!

Animal Place’s Vegan Republic specialty store was also there selling vegan groceries, accessories and skin care products!I happily ran into my friend Carol Treacy. Carol is the author of Vegan Cowboy. Mirroring her own life in many ways, the story takes place in Petaluma and is about a 50-something woman wanting to expose factory farming and finally following her own intuition.

Citizen Fox signI learned about Citizen Fox last October at Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals event in San Francisco. While they continue working to find their own bricks and mortar restaurant, they currently offer pop-up brunch and dinner.  I was happy to see them serving their delicious food at the Fest. In fact, someone walked past be with a vegan corndog and I would not rest until I found out where they got it. The line at Citizen Fox was already getting long even though the Vegfest had just begun. I ordered my corndog and enjoyed every last bite of it!

Oh vegan corndog how I loved you!
Oh vegan corndog how I loved you!

I also met a couple new vendors this year – as I mentioned before, I am crazy for cupcakes. In fact, the only thing that will lure me away from a vegan cupcake is a vegan yeast raised doughnut! Well, my husband Steve is a cookie monster! And since he was stuck at work all day I promised myself I would find him some yummy cookies. And with the help of My Sweetheart Wife’s Vegan Kitchen I found Steve a ginger and chocolate chip cookie. He was very happy! I also had my first scoop of peanut butter nice cream from Subzero. Subzero is located in Sebastopol and has no freezers in their store. They mix each order individually by hand and freeze with liquid nitrogen! Because each order is custom made, they are able to offer whatever you want…vegan, gluten free, etc. This vegan ice cream was exactly what I remember about ice cream before I gave up dairy. Creamy, smooth and amazing. I was really blown away!

Subzero - made with liquid nitrogen!
Subzero – made with liquid nitrogen!

The screening of Speciesism: The Movie was available for everyone to view. The director Mark Devries set out to explore the hidden factory farms that modern farms continue to try to keep secret. Mark Devries takes the viewers on a sometimes funny, sometimes frightening adventure from crawling through the bushes that hide the factories, flying above the toxic manure lagoons and sometimes coming face to face with those who have most at stake in keeping us in the dark!

There were many wonderful speakers this year including Priya Sawhney, the lead international organizer and investigator for Direct Action Everywhere. She discussed the importance of open rescue and also the findings of a recent investigation and rescue that exposed shocking cruelty at a “humane” Whole Foods farm. Priya discussed how DxE’s campaigns have provoked public consciousness and inspired nonviolent direct action in over 95 cities and 20 countries.

Dr. Ulka Agarwal is a board certified physician who specializes in psychiatry, nutrition and integrative medicine. She is currently the Lead Physician at Cal State University East Bay where she developed and leads a weekly employee wellness program on plant-based nutrition. She also worked with Dr. Neal Barnard for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine researching the effects of plant-based diets on chronic illness and mental health. She shared her findings on the relationship between plant-based food and mood. She leads a vegan lifestyle and believes that every living being deserves a life of dignity and respect.

Mark Hawthorne, author of Bleating Hearts, discussed compassionate choices, the truth behind animal exploitation and how we can all make a difference. Offering a very empowering talk, he discussed a wide variety of simple methods for putting compassion into action for animals.

Jack Norris, registered dietician and Executive Director of Vegan Outreach, discussed the research that has been done on vegans, rates for common chronic disease and the specific nutrients we need. Vegan Outreach promotes individual outreach through distribution of booklets on campuses through an Adopt a College program. Jack has also co-written Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet.

Best-selling author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau offered an inspiring, entertaining and informative lecture with responses to everything from “I don’t have time to chop vegetables” and “I tried to be vegetarian but I craved meat” to “I could give up everything, except cheese” and “Vegans don’t get enough protein”. She is an acclaimed speaker and beloved host of the inspiring podcast, “Food for Thought,” which was voted Favorite Podcast by VegNews magazine readers. Colleen shares her message of compassion and wellness on national and regional TV programs, including the Food Network, CBS, PBS, and FOX. Interviews with her have been featured on NPR, U.S. News and World Report, and The Chicago Tribune, and her recipes have been featured on Epicurious.com and Oprah.com. Colleen is a regular contributor to National Public Radio.

The Sonoma County Fair refused to allow this cake to be entered into their
The Sonoma County Fair refused to allow this cake to be entered into their “Ugliest Cake Contest”

I have to make an “Honorable Mention” to the Ugliest Cake I have ever seen! This cake was entered into the Sonoma County Fair’s “Ugliest Cake Contest”. Though the baker was allowed to enter the cake, they refused to display it on the table with the other contestants. They were unable to give him a reason why but the Vegfest was happy to let it be shared with others. I have known about the ugly truth of factory farming for a long time and am no longer able to look away from it. However, not everyone is able to look these truths in the eye quite yet!

The Sonoma County Vegfest earned an A+ from me this year. The food was amazing and plentiful, there were many animals rights’ groups offering powerful information, vegan goods available to purchase (I got a couple t-shirts!), awesome speakers and demonstrations plus a wonderful energy of compassion. Santa Rosa is just an hour from Napa and well worth the drive. Absolutely an experience you don’t want to miss! I look forward to seeing you there next year! Thanks for joining me on my tour of summer festivals. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!