February 2

Sweetie Pies Bakery – Satisfying Your (Vegan) Sweet Tooth!

Located at 520 Main Street in Downtown Napa!
Located at 520 Main Street in Downtown Napa!

Since becoming vegan the thing I miss the most when a sugar craving strikes, is the freedom to walk into a local bakery and satisfy my sweet tooth! Finding a vegan-friendly bakery in Napa has become a part time job for me. There is no doubt that I have enough skill to bake cookies or mix up a batch of cupcakes but that is really not the point. Frankly, the last thing I need in the house is a dozen cupcakes when I only wanted one in the first place! You know how that is, right?!

Oh...so many choices...so little time.
Oh…so many choices…so little time.

Well, after searching Napa’s local bakeries for the last 3 years my luck has finally changed! When it comes to vegan cupcakes, anyway! This summer while I was volunteering for Napa Humane’s Mobile Adoption Clinic at the Napa Farmer’s Market, I happily found the remedy to my problem. While wandering around the Market, I noticed Sweetie Pies had a stall – Sweetie Pies is a local bakery located in downtown Napa. I have been into Sweet Pies several times over the last couple years but have always left disappointed since they did not offer any vegan choices yet. I walked over not expecting the answer I wanted but had to ask all the same. “Hi,” I said. “Do you guys finally have any vegan options?” And the magical answer was “Yes, our mixed berry muffins are vegan.” After I did a double take, a little dance and a cheer, I ordered the last vegan muffin she had left. I wasn’t even really hungry but I knew that I had to celebrate this extraordinary win! I thanked her profusely and quite thoroughly devoured the delicious muffin!

Mixed Berry Vegan Muffins
          Mixed Berry Vegan Muffins

Since making this amazing discovery, I have had the opportunity to visit the Sweetie Pies bakery on Main Street from time to time and have always really enjoyed the berry muffin. Last week my husband and I stopped in to see what other delightful morsels might be available and were excited to see that their vegan menu continues to expand. In addition to the mixed berry muffins, they also had vegan chocolate cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies available.  We ordered one cupcake and one muffin and took them home to share with our vegan dogs – Buttercup, Tobey Jug and Violet. The muffin was amazing as usual but I have always been a sucker for a good cupcake. And this cupcake was truly one of the best I have ever had. In fact, I loved the cupcake so much I headed back in later that week and special ordered their vegan chocolate cake for my husband’s birthday celebration. The cake was a luscious 6 inch triple layer chocolate cake with chocolate soy pudding in between the layers topped with soy buttercream frosting. Just like the cupcake, this cake far exceeded my expectations. In fact, I am sitting here salivating as I type!

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Vegan chocolate cupcake with soy buttercream & vegan mixed berry muffin.
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Vegan chocolate cake with soy pudding & delicious soy buttercream frosting!
birthday cake
I just emailed them a sketch of my beloved Tobey Jug and they made an edible image of our favorite boy!

Honestly, the fact that these sugary creations are so delicious really should not come as a surprise. Toni Chiapetta, Owner & Pastry Chef of Sweet Pies has been a dessert connoisseur since she was a child. For Toni, the only reason to eat dinner was to get to the dessert! From the Table Talk pies featured at her parent’s luncheonette, to her first experiments baking chocolate cake, dessert has been a huge part of her life! Her career as a pastry chef began at home with her Mom Tess. Once Tess helped ignite Toni’s passion for baked works of art, Toni headed off to study at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. From there, she next studied at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (now none as ICE – The Institute of Culinary Education) and under Albert Kumin, renowned Swiss pastry chef and former White House pastry chef. Toni’s first professional baking gig was at Icarus in Boston. She then headed to Sfuzzi in Philadelphia and then finally to Bistro Don Giovani here in Napa Valley.

Toni - Owner & Pastry Chef
Toni – Owner & Pastry Chef

I have been fired a time or two and for about the first 5 minutes I remember thinking – “S*@t! Now what am I going to do?” But in both cases, getting fired from jobs that were not helping me reach my potential was absolutely the best thing that could have happened to me. Well, ends up the same thing happened to Toni. Getting fired from her job ended up being the best thing that ever happened to her and the rest of the dessert-eating world! Toni brushed herself off and retreated to her Victorian apartment and tiny oven and commenced to baking! Toni only had the room to bake one cake at a time but instead of giving up, she thrived. She began delivering samples to our local coffee shop Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company. Her baked goods were such a success that within four months she was able to move her operation to a commercial kitchen and for the first time Sweetie Pies had a payroll! She continued baking and succeeding and finally on September 15th, 2000 Sweetie Pies became one of the first businesses to open in The Hatt Building in downtown Napa! And even though Sweetie Pies is now a booming business with a staff of dedicated bakers, Toni continues to oversee every aspect of the operation…from developing new recipes (some of them vegan, yay!), to training new culinarians, to taking out the trash and paying the bills but most important of all she continues to try to satisfy her incurable sweet tooth!

Part of the Sweetie Pies' Team
Part of the Sweetie Pies’ Team

Sweet Pies not only has the bakery in the Hatt Building at 520 Main Street in downtown Napa but also offers a stall at the Napa Farmers Market from May to October and bakes for food distributors and retail stores. Sweetie Pies also bakes custom cakes for special occasions including birthday and wedding cakes. Their pumpkin pie has been awarded a Top Pick in Bon Appetit Magazine’s feature on “Best Mail-Order Pies.”  Sweetie Pies’ strawberry-rhubarb pie has been featured in Food & Wine: American’s Best Pie Spots. And is also a Martha Stewart 2014 American Made Finalist. So between my ravings and these other prestigious mentions, you need to stop by Sweetie Pies right now! Get yourself one of her delicious vegan cupcakes, cakes, muffins, cookies…or one of each and thank them for offering so many delicious choices!!

Two of many awards!
Two of many awards!

bon3a

As always, thanks for reading and eat, drink…and be vegan!

January 22

Join Napa Valley Vegan on Tout Suite Social Club – Episode 4!

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I invite you to join me on Wednesday, January 28th at 6 p.m. for my 4th live streaming episode on Tout Suite Social Club. I will be hosting a cooking demonstration and will be making two delicious vegan pasta sauces – a refreshing avocado sauce and my world famous mac n cheez.

Avocado Pasta Sauce

For all of my readers who do not live here in Napa Valley or just can’t make it to the studio by 6 p.m., I invite you to log onto Tout Suite’s website and  join me remotely. Once my episode begins at 6 p.m., please feel free to join in by using your webcam. This will allow you to go interactive and fully participate in the episode – you will be able to ask questions, make comments and your image will be visible to me and the other viewers!  You will be a part of the show!!

For those of you who live locally, please join me and be a part of the live studio audience. The studio is located at Tout Suite Social Club, 68 Coombs Street, Suite L5 in Napa. Come ready to ask questions, make comments and do a little noshing on pasta. Yum!

I look forward to seeing you Wednesday night and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

January 6

DIA Goes Vegan!

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Happy New Year! However you celebrate this time of year, I hope it was joyful and wonderful. I had planned to have a very quiet and relaxing December and for the most part I did. But at the last minute I decided to fly home to Northern Michigan to be a part of my Grandma Hogue’s surprise 85th birthday party. You have to understand that I left my much loved family and friends and moved away from Northern Michigan twenty years ago because I could not stand being cold any longer! I always promised myself that I would NEVER visit in the winter. Northern Michigan is stunning in the spring and summer so why visit any other time of year, right?  And yet here I was…flying (literally) into the eye of the storm! That is how excited I was about seeing my large, extended family all in one place and celebrating my Grandma’s wonderful time on this planet!

My flight took me from Sacramento through Denver International Airport and finally into Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Being a vegan, the first thing I did before my journey began was to find dining options at DIA. I want to thank Cadry’s Kitchen for an amazingly comprehensive list of the vegan-friendly food available at the airport. When I flew into Terminal C, I had a list of restaurants to choose from including Einstein Bros. Bagels, which used to be one of my favorite spots when I lived in gorgeous Boulder, Colorado; Tamales by La Casita; TCBY Frozen Yogurt and Root Down. Root Down was clearly her unanimous favorite so I really looked forward to trying it! I don’t know about you but I have never looked forward to a meal in an airport before this trip – vegan or otherwise! To reach my flight from Sacramento, I left my home in Napa at about 2 a.m. so I wasn’t really in the mood for breakfast before my journey began. Although I arrived in Denver around 9 a.m., I had been up for so long it felt like lunch was in order instead of breakfast so I grabbed my bags and headed to Root Down.

Root Down in the center of Terminal C!
Root Down in the center of Terminal C!

In addition to the rave reviews I found about Root Down’s food, I was also thrilled to spend my money with a restaurant that is also known for its “field to fork” mentality and stays as local, sustainable and organic as possible. In addition to being vegan-friendly, they also label the many delicious gluten-free options. Please remember though that the Gluten-free and Vegan choices are by request only so be sure you mention that when you order. They have a friendly hostess who offered to seat me and also suggested the bar as an option if I did not want to wait. Since I was on my own, I headed over to the bar to join the other solo travelers.

You've got to stay hydrated in this arid, high altitude!
You’ve got to stay hydrated in this arid, high altitude!

The menu offered a wonderful array of choices and even at 9 a.m. they were happy to serve me lunch instead of breakfast! Their menu is “globally influenced” which essentially means they are not tied to one genre or style and really go wherever the chef’s inspiration takes them. My soup and salad options included the Colorado Green Chili served with grilled corn, sour cream, cilantro and tortilla chips (V, GF); the House salad with arugula and romaine, cherry tomatoes, pickled red onions, beet-sunflower pesto and basil vinaigrette (V, GF). Country-fried tofu can be requested vegan and gluten-free and added to the salad. The share options included Sweet potato waffle fries (V, GF) or Edamame Hummus which is served with sesame seeds, medjool dates, olives, radish, chili oil and naan (V, GF). The sandwich options include the NY Reuben which is veganized with the elimination of pastrami and the addition of the country-fried tofu and the Root Down veggie burger served with avocado, arugula, jalapeno jam, curry lime sauce and sweet potato fries (V). Before I eliminated meat from my diet 7 years ago, I really enjoyed getting a burger and fries once in a while so I was excited to give the veggie burger a try. I rationalized that I was on vacation so a burger instead of the delicious and healthy salad was totally acceptable! My server/bartender was friendly, busy and very efficient and I asked her to please make the meal vegan when I placed my order. When the burger was served, I was so glad that is what I ordered! Instead of serving it on the pretzel roll, they put it on a delicious ciabatta bun. It tasted fresh and housemade and was a meal large enough for two people. Along with the tasty, crispy sweet potato fries, I was in food bliss! And I don’t think that was just the altitude talking! I had plenty of leftovers so was able to stay satisfied for the rest of my trip to Michigan without having to compromise on my food choices!

The Root Down Veggie Burger - made-to-order vegan!
The Root Down Veggie Burger – made-to-order vegan!

If you happen to be traveling to Napa Valley and the Bay Area and fly through Denver, you must give Root Down a try. If you plan to spend some time in Denver on your way to Northern California, Root Down also has a restaurant located in the historic Highland neighborhood. From everything I have read and the amazing food they offer at Denver’s airport, it will be an unforgettable gastronomic experience. The place is always full so be sure to book reservations and don’t worry about parking – they offer complimentary valet service.

Thanks for following this leg of my food journey from sunny Northern California to frigid Northern Michigan! And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!