August 12

Napa Farmers Market Welcomes Vegans!

As you know, I am always on the hunt for good vegan food. And I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Napa Farmers Market. There is something really rewarding about meeting the farmer that worked so hard to grow my food. And I love being able to support local businesses whenever I can. For the last 5 years, I have seen vegan options go from almost none to dozens of delicious choices at our local Farmers Market. And since you know I love my sweets, I want to highlight two of my favorites – Mayacama Chocolate and Sweet Linda Lou’s.

Mayacama Chocolate

In 2011, Elena woke up with the brilliant idea to start a bean-to-bar chocolate company. The more she thought about it the more excited and driven she became to make it happen. Part of what she loved about being a chef was her role of working with flavors and textures until she found the perfect combination. Working with equatorial farmers and learning more about the flavor profiles of their individual growing regions, was another opportunity to use flavors and textures to create the ultimate chocolate experience. Soon after, she and her best friend Linda teamed up and Mayacama Chocolate was born.

Elena’s journey to creating fair-trade chocolate started 26 years ago when her son Garrett was born with food based allergies. Garrett was unable to eat wheat, dairy, soy, fermented/yeast based products and refined sugars. He grew up on fresh fruits, vegetables, rice and Rice Dream milk that she had to special order from the  now defunct local health food store Golden Carrot. But as he got older he saw his family eating and enjoying things like pizza, pasta and mac-n-cheese and wanted to enjoy them too. Elena’s culinary challenge was to take a traditional recipe and turn it into a healthy, vegan alternative that tastes great!

Linda has worked as a pastry chef at some of the most exclusive resorts and has always loved creating desserts that fulfill her guests needs. She even implemented “Living Free” areas on her pastry & bakery buffets to ensure that everyone could enjoy a sweet, delicious ending to their meal. She has taken this philosophy to the development of her chocolates. She now dedicates her time to creating handmade chocolates that can be vegan, gluten and dairy-free. Like so many, her brother was diagnosed with lactose intolerance and celiac disease so she has been hard at work developing flavors using their 72% Hispanola chocolate. And in her spare time, Linda has been baking vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free wedding cakes using their delicious chocolate!

Using single origin, fair-trade chocolate, here is a list of their current vegan options:

  • Lait-non-lait – for all of you who miss milk chocolate!
  • 72% Organic Hispaniola Medium Roast- Traditional Dark Chocolate
  • 72% Organic Sanchez Light Roast- Made with Unfermented Cacao
  • Mole Bar- Mole Spice Blend, Sliced Almonds, Golden Raisins and Pepitas
  • Strawberry Fields Bar- 60% with Dried Strawberries (my favorite!)
  • Raisin In The Valley Bar- 60% Dark with Cabernet Grape Raisins
  • Sipping Chocolate Mix- Specifically geared to be blended with non-dairy milks (I’ve been told that toasted Coconut-Almond milk makes the best combo!)

Their goal is to eventually open a storefront and feature the chocolate bars, luscious pastries and cakes and their bean to bar process. Oh, and to offer the best damn hot chocolate and chocolate soda in Napa Valley. And with all of the delicious vegan chocolates they craft, we can all be big kids in the candy store once again!

Sweet Linda Lou’s

Linda has loved baking since she was a child. She watched her Nana bake and cook and make the most amazing pies on earth! In fact, Linda was never a fan of pie unless it was made by her Nana. Though Linda didn’t have the natural pie making ability that her Nana and daughters have, she persevered and now makes incredible pies. And with a little bit of practice she has now perfected the vegan pie crust! These delightful little pies are baked in muffin tins and are the perfect sized treat! Linda is at the Farmers Market every Saturday even though she also works a full-time job. Be sure to thank her for all her hard work by stopping by for a mini-vegan pie (or two!). Though I suggest getting to the market early because the vegan pies sell out fast! She added gluten-free options last year and vegan options this year so everyone can enjoy her delicious treats!

When you swing by Sweet Linda Lou’s and Mayacama Chocolate to enjoy their delicious sweet treats, mention that you heard about them through Napa Valley Vegan!

The list of vegan-friendly vendors…

  • J&M Ibarra offers locally grown organic produce.
  • Handsome Carver offers delicious cashew, peanut & almond butters made with organic ingredients. A couple of them contain honey but most are vegan-friendly.
  • Way to Life Foods makes organic homemade granolas, cookies, cinnamon rolls and vegan burgers. All are vegan and all are absolutely delicious. The cinnamon rolls are as good as Cinnaholic’s and the cookies are the best out there!
  • Monday Bakery is not a vegan bakery but they are beginning to offer some delicious vegan options. I love their zucchini bread!
  • Sweetie Pie’s often offers their vegan berry muffins. They are big and delicious!
  • Sweet Peabody’s sorbet cart has been making small batches of sorbet for 5 years. The flavors are made fresh each week based on what’s in season. They use organic produce when possible and are free of dairy, gluten, corn syrup, synthetic stabilizers and artificial colors & sweeteners. They even use compostable spoons!
  • JuJu’s Kitchen offers delicious Mediterranean food much of which is vegan including falafel, hummus, tabuli, baba ghanough, fatoosh salad, dolmas, majadara and fava beans.
  • The Hummus Guy offers several flavors of organic hummus that are vegan, starch & preservative free and non-GMO. They are homemade and delicious.
  • Plantanito Pupusas makes delicious bean pupusas that can be veganized.
  • Contimo Provisions is VERY meat-centric but they almost always have a vegan sandwich available. The sandwiches are simple, delicious and handmade.
  • Flourchylde Bakery offers gluten-free, vegan Teff & Chia round bread. I’ve been asking them for years to add a vegan pastry option but nothing yet. Be sure to stop in and ask. If they see all the business they are missing, they may finally offer something.
  • Addictive Toast offers a pretty gourmet avocado toast decorated with edible flowers. The Original can be made with no dairy and is served on Flourchylde’s vegan, gluten-free bread.
  • Sukhi’s Indian Cuisine offers tasty sauces, chutneys and meals.
  • Atlas Peak Olive Oil made with olives grown in their Napa Valley orchard.
  • Napa Valley Tea Company makes exquisite organic teas and blends.
  • Ohm Coffee Roaster offers a couple non-dairy milks for lattes & cappuccinos.

This long list of vegan options will keep you very busy the next time you shop the Market! So set aside plenty of time to explore, remember to bring your reusable bags, thank these vendors for their efforts and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

July 7

Hello Vegans! Welcome to the Benicia Certified Farmers Market.

Benicia's beautiful waterfront promenade!
Benicia’s beautiful waterfront promenade!

When I first moved to Napa, one of my favorite events was the Thursday evening Chef’s Market on First Street in downtown Napa. It was like a big street fair that included food vendors, live music and farmers’ produce stands. I always ran into a friend or two and had a great time! But in 2013, after 19 seasons, the Market was no more. Unfortunately, more than 75 percent of the local merchants felt that the Market had a negative impact on their business. Most of us were having so much fun at the Market that no one went into the downtown shops. While I miss it, I hope that business has improved for the local downtown store owners! Through a friend, I recently heard about the Thursday evening Benicia Certified Farmers’ Market. When I moved to California, I almost ended up in Benicia instead of Napa so I have a soft spot in my heart for its beautiful little waterfront downtown.

full size tractorIt has been a couple years since I’ve visited downtown Benicia so I was really excited to see how much it has grown. Not only was there the hustle and bustle of the Market but many new restaurants and shops had opened. And the evening I was there, with the sun sparkling off the water, the energy from the Market and the live music, it was truly the jewel of the Bay. Benicia is one of 40 cities in California selected to participate in the California Main Street Program. The Program is part of a national movement to improve the quality of life in America’s towns, cities and neighborhoods by reinvigorating the economic health of their historic Main Street business districts. It is grass roots and locally-driven and offers self-help to these historic areas. Benicia sought out the Main Street certification which is a prestigious designation! Each year, Main Street sponsors many community events which bring thousands of visitors to Benicia’s downtown. Something I was not aware of was how much history is contained in downtown Benicia. In just over a mile, downtown Benicia offers over 30 historical points of interest that include the restored State Capitol. Before the State Capitol moved to Sacramento, it was located in Benicia from 1853-1854.

Yep, I'm a dork!
Yep, I’m a dork!

But the only thing that was on my mind that night was…you guessed it – food! The Benicia Farmers Market has been certified by the State of California to ensure that the produce being sold at the market is grown in California by local farmers. By supporting a Certified Farmers Market like the one in Benicia, it allows California farmers to effectively cut out the middleman. By not having to pay for packaging, shipping and other costs, it saves the farmers money which in turn is reflected in what we pay. And getting a batch of fresh berries that only traveled 20 miles vs. 2,000 miles is so much better for the berries and the planet!

I have to admit that the big draw for me had nothing to do with saving the planet or helping local farmers (but I am glad that I did both!) but because I had heard through the grapevine of a local Benicia bakery called fox and fawn bakehouse.  Fox and fawn bakehouse is the creation of Tara Allen. Her ingredients are organic, fair trade and vegan – she’ll even bake them gluten free if you ask. She measures, mixes and pours all of her small batches by hand. And quite frankly, I could taste that in every single bite! I’ve been noticing over the last couple of years that local bakeries who don’t specialize in vegan baking, seem to be ordering their “freshly baked” vegan cupcakes from a manufacturer. Once they arrive, they just thaw them out and sell them like they were baked that morning. They not only are all beginning to have the same over processed flavor but they are also the size of my head! It was so wonderful to see normal sized cupcakes that were clearly baked with love and care. Another lovely surprise was how each cupcake was dipped in sugar before it was frosted. What a brilliant and delicious idea!

5 cupcakes

Tara with fox and fawn bakehouse displaying her cupcakes.
Tara with fox and fawn bakehouse displaying her cupcakes.

My next stop was right next door – Way to Life Foods. Way to Life Foods offers homemade vegan granola and cinnamon rolls that easily compete with Berkeley’s famous Cinnaholic. They offered a tasting of each of the granolas AND even the cinnamon rolls. After sampling a couple of the granolas, I left with the ginger – hot, explosive and mind-blowingly delicious and the smooth, creamy tasting peanut butter granola. And, of course, a batch of the homemade cinnamon rolls.

Delicious granola and much more!
Delicious granola and much more!

As I wandered through the Market, I noticed Il Pastaio Foods’ sandwich-board sign. It described the different pastas they offer and in big, bold letters were the words Vegan! There were two vegan options of their fresh, uncooked pasta –I chose the Butternut Squash Ravioli. The ravioli contained six simple ingredients that we all have in our own kitchens – whole wheat flour, water, butternut squash, garlic, potato flakes, basil and salt & pepper. When I got home that night, I made a batch of the pasta, and using a recipe they provided, topped it with a vegan brown butter and sage sauce. Absolutely delicious!

My next mission was to find organic berries and some vegetables. While most of the produce available was conventionally grown, I did find two farmers who offered certified organic produce. After sampling the sweet, ripe strawberries, I chose the triple threat – a tray of organic strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Delicious to eat on their own, in my oatmeal and in my organic smoothies. Even my dogs, Buttercup and Violet, raved about them. Yum! The batch of organic bok choy that I found next was only $2 and gave me enough to make a tofu curry and a morning smoothie.

Swag bag getting very heavy!
Swag bag getting very heavy!
So many organic strawberries! Oh joy!
So many organic strawberries! Oh joy!

By this time, I had filled my big Yelp canvas shopping bag full of swag. I wandered down to the Carquinez Strait to enjoy the gorgeous view and hang out with the red shouldered black birds, pigeons and seagulls! What a successful evening. By visiting beautiful Benicia, I found loads of fresh, delicious food, supported our local farmers and businesses and had a wonderful time doing it! And as I was wandering back to my car, I scored a big bag of salty, sweet Kettle corn for the drive home. I do not know how I have never had this delectable bag of joy before but I am now a big fan!

The Benicia Certified Farmer’s Market opened its 23rd season on Thursday, April 30th and runs until October 29th. The Market is located along First Street between B and D streets. It offers organic and conventionally grown California produce, dozens of local food vendors, live music and a lovely energy. It is one of my favorite Farmer’s Markets so I hope to see you there soon. And as always my friends…eat, drink and be vegan!

What a success!
               What a success!