August 12

Napa Valley Vegan Dusts Herself Off & Gets Back to Work!

I want to apologize to you for going silent for the last couple of weeks. I have completely ignored you, my writing and updating my blog. As many of you may have noticed, I have been planning the Eat, Drink and Be Vegan! Benefit for Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch over the last 2 months or so. Chef Joseph Panarello, Executive Chef for City Winery – Napa, came up with the amazing idea to host an all vegan four course dinner. He and his General Manager, Scott generously offered to do this all for the cost of labor and food and to allow me to donate any remaining proceeds to one of my favorite local charities. Of course, that was a tough decision to make since I volunteer for three different local animal welfare groups – The Napa County Animal Shelter, Napa Humane and the Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County. And I am friends with Monica Stevens, the Founder of Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch. I have to admit that the fact that Monica is a fellow vegan did absolutely sway my decision to make this Benefit all about JARR! I have thrown a pretty awesome party or two in my day but I am no professional event planner. However, after living in Napa for over three and a half years and often being met with lukewarm reception from some of the chefs and winemakers, this offer was something that I could not pass up. I was just excited beyond belief! I felt that this is what Napa needed to bring change to its gastronomic attitudes. If a local Chef, who is by no means a vegan Chef, can offer an amazing meal that everyone can enjoy, my hope was that this would open their minds and menus to more compassionate, plant based options. Chef Panarello was in charge of the menu and I was tasked with the rest. I came up with the title and quickly wrote up a description of the event so City Winery could add it to their website. Then I began contacting everyone I knew, and many that I didn’t, asking for wine and silent auction donations. This was wonderful but had a bit of a challenging twist since all items – food, wine, jewelry…had to be vegan-friendly. I wasn’t daunted though and got to work.

Over the course of the next six weeks, I was absolutely blown away by the generosity of Napa Valley. I received cases of wine from Tin Barn Vineyards, 750 Wines, Luna Vineyards and Topaz to pair with each course. Luna Vineyards even threw in a VIP tasting for 4 on top of the wine donation. I received passes to the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival generously donated by Marc and Brenda Lhormer. Sweetie Pies Bakery offered a gift certificate for their delicious vegan cupcakes, cookies and muffins while Melodi with Obsessive Confection Disorder provided a sampler of her AMAZING vegan sweet treats. Karen MacNeil, the Director of the Wine Program at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, gave a signed copy of her book “The Wine Bible”. And the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone donated a Weekend Wine Enthusiast Class for two. Mercedes-Benz of Fairfield gave a Mercedes-Benz for the weekend so the auction winner could enjoy their wine tasting weekend in style! Or for those who wanted to be chauffeured around the Valley instead, Wine Country Limousine offered their services. Kim Beller donated a gorgeous Silpada cuff bracelet and her kind words of encouragement. Stacey with Napa Valley Poop Patrol volunteered to pick up the family’s dog poop for 12 weeks while Taryn’s Traveling Pet Spa threw in a spa day for the family pooch! Not only was Miyoko’s artisan cheese featured on the menu but she also donated a sampler of her delicious nut cheeses. Brenda, with Simple Bliss, provided a spa package to help melt the stress away! And Doug, with Napa Valley Coffee Roasting, gave a gift box of fresh, roasted coffee and mugs. And to top it all off, City Winery not only was providing the entire event at cost but also threw in 2 tickets to one of their many concerts! Frankly, I am consumed by gratitude while I type!

With the help of Monica and her marketing crew and City Winery, we got the word out. You have probably seen it listed on every calendar and online events page in the Bay Area. However, even with all of this generosity and support we were not able to sell enough tickets. City Winery had to make a business decision and cancel the Event. So, after picking up all those generous donations, I have to turn around and take them all back! Needless to say my level of disappointment is high. But I’m going to do what any vegan does when they need to replenish and recharge. I’m heading out of Napa and heading into San Francisco to an all vegan restaurant to eat my cares away. And then, I’ll come home, dust myself off and start over again!

Thanks for being with me through the highs and lows of living in a non-vegan city and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

June 19

Heritage Eats – Creating Custom Vegan Eats and Good Vibes!

As I noticed the new construction being done in Bel Aire Plaza near Pier 1 over the last few months, my excitement began to build. Any time there is a new restaurant launch, it always means the possibility of new vegan options in Napa Valley! Though I no longer allow meat, eggs or dairy in my diet, I am a Foodie. I love good food! And then the sign went up…Heritage Eats where Slow Meats Fast. Slow meats fast, what?! Well, let’s just say that my excitement began to dwindle a bit. But for those of you who have never met me, I am ALWAYS up for a challenge. I had a little free time this week and stopped by to check things out!

Exterior shot

The space is large, open, light and white. Very clean and minimalistic looking with large photos of the local farmers and ranchers that are a part of their community. Ordering the food has a bit of a “cafeteria-style” feel to it where I could see all of my food choices as they prepared my feast. My first choice was sandwich, salad or rice bowl? Since I am always a sucker for fresh garden greens, I went for the salad. For those of you who love rice bowls, their yellow steamed rice is made with coconut milk so vegan-friendly. If you like the hands-on approach for your meal, the corn or flour tortilla wrap is for you. Next, I picked my “protein” – a tasty vegan, gluten-free crispy chickpea falafel. Then I added some quinoa tabbouleh (ahh, can you say super food?!), a dollop of garlic hummus and fire grilled vegetables topped off with sweet crunchy cabbage slaw. Quick caveat here – the slaw does contain honey which is typically not a part of my diet but I have to admit that the combination of sweet honey, garlic, crunchy cabbage and the smoky flavor of the fire grilled vegetables was absolutely amazing! In addition to the grilled vegetables, the pico de gallo, asian pickle and roasted corn & edamame are ALL vegan! Last but not least, are the sauces. The sauces will really allow you to customize your meal and 4 of them – pineapple habanero, heritage BBQ, salsa roja and harissa are animal product free!

menu board

cashier

The Co-Founders Ben Koenig and Chef Jason Kupper were kind enough to chat with me about their inspirations for Heritage Eats. Ben is an avid traveler that spent much of 2014 backpacking through the Middle East and Asia drawing inspiration for the restaurant from his experiences. He literally wrote their business plan in Goa (I had to Google that one – it’s in south west India) and refined it in Bhutan, Vietnam and Thailand. After graduating with a degree in Economics from New York University, Ben worked for Goldman Sacs in New York City. His career then led him to hospitality and concept design with AvroKO before becoming the Assistant General Manager for The Thomas in downtown Napa. Jason is an advocate for small farms and loves the blending of local and global flavors in a “street food” style. Like Ben, Jason hails from New Jersey but their partnership began after meeting at The Thomas where Jason served as the Chef de Cuisine. This experience was a huge inspiration in the creation of their menu for Heritage Eats. Jason’s vast experience in the food industry includes Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg and Charlie Palmer at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas. Combining their fine dining experience, travels abroad and appreciation for the bounty of food California has to offer, they formed a gastronomic match made in heaven!

Chef and Co-Founder, Jason Kupper
Chef and Co-Founder, Jason Kupper
Co-Founder, Ben Koenig
Co-Founder, Ben Koenig

My meal was really incredible but what will keep me coming back is their for-purpose business plan. For-purpose is a growing trend that applies business principles to social reform. Ben and Jason have partnered with the Washington D.C. based charity Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry. With the staggering statistics that 1 in 5 kids in America do not get the food they need and 16 million children in the U.S. struggle every day with hunger, this philanthropic organization works to ensure every child in the U.S. has access to a healthy meal. With schools out for the summer, this is truly the hungriest time of year for many of our children. For the many children who rely on school meals, SOS/NKH is working to improve the way our country feeds our kids! Click here to see Share Our Strength discuss their No Kid Hungry campaign!  Kind, philanthropic and vegan-friendly? Consider me a regular!

Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry Mission

Heritage Eats is located at 3824 Bel Aire Plaza in Napa serving local food to the locals (non-locals welcome too!) Sunday – Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday & Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Though they have only been open since May, they already have a large and loyal following. I asked my husband to stop in on a Wednesday evening while running errands to take a few more photos for me and Heritage Eats was packed full of happy diners! Always a good sign that the food is good and the prices are accessible! Welcome to the concept of fast fine dining!

Together, let’s support our local businesses who not only make a profit but give back too! And as always…eat, drink & be vegan!

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!

cupcake2
Vegan chocolate cupcake with soy buttercream & vegan mixed berry muffin.
2 slices2
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!