August 10

Gott’s Roadside Introduces the Vegan Impossible Burger to Napa Valley!

When I heard the news that Gott’s Roadside had begun offering Impossible Foods‘ vegan Impossible Burger (IB), I could barely control my excitement! First Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger was being sold in our local Safeway and now this! For those of you who live in a vegan-friendly city, this may not seem like much of a big deal. But for those of us here in Napa Valley who have been waiting for the local chefs to recognize and accept that veganism is not a fad that is going away, this news created a buzz of excitement and conversation in our vegan community! In fact, when I posted this information on my Facebook page, I reached hundreds of my readers who had dozens of comments.

This excitement made me really want to dig in a bit and learn more about Impossible Foods (IF) which led me to their comprehensive and informative 2017 Sustainability Report. CEO and Founder, Pat Brown, left Stanford in 2011 and started Impossible Foods with one mission. To make the global food system sustainable by replacing animal-based foods with delicious, nutritious AND affordable plant-based meat & dairy foods. The amount of land needed to raise and feed these sentient beings takes up nearly half of ALL land in the world! 75% of the agricultural land in the U.S. is used for the beings and the crops they eat. Talk about unsustainable! The animal agriculture industry is responsible for consuming 25% of all fresh water and creating at least 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions – as much as every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane and rocket combined! The continued degradation of our natural ecosystems is happening at the expense of wildlife – the global populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles & amphibians have declined by 58% in the last 40 years. But as many of us remember from our pre-vegan days, our species loves to eat meat. Regardless of the constant health warnings, our ever expanding waist lines and our disintegrating health, meat consumption has grown four-fold in the past 50 years and is projected to increase by as much as 70% in the next 30 years!

IFs has spent the last five years, studying what is it about meat that drives this seemingly insatiable craving! Their scientists have studied meat at the molecular level to help reproduce the texture, taste and even aromas of meat using only plant sources. They have found  “heme” to be the magic ingredient that makes meat taste like…well, meat. It is a building block that is found in all living things – plants and animals and the source that provides our bodies with bioavailable iron. IFs initially harvested the plant-based heme from legumes. However, to produce it on a commercial scale, they now use an engineered yeast that is produced through fermentation similar to the process used by Belgian beer makers for centuries.

Next, I reached out to Gott’s Brand Manager, Ann Pepi, to learn more about their motivation for adding the plant-based burger to their very meat-centric menu. The answer was surprisingly simple. They had offered a vegetarian garden burger as a substitute on their menu prior to the IB but found  there was a demand from their customers for something better. So the team tried both the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger and the Impossible Burger was the winner! Because the IB is “uncharted territory” for Gott’s they are treating it like a new product. It is currently in its test stage and they plan to offer it as a special for several months. Ann’s expectations have been  “blown away” by the amount of curiosity and interest their customers are showing. But they plan to look at the long-term interest before deciding if the IB will be added to their permanent menu. Ann mentioned several times how happy she was that they are offering an option that is good for the planet.

When I visited Gott’s Roadside here in Napa, I had the opportunity to discuss the food preparation with Assistant General Manager, Daniel Hicks. Because of the more delicate nature of the Impossible Burger, instead of using the grill (where the beef burgers are cooked), they use a separate griddle. The griddle is used for toasting buns and sometimes cooking fish products. Before the IB is added to the griddle, they clean it with club soda and add oil instead of using butter.  Though their egg and gluten-free buns are not vegan-friendly, they offer the option of a lettuce wrap, whole wheat or sourdough bread. And then you can get creative. In addition to the lettuce, tomato and pickles you can add pickled carrots, avocado, vegan kimchi, pico de gallo, jalapeños, salsa verde or vegan slaw. The vegan-friendly sides include their french fries and sweet potato fries, customizable kale salads and watermelon with mint and black pepper. I had the delicious opportunity to try the Impossible Burger on whole wheat bread with mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and avocado AND with kimchi on sourdough. The taste, texture and aroma of the IB was incredible. I admit I have not eaten meat in close to a decade so my memory is probably a bit fuzzy but it seemed very authentic to me. And it tastes great! There is nothing else available that tastes this good! Oh, and get the sweet potato fries! They are crisp, a touch spicy and possibly the best I’ve ever had. When Daniel delivered the food, he admitted that he eats a lot of meat but after trying the Impossible Burger he is “going to become a vegetarian when I’m at work”. That seemed like the perfect testimonial for the vegan Impossible Burger!

This year, Impossible Foods is scaling up to meet the incredible demand. They have purchased a factory in Oakland that will produce 1.1 million pounds of this plant-based bliss per month. In addition to saving animals, this amazing product will use 75% less water, produce 87% fewer greenhouse gases and require 95% less land than animal-based beef. What a summer to be a vegan! Now get on over to Gott’s and support their efforts to bring this delicious burger to Napa Valley! And remember to eat, drink and be vegan!

August 3

WineaPAWlooza 2017 – Eat Vegan, Drink Wine, Save Animals!

Food and wine go hand and hand here in Napa Valley. In fact, there are seven Michelin starred restaurants dotted along the 30 mile stretch that runs from Napa to Calistoga. Really an incredible number! Sadly, the philosophy of the Chefs in Napa Valley is that it is animal products that pair best with wine. Animals are viewed as nothing more than a commodity. This philosophy is reflected by most of the residents and visitors of Napa Valley who simply see animals as a menu item. And as much as I’ve enjoyed the beauty of the Valley and the extraordinary experiences I’ve had the privilege to enjoy, I’ve often felt conflicted with my decision to live here.

I’m never happier than when hugging animals!

So when I heard of Monica Stevens and her vision for Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch (JARR) three years ago, I was thrilled. Monica’s mission to provide Napa Valley with a no-kill rescue that will not only save the lives of companion animals like cats, dogs and bunny rabbits but farmed animals too. In the three years that Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch has been active, it has done incredible things for all animals. This includes finding forever homes for 500 animals in need that include dogs, cats, bunnies, chickens, ducks, horses, pigs, goats and sheep. JARR has provided 15,000 pounds of pet food for the local food bank and those in need; has provided over 1,000 spay/neuter surgeries; funded 50 life saving emergency surgeries and fields 120 calls per week from people who need help saving their animals! And this is just some of what they have accomplished! Early in 2017, JARR opened Ella’s Cathouse & Catnip Bar. This cage-free, no-kill cat adoption center is the first of its kind in Napa and has kept dozens of cats out of the county shelter system and found forever homes for them. It is also the first animal adoption center that has a no-meat policy for all staff and volunteers. Monica and her team have done all of this amazing work with the help of hundreds of dedicated volunteers and foster parents. JARR’s ultimate goal includes building a state-of-the-art, cage-free rescue and sanctuary that will serve the physical and emotional needs of the companion and farmed animals that call it home.

Saturday, July 29th was the fourth annual fundraising event. Ranked as one of Napa Valley’s top wine auctions,

Ottimo’s vegan Farro with Summer Beans

WineaPAWlooza has raised millions of dollars for the animals. Thanks to the generosity of the Napa Valley winemakers and wine lovers, this year alone, JARR raised $1.3M! Generously hosted again by the Gamble Family Vineyard, the who’s who of the Napa Valley wine industry shared the red carpet with dogs, goats, a pig and a donkey!

Vegan Japanese Curry served by Nuri!

Beginning with a Grand Tasting event that featured over 50 of the Valley’s premiere wineries and restaurants, we enjoyed mouth watering plant based bites that paired just perfectly with the wines! I was incredibly pleased by how well these decidedly unvegan restaurants did! Williams Sonoma Spanish Style Heirloom Gazpacho with Smoked Paprika was refreshing and delicious. La

Williams Sonoma’s vegan Heirloom Gazpacho!

Toque’s Chilled Snap Pea Jus with Salted Radish and Nori had a savory, seafood -like flavor. I scooped up Nuri’s delicious Japanese Curry with eggplant & tofu with a cracker as my spoon. I went back for seconds for Ottimo’s Farro with Summer Beans, peas & almond citrus. This salad is incredible and it is on their regular menu to enjoy any time! Bottega made an amazing Watermelon with Calabria chili vinaigrette salata. Ring of Fire included cheese on all of their offerings but after chatting with one of the servers about being vegan she took it upon herself to have the Chef bake up a vegan pizza for Steve and I. She even tracked me down and gave me the whole pizza to be sure we had enough to eat. That was a level of service I did not expect! I wish I could talk more about the wines but I had just finished a 5-day juice fast so my focus was 100% on the food offerings!

Bottega’s vegan Watermelon with Calabria chili vinaigrette!

The Pet Parade included a stoic donkey, a happy-go-lucky pig, two adorable goats and a stream of fortunate dogs all rescued and rehomed with the help of JARR! The live auction is where the real magic happens and thanks to the generous bidding $1.3 Million was raised to build the sanctuary. JARR announced the addition of a Sundowner Sportman 3H Bumper Pull trailer dedicated to the Roth family of New York for their dedication to animal welfare. This trailer will be housed in Napa Valley and, in collaboration with the County of Napa Emergency Services, will be made available to assist with the large animal emergency rescue during wildfires, accidents and other natural disasters. And even more wonderful news was announced that JARR is currently in escrow on property in the Carneros region. JARR is now one huge step closer to realizing their dream. When completed, this sanctuary and educational haven will be open to the community and will welcome all visitors. According to Monica, it will serve as a destination and best-practices example for animal advocacy. And to finish off this celebration, Co-founder David Stevens and his band Wristrocket, provided the music for the late night party and SONS Bier Garden.

 

Love at first sight for me and the donkey!

Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch is well on its way to achieving their goal to offer sanctuary for farmed animals, education for the public and rumor has it, that once completed, they may even offer a vegan cafe which will be the first all-vegan offering in Napa Valley! So if you are looking to volunteer your time or would like to donate to an organization that is in line with your vegan principles visit their website HERE to learn more! I hope to see you at next year’s WineaPAWlooza but until then remember to Drink Wine, Save Animals. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

June 29

Vegan Adventures on the Napa Valley Wine Train!

While out walking with my dogs, I always enjoyed seeing the Napa Valley Wine Train (NVWT) full of happy, slightly drunk tourists chugging up and down Valley. Never did I imagine that I would be one of those happy, slightly drunk passengers! As a vegan, I made an assumption that there would be no dining options for me. And as I mentioned before, it’s just for wine sipping tourists anyway, right? Wrong! I recently had the opportunity to enjoy an intimate twilight tour on the NVWT’s 36-seat, single car Quattro Vino Pullman thanks to Yelp! And I really had the time of my life!

 

Date night on the train!
Tower of fresh fruits & veggies

The experience started at the train station on McKinstry near Oxbow Commons. The staff were all incredibly friendly, excited to help and were a big part in making the evening unforgettable. Prior to boarding, they served bubbles from Domaine Chandon to get the party started! Once I boarded the train, I was drawn back in time! The 1915 lounge car is a lavish reminder of how we travelled a 100 years ago. With only 36 seats it felt very private and is perfect for date night!

 

The trip up valley included pours of Grgich Hills Estate’s 2014 Fume Blanc, their 2013 Chardonnay and the 2016 Rosé. Along with the wine, I was served a tower of fresh fruits and veggies and salty, crispy bread. The tomato, bread and balsamic made a wonderful combination of flavors. The next course was a delicious plate of grilled veggies & lentils that were warm and hearty. I wish I could describe the view but I admit that I was so wrapped up in the wine, food and conversation that I barely looked outside! And before I knew it, the train had reached beautiful Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford.

 

It had been about 5 years since I last visited Grgich Hills and I had forgotten what a beautiful setting it offers. The tasting room is surrounded by roses and the view above it is just spectacular. Daniel led us on a private tour of the Estate that included some of Milijenko “Mike” Grgich’s amazing contributions to winemaking and Napa Valley. In fact, Mike first gained international recognition at the celebrated “Paris Tasting” of 1976. This now-historic blind tasting included a panel of eminent French judges who swirled, sniffed, and sipped a collection of white French Burgundies along with a small sampling of Napa Valley Chardonnays. And when the scores had all been tallied and the winner announced, Mike’s 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was named the finest white wine in the WORLD! Not only were the judges stunned but it changed the international wine industry’s perception of Napa Valley forever!

Dessert!

The tour also included tastings of the 2016 Zinfandel and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet became one of my favorites – fruity and elegant just how I like them. I also learned that their wines are all certified organic, pesticide & herbicide-free. And since bentonite clay is used in the fining process the wines are also vegan! The trip home included a light, delicious dessert of  poached Seckel pears with berries drizzled with raspberry sauce. Oh, and more wine! What a perfect finish to a lovely evening!

 

Whether you are visiting Napa Valley or you live locally, the wine train experience is something that you should not miss. The food and wine are extraordinary & the private winery tour is very special. When you make your reservations, let them know that you are vegan. In fact, since my experience, they have added veg-only tables so you won’t find yourself sitting across from meat eaters or looking at a tower of cheese & charcuterie when you sit down! Schedule your extraordinary wine train tour HERE! Enjoy your train ride of Napa Valley and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!!