March 23

JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen -Bursting With Flavor, Health & Love!

IMG_3547My first experience with JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen was several years ago. Steve and I were very new to Napa and noticed JuJu’s after leaving our insurance agent’s office. JuJu’s is tucked back on California Way and unless you’re taking a short cut to California Boulevard, at the time, there wasn’t really any reason to head down California Way. When we went in, we met Joumana Shweiky (JuJu), for the first time. She was very friendly but explained that they didn’t offer much in the way of restaurant services but were more into catering. We headed off from there and I have to admit I looked at it longingly every time I drove by over the years! Fast forward four years, and my Facebook friend, Cassandra, mentioned that JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen had plenty of clearly labeled vegan choices on their menu and that I should add them to my Eat! page. So I did what anybody interested in learning more about a restaurant would do, I checked the Yelp reviews! Sure enough…JuJu’s still offered their catering services but since my last visit have added tables and are now offering sit down service. Yay!

 

Yum! The Mezza Combo plate!
Yum! The Mezza Combo plate!

Besides the addition of 4 or 5 tables, JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen is much as I remember it from my first visit. A large open kitchen, a small market specializing in Middle Eastern products, a large glass front cooler displaying house made salads sold by the pint and a very homey atmosphere. JuJu is just as friendly and welcoming as I remember. With the Lebanese music playing in the background, Steve and I both felt like we were sitting down in her kitchen at home. Though she was busy cooking, she took time out to go over the menu with me. This is really a vegan’s food heaven. There are 7 mezza favorites that can be purchased for just $5 for a ½ pint that range from Mujadara – a blend of lentils, cracked wheat & caramelized onions; Tabuli made with chopped parsley, fresh mint & cracked IMG_3545wheat; freshly made Dolmas wrapped with grape leaves and stuffed with a savory mix of rice, fresh mint & pomegranate molasses, Hummus and much more! I’m going to stop for just a moment here and mention that her Dolmas are the best I have ever eaten! JuJu’s Signature dishes include a Mezza Combo Plate (just mention that you are vegan and she will substitute grilled veggies for the non-vegan baba ganough), a Falafel Plate and she will also make Veggie Kabobs if you ask! The vegan wraps include the Falafel Wrap and the Greek Wrap (if you skip the feta). The Fatoosh Salad is vegan and the Mediterranean, Kale & Greek Salads can be with some slight adjustments. And then comes the A La Carte section – of the 16 choices, 8 are vegan! The Hummus plate, Foul M’Damas plate, grilled Tomato & Onion Skewer, side of olives, pita bread, garlic cilantro home fries, Falafel with tahini sauce and IMG_1632Dolmas. Steve and I enjoyed the Mezza Combo plate – a perfect taste of the Mediterranean with homemade Hummus, Muhamara, Mujadara, Falafel, Dolma and Tabuli served with warm pita bread. I loved having a little bit of everything on my plate. As I mentioned, the grilled veggies made a lovely substitution for the non-vegan baba ganough. I especially enjoyed the hummus, mujadara, tabuli and the dolmas!

 

Though JuJu has been a part of Napa Valley for 30 years, she is originally from Lebanon so the flavor of the food is very authentic. It is all made fresh daily using local produce, exotic spices, extra virgin olive oil and the Chef’s love! Some of her favorite things are to entertain and cook and introduce others to new cultures. This is really reflected in the IMG_3561experience I had when I visited her restaurant. She proudly talked about her 6 children who all grew up in St. Helena and are now lawyers, teachers, fashion designers and world travelers. I really loved that she shared with me her cookbook Soup for Syria. With so much physical distance between Syria and the U.S., I admit that I am somewhat disconnected from the turmoil and suffering that is happening. It does seem that the world has failed the Syrian refugees; the world’s wealthiest countries have turned their backs on this humanitarian disaster. While JuJu’s home country Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq have opened their borders to more than four million refugees. This has created a huge need for food relief. To assist, many world-acclaimed chefs and cookbook authors from around the world have come together to help alleviate the hunger of the Syrians by contributing a recipe. It is another great example that we don’t need to wait for our government to make a decision. We can help change the world all on or own!

 

Hanging out with JuJu
Hanging out with JuJu

With two decades of experience in the very demanding Napa Valley culinary industry, JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen is well worth the stop whether you are looking for casual dining, catering, lunch or dinner take-out or you need a boxed lunch for your next wine tasting excursion. JuJu’s is located at 3375 California Way and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m to 8 p.m. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

 

*You may have noticed that I am a big fan of Mediterranean food. I’ve enjoyed it from Small World Café and Heritage Eats to Tarla Mediterranean Grill and JuJu’s Kitchen. I’d love to hear your feedback on your favorite spot in Napa Valley for Mediterranean food. Please leave your comments below!

 

 

 

December 24

Taking Care of our Whole Body

 

wholefoodsMy journey to becoming vegan did not start out with the food I put into my body but with the products that I put onto my body. Like many, I bought skincare products based on commercials, word of mouth and often what was on sale. I never spent any time considering what ingredients were in the products I used and had no idea that a sentient being might be harmed so that my mascara didn’t make my eyes sting. I was unconsciously incompetent. When I was about 31, my boyfriend (now husband) Steve and I bought our first home and moved into a new neighborhood near Denver. While getting to know my neighborhood, I began to shop at a new (new to me anyway!) grocery store called Wild Oats. Wild Oats was what friends called a “health food store”. I had heard of these mystical places before but this was my first experience actually shopping in one. While wandering through their health and beauty section, I began to notice phrases printed on the bottles and containers that I had never seen before. Things like “cruelty-free”, “not tested on animals” and “animal-product free”. What??!!! What in the world could have been cruel about my lotion and tested on what? I was in shock! I had just become consciously incompetent. And that is when my life changed forever! Over the next several years of my life, I learned everything I could about the products I used on my body and slowly became consciously competent of anything that I bought from my shampoo to my body wash to my make-up. And then one day I woke up and realized that for all I was doing to help myself and the precious bunnies and rats and mice that had been suffering because of my choices, I still ate meat! And that was the day that I finally reached unconscious competence. That day I made the most profound decision ever. I became a vegan and ended my role in all animals’ suffering! That was 14 years ago and I haven’t looked back since!

logoWhat has helped me throughout this journey has been the Whole Body section of the grocery store chain Whole Foods. They have applied the same high standards for the food they sell to their personal care products. Over the course of two years, they examined every personal care ingredient that is sold in Whole Body and created a set of Premium Body Care Standards. First and foremost, they do not allow any animal testing for any of the personal care products…EVER! Additionally, they encourage their vendor partners to use plant-based and naturally derived ingredients, pure essential oil fragrances, gentle preservatives and non-petroleum based ingredients. To be labelled as a Premium Body Care product there are several steps that must be met. First, the products need to offer results – and only contain ingredients that are necessary for the product to do what it says it will do. Next, where the ingredients are sourced must be as close to nature and as minimally processed as possible. Followed by the environmental impact they cause. Every product we use eventually makes its way down the drain and into our environment so these products must not only have minimal impact when they are manufactured but also when they are used. The next stage is safety. Since what goes on the body goes into the body and there is no governmental regulation, Whole Body has done the research for us. All Premium Body Care product ingredients are labeled accurately, have established safety data or are less likely to cause skin irritation or allergies. To be specific, they have identified over 400 ingredients that are unacceptable. A short list includes parabens, polypropylene, sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates. Though preservatives are necessary in body care products, they only allow milder versions that have a lower likelihood of causing allergic reactions and sensitivities. Chemical based fragrances (that are now becoming linked with not only exacerbating asthma but also causing it), are replaced by fragrances made using natural essential oils or components of the essential oils. Whole Body sells over 2500 skincare products that fit within the guidelines I just listed with more being added every day. When making your decision on what products will be the safest for you and our planet, look for the Premium Body Care Standards logo. With the fact that the U.S. government does not EVER require health studies or pre-market testing for our health, beauty, skincare and cosmetic products, I will forever be grateful to Whole Body for doing much of the research for me!

Though every Whole Foods has a Whole Body section, I had the pleasure of visiting my first stand-alone Whole Body Lifestyle store recently in Sebastopol! This is only the second Whole Body store to open EVER! And it is right here in beautiful western Sonoma County. Now, of course, all of the things that I mentioned are important to me. I only want to use products that are good for me and for the planet. But what is most important to me is if the product is vegan! Along with a couple other local bloggers – Dale with savvy spice and Adrienne with The Rich Life On A Budget – I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with each of the vendors at the event. And here is what I found!

IMG_1342Gabriel De Santino, Founder and CEO of Gabriel Cosmetics and ZuZu Luxe watched as his grandmother made homeopathic cosmetics from seaweed, kelp and herbs that he helped gather by the ocean in Mexico. As a naturopath and herbalist, his grandmother knew of the healing and revitalizing properties of ocean plant life. As he grew up and entered the field of beauty, he used these healthy alternatives to create clean cosmetics. The cosmetics are 100% vegan and cruelty-free; certified gluten-free and are free of coal tar derivatives, FD&C coloring, parabens, mineral oil, lanolin, talc, propylene glycol, hydrogenated oils, carmine, lead and nano-sized particles! I have been using ZuZu cosmetics for years and love them. And now I can add Gabriel Cosmetics and try some new colors in lipstick, gloss and eye shadow!

IMG_1335 (1)I have always been a huge fan of Evan Healy products. In fact, I found them for the first time in the Whole Body section of my store in Raleigh, NC about seven years ago. I had always had oily skin so the concept of using oil and water to care for my skin seemed very counterintuitive to me! But there was an Evan Healy representative there that day and I was really searching for a product that I could trust and would help my skin look its best. She explained that our skin uses a protective layer of sweat glands and sebaceous glands that work together to produce a thin layer of lipids (oil) and perspiration (water). This is called our acid mantle. This acid mantle is our skin’s protective barrier from disease. When this delicate balance between acidity and alkalinity is disrupted, our skin’s ability to protect itself is weakened. And her products help restore that natural balance by using oils and waters from the plant kingdom! And I love the intimate connection they have with the product. From the fields and forests where they gather the plants to the lighting of the stills and the pressing of the nuts into oil, every formula is hand blended, hand labelled and hand packaged. Such a beautiful connection! All Evan Healy products are certified organic, non-GMO and vegan!

Shikai was formed in 1970 by Dr. Dennis Sepp, an organic and medicinal IMG_1373chemist. He began exploring the unique properties of certain plants and how they could benefit our hair and skin. One of his first studies was done with shikakai – a plant grown in India that was well known for its ability to clean hair, leave it soft and shiny but not dry it or the scalp. He created his first shampoo and the rest is history. Shikai now makes over 50 products from start to finish in their Santa Rosa facilities. And Dr. Sepp continues to oversee the formulation and manufacture of all of the products. All 50 products are cruelty free and free of all animal products. In fact, they have a Master Ingredient List right on their website that was most recently updated in August 2015. Bravo Shikai!

IMG_1337Three Sisters Apothecary makes hand crafted artisan soaps in small batches using high quality, cruelty free ingredients. This adventure started when the founders’ daughter came into this world at 3 lbs, 1 ounce! She began growing and making organic baby food, questioning every immunization and even making her own soap for her daughter! Now they make this soap together! They even make a soap for our dogs. All the ingredients are listed on the website and they all appear to be vegan-friendly!

IMG_1333My husband and I have both been using ACURE facial cleansing products for a couple years. In addition to skincare, they offer facial oils, beneficial oils for hair, skin and scalp, body wash, body lotion, bath soap, dry oil body spray, physical sunscreen (vs. toxic chemical), lip care, hair care and baby products. I have to admit that I had no idea they offered so many products! Their products are made with organic ingredients, no petro chemicals, sulfate-free, paraben free, cruelty free, no synthetic fragrances, gluten free and no mineral oil. Kristy Guerra founded ACURE to honor her grandmother who battled breast cancer for a decade in hopes of bringing awareness to the importance of healthy skin care made without toxins. Part of their “green’ culture includes planting a tree through Trees for the Future for every lotion that is sold and ten cents from every hair care unit sold goes to Water.org. They us 100% plant and food based ingredients. This does include beeswax in a limited number of their products.

IMG_1378My husband has been a huge fan of Dr. Hauschka products for years. They are a German organic, biodynamic skin care company founded in 1967 that offers skin care for our face and body, cosmetics, deodorants, body oils, foot creams, nail & cuticle oils and bath & shower products. But it all began when Dr. Hauschka began making natural, alcohol free homeopathic medicines in 1935. Though it was a huge success, it was banned by the Nazis and he and his future wife were both imprisoned before finally settling in Bad Boll/Eckwalden in the 1950s. They have an area of just over 11 acres where they grow 150 different nurturing plants using biodynamic methods. Most of the seeds for the next year’s cultivation come from their own plants. And they tend to more than 25 compost heaps that are then converted into high-quality soil! When they can’t grow it themselves, they find renewable resources all over the world to use. This provides them with abundant quantities of the ingredients they need while also benefitting the earth and providing work for local communities. Whenever possible, they source ingredients from biodynamic or organic farms and when that is not available they initiate the organic farming project themselves. Again, making jobs and supporting local communities. They literally have partners around the world and are currently working with the World Health Organization to offer about 700 farmers the opportunity to work and earn an income using organic rose cultivation methods rather than becoming opium producers. Along with their own bee colonies, they are always thrilled when other animals make a home in their gardens! They offer 48 vegan products that include face care, body care, bath & shower and cosmetics!

IMG_1381Aura Cacia offers high quality essential oils and aromatherapy products. Using their own ethical and sustainable sourcing program, their goal is to always guarantee high-quality oils from source to shelf. Unlike many companies, they believe in full ingredient disclosure – you will see every ingredient listed in order of quantity used. You will know exactly what is in the bottle you purchase! Aura Cacia products are never tested on animals and they contain no animal by-products with the exception of beeswax in some of their products.

I had such a wonderful time learning more about products that I already trusted and those that were new to me. I really enjoyed the stand-alone concept of the Whole Body Lifestyle store. It has the feel of a cosmetics and skincare boutique and is much calmer and relaxing then being featured in the middle of a bustling grocery store. I hope that we see more of these open up. And a big thanks to Amy Pellegrini, Whole Foods’ Marketing and Communication Lead – North Bay and her wonderful team for inviting me and sharing this new concept.

If you are looking for clean, toxin free, cruelty-free, vegan products, be sure to check out your local Whole Foods. And the next time you are up in Sebastopol be sure to stop by the new Whole Body Lifestyle store. I hope you love it as much as I did! I look forward to seeing you there and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

And to learn some tips on improving your eating habits, visit this link from Health Ambition. Though not all suggestions are vegan, they offer some great common sense tips like minimizing processed foods & caffeine, eliminating soda (especially diet!) and as we vegans already know…eat lots of organic, real whole plant-based foods! To read the entire article, follow the link HERE!

 

 

 

 

January 17

Mini Mango Becomes Mango on Main!

Mango on Main
                      Mango on Main

I have loved the food at Mini Mango since my first visit three years ago. The food is always excellent and the service is always friendly. This week is the first time I realized that it is also the most vegan-friendly restaurant in Napa! They recently moved their location from a quiet, out of the way spot tucked away on Clay Street to a highly visible local in the midst of historic downtown on Main Street. In honor of the new location, they also have a new moniker – Mango on Main by mini mango Thai bistro. The name & address have changed, the dining room space has increased, the décor has improved but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the delicious food. The Restaurant Manager, Mee Peng, is also another wonderful reason to return again and again. He is always friendly, chatty and no matter how much time has passed in between visits he always remembers that I am vegan and have a weakness for their delicious tofu Peanut Bomb!

Tofu Peanut Bomb!
Tofu Peanut Bomb with a side of Indochine Corn Fritters!

Though I have ordered take-out, this week was my first opportunity to dine-in since they moved locations. The space is larger than the last location but still has a very intimate feel. The lighting is soft and the music soothing and energetic at the same time. Though there are only 10 or 12 tables, when it is full it is a bit loud and has a great energy. Steve and I shared an appetizer and a dessert along with our entrees so we were there for a while and once the restaurant cleared out it became very quiet.

The Buddha watching over you as you dine!
The Buddha watching over you as you dine!

Since Mee and his wife Anchalee Chitamnuayothin (she is also the Executive Chef) are Buddhist, the décor includes a lovely Thai Buddha statue as well as a quote from the Dalai Lama in the Ladies’ Room. They have also been very creative showcasing beautiful umbrellas hung upside down from the high ceiling.

Beautiful décor
                   Beautiful décor

The night we were there Mee was in charge and had three more staff that all work as a team. They all take orders, deliver food, fill water, bus tables and seat quests. I think each of the staff came to our table at least once throughout our meal. It seems like it would be disorganized but they have a system figured out and it works well.

The most exciting thing about their menu is that it is all made to order so besides a few grilled meat/seafood dishes, virtually anything on the menu can be made vegan. According to Mee, they have a very large market of guests that request vegan food and are more than happy to accommodate their dining needs. They have a good wine list that includes many local wineries. For Napa, their pours are certainly on the “heavy” side and the prices for wine by the glass on the low side. That always makes me smile! I mentioned earlier my near obsession with their tofu Peanut Bomb. I have to admit that I order it virtually every time I eat at Mango on Main. It is delicious and will satisfy anyone who loves peanut butter. But when Mee mentioned that they are willing and able to “veganize” virtually anything on their menu, I decided it was time to explore some new options.

We started our meal with the sweetly amazing Indochine Corn Fritters drizzled with plum reduction. They came to the table in a sweet and crispy little pyramid. We enjoyed one each and shared the third.

Indochine Corn Fritters
            Indochine Corn Fritters

Though we often share one entrée when we dine out in Napa Valley – this saves calories and money plus there is sometimes only one vegan entrée available so we have never seen the point in ordering two of the same thing. Because of the fact that Mango on Main has so many vegan-friendly options, we decided to splurge and each order our own entrée. Steve ordered the Tofu Massaman which has a mildly spicy cardamom-citrus sauce, onions, potatoes and braised tofu curry. I love curry & coconut milk with a capital “L” so I ordered the Kari Curry with tofu, potatoes, carrots and coconut milk. I typically have to order my curry mild but in this case it had just the perfect amount of spice for me. To that we added brown rice for two and commenced to whole-heartedly enjoying our meal!

entrees

Kari Curry with tofu
          Kari Curry with tofu
Tofu Massaman
                Tofu Massaman

Their current menu does not offer any vegan desserts but the night we were there they offered a special dessert that included hot, sweet sticky rice and a scoop of mango sorbet made with coconut milk that was vegan. It was one of the most delicious desserts that we have ever shared. The hot rice topped with the ice cold sorbet was not only an amazing combination of flavors but the combination of hot and cold was a delightful shock to my taste buds.

Vegan sticky rice with mango sorbet.
    Vegan sticky rice with mango sorbet.

The new location now offers a large lunch menu that includes Potstickers, satay skewers, Bangkok bites of the day, Thai Wraps, Noodles on Main, salads and much more. And just like dinner, almost all lunch menu options can be made vegan using vegetables or tofu.

Mango on Main is located in historic downtown Napa at 1142 Main Street near the corner of Pearl Street and Main. To make a reservation for parties of 6 or more, they can be reached at 707.253.8880. They serve lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Dinner is served Tuesday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday they are open all day from Noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday is open for dinner only from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

This is a dining experience that you will not want to miss! Many of these delicious recipes have been passed down through the generations and were shared with Chef Anchalee by her Mother. Chef Anchalee then decided to attend culinary school so she could take her family recipes and add a decidedly and delicious California spin to them!

dalailamaquote

Please be sure to thank them for offering so many delicious vegan options. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!