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!

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!

September 8

Vegan Paradice – In early 2015 the restaurant closed permanently! So sad…

I know I promised to eat, drink and shop my way through Napa Valley but I just could not resist the opportunity to include our neighbor to the east. Less than 20 miles from Napa, you will find Vegan Paradice Gourmet Café in downtown Fairfield. Now that you have a wonderful reason to visit Fairfield often, aren’t you so glad construction on Jameson Canyon Road is almost complete?!

Vegan Café in downtown Fairfield!
Vegan Café in downtown Fairfield!

Kim Brown has been a vegan for over 16 years. Her religion and love for God motivates her to love all fellowman making the health and wellbeing of others a big concern.  And because so many illnesses can be improved or even prevented by lifestyle changes, she was excited to share this good news with the rest of us! And so by following her passion for a plant based diet and her desire to demonstrate to others that healthy and humane eating is very do-able Kim and her husband Gerald debuted their vegan café in April 2012. And since there is nothing like Vegan Paradice Gourmet Café in North Bay, I can promise you that you will be very glad that she and Gerald decided to fill that void.

Kim's got that vegan glow!
Kim’s got that vegan glow!

When Kim was just 9 years old, her family converted to a vegetarian lifestyle. And a year later, thank goodness for the rest of us, her mother began to teach her how to cook vegetarian dishes. As an adult, Kim then made the decision to become 100% plant based. Using all of the skills she learned as a child, she began baking cakes and catering for small events. Later she and Gerald began selling their vegan soft serve at summer events. The success of the soft serve helped build their momentum and slowly the idea for the Café began to develop. It was just a matter of time that Vegan Paradice Gourmet Café would soon follow.

The incredibly delicious housemade beafy burger!
The incredibly delicious housemade beafy burger!

Kim and Gerald make all of their sauces, salad dressings and condiments from scratch. And the amazing beafy patty is also made in-house. This allows them to conscientiously produce quality, flavor-rich foods that promote a healthy body!

In addition to my favorite – the beafy burger – their menu includes the Ranchy Chik’n Wrap (which can be made gluten-free upon request), the Surprise Me! Chili Dog, the BBQ tofu burger, pizza slices, soups & salads and much more! And though they are not listed on the menu, Vegan Paradice Gourmet Café also offers the vegan soft serve and baked sweet treats that include cookies and cupcakes. My favorite is the coconut cupcakes!

Vegan cookies and cupcakes!
Vegan cookies and cupcakes!
Soft Serve Ice Creme
Soft Serve Ice Crème

Vegan Paradice Gourmet Café is located in downtown Fairfield at 846 Texas Street at the corner of Texas & Jackson Street. You will know you are there when you see the banana tree! Vegan Paradice is open Sunday – Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and closed on Friday and Saturday. If you would like to place your order for pick-up, Kim and Gerald can be reached at (707) 428-0110. If you call, you may get to speak to their son Philip who helps out with the family business!

The Brown family working hard to make Vegan Paradice a success!
The Brown family working hard to make Vegan Paradice a success!

The first chance you have, please head over to Fairfield and enjoy an amazing vegan meal. We need to support the Brown family and help their passion for vegan food in North Bay succeed! And be sure to mention that you heard about them through my blog! Enjoy!