Guest review: Soul Cocina!  »

I have a love-hate affair with vegan restaurants that fill their menu with faux-meat. Don’t get me wrong, I love a delicious kung pao un-chicken dish, but I believe that one can eat vegan without using meat-substitutes or compromising flavor. Enter Roger of Soul Cocina pop-up fame to present a six-course vegan feast without soy or processed ingredients, instead taking cues from world cuisines and seasonal produce.

When you first walk in to La Victoria (2937 24th St. at Alabama Street in San Francisco) on a night Roger has taken over the kitchen, head straight past the well stocked pastry to the back of the bakery. There, the cafe tables have been transformed with fresh flower bouquets, bright tablecloths, and a comfortable, homey ambiance that makes you want to cozy up for a few hours. While diners can order separate dishes from Soul Cocina’s rotating menu, my dining companion and I went the full monty and each ordered the fixe prix dinner ($30).

Our first taste of Roger’s world-influenced cuisine was the bhel puri, a light Indian snack of puffed rice, peanuts, onions, tomatoes, and mangoes, drizzled with a tamarind sauce. Wrapped in paper cones, this dish showcased street food at it’s finest. A second appetizer quickly followed: a basket of homemade blue corn tortilla strips with a bowl of heavenly guacamole that can best be described as avocado-overload (and I mean that in the best way).

Next was a surprise last-minute addition, a roasted pan of cauliflower with a smokey, soft, buttery texture perfectly contrasted against the crunch of pine nuts and sweet currants. A healthy does of spicy garlic, olive oil, and a kick of citrus reminded me of the Middle East, where such bright flavor profiles are usually found in the restaurants lining the streets of Istanbul.

Our chef was kind enough to come out and present dishes, including a well composed plate of platano maduro, pickled vegetables, and slow-cooked black beans on a banana leaf. Unfortunately the sharp kick of acid from the pickles overpowered the subtler flavor of the soft beans. That’s not to say that I didn’t finish almost everything, despite my belly telling me to call it quits.  But we still had one more dish and dessert to go, and I was determined to try everything.
Our last main was a stuffed thick tortilla (called a “huaraches de buddha”) topped with a medley of exotic sauteed vegetables. I’ve been wanting to try fiddleheads for awhile now, and the best way I could describe the taste was if broccoli and asparagus had a punk rock baby. The two accompanying pureed salsas had a definite kick, but their smoky heat went perfectly with the lightly seasoned vegetables and stuffed tortilla.

My eating prowess was rewarded with possibly the best vegan desert I have ever been served:  a coconut creme bruleee with a side of tropical fruit. Sounds simple, but this was off the hook. The brulee’s sweet hard shell broke perfectly to reveal the velvety, rich, fragrant custard beneath.  The consistency and sweetness were spot-on. Seriously, it was out of this world paired with thinly sliced starfruit and kiwi.

Unfortunately, Roger might be moving to Chicago this year. So next time he presents a vegan Soul Cocina night, go! A few more tips: the biggest bang for your buck is the prix fixe, but first run a marathon (or around the block) a few times as you’ll need your game face in order finish everything. While you’re out, skip around the corner to grab a bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner sans—corking fee. To find out when Roger will be presenting another vegan night (usually the first Wednesday and Thursday of the month), visit Soul Cocina’s website.

UPDATE: Soul Cocina’s LAST meal is THIS Saturday, Apr. 2! It’s mostly vegan, SFoodie has the scoop! And then order tickets and get exact details here! Everyone GO!!

Justine Quart has a penchant for urban exploration and meditation, yoga and boxing, vegan food and a properly aged whiskey. When she’s not dreaming up the next big adventure, she is offering kick-ass vegan wellness services at local businesses, freelancing at the SF Appeal and The Bold Italic, or roaming the neighborhood with her partner in crime, el Jefe. Check her out at Dojo Wellness.


Sometimes it’s almost our birthdays and we feel unaccomplished and sad; sometimes there are kiwi shortages, and robots milk cows: it’s this week’s link-o-rama!  »

Ein Geburtstagskuchen! Really, any cake is a birthday cake if you deem it so. This is vegan Schwarzwälderkirschtorte—lecker! [photo by benjamin_lebsanft]

Tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 20, Dolores Park Works will hold a Dolores Park Clean-up! Your Vegansaurus wholeheartedly endorses this endeavor, what with loving Dolores Park so terribly, terribly much, and we owe it to our neighborhood to go! Meet at the Dolores Park Works-branded toolbox behind the tennis courts at 18th and Dolores Streets at 10 a.m. tomorrow; DPW will provide all the equipment, and work is scheduled until 2 p.m.

There’s an international kiwi crisis brewing as the trees are being clobbered by a nasty bacteria called PSA. “International” because Italy actually produces more kiwifruits than New Zealand, annually. The U.S. and Russia, among others, are looking at meagre winter harvests, so countries that import most of their staples can expect those prices to increase between 11 and 20 percent next year. Because poor countries don’t have enough problems! In China, the government has begun distributing food subsidies in the form of money and actual comestibles, as food prices there went up 10 percent in ONE MONTH, and inflation grows faster than people’s incomes. UGH.

Meanwhile we are still the luckiest jerks: California is full of awesome farmers markets, and we’ve got Local Harvest, which helps you determine not just your nearest awesome farmers markets, but where all the food sold there came from. The USDA keeps a national list of farmers markets, too. If you can take advantage of this, DO IT. You owe it to everyone who eats food with a massive carbon footprint because that’s the only food they can get. We’re so well off, there’s no excuse not to be selective about our groceries. You eat vegan, local, organic food, and know that in that part of your life you really are doing your best. No brags, no smugs, just dedication to the right thing. Well OK, maybe we in the U.S. aren’t the best-best off: Grist hosts two solid debates on the Food Safety Modernization Act that, in part reveal that our current standards are depressingly low. Um, so maybe you’d like a recipe for spiced sweet potatoes? Possibly the most depressingly recounted recipe ever written in English?

Our pal Justine Quart, interviewer of vegan burlesque queens, has written a fantastic article in the SFAppeal on the problem of shark fin soup in San Francisco and how it’s being addressed. Goodness it is an EXCELLENT article, you really must read it. A horrible human being has been strangling seagulls with beer cans since at least Nov. 3. Thank goodness, Wild Rescues saved one gull this week! Here’s a small good thing: the California Beer and Beverage Distributors doubled the bounty for the fuckface bird-torturer. If you need to indulge in a little vicarious revenge, Netflix is streaming Whale Wars season three. Just imagine you are steering the boat, only it’s your fist, and it’s going right into the bird-strangler’s throat. When you open your eyes again, you have committed zero violent acts, just as it should be.

Hooray, it’s the Week in Vegan, by our own Laura! Unfortunately she made a small error regarding my number-one dream husband Vincent Kartheiser, as the public transportation-lover/car-despising vegan around here is me. Whoops! Lely: the dairy maintenance company of the future? Because robotics? Your Vegansaurus finds all this suspicious and a little creepy. Really, the cows are actually happy? REALLY? Perhaps in this same future we’ll all be wearing nutria-skin hatsnutria, the ethical fur! HA. Or, OK this isn’t so strange: Eric Hanson has drawn a sort of “geography of Thanksgiving,” with illustrations based on the most popular Google recipe searches measured on the day before Thanksgiving. Kentucky’s is “broccoli casserole,” which could be gross, or delicious, depending. Crossing our fingers for delicious, Kentucky!


Guest interview: Justine Quart talks to vegan burlesque performer Anja Keister  »

Please welcome guest-interviewer Justine Quart!

I love burlesque, especially if it involves a fabulous outspoken vegan performer, go-go dancer and pin-up model who reps compassionate fashion choices with style. In our chat, Anja Keister explains what’s is like to source non-feather glam and how the OG diva RuPaul inspired her to perform on stage.

How long have you been vegan?
I’ve been living fully vegan for about four years now, but I have slowly transitioned to this point since I was 15 (I’m 26 now). This slow transition was quite an internal journey over the past 11 years. I originally stopped eating beef at 15 because mad cow disease had been all over the media around that time and I was so disgusted the farm industry. I grew up on a farm, my father is hunter, at that point I saw no problem with it. I began to lessen my meat intake over the next few years for health reasons because I was overweight and high cholesterol runs in my family. When I entered college I stopped drinking milk because I was studying jazz singing and the mucus production that dairy gives you was causing problems. I also began to cut out pork and poultry at this point; by 19 I was cutting out seafood and by 20 I was calling myself vegan, but I was sloppy about it and still occasionally bought into the ridiculous “humane meat” idea when pressured by friends. It was when I entered graduate school (2007) that I became more active in the vegan community and began to really investigate my ethical stance and really started to move towards a completely vegan lifestyle. Now I have never been happier about my eating.

What’s your major reason for choosing a compassionate lifestyle?
With this long transition I’ve had many reasons: mad cow disease, factory farms, health/weight, animal compassion, physiological (the idea that human bodies aren’t meant to digest animal products), and currently animal rights. I can say that being an advocate for animal rights is the only reason that has really kept me vegan. With all the other reasons I found myself cheating because I could twist my thinking to make it justifiable. Coming now from an animal rights viewpoint, I can never see pain, suffering, or death of other living being as justified.

What first inspired you to get involved with burlesque?
I had always loved over the top glamour and theatrics, in fact as child I saw RuPaul on tv and wanted to be her. [The Adventures of] Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Cabaret were some of my favorite films growing up. The problem is I had no idea how to be that—I thought it was just something that the movies made up. My friend in Jim Thorpe, Penn., invited a few of us to her house for the Jim Thorpe Burlesque Festival weekend. I thought it sounded fun because there were dance and hula hoop classes so I went along. That made me realize burlesque had so much of what I always wanted in life! The dramatics, the glamour, the humor; I loved it all. My full-time job had squashed my ability to do performance art like I had done in college, so burlesque gave me a new avenue [for] my energy and I plunged right in. Two months later I was already performing.

How would you describe burlesque to someone who has never seen a performance?
A simplified way to look at it is “Stripping – Nudity + Playfulness/Comedy = Burlesque,” though that isn’t always true. That is one of the things that makes the world of neo-burlesque—a term used to describe the current wave of burlesque since the 1990s—so great. Sometimes it’s funny, sexy, dramatic, silly, artistic, it [makes] social commentary, or any combination of those.
I guess a general way to describe it is a person (gender non-specific) performs, typically under five minutes, to music and in the process they will teasingly take off their clothes till they are down to pasties and something covering their crotch. Another difference between Striptease and stripping is that strippers typically are performing for a patron, get their tip and then move onto the next patron. Burlesque is about performing for the audience as a whole, using the collective reaction as fuel for the performance. You wouldn’t try to put money in a burlesque performer’s g-string unless you want to get publicly mocked or possibly kicked out of the venue. One major thing I would like to point out is that in the neo-burlesque scene, much of the audience is women, and performers of all body types are accepted.

Are there other vegan burlesque performers that you know or perform with?
There are actually quite a lot of performers in New York that eat a vegan diet, but many of them wear animal products. While working on my blog, I found Bettina May, who is located in New York, as well as vegan performers in Scotland and Australia. I also got to work with Dale Rio, a vegan pin-up photographer located in Philadelphia who works within the roller derby and burlesque world.

What obstacles do you run into when maintaining a vegan lifestyle while being involved in a feather- and leather-loving performance scene?
I feel that feathers are an easy default. With the vintage look being popular, it is hard to find hair decorations that don’t involve feathers; featherless headdresses are even harder to find. I had to do a lot of searching to find feather boa substitutes, but they are out there! I can say that being involved in the burlesque world has made me a more creative performer and a stronger vegan, plus I found out that satin can sometime include silk fibers! I never knew that until I started working with a costume designer.

Any suggestions for places to find saucy vegan-friendly apparel or wares? has some amazing fabric boas which are great for burlesque. Coquette Faux Furriers, run by Bettina May, has some wonderful fake furs that can double as a boa or add spice to pin-up shoots or for a night out on the town. The vegan sex shop has some vegan-friendly sexy heels, but I typically buy my shoes from regular shoe stores after researching the companies online first. You can find some pretty schnazzy stuff on etsy, but it’s important to really work with the seller to make sure all the ingredients are up to vegan standards. I’ve also found working directly with creators can go a long way. I recently approached a burlesque hat maker in NY about creating a vegan hat for me, and we are now in the midst of figuring out a whole vegan hat line!

What would you most like to say to new performers or anyone considering burlesque?
Do it, whether on a stage or in the privacy of your own home. Take classes, go to shows, or if there isn’t a scene in your area, get together with some friends and figure out a way to bring some burlesque there.

What are your go-to vegan comfort foods?

Peanut chews, avocados with salt, brussel sprouts with nutritional yeast, and vegetable sushi.

Favorite vegan cookbook?
I use Veganomicon and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World a lot but I’ve also found some great recipes in Quick and Easy Vegan Comfort Food by Alicia C. Simpson. Oh my goodness, the coconut corn chowder in that book is amazing!

Most recommended veg-friendly restaurant in your town?
I would suggest saving up and taking a trip to Blossom Restaurant in midtown if possible. For a more casual dining experience, visit the V Spot in Brooklyn for some Latin-infused classics. If you need a quick bite, the Chipolte on 8th Avenue in Chelsea offers a fake meat option (ask for the “garden blend”), which is currently in a testing phase with the company. And finally, when you need to fulfill a sweet craving, Lula’s Sweet Apothecary in the East Village is a sweet shop and all-vegan ice cream parlor that makes their own flavors daily!

Anja is always looking for new people to work with either behind the scenes or on the stage. She recently moved to NYC and is looking for other vegan performers to do all vegan shows for animal groups in in the city. She says, “Neo-burlesque is about creativity, performers having control over their art, acceptance of all and the celebration that accompanies all of this.” Check out her website and blog for more info about shows and to contact her directly.

Justine Quart has a penchant for urban exploration and meditation, yoga and boxing, vegan food experimentation and a properly aged whiskey. When she’s not dreaming up the next big adventure, she can be found offering kick-ass vegan wellness services at local businesses, freelancing at the SF Appeal and the Bold Italic, or roaming the neighborhood with her partner in crime, el Jefe. Check her out at Dojo Wellness, Heavy Metta, and The Vegan Pin-up (coming soon!).


Vegetarian Awareness Month! Because vegetarians are pretty all right  »

October is Vegetarian Awareness Month—did you know? We totally missed World Vegetarian Day on Oct. 1, too; whoops! Thanks to the SF Appeal for bringing it to our attention, otherwise we might’ve ignored it altogether. Who cares about vegetarians, anyway? All hung up on milk and cheese and eggs and butter, and then the ones who eat FISH and still call themselves “vegetarian,” come on already.

We should care about vegetarians, though. The biography of the average vegan includes time as a vegetarian: all making cheese omelets every day “to get enough protein” before you learned to cook/eat a balanced diet; assuming that if a product wasn’t literally made of meat it must be veg-friendly; naïvely ordering in restaurants without inquiring about chicken broth or fish sauce—rare is the person who wakes up from an omnivorous diet to a vegan lifestyle.

Vegetarians are our pals! Most of them believe in animal rights, just like most of us vegans, and we need to stick together to fight for those beliefs. This month, take time to be extra-nice to your vegetarian friends and family. Their diet is still better than any omnivore’s! Cook them a delicious vegan meal, and if they want to put cheese on top of your pasta with vegetables, pretend you don’t notice (this time). Maybe buy them a vegan cheese to try! If they don’t like it, then you get it back anyway.

Justine Quart listed her favorite veg restaurants in San Francisco in the Appeal, and they’re pretty good! What are your favorite places/dishes? Where would you take your vegetarians, to tell them they’re awesome while hinting that they would be even more so if they stopped eating dairy?

The North American Vegetarian Society is holding a contest for the individual “with the most outstanding activity” and the group “implementing the cleverest outreach” during World Vegetarian Month. You could win free registration, accommodation, and meals at Vegetarian Summerfest ‘11, which—is a big deal? OK, it’s a big deal! To enter the contest, write a little essay explaining your reaching-out and how effective and smart and amazing you’ve been, and submit it by Oct. 30.

Now maybe you want to make dinner for those vegetarians? Or even those omnivores in your life? Maybe convince small children to eat new vegetables? How about seeing how many vegetarians/omnivores you can get to download—and use!—PCRM’s free 21-day Vegan Kickstart app? Yes, technically most of these suggestions are more vegan- than vegetarian-oriented, but if you’re doing nice things for your vegetarians, does it matter that those nice things also serve your hidden agenda? It’s not like it’s an evil hidden agenda.

If being a secret agent for the vegan lifestyle makes you a little uncomfortable, that’s fine (traitor, we will find you). How about just finding all your vegetarians and telling them that no matter how many times you’ve stood in front of the milks at the grocery store, yelling about the dairy industry’s terrible abuses, you respect anyone who doesn’t eat dead animals, and who does work for animal rights. Maybe throw in a hug, if you’re a hugger.* Vegetarians, we are Aware of you; and you really are all right.

*not everyone has a hugging relationship!

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