Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oh Melissa, or: I make an unscheduled pitstop on Chapel and buy product

It has occurred to me that this blog has been ignoring one of its taglines - shoppering. There's been molto cookering and eatering, and even a bit of whinering, but so far I haven't really delved into that other great love of my life, the accumulation of product (as my dad would put it).

Today however I have excitement to report! When I went lunchering with Caroline last week I was in drooling awe of her pair of flocked Melissas, so much so that we took a post prandial expedition to Myer in hopes that they had some in stock (they did, but I stupidly rejected them. On website inspection, they were from the Vivenne Westwood Anglomania collection ... I am a fool!). Alas, none others were there.

I made a trip to Chapel St today, which is unsual in and of itself, and whilst wandering past Moji, I spotted some Melissas in the window and made an immediate and quite violent left hand turn into the shop.

I came home with these beauties (and excuse the swollen ankles; my personal trainer made me do a ridiculous interval test on the bike and I hate him for it), and am pretty well up for some more already.

Pairy The Firsty: goldie slingback flatties with punched holes (blurriness due to difficulties in trying to photograph own foot in acceptably attractive way, clearly not achieved due to: 1: previously mentioned swelling; 2: awkward angles created by shooting down; 3: balancing foot on the couch to take advantage of light. They're hot, ok? Just accept it anyway):

Will you just look at adorable peeptoe?

And here's why the plastic choes don't smell (as I not-so-delicately asked Caroline!) - they are lined with a light fabric and the material of the inner sole is less PVCy that the upper.

Pairy The Secondy: Badass oilslick midnight blue wedges with long pocketback, ankle strap and purple inner sole. So very CatWoman, and not a colour I normally go for - but they are fierce and I am channelling Tyra Banks. Miaowwww!

A good contrast between the shiny PVC upper and the more rubbery inner sole.

So what's so great about Melissas? Have a look here to read more. In a nutshell? Environmentally innovative, socially responsible, vegan by default, designed with spark and goddamned comfortable.

Moji: 558 Chapel Street, South Yarra. Ph. 03 9824 1104. Other stockists listed on the Melissa site.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lunchering with Lisa, or: we CityWorkers tell Gordon Gekko that lunch is not for losers - it's for vegans

Over the last few weeks Lisa of unwakeable and I have been taking advantage of our CityWorker status to explore the CBD's vegan lunchering offerings. I delayed blogging about them as last week we had planned have our third lunch, along with Caroline, and I was keen to present a trilogy, a triptych, a triumvirate of lunchering as a little tribute. However, due the the perils of CityWorking which all too often include last minute office panics and cancellations, for the last lunch Lisa was obliged to stay back and my little plan was put on hold (also, as I'm sure Caroline will agree, our lunch last week was good, but perhaps not quite blog-worthy).

I am a poor vegan indeed, having never made it to Chatterbox. Lisa has already written about it here in a much more contemporaneous manner than I can now. We had the pad kee mou, which answered my constant cravings for the flat rice noodle Hor Fun at Binh Minh on Victoria Street, of which I dream nightly and daydream daily. The dish was very good, noodle-heavy but even I, Chilli Monster, had to leave behind some of the slices of fresh chilli which were scattered about in a most liberal manner. I did have to add some soy sauce to amp up the savoury factor, as is my wont, but all up it was a big dish at a good price (and I just loved the wandering waiters, increasingly desperate as they rushed about calling out ticket numbers in hope of a customer).

Chatterbox Curry and Noodle Bar, Shop 18, Tivoli Arcade, 235 Bourke Street, Melbourne

Below: a vegger vegging in the wild!

Our second lunchering involved a two-stop meal at Melbourne Central. The sushi sushi outside the train station barriers makes its veggie nori rolls without mayo (which reminds me, I once emailed sushi sushi to ask if they had considered ditching the mayo. I got a very friendly email back saying that I was welcome to ask any outlet to make me a fresh, non-mayo roll whenever I liked), and there is a noodle outlet in the main food court called Bamboo City which offers fresh. hot steamed buns of which two - the veggie and the red bean - are vegan. Both are great, but at $1.80 and half again bigger, the veggie one is better value.

I had three nori rolls (hungry, ok?) - the veggie, avocado, and avocado and asparagus. As always, all three were delish, and were made better by the fact that we sat inside sushi sushi and took advantage of the free soy sauce (nothing annoys me more than running out of those poxy sized plastic fish soy sauce holders before the end of my nori. In fact, I even keep a soy sauce bottle in my drawer at work for extra-drowning of my lunch).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How we meet our puppies

A sad, timely and admirably lengthy article in The Age today about the puppy industry. Nick Galvin speaks to dog trainers, anti-puppy mill campaigners, commercial dog breeders, former pet shop employees, veterinary academics, the Australian veterinary Association and the RSPCA to provide a well-rounded overview of this incredibly brutal industry. It’s distressing but important: http://www.theage.com.au/news/lifeandstyle/pets/grim-end-for-christmas-puppies/2008/12/22/1229794326689.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

It’s an issue with a lot of traction in the vegan community, and one which really strikes home with a lot of people. Obviously, people who are particular concerned with the welfare and wellbeing of animals (and their rights) take the issue very seriously and quite rightly bring a lot of attention to what many people see as simply a benign industry full of sweet puppies in a pet shop window. For those of us who live with or care for animals, thinking about the fate of unlucky puppies, kittens, fish, birds, mice, rats and other ‘pet’ animals is painful and infuriating.

With this in mind, this article made me think about the attitudes we hold towards puppy mills, pet shops, dog breeders and animal shelters (more or less in descending order there). I abhor puppy farms where bitches are forced bear multiple litters in quick succession, where dogs get little socialisation or time outside, and where their sole purpose is as enslaved breeding machines pumping out sick, unhealthy, and unhappy puppies. I am appalled at pet shops that sell animals, shipping in the cuties, shipping ‘em out to any old person regardless of suitabllility and without any proper checks, and ultimately get rid of the unsold. And, obviously, I applaud rescue organisations who take in, care for and hopefully find loving homes for animals. But breeders? Where do they fall?
I've thought quite hard about publishing this post, as I know it's a controversial issue and one which attracts some passionate views. I'm not really about provocation (although I will happily express my opnion on anything; just buy me a beer and off we go), but given my personal experience with dog breeding I wanted to share my perspective on it.

Let me clear: I am talking about breeders who work in accordance with the rules set out by their relevant kennel club or breed association; who are concerned with the physical and temperamental improvement and promotion of a breed they love; and who provide each animal love and veterinary care of the highest standard. I am not talking about ‘backyard breeders’; people who think they can just mate their bitch to the dog up the road on a regular basis; people who breed primarily to make money; or people who understand nothing of the history, medical issues or temperament of their breed. Those people are not responsible. They are not informed. They are not interested. They are not good breeders.

I have to declare my hand here. My grandmother was a breeder of Miniature Schnauzers, and my understanding of how much she loved and cared for her dogs has very much informed my position on dog breeders. She bred for many years, was very involved in the Victorian Miniature Schnauzer Association, made close friends, loved caring for her dogs, kept them healthy, kept accurate records of their bloodlines and medical histories, and when the time finally came for her to move to a retirement village and let her two companion dogs, Missy and Heidi, go to live on a friend’s farm, she missed them sorely. In fact, when she was very very old, suffering from advanced dementia, losing almost all her English (a second language), and refusing to eat, visits from the hospital visiting dogs made her so indescribably happy it was a real lesson in what it means to love animals from the heart. When she patted a dog her she began to use words she hadn’t used for months. She used her hands to smooth and stroke and scratch when she could barely hold on to her cup. She would willingly eat when we gave the dog a mouthful for every one she ate. Her eyes became soft and sparkly and she smiled. She loved dogs intensely from her childhood and she did so until the end of her life. It’s something to bear in mind when thinking about whether breeders love their dogs the way we do. She did.

Yes, I think that rescuing a dog should be everyone’s first choice, and one which is promoted and accepted as best practice. It should be an easy and desirable choice which is common and respected. No, I don’t think it should be the only choice. Yes, it’s terrible and illogical to keep breeding puppies when there are so many killed for the lack of a home. No, pet shops should never be allowed to sell any kind of animal. Yes, all non-breeding animals should be sterilised by their loving and responsible human carers. And yes, of course puppy farming should be illegal and puppy breeders should be strung up and pelted with various rotten things. But no, the breeding of particular types of dogs by registered, responsible, informed and caring breeders should not be banned.

I think I can best describe my own experience, and by no means do I suggest that my decision was in any way better/worse/more or less ethical than anyone else’s; it’s just that it was my own decision so I can explain more clearly why I chose to adopt my Sam from a breeder.

When I decided to bring a dog into my household, I considered the following: I live in a flat, I already had two cats, and I do not have an outside area at all, so any dog would have to be one who would be happy and healthy being primarily an inside dog. I thought about simply choosing a smaller dog, as advised by PetFinder, but I simply could not accept the risk of choosing a puppy who would be unhappy or unhealthy. If I knew that my dog was miserable or sick because of the environment I had brought it in to, I would have no choice but to find (yet another) home for it. Without knowing the breed characteristics and temperament likely to emerge, the size of the dog was irrelevant considering my needs. Certainly, choosing any particular dog, as opposed to an entire breed and its characteristics, carries that risk, but I felt it was my responsibility to reduce that risk as much as I could before adopting a puppy. As such, with a lot of careful research, I decided that a chihuahua would be most suitable to my household and lifestyle, as they are generally happy living in apartments, do not require a lot of outdoor time or exercise, get along well with other small animals, and are known as loyal and loving companions.

When I looked for a puppy to bring home, I took great care choosing a breeder, and the lady I found, although not registered, could not have been a better person to get Sam from (I should note here that at that stage I didn’t know that breed rescue organisations existed, and if I had I would definitely have looked there first). I went to her home to meet Sam, and it was evident that she loved her dogs immensely, considered them a part of her family, bred them responsibly and carefully, and was very concerned to make sure that I would be a proper person to take her (one and only, not one of many) puppy to a new home. In fact, in between my first contact with her and the day I went to meet Sam, we spoke a number of times about the arrangements I had made to introduce him to the cats. She was also very worried about how he would go with them when I went to work, and it took a lot of discussion before she was satisfied that he would be happy and safe (luckily, due to my parents’ and sister’s schedules we were able to give them all quite a few days with a human always present to supervise them before moving to a staggered schedule of animals-alone-time). I remember going to meet Sam with my parents, and my mum said how important it was that we show the breeder that we were good enough to take one of her puppies, as my own grandmother was known to regularly refuse to let her puppies go away with people she didn’t approve of.

Perhaps if I were to choose again, with the knowledge I have since gained about animal theory, I would choose differently. But I maintain that I chose Sam based on a considered, responsible and caring position, and the fact is that I absolutely adore him and can’t imagine life without him (probably the cats can though … they like him a lot, but he does annoy them quite a bit).

So where does that leave us? I acknowledge and understand why many people are opposed to any dog breeding of any kind. I agree that any commercial breeding operation, casual breeding, uninformed and irresponsible breeding, and pet shop selling is horrific, should be legislated against, and rigorously enforced. I agree that the first port of call when adopting a companion should be a rescue organisation, and as I have noted, should I be lucky enough to be able to bring another dog home in the future, that’s where I’ll be trying to find him or her first. But I cannot agree that people who genuinely love, understand, and act with all responsibility and care for their particular animals and for the breed as a whole should be put in the same category as puppy millers and pet shops, and condemned for wanting to breed their dogs. For me, as always, the line is drawn with whether the animal is well-cared for, safe, healthy and happy, and if a breeder is providing that then I will save my contempt for those who mistreat, seek to profit from, and care nothing at all for an animal’s suffering.

I am reproducing Nick Galvin’s article below in full, as it appeared in today’s Age Online, to encourage you to just keep scrolling down and read it ...

Nick Galvin December 23, 2008

It would be a hard heart that could resist the sight of puppies tumbling over one another in a pet shop window.

Many people do succumb to their charms, especially at this time of year, paying up to $1500 to take home an instant new family member.

But behind this heart-warming scene a venomous debate is raging about the way puppies are bred and sold. Opponents claim it is a profit-driven, inhumane business that indirectly causes the destruction of more than 60,000 unwanted dogs a year. But to the dog industry these critics are reckless extremists who will do and say anything to further their agenda.

Vickie Davy is a dog trainer, campaigner and creator of the website Where Do Puppies Come From (www.wheredopuppiescomefrom.com). She and other campaigners claim many of the thousands of puppies required to supply pet shops come from so-called "puppy farms".

"It's quite a veiled industry in Australia," she said. "A lot of people don't realise where puppies do come from."

The filmmaker William Wolfenden found out how secretive the industry was when he spent two years researching and producing his documentary The Puppy Mill.

"I spoke to many puppy farmers in NSW and none of them would allow me on to the properties to film them," he said. "I was happy for them to state their case and have a reasoned argument, but none would."

Debra Tranter prefers a more direct approach. Something of a star in the puppy rescue world, she has been conducting a personal crusade against large-scale commercial breeders for more than 15 years, frequently raiding premises at night to gather evidence of conditions.

"I started off with placards outside pet shops, but that doesn't work," she said.

"People need to see this. They need to see what's going on and that's when I started to go on the properties and show the conditions."

Her biggest scalp has been a puppy farm near Ballarat. Called Learmonth Kennels, the business was owned and operated by Ron Wells, a former Victorian MP and vet. The farm, which bred more than 1000 puppies a year, attracted concerted opposition from animal activists. It was closed under a confidential agreement with Ballarat City Council.

At the time, Mr Wells said he was trying to run "a very scientific operation" and defended conditions at the farm.

"Dogs are not designed to live on satin cushions watching TV," he said.

Ms Tranter continues her activism and claims there are many puppy farms operating in country regions of NSW and Victoria.

"These set-ups are not because they love dogs - they are designed for profit only," she said.
"The dogs are just breeding machines. I think what is happening to these dogs is an injustice and is unnecessary - we don't need to do this."

One problem is that there is no agreement on what constitutes a "puppy farm". The best working definition comes from a policy statement by RSPCA Victoria, which characterised them as being in the business of "large-scale commercial production of puppies for sale".

"Puppies are churned out in large numbers to maximise profits for breeders with little regard for the welfare of the animals or pet overpopulation," the statement said.

"Inspectors have seen puppy farms with hundreds of dogs used as breeding stock and some bitches forced to have litters of puppies every six months. The breeding dogs generally spend most of their lives in pens with very little social interaction or exercise. Many of the puppies are sold through pet shops, the internet, newspaper ads, or at the puppy farm itself.

"The RSPCA is totally opposed to these types of commercial breeding premises and [believes] they should not be able to operate."

But, it continues: "The sad truth is that while we currently oppose such establishments, they are not illegal."

One former pet shop worker, who did not want to be identified, confirmed many pet shop puppies come from large dog breeders and are distributed by air freight.

"I'd put my order in one week and get them delivered the next week," she said. "They were meant to be eight weeks of age; some were five weeks, some were dead. The condition was absolutely disgusting. In one dog crate there might be eight puppies shoved in there.

"Sometimes the vaccination cards wouldn't match up with the breed of the dog so we'd just make up the breed ourselves depending on what was selling at the time. Whatever would fetch the most money, that's what we would call the dog."

No more than about $200 was allowed to be spent on veterinary treatment for an individual puppy, after which it would be destroyed. She also said there was no attempt to match dogs to their new owners.

"The most important thing was, when a customer went to a cage, to get that dog out and put it in the customer's hands. We really wanted kids in our shop. Once you got a kid with a dog in its arms the mother normally can't say no. That was our aim - attack the kids to get to the parents."
Another former pet shop manager recounted similar experiences.

"I'd often take puppies home because they were off their food and they wouldn't be allowed treatment because they weren't worth it. I had puppies die in my garage at night-time."

She said there was pressure to sell dogs with no regard to whether they were suitable.

On one occasion, she said, a young tradesman came to her shop wanting to buy an akita, a large dog that needs an experienced owner and would be unsuitable as a dog to go to work with a tradesman.

"I ended up having a really good chat and sending him home with a little cattle dog cross puppy, which cost $295 as opposed to the $1500 price tag [on the akita]. I got into a lot of trouble for that."

Opponents of sales in pet shops say this casual approach to matching dogs and owners makes it much more likely the dog will be abandoned when it becomes too much for the new owner.
"Often these puppies don't make good pets," Ms Davy said. "The types of people buying these puppies usually do not have a lot of knowledge about dogs. They don't know what to do, so these pets end up back in rescue."

Behavioural experts also say that "classic" pet shop puppies are often not adequately socialised, making them poor candidates for family pets.

Associate Professor Paul McGreevy, of the faculty of veterinary science at Sydney University, said the socialisation "window" for a dog was between about six and 13 weeks of age.

"Someone who wants to prepare a dog well for its future as a calm and pleasing member of society would be taking the dog out every day and socialising it with different people and objects," he said. "Pet shops do not undertake to do that. Behavioural problems are the main reasons dogs are surrendered or dumped."

Wendy West, a veterinary nurse, is the owner of a Victorian business called ACA Breeders Kennels. Each week she supplies between 50 and 100 puppies to pet shops around the country as well as selling them through her own shop in Melbourne. The dogs come from up to 40 different breeders of all sizes. She rejects completely the critics of commercial breeders.

"You can do everything right but there are always groups with their own agenda that will give you grief. We have a great commitment to health and wellbeing and to helping people get the right pet."

ACA Breeders Kennels breeds a range of crosses, often called designer dogs and given exotic names such as groodle (golden retriever/poodle) and pugalier (pug/cavalier King Charles spaniel). Ms West said there was a great demand for these types of dogs, and because of this they rarely add to the growing numbers of dumped or surrendered dogs.

"These dogs have been around for a long time now and they are rarely given up because they suit people's situations."

But more and more pet shops are refusing to stock animals, taking their cue from stores in Britain and the US.

Lisa Wolfenden has operated her shop, Dogs and the City, in Double Bay since 2004. It stocks everything dog-related except for dogs and puppies.

Ms Wolfenden strongly opposes dogs in pet shops, and steers anyone who comes in wanting to buy a dog towards one of the many rescue shelters that try to find homes for unwanted dogs.

"No dollar is worth treating something that badly. Dogs and the City sells everything but the dog, as it is our firm belief that animals do not belong in shops."

The whole issue was brought into focus by a bill introduced by Clover Moore late last year. The Animals (Regulation of Sale) Bill seeks to end pet shop sales of mammals, and to direct intending owners to RSPCA pounds, rescue groups or vets.

The bill's supporters believe it will put a big dent in the commercial puppy breeding business and help reduce the number of dogs that are put down each year.

But the bill has caused soul-searching within the RSPCA, which recently softened its policy on animal sales in pet shops away from outright opposition, which has upset many people.

The chief scientist of the RSPCA, Bidda Jones, said: "What we have done is to move from that blanket opposition to a position where we think firstly people should get their animal from us and if we don't have an animal that is suitable we think they should go to a breeder.

"The fact that we don't have a statement in policy saying that we oppose all sales of animals from pet shops does not mean that we support the sale of animals from pet shops. It absolutely does not mean that."

The Australian Veterinary Association opposes Ms Moore's bill. It says there is not enough evidence on how many animals bought in pet shops are surrendered and killed, and that if such sales are banned, "pet sales may be driven underground".

But critics of the association's position say it is set against a background of an accelerating decline in the numbers of dogs owned in Australia - animals that are an important source of income for most vets.

"Promoting pet ownership is the stuff of professional bodies, but I personally think we should be promoting responsible pet ownership," Professor McGreevy said.

"If that means there are fewer dogs kept I wouldn't worry at all, as long as the quality of care is better for all of them."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Grill'd Speaks, or: Vegan patties, vegan buns, vegan panini


I received a letter from the very prompt Amy at Grill’d. Upshot – the traditional buns and panini are dairy-free and suitable for all us dairy/ovo-rejectors. Her letters are below, sandwiching mine (disclaimer: damn right I took the freebie vouchers. Global financial crisis, tough times, interest rates blah blah … ).

Hi Rachel,

Thank you for taking the time to send us your feedback. I am hoping to clear up some confusion for you.

Our Panini and Traditional bun DO NOT contain any dairy whatsoever. These two buns are our main buns which are displayed on the counter and offered to every customer.

We have a new option on our menu now which is a gluten free option. This gluten free bun DOES contain some dairy. These buns are only suggested on the menu board and are only served when specifically requested for.

I investigated you visit the other day at Doncaster and discussed it with the manager. The bun that you were discussing was the gluten free bun option. I am so sorry if there was any confusion in this conversation.

So we really hope to see you back at Grill'd very soon for a totally vegan burger so long as you order the Panini or Traditional bun option. I would really love to send you some burger vouchers so that you can come back and enjoy some burgers on us.

Thanks and please contact me if you still have any questions.

Hi Amy,

That's great news! I'm really pleased to hear it. I think there was generally some confusion anyway about what was being discussed, because after explaining to the girl at the counter that I was vegan, and ascertaining that I couldn't eat the bread because of the dairy, she asked if I wanted a beef or chicken pattie with my salad!

I'd be very happy to grab some vouchers if you're happy to send them ... my address is (Miss T, T-Land, The Internets). I appreciate it!

Again, glad to hear the buns are dairy (and I presume egg!)-free, and thanks for your speedy response.


Hey Rachel – yes egg free too. Vouchers will be in the mail tomorrow. Thanks again.
So go forth and burger, my children! Revel in the convenience food with fresh salad and purchasable outside of the CBD (sorry, LoTF...)!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Potlucks in New and Exciting Locations, or: we travel South for Xmas potlucking near the sea

Most of genii vegan, subspieces vegger (vegger: one who vegges; one who writes a veglog), are found inhabiting the flat crowded tram-tracked inner North, known as VeganVille. The recent discovery of a colony inhabiting the sunny shores of Carrum took the vegging world by surprise and shook the foundations of vegology science to its core.

Actually, Lidia and one half of our Saturday hosts, Claire, met in their uni course and it was very exciting to leave VeganVille to visit Claire and Reece for a pre-Xmas potluck.

The food was given a Christmassy theme with the addition of Kristy's candycane biscuits, which were soft and chewy and tickly-ish minty.

In fact, it seemed to be a very desserty potluck, with Lisa's polenta (or was it cous cous?) and chocolate mousse cake, Bec's churros, and Craig's deepfried PB & banana fritters all weighting up my plate.

The savouries were varied, from Reece's excellent and delicate cabbage steamed dumplings (made with killer hangover - top marks); Erin's tempeh meatloaf; Toby's beanballs; Kristy's incredible broccoli cheese dish, made via telephonic transmission of mother instructions ...

... and Claire's TVP bake (apologies if these are mixed up ... let me know!). I made a mocktunabake with spring veggies, which I had to avoid eating as I was planning to make it again the next day for the family Xmas!

Below: my plate, laden with yum.

Most amusing was the interaction of the puppies - Kimba the Chihuahua Born Without Fear, Sam the Chihuahua Born a Sook, Oreo the Chihuahua-Mini Foxie Born Without Interest in Girl Dogs, and Jack the Jack Russell Currently Spaced Out From Anti-Inflammatories (we were even joined by Eric the Fluffy Cat Who Lives In A Possum Box). We were sorry to note the absence of poor Stumpy, Lidia's brave puppy, who had finally met another dog who also believed that all bones in the world were his personal stash, and had a sad and painful day at the vet. Stumpy get better soon! Lidia remember to look after yourself too!

The dogs were very well behaved, even hoovering up some dropped mousse cake very efficiently.

Below: Jack and Oreo make the most of the availabiity of chocolate mousse cake.

By the end of the sunny afternoon Sam was ready for his naptime cuddle - as was Kimba - but was very polite in letting Toby puppysit him and Kimba while Kristy, Lisa, Erin, Terry and I raided Savers* (*secret location hidden to protect future bargain shopping interests).

Below: Sam takes advantage of the cool tiles.

Below: Kimba gets a cuddle from her mama.

Thanks for the link Bella! or: here's the letter I sent to Grill'd

Hi there,

Congratulations on offering a vegan pattie at Grill'd stores. It's a fantastic move and something that many food chains overlook, with many offering patties suitable for vegetarians but not vegans. As a vegan I really appreciate the opportunity to purchase fresh and healthy convenience food, and think that it's great that you so clearly advertise your vegan patties.

However, at my recent visit to the new Doncaster shopping centre store, I was very disappointed to discover that all the bread available contained milk. I ended up having a pattie on a plate of salad, which left me wondering why Grill'd has gone to so much effort to produce and advertise vegan patties, without following it through with proper menu options.

Bread made without animal products is readily available and of no discernible difference to milk that contains milk, whey etc. In fact, it tends to be of better quality. How about stocking bread that complements your vegan patties and really offers a new, different, healthy, cruelty-free and exciting vegan burger?

This is a great opportunity for Grill'd to offer a totally vegan menu option, filling a niche in the market for readily available, fresh convenience food. I would love to see Grill'd rectify this oversight, thus catering for vegans as well as people with lactose intolerances and other allergies.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Warm regards,

Miss T

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Like totally awesome, or: An Open Letter to Grill'd

Hi Grill'd,

How are you? I just wanted to let you know that I'm glad you're doing so well. You seem to be springing up everywhere these days. Awesome.

I really like that you offer fresh salad ingredients. Awesome.

I really like that your chips are big chunky ones cooked with rosemary. Awesome.

And I really really love that you advertise that your veggie patties are, quote, "100 vegan!". Awesome!

So how come your burger rolls, paninis, wraps, and all other bready items are not vegan? So not awesome.

This is how I ended up at your brand spankin' new Doncaster store recently asking for a pattie on a plate of salad. And, like, fyi: it was a pretty stingy salad; the pattie was supermarket-meh; and after a good five minutes discussing the vegan-ness of the bread, which included me specifically saying that I was vegan, the checkout chick asking her manager (who asked his manager) if the bread had eggs or dairy, her informing me that it had milk, offering me a salad plate, me accepting etc etc - she then asked "like, what kind of pattie would you like? Like, beef, or chicken ...". So very definitely, in no way, totally not awesome.

So I guess what I'm trying to say, Grill'd, is that despite your awesome work in the vegan pattie department, you have totally not been awesome in the following-it-through, backing-it-up, taking-advantage-of-a-niche-market department (fyi: check out Lord of the Fries. Choice. Noice).

So, like, to become totally awesome again, here's what I reckon you should do:

  1. Keep up the awesome work with the vegan patties, and advertising them;
  2. Get some dairy and egg-free bread in, which is like so not hard and no-one will even notice;
  3. Advertise Number 2;
  4. Also advertise that you are like totally awesome at making totally awesome vegan burgers (at the mo' all of your veggie ones are dairy-ful); and
  5. Train your staff in all of the above.
Sweet huh?

Also, not awesome is not having easily visible contact info on your site. Maybe it was there but I couldn't find it easily, and to be honest I was really put off by the little cartoons of cows and chickens working out to make themselves healthy and tasty for your customers. Gross.

If you did have easily visible and accessible contact details, then I would have also written you a letter (which would have been, like, full of grown up words and totally awesome) and I wouldn't have had to confine my bitch'n'moanin' to this blog, and I could have also totally been less passive-aggressive about it, and if you'd like written me back a totally awesome response I could have totally posted it and said how totally awesome you were.

Why all the awesome totallys? Because that's the image you're putting out there. And it would be the mostest totally awesome ever if you let your vegan patties have vegan bread too. Otherwise it's all kinda lame and pointless to even have vegan patties, let alone advertise them.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Pizza Potluck and Childish Cupcakes, or: we eat more vegan pizzas than you could imagine, and I buy the most silly-lovely cupcake carrier

Emily (and office dog Dallas) was kind enough to host yet another potluck on Sunday, and this one had a theme - pizza pizza! Eat Pizza, open literally a couple of minutes down the road, offers Cheezly and Cheatin' Pepperoni and ever the organised publisher, Emily had called ahead twice to let them know that 20 ravenous and food-obsessed and very very excited vegans would be placing a very very large order, and the necessary supplies must be on hand to avoid a riot.

Kristy & Toby, Pip & Tim, Lisa & Kimba The Chihuahua Born Without Fear, Lidia, Cindy & Michael, Buzz and I and a number of others all gathered around the kitchen table in anticipation ...

Uncharacteristically, I forgot to take details (or perhaps I was just too keen to start eating ....) so here are some shots without much to recommend them except how delicious they look.

Emily starts the process. Pip .. is excited?

A cheezly and cheatin' pepperoni

Fresh basil and baby Roma tomatoes

My favourite - a classic vegetarian style with the pepperoni and pineapple (who doesn't rate a veggie with pineapple eh?)

Me and Buzz go for round 1...

A lovely wholemeal crust ... made us very full (or was that the cookies, cupcakes and beer?)

Also, I brought along my first ever attempt at cupcakes, which I needed (needed!) to make because I had just bought a dinky new cupcake carrier.

I made the classic chocolate cupcake (with added Sweet William chunks) with peanut butter icing, and vanilla-agave cupcakes with fudgiewudgie chocolate icing (which actually came out more like a genache), all from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I made a number of rookie mistakes:

  1. I thought I had vanilla essence in the cupboard so didn't buy any, meaning that I had to rely on almond essence and a substitution of cinnamon sugar;
  2. I used silicone molds which caused the cupcakes to develop a small, raised, cracked shape. A couple that I let bake 'free' just in patty pans came out beautifully flat (all the better for icing, my dear) and bigger, so that's how I'll go from now on; and
  3. I didn't have a piping bag (nor did Safeway) so I had to slather the icing on in a very unartistic manner.

Nonetheless, the cupcakes were moist, not horrific and when I bake them for the work Xmas party dessert competition I WILL DOMINATE AND CRUSH KILL DESTROY BWAHAHAHA ... oh dear God.

Funnily enough, I don't like eating cupcakes all that much, but I see in them an opportunity for kitschness and cuteness that I just can't pass up... expect more.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Angelica Kitchen and Viva Herbal Pizzeria, New York City, or: we snatch eatering victory from the jaws of defeat

It's always a bit awkward to say you just didn't like a meal at an institution of an eatery. And it makes you feel a bit like the smartmouth boy in the Emperor's New Clothes to say you thought it was bad.

Naky! He's naky!

Angelica Kitchen in New York City's East Village, is a longstanding pioneer of organic, fresh, vegan cookering. It retains some of its early 70s quaintness by only accepting cash, having (apparently) not redecorated, and by not having a liquor licence. As we did not expect BYO, we turned up empty handed, prompting one of Buzz's best calls: "I'm happy to forgo meat. But beer? Bloody hippies!".

Reviews of Angelica's on SuperVegan tend to be in either Column A or Column B. Column A: this is macrobiotic food so it won't be ultra-flavoursome; the waiters are cool or you must be being a jerk if they're not; it's an institution therefore good. Column B: bland food; poor service and pompous staff; get with the program and take cards; and even one extraordinary report of racist management. I fall in to Column B (minus the racism).

Our waiter seemed nice, on the two occasions we saw her during the entire meal. Including when we wanted to pay. She might have been a good waiter but I don't really know because she didn't really wait on us. Or talk to us. Or walk past our table.

For my entree I chose 9 pieces of Norimaki, served with wasabi, pickled ginger and lemon shoyu. My main was Sea Caesar salad, which was romaine lettuce with creamy garlic dressing topped with sourdough croutons, smoked dulse (?) and nori strips. Buzz chose Agrarian Salgado for his entree - baked rounds of Yukon Gold (that's spuds) and herbed seitan with basil-walnut pesto, topped with dill-tofu sourcream and garnished with marinated kale. His main was Three Bean Chili - chili made with homemade seitan, kidney and pinto beans and lentils, sundried tomato, blend of chilis, and lime-jalapeno tofu sourcream, served with Southern style cornbread and cucumber-red onion salsa.

Don't be misled. The extraordinarily detailed dish descriptions were not indicative of an extraordinary meal.

My Norimaki was made with something that was clearly not sushi rice. It was brown rice, too glutinous and mouthy, and the fillings were unbelievably bland. The addition of the lemon shoyu was still not enough to inject some flavour, and to finish it, as I bizarrely felt I must, I ended up smothering them in plain old soy sauce. It was a prettily presented but poorly executed plate.

Buzz's Salgado was like soft, wet felafel. A tangy sour cream couldn't make me forget the ... kaleness of the kale. Soft, green, shiny wiggly kale. The best bit about the dish was that a portion of all proceeds went to benefit the Friends of Brazillian Landless Workers Movement . Buzz would have preferred that the potatoes were more (vegan) buttery, and perhaps hotter. Or hot. Or hot-ish.

My Sea Caesar came with balsamic, not the creamy garlic sauce as described. It was, after all my expectations of a real New York caesar (like the awesomely awesome creamy one I had at Blossom - to be shared later on), a plate of lettuce with balsamic and croutons. My notes of the evening, verbatim, are: "Sure hips will appreciate, but not palate". I didn't finish and there was no explanation offered. I would have asked had I seen our waiter or any waiter near by. Or within shouting distance.

Buzz's Three Bean Chili was, according to my notes: "just fine and not spicy or hot". I suppose I thought that chili would imply either spicy, or hot, or maybe even both. The cornbread was a new experience for both of us, so I'm not sure how it's really meant to taste. It was sweet and heavy, but dry. It looked like cake, further confusing us. The cucumber salsa was the only highlight - it was fresh, tasteful and I tactfully left it to Buzz in acknowledgment of the pain I had inflicted on him so far.

We declined dessert and they don't serve coffee anyway. Only tea. Herbal varieties. Odd ones.

Instead, full though we were, we walked back on to 2nd Avenue a
nd returned to Viva Herbal Pizzeria, where we had eaten a few days before with gusto. We felt the need to expunge the Angelica's meal with something honest, tasty and good value, despite our full bellies and overwhelming annoyance.

Viva Herbal Pizzeria offers vegetarian and vegan 'slices' - massive two Australian sized slices slices - and also a range of vegan desserts including tiramisu, frozen desserts like yoghurt and a Death by Chocolate.

The pizzas are dripping with sauce and piled high with ingredients. (Plush Pizza, I love you, but you don't overload the toppings really do you and I do think you could try a little harder in that area. Perhaps, like Viva, if you left off the soy cheese you could make up the price difference with more veggies? Just a thought. Thanks).

Some slices have soft roasted garlic cloves scattered within, which makes this garlic-addict a happy girl.

Some pizzas are wheat-based and some are on spelt - the first spelt I've ever liked. Really I think that the pictures speak for themselves, and my notes finish with: "That is one helluva slice".

Monday, December 8, 2008

Callin' out around the blogosphere ... little help?

Do any other Blogspotters find that uploading photos takes an obscene amount of time? I've done it at work once (shhhhh!) and it was instant (was off work duties for under a minute!) but at home, having now tried on two computers and using two modems, but one ADSL connection, it takes like fifteen minutes. It's like dial-up city around here...

Any ideas? Suggestions?

$10 parma at the EBC, or: we all get together to meet a vegan blogger from the hot humid north

At the magnificent $10 Monday Pasta’n’Parma at the EBC last week, fellow bloggers (is there an appropriate contraction for veg*n bloggers? Obviously not vloggers; maybe ve-logging, like spelunking? Or vegging, something I do quite a bit on the couch? …anyways…) Cindy and Lidia and I were talking about our particular blogging habits. I hate typos but was under the impression that if I went back in to edit them my entries would be re-posted as a brand new one (I now know better so please expect multiple edits shortly). Lidia is the same but as she has not written in a while (please? Pleeease?) I will simply beg her to resume. Cindy’s ‘thing’ was that she couldn’t bear to be a week out of date with her entries.

This is made a little easier by the duo-blogging with Michael, but I have to admire her commitment to timeliness. And admire it I must, b
ecause I cannot emulate it. Snaps Cindy! In fact she already wrote about it here (and has even been and written again since! I am put to shame).

So here, definitely more than a week later, is my post about our dinner at EBC to meet the lovely Theresa of Tropical Vegan who was visiting the south. At the table were the newly-married and newly-returned from O/S Caroline and Tim, Kristy and Toby (who arrived ravenous after a very frustrating evening), Lidia, guest of honour Theresa, and fortuitously-at-the-right-place-at-the-right-time Cindy and Michael.

My first visit to EBC, on my birthday this year, was a little disappointing as I had spent all day stuffing myself with La Panella. At my second meal, a couple of months ago with Lisa, I braved the parma again and was happy to review my opinion, especially with the peanut butter cheesecake at the end. And this time – a big dirty yum.

I had the bacon and cheese burger, and boy was it a big ol’ hunk-a hunk-a burnin’ love. It really was massive; with a 2.5-3cm pattie, bacon, mustard, lettuce, cheese, pickles etc etc in a huge doughy bun. I really was very impressed with myself that I finished it.

The pattie was very dark and well-textured, and I just loved the pickles. The fries on the side were a little underdone but still, fries are fries and it’s not like I refused to eat them! The burger was big, filling, chunky and full of straight-at-you-ma’am flavours. Mmm I likey. Grunt.

I wasn’t going to get dessert until I saw the choc-cherry cheesecake. I am neither a berry nor a cheesecake fan, but now that I am unable to eat cheesecake whenever, something in my lizardbrain sees the cheesecake, desires the cheesecake, and buys the cheesecake in case of imminent famine.

The cheesecake was really cheesecakey, and by that I mean it had the thick squishy texture, slight wobbliness, and the almost savoury aftertaste at the back of your tongue that dairy cheesecake does. I was glad that I shared with Kristy as after slaying the dragon of the enormous burger, I think that backing it up might have undone me (or at least my jeans button anyway). The cheesecake also came with a vegan cream, which we tasted like pros and declared it to taste like … soy? Rice? Agave? Ah, but it was good.

My only gripe is illustrated below: I got two fresh cherries but the others got lots and lots of lovely dripping cherries on top!

You gotta love the EBC’s deal. Big serves, big pub food plates, knockout desserts, good prices even not on a Monday, and vegan-cool. I do wish they’d stop advertising $12 jugs of Carlton with the vegan menu though … Cooper’s anyone?

EDIT: this is me practicing uploading from blogger, and I am more than getting by with a little help from my friends - with advice from Lisa and Mandee amongst others, I present to you my first Flickr upload, a rare and valuable shot of a vegger vegging in the wild: Cindy hard at work! Thanks guys :)

Cafe La, or: Please bring back the vegan options!

Buzz and I wanted to go for A Dinner. Not dinner, but A Dinner.

It was not yet time to return to ezard, so I looked at felt (that’s a lowercase f, fanks) at the Hotel Lindrum. They had one vegetarian main and no vegetarian entrees, so I fancied my chances were nil (and even if they were higher, I was annoyed by their meat-heavy menu without reprieve). I didn’t bother to call.

I emailed Attica and they advised that they could not do a vegan degustation, could do a vegan entrée/main combo with some warning, but that they were booked until the end of the year. Also I had to not come on a Saturday.

Pearl was all seafood. I didn’t enquire.

So, heart heavy and belly hungry, I remembered that Café La at the Sofitel had kindly provided and noted vegan options on their menu when I last ate there in March. I specifically enquired about this when I rang up to book, and was assured that there were still vegan options on the menu. Yeeha!

It was therefore especially annoying to discover that vegetarian dishes were noted. C’mon! Different word, different meaning! If you’re not sure I’d really preferred you asked!

Jesse our waiter was a salve. He said it was “a good question” when I asked about egg in the gnocchi (there was), understood exactly what vegan meant (hooray), and when the gnocchi was indeed eggified he told me exactly what chef was going to make up for me instead and asked if that sounded ok (it was the same dish I had in March, so I guess it’s in the repertoire).

And so to the food …

I have to admit that the description of my entrée – salad of baby cos, sundried tomatoes, avocado and toasted pinenuts – fell short. The salad however was superlative.

Imagine a really great olive oil. Really, really, I’d-drink-it-on-its-own olive oil. Now add a bit of something endivey (do I mean endivey? Tasted like a small onion but not so pungent), and small pieces of smushed avocado. Now add in a few pieces of small well-cooked beetroots, an intense basil tapenade/reduction thingie, toasted pine nuts and torn baby cos leaves. More olive oil.

It really was totally fabulous and I would have happily eaten it again as a main.
My main was herb-encrusted tofu with spring vegetables. The tofu part of the dish was a little hit’n’miss – great crunchy herb encrusting, but sliding off a slab of firm plain tofu. I kept trying to spear a bit of each so that I didn’t end up with a mouthful of unflavoured tofu.
The vegetables and saucing however were just fantastic. The green beans were crisp and perfectly cooked, and the small cherry tomatoes lay on a dark, sticky, sweet swirl of dressing. I couldn’t work out what it was – perhaps caramelised balsamic? If anyone’s got any ideas, let me know.
EDIT: Big shout out to my podbuddy Cameron - it's dessert balsamic and it's apparently highly priced and highly worth it. It's ultra aged balsamic, almost with a toffee consistency - very sweet but still with a bit of a vinegar sting. Available from snooty food shops, as he so aptly puts it.

All of it was presented on a bed of olive oil-y sauce which provided a rich, smooth counterpart to the punchy sweetness of the maybe-balsamic.

Not pictured are our sides – ‘signature’ fries (which I think were just fries with garlic salt, but hot, crisp, golden, fresh and fatty), and garlic green beans, where the garlic was well-sauteed but not browned at all. They were good, but not necessary, sides. The state of our bursting bellies afterwards told us so.

Our meal was really very lovely and not at all expensive for what it was – two entrees, two mains, two sides, and four beers came to about $140. Coupled with a view over the nightlights of Melbourne from the 34th floor, it was indeed A Dinner.

(Photos were particularly difficult to take – something about the soft lighting and city lights perhaps … or the glass of Moet I had beforehand ….)