Many folks believe that being a vegan during the holidays is a challenge. Au contraire! I look at it as a way to be more creative and celebrate many of the awesome vegan options that abound in the Bay Area. Here is my top twelve list of the best ways for vegans to indulge in some local holiday spirit.
1. Have a Candy Cane Cinnamon Bun and Peppermint Stick Soy Hot Chocolate with Vegan Vanilla Marshmallows at Cinnaholic
Ok, so it may not be super cold and snowy here. But, who says we can't have a hot cup of cocoa and a warm cinnamon roll to warm us from all this… errr… rain..?
Hugely anticipated by the vegan community, Shannon Michelle Radke and Florian Radke opened vegan bakery Cinnaholic this past year in Berkeley. The expectations certainly paid off and are exemplified by these amazing, fluffy, chewy, customizable cinnamon rolls -- 30 different frostings and toppings, plus pie and specialty rolls. And each day they announce their "$4 Special of the Day" on Facebook and @Cinnaholic on Twitter.
For the holidays, they've added Candy Cane and Peppermint Oreo toppings (Yes, Oreos are indeed vegan) to their catalog. And they're offering Peppermint Stick Soy Hot Chocolate with Dandies Vanilla Marshmallows. Can you say indulgence?
2. Leave EatPastry Vegan Cookie Dough out for Santa
EatPastry is a San Diego company that creates seriously delicious cookie dough. In my house we rarely get past the dough, but once you make yourself stop devouring the whole tub, the cookies that bake up are chewy and soft and flavorful. The six flavors (one of them gluten-free) are available at Rainbow Grocery.
So, on Christmas Eve, whip up a batch of EatPastry for Santa -- or, you know, just leave him the tub with a big spoon in it.
3. Get fancy with Millennium at their New Year's Eve Event
Everyone's favorite classy vegan joint, Millennium is celebrating the season and ringing in the New Year with an event featuring a special 5-course prix fixe menu, optional wine pairing and a glass of complimentary bubbly.
And if you can't make it to Millennium you can always create your own wine party with your own fancy selection of vegan wines.
4. Get comfy with some vegan soul food at Souley Vegan
Souley Vegan in Oakland is adding holiday specials to their already amazing menu (I mean, they have something called the Jumbo Crispy) to be included in their Christmas Eve meal packages. Meals must be ordered by December 23rd at 5pm and picked up by December 24th at 5pm.
Offerings include: cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy, herbed corn with bell pepper, and biscuits and gravy.
Note: If you can't make it to Souley Vegan, you can always pick up selections from their menu in the refrigerated section of Rainbow Grocery.
5. Try Seasonal Offerings at Gracias Madre
Ok, if you haven't been to Gracias Madre yet, you need to put down whatever unnecessary thing you are doing (paying bills, feeding a child, etc.) and just go. Now. The organic restaurant serves up Mexican deliciousness with a majority of their produce from their very own Organic Biodynamic Be Love Farm in Vacaville, CA.
Must Eats: Papas al Horno, Key Lime Pie, and whatever vegetable is in gratin form at the time. They've just added their seasonal offerings to their menu including: Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprout Gratin with melted cashew cheese and garlic breadcrumbs, Roasted Turnips with garlic, Pear & Apple Cobbler with Dulce de Leche Ice Cream and Climax Noel holiday beer from Eel River Brewing Company (a hoppy, red winter ale).
6. Drink some [eggless] nog
Vegansaurus is offering up some ideas for all your holiday nog needs, including a recipe for Matrioshka Eggnog from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Post Punk Kitchen blog that makes one hella thick and creamy holiday libation. Also, Russian nesting dolls are SO in right now. They are this year's owl. I saw the adorable glass she uses at Lavish in Hayes Valley.
7. Eat a Sweet Potato Pecan Baby Pie at Wholesome Bakery
Wholesome Bakery is a vegan bakery that was originally part of the street food movement. Their products are vegan, low-glycemic, whole-grain, high-fiber, soy-free, yeast-free, cholesterol-free. Don't miss out on their seasonal special, Sweet Potato Pecan Pie.
8. Include a Poached Yuba Loaf from Hodo Soy Beanery in your holiday feast
Hodo Soy Beanery makes tofu the way it should be made -- fresh, like in Asia where tofu is meant to be eaten the day it is made. This incredibly clean and adorable factory in Oakland offers semi-monthly tours and tastings. You can read about my experience of the tour on Veganasaurus.
For the holidays, Hodo is offering a light soy & anise broth Poached Yuba Loaf. Yuba is the skin that forms on top of the heated soy milk during the process of making tofu. It's tender and slightly chewy and works wonderfully in braised dishes or in soup. The geniuses at Hodo managed to create an entire loaf out of yuba, which works perfectly as an alternative to a meat-centered main Christmas dish. You can purchase the loaf at Hodo's stands at various farmers' markets in the area.
9. Celebrate New Year's Eve at Gather in Berkeley
Enjoy a farm-to-table experience at Gather in Berkeley with creations from Executive Chef/Co-Owner Sean Baker of Millennium fame who was recently honored as Chef of the Year by Esquire (while Gather was named Best New Restaurant). This place is the home of the "Vegan Charcuterie" with items like "mushroom tartar, parsnip 'lardo' roasted garlic" and "grilled watermelon radish 'steak' leek 'butter' horseradish salsa verde, pomegranate."
On New Year's Eve you can celebrate at Gather with a four-course prix fixe vegan dinner for $65 per person (accompanying wine pairing $30 per person).
10. Eat some soba for a long life
Photo Credit: Vi Zahajszky
In Japan, Toshikoshi Soba noodles are eaten during New Year's as a symbol of longevity. Every family has their own way of preparing it, so there is no standard Toshikoshi Soba recipe. If you're in the mood for a long life this New Year's, head to Cha-Ya Vegetarian Japanese Restaurant (completely vegan) in San Francisco or Berkeley for some comforting, hot or cold soba of which they have 12 varieties. Their broth is phenomenal -- just the right amount of salt, with a rich base that doesn't miss the bonito that is used in most traditional dashi bases. While you are there, try some of my personal faves: the Goma Ae (Sesame Greens) and the Avocado Tempura roll (you haven't lived until you've had fried avocado). This no-frills restaurant is one you'll want to come back to again and again for the clean, flavorful, and light food, as well as the incredibly friendly staff.
11. For New Year's Day, get out of San Francisco and head to Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe
Yeah, it's a bit of a drive to Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe in Sacramento on New Year's Day, but it's worth it for a bottomless brunch of blueberry pancakes with pomegranate syrup, swiss chard tofu frittata, biscuits and country gravy, hoppin' john, sesame noodles, and cinnamon rolls -- for just $15 per person!
12. Make the king of desserts: Crème Brûlée
Chef Chloe Coscarelli is seriously taking the vegan cooking and baking world by storm. A former chef at Millennium and Herbivore and winner of Food Network's Cupcake Wars where she beat out a group of non-vegan chefs, this 23 year-old is showing the world that vegan food (including dessert!) can be just as amazing as non-vegan food.
So it seems apropos to share Chef Chloe's Holiday-Spiced Crème Brûlée –- which is as indulgent and rich as any dairy and egg-containing counterpart.
My favorite dessert before going vegan was Crème Brûlée. If a restaurant had it on the menu, I would automatically order it. So this recipe was a dream come true for me, and I have to say, the results of my first ever attempt at Crème Brûlée were intimidating, but surprisingly easy, and super delicious! The torch freaked me out at first but after a few tries I got the hang of it. The recipe below is from Chef Chloe’s website. I used So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer instead of a non-dairy milk to add more richness. This dessert is very sweet, so if you prefer something milder, I would suggest using an unsweetened milk (I like either hemp or coconut).
Holiday-Spiced Crème Brûlée
Published with permission from Chloe Coscarelli
¼ cup non-dairy milk (rice or almond milk to make it soy-free)
¼ cup organic cornstarch
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
½ cup sugar + extra for brûlée
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean)
1. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix the non-dairy milk and cornstarch with a whisk or fork and set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut milk, ½ cup sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt over medium/high heat just until boiling.
3. Turn the heat to medium/low and slowly drizzle the cornstarch mixture into the saucepot, whisking continuously. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes very thick in texture (about 1-2 minutes). Turn off the heat and whisk in the vanilla.
4. Pour the custard evenly into your crème brulèe or custard dishes (you can use ramekins or coffee mugs as well). Let them cool for 10 minutes then chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.
5. Remove the crème brulèe 1 hour before torching so that it comes down to room temperature. Sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of sugar onto each ramekin then shake it so that it spreads evenly. Do not use brown sugar because the molasses will burn.
6. Hold your torch about 2-3 inches from the sugar and melt the sugar until it bubbles and turns slightly golden. Be sure to move your torch back and forth continuously so that it does not burn in one spot. If you see any black spots forming, move your torch away from that area as it is beginning to burn, which you do not want. Once there is no more visible dry sugar, let the crème brûlée sit for 3-5 minutes and serve immediately. Note: For an extra thick crackly top, add 2 more teaspoons of sugar and repeat the torching process.
Enjoy and have a happy (and delicious) holiday!