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A trip to the Russian River

I love traveling to Northern California, the part of California north of San Francisco. Over the past couple of years, I have made several trips here. I am specifically referring to Marin, Mendocino, Sonoma and Humboldt counties. The towering redwood forests, the rugged and wildly beautiful pacific coast, towns with more organic produce stands than there are McDonalds, the liberal and progressive air, I love it all. But the one thing that I really look forward to is the food. This is the land where you can walk into a restaurant and ask for a vegan dish and no one will blink an eyelid. There are all-vegan restaurants and there are all-organic, all-local restaurants. There are cute grocery stores and mega co-ops that will delight the inner-hippie in you. We found ourselves headed that way for a weekend of relaxation in June, to enjoy the sun and to celebrate our anniversary. We had a lovely little cottage booked in the old river town of Guerneville, formerly a lumber town, but now a touristy town for those seeking solace in the calm environs of the Russian River or the nearby Sonoma coast.

San Rafael, the bustling suburb north of San Francisco is a convenient place to stop for a meal, if you’re headed from the south. San Rafael is home to Sol Food, a Puerto Rican restaurant with a million great reviews on yelp. We love the simple, homestyle food served here and try to go here whenever we are in the area. Community style seating, plenty of vegan options, an amazing mango iced tea and a vibrant ambience complete the picture.

My mango-orange iced tea in a huge mason jar and a fizzy drink:


House hot sauce, which we liberally doused our food with for extra zing:


A really fresh salad, fried plantains, vegetable guisado (stew) of zucchini and mushrooms and a slice of fresh avocado, served with white rice:


Pink beans with olives, served with rice, avocado, salad and plantains:


Vegan Tembleque, made with coconut milk cream. One half is drizzled with mango sauce and the other half with cinnamon. The mango sauce and sweet coconut cream combo is genius! The spoon cuts into this dessert like a knife, its that thick and lucsious.


One of the best things about staying in a vacation rental where the hosts live on the premises is that you can simply walk up to them and ask for recommendations for things to do. Our gracious host recommended Peter Lowell’s a mostly-organic, mostly-local restaurant in nearby Sebastopol. We were not the least disappointed.

When we spotted the macro bowl on the menu, we really didnt have to think further. A meal in a bowl is one of our favorite ways of dining. Especially when it comes with great healthy goodies. Tofu, tempeh or seitan? Oh yes, bring it on!


The bowl (and the plate) We got a hot stone bowl. So my plate now has tempeh, white beans, root vegetables, kale and brown rice, all topped with a miso ginger sauce. The miso ginger sauce was so right, I asked for seconds.

I still have one more restaurant to feature here and while I truly enjoyed all restaurants on this trip, Gaiaís Garden wowed me. The Santa Rosa establishment, located next door to a bustling co-op market with a community oven, has a strictly vegetarian, largely vegan buffet. Befitting its name, the restaurant has a green vibe, with plenty of plants and green decor.

Coconut tapioca pudding, a dal like I have never tasted before, salads so good that I had two:



Vegan chili spotted during a relaxing coffee break in downtown Guerneville, CA


Vegan cookie and a soy latte:


Last but not the least, was the meal we put together in the comfort of our cottage on a lazy Sunday morning. Fairly easy to transport, this meal came together in a few minutes:


Pre-cooked brown rice from trader joes, crumbles of Amys vegan burger, fresh guacamole, a sauce made of hummus and tahini. all spiced with my favorite hot sauce from trader joes.

Restaurant Information:

1. Sol Food Puerto Rican Cuisine

903 Lincoln Ave

 San RafaelCA 94901

 San Rafael

2. Peter Lowells

7385 Healdsburg Ave

Sebastopol, CA 95473

3. Gaia’s Garden

1899 Mendocino Ave

Santa RosaCA 95401

 4. Coffee Bazaar

14045 Armstrong Woods Road

Guerneville, CA 95446-8001

The Indian Chaat Potluck

Chaat is the quintessential Indian street food. Wikipedia tells me that this genre of food originated in eastern India; but I do believe majority of Indians enjoy chaat in all its glory. A little fried, a little raw, a little spicy, a little tangy and a whole lot tasty – what is not to like? My friends here in the bay area throw some truly awesome chaat potluck parties. This last weekend, we decided to celebrate the baby shower of one of us in the best way we knew – giving the expectant mother and father an Indian food potluck party!

The best thing about chaatis that its naturally mostly vegan, with the exception of the liberal use of dairy yogurt. Fortunately, the yogurt is optional and leaving it out doesnt take away from the experience one bit. In fact, many varieties of chaat dont need yogurt. As my chaat making skills leave much to be desired, I decided to stick to bringing desserts for the party.


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Oops! I ran out of some frosting. But I did have something else to make the cupcake more interesting!

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A very satisfied me:


Vegan Shrikhand

This weekend was extra special as we got to have Vegan Shrikhand for dessert with every meal. Shrikhand is an Indian (Gujarati) sweet dish made with strained yogurt, sweetened with sugar and scented with cardamom and saffron. Its thick and creamy, not unlike the greek yogurt available commercially. Traditionally, yogurt is strained using a muslin cloth and hung to remove the water in order to thicken the yogurt. 

This vegan version is made with soy yogurt, which too is home-made. The result was finger-licking good! While the process took me a couple of days, hands-on preparation time was minimal.


  • Soy yogurt – 1 litre or 32 ounces ( I used Westsoy unsweetened soy milk to make my soy yogurt)
  • Sugar – ¼ cup, granulated
  • Saffron – about 6-8 threads
  • non-dairy milk – 1 tbsp
  • Cardamom – ¼ tsp, ground
  • PIstachip – chopped, 2 tbsps

Strain the soy yogurt overnight or for around 8-10 hours. In order to do this, place a strainer (or a fine meshed colander) over a saucepan and lined the strainer with two layers of cheesecloth (or muslin). Pour the soy yogurt into the strainer.

The yogurt will reduce in volume by at least a third – all the whey will collect in the saucepan below. I am yet to figure out what to do with the whey. Though I have successfully used it to culture my next batch of soy yogurt, along a tablespoon of soy yogurt.

Strained soy yogurt:

Now mix sugar, cardamom and chopped pistachio nuts. Warm the non dairy milk in the microwave for a few seconds and add saffron and rub for a few seconds. Add to strained yogurt mixture and whisk all the ingredients thoroughly well. Keep chilled and enjoy!