Vegan dining in San Francisco: Shizen

By Midge Raymond,

If you’re a vegan who used to love sushi, you will rejoice over San Francisco’s Shizen Vegan Sushi Bar & Izakaya. As a vegan who never liked sushi, I nevertheless rejoiced upon visiting this lovely place, which has vegan raw fish and so, so much more.

The restaurant is tiny, and there is always a long wait (for our party, which arrived after eight o’clock on a Wednesday night, the wait was more than an hour and a half). But it’s well worth it.

For sushi lovers, there is a seemingly endless menu of vegan options — the carnivore among us loved every bite and vows to return again. Even if you’re not a sushi fan, there are a great many dishes to enjoy. As an appetizer, the garlic edamame is to die for.

For those who like miso and ramen, there are several delicious choices; I loved the soy ramen, which came with perfectly prepared noodles, a savory broth, and bacony-flavored tofu (which, to our delight, very much impressed the carnivore).

The rolls include Philadelphia rolls, California rolls, “tofuna” rolls, and so much more.

There’s also a dish known as the “Surprise Ending,” in which one (and only one) of the bites is incredibly spicy.

And all this is just the beginning; there are myriad more dishes, including tempura, stuffed mushrooms, gyoza (glorious fried dumplings), and sweet potato croquettes…and on and on. You’ll need more than one visit to enjoy all there is to offer here; we are already looking forward to going back.


  Category: Vegan
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Vegan dining in San Francisco: Samovar Tea Lounge

By Midge Raymond,

When I was in San Francisco for Litquake last fall, I enjoyed a lovely post-event lunch with friends at Samovar Tea Lounge. It was a perfect spot for a tea-infused mimosa and a bite to eat on an autumn weekend — and there are myriad vegetarian and vegan options.

I ordered from among the dishes that pair tea with food, and in this case my “Japanese Service” came with a Ryokucha Green Tea.


The Japanese Service itself was delicious, with seaweed salad, brown rice, kale, butternut squash, nori, and handmade tempeh.


One friend enjoyed toast with almond butter, banana, and sesame seeds…



…and another had the veggie sandwich, which included avocado, roasted peppers, arugula, baked zucchini, red onion, olive oil and basil pesto.


The location was lovely, with outdoor seating and open-air indoor seating, all overlooking Yerba Buena gardens and a short walk to the Museum of Modern Art and many other wonderful places to visit.

  Category: Vegan
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Happy World Penguin Day!

By Midge Raymond,

One thing I’m celebrating on World Penguin Day is having met my seventh species of penguin: the little penguin. Ever since meeting four species of penguins in Antarctica, I’ve become a little obsessed: Next I went to Argentina to volunteer with the University of Washington’s Penguin Sentinels, counting the Magellanic penguins of Punto Tombo. On more recent visit to the Galápagos Islands, I was able to see the elusive and endangered Galápagos penguin. And last year, one of the best things about visiting Australia as part of the My Last Continent tour was meeting my seventh species.

The little penguin is also called the “fairy penguin” in Australia, and in New Zealand it’s known as the “blue penguin” or “white-flippered penguin.”

All names fit this little bird, as it is no more than a foot tall, and its feathers are a lovely bluish-gray and white. These penguins appear in several places in Australia, one of them being Manly, where you can see signs like this on the sidewalks, alongside indicators for bikes and pedestrians:


The little penguins forage at sea all day and come ashore when darkness falls. One of the best places to see them is the (terribly touristy) Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, which is a two-hour journey from Melbourne and completely worth it, especially if you can ignore the other tourists (some of whom are respectful, far too many of whom are noisy, take photos (which aren’t allowed), and otherwise flaunt the rules of the park and disturb the birds).

Once it gets dark, no photos or videos are allowed, but on a daylight walk we glimpsed this little penguin, near the natural and man-made burrows created to provide nesting opportunities for them.

Years ago, the little penguins’ numbers here on Phillip Island decreased dramatically when a bridge was built and humans began inhabiting and vacationing on the island, bringing foxes, dogs, and other predators, including traffic; even now, many penguins are run over by cars. Foxes have now been eliminated, and while the birds’ numbers are still down in Australia, we can hope the conservation efforts pay off. One effort is the building of nests for them; below, you can just barely see a little penguin inside one of these man-made burrows.

The little penguins are adorable to watch. After the sun sets, they come in from the water in “rafts” — groups from five to ten penguins to dozens — because there is safety in numbers, and they shake off the water and waddle up the sand to the scrubby brush where they have their nests. Perhaps because they’re so small, they always look as though they’re walking in a huge hurry, as if being chased. (If you do visit Phillip Island, sit tight and wait until the crowds disperse and until the rangers tell you at least three times that it’s time to go. This is when it gets quiet and peaceful, and you can hear nothing but the sounds of the penguins scuttling to their nests and calling to their mates.)

Another place to see the little penguins is much closer to Melbourne is the breakwater at St. Kilda, where the penguins come to shore every night after sunset. Guides are there to enforce similar rules (no photography, no approaching the penguins), and it’s about a half-hour away from downtown Melbourne by bus or light rail.

To celebrate World Penguin Day, here are a few links where you can learn more and support conservation efforts for penguins around the world:

UW Penguin Sentinels


The Penguin Counters

Wishing you a very happy World Penguin Day!

Cat Editors: AMONG ANIMALS contributor Suzanne Kamata

By Midge Raymond,

Among Animals contributor Suzanne Kamata’s new book, The Mermaids of Lake Michigan, has just been released, and she also has a new cat editor, a Siamese named Mii.

My son found her by the riverbank, or rather she found him. She has been a delightful addition to our household. She often traipses across the keyboard while I am writing, adding characters as she goes. Not sure exactly what she’s trying to tell me, but I’m trying to figure it out!

Congratulations to Suzanne! Learn more about her work here and here, and click here to check out Among Animals.

Cat editors: ACP authors Mindy Mejia & Jean Ryan

By Midge Raymond,

After realizing how many authors seem to find inspiration (or, at least, avoid procrastination) thanks to the felines who keep them in the chair, I began a blog series called Cat Editors. The series began with my own cat editor, Theo, who is also General Manager of Ashland Creek Press and basically keeps us both in our chairs.

Several Ashland Creek Press authors have shared their cat editors’ stories with me, and I’m delighted to share two of them here, especially since we have brand-new reasons to celebrate these two authors: Mindy Mejia and Jean Ryan both have new books out in the world!

Mindy Mejia‘s novel, Everything You Want Me to Be, is a page-turning mystery that we guarantee you won’t be able to put down. If you’ve read The Dragon Keeper, you know what we mean — but don’t just take our word for it: Mindy’s new novel is also a People magazine Best New Books Pick, one of The Wall Street Journal’s Best New Mysteries, recipient of a starred Booklist review, and so much more! Visit Mindy’s website to learn more.

Author Mindy Mejia lives and writes with a cat named Dusty.

Mindy's cat

On working with Dusty, Mindy says:

Dusty’s main editorial talents lie in encouragement and prioritization. He usually lounges on the table or in my lap, purring his approval at whatever scene I’m working on, and if I start daydreaming he’ll jump directly on top of the computer or manuscript (see picture) as if to say, “Oh, you’ve got better things to do than write? I guess I’ll just make this my new bed.” It never fails to refocus my energy, which I’m sure is his intent.



Jean Ryan is the author of Survival Skills: Stories and a novel, Lost Sister. Those of you who are familiar with Jean’s gorgeous short stories will love her newest book, Strange Company, a collection of essays featuring the same exquisite prose and astute observations on nature and life. Strange Company is available from MadeMark Publishing in paperback and will be available as an audiobook on March 31. Visit Jean’s website to learn more.

Author Jean Ryan writes with Tango.


Of working with Tango, Jean says:

Tango does not want me to get too comfortable with my writing. She urges me to stay on the edge, to persevere through difficulty, to remember that the deepest truths are found outside my comfort zone.


Thanks to Mindy and Jean for sharing their writing processes with us, and thanks to the cats for making it possible! We look forward to reading much more of Jean and Mindy’s work.