Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Anniversary Dinner and Vegan MoFo Prep!

Hello, bloggers! There has been much afoot in the life of this vegan nom-er. Work, night classes, doggie, personal care, something of a social life, and trying to incorporate more cooking into my weeks. This past weekend I was fortunate enough to sit back and enjoy my sweetie and my 18 month anniversary. On Friday we traveled to Dave & Busters and blew too much money on arcade games - it was a blast. Saturday was our dinner date at the oh-so-fantastical VegiTerranean, Chrissie Hynde's hometown vegan joint.

I ordered the Tuscan Gnocchi, which hasn't been on the menu in a few rotations, but I still convince the kitchen staff to work their magic and bring it back to life. Tender gnocchi in a vodka cream sauce with artichokes, wild mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and basil. I ate this entire plate and could have eaten more easily. This plate is always delicious and highly recommended!

Oh, and an espresso martini, of course.

My dude ordered his favorite staple: spaghettini with marinara and "meat"balls. The meatballs appear to be made from Gardein product and are a lovely, spicy accompaniment to this dish. Pleases this omni every time. :)

A sexy shot of one of the lunch must-haves, which I ordered after I returned from VVC one day (it felt so comfortable being in an all-vegan restaurant, I couldn't stay away!): the Rubber City melt. Gardein chik'n on ciabatta with roasted tomatoes, grilled onions, Daiya, arugala, and a fabulous aioli.

Hopefully relishing in all of this vegan food will continue to pump me up for Vegan MoFo 2011!! Only just over a week away, this "month of food" will surely prove to be the best yet. The word is spreading all over the blogger community and my blog list is about to freakin' pop. I have started creating a list of ideas for posts which ranges from day to day veganism, personal care and balance, veganizing odd recipes from omni cookbooks, cooking on a tight schedule/portable foods, and everything in between. Let's get those creative juices whirling away in our VitaMix's, folks - it's MOFO TIME!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Wonderful Wedding!

I am a woman of many meaningful friends and have had the privilege of attending two of their weddings. A few weekends ago my friend and work-PIC married the love of her life in a beautiful ceremony which merged her Middle Eastern heritage with her husband's Chilean culture. The gowns were immaculate, the families were full of smiles, and the reception was much-anticipated!

Cocktail hour was held in a space perfect for mingling and noshing on fare not typical of your everyday American wedding. Prepared fresh was some of the best hummus I have tasted - a family recipe, no doubt - paired with a delectable assortment of olives. The kalamatas were absolutely divine... and I usually shy away from the briney bits. I also loved how the breads presented for dipping were pita and tortilla, reflecting the unity of their traditions.

The reception was held in a bright, newly refurbished hall and was decorated to the rafters! The colors she chose were purple, orange, and yellow for most of the accents and, even though one might not think the colors complement one another, it worked magically.

Yet the real magic was in the details. A camel ice sculpture?! Hell yes. There was also a candy bar where the guests could fill bags to the brim with their selections of various sweets.

When the bridal party entered the reception hall to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" I knew this wasn't going to be an ordinary celebration. Yet the real party started when the bride and groom arrived, ushered in by large drums and fast-paced Arabic music. The couple was thrust into the air on chairs by the throngs of family and friends who circled them, followed by their parents. The room was full of clapping and amazement - surely I hadn't seen anything like it!

The bride, being the fantastically compassionate and supportive friend that she is (and who recently went vegetarian, cheers!), requested that the catering staff prepare a special vegan plate for me. I was so touched! And look, I got REAL food! Behold, a stuffed pepper packed with rice, tomatoes and the perfect amount of seasoning, steamed vegetables, and superb roasted potatoes.

The night was really spectacular, accompanied by great company and a permeating sense of love and joy for the new couple, our friends.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vida Vegan Con '11 - Day Three & Four

Yes, I know, what a late post-er I am. Well, being back in the swing of things with work, classes, and apartment-care, I've had little time to dedicate to blogging. Also, honestly, there's some finality to posting about the final events of VVC... Nonetheless, here's a quick recap of the last two days of the event!

Saturday, the first official day of the event, began with a beautiful buffet of vegan foods. I piled my plate high BECAUSE I FREAKING COULD. And I ate every last bite BECAUSE I FREAKING COULD. Here we see pancakes (om nom), tofu scramble, biscuits & gravy, potatoes, watermelon, chia pudding, and some strawberries. I could have eaten three more plates of the pancakes and potatoes, yet the scramble was really saved by the gravy. Amber of Almost Vegan posted about the spread in much more detail!

My morning began with the Build-A-Blog panel. I had caused myself a great deal of stress regarding whether or not I wanted to sign up to attend the photography workshop or not, yet I thought that, as an amateur blogger, I would have a lot to learn from attending the former. And I do not regret my decision! It was very informative (I have a stats page?!??!) and the panelists were just fantastic - Bianca of Vegan Crunk, Amey of Vegan Eats & Treats, and Sherri of Vegan Nosh.

Then was the nutrition panel, moderated by Grant Butler of The Oregonian (who did a spectacular job), which was quite fascinating. There was more knowledge and resources shared than I had expected and I am glad I attended.

I hurried down to the Vegan Battle Royale and, I must say, this was one of my favorite moments of the entire weekend. Hosted by Mo of Mo Betta Vegan, Amey, and Kittie of Cake Maker to the Stars, the event was fast-paced and jam-packed with all sorts of goodies. Almost immediately I was selected for "audience trivia" and won a copy of Becoming Vegan! As the teams were subsequently selected I thought for sure I would be an observer... but no, I was the very last name called and joined Team Vegan with a Shotgun. We went head to head with our opponents, answering blog and food trivia, taste testing and naming ingredients, and accepting dares. Our challenge was interspersed with more audience trivia and inadvertent moderation by Miss Isa herself. When it came down to it, our team was the runner-up, but we still walked away with a swag bag full of Newman's Own goodies, Tribe hummus coupons, and more! (If you're FB friends with the PPK, check out their photos of the event online!)

All that concentration and badassery of the Battle had me work up an appetite, despite my monstrous breakfast. The buffet featured an American picnic style spread with BBQ tempeh, massaged kale salad, squash noodle salad, orzo salad, raw purple cauliflower hummus with raw veggies, and some bomb potato salad. I don't think I was able to finish my plate this time...

After lunch I headed to the Small Town, Represent! panel. Living in Akron, Ohio, it was the place for me to be! The Omaha vegans were featured on the panel, providing insight and tales of the beginnings of the vegan community in their town. This panel was very well attended and could have easily went way over the scheduled time; the audience had some excellent questions and suggestions.

Closing out the workshops for the day was Planting Seeds of Compassion: Communication as Activism with speaker Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. I don't even know where to begin to summarize my experience hearing her speech. Her passion and intensity is only matched by her wit. I teared up, I became hopeful, and I reflected on the realization of my own role in representing the vegan cause. If someone has a link to a video of her speech, please let me know! I want to share it with the world.

Everyone headed on back to the dorms/hotel rooms to get fancy for the Galarama held across town. There was a line to check-in, a line to get drinks, a line to get food - but I didn't mind! We immediately jumped in the food line out of worry that they would run out... and they did. Pizza, spring rolles, and lettuce wraps were out by the time we got up there. I loaded my tiny plate with Gardein chik'n tenders (FAVE), spinach-artichoke dip, and zen sliders. We hopped back in line once Sizzle Pie delivered about 25 more pizzas (yum!) and I ate even more chik'n tenders.

We boogied and watched over our bids at the silent auction (I walked away with a beautiful brown purse and almost everyone in my crew took with them their favorite bids), sipping on cocktails and jumping in line for...

The Coconut Bliss sundae bar! Total heaven. After posing for our flipbooks and rubbing our food baby bellies we walked over to Food Fight! for the Upton Natural's pop-up sammy shop! Having already ingested a great deal of awesome, a group of us split two sammies. We sat on the curb outside and passed around a BLT and a delightful eggplant focaccia and mustered up some energy to head over to Hungry Tiger Too for some super-late-night drinks... and more food! I shared bites of corndog, tots, and their butternut wontons.

Not wanting to wait around another 40 minutes for the bus and not wanting to fork over the dough for a cab, we decided to walk the 3 or 4 miles back to the dorms in our dresses, hauling our goodies. The night was perfect... it was clear and the temperature was just right. As we passed over the river, I had to capture the glass quality of the water and peacefulness of the city at night. These are the moments I'll remember most fondly.

After crashing around 2am, I somehow was able to drag my ass out of bed to get ready for Day 2. Since my roomie and I were going to check back into the hotel that night, we had to pack up our things. This is my haul, folks... swag, purchases, and winnings! I can't even go into great detail about what I brought home because it will make my head explode, but I can guarantee that I walked away with some seriously awesome shit!

Breakfast for Day 2, same as Day 1, except I was able to control myself. Kind of.

Budgeting and Meal Planning was the first workshop of the day, with Mo and The Spicy Vegan hosted - and it was the most informative experience yet! I scribbled madly all of their tips and shortcuts, reviving my commitment to stop wasting food and to put forth more effort into planning what I buy at the grocery store.

Isa's Writer's Block workshop was next. We gathered in a circle and left our hang-ups at the door as we were prompted to write and then fine-tune short paragraphs on the spot. The experience was wonderful, yet the time flew by too quickly. Luckily, we decided to gather e-mail addresses and Isa ended up creating a FB group for the attendees of the workshop to grow connections with each other and maximize our skills as writers.

Mexican themed lunch! Soy curls, raw walnut taco meat (B-O-M-B), rice, salsa, pepperjack Daiya, guac, and the best vegan queso ever... I had a happy tummy. This was followed by the leftover Coconut Bliss ice cream from the Gala - I had two servings.

This nearly caused a food coma in the middle of the Publishing Panel and Opinionated Bloggers workshops, although I pulled through! The closing address was gut-wrenching and satisfying at the same time... I was so eager to fast forward to the next event and for time to sloooooow down so I could relish in the rest of my trip.

The crew gathered at the all-vegan bar Bye and Bye for our farewell dinner and camaraderie.

We couldn't even fit at one table! The Bye and Bye is a very comfortable and laid-back establishment with an open space inside the bar and two patios for enjoying the modest weather.

I ordered their signature drink... and cannot find the exact description online, but remember there being citrus and ginger beer with cranberry juice. Very different and very tasty!

I was in the mood for creamy comfort food, and man, did they deliver. This is the Eastern Bowl: brown rice, steamed broccoli, baked tofu covered in nooch, with a spicy peanut sauce. So simple, yet astounding! I have already replicated this at home and will post the recipe soon. P.S. Yes, I ate this entire god damned thing.

Saying good bye to spectacular new friends... Taylor and Becca.

Look at this group of gorgeous vegans... :)

Couldn't leave without capturing this epic shot of Bianca's and my vegan wrist ink! Represent! She has a fantastic recap of the night on her blog.

The next morning I meandered over to Vita Cafe for breakfast on my way to the airport. After a night of heavy drinking and fun I needed some serious fuel. French toast, tempeh bacon, and tatoes!

Ran into Amey as I waited for my cab! Vegans, vegans, everywhere!

As I reflected on my trip and felt grateful that the rain waited until the day I left... I couldn't help but to feel an overwhelming sense of longing to continue this journey with new friends and those I did not have the privilege of meeting at the conference. The entire weekend was filled with great fun, AMAZING food, and this indescribable sense of community which I have never felt before. How can people from all over the country (and the globe!) who have mostly never met one another become so connected so quickly? It was like meeting someone new but starting as if we were already years into our friendship. I cannot wait for 2013 and intend on keeping up with the beautiful people I met.

Vida Vegan!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Vida Vegan Con '11 - Day Two

My second day in PDX started off early - I had a lot of touristy stuff to get done. My breakfast was my remaining Oreo creme doughnut from Voodoo Doughnuts the day before. I packed my things up and hit the bus line.

My first stop was Powell's books, a gigantic bookstore in the heart of downtown Portland. This place is nerd heaven, floors and floors of books on any subject you could muster. I spent a good portion of my time searching for the perfect souvenir to bring home to my trader boyfriend (3 huge shelves of stock/trading books = crossing my fingers and hoping he would like what this non-trader lady chose). I also picked out a book for myself in the Feminist Studies section.

After taming my inner bookworm, I hopped on another bus up to Washington Park to visit the Japanese Gardens, which claim to be of the most authentic gardens outside of the islands of Japan. This Friday was wonderfully bright and sunny, allowing for lovely reflections off of the gardens' many ponds, streams, and fountains. This is what I want my backyard to look like.

The gardens were tranquil and calm, just what this lone traveler needed. I enjoyed searching for the details in each nook and cranny of the park, finding interesting stone work and tracking down hidden waterfalls.

Near the end of my self-guided tour I found a spot overlooking the city. My heart swelled as I took in the image - how could I love a city so much, only having visited it twice? Portland, one day you will be my home.

My travels built up quite the appetite as I waited impatiently at Hungry Tiger Too, a bar/restaurant with its own extensive vegan menu. A must-see on the PDX vegan food tour! I was very much in the mood for a salty BLT with creamy mayo & avocado - and the sweet potato fries? Crispy and hot, absolute perfection.

A few blocks away from Hungry Tiger Too is the "vegan mini mall" on SE Stark. Here you will find Sweetpea Bakery, Herbivore Clothing, Food Fight! Vegan Grocery Store, and Scapegoat Tattoo. I spent way too much money at Herbivore on a kickass purple logo hoodie, a metal logo necklace, t-shirt reading "Eat Like You Give a Damn", and a bunch of buttons and pins. I wish I had an unlimited budget, though, what incredible and hilarious messages some of the shirts read. At Food Fight I gathered some chocolates (can anyone say Cleo's peanut butter cups and Snap rice crispy chocolate bars?!), stickers (one reading "Vegan Means I'm Trying to Suck Less"), and a bunch of lip balms. After grabbing an iced latte at Sweetpea - my gas gauge was creeping toward "E" - I hopped on the bus to my next destination.

I rushed to meet my artist at Skeleton Key Tattoo for my afternoon appointment! They were offering a 15% discount for VVC registrants to get some vegan ink and I simply could not pass it up. I had known for some time that I wanted this symbol somewhere on my body, and finally decided on my wrist. My artist, Levi, was very helpful in perfecting the graphic and expertly inking it on my surprisingly still arm. I am so pleased with this tattoo - it is healing nicely and I can't wait to post an "after" shot.

After bandaging me up, my artist let me on my way and I rushed back to the conference to officially register. Hauling my luggage and kickass swag bag over to the dorms, I was excited to be stationary for a few hours. I met my roommate as I arrived, Samantha of SuperVegan, who turned out to be a great match - down to Earth and very sweet. We walked over to the VegNews Champagne and Cupcake reception. Alas, I did not have a cupcake (my latte gave me a sugar rush!), but did have a glass of bubbly.

I'm sure you recognize these fine ladies? I sheepishly asked for a photo with the lovely icons of vegan cookbook heaven, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. So nervous!

Also, Gena Hamshaw of Choosing Raw! I admire Gena so deeply for her voice in the vegan community regarding ED recovery and was pleased that my nerves allowed me to inform her of this - although her open and inviting demeanor definitely helped! What an honor.

After the reception the crew headed out to Tube, a vegetarian bar featuring classic comfort food, which I ordered in the form of a vegan grilled cheese. Pardon the quick, flashy photo, but I had mustered up an appetite again! I enjoyed hanging with some incredible folks: Dawn of Vegan Moxie, Jared of blog-to-come, Brit (@Brit_on_Twit), Kyle of Vegan Vagrant, Taylor of Hot Piece of Class, Becca (bekks253), Bianca of Vegan Crunk and her partner Paul, Amber of Almost Vegan and her partner Matt, and Erin of Vegan Homemade. Some karaoke-ing took place after noshing at a bar nearby to the dorms, although I was a walking zombie at that point and decided to get some shut-eye in preparation for the official conference activities the next day.

And shut-eye is sounding very appealing to me now, as well, so I will catch you folks later with more VVC updates!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Vida Vegan Con '11 - Day One

That's right, folks, the Disneyland for vegans (Portland, OR) hosted the first Vida Vegan Conference last week and I feel very honored to say I was among the group of bloggers and friends who attended. I was practically bouncing in my seat as my plane started to descend over the mountainous terrain surrounding the metropolitan vegan mecca. After almost 8 hours of flying/airport hopping I was ready to get my vacation started! I was among many taking pictures of the incredible angle of Mt. Hood as we approached...

If you don't know me well, let me clue you in on somethin': I am Type A/OCD to the core. In the weeks before my trip I made sure to circle the VVC Facebook like a hawk and swooped in on every link posted and t-shirt opportunity presented. When the lovely and tireless organizers posted the schedule of the workshops, I took at least an hour and decided which ones I would attend and then programmed them into my iPhone calendar. I researched restaurants and must-see spots for hours and made rudimentary itineraries for each of the days I would be in town.

I take this shit seriously!

But where to dine FIRST? I had a very hard time choosing between restaurants fairly close to the hotel/on the way from the airport and narrowed it down to DC Vegetarian, Homegrown Smoker, and Native Bowl. The first two carts offer more sinful fare in the form of huge sloppy-creamy sammiches and down-home BBQ, mac, and greens. I decided that if I wanted to be able to wobble around the city for the rest of the afternoon I should probably search for something a little lighter, yet just as satisfying...

Enter Native Bowl, a hip little cart in the NE region of the city, owned by the lovely Julie Hasson. My stomach rumbled impatiently as I sat on the MAX and soaked up the sights of the city. I definitely made the right choice. Pictured here is the Mississippi Bowl and a vanilla rooibos tea.

How is it that I managed to consume my favorite meal of the entire trip in my first few hours? This perfectly portioned bowl from top to bottom included: jasmine rice, peppercorn ranch, BBQ sauce, the best BBQ soy curls, a tangy slaw, and scallions. I must've been a sight during my lunch - I practically inhaled this bowl! And I kid not when I say that I have been daydreaming about it ever since.

Having an insatiable sweet tooth, I knew that if I put off the mandatory visit to Voodoo Doughnuts (vegan yeasted, baby!), I would not be able to forgive myself in my lifetime. Arriving at 1:30 or so in the afternoon, there was still a line with a wait of 15 minutes wrapped around the store. Even in the heat of the glaring sun I stood for my first doughnut confection in over three years. The shop sells a wide selection of doughnuts with a few shelves in their spinning case dedicated just to their vegan selections.

I simply HAD to have a classic glazed, although the maple creme bar and Oreo creme glazed were flirty little bitches and I had to have them, too. I ate all but the Oreo creme on a bench nearby and made noises reminiscent of those old Herbal Essences commercials with not a care. These were fantabulous and I'm working on a pitch to have them consider opening up a shop in AK-rowdy. Suggestions?

After my sugar coma set in, I fetched a pint at the bar across the street and sat in the shade, watching the city speed by. It was so serene watching hipsters and families of four walk by, seeing 2 bikes for every car, and making wild guesses at how much the rent in the lofts across the street might cost... the magic was really setting in!

As 3:00 approached I made my way back to the bus line so that I could check into the hotel. After a nice, cleansing shower and micronap I prepared myself for the Meet & Greet at Vendetta, where all of the VVC registrants and their partners/friends who were in town early gathered before the Vegucated premiere.

At the bus stop I met up with a small group of other eager bloggers and made my first connections of the con. Some lovely ladies, indeed! After a few rather strong (and cheap!) cocktails and nervous, flitting stares at my favorite bloggers and authors we headed down to the Curious Comedy Theatre to enjoy the show.

Vegucated is a documentary-style film following around 3 New Yorkers who decide to go vegan for 6 weeks with the guidance of the film's creator, Marisa. The film was done incredibly well; the introduction was creative and funny, the participants were brave and genuine, their journey was heartbreaking and inspiring. I laughed, I cried, my heart swelled. I would recommend Vegucated for anyone who is vegan, vegetarian, veg-curious, omnivorous, or a die-hard carnivore. It can be guaranteed that anyone with a heart beating in their chest will walk away from the film with something personally valuable.

At the event was renowned vegan bodybuilder, Robert Cheeke, who was very energetic and approachable. P.S. Here's a sneak peak of him busting a move at the Galarama/Silent Auction, to-be-covered soon!

After the premiere a large group of bloggers headed over to the Sweet Hereafter all-vegan bar in the SE district. Since I had not eaten since my doughnuts (eek!) I decided to order the "Steve Martin", a sammy with jerk-seasoned tofu, pineapple slices, greens, and a delightful creamy-spicy sauce. My pic turned out badly because of the sultry ambiance of the dimly lit patio, however I'll let your imagination run wild.

Turning in after a spectacular first day in the city, I looked forward to my next adventures. Stay tuned for more sight-seeing and the ins and outs of VVC 2011!