Vida Vegan Con: Days 1 & 2

It’s been a little over a week since the first ever Vida Vegan Conference for vegan bloggers took place in Portland, Ore., and I’m still taking it all in. Attendees have gone back to their respective homes in other cities, states and countries, but the effects of converging together over a weekend to share ideas, tips and experiences are still with and affecting each of us, as the event’s Facebook and Twitter, and attendees’ blogs (that’s a link to an RSS feed of all of ‘em) affirm.

Before I begin the recap, I have to say that I was completely honored and thrilled to have been a part of this conference as an attendee and a speaker. Jess, Janessa and Michele each put so much of themselves into this conference, and it truly showed. I’m in awe of their individual/collective abilities to plan and put on such a grand event all while working day jobs and maintaining their own lives (and sanity). It just goes to show that when projects start out of passion and heart, something amazing surfaces.

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Surreal. That’s the one word that I feel best sums up getting to meet bloggers I’ve read for years who have unknowingly helped me in my transition to veganism, and also those I’d just heard of recently due to the conference. It was invigorating to know that though some of us are fledgeling bloggers, we were all in Portland for the same reasons: we eat the same foods, strive to live cruelty-free lifestyles and want to tell the world about it.

As soon as I arrived to the University Place Hotel Thursday afternoon (where the event was held), I ran into Brittany, aka Brit_on_Twit to you. She lives north of Seattle and we’d previously met, but it was too funny that she was the first person I saw. From there, we headed to the first pre-Vida Vegan Con event: the Meet and Greet at Vendetta.

We each ordered one of Vendetta’s few, but tasty-sounding vegan items: Brit the Sloppy Joes and I the Tofu Sandwich. It consisted of slices of plain tofu (which I’ve come to like recently, I’ve realized!) with a cilantro-lime seasoning, garlic-habenero sauce and a side of pickled veggies. Appropriately sized and well-flavored, this hit the spot.

Next, it was time for the meeting and greeting!

- I practically grabbed Gabrielle Pope when she walked by and introduced myself, as we were speaking on a panel together but had only met online at that point! And I did the same with Janessa, as we’d emailed back and forth and missed each other at Vegan Iron Chef, but it was so wonderful to see her smile in person.

- Jess introduced us to Bryanna Clark Grogan right away, and I was nearly starstruck. Bryanna’s blog and recipes have been staples in my kitchen for the holidays for years, yet her pleasant demeanor immediately made me feel at ease.

- I saw Australian activist Leigh-Chantelle Koch walk by and said her name, and then she sat down next to me and we chatted about her summer travels and the con for some time. She’s adorable, has impeccable taste in dresses and has an accent I could listen to for hours.

- And on the way to the event via bus I met Bianca of Vegan Crunk, Allison of Allison’s Gourmet and Katie of Vegan Noms, and I’d run into these sweet ladies throughout the rest of the event.

After drinks and chatter, we all mosied on over to the Curious Comedy Theater to see a sneak preview of the documentary “Vegucated.” I’d been eager to see this film and it did not disappoint. What I loved about “Vegucated” was that it not only discussed the health benefits of veganism, but it also covered the environmental and animal rights aspects of it, too. It did so by following around three volunteers who went vegan for six weeks and documenting how they reacted to the changes in their bodies as well as the new information they learned.

As someone who’s been vegan nearly six years I didn’t learn a ton from the film, but I was still moved by it and reacted in all the ways filmmakers want you to: laughed, was angered, and cried. The film was entertaining while still remaining informative, and I urge everyone to see it when it makes its way to your city. I spoke with Demetrius (the film’s PR superstar) and he informed me that the Grand Cinema was the first theater to request the film on its own merit, so dear Tacomans, please look out for it in the near future. For those outside of Tacoma, you can sign up to host a screening and learn more about it sharing it with your community here.

After the film, many of us made our way to the Bye and Bye’s new sister (also all vegan, amazing) bar, the Sweet Hereafter. Here’s my Gin Julep, which was fresh, tart and a taste of summer in a glass, (not pictured, a generous Bahn Mi):

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On Friday, we all had some downtime before the first official con event took place in the afternoon, so many of us gathered to tour the Bob’s Red Mill HQ in Milwaukie, Ore. Our car got a tad lost, but we eventually made it and joined the rest of the group.

I’m a sucker (read: nerd) for these types of tours where you get to see the way that a business is run and how its products are produced, but it’s even better when it’s a company you patronize. Bob’s Red Mill makes 450 whole grain products including gluten-free, pre-made baking mixes, soups and more.

Where the magic happens.

After using many of our senses to experience the products in the factory, we drove to the place where we could procure some: the Whole Grain Store & Cafe.

Though it was lunch time, my breakfast consisted of a very lunch-like, huge burrito, so these monster whole grain pancakes were calling my name. Out of these three, I could only consume one. I took leftovers back, don’t you worry.

Next we headed back to our respective rooms/dorms to get dolled up for the first Vida Vegan event: the VegNews Champagne and Cupcake reception in the hotel’s ballroom.

We sampled Chipotle Cheddar, Smoked Gouda and Monterey Jack hazelnut cheeses and crackers from Portland-based Heido Ho Organics, (each were delicious and I hope they make them widely available soon!) and three different types of cupcakes from local Sweetpea Bakery.

It’s a rough life, being a vegan food blogger.

As we enjoyed our fare, we took the time to relax and get to know our fellow bloggers better.

Though I met her the previous evening, I snapped a pic with the lovely Joni of Just the Food,

Photo credit: Bianca Phillips, Vegan Crunk

Gena of  Choosing Raw, (a personal blog favorite) and Danielle of A Vegan Food Snob. I’d just started reading Danielle’s blog before the event so it was lovely to meet her early on in the weekend.

After we mixed and chatted and drank our fair share of champagne, the posse headed over to a bar I’d been meaning to visit for too long: Tube.

The bar isn’t totally vegan but offers some nice vegan menu items and drinks, so I ordered a Session and the The Original Vegan Ham and Cheese plus a salad, to green up this meal slightly.

Our group was not one to call it a night early, and thus we made our way to karaoke at Suki’s! There was a large group of con goers here, and we represented ourselves well. Many got up and sang, including myself and Brit for Michelle Branch’s “Everywhere.” Yes, this is one of my standards. There was also some Bowie, Lou Reed, Britney, but Jess’ vocal stylings blew me away the most, (I had no idea you were such a talented karaoke star, girl, no idea!). I don’t think there’s anything she can’t do well.

After we all karaoked our hearts out and realized the rest of our other songs weren’t coming up, we decided to call it a night.

Days 3 and 4 coming soon!

 

Vida Vegan Con, I’m comin’

When you read this, I’ll be getting ready to drive down to Portland to attend the first ever Vida Vegan Conference for vegan bloggers. In recent weeks my excitement for the con has mounted to previously inconceivable levels. This week, VVC has swallowed up all my thoughts, much to the chagrin of my job, I’m sure.

The event takes place Aug. 26-28 at Portland State University and will combine workshops, panels, cooking demos and a sprinkling of other events all celebrating and focusing on vegan blogging and spreading the word about the vegan lifestyle in old and new/emerging mediums.

I am so excited to take part in this event not only by attending as many of the amazing agenda elements as humanly possible, but also by presenting for  “The Accidental Journalist” class with two fellow vegan journalist writers: Gabrielle Pope of Vegans on the Move and Michele Truty, co-planner of the conference and Vegan Iron Chef and writer of Vegtastic Voyage.  I read Gabrielle’s work when she was an editorial assistant at VegNews and know that she knows her vegan stuff and is an excellent writer. Michele has so much journalism experience, it kind of blows my mind. Knowing that I’ll be sharing a space with these women while chatting about writing posts that are engaging, meaningful, honest and unique is such an honor. I can’t wait to help to share my experiences both as a journalist and blogger and answer any questions that attendees throw our way.

There will be a lot going on throughout the weekend, (and even a little more as I get into town this afternoon for some conference pre-funking), but here are a few things that I’m most looking forward to:

- As someone who has played with the idea of becoming a nutritionist, I can’t wait to hear the nutrition panel

- The Small Towns, Represent! panel, (for obvious reasons) and publishing panel

- The Galarama and Silent Auction happening Saturday night for a great cause, the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

- All of the amazing MEALS, but most importantly, the Luna and Larry’s ice cream bar at the Galarama. Holy peanut butter sauce and crushed Joe Joes!

- The in-between con event and after shenanigans

- Seeing the adorable Terry Hope Romero in person

- POSSIBLY getting my first ever and totally vegan tattoo at Skeleton Key Tattoo (!!)

- And lastly, meeting so many bloggers, writers and people that I’ve come to respect and admire over the years through the glory that is the Internet, and just getting the chance to hang out with them in the city that loves vegans the most.

If you will be there, drop me a line or just tap me on the shoulder if you see me and and say “hi.” I’ll be the girl with super short dark hair and round glasses. Oh wait, who are we kidding. This event is in Portland, so I guess I could be anyone. Um. Just say hi anyway!

I plan on tweeting often and I just downloaded the WordPress app for my phone, so woo! Technology! Expect to see a few very short posts while I’m on the road. Maybe even some live-tweets, too, if I’m feeling wild. Stay tuned, friends.

 

Vegan Iron Chef 2k11

A bit more than a month ago, I ventured to Portland for an event that I’d been excited about for months beforehand: Vegan Iron Chef 2011. This year was the second ever in the fair Rose City, and I was fortunate enough to get some behind-the-scenes experience as I volunteered to help out the ever-lovely (and busy!) Jess, Michele and Liz with the event. The gig I was assigned?

Co-judge liaison, which means that I helped bring all of the food items out to the judges as they were being evaluated, (along with some other great volunteers!) and made sure they had enough water and wine (they deserve to be wined and dined appropriately). It’s also known as best (volunteer) job EVER. This year’s judges were: John Janilus of The Bye and Bye vegan bar, The Oregonian food writer Grant Butler, vegan cookbook writer and food cart owner Julie Hasson, (she’s just as sweet and kind as you’d ever imagine) and the inimitable co-host Isa Moskowitz. Be still, my vegan beating heart.

The ladies behind Vegan Iron Chef are now seasoned pros at these kind of events, and did an amazing job picking a great, huge space and planning out every tiny detail. I was blown away just being in the midst of such an event for a great cause – informing vegans and non-vegans alike that cruelty-free food can also be delicious, gourmet food.

This year’s chefs were:

- Piper Dixon of Kitchen Dances

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- Morgan Grundstein-Helvey of Dovetail Bakery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

- and Jeff Ridabock of Homegrown Smoker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(How badass are these posters? All courtesy of Vegan Iron Chef)

Sadly, despite being all amped to see these chefs throw down, I hadn’t previously tried their food. We had an unfortunate incident once when trying to check out Homegrown Smoker (I think they switched locations and we found out after) and nearly went to Kitchen Dances that weekend but didn’t make it. I’ve also heard so many great things about Dovetail from miss Jess, but still haven’t tried their baked goods and Sunday brunch biscuits and gravy. One day guys, one day.

Regardless of these facts, I was still ready to see them all put their spin on the secret ingredient, which I *accidentally* learned of before the big reveal: ginger. I thought this was an excellent choice, as it’s such a touchy subject with people. I’m one of those rare “it’s okay…” kind of people with ginger, but I know it can really make a dish great when utilized correctly. Once the ingredient was announced, each chef ran to grab every ingredient they wanted/could possibly need to create the most impressive and tasty of appetizers, main courses and desserts.

As I was volunteering, I didn’t really get the chance to take any action shots that you’d really love to see. Please accept these before-the-event, setting shots to tide you over:

The front and center judges table, where I would soon be walking up and down, hoping not to spill water/wine/food.

VIPs also got to try the dishes, along with the guest judges. The sweet life.

What’s a vegan event without a tablefull of pins?!

Shirts and memorabilia!

Clearer shot of the judges table in the background, chefs cooking/prep stations in the fore. I was most impressed by the fact that each judge had their own Vita-Mix to utilize.

Not pictured are all of the exhibitor tables, including individuals representing Lion’s Share Industries (woo, Washington pride!), Brass Tacks Sandwiches, Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary, Heido Ho Organics, Upton’s Naturals (<3) and many more. I tried some Brass Tack sandwich samples and man, were they ever good. I think I need to make it a point to get there this weekend.

As chefs and their teammates were frantically attempting to get every element of their meal cooked, prepped, plated and in order, the event’s lovely judges Isa and Nicole Georges provided some funny commentary, checked on the judges progress and guessed what they were prepping.They also gave out some truly fabulous prizes!

And the winner of the event was…Piper Dixon of Kitchen Dances! I tried some of his prize-winning dishes after the event and they were phenomenal. I now know that I need to make it over to his food cart, and soon.

Oh yeah. And just when you think this event couldn’t have been any better, as part of the after party (including live music), there was a VEGAN NACHO BAR. Yes, you read that right. Vegan. Nacho. Bar. I have evidence:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The ginormous alcohol monitor pin/badge was left by another volunteer who wore it through the event. I’d say that was probably the second best gig).

After running around for a few hours before and after the event, I can’t tell you how much this hit the spot. Though let’s be honest here, vegan nachos and beer will always hit the spot, and this is one of the many reasons why Jess & crew are vegan event planning geniuses.

The event brought in well over 300 people to the Refuge event space, and when I went outside for a bit to grab something before things started, the line wound well down the block. Seeing such interest and genuine excitement for a vegan event of this kind was such an incredible experience, and one that I won’t soon forget. Seeing the three chefs work to form some impressive, thoughtful dishes under time (and heat) constraints was extraordinary as well. I missed the first event last year, but you can bet your faux leather boots I’ll be back next year.

For more information on Vegan Iron Chef and to learn how to start one in your area, visit www.veganironchef.org.

Comics-induced Portland jaunt

This weekend, the boy and I went to what I lovingly refer to as Nerdfest 2k11, aka, the Stumptown Comics Fest. We’ve been going for the past few years and always love it, but I was pretty thrilled to hear that one of my favorite NY dwelling female comic artists would be in town for it and that it was being held at a much larger venue. It’s also the perfect catalyst for a weekend trip to Portland.

We visit PDX pretty often, as it’s a super short drive from Tacoma, we love their giant bookstore chain and record stores, it’s pretty and because of the given: Portland is a Northwest vegan mecca. We’ve hit up a ton of restaurants in our visits and have our favorites, but this visit we actually mixed things up a little and checked out a few new spots in addition to some old favorites. Here’s a rundown of what we ate, saw and did:

- Dined at Dove Vivi (home of the *amazing* cornmeal crust pizza) for the first time and attacked their kale salad with tofu ricotta, Della Salute pizza with roasted eggplant, caramelized onions and more and ales and everything was delicious and filled with fresh flavor and ingredients. After, we headed to Everyday Music until we joined the out the door line at Voodoo Doughnuts Too where I ordered an Ol’ Dirty Bastard. What’s that, you ask? Well, it’s a raised vegan donut with chocolate frosting, crushed Oreos and peanut butter. Oh yes. No pics, I inhaled it way too fast for film.

- Finally went to Paradox for breakfast. We’ve been many times but had yet to go to breakfast for some reason. I had the Country Comfort and deemed it one of my new favorites and Rick had the waffle with tofu and sausage which he also loved.

The Country Comfort includes: biscuit and gravy, tofu, Field Roast apple sage sausages and subbed veggies instead of potatoes. The perfect breakfast.

Rick's chosen combo was simple, yet so effective (and tasty - I snuck some bites).

- Spent so much time meandering the main Powell’s and Hawthorne location. Picked up a few things, including two of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s cookbooks: The Vegan Table and The Joy of Vegan Baking, which I’ve been wanting to get for years! Also got a book on organic gardening (!) and Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, which I probably should’ve owned already.

- After comics and nerddom, we checked out Taqueria Los Gorditos for the first time ever. It’s hard to find authentic Mexican food that is actually vegan-friendly, so a visit has been in order since I learned of the restaurant. I got the soycurls enchiladas with beans and rice and Rick got a soyrizo taco with the same sides. I was in heaven after the first bite. Vegan sour cream, tons of hot sauces and enchiladas! I can’t remember the last time I had them. So glorious.

- We needed a pick-me-up after that meal so we checked out Albina Press for the first time on the eastside. This coffee shop is so adorable, is good-sized (aka, plenty of open tables with outlets underneath) and serves hometown Stumptown beans. I got a soy cappuccino and deemed it the prettiest and tastiest one I’d had in some time while reading The Jungle for the Tacoma Animal Rights Book Club (TARBC), (missed the meeting, still definitely wanted to read the book).

So much great foam.

- Saturday evening we attended a Spanish-inspired Heartichoke Vegan Supper Club recipe testing party at Jess of Get Sconed!’s place. This was my first time actually getting to hang out with Jess (and her sweet friends) for an extended period of time and it was so nice to just relax, laugh and get better acquainted while enjoying an amazing homemade meal. Her friend and fellow vegan Maeve cooked lots of the recipes, and we were treated to: Jess’ homemade smoked potato cheese (loved it!) and other appetizers (olives, smoked shiitakes and more), Santander salad (including fresh asparagus and frisee), white gazpacho, chickpeas in zimino sauce with saffron rice and two, count them, TWO tester pies from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s soon to be released cookbook, Vegan Pie in the Sky: Berry Balsamic with olive oil crust (just wow, blown away by this combo) and Grasshopper Pie, which hadn’t completely set but was incredibly tasty, especially the gluten-free crust. Feast your eyes, folks!

Just looking at these makes me crave them again. Photo by: Jess Scone

We also had the chance to witness Jess’ adorable cat Zelda lovingly chomp on some greens. A veggie-eating cat is one after my own heart.

- Our last meal of the weekend was brunch at Juniors. We love Juniors, and there could be a few reasons why: could be the neighborhood, the always great art on the walls, the cozy vibe, but part of it is definitely their array of easily veganizable scrambles. I got the Texan with greens, whole wheat toast and 3-ish cups of coffee. It really hit the spot.

- No trip to Portland is truly complete without a stop at the Vegan Mini Mall. We went into Food Fight and grabbed some random things: marshmallows for future pints of vegan Rocky Road ice cream, white chocolate chips, Sjaak’s chocolate bar, Fig Newmans, Daiya’s pepperjack flavor (come to mama!) and Muzzling a Movement, which is the TARBC’s May book and I can’t wait to start it. We hopped over to Herbivore and grabbed a few gifts before heading back home. As per usual, thanks for being so wonderful, PDX!

This post was definitely also supposed to include a recap of FoodCamp (253) but it’s already getting pretty long. Thus recap next time, in addition to a highlight of another great Tacoma vegan group.

PS: Are you coming to the Tacoma Vegan Bake Sale May 1, which is a part of Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale? If you’re a baker or the volunteering kind, we need you! Head here for info/to RSVP. All proceeds benefit Precious Life Sanctuary.