September 15

The Sonoma County VegFest – A Celebration of Ethical Eating!

It has been about a month since my last blog post. I recently returned from spending two weeks up in Northern Michigan visiting friends and family. I planned on doing so much writing and publishing so many amazing posts and instead…nothing. I don’t know who I was kidding. With friends and family abound, my days were full of fun and there was just no time to sit down and be creative. I’m not complaining; it was an awesome vacation.  I can’t wait to tell you about it! But, finally, here is my post on the incredible and delicious Sonoma County VegFest

I am always so excited when the SoCo VegFest comes along in August. It has become my favorite Bay Area veg fest! To see its growth in just four short years is a real thrill. I get to run into old friends & make new ones, meet vendors, learn about animal rights groups and listen to local and national speakers. Oh…and EAT!!!!

Sweet treats from Muir’s Tea Room!

Because of the rapid growth of the Fest, last year it was moved into the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa. The Center is much larger and provides plenty of indoor and outdoor space for the event. Though we had to share the parking lot with a local Farmers Market, the spaces opened up quickly and there were no real parking issues. It was really a breeze to get into the event. The entrance was lined with many food vendors offering delicious options along with some picnic tables nestled in under shade trees. There was so much amazing food that day that I cannot possibly list everyone who was there. So, I’ll do the next best thing and tell you about my favorites! Always first on my list is Sebastopol’s famous Muir’s Tea Room. In fact, my first conversation with Christine, Muir’s owner, happened four years ago at the first annual SoCo VegFest. She hadn’t opened her restaurant yet but had big plans and was selling her delicious baked goods. Outside they offered several of their savory sandwich options. The grilled cheese with jam is my favorite. While just inside the door was their sweet’s table. So began my sugar buzz. Cupcakes, homemade chocolates, pecan tortes, cake and more. Everything was as delicious as usual! If I had to choose a favorite, their luscious chocolate peanut butter cupcake is at the top of my list. Gaia’s Garden – one of my favorite veg spots in Santa Rosa offered deep fried deliciousness. Hush puppies, tofu, samosas, oh my! Steve just loves samosas and I tried their deep fried tofu with sweet & sour sauce. It hit the spot and helped level out my sugar high a bit. Later I saw someone walk by with potato salad from Goatlandia Sanctuary. It had a dill flavor and was as good as it looked! Of course, Miyoko’s Kitchen was there offering tasty little bites of their amazing cheeses. I really appreciate that they offer a discount off the retail price when we purchase products at the Fest. Several of the Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf went home with me!

On a side note, I was thrilled to find Miyoko’s High Sierra Rustic Alpine & a couple other flavors on my recent trip to Michigan. I came across it while wandering through the very heath conscious Creation Farm Market shop in the tiny village of Beulah. The shop offers locally grown, organic produce; vegan options galore; holistic skincare made with essential oils and aromatherapy products. After my VERY omnivorous mother tasted the Rustic Alpine (and lost 3 pounds in the week I was there), she announced that she was going vegan for three weeks and has been texting me her successes ever since!

I had my first taste of Health-ade Kombucha earlier this year at the vegan Earth Day festival in Berkeley. They offer about a dozen unique flavor combinations but I keep going back to the Blood Orange-Ginger-Carrot. The flavors meld to create a mouthful of bliss. In addition to being certified organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, raw, vegan AND kosher, their kombucha is fermented in glass in small 2.5 gallon batches. The glass prevents any leaching from plastic or metal. So, it really is as good for you as you think. My next stop was to enjoy some Subzero nice cream. I had my first bowl of Subzero at the very first annual SoCo VegFest. This seems to really be a trend. They are unique in the fact that they are an ice cream shop with no freezers! When they pour and hand mix the vegan milk into the nitrogen it freezes in 15 seconds (regular ice cream shops take at least 20 minutes). At this speed ice crystals do not have time to form. Creating some of the smoothest, most delicious nice cream available. And I’d know because my husband is an ice cream lover! The peanut butter flavor is my all time favorite!

When I was able to tear myself away from the food, I found my two favorite Festival retail vendors – the Clean Living Collection and Pinta Libre. A couple months ago I published a post about the Clean Living Collection after meeting founder Ariel Welch at the vegan Berkeley Earth Day event. I fell in love with her products. Her 3-clay tooth powder has become my only “toothpaste”. It cleans, whitens and mineralizes my teeth using certified organic ingredients without the use of fluoride, sodium lauryl sulfate or preservatives. I purchased the Sage MInt and it is my new favorite! Her deodorant spray is equally as awesome. Once again, it contains vegan, organic ingredients that include colloidal silver and essential oils. My husband has incredibly sensitive under arms and almost everything makes him break out into a rash. But not Ariel’s spray. He loves it! In fact, I am always stealing it from his drawer to use. I really need to purchase my own bottle next time!

Pinta Libre offers a beautiful collection of animals sketched and painted by Valentina Arenas. Valentina and I have communicated for the last couple years through my Napa Valley Vegan Facebook page and finally had the opportunity to meet this spring at the Berkeley Earth Day event. Clearly, that was the place to be in April! Valentina is a lovely woman and a very talented artist. I took home 3 small framed paintings of a bunny, a lamb and a cow. And since my most favorite animal in the world (besides by adorable doggie Violet) is piggies, I purchased a precious piglet charm for my necklace. I wear it everywhere and always get compliments!

Then came time to check out all of the animal sanctuaries that are working so hard to save lives! They are all doing incredible jobs but I did find myself gravitating to a few favorites. I’m not going to lie that I’m a big supporter of Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch (JARR). Not only is JARR the first animal protection non-profit in Napa County to address the needs of farmed animals as well as our beloved cats and dogs but it was founded by a fellow vegan who serves only plant based foods at their fundraisers. This may seem like a no brainer but this is the first animal non-profit in Napa Valley who has made the connection between animals we rescue and animals that are used for food. In just 3 short years, Monica Stevens has grown this grassroots rescue group from one staff member (her) and one volunteer to a full time staff of 6 and hundreds of dedicated volunteers. My next stop was to learn more about the rescued pigeons of Palomacy Pigeon and Dove Rescue. I have met their knowledgable & friendly staff and volunteers many times since my move to California. They are doing an incredible job rescuing birds that are released at weddings or are injured. If I wasn’t moving to Berlin in 10 months, I would love to adopt! Maybe I will find a Berliner pigeon who needs my help! I never grew up with cats and we had very few dogs. Sadly, they were never with us for long. So when I moved into my first apartment, I wasn’t sure what type of animal to welcome into my life. I’d always loved bunny rabbits, at least from afar, One day I was walking through a feed store and came upon these white bun-buns with pink eyes. It took me a while to understand that these poor rabbits were not available as pets. Once I realized it, I bought a little boy bunny, named him Cadbury and took him home to be safe and loved. This then led to a companion for Caddie. Chloe was tiny but fierce. She didn’t much like me but she loved her Cadbury. Save a Bunny (SAB) was featuring one of their rescues and I had to head over and say hi. The sad fact is that while rabbits from feed stores, flea markets and laboratories do end up in local shelters, the majority of rabbits that are euthanized were once family pets and classroom projects. SaveABunny is often the only resource for abused, neglected and homeless rabbits. SaveABunny works hard to rescue the rabbits who have “run out of time” in our shelter system. They may be highly adoptable buns who just didn’t find a home in time or they may have health or behavioral issues or special needs. Once they have a home with SAB, they will never run out of time!

With a touch of sadness, this was my last opportunity to support and enjoy the amazing SoCo VegFest. This time next year, I will be settling into my new home 9,000 miles away. And while you are offering your support to the VegFest, I will be celebrating my first annual Veganes Sommerfest in Berlin!

Whether I am a Napan or a Berliner, I will celebrate these festivals, love & support the animals and have you in my heart! And, of course, we will all continue to eat, drink & be vegan!

July 19

Being Vegan at the Taste of Napa 2017!

 

This time next year I will be wrapping up all the loose ends before packing me, my husband Steve, our dog Violet and our cats Stig & Clover off to our new home in Berlin, Germany! 🇩🇪 And since Taste of Napa was the first event I’d ever covered for my blog, I certainly did not want to miss my final opportunity to eat, drink and be vegan at the festival. This year it was held at the Napa Valley Expo Center on 3rd street near downtown Napa. Having been to the center many times (this is where BottleRock is held every May), I was curious how it would be set up and if I’d like it as well as I did when it was held in Copia at Oxbow Public Market or Cairdean Estate (now rebranded as Brasswood) in St. Helena. I should have known that it would be perfect. While it was located outdoors, they had these huge, rainbow colored sail-like awnings shading the entire space. The Reserve Tasting Salon, the Stage and the Main Floor food artisans and wineries were all protected from the 94 degree sunlight. This year they included a Beer Garden (or Biergarten in my newly adopted language!) which felt really apropos! And the fact that it is a short walk from my home was certainly a big bonus.

Arthur with Napa Valley Distillery serving me my Mai Tai! Yum…

The Reserve Tasting Salon was intimate this year with minimal seating and tables but offered plenty of delicious wines and cocktails. The crowd was small so it did feel very VIP-like compared to the mash-up of  folks enjoying the Main Floor wineries, restaurants and food artisans. I’m a very social person but when temps start creeping up over the 90 degree mark, I do like to have a little bit of space! Believe it or not, my first libation was not even wine. It was the newest addition to Napa Valley Distillery’s Oak Blended cocktail line – the world famous Mai Tai! Putting their own spin on this classic cocktail, they replaced the orange curaçao with their Grand California Orange infused Brandy! This brandy was made specifically for this new Mai Tai blend and was crafted with citrus grown right here in California. Their partner El Guapo Bitters made a custom orgeat syrup and with a little fresh lime and their own craft Rum, I felt like I was in the Caribbean! Cute little tidbit I learned is though we all associate the Mai Tai with tropical islands some believe that it actually originated in Oakland at a Tiki themed restaurant called Trader Vic’s. So the story goes, Vic created a cocktail for a group of friends and after tasting it one of his friends shouted “maita’ I roa ae!” – Tahitian for “out of this world!”.  According to the NVD team, no animal products are used in the the crafting of the Mai Tai or their Old-Fashioned blended cocktail (a blend of sugar, water, bitters and Whiskey).

123 (Uno, Dos, Tres) Organic Tequila was also featured and is crafted using organically-certified agave plantations and small batch artisanal distillations. In addition to farming without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers the Founder, David Ravandi, is committed to lightening its carbon footprint by using recycled glass for bottling and recycled paper and natural soy ink for labelling. And though I wish I had been able to share my tasting experience with you, I have not been able to drink tequila for at least a couple decades! Just a sniff brings back memories I would like to forever forget!

General Manager Dave Bryant serving some incredible Alpha Omega vintages.

The Reserve Salon offered several vegan-friendly wines provided by some of the best wineries in Napa Valley including Alpha Omega, Tournesol and Bouchaine Vineyards. I enjoyed everything I tasted from these three wineries. I hope to visit each of them very soon and share more details with you in the near future. There was only one restaurant in the Salon – Estate Events by Meadowood – and that was a total bust for us vegans!

Gowan Heirloom Cider grown, harvested and crafted along the Mendocino Coast.

The Main Floor was a sea of people and with good reason. The majority of restaurants, food artisans and the beer garden all surrounded the main stage. I was really excited to see our local Tannery Bend Beerworks in the Beer Garden. They are a fairly new tap room located off Coombs Street as you head out of downtown Napa. I’ve been meaning to walk down since they opened but since my husband can’t burp (yeah, apparently that is a thing) he hasn’t been too excited about joining me. But now that I’ve tasted their light, citrusy Coombs Saison and had the opportunity to meet their team, I will be heading over really soon. The star of the Beer Garden for me though was Gowan’s Heirloom Ciders. They are located in Mendocino and have been growing and harvesting apples on their family orchards for over 140 years. I wish I could share my favorite with you but frankly they were all incredible. I’ve been a fan of hard cider since my first trip to England 20 years ago and I can say with confidence that they make the best cider I’ve ever had! And many others agree with me. Gowan’s earned the BEST in Show in 2016 for five of their blends – 1876 Heirloom, Gravenstein Heirloom, Macintosh Heirloom, ‘Still Sierra Beauty and Sparkling Sierra Beauty.

Lauren and the Tannery Bend Beerworks’ team keeping the crowd cool with their incredible beer!


Now it is beginning to sound like all I did is drink but I was on the look out for food too! The Restaurant at CIA Copia was assembling a fresh, delicious salad full of veggies and they were happy to make it vegan just for us. Meritage also put together a tasty bite of avocado & peach sprinkled with micro greens. What kept me hydrated and energetic throughout the afternoon was Nekter Juice Bar. They were giving away samples of several of their juices. The two that kept me going back for more were the Detox loaded with Parsley, spinach, apple, lemon and ginger. And the Buzz with carrot, orange, lemon and ginger. They definitely put some pep in my step! Napa Valley Tea Company was offering samples of their organic tea blends. I met the team last year at the Taste of Napa at Cairdean Estate and just love their teas. Regina’s Heavenly Treats even offered a couple vegan snacks.

Staying sober and hydrated with Nekter’s delicious juices!

The Live Music Stage featured the winners of their Battle of the Bands! Serf and James, The Deadlies and Drop Dead Dangerous rocked the event all afternoon! The music was really good and helped keep my mind off the heat.

Chef with CIA @ Copia making sure we vegans were well fed!

Each year, there is something special that really stands out about the event and this year it was the music and the libations. The wine, the cider, the cocktails and the beer were really excellent. Nekter Juice Bar kept me hydrated and happy and all three of the bands were really talented. I would have loved to have had more dining options but once in a while we just have to rock, drink and be vegan!!