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!

June 9

Napa Valley Vegan Journeys From NorCal to Up North!

I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If this is the first time you have heard that Michigan has an upper peninsula, don’t feel bad. Approximately 95% of the people I meet, have no idea either! In fact, most people don’t know that the state is made up of two peninsulas – the formerly mentioned Upper and the Lower. The Upper Peninsula is surrounded by three of the majestic Great Lakes – Michigan, Superior and Huron. The Lower Peninsula is surrounded by Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and the tip of Lake Eerie. I always feel sorry for those who give me that blank, vacant stare when I talk about growing up on the Great Lakes. It makes me sad that so many people have such a vague recollection of the very existence of these amazing lakes. And even more so that they have never had the opportunity to see or play in these amazing bodies of water. The Great Lakes have long been referred to as the Third Coast. I know, I know…no one believes me when I share this information with them. But it is true! The Great Lakes – Superior, Michigan, Huron, Eerie and Ontario form the largest group of freshwater on the entire planet! In fact, they contain over 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water by volume! Fun (and unbelievable) facts – Lake Superior is the largest continental lake in the whole wide world based on it volume (it’s REALLY cold too) and Lake Michigan is the largest lake on the planet that is located entirely within one country! And due to the sea-like characteristics – rolling waves, sustained winds, strong currents, great depths and far-off horizons -the five Great Lakes have long been referred to as inland seas. Yep, due to the over 10,900 MILES of coastline, the Great Lakes provide excellent surfing conditions. Prime surfing is from October to April and has been drawing surfers since the 1960s. These are extra hardy surfers because not only do they have to deal with water that can reach freezing temperatures, they also have to watch out for floating blocks of ice! And if you aren’t impressed enough, my home state of Michigan has 3,288 miles of coast line. That is more than any other state (including my adopted home of California) except Alaska! Now you understand that growing up in a state like Michigan I had to come to a state like California to be sufficiently impressed!

My home state!
My home state!

I recently went back to Northern Michigan to celebrate my younger sister Keegan’s wedding. I am very close to that tipping point of living out of the state of Michigan longer than I lived in the state of Michigan. But I have many, many relatives that still call Michigan home. Apparently, unless you have the nomadic gene that I was born with, Michigan is a place that many never want to leave! And because of my extra-large clan, I always have a blast when I visit. My flight took me from San Francisco to Detroit before reaching my final destination – Traverse City. I was actually pretty excited about my dining options in Detroit – I mean…as excited as anyone can get about airport food, anyway. Though the Detroit airport’s rating keeps going down every year, it is still ranked as one of the most veg-friendly airports in the U.S. I went online and checked out my options which included rave reviews about Mediterranean Grill’s Fattoush salad and vegetarian grape leaves & hummus pita wrap. There were also a couple honorable mentions for the vegetarian sandwich at Earl of Sandwich and the hummus vegetable wrap at National Coney Island Express. I figured I was covered so didn’t give it anymore thought! My flight left San Francisco at 7 a.m. and I had every intention of sleeping all the way to Michigan. Instead, I met the nicest guy Mo and we talked and talked the entire flight. It really made the four hour flight “fly” by! I landed in Terminal A and having a pretty small window to freshen up, get food and get to my next flight in Terminal B, I headed off for Mediterranean Grill. As I drew closer, I started to get a little suspicious because in just about the same spot I expected to see the Grill, I noticed many rows of seats. I popped over to a directory, found the You Are Here star and noticed that the Mediterranean Grill was blacked out and really had been replaced by…chairs! By now, I am REALLY hungry. Between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. Delta Airlines offers ZERO vegan breakfast, lunch or dinner options. And the calories from the couple granola bars I brought with me had LONG since burned off! My back-up plan was a really bad back-up plan because Coney Island Express and Earl of Sandwich were both at Gate D while I was very much still in Gate A and running out of time. I grabbed my stuff and headed toward my connecting flight just hoping that I would find something vegan-friendly on the way. Just as I was making the turn toward my Gate, I noticed an Einstein Bros. Bagels. When I lived in Boulder Colorado over 16 years ago, that used to be one of my favorite spots to stop for a bagel sandwich. The bagels were freshly baked, the ingredients were always tasty and the staff was hilarious. Knowing that it had been 16 years and Einstein Bros. had also become a national chain featured in an airport, I didn’t expect perfection and was quite frankly out of time to care. There were NO vegetarian options so I ordered a cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter and jelly hoping the bagels were at least vegan-friendly. It was a huge disappointment – tiny bagel, not very fresh and the peanut butter and jelly both contained corn syrup and other frightening ingredients. But the bagel was warm and I knew I would not make it until I got to Traverse City! I left the PB&J packets for someone else to enjoy and gobbled up my bagel! Mental note – next flight through Detroit – pack myself a more sustainable lunch or make sure I have enough time in between flights to find my way to the veg-friendly restaurants!

Leave it to Detroit to add a subway inside their airport. Love it!
Leave it to Detroit to add a subway inside their airport. Love it!

I have lived in Northern California for three and a half years and have gotten to the point where I am not shocked or surprised anymore when I run into a celebrity or two along the way. Well, I do have to admit that chatting with Garrett Dillahunt was the absolute highlight of my week when I met him at the Napa Valley Film Festival. And I might still be grinning like a fool since I got to hug Mr. Big after a stage performance in Yountville. Other than that, I am just as cool as a cucumber, obviously. But running into a celebrity at the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan? The city is known as the Cherry Capital of the World, but celebrities? Well, that is definitely a bit of a surprise. As I wandered through the airport looking for my limo service – AKA my sister Christy and her bright blue, sporty Ford Focus – I noticed Carter Oosterhouse. For those of you who aren’t DIY fans, Carter Oosterhouse started out as the way too gorgeous carpenter on TLC’s reality program Trading Spaces. I loved the show especially because of the adorable host Page Davis. The program ran eight seasons from 2000-2008 and also launched the career of Ty Pennington – the original carpenter!  As I met up with my sister Christy and excitedly told her about my celebrity sighting, she reminded me that Carter grew up in TC and now owns a local winery with his brother. She was definitely not as excited as I was. Okay. Fine!

Cherry Capitol Airport has it's own Stand Up Paddleboard!
Cherry Capitol Airport has it’s own Stand Up Paddleboard!

By the time I landed in TC and was ready to hit the road for our hour long drive north to Charlevoix, I had been on the go for over seven hours. And almost sensing my dining troubles, Christy had stopped at my favorite vegan-friendly spot in TC to get me some vegan appropriate sustenance! Oryana Natural Foods Market is located at 260 East Tenth Street and has offered the area a community cooperative since 1973. Which I love, of course. But even more than that, I love all of the organic, vegan-friendly options they offer in their diner, juice bar, bakery, hot bar and market. It is food nirvana for me! Though I didn’t spend much time in Traverse City after the wedding, I made sure I visited Oryana a couple times to stock up. I devoured their handmade vegan black bean burrito on the way to Charlevoix. I also got to enjoy their cashew brown rice and peanut curry tofu from the hot bar. And on my way to a family pizza feast, I stopped in and found a delicious vegan pasty with an amazing crisp pastry shell and stuffed with potatoes, carrots and rutabaga. Delicious!

Outside dining at Oryana
Outside dining at Oryana

Oryana logo

For most of you, raising money while you were in school probably brings back memories of selling cookies & rice krispie treats. For us Yoopers, we raised money by selling pasties. Freshly baked and stuffed full of meat and vegetables before being lovingly wrapped with tin foil and sold to the masses! Though pasties date back to as early as the 1300s, they are often linked back to Cornwall, England. Beginning in the 1600s, the tin miners adopted it because it was a complete meal that could be easily carried and eaten without cutlery. The folded pastry kept the filling warm for hours in the mine but could also be easily warmed up on a shovel over a candle. As tin mining began to decline, the migrating Cornish miners, spread the pasties worldwide. Because of the U.P.’s Copper Country copper mines, pasties became a huge part of our culture. Tourists come from all over to enjoy the Upper Peninsula’s pasties. They have become so popular, that Calumet, Michigan throws a Pasty Fest every year in late June! I hadn’t had a pasty in decades and certainly not since becoming vegan, so it was a lovely surprise full of wonderful memories!

We Yoopers love our pasties!
We Yoopers love our pasties!

My sister Keegan was born and raised in Traverse City and even though she now lives in Brooklyn, NY and works as a freelance carpenter and welder on various theater and stage projects, Northern Michigan is where she wanted to return to celebrate her wedding! She and her husband Doss found Castle Farms and knew that was the place for them to celebrate their love. Castle Farms is located in charming Charlevoix about an hour north of Traverse City. Charlevoix sits between majestic Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix.

Welcome to Charlevoix!
Welcome to Charlevoix!
The view of Lake Charlevoix from our rental home!
The view of Lake Charlevoix from our rental home!

Castle Farms French Renaissance-style castle was built in 1918 and is full of old-world charm. It is not only a celebrated wedding venue in Northern Michigan but is also an historical attraction that is listed on both the National and State Historic Registries. Between the amazingness of the castle structures and the truly magnificent grounds and gardens, it is one absolutely beautiful place. Castle Farms already held amazing memories for me even prior to the wedding because it was a huge concert venue when I was a teenager in the 80s. I saw Rick Springfield and Billy Idol perform there. Along with bands like Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, PowerStation and OMD. Wow, did I have fun at Castle Farms. Over the years it became dilapidated and rundown, until it was purchased in 2005 and completely restored. It was an amazing ceremony and reception. And though I was not able to enjoy the delicious looking wedding cake, my sis Christy baked me a luscious vegan mini-chocolate cake so I could  also enjoy the experience. The caterers – Grey Gables Restaurant and Catering – prepared me a delicious vegan entrée of quinoa and asparagus, green beans and roasted potatoes. I was really pleased and definitely did not go hungry!

Mrs. Doss and Mr. Keegan's first dance!
Mrs. Doss and Mr. Keegan’s first dance!
My sister Christy, my Mom Kit, my sister Kodie and me. Ready for the festivities to begin!
My sister Christy, my Mom Kit, my sister Kodie and me. Ready for the festivities to begin!
Castle Farms!
Castle Farms!

Click to view a video of beautiful Castle Farms

The charming town of Charlevoix and the neighboring town of Petoskey, also have many vegan-friendly restaurants. City Park Grill has separate vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menus. And since all meals are “made from scratch” they are happy to “veganize” anything on their menu. I enjoyed a delicious grilled Portobello mushroom on wild rice pilaf and vegetables. It was just amazing! They also offer a nice menu of micro brews and Michigan craft bottled beer. I had a delicious panini sandwich at Scovie’s Gourmet in downtown Charlevoix – the Grilled Tree Hugger (love the name) was piled with grilled zucchini, squash, eggplant, roasted red peppers, carrots, sweet onions and animal-product free pesto. Though I ran out of time to try all the restaurants I wanted to, if you are looking for a finer dining experience The Weathervane Restaurant offers several vegan entrees. If you are in the mood for Thai food, Asian Fusion is the place to go! After 4 nights of too little sleep and too much fun, the family caravan headed back to Traverse City. I mentioned earlier that I have lived away from Michigan now for almost as long as I lived there (and for the first 16 years I also did not know how to drive!) so Christy took me on the scenic tour back to TC. We stopped by Elk Rapids to explore its cute little downtown area and found Java Jones. Java Jones is a large, eclectic coffee shop that brews Ferris Coffee. Ferris Coffee was founded in Grand Rapids in 1924 and has been passionate about roasting superior coffee ever since. They believe in the need for sustainability in the specialty coffee industry and the importance of understanding the needs and production costs of the coffee producers they work with. They support direct trade and do so by visiting farms and working with the producers so they can build relationships that last for years. Java Jones offers vegan soups daily and has almond and soy milk for vegan lattes. Since getting my own espresso machine a couple years ago, I buy lattes less and less. Java Jones, however, was a stop I’m glad I made!

City Park Grill's Grilled Portobello on Wild Rice Pilaf
City Park Grill’s Grilled Portobello on Wild Rice Pilaf
Yay!
Yay! And local cider on tap too!
Scovie's Gourmet Grilled Tree Hugger panini
Scovie’s Gourmet Grilled Tree Hugger Panini

Scovie's menu

My Sis and I hug wrestling the famous Elk Rapids green bear!
My Sis and I hug wrestling the famous Elk Rapids green bear!

JJ2

My flight back to San Francisco did not leave Traverse City until 5:30 p.m. so I had all day to continue playing and see my very best friend Kris from my high school days. Christy and I spent a lazy morning on her huge oversized patio overlooking the Platte River while I breathed in my most favorite olfactory memory – the hardy and beautiful lilac flowers and watched dozens of robin red breasts try to literally eat every earthworm in my sister’s yard. Then the three of us girls headed about 10 miles straight west to gorgeous Frankfort. I am embarrassed to say that I never visited this adorable little town once while I lived in Northern Michigan. It is such a lovely little town with the main street lined with restaurants, bakeries and shops. The street dead ends right at the Frankfort Beach and Pier on Lake Michigan. It was truly so beautiful that it almost brought me to tears. Absolutely stunning!

Dazzling Lake Michigan and the Frankfort Pier
Dazzling Lake Michigan and the Frankfort Pier

After playing in the sand and dipping my toes in the icy waters, we headed back for some lunch. StormCloud Brewing Company’s menu impressed me immediately. At the top of their menu just below their flatbread pizza, read “Vegan cheese and Gluten-free crust available upon request”! Yahoo! I asked our server to “veganize” the Roasted Root pizza, add the daiya cheese and bring me a hard cider crafted by local brewer Left Foot Charley! Another perfect Northern Michigan meal! With over half of the 10 inch flatbread pizza leftover, I also had dinner for my journey home. Excellent!!!

Vegan Roasted Root Pizza
Vegan Roasted Root Pizza

I spent most of my childhood dreaming about living somewhere, anywhere other than Northern Michigan. It has literally taken decades of me living in other parts of the country to truly appreciate this beautiful place that I used to call home. My fellow vegan travelers, this is a beautiful and amazing place to visit. Don’t let any more time go by; you need to experience the Great Lakes and the beauty of Northern Michigan. And the great news is that there are so many restaurants that are vegan-friendly. I know I will be heading back soon. I hope to see you there!!

Thanks for joining me on my week long Michigan adventure. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!