2017 VegFest Charlotte

In years past, Vegfest Charlotte was held outdoors and had a street fair vibe. That sounds good but the unbearable heat was an issue. I would walk around and look to see which vendors were there, start to feel way too hot, find a bottle of water, feel marginally better, and then try to decide on food. After a bit of indecision I’d realize that I was too hot to eat, grab a fresh juice from a stall and whatever cupcake or other vegan treat looked good – and take it home.

This year Charlotte Vegfest was held at an indoor facility, aside from a few vendors set up outside, in Freedom Hall at the Park Expo and Conference Center. Parking was easier and the cooler temperature made lingering and sampling much more attractive. The fest featured sustainable organizations, the Humane Society, and food from local restaurants. Local vendors such as The Greener Apple and Pop Up produce were on hand, as well as known commercial companies Dr. Bronner, Renu Energy solutions and Food not bombs. A series of speakers including a vegan body builder and local chefs were on the line up, and there was also a speed dating session – I have no idea how that went…

Popular restaurants such as Nourish, Fern, Living Kitchen, Zizi’s, Viva Raw, and Lenny Boy brewery were on hand. In the Pop Up and Food Truck category local favorites Move That Dough Baking Co and The Masa Casa brought food and beverages for sale. Beverly’s Gourmet, a line of fresh prepared meals available at Whole Foods and other stores selling vegetarian and vegan food, also had a stall. Beverly’s makes a Persian barley soup that I must have whenever I am in town. Ben & Jerry’s was also there with their new vegan ice cream’s –- coffee caramel fudge is my new favorite!

Those who frequent food festivals know it requires stamina and some cash if you want to do a bit of sampling. My advice – go hungry with someone who will share food – that way you can sample more and maybe spend less. Pocky and I had a bit of a nom nom extravaganza. He and I tend to like varied flavors sensations and food from different regions of the world. That can be okay though, because we often want to order different items and then share or just try a bite if it doesn’t sound terribly interesting.

Unfortunately, we never made it to the extremely popular Soul Desserts becasue each time we made our way to their stall, the line seemed even longer. We did try JP’s Pastry, which is vegan and gluten free; their Vanilla cupcake was fantastic.

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Juice Bar makes fabulous elixirs – the “Fresh Greens” and “We Got the Beet” were refreshing, and the “Orange You Glad” was another favorite. I also grabbed a cold brew from Parliament Coffee roasters.

Vegganers Luck offered a Chick’N Waffles w/Fried seitan on an almond buttermilk waffle that was pretty good – seems they might have a food truck soon. Zizi’s had a tasty “CHICKEN” PARM-LESS SUB that was mock fried chicken, breaded, in a marinara sauce.

One of my favorite bites was the Pastel de yuka from catering company Soul Cocina. The roasted pocket was stuffed with spinach, brown rice and lentils. They also had tamales for sale. Next time I’m in town, I hope to find them at a farmers market.

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Another favorite – Nourish – a home delivery food service served up one of my favorite dishes, a Vegan Mac with buffalo cauliflower, yum! We also had their delicious sweet potato fries.

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My new favorite find though, is the artisanal plant meat line from Asheville based No Evil Foods. They fried up “The Prepper” (chicken-esque), and the Stallion (Italian sausage), and El Zapatista (Mexican chorizo) that can be grilled, marinated, and etc. El Zapatista was my favorite. Their products were really flavorful and spicy. I also like their throw back packaging – a butcher shop brown paper. They also had a few different types of jerky; the Chipotle Jerky is fantastic. Their products are available for purchase online and in some stores. Check them out.

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All in all, it was a great way to spend a few hours. Charlotte Vegfest had a great offering of plant-based food from local restaurants and caterers, food product producers, as well as interesting sustainable organizations. This was by far my favorite year that I’ve attended.

 

 

 

 

 

Indy for the Holidays

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Almost every year part of our holiday merriment happens in Indianapolis. It’s become a tradition. The visit is typically a winter wonderland filled with snow and single digit temperatures. Growing up in California, I did not experience that type of cold often, but since living on the east coast, I’ve adjusted my definition of cold. A secret about me – every time I emerge from a warm dwelling into the, let’s say, 2° weather, I automatically giggle. True story, no explanation, it just happens.

While in Indy, we visit family and friends for a few days, visit museums, theatre and other cultural events, and venture out on our own for a few meals. There are favorite restaurants we frequent with the family and those we frequent independently by form of habit and comfort. I’m a fairly adventurous person, though experimenting with food is not very easy because of my allergies. Though, every year it seems easier as vegan friendly options appear on menus and more vegan restaurants pop up outside of my metropolis.

This year the family outing was the Indianapolis Ballet performance of the Nutcracker at the Old National Center. The Nutcracker is one of my favorite ballets from childhood and it’s nice to see it when possible. Although I am grateful to live in NY where I have easy access to Broadway, dance, opera, and more, I love being able to take in and support local arts in other communities as well. Following the Nutcracker, we had a family dinner at Saigon Vietnamese restaurant, which is climbing my list of favorite Indy restaurants. It is a traditional menu but they always make sure my vegetable option is vegan.

While in town we also stopped at Cafe Patachou, which has a little something for everyone. It used to be a place we frequented for lunch but after trying their Vegan Cuban Breakfast, I’m always angling for a morning visit now. In the trying something new category – we went to the Sinking Ship for lunch. The website drew us in with its substantial vegan menu and the establishments snarky rules, including what will be playing on the TV and no kids allowed. They have a couple of locations, one of which might allow kids. The location we visited is a proper bar meant for adult beverages and adult conversations…It has a college vibe, good music and fantastic vegan comfort food. They do have a full menu for carnivores as well. Recommendations – chili mac, mac & tease, buffalo seitan wings, and star tots.

Until the next time…

Toronto Food Extravaganza

As luck would have it, a vegan food festival was set to take place during our visit to Toronto, Canada. Officially called Toronto food and drink festival, the producers of the festival also have an annual festival in Chicago (USA), the fest is held at Fort York, downtown Toronto near the waterfront.

Because it was extremely hot during our visit, combined with the reviews from 2015 festival that indicated food was running low by late afternoon, we decided to go early in the day. It was steamy by the time we arrived in the late morning, but it still ended up being a good decision.

The fest was set up like a traditional festival with food, drinks, textiles, and make up for sale with bands playing and a DJ. They also had a something I haven’t seen before, but very necessary…that all festivals should have — hand washing stations near the porta potties.

We started making our way around the perimeter to take it all in, and then decided what we wanted to try.

We started with Two Bears cold brew bottled coffee. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of flavored coffee but we were there to try new things. Their maple pecan cold brew was a winner, and decently priced. I hope they find their way into some NYC shops soon. We also tried Well Juicery, cold press juices – they are very tasty and were a Pocky favorite. Another drink favorite of mine — Tonica Kombucha. They were out of my go to — green tea, so we tried mango and peach flavors. It’s my new favorite Kombucha.

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After hitting a few stands the rains came which started cooling down the temperature a bit but also made it hard to eat as the only tents were over the vendors. So we just waited out the rains in between munching on snacks.

Next we tried Bunners bake shop. They make sweets and savory items. We tried the pizza bun. It’s a funky little snack. It had the consistency of a cinnamon bun with pizza flavor. Tasted great but if you have food texture issues it might take a minute to reconcile the texture and flavor sensation.

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Vegan Nom is a vegan taco truck from Austin (Texas) that was on my list to try. They had long lines and a wait time of 30 minutes after the order was placed. We tried the mock-fish tacos. It’s a breaded protein in a corn tortilla, which worked for me but Pocky wasn’t bowled over by the dish – probably because he still eats fish.

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We also stopped by the other Austin (Texas) vegan favorite, Arlo’s, equally as long of a wait. This was Pocky’s favorite stop. He had the cheeseburger, which he said was fantastic. Unfortunately for me, it had mushrooms (allergic) in it, so I had to pass. Next time I’m in Austin stopping at their curbside kitchen (food truck) is a must.

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For me, Doug Mcnish was a standout and I wanted one of everything but decided on just the buffalo wings. He has a popular restaurant in Toronto and I was a little sad we weren’t going to make it there, until I realized he was cooking at the festival. The wings were fantastic! He was also selling swag and cookbooks. We picked up his first book. For those looking for inventive, well-executed vegan food, try his place The Public Kitchen in Toronto.

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As I made my way to Thiru’s Gourmet, the next downpour of rain started. I grabbed a box with three different curried veg and tofu dishes but the rain was coming down so hard we couldn’t eat. Instead, we made our way over to Sweets from the Earth to pick up desserts to go. (We ended up eating them later in the evening. Their lavender cupcakes are heavenly and the whoopie pie reminded me of being a kid. Amazing flavors.)

The plan was to make a run for it to the parking garage but halfway there our box of food was collapsing from the rain so we stood under an over pass and and quickly shoveled it in…It was really good and really entertaining for those watching.

 

 

Vegan comfort food in Toronto, Canada

This post is overdue…but sometimes it is more important to be in the moment and enjoy life.

Toronto is one of my favorite spots to visit because it can go from busy and adventurous to relaxing in the span of about 10 minutes. There is a little something for everyone.

From restaurants to resorts, Ontario Canada offers options for people with a range of dietary needs. Honestly, it is far easier for me to find better quality food options outside of cosmopolitan areas in Canada than in the USA. But in once instance during this vacation, we planned ahead just in case.

A few years ago I visited Toronto and most of my restaurant hopping happened in the popular King Street and Kensington Market areas, but as with any bustling city restaurants come and go. Unfortunately a few favorites have gone, but during this visit, trying new things mostly led to positive results and exploration of a new charming neighborhood — Bloorcourt.

Let’s start with the food fail. We chose Sabai Sabai Thai on Church Street for its vegan menu. It’s a very popular place and we waited in line quite a while. Once seated, we ordered dishes and I requested that they take the mushrooms off a dish, because I am allergic. The server came back and explained that mushroom powder was in their spice mix for every dish. As an aside — it was super hot outside and we had been walking around for hours…(insert sigh and an eye roll). We got up and walked out, me with a pouty expression that quickly turned to laughter about the vegan who can’t eat a thing on the vegan menu…

So, we ended up at Golden Thai, also on Church Street, and they were able to make us lovely Thai food without any issues.

The next day we roamed around the once derelict Victorian industrial complex, now known as the Distillery, and we stopped in to shop at Soma chocolatemaker, Bergo Designs, Fluevog shoes and more. We took a chance and tried Mill St Brewery for lunch, as one can imagine pub food not always a good bet for vegans. However this place has a little something for everyone, including beer. Mmmn tater tots, pretzels with spicy mustard, Moroccan Falafel Salad, and a Southwest Veggie Burger. No, not all for me! They offer a wide variety of beer’s – Altbier and 100th Meridian, yes, please.

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Next we walked to St. Lawrence Market. Originally a wooden structure, this market dates to the early 1800s. A fire took out the original structure and the market was rebuilt using brick. This place is foodie heaven. For those who enjoy fish, meat, cheese etc. this is a great place to purchase food and there are a few super popular restaurant stalls as well. There are also venders selling bread, nut butters, oils, bulk foods, coffee, pastries, and fruits and veg. We decided to plan ahead for our trip to Niagara Falls, in case there weren’t vegan food options, and picked up fruit, olives and other fresh items that would survive a night in our hotel room and a trip to the falls. They actually do have food choices along the falls but I was happy to have a fresh snack on the drive back to Toronto.

One morning we stopped by Karine’s vegan breakfast. It’s a cool local spot in a food court. It’s a hidden gem (literally). If you aren’t a local it takes a minute to figure out where it is located. We chose amazing waffles and pancakes, with fruit and coffee. The food was dessert like and way too much for me to eat all of it, but I sure did try. Karine seemed to be feeding a morning rush of construction workers when we arrived. She is very sweet and the food was fantastic.

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On another night we stuffed ourselves at the: Hogtown Vegan on Bloor Street West. They are the kings of vegan comfort food in Toronto. We shared several large dishes —

mac n’ cheese, buffalo wings and chili cheese fries. I could eat that mac n’ cheese every day, but that wouldn’t be very figure friendly. Just because it’s vegan, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have calories…

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The final stand out was Bloomers, a vegan café on the same street at Hogtown. They serve breakfast and lunch – but they are known for their donuts, and this girl won’t miss the chance to nom nom an amazing vegan donut. We stopped on our way to the airport, basically as soon as they opened. The thing to know about Bloomers is that once you arrive you can relax with coffee or tea but you will need to wait about a half hour for the donuts to be ready. For the full brunch menu, you’ll wait an hour. The anticipation was palpable and watching them cool on the counter was torture. We chose strawberry and cinnamon options. Amazing – and on par with the Holy donut in Maine, USA. I wanted to take one or two for the road, but that just would have been gluttonous…

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Traveling in Liberia post-Ebola

Recently, I traveled to Liberia, Africa for work. This trip was supposed to take place in 2015 but the Ebola outbreak sidetracked the plans of our organization. The World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola free on January 14th 2016.

Before the Ebola crisis Liberia was experiencing economic growth and more children were receiving an education. Regrettably,  this progress was severely impacted, food prices surged, foreign investors withdrew and the border closed stopping women from selling goods and earning an income.

The combination of soaring costs for treating the outbreak, caring for the sick and limited resources shifted the focus of the government to ridding the country of Ebola. The positive momentum of growth and stability post-conflict (war) came to a halt. Yet, in the face of adversity the Liberian people remain positive and resilient.

The national and international responses to the Ebola crisis have resulted in a number of public health improvements within the three West African nations fighting outbreaks, including safer burial practices, earlier case detections, an increase in health workers and treatment facilities, public awareness campaigns and rigorous tracing of those who interacted with the ill. These responses have contributed to a lower risk of spread across borders.

Most of my time in Liberia was spent in workshops with government officials and civil society members working on local action plans that assist in better integrating women, peace and security elements from the Liberian National Action Plan (LNAP) and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 into local laws.

Monrovia is a busy city with numerous hotels, shopping and lots of traffic. Also, there is one main road to and from the airport, so no matter what day or time allot more time than necessary for the journey – it’s a good opportunity to see the countryside.

While in Monrovia, we stayed at the Bella Casa Hotel near the coast. There are a few grocery stores in walking distance from the hotel and the hotel itself has a lovely restaurant. We arrived from the airport the first night to find the restaurant closing but they kindly made me hummus, which was greatly appreciated. They have several additional vegetarian options including pasta and vegetable fried rice and a nice breakfast buffet. The Palm Spring Resort also has a good menu– and a casino — and is another good hotel option.

If staying at the Bella Casa make the short stroll over to the Golden Beach Restaurant, the seating is on the beach under palm trees — it’s a gorgeous view.

 

The many joys of Addis Ababa

My time in Addis Ababa was a breath of fresh air. Addis is a bustling city with an international crowd thanks in part to it’s evolution as the business hub of the African continent and the locale of the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). The locals are very friendly and happy to engage in conversations about Ethiopia and whatever else comes to mind.

When comparing Ethiopia to some of the other African countries that I travel to for work (mostly conflict countries), one noticeable difference is the level of safety. First, tourists/business travelers are able to walk around and take taxis on their own. It is a relief to not be shuttled from building to building, which after a week leads to a little cabin fever. Second, the ability to go to museums, shop, relax in cafes or restaurants independently or with colleagues, meet locals and experience the culture cannot be underestimated.

When walking around, it is easy to spot the UNECA and AU employees, diplomats and their families who frequent local traditional restaurants such as Yod Abyssinia
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or mixed fare of international and Ethiopian cuisine of the Lime Tree – both are highly recommended. For the vegans and vegetarians – it is pretty easy to forage for food because it is normal to find fasting (animal free) or bayenetu options on menus. Full disclosure – Ethiopian food is in my top 5 favorite cuisines, so spending 10 days in Ethiopia was this vegan foodie’s dream come true.

Getting around is also easy with the queues of blue and yellow taxis around town. However, be prepared to barter and even walk away from your taxi because tourists pay at least twice the going rate for a ride. If in doubt ask at your hotel what the rate is to the destination.

 

During work trips it is very rare to have free time for tourist adventures. This trip, however, it happened that one Saturday morning was free to pack full of local sights. The hotel secured a taxi driver who agreed to drive and stay with me for a set amount of time for a flat fee. This is a good way to see the city for those who do not want to participate in an expensive all day bus tour. The National Museum of Ethiopia was the first stop. The 3.2 million years old fossil named LUCY aka DENKINESH was one of the items that initially drew me to this particular museum. https://flic.kr/p/DDynEC

The museum has three floors and is full of paleontological and pre-historical artifacts and bones, archaeology, ethnographic items and works of art.

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Next up, the Ethnological Museum, which is located in the former palace of Haile Selassie, now part of the Addis Ababa University. It contains scenes of a traditional home, musical instruments, clothing, toys and religious art.

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The driver also took me to a row of traditional shops off the tourist route where textiles, traditional items and coffee – a mainstay of Ethiopia’s exports – are sold.

 

During my stay the holiday Timkat took place, which is an orthodox Christian holiday. It was wonderful to be able to experience their celebration and witness the processions of people wearing traditional clothing on their way to their festivities. The hotel had its own display for the faithful who celebrate Epiphany.

 

The remainder of the visit was spent in meetings at the UNECA and the AU for the 27th session of the Gender is my Agenda Campaign (GIMAC), focusing on “Looking towards 2020: Securing Women’s Right’s through Gender Equality and Silencing the Guns in Africa.”
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Hopefully the next visit to Ethiopia will take me further outside the city center, perhaps to explore the city of Lalibela, the Simien Mountains or the Omo Valley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foraging for food in Portland Maine when you don’t eat lobster…

The coast of Maine has a cornucopia of food options for those who don’t eat lobster – but it takes a little planning. While in Portland we had wonderful fresh organic food daily. For those staying near the harbor, the restaurant options are seafood, traditional American, pubs and a few Japanese restaurants. However walk up the hill a few blocks and there are more restaurants frequented by locals.
IMG_3775//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsWe stayed at a hotel on Commercial Street (on the waterfront), which was a great location. Local Sprouts Cooperative and Silly’s serve a mix of organic dishes with an equal mix of meat and veggie options. It would be great if more restaurants were this balanced. Pom’s Thai Taste and Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro make delicious Thai and Pan Asian cuisine. For Green Elephant, definitely make a reservation for the evening. Hi Bombay Indian is a jewel of a find and only a few blocks away from the warf.   IMG_3777//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Even the health conscious need to have a day where they veer from the plan, right? A food item that they secretly covet – a guilty pleasure of sorts. For this vegan — it’s donuts. Imagine my joy when I stumbled across the holy donut on all the tourist websites as a do-not-miss experience. The donut batter includes mashed potatoes – one of my other favorite food groups (potatoes). I was even more excited when I realized I could actually eat them. The holy donut makes two vegan donuts – cinnamon sugar and a berry glazed, and oh are they worth it. But get there early and be prepared to join the queue. They also make great coffee. I recommend grabbing the donuts and coffee, and walking the two blocks down to the Warf to people watch and look at the water.

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For those who enjoy micro brews, there are plenty of options for beer tasting in walking distance but my favorite was shipyard brewery. There are also numerous bars with outdoor patios, where bands play on weekends.