2013 Chicago Veggie Fest

Last Sunday was a day I had been looking forward to an entire year, ever since attending last year’s Chicago Veggie Fest I’d been counting down for the next one.

When I look forward to an event for that long, my expectations sometimes get way too high, often ending in disappointment.  That was NOT the case with the 2013 Chicago Veggie Fest, which exceeded my crazy high expectations.

Even the weather was perfect – a warm summer day with blue skies, just like last year.  

In my anticipation of the event, this year I actually planned out an agenda on my phone’s calendar, detailing out the speakers, demos, and performances I wanted to see.  

While I’m a firm believer that planning allows me to maximize my experience, I’m getting much better at being flexible and changing plans too.

We hadn’t been at the festival for even 5 minutes when our plans shifted.  Mike saw a sign for an Organic Gardening talk that he was really interested in seeing.  I love that Mike has been growing Tomatoes, Basil, and more on our patio this year, and I was so happy to see him get excited about Veggie Fest’s programming too.

Unfortunately, this meant that we missed Jennifer Cornbleet’s Raw Food Made Easy demo, but the gardening talk was fantastic, and it turns out that Jennifer will be at Chicago VeganMania next month, so hopefully I’ll get to catch her then!

The Organic Gardening talk was delivered by Arjan Stephens, VP of Sales & Marketing for Nature’s Path Foods.  Arjan was so genuine and passionate about Organics that it made me love their family-owned company even more.  His talk was inspiring and did a great job of highlighting how fun gardening can be.

Most interesting of all, I loved his take on Organic Pest Control.  I was expecting to hear tricks like spraying a solution of Cayenne Pepper & water on plants, but his solution was even simpler:  Do things to attract more creatures to the garden.  For example, Sunflowers attract birds that eat bugs.  And placing hay between the garden rows can attract ground beetles that feed on larvae.

I also was happy to hear him mention Ron Finley, the “Gangsta Gardener”, who’s Ted Talk I had recently seen & loved, especially his quote below:

After seeing Arjan’s talk, Mike and I visited the Nature’s Path booth where we sampled their Love Crunch granola.  It was love at first taste which is only fitting since Love Crunch granola is truly a love-filled product.  There is a love-story behind its origins (it started as a wedding favor for guests at Arjan’s wedding) and purchases of Love Crunch granola also give love forward via Nature’s Path’s Bite4Bite program through which the company donates the equivalent in cash and organic food to food banks for every bag purchased, up to $1 million a year.

Mike and I bought a bag of the Apple Crumb Granola and this 10-serving bag didn’t even last half of a week in our house.  We’re just a little bit obsessed with this chia, pecan & dried apple filled granola goodness. 

In between speakers, we also spent a lot of time at the music stage.  When we got there, Zach was playing some truly beautiful music – I loved his voice, the acoustic guitar riffs, and even more, they uplifting lyrics of his songs.

It was The Giving Tree Band though that we were so very much looking forward to seeing, after hearing them at last year’s Veggie Fest.  This 100% Vegetarian Band is so talented and their bluegrassy-rock is so fun that I had to get up and dance (and I almost never dance in public)!  We also bought a copy of their CD, which is actually carbon-neutral thanks to the band’s eco-friendly practices.

Their set was nearly two and a half hours long, so we listened to them play several times throughout the day in between demos, while also visiting the Food Court that was just steps from the music area.

With the two of us there for both brunch and linner, we covered quite a bit of ground at the food court, so I’m breaking it down by drinks & eats:

Our drinks included the most perfect Fresh Coconut Water I’ve ever tasted.  Not bland at all like some bottled coconut water beverages, this coconut water naturally had a very buttery taste.  In fact Mike and I both agreed that it surprisingly tasted exactly like the Buttered Popcorn Jelly Belly flavor.

We also sipped on a Five Alive Veggie Juice of Carrot, Apple, Cucumber, Beets, and Greens and on a very tropical tasting Green Smoothie that was so delicious, I’m wishing I had jotted down the ingredients to recreate it at home.

Of course, we drank plenty of water too, using a reusable water bottle we had brought from home.  Last year, the festival had a water refill station, but we were sad to see that this year they did not.  That didn’t stop us from getting refills, though – we’re crafty.  We noticed some faucets towards the back of the festival that were being used for water for the restaurants & cooking demos and made several trips there for refills.

For our eats, Mike’s choices are on the left-hand side below, and mine are on the right-hand side, though we liberally took bites of each other’s items.

Mike’s picks included a delicious slice of Vegan Sausage Pizza, a very meaty plate of Caribbean “Chicken” and rice, and Veggie Empanadas that came with the most delicious sauces on the side – a light and fresh guacamole, and a smoky, spicy sauce.

I started with a delicious and almost entirely organic Thai Crunch Salad.  It was loaded with some of my favorite veggies including edamame, avocado, and cucumbers in a delicious peanut dressing.  I enjoyed it so much, that I wound up going back to that booth again later to try their Tofu Lettuce Wraps.  The tofu was fried, but the large lettuce leaves, crispy water chestnuts, and fresh mint made it a very bright & light tasting dish.

 While that’s the end of the food we purchased, we did have a few other small snacks – at the food demos we attended!

First, we saw Miyoko Schinner demo from her newest book – Artisan Vegan Cheese.  

Honestly, I wasn’t that interested in learning to make cheese – it can be a very laborious process that I truly don’t think I have the patience for.  I just wanted to see Miyoko speak because I knew I could learn a lot from her.  She has written 2 other cookbooks (pictured below), is a co-star of the Vegan Mashup television show, and recently was named executive chef of an upcoming restaurant – Thistle & Rye in San Francisco.

I was right that I could learn a lot from her, but I was wrong for being unexcited to learn about cheesemaking.  After seeing the process live and tasting her samples, Mike and I simply cannot wait to try our hands at making the Lox Cream Cheese, Sundried Tomato & Garlic Cream Cheese, and Panzanella Salad with Fresh Mozzarella that she prepared.  They are not exactly thirty-minute-meals as it takes time for the cheese to ferment, but it didn’t look difficult and I’m pretty sure those cheeses could fool any cheese-a-holic, which Miyoko herself admitted she was.  Some of the other recipes in her book sound more involved, but lazy me might get to try them eventually anyway, since Miyoko mentioned that she is creating an Artisan Vegan Cheese Company.

A testament to her artistry, Miyoko managed to develop the Lox Cream Cheese without ever tasting Lox in her life by getting feedback from friends.  She uses Seaweed and Liquid Smoke to mimic the flavor, and Mike agreed that it was spot on. I’ve never tasted Lox in my life either, but I loved her version too.

Not only was the cheese delicious, I was also very impressed with Miyoko herself.  She is funny and intelligent and managed to make her presentation fun while still squeezing in some very important information.  She spoke about how Cheese is truly addictive thanks to a substance called Casomorphin which has an opiate-like effect, and she talked about the dairy industry from the cow’s perspective – they are constantly impregnated to produce milk, then immediately have their babies taken away once born.

Both the food and the facts from Miyoko’s presentation left me very, very excited about Vegan Cheese.

Lastly, we saw blogger Bianca Phillips’ demonstration from her cookbook, Cookin’ Crunk, full of recipes for veganized classic Southern cooking. (By the way, ‘Crunk” is Southern Slang meaning “to get excited about”, so she’s all about having fun with Vegan cooking!)

She taught us how to prepare Creole Seitan Sausage, which was a great lesson for me as I’ve never made my own Seitan before, and would have never guessed that sausage can be made by with the only equipment being aluminum foil and a steamer basket.

Mike pointed out to me that she used all the same brands we use, with the exception of the Olive Oil (ours is 365 brand).  We even have the Slap Ya Mama seasoning (Bianca’s favorite), which we received as a gift from friend’s that vacationed in the South.

Afterwards, it was fun to read about Bianca’s demo from her perspective on her blog, Vegan Crunk. I was impressed to read that she had driven from Memphis – 10 hours each way – to present to us at Veg Fest!

Overall, I had an amazing time at Chicago Veggie Fest this year, and so did Mike.  And like last year, we learned a lot too.

It’s going to be hard to wait another year for next year’s festival, but in the meantime, at least I have Chicago VeganMania to look forward to next month!

I’d love to hear from you!

What Chef would you most like to see for a live demo?

What’s your best Organic gardening tip?