Last weekend, Mike was out of town. Of course, I missed him very much. (But I was also secretly excited for a whole weekend of ‘doing my own thing’!)
I didn’t waste a moment, starting with dinner and a cooking class at 5:45 on Friday night!
The ChicagoVeg Meet-up Group partnered with the Whole Foods Wellness Club for this event. By signing up with ChicagoVeg, I scored a discounted price for the evening ($20 – Yea!) and got my first look into what the Whole Foods Wellness Club is all about.
First, I have to say, the Lincoln Park Whole Foods Market is so freaking incredible that I’ve been known to take out- of-town guests here as a tourist attraction. In my opinion, it’s even better than the one in Austin, Tx which is maybe a little bigger, but not as new (sorry, y’all). The picture below shows maybe half of the store. The amazing bakery, food-court-like prepared foods section, and the bar (which was really hopping on Friday night) aren’t pictured.
I loved how the store had WFM’s new “Health Starts Here” program heavily featured throughout, including a book-nook in the produce area, and a dedicated section of the Salad Bar. Health Starts Here promotes an oil-free, plant-based diet, so naturally I wanted everything that had the program’s seal on it.
Check out these *Vegan* and *Oil-Free* Entrees: Lentil Falafel with Cucumber Dill Salad and Red Pepper Hummus!
Our event started with a meal at the Wellness Club’s “Supper Club”, which offers daily plant-based dinners for both club members ($10) and non-members ($15).
I loved how convenient they made it to get a healthy meal. You simply pop over to the counter and a friendly employee customizes your plate for you (I got everything, but a gluten-free customer behind me swapped the pita for extra rice). Then, you can head upstairs to the store’s seating area for a quick and casual dinner.
The night I attended was “Pizza Night”. Whole Wheat pitas were topped with our choice of garlic-spinach, sauteed mushrooms, roasted peppers, and a Cashew-Cheeze Sprinkle. The marinara sauce was low-sodium and sweetened with dates. On the side, I had a scoop of plain brown rice, a salad with an oil-free dressing, and banana rice-pudding for dessert.
Now, to be completely honest, this wasn’t the tastiest meal I’ve had by a long-shot. The food was pretty bland (likely due to the lack of salt and oil), except for the lemon & vinegar salad dressing which was too tart for my taste. But you know what? I felt so light and energized after dinner, that I’d much prefer this to a restaurant meal.
Since I was attending the cooking class, I was instructed to bring my tray of food straight into the classroom to enjoy my food along with the lesson.
Also part of the Wellness Club’s programming, the cooking classes are normally free for Wellness Club members or $30 to the general public. The theme of the the night’s class was “Made at Home“, focused on making low-sodium, low-sugar versions of grocery store staples. Chef Katie taught us to make our own Vegetable Stock, Ketchup & Mustard, and Oat Milk and Almond Milk. She then used the milks to make both savory & sweet items: a Lemon Tarragon Sauce and Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (a.k.a. Not-Tella!)
I loved how Chef Katie gave us lots of creative inspiration as she cooked, for example, suggesting that we use the same Ketchup recipe to make fruit ketchups (Peach Ketchup & Apple Ketchup – Yum!). The Milks looked surprisingly easy: Soak 1 cup of nuts or oats overnight. Then Blend in 4 cups of water and strain. That’s it! And don’t waste the oat and nut pulp that you strain out – Chef Katie recommended adding it to oatmeal, yogurt, baked goods, veggie burgers etc.
My favorite moment of the night? Sample Time!
Adding to the deliciousness, Katie spiked the Oat Milk with Chai Spices, and the sample bar included Baked Sweet Potato Fries for dipping in the Ketchup & Mustard, Steamed Veggies for the Lemon Tarragon Sauce, and Fresh Strawberries & Apples for the Chocolate Hazelnut Spread. We even tasted the Nut-Pulp that was strained off the almond milk!
My favorite (of course) was the Chocolate Hazelnut Spread. The gentleman next to me said he thought it was very bitter, but I like my chocolate dark & strong and I thought it was heaven on a spoon.
All in all, it was a great night, which I finished off by completing my weekend’s grocery shopping early.
Saturday morning, I set my alarm early to get up and prepare my dish for a picnic-themed Blogger Meetup. It was originally going to be an actual outdoors picnic, but due to a high likelihood of rain showers, Marisa graciously invited Cate, Alyssa, Katie, and me into her superbly decorated home.
In addition to great conversation, I also enjoyed another very clean-eating plant-based meal:
- Alyssa & Katie each brought different versions of fruit salad (yum!)
- I made the Quinoa Salad from Appetite for Reduction again (so simple!)
- Marisa made a delicious Mexican Bean Salad (this was so fresh & tasty, it would be perfect for a brown-bag lunch!)
I seriously couldn’t stop eating the Trail-mix Bites. I loved the contrast of sweetness, nutty sunflower seeds, tart cherries, & bitter dark chocolate. I asked Cate if she would share her recipe and I am so glad she did! I hope to make these myself very soon.
On Sunday, I accidentally slept in until nearly noon (whoops!), then spent the rest of the day doing 6 loads of laundry (ugh!), and cooking up a storm.
Since January, I’ve been doing the majority of my meal prep for the upcoming week on Sundays.
This week’s Breakfasts & Lunches turned out fantastic (if I can eat something 5 days in a row without getting tired of it, I know it must be good!)
- Forbidden Rice Breakfast Bowls: Black Rice cooked in Light Coconut Milk with a Cinnamon Stick & Chinese 5-spice. Topped with Adzuki Beans, Bananas, and (previously frozen) Mangoes & Pineapple
- Cajun Spaghetti & Bean Balls: Tempeh & Black-eyed Pea ‘meatballs’ with pasta, zucchini, and an easy Spicy Marinara sauce, all from Appetite for Reduction. For extra veggies, I threw a bag of Broccoli Slaw into the pasta water when there was 3 minutes left.
This week’s dinners started out with a serious fail. I got the spices all wrong in my attempt at Plantain Falafel, plus they were incredibly dry. I ate one or two but couldn’t stomach anymore. Thankfully the Pineapple-Mango Salsa I made was tasty and we used it in a pretty awesome stir-fry the next night.
Later in the week, I redeemed myself with a never-fail meal: Nachos! for Mike, and a Vegan Nacho Salad for me.
The rest of our toppings included Nacho Mom’s Voodoo Queso (I love this stuff – it’s scrumptious, low-cal, and tastes like spicy bean dip!), Salsa, Lettuce, Black Beans, Tomatoes, Avocado, Fresh Cilantro, Scallions, & of course, Baked Corn chips.
We both loved our Nacho dinner so much that it’s surely going to be a regular in our dinner rotation!
I’d love to hear from you!
What would you do if you had a completely free weekend?
P.S. don’t forget to enter my Vegan Essentials Giveaway – it’s open till midnight EST this Sunday!