Monday, August 4, 2014

Shufflin' Off to Buffalo for the WNY VegFest


I'm honored to have been a part of the inaugural Western New York VegFest held Sunday, August 3, in the beautiful Marcy Casino at Delaware Park in Buffalo, NY.  It was a marathon road rip - 14 hours of driving in a 48 hour period - and I felt like a kid in an indie punk band touring on a shoestring budget, stuffing my face with chips and chocolate the whole way there and back, but it was worth it.  In fact, it's adventures like these that add to the excitement of this humble traveling vegan chef's life.


I should've done some research on the location before my travels because since it was held at The Marcy Casino, I was expecting crowds and flashing lights and loud noises and gamblers with glazed-over eyes sitting around shiny machines.  Apparently, back in the day, this name also referred to gardens, which was the case here.  And thank goodness because they were GORGEOUS.  I was happy that the only noises were from birds and music and people having a good time.


I wish I had had more time for a stroll of the grounds and to take more photos, but I needed to find where I'd be presenting and setup my table for the food demo.  These pictures are of the building where the presenters spoke, flanked by some lush and lovely perennial beds.  (For more photos, check out this spread in The Buffalo News.)


How could you have a Veg Fest without an eggplant with a face cutout?  I didn't have time to put my head in there, but maybe somebody can Photoshop it with the one below for me. (thanks, Jerry for this rare candid!)


I had a few minutes to wander around before my presentation and get photos of vendors setting up.  It was the proverbial "calm before the storm" where the day started out slow and sleepily like a dark and cloudy morning in bed, but then the pace picked up rapidly as the minutes ticked by and the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds.





I was looking forward to meeting Esther the Wonder Pig who was scheduled to be at the event; however, due to the incredibly complicated logistics of transporting a 500 lb. pig across the Canadian border, her dads Derek and Steve, chose to stand in for her.  And they did a good job of it for the 5K Tofurky Trot fundrasier for ASHA Sanctuary

Here they are getting ready...

for the big reveal.  

Inside, Amie Hamlin of the NY Coalition for Healthy School Food, started off the festival with her presentation about how to get vegan food on school menus.  She gave a synopsis of the impressive work her group has done to bring healthy options to schools all over the state, including an entirely vegetarian school in Queens.  One shocking fact she shared is that until 2012, tofu was forbidden as a protein alternative on NY school menus.  Fortunately, her group has gotten that rule revoked and they now offer soy-based meat and dairy alternatives in many schools.  


I setup my little table inside the presentation alcove and talked to many passersby who were interested in some quick and easy recipes for their families.  Most people were looking forward to my presentation when I told them there would be free food samples at the end.  


By the time I was ready to start, nearly every seat was filled.  Melinda Shaw, one of the festival co-founders, gave a brief introduction and I snuck this photo before running up to grab the mic from her.   

 

I spoke about how to achieve culinary balance through color, taste and texture and make food appealing to even the staunchest skeptics.  For the food demonstration, I plated Spring Quinoa Pilaf with Cornmeal Crusted Tofu, Cashew Horseradish Creme and Parsley Pistou garnished with Nasturtium blossoms, radish sprouts and red pepper dice.  Everyone agreed that they would happily share what I made with family and friends.


All of these recipes can be found in my cookbook, Easy Peasy Vegan Eats, which is available on Amazon. 


Thank you to Albert Brown and Melinda Shaw for all of your hard work and coordination of this incredible event, Elizabeth Hoeve Miklasz for being the bright ray of sunshine on a chaotic morning, and to all of the the volunteers who pitched in with table and chair set up, A/V technical support (thank you Amie for the laptop!), and food distribution during my presentation. You all did a tremendous job, and I wish you continued success for next year's Veg Fest!




Sunday, July 27, 2014

Vegan Culinary Tour of New Haven (part 2)


We had such a blast on the first one that I had to schedule another tour because New Haven just has TOO MANY awesome places for vegan dining and we couldn't possibly fit them all in one trip.



The Vegan Culinary Tour of New Haven (Part 2) was held Saturday, July 26, 10:00-1:00. Twelve lucky guests toured five of New 
Haven's hidden gems that offer vegan menu items and sampled delicious treats such as tea, noodles, injera, curry, quinoa patties, un-chicken salad, muffins, tempeh reuben, chickpea mock tuna, cupcakes, brownies and cookies... all of it vegan of course!

TOUR HOSTS:
Blue State Coffee
Book Trader Cafe
Katalina's Bakery
Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant
The Green Teahouse



Please "like" them on Facebook and be sure to visit these awesome establishments in person and say you heard about them on the Vegan Culinary Tour!  Thank you Alexandra, Ryan, and Courtney from Blue State Coffee, Kelly, David and Jen from The Book Trader,  Ting from The Green Teahouse, Shilmat from Lalibela, and Kathy from Katalina's Bakery for making the second Vegan Culinary Tour such a success! 

Here are some photo highlights:




sampling quinoa, pistachio & dried cranberry salad


vegan chickpea "tuna"


tempeh reuben wrap with Daiya vegan cheese


Stop #2:  The Book Trader


sampling some tasty lunch items


quinoa burger with home made spicy mayo and vegan "unchicken" salad


the lovely Jen telling us about some special vegan events in the works


strawberry, almond and fresh basil muffins


Stop #3:  The Green Teahouse


look for the pink teapot


beautiful tablescape


sampling some High Peak Oolong Tea


cheers!


pot of aromatic jasmine tea


Akiko-San's Noodles

Stop #4: Lalibela Ethiopian 


owner Shilmat Tessema describing the vegan items on the daily lunch buffet 


greens & potatoes, spicy red lentil with berbere, zucchini & carrot

spongey injera


our happy & well-fed group


delish dish!  


another happy group shot


Final Stop:  Katalina's Bakery


the lovely Kathy Riegelman with her insanely good confections


I can't believe we ate all of these




look at that little sweetie!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fresh from the Garden Vegan Cooking Demo



Summer is in full swing with hot and humid days followed by thunderstormy nights, which is the perfect weather for our gardens.  And they're abundant!  I was happy to give a cooking demonstration at Cora J. Belden Library in Rocky Hill, CT last night featuring a veggies from the summer garden:  zucchini, green beans and corn.  I picked up these beauties from Northfordy Farm at the City Seed Farmers Market in Wooster Square.


This time of year is perfect for Three Sisters Stew, a recipe featuring the Native American trio of squash, beans and corn which grow together in perfect harmony and taste great together, too.  The squash grows low to the ground and crowds out the weeds while beans vine up the tall stalks of corn.  The corn and beans also form a complete protein of all the essential amino acids the body can't produce, so it's the perfect one-dish meal.  The stew is seasoned with cumin, red pepper flakes and oregano to add a spicy, savory component.


I augmented the recipe just a bit by plating the stew on top of a bed of polenta, then garnished with a drizzle of parsley pistou and sprinkle of toasted pepitas.  This makes for a simple and satisfying meal that has a pleasing balance of color, flavor and texture.  All of these recipes can be found in my new cookbook, Easy Peasy Vegan Eats.

I was really happy to see many people come up for seconds, even two young girls who politely asked for more.  Now, when kids eat your food - especially when they want another serving - you know you have a winning recipe!

I also enjoyed reading class evaluations afterward with statements like:

"It was informative and fun to watch as the cooking process and flavors unfolded."

"Great class!!  I enjoyed it very much.  Mary is an excellent teacher/demonstrator, very thorough.  She explained everything as she went along." 

"The chef was very patient to answer questions and kept the class lively."

and my favorite

"I really enjoyed this demo.  From what I learned I would like to try having more vegan meals.  Thank you!"

Thank you to Carole Fisher and friends of Cora J. Belden Library for inviting me to give this presentation, and to everyone who attended.  You inspire me to make vegan food that is easy to prepare, healthy to eat and delicious!  I hope you will share what you learned with family and friends.