FRESH Perspective and RAW Conversation - Vegan Restaurant Owner, Mom & advocate for food education.
Yes, this is my first blog post in … forever. Instead of making a big deal of it, I’m just going to jump into it … with juicy, ripe peaches.
Every year we go out to Schnepf Farms during the peach festival to celebrate with the historic landmark in their tradition of opening up the peach fields to the community. Every year we endure the first of the desert heat waves as we trudge the dusty trails toward the orchards of the farm, slapping mosquitos off every exposed part of our body just to smell the scent of ripe peaches in the air and eat a peach fresh off the tree. Every year is just like the one before. Enduring the long lines, trying to find the ripe fruit that everyone didn’t pick and scavenging for something Vegan to eat. You would think with the plethora of kale and broccoli growing in the u-pick gardens there would be something on the menu consisting of these ingredients. Nevertheless, we smuggled in some of our own food and a blanket and pick-nicked under a shady tree, munching on fresh lettuce and cherry tomatoes we had just picked fresh from our garden that morning. Since today was a weekday the only action on the farm was the smell of the country store baking up their famous peach cinnamon rolls and the whistle of the train as it blew it’s horn warning pedestrians to get out of the way.
It’s amazing how having a child will change the way you think about everything. EVERYTHING. Even about the way you pick a peach. This year was more than just a peach festival; more than a tradition.
For the last two weeks our sweet little baby boy has not jumped, but dove head first into what I can only assume is what they mean when they say, “terrible two’s”. There has been biting, kicking, hitting and for no reason at all tantrums of yelling at toys that just suddenly seem to not be working the way they should be. The car seat is out of the question. However, getting out of the house and using distraction and curiosity seems so far to be the best way to ease the wrath of my feisty toddler.
In cases like this I would normally turn to my bible of Mommyhood, The Wonder Weeks to get some insight into what he might be feeling or thinking and some advice on how to handle these moments of intense frustration and anger. But the book ends at age 1 1/2. I’ve tried every trick in the book. I’ve stayed calm, used soft voices, whispered to get his attention, big hugs and sympathizing phrases, explanations, time outs, withholding snacks and treats … and yes, even a spanking.
I personally don’t believe in spanking as punishment and I learned very quickly that, besides feeling terrible about it, I just seemed to be reinforcing the concept of hitting. If he can’t hit me, why am I hitting him? If I slam a door in frustration, so does he. If I say something is “stupid” he says it’s stupid five more times. Oops. I am realizing just how careful I need to be when showing my emotions or acting on my own frustration. Which, let’s be honest … I’ve never been a very patient person and as a restaurant owner, after a Mother’s Day weekend of intense cooking, being on my feet with no break, not eating well, sleeping very few hours because your toddler doesn’t know what “sleeping in” means, followed by a handful of terrible reviews (literally making us feel like at the end of the weekend we had been chewed up and spit out like a wade of gum) … makes being patient with tantrums and enduring massive amounts of energy extremely hard to be calm (hence, the spanking).
Thank God for Dads.
The point of all this is that last night at the dinner table and for the first time ever, I saw our Son spit out every vegetable on his plate.
“But you love mushrooms!?”
“No. It’s gross.”
And then today I saw him pick small pieces of swiss chard and collard greens and eat them – straight from the garden and still attached to the earth. He spit them out too and called them gross but then he moved onto to a broccoli plant and did the same. I watched him romp through the field of vegetables and try to hide in the towering bushes of purple lettuce whose days were imminent and turning to seed. He stood in the bounty of the garden learning what he could and could not eat.
He sat in random places of the orchard running blades of grass between his fingers. He walked through the peach orchard biting into the juicy flesh of the yellow peaches and collecting them in our basket as we picked them. I think he understood their importance.
This means so many things for me. To watch him today made me worry a little less about his sudden disgust with broccoli. It reminded me of climbing the trees in my Grandmother’s orchard to eat the plumbs. Cracking open walnut and hazelnut shells in the woods around our house and feeling the crunchy texture between my teeth. Watching my mom can peaches for the first time in the kitchen and eating them for desert with cottage cheese. Pulling fresh blueberries off the plant in the fields nearby so my best friend’s Mom could make us her famous blueberry muffins for breakfast after one of our sleepovers.
Food is more than food. It is memories. It is nourishment, tradition and part of our heritage.
What amazes me most is that it all starts with a seed. There is nothing like standing in a field of vegetables or gazing into a bright yellow sunflower the size of your face and feeling a sense of happiness, or tasting the first bite of a juicy peach when it’s in season.
When we arrived home he was out cold so I lay him on the couch to nap. His face was covered in peach juice and dirt and I noticed the way his cheeks were pink and puffy. It was one of those moments that you can’t help but stare and relish in the perfection and innocence of someone so little. I heard the quiet sounds of the house amidst the murmur of his heavy breathing. Finally I could relax and have some time to myself but all I wanted to do was sit and wrap my arm around him and feel his heavy head against my chest.
I found myself our son remembers today the way I remember my memories.
This is my legacy.
I have had the honor of working side by side with some amazing and passionate people. All of which have, and continue to contribute something to the growth and success of our cafe and will always have a special place in my heart. It’s not often you find yourself in this world amongst people with their heart in the right place.
Yet as I continue to live a life filled with nutritious and bountiful food, it only brings me the gift of more positive influences. Everything from confidence to good friends. Friends that show their loyalty and gratefulness by eating with us every day. Friends that give without expecting anything in return, just to see you succeed. Friends that make sacrifices in their own lives because they believe … in us. On my hardest days I remember my friends and I am filled with gratefulness to know every one of them; strangers or not. A few weekends ago we had to say goodbye to one of The Cutting Board Crew and two of our friends, for they were about to embark on their own great adventure in life. I’m no stranger to change. In fact I’m very stubborn when it comes to change. But life has taught me that good friends will come and go. Whether they are acquaintances, strangers, or close relatives they will always be remembered.
So we celebrated our last days together the only way we knew how – with Vegan food and music! The Cutting Board Crew migrated to downtown Phoenix to check out Aside of Heart for food and The Lost Leaf for music. None of us had been to Aside of Heart yet so we were all eager to try it out.
I love the chance to get to Downtown Phoenix when I can. The art and culture of downtown makes me yearn for diversity. Sometimes I feel like I don’t really know Arizona until I visit the heart of Phoenix, or spend time walking the small college towns of Arizona’s cooler climates. Aside of Heart was located right on 5th street; a street lined with history. Okay … houses turned into locally owned book stores and coffee shops. Still, I dined wondering whose living room I was sitting in. And where else can you go in the East Valley and see bright and beautiful graffiti art painted on a house that doesn’t look the same as the one sitting next to it? There weren’t too many people in the restaurant but in their defense it was a Sunday night. Who goes out on a Sunday night!? Oh yeah … we do.
We all started off sipping cappuccino’s (mostly to help get us through the night after a long week and day at work) and took a tour of the house to look at the space’s current exhibition of local artists.
Then we were brought complimentary bowls of Miso Soup before our meal. It was nice sitting in the company of good people. The air was humid from the monsoon rolling into the Valley and the buzzing of the swamp cooler blowing into the room while sipping on my carefully crafted coffee, left me finally feeling relaxed for the night.
The best thing about being in a big group of people (especially when they are all Vegan) is they all want to try everything! Even better is – we didn’t have to cook any of it!
Everyone ordered something different and we all ended up swapping out portions of each other’s meal which gave us a pretty good taste of the menu. Sean and I ordered the Jackfruit Tacos, the Hummus Sandwich and a side of the Potatoes. For the life of me I can’t remember the exact names of the meals but I do recall that their menu and dish titles were very creative and fun to read. The meals were brought out with beautiful presentation and very obviously crafted with love. This was my second time trying Jackfruit and it was a much better experience than the first time. I loved the texture it brought to the tacos and the flavor from its slow simmer in spices was very savory. I did find myself very envious of the kale salad. I never order salads at restaurants because I often find myself very disappointed by tasteless, cheap ingredients but I would go back just to order that salad. It was loaded with creative veggie combinations and an amazing dressing. The sandwich was good but not as flavorful as the tacos and the potatoes were just a little too tangy for me.
And of course … desert! Vegans get desert because there are so few chances to have Vegan deserts unless you make it yourself – Brownies, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Strawberry Lemon Cake! . I left Aside of Heart happy for the full tummy and a tasty, worry free and labor free meal – big shout out to the crew at Aside of Heart from The Cutting Board! Thank you for the wonderful dining experience!
After our meal we went to The Lost Leaf, literally a skip hop and a jump across the street! If it were Mesa we would be driving for hours in search of good music and beer. From the minute we walked in we found ourselves at home to an amazing selection of wines and beers. The band, Deltaphonic from New Orleans was just setting up to play – perfect timing!
I felt like we had stepped into another town in some other state. There was so much character and personality brimming from the walls. We were sitting in the kitchen of an old brick house with wood floors jammin’ to the tunes of a band that made me want to buy a plane ticket New Orleans.
After a few hours everyone bid their farewells. Sean and I stayed. These days it is extremely rare to be anywhere but running around a Cafe or entertaining the baby.
So we had another beer. Talked to a very nice bartender and ran into one of my old friends from college. We stayed until the band took their second break and then decided it was time to turn in the for the night, leaving with a souvenir – the memory of a great night shared with good friends and aside of heart.
For me Summer is a very real reminder that I do in fact, live in a desert. It is quite a different experience to grow up in the rural farmlands of the Northwest where my sister and I played outside – rain or shine.
“Put on your rain boots – its off to milk the cows!” When summer temperatures begin I find myself trying to find some source of water – be it the garden hose sprinkler, a pool, or a park spewing water to different heights around running, shrieking kids of all ages that don’t care what a thermometer might read. But then it hits over 100 degrees and if I don’t get out the house by 9am – forget it. Pool-water becomes bathwater, popsicles melt off their stick before I can get a few bites in and I find myself starring longingly out the window at the dusty porch and wilting garden.
Last weekend we hosted an extensive 3 day Workshop for Healthy Families with numerous guest speakers and newfound friends, who graciously volunteered their time to provide information to families looking for answers to numerous topics about how to raise a healthy family in this age of fast, unhealthy food and convenience – from pregnancy and on.
It’s our first summer as a new business and customer’s are trying to beat the heat! I don’t blame them. 110 degrees before noon leaves every local wondering … why do I live in Arizona? Still, I found myself a little sad that our attendance rate was so low, especially seeing how successful our last events have been and that it had been picked up by the East Valley Tribune.
On Thursday, Holistic Health Coach and Educator, Blue Russ hosted a workshop on 3 Keys to a Healthy Pregnancy. She discussed how to use food to treat common pregnancy complaints, how to safely enjoy a plant-based diet during your pregnancy and most importantly how to be a happy and vibrant pregnant woman.
I only wish I had had her as a resource during my pregnancy! Her words were inspiring and her values near and dear to my heart. She talked her belief in Bioindividuality, where each individual is unique and has very specific needs for his or her own health. She also stressed how incorporating nonprocessed, whole, fermented and raw foods are beneficial to everyone’s health; especially to Mom’s during their pregnancy. In the end her advice was simple and powerful, “No change is too small.”
I highly encourage Woman who are thinking about getting pregnant, are pregnant, or who have babies and kids and even those who aren’t or don’t but are seeking advice or facing challenges in their own lives or with their own bodies, to schedule time to talk to Blue. She is a woman who will make you feel like your decisions are important; like your body and your life are important. For those of you unable to make it to the workshop, feel free to consult, The Cutting Board: Resource Library and download Blue’s generously donated workshop handout!
On Friday Occupational and Speech Therapists, Kris Sailor, representative of Juice Plus+ and Anne Solcum, owner of TEAM Kids, PC, gave a detailed and resource-packed presentation to attendees about the importance of eating and it’s correlation to oral, mental physical and social development.
Kris and Anne shared information about Anne’s farm and the amazing things they are doing as part her They did a wonderful job of explaining how early learned eating habits can lead to raising a picky eater or an oral eating disorder; a disorder that most of us haven’t heard of or don’t know exist. They gave easy and simple advice to parents with picky eaters and although we didn’t get to the video in time, discussed the 9 Simple Steps by Dr. Sears. Watch it now or consult The Cutting Board: Resource Library to download the handout.
Part two of Friday night gave people a chance to hear success stories from two Vegan Mom’s including … your truly! Sarah Vanell, local singer and songwrier started off by telling us the story of how and why she became Vegan. She shared her experience of becoming a Mom and why it was important to her to raise her kids Vegan. Through her talk we met her two beautiful Vegan babies leading happy, healthy lives. She shared a handout of her favorite websites, cookbooks and a delicious looking and easy to make Chocolate Cake Recipe!
As for me, it was the first event where I was taking the reigns at the front of the classroom. It’s not something I’ve been avoiding but of course I knew my nerves would get the best of me. I have to admit that looking at the slides of my baby boy and telling the story of our family journey and where we are today, left me begging myself not to cry in front everyone. In the end I could feel my confidence building and I concluded my story with a feeling of joy for being a Mom I could be proud of. Don’t forget to check out my list of resources and this Date-Roll Recipe, currently Will’s favorite snack!
The last part of the workshop was held on Saturday morning and the list of kids attending was slim to none. Luckily, we still all know how to have a good time!
Kris and Anne returned bringing a number of fun and nutritious games for the kiddos! I thought the traffic light eating game was a great hands on activity for children to learn about which foods they should be eating more of, less of, or just in moderation. Mr. Micah also joined us for a Veggie Tales Story Time and brought along a seed planting activity so the kids could leave with their own seed, planted in recycled materials and sporting a handmade sign. The Cutting Board provided fun giveaways including; handheld spray fans for keeping cool outside and freshly juiced and prepared watermelon, strawberry and cucumber popsicles!
There have been many nights in the past year when we have found ourselves near exhaustion and tears and wondering why we decided to embark on such a bold adventure. Yet, once again I find myself amazed and entranced by the generosity and willingness of those eager to learn and live healthier lives. I feel grateful and rewarded by those who volunteer their time to show up at the Cafe and share their life stories and passion for food and health.
When a customer comes up to you and gives you a hug full of warmth and gratefulness and says, “I see what you guys are trying to do here and it’s amazing” you suddenly realize that even if just one person shows up, it might be the one person’s life you make a difference in. And that one person makes it worth … everything.