Food Events Archives - FRESH Perspective and RAW Conversation


Finding Zen in Mesa

I don’t know why but my heart is drawn to Mesa. We bought our house in Mesa, we got married down the street and when we opened our Café, Mesa was calling to us. Although Mesa is a huge city, we felt it was a town in need of a food culture and healthier options.

To this day (ten years since we moved into our home) you will still find very few upscale sit down restaurants. Merely corporate drive-through chains, liquor stores and little hole-in-the-wall Mexican Café’s. I love Mexican food and it’s probably really good, authentic Mexican food, but certainly not Vegan. We are lucky to have a Sprout’s grocery store nearby but on those days when cooking just seems a bit over the edge of an already overwhelming day, nutritious and healthy food would be a least a 15-20 minute drive away. And you can be sure I won’t be cramming two kids in a 120-degree car to run in somewhere for food. Even food delivery services won’t touch this zip code.

When Sean and I first started The Cutting Board, we knew it had to be more than a restaurant. Of the many things we wanted it to be, at it’s core, it had to be a place to build a community.

We knew somewhere out there were like-minded business and individuals with the same values and products. We wanted more options. We wanted to build something better for our children. Not just a town of convenience and quick service. I’ve learned these luxuries tend to rob people of their culture, of diversity and kindness and most importantly, their ability to be open-minded.

I am proud to say that not only have Sean and I been able to connect with a community of people I was beginning to think didn’t exist in Mesa, but I am also seeing small and wonderful momentum building for the Plant Based, Vegetarian and Vegan community. Never have I met so many passionate, caring individuals with intentions bigger than themselves; amazing people and now wonderful customers and friends. (Stay tuned for my Amazing People blog series where I will be posting interviews with some of these said amazing people.)

This past month I was so excited to discover that Zen Nights, a gathering that originated in Gilbert, was moving to Downtown Mesa! Zen Nights is a family friendly gathering of vendors selling Plant Based foods and Cruelty Free products. Think Farmer’s Market but everything is Vegan!

Zen Night’s is operated and put together by Nadia Khalighi, owner of Zen Comfort and wife of Plant Based and Vegan Body Builder, Will Tucker. She is a woman full nurture and warm smiles and her number one goal with this event is so much at the heart of what I have been wanting all these years; bringing the Vegan community together.

I was particularly excited to hear that she would be partnering with Volstead Public House and The Famous Nile Theater in Downtown Mesa to host these events. The venue seems so fitting and gives so much life to an area of Mesa that I have always had high hopes for.

Volstead has become such a big part of our lives since we discovered it over a year ago but I have known the space much longer. I remember sitting in it with my colleagues in college for our Photographic Exhibition course. The walls were barren, the floor was dirty and a musty smell was prevalent. It was an empty, dreary space trying to come alive as an art gallery and my friend was showing her work there. It then turned into a coffee shop a few years later, which had decent coffee but the vibes just weren’t there. Finally we got wind of a Vegan coffee shop opening in the space and we couldn’t be more excited!

Volstead has brought not only good coffee and a creative, comfort food approach to a simple sandwich menu but a strong sense of what I have been yearning for in Downtown Mesa: character. We have come to know the ladies running it and it has become one of our favorite spots to get some coffee or a delicious scone and watch the kid’s faces light up as the light rails speed by outside the big open windows.

I attended the last Zen Nights on a “girls night out” with my daughter while brother was at a sleepover with Grandma for the night. That is what I called it but it was more like seeing a drive through movie that you couldn’t really give your full attention to.

Baby girl was sick; it was past her bedtime and all she wanted was to be crawling around getting her hands on everything she could. So I treated myself to a chocolate scone and a chai tea from Volstead, drooled over all the food and products I didn’t get because I didn’t want to carry it all while holding an eight month old strapped to my chest and stopped to have quick conversations with people I knew.

What is even more exciting is this months Zen Nights Block Party Event – happening this Friday and it’s FREE! It’s a biggie and I’m even more excited to see what the outcome is and what it brings to the table for the Vegan community. This month they be closing down the intersection of Main and McDonald and will be kicking off the Just Start Here Health and Wellness Campaign.

The campaign is to challenge all the residents and resturants of Mesa to go plant based for the month of July. The Just Start Here team consists of Dr Amish Shah, Chef Jason Wyrick and Fitness Expert Will Tucker and they will be a go-to resource for plant based recipes, tips, motivation and support to help you succeed during the challenge. Best of all it’s free to attend! Don’t forget to stop by the The Cutting Board’s tent! We will be there to represent and will be serving up an amazing dinner of Enchiladas, as well as our new and vastly growing selection of our Homestead Cinnamon Rolls!

It gets better! The night before Zen Nights they will also be hosting a special red carpet screening of “Eating you Alive”. It’s a documentary about curing chronic disease with a whole food plant based diet and afterwards a special presentation and Q&A session with the Just Start Here team. Don’t forget to buy your tickets, they will not be selling them at the door!

It’s a red carpet event, which means… fancy dress, all Plant Based, Vegan appetizers, like-minded company and a much needed and overdue night on the town for the husband and I.

 

 

 

Healthy Families Workshop

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!


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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.

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Passion and Pride Through Young Eyes

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I had never before attended an event designed so specifically for all things food-related.

Having never seen anything like this, you would think that my most inspiring memory would be of something monumental, like the mile-long table which spanned the entire event, or the numerous food trucks each with their own personality and long line of hungry and excited customers, or maybe even the dozens of 5-gallon buckets loaded with seedlings and plants for the mobile-garden-parade, solar-oven demonstrations, hand-crafted goods, people just wanting to talk, and a mobile seed bank truck spouting out stories and information over a bullhorn like a commanding preacher at Sunday mass. All of these elements were exciting and fun and I will always look back on them with a smile. However, there was one display which evoked more emotion and inspiration than the rest.

At first glance, most would not think much of the horseshoe setup of tables dressed with white tablecloths and covered with stacked baskets of freshly harvested vegetables slowly being cooked by the hot Arizona sun, even though partially covered by a small white canopy.

In fact, I would have walked past it myself had I not made eye contact with the young boy standing in front of the display. He was shy, but solemnly asked for a donation. I was interested and thought that there had to be more to the story, so I began to inquire about their display and why exactly they were participating in the event. He quietly told me about their organization, Tigermountain Foundation, a non-profit community garden which targets the youth for participation. Upon showing more interest, a second young boy appeared and was eager to talk about the garden and how they both helped to grow all of the vegetables and harvest them. Their pride and confidence began to emerge, and as I watched I became fascinated and excited at the fact that gardening was truly something special and important to these two boys. Amazing! I thanked them both, gladly handed over a modest donation and bagged a few carrots and jalapeños from their collection to take home. I didn’t expect this brief exchange to stand out in my mind, but as the following days passed I could not dismiss the importance of what I had witnessed.

When I saw these two boys and their passion and pride for growing their own food it gave me a sense of hope that maybe someday gardening will be a bigger part of all of our lives, and not solely left up to large profit driven corporations to figure out how to grow it, engineer it and deliver it to our dinner plate. A growing primary concern of mine is the food infrastructure and in what direction it is headed. We went from the days of early settlers who focused almost exclusively on food, its production, harvest and storage to modern times where knowledge about the origin and processing of our food is at the bottom of the priority list for the average citizen. As a result, our whole system has gone totally awry and will eventually prove itself to be unsustainable.  As you walk through the grocery isle tonight, or as you prepare those carrots and jalapenos for your dinner I urge you to think to yourself, “Where did this food come from? Who grew it? What pesticides were used? Are the crops genetically modified? Was there any passion or excitement put into growing this crop?” At your typical grocery store, you’ll never know the answer to all of those questions. However, when sourcing from your local farmers market, community gardens and even from food grown in your own backyard you’ll know the answer to each and every one of those questions, and you will feel a new satisfaction during the simple act of eating dinner.

Gardening is cool, it’s important, and these two boys from Tigermountain Foundation totally get it!!! My hope is that we all follow their lead.

Be sure to visit both Tigermountain Foundation and Feast on the Street.org. I hope that inspiration finds its way into your heart and garden too!

With gratitude,

Sean Macdonald