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The Zen Nights Red Carpet Gala and Block Party was a great success and left me feeling nothing but an affirmation that life is on the right track. Not only did I walk away with a renewed belief in myself and my ability to help others by serving them plant based, whole foods but I found a new voice within me that screamed, “don’t hold back!”.
Sometimes, especially with family members, I hold my tongue and try to let the food do the speaking. But why? People may love to eat our food but it isn’t always enough to truly believe in the power of food to heal the body. How does that saying go? Knowledge is power. Yes. Knowledge is POWER!
We showed up to the Red Carpet Gala dressed to the nines. I wore my prom dress from high school (yes it still fits!) which gave me a chance to give it a good night. Compared to the night 14 years ago in high school – I’ll spare you the details details. The dress was the only thing special about that night and I think you get the point.
Jason Wyrick, Author of the Vegan Mexico Cookbook and Owner of The Vegan Taste Food Delivery Service company, was serving up some really yummy smelling food and I couldn’t wait to eat it!
We met Jason for the first time when we did our Cauliflower Buffalo Wings food demo at the Arizona Vegetarian Food Festival this year; a man with an inspiring story, tasty food and a friendly staff. We sat in our chairs enjoying a Mushroom Ceviche and Walnut Pate with tortilla chips, a Spicy Jackfruit Taco and a heavenly peanut butter ball of some sort (so good I had to go back and ask for seconds). Green was also there but ran out of food before I could get to them. Even though I was super bummed, I did get to try their delicious Chocolate Chocolate Mini Cupcake that they were passing out right before the movie.
Will Tucker, Vegan Body Builder, Personal Trainer and Owner of Will Tucker Fitness took the stage to kick off the event. Introducing his lovely wife Nadia Khalighi, coordinator of the Zen Nights events and owner of Zen Comfort. There were many familular faces in the audience. Most of them our customers and dedicated members of the community and I was so honored to be sitting next to everyone one of them taking part in this event.
Eating You Alive was an amazing documentary. It didn’t focus on extensive facts like most food documentaries do, instead it was an array of amazing and tear jerking stories from all over the nation that all had one thing in common: a plant based vegan diet healed them. Every story – from Lupas to Cancer to people told their inherited genes were to blame – were all met with a new beginning. Every person was off their medication within three months of radically changing what they were putting into their bodies and within a year, they were on their way to reversing the diseases they thought they would have to live with for the rest of their life. Everyone one of them survived when they were told they would die. And so many of them, just like me, wanted to spread the message about the injustas we are all living and the unexplainable wonders that plants can do for you.
The lights flickered on and we were then introduced to three of the amazing people in the movie who had so much more to say about where their paths were leading them. Among them were Husband and Wife team Brook Goldner, MD and Thomas Tadlock who founded Smoothie SHRED, a 28-day free smoothie and workout challenge to get you on track to loosing weight and healing the body with a Plant Based lifestyle. We were also introduced to Milan Ross of Full Flavor Vegan, a company dedicated to educating the public about the wonders of a Plant Based, Vegan Lifestyle.
To wrap up the event, the newly founded Just Start Here Team consisting of Will Tucker, Jason Wyrick and Dr. Amish Shah, a local doctor certified in emergency and sports medicine, talked of their coming together to form a team where people could go to start transitioning to a Whole Foods, Plant Based Vegan Lifestyle. It was the perfect combination of support; body builder, chef and Dr. I felt so privileged to be there to see the start of something wonderful being put together and I just can’t wait to see where it will take Arizona’s expanding Vegan community.
We topped off the night with some conversation and a free sample hummus bowl from the Hummus Express Food Truck. Their “sample” was very generous; the size of a meal and so delicious! Perfect end to the night because I was still hungry!
The next was the Zen Nights Block Party and it seemed to be a hit event as well, despite soaring desert temperatures. I did brave the heat and venture downtown with the kids.
I call six o’clock witching hour because if the kids’ aren’t in the bath and on their way to story time, it could easily be a disaster. Of course my first stop was The Cutting Board’s tent to make sure everyone had what they needed and check out the food and setup. Sean was cooking away in his cast iron skillet and serving up a mini version of our delicious Enchiladas and Homestead Cinnamon Rolls which went within the hour! They were the hit of the night!
We browsed the rest of the tents, my son scouting for samples and of course and landed at Fluffy Vegans tent to try their amazing new dried pineapple. I absolutely love their dried fruit. I have tried to so hard to get my fruit crunchy like owners Kimberly and Casey do but they have it figured out! Of course we bought a bag (oil free, sugar free snacks? yes, please!). Next we found ourselves standing in front of some sort of wonderful fan-blowing-water contraption and in the company of Roman, the young boy who founded Paws’itively Tasty Treats and made all of the Whole Food, Vegan dog treats that were handed out in the VIP bags at the Red Carpet gala. He was a smart, young boy who seemed to be growing in popularity and trying to balance his new business adventure with his busy school life. I loved that my son was standing by my side and listening to me talk to this boy who was just a little older than him and already so motivated and devoted to a good cause.
We got another Hummus Bowl at the Hummus Express Food truck and some Sweet Potato Fries at a tent, who’s business I’d never seen before and can’t remember. Usually I’m collecting everyone’s business cards but with one starving kid (mad that his sweet potato fry order still wasn’t ready after 30 minuets) and the other who didn’t want to stay in my arms but couldn’t walk yet, it was proving difficult to stay. So I quickly grabbed an ice cold Chai Latte at Volstead and a kiss from my husband, who was cheffn’ it up and looking so handsome in his black button up chef coat. Then I headed home to do the quickest bedtime routine I could muster.
The Zen Nights events were a success and so much fun. I now have a number of new resources to add to my website (let’s see how fast I get that done, ha!) and I can’t wait to see what is in store for future Zen Nights events!
A HUGE thank you to all of our staff at The Cutting Board! Without your love and passion for what we do (and your willingness to brave the heat to sell our food) we would never be so successful. And to Nadia Khalighi for making this whole thing happen! If you missed The Cutting Board last month at the Zen Nights event, no worries! Come see us on Friday, July 29th for the more of our Homestead Cinnamon Rolls!
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.