Zen Nights Archives - FRESH Perspective and RAW Conversation

Red Carpet Inspiration

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!


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.