It’s been a few days since returning home from an exhausting and exciting 8 days away. I traveled to Portland to attend Vida Vegan Con ’13.
I was thinking I’d do a recap post of the conference but I figured you all probably really don’t want to hear about all the tips I learned on how to improve my blog and whatnot. Most likely boring stuff if you’re a blog reader. Very cool interesting stuff if you’re a blog writer.
So instead I’ll talk about all the food and some other fun randomness. Usually that’s the best part anyway.
In case you didn’t already know, I actually drove to Portland … from Saskatoon. I think I’m slightly crazy.
I was carpooling with a fellow Canadian vegan food blogger, Veronica Grace from LowFatVeganChef.com. I met up with her in Calgary which is 615 km (382.143 mi) and about 6 1/2 hours of driving away from Saskatoon.
I made the drive from Saskatoon to Calgary on Tuesday in the beautiful hot 25°C sun and only got lost twice! What success! And yes, I really did get lost twice. Once when I missed my turn off to get to Calgary. I still insist that the signs should be more prominent. And second when I took a wrong turn and my GPS sent me 20 minutes in the wrong direction while trying to ‘re-calibrate’.
In Calgary on Tuesday night we went to one of Calgary’s only vegetarian restaurants called The Coup + Meet. They have a lot of vegan and gluten-free options available. I enjoyed the Beachfront Hot Pot which was a lemongrass Thai curry style soupy creation. It was so good.
I cheated on Kato with this lovely boy named Xander. He’s an amazing cuddler.
We drove from Calgary to Spokane on Wednesday. I learned two very important lessons on this day.
Numero uno. Do not trust the GPS to respond fast enough. Trust me. We (inadvertently) took a scenic route that added an additional hour to the total time because we missed our turn off so we had to backtrack. Whoops! Once we finally got through the border crossing past Cranbrook we hit snow. Yes, snow. In late May. A slushy wet gross snow. That brings me to lesson number two. Be prepared for snow at any given moment. I’m thankful that the car we were driving didn’t make it into the shop to get the winter tires off before the trip. I’m not totally sure how my car would have fared with summer tires on those roads. I really wished that I had a picture of the snow but I was the one driving through it. Instead let me show you a picture of a bear that we stopped to visit on the side of the road. He (or she – didn’t get close enough to check) was only about 10 feet away from me sitting in the car. Such an awesome thing to see. We saw an elk, two bears and a bunch of deer on the trip.
The snow and rain stopped just outside of Coeur d’Alene and the sun broke through the clouds. So badly needed to see that sun. We arrived into Spokane tired and later than expected but thankfully we were able to find tasty food. Spokane has a vegan and (mostly) gluten-free bakery called Boots Bakery & Lounge and we enjoyed a light late supper there. I enjoyed a nice creamy and spicy Green Curry Vegetable Soup with a side of Power Greens salad. Kale and chard and other greens with a great tangy dressing.
We went back for breakfast on Thursday morning before heading out the next morning on our way to Portland. I had the Power Greens again and the Parsnip & Leek Hash which was made with TVP. It was really tasty and I am going to try to recreate it at home one of these days.
I also grabbed a gluten-free vegan peanut butter and jelly oat bar for a snack on the road. It was huge. So huge that I didn’t finish it even though it was quite good.
The drive to Portland was pretty uneventful. For once we didn’t get lost. We arrived to rain and cool weather in Portland – which I should have known to pack for but come on it’s May and someone please tell me why is it only 11°C/52°F. Since we got in at 4:00 we decided to skip the unofficial conference meet & greet so we could answer emails and so I could do my best to warm up and feel refreshed.
We had a reservation at Natural Selection for 8 pm so we headed over and enjoyed the four-course vegan tasting menu. I also selected the four-course wine pairings like the lush that I am. I am still so happy I did. The entire meal was a wonderful experience. In addition to the four courses was an amuse bouche before the meal began and a palate cleanser before dessert. I wish I paid closer attention to the exact wines that were paired with the courses but all I know is they were brilliant. The only course I couldn’t finish was dessert. It was so good, but I was so full that I only made it through about one third of the tastiness.
That’s kind of where the proper meals end and the days of weird snacking begin.
The conference had no shortage of food, though not food I’d usually consider a meal. Lots of samples from brands like So Delicious, Coconut Bliss, Teese, Attune Foods and more. We snacked on these samples for Friday’s lunch. Late Friday afternoon after all the sessions were done a buffet of goodies from Veggie Grill awaited us. They had fake chicken fingers, a chicken tortilla roll-up thing and kale salad. Of those options only the kale and quinoa salad was gluten-free. We snacked on that stuff and headed back to our hotel. We had planned on checking out a Thai restaurant that got good reviews for their vegan menu but we were both so tired and really full from all the snacks we’d picked at all afternoon. By the end of Friday I was already craving real food. I’m still wondering if all vegans in Portland eat this way all the time or if it was a free-for-all because it was a special occasion with Vida Vegan Con going on. Also was really concerned about everyone’s water consumption. Okay, well no, mostly just concerned about my own water consumption. Salty, processed foods and way less water than I normally drink does not make for a good combination.
As if the snacks at the conference weren’t enough they sent all of us home with an amazingly giant swag bag filled with so many goodies. It weighed a ton and was jam packed with so much good stuff – and some ‘interesting’ stuff too. Though he’d never admit it to anyone, I’m pretty sure Levi was more excited to check out the tasty snacks – of which a LOT were also gluten-free – than he was to see me when I got home. (No, not really.) They really outdid themselves with getting so many goodies with such a wide variety. Pat on the back VVC2013 organizers!
Saturday we headed over to the conference to enjoy a Portland Breakfast Showcase from local restaurants. The highlight of the breakfast sampling was a creation from A.N.D. Cafe which was a nut-based “meat”loaf with a pesto tofu scramble on top and an amazing vegan and gluten-free hollandaise. So good. Sizzle Pie also had BBQ jackfruit and kale sliders which were quite tasty (though not on a gluten-free bun). There were gluten-free vegan donuts from one of the bakeries but I was too full to try them out. I should have taken one to try later. Lunch was a Build-A-Bowl buffet, Portland-style. I don’t know what makes it Portland-style to be totally honest. They had quinoa and brown rice to build on with beans, tempeh, seitan chorizo, baked tofu, lettuce, hummus and this garlic sauce that people (including myself) mistook for salad dressing. But I wasn’t complaining – that garlic sauce was amazing. It was so nice to have a lot of green on my plate again. Green and raw and fresh. I can honestly say that this lunch was the first time I’d seen unadulterated (salad dressing-free) green on my plate since Spokane and for me (because well I eat a lot of green things) that was a travesty. After watching a fun game of Vegan Battle Royale and trivia we headed back to our hotel for the rest of the afternoon. I was really exhausted – didn’t get a good sleep and had a horrible headache – and needed some down time. Though there was one session I may have benefited from, my head benefited from a nap more.
For dinner we headed out to a suburb to enjoy some vegan Thai food but the place was closed. sad face I suppose the owners wanted to enjoy the long weekend too. So we headed back into Portland to Blossoming Lotus. Being a Saturday night, it was packed and they don’t take reservations. We waited close to an hour to be seated. People rave about Blossoming Lotus here and so I was really excited to try what they had to offer. Without sounding whiny, I just have to say that I was pretty disappointed. Since the lasagna was on special I figured it probably was going to be very good (though not gluten-free) so I figured, why not just treat myself. Well, it was really just … blah. Soggy, overcooked thick noodles, thin layers of randomness and not piping hot at all – just warmed through. It came out within minutes of ordering, which is always a concern to me. It was served on top of this mystery thick green sauce which looked like mashed avocados but was actually an unappetizingly flavored arugula puree and a spoonful of house-made olive tapenade. When all I was craving was something fresh, green and crunchy after the weekend of eating lots of processed food, I should have went with my gut and ordered a salad or something. I took a picture but it was such low light that it’s not worth sharing. The gluten-free vegan chocolate cake desserts were awesome, though very rich and sweet. I sampled a bit of the Chocolate Salted Caramel and Chocolate Raspberry cakes. They were decadent. A couple of bites were all I could handle. I guess I just don’t have a sweet tooth.
I enjoyed a kombucha drink with my meal which was probably the highlight. No, seriously – it was THAT good. It was a Brew Dr. Kombucha from Townshend’s Tea Company, brewed right here in Portland. The flavor I selected was Love – a floral blend of jasmine flowers, lavender flowers, chamomile blossoms, damiana leaf and rose petals. It was refreshing and light. Writing this post now makes me crave one. I must find out if they ship to Canada.
Sunday – the final day – was jam packed with sessions right up until 3:45 pm. For dinner Sunday night, we had Thai food from Vege Thai. It was nice to have some real vegetables and it’s a fully vegetarian Thai place with almost everything being able to be made vegan. It was probably the most affordable place we ate at in Portland on this trip, too. I had tons of left overs which I enjoyed at 10:45 pm while listening to some drama in the neighboring hotel room. We heard a bunch of yelling and screaming. So we gave the wall a quick knock. You know, like people in hotel rooms often do when they want you to politely quiet down. Well someone hurled something against the wall and came out into the hall banging on our room door and trying to get in. We called the front desk and they sent a security guard up. A woman left the room next door and he told the man to quiet down. The guy demanded to know who complained. Pretty scary moments, but kind of funny too.
Monday morning we packed up in the pouring rain and enjoyed breakfast at A.N.D. Cafe in Portland before leaving. Their waffle special of the day was a Peach Hazelnut Cream on a blue corn waffle. So yeah, obviously I had to have some. I ordered a side of greens just to balance out the sweetness. All of it was so good. I think A.N.D. Cafe has been my favorite restaurant in Portland so far. I saw the Full Nest and that looked amazing too with a pesto tofu and vegan sausage filled potato nest and vegan hollandaise over top. Seriously. I know how good that hollandaise and pesto tofu is because of the sample I had during Saturday morning’s breakfast showcase.
It rained the entire way to Spokane in varying heavinesses. We stayed overnight in Spokane and had dinner at Red Dragon where they have an extensive vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free menu. We sampled a bunch of vegan options (not gluten-free) and they weren’t overly salty, greasy or too sugary-sweet.
We grabbed breakfast at Boots Cafe again – stuck to fruit salad – and hit the road early on Tuesday. We rolled into Calgary in the early evening and that’s pretty much where I think I’ll end. I made it home to Saskatoon safely the next day to sunshine and my garden starting to sprout. I love to travel and see other cities and enjoy their treats but Dorothy got it right when she said ‘There’s no place like home’. It’s good to be home.