Thursday, March 22, 2012

From Expo West to Santa Barbara
It Just Doesn't Get Any Better than This!

I can now take a deep breath ... the exuberancy and intensity of the largest natural foods and healthy living products convention known as Natural Products Expo West is over. The amount of planning, preparation, and work that goes into attending as a vendor is mind-boggling. The amount of excitement that it generates for everyone who attends is indescribable. It's been over for a week, but my adrenaline is still pumping strong!

Natural Products Expo West at the Anaheim Convention Center
Photo courtesy of Whitney Lauritsen

I was honored to be asked to speak on an a panel as part of the Platinum Education Series. Social media goddess, Caren Baginski, and I led a "Boundaries in Social Media: Etiquette Dos and Don'ts" panel discussion. I was blown away by the fabulous questions from the audience that followed our slide presentation. There is a real hunger for knowledge in the social media realm, in part, because it is evolving and changing so quickly. Thanks to Caren and enthusiastic members of our audience, I gained great insights, too!

Photo courtesy of Whitney Lauritsen

It was wonderful to connect with so many of my blogger friends. Among them, The Allergy-friendly Cook™Cybele Pascal, VeggieGrettie's Gretchen Tseng, Moreselist blogger and Morselicious creator, Maura Knowles, HealthyVoyager Carolyn Scott-Hamilton, Ecovegangal Whitney Lauritsen, PineappleShaveIce's Kristine Swisher,  Margaux Rathbun of AuthenticSelfWellnessNoshtopia's Stephanie Quilao, Jill Pyle of Vegan Cuts, and VeganYackAttack's Jackie Sobon.

With food, health, and wellness divas Cybele Pascal, Gretchen Tseng, and Maura Knowles

But now on to that which makes the heart beat faster, just at the sound of the word "Expo": for me, it's truly all about the food! I would be remiss if I did not first give props to all of my amazing colleagues at So Delicious® Dairy Free for winning a VegNews Best of Show Award for our new line of Almond Milk Ice Cream! (Can you say "Cherry Amaretto" and really mean it?)

Senior food technologist Jennifer Aleshire and president John Tucker receiving Best of Show award. 
Photo courtesy of VegNews.

A small sampling of the delicious new almond milk ice cream from So Delicious® Dairy Free.
(The Mocha Almond Fudge Bars and Butter Pecan Almond Milk pints are amazing!)
Photo courtesy of NewHope 360°

So Delicious Greek-style Coconut Milk Yogurt was also chosen as one of the Top 15 Vegan Picks from Expo West! I'm super excited about this award, because the Greek yogurt is my favorite of all So Delicious products! It's my go-to choice for baking, making tzatziki sauce and raita, and I even use it as a substitute for cream cheese on my morning bagel! 

Since I returned home from Expo, people have been asking me what some of my favorite new food finds are. Here's a just a few:

Photo courtesy of NewHope 360°

Holy heaven, this spread is divine! This is how you take a slice of bread and turn it into something decadent! I need not say more. Taste this for yourself, and fall madly in love.

I heard about Freekeh Foods just before heading out to Expo, and reached out to owner/chef Bonnie Matthews, who couldn't have been sweeter. Freekeh is an ancient grain that was created quite by chance in a Middle Eastern village some 2,000 years ago. It's deliciously nutty flavor and chewy texture make it a protein and fiber-rich alternative to rice in all kinds of recipes from salads and breakfast cereals to pilafs and puddings. Bonnie served the Curried Feekah Salad pictured above at Expo West, and I had to keep my distance from her booth, lest I completely devour it all. (It was that good!) Lucky for me (and you!) the recipe can be found right here.

O.M.G. Chocolate and coconut cavort bewitchingly in a dance of divine decadence.

I've been a fan of Stevita stevia products since the birth of this company. I admire the trailblazing attitude of founder and president Oscar Rodes, who fought a long and difficult battle to bring this safe, natural sweetener from Brazil to the US market. I was even on the phone with Oscar when he received a fax from the FDA ordering him to destroy all of the books and other literature in his warehouse that described stevia as a sweetener. To read all about Oscar's heroism and how the FDA banned and confiscated his shipments of stevia, read the full story here. Now they make liquid stevia in more flavors than you can shake a stick at: Chocolate, Cognac, Lemon, Mango, Orange, Peach, Peppermint, Strawberry, Toffee, and Vanilla. I can't wait to try them all!

They're vegan, aspartame-free, and the flavors pack a powerful punch! And hey, what's not to love about pomegranate gum?

Beyond all the grazing up and down the aisles at Expo, I did manage to enjoy some incredible meals. First at Au Lac Vegetarian Restaurant in Fountain Valley, where they now have both cooked and raw vegan menus. Everything we ordered was superb, and I highly recommend both the cooked and the raw Sweet and Sour soups!

And of course, there was the So Delicious Vegucated red carpet screening and dinner gala Friday evening at Expo. All of the food we served was made with So Delicious ingredients, and while I only had a chance to take a sample taste here and there, attendees seemed to really enjoy! With close 200 guests, it was standing room only, and I was delighted to see such a diverse audience so engaged in the film. After the film, So Delicious president John Tucker introduced filmmaker Marisa Miller Wolfson, who conducted a Q&A session in which she fielded some challenging comments and questions with style, candor, and grace. I was very proud that evening to be part of a company that not only makes delicious vegan products, but also supports a film that is transforming lives.

After the crowds had dispersed, I stayed behind with a few friends including Marisa, producer Demetrius Bagley, and Allison Rivers Samson of Allison's Gourmet. How warm and comforting to be surrounded by so many vegan friends!

After Expo, I stopped off in LA on my way to Ojai and had dinner at M Cafe de Chaya. Another eating orgy ensued. I was super hungry, because I had only eaten one real meal during the previous three days (although I did do a fair share of grazing), and my eyes grew quite large when I surveyed the the menu. Inari Sushi stuffed with braised shiitake, a Madras Tempeh Wrap made with masala-baked tempeh, brown basmati rice, toasted almonds, raisins, frizzled onions and crisp veggies in a soy yogurt dressing inside a whole wheat lavash, Kale with Spicy Peanut Dressing, and a fresh carrot-apple-beet-ginger juice were all delectable and hit this hungry vegan's spot.

I earned two days of R&R and spent them with my bff Marr at my favorite retreat, The Emerald Iguana in Ojai. Although I was sick with flu-like symptoms, I decided to make the best of it and enjoyed being in the warm, Southern California sunshine as best I could. I rested a whole lot in my comfy king-sized bed and stretched out and relaxed on a poolside lounge chair. It's such a lushly serene and beautiful place! 

Even though I didn't have much of an appetite (at least I thought I didn't until food was in front of me!), I made the most of eating out! The first night I met my dear friend, Ashley Vincenti from Teeccino at Om Fusion of Thai in Oak View (one of those rare Thai restaurants where they totally get vegan and won't serve you a dish made with fish sauce!) Ashley thoughtfully picked up a bottle of Alkalol (a naturally soothing herbal nasal wash) for me, which cleared up my sinuses and made me feel a WHOLE lot better! (Thank you, Ashley!)

On my final night in Ojai, Marr and I drove to Santa Barbara to meet the lovely and beautiful Alison Cox of Edward & Sons for what would be an unforgettable dinner at Adama

Joining us were Joel and Dean (also of Edward & Sons) and Matthew Koch, creator of Mac & Chreese. What great company to be in!

Alison suggested that we order a variety of dishes and share. I'm so glad she did, because everything was  beyond delectable! We started with appetizers of Fritto Misto (cauliflower in a lightly curried batter with sweet chili sauce),

Caesar Salad (The dressing was perfect, and I loved the addition of broccoli!)

Vegetable Sushi with Sweet Potato Tempura, 

and Sweet Potato Portabella Mushroom Quesadillas (even the salsa was spectacular!)

Moving on to the entrees, Marr, Matt, and Joel couldn't resist ordering the Lasagna made with layers of brown rice noodles, butternut squash, cashew cream, spinach, sautéed veggies, and marinara sauce. (Scrumptious!)

Dean ordered the Gardein Piccata served with spinach, artichokes, capers and garlic mashed potatoes,

Alison ordered the Panang Curry made with cauliflower, broccoli, butternut squash, and tofu, (I love a good panang!)

and I ordered the Jackfruit Tacos served with black beans and quinoa. (Cooked or raw, I adore jackfruit!)

After eating all this indescribably delicious food, you'd think that none of us would have room for dessert. But the temptations beckoning to us from the glass dessert case were just too great. We ordered Blueberry Turnovers (which Deeahna so very thoughtfully made for us on the spot!), the most amazing vegan Hostess-like Cupcakes (only so much better!), and truly the most incredible Carrot Cake I have ever eaten in my life!

At the end of this trip I realized that it isn't just me, but it seems like most vegans are pretty food-obsessed. (Ever wonder why there are so many fabulous vegan food blogs?) Marr reasoned that it's likely because we are eating the most delectable and natural food for our bodies. I heartily agree.


VeganMarr said...

Can't wait to go back to M Cafe & Adama w/u! Was all so delish! Want u to experience the incredible desserts at M Cafe, too! (Someone had wiped out their dessert case for a party, just before we got there! But we got full on lots of other good stuff!) What a fun dinner we all had at Adama! And owner Deehna coudnt be nicer or more accomodating. I highy recommend both places! M Cafe is on Melrose @ La Brea in Hlwd.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow! I would absolutely die to go one of those food expos, I’m pretty sure I’d have a field day checking out all the new products. I’m looking forward to when we finally get that So Delicious almond milk ice cream here in Canada.
The food at that café looks divine, I wouldn’t know where to start!

Helen said...

Everything at Adama looks incredible! Just one more reason to take a trip to Santa Barbara! (Like I needed another reason!) I am in love with So Delicious Greek yogurt, and I cannot wait to try Jen's Zen Chocolate Coconut Sauce. How about doing a little giveaway? (Hint, hint!)

Stephanie Quilao said...

Aw! Was a joy to finally meet you IRL too :-) *hugs*

Allison Rivers Samson said...

What an awesome post, Gail! Everything (including the people) look and sound abSOlutely DELICIOUS! I agree that we're food-obsessed because vegan food is worth obsessing about. Good point, Marr! =) xo

Justine said...

I love living vicariously through your posts, Gail! It's the next best thing to being there. Oh, how I would have LOVED to attend Expo West, and all the food at Adama looks AMAZING!

Anonymous said...

My heart is beating faster just looking at all these photos! Some girls just have ALL the fun! Thanks so much for sharing!

deeahna said...

We had so much fun with your group! Thanks for posting those fabulous photos. I ordered the greek yogurt this past week, but I accidentally ordered the chocolate and I wanted plain, so I will try again next week. Thanks for the tee-shirt and the hysterical way it was presented. We still talk about it! If you lived here, we would be bffs!

Vegiegail said...

Marr, I cannot wait to come back and continue to indulge our bottomless vegan appetites!

Maggie and Justine, you would have loved everything! Expo is like a giant vegan candy store! LOL!

Thanks for the great idea, Helen. We'll see if we can work that out! And don't you just love Santa Barbara? How I dream of moving back there someday!

Thank you, avegangirl! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post!

Stephanie and Allison seeing you was so much fun!

I really enjoyed meeting you, Deahhna, It would be a dream to live in Santa Barbara again and spend quality girlfriend time with you! I'm so looking forward to my next visit!

Randy said...

You're making my mouth water! Chocolate coconut sauce and coconut peanut butter sound amazing. And I would LOVE to find some of that pomegranate chewing gum. All of the mainstream brands use aspartame in addition to sugar! It's crazy!

And eating at Adama? Well, that just looks like vegan heaven to me!

vegangal said...

Darn right we vegans are food obsessed! With an unending selection of nourishing foods to choose from, it's no surprise! Your blog makes that abundantly clear in every post. Thanks so much for spreading so much vegan deliciousness!

Jackie @ Vegan Yack Attack! said...

Oh my goodness. I just drooled all over my keyboard! Look at all of the amazing restaurants that you went to. I'm so glad that you liked Au Lac, it's one of my go-to sit down vegan restaurants. My friend and I just went there on Sunday! (again) it was great meeting you and you did a fabulous job at the booth with the rest of the So Delicious team. I'm glad you got some rest in right after the Expo, my back wasn't the same for a few days!

luminousvegans@wordpress said...

What a tasty looking trip! I'm totally drooling over those "Hostess" cupcakes.

Vegiegail said...

Thank you, Jackie! It was great seeing you, and I hope that our paths cross again sometime soon!

Marie said...

I'm drooling all over my keyboard, too! Those desserts are like WOW!

Anonymous said...

I love so many of those bloggers! How wonderful that you all could meet like that. And I wish I could have been there to taste all that delicious looking food! I can't wait to try the Greek yogurt and that coconut chocolate sauce. And I wish I could reach in and grab one of those cupcakes from Adama right now!

Anonymous said...

That sushi looks so delicious. Actually, everything does. I should know better than to read food blogs this late at night. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Could you please take me with you the next time you go on a trip? You sure know how to do vegan in style!

The Unintentional Vegan said...

Yes, I think most vegans are pretty food obsessed - but in a good way! Love this recap of the expo - looking forward to trying all of the new goodies that debuted!

Jen (Jen's Zen) said...

Gail, I'm so happy you're enjoying my Jen's Zen chocolate sauce. This was my first expo and I was overjoyed with the feedback I received. So Delicious has even offered to provide me with their new almond milk ice cream for my demos in Colorado which means I'll be sampling mini vegan hot fudge sundaes! Thank you for the comprehensive summary of all the fabulous vegan foods I didin't get to taste at expo.

Angel said...

WOW! You got to meet so many of my favorite bloggers. Wait—you're one of my favorite bloggers, too! (Guess you already met yourself! LOL!) It looks like you had such a great time, despite not feeling your best. You look great, btw! And freekeh sounds so freaky! ;0) I would love to try it!

singerinkitchen said...

First of all, great post!!! Second, I want your job, or at least I want to help you! :-) I wish I could have so gone. Maybe someday we'll live in Cali. Glad you had an awesome time. Yay for foodies and food posts.

Sarah said...

Whoa! I need to get to Santa Barbara in a hurry!

Cindee said...

Did I read that right? Mango and peach flavored stevia? I'm ALL over that! And the Cherry Amaretto almond ice cream, and blueberry turnovers, too. It looks like you had so much fun! Thanks for sharing the adventure!

Anonymous said...

Great recap...wished I went on the restaurant tour with you...yum!

VeganMarr said...

Adama also has Mexican wedding cake cookies, one of my all time faves, a full shelf of gluten free desserts, a chocolate layer cake, & several kinds of muffins. First time I went there I took 3 desserts to go & ate em on the drive back to LA! Gail, I am so glad you met Deeahna, I told you you 2 would hit it off!

At M Cafe in Hlwd I suggest Tofu Benedict, vegan Tiramisu & their amazing dble choc cake w/choc mousse filling!

VeganMarr said...

PS - Am loving the Chocolate Fantasy cacao powder w/stevia, for making hot chocolate, which was in the SD Vegucated screening goodie bag (even tho I wasnt able to go, thank u Gail for saving me one!) Never been big on cacao or hot chocolate but this has changed that! Gives a quick sweet tooth fix!

The Vegan said...

Love the pictures and descriptions about the adventures from NPE West and the yummy restaurants you ate at. The NPE West is like going to Disneyland for me. I would love to go with you next time to Adama!

Vegiegail said...

Thank you so much for all the wonderful comments, everyone! Jen, you have created something so seriously delicious, I feel like I'm experiencing nirvana with each taste. Jen's Zen and So Delicious are divine together, and I'm really looking forward to working with you on social media projects! Angel, you're so sweet! Thank you, Noelle! And it is a fun job! :) Gretchen, I'd love to go restaurant hopping with you the next time I'm in town. Marr, I knew you'd love Dark Chocolate Fantasy! I'm looking forward to that Tofu Benedict on my next trip to LA! Arnold, I look forward to you being there on my next trip to Adama.

The Healthy Apple said...

LOVED reading this post, Gail! I wish I had met you at Expo West but already excited to see you there next year! We have SO many mutual friends that I just realized from reading this post- too funny and such a small world. You are amazing and I had so much fun working with you this weekend. So happy to discover your beautiful blog and can't wait to get my hands on your recipes this week. xoox Keep up the delicious work.

Vegiegail said...

What a joy to meet you, Amie! I can't believe it took us this long! Thank you for visiting my blog. I can't wait to see you again! xoxo