Tag Archives: balsamic

CT Veg Fest 2012!

Can you believe Connecticut didn’t have a vegetarian and healthy living festival of some kind in the Hartford area until this year? Me neither! Although if you’d asked me a few years ago, I probably would have scoffed at the idea of attending such an event.

Luckily my eyes have been opened to the wonderful world of my adventurarian lifestyle ūüėČ and even though I am not vegetarian or vegan, I still enjoy reading about other eating “lifestyles” and trying vegetarian and vegan foods. They are just as delicious as the rest! No bias here. After all, that’s what being adventurarian is all about. And that’s why I was beyond excited to attend the 1st Annual CT Vegetarian and Healthy Living Festival this past Sunday!

Registration and donation area.

Entry was free, but monetary or non-perishable food donations were encouraged, and it looked like a great turnout for both. I think that ideas for healthy living should be accessible for all, so Veg Fest organizers hit the nail on the head by making the donations optional. I donated money because I am able to do so, but those who cannot should still be able to attend something like this and learn about the options they have!

Erika, Bethany, and I.

I started out the event solo, but ended up meeting up with my blend Bethany and her sweet cousin Erica after they got out of the sessions they were attending when I arrived. Erica was awesome and even knows Jenn of She’s a Fit Chick, who was one of the first bloggers I ever discovered and is also an original founder of FitFluential! Small world.

I knew I was in the right place (the CT Convention Center in Hartford, to be precise) when I walked in, looked to my right, and saw this guy grinding out fresh wheatgrass shots!

I didn’t even know CT grew chickpeas!

I am not a huge beauty product hoarder (lucky for me, though I do hoard plenty of magazines about them) so I didn’t spend too many time at the all-natural beauty product booths, but there were plenty of them.

Soaps from CT Natural Soapworks.

Tower of yummy Fanciful Fox soap flavors.

The mother and daughter duo working this booth were handing out free soap “scraps”, so I got a piece of the green bar above, called Wise Guy.

Soap doubling as a centerpiece?! Gorgeous!

Loofahpalooza!

Just one variety of product offered by Hartford-based company Soul Purpose.

The small part of me that doesn’t have to be practical ALL the time paid $1 for one of the blue crystals below. The girl at the booth had so much faith in their ability to absorb only positive energy – I guess this specific kind is often used to clear negative energy from other crystals, that’s how many “good vibes” it carries. So I figured, why the heck not?! I tucked it into a pocket in my purse and have been carrying it with me since.

Erica, Bethany, and I also got to enjoy a free yoga class Рthey were running every hour on the hour! I had gone to Step that morning and my quads were sore from doing leg-heavy workouts the couple days before that, so the yoga felt good, and it was another great way to give free access to an activity that many may have been unfamiliar with, averse to trying, or doubtful of. Yay yoga!

Lots of speakers and cooking demos going on too, including a Smoothie Workshop for kiddos!

Whole Foods kids smoothie demo.

Now, let’s get to the products! I love that this event gave so many passionate vendors the chance to get the word out about the foods they have worked so hard to create. All that many of them want is shelf space at a grocery store – it seems like little to ask for, but shelf space is actually VERY scarce with all the big corporations out there (and their big wallets) – getting even a little bit of shelf space is a BIG deal. If you ever attend one of these kinds of events and try a product you love, suggest to your grocery store that they start carrying it – it often takes the voice of the people to convince a store that they should stock a product, because of course they exist to make money, and want to be positive it will sell.

I don’t use dressings on my salads at home (I find that I really don’t need it at all, since my beasts include about 10-15 ingredients on average, many liquid-based, and “marinate” in my fridge overnight) but if I did, I’d be all about purchasing one of the above bottles of Wholesome Creations salad dressings. The green tea and ginger dressing on a cup of greens blew me away.

Mama Micki’s was sold out of all three varieties of their vegan cookies¬†by noon – a good sign for this all-natural bakery that is trying to get into stores! I sampled all three varieties – molasses, chocolate orange walnut, and oatmeal raisin sunflower seed (pictured above). I’m a sucker for a good molasses cookie, but have to declare the chocolate orange walnut the winner for its unique, complex flavor.

Soya Foods of MA had a generous amount of flavors of their Creative Chef Tofettis for patrons to sample Рall of these are made with non-GMO soybeans!

I tried BBQ, Brazilian, Hot & Spicy, Lemon Garlic, Jamaican Jerk, Teriyaki, and a faux “chicken nugget” as well (not pictured).

Seitan is a meat substitute I’d never had and I loved how it perfectly mimicked the texture and taste of ground beef. Upton’s Naturals of Chicago offered traditional, chorizo, and Italian varieties. I tried all three and especially loved the chorizo – it would go great in tacos or atop a big pile of nachos.

Bethany and I totally adored these Kathy’s Kitchen SuperSeedz. Kathy and her partner had plenty of flavors of these pumpkin seeds on hand, as you can see from the sign above!

I sampled Original Curry, Coco Joe, and Cinnamon & Sugar. The Original Curry flavored seeds were awesome and the chocolate-y coffee flavor of the Coco Joe was perfectly balanced. The Cinnamon & Sugar were good (can’t go wrong with that combo) but not nearly as remarkable as the first two flavors.

Local chip-makers Pan de Oro of Hartford (I sent a bag to Diana for foodie pen pals this month) partnered up with Good Neighbors of NH (love that) and provided a carb-tastic vehicle for sampling of salsas, salads, and hummus.

I’ve bought Good Neighbors black bean spread before at Whole Foods and it was awesome. I didn’t know they sold falafel too – or as they call them, veggie burgers? Check out the cute snack pack offerings as well!

Love me some tabouli! I may be one of the few bloggers who can take or leave quinoa but it was still tasty. And LOTS of salsa choices, hand it over!

Oh geez, where do I begin?! I wish I hadn’t downed my hummus samples so quickly because I honestly didn’t taste a ¬†huge difference between the flavors I tried (cilantro jalapeno, spicy chipotle, a couple others I can’t recall). However, the flavor I tasted was certainly delightful.

CT Veg Fest = free lunch!

One of MANY courses.

Check out this nifty magnet Bethany snagged for me from a booth! I notice the Splenda I use at home isn’t on there, oops, haha…

One of my favorite products of the day came from The Olive Oil Factory of Waterbury. Gourmet olive oils and balsamic¬†vinegar¬†seem to be “all the rage” now, and I’m certainly glad because that means more and more unique varieties are coming out.

I opted to receive my samples on vegan brown rice bread in the spirit of Veg Fest, but a non-vegan bread was also available. I started with the below chocolate balsamic – it blew me away! Holy crap. I just wanted to drizzle it (or pour it…) over a mound of fresh strawberries.

I also tried blueberry, lime, and peach balsamic. All were so, so fantastic. The blueberry balsamic drizzled on a scone or muffin would seriously be the perfect weekend breakfast.

Another favorite of the day? Boston-based Biena Snacks Roasted Chickpeas! These have plain-Greek-yogurt-mix-in written ALL over them.

The Sea Salt flavor was good but compared to the other two, Lime & Chili and Cinnamon Maple, it was just blah. That’s because the other two flavors were so amazing! I’ve always wanted to try roasted chickpeas and am glad I finally was able to.

Pan de Oro had their own booth of course, but by the time I got there they had run out of all their new varieties of chips (I missed out on the GARLIC!!!). I still wasted no time in sampling the original flavor. Erica had stopped by earlier than me and purchased two bags of the garlic chips!

They were kind enough to sell their chips at a discounted price at the event (many vendors were doing this).

The Simply Bar is probably the most impressive bar I’ve ever seen, from a nutritional stats standpoint.¬†I tried the Cocoa Coffee, which contains real caffeine, and enjoyed its taste as well! These bars are VERY low in sugar and saturated fat, unlike most bars I’ve seen, which remind me of candy bars.

Being a long-time blog reader, I’ve seen Sun Warrior and Vega proteins all over the place. I’ve never been that interested in protein powder though, so have never bought any. Perfect opportunity to sample some – expertly prepared by VeganProteins.com!

I liked the vanilla Sun Warrior protein shake! The desire to drink any more than a few sips, though, was not there.

And I had no desire to drink another sip again of the chocolate Vega protein shake. Sorry – not for me! However, I know that protein powders are something that is enjoyed by many a blogger and blog reader, and it’s great that there are so many vegan options. My twin Heather is a huge Vega fan and uses their powder to make protein pudding oats almost every day!

The Taza chocolate above had an amazing flavor different from any chocolate I’ve ever tried, because it is made from stone-ground cacao nibs. Due to the manufacturing process, the cacao nibs are not completely ground up, which leaves a lot of the cacao flavor in the bars. It’s very complex and hearty.

And check out all the benefits of Chocholistic chocolate! Its creator is Kenzie Harrick, a Certified Health Counselor with a sweet tooth and a passion for healthy eats. Those two things drove her to create “the only chocolate that you can eat every day that will improve your health while you eat it”. Like the Taza, the complex, rich flavor left me feeling very satisfied. I’d take this stuff over a regular candy bar any day (even a Twix!)

Cedar’s is the hummus brand of choice in my house and they passed out a ton of these nifty snack packs! Can’t wait to munch on mine.

Coconut butter is another product that’s been very popular in the blog world, but I hadn’t been able to try it until now. Nature’s Approved had the great idea of serving it up with a dallop of chocolate atop a graham cracker – just as good as any s’more! Well OK, maybe not, because there’s nothing like a charred-to-a-crisp marshmallow. But this was darn close.

Of course Vitamix was there, because it’s not a food event without Vitamix!!

I sampled a handful of freeze-dried corn from Raw Foods Central. It was really good – nice and sweet. I wonder how the peas would taste!

Litchfield based Boxed Goodes Pantry served their herb dips with fresh-cut bread. Not only did they taste delicious, but the packaging was so gorgeous and colorful. A set of jars in a kitchen filled with these herbs would really brighten up the place.

What a FUN event! Bethany and I are heading to Wesleyan University this weekend to attend 2012 Foodstock next. Loving all these FOODIE conferences!

Clearly we were prepared to get our yoga on!

Have you ever been to a vegetarian and/or healthy living festival?

Have you ever tried any of the products I sampled?

CT Wine and Food Festival

The following post has been a long time coming, but finally I’ve had a chance to write up the recap and share with you all!

A couple Saturday nights ago I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous event at a discounted price! The Arthritis Foundation put on the first ever CT Wine & Food Festival at The Hartford Club. Attendees could choose to attend Grand Tasting Session I in the afternoon, or Session II in the evening (that’s the one my fellow foodie friend Jeff and I went with). The venue itself was very classy, complete with a coat check and grand wooden staircases.

I’ve always wanted to go to an event like this and was so pleasantly surprised to find one in my own backyard – at an affordable price! The Arthritis Foundation did a great job in their first year holding the Festival and I can only hope it becomes an annual tradition.

While waiting for Jeff to meet me, I perused the brochure provided to each guest describing the vendors that were present for the evening and the schedule of chef demos. I started feeling very excited and overwhelmed as I turned page after page and realized I was still reading the list of vendors. I was also excited to see some familiar names!

Drinks

Jeff and I didn’t want to be chaotic in our approach, so we decided to make a circle around each room so we wouldn’t miss anything. I also was hoping to do drinks first, and then food, since I rarely ever want to drink while I’m eating or after the fact. The first stop was at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, a New York winery making sangria out of their sweet Red Cat wines. The recipe was simple: Red Cat wine over ice, with a lime wedge. So delicious and easy!

I also tried a fun little science experiment at their booth. Try putting a few Godiva dark chocolate chips in your mouth, letting them chill there for about 5 seconds, and taking a sip of Hazlitt’s Bramble Berry wine. As the guy at the booth put it, I experienced a “flavor explosion”. Dark chocolate + wine = heaven! The Bramble Berry is the third bottle from the left in the photo below.

The sangria was made with the wine on the right!

I had several other specialty cocktails throughout the evening. Onyx Spirits made a drink of real CT moonshine, apple cider, nutmeg, cinnamon, and whipped cream! It was fall-fabulous. I sipped on it slowly while Jeff tried some beers, and it stayed tasty til the end thanks to the whipped cream dissolving into the beverage. Yum!

Upstairs, Hotel California Tequila made a tequila cocktail that included Godiva chocolate liquer. It was delicious, but I also couldn’t taste any tequila whatsoever. It would have been nice to know what their liquor actually tasted like!

I sipped on the best gin I’ve ever had, Bluecoat American Dry Gin on the rocks. It was unbelievably smooth with no burn whatsoever. Instead of smelling like grass, like most gins I’ve tried straight, it smelled and tasted like citrus! I loved the bottles too.

Believe it or not, I actually found a beer that I can say I liked! I can’t see myself being able to stomach a glass of it, but it was an Olde Burnside Brewing Company ale called Stone of Destiny that was nice to sip on! Low carbonation + chocolate and coffee flavors were the selling points that got me to try it – and enjoy!

I’m not a Stella drinker (my parents are), but I took a shot of this very large bottle of it because I have never seen one before – and I used to promote it at liquor stores!

There were so many wines at this event that I didn’t have room/the tolerance to try them all, but I did sip on my fair share!

I tried the Quixote red wine at this particular booth and really liked it, but there were so many wines that they all seemed the same toward the end. I can also partially attribute that sentiment to my buzz, but I do think this was a situation in which I over-tasted on wine!

Buzzed and blurry?

And what goes best with wine (aside from the dark chocolate I already mentioned)? Cheese! That’s right, bring on the…

Food

Caseus of New Haven was sampling two delectable cheeses that Jeff and I paired with red wine from another booth. The bottom cheese of the photo was chopped too finely for my taste (I could barely pick it up with the toothpick) but it was still delicious. I really liked the top cheese in the photo the most though.

We also tried the cheese in combination with some chewy sourdough bread. And speaking of bread, more was munched on in combination with olive oils and balsamic vinegar from O’Live a Little of Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. I’ve heard so much about their store but haven’t had a chance to check it out, so doing so at this event was very convenient.

Jeff and I were given several shots – of the olive oil and balsamic variety! I was done with the alcohol shots at that point. The center balsamic vinegar in the above photo is a fig balsamic, and the one on the right was filled with flavorful herbs and was our favorite. Like I said before, there was also bread for dipping. O’Live a Little was also selling quaint gift baskets and jarred olive varieties!

Hard to tell, but that’s lasagna!

DaCapo Ristorante Italiano of Avon/Litchfield gave me a HUGE piece of lasagna – the best I’ve ever had! It was so authentic. I love my mom’s whole wheat ground turkey ricotta-less lasagna, don’t get me wrong, but this was the real stuff and it was so good. I can’t believe I drive by this place a couple of times a week whenever I go to the gym near my office, and have never noticed it!

Peppercorn’s Grill of Hartford, which Rachel and I have been meaning to attend for happy hour for a couple of weeks now, provided the above bite-sized gourmet treats. I love little tastes like this! The table provided a nice preview of what I can expect whenever I get to their happy hour. The prosciutto “sushi” was topped with sweet balsamic vinegar, and the lobster tart shells were light, flaky, and had a pleasant crunch. The lobster also tasted beyond fresh, straight out of the ocean. Honestly, it was the freshest lobster I’ve ever tasted!

What, you may wonder, is Matt Damon doing in this post? Well, nothing except not being bid on during the Festival’s silent auction. Jeff and I just thought that this autographed photo was too hilarious and random. It didn’t fit in with the gift baskets and vacation packages being auctioned off at all. Poor, lonely Matt!

Look familiar?

I ran into my buddy Phyllis Haynes and her delicious product, Mariah’s Chow Chow Relish. I was so glad to see her, because last time we met she gave me a jar of her Hot & Spicy flavor, so I had a chance to tell her how much I have been enjoying having it on my baked potato skins! I also tried the next flavor up, Hot Hot Hot, and am happy to report that I have officially graduated to that flavor. The relish’s sweetness balances the hotness out perfectly, so that even someone like me who is sensitive to spicy foods can enjoy! Since Phyllis partners with Food Should Taste Good chips when she samples her relishes, I also finally was able to try their Sweet Potato flavor. However, the relish overpowered the chip and I didn’t get a good sense of how the it tasted. No issues with that – the relish is the star after all – but I hope to try the sweet potato chips again soon on their own!

How to-die-for does this dessert look? The Hartford Club Executive Chef Chris Kube‘s sweet, fall-inspired creations were my favorite part of the entire Wine & Food Fest! Jeff and I enjoyed chatting with Chris about his experiences exploring the restaurants of different cities he’s lived in (DC and NYC), and we pretty much lavished him with compliments as we moaned (in a good way) over his desserts.

The above item was my very, very favorite: pumpkin soup with cranberry and goat cheese biscotti. Pure pumpkin, sweet but subtle cranberries, crunchy biscotti, and savory goat cheese were an absolute match made in heaven. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten!

Demos

Throughout the evening, demos called Grand Tastings were scheduled in which various celebrity chefs whipped up some of their specialties, and then shared the results with some eager taste testers (AKA us). Jeff and I only caught a couple of these demos, but I enjoyed how they ran throughout the night so that whenever we stopped by the Grand Tasting area, there was almost always something happening or about to happen!

Chef Adam Greenberg of Barcelona – West Hartford!

The angled mirror above the demo cooking area provided every guest with a great view. Adam Greenberg of Barcelona in West Hartford whipped up some tasty scallops for us!

And for (another) dessert, Mike Elder (you may know him from TLC’s “Ultimate Cake-Off – he’s won three times!) demo-ed his cake decorating skills by showing us how he created some mice to put on top of his cheese-wedge cake!

Check out the barrel in the above photo – that’s a cake! The detail was so impressive. It’s hard to see, but in the photo, Mike is “spray-painting” one of the little mice he made to put on the other cake (pictured below).

It wouldn’t be a proper post without a photo of me awkwardly posing with food.

Check out the little mice! The cake itself, beyond the decor, was a “Wal-Mart cake” (Mike’s words, not mine). He jokingly kept telling us not to judge the taste of the cake itself for that reason! I am happy to report that Wal-Mart makes a good cake, and however sad it was to see the creation divvied up, I thoroughly enjoyed my slice.

I saved the most blog-related portion of this post for last, because it features something I’ve seen all over the place in the blog world: the Vita-Mix!

A rep in a headset whipped up several recipes for us, and I was definitely impressed by the Vitamix’s power! It’s way out of my price range, and I don’t really blend anything anyway, but I still enjoyed experiencing first-hand some food made in the blender that’s so loved by so many of my favorite bloggers!

Freshly-made peanut butter, with bananas and celery for dipping!

The PB pictured above was fab. I only got one bit of banana though, because I dropped the rest of my portion on the ground – dammit, wine! Celery was a subpar replacement for dipping, but the PB was wonderful enough that it wouldn’t matter what I was dipping into it. We also tried sorbet, a fruit smoothie, and tortilla soup! Out of everything though, my heart lay with the PB – it always wins in the end!

So there you have it: my trip to the first CT Wine & Food Festival was a great success, and I can only hope that it becomes an annual event. It looks like the Arthritis Foundation had a great turnout and raised money for their cause!

Have you ever been to a wine and food tasting? Which item that I wrote about would you most want to try?