Vegan Oil-Free Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies

These might be my new favorite cookie.  I know.  I’ve said that before.  Can anyone have just one favorite cookie?  No.  That’s just not fair. We must have an assortment of favorite cookies, right?

I know you are looking for some oil-free recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth.  So, after hearing from many of you for an oil-free cookie recipe, I have developed a few recipes. We’ll start with this one: Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies!  *Note: These are oil-free, not fat-free.  I’m not bringing back the early 90’s Snackwells craze. Once was enough for that!

These cookies are sweet but also satisfying, with wholesome rolled oats, and a nutty/sweet marriage of peanut butter (and of course nut butters can be substituted) and raisins.  For an oil-free cookie, they also stay nicely crisp on the outside (as many oil-free cookies are more like mini-muffins).  In fact, I don’t think anyone would ever guess that these are oil-free… they taste THAT good!

I decided to playfully put a couple of cookies each in a parchment paper cone tied with ribbons.  I thought this would be fun for a birthday party or if you are hosting a playdate.  Gives the kiddos their own “special” serving (and sidesteps communal food sharing, which germophobe parents will appreciate)!

I’ve made several batches of these (lucky girls and hubby!), and they come out terrific each time.  Sometimes I’ll add a sprinkle of chocolate chips – and sometimes I’ll scoop half the batch without chips and then add just a few for the remaining half-batch.  That way we can choose the chocolate or not (uh, I know what I’m choosing). 😉  In these photos, the cone of cookies on top has NO chips, the one on bottom has a few chips… can you see?  If you are sticking with the no-oil philosophy, just skip the chips.  You will still love them, trust me!

Thought you needed a closer look at those chips. Okay, fine.  I needed to see that close-up!

Oil-Free Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies - grab a glass of almond milk, these are gonna' be good! #vegan

updated photo credit: Nicole Axworthy

Oil-Free Oatmeal PB Chocolate Chip Cookies 

RECIpage link here

1/3 cup chunky peanut butter (or almond butter or other nut butter, see note and nut-free option)

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

2 tbsp plain non-dairy milk

2 tbsp flax meal

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup oat flour (use certified gluten-free for that option)

1 1/2 cups rolled oats (use certified gluten-free for that option)

1/2 cup almond meal (see note for nut-free option)

3 tbsp coconut sugar (can use date sugar, or sucanat, etc)

1 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt (*see note)

1/4 tsp (rounded) cinnamon

1/4 cup raisins

2-3 tbsp non-dairy chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.  You can use a bowl and spoon and stir by hand, or use a mixer.  If using a mixer, first combine the peanut butter, maple syrup, milk, flax meal, and vanilla in the mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed for a couple of minutes until creamy (if mixing by hand, simply combine all these ingredients in a bowl and set aside).  Then, combine the oat flour, rolled oats, almond meal, coconut sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon in a bowl and stir through.  Add raisins and chocolate chips, and stir through again.  If using a mixer, add this dry mixture to the wet on a low speed until just nicely incorporated. If mixing by hand, simply add the wet mixture to the dry, working through until well combined.  Take spoonfuls of the mixture (about 1 1/2 tbsp) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Bake for 11-12 minutes (not longer, they can scorch on bottom).  Remove from oven, let cool on pan for just a minute and then transfer to a cooling rack. Take a nibble… Repeat. Try to share. :)

Makes 15-17 nibbly, scrumpdillylicious cookies!

Note:  Some peanut butters and almond butters contain salt – even natural brands.  If you have a brand with salt, then reduce the salt to just a pinch or two, no more than 1/8 tsp.

Nut-Free Option:  To make these nut-free, substitute sunflower butter for the peanut/almond butter.  Then, for the 1/2 cup almond meal, substitute with 1/4 cup of oat flour (in addition to the 1/2 cup oat flour already in ingredients) and 1/4 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut.  IF you cannot consume coconut, then use hemp seeds (coconut gives better flavor/texture).  Sunflower butter has some natural bitterness that nut butters do not have, so to compensate for this flavor differential, ALSO increase cinnamon to 1 tsp, and the vanilla to 2 tsp.  It will add some extra natural sweetness that helps the overall flavor.  (You can also add another 1-2 tsp of maple syrup or coconut sugar to bump up the sweetness if you like, taste test the batter and judge as brands of sunflower butter can vary.)

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Before I leave, I want to thank those of you that have contributed glowing reviews on amazon.  It really helps.  I’m always excited to see new (happy!) reviews, so if you have been loving LTEV, please consider sharing a few good words about it – or my other books!  Thank you. :)

My next post will be for the Plant-Powered Kids Series.  You can subscribe to my blog here.

Finally, my friend and fellow vegan cookbook author Ricki Heller has reviewed LTEV on her blog.  She tells a little story of how we met, and shares the recipe for my “Cocoa Goji Granola”.  Plus, there’s still time to enter the giveaway she is hosting – chance to win a copy of LTEV!  And, check out the fabulous recipes on her Wellness Weekend!

ENJOY those COOKIES!  😀

“Oven Dehydrated” Kale Chips (no dehydrator needed!)

 

I’ve had a problem.  A kale chip problem.  I have been buying too many packages of dehydrator-made-deliciously-expensive kale chips.

Why not make them myself?  Well, I don’t have a dehydrator, which truly makes the best kale chips.  I’ve made them in the oven before, but guess what?  They lose that gorgeous vibrant green color and get grayish, or burn in spots and taste bitter.  The taste is just not the same.  It’s not fresh and clean, but rather bitter and sulphurous.

Here’s why: most recipes for kale chips in an oven have the setting WAY too high, usually around 400 degrees.  But even recipes that bake chips at a lower oven temp for longer (ex: 300 degrees for 30+ minutes), your kale chips will “cook” rather than “dry”.  A dehydrator is so effective because it dries the foods, it doesn’t cook them.  That’s why the chips taste so fresh and the greens taste more sweet than bitter.

As I’ve said, I don’ t have a dehydrator (hint, hint Excalibur). 😉  But, that didn’t stop me here, because I’m stubborn passionate and persistent. :) I started experimenting, to get these crunchy-munchy bites of deliciousness.  And this is what I discovered…

The trick is to mimic dehydrating in your oven.  To do that, you need to use the lowest temperature setting possible for your oven, and then alternative turning the oven off and on.  For my trials, this took about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.  The result?  Crispy, yummy kale chips!

Wait!  Before I give you the recipe, we haven’t talked about seasonings.  Many kale chip recipes either use oil and simply salt to season… or they are heavily overseasoned. My recipe gives you an oil-free ‘dressing’ for the chips.  And, it is flavorful, but not spicy.  I have bought too many varieties of kale chips that are so darn spicy I could not eat them.  Disappointing (particularly at $8 or more a pop).  I give you flavor in these seasonings, but not heat – and also not too much salt.  Remember that the kale becomes smaller, more concentrated with this drying.  So, use a conservative touch with salt.  You can always taste test when they are almost ready and add a touch more if you think they need it.  Try the recipe as-is first, then add your spices to personalize the next time round (see note about seasoning).

And finally, this ‘dressing’ uses some nooch (nutritional yeast).  I promise it tastes good.  It’s the combination of the ingredients together.  So, give it a try, even start with a touch less at first to get the idea.

Oven-dehydrated kale chips using dino kale!

“Oven Dehydrated” Kale Chips gluten-free, oil-free soy-free option (RECIpage link to print/share)

Kale is quite the buzz word in healthy eating, and kale chips have become incredibly trendy.  The best kale chips are made with a dehydrator, since it slowly dries the leaves – as opposed to an oven which can cook the leaves and make them taste burned and bitter.  Yet, most home cooks do not have these large and expensive dehydrating machines.  I don’t myself!  And, after spending far too much money on premade kale chips (which were delicious but breaking my bank!), I decided to create this unique recipe.  See, here, the kale chips are placed in the oven on the lowest setting possible – which for most ovens is 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  Then, the oven is turned off to let the chips continue to dry without any oven heat, alternated with one shorter last period with some oven heat.  The result is fantastic!  The chips slowly dry and become crunchy and tasty, without getting browned or burned.  And, the marinade for these chips is tangy and cheesy – and made without oil – delicious!

1 bunch fresh kale (curly or dinosaur/lacinato kale; I used dino kale in these photos)

2 tsp tahini

2  tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp tamari (or coconut aminos for soy-free version)

1/2 tsp pure maple syrup

2 1/2 – 3 tbsp nutritional yeast

1/8 tsp (scant) sea salt

First prepare kale.  Fully wash kale leaves by submerging bunch of kale in a sink of cold water.  Agitate to release any debris (and bugga-buggas)!  Strip the leaves from the stems and place leaves in a salad spinner.  Spin several times to remove AS MUCH water as possible.  If leaves are still a little damp, then use a kitchen towel to blot and dry kale leaves.  You want the leaves AS DRY as possible before using. Then, turn oven to lowest setting possible.  For most ovens this is 170 degrees (it won’t take long to preheat, see note).  Get two large baking sheets ready, by lining with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the tahini, lemon juice, tamari, and mape syrup.  Stir or whisk through until fully smooth in the bottom of the bowl.  Add kale leaves and toss through with your hands, gently incorporating all of the tahini sauce, and working it gently through all the leaves.  Add the nutritional yeast, and continue to work through the kale leaves.  Transfer the kale to your two baking sheets, spreading them out to give the leaves space to dry – the more space you give them, the better.  Sprinkle the leaves with the salt.

Place baking sheets in oven on two racks.  Bake at 170 for an 45-60 minutes (rotate trays once during baking).  Then, turn off oven, rotate trays again, and then let the trays sit in the oven for another 30-40 minutes.  After this time, turn oven on again at 170, and let bake for another 15-20 minutes.  Check kale, if it is completely dry and cripsy, remove from oven.  If not, turn off heat and let sit in the warm (but turned offf) oven for another 30-40 minutes (or longer – can vary with the volume of kale in your bunch and thereby how much marinade on the leaves).  By then, the kale should be crispy, and also still fairly vibrant green!  If not fully crips, continue to let sit in the oven.  (See note to “recrisp” leftover chips.)  Munch ‘n crunch and enjoy!

Oven Note: If your oven can go lower than this setting – do so!  It will take longer, but you’ll get there.

Seasoning Note:  If you like heat, feel free to add a few pinches of chili powder or other seasonings you like.  Note not to add much extra wet seasonings or it will make the leaves soggy.  Stick with dry seasonings, and also remember that the flavor intensifies once the leaves are dried – so go easy to start!  It’s best to make this recipe first as is, then adjust the next time with seasonings you like, just to get the idea of how the leaves transform into chips.

Recrisping Note:  IF you have kale chips leftover, store in a paper bag or a container with a lid.  They may lose some of their crispness within a day or two (especially if you live in a damp/humid climate).  To recrisp, simply place back in oven at 170 degrees (or turned off after slightly warming) for about 15-20 minutes until nice and freshly crisp again!

Enjoy, and remember to subscribe to my posts for more crazy-good plant-powered recipes!  I’ll be returning with the Plant-Powered Kids Series soon.

Have you made kale chips?  What was your experience?  Are you going to give these a try?! 

Thanks to Ricki Heller for including this recipe in her Weekend Wellness round-up!

“In-the-kitchen-too-much” Winners!

Congratulations to the four winners listed below!  I have e-mailed you directly, so please check your inbox.
I enjoyed all your comments, and several surprised me with “vanilla beans” and “cocoa beans”… of course, how could we forget those two delicious, nutritious plant-powered beans?!  Great fun to read your replies – from “monolegumenous” to “keeping a can of beans in the car for emergencies” – just great! 😀
My next post will be either: a a delicious oil-free cookie recipe that can be made with bowl/spoon OR a ‘no-dehyradator-needed kale chip recipe (doesn’t get bitter, and also oil-free!).  Tell me folks, which one is speaking to you? 
And, here is the list of winners!:
Winner #1: Michelle, with comment

Being new to the Vegan lifestyle, being an atypical cardio patient, I would love to win one of your cookbooks. I have already liked you on FB, shared the Giveaway and commented on the Giveaway post. Peace and health, Michelle

Winner #2: Denise, with comment

I tweeted. :) @A_HeartFor_More

Winner #3: Dawn, with comment:

New cookbook from Dreana, yes, please!! And you KNOW it will go to good use! Fave bean: chickpea or black bean, love both, and many more! XOXO!

Winner #4: Jill, with comment:

Hmmmm, my favorite bean would have to be the chickpea!

Thanks for all your entries, be sure to tell me which recipe/post you’d like next… the kale chips or the cookies (see above)?!

“In-the-kitchen-too-much” cookbook giveaway!

UPDATE: Contest now closed, winners being chosen! :)

Hi friends!  Since I’ve returned from Summerfest I have been testing new recipes something fierce (actually, was doing the same before I left too).  In fact, I am testing new things so often that I rarely get time to sit and format the recipes and share them with you.

And, I want to post with photos… and it takes me FOREVER to get a proper food photo with our schedules with the girls and simply keeping up with being a mom.

So, here’s the thing.  I’m buying some time before I post again – at least a few days.  Time to get some recipes formatted, and start this plant-powered kids’ series!  I figure a cookbook giveaway does the trick… right? :)

I am giving away TWO copies of LTEV… and TWO copies of ed&bv!  That’s four winners, so your chances are good here to snag a new cookbook!  (and if you already have one or the other and want to choose one of my other cookbooks, can do!)

To enter:

1) Comment on THIS post.  How about you share your favorite bean!

2) To grab a second entry, follow me on twitter (if you haven’t already) and retweet this post OR “like” my facebook page (if you haven’t already) and share the status update that links to this post. (I will see who shares the post through facebook) ***UPDATE: I will track those that have already shared on facebook and twitter, but if you can, please come back and comment a second time on this post with “tweet” or “facebook” as your names here and on twitter/fb may differ!

Contest open to residents of Canada and the US.  I will draw the winner once I get out of the kitchen. 😉

Chai Peanut Butter Ice Cream (vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free)

During dinner this past week our middle daughter asked:  “Mommy, we don’t know what heaven will be like, how do we know we will like it?

My heart tugged and I said: “you’re right honey, we don’t know what heaven is like“… “I think you get to do your most favorite things in heaven all the time, like sing and dance and go swimming and be with people you love and have dogs all around you and eat ice cream“.

She giggled and asked: “can the people all be dogs?

(This girl really loves dogs!)  I replied emphatically: “yes, I think they can if you want them to be!!

She then asked: “and I can eat ice cream whenever I want?

…”Yep, I sure think you can!“, I replied.

I cherish these innocent talks with our girls.  We talk about heaven occasionally, because they understand that their poppy Burton (my father) is in heaven, and we regularly speak of him as their guardian angel.  And, we have talked about our loved ones being in heaven with our beloved animals.  I always try to keep the conversation light and happy because I know at the heart of the matter is some fear of the unknown and sadness surrounding mortality.

So, we joked about how we would eat our favorite foods and just do whatever the heck we wanted all of the time!  She has my fondness for ice cream, so of course we elaborated on the topic of “ice cream heaven”!

The next day on facebook I get this message from Kristi:

“Just made Chai Peanut Butter ice cream. I think this will be served in my Heaven. OMG! YUM!!!”

I chuckled to myself and the coincidence gave me a little shiver.

Let’s have a little taste of heaven on earth.  Today I am sharing that celestial Chai Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Chai Peanut Butter Ice Cream (photo credit: Hannah Kaminsky, bittersweetblog.wordpress.com)

Chai Peanut Butter Ice Cream gluten-free, soy-free (recipe from Let Them Eat Vegan)

RECIpage link to print/share

1 can (14 oz) coconut milk (regular, not light)

½ cup natural peanut butter (can substitute almond or cashew butter if you prefer)

1 cup plain or vanilla non-dairy milk

3/4 cup coconut sugar (or other unrefined sugar), (see note)

2 tbsp pure maple syrup

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cardamom

¼ tsp allspice (see note)

¼ tsp ground ginger (see note)

¼ tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp sea salt

Pinch or two ground cloves (see note)

¼ tsp (rounded) guar gum

In a blender, combine all the ingredients and blend until thoroughly mixed, stopping to scrape down the blender bowl once or twice, if needed. Transfer the mixture immediately (see note) to an ice-cream maker (follow the directions of the specific model, this is the one I use), and churn until the mixture is of soft-serve consistency.

Adult-Minded: If you generally like more spices in such sweets as gingerbread, pumpkin pie, spice cookies, and cakes, you can round the measures of the spices cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and ginger, and add a pinch more of cloves.

Ingredients 411: If using vanilla nondairy milk, you might want to adjust the 3⁄4 cup measure of sugar, starting with a little less, because vanilla milks are sweeter than plain. Keep in mind that the room-temperature ice-cream mixture will taste sweeter than when frozen.

Savvy Subs and Adds: Coconut sugar has a caramel flavor, and likewise a caramel-type flavor with undertones of coconut. It is a delicious and lovely sugar; however, if you can- not find it, try Sucanat or another unrefined sugar in its place.

Enjoy this heavenly dessert, and I wish you a sweet day!

Mango Sassy!

Here is an easy, cool refreshing drink for your long, hot summer days!  This drink first appeared in “eat, drink & be vegan“, and I have given you a few ‘extras’ for variety in today’s post.

This “Mango Sassy” is my adaptation of the Indian drink ‘Mango Lassi’.  Instead of using soy or another non-dairy yogurt in this drink, I opt for lime juice to deliver that edge of tang in an otherwise creamy, cool beverage.

Depending on what type of non-dairy milk you are using, this drink will not be overly sweet – it will only have the natural sweetness from the frozen or fresh mango.  So, adjust the sweetness to taste adding pure maple syrup or agave nectar – or frozen banana – and also try adding other frozen fruit to the mix (suggestions below).

My version of a Mango Lassi... veganized!

Mango Sassy! gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free

1 cup frozen or fresh mango chunks

1 cup plain or vanilla non-dairy milk (if using plain, add extra sweetener to taste or frozen banana, see note)

4-6 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice (see note)

1/3 ice cubes (for blending, can omit if using frozen mango)

1-3 tsp pure maple syrup or agave nectar (adjust to taste)

ice cubes (for serving)

In a blender combine mango, milk, lime juice (starting with 4 tsp), and ice cubes and blend until smooth. Taste test, and add more lime juice or maple syrup if desired. Pour into individual glasses with a few ice cubes and serve.  Makes 2-3 servings.

Note: If you keep frozen banana chunks in the freezer (as I do!), try adding 1/2 cup – either as a substitute for part of the mango, or in addition to the 1 cup of mango chunks.  If you are using full cup of mango plus the banana, you will need a little more milk to thin.

Mango-Sassy-Twist!: Try adding a handful of frozen raspberries in addition to the mango.  Raspberries and mangoes are a heavenly combination bursting with summer flavor!  You can also substitute some fresh peaches or nectarines for the mango (in full or in part).

Idea: Pour leftovers into popsicle molds and freeze for “Sass-icles”!

Click for the RECIpage link, and be sure to subscribe to my posts to get new post updates delivered to your inbox.

P.S. For those of you wondering about the “Plant-Powered Kids” series – yes, I WILL be running it, more details soon.  :)

Vegan Burgers: Mushroom Pecan Sliders

I had some fun facebook this morning, playing a guessing game with this photo.  And, Dana quickly identified them as my “Mushroom Pecan Burgers, Take II” from LTEV.

Why ‘take II’?  I first created this recipe for my first cookbook, The Everyday Vegan.  They were delicious, but a touch delicate and best suited for stuffing inside a pita then taking their rightful place inside a burger bun.  For LTEV, I decided to reinvent them, making them firmer, more savory, and also giving a wheat free and gluten-free option.

Most recently I made them into ‘sliders’ for Father’s Day.  Hubby loves these burgers, and I usually make them for his birthday or Father’s Day – or both!  Now, some of you very observant readers might think you see some grains of rice in there.  Indeed you do – can’t get anything past you!  I had some leftover brown rice in the fridge, and so decided to substitute some of the oats with about 1 cup of rice, to use up the rice (and also stretch out the mix a little).  It worked beautifully, and I would add it again if on hand.  I wouldn’t replace all the oats with brown rice (as the oats help to absorb moisture), but a partial substitution worked well.

Also, if try my “Almonnaise” as an oil-free substitute to vegan mayonnaise!  It’s on page 55 of LTEV (and I hope to upload a YouTube clip for it soon).

Mushroom Pecan Burgers, Take II gluten-free option, oil-free option

1 tbsp olive oil (omit for oil-free version and use just 1 tsp water)

1 lb brown (cremini) mushrooms (ends of stems trimmed), chopped (cremini have more flavor than white button mushrooms, but white mushrooms can also be used)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 ¼ cups onion, diced

couple pinches sea salt

3 – 4 large cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 – 2 ½ tbsps tahini

1 tbsp light miso (ex: brown rice)

½ tsp ground sage

1 tsp dried oregano

1 1/2 tbsps balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp tamari

1 ¾ cups rolled oats (use certified gluten-free for that option)

1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 tsp vegan worcestershire sauce (optional, omit for wheat-free/gluten-free version)

½ cup pecans, lightly toasted (see note)

In a large skillet (as large as you have) over high heat, combine the oil, mushrooms, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have started to brown and shrink down (9 to 10 minutes). Push most of the mushrooms to the outer edges of the skillet (creating a well in the center), turn the heat down to medium or medium-low, and add the onion and salt. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic (adding the garlic later helps prevent it from burning). Stir the mushrooms into the onion mixture and cook for another 6 to 7 minutes, until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar to the pan, stir, and then remove from the heat.  In a food processor, combine about three-quarters of the mushroom mixture with the tahini, miso, sage, oregano, the remaining 11⁄2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and the tamari, oats, fresh parsley, and Worcestershire sauce (if using). Process until it just comes together. Add the pecans, pulse once or twice (to break up but not fully process), and then add the remaining mushroom mixture, pulsing once or twice just to incorporate.  Remove the blade, and shape mounds of the mixture into patties with your hands (yielding six, or five larger patties). The patties can be refrigerated or cooked immediately. To cook, place on a nonstick skillet over medium or medium-high heat and cook the patties for 6 to 8 minutes, then flip and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes until a golden sear has formed on each side, working in batches, if necessary. (To oven-bake, place patties on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 400 degrees, for roughly 10 minutes on one side, then flipping and baking another 10 minutes.) Serve up!  Makes 5 to 6 patties.

Serving Suggestions: Because these burgers take a little more prep than others, pair with the simplest of spuds, such as baked whole sweet or white potatoes. But if you’re up to just a little more prep, try Lemon Dijon Green Beans or Sunshine Fries with Rosemary and Coarse Sea Salt. A green salad will round out the meal and add freshness; try one loaded with raw veggies and drizzled with Walnut Mustard Vinaigrette.

Toasting Nuts:  To toast nuts, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Place in oven preheated to 400 degrees, and bake for 7 to 12 minutes, tossing once or twice through the baking process to distribute through evenly during cooking.  Watch carefully as toasting times vary by nut, and they can turn from golden to burned in just seconds.

Thanks to Ricki Heller for including this recipe in her Wellness Weekend round-up!

Link to RECIpage to share/print!

Vegetarian Summerfest 2012!

I’m back from a whirlwind week at Summerfest!  Right now I’m recalibrating, trying to figure out what time zone I’m in and what day it is!  (I owe many of you e-mails, I know, please bear with me.) But, it was a wonderful experience and so let’s hit some highlights!

Summerfest is run by the North American Vegetarian Society.  This year marked its 38th annual conference, with almost 800 attendees.  The conference is held in a small town in Pennsylvania – Johnstown – at the university campus.  Getting to the conference was a bit of a feat in and of itself!  I left on a red-eye last Tuesday, connected through Chicago to Pittsburgh, and then after those ten hours or so of travel, there was a 2-hour bus shuttle ride to the campus.

What made that travel bearable was knowing that I would be meeting my gorgeous and accomplished friend, Julieanna Hever.  We have become friends this past year and were beyond excited about finally meeting!  We were texting like highschool sweethearts through the night and morning, and when I saw her at the shuttle departure, we hugged the dickens out of each other.  Exhausted but giddy, we boarded the bus and chatted the full two hours until we reached the conference.

I had two presentations, a cooking demo (featuring my Mediterranean Bean Burgers, DJ’s Hummus Salad Dressing, and Cocoa Cookie Dough Balls) and a talk on “Eating Your Leafy Greens”.  Here is a pic Julieanna snapped during my cooking demo:

Julieanna had FIVE presentations, including a plenary talk.  She has been to Summerfest several times before and said “D!!, you HAVE to come this year with your new book just released“.  Here is Julieanna during a couple of her talks – she captivates the room:

The days are FULL at Summerfest.  There are activities before breakfast, then a plenary talk after breakfast, individual talks and presentations to lunch hour, another plenary after lunch, more individual talks and presentations leading to dinner, and then another plenary after dinner followed by some evening activities.  There is NO way you can take in all the talks, especially as a speaker.  Still, what you take in is valuable, and if you are new to the vegan diet… empowering and life-changing.

Gosh, I met so many other people and speakers!  Lisa Pitman was one of the first people I met, just after registration.  How could I mistake her?  She greets you with a warm, heartfelt smile and joyful blue eyes.

She looked at me and said “Dreena”… with a calm, kind voice and we gave each other a big hug.  I have only known LIsa online and through her work with the Toronto Vegetarian Association in past years.  She decided to volunteer at Summerfest this year, with the children’s activities.  EVERY time I saw Lisa, I felt she grounded me with her smile and calm hugs.  She has this serene yet joyful spirit, and I tried to soak in some of that energy every time we connected.  Yet, I neglected to get a photo of us together, and I almost kicked myself when I realized such – except that I know Lisa wouldn’t want me to have that grief or regret, so we will get a photo the next time we meet, dear LIsa. :)

I also met Heather Nauta for the very first time.  She arrived a little later in the conference, and by that time Julieanna and I were pretty much hanging by a thread after delivering our talks and still working through time zone exhaustion and the busy Summerfest schedule!  I saw her as I walked into one of Julieanna’s talks and gave her a hug straight away!  Heather is gentle and sweet – but has quite the adventurous side to her!  The more I talk to Heather, the more I learn that this lady has done (or will do) some things that you would never expect… like hang-gliding and get this – aerobatics!!!  Heather was compiling a video from some speakers at Summerfest, with their “top tip” for becoming vegan, so stay tuned for that!

I met Brenda Davis, who ironically lives in BC but apparently we need to travel to the east coast of the United States to connect and talk!  She is the wikipedia of vegan nutrition, and yet is entirely down-to-earth and warm and wonderful.  And, she HAS discovered the fountain of youth with a plant-based diet… her skin is radiant and smooth and she exudes glow and energy.

And, here is a photo of Julieanna and I with Dina Aronson (second to right) and Allison Rivers Samson (far right)!  What cool ladies, I enjoyed talking with them and getting to know them both, if even just a little. I also attended Allison’s cooking demo, which was excellent.  Allison’s Gourmet was the first vegan goodie shop on the block, she pioneered online vegan confections.

Here is a photo of the vegan RD’s at Summerfest, including Jill Nussinow, “The Veggie Queen” (in the purple tank).  She is dynamic and passionate and you can just sit and have a real good chat with Jill!

Another vegan icon I was excited to meet was Fran Costigan.  I sat in on one of her talks, and she delivers her vast experience and knowledge with ease and an approachability and ‘realness’ that I really value.

I met and chatted briefly with Rae Sikora.  She is warm and embracing and beautifully radiant.

How many times have I mentioned the words “warm” and “kind” when describing people from Summerfest?  There were so many lovely, good-hearted people there.

Have I talked about the food yet?  We had full vegan meals, all coordinated under the direction of Chef Mark Reinfeld. Mark contributed a back cover quote for LTEV, but I had never met him.  When I did, I couldn’t believe how someone so mellow, warm, and sweet could take charge of putting out full vegan meals (with gluten-free, raw, and oil-free options) for almost 800 people, three times a day for a week.  I didn’t get a photo with Mark (darn!), but here he is with one of the attendees, Monica Vereau Trzaska (who kindly allowed me to many of her photos here):

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

 During the conference, I did a couple of book signings.  Julieanna and I coordinated our signing times, which was great fun!  Here we are with Monica (from above photo) and Jeff:

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

Julieanna and I were joined by Jonathan Balcombe for our book signings:

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

He delivered a plenary talk the second night, “The Mental Lives of Fishes”.  I felt this was such a valuable talk, because we tend to be very dissociated from fish, not seeing them as sentient animals.  He dispelled that myth during his talk.  When we met at the book signing, I picked up a copy of his new book, The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure for our girls.  Jonathan was great fun to sign with, lots of good humor at our table!

Then, we get to the plenary talks.  Julieanna gave a talk called “Breaking Bread”, which she first debuted at TEDxCONEJO and you can view her exceptional talk right here.

Another highlight was Dr. Neal Barnard, with his talk “Memory: How Foods and Lifestyle Choices Can Strengthen the Brain and Protect Against Everyday Memory Lapses, “Senior Moments”, And Even Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and Stroke”.  Dr. Barnard is not only effective at communicating the important nutritional and medical facts, but he delivers laughs along the way.

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

Dr. Melanie Joy, author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows delivered a thought-provoking talk “Vegan Empowerment: How to Live an Inspired, Fulfilling, and Empowering Life in a Non-Vegan World” that captured every person in that auditorium:

Here is a photo of Melanie with Julieanna, they are good friends:

Another of my favorite talks was by Jenny Brown.  You may not know her name, but if you listened to her talk, “Voices for the Voiceless: If We are to Progress as a Peaceful, Moral Society and as a Sustainable Planet, We Need to Take a Serious Look at Animal Farming”, you would never forget her.  She has a book coming out in August, The Lucky Ones.

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

She spoke from the heart, unscripted, with passionate yet genuine intent.  Her last line she quoted from another “we must not refuse to see with our eyes what they endure with their bodies“.  Truth.

And, one of the crowd favorites… Dr. Michael Greger with his talk, “The Latest in Nutrition 2012″.  As dry and dull as you might imagine that talk to be from the title, Dr. Greger made it fascinating, engaging, and hilarious!

photo credit: Monica Vereau Trzaska

I met him briefly as well outside of the talks.  He endears you with his excitement and humor, and most of the day you would find him talking with attendees at his booth, one-to-one, about their health.

Here is another photo of Julieanna and I.  Even with ALL the dynamic, informative, inspiring speakers… sharing time with Julieanna was THE best, and I will cherish the laughs, stresses, and all the experiences we had together.

Once I dried my tears from saying goodbye to Julieanna, I was excited to return home to my wee girls and hubby.  Here is a note our middle girl wrote the night before I arrived home: