It’s hard to believe that an entire week has gone by since I returned from my whirlwind trip to Portland and last weekend’s epic Vida Vegan Con. I’ve got an equally epic Raw Cookie Dough recipe to share tomorrow, but I couldn’t let another day go by without sharing the experience with y’all! Come to think of it, the effect was very much like eating cookie dough–all weekend long!
Although the conference unofficially began on Thursday evening, I arrived a bit late to the party (due to a previously booked cooking class here in town). I got there just in time for the final afternoon session on Friday, a little jet-lagged and spent from the anxiety of a 10-hour trip that included not one, but two flights (admittedly not my best moments). But the anxiety dissipated the moment I entered the Portland Museum and the overwhelming welcome from the VVC staffers!
Following an anti-candida diet, even at the maintenance stage, means that I overlooked some of the incredible fare at the conference. But there was still LOADS of great food to consume! I didn’t take any chances, however, and packed plenty of my own travel comestibles, including my favorite Simply Bars, raw nuts and seeds, kale chips, and my favorite Coconut Brittle:
[Perfect travel snack!]
In the end, it seemed that for me, it was really all about the people. One of the first bloggers I encountered was Susan Voisin of Fat Free Vegan Kitchen. Like so many of you, I’ve been reading Susan’s blog for ages, and was just so impressed with how down-to-earth, warm, and welcoming she was.
I floated through the Friday afternoon session (or was it the three-hour time change playing with my brain?), a bit overcome by how many familiar faces I saw, for the first time, in person (amazing, isn’t it, how we bloggers can recognize each other from those tiny avatars next to our comments?).
First up, I was thrilled to bump into my buddy Tess Masters, aka The Blender Girl, of Healthy Blender Recipes. Tess is a force of nature and one of the most generous, entertaining and hilarious people I know. After squeals and big hugs, we quickly caught up and went to check out the main hall and sessions. I also had the opportunity to finally meet a couple of prolific, best-selling cookbook authors (both of whom I’ve reviewed before on this site) that I’ve admired for a long time: Dreena Burton and Nava Atlas. It felt like greeting old friends! I loved chatting with both of them, and only wish I’d had more time to sit and talk.
That evening, Andrea Nakayama, my host for the weekend, took me to the legendary Prasad yoga studio-slash-restaurant for dinner. Andrea and I had met briefly before in New York and have taught several online courses together, but had never really spent any quality in-person time. Despite my general travel anxiety, this felt like coming home: Andrea’s house is cozy, relaxed and welcoming, and I reveled in her company. After dinner, we took a little tour of downtown Portland and browsed through Powells while gabbing like high schoolers about relationships, juicing, raw foods, colonics and what we’ve been reading lately. It was true Girl Time, and I lapped it up!
[The Urban Bowl at Prasad–or what was left of it by the time I remembered to snap a pic!]
Saturday was my only full day at the conference. More squeals as I met up with other bloggers I’d known only via blogs and emails up to that point:
What a treat to run into Angela again after having met her a couple of years ago here in the Toronto area. Yes, she’s just as sweet, funny and beautiful in person as she is on her blog! And meeting Andrea for the first time after exchanging emails and blog comments for almost 5 years was a huge highlight for me, too (and I can’t believe we never got that photo, Andrea!!).
I practically jumped across a table to finally hug Amey, one of the conference hostesses and the incredibly talented writer and illustrator behind Vegan Eats and Treats. So sorry I didn’t get a photo! I also met (far too) briefly with Hannah, Julie, Ashlee, Jill, Ginny, Dianne, Lisa, Nicole, Kristina, Sharon, Sayward . . . and sorry I never got close enough to say hello to Joni Marie, Cadry, Marika, Carrie, Jasmin and Mariann, Kittee, Bianca. . . and so many more.
Here’s a group hug with some of my very favorite bloggers:
A favorite conference session was Fran Costigan‘s on how to prepare for and deliver a flawless recipe demo. Fran also has a new book coming out in October, called Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious. I can’t wait!
The panel on “Privacy Lines and Oversharing,” about how much of one’s personal life to share on the blog, was also educational and inspiring, and one of the most memorable:
I know, food photos are sorely lacking in this post! Truth be told, I was so engaged with all the amazing folks at the conference that I barely remembered to snap a pic of my eats. But take my word for it, there was great vegan food aplenty–even for this gluten-free, sugar-free gal! Portland’s reputation as vegan food heaven is entirely justified.
I did remember this quick photo from dinner on Saturday at a fabulous resto called Ya Hala that serves Lebanese fare. Oh, my goodness gracious, was it fantabulous!! Here’s a dish of stuffed eggplant I enjoyed while chatting it up with Annelies, Tess, Dreena, and Kim Lutz of Welcoming Kitchen:
Then, before I knew it, it was Sunday morning and it was time to return to the airport! (Note to self: next time, ensure that the stay at your destination is actually longer than the time you spend traveling).
I barely had time to enjoy the incredible breakfast buffet (chia pudding to die for! coconut yogurt! tofu scramble!!) and wave at a few more bloggers before hightailing it to make my flight. A final highlight, though, was meeting Brian, The Sexy Vegan, for the first time and being interviewed for his podcast. While he was (of course) the consummate professional while interviewing, his manner belied how incredibly HILARIOUS the man is in his videos and posts. You MUST check them out! And take a peek at his latest book here.
[In the presence of sexiness (and understated hilarity!)! Loved chatting with The Sexy Vegan.]
And then–poof!–it was time to go. I said my reluctant goodbye to Andrea and tearfully headed to the airport:
[Saying goodbye to my “Sister from another Mister,” Andrea]
All in all, it was an incredible, memorable experience. It’s true that blogging can forge strong and long-lasting relationships even between people who live across the globe from each other, or never meet in person. But having the opportunity to talk with so many of those bloggers face to face was truly magical.
Thank you to the talented organizers of Vida Vegan Con, Janessa, Michele and Jess, and to everyone else who made this a unique and exhilarating event overall. I’m looking forward to the next one already. Only next time, I think I’ll stay a little longer. 😉
© Ricki Heller