Preview: Twin Cities Veg Fest 2015

Vegan shirt design by Flickr user Ballookey Klugeypop

Vegan shirt design by Flickr user Ballookey Klugeypop

Twin Cities Veg Fest 2015 takes place Sunday, Nov. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Coffman Memorial Union on the University of Minnesota Campus. I haven’t been and was interested in checking it out. When Laura from One Girl, Two Cities said it’s worth going for the samples if nothing else, I knew I would make it a priority to go! And even if you aren’t vegan or vegetarian, read five ways the event is for everyone.

Unny Nambudiripad

Unny Nambudiripad

The vegan fest features exhibitors, samples, cooking demos and talks. To get to know a little more about it as a first-time attendee and to maximize my experience, I talked with Unny Nambudiripad of Compassionate Action for Animals, which puts on the event.

Kale and Ale: What should first-time attendees know/expect?

Unny: It’s a free event, there’s lots to see, you can stay for five minutes or five hours, and you can engage as personally or from afar as you like. Basically, it’s an accessible event! ​We’re showcasing the thriving veg-friendly community that the Twin Cities has to offer and I’ll leave it to your own judgment, but I think you’ll be impressed!

Kale and Ale: What can’t be missed at this year’s Veg Fest?

Unny: ​The cooking demos and the food court. We’ve moved the cooking demos to a much larger space that can hold 400 people! Cooking your own food is a great way to eat affordable, healthy and fresh food, and our instructors will show you how. We’ve also moved the food court to the third floor in the Mississippi Room. We have a special gift for everybody who just goes to the third floor.

Kale and Ale: What’s new this year from other years and back that is popular?

​Unny: The Herbivorous Butcher is both new and back! They are new because this year they will be selling hot food ready-to-eat in the food court. They will also be back, as they have before, selling their meat-free meats for you to take home. French Meadow, Gorkha Palace and Jasmine Deli are new food court vendors that we’re excited about. They each have restaurants that we love. Molly Spring Rolls, Seward Cafe and Glam Doll Donuts are returning vendors that we’re excited about.​ We have two new speakers: Toni Okamoto of Vegan Outreach and Mikael Nielsen of Mercy for Animals. Both are exciting. Toni has worked on educating people about eating vegan affordably, and Mikael is a friend of mine and he models persistence and compassion.

Whew, with that lineup I know I’ll come hungry for food and knowledge. I’m really excited to attend, as I’ve never been to something like this. Have you been to a veggie fest? What were your thoughts and impressions?

Restaurant: Travail, Robbinsdale, Minnesota

Travail dessert |

One of four desserts I had at Travail. This kouign amann with maple syrup crème fraiche, chocolate, blueberry and wild rice granola was my favorite.

A few months ago I went to the Rookery bar in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. It’s in the back of a building that also houses Travail Kitchen & Amusements, a chef-driven restaurant known for its, well, amusing takes on food in presentation, taste and flavor.

Travail Ron Burgundy |

The Ron Burgundy drink from Travail was fantastic.

I often use going to the bar of a restaurant as a way to check out either how vegetarian-friendly a place is or if its worth my time and money. I was surprised and eager to learn that Travail can accommodate a number of dietary restrictions, including both vegetarian and vegan meals. I was told that the tasting menu is usually 15 to 20 plates, and I might have to sit a few out that that can’t be made vegetarian. That didn’t deter me and I decided right then and there that’s what I wanted to do for my birthday earlier this month, and Aaron made reservations and got tickets for our seating.

Travail prep from seat |

Great seats in the action!

We were seated at the end of a table-height bar, which I thought was kind of an afterthought seat at first, but I’ve decided is probably a really good view in the action compared to other seats. We were put on the end (tables are family style seating) probably to keep track of the vegetarians. I couldn’t confirm visually that the first plate was vegetarian so I asked. I felt bad doubting they didn’t have their stuff in order, but you just have to be sure! They did and I was quickly put at ease that I would be taken care of.

Travail soup |

My favorite course: Red pepper soup with baguette and topping.

The courses were incredible, every one of them. And I could, in fact, have every one that night, so that made me excited and feel great on my birthday. Every dish was a wonderful sensory journey for taste, smell and sight, and sometimes sound and touch. It was incredible, interactive, entertaining and great to watch each dish be prepared, presented and explained.

Travail interactive potatoes |

Walking the potato bar stations at Travail, so fun and tasty a course.

Our  meal included 18 courses; we got a photocopy of the handwritten menu for the day at the end of the meal. The courses ranged from three different soups, pasta, a course where we walked through the kitchen to different stations and were explained what different foods were, a point where we shoot a raw egg (this was the most difficult part but they assured us it was OK and they have to convince a lot of people) and four—yes, four—desserts, including root beer float pop rocks. Needless to say, I was full and happy when I left. And don’t get me started on that whiskey drink I had. It might not be for a while, be I would love to go back and experience it all again, especially during a different season.lSns8u

Another wonderful note is as we were leaving the person at the host stand (but not the host, maybe the manager?) stopped us and asked how the vegetarian meal was, if we would offer suggestions or come back, that type of thing. It was great to know that he cared and wanted to make sure we were satisfied.

Daytrip: St. Croix Valley

Afton State Park bluffs |

Bluffs at Afton State Park

This past weekend was gorgeous. Minnesota was feeling near-record temps. Knowing those days are numbered and I’ll soon be homebound, coupled with fall colors on display, I headed east for some hiking in Afton State Park, located on the St. Croix River at the boarder of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and take advantage of some Wisconsin beers while I was there.

State Park: Afton State Park

About a 35 minute drive from Minneapolis, it was easy to access yet away from everything. The trails are great: Its easy to follow, they clearly display the difficulty and trails intersect often in very short (.2 or .3 miles) so its a very “choose your own adventure” hike. I was at the tail end of a nasty spell of allergies and didn’t know how hiking would make me feel, so it was nice to decide if I would go a little further or not on a whim.

Afton State Park path |

Not as much fall color as I hoped, but perfect temps and a natural tree canopy make for great hiking.

With 20 miles of trail at different difficulties, I was to go back when I’m feeling better and explore more. In my few miles of hiking I was able to see bluffs (which is the level the visitor center is), woods and prairie.

If hiking isn’t your thing, the gently rolling, wide trails are also used for horseback riding, snowshoeing and cross county skiing. With a wood-fire stove in the visitor center, its obvious this park is popular year-round.

Brewery: Pitchfork Brewing Company

Pitchfork Brewing Hudson |

Pitchfork Brewing Company

Located four miles into the state, Pitchfork offers a lot of different kinds of beer, and has a tempting list of what will be on tap soon. While I was there they had a wet (local!) hop in a firkin, and a pumpkin and Oktoberfest beer. I tried a bit of each of those and the rye saison, which were all solid choices. They give samples and have a variety of glass sizes so it’s easy to try a little of everything. Pints are $5 (the firkin was $6, could have charged more, probably) and it’s a good atmosphere with a popcorn maker, some TVs, lots of light, a long bar, booths and tables.

Also in Hudson

American Sky Brewing Company

I didn’t stop here (maybe next time, remember I’m coming back!) due to time, but I’ve heard good things about it. They have a good variety of beers, and I did pick one up at the liquor store.

Hudson Liquor

Wisconsin beers |

Variety of Wisconsin beers I don’t believe are available in Minnesota

Since I was (barely) in Wisconsin, I wanted to stop at the liquor store and get some beers not available in Minnesota. I stopped at Hudson Liquor because it was next to Caribou Coffee, but it was a good choice. It is clean and easy to navigate, with a walk-in cooler and lots of local beers and single bottles to build your own six pack. The Wisconsin beers I got are:

  • Oliphant Brewing Skullship Muerte
  • New Glarus Apple Ale
  • Ale Asylum Demento
  • O’so Hop Whooping
  • American Sky USA IPA
  • New Glarus Scream IIPA

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum garden view |

Beautiful view at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

While at the Minnesota State Fair a few weeks ago I won a coupon good for two admissions for the price is one to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I didn’t know much about it but it looked interesting, so I took the drive to the far southwest metro Twin Cities area, located in Chaska, to visit.

While eating breakfast I reminded myself to grab the coupon. Remembering again while getting ready for the day, I thought to grab it before leaving. The next time I thought about the coupon was two miles from the entrance to the arboretum. Dangit!

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum butterflies |

Loved watching the butterflies

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum kitchen garden |

First stop: Kitchen garden

Full price admission it was going to have to be that day. Not only was it worth the full $12 a person (something I’m rare to say), I liked that I still have the coupon so I have to go back. (Note: The arboretum is free for children younger than 12 and University of Minnesota students.) With more than 1,200 acres of gardens and tree collections, prairie and woods and miles of trails, I didn’t get anywhere close to seeing everything I would like to see in the three hours I was there. There is a three mile road for cars or a tram (that costs money) with different stops along the way.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum dahlia |

Convinced this dahlia is a Chihuly.

The arboretum is open year round every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and there seems to be something to look at no matter the time of year, since different things will be in bloom. There is prairie, forest, flower gardens, plant and herb gardens, a sculpture garden and more. It is really an incredible place. As I said, maybe it isn’t the worst thing that I forgot the coupon as I have no excuse not to return. I was really in awe driving the road after walking for hours and realizing I scratched the surface of the place and that it would be wonderful to return to experience different seasons. I really enjoyed the herb garden, dahlia garden and wetland. Next time I will have to tackle the maze, return to the wetland to walk more trails, and to see flowers that were past their bloom.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum kale |

Happy place: Within the kale.

If you haven’t been, I strongly recommend a trip. And right now it’s on Living Social with a two-for-one deal (just don’t forget the voucher when you go)!

If you have been to the arboretum, what is your favorite garden to visit and why? I would love to know in the comments below.

Daytrip: Rochester

Whitewater State Park creek |

Creek at Whitewater State Park near Rochester, Minnesota

I’m now just trying to be greedy and sneak in daytrips of hiking and sampling drinks when and where I can. I know the warm weeks are limited; it’s a race against time and I don’t know when the nice weather will run its course and I will spend my time raking and then shoveling. I shudder at the thought.

When I saw the chance for a trip after a week if rain and very cold weather, I took it. Rochester is the farthest and most ambitious day trip to date, but the views from the hike were worth it. There was a bit of driving to get there and back and between each destination, but it was a nice way to get out of town and enjoy a new location.

State Park: Whitewater

Whitewater State Park Inspiration Point |

Inspiration Point at Whitewater State Park near Rochester.

Whitewater State Park is about 20 miles east of Rochester. It has a variety of hiking trails and levels of difficulty, so it made for a fun time. It had beautiful limestone bluff views and nice prairie lands with open areas and a creek, so it was a great place to explore. Every turn and path was fun to see and explore. It was nice viewing it as the leaves are juuuust starting to change color, and I can only imagine what it will look like in a few more weeks when all the trees are a variety of fall colors!

Whitewater State Park prairie | KaleAndAle.comThere really are trails for all levels that are clearly marked, and there are lots of resting and picnic spots throughout. In addition there is a variety of camping and a beach. Inspiration Point (above) was worth the short but steep climb, and can’t be missed. This hike is easier than Frontanac (although I enjoyed the challenge) and overall the views are more rewarding.

Winery: Four Daughters

Four Daughters Rochester |

Four Daughters red wine sampler

About 20 minutes south of Rochester is Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery. This winery also makes the popular-in-Minnesota cider Loon Juice. The menu looked great and eclectic, so I planned to go here after hiking to get some food.

Upon looking at the menu I realized it wasn’t as vegetarian friendly as it seemed online (as the menu changes daily so the online menu was a sample), so I asked if one of the brunch items could be made vegetarian by omitting the meat, but I was told it had chicken stock in it so, no it couldn’t. I explained I’m vegetarian and what could they do? I was directed to some appetizers and, while they sounded good, the vegetarian ones were more run of the mill and I needed a real meal. Since they offer a few flatbreads and pizzas (although none on the menu were meat-free the day I went) they could make a margarita pizza.

While I’m glad the server knew the menu enough to warn me removing meat wouldn’t make my meal vegetarian and offered an alternative, I didn’t really want or drive here for pizza and since the rest of the menu is innovative, I was disappointed there wasn’t a vegetarian offering on the menu in the first place. To make up for that I also got some edemame hummus that was good. The hummus came with pita wedges and veggies. Once those were gone but the hummus wasn’t, the server did offer to bring out wedges.

To accompany my food I got the red wine sampler. I really fell in love with the Big Boy Blend but at $45 a bottle, I passed on purchasing it (although my birthday is soon, hint hint).

Breweries: Kinney Creek and LTS

I drove past Forager, which said it would open late summer 2015. It wasn’t yet open when I went past and I was bummed because it looked and sounded cool. The next day I learned on Twitter that it opened. Hashtag story of my life.

Kinney Creek Rochester |

Kinney Creek Brewery

I went around the corner to Kinney Creek. Its claim to fame is that it was the first brewery in the state the had Sunday growler sales after the law went into effect July 1 this year. Pretty cool. I tried a sampler and the first beer tasted like soap. The beers got marginally better from there. I drank all the beer but honestly I saw a few people leave with very full glasses of beer still at the table. Not a good sign at all. I would say pass on this place, and I can’t say I’ve every said that. And I tried the most hoppy beers they had, which are my favorite kinds.

LTS Rochester |

LTS Brewing Company in Rochester

Next stop before leaving town was LTS Brewing, which opened a tap room in August. They have popcorn made with coconut oil, a well-rounded variety of beer flavors and a cool atmosphere. I would recommend this place and really enjoyed all the beers I sampled.

Have you been any of these places? What are your thoughts on them?