Here's the thing, I didn't mean for it to happen.
Don't you love that line? Riiiight, you didn't MEAN for it to happen....ok....
After losing my dad to cancer in 2008 and then the big C then turning to me as its next host, I was bound and determined to find out why my immune system succumbed to the disease and after we eradicated it, how I was going to re-build to hopefully prevent any more occurrences.
Trying nearly everything under the sun, I can across this crazy vegan (no one said 'plant-based' back then) diet. Read the research and solely led by fear, I adopted the diet over night. Weeks and weeks in ( and awful meal followed by awful meal) I soon attended a vegan cooking class at my local Whole Foods Market. Mesmerized by the instructor, wowed by the food and inspired by the ease, a light bulb went off and I knew I was hooked.
She called me after class and asked me to assist her in her cooking classes and we did that together for two and a half years. In 2011 she moved to Tennessee and Whole Foods asked me to keep the classes going. Fear and anxiety washed over me, but something told me the show had to go on. They said to move forward with my own classes I'd have to be insured and apply for a business license -THAT by the way, means: Start-Your-Own-Business. Ignorant at the time that these two entities also brought along "business owner" status, I followed the rules and signed on the dotted line (and wrote the checks....). I used my twitter handle as the name of the business you now know as STLVegGirl and at the expense of sounding cliche, the rest as they say, really is history.
As time went on, I paid attention to the opportunities that were presented to me, understood the shift in nutrition science that was happening, enjoyed being creative in the kitchen and more than anything loved helping others gain confidence to take hold of their own health. I built and built and grew and grew and December 24 of 2014 was my final day at my 9-5 day job that I held for 7+ years. It was time for VegGirl to go full-time.
Here are the highlights of this first year:
We started off the year with the 27th annual MoBap Heart of the Family event. Excited to be the featured speaker (a plant-based girl talking at a hospital event!), we had a captive audience and a full house. And, the kind staff at Missouri Baptist even caught on to the plant based theme and ran it throughout the event. Progress.
There were a few TV segments during the year that tested the bandwidth of my website (my dear, webMASTER, Andy, who is always at my beck and (text)call has been a savior!) and this was the first one. Seems that cauliflower rice is quite popular. On this Show Me St. Louis segment, Heidi and I made Cauliflower Collard Wraps. Pssst... keep this in mind for that January News Year's Resolution!
STLVegGirl and Dimvaloo Active Living joined forces for a night. Healthy, plant-based eating and boutique active wear - you bet! In line with their extensive Lorna Jane inventory, I created a Nourishing Nosh Bite that is perfect for a pre (fuel) and /or post (recovery) workout.
Several requests for team building and client relation requests came in this year. Two noted events were a demonstration class given to 5/3 Bank::
And then a hands-on client relations event with Enrich Creative, they did a fabulous job!
Have you ever had meringue cookies made from agua faba? Aqua what? Here was another test on the bandwidth, 3 ingredient vegan meringue cookies made from the juice of a can of chickpeas, or more eloquently known as aqua faba::
And then there was Greg Brady. Along with Heidi, Greg and I toed the line on acceptable content for daytime TV...
The City of Sullivan, Missouri vegged out. I took this show on the road and arrived in Sullivan where we put many residents to work. Using Sullivan High School's student kitchen (home ec, anyone??), we filled the stations with simmering pots, baking pans and mounds of veggies. Friends, neighbors, residents all worked side by side to create a monsterously delicious good time!
Whole Foods Market - Galleria did something pretty ballsy this year. They took their annual burger cook-off and VEGANIZED it! They held the first VegMaster competition in St. Louis and along with Liz Miller, editor of Feast Magazine, we were bestowed the honor of judging who would be crowned the STL VegMaster! The people's choice award went to Frida's Cafe and the STL VegMaster crown went to Fresh Gatherings Cafe, run by the Dietetic Students at St. Louis University and led by Dan Brewer, founder of MOFU Tofu. Each winner received a check for $500 to donate to a charity of their choosing. The crowd rivaled the ones of the burger cook-off, the incredible reception of the community embracing the shift from a burger cook off to a veg event was amazing. What a turn out!
And it was here where I met Chef Mike Johnson, owner of the wildly successful SugarFire Smoke House. He invited me in to collaborate. So, how does a successful BBQ dude and a veg girl do such a thing? You create plant-based mock BBQ'd ribs of course! Being an ex vegan, Mike created the most incredibly realistic ribs you have ever tasted and to prove they were a hit, they SOLD out in two and a half hours. One might argue that the sell out was due to the low number of ribs created, but you'll be happy to know that typically he produces 40 special orders, for this event he created 60 and we were turning people away due to the sell though. Proceeds went to Food Outreach.
We flooded social media channels of the collaboration and FOX-2 invited us on to share with their viewers as well.
From BBQ to fine wine, another over the top collaboration this year was with Robust Wine Bar. Proprietors of everyone's favorite wine bar, Arlene and Stanley Browne invited me in to collaborate with their executive chef, Chef Joseph Hemp and create a plant-based dinner event. Stanley, a sommelier, elegantly paired each dish. The jackfruit tacos have remained on Robust's "secret menu". Ask for it!
And then my teensy little part of the internet broke. The website went black... twice. We re-introduced cauliflower rice in a different form and this brought on record breaking (website breaking) hits.
Another not-made-for-daytime-television moment came when I told Matt Chambers I put weed in his Power Yum Yum Cookie...
The turducken is a bird inside of a bird inside of a bird. A Spa-Nut-Chini is a squash inside of a squash inside of a squash. Guess which one we made?
And then, it was a sad goodbye. Physician and dear friend, Dr. Jim Loomis accepted the position as Medical Director of Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine's new fully nutrition/plant-based medical center in Washington D. C. The Barnard Medical Center is the product of years and years of hard work from PCRM founder and president, Dr. Neal Barnard. Dr. Barnard is a plant-based pioneer who you may be familiar with though the books he has written or the movies he has appeared in such as Forks Over Knives, Chow Down, Super Size Me and many more.
Being on a plant-based diet himself, Jim also likes to cook and he too has held classes at Dierbergs. For his last class, we decided to join up and hold a holiday appetizer class together. Unbeknownst to him, I had a few things up my sleeve. I turned our "cooking class" into a going away party. The class sold out in a week and we were able to open up several more spots which too, filled quickly.
Along with a champagne toast, many words of encouragement and capped with a fond farewell, Forks Over Knives, Dr. Neal Barnard and The Plantrician Project all gifted items to attendees of the class as these are the top three resources Jim uses to help others in their transition to a plant-based diet.
And, finally, the year wrapped with these little fellas. A local Tiger Cub Scout group and I got together one evening and talked about the differences between fruits and veggies and why we should eat them. The simplicity of the topic, and the enthusiasm they brought made for such a fun evening. I loved it. Thank you Tiger Cubs!
As I look back and proof this post before hitting the 'publish' button, I realize that I've been pretty lucky to have had such a fulfilling year. These highlights coupled with numerous classes, clients, cooking session, etc... everything that has made STLVegGirl grow and flourish this year, I thank you. I understand food is very subjective; it's a personal thing and I cannot express enough gratitude for inviting me to your space and sharing this journey with me.
Next year is shaping up to be pretty spectacular: new classes, more restaurant collaborations, totally unique projects and of course more food.
Wishes for a safe, happy and healthy New Year. See you in 2016!