Veggie Fest: Good Food, Healthy Living

Naperville, Illinois

August 9-10, 2014

Banana and Giraffe at Veggie Fest

Banana and Giraffe at Veggie Fest


The real reason we spent an afternoon at Veggie Fest was to be outdoors. Summer was nearly over. I imagined we were going to some kind of glorified farmer’s market, and that was fine. Maybe I could pick up some peaches and tomatoes. Pretty lame, but that’s how it was.

The first inkling that this was different was the complimentary shuttle van between the fest and the parking lot. How much space did a few produce stalls take up if you couldn’t walk there? As we approached the entrance (free admission), we spotted acres and acres of white-canopied tents along with a dozen or so costumed characters: clowns, a stalk of celery, a banana, a cluster of grapes, a giraffe. Reggae music played in the background.

Turns out, Veggie Fest is a two-day celebration of the vegetarian lifestyle. There are other such festivals around the country, but this one is among the largest and oldest. The host sponsor since 2005 has been the Science of Spirituality, a multi-faith, global organization dedicated to personal transformation through meditation.

I’m not a vegetarian, much less a vegan, but I do feel a tad guilty whenever I eat meat, chicken or fish. I was curious to learn more.

At Veggie Fest, more than 100 exhibitors and vendors generously shared their knowledge and samples. Their ranks included food companies, purveyors of beauty and skin care products, yoga instructors, holistic dentists, chiropractors, publishers, nonprofits like Mercy for Animals and the Christian Vegetarian Association–and even a vegan travel agent. Humanitarian drives collected blood and non-perishable vegetarian food items for those in need.

Freshly grilled veggie kabobs

Freshly grilled veggie kabobs

At the Nada-Chair booth, we took a seat and were bound with a harness-like contraption that looked kinky, but it wasn’t. It wraps across your lower back and around your knees in a way that supports the spine and forces proper posture. Who knew just sitting upright for ten minutes could be so therapeutic?

Lectures and cooking demonstrations were conducted all day. Some were in Spanish. The keynote speaker was meditation guru Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, who heads up the Science of Spirituality. Other sessions covered organic veggie gardening and helping children become healthy eaters. A chef from Whole Foods Market showed how to make vegan chocolate pudding. The recipe uses mashed avocado for a creamy consistency and dates for sweetness. The result was yummy and plenty chocolate-y.

On the menus in the for-purchase food court were kabobs, salads, sushi, falafel, samosas, pizza, hot dogs and smoothies–all veggie style, of course.

While all this eating was going on, we were entertained by a carnival of musicians, jugglers, face-painters, a magician and a costume parade.

The costume parade lends a carnival flavor at Veggie Fest

The costume parade lends a carnival flavor at Veggie Fest

All too soon, the day came to a close. We’ll definitely be back next year. On our way home, we stopped at the grocery store for peaches and tomatoes.


Charleston Tea Plantation

August 13, 2013

Fields of green at the Charleston Tea Plantation

Fields of green at the Charleston Tea Plantation


The Southern states are dotted with plantations open for touring, but only one is a working tea plantation: the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island in the heart of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.

The 127-acre spread is home to the American Classic Tea brand. The plantation produces all-natural black and green teas from the Camellia sinensis plant, a relative of the raisin family. William Barclay Hall, a third-generation professional tea taster, bought the plantation in 1987 and developed the brand’s characteristic taste. He sold it in 2003 to the Bigelow Tea Company but continues to oversee its operation and product development.

The plantation hosts educational farm and factory tours every day it is open and special events throughout the year. Hop aboard a trolley for a narrated excursion through the meticulously manicured tea fields and to the greenhouse, where propagation takes place under a precisely controlled climate. Perhaps the “Green Giant” harvesting machine will be at work–it’s a one-of-a-kind contraption fashioned from the parts of used cotton and tobacco harvesters. Tea that is made from the first new leaves after the plants awaken from winter dormancy is called “First Flush.” Many fans of the early harvest claim the resultant tea is the ultimate in freshness. Once reserved for Royalty, the tea is now honored at the annual island-wide First Flush FesTEAval event that celebrates local culture, cuisine and hospitality.

Visit the factory to learn about the history of tea and watch it being processed. You’ll end up at the Plantation Gift Shoppe. While sipping the free samples, you can browse the shelves for loose and pyramid teas in such flavors as Plantation Peach, Governor Gray and Rockville Raspberry as well as souvenirs and tea-preparation accessories. American Classic Tea also is sold in tea rooms, golf shops, gourmet food stores and online at

Taster’s Tip: If only genuine “sweet tea” satisfies your cravings, try the American Classic Tea recipe under the FAQs on the company website.

Tickets for trolley tours are $10 for ages 12 and up, and $5 for children under 12. Factory tours and tastings are complimentary.

The one-of-a-kind "Green Giant" tea harvesting machine.

The one-of-a-kind “Green Giant” tea harvesting machine.










Charleston Tea Plantation

6617 Maybank Highway

Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487



Clauss Bakery and Cafe

December 31, 2012

Clauss Bakery and Cafe in Rensselaer, Indiana

Clauss Bakery and Cafe in Rensselaer, Indiana

When traveling the interstate highways, dining choices are pretty much limited to fast-food franchises and truck stops. We prefer to off-ramp toward small towns in search of eateries that cater to local folk. That’s how we found Clauss Bakery & Cafe in Rensselaer, Indiana, about mid-way between Chicago and Indianapolis. It’s a route we drive a few times a year.

As you head into town on Washington Street, Clauss’ storefront is on the main square across from the courthouse. The interior is reminiscent of a farmhouse kitchen, with linoleum floors, laminated tabletops and the comforting aroma of fresh bread. The bakery cases near the front door are filled with sweet temptations, practically insuring you won’t resist taking home a treat or two.

The menu is comprised of light fare, mostly sandwiches, soups and pastries. Daily specials are handwritten on a whiteboard. At noon, there’s a salad bar, and on Thursdays, a baked potato bar. Bakery selections include bread, dinner rolls, cookies, cakes and pie. Soup and pulled pork are available in bulk. Everything is made daily for eating in or for carrying out. Prices are very reasonable–sandwiches are in the $5 range.

The bakery, a town mainstay for decades, was struggling back in December 2004 when Rex and Tammy Clauss decided to buy it. Rex had been working in the insurance industry and was burned out. They didn’t have any experience running a bakery, but no matter. They hired a former employee to teach them.

These days Rex does all the baking. He also makes a tangy vegetable beef soup on Fridays. He starts at midnight and works until dawn, when he goes home to get a little sleep. Then he returns to greet the day’s customers. Tammy keeps the books, and she also decorates wedding and graduation cakes.

The hours are hard, but the customers are wonderful, Tammy told us during a recent visit. Some even keep Rex company during his overnight shifts. Insomniacs are always welcomed with coffee and a chat.

My favorites: Egg salad on white bread followed by coconut cream pie. And another pie to go.

Hours: Weekdays 5 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday 5 a.m.-11 a.m.

Clauss Bakery and Cafe

110 W. Washington Street

Rensselaer, Indiana 47978


Chef Tom makes pizza with Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer

Chef Tom makes pizza with Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer

“Beer so good it deserves a wine glass.”–Chef Tom from Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer

Tom Seefurth of St. Charles, Illinois, was a long-time hobby brewer who often experimented with eclectic flavorings such as curry and oatmeal-raisin. He gravitated toward what he calls “lawn-mower beer,” the kind of quick, cold kick you crave on a hot summer day after cutting the grass. But then, a garden overrun with tomatoes and herbs gave him an idea: a beer that paired with Italian food, especially pizza. The result is Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer, a light golden ale that is subtly reminiscent of your favorite trattoria.

Because the recipe includes many of the same spices found in Italian cuisine, pizza beer complements both red and white sauces, says Tom, who adopted the moniker, “Chef Tom.”

The brewmeister made the first batches in the same place he displays his extensive collection of beer cans and bar memorabilia: his garage. After winning a couple of regional brewing competitions, he and Athena–his wife and the “Mamma Mia” of the duo–went into business. They found a commercial brewer and hit the market. Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer is now poured in restaurants and sold through retailers nationwide. It’s generating a lot of buzz, if you’ll excuse the pun. Jay Leno has joked about pizza beer on late-night, and the producers of the reality show for entrepreneurs, “Shark Tank,” have invited the Seefurths to compete for big-time funding. They’re also being featured by the Food Network Magazine this fall and on its new television show, “Crave.”

Pizza Beer is concocted with chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil and oregano thrown into the mash. Chef Tom also tosses in a whole Margherita pizza, sans cheese and oil “for good luck.” The mixture is boiled and filtered, seasoned with spices and hops, and filtered again and again to remove any residue. You won’t find any chunks or pieces, just a clear amber refreshment that sends you yearning for the Trevi Fountain. (Did I tell you that I’ll be visiting the Trevi Fountain in August? Just an aside.)

Chef Tom and Mamma Mia spend many a weekend doing tastings and demonstrations. They were asked so many times, “Where’s the pizza?”, that they complied. They created a line of food products, including pizza crust and bread mix plus gluten-free versions, under the label, “Pizza Beer Company.” They’re constantly developing new recipes that use pizza beer as an ingredient. How about chicken wraps or marinated tilapia?

Tom and Athena Seefurth, founders of Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer

Tom and Athena Seefurth, founders of Mamma Mia! Pizza Beer

My St. Thomas, USVI

January 26, 2011

The Dive Shop at Secret Harbour, St. Thomas

The Dive Shop at Secret Harbour

Perhaps you know St. Thomas, USVI, for cruise ship layovers or for duty-free emporia, but this Eastern Caribbean island is my favorite vacation destination. St. Thomas is a tropical world of contrasts: Beach bars and refined dining. Dinghies and yachts. Tchotchkes and precious gems. Lurid history (slave traders and pirates) and luxury timeshares. One day is not enough to linger. Nor is a month. I must return. Soon.

Let me show you my St. Thomas:

* Gallery St. Thomas. Fine art is one way that Arnie and I bring home our shared experiences. Not only have we bought several pieces from Gallery St. Thomas, but we’ve planned our itineraries around the monthly artist receptions. The gallery recently moved to Palm Passage, one of the downtown covered alleyways.

* Vendor’s Plaza. You won’t miss the mass of blue tented souvenir stalls on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront. I’ve bought beach cover-ups, t-shirts and shell jewelry. “These are knockoffs,” admitted a vendor when I asked about his handbags. “But they are very good knockoffs.”

* St. Thomas Synagogue. Built in 1833, the synagogue has Baccarat chandeliers and a white sand floor.

* Old Stone Farmhouse. A former stable for a sugar plantation, Old Stone Farmhouse today is a rustic but elegant AAA Four Diamond restaurant. On our most recent visit, we were presented with personalized menus with our names in calligraphy and a wax seal. Then we were led to the immaculate kitchen to choose our entree and meet the new Executive Chef Greg Engelhardt. The offerings that night included rack of lamb, duck breast, branzino and wahoo–or any combo we could dream of.

* Duffy’s Love Shack. Here’s the party bar, an open-air shed in the middle of a parking lot. Fruity libations are accessorized with toys and trinkets–and sometimes applause, depending on how dangerous the concoction. Arnie likes the Berry Berry, preferably in a parrot glass. We have a collection. (No applause for Berry Berrys.) Pub grub is tasty fare, and includes lobster and ribs, the Caribbean way. There are always specials and wacky promos going on. As the hour gets later, the music gets louder.

* Beaches. All St. Thomas beaches beckon with powdery sand and crystal blue water, but their personalities are distinct. Magens Bay is a mile-long, postcard-perfect horseshoe. Alas, few fish for snorkelers. At the smaller Coki Beach, fish are so plentiful you don’t need a mask. Hold out a dog biscuit and the sergeant majors swarm you for nibbles.

* Night Snorkeling. If you really want to see what’s happening in the water, do it in the dark. Homer’s Night Snorkel provides both guidance and gear. We’ve seen squirrel fish, crabs, lobsters, turtles, a big ugly puffer fish and lots more.