Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Favorites 9.23

1. I've been trying to eat on a very tight budget lately, which always seems hard to do, but these 18 pantry meal ideas are delightful! It's easy to be frugal, yet full. (for more, check out Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal)
2. Now that it's officially Fall, I grant myself permission to go into freak out for fall mode! Here's a list of cideries, orchards, festivals and more, all in Virginia! I'd really like to go apple picking this year.
3. Maple frosted apple blondies to make with your newly picked apples!
4. How awesome is this book pumpkin craft?
5. If you can read this, bring me a glass of wine.
6. I'm definitely saving this Vitamin C tea blend for when the first cold comes around.
7. Nerdy link of the week: Finding the unsayable in translation via Literary Hub.
8. Bull City Ciderworks is my favorite local cider to date - and I can't wait to make this tea infused-hard cider bread pudding from their restaurant!
9. A weeknight dinner with minimal ingredients I'll be trying soon - General Tso's Tofu with broccoli and rice.
10. Here's what my hands down, all time favorite food blogger would tell new bloggers after 10 years' experience.

Charleston, SC

Friday, September 16, 2016

Lost at Sea, or How to Stay Afloat

My stomach is in knots as I try to begin this post. No, there won't be any announcements (good or bad), no ultimatums, no heart staggering confessions to be made. This has been weighing on my mind for so long, it feels like a ball of yarn that keeps getting tangled. Trying to untangle it seems like an impossible task. Since my last real "post" in April, something has shifted in my writing style. I grew tired of being curt, simply to the point with my posts. A lot has changed since my constant "food posting" cycle. I moved out of a place I lived for almost 5 years, into a new place with someone I really care for, I've struggled a lot with my health, I've been terrified, happy, content, upset, stressed, crazed, anxious. I've tried to find some balance in my life that people always talk about, but I can't seem to figure out the equation. I'm not here to confess anything except what I've been thinking and feeling. I'm not here for "answers", whatever that might mean, only support. I can't ask for anything else.

I have technically had my physical college diploma since December, but have not been in physical classes for over a year now. I remember the exciting, bustling movement of all the students and professors as we headed to class. I loved observing everyone on my walks across campus. I would always wonder, What will these people become? Then, What will I become? I didn't feel like I was truly living until college, a place where so many thoughts and ideas got explored, it was almost overwhelming in the best way possible. I was so sick during highschool that I never appreciated it. However, college will always feel like a placeholder for me, a sort of purgatory before you enter into the real world. 

We all had ideas of what we could be, what the world itself could be, we relied on each other, people relied on me, I was accounted for, I lost sleep over papers but reveled in forming new theories. It was a chaotic time but it always maintained the ebb and flow of sound waves; I loved it. I miss it. I envy those who are still stuck in that time where they don't have to figure things out yet. I could easily slip into grad school, but I would be lying to myself. It's an easy and plausible next step, but it would be fake. It's not really what I want.

I work roughly 36ish hours a week to cover all of the things I need - rent, gas, groceries, electricity, water, etc. This is my first time being totally responsible for everything, which I split with someone else, and it hasn't been that bad. Today is my day off before spending a long weekend out of town. Today is my day off from a job I've been doing off and on for almost 9 years - something I started when I was 16. I'm still doing the same things, making the same drinks, having the same conversations, but things feel different. I feel out of place, but I don't know where I fit at the same time. It's an incredibly odd way to feel. I struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, minus college, but now it's back again. 

The title of this post is pretty much how I'm feeling - lost at sea - yet I'm trying to "stay afloat." Do I know how to accomplish this? Of course not. Everyone keeps saying "Oh you're young! You have time!" or "Don't rush it!" blah blah blah. For one, I've learned to stop comparing myself to other people's accomplishments, and that only so many Pinterest quotes about "success" will keep me from breaking apart. I can't bullet journal my way into peace of mind, I can't calligraphy my heart content, I can't write this post and suddenly be cured of this feeling. Every day I feel like a kid on their very first day of school - Where do I begin? 

I remember how much I looked forward to graduating, even as I laid in my hospital bed with an IV and hospital gown, I cried at the possibility that I may not be on that stage. I emailed my professors and texted my classmates - I'm sorry. Somehow, I did make it onto the stage that day, and that is something I will carry with me forever. I spent a scant 5 months teaching students that I - did not know how to teach, who didn't seem to care what I was teaching, and in a constant, terrifying whirlwind of anxiety. I went back to my old job and got into a cycle of comfortable pay, working a lot, not seeing a lot of friends, and in my free time, trying to comprehend this whole "adult" thing, or whatever you want to call it.

I could certainly write for an entire day just about this, whatever this is. Even I don't know. But I keep trying to find solutions to it - Yoga? Exercise? School? Journal? Therapy? Meditation? Drinking enough water? It's silly. Last year around this time, I sat in my GI's office as I told him about my graduation day - the worst day of my life. I've had a few close calls in my life, but this one took the cake. I thought about how well everything was going, and then tried to figure out why it was happening. I called my parents crying, I called 911. I called my boyfriend in the ambulance, and wished at that moment that he wasn't miles away in Raleigh. I tried and tried to make sense of it. What on Earth was happening? The doctor told me, and he gave me medication for it, that actually works. After 23 years, someone had answers for me. I still have episodes on and off, but now there is a back-up solution if I ever do need it. It was such a relief.

I have more than I could ever ask for at this time and I've been seriously lucky to find out about my illness before it turned into something even worse. I have very supportive friends and family. Mostly, this post is for me - I'm trying to just figure myself out. Admitting that I'm struggling is not hard for me, and I kinda hope that maybe someone will find comfort in this post. And if by this word you say, Well, this post didn't make a lot of sense, then maybe it doesn't. I don't know. But if you did make it this far, I'd like to thank you for reading. There might be more to come on this, but for now - thank you.

Friday Favorites 9.16

1. Any cocktail with the word "cat" in it is sure to catch my eye - so this tipsy cat cocktail with honeysuckle flavored vodka (?!!) sounds incredible! Definitely keeping my eyes out for this spirit.
2. My birthday isn't until November but I feel like this strawberry slab pop tart pie might have to be my "cake" this year.
3. I guess I'll be moving to LA because NamasDrake, a Drake themed yoga class, is a thing there. And Drake themed cocktails post class? Yes, yes.
4. Autumn will be here before we know it - so here's a list of apple cocktails to celebrate!
5. We re-stocked our bar last weekend with Anejo tequila, Pimm's, Campari, and Elderflower liqueur, so we've been making a lot of drinks at home. This Bitter Elder might be my new favorite cocktail - a floral sort of twist on a Negroni!
6. On the list of things I'm making myself read - How to be motivated to exercise - for the rest of your life.
7. I love apple brandy (Calvados) and since our bar is growing...I might have to splurge on some to make these ginger Calvados drinks
8. What happens when funhouse perspectives meet Hitchcockian storytelling and a Twilight Zone ending? It probably looks something like this film - Seconds (1966). Just another reminder that I need to watch more and more Criterion films! Pro tip: check for essays on their site post screening to immerse yourself more in the film (they're always fantastic)
9. I've started to run as of just a couple of months ago, and I'd like to build up to running a 5K outside - this site and article look like very helpful sources for this
10. What I'm currently reading: something spookysomething weirdsomething frugal, and something boozy

Relaxing at a vinyl coffeeshop/bar in Charleston.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

First Meal Prep

Two weeks ago, we finally sort of meal prepped since being home from the beach. We have been trying to eat out less, which does not happen in much, but having things already cooked truly does prevent us from eating out/eating badly. While there's no "right way" to meal prep, I just looked at the posts on Shutterbean for inspiration and thought about other things that would be useful in our kitchen. Cole usually makes chicken for himself every week to eat alongside our always vegetarian meals, while everything I prep is, of course, vegetarian. 

So where to begin? There are a lot of ways that I could write about this, but if you're starting to meal prep, consider this: what times do you need convenient meals? For me, it's breakfasts, snacks, and maybe a few things here and there for lunch. I have to get up at 5:30 AM 5 days of the week, so having something already made for breakfast saves on time and prevents me from not really eating breakfast. Having healthy snacks pre made and prepped helps me to not snack on chips while I'm at work or other unhealthy items.

When I work out, I usually have breakfast, a little snack later on in the morning, and a workout shake before I workout. After the gym, I eat a somewhat late lunch with plenty of carbs and protein, and later on is dinner. Having things like cooked rice, quinoa, millet, and other grains in the fridge makes it simple to pull together a quick lunch. Here's a great tutorial on how to cook quinoa, my favorite protein-packed grain, along with meal ideas to get you started!

Something else that helps is our magnetic "dry erase chalkboard" on our fridge - where I list our meals for the week, as well as what's in the fridge. This was so helpful in creating lunches for us using leftovers, and knowing what needed to be eaten down before it went bad. So here's what we made for the first week:

- Deviled Egg Salad - [on toast for breakfast, sandwiches with power greens, or scooped onto a salad] - I've never improvised egg salad but essentially I minced about 1/4 cup red onion and 2 celery stalks. Hard-boiled 5 eggs for 14 minutes. After boiling, I diced it using an egg slicer, then added roughly 1/2 cup vegan mayo, celery/onion, 1/2 TBS stoneground mustard, a heavy dash of Fox Point, salt, pepper, lemon pepper, and smoked paprika. Mix together and enjoy! Honestly, I made this egg salad the same way that I make my deviled eggs, and it was perfect.

- Greek salad dressing - [salads or as a light dressing on anything] We bought a 5 pound bag of power greens, so I was really pushing salads during this week and I made a salad dressing. However, next time, I will definitely double/triple a dressing because we used all of it in a night! 
- Mediterranean quinoa salad - [lunches and dinners] This easy, tangy quinoa salad definitely saved us many times throughout the week. I added a dash of white balsamic vinegar each time, and we both added extra protein (like vegan chikn cutlets or eggs).
- Morning glory protein bars - [snacks/pre-workout] These protein bars are absolutely packed with protein - and the best part is that you can customize them based on whatever you happen to have in your pantry. I added flax seeds on top, coconut, and used dried cranberries/raisins/golden raisins for the dried fruit. I loved these as snacks while I was at work, and especially before a workout because of the carb/protein combo!

Here are the meals that we made this week for dinner:

- Hearty Southwest Lentil Veggie Soup - This soup was so ridiculously tasty and easy to make after a few hours of meal prepping! It also made a ton of soup, which means we had plenty of leftovers. I served each bowl with the chipotle crema, crushed tortilla chips, plus a handful of cilantro. And if you left the crema out, I'm sure this would be freezer friendly! Sometimes it's nice to have a big batch of soup to eat throughout the week.
- Saucy Fish Tacos - We have been using our apartment complex's grill a lot lately, usually once a week, so I've been trying to find new recipes for us to try. We love fish tacos, and these just looked so good! We used frozen, wild caught flounder (fresh would be amazing, of course), skipped some of the toppings, but the sauce is a must. It is so good, flavorful, and versatile. Not only is it amazing on these tacos, but it also paved the way for a few nights of amazing dinners. We made burrito bowls two nights in a row using the leftover grilled poblano sauce. They consisted of jasmine rice, canned vegan refried black beans, salsa, hot sauce, avocado, cilantro, and the sauce. SO good! And don't forget the Caipirinhas!

Overview: For our first meal prep, it went pretty well! Next time I'd like to prep everything on one day, instead of over two days. We definitely bought too many salad greens/didn't eat enough of them, so I think maybe not buying a 5 pound Costco bag next time is a good idea. We ate out on Saturday, so I would like to avoid that next time as well.

Next time: homemade salsa, granola, coconut flour PB2 cookies, vegan Parmesan, and cooked rice

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Favorites 9.9

1. I'm sure it's clear by now that I am utterly obsessed with all things tea. This chamomile corn chowder looks super intriguing!
2. Semi-sad that summer is almost over, but I can still pretend if I make these super pretty lime sugar cookies with pineapple buttercream - shaped like pineapples!
3. Here are the 10 best booze shout outs in rap music. I gotta say, I can't believe they left out Snoop's in 'Gin & Juice' to Tanqueray
4. The most dreamy way to decorate your cookies/cupcakes? Try a galaxy glaze!
5. Although I just said I'm hanging on to summer, I'm already eyeing these slow-cooker hot toddies. I guess you could say I'm torn about the seasons!
6. These "everything seasoned" galettelettes (mini galettes) with scallions and tomatoes sounds absolutely ridiculous. Plus Molly's blog is so cute! 
7. Boozy tarts are the best of all worlds - and these gin and tonic lemon tarts sound superb! 
8. An awesome read where traditional Japanese art meets tattoos and - cats! An interview with the creator behind Monmon Cats with Puss Puss Magazine. I would love to cover my apartment in his artwork!
9. I know, it's just September...but I rediscovered this grilled pumpkin bread with honeycomb. Let's just see, autumn can't come soon enough!
10. This honeycrisp old-fashioned sounds like the best way to welcome autumn in a few weeks!

The Battery - Charleston, South Carolina

Sunday, September 4, 2016

An Ode to Kitchens - New and Old

According to my records, it has been almost 5 months to the day since my last blog post. Life happens to all of us, and mine has changed somewhat since the last time I wrote here. In April, we spent the entire month preparing to move, which involved a lot of anxiety/procrastinating on my part, and forgetting to post on here. On the last day of April, I moved from my very first "big girl apartment" that I live in for almost 5 years to a much nicer apartment complex with my significant other. 

I kept planning on writing a post about how kitchens become the keepsakes of the spaces that we live in, for those of us who thrive on food and cooking. I never got to do that then, mostly because I was in an insane amount of denial that I was about to move out of my comfort zone into a bigger, nicer place with someone I love. Doing "adult things" like being totally financial independent, being graduated from college for a year, and still not knowing what the hell the future holds for me was nerve-wracking. Moving to a new place made it hit all at once.

Back to kitchens -when I was looking for an apartment when I first started college, my #1 criteria was that it had to have a big kitchen, no questions asked. I didn't care about anything else. So we looked and looked...and on a whim, we popped into a place where the landlord was mowing the lawn. It was perfect. It was gigantic and old, built in the '70s. All of the wood made it feel cozy. This was it. We signed the lease that day and there it was - my very first kitchen.

I didn't cook a lot at my parents house until right before I moved out. They were extremely gracious - they did everything to help me experiment with food. I solely thank them for pretty much all of the kitchen equipment that I have and for letting me use their space to try new things. I always cleaned up - so no one ever complained. When I had my first kitchen, a whole new world opened up to me. I was still eating meat at this time, but obviously no dairy, wheat, or gluten. I was still in the midst of figuring out what was right for me, and my body, which (heads up) it can take years. I can still remember the first recipe I made alone, in my own kitchen, and it was these creamy scrambled eggs

Everything in that first moment of "freedom", cooking in this new-but-all-mine kitchen felt so peaceful, and right. Everything was prepared with extra care, even though at its most basic, we are really talking about just decadently scrambled eggs on dry toast, with poorly snipped chives (which I didn't know were any different than scallions at the time), and soggy, sliced tomatoes. But this is a moment I know I will cherish forever. In my recipe notebook, I even declared this "my first Walker Ave apartment meal."

My old place had some cracks, some bugs, some downfalls - it was old. It was rundown. It was loud - smack in the middle of a college part of town. I miss it. But it was time for a new, and much nicer chapter. Our last meal was vegan lentil sloppy joes served open-face on bread, smothered with hot sauce and pickles. It was a bittersweet moment. We hit up all of our favorite spots the night before our move, knowing that hours of work lay ahead of us and that we should really sleep. We indulged in garlic fries, veggie-topia pizza, ciders, cocktails in Tiki glasses, and we said our "see you laters" to the people who knew us by what alcohol we favored.

The first week after the move was, to put it simply, hell. I barely slept, we both worked a ton, Cole pulled his back, nothing was organized, food was an intangible idea at the time. We ate out a lot. My stomach was a wreck for weeks after. Besides a messily thrown together "pantry pasta", our first meal fell on Cinco de Mayo - so we made portobello fajitas. It felt weird, being in this shiny new kitchen with all new appliances, more than enough cabinet space, a dishwasher (?!!!), and plenty of counter space. It took me almost a month to get out of the habit of handwashing things because living without a dishwasher for almost 5 years does that to a person.

Today is Sunday September 4th, and the gang is sleeping on the porch (minus me). Four month after the move, including waiting almost a month for our sofa, this place finally feels like home. This new kitchen still feels new, but also feels like mine. The only true struggle we've had is learning that not all pans work on induction stovetops (fun fact), which led to us throwing out quite a few pans. There's a grill at the pool that we use as much as we can, which is also a new change for us. 

Besides this move, not much has really happened around here. I finally started reading again, and as you can see, have found the motivation to write again - but differently this time, I think. This move is something I've been wanting to write about for some time now. We had our vacation of the year and saw Charleston - somewhere I've been wanting to go for ages. And the Charleston Tea Plantation - that is a must. Don't miss it! 

What sparked this post is that we sort of meal prepped last week and it sort of went rather well (minus Friday and Saturday, of course). So I will certainly be posting about this soon. Until then, thanks for reading this semi long post about kitchens and why I am, for some reason, very nostalgic for them. You will definitely be hearing from me soon!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Weekly Eats Twelve (3/28 - 4/3)

Holiday Eats: Grilled Salmon, Vegan Pasta Salad, Deviled Eggs, and Southern Potato Salad

This is what I ate for a (late) Easter dinner - marinaded/grilled salmon, my mom's classic Southern potato salad, her deviled eggs, pasta salad, and roasted romanesco (green cauliflower). I wanted to try a new pasta salad recipe since my mom doesn't like mayo, even if it's vegan mayo, so I used this recipe which uses a silken tofu mayo dressing plus dried dill. I must say, I wasn't really a fan of the silken mayo dressing. I thought it was a little bland overall, but then again I could've tweaked it be otherwise, but discovering my oven is broken kind of distracted me.

Dinner: Favorite Lentil Soup

I'm sure you might be wondering why there are so few posts this week...and it's due to the fact that I was nursing an infected canker sore and had difficulty chewing for most of that time. Luckily this lentil soup did the trick, which I had an easier time eating after a day or so on meds. I loved the combination of different herbs in this recipe. Instead of dried tarragon, I used dried rosemary, ground marjoram, and basil. I will definitely be making this again - especially next time we need a get well soon soup.

Dinner: Classic Sauteed Tofu, Steamed Kale + Slow-Cooker Garlic Chive Mashed Potatoes

As mentioned above, my oven currently does not work, which breaks my heart. Luckily I am moving into a place with new appliances soon (yay!) so I won't have to wait that much longer. I made these mashed potatoes in the slow cooker when I could still barely chew, and they are probably one of the best mashed potato recipes I've had! The potatoes cook for less than three hours in the slow cooker, then you mash with almond milk and serve! They went perfectly with the tofu and kale. We marinated the tofu extra long (over an hour) and then sauteed 5-6 mins/side in some leftover marinade, adding more after flipping, instead of baking it. This might be our new go to "basic" tofu recipe. The flavor was wonderful, especially with a little lemon pepper on top. I'd like to try this with Bragg's Amino Acids next time, which Isa calls for in her recipe that originally comes from this book, but I never have it on hand.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Weekly Eats Eleven (3/21 - 3/27)

Post Workout Snack: Toast with Chocolate Peanut Butter + Banana Chips

I was desperate for a banana/chocolate PB toast but was out of banana chips to the rescue! It was actually still delicious and I loved the crunch from the chips. Chocolate peanut butter is one of my favorite snack additions because its a nice little twist on regular PB!

Cooked, leftover rice plus frozen mixed vegetables and eggs, is a one way ticket to the laziest and tastiest dinner. Next time I think I'd like to use Chinese 5-Spice powder instead of the chili powder, which sort of numbed the other spices in this dish. However, for something that took less than 10 minutes, this filling take on fried rice certainly did the trick. To make vegan, simply sub crumbled tofu or edamame instead of eggs.

Feast: Vegan Okonomiyaki Panckes with Tonkatsu sauce, steamed Edamame, and Cold Marinated Tofu

This vegan, Asian-inspired feast was sooo good. Every once in a while, I like to make a few meal components instead of just one main entree. It makes dinner feel like something special, because maybe it took just a tiny more effort than one dish. First, I prepped the cold tofu salad which comes from America's Test Kitchen's Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. The tofu is marinated in a mix of seaweeds, mirin (sweetened sake), rice vinegar, and vegan fish sauce. To serve, strain with a slotted spoon and top with crumbled nori and toasted sesame oil. I've never had tofu served like this before, but it was delicious! We had it the next day in cabbage leaves, which was also wonderful. Finally, the main even if you will, were these Japanese vegetable pancakes loaded with vegetables and topped with vegan mayo and a ketchup/tamari sauce. These pancakes were absolutely delicious. The mix of the sauces on top took it over the edge and made them perfect. To round everything out, I served all of this with some simple cucumber sake martinis - equal parts dry sake and vodka, with thinly sliced/mandolined cucumber.

Dinner: Cheater Pad Thai

Step 1: boil noodles. Step 2: make sauce. Step 3: mix noodles with sauce and miscellaneous vegetables. That's really it, and that's why "cheater" is in the name of this recipe. I love traditional versions of pad Thai, but this quick and easy version will satisfy your cravings as well. I've made this recipe many times before, but this time I added sliced cucumber, coleslaw mix (green/red cabbage, carrots), and that's it! To make this last longer/serve more people, I multiplied all of the ingredients by four to make enough for one pound of rice noodles. This is also delicious served hot and cold.

Imbibe: Beetbox at 1618 Wine Lounge

Creamy, vinegary, sharp, and bitter - the Beetbox cocktail at 1618 is absolutely perfect. Besides its Pantone hued color, the bitter tastes of Campari mixed with a sweet/sour beet shrub made the best combination. The mint on top is a nice, bright balance to all things bitter and sour.

Imbibe: Kimchi Gibbler at 1618 Wine Lounge

Kimchi in a cocktail? I know what you're thinking. But let's not forget that I have some sort of inherent duty to try all of the strange cocktails that I can find. So after some (very brief) deliberation, I decided to give it a go. Finely strained kimchi juice, mixed with just a touch more of sriracha, local gin, and lemon make a much lighter riff on a bloody Mary. The balance in this cocktail was surprising, as I was expecting the kimchi to be overpowering, but the flavors together made a wonderfully spicy and sour drink.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Weekly Eats Ten (3/14 - 3/20)

Snack: Big Cluster Granola

Granola is one of my favorite things to keep on rotation in my kitchen. Why, you might ask? First of all, it's stupidly overpriced to buy it in the grocery store, especially the gluten-free variety. There are also endless variations on granola, so you will never get bored with it. Lastly, it travels wonderfully, and can be served in many different ways. I enjoy it with just a little coconut milk (I don't like to ruin the beautiful crunch) or almond milk in a bowl, but straight from the bag works too. If I skip breakfast before work, I tote this large bag with me to work and eat it there. You could also top a baked sweet potato or apple with some, or sliced apples/bananas with peanut butter plus granola. The possibilities are endless! My point is, this granola is excellent and comes from Smitten Kitchen's book. It uses a lower temperature than most recipes, plus the addition of a slightly frothed egg white adds a simple little light twist to this snack.

Breakfast: Fried Rice with Spinach, Eggs + Sriracha

When I'm out of things in the fridge, I always turn to things like rice and eggs - or both. I'll make a pot of rice in my rice cooker the night before, and then make fried rice the next day. For this easy breakfast, I made a small batch of brown rice and then placed spinach on top to steam through. The next morning I fried the rice and spinach with some soy sauce, plus two beaten eggs. This makes a great, filling breakfast but also a quick lunch/dinner with minimal effort.

DIY Imbibe: Blood Orangecello

Limoncello is one of my favorite things to make during Christmas. It doesn't take too long but it also "steeps" while I can spend time working on other homemade gifts. However, after trying this blood orangecello (which takes much less time), I might be hooked. I have a slight obsession with blood oranges, as I may or may not have mentioned, and to combine them with vodka and sugar to make one of my favorite things, was nothing short of an epiphany. So far, I've had it on its own (which my friends think I'm crazy for doing) but I also mixed it with dry hopped cider, which was amazing. I might post a recipe soon using this in a cocktail so stay tuned!

Dinner: Smoky Tofu Sandwiches

Tofu sandwiches are one of my favorite things ever. I really liked this recipe, but next time I will definitely marinate the tofu for an hour instead of 30 minutes. For the pickled vegetables I used smoky fermented kale kraut, which perfectly complemented the smokiness of the tofu. I also added tomato, which is a must for all tofu sandwiches, and served it with some potato chips. Although there's not much to say about these sandwiches, they were still very very tasty and highly recommended. 

Dinner: Rainbow Rotini Pasta Salad

Usually I like to make something "festive" for St. Patricks Day, but this year I opted for this rainbow pasta salad, which I suppose is still festive (it's a stretch, I know). This recipe comes from Quick Fix Vegan, which is great for exactly what the title is. I loved all of the flavors of this recipe - the bright crunch from the peppers, salty brine from the olives, sweet dried cranberries, fresh parsley, plus a ton of dried herbs that I added. Pasta salads are also great for lunches as they pack/travel well. I can't wait to eat a ton of pasta salad come summertime!

Dinner: 1-pot Red Lentil Chili

It was very cold again this past weekend for the first time in a while, so I changed around my plans to make chili instead of something not as warming. Chili is one of my favorite Sunday meals because I am usually cooking for more than just us, plus it leaves a ton of leftovers to get us through Monday. Dana's recipes lately (but really, always) have been incredible, simple, fast, and tangible. I have quite a few of hers on my back burner right now to make soon. Anyways, this chili was stellar, and will definitely be made again. It's super simple to make, but was a hit with all of the non vegetarians in the household! I'd like to make a batch of this and freeze it for future meals too.

Imbibe: Jenever Cocktail with Pine Cone syrup

That is not a typo - pine cone syrup is a real thing. Most of the time when I go to the Marshall Free House, my favorite bar in town, one of the bartenders will rattle off something they've created recently and suggest that I try it. Luckily I know these bartenders rather well, and certainly do trust them. After listening to an intriguing, yet mysterious, introduction to this drink, I bit my tongue from asking "what's in it?" and just trusted him. He comes back with a glass of golden liquid, topped with basil. I absolutely love the first sip of a new drink. First thing I do, as snobby as it may seem, is to smell, paying attention to any aromas I can note and possibly match in the drink. Then, obviously, you sip, which I try to do slowly. And for me, there's always a little moment of anticipation between smelling and sipping. All I could say after this was "Wow" and then "What is in this?!". Jenever is the main ingredient here, which is a Dutch style (also called Holland gin), that I've been hankering to try for some time now. Plus the pine cone syrup, which that alone is insane but awesome and how have I never heard of that before?! Plus the basil on top, with its aromas released into the drink. This one is hard to describe - smooth, yellow chartreuse and slightly maple-esque. I will definitely be trying this again!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Favorites

1. now you can create the "perfect cocktail" at home - thanks to an app partnership with Absolut Vodka. It even times how long you should pour your shots for. I can't wait to try this!
2. all you need to know about Irish whiskey in 60 seconds
3. and here are some drinks to make with your new knowledge that you learned from above
4. these buddha doodles are so calming to read
5. since I'm trying not to go out for drinks too much, here's a great list of cocktails that requires only two ingredients
6. someone may have finally convinced me that making kimchi at home is a lot easier than it looks, and I swear this will be the summer than I can things (finally)
7. I know we aren't even close to blueberry season, but I will be making this galette as soon as it is
8. there's nothing I love more than taking a simple recipe and trying it in a different, much-more-complicated way to see which is best - as is the case with this stunning Israeli hummus recipe
9. here's an interesting piece on the dark history of eating green foods on St. Patricks Day
10. Thug Kitchen is one of my all-time favorites - and this rice noodle salad with peanut pesto looks tops

Monday, March 14, 2016

Weekly Eats Nine (3/7 - 3/13)

Sick Remedy: Red Cabbage and Green Lentil Soup

As soon as I feel like I'm getting sick, I usually do a few things: rest, take vitamin C gummies, drink lots of tea, and make soup. I had most of a head of red cabbage in my fridge, so I decided to try this new soup to cure myself. In addition to what the recipe calls for, I added a ton of dried herbs: herbes de Provence, basil, dill, oregano, Italian herbs, red pepper flakes, and thyme. Plus I topped each bowl with a heavy drizzle of balsamic vinegar, which nicely complemented the red wine laden broth. This soup was a hit! Plus I'm convinced it drove my sore throat and fever away. I will definitely be making this simple, peasant style soup again.

Since we are preparing to move in about a month or so, I'm really cutting down on my food budget and trying to reuse scraps as much as possible. I like being on a budget because it forces me to be creative when I recipe plan and think of ways to re-use produce/scraps. Plus there is something very comforting about simple food - it almost takes me back to the great vegetarian food my mom made for me growing up. I grew up with her cooking tofu and tempeh every week, and I definitely have her to thank for my interest/knowledge of vegetarian food. These BBQ tempeh wraps take no effort or time at all, but rest assured they are amazing. Instead of a "typical" thick, tomato paste thickened BBQ sauce, I used a local Eastern NC BBQ sauce which has a lot of vinegar. I loved this version, but am excited to try it with regular BBQ sauce too. I added hot sauce plus some dried basil/oregano to each wrap, which was an excellent addition! I'm sure these would also be lovely for a picnic.

I finally got to put my Dutch oven to use when I made this amazing recipe for dirty rice and beans. This recipe originally comes from Quick Fix Vegan, by one of my favorite authors, but luckily I found the recipe online as well (link above) for anyone who wants to try it! Although it needs to bake in the oven for about an hour, the prep is minimal and the flavor is super authentic. I've never made dirty rice, and I must say that the vegan variety tastes just like the real thing! Next time I think I'll add some sauteed vegan chorizo to bulk up the protein. Note: I used basmati rice instead of quick cooking rice, so I had to increase my cooking time to about 90 minutes. 

Imbibe: El Chupacabra

Sometimes I know exactly what kind of cocktail I want, and other times I don't. When the latter scenario occurs, I usually flip through my Drinks board on Pinterest until I find something that looks good. So I (thankfully) decided on this drink last night, El Chupacabra, which might just be one of the best ones I've had in a while. From what I can tell, it's a sort of riff on a Pimm's Cup, with the addition of white tequila and a float of Cynar on top. The outcome is an incredibly cucumber infused cocktail that will be perfect for summer. The combination of sour, sweet, fruity Pimms, and bitter Cynar is absolutely perfect. I don't know if I've mentioned that Cynar (artichoke liqueur) is my latest boozy crush, but I can't get enough of it. It's bitter like my best friend Campari, but it has a much deeper, darker flavor. 

Breakfast: Buttered Toast with 6-minute egg, kale sauerkraut + hot sauce

Getting up for work at 5 AM can be a struggle, but it's getting a lot better. I rediscovered my love for 6 minute eggs this weekend when I made a couple for a quick snack in between meals. This smoky kale kraut is my new favorite thing too. It reminds me of smoky, slow-cooked collard greens, which is taken even further when you add hot sauce on top. These eggs might be my new early morning go to because you can put the water on to boil while you get ready! By the time it's boiled - you're ready and just waiting to eat!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Favorites

1. huge heart eyes for these breakfast waffle nachos
2. vegan pizza needs to happen more often in my kitchen
3. I feel like I've waited my entire life for side by side comparisons of films and their re-makes
4. how funky cool are these psychedelic spring rolls?
5. matcha can go on anything - even dusted with sugar over churros
6. the ultimate supercut of the fourth wall being broken
7. bourbon plus girl scout cookies - need I say more?
8. here's what's next for cocktails in 2016
9. cereal milk, chia, and Lucky Charms are the healthiest/least healtgy breakfast combo that I would totally justify if I could
10. how did my beloved negroni become today's favorite cocktail?
11. so much love for black sesame thumbprint cookies
12. one of my absolutely favorite drinks - in frozen form!
13. literally the only shamrock shake I care about - she had me at peppermint and matcha!
14. in honor of International Women's Day, here is my favorite round-up of the badass women of Greensboro (my hometown and current stomping grounds)
15. I thought this cake would be my gateway excuse to buying culinary grade matcha, but it turns out it's my excuse to buy a ridiculous amount of fancy marshmallows (earl grey?!!)

Little Ham having his daily brushing session.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Weekly Eats Eight (2/29 - 3/6)

Travel: Potato Bhajji Dosa at Curryblossom Cafe in Chapel Hill, NC

We took a tiny little trip to Chapel Hill with our friend last week and discovered some new spots that we will definitely be returning to! First stop was an appetizer, in liquid form, at the Lantern Restaurant - the perfect house sake martini with thinly mandolined cucumber in the midst of a well-lit red-lanterned bar. The atmosphere reminded me of a scene in Only God Forgives and from what I can tell, this restaurant left much more of a good impression. The restaurant's creator has also written a cookbook for those of you interested - Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes.

Next stop was Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe, tucked away in a sultry alley off the beloved Franklin Street. We walked into the "bar entrance", which consisted of some taps, bottles, and desserts, and one of my most coveted gluten-free beers caught my eyes high up on a shelf (thank god) - Omission IPA. I've never seen this beer in NC and was only lucky enough to receive one in a free prize bundle from them last summer, so I was certainly thrilled about this! Curryblossom has a note on their menu that everything is GF (minus samosas and breads like naan, of course) and that anything vegetarian can be made vegan. That being said, I had a ton of options, but I opted for this potato bhajji dosa that was basically the size of my forearm. I couldn't tell you the last time I had Indian food, mostly because I always prefer making it at home, but I thoroughly enjoyed this cozy dining experience. Plus this dosa was tops. I absolutely can't wait to return and try something new!

Travel: Vieux Carre at The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill, NC

Truth time: I have quite a few books. Something in the ballpark of 200+ if we include cookbooks. A fair amount of these also happen to be booze related - historical writings, recipe books, and all around guides to having/tending to a bar. This is my excuse for knowing about weird drinks that aren't on your common drink list. I'm still stuck on/in love with The Bar Book - an A-Z compendium of spirits, brief bits of their histories and how they're made, plus recipes sneaked in between. Plus I love anything in alphabetical order. So somewhere in the "B" section I stumbled upon Benedictine and snuggled next door was a recipe for the Vieux Carre. This herbal French liqueur was created by monks many moons ago, and creates a perfectly balanced cocktail when combined with rye, cognac, vermouth, and two types of bitters. Enough ranting - I was beyond thrilled to find this on the menu at the Crunkleton, which might be the coolest bar I've ever had the pleasure of being at. With over 500 spirits, the possibilities are endless, but I decided to go for my coveted Benedictine twice - the second in a Rye Monk cocktail featuring Green Chartreuse, Apple Brandy, as well as bitters. The atmosphere has the cozy feel of a library, the kind where you'd like to stay all night. We had such a great time there that I'm already plotting my return, and exactly what drinks I'll try next!

So I sort of failed at cooking last week and ate out far more than I'd ever like to allow again. But after an unexpected nine hour work day, I still managed/forced myself to break out a cauliflower pizza with my leftover cauli. I've had this type of crust before, made by some friends, but have never actually tried it myself. It was so dead simple to make, much easier than a traditional GF yeasted dough, but I think next time I will make the crust much thinner. It was cooked all the way through, but still a tad mealy for my tastes. Then again, I'll never turn down homemade pizza like this. We topped ours with good store-bought pizza sauce with no crazy ingredients, peppers and mushrooms which were pre-cooked slightly before baking, and a ton of the best dried herbs. My favorite pizza herbs are basil, oregano, pinch of thyme, fennel seeds (this is key), Italian herbs, and crushed red pepper flakes. I honestly just might need to invest in Penzey's pizza seasoning, which seems to have a lot of fennel in it, so they know how to do it well.

I've been craving this healthy salad since I saw it on this lovely blog, and it did not disappoint. You could change up the greens on this, or make it with all cabbage for a tangy slaw. I used half romaine and half red cabbage, but I think this would make a great kale salad if you massaged the dressing in. The crunch of the sweet peppers and red cabbage are a great addition, plus super healthy edamame and peanuts. Now onto this dressing...this dressing that tastes like peanut sauce but is most definitely not that, at all. Instead there's tahini paste, red curry paste, some tamari, rice vinegar, etc. that all make up this incredible power house salad. I might have to use this sauce again as a dipping sauce for spring rolls or to glaze tofu with. This will make a great lunch too - just pack the dressing separate - and I might add some cold quinoa too next time!

Snacks: Salmon Sushi Rolls with Peanut Sauce

I think it's so funny how food cravings work for people. For me, sometimes I can be dead set on getting my hands on the new vegan Ben & Jerry's (still haven't seen it) or getting a basket of my favorite fries outside. Other times, I daydream fondly of something but am honestly too lazy to go get it or make it. Sunday, the man got a craving for sushi after he peeped the new sushi burrito trend that's going on right now. And there was no silence of this until we had the sashimi in the basket, alongside some toasted nori, avocado, and peanut sauce. I thought it was pretty cute to be honest. Luckily I still had a bag of sushi rice, so he whipped up some amazing rolls. He didn't use a recipe but it's essentially - cooked/cooled sushi rice, sashimi, avocado, cucumber, sriracha, black/white sesame seeds, some peanut sauce. Roll and cut! I was amazed that I could still roll sushi even though I've only made it once - and I think this was a sign that it certainly needs to happen more often.

Looking ahead: my budget will be fairly tight this week, so I'll be trying not to cook anything frivolous until I can afford to. I'm looking forward to simple meals based on things like pantry ingredients, such as rice and beans. I felt a little uninspired this past week, so I'm hoping that going back to basic things will reinvigorate me this week. I have some new cookbooks too that I hope to be cooking from very soon! I can't wait to write some more about my little food and booze travels. Thanks for reading :)