Breaking Blog Silence

I had to chuckle this morning when my friend Sheila remarked: “You haven’t blogged in awhile! How am I supposed to know what’s going on in your life?” She certainly meant this in jest, as we had made a point to partake in a morning of yoga and incredible lattes afterward (Cocoa Cinnamon has a blackstrap molasses latte with almond milk that will melt your heart):

Nevertheless, I admit: I’ve been out of the blogging practice this week. Perhaps this is the reason:

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I AM SO OVER THIS WINTER. Do I speak for all non-Western U.S. folks as I type that? From Tuesday at 6:30am until Thursday at 10:00am, I did not venture past the mailboxes – no driving, no sunshine. This likely did not aid my sloth-like state within that 48+ hour period. Reflecting back on this work week, I admit that I did not get dressed outside of workout attire or pajamas AND I did not put on a single speck of make-up until just about 10 minutes ago. And now you see why it’s important for me to schedule outside events during the week.

While I didn’t explore the arctic adventures via transit, I did ensure I filled our bellies with warmth and comfort during that time. Some delicious items on the menu this past week included:

1) Szechwan Tempeh and Green Beans

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2) Jamaican-Style Coconut Rice Bowl (with the remnants of a Foster’s Market salad)

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3) Hot Salsa Pinto Beans and Rice Tacos

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4) Hot Salsa Pinto Bean and Rice Taco Salad

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5) Chickpea Noodle Soup

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All of the recipes this week were from Robin Robertson’s One-Dish Vegan, which I touted in my last post as well. They all earned a huge thumbs up!

I’ll be sharing a post later this weekend on the adventures of last Saturday: the art and style of finding a wedding dress. Stay tuned!

A Robin Robertson Fueled Week

While shortened work weeks typically drag out in long-winded fashioned, this past week flew by at racehorse speed. I did work the morning of MLK Day – perhaps this threw my psyche off just enough to make my inner workings believe it was a full week? Perhaps. Or, it may be more that I have more than enough to manage, develop, and review than humanly possible.

In the food world this week, I realized this morning our menu was brought exclusively by vegan cookbook author Robin Robertson after the newest purchase – One-Dish Vegan – arrived as a late Christmas present to me from…me (well, really generous gift cards. But, who can resist a new cookbook?!)

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The first three recipes are from One Dish Vegan. Out of the dishes, I would vote the Vegetable Lo Mein was the most outstanding, especially as leftovers the following day as the delicious, flavorful sauce soaked deeper into the vegetables and noodles.

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I also added an entire block of tofu rather than just 8 ounces the recipe called for (TOFU MONSTER!) and since we have housed a supply of pasta for more than six months, I used what we had on hand: consider it an Italian spin on Lo Mein.

The Vegetable Etouffee was the second favorite, but alas! I never succeeded in the search for file powder to give the dish its authentic gumbo flavor. Regardless, the rue (I used soy flour) and spices made it taste as close to Cajun as possible. Aaron suggested that when I make this in the future (noted: he liked it enough for it to be repeated!), to try adding another protein to “make it a bit chunkier” – he coined Vegetable Etofu – brilliant.

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You won’t find pictures of dish three: the Lemony Quinoa with Spinach and Chickpeas. Overall, it turned out: meh. The lemon flavor was lost in the dish (did I put in too much spinach?) and it just never popped for me.

But these:

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These Super Nachos ended the week on a High C note (not the artificial, flavorful drink of our childhoods – thinking more along the line of Soprano-esque pitch). The pinto bean spread on the bottom will now become a taco filling staple in the Todd household. So, so simple and utterly satisfying. It seemed like the perfect meal to eat before venturing to DPAC to see Once – nothing says romantic musical than vegan nachos…or something like that.

One additional food-related highlight for this post: a new take on a breakfast smoothie that I am wild about:

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That is my morning powerhouse trio of liquid splendor: coffee, smoothie, and water, brought to you by two of my favorite North Carolina organizations: WUNC and the Durham YMCA. Fusion! Now, my recipe is below, but it can be tweaked/edited for your palate pleasure and dietary needs. Cheers!

Breakfast Power Smoothie

1 banana

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1/2 tablespoon chia seeds

1/2 cup pumpkin purree

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons powdered peanut butter (I use PB2)

1 cup ice

Checking In on 2014 Goals/Visions

In the land of accountability, there looms only one figure standing between me and the desired accomplishments set out on January 1 of this year: it’s…me. And, as we all know, as time marches forward, the ability to keep said goals at the forefront of one’s mind will slip away, floating on the breeze of to-do lists, social outings, and the continual progress of looking forward (never backwards).

Thus, in breaking tides and casting a long glance over my proverbial shoulder, I’m checking in for the first half of January:

1) Visit a new state and/or country  – not quite there yet but tickets will be purchased within the next two weeks.

2) Add practicing yoga back into my life. I can proudly say I have completed two yoga practices since January 1st: one at home with Rodney Yee, and the second at my first Durham Yoga Company class with the ever motivating and compassionate Anna.

3) Read, on average, one book a month. I went on what some might call a “binge” for my Amazon Kindle, and I’m currently slurping down Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which had sat on my wish list since it came out last year. While the Amazon reviews are not glowing, the novel did get a nod from Time magazine for top books of 2013 (and thus far, it’s brilliantly written and highly engaging – we’ll see how whether or not that continues for the second half.)

4) Take a one-time class, whether for cooking, crafting, etc. Still looking.

5) Take advantage of an evening adventure one night, Monday – Thursday. Yes! I have left the house during those four evenings at least once each of the last two weeks. Our group of girlfriends initiated a culinary tour of restaurants in the Triangle to take place about once a month during the week, so this past Thursday night, we made it to The Palace International in Durham. I ordered the Veggie Karanga and thought it was outstanding. This coming week will be a date night Thursday for Aaron and I as we see the musical “Once” at the Durham Performing Arts Center – SUPER excited as the music and movie several years ago stole my heart.

6) Plant an herb garden. Waiting for the weather to warm up a bit.

7) Attend a festival in North Carolina. Still have the NC Pickle Festival on the calendar for April 2014.

8) Hide the phone! I’m very proud of the conscious efforts I have been putting into this goal. Instead of bringing the phone over to the couch with me at night, I leave it on the pub table (distance, when it comes to said device, has yet to make the heart grow fonder). On Sunday mornings, I leave my phone plugged it upstairs and spend the mornings reading (and catching up on emails/blogs) but without the need to do it from more than one machine. Additionally, I noticed that during social interactions with friends, there is far fewer phones coming into view during our time together than before, which is a welcomed change.

9) Be more responsive to personal emails. Yes! I’ve been attentive in pushing out a quicker response to those who take the time to email. Moreover, I am working on the bad habit of scanning emails and then starring them in order to remind myself to revisit later. Instead, I respond immediately, eradicating the need to procrastinate.

10) Continue to grow in my relationship with Aaron. Minus the fact that he has crushed me in two Skip-Bo games since the start of 2014, we have been enjoying our time together in the evenings (and mornings) more so (in my opinion). Having the mobiles out of the room allows for focused attention and addressing our respective love languages. The continual wedding and honeymoon planning has also allowed opportunities for compromises and negotiations, furthering our commitments to each other as our partners.

11) More foam rolling. Again, I have been intentional about putting my phone down in the morning and refocusing my energies on foam rolling – and it has been successful. My right IT band is my troubled side, and I need to work it out as often as I can in order to counteract the longer runs I’m taking. Foam rolling to begin and end the day just makes the world go ’round.

12) More Farmer’s Market visits. No visits as of yet.

13) See more live music. ‘Does listening to a DJ count? Perhaps not, but I’m scanning the Indy Weekly each Sunday and during the week to see what offerings are happening in our area in case we want to add it to our calendars.

14) More dance parties. In fact, the first dance party of the year happened yesterday. And, to this song:

How are you doing with your goals for 2014?

Miss Jane Marple (1995 – 2014)

Miss Jane Marple (1995 - 2014)

After 19 years of gracing our lives with her mews, random batterings with ribbon, and ample lap time, Miss Marple left us Tuesday in one of those inevitable, heartbreaking transitions. My mother and I adopted Miss Marple in 1998 shortly after moving into a new home following my parents divorce. It was one of those “Mom, let’s just go to the Humane Society to look…please?” and a few hours later, I had this tiny, three-year-old short-haired cat curled up and purring on my lap. I ragged my mother for years later, as she was keen on this beautiful white-haired feline, but my heart was already stolen. Miss Marple (known fondly as “Marple,” “Marps,” “Shmarple,” and “Chimichunga”) joined her new brother, Kitsy, and brought out his youthful spirit.

Tuesday was a rough day. I wished that I could be there with my mom; instead, we cried over the phone together, recognizing that we wanted to honor her with the life she deserved to live, not one dragged out with painful, unwelcomed procedures. I believe that she is united with Kitsy, curled up together as they once were many moons ago. She brought me such comfort during one of the darkest periods of my life, and I will forever be grateful for her unyielding love and trust.

Warming Up From the Inside Out

In case you were hibernating in an underground lair last week, the majority of our country experienced the still trending Polar Vortex. I experienced the coldest temperatures ever as an adult: a high of 27F. How to counter the chill of Jack Frost outside of continual transitions between hot baths and nestling up to the space heater? Make warm, delicious comfort food. Last week had two new gems for dinner entrees:

1) Spicy Vegan Black Bean Soup via Cookie + Kate

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This was an easy, relatively quick dinner to make during the week. My soup isn’t quite as dark in color as the one pictured in the blog due to using homemade black beans instead of canned. This did affect the overall seasoning profile; I will be sure to add more if I use homemade beans in the future. I would also puree less of the soup than I did in the first batch – I love the chunks of carrots, beans, onions, and celery. We paired it with a slice of crusty Italian loaf from Guglhupf Bakery here in Durham.

2) Chipotle Quinoa Sweet Potato Tacos via Half Baked Harvest

IMG_20140108_190430Didn’t I just see those toppings…?

After having some overwhelming, tear-induced experiences with chipotles in adobo, I was a bit gun shy at first with the recipe. TWO minced peppers? And one tablespoon sauce? AND cayenne? Well, I opted to leave the cayenne out, which was great because this recipe did  boast a nice, robust heat (but no tears – only when I was done with my plate because I wanted to inhale more). This recipe is SUPER filling and made more than we anticipated. I did not make her Roasted Cranberry Pomegranate Salsa, but I will. Oh yes, I will.

In other fun cooking exploration in the last few days, I attempted making homemade Lara bars via 100 Days of Real Food. Since I absolutely adore anything cashew, I opted to make the bars with 1 cup cashews, 1 cup dates, 1/4 cup peanut butter, and 1 – 2 tablespoons water (i used 2). Now, this recipe SAYS it makes 12 bars. Square bars. After whipping this up in the food processor, I was shocked to feel how oily the mash had become – much more difficult to form into squares than anticipated. So, I made bars more similar to the packaged Lara bars and cut them in half. I think they are delicious, and it is great to have just a small pick me up to grab before working out. Currently, I open a Lara bar and break it into two, saving the other half for the next day.

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Jump into the pool!

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It’s getting there…

IMAG1178Awww..hey little bar (and penguin blanket – I swear, it’s my cats….right)

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What are your comfort dishes on those blustery winter days?

Getting Lost in a Run (Literally)

Yesterday, I awoke and eagerly read with pleasure a literary gem from my friend Jennie Saia. Her manipulation of words to invoke such powerful images and sensations is a craft I dream about honing. One of the greatest roles in our society is that of the storyteller. There are many who covet such positions, but overall, many fail. Only a few rise above the masses and cause us, the readers, to feel both exposed as individuals yet strangely connected and safe within the confines of words. In other words: read her blog.

I thought about Jennie’s blog post as I started on my six mile run yesterday morning. It was not the ideal conditions for outdoor adventures: foggy, damp, and the misting Seattle-esque rain casting a lingering chill. Donning my headlamp, I headed out at 6:45, determined to find solace and rhythm within my pace.

Sans street lamps and sun, the first part of this journey was shrouded in a sense of unease tinged with the excitement of the unknown. The first leg took me down the American Tobacco Trail where I encountered several others pounding the pavement, driven by something greater than good sense. The silence of the morning apparent until my louder-than-necessary “Good morning!”, the vocalization to console feelings of safety and also invite any sense of camaraderie.

I knew these paths, and I knew this roads. Whether it was the haziness of my surroundings or the early morning cessation of sleep from the feline choir performance, I found myself – lost. I had turned off the trail and was making my way through Woodcroft. After cutting through part of the Greenway system, I exited on a street that I did not immediately recognize. How could this have happened? It’s not as if I had traveled miles in an unknown place: this was home. I pressed on, determined to identify recognizable landmarks. The funny part is that I knew the street names, but I had zero ability to conjure up visualizations for my location. It was as if my mind had been shaken like an Etch-A-Sketch, and I could not use those white knobs to doodle a map back home.

This is where one might suggest: why didn’t you use your phone to make a call or use the GPS? For shorter runs, I do not typically bring my phone. I had shared with Aaron my route for that morning and then had set off to follow it. Back to my confused state: I started to become emotional and even slightly scared. It was bizarre – I could not fathom how I became so turned around. Spotting a fire station, I ran over and asked if I could use the phone, attempting to call Aaron to give him an update. After two unsuccessful attempts, I relied on the firefighters directions on how to return home, and then, it all clicked: I knew exactly where I was. I felt like an idiot – how could I not have pieced together where the Greenway had spit me out?

I double-backed to where I had made my mistake of turning left instead of right, and continued pressing on toward home. The damp air clung to my clothes. While the puddle had initially invoked pleasant memories of childhood mischief, I now viewed them with contempt as my shoes turned from mildly wet to soaked. In my voice messages, I had told Aaron where I would be running with the hope he would be able to scoop me off the street, and I could curl up in a warm tub (or even just crank on his car’s seat warmer). With the sound of each approaching car, I snapped back to attention, scanning for his vehicle. This went one for over three miles until I was completing my final ascent to the finish. Honking and waving, Aaron drove by, looking concerned yet relieved. I signaled that at this point, it would make the most sense to meet at home.

Walking in to our home, I learned that he had never received my voice messages but grew fearful when he saw the missed calls, dialed the number, and heard a voice message for a fire station. Needless to say, I made it home, safe and sound, with a long(er) run under my belt to kick off the first training weekend.

Have you ever experienced something similar, being in a place you know quite well but realizing you, in fact, don’t know where you are? (This could be taken as a metaphorical journey into one’s self, but I’m focused more on the literal lacking of direction, not the “I don’t know what to do with my life” phase)

Recap: Navigating My First Wedding Expo

This past Sunday, five of my kindest, up for anything girlfriends joined me at the Jim Graham Building (NC State Fairgrounds) for The Wedding Show 2014.  I did register beforehand, indicating myself as a “Bride To Be” (this will be important later), but had not looked into much else regarding the vendors slated to be in attendance. I received some GREAT advice from my friend Dani and various wedding blogs. One pro tip Dani gave me was to make labels ahead of time with my contact information and share them with the girls to enter contests, provide info to places, etc. I received many compliments on this technique (so cheers to you Dani!)

1554413_10201550424186207_207527824_nDo I look…excited? Scared? BRIDEZILLA IN WAITING??

I did have a few categories on my list to visit: DJs, tuxedo rentals, decor ideas, invitations, and photo booth inspiration. We wandered down the rows, taking in the myriad of pitches and hearing the sound of dollars going cha-ching. There were some food samples available (alas, very few vegan options), so I implored my friends to try, try, try away and report back!

1538657_10201550422266159_742035538_nChocolate fountain FTW!

One of the highest praised cake samples was a chocolate stout cake made by Teal Petal Cakes in Raleigh. Keeping that on the radar, for sure. About midway through our journey, we stopped to watch the bridal show sponsored by David’s Bridal. Who stole the show? It wasn’t any of the brides. It was the adorable five-year-old boy rocking his tux with STYLE (alas, no photo to prove his ridiculous cuteness but take it from me: he was legit).

1488658_10201550400545616_1743293315_nThis was one of the most highly rated dresses among our crew. Her hair is pretty adorable too!

After two hours, I was exhausted, which seems almost impossible for the extrovert. I talked up DJs left and right – from those who offer dry ice dance floor (what year is it?) to those who focus on making unique mixes to radio personalities, all I could up with was: DJs are really expensive.

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And where were the free mimosas?! Of course, we found the Korbel table. I imagined towers of glasses with flowing champagne. Those are likely the shows that cost more than $12. We did walk away with tons of fun, reasonable ideas for transforming our vintage, burlap theme into a reality. I was so thankful to have such good companionship through this event in the wedding planning process. What else to do after attending a wedding expo than lunch? We spent the next two hours laughing, eating, and laughing some more at Neomonde Deli. I am such a sucker for all things Neomonde, especially its beet salad. Mmmmmm….

Here are some of the highlights that you may see again come September. Time to get the pursuit of crafts on….or farm those out and take on a supervisory role (I’ll be sitting in that chair, cheering you all on!)

1488874_10201550420226108_793208426_nVintage signs – soooooo hipster!

1510535_10201550418906075_1104722878_nFun way to display photos, and a much better use of chicken wire, no?

1521772_10201550394665469_818525915_nWe LOVED the “LOVE” sign – some tea lights and we’ve got this

1527100_10201550397985552_1646555914_nLiked both the sunflowers and the wood carvings used for bases

1538635_10201550395065479_58766977_nBURLAPPPPPPPPP!

1511667_10201550392265409_1282216938_nMore Mr. and Mrs. and chalkboard signs!

For those of you who have done this before, what’s one piece of advice you wish someone had shared with you? For those of you who have not or will not, what is your “must have” or “must see” when you attend a wedding?