Frugal Food Preparation: What’s in the Freezer?

Last week, Aaron and I tried to engage in some food frugality post-Richmond vacation and played the: “What can we make from the pantry, fridge and freezer?” game. I still did require SOME fresh food but minimal: bananas, snow peas, apples discounted veggies, and Amy’s lunches for Aaron’s work. Outside of those few items, it was time to engage culinary creativity.

One meal I threw together was a simple marinated tempeh (fridge) stir-fry with snow peas (purchased), peas (freezer), okra (freezer) tossed over pasta (pantry). This was (I’m almost embarrassed to admit this) the first time I had marinated the tempeh, and boy, did that shake it up! A simple marinade of tamari, sesame oil, black pepper, and white wine vinegar.



For dinner another night, we went spicy – ole! This dish was infused with red pepper flakes, cumin, and black pepper. This was an almost glorified freezer meal: broccoli, peas, okra thrown together with diced tomatoes and chickpeas, all plopped on some wonderful brown rice. It brought the sweat…and coughing fits.


Not photographed, but better believe there was a taco night or two mixed in there. Our Costco-supply of black beans, chickpeas, and corn tortillas always prove to be a lifeline for quick, delicious meals on those nights when cooking/dicing/prepping is just not likely to happen. My friend Michelle wrote a great blog post on how to create tasty weekly meals by stocking up on key staples to have in your pantry, freezer, and fridge, especially for vegan cooks.

Some of my go-tos to help in all dishes, but especially on the cheap, are:

1) Nutritional yeast (I could eat this on everything)

2) Dried beans (black, chickpeas, navy)

3) Nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts – Costco, baby!)

4) Dried herbs and spices (in particular: cumin, basil, thyme, parsley, chili powder)

5) Grains, such as quinoa, bulgur, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice

6) Other proteins: tempeh, tofu

7) Frozen veggies, especially Edamame and stiry-fry blends

8) Toasted sesame oil

9) Hummus (i know, I know. We should make this at home. But Sabra…Sabra just knows what’s up!)

10) A good balsamic vinegar (we are fortunate to have Blue Sky Oil & Vinegar not too far from our house, which has an incredibly array of vinegars and oils – you can even taste them!)

What sort of ingredients are your must haves?

Inspired by Jennie: 10 Things I Like About Myself

I can’t resist the lists.

In honor of her 100th blog post, my friend Jennie gifted us with ten of the 100 things she likes about herself, inspired by another blogger, Daile. Begin your homework: two more amazing bloggers to add to your reading repertoire.

Without further ado, Ms. Jennie and readers, I’ll share my list – with the hope that you will take up the quill and pen your own – whether as a comment or in your own blog post. It’s essentially a chain letter of positive thought, so unlike its 1990s counterparts full of death, disease, and YOU ONLY HAVE 24 HOURS OR NOTHING WILL HAPPEN directives.

1) My pinkie toes on both feet essentially ride on top of my fourth toes. Efficient little extremities.

2) I like to hang my mouth open in photos, especially those around beer:


Image3) I have a great deal of self-motivation, which has allowed me to tackle challenges I thought insurmountable.

4) I have surrounded myself with people who make me: smarter, more compassionate, laugh, and love easily.



Image5) I love that I love to read. And read. And read.

6) My spirit of adventure – whether to new destinations, attempting activities outside of my comfort zone, and even being willing to put my own need for control aside and give faith to someone else.

7) I can making purring sounds with both my tongue and my uvula. Take that, Spanish language trills and cats.

8) I can drop some slick lyrics and beats – has to be on the fly. Can’t think too much about it.

Image9) Oh, I will wear a costume. No just wear it – I will own it.

Image10. I love to give hugs: big, juicy, squeezy-hard hugs.

This is a great exercise for a Monday.

Alright – you’re turn! What 10 things do you like about yourself?

Exploring Richmond: Part II

The weather on Saturday was not what one would describe as “ideal”: wind, rain, and just above freezing temperatures. You cannot escape winter. We did spend our later morning exploring the Carytown neighborhood, full of boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, and other quirky installations. Sometimes I do fall prey to retail therapy: this was one of those times. The first shop was one of my favorites: Clementine, a consignment shop. Its corner display caught my attention:


While I didn’t find anything to purchase by the pound, I was still quite pleased by the concept. During hour two of shopping adventures, Aaron gently bowed out to find him both a warm venue and an adult beverage, leaving me to lurk inside another used book store that turned out to NOT offer used book store prices (and only upon evaluating my receipt did I realize this – label this an official “dunce moment.”)

Aaron had parked himself across the street at Portrait House, imbibing some local VA brew:



This place didn’t offer much for the non-meat/dairy crowd, so we found a Greek restaurant down the street. Ironically, the Greek Cafe’s special for the day involved black bean patties – I had the gyro while Aaron ate his patty in burger form, and both of us gave the meal a big thumbs up:


Then, it was time to make it over to a brewery bucket list location: Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. Unintentionally, we were visiting on the weekend of its Raspberry Stout Release. Per our usual brewery MO, we saw out in the parking lot until the doors opened at 2pm, watching the hardcore beer nerds begin to line up [did I mention the rain/wind/cold awaiting the folks outside?] from our heated seats.

Once inside, we jumped in line, grabbed a Raspberry Stout and The Great Return [West Coast IPA] and began our task of people watching as well as ooing and awing over the space.


After purchasing some goodies to bring back, we ventured to brewery #2 on Saturday: Isley Brewing Company.


Full of a diverse group of patrons, this open brewery space offered intriguing options for the palate. We opted for the Root of All Evil [Ginger Golden Ale] and Choosy Mother [Peanut Butter Butter]. Both were fantastic, as we sipped and sad on a coach overlooking the entire taproom.

What to do after some day drinking? A little hotel hot tub, a little napping, and some reading. [Yes, party people!] Dinner that night involved another highly-regarded vegan restaurant via Yelp: Phoenix Garden Vegetarian Restaurant. All menu items were vegan – pretty exciting, eh?

I ordered the Vegetarian Pho while Aaron tried the Bahn Mi:



I did end up adding from sriracha to the Pho, which overall I found welcoming on a cold evening, choked full of rice noodles, mushrooms, and bamboo sprouts. But, I was not impressed my the Bahn Mi. And, what I found as my biggest turnoff was the abundance of faux meat. Not tofu, not seitan, not tempeh but some pinkish, processed (?), meat-like product. That’s not my jam, and it was the main star in the Bahn Mi and even played a supporting role in my Pho.

The following day, we spent our final morning wandering through downtown Richmond proper: starting off at Urban Farmhouse Market & Cafe for coffee and then venturing to and around the State Capitol Complex, Governor’s Mansion, canal walk along the James River, Tredegar Iron Works, and more. Although another chilly morning, the sun was out and warmed us on our journey of Richmond’s historical and pivotal role for the South in the Civil War. On future visits, we plan to do more around the historical components of this city. For now, enjoy some of our final shots of a fantastic weekend in Richmond:









Catching Up: Weekend Exploration in Richmond (Part I)

Confession: I have missed blogging tremendously.

The last (almost) two weeks have been a whirlwind, each night gobbled up with activities centered around the area of preparing: preparing the house for photos, preparing the house to be listed, preparing for other pursuits. By the time 9:00pm rolls around (let’s be honest – 8:30pm!), I’m tapped out. I have missed connecting with family and friends through our channels of communications. So, this morning, I said – No run. It’s time to do some self-fulfillment: read, write, and drink coffee slowly.

In between the stress and chaos of job, house, and weather-related events, Aaron and I were able to visit Richmond over Valentine’s Day weekend. The historical city had been on our “must see” list, in large part due to its craft beer scene, but we are both drawn to American history, and the role Richmond has played in shaping our country, in particular during the Civil War, tantalized our taste buds.

We left on Friday morning after our 36 hour lockdown due to snowpocalypse 2014. On Thursday, we did venture out for a walk in the snow, and I even helped to build my first North Carolina snowman.1800318_10102021270010585_635750179_n(1)He did fall over soon after his photo shoot. RIP, snowman.

It took us a good 20 minutes on Friday morning to warm the car and ease the car out of the parking space. Initially, the roads made our trip look grim: cars still lined the streets from their Wednesday afternoon abandonment. Yet, we pressed on, called by the Sirens of Richmond and minds put somewhat at ease by the sight of the sun.

IMAG1315It’s not an official AT/KT road trip until we take a selfie.

Once hitting Interstate 85, the 2.5 hour trip was smooth sailing. Our first stop in the RVA: the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Not only is it a highly-regarded art museum based on its gallery collection, it was currently exhibiting Hollywood costumes [sadly, a exhibit with no photos allowed] minus this initial gem before entering:


It was fascinating to learn more about the world of costume design. I’ll admit: I was one of those movie watchers that never thought about the vast amount of research, production, and time dedicated to the art of creating clothing for characters. The exhibit featured interactive interviews with several iconic designers, including Edith Head, the Oscar-winning costume guru behind Alfred Hitchcock’s films, including The Birds.

After spending the late morning exploring French Impressionists, Civil Rights photographs, and 21st Century Art, it was time for grub, and based on some initial findings, we sought out 821 Cafe near VCU’s campus.


Based on Yelp reviews, the vegan curry chicken salad sandwich was slated as a winner, so I did indulge:

IMAG1326With Aaron’s extra tomatoes stuffed into my sandwich, no doubt.

Complemented with a side of vegan chili, this meal set a high bar for the remainder of our weekend eats. Aaron ordered the Buffalo Tofu Sandwich (stole a bit of the tofu – the sauce is outstanding!) With our energy level restored, we set off again with no true destination in mind. Shortly into our walk, we saw a sign indicating the Hollywood Cemetery was nearby. Checking out Google Maps, the sign was not lying:


It was a beautiful day to wander through a cemetery, if that doesn’t sound too weird. I was filled with awe, reflecting on the headstone dates, the epitaphs, and the recognition of seeing two U.S. Presidents (Monroe and Tyler) along with the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, buried here.




Our next stop: Strangeways Brewing, one of the newer in the area. While their current draft list was intriguing to the eye, it was also shocking: $5 for a 5.5 ounce beer? Prices like that are usually reserved for the most coveted, highly-regarded in the industry, not for an entire fleet of beer within its own tap room.



We tried the sour and the bock: the bock took the cake (and those peanuts were REALLY tasty!)

IMAG1337Gotta love breweries in industrial parks

It was time to get to the hotel, relax (aka fall asleep for an hour), wake up, and continue our pursuits with the much anticipated trip to Mekong Restaurant. Mekong, while offering delicious Vietnamese fare, is also one of the top beer bars in the country [its website is: mekongisforbeerlovers – I mean, you can’t make it more clear than that].

My two favorite beers of the trip were enjoyed here, and another delicious meal: I tried the Ca Tim Xao Rau Que [sauteed eggplant, sweet cabbage, mushrooms in a spicy basil sauce with brown rice; yes, I ate it sans photo – too good!]. I enjoyed a Troegs Nugget Nectar and Perennial’s Aria: both just incredible, fresh beers.



I promise I’m holding Aaron’s beer – or am I?

It was an – to use a now cliched word – epic first day in Richmond. Huffing on the treadmill Saturday morning, I would recall these beers as I sweated them out.  The second half of our journey shall be posted soon.

Roasted Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese

Another sweet potato mac and cheese recipe that looks ridiculously yummy!

Love and Lentils

Vegan Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese

I am way too excited about this recipe.  I have entered a time machine and gone back to my childhood.  The only difference is, I’m not eating yellow #5 and #6.  And it doesn’t come out of a box.  Even if you’re not buying Kraft Dinner, homemade versions of mac and cheese are usually loaded with butter, cheese and other unhealthy ingredients.  This mac and cheese is 100% vegan and so healthy!  I’m just smiling ear to ear knowing what I used to make it, and seeing how much my family loved it.  I think you’re all going to love this one just as much as we did.

The cheese in this recipe is a combination of roasted sweet potato, mustard and nutritional yeast.  The result is a nostalgic mac and cheese with a grown up edge and a rich, creamy, and satisfying dish!  My son pushed the mushrooms aside…

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How much joy can one artichoke heart bring?

When we visit Costco, we are not merely making a trip. We are opening ourselves up to be transformed by the mega wholesale retailer. Does that sound a little too over the top? It’s just the American way, man. Right?

I feel a bit duplicitous shopping for food at Costco. It conflicts with my sense of moral imperative to buy local and support NC farmers and families. And, in the past, I have been wronged by Costco produce: mealy, rotting quickly (no doubt because it traveled thousands of miles to arrive in Durham), so I do try to focus on bulk dried goods: the nuts, the grains, the artichoke hearts.

IMG_20140205_123255 Hello, lap salad. And cat tail on right.

Can you see the chokes? Torn over the salad like nuggets of gold. My father imparted the wisdom of using the artichoke marinade as the Pièce de résistance – the dressing. I’ve tried many other artichoke hearts in my short time, and nothing – I mean – NOTHING comes close to being as succulent as these pickled vegetables via Kirkland, Washington.

To be financially savvy last week, we ate salads and tacos, almost every night. Lots of greens to fill us up:

IMAG1276Taco and salad: round four.

But then, when least expecting it, here waltzed in this delight:

IMG_20140207_125208Well, hello there.

Thanks to Chef Chloe, I stumped upon Sweet Potato Mac ‘N’ Cheese. I might opt for some good air quotes in the title because, deceptively and unsurprisingly on a vegan eating blog post, there is zero cheese. In fact, vegan chefs – take this: there is no nutritional yeast! The sauce was rich and creamy, and I LOADED on the rosemary (using dried because that was one less thing to purchase to accompany the 10lb bag of sweet potatoes bought at Costco). I loved it even more the next day reheated. This will be made again. Promised, self.

Speaking of vegan eating, during the whole month of February, Durham is having its 3rd Bull City Vegan LOVE Challenge. Six restaurants have created specialty dishes that are 100% certifiably vegan for customers to enjoy as well as two other locations focusing on JUST desserts (which, arguably, could be dinner as well.) While my eating out budget is fairly limited, my goal is to try at least two of the dishes offered and one dessert (although, I’m going to be real: I’m not as big of a dessert fiend as I once was – is that sad?). Tomorrow will be a Refectory Cafe lunch date with my good friend Michelle, so I’m looking forward to trying their Polenta Lasagna with Basil Pesto and Grilled Vegetables. Saliva officially set-off upon completion of typing that sentence. The best part of this contest? One, there are two hashtags to follow & you can VOTE for which dish deserves various awards. Follow #eatvotelove #bcvc on Twitter & Facebook and if you live in the area, get yourself to one of these fine establishments!

2014: The Year of the Stress Test

ImageIn the last two weeks, I’ve bit off nails, developed a reoccurring canker sore, and permanently frozen my shoulders in an upright and locked position. Hello, stress. It was inevitable that the “s” word should appear, although I wasn’t expecting it so soon. See, everything seemed to be sailing smoothly, swimmingly, insert your favorite water metaphor here. Our wedding plans are nearly complete with deposits placed, outfits selected, and key logistics shared. In my forward thinking at the end of 2013, I thought that event of the new year would be the one to cause the ulcers, the headaches, and the “s” word to rear its ugly head.

Alas, that has proven to be the least stressful.

We will be listing the town home for sale in the next two weeks. Granted, I was a young lass when my childhood home donned a “For Sale” sign, but I recall the stringent requirements of maintaining order and cleanliness for months. At that time, all I had to oversee was the 12′ x 12′ chamber dubbed my room. Now, it’s 1200+ square feet that lingers in some almost ready state. This upcoming weekend will involve final staging efforts (kudos to our designer genius friend Lara!) and continued minimizing/storing/hiding/sweeping/dusting/unearthing. The actual steps to show the home have to remain free from my mind a bit longer as visions of me driving around Durham with two cats howling in the backseat begins to attract the formation of hives.

Speaking of homes, our future abode is not progressing as we had expected due to delays with city permits and poor weather. Originally, our target move-in timeline pegged us at late March or early April. Now, it’s May – when in May? Not a clue. We did a drive by last weekend and sadly saw zero foundations poured. Keeping our fingers crossed good news is coming down the chute…(oooo – good one, Katie).

And then, as life loves to do, other things have cropped up: an initial tax review for 2013 leaves me owing the government more than I could have imagined; a cantankerous gum is prompting an early dentist visit next week; oh, and THE CATS STILL DO NOT LET US SLEEP. I even took Milo to the vet, explaining to her with hands thrown up in the air, that nine months of not sleeping past 4:45am was just not cutting it anymore. Could he have a hyperthyroid? Diabetes? Kidney problems? $250 and a battery of tests later, we find that Milo has slightly elevated cholesterol, but other than that, he is peachy keen. Lovely. Answer? Give him more food. One week later, we’re still waking up at 4:40am.

Finally, there are some other potential changes that may require me to make some tough choices – positive choices, for sure, but ones that stoke the flames of guilt. While still a work in progress, it’s also exciting to have unexpected opportunities that may, or may not, come into fruition.

With all that obnoxiousness out of my system, I can say that I’m fortunate to have such a committed, compassionate partner who allows me to vent but also ensures that I recognize the blessings we have in our lives. Still, this year will not be easy, and it may not always be fun. But darnit, this year will be the best of my life so far, and one cannot ask for any more!