Vol. III: Things that are making me happy this week

Despite how the week ended:

 

Oh, beautiful snow, right? Unlike our friends who are prancing in 23″ of fluffy precipitation in the northeast (which might actually make prancing incredibly difficult, if not impossible), this is mostly ice. The less fun version of winter weather.

Continue reading →

Vol II: Things that made me happy this week

I’m sticking with my series dedicated to little gems of what made me happy during the week. I found myself trying to stick mental post-it notes throughout the last few days in an effort to list them in this entry. We’ll see how I did…

Parks & Rec – Season 7 – now available on Netflix
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Doesn’t anything else need to be said? Frankly, no. What a freakin’ great show.

Homemade BBQ Sauce

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Look at that massive pile of sauce (there is tofu underneath there, I promise). Inspired to spend multiple hours in the kitchen last Sunday, I decided to make homemade BBQ sauce for the first time. Following the recipe below from Veganomicon, I whipped up this spicy, sweet, sultry mass of goodness. I was scraping down the pan so I could get all of it!

 

Backyard BBQ Sauce
Makes about 4 cups
Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped as finely as you can
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-once) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup molasses (I substituted maple syrup)
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (I used agave nectar)
  • 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard (Dijon works too)
  • 2 teaspoons liquid smoke

Directions:
Preheat a saucepan over medium heat. lace the onions in the pan and saute in oil until browned (about 7 minutes). Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add all the other ingredients except the mustard and liquid smoke, and cook for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat if the sauce begins to splatter everywhere. Add the mustard and liquid smoke, and taste for sweetness/sourness. Adjust the flavors if you think it’s necessary, and cook for 5 more minutes. If you like a smooth BBQ sauce, then puree it, but that’s not entirely necessary.

First race of the season

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Sponsored by the Trailheads, the Little River Trail Run on January 16 turned out to be one the most beautiful mornings imaginable. While I still have yet to purchase actual trail shoes, I have fallen in love with trail running over the last year. Thanks to friends who open up my eyes to new places in our region, I have found such joy in romping through the woods, having to flex mental strength to pay attention and not wipe out over a root/rock/you name it.

We took on the challenging 10 mile course (although, per all of our GPS devices, it was closer to 9.5 miles total). The two days of raining prior to race day made the section near the river a scene from a Tough Mudder – people sliding, slipping, and splattering as we scrambled up and down the hilly trail.

I ended up finishing 10th in my age division with a time of 1:41:46 (10:11/mile), which is beyond expectations. I had ZERO goals in terms of timing. My only self-directive was to NOT GET HURT. I did fall – once – in the most graceful fashion I could manage, popping back up immediately and continuing forward. One of the best surprises of the race was running into (no pun intended) another friend who I ended up pacing with the last four miles for the course. That’s why I love running so much – building connections with others in this shared desire of achievement, of fulfillment, of success.

Double-date nights

Despite a disappointment experience at the newish Vegan Flava Cafe (you can read my Yelp review here), it was such a blast to go out with our friends Jon and Michelle. Who goes on double dates anymore?! We had the pleasure of taking on the 2 x 2 challenge before the holidays with another set of awesome friends Chelsea & Nic, more by accident than by intent.

The double-date needs to be a come back in 2016. While I love large gatherings, I find such fulfillment from these more intimate encounters. Despite the dining adventure not working out well, we all gave thumbs up to Bottle 501, another bottle shop/bar. Good vibe AND good prices – not always an easily-found combo.

#SOTU

Love it or hate it, Twitter has changed the game when it comes to national events including the State of the Union. I was glued more to my phone than to the actual television. The commentary, especially that made via the gif, was too good to not watch. The actual State of the Union speech was pretty good too. You can read the full transcript here. Here are a few of the highlights for me:

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, different regions, different attitudes, different interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t — it doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, it doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.

Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise or when even basic facts are contested or when we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention. And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest

and, of course, #ActOnClimate talk:

Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.

Six things I am crushing on this week

To start with a bit of cruel irony: after noting in my post yesterday that I had yet to succumb to slipping on ice during any training runs, I was four-tenths of a mile into my 8 mile run and…you guessed it:

polarbear

I ate it. Luckily, I performed the classic Hollywood fall of my legs flying up in the air and landing on my butt.

After a quick curse word and a double-check of all limbs, I proceeded on to knock out the remaining 7.6 miles amid much more ice. It was a very jilted run in regards to my route – a lot of U-turns. And, sadly, this morning’s freezing rain will be pushing my run today to…this afternoon? To the “wish I could” history books? It’s March. It’s time for spring.

I feel compelled to touch on a variety of topics this morning, so I have opted for the infamous list post in order to fulfill my own whims. From literature to legumes, here are six things I am crushing on this week:

#1: Chickpea cutlets from Post Punk Kitchen

chickpea cutletsLike mini-chickpea burgers of love

In need of something meaty, crunchy, and delicious? These cutlets – with their hint of lemon – will rock your world. They are easy to make and require few ingredients: chickpeas (duh), wheat gluten, bread crumbs (I use Panko), some thyme/paprika/garlic/sage, a little lemon zest, soy sauce, olive oil – BOOM! You have a chewy plant-based steak. I have fried them both times (it’s all about that crunchy, baby), but baking the cutlets in the oven is an option as well. You can find the recipe here.

#2: Hot jams: Ibeyi, “Ibeyi”

ibeyiPhoto via NPR’s All Songs Considered blog

Twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz first blew my musical mind on NPR’s First Listen with then soon-to-be-released album Ibeyi. Their playful, sensual, and haunting French-Cuban ballads are enhancing and evocative. I immediately pre-ordered the album, which is NOW available for your listening pleasure! Right now, I have “Ghosts” on repeat, which is the third track.

#3: Sold – Patricia McCormicksoldPublished back in 2006, this novel explores the horrific world of child trafficking, in particular from Nepal to India. Through the eyes of Lakshmi, a 13-year old Nepalese girl, we journey with her as she is sold into the sex industry by her stepfather as his gambling habits have netted the family a debt they can no longer pay with their crops. It’s written in almost a verse format – short bursts of text tracing Lakshmi’s experience, her naivete, and her realization of her new reality. The novel is raw and unapologetic in telling her story – as is the story of thousands of young women in this part of the world. I highly recommend reading it, as it will educate and anger the reader (well, it did me). This was in my 2015 reading stack, and it was one I had difficulty putting down.

#4: Another glorious Costco find – red lentil pasta!

RotiniOh Costco – you did it again! Chocked full of protein and fiber, this red lentil pasta proved to be an excellent substitute to the standard durum flour variety. It doesn’t boast any overpowering flavor. We topped the noodles with a marinara sauce one night and a peanut/ginger curry a few nights later. Great texture and very filling.

#5:  Dreaming of house decorating

After abandoning Pinterest for the last month or two, I jumped back in headfirst on a quest to find barn doors. When Aaron first mentioned these as an idea to close off our dining room, I was a little on the fence. Barn doors? This coming from the woman who had burlap a plenty at her wedding, I know. But, I am now 150% on the hunt for a barn door-esque look for our dining room. Here are some that I have just fallen in love with:

barndoor4I also love the fact La Croix is in this photo

barndoor3Likely no animal head behind our future door…

barndoor2Does the dog come with the door?

barndoor1It just screams GREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN

#6: The powerful medium that is Twitter

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Yes, tweeting road conditions in the Triangle may earn you five seconds of fame too. Twitter – from questioning dress colors (which I honestly did not follow nor care to follow) to breaking international news to chronicling a llama escape – this social media platform continues to amaze and bewilder me.

Alright, those are six things that I am sharing with you. Would you be kind enough to share something YOU are crushing on with me?

Day twelve of vegan challenge: throwing in a non-food resolution and then joining the gravy train

In the midst of this self-imposed #Veganuary recipe challenge, I missed an opportunity to jump on the new year’s resolution post bandwagon. Last year, I set several personal growth goals for 2014. After reviewing the list, I feel that I accomplished several of them (more yoga, growing in my relationship with Aaron, hiding my smartphone at night) while others will circle back for a soon-to-be-written 2015 goals to espouse post (I MUST GET TO THE RAMP FESTIVAL!)

To indulge my Instagram addiction (and to diversify my posts beyond food and beer), I am participating in the #npcommpix challenge sponsored by the team at Nonprofit Marketing Guide under the leadership of communications guru Kivi Leroux Miller. Check it out:

npcomm

So, for yesterday – Resolution – I literally looked over my shoulder at the bookcase full of spellbinding and unread books. I. love books. It’s impossible for me to walk into a bookstore (especially used) and not walk out with something. Unfortunately, the pace of reading said books has not kept up with the purchasing, therefore leaving me with a bookcase full of unread books. Ding! That lends itself to a perfect (and I believe attainable) 2015 resolution:

booksThis is my kind of stacks on decks.

12 books. 12 months. Seems feasible. Based on Instagram feedback, I’ll be starting with “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kierman. Any in this photo that you have read and would offer feedback on?

Shifting gears back to the land of #Veganuary, today’s recipe is (confession) not one I have made personally. BUT, it was made for Aaron and I by our wonderful friends Jen and Chris. Inspired by a dish from The Grit in Athens, GA (which has now been added to the bucket list), this bowl of gravy-goodness is mind-blowing good. Rich and creamy, this golden bowl will do you right (and impress any guests you have over – this is vegan?!) I will note: this recipe takes about 45 minutes to an hour start to finish, so consider this one of your investment dinner evenings. I promise: it is SO worth it!

The Grit Restaurant Golden Bowl (via BigOven.Com)
Serves 4

the-grit-restaurant-golden-bowl-4Droooooooooooool

For Grit Yeast Gravy:
1/2 cup vegan margarine (Earth Balance rocks!)
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 cup unsweetened soy milk (almond could substitute)
1/4 soy sauce (or tamari)
3/4 cup hot water (or more depending on how thin you want your gravy)
1 tablespoon vegan worcestershire sauce

For Grit Style Tofu:
15 ounces extra-firm tofu
Vegetable oil (can substitute)
Soy sauce
Nutritional yeast

Sauteed vegetables:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (sub olive, sunflower)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, diced
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and then sliced
6 medium button mushrooms, quartered (or substitute other favorite mushroom)

Preparation

GRIT YEAST GRAVY:
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt the margarine completely. Stir in flour and yeast until blended and continue to heat roux until mixture begins to bubble. Use only enough heat to maintain vigorous bubbling, whisking constantly for 4 minutes. This is the time required to cook the flour to smoothness, and vigorous whisking is important to avoid burning.

Continue rapid, thorough whisking and add soy milk gradually. The mixture will quickly become thick and custard-like. Combine soy sauce, water, and Worcestershire sauce and add to gravy gradually. Blend well after each addition, and do not add liquid so rapidly that gravy is very thin. If gravy does become thin from the addition of too much liquid, continued cooking will thicken it.

Set gravy aside, and reheat before serving, or hold over very low heat while preparing the rest of the Grit Golden Bowl. Add more water as needed to maintain a good consistency if holding over low heat.

(note: I halved the gravy recipe in The Grit cookbook to come up with these measurements, so you might have to adjust the flour/yeast and water measurements a bit to arrive at the desired consistency (we always make the full amount, because we use the gravy on other things))

GRIT-STYLE TOFU
Cut tofu into cubes smaller than playing dice. Lightly oil a non-stick skillet and place over high heat. Allow oil to heat slightly, and add tofu. Saute, tossing with a non-metal spatula until evenly and lightly golden brown. Sprinkle lightly with soy sauce, saute briefly to further brown tofu. Remove from skillet, draining and discarding any excess fluid.

Rinse and wipe skillet dry, lightly oil and place it over high heat. Allow oil to become very hot and add tofu. Saute tofu, tossing with a non-metal spatula almost constantly until very well browned. Sprinkle with soy sauce to taste. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast to coat tofu cubes and, tossing vigorously, saute for a few seconds and remove from heat. Keep warm in the oven while you finish cooking the veggies.

SAUTEED VEGETABLES
Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium-high to high heat. Add onions and saute until soft and translucent. Add bell pepper and saute for 1 or 2 minutes, until slightly cooked, but still firm. Add zucchini and yellow squash, and saute for another minute or two, until squash is slightly cooked but still firm. Add mushrooms and cook until they give up their water. (note- other veggies of your choice can be substituted; onions are always a good base, and the zucchini and yellow squash go well with the gravy, and so we always use these as a base, but we’ve also used other bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, and peas with tasty outcomes).

TO SERVE
Spoon 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice into a bowl, top with veggies, tofu, and gravy, and enjoy!

For a tasty option, you can also garnish with shredded mild cheddar. (Veganize it or just leave it off!) We had it without cheese, and it was perfect.

Recap: Denver, the Driest Place on Earth

Perhaps a slight exaggerations, but after leaving the humidity, I felt upon deplaning as if a vacuum had sucked all the moisture from every single pole. Granted, I know what it feels like to exist in a dry climate (hello first 20+ years of life), but as I was also still a bit on the mend from virus 2014, it hit me like a wall.

But, let’s talk Denver. My first time in Colorado, and I was pumped! I traveled with our team for our organization’s national conference. It was great timing since I had just over a month under my belt, so I didn’t have the same sense of feeling overwhelmed (outside of the reality that I knew no one outside of our staff). But, I was pumped to learn more about what other state leagues are doing to engage and mobilize environmental advocates and glean what our national partners are conducting on a large-scale. Overall: inspiring work but a lot more of it needs to happen.

During the playtime of Denver, my top priority involved beer. Thanks to knowledgeable friends and patrons, I had a robust list of places to visit. Many would be saved for a future visit both time and distance were challenges, not to mention that I was missing my partner-in-crime and wanted to experience those adventures with him.

Our first stop: foraging. We ended up at Ace just about a mile outside of our hotel, which boasted Asian-inspired cuisine with the allure of ping-pong tables. Several of them.

10256806_10102800789896492_1649004168312971096_nOur group split the intriguing crispy brussel sprouts, which I paired a Left Hand Weak Sauce (coffee Porter). Both the appetizer and beer were outstanding.

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Not so weak sauce for me.

10173815_10102800790754772_3137260249010518129_nSpicy goodness!

I went with the kale salad for my entree and topped it off with tofu. It was very good, especially after I topped it with the crisp chili oil available on the table – gave it some nice crunch and a little more heat:

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After filling our bellies, it was off to check-in, take a mini walking tour of downtown, and then prep for that evening’s reception. As the evening wound down, we realized we had not eaten dinner (one thing I quickly learned in Denver: dinner does not happen until after 9pm, which is typically my bedtime). We were mostly full from lunch, but needed a little something something (and time for another beer). We wandered over to Freshcraft for some pretzel bites, loads of house made mustard, the Antioxidant Mix salad, and – of course – a beer (the Trinity Seven Day Sour Gueze):

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Fast-forward to Friday night, I must share this with you:

1901284_10102800787052192_1095818479356175044_n18″ of glory

That is one big pizza. Again, after realizing at 9:30pm that dinner had not been add, I jumped on Yelp and found Marquis Pizza, which offers the “Sticks & Weeds” veggie pizza with vegan cheese as an option. It was right off a club where live music was pounding, and outside on the sidewalk, it was quite…grassy? Definitely potential for a contact high, if you catch my drift. Regardless, my friend Erik and I split this monster (his side was the non-vegan cheese), and I will be honest: I crushed two enormous slices while sitting outside, and then downed a third back at the hotel room, only to be filled with regret 5 minutes later. Regret only because I thought my stomach would explode because – dang – that was a freaking delicious pizza. I’m still not 100% on the vegan cheese bandwagon, but whatever brand this place used melted nicely. And the crust – which I argue is the most important aspect of this dish – was chewy, crunchy, and yeasty.

There was some other vegan/vegetarian joints on my hit list, but there was only so much time, so I’ll look forward to checking out more when we plan our return trip in May 2015. Until then, here’s to you, Mile High City, for some amazing views, great brews, and fascinating people.

10312671_10102800787346602_1525128801307798639_nPianos available to play in the street

10341424_10102800787142012_1490878289886819261_nA must-stop for all craft beer fans

1604864_10102800789467352_995676266768890141_nSome views from our reception patio

10300005_10102800789746792_5115627565665205073_nFun street art

10311197_10102808564740642_7507293340636683015_nNext time I’ll get to see a game

10246737_10102808562759612_2167804982916361751_nBeautiful trails along downtown creeks – this one had rapids!

10320348_10102808563448232_7017365066583510511_nNC representing!

10329161_10102808564186752_695698588065842274_nEnjoyed Sunday morning oatmeal & coffee at The Market at Larimer Square

10341766_10102808564855412_6034401543282922361_nLast stop before airport: more beer

10294349_10102808565299522_7109311219900716220_nSour paddle

As always, it’s great to get away, but it’s equally as wonderful to return home. Fortunately, I came back healthier than I left (at least germ wise – the food and beer took a bit of a toll). This helped me achieve one of my goals for this year: to visit a new state! I look forward to getting to spend time in the outdoors doing more than just walking to the next bar.

Hello, pizza night.

Friday nights in America. Back in the day, we had the telephone number of the local pizza delivery restaurant memorized (these days, I’m sure there’s an app for that. Or, why call? Just order online!) I have fond memories of the Pizza Hut specialty: the Bigfoot (almost 2′ of pizza goodness). Do you recall this brilliant innovation of food gluttony at its best?

bigfoot

Toppings? Not really. Well, just extra-extra-extra cheese. I KID YOU NOT. We did order multiple layers of ooey, gooey cheese. Square pizza + 5lb of cheese per slice = one happy kid.

Since the 90s, pizza night has changed quite dramatically in our lives. Last week, we indulged in a pizza night, which had been hiding from our kitchen for months. Now, I’ve done homemade dough, and I will note that I enjoy Bob’s Red Mill’s Gluten-Free Pizza Crust Mix for a nice chewy texture.

But, when one is not in the mood to make crust, my best bet? Trader Joe’s. The chilled pizza dough (which now comes in THREE flavors: white, wheat, and now a fancy herb blend). But, this would be our first homemade pizza sans cheese. Granted, I still don’t miss cheese. Yet, I wondered: how would I feel about not seeing (or smelling) the bubbling, browning topping, giving me the signal that “the pizza is done!”?

Pizza #1: Trader Joe’s marinara sauce base with roasted butternut squash, spinach, and yellow squash (it was a 100% TJ’s pizza).

IMAG1615Colorful!

Pizza #2: Stubbs BBQ sauce, “real” chicken, portabella mushrooms. sauteed onions/garlic, sauteed Brussel sprouts

IMAG1614

The After:

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The second photo should reveal that we dug into the pizza ASAP. Personally, I enjoyed the spinach ‘za much more than the second, mainly due to my lack of love toward the fake chicken. The texture was just…too soft. If using again on pizza or other dish, I would grill it first to give it a nice crispy, slightly charred flavor.

IMG_20140329_185648

This dish also marked the official end to my career with Donate Life North Carolina and the world of organ, eye and tissue donation. I have ventured into the world of environmental advocacy – more, for sure, to come from this transition!

What are your “must have” toppings on your pizzas? Anything off the wall that you would recommend?

Traveling the Back Roads of Carolina

In this final month of my Donate Life career, I will be spending much of my time behind the wheel, traversing North Carolina from one Driver’s License office to the next as part of our annual DMV awards program. This is my third year taking on this cross-state adventure, and it has taught me a great deal, including:

1) Driving is exhausting.

2) Books on CDs = one of the best inventions ever. During this week, I started “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” Fascinating thus far (on disc 6 of 36).

3) There are dozens of hidden gems around this state that I would never have heard of until traveling through country roads.

4) Not a hidden gem = getting stuck behind farm equipment.

During the first week, I traveled to Clinton, Wilmington, Elizabeth City, Morehead City, Yanceyville, Carrboro, and Manteo. As much as I despise the time (sitting) in the car, I do so enjoy the 20 – 30 minutes I have with each office, meeting the DMV examiners, celebrating in their offices’ successes, and impressing on them how much they are appreciated. (I DARE you to tell the examiner at the driver’s license office next time how much you appreciate them. Despite what misgivings 99% of people have about DMV offices and staff, they put up with your bad attitude, have to ride in strangers’ cars [some of who crash said cars during road tests] and deal with a slew of logistical challenges that most of us in the general public never know about. They are dedicated public servants who are parents, grandparents, animal lovers, travelers, and more. In simple terms: be kind and stay positive next time you are renewing your license!)

IMAG1423Cheesy veggie bowl of goodness

Before I left, I wanted to ensure there was some good food to eat for both Aaron (and selfishly for me upon returning late). The above bowl was a combination of vegan cheese sauce over some steamed kale, broccoli, cauliflower, all atop some bulgur and black beans with a plop of salsa. Easy. Simple. Delicious. I will say, though, that I’m not sure if I am still yet on the bulgur train. I tried preparing it with boiling water poured over the bulgur instead of stove top, and it definitely did not cook completely (followed prep instructions in Veganomicon).

One of my standbys – Rice and bean casserole – turned into a soup (because someone didn’t bother to measure out how much brown rice she had left…oops.) Guess what?

IMAG1425It was still freaking awesome!

Chalk up that mistake to a positive outcome. Finally, I prepped Red Lentil Dal (Forks Over Knives cookbook) and – sadly – I did overcook my lentils. Blast! I even allowed them to cook for less time than in the recipe, but I know I should have been paying a little closer attention.

1393806231144Lemon zestiness!

Not sure if I’ll make this particular recipe again. Maybe at least once more and avoiding the mush.

Seems to be a good life goal.