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Big Meadows Camping Trip in Shenandoah National Park

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Have you heard that it’s National S’mores Day?

What better day to tell you all about a recent camping trip I took in Shenandoah National Park? A few weeks ago, I planned a trip for six friends to go camping up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had visited and hiked in the Blue Ridge dozens of times, but I had never camped before. Planning a two-day camping and hiking trip for six was a daunting task, and I was a little nervous that, as the only one out of the group who had never been camping, I was doomed to miss a critical detail and therefore ruin the trip for everyone. So I did a lot of research and planning. If you know me well, you won’t be surprised at all that there were multiple checklists and maps involved, all important information lived in a “camping binder,” with plastic sheet protectors and all, and we packed the car to the roof with essentials and not-so-essentials, “just in case.”

Kyle and I bought a Marmot tent at REI earlier this summer and we were excited to finally put it to good use. The night before we left for our camping trip, we unpacked the tent and set it up in the living room, just to be sure that we had everything we needed and that we wouldn’t look too foolish to the other seasoned campers when we arrived at our campsite.

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I believe the above diagram shows that no one can stand in this tent unless they’re under 5’1”. At first I took the other pictures to mean that the tent would fit two yogis or four mummies, but now I realize that they indicate that the tent will fit four people sleeping and two sitting up. I am new to this camping thing, but I think I’m starting to get it down.

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We arrived at Big Meadows Campground about two hours before sundown on a Friday night. Kyle and I focused on setting up our tent first, and then we started to get dinner ready. Among our team of six, we had a few vegetarians, some vegans, a gluten-free restriction, a nut allergy, and a carb counter. You would think that would present a big challenge, but it really wasn’t that hard to accommodate at all. I made a burrito bar for our first dinner, which worked out really well because each person could make his or her own meal from the options provided. We had low-carb and whole wheat tortillas, black beans, sauteed zucchini, squash, and onions, salsa, sour cream, and cheese.

For dessert, we made s’mores (of course), and created the most amazing campfire snack I have ever seen. Behold. . . the S’moreo.

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Simply twist two halves of an Oreo cookie apart and press a toasted marshmallow between them. For the record, Oreos are vegan. Marshmallows are not, due to the gelatin, unless you buy special vegan marshmallows.

We sat around the campfire the first night, laughing, telling stories, and scaring ourselves about the possibility of black bears crashing our party. We couldn’t believe how cold it was up in the mountains – around 60 degrees at the campsite at 3600 feet of elevation – while it was 75-80 degrees in the valley. Just as the fire started to die down and we began packing up to head to the tents, it started raining.

It poured all night long, hard driving rain, that never let up. We stayed completely dry in our tent, although there was one section on the corner above my head that was not completely taut, so it gathered a pool of water and then dumped a loud, sudden shower off the side of the tent about every twenty minutes all night long. Between the sudden “swoosh” of water right next to my head, jitters about sleeping outside for the first time ever, and weird sounds in the woods that my exhausted brain was convinced were from bears, axe murderers, or axe murderous bears, I hardly slept that first night.

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The next morning, the rain let up a bit and then cleared up completely for our tubing trip on the Shenandoah River. After the cool, rainy night, we second guessed ourselves all morning on whether a tubing trip was the right plan, but when we got to the river, the sun was shining and it was a nice warm 80 degrees outside. The river was cool and refreshing, as were the beverages we packed into our cooler tube. I have gone tubing with Shenandoah River Adventures twice now, and I highly recommend them. We had a great experience!

When we headed back to camp that afternoon, it started raining again, so half of the group worked on setting up a tarp shelter for us to hang out under. The camp store at the Big Meadows Campground stocks a lot of supplies at very reasonable prices. We had brought an extra tarp with us, but we decided to buy a second one at the camp store to make an even larger shelter in case it rained for the next several hours. The other half of the group started washing and chopping vegetables for a giant tray of “hobo meal,” as Al called it.

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Those are vegan hot dogs on the fire, next to a huge foil roasting pan full of potatoes, onion, carrots, zucchini, peppers, squash, salt, pepper, and oil. After about an hour directly over the fire, the “hobo meal” was done, and it was fantastic. Who says you need to have meat to make a hearty meal?

The rain slowed down before bed time that second night. We made more s’mores, left a huge dent in the beer supply, and played games until we were falling asleep in our camp chairs. I slept like a rock that night, no longer worried about homicidal maniacs or bears, and finally comfortable sleeping in a tent. Progress!

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For breakfast both days, we had bagels (toasted over a campfire) with hummus or cream cheese, and fresh fruit. I made a batch of cold brew iced coffee concentrate at home and brought it with us for morning coffees. I don’t drink mine black, so I brought shelf stable milk in Tetra Paks, and on Sunday morning I discovered the joy of Silk chocolate soy milk in iced coffee. A little leftover “hobo meal” stew helped bulk up breakfast on the second day and gave us extra fuel for hiking later that day.

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We headed to the Hawksbill Summit Loop Trail, about five miles north of Big Meadows Campground. Hawksbill Summit is the highest peak of Shenandoah National Park, at 4,049 feet. We accidentally hiked the loop backwards, making a very steep climb straight up to the summit, then meandering back along the Appalachian Trail at a slight downhill grade, with a lot of switchbacks and beautiful scenery. There was a lot of cloud cover all morning so we were not sure how much we would be able to see at the summit.

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When we arrived at the top, it looked like we had reached the end of the world. We were standing in a cloud. It is pretty hard to describe the feeling of looking down off a cliff at nothing but thick white clouds. This picture that Kyle posted to Instagram demonstrates that a picture is worth a thousand words: Al at the Summit.

Within ten minutes of our arrival at the summit, the clouds began to break, and we could see the vast valley below.

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There were these amazing little succulents growing out of the rocks at the top.

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Adrienne took a yoga break while we took in the panoramic views.

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Having the clouds break right as we reached the summit was a great end to a trip that was perfectly timed. . . no thanks to all of my meticulous planning. It was overcast and rainy for most of the time we were there, except for three distinct and brief times that the clouds cleared up and the sun shone down on us: when we first arrived and set up our tents, when we ventured out on our tubing trip, and when we reached Hawksbill Summit. These were the only three times we really needed the sun, and somehow it all worked out. There is no way I could have planned that.

At a time that I am reminded how much I am not in control, these brief moments of sunshine and intermittent rain made me even more grateful for the opportunity to explore all of the natural beauty we have in Virginia, just a two-hour drive from home.

You know it was a good trip when you haven’t even made it off the mountain yet before everyone starts asking, “when can we do it again?”

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Eggplant Bruschetta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Fresh Chevre

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I love summer fruits and vegetables, so I am ecstatic that I am now cleared by my doctor to carry heavy bags of produce from the farmers’ market to my house. I made a trip last weekend to the South of the James market and I went a little overboard with vegetable purchases. Everything wonderful is in season right now!

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The haul:

  • Goats R Us roasted red pepper chèvre (so flavorful!)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Jalapenos
  • Green bell peppers
  • White peaches
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow crookneck squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumbers

I made a ton of great seasonal meals last week, and doing a lot of meal prep (washing, chopping, blanching, etc.) on Sunday helped me out so I could get healthy home cooked meals on the table around a busy schedule. The roasted red pepper chèvre and eggplant inspired me to throw together a quick and easy appetizer on Sunday afternoon.

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This is a flavorful, summery dish that you can put together in about fifteen minutes, which is great for those impromptu summer porch sitting sessions. You know what I’m talking about. When a conversation with friends that starts with “What are you doing tonight?” and “I don’t know, what are you doing?” ends with two friends and a bottle of wine on your patio.

I used oval-shaped eggplant slices in place of baguette slices to make this summer “bruschetta” a bit lighter (and gluten-free, if you’re into that kind of thing). I guess technically that makes it not bruschetta, but I don’t bother with technicalities on sunny summer weekends. If you’re unlike me and you’re getting hung up on the semantics, have another glass of wine and throw some quotation marks around the word “bruschetta.”

Eggplant Bruschetta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Fresh Chèvre

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Chinese eggplant
  • 2 small heirloom tomatoes (I used Green Zebra and a red-green variety I couldn’t identify)
  • 1 oz. fresh chèvre goat cheese (I used roasted red pepper)
  • 1 small handful of fresh basil
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Slice the eggplant on a diagonal to make oval-shaped slices, about a 1/4 inch thick.
  2. Heat a grill pan, indoor counter top grill, or outdoor grill. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil, then grill for a few minutes on each side, until eggplant is tender and grill marks appear. Do not overcook or eggplant will get mushy; you want the slices to still be firm enough to hold the toppings.
  3. While eggplant is cooking, slice tomatoes. Stack and roll basil leaves, then slice into a chiffonade.
  4. Remove eggplant slices from grill and set aside until cool enough to handle.
  5. Spread each eggplant slice with chèvre, then top with a tomato slice and basil. Season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

So are you curious what we made with all of the rest of that produce? Here is last week’s meal plan. At the end of the week, when there is still produce left over, I chop it all and throw it in a stir-fry or on homemade pizza.

Breakfast: Blanchard’s Dark As Dark iced coffee, Peach Oatmeal Bars

Lunch: Mediterranean salad with baby greens, cucumber, tomato, olive, and hummus

Dinner:

Noodleless Zucchini Lasagna and baby greens salad

BBQ Tempeh, Green Beans Almondine, and Herb Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Tomatillo Gazpacho with Fresh Corn Salad (recipe coming soon!) and Black Bean Quesadillas

Yukon Gold White Bean Basil Burgers and Roasted Yellow Summer Squash with Sage Pecan Pesto

 

What tasty seasonal recipes are on your meal plan for this week?

Vegology Branching Out, from Home Cooking to Competitions and Catering

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I started this blog four years ago to help me get out of my comfort zone in the kitchen, and to inspire others to do the same. From trying out new ingredients for the first time, to testing strange cooking techniques, to doing vegetarian cooking demonstrations, to traveling to distant places just to see what is going on in other food communities, I have stepped out of my comfort zone in a lot of ways, with mixed results. In four years, I have learned a lot about cooking and eating, and I have further developed my food philosophy as well. I do not reflect often, so although I have grown in a lot of ways since June 2010, I still see myself as a newbie, learning as much as I can, from people with more experience and different perspectives than me.

My initial reaction when I was asked earlier this year to participate in the Richmond Vegetarian Festival Food Fight was, “who, me?!” The Food Fight is an Iron Chef style cooking competition, in which three competitors must prepare three vegan dishes in one hour, using only the limited pantry ingredients and equipment available at each of their stations. The dishes must feature a secret ingredient, which is revealed seconds before the clock starts.

The invitation came in a tweet, and my immediate response upon receiving the Twitter notification on my phone was to look over both shoulders and wonder if there is another Vegology out there for whom this invitation is meant. I ignored the message, assuming it had been broadcast to a long list of people who would jump on the opportunity.

When the organizers (from Citizen, one of my favorite lunch spots in RVA) followed up with me, I realized the first message had not been an error. I was still in hand therapy and could barely cook for myself at the time. What I could do in the kitchen and at work, I was really slow at. The competition was about a month away and I figured it would give me a good goal for therapy to get my hands and wrists mostly functional by the end of June.

So I recruited a partner, my delightful and talented friend Brittany from Eating Bird Food (read her wonderful post about the competition here), and I agreed to do it. We do not cook fancy or complicated food and we do not spend hours perfecting our plating techniques or our knife skills, so we expected to come in dead last. We were determined to make food that tasted good and to have a ton of fun doing it. And that is almost exactly what happened.

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The secret ingredient was fennel, one that we had not anticipated at all. After a quick strategy session, we started grabbing ingredients from the pantry, chopping, blending, and roasting (in a toaster oven!). Our first dish was raw spiralized summer squash “noodles” in a fennel and basil pesto sauce, with pan roasted red peppers and a sprig of fennel on top. We had a lot of fun putting this together, and twirling the squash “pasta” into little nests on each plate.

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We worked really well together, and just focused on the cooking while we worked. I tuned out the audience, the host who narrated and entertained during the whole thing, and all of the comments from the judges and other competitors. There were definitely a few times that Karri Peifer, the host, put the microphone in my face and I had not even realized she was in our kitchen or had asked me a question until that black bulb was right in front of my mouth. I doubt that any of my answers were very impressive – sorry Karri!

Our focus paid off when our vegan ground beef, or “nut meat” came out perfectly. Our second dish was a nut meat lettuce wrap taco with a fresh corn and fennel salad on top. The spicy “meat” was countered by the sweet fresh corn, and I thought it tasted pretty good. The judges said they couldn’t detect the fennel, which we had included in the “meat” as well as the corn salad, but our proportions must have been off, or the strong flavors of other ingredients drowned out the fennel flavor.

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Our final dish, which was described by one judge as “homey” was a Nourish Bowl with jasmine rice, black beans, roasted sweet potato and fennel, and pan roasted red peppers, finished with a peanut sauce and Thai basil garnish. All three dishes were ones that any home cook could easily throw together. I’m not sure if “homey” was meant as a compliment or not, but I took from it that we cooked our food, which was exactly what we had set out to do!

Each duo was given a score out of 240 total possible points, and dishes were evaluated on taste, presentation, innovation/uniqueness, and use of the secret ingredient. Our team (Team VegBird) came in second place, and the host announced that we were within two points of the winners! The winning team was Kate Koyiades and Mackenzie Monday from 821 Café. Yes, that’s right, two points away (out of 240) from professional chefs. What?! We were very pleased with the results.

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We celebrated with a beer from Ardent Craft Ales, a new brewery that is located in Scott’s Addition, right down the street from the festival. I would be lying if I said that was it. Then we took the party over to Hardywood for another beer and some tacos from the Boka Tako Truck.

Riding high after our second place finish, I packed my car the next day for a road trip to Asheville, NC for the grand opening of my sister’s ballroom dance studio, Rococo Ballroom. We spent a week putting the finishing touches on the studio space and getting the word out for the grand opening and ribbon cutting.

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I spent my days handing out flyers, hanging posters around town, writing press releases, shopping for décor, and cleaning impossibly large windows and mirrors. I squeezed in three classes at Asheville Yoga Center (so wonderful), and at night I ate a ton of the best vegetarian food Asheville has to offer. To see all of our great eats, check out the #vegologyeatsasheville hashtag on Instagram.

After the great experience I had branching out at the Vegan Food Fight, I did not hesitate to say yes when I was asked to do all of the food for the Rococo Ballroom grand opening party the following Saturday. I prepared food all day in my sister Meghan’s kitchen, packed it into containers within a giant cooler, plated when I got to the studio, and then replenished from the same cooler throughout the party. My “catering kitchen” on-site was a gigantic cooler with a pack of gloves, a cutting board and knife, and a few bags of ice, all located on a sidewalk outside the back door of the studio. The kitchen got soaked during a sudden downpour halfway through the party. I adapted. The food turned out pretty great!

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The appetizers included caprese salad bites, which were basically tomato, mozzarella, and basil, skewered and marinated in a balsamic viniagrette, and cucumber cups filled with jalapeno cilantro hummus, topped with chili powder and pimentos.

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We also enjoyed watermelon, feta and mint bruschetta, which was a nice summery treat.

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Dessert (not pictured) was a tower of mini cupcakes in gold foil wrappers to match the regal décor of the studio. We also had a cheese tray and plenty of wine, which I wrapped in custom Rococo Ballroom labels just for the party. The selection  included Waltz White (Pepperwood Pinot Grigio), Rumba Red (Castle Rock Pinot Noir), and Bolero Bubbly (Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Rose Cava).

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After pulling off a week of helping to open a business, bookended by a vegan Iron Chef competition and my first catering gig, I needed a glass of Bolero Bubbly wine to relax!

In retrospect, the marathon week was a great way to celebrate Vegology’s fourth birthday. It definitely boosted my confidence and pushed me to ask myself the question, “what’s next?” proving once again that it’s sometimes a very good thing to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try something you’ve never done before. It could turn out great or it could turn out to be a disaster learning experience, and either way at least you can say you did it!

Peanut Butter S’mores Cookies

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The weather has been gorgeous lately and I have been able to fire up our backyard grill a few times already this season. The longer, warmer days make me feel like summer is right around the corner. We’re planning outdoor activities for our weekends and starting to think about miniature summer vacations to go camping, hiking, canoeing and tubing in the area.

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Last weekend, Kyle and I met up with some friends at Dominion Riverrock, which is an outdoor sports and music festival in Richmond, VA. We spent hours outside in the sun, watching demonstrations and competitions for various outdoor sports, including mountain biking, bouldering, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, trail running, and even dog jumping! It was amazing to be surrounded by people with so much love for the outdoors. It got us thinking about planning a camping trip this summer. Do you have any ideas for must-see spots to share?

Because my mood and the weather always influence my kitchen adventures, I made a campfire s’mores-inspired sweet treat to fuel our research and planning. These peanut butter s’mores cookies are soft, chewy, and packed with peanut butter flavor, with little bits of graham cracker and chocolate mixed throughout, and soft marshmallow middles (which is exactly what I’ll have, if I don’t stop eating these cookies).

I used one of my favorite basic peanut butter cookie recipes from chocolatecoveredkatie.com and modified it to dream up this unique combination. When enjoyed in moderation, they are quite delicious!

Peanut Butter S’mores Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 Tablespoons all natural applesauce (no sugar added)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Sucanat (or substitute brown sugar or Turbinado if you prefer)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 Tablespoons chocolate chips
  • 1 rectangular regular size graham cracker (4 sections), crumbled
  • 12 miniature marshmallows

Preparation:

  1. Combine peanut butter, applesauce, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
  2. In another bowl, combine Sucanat, baking soda, flour, and salt.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and stir to combine until a dough is formed. Fold in the chocolate chips and crumbled graham crackers.
  4. Roll the dough into about 1-inch balls. Push a miniature marshmallow into the center of each cookie dough ball, and re-roll into a sphere. This should make 10-12 cookies.
  5. Chill dough balls in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. At 25 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. Transfer dough balls to a lightly greased cookie sheet and space 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

How do you enjoy the great outdoors this time of year? Have any tips on cool camping or hiking spots?

A Big Week for Bikes. . . and Tofu

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Pixie cuts pair well with speed workouts

Last week was a little strange weather-wise, with a smattering of hot, sunny days interrupted by a few non-consecutive days of torrential rain. When the skies were grey, I worked late. When the sun was out, I tried to take advantage of the beautiful weather and I spent a lot of time outside. I received my crash replacement helmet from Bell, and last week I finally got back in the saddle.

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That’s right, first time back on the bike in six months! I was not technically cleared to ride yet (I see the doctor this week), but I felt ready and the weather was perfect, so I carefully took a lap around the neighborhood just to see how it felt. . . it was magnificent! I have so missed riding a bike. I had no wrist pain during or after the ride, and no crazy crash flashbacks when I zipped downhill (braking. . . all. . . the. . . way), so I call it a success!

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Later that week, I was scheduled to run with a friend, and the high temperature that day was over ninety degrees. Due to the heat, we decided to run trails instead of road, to take advantage of the shade and any breeze we could pick up by running in the woods alongside the James River. I’m not technically cleared for trail running yet either, but I was riding high from the cycling success, and I only tripped on rocks once – no falling!

My arm was super sore and swollen after the short run. That night, the pain in my wrist woke me up several times and I tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. After a long and stressful day of typing at work in pain, I headed to my regular Friday afternoon appointment with the occupational therapist and got bad news. My therapist wasn’t very happy with the pain and swelling, so I got this weird iontophoresis patch that made my arm look like a battery.

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The patch uses electric current to slowly inject an anti-inflammatory medication into my wrist over a few hours. It worked well so I’m glad that my therapist prescribed it, but after the titanium plates, the screws, the Storm Trooper splint, and now this, I do kind of wonder if OrthoVirginia is trying to turn me into a bionic woman. Am I slowly becoming a machine?

After overdoing it on physical activity in the great outdoors last week, I took it easy over the weekend and practiced being a spectator at the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation’s Cap2Cap ride. Spectating is awesome because it allows you to a) wear whatever you want (hey there Boho tank!), b) eat and drink whatever you want (Capital Trail Pale Ale, anyone?), c) support the participants you love (Kyle! Dad! Adrienne! Lindsay!), and d) take non-sweaty selfies during downtime (see my Instagram account).

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I had the privilege of cheering on my dad, Nick, and my husband, Kyle, as they completed the 50-miler together. I’ve watched them both ride bikes for years, but because they live in different states, they have only ridden together just a handful of times. I had a great time with my Mom, riding from one water stop to the next, to cheer on the boys and catch up on life this Mother’s Day weekend. They played it cool, but I know they both really enjoyed the together-time too.

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Although cheering from the sidelines was fun, I am so ready to get back into an exercise routine. Please send positive thoughts my way this week and maybe the doctor will clear me for more activity! I think that as long as I promise to ice my wrist after exercise and not fall, not even come close, I’ll be able to get back to hiking, biking, and running very soon.

One great piece of news is that I have gotten enough mobility back in my wrist that I am no longer cooking one-handed, and I was even able to cook Mother’s Day brunch for some of my family on Sunday morning, which felt great! My Mom has cooked for me so much over the last six months, so it was great to repay her for at least one meal by making Billy Bread strawberry French toast and cilantro scrambled eggs all by myself!

I also whipped up an awesome salad last week with cranberry balsamic vinegar that I got from my occupational therapist, who totally supports cooking. . . way more than she does trail running. The salad was composed of mixed baby greens, roasted Chioggia beets, goat cheese, roasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and cranberry balsamic vinegar. I topped it with the best baked tofu I have ever made. I cannot take credit for this wonderful recipe, but I can link to it so you can try it too. I highly recommend Perfect Baked Tofu from Healthy Tipping Point. You will not be disappointed!

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Have a delectable week!

What the Heck is a Chayote Squash, and What to Drink for Cinco de Mayo?

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These weird little squashes have been staring at me from a bin in the produce section of my grocery store for far too long. I have passed by the bright green chayote squash dozens of times, wondering how to cook them and what they taste like. I finally picked up three of these weird little gourds last week, and I stumped the cashier when I went to check out.

“Excuse me, what is this?”

“Chayote. C-H-A-Y-O-T-E.”

“I don’t see the code for that, are they pears?”

“No, they’re labeled ‘chayote squash’ on the bin. Maybe they’re under ‘squash’?”

asks coworker in next lane: “Do you know the code for these?”

coworker: “No, they look like pears. Charge her for pears.”

Pears were $3.99 per pound that week, and I have no idea how much the chayote were priced per pound. I guess chayote is not a fast-mover at the Carytown Kroger. In the cashiers’ defense, the chayote does look a bit like a pear that is trying to eat itself.

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The chayote originates from Mexico, where the fruit, leaves, blossoms, and roots of the plant are eaten. The squash has a very thin green skin attached to the green-to-white flesh. The skins and seeds are edible, although I found that many recipes call for the skins and seeds to be removed. The flesh is very crisp, and the raw squash has the texture of a potato and a very mild flavor like a broccoli stalk. The chayote can be eaten raw, but it is often cooked and seasoned, or eaten in a sauce with other more flavorful ingredients.

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I found a great vegetarian recipe for Chayotes Rellenos from world-renowned chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, of The Border Grill in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Santa Monica. I had never tried one of their recipes before, so it was an evening of firsts.

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The chayote was very easy to work with. I left the skins on, but boiling caused them to peel off. The texture and flavor of the cooked chayote was similar to summer squash. I loved that this recipe incorporated epazote, and the crunch from the almonds added an unexpected and pleasant texture to the filling, which probably would have been pretty mushy otherwise, due to the cooked squash and mushrooms.

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I topped the cooked stuffed squash with some fresh pea shoots, which were an impulse purchase from Relay Foods. I normally would have tossed some cilantro on there, but I was out (rare occurrence!). One thing that recipes for stuffed squash or eggplant NEVER tell you is what to do with the extra filling. Am I the only one who always has extra filling after stuffing my vegetables?

I put the extra filling in a glass baking dish, topped it with cheese, and baked it at the same time and temperature indicated in the recipe. It worked out great.

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If you’re feeling inspired by Cinco de Mayo and you want to try out a Mexican dish besides tacos or nachos, I suggest that you give chayotes a try. Although they do not pack a ton of flavor on their own, they are very versatile and do soak up the flavors around them. Next I would like to try them in a really spicy curry, topped with chopped fresh mango, and I do not intend to wait for another holiday to do it.

What to Eat on Cinco de Mayo

If you are feeling less ingredient-adventurous but you do still want something Mexican-inspired on your table this week, check out my recipe roundup from last week.

What to Drink with Mexican Cuisine

If you want to branch out from the standard Corona, Sol, or Tecate that are very popular this time of year, head to your local craft beer store. Kyle and I collaborated on this list of brews drink with Latin American food.

For an authentic Mexican beer that is a cut above the rest, seek out Negra Modelo or Bohemia.

For a local Virginia alternative to the Mexican light lager, try Blue Mountain Brewery Lager or Legend Brewing Co Pilsner.

If you like hoppy beers, try Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai or Smuttynose Finestkind IPA.

If you intend to sit on a porch and sip beer for a few hours, pick up Sierra Nevada Summerfest or Lagunitas Daytime.

And if you just want a beer that looks great in a Cinco de Mayo party spread and is refreshing on a warm evening out on the back deck, pick up Breckenridge Brewery Agave Wheat. When you choose a beer that is infused with an iconic Mexican ingredient and labeled with a skeleton wearing a sombrero, you get an A+ for sticking to a theme!

 

5 Vegetarian Recipes for Cinco de Mayo

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Cinco de Mayo will be here next week. Do you know what you’re making for dinner yet? Nah, me neither.

Luckily, I consider tacos to be a major food group, so I have plenty of vegetarian taco and burrito recipes here on Vegology. I never grow tired of coming up with new combinations, and Kyle and I have some variation of tacos for dinner on a weekly basis. I love them so much that I cannot possibly convey to you how extremely excited I was the first time I was linked to by F*%$ Yeah Vegan Tacos. I have several taco recipes here under the tacos tag, and some other fun Mexican inspired recipes in this post to help you plan for your Cinco de Mayo celebration. The first five recipes are Vegology originals, then there is a bonus Serious Eats recipe at the end for elotes, which are my current obsession.

Enjoy!

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Try out these MexiKali wraps that add a healthy dose of leafy greens to your standard black bean burrito. Plus there is a onus recipe for my Chipotle-style cilantro lime brown rice in that post as well.

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Embrace Springtime and make a batch of Radish Salsa to tide you over until fresh tomatoes are in season. Serve with corn chips, pita chips, over tacos and nachos, or just eat it plain like a salad!

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These Cilantro Lime Seitan Tacos feature a great vegetarian meat substitute that, as the old cliché goes, “tastes just like chicken!”

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If you’re still experiencing winter weather and want to curl up with some fall and winter veggies, try these Spicy Cauliflower Tacos with Sunchoke Hash. It is amazing how much grated and sautéed cauliflower can resemble meat when seasoned the right way.

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For a sweet and springy dessert, try these Strawberry Goat Cheese and Black Pepper Empanadas, which make for a unique and tasty end to your Cinco de Mayo meal.

Bonus recipe!

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My current obsession is Mexican street corn, and this recipe from Serious Eats is perfect! Make this one as soon as you can get your hands on some fresh corn this year. You will not regret it.

To see what I’m cooking this weekend (and to get sneak peek photos of test recipes like the grilled corn above), make sure you are following Vegology on Instagram and Twitter.

Pecan Crusted Tofu with Raspberry Mustard Sauce

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Lately I’ve been working hard, eating breakfast and lunch on the go, and craving comfort food for dinner. A plate full of vegetables with a side of crunchy pecan crusted tofu was exactly what I needed one night last week. I used a handful of fresh raspberries to make a sweet and tangy mustard sauce that complemented the pecan crusted tofu pretty well. The color of the fresh raspberry sauce was so bright that it definitely got me into the spring spirit!

Raspberry season is right around the corner, and I expect to start dipping everything in this bright red sauce very soon. I have breaded and pan-fried tofu before, but haven’t found a great breading that holds up in the oven. This pecan crust sticks to the tofu and hangs on through baking, and it stays crunchy in the oven without getting dry. Sure, it would probably be fantastic pan-fried in oil, but it works great for baking too.

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Pecan Crusted Tofu

Ingredients:

  • 1 block of tofu (12-16 oz.), drained and pressed
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or sub pecan milk or soy milk)
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Pour almond milk into a shallow bowl.
  3. In another bowl or deep plate, add all other ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Cut pressed tofu into 1/2-inch thick slices. Dip tofu slices in milk, then cover in pecan/panko breading on all sides.
  5. Place breaded tofu in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
  6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Raspberry Mustard Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raspberries, chopped
  • 1/4 cup honey mustard
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup

Preparation:

  1. Puree raspberries in a food processor.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine raspberries, honey mustard, and maple syrup. Heat, while stirring, until sauce is bubbling, then remove from heat.
  3. Strain sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds and pulp from sauce.
  4. Serve sauce hot, drizzled over pecan crusted tofu.

Have a wonderful week!

Mung Bean Pasta

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I have been trying to use my cookbooks more often. My effort has paid off with a lot of new knowledge about ingredients and some great go-to recipes that I never knew I always had, sitting right there on the bookcase in my kitchen. One thing that I was surprised to learn was how healthy mung beans are for you. Featured in my new favorite recipe for Pad Thai from Terry Walters’ Clean Food cookbook, mung bean sprouts are surprisingly nutritious. So when I saw Mung Bean Fettuccine in the grocery store, I had to give it a try.

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The package boasts an extremely high protein and fiber content as well as a high iron content, and states that the pasta is a great gluten-free alternative to wheat pasta. I am not gluten-free. In fact I think gluten is one of my favorite foods, however I am always looking for tasty protein sources so I had to check it out. Mung beans, which are low in cholesterol and high in soluble dietary fibers, can also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Until recently, mung beans had only entered our household to fill Kyle’s iron palm training bag for Wing Chun (Kung Fu), so it was a pretty big deal to start tossing mung bean sprouts in salads and stir-fry dishes. Experimenting with the fresh, crunchy sprouts was fun, but those beady green beans were a little scary, so it took us awhile to take the next step. Opening this bag of wavy green noodles was intimidating, but we were willing to give it a go in the name of science.

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After cooking and rinsing the noodles, I tasted them plain, and they weren’t too bad. I have to be honest though, they do taste a little… grassy? Because they are naturally chewier than regular pasta, it was pretty easy to get them al dente. However, I thought they really needed some flavor (besides “health food” flavor), so I mixed them with sauteed asparagus and baby bok choy, a soy dressing, and toasted sesame seeds. A drizzle of chili sauce made the meal complete.

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I thought this salad would work well either hot or cold, but I definitely preferred it hot. The noodles were so chewy after being chilled that I had a hard time getting through half of a serving before feeling full. I guess that could be a good thing? It felt weird to me, so I reheated them with a few minutes in the microwave and a generous portion of sambal. Kyle enjoyed the dish both hot and cold, so I guess you will have to decide for yourself!

The flavor combination was very fresh and springy, and versatile enough to work with any type of grain, so I recommend that you try it out even if you substitute a different kind of pasta or rice for the mung bean fettuccine. We are now firmly in the spring season, so break out that bright green asparagus and your favorite set of chopsticks and chow down!

Sesame Mung Bean Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables

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Ingredients:

  • 7 oz. dry mung bean fettuccine
  • 3 Tbsp sesame oil, divided (2+1)
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2 baby bok choy
  • 4 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup liquid aminos or low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili sauce (sriracha or similar)
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, rinse and set aside.
  2. Chop asparagus into 1-inch pieces and roughly chop baby bok choy, discarding the ends. Thinly slice the green onions.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 1 minute. Add bok choy and asparagus and saute until tender and bright green, about 3 minutes.
  4. To the vegetables, add garlic and saute for another minute.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the liquid aminos (or soy sauce), brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, and chili sauce.
  6. Add pasta and sauce to the pan with the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook until heated throughout. Add toasted sesame seeds and serve while hot.

Ten Recipes So Easy That You Could Make Them with One Hand Tied Behind Your Back

The sun is finally out, spring is in the air, and here in Richmond, most of us are enjoying the opportunity to be outside before the thermostat goes from reading “warm” to “do-we-live-in-a-brick-oven?” We’re spending more time out reading on the patio, meeting friends for happy hour, or squeezing in a trail run or bike ride after work and before dinner. We’re not spending much time in the kitchen preparing meals. Sound familiar? If so, you may be looking for some quick and easy recipes this spring.

Ever since I flew off a bike five months ago and fractured both hands, I have had limited or no use of my left hand, which had the more severe injury. After my first surgery, I had no use of either arm for several weeks, so cooking meals, no matter how quick or easy, was out of the question. After some rehabilitation, I was able to use both hands but my left wrist fatigued easily so I had to keep things simple in the kitchen. I also had to stop writing outside of my day job because typing all day at work was all I could handle. That is why things have been pretty quiet around here lately.

Three weeks ago, I had my second surgery and a second medical leave, which left me with some time for reflection. I decided that I wanted to start writing and cooking sooner this time. I committed to the struggle, knowing that a lot of utensils would be dropped and a lot of joints would get swollen in the process. In the kitchen, I focused on dishes I could make with one hand. I still had a lot of help from my husband Kyle, but I was surprised to find how much I could do myself one handed.

Of course these recipes go even quicker with both hands, but if you’re in a cast like I was, you can pull them off pretty easily with just one. If you are fortunate enough to have the use of both hands, but you’re just in a rush and want something quick and easy, you’ll love these recipes too!

Tips for One Handed Cooking

  1. Get an electric can opener, or a friend who will open several cans at once and dump contents into easy-open reusable containers for you to pull from the refrigerator throughout the week.
  2. Buy pre-chopped vegetables. These are a lifesaver.
  3. Choose meals with few ingredients and uncomplicated preparations so that you will not have to juggle too much at once.
  4. Cook in large batches so that you can have leftovers for other meals and save yourself cooking time.
  5. Replace your salt and pepper mills with plain old pre-ground sea salt and black pepper.
  6. On the stovetop, use heavy bottomed pans that will stay in place while you stir, without someone holding on to the handles.
  7. Be patient! Focus on what you CAN do and don’t dwell on what you CANNOT do (I’m still working on that one myself.)

Easy Recipe Roundup

Eating Bird Food Green Elvis Smoothie – smoothies are a great way to boost nutrition in a quick and easy way

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Lazy Egg and Cheese Sandwich from Smitten Kitchen via A Cup of Jo. Confession: I have had so many egg sandwiches in the last few months. Try adding some Everything Bagel Sprinkles.

Vegology Arugula Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta – substitute whole grape tomatoes if you can’t/won’t slice the Roma tomatoes

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NoBull Veggie Burgers – or substitute patty of your choice, serve on store-bought buns with baby carrots and hummus, or baked-from-frozen sweet potato or zucchini fries

Vegology Vegetarian Gumbo with Brown Rice – all ingredients can be purchased pre-chopped, frozen, or canned

Real Simple Stuffed Poblano Peppers – instead of stuffing, I chopped the roasted poblanos in a food processor and added them to the rice mixture

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AllRecipes.com Unsloppy Joes – all ingredients can be purchased pre-chopped, frozen, or canned

Budget Bytes Quick Fix Salad Bar Pizza – the salad bar is definitely your friend for finding pre-chopped ingredients. Substitute a store-bought pizza crust for tortilla if you want a thicker, breadier crust.

Sweets too! Baked doughnuts are a really easy dessert and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could make these with just one hand.

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Joy the Baker’s Double Chocolate Cake Doughnuts

Vegology Supercharged Coffee Doughnuts

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Thank you to those readers who have patiently forgiven my three month hibernation and are still around for this revival of Vegology! I am thrilled to have found a way to keep writing and I am excited to rejoin the amazing blogging community after some time off. I hope you are excited too!