Spiced Red Lentil Chickpea Cakes

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I have tasted a whole (helluva) lot of beers lately. I think I tried ten different spring seasonal beers over the last two weeks before settling on the one I would use for my pairing for the spring vegetarian beer dinner. Last week I hosted a fundraising event for Team in Training at Legend Brewing Co. in Richmond, and as the sun set, I stayed warm with a bourbon barrel brown ale. Then of course we had the beer dinner last weekend, featuring six different beers paired with six vegetarian dishes (more on that later). And then there were the extra side beers sampled before, during and after the dinner: New Belgium Dig pale ale, Legend Maibock, and Kyle’s homebrewed chile chocolate milk stout from last year.

For this beer dinner, I took a different approach for my pairing, choosing my beer before dreaming up my dish. In the past I have selected the dish first, then I have chosen a beer to match. In the winter, I tried three different versions of my BBQ jackfruit before settling on the winning recipe, then picked a beer pairing at the last minute. This time around, I focused all my taste testing on the beer. Eventually, one favorite emerged: a collaboration beer from Stillwater Artisanal Ales and The Brewer’s Art, a farmhouse ale called Debutante. Both breweries are from my hometown, Baltimore, MD. The talented brewer from Brewer’s Art, Rob Perry, bicycles with my Dad for Team in Training in Baltimore. I have met Rob a few times at the finish line of the Seagull Century, where he always brings a stash of craft beers to share post-race.

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Debutante made a lot of sense to me since it is seasonally appropriate, deliciously complex without being overpowering, and it is at least partially conceived by the masterminds at Brewer’s Art, who are big supporters of Team in Training. With my first TNT event just one week away, this was an easy decision. For some reason, the subtle spice and slightly sweet qualities of this saison led me to Indian flavors for my dish. I packed almost as many ingredients into my recipe as I did beers into my refrigerator over the last couple of weeks. My vegetarian chickpea cakes featured red lentils (which my palate and I think are the perfect complement to saison), chickpeas, cauliflower, carrots, cumin, coriander, and cilantro. These were thrown together at the last minute, meaning that I served them to twelve other people in my home, five minutes after the very first time I ever made them. A swig of maibock calmed my nerves as twelve forks cut in to twelve cakes for twelve first bites.

Some people might go for yeast plus yeast on this pairing, but I opted to let the beer be my bun, and I left this chickpea cake naked instead of serving it between bread. Before you accuse me of garbanzo negligence and public chickpea indecency, allow me to explain that I didn’t leave them completely nude. I offered a cucumber mint yogurt sauce for my non-vegan guests. The vegans just had to make do with a large spinach leaf and try not to feel like their tasty cakes were too exposed. I wanted to use arugula (and I think you should too if you try this at home), but none of the farmers at the market that morning had arugula yet, so I went with the spinach instead.

Shall we get to the recipe then?

Spiced Red Lentil Chickpea Cakes

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1 cup cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 pinches of ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg or 1 flax egg (1 Tbsp ground flax meal + 3 Tbsp water)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil

Preparation:

  1. Add red lentils and cauliflower to a medium sized pot. Cover with 2 inches of water. Heat over high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to low-medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. While cauliflower and lentils are cooking, mash chickpeas with a fork or blend in a food processer. In a large bowl, combine chickpeas with carrots, green onions, garlic, and cilantro.
  3. Preheat broiler.
  4. Drain cauliflower and lentils in a fine mesh strainer. Mash cauliflower into the lentils. When the excess cooking liquid has been removed, add to chickpea mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. To chickpea lentil mixture, add spices, bread crumbs, and egg (or flax egg for vegan version). Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Split mixture into six equal portions and form six patties.
  7. Brush a baking sheet with oil. Place red lentil chickpea cakes equal distance apart on baking sheet and brush tops with oil. Cook under broiler for 10 minutes per side.
  8. Serve with optional yogurt sauce: 1/2 cup plain yogurt + 1 tsp lemon juice + 1/4 cup finely chopped cucumber + 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint.

Now only one question remains – who’s going to bring the craft beers to the finish line of the Nike Women’s Half Marathon this weekend?

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Vegetarian Beer Dinner II – Winter 2012

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It’s that time again. . . time for taper stuffed beer bottles. Time for miniature tasting notebooks. Time for the mad dash to get everything cleaned, cooked, and ready before company arrives. That’s right, it’s time for a potluck vegetarian beer dinner!

After a successful vegetarian beer dinner last August, I vowed to have a seasonal one again in the Fall. Between the wedding and honeymoon, my gig at the farmers’ market, and whatever else came up, I never got our pumpkin beer dinner together. So in late November I started planning a winter seasonal dinner instead. Just like last time, guests brought a vegetarian dish to share and a beer pairing. Fall and winter seasonal beers were encouraged, and once again our guests rose to the challenge. We had a wonderful dinner with great company and tried a lot of beers that we had never had before.

The great lament of food bloggers this time of year is “where has the light gone?!” It is extremely difficult to get good food photos without natural light, and therefore nearly impossible to get pictures of your dinner this time of year. So I apologize for the dark, fuzzy photos of our dinner party. I promise it’s the lack of light, not the abundance of alcohol, that blurred my photos! Hopefully they give you a good idea of what went down, and if not, I guess you had to be there. I have included descriptions of all our dishes, and I will add links to recipes as I get them.

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We started with a red quinoa, sweet potato, and kale dish made by Brittany of btypes. She brought two big, seasonal beers to share. The one we tried first with the quinoa dish was Delirium Noel. With a hint of apple cider flavor, the Delirium Noel was more reminiscent of fall than winter, which worked very well with fall flavors in Brittany’s delicious dish. It was a great start to our meal!

By the way. . . Please note hiding in the photos above, my bakers twine wrapped beer bottle candle holders, which I “crafted” myself. I am super proud of these because they fit the theme and took a really long time to wrap with twine, so I have to give them a shout out (and me a pat on the back for patience).

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We had two dishes paired with Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, because Adrienne and Al and Kyle and I all decided to use it for our pairing. I guess great minds think drink alike!

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Al and Adrienne from hippie itch made sautéed brussels sprouts with pecans. Based on what Adrienne told me about the recipe, I think it is this one from Cooking Light: Brussels Sprouts with Pecans. I believe she said she substituted water or white wine for the chicken broth. I will update when I find out for sure.

These brussels sprouts were sweet, buttery, and the perfect texture: not too crunchy, not too soft. I have to be honest and say that their dish was a better pairing for the Celebration Ale than mine! They did their research and came up with something that worked really well together. I highly recommend that you try it!

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About this time, we cracked open the Schmaltz Brewing Company He’Brew Jewbelation Sweet 16 16th Anniversary Ale. At 16 percent alcohol by volume, this beer is not messing around. We poured a few ounces for each guest to taste, and then enjoyed watching our friends around the table make faces after the first sip. If you are looking for a beer that is super sweet, very rich and will get you drunk quick, this is the one for you!

(Yes, I am still talking about beer, not men)

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For the main course, I made barbecue jackfruit sliders with vegan cole slaw. I was happy to see that our guests agreed that it looked a lot like pulled pork barbecue. I think that if I hadn’t told them what I had cooked, I might have fooled them into thinking the dinner had taken a carnivorous turn when I brought out the tray of sliders. I think that the subtle spice and pronounced hoppiness of the Celebration Ale complemented the smoky, sweet and spicy barbecue flavor very well. However, in my opinion the pairing couldn’t touch the brussels sprouts one!

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To end it all on a sweet note, Shannon from Thirsty Richmond brought her famous beer cupcakes! Shannon got into baking cupcakes with beer earlier this year and has tried dozens of combinations over the last few months. This was only the second time I had tried her cupcakes, and I was impressed once again. This cupcake was made with Dark Horse Brewing Company’s Perkulator Coffee Dopplebock and topped with a Bailey’s Irish Cream infused cream cheese frosting and a chocolate covered espresso bean. The coffee dopplebock tasted just like an iced coffee drink; it was really unbelievable. I love coffee flavored beers and I have noticed that most of them are very heavy. I liked how this one was pretty light and refreshing. It paired perfectly with the cupcake and was a great ending to a fun night!

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Also on the table and circulating before dinner were New Belgium Snow Day and 21st Amendment Fireside Chat (one of my favorites). We did not pair those with food but enjoyed them nonetheless. So, another successful beer dinner wrapped up. . . do we have to wait until spring for the next one?

Colorado Honeymoon

It has been about three weeks since Kyle and I returned from our honeymoon in Colorado, so I figure it’s about time that I share some pictures. We had such an amazing time and we felt so fortunate to take a weeklong break, surrounded by beautiful scenery, after all the excitement leading up to the wedding. I forgot to pack my phone charger so I was actually almost completely unplugged for the first two days of our trip. It was absolute bliss! I learned that I definitely need to unplug more often. We spent time in Denver, Breckenridge, and Boulder during our six day trip. This post is a long one, for your long holiday weekend. I hope you enjoy these highlights from our action-packed week!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Denver, CO

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We flew into Denver on day one. Unfortunately due to some extremely frustrating flight delays (grrrr. . .), we were about four hours late getting to Denver that first day. After a long day of travel, we gave up on our plans for a romantic dinner and opted instead to check into our hotel and order in some pizza and beer while watching one of the Presidential debates. Not the most luxurious way to spend the first day of our honeymoon, but it was actually really nice to just decompress together.

The next morning we headed downtown to the 16th Street Mall, which is a long stretch of stores and restaurants right in the middle of Denver. We stopped into a few stores and did some people watching while having coffee and breakfast. From there we took a long walk to the Denver Bicycle Café, which is a combination bicycle repair shop and bar that serves espresso, coffee drinks, beer, and light fare. We enjoyed looking at all the vintage bikes around the shop and the espresso was excellent. I wish our bike shop at home had an espresso bar in it!

We also checked out Watercourse Foods for lunch. We were very impressed with the 100% vegetarian menu at Watercourse. There were also several vegan and gluten-free options available. It was so exciting to be presented with a several-page menu full of things we could eat. We are so used to going to restaurants and having just one or two vegetarian choices, so it is always a real treat to have a lot of options. I don’t have photos of our food because my phone was dead at the time and I hadn’t figured out our new camera yet (I know, I’m such a grandma sometimes when it comes to technology). That was a real shame because these plates were gorgeous. I had one of the best salads of my life, and Kyle had a Buffalo tempeh dish. I have a feeling we could have eaten every meal of the whole trip at Watercourse Foods and would have been happy.

In the afternoon, we strolled around the neighborhood a bit more, did some sightseeing and shopping, then spent a ridiculous amount of time at Great Divide. True story: we got a little turned around while trying to find the Great Divide tap room. We were just two blocks away and could not figure out how to get there when we picked up on the faint smell of mash in the air. We literally followed our noses to the brewery and tasted several beers when we got there. The bartenders were super friendly and helpful. They were also extremely entertaining the entire time, as they engaged in such shenanigans as playing one of my favorite games from childhood: “the floor is lava.”

We only spent the day in Denver to acclimate to altitude, so that evening we hit the road for a two hour drive to Breckenridge. We were a little sad to leave Denver because we had a lot of fun there in just under 24 hours. Kyle and I were not expecting much from Denver, so we were pleasantly surprised to find such great people and places there. We felt like we fit right in in the mile high city.

Breckenridge, CO

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The main event was Breckenridge, where we stayed in a one bedroom condo for four nights. It was a much slower pace than Denver, which was very relaxing. We had sweet accommodations a few blocks from town, with a gorgeous view and many nice amenities like hot tub access, an adorable fireplace in the living room, and a full kitchen. Yes, I did cook dinner while on vacation. . . twice! We got a great deal on this trip because it was the off season: too cold for summer activities like kayaking and not cold enough for winter activities like skiing. Our goal was to do some hiking and cycling, so with a forecast of clear skies and temperatures in the fifties all week, we were excited to explore the town like locals during the seasonal lull in tourism.

One of my favorite places to eat in Breck was Amazing Grace Natural Eatery. We went here for breakfast on one day and lunch on another. They have a beautiful wood stove that heats up the whole café.

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For breakfast on the first day, Kyle ordered a breakfast burrito.

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I ordered “The Opus,” scrambled eggs with spinach and tomato on a homemade biscuit. The biscuit was out of this world amazing!

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While flipping through the local daily newspaper, I discovered this.

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Say what?! It turned out that the forecast had changed overnight, and Breckenridge was expecting snow the whole week. In a hurry to get our outdoor activities in before we got snowed in, Kyle and I found a bike rental shop and got advice on some local rides. We decided to bike from Breckenridge to Frisco, a 9-10 mile ride, have lunch in the tiny former mining town of Frisco, then bike back to Breckenridge. We lost 500 feet of elevation on the way down to Frisco, which meant our ride back was mostly uphill. Oh, and we were riding back into the wind as well. You better believe I had a huge bowl of soup for lunch to keep me warm for the return trip.

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I had never biked more than 10 miles in a day before, so logging 20 miles on our first day at high altitude was quite an accomplishment for me. Most of the ride was breathtakingly beautiful. I am sure that the diminished oxygen content of the air at 10,000 feet and my exercise-induced asthma were also contributing factors. Seriously, breathtaking. Some parts of the ride were extremely difficult for me, but I was determined to finish. The bike path was the nicest I had ever ridden, and even though the ride was a bit of an endurance test, I would do it again if I had the chance. I can’t put into words the feeling you get while biking a winding path over rolling hills in the majestic Rocky Mountains, with the crisp breeze in your face and the smell of snow in the air.

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As we biked back into town, the wind smacked into us and made my cheeks sting. When we arrived at the bike rental shop, the snow started softly coming down and it did not let up for a few days. When we woke up in Breckenridge for the first time, we looked out the window and saw the town covered in white.

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We decided it was unsafe to attempt hiking Mohawk Lake in the snow and ice, so we hung out in town instead.

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One of the highlights was our private tour of the original Breckenridge Brewery, which I will explain in further detail in a separate post.

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One of the vegetarian friendly places in Breckenridge is Lucha Cantina, which has delicious burritos and great happy hour specials. The prices are really reasonable and most of the dishes can be made vegetarian. I particularly enjoyed trying their four different homemade salsas.

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One of our dear friends bought us a couples massage at one of the spas in Breckenridge, which we thought was one of the coolest wedding gifts ever! After playing around in the snow all day and enjoying a few Breckenridge Brewery beers, we headed over to Ambika for a therapeutic couples massage. I wonder if the masseuses could tell we were just a little tipsy. . . It was a very relaxing experience.

 

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Another one of our favorite places in Breckenridge was Clint’s Bakery and Coffee House. This place has some awesome breakfast food, including a parmesan pepper bagel that will knock your socks off. One of the house specialties is a steel cut oatmeal with granola and dried fruit that was once featured in Bon Appetit magazine. The whole place smells like cinnamon, and there is always something baking. The coffee is pretty good too. It comes from a roaster in nearby Vail. This place seemed like the most popular coffee shop for locals but they were friendly to us out-of-towners too.

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Boulder, CO

On our third day in Breckenridge, we decided to drive to Boulder to visit Avery Brewing Company and check out the town which we had heard so many great things about. Hiking was still out of the question, as the snow was still falling and we didn’t want to become lost hikers out in the wilderness. Boulder supposedly draws a lot of active people and outdoor enthusiasts. We had also heard that it was pretty vegetarian friendly.

We were shocked at how many different beers Avery had on tap. We ordered ten different beer samples and still had not tried everything on the menu. I had to order the Lizzie Lee’s Riverside Ale; how could I not order a “wedding ale” on my honeymoon?

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After Avery, we headed downtown to Mountain Sun (another brewpub!) for tempeh reubens and some more local beer. We explored the downtown area for a few hours and visited some great stores. I was getting used to having the mountains on the horizon and I realized in Boulder that it would be really weird to return to Richmond, where everything is flat, in just a few days.

We wished we had had more time in Boulder because we really wanted to check out the Celestial Seasonings tour that we couldn’t fit in, rent a tandem bicycle from Bikesmith, and do some hiking near the flatirons. The snow was beautiful and persistent. While I was disappointed that it prevented us from doing some of the more active parts of our trip, I think the unexpected snowfall helped us get the rest we needed after a few very busy months. The winter wonderland was pretty magical, and the roads were maintained so well while we were there that we did not feel trapped at all. We were really free to explore and wander without a plan, which is pretty foreign to me, but it was exactly the break I needed.

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We are looking forward to visiting Colorado again in the future. For our first trip to the state and just 4 full days to work with, I think we did and saw a lot of the things on our list. On the drive back to the Denver airport on our last day, we even had time to stop at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre for a little while.

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Colorado was absolutely gorgeous and of course after visiting, Kyle has decided that he wants to move there. I say “of course” because he also felt that way about Charlottesville, Asheville, and New York City after we spent time in each place. I would like to think that, while we have visited some amazing places, it’s not just the towns that he wants to revisit, but the experiences. I think the nostalgia has something to do with being in good company, if you know what I mean. I am thankful for the opportunity to begin our marriage with such a beautiful and inspiring trip, and I am excited for all of the adventures we have yet to embark on together.

Vegetarian Beer Dinner

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You may recall that last year I set out to do my own vegetarian beer dinner. Three courses, three beers, two happy vegetarians. You can read about  what I served here on Vegology.

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Most beer or wine pairing dinners that I have seen are seriously lacking options for vegetarians. As much as I want to attend one, it seems like it would be a waste of money for a person who does not eat meat. Even if there were vegetarian options available, they most likely would not be paired as well with the beer as the meat dishes.

I do not expect a restaurant to accommodate my dietary restrictions, so I usually just skip out. The only exception would be the wine dinners at Secco, which always seem to have a great vegetarian option. Now I just have to rummage through the couch cushions and start saving my pennies so I can afford to attend one!

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This weekend I took matters into my own hands and hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner at my house. Some of my favorite food bloggers and beer geeks came together to throw one heck of a beer pairing party. Each guest was assigned a course and asked to select a beer pairing to bring along with his or her dish. I provided a long tasting table adorned with mini notebooks for taking tasting notes. The table was decorated with beautiful fresh flowers from Amy’s Garden placed in repurposed glass beer bottles.

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Guests used little placards to label their dishes and beer pairings. When each course came up, we shared what we brought, show-and-tell style, then everyone ooh’ed and ahh’ed at each other’s beer and food pairing innovation. Some people paired with complementary flavors and some with contrasting. Both approaches worked out great. We learned that we had a lot of beer and food knowledge in one room.

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The dinner felt really cozy (read: packed dining room), and rustic (read: haphazardly decorated). I think everyone learned a lot and made some friends. I was incredibly impressed with everyone’s pairings. It went better than I had imagined. So without further ado, I present to you the Summer 2012 Vegetarian Beer Dinner!

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Summertime Tomato Gazpacho with “Grilled Cheese” Straws by Sarah and Alex

Pairing: Bison Brewing Organic Honey Basil Beer

Sarah writes Smart Kitchen, and Alex writes I Eat Asphalt.

Recipe for cheese straws via smitten kitchen, with one modification: 1/2 cup whole wheat flour + 1/4 cup white flour.

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Bruschetta with Green Apple and Gorgonzola Spread by Adrienne and Al

Pairing: Hoegaarden Original White

Adrienne writes hippie itch and she and Al both love good beer.

Bruschetta recipe via MyRecipes.com.

Photo Credit: Brittany Mullins (EatingBirdFood.com)

Vegetable Tian by Brittany and Isaac

Pairing: Allagash Curieux

Brittany writes Eating Bird Food and Isaac is a legit home brewing beer geek.

Vegetable Tian recipe via Martha Stewart Living.

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Quinoa Tabbouleh by Bob

Pairing: *Home Brew!* Dirty Southside IPA, brewed by Bob and Kyle

Bob does not blog, but he knows more about beer than most people I know, and he is Kyle’s home brewing partner. We didn’t know the Dirty Southside was ready yet, so it was a real treat and a surprise that he brought some to share.

Recipe via Epicurious, substituting cilantro for parsley.

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Zucchini and Black Bean Enchiladas by Lauren (that’s me!) and Kyle

Pairing: Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale

The homemade sauce absolutely made the enchiladas. The recipe is by Emily from Daily Garnish and you must try it.

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Hardywood Blackberry Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting by Shannon

Pairing: Hardywood Virginia Blackberry

These cupcakes were topped with a blackberry from Agriberry, the same farm that provided the blackberries for Hardywood’s beer!

Shannon writes Thirsty Richmond.

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As the sun went down, the volume in the room increased, and everyone’s notes got a little sloppy. Isaac brought out a sweet, dark, caramelly Southern Tier Creme Brulee stout. Most us us had just enough room left to taste it. There was talk of pumpkin beers and Fall home brews. A suggestion that we should do this again very soon. The beginning of a plan for a vegetarian beer dinner in the Fall?

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If I have anything to do with it, yes.

A Few of My (New) Favorite Things

First things first, I have to give a shout out to John Robinson of Robinson Imagery, who posted a preview of our engagement photos today. Kyle and I had a blast during our engagement session this weekend, and we can’t wait to see the rest of the photos soon. Thanks John!

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I treated myself to a little spring break last week and I had ten consecutive days off work. Please don’t tell my boss; the time off was legit, but I don’t think anyone had really counted it up yet. Ten days is a lot of time, so I avoided announcing the total, in an effort to keep from shocking him and thereby causing him to change his mind. Perhaps even more shocking is that until day one of vacation, I didn’t have many plans for my time off. For the first time ever, Kyle and I both took off work and did not plan a trip. We just kind of winged it. . . and it was fantastic! A ten-day long staycation allows for a great deal of thoughtful reflection and self-discovery. Also, it provides you the opportunity to do some exploring close to home and to try out things you never had before.

New favorite thing: yoga on mountaintops.

I thought it would be fun to share a few of the highlights, so that you locals may discover some new activities and places to visit in central Virginia. If you’re not local to central Virginia, either bookmark these for your next visit or use them as inspiration to find similar things near your own “close to home.”

The Monument Avenue 10K

You would have to be a real Eeyore to not feel encouraged during this race. I really don’t like running, but I loved doing this 10K. I walked most of the way, as planned, but even as a walker you feel like a rock star. There were so many clever signs like the one above, and tons of people cheering you on from the Monument Avenue median and sidewalks. The excitement and energy was inescapable the whole way. This race really was a party, and I am so glad I did it for the first time ever this year.

Patios South of the River

I have been to Legend’s deck before, but as a new resident of the Forest Hill area, I have developed a new appreciation for the space. In the Fan and Museum District, every other restaurant has outdoor seating, and nearly every residence has a porch or balcony. This is not the case south of the James. Legend Brewing Company is my new top choice for patio drinking and dining, for their delicious locally brewed beer and for their fantastic view of the downtown Richmond skyline. Also, this is a great spot for a little carbohydrate replenishment after the Monument Avenue 10K.

Crossroads Forest Hill is also a great happy hour spot with outdoor seating and live music on the weekends. Their beer list is so good that I often think I’m dreaming when I read over it. They have a consistently excellent selection of beers there. They also serve wine and small plates during their happy hour from 4:00 to 7:00 PM.

Flight Night at Secco Wine Bar

Right now you may be thinking this post is getting a little alcohol-heavy. And you would be right. It was vacation! I’m no saint! However I promise we will get to less alcohol-centric activities soon.

But first, allow me to introduce you to Flight Night at Secco Wine Bar. Every Monday, Secco features 3-glass flights of wine. I checked it out last week with some of the VAis4Bloggers crew. For $10 you could order Dealer’s Choice, which was a mixed bag of 3 random wines. For $11 you could get the Flight of the Week, which was Spanish Reds last week. That’s what I ordered and I was not disappointed. For $12 you could choose your own 3 wines off their extensive menu. They were pretty good sized pours and I had a great variety of wines to try. It was a wonderful way to start the week. Check it out!

Homemade Non-Dairy Milks at Para Coffee

After all that booze, shall we get a tad more wholesome? Nah, that’s impossible when you’re talking about nut milks. I had to title this section Non-Dairy Milks because Kyle chuckles every time I say “homemade nut milk.” But that’s what it is! Para Coffee in Charlottesville has started making their own nut milks from almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios, and they offer these non-dairy options in their lattes and other milk-based espresso drinks. I stopped in last week and had an iced pistachio milk latte and it was a real treat. I don’t even want to see the nutritional information, so please don’t tell me how much fat is in a cup of pistachio milk. I’m not interested. That said, I personally would not have one of these nut milk lattes every day, however this is something I will try again soon. It’s so different, you have to try it at least once.

Spice Diva

I have wanted to visit Spice Diva in Charlottesville for awhile and I finally got the opportunity last week. All the spices smell so good and they offer a wide variety of things that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. The blends are really unique too. I picked up an African style curry powder, applewood smoked sea salt, and a spice rub meant for meat that I want to try out in some vegetarian dishes soon. The owner couldn’t be more friendly, and I am excited to test out the exotic spices I picked up on my first trip there.

Hiking in Nelson County, VA

I already knew I loved hiking in this area, but recently I have found several more hikes that I want to try out. We have done Humpback Rocks (a few times), Crabtree Falls, and Spy Rock (as of last week). Next I want to do Cole Mountain and Mount Pleasant. I am addicted to the gorgeous mountain views that are your reward for making it to the top. What other hikes should I put on my list?

 

I have held back a few more food adventures and day trip activities that I plan to share in a separate post. My ten days off work were so packed with fun discoveries that it feels like my break was even longer than it was. We considered so many different vacation destinations before settling on staying close to home. I can’t believe I would have missed out on all the things our area has to offer, while in search of greener pastures, a plane or train ticket away from here.

Have you taken time lately to explore your own backyard?

Crabtree Falls Hike

This weekend, Kyle and I completed a hike that we had been meaning to do for a long time. When we first started hiking, we were quickly made aware of a few really popular Virginia hikes and we put them on our list. Over the last two years, we have hiked several trails in Virginia and North Carolina, yet we hadn’t made it to some of the most popular spots yet. It seems like every time I tell someone that we are into hiking, that person asks me, “have you hiked Crabtree Falls?” Until Saturday, the answer was No. And that was starting to get a little embarrassing. So we went for it.

We didn’t feel like making a 5-hour round-trip journey in one day, so we made a weekend of it. We drove out to Charlottesville on Friday evening, checked into a hotel, and had a tasty Italian dinner at a cozy spot called Fellini’s #9. We had been there before for the Bloody Mary bar at brunch, but we had never visited for dinner. The pasta was fresh, the focaccia was warm and garlicky, and pianist Bob Bennetta was fantastic. We retired to our hotel then got up for a Whole Foods breakfast before hitting the road.

Crabtree Falls is a little over an hour long drive from Charlottesville. We arrived at the $3 parking lot, layered up, and threw on our packs for a brisk hike up the falls. One of the reasons this hike is unique is that you hike up and back. Many of the waterfall hikes that we have done in Virginia have been a hike down the falls, followed by a strenuous hike back up to your car. It’s usually a nice easy stroll down to the reward, then you pay for it on the way back, as the sun gets higher in the sky and muscle fatigue starts to set in. That buy now, pay later situation is a bittersweet way to enjoy the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Several warning signs dotted the trail up the falls. I read somewhere that over 25 people have fallen to their deaths after venturing off the trail and onto the slick, algae-covered rocks. Observation decks along the well-maintained trail offer photo opportunities such that you shouldn’t need to put yourself in danger to get a closer look. A beautiful feature of this hike is that there are great views of the falls all along the way. There are some switchbacks that take you away from the falls, but you only stray so far from them that the sound of rushing water becomes barely audible, and then you double back to another breathtaking view.

The trail itself is very rocky, although there are stairs and railings in several places. It had rained the day before so we encountered icy mud in some spots for an added challenge. There is a good mix of rocks, ground vegetation like ferns and moss, and deciduous trees to make for an interesting landscape even at the end of winter, when most everything is dead. I am sure that with all the moisture in this area, the trail becomes even more lush and beautiful at the end of Spring. However the absence of leaves on the trees made for gorgeous views of the 1000+ foot falls all along the way. We could see exactly how far we had been and how far we had left to go, so we paced ourselves and had a little fun along the way.

It is 1.7 miles to the top of the falls, and of course some of the best shots are along the way. We were rewarded with the picturesque scene below just before we hiked the final stretch.

At the top of the falls, we found the final milepost right before we came to a large, flat area with benches, an observation deck, and a retaining wall. We stretched, rested and had a snack while we took in the cool mountain air.

It must have been at least ten degrees cooler up there. We were damp with sweat and enveloped in an endorphin high, and we laughed at how I was shedding layers while I could see my breath. After resting for about ten minutes, I re-laced my shoes for the descent (and replaced a layer or two) and we hiked back down to the car. After another few stretches, we hopped back in the car and drove to Afton for our favorite post-hike ritual: pizza and beer!

Blue Mountain Brewery is one of our favorite stops in Afton. There are so many great places to visit and beautiful sights to see in that corner of Central Virginia. I am so excited to get married this year in the area we love so much! I am still trying to figure out how to incorporate BMB into our wedding weekend. We know we’ll be serving their beer at our wedding; we just have to figure out how to squeeze a visit there too.

As we contemplated this and other things, I caught two waving hands out of the corner of my eye. Of course as I am sitting at the brewery restaurant, looking a hot mess of disaster with my makeup-free face, a sweaty topknot on my head, and muddy workout gear on from head to toe, I ran into some Richmond friends! It turned out that Brittany and Isaac from Eating Bird Food had the same idea and were chowing down at BMB at the exact same time as us. Small world, right?

After a tasty Evan Altmighty, a refreshingly hoppy Blue Reserve, and a huge veggie pizza, we hit the road again. Kyle and I tumbled inside the door just minutes before his friends showed up for a guys’ night. Then Kyle got a taste of what hosting guys’ night might look like for a married man. Beers on the back porch as Lauren hides in the office, reading a book. Revelry with the boys in the living room, as wifey hangs out in the kitchen, trying to stay out of sight while stirring a big pot of chili. As much as I tried to remain unnoticed so as not to spoil his fun, when dinner was ready the party moved to the kitchen. If you build it, they will come.

And that is how I crashed guys’ night. With free chili. Not a bad deal, right?

And so we sat after the last guest had said goodbye, snuggled up on the couch with a shared bowl of three bean chili. Tranquility had been restored to the homestead. Perfect end to a beautiful day.