Recipe for a Blue Ridge Birthday

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My birthday this year fell on a Tuesday, so I had the privilege of celebrating my birthday for a whole week, while I prepared for a weekend birthday trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Thank you, family and friends, for letting me get away with that one. Special thanks to my parents who actually kicked off the celebration a week early, with a trip to see the Garrison Keillor Radio Romance Tour at Maymont, and a gift of some seriously sweet cycling gear for my special day.

We lucked out with gorgeous weather and beautiful scenery all weekend, so I want to share some of the photos that I snapped with my phone. We ended up packing a ton of activities into each day and eating very late, so most of the food photos are nothing to get too excited about. However I will share a few food pictures, starting with my Tuesday birthday dinner. After work, I spent two hours in the kitchen and on the grill, preparing a perfect vegetarian midsummer feast.

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We enjoyed local No Bull gourmet veggie burgers with local tomatoes over fresh spinach, Eating Bird Food’s raw cauliflower tabbouleh, and local corn on the cob with smoked paprika and parsley butter. Kyle asked to take me out to dinner for my birthday, but I really wanted to spend it in the kitchen making the exact birthday dinner that I craved – is that weird? Kyle thought so, but when he took a few bites of this food, he stopped arguing, relaxed, and really enjoyed it!

A few days later, we packed the car and headed to Charlottesville, where we stayed in an apartment we found on AirBnB with my sister and her boyfriend. We arrived late and had a relaxing dinner at Mono Loco, complete with margaritas and cans of Tecate. I had the vegetarian special, a spicy mushroom tamale, which was great fuel for the next day.

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The next morning, after a quick stop at Bodo’s Bagels, we headed west to the Blue Ridge Parkway and did one of our favorite hikes, Humpback Rocks. It was my sister Meghan’s first hike, and she did great! At the top, we were rewarded with a beautiful view on a fairly clear day. The boys were very adventurous and climbed higher than I had ever been before. Fast friends, Kyle and Jake joked around and posed for pictures at 3,000 feet. It was 75 degrees and sunny the whole weekend, which made this top-of-the-world moment even better.

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One of the most exciting moments of the weekend occurred on the way back down from Humpback Rocks, when we saw a black bear beside the trail! I have been patiently waiting to see a bear while on a hike for two years, and I finally got my wish on my birthday weekend! I never would have thought that it would be on one of the most popular hikes in the area, Humpback Rocks. Wild!

After our tough climb and quick descent back to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we simply had to indulge in one of our favorite post-hike rituals, pizza and beer at Blue Mountain Brewery. It seems like every time we go to Blue Mountain Brewery, we run into our friends Brittany and Isaac, and this trip was no exception. We should probably just plan a trip out there together and carpool from Richmond to save on gas!

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Can you see the hops in the foreground? They’re getting so tall this time of year! We spent a lot of time at the brewery as Meghan and I caught up while Kyle and Jake played lawn games. We headed back to Charlottesville for showers, and when we realized it was too late in the afternoon for a winery visit, we headed back out to Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company for more beer tasting and appetizers, including some awesome hummus, giant pretzels, and Kyle’s favorite fried pickles. Oh, and of course we took couples photos at sunset, before Meg and Jake had to hit the road.

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The next morning, Kyle and I slept in late, checked out of our apartment, and headed to downtown Charlottesville for breakfast. The selection at Café Cubano on the downtown mall was perfect for carb-loading with reckless abandon in preparation for our next hike. No, we didn’t really need this many carbohydrates, but that hike made a good excuse for us to indulge. The coffee here is fantastic and I highly recommend it. If you go for the French toast, as I did, pay the extra few bucks to get the fresh fruit topping. You won’t regret it!

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After a filling breakfast, we drove out west again to Skyline Drive and tackled Turk Mountain. There were a lot of rocks along the trail which worked out my ankles the whole way up.

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You can reach a clearing with a view without having to do any serious rock scrambling, but for the very best view, you have to scramble over several vertical rock faces to get to the summit.

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Pretty nice view, if you ask me. . .

The vista at the top was one of the best we have ever seen, and we spent a good twenty minutes on a large flat rock at the very top, resting and taking in the view. After our second hiking adventure of the weekend, we meandered down Skyline Drive and headed back towards Richmond, with a stop in Charlottesville for a relaxing late lunch (or early dinner) at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. Sometimes it is hard to plan a great weekend in that part of Virginia, just because there are so many options for fun activities and delicious food and drink. We could have done dozens of other things and had a great time, but looking back now on that weekend, I wouldn’t change a thing.

For more adventures, check out my Travel page.

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Veg:ology Turns Two!

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Last month, Veg:ology turned two years old. Kyle, the Weber grill, and I celebrated with a backyard bash at our new home. It was a star studded event, featuring several local celebrities who were able to make the short trip from the farmers’ market to our house:

  • Excellent Eggplant
  • Zany Zucchini
  • Heirloom Tomato
  • Beautiful Basil

We entertained them with fun facts about the growth of Veg:ology, the little vegetarian cooking blog that could. Some things haven’t changed much since year one. Zucchini is still one of the top search terms that lead people to the blog.

Top 3 Search Terms

  1. Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
  2. Vegology
  3. Zucchini

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Cupcakes have taken over the top spot from my beloved zucchini. I think we all know what needs to happen next. Zucchini cupcakes, anyone?

The most viewed post on Veg:ology is Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache. (Warning: these are seriously addictive.)

The most popular advice post is How to Save a Crumbled Cake. (I still owe this girl a proper birthday cake… maybe next year.)

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Our honored guests roasted in the hot sun while I reviewed some pretty major events that occurred over the last year.

We moved to VegologyBlog.com.

We joined Facebook.

We attended our first blogger conference:

We had our first food photo published in National Geographic Traveler (iPad edition).

We joined Eating Richmond and Virginia is for Bloggers.

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While sipping my celebratory glass of old vine zinfandel, I realized that my favorite part of cooking out is drinking and waiting. There is a whole lot of waiting involved in grilling, and who could resist a nice beverage while he or she waits? Grilling is not just a man’s sport; women can play too! With wine!

After my revelation, I wrapped up the sentimental bit of our trip down memory lane, and then removed the eggplant and zucchini from the grill for plating.

I don’t always eat my dinner guests, but when I do, I prefer to grill and stack them.

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In lieu of a birthday cake, we had vegetable napoleons. I couldn’t imagine a more festive way to mark the occasion. Thank you to all the friends and family of Vegology who read, comment, cook, and share their experiences here. I have learned so much from the food blogging community, and the support I have gotten from other bloggers and from readers has been incredible. I wish I had more to give you to express my gratitude; for now, this recipe will have to do. Enjoy!

Grilled Vegetable Napoleons

Serves 4

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 – 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed (Great Northern, or Cannelini if you’re fancy)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided (see directions for measurements)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1 cup basil leaves, divided
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced into rounds
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Heat the grill.
  2. Brush both sides of each slice of eggplant and zucchini with olive oil. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. When grill is ready, arrange the eggplant and zucchini slices directly on the grates. Grill until grill marks appear and vegetables appear cooked throughout, about 5 minutes per side on a charcoal grill, then remove.
  4. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil, white beans, and garlic to the pan. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, then over low heat for 15 minutes, then remove from heat.
  5. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over low heat. Chop 1/2 cup basil leaves then add to pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes, then cool and transfer to a food processer. Coarsely chop, then drain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Set basil oil aside.
  6. When the white beans are done cooking, transfer to a food processer. Add 3 Tbsp olive oil, 3 Tbsp water, and the lemon juice and oregano. Puree until smooth then add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. On a round plate, add 1/4 of the white bean puree. On top of the puree, build the following layers, in order: tomato, eggplant, mozzarella, zucchini, 2 leaves basil, then repeat. There should be enough to make 4 plates.
  8. Put a toothpick or skewer through the center of the stack to hold in place. Insert a rosemary skewer next to the toothpick and through the stack from the top to the bottom.
  9. Drizzle each stack with basil oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When Life Hands You Lemons. . .

 

When life hands you lemons, buy yourself a bottle of blueberry vodka and make this lemonade.

I celebrated a birthday last week with a few of my closest friends. We had planned a Potluck Picnic in White, one week before my actual 25th birthday. I think a 25th birthday is a pretty big deal and I was looking forward to having a huge party. But then I ended up making work-related plans on my real birthday (don’t worry, they are really cool plans, even though I’ll be working) and the big bash was out. Summer birthday bummer.

So I opted for an intimate gathering in a local park, with guests dressed in white so we could find each other, family style shared dishes and refreshing libations, punctuated by cool music and fun backyard games. I drew inspiration from Paris’s Diner en Blanc and invited my closest Richmond friends. And then this happened.

And then it climbed. . . and climbed. . . and climbed.

On Friday night, with a Saturday evening forecast of 100 degrees F and a heat index of 116, I reconsidered the picnic idea. The weather channel warned of excessive heat and scattered thunderstorms, and I decided to move the picnic indoors. Lucky me, my guests showed up just as excited as ever.

We made lemonade. In personalized cups, with a few fresh blueberries splashed right in.

Some friends brought salads, and others brought desserts.

Instead of croquet, we played jenga. Like croquet, it gets increasingly difficult after a few blueberry vodka lemonades.

I served fresh white cupcakes. . . with decorations!

As usual, my co-host was a constant source of entertainment.

For the record, he had no more than a sip of this lemonade.

Blueberry Vodka Lemonade

Ingredients – one serving:

  • 2 ounces blueberry flavored vodka
  • 6 ounces fresh lemonade (not from concentrate!)
  • 4-5 fresh blueberries, washed and stems removed
  • 1/2 cup crushed ice

Ingredients – one pitcher (8 servings):

  • 2 cups blueberry flavored vodka
  • 6 cups fresh lemonade
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries, washed and stems removed
  • 4 cups crushed ice

Preparation:

  1. Combine all ingredients (in a glass or pitcher).
  2. Add more lemonade and/or vodka to taste.
  3. Stir and enjoy!

Thank you to all my friends who made this birthday event extra special!

Farmers’ Market 07.16.11

Are you there blog? It’s me, Lauren.

Sadly, our internet went down on Wednesday and didn’t come back up until last night. So I have taken a brief hiatus from blog-writing and blog-reading. But I was still a busy bee in the kitchen! If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I spent my day off on Friday making a birthday cake for a friend.

Happy Birthday Kevin!

I made a vegetarian version of a spicy banh mi sandwich.

I whipped up a batch of my favorite pesto, with walnuts in place of pine nuts.

minus pine nuts, plus crunchy walnuts

I did some party planning and shopping for my upcoming 25th birthday bash, and I made a little trip to the SOJ Farmers Market in beautiful, sunny 80-degree weather.

The loot:

  • Melon that turned out to be canary yellow inside – what?! (CSA)
  • Summer squash (CSA)
  • Eggplant (CSA)
  • Lettuce (CSA)
  • Parsley (CSA)
  • Tomatoes (Amy’s Organic Garden)
  • Jalapeños (Walnut Hill Farm)
  • AnnaB’s Gluten Free multi-grain baguette (new to me!)
  • Mother Bars (new to me!)
  • Sun-dried Tomato Fettucine (Bombolini Pasta)
  • Poblano peppers (Pleitez Produce)
  • Blackberries (Walnut Hill Farm)

And now, thanks to a new modem, I am back to my favorite Sunday morning spot, enjoying a cup of homemade coffee on the porch and writing about the things that I love.

Hope you made the most of a beautiful weekend too.

One year ago. . . I let you in on a secret: where to get the best iced coffee in Richmond.