Feeling French in Brooklyn

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Last month I made a last-minute trip to Brooklyn to visit my friend Melissa for the weekend. I arrived on Saturday and left on Sunday, and I think the whole visit clocked in at around 27 hours. We made the most of our time together and had a lot of fun wandering around Brooklyn, eating and drinking everything in sight. On Saturday afternoon, we stopped at Sweet Melissa Patisserie for some tiny desserts.

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We first discovered Sweet Melissa in the summer of 2009 and immediately fell in love with the adorable décor and delicious pastries. Plus Melissa obviously loved the name. She took the quaint bakery in Park Slope as a sign that she needed to move from Richmond to New York, and that when she did, she needed to live in Brooklyn. Later that year, Melissa moved to Brooklyn. I visit a couple of times a year, and I don’t think we’ve ever skipped a trip to Sweet Melissa. It’s not the best bakery in Brooklyn, but it’s pretty good, and it holds sentimental for me. This was the first time I had gotten the mini desserts and I am so glad that I did. We split them while sitting on a park bench outside the bakery. I’ve never been to France, but it all felt very French to me.

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The next morning we continued to indulge our Francophile tendencies by traveling to Williamsburg for brunch at Le Barricou. I was a little nervous that I was not hipster-cool enough to fit in at this restaurant (or in this neighborhood), but I managed to blend in just fine. We slipped into the restaurant around 10:00 AM with no wait, which was a nice surprise. We had expected a long wait, but it seems that we were just early enough to get a table before the rest of the neighborhood shook off their hangovers and ventured out in search of greasy food, coffee, and mimosas.

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A new development during this New York trip is that Melissa is on an espresso macchiato kick. I had forgotten how much I liked them, so I followed suit and had a few macchiatos during my trip. The one at Le Barricou was not the best, but it did give me a jolt of energy. Kyle has poetically described mornings in Paris spent people-watching while sipping dark, rich espresso and idly chewing on pieces of baguette. Kyle didn’t really care for Paris but he fell in love with its espresso. I wonder if the experience at Le Barricou would have reminded him of his time in France or if it would have just reminded him of his last trip to Brooklyn.

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The French country style décor and the brunch menu certainly felt French to me. The vegetarian egg white omelette that I ordered might not have been very authentic, but it was tasty. The egg whites were fluffy and stuffed with delicious seasonal vegetables. The potatoes were perfect, which is a word that I don’t use often, because I’m always trying to think of ways to improve upon the dishes that I eat, but I wouldn’t change a thing about these herbed fried potatoes. The side salad had a light citrus vinaigrette that provided a bright contrast to the heavy potatoes.

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We cleaned our plates, which was not an easy task. The food was rich but it was so mouth-wateringly delicious that we couldn’t stop going back for more. I had not eaten to the point of pain in a long time, but this meal left us both completely stuffed.

One nice surprise about the meal at Le Barricou was the great service. I expected a little better-than-you attitude from the wait staff, with their tight pants, ironic facial hair, messy hair buns, and bright red lipstick. However everyone we came in contact with was very friendly and helpful, no attitude or snark at all. Maybe it was my messy bun and my skinny jeans.

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As we finished our meal, we reflected on how slightly French our short weekend had been. Walking back to the train, Melissa talked about her business trips to Europe over the last year. She said that Denmark felt really weird for her (but kind of awesome) because, being fair-skinned with long, straight, brown-blonde hair and grey-green eyes, in Denmark she was surrounded by people who looked exactly like her. I can’t imagine what that would be like, since I have always lived in pretty racially diverse areas, and have never really felt like I blended in to a crowd of people who looked exactly like me. I then wondered aloud where I would go for a similar experience. Having a mix of European ancestors in my family tree, including Irish, German, and Swedish, I don’t think I look anything other than American. Without skipping a beat, Melissa said,

“I always thought you looked French.”

Maybe it was the tiny pastries, the double shot of espresso, or the oeufs that made Melissa think that. Or maybe there’s something to it? Upon further consideration, I’m pretty sure the only thing that makes me look French is my default facial expression: bored.

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But when I want to feel French and can’t afford the transatlantic plane ticket, I know where to go.

Sweet Melissa Patisserie, 175 7th Ave, Brooklyn, NY

Le Barricou, 533 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY

Kyle and I are packing our passports and taking a little getaway this week (not to France). However, sometimes we like to feel like we’ve been transported to another country without shelling out for the expensive flight and hotel room. Food can do that for you; so can ambiance. I recall an innovative low-budget at home date night while we were in college, that involved stir-fry, chopsticks, pillows on the floor, and a kung fu movie marathon.

What do you do to feel like you’ve traveled to another country while staying in your own town?

Fresh Start Breakfast

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Although I am not a morning person, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I would be lying if I said that I don’t love mornings. I do love mornings, on weekends and vacations only. Perhaps my feeling that “I’m not a morning person” stems from my experience of most mornings: frantically running late, rushing to work, gulping down coffee and breakfast, sitting in traffic. . . then spending the rest of the morning enclosed by cubicle walls with no window to the outside world. Who could possibly get excited about that?

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On my days off, I love mornings the most. I enjoy the calm quiet and the feeling that I am at the fresh start of something new. Mornings can be full of hope, energy, and plans for the rest of the day. I rarely feel disappointed or rushed on a weekend morning; I simply enjoy the opportunity to take my time. Some prefer their coffee cold, some prefer it hot. Some like their coffee French pressed, cold brewed, or poured over. All I know for sure is that I like my coffee slow. Slowly sipping a cup of coffee at the beginning of my day is a gift that I do not give myself often enough. Under that category, you could also file: stacks of pancakes, syrupy French toast, fresh oranges, fluffy croissants, and bubbly mimosas.

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I have fond memories of vacation and weekend mornings that were completely unrushed. On Labor Day weekend last year, we rented a cabin in the mountains with friends. I remember waking up before everyone else and brewing coffee in the quiet, cool kitchen, then sipping a steaming cup on the wraparound porch, while listening to the morning sounds of the woods. On the day before our wedding, Kyle and I carefully drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the thick morning fog and hiked to Humpback Rocks at sunrise. Fresh starts on cool mornings are priceless.

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I recently had several wonderful mornings in New York City, and something about moving the conventional routine of breakfast to a variety of exciting places made an impression on me. I seized the moment each day and had a delicious breakfast in a new place, with no agenda or deadline. This, of course, negatively impacted the number of activities I could cram into each vacation day, but that was okay with me. The first breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien set the tone for the rest of the mornings on my trip.

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I had a flavorful and filling yogurt bowl from Chobani SoHo.

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On another morning I went to Chavela’s for a spicy brunch with friends.

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On my final morning in the city, I had a fresh, hot everything bagel with a crispy, crunchy outside and a soft, doughy inside.

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The breakfast that made the biggest impression on me was the warm organic quinoa and pear cereal at Le Pain Quotidien. Topped with Bosc pears, dried fruit, nuts and cacao nibs and drenched in warm soy milk, this cereal was exactly what I needed after a chilly run that was cut very short.

The day before, while rushing to get out of the house to make my train to New York, I slipped on our wooden stairs, went flying with my suitcase and bag, and landed flat on my back. As I lay on the floor, loudly cursing and wailing, I thought, “the universe is telling me to slow down.” Nevertheless, I popped some ibuprofen, threw an ice pack in my bag and headed to the train station, grinding my teeth in pain the whole way.

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Fast forward 18 hours, after a lot of icing, massaging, and wishing on stars, I suited up for a run across the Brooklyn Bridge. With subway directions to Brooklyn, a route scribbled on hotel memo paper in my pocket, three layers of clothing, and some gear strapped around my waist, I was determined to make my 8 mile run for Team in Training. After 3 scenic miles over the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan, through the financial district, Chinatown and SoHo, I found myself warming up in Le Pain Quotidien on Grand Street, suffering from killer back pain, and ordering breakfast for one with a cappuccino on the side. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of a mandatory three week break from running.

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Over a delightful bowl of quinoa and pear cereal served by an extremely attentive and courteous waiter, I finally received the message that I had been trying to ignore. Slow. Down. While the pressures of my job, way too many commitments, and half marathon training left little time for me to stop and smell the roses, I started thinking about the things I could control and began to work on a plan for less stress and more happiness. Getting slammed with a bad cold and increasing back pain over the next few days helped to reinforce the message. I’m not quite there yet, but I have made some changes for the better.

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The lessons I have learned from weekend breakfast are finding their way into the rest of my life and I do feel like I am inching backwards from an almost certain nervous breakdown and toward a happier place. Less working on the weekend, less guilt about unfinished to do lists, and more quality time with friends and family. Of course there are risks involved. I may fall behind at work, let down my team and lose my job. I might be less prepared for the half marathon and hit the wall on race day. Maybe I will never finish my name change paperwork, hang art on the walls of our house, or plant a vegetable garden this year. But for now, I won’t worry about those things. For now, I’m making breakfast. And sipping my coffee slowly. And thinking about the things that matter.

Here is a simple recipe for a simple fresh start to your day.

Warm Quinoa Cereal with Fruit and Nuts

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  1. Combine 1/3 cup rinsed quinoa + 2/3 cup water + half an apple or pear, diced in medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat, keep covered 5 minutes.
  3. Heat 1/2 cup milk of your choice (almond milk is great).
  4. Add to a small bowl: cooked quinoa + dried fruits, nuts, and seeds + drizzle of maple syrup or honey + 1/4 tsp cinnamon + warm milk.

 

Branching Out: Week in Review

Last Sunday seems so far away. I had a fantastic week that was jam-packed with long days full of new experiences. In the past, Spring has simply meant seasonal allergies, wardrobe challenges due to unpredictable weather, and the promise of summer right around the corner. For me, Spring has always been a season to rush through. It’s the awkward puberty of seasons and I can’t wait for it to be over. Even as I write this, Seals & Crofts’ serenades me as I daydream about summer breeze. Thank you Pandora Radio for reading my mind.

However, this year has been different. I have tried to embrace Spring for what it is and view it in a new light. My new perspective has taught me that Spring is a time of new beginnings. As everything starts to thaw and bloom, we too can get outside and expand our horizons. Spring is a great time to try new things and recommit to our personal growth. For some of us, this is a great time to review New Year’s resolutions and pick back up where we left off sometime in the first few weeks of February. For me, this is the perfect opportunity to try out new restaurants, recipes, and workouts. This past week I have met some new people and gone some new places and I have had a blast! So without further delay, here is the week in review.

On Sunday, I went to a delightful brunch at Stella’s with the Virginia is for Bloggers group. What started out as a tiny hashtag (#VAis4Bloggers) is now a thriving group of Virginia bloggers. The kickoff brunch that founders Sarah and Liz planned for us was fantastic.

Stella’s interior is gorgeous and the Greek theme is not subtle but not over-the-top either. The owners communicated the theme in a way that makes the restaurant feel authentic, not kitschy. One of the many well-edited features of the restaurant is the black and white Greek movie silently projected in the back corner.

Sarah and Liz brought us free samples and coupons for Love Grown Foods granola and coupons for Chobani. There was even a raffle for some of Sarah’s homemade peanut butter and full size bags of Love Grown granola.

Here’s the swag! Which included one of Gabby’s delicious gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

I ordered the Black Kale Skillet, which comes with “sauteed black tuscan kale dressed with lemon-dijon vinaigrette, over toasted olive oil bread, kasseri cheese, topped with two fried eggs.” It turned out to be a great choice and I am sure that I will order this again in the future.

The pita dishes, although not vegetarian, looked delicious too.

The staff at Stella’s was so friendly and accommodating. At the end of the meal, our server brought out complimentary loukoumades, which are like Greek doughnuts. Sorry this photo looks blue. I tried to color correct it but still couldn’t get it right. The rainy skies were doing something weird to the natural light coming in through the windows. Guess you’ll have to go to Stella’s and order the loukoumades yourself to get the picture!

One thing that was not brand new this week, but is relatively new to me is trail running. I met up with some friends to jog on the Buttermilk Trail on Tuesday night. We have been training together for the Dominion Riverrock Filthy 5K Mud Run that takes place in three weeks. I hate road running, but I LOVE trail running. This has been a surprising discovery for me this year. Along the path, which doubles as a mountain biking trail, hangs this excellent sign. As my friend Melissa commented, “that’s some effective visual communication.” Consequently the photo made it onto TODA’s 366 Days of 2012 as the photo of the day for April 25th.

On Wednesday, Kyle and I had a dinner date at Acacia for Richmond Restaurant Week. It was my first time at Acacia Midtown (I have been meaning to go for years) and everything was wonderful. I started with the Farmer’s Punch, which is a cocktail made with clement rhum agricole, allspice, pineapple, lime, coconut milk and coconut foam. It was really tasty. It reminded me of the Mixology episode of Portlandia. But still, super tasty and refreshing. And how about those stainless steel straws? I think I need some!

My first course was a pureed kale and white bean soup with grilled ramps, creme fraiche, and smoked paprika oil. It was smiling at me.

The second course was a goat cheese and rosemary tart with mixed baby vegetables, roasted hazelnuts and crispy kale. It was out of this world.

While everything was delicious, dessert was my favorite course. I had the Dark and Stormy which was inspired by the drink of the same name. I am a big fan of the Dark and Stormy. You may recall that I made my own version with fresh cranberries called the Red Sky at Night. This dessert captures all the flavors of a dark and stormy, with rum ice cream, lime sorbet, molasses cake and ginger beer foam. Thank you, Acacia, for a thoroughly enjoyable Restaurant Week experience!

After all those good eats, Kyle and I were due for another long workout in the great outdoors. On Friday I decided to conquer my fear of biking across the James River and I took on the hills of Forest Hill, the pedestrian path on the Nickel Bridge, the traffic on Cary Street near VCU, and the daunting Belvidere Bridge. How cute are our His and Hers Torker bikes? A silver U-District for Kyle, and a copper Graduate for me.

Here is Kyle on the Nickel Bridge, or Boulevard Bridge.

And here is the lovely view from the Nickel Bridge. Kyle almost proposed here once at sunset, but he chickened out. Now that I know that story, I think about it every time I’m looking West over the James River from this spot.

Sure, Spring still means seasonal allergies and wardrobe challenges, but it means new beginnings too. I don’t know about you, but I’m digging this new outlook.

Virginia is for Bloggers Who Brunch

The wonderful Sarah of The Smart Kitchen organized a #VAis4Bloggers meetup this Sunday and I was so happy to attend. Ever since Sarah moved back to nearby Charlottesville from Austin, TX, she has been organizing meetups, planning field trips, and even doing her own cooking demos at Whole Foods. One of the things I love about Sarah is that she always reminds me why I started blogging in the first place. For me, the two best things about writing a food blog are learning about and trying new foods and participating in the food blogger community. There are so many enthusiastic, like-minded individuals who create in this space. I love meeting up with others who write about food to swap stories, share ideas, and enjoy a good meal. So thank you Sarah for getting us all together in RVA this Sunday!

My lovely fellow diners were Gabby, (Gabby’s Gluten-Free), Liz (I ❤ Vegetables), Alexa (a visiting friend and photographer), Adrienne (hippie itch), Sarah (The Smart Kitchen), and Brittany (Eating Bird Food). We met up at Selba for a late brunch. I had visited for dinner a few months ago and had been meaning to go back so I was happy I got the opportunity to try out their brunch menu. There were a lot of creative and tasty looking dishes, and they had vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options on the menu. Check out Selba’s brunch menu here: Brunch.

I had the hardest time choosing between the raisin spelt French toast and the local egg omelet. Those who have brunch with me often can probably guess what I went with. I seem to always waffle (ha) between French toast, waffles or pancakes and egg dishes at brunch, but I always go for the eggs. I’m just a savory breakfast kind of person, I suppose. I had an egg white omelet with Dave and Dee’s oyster mushrooms, goat cheese and arugula. The omelet comes with two sides and I chose the rosemary roasted potatoes and a sweet potato biscuit. Much like how George Washington could not tell a lie, I cannot turn down a potato. Starch is a virtue.

I didn’t touch the strawberry. It looked pretty but I just knew that I would be disappointed. Nothing can compare to a fresh, local, sun-warmed strawberry. In my book, imposters may garnish but they will do no more.

The omelet had the right proportion of mushrooms to greens to cheese, and it was refreshing to have a perfectly folded non-greasy omelet that filled the plate without overwhelming it. I am not too ashamed to admit it, my usual brunch fare is sloppy, oversize, and accompanied by a big, spicy, make-your-own bloody mary. This was a nice, civilized change. The potatoes were really delicious and filling. The biscuit was crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside, so that when a knife cut into it, the biscuit immediately yielded and collapsed in the middle. I could stand to have a few more biscuits like that in my life.

Speaking of glorious baked goods, Liz was so nice to bring us homemade treats! She found these raspberry cheesecake cookies on Pinterest and made some to share. I ran errands after brunch and this cookie provided a sweet snack after stops at Ellwood Thompson’s and Lowe’s. Poor thing never stood a chance at making it back home.

I had a great time and I am looking forward to more VAis4Bloggers events in the future. Any ideas where we should go next?

Fun With My Cast Iron Skillet

It has been on my Christmas and birthday lists for a few years now, and I have to believe that the only reason I hadn’t received it until Christmas 2011 is that it is so difficult to wrap. I think the only reason I never picked one up for myself is that it is so difficult to. . . well. . . pick up. This thing is heavy.

My first cast iron skillet.

Perhaps the only reason that I finally received one last year was that my dear family had realized that a steady diet of kitchen experiments had packed more flab onto my upper arms than muscle. Maybe now I can tone my arms AND cook a delicious meal, all at once. Maybe now that my wedding dress is hanging in the corner, and the only area of my body that can’t be corseted, bustled, pulleyed, pushed or levered into an optical illusion of perfection is my arms. . . perhaps that’s the reason I decided to start using the cast iron skillet on the regular.

. . . Oh how I long for midsummer weather right now. Maybe after spending two beautiful (and chilly) weekends in the wide open spaces of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley, I was feeling a little country.

Or a little campy.

Or I was a little tired, from scoping out outdoor wedding venues all day long for two Saturdays in a row.

Maybe I just wanted to whip up some comfort food for me and my honey, and what better way to do it than with my brand new cast iron pan? Whatever the reason, I got to seasoning my skillet on Sunday morning, and I decided I was going to put this beast of a cooking vessel to good use.

While the skillet hung out in the oven, I did my research so I would know what I was dealing with. Known for its durability and heat-retention properties, cast iron cookware has been a kitchen essential for centuries. A cast iron pot can be used over an open flame, on the stovetop and in the oven. I assume is works on the grill, although that is another domain I have not yet conquered. Cast iron skillets are great for certain dishes because they distribute heat evenly and retain it well.

The first step to using cast iron cookware is seasoning, which builds a natural non-stick coating on the pan. My cast iron skillet came pre-seasoned, but the instructions suggested that I season it again before use to ensure the best results. I found a lot of different methods on the web for seasoning the skillet, so I kind of combined them into the method that I used. First, I wiped down the skillet to remove any dust or dirt that may have accumulated on it while it lived in my cupboard for the last month. Then I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F. Next, I poured in the pan enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom to about a quarter of an inch. Using a folded paper towel, I coated the interior sides of the skillet with oil from the bottom of the pan. I placed the skillet in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F, then I turned down the heat to 200 degrees F and baked for an additional 45 minutes. Finally, I used two potholders to carefully remove the skillet from the oven and onto a trivet, where I let the skillet cool completely before use.

It worked great!

The first dish I tried was a frittata. I have wanted to make a frittata for years but I never had a pan that was stovetop and oven safe. Isn’t that sad? So I was all over this Tyler Florence recipe for a basic frittata. I omitted the ham and added about one cup of halved grape tomatoes, a few tablespoons of chopped fresh basil and a few handfuls of fresh spinach to the pan to wilt before adding the egg mixture. And of course I sprinkled cheese on top because I won’t have eggs any other way.

I loved taking the pan from stovetop to oven and then out again to see the beautiful result. Here are the before and after shots:

The frittata is done when it has puffed up in the pan and it is golden brown on the edges. Isn’t that just lovely? I served the frittata with a little side salad and I felt fancy like the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Except I wasn’t hosting a ladies’ brunch at my palatial home in the Hamptons. I was watching Game of Thrones with Kyle in our cozy little home in Woodland Heights. But I felt fancy, I tell you!

The only downside is that if you thought this skillet was heavy before, you will seriously struggle to wrestle it out of the oven when it’s all full of egg and veggie goodness.

It’s like a garden party, on my plate, in January.

This was so much fun, I think I’ll take the skillet for a spin again tomorrow night. Next up: cornbread. But don’t worry, I have found a whole list of healthy cast iron skillet recipes so I won’t only cook (creamy, cheesy, buttery) comfort food all the time. I’ll quit at cornbread and then move on to a nice low fat, seasonal vegetable dish, with extra iron skillet bicep curls.

But first. . . cornbread.

Yum!

Yoga and Brunch by the River

This weekend I went on my first LivingSocial Adventure: yoga on the James River. For those of you who haven’t seen the LivingSocial Adventures, these are events planned by the discount website LivingSocial, which is well known for its daily deals on gift certificates to local businesses. The Adventures division organizes trips and events like tubing, sushi making, whitewater rafting, and craft beer tasting. I purchased my first ticket to a LivingSocial Adventure last month and signed up for Saturday’s Yoga on the River with Brunch.

I met up with fellow blogger and Richmond neighbor Brittany from Eating Bird Food and we headed downtown to Rockett’s Landing for the event on Saturday morning. It was a bit overcast but the scenery was unique and relaxing. We set up in the grass by the river, with The Boathouse restaurant behind us and the city skyline ahead of us. The patch of grass was nestled below a steep hill that helped isolate us from the street noise above.

The class was open to all levels and the instructor did a great job of tailoring the class to make beginners feel welcome. She did not offer a lot of intermediate or advanced options while guiding the session, but I took some on my own that I remembered from experience to deepen the stretches and challenge my balance. I tend to be pretty flexible but I really struggle with balance and holding strong poses, which is extra difficult while on lumpy grass. I blame a series of ankle injuries in middle and high school that happened while playing soccer competitively year-round. The cool soft grass was an interesting variable in this experience. This was the first time I have practiced yoga outdoors and I loved it! There was the occasional boat or train passing through in the distance, but for the most part I felt very connected with nature. I opted to bring my orange mat as I welcomed the fall colors and cooler temperatures that are quickly approaching.

There was a lot of staff there and I thought the event was very well planned and executed. They chose the perfect instructor for making yogis of all levels of experience welcome. Despite the grey rainy skies, the staff members were upbeat, outgoing, and were actively trying to make sure that everyone had a good time. When the hour-long yoga session was over, we partook in a delicious brunch spread that included coffee, tea, pastries, fresh fruit and vegetables, hummus, pita chips, and a cheese tray. The fruits and vegetables were a great snack and the tea and coffee kept us warm while we socialized.

This was my second plate of food – the Whole Foods catered brunch was irresistible! I would like to do another LivingSocial Adventure sometime soon because this was a great experience and I thought it was a good value. After trying yoga outdoors, I am also really interested in doing an outside class again before it gets too cold. If you haven’t done an Adventure yet, I highly recommend that you try it out!

LivingSocial Adventures

Fashion for Food Lovers

Have you tried being real life friends with a personal style blogger? It’s great for so many reasons, including constant fashion inspiration and free wardrobe advice around the clock. It’s like having a personal shopper – for free! But it’s also kind of difficult, like when you realize that you’re most likely not going to be the best dressed at any mutual gatherings. But hey, this whole experience has been great motivation to get me out of my yoga pants and into real clothes on the weekends. Of course I am talking about my good friend Carissa, who started her personal style blog, bits&bows, last year.

Little known fact: Carissa also enjoys participating in wine-inspired performance art.

I follow a lot of different kinds of blogs, not just food-related ones. We can draw inspiration from many different places and learn things from different writers. I love some of the super fashiony writers and photographers out there who push the boundaries with their wardrobes, much like I admire the home cooks and chefs of the world who blaze trails in the kitchen. However, I’ve never been a 6-inch stiletto girl and I never spend too much time or money on fleeting fashion trends. My personal style is far more simple, classic and practical. Function over form, I suppose. Regardless of how uninteresting my wardrobe may be, I thought it would be fun to put together a post on practical dressing for food lovers. I often find that in my wardrobe, everything has a place and a purpose. Welcome to the mise en place of my closet.

#1 – Day Job to Dinner


  • Dress: Work appropriate plus the empire waist allows extra room for a big dinner.
  • Shoes: Sandals for walking to and from the office, which are replaced by the pumps I keep under my desk as soon as I get to work. No need to stuff my feet into killer heels all day when my night job involves standing over a hot stove.
  • Belt: Accentuates the smallest part of the waist so I don’t have to get all defensive explaining why I  am going back for seconds of my Bombolini pasta.
  • Garden: Basil and rosemary taste better when you’ve grown them yourself.

#2 – Farmers’ Market with Friends


  • Tunic: Bright colors are key if you want your friends to be able to find you in a crowded market. If you don’t believe me, try telling your friends “I’ll be the one in a sundress, examining the Hanover heirloom tomatoes” and see how many hours it takes them to pick you out in the crowd.
  • Flip flops: The SOJ market is no place for heels if you plan on getting the best produce they have to offer. This place is crowded. It is 100 degrees outside. This is war, people! Sandals or running shoes are the only options.
  • Leggings: Remember the time I mooned the market? Leggings are a must. End of story.
  • Reusable bag: Really you’re going to need two or three of these if you’re doing any real shopping. A nice sturdy waterproof bag is ideal. I got this one at Ikea.

#3 – Biking to Brunch


  • Bike: Well, duh. The bike is because friends don’t let friends drink bloody marys and drive home. Also, for the environment. And for working off that veggie eggs benedict.
  • Helmet: People, please wear a helmet. A lot of young kids like me forget this accessory and it’s just stupid. The brains are my money maker. I’m protecting that shit. Cover your cabezas, okay?
  • Shorts: Biking in dresses is fun. Especially for passersby when a big gust of wind comes by. I don’t take chances and always wear shorts. See: #2 – leggings.
  • Belt and jewelry: When you’re basically wearing athletic wear and participating in a see-and-be-seen event like brunch in the Fan, spruce things up a bit with accessories to look like you tried.

I hope this practical guide to fashion for food lovers has been helpful. Now don’t go thinking every outfit I wear is this well-planned. My friends will tell you that’s a big fat lie. Let’s be honest here. Most of the time, the fashion here at the tiny RVA kitchen of veg:ology looks a lot more like this.

Bon appetit!

Celebrating Spring in Asheville

Check out my new travel page by clicking on TRAVEL in the header, or following this link: Travel. Need restaurant or activity recommendations for any of the places listed? Check out my posts on the subject via the Travel page or send me an email at vegologyblog[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Kyle and I recently took a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, North Carolina. Catch up on our adventure here:

We left off at our late night arrival in Asheville, NC after a closure of the Blue Ridge Parkway sent us on a crazy, steep, white-knuckle-inducing detour down the mountain and into town. The trip was all roses tulips from that point on.

I may be getting a little ahead of myself though. In order to wake up and smell the flowers (whatever variety they may be), the first step is waking up. On a beautiful first morning in Asheville, we chose to wake up at Early Girl Eatery.

I have mentioned before that we chose our road trip destination based on the wide variety of local, sustainable, and vegetarian food that is readily available there. Early Girl Eatery did not disappoint. It offered the best breakfast I have had in a long time. We started with coffee, of course. I ordered the Early Girl Benny, which featured a soft-on-the-inside-crispy-on-the-outside grit cake, topped with wilted spinach, poached local eggs, sliced avocado and the most amazing tomato gravy I had ever tasted.

Kyle ordered the Veggie Breakfast Bowl, which was also fantastic. This well-composed dish consists of black-eyed peas, kale, scrambled eggs, and farmstead cheese, topped with herb cream gravy. He also ordered a side of smoky tempeh. It was such a treat for both of us to be able to get gravy at breakfast, since most gravies include meat and we usually have to skip it.

The service was great, and it was evident that the attentive staff was as passionate about food as we are. We sat next to a friendly couple who were retired and easily 40 years my senior, and they offered sight-seeing tips and suggestions for local restaurants and activities that were a little more off-the-beaten-path. It was a really enjoyable experience. The delicious food kept us full for hours during our next adventure: a visit to the majestic Biltmore Estate during the Festival of Flowers. We enjoyed a house tour and walk through the gardens, where we were greeted by thousands of tulips in full bloom and dozens of flowering trees.


After touring the grounds of the main house and the gardens, Kyle and I went on a winery tour and tasting. The Biltmore has converted their old dairy into a winemaking operation, which was pretty interesting to see. The estate vineyards supply some of the grapes for their wine, but most of the grapes are purchased from California. I wasn’t in love with many of their wines but it was a nice tour and tasting in a beautiful setting.

When our day at the Biltmore was complete, we headed back to our hotel and took a cab downtown for dinner and drinks, along with a loud and crazy visit to a local bar to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins game (a must for my NHL super-fan companion). Dinner was at Laughing Seed Café. I had the Berry Bliss organic herbal iced tea, “a calming boost to the immune system, loaded with vitamin C,” and Kyle enjoyed a local beer from Highland Brewing Company.

It was so refreshing to see a menu full of meatless options for us to choose from. It was a tough decision, but we finally ordered our food. I wish we could have had four more nights at Laughing Seed to try all of the creative dishes that we wanted to sample.

My entree was one of the dinner specials, the Jet Set Salad. Check out all of these awesome specials!

“a salad of grilled tempeh, roasted coconut sweet potatoes, pomegranate glazed wild cherries, toasted pumpkin seeds, roasted red peppers, shaved onions, and cilantro tossed with mixed greens in maple-Dijon vinaigrette; topped with goat cheese.”

not a great photo - I was in a rush to dig in!

Kyle ordered the Havana Cuban. We have tried many times to recreate the beauty of a Cuban sandwich in a vegetarian version at home, and we have had a few successful attempts that we were quite proud of. The Laughing Seed version blew our creations out of the water. It was a.ma.zing.

“Herb and spice battered organic tempeh, crispy housemade pickles, black bean spread, tomatoes, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, and Asheville’s Lusty Monk mustard on grilled flaky Cuban bread”

I highly recommend the Laughing Seed Café if you are headed to Asheville. For me, no trip to Asheville will ever be complete without a visit to this inventive restaurant. It was a relaxing and nourishing place to share a spring evening.

From there we traveled a few blocks down the street to a bar called the Bier Garden to drink a few beers and watch the Penguins game. Honestly, the service was lousy and the crowd was out of control, but they offered an impressive selection of beers with over a dozen taps and hundreds of bottles. We were able to grab two seats at the bar right in front of a flat screen TV showing Kyle’s game so we had a pretty enjoyable evening.

That night and the next day featured a lot of beer tasting. As we sipped beers from near and far on Friday night, little did we know that the very next day we were about to taste some of the best craft beer we had ever had, at a little organic brewery hidden in the mountains of western North Carolina. If the theme of Friday was fresh, local, seasonal food to celebrate Spring, the theme of Saturday was hops, yeast, and malt, in the most delicious combinations we had ever tasted. We were in for a real treat.

Veggie Mess a la Millie’s

Millie’s Diner is arguably the best brunch spot in Richmond and everyone knows it. Millie’s starts serving brunch at 10AM on Saturday, and a line starts to wrap around the corner of the tiny beloved restaurant by 9:30 every Saturday morning. If you want to get a table on Saturday or Sunday morning, you either get there early and wait 30 minutes until they open or you get there later and wait up to an hour until a table opens up. Believe me, it’s worth the wait.

One of Millie’s signature dishes is the Devil’s Mess, and the restaurant offers a Veggie Mess for patrons who would rather skip the sausage. The dish is a mess of scrambled eggs mixed with vegetables, curry, and melted cheese. It comes in a massive portion that is best when accompanied by a bloody mary or mimosa. Because I love brunch for dinner, and because I have cut our restaurant dining budget in preparation for our super awesome anniversary vacation, I decided to make these at home one night. They turned out almost as good as the real thing.

Veggie Mess, a la Millie’s Diner

This will be another one of those walk-you-through-the-recipe recipes, because I made it up as I went along, while Kyle faithfully took meticulous notes.

What a guy. 🙂

Start with the following vegetables. Sauté these in 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat:

  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

Beyond this point, you can add whatever vegetables you want. I chose enough ingredients to make two huge heaping servings. Most people would say this recipe yields three entree size servings, but I was trying to be authentic. And at Millie’s, they pile on the veggies and eggs. When the onions, carrots, pepper and garlic are tender, remove them from the pan to a small bowl and mix in the other ingredients:

  • 2-4 oz of marinated artichoke hearts (a small jar)
  • 2 oz can of sliced black olives
  • 1-2 handfuls of spinach
  • (I would add diced tomatoes here  if they were in season right now, which they’re not, and in my opinion it’s a worthless addition unless it’s summer.)

Now you’re going to start the scramble. Whisk together 6 eggs and 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder. This is my Mom’s trick for making nice fluffy eggs. Divide the mixture in half, and pour one half into an oiled pan over low-medium heat. Gently scrape the bottom of the pan as you move the eggs around with a spatula. When they start to look like this. . .

. . . it’s time to add the vegetables back to the pan. Divide the vegetable mixture in half, and add the veggies to the pan. Continue to scramble the eggs while incorporating the other ingredients. Add to the egg-veggie mixture:

  • 1 teaspoon curry powder (more or less depending on taste)
  • salt and pepper

Cook for just a minute or two more and remove the mess to a foil-lined baking sheet. Preheat the broiler. Repeat the scramble for the other half of the eggs and half of the vegetable mixture. When you’re finished, sprinkle on top of each mess:

  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used colby jack and I probably used more than 1/4 cup if we’re being honest here)

They should look like this. . .

A coworker of mine rarely sits at a table at Millie’s, opting instead for a seat at the bar so he can view the open kitchen. It turns out that sitting at the bar has its perks, like the ability to pick up little-known local restaurant trivia. My coworker let me know that at Millie’s, they finish every dish under the broiler for a minute or so. Every. Single. Dish. Including the Veggie Mess. Insider info, score!

So now you’re going to place this under the broiler for one minute, for the sake of authenticity. It will look melty and delicious like this. . .

Slide onto a plate and dig in!

Judging by the absence of patrons lining up outside la casa de vegology every Saturday morning, my version is not a Richmond classic just yet. Kyle stood in line for about 40 minutes for this dish though, so I’m calling it a success.

Recipe inspired by Millie’s Diner in the historic Church Hill neighborhood of downtown Richmond, VA.

The Black Sheep

I am kind of embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t been to The Black Sheep until this weekend. It has been on my list of restaurants to visit for a really long time now, but I never can to make it out there to give it a try. Carissa always talks about how much she loves to get brunch there with her mom, and she has raved about the French toast on more than one occasion. It seems like everyone I talk to loves this place, and I’ve been missing out for awhile. I think the problem is that Kyle and I always want to walk to brunch on the weekends, and with so many great options nearby, it’s hard for us to hop in the car for the 2.3 mile drive to this gem of a brunch spot. I opt to use the word “gem” because The Black Sheep is a diamond in the rough, situated on a quiet corner in the quaint yet rough-around-the-edges Carver neighborhood of downtown Richmond.

We arrived at 9:15 and had our choice of tables in the small dining room. We chose a beautiful wooden table in the back of the restaurant which backed up to a rustic looking sub wall that looked salvaged and was used to separate the dining room in the front from the registers and prep area in the back. I immediately noticed that each table had a different quirky set of salt and pepper shakers; this is definitely an idea that I’m going to borrow when I have my own cafe someday. Ours were cute little gourds.

I sensed that my immune system was working overtime, even though I didn’t really feel sick, so I ordered an orange juice with my coffee. I ended up coming down with a major upper respiratory infection within 12 hours of brunch, so it turns out that my suspicion was dead-on. I still think the OJ helped a little though. Not only did The Black Sheep offer a collection of mismatched salt and pepper shakers, they had a variety of coffee mugs as well. Mine was Hawaiian.

The Black Sheep has a menu that changes seasonally and we found plenty of vegetarian options at reasonable prices. Kyle ordered the No Mas Huevos Nuevos ($8), “two eggs served with a wheatberry & black bean chili, topped with an avocado salsa, served over a griddled jalapeño gritcake.”

The chili was sweet and spicy, the avocados and scallions offered a creamy and fresh complement to the chili and eggs, and the gritcake was a delicious anchor for the dish. We think the garnish on top was homemade crispy flour tortilla strips. Kyle’s take on this dish: “MmmWow,” mumbled while munching down large forkfuls.

I had the Red Flannel Hash ($8), “two eggs served over roasted beets & roasted carrots combined with red potato, red onion, red pepper and parsley” with a lightly dressed mixed lettuce salad and a perfect slice of baguette.

click to see the beautiful color contrast!

 

The vegetables were nutty and sweet and perfectly cooked: not too crisp and not too mushy. There was plenty of hash to accompany both the eggs and the salad. While I rarely comment on a side of bread, this baguette was noteworthy. It might have been the most perfect baguette I have ever tasted, warm with a thin and crispy crust and a soft-crisp interior that featured the ideal balance of air pockets and crumb. It was heaven and it was only an accompaniment. Do they make their bread in house? Can I order some to take home? I’m still dreaming about this baguette – I have never in my life been so passionate about bread before this brunch experience.

Well I obviously loved it, but how did Kyle feel?

“This far exceeded my expectations.”

“This chili is so. . . . awesome!”

“We are definitely doing this again.”

“Let me get the check.”

Score!

If you are in the RVA area, get thee to The Black Sheep ASAP.