Fall Sprucing

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For the past few weekends, we’ve been doing some Fall Sprucing. It’s like spring cleaning, except you do it just before fall. I have always thought that fall feels more like a fresh start than spring. This is probably due to the school calendar. The end of the summer turns into the start of the school year, which has always meant new school supplies, new clothes, a fresh haircut, and a fresh start. Even after graduating college, I still feel that the fall is a beginning . . and not just the beginning of the end.

During this time of year, I like to clean up around the house, try out a new hair color, buy school office supplies, shop for new clothing, and rejuvenate any resolutions I made in January that have slipped my mind during the summer months. The fall sprucing this year started with a trip to Bombshell Salon  for a daring new hair color. I expected to get my usual dark chocolate brown, but my hair stylist talked me into a panel of bright red in the front.

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After the hair salon kickoff, I decided to tackle a house project that Kyle and I have meant to take care of for a few weeks. We finally painted our front door a fun color! We have a white house with a white front door, so we have desperately needed a pop of color. After living with several paint chips taped to our front door for a week (sorry, neighbors. . .), we decided on Valspar Green Gecko (6006-8A).

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After the door was painted, we were surprised to find that Kyle had chosen the exact same shade for our door as he had for his iPhone 5c. It’s almost a perfect match! We also installed some modern house numbers, which was a fun adventure to say the least. I think we tried five different drill bits before we found the right size to fit the anchors and posts for these numbers, but finally it is done, and we love it.

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I carried the momentum into Labor Day weekend, when I decided to go after a big house project that I had put off for years. I finally went through every piece of clothing in my closet and dresser and decided what to keep, sell, or donate. Yes, every piece. Including the sock drawer and my stack of denim. I can never bear to part with a pair of jeans, no matter how ratty or ill-fitting. So many memories! I found pairs of flare cut jeans from college, maybe even high school. Did you ever have a pair of these supremely cool Lucky brand jeans?

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For someone who now wears heels once every three months, I have a pretty sizable collection of heels. Pictured here, about a quarter of what I found. That’s right, I had about 50 pairs of heels. If I wore heels one day a week, I could go a year without repeating a pair. And I don’t wear heels anymore.

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But I still kept about 15 pairs! Someday, I might want to wear heels again, and I wouldn’t want to start from scratch. So I may still have a little ways to go before I have a simplified closet, but I did end up with four garbage bags full of perfectly good clothing to donate, just because it’s not my style, I don’t love it, or it doesn’t fit my body exactly how I want it to. If you’re interested in taking the same (very helpful) approach that I did, I highly recommend that you check out How to Organize a Closet You’ll Love.

The final item on the list I have been working for our fall sprucing project is cleaning up our diets. We are so far from perfect on this, but I have been incorporating a lot more home cooked clean eating meals into our weekly meal plan. My favorite cookbook lately has been Clean Food by Terry Walters. Kyle and I have noticed that we feel so much better when we are eating a healthy vegetarian diet with a variety of nutrient sources. It is a lot easier to do this in the summer with an abundance of local fruits and vegetables, so we really have no excuse this month; we’re eating as clean as we can.

If you’re thinking about sprucing up your diet too, check out my new Pinterest board, Healthy Vegetarian Recipes!

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Have a wonderful week, and good luck with your new beginnings as well!

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Kitchen Refreshed

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I have wanted to do a few updates to our kitchen for the last few months, and I finally got around to one of my project ideas a few weeks ago. Our kitchen is far from modern, with a basic white tile floor, white speckled laminate countertops, very basic wooden cabinets that I believe were constructed by the previous owners and painted white, a big white farmhouse sink, and all white appliances. On the walls we have a combination of laminate backsplash and yellow and white striped wallpaper.

Eventually I will do a full kitchen renovation, but we have decided to hold off on that for a few years, until some other projects are completed. I know I won’t do the granite countertop and stainless steel appliance thing when we do get to the kitchen renovation, but I haven’t decided what we will do instead. In the meantime, I want to do a few updates to keep the space fresh, make it feel like it’s ours, and test out some ideas to determine what we like.

I am currently trying out open storage, after completing a quick half-day project that involved taking the doors off two cabinets, painting the shelves and interior of the cabinets, and reorganizing their contents. This project took a few hours and minimal materials, and I think it makes a big difference in the kitchen. It feels so clean and springy now! I also hung a framed photo of bright yellow lemons above my sink, and removed the ugly wooden accordion door to the left of the stove. The view from the kitchen to dining room is so much more open and bright now.

Here are the before pictures:

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And the after pictures:

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I wasn’t sure about the blue paint at first, but once I filled the shelves with our dishes, I grew to love the warm yellow and cool blue together. Also I am really starting to embrace the white kitchen appliances. They make the room bright and they feel so clean and neat. Especially with the lemon yellow, everything just feels so sunny and zesty now.

This color scheme isn’t for everyone, but it makes me pretty happy. Kyle likes it too and he has even offered some ideas for further improving the organization and storage in our kitchen. My next project will be installing a pegboard for storing pots and pans, which will free up some cabinet space for appliances, and therefore free up some counter space for cooking!

So. . . what do you think? What spring cleaning or renovation projects do you have going on at your house?

Restaurant Week: Top Picks for Vegetarians

Richmond Restaurant Week is almost here! This semi-annual event is a way for Richmond diners to enjoy a prix-fixe meal from the city’s best restaurants while supporting a local charity. This year, each meal is priced at $25.11,with $2.11 per person going to FeedMore. FeedMore is an umbrella non-profit organization that consists of the Central Virginia Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, and the Community Kitchen.

As a vegetarian, it can be somewhat difficult to choose which restaurant you want to visit during Restaurant Week because you have to sift through the menus posted at Richmond.com to find the ones that offer vegetarian options for every course. Twice a year, I find myself shaking my fist at the computer, whining “why can’t Acacia give a vegetarian a little love on restaurant week?!”

If you’re looking for a great vegetarian meal during Richmond Restaurant Week, I have done my research so you don’t have to. I looked for creative menus from great local restaurants that included vegetarian options for all three courses. Here is my list of best vegetarian menus for Fall Richmond Restaurant Week 2011. I have included only the vegetarian options here, but you can view all of the full menus at Richmond.com. With the exception of Europa’s menu, you get to choose one item from each course per meal.

Europa (Choice of 3 starters and 1 dessert or 1 starter, 1 entree, 1 dessert)
Course 1 (Starters):
Soup of the Day
Mixed Green Salad – cherries, fennel, gorgonzola and sherry vinaigrette
Arugula Salad – sun dried tomatoes, roasted mushroom, manchego, balsamic vinaigrette
Stuffed Peppers – pesto, risotto, goat cheese and fresh herbs
Eggplant Fries – with romesco sauce
Course 2 (Entrees):
Herbed Ricotta Gnocchi- braised rapini, roasted garlic, and a saffron, fennel broth
Course 3 (Desserts):
Tiramisu
Lemon cheese cake with macerated berries

The Dining Room at the Berkeley Hotel
Course 1:
Sweet Potato Fritters – Pan cooked sweet potato fritters over stewed lentils with a chevre mousse
Fall Vegetables – Oven roasted eggplant and squash served with a balsamic gastrique
Field Greens Salad – Fresh field greens and fall vegetables tossed with white truffle vinaigrette dressing
Course 2:
Mushroom Ravioli – House made ravioli filled with mixed mushrooms and finished with sage butter sauce
Pair with Sea Ridge Syrah/ $7 per glass
Course 3:
Bourbon Bread Pudding with Chocolate and Caramel Sauces
Molten Chocolate Cake
Cheesecake with Fresh Berries
Vanilla Ice Cream

Julep’s New Southern Cuisine
Course 1:
Roasted Butternut Squash, Bourbon, Vidalia Onion Soup finished with Black Strap Molasses Creme
Fried Green Tomatoes served with Peppadew Aioli
Manakintowne Mixed Greens – Firefly Farms Black & Blue Cheese, Cucumber, Roasted Red Peppers and a Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette
Course 2:
Chipotle Mac and Cheese with Grilled Asparagus, Spinach, and Caramelized Vidalia Onions
Course 3:
Sorbet of the Day
Chocolate Cheesecake
Cinnamon Bun White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Bourbon-Brown Sugar Sabayon

La Grotta
Course 1:
Zuppa del Giorno – Homemade soup of the day
Insalata Mista – Mixed fresh greens with homemade balsamic dressing
Pasta Combo – Chef’s choice of two different homemade pastas
Course 2:
Pasta Special – Chef’s choice
Agnolotti alla Panna- Homemade ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta cheese in a light cream sauce
Course 3:
Tiramisu – Lady fingers dipped in espresso and Marsala wine layered with mascarpone cheese
and topped with shaved chocolate
Torta all’Amaretto – Homemade Amaretto cake

Zeus Gallery Cafe
Course 1:
Warm spicy pumpkin soup with creme fraiche and pumpkinseed oil garnish
Wedge salad with buttermilk bleu cheese, applewood bacon, cherry tomatoes, and cumin vinaigrette (I’m sure you could request no bacon)
Course 2:
Mezzi rigatoni tossed with arugula, tomato confit, cracked black pepper, and ricotta sauce
Course 3:
Tiramisu
Key lime pie
Belgian chocolate pate
Warm apple cobbler

Hungry yet? I can’t wait to try some of these menus! However, I thought of something else (because I think of everything). If none of these menus excite you too much, or you don’t want to fight the crowds at this popular Richmond event, or you can’t get a reservation at the restaurant you wanted, you might want to go the homemade route.

If you do not want to go out for restaurant week but you still want to help FeedMore, why not make this delicious meal at home, and make a donation directly to FeedMore instead? I am sure they would appreciate your donation of funds or time if you feel inclined to help out.

Veg:ology DIY Restaurant Week Menu

Spa Salad with Avocado, Lime and Pomegranate

Balsamic Baked Tofu with Swiss Chard and Tomato Gravy

Vanilla Ice Cream Sundaes with Guinness Caramel Sauce

So. . . what do you think? Are you going to Richmond Restaurant Week? Which menus are you excited about?

How to Fire Roast on a Gas Stove

Guess what? Tacos are better with fire roasted poblanos.

And they’re even better when you’ve roasted the peppers yourself! DIY fire roasting can be achieved with a broiler or a gas stove. I recently learned how to do this over a gas stove, and it is really easy and fun. Maybe it is my lifetime love of science and playing with Bunsen burners, or maybe it is my fascination with new cooking techniques, but I’ve got a fever. And the only prescription is more fire roasting.

First, a disclaimer, which has nothing to do with fire safety. It’s my stove. I rent an apartment in a really old building (89 years old to be exact) and the kitchen has really old appliances. My stove is ugly, with indelible burn marks everywhere. No amount of Method cleaner, degreasing stovetop cleaner, or Bar Keeper’s Friend can clean this baby up. So we deal with it, and now you will too. Because here it is in all its glory.

Aging ungracefully

The first step to fire roasting your peppers is slicing them in half, deseeding them, and placing them directly on the burner of your gas stove. Turn the heat up to high and hold the pepper with fire-proof tongs. Or non-fire-proof tongs (but be careful). Just make sure your tongs can withstand the heat and they won’t melt everywhere. Grilling tools are ideal.

The skin will start to get brown and, in some spots, black and bubbly. Turn the pepper periodically so that it gets charred evenly over the flame, for about 8 minutes. When the skin is brown and blistering all over (yum!) remove the pepper from the flame and repeat the process for all remaining peppers. If you get really good at this, you can have multiple burners going at once.

Next, place your peppers in a large plastic bag with a zipper seal.

This will steam the hot peppers and make it easier to remove the skin. After 5 minutes, remove them from the bag and the skin should peel right off. From here you can chop, slice, dice or stuff them for your favorite recipe.

One option is to keep the burners fired up to warm some tortillas. Corn tortillas are fantastic when heated over an open flame.

It takes just a minute or two per side to get fresh corn tortillas warm and slightly charred. I’m telling you, now that I know how to do it I dream about what I can fire roast next! This is how I made the roasted poblano and spicy black bean tacos for the vegetarian beer dinner that I created earlier this month.

1. Poblanos: First, fire roast your poblano peppers using the method described above, and slice the peppers into strips. See all the little charred bits? Delicioso.

2. Black Beans, Chili powder, Cumin: Next, add 1 Tbsp oil to a saucepan over low-medium heat and add black beans (canned or dry and soaked). Stir for two minutes, then add chili powder and cumin to the pot. The amount depends on your personal preference. Cook for about 5 minutes just until the beans start to get pasty and then take them off the heat.

3. Sour cream, Lime, Cilantro: Then add 1 Tbsp lime juice and a palmful of chopped fresh cilantro to 1/2 cup of sour cream. Stir to combine.

4. Tortillas: Warm some corn tortillas over the flame on a gas stove, or in the microwave between 2 damp paper towels for 30 seconds, or wrapped in foil in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.

5. Additional Toppings: I shredded some cheddar cheese and pulled the Chipotle Tabasco out of the refrigerator. Other toppings ideas include: steamed corn, pico de gallo, roasted diced potatoes, or sriracha sauce.

6. Assembly: Fill the warm corn tortillas with beans, peppers, and additional toppings, and top with a dollop of the cilantro lime sour cream, for a super roasted Mexico-inspired dinner.

Once you try this technique, you might get hooked. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.