A Big Week for Bikes. . . and Tofu

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Pixie cuts pair well with speed workouts

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

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

riverview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Have a delectable week!

Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and OXO Giveaway

Being in the midst of the holiday season means that we are also in the season of giving, the season of baking, and the season of eating delicious treats until the buttons on our pants pop off. That is why this giveaway couldn’t come at a better time. As the days  left in December fly off the calendar and we prepare for a new year, let’s continue the giving and keep baking while we’re at it.

I recently received some information from OXO about their charity, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Founded by two OXO employees, this organization raises money to fund research on new therapies for pediatric cancer. By baking cookies and holding bake sales, supporters around the country raise funds that are then matched by OXO through December 31st of this year. Check out their website here: OXO Good Cookies.

As a part of my recent foray into the world of baking, I developed my first cookie recipe, and I think this is the perfect occasion to share it with you! My Mocha Coconut Cookies are inspired by my sister, who once had a love affair with a Starbucks Frappuccino of the same name. I created this recipe for Meghan, who is a bit of a philanthropist herself. Throughout college she worked with her sorority to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. She is a proud cheerleader for my Dad’s efforts with Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Ever since she was a little girl, she has felt a responsibility to protect and nurture all creatures, great and small. Especially the small. From taking in stray kittens to rescuing stray broccoli (“baby trees”) from the grim fate of being tossed in the garbage disposal, Meghan sweats the small stuff, so to speak.

I think Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is a charity Meg would really get behind, so I hope that she is honored to share the dedication of the recipe with this great organization. Boyfriend-tested and coworker-approved, this one is a keeper. These delicious cookies are light and fluffy like a dollop of whipped cream and rich and chocolatey like mocha syrup. To top it off, they include that tender flake of coconut and bitter hint of espresso that makes Meghan’s favorite (non-alcoholic) frozen drink so delightful.

Meghan’s Mocha Coconut Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1 tsp coconut extract for true coconut lovers
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup miniature chocolate chips
  • 1-1/2 cups sweetened flaked or shredded coconut

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the first six ingredients, flour through salt.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a hand mixer until fluffy.
  4. To the butter and sugar, add the eggs and vanilla and coconut extracts.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix thoroughly. Fold in the chocolate chips and flaked coconut.
  6. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a prepared baking sheet and bake in the preheated over for 12 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.

And now for a gift to you! OXO has been generous enough to provide me with an additional FREE Be A Good Cookie spatula for one lucky veg:ology reader. Let me tell you, this spatula is the bomb dot com. It is perfect for cookies and all my sweet treats lifted off the baking sheets with ultimate ease. And I’m going to throw in a few cookie ingredients to sweeten the deal.

There are two ways to get entries in the contest to win a Good Cookie gift pack, complete with an OXO Be A Good Cookie spatula and an assortment of my favorite cookie ingredients:

  1. Leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite type of cookie to receive one entry.
  2. Visit www.oxogoodcookies.com and register your own bake sale to benefit Cookies for Kids’ Cancer*. Leave a comment on this post with the name you registered your bake sale under to receive two additional entries.

The deadline for entries is Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 11:59 PM. I will use a random number generator to select and announce the winner on Wednesday, December 28th. Good luck and happy baking!

*OXO has pledged to match the proceeds of all bake sales held through December 31, 2011. However the fun does not stop there; feel free to register a bake sale in 2012 and continue the giving into the new year.

Thanksgiving a la Vegology

There were a lot of firsts this Thanksgiving. And it was the best Thanksgiving I can remember.

It was the first time I hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my place.

It was the first time I spent Thanksgiving with my best friend.

It was the first time the Ravens had a Thanksgiving day game.

Because Kyle and I had to fit in three separate Thanksgiving family events, we did a lot of schedule shuffling before we compromised on an itinerary. The result was that we got to see almost all of our loved ones during the holiday, even though our families live 200 miles apart. It was delightful to visit with everyone, and I owe a major THANK YOU to my mom, dad and sister, who drove down to Richmond from Baltimore to make it all possible.

This is not Thanksgiving at my house. This is a cruise ship.

We started by driving out to a horse farm in Caroline County. There Kyle’s dad and his wife hosted a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I had a drink and nibbled on sides, because I had another meal to eat that night.

Then I drove back to Richmond to prepare dinner #2 with my family and Kyle. Three out of five people in attendance are not fans of turkey, so we knew from the start that we weren’t going the traditional route. The only requirement from my family was that we give our undivided attention to the Ravens game at 8:20 PM. My biggest challenge was that I was away from home until about 6:30 PM so I did not have time to prepare and serve an elaborate meal before kickoff.

I had the idea in the shower last week. I always come up with my best ideas while in the shower. I decided to do a slow cooked vegetarian chili (normal football fare in my home) plus a baked potato bar with all the toppings we could possibly want on our spuds.

This is where I want to make a joke about how it was “totally tuber-ular” but I won’t.

Okay, maybe I did just make that joke. Sorry. Can I make it up to you with some steamy chili shots?

The feast consisted of:

  • Baked sweet potatoes, baked russet potatoes
  • Vegetarian chili
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Homemade cheddar cheese sauce
  • Shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • Sliced avocado
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Sour cream
  • Crumbled vegan “bacon”
  • Sliced jalapeños
  • Salsa
  • Hot sauce
  • On the side: orange glazed baby carrots

I think everyone loved the tater bar, and it got us fed just in time for the main event. I highly recommend it if you need to make a no-hassle dinner for a crowd. Less time in the kitchen means more time for family and friends!

I failed to take a picture of all of us in our gear, so I’ll show you one from the 2010 playoffs instead.

Again, cruise ship.

I also failed to take a picture of this amazing dessert that I made: Pear Cranberry and Ginger Snap Crumble. Topped with some local Homestead Creamery vanilla ice cream, it was a smash hit!

The next day, all five of us headed over to Kyle’s aunt’s house for an Italian dinner for ten. We had so much fun at the kids table. Mind you, all “kids” were over the age of 22.

We had a delicious dinner, followed by party games and a movie. I learned a lot about our families during a round of The Game of Things. I’m going to leave it at that.

I am so thankful that I was able to be surrounded by the people I love for the whole weekend! I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Hope you had a tasty and memorable Thanksgiving weekend too.

 

Veg:ology Turns 1 Year Old!

Happy blogiversary to me!

It’s true, exactly one year ago I wrote my first post for veg:ology. You can read my very first post here. Hello world.

Over the last year, I have given readers a glimpse inside my tiny Richmond, VA kitchen as I have stretched myself to continue my culinary education, a skill developed largely by means of trial and error. As I look back, I remember flying by so many milestones along the way, and I am fascinated by how I got here. There are too many memories to list here, but a few stand out. Increasing the occupancy of my one bedroom apartment by one (Hi Kyle!). Throwing my first brand sponsored dinner party (thanks POM). Receiving my first advertising payment from FoodBuzz. Writing my first guest post for another blog. Spending hours in the kitchen cooking for a sick family member over several difficult weeks (an experience undocumented on the blog as of yet). Expanding to Facebook and Twitter. Making dozens of friends through the food blogging community whom I’ve never met in person. Having my recipes republished on other Richmond blogs and websites. Completing a year of experimental cooking without one smoke detector being set off.

As I have been reflecting over the last year’s worth of blog posts, I have also been crunching the numbers. I thought you might be interested in what we’ve been doing here at veg:ology since June 2010. So here you have it, the Veg:ology Annual Report for year one.

  • Different farmers’ markets visited: 6
  • Happy Hour drink recipes and reviews: 15
  • Baking total failures: 3
  • Baking total successes: 5
  • Site visits resulting from the search term “zucchini”: 71
  • Fellow food bloggers met in person: 2
  • Garden plants planted: 6
  • Garden plants survived: 5
  • Different cities’ food scenes explored: 10
  • Ingredients used for the first time ever: 21

I started veg:ology as a creative outlet and as a place for me to chronicle my adventures with new ingredients and new cooking techniques. Here are all of the ingredients I used for the first time and recorded over the last year:

Beets, bok choy, cranberry beans, dumpling wrappers, eight ball zucchini, escarole, fennel, heirloom tomatoes, patty pan squash, persimmons, plantains, pomegranate, pumpkin (whole), purslane, seitan, shelling peas, tempeh, tofurky roast, tomatillos, whey protein powder, whole wheat flour

So what is on the agenda for next year?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals for the next year of veg:ology and my preliminary list is as follows:

  1. Try 25 new ingredients
  2. Try 5 new cooking techniques
  3. Attend at least one blogger conference
  4. Add another form of media to the world of veg:ology
  5. Spend more time learning from the experts

Thank you to everyone who has been reading over the last year. I appreciate all the support from my family and friends, old and new. It has been truly wonderful to meet so many new friends in this space as I find my place in the food blogging community.

XOXO, Lauren

Farmers’ Market 06.04.11, Garden Update, Team in Training

Sometimes we drive through the Byrd Park area to get to the farmers’ market. Yesterday we saw this while making our weekly drive (soon-to-be bike ride).

How very crunchy.

How very Virginia.

I arrived at the market after 10:00 this Saturday, which is a little late for me. I blame the mojito marathon I participated in on Friday night. When you come into a pound of mint for $7.00, you have to find creative ways to use it. My solution involved limes, soda, and Bacardi select. And suddenly seven friends appeared at the door – funny how that works.

Kyle joined me at the market for the first time this year, and we had a great time chasing ibuprofen with iced coffee and bagels, running into some friends and coworkers, and selecting produce from our Victory Farms CSA share.

Here’s the loot!

Every time I bring the Italian to the market, we get twice as much pasta than I would have bought without Kyle’s influence.

  • Broccoli (CSA)
  • Cilantro (Pleitez Produce)
  • Chidori kale (CSA)
  • Kohlrabi (CSA)
  • Red potatoes (CSA)
  • Black pepper linguine (Bombolini Pasta)
  • Dill shells (Bombolini Pasta)
  • Summer squash (CSA)

Some of the spring produce is phasing out (strawberries) and we are seeing more of the summer produce coming in (squash). I love looking back on my farmers’ market posts over the last year to see when certain fruits and vegetables start popping up at the market. It is also cool to see what is in season in different parts of the country by reading other blogs and chatting with my friends in different states. I would love to showcase what’s growing around the country (and world?) in a compilation post.

Show me what’s up at your local market! If you would like to participate, please send photos to vegologyblog [at] gmail [dot] com to get featured!

And now for a patio garden update…

Gardenology Update

I took these photos on Saturday. It has been three weeks and I haven’t killed anything yet!

My first tomato!

Flowers on the jalapeno plant- no signs of peppers yet.

 

The herbs have had a rough start but they're hanging in there!

Baby cilantro - I think this is a good sign?

I just looked back at my initial gardenology post when I first potted the starter plants, and I can’t believe how much the tomato plant has grown! I’m crossing my fingers that it continues to thrive in the little nook of sunlight that it calls home.

Team in Training Event

In other news, my Dad is participating in his second century ride today. He is riding the 100-mile America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride in Lake Tahoe with his Team in Training team. Dad started to be a serious cyclist last year at the age of 52 and rode in his first century ride last October. He rides for an amazing organization called Team in Training and he raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, ranking as a top fundraiser for the state of Maryland in both the Seagull Century in October 2010 and the AMBBR in June 2011.

Dad did a warm up ride yesterday and posted this photo from the ride on his facebook page. Simply beautiful.

Credit: Nick McDonald

Dad has already started raising money for his third century which will take place in October of this year. He will complete the Seagull Century on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in just four and a half months. I am beyond proud of him for his determination in both cycling and raising money for LLS, and I look forward to getting the news that he has safely crossed the finish line later today, and cheering him on in person later this year.

If you are interested in finding out more about Team in Training and LLS or you would like to make a donation, please visit Dad’s fundraising page.

Not Your Mother’s Pizza Crust

Lately I’ve been telling you all about where we’ve been traveling, and I thought I’d show you what we’ve been cooking since we got home from vacation.

We have had a ton of rain so far this month, with precious few warm and sunny days. This past weekend, I experienced the first night yet this year that was my idea of optimal porch weather. I took advantage of the warm evening by cooking some delicious black-eyed pea burgers to serve al fresco on the balcony.

The birds chirped, the neighbors strolled by on their evening walks, and Kyle and I relaxed in our deck chairs with a couple of cold beers, feasting on black-eyed pea burgers and toasted Israeli couscous salad with roasted vegetables, while eavesdropping on strolling neighbors’ conversations.

Oh, come on. Don’t act like you’ve never done that before.

The advent of the work week brought gray thunderclouds and stifling humidity, followed by afternoon downpours. It’s been a rough start to the week, as is the case with most weeks, and I usually find that I hit my stride in the office around Wednesday. Maybe it’s the great mood that Glee puts me in on Tuesday nights, or maybe by Wednesday I’ve stopped mourning the loss of the weekend and I’ve started to look forward to Friday and Saturday. As I find my groove with work, my cooking becomes less ambitious and more focused on survival than on culinary finesse. Such was the case with tonight’s creation, pizza with brown rice crust.

I use the title “not your mother’s pizza crust” in jest, because while my mom (and probably your mom) offered a bubbly white flour crust on pizza night, Kyle’s mom always had brown rice pizza crusts in the freezer. She cut gluten from her diet for a while and fell in love with frozen brown rice pizza crusts. I tried them once, and they were okay. I wasn’t a huge fan of the brand that she bought, but I have always been intrigued by the idea.

So when my work day shifted 30 minutes later due to a morning cake baking disaster, and a long phone conversation and a multitude of errands caused me to arrive home at 7:58 PM tonight, I gave up on making whole wheat pizza crust from scratch and thought instead about attempting brown rice pizza crust in order to save time. Glee was starting in two minutes, people!

Let me tell you, this crust was fantastic. It’s not like normal pizza crust, and a fork and knife are required, but this was a great departure from the norm for us, and I highly recommend that you give it a try. The bottom of the crust gets nice and crispy, while the top remains soft but toasted. It’s ovo-lacto-vegetarian friendly (not vegan) and gluten-free and it is an excellent way to use up leftover brown rice. While it may not be your mother’s pizza crust, it bears a close resemblance to Kyle’s mother’s pizza crust (which is reason enough to try it), and it just might be your new favorite.

Brown Rice Pizza Crust


Ingredients:

  • 3 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella or Italian-blend cheese
  • Pizza toppings

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Beat the egg and the egg white together in a medium sized bowl.
  3. Add the brown rice and the cheese to the bowl. Stir to combine.
  4. Spread the “dough” out onto an oiled 12-inch round baking sheet.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, then remove from oven.
  6. Add desired toppings (I used pizza sauce, roasted vegetables, freshly ground black pepper and crumbled goat cheese) and bake for another 8-10 minutes.

If you try out the recipe, let me know how it works out for you. It made me a believer in brown rice crust, but it’s not for everyone, so I’m interested in your take on it.

Point/Counterpoint: Food is Love.

Have you ever heard the expression “food is love” and wondered about the validity of that statement? I have found that this can be somewhat of a controversial subject. When I think about “food is love,” my mind conjures up images of warm chocolate chip cookies, freshly baked by your mom when you’re having a bad day. Or a hot bowl of soup cooked by your significant other when you’re feeling under the weather. My definition of comfort food stems from the concept of certain foods making us feel warm and loved.

This all sounds delightful until you consider the fact that some people turn to food for comfort in unhealthy ways. Should I eat a whole pot of macaroni and cheese when I’m feeling blue? Probably not. I have known people who have grown up with a strong presence of the “food is love” mentality in their childhood homes, and they have gone on to battle food-mood issues for years while trying to build a healthy relationship with food. I didn’t grow up in a family that strongly associated food with love. However, I will be the first to admit that I have engaged in stress-eating as well as searching for answers at the bottom of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Haven’t we all?

One could easily argue that “food is love” is a toxic concept. Food is not love; love is love. We should not eat (or drink) our way through emotional experiences, and we should not turn to what’s on our plates for feelings of comfort or acceptance. In order to build a healthy relationship with food, we should see it as a source of sustenance and nothing more. Please read on.

But that brings to an interesting question. Why not show someone you love them with food that will nourish their body or delight their palate? The world is full of all types of artists and various ways to show you care: some people write poems or songs, some paint pictures, others fix your car or clean the bathroom to show their affection. Still others shop for gifts, either practical or sentimental. I cook.

The last thing I want to do is demonstrate my love for friends and family in a way that gives them years of issues separating food from emotion, but I often find myself showing loved ones that I care through the food that I create. I think that is okay, and I know it has been greatly appreciated. Your comfort food doesn’t have to include a pound of butter, a pan of bacon grease, or a gallon of frosting. But if it does, okay. I tend to cook for what the occasion requires, and in my experience, people need to be loved for many different reasons. Likewise, I can show them I care in many different ways.

A smoothie for a friend who is so sick she that she can’t eat solid foods

A holiday salad to share for good luck

Miniature sandwiches for a celebration

Soup to chase away a bad cold

A nutritious and romantic meal for the person you want to grow old with

I remember a time from my childhood when Dad wanted to cook the family a special dinner. Perhaps it was our Irish heritage, or maybe this was a dish that Dad remembered from his childhood, but whatever the reason may be, Dad made us Shepherd’s Pie. Mom turned her nose up at it, clearly not a fan of the dish, but she ate it anyway. Dad spent a lot of time getting the ingredients together, making all three components, and then baking them together in the oven until the cheese melted and the edges turned crisp golden brown. Ever since, I have considered this dish a labor of love.

Should you decide to demonstrate your affection in the same way as I, here is a vegetarian version to share with the people who make you smile. It’s also a lot easier than the traditional method, for those of us with limited time.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 4 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 Tbsp butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 – 12oz. bag of frozen peas and carrots
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1- 12oz or 14oz bag of frozen soy meat crumbles (fake ground beef)
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth

Preparation:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and mash. Mix in butter, milk and 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Cook frozen peas and carrots according to package directions. Drain excess water. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  3. Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add soy meat crumbles and cook until well browned, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk tomato paste into vegetable broth and add to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Spread the “meat” mixture in an even layer on the bottom of a 2 quart casserole dish. Next, spread a layer of the peas and carrots. Top with the mashed potato mixture and sprinkle with remaining shredded cheese.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

So what do you think – is “food is love” a good or bad thing? I’m calling it a gray area.

Tea Latte

I love how cold weather makes hot beverages taste even better. It always has and it always will for me. I remember when, as a young child, I would come inside from playing in the snow and ditch my cold wet boots just inside the door, leaving chunks of fluffy white snow to melt on the floor into big salty puddles. My sister and I would peel off layers of clothing, icy and sopping wet, and dash to the kitchen in our thermals to beg for hot chocolate with marshmallows. Usually the dehydrated stuff in the packets would do the trick, but sometimes Dad would simmer milk and chocolate sauce on the stove, pour the concoction into little Peter Rabbit mugs, and top it with big melt-in-your-mouth marshmallows.

These days I am more into coffee. And by “into coffee”, I mean can’t live without it, won’t start my day until I find it, and don’t ever pass up the chance to grab a big mug of it, summer or winter, rain or shine, always and forever.

However with the recent snow and sleet activity in central Virginia, I have branched out into tea, cider, and even the occasional hot chocolate with marshmallows. Ever since I bought my new teapot, I have been obsessed with tea in the evenings and sometimes with breakfast on the weekdays. After microwaving water for tea for the last 15 years of my life, I have finally discovered the joy of making tea at the appropriate temperature, and oh my goodness is it so much better. I blame my mother for having a proper tea pot, with which I was obsessed over the holidays. And now I have my very own!

I got a little creative this week and made myself a tea latte with breakfast. It was so delicious that I had to share the recipe. Although the measurements aren’t exact because I kind of estimated. I encourage you to play with the proportions anyway because everyone likes their coffee or tea a different way.

Vanilla Spice Tea Latte


Ingredients:

1 black tea bag (I used Twinings English Breakfast which is also great all by itself)

1/4 cup reduced fat milk

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Preparation:

1. Brew some hot water in a tea pot.

2. Microwave the milk for about 30 seconds, or until just warmed.

3. To the milk, add honey, vanilla, and a dash each of cinnamon and nutmeg. I would guess that I used about 1/8 of a teaspoon of cinnamon and just a pinch of nutmeg. Stir to combine. If the honey will not melt into the milk, zap it in the microwave for another 10 seconds and then try again.

4. As soon as the water begins to boil, pour 6 oz. of hot water into a mug and add the tea bag. Steep for 4 minutes.

5. Remove the bag from the tea (do not squeeze it out into the mug or it may get bitter). Add the milk mixture and stir to combine.

Today it is a little cold but the sun is shining and I’m heading outside to play. Dad won’t be waiting with hot chocolate when I make it back inside, but at least I can count on my new tea pot to help me warm up when I get back. And if I’m lucky I can deliver a little warmth to someone I love too.

Everyday Holiday

In my family, we have no powerhouse chef who insists on cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner complete with an array of appetizers, a monster turkey, savory sides, and delectably sweet desserts. For as long as I can remember, everyone who attended Thanksgiving dinner contributed a dish. We have always gathered with family and divided the responsibility of putting together a celebratory feast.

There are some old standbys that are present at every holiday meal. One is my mother’s legendary pineapple pudding.

Some recipes are too sacred to publish. I have a copy but you won’t get it out of me! We also tried something new this year as 3 out of 4 members of my immediate family are vegetarians. Our first Tofurky roast!

I wanted to contribute a vegetable this year so I brought butternut squash with spinach and feta. It was so hearty and tasty!

I love having everyone bring treats from their kitchen and come together to enjoy a collaborative meal. It is one of the things that makes the holidays so special for me. And it is one of the things from the holiday season that we can continue to do all year. Why not host a potluck for no occasion at all?

If the Thanksgiving holiday has inspired you to get together with friends and family more often, here is an easy and impressive dish that you can share at your next potluck dinner. I have adapted the recipe from one I found last year at Whole Foods.

Butternut Squash with Spinach and Feta

Ingredients

1/4 cup feta cheese
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 (6-ounce) package baby spinach
4 cups cubed and roasted butternut squash

Preparation

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and cook, tossing often, until slightly wilted and warm, 1 to 2 minutes more. Add balsamic vinegar to the pan and cook for another minute or so. Transfer contents of skillet to bowl, add squash, crumbled feta, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Optional: sprinkle walnut pieces over the top of the dish before serving.

One World Cafe, Baltimore, MD

One of the great things about coming home for the holidays is rediscovering my hometown as an adult. I love finding little places that I never knew existed while I was growing up, and I really enjoy seeing how the city has changed over the years that I have been gone. Immediately after my train pulled into Baltimore’s Penn Station, my mom and I ventured out in search of food. We drove to One World Cafe on the outskirts of Johns Hopkins University.

Tucked into a corner space on West University Parkway, One World Cafe is a popular vegetarian spot that offers a full coffee bar with espresso, brewed coffee, tea, and smoothies.

Just beyond the coffee bar area is a restaurant with table service. The dark purple walls are lined with local artwork and there is plenty of comfy seating with tons of pillows!

The best part is the giant menu full of vegetarian and vegan options. They had the largest selection of veg sandwiches I have ever seen in one place!

I ordered a cup of one of the soups of the day: butternut squash. The creamy soup was  perfect for the cold and windy day we were having. It included pureed butternut squash and small pieces of carrots, celery, onion, and peppers and was topped with halved walnuts. The soup was seasoned perfectly and it was a delicious start to our meal.

My mom and I split the veggie burger of the day. Their veggie burgers are always fresh and homemade and today’s burger was a black bean and corn patty with salsa and corn chips on the side. The sandwich was loaded with lettuce, tomato, and sprouts. Yum!

One World Cafe is the perfect place to come in from the cold and catch up over a hot cup of coffee and a filling and nutritious meal. This cafe is definitely a new favorite in my old hometown. It makes me excited to check out more local haunts, both old and new, while visiting for the holidays this year.

Happy Thanksgiving!