Due Stagioni and Beer Dinneroni


This is a tale of two seasons and two pizza recipes.

Kyle and I hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner at our house Saturday night. The theme was Farewell Summer, Hello Fall and the guest list approached twenty, for the largest Vegology beer dinner yet. For a month, we tasted and tested beers. Two weeks before the event, we began to prepare the house, yard, and décor.  One week before the dinner party, I realized that merely a wish and a dream would not get twenty people to fit into our house and around the same table, so I placed my order with Party Perfect to rent banquet tables and folding chairs for the patio. By Friday afternoon, the only thing I had not prepared for yet was what dish to make. It was the element I was least worried about, since I’ve thrown together my dishes for the last two beer dinners at the last minute.


As I drove home from work on Friday evening, I started to think about what dishes I could prepare. The loose guidelines I imposed on myself and the guests – “summer or fall, any kind of small plate” – were not focused enough, so I had way too many ideas floating around in my head. I started to think about transitional seasonal dishes, ones that could bring you from summer into fall, and foods that I could make ahead and reheat at party time, and then it hit me. Four seasons pizza.

Quattro stagioni is a pizza with four different ingredient sections, representing the four seasons: artichokes for spring, olives for summer, mushrooms for fall, and prosciutto for winter. I decided to make miniature pizzas, or pizzettes, and do them in two seasons, due stagioni. Because I couldn’t think of a beer that would pair well with both olives and mushrooms, I did seasoned zucchini for summer on one half, and mushrooms for fall on the other, with a basil pesto base and fresh asiago melted on top (thank you,  Dany Schutte of Ellwood Thompson’s for the cheese suggestion!). The zucchini seasoning I used was the Village Garden piquant spice blend, which can be purchased locally at the South of the James farmers’ market or the Carytown farmers’ market.


I knew the pizzette idea was a winner. I woke up Saturday morning and floated to Project Yoga at the VMFA feeling confident. After a relaxing practice in the cool autumn-like morning sun, I purchased my ingredients, some fresh flowers for the table, and a few more pieces of décor, and headed home to prepare for the party. Kyle was at work so I had to tidy up the patio, set up the tables and chairs, decorate, clean the house, and prepare the food all by myself. Everything was going really smoothly and I even had time to practice my introduction speech for the Due Stagioni Pizzettes, and decide whether to curtsy or bow when our guests gave us a standing ovation and declared the dish the most clever and delicious thing they had ever had the pleasure of tasting.

Then, suddenly, it was forty-five minutes before party time and I hadn’t made my dish yet, three people had cancelled, and Kyle was stuck at work. I frantically sliced zucchini, rolled out and cut dough, and preheated the oven. I was still assembling my dish as guests started to arrive and I distractedly pulled it out of the oven as the first course was being served. By the time my turn came around to serve, my award-winning pizzette idea had made a spiral descent down the drain and turned out to be an oily, crispy mess. A mess that left me wishing that I had chosen a stronger beer to wash down my soggy burnt crust, instead of that light, crisp pilsner, served with a side of hubris.

I made some mistakes, and I am going to outline them here so you don’t have to make them yourself. Because the next day, I repurchased all my ingredients and made the whole dish over again to prove to myself that it would work. And it was good!


So here are the don’ts of making miniature pizzas, besides the obvious ones (don’t wait until the last minute to test your recipe, don’t cook during your dinner party, don’t shut off your brain while entertaining in your kitchen).

  1. Don’t roll out your crust too thin. I used a thinner crust the first time, thinking that a thicker crust would swallow up or spit out the delicate toppings as it rose. On the remake, I cut out the pizza rounds from a thicker sheet of dough and it worked much better.
  2. Don’t forget that your pesto has oil in it. Don’t use too much oil when sauteing your zucchini. I used way too much oil overall in the first batch, and when I pulled the pan from the oven, the oil from the pesto and the zucchini had seeped out and formed a slick on the baking sheet.
  3. Don’t second guess browned edges. I checked on the pizzettes at one point and saw browned edges but the top of the dough still looked soft and wet, so I left them in the oven for a few more minutes. Big mistake. The pesto pizzettes turned into hockey puckettes very quickly.


Lucky for me, we had a beautiful evening with great food and beers and excellent company. Hopefully the nightmare of the failed pizzettes haunted only me that night, as everyone else seemed to have a wonderful time. Here is a rundown of the courses we enjoyed at our fourth ever potluck vegetarian beer dinner:

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad with Crispin Cider – Liz and Alex from I Heart Vegetables – deliciously fresh and tart, with sweet dressing and two kinds of nuts for crunch, a great start to the meal.

Eggplant, Chickpea, and Potato Curry with Three Brothers The Great Outdoors – Sydney and Andrew from chic stripes – perfect as the sun started to set and the temperature began to drop, a dish with summer vegetables and fall spices to keep us warm, and a beer that reminds you of camping.

Cracklin’ Cauliflower with home brewed rye pale ale – Brittany and Isaac from Eating Bird Food – Brittany is right that this cauliflower is great at any temperature, and the flavor went really well with Isaac’s impressive home brew. I’ve made her recipe before, and it’s a keeper.

Due Stagioni Pizzettes (improved recipe below) with Victory Prima Pils – me and Kyle – thank goodness Kyle’s sense of humor and optimism pairs well with my high-strung perfectionism, so when the first attempt fell flat we could laugh it off and have another beer. . . then try again the next day!

Cauliflower “Cous Cous” Salad with Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Wild – Paul and Leah – I need to get this recipe and I’ll link to it here. We loved this pairing of a dish and a beer that both came with a twist – the “cous cous” is actually cauliflower and the beer is actually Lagunitas Little Sumpin’, with an additional wild yeast strain.

Skillet Apple Pie with Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout – Shannon and Evan from Thirsty Richmond and Boho Cycle Studio – so decadent, this apple pie was perfect, not an exaggeration, and it elevated my appreciation of this milk stout, as well as cast iron skillets. Oh, and blogger husbands, who are (in my humble opinion) the very best.

Deconstructed Apple Pie with Cider – Brock (Isaac’s brother) and Alex from Quarter Life Cupcake – I did not know that a vegan, gluten-free homemade dessert could be so good! I am officially a believer now.

And then the after-dinner bonus beers came out, including Goose Island Harvest Ale from Al (and poor Adrienne who had to stay home with a cold), Dogfish Head Tweasonale, The Alchemist Heady Topper, Goose Island Bourbon County, and more. Thank you to everyone who made this dinner special!

Due Stagioni Pesto Pizzettes



  • 12 ounces pizza dough, homemade or store bought, rolled out to 1/4 inch thick
  • medium zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced – both shiitakes and maitakes are good (maitake mushrooms are our favorite)
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto, homemade or store bought
  • Italian seasoning or herb/spice blend of your choice for the zucchini
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 ounces fresh (soft) asiago cheese, or mozzarella, grated


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a medium pan. Add zucchini to pan and saute until tender, adding seasoning to taste halfway through cooking. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat in medium pan. Sprinkle the oil with 1/2 tsp black pepper. Add mushrooms to pan and saute until tender, then remove from heat.
  4. Using a 2-1/2 inch round cookie cutter, punch circles in the rolled out pizza dough and transfer to baking sheet. This should yield about 12-15 pizza round.
  5. Top each pizza round with pesto, dividing evenly among all rounds. Place two zucchini slices on one half of each round, and a spoonful of mushrooms on the other half. Top with grated cheese.
  6. Bake in preheated oven 10-12 minutes until edges begin to brown – then remove immediately!
  7. Can be reheated from refrigerated in 350 degree oven for 4-5 minutes if needed.

How to Compose a Seasonal Salad, Featuring Fresh Arugula with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta


A commitment to seasonal cooking often requires a certain degree of improvisation. If you want to be the type of cook who can wander through a farmers’ market, purchase the best that the season has to offer, and then plan meals around your market haul later, it helps to have a few generic meal recipes in your back pocket that lend themselves to seasonal substitutions. I have thrown together a salad like the one pictured above dozens of times in many configurations, by substituting what I have on hand for the basic components and then pulling all the flavors together with a dressing. This version featured local arugula, spicy roasted chickpeas and tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, and a lemon herb vinaigrette.


If you have been eating fresh tomatoes all season, I recommend that you try roasting them to deepen and sweeten the flavors. These roasted tomatoes were like candy, offering the sweet component of my salad.

My basic formula for a seasonal salad is this:

  • Greens – tender greens like arugula, spinach, and spring mix are my favorites, but I occasionally change it up with romaine, kale, or cabbage
  • Something sweet – dried or fresh fruit, tomatoes, and carrots are good choices
  • Something crunchy – fresh vegetables work well, as do nuts and seeds
  • Something fatty – creamy ingredients like cheese and cream-based dressings are good; so are oily ingredients like olives and marinated artichokes, and avocado is always a welcome addition
  • Something acidic – vinegar and citrus based dressings are great for cutting through the fatty ingredient
  • Protein (optional) – to make my salad a complete a meal, I add a protein component like legumes, tofu, tempeh, or quinoa
  • Something salty or spicy (optional) – salt and spice are great for balancing a sweet component and these flavors are usually covered in the protein component, fatty component, or dressing.

One component can deliver a lot of these flavors and textures. For example in this salad, the chickpeas offer the protein, crunch, and spice, while the feta offers the fat and salty flavors. As summer turns to fall, it’s fun to experiment with different ingredients and preparations to modify the final product. My guess is that the deep, hearty flavors of the spicy roasted chickpeas will start to take over, as cucumbers and fresh tomatoes become a distant memory.

Scroll below the recipe to find another one of my tricks for preparing meals with local, seasonal ingredients, even when life gets hectic.

Arugula Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta



  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (or sub chili powder)
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups arugula
  • 4 ounces fresh feta in water, drained and crumbled
  • Salad dressing to taste (try this Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss the sliced tomatoes in 1 Tbsp olive oil, then spread out the slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the cumin, paprika, cayenne, and salt into the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add chickpeas and toss to coat. Pour chickpeas out into a single layer on the same baking sheet as the tomatoes.
  4. Bake tomatoes and chickpeas at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, combine arugula, feta, and dressing. Add roasted tomatoes and chickpeas and gently toss to mix. Serve immediately.

Another one of my keys to quick seasonal food preparation is to pick up all my local ingredients in one place by using Relay Foods online grocery shopping, now available in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. If you have never used Relay Foods before, please enjoy $30 off your $50+ order by clicking the coupon on the left side of this page. Then please let me know how you liked it!

Cook From the Books: Buttermilk Fresh Cheese

I made cheese this weekend.


I have wanted to make cheese for a really long time, and this weekend I finally made it. I am pretty ecstatic about this fact. I find it amusing that I waited a year or two to sufficiently psych myself up for this event, then I went to four different stores before I found one that had cheese cloth, then I wasted about a half an hour putting together my fire pit on the back porch, for the specific purpose of serving fresh cheese by a crackling fire, and then actually making the cheese only took fifteen minutes. So easy!


While I was lounging around wasting hours of my holiday break, I noticed that my cookbooks do not get enough love. I realized that I have a few cookbooks that I received a year ago as gifts, that I have flipped through and bookmarked pages in, that I have never actually cooked a recipe from. When you get used to looking up and bookmarking recipes online, it is easy to neglect the great resources you have on your bookshelves.


There are dozens of glossy photos and new recipes that I have marked “for later” and never gotten to, so I am now making an effort to cook from the books more often. Because the modern techniques in the Voltaggio brothers’ VOLT ink are way too intimidating (foams, thermal immersion circulators, and hydrocolloids . . . oh my!), I chose to start with the Lee brothers’ Simple Fresh Southern instead. Voltaggio brothers, I’ll get to you soon enough. With an iSi whipped cream canister. Wait, what?


People have told me that ricotta and soft cheeses are very easy to make, but I did not really understand how quick and easy they were until I tried it myself. I had witnessed the last few steps of homemade ricotta at my friend Melissa’s apartment once when we were in college, but never jumped in and helped or tried to make my own. Fresh cheese is as simple as this: heat, strain, squeeze, serve. Simple Fresh Southern offers simple directions, helpful photos, and several suggestions for what to do with the final product.


I mixed whole milk, buttermilk, salt and other seasonings over medium-high heat until curds started to form. I made two batches: one with fresh ground black pepper and another with Herbes de Provence. When the curds and whey were separated, I poured the mixture into a cheese cloth lined colander. Taking the four corners of the cheese cloth together in one hand and twisting the pouch of cheese with the other, I squeezed out the excess whey. When I opened the cheese cloth pouch, delicious soft cheese awaited. The light is terrible in these photos since the sun went down while I was playing with the fire pit, but you can kind of see the result.


When I considered what to do with the fresh cheese, I was inspired by my Sunday morning walk through Forest Hill Park. It was supposed to be seventy degrees and sunny on Sunday, but it was hard to believe the forecast first thing that morning. The air was cold and damp, and thick fog covered the city.


The hot sun was due to come out later, but morning in the park felt cold, wet, dark, and quiet. There was a damp earthiness in the air while I mentally planned meals for the week, and I remember thinking I would have to cook mushrooms to match this mood.


I really am not a fan of mushrooms, so I settled on beets. Cool, earthy, beets, golden in color and roasted in the oven, because if the weather can be ambivalent, then so can my dinner. This sandwich showcases the fresh cheese pretty well, so if you plan to make some soft cheese yourself, put this on the menu for the week ahead. We had black pepper buttermilk fresh cheese, sliced roasted golden beets, fresh arugula, and mandarin orange vinaigrette between two slices of toasted multigrain sourdough, and it was perfect.


See what happens when I cook from the books? I think this is the start of something beautiful (or at least delicious).

What to Serve Vegan and Vegetarian Party Guests

If the December holiday party season is not in full swing for you yet, it will be soon. And with the increasing number of diet labels floating around, it can be difficult to navigate the waters of holiday entertaining. Vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free’s, pescatarians, macriobiotics and raw dieters. . . it can all get very confusing for the holiday host. What to serve? Whom to accommodate? How to label?

I was recently asked for ideas on what to serve at a party with vegetarians and vegans in attendance and I was eager to help out. I follow a vegetarian diet myself, and while I am not at all an authority on vegan food, I cook a lot of vegan meals at home without realizing it (until it hits the plate and I am struck by the absence of cheese, cream or butter). So I guess I have a few more tricks up my veggie eating sleeve than the average home cook. If you need help figuring out what all the labels mean, there is a great resource from GAIAM that gives a brief description of each diet.

Vegetarians and vegans can enjoy a variety of party foods, and accommodating them requires just a little bit of forethought. Here are my favorite vegan-friendly party foods:

  • Tofu Lettuce Wraps from Whole Foods
  • Chips, Salsa and Guacamole (some prepared guacamole includes sour cream and some chips are fried in lard so be sure to check the ingredient lists)
  • Veggies and hummus or white bean dip
  • Tofu Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce from Eating Bird Food
  • Mexican Bean Salad from AllRecipes (a favorite in my office for herbivores and omnivores alike)
  • Olive Medley Pinwheels from Better Homes & Gardens (substitute Tofutti brand vegan “cream cheese”)
  • Mixed Nuts
  • Seven Layer Dip from Peas and Thank You (substitute Tofutti brand vegan “sour cream” and vegan cheese substitute like Daiya brand shreds)

Olive Medley Pinwheels

Also, I thought I would remind you of some of the things to stay away from to make sure you are truly serving vegan food. It usually gets trickiest with prepared and bottled or canned foods, so be sure to check ingredient lists on anything that isn’t fresh produce. If you have any other suggestions or corrections, please jump in on the comments.

  • meat and fish (of course)
  • eggs (some pastas contain egg)
  • milk, cheese, butter and other dairy
  • honey (yes, some hard core vegans avoid honey)
  • whey protein (this common ingredient is milk-derived and sometimes added to vegetarian items for protein)
  • other hidden non-vegan items to look out for on ingredient lists: dehydrated chicken or beef, anchovies or anchovy paste, chicken broth, dehydrated milk

You do not have to make a big deal about what each guest can eat, so some labels can get your message across concisely. That way you do not feel like you have to usher your guest around the food table or constantly field questions about what is “safe.” I recommend that you use small place cards or signs to label foods as “vegetarian” or “vegan”. Or you could simply list animal products and common allergens in each prepared dish, like “contains chicken” or “contains peanuts.”

I think that if you have just a few options for the vegans and vegetarians in attendance, even if it isn’t the most exciting food on the planet, they are really going to appreciate the gesture. You are already going out of your way by inviting us into your home, and throwing a few vegetables our way doesn’t hurt. However I am always extremely impressed and grateful when a party host thinks to prepare something creative and meatless that I can enjoy. Most people don’t even think to have something vegan or vegetarian friendly so you will make your guests feel welcome just by making an effort.

Happy Hosting!

Rennet: Animal, Vegetable, Microbial?

The more I learn about food, the more concerns I have about where it came from. Likewise, the more educated I become about animal products, the pickier I get about what I put on my plate. The growing number of food documentaries and the vast information available on the internet gives us the opportunity to be more informed about our food sources than we have ever been in my lifetime, and probably my parents’ lifetime too.

One of the most eye-opening food experiences I have had this year was when I discovered rennet. Rennet is a combination of digestive enzymes that is used in the production of cheese. Many cheese makers use animal-derived rennet, which comes from the stomach lining of a calf. The rennet is a byproduct of veal production. So imagine my surprise when I realized that I was indirectly supporting this practice by consuming cheese. Being anti-veal, I freaked out a little, and temporarily banned cheese from my diet until I could learn more. I discovered that there are three types of rennet: animal, vegetable and microbial. When I reincorporated cheese into my diet, I bought only cheese made with vegetable rennet, which I found at our local market, Ellwood Thompson’s.

click to enlarge

I took it a step further and started questioning where all of my animal products came from, and now I make more informed decisions about those animal products that I eat (typically just dairy and eggs). I don’t always research every food that I put in my body (for example, cream at the coffee shop, and cheese on a take-out sandwich), but I am getting better.

The reason I bring it up today is that when I was perusing the Trader Joe’s website, I found a very helpful guide to rennet that calls out which of their cheeses use animal, vegetable and microbial rennet. I wish more retailers made this information readily available. I thought you might want to check it out, so here is the link.

Trader Joe’s Rennet Guide

TJ’s has several other helpful guides, and I encourage you to check them out on their website. I hope you find this information useful while making your weekly grocery list. If you have any other helpful and reliable online resources for food education, please leave them in the comments for those of us who love to research what we eat!

How to Eat Great Food Without Breaking the Bank

Hola, amigos. How was your weekend? I have been super busy lately with traveling, working, and endless chores. It hasn’t all been work though – I have been trying to enjoy the last bit of summer before it’s but a distant memory. Because I have been so busy on the weekends lately, I haven’t made it to my favorite farmers market in a few weeks, which has left a great void in my soul. I’ve been a regular at the Tuesday evening Byrd House Market for the last month, but it just is not the same.

Brittany did a great post a little while ago about meal planning and grocery shopping and I have wanted to weigh in with my food shopping strategy ever since. As I am trying to ease back into my normal shopping routine, I thought now would be a great time to share how I turn my hard earned dollars into nutritious meals and snacks in la casa de veg:ology. I hope that you find these tips helpful in your own quest for real food on a budget.

Farmers Markets

My shopping journey each week starts at the farmers’ market. This is a great place to find fresh seasonal produce at the right price. There are many benefits to eating seasonal, including cost savings and better nutrition. I usually visit Victory Farms at the SOJ Market first, because I have my CSA there. Read more about my CSA here. I love going to the farmers’ market because I enjoy interacting with the people who grow my food. It is a great way to learn more about where your food comes from and the best ways to prepare it. People always complain about all-natural and organic produce being too expensive, and the farmers’ market is a great place to buy this food directly from the growers and avoid the markup applied by the local food grocery store. I have found that the prices are far better at the market than they are in town.

Planning and Prepping

On Saturday afternoons, I usually look at all the produce I have from the farmers’ market and start to plan meals. I also wash and dry all the produce that needs to be washed. Some things like berries should not be washed until you are ready to eat them, but I wash off most of the other things I bring home from the market.

It is important to make sure everything is thoroughly dried before storage, to reduce the risk of mold and bacteria growing on your fruits and vegetables. As the produce dries, I plan my meals based on the seasonal produce I have. I make grocery lists to avoid the overspending that usually results from aimless grocery store wandering. This book, Simply in Season, has been a fantastic resource for meal planning.

I try to plan for well balanced meals that incorporate adequate nutrition, especially considering protein since Kyle and I follow a vegetarian diet. Once you start to shop more for groceries, you realize how relatively expensive ingredients are. I choose recipes with shorter ingredient lists and try to avoid expensive items, like produce that is out of season or rare imported ingredients. It is also helpful to choose recipes that are somewhat similar so you can benefit from buying ingredients in bulk. For example, I may make stir-fry with brown rice one night, then use the leftover rice to make a brown rice pizza crust the next night.

I have been buying more and more organic ingredients, as much as I can afford, but not everyone can do that. They do tend to be more expensive and while the farmers’ market helps alleviate the cost, some items need to be store-bought and you can’t always afford to buy organic. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen and clean fifteen (TM) to help you plan and prioritize your organic and non-organic food purchases.

Store Shopping

The best advice I can give you for food shopping at the store is to shop around. Look up the weekly sales and shop around town to get the best price on the items you need. I know that some staples are cheaper at Trader Joe’s than anywhere else, so I make the trek out there once or twice a month to stock up. When canned certified organic beans go on sale at Kroger, I fill the bottom of my shopping cart.

I also pay attention to lower-cost substitutes. While we have beans on the brain, let’s consider cannelini (white kidney) beans. These are delicious beans that are sometimes more than twice the cost of most other beans. I do not know why they are so much more expensive, but I do know that great Northern beans make a great low-cost substitute. Green bell peppers are often half the cost of red bell peppers. And honestly, green bell peppers usually make a fine substitute for most recipes that call for red. Do not be so laser-focused on picking up the items on your list that you ignore the lower cost substitute on the same shelf or aisle.

If you are the type of person who lacks laser focus on sticking to the list and you always end up spending more than you intended to, try online grocery shopping. I occasionally use Relay Foods and it is really helpful when I am too busy to shop or when I am sick and can’t make it out to the store. Online grocery shopping reduces the amount of impulse shopping you may do in the brick and mortar store, and it allows you to shop around for better prices.

Cooking and Eating

Making things ahead of time really works to help you stick to your meal plan. Some nights I don’t want to wait 50 minutes for brown rice to cook, so I am tempted to call something in. Make your longer-cooking dinner components ahead of time (earlier in the week or the night before) to avoid the takeout temptation. Carry-out food is almost never as nutritious or economical as making your meals at home, so limit the frequency with which you eat your dinner out of a box. I try to only make exceptions for certain healthy things that I simply can’t make myself, like vegetarian sushi.

Another thing you can do to save money is make large batches and freeze leftovers for later. I always make ten servings of chili at a time. Having some frozen bowls of chili, soup, or curry in the freezer is especially handy on nights when you get home too late to cook or days that you want to bring a hearty lunch to work. Remember to exercise portion control and stop eating when you are full and you will find yourself with a lot more leftovers for healthy lunches and quick dinners.

I also try to go homemade on the items that are typical takeout traps for me. I’m not perfect at this, but my goal is to do this more often because it really saves money. I do the following things to keep me from shelling out dough on impulse food purchases:

  • Make morning coffee or tea at home, hot or iced overnight
  • Bring a water bottle with you everywhere
  • Pack snacks for work or errands and keep granola bars in your car
  • Make breakfast at home (Try my recipes for oatmeal breakfast cookies and overnight oats)
  • Bring your lunch to work – great excuse to splurge on a cute back-to-school lunch box!

Apple, er... Asian Pear for the Teacher?

I hope you find these tips and tricks helpful. Since my routine has been turned upside down for a few weeks, I have been craving normalcy. I also have not been feeling that great. I think it has a lot to do with later dinners, eating on the run, skipping the gym more than I would like to admit, and overdoing it a bit on the caffeine. I should be back on track with my normal meal planning and food shopping routine within a week, and I am looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. I’m also thinking of starting a food journal to better understand my relationship with food and its effect on my body.

Have you ever kept a food journal? What did you learn?

Do you have any tips on eating great food on a budget?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Have a great week!

POM Party: How to Open a Pomegranate

I know there are a lot of people out there who want to know how to open a pomegranate. Unfortunately, I could not fit them all in my one-bedroom apartment. So for those of you who did not make it to the POM Wonderful dinner party, here is a video just for you.

DISCLAIMERS/EXCUSES: I was getting over a cold (and a night of drinking mojitos and shouting over load salsa music) so my voice is a little froggy. I was super nervous because this is my first video for veg:ology.

However, for my first video, I think this is pretty OK. It could have gone worse. Please be kind. I’m sorta proud that I was able to pull off a video for this.

I hope you learn something!

The Little Dinner Party That Could

I love a challenge. I really do. Which is why, when the opportunity to throw a dinner party sponsored by POM Wonderful landed in my inbox, I jumped at the chance. I submitted a menu and party plan to the folks at POM a few weeks ago, and now I am deep in the plan and prep mode, with just two days left until I host my very own POM Party!

However, I have hit some bumps in the road throughout this process. My little dinner party, like the little engine that could, has caused me to stop, breathe, and say “I think I can…” on more than one occasion.

It all started when I became a host. I was selected by POM as one of 100 party hosts to compete in the challenge. I was super excited and sent back all the required information, only to find out that I had responded just a few hours too late to receive my party package in time to throw a party. After a little negotiation with POM, the good people there found a way to get me my party package in time to compete!

For the next week, I planned recipes, invited guests, and designed the decor. Then I got nervous when my party package didn’t arrive at my work address as requested. The deadline to receive packages passed, and I had no pomegranates. After taking a deep breath, I reasoned that perhaps shipping fresh fruit from California to Virginia might take an extra day. I resumed planning and then got SLAMMED with a major head cold earlier this week.

So there I was with a dozen recipes, no pomegranates or party materials, and serious nasal congestion. I tried to cheer myself up by shopping for decorations and ended up with these odd little clusters of fake fruit, including miniature faux pomegranates. They are either adorable or they are cheesy. I’m not sure; the Sudafed chose them.

I could not smell or taste anything, so poor Kyle has been a victim of my test kitchen this week. Tonight I presented him with three piles of baby spinach leaves, each dressed in a slightly different homemade pomegranate vinaigrette, and asked him to choose the best one. I tried to pitch in by substituting an experimental pomegranate-based cocktail for my Nyquil one night earlier this week. It knocked me out just the same, but was significantly inferior as a cough suppressant. Kyle said it tasted good though, so it might be a GO for the party.

Today I received my pomegranate party package, but only after I nervously tracked the shipment and discovered that it was delivered to the warehouse connected to my office last week. I sauntered out to the warehouse to claim my Californian fruit, and was greeted by the warehouse manager: “I have your package, but there is a problem with one of the boxes.” I thought, you have got to be kidding me. We walked to the corner of the warehouse to a small pile of three boxes. Two were from POM Wonderful. Another was in a box with my company logo on the front.

“I accidentally ran over the one with the forklift. These things were inside of it. Three of them were damaged and those little seeds went everywhere!”

He had never seen a pomegranate before. I had to laugh when I envisoned how he must have reacted when he backed over this cardboard box and it started bleeding dark red seeds. I was not worried about the three damaged pomegranates; I was just happy to finally have my party package.

The whole scenario caused such a stir at my office and it prompted endless questions from my coworkers, so I took one of the bruised pomegranates from the box and held an impromptu session on how to enjoy a pomegranate, right there in the break room. I figured it would be a good rehearsal for this weekend. I did not have a large bowl or mesh strainer so I improvised the following method. I will post my preferred method next week, but sometimes this is all you’ve got to work with.

Slice off the top of the pomegranate.

Remove the top completely.

Gently score the outer skin in four places, dividing the fruit into quarters.

Separate the four sections by pulling them apart.

Gently separate the bright red arils from the creamy colored pith. Place the arils in a bowl and discard the peels.

Claim your reward!

We passed the seeds around the office and they were a big hit. I am starting to feel a little better, so I hope I will be healthy in time for the party. When I got home today, I opened the two other boxes from POM. One was filled with POM swag and the other was filled with. . .

Twenty more pomegranates! Oh my!

I think I can, I think I can. . .