Due Stagioni and Beer Dinneroni

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

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Ingredients:

  • 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

Preparation:

  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.

“Almost Free” Sangria

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I am fortunate to say that I have just returned from a beautiful and relaxing vacation in Mexico. Kyle and I joined my family for a week at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. We swam with dolphins, explored the natural beauty of Contoy Island, enjoyed relaxing spa services, and went shopping on the crowded streets of Isla Mujeres. We went snorkeling at Xel-Ha, and as I swam on the surface of the clear blue water in a rocky lagoon, I saw a large barracuda calmly and terrifyingly glide below me. We ate delicious food at beautiful restaurants and expansive buffets on the property. All of our beer, wine, and cocktails were included, and we even had a liquor dispenser for in-room mixology.

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We threw a little birthday celebration for my Mom a few days early this year, at the end of the week. Faced with an amazing itinerary of activities, a ridiculous amount of credits for free spa services, a cocktail menu that I couldn’t have drank my way through in a week if I tried, 24-hour free room service, and seventeen hours of buffet service available per day, I struggled to find something special I could give Mom for her birthday that wasn’t already included! Then as I walked along the fresh fruit buffet one morning, it hit me. You can’t get real sangria here. One of my Mom’s favorite warm weather indulgences isn’t available on any of the menus. But the ingredients were.

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When you explore any of the shopping districts, plazas, tourist attractions, or resort areas in Mexico, you are always greeted with merchants calling you over to see what they have to sell, promising you a great deal on whatever it is you may be searching for. “Hola, Señoritas, come inside, great prices for you, real silver, dresses, blouses, almost free for you today.”

On my first trip to Mexico, I visited Mexico City, Teotihuacan, Puebla, Oaxaca, Huatulco, and a few small towns in between. Everywhere we went, we heard “almost free for you” from the local peddlers. That was the trip through malaria country, when we doused ourselves in military grade bug spray, brushed our teeth with bottled water for fear of what flowed from the tap, and once had to draw the shades on the tour bus for the duration of a four-hour trip through the mountains so that the political protesters outside the bus couldn’t identify us as American students.

My most recent trip was the one at the five-star all-inclusive resort, with bilingual wait staff around every corner, a reverse osmosis water purification system on the property, complimentary Wi-Fi, an in-room Chi hair straightening iron, and “almost free” sangria. Both vacations were incredible experiences, for very different reasons. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to see the country from many perspectives.

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My attempt to create a “free” cocktail made from things found in the room and on buffets (for which you must pay a hefty weekly fee, hence the “almost” in its title) began three days before the birthday celebration, with the squirreling away of free sugar packets. I needed twenty 5-gram packets for my recipe. After I swiped all of the 5-gram sugar packets from the coffee condiment tray in the room two days in a row, the housekeeping staff started replenishing the tray with 4-gram sugar packets instead. Hmm. Maybe they found my stash of sugar packets hidden under an upside down coffee cup and they were on to my game. Regardless, they left the stash and enabled my hoarding, albeit in smaller size packages, for another day.

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The fruit came from the breakfast buffet on the morning of the celebration. The tropical fruit salad was cut by the chef, but I had to break down the peach slices and pineapple chunks into tiny pieces with a plastic fork and knife. The knife was surprising sharp for  plasticware.

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My in-room free liquor options were vodka, whisky, tequila, and rum. I went with the rum. This sangria was starting to feel pretty Caribbean. The liquor dispenser provides one shot-sized dose of liquor per press of the nozzle, which is  convenient if you are trying to measure your liquor in modest, drinkable, portions. However if your aim is to dispense twelve ounces of rum at once, operation of the dispenser becomes a little more difficult. But I’m not complaining.

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I never saw a drink pitcher at any of the bars or restaurants for my whole stay. The only thing that resembled a large vessel in which I could mix my ingredients was a 32-ounce insulated mug that retailed for a ridiculously high price of $40 in the gift shop. I considered using the ice bucket, but we are classy people. We do not ruin the in-room amenities like the shiny silver ice bucket. So I mixed the fruit, sugar, and rum in a (presumably) clean plastic bag. Double-bagged, just to be safe.

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The boozy bag o’ fruit chilled in the mini refrigerator for about eight hours.

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We thought the mini bar contained apple juice and orange juice. I reached for what I assumed was orange juice and then I read the label. Bebida con pulpa de mango. This was a box of 16% mango juice plus water and sugar. I thought, it’s a good thing I only had fourteen 5-gram packets and four 4-gram packets of sugar, instead of the twenty 5-gram packets I desired, because we’re about to make up the difference with this “juice.”

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A free bottle of wine comes with the room, along with a very cheap corkscrew. Based on the tropical fruit, liquor, and juice I used, I would recommend a citrusy white wine if you have a choice. I did not have a choice, and I knew that Mom loves read sangria, so Kyle wrestled the artificial cork out of the Spanish Merlot and I dumped it and the mango juice into the sangria bag.

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I couldn’t serve the sangria out of a complimentary laundry bag (what kind of bartender do you take me for?!) so I emptied a 1.5 liter water bottle, snipped a small corner off the wine bag, and transferred the homemade hooch to the botella de agua. Fancy.

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I served the sangria over ice with a splash of soda. Mom was pleasantly surprised by the gesture, and after each drinking at least one glass of the fruity wine cocktail, we all survived the night. Success!

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Almost Free Sangria

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 cups fresh fruit, diced
  • 1-1/2 cups light rum
  • 3/4 cups fruit juice (orange is preferred, but mango works too)
  • 1- 750 mL bottle of wine
  • 1/2 cup club soda, citrus soda, or ginger ale

Preparation:

  1. Combine sugar, fruit, and liquor in a large pitcher (or whatever vessel you have on hand). Mix thoroughly.
  2. Refrigerate the fruit mixture for 8-12 hours.
  3. Add juice and wine to mixture. Chill for 1 hour.
  4. Add the soda right before serving, or add a splash to each glass. Serve sangria over ice.

My second birthday present o my Mom: silver earrings (not free).

My third birthday present to my Mom: the satisfaction of knowing that if I ever end up imprisoned at an all-inclusive resort, I will make friends quickly due to my improvisational mixology skills, and will therefore be safe and happy even in the direst of circumstances.

Happy Birthday Mom!

A Few Things

We have been playing with our food a lot lately.

Colonel Mustard Greens. . .

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Impersonating the Great Exploding Pizza. . .

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Spending way too much time carving raw sweet potatoes. . .

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Finding creative uses for leafy greens. . .

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These are all gems you would have caught sooner if you followed Vegology on Twitter and Instagram.

Did you hear I was on NBC12 last week? I tweeted at Andrew Freiden (@AndrewFreiden), local meteorologist, and he used my frosty windshield photo on the news!

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This wouldn’t be very exciting for most people, but for me? Totally made my day. You have to understand me and weather. You probably never will. First of all, I think Andrew is a great meteorologist and NBC12 is a great news station. But more importantly, I freaking love weather. If I could pursue any other career besides the one I am currently in, I would become a meteorologist. I check the weather all day online. I watch the weather channel in my spare time. During a major storm, weather coverage is my Shark Week. I just. can’t. get. enough. So for me to pop up on the morning weather forecast? Major big deal.

And, like the weather addict I am, I want more. How do you think I could get on NBC12 again? Like, in person? Could I bake them cookies or something and then they might let me stand in front of the green screen on a commercial break just for fun? Do they need an on-set barista? I could do that. Until the day Andrew Freiden and Jim Duncan (and all other TV meteorologists for 100 miles) are out sick and they need the on-set barista to jump in. Then I might finally get my chance at giving the weather forecast on TV. I mean, if Hilary Banks could be a weather girl. . . I could too, right?

And We’re Back!

I have internet again!

New year, new house, new internet connection – with incredibly fast download speed. I couldn’t be happier.

Also. . . new header! How do you like it?

And unfortunately for one reader (and fortunately for you!) the winner of the Good Cookie gift pack giveaway has not contacted me so I fired up the old random number generator again and picked a new recipient. And the winner is. . .

Katrina!

Katrina, please email me your mailing address at vegologyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you didn’t win the giveaway and you want an OXO Good Cookie spatula, you can visit OXOgoodcookies.com to find a retailer in your area that may have one. This limited edition spatula is sold out online at OXO.com but I hear they still have them at select Bed, Bath and Beyond stores.

And now that we’re back up and running (new kitchen and new internet – woo hoo!), you can expect some more recipe posts. I have a healthy new version of a classic comfort food that I’m looking forward to sharing with you later this week. I hope it will satisfy those cheesy, buttery comfort food cravings without completely derailing you from any healthy living resolutions for 2012.

VegologyBlog.com Domain Warming Party

Welcome to vegologyblog.com, the new home of veg:ology!

That’s right, we’ve moved to our new domain and we’re loving life in our new digs. We are still hosted by wordpress, so your old links and bookmarks should redirect you to the new site. However, I suggest that you update your bookmarks anyway to give the new domain the love it deserves.

We’re still unpacking the boxes, figuring out where the furniture goes, and making some cosmetic updates so you may see more exciting changes over the next month. But since we’re here and I’m happy to have you readers as guests, I thought I’d throw together a little domain warming party with all my favorite recipes from vegologyblog.com.

But first, a tour!

Have you checked out the Travel Page?

This is where you will find links to posts about my food-related adventures. This page is fun when you feel like you need an escape and helpful when you’re actually planning one. I hope I’m lucky enough to continue filling up this page with delightful places and delicious food.

Make sure you also scroll down the sidebar on the right side of the page to check out all the fun things there too. The Catch Up section provides you with easy links to my most recent posts. The Subscribe button allows you to sign up to be notified every time I post something new. The Twitter box shows you my latest tweets in case you don’t follow me on twitter, which you definitely should.

You can find older posts by typing a search term into the Search box, clicking on a relevant tag in the Tag Cloud (Click-Click), or browsing the archives through the Past Posts box. Finally, don’t miss the Random Thought box. I couldn’t resist adding a text widget with whatever thought comes to mind when I feel like updating that little box.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes our tour. Feel free to visit the Contact or About pages at your leisure. Now let’s eat!

Here are some of my favorite cozy homemade recipes from the past, to celebrate our future at vegologyblog.com.

Butternut Squash with Spinach and Feta

Veggie Pot Pie

Pumpkin Chili

Persimmon Cookies with Cranberries and Walnuts

Thanks for reading and welcome to vegology’s new home. I’m excited to share all that I have planned over the next few months!

XOXO, Lauren

P.S. It is totally acceptable to leave recipes and send baked goods to express your enthusiasm over vegologyblog.com. Really, totally acceptable and encouraged. 😉

 

We Survived Irene

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We survived the hurricane last night and we are currently on our 22nd hour of no electricity. Thank goodness I have an all gas stove so we could make pasta with most of our perishable food mixed in. Some casualties in the refrigerator:
-1/2 gallon of homestead creamery milk
– 6 polyface farms eggs
– 10 bottles of condiments
– 8 bags of frozen (not anymore) fruits and vegetables

All my fresh fruits and vegetables should be fine, I cooked my greens into the pasta last night, and I’m crossing my fingers that the herbs don’t get too wilty.

Lessons learned from Hurricane Irene:
– get a gas stove
– combine your hiking gear and cooking gear to make dinner by candlelight, er… headlamp

Hope everyone is safe and well out there!

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!