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!

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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!

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It’s the Little Things About Richmond Dining

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Richmond has a lot to offer people who are into food. If you were to ask a few of your RVA foodie friends, “what are your top must-do things in the Richmond dining scene?” or “what Richmond restaurants and dishes would you recommend to visitors?” you would probably get a variety of answers. We are fortunate to have so many great options in our little city. However, the same few things would jump out as repeat popular suggestions. Every city has its claims to fame, its signature dishes, its local haunts, and its “I’m kind of a big deal” restaurants.

For every popular signature dining experience in Richmond, there are dozens of overlooked gems all around us. When I think, and I mean really think hard, about my favorite things about Richmond dining, I come up with some really quirky little things. I guess I am aware of all the meals and restaurants here that would impress a visitor, and I have recommended them several times, but as a local Richmonder, those aren’t the experiences that make me love my city’s food scene. I like the signature stops along your typical Richmond foodie tour that elicit “ooh”s and “ahh”s, but I am absolutely enamored with the funny little things that keep me coming back for more.

For me, it’s the little things that count. The things that may go unnoticed, but that after several visits to a place, you come to expect, and maybe even look forward to. These are the things that I usually keep to myself, thinking that outsiders just wouldn’t understand. And maybe they wouldn’t, because there is nothing grand about them. But they are the little things about Richmond restaurants that make me smile, and although these are tiny aspects of the dining experience, I would be devastated if they ever went away.

This list is far from comprehensive, and it’s written in no particular order. I’m sure that just as soon as I hit “Publish,” I will think of ten more. It’s difficult to stop myself, but if I didn’t, this post would never be completed. Because I am sure that I’ve left some out, I would love to hear your favorite little things about Richmond or your own city’s dining scene in the comments! So without further ado, these are a few of my favorite things. . .

  • The way the butter that accompanies the bread at Can Can Brasserie is filled to the brim of each butter container, then scraped flat across the top to form a perfectly flat buttery surface
  • The salty, briny capers in the vegetarian paella at Kuba Kuba
  • The lovely ladies room at Urban Farmhouse Market and Cafe. No really, I have often thought that I would live in that bathroom if I could. TMI?
  • The seasonal vegetable plate at Parkside Cafe, featuring local vegetables bought across the street at the farmers’ market and cooked to perfection within hours of purchase
  • The mismatched salt and pepper shakers at the Black Sheep; each table has a different set and each set is quite interesting
  • The graham cracker center of a Key Lime popsicle and the vanilla wafer center of a Banana Pudd’n popsicle from King of Pops.
  • The slate cheese platters at Secco, with the name of each cheese written in chalk right below it
  • The combination of creative sauces drizzled on every taco served by the Boka Truck
  • The black and white films silently projected on the wall at Stella’s
  • The pickle of the day at Citizen, which is often unusual, sometimes hard to identify, and always delicious
  • The delicate and precise latte art at Lamplighter Roasting Company, which always reminds me of the very first time I was ever served a latte with fern-shaped foam (magical!)
  • The crispy crunch and the melt-in-your-mouth center of each bite of tandoori cauliflower at Balliceaux
  • The booth screens on the high backed booths at Ipanema Cafe, which always make me feel like I should confess my sins to fellow diners (which could also be blamed on the happy hour wine deal)

What are your favorite “little things” about your local dining scene?

Spiced Red Lentil Chickpea Cakes

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I have tasted a whole (helluva) lot of beers lately. I think I tried ten different spring seasonal beers over the last two weeks before settling on the one I would use for my pairing for the spring vegetarian beer dinner. Last week I hosted a fundraising event for Team in Training at Legend Brewing Co. in Richmond, and as the sun set, I stayed warm with a bourbon barrel brown ale. Then of course we had the beer dinner last weekend, featuring six different beers paired with six vegetarian dishes (more on that later). And then there were the extra side beers sampled before, during and after the dinner: New Belgium Dig pale ale, Legend Maibock, and Kyle’s homebrewed chile chocolate milk stout from last year.

For this beer dinner, I took a different approach for my pairing, choosing my beer before dreaming up my dish. In the past I have selected the dish first, then I have chosen a beer to match. In the winter, I tried three different versions of my BBQ jackfruit before settling on the winning recipe, then picked a beer pairing at the last minute. This time around, I focused all my taste testing on the beer. Eventually, one favorite emerged: a collaboration beer from Stillwater Artisanal Ales and The Brewer’s Art, a farmhouse ale called Debutante. Both breweries are from my hometown, Baltimore, MD. The talented brewer from Brewer’s Art, Rob Perry, bicycles with my Dad for Team in Training in Baltimore. I have met Rob a few times at the finish line of the Seagull Century, where he always brings a stash of craft beers to share post-race.

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Debutante made a lot of sense to me since it is seasonally appropriate, deliciously complex without being overpowering, and it is at least partially conceived by the masterminds at Brewer’s Art, who are big supporters of Team in Training. With my first TNT event just one week away, this was an easy decision. For some reason, the subtle spice and slightly sweet qualities of this saison led me to Indian flavors for my dish. I packed almost as many ingredients into my recipe as I did beers into my refrigerator over the last couple of weeks. My vegetarian chickpea cakes featured red lentils (which my palate and I think are the perfect complement to saison), chickpeas, cauliflower, carrots, cumin, coriander, and cilantro. These were thrown together at the last minute, meaning that I served them to twelve other people in my home, five minutes after the very first time I ever made them. A swig of maibock calmed my nerves as twelve forks cut in to twelve cakes for twelve first bites.

Some people might go for yeast plus yeast on this pairing, but I opted to let the beer be my bun, and I left this chickpea cake naked instead of serving it between bread. Before you accuse me of garbanzo negligence and public chickpea indecency, allow me to explain that I didn’t leave them completely nude. I offered a cucumber mint yogurt sauce for my non-vegan guests. The vegans just had to make do with a large spinach leaf and try not to feel like their tasty cakes were too exposed. I wanted to use arugula (and I think you should too if you try this at home), but none of the farmers at the market that morning had arugula yet, so I went with the spinach instead.

Shall we get to the recipe then?

Spiced Red Lentil Chickpea Cakes

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1 cup cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 pinches of ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg or 1 flax egg (1 Tbsp ground flax meal + 3 Tbsp water)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil

Preparation:

  1. Add red lentils and cauliflower to a medium sized pot. Cover with 2 inches of water. Heat over high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to low-medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. While cauliflower and lentils are cooking, mash chickpeas with a fork or blend in a food processer. In a large bowl, combine chickpeas with carrots, green onions, garlic, and cilantro.
  3. Preheat broiler.
  4. Drain cauliflower and lentils in a fine mesh strainer. Mash cauliflower into the lentils. When the excess cooking liquid has been removed, add to chickpea mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. To chickpea lentil mixture, add spices, bread crumbs, and egg (or flax egg for vegan version). Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Split mixture into six equal portions and form six patties.
  7. Brush a baking sheet with oil. Place red lentil chickpea cakes equal distance apart on baking sheet and brush tops with oil. Cook under broiler for 10 minutes per side.
  8. Serve with optional yogurt sauce: 1/2 cup plain yogurt + 1 tsp lemon juice + 1/4 cup finely chopped cucumber + 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint.

Now only one question remains – who’s going to bring the craft beers to the finish line of the Nike Women’s Half Marathon this weekend?

Veganville Run Is Done!

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Last week I surpassed the $2500 mark for my fundraising for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon with Team in Training. Because we met the goal before April 12th, I had to make good on my promise to run the Monument Avenue 10K dressed as a block of tofu. Thanks to everyone who donated and spread the word, I heard cheers of “go tofu!” and “run tofu, run!” all along the 6.2 mile course on Saturday morning. Here are the photos!

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It was a beautiful day for a race, and definitely the warmest weather I have run in while training for the half marathon. I had the pleasure of hosting (and doing completely unnecessary carbo-loading with) my friend Sarah from The Smart Kitchen over the weekend, as she completed her very first race!

I stuck with my friend Jess for the whole race, which was also her first. One of the most exciting moments of the day was watching the winner of the race come into the final stretch, as we were making our way to the start. That’s right, several people completed the race before we even began. We were in a jogger wave that started one hour after the first wave, and as we were making our way over the the start line area, we just happened to be on Franklin Street, in the last few blocks of the course, at the precise moment that the number one and two runners came flying through. I have never seen someone winning a race in person, so it was pretty exciting! I can’t imagine what it feels like to come in first place in a road race (and will likely never know).

The race course itself was pretty entertaining, with live bands, enthusiastic cheering groups, and a lot of costumed runners. It was a terrible training run because of the erratic pacing due to overcrowding on the course, so I just seized the opportunity to work the costume and have fun with it. I felt more like I was just hanging out with friends than I was exercising. We even stopped twice to socialize with friends and family in the median on Monument Ave, adding at least 10-15 minutes to our official time, because we really were not going for speed (as usual). The goal was to have fun and I think we accomplished that.

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Unfortunately I have been having some swelling and pain around my right Achilles tendon over the last two weeks, and it flared up near the end of the race. I think this stems from a series of hard workouts during which I pushed myself harder than I probably should have, and the sudden addition of hills to my routine a few weeks ago. I dialed my running activity way down over the last week in an effort to heal what is acting quite a bit like a tendon injury. Of course this caused me to spend more hours in the office, and consequently have a major meltdown while making dinner one night this week, due to the absence of a good outlet for my overwhelming work stress. Not my finest moment. Oh, my poor husband.

After ice, anti-inflammatories, and rest for several days, I felt great at the start line of the 10K. However, around mile 4, I felt the now familiar tendon soreness that indicated I was still not fully recovered. Based on the swelling and pain I have experienced in the 24 hours since the race, I think it is safe to say that I am off it for at least another week. I want to heal as much as possible before the big race in two weeks, so I can have an enjoyable experience for my first half marathon. If that means my “taper” is more like a hard stop, then so be it. I want to be rested, recovered, and ready to run with TNT on April 28th!

There is still time to donate to LLS, so if you missed the opportunity to give before last weekend, please visit my Team in Training page to make a donation in any amount. If you are in Richmond area, please join me at Legend Brewing Company this Thursday for happy hour. Legend will donate $1 for every beer purchased between 4:30 and 7:00 PM on April 18th. Hope to see you there!

Lauren on Richmond.com

I’ve been burning the midnight oil a bit lately.

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In Caffeine We Trust

Recently I have had the opportunity to contribute to Richmond.com, a fresh and fun local news source. For years, I have checked Richmond.com daily because they always have the scoop on restaurant news and local events. Richmond.com has always had me covered on fun events for the weekend, honest dining reviews, and behind-the-scenes peeks at local happenings. They have also always had a great collection of humor and lifestyle pieces for entertainment. Does anyone remember the journalistic magic that was “A Shot in the Dark?”

In case you haven’t caught my last few pieces for Richmond.com, here are some links to the most recent ones. I also have some fun articles planned for the next few weeks, so make sure you look out for my new byline: Lauren Downey. Enjoy!

Date Nights with Richmond Flavor

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Tacky Lights Survival Guide

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Holiday Help for the Harried Home Cook

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SOJ Chef Demo 09.29.12

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In this week’s South of the James Chef’s Demonstration, we saw a lot of dark greens for Fall. Much of the summer produce is still hanging around, but it is waning, and winter squashes and greens are starting to take its place. It was another semi-rainy market. It seems like we always have a lot of mushrooms during the cooler, damper cooking demos, which is fitting I suppose.

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Haas Mushrooms’ roasted mushroom vinaigrette livened up a savory kale and arugula salad. I love a short ingredient list, and this bottled dressing has a shorter, more pronounceable list of ingredients than most of the dressings on grocery store shelves.

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Speaking of sauces, Chef Sam made an extremely flavorful chimichurri sauce to serve on top of herbed pan seared mahi-mahi from Barham seafood. He served the fish alongside a salad of kale, arugula, tomatoes, onion and Goats R Us feta. The second round of salads incorporated Night Sky Farm’s 6 months aged Flora Danica goat cheese. The greens themselves are often overlooked in a salad, but I have to mention that the fresh arugula from Crumptown Farm was very tender, peppery and delicious. I took a break from the demo table to buy some arugula to bring home, just based on the fantastic smell of it, before I even tried any.

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The final dish was a goat cheese and vegetable hors d’oeuvres that incorporated both the florets and the stalks of a head of broccoli. Chef Sam pan toasted some sliced French bread from Tater Dave’s. Pan toasted bread always looks so good at these cooking demonstrations. I think I should stop putting it in the oven and start doing it this way instead.

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After toasting the sliced bread, the Chef grated some broccoli stalks to make a slaw. He told us that he made his first broccoli slaw in the early nineties, when an ingredient order mistake caused his restaurant to have dozens of cases of broccoli (I may be exaggerating now) that overran his kitchen. As time ticked by, Sam had to use up the broccoli as quickly as possible while it was still fresh, so as not to waste anything. And his first broccoli slaw was born. The one he made on Saturday included shredded broccoli, basil, parsley, olive oil, vinegar, black sesame seeds and salt.

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The Chef steamed some broccoli, sliced tomatoes, and constructed an appetizer of vegetables with goat cheese, olive oil, and spices atop toasted bread. He used a spice blend from the Village Garden that was really tasty and spicier than I expected. I never would have thought to put broccoli on bread, but these flavors worked well together and the fresh bite was satisfying and delicious.

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Thank you to Barham Seafood, Crumptown Farm, Goats R Us, Haas Mushrooms, Night Sky Farms, Norma’s Produce, Pleitez Produce, Tater Dave’s, Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for producing this week’s fresh and delicious ingredients!

We are off next week, but will return to the South of the James Farmers’ Market on October 13th. That’s just one week before my wedding – do you think I could convince Chef Sam to do special occasion food to celebrate? Romantic food? Dishes for entertaining? Who knows!