Farmers’ Market 08.18.12 and Food Truck Court

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When Saturday’s South of the James Market rolled around, Chef Sam Baker was unfortunately sick and unable to do the cooking demonstrations for the day. While Sam rested at home, I got the rare opportunity to explore the market on my own this week! At first I was bummed that we wouldn’t be doing a demo, but I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot while perusing the market without an agenda. I think Kyle appreciated the company while shopping this week too.

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Peppers and tomatoes were everywhere this week, with tons of zucchini and squash too. The humidity dropped in the morning and it was a cool, breezy walk to the market around 7:30 AM. I wore a long sleeved chambray shirt with shorts and it seriously felt like fall was around the corner. My suspicions were confirmed by a tub of butternut squash at the Walnut Hill Farms produce stand. I am so excited that my favorite season is coming soon! And with my favorite season comes our wedding in. . . two months!

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We ran into a bunch of friends at the market. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time. I ended up really enjoying the break, but I am looking forward to starting the cooking demonstrations again next week. Here is a rundown of our loot, pictured above:

  • Basil from Victory Farms (big plans for this…)
  • Tomatoes from Walnut Hill Farm
  • Bell peppers from Norma’s Produce
  • Jalapenos from Victory Farms
  • Eggplant from Walnut Hill Farm
  • Poblano peppers from Norma’s Produce
  • Okra from Pleitez Produce
  • Zucchini from Pleitez Produce
  • Butternut squash from Walnut Hill Farm
  • Onions from Pleitez Produce

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In case you were wondering, this week’s produce photo shoot took place at Forest Hill Lake, a gorgeous place for taking pictures of your vegetables, among other things. We are so fortunate to have this right in our backyard.

Speaking of backyards, we visited our old neighborhood on Friday night to check out the food truck court at the Virginia Historical Society. It was Kyle’s first time to the food truck court and he loved every bite!

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It was an eating marathon for us. I was so happy that we showed up with appetites because there was a lot of great food to be had.

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One of the highlights was this delicious plate of tacos from Rooster Cart. We had both had their sandwiches before but had never tried the tacos. They were incredible. We shed a sad tear in memory of our beloved Café Gutenberg and a happy tear for the future of the Rooster Cart.

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Another highlight was our first King of Pops experience. I told Kyle all about how I had been meaning to try them but never got over there during the farmers’ market. Kyle was skeptical of how amazing a simple popsicle could be, but he agreed to give it a try. I was really surprised when we approached the cart and Kyle greeted Paul from King of Pops like an old friend.

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Apparently Kyle and Paul go to the same Wing Chun Kung Fu studio. So if you’re thinking about messing with the King of Pops, I suggest that you think twice. Not only is he a magnificent popsicle maker; he is also a deadly weapon in disguise.

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I had a little sore throat and these popsicles were the perfect cure. Kyle had the tangerine basil, and I had the (wildly popular) chocolate sea salt. All I can say is WOW. Of course I tried both because Kyle and I are gross in that we swap spit and share popsicles and such. I wanted to try every flavor. I asked to help create flavors. I almost demanded a front row seat during R&D for the fall flavor creation process. It’s safe to say we are now believers.

I hope you had an equally life-transforming and wonderful weekend! If not, make it a delicious week!

Check out Richmond food truck courts here: FoodTruckCourt.com

… and Richmond farmers’ markets here: RVA Markets

SOJ Chef Demo 06.23.12

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This week the South of the James market saw the beginning of another seasonal change. We are just starting to see more of the vegetables that most people associate with summer. On the farmers’ tables this week, I saw the first piles of corn, a greater variety of peppers, and some green tomatoes with a few red ones mixed in. I feel that we are about to turn a corner, and around that corner is an abundance of tomatoes, eggplant, corn, and zucchini.

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However, the weekly cooking demo is all about appreciating what we have now, rather than what we have to look forward to in the future. What can we do this week with the produce we have now? How do we resist the temptation to pick up next month’s Virginia produce a few weeks early – produce that was grown by a farmer located 3,000 miles away, and shipped to our neighborhood grocery store?

We learn to love green tomatoes, crisp cucumbers and fresh herbs. That’s what we do.

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Inspired by the season, Chef Sam “Rude Boy” Baker created a green tomato salad made with gorgeous green tomatoes from Norma’s Produce, cucumber, purple carrots, lemon basil, garlic, herbs de Provence, sea salt and black pepper, and dressed with apple cider vinegar. These ingredients are delicious and easy to love.

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Alongside the green tomato salad, Chef Sam served pan seared dry scallops from Barham Seafood. The Chef explained to the audience why dry scallops are worth the extra cash, as he seasoned the scallops with sea salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. He prepared seared eggplant the same way, for the vegetarians in the house. I had never seen eggplant as a vegetarian stand-in for scallops before, but it seemed to work.

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The Veg of the Week was eggplant, a vegetable that started popping up at several farmers’ stalls this week. I think that most people associate eggplant with Eggplant Parmigiana or Ratatouille. The Chef set out to show people that there are plenty of things you can do with eggplant and basil before the tomatoes ripen.

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Eggplant from Norma’s Produce and Amy’s Garden played well with Tuscan kale and lemon basil from Victory Farms in many of the dishes this week.

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For the second round of the demonstration, the Chef did a stir fry two ways: one vegetarian version and one with scallops and fish sauce. He fried some kale chiffonade in a pan with oil and fish sauce and sampled the kale to curious passersby. Most people had not used fish sauce in their homes so Chef Sam answered a lot of questions about this mysterious ingredient.

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The spicy stir fry included purple and white eggplant, white onion, mushrooms, green tomatoes, sweet peppers, Thai chili peppers, Tuscan kale, sorrel and basil. The second version differed from the first by the addition of seared scallops and fish sauce for flavor. The Chef explained that a stir fry can be made with whatever vegetables you have on hand, during any season, and he urged home cooks to get creative in the kitchen with their favorite vegetables.

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Then came the curve ball.

The final dish for the demonstration showed some real creativity, inspired by a shortage of forks at the demo tent following several rounds of samples. When we ran out of forks and were left with only skewers and toothpicks, the Chef had to come up with an interesting way to prepare the remaining pile of produce for his last challenge. I suggested that we sauté the veggies and roll them up in the kale leaves for a vegan and vegetarian finger food. Locally famous for his North Carolina Tamales, which utilize steamed collard greens in place of the traditional corn husk, The Chef agreed to give it a try.

These kale rollups featured eggplant, mushrooms, green tomatoes, lemon basil and Thai chilies, seasoned with rice wine vinegar and sea salt, wrapped in a steamed Tuscan kale leaf and pierced with a toothpick.

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In the ultimate challenge of working with what you have (and not with what you don’t have), he pulled off a healthy and delicious finger food that highlighted the flavors of the season.

Thanks to Amy’s Garden, Barham Seafood, HaaShrooms, Norma’s Produce, Phal Vong, Victory Farms, Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.

Farmers’ Market 05.19.12

This week I changed it up and sent Kyle to find our farmers’ market haul. I was helping out with the SOJ Market Chef Demonstration , so I was unavailable for grocery shopping that morning. I did manage to get a break or two to wander around the market, but Kyle had to do the deal hunting and produce gathering this week. I gave him a few guidelines and he did an awesome job! He even remembered where he got everything so I could share the grower info here as usual.

Read my recap of this week’s Chef Demo here. Chef Sam showed us a wasabi sesame crusted swordfish recipe that I bet would be great with Twin Oaks tofu for those of us who pass on the fresh fish. Also check out Kyle’s farmers’ market loot right here:

In this week’s haul. . .

  •  Mixed greens (Victory Farms)
  • Mint (Victory Farms)
  • Turnips (Victory Farms)
  • One HUGE bag of spinach (Walnut Hill)
  • Asparagus (Walnut Hill)
  • Carrots (Walnut Hill)
  • Strawberries (Agriberry)

On one of my breaks from the demo tent, I picked up this Legend brown ale mustard from Simply Savory. I can’t wait to try it out in my Engagement Tofu recipe soon!

 

The Local Difference

 I have been meaning to share this for a week or so. For those of you who don’t get why local, seasonal produce reigns supreme, check out these strawberries. This photo is of local Virginia strawberries picked in the last two weeks. Notice how vibrant the red color is and how deliciously juicy these look. They are fantastic this time of year.

Now consider the strawberries you get mid-winter that are imported from warmer climes. They could be from California, Mexico, or even farther away than that, but they are not fresh local strawberries. Have you ever noticed the hard white centers and pinkish flesh? These strawberries are usually picked underripe so that they can make the long trip over thousands of miles to reach your grocery store shelves. Strawberries do not continue to ripen after being plucked from the vine, so the color and flavor will never fully develop for these strawberries the same way that it does when they stay in the warm sun on the vine until ripe.

Start eating fresh local strawberries on the regular and you won’t even want the out-of-season stuff. They are that good! See also, tomatoes.

Have a lovely week!

Dominion Riverrock 2012 Filthy 5K Mud Run

On my birthday last year, I made a list of things I wanted to do before my next birthday. One of the items on that list was “run a 5K.”I have never been a fan of running; in fact, I despise it. I find road running mentally boring and physically exhausting. However, I felt that running a race was something I should try at least once. When the Monument Avenue 10K registration came up around my half-birthday, I signed up and completed it. I checked another thing off my list with plenty of time to spare.

But it didn’t stop there. I have mentioned before that I have been trail running lately. I started running the Buttermilk Trail nine weeks ago in preparation for my next race, the Dominion Riverrock Filthy 5K. It’s a fun run, nothing competitive about it (at least for me), but I still wanted to be prepared. After suffering a bad ankle sprain last Fall that put me in a walking cast for a few weeks, I didn’t want to take any chances with my newly rehabbed ankle on the rocks and roots of the James River Park trails. So I started slow with a few friends about two months ago, and we were very prepared (and really psyched!) by the time the race rolled around this weekend. Knowing I would end up wallowing in a mud pit at the end of the run, I dressed pretty in pink for a Miss Piggy kind of vibe. I’m a sucker for a theme!

BEFORE

I discovered during training that I absolutely love trail running, and no one was more surprised by that than me. I had always hated running, but I genuinely looked forward to our after work runs on the Buttermilk Trail. I thoroughly enjoyed every Sunday morning long run, followed by coffee and breakfast at Crossroads Forest Hill. I think that the main reason I have trouble running on roads is the boredom factor. Trail running engages your mind; you can’t take your eyes off the ground for more than a second or you will trip up on a rock, tree root, or mud puddle. Having your friends with you for the adventure doesn’t hurt either.

I made a pact with my training buddies to leave no man behind during the race this weekend. It is so much more fun to run with friends, from getting simultaneous side stitches on the Belvidere bridge, to climbing over rock walls, getting smacked in the face with tree branches, splashing each other while wading waist-deep in the river, and finally crawling through the mud pit together with the finish line in sight. The only disappointing part about the race was that many of the runners in our wave were really cautious on the trail portions of the run, and they slowed down to a brisk walk for the parts of the race course that we had looked forward to the most. Although we felt pretty hardcore when we managed to pass them while bounding up rocks and leaping over roots. The muddy parts hardly fazed us. We had a blast!

Too legit to quit!

Overall, this was a fantastic, fun, well-organized run. We took advantage of the bottlenecks and walked a bit when we had to due to congestion on the course. We probably couldn’t have run the whole thing anyway, so we welcomed the breaks along the way and then finished strong. Check out this shot of Team Buttermilk, taken shortly after the run.

AFTER

Of course it isn’t a vegology worthy event if there isn’t a good food story to tell. The first way I turned this fun activity into an opportunity to eat great food was by hosting a pasta party at my house on Wednesday night. I made penne alla norma for dinner and my friends brought wine, bread and salad to share. The second way I managed to sneak a food adventure into the picture was in my post-race dinner. I had heard that the Riverrock organizers had made an effort to include healthier food vendors in addition to the standard carnival-type fare served on Brown’s Island. So Kyle and I searched for a healthy dinner after I washed off and changed. Riverrock did not disappoint!

It took me about eight minutes to find the vegetarian food truck, Goatocado. Serving up fresh smoothies and teas, sandwiches, salads and sides, Goatocado had exactly what I was looking for between dashing through the mud and dancing the night away.

Kyle and I grabbed a pair of sandwiches with steamed edamame on the side, and fetched a couple of beers to wash it all down. Check out Goatocado’s great sandwich options!

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Kyle ordered the Mountain Tropp and I had the HuMoose. It was so dark (9:00 PM!) that I couldn’t get a decent picture of the food. But trust me, it was exactly what I needed and I hope I see these guys around more often. I have seen them at some of the farmers’ markets around town before, but I don’t catch them often enough. After enjoying our food, we watched Keller Williams with the Travelin’ McCourys in a free concert on Brown’s Island. My body was exhausted from the run but I found the energy to kick off my shoes and dance like a fool for a couple more hours before calling it a night.

I ❤ Riverrock!

 

Veggie Redux: Shrimp and Grits – Behind the Scenes!

You might have found me today through my guest post on Virginia is for Bloggers. If you’re new to Vegology, welcome! If you’re a regular here and you haven’t discovered VAis4Bloggers yet, you should check them out today! Here’s why.

Vegetarian “shrimp” and grits.

That’s right, my latest Veggie Redux takes on a lowcountry classic and makes it vegetarian-friendly. I don’t know if it tastes anything like the real deal, but I assure you that it does taste awesome. Any recipe that starts with an obscene amount of Old Bay seasoning usually does.

You can find the recipe over at the Virginia is for Bloggers site, but what you won’t find over there is the back story. The funny thing about the crab boil pictured above is that this method for making vegetarian “shrimp” did not make the final cut for my recipe for shrimp and grits. In case you haven’t read the post and recipe yet, SPOILER ALERT: the “shrimp” is actually cauliflower. I was inspired by Richmond Chef Kevin Roberts’ “poor man’s shrimp cocktail” which was featured in a recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

Kevin Roberts is the owner and Chef of The Black Sheep, which is one of my favorite Richmond restaurants. I used his recipe for fake shrimp cocktail when I was experimenting with this dish. I found the boiled cauliflower to taste remarkably similar to shrimp with a texture and flavor that would hold up well to cocktail sauce. The man is clever. You should serve this at your next party. However I understand that the shrimp in traditional shrimp and grits is pan-fried to a crispier texture, with a whole lot of spice. Roasting helped me achieve the texture and taste I was looking for.

This dish was a super hit at my house and I think Kyle will ask for this meal to show up on the dinner menu more often. Like I said before, I have no idea how close this is to the original, since I became a vegetarian before I had the chance to experience real shrimp and grits. However, I hope that creative chefs like Chef Roberts and adventurous eaters like yourselves would approve of this preparation. Enjoy!

Branching Out: Week in Review

Last Sunday seems so far away. I had a fantastic week that was jam-packed with long days full of new experiences. In the past, Spring has simply meant seasonal allergies, wardrobe challenges due to unpredictable weather, and the promise of summer right around the corner. For me, Spring has always been a season to rush through. It’s the awkward puberty of seasons and I can’t wait for it to be over. Even as I write this, Seals & Crofts’ serenades me as I daydream about summer breeze. Thank you Pandora Radio for reading my mind.

However, this year has been different. I have tried to embrace Spring for what it is and view it in a new light. My new perspective has taught me that Spring is a time of new beginnings. As everything starts to thaw and bloom, we too can get outside and expand our horizons. Spring is a great time to try new things and recommit to our personal growth. For some of us, this is a great time to review New Year’s resolutions and pick back up where we left off sometime in the first few weeks of February. For me, this is the perfect opportunity to try out new restaurants, recipes, and workouts. This past week I have met some new people and gone some new places and I have had a blast! So without further delay, here is the week in review.

On Sunday, I went to a delightful brunch at Stella’s with the Virginia is for Bloggers group. What started out as a tiny hashtag (#VAis4Bloggers) is now a thriving group of Virginia bloggers. The kickoff brunch that founders Sarah and Liz planned for us was fantastic.

Stella’s interior is gorgeous and the Greek theme is not subtle but not over-the-top either. The owners communicated the theme in a way that makes the restaurant feel authentic, not kitschy. One of the many well-edited features of the restaurant is the black and white Greek movie silently projected in the back corner.

Sarah and Liz brought us free samples and coupons for Love Grown Foods granola and coupons for Chobani. There was even a raffle for some of Sarah’s homemade peanut butter and full size bags of Love Grown granola.

Here’s the swag! Which included one of Gabby’s delicious gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

I ordered the Black Kale Skillet, which comes with “sauteed black tuscan kale dressed with lemon-dijon vinaigrette, over toasted olive oil bread, kasseri cheese, topped with two fried eggs.” It turned out to be a great choice and I am sure that I will order this again in the future.

The pita dishes, although not vegetarian, looked delicious too.

The staff at Stella’s was so friendly and accommodating. At the end of the meal, our server brought out complimentary loukoumades, which are like Greek doughnuts. Sorry this photo looks blue. I tried to color correct it but still couldn’t get it right. The rainy skies were doing something weird to the natural light coming in through the windows. Guess you’ll have to go to Stella’s and order the loukoumades yourself to get the picture!

One thing that was not brand new this week, but is relatively new to me is trail running. I met up with some friends to jog on the Buttermilk Trail on Tuesday night. We have been training together for the Dominion Riverrock Filthy 5K Mud Run that takes place in three weeks. I hate road running, but I LOVE trail running. This has been a surprising discovery for me this year. Along the path, which doubles as a mountain biking trail, hangs this excellent sign. As my friend Melissa commented, “that’s some effective visual communication.” Consequently the photo made it onto TODA’s 366 Days of 2012 as the photo of the day for April 25th.

On Wednesday, Kyle and I had a dinner date at Acacia for Richmond Restaurant Week. It was my first time at Acacia Midtown (I have been meaning to go for years) and everything was wonderful. I started with the Farmer’s Punch, which is a cocktail made with clement rhum agricole, allspice, pineapple, lime, coconut milk and coconut foam. It was really tasty. It reminded me of the Mixology episode of Portlandia. But still, super tasty and refreshing. And how about those stainless steel straws? I think I need some!

My first course was a pureed kale and white bean soup with grilled ramps, creme fraiche, and smoked paprika oil. It was smiling at me.

The second course was a goat cheese and rosemary tart with mixed baby vegetables, roasted hazelnuts and crispy kale. It was out of this world.

While everything was delicious, dessert was my favorite course. I had the Dark and Stormy which was inspired by the drink of the same name. I am a big fan of the Dark and Stormy. You may recall that I made my own version with fresh cranberries called the Red Sky at Night. This dessert captures all the flavors of a dark and stormy, with rum ice cream, lime sorbet, molasses cake and ginger beer foam. Thank you, Acacia, for a thoroughly enjoyable Restaurant Week experience!

After all those good eats, Kyle and I were due for another long workout in the great outdoors. On Friday I decided to conquer my fear of biking across the James River and I took on the hills of Forest Hill, the pedestrian path on the Nickel Bridge, the traffic on Cary Street near VCU, and the daunting Belvidere Bridge. How cute are our His and Hers Torker bikes? A silver U-District for Kyle, and a copper Graduate for me.

Here is Kyle on the Nickel Bridge, or Boulevard Bridge.

And here is the lovely view from the Nickel Bridge. Kyle almost proposed here once at sunset, but he chickened out. Now that I know that story, I think about it every time I’m looking West over the James River from this spot.

Sure, Spring still means seasonal allergies and wardrobe challenges, but it means new beginnings too. I don’t know about you, but I’m digging this new outlook.

A Few of My (New) Favorite Things

First things first, I have to give a shout out to John Robinson of Robinson Imagery, who posted a preview of our engagement photos today. Kyle and I had a blast during our engagement session this weekend, and we can’t wait to see the rest of the photos soon. Thanks John!

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I treated myself to a little spring break last week and I had ten consecutive days off work. Please don’t tell my boss; the time off was legit, but I don’t think anyone had really counted it up yet. Ten days is a lot of time, so I avoided announcing the total, in an effort to keep from shocking him and thereby causing him to change his mind. Perhaps even more shocking is that until day one of vacation, I didn’t have many plans for my time off. For the first time ever, Kyle and I both took off work and did not plan a trip. We just kind of winged it. . . and it was fantastic! A ten-day long staycation allows for a great deal of thoughtful reflection and self-discovery. Also, it provides you the opportunity to do some exploring close to home and to try out things you never had before.

New favorite thing: yoga on mountaintops.

I thought it would be fun to share a few of the highlights, so that you locals may discover some new activities and places to visit in central Virginia. If you’re not local to central Virginia, either bookmark these for your next visit or use them as inspiration to find similar things near your own “close to home.”

The Monument Avenue 10K

You would have to be a real Eeyore to not feel encouraged during this race. I really don’t like running, but I loved doing this 10K. I walked most of the way, as planned, but even as a walker you feel like a rock star. There were so many clever signs like the one above, and tons of people cheering you on from the Monument Avenue median and sidewalks. The excitement and energy was inescapable the whole way. This race really was a party, and I am so glad I did it for the first time ever this year.

Patios South of the River

I have been to Legend’s deck before, but as a new resident of the Forest Hill area, I have developed a new appreciation for the space. In the Fan and Museum District, every other restaurant has outdoor seating, and nearly every residence has a porch or balcony. This is not the case south of the James. Legend Brewing Company is my new top choice for patio drinking and dining, for their delicious locally brewed beer and for their fantastic view of the downtown Richmond skyline. Also, this is a great spot for a little carbohydrate replenishment after the Monument Avenue 10K.

Crossroads Forest Hill is also a great happy hour spot with outdoor seating and live music on the weekends. Their beer list is so good that I often think I’m dreaming when I read over it. They have a consistently excellent selection of beers there. They also serve wine and small plates during their happy hour from 4:00 to 7:00 PM.

Flight Night at Secco Wine Bar

Right now you may be thinking this post is getting a little alcohol-heavy. And you would be right. It was vacation! I’m no saint! However I promise we will get to less alcohol-centric activities soon.

But first, allow me to introduce you to Flight Night at Secco Wine Bar. Every Monday, Secco features 3-glass flights of wine. I checked it out last week with some of the VAis4Bloggers crew. For $10 you could order Dealer’s Choice, which was a mixed bag of 3 random wines. For $11 you could get the Flight of the Week, which was Spanish Reds last week. That’s what I ordered and I was not disappointed. For $12 you could choose your own 3 wines off their extensive menu. They were pretty good sized pours and I had a great variety of wines to try. It was a wonderful way to start the week. Check it out!

Homemade Non-Dairy Milks at Para Coffee

After all that booze, shall we get a tad more wholesome? Nah, that’s impossible when you’re talking about nut milks. I had to title this section Non-Dairy Milks because Kyle chuckles every time I say “homemade nut milk.” But that’s what it is! Para Coffee in Charlottesville has started making their own nut milks from almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios, and they offer these non-dairy options in their lattes and other milk-based espresso drinks. I stopped in last week and had an iced pistachio milk latte and it was a real treat. I don’t even want to see the nutritional information, so please don’t tell me how much fat is in a cup of pistachio milk. I’m not interested. That said, I personally would not have one of these nut milk lattes every day, however this is something I will try again soon. It’s so different, you have to try it at least once.

Spice Diva

I have wanted to visit Spice Diva in Charlottesville for awhile and I finally got the opportunity last week. All the spices smell so good and they offer a wide variety of things that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. The blends are really unique too. I picked up an African style curry powder, applewood smoked sea salt, and a spice rub meant for meat that I want to try out in some vegetarian dishes soon. The owner couldn’t be more friendly, and I am excited to test out the exotic spices I picked up on my first trip there.

Hiking in Nelson County, VA

I already knew I loved hiking in this area, but recently I have found several more hikes that I want to try out. We have done Humpback Rocks (a few times), Crabtree Falls, and Spy Rock (as of last week). Next I want to do Cole Mountain and Mount Pleasant. I am addicted to the gorgeous mountain views that are your reward for making it to the top. What other hikes should I put on my list?

 

I have held back a few more food adventures and day trip activities that I plan to share in a separate post. My ten days off work were so packed with fun discoveries that it feels like my break was even longer than it was. We considered so many different vacation destinations before settling on staying close to home. I can’t believe I would have missed out on all the things our area has to offer, while in search of greener pastures, a plane or train ticket away from here.

Have you taken time lately to explore your own backyard?