Wedding Planning Update – 4 Months to Go!

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It has been awhile since I have written about my third job: wedding planning. You may recall the wildly popular Engagement Tofu post, in which I announced my and Kyle’s engagement.


Since then, we have done a ton of research, made hundreds of decisions, and planned many major aspects of our wedding, which is just four months away! One of the main guiding principles of planning this event has been sustainability. Most people will only plan an event this large and expensive once in their lives. We take the decisions very seriously, and we see our wedding as a huge opportunity to partner with people and organizations that have the same values as we do. We try to support local businesses, promote sustainability, and minimize our impact on the environment in our everyday lives. We are looking forward to maintaining those standards in our wedding, and perhaps teaching our friends and family a thing or two about why we make the choices we do.


Before we did anything else, we chose the wedding venue. We picked our place before we even chose the date! Kyle and I knew we wanted to get married outdoors and, with the help of some friends, made a list of pro’s and con’s for both the beach and the mountains. In the end, the Blue Ridge Mountains won, because we love to hike and visit there year-round, the area is home to a lot of agriculture and interesting food, wine and beer, and we knew it would be absolutely beautiful in the Fall. We decided on Afton Mountain Vineyards in Afton VA, which is just a stone’s throw away from where we went on our first hike together. As long as the weather cooperates, we will be getting hitched in front of the view you see pictured above. We are so excited to share this very special place with our friends and families.


One of the most important decisions we have made so far (aside from the one to get married), is what food we will have at the reception. I spent countless hours researching, interviewing caterers, and reviewing proposals. I knew that the food would be very memorable (at least for me), so this is an area that we decided we could splurge on just a little. Kyle and I are vegetarians, but our menu will feature both vegetarian options and options that contain meat that was raised locally and humanely. I don’t want to give away too many secrets, but we are planning a seasonal menu with a strong focus on locally sourced foods. You can expect some global cuisine, including Middle Eastern, Latin and Moroccan flavors. Hopefully this will showcase how creative you can be with locally sourced ingredients. Our outstanding caterer is Beggars Banquet from Orange, VA and we are thrilled to be working with them!

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Our photographer is the incredibly talented John Robinson of Robinson Imagery. Kyle and I are falling in love with Robinson Imagery almost as quickly as we fell for each other six years ago (ha!). The photos from our engagement session were gorgeous, and John’s personality makes it easy for us to be ourselves in front of the camera (corny jokes, gap teeth, goofy smiles and all). All of our pictures so far look so authentic, which is exactly what we want. I know that our whole wedding party will be just as comfortable with John, so we are expecting great, natural photos of everyone on the big day. And just in case anyone is shy in front of the cameraman, John is bringing a photo booth set up for guests to take pictures of themselves via a remote-controlled camera with a backdrop and props. I can’t wait to see what silly poses our friends come up with.


Our flowers will be provided and arranged by Sarah Pollard Chiffriller, whom you may know from the Twigs line of local floral arrangements at Ellwood Thompson’s. I found her through Amy’s Organic Garden, which is an organic farm that sells delicious vegetables and gorgeous flower bouquets at our local farmers’ market. We are taking a risk with locally sourced arrangements in mid-late October, but we are committed to sticking to the plan. I am hoping for some bright marigold colors when the wedding date rolls around, but if a hurricane or an early frost wipes everything out early like it did last year, then we’ll just have greenery and herbs in all of our bouquets, bouts and arrangements. We’ll just deal with what we’ve got come this Fall.


We have a few other things nailed down that you might be interested to hear about. For colors, we are planning on dark teal with pops of marigold and accents of crisp white and sage green. I think the teal and marigold color scheme will be beautiful with the changing leaves and the blue-gray mountains in the background.

One of my favorite ideas so far is our guest book. We will have an artsy book with a lot of white space in it for guests to choose a page that they like and write a note on. This alternative to the traditional guest book will leave us with a keepsake that will look great on our coffee table for years to come. I could divulge the title of the book we will use, but my lips are sealed. We must maintain a little element of surprise for the guests!

Now while we’re talking about coffee tables, let me tell you about our favors. We are sending guests home with a custom blended and locally roasted coffee from Blanchard’s Coffee, which is located just a few miles from our house. If you know me and Kyle at all, you know we are coffee fanatics. We even met while working in the same coffee shop. So how cool is that?


There are still a lot of things that need to be worked out, but I think that our plans so far are pretty stellar. Maybe you readers could help us out with some suggestions.

We are thinking of doing an iPod playlist for our reception in lieu of hiring a DJ or band. However we would like to have live music for our cocktail hour. We have talked to a few jazz and samba bands and we are still trying to make a decision. Send me an email if you know of any budget-friendly bands that are local to the Charlottesville area that would be good for an hour-long cocktail reception.

The wedding cake is still a big question mark (I know, I know, we are late on this). We aren’t really cake people so we had considered doing pies instead. However if we found a good local baker that uses local, all-natural ingredients and has interesting flavor combinations, we could be persuaded to go the cake route. Does anyone know of a great cake shop in Afton, Waynesboro, Staunton or Charlottesville? Even Orange would work.

We are just about decided on our honeymoon and we are leaning towards Colorado. Has anyone been in October? I have done a ton of research but I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has recommendations for Denver, Breckenridge and Boulder. We are looking forward to mountain views, hiking, hot springs, and craft beer tasting.

I will leave you with just one more photo of the beautiful Afton Mountain Vineyards, because I can’t resist.



Mediterranean Tempeh and Spinach Stuffed Zucchini Boats


Zucchini and yellow squash are two of the flavors that always remind me of summer. Just like fresh corn kernels, juicy tomato slices and tangy barbecue sauce, summer squash momentarily transports me to the backyard of my childhood home. I remember chasing fireflies after dinner, while the adults picked crabs and sipped cold beers on the back deck, and the smells of Old Bay, dewy green grass, pool chlorine, and charcoal grills filled the air.

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I remember eating zucchini and squash in one of two ways: grilled on kabobs or sautéed with Vidalia onions, bread crumbs, and grated parmesan cheese. Every once in awhile, I still make squash the second way for company. Each time, without fail, one of our guests tells me their Mom used to make it the same way.  Although the results are delicious, the method of tossing vegetables in butter, breadcrumbs and cheese is not the most nutritious way to prepare fresh produce. For a protein and veggie packed preparation, I turn to stuffed zucchini boats.


I love this one recipe from Eating Bird Food for Overstuffed Vegetarian Zucchini Boats. One night this week, armed with a package of tempeh and a bag of market fresh spinach, I decided to put my own spin on Brittany’s recipe. My version features a filling made with browned tempeh, sauteed onions and garlic, fresh spinach, chopped olives, tomato sauce, herbs and feta cheese. The hollowed out zucchini and squash boats are stuffed, topped with more cheese (or not, if you’re being super healthy) and baked until bubbly.


I am finding that as I experiment with more local ingredients, I create my own signature seasonal dishes that will hopefully become new food memories and comforting associations. Stuffed zucchini is quickly becoming a summer standby for me.

Mediterranean Tempeh and Spinach Stuffed Zucchini Boats

(serves 4)



  • 4 medium zucchini or other summer squash
  • 4 Tbsp oil, divided
  • 1 – 8 oz. package of tempeh
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning or mixture of basil and oregano
  • 1-1/2 cups pasta sauce
  • 1 – 4 oz. can of chopped olives, drained
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • 4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the squash lengthwise into halves. Scoop out the insides and leave about a 1/4-inch thick wall of flesh on the inside of each half.
  2. Place the squash in a baking dish, skin side down. Brush the squash with about 1 Tbsp of oil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.
  3. Grate the tempeh over a bowl with a large cheese grater. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the tempeh and sauté, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the tempeh to a large mixing bowl.
  4. Take the squash innards that you scooped out in step one, and measure about 1 cup of squash. Save the remaining squash for zucchini bread or cookies. Chop the 1 cup of squash into a small dice.
  5. Add 2 Tbsp oil to the small pan and add onions and garlic. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Then add squash to pan and sauté the mixture until tender, about 5 minutes.
  6. To the mixing bowl, add: squash/onion/garlic mixture, spinach, crushed red pepper, seasoning/herbs, pasta sauce, and olives. Add salt and pepper to taste. At this step you can stir in the crumbled feta. For a vegan version, omit the cheese.
  7. When the squash halves are removed from the oven, stuff each “boat” with the filling and top with shredded mozzarella cheese if desired.
  8. Bake the stuffed zucchini at 350 degrees F, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until filling is bubbly and cheese is melted.

Happy Summer Solstice!

SOJ Chef Demo 06.16.12


This week’s cooking demonstrations at the South of the James farmers’ market had an unplanned theme of fire and ice. It was another gorgeous day, and with the mercury gradually rising in Richmond, Chef Sam “Rude Boy” Baker showed us some ice cold summer salads along some hot and spicy entrees. Without explicitly stating the theme, the Chef finished hot dishes with cool relishes, and paired crisp, cold salads with warm, spicy accompaniments.


The colorful fresh produce gathered from market vendors that morning was a big draw for market shoppers. A small crowd gathered at the demo tent early on, as the Chef talked about his ingredients and chopped a rainbow of peppers, onions, squash, and other seasonal ingredients. The purple peppers from Norma’s produce and the bright yellow lemon cucumbers from Victory Farms were big conversation starters at the cutting board. In an impressive feat, the Chef held the audience’s attention for about 45 minutes without ever heating a pan.


It was evident that the Veg of the Week had to be these long awaited peppers. We have been dying to get our hands on some local peppers for the last few weeks and it was such a nice surprise to see them all come in this week in beautiful and varied shapes, sizes and colors.


I highlighted some quick facts about peppers on the Veg of the Week board, but I wished I had more room to include all of the other things that I love about peppers. What a versatile and delicious vegetable! Did you know that the capsaicin in hot peppers does wonders for kickstarting your metabolism? How about this incredible fact: according to, one cup of bell peppers contains almost 200% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C!


The Chef started with fresh salmon from Barham Seafood and an array of vegetables, including green beans, bell peppers, white onion, golden zucchini, eggplant, and jalapeno. While he prepared the ingredients, market goers enjoyed a cool cucumber salad that featured green cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, purple bell pepper, white onion, pickled okra, cilantro, basil, salt and pepper, dressed in the brine from the Empress Farms pickled okra.


As market shoppers cooled off, the kitchen heated up. Several onlookers stuck around for the Chef’s Thai style noodle dish with salmon, basil, and fresh market veggies. He showed the crowd how to improvise with what they had. Lacking several key ingredients for Thai cooking, the Chef made do with taglierini from Cavanna Pasta instead of rice noodles, sweet basil instead of Thai basil, and fresh jalapeno instead of Thai chilies. And the dish was completely delicious. The message is that while you may slightly compromise authenticity, you do not have to sacrifice flavor while working with just what is available locally.


The salmon’s next starring role was over organic mixed salad greens. The Chef prepared herb crusted salmon (herbs de Provence to be exact) and showed interested market goers how to remove the pan from the heat when the salmon was just underdone. The fish continued to cook in the hot pan so that it was perfectly cooked by the time of plating.


The warm salmon over the cold, crisp greens was well received by the crowd and the vendors who generously donated the ingredients for the presentation.



The icy component of this salmon dish was a relish made with Korean melon, cucumber, peppers and fresh herbs. The Korean melon from Amy’s Garden was cool and sweet, and it was just what the later market group needed as the temperature rose. Of the two melons used, one was ripe and sweet, and the other was slightly underripe and a bit tangy. This relish was great on its own and people loved it on the salmon. I bet it would be great on tacos too.


Finally, the Chef demonstrated the difference between cold cabbage and wilted cabbage by creating a raw, cold slaw and then sauteeing half of it in some hot oil. The “market slaw” contained cabbage and fennel from Tomten Farm, bell pepper, jalapeno, Korean melon, golden zucchini, white onion, flat leaf parsley, and the juice from some pickled okra. When asked about the pickled okra brine as dressing, the Chef explained, “it’s all in there – you’ve got your vinegar, your spices, all your flavor – you don’t need anything else.”


The flavor differences between the cold slaw and the hot were incredible. I couldn’t believe I was eating the same ingredients, with the only difference being heat and a little oil. Chef Sam Baker asked market goers which they preferred and no one could commit. We heard the same thing over and over, “they’re both just so different… and so good.”


I preferred the hot, pictured below. I thought the heat brought out the flavors a bit more.


But then again, I wasn’t standing in the hot sun. If I had been at a backyard barbecue in the peak of Richmond summer, I might have gone for cold. I suppose that’s why it’s important to have options. And that’s probably why the best dishes have a little of both.

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

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Have a question for Chef Sam Baker? Send me an email at vegologyblog [at] gmail [dot] com or put it in the comments. We’ll get you an answer AND your question may be included in an upcoming Vegology Ask the Chef post!

SOJ Chef Demo 06.09.12


This week at the South of the James farmers’ market, the sun was shining and there was a smorgasbord of fresh produce just waiting to be be chopped, cooked and served to market shoppers. I had to feature this gorgeous purple cauliflower as the opening photo. I love the gradient of the supporting leaves, with their dark purple edges and lavender stems. The shading highlights the beautiful Gothic cathedral-esque architecture of the vegetable in a way that simple white couldn’t. Please excuse me for the poetic vibe, but it’s inspiring to be around such great local veggies!


At the market demo tent last Saturday morning, Chef Sam Baker gathered his ingredients and set to work on the three featured dishes of the day.


There was a lot of colorful cauliflower at the market this week, so the Vegology Veg of the Week board displayed some facts about this often overlooked vegetable. Cauliflower has made several appearances on this blog in the past, so I offered some ideas for preparation in addition to those featured in the Chef’s demonstration.


Cauliflower on Vegology:

Cauliflower Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce

Spicy Cauliflower Po’boys

Cauliflower Tacos with Sunchoke Hash

Vegetarian “Shrimp” and Grits


The Chef featured prepared food vendors too this week. Vendors like Simply Savory and Empress Farm sell jams, salsas, condiments, and canned goods that make eating local at home quicker, easier, and much more flavorful. We often see them sitting side by side at the market, but we don’t always know how to combine the prepackaged goods with the fresh-from-the-farm produce to create a delicious meal. The Chef showed shoppers how to do just that, as he served Tuckahoe lamb in a Simply Savory fig jam marinade and Barham Seafood shrimp in an Empress Farm strawberry jalapeno BBQ sauce.



Chef Sam’s food samples never last long, but occasionally he can grab a few bites to share with the great, hardworking people who bring all these fresh ingredients to market.


After passing around some BBQ shrimp samples and giving the lamb plenty of time to marinate, the Chef revealed his plan for the other ingredients on the table.


The first main dish was a marinated lamb chop, served with patty pan squash and cauliflower. The Tuckahoe lamb was marinated in fig jam, a little water, garlic, mint, basil and crushed red pepper.


Omnivores enjoyed the whole dish, while vegetarians snacked on the brightly colored summer veggies. The Chef fielded a lot of questions about the purple cauliflower from Norma’s Produce, the orange cauliflower from Pleitez Produce, and the patty pan squash from Rocking F Farms. It was evident that the market goers were not at all shy about asking questions about what was on their plates. The habit of asking questions about your food has its benefits, and we were happy to answer all of the inquiries that came our way.


The final main course item was a “kitchen sink” dish, a meal with which I am very familiar! We make kitchen sink pasta, salads, curry and stew at my house every once in awhile. The main premise is that you throw in “everything but the kitchen sink.” Cavanna spinach and cheese ravioli was tossed with just about everything else the Chef had picked up that day, and together with the vegetable medley, the ravioli delivered delicious Cavanna vodka sauce. This is a great way to use up vegetables at the end of the week or any time you are trying to clean out the refrigerator. The tender pasta pillows had just enough flavor to stand alone, but they were simple enough to work well with other vegetables.


Thanks to Barham Seafood, Cavanna Pasta, Empress Farm, Haas Mushrooms, Norma’s Produce, Pleitez Produce, Rocking F Farms, Simply Savory, Tuckahoe Lamb and Cattle Co., Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.

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Have a question for Chef Sam Baker? Send me an email at vegologyblog [at ] gmail [dot] com or put it in the comments. We’ll get you an answer AND your question may be included in an upcoming Vegology Ask the Chef post!

SOJ Chef Demo 06.02.12


This week at the South of the James Farmers’ Market, Chef Sam Baker featured the same dish done two ways: one with meat and one entirely meatless, because, as he said, “vegetarians are people too.”


The Chef prepared two almost identical marinades, consisting of Malbec wine from Lazy Days Winery, Viognier Vinegar from Bombolini Pasta (cut with some water), olive oil, fresh cilantro, onion, garlic, sea salt and black pepper. To one bowl he added Worcestershire sauce (non-vegetarian) and London broil from Deer Run Farm. To the other, he added Portobello mushrooms from HaaShrooms. After marinating the steak and ‘shrooms, the Chef added them to two hot pans. The aroma was incredible.



It was evident that the summer squash had really come in this week, so it earned its place as the Veg of the Week. There were so many varieties to choose from at this market this week, including zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, and golden zucchini, along with a light green oblong variety that we couldn’t name but we enjoyed nonetheless.



The Chef even cooked some unique squash that has made it on Vegology in the past. Remember Patty Pan Squash and Eight Ball Zucchini?



The demonstration featured a summer squash, onion and mushroom medley to go with the steak and Portobellos. We were so lucky to have a great deal of beautiful mushrooms from HaaShrooms this week and, true to form, the mushrooms just crept into everything without us really noticing how prevalent they were until the end of the day.


We were also pleased to use Bonnyclabber goat cheese from Sullivan Pond Farm. The particular variety we used was coated in grape leaf ash. The Chef stuffed steamed button mushrooms with the cheese, then sautéed the mushrooms and topped them with fresh cilantro.


Thank you to HaaShrooms, Deer Run Farm, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, Bonnyclabber Cheese, Lazy Days Winery, Norma’s Produce, Victory Farms, Broadfork Farm, Bombolini Pasta, and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.


Visit the Market Chef page to see other SOJ Market cooking demo recaps.

SOJ Chef Demo 05.26.12


This week at the South of the James Farmers’ Market, there was a rainbow of fresh produce among the stalls. It was evident that everything is really starting to come in, and we can now enjoy the end of the spring harvest and the beginning of the summer. With the holiday weekend in mind, Chef Sam Baker showcased the colors and flavors of this season with a parade of salads and sides that were fit for shoppers’ cookouts, picnics and dinner tables.



First up was a kohlrabi slaw made with Norma’s kohlrabi, parsley, dill and onions, plus Amy’s organic tri-color carrots. The matchstick sliced vegetables were tossed with sea salt, black pepper, olive oil, vinegar and herbs for a refreshing seasonal salad. Next, the Chef made chips from thinly sliced beets and potatoes from Walnut Hill Farm Produce.


There was also a sautéed vegetable medley made with Amy’s organic yellow squash and tri-color carrots, Walnut Hill beets with sautéed beet greens, and a medley of sautéed beet greens and Victory Farms Swiss Chard with Ault’s Spanish chorizo.


This week marked the debut of the Vegology Veg of the Week board, which features fun facts about a particular market item each week. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ll spell it out for you: the star of this week was beets.


The Veg of the Week board also features an excessive amount of exclamation points. Apparently I can’t contain my excitement about fresh local produce. Walnut Hill Farm had gorgeous red beets and Touchstone gold beets for the feature. A lot of market shoppers hopped on the beet train for the first time this week, and I hope they have luck cooking them at home. You can learn more about beets in these past Vegology posts: We Got the Beet and (Almost) Free Greens.


Later in the morning, the Chef got fresh duck eggs from Empress Farm, which inspired a breakfast dish. Later shoppers were treated to samples of brunch food made with fresh, local ingredients. Prepared in about 15 minutes, these dishes would make an easy Sunday morning meal at home.


The Chef made French toast with Empress Farm duck eggs, Montana Gold Challah bread and Alfredo’s local honey. On the side were red and white potatoes cooked into home fries and topped with a duck egg Hollandaise sauce.


We have seen so much green at the market throughout the spring, and it was really exciting to see some bright new colors pop up on the tables this week. Who knows what next week will bring!


Thanks to Alfredo’s Honey, Amy’s Organic Garden, Ault’s Family Farm, Empress Farm, Montana Gold Bread Company, Norma’s Produce, Victory Farms, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.

Visit the Market Chef page to see other SOJ Market cooking demo recaps.

SOJ Chef Demo 05.19.12

This Saturday, I helped Chef Sam Baker prepare fresh meals using local ingredients at the South of the James Farmers’ Market. The Chef shows up each week with limited equipment and some very basic pantry ingredients (salt, pepper, oil, spices) and then shops the market to see what is fresh. When he is finished gathering his ingredients, he whips up simple, creative dishes in front of the crowd to show market shoppers how to use all that the region has to offer in their own home kitchens. He also offers really useful tips along the way, like how to tell how done your protein is without slicing into it, and what homemade blend of oils he prefers for stove top cooking.

I plan to do a weekly recap here to show you what’s cooking this week at the market. You can catch up on all of my SOJ Chef Demo posts by following the Market Chef link on the top navigation bar or by clicking here. Feel free to stop by and say hi the next time you are at the SOJ Market. We are located at the east (back) end of the market, on the interior row, next to Alfredo’s honey and across from Walnut Hill Produce and Pleitez Produce. If you don’t see us right away, you’ll surely smell us (and I mean that in a good way). Shoppers usually flock to the table when the Herbs de Provence or the garlic scapes hit the pan.

This week was all about seafood and leafy greens. Chef Sam demonstrated two different meals on Saturday and both featured fresh caught fish from Barham Seafood. The first dish on the menu this week was pan seared yellowfin tuna, crusted in Herbs de Provence and fresh tarragon. The tuna was served over wilted spinach and topped with a garnish of sautéed shredded collard greens and onions. The Chef also demonstrated a side dish of sautéed asparagus that he blanched before tossing in the pan.

The second meal was sesame seared swordfish (three cheers for alliteration!). The swordfish was coated in black and white sesame seeds with a touch of wasabi and pan seared. The Chef also prepared pan roasted portabellas with dill, and a salad of spring greens with strawberries and goat’s milk blue cheese.

Thanks to Barham Seafood, Frog Bottom Farm, Walnut Hill, Victory Farms, Sullivan’s Pond Farm, Haas Shrooms, and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.