Peanut Butter S’mores Cookies

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The weather has been gorgeous lately and I have been able to fire up our backyard grill a few times already this season. The longer, warmer days make me feel like summer is right around the corner. We’re planning outdoor activities for our weekends and starting to think about miniature summer vacations to go camping, hiking, canoeing and tubing in the area.

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Last weekend, Kyle and I met up with some friends at Dominion Riverrock, which is an outdoor sports and music festival in Richmond, VA. We spent hours outside in the sun, watching demonstrations and competitions for various outdoor sports, including mountain biking, bouldering, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, trail running, and even dog jumping! It was amazing to be surrounded by people with so much love for the outdoors. It got us thinking about planning a camping trip this summer. Do you have any ideas for must-see spots to share?

Because my mood and the weather always influence my kitchen adventures, I made a campfire s’mores-inspired sweet treat to fuel our research and planning. These peanut butter s’mores cookies are soft, chewy, and packed with peanut butter flavor, with little bits of graham cracker and chocolate mixed throughout, and soft marshmallow middles (which is exactly what I’ll have, if I don’t stop eating these cookies).

I used one of my favorite basic peanut butter cookie recipes from chocolatecoveredkatie.com and modified it to dream up this unique combination. When enjoyed in moderation, they are quite delicious!

Peanut Butter S’mores Cookies

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 Tablespoons all natural applesauce (no sugar added)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Sucanat (or substitute brown sugar or Turbinado if you prefer)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 Tablespoons chocolate chips
  • 1 rectangular regular size graham cracker (4 sections), crumbled
  • 12 miniature marshmallows

Preparation:

  1. Combine peanut butter, applesauce, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
  2. In another bowl, combine Sucanat, baking soda, flour, and salt.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and stir to combine until a dough is formed. Fold in the chocolate chips and crumbled graham crackers.
  4. Roll the dough into about 1-inch balls. Push a miniature marshmallow into the center of each cookie dough ball, and re-roll into a sphere. This should make 10-12 cookies.
  5. Chill dough balls in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. At 25 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  6. Transfer dough balls to a lightly greased cookie sheet and space 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

How do you enjoy the great outdoors this time of year? Have any tips on cool camping or hiking spots?

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“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!

Asheville-Like-A-Local in 36 Hours or Less

Kyle and I took a road trip last month to Asheville, NC and while we spent about 3 beautiful days there, I think you can get a great Asheville experience in 36 hours or less. Keep reading the longest post in vegology history below to see how to enjoy a weekend in Asheville like the locals do. If you want to read about our first 24 hours there, check out this post. For the story how of we got to Asheville on the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, read ­­­­Spring Road Trip and Road Tripping Roanoke to Asheville.

We woke up on Saturday morning, after a night of drinking and cheering on the Pittsburgh Penguins, to overcast skies. We had planned to go hiking that morning, but we were feeling the after-effects of all of the local beers we had sampled the night before and there was rain in the forecast, so we decided to check out another brunch spot instead.

We ventured on over to Sunny Point Café, where there was a very long wait. It wasn’t so bad though, because while we waited we enjoyed self-serve coffee on their garden patio. This was seriously such a good idea. You sign in to put your name in for a table and then grab a mug and help yourself to fresh brewed coffee. A sign on the coffee urn instructs you to notify your waiter when you are seated and they will add the bottomless coffee to your bill. Ingenious!

When we were finally seated, we enjoyed some awesome breakfast food. Sunny Point Café sources a lot of their ingredients locally and sustainably. Kyle ordered a breakfast sandwich on a croissant, with a side of stone ground chipotle cheese grits.

I ordered the MGB (mighty good breakfast), with two fried eggs, chipotle grits, vegetarian sausage, and a warm biscuit. Delish!

After brunch, we headed to nearby Black Mountain to check out Pisgah Brewing Company. Pisgah is an organic brewery with distribution only in western North Carolina. They have won a ton of awards for their beer and we were excited to see what they were all about. Our GPS took us to an industrial park hidden in the mountains off of a state road. We were wondering if we were in the right place when we parked in a gravel lot next to a commercial kitchen appliance distributor. We rounded the corner and saw this.

We found the brewery! After a quick tour and Q&A session with one of their marketing guys, Kyle and I hit up the on-site bar. This tasting was one of the highlights of our vacation.

If you are planning a visit, please taste some of their beer. A free tasting is not included in the tour, so you will have to purchase some beers at the bar. It is important to note that they accept cash only and they do not serve food, so have a snack before you arrive and bring cash. Pisgah offers pints, half-pints, and samplers that feature a 5 oz. sample of each of 4 beers – your choice. They also sell growlers of all of their draught beers, with varying prices depending on the beer. We ordered two samplers and got to taste eight beers. They were all delicious! I am so sad that we can’t buy Pisgah Brewing Company beer here in Richmond.

Beer tears aside, we had a great time and can’t wait to go back again in the future. At this point we had about 30 hours left in Asheville, so we had to boogie. Onward, my friends, to downtown Asheville! Downtown offers a collection of boutiques, restaurants, and coffee shops. There are cute little park areas with street performers, and there is endless free entertainment in the form of people watching. It started to drizzle so we ducked into World Coffee Cafe to grab an espresso con panna and a croissant.

I wouldn’t normally get whipped cream on my espresso AND get a buttery croissant on the side, but we were on vacation! Kyle and I sipped our espressos while watching the locals and tourists stroll by the front of the shop. Although it was raining, it was a beautiful 80 degrees. It was the kind of spring rain that was more a refreshment than a nuisance.

When the sun broke through the clouds, we walked over to the Grove Arcade, a large historic building filled with shops and cafes. The architecture was gorgeous but the stores left something to be desired. Many of the storefronts were closed (on a Saturday afternoon!) and the “farmer’s market” was a sparse array of prepackaged foods and produce from near and far. I am confident that the ramps were local, yet I have never seen an orange grove in North Carolina so I believe the fruits might have been shipped in. Although it is a grab bag of specialty shops, the Grove Arcade is worth a peek inside. And if you are interested in furniture, or men’s suits, or any of the random retail that the shopping destination offers, you might be in for a treat.

After wandering around for a bit, the buzz from both the Pisgah tasting and the doppio espressos had worn off, and we decided to move on to the next beer tasting opportunity. We walked to Jack of the Wood to try some more local beers. If there is one thing we learned about the people of Western North Carolina, it is that they love to brew beer. If there are two things we learned about the people of Western North Carolina, the second is that they love to bake. And I’m not talking about the kind of baking you do with flour and sugar. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, visit the hippie towns of Asheville and Boone, and you’ll soon catch on.

Where were we? Oh yes, Jack of the Wood Pub.

Here we tasted beers from the local Green Man Brewery. We had the ESB, IPA, Porter, Stout, and Cask Irish Stout. They were okay, not great. After the amazing experience we had at Pisgah, the Green Man beers couldn’t really compete. However the service and atmosphere at the bar were great, and if you’re looking for a dark, oaky, underground pub in downtown Asheville, definitely make a trip to Jack of the Wood.

You could have dinner at the pub, but we were looking for something a little more inspired than nachos or potato skins, we ducked out and walked to the other side of town, to one of the most renowned vegetarian restaurants in Asheville, Rosetta’s Kitchen. This place came highly recommended so we had to fit it in. When you enter the restaurant, you go immediately up a brightly painted flight of stairs, and turn left into the colorful dining room. Past the dining area is a chalkboard menu and counter where you can order your food.

love this poster!

There is also a case of baked goods that all look utterly delicious. I noticed several vegan options, and I loved that they included an ingredients list on most of the labels.

When your food is ready, the friendly staff brings it out to you. While you wait, you can sip a local beverage (the theme of the day was beer, okay?) and enjoy the scenery.

I ordered the Buddha Bowl,  “organic spring mix, organic brown basmati rice, sea veggie salad, tomatoes, avocado, mung bean sprouts, and grilled smoky tofu topped with our sweet tahini BBQ sauce.” Wow, amazing. Loved it.

Kyle ordered The Mountain, “layers of long grain brown rice, sautéed kale and fried local made tempeh topped with our sweet tahini BBQ sauce.” His was also fantastic, although a little simpler than mine.

Okay so here’s my take on the vegetarian food in Asheville. There were so many delicious options everywhere, that it really felt like I was dreaming. I loved the Laughing Seed, and Early Girl Eatery, and Sunny Point Café. I think you should try them all, and there were even more restaurants that we didn’t get to try that I would love to visit next time. However, if you are a vegetarian or vegan visiting Asheville, do not leave without going to Rosetta’s Kitchen. They have a great variety of dishes that are so difficult to choose from, and their creative menu will inspire you to cook more interesting food in your own kitchen. Vegetarian and comfort food are two terms that don’t usually go together, but at Rosetta’s they do. GO there!

At this point, we are about 14 hours into our 36 hour (or less) journey. You’re already downtown, so go visit a bar. If you’ve had enough beer (like we had), go to bed. But before you go to bed, run to the grocery store to get breakfast food because you’re going to need fuel in the morning. Kyle and I had postponed our hike until Sunday morning, so we stopped by the local grocery store, Ingles, to pick up pre-hike breakfast food and post-hike picnic lunch food.

When we woke up on Sunday morning, we assembled our fruit, yogurt and granola bowls and packed up our things to check out of the hotel room.

I was sad to say goodbye to our luxurious hotel.

Just kidding, we stayed at the Courtyard. Although the Mountaineer Inn might have truly been an unforgettable experience. At hour 24, we grabbed coffee on the way out of town and got back onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to drive to the Mount Pisgah Trail.

Well rested and excited for the views that the trek promised, Kyle and I slung our backpacks over our shoulders and started the climb.

The trail is definitely steep in spots, and most of it was rocky, which helped us get our footing. If the trail had been a dirt path, we probably would have slid back down it!

I made the mistake of forgetting my sunscreen, not realizing that most of the trail would be open overhead. I imagined the leaves on the trees would protect me, but we hiked most of the path in direct sunlight. I had some pretty adorable backpack and sports bra tan lines by the time we got to the top. After the climb back down, my shoulders were getting crispy. We had a perfectly clear day, so I could feel the strong sun on my face and shoulders as we rounded a corner and realized we were getting close.

About ten minutes later, we were at the top and enjoyed a 360-degree view from the octagonal observation deck that had been built by local Boy Scouts. It was quite a reward for one of the most strenuous hikes I have ever completed.

The views were breathtaking!

Okay, the hike was breathtaking. But once I got to the top, sat down, and caught my breath, the views were still pretty amazing. Kyle and I spent about 30 minutes at the top. We ran into a couple from Tennessee who had each hiked 500 miles last year. They offered some great suggestions for hikes in the South. When we felt like we had taken in enough of the landscape, Kyle and I trotted back down the mountain for a victory lunch at an overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

That brings us to about 30 hours in Asheville. At this point, Kyle and I hit the road for a 6-hour drive back to Richmond. Overall it was a lovely vacation, and on the 5 year anniversary of falling in love with each other, we fell in love with Asheville, NC. We wish we could have stayed another week (or year!) but that wasn’t in the cards for this trip. If you are lucky enough to have more time in Asheville, check out my Travel page for more ideas on what to do while you are there.

Road Tripping Roanoke to Asheville

If you haven’t read the first part of our road trip story, check it out here. We left off in Roanoke, VA heading down the Blue Ridge Parkway at the end of day one. On the second day of vacation, Kyle and I woke up early to drive south on the BRP to our first hiking destination, Smart View.

We threw some snacks and water in our packs and suited up for the moderate 3 mile loop that promised an amazing view at the end of the climb. We were surprised to find three separate mountain vistas along the way to reward us for our hard work. There was also an old cabin built in the 1890’s to explore while resting at one of the overlooks. The trail was well-maintained with benches along the way for taking in the scenery. With temperatures hovering around 65 degrees F, we had a very nice trip up the mountain, over the creeks and back to our car.

After completing our hike and scarfing down some granola bars and fresh fruit, we got back on the parkway to drive to North Carolina. Our goal was to make it to Asheville, NC by the end of the day, driving over 250 miles in an afternoon along the winding mountain roads on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We saw some interesting sights along the way, like a treble clef made out of shrubbery…

Mabry Mill, an iconic landmark along the parkway…

And the North Carolina state line! The National Parks Service had actually painted a line across the road to signal our arrival in the beautiful state of NC.

We soon arrived in the adorable town of Boone, NC for a 3:00 lunch.

Boone is the home of Appalachian State University. Remember when I told you to seek out college towns for vegetarian dining while traveling? Boone did not disappoint. We found a very veggie-friendly dining scene with several options for us to try.

We settled on Black Cat Burrito, which makes all of their enormous burritos meatless upon request. We could substitute tofu for meat on anything, and they even offer a separate vegetarian grill to ensure that none of the components of your burrito touch residual meat grease on the main grill. Black Cat Burrito also has amazing salsa that is packed with delicious fresh cilantro. Along with my “Don’t Be A Jerk Burrito,” I enjoyed my fist Magic Hat Vinyl of the season. Man do I love this beer. I was happy to embrace the fact that Kyle would be taking a turn with the driving soon.

After lunch, Kyle and I walked around the town and picked up a few souvenirs from the Mast General Store. I brought home a coffee mug (you can never have too many), a jar of local concord grape jam, and a bumper sticker that reminded us of canoeing on our summer 2010 trip to the Shenandoah Valley: “Paddle faster, I think I hear banjo music.”

We left Boone, NC and continued our journey along the BRP, passing several beautiful overlooks along the way. We stopped at a few to stretch our legs and take some pictures, but the third leg of our journey on the second travel day was a little more rushed than the first two in the morning. I wanted to get off the parkway at milepost 385 before it got dark, because the mountain roads can be dangerous to drive, especially while tired and driving with limited visibility. As the sun started to set and we hit milepost 350, we stepped out of the car to take a few more pictures, knowing that our drive on the BRP was almost over.

And then our trip took a crazy turn. As we prepared to complete the last 35 miles of our drive, with about a quarter tank of gas (4-5 gallons in my SUV), we did a few quick calculations and determined that we would get off the parkway in Asheville in less than an hour, with enough gas to get us to the hotel for the night. I started daydreaming of Asheville vegetarian eateries and planning our dinner as I drove.

As we came upon milepost 350, the parkway was barricaded with a sign that said “Parkway closed.” There was a nearby entrance to state park that closed at 8:00 PM. It was 7:45. We had no choice but to turn back. We couldn’t get a signal on the GPS and the next major road was about 12 miles behind us. As the sky grew darker, I drove back to the last sign for a major road that I had seen, passing the overlook that was the site of our last photo op, and praying for some guidance to get us off the mountain without running out of gas.

We got a signal on the GPS when I exited the parkway and it instructed us to take the exit road 10.5 miles down the mountain before we hit the next intersection. It got very dark and the road snaked its way down the mountain, as our ears popped, my fuel gauge came dangerously close to “E” and the constant braking sent a strong burning smell into the air vents. I remember telling Kyle “if I get you off this mountain alive, you better never let me go.”

Panic and threats. Qué romantica.

We passed shacks of homes, broken down trucks and, surprisingly, several “trout farms”. Hm. All I could think of was passing black bears, shotguns and locals who had little appreciation for my high beams streaming into their living rooms. I made Kyle count down the miles left until we hit the main road. When my low fuel light had not come on yet, the brakes had not failed yet, and we had just one mile to go, a huge wave of relief washed over me. Of course when we got to the “main road” it was several more miles before we saw houses, businesses, and a gas station that didn’t take cards at the pump. Thank goodness there was a friendly attendant inside who helped us out.

We made it to our hotel in Asheville, with a little assistance from the GPS, in about 45 minutes to an hour. Kyle and I dragged all of our stuff into the chic, modern lobby of the Courtyard by Marriott, still dressed in our hiking clothes. After throwing all of our stuff into the room and changing into clean clothes, we realized it was a few minutes til 10:00. All of my daydreams of vegetarian havens in downtown Asheville went out the window with our plans to drive the last 30 miles of our journey on the BRP. We slipped on our flip flops and walked a quarter mile to the closest sports bar for some grilled cheese sandwiches, dragged ourselves back to the hotel, and got a good night’s sleep.

The next day held all the creative vegetarian food our little hearts desired, along with beautiful scenery and relaxing activities for the whole day.

Spring Road Trip

Kyle and I celebrated our 5th anniversary and his 26th birthday last week with a road trip to Asheville, North Carolina. It was quite an adventure, filled with moments of happiness, suspense, hilarity, sheer terror, and natural beauty. We indulged in gorgeous mountain vistas and delicious creative food while driving and hiking our way through Virginia and North Carolina. I’m thrilled that we drove 1108 miles together and made it back alive and more in love than ever (awwww…). It was an unforgettable weekend and it all started just steps from our front door.

Spring has sprung in Richmond!

We headed out late on Wednesday morning with a goal of making it to Roanoke, VA before dark. We drove past Charlottesville, VA (one of our favorite places to visit on the weekend) and made our first stop in Afton, VA at Blue Mountain Brewery. Afton is about fifteen miles away from Humpback Rocks, the site of our very first hike together which we completed exactly one year (to the day) before this trip. Kyle requested a beer tasting and lunch for his birthday and I obliged.

At Blue Mountain, the beers are always delicious and the veggie pizza is heavenly. The pizza usually features seasonal and local ingredients. Blue Mountain often tops the veggie pizza with greens or herbs from the greenhouse across the street – it doesn’t get much more local than that!

After BMB, we looked at the time and realized we were ahead of schedule. Great news – we had time for another tasting! I drove down the road to Devils Backbone Brewing Company and we sat down to enjoy a tasting of 12 beers at their beautiful copper bar, with views of the brewery through the glass windows directly in front of us.

We didn’t like the beers here as much as the brews at Blue Mountain, but what DB lacked in taste and complexity, they more than made up for in the scenery. When you overlook the prevalent use of taxidermy in the decor, you realize the brew pub is quite cozy. While it isn’t our favorite, I have a feeling we’ll be back. We did have a great bartender and some good beers.

Side note: I feel that it would be irresponsible of me to leave out the following information about this trip. I had very small sips of the beers that I tasted and was careful to remain sober so that I could be an alert and responsible designated driver. I do not recommend that you take on these tasting flights in their entirety if you plan on driving. Kyle got more than his fair share so we could safely get to our destination and he could catch a birthday buzz. 🙂

After the second brewery, we made our way to the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove 112 miles, stopping to snap photos along the way.

The weather was a perfectly sunny 70 degrees F and we cruised with the sunroof open, listening to our favorite songs, and enjoying the breathtaking views. After two or three hours (I don’t remember), we arrived in Roanoke, VA, where we checked into our hotel and drove downtown for some vegetarian sushi and small town scenery.

We rolled back to the hotel after dinner, making one final stop at Cold Stone Creamery on the way. Cold Stone is a very rare treat for us; I don’t think we’ve had their ice cream since last July. I felt that Kyle deserved a birthday cake, but baking or buying a cake for just the two of us wasn’t really feasible, so I treated him to a Birthday Cake Remix at Cold Stone. We didn’t really worry about the impact of the indulgent day on our waistlines because we were in for a mountain hike early the next morning. Plus, we were celebrating!

The second day of our road trip was a long and adventurous one. I’ll just say that parkway closures with no marked detours are never fun. But the hike was beautiful and I can’t wait to share pictures with you in my next post!

Spring Vacation

I have been really busy planning and packing for our spring vacation and I am so excited to hit the road! Kyle and I are going away for a few days and I am looking forward to completely unplugging. No email, no facebook, no twitter. I’m pre-writing my blog posts and shutting down my computer. I can’t get away from bringing my work laptop in case of emergency, but I am crossing my fingers that I will never have to turn it on.

Can you guess where we are headed?

Hint: five days, two states

Photo hints:

I think the destination is still a mystery but the activities along the way are pretty clear. Where do you think we’re headed?

Eight Ball Zucchini

I have been almost completely absent from the internet for about one week due to my beautiful and relaxing vacation at Massanutten! I make no apologies for neglecting my facebook posting and blog reading/writing duties because: how could you spend your time on the laptop when you get to wake up to this every morning?

I was super excited to arrive at our condo last week for my first trip to this resort, especially since we were going to have a full kitchen in the unit. I decided to try making the eight ball zucchini that I picked up at the farmers’ market over the weekend. The plan was to prepare stuffed zucchini in my apartment kitchen, place them in a baking dish, and then pop them in the oven when we arrived at the resort to enjoy for dinner after unpacking and such.

I wrote a little about these zucchini in my last farmers’ market post. The zucchini I used were about the size of a softball, and colored forest green with  yellow-orange striping. They are the perfect size for one person, unlike the mammoth sized zucchini that I often see at the market in summer in Virginia. I like how easy it is to scale recipes using eight ball zucchini. You can just throw in one per person, whether you are cooking for one or cooking for a crowd.

First, I sliced off the tops and scooped out the insides, leaving about a 1/4″ thick wall around the outside of the squash. I used half of the zucchini pulp in the stuffing and saved half to make zucchini bread later in the week. I kept about a cup of zucchini in this adorable little container that I picked up at Fishs Eddy in NYC.

Next I prepared quinoa as a base for the stuffing. Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a grain-like plant which is harvested for its edible seeds. It originated in South America and was grown in the Andes mountains by the Incas. It is sometimes referred to as “Inca Gold” based on the gold color of its seed coat.  The quinoa that is commercialized in North America is often sold with its bitter casing removed so that it can be more easily prepared at home. The quinoa that I purchased had already had its casing or “saponins” removed through soaking and rinsing. I usually give it a quick rinse in a fine mesh strainer before cooking anyway.

Quinoa is prepared similarly to rice. I measured one cup of quinoa to two cups of water in a saucepan and cooked it over low-medium heat, covered, for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Quinoa is a good ingredient for vegetarians, so Kyle and I incorporate it into our diets as much as possible. It is a great source of protein, fiber, and essential amino acids. Besides, we love the nutty flavor and grainy texture. Here is what it looks like after cooking. The seed becomes soft while the white spiral remains crunchy.

To the quinoa I added fresh corn kernels, diced tomatoes, diced green bell pepper, minced onion and garlic, black beans, cilantro, olive oil, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper, and a bit of this Mrs. Renfro’s salsa verde that is one of my new favorites.

I also tossed in a little shredded sharp cheddar cheese for good measure.

Finally, I stuffed the zucchini balls and wrapped them in a baking dish to transport them to the mountains. I had a ton of leftover filling (on purpose) in a separate container for us to heat up and enjoy throughout the week. We drove the two hours to the resort with the faint smell of stuffed zucchini wafting from the backseat of the SUV.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into our spacious condo to discover this:

No oven!

Luckily, I remembered how my Dad used to make me and my sister “baked” apples in the winter by microwaving fresh apples stuffed with brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, walnuts, and raisins. So “baked quinoa-stuffed eight ball zucchini” quickly became “microwaved quinoa-stuffed eight ball zucchini.” No harm done, they turned out beautiful and delicious after seven or eight minutes in the microwave, followed by four minutes of rest.

And, by the way, nothing pairs better with microwaved quinoa-stuffed eight ball zucchini (with a side of kitchen-appliance-induced panic) than a bottle of South Australian Jim Jim Shiraz.

Thanks Mom and Dad for cheating on your baked apples, or I might have been completely lost on this one!