Roughing It

Hi there, friends. I know I have been missing lately, but I promise I have a good reason.

and it's not just because i've been drinking wine. . . although that is one possible explanation.

Once upon a time, I had a housewarming party. And at that same time, my furnace stopped working. So you see, it’s really very simple. . .

1. Housewarming party prep = lots of cleaning, lots of decorating, lots of late-night takeout and very little cooking

2. Broken furnace = no heat, no hot water, no way to wash dishes, lots of late-night takeout and very little cooking

3. No cooking = no creativity = no posts

I really struggled there for awhile to come up with creative and healthy dishes that required one pot or less. I didn’t want the dirty dishes to pile up, so I limited my cooking. We waited patiently for five days for the parts to come in to repair our furnace. One particularly cold day, we got our first real snow of winter here in Richmond.

And we had no heat! The thermostat inside my home read 47 degrees F when I woke up the next morning. I spent the morning bundled up in three hoodies, then went to a friend’s house to shower, and then I decided to get cooking.

I had to use the heat from the oven and stove to heat up the house, so I baked a lot of cookies and made some slow-cooked soups on the stove top. I could not properly clean the dishes until the hot water was back on a few days later, but this soup was worth dirtying a pot and ladle.

I will post the recipe later this week – I know this one’s a keeper.

Here are some other ideas I had for one-pot wonders while we were “roughing it” inside our own home.

Now that we are finally getting back into the swing of things, I promise I will catch you up on my kitchen adventures soon, with a recipe for Caldo Verde by the end of the week. In the meantime, I would love to hear your suggestions for one-pot meals and hearty soups while there is still a little chill in the air!

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache

As promised, I have a sweet new cupcake recipe for you. This winter citrus is insanely fresh and delicious right now. After enjoying fresh oranges for a few weeks, I decided to feature that nice zesty seasonal flavor in a sweet treat. I could pretend and say I was saving this recipe for Valentine’s Day, but I’m not much of a Valentine’s Day person so my close friends wouldn’t let that fly. The truth is I have been super busy and just haven’t gotten around to writing the post.

I went on a citrus kick a few weeks ago and made lemon cream cupcakes (from allrecipes) and these chocolate orange cupcakes ( my original recipe to follow) one weekend. It is amazing what a difference fresh ingredients can make! The subtle sweet orange flavor that is baked into these chocolate cupcakes is so fresh tasting, with this slight tang from the orange zest. The orange plays really well with the rich cocoa flavor.

I have mentioned before that I am not a natural baker, so when a confection turns out for me, I am genuinely surprised and delighted. Lately I have been experimenting a bit more with baking, and I am starting to get comfortable enough to make up my own recipes. Those work out for me even less frequently so it’s really nice when I come up with something tasty.

I am not even going to lie – this recipe is the second attempt. The first attempt did not work out so well. I am still learning about the delicate chemistry of baked goods. I did not realize that putting finely diced fresh orange in a cupcake would result in the batter soaking up all the orange juice, leaving chunks of stringy pulp behind. Because I believe that cupcake eating should not require post-dessert toothpicks and floss, I tried again. This time with juice.

The first batch never made it to the office. I choked down one or two cupcakes then threw them away. They just weren’t right. I brought the final batch into work and my coworkers approved. Success! I think they were pretty surprised to find out that the cake is vegan. The frosting, however, is not. I couldn’t resist topping these with dark chocolate ganache. I had never made ganache before and I was really surprised at how easy it is! If you want to go the vegan route though, you could use any vegan icing that your little heart desires and I am sure they would still be delightful.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes (makes about a dozen)

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift flour and combine with other dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well.
  3. Combine wet ingredients in a small bowl. Add to dry ingredients and stir. Mix with a stand/hand mixer until well combined.
  4. Coat a muffin tin with non-stick spray or line with baking cups. Pour batter into cups until each cup is two-thirds full.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for a a few minutes, then remove to wire racks to continue cooling.

Dark Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 5 ounces dark chocolate chips
  • Patience

Preparation:

  1. Pour the chocolate chips into a medium sized mixing bowl.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium heat. Bring to a boil then remove from heat.
  3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips and stir to combine. Continuing stirring until chocolate is melted, then whisk until smooth.
  4. Let cool completely. Pop the bowl in the fridge for an hour or overnight if you have a lot of patience.
  5. Bring the frosting back to around room temperature then whip with a whisk until light and fluffy.
  6. If you’re fancy, use a pastry bag or a cake decorating gadget to top your cupcakes. If you’re like me and have a ton of gadgets that you always forget to use, don’t bother dusting off the cookie press / cake decorator gadget, and just use an old fashioned knife to spread the frosting on to the cupcakes.

Hope you dig them as much as I do!

Adventures in Vegan Baking

I never understood how it worked. Vegan baking. If baking is a science, then vegan bakers must be mad scientists. Breaking all the rules, mixing up cookies and cakes with ingredients that most of us would never put in a baked good, vegan bakers are trailblazers in the kitchen. Baking scares me, because I am much better at stovetop cooking. For years, vegan baking totally frightened me and then I became intrigued. Recently, I finally rose to the challenge and tried it out. I dove headfirst into a sea of recipes and tried my hardest not to sink.

Miraculously, I swam. And in the process I discovered a few awesome things about vegan baking.

  1. Not all vegan baked goods are healthy, but a lot of healthy baked goods are vegan. Replacing sugar and butter with applesauce makes things a tad healthier. It also may make them vegan. There are a lot of healthy cookies and bars out there that are vegan, so entering this world may help you build a better breakfast for yourself.
  2. In most cases, you can eat the dough! And not worry about salmonella poisoning! This fact alone should convince you to whip up a batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies today.
  3. Searching for vegan baked goods recipes online will introduce you to a whole new world of awesome bloggers. So open your mind and make some new friends already.

Here is a rundown of all the things I tried:

Pumpkin Protein Bars from Peas and Thank You

These scared me because they came out exactly as I feared they would; they tasted like pumpkin scented cardboard. I think it was my protein powder. This vegan protein powder I tried tasted great in smoothies but it was pretty gross by itself. The pumpkin and sweetener in these bars did not cover up the bland chalkiness of the protein powder. I am going to try this one again with a different protein powder because the nutrition stats on these were awesome.

Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf from the Post Punk Kitchen

This bread came out really dense and moist with a very rich chocolate flavor. The pumpkin pie spice played well with the chocolate and I felt comfortable serving this to non-vegan friends as it tasted pretty normal. I doubled the recipe and made two loaves and I am glad I did. One is in the freezer for me to thaw out next time I have unexpected guests.

Fall Harvest Fruit Cake from FatFree Vegan Kitchen

I omitted the persimmons because mine weren’t ripe enough and I am not a patient person. I added pumpkin puree so as not to ruin the consistency by leaving out the persimmon pulp and I added sweetened dried cranberries because apple and cranberry is a winning combination. This one turned out awesome. I served it to a few friends and family members and they could not tell it was vegan at all.

Cherry Almond Cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

So delicious! And excellent with a glass of vanilla soy milk. . . or dunked in almond milk? You definitely cannot tell these are vegan. Something about the oils and the almond extract make you think you are eating a buttery drop cookie, but there is no butter involved! Grab a Christmas gift card or scrape together a few dollars and buy this book. I can’t wait to try out more of Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s and Terry Hope Romero’s vegan baking recipes.

I think I have more experimenting to do. The excitement of vegan baking is putting all these things that you don’t think should go on a cookie sheet or in a cake pan, popping it in the oven, and crossing your fingers that it comes out somewhat resembling a baked good. It’s science! It’s magic! It’s completely fascinating!

Maybe if you win my OXO Spatula giveaway, you could whip up one of these recipes to test it out. Don’t forget – today is the last day to enter my giveaway for a Good Cookie gift pack! Click here for details. Contest closes at 11:59 PM tonight!

Welcoming Winter Weekends

My four day weekend is coming to a close, and I am probably as relaxed as I will be this whole month. With the purchase of our new home, a move to a new neighborhood and the Christmas holiday all ahead of me this December, I decided to take some extra time off to get relaxed, focused and ready. Here’s hoping I will make it through December gracefully.

I woke up Friday morning feeling sluggish, but I still laced up my hiking shoes and went out with Kyle for coffee and a leisurely hike around our future neighborhood. There was a little chill in the air but it was perfectly sunny and the scenery was beautiful.

That afternoon, Kyle and I went out for veggie sushi at Sticky Rice. Then I headed out for a haircut and color, and spent a lot of time reading and trying not to fall asleep in the salon. I think I was really wiped out and needed a break!

That evening I just lounged around the apartment and tried to rest. I had felt off all day so I tried to do as little as possible. I woke up Saturday morning feeling refreshed. I bundled up and headed out to the local coffee shop for breakfast sandwiches and coffees. Then Kyle and I walked about a mile to the Richmond Christmas Parade on Broad Street. I knew we would have fun, but I was surprised at how entertaining the parade really was. I always thought this parade was very targeted at families with small children, but we really enjoyed watching the floats, balloons and performers march down Broad Street.

Spotted:

Harlem Globetrotters

No BS Brass Band and the Richmond Flying Squirrels

Some very skilled Hula Hoopers

Storm Troopers

My Alma Mater, VCU

And Rudolph was back this year, with a large Band-Aid after last year’s incident (I highly recommend that you click on the link for the footage).

We walked home after the parade and I prepared for Real Housewives Tea with my two best Richmond girlfriends. Modeled after the RHBH Tea Party, this event featured tiny sandwiches, delicious sweets, and wine. Yes there was tea, but we stayed true to the Housewives episode and made sure that no one drank it, in favor of a little bubbly instead. The only difference was that we left the drama at the door.

We had as much fun as you would expect to have while drinking cava at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon, donning enormous hats and dripping in (costume) jewels. What’s not to love about that? It was truuuuuly loooooovely to catch up with these ladies and I had a deliiiiiightful time.

I spent Sunday and Monday running errands and making plans in preparation for the remainder of this month. There is still a lot of shopping, planning, baking and packing in store over the next three weeks. But I’m not too worried about it. I’m actually kind of excited, since I’ll be doing it all with my best friend.

Ready, set, go!

What To Do With Fresh Cranberries

If you were lucky enough to have fresh cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving, you may have found yourself standing over a simmering pot of tart and sweet cranberries and sugar. When the aroma of orange zest, warm sugar and spicy cinnamon has faded, and you have polished off the last turkey (or tofurky) sandwich you will eat this November, you may discover some leftover fresh cranberries in the bottom of the refrigerator. What to do with those beautiful and mystifying fresh cranberries? I say drink them.

Loaded with antioxidants and bursting with fresh, tart flavor, cranberries are a delicious and festive addition to the table this time of year. They are also the perfect ingredient for livening up seasonal beverages. If you’re dragging a little after the feeding frenzy and shopping marathon that was last weekend, try mixing up a fresh cranberry drink to get you in the mood to deck the halls this month. I have included both Nice and Naughty options; which you choose depends on how you intend to celebrate the season.

If you’re still trying to make the Nice list. . .

Chocolate Covered Cranberry Smoothie (Makes about one 8 oz serving)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 ripe banana, sliced and frozen
  • 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
  • 3/4 cup milk (non-dairy can be substituted)
  • 1 Tbsp agave nectar (or sweetener of choice)
  • 1-1/2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1/2 of a 1 oz packet of protein powder (I used Spiru-tein vanilla; I bet chocolate would be awesome too)

Preparation:

  1. Put all  ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Serve with a fun straw!

While the smoothie would make an excellent on-the-go breakfast, I don’t recommend toting the next one with you to work or on errands, because it is most definitely alcoholic. However, the mixed drink would be a great signature cocktail at your next holiday party. It is basically a Dark ‘n Stormy with muddled cranberries, and I have maintained the nautical theme of the original drink in the naming of this new concoction. It is really quite tasty.

If you already know you’re on the Naughty list. . .

Red Sky at Night

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 fresh cranberries (choose dark ripe ones)
  • 2 oz dark rum
  • 6 oz ginger beer (I used Reed’s)
  • a few ice cubes
  • lime wedge

Preparation:

  1. Use a muddler or wooden spoon to muddle the cranberries in the bottom of a glass.
  2. Add rum and ice cubes to the glass, then pour ginger beer on top.
  3. Gently stir and garnish with a fresh lime wedge or skewered cranberries (or both!).

It was easy to use up my leftover cranberries with these recipes under my belt. And I think I just discovered two new reasons to keep a bag of fresh cranberries around throughout the holiday season. Now that that’s cleared up, I believe there’s only one question that is left unanswered. Maybe you can help me with it.

Naughty or Nice? Or a little bit of both?

Vegetarian Tomato Gravy

Has your market or garden been overflowing with greens lately? Mine has, and I have really enjoyed trying out all the varieties that are fresh and locally available this time of year.

Check out this beautiful red Swiss chard.

This bunch was begging to be sauteed and served with some comfort food.

I immediately thought of the delicious rice bowls we had at Rosetta’s Kitchen in Asheville, NC.

Then I thought of the tomato gravy I had on the same trip at Early Girl Eatery.

And the first of many Asheville-inspired dinners was born. Balsamic baked tofu with sauteed chard and tomato gravy is short on prep time and long on flavor. The dish is comprised of four separate components that you throw together at the end.

  • Brown rice, which requires a very hands-off preparation
  • Baked tofu, which also takes care of itself
  • Swiss chard, which just calls for a stir every minute after it hits the pan
  • Tomato gravy, which is the most hands-on component, but really very easy

When I finished cooking and tasted the tomato gravy, I was surprised at how awesome it was, considering the minimal effort it took to prepare. I immediately wanted to put tomato gravy on everything. I can’t say that I feel the same about a lot of the things I cook, like honey wheat sandwich bread (really not that quick and easy).

Doesn’t that look like a whole plate of comfort? Yum.

Part 1: Brown Rice

Get your rice cooking first because it takes 45 minutes to an hour. Cook according to package instructions and then keep warm without drying out.

Part 2: Balsamic Baked Tofu

Drain and press a block of extra firm tofu (I used the fine herb variety from Twin Oaks). Cut the tofu into 1/2″ to 1″ cubes and toss in a bowl with enough balsamic vinaigrette to coat. Marinate for 20 minutes. Lightly oil a baking sheet and preheat your broiler. Drain the tofu cubes and reserve the leftover marinade for the greens. Spread out the tofu cubes in a single layer on the baking sheet and sprinkle the tops with olive oil. Place under broiler for 4-5 minutes, then turn the to onto the other side and broil for 4-5 minutes more until the edges are crisp and brown. Keep warm.

Part 3: Sauteed Swiss Chard

Wash and dry the greens in a salad spinner. Stack the leaves and cut them crosswise into strips, chopping perpendicular to the stems. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large pan and add the greens to the pan, along with 2 cloves of chopped fresh garlic. Saute until wilted, and then toss with the leftover marinade from the tofu. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Part 4: Vegetarian Tomato Gravy

I adapted this recipe from the original from the Vegan Food blog. Feel free to make your own substitutions as you see fit.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tsp raw granulated cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • pinch ground cayenne
  • 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice

Preparation

  1. Heat the butter over medium heat in a medium pan. Stir in the flour with a whisk until no lumps remain. Let simmer for half a minute to toast the flourand then remove from heat.
  2. Slowly stir in the milk while whisking the mixture.
  3. Return pan to heat, stir and bring to a boil. The mixture will thicken over a few minutes. Turn heat down to low.
  4. Add the sugar, salt, and pepper. While stirring, add the juice from the tomatoes. Return to a simmer.
  5. In a shallow bowl, mash the tomatoes with a fork or potato masher until they are choppy or shredded, in juice. Make sure you keep some tomato lumps and do not over-mash the tomatoes.
  6. When the gravy has returned to a simmer, add the tomatoes. Turn the heat up to medium-low and stir while cooking for 3-5 minutes or until the gravy thickens.

Combine parts 1-4 on one plate, and you get this.

A taste of the Southeast in your own kitchen.

Now go buy some greens before they’re all gone!

Non-Valentine’s Day Picnic and Hike

I don’t usually do anything special for Valentine’s Day. When I think back to the three Valentine’s Days that Kyle and I have spent as a couple, I recall quiet dinners at home, nice bottles of wine, and my choice of romantic movies from Blockbuster (OK, that is a rare thing indeed). I think in the past we may have exchanged chocolates or cards, and I’m sure I’ve received a bouquet of tulips, but no major celebration comes to mind. We just don’t ever plan anything big for February 14th.

This year, we wanted to do something. We have had a rough start to the year and both wanted to take some time out of our busy schedules to recognize how much we appreciate each other’s support and companionship through it all. Isn’t that nice? Kyle suggested a fancy restaurant, I suggested we go somewhere for the weekend, and we both considered getting into a DIY dinner project like homemade sushi or fondue. But what really made the decision for us was the weather forecast.

For a weekend, things thawed out a bit and we were blessed with clear blue skies and bright sunshine that pierced the cold February air. This time last year, we were recovering from a massive snow storm. This weekend, we ventured out to Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield County, Virginia to do an easy morning hike followed by a half-healthy, half-indulgent picnic. It was two days before Valentine’s Day, which was perfect. I’ve always been ambivalent about V-Day. Why would you need a holiday to show people you love them? I’ll take romance any day of the year, so this weekend I celebrated it on February 12th. at our Non-Valentine’s Day Picnic.

We began our hike with a beautiful view of Beaver Lake. The dark blue lake was gently moving as the bright sun cracked the thin layer of ice that slowly melted away as the day went on. We could see geese in the distance, perched on the last few sheets of thick ice that remained in a large, shady corner of the lake.

That's my valentine!

We did about two miles of the 2.5 mile loop before setting up our picnic at another point on the trail with lake access. As we meandered through the woods, the trail led us to wildlife observation areas, over a few creeks, and past some interesting landmarks that others had left before us.

We finally settled down to a picnic on the edge of the lake, and while we had to contend with strong winds throughout the meal, we enjoyed taking in the scenery with very few fellow hikers for company. I would imagine that a picnic here in the summer would be more desirable from a climate standpoint, but there is no chance we would have the lake and the trail to ourselves. It was so nice to experience the stillness and silence between the laughs and conversation that we enjoyed here.

The wine definitely helped to warm us up as we faced the chill of the breeze coming off the water. In addition to an ingeniously portable bottle/box of Bandit Merlot, we packed Azar’s roasted garlic hummus, baby carrots, a fresh baguette, Babybel cheese (more portable than a knife and a block of cheddar), green apples, and a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Azar’s is one of my favorite brands of hummus. I’ve probably been eating it for about six years and I just realized it is made in Virginia. I don’t know how I ever missed it before. What a special treat!

Everything was tasty and fresh. We saved the chocolates for the car ride home, and let me just say that it was a good thing we only had eight in that box. We had no intention of finishing the whole thing, but they were almost all gone before we even exited the park. It is about a five minute drive from the trailhead to the park exit. If we had been trapped in that car for the 30 minute drive with more than three Ferrero Garden coconut chocolates, Kyle would have had to roll me out of the car and up to our second floor apartment. They were the best candy I have had in a very very long time. If you love coconut, find this candy!

And then find yourself a longer hike to work it off. Yum!

NYC Restaurant Week Winter 2011

Well it’s been two weeks since my trip to New York. . . shall we talk about it?

Lucky me, a trip to see my best friend coincided with Winter Restaurant Week. We didn’t even plan it that way originally, but it worked out beautifully. After scouring the NYC restaurant week menus online for vegetarian options, we decided on Savore, a little Italian restaurant in SoHo. Melissa and I wanted to try somewhere we probably never would have ventured into otherwise, and Savore sounded delightful. We were joined my Melissa’s cousin Becky, who was also visiting the city for the weekend.

We started with a bottle of the Tomaiolo Chianti Classico Reserva 2005.

It was a nice house chianti that warmed us up and helped us ease into the bread course, which was served with a tasty white bean puree. See, we had really been looking forward to a glass of wine and we needed the warming up, because despite having a reservation, we waited thirty minutes in a blustery doorway for our table to be ready. This place was packed on a Friday night. We stood in the entryway as bus boys brought chairs in from outside (?) and filled them in around the already jam-packed tables. We were finally seated at a table in the front window, crammed between a frozen pane of glass and a table of two diners who probably would have preferred a little more privacy. But I thought, hey, it’s a family Italian restaurant. You can expect a little closeness, and the more the merrier, right?

We ordered from a three course prix-fixe menu and quickly settled into our cozy surroundings. After all, the wait and the awkward seating arrangement no longer mattered; we were just happy to catch up with friends as we waited for the appetizers to arrive.

Melissa ordered the mussels.

The portion was huge, and we were thinking there was no way we would be able to handle three courses of this size. Unfortunately, only half the mussels were properly cooked and the rest came out raw. Big bummer, but at least Melissa still had room for her entree. I, on the other hand, devoured almost every bite of my appetizer, “Belga,” shredded endive with pears, walnuts and gorgonzola, dressed in balsamic vinegar.

Soon after I cleaned my plate, the very attentive waitress refilled our glasses of wine and returned with the main course. Melissa had filet of salmon with fresh tomato and asparagus, sauteed with prosecco.

Becky had the taglioini with shrimp and fresh tomato.

I had the triangoli, filled with squash and tossed in a light truffle puree with green peas.

The squash filling and the sauce were great, but the pasta was underdone and almost impossible to eat. I felt like I was swallowing rocks with each not-quite-al-dente bite. I thought for sure that an Italian restaurant in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood would deliver a delicious fresh pasta, but it turned out to be chewy and tough. I don’t know if it was because it was a busy night or what, but I was pretty disappointed. The conversation flowed anyway and we had a really great time, telling funny stories and reminiscing about past adventures, so I just sucked it up and enjoyed my pasta filling and truffle sauce.

Thankfully, Savore turned it around with dessert. I had the chocolate bread pudding in a chocolate-strawberry sauce. It was divine.

Melissa and Becky both ordered the tiramisu, which did not disappoint.

To top it all off, the maitre d’ came over to apologize for the long wait, and he brought us a collection of complementary drinks. We had limoncello and two dessert wines, and we thought it was a very nice gesture given the rough start to the meal. We sipped and laughed until we had not a drop to drink left, and then tried to motion to a waiter for the check. By this time the dinner rush had died down quite a bit, and there wasn’t a waiter in sight. It took us 20 minutes to flag someone down, which was quite an ordeal.

While Savore tried to redeem itself with a sincere apology and a strong drink, sadly it failed. Luckily we had a fantastic time in spite of the mediocre service and food. That just goes to show you the influence that delightful dining companions can have on your meal.

So as not to end on a sour note, I do have good news to share. While I was so excited to experience NYC restaurant week at Savore, the star meal of the weekend was at a dark and sophisticated Korean restaurant that we wandered into the next night, at the end of a long stroll through SoHo and TriBeCa. Kori delivered superb service and fantastic food. This might have been the best kimchi I have ever tasted.

And a mean soju cocktail! Witness a lovely new take on the traditional mojito.

The photo of the tofu bibimbap is even darker than these and not worth posting, so you’ll have to visit Kori and see it for yourself. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised, like me. Funny how these things work out, isn’t it?

Bike to Brunch

Sunday was beautiful. Not only did the Packers prevent the Steelers from winning th Superbowl (boooo Steelers!), but the weather was gorgeous and I got to spend some time with great friends. I was invited to brunch at Bellytimber Tavern this weekend, a spot that was expertly chosen specifically for its bloody mary bar. That’s right, you get to make your own bloody mary. How could this turn out to be anything short of wonderful?

According to the NBC12 weather site, it was roughly 48 degrees when I was heading to brunch. I swear it was warmer than that, because when I stepped outside with my coffee late on Sunday morning, it seemed like the perfect day for a bike ride to brunch. The sun was shining, and while there was a little chill in the air, I felt like the groundhog had gotten it right this year and Spring was right around the corner. However skeptical, I guess I have to trust NBC 12 on this one. They usually tell it like it is. Regardless of the actual outside temperature, 48 degrees felt like 65 degrees to me on Sunday and I was pumped to hop on my bike.

Yes, I store it on the balcony

I felt like throwing on my cropped cycling pants and a hoodie but I also kind of wanted to kick it up a notch. Among the brunch guests was my fabulously talented friend Carissa, who just started up her fashion blog again. If you’re like me and your Google Reader is full of blogs about food, fitness, and fashion, check her out. What I love about Carissa’s approach to fashion it this: while she puts thought into every piece she puts on, she doesn’t take herself too seriously. This shows in Carissa’s writing, which is playful, approachable, and fun. As you would expect from a talented graphic designer like her, Carissa has an eye for the details, which always makes for an interesting read.

I feel a tribute post coming on. . . . ! Carissa inspired me to think twice about what to wear before I headed out the door so here is a post about what I wore, head to toe, in honor of Carissa’s fresh start. Keep scrolling past What I Wore to see What I Ate.

I wanted to wear cycling pants but figured that leggings would fit the bill perfectly. I topped the leggings with a lightweight cotton shirt dress with a belt around my upper waist. I chose a blue dress to match my bike. Then I added a scarf for a pop of color and to keep me warm.

Do I look like I have any idea what I'm doing?

My leisurely biking shoes of choice were these flats from Target. Do you love the detail on the leggings that I picked up on a recent trip to Uniqlo in NYC/SoHo?

This was my biking bag of choice, a Vera Bradley number from a few years ago, that perfectly slings across my chest and stays put like a backpack for fuss-free cargo.

I braided my hair, which is a great biking fashion trick that I learned from Kath.

And to top it all off, a Columbia lightweight jacket and my helmet, as always.

Safety First!

Make fun all you want, but while attending a university with a large population of commuter cyclists, I have seen way too many bikers get hit by cars. I am protecting my noggin, just in case.

I hope Carissa approves of my sartorial choices. My fashion tends to be more practical than whimsical but there’s nothing wrong with that, right?

And now for the main event. . . brunch!

I ordered the Messy Jane, which is a TVP sandwich topped with cole slaw and served on a homemade vegan bun. It is Bellytimber’s meatless version of the classic sloppy joe sandwich, and it is oh so delicious.

It definitely warmed me up after my brisk bike ride. And to wash down a lovely Sunday afternoon? Easy, breezy, beautiful.

Bloody Mary.

Cheers and good luck to Carissa for getting back on the horse. And yippee for me for hopping back on the bike. It will be Spring before you know it!

Where Oh Where Has My Little Blog Gone?

Whew, I’ve never taken such a long break from blogging before.

Are you there readers? It’s me, Lauren.

Truth is, I have been so busy with work obligations (if you can call happy hour an obligation, which I think you can when you’re brand new and trying to meet people), family visits, and doing fun things with fabulous people (Kyle! Jess! Carissa! Melissa! Bridget! – I’m talking about you!), I just haven’t sat down at the computer at all.

OK that is a lie. I have sat down at the computer but only to plan our spring and summer vacations. And I have had free time but I got so wrapped up in a few books that I haven’t done much reading on the web. Those personal reader things are cool, and I love blogs as much as the next person (probably more so) but they can never replace the feeling of having a 15-year-old copy of a treasured book in your hands while curled up in a sunny corner on a cold day.

From the very beginning, just seven months ago, I promised myself that I would never let blogging about my life get in the way of living my life. For the last three weeks, I have had a hard time fitting it in, so posts have been sparse. That’s the bad news. The good news is that my camera never rested during those three weeks, and I never stopped challenging myself with new ingredients and preparations. So I have a whole lot of posts in me, ready to come out.

Here is a taste of what I’ve been doing while taking a sabbatical from my laptop.

Making Don’t-Miss-the-Meat Vegetarian Chili during the NFL playoffs

Discovering a few new favorite bottles

Making Kitchen Sink Curry

Participating in NYC Restaurant Week in a post-storm winter wonderland

Recreating a local brunch favorite at home

Having brunch in Park Slope with friends

Trying my hand at homemade dumplings for the first time

Look out for all the juicy details soon! Hopefully sooner rather than later, because a quiet corner in a busy coffee shop, with no one for company but my laptop and a cappuccino, sounds perfectly delicious.