Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Riblet Sliders

Since I planned to roast a sweet potato for Thursday night's dinner (which for some reason always takes 1 1/2 hours), we weren't going to be eating until very late.  Needing something a lot sooner, Josh and I ran out to the grocery store and grabbed French bread and artichoke spread for this quick and easy appetizer.  We ended up serving the same thing to his Dad when he came to visit Saturday - so simple, yet you look like a classy host! 
Eventually the sweet potato got soft enough to mash, and I put together dinner - riblet sliders with caramelized onion sweet potatoes on the side.  After I bought all those slider rolls a while back, they've been sitting in my freezer while I brainstormed what to do with them.  Without a lot of great ideas, I finally decided on using MorningStar Farms riblets.  I also caramelized onions and mixed them in with mashed sweet potatoes and a little salt and pepper for an easy (if not quick) dinner. 
Four slider rolls down ... eight to go!

Work Lunch Out

Last week I found myself without a lot in the house to eat for lunch at work, and also without any goodies stashed in the cupboards to make an insta-lunch (soup, noodle bowls, etc.).  So after one very underwhelming peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I decided to treat myself to a take-out lunch the other two days I headed into work in Annapolis. 
For the first, I got the vegetarian lunch special at a local sushi place called Nano.  The great thing about Nano is that they are so quick, all you have to do is call in your order and by the time you've walked over there it's ready for pickup.  The lunch special comes with one cucumber and one avocado roll, plus two sweet tofu skins wrapped around rice - anyone know what those are? 
The next day I headed out to an old favorite, Potato Valley.  I've been hesitant to go to PV since becoming vegan since the last time I went and ended up with a very tasty but convoluted order.  This time I ordered the South of the Valley, which comes with beans, corn, lime, mango, peppers, and garlic butter, served with greens and roasted onions.  I meant to order it sans garlic butter but forgot ... whomp whomp.  I'll have to remember that next time, because otherwise it's a really tasty and filling vegan lunch.  Luckily I did manage to add avocado to my order - a delicious essential. 
I almost always bring my lunch to work, so I don't get a lot of chances to explore the local Annapolis offerings.  This was a nice opportunity to branch out a bit and also remind myself of what there is around just in time for session starting in January - aka, no time to cook, so lots of meals out! 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Third Birthday Dinner and Founding Farmers

I don't have any pictures from my third birthday dinner last weekend, because it was at my boyfriend's parents' house and I always feel odd taking pictures of food when it's a nice family gathering like that.  So you will have to settle for description ...  Dinner was a tasty vegan bean soup with warm bread - the perfect fall meal!  For dessert, Josh's mom made a beautiful looking apple tart, but unfortunately she used butter in the crust ... which lead to a horrible awkward discussion about my tendency to allow for "exceptions" to my vegan eating.  I realized I make too many allowances, which just leads to confusion for people, and I need to stop. 
First, I made an exception for blackberry ice cream.  Which lead to a second exception when blackberry ice cream was made twice in one summer.  Then Josh's mom made an apple pie a while back and said she couldn't get shortening to work for the crust, so she used butter instead.  I said it was fine and I would eat the pie anyway.  So through no fault of hers, Josh's mom assumed butter crust would always be an okay exception for me.  I probably didn't handle things very well, because in hind sight I should probably have made just one more exception for my birthday dinner and eaten the tart.  Especially because when I didn't Josh's mom brought out some cookies that she had checked the ingredients on and was "sure" they were vegan.  I knew they weren't.  But because I already felt horrible and awkward at that point I ate them anyway.  So I still ended up with a non-vegan dessert, but not the one Josh's mom had worked so hard on.  Not the best end to the dinner, or my birthday weekend.  But I guess two out of three great birthday dinners isn't bad. 
Monday night for dinner Josh and I met friends for dinner at Founding Farmers, which ended up being our second dinner there in less than a week.  We'd met a friend for dinner there the previous week, but didn't come out of that with a photo of my delicious veggie meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  FF doesn't have a lot in the way of vegan options - in fact, their regular menu has exactly one vegan item: an appetizer of mixed nuts - but they do have vegan specials, which are helpfully labeled as vegan so you don't have to worry about hidden ingredients. 
For Monday's dinner I ordered the veggie bacon burger, which came with a side of beet salad.  It wasn't a stellar burger - average burger patty that wouldn't hold its shape and relatively tasteless fake bacon - but the salad was actually really good.  Fortunately a good time with friends always outweighs average food. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Birthday Dinner 2.0

Saturday morning Josh and I slept in pretty late, then headed out to Einstein Bros. Bagels for breakfast/lunch - not really extensive enough to warrant "brunch".  Thanks to the Internet, I quickly found out that the bagels are all vegan unless they have some obvious ingredient to the contrary - the asiago cheese bagel = not vegan.  And I got my bagel topped with peanut butter, rather than cream cheese.  It was actually a really yummy topping, and I think a lot better than fake cream cheese would have been. 
A little while later we decided to head to Whole Foods to try to find the ingredients to make a recipe in my new vegan cookbook, Great Chefs Cook Vegan.  Unfortunately, we couldn't find any of the tricky ingredients so we had to scrap that plan for now.  In it's place, we decided to raid the bakery for vegan goodies and came out with yummy cowvin cookies and carrot cake cupcakes. 
They were both good, but the cookies are probably the real winner of the two.  The cupcake frosting was allegedly "cream cheese", but it really just tasted like vanilla frosting.  Creamy, perhaps, but not "cream-cheesy".  I'm starting to think it's really just impossible to recreate that tangy flavor of cheese.  Maybe I'm destined to live a life without it. 
When we got home we snacked on our treats while drinking wine and playing Karaoke Revolution on the Xbox - one of Josh's birthday presents to me.  Super fun, though it gives you a hard dose of reality as to your singing ability!  Josh only wanted one cupcake because they weren't the "real deal", so I ended up eating cupcakes for the next few days to finish them off.  Not exactly a bad problem. 
Later Saturday night ... once we were pretty far gone from our wine ... we headed out to dinner at Pacci's Neapolitan Pizzeria.  We had spotted this place a couple blocks from our new apartment and had been meaning to try it for a while - and I'm so glad we finally did!  We both love Neapolitan pizza, and though this place isn't guild certified, it seems like the genuine article.  I ordered the marinara pizza, which normally comes sans cheese - so no awkward ordering!  It was simple but delicious, topped with marzano tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, and basil.  Plus it wasn't even that expensive.  Delicious, gourmet pizza, walking distance from our apartment, for not a lot of money?  Yes, that makes for a very happy birthday!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Birthday Dinner No. 1

Yay for birthdays!  And for awesome boyfriends who plan not just one birthday surprise, but tons of fun to make it a birthday-filled-weekend! 
Since my actual birthday was Friday, Josh took me out to dinner to celebrate.  We went to Great Sage, which is an entirely vegan, semi-swanky restaurant in Clarksville (a little far away, but worth it for a special occasion).  It's not exactly the best food, but it's pretty good, and the fact that I could order absolutely anything on the menu was a huge perk.  Naturally, I started with a cocktail - a ginger snap made with snap organic spirit, van gogh vanilla vodka, frangelico, cinnamon, and soy milk with a spiced sugar rim.  Yummo!
We decided to go all out with our ordering - split an appetizer, split two entrees, and then a dessert for each of us (with lots of shared bites).  We started with the artichoke dip.  Josh wasn't crazy about the fact that it was covered with Daiya (both because it tastes horrible and because he thought a restaurant should really make their own fake cheese), but I scraped it to my side and everything was mostly okay.
Our two entrees were pumpkin gnocchi - in sage cream with red peppers, peas, arugula, butternut squash and toasted pumpkin seeds - and Thai peanut curry - sweet potato, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes and carrots roasted and tossed with rice noodles and spicy peanut coconut cream. 
They were both so-so - good enough that you don't want to stop eating, but not like you'd want to seek it out again.  In particular, I thought the sweet potato in the Thai curry was all wrong.  And I really like sweet potato ...
Fortunately all was made up for by dessert.  I ordered the white chocolate creme brulee - a French classic with a touch of white chocolate and vanilla bean. served with a sable cookie and soy whip.  It really tasted nothing like creme brulee (half of why I ordered it is because I wanted to know what they were going to do there), but it did taste like delicious melted ice cream, which wasn't a bad thing. 
Josh ordered the almond chocolate chip skillet cookie - a baked-to-order almond flour cookie chocked full of chocolate chips and served piping hot with a scoop of ice 'cream'.  He wasn't super thrilled with it (it's basically a super gooey chocolate chip cookie in a ramekin) but I thought it was really good, and the ice cream was a great touch. 
All in all, I really enjoyed our meal at Great Sage.  The food itself may have only been okay, but the company was definitely out of this world :)  Birthday day 1 - complete success!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Maple Apple Crisp for One

It's my birthday, and I can eat apple crisp if I want to. 
As I mentioned before, I was feeling pretty indulgent last week, so I found myself making lots of desserts and even turning to dessert for my meals.  Which is exactly what I did for lunch on my birthday Friday.  Rather than making a big dessert that Josh and I would end up eating servings of all week, I made this perfect little maple apple crisp for one.  It's so simple and delicious, I'll probably end up doing this all winter. 
To start, chop up one apple - a tarter apple is a great choice since so much sugar goes into this one.  Toss the apple with about a tablespoon of maple syrup and top with cinnamon to taste.  I prepared the crumble in a little single-serving pyrex, but a ramekin would work just as well. 
Prepare the crumble topping in a separate bowl - two tablespoons of softened Earth Balance, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour.  I just mush it all together with my fingers until I get the proper "crumble" texture.  Then spread over the top of the chopped apple. 
Then just bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until it is just as ooey-gooey as you would like and the crumble is brown.  Unfortunately, it will need to cool at least 10 minutes (or as long as you can stand to wait).  I ate mine plain straight out of the pyrex, but this would definitely be amazing topped with vanilla coconut ice cream - next time I have some on-hand!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Microwave Fluffernutter and the Results of the Birthday Pushup Challenge!

I guess since my birthday was coming, I used it as a bit of an excuse to be pretty indulgent all week.  I've also been pretty busy with work and other things, so it's an extra excuse to slack on the food choices.  For example ... Monday night when Josh announced he was going to make himself a PB&J for "dessert", I thought I might as well join along by making myself a fluffernutter.  After all, I had the vegan marshmallows from s'mores making anyway ...
I microwaved two marshmallows on a slice of toast until they got fantastically giant and puffy in the microwave (marshmallow monsters!).  The gooey marshmallows spread just like the fluff from the jar - maybe even better. 
And once I added on the peanut butter, it was a truly indulgent mess.  And really, it was way more dessert than I needed.  For future reference: an entire sandwich for dessert is a bad idea.  Half-sandwich next time! 
But fortunately I counterbalanced all the goodies by continuing to work hard at pushups all week to be ready for today!  My goal was to do 30 "real" pushups on my 30th birthday (today!).  Technically, the goal was to do 30 in a row, which I didn't manage to accomplish, but instead I did 18 pushups, 1 minute break, and another 12 pushups. 
I won't claim they were the most perfect, nose-to-ground pushups ever ... but they were up off my knees and with at least a significant bend in my elbow.  And though I couldn't do 30 straight, 18 at once is still a huge improvement from where I started.  And doing another 12 without much of a break isn't half bad either.  Plus I've definitely seen an improvement in the muscle definition in my arms since I started.  Which means the challenge doesn't end today.  I plan to keep going, trying to do as many pushups as possible (maybe not every night, but on a regular basis).  And if I keep going, maybe I'll do 31 straight next year!

Lunch at Roti

Well, it's official ... I'm old.  Haha, just kidding.  Though I'm only a few (waking) hours into being 30, it really isn't so bad yet.  (Hopefully I didn't just jinx myself into throwing my back out later or something!)
I'm still super behind on my blog posts, so I'm also going to try my best to catch up a bit today.  Starting with Sunday's lunch (so long ago now!).  Josh and I ran some errands that day, and then stopped into Roti to grab a quick meal.  When you walk in the place looks and feels exactly like Chipotle, but they serve Middle Eastern food instead.  They even had these funny posters on the wall about how their food is all humane and locally sourced - also a major tenant of the Chipotle philosophy.  I thought this poster on "free range chick peas" was particularly hilarious.  I never used to worry about my chick peas living in cages ...
I was feeling a little overwhelmed with all the choices at ordering, so I decided to just go with one of their "favorites" - the Sultan Sandwich.  I subbed out the chicken for falafel, but otherwise got the sandwich as described - hummus, tomato and cucumber, red cabbage slaw, and mixed greens with s'hug, their "very spicy sauce" (it was!).  It was delicious and really filling, but also tasted so fresh and healthy.  This is the kind of fast food you can feel good about getting all the time.  I'll definitely be wanting to go here again soon!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Will Run For Burgers

Saturday morning Josh and I slept in incredibly late, and found ourselves waking up just in time for lunch.  Feeling (crazy?) spontaneous, we decided to head out to BGR "The Burger Joint" in Bethesda.  But rather than do something silly like drive the 4.4 miles to get there from our apartment, we decided to run there instead.  Since we hadn't eaten anything, I had a quick piece of peanut butter toast to fuel me for the endeavor, and we headed out. 
I did not feel like running at all.  My legs felt heavy, and I complained basically every time we started going even slightly uphill.  But eventually we made it.  By the time we got there, I didn't even really want a burger, but I was certainly happy to get a giant Mellow Yellow - I don't think I'd ever had one before ... it tastes like Mountain Dew, but perhaps slightly less intense (more mellow?). 
We each got one of their veggie burgers, and I topped mine with lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapeno, pickles, and their mushroom mix - which all made for one giant burger.  There was no way to eat this without making a huge mess.  I tried to pile my toppings back on as they fell off, but ultimately it was a losing game.  And I couldn't finish the whole thing anyway.  I'd say I got about 5/6 of the way through ... not too shabby.  Fortunately, after the giant burgers we opted to take the bus home rather than run or walk 4+ miles.  Extra win: the machine that accepts cash on the bus was broken, so we got a free ride! 
BGR's definitely not the cheapest place around ... $27 for two sodas, two burgers, and a cookie for Josh ... but I would definitely be interested in going back.  Maybe I'll even run there again.  It's a good way to earn yourself a giant burger.  Especially if there's a bus to get you home again! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Week of Kale

For lunch Tuesday at work, I took the lazy route and ate a quick, cupboard meal - a wild rice bowl I'd picked up at Target.  As could probably have been expected, the lunch bowl turned out to be incredibly underwhelming, but it did inspire me to add more wild rice into my diet.  So I decided to get started that very evening by whipping up an experimental meal using wild rice. 
When I got home from work I headed out to the grocery store (now conveniently located across the street).  While walking out with my new purchases, I snapped this quick photo of the gorgeous sunset in the parking lot.  Fall has the best sunsets :) 
My random wild rice meal turned out so great that Josh and I ended up eating it twice in one week, plus we officially added it to our repertoir by putting it into my Paprika iPad app.  It was so simple but really delicious. 
Fall Rice Salad
1 sweet potato, skinned, chopped, and sauteed in olive oil with salt and pepper
1 red onion, sliced and caramelized in Earth Balance with sugar
Wild rice, cooked according to package
Bunch of kale, added to rice pot to steam in the last few minutes of rice cooking
Mix everything together and enjoy! 
Unfortunately, my new delicious creation required me to buy kale when the store was out of it.  To get out of this predicament, I opted to buy the pre-washed and cut, bagged version.  But in case you can't tell from this picture, that bag is four pounds of kale!!!  Also known as, more kale than anyone should ever need ever.  And since I hate wasting food, this also meant that we needed to eat kale at every single meal for the rest of the week before this stuff went bad. 
So, without further ado, I present ... the week of kale!
(Wednesday I ate leftover fall rice salad for lunch, and we actually ate horrible Chinese food for dinner after climbing, so no exciting recipes to report there.) 
Thursday for lunch I made myself a spicy kale salad by sauteeing kale in olive oil, then tossing with red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, salt, and pepper.  An oldy but goody. 
For dinner Thursday night I made another warm kale salad using Israeli couscous, kale (of course), mushrooms, and grape tomatoes.  This one was a lot quicker to prepare than the fall rice salad, but probably not quite as good either.  

Friday night I made essentially the same spicy salad I'd made for lunch Thursday, but topped it with pomegranate seeds for extra zing.  Turns out, even using the water trick it's incredibly annoying to seed a pomegranate.  That alone will keep this recipe from becoming a regular.  Otherwise it was interesting - and definitely different - but not exactly stellar.  Still, we ended up eating it again for dinner Sunday night.  (Gotta use up those pomegranate seeds and the kale!) 

Saturday night it was back to the fall kale salad again (remember I said we ate it twice?). It's the most complicated of our week-o-kale recipes, but probably our favorite of the bunch. 

And tonight we finally used up the last of the kale!  I mixed up pasta, kale, sauteed mushrooms, and grape tomatoes (similar to the Israeli couscous dish).  The mushroom-tomato-kale-grain combo is definitely a good one. 

And you know what's funny after a week of eating kale at almost every meal?  We're not even sick of it!  Though there were a lot of similarities, the week's recipes were varied enough that it wasn't the same thing all the time.  And there were enough other ingredients thrown into the mix that it didn't seem like we were eating nothing but kale. 

Will I buy another 4 pound bag of kale again?  Not if I can help it.  But at least I know now that if I find myself with one again, we'll be just fine.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Brookside Gardens and Another 50 Burpees

Last Sunday afternoon (very delayed post) Josh and I continued our exploration of all the wonderful things the DC area has to offer by heading to the Brookside Gardens - only slightly north of Silver Spring in (not) lovely Wheaton.  We actually thought about living in Wheaton, but quickly nixed that idea after visiting it.  We thought all it had to offer was lots of Mexican food and a pub with vegan sausage. 
But it turns out they've also got a lovely (and free!) botanical garden.  The photo above is an amazing gazebo on the water, with roses (still blooming now) and all sorts of other flowers.  I could definitely see people getting married right there.  (Though the people who were actually getting married at the gardens on Sunday were using one of those big white circus tents instead ... to each his own.) 
We actually parked at Wheaton Regional Park, where we intended to go for a hike that day, but when we realized we were only a short walk from the gardens, we opted for that instead.  With all sorts of discrete garden areas - azalea garden, rose garden, butterly garden, etc. - it was definitely beautiful and amazing, and the kind of place we will probably be visiting again and again. 
A few more pictures from the afternoon:

After walking the gardens for a while, we stopped by Wegman's for some groceries and a late lunch at their prepared foods bar.  I always seem to get way more food than I actually want when I go there.  I need to be better about surveying my options and then grabbing food.  Otherwise, I think the one thing I'm putting into my box at that moment will be my entire meal and I get a ton of it.  This time I got falafel with vegan tzatziki, Gardein sesame chick'n, delicata squash with red onions and fennel, and shaved roasted brussel sprouts.  The squash wasn't great - I just got it because I thought I should get more veggies.  And I really should have gotten one falafel ... live and learn. 

When we got home I forced Josh to join me in a 50-burpee timed challege.  I wanted to beat my previous time of 6:32 ... and I did!  That's right, 50 burpees in 5:58!  (Beating my first try's time by more than 30 seconds!)  Of course, last time I'd already done an entire WOD first, but that's just semantics.  
For dinner we made vegan tuna sandwiches with my favorite ... Asmar's tuna.  I always make mine with just tuna and pickles, but Josh likes to make a tuna melt with melted sharp cheddar too. 
With dinner I sipped on a pumpkin pie soda I'd picked up at Wegman's earlier.  Hey, it's fall ... let's put pumpkin in everything!  The first taste was really odd and I thought I didn't like it at all, but since I hate to see things go to waste I kept chugging along, and about 1/3 of the way into the bottle I decided I really liked it.  It was really sweet (but I guess no sweeter than a Coke), and you have to get used to the flavor, but once you do it's kind of a nice treat.  I definitely won't be wanting one everyday, but I might get one or two more this fall ...

Friday, October 11, 2013


It's one week until my 30th birthday.  I'm sure there are worse birthdays than the big 3-0.  Maybe 50?  But at the age of 29 you probably haven't experienced an age crisis yet, so that makes this one extra difficult.  I had a mild crisis at 26 when I realized I was half the age my mother was when she died - a bit of a "half-life" crisis, I suppose.  But it was relatively short-lived (haha), especially if you get all existential and realize any day could be your last.  

So why do I seem to be taking thirty so hard?  A lot of it stems from the identity I've had most of my life as the youngest - youngest kid in the grade, youngest in my hiring class at work, I even appreciate it somewhat that Josh is eight months older than me.  Being the youngest might seem like a curse to some, but it always made me feel special - like I stood out for my precociousness.  But now I'm not the youngest anymore.  And until I decide to enter a retirement home early, I won't be again. 

Unfortunately, no amount of anxiety can stop next Friday from coming either.  So I guess that means I have a week to embrace it.  Or to find a few stiff drinks ...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Relaxing Saturday

Saturday Josh and I caught up on some much-needed relaxation.  We both slept in late - Josh a bit later than me.  While Josh still slept, I sat out on the balcony enjoying a vegan scone (I made a batch Friday afternoon) and reading.  Can you believe I'd never read The Sun Also Rises?!  I finished it in less than a week - awesome book.  Though it does make you a bit irritated at the rich characters who have no real obligations and just spend their lives eating, drinking, and traveling.  Talk about entering another world when you read!
After rock climbing mid-day Josh was in a dumpling mood, so we headed out to China Bistro for lunch.  They had good reviews on Yelp, were particularly known for their dumplings, and (most importantly) were close to the climbing gym. 
Naturally, we ordered vegetarian dumplings.  We also grabbed an order of scallion pancakes (Josh's favorite) and some General Tso's tofu - which we promptly gobbled so fast I didn't even snap a picture!  It was sweet, but good.  The scallion pancakes were average (I can probably make better, but they're a bit of a hassle).  They're also not exactly good for you, so they should only be eaten very occasionally. 
The dumplings lived up to the hype.  I think the only place we've had better is actually in China.  Fortunately, one of the few things DC has over Baltimore is the abundance of delicious Chinese food.  We'll definitely be having a lot more in the future. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Stovetop S'mores!

Okay, confession time.  I've been seriously indulging in s'mores lately.  I bought all the supplies to make s'mores on our trip to the Outer Banks way back at the beginning of September, but we never ended up making them.  So now a box of graham crackers, candy bars, and two bags of vegan marshmallows have been mocking me in the cupboard for a month.  Finally last week I broke down. 
Unfortunately, I had to settle for a much less authentic s'mores experience than I might have had roasting marshmallows on a big bonfire on the beach in Cape Hatteras, but I think the stovetop is a close enough second.  Plus it's a lot easier to hold your hand near the little stovetop flame than it is a 5-foot-tall bonfire.  And no worry about melting shoes ...
This was my first time trying vegan marshmallows.  I used Dandies Vegan Marshmallows (which seem to be everybody's favorite vegan marshmallow brand).  I don't know if it was the absense of gelatin, or some other quirk of the recipe, but they seemed a lot denser and heavier than your average marshmallow, but they still tasted just as good.  It just required a little extra cooking time to really get that gooey center that's so critical in s'more-making.  It was extra important since the Trader Joe's truffle chocolate bar I was using was on the thick side as well, and needed an extra gooey marshmallow to make sure it melted into s'more perfection. 
There's a real science to this whole s'more thing, you know.  And after a few tries last week (try, try, again!), I think I've got my stovetop s'more recipe down pat.