Thursday, May 29, 2014

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Cookies

 Last weekend I visited Josh's parents to celebrate Josh's mother's birthday.  Ever since I was little I've loved wrapping presents.  Learning how to curl ribbon was one of the great moments of my life.  I was always in awe of the wrapping at Creative Kidstuff and think of them every time I wrap a present today.  (Check out this photo for inspiration!)  I may have gone just a little overboard with the ribbon curling on this one ... Nah!
Pretty much every time I go to Josh's parents' now I also bring along some little treat to share.  I know his parents are still uncomfortable with vegan food, so I figure anything I can bring to make sure there's something I can eat helps!
This time I was in the mood for a peanut butter oatmeal cookie, and came across this recipe which I scaled down and modified just a bit.  The cookies were a big winner - especially with Josh's dad who isn't normally big on sweets (which means it's particularly ringing endorsement!).  I'll definitely be making these a lot in the future. 
One of my favorite things about these cookies is that they aren't too sweet, so you don't feel sick afterwards!  I made 1/3 of the recipe and came out with 19 cookies a little bigger than a quarter.  I also nixed the chocolate chips, used creamy peanut butter, and used plain white flour rather than wheat.  I did use salt, even though it said optional.  Another tip from my experience: after spooning onto a baking sheet, press down each cookie a bit because they won't sink on their own.  The back row in the picture are the cookies I didn't press down - still tasty, just a little less attractive. 

How Far Would You Walk for a Burrito?

Last week's workouts really revolved around the elliptical machine.  On weekdays it's hard to exercise outside because I don't have enough time after work before it gets dark.  But trying out a lot of elliptical routines in a row and noting my calorie burn each time really helped me figure out how to get the most of a 30-minute workout.  Though I realize the calorie numbers on the machine aren't necessarily the most accurate, I can at least assume all the figures are equally inaccurate, so I can still use them to determine relative intensity. 
Recap from last week:
Monday - off
Tuesday - 30 minutes on elliptical set to manual at level 6
Wednesday  - 30 minutes on elliptical set to manual at level 5
Thursday  - off
Friday - 30 minutes on elliptical set to random hill starting at level 5 but increasing to level 7.  This was far worse than manual for calorie burn (I wouldn't have thought so!)
Saturday - 6.8 mile walk (round trip) to California Tortilla.  I often like setting a destination for a walk (like heading to the library), especially one that's far away.  It forces you to keep going when you want to stop, plus it makes you feel like you accomplished something other than just your exercise for the day.  And California Tortilla makes a pretty good burrito - though I'm not sure I'd walk much further for one.  My feet were pretty sore by the time I got home!
Sunday - 30 minutes on elliptical - back to manual setting at level 5

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Oreo Cheesecake

While I may have been particularly good two weeks ago about being on top of my healthy workouts, even ending on a particularly high note with a 7-mile hike, I also ended the week by baking this delicious but decidedly unhealthy Oreo Cheesecake.  Fortunately, life is about balance ... so I basically had to bake a scrumptious dessert to restore order in the universe. 
I may or may not have proceeded to eat about two pieces a day for the next few days ...
Oreo Cheesecake (vegan, of course!)
2 containers vegan cream cheese (I used Tofutti)
1 package firm silken tofu
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Broken up Oreos - as many as you like
1 ready-made Oreo cookie pie crust (or you could be industrious and make your own)

Preheat oven to 325.  Blend all but last two ingredients in a blender until very smooth.  Pour into a bowl and fold in Oreo pieces.  Pour batter into crust and bake for 1 hour.  When the hour is up, turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake in the oven for 1 more hour.  Then come up with a really good distraction, because you still need to transfer the cheesecake to the refrigerator for at least six hours before cutting yourself a slice.  But trust me, the long wait is worth it!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Peanut Butter Cup Chia Pudding

My chia pudding obsession shows no signs of slowing down, especially since I came up with this latest recipe to toss into the rotation, named for a certain chocolatey-peanut-buttery cup-shaped confection.  Plus, it's super simple to make with just five ingredients!  It's so delicious in all its chocolate-peanut-buttery goodness that all you need is a small bowl to be completely satisfied.  But then again, a large bowl might just make you even more satisfied ...
Peanut Butter Cup Chia Pudding
(serves two or one generously)
2 tablespoons chia seeds
3/4 cup dark chocolate almond milk
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup (you could easily leave this out altogether)
Mix all the ingredients together, cover, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.  Enjoy!

A Scary Thing Happened on the Way to the Nutrition App

A week ago I started using the app My Fitness Pal to track my daily eating and exercise habits.  I mentioned that I've gained a bit of weight after indulging too much lately, and I thought the app would help keep me accountable and on track with my goals.  After a week of tracking my food and cardio (I didn't really bother to put in weight training), I definitely found myself paying closer attention to portion sizes and whether I really needed that late night snack.  After just a week I was already down a couple of pounds and feeling great. 
That is until I landed on the handy feature that lets you compare the amount of carbs, fat, and protein consumed to your "goals" for the day.  Discounting today, because I've only had breakfast so far, you can see that I've missed the protein goal more days than I've hit it. 
The pie chart feature on the app also tells me that my percentage of total calories for the week coming from protein is only 12%, compared to a goal of 20%.  How could this be?!?!  I feel like I really go out of my way to eat protein at every meal.  I add protein powder to my morning shakes and don't exactly eat a lot of packaged food like cookies, chips, and candy.  How could my nutrition be so ... off?! 
After first encountering the pie chart a few days ago I made an even more concerted effort to incorporate protein into my day, pairing peanut butter with apple slices and adding quinoa to everything.  But no matter what I did that green slice stayed just the same size.  I started reading about vegan protein sources online.  Surely I was missing some critical food item that would square everything away.  But everything I read were things I already knew, suggestions of foods I already ate. 
I started to really panic, thinking there was no way I could get enough protein in my day as a vegan.  Maybe I should add eggs back into my diet?  Just one egg a day would surely push me back in the right direction.  And I would get them from the farmer's market - the most humane eggs around.  Would that really be so bad?  But what does even the most humane farmer do with a male baby chick?  Or to a female that's passed her one or two years of egg-laying usefulness but could have several more years of life left to her?  I couldn't let myself pretend they were sent off to a happy and long retirement. 
Of course Josh tried to console me.  Was there really any reason I felt like I wasn't getting enough protein ... other than the fact that the app told me so?  No.  I'm not exactly a body builder, but I also have no issues at all with having enough muscle.  In fact, sometimes I wish I had a bit less in my legs ...  So why was I really worried?  Josh reminded me of what I really already knew, but had let myself forget ... too often we're told that we should get more protein in our diet than we really need.  As I read more online, I came across this great article on No Meat Athlete, which explains how much protein we really need in our diet.  And percentage-wise, the recommended figures come out to 10-15% of calories.  Suddenly that 12% doesn't look too shabby.  And all of my crazed concern over what one little app was telling me feels just a little silly. 
I'm definitely not trying to discount My Fitness Pal as a valuable tool in keeping track of your diet and exercise.  It's still a great (and FREE!) way to track calories in and calories out, which is what it all comes down to if you're trying to lose weight.  It keeps you accountable for your snacks and portion sizes, which is just what I need right now.  I just need to make sure I listen to my body before getting concerned about those other pesky details. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Hike From Hell

I'm so proud of myself - I was so good about fitting in a workout every single day last week!  Last week was also a great example about how you can always do something even if you really don't feel like working out.  A couple days I read on the exercise bike in my building's gym and one day I just walked on an errand.  But making sure you get up and move every day is so important for not just your physical health but your mental health too.  This time of year it's great to get some fresh air, see a little sunshine (I have no windows in my office at work), and just stretch those muscles - even if you're not pushing them to their limit. 
Monday  - 45 minutes on the elliptical

Tuesday - 40 minutes on the exercise bike
Wednesday - short walk to library (about 2 miles).  You may have noticed I walk to the library quite a lot.  I have a long commute to work, during which I like to listen to audiobooks - usually CD books - plus I like to listen to playaway books when I workout and I also sometimes like to sit down with an old fashioned paper book and lose myself for a bit.  All this means I find myself going to the library pretty often.  And since it's relatively close to my house, it's a great excuse to combine an errand with a bit of exercise. 

Thursday - 30 minutes on the exercise bike plus 10 minutes of free weight exercise
Friday - 3 mile run from my place to Takoma Park (soooo uphill on the way home that I walked several times) plus a 4 minute plank tabata (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off - 8 rounds)
Saturday - 3 mile run along Sligo Creek
Sunday - 7 mile hike at Sugarloaf Mountain.  This time I hit the yellow trail, also known as the Saddleback Horse Trail.  Unfortunately, figuring out the hike was a bit tricky because this trail doesn't actually follow a precise loop, and it doesn't start or finish at any of the parking areas - not helpful!  I went backward-to-forward on the trail, connecting to it from the white trail, then hitting marker Y14 to start and looping around towards Y1.  Then I had to follow along the road to get back to my parking spot, which was pretty scary with no sidewalk and with cars flying around blind curves. 
I put together my own trail mix to bring for a snack, which turned out to be pretty critical along the way.  The seven miles ended up taking me almost three hours and I was starving only a little more than half way through.  I mixed together sliced almonds, walnuts, craisins, and mini chocolate chips for a satisfying snack. 
So, seven miles on a pleasant day with a tasty trail mix snack ... what's not to love, right?  The reason the hike ended up taking me so long was that I spent literally almost the entire time trudging through mud, water running like a river down the trail, or trying to figure out how to get around huge ponds that had formed in the path.  It may not be obvious from the picture at left, but that's the path.  And those little brown dots?  Hundreds of tadpoles. 
At one point I came up on a river with no obvious means to cross.  The water looked pretty clear, so figured I would just suck it up and bound across, letting my shoes dry over the next few miles.  Unfortunately, though the water was clear enough, the bottom was still a squishy mess.  I ended up with mud streaked all over my legs.  Needless to say, by the end of my hike, my shoes and socks were completely soaked and caked in mud.  At least I didn't slip and fall on my butt in the middle of the muck.  That would have been a fun drive home ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Not Quite Vegan

Last Thursday I found myself pretty much out of all food, so rather than brown bag it for lunch I headed out to Potato Valley - a popular lunch spot just blocks from where I work.  Because it's so close, people go here all the time to eat in with coworkers or to just grab something quick to bring back to your desk.  I love the concept of a delicious baked potato loaded up with salad toppings - it's the perfect mix of warm and comforting plus fresh and healthy!  Since becoming vegan, my go-to potato has been the South of the Valley, which is advertised as "beans, corn, lime, mango, peppers, and garlic butter, served with greens and roasted onions."  I order it sans garlic butter and go on my merry way. 
Which is just what I did last week when, while I stood waiting for my potato to be prepared - they top everything right in front of you kind of like Subway or Chipotle - I noticed the bottom of that center sign.  Hard to see in this picture, but it reads "All potatoes are dressed with butter and seasoning on the bottom and a bunch of healthy crunchy things on top, such as shredded lettuce, cucumbers, bell peppers, and more.  And our customer's favorite: Imported Danish Roasted Onions (they're mild and sweet)." 
Well, I'd already ordered before I noticed that sign, so I got my food, brought it back to work, and ate it.  But the question now becomes ... should I ever go back?  This is really a popular lunch spot where I work.  It's the closest by far to my office, plus it's tasty and pretty healthy (especially when compared to a lot of the other "fast" food options out there).  And while the preparation may not prove to be completely vegan, it's pretty darn close.  But is pretty close good enough?  Especially when I know for a fact that it's not really vegan?  It's certainly one thing to eat something that you ordered thinking it was vegan but then arrives with butter or something, but can I order one of their potatoes again knowing ahead of time that it's got butter?  I could always order the veggie sandwich instead ... (Also not vegan, since it has honey mustard, but I don't take issue with that.) 
Knowing myself, I don't think I'll be ordering the potatoes again ... Such a sad revelation!  Do you agree?  Or am I being too militant about just a bit of butter? 

Mexican Salad

I'm starting to notice a bit of a trend to the healthiness of my eating patterns - I'm very good during the week, and then throw everything out the window over the weekend.  Maybe it's the extra time I've got to putz around the house looking for something to do - which seems to invariably lead to baking or cooking something unhealthy.  If only I could put that attention towards cleaning the house! 
After heading pretty far off the nutrition track a couple weeks ago with the vegan brie and chicken ring, I decided to start my week back off on the right track with a delicious Mexican salad.  See that empty jar of salsa in the background?  That's because this salad was soooo good I enjoyed it over and over again until my salsa ran out.  It's definitely on my shopping list for tonight so I can keep making this again and again!  And the best part is that the recipe calls for more staple-type ingredients that are easy to have on hand anytime. 
Quick and Easy Mexican Salad
Salad mix of choice (I used Spring mix)
Salsa of choice (I used a Cuban style black bean salsa from Target - the beans add extra fiber and protein to make this salad extra filling!)
Gardenburger chipotle black bean burger
Optional: halved cherry tomatoes, avocado, fried onions - or whatever your heart desires!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Return of Vegan Brie and the Chicken Ring

Two weekends ago saw the return of a couple of old favorites - vegan brie and the chicken ring.  Unfortunately, neither of these old goodies turned out quite the way I was hoping.
My vegan brie recipe comes from the Non-Dairy Formulary (in fact, it's still the only recipe I've actually made from the book yet), and I loved the way it came out last time.   But when I went to make it again, I realized that I had misread the recipe and completely omitted an ingredient.  The recipe reads "1/4 cup tapioca flour plus more for dusting" and then the text of the directions say "add remaining ingredients".  So somehow I read this and interpreted it as "no tapioca in the mix, just use it for dusting".  Obviously I realized this was a mistake and proceeded to add it on my second go.  Since I'd still liked it the first time, I fully expecting it to work brie miracles this round.  No such luck.  The texture of my tapioca floured brie was way too sticky and off.  Of course I have no clue why this would be - you would think adding a dry ingredient would do just the opposite.  But I'm definitely not going to make it per the books instructions again.  I'll stick with my mess-up version, thank you very much. 

Fortunately it was still more than tasty enough for delicious brie and apple sandwiches!  Yeah, I ate these for dinners three nights in a row.  Yum!

Meanwhile, right when my vegan brie was starting to run out I decided that the best way to make up for a weekend full of carbalicious sandwiches was to make another carb-heavy treat - the chicken ring.  Yes, that ring of Pillsbury goodness reared its delicious head again!  I mean, seriously ... what's not to love?!  Crescent rolls, broccoli, red bell pepper, gardein chicken, mayo, and cheese! 
But when I went to pull out my trusty Daiya, I found that alas I had inadvertently started on a homemade vegan blue cheese project.  Yup, it was completely covered in mold.  As exciting as it might have been to see where this vegan blue would take me, I decided to play it safe and toss it out.  Without a cheese component for the ring that was already underway, I fell back on the only thing I had in the fridge - parmesan.  Turns out I probably should have just run my lazy butt to the store.  I added the same amount of parmesan that the recipe called for of regular cheese, and it was too salty.  In fact, I realized after the fact that I had actually forgotten to add salt, though the recipe called for it, and it was still too salty.  Whomp whomp.  Not so salty of course that I didn't devour the whole ring in just a few days.  But enough that I'll be sure that next time I actually look at my Daiya before I start laying out my crescent roll triangles.  And yes, there will definitely be a next time.  Long live the chicken ring!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chia Pudding

I've been seeing so many delicious looking recipes for chia seed pudding online lately.  But when I saw this recipe for Almond Joy chia pudding, I decided it was finally time I got my pudding on.  Of course I had to make a few modifications based on the ingredients I had on hand ... like using peanut butter rather than almond butter.  Maybe that means it's not really "Almond Joy" flavored anymore ... but it sure tasted just fine! 
On my first try I also used almond extract because I had no coconut, but that turned out to be too much almond for my taste.  Fortunately, I could see the potential in this stuff, so I tried a *few* more times.  For all my later versions I've used vanilla extract and it's turned out great.  Oh, and I did include the maple syrup and chocolate chips I just forgot to get them out for the picture ...
This stuff is so creamy and delicious - definitely a satisfying dessert.  Unfortunately it's also not exactly "healthy" since it's still full of peanut butter and maple syrup, but it's not quite as bad as some other options one might turned to when looking for dessert ...  I've already made this about five times in the past week, and I'm predicting there will be many more batches in the future. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spicy Peanut Butter Broccoli Wrap

If you've spent any time poking around my blog, it's probably pretty obvious that I'm a huge peanut butter fan.  I could eat peanut butter every day and never get bored - in fact, whether or not I mention it, you can rest assured I probably had some peanut butter at some point on any given day.  But for me the ol' PB usually pops up in sweet treats, whether it's mixed into oatmeal, peanut butter pie, protein breakfast shakes, or on a spoon straight from the jar.  (Love that white chocolate wonderful!) 
But peanut butter can also be a delicious part of savory foods as well.  I actually made this spicy peanut butter broccoli wrap before my trip to California last week and loved it so much I made another to stash in my carry-on for the plane.  It's healthy and satisfying, plus with only six ingredients it's so easy to make! 
Spicy Peanut Butter Broccoli Wrap
1 whole wheat tortilla
1/2 cup broccoli florets, chopped
1 handful lettuce of choice (I used Spring mix bagged salad mix)
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter - if you can find "The Heat is On" by Peanut Butter & Co, that would be great for this, but if not creamy or crunchy regular is fine - just not White Chocolate Wonderful! :)
1/3 cup Israeli couscous, prepared following box directions
red pepper flakes to taste
Sautee broccoli lightly in a pan with red pepper flakes.  Add couscous and peanut butter and mix thoroughly.  Place lettuce along center third of tortilla, top with broccoli couscous mix, and fold tortilla over to seal wrap.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ski Weekend ... Wait, ... What?!?!

Wow, talk about a belated post!  Imagine my surprise when I looked at my "draft" blog posts and saw this sucker lurking there!  It's a post from way back in January when Josh and I headed off on a ski weekend to Wisp Resort.  We stayed one night and skied two days.  The whole weekend was my Christmas present to Josh.  It was sort of a two-fold present, because Josh loves to ski and I pretty much hate it.  That's real love, isn't it? :) 
Fortunately for me, though we skied most of the weekend, there were a few other perks that I got to enjoy as well.  Like our fabulous cabin at the Lodges at Sunset Village!  We got a whole cabin to ourselves, complete with kitchen and dining areas, living room, and sleeping area.  Though the bathroom was the only room actually fully walled off, the studio cabin was huge and had anything you could want to stay for quite a while.  I actually felt bad we were only there for one night. 
Dinner on our first night was at the Mountain State Brewing Company, where we enjoyed a beer flight and some delicious pizza (half no cheese, of course). 

The next day it was back to ski, ski, skiing.  Fortunately, Josh and I figured out a system where he would go down a nice, easy run with me once, then we would ride up the lift together, he would go down a scary, death-defying type of run while I waited nervously at the top, then he'd come up and meet me and we'd go down a nice bunny slope again.  The system seemed to work well - both to balance Josh's desire to actually get some difficult skiing into his weekend, and my desire to not crumple into a pile of tears and nerves (and probably broken bones!). 

When my nerves got to be a bit frayed on the second day we stopped into the lodge for a breather and to enjoy some hot ramen from the cafeteria.  I thought the ramen bar was really a brilliant choice for a food offering at a ski lodge.  It's hot and satisfying on a cold day, plus is full of protein and carbs to help you recover from all the exertion (or the mental exertion, in my case).  Plus it's got something for everyone, even the vegans!  I topped my ramen bowl with tofu, broccoli, edamame, scallions, black sesame seeds, and lots of hot sauce.  Delicious!  And while I didn't necessarily have any more courage once we headed back out for the afternoon, I certainly wasn't hungry. 
And even though I did end up with a crazy snowboarder crashing into me later that afternoon, I obviously survived the trip, which is the most important thing.  Maybe someday I'll even give Josh another gift of my presence on a ski trip ... or maybe I'll try to convince someone else to go with him :P 

Post-California Workouts

After getting back from California last week, I found that I was pretty blitzed from all the travel and not in much of a mood to work out.  But even though some days I couldn't push myself to do a full-on, heart pumping routing, I still managed to do a little something every day for the rest of the week.  Something is always better than nothing at all, right?  Even if it's just a quick routine in the living room in front of the TV ...
(I got home from California very late Tuesday evening, which is why my workout recap starts on Wednesday of last week.) 
Wednesday - tabata core workout using my tabata timer app - planks, crunches, scissor kicks. The tabata timer gives you an alternating 20 second / 10 second count for eight rounds - total of 4 minutes.  The idea is you do 20 seconds "on" of your activity and 10 seconds "off".  It might not sound like 4 minutes of activity is that tough but, trust me, whatever you're working will be burning by the end.  I did three tabata rounds, one each of plank, crunches, and scissor kicks, for a total of 12 minutes.  Not only did my abs kill the next day, but my legs did too!  (I'm thinking that was the scissor kicks!) 
Thursday - pushup workout (another living room workout!).  I alternated sets of 10-rep rounds between standard pushups (on my knees - I've lost my groove from last year's pushup challenge) and bench dips.  I ended up doing a total of 50 standard pushups and 40 bench dips. 
Friday - after a couple half-hearted workout days in a row I decided to really step it up Friday by doing a 30-minute interval workout on the treadmill followed by 2 rounds of ten reps: wide squat, narrow squat, turned out squat, and calf raise, all on leg press at 70 lbs.  Plus 2 rounds of ten reps: bicep curls, bent over row, and shoulder press - all with two 10 lb barbells. 
Saturday - 2 mile walk to library plus 30 minutes on the gym stationary bike.
Sunday - 2 mile run outside then into the gym for 90 squats on leg press - narrow, wide, turned out (80 lbs). 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mediterranean Salad

Since returning from California (where I might have overindulged a bit and gained a teensy bit of weight), I've been trying to up the healthy-factor of my meals more than ever.  But since I also don't want to get bored eating steamed broccoli three times a day, it's important to balance nutrition with fresh, delicious ingredients. 
This Mediterranean salad is a great example of just such a recipe.  It's got protein from both beans and the hummus (used for dressing) and is packed with healthy veggies.  I've already eaten it twice in the last week and am planning to have it again for dinner tonight!  Plus, it's quick and easy to prepare.  What's not to love?
Mediterranean Salad
Lettuce mix of choice (I used half Spring mix and half baby spinach)
Grape tomatoes
Green olives (I used green olives stuffed with jalapenos)
White beans
Toss everything together and enjoy! 

Spring Trip to California

I can't believe I just got back from California last week!  Coming home it's so easy to fall back into your routine that the vacation feeling just melts away instantly and it's back to the old hum-drum.  But fortunately I took lots of pictures to look back at my wonderful trip to the Bay Area, which was full of lots of hiking and lots of eating.  I came back to find that the eating significantly outweighed the hiking (gained three pounds :'( ...), but it was all so good. 
There was a lot of Mexican food ...

Some sweet treats ...

And lots of other delicious food along the way ...

Plus a lot of great outdoor activities, including hiking and lying on the beach. 
I even found a great vegan snackbox to purchase on the plane when all of my planned snacks ran out and I was still starving a few hours from home.  But be warned, if you tip that bag of olives into your hand to get the last olive out, you will pour a ton of olive juice into your lap and look like an idiot. 
All in all it was a great trip and I can't wait to go back ... hopefully for a lot longer next time!  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Very Belated Workout Recap

So another casualty of my failure to blog before I left for my trip last week is that I never got a chance to post my workout recap from the week before I went to California.  And what a week it was!  I managed to do something almost every day of the week, only caving into my laziness on Wednesday. 
Monday - 3 mile hike in Rock Creek Park
Tuesday - 30 min interval workout on the treadmill
Wednesday - off (it's good to rest sometimes, right?)

Thursday - living room arm workout:

5-lb weights
Bicep curls
Shoulder press
Wide bicep curl
Tricep extension
Deltoid fly

3 sets of 20 for each

Friday - 30 minutes on the elliptical machine

Saturday - short walk to library (about two miles)
Sunday - 5 mile hike at Sugarloaf Mountain.  I followed the Northern Peaks Trail, shown on this trail map.  Don't you just love it when there's a trail map online?! - In fact, this trail map was available for free at the trail head too!   Hiking Sugarloaf was a friend's suggestion, and it turned out to be a great one! It was pretty easy to get there (not too far from Silver Spring), but it still felt remote and natural. 
I even saw real, genuine wildlife!  See my deer pic?  If you didn't take a picture, you didn't see it ... :)  It was pretty crowded, but the park is big so I didn't see too many people along the way.  The trails were blazed clearly and the elevation change on my particular trail was enough to make it a hike and not just a walk, but not so difficult that I felt like I wouldn't make it all the way around.  I'll definitely be heading back to Sugarloaf a lot more now that I've been reminded of it!

Leaving for Cali Pesto

I've been out of touch for a while and failed completely to explain why before I left ...  But I spent the last week in California!  Trips are always exciting, but I had so much last-minute stuff to do that posting to the blog just sort of fell to the wayside.  Apologies! 
One of the last-minute chores I did manage to accomplish though was to make a quick batch of pesto before leaving.  I never bother to get plant-sitters when I travel (though Panda was safely squared away at Josh's parents' house), so I basically assume that my travel is a form of Darwinism for the plants - the strong will survive.  But since my basil was looking so lovely before I left I decided that if the plant wasn't going to make it through my time away I should still do my best to preserve what I could.  So I clipped a bunch of the leaves and decided to make a small batch of pesto to freeze before heading off.
The plant still wasn't terribly large, so it was definitely a small batch of pesto, but it's still about a trillion times better to make pesto with fresh basil.  It actually comes out bright green, rather than the sort of sickly brownish-green you get with store bought basil. 
No-Fail Vegan Pesto
Makes enough for two plates of pasta
(Asjust all ingredient amounts to taste)
1/2 cup basil leaves (washed and dried)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vegan parmesan
1/2 tablespoon pine nuts
1/2 tablespoon nutritional yeast
salt and pepper
Blend and enjoy (or freeze if you're headed out of town).