Eating at Saj

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A few weeks ago, I filled in for my work counterpart.  This resulted in a looooonnnnng day and, by lunchtime, I was ready for a break.  Away from the building and my desk, somewhere that served good food.  Saj Mediterranean Grill is a fairly new arrival to the neighborhood.  It’s a toss up as to whether Mediterranean or Mexican food is my favorite (hummus or tacos?!) so I was looking forward to trying Saj out: when the opportunity came, I jumped at it.

The first thing I noticed is, Saj is busy.  The line stretched almost to the door.  A good sign when considering the quality of the food, not such a good sign when I’m on a clock and have an hour for lunch, including drive time.  I took deep breaths and maintained my equilibrium.  I’d take my food back with me if necessary.  I spent my line time perusing the menu, reading about the meaning of “Saj”, and wondering if the garlic aioli could possibly be dairy free.  The menu offers a wide array of if-not-vegan-easily-made-so options including wraps, salad, and pizzas.  A sign on the wall told me “Saj” is the flatbread baked on a domed or flat griddle called a Saj, and the garlic aioli is made with mayo.

There is a handy chart at the register that lists the sauces and their ingredients.  As neither the garlic aioli nor the tahini were dairy free, I decided on zaatar sauce.  I’d also spent my time in the line watching food go in and out of the large oven, placed so you can watch everything that happens with your food.  Saj’s website doesn’t lie: their ingredients are fresh.  By the time I’d reached the register, I’d decided on a wrap made with the wheat saj (flat bread) and, once I’d decided on a sauce, filled my wrap with spicy hummus, basmati rice, falafel, kalamata olives (one of my favorite things), and sauteed peppers and onions.

When my wrap arrived, the flatbread reminded me a bit of a crepe.  A little thicker but it did resemble a pancake rather than what I usually expected from flatbreads like pita or naan.  It was a bit sweet as well, though that was a good contrast to the salty ingredients I’d chosen.

My wrap wasn’t too salty, although I love salt so perhaps any future orders should contain more fresh vegetables.  I liked it though.  The briny tang of the kalamata olives did overwhelm the other flavors but please don’t consider that a complaint:  I appreciate that the staff didn’t skimp on the olives.  There was something pickled as a garnishment: the menu has pickled turnips as an option but the peppery bite-reminiscent of horseradish-made me wonder if the garnish wasn’t pickled daikon. The staff was busy so I didn’t ask but cleaned my plate of everything, wrap and garnish.  There were no leftovers to take back to work with me and I left the restaurant with ten minutes to spare.  Since my drive back was five, I made it back to work in plenty of time!

I purchased a beverage.  I usually don’t when I eat out as most commercial beverages contain too much sugar.  I did for this visit, as a special treat, and was glad I had done so.  I decided on an orange pomegranate San Pelligrino and the sweet/tart carbonation cut through the oil and salt of my meal.  I could have shared with a friend: there was too much sugar for me to finish the beverage but I was glad to have it while eating.  My entire meal came together to satisfy every section of my tastebuds and I’m looking forward to eating at Saj Mediterranean Grill again soon.

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Not a healthy beverage choice but it was tasty

 

A Bean By Any Other Color…

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I’ve tried many new food items since becoming vegan: things I never thought I would eat much less like.  Things like pressed fermented tofu and seed cake, though seven-grain tempeh sounds more appetizing; and then there are all the beans.  My pre-vegan repertoire consisted of black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, and the occasional lentil.  My post-vegan pantry has expanded to include all of those plus cranberry beans, anasazi beans, black, green, red, and black lentils, yellow and green split peas, Christmas lima beans, and so many more.  Some of the tastiest and most versatile beans I use are garbanzo beans, aka chickpeas.  They make excellent crispy snacks if marinated and oven-baked, star in chickenless salad, chickpea and noodle soup, and not-tuna salad.

My enthusiasm for new and interesting beans may have gone too far.  I was at an Asian market (since become a diner so I need a new source for black salt) and was going nuts at the prices of bulk lentils, spices, black salt, and green garbanzo beans.  The friend I was shopping with said, “um…green garbanzo beans?”  “Yep”, I replied; “aren’t they cool?”  My friend looked like ‘cool’ wasn’t the first word that occurred to her but she made no other protest and a bag of green garbanzo beans accompanied me home.

As summer takes over in Colorado I eat more salads and, at long last, the time came for me to soak and cook the green garbanzo beans in order to make not-tuna salad.  I admit, a lessons I’ve learned from previous cooking experience sprang to mind as I prepared the beans. Lesson one: soup mixes comprised of multiple beans and/or grains look pretty until they’re cooked.  Then, black beans or black rice color EVERYTHING else in the mix and the entire lot turns brown.  What would cooked green beans look like?  However, I’d purchased the beans and was committed.  How bad could it be?

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Well…cooked and mashed green garbanzo beans are no longer green.  “Unappetizing” and other, stronger, words came to mind but I’m anything if not wasteful.  I mashed my beans, stirred in Just Mayo, mustard, chopped green olives, chopped celery, and 1/4 a sheet of nori, snipped into teeny pieces.  I was going to eat it no matter how it looked.

While the salad looked nasty; once I spooned it over a bed of red leaf lettuce and covered it with sliced Easter egg radishes, appearance was no longer an issue.

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Taste was no issue at all.  There is no substitute for soaking and cooking my own beans.  Taste, texture, cost…there is no comparison, although I admit I use canned beans because they’re convenient.  The beans in my salad were smooth and creamy, which bore no resemblance to actual tuna salad but, this far into my vegan diet; that isn’t a bad thing.  The salad is filling, tasty, and easy to eat at my desk at work.  And, the green garbanzo beans?  I think that all future recipes will keep them whole rather than mashed.

 

A Frond For Me, A Frond For You

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I go to the grocery store with the best of intentions.  I am enticed by the vivid colors of fresh, organic produce and always have a plan for what I buy.  More often than not, those plans go by the wayside as I get busy with my job and working on my manuscript.  Since I can’t bear the thought of all that lovely produce going to waste, my intricate plans become soup.

I like making soup.  I rarely need a recipe for it and I can have dinner done in the time it takes vegetables to cook: often a half hour or less.  My soups all start the same: sweat chopped onion in a stock pot, add garlic, add water or vegetable stock, add washed grains if I’m using them, add vegetables after grain has cooked, add canned or pre-cooked beans, heat through, eat.  Tasty and simple.  My last soup was created because I’d purchased some beautiful collard greens intending to make a lemon-chopped greens salad, didn’t get to it, and needed to use them up.  Why soup?  Well…

…I’m not that familiar with how to cook collard greens.  I tried the Sicilian Collard Greens from Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet when I first became vegan but overcooked the greens.  The memory of the horrid bitter mass they became is still with me and I haven’t tried that recipe again.  My sister likes collard greens but, as she cooks hers with bacon fat, that recipe isn’t an option for me.  I perused my cookbooks and thought that a recipe for collard greens, wild rice, and black-eyed pea soup from Robin Robertson’s 1000 Vegan Recipes sounded good.  I had to adapt it as I had rice and greens and very little of the other ingredients but that’s what I love about making soups: you don’t need to follow a recipe.  Throw everything in a pot and it’s very difficult to go wrong.  I made notes of replacements I could make with what I had on hand and read my new recipe out to my family.  They entered it into their Weight Watcher’s App and, finding the total point value satisfactory, dinner was planned.

Robin Robertson’s cookbook was one of the first I purchased when making the switch to a vegan lifestyle.  I figured I’d have all I needed with 1,000 recipes and have found this cookbook to be eminently useful.  The best tip is to either steam or simmer tempeh for 30 minutes before using it in a recipe as doing so takes out that bitter aftertaste.  I also appreciate these recipes are more of a guideline.  I’ve made some recipes while adhering to every jot and tittle but some don’t include enough herbs and spices for my liking.  I thought as much with this soup recipe and added a few of my favorites.  Most spices are free on my family’s diet plan so I can indulge my inner mad kitchen scientist.

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My version of the soup was excellent.  The entire kitchen was filled with mouth-watering scents as the soup cooked and I adjusted the original recipe so everything was cooked in one pot.  This is a great idea if all the soup is going to be consumed in one sitting, not so much if you’re planning on leftovers.  I’ve found that greens left in soup overnight take on an unappetizing smell.  This happened to my delicious soup and I was reminded that I’d made this observation once already.  Hopefully, now that I’ve twice been left with no leftovers (something that annoys me), I’ll remember to cook only the amount of greens that can be consumed in one sitting.  If my greens are in such bad shape they won’t last while I heat leftovers, the freezer is always a viable option.

Nasty leftover greens aside, I can’t say enough good things about this soup.  It satisfies both senses of taste and smell, is soothing to the tummy, and-when paired with a slice of molasses cornbread-makes for a filling meal.  The cornbread is made from one of my mother’s recipes and I’m sharing it with her permission.  Since my recipe breaks enough from Ms. Robertson’s; I’m sharing it as well.  Two recipes in one post!

Side note: my mother uses Wholesome! brand organic stevia in her recipe.  If stevia isn’t your thing, feel free to substitute another sweetener.

Collard, Wild Rice, and Bean soup with Molasses Corn Bread.

The cornbread takes 40 to 45 minutes to cook so make it first.  You will need:

1 Cup yellow cornmeal

1 Cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp sea salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 Cup unsweetened apple sauce

3 tsp or 6 packets Stevia leaf herbal extract

1 cup unsweetened plant based milk (we use almond/coconut)

1/4 cup molasses

2 cups frozen organic corn kernels

1 TBSP ground flax seed meal

2 TBSP water

  1.  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly oil a cast iron skillet and set aside.  Mix the flax meal with the water and set aside.  Rinse the corn and let drain.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder.  Mix well and set aside.
  3. In a second bowl, mix applesauce, sugar, plant milk, molasses, and the flax egg.  Mix well and stir into dry ingredients.  Stir in the corn and pour the batter into the skillet.
  4. Bake cornbread until the top turns golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean; 40 to 45 minutes.
  5. Slice into 12 slices and serve plain or with desired topping.

 

Collard, Wild Rice, and Bean Soup.  You will need:

1 Bunch Collard Greens, stemmed and chopped

1 Medium onion, chopped

2 Cloves garlic, minced

2 14 oz Cans Organic Tri-Bean Blend beans rinsed and drained or 3 Cups mixed cooked beans, drained

6 Cups vegetable broth

1/2 cup Wild Rice Blend (I like Lundgren’s), rinsed

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander

1 tsp thyme

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

A kitchen timer!

  1.  Place the chopped onion in a stock pot over medium low heat and let cook 5 minutes.  Add minced garlic and let cook until onions are translucent, about 2 minutes more.  Add a small bit of vegetable broth if onions and garlic begin to stick.
  2. Add the vegetable broth, cumin, coriander, thyme, red pepper flakes, and wild rice.  Cook 15 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped collard greens and cook another 15 minutes.  Add the cooked beans and heat through, 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Enjoy!  Can serve 8 people if the portions stay around 1 cup.

Note: Only chop all the greens and add them to the soup of all of the soup is going to be consumed in one sitting.  If not, chop the equivalent of one large frond per person and cook in a separate pot of boiling, salted water until collards are tender.  This takes about 20 minutes.  Drain the collards and divide them among the bowls when the soup is complete.  Stir and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Going a Viking

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The latest special exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is Vikings: Beyond the Legend.  I was looking forward to seeing it.  When I first began researching different cultures for my book, I had no idea where to begin.  I visited the children’s non-fiction section of my local library and pulled off the shelf every cultural and historical book that looked remotely interesting.  I remember reading a few books on Vikings but, as my attention was quickly diverted to the cultures of the Ancient Mediterranean, my reading on Vikings quickly fell by the wayside.  I was looking forward to re-acquainting myself with them.

I began said re-acquaintance by attending a lecture at the museum before purchasing a ticket to the exhibit.  The lecture assured me I would see the Vikings in a new light; show me proof they were much more than raiders and killers portrayed by history.  Maps shown at the lecture did make me aware that Viking ships made it far further into various lands than I knew and that was interesting.  However, as another slide showed archaeological evidence that victims of a raid had been neatly buried in one mound with all their heads neatly buried in one adjacent, the lecture didn’t do much to dispel the raider image.  I had hopes the exhibit would do a better job.

It did.  The artifacts on display are incredible.  I learned Viking culture was so much more than swords and raids.  Metallurgy did involve the forging of swords but it also resulted in fabulous jewelry the intricacy of which, the exhibit tells me, is almost impossible to replicate today.

I was able to see Viking ingenuity at work in the inner workings of a lock.  The spring mechanism, activated by pressure from the teeth of a key, was brilliant.  I wish I had been able to get a photo of it.  The exhibit did tell me that the penalty for theft where the goods had been locked away was higher than if they had not.  An interesting facet of law.

The role of women in Viking culture interested me.  I had always thought that only men went a viking but, apparently, this isn’t so.  Women too, went on these travels.  Women had a great deal of authority in the home, more so than most other women of their day, and this role and power as household manager is symbolized with the keys found in some burials of women.

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Of course, Viking raids did definitely happen and were brutal.  And yet, the Vikings were also accomplished traders, dealing in goods as far away as China.  There was a replica of a Buddha found in a burial but, try as I might, I couldn’t get a clear photo of it.  I did manage to get a picture of a glass beaker, something I would have thought would be unheard of in Viking lands.

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One last observation: I took a photo of this blurb from the exhibit.

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That struck me.  In my reading, I learned that some Viking colonies had been abandoned, presumably because of a lack of natural resources.  This understanding and resiliency showed me how truly multi-faceted Viking culture really was.

I left the exhibit with a desire to know more and I decided to go straight to the source.  What did the Vikings have to say about themselves?  To find out, I purchased The Sagas of the Icelanders from the gift shop.  I look forward to reading it and learning more about this fascinating culture.

A caveat:

I googled tips for taking photos in a museum and did try to put them to good use but I still have a long way to go. 🙂

 

 

 

Burger Free at a Burger Joint

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I checked my archives and couldn’t find when/if I’d ever posted about Red Robin.  It’s not a place I eat at a great deal but I remember it was one of the first eateries I visited soon after making the switch to veganism.  I remember researching what options were vegan and I remember utilizing a build-your-own burger option.  I checked Red Robin’s website and couldn’t find it but I did choose what I wanted veggie burger, bun, and condiment-wise, printed it, and handed it to the waitress.  If I remember correctly, Red Robin’s veggie burger isn’t bad.

I re-visited Red Robin last week.  It was a gorgeous day and my step-father had a gift card so, after a walk at the reservoir, off we went.  I was already primed for a veggie burger and fries when I noticed a new option in the appetizer section of Red Robin’s menu.  My local Red Robin was offering guacamole, salsa, and tortilla chips.  Burger forgotten, I placed my order.

There are not words to express how much I enjoy guacamole.  When paired with salsa and crispy, salty, tortilla chips?  I’m willing to walk the reservoir a second time, if necessary.  It probably was necessary because the waitress told me the guacamole was bottomless.  Yep, she said bottomless and I did find it necessary to eat a second helping.  In order to feel good about my level of protein, I ordered a side dish of the southwestern black beans to accompany my guacamole goodness and tucked in.

This was delicious.  There wasn’t room in either dish to mix the guacamole, salsa, and beans together so I’d take a bite of one and then the other.  I had plenty of chips: one order covered two helpings of the guac and one of the beans.

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Guacamole is, perhaps, difficult to get wrong, but Red Robin doesn’t miss the mark.  It wasn’t too salty and neither were the tortilla chips which meant the entire meal didn’t overwhelm.  The salsa and guacamole come in the same ramekin topped with jalapeno slices which aren’t too hot.  I would have said they could have used a touch more heat but my family was chortling at me as I began to turn red so, apparently, the meal was spicy enough.  I enjoyed it and it’s nice having a non-burger option at what is definitely a burger joint.

I can’t find the guacamole, salsa, and chips on Red Robin’s online menu so this option might be location specific.  Going to Red Robin?  I found this handy guide online.

Developing My Writing Brain

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I would love to be a word genius: stories spilling out of my brain with no need for editing or grammar checks.  That’s not how my writing process goes, unfortunately, so I do a great deal of reading.  Reading is my favorite thing and, among the amazing fiction I read for fun and the history I read for research (and fun), I also read about writing.  Some of the books I read are craft and others are writers writing about writing.  Most I read and put back on my shelf but I just finished a book I thought worthy of mention: Fire Up Your Writing Brain by Susan Reynolds.

This book doesn’t cover craft-not really.  Rather, the book contains tips and tricks derived from neuroscience to take what I already know as a writer and make it work more efficiently.  This is a book I’ll have to study and my favorite part were the quotes included from different writers.

There were three things I read on my first pass through this book that stayed with me:

First, a little blurb about Mark Zuckerberg was included stating he buys multiples of the same shirt in order to minimize how many decisions he makes in a day.  He’s quoted as saying; “There’s a bunch of psychological theory that even making small decisions about what you wear, what you eat for breakfast, etc., can make you tired.” (Fire Up Your Writing Brain, page 162).  The TBI I sustained in my car accident years ago means it’s easy for my brain to get overwhelmed.  Planning my meals, multi-tasking at my job, researching, writing my manuscript, posting to my blogs…it can get difficult for me to keep it all straight.  This quote struck me.  I’ve already been looking for ways to simplify my life and reading this has caused me to make doing so a priority.

Two, no one is perfect and yet I keep expecting my writing to be so.  The section entitled “Your Expectations Are Too High” on page 194 spoke to me.  In it, Ms. Reynolds states “The best advice anyone can give inexperienced writers is to write a first draft as quickly as possible, as good books are not written, but rewritten and rewritten and rewritten.”  This is something I’ve heard many times from many sources but perhaps, this time, I was ready not just to hear it but take it to heart.  I finished a first draft years ago: all 611 pages of it.  It’s been whittling and paring and cutting that mass of research and character background into something more readable that’s been a problem.  I have difficulty not tweaking this, re-writing that, what if this, and would it be better if… What Ms. Reynolds’ book is helped me realize is it’s still too early in my process to expect perfection.  I need to turn off my editing brain for a while. Easier said than done but I’m pushing through.

Three, it’s important to have a writing space.  I’m fortunate to have an office downstairs where all my books are neatly on their shelves, I have a desk, a comfy chair, and a place to put my feet.  While simplifying my life, parts of my office have become a dump site for papers I have to scan before I can shred, blank cards I have yet to fill out and send to friends and family, and other detritus I’m can’t throw away before I look at it.  Writing in this room feels different than writing anywhere else in the house.  Because of my books?  I can’t really say.  However, I need to get the room organized so I can work there without feeling anxious about mess.  This too is now a priority.

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads.  The information in it is bound to be more useful than I yet realize.  This is one that definitely goes on my bookshelf; just as soon as I get the shelf dusted and sorted.

Free Food at Fire Bowl

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My blogging is finally paying off.  I was recently awarded a free entrée at Fire Bowl Cafe.  Of course, anyone following Fire Bowl Cafe’s Twitter or Facebook accounts were entitled to the same free entrée but, hey, free is free and a girl can dream.

Fire Bowl was promoting its new Lemongrass Green Bean Stir Fry entrée and all I had to do to claim mine was show the Direct Message I received via Twitter to my location’s manager.  Well, I don’t have a smart phone so figuring out how to show the message was a bit difficult.  I finally printed the photo but couldn’t figure out how to get the verbiage so took my black and white photo (I printed it at work) to the restaurant in hopes that mentioning it did indeed come from my Twitter account would be enough.  If not, I’m partial to the Thai Red Curry so the trip wasn’t going to be a total loss.  Fortunately, the manager knew what promotion I was talking about and I got my free entrée.  I may still upgrade my obsolete tech but the need is not yet pressing.

I ordered my stir fry with the fried tofu and added an order of the Soft Thai Summer Rolls because they’re delicious and you can have extra peanut dipping sauce of you ask.  Then, lunch and dinner in hand, (I get enough food for two meals) I headed home.  I was ravenous by the time I walked through my front door so divided my meal neatly in half and tucked in.

And now, to answer Fire Bowl Cafe’s question.  Did I like it?  Answer, yes.  I don’t know if it will take the place of the red curry but I did like it.  I knew I was going to when I popped the lid off the to-go container and inhaled.

The flavors blended well.  I sometimes find meals made with lemongrass a bit bitter but not this entrée: no one flavor overpowered another.  The dish was also perfect spicy, for me anyway.  I like hot food but not when the spice makes it impossible to taste anything else, or too painful to eat at all.  The level of spice in this dish added a pleasant tingle to the tongue while still allowing me to taste the sauce.

The green beans were a bit odd at first.  I tend to cook mine softer at home and these reminded me of asparagus in texture not taste.  After a few bites, I found I liked the crunch in what was otherwise a soft meal: tofu and rice.  Would I eat it again?  Well yes but, again, if I’m heading out there and paying for a meal, I prefer the red curry.  Would I recommend it?  Absolutely.  As a vegan, I wouldn’t eat it with the chicken or beef so can’t contrast those for you but try the tofu: the manager said the dish was the best with the tofu and I found no reason to disagree.

Not only was my entrée free but the to-go container came in handy.  The box for my old colored pencils was beginning to disintegrate and I couldn’t find anything at home to re-purpose.  After a good scrub, the to-go container for my Lemongrass Green Bean Stir Fry was perfect.  Thanks, Fire Bowl Cafe!

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The thoroughly cleaned to-go container is handy for my colored pencils.

 

 

 

 

 

Junketing In Cattle Country

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I recently took another road trip to Nebraska.  I celebrated meeting my new great nieces and my great nephew as well as my sister’s birthday over Easter weekend.  I was looking forward to spending time with my family but road trips always involve a frenetic shopping trip to throw together a vegan survival kit and concern over where/what I’m going to eat during vacation.

It turns out I get a little carried away when it comes to vegan survival kits.  I pack for a road trip like I’m worried my family and I will end up in the wilderness somewhere and only my bag of goodies will prevent us from having to eat each other.  This road trip was no exception.  I filled a re-usable shopping bag with vegan options to take with and ended up using a container of chocolate almond milk and two packets of peanut butter.  After more than one road trip under my belt, I’m determined that-next time-I’ll remember moderation is key.

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Chocolate Almond Milk for my coffee and Peanut Butter-Survival Kit Staples

Bosselman’s in Big Springs is regular stop for us when we head into Nebraska.  It’s typical truck stop fare and the salad bar can be a little problematic.  If interested, you can read about a previous stop here.  The night of this particular stop was chilly and a plate of raw veggies didn’t sound appetizing.  A perusal of the menu revealed spaghetti and meatballs.  I questioned our waitress about vegetable side dishes and, while there aren’t any, the waitress was more than willing to scavenge some broccoli from the salad bar, ask the cook to steam it, and toss it with my spaghetti and no meatballs.  The sauce itself didn’t contain meat so I figure I did pretty well.

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Not bad! Avoid the jar of Parmesan and dinner is served.

Breakfasts on our road trip were partaken of at Perkins.  It’s another place where it’s difficult to be vegan but a solid meal can be put together from the side dish menu.  Oatmeal is only served until 11am so, as we were running a bit late heading toward my sister’s place, I chose fried potatoes (cooked in olive oil-I asked the waitress and she checked with the kitchen 🙂 ), fresh fruit and a dry English muffin with one of my peanut butter packets.

The oatmeal isn’t bad.  I had it for breakfast the day we headed home and, if you ever stop at Perkins, the oatmeal is made with water-not milk.

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I was able to cook at my sister’s for the remainder of our trip but there was going to be a stop on our way back home.  This ended up being my favorite and the most vegan friendly stop on our trip.  Ruby Tuesday has recently revamped their salad bar and my family and I stopped at the location in North Platte.  The garden bar is a bit pricey-$9.99-and the addition of an avocado is $2.00.  I was tempted but I didn’t need the avocado.  The garden bar is a vegan smorgasbord.  Mixed greens, fresh vegetables, seeds, beans, non-dairy vinaigrette…everything a vegan needs to be happy and healthy.  Considering the freshness of the ingredients and the myriad options, the price didn’t seem stiff at all.

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Why make a second trip when I can just pile my plate really really high?

 

Nebraska is definitely a state where beef is king and yet, it is possible to keep to a vegan diet without feeling deprived.  I look forward to the next one, especially with four adorable babies to visit.

Don’t Forget To Smoke Your Weed

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I follow blogger Shared Skillet and find her recipes useful as I too am living in a “mixed” family in that I am the sole vegan amidst omnivores who don’t mind eating strictly vegan meals a surprising amount of the time but who are not interested in giving up meat, eggs, and cheese.  In January, a recipe for Smoked Spinach and Artichoke dip was posted on Shared Skillet’s blog and I read the recipe as just that: smoked spinach and artichoke dip.

How does one smoke spinach? I wondered.  Does the spinach get crispy like when making kale chips?  Wouldn’t that be a weird texture?  Would the spinach stay crispy once the other ingredients were added?  Didn’t I read somewhere that spinach is referred to as ditch weed?  Ha Ha.  Smoked weed.  Especially apropos as I live in Colorado.  And that, my friends, is how a blog post title is born.

In answer to my most pressing question, no; spinach is not synonymous with ditch weed.  According to Wikipedia, wild spinach is wild spinach and feral cannabis is ditch weed.  In answer to all my other questions, I found it helpful to actually read the recipe.  It isn’t the spinach that’s smoked: “smoked” refers to the type of cashew cheese used.

I recently found myself with artichokes I needed to use and remembered the recipe.  I had enough ingredients on hand that, while I didn’t exactly follow the recipe, I didn’t make any weird substitutions.  The only big substitution I made was Heidi Ho brand smoked chia cheese for the Miyoko’s Kitchen  High Sierra Rustic Alpine cheese because Heidi Ho was on sale and Miyoko’s Kitchen wasn’t.  I used a package of frozen spinach instead of fresh and my artichokes were jarred rather than canned.  No worries: I borrowed my parents’ food scale and weighed out 14 oz of artichokes.

The recipe calls for olive oil and I don’t use oil to cook so I wasn’t vigorous when squeezing the water out of the defrosted spinach in hopes it wouldn’t stick when cooking.  The little bit of water and medium low heat was all I needed.

I wish I could say leaving out the olive oil makes this dip a healthy treat but it doesn’t.  A cup of vegan mayo and the entire package of chia cheese made this dip as rich and creamy as any I ever ordered as an appetizer in my pre-vegan days.  I admit that, while it was cooking, I wondered if it was something I was going to be interested in eating…

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Hmmm…doesn’t look very delicieux

…but then the smells hit me and I started salivating.  When all the ingredients had heated through I could hardly wait to spoon some into a dish and set to.  The recipe suggests eating the dip with crusty bread which I would have done if I hadn’t eaten the bread I had with spaghetti earlier in the week.  I did have some Tres Madres purple corn chips-non GMO thank you very much-which I figured would do just as well.

I was not disappointed.  The dip is rich, creamy, and I could taste both the sweet and smoky flavor of the paprika.  My version might be a bit too smoky with the cheese I used as well as including a full cup of nutritional yeast.  I probably could have used a bit less nutritional yeast as the smoked flavor of this dip did hit me in the back of the throat.  I don’t mind strong flavors though and now my only question is; how am I going to avoid eating the entire pan by myself?

The Good Old Wintertime

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It’s still winter according to the calendar but snowy days have been few and far between here in Colorado.  I need some cold days because my cookie recipes are stacking up but I can’t complain too much: cold weather makes me feel old and creaky.  On really cold days, I entertain myself by thinking of seeking warmer climes but I’d miss winter.

I like snowy days.  Every sound is muffled and the world is quieter, stiller, than usual.  At least, I like them when I’m inside and warm.  I remember one time when I wasn’t much of a fan of cold and winter.

My dad had taken a job as foreman on a ranch and moved us north.  My brother and I were excited to be living on a ranch and were sure we’d each be able to have a horse.  It was the dead of winter and, practically the moment we arrived, the pipes in the house froze.  I don’t remember much of that time other than the bitter cold.  I do remember being put to bed with so many blankets and coats I could barely move.  I woke up on the third morning after our arrival to the sound of my mother packing our boxes and we were gone.  That was the coldest I ever remember being and the shortest I ever lived in one place.

Usually though, I like snow.  I like watching the flakes fall, I like the feeling of isolation.  I used to like hiking in the snow, though I don’t do much of that now.  All other sounds are muffled and the crunch of snow under my boots, the creaking of branches, and the occasional drop of snow to the ground all are inordinately loud.  Even when with other people, hiking in the snow made me feel alone.  I always felt more in touch with my own breath outdoors in the snow-perhaps the act of drawing the cold into my lungs-and even my thoughts seem to move more slowly.

I once tried to capture this feeling in poetry.  I wrote the included poem for my English class while at University and it’s one of my earliest attempts at word painting.  It’s been years but I remember my classmates liked it.  I hope you’ll feel the same.

One With Winter

It was a moment I will always remember

I stepped out of the trees

And a magnificent sight lay before me

A fresh snowfall covered the meadow

Beautiful, unmarred, soft, covered in a thin shell

The light from the moon sparkled like diamonds

All around me was silence-no movement for miles

There was only the fog I created as I breathed.

The coldness of Winter was in the air

It caressed my face, my lips

Winter found a kindred spirit in me

It entered my skin, my blood, my bones

And we were one.

As Winter I felt such peace-such nothingness

I was the ice in the air and the snow expansive before me

Beautiful, still, cold

I let myself sink into the heart of Winter

Until I was becoming lost in the cold

And had to fight my way back to myself

I took care as I walked around the meadow

Reluctant to mar the beauty I had enjoyed.

I returned the next day

To see my snow covered meadow but the snow was no longer there

It had melted-submitted-to the loving warmth of the sun.

 

The featured photo on this post was taken at Wolf Creek by a friend/co-worker.  My thanks to him for the loan.