Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hiking, Dirty Trails, & Falafel for My Birthday

While it is not officially my birthday today, I have been treating it as such. My 30th birthday is tomorrow (Monday) and I will be at work. A Monday is no day to have a birthday, but I can't control the calendar. Luckily, I work with awesome friends who are taking me to lunch. A coworker is even making me vegan cupcakes. I feel very special! I work with great people.

Since I was treating today as my official birthday, I wanted a casual celebration doing what I love- spending time in nature and eating vegetarian food. Therefore, we attended the Sunday Walk in the Park at the Eno River run by Stephanie, our friend and organizer of the Triangle Vegetarian & Vegan Meetup Group. I have been looking forward to this event all week. Several friends and acquaintances were attending and I could tell we would have a good group. I was right!

We arrived early to the park because I had the time wrong by a half hour. Fortunately, it was a sunny and we had time to relax in the warmth. During that time I saw several dogs and got to pet a Beagle. My day was already off to the right start! Shortly thereafter, the whole group arrived and we chatted a bit before heading out. I could already confirm that we had a great group!

We agreed upon taking the Fanny to Cox trail to make our hike a little less than three miles. The names of the trails had us laughing and the jokes abounded. Along the trail we also discussed vegetarianism, berries, organic farms, Psychology, iPhones, etc. and somehow we managed to laugh the whole time. Walking up a hill while laughing is quite challenging. My ab muscles got double the workout (or at least that is what I am telling myself).

After the hike, we decided to meet up at International Delights on Ninth Street in Durham for a late lunch. I got the international platter which consisted of several vegetarian sides (falafel, tabbouleh, hummus, dolmas, and pita). The food, company, humor, and conversation rocked!

From lunch, we headed to Whole Foods where we would separate and shop. We could not get enough of each other because we spent a while chatting in the produce section. We continued to laugh about FANDI's (Dr. Fuhrman's nutrient scale with our own twist), thievery, dirty names for trails, and more.

While this all might not seem like much to the average person, this was all very special to me. I have had a hard time accepting turning 30 and this was just what I needed. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fun With Friends, Tiles, and Alcohol Ink

To say that I feel a lack of creativity in my life lately is an understatement. For months I have wanted to go back to creating, but I have had a hard time motivating myself. Knowing this, my friend, Diana invited me over to get my creativity on by making alcohol ink tiles that she saw on a blog called Artysville. Just one glance at these tiles hooked me in.

Diana was kind enough to buy the materials (I offered to pay, but she said no) and have me and Beth over for some tiling fun. I went to her house after work one day and she had all of the supplies ready to go on her dining room table- tiles, alcohol blending solution, alcohol ink, Q-tips, and a water based sealer.

We munched on snacks and got to work. We started with the alcohol blending solution as a base. The next step was to drop on the bits of color and watch them expand. If I did not like my design, I could just use the blending solution and wipe it off and start from scratch. I could also use the blending solution to lighten areas of my tiles and add in other colors.

When the tiles were dry, we then used the sealer to provide a protective shield (which, by the way takes four weeks to cure). We each applied four coats, waiting 20 minutes
in between each coat. While we waited, we had fun chatting and snacking some more. The company and the tile decorating was great! I am going to use my tiles as coasters.

I think we did a great job for our first try. What do you think?

(Diana's tiles)

(Beth's tiles)

(My tiles)

While I loved all of the tiles, I had a few favorites. These are not in any special order.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, Take One

A couple posts ago, I wrote about how I received "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World." It is now time for me to start blogging about the cupcakes! In mid January, I decided to dive into the book and get started. I first thought about starting at the beggining, but then decided that I would just make what I wanted until I got as far as I wanted. So, here I go!

In this case, I actually did start with the first recipe, Golden Vanilla Cupcakes. The instructions suggest several frosting pairings, which all sounded good. After careful consideration of the frosting section of the book, I decided to go with the Chocolate Buttercream. The first step was to check out our pantry to see what I was missing and then head to the store. Once I had what I needed, I started by organizing all of the ingredients and utensils on the counter.

The recipe was straightforward and easy to follow. I went with the basic recipe and used vanilla and almond extract. The recipe has suggestions for variations, but I decided to keep it simple and follow the main recipe. In no time, I my batter ready and into the cupcake liners. One of the things I love about vegan baking is that you can eat the batter raw, without any worry of salmonella poisoning because there are not any eggs. I tasted the batter and I loved it! If it was this good raw, the end result would be great.

Now that the cupcakes were in the oven, the aroma drifted through our home and my sweet tooth was kicking in. I quickly moved on to the Chocolate Buttercream recipe at the back of the book. Again, I followed the basic recipe without any of the variations.I had fun tasting the frosting as I went along. I had to make sure it was suitable. :)

By the time I was finished with the frosting, it was time for the cupcakes to come out and cool. I transfered the cakes to a wire rack and let them cool. Once they were completly cool, I was able to frost them with ease. I do not have any fancy frosting tools to pipe on frosting, so I used a kitchen knife. The frosting does not look professional, but I was least concerned about looks in this case.

I finally had a finished product and it was time to dig in. I invited John to join in the tasting. I felt like a little kid again as I removed the paper lining and took my first bite. The chocolate, vanilla, and almond hit my tounge and I was in heaven. Yes, we had a winner!!

The cupcakes were better than I expected. They were fluffy, rich, and delicious! I was so happy to have my first attempt be so successful. It motivated me to want to try more and very soon. There was an office birthday coming up and this sucess inspired me to pick out the next two recipies that I would try......Choclate Mocha Cupcakes!

Friday, February 12, 2010

For the Love of Hot Tea

Just thinking of a steaming cup of hot tea makes me cheerful. The aroma of fruity and sweet notes is enough to calm my wildest of moods. Many of us bond over a cup of something warm and when it isn't coffee, it is usually tea.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, tea has been a tradition in my family. While my family does not descend from the UK, we still engage in sharing hot tea during family a
nd social gatherings (maybe tea is an Italian thing too?). Even as a child, before my Mom let me have coffee, I was allowed to have tea. I would sit and drink tea and chat with her, my grandma, and my aunts. Drinking tea happened during some of my fondest memories with family. Even now when I visit my parents, the evening ends with a cup of tea and conversation. The same tends to happen when we visit John's family as well.

I have always been fascinated with different combinations of tea. Some people solely prefer the plain black, greens, herbals, or whites. I tend to like them all and even fusing several flavors together. I like earl grey, lady grey, jasmine, green, chai, white, herbal, fruity, and so on. Like I said, I like them all. I rarely sip a tea that I dislike. If asked, I would probably tell you that I am a coffee person, but I also think I am a closeted tea fanatic.

Lately, I have gotten the urge to make my own tea. I am inspired by the different herbs, flowers, and leaves that I come across. I find myself often thinking "that would make a great tea." So, recently when I was feeling a bit under the weather I decided to embark on a tea experiment.

We had recently received organic oranges that still had leaves. I cut off the leaves and washed them. While the leaves were drying, I located a half inch of ginger root, powdered stevia, and whole cloves. I put the kettle on and waited for the water to almost boil. I had recently heard to make a good cup of tea, the water should be poured over the leaves before it begins to boil.

Once I got my water to temperature, I poured it into our french press. Immediately, I could smell the aroma of the ingredients mingling together. I had to waited for the tea to steep. I tried to wait the full five minutes for it to steep as I have read one should with an herbal tea. As I waited, I noticed the water change to a yellowish orange color.

As I sipped the tea, I knew I had found a perfect combination. It was heavenly and this cup was all mine. I shared the rest of the pot with John, and he also gave the flavor rave reviews.

I cannot wait to plunge into my next cup of homemade tea. Now, if only it were spring so that I could use some of my herbs.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" (And So Will I)

I normally do not ask, or want, anything domestic. It just isn't me. John and I share domestic duties, we both take responsibility for household chores as working adults. Having said that, I am the one who prefers baking. John enjoys cooking and does it regularly, but he has no interest in baking. I am cool with that, it is not his thing. It is not really my thing either, but over the past couple of years I have been interested in vegan baking. It fascinates me and I want to learn more about it.

After hearing all of the buzz and tasting samples from the cook book "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, I knew what I wanted for Christmas. When John asked me what I wanted I asked for this cookbook (when I ask for books, I always ask for them used. It is better for the environment). He seemed a bit surprised, but knew he would reap the benefits from my Christmas present.

I was delighted when I opened this book for Christmas. As I flipped through the pages, I knew I had made the right choice. Isa and Terry have a whimsical and humorous style of writing that draws you into the recipes. They even include a section called "Cupcakes A to Z" answering the question "Why cupcakes?". They cite such reasons as adorable, blogworthy, joy, oligarchy, transcendental, and voluptuous.

While I agree with all of their reasons, I am going to choose blogworthy. My plan is to make many, of the recipes and blog about them. I probably won't get to them all because the combinations are endless with all of the cake and frosting recipes. I will do my best of baking a good representation of this book and blogging about the cupcakes and the baking.

What does that mean? Several things. 1- John will get to eat cupcakes and he will be a happy guy. He told me that his tummy personally thanks me. (Yes, you should be scared, it scared me too) 2- I will get to eat and blog about cupcakes. Two wins! 3- My friends and family will get to eat cupcakes. Yumm-o! and 4- You can read my reviews, if you care.

I will not promise to do this every week or even every month. This is fun for me so I am going to do it when the mood or occasion strikes me. I want this to remain fun and not become a chore. I already have two recipes under my belt and I am anticipating a third soon. Will you join me for the ride?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Snow Days

The weather had been predicted, the forecast set. Snow was on its way. The local media was creating a frenzy with the impending snowstorm. The stores were out of the essentials and everyone seemed to be freaking out. (For those of you that live in cold climates, you need to understand that North Carolina is not equipped or prepared to handle snow. We should be scared, the roads become treacherous and everything is forced to shut down.)

The snow began on Friday night and continued through Saturday and at some point turned into falling ice. John and I hate staying inside all day, so we decided to venture out by foot. We put on our gear and stepped out into the yard. We first checked the situation in the front yard and down our street. They were pure ice. It was safe to say no one was going anywhere, for a while.

Our yard looked pristine and I almost felt bad clumping through it with my big footprints. Almost. As I ventured to the back of our yard, I noticed little footprints. I followed them to a sweet little rabbit cuddled under our deck trying to stay warm. John and I decided that when we got back, we would raid our fridge to see if we had any decent fare to offer our furry friend.

We walked through the golf course and to the road that led out of our neighborhood. The walk was about a mile, but it was the toughest mile I have ever walked. I had wind and snow blowing in my face and was fighting over six inches of iced over snow with each step. When we made it to the road, we then had to fight slick and crunchy ice, uphill. I slipped and slid around, but I didn't fall. We finally made it to CVS, without incident.

After purchasing several things, we headed back home. The walk back was just as tough. When we made it back to our yard, I was ready to go inside and flop on the couch with a hot cup of tea. I could not veg out without forgetting about our bunny friend. She had already hopped away, but we knew she would be back. So we checked our fridge and found several parsnips to share.

As if Saturday was not difficult enough, we decided to do it all again on Sunday. Only this time we walked further to Food Lion with a shopping list in hand. We carried four reusable bags, knowing that was the amount we could safely carry back. Our shopping list included ingredients for several nights because we did not know how much longer this would last.

On our way back, we checked the deck. Sure enough, our bunny friend was there. This time we got carrots and offered those to her. I got a little close and scared her away, but I knew she would be back. Throughout it all, the birds were chirping, flying, and hopping around. We put out handfuls of bird seed for them and they repaid us by eating it and dancing in front of our windows as we watched.

Between the wildlife in our yard and the outdoor exercise, being snowbound was not so bad. I can handle this once every couple of years- just not again this year!