Wednesday, October 21, 2020

My 40th Birthday in Asheville, NC (Day 3)

October 16 (on a Friday this year!) was my 40th birthday. We went on a camping trip to Asheville, North Carolina to celebrate, and we arrived the day before. Yesterday, I posted about the first two days of my vacation in Nashville and Asheville. And tonight, I'm sharing pictures from my big day!

We woke up just after the sun in our little pull-behind RV at the Asheville East KOA in Swannanoa. I had a few loose plans for how I wanted to spend my day and they included 1) running up a mountain, b) drinking on brewery patios, and 3) eating a fancy vegan dinner at Plant. But first, yoga! I always bring my mat when I travel since I try to practice yoga daily. It was chilly in Asheville, but that first morning wasn't too bad (they got much colder as the weekend went on). I dressed in some warm running clothes and took my mat over to a green space near the creek that ran through our campsite.

I did a short 10-minute vinyasa flow, and then Paul and I hopped in his car and headed for Lookout Trail in Montreat, NC (just outside Asheville). I didn't know anything about this mountain trail, but I used the AllTrails app to find the best views near our campsite. This trail was rated as moderate, so I assumed we'd be able to run parts of it. HA!!! This flatlander didn't run a step up this mountain. It was a straight uphill climb with stairs and some rock-climbing toward the end, so we hiked the whole thing. The climb was tough for us since we're not used to any elevation, but the views were so worth it.

Mountains are so amazing! Memphis, where we live, is only 338 feet above sea level, so we're always so amazed when we see actual mountains. It felt amazing to be on top of one on my birthday. 

Eventually, we made the trek down (going down was harder than getting up!) and headed back to our campsite, where I made us some birthday pancakes! I use this Tasty recipe for pancakes every time, and they're always so fluffy and perfect. When we camp, I pack pre-measured mix and soymilk in separate mason jars for easy breakfasts. We also had some Gimme Lean sausage on the side.

We took showers at the campsite and decided to head into Asheville to check out some breweries. Asheville is one of the top US cities with the most breweries per capita! My kind of town! Most of their breweries have reopened but are operating at limited capacity or patio only, so the first place we tried to go — Asheville Brewing Co. — was full with an hour wait. But there's an outdoor bar next door called Rabbit Rabbit that serves only Asheville Brewing beers, so we went over there instead. They had plenty of beautiful outdoor space in the sunshine. I started with a Perfect Haze IPA.

From there, we walked over to Hi-Wire Brewing. They had a wait as well, but it wasn't as long. We stood in a line for about 20 minutes to get a table in their open-air indoor space (with roll-up windows so it felt like an outdoor space). I had another IPA, but I can't remember which.

I could brewery-hop all day, but it was getting late into the afternoon, and we had dinner reservations for Plant — Asheville's fine-dining vegan restaurant! I'm not much on indoor dining in these COVID times, but this was a special occasion. Plant is very small, and they were only seating six tables at a time to allow for plenty of distancing. We left our masks on until our food arrived.

For starters, we ordered the Actually Crispy Potatoes, which were smashed, deep-fried, and served atop salsa verde and shallot butter. These were AMAZING. I could have eaten several more plates of these.

For my entree, I went with the Plant Cheese Plate, which was probably an appetizer, but who doesn't want to eat a whole plate of vegan cheese for dinner? This had three kinds of cashew cheeses (one was truffle-ly, one was a ricotta, and the other was a more solid nut cheese), muscadines, golden beets, pear slices, and bread. Perfect with the glass of red wine I ordered.

Paul ordered the Ravioli, and I tried a bite. It was very good! The portion was a little smaller than he expected, but he was still stuffed by the end. 

I really wanted to share a birthday dessert, but after eating all that cheese, I didn't have room for another bite. So we opted to skip dessert in favor of a wine toast at the campsite. We made our way back and found that our cool neighbors, Jamie and Phil, had left me a birthday balloon on my camp chair! Paul opened a bottle of some fancy white wine he'd bought for the occasion, and we drank wine by the fire until bedtime. What a perfect birthday!! 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Asheville Birthday Trip: Days 1-2

I'm back! I've spent the past few days in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina for my 40th birthday. When COVID gives you lemons, you gotta make lemonade. Since I couldn't have a big blowout party with my friends this year, we decided to get outdoors and take our RV to the Smoky Mountains. I took a lot of pics, so I'm going to break my recap into three posts this week. Tonight, I'll share pics from Wednesday (when I drove to Nashville to meet up with Paul) and Thursday (when we left Nashville for Asheville).

On Wednesday, I took the day off so I could finish packing and get an early start on my drive to Nashville. Paul stays there part-time, and our RV was already parked at his parents' house, so I decided to drive there a day early so we could leave for NC first thing Thursday morning. But I had one very important task before I left Memphis. Early voting!! It started here on Wednesday, and I made sure to vote on the first day. Casting my ballot for Kamala (and Joe) felt SO GREAT, and we have some local candidates (Marquita Bradshaw!!) who are pretty exciting as well. The whole process took about an hour, but the line moved quickly and it was worth the time.

My mom came over to pet-sit for the week, so I hit the road shortly after she arrived. I got hungry on my 3-hour drive, so I stopped at a Burger King for an Impossible Whopper. I typically reserve these for road trips, so they're always a special treat.

I arrived in Nashville a little before Paul was scheduled to get off work, so I killed some time the best way I know how. With ice cream! A stop through Nashville isn't complete without a visit to Koko's Plant-Based Ice Cream. I got a scoop of the pumpkin spice latte and the Dutch apple pie.

On Thursday morning, we loaded up the RV and car and headed for Asheville (about 5 hours from Nashville). I had some oatmeal before we left, but by noon-ish, my tummy was growling. We were afraid we couldn't get the RV through a drive-through due to its height, and most fast-food dining rooms are closed for COVID. So our only vegan fast food option was Subway. I got a Veggie Delite with all the veggies, plus guac and sweet onion sauce. Not pretty, but tasty. Subway just tastes like college to me, and I like that. I ate a LOT of Subway as a college vegetarian.

We arrived in Asheville later than we'd hoped — around 5:30ish — thanks to traffic jams, a few stops along the way, and the time zone change that we forgot was a thing. Oops! But it was still daylight, so we had time to get our campsite all set up at the Asheville East KOA in Swannanoa. It was a beautiful campsite with a creek running through it and great mountain views.

I brought stuff to make spaghetti in our camper kitchen, but we were tired. Even opening a jar of sauce and boiling noodles sounded hard, so we roasted Veggie Dogs instead. 

Not pictured are the vegan s'mores I made after dinner! We enjoyed a few beers around the campfire and met our cool neighbors, Jamie and Phil from Florida. Then it was time for bed! The next day, Friday, was my 40th birthday, and I wanted to get plenty of rest since we had a big day planned. I'll check back tomorrow with a birthday post!

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Early 40th Birthday with the Family!

Tomorrow, Paul and I are taking off on a road trip to Asheville, North Carolina to celebrate my 40th birthday (it's Friday!), so this will be my last post for a week. But before I leave, I wanted to share about my family birthday celebration with my parents last Saturday in Arkansas.

I requested pizza because it's the ultimate birthday food, so my mom prepped some dough, and we each added our own toppings. Mine had Tofurky Italian sausage, Daiya mozz, and every vegetable I could fit on it! Enjoyed with one of the new Blue Moon low-cal beers because my parents only stock low-carb beers these days. A perfect birthday supper!

After pizza, we did presents! My favorite part! My parents got me a new computer chair since I'm still working from home and sitting in a ratty old hand-me-down that's been destroyed by cats. This new chair a bungee chair, and there are slats that I'm hoping will deter the cats. My mom also ordered this awesome RBG shirt, and they got me some new Hokas! They also paid for my ticket to the Biltmore in Asheville, which we're planning to see this Saturday. 

After presents, it was cake time! My mom made an awesome 3-layer Oreo cake (pictured above). So good!

She also picked up some of the new Dairy Queen Non-Dairy Dilly Bars for us to try, so it was a two-dessert birthday. I remember loving the regular Dilly Bars as a kid, and it's so cool to be able to eat these again. They have a coconut ice cream base!

Family selfie! I had a great time with my parents. I know I say it all the time, but I really do have the best parents in the world. I don't know how I got so lucky.

I'll check back in when I return from Asheville!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Funnel Cake! Corn Dogs! Fried Vegan Chicken!

I do my best to eat well at home. But when I dine out, all bets are off! Isn't the whole point of eating out to treat yourself? Case in point — a couple weekends ago, I heard Plant-Based Heat (a new vegan pop-up) was doing a Vegan Fair Food pop-up on Beale Street. I couldn't miss that! I was so excited that I got there BEFORE they were even set up. I have a lot of FOMO anxiety around the idea that pop-up food events and potlucks might run out of food before I can eat, so I try to always be first. 

The wait for them to set up paid off when I got this Vegan Funnel Cake! I haven't had funnel cake since, oh, at least 2004, probably longer. 

I also got an order of Vegan Corn Dogs with Mexican Street Corn. The corn dogs came two to an order, and while that seemed like a lot of food at the time (with the funnel cake), I was so glad to have a corn dog snack later in the evening. The street corn was FIRE. I need their recipe. 

Speaking of treating yo'self, I rode my bike to Imagine Vegan Cafe a couple Takeout Thursdays ago, ordered the Fried Chicken Sandwich with Mac & Cheese, and ate my food in the Cooper-Young gazebo area before biking home. That was fun. I love Imagine's new fried chicken. They've switched to a different brand, and it's hand-breaded at the restaurant.

It's not all fried food and cakes though! Sometimes, I eat healthy carbs, like these Chai Pancakes from Eat Feel Fresh. They're gluten-free since they're made with quinoa flour (you grind dry quinoa in the coffee grinder). Really good, but the quinoa cakes are very delicate, a little hard to flip on the griddle.

And finally, here's another at-home meal — Soy Curl Taco Soup! This hearty taco-inspired soup has Soy Curls, corn, black olives, tomatoes, and taco seasoning. It was really good. The recipe was printed on a card that came with my last order of Soy Curls.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Cookbook: Two Dollar Radio Guide to Vegan Cooking

Before the authors of the new Two Dollar Radio Guide to Vegan Cooking reached out about a review post on my blog, I'd never heard of Two Dollar Radio — an indie book publisher and vegan cafe in Columbus, Ohio. I've also never been to Ohio. But after reading their adorable little punk-rock cookbook, I now want to visit the Two Dollar Radio HQ!

The new Two Dollar Radio Guide to Vegan Cooking is a pocket-sized book that's filled with fun stories about made-up chefs (I presume? Maybe they're real?) Jean-Claude van Randy and Speed Dog with plenty of the chefs' winning recipes. I love a cookbook that's as fun to read as it is to cook from! The punk aesthetic that runs through the book reminds me of 90s zine culture. I grew up with zine culture  and even had my own long-running zine — Frenzy — for two years in high school.

The recipes are fancy but approachable, the kind of dishes that use ingredients you already have in your pantry but include something special, like an aioli. And many of the sauces and basics are used for several recipes, so if you make pickled onions or a homemade cheese, you can use it for days in many ways!

I made the Buffalo Queso sauce and enjoyed it mixed into whole wheat pasta on a Macaroni Monday. This sauce is made with cashews, tofu, and a whole lot of hot sauce! It's spicy as hell, but I like it like that. The book suggested topping the mac with vegan bacon bits and scallions, and I had some coconut bacon left from an Eat Feel Fresh recipe, so I used that and chives from my garden.

Next, I made the Slaw (it has cucumbers in it!) and Pickled Onions so I could combine those with the Buffalo Queso on these Nacho Mama's Home Fries. This has cubed, roasted potato topped with nacho toppings. Can't go wrong there!

The recipe that I was most excited about though was the Hot Sauce! Paul and I grow hot peppers, and we always end up with more than we know what to do with. We toss them into the deep freezer with big plans of making hot sauce and hot salsa, but rarely do we actually do that. This recipe made a tasty roasted pepper hot sauce that I will be making again and again. I used ghosts, cayennes, red chiles, Tabasco, and hot banana peppers for this. It's spicy but with excellent flavor.

I have so many more recipes from this book dog-eared for later! They include lots of recipes for tortugas (their own made-up name for a cross between a burrito and a quesadilla — like a flat burrito!), including one for a Gobbler Tortuga with homemade vegan seitan turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce. The Mexxy Enchiladas and Fishless Filets (made with eggplant "fish") also sound fun. The Maple Frosted Cookie Dough Bars are made with chickpea-based "cookie dough," and I'm so intrigued by that!

The book is available on the Two Dollar Radio website and lots of other places online (including Amazon), but in the spirit of indie book stores, it's probably best to buy from them!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Weird Tomato! Pasta Power! Root Chakra Soup!

Our very generous tomato plant is finally winding down production. One plant has given me a whole summer's worth of big juicy tomatoes! There are a few green ones left, but fall temps have come early in the South this year so I'm not sure how many will ripen. Guess fried green tomatoes are on the menu! Some that have ripened lately have come out a little weird, like this guy who think he's a red pepper.

We ended up with a couple of these late-season weirdos. I enjoyed it sliced on some Avocado Toast, and it was actually really good! It was nice to have a tomato without the seeds.

I found some old pics that I forgot to share, like this big bowl of Pasta Marinara with Mushrooms, Parma, and Challah Bread that I ate the night before my Fortitude 25K race a few weeks back. Carb loading is my fave.

And here's some Root Chakra Soup that I made from Eat Feel Fresh when I was working on my root chakra. I'm doing work on each chakra for a few weeks before moving on. Currently working on the solar plexus. But back when I was doing root chakra balancing, I had this tasty Thai chili soup with roasted red peppers and beets. Topped with coconut flakes and swirls of coconut milk.

Here's a Lemongrass Tofu & Broccoli dish from last week. I was working on developing a new recipe, but this one needs some work before I share it. I tried to coat the tofu in cornstarch before frying, but it got a little gummy. Still tasty though. I ate it all.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Tacos! Burgers! Chess Bars!

Happy Taco Tuesday! If it weren't for tacos, Tuesdays would be kind of lame. It's nowhere near the weekend, and it lacks the "fresh start" excitement of Monday. Tuesday is like the January 2 of week days. But thankfully, we have tacos to make everything better. Last Tuesday, I made some easy Black Bean Tacos with buffalo cashew queso (more on that in an upcoming post!), Violife cheddar, slaw, tomato, and avocado. Simple and delicious!

I had some leftover Sweet Potato Burgers from Eat Feel Fresh in the freezer, so I thawed and enjoyed with fresh slow and Simple Truth Hot Pepper Jack (have y'all had this yet? It's so good!). On the side, I had some Kettle ACV flavored chips with Kite Hill French Onion Dip (another new-to-me find that I cannot stop eating).

Curb Market in Crosstown Concourse has recently started carrying Imagine Vegan Cafe's spinach dip and Vegan Chess Bars. Imagine has placed their products in stores across the city (and even in a few stores outside of Memphis!), and I'm so excited for them. They've been thriving, even in the pandemic! Even though Imagine is a short 10-minute drive from my house, Curb is more like a 3-minute walk. So it's super-great to have Imagine's products so close to me. I picked up a Chess Bar on my last visit to Curb. SOOOO GOOD and buttery as heck. I love the corner pieces the best.

And finally, I was sooooo excited to find a new flavor of Larabar!! They don't release new flavors very often, so when they do, I get REAL STOKED. This has bits of dried strawberry and chocolate chips, and it's very good. You can see in the pic that my cart was full of Larabars! I go through so many of these.