December 9, 2014

Friendsgiving Part 2: Pumpkin Mac n' Cheese in 10 Easy Steps

Oh it's real, people. And it's spectacular. 

When Patrick invited me to a Friendsgiving celebration with a bunch of his well, friends, I knew I had to bring it. By "it", I mean I couldn't show up as the only vegan at the party with lentil loaf in my hand. (No shade to lentil loaf. But it's probably not going to convert anyone to veganism anytime soon. #letsbereal.) Plus, whatever I chose had to be so good that I'd be ok with pretty much eating only that, since I was the sole provider of vegan goods at this shindig. 

As usual, Pinterest didn't let me down. I found this amazing recipe from The Inventive Vegetarian within a few minutes of my original search, and immediately knew it was The One. (Like first meeting Patrick, but if he'd been covered in vegan cheese sauce.) I eliminated a few of the spices from the original recipe since I didn't already have them, picked up some Daiya cheese, and it was on. 

I'm happy to report it was the first dish gone at the party, with multiple requests for the recipe. Make yourself a double batch so you have some to enjoy after the party is over!

{Vegan} Pumpkin Mac n' Cheese
1 16 oz box elbow macaroni (I used the jumbo kind. #nom)
2 cups almond milk, room temperature
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour (I used some gluten free flour I found in my pantry, which required about 5 tablespoons)
1 cup Daiya Mozzarella style cheese shreds
1 cup Daiya Cheddar style cheese shreds
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
1/4 cup of bread crumbs (make sure you find a brand with no hydrogenated oils)
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you like heat)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2.  In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat and sprinkle in the flour. Stir/whisk until their aren't any lumps.

3.  Still whisking, add the almond milk slowly and cook for a 2-5 minutes, until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. You'll know it's thick enough when you run your finger down the back of the spoon and the mixture doesn't run back together.

4.  Stir in the pumpkin puree until smooth.  

5.  Lower the heat and add the vegan cheese, cayenne (if you want it) and salt/pepper.  Continue stirring until cheese is mostly melted (this will talk longer than with cow's milk cheese). Remove from heat. Note that it won't be bright yellow like most cheesy sauces because it's made from real food and not artificial coloring.

6.  While waiting for the cheese to melt, boil water for your macaroni in a large pot (you're going to add the cheese sauce to this later, so make it large). Cook it a minute or two shy of being done, since you're going to bake it later. Nobody likes a mushy noodle. (That's what she said.)

7.  Try to avoid dipping your entire face into the vat of cheese sauce while your pasta cooks. It's harder than you think. 

8. Once your pasta is drained, return it to the large pot and stir in the cheese sauce. 
Velveeta ain't got nothing on this stuff. 
9. Pour the mixture into a greased 9x13 pan....

...and sprinkle the breadcrumbs generously on top. I mean, you're making macaroni. Just go for it. 

10. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are browned on the top.
I want to crawl into this pan and live in it. Forever.

Serve with cornbread dressing and collards!

Cheers to {vegan} cheese sauce!

December 8, 2014

Celebrating 1 Year with Patrick (or, Why I'm Glad I Swiped Right)

A year ago this week I agreed to meet up for drinks with a guy I'd started talking to on Tinder (yep). I'd recently been on a string of so-so first dates where I'd never heard from the guy again, so my expectations were low. Seriously: the thought "at least I'll get a few free beers out of it" crossed my mind as I slapped on makeup and dragged myself out on a school night.

I wish I could tell you we'd had some earth shattering connection the moment we locked eyes, but my first feeling upon meeting him in person was a rush of relief that he was tall. Tall men are to online dating what Sasquatches are to Pacific Northwesterners: many claim to have seen them in person, but no one has proved that they're actually out there. 

Here's what I do know: my cheeks hurt from laughing within a few minutes of us meeting, we talked for hours without a single awkward silence, and he was outgoing and fun when we ran into some friends of mine later in the night. Check, check, and check. His dimples certainly didn't hurt the situation, either. 

I'd told myself that under absolutely no circumstances was I to bring up 1) being vegan or 2) the fact that I was home schooled, but that lasted all of 15 minutes. Sometimes you just have to let that freak flag fly right out of the gate. 
At a Camp Thunderbird alumni event on our anniversary night. (So romantic...) 

I tried for years to meet guys through the "right" places: church, mutual friends, parties. Nothing worked. So here's what I have to say about online dating: there ain't no shame. Own it and be proud. I met my perfect man on Tinder for heaven's sake, and I'll shout it from the rooftops if I need to. Don't hold yourself back from happiness because of what other people might think or because it doesn't match up with some fairytale you have in your mind. 

Since Patrick is my first real relationship since high school, the poor man's had to put up with a lot. He's had to (gently) teach me a lot about compromise, communication, and why I can't get my way 100% of the time. (Cut to my parents standing up and slow clapping to the previous sentence.) He's also the most thoughtful person I know and makes my nerdy, introverted self a lot more fun and outgoing. 

But above all? He gets me. And he loves me, freak flag(s) and all. He was worth every minute of the 27 years it took me to find him. 

Karen + Kyle, one of the couples I look up to most and who let me live with them for A MONTH when I first moved to Charlotte. 

In other good news, we recently signed a lease to move in together February 1st (eek!). This also means I have about a month and a half to get the the horrid blue recliner in the center of his living room to "magically" disappear. I'll keep you updated.

Cheers to love, anniversaries, and cohabitation!

December 4, 2014

Friendsgiving Part 1 + Southern Cornbread Dressing

Would it have killed someone to tell me my tag was sticking out? Nope. 
The holidays can be a total drag when you're a vegan. Scratch that: the holidays can be a drag when you're the ONLY vegan at every.single.gathering. This not only means I have to make and haul over any food I care to eat, it also means I generally have to discuss the ins and outs of being vegan about a thousand times. 

Don't get me wrong, I love talking about being vegan. Best thing I've ever done.  But sometimes a girl just wants to sip her chardonnay and enjoy a second helping of all the food her boyfriend had to lug around in her Lilly Pulitzer cooler. (Delegating can get tiring, people.)

But when Patrick and I got an invitation to a Friendsgiving celebration with some of his high school friends, I knew I had to put aside my grinchy, introverted ways and be social. My G-mama's southern cornbread dressing met all the requirements for the evening: able to please both omnivores and herbivores, simple to make, and allowed plenty of time to hit the chardonnay after the cooking process was over. 

I'm not even ashamed to admit I use premade cornbread mix. (Sorry, G-mama.) Make sure to read the ingredient list carefully, since many mixes contain lard (ick), hydrogenated oils, or other things any sane person would refuse to put in their body. I wish I could tell you I paid $10.99 for some organic mix, but I'd be lying. I found this brand at my local Food Lion: 

Prepare according to package directions, subbing almond/soy/some other nondairy milk for cow's milk, Earth Balance for butter, and 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce per egg. (Note: you may want to reduce the amount of milk needed since the applesauce adds some extra liquid.)

Once it's browned around the edges and a fork stuck in the middle of the cornbread comes out clean, remove from oven and let it cool. Seriously. Go do something else, like chop the onions and celery.

Once the cornbread is completely cooled, use your hands to break it apart into small pieces. 

Combine the cornbread and veggies in a large mixing bowl, then take a shaky and out-of-focus picture of yourself pouring the veggie broth in. 

After it's well mixed (but not soggy), pour into a greased 9x13 or two 8x8s:

At one point during dinner, someone shouted "WHO MADE THIS CORNBREAD DRESSING?" as they shoveled it into their mouth, so I'm declaring it a hit. 

Oh, and did I mention the hosts had recently adopted a puppy? She was cute. She was snuggly. She napped despite the 20+ people milling around her, which means she's nothing short of a #champ. After I followed her around for the better part of an hour, Patrick remarked that "he didn't know I had such a nurturing side". Rude. 

1 of about 1000 pictures I took of this sweet pup

Southern Cornbread Dressing

For the cornbread: 
1 15 oz package cornbread mix (should make about 16 servings
1/2 cup of nondairy milk 
1/3 Earth Balance, melted
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

For the dressing:
2 Tbsp Earth Balance or olive oil
1 bunch celery, chopped
1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 can no salt added corn kernels, drained
3-4 cups vegetable broth
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
2. Prepare cornbread according to package directions, adding more milk a tablespoon at a time if mix seems dry. 
3. Pour cornbread mix into a greased 9x13 pan, or two greased 8x8 pans. 
4. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and fork inserted in the middle comes out clean. 
5. Once cornbread has completely cooled, use your hands to break it into smaller pieces. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. 
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
7. In a large saute pan, melt the Earth Balance. Add celery and onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. 
8. Add celery, onion, and corn to the cornbread. Slowly stir, adding the vegetable broth until mixture is slightly moist but not soggy. (Sorry if you hate the word moist. I truly couldn't think of another way to say it.) Add salt and pepper to taste. 
9. Pour mixture into a greased 9x13 pan (or two 8x8 pans like I did) and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until dressing is golden brown on top. 

Now sit back, relax, and play with puppies. Cheers to the holidays!

December 2, 2014

DIY Faux Flower Arrangements

Now that my new job allows me work/life balance (meaning, I enjoy my work and still have a life), weekends and breaks have taken on a whole new meaning. When I was in Teach for America, weekends were when I worked feverishly from home and long holiday breaks just gave me ample time to dread the piles of paperwork I was sure to get back to after the break was over. Shudder.

But now I'm all about that balance, baby. I've been getting to work at 8am instead of 7, and leaving at 5pm instead of 6. Heck, sometimes I follow the buses out at 4:45 and wave to the kids as they pull out of the parking lot. This Thanksgiving break was the first time I've ever left my pile of work at work and spent 5 beautiful days lounging in my pjs, doing whatever I damn well please. (Hint: it was one part tearing through books mixed and one part binge watching Friends. Glorious.) 

And you know what? I've never been a better teacher. I say things like "is it seriously 4 o'clock already?", squeeze my kiddos because they're so cute I could burst, and have parents writing me emails to thank me for their babies coming home so happy everyday. 

Which means I {finally} have the time and energy left over to enjoy my life outside of work. I read. I drink wine with friends (the real-life kind, not the sitcom kind). I work out. I try out new restaurants with my hot boyfriend. I even find myself with so many unscheduled moments on my hands that... I craft. 

This is like a whole new level of free time, y'all. 

If I'm crafting, it means 1) I've watched all the Real Housewives on my TiVo 2) finished my book for book club, and 3) taken a month's worth of naps in a week's time. Thus are my free time priorities. Since I've been in super nesting mode lately (hello, winter) I've also been scouring home decor sites like One Kings Lane and Wayfair for floral arrangements to brighten up my house. I was especially inspired after visiting my friend Elise's lovely home and drooling over these faux beauties on her end tables: 
Hello, gorgeous!
Not only could I not find exactly the ones she ordered (trust me, I tried), I just couldn't justify the cost considering the small amount of spending money I budget for every month. After spending my Saturday night in the club trolling Pinterest, I found this post on a DIY blog and decided to give it a try. I mean, I may not have much money, but I finally have some free time, am I right
Crafting isn't complete without a Christmas candle burning in the background 
What you'll need: 
-Faux flowers
-Resin/craft water/quick water (name changes depending on the brand)
-Strong scissors/wire cutters for the flowers
-Plastic container to mix resin (something you'll be ok with throwing away). I used the cut off bottom of a water bottle
-Tool/spoon to mix resin. I used an old colored pencil, but I'm sure there are plenty of other things that would be much better (plastic utensils, perhaps?) #teacherprobs
-Newspaper to put down under your work space

The post I found for inspiration had a more complicated resin that involved a number of extra steps, but luckily the brand I bought at Micheal's just had two different bottles whose contents needed to be stirred together slooooowly. I learned this the hard way when I was stirring vigorously trying to get the bubbles out, then read the back to find out "stirring too quickly causes bubbles to form". Woops. Maybe I should have read the directions first? 
Considering I can barely write my name legibly, I'm rather impressed with myself. 
Directions (read these first)
1. Wash and dry vases so they are clean and dust-free. 
2. Lay out newspaper.
3. Play around with your stems, then cut them to be a little longer than you think they'll need to be to look good in your vase (you can always trim more later). Figure out how you want them arranged before you pour the resin. 
4. Place vases and stems near you as you mix the resin according to package directions. 
5. Once ready, pour equal amounts of resin into each vase (or varying amounts if you have different sized vases). 
6. Once most or all of your resin has been poured, place stems carefully in each vase. You have an hour before it fully begins to set, but taking them in and out of the vase will create a big mess. (Don't ask me how I know.)
7. Set your vases somewhere they won't be disturbed for 8-10, then marvel in your own creativity and artistic genius. 

Note: whatever you do, don't squish your finger in the resin 24 hours afterward because you "wonder what it feels like". It feels like you just stuck your finger in a vat of half-dried resin, which now has your finger mark permanently imprinted inside of it. Again, don't ask me how I know this. 

The supply list: 
3 small vases @ 4.99 each
1 medium vase @ 6.99
"QuickWater" aka "resin" aka "craft water" @ 12.99 with a 50% coupon
I bouquet faux white hydrangeas @ 11.99

Grand total with the coupon: $43.37

Here's how I used them: 
Dressing up the nightstand (lamp and shades from Target)

Bathroom counter + my Yankee candle from TJ Maxx

Brightening up the coffee table (lucite tray + candle) from Target
I'm seriously obsessed with these in a potentially unhealthy way. Just imagine what I'll be able to accomplish during my two weeks off for Christmas break. #cantstopwontstop

August 4, 2014

Creating a Beautiful Morning Routine

Since I've been in Montessori teacher training this summer, my days have been just as long (if not longer) than they will be once I'm actually teaching again. My carpool leaves my driveway at 7:15am Monday-Friday, which means my alarm rings around 6 telling me it's time to jump in the shower.  I arrive at training at 8, go until 5:30, and then generally arrive home between 6 and 6:30. (Told y'all training was intense.) While I'm not lounging by the pool all day like every teacher hopes to be between the months of June and August, I'm also grateful to have this job and remind myself of that everyday when my alarm goes off. Sure, sleeping in past six seems like a luxury I may never get to experience again, but I know that's not true. With my early morning wake ups this summer, I had two choices: be grumpy, or be happy. It seems like a lot of work to be grumpy about something you wanted in the first place, so I chose the latter. A large part of that was starting my day off intentionally.

 As a child, I watched my parents sit at the kitchen table every morning before work, sipping coffee and reading the paper. While no one cooked a hot breakfast on weekdays (I can hear my mom cackling at the very thought), my brother and I ate real food (toast and peanut butter, shredded wheat and banana) at the kitchen table as well before getting ready for school. Even though my parents often had to be at work well before 9am, I never remember any rushing, or shouting, or shoving a granola bar in our faces as we sprinted out the door. In a word, we started our days peacefully.

Even though I live by myself and technically have a lot of alone time, those few quiet minutes in the morning are the only ones that ever truly feel like "me" time. I've started setting my alarm just a few minutes earlier on weekday mornings to make time for some simple pleasures. Below, I've listed a few ways I start my day in a way that sets the tone for the rest of my day:

{find this print here}

#1. Drink lemon-cayenne water as soon as I wake up (and on an empty stomach). Elise from Cheers Y'all got me hooked on this after posting about the original article from Food Babe. I was more than skeptical when I first started doing this, and now I can't imagine starting my day without it. Supposedly it's cleansing, gets your metabolism revved up, etc. Whether it actually works or not, a little cayenne pepper and zing of a lemon certainly helps wake me up in the morning. If nothing else, the lemon juice will help to alkalinize my bod and make sure I'm feelin' good the rest of the day. I use my awesome new stainless steel juicer to juice 1/2 a lemon and pour it into my mason jar, then fill it with water and add a dash or two of cayenne. I have a reusable plastic straw I generally drink it with so that I can keep stirring and not get a little mouthful of cayenne when I get to the bottom. Bleh.

#2. Make tea instead of coffee. Ok, fine. Every summer I declare to anyone who will listen that I've broken my coffee addiction, only to go right back to chugging mug after mug once the school year starts.While I don't find coffee to be bad in moderation, I found that I really couldn't wake up without it. The automatic brew setting caused me to walk zombie-like to the coffeepot immediately upon waking and basically be incoherent until it had absorbed into my bloodstream. No thanks. Green tea with a splash of vanilla almond milk for me it is. Considering I've kept this up throughout early morning wake ups for teacher training, I think this is a habit that I've made permanent. (Pats self on back.) I also notice I'm having a much easier time waking up in the am (no more zombie impressions) and get absolutely zero caffeine headaches. Addiction? Broken.

#3 Read something good for the soul. Reading is one of those things that I would love to do for hours a day but in reality carve out 5-10 minutes for. (I'm trying to be better!)  Right now I have two devotionals that I'm reading, Jesus Calling and Everyday a Friday, but my morning reading isn't always Christian-based. Sometimes it's a short magazine article or a great blog I've been meaning to get to. As long as it's interesting and not so long that it makes me late for work, I'm good. As soon as my tea is made, I sit and read, then hop up and get back to whatever I was doing

Mornings set the tone for the entire day, so I like mine to be two things: 1) healthy and 2) relaxed. (Which should also be my motto for life.)

But as for summer 2015? I plan on sleeping in

What's your morning routine?

July 29, 2014

Broccoli-Grape Pasta Salad + Being Vegan at Family Reunions

So much for my plans to blog all day er'day this summer. Between full-time Montessori teacher training and the requisite weddings and family reunions summer brings, my days of lounging by the pool and rifling through magazines for blog recipes are few and far between. 

This past weekend, Patrick and I headed up to West Virginia to help celebrate my grandfather's 90th (!) birthday with the whole gaggle of aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was P's first time meeting most of my family (most importantly, my brother) and we had a great time. Saturday night found the aunts, uncles, and  21+ cousins, at Foster's, the only bar in town. Haley, my aunt Maureen, and I whooped it up on the dance floor while the other patrons looked on enviously at our rockin' moves. (Perhaps the looks were actually annoyance. Hard to tell in the dim light.) 
{from left: Patrick, moi, my brother Jack, cousin Haley} 

I feel very grateful not only to have grandparents that are still kickin' in their 90s, but also that my extended family consists of people I'd actually want to hang out with even if we weren't related.  How often does that happen? #never. 

I generally bring my own food to family gatherings, both so that relatives don't have to stress that I'll have something to eat as well as ensure I won't be stuck eating a few leaves of iceberg lettuce with Italian dressing for dinner. It's called a win-win, people. When picking out a dish to bring, it has to meet three criteria: 1) travels well and doesn't need much tending to before being served (i.e. can be served cold if needed) 2) is hearty enough to act as an entree or side, depending on what other options might be available for me, and 3) delicious enough to share with the rest of the family. 

In general, pasta dishes meet all three criteria pretty easily. Since I don't eat pasta on a regular basis, it also feels like a bit of a treat. This Broccoli-Grape Pasta Salad I found in a recent issue of Southern Living not only fit all of my criteria, but it gave me an excuse to use vegan mayo. Hello? Done and done. Because now that I've discovered the deliciousness that is Veganaise, I'll look for any excuse to make a recipe with mayo. (Note: When I complain about not having a bikini body, please quote me that exact sentence above.) 

{find the original recipe here}
{the preppy vegan version}

With broccoli and pecans for crunch and grapes (and a teensy bit of sugar) for sweetness, it's hard to go wrong with this one. Plus, has zero cholesterol and less sugar than the original. Bikini bod, maybe you aren't so far off after all.

Broccoli-Grape Pasta Salad

1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 (16-oz) package bow-tie pasta, cooked and drained
1 lb fresh broccoli, florets chopped into small pieces
1 cup vegan mayo, like Veganaise
1/6 cup of sugar
1/3 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup red wine vinegar 
1 tsp. salt
2 cups seedless red grapes, halved

  • Directions
  • 1. Preheat oven to 350. Bake pecans in a single layer on a shallow pan 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring halfway through. 
  • 2. Whisk together mayo, sugar, onion, and vinegar in a large bowl; add broccoli, cooked pasta, and grapes. Stir to coat. Cover and chill 3 hours, and top with pecans just before serving. 

  • Cheers to family, and pasta! 

July 15, 2014

The Vegan Traveler: Charleston + Being a Vegan Wedding Guest

This past weekend Patrick and I headed to the lovely city of Charleston to celebrate the wedding of Katie and Austin, two of his best friends since high school. Besides being a ridiculously beautiful place to spend the weekend, Charleston is also one of my favorite cities due to it's abundance of vegan restaurants and menus. Seriously? This place has got it going on. 

Friday morning, Patrick went to play golf with the boys at Wild Dunes and I walked with my friend Lindsay on the beach at Sullivan's Island. #winning. Besides seeing Steven Colbert (true story), I also saw just about every cute dog in existence and even got to squeeze the cheeks of a few fat babies. Pure heaven.

{a few of my beach treasures}
We then walked over to Cafe Medley, which has veggie sausage for their breakfast sandwiches and soy chai lattes. I had the Kathy sandwich, hold the cheese + add avocado. Simply amazing.

Then Linds had to go to work and I was forced to sit on the beach and read for a few hours. Such a tough, tough life that I lead. Since Patrick was in the wedding, we checked into our hotel and walked to McCrady's in downtown Charleston for the rehearsal dinner. 

Being vegan at a wedding can be one of the trickiest social situations I've encountered. Despite the fact that the bride and groom are doing their best to accommodate the needs of all of their guests, it can be rather easy to forget that the date of one of your friends doesn't eat meat. Or cheese. Or eggs. Or butter. You get the picture.

Since I'm a bridesmaid in 99.9% of the weddings I attend (but really though), I'm generally close enough with the bride that I don't have to worry about a thing. During my recent maid of honor duties for my college BFF Ashley, girlfriend had a delish vegan meal awaiting me at every event we went to (and trust me, there were a lot). At her rehearsal dinner, all of the omnivores at my table kept commenting on how delicious my (abundant) plate of grilled portobellos, asparagus, and spicy tomato sauce looked. (It tasted even better, but I wasn't sharing.) At my other college BFF Caroline's wedding, the catering staff made me a beautiful vegan dinner that I couldn't even eat after gorging myself on buffet hummus and guacamole. Embarrassing? Yes. But me + bottomless guacamole = pants that do not button for days. #notsorry.

Since Patrick was a groomsman and closer to the couple than I was, I asked him speak to the bride and groom well in advance about whether or not I'd be able to get a vegan meal at the rehearsal dinner. They graciously told him yes (just as I expected they would) and then confirmed with me when we saw them a week or so before the wedding.

McCrady's didn't blink an eye when I asked for a vegan meal (even when restaurants are given advance notice, they can sometimes be difficult), and the maitre'd made sure to specifically tell me everything that was in the courses they were bringing me to assure me they were vegan. That + the woman who kept coming by to refill my wine made me one happy camper. (By "camper" I mean "vegan wearing Lilly in a five-star Charleston restaurant".) My dinner was a gorgeous plate of roasted vegetables and farro that I ate too fast to take a picture. Whoops.

The reception was a buffet dinner with plenty of vegan options, including roasted potatoes, veggies, and portobello pasta. Afterwards, the bartender kept my grapefruit and vodkas a-flowing as we danced to a live band for so long that all of the women had to kick their shoes off.

{my hot boyfriend & I}
Top 5 Tips for Being a Vegan Wedding Guest
1. Speak to the bride and groom about vegan options well in advance of the wedding. Meaning a month or more, not Friday afternoon of the rehearsal dinner. Politely confirm with them a week or so before the wedding (unless they do so first), and make sure you're clear with them on what you can and cannot eat. 

2. Pack substantial snacks in case a chef's interpretation of vegan is simply a smattering of carrots on a plate. #stillhungry

3. Be gracious. Write thank you notes to the couple and even the restaurant if their vegan meal was outstanding. Perhaps it will encourage them to put that item on the menu!

4. Bring a hot date who makes everything more fun.

5. Have a great time! Unless there's not an open bar. 
Then just go home and seriously reevaluate your friendship with this person.  
{happy people, even after six hours or so of dancing}
Happy dancing, y'all!


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