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Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Dinner 2011

I am declaring Christmas 2011 my best Christmas EVER. I spent the entire weekend with people I love and cherish. Who could ask for anything more?

My best friend's hubby is a chef and he and I collaborated on Christmas eve dinner. No, he isn't vegan, but he likes the challenge of cooking vegan food. (You may recall the fig sauce he prepared awhile back, posted HERE.)

For a little over two hours, we set to work on some amazing food to bring to the family dinner: a savory "Holiday Tart" (recipe from VegNews HERE), acorn squash stuffed with wild rice stuffing (stuffing recipe HERE), and mashed potatoes with butternut squash. There are no photographs of the cooking process as we were on a time crunch and were bustling around that tiny, 800-degrees kitchen, but behold! The finished product!

Here's the tart, fresh out of the oven.

This was delicious! The filling is mostly chickpeas, walnuts, spinach, celery, onion, and garlic and some other herbs. This could be eaten without baking, and it would make a delicious dip or spread. I think it would also be great crust-less, just baked like a casserole.

The wild rice stuffing was delicious! I cooked the rice in vegetable broth, and it cooked for a very long time, and we still had to drain excess liquid, but it still turned out perfect. Instead of an apple, we diced up a pear-apple, which was fun. Pecans are great in rice dishes.

And mashed potatoes, well, you can't go wrong with mashed potatoes! (Especially garlicky ones.) The butternut squash was a great addition.

At the family dinner, everyone was eating pasta and seafood, but I was happy to share my food with everyone (we made plenty to go around!), and I got some lovely feedback!

Here's my plate:

I also made a no-bake fruit pie with So Delicious vanilla on the side, and that was warmly received, but I have no pictures of that. (I've blogged about it awhile back and the "recipe" is HERE.)

It was such a delicious meal and I was SO FULL that I couldn't even THINK about turning my new hula hoop that night! I had an amazing weekend, so full of love. I am so lucky to have such amazing people in my life.

I hope you had a lovely holiday, too! What was on your holiday plate?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Te Amo, Mi Pueblo

Friday evening, my dearest Kate and I met up in Sarasota for some hangings out. We had a delicious dinner at Mi Pueblo off University Parkway. I hadn't been there since I came down to visit for Kate's wedding in June 2010 (you can read about that first visit HERE.).

Mi Pueblo's vegan/organic menu is lovely. Appetizers, entrees, juices & organic drinks, and desserts. How does one choose? I went with the Tacos de Paz: two corn tortillas filled with spicy ground Brazil nuts, savory guacamole, lettuce, pico de gallo, and sunflower seed sour cream, garnished with lime. Served with a side of vegetable rice. This is what my friend Robin ordered when we were there last year and she STILL talks about that meal!

The lighting was troublesome in the restaurant, so bear with me.

I don't even know how to describe the amazing flavor and texture of the ground, spiced Brazil nut meat. They were phenomenal! And the just-slightly-tangy-and-a-little-sweet sunflower seed sour cream paired perfectly with it. The corn tortillas were tender, the guacamole fresh, and the vegetable rice on the side was crisp and bursting with fresh veggie flavors. 100% yum.

And even though that was plenty satisfying, we needed a sweet ending after all of that savory deliciousness. Kate and I split the Besitos de Chocolate: Superfood chocolate bites made with Brazil nuts, hemp seeds, agave, raw cacao, and dusted with mesquite. Served with the light and sweet and heavenly macadamia nut cream.

Kate and I LOOOOOVED these! They're perfect. And the orange slice really helped balance out the richness of the chocolate bites. We marveled over the magical powers of nuts while eating these. Seriously -- nuts are awesome!

If you find yourself in Sarasota, make it a priority to try out Mi Pueblo's vegan menu. So fresh, so flavorful, so colorful... These unique raw meals with a Mexican twist will leave you wanting more!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Taqueria Monterrey (from the people who brought you TACO BUS!)

With a hankering to try something new for dinner one night, my friend Lisa and I got very excited upon reading the vegan menu at Taqueria Monterrey in the USF area of Tampa. They are a sister restaurant to Taco Bus, and knowing that affiliation, I had a good feeling about trying this place out.

We walked into the tiny "Monterrey #2" fairly late in the evening, so business was quiet, but the Latin tunes were blasting, bringing me back to my Zumba days. We sat at a booth and requested the vegan menu, which is entirely separate.

With several options to choose from, deciding was challenging. Lisa went with a soy chorizo burrito plate

and I went with a two-taco plate: one with faux-steak strips and the other with soy chorizo.

I was not impressed with the steak strips. They were incredibly bland, which made their texture that much weirder for me without some flavor to mask it. I did not finish them.

The chorizo, on the other hand, was much more flavorful, with a little kick to 'em. They're also more on the drippy-saucy side, which is usually a sign of deliciousness, as well as sexiness (because who doesn't get turned on by taco sauce dribbles?).

Somehow I missed photographing the bottomless bowl of chips and salsa, but I definitely recommend that. The salsa is fresh and chock full o' cilantro, just how I like it!

Would I return to Taqueria Monterrey? For sure. I'll just skip the steak strips.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Favorite Songs of 2011

2011 is coming to a close and it's impossible this time of month to NOT reflect on this past year. So much happened for me in 2011, and though I tend to not get very personal on the blog, I may be posting more reflective posts on the year, but for now, I really want to share my favorite songs of the past year. There are three that I love, and I identify with each of them in some way, especially when looking back on this year.

When there's a burning in your heart
An endless yearning in your heart
Build it bigger than the sun
Let it grow, let it grow
When there's a burning in your heart
Don't be alarmed

And so lying underneath those stormy skies
She'd say, "oh, ohohohoh I know the sun must set to rise"
This could be

I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I'm gonna cut it out and then restart

What are your favorite songs of this year? What song best represents 2011 for you?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meeting Darlynn's Darlins

A couple of Saturdays ago, a group of volunteers and I spent the afternoon at Darlynn's Darlins, a pig sanctuary in Polk City. We had such an amazing time at this amazing place. Darlynn, the founder of the sanctuary, is quite a lady! She has devoted so much time and energy and love to these beautiful animals. Running a non-profit animal sanctuary is no small feat, and she is always in need of funding and hands-on help, but despite all of the hurdles she jumps on a daily basis, she has a great sense of humor and nothing but love love love for these animals.

After a tour of the grounds, our group set to work on raking, poop shoveling, bowl cleaning, and fence repairing. I also gave Darlynn a Facebook 101 lesson. After our lunch break, a few of us went around and fed apples, bananas, and tomatoes to the pigs, which they LOVED.

Please check out Darlynn's website HERE and "like" what she's doing on Facebook. Every little bit of support would be so greatly appreciated. If you are looking for an animal sanctuary to donate to this holiday season, please consider Darlynn's Darlins.

You can expect to see more from DD's on this blog in the near future!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tampa ThanksVegan 2011

This year's Tampa ThanksVegan Dinner was the 6th annual, but only my second. This event will always have a special place in my heart, as it was my first big vegan event when I moved to Florida last November, and I met so many special people at that event, people that have become such beautiful friends.

[You can read about last year's ThanksVegan HERE.]

This year I was much more involved in planning the event. I helped keep the Facebook page active, I helped with volunteer coordinating the day of, which was difficult to juggle along with the task of being the photographer again. The day went by so much faster than last year, and this year was much more hectic, but I still had a great time. One of my friends said it perfectly when she said that as busy and crazy as the day can be, we're still hanging out with our friends, anyway.

Volunteers were in the kitchen by 9am, prepping Tofurkies and Field Roasts and stuffed gardein turk'ys.

We had a great water filter set-up for reusable bottles, and we also collected the food scraps for the piggies at Darlynn's Darlin's pig sanctuary.

So Delicious and Earth Balance both donated dairy-free nogs.

Java Planet donated lots of fair-trade coffee, too.

Sami's Bakery provided DELICIOUS dinner rolls at a discount.

And what goes better with soft rolls than Earth Balance buttery spread? EB donated tubs of each variety!

Now let's talk Tofurky, and then some! Tofurky roasts, Field Roast Celebration Roasts, and gardein stuffed turk'ys were all generously donated by the companies.

There was a vast variety of potluck dishes to choose from.

Here's my Thanksgiving 2011 plate.

Here are some other plates. We were all amused by how different they all looked. A vegan diet is most DEFINITELY a varied diet!

And of course, there was dessert. My buddy Dean makes KILLER cheesecakes. I'm not joking -- I was floating on a cloud of pure contentedness after relishing slices of banana-nut, pumpkin spice, and classic NY-style. (I only got to taste gingerbread last year, so I passed over that one.)

So Delicious and Whole Foods Tampa donated lots of sweet treats that went fast!

And here's a classic case of Being in the Right Place at the Right Time: toward the end of the event, a guest came bearing an amazing gift - a tray of vegan cannoli!
I had a double chocolate one, which had a little spicy kick to it, courtesy of cinnamon and cayenne. What a treat! That was also the first cannoli I've ever had in my life! My friends and I were tickled and ended up having a silly photoshoot with our cannoli, but I won't be posting anything from that series here. ;) It was a very sweet ending to a crazy, awesome, busy, loving whirlwind-of-a-Thanksgiving!