Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Greener Pastures

I’m back!

Sorry for the hiatus . . .summer has been in full swing, and frankly, the last thing I want to do is be in front of my computer on a sunny, 80-something degree day.

While I was away . . .

Jon and I went to the Electric Forest - it’s a 4-day music festival in Rothbury, Michigan.

 Besides the music, the highlight of this place is the incredible Sherwood Forest. The forest is lit up every night with lights and they have hammocks hung up everywhere for public use. There are little nature scenes scattered about and lots of shaded seating.

I went here back when it was just Rothbury music festival in 2009 and the experience literally changed my life. The experience made me see what kind of person I always wanted to be, I was just too timid to let it out. After that experience in 2009, my life changed drastically, and I couldn’t be more happy with the path it led me on…it led me to Jon!

This Electric Forest experience, however, was a tad different. That music scene has been changing and getting away from the original “peace, love, and happiness” feel ofthe2009 Rothbury, and moving towards a “party with sluts” attitude (that was literally printed on a T-shirt I saw.) Not my idea of good company.

While Jon and I had some really good moments and saw some good shows, that scene has changed so drastically, it was kind of disappointing…we both agreed.

But, on to greener pastures.

I turned 26 on July 3rd, and it was a great birthday. My parents got me a juicer and Jon got me passes to Ellicottville’s aerial park! It’s something I’ve always wanted to do….I cannot wait.

I haven’t been cooking much lately because we’ve been gone, but I was asked to make a vegan cake for a birthday celebration at work. I jumped at the chance.

Chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting
For the cake, you'll need:
2 cups + 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup regular cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1.5 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 & 1/8th cup sugar
2.5 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 & 3/4 cup water
1/8th cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup canola oil

To make cake:1. Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl
2. Combine all wet ingredients in smaller mixing bowl
3. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients slowly using a hand mixer.
4. Mix until smooth
5. Divide batter into 2 greased 8'' round pans
6. Bake at 350' for 33 minutes

For the frosting you'll need:
1 cup natural peanut butter
1/3 cup non-hydroginated shortening
1 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond milk
To make frosting:
1. Beat together peanut butter and shortening until smooth
2. Add vanilla and mix in
3. Add 1/2 of the powdered sugar and mix until smooth, adding a bit of the almond milk to help smooth out the texture
4. Add the rest of the powdered sugar and almond milk and mix until smooth. Frosting will not be runny, it will be quite firm.

To assemble:
1. Place 1 completely cooled cake on plate and evenly smooth a good spatter of frosting on the top

2. Place other cake ontop of the first and smooth frosting on top and on sides

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Raw Cocoa Cookies

Happy first day of summer! Here's to the start of camping, swimming, grilling, and lounging in the shade of a trusty old tree.

Summertime is also picnic time, and every good picnic needs a sweet treat to complete the meal. Cookies are an obvious, easy, and generally crowd-pleasing choice, however, who the heck wants to fire up the oven when daily temperatures are hitting near 90 degrees?

You're already in shorts and a tank top, sweating, and you want to subject yourself to the oven pumping out 350 degrees more heat into the air of your kitchen?

No. Thank. You.

I recommend these:

Raw Cocoa Cookies
You'll need:
1 cup walnuts
1 1/3 cup dates (pitted)
1 sample-sized package of Justin's chocolate almond butter (about 2 T)
1 T raw honey
3 T cocoa powder
1 t vanilla extract
1/8 t sea salt

To make:
1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients until contents looks like potting soil (lovely image, I know.)
2. Dump contents into a gallon ziplock bag and seal. Form 'dough' inside bag into a ball.
3. Grease up a rolling pin with a bit of canola oil. Set up a rolling station using a big piece of parchment paper.
4. Remove dough ball from ziplock bag and place on parchment paper. Roll dough with greased pin until dough is about 1/2 inch.
5. Use a cookie cutter or the mouth of a glass to cut dough into cookies.
6. Roll dough back up and roll out until all cookies have been cut (if you have extra dough, but not enough for a full cookie, roll dough into a couple balls. If you want, you could also do this for the whole recipe.)
6. Put cookies in container, separating layers using cut pieces of the parchment paper you rolled the dough on.
7. Let cookies chill for at least an hour to firm up before enjoying.

Makes about a dozen 3'' cookies.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Copy Cat

I do this all the time.

I go to a restaurant, order a meal, and upon first bite, exclaim: "We could MAKE this!"

I get so excited letting the flavors roll in my mouth, trying to sort out the spices. I examine contents, imagine the method, and make mental notes for later.

A couple recreations include Pearl Street Grill's "Queen City" sandwich: "Portabella mushrooms, caramelized onions, roaster red peppers, provolone, and garlic mayo grilled between wheat berry bread"

My version: Marinated, roasted portabella mushroom cap with sauteed onions and sweet peppers in between toasted wheat berry bread.

That one took a while to make with the mushroom cap and all, but it was worth it.

Another favorite I love to re-create is Merge's "Smothered sweet potato fries" with "spiced lentils, spinach and daiya cheese"

Their fries are crispy on the outside, yet soft on the inside. The lentils are curry spiced and the vegan cheese lends the perfect salty touch.

My version: Spiced, baked sweet potato wedges with curried lentils and wilted spinach. Homemade vegan cashew cheese to top.

Cashew cheese?!?!? Why, yes, it is.
And it's delicious.
And it's super easy.
And it's healthier for you then dairy cheese.

This cashew cheese is creamy and chewy at the same time. It has just the right amount of salt and "cheesy" flavor. I always use it atop my version of Merge's smothered sweet potato fries, but it's also an awesome dip for pretzels, a great spread for crackers and crostini, and (while I haven't tried it yet) I bet it would make a killer grilled cheese.

Cashew Cheese
You'll need:
2 cups cashews
1/4 cup water
2 T nutritional yeast
2 t lemon juice
1 t garlic powder
Dash of sea salt
Dash of pepper

To make:
1. Soak cashews for 2 hours
2. Drain cashews and throw in food processor with all other ingredients.
3. Combine until smooth, scraping the sides occasionally.
4. Store in air tight container, in fridge, for up to 5 days.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Growth: Buffalo Style Part 2

Which of these things is not like the other? Mold. Rats. Homeless people. $20 salmon dinner.

One year ago, the first three items were easily synonymous with Buffalo's historic Lafayette hotel; it was rotting and crumbling in streets. Jon and I would walk past the structure every day on our lunch break and wonder what it used to look like when it was in full operation.

The hotel was built with the intention of being ready in time for the Pan American exposition in 1901, however, it was not completed until 1904. Nonetheless, it bustled with visitors and gained huge recognition.

The Lafayette hotel boasted hot and cold water in all bathrooms, a phone in every room, and in it's heyday, was considered to be one of the finest hotels in the country. There were bars made from oak, a crystal chandelier in the ballroom, and skylights - in the early 20th century, this was a huge deal. The Lafayette hotel oozed luxury and swank.

When Buffalo's industry began to decline and people stopped coming to the city, the Lafayette slowly stopped making money and the owners of the hotel (who did not live in Buffalo) kind of 'tucked the building under the rug' and left it to the elements.

There it sat for years, taking abuse from the weather and vagrants. The brick was left to crumble and the windows were shattered and broken. It wasn't until Rocco Termini (a well-known developer in Buffalo) purchased the hotel and set on a $35 million "rehabilitation project" to restore the building to it's former glory.

Jon and I have watched the local contractors transform the exterior of the hotel over the past year and marveled at their speedy, yet intricate work. We could only imagine the kind of magic they were working inside.

Well, Friday we were strolling past the hotel on lunch when I noticed there were people inside the restaurant portion of the first floor...and they were not contractors...they were regular people...and they were sitting...eating lunch! I was curious, so I dragged Jon across the street and poked my head in the open door. A waiter stood in the entrance and invited us inside.
"I was just curious." I told the waiter.
"Come on in! We're having a soft opening for lunch...it's free." He said to me and Jon. We had just bought lunch from a nearby place and our lunch time was nearly up.
"We have to go back to work." I said with disappointment still straining to sneak a peek at the interior.
"Well, we're having a free dinner tomorrow night." He offered in consolation. I looked at Jon wide-eyed with hope and he agreed it sounded like a cool idea. We made reservations.

Dinner was in the Pan American dining room, and we had complete free range of their menu. Over and over, we marvled this was actually happening: A completely free dinner, whatever we wanted, how much ever we wanted, no strings attached.

We were excited to say the least.

We started with the scallop cakes. They were tasty, but had a tad too much bredding for my liking. The spicy sauce drizzled on top was great, though, and really pulled together the flavors.

For the main course, we both ended up getting the same dish: Alaskan salmon with wild rice pilaf and asparagus.

The portions were delightfully monstorus. The salmon had a smokey BBQ-type sauce on top and it was cooked to prefection - flavorful and juicy without being over-saturated in butter and oil (like salmon dishes so often are).

I wanted to finish my portion, but I knew there was dessert ahead and I should save some room. Boy, was I glad that I did . . .

I got the peanut butter pie (first dessert) and Jon got the Snickerbocker pie (seccond dessert). We devoured both in minutes. . .making sure no chocolate drizzle was left behind.

Afterwards, we settled our bellies by snooping around the hotel exploring the rest of the building.

Obviously, they're still putting the finishing touches on the rest of the building, but it's shaping up nicely.

We even went snooping in the flower shop and the owner gave me a tye-dye rose! I always wanted one, too!

It was a great night, not just because it was all free, but because Jon and I got to experience this historic structure and indulge in our wonder of the city's past.

If you're in the area, I definitely recommend looking up a little history and visiting the newly restored Lafayette Hotel.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Southern Tier Back Burner

Southern Tier Back Burner
9.6% ABV
Light & Dark carmel malt
Kettle hops: Chinook
Aroma hops: Wilamette
Dry hops: Amarillo, Centennial

Brewed and bottled by Southern Tier Brewing Company
Lakewood, NY

Look: Opaque deep copper-colored body with a quickly-dissipating head

Taste: Bitter upfront unfolding into a carmel-toffee malt flavor. Hints of sugarplum and citrus sneak over the tongue, finishing on a boozy note.

Other notes: My taste buds are a little less trained to enjoy the bitterness of this kind of beer, but it was surprisingly enjoyable to me. The bitterness slowly dissipated and became tolerable (to my sugar-loving taste buds) as the flavors unfolded and expanded with every sip. I began to really enjoy and appreciate the taste of this beer towards the end of the glass. If you're into the bitterness of IPAs but are looking for some more sugary fruit flavors, this might be up your alley.

As noted by BeerAdvocate.com, "Despite its name, a Barleywine (or Barley Wine) is very much a beer, albeit a very strong and often intense beer! In fact, it's one of the strongest of the beer styles. Lively and fruity, sometimes sweet, sometimes bittersweet, but always alcoholic. A brew of this strength and complexity can be a challenge to the palate."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Well, I did it.

13.1 miles.

My first half marathon is complete, I am still alive, and it feels awesome.

Here's a recap of the events:

With the race beginning at 7 a.m. Sunday morning, I was aiming to get to bed around 10:30 - 11 p.m. Saturday to ensure at least 7 solid hours of sleep (since I planned on waking up at 5 a.m.)

That did not happen.

My nerves were working and bed time didn't end up happening until about 1 a.m. Probably not the best idea to only get 4 hours of sleep before your first half marathon, but, oh well, that's the way it happened.

I woke up at 5 a.m., made a cup of coffee, ate a banana, checked the weather forecast, and worked on waking up.

There was a chance of rain for the time I'd be running, but it was supposed to roughly 70 degrees.

I decided to go with the purple seamless tank. I figured it was going to be a little warmer and I was going to get pretty hot and sweaty...seemed like a good choice.

Jon drove me downtown and dropped me off near the start. There were so many people...and I thought the Turkey Trot was a big deal - psshh.

 I found a spot near the 2:10 half marathon pacer and waited in the crowd to hear the start gun. All around me people talked and joked about the amount of miles they were about to run...some nervous, some enthusiastic. I tried to stay calm and focused.

Shoes tied? Check.
iPod play list queued up? Check.
Last bathroom break taken care of? Check...besides, there was no turning back now and the lines for the horrific port-o-potties were way to long.

When the gun sounded, I was off.
The route this year was a little different than years before. It took us along the waterfront and into the old industrial section of the city that I talked about in my last post. I actually ran on some of the same path that I had biked on a couple weeks ago!

For the first 7 miles, I didn't even think about running, I just listened to my music, kept pace with the pacer, and enjoyed the scenery. It was cool and partly couldy; the rain was holding up - perfect weather.

It wasn't until around the 10 mile mark that I began to feel a little uncomfortable. Up to that day, the most I had ever run was 9.5 miles (my sickness earlier in the month prevented me from completely finishing my training.) I decided to break from the pacer, begin to speed walk when I needed a break, and start stopping at the water stations for a few seconds to recooperate. It also didn't help that little hills were popping up around the 11-12 mile markers.

Every time I saw a hill approaching, I'd keep my head forward, fall back into my music and push. I just had to be sure I never got to to the point where I felt dizzy or sick. There is no point in doing something if it's going to make you feel bad pain.

It really started getting rough around mile 12. I wanted to stop so many times and walk but every time I thought about doing it, I told myself, "You can do this. keep going."

Once I saw the finish line in the distance, I found a good song in my play list and booked it. I sprinted to the finish. I figured at that point, I better go balls out.

My first half marathon finish time was 2:08:25 with an average 9:48 mile.
Not too shabby.That was right where I'd hoped I'd be.

My family and Jon were there to meet me at the finish and congratulate me. They were so proud; I was so proud...it one of my proudest moments. Months of preparation and dedication for this one moment and I did what I set out to do.

Jon took me to get a fresh vegan breakfast burrito at our co-op (which I devoured) and then he drove us home...at which point I crashed and slept for 4 hours.

Between only getting 4 hours of sleep and then running 13.1 miles, my body needed to shut down and charge up for a bit.

Later that night, Jon took me to a new restaurant/bar that opened up in the harbor downtown called Liberty Hound.

It was a smaller place with a sort of colonial/old port feel.

Their glasses had pin-up girls on them, which i LOVED. Pin-up girls are one of my favorite things.

After a couple drinks, we took a quick look at war ships in the harbor and then headed on over to Pearl Street Grill and brewery for some celebratory food.

It was quite the day.

I'm still kind of reeling from the whole thing. The half marathon just proved to me that I was indeed capable of things I never thought I could do. Just 7 months ago, if you told me I'd be running 13.1 miles and completeing it in my goal time, I would have laughed out loud. This experience makes me want to push harder and be better than I was just 3 days ago.

Jon and my family were such a core element to my involvement in this, too. They rooted for me the whole way, always interested in my progress and giving me encouragement the whole way through. Without them behind me, I woudn't have the courage to do any of this.

We are all capable of amazing things, we just have to believe we are and then...make it happen.