Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eating plants on the road

This weekend, we went on road trip to the Pipestone National Monument in Southwestern Minnesota. This is hearty meat and potato country as the lack of listings on both vegguide and happycow confirmed.  Both sites have been meal-savers on the road by highlighting vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurants with helpful reviews.

Turns out we didn't need to search far at all. Right next to our hotel was a Pizza Ranch where a prairie pie (veggie galore) with spinach and tomato slices sans cheese is vegan and tasty. The salad bar was your typical heavy on the prepared mayo/dairy items and light on the fresh veggies, yet I was still able to get an iceberg lettuce, fresh mushroom, radish and cucumber salad with sunflower seeds and french dressing.

In addition to a satisfying plant-based meal, we enjoyed the friendly staff who gave us a tip to check out Jeffer's pytroglyphs on our trip home.

On the road, we did some online research and made some calls finding out that Granite Grinder and Cafe in Granite Falls, MN offered veggie sandwiches and salads. They were nice enough to let us check the packaging to learn the tomato basil and spinach wraps were both vegan which they loaded full of veggies. The Neumann's Own light French and Italian dressing packets were both options to bump up the flavor. Added bonus they have soymilk for your coffee pleasures.

It's worth it to have to hustle and research when you get to hike and explore something as beautiful as this.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I'm on a 3 day work retreat at the YMCA Trout Lodge in the Ozarks. This is my first time in the Ozarks and the scenery is picturesque.

I knew going in that it would likely be difficult to find vegan (and possibly even vegetarian options). I also knew that those options would likely not reflect my food consumption preferences; i.e. organic and sustainably raised. I made the decision to go vegan for the retreat to avoid the most egregious harms done to animals in factory farms. I sometimes consume dairy under the auspices of pasture-raised cows or goats which often times is probably more wishful thinking/denial than reality. Something I'm slowly facing. So slowly, that I allowed myself an exception at the retreat: cookies. (My father has been called "cookie monster"'s a family weakness.)

Imagine my surprise and delight when the YMCA Trout Lodge labeled our food the first night "vegan" and offered vegan lunch boxes that included hummus sandwiches on gluten-free, vegan bread. The vegan dinner options that first night didn't include protein and were mostly soy sauce noodles with carrots, bagged salad and cooked carrots, but they were labeled and light years beyond my first work retreat experience more than a decade ago when as a vegetarian I was served a half a head of cauliflower steamed with no seasoning or sides. 

After that first night, the lodge continued to offer something for vegans to eat. Though one gets a little tired of hummus and plain tofu isn't really that tasty on a salad bar in my opinion, I appreciated having the protein options for my largely vegetable based meals. However, if you've been to an all day work meeting that really does go more than 8 hours you know they usually ply you with lots of sugar and snacks to stay focused and satisfied. Without those options (except for a cookie here and there) and with the largely veggie based meals, by the middle of day 2 I was noticing myself getting a irritable. 

Just as I was about to call in all my chips to get a large bag of nuts a colleague had squirreled away for the trip, I had a heartening conversation with one of the YMCA staff (who were all very friendly and seemed to really be trying to be accommodating) in which she hinted she was working on a lentil stew for dinner that would be vegan. 

As you may know, lentils are one of my least favorite beans, but that lady knows how to make a delicious lentil stew. She served it with a vegan rice pilaf that included some wild rice, mixed vegetables and I felt like I was queen (rather than a prima donna) 

The people at this work retreat share my concerns about climate change, so I will continue to encourage them to at least make it easy to eat a diet that minimizes its impacts on the climate and planet.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Spicy Date Night

Sorry, if you were looking for a harlequin romance style blog post you're out of luck. If you're looking for a sincere love for my fiance and his great idea that we go out and have a proper date night meal before I leave for a 3 day work retreat in the Ozarks, read on.

Tonight I had my last regularly scheduled sand volleyball game before the tournaments. Since my team has only won twice, I'm thinking this means our season is all but done. I've had a lot of fun playing on a team where I met new people, and wanted to share the wonder that is the recreational center in Roseville with my fiance. He kindly came to our game in the steamy 95+ degree heat and took me out for dinner afterward. I think it's important to find quality time like this, especially if you're going to be apart for awhile, to just hang out and appreciate one another (it didn't hurt that he paid! :) )

We went to Little Szechuan, and I cannot say enough how much I love this place. Even with construction literally up to their front door, they put out super tasty high quality food. The light rail construction has moved across the street recently making it a lot easier to get to the restaurant. My favorite is the Spicy Szechuan Tofu which I request with added vegetables (bell peppers and broccoli):

The dishes at Little Szechuan are family style, so if you go with multiple people you may just want to get the tofu with the accent veggies; however, I find if you ask to add more veggies it turns it into a great entree.One of the great things about this dish is that the spicy isn't just hot. I get medium and have thought about upping that to hot because the predominate flavor I take from the szechuan peppers is slightly floral or citrusy taste that is SO GOOD.

The other crazy good dish there is the green beans:

It's a pretty simple dish with garlic, scallions, ginger, chilis, soy sauce. The trick is to stir fry the green beans for 6-7 minutes until starting to pucker and brown. Remove and add in the spices and add the beans back in to finish off.

As much as I loved the food, I loved the company even more.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


There are only two foods I have songs for: enchiladas and momos. Enchiladas take the prize though because the song comes with a body wagging dance too. I was inspired by my farm box to make this really flavorful and lighter version of enchiladas. You might usually discard the stems of swiss chard, but because this dish involves so much cook time you should include them for some great texture and added nutrition.

Vegetable Enchilada Casserole

1 large bunch swiss chard
1 1/2 c diced potatoes
1 zucchini
1 onion
1 bell pepper (I used orange)
1 can black beans
1 1/2 T cumin
1 T oregano
1/2 T chili powder (I used ancho)
1 pkg Daiya Jalapeno Garlic Havarti
1 T olive oil
1 pkg (~18) corn tortillas (taco size not burrito)

Sauce (can be made in advance)
1 lg can tomato sauce
1 1/2 T oregano
3 lg garlic cloves
1/2 onion
1 dried chile
1/2 T olive oil

Optional garnishes:
lettuce, vegan sour cream, salsa, hot sauce, limes, cilantro, onion, tomato, avocado

For the sauce, use a small pot with a lid. Add tomato sauce and dried chile and let simmer while you brown the diced onion in some oil in a pan. Add onion, minced garlic and oregano to the sauce and let simmer for 30 mins.

For the veggie filling,  get a large cast iron pan hot and add oil and diced onions to brown. Add in diced potatoes, diced stem bottoms of swiss chard and bell pepper. Add spices and let brown for 5 minutes while chopping swiss chard (don't remove the stems) and zucchini. Add in zucchini and swiss chard (your pan will be filled to the brim, but just fold the browned veggies over the swiss chard and it will quickly cook down to less than half its original size. Lastly, add your rinsed black beans and let simmer on the stove while you start to assemble the dish.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Using a 9x13 glass pan sprayed with cooking oil. Spoon a little sauce to just cover the bottom of the pan, layer 6 tortillas like lasagna noodles covering the bottom of the pan, sprinkle a very little amount of the havarti (to shred, you can freeze it in advance, I just sliced and broke it down with my hands) spoon in half the veggie mixture, add a little sauce (~1/4 c), layer the next 6 tortillas and repeat, add the last 6 tortillas and cover in remaining sauce. Cover pan with tinfoil and cook for 25 minutes. Remove tinfoil and add thinly sliced havarti wedges to cover the dish (it doesn't really spread when it melts in the oven when you cut it thin) and put back in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is lightly browned. You can dig in immediately!

Sunday, July 1, 2012


I'm on vacation and the weather only started to cooperate with me around 8pm tonight. I spent most of the day running any errand I could imagine that had me in air conditioning. I've got my planters planted (Thank you "early morning before the heat wave" trip to the farmer's market and late afternoon heat-avoiding trip to Menard's.) I've also stocked my fridge because "boy do they keep those grocery stores cool." Now that the heat has let up slightly (it is still 82 degrees in my house), I wanted to make something that took more time and energy than I usually have at the end of a work day.

Inspired by Vegetarian Times' Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers, but wanting to go solidly Italian, I came up with this uber-delectable dish:

Italian Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Serves 4
Time: 2 hours

4 bell peppers (red or green, your choice)
1-2 T olive oil
1 onion (diced)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried basil

28 oz diced fire-roasted tomatoes (drain the tomatoes and reserve the liquid)
1 lg zucchini (diced)
2 Tofurky Italian Sausages
3/4 c quinoa
2 c water (or veggie broth)
1 head curly kale (stems removed)
1/2 c nutritional yeast
1/2 c bread crumbs
black pepper to taste
salt to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat large skillet on high (with a cover) and add olive oil and diced onions and let brown. Cut the peppers either in half or the tops off. If you cut the tops off, dice and add them to the onions. Add the oregano, basil and minced garlic to the onions. Add zucchini and italian sausage and continue to brown. Add drained diced tomatoes and reduce heat to med-high. Add quinoa and water and 1/4 c nutritional yeast. Stir and let come to a boil before reducing to a simmer and covering to cook for 20 minutes. While mixture cooks, spray 8x8 glass pan with oil and add reserved tomato juice. Place peppers in the glass pan and fill with the mixture (pack it in!) Cover in tinfoil and cook for 1 hour in oven. Mix bread crumbs, black pepper, 1/4 c nutritional yeast. Remove tinfoil, kick up the oven to 450 degrees and top peppers with bread crumbs and put them back in the oven (immediately) for 20 minutes or until the crumb browns. Serve with a couple of spoonfuls of the tomato sauce from the cooking pan. Enjoy!