Vegan Fig and Cheese Sandwich on Ciabatta

While we were on the road to Seattle, we stopped at Blossoming Lotus in Portland for lunch and had a vegan Brie and fig sandwich that was out of this world. I knew I had to recreate it at home. I’ve made it with both raw red onions and cooked, and both versions are good. The raw red onions add a bit of crunch, but I enjoy the sweetness and texture of the caramelized onions just a touch more.

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As far as mustards go, I used a porter based stoneground in combination with a three pepper mustard that was on the sweeter and spicier side, and it really hit the spot. Use your favorite or try some combinations.

I used vegan cheese because they were giving samples of it at the grocery store, and the Blossoming Lotus version was vegan. That said, I have no doubt this would be tasty with actual Brie as well if that’s your thing! It’s a messy sandwich to eat, that’s for sure, but man it’s delicious!

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Vegan Fig and Cheese Sandwiches
Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 half red onion, sliced
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 ciabatta rolls or a loaf of ciabatta cut into 2 sandwich size pieces
  • 4 tablespoons vegan cheese (I used the Parmela brand)
  • 6 – 8 slices of tempeh bacon
  • 4 tablespoons mustard of choice
  • 6 figs or 4 tablespoons fig jam
  • Handful of arugula

Directions

  1. Heat oil in small frying pan over medium high heat. Add red onions and salt. When onions begin to soften, turn heat down and leave them alone, allowing them to brown and caramelize.
  2. While the onions cook, spread each half of ciabatta with 1 tablespoon mustard and 1 tablespoon of vegan cheese. If using fig jam, spread that on as well.
  3. Add a layer of tempeh bacon, figs, and onions when they are done caramelizing. Top with arugula.
  4. Use a panini press or a cast iron pan on top of your sandwich in the oven to toast the sandwich.
  5. Slice and enjoy!
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Fall Adventures in Seattle

Alex and I went adventuring up to Seattle this weekend. If all goes according to plan, we’re actually going to be moving next fall so I can attend graduate school up there. I haven’t even applied yet, so there’s still the possibility that I don’t get in and we don’t move, but we’re using the power of positive thinking to propel us forward at the moment.

I’ve been to Seattle twice and it has either been raining or snowing, so I was excited to at least stay dry and maybe see some sun. I do believe the sun came out for a little bit on Friday, but we were in a pub enjoying some seasonal beer and missed it. Thankfully, the cloud cover was the perfect backdrop to the amazing fall colors.

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I literally couldn’t stop saying exclaiming out loud every time we saw another brightly colored tree or strolled through another pile of leaves. The weather was cold and crisp and everything felt very fresh. I was thrilled to come back to similar weather in San Francisco, after enjoying the sunny days for several weeks now.

Naturally, we also enjoyed some treats while we were there, only a few of which I took pictures of – Mighty-O Donuts and cakes from Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery. Next time I want to try the chocolate peanut butter version!

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There were amazing healthy meals too, at the Bastyr campus and Chaco Canyon, but of course I didn’t stop to snap a photo.

Spending time in nature combined with the weather shift and our potential impending move has put me in a reflective mood. When I’m not studying for midterms, I’m snuggling on the couch with the cats, a blanket and a cup of tea thinking about what’s happening now and what’s next. Bear with me if things are a little messy as I figure all this shit out!

What’s your favorite season? Does fall make you get quieter and introspective, too? 

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

I know I haven’t been here in a while, but hey  I got married and then was traveling around with my new husband (weird!). I coulda/woulda/shoulda maybe blogged the whole process but the reality is…I just didn’t want to. I was focused on the big picture and the small details so the blog wasn’t a priority. But now I’m back, settled, and excited to share my life here again.

The wedding went better than I ever could have imagined. We felt so loved by all of our friends and family, and so cared for. Having (almost) everyone we love and care about in one spot celebrating us was overwhelming in the best way. I still tear up when I think about it. Thanks to our amazing photographer Travis Hoehne and his team from StudioTHP for all the photos.

Yes, we broke boards at our ceremony….

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And we vadered

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And we took some normal pictures too!

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wedding party

Then we were home for a few days before we hopped on a plane to Australia for our honeymoon.  We were gone for too long for me to post a full recap; I don’t even want to scroll through three weeks of my own photos so I’ll spare you. I’ve included a few highlight photos below.

Sunrise over the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House. IMG_0130 IMG_0151

 

The outback is a dusty but beautiful place.

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So, so sweaty.

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Awesome rock formations called the Bungle Bungles. IMG_0386

 

A dry, rocky riverbed.

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Beach hike!

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There’s a wallaby in there somewhere…

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Fiji!

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Nature! We love it.

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A little beach by our hotel.

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Me at the end of a rock waterslide! Scary, slightly painful, but awesome! IMG_0944

Being on vacation with Alex was awesome for a lot of reasons. We were both giddy and coming down off the high of an amazing wedding. We went on a ton of adventures – both planned and unexpected – and didn’t get stressed out or annoyed with each other.

I felt relaxed and open in a way that I haven’t in awhile, and I realized that it was because I was able to step back and really check out from being connected. Limited wifi meant no Facebook, Instagram, constant email, or news. I checked occasionally to make sure everyone was still okay and alive, and that nothing huge had happened in the US that we should know about. But mostly, I hung out with Alex, read a ton of books, admittedly played a lot of Candy Crush, slept, ate, and got outside. I was composing blog posts and short stories in my head. I had the mental and emotional space to think about the future and what I might want to do with my career. It was very freeing.

We were back for a week before we were back on the road and headed to Burning Man, for another week of disconnecting from the “default world.” Alex left early, and I had a lot of time to reflect by myself on where I’m at and connect one on one with people I don’t often see. Not to mention that the art at the event is out of this world; I couldn’t even imagine some of the things that people create. It’s a great place to be inspired.

Am I happy to be back home and reconnected? You bet. I missed catching up with my friends on g-chat and talking to my mom on the phone. I missed seeing the little things that make people’s days on Instagram. I missed being better informed on what’s happening in the world. But it was a great reminder that really creating space, physical and mental, is really important for me. Everyone needs different amounts – for some people 5 minutes a day is enough and others need more; I still have to figure out how much space I can make and take in the real world versus vacation world, but now it’s a priority to figure it out.

I also need to get back on the healthy eating train – it was derailed as soon as we landed in Sydney (who can resist crème brulee gelato, almond croissants, and copious amounts of avocado toast?!). Burning Man was slightly less indulgent, but the combination of the heat, no refrigeration, tons of biking and walking and a thin layer of dust covering everything makes for some interesting eating habits. Now the bulk of our travel is done (we have some weekend trips coming up) and I’m so ready to get back to normal. More on this in my next post!

Speaking (quickly, as this post is already out of control long) of my next post, I now have three hours per week scheduled into my calendar for writing, so I should be here with more frequency than the past 6 months!

A Trip to the Windy City

There are some vacations where you go to sleep early, eat heathfully, exercise, and take care of yourself. Our trip to Chicago was not one of those vacations.

We stayed out late, got up early, ate what we wanted and didn’t (formally) exercise. I did do lunges while brushing my teeth (it’s a habit) and we walked a bajillion miles a day, so I didn’t feel too bad about that. I had grand visions of doing yoga each morning before we went out and about, but I spent that time devouring Wild by Cheryl Strayed on my Kindle or reading about how to get the perfect butt, body, and boyfriend in various women’s magazines.

Thus I spent last week and this weekend recovering from four straight nights of very little sleep. But we had the most amazing time on our trip so it was 100% worth it!

I grew up going to Chicago in the summer to visit my aunt and uncle and grandmother. We traversed the city on the El, going from museums to the lakefront to Sears Tower. (Sidenote: I will never call it Willis Tower. Ever.)

I’d never been back to Chicago as an adult and Alex had never been at all so we decided to go for his birthday, over the long weekend. Our good friends Sarah and Alex moved there last summer so we were able to be tourists with a local edge.

There’s no way I could detail the entire trip, unless people wanted to read for days and days. So here are the ten highlights:

1. Millennium Park – I’d never been here (at least that I remember).

2. The City at Night – including Buckingham Fountain

3. The Art Institute and Terzo Piano

I was particularly excited about the miniature rooms exhibit (there were so many tiny rooms). The Licthenstein exhibit on display was also fun to see; he was so prolific! We ate at the fancy attached restaurant and we met the Chef di Cucina, Meg Colleran-Sahs! The food, especially the dessert, was to die for.

4. A Cover Band Concert

‘Nuff said.

5. Cubs Game

The Cubs broke a 12 game losing streak just for us. The game was a last minute decision and it was a blast. People in Chicago are really into baseball and since the Cubs aren’t really known for winning, their victory was that much more exciting.

6. Pies and Biscuits

On Tuesday before we left, we hit up Bang Bang Pie Shop, which has three kinds of pie and biscuits. I really don’t think there is a happier place on earth.

7. Second City Comedy Club

I don’t have any photos from this, but if you’re ever in Chicago, I HIGHLY recommend seeing a show. I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. Many SNL greats got their start at Second City.

8. The fact that every Chicago building smells the same.

As soon as we walked into Sarah and Alex’s apartment building, I was transported back to my aunt and uncle’s house – I don’t know why that happens…the bricks? The sun? The humidity?

9. Hail Mary

I discovered a new drink at a local coffee shop – an iced chai latte with two shots of espresso. As I’m not a coffee drinker, it’s good that no one near us sells this (yes, I realize I could just get an iced chai and ask for two shots, but it’s really not the same).

10.  Deep dish pizza

I could’ve sworn I took a picture of this, but it turns out I was just eating it instead. Truly amazing and not quite as heavy and intense as I thought it would be.

Somehow in the 2.5 days we were there, we managed to fit in even more than is shown here, and that’s why I was averaging 4 hours of sleep! Chicago has so much to offer and I can’t wait to go back and visit again!

Adventures in NYC, Days 2 and 3

We started our second day much as we started our first. We had a lazy morning and then walked across town to Café Blossom. According to their website, they “are first and foremost animal caring.” But they also know that “eating an organic vegan diet encourages a healthy lifestyle.” Sounds like my kind of place! d

NYC has the best signs:

I got the veggie burger and Alex got a “bacon and egg” Florentine. My veggie burger was delicious and perfectly spiced – a bit soft, but I’ve come to expect that from home made veggie burgers. Alex liked his too, although I think he’d take actual Eggs Florentine any day of the week.

I was really disappointed by the sweet potato fries, which were soft and gummy and sort of cold. Not that we didn’t eat them, but we didn’t enjoy them as much as we COULD have. #firstworldproblems

After lunch, we grabbed the bus and went over the Highline. The highline used to be an elevated railroad, and when the city threatened to demolish it, a group banded together to save it and now it’s a long parklet. Walking around was beautiful and offered a unique view of the city:

Another awesome ad:

We walked from end to end and then needed to get out of the cold – so we headed over to a store we passed the day before, Good Beer. On the way, Alex stopped at Think Coffee for a small cup – and it was sized correctly! I wish we had more time so we could make another Think Coffee trip; they are socially minded and have great sourcing practices. PLUS, they are a bar and a coffee shop. We need more of those in SF!

When we got to Good Beer, which we’d spied the day before, we settled in to warm up on the inside and the outside!

Alex got a flight sampler while I enjoyed a small, mystery beer:

Good Beer also focuses on local sourcing:

Then we went to Pure Food and Wine for dinner. I didn’t take pictures because it was kind of fancy. I had made reservations thinking the restaurant was organic and vegan, not realizing the food was also raw.

Dinner was delicious – the food was incredibly creative and Alex got a tamale plate that rocked our world. Considering we don’t really like regular tamales, that’s saying something!

But I have to say that given that I was so cold from walking around without enough layers all day, the surprise of the food being raw and thus not piping hot, was disappointing. That has absolutely NOTHING to do with the quality of the food or service, both of which were great.

I was in need of something hot after dinner, so we hustled our way through the wind to Chickalicious Dessert Bar first, which is across the street and is a small, quiet dessert resatuarnt a pre-fixe menu and wine pairings. It looked fancy and crowded and there was no way we were waiting in the cold. So instead, we headed across the street to sister restaurant Chickalicious Dessert Club, a hole in the wall dessert place that was packed and pumping club music. I got a decidedly NOT vegan chocolate lava cake and vanilla ice cream. And Alex got a banana caramel bread pudding ice cream concoction:

We took our full bellies back our hotel and enjoyed the rest of the evening lounging about.

Our flight left at 2 on Monday, so we didn’t have much time to explore, but we did graba  healthy and yummy breakfast at Le Pain Quotiden were I sipped a bowl full of warm chai latte:

Clearly we needed it:

Allie introduced me to LPQ when I was in Washington DC a few summers ago, and I knew I had to take Alex there. It reminds me a bit of La Boulange in the city.

We walked around for a while, stretching our legs before we were forced to sit for 5 hours, and found yet another giant, crazy ad:

Finally, we ended the trip with the best falafel of my life. I searched Serious Eats and came up with the list of 10 best falafel in NYC and even though the #1 restaurant, Taim, it was across town from our hotel, we are such huge falafel lovers, we wanted to try it. Worth it. Best. Falafel. Ever.

On the way back to the hotel to grab our stuff and head to the airport, we discovered the Chelsea Market, which is a lot like the Ferry Building. I bought a raw, vegan chocolate ganache tart at One Lucky Duck that I ate later at the airport.

I’m not embarrassed to admit I ate the whole damn thing, even though it was so rich and decadent my biodegrable fork almost lost the battle a few times. Worth it!

I was overwhelmed by the number of vegan/vegetarian/healthy but delicious restaurants in NYC; I thought I was lucky in SF but holy smokes! I felt a little bad that I dragged Alex all across town just to eat for three days, but he seemed to enjoy it. We both agreed though that the falafel (still vegan but maybe note QUITE as healthy) was our favorite meal.

Walking and enjoying meals are my favorite ways to explore a city. On this trip, we discovered that we really like the Village and would definitely stay there next time. We also want to check out Brooklyn, since we didn’t get a chance to head over there this time. I suggested that perhaps we make it a five year tradition to visit NYC and discover even more of what it has to offer.

I know NYC is filled with museums and holes in the wall and fun places to go and things to do, but all of that seemed to require more planning. Considering we didn’t get out of the hotel until noon each day, it seemed like a miracle we got to the show and the highline.

Our first trip was all about doing the tourist thing. Our second trip was all about food. Our next trip can be all about finding fun and unique things to do that only NYC offers, and maybe enjoy some of the nightlife, too. Plus, we really want to try Dirt Candy, which had absolutely no reservations while we were there.

Having a few days to let the idea of being engaged sink in and just be present with each other was absolutely perfect. As much as we love celebrating with our friends and family, I felt lucky to have a few days alone to say, “hey guess what? We’re engaged” every ten minutes, without annoying friends and family.

And now we start the wedding planning journey – a process I’m excited to share on the blog. I plan to share specifics, along with thoughts and reflections on the process and how I am taking care of myself during it to avoid stress and tension. Looking forward to sharing with all of you!

Adventures in NYC, Part 1

Finally, our NYC adventures!

From reading Gena and Angela’s blogs, I knew NYC was a mecca for vegan food – and I took full advantage of that by dragging Alex all across town just to eat.

Other than go to the Book of Mormon (which was so inappropriately hilarious and in the end, quite sweet), all we did was walk and eat – which sounds like an ideal vacation to me.

On Saturday, we got such a late start, we had to stop to split a black bean taco with pickled jalapenos from a food truck. Mmmm, taco.

 

As we trekked on, we found a cow! When I was younger and we were visiting Chicago, cows of all colors and design dotted the city! By the looks of it, either someone copied the idea or purchased this cow at auction for their yard. (Sadly, this is more pasture than most actual cows get.

In solidarity with the cow, we hit up Angelica’s Kitchen for lunch. Angelica’s Kitchen is dedicated to local, sustainable food and creating direct relationships with farmers. Just up my alley!

We started with a hummus plate – the pita chips were dusted with za’tar and so tasty. The celery and carrots were a little gummy but we ate them anyway. For my lunch, I ordered this polenta tart filled with roasted veggies which came with a side salad, roasted cauliflower, and half an avocado!

I would have thought that the avocado might be subpar because we were on the East Coast, but it was buttery and delicious. I wonder where they source them from!

After that, we walked around the village doing some shopping for warmer clothes since Alex had packed for me in a rush. We stopped at this awesome tea shop, Physical GraffiTea, so I could get something to warm up.

NYC has so many cute gardens hidden away. This one had all sorts of neat adornments made from various things most people throw away.

This one was tucked away between some residential buildings. They close for the season in December, which is too bad because it was perfect weather to sit outside and enjoy tea (if I’d had five more layers on).

Alex and I couldn’t get over all the brick – we’re such West Coasters!

For dinner, we found Café Viva, the most amazing pizza place. The interior is nothing to write home about. Tiny, unbalanced tables are crammed into the small space with harsh, fluorescent lighting.

But their pizza selection was to die for, especially for those of us that love a non traditional pizza. They had several vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options. We stood there reading all the labels, mesmerized by the variety of options. I really liked that they had a lot of vegan options that didn’t include fake cheese! Toppings can speak for themselves!

I got the green pizza that was covered in green veggies, and a veggie pizza that had tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, tempeh and a bunch of other things on it. The sauce was wonderfully tangy. I had cornmeal crust on both of my slices, which was crispy and held up well to all of the toppings.

Alex got a slice with whole wheat crust and I took one bite and wished I’d gotten a whole wheat slice – the flavor was so nutty and complex.

Not to mention the slices were literally a quarter of a pizza. AND they sold Kombucha. I probably could have eaten every meal here.

After dinner we hiked back to Broadway for our show and then went out exploring afterwards and found this awesome bar called On The Rocks in Hell’s Kitchen. The bar is known for it’s whiskey and bourbons, but those aren’t my favorite so I asked Alex to get me a glass of champagne. He brought back a half bottle, explaining that’s the only way they sold it. Don’t mind if I do…

We walked home and took this silly picture where the half bottle of champagne and Alex’s two Old Fashions are showing.

Thanks to Angela, we had picked up chocolate peanut butter bomb brownies from Atlas Café earlier in the night.  Decadent and rich, they were the perfect way to end the night.

 

 

 

I went to NYC, and all I got…

…was an amazing proposal!

I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been too busy making googly eyes at my new fiancé (weird!), drinking champagne, and eating a ton of delicious food in NYC.

The whole weekend felt like a dream. It started Friday afternoon when flowers were delivered to my office with a  note with instructions…

 

I was already confused and excited when I got an email from Alex telling me he was on his way to New York City, and that in my backpack I would find my own ticket to NYC along with a Kindle to make my journey more enjoyable.

His email said he’d secretly installed an app on my phone, and once I got to NYC, I’d have to use the app to find him! Thankfully, I would have a driver who would be able to help me if I couldn’t figure out one of the clues.

I was mostly in shock that he was on a plane to NYC and I had no idea! I couldn’t believe he’d managed to sneak out to a flight across the country without me noticing a bag or him acting weird or something!

The last hour of work went by surprisingly quickly as I tried to wrap things up before going away for the weekend. I channeled all of that nervous energy into getting sh*t done!

When I finally got to the airport, I scarfed down a salad and a side of veggies at the only food establishment in my terminal only to get on the plane and realize I was in business class where they serve you edible food.

They gave me a bowl of warm nuts!!

I felt like I was dreaming, but maybe it was just all the extra legroom. Business class was a first for me. I had to ask where the tray table was.  When the menu said eggplant lasagna, I was nervous. I read somewhere our tastebuds are dulled when we’re flying, so they have to add in extra salt and fat (hence pasta drowned in cheese) to make food taste good. But I was pleasantly surprised by the dish; the eggplant was soft, the sauce was tangy, and there was only a dusting of Parmesan. Not to mention I was eating with real silverware! (It doesn’t look like much but it was tasty!)

 

Five hours flew by in nervous excitement. I landed, and found my driver who was the sweetest man. I teased him about signing up for this crazy adventure but he seemed happy to be a part of it. He drove me all around the city as I used the app to direct us.

For our one year anniversary five years ago, Alex surprised me with a trip to NYC, so the scavenger hunt took me to places from that trip that we had enjoyed. Here were the stops we made:

  1. The first stop was the Central Park Zoo, where five years ago I made Alex watch the seal feeding frenzy even though we have a ton of seals in California.
  2. The second stop was the MOMA, where we’d gone after our redeye landed and walked around in a daze until we finally left when we realized we hadn’t absorbed any of the art.
  3. The third stop was a fancy sushi restaurant we’d been recommended, only to realize there were like 2 vegetarian options – but we made the best of it.
  4. The fourth stop was the 24 hour McDonald’s in Times Square, where we’d eaten fries and milkshakes at 2 am (oh how times have changed).
  5. The fifth and final stop was our hotel, the Hotel W.

The check in area of the W is like a club – music pumping, mood lighting, people in fancy clothes talking in low voices all over the lobby, drinks in hand. I wandered in a daze, got the key to the room and opened the door to find Alex.

I threw my arms around him and wouldn’t let go as he said all these nice and sweet things. Finally he said, “you have to let go of me so I can get down on one knee!” so I did and he proposed and I said yes and jumped on him and now I am the happiest girl in the world.

I spent the rest of the weekend in happy shock, marveling at Alex’s planning capabilities and the secret keeping abilities of some of our friends and family. The entire experience was incredible, and I’m still coming off of the adrenaline rush of it all. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect proposal – even though I would have happily said yes if he’d proposed in our living room after dinner while we were in our pajamas. But knowing the effort he put into it, he deserves major kudos for awhile.

And of course, a quick description of the ring because it’s unique and SO me – I am impressed he found it without any help!

It’s a recycled platinum band, with a manmade blue diamond. The box was made from recycled paper and Alex even bought the carbon offsets for the creation and shipping of the ring! It’s beautiful and I’m in love with it (and Alex!)

We spent the weekend gallivanting around NYC, eating a ton of vegetarian/vegan eateries, and trying to keep our delicate California constitutions warm!

I will post more about our adventures this week!