Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Night of Favorites!

Saturday was my housewarming party and what a great night it was - a house filled with amazing family and friends, couldn't ask for anything better!!!

Since I haven't had time to fix my door buzzer, Lynne made a stellar sign to welcome guests in...
Thanks to Rachel, Lynne, and my parents for all the party prep help - couldn't have done it without you!
The spread...
The bar...well engineered and manned by Bob
Fashion tip for all - Argyle is IN this winter :-)
As I said, it was a night of many of my favorite people. Sadly I didn't do a great job with the photos, so many are not pictured. But let's focus on the positive - those pictures I do have!
My favorite Japanese couple - Sato and Naoko!
My favorite, and the best, realtor in Chicago - Craig!
My favorite bartender - Bob!
My favorite condo improvement (picture hanger, curtain maker, bedding buyer, etc) coordinator - Soda!
My favorite second set of parents - Liz and Dave! (only thing that could have been better is a guest appearance from my favorite dog)My favorite financial advisors - Drew and Tres!
My favorite Hub friends - Mike, Lynne, Megan, Rachel, and Melissa!
and my favo(u)rite Brazilian - Paulo!
A special thanks to Kara for the "P" coasters - what great embellishments for a housewarming party...and they also sparked some "arguments" about who they were for - Paulo, Patrick, Parker??? I think the answer is clear...and what's also clear is we need to get the camera away from Patrick :-)
Thanks to all who came to help celebrate - to you and also to those who were not able to make it last weekend - come visit soon!!! Next blog project (after the upcoming March of travel...)...give you all a "tour" of the condo (al la The Girl.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tapas with 'Legs!!

No trip to Long Beach is complete without a dinner with one of my favorite Delta Sketch sisters – Allegra!

Last night we headed to the famed Pine Street area of Long Beach and settled on a restaurant called Sevilla. Despite the fact that the bartender gave us samples of the white and red sangria – both excellent – I still couldn’t pass up a pomegranate mojito – perfection!

The restaurant had a great “Sevillan vibe” – the walls were covered with posters from AndalucĂ­a, some Dali and Miro, and other fun Spanish artwork. (I didn’t look very hard, but was sad to see that my favorite artist – Diego Velazquez – was missing…however his work doesn’t quite fit the vibe of the restaurant so I’ll let that slide.)

A great dinner with a great friend – can’t ask for much more!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dinner & Drinks in S. California!

It should first be noted that the fact that I willing to pass up a great Olympic line-up (6 US medals, downhill, half pipe, speed skating) to go to dinner with Ann and Wayne shows just how much I enjoy their company. Last night certainly did not disappoint! We had an excellent, vegan, dinner at The Green Temple and then it was off to Friends of the Vine for some delicious wine.

First of all, the setting - outdoors, near the beach, 70 degrees, sound of running water - amazing!
Unfortunately the picture is blurry, but the presentation of my delicious spicy corn soup was great. Note the "green concoction" in the background - a very tasty " Earth Lava" - Powdered extract of spirulina, chlorella, barler and oat grass blended with organic apple juice and water with added extracts of ginger, beet and carrot.
Ann and Wayne's main courses - Almond Steamers (Steamed garden mix served over organic brown rice, topped with white cheddar cheese and sprinkled with organic almonds) and Babmut (Organic spelt pasta topped with steamed broccoli, corn, melted soy mozarella cheese, and organic tofu sauce). They both loved them!!
My main course - also extremely fresh and tasty - Sproutada - Baked organic corn tortilla, organic brown rice, organic black turtle or pinto beans, enchilada sauce, topped with a salad made of organic green leaf lettuce, shredded carrots, sprouts, sprouted beans, tomato and salsa. Served with tahini dressing.
While our dinner drinks were super good and also good for us...I can't go to California and not have wine with each dinner! We headed down the block to Friends of the Vine where...
It is half wine boutique / half wine bar - great concept!
I am on a Pinot Noir kick right now so I did the taste portion of two different varieties from Santa Rita Hills and Southern Highlands (north of Napa). Wayne is quite the wine connisuer so after he heard my feedbacks on my tastings, he was off to the wine boutique to find the "perfect pinot" - and he hit the jackpot with a 2005 Pinot Noir from the Fiddlehead Cellars in Santa Rita.
Thanks for a great evening Ann and Wayne...I'm going to have to get busy putting together a Chi-town agenda for your visit that can compete with last night!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Halfway Mark

I've successfully and happily made it halfway through Vegan February, so I thought I would check in and let you know my thoughts thus far.

So far, I feel great, am loving the "challenge" of coming up with new and delicious veggie/grain based meals, and have even lost weight (now, this is not entirely due to the vegan diet, I've also be pushing pretty hard at the gym and on the basketball court lately).

The results of trips to the grocery store have changed a little...but not too much. I was always getting fruits, vegetables, and grains...but now have swapped out cheese, yogurt, and chicken for ground flaxseed, soy milk/yogurt, and agave nectar.
Paulo gave me this book - "Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life" by Brendan Brazier, founder of Vega. Though I've only had a chance to flip through it, I've already concluded it is a fantastic gift - the first half talks about proper nutrition and exercise (perfect for the "student" and "athlete" in me) and the second half is recipes (perfect for the "cook" in me).
The back cover highlights some of the benefits of the "Thrive" lifestyle, which combines the vegan diet with exercise and nutrition (in blue below). Though I think 2wks is too short of a time to make any conclusions, I would have to agree so far.
There are a bunch of recipes for smoothies and I adapted/combined a few into a delicious breakfast!
One of the "secret ingredients" is ground flaxseed. I've always known that flaxseed was good for you, but have never really known why. "Thrive" to the rescue...it has a section on flaxseed. Apparently Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot produce. Omega-6 is very prevalent in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils - thus easy to get outside of a meat based diet. However, Omega-3 is pretty rare in plants (it is very high in salmon). However, 57% of flaxseed's fat is Omega-3 and just a tablespoon gives you a proper daily dose. Omega-3 is very important to athletes because it reduces inflammation, allows the body to more efficiently burn body fat as fuel, is high in potassium which the body looses when it sweats, and contains a lot of fiber.
Will I continue this "experiment" through the rest of the month? Definitely! Will I continue longer...hmmm...probably not - I must agree with Melissa when she says "you're too much of a foodie to be a vegan for the rest of your life!." However, I am feeling really strong and healthy and not "deprived" (i.e. no cravings for dairy or meat) so I am pretty sure that my kitchen will remain primarily vegan long after February but I'll be a little less "vigilant" outside the home. Who knows - time will tell!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vancouver 2010!!!

To say that I am excited about the 2010 Winter Olympics starting tomorrow is a huge understatement. I LOVE THE OLYMPICS!!! Especially the Winter Olympics. This should be no surprise to any of you who know me...athletes pushing themselves to the limits, all the extra stories of the adversities they have had overcome in their lives, the competition, etc. LOVE IT!
I was thinking back to some of my favorite Olympic memories this morning...and no I don't mean memories of actual Olympic events, but rather memories of watching the games with friends. So here are my most recent favorites...

Winter 2002 - Salt Lake City
At this time Kristen and I were living in DC (yay Eastern Market!). We would come home each day from work, cook dinner together, and then set up our "tv trays" and eat dinner while watching the games.

Summer 2004 - Athens
Melissa was staying with me in Arlington, VA for about a month...sleeping on the couch downstairs...which, unfortunately for her, is where the tv was located. Poor Melissa was kept up way past her bedtime on several nights because I wanted to watch the games into the wee hours of the morning.

Winter 2006 - Turin
Kara hosted an Opening Ceremonies party where we all brought foods representing different nations....it was quite the eclectic spread! I was, and obviously still am, very proud of my salad. Sadly I cannot find pictures (a little help Kara!!) but I put spring greens in a rectangular serving dish, then made the Olympic Rings on top out of Blueberries (Blue), Yellow Pepper (Yellow), Blackberries (Black), Green Onion (Green), and Cranberries(Red).
Summer 2008 - Beijing
I was living in Copenhagen at this time. After enjoying a preview of the upcoming Opera season in Faelledparken, we all headed back to my apartment to have our own game night (oh course lots of Mexican Train!!) while watching the games. And...I even have a blog post to commemorate the night!


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Don't Skip the Sugar!

Meredith and I had quite the baking adventure Saturday night - vegan, gluten-free cupcakes - yikes! Mer recently found out that she is gluten intolerant and while in NYC bought a cookbook from BabyCakes - a bakery which "offers all-natural, organic and delicious alternatives free from the common allergens: wheat, gluten, dairy, casein and eggs."
Mer literally went to Whole Foods with the cookbook and had the clerk help her find all the "exotic" items. We decided on the Carrot Cake Cupcakes, and below (minus the wine, which was just for the cooks!) were our ingredients.
We weren't quite sure about the Xanthum Gum...but, apparently it is a good binding agent for gluten free foods.Sure, we had the coconut flour, the agave nectar, and the coconut oil...but we had no ground cinnamon. Rather than venture out in the cold Chicago night, we decided to be creative and make our own from the many cinnamon sticks available...
Don't worry, we used my method (above), not the chopping method. And it worked! And smelled much better than normal ground cinnamon!
The cupcakes themselves were not bad - good texture, moist, flavorful....yet they lacked one KEY ingredient - SUGAR! We are now in search of a vegan, gluten-free, sugar-full cookbook since neither of us have an issue with sugar :-)
The icing was not so good...too oily. But, perhaps I should reserve judgement on that since we did not chill it the recommended 6 hours...maybe it is better today. The cookbook says that at BabyCakes Bakery they always have "icing shots" on hand because people love this icing so much...maybe a trip to NYC is in order!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vegan February

Over the past months, I've become much more familiar with the vegan lifestyle. Though I have always respected that choice, knowing someone who chooses vegan-ism and understanding more of his reasons why made it a lot more real to me. Also, by cooking a lot of vegan dinners and baked good (yes, vegans and non-vegans alike commented that the cookies, cobblers, and breads were all quite good!), it broke down the misconception that there is nothing good to eat as a vegan.

So, I decided to be vegan for a month and see for myself. I choose February, not because it is a short month contrary to popular belief, but because January and March both involve multiple weeks abroad and I wanted to be able to fully commit, and that is a little easier when I can buy my own groceries.

While last night's meal was by no means my first vegan cooking experience, I was very pleased with the result....especially since I did not get home until 8:30 and was able to still make a great meal within 30min. I made whole wheat pasta with grilled zucchini, red onions, garbanzo beans, and diced tomatoes along with a salad of spring greens, red cabbage, garbanzos, green onions, and radishes. YUM!
**don't worry, I won't be posting pics of all my meals! however...Meredith, who just discovered that she has a lot of food allergies, and I are making cupcakes from her new vegan cupcake book on Saturday, so there will for sure be pictures from that adventure!**

Now..for the reasons...in Paulo's order of importance:
1. Environmental
Did you know: A 2006 United Nations report summarized the devastation caused by the meat industry by calling it "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."

2. Cruelty to Animals
I don't think this really needs an explanation. Though we (and I am definitely included in this "we") try to look beyond the conditions that animals are kept in, it is a sad fact.

3. Health
Of course I agree with the benefits of a diet low in red meat, cheese, etc., but one of my reasons against vegan-ism was that we also know that there are a lot of vitamins/minerals that come from meat and dairy that are better to get from non-supplement sources. Interestingly, Paulo explained to me that while yes, it is important that vegans ensure they eat enough beans, nuts, etc., our bodies actually do produce a lot of the minerals/vitamins that they need it is just that when we eat meat/dairy our body stops producing them - like the ducks we feed at the park who can't "hunt" for themselves after getting all that bread :-)

Plus, though I haven't read it myself, Kelly and Liz have given me the run-down on Skinny Bitch which makes eating meat a lot less appealing - all the hormones and such.

I've done research as well, and have found the Vegan Health Org helpful, especially regarding ensuring proper nutrition. And heck, I figure if Paulo can still compete successfully in long distance and sprint road biking, it can't be all that bad for athletes, right?!

I'll keep you posted on progress and thoughts, but for now "go vegan!"