Friday, July 29, 2011

The Big Reveal: South Africa!

Remember how I told you earlier this year that I had won two round-trip tickets anywhere in the world from my employer? Well, after months and months of agonizing and countless trips to stare blankly at the travel section of Barnes and Noble to get ideas (let's be honest--pretty much everywhere in the world sounds amazing!), we have reached a decision: from December 8 to December 20, we will be in SOUTH AFRICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Seeing a zebra in its natural habitat has long been on my bucket list. I am head over heels in love with their beautiful and crazy stripes. Every time I see one I am amazed that something like this exists in nature. And now I will get to see them in South Africa!

We are doing a tour with Gate 1 Travel, which includes: two nights in Johannesburg, where we will take a tour of the apartheid museum, a few days at Kruger National Park for the game drives so we can see the animals, a day spent sightseeing in Swaziland, where I am told there are some amazing handicrafts to be had, an estuary cruise in St. Lucia to see the alligators, and a domestic flight from Durban to Cape Town, where we'll spend four days seeing wineries, Robben Island, the Jewish museum, and so much more. If you like to travel, I highly recommend that you sign up to get emails about Gate 1's travel deals. They are really well priced and several people that have traveled with them loved their packages. I can also give you a referral code for $100 off your trip!

We decided on South Africa after it was suggested by many friends and co-workers who said it was their most favorite place in the world and because several people said to take a trip that you would never do once you have children. Voila! South Africa. Vetoed places included the Greek Islands (not the right time of year--but we will get here one day!), Argentina (cheap enough that we could do this on our own later and could take kids here), Peru (altitude sickness is a factor for Macchu Picchu but it also fits in the "cheap enough we could do this on our own later" category) and Thailand (sounded good in theory but we realized we weren't all that in love with the idea later on). South Africa fit all of our criteria, plus it just sounds amazing!

I am excited to spend the next few months planning, reading and gathering information!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Delicious Dishes: Pea Pesto Pasta

I love nearly everything ever posted on Smitten Kitchen (minus the meat dishes, of course). A few weeks ago I saw this post for Linguine with Pea Pesto, which I knew I had to save for an upcoming dinner. I have a hit-or-miss relationship with basil, so I sometimes love regular pesto and sometimes not so much. Jesse isn't really a fan either, but the pictures from this recipe looked delicate and delicious, with no basil in sight. It's easy too! You cook up the peas and give them a whirl in the food processor (reserving some for tossing with the pasta later) with some parmesan, olive oil and toasted pine nuts. It turns a bright green color:

Once you cook the pasta, you set aside some of the cooking water and mix the pasta, pesto, water and peas. As you can see, we had whole wheat penne in the house, so I used that instead of linguine. I added some chopped tomato on top for color and nutrition. It's yummy and very filling! It came together in less than a half hour, so this would make a great weeknight meal.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sweet & Natural

Jesse and I are always on the lookout for new veg-friendly places to eat in the DC-metro area. We particularly miss The Uptown Juice Bar, which is (was? I heard the may have closed) a vegan juice bar and restaurant in Harlem, NY that serves all sorts of yummy vegan soul food. We went all the time when Jesse lived in NYC. Here in DC, we've tried Soul Vegetarian many times (oh that macaroni!) and Everlasting Life Cafe (delicious!), but a co-worker recently told me that Sweet & Natural opened a small vegan eatery in Mt. Rainier, MD. I've long enjoyed their baked goods at places like Java Green and Roots Market so upon learning that they had a rotating menu of deliciousness, I needed to give it a try.

We got there just as they were about to close for the night on a Saturday (which I believe is 8 pm). I thought we might be out of luck but they still graciously served us dinner to go. I had the fried chicken, vegan gumbo and cauliflower gratin. A member of the staff asked me if I wanted to try their barbecue tofu too and when I said yes (how could I not?), she piled it on. I also got hot sauce for my "chicken". AMAZING. It's been many years since I stopped eating our feathered friends and the only thing I occasionally missed was tenders and hot sauce. NO MORE. This is sheer crispy crunchy spicy perfection!

When we patronize new veg restaurants, I feel a responsibility to really patronize them. So we ordered: two of these giant entrees (see picture), cornbread, banana bread, a lemon raspberry cupcake and a jelly thumbprint cookie. One of the staff members thought that they cupcake in the case wasn't fresh enough, so he went to the back to get me another one. And a different staff member insisted we take two of their veggie beef hand pies home to try. All of this vegan deliciousness? $30. We can barely get two salads out somewhere in this city for $30.

I want to sign the praises of this place from the rooftops! Please make the trip out there so that this place stays open! It's delicious.

If you go: Sweet & Natural is located at 4009 34 St., Mt. Rainier, MD. Warning: There is a lack of signage out front, so be on the lookout for it. It's located near Glut natural grocer. Their menu rotates and they don't have a website as far as I can tell, so be prepared to be surprised!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Art Journaling Workshop

On Saturday I attended an art journaling workshop at Tranquil Space yoga studio in DC. Carolyn was in town and Valerie was going, so it was the perfect time to give it a try! I was a little bit apprehensive about cutting my magazines up and making a mess (thank you, neat freak tendencies!) but that soon went out the window. Kimberly encouraged us to start in the middle of our journals and to tear out images rather than cut them out. She also provided some prompts and lots of ephemera for us to play with. I spent most of the time finding images that spoke to me and getting them on the page instead of writing. However, when I got home on Saturday night, I immediately found more images, got to pasting and added in some writing. I'm afraid this workshop has created a monster! Here are some of my pages:

My ideal weekly calendar. I blocked out work time in pretty colors so all the time dedicated to that was less jarring. Essentially, an ideal weekday would be working out in the morning, followed by a healthy breakfast or a green smoothie, shower and work. After work time would be dedicated to cooking healthy meals and eating dinner with Jesse, yoga, journaling, blogging, reading and catching up with friends and family. Instead of nailing down a weekend schedule, I made a list of things I'd love to spend my weekends doing, which includes sleeping in, going to the farmers' market, reading, road trips, exercise, cooking and baking, etc.

I got on a muted colors kick for quite some time.

I'm not sure what I will do with this page, but I like the layers and love that, thanks to the Oprah magazine issue on poetry, I was able to title it "One Wild and Precious Life".

I loved the soft colors and dreamy quality of these ones. I filled in the spaces between the images with quotes that I like.

One of the prompts Kimberly gave was to find a large image and write over it with a Sharpie marker, responding to this: "Lately, I've been feeling...." I LOVED this! I even went through last night and found a few more large images to get into my journal for later writing. Something about writing over an image feels bold, creative and powerful. It also helped me overcome the writer's block I've been feeling lately.

After the workshop, I headed to Cafe Green with Valerie and Carolyn to catch up (and Carol met up with us too!) and have a late lunch, which you can read more about on Valerie's blog. A perfect Saturday indeed!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Weeknight Dinners

It is *hot* here in the metro DC area. The heat index is at 111 today and supposedly will be even higher tomorrow. During these impossible days of summer, I never feel like cooking, particularly not after dealing with public transportation. Lately I've been experimenting with mixing some homemade food with packaged food for dinner, a la "Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee" (I hate that show with a passion, but I digress...)
Last night's dinner? Dry pan-fried tofu cooked via the method in this recipe, green beans, zucchini and red pepper cooked with Seeds of Change's Jalfrezi Simmer Sauce. I made basmati rice via a traditional cooking method I learned in my Northern Indian Vegetarian Cooking Class last Spring (it has been worth every penny I spent on it, locals!), which requires zero attention once you get it going. I also heated up some frozen tandoori naan from Trader Joe's. It made more than enough for Jesse to get a few lunches out of the leftovers as well, which is crucial in our house.
Simple, delicious and minimal hands-on cooking required. Perfect! What are your secrets for quick weeknight eats?

Monday, July 18, 2011

This past weekend...

I went to New Jersey to meet my new godson, Jayden. He's tiny and perfect in every way.

Right after eating.

Hanging out with Uncle Jesse

So little.

Sleeping on his Momma. This is his old man face.

Eating lunch with Aunt Lauren.

I can't wait to watch this little guy grow up and watch as my best friend grows into her new role as Mom. I'm so lucky to have them both in my life!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Revelry Review: The Murderer's Daughters

I read The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers based on Jenna's recommendation. Without wanting to give too much away, I will say that Merry and Lulu's lives are touched by an immense tragedy: their father goes to prison for killing their mother. That's not a spoiler. It's on the cover and happens within the first twenty pages of the novel.
The rest of the novel is about the next thirty years of the girls' life, exploring the ways in which the Merry and Lulu, as well as the people around them, are affected by what happened with their parents. We watch them grow up while living with terrible memories and scars. Their father's presence, and lack thereof, looms over the rest of the novel like a giant shadow.
Unlike Jenna, I didn't think that this was one of the best books I ever read. What is was, however, was a great beach read. A great book to snuggle into bed with at night. A great break from heavy non-fiction reads. I didn't want to put it down so that I could find out what happened to the girls. I would recommend it if you are looking for something lighter to read that is more than just fluffy chick lit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pigs, a Sanctuary

This past weekend Jesse, our friend Noel and I went to Shepherdstown, West Virginia to visit Pigs, a Sanctuary! A few months ago I was searching for farm sanctuaries to visit. We would like to make the trip to the New York location of Farm Sanctuary in the near future but also thought there might be something more local to us. I found this one and immediately wanted to make the trip.

When you drive up, there is a sign that says, "To the animals: You have nothing to fear and so your story ends. Your troubles are all over and here you have a home." The sanctuary is home to about 400 animals (including pigs, horses, donkeys, cats, dogs and goats). They came to the farm mostly as rescues from unbelievably horrible situations. The staff here not only feed and care for the animals, but work on socializing them with the other animals on the farm and, when appropriate, try to find the dogs and cats forever homes.

It costs the farm about $23,000 PER MONTH to stay open, so if you have it in your heart to donate, you can either make a donation via their webpage or purchase something from their wish list.

This guy is the first pig we saw. How adorable is that face?
These are potbelly pigs. The director told us that after the potbelly pig craze, many people were surrendering their animals once they got to be too large for a house or became agressive with the kids. PEOPLE OF THE WORLD: Pigs are not pets. They belong on big, beautiful farms with lots of land and other pigs.
This is Spanky. He is a Mexican hairless pig, also known as a Yucatan pig. He has cancer and his best friend recently passed away. The director said he showed signs of mourning for her. He was right at the fence and let us pet him. Such a sweetheart.
This is what a full-grown farm pig looks like. They can get up to 1,000 pounds. Very few people ever see full-size farm pigs because they are usually slaughtered young, before their meat gets too tough.
This is Walter. He's a farm pig that was bottle-fed as a baby by sanctuary staff. He is living with potbelly pigs at the moment so he can learn to socialize.
This is Walter's pen-mate, Kevin Bacon.
This guy is Jack. He was my favorite. I love those floppy ears!
This is Zeus. He is a mastiff that came from a rescue case. He has problems with his legs that cause him to sit funny and a big calcification on his head from being beat by a previous owner. However, he came right up to us to say hi. The resilience of these animals is amazing.
The sanctuary also has four separate areas for cats: one for cats that are up for adoption, one for feral cats that roam the fields, a house for cats that test positive for feline AIDS (these cats are usually immediately euthanized but can live happily for many years without being affected by the disease), and a small house for special needs cats. These guys above have CH, which causes them to lose their balance. They are sometimes also known as drunk cats. They are totally healthy other than the fact that they fall down often. And they are really sweet!

This horse was rescued from an Amish farmer. He was found with a severe leg infection and about 700 pounds underweight because he couldn't walk to his feeding area. Now is is living happy and free, roaming around the many, many acres at the sanctuary.

If you want to visit: Email Melissa, the sanctuary director, at to arrange a tour. They last about an hour and the sanctuary asks for a minimum $12 donation in exchange for their time. Tours are available from June-October on the weekends and will be canceled in the event of inclement weather.

Monday, July 11, 2011


In all of the years I've lived in this area, I've never been able to attend the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This past weekend, however, Jesse and I made it happen! This year they were celebrating the Peace Corps, Rhythm and Blues and Colombia. The picture above is of a Peruvian woman weaving. Her training and business are supported by the Peace Corps.
Kenyan women making baskets.
Rugs made by Kyrgyz women.
These were made my a Colombian woman. I loved the colors!
Traditional Colombian dancing during carnival.
After the festival, we drove out to Clarksville, MD to go to Roots Market, our most favorite grocery store (think Whole Foods with lots of veg items and lower prices) and had dinner at Great Sage, the vegan restaurant next door. We started with the "Almost Raw Vietnamese Spring Rolls". They came with a delicious peanut sauce. So yummy.
Jesse had the udon noodle bowl with veggies and tempura tofu.
I had the Santa Fe salad, which has marinated tofu, tortilla chips, corn, black beans, tomatos, onion, guacamole, mixed greens and lime vinagrette. Amazing!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Healthy Habits

Dear Readers, here is the post where I admit that the healthy habits I worked so hard to cultivate over the past few years have gone wayward.

I developed a bad back problem last summer that continues to plague me (three degenerative discs, one bulging disc, inflamed facet joints and something known as "miserable alignment" due to the pain it causes) and got off track with exercise and yoga. It has been an endless cycle of work out-hurt-get better-workout again-hurt some more. Rather than focus on the bad, I want to use this post as a starting point for moving onward and upward.

Here are the healthy habits I am proud to say I have maintained over the past few years:

1. Drinking lots and lots of water. Lots. I fill my 32 ounce water bottle at least four times a day, often up to six or seven. I also have tea many times throughout the day. Sometimes I feel like a camel that needs to store it up.

2. Getting more sleep. When I lived alone, I used to let myself stay up very late reading, watching TV or doing things for grad school. Now that I've finished my master's degree and moved in with my boyfriend, we almost never hit the hay past 10:30 or 11.

3. Taking vitamins. I take a multi-vitamin everyday. I also switch up additional supplements, like B-12, flax oil, vitamin D, powdered greens, probiotics, spirulina, chlorella and Natural Calm magnesium during the week. I try to get everything I need from food but I think this is good insurance.

4. Not eating meat. I know everyone's body is different, but my mind and body feel better knowing that I'm not eating animal flesh. I can get plenty of protein elsewhere, so nothing needs to die in order for me to eat.

5. Learning my way around the kitchen. Before quitting meat, a typical dinner for me (I kid you not) consisted of chicken nuggets, canned corn and maybe a baked potato. Now I experiment with all kinds of (non-animal) proteins, grains and fresh veggies. I love cookbooks and read them like regular books. I am constantly trying to challenge myself to learn new things in the kitchen. I obsessively purchase cookbooks, read a million food blogs and, most recently, joined Spork Online, which posts one vegan cooking class a month.

Here are some of the healthy habits I'd like to adopt or get back to incorporating on a regular basis:

1. More green smoothies or green drinks. I know all of the benefits. I know I want to have a more alkaline diet with much less sugar, processed food and other acidic things. I've just been lazy. I need to get better about making these everyday.

2. Kicking the diet soda habit. I know, I know....I said that I was going to do this once before. However, the diet coke monster took hold again. But then last week I saw this. I've known that diet coke makes me crave other sugary things but that article is scary stuff. I've had one diet soda in the last week and a half. Pretty good but I can do better.

3. More exercise. Because of my back issues, this will have to be a slow and steady thing that will involve lots of listening to my body. I love to lift weights but I think I'll mostly need to stick to walking and yoga for the time being.

4. Smaller portions. My employer buys my lunch every day, which is a nice perk, but restaurant lunches are usually at least twice what any one person should be eating in one sitting. If I wasn't also trying to save my pennies, I would just bring my own lunch. However, I know I can make smarter choices when it comes to lunch.

5. Write in a journal. Journaling what you eat is good and well but I find old-fashioned journaling about thoughts, feelings, hopes, worries, aspirations, etc. has a positive overall affect on my health.

Basically, I want to live by these rules.

What healthy habits are you proud of yourself for sticking to and which ones would you like to bring into your life in the second half of 2011?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Revelry Review: State of Wonder

I had high expectations for State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. I loved Bel Canto and thought that Run was an entertaining read. Maybe that was the problem.

Let me back up just a bit.

The premise of State of Wonder is this: Marina Singh, who works as a researcher for a large pharmaceutical company, is asked to travel to the Amazon when the company receives word that one of its employees, Anders Eckman, has died under unclear circumstances. In order to clarify what happened, Marina must locate Dr. Annick Swenson, a gynecologist who has spent years studying a tribe whose women have been able to give birth into their late 70's with the hopes of obtaining the secret to extended fertility. Anders was sent to Brazil to gauge the progress of Dr. Swenson's work after she failed to send regular progress updates.

The reader comes to learn that Marina's and Dr. Swenson's paths have crossed in the past. And Marina is romantically involved with someone at the company. And she acts as the liasion between the company and Anders' distraught family. And she must deal with a whole cast of characters that await her in Brazil, not to mention the diseases, insects and other challenges that await her in the jungle.

Much like in the other books I've read by Ann Patchett, I appreciated the character development in this book. I cared about or was interested in a lot of them, particularly Marina and Dr. Swenson, but some seemed like extras on a movie. There was so much going in in the plot that it was as if Patchett kept adding characters and trying to flesh them out just to move the complicated plot along and get to the end. I was left wishing that she would've found other ways to reveal some of the characters' traits rather than adding in more people and storylines. I will, however, be left thinking about the details she imbued into the story, particularly the descriptions of the jungle, for some time to come.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Recipe for a Relaxing 4th of July

1 part poolside sitting after a fantastic pedicure
Plus one part giggling baby
Plus one part raspberry cosmopolitan (er, maybe two parts)
Plus one part scrumptious veggies (Jersey corn, I love you so much!)
Plus one part breathtaking sunset.
Also add in a dash of each of the following: brunch with a 39-week pregnant best friend, listening to the rain pour outside the window, acquiring a new art journal, playing blackjack with the family, finishing up a new book, a mid-afternoon nap on the couch and watching the Phillies play. There really is nothing like summertime in New Jersey. Weekends like this past one make me miss it lots.