***I’ve Moved! Come visit me at my new site, http://www.eatingappalachia.com. Please update your RSS feeds accordingly!**

I’ve been dreading this post for a few months now, putting it off for weeks, trying to figure out the best way to approach it. There’s one thing you need to know about me that I haven’t really talked about much on this blog–I have a huge guilt complex. And writing this post makes me feel guilty, makes me feel like I’m letting you down. But I’m not and I’m going to focus on that. I hope, after you read this, that you’ll be comfortable sticking around, being in my blog family–you all mean the world to me and are the only reason why I come back here day after day and make crazy new delicious creations and write about them. So if you don’t mind, grab a cup of coffee or tea or a beer and hear me out. Then let’s see where we can go from here.

My infamous mountain dew raspberry ice cream filled cupcakes, c. 2007

Three years ago, on July 7, 2007, I decided to become a vegan. I was a college student living in Atlanta at the time, and after having been a vegetarian since January 1, 2007, I decided to take the plunge into veganism. My friends Kyle and Rachael played an influential role in my decision, if only because I cooked for them on a regular basis and learned, through trial and error, how easy it was to live a vegan lifestyle.

My reasons for being a vegetarian and then a vegan were purely focused on environmental sustainability. While many vegans focus on animal rights and ethics, as well as sustainability, animal rights, to me, has always meant the right for the animal to be the animal–which also means, given the right environment (one of love, care, lots of open space to run and play around in, plenty of grass and bugs and natural things to eat, etc.), that I believe it’s ok to eat meat. HOWEVER, living in a major metropolitan city like Atlanta, eating meat is not sustainable. In order to buy pastured, grass-fed, organic, cared-for meat, it has to be driven in from 100+ miles away. Additionally it’s ridiculously expensive. As far as dairy and eggs go, again, not sustainable. While urban chickens have become the rage recently, I still know relatively few people in Atlanta with chickens. Eggs and dairy from the farms in rural Georgia travel around 100 miles to reach the city–a petroleum tag I can’t get behind. And again, “local” eggs and dairy products were extraordinarily expensive. Even if I could support the distance for “local” meat, eggs, and dairy, I couldn’t support myself while purchasing them as a student. So, for me, and as I advocate to this day, for everyone in major cities, being anything other than a vegan is unsustainable. (If you’re looking for why the meat, dairy, and egg industry is unsustainable, just read The Omnivore’s Delemma or watch Food Inc., both are accessible formats through which to learn more about the American food/factory farm system).

at the East Atlanta farmers market

Through being a vegan and through this blog, which has been around for 3.5 years now, I’ve met amazing people, both in real life and through the internet. I’ve learned oodles of things about food and cooking that I never would have–who knew that brussels sprouts & eggplant are two of my favorite vegetables? Or that fermenting and canning and making my own sauces isn’t all that hard? Or that a blog community like the vegan blog community could be so strong and so supportive? Things have been changing though, and that’s why I’m writing this.

Almost 1 year ago on August 15, 2009, I moved to Roanoke, Virginia, a small city in the southwestern corner of Virginia. Roanoke is nestled in the Appalachian mountains and is surrounded by a plethora of small, family-run, organic farms. Immediately I found the Grandin Village farmers market in my neighborhood and every Saturday morning, rain or shine, hung-over or not, I walked the three blocks to market and fell in love with and brought home some of the most interesting, varied, and fantastically delicious produce. As I got to know the farmers, every eggplant, every pepper, and every mushroom meant more than ever before and my cooking took off, with me exploring new recipes and techniques. I even led two food demonstrations on vegan and gluten-free Thanksgiving food, was featured live on the WDBJ morning show, and have become known as the local vegan foodista.

The reason why I moved to Virginia, however, was to start my MFA in creative writing, poetry, at Hollins University. Shortly after starting the program, though, I became dissatisfied, even depressed, with the academic situation. I attended a prestigious research university for undergrad, took 24 credit hours of PhD courses while an undergrad, and wrote an approximately 100 page thesis. I’m used to being challenged, to working hard, and to being around a supportive academic community. Hollins, to me, isn’t that kind of place. While I do understand that it’s the right place for many graduate students and writers, it isn’t for me. I began to hate writing, to hate poetry, and to hate everything related to my field of study. Roanoke, as a place, was perfect, but my program was not.

view from McAfee’s Knob, VA

So in October 2009 I hatched a plan–to write about food. After all, aren’t I obsessed with it? Isn’t food all I live, eat, breathe? But what to write about, what kind of project? On the plane ride back from Houston I figured it out–Appalachian food. But not just Appalachian food, the new Appalachian cuisine. What is Appalachian food today? Surely it’s the traditional dishes, but surely it’s something new too–something driven by younger people moving back into the area, moving back to start or work on the family farm, defining a new generation of regional cuisine. So that’s when it started, my project, my goal to learn everything I could about contemporary Appalachian food.

First portion of meat eaten since 2006–cured ham

Part of the project included me being willing to eat the food. Appalachian food isn’t traditionally vegan–it’s nowhere near vegan. It’s lard and pork and organ meat. It’s everything veganism isn’t. So, while conducting my first interview and research, I ate meat–pork, to be exact.

At the trout farm

A few months later, in January, I was given the opportunity to learn how to fly fish, kill and clean a trout, and then cook it. Again, as part of my research, I did just that–caught my first fish, cleaned it, and then ate it.

And during all this time, I was still a vegan at home. No meat, no dairy, no eggs. Sometime during late winter, however, I decided to reintroduce eggs to my diet–but only because I knew who was raising the chickens who gave me the eggs, only because I knew that the farm was small-scale, sustainable, and cared deeply about the layers.

Then, a few months ago, the owner of Big Pine Trout Farm, the place where I learned how to fish, approached me and asked if I wanted work for him as a chef preparing locally-sourced foods for the farmers market. I took him up on the offer and that’s the job I’ve been hinting about, I’m a chef of sorts, making local food convenient.

Gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free Mountain Medley Pie

Our weekly offerings include my Mountain Medley Vegetable Pie–a quiche-like egg pie that uses local wheat flour, local eggs, local produce, and local butter and cream (soon, hopefully, local cheese, but that’s been hard to find). I’m also making a gluten-free version for several people, something that’s super exciting and fits my philosophy of feeding everyone well. I also make a smoked trout pate out of in-house mayonnaise, smoked trout, and local and organic herbs and a trout-a-fish spread which is like tuna fish but make from trout.

Recent canning adventures (L-R): Blackberry Red Wine Sauce, Roasted Beet & Apple Puree, Savory Cherry Sauce, Blackberry Chili Syrup

We’ve also started prepping for the autumn and winter months, canning everything from a version of Heidi’s Blackberry Chili Syrup to a savory cherry sauce to brandied plums and kimchi. The roasted beet and apple puree is one of my favorites–if only for the fact that I hate beets, but I love the bright purple puree. I’ve even canned and frozen 34 quarts of cauliflower soup. Heavens, that’s a lot of soup I’ll have you know.

L-R: Trout farm; Sweet Corn Chowder with Basil Oil; Cornbread Panzanella Salad; Heirloom Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart; Pecan Crusted Trout served over Lemon Basil Israeli Cous Cous, Summer Vegetable Medley, Citrus Bearnaise; Deconstructed Blackberry-Peach Cobbler

I’ve even had the chance to cook a 5 course dinner. Something I’m not sure I ever want to do again without a sous chef, but damn, am I proud of that meal.

So it’s complicated, dear readers–my food life, I mean. At home, I eat eggs now, but you’ll never find dairy or meat in my house. Not that I won’t eat it if offered it in someone’s home or during book research, but I don’t crave meat or dairy, vegetables are what I love. However, I do plan on building a chicken coop soon and raising my own layers. I do plan on moving (in the not-so-far-off-future, I hope) to a homestead where I can raise goats and ducks and chickens and sheep. And I do plan on learning how to butcher the animals I raise. I do plan on eating them. Not very vegan of me, I suppose, but something that I believe in wholeheartedly. Something that is, in my opinion, 100% natural and sustainable. Something that fits my ethics and my beliefs about this beautiful world we live in.

North Creek, Virginia

So I’m switching blogs. I don’t feel that Cupcake Punk expresses who I am anymore–I don’t really make cupcakes anymore and I’m not very punk-ish these days. I am obsessed with farming and local food and the incredible region I live in. Eating Appalachia will still focus on vegan food–after all, it’s what I cook for myself most of the time, it’s what I advocate since most everyone doesn’t live in a region like mine, and it’s what I love. Love. I love vegan food. But I’m also going to write about my adventures with homesteading, my adventures traveling around Appalachia learning about the food. I’m going to write about what jazzes me, what keeps me going. I’m going to write about my job some. I want to share this part of my life with you. And I want you to continue to share your lives with me.

My life is crazy now–my job has taken over and I’m learning to say no, to cut back and focus on what I need to. But blogging is an important part of my life, and part of the reason I haven’t been around much is because I knew I needed to write this post, to explain where I’ve been and why I haven’t been around much.

My cabin

So come on over, check out my new home, Eating Appalachia, and tell me what you think. I know you probably have questions or you may want to talk to me about my decisions–I welcome your feedback. Please, however, respect me and my decisions in the same way that I respect you and yours. I know that my decisions might not be all-around popular, but this is who I am and I hope my new blog is a positive experience for everyone.

So here it goes. I wrote the post. I’m a little terrified. But I think it’s going to be all-good. After all, life is pretty darn good no matter what.

Kyle & I in Richmond by Cafe 821

Roanoke isn’t exactly a food town.  We have restaurants.  We have places to eat.  They serve rather mediocre food and, as all of my friends will tell you, it really annoys me.  And beyond mediocre food, you have to really scrounge to find anything vegetarian, let alone vegan.  So while I love getting my cheese-less pizza fix at Grace’s (I’m too scared to ask if everything else in the pizza is vegan–don’t want to know!) and too-fancy-for-me-but-yes-tasty falafel at Isaac’s, I really love getting out of town and gnoshing on some good vegan food.

Working Man’s Classic (a bicycle criterium race)

Last month, my good friend from Atlanta, Kyle (one of the people who showed me that veganism isn’t that hard to do) came up and visited for 10 days or so.  While we hung around Roanoke most of the time, we did jet across the state to Richmond for an evening to watch the Workingman’s Classic & eat and drink some delicious food.

Oh, vegan brunch food, I miss you

While in Richmond we got drinks at Legend’s Brewery and brunched at Cafe 821. I can’t get over how much I love their brunch, and the new space is pretty rockin’. The aesthetic at the old one was a little grungy and dark–now they have a fun, retro diner look and lots of natural light. It’s still the old, delicious menu, but a little more friendly (in my opinion). I had the tofu scramble with the potatoes & an order of vegan sausage. nom!

Staunton, Virginia

The hightlight of the trip, though, was the lunch break on the drive home in Staunton, Virginia. Staunton’s this little town that I’d heard had good food. I’d never been and we couldn’t find too much online about it, but since we were starving and had no better ideas, we gave it a go. Oh dear heavens, I’m glad we did.

Shenandoah Pizza awesomeness

Officially, I’m in love with Shenandoah Pizza. Not only did they not bat an eye when we asked for a vegan pizza (cheeseless with roasted red peppers and portobello mushrooms), but their beer list is the longest I’ve seen on the western side of the state. Bell’s Oberon? In a Virginia restaurant? For only $3.75 a bottle?! I’m in heaven! I have plans to return and spend an entire evening eating pizza and drinking as many beers as possible.

My dreams may not be big, but I’m sated by a beer list that’s longer than the number of fingers on my right hand (which is 5, in case you were wondering).  One day Roanoke’s going to be a food town, and I’ll do my part to make it so (vegan zine, anyone?), but until then I’m glad I have family to stay with in Richmond and a list of places I’ve yet to try!

Look what someone surprised me with on Tuesday evening:

It’s the first time anyone I’ve dated has cooked me dinner, let alone a fabulous balsamic mint grilled vegetable and tofu stack. So delicious. Such a gift.

One of the best things about local farmers markets is that there’s always strange and unusual vegetable that you’ve never cooked with.  This past week, for me, was the kohlrabi.  As I was browsing the baskets of potatoes and cabbage and corn and peaches I was looking for something different, something that would get me out of my pasta with olive oil, nutritional yeast, zucchini, and tomato rut (it’s true, I’ve eaten that almost every day for two weeks–it’s what happens when I’m too exhausted to cook, sigh).  And then it appeared: this weird round green tuber-looking thing with swooping nubs of appendages sticking out.  So I asked R. who runs the Good Food, Good People stand (they collectively sell for the farmers up the mountain in the Floyd area), what it was.  “Oh, a kohlrabi.”  Now, did I ask for any more of an explanation?  Nope.  Just bought a small one since they were $3 a pound and figured I’d find something to do with it eventually.

Later on in the week while talking with Tenley, one of the partners of GFGP, I asked what I could do with it since she gave me several more that she just had to get out of their cooler and couldn’t sell.  She told me that it was somewhat like a cabbage and somewhat like a turnip–i.e. not so delicious to cook with, but pretty darn good for a slaw.  Hmm.  I have to admit, I’m not the hugest fan of slaws.  Great picnic food, but not something I’d just grab out of the fridge to munch on.

Fast forward a few days: I make a slaw.  A really good slaw.  A slaw that I want to pull out of my fridge and munch on throughout the day (which is a good thing because lord knows I’m not eating enough anymore).  A slaw with some heat kicking through and acidity to balance it out.  A slaw that knows it’s a damn good slaw.  And did I mention that it’s ridiculously easy (as long as you have a food processor with a shredder attachment, that is)?  This slaw would be perfect at a cookout or picnic, but it’s just as good as a side dish to whatever you’re eating.  It’s crisp and spicy and smooth and citrusy all at once and I can’t put it down.

Spicy Siracha Kohlrabi Slaw

1 small kohlrabi, peeled and cut into wedges
1 small cabbage, cored and cut into wedges
2 carrots, peeled

1/2 c veganaise
1 tbsp siracha (more or less to taste)
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp ginger, grated

white sesame seeds
mandarin oranges

In a food processor with the shredder attachment, shred the kohlrabi, cabbage, and carrots (or use a mandoline or finely chop with a knife). Place in a medium bowl.

In a small bowl, mix together the veganaise, siracha, rice vinegar, lime juice, and ginger.

Stir the dressing into the kohlrabi mixture and garnish with sesame seeds and mandarin oranges.

Serves 6

Here’s the weekend installment of amazing-things-I-find-in-my-backyard. With all the rain bursts we’ve had lately, I’ve been finding quite a few salamanders running around. This orange one, though, really caught my eye. He enjoyed hamming it up for the camera too (although maybe he was just glad I wasn’t a bird who wanted to eat him).

I hope you all are having a lovely, relaxing weekend!

Simplicity.  Simplicity is something I’m learning to appreciate more and more these days.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that I spend $60 a month for internet that runs at the speed of dial-up due to the fact that I can’t get regular broadband up here so I have to use the Verizon option that runs on the strength of your cell phone signal which, trust me, is quite low.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that the morning sun wakes me up at 7 am since there aren’t curtains (yet)–but I’m not sure I even want curtains because I wouldn’t trade the mist covering the poplars for anything.  Or maybe it just has to do with the fact that anything simply but soundly made is far more pleasurable than anything you can buy in a supermarket.  Simplicity–there’s a lot to say about it, but really nothing at all.

I’ve been hinting at this new job for awhile, and I promise I’ll talk about it soon, but for now it needs to wait. One of the tougher aspects is that it’s not a job I can leave at the office and it’s not a job where I really have a day off. And I love that part–I’d rather work every day for 5 or 6 hours a day than the regular 8:30-5 grind. But it gets taxing and this weekend my body said it’d had enough and I had the pleasure of spending my only time off with a three-day-long headache/migraine. Oof. So last night before I collapsed in bed I knew I needed to do something nice for myself–something nice and simple. And while I know that sugar and chocolate and butter substitute might not be the nicest thing to do to one’s body, it’s what I needed mentally in order to kick this thing. Yes, I made chocolate chip cookies.

These aren’t just any kind of chocolate chip cookies, but they are. The ingredients aren’t all that different, just the flours, but this is where the meditation on simplicity comes in. At market on Saturday, Ginger who runs a farm in Catawba and mills her own grain, gave me a bag of rye flour to play around with (I’ll be hopefully making some kickin’ crackers with it next). While I felt a little guilty sneaking some of the grain for something not necessarily work related, I’m justifying it by saying that emotionally and mentally I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the day and into the next without these cookies. Anyways, I digress.

So yes, rye flour. I know, it sounds weird–rye has such an intense rye-ish taste–but trust me, the rye flour made these cookies the best I’ve ever made. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s freshly milled as of last week; maybe it’s the fact that Ginger’s rye is nuttier and produces chewier cookies than regular store-bought rye does–but maybe not (that’s for you to try and see, right?). I can’t guarantee that store-bought rye will make these cookies shine, but it might. As they are right now, they’re chewy and moist and nutty and chocolatey all at once, and they’re exactly what I needed to remind myself of the simple things in life–freshly milled flour, chocolate, the love that goes into locally-sourced food. And we all need some simplicity every now and again.

Chocolate Chip Rye Cookies

adapted from Blue Ridge Baker

3/4 c freshly milled rye flour
3/4 spelt flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
8 tbsp (1 stick) Earth Balance
1 c dark brown sugar
1 ripe banana
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz bittersweet chocolate cut into 1/8″ pieces

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line baking sheet with parchment.

Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl, set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and Earth Balance on low speed until just blended, about 2 minutes. Add the banana, mixing until just combined. Stir in vanilla.

Add dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until flour is barely combined. Stir in chocolate chunks.

Form dough into balls about 1.5 ounces each, place on baking sheet 2 inches apart.

Bake for 13-15 minutes, until the cookies have spread and cracked, the tops are dry and have browned a bit. Cool on baking sheet.


The view from my office window

Slow and steady rain at the cabin today and I’m playing hooky from work for a few hours. It’s just too hard when there’s so much to enjoy.

A pot of geraniums I picked up at market

There’s so much to say and so little time, so I’m leaving you with just a few cabin life pictures. It’s Monday; it’s nice to take a break.  And catch up on blogs–500 unread posts, good heavens!

The casing of a cicada

In an hour or so it’s back to real life, but until then I’m going to enjoy lunch and listen to the rain.  I hope you all are having a peaceful Monday wherever you are–