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!

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–

I fully intended on giving you all a lovely recipe today, but I managed to get super sick last night (and thus just barely miss hanging out with Jessy at the Pine Street Barber Shop–it’s such a small world, holy crap!) But the savior of the story is the snow–lots of snow! All week, the forecast called for a rain/snow mix and, being from Georgia where the weather never cooperates with the prediction, I never believed it would actually happen. But when I woke up this morning, the yard was white and big, fluffy flakes were a’flyin. Even though it probably wasn’t the smartest thing, I could resist a walk through the neighborhood and I’m really glad I did. There’s nothing more wonderful than unexpected snow, especially when the last time it snowed where I lived was two years ago. Happy weekend everyone and if you’re somewhere where the weather is delightful, go frolic!

It’s good to be home.  I never thought I’d call Roanoke, Virginia, home, but, well, I’ve said it.  But really, landing on the tarmac today was a breath of relief.  Less than two months in to this “small town” (medium-sized town, but small for my citygirl experience), I found myself in big-city-overload as soon as I hit the Charlotte airport.  Then Houston?  It’s amazing I didn’t break down.  To celebrate home-coming, I jumped in my car and drove up the mountain to Floyd.  Tromping around the paths surrounding Full Circle Organic Farm and then sitting in a field and letting the mountain air wash over me, everything felt better.

So, sit back, relax, and follow me around this local farm I’ve come to love.  Center your self for the upcoming week.  We’ve got a lot to post food wise, but for the moment, let’s meditate on the environment it comes from.  It’s Vegan MoFo Vegan Walking 2009!

One of the best things about living in Roanoke, to me at least (the folks over at Blog Roanoke might have other opinions!), is the fact that a mere 20 minutes (yes, twenty minutes) from my driveway lies the Appalachian Trail. Back in Georgia I used to claim to love hiking and backpacking. The claim was true enough, but I was only able to hit the trails once or twice a year. I was car-free for 3 years so getting to the mountains was a bit difficult. While the AT starts in Georgia–Springer Mountain represent!–I honestly haven’t explored much of it in the six or seven years since I bought my first backpack. Starting today all of that is going to change.

I had hoped to meet some bike folks on the Tuesday Night Beer Ride, but given that the website said that the ride would be canceled if it rained one hour prior to departure, I decided against pedaling down to the Transportation Museum to see what was up. I think I need to get my bike arse back again to begin with anyway. I slacked the last few months in Georgia–public transportation was less stressful for me at the time–so I need some breaking in of certain parts of my body before I do a 15 mile ride.

Anyways, so since I didn’t hit the road last night I decided to hit the sack relatively early and wake up relatively early to go on a 7 or 8 mile hike. The logical choice? McAfee’s Knob, of course! The trail head is literally only 20 minutes from my house, so even though I overslept I managed to start hiking just a little after 8 am. For a Wednesday morning the trail was fairly trafficy–3 folks passed me while I ascended and I passed 3 groups while I hiked down. Maybe classes haven’t started for public schools yet? Maybe people in Roanoke just know how to live the good life? Who knows. But I had a few nice 1 minute chats about the weather and the view though.

Overall I would grade the trail as moderate on a scale of easy to strenuous. There were a few steep climbs, but they were fairly short and spaced out by practically flat stretches. I don’t know if I’m just in ridiculously good shape or if the trail wasn’t all that hard, but I was able to keep a fast clip the whole way.

After crossing the road to get to the northbound section leading to McAfee’s (a difficult crossing given the curve in both directions and the semi trucks barreling around said curves), the trail surges upward away from the road. After a quick ascent the path flattens out until you reach the actual trail head. From that point onward you climb up, then get a flat, climb, then a flat, and so on and so forth. Eventually the trail descends into a nice, cool, shady trough and you can refresh your water bottles a fresh spring if you so desire. After 1/10th of a mile or so you cross a gravel road (wonder where it heads?) and then climb steadily towards the top of the mountain and McAfee’s Knob. Again, however, this ascent is interspersed with slight downhill and flat sections. The final ascent is the steepest and longest, but it’s nothing that would tucker anyone out too much if said person is relatively in shape. The path is also wider and more groomed at this point. The boy scouts and AT Conservancy have really done a good job maintaining the trail. There are wooden walkways built up over rocks to ease passage and the white blazes were obvious and plentiful. It would have been impossible for me to get lost and that’s quite a feat!

And finally, the view at the top. The only thing I could think when I popped out of the trees was “holy crap, I live here?” From the rock ledge (or knob, I suppose) the mountains stretch on for what seems forever. Houses and churches and cows dot the grassy valley and to the left you can see the city of Roanoke. Or maybe just Salem–I’m not super clear on the geography yet. It’s a city and I’m going to call it Roanoke. I reached the knob at 10:15 am, so the view was still clear. I stretched out near the edge of one of the rocks and watched a hawk surf the air for a bit, the climbed around to view other sections of the valley. If nothing else, the cool breeze is worth the August hike–it’s ridiculously muggy here in the valley.

Eventually I had to hike back to the car so I get could get home and theoretically do some work. The work never happened (I took a nap instead), but I’m so glad that I pushed myself out of bed this morning. I’ve decided from here on out that I’m going to hike once a week for as long as possible. I need to take advantage of these crazy things called mountains while I’m here. My plans also include some backpacking in North Carolina in October, but for the most part I’m going to try to stick to Virginia and West Virginia–there’s just so much here!

Happy Earth Day!

I suppose I owe you that wrap-up…they’re so tedious when one doesn’t take photos of food in a restaurant!  Enjoy the scenery instead!

Thursday, December 18

We arrived in Boston with no problems, dropped our bags off at the apartment, and drove to Grasshopper in Brookline.  Grasshopper is a vegan Chinese restaurant with a bazillion options on their menu, and although they specialize in Chinese cuisine, you can also order Vietnamese or Thai options.  We ordered a couple fried spring rolls for the table and our main dishes.  I ordered The Kale & Mushroom Delight; the poet ordered the House Vermicelli Noodles with Roasted Vegi-Pork, Pork-Chop, Spring-roll, Rice Cake and Salad; B. ordered the Sauteed Kale with Black Mushrooms; and C. ordered Spicy Curry Vermicelli Noodles with Sweet Potato and Tofu Broth.

The Kale & Mushroom Delight was ENORMOUS.  The menu describes it as “A stir-fried combination of kale, white mushrooms, tofu, and veggie-beef gluten in a tangy ginger sauce,” and by all means it was a massively huge pile of kale, mushrooms, tofu, and etc.  Honestly, I wasn’t a fan.  The kale was great, but the veggie meats were pretty bad.  Maybe I’m just spoiled on Green Sprout… The seitan was sausage style, which doesn’t strike me as Asian, and the chicken had a rubbery texture.  The poet’s vermicelli was pretty weird too–instead of being vermicelli noodles with pork, it was the Vietnamese noodle wraps.  The pork had a really funky texture too.  B.’s mushroom and kale came in a tasty black bean sauce and I would definitely recommend this dish.  The curry vermicelli was good too.  If you go to Grasshopper, I’d only order vegetable dishes.  They were definitely the strongest.  The “meats” are rather inauthentic and not very tasty.  One plus was that my kale special fed me breakfast for four days!

Friday, December 19

We woke up, grabbed a cup of coffee from Fiore’s Bakery in Jamaica Plain, and hit up some thrift stores.  While we were in Goodwill (can’t remember where), the snow storm started.  We caught the T up to Cambridge so I could go to Grolier’s Poetry Bookshop and see Harvard.  By the time we left Grolier, there was over 1 foot of snow on the ground.  Insanity!  For lunch, we ordered pizzas at Veggie Planet.  The poet and C. ordered a half-and-half large of Lunch for Henry (butternut squash, caramelized onions, sage, and goat cheese) and the special of the day which was awesome looking…but I can’t remeber what it was.  I ordered a small half-and-half of the Vegan Peanut Curry ( Coconut rice, tofu, broccoli, and Thai red peanut curry sauce) and the Vegan Oddlot (Fresh tomatoes, spinach, basil tofu ricotta, calamata olives, and fried garlic).  I personally like the peanut curry pizza more than the oddlot, but it’s definitely not traditional.  The basil tofu ricotta on the oddlot was pretty rad though.  It continued to snow through the next day, so you can imagine how it piled up.  For dinner we went over to B. & C.’s friend’s house and I cooked some kind of stir fry.  It tasted good…I think…there was a lot of drinking involved too…

Saturday, December 20

We lazed around most of the day, but eventually set out for My Thai Cafe in Brookline.  Two freezing bus rides later we showed up at the restaurant starving and cold as ice.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the proprietors were using heat in the restaurant.  So we ate with our coats on.  They were also out of the fake chicken (probably due to not being able to get a shipment in).  Our order of Fried Wontons and Golden Triangles for the table was good–hot and tasty.  The vegetables and spices in the Triangles was definitely a highlight.  I ordered Pad Thai (“Our signature Thai dish Pan-fried noodles with veggie-chicken, veggie-shrimp, onions, scallions, and bean sprouts in a sweet-and-sour sauce. Topped with fresh bean sprouts and ground peanuts and served with sliced lemon or lime”), substituting tofu for the chicken, the poet and B. ordered Pad See Ew (“Stir-fried wide rice noodles with Chinese broccoli and a choice of veggie-chicken or veggie-beef or veggie shrimp or tofu or gluten”), and C. ordered a curry.  My pad thai was phenomenal.  I wish I could have tried it with the chicken, but the tofu was delightful because it was cut into long, thin strips–easy to eat with the noodles.  Most places use tofu chunks and that’s a lot harder to work with.  The Pad See Ew was amazing too–a different taste than Pad Thai, but very delicious.  I only had one bite of the curry, and it wasn’t quite was C. was hoping for, but I thought the balance of the spices was great in this dish as well.  Other than it being uber hard to get to from Jamaica Plain and there being little to no heat in the building, My Thai was my hands-down my favorite restaurant in Boston.

Sunday, December 21

We stocked up on supplies for the Poconos at Harvest Coop and on the way home I grabbed a sandwich at Fiore’s.  With so many vegan choices, it was hard to decide, but in the end I ordered the BBQ tofu wrap.  It was tad oniony for my taste, but the BBQ sauce and tofu was great.  I also ordered a Blackberry Chambourd Vegan Cheesecake us to share.  At $7 it was kinda pricey, but worth it.  The wine and blueberries worked great together and the dark chocolate drizzle was the perfect complement.  If I lived in Jamaica Plain, I’d end up spending all of my money at Fiore’s.  For a non-vegan bakery, it’s heaven, with over half of the choices vegan.  Cookies, cupcakes, sandwiches, cheesecakes, brownies, coffee cake–vegan.  And their coffee is great too!

Sunday, December 21-Wednesday, December 24

In the Poconos.  I wouldn’t recommend vacationing there; although it was so bad it was awesome.  We had super good eats though.  Heidi’s brussels sprouts, Isa’s tofu scramble, my french toast, Heidi’s pizza dough with vegan and non-vegan toppings, peanut curry stir fry, Trader Joe’s chorizo, lots of coffee, lots of wine, lots of beer and lots of vegan white russians.

Wednesday, December 24-Friday, December 26

In Cuba, NY (western NY).  We stayed with the poet’s and C.’s sister-in-law’s family (along with their brother) in Cuba for the Christmas holiday.  For a non-vegan family, they were incredibly accommodating.  Several of the women are vegetarians or pescatarians (oh how I hate that term, but I’ll give them some love) so cooking vegan food wasn’t an issue.  In fact, while they asked for a suggestion once or twice, they cooked all the food without asking me to pitch in!  While I washed some dishes, it was a nice break from the pots and pans.

Friday, December 26-Sunday, December 28

Back in the Poconos!  We went sledding a few times…and no one broke a bone!  The little snotty kids tried to take over our jump though.  They need to learn some manners, geez.  (smile)

Sunday, December 28

Back in Boston, we went out for one last dinner together at Pho Pasteur in Allston.  Vegan Boston described it as super vegan friendly, and I suppose it was, but the vegetarian options were not as vast as I hoped.  In fact the online menu looks really different than the one I ordered from.  I had a noodle dish with crispy tofu, veggies, and a peanuty sauce.  The tofu and vegetables were chunked in an unmanagebly large way and I had a lot of issues mixing the noodles, veggies, and sauce together.  Additionally, the sauce came to the side of the dish and when I mixed it together it was cold.  Bummer.  I took home leftovers, but made the poet eat them.  All-in-all, a disappointment.  The poet and B. said the beefy pho was great…but it was beefy.

After Pho Pasteur, we made our way over to Wheeler’s for dessert.  An all-vegan ice cream parlor?  How could you go wrong?!  First off, I can’t imagine why Wheeler’s chose a location in downtown Boston (next to Symphony Hall).  A neighborhood like Allston or Brookline or Jamaica Plain makes a lot more sense.  It was 8 pm or so when we got there and the cafe was dead.  I think we woke up the guy working there.  No street traffic in the vicinity either.  No Black Label either.  BUMMER.  Do you have any idea how much I was looking forward to alcoholic vegan ice cream?  Sigh.  Anyways, down to the nitty gritty.  I ordered chocolate peanut butter swirl with pretzels, the poet ordered chocolate pudding, C. ordered espresso, and B. ordered cookies and cream.  Everything was delicious.  The poet really like the chocolate peanut butter with pretzels and everyone loved the cookies and cream.  I was a big fan of mixing the espresso with the chocolate pudding.  The chocolate pudding was super dark, a lot like VCTOTW’s chocolate mousse, just frozen.  Other than the utter emptiness and deadness of the place, Wheeler’s was pretty good.  I just don’t see them staying in business in that location for very long.  Maybe they get a lot of people at other times, who knows.  I just hope they make it.

Monday, December 29

Before we flew back to Atlanta, I stopped at Fiore’s again.  This time I ordered the vegan lunch box with a slice of vegan pizza, hummus, pita chips, grape leaf wrap thingies, and a chocolate chip cookie.  For $7 it was a ton of food!  And really good food too.  I wish the pizza were more consistent, everything is just dollopped on top of the crust, but the cashew cheeze was fab.  I’m not a huge fan of grape leaf things, so I gave those to the poet after a bite or two.  He really liked them.  I loved the hummus.  The chocolate chip cookie was kind of disappointing, but I have really high standards for my chocolate chip cookies.  The poet ordered the vegan coffee cake and it was to die for.  After another cup of coffee, it was back to Atlanta!

Waking up in one’s own bed after an amazing weekend of drinks, hot tubs, great conversations, the roaring surf, and good good good food is never fun.  The weather was perfect (in my opinion): one night rainy, the next day foggy, the next day sunny and the temperature hovered in the mid-sixties during the day (and was deliciously cooler at night).  At one point, the poet and I walked out into the fog on the beach at night and the tide was so far out that we didn’t find the waves before we’d lost all sight of the house and its lights.  Uber creepy.  But great fun!

One of the things I don’t like so much about Fripp Island, SC is that the houses were built on top of the dunes, so development killed the island.  The rate of erosion is scary fast, as you can see by the waves meeting the houses tucked behind a seawall (a jetty is farther to the right of the frame).  Jetties and seawalls actually speed up the rate of erosion, and farther down the beach, where dunes (albeit tiny dunes) exist, the water comes right up and washes them away.  Picturesque, but deadly.

Luckily, I found some life on the beach!  A few sanddollars were brown and kicking, so I scooped them up and put them back in the water, and I also found a little conch that begged me to be tossed back.  Too many horseshoe crabs were washed up though…which is disturbing because they were all adolescents.  But maybe that was just because of the storms.  Who knows.

As for a food wrap-up, I prepared most of the food before I left.  Thankfully, vegan food doesn’t spoil after a few hours in a cooler, so all of it survived.

Vegan Crab Cake with chipotle tartar sauce on a bed of mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts

I toted along split pea soup, vegan crab cake mix, chipotle tartar sauce, avocado burgers, pumpkin cookie dough, biscuit supplies, hot chocolate stuff, pumpkin hummus, and various odds and ends.  The pumpkin hummus was a rip-roarin’ success and I’ll post the recipe soon.

All in all, a wonderful and relaxing trip!  Now it’s back to the grind of paper writing, working, and all the usual trappings.

At Fernbank Science Center

I’m a bit tired of typing.  And I’m only part-way finished with my seminar paper, with just over 24 hours to go, so I’m going to leave you with a few pre-fall (but still taken in the month of October) photographs of my favorite walk between my house and Little Five Points/Reynoldstown.  In case you missed my justification for Vegan MoFo and nature photography, check out my first post on the matter!

Some sort of succulent

Hydrangea drying on the bush

Trees just starting to turn colors

A sage maybe?

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