Mac & Cheese and Family

Is it cliché to claim fall as my favorite season? If seasons can “trend”, fall is definitely the new summer (gross. I apologize). Regardless, fall has been my favorite season since I was little, as I come from a family steeped in tradition.

With the return of fall comes all of those things that make me feel warm inside. It starts with a trip to Craven Farms with my dad to get pumpkins, spending far too long in the fields with apple cider and sugar cookies as our sustenance. We each pick out a few pumpkins and line them up, like a casting call. When I took an old boyfriend of mine to the farm I had to warn him that it’s not just a “go out into the field and pick whichever gourd looks okay” situation, it’s serious business.

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Pumpkins lead us into changing leaves at Greenlake and cold morning walks. From there it’s grandma’s kitchen for Thanksgiving, the window perspiring as we warm up the kitchen with the smells of home. After that? That is when the magic really happens. I’m entirely obnoxious when it comes to Christmas. I watch Elf on repeat, force those around me to listen to holiday songs, and spend hours making a wide variety of christmas cookies and crafts.

See? Obnoxious.

One important detail: all of these traditions are from my life in Seattle. I am not there. Instead, I am sitting in the Texas sun in November and it’s 80 degrees. Don’t get me wrong, this weather is relatively spectacular, and I understand why people are happier in sunny climates. But as a girl who grew up with seasons, mountains and warm coffee in mittened hands, I am just not sure how I feel about a holiday season without my family. This will be the first time in 26 years where I am not going to be home for Christmas. I am not going to go see the nutcracker with my uncle, not going to wake up early to open my stockings, not have Christmas breakfast with my mom. Yes, yes, I am getting weepy as I type this.

It may seem trivial to care so much about the holidays, but it’s more than that. My traditions, regardless of how silly they are, are why I am who I am. I grew up with an extremely strong and supportive family. There was never a lack of love, a lack of understanding or a want for anything. My family, they are my people. Not being around them (well, most of them, thank heavens my sister lives with me) has made me realize how blessed I am to be so close to them, how lucky I am to have so much of my heart in one place.

What I’m trying to say is… Take me home.

Butternut Squash Vegan Macaroni and “Cheese” with Kale

From: Oh She Glows

When I get nostalgic, I cook. This means I have been whipping up all kinds of creations in my kitchen in the past month. Oh She Glows has become one of my favorite blogs, she’s got so many delicious healthy recipes on the website. Seeing as macaroni and cheese used to be staple in my childhood diet, my cravings for something similar have been pretty intense. If I made traditional macaroni and cheese, I would have a stomach ache for eternity. Instead, I made her butternut squash macaroni and cheese and used gluten-free macaroni. It RULED.

  •  1 fresh butternut squash
  • Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp Earth Balance
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
  • 1 tbsp arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
  • 6 Tbsp nutritional yeast, or more to taste
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4-3/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp salt (to taste) & ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 servings gluten-free pasta (I used quinoa macaroni)
  • Mix-ins (I chose kale and spinach, gotta get your greens!)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and mix your chopped squash with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for about 40 minutes, uncovered, or until tender. Keep your eye on the squash to make sure it doesn’t burn.

While your squash is cooking, prepare the sauce. Over low-medium heat, melt the earth balance. In a bowl, whisk together the milk and arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) until clumps are gone. Add into pot and whisk. Stir in remaining ingredients (nutritional yeast, dijon, garlic, lemon and salt & pepper) and whisk over low heat until it thickens (about 5 minutes).

Cook your pasta according to package directions. The sauce will make enough to cover 4 servings of pasta. In a blender, blend the sauce with 1 cup of roasted squash. Add cooked, drained, and rinsed macaroni into pot, along with your sauce and mix-ins. Heat and serve.

Promise me, you’ll add this recipe to your collection… it’s amazing.

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Seattle and Whole Grains

Everything about home was magic. Soul lifting, heart warming, beautiful magic. For nine days I didn’t have to worry about money, about the hound, about my job… about anything. I spilled my guts to my mom, and took comfort in her warm home and understanding eyes. I laughed with my stepmom and dad as we climbed up a mountain, surrounded by tall pines bowed with snow. Christmas eve I did the yearly raid of my grandma’s closet, collecting yet another pair of shoes.

355924877401482529_2573928I shimmied. I shook. I saw all those friends of mine that have claimed parts of my heart. We got starry-eyed off of peach/vodka drinks (dangerous) and I ended the night exclaiming that I “couldn’t feel my face”. Piggy back rides turned into dance parties turned into taking swigs of whiskey straight out of the bottle. Being around those people makes my heart swell to good Grinch levels.

Needless to say, coming home (do I call it that yet?) was difficult. It was heavy and hard. I spent the majority of my plane ride over thinking all of the things that would be missing when I touched down in Texas. How all that I loved was back up in that beautiful city. But I told myself that Texas is worth it. I haven’t even scratched the surface of this fascinating town. This place hasn’t found the corners of my soul. I haven’t given it the chance.

So yes. I did cry a few tears that first night back. I cuddled the hound a little too hard. I felt sorry for myself a little too much. But I got over it. I spent my 26th birthday (oh yeah… that happened) alone, reorganizing my life and making a home for myself. My sister and brother-in-law took me to a fancy dinner. My co-workers surprised me with cupcakes (which my dog decided to treat himself to… four of them, mind you) and sang me happy birthday. My best friend back home sent me this picture. BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT. Then, I agreed to go out with co-workers on New Years Eve, when I would have probably ended up going to bed around 10, giving the hound a smooch on the nose. Oh! And I got offered a big girl job, with the whole package included.

358773387646767365_240755803It was a pretty great “Welcome back to Texas.”

I found myself in the kitchen yesterday. The hound at his proper post, waiting for the tiniest shred of sweet potato. I hummed a First Aid Kit song to myself as I made myself a big dish of roasted vegetables over brown rice. I felt a surge of happiness. It was brief, and it was accompanied with a pang of homesickness. But it was there.

And then do it all with a goddamn smile

So, I am planting roots. I am.

Roasted Vegetables with Whole Grains

From: My brain

  • 15 brussels sprouts, washed and cut in half
  • 1 sweet potato, cut into small pieces
  • 4 kale leaves, washed, de-stemmed and cut into bit size pieces
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp nutritional yeast
  • Salt and pepper to taste

This is a super simple recipe, and is my go to for many a dinner. Turn the oven on to 400 degrees F. Toss your brussels sprouts and sweet potato in olive oil and salt and pepper. You can sprinkle in some extra nutritional yeast if you want (which I always want). Once the oven is warm, roast the brussels and sweet potato for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You will want to roast for about 40 minutes, and you’ll want to throw in the kale (which you can toss with a light amount of olive oil and salt and pepper as well) for the last 15 minutes, that way they will get crispy but not burnt. While the veggies are roasting, start your grains. I did brown rice. You can throw all of this over any grain, my go to is usually quinoa, as it will give you some extra protein. You can learn ALL about grains (and how to cook them) from this 101 cookbooks article– I go to her blog for most everything. Cook your grains, and when your veggies are done, remove them from the oven. Then toss your veggies over your grain, top with 1 tsp of nutritional yeast and enjoy. This is a quick(ish) and warming meal. It will probably become your go-to, or it should be added to your “what should I make for dinner” solution.

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Birthday Blessings

Today I turned 25. A quarter of a century old. I would have most likely had a panic attack about this a few months ago. When everything was crumbling around me. When all those plans I had laid out in front of me fell apart.

A few months ago the thought of truly being an adult would have scared the shit right out of me.

Today I turned 25 and it was perfect. I nearly broke into tears on a few separate occasions when I looked around  and saw how blessed I really am. I took a walk in the sunshine with my hound dog. My best friend and his son came over for breakfast. We ate waffles and laughed about 3.5 year old things. A few more of my favorite people came over and kept me company while we chatted over coffee.

One of my heterosexual life partners gave me one of the sweetest gifts I have ever gotten. It was a bundle of love notes—handwritten. Affirmation that I have such an abundance of love in my life. Encouragement that I am a pretty decent person, and that the people I adore like to hang out with me. They are note cards that I will stick in my purse as a reminder that this life of mine is so god damn beautiful.

And then to top it all off I went to lunch with all of my ladies. Eleven ladies gossiping around a crowded table, eating delicious food and sharing in each others company. There were a few moments where I looked around and thought, GOD DAMN… I am lucky. All of these ladies are my close and special friends. All of these ladies have been there for me for so long. I can’t believe much they keep me grounded. How much they keep me believing that humans are a pretty okay species after all.

Yes, I had to come to work—but I got here to a myriad of happy birthdays, a free coffee from my favorite barista and a box of Mighty-O donuts.. say WHAT? My co-workers rock. They presented me with a card filled with well wishes. Overwhelmed once again.

I checked my phone to see a couple messages from my family. Each and every member called me and proceeded  to sing Happy Birthday, in its entirety. This year, my brother channeled Marilyn Monroe—which he did wonderfully.

See? I’m tearing up just now as I write about today.

Thank you world, for giving me such an amazing life.

My message to all of you—nothing else matters but who you surround yourself with. Your existence, your happiness and the core of who you are is made up of the people that are around you. Don’t settle for loneliness.

I start my 25th year on this earth brimming with hope—I owe that to my people.

25… you are starting off with a BANG.

A Very Vegan Thanksgiving

I am currently sitting at a deserted hospital. All of the clinics are closed, so this giant building is basically abandoned. It is the first year that I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my family. I had some inner turmoil about it, but all is well. Plus, I made a few hand turkeys… what can I say, I’m secretly five.

First off, my family rescheduled the holiday to Saturday as both my step-dad and I had to work. SO, I get to have a Thanksgiving, just a few days later than planned.

Secondly, I am just so thankful that I have family that lives in the area. I know how blessed I am to live only a few miles from mom, dad, grandma, etc. This may sound like hell to some people, but I actually enjoy spending time with my family, so there you go.

Third, and most important, this holiday isn’t really vegan friendly. Granted, my family is used to my dietary restrictions. Before taking the plunge into vegan-dom, I was a vegetarian for 12 years. There have been years where they refused to bend—which resulted in a sullen 13-year-old me (tragic in every way possible) gnawing on a roll in the corner. “Well you could be eating the rest of this delicious food with us, if you just stopped being so picky,” REAL supportive family, thanks.

Needless to say, I was an unhealthy vegetarian for the first few years of my journey, as I thought that bread, cheese, popcorn and sunflower seeds equaled a healthy, well-balanced diet… I’m surprised I didn’t get scurvy.

However, now I inhale leafy greens like they are oxygen, and feel the best if I start my morning with some nut butter. I have come a long way.

As have my family.

Now, when I told them I was vegan—my mom nodded, and sent me the Thanksgiving menu, with stars next to all the things she was making animal product free (my mom is the best). Not only are the rearranging their schedules for me, they are also accommodating my dietary restrictions. How could you not love them?

On the menu she has butternut squash soup, roasted brussels sprouts with walnuts and a vegan/gluten-free pie (did I mention my brother is gluten intolerant? We are a handful)

All of this sounds absolutely delicious. However, I like to challenge myself, and I want to add more “traditional” dishes onto my menu, that the rest of the meat-eating family will be enjoying. So, although I am working a ten-hour shift today, and an 8 hour shift tomorrow, and Thanksgiving starts at noon on Saturday (don’t ask why we start so early), I am going to cook the following.

Non-dairy Creamed Kale

Maple Glazed Tempeh (see some repetition? I love a recipe… I make it over, and over and over again)

Maple Roasted Sweet Potato (oh yeah, I love syrup… “We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup!”

Apple Sage “Sausage” Chestnut Stuffing

Cranberry Sauce

And Vegan Gravy

Perhaps this is a bit too much…perhaps I will actually think about all the work that is required for that and remember how little time I have to actually accomplish these goals.

Especially because I am also planning a trip to the market to get flowers and kale—mainly so I can flirt with the farm stand boy. GAH, he is just so pretty.

Either way, I will get to spend quality time with the ones I love, probably drink too much wine, get competitive over bananagrams, and listen to Christmas music. FINALLY!

So, my fellow vegans—I hope today finds your bellies full and happy; reveling in your meat-free day.

Happy Thanksgiving!!