My Love Letter to Austin and Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries

I leave Austin in five days.

This flat, hot and beautiful place has been my home for the past year +, and now it’s time to go back to Seattle. I’m returning to green trees, tall mountains, salty seas and family.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a piece of myself will stay in Texas. This town will always be a second home. It wouldn’t be an honest departure without a love letter, so Austin… this one’s for you.

My Southern Love,

I will miss your warmth. I will miss your wet heat that felt like the biggest, sweatiest hug. I will miss riding my red bicycle through your streets in my cut-offs. I will miss eating tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner and then for breakfast again. I will miss your friendliness and open arms. I will miss whiskey on tap, two stepping with strangers and late nights with my favorite people. I will miss swimming in any body of water I could find, just as long as it got me out of the heat. I will miss being in the land of fireflies and topo chico.

Austin, I will miss your people. The ones that welcomed me without question. Those people who I would carry around in my back pocket if I could, little reminders of what it feels like to be surrounded with goodness. This town is full of folks who live. Take all of it and shape it into something worthwhile. Austin, you are a neverland. Sitting outside of barton springs in my bathing suit, watching the stars in the 85 degree heat on a summer evening, I looked at my friend and said, “this place is magic…”

Austin, you are magic. You are sunshine, pants, bike rides, food, friends and dancing. So much of my heart will be left in Austin, forever.

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I am moving on to the next adventure. I ate the Texas sun, I had year round freckles, I scuffed my boots and turned all my jeans into shorts. Now it’s time to go home. I’m bringing a bit of the south home with me. I’m determined to bring some of the warmth, some of the genuine friendliness, all of the dancing and you BETTER believe I will bring “y’all” with me…

Onward and upward y’all, onward and upward.

Black Bean & Avocado Salad with Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries & Cabbage Slaw

This is what my perfect plate looks like. Sweet potatoes are my jam, and when you add in the complete protein of rice and beans, I’m in heaven. And it wouldn’t be a well-rounded meal unless there were some greens, and the cabbage slaw fit the bill. It only seems fitting that I give y’all THREE recipes this time around, because everything is bigger in Texas. All of these dishes are great to mix together and stick into a tortilla, because EVERYTHING is better in a tortilla.

Tacos forever.

Black Bean & Avocado Salad

  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2.5 cups water
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 small shallots, diced
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • ¾ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼-½ tsp salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 large avocado, chopped into ½ inch pieces

Cook the brown rice, I use a rice cooker, but you can cook it on the stove top, do whatever tickles your fancy. Drain the beans and rinse. In a large bowl add the beans and toss with limes, cilantro leaves, diced shallots and ground cumin. Season to taste with salt & black pepper. After your rice is finished, set it aside to cool slightly before you mix it in with everything else. Peel and slice an avocado, and serve the beans at room temperature, with chopped avocado on top or mixed in throughout the salad. This salad lasts for several days in the fridge, so it makes for the perfect lunch to bring to work.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries

  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into ¼ inch fries
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Ground chipotle chile
  • Garlic powder

In a medium bowl, toss sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt, garlic powder and chipotle chile powder. Spread potatoes on a baking sheet. Avoid crowding so the potatoes get crisp. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn and bake an additional 10-15 minutes. Ovens may vary so keep an eye on them and be sure to cut all the potatoes the same size. It’ll ensure even cooking. Cool and try not to shove them all in your mouth at one time. These are delicious.

Cabbage Slaw

  • 1 head cabbage, cut into small pieces
  • 2 carrots, shredded (optional, I didn’t have any, so I went without… delicious either way)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
  • Handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp honey (or agave)
  • Pinch of cumin

Generous pinch of salt and pepper

Chop up your veggies and mix with jalapeno and cilantro. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lime juice and honey. Add to the veggies and season with cumin, salt and pepper. Toss until finally coated. Serve immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

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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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Home

Remember how when you were little you would play house? For my best friend and I it was the shed in my back yard. It was the acre of property behind her cabin. It was a silly game with make believe husbands and baby dolls that were anatomically correct (weird and awesome).

My mom has this video of me playing on my plastic toy kitchen. She comes into the room and asks what I am doing. I glance over at her with an agitated look and motion to the bright yellow phone and silently word, “I’m on the phone!”

I was (am?) a brat.

I was (am) a homebody.

To me, comfort is coming home to a place that invites you in. A place to leave your shoes on the front porch. Somewhere with soft cushions and a familiar smell.

Here I am in this city of heat, this city of unexpected thunder storms and quiet morning runs on wide, sidewalk free streets. I have found a tiny little place to make a tiny little home with a not so tiny or little man. The paint is peeling, and the house leans. The bathroom is a size of a closet and I think we have a resident mouse. The large, white trimmed windows rattle as you struggle to get them open. The concrete fence holds little windows to the street, and long, thin garden beds wait for cool fall crops.

I plan my days around walks, farming, yoga and this man. I plan my days with growing vegetables and planning dinner menus.

Sitting on the floor, we eat out of brightly colored bowls.

My house is a home because of him. Because of the hound dog that darts to the back fence because he saw a squirrel there once. Because I bike home to find a boy sitting on my counter reading John Irving because he can. This new cottage is my home because I am filling it with things that make my heart calm.

We have a habit of toasting to things that are our “firsts”. Our first trip to the grocery store. Our first bike ride. Our first shared trash can, shared bed, shared life.

So when we sat down to our first meal (on the ground, using a goodwill chest for a table), we raised our bourbon and whiskey to us.

To our tiny house, our surprising love and this newness that came out of nowhere and has settled deep in our bodies.

Kale and Mushroom Tacos

In the land of Texas, tacos and burritos have become an almost daily habit… delicious.

– Flour or corn tortillas

– Can of black beans

– Spanish rice

– 1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil

– small yellow or white onion

– red bell pepper

– 2 ears of corn

– mushroom of choice (we used crimini)

– 1 bunch of kale (once again, your choice)

– 2 cloves garlic

– 1 tbsp cumin

– 1 tsp salt

– 1 tsp chipotle cayenne powder

– Red pepper hummus (we bought ours, as I have yet to get a food processor, and can’t make mine)

– Jalapeno jelly (gifted from the farm, I will tackle this one come jalapeno season)

– Ripe avocado
Start spanish rice. Heat beans and tortillas. Chop up the onions, peppers and corn. Heat the oil in a pan and add the veggies. Saute and add in salt, cayenne and cumin. Stir until onion is soft and translucent. Add in chopped up mushrooms and garlic. Saute for a few minutes, adding the kale is last. Wilt the kale for a minute or two. Lay out a tortilla, spread on the hummus and the jalapeno jelly and then pack with all of that goodness until you can’t seem to fit anymore onto such a tiny little tortilla. I always put a slice or two of avocado on the top, because what is a taco without avocado?

Home.

Isn’t it funny how you can spend nearly three years in a place, call this place your home, and then in the rush of moving out forget to say goodbye?

I spent the entire weekend moving. I sorted through piles of clothes, books and memorabilia. I took a moment to pause over a box of things from my ex-boyfriend that I found by mistake. It hit me like a ton of bricks. But the moment passed, I packed everything up with a positive thought to the universe and that was that.

I gave away a majority of my possessions. These are the things that I have been lugging around for the past eight years. I had furniture from my childhood that I have always had a weird attachment to, two bookcases full of books, clothes that I hadn’t worn in years but they held some memory in the sleeves.

I am somewhat of a homebody. These things are loaded with my history. With looming change and the inevitability of growing up (sort of), it was time to let go.

I am someone who would have appreciated having some sort of séance for the house. A recognition that this place was where I built my first garden bed, shared my home with a boy for the first time, had my heart-broken completely and learned to heal through living with my best friend.

This house was the kitchen with the shiny surfaces and the shoddy craftsmanship. This house was the yard turned jungle where the pup spent hours chasing bugs. This house was the multitude of ridiculous dance parties, too much alcohol and hang-over-mornings watching bad romantic comedies. This was the house near the lake. I would  walk a few blocks and I had my solitude—just my running shoes, my music and my dog.

This house was my home.

With the hustle and bustle of moving and cleaning while working a full-time job, I didn’t have anytime to be nostalgic. A little ball of stress, I rolled through the moving process on a mission. By my seventh good will run I was just ready to be done with the place.

How sad. I feel like leaving a place you call home should involve some sort of ritual. A moment of silence for all of those things you carried, shared and loved while you were living there.

A good friend from my childhood would have taken the time. She would have created a fire in the back yard, wrote down the memories from the house, and said a proper goodbye. Back in the day we would have made fun or her for being too sentimental. Today, I wish I would have had her by my side so I took the time to have that moment of recognition.

Instead, I found myself alone after all my roommates had left eating kale slaw on the ground while my very confused hound dog stared at me through the back door. I would be a liar if I said I didn’t feel the lump in my throat (like I am feeling right now) as I stared around at the empty house. It is funny how much a place can seep into your pores and become a part of you.

So here is my proper good-bye. An ode to the old house by the lake. The house with far too many “quirks” that we grew to accept. The house with thin windows and squeaky wood floors. The house with the 1970s retro bathroom and my two walk in closets (this I will miss). The house with the kind neighbors and the sound of the freeway that became a lullaby in the evening.

Thank you house, for all that you were.

Kale Cashew & Mint Slaw

Original Shutter Bean recipe

*This slaw is AMAZING. My bestie had it posted on her Facebook, and it went viral. Everyone is making it. Also, this blog rocks my world. I heart a good food blog.* serves 4

1 bunch lacinato kale, shredded

2 cups cabbage, shredded

2 scallions, finely chopped (both white & green parts)

1/2 bunch fresh mint, roughly chopped

1/2 cup roasted cashews, chopped (peanuts can be used)

2 tablespoons agave syrup

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 inch piece ginger, grated

1 clove garlic, minced

salt & pepper

Chop the kale, cabbage, scallions & mint and set aside in a large bowl. In a small bowl add the agave syrup, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, ginger and garlic and stir. When ready to toss, add the chopped nuts to the large bowl and pour the dressing over the kale cabbage mixture. Thoroughly coat the kale, season with salt & pepper to taste.