SW Sweet Potato Hors d’oeuvres

First of all, my apologies for not updating my blog in over a month, I have really missed it! My February calendar was packed and then my oven broke, also breaking my heart a little. I had to make stove-top dinners for two weeks! Good thing my hubby and I love stir-fry.

I am excited to share this week’s recipe because I’m not just sharing one recipe; I am sharing three recipes that when put together, make one delicious appetizer. You can take one of the recipes and try it alone if you wish too.

I feel like I am constantly saying, “Oh that food is my favorite!”; I say it so often and about so many different kinds of food that I honestly don’t even know what my true favorite is anymore. I bring this confession up because I love southwestern food! I always have, when I was a kid I tried to put salsa and ranch on everything! Then I discovered guacamole and a whole new love affair was born. This recipe is a southwestern style hors d’oeuvre with all of those wonderful flavors I’ve loved since I was a child.

*Keep scrolling to read about my visit to The Ewam Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.

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Southwestern Sweet Potato Hors d’oeuvres

Prep time: 30 – 35 minutes (unless you have a chopper or food slicer, that’ll cut your time in half.)

Makes 30 – 40 (a rough estimate because it depends on the size of the sweet potato)
Hors d’oeuvres Ingredients:

  • 3 log shaped sweet potatoes (This is my recommendation if you want all your hors d’oeuvres to resemble the same size.)
  • 2 tbsp. of olive oil or cooking spray

Guacamole Ingredients:

  • 3 avocados
  • 1 vine ripe tomato seeded and chopped
  • half a red onion chopped
  • 1 jalapeño seeded and loosely chopped
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 2 tsp. of minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. of finely chopped cilantro
  • salt to taste

Pico de gallo Ingredients:

  • 3 vine tomatoes seeded and chopped
  • half a red onion chopped
  • 1 jalapeño seeded and finely chopped
  • juice from half a lime
  • juice from half a lemon
  • salt and garlic to taste

Directions:

  1. Set the oven heat to 450º and grease 1-2 baking sheets in olive oil or cooking spray
  2. Slice the sweet potatoes 1/8 inch thick and place them flat on the baking sheets
  3. When the oven is ready, place the baking sheets in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, after 10 minutes pull out the baking sheets and flip the potato slices. Then, place back into the oven and bake for another 5 – 10 minutes. Keep an eye on them, you want them to get tender, but not crispy or burned.
  4. While the sweet potatoes are baking, make the guacamole and pico de gallo (instructions below).
  5. Assembling: Place the sweet potato slices on your serving platter. Add a dollop of guacamole to each slice, then top the guacamole with a teaspoon of Pico de gallo. If you’re entertaining and want the hors d’oeuvres to look even fancier, garnish with fresh cilantro.

*Always be prepared. You may just find you have left over guacamole and/or pico de gallo, imagine the possibilities! Tacos, burritos or southwest salad!!! Or maybe a yummy snack with tortilla chips. Enjoy!
Guacamole Directions:

  1. Prepare the ingredients (i.e. chopping)
  2. In a food processor add minced garlic, cilantro, and jalapeño. Blend on high for about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the avocados. The best way to do this is to slice vertically (avoid slicing through the seed), then squeeze the avocado into the processor (when you squeeze a ripe avocado the seed should pop right out.). Also add the lime juice squeezed from a whole lime and a pinch of salt. Blend in the processor until it is creamy and smooth.
  4. Transfer the avocado mixture to a bowl ( can be a serving bowl or a storage container).
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes and chopped red onion. Fold them into the avocado mixture. Adjust the taste with a little more salt or lime juice.
  6. Chill in the refrigerator or serve immediately.

*Even with the lime juice, guacamole does not last long. You’ll want to eat this within one to two days.
Directions for the Pico de gallo:

  1. Add all the ingredients to a bowl and toss until the tomatoes and onions are coated evenly. Adjust taste to your liking.

*We love spicy food in our house, which is why I use Jalapeño. But if you are sensitive to spicy foods you can still make these recipes delicious and to your liking. Leave out the Jalapeño. Leave as is or add whatever you want.I recommend adding some cubed mango to the Pico de gallo. Mango is such a good complement to southwestern foods.

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The Ewam Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

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The Ewam Garden of One Thousand Buddhas is a real treasure that can be found in one of the most unexpected places; In the middle of nowhere, tucked between the valley of the surrounding mountains of western Montana. I had come across gorgeous pictures of this place a few years ago and knew it was going to be one of those places I just had to visit and see with my own eyes. My hubby and I recently made the decision to leave Montana within the year, so I honestly never thought I’d get the chance to visit the garden.

My friend and I had an engagement that took us to western Montana, to a town only 20 minutes away from the Ewan Garden of One Thousand Buddhas. When we were done with our engagement, I convinced her that this was a place she would not regret visiting.

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Here is an excerpt from their website http://www.ewambuddhagarden.org/on the purpose of this special place.

“Dedicated as an International Peace Center, the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas supports people in cultivating inner peace and in preserving the ancient culture of Tibet. The mission of the Garden is to provide visitors of all faiths with an opportunity to generate profound merit, to reduce global negativities, and to bring about lasting peace. Through the use of the ancient symbols of Buddhism, the Garden awakens one’s natural inner qualities of joy, wisdom, and compassion.” – the Ewam Buddha Garden website.

I am not a Buddhist, but I have studied Buddhism a bit and I have so much respect for their culture and beliefs. Most of my favorite quotes come from the Dalai Lama himself.

“Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to a man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures.” – Dalai Lama

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When we pulled up, they hadn’t yet opened their gates. So we sat and patiently waited while one of the kind workers came to open the gate and welcome us. I am already completely in love with the mountains and the mountains surround the garden were breath taking. It is the perfect place to find peace.

It was a chilly day with lots of snow and ice on the ground. The meditation pond was frozen over. There was a thick fog rolling in over the mountains and yet it was stunning. I didn’t care that my fingers and toes were starting to freeze, I just drank in the sights. I can’t imagine the kind of beauty inside and out of the garden during late spring and summer.

Here are some more sights from the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.

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Sweet potato breakfast

Have you ever tried a baked sweet potato for breakfast? I love making all kinds of stuffed sweet potatoes. One the favorites in our house is a south western sweet potato; I bake the sweet potatoes and then fill them with all of our favorite taco fixings.

I wanted to try something new for breakfast and I’ll admit this isn’t an original idea of mine. I saw several other vegan bloggers posting delicious pictures of their sweet potato breakfast. But maybe some of my reader don’t follow hundreds of other vegan bloggers like I do. So I tried my own and it was so good. Very filling! I thought I’d share this clever idea and maybe you’ll have something new to try. Because trying new things is good for you!

*In my recipe I give suggested toppings, but like pancakes the choices for what you want on your sweet potato are infinite.

breakfast baked potato

Ingredients:

  • 1 sweet potato (per person)

Toppings shown:

  • Maple syrup
  • peanut butter
  • banana slices
  • blueberries
  • pumpkin seeds
  • chia seeds

Directions:

    1. Heat oven to 400° F.
    2. Pierce each sweet potato along each opposing side with a fork or a knife. Place the sweet potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
    3. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Once tender take out of the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
    4. Once the sweet potato is cool enough to handle slice open down the center. And scrape the insides with a fork to break it up and allow the toppings to settle in the potato.
    5. Drizzle with maple syrup or agave for some extra sweetness
    6. Add your desired toppings.
    7. Enjoy!

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What friendship looks like to an introvert.

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I have always been a shy person, but I haven’t always been an introvert. I became an introvert when person after person I opened myself up to began to burn me and judge me for the things I’d say or the things they knew about me.

Moving across the country to Montana, away from all I’d ever known was especially hard. I had the same close friends since I was 2 and 5 years old, Karen and Cody. I had other friends growing up, but those two girls were my go to. So many friends come and go while you’re a kid or a teenager. Sometimes people move away, sometimes you grow apart, and unfortunately sometimes you get burned. But these two were always there for me and I hope they can say the same about me.

In Montana, I found myself in the middle of a whole new terrain, at 25 years old and not really knowing how to go out of my way to strike up new friendships.

Introverts don’t desire to have as many friends as they can possibly have. Most probably wouldn’t even want as many as ten. They desire a few intimate friendships, confidants, someone they can feel safe to be themselves with and this kind of relationship takes a lot of energy and time. I know I’ve spent months, even years keeping people at arms length while feeling out for a potential friend. All the while wondering “Can I trust this person? Will they stick around or get bored and dump me?” Introverts are typically uncomfortable with surface relationships. Small talk can be especially painful. It pains me that people probably think I don’t like them, when really I am just awkward as hell.

Allowing a person to get to know me is terrifying, but for good reason. Example, I’ve only lived in Montana for 5 years and in that short time have already been burned by multiple people. Maybe they didn’t mean to hurt me, but when I open myself up to someone it makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. It’s a big deal for me and if I thought I had a friend when I really didn’t, it leaves me feeling bitter and I tend to hid away for a while to heal before I go back and give someone else a try.

It’s not all just about trusting people. Fact of the matter is, I love my animals and my hubby and 99% of the time I would rather stay in with them than be around other people. In the rare occasion I am at a party in someone’s home, I typically hang out with their pets. Animals don’t play mind games and they’re good company.

*I need to mention that not every introvert will be able to relate to my story. Everyone has their own reasons for being who they are. My husband for example is also an introvert, but he is not shy. He is simply an introvert because he doesn’t really like people. He has very high standards and a very low tolerance for certain personalities.

So what does friendship look like through the heart of this introvert?

  • Being consistent is a huge start.
  • Being included and remembered. Everyone likes to feel included, but I have spent years at a time feeling like I was invisible and could disappear and no one would ever notice.
  • Don’t assume if I’ve turned down an offer to hang out,that I don’t ever want to. Sometimes it’s scary to leave my house (did you know there are people outside?).
  • Share your interests and respect my own.
  • Spending either one on one time together or in a small group. If the group exceeds 4 I am just going to act like I am invisible and think of a way out. If we do go out with a large group, don’t forget that I am there too! If the relationship is new, don’t expect to get to know me around a large group.
  • If I ask you to do something and you turn me down several times in a row, I’m out. Asking anyone do to something is outside of my comfort zone, I can only take so much rejection before I “get the hint”.
  • If I let you into my home, you’re a shoo-in. My home is my safe place, a judgment free zone and I have welcomed you into my safe place. It’s a big fricken deal. The biggest element of friendship for this introvert is when I get to a place in our friendship where I finally feel safe enough to relax and be myself. In other words, I’ve let my guard down. If you’ve been welcomed into my home, it probably coincides with letting my guard down.

Introverts have a lot to offer in friendship. If you can be patient and understanding long enough to earn the trust of an introvert, you will be blessed with a loyal and loving confidant. Someone who fits the true meaning of a best friend.

Rosemary mashed potatoes & roasted garlic broccoli 

Happy early Thanksgiving! I am devoting this months blog posts to traditional Thanksgiving food with modified recipes for those who want a little bit more from their Thanksgiving dinner.

Tatters

One of this weeks recipes is for a Thanksgiving staple. Mashed Potatoes. It wouldn’t be a real Thanksgiving meal without mashed potatoes. You could ask a many number of people how they prefer their potatoes and could end up with a different answer for all of them. Lumpy, smooth, creamy, garlicy, buttery, ect. The great thing about mashed potatoes, they are so versatile! I love flavor and this recipe is loaded with it.

I use lots of rosemary in this recipe. For me it wouldn’t quite feel like Thanksgiving without the smell of rosemary wafting through the house. I find as I get older holidays become more and more about nostalgia and recreating those magical times when I was a carefree child. When I smell rosemary in my home I can close my eyes and see myself as a kid sitting on the couch, watching the Thanksgiving day parade, with my mom in the kitchen working tirelessly to create her dinner masterpieces.

Chopped rosemary

Sadly, I haven’t been home to New York for Thanksgiving for a couple of years now. But the last time I was home I made the mashed potatoes, this recipe, and it was quite popular. I hope you enjoy it as well.

I also added my favorite recipe for roasted broccoli in this post as well. I don’t associate mashed potatoes without broccoli. To me it makes as much sense as peanut butter and jelly. We love this simple recipe and I make it all the time. In fact, I made it a couple weeks ago as a side dish for another dinner, well the broccoli was finished cooking before everything else and between my husband and I we kept picking at. By the time dinner was done there was no broccoli left to serve on the side. It’s so delicious!

Thanksgiving mashed potatoes

Rosemary mashed potatoes

Rosemary Mashed Potatoes

Serves 4

Prep time: 15 minutes (Not including chopping ingredients)

Cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 8 Russet potatoes (peeled and chopped)
  • 2 – 4 cups of unsweetened nut milk
  • 4 Tbs of vegan butter
  • 2 Tbs of finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp of fresh minced garlic
  • 1 – 2 tsp of pink salt (to taste)
  • sprinkle of pepper to taste
  • Cappers for topping

Instructions:

  1. Boil the chopped potatoes on medium high heat until they are soft enough for a fork to stab though. Pour potatoes into a strainer then transfer the potatoes to a large bow. Use a potato masher or a large fork to mash the potatoes. Mash to your desired consistency. I don’t mind lumpy potatoes, but for this recipe I mashed them down smooth.
  2. Once the potatoes are mashed transfer them to a large stew pot. Turn the heat onto medium/low, add 1 cup of milk to start and the butter. Stir in the milk and the butter. As the potatoes heat up you will need to continue to add more milk until your potatoes have reached a nice smooth, creamy consistency.
  3. Once the potatoes are creamy, stir in the rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper. Taste test and adjust as needed. I like mine extra garlicy myself.
  4. When the potatoes are heated through scoop them in to a serving bowl. Make a small shallow well at the top and add the cappers, or just sprinkle the top with cappers. *For extra pizzazz garnish with a couple sprigs of rosemary.

*If your mashed potatoes are done before other Thanksgiving dishes are ready for serving, wait to transfer to the serving bowl and cover the pot with lid or foil.

Potatoes and broccoli

Roasted Garlic Broccoli

Serves 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 – 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 large heads of broccoli
  • olive oil
  • minced garlic ( 2 tsp of garlic powder would work too)
  • pinch of salt

Instructions:

  1. preheat oven to 425° and lightly coat a baking pan with non stick spray or olive oil
  2. Chop the head of the broccoli off of the stem, cut florets into small pieces
  3. place the broccoli florets into a large mixing bowl. Add 2 Tbs of olive oil, minced garlic, and salt. stir with a spatula until the florets are coated.
  4. Add the broccoli florets to the baking pan. Place in the oven and bake for 30 – 35 minutes. Check after 15 minutes, making sure to flip over the florets. They are cooked, once they’re tender and have only started to brown a little on top.
  5. For serving, place the broccoli florets into a serving bowl.
  6. Enjoy!

Potatoes

Rosemary Potato stew and a Smokey holiday

I just love the smell of rosemary. It always fills me with memories of my family home on Thanksgiving day. I’ll find any excuse to cook with it. Speaking of family, my mom has a recipe for “Rosemary, chicken and dumpling soup”. It’s a great fall/winter recipe, very delicious and prefect for the cold evenings. I do not eat chicken, so I attempted to modify it and it was a success! Now it’s a “Rosemary and Potato Stew” (Meat-free and dairy-free) and it’s a favorite in our house, especially during those cold months. There’s nothing like healthy comfort food to warm your belly and your soul.

 Rosemary & Potato Stew

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Stew Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of Idaho potatoes – cubed
  • 4-6 carrots – cut into 1 inch slices
  • 2 celery stalks – slices
  • 1 large sweet onion – chopped and diced
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth
  • 3 tsp. of fresh crushed rosemary
  • frozen peas
  • salt & pepper to taste

Dumpling Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 tsp of crushed dry rosemary
  • 2 1/2 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of nut milk

Instructions:

  1. In a large crockpot (5 quarts at least) add all the ingredients for the stew (EXCEPT the frozen peas). Cook for 6 – 7 hours on low.
  2. Once the stew is cooked through, sir in the peas.
  3. To make the dumplings, combine the flour, crushed rosemary, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Make a well in the center, then stir in the apple cider vinegar and nut milk.
  4. After the ingredients are combined, drop large spoonful’s of the batter on top of the stew.
  5. Cover and cook on high for 25 -30 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the dumplings to  insure they’re done cooking, the toothpick should come out clean.
  6. Serve and enjoy!

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A Smokey Holiday

My last post I shared about my July adventure to Glacier National Park. Well We went back to Glacier this weekend for our last trip before winter. Sadly, there is currently a large fire inside of the park and a huge one a couple hours away from the park.

We could see the smoke hours away from the park. Normally on our drive in we can see mountain peaks in the horizon, but on our way in this time it was nothing but smog. Our first site of the actual fire was when we arrived at Lake McDonald; it nearly brought tears to my eyes. Lake McDonald with those giant snow peaks in the backdrop is one of my favorite views in the world and there it was burning away.

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

The fire and smoke were doing nothing to scare visitors away. We arrived at one of Glaciers first come first serve campgrounds (Apgar) and nabbed up the last spot. I could not believe how quiet it was that night. Honestly, not a single sound. My parents took me camping every year as a child and I can remember being scared to death at every pitter patter of a paw or twig snap off in the distance. Maybe it was because our camp site was a tad smoky and the animals were staying away, but the only sound I heard all evening was the breeze blowing through the top of the trees. It was odd to feel such peace in the forest knowing that just a few miles away there was a fiery battle burning and terrorizing this beautiful place I’ve come to love.

The next morning we woke up early and walked the few yards down the shore of Lake McDonald. It wasn’t planned but we arrived to the shore just as the sun had started to rise above the mountains.

Morning trekSunrise over Lake McDonald

It was so peaceful with barely a sound to be heard and the water so still it looked like glass.

Later on in the day we ventured off to hike one of my dream hiking spots, Hidden Lake. I have hiked Logan’s Pass up to the hidden lake overlook a half a dozen times, but I have never been able to hike all the way down to the lake before. You could tell it had been a warm dry summer because Logan’s pass usually has a fair but of snow to trek through, creating more hazardous conditions. There was not a single snow drop on our trip; making the 1.5 mile hike up pretty easy. The 1.5 mile hike down to Hidden Lake is another story. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to trek through that when it is covered in snow and ice. It is basically straight down and there is very little path that is not covered in large rocks. One miss step and you’ll be rolling down the mountain.

But boy oh boy is it worth it! When David and I reached the shore of Hidden lake, I threw my arms around him and squealed, “We made it!” One of my dreams come true!

wp-image-787361239I spent a long time sitting on the shore in awe of what I was present to. Even with the smoke invading the view, it’s still arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world.

To no surprise of mine or anyone who knows him, I looked over to find my fearless hubby stripping down to just his shorts, to dive into the freezing cold waters (It’s a lake high up in the mountains after all). He smiled and said “I just wanted to be able to say that I swam in Hidden Lake. How cool is that?”

I quite agreed with him, so I took off my socks and shoes and dipped my feet in. I am not always as adventurous as he is, not to mention I weigh about 100lbs less. It was freezing, but yes, now I can say I dipped my feet in Hidden Lake.

Fun fact: Not a lot of people have the opportunity to learn that like Lake McDonald, Hidden Lake also has rainbow pebbles. The pictures of these rocks are stunning, but it is something you need to see for yourself! Just mesmerizing!

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We stayed at the lake for as long as could before we started losing daylight. The trek back up the mountain was exhausting! 1.5 miles straight up. There were a lot breaks, which meant a lot of opportunities to enjoy the view.

On our way down the mountain and through Logan’s pass. We came across two men in bits of fireman uniform and covered in soot. They were leaning against a slope enjoy the view. I stopped to ask if they had just come from the fire (obviously, Stephanie), they said yes (of course) and with tears swelling up in my eyes I shook their hands and said thank you. I thought about those firemen a lot the next couple of day and all those battling with the fires inside and outside the park as well.

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To our surprise we weren’t as sore as we thought we’d be when we woke up the next morning. So we went back to our favorite breakfast spot in the area, Montana Coffee Traders (SO many options for vegans, LOVE!) for a good healthy start to our day. There we decided we were definitely up for another hike. Mother Nature however had other plans.

 

We were on our way back to the park entrance when we noticed a police officer stopping cars. When he got to our vehicle, he informed us that they were evacuating the west side of the park because the smoke was creating hazardous conditions. They let us through to collect our things from our campsite. There went our plans. It sound like the east side of the park wasn’t as bad, so we headed the 2 hour drive that way in hopes to at least find lodging for the night. The smoke insisted on following us there. Is was incredibly thick and starting to affect our throats. The fun part of the trip was over; we gave up and started heading home.

Anyone who knew me before I moved to Montana knows what a rollercoaster life has been for me the last 5 years. All I knew was life in the Upstate New York city that I grew up in. It’s an understatement that moving to the rural plains of Montana has been an adjustment for me. My first couple years were especially difficult. I will be forever in the debt of a wonderful friend I made my 2nd year living here. She leant an ear and encouraged me to go see the western side of Montana where she grew up. She knew what it would do for me, but knew I had to see it for myself to believe it. She was so right! After Living two years on the plains; everyday staring out my window at the vast nothingness. I remember just standing on that mountain top and being overcome with its beauty. The experience was nothing short of spiritual and hasn’t dulled one bit, no matter how often I return. Glacier Park is my new home away from home, the mountains call to me. So to see it on fire this past weekend really stirred a true sadness inside of me. It has been my refuge the last 4 years and here it was with its tremendous mountains, completely vulnerable to a fiery hell.

A smoke filled mountain view

Once we got a few hours away from the smoke we decided to stay the night in the small town of Shelby Montana; less rural than where we live, but still pretty rural. It was a Sunday night on a holiday weekend so nothing was open. We couldn’t let that stop us from having a good time, so I got fixings to make bean and quinoa burritos right in our hotel room, and the boys got beer. Everything is better with burritos, even being stuck in a hotel room.

A hotel room burrito

Water fall on the Logan's pass trailMake the most with what you can, you won’t regret it.