Jumbo Soft Pretzels

Hello! When summer started, I honestly thought I would be able to fit a blog post in at least every other week. I could not have been more wrong! My summer job was more physically demanding than my job during the school year, with the addition of longer hours.

Another important occurrence that captured most of my attention this summer was house hunting; house hunting all the way across the country. I moved to Eastern Montana with my husband (from New York) on the promise that we would only live here a few months, it has been exactly 6 years. I have missed holidays, birthdays, funerals, and many Daytona 500 parties. After much waiting, I can finally say I am going back home.

We made 3 trips across the country (by car) from Montana to Pennsylvania. That is a total of 4,695 miles.  Our realtor showed us at least 15 houses and after weeks of discussion, we finally picked the one for us. While we wait for our closing day, we are still “hanging out” in Montana. My hubby is helping to train new employees to do his job and I am getting us ready to leave and binge watching a lot of Netflix shows.

Between moving, settling in, and job hunting, I may not be able to be consistent on my blog posts for a while, but my passion for this blog and its purpose has not subsided at all and I think about it all the time (mostly with the pain of guilt). I am looking forward to sharing our new adventures with you. We will be living so close to Pittsburgh, which has a very large vegan community that is spreading like wildfire, so please stay tuned!

I do have a fun recipe to share with you in this post. The kids will especially love this one.  For some reason I always associate this food with baseball games and I know it’s because I had my first one at a Yankees game when I was a kid and that is jumbo size soft pretzel.

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Jumbo Soft Pretzels

Makes 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 C of warm water
  • 1 Tbs of vegan butter, melted ( I recommend Earth Balance, every grocery store sells it these day)
  • 1 tsp of raw sugar
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • 3 cups of flour

Baking soda mixture:

  • 4 Tbs baking soda
  • 2 C of water

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 475º
  2. Coat one – two baking sheets in non-stick spray or cover them with parchment paper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl add the yeast and warm water. Mix until the yeast becomes frothy. You can hand whisk or use your mixer.
  4. Once the mixture is frothy add the sugar, salt and melted butter. Stir in the flour slowly until the dough forms and is no longer sticky. Next, knead the dough with your hands for about five minutes, or until smooth and pliable. Shape the dough into a ball and let sit for 15 – 20 minutes.
  5. Baking soda mixture: In a sauce pot, add the water and baking soda. Boil the mixture until most of the baking soda dissolves. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Once the mixture is at a lukewarm temperature pour it into a 9×13 baking dish.
  6. On a large clean surface, take your dough out of the bowl. Flatten the ball slightly and then cut into 4 even sections.
  7. Set aside three of the sections. Begin rolling one section into a rope. To make a thick jumbo size pretzel, the dough rope should be about 40 inches long. Any shorter and you’ll end up with a small fat pretzel. Any longer and the dough will get too thin and burn in the oven.
  8. Once you have your rope rolled out, shape the dough into a pretzel shape. There are helpful instructions on how to create this shape right on Google.
  9. Now carefully (because it is a little flimsy at this point) place the pretzel in the baking dish with the baking soda mixture. Let it sit for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, again carefully take the pretzel out of the baking soda mixture and place it on a prepared baking pan. You may have to reshape the pretzel. Repeat steps 7 – 9 to make the other pretzels.
  10. An extra option is to sprinkle them with some sea salt or Himalayan salt before placing them in the oven. I don’t like to do this because if I have leftovers that I store overnight, the salt dissolves and makes the texture of the pretzels bumpy.
  11. Bake the pretzels for 8 – 10 minutes. They should turn a golden brown.  Take them out of the oven and let cool.
  12. I found that these pretzels stay good for about 2 days and then start to get stale. Best enjoyed fresh out of the oven! I love to eat my soft pretzels with mustard. What is your favorite way to eat a soft pretzel?

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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.

Gingerbread Pancakes

I have been talking about holiday traditions quite a bit lately. I think about it a lot this time of year. My husband and I haven’t been able to go back home to New York for Christmas the last couple of years. I miss my family and I miss all of our holiday traditions.

Well We won’t be making it to New York for this Christmas either. I could easily feel sad about it, but my house is all decorated bright and cheery and my husband has finally started watching Christmas movies with me, after 6 years of marriage. So instead I find myself wondering what are some traditions hubby and I can enjoy for years to come?

How about these gingerbread pancakes on Christmas morning? Or breakfast for dinner on Christmas eve? They are so yummy and sweet you may not even need syrup, but they would be really good with some dairy-free whipped cream. If you like this recipe, remember to snap a picture and tag me. Let me know what you think.

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? I would love to hear about them!

Gingerbread pancakes

Gingerbread Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups of Flour
  • 2 TBS of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp of ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of pumpkin spice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 Cups of nut milk
  • 2 TBS of molasses
  • 2 tsp of Vanilla

Directions:

  1. Mix the dry ingredients and spices together in a large mixing bowl with a whisk. Make a well in the center.
  2. Add nut milk, molasses, & vanilla to the well. Whisk and blend everything together.
  3. Place a frying pan on the stove at medium/low heat. Coat the pan in either cooking spray or coconut oil (repeat this step before each pancake.).
  4. Use a 1/3 measuring cup to scoop the pancake batter from the bowl to the pan. Flip the pancake when the center starts to bubble.
  5. Serve warm with desired toppings.

Gingerbread Pancakes

 

Heirloom brown bread and a winter wonderland

Thanksgiving is over. Now the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations begins. I am sad to say that my hubby and I will have to spend our holidays in Montana this season. It’s never an easy decision to make, but when you live 1700 miles away from family these hard choices will often present themselves.

I was blessed with a lovely childhood, I do not take that for granted and I have tried to carry that with me into adulthood and marriage (My journey hasn’t been as effortless as my parents made it look. Though I know there were sacrifices of their own that I did not see.). My family has so many traditions, some classic like watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” the same night we decorate the tree; and some silly ones as well, like always having to stop at the same gas station for coffee and cocoa on our way to grandmas house Christmas day. It’s a cherished lifetime of invaluable memories and instilled in me what really happens when you have traditions. What happens is consistency and quality time, which produces fond memories, which creates hope and excitement for the next time around. I can remember a few of my favorite presents from my childhood, but my fondest memories, the ones I’ve tried to recreate in my own home are the ones that involve my family being together.

A tradition my mom and I have together is baking. She would make several pounds of gingerbread dough and we would decorate dozens of little gingerbread men to share with friends and family. Dad was banned from cookie decorating… I don’t think I need to explain why.

One of our favorite baked goods that’s always on our table during the holiday season is brown bread. It’s basically a loaf of ginger bread. My mom got the recipe from my great grandma Tiffany (One of the most amazing women I have ever met.). I have managed to successfully carry this tradition on into my own household. My husband loves brown bread! I recently looked up the origin of this recipe and was surprised to find that it was created in Boston Massachusetts and in that part of the U.S. it is known as “Boston Brown Bread”. However, the most surprising fact about it’s origin, is that it was originally made in a tin can! It can even still be found sold in a tin can in Boston markets.

I am sharing this delicious recipe with you. It’s very sweet. A slice could be eaten on it’s own with some Earth Balance butter spread on top. It can be served with nice cream. Or served during dinner, which is the way we’ve always served it. It’s origin story said it was always served with baked beans.

Here is my family recipe for Holiday Brown Bread. Read on to hear about our long weekend in the beautiful mountains of Alberta and British Columbia Canada.

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Brown Bread

1 loaf

Ingredients:

  • 2 C of flour
  • 1 tsp of baking soda
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1/2 C of sugar
  • 1/2 C of molasses
  • 1 Flax egg (1tbs of ground flax seed and 2 1/2 tbs of water)
  • 1 tbs of vegetable shortening
  • 1 C of boiling water

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven at 325º F
  2. Grease and flour a loaf pan
  3. In a large mixing bowl mix together dry ingredients then stir in the wet ingredients.
  4. Pour the batter into the loaf pan.
  5. Bake in the oven for 1 hour.
  6. Take out and let cool.
  7. Serve with dinner, with baked beans, or with your favorite nice cream. *Or you can sneak a slice every couple of hours until you’ve devoured the whole thing like my husband does.

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A winter wonderland

Our adventures in a wintery Canada

Happy snow bunnies

The mountains have a mystical way of drawing us to them. Last weekend my hubby and I venture north to Calgary, Alberta in Canada. We stayed the night in the beautiful city, I miss city life. We had a great place right in the heart of it. What a treasure to look outside and see the skyline all lit up at night.

The next morning we met up with our good Canadian friend and ventured out to the mountains of Banff National Park.

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Banff upper springs

Our first day we walked along a trail just taking the majestic view. We also visited a protected hot spring with an endangered specie of snail only known to Banff Canada. Later in the evening we went swimming in Upper natural hot springs. It was about 30 degrees outside, but the hot spring was about 110 degrees. It was so relaxing.

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The next morning was very cloudy and snowy. We could barely see the mountains anymore. We ventured to the stunning Lake Louis. We couldn’t see the mountains and the lake was frozen and covered with snow. But that didn’t dampen our spirits. The foliage and graceful snow fall  was creating a fairytale beauty all it’s own. We walked along a trail (That I can only assume went around the lake) just admiring the splendor.

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After enjoying the snow for a little while we headed to Emerald Lake in British Columbia. It was still snowing pretty hard there as well, another winter wonderland

We stayed at Emerald Lake Lodge, which I found out later on, that the whole lodge is basically an island in the middle of the lake. I didn’t realize at the time because the lake was frozen over and covered with snow.  At night Emerald Lake transformed into a real life Thomas Kinkaid painting. It was absolutely stunning. Hubby and I spent some time just wandering the little village in awe.

Emerald lake lodge, British Columbia

We Went to bed with no real knowledge that when we woke up the next morning the giant mountains would be smiling down on us. It was like waking up in a new place, with a new kind of beauty.

I felt so humble staring at the vastness of this magnificent mountain. I need to find out it’s true name, but in my mind I keep referring to it as “Grandfather Mountain” because of the respect its presence commands. A stroll through the woods

 

Did I mention I love mountains? Before breakfast, even before coffee, hubby and I eagerly got dressed and headed back out into the snow like a couple of kids.

I don’t know how long we were out there walking around, but its a walk in the snow with my love that I’ll never forget.

Now that the mountains were back out and the sky was blue again, we decided to go back to Lake Louis and she did not disappoint.

Lake Louis

We headed back to Banff’s downtown village for brunch and then said goodbye to the mountains and in Calgary we said goodbye to our good Canadian friend. Then we ventured homeward and reunited with our cherished furbabies.

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The mountains are always calling. They have taken a piece of me and they know it. Now that I love them, they will never let me go. Something happens to me when I am standing in the presence of a mountain. Peace washes over me like a warm bath. I want to run away into the mountains and live in peace.

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A bowl full of sunshine

lemon ginger smoothie bowl

I used to hate photographing the color yellow… Because, truthfully I didn’t know how. It’s a tricky color and if you’re not familiar with how to play light off of yellow it can create unflattering pictures.

I would even avoid creating recipes if I new the outcome was going to be yellow. But like everything else, it’s all about practice practice practice! I am by no mean saying I’ve mastered yellow, why just the other day, I attempted to photograph a lime that was way more yellow in the center than it should have been and it totally threw me off! I ended up deleting all the pictures.

A helpful hint when you’re attempting to photograph something yellow, especially food. Add contrasting colors like blue or purple; it helps bring life to the yellow and makes it pop.

There’s been a few occasions when I have collaborated a recipe and a photograph and I truly felt like I had mastered the color yellow that day. One of those instances is my “bowl of sunshine”, a Turmeric banana smoothie bowl; which is my recipe today.

Even though Turmeric is a really old spice and has been used for centuries in homeopathic recipes, it’s almost like it’s been rediscovered as of late. It has so many health benefits plus when you add it to your food or drink it bring out this gorgeous golden yellow color.

Turmeric Banana Smoothie Bowl

tuneric banana smoothie bowl

Makes 1 serving

Ingredients:

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1/2c of frozen mango
  • 1c of almond milk
  • 1tsp of turmeric powder
  • 1 scoop of Vega protein powder (Not sponsored, Just my preferred protein powder)

*I also added a scoop of super food powder

  • Your choice of toppings. I used Blueberries & almonds.

Directions:

-blend everything together in a blender, pour in a bowl and add desired toppings

Enjoy!

surprise

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My hubby surprised me in the sweetest way the other day.

For about two weeks he let me know he had a surprise coming in the mail for me. His hint was “paperless” and for two weeks he’d look at me and say “paperless”. Then the other day he came home from work with a big goofy grin on his face and a sparkle in his eye. He handed me a package and said “surprise”. It was a brand new American flag. I’ll be honest, I was pretty baffled. He said he got it so I could use it for a background in my pictures. How thoughtful, but I was still pretty thrown for a loop.

I asked how his hint paperless related to the flag. He said “because it’s not made of paper, it’s fabric.”

“Huh?” was my reaction

I kept asking if he was serious. I wanted to be grateful if this was my real surprise, but it was so…. odd. He excitedly grabbed the flag and ran to bedroom to open it; he wanted to see how big it was. I went into the bedroom and my hubby was sitting on the bed smiling with the flag laid out. “What do you think?” he asked.

Still perplexed I answered “Oh it’s nice.” Then our kitty Butters, who loves to hide under blankets, crawled under the flag. I lifted the flag to take a peek at him and sitting besides Butters was a brand new camera. I was shocked and delighted!

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I have really been enjoying food photography and have been talking for months about getting a real camera (other than my phone). My hubby can be very thoughtful, but more often than not, hints are wasted on him. This was certainly one of the most thoughtful things he’s ever done for me and I just love how Butters helped to surprise me as well.

This last weekend we went on a date, a movie and Thai food. I brought my camera along to play with and hopefully capture some fun moments.

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Isn’t funny how you think you can know everything about a person and they can still manage to surprise you?

 

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.