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You might be wondering where the food photos and recipes are, but along with wildlife, traveling is most decidedly my other great passion. As it happens, my family has done a lot of traveling this summer, and we’ve been lucky enough to visit some historically-rich and beautiful cities.

If you missed my post on Florence, please check it out here. Otherwise, take a minute or two to get at least a little familiar with the small but incredibly gorgeous town of San Miguel de Allende which lies 274km northwest of Mexico City. I had heard about it for years, and now wonder why I didn’t go sooner.

My husband travels to Mexico regularly for his work, and although it was very last minute, the kids and I booked to accompany him since it was the same week as his birthday. After spending a couple days in Mexico City, we hired a car to take us to San Miguel de Allende. It was certainly an adventure… Google Maps said the drive would take 3.5 hours, so we all looked forward to a little scenery, and a dip in the pool of our hotel when we arrived. Seven hours later… Yep, the predicted 3.5 hours turned into 7 hours. There is only one road between the two cities, on which a truck carrying some sort of fuel (gas or oil) crashed and spilled its highly flammable cargo. And unlike in the U.S., Mexico does not have a rapid response system set up to deal with such things, so they closed the only road between the two cities for hours. Based on the reports of others, it would have taken 10 or 11 hours that day, but we took matters into our own hands, and asked our driver to go off road in order to skirt the closure. Please be advised: this is not recommended!! When you leave the highway, you drive on narrow, unmarked dirt and rock roads through “rancherias,” which are entirely unpoliced areas considered very dangerous–particularly at night. We only took this desperate measure because we were losing our minds parked for hours on the highway, and because the SUV we were in happened to have “protective properties.”

Seven hours later we arrived in San Miguel de Allende, which is hands down one of the most beautiful towns, if not the most beautiful town, we have ever laid eyes on. Narrow cobblestoned streets are lined with buildings painted with rich colors of the earth–terra cotta, saffron yellow, burnt red. You see exquisitely-carved doors everywhere, and magical courtyards abound. Throughout the center of town you see Spanish colonial architecture, which greatly adds to the beauty of this small town. (In addition to being one of the most affluent cities in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende lays claim to the start of Mexico’s independence from Spain.) Beyond its physical beauty, the historic town boasts a thriving arts and cultural scene, and the food is phenomenal. In fact, the food is quite fancy, serving dishes similar to what you find in high-end NYC or San Francisco restaurants only using local ingredients. We actually bemoaned the fact we couldn’t find and didn’t have time to just eat some good and simple enchiladas or other “traditional” Mexican fare.

Another surprisingly aspect of the town was how lush and green it was. In fact, the entire area was incredibly green. It’s the rainy season now, but we were told it is green nearly year-round. And the rains come just in the afternoon for an hour or two–just enough to water all the vegetation and clean the sidewalks and streets. Very efficient.

One thing is certain… We will return to this memorable little town soon.

Happy sightseeing!

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Viva Italia!

View of Il Duomo from my sister's apartment.

View of Il Duomo from my sister’s apartment.

 

I just returned from Italy where I visited Florence and Rome to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday.

Since I love traveling as much as I love food, I thought I’d share some of my pictures and experiences with you here.

I find it ironic–given I eat pasta maybe once every two years, that I ate paste every day I was in Italy. The pasta was so fresh and delicious, and there were so many types to choose from, that I never ran out of something new to try. Not only do the Italians offer so many different kinds of noodles, but they also prepare an incredible variety of sauces. I ate wild boar ragu, spring vegetables, pesto, bolognese, basic marinara, spicy sausage with “black cabbage” and vongole (pasta with clams)–the list goes on. Oh, and the fresh burrata! It was dessert for me. Of course, I also had to try the cannoli, the gelato and the tiramisu. Much to both my joy and horror, the hotel we stayed at just outside of Florence offered several tarts each morning as part of its large breakfast buffet. I tried to eat carefully and healthy–choosing sauteed mushrooms, eggs, fruit and roast tomatoes most mornings, but the tarts and Nutella-filled chocolate-glazed croissants called my name loudly each morning. And after all, I was on vacation!

Here are just a few photos of Florence–many of which will be very familiar if you’ve ever visited, along with some of the delicious food I ate (and appear to still be carrying around). If you follow me on Instagram, a few of the photos are repeated (sorry!). I will share photos from the rest of my trip in a subsequent post because I have so many I’m excited to share.

View over Firenze from the Piazzale di Michelango.

View over Firenze from the Piazzale di Michelango.

Il Duomo in the evening light.

Il Duomo in the evening light.

A church--unassuming from the outside, that we wandered into to escape the punishing heat outside.

A church–unassuming from the outside, that we wandered into to escape the punishing heat outside.

Florence's version of a farmer's market inside the Mercato Centrale.

Florence’s version of a farmer’s market inside the Mercato Centrale.

Tomatoes that tasted like candy with burrata.

Tomatoes that tasted like candy with burrata.

Perfectly roasted octopus on a bed of sauteed greens.

Perfectly roasted octopus on a bed of sauteed greens.

The most amazing little lunch place (Enoteca Tognoni) in the quaint town of Bolgheri.

The most amazing little lunch place (Enoteca Tognoni) in the quaint town of Bolgheri.

Lovely Siena the day before the Palio horse race.

Lovely Siena the day before the Palio horse race.

Siena's plaza tower.

Siena’s plaza tower.

A lovely Siena courtyard with frescoed ceilings.

A lovely Siena courtyard with frescoed ceilings.

Il Duomo in Siena.

Il Duomo in Siena.

Stripes!!

Stripes!!

Lunch at 4 Leoni in the Artisan quarter.

Lunch at 4 Leoni in the Artisan quarter.

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If you’ve never eaten raw cheesecake before, you will be shocked at how much like traditional (think Kraft Philadelphia cream cheese) cheesecake it tastes! In fact, I prefer raw vegan desserts over traditional desserts nearly all the time now. A few exceptions include my lemon olive oil cake and chocolate rosemary cake. As an added bonus, most traditional desserts, even when they’re made with reduced sugar, contain either dairy or gluten–both of which many of us would like to avoid these days. Even if a dairy-laden dessert (e.g., panna cotta, cheesecake, etc.) doesn’t result in uncomfortable and unpleasant side effects, such as gas, cramping and bloating, I always feel “ugh” after eating it.

But after indulging in even a large piece of raw vegan cheesecake, I might feel full, but I also feel light and comfortable and I love knowing I just consumed something that tasted delicious and was actually good for me. Soaked cashews give raw cheesecakes an insanely creamy silky texture that I find superior to anything you get using traditional cream cheese.

Just a few months ago, I served a raw vegan lemon cheesecake to my father who is approaching 80 and is very–did I mention very–traditional about food, particularly dessert. He gave the cheesecake a thumbs up and was shocked to learn it was dairy-free.

Although this recipe is for strawberry cheesecake, you can easily substitute raspberries, blueberries or mango for the top layer. Maybe some really clever cook more talented than me will make three layers of fruit, which would look awfully pretty once sliced.

 

Ingredients

Crust:

3/4 cup walnuts

1/2 cup almond meal

2 tbsp coconut oil, melted

1/2 cup medjool dates, pitted

Pinch of kosher salt

Filling:

1 cup cashews, soaked in salted water overnight

1/2 cup plant milk (I use almond)

1/8cup coconut oil, melted

2 tbsp pure maple syrup

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Pinch kosher salt

Topping:

2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled

1-2 tbsp pure maple syrup

1 tbsp coconut oil, melted

Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

 

Preparation

Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

Process the ingredients for the crust in a food processor using the pulse function until you get a similar texture to this (see photo). Dump the crumbly mixture into the pan and use your hands to press it firmly and evenly into the bottom. Place in the fridge to set while you prepare the filling.

 

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Drain the soaked cashews and rinse with filtered water. Place all the ingredients for the filling in a high-powered blender (such as a Vitamix), and blend, starting on low and moving to high until you have a completely even, creamy consistency. Pour the filling mixture over the crust and place in the freezer for 1 hour.

Put the ingredients for the topping into a blender and process until it’s a thick, even consistency. Pour over the filling and return to the freezer for 4-5 hours.

Transfer the cheesecake from the freezer to the fridge at least 1 hour before serving.

Enjoy!

 

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This is that salad–the one I can eat several times a week and never tire of. It somehow manages to perfectly balance the hardy structure of the kale with the silkiness of the spinach, and the chewiness of the cranberries with the toasted crunch and nuttiness of the pumpkin seeds, all with the perfect combination of sweet and salty.

I also love knowing that everything in this salad packs serious nutritional punch! Low calorie, high fiber kale for Isothiocyanates (ITCs) made from glucosinolates, which help lower the risk of several major types of cancer, and 45 different flavonoids for antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, and the list goes on. Pumpkin seeds for heart healthy magnesium, immune boosting zinc and tryptophan for more restful sleep. Cranberries for Vitamin C, fiber and manganese as well as proanthocyanidins (PACs) for helping prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) and protecting against certain types of stomach ulcers. And spinach for niacin and zinc, fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K and a host of minerals. I know that if you’re a vegan or purest, you will likely take issue with the cheese, but I consider it a key component of this recipe, so let me know if you know of a vegan manchego cheese!!

I also appreciate how this salad can be made a little in advance, and still tastes great. If anything, the spinach and kale get even softer and more delicious when allowed to react longer with the dressing.

I hope you love this salad as much as I do!

 

Ingredients

(listed per person in case you’re just wanting a salad for yourself for lunch)

3 leaves dino kale, washed and ribs removed

1 large handful baby spinach

3 tbsp raw pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup dried cranberries

3 tbsp aged manchego cheese, sliced into little “sticks” or shaved*

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp good quality Sherry vinegar

1/2 tsp honey

Kosher salt

Fresh-ground pepper

*I like a 12-month aged manchego made from raw sheep’s milk.

 

Preparation

Place the pumpkin seeds in a small oven-proof baking dish or ramekin and toast for 10-12 minutes or until you hear the seeds “popping.” Remove and let cool.

Meanwhile, whisk the olive oil, honey and vinegar in a medium-size bowl until completely blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the kale leaves into roughly 1/4-inch strips and add to the dressing. Toss to coat. Roughly chop the baby spinach leaves and add to the kale, tossing to coat. Add in the cranberries, seeds and manchego, toss, adjust seasoning to taste and serve.

 

Enjoy!

 

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If you read a lot of health-focused food blogs and/or follow a lot of plant-based Instagram users, you’ve undoubtedly seen many photos of overnight oats. They have become a thing–that’s for certain, but I for one can easily see why. Regular cooked oats don’t always sit right with my tummy, and the texture can get a little weird–as in too gummy, tending toward slimy, etc. However, overnight oats keep my tummy humming along nicely, they’re never slimy or gummy–just cool and creamy (although I know some people like to heat theirs).

If you find yourself intrigued by the idea, and if you haven’t tried them yet, try them!! You can alter a basic bowl of overnight oats at least two dozen ways. I like to make mine with peanut butter, then add more goodies in the morning, such as fresh fruit and coconut cream. (The nut butter adds enough protein and healthy fat that I stay full all the way until lunch time.) Some like to add a little chocolate drizzle by combining cocoa powder, coconut oil and a little sweetener over heat. That’s too decadent for my mornings, so I tend to stick with fresh mango and banana or berries.

I also love that you can prepare it in 2 minutes the night before, and have a delicious breakfast ready to go in the morning! My mornings are always rushed with making the children breakfast, packing their lunches, feeding our three cats, coordinating play dates, etc. I like that I can just reach in the fridge and voila–breakfast is ready.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do!

 

Ingredients for one

1/2 cup gluten-free rolled oats

1 tbsp black chia seeds

2/3 cup almond or other plant-based milk

2 tbsp peanut butter or other nut butter

1 tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Pinch kosher salt

 

Preparation

Stir together all the ingredients. Cover and put in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, stir again, add a little coconut cream or milk and some fruit, and…

 

Enjoy!

 

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Pan-fried Sesame Tofu

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Last year, in our efforts to reduce our environmental footprint, we adopted Meatless Mondays. Now before you criticize me too harshly for claiming to love our planet while tucking into a juicy steak, I will say that even before our decision to abstain from meat on Mondays, we ate meatless meals regularly. But now I use the day to remind my children of our impact on the Earth, and to make sure they understand that while the four of us feel best including meat in our diet, we recognize we don’t need much, and we can enjoy days in which every meal contains only plants or their by-products.

This dish has become our Meatless Monday favorite. It has loads of flavor, gives you just the right sweet/salty balance, and it makes for a nice alternative to the roasted squash burritos I regularly serve up on Mondays. I confess it’s not the fastest meal to make. You can whip up the sauce in minutes, but pan-frying the tofu properly takes a bit of time. You might be tempted to short change this step, but don’t. When you take the time to get each side of each cube of tofu golden brown and crisp, it makes the texture perfect and the dish more delicious.

This recipe is from Budget Bites with just a slight adjustment from me.

 

Sauce ingredients

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tbsp water

2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp sesame seeds

1 tbsp cornstarch

 

Stir fry ingredients

14 oz block extra-firm tofu

Pinch of salt

2 tbsp cornstarch

2 tbsp vegetable oil (I like to use avocado oil)

½ lb. broccoli florets or blanched green beans

3-4 green onions, sliced (optional)

4 cups cooked rice (sushi rice is my favorite with this dish)

 

Preparation

Place a few folded paper towels a flat plate. Remove the tofu from its package and place it on the towels. Place more towels on top, cover with a second plate, and then weigh the top plate down with a few canned goods. Press the tofu for at least 30 minutes to extract excess water (refrigerate if pressing for longer).

While the tofu is pressing, prepare your rice according to the directions. Once the rice is cooking, prepare the sauce. In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, water, sesame oil, brown sugar, rice vinegar, grated ginger, crushed garlic, sesame seeds, and cornstarch. Stir until the brown sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Set aside.

Cut the pressed tofu into 3/4-inch cubes, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Sprinkle 1 tbsp cornstarch over the cubes, and toss to coat. Repeat with the second tablespoon of cornstarch, or until the cubes are evenly coated with cornstarch.

Heat a large skillet over medium flame. Once hot, add 2 tbsp oil and tilt the skillet until the bottom is evenly coated with oil. Add the cornstarch-covered tofu cubes and let cook until golden brown on the bottom. Use a spatula to turn the cubes to an uncooked side, and cook until golden brown again. Continue this process until brown and crispy on all sides, then remove the crispy tofu to a clean plate lined with paper towels.

Add the broccoli or green beans to the hot skillet and briefly stir fry until slightly browned on the edges. Pour in the sauce and stir continuously until the sauce begins to bubble and thicken. (This happens very quickly.) Turn off the heat, add in the tofu cubes and toss to coat.

Serve the tofu and cooked greens over a rice, garnishing with sliced green onions, if desired.

 

Enjoy!

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I hope you feel as excited about spring as I do! Spring happily colors everything at the moment, here where I live. The wild grass on the rolling hills, typically already turning pale green or even gold, remains vibrantly green due to our El Nino winter. The particularly vivid green of new leaf growth decorates nearly every variety of tree around my town. And in case you forgot, green remains my favorite color!

For me, green represents fresh starts, new beginnings, life (think new young shoots of plants) and health (dark leafy greens and fresh lettuces). I’ve been doing some major purging around my home, which had become so cluttered it was affecting my creativity, my thoughts and my outlook. There has to be at least 10 years worth of stuff I need to sort through, most of which should be thrown out or donated–basically everything since the birth of my first child. I’m incredibly sentimental, so I naturally hoard stuff, but let’s be honest… I don’t need to keep every single drawing and finger painting my kids ever made, right?? And if I haven’t needed that Nordstrom receipt in four years, it’s doubtful I’m going to need it now or ever.

I still have a long ways to go, but my progress has made a big difference. I feel lighter, and my home looks much larger and more spacious.

So in honor of green, what better dish to make than fresh pea soup?! It speaks perfectly to spring and beckons summer.

The CSA I belong to offered 2lb bags of fresh peas last week, so I put them to good use. I hope you like this recipe as much as I do. You can easily alter it to be completely vegan by using olive oil instead of butter or ghee, using only vegetable stock and using coconut cream in place of creme fraîche. However, I love bone broths, and find chicken stock adds a greater richness to this soup. I served the soup alongside gluten-free crepes stuffed with sauteed scallions and smoked salmon.

 

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Ingredients

1 tbsp unsalted butter or ghee

1 tbsp olive oil

Half a medium onion, chopped

2 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth, divided

3 cups fresh shelled peas (from about 2 1/2-3 lbs of pods)

1/8 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1/8 cup fresh mint leaves

Sea salt

Fresh-ground pepper

2 tbsp crème fraîche or coconut cream

1/4 cup coconut milk

2-3 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped (for garnish)

 

Preparation

Melt butter and oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add onion, sprinkle with a little salt and cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned, about 6-8 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of broth and bring to a boil. Add the peas, reduce heat, and simmer gently until tender, roughly 5 minutes.

Remove pot from heat. Add parsley, mint, coconut milk, and remaining cup of broth to pot. Purée soup in a high-speed blender or with a quality immersion blender until perfectly smooth, thinning with a little water if the soup is too thick. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Whisk the crème fraîche or coconut cream in a small bowl until it’s more liquid.

Divide soup among four bowls, with a swirl of creme fraîche or coconut cream and a sprinkling chives.

This soup can be served warm or slightly chilled.

 

Enjoy!

 

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