Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hello, Fall!

Fall leaves on the Blue Ridge Parkway-2007

I have always loved the fall.  It used to be my favorite season.  Now I kind of have mixed emotions about it.  I still love the season, I just don't like that it's a reminder of the winter to come.  I never really thought much about the winters living in Oklahoma.  For the most part, they were very mild.  But after moving to the mountains of North Carolina, I changed my tune about winter.  The first winter we were out here, it was really mild and we couldn't figure out why so many people would say, "Have you made it through a winter yet?"  Now, we know what that means.....and that's why I am not sure if the fall is my favorite season anymore. 

On the otherhand, the fall is beautiful in the mountains of NC!  The Blue Ridge Parkway is just stunning and there are just so many picturesque scenes during the season.  Here are a few of my favorite fall pictures I have taken over the past few years:

Crabtree Falls-Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

Hiking on a fall day-2008

Blue Ridge Parkway-2007

Valle Crucis, NC

I still love the fall!  I love the colors, the smells, the tastes.  I love getting my jackets and sweaters out and wearing them at night.  I still love all of this!  I also love hiking in the fall.  Most of the pictures above were taken out on fall hikes.  This picture below was also taken on a hike around a lake:

Trout Lake, NC

I also love fall festivals!  The picture below was taken at the Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, NC.  The Wooly Worm is supposed to determine how harsh the winter ahead is supposed to be!  The Wooly Worms race up a string!

I also love pumpkins!  Carving them, eating them, growing them, etc.  My mom carved this cute jack-lantern below:

I love making pumpkin recipes.  I love pumpkin in sweet and savory dishes. 

I also love apples!  I love that they are in season in the fall and I can buy them locally.  The county next to where I live is one of the largest producers of apples in the country.  SCORE!  We make apple sauce and apple butter and it always smells so delicious when we have the crockpot full of apples!

Old red barn and apple tree near Boone, NC

This fall, I want to try some new recipes and also make some of my old classics.  Here's a list of some recipes I want to try:

-Harvest Bread (Happy Herbivore)   I can check this one off the list!  Yay!  I made it this weekend and it turned out great.  I made a few adjustments that I will talk about in a minute. 

***Note about the Harvest Bread recipe--I decided to make it into muffins.  I also didn't want to use maple syrup so I bought some maple extract (imitation) and just used stevia as a sweetener.  They turned out great and were very moist.  I halfed the recipe and it still made 7 muffins.  Oh yeah, and I used oat flour (Bob's Red Mill GF) so they would be gluten free.  I was thinking I might add some raisins or a few walnuts next time too. 

Some of my fall recipes to make again:
-Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal  (No recipe but I just cook the apples with some cinnamon, water and a bit of sweetener and then add them into my oatmeal.)

Things I LOVE about the Fall
-roasted root veggies
-Pumpkin Spice candles
-pumpkin food
-wood burning
-fall decorations

Some of my other favorite fall pictures:

An early fall leaf--I love the contrast of colors!

Blue Ridge Parkway

Bass Lake, NC

What do you love about the fall?  Do you have any fall traditions or recipes? 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Product Review: Sans Soda

Sans Soda free samples package!

This is the first time I have ever done a product review where someone actually sent me free samples of a product to test out!  This was very exciting.  Awhile back, I did a post on natural diet sodas.  I mentioned Sans Soda but I said it wasn't available anywhere close to where I lived.  Well, now it's available on Amazon with free shipping!  Yay!  Also, when I first looked up the website for the product, the FAQ question said the product was not vegan.  When I sent an inquiry about this, a representative of the company promptly sent me an e-mail back saying that it was, in fact, vegan and that they would fix the website. 

About a month ago, the representative contacted me again and said she would send me free samples of their soda to try out.  When I received the package, I opened it up to all of this soda:

Flavors included Root Beer, Cola, Black Cherry, Orange, and Lemon Lime. 

I was definitely most excited about trying root beer!

And the root beer did not disappoint!  It was excellent.  It was right up there with the Virgil's brand natural diet root beer!  I am not sure which one I like better now.  Both of them are top notch! 

My next favorite flavor was the cola.  It had a great taste and did not have any bitterness or bad taste from the stevia sweetener.  Sometimes I worry about the natural sodas having an unusual taste from being sweetened with stevia, but that was not the case with Sans. 

My least favorite flavors were the orange and the lemon lime.  Those are just naturally not my favorite flavors anyway.  Although, I thought it might be delicious to make a lemon lime vanilla float with vegan vanilla ice cream.  That might be something I keep in mind for the future. 

Natural soda is becoming more popular and easier to get....I am very excited about this.  It's still very expensive, but I have noticed that the health food stores are having more sales and more deals on Zevia, Blue Sky Free and other natural soda brands.  In fact, Amazon even has a Subscribe and Save option for some of the brands.  I checked this out and was pleasantly surprised with some of the prices for some of the brands.  However, I still cannot justify spending so much money on soda on a regular basis.  It still has to be an occasional treat for me. 

I want to say thank you to Sans Soda for letting me try your product for free!  I know if they start selling their soda (especially the root beer) in stores near me, I will definitely pick one up from time to time! 

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Great Birthday Weekend!

Look!  My new watch is telling me it's time to eat cake!  Yay!  :)

I had a great birthday weekend!  My birthday celebrating started on Friday night with a trip to Plant in Asheville.  I think it might be the most amazing restaurant I have ever eaten at!  I've been to some great vegan places, but Plant is just outstanding! 

I also got to open one of my birthday presents.....R got me a subscription (kind of as a joke) to Gothic Beauty magazine.  I don't really know much about "Goth culture" and I think that's why I LOVE this magazine.  R and I have this Barnes and Noble competition going.....everytime we go we have to try and find the most unusual/unique/obscure magazine that we can.  R found Gothic Beauty last year when we were in Atlanta and I found "Pole Fitness" this year.  Those are the top two we have found!  I read the issue of Gothic Beauty from cover to cover that night at Barnes and Noble last year.  Now I know how to make black roses on a budget....SCORE!  :) 

My actual birthday day was full of more surprises!  I got to open my "real" present....R got me a new Polar HRM since my last one broke.  We have a membership to REI now so if anything goes wrong with it, we can take the watch back without any problems.  It was great to be able to keep track of my calories burned while hiking this weekend. 

Steps to Mingo Falls....lots and lots of steps!

That leads to the next surprise......waterfall hiking in the Smoky Mountains National Park!  I love the Smokies and now that we are in Asheville, we are just about an hour away from the Cherokee side of the Smokies. 

Mingo Falls

I knew after my 30th birthday last year, that I wanted to incorporate health and fitness into my birthday celebrating.  It's a goal of mine that I try to get healthier each year I get older.  I know I was healthier at 30 than I was at 29 and I am healthier at 31 than I was at 30.  So naturally, I wanted my birthday to be full of hiking and nature. 

Smoky Mountains National Park trail

Indian Creek Falls-Smoky Mountains National Park

We also did some exploring around the town of Cherokee, NC.  My blog isn't really the platform for political and social debates, but I do have to say that I was very frustrated by the conditions that the Native American people of Cherokee live in.  I am from Oklahoma and I am not going to say things are perfect for Native American people there (far from it) but I feel like there's more of respect for Native culture in Oklahoma.  It just felt like the Native people of Cherokee were a spectacle to tourists....not cool, in my opinion. 

Anyway, we did some exploring around the town and I did see this awesome retro hotel sign.  I love old retro signs and I love taking pictures of them with my retro camera app!

Pink Motel-Cherokee, NC

The only thing about my birthday this year that was not cool was getting stung by a yellow jacket yesterday and then having an allergic reaction to it!  It was scary!  We went hiking with friends and we were almost finished hiking and back to the car when a few yellow jackets stung me and one of my friends.  He didn't have an allergic reaction, but I did on the way home.  I got blurred vision, my hearing was weird, I started seeing things that weren't really there, then my skin started itching.  Eventually I was covered in hives all over my body.  Yikes!  R bought me some benadryl and we had an epipen in the car (luckily, we never had to use it).  Today, my arm is still really swollen but luckily all of the hives went away.  It was a pretty scary experience!  I looked like one of those bumpy gourds you see at the pumpkin patch....not a pleasant feeling on my skin.  Even my scalp had the bumps all over it.  Anyway, I guess I will be carrying Benadryl and an epipen with me from now on! 

Overall though, it was an excellent birthday full of great surprises and fun!

Friday, September 16, 2011

More Exploring and More Lessons Learned

It feels like I am finally starting to get settled into a routine.  I have been at my new job for about a month and a half now and we have been living in Asheville since the beginning of July.  I struggle mostly with the weekends....there's always a festival or some opportunity for amazingly delicious vegan food to be lurking around every corner.  To say that I am getting the hang of this would be a lie.  I have put on about 5 pounds since we moved.  I am very aware of this and I am working to get it off and then the last 15-20 pounds I need to lose beyond that.  With that being said, this weekend is my birthday weekend and R has some surprises for me.  I love that she is putting this time and energy into something for me, but I am really going to have to keep it in check.  When we first moved, I was able to eat lots of great vegan food on the weekends and then by the middle to the end of the week, I would have the weight back off.  Now, that's not happening so quickly.  The weight is starting to creep up on me and I refuse to let this get out of control.  Not an option.....

But there have been some positives along the way too with my weight loss journey.  I have been exploring the local Asheville trails for walking and running.  I have found some great parks and I have been able to switch up the scenery during the week and do some hiking on the weekends.  Here are some of the highlights:

Also, about 3 weeks ago I decided to go without chocolate for 2 weeks.  Well, I was mostly successful.  I went without chocolate for an entire work week and then had a piece of amazing chocolate cake on the weekend from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge.....and that was it.  What I discovered is that it's not really the chocolate that's a trigger but it's just the sugar.  If I have high sugar treats after dinner (or any other time for that matter), it sends me into a binge.  I can do this on almost anything sugary.  I know this doesn't seem like such a monumental discovery, however, it was an eye opener and lesson learned for me.  I decided that I would treat chocolate and other desserts as a treat....because that's what they are.  I am not eating chocolate to satisfy my hunger.  I am eating it because I like the taste of it.  That's basically it.  I will eat things like this when I go out on the weekends.  I will treat chocolate like a special indulgence.  Maybe once a week on the weekends, I will let myself have some ice cream from the Hop or a piece of that amazing cake from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge or one of the many sweet treats from Firestorm.  I will plan for this and keep my calories in a range that will allow for this indulgence.  I don't need to keep sugary desserts, bars, etc. in the house.  It just sets me up to fail.  Lesson learned. 

I still snack too much at night and this is something I will continue to work on but Rome wasn't built in a day.  Baby steps.  That's how I am going to approach this journey.  Rather than beating myself up about the choices I make, I am going to learn from them and proceed.  I have a plan this week for the nighttime snacking.  We will see how that goes. 

Also, I have a few random pictures from the past few weeks.  I feel like Asheville is full of photo opportunities all of the time!  Speaking of photos, I am signed up to take a photography class starting next month at the community college!  Hopefully I will start to get a handle on my new(ish) camera! 

In the meantime, here are some random photos from the past few weeks  (all of the photos from this blog post are taken from my cell phone and mostly the Retro Camera app):

Asheville Graffiti is hardcore!

Free apples from an apple fest at an eco-community

I just loved all of the bumper stickers on this van...so Asheville!

Peaches from the big farmers market

This has sort of become a ritual for me every week....picking up the Mountain Xpress and a Cofee Light Frappuchino

Life is good.....I just need to stay motivated and focused.  Life is full of learning opportunities and I am trying to learn something from everything I do and every choice I make.  Like the title of my blog says, this is a journey.  I am not in a race.  This is life and I just have to figure a few things out. 

Have a great weekend!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Plant: Asheville's New All Vegan Restaurant!

I am FINALLY getting around to blogging about our dinner at Plant!  We went over 2 weeks ago and it was AMAZING!!!  Delicious and ALL vegan!  They had only been open a few days when we went and it worked out perfectly because our friend Allison was in town and she is also vegan.  We decided to make it a special dinner and we did it up right!  R and Allison ordered wine, we ordered an appetizer, dinner, dessert and coffee.  We weren't playin'!  :)

The atmosphere at Plant was really nice.  We went for a later dinner and all of the tables had candles and the lighting was low (you will notice this with my dark pictures).  The music they had playing was also great--lots of good Indie Rock songs that I love!  Good music make for good ambiance.  

It was so nice to go out and enjoy a fancy dinner in Asheville!  There are a lot of GREAT vegetarian restaurants in Asheville, but plant is by far the fanciest and most sophisticated as far as the food and atmosphere go.  We wouldn't be able to afford Plant everyday but it will definitely be a special occasion restaurant for us.  

We started off with the "cheese" platter.  (Everything at Plant is vegan so the "cheese" was cashew based.)  It had a great taste.  There were 3 of us sharing the platter so we had it polished off in no time.  They brought out some extra cucumber slices for us because R has to eat gluten free.  It also came with some bread but when I took this picture, we didn't have the bread at our table yet.  The cashew cheese was delicious.  It would have been nice to have a little more cheese but it was wonderful and I am not complaining!  :)

Peppercorn Crusted Seitan

Raw Enchiladas

Jerk Charbroiled Seitan

We all ordered something different so we could try each other's dishes.  I ordered the Peppercorn Crusted Seitan and it was amazing.  I am not even sure what else I could say about it!  I loved it!  R ordered the Raw Enchiladas (she was limited on options because of eating gluten free).  She liked them a lot because she loves spicy food.  I am not a huge fan of spice, so probably not the best option for me.  Allison ordered the Jerk Charbroiled Seitan and loved it. She said she was inspired to go home and make the Southern Bowl from Get it Ripe by Jae Steele.  

Raw Parfait

Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie with Banana Walnut Ice Cream

I am not sure, but dessert may have been my favorite part!  Allison and I both ordered the Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie with Walnut Ice Cream and R ordered the Raw Parfait.  All of it was excellent.  They make their own ice cream in house and it was outstanding.  They also had a mocha ice cream that we didn't get to try but I am very curious about it because I love coffee flavored ice cream.  

We had coffee with dessert which made everything just perfect and complete.  I asked for almond milk for my coffee and because they didn't have any on hand, the chef whipped up a batch just for me so I could have almond milk with my coffee and dessert!  

(There's my almond milk on the counter!)

They even had a zero calorie stevia option sweetener.  I always get excited about this because I don't use Splenda, Equal or Sweet N Low which is usually what restaurants have.  When restaurants or coffee shops carry a stevia option, they always get bonus points in my book!  

It was such a great meal and evening.  What a great way to spend an evening with a great friend in town!  All of us loved Plant and definitely want to go back (on a special occasion)!  Wonderful food, all vegan, fresh, organic, local ingredients.....awesome!  Another great veg option in Asheville!  

(Looking into the kitchen of Plant from the outside parking lot)

If you live in or near Asheville or if you are visiting Asheville, try Plant!  You won't be disappointed.  Plus, everything is vegan so you don't even have to think about it!  I love when I go into a restaurant and I don't have to worry about the ingredients at all.  Thank you for a wonderful evening, Plant!