Friday, June 29, 2012

10 Years

Tony and I recently celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary. Since the actual date fell on a weeknight, we just relaxed at home with Jackson and Olivia and did some reminiscing about the past decade-plus (we've been together 12 years total.)  We were practically babies when we met. And now look at us, so mature. Ha!

After being married for this long, Tony knows what makes me happy...

 And it seems I know him pretty well, too...

I got him a Himalayan salt lamp, seen here being cradled like a precious, tiny baby. He was just a little excited about his present. Supposedly, these lamps help with allergies. They also look really cool.

Because my husband is actually Hank Hill, I also got him a smoker for the grill. How romantic! We will try it out soon.

When the weekend arrived, we got a sitter and went out. First we dined at Fino, a fancy tapas restaurant. We started out with some cocktails. I don't recall what was in mine, but it was lemony and refreshing.

For an appetizer we had a plate of marcona almonds, manchego cheese, olives and pickles.

Next we had muhumarra and pita bread. I made my own muhumarra not too long ago, and Fino's tasted really similar. It's a dip made with walnuts, red bell pepper, and pomegranate syrup. Yum. The pita was incredible. It was served hot, and it was super light and puffy. I love it when restaurants take the time to make their own pita bread.

After finishing off the dip, Tony had a bowl of gazpacho. I loooooove gazpacho when it's hot out and tomatoes are in season. Fino's was excellent.

I had a fattoush salad, with lettuce, red onion, cherry tomatoes, big chunks of cucumber, and croutons made from toasted pita. The za'atar dressing made it unique and memorable. If you haven't tried za'atar spice blend, I recommend seeking it out. I'm not sure how to describe the flavor -- kind of tangy and savory I guess. It's made from dried sumac and sesame seeds.

So that was our dinner...we could have easily stayed longer and eaten more, but we wanted a change of scenery before heading home. On our way out, I noticed this awesome metal coffee table/black and white rug combination on Fino's patio. I don't know what I'm currently more obsessed with -- Moroccan decor or chevrons.

Our second destination was Easy Tiger, a bakery/beer garden in downtown Austin. There, we drank some beers and shared a ginormous pretzel. Oh, how I love a good crusty, chewy pretzel.

A lovely evening with my love. Hopefully many more of these to come.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Little Lebowskis

Do you like to bowl? I think it's fun, although I don't do it on a regular basis. It's one of those sports that seems to get easier, the more beers you drink. Well, no beers were involved on this morning's outing with Jackson and Olivia. Just some silly shoes and a big orange ball.

We signed up for a program called Kids Bowl Free. It's great. They email you coupons every week for two free games every day, all summer. All you have to pay for is shoe rental. This was our first time going. But I have a feeling we will be on a first-name basis with the bowling alley attendants come August, when it's 110 degrees out every day.

Jackson loved bowling. He even loved wearing the silly shoes.  But the lightest ball available was still too heavy for Olivia, so I had to give her an assist. She wasn't happy about that, since she wants to be independent in everything she does. We will figure something out!

After bowling, we picked up Tony from work and took him to lunch. This was another first for us. Usually he is in meetings all day and doesn't have time to leave for lunch. But he said it was so much fun that he will try to make time for it. The kids were really excited to pick him up.

We went to Torchy's. I have heard so many Austinites proclaim their love for Torchy's. I figured it was time to give it a try. We started with some chips and salsa. The salsa had a lot of lime juice in it, which is something I like.

I ordered the Mexican street corn -- grilled corn with ancho aioli, queso fresco and chili powder. It was really rich, and it was a huge bowl. Tony helped me finish it. We both thought it was a pretty clever way to jazz up regular old corn. I will make it at home one of these days when we are using the grill.

I also ordered a taco called the Independent, with avocado and deep-fried portabello mushroom slices. This was also super rich. The mushroom pieces were a bit too greasy for my liking.

Overall, I enjoyed my lunch at Torchy's. But, Tacodeli seems more vegetarian-friendly and health-conscious, and it's also Tony's favorite, so we'll probably just go there next time we scoop him up for a quick weekday lunch.

Tonight's dinner is the same thing it's been for the past two nights -- a giant Greek salad with green leaf lettuce, spinach, garden cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, hemp seeds, and feta. It's too hot to turn on the oven, that's for sure!

Hope you're having a nice evening!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Swim Lessons

Summer is officially here! And we are even busier than usual these days. Jackson has started taking swim lessons.

He is always so excited to go to the pool. He loves the water.

His classes are in the evening. It's hard to cook dinner and get him to class on time, so we have been eating more prepared foods and restaurant meals than usual.
One evening we tried Maoz, a vegetarian falafel place. The concept is that you order a basic falafel/pita bread sandwich and a side of fries, then you head over to the impressive salad/condiment bar and load up on fixins and sauces. I doused my falafel in garlic sauce. I also sampled the mint tabouli, chickpea salad, pickles, cilantro sauce, and hot pepper sauce. Other condiment options included beet salad, cole slaw, sriracha, yogurt sauce, tahini sauce...pretty much anything you could imagine putting on a falafel sandwich!

I loved it. Everything tasted fresh and healthy.

Hope your summer is off to a great start!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Garden 2012

Last summer was our first attempt at gardening -- just a few potted herbs and pepper plants. It didn't go well, thanks to the drought and high temps and our inexperience. In the fall, Tony built a 4x4 raised bed, and we tried sowing some seeds. That didn't work out, either. We got a few sad little carrots and nothing more. We were starting to get depressed about our black thumbs. But we figured we would give it another try this summer and, so far, we are doing a lot better. 

The cherry tomato plant is producing like crazy. We've already had about 20 ripe cherry tomatoes, and there are dozens more on the vine. There is nothing like a garden-fresh tomato. The ones from the supermarket just do not compare.

We have two regular tomato plants, and they are full of green tomatoes right now. Since I've already made fried green tomatoes, I'll let these ripen.

We also have serrano and jalapeno peppers, cilantro (it wasn't doing well from the start, so we're letting it go to seed), orange mint, and two basil plants.

I love having all the fresh basil I want. The other night I made Fusilli with Potatoes, Green Beans and Lemon Creme from Vegan on the Cheap, topped with lots of chopped basil. I used penne instead of fusilli. The kids loved this dish! It makes way more than 4 servings like the recipe says, but the leftovers got eaten up.

I didn't know there were different varieties of mint. The nursery was sold out of regular mint plants. They had apple mint and orange mint. I went with orange. With my first bunch of leaves that I picked, I made mint chocolate chip banana soft serve. Yum!

Are you growing anything this summer?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dinner Patrol

Last night I had a craving for some awesome Detroit-style pizza from Via 313. It might be made in a trailer but it's the best pizza in Austin, for sure! And they have vegan and gluten-free options.

Officer Jackson and Firefighter Olivia were cracking  me up while I made tonight's dinner. Look at those expressions. No smiles while on duty. Keeping the peace is serious business.

I made rotini with sauteed zucchini and summer squash, and I used an artichoke heart pasta sauce that I picked up at Rustlin Rob's on our trip to Fredericksburg. I threw in a ton of basil from our garden, and the result was light and tasty.

It passed inspection from these guys, too. Whew!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Good Balance

Today I took the kids to a splash pad for some fun and sun.

We also had "school time," practicing their letters. I'm not sure why they think school involves standing on the table, but...whatever helps them learn?

I'm going on two and a half years now as a stay-at-home mom, and I think I've finally reached a good balance. A balance of outings with friends and family time. A balance of crazy physical activity and quiet learning moments. 

And, a balance in our diets, as well. As longtime readers know, I was vegan for a year and a half before returning to my lifelong vegetarian ways a few months ago. It's working for us. Sometimes, we have margharita pizza...with plenty of cheese.

Many nights, however, I still cook vegan.  Most of my cookbooks are vegan, and I love trying out new recipes, like Hayley and Ian's Peanut Butter Pasta from Garden of Vegan.

Still, I'm happy with the vegetarian label. Veganism was an interesting experiment, but a difficult one for me personally because my husband isn't vegan. While he's always complimented my cooking, he's happier now that I'm including cheese and eggs from time to time. He knows I'm never going to cook him a steak, but he's okay with that. It's our compromise. As in all things in life, it feels good to find a balance.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Two Little Firefighters

This morning,while the kids were still finishing their cereal, I started caramelizing some onions. I let them go for a full hour until they were brown and practically falling apart.

I used them to make a savory bread from Vegetarian Times. It's chock-full of caramelized onions, walnuts, and spinach.  It was so good! I pureed the remaining onions to use as a spread.

Tony got off work a little early and we went to Pease Park. He showed Jackson and Olivia how to slide down the pole. "I'm a firefighter!" was a phrase we heard many, many times. 

This evening I made smoothies with frozen bananas and blueberries, spinach, flax milk, vanilla, chocolate hemp protein powder, and stevia. This is the best smoothie combo I've come up with yet. I served it to the kids in bowls and they thought it was chocolate ice cream.

I wrote before about trying the Whole Foods 365 flax milk and finding it too watery, but I'm glad I  decided to try a different brand before writing off flax milk altogether. This Good Karma flax milk has a much better consistency -- nice and creamy.

Have a lovely day! We are keeping our fingers crossed for storms this afternoon. It's already mid-June and it hasn't gotten unbearably hot yet. More rain will keep things nice and cool!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Trying a New Cookbook

Most of the time when I buy a new cookbook, I'm too impatient to just try one recipe from it.  Instead, I'll pick out a bunch of recipes that seem like they could go together, and cook up a little feast. That's what I did with my latest purchase, Quick and Easy Low-Cal Vegan Comfort Food.  I've gotten a lot of use out of Alicia C. Simpson's other two cookbooks, so I had this one on my wishlist for awhile. It hasn't disappointed!

The Spicy Kale Slaw is a wonderful way to enjoy kale in its raw state. The creamy soy yogurt dressing softens the kale somewhat. I really enjoyed the texture, as well as the flavor. It is quite spicy, as the name suggests, but there are also bursts of sweetness from the golden raisins scattered throughout.

The Roasted Fingerling Potato Salad is simple and delicious. The dressing, made from flax oil, red wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard, is light enough to allow the potatoes' own flavor to be the real star.

I wasn't sure about the Corn Pudding recipe. I've never seen a corn pudding that didn't have cornmeal in it, to make it substantial. As I poured this pudding into the baking dish, I thought, "This is way too gooey!" In fact, I had to bake it for twice as long as the recipe stated. But after I let it cool, it did firm up nicely. Wonderful flavor -- tastes rich, even though it isn't.

Can't wait to try more from this cookbook. I'm especially looking forward to the Lavender Pancakes!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chill Weekend

We had a nice weekend. Lots of food was cooked, lots of relaxing occurred.

It didn't get off to the best start, however.  On Friday morning, Tony headed out the front door to go to work, and discovered he had a flat tire. No fun!

Luckily, our children are skilled mechanics, so he was on the road shortly.

For Friday lunch, the kids and I snacked on Sabra hummus, pita chips and carrots. I'm only mentioning this meal because...did you see Elise's adventures at the Sabra factory? I'm so jealous! I love Sabra. I can't wait for their new flavors to come out.

For dinner, I made nachos with PPK cashew queso. I topped them with red onion, purple bell pepper, olives, scallions, tomato, jalapenos, and chipotle salsa. Yum!

I made a modified version for Jackson and Olivia with queso, tomato and olives.

 On Saturday, I attended a baby shower for a friend who is due next month. I made a few treats for the shower.

Zucchini oatmeal cookie pies -- just like those Little Debbie oatmeal pies sold in gas stations, except way better! 

Soft pretzel bites  -- This was my first time making soft pretzels, and I thought they turned out all right, but not amazing. I didn't make the cheese dipping sauce. Instead, I served them with mustard. They would probably be better with a cheese sauce.

I also made some fresh guacamole.

There was so much good food at the shower. I wasn't super hungry at dinnertime, but I wanted to eat something healthy to counterbalance all the sweets I'd consumed earlier! So I made a quick chickpea and kale curry. Perfect.

On Sunday, Olivia announced that she is ready to start wearing her new underwear and using the potty every time. I have been working with her for a couple of months, but she has still been wearing diapers until now. We are so proud of our big girl for making this decision!

For Sunday dinner, I made the Curry Laksa from Appetite for Reduction. I actually have Anthony Bourdain to thank for bringing this delicious meal about. On a recent episode of No Reservations, he was eating this dish while visiting Panang, Malaysia. My husband kept oohing and aahing and saying how much he wished he could be eating that. I said, "I think I have a recipe somewhere..."

I love Asian food when it's hot outside. All the veggies keep it nice and light, and the heat makes you sweat and cools you off. I think I will make pho next week.

How was your weekend? Hope you had a good one!