Sunday, August 27, 2017

Carolina Elf

Your Elf and Big Solid have been going to Asheville North Carolina in August for the past several years for primarily two reasons:  the surrounding mountains with cooler temps AND the food. For a town of about 80,000, there are more vegan options per restaurant than ALL of the restaurants in Mississippi combined. "Who'da thunk it?" Not only that, there is at least ONE restaurant that is ENTIRELY VEGAN. Opening in 2011, Plant (on Merrimon Avenue) is not only still going strong, it has now a reputation for one of the best Vegan restaurants in the country.
We will talk about Plant further with our dining experience later but we think you get the picture.
Laughing Seed
This has been and continues to be our ‘GO-TO’ place for consistently great vegan food. It is not totally vegan but it IS totally vegetarian with a TON of vegan (and raw) options. It has, until recently….like this trip, had one of the best Bloody Mary’s in town. We made a beeline to Laughing Seed Monday for our Asheville inaugural lunch and libation. Since it was already quite warm outside, we were seated inside and our server took our orders…Pinot Grigio for Big Solid and a Bloody Mary for Your Elf. In the meantime, we wanted to purchase a hoodie and a long-sleeved t-shirt but they were sold out of Elf sizes. It’s just as well since the quality of the merchandise was way less than the last time we were there. So, we saved a bit of money. Then our drinks were served and, Holy Downsizing! The Bloody Mary was about half the size it was in 2014. Here is a picture of the one we had then..complete with olive and spicy stuff.

And here is the one from this past olive or spicy stuff but a lot of vegetables.
We were quite disappointed but forged ahead. Big Solid got his usual Dragon Bowl
and since we had reservations for supper at Plant, Your Elf did not get her usual raw manicotti dish, pictured here from 2014.
It was just going to be too much food for one day. So, we opted for the ‘soup of the day’ after our server said how delicious it was and the Hummus Trio. Jason, our server, was such a delight…he was thoughtful, professional, knew the food/dishes, and just an all ‘round good server. We decided that every time we ate at Laughing Seed this trip, we’d sit wherever he was working. Anywho…the Hummus Trio was OK, not great. There was regular hummus, a Black Bean hummus, and a Baba Ganoush (not really hummus but a great dip made from eggplant) and was served with blue corn chips and pita bread.
Then there was the soup of the day…a Pineapple and Kimchi Gazpacho.
Oh.My.God! What a treat to the taste buds! Even Big Solid liked it and he does not like Gazpacho. So, now we are on the search for a recipe so we can try it at home. OH, and we had gone to The Spice and Tea Exchange to stock up on our supply of Ghost Pepper and Scorpion Pepper salts when we found two other cool things to get. Gochujang Salt and a Hot Sauce made locally from the hottest pepper of them all, the Carolina Reaper.
It would not do but for us to try a bit of the sauce in the Gazpacho. It was worth the try; very nice flavor initially with a definite slow burn. Big Solid decided on a Bloody Mary as well
so we had a leisurely and fun lunch. While we were eating, we overheard a fellow patron tell Jason that she was vegan. So, of course, we struck up a conversation. She comes to Asheville from KY every year to EAT..we think KY is about as vegan friendly as MS, so we understood completely. She recommended a breakfast place that serves vegan biscuits and gravy. We’ll get to that one in a bit! Next up…
Oddly enough, Your Elf’s first visit to Plant was the year it opened in 2011. We were working in Asheville and decided to give it a go. Shannon Hall, our partner for so many work experiences, agreed to try it since were both moving toward plant-based eating. It was fantastic! Since then, when we have gone to Asheville, we’ve included it on our food itinerary. This time was no exception. We even had a martini (vodka, bone dry) to celebrate
and ordered the Tofu Bibimbap, which is a Korean dish. Big Solid had a salad and Sriracha Broccoli…he said he was still full from lunch.
Our server got very busy with a large table and never got around to asking if we needed anything with our meals or how things were…even though I wanted a glass of wine. The Bibimbap was OK but we wished we’d gotten something else.
This trip to Plant did not rock our world as in the past.

Tuesday we could hardly wait to go to breakfast and have vegan biscuits BUT decided we had to justify a biscuit breakfast with a rather long walk around a local park at a beautiful lake. With bellies growling and feeling so splendidly exercised, we took off for…
Biscuit Head
Asheville is currently undergoing a growth explosion resulting in a plethora of construction projects downtown. Therefore, it’s damn near impossible to get through town without running into a wall of construction and/or machinery. We, of course, got lost trying to find Biscuit Head but we DID find it.

Unfortunately, so had a substantial component of the other folks in town. We ALMOST turned around since the line was out the door but we decided to hang in. And we are SO glad we did. That place is run so efficiently that the line never stopped moving and we were in, ordered and seated outside lickety-split.

We ordered their vegan biscuits and gravy. We initially had been told that the ‘chorizo’ gravy was vegan but it is not…it has a cream base, so we opted for the coconut milk and sweet potato gravy, which IS vegan. So, we’d hardly gotten seated when our plates were brought out! These guys rock at getting people served!! The vegan biscuits are drop biscuits and are quite good. The gravy was good but the 'chorizo' gravy sure would have been nice!
Your Elf wonders if they might veganize the vegetarian 'chorizo gravy' by using cashew cream in lieu of real cream. Nonetheless, here was what Your Elf's plate looked like when we finished.

We wonder if a Biscuit Head could be brought to our area…including the vegan options. Our full little (and expanding middles) led us to the decision NOT to eat again until supper!

Nine Mile
We discovered Nine Mile on our trip to Asheville in 2015. Located in the Montfort district (what a story that is), it was within walking distance of the little house we’d rented and LOVED (a link is posted later on in this bloggery). It’s a neighborhood restaurant serving Jamaican food with many vegan options. It’s extremely active and the food is outstanding. Your Elf had a dish called The Mesach
along with one of the few beers (brewed in Asheville) that we actually like, Hi-Wire Brown Ale.
Big Solid had the Nine Mile
and lapped it up quite nicely.
That being said, we both had enough left to take home and have as another meal. The one downer for us this time at Nine Mile was the noise level. With the pending eclipse and seemingly billions of people in town, the place was jammed with people all talking, apparently, at the top of their lungs. Nevertheless, the quality of the food helped assuage our poor eardrums.

Wednesday found us at Laughing Seed again for lunch and we were damn lucky to get a place in the big parking garage near the restaurant. When we arrived at the lot at 11, there were only 7 spaces left!! BUT our lunch mates were what made this day so special! It has been 43 YEARS since Jim Blalock and I were in graduate school together at Middle Tennessee State University. He was the band director at Manchester High School with a young and growing family. Your Elf had waited 5 years to enroll in graduate school to be a school counselor. We had such a great time with the same senses of humor and inquisitiveness about learning. And, he helped me survive a major Elf meltdown over a Statistics final. Long story short, we reconnected a few years back…Jim is now a Lutheran minister, newly retired, with a larger family. He and Ida have now been married 56 years!! So, finding out how close we were in NC, it would not do but to gather. And OH WE DID!! We had mimosas and great food, for sure (served again by Jason) but the memories, joy and nostalgia that flowed through that meal was incredible. It was like  43 years disappeared! What a time it was! Even Big Solid enjoyed hearing about all of the things Jim and Ida have been involved with as well as enduring some ‘remember whens?” No food pictures but we gotta show this one. L to R Big Solid, Your Elf, Jim, and Ida.
Our supper Wednesday night was left-overs from Nine Mile with some of our own plant-based chicken we cooked up.

Thursday found us at 
Spring Creek Tavern and Inn
We like Hot Springs so much!! It’s right on the Appalachian Trail and is frequented by through hikers who may need a rest or a job or maybe just a beer. And we ALWAYS go the the Spring Creek Tavern for a lunch or a libation or both. This trip, we went TWICE! Big Solid and Your Elf drove over on Thursday and swore all we were going to have was a Bloody Mary/Beer. Of course, we wound up having some fries with that. And the perfunctory picture.
They have a vegan friendly menu (in a town population 560) which Betty Matens and Your Elf took advantage on Friday, splitting their Vegan Wrap (see below).
Their selection of craft beers is outstanding as is their Sake Bloody Mary (seen in our picture).
Chupacabra Café
We ate closer to out little ‘home’ on Thursday night at the Chupacabra Café. Big Solid had a salad
and Your Elf had the Vegan Tacos (made with tofu). Very very nice.
The server was excellent and very attentive and their Tamarind Margarita went down nicely.

With the approaching eclipse, we decided that it would be smart to leave a day early, take a blue highway route home to see some potential sites for future vacations. So, that left Friday. Big Solid and his friend Paul Matens had a golf game planned for the course at Black Mountain, so Betty and Your Elf drove to Hot Springs as she’d never been. And of course, we had to say we'd walked on the Appalachian Trail.
We had a ball and ate lunch at the aforementioned Spring Creek Tavern where we split a Veggie Wrap.
As many times as we have been to Asheville, we had never eaten at this Italian restaurant even thought it is VERY easy to get to and is in one of our favorite Asheville neighborhoods, Montfort.
Chiesa's menu is one of the most interesting and well-conceived we’d seen in a long time. So, we opted to have our remaining meal with them. And thanks to Open Table reservations, we were able to secure a reservation with only two openings left!! When we first looked at the menu, we THOUGHT we noted at least three vegan options on the menu (all pasta related), so we were doubly excited at being able to order different entrées and taste. What I SHOULD have done, when the reservations were confirmed, was contact them to make sure that the pasta was egg-free but NOOO…we assumed that with such a large vegan population, at least one would be egg-free. We were wrong…the only vegan entrée was house-made zucchini noodles with a sauce. However, the server brought this to the attention of the Chef who came to our table to tell us what he could do on the spur of the moment (one more thing that could have been prevented had we THOUGHT AHEAD!). His ideas were terrific and we settled in with a terrific pour of a nice Proseco (Elf’s fave) and Pinot Grigio for Big Solid.

The meal was delicious and our zucchini noodles were covered with a nicely flavored Tempeh, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, red pepper, tomatoes, and capers in a vegan Beurre Blanc sauce.
It was incredibly good so we will most definitely come to this place again when we are in the Asheville area. Your Elf's plate was pretty empty!
In fact, our friends Paul and Betty Matens had supper there on Saturday night and RAVED about it!! This is a restaurant where the quality of the food is paramount and so is customer service. AND, you know what, it’s very very reasonably priced in an age where a lot of restaurants feel that the higher the price, the better the turnout.
So, there you have our gustatorial commentary on our Asheville trip. We missed many restaurants that have vegan options but, gosh darn it, we don’t eat three meals a day and if we do we are miserable. Just gives us something to look forward to next go around, adding Chiesa to our MUST list.
As we publish this little bloggery, please remember the folks in Texas who are dealing with unbelievably horrific conditions. We never know when we will face a catastrophe such as Harvey; Hearts Up for Texas!

So, until next week y’all, remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.
Your Elf

Saturday, August 12, 2017

All Good Things Must Come to an Elf

We are submitting an Early Elf today as we prepare for a trip to the mountains. The house/dog-sitter is engaged, the vegan foodstuffs are accumulating to be packed, clothes are being washed, last minute details are also be addressed. We are beyond excited!
So, let’s fill you in on this past week as this will be an all Green Chef Blog. Remember we have been quick to use the meals with the potentially most perishable produce first. So, Sunday night, we prepared the Quinoa Chard Dolmas. Dolmas are typically found in Greek cuisine, better knows as Stuffed Grape Leaves. This recipe put a bit of a spin on it and used Swiss Chard, one of our most favorite vegetables. First we got our mis en place with Nutmeg-Herb Spice Blend, Tofu ‘Feta’, Mint, Kalamata/Beet salad, Parsley, Yellow Onion, Roma Tomato, Roasted Red Peppers,  Cucumber, Swiss Chard (wrapped in paper towels), Lemon Greek Dressing,Whole Wheat Pita,and White Quinoa.
And here is where we made a decision to improvise a bit on the instructions. The chard was a bit torn in several places, so we figured a rolled quinoa-stuffed leaf was out of the question. So, we decided to turn the Pita from a salad ingredient to a sandwich base AND toast some of our own Whole Wheat bread to substitute in the salad, made from the tomato, mint and parsley, cucumber, Kalamata olives and pickled beets. This actually turned out MUCH better than we thought as we used the chard as a vegetable in the pita and stuffed it with the quinoa/onion, red peppers combo. Here’s the final plating. We thoroughly enjoyed this although Big Solid wanted a bit more ‘spice’ in the salad. Actually, the Tofu Feta was quite a nice addition.
Next up on Tuesday was Eggplant Napoleon. Now, y’all know that Eggplant is NOT Big Solid’s idea of an edible entity but he said, “Just go ahead a use it. I’ll deal.” (What a guy!) So we did and you know what, it turned out quite nicely and he ate every bite!! Here was our mis en place:  Parsley, Green Beans, Scallions, Cornstarch, Bulgar Wheat, Green Olives, Cannellini Beans, Thyme Eggplant, Yellow Onion, Garlic, and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.
One of the things we have really appreciated about the Green Chef menus is their salads. For the Eggplant Napoleon, the salad was outstanding…a Bulgar, green bean, chopped and sautéed eggplant, cannellini bean, green olive and tasty lemon-caper vinaigrette. Unfortunately, we did not get a picture of the final plating of this meal but we can tell you it was pretty darn good. Our final Wednesday night meal was the one your Elf had been waiting for..Jamaican Jerk Tempeh! We love Jerk seasoning and this one looked to be a winner. Our mis en place was Mint, Tempeh, Jamaican Style Jerk Sauce, Mango, diced Sweet Potatoes, Lime, Red Pepper, Scallions, Red Onion, Garlic, and Moroccan Pink Rice.  As predicted, this was our favorite meal of the week. We seared the tempeh slices and then simmered in the Jerk Sauce.
Sautéed the sweet potatoes, onions and garlic,
and prepared the warm rice salad.
The final plating was quite lovely set off with some lime wedges.
In fact, we had enough left over to have for lunch another day. This was the last week of our Green Chef subscription. We decided to end our subscription for several reasons, none of which had to do with any issue with the Green Chef program as they have been most responsive to any questions or concerns we may have had.
First, one of the main reasons we subscribed to Green Chef was to see what impact their weekly fee would be on our grocery expenses. Well, we can truthfully say that the impact was significant. On average, we saved around $125 a WEEK! That’s pretty impressive and it also was a factor in our decision to end the meal subscription (keeping open the possibility of doing it again on occasion or even trying our a competitor at a later date). This past month has taught your Elf to be a better and more savvy shopper. We are the world’s most IMPULSIVE shopper, resulting in way more food being ruined and tossed out than we can even begin to admit.
The second reason, and truth be told, the primary one, was we felt like we had most control of our menu (which we did, so to speak). It was also amazing to open the Green Chef box each Friday to find that we had almost all of the ancillary ingredients (onions, scallions, garlic, fresh herbs, olives, tomatoes, edamame, black beans, to name a few) on hand in our Elfin Pantry.
After some more thought, a third reason has blossomed in our little Elfin brain and that is, as much as we like to try new stuffs, it doesn’t have to be EVERY DAY!  Those of us who love to ‘play’ in the kitchen and experiment with new recipes often feel compelled to do something different every day. Big Solid reminded me that he’s perfectly happy with a couple of nights of baked potatoes with steamed broccoli and other toppings AND some of the more devastatingly delicious recipes we’ve tried recently. But, he said, “You don’t have to be a slave to the kitchen every night and prepare a masterpiece.” Now for folks who are incredibly busy, such as fellow veganista Gigi Carter who is a full time student and competitive cyclist, she said “Green Chef has been a godsend for her”.
'Fourthly', Big Solid and Your Elf have been calorie counters for years to keep our weight under control. The Green Chef meals average significantly higher in calories than we are accustomed to eating (we try to stay in the 1200-1500 calorie per day range). Of the 12 meals we prepared, the calories per serving ranged from 470 to 810. WE KNOW that when we eat a whole-food plant based diet, calories ‘shouldn’t matter’ but they do to us. So, while not a deal-breaker, we did look at ways to eliminate some of the calories during preparation (namely, cutting way back on the amount of oils used by using water or spray oils AND trying not to eat all of a serving at once).
So, as we return from the mountains next week, we will once again be cookin’ on our very own but applying some of the great ideas and ingredients from Green Chef. We are excited to narrow our recipe palette to some of our favorites with occasional forays into more exotic dishes. And we have thrown in a new twist to our eating practice…based on significant research on the benefits of fasting, we will fast two days a week (meaning an intake of no more than 500 - 600 calories per DAY). We have chosen Mondays and Thursdays as our fasting days. It’s not as easy as one would think, especially if you are accustomed to eating three squares a day. We’ll see how this goes for us and report out along the way. It DOES cut down meal preparation to 3 days a week (remember we eat out on Friday and Saturday) so that will also help keep the Kinky Elfery Shopping frenzy under control. Here is the link to the article that goaded us into fasting.
So, we look forward to a week off and will be back with a full report on all the cool vegan food we were able to find and other fun stuffs we did in the mountains.
In the meantime, remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.
Your Elf

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hot August Elf

With apologies to Neil Diamond, 'Howdy and welcome to HOT AUGUST ELF!!' August in Mississippi is the time when damn near everyone in the state wants to be anywhere else where the temperature is below 90 and the humidity is as well…it is so incredibly hot and humid. We are among those and will talk about that later. So, let’s review the week in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen and our third week of Green Chef meals.
Last Sunday night, we prepared the Chard Wraps..primarily because chard is a vegetable that does not store well (at least the leaves) and needs to be consumed fairly quickly to keep it from becoming wet noodley. So we got our mis en place (remember that everything is organic):  Portobello Mushroom, Black Rice and Farro, Thyme (not one of my favorite herbs), Applewood-Porcini Spice Blend, Snap Peas, Basil-Pine Nut Spread, Chard leaves (stems removed), shredded Carrots, Edamame, White Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Fennel.

A quick word here on how we kept the Chard leaves fairly fresh from Friday’s delivery of the Green Chef box until Sunday supper time preparation. We took the Chard out of its original packaging, wiped it down to dry it off, took out the tough stems, and rolled the remaining leaves in paper towels. This was then placed in a loosely sealed plastic bag and refrigerated with the rest of the ingredients. The recipe was a bit on the complicated side (at least for Your Elf), so we focused more on getting it prepared correctly than taking photographs along the way. The final result was a pretty tasty Black Rice, Farro, Edamame, and roasted Portobello salad, topped with the White Balsamic Vinaigrette. The Chard leaves were filled with a mixture of the shredded raw carrots, thinly sliced fennel, and roughly chopped thyme. They were ok…I’m not a fan of wraps so this was not really my favorite meal. However, Big Solid thought them quite nice. Here’s the final plating.
Monday, we prepped for the Black Lentil and Orzo Salad with Grilled Veggie Skewers. The mis en place looked like this: Yellow Pepper, Vegan Pesto, Grape Tomatoes, Artichoke Hearts, Parsley, Bamboo Skewers (there’s a story here you’ll see later), Pine Nuts, Italian Seasoning, Black Lentils, Orzo, Garlic, Shallot, and Zucchini.
This was also a recipe that took some focus as we broke one of the skewers getting it out of the bag-you can see the 'broke spike' in the picture next to the zucchini. SO, a frenzied search for our old metal shish kebab skewers of old ensued and we found ONE. AND, the matchup of veggies (grape tomatoes, zucchini slices, and pepper squares didn’t quite equal out. We had way more zucchini slices and pepper square thingies than tomatoes…NONETHELESS, we persevered and got the skewers on the grill..only to find that the zucchini slices did not allow for the peppers and tomatoes to touch the surface. So we just rocked on and cooked them a bit longer.
The real winner in this meal was the Black Lentil and Orzo Salad with sautéed artichoke hearts…it was delicious and there was plenty of it to make for a filling supper. Our final plating looked as such…see what we mean about the salad!!
Tuesday night, we had the final GC meal of the week, a Mushroom Tostada. Here’s our mis en place (and once again there’s a side-story): Roma Tomato, Cremini Mushrooms, Frisée (remember, it’s part of the endive family), Yellow Cornmeal Tortillas, Avocado, Ancho-Cumin Spice blend, Lime, Red, Yellow and Green Peppers, Black Beans (stay tuned), Cilantro-Lemon Tahini Sauce and Long Grain Rice.
We diced up the mushrooms and peppers for a sauté…easy peasy.
We substituted our own recently prepared black beans instead of utilizing the can that was sent and here’s why. Big Solid has a bit of an intestinal issue with black beans that have NOT been soaked for at least 36 hours; he has a tender little tummy. So, better safe than sorry…we used our own beans. The directions called for the black beans to heat and then be mashed (ala refried beans) with lime zest.
The final plating looked quite nice with the avocado fan, the frisée salad and rice topped with the cilantro-lemon tahini dressing. The tortilla did not toast well and was tough, so we pulled it and crumbled some Tostitos over the top. It was very, very good!
The rest of the week was spent cooking for some friends who have been in the hospital and others we share food with from time to time. We prepared a REALLY BIG Pasta salad to share using whole wheat and red lentil pasta, broccoli, cremini mushrooms, seared cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, and some Gentle Chef Chik’n Shreds with a light EVOO/lemon dressing.
Also, we 'fixed' a Yellow Lentil Cauliflower and Coconut Curry we have been wanting to try for a while. It is delicious IF you are a coconut and curry fan.
Here is the link as well.
Frankly, we are not as big a fan of the yellow lentil pasta as we are the red lentil…but, heck, you may love it.
And that brings us to the end of the week. We had ‘regular ole’ vegan fare of Baked Potato topped with Broccoli and good stuffs on Wednesday and Taco Salad (Big Solid’s Favorite meal) on Thursday. We also wanted to share Your Elf's FAVORITE breakfast...whole wheat (sugar-free) toast with a half mashed up avocado and fresh tomato, salted and peppered.
Along with a cup of double strength Peet's Major Dickason's Extra Bold coffee and the word puzzles in the mornin' paper, life is good in the Kinky Elfery Kitchen.
Next week’s Blog will be out on Saturday, August 12 as Your Elf and Big Solid will be takin’ to the mountains of Asheville, NC to escape the MS heat. You can bet your sweet Bippy, we will have some great food pics and places to share with you when we return. In the meantime, remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.

Your Elf