Life + Kitchen - October
I’m so sad October is coming to an end. It was such a beautiful month with Fall Foliage, a few unseasonably warm days, and the last lingering bits of daylight.
 
Don’t forget Daylight Savings Time ends this weekend!
 
October was also a very fun month. In addition to Vegan Mania, Chicago Ideas Week, and a Blogger Cooking Class at Whole Foods Market (full recap coming up next!), here’s what’s been happening in my Life + Kitchen this month:

#PumpkinProblems

Well, I tried to be festive.  But the Pumpkin I so carefully picked out didn’t last a day before the squirrels got to it.  Pictured below are our Pumpkin after 36 hours, 4 Days, and 10 Days.   After day 4 we had to move it to the backyard so our house wouldn’t become a neighborhood eye-sore.

I still feel like I got my money’s worth with this Jumbo Whole Foods Market Pumpkin though.  It provided hours of entertainment for several squirrels, plus plenty of squirrel-watching for Mike & I, and especially for our cat

Mom & Dad

My parents (and their dog) drove up (yes, drove!) from Florida to see our new house!  We always love spending time with them, and this visit was no different.  In addition to some low-key fun including visits to the Wilmette Farmers Market, dinner at Blind Faith Cafe, and seeing Gone Girl on its opening weekend (all 4 of us loved it), we also were very busy around the house.

My Dad is a former High School Wood Shop & Electronics Teacher and an all-around handyman.  He helped us to complete several small projects around the house, most notably installing the upper hand-rail for our staircase, which strangely our house didn’t have before.  It may sound simple but this was actually a project of several days as it involved trimming the rail to fit, staining it to match the stairs, and then installing it.  

Thanks, Dad!

Clockwise from Upper Left: Our new Stair Rail, Dinner at Blind Faith Cafe (Veggie Loaf & Sweet Potatoes), Trying on Halloween Costumes, and Dora the Dog

 
Vegan Chocolate Extravaganza!

 

Endangered Species Chocolate has for a long time been one of my favorite Chocolate brands (I especially love their Dark Chocolate with Cranberries & Almonds bar).  Not only does Endangered Species Chocolate have an incredible taste, they also have numerous vegan options, are priced reasonably, and 10% of their profits go towards supporting species conservation, habitat preservation and humanitarian efforts.

I’d been hearing a lot of buzz about their VEGAN Creme Filled Dark Chocolate Bars and was so excited when they offered to send me some to try!  It’s pretty rare to find a vegan bar that’s creme-filled so these are truly special chocolates.

 
Endangered Species sent me one of each Creme Filled flavor and Mike and I went through these very quickly.  All of these bars have a very rich, flavorful chocolate and the perfect balance of chocolate and creme.
 
Our #1 favorite was the Almond Butter bar since the combination of Sweet and Salty was amazing.  My next favorites were the Coconut Creme and the Sea Salt & Lime filled bars.  The Lavender Mint bar sounded very unusual but actually had a very light & pleasant taste.
 
I’m so glad I got to try these, and in fact, am wishing I had another Almond Butter bar in my hand right now.

Root Vegetable Potluck

I also hosted another PPK VeganPotluck, though in actuality, only 2 of us regulars were able to join and the rest of the group were all newbies including our friends Laura & Darrin, some of my new neighbors, and fellow Evanstonians Elizabeth and Rachael (whom I actually met from Instagram) along with their husbands.
 
This month’s theme was Root Vegetables and the spread was delicious as always!
 
I made:
  • Kale Salad with Root Veggie Slaw – I cheated and used Trader Joe’s Sweet & Spicy Pecans instead of making my own which worked out great.  I wasn’t crazy about this salad though.
  • Roasted Root Vegetable Bisque – This one was super easy and Mike especially loved it’s sweet & spicy flavor.  Just a word of caution – when doubling recipes, be careful with spices – they can be too strong when doubled and I way over did it on the Cayenne Pepper with this one.
  • Sweet Potato Chocolate Pudding – This recipe is so awesome that Elizabeth made it for the potluck too :-)
  • And I put out Hot Spiced Apple Cider, a Growler full of Sant, and samples of just 2 of my Endangered Species Chocolate Bars (also pictured above), since Mike and I wanted to save the rest of the bars for ourselves {evil laugh}.

Clockwise from Upper Left: Carrots in a Blanket, Kale Salad with Root Veggie Slaw, Orange & Black Protein Power Pilaf, Roasted Root Vegetable Bisque, and Carrot & Peanut Noodle Salad

 
Savory highlights included:
  • My neighbor’s Carrots-in-a-Blanket with Garlic & Sage – everyone went wild for these and they quickly ran out.
  • Laura & Darrin’s Carrot & Peanut Noodle Salad (and the coolest skeleton serving spoons!) – we also polished this off fast.
  • And Nissa’s Orange & Black Protein Power Pilaf with Chipotle Mayo from the Native Foods Demo at VeganMania.

Clockwise from Upper Left: Sweet Potato Cheesecake, Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches, Raw Carrot Cake, Carrot Cake Cupcakes

 
Sweet highlights included:
  • Nissa’s Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Maple Praline Topping –  Holy yum!  She used this recipe with her own topping of Earth Balance, Brown Sugar, Maple Syrup, Pecans, and a touch of salt.
  • Nissa’s Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches were my favorite dish of the day (she’s the best baker we know!).  For these, she used the Cream Cheese frosting from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and added raisins to this cookie recipe, veganized with Earth Balance and a Flax Egg.
  • Rachael’s 3-layer Raw Carrot Cake with a Date-Coconut layer, a Carrot-Apple layer, and a Coconut Cream topping, which she impressively made in just 20 minutes!
  • and Laura & Darrin’s super moist Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Tofutti Frosting 

More Visitors!

We also were so excited to have our friends Krin and Etan visit from Michigan for a weekend, along with their 10-week old son.  It was a wonderful low-key weekend and the baby slept enough for us to enjoy dinner at Blind Faith Cafe, lunch at LYFE Kitchen, and an at-home screening of Hunger Games 2 (so good!).

Etan & Mike with their babies

 

My Most “Liked” Photos of the Month

4. Confession: My cat has her own Instagram Hashtag – #MapleNextDoor

Maple got loose and had a romp with our Maple Tree

 

3. These wraps made for simple yet special lunches.

Edamame Hummus & Tofu Wraps from Isa Does It

 

2. My father-in-law made this beautiful casserole for dinner for us, using tomatillos from his garden.

Tomatillo Tortilla Casserole from The China Study Cookbook

 

1. I cooked up a storm to welcome my parents to our home.  This is a loaf of Low-Fat Apple Swirl Bread and an incredibly delicious Sweet Potato & Peanut Stew, both by Dreena Burton, plus a fresh fruit salad.

Ready for my Parent’s Visit

My Favorite Eats of the month

In addition to Nissa’s Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches (see above), this month I also couldn’t get enough of:

My Favorite Links of the month

Whole Foods Market’s new Produce Rating System

I  love that Whole Foods Market is rolling their new “Responsibly Grown” labeling system for their Produce and Flowers to help consumers to better understand the environmental impact of their choices.  The new system will label rated items as “Good”, “Better” or “Best” based on criteria including soil health, farm-worker health & safety, water & energy conservation, and protection for bees & butterflies.

I’ve already seen these labels popping up at my local store and look forward to learning more about my produce as more items are rated & tagged!

 

Be the Deal Breaker – Multiply your Influence at Non-Veg restaurants

I love the idea behind the Gandhi quote “Be the Change you Wish to See in the World”, though I’m often unable to come up with doable ways to act on my ambition.  I loved this article about an easy way to be an activist in a very common, every day way – making a restaurant reservation.

“I recently went to a friend’s birthday brunch at an upscale restaurant in NYC. As my friends and I were forming the plans, I jumped at the chance to make the reservation. The birthday girl was relieved to hand over the party planner hat, and she said that if her eatery of choice wouldn’t serve up a vegan meal, we could go somewhere else that would.

A quick search of the restaurant’s menu online turned up no vegan options at her destination of choice, aside from half of a grapefruit, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. I let their reservationist know right off the bat that I wanted to make a reservation for six people, but only if they could accommodate a vegan diner. In other words, if they couldn’t offer vegan options for one of us, they were going to lose the business of all six. I was the deal breaker….

…As luck (and a little relentlessness on my part) would have it, the chef was happy to offer vegan options, and even told me in advance what they would be – the aforementioned grapefruit, two hearty salads to choose from, and vegan chili.”

I’ve been pruning/harvesting my basil all wrong

I was wondering why our crop of basil this year was so poor compared to last year.  It turns out I was being too gentle with my basil plant.  

“The key lesson here? Don’t be afraid to cut!”

Even though it will be months before I get to plant next summer’s crop, I will never forget not to make this horrible mistake again.

My Fitness Pal

After a long hiatus, I’m back on MyFitnessPal.com tracking my meals in their online food diary.  As a Chicagoan, I tend to gain weight every winter and used to lose it again in the summer, though the past couple of years that latter part hasn’t happened.  We have a fitness challenge at work starting on Monday for 3 months, so I’m hoping to play catchup!

I was pleasantly surprised by the dramatic enhancements I noticed upon logging into the My Fitness Pal Android App.  Now ingredients from online recipes can be copied into the app, and it will automatically look them up in their database all at once.  While the matches still aren’t perfect, they are easy to tweak and I’m loving how quick & easy it is to input recipes now.

 
I’d love to hear from you!
 
Have you used My Fitness Pal or another online Food Diary before?
 
What is your favorite article, blog-post or website from October?