Travelogue: Florida Keys

After a year of being isolated, it felt like a good idea to take a vacation. Basically so we could isolate ourselves somewhere warm, beautiful….and remote. The middle Florida Keys seemed perfect and the weather didn’t disappoint.

Lots of long walks (not on beaches since the Keys have very few of the sandy type beaches but lots of coral) and swimming (long course!!) at the beautiful outdoor pool in Islamorada where of course I made friends and we even ran into fellow Minnesota teammates. I have concluded that no matter where I winter in future years, it has to absolutely involve a good outdoor pool! Australia is most definitely on my list.

The ritual of driving beautiful highway 1 with the windows down to the pool several times a week followed by a late lunch is quite simply meditative soul restoration. I learned the funny little names of the various Keys and harbors. It never got old.

Post swim avocado toast!

Our home base was a secluded rental home in Duck Key, which was absolutely perfect! Morning yoga on the patio, afternoons in the pool or hammock and evenings on the front porch rocking chairs. I couldn’t get enough Vitamin D!! Duck Key is actually a clump of little islands all connected by cute little historic bridges. It’s mostly private homes so walking, biking or golf carts are the primary ways of getting around. I truly love being so isolated.

Charming bridges of Duck Key

It’s also one of the best places to fish in North America. The boys did a day trip to check giant tarpon off the list. They caught 80lb and 100lb fish!! Tarpon are protected and can’t even be taken out of the water for photos (besides they’re too heavy). It’s an interesting style of fishing around the highway 1 bridges, where the bigger fish (and sharks) like to hang out in the strong currents. Timing the tide is key, as is navigating through the bridge structures once the fish is hooked. It takes about 40 minutes to land the fish! They eat once a month so catching one is a pretty big deal.

Giant tarpon fishing

We also went sailing out in Marathon, which is known for its iconic lighthouse and 7 mile bridge. The shallow waters and coral structures mean that in its history there have been tons of shipwrecks. These make for great snorkeling and scuba spots, which I had hoped to check off my bucket list, but seeing sharks changed my mind 😉

Look closely for the rainbow!

Food wise we ate in, cooking healthy bowls, smoothies and of course lots of my favorite avocado toasts with cold press coffee in the morning. Seared fresh blackened tuna and shrimp supplemented meals for the carnivores.

Salad nicoise with fresh tuna
Açaí bowl with dragon fruit
A knife specifically for slicing avocados! ❤️❤️❤️
Dragonfruit mint smoothie
Cold press coffee!

While many things have been difficult about the last year, there are some things that are better. One of them being delivery. I learned that even in remote places in America, you can still get just about anything you need delivered quickly. It amazed me how easy it was to get groceries and house items. I also noticed that once we settled into our routine the people we regularly saw were generally kinder. (The chill vibe in the Keys helps…Island time is a real thing!)

To say that I am grateful for 6 weeks of sunshine is an understatement. Particularly as a way to almost end our yearlong quarantine. The impacts of this year and this trip have been profound for me. A time for inner reflection and gathering energy to grow. My own kind of winter into spring.

❤️🌹🌈🌱🙏🏻

Fragipani tree
Baby pineapples! (Technically it’s autumn in the Keys climate)
Orchids

Tempeh tacos (vegan)

Happy (belated) Groundhog’s Day! Here in Minnesota we expect 6 more weeks of winter, but this year it’s particularly cold (-35 degrees Fahrenheit). Thankfully I don’t really leave the house so it doesn’t matter! 🤣

I just have to get through 3 more weeks before I leave for the Florida Keys for 6 weeks so I’m starting to feel more optimistic. Add to that my parents have their first vaccine!! Woo hoo! It is getting brighter!

I was late getting our holiday cards out but have decided this is a new tradition worth keeping. It’s a lot less stressful to just send them when they get done versus rush around. Happy boys kissed by summer sun is exactly what’s needed in February!

Holiday 2020/21

As for food….Vegan nachos for Superbowl Sunday were yummy and I used the leftover cashew queso on the tempeh tacos tonight. Fast & easy, perfect!

Tempeh tacos

  • 1 – 6 oz package Tempeh “bacon”
  • 3 tbsp Cholula or other hot sauce (Sriracha, Crystal or Tabasco would work)
  • 2 tsp Nutritional yeast
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Accessories

Sauté tempeh in olive oil until crispy, about 5 minutes. Add Cholula, yeast and garlic and heat another minute until garlic is cooked.

Serve with accessories, chopped kale, green onion, peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, pickled red onions, black beans, quinoa.

Thurs night improv (lemon pasta with chickpeas-vegan)

It’s been awhile. The world has been noisy so I have been allowing myself the compassion to focus inward.

To simplify food lately, We’ve been doing partially prepped meals from 2 local spots—one, Seed Cafe, my favorite vegan place and the other Local Crate, which uses all local ingredients.

Both meal kits come with many ingredients prepped and the recipes are easy enough to make in 30 minutes. It’s been a good compromise to feel like I am still cooking but to not be fully immersed. If we’ve learned anything these last few months it’s the importance of being flexible!

Some highlights from those kits:

“B”lt and quinoa onion rings
Golden curry bowls

But today I felt the spark of creativity. Perhaps it was having the week off or the lovely 70 degree weather that inspired me to cook.

Only, it’s Thursday. There’s not much left in the fridge (we shop Saturday). I relish this kind of challenge—ala Chopped to create something fantastic from whatever is in the basket.

This pasta was just the trick of comfort food and hearty filling with the addition of protein packed garbanzos. It always satisfies me to use what’s on hand resourcefully. Nothing particularly magnificent but Matt praised me anyway: “Restaurant quality”…perhaps I will take on Bobby Flay. 😉

It’s a hearty dish that comes together quickly….just in time for winter. And hey, this is a more or less of type of dish meaning if you don’t have zucchini that’s ok, no green onions or parsley or rosemary that’s ok too. Cannellini beans but no garbanzos? It’s all good. Basically, layer some carbs. It warmed my soul.

From our quiet corner of the world to yours, wishing you health and hope. ❤️

Lemon pasta with chickpeas

Lemon pasta with chickpeas (vegan)

  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 4 green onions chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered and chopped
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • Pasta water, about 1 cup
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley chopped

Boil pasta. In the meantime, sauté zucchini in olive oil for 5 minutes on medium until just turning brown. Add chickpeas and heat through. Add crushed red pepper, garlic, rosemary and green onions, sauté 1 minute. Remove to separate bowl. Add 1/2cup pasta water and scrape browned bits from pan until loose sauce forms. Add lemon juice and zest. Add cooked pasta and additional water until pasta is well coated and soft (about another 1/2 cup water and 1 minute). Combine with zucchini-chickpea mix. Top with parmesan if desired.

Blueberry lemon scones (vegan)

It’s the end of summer… and no Minnesota State Fair feels like there’s punctuation missing from the end of the sentence. Added to that is this is the first year in 20 that our house isn’t getting ready to start school. Weird. That pretty much sums up 2020.

It’s hard to see him behind the mask, but to celebrate Avery’s high school graduation, he and Matt took a float fishing trip in Wisconsin right before Av left for Connecticut in late August. He’s playing hockey out there, living with a “billet” host family. It’s the first time he’s had to share a room 😉

With one less ravenous monster to feed, it’s been a little quieter, even if not the true empty nest we were expecting. Alec is taking one class online and working as a swim coach as his College decided to go virtual at least until February. We’re trying to make the best out of it by getting out for takeout at new places—with a local juice bar’s açaí bowls a new favorite.

Alec is 21 now so craft cocktails are fun too. It’s a joy to have extra time with him ….he discusses things as an adult…I think this quiet time has helped him get more clear on his dreams and next steps, putting things in perspective.

With fall clearly in the air here in Minnesota, we’re focusing on shifting back into indoor coping mechanisms with cooking near the top of my list. I am finding creative ways to use up my herbs before the freeze. Pesto, sage pesto, chimichurri, smashed rosemary sage garlic potatoes, dill in the weekly refrigerator pickles and mint in anything and everything. Soon enough it’s back to store bought.

And of course tomatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Even better with tomatoes from Uncle Wayne’s garden and fresh basil. Sigh. If I have learned anything it’s one day at a time. And a bowl of pasta with fresh sauce always makes it better.

Ps This scone recipe is an easy riff on the strawberry shortcake we fell in love with earlier this summer. It comes together fast! Don’t overmix the dough 😁

Blueberry lemon scones (vegan)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups plant milk (prefer Califia coconut milk)
  • 1/2 cup unrefined coconut oil
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 tbsp grated lemon peel
  • Turbinado or raw sugar for sprinkling

Mix dry ingredients. Tip: spoon flour into measuring cup to get the most accurate measure.

Add coconut oil and milk, mix to just combine. It should be crumbly. Gently fold in blueberries and lemon zest. Drop into ~8 free form mounds. Sprinkle tops with sugar.

Bake on parchment at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes.

Watermelon sashimi (vegan)

Trompe l’oeil? Does this watermelon actually fool the eye and look like sashimi grade tuna? Not quite. 😉

But it’s tasty, easy and healthy.

I love the taste of watermelon but detest cutting it up. Somehow everything ends up sticky, reminding me of ants at a picnic.

Cutting the thin slices of watermelon is the hardest part of this recipe and I was glad to put my knife skills to the test. It gave me something mindful to do. Slices also made it less messy to eat somehow. Huh.

I wanted to make something special for our Father’s Day dinner. It was the first time our family has been together in months. It was soooooo exciting to be around other humans! I literally spent the afternoon prepping the apps and myself (aka actually showering and getting dressed). Such an adventure after so long without it.

In other news, life slowly returns. Hockey has kicked back in, Avery’s HS had a “drive in” commencement and Alec’s college is planning to reopen in August (with new restrictions including some students living in hotels to honor distancing, pretty resourceful).

I am verrrrrry excited for the outdoor pool to open next week. This is the longest any of us have gone without our respective sports. My mental health will be much improved! I have been making do with a substitute of biking with my new cruiser…isn’t the basket cool?! The boys call me Dorothy. I am thinking about getting one of the cats🙀 to ride up front.

This experience has given us perspective and a willingness to try new things, and let go of others. I am grateful for the slower, quieter pace and the irony of our last few months before being empty nesters having the birds home with us for more family time than we have ever had together.

I can get over sticky messes.

Watermelon sashimi (vegan)

  • 1/2 seedless watermelon, thinly sliced into 4” shingles
  • 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced and seeded
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced and soaked in water
  • Tamari (approximately 1/4 cup), adjust to your flavor preferences
  • Black and white sesame seeds

Assemble by layering watermelon, jalapeño, onion and sesame seeds. Sprinkle with Tamari and allow to marinate about 30 minutes. Not too long or it’ll get mushy.

Lentil meatballs (vegan)

So four of us in the house has been close quarters for the last 3 months. We were very thankful to get up to the lake last week for a change of scenery, with the trees just starting to bloom. It was gorgeous!

The weather has done its typical “cold” to “hot” transition with little temperate spring in between. But I am glad it’s hot and sending daily good karma for the outdoor pool to open in a few weeks (we’re just starting our reopening process). Please please please!

As per usual spring, I planted succulents and herbs. The war with the tree rats continues. We’re trying plastic forks to keep them from digging in addition to the fencing. Ironically the plethora of rodents has attracted a flock of crows that keep picking off the chipmunks, baby bunnies and squirrels. Nature is scary, but useful.

I used the basil on my pasta tonight to go along with the lentil meatballs. Honestly I forgot to check if the noodles were vegan. But I am seriously exhausted from all of the cooking. All the boys do is eat. It’s only Tuesday and we’re already out of bread, ice cream, and most of the fruit. We have ordered delivery ice cream twice now. Ridiculous.

Here’s comments from dinner tonight: “Ha ha, I ate my firsts as fast as I could so I could get the most seconds.” Defensive speed eating. Avery is world champion.

So the boys didn’t eat the vegan lentil meatballs but instead we tried Audrey’s porcupine meatballs. What a hit!

“It’s as if spaghetti and meatballs & bolognese had a cousin.”

I was pleased because it was easy to make ahead and reheats fast. They were fun to make and I understood the name once I saw the distinctive way the rice plumps up during cooking. 😁

I followed the recipe with one substitution: creamy tomato boxed soup. Closest flavor profile: vodka sauce. Definitely adding this to our lineup.

Hopefully you only have to make one recipe or the other. Soon enough my food terrorists will leave the nest and it will be just us two. Poor Matt will be eating lentil vegan meatballs all of the time. (I realize how unusual our eating habits are).

All in all I am glad we had this extra time during quarantine together. Even if Avery won’t be having a commencement or grad party. I forgive his spite eating.

Oh, and we’ve now ordered a half gallon of delivery raspberry chocolate chip ice cream three times.

Lentil meatballs (vegan)

  • 1 can precooked brown lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil plus more for rolling (or avocado oil)
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 ounces tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed black pepper
  • Fresh herbs if you’ve got em, I used basil, oregano, parsley and thyme, 2 tbsp total

Sauté the onion in 1 tbsp olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute. Remove from heat and set aside. Puree lentils, tomato paste, walnuts, and panko in food processor until smooth but ideally with a few pieces of nut chunks remaining. Add onion/garlic mixture and seasoning . Pulse to combine. You may need additional breadcrumbs if your mixture is not clumping together.

Chill mixture for 30 minutes. Roll into 12 2” balls. Freeze for 30 minutes. Re-roll them and coat with oil (Avocado is my preference). They will be sticky. Place on tinfoil lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, flip and bake another 15 minutes.

Eat them before the hungry boys get desperate.

Shiitake quinoa risotto (vegan)

It ain’t pretty, but for quarantine lunch, I’ll take it.

Straight up: I was bored out of my mind and decided some cookery would help. So opened up the fridge to find some shiitakes that needed to be used. Lacking any arborio rice, I substituted quinoa to make “risotto.”

In other acts of boredom…

Yes, I wore my wedding dress and veil one evening. Hey man, we’re coming up on 23 years and I figure I can wear it again at our silver (it’s too big!)

I have enjoyed coloring and making cookies for the boys. I made potato mini waffles. A turkey ended up on our backyard fence (the cats went nuts). And it snowed 5” on Easter. Life is entertaining when you slow down to watch.

I am actually starting to enjoy the pace and playing cards each night. I miss swimming but I look forward to the pool opener this summer (please please please!)

And we binged Sunderland Til I Die. I am now a soccer fan and can’t wait to go to England to experience a game in person!

Wishing the world health and peace.

Shiitake quinoa risotto (vegan)

  • 4 oz shiitake mushrooms (caps only), sliced
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 onion, finely diced (or shallot if your cupboard is better stocked than mine)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 c vegetable stock
  • 1/2c white wine
  • 2 tbsp vegan butter
  • Splash vegan creamer

Sauté shiitake until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside. Sauté garlic and onion in olive oil for 2 minutes on low. Add quinoa and toast about 1 minute. Add wine. Slowly add broth while stirring about 10 minutes. Add butter, cream and shiitakes. Season with salt and pepper.

Creative quarantine and hummus recipe (vegan)

“Are you kidding me? Is this for real? Didn’t you buy this 2 days ago?”

Yes, yes I did buy that half gallon of ice cream 2 days ago. And yes it’s almost gone. And no I don’t eat it so I didn’t notice it was almost gone. But yes this is what happens when 2 grown boys/ men are stuck inside. They eat.

It’s only been just about 2 weeks of shelter in place self-quarantine, but time seems to have taken on another dimension. Slower? But warped? It feels like a holiday break except there’s no big family dinners. Just the 4 of us. All close together. All the time.

So as of yesterday, I decided I needed some behavior adjustments and made 5 commitments to myself:

  • Hygiene. Did I really have to make a rule for this? Apparently. Skipping showers and wearing pajamas longer than appropriate needs to end.
  • Self care. Yes, this is a category different from hygiene. It’s exercise, meditation, not overeating or drinking. 5 days a week may be more realistic than every day.
  • Work boundaries. Be more intentional about turning it off. It’s easy to overwork as a form of coping.
  • Fellowship. Family, friends, online connections. Reach out daily to a few. We started a Sunday family Zoom meeting. It’s highly entertaining 🤣
  • Creative endeavors. Coloring, writing, cooking, blogging. Catching up on reading blogs I follow and trying recipes!

Yes, these rules seem kinda basic, but it’s clear that I need better routines to adjust to the current situation.

I have been making at least one new recipe a week. A roasted carrot farro fennel salad. Green curry zoodles with roasted shiitakes. Hummus this week…I will never buy it again! I have plenty of time to make it 😁

Hummus (vegan)

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic smashed
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • Salt
  • 3 tbsp cold water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Puree chickpeas in food processor until smooth. Add garlic, tahini, salt and lemon juice. Process until smooth. Add water and olive oil. Allow to set for 30 minutes.

Eat it before the boys find it. Hide it behind the tofu.

Shepherds Pie (Vegan)

It’s day 6 of staying in. New habits are setting in. Things are slowing down; we’re eating more meals together. We’re trying new things—like using Zoom for Sunday family time. Highly entertaining! We’ll get better at it, but it’s nice to see everyone’s faces 😊

While we chatted with my sister and her family and our parents, I had this dinner in the oven. Now it could be that my standards have lowered, but I thought this turned out divinely! Flavor and texture were excellent. And an easy make ahead.

The key difference in this version is the mushroom/lentil combo. I thought I had too many creminis, but actually they cook down so much it was just right. I thought the lentils might get dry, but so long as you have a large can of tomato sauce, you’re good…just keep adding it if you need to as it simmers. They break down well into a texture very similar to the original.

This is also a dish where superior technique makes the difference on mashed potatoes. I stand by 2 things when it comes to potatoes: the heating of liquids (butter, creamer) and using a potato ricer. It makes for the lightest mashed potatoes! They look odd coming out, but create great consistency.

I wish I had tried veganizing this recipe earlier in winter!

Shepherds pie (vegan)

  • 3 carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 8 oz vegan butter, divided
  • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 3/4 cup frozen mixed vegetables
  • 12 oz tomato sauce
  • 1 can lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 cup plant creamer
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Dash of cayenne
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper

Melt 1/2 tbsp of butter, sauté onion, celery, carrot for 5 minutes until just getting soft. Add garlic and mushrooms, stir and cook 1 minute. Add frozen vegetables and cook another 2 minutes. Add lentils. Add seasonings and tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Allow to cook slowly while making the mashed potatoes (you may even turn the heat off completely and just allow the herbs to do their thing).

Cook the potatoes. Heat remaining butter and creamer for 1 minute in microwave. Drain and Rice potatoes into hot liquids.

Remove bay leaves from base mixture and place into casserole dish. Top with potatoes. Dot with butter for a browner top. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Tofu Thai peanut bowls (vegan)

Despite toilet paper hysteria, we’re not adjusting our shopping routine. Once a week. Maybe that’ll change in the coming weeks, but right now we’re calm. We’d heard stories about empty grocery store shelves, but found everything in stock at our local coop. Thankfully no one made a run on fresh fennel (yet) 😉

Being socially distanced means I have time to play with my new toy: a sous vide machine. Burgers last night and marinated soy sesame chicken breasts tonight for a quick Asian bowl. I am keeping calm by investing energy in creative pursuits!! The boys are happy because it involves meat.

It’s easy to drop the protein in a bag and let the sous vide do it’s thing. Basically the water slowly cooks the ingredient to a desired temperature and then holds it there without overcooking it because it’s in a Ziplock. You do it all via an app!

You don’t have to take it off when it’s done. It can stay in the water until you’re ready, which makes it super easy. For proteins it’s definitely a win. I have done carrots too which locks in the flavor and nutrients. I feel like a chef scientist!

As we were shopping this week, there was definitely an aura of “stocking up”, like what happens before a holiday or a snowstorm. When I looked in our cupboards, I realized how much we just have on hand. Those are some of my favorite meals—figuring out what to make based on random ingredients. Rice, peanuts and thai peanut sauce inspired this meal. We’re certainly not going to go without. I am very grateful.

I will be even more grateful when Alec returns from college (expected his classes will finish online this year) and Avery has just one more day before they break, and likely also move to a distance learning model. I will feel better with both baby birds in the nest, hopefully by end of the week.

Our world is changing. Fear and scarcity are the mindset of the day. I am hopeful that we come out of this with perspective on what needs to change in our culture. We have enough.

Tofu Thai peanut bowls (vegan)

  • 1/2 napa cabbage, chopped
  • 3 cups cooked Basmati rice
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • Serrano pepper, diced
  • Pickled red onions
  • Cilantro
  • Mint
  • Dry roasted peanuts
  • Grilled marinated sesame soy tofu, extra firm
  • (Or Sesame soy marinated chicken breasts)
  • Sesame seeds, black and white
  • Thai peanut sauce

Slice extra firm tofu into 1/2” slices. Cover with paper towels and place heavy pan on top to remove excess liquid, About 30 minutes.

Slice 1/2 red onion thinly. Add 1 tbsp sugar and 2 tsp salt to 500mL vinegar (red wine and champagne or white vinegar mixture). Heat vinegar until sugar dissolves about 30 seconds. Red onions will be edible in about 30 minutes but better the next day 😉

Make rice.

Marinate tofu with soy/sesame oil and Sriracha mixture for 30 minutes. Grill the tofu.

Assemble the bowls using rice, cabbage, vegetables and accessorize to taste. Top with Thai peanut sauce.