Travelogue: Cabo San Lucas, MX

Oh the fantastic warmth of the sand and crashing sounds of the mighty Pacific! We have spent a week in pure bliss at a yoga wellness retreat center, Prana del Mar, just outside of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Neither Matt nor I have ever done an extended wellness vacation like this, so going into it we were probably “apprehensive” at best. Wow. Serious eye opener and an absolute week of bliss.

I have never felt so spoiled! Redefines luxury not to the ideals of material luxury, but soul luxury. Every detail was considered to make our lives easier. Chef Efrain prepared special vegan meals just for me! I am so grateful to have had time to care and recover in such a beautiful environment. (Rooftop view out to the Pacific).

Our daily routine was:

  • Pre-breakfast smoothie/fruit/nuts/coffee
  • Yoga
  • Real breakfast
  • Laps in the pool or activities (whale watching on the Sea of Cortez, surfing, cooking class)
  • Lunch
  • Chill
  • Meditation
  • Dinner
  • Bed

Eating vegan is already healthy, but I also learned how dependent on carbs/pasta I am. We ate very little rice and no pasta or bread. Both of us noticed a significant difference in our digestive health including more “even” energy levels.

I will post some recipes, but the most significant learnings were:

  • Avocado cartels. I didn’t realize that the global demand for avocados has become as serious as the drug trade in Mexico. I understand now why the cost is significantly different at the coop, which uses responsible sourcing. Avocado toast and guacamole mean something different now.
  • Nut soups. Walnut and pistachio soup?! Yum. And easy. The base for all soups is the same, with finishing touches creating flavor differences.
  • Oils. EVOO should not be heated. What?! Avocado oil is better, and regular olive oil should be used when richer flavor is needed. Adding olive oil to both guacamole and cold soups (watermelon, apple, cucumber) adds richness and depth.
  • Chia pudding for breakfast. I am a HUGE fan now, plus understand the additional nutrients from the seeds. Super easy to make ahead+granola+fruit.
  • Watermelon and beet sashimi. ‘Nuff said.
  • …More to come with recipes!

  • Potatoes dauphinoise (vegan)

    There are some recipes that are simply classic. This potato dish is from Julia Child and comes out of one of my favorite cookbooks, Julia and Jacques Cook At Home.

    I greatly admire Julia’s no-nonsense style both in her cooking and her on camera personality. I wonder what she would say about her classic being made without butter or cream! No doubt an honest assessment. 😇

    One of the reasons this recipe rocks is because it has so few ingredients. Other than peeling and slicing the potatoes, it’s a piece of cake. You can pretty much use whatever plant dairy you have on hand whether it’s a creamer or just milk. You also don’t have to measure but simply pour until it covers the potatoes.

    I was skeptical plant butter would give it the browning on top that makes for the original recipe’s just slightly crunchy texture, but it was perfect! It was just the warmup for our first snowstorm (6-9″ on Thanksgiving Eve, 😆).

    Potatoes dauphinoise (vegan)

    • 3 lbs Yukon gold or russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced using either a food processor or mandolin. Do not rinse the sliced potatoes! It adds to the creamy texture.
    • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
    • 2 tsp+ salt
    • Nondairy creamer/milk (about 3 cups)
    • 3 tbsp nondairy butter

    Butter the casserole dish. Place the smashed garlic in the bottom of the dish, season with salt. Place the potatoes in, and pour in enough creamer to cover. Chunk up the butter and place on top.

    Put the casserole dish on the stove and bring liquid to a simmer. (Now’s a good time to carefully check seasoning. You may want to add salt. )

    Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes. Check for doneness by using a knife to poke the middle. It should be soft.

    Original recipe from Julia:

    Ambrosia tropical fruit salad (vegan)

    It snowed this week. The battle begins.

    I saw a whole coconut at the coop and got curious about how to use it. That seemed like a good distraction that would remind me of warmer days.

    The recipe selection was easy–I love ambrosia salad with the mixture of bright citrus and tropical flavors. Pineapple, mango, valencia oranges, red grapefruit, pomegranate and the coconut. Perfect. Easy.

    Well, it was easy. Except for the coconut. I now understand how it would feel to be trapped on a desert island surrounded by the things knowing full well they’re full of deliciousness and yet become fixated on getting the stupid shells cracked.

    It started with using a skewer to puncture the soft spot to drain the water. It was delicious! Flavor wise this was definitely the highlight. A cup gets used in the recipe itself, but the remainder can be used as a post workout recovery aid.

    If I didn’t want to mess with a fresh coconut in the future, I would at least buy the water, it made a huge difference and meant I didn’t need to use any sweetener (agave).

    After draining, the whole coconut gets baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes or so. This is supposed to dry out the interior flesh.

    This is where the fun began! Trying to crack the thing. I tried a chef’s knife first. No go. Then a rolling pin. Comical. Finally, I called in the muscle (Matt) to use a hammer. The blunt side didn’t work. The claw side was sharp enough to crack it and then get it split in half.

    I admit being disappointed both by the amount of flesh inside, and that it was still moist. I pivoted and scraped the stuff out, which roughly had the texture of oysters, and chopped it up for the salad. Next time I will break it open first, then bake, to dry out the flesh (duh). All in all a worthwhile exploration with something new.

    We also did a nondairy yogurt taste test to go with it. I concluded cashewgurt or coconutmilk are my favorites. It’s a texture thing.

    This was a nice diversion and I am pleased that we’ll have fresh fruit ready to eat all week. The next time I am really frustrated a $5 coconut will come in handy too! 😉

    Ambrosia salad (vegan)

    • One pineapple, chopped
    • 2 cups diced mango
    • 1 red grapefruit, cut into segments then chopped
    • 2 valencia oranges, cut into segments then chopped
    • Flesh of one fresh coconut
    • 1 cup fresh coconut water
    • Seeds from one pomegranate

    Mix all together and allow to marinate overnight. Serve with yogurt and granola.

    Roasted tomato sauce

    Fresh tomatoes are one of summer’s best gifts. I just want to bottle it up and save it for January to remember warmth will eventually return! Now’s a great time to stock up at the Farmer’s Market.

    Both boys have started asking for cooking lessons and before Alec left, we were focused on some of the basics that everyone should master. Obviously pasta is one of them!

    It sounds easy enough, but there are a few techniques and tools that make for great pasta:

    A spider for scooping pasta out of well-salted water. I prefer sea salt, and you should actually taste your water (before boiling 😉) to make sure it tastes like seawater. It takes more salt than you might think, but it results in more flavorful pasta. Remove pasta 2 minutes before “done” and finish cooking in the sauce that you’ve already started heating in a separate pan. This technique works even with store bought sauce.

    This is the second tool you’ll need, a grabber to stir the pasta. Add 1 cup of the pasta water to finish the cooking and bind the sauce to the noodles. You can add as you go, more or less water until the texture is right. This works well with any non-cream based sauce.

    This is the finished roasted tomato sauce, which is a beautiful color depending on the mix of tomatoes you use. There’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of noodles with homemade sauce!

    Roasted tomato sauce (vegan)

      4 lbs fresh tomatoes, quartered
      6 cloves garlic
      6 tbsp olive oil
      Salt and pepper

    Toss cut tomatoes and garlic cloves in olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Roast at 200 degrees for 6 hours. Purée in food processor or using hand blender.

    4 bean salad (vegan)

    It seems about right that I am making one of our favorite summer salads in September. I am not quite sure where it went! But both boys are back to school, with Alec at college for almost a month now and Avery having started his senior year of high school this past week. One more year until empty nest!! 😆

    His last first day pic.

    We are getting back into the groove of quick weeknight meals between hockey and other school activities. My weekends are spent preparing things ahead so anyone can grab and eat whenever.

    Honestly this 4 bean salad fits that criteria which is why it’s a church picnic staple in Minnesota. You can throw in any beans you have on hand–I happened to use kidney and great northern. Most of the time it’s all canned beans too.

    But this week at the Farmer’s Market the yellow wax beans and green beans were just fantastic! That’s actually what inspired me to make this salad, along with grabbing about 5 pounds of tomatoes to turn into roasted tomato pasta sauce. (I wish I would have snapped a pic of the golden raspberries I bought too–but they were eaten within hours along with a pint of red ones. Still Avery’s favorite!)

    Also on tap this week is beef stew for Matt’s birthday with mashed potatoes and an apple tart….chili and coconut tomato soup and a cauliflower curry….maybe fall isn’t so bad. But I still hate winter. One more.

    4 bean salad (vegan)

      1 cup each yellow wax beans and green beans, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
      1/4 small red onion, diced
      1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
      1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
      1/2c vegetable oil
      1/4c red wine vinegar
      2 tsp agave
      1/4c chopped fresh herbs–parsley and oregano
      2 stalks celery, diced

    Steam green and yellow beans until tender about 5 minutes. Cool quickly in ice water.

    Drain and rinse canned beans. Combine all beans together.

    Soak red onion for about 10 minutes in cool water (takes away some of the bite). Dice.

    Dice celery.

    Mix the oil and vinegar and add herbs, salt and pepper and agave (sugar is fine if that’s what you’ve got).

    Combine all ingredients together and let sit for an hour to marinate.

    Bee’s knees cocktail (vegan)

    My favorite job ever was working in Marketing & PR at the Minnesota State Fair during the summers after my sophomore and junior years in college.

    I got a lot of exposure to humanity and answered lots of unusual questions. My favorite being: “Is it the real Barney or just some guy in a purple dinosaur suit?” Yes, and yes.

    One of the PR issues that I had to address was protestors who were opposed to the beekeeping demonstrations showcased daily. Now, mind you, this was 1994. The challenges of hive collapse and the extinction of many native bees was not as well known as it is today.

    The protesters stated that the beekeeping and harvesting of honey was the “enslavement” of the bees. I didn’t quite get it at the time.

    Fast forward to now and our vegan diet, which does not include honey. Bees and insects represent the health of world in many ways.

    So this modified version of a Bee’s Knees cocktail is made with agave instead of honey. I steeped the agave with lavender from the garden, which is healthier too since it has a lower glycemic index. It makes for a perfect end of day pre-dinner cocktail at the lake.

    I am going to admit, however, that I have not fully honored the respect of bee byproducts in my life. I have fallen in love with an artistic technique called encaustic acrylic painting.

    I finally bought 2 pieces from a local artist–Jodi Reeb–who specializes in this technique using beeswax heated to 200 degrees mixed with acrylic paint. I simply love it! Layers upon layers so the colors merge and meld. The finished piece has a glean to it and an uneven surface. The landscapes make me feel very content (despite not being vegan). It’s ok to make some exceptions right?

    Bee’s knees cocktail (vegan)

    • 1/2c agave, steeped with 3-4 lavender sprigs for at least a day
    • 1/2 lemon, juiced
    • Vodka

    Steep the agave with lavender for several days on the counter. Shake 3 shots (about 6 tablespoons) with half of the lemon (about 2 tablespoons) and 1/4 cup of the agave in a martini shaker filled with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass, garnish with lemon slice and lavender flower.

    **Recipe makes 2. Decide if you want to share 😉

    Banh mi (vegan)

    This is the vegan’s version of a barbecue sandwich. Layers upon layers of flavor and absolutely impossible to eat without making a mess. But you won’t care cuz it’s just that good.

    I tried a different technique with the tofu–slicing into 1/2 inch, marinating and then baking it. It got a little texture on the outside but still plenty moist. It has the appearance of something other than tofu, which may be important to some folks.

    I also used a readymade cabbage slaw for the pickled vegetables. That’s speeds things up too. I had black currant vinegar on hand which blended the tart/sweet punch perfectly!

    You can pretty much accessorize with any crunchy vegetables you have though. I had radishes, daikon radish sprouts and a jalapeño. I thought about slicing a cucumber too but it was already too fat to fold 😉

    Fresh herbs–mint and cilantro–and a Sriracha mayo finish it up. Round 2 was open-face sandwich style.

    Creating this feels like creating art: between the colors and flavors it turns out differently each time, but always delicious! Easily my favorite sandwich and WAY better than barbecue.

    Banh mi (vegan)

    • Baguette
    • 1 block extra firm tofu, sliced into 1/2″
    • 2 tbsp tamari
    • 1 tbsp sesame oil
      2 tbsp Sriracha, divided
      Juice of 1/2 lime
      1/2 cup vegan mayo
      1 cup coleslaw blend
      1/2 cup vinegar–apple cider or another fruit based cider works well
      2 tbsp sugar
      Sliced radishes
      Sliced jalapeño
      Sprouts or lettuce
      Cucumbers
      Mint and cilantro leaves

    Drain and slice tofu. Mix tamari, sesame oil and 1 tbsp Sriracha. Coat tofu and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

    Microwave vinegar about 1 minute until just warm enough to dissolve sugar. Cool, then add coleslaw and allow to soften for about 30 minutes.

    Bake tofu on tinfoil at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. An ambitious person would flip it halfway through.

    Mix mayo with remaining Sriracha and lime juice. Adjust heat to your preferences.

    Slice cucumbers, radishes and jalapeño. Prep mint and cilantro leaves.

    Assemble sandwich by putting mayo, herbs, vegetables and tofu on one side, slaw on the other.

    Roasted Shishito peppers (vegan)

    We first had these little gems–Shishito peppers–in Phoenix. Wow. Who knew I could eat an entire bowl of peppers!

    That answers your first question: No, they’re not spicy. Well they say 1 in 10 is actually spicy and that’s consistent with my experience too. But not jalapeño spicy even. Just enough to keep eating for the random wildcard surprise.

    They’re super easy to prepare and make a great app or side to anything from southwest cuisine to burgers. The long stems are ideal for snack ready eating–many places serve them with dips, but honestly I find that unnecessary.

    The skins are very thin so it’s not even like a red pepper, you barely notice it, which is also a win for a roasted/blackened technique so you don’t end up with that giant mess of exterior to cleanup.

    They can be difficult to find so if you run across them as I recently did in the coop or your farmer’s market, by all means buy them!!!

    Roasted Shishito peppers (vegan)

    • Shishito peppers (8 oz is a good amount)
    • Olive oil
    • Juice of a lime
    • Salt

    Toss in olive oil, cook on a vegetable grate on the grill over medium heat, about 5 minutes until slightly blackened. Remove from heat. Squeeze lime juice over and sprinkle generously in salt.

    Banana bread dump cake (vegan)—a non recipe

    There’s an entire category of desserts that are particularly popular in Minnesota during “cabin season”–our brief 3 months of summer when pretty much the entire Twin Cities metro area heads north to a lake for the weekend: dump desserts.

    These are the kind of thing you put together with whatever random cans of fruit (or perhaps some sour rhubarb bought on the side of the road) you have in the cupboard plus lots of sugar and white flour. Served with ice cream or “Cool Whip” of course. There’s no measuring involved, which certainly evolved because whoever started this tradition probably was sauced by the end of a long day on the boat (for my European readers, that means “tipsy”).

    I have decided that this type of baking is right up my alley. I sincerely struggle with the whole measuring thing, particularly if there’s extra care required like sifting flour. Seriously? That’s not happening.

    Unfortunately this definitely creates inconsistent results, and I can’t even blame it on it being a vegan recipe. This lazy attitude about measuring has been with me long before the dietary switch.

    My last banana bread was a total disaster. I didn’t read closely enough to notice the step of grinding the oats. It was a bit like glue. Green glue, as it had zucchini in it. Poor Avery desperately tried to pick through for the chocolate chunks. Alas, the compost got most of it. Not even butter helped.

    Today I had 3 bananas to use up, so here we go again. I found a good vegan recipe, but there’s a catch: it’s in metrics. I know many of my devoted followers easily make the conversion from my usual U.S. customary measures to metric units and that a simple Google search brings up conversions. But that’s too much work: why not just guess? (No I am not sauced, it’s only Monday).

    So that’s what I did and here’s the non recipe, which I think should become the universal standard since everyone understands the units.

    BTW, no one is more surprised than me when something comes out of the oven looking like this! Luck is on my side tonight!

    Banana bread dump cake

    • 3 overripe bananas, mashed.
    • Vegetable oil, coconut milk yogurt, coconut milk to equal just a bit more than 1c total (325mL)
    • ~2x as much dry to wet (flour). I lost track and just kept adding until it wasn’t soupy anymore.
    • A scoop of brown sugar
    • A scoop of cane sugar, plus the little bit that’s left in the bottom of the package, putting that back would be annoying.
    • The sugars are equal to half of the flour. Next time I will add more. Hopefully I remember to buy more since I just used it up.
    • A capful of vanilla
    • A pinch of salt, not the regular salt but the fancy coarse flake salt because I forgot to buy regular kosher salt this week.
    • A sprinkle of baking powder and baking soda
    • What’s left of that dark chocolate bar you’ve secretly been eating, chopped

    Mix all the wet ingredients together and then add the dry, finishing with the chocolate. Coat loaf pan with cooking spray (seriously people don’t skip this step). Bake at 325 Fahrenheit for 55 minutes.

    Good luck with that. Sometimes it’ll work. Sometimes not. When it does, everyone–especially teenage boys just home from hockey–will be very very happy. Dump cakes help keep expectations low…which makes it occasionally easier to exceed them.

    Bunny battle royale & 2 vegan summer salads

    While traveling this week, the bunnies got into my garden. They ate the zinnias out of the front pots, two new arbor vines and–most annoyingly–my herbs. They destroyed the cilantro, did quite a number on the dill and parsley.

    People: This is war.

    My mom graciously enclosed what’s left and let’s hope they bounce back. Avery has been assigned to “shoot” hockey pucks. Not my fault if bunnies are in the way.

    Read below for the draft post I had started while on the road. The irony!

    ………

    Which herb is my favorite? Tough choice. Why limit life to just one?

    I am thrilled with my expanded herb garden, which is going gang busters with all of the rain we’ve had–except the basil, which is craving for the sun and heat.

    Fresh tarragon, dill and mint are growing well right now and I am sprucing everything up with a few herbs. I vary those 3 on my avocado toasts for breakfast. I have an avocado toast “problem”/addiction. I love it! I substitute tomatoes for the salmon now, but that recipe remains the best base.

    A long-standing favorite summer salad is chicken tarragon with grapes. So when I came across this vegan version on the Charming Chickpea, I couldn’t resist. Super easy and super awesome! I added tarragon, red grapes and red onions and threw it in a wrap.

    We also tried a new recipe from Bon Appetite: Asian melon salad. Super bright with mixing textures of the soft honeydew and crisp cucumber. The ginger dressing with the serrano is fantastic. We skipped the avocado (not ripe yet plus I use it in my toast) and peanuts (oops forgot those at the store!) but made up for it with plenty of fresh mint! It’s a weed. And I am thankful because that means I can’t kill it.

    Unless the bunnies figure it out, I should be good.