The Five Stages of Holiday Traffic Grief: Driving on the Mass Pike

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Whewwwwwwwwwwwwww! We all survived Round 1 of the holidays. I had a pretty interesting one, my sister and brother in law became very ill Monday evening, and so Tuesday I “whipped” down to CT to help them out with my 8-month old nephew (as you will soon see, I am using the term “whipped” loosely). Unfortunately for me, just about everyone else in New England had the same idea (we were due for a Nor’easter with lots of snow and ice on Wednesday) and a usually ~2.5 hour trip took 5 hours and 52 minutes. Yep, I was basically sitting in the Marshmallow Mobile on the Mass Pike in standstill traffic. For several hours. Barely inching forward. During those six hours, I had plenty of time to go through the five stages of holiday traffic grief.

Stage One: Denial and Isolation.

When my car first coasted up the line of stopped cars I thought, “Well there must be an accident somewhere. This should ease up soon.” I tapped my fingers on my steering wheel to the throwback station 96.9 and mentally relived the amazing hip-hop songs of my formative years. I looked at the clock. Six minutes had passed by and no movement. “Ah, maybe the police are blocking off a lane and we can’t move.” I looked at the Waze app. It was red (indicating heavy traffic) until I-84. I was barely outside of Boston. “That can’t be right…” I thought. Nope, nope – it was. I was just hiding from the facts, a reaction that carried me through the first wave of my painful drive in gridlock.

Stage Two: Anger.

I could NOT be stuck in this traffic when my sister and bro-in-law needed me! NO way, no how. I was not ready for this. The Masshole driving behavior we all know and love here in the Boston area began to make an appearance. Waze re-routed me off of the Mass Pike. I shifted over to the far right lane, and was stuck behind Mr. Cool wearing a suit in front of me. He was twiddling around on his phone, not paying attention and leaving huge gaps in between his very expensive car and the car in front of him. This allowed just about everyone to shift into the far right lane and move forward, while we sat unmoving behind them. “Really, dude?” I said aloud, to no one. I honked my horn once. No response. Still twiddling. “Helllllooooooooooo!!!” I shouted, still to no one. I looked left, and I looked right. There was no escape. Except there was the hard shoulder…I could see the exit. I threw caution to the wind and swerved around him, I honked (to ensure he would look up) and gave him the thumbs down sign as I passed by him. “DUDE, PAY ATTENTION!!” I yelled, gesturing wildly from behind my closed window (dude, it was cold out) and made several illegal maneuvers to get the hell outta there.

Stage Three: Bargaining.

As I swerved off the exit to the “short-cut” I was going to take, I mentally kicked myself. If only I had left sooner! I should have just LEFT early, as soon as I found out what rough shape they were in. I totally would have avoided this nightmare. There are grocery stores in CT, I didn’t NEED to stop and get ginger ale and broth on my way home, I could have waited. I should have just left without packing anything, my sister has clothes I can wear. If only, if only, if only…

Stage Four: Depression.

As I passed through the toll booth at the end of the exit. I stopped short. What?? What are all these cars doing here?? Do they all have the Waze app too? Maybe there is just some back-up getting onto the short-cut highway. After not moving and waiting through several rounds of lights, I finally turned onto the short-cut route and was immediately stopped behind another car. Gridlock traffic extended as far as the eye could see. Nooooooooooooooo, seriously?! This can’t be happening! It’s going to take forever!! I was already about three hours in at this point and still had 100 miles to go. A deep, dark, misty gloom hung over my head for the entire (first) hour I inched along the short-cut route.

Stage Five: Acceptance.

After a while, I realized that I could do absolutely nothing about this traffic and I just needed to buck up and get over it. I was still crawling along the short-cut route, and winding under the Mass Pike several times (which was still gridlock as well). I pulled off the road and stopped at Wendy’s to stretch my legs. Sigh. I just need to deal. Deep breaths (in, out, in, out). There is no turning back now. Only moving forward.

I finally made it, at around 8 pm. Once I saw my sister’s face, I knew that the nightmarish traffic was worth it – to put it mildly, she was not looking good. Sometimes, especially during the holidays, you just have to suck it up and do the not-so-fun, but extremely important thing – be there for those you love. We all got through it, and now it will be a funny story to look back on for years to come (uh, we are not at the point where it is funny yet, but relaying this to my mom over the phone during Stage 5 made her laugh pretty hard, so I thought I would share with all of you). Life is not always easy, pretty and tied up with a bow. Sometimes it blows big time, and there is gridlock traffic, and food poisoning, and road rage, and lots of swearing at inanimate objects in your car, but we get through it, we stick together and we help each other out through the bad parts. Then we can really enjoy the good ones when they come along. πŸ˜€

Happy Holidays folks!! It’s the first of December already, can you believe it?!

xo,

L

The Star of Vegan Thanksgiving: Mushroom Gravy

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This mushroom gravy has been my saving grace at the last 17 Thanksgivings since I have become a vegetarian. It makes life so much better at holidays when everyone else’s plate is overflowing with options, and the lone vegetarian outlier is not just relegated to mashed potatoes and some puny veggie side dishes. Oh no sir, that is not how we do Thanksgiving over here. Nope. Not a chance. Thanksgiving is for vegetarians (and vegans! and gluten-free! folks), too. We are usually a pretty thankful bunch (and generally speaking, bring the fun to the party), and we enjoy participating in these holidays. This gravy was originally adapted from a Vegetarian Times recipe from a very, very long time ago and tweaked over the years by myself, my mom and my sister into the recipe you find here. Needless to say, it is freaking amazing, and has the ability to save even the most pathetic attempt at vegetarian stuffing that your aunt made you (so you can still eat it with a smile).

Mushroom Gravy

Ingredients

  • 1 onion (or 1-2 leeks), chopped
  • 2 – 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2-16oz packages of sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • 2-32oz containers of mushroom broth (or veggie broth)
  • Fresh rosemary, thyme and sage, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup – 1 cup of dry red wine
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp olive oil (or your fave cooking oil)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cornstarch for thickening

Directions

Step One: Heat oil in the bottom of a medium to large sauce pan. Add the onion and the garlic and saute for a few minutes. Once the onion has softened (about 7 minutes), slowly add the broth to the saucepan and bring it to a boil. I added one and a half containers (~6 cups). You can add as much or as little as you’d like, depending on how many people you are feeding.

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Β Step Two: Once the broth is boiling, add the fresh herbs, mushrooms and wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

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Step Three: Turn the heat to low and allow the mushroom mixture to simmer for 2 hours, covered. Remember that wine? I’d pour yourself a glass while you wait. You should still have at least 3/4 of a bottle left. πŸ˜‰
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Cheers, love! πŸ˜‰

Β Step Four: Thicken the gravy. (If you’d like, you can strain all of the herbs and mushrooms out of the gravy and serve them as a side dish at your meal. I stopped doing this several years ago because a) ain’t nobody got time for that; and b) the mushrooms in there are SO good! I prefer to just leave them be. If you don’t roll like that, then strain them out before you thicken the gravy). First, bring the gravy back up to a rolling boil. Then, pour a little corn starch into a small bowl (start with 1/4 cup of corn starch) slowly add water and whisk until it forms a paste. While whisking the boiling gravy, slowly pour the starch mixture and incorporate into the gravy (if you add it too fast, it will form lumps). Continue whisking and adding the corn starch mixture until you’ve thickened the gravy as much as you like. This part is completely up to you and your taste.

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Um, so this gravy is literally the best. If you don’t thicken it, you could seriously serve it as a soup it’s that good (just use an immersion blender to blend into a smooth texture, or just leave it be – it’s really THAT good). You can serve it with your Tofurkey, veggie stuffing, mashed potatoes – I legit drown my entire plate in this gravy on Thanksgiving. So. Friggin. Good.

The best part? You can make this up to a week ahead of time and simply reheat and serve on Thanksgiving/Chrismukkah/the day of your Holiday Party. Oh yes. It’s that simple.

Happy Thanksgiving/Black Friday Everyone! I hope you all had fabulous Thanksgiving celebrations with the ones you love ❀ I certainly did!!

Warm wishes,

L

What do I feed all of these people?!? Answer: Egg Muffins.

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Leek, Mushroom and Sage Egg Muffins

Holiday problem #27682: You have all of your family staying with you, and you don’t know what to make for breakfast for Thanksgiving day (/Christmas/Hanukkah/Fill in the Blank). Basically every surface of your kitchen is covered in various stages of food prep, every burner is in use, and the oven is cranking away cooking your Tofurkey (/bird if you’re not a veg like me!). Answer: Egg Muffins! If you are vegan, then your answer is Pumpkin Protein Power Muffins, which I posted about previously. If so – see the recipe here.

These little babies are nutritious, easy, make-ahead and “choose your own adventure” with fillings, so you can make whatever your family would like. I made leek, mushroom and sage but you can use: onion, pepper and veggie sausage; tomato, basil and mozzarella; broccoli and cheddar; breakfast burrito style (black beans, salsa and avocado) – just to name a few, the list goes on and on. You can basically put anything you have in the fridge in there (random veggies, leftover stuff – it’s a good fridge clean out meal). Without further ado…

Leek, Mushroom and Sage Egg Muffins

Ingredients:

  • A dozen eggs
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 1 cup of chopped mushrooms
  • A few fresh sage leaves (or a couple shakes of dried sage), finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Step One: Chop your veggie and combine them in a medium bowl. Toss together until well mixed.
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Chop the veggies into small bite-sized pieces and toss well to mix.

Step Two: Transfer the mixture to silicone muffin liners (or VERY well greased muffin tins, or you’ll never get them out). Fill each muffin liner about 1/2 full of the veggie mixture.
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The best thing that you can buy yourself is silicone muffin liners. These things are THE BEST. I got mine on Amazon for (24 of them) $11!

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FIll the cups about halfway with the veggie mixture.

Step Three: Crack your eggs into a large bowl and whisk until well beaten. Add sage, salt and pepper to taste.

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Step Four: Fill your muffin liners up, just below the brim – they should be almost full.
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Pour the egg mixture to just below the top of the muffin liner.

Step Five: Bake the muffins at 375Β°F for 30 minutes, or until the cups are risen, puffy and golden brown. Unless you really don’t like your relatives, make sure the eggs are cooked through (I inserted a toothpick in the center and it came out clean).
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While your egg muffins are baking away, now you have a whole half an hour to do something else to prepare for your relatives. You might even be able to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea in that amount of time. Score! πŸ˜›

Step Six: Remove from the oven and carefully tip the silicone muffin liner out onto a cooling rack.

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Step Seven: Eat immediately, or allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container in the fridge. Enjoy!
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If you don’t remove your egg muffins from the muffin liners right away, the bottoms may get deflated and squished like above. Ooops! They still tasted great though!

I hope that this helps you guys out. These little guys are tasty and easy to eat on the go, and a great thing to make ahead of time, either for relatives coming, or even during the week if you want to mix up your usual breakfast. Yum. Tasty, and nutritious.

Now it’s time to go start preparing for Thanksgiving….<<deep breathing>>

Happy Crazy Prep Day! I hope you guys stay calm and relaxed as you get ready for your holiday. And if you’re in New England, be careful in the Nor’easter! πŸ˜€

With warmth,

L xoxo

Roasted Butternut Squash, Cranberry and Power Greens Quinoa Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

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Roasted Butternut Squash, Cranberry & Power Greens Quinoa Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Whew! That’s a mouthful right there.

If you ever peruse my Instagram photos, you would know that I got a pretty legit haul from the farm stand last week: local butternut squash and Cape Cod cranberries included. This weekend, I wanted to throw together a “one pot” meal that I could eat for lunches during this short week instead of my usual salad. I combined a few of my favorite things: roasted butternut squash and red onion, fresh cranberries, power greens (baby spinach, baby kale and swiss chard) and a really vibrant dressing to pull it all together with fresh orange juice and zest. The orange vinaigrette dressing in and of itself is really delicious, and it elevates the dish past a thrown together (fridge clean out-esque) veggie salad with quinoa. To add some crunch and extra protein, I added hemp seeds and chopped pecans. I bet almonds or hazelnuts would also be amazing here, as well. If you’re looking for an addition to your Thanksgiving meal, this would be a pretty solid contender. It’s delicious, packed with flavor, eye appeal (lots of colorful veggies!) and with just enough of a twist to keep it interesting, but still accessible enough to please a wide variety of palates. You’ve got a serious crowd pleaser right here. And furthermore, it’s loaded with antioxidants and vitamins (so you can feed the ones you love the things that will make their bodies happy).

Roasted Butternut Squash, Cranberry and Power Greens Quinoa Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

Salad:

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups of fresh cranberries
  • 5 oz container of power greens (baby spinach, baby kale and swiss chard)
  • 1 cup of quinoa
  • 1/4 cup hemp seeds
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Dressing:

  • 1 large navel orange
  • zest of 1/2 the orange
  • 2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Step One: Roast the squash. Place the butternut squash and chopped onion into a shallow baking dish (large enough so the squash cubes are in one layer), toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400Β°F for 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Stir at least once halfway through.
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The roasted squash should be tender enough to stick a fork in one of the pieces but not mushy.

Step Two: Meanwhile, prepare the quinoa. Boil 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Once the water is boiling, add the quinoa, cover and turn the pot down to low. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes, then add the cranberries to the saucepan, stirring to incorporate. Cover the pot and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Once the quinoa is cooked, remove from the heat, keeping it covered.
Step Three: Make the dressing. Combine the orange zest, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, honey, garlic, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl (or in the blender). Whisk (or blend) until smooth. While whisking, add the olive oil slowly to create an emulsion. Transfer to a container for storage.
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Use a hand grater to zest half of the orange. You can zest the whole thing and place the other half of the orange zest into a plastic baggie and stick it in the to use at a later time for other recipes.

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I had white wine vinegar and used that, but (regular) balsamic vinegar would be great here too. I always have jars of chopped and minced garlic on hand in my fridge, so I just added 1 tsp of chopped garlic (the equivalent of one minced clove of garlic).

Step Four: Roughly chop the power greens and place into a large bowl. Add the warm quinoa mixture on top of the greens and toss together to allow the greens to wilt. Once the squash is done roasting, add the squash and onion to the salad and toss to mix. Add the hemp seeds and pecans, and dress the salad to taste with the orange vinaigrette dressing. I used about half of the dressing, and stored the other half in the refrigerator for use on other green salads.
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It’s important to keep the quinoa covered and warm so that it wilts the greens in the salad.

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Here is what mine looked like after all the ingredients were added. πŸ™‚ YUM!

Step Five: Enjoy!! πŸ˜€ Serve topped with extra chopped pecans and/or hemp seeds, or over a bed of greens, if desired.
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I served my salad over a bed of greens and topped with extra pecans. Delicious!

The blend of sweet, savory and tart proves to be a winning combination in this salad. The sweetness of the butternut squash is offset by the tart cranberries and the zesty orange dressing. The greens add a nice balance to the flavors, and the nuts/hemp seeds provide a great crunch to the texture of the salad. Overall, it is an amazing one pot meal that your family (and you!) will love. I am pretty stoked to have this for lunch today, not gonna lie. πŸ™‚ Soooo many delicious and nutritious things packed into this one dish – it’s a win all around.

Hope all of you are having a calm, stress-free day today as we near Thanksgiving.

With Warmth,

L

PS: Go Bills! We won! I Billeve!! Perfect gift for my dad’s birthday, thank you Bills! ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀

Raw Vegan/Paleo/Gluten-Free/F-in Awesome Pumpkin Pie

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Raw Vegan/Paleo/Gluten-Free/F-in Awesome Pumpkin Pie πŸ˜€

You do not have to bake this pie. I repeat, you do not have to bake this pie. This is not a test. It’s prime time folks, the countdown to Thanksgiving is closing to Go Time, and it’s all happening. While you’re getting ready to have family/friends over, lacing up your sneakers for your Turkey Trot, or looking at a staggering To Do food-prep list, I am here bearing gifts. An unbelievably easy, NO BAKE!, raw vegan, paleo, gluten-free pumpkin pie (that’s full of fiber, and lower in cholesterol and sodium, even if not significantly less in calories, ~300 calories per slice/the amount of calories you’ll burn off during your 5K Turkey Trot). It’s an across the board people pleaser AND super easy to make (pretty much the best thing you can ask for during the holidays). It has a little something for everybody: there are no excuses to NOT eat this pie (egg, dairy and wheat-free). And best of all – it’s DELICIOUS (/f***ing awesome, but we all know Mom doesn’t like those curses)!

The only caveat is that you need a food processor (or something intense enough to chop up whole nuts) and a blender. Other than that, it’s easy as pie, really. πŸ˜‰ (Yup I just did that).

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Here’s what you need: Raisins, a banana, almond milk, 2 cans of pumpkin, raw almonds, pitted dates, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, chopped pecans, shredded coconut and coconut oil.

I made this pie while still wearing PJs at 1 pm yesterday afternoon, and was blasting old school Hip Hop jams loud enough to be heard over the food processor (and dancing up a storm – there’s video evidence on Snapchat). Cooking should be fun, especially around the holidays when life gets a little crazy and stressful. So, the only thing I ask is that you do what you can to have fun while you’re whipping this sucker up. If you make it with a smile, it tastes better. I swear. πŸ˜€

Raw Vegan/Paleo/Gluten Free/F-in Awesome Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients:

Crust:

  • 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw pecans (/hazelnuts…my pecans were already open from the pumpkin muffins so I just used those)
  • 3/4 cup dates (about 18 medium), pitted
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup raw, unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • A sprinkle of sea salt, if desired

Filling:

  • 2 cans (16 oz) pureed pumpkin (or 4 cups of cooked sugar pumpkin)
  • 10 dates, pitted
  • 1 medium banana
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • A small handful (~1/4 cup) raw, unsweetened, shredded coconut, for topping

Directions:

Step One: Prepare the Crust. In a food processor, add all of the crust ingredients and blend until crumbly (~1 minute of mix time). While mixing, break it down and dance your socks off.
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All the crust ingredients before blending.

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After blending – try not to eat all of the crust. You could form the mixture into balls and eat them plain, because it is so delicious! You want a little bit of uniform texture remaining but no large chunks.

Step Two: Pour the “dough” into a 9″ pie pan, and form it into a crust by pressing it down with your fingers. Don’t forget the sides! When you’re done, place into the fridge while you make the filling.
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Make sure you hand-form your crust all the way up the sides of your 9″ pie pan.

Step Three: Prepare the filling. In a blender, add all of your filling ingredients (minus the coconut topping). Give it a good stir to incorporate the spices throughout prior to blending. Blend until smooth (~a few mins). Dancing while blending is encouraged.
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Before blending, give all your ingredients a quick stir to incorporate the spices. It helps decrease overall blending time. πŸ™‚

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After the filling has been blasted in the blender, it should have a velvety-smooth texture, but not be soupy. If you find it a little too soupy, add half of a banana to firm it up.

Step Four: Transfer the filling into the crust. Scoop all of the filling out of the blender into the crust and smooth out so it fill the pan from edge to edge. Sprinkle the coconut on top, and place into the fridge to chill for a few hours.
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Go ahead a take a lick. The filling is soooo good! YUM! I wanted to save some for overnight oats topping but alas, I licked that whole blender clean.

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Hopefully you all have better pastry chef skills than I do, and smooth it out with a little more finesse (I think I was more concerned with my kitchen dance party at that point). However you do it, it’s still going to be DAMN delicious!

Step Five: Enjoy!! πŸ˜€ (I mean, it’s pretty freakin’ amazing, so it’s impossible not to). πŸ˜‰
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I put Saran wrap on mine and placed it into the fridge. If this pie is traveling with you, you may need to “re-smooth” the top when you get there so it doesn’t look too busted, because the Saran wrap will probably stick to the top, so wrap it as tight as possible to prevent that from happening.

Um, this pie is so legit. You guys are going to LOVE IT! I am a big fan of pumpkin pie, and this one tastes even better than a traditional pumpkin pie. There are no words to describe just how amazing that crust is, so you’re going to have to try it out and experience it firsthand. YUM. I brought this pie into work today to get feedback from my non-vegan, non-paleo, non-gluten free co-workers as a dry-run before I whip this guy up again for Thanksgiving. So, check back here later today for their reactions. I’m pretty stoked, since they all think I’m a little out there with my veg/super healthy/run obsessed lifestyle, so I CANNOT wait to see their faces when they try it and realize just how amazing it is – <<insert cackle here>>. Is it lunch time yet??

I hope that you guys have an AMAZING Monday today, and try to find your little space of zen in the craziness of Thanksgiving week. I went to yoga last night so I am feeling the power today – ba-BAM! I am ready, and I will send all of you my overflowing positive vibes today.

Love, warmth & stellar vibes,

L ❀ xo

PS: Happy Birthday Dad!! You’re the best, I love you!! ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀