Monday, November 28, 2016

Vegan Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup

This soup and sandwich recipe is a delicious classic and very easy to make.  And who doesn't like an ooey-gooey, crispy vegan grilled cheese sandwich?  😃

This recipe makes two servings with some leftovers.
  • 10 Roma Tomatoes
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 tsp. Basil
  • 1 tsp. Thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. Brown Sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. Cinnamon Powder
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. Hot Pepper flakes

  • 1 loaf  loaf of Vegan French Bread;  sliced 
  • Vegan butter (I like Earth Balance);  at room temperature, so that it's soft
  • Daiya Mozarella Style Shreds
  • a sprinkle of Nutritional Yeast Flakes for each sandwich
  • more Salt to season

    1. Start by turning on the oven to 400° F.  Wash and clean the tomatoes, cut them in half and them place these halves onto a baking sheet.  Brush each tomato half with a little bit of cooking oil.  Bake them in the oven until they are soft, have wrinkled skin and you see slight charring around the edges.  This should take no longer then 20 minutes.
    2. At this point, remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool down before pureeing them until smooth using a blender or emersion blender.
    3. In a medium sized pot, add the blended tomatoes, the water, basil, thyme, brown sugar, cinnamon and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.  Finally, add the salt, ground pepper and hot pepper flakes.
    4. To make the grilled cheese sandwich, heat a medium size skillet to medium to medium high heat.  Butter two slices of bread per person on one side.
    5. Place one slice of bread butter side down into the pan and place the vegan cheese shreds on top.  Season the cheese with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast and a pinch of salt.  Now, add the second slice of bread on top with the buttered side facing up and cover the pan with a lid.  Keep an eye on the sandwich and flip it when the underside is a toasty golden brown.  Cover the pan again and wait for the second side to brown.  During this process, make sure to adjust the heat so that the bread does not burn before the cheese is melted.
    6. When all sandwiches are prepped, cut them in half, ladle the soup into bowls and serve them together. 

    Monday, October 31, 2016

    Vegan Pumpkin Pie Butter

    I'm not one of those people that love to eat everything with pumpkin once fall comes around, but I still like a little bit of pumpkin spice here and there and I love slathering this aromatic sweet spread on warm homemade bread.  The recipe is of course vegan and can be made in 5 minutes or less.  The whipped pumpkin pie butter goes perfectly with bread, bagels, English muffins, waffles and pancakes and anything else bready you usually like to butter up.  Adding a little bit of butter makes most things just a little bit better, but at this time of year it does not hurt to whip and sweeten things up with a little cinnamon, pumpkin, maple syrup, nutmeg and vanilla.  

    This quick vegan recipe makes a large batch, perfect for a holiday party of family holiday celebration.  You will not need any fancy kitchen equipment, a simple food processor will do the trick.

    •  2 sticks of Vegan butter;  at room temperature so that it's soft
    • 1/2 cup canned Pumpkin Puree
    • 1/4 cup Maple Syrup
    • 2 tsp. ground Cinnamon
    • 1/4 tsp. ground Nutmeg
    • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
    • a pinch of Salt

    1. The simplest method to whip up this butter is to add all the ingrediens at once into a food processor and run it until everything is evenly combined and smooth.  Just be sure that the butter is nice and soft before you start mixting this batch.
    2. Before tranfering it for the food processor to a servng bowl or airtight container I recommend tasting the butter mixture.  This is the point where you can still adjust the seasoning to your taste by adding a little bit more cinnamon, an extra pinch of salt or more maple syrup.
    3.  The butter is now ready to use or you can store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

    Monday, September 26, 2016

    Cream of Mushroom Soup

    Today's recipe is a rich mushroom soup that's perfect for wet fall evenings.  When we made this soup last the rain came down in sheets and the air was biting cold because it was actually snowing on the high mountains outside our window.  I'm still in shock that we got eleven inches of fresh snow in September - yikes!  I shudder to think what kind of winter we will get this year.  Luckily soup always tastes best when the weather is quite nasty... and I love soup.   

    This soup is perfect for foul weather days or for a Sunday supper.  It also pairs nicely with a crust of warm bread.

    This recipe makes two servings with some leftovers.

    •  5 Tbsp. Vegan butter 
    • 1/4 cup Celery;  finely minced
    • 3 Tbsp. Flour
    • 6 cups of warm Water
    • 10 sprigs of Parsley;  leave 5 whole and mince the rest
    • 1 Bay Leaf
    • 1/4 tsp fresh Thyme;  removed from the stem
    • 1 pound fresh Mushrooms;  stems removed and slice the caps
    • 2 Tbsp. Mushroom Seasoning
    • 1 cup unsweetened Coconut Milk (I recommend making your own)
    • 1 tbsp. Lemon juice;  freshly pressed
    • 1/2 tsp. Salt
    • fresh ground Pepper;  to taste

    1. Wash and clean the produce and cut them as described above to prepare your mise en place before you start cooking.  This seems annoying when you are quite hungry, but it will make for a much nicer cooking experience.  With all the ingredients gathered and prepped you will not dig frantically in the fridge or cupboard for ingredients or rush to mince the celery before the butter starts burning.
    2. In a large soup pot, heat 3 tablespoons of butter on medium heat.  Once the pan and the butter is hot, add the celery, reduce the heat and slowly cook for 10 minutes until the pieces are tender but not browned.  To make a roux, add 3 tablespoons of flour into the the pot and constantly stir with a wooden spoon for about three minutes until it forms a thick paste.  Be sure that this paste does not start turning a brownish color.  This can happen when the pan is too hot. 
    3. Next, take the pot off the burner and add the warm water gradually into the pot.  All the while, using the spoon to thoroughly blend the water with the flour mixture.  When all the water is added, return the pot to the burner and add the mushroom stems, 5 whole sprigs of parsley, thyme and the bay leaf into the pot, cover it and let the liquid simmer for 30 minutes.  After that, strain the pieces out of the broth and return the soup and the bay leaf to the pan.  Use a blender to puree the mushroom stems and the herbs and then add them back into the soup.
    4. At medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and when the butter starts foaming, toss in the mushrooms, half a teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.  After turning the mushrooms once, cover the pan with a lid and cook the mushrooms at reduced heat for 5 minutes.
    5. Once the mushrooms are done, add them and their cooking juices into the soup base and let the mixture simmer for another 10 minutes. 
    6. Gradually mix into the soup 1 cup of coconut milk and 2 tablespoons of mushroom seasoning.  The soup should now have a creamy and slightly thick consistency.  At this point, turn the heat off and adjust the seasoning with some more salt and lemon juice.  This final seasoning will depend on your personal preference.  
    7. To serve the soup, ladle a portion into a soup cup and decorate it with some fresh parsley.  If you make this dish for one or two people there will be a few leftover portions in the pot.  I love this about this recipe because the mushroom flavour of this soup deepens with time so that it will be even better a few hours after making it.  So, if you have the patience to wait then it might be a good idea to prepare the soup a ahead of time.  And for the hungry cook, please know that it is delicious to eat right away as well.

    HUNGRY FOR MORE VEGAN SOUP?  Here are my other recipes: Watermelon GazpachoGrilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup, Creamy Asparagus SoupMiso SoupSummer Vegetable Chili and Roasted Pepper Soup.

    Sunday, September 4, 2016

    Fall 2016 Wardrobe - One Year of Capsule Dressing

    Recently, I decided to personalize the schedule of my capsule seasons ever so slightly.  I shifted the start of each seasonal capsule one month earlier then the typical capsule schedule.

    My new schedules will run as follows:
    Fall - September, October, November
    Winter - December, January, February
    Spring - March, April, May
    Summer - June, July, August

    I'm making this change because the new time frame throughout the year will work better for me as it reflects the feeling of the season more truly.  Below is a close up of some key pieces from this capsule.

    I have been continuously dressing with Project 333 for one year now and I love it.

    I already discovered that there are a lot of merits to doing a minimalist wardrobe challenge that I can benefit from and I'm sure I will grow into this lifestyle more and I will continue to learn from doing the challenge.

    The phrase, “You have a closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear.” certainly is no longer true.  I no longer feel like I have nothing to wear.  There is always something that I could put on.  There is something that I feel conformable wearing.  And these same pieces will also make me look presentable. 

    But there is more to it and I will try to sum up how else I benefitted from capsule dressing this past year.

    5 Merits of Project 333:

    1) Eliminates negativity and self-criticism.
    Creating your very first capsule wardrobe might take some time and even planning subsequent might be tricky, but overall having a capsule wardrobe help with time management and stress.  At least this is what it did for me.  The reason why I'm saying this is because the planning process of getting dressed will take place 4 times a year and not 365 days in a year.  While it might take a whole afternoon to plan a capsule along with planning the outfits you can wear in the season, this time will eliminate the daily struggles over dress options.  Eliminating this "struggle" will also eliminate the chance for negative inner monologue over clothes and body image.  So in a way the curated selection of clothes can boost ones confidence.

    2) Capsule dressing opens possibilities.
    Having a capsule truly does open possibilities because the above mentioned aspects are eliminated.  In addition, since getting dressed was no longer a lengthy process, it also left me with some extra time to focus on different matters.  With the extra minutes in the morning I was able to develop and maintain a simple morning routine: making coffee, 5 minutes in the bathroom to get ready, getting dressed and finally sitting down at at table for 30 minutes, sipping a glass of water and quietly doing whatever I feel like (watching the sunrise, making a to do list, reading or journaling).  This half hour of quite piece has made such a difference on my overall emotional well being.  Regular quiet mornings taught me to be calm, observe my thoughts without reacting or stressing.  This new habit has been the biggest gift I have giving myself this year and made the start of each day much more enjoyable.

    3) Keeping a small capsule helps develop and define personal style.  
    This much smaller selection of clothing allowed me to be more creativity with my style.  Piecing together an outfit from the capsule of all favourite pieces no longer takes forever.  I can just grab things, throw them on an go and combine things I did not wear together before.  And because my closet is nice and neat, I'm able to select an outfit that I might not have chosen if the closet was crammed with clothes and clutter.  Overall, I have become much faster, braver and confident in my style choices.

    4) Fewer belongings means that the closet is tidy as well.
    I much prefer the aesthetics and the feel of tidy spaces and having a capsule automatically transforms the look of the closet.  It no longer looks stuffed or like an explosion went off.  And when you can see exactly what you have it is certainly easier to keep the closet tidy and it is also easier to take better care of your belongings.  This is probably true because there are just much fewer items to take care of.  Less chores, who doesn't like this?

    5) The reasons to continue dressing minimal become clear.
    Hint, if you're like me then you know that capsule dressing is not so much about clothes or stuff, but about mental and emotional health, environmentalism, minimizing compulsory consumer behavior and examining what ownership means.  When doing a minimalist fashion challenge, removing stuff is not just about stuff, but about the benefits one can experience while or after decluttering.  And while I thought about my fashion choices, I also started to consider other questions.  
    What does it mean to me to make something mine?  
    What are the things I would like to hold on to and why?  
    How can I live my life more intentionally and make thoughtful choices each day?  
    Do I know what's important to me?  
    Doing a minimal fashion challenge like Project 333 has stuff as the focus in the beginning, but at some point it will be clear that it's just about stuff.

    What are your thoughts? 

    But now, let's have a look at the things in my closet this season.  The capsule is entirely made up from clothes I already owned with the exception of a new skirt and a new black belt.  (As usual, I will mark all new items with a * in the list below.)

    Here is my selection for Fall 2016:

    1 - flowy green camisole
    2 - white camisole
    3 - embellished blue/white striped t-shirt
    4 - white/blue striped t-shirt
    5 - grey short sleeve lace shirt

    6 - black turtleneck sweater
    7 - white long sleeve button down
    8 - olive green v-neck sweater
    9 - cream knit sweater
    10 - navy blue cardigan
    11 - navy blue sweater
    12 - navy blue/white striped knit sweater
    13 - dark blue and white patterned cardigan sweater

    DRESSES (3)
    14 - blue patterned wrap dress
    15 - red, white and blue striped dress
    16 - dark denim dress

    17 - jean jacket
    18 - black peacoat

    BOTTOMS (5)
    19 - light blue jeans
    20 - black slacks
    21 - navy blue / navy blue with white polka-dots reversible midi skirt*

    SHOES (4)
    22- black chunky heel boots
    23 - black chunky heel sandal
    24 - black hiking sandals
    25 - white tennis shoes

    26 - grey camera/work bag
    27 - black crossbody bag
    28 - black adjustable belt*
    29 - sunglasses
    30 - black beanie
    31 - everyday jewelry: wedding ring/band, watch, pandora bracelet and 1 pair of stud earrings
    32 - long statement necklace
    33 - ???

    I’d love to hear about your capsule if you care to share.  For more information on the concept of capsule dressing, I recommend visiting Courtney Carver's website (linked here). 

    Happy Labor Day!
       ♡ Nina

    Sunday, July 31, 2016

    In-Depth Travel Packing List

    Oh the excitement of travel is about to start!!!  But before my husband and I bid adieu to the US for the next coming weeks I would like to share what I’m packing for three weeks of traveling through Germany.  I wanted to travel carry-on only in order to allow mobility and avoid the possibility of lost luggage.  As everything fits into a child size rolling backpack one might call this a minimalist travel capsule.

    But to be honest, the packing list does not look as minimal on paper when I consider and list every single item and bobbie pin.  This is how I account for the things I'm packing and they are the true contents of my travel wardrobe.  So, my travel capsule looks like a hot mess because it does not just list x amount of clothes and the rest are unmentioned extras.  
    (↑ This picture shows an early packing list draft and my travel outfit:  striped t-shirt, navy blue maxi skirt, chambray button down, heeled sandals and also leggings, cozy socks and a beanie for dealing with a blasting air conditioning during the flight.)

    Here are my tips for packing a carry-on backpack:

    STEP 1: Write a Packing List
    This is a similar process to designing a capsule wardrobe, just a much smaller one.  A few days before the trip, get comfortable at a desk and write down every single item you plan to pack, including ALL clothing, electronics, personal items and toiletries.

    STEP 2: Take Inventory
    Next, gather the items from the packing list and lay them out on the floor in stacks.  At a later time you can always add further items to your piles and packing list and remove items that don’t make the cut.  At this point, I recommend stepping away from the task and coming back to it the next day.  Now that some time has passed it's a good idea to review the selected pieces and to see what makes sense to bring, which colors go together better than others and if there are any extra pieces that can stay home.

    Now shoes, bags and accessories can be very bulky and there might not be enough room for them in the backpack.  Narrowing them to some practical and interchangeable pieces is essential when packing a small bag.  Not only should shoes and accessories match and compliment clothing, but they should also be practical.  What is practical to you depends on your lifestyle and what's important to you.  Now, I could probably pack like my husband and bring just one pair of orthopedics hiking sandals; however, I might not always feel comfortable with just the clunky sandals.  I know I need closed toe shoes to stay warn and dry since I'm often cold and the temperature in Germany will be between 50-75 degrees fahrenheit with a guaranteed chance of rain (probably every day).  In addition to the issue with the rain, I would also like to have the option to pack away the casual clothing and dress up.  For this I would like to have a pair of heels.

    Dressing up might not be that important to others.  My husband does not think much about clothes and though I asked him to bring some dress clothes, he will most likely wear them with the hiking sandals.  However the importance of dressing up is something I realized on our recent trip to Zion National Park.  For this camping and hiking trip I packed a light backpack with only the bare minimum to hike and sleep.  After a long day of fun, I noticed that some women went into the campground communal showers in their sweaty and dusty hiking gear only to emerge showered and beautifully dressed for an evening out.  At the time I wished I had a lightweight dress to clean up a bit.  Surely this would not have overstuffed my bag.  So, for this three week trip to Germany I planned some dressier options for evenings out, dinner and family gatherings.  I added a pair of black heeled sandals, one dress, one maxi skirt and a long necklace.  With these additions I will have the option to change out of my comfy travel clothes and dress up a bit. 

    STEP 3: Coordinating Outfits
    For coordinating clothes I recommend laying out outfits as well as trying on each bottom with each top to eliminate the last few pieces that are not multipurpose, versatile or essential.  For me, this step eliminated a cozy cardigan in favor for a chambray button down that added the same laying warmth.  The more tailored looking chambray simply went with every outfit and the cardigan didn't.

    STEP 4: Packing Tips
    Once all the selections have been made, it is time to pack the backpack.  Instead of using a packing cube, I used a small drawstring bag to store all my rolled-up clothes.  This worked very well because the cloth bag fit into the bottom half of my backpack.  I was happy to have a lot of room on the top for things to store loosely so I can grab it out of my bag when traveling: a quart size back with toiletries, an asthma inhaler, a microfiber travel towel that can double as an airplane blanket, a travel scrabble game, snacks, a fleece jacket, cozy socks and a beanie.
    In addition to the backpack I will carry a crossbody bag for my laptop, camera and our travel documents.  It is important to me that both bags are not overstuffed so that I feel comfortable accessing the contents of the bags while we are on the go.  

    This is the list of items I selected for my three week traveling capsule:

    1 - white tank top
    2 - flowy green camisole
    3 - blue/white striped t-shirt
    4 - green/teal patterned sleeveless blouse
    5 - long sleeve white button down
    6 - chambray button down shirt
    7 - white camisole (1), black camisole (1)
    8 - black swimsuit
    9 - black bikini and swim bottoms
    10 - white/navy striped long sleeve shirt (for sleeping)
    11 - blue patterned wrap dress
    12 - navy blue maxi skirt
    13 - black athletic leggings
    14 - dark blue jeans
    15 - white pants
    16 - navy blue sweater
    17 - grey fleece pullover
    18 - black beanie
    19 - underwear (8) & bras (3)
    20 - socks (2) & cozy socks (2)
    21 - white tennis shoes
    22 - black hiking sandals
    23 - black chunky heel sandals

    24 - backpack
    25 - camera bag
    26 - water bottle
    27 - spork
    28 - sunglasses / case / wipe
    29 - jewelry:  wedding ring and band, watch, pandora bracelet, necklace (2), earnings (3) 
    30 - black belt 
    31 - wallet:  id, credit card, cash
    32 - passport and travel documents / itinerary
    33 - cloth handkerchief
    34 - travel pillow
    35 - snacks:  chewing gum, Australian licorices and granola bars (2)

    36 - camera / charger / SD cards (2)
    37 - laptop / charger
    38 - headphones / headphone splitter
    39 - travel adapter
    40 - external hard drive / cable

    41 - toothbrush / toothpaste / floss picks (6)
    42 - deodorant 
    43 - perfume
    44 - face wash
    45 - face lotion
    46 - beauty balm with SPF 50
    47 - makeup brushes (2)
    48 - single eyeshadow in bronze
    49 - small eyeshadow/eyebrow compact
    50 - mascara
    51 - lipstick
    52 - razor
    53 - hair comb
    54 - black hair ties (4) / tiny back hair ties (4) / brown hair clip (1) / bobbie pins (4)
    54 - vitamins:  digestive enzymes and b12
    55 - small spray bottle of windex
    56 - asthma medications:  steam inhaler, albuterol and emergency tablets

    This is everything I will be taking for three weeks of traveling.  As a first time backpacker, my packing choices have been based on research, recommendations and personal preference.  I thought it would be fun and interesting to compare what I think I will need on my trip versus what I will actually need once I'm traveling.  We'll see how it will go...

    Auf Wiedersehen and until then enjoy a lovely summer! 
       ♡ Nina