Friday, December 30, 2011

Walnut-Coconut Banana Bread

I’ve converted this recipe from a regular non-vegan baking book. The bread turned out pretty well at the first try. Usually there are few things that need adjusting when converting recipes to vegan, but this time everything worked out great and we had this wonderful bread to accompany Saturday afternoon tea.

I had few browning bananas laying in my fruit basket and I was slightly tired of looking at them. I thought of just throwing them out, but then on the other hand I am trying to be better about wasting food, so I decided to go through some of my baking books and find a recipe that would incorporate ripe bananas. Browsing thought Dorie Greenspan’s Baking book, I found what I was looking for, and with a little tweaking I had a brand new vegan recipe for coconut banana bread.

My kitchen was filled with delightful banana-coconut aromas while baking. The bread has a dense consistency, sweetened coconut and chopped walnuts add desired  texture. It’s really, really good.

Walnut-Coconut Banana Bread
[Inspired by Dorie Greenspan's Banana Bread] 

  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1/3 cup spelt flour (substitute for whole wheat or AP flour if don't have it)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil (or canola oil, or vegan butter)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 6 TBS regular sugar
  • 2 egg-replacer "eggs"
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla
  • 1 tsp spiced rum (optional)
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk (full fat coconut milk)
  • 1/2 cup sweetened coconut 
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans) 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, grease 9 x 5 loaf pan and set it aside. Mix flours, baking soda, salt and nutmeg in a bowl, to incorporate ingredients. Make the egg-replacer "eggs" in a small bowl, and set aside. 
In another bowl mash the bananas, add the sugars, melted coconut oil, vanilla, rum, coconut milk. Mix well. Add the egg-replacer mix and coconut flakes and walnuts. Gently incorporate all the ingredients into the batter. Pour into the loaf pan. Bake for 45 min at 350, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and let it bake for another 15 minutes. This is a dense bread so make sure to check it with a toothpick if done. Cool for about 30 minutes. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tofu Scramble

After trying different recipes of tofu scramble, I finally come out with one that totally satisfies me. It took me about 10 months of being vegan to accomplish it. I tried many different things, from different recipes, to different seasonings, and different techniques and finally somewhere between vegan quiche and old, plain scramble got this "eggy", fluffy and delicious tofu dish. I love making it for dinner and than having leftovers for few days. It keeps well in the refrigerator. The secret to the fluffiness is a mixture of light, organic miso paste and lemon juice. It makes it unbelievably moist, but at the same time not watery at all.

Tofu Scramble 

  • 1  8oz. package of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1-2 bell peppers, red and orange, chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrots, cut into matchsticks or grated
  • 1 TBS olive oil, to saute veggies
  • 1 14oz. package of extra firm or firm organic tofu, drained well and crumbled
  • 2 tsp organic miso paste, I use low sodium
  • 2 TBS freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • pinch of Hawaiian black lava salt (optional)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional - adds cheesy flavor)
  • 1/4 cup of bread crumbs
  • 1/2 bag of fresh, washed spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup of chopped green onions for garnish

Saute first five (5) ingredients on the skillet until mushrooms and carrots are cooked, add crumbled tofu, and stir well to incorporate tofu into the mixture. Let it simmer on low heat until tofu gets hot. In a bowl mix miso paste and lemon juice, if too thick add more lemon juice or few teaspoons of filtered water. Pour the mixture over the tofu and veggies and mix well to coat it. Add all the seasoning, and breadcrumbs. Mix well. Taste it after seasoning to make sure that it doesn't need more, tofu tends to need more salt, also it depends on the type of your miso - if you have a regular miso, not the low sodium one, you might not need as much salt. Mix in the fresh spinach and garnish with chopped green onions (optional). Serve with toast and guacamole slices or in a wrap.

Turmeric is pretty crucial in this recipe, as it makes the tofu yellow, so it actually look like eggs. I have made it before without turmeric and it was still pretty tasty, but it looked little weird, because tofu was just white. Nothing wrong with it, but it just look better yellow. Black lava salt supposedly adds "egginess" to the scramble. Not sure if I really noticed it as much, I have made it without black lava salt before. From all the different variation of tofu scramble this one is by far the one I like the most. I think it's the moisture of miso-lemon that makes it for me.

PS. The picture is not very flattering, but that's what you get, when you're starving and all you want to do is eat your dinner, not photograph it! :)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Road Trip Recap - Day 3 - Chimney Rock State Park

So it was between staying in Asheville, NC, or some kind of mountain adventure. We decided on a mountains! Of course! Don’t get me wrong Asheville is beautiful, but we were looking for more like a outdoorsy/nature stuff to do. The final decision was to take a short drive to Chimney Rock State Park, NC. 

                                         [Chimney Rock from the parking lot]

Just 25 miles southeast of Asheville, NC, the park is nestled in Hickory Nut Gorge. Chimney Rock is 535 million year old monolith, considered one of the most iconic sites in North Carolina, with stunning 75 mile panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure.

                          [Lake Laure and great panorama of the mountains]

We drove up all the way to the end parking lot, and decided to hike the rock. There is an elevator that can take you up 315 feet to the Chimney, but we felt adventurous and wanted to take the gazillion of stairs to the top. Also – the elevator was undergoing improvements and was out of order… so we really didn’t have much choice.
First stop was the Chimney, 2,280 feet monolith rock with breathtaking views. 

                         [Lone pine tree on the top of the Chimney Rock Overlook]

After spending some time on the Chimney we decided to go all the way to the top – to the Exclamation Point. On the way there we checked out the Devils Head – seriously – like a head of the devil curved in rocks. Pretty cool! 

                             [And that's me - Tim took that picture :) ]

After hiking another 200 feet, we reached elevation of 2,480 feet and found ourselves on the top of the world! The Exclamation Point uncovered outstanding panoramas and really strong, cold wind! We found a quiet spot in the wooded area and snack on some trail mix while enjoying the scenery. 

                     [Map of the aerial view of the Chimney Rock and surroundings]

 Once we got down to the parking lot, we ate a quick lunch and decided to head over to the highest waterfall east of Mississippi River  – Hickory Nut Falls.  The trail was pretty easy, only ¾ of a mile long one way, and very beautiful. We walked through the forest, surrounded by a variety of trees, like oak, hickory, maple, beech, poplar and many others. The grand finale was actually little disappointing. Since it was in a fall, the waterfall was pretty dried out. There was just a little tiny stream of water, like someone stood on top with a hose… anyways… I’m pretty sure that waterfall is amazing in the spring and early summer, when it rains a lot more. The trail was very beautiful and peaceful, so it was still worth a walk. 

                                        [Hickory Nut Falls, with almost no water]

We ended out day with about a 100 mile drive to Gatlinburg, TN, where our Great Smoky Mountains adventure began. The drive was pretty long, since it’s gotten dark fast, and those mountain roads curve and twist a lot. We finally were able to unpack our stuff, since we stayed there for 4 nights, after a quick dinner we hit the pillows to rest so we could get up early in the morning and hit the Newfound Gap Road and Clingmans Dome.

Happy Holidays!

It's Christmas time again... It took me a whole Sunday before Christmas to wrap up all the presents. The whole table was covered with towers of pretty wrapped boxes. Color coordinated paper, yards of ribbons and colorful bows, it all looked so wonderful, I couldn't help but snap a few shots of the presents.

I used the Photmatix Pro to layer the different exposures of this photo and played with different adjustments to get this stunning image of my Christmas. Hope everyone is having a great Holiday Season! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Road Trip Recap - Day 2 - Blue Ridge Parkway

Day 1 was just a 12 hour drive from Chicago to Johnson City, TN. We stopped a lot, on all the rest stops, so I could get a map of the state we were driving through. With today’s technology the actual paper maps are kind of forgotten, but it happened that we were in the no reception/no satellite signal area and that’s when the paper map comes handy. 

                [Blue Ridge Parkway, between mile post 300 and 300, by Linn Cove Viaduct]

Day 2 of our road trip. Where do I begin? Ok, let’s start from the beginning, we left the hotel, it was a chilly, crisp October morning. Made a stop at what looked like an abandoned gas station to fill up the tank again. I walked around the gas station searching for anything interesting to photograph. And there it was – few months old kitten came out of nowhere. It was scared of me, and kept running away from the camera. I got few shots of him, and it was time to get in the car and head to our destinations. We drove down US XXX through curvy one line roads, between the colorful hills covered with red, yellow and brown trees. After about 2 hours  we got to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) in North Carolina.
                       [Blue Ridge Parkway, Price Lake, between mile post 295 and 298]

The plan for the day was to visit the Price Lake and the famous Grandfather Mountain (GM). As we drove north on BRP, the line to get into the Grandfather Mountain Park was huge. Traffic was stopped about 2 miles from the park entrance. So we decided to pass it now, and go to the Price Lake first. Grandfather will be on the way back. I figured, I will have a better light on the top of the mountain in the afternoon, anyways. As we started to drive higher and higher we all noticed that the trees no longer have leaves on them. The lady at the Linville Falls Visitor Center told us that at this elevation we already missed the color change. It was pretty disappointing, but what can you do? I expected to catch some great photos of the Linn Cove Viaduct and the Price Lake. I have seen amazing images from this time of year online, and I was hoping to be able to get fall colors, also. Oh, well! It didn’t quite work out, but who cares, we’re on vacation, driving down Blue Ridge with amazing mountain panoramas stretching everywhere we look.

                                      [Price Lake, from the boat rental parking]

We arrive to our destination: pretty lake surrounded by bare trees! LOL! It wasn’t that bad. I mean at first it kind of bothered me that there was no leaves, but again, what can I do. We made the best out of it anyways. We had lunch (leftover veggie sandwiches from the road trip, chips and bananas) and then rented a row boat, that fit all 4 of us and took a “cruise” on the lake. It was so beautiful, so peaceful and quiet. Relaxing. All we could hear is the water splashing against the rowing of paddles.
We found one tree with bright red leaves on the shore of the Price Lake and we took some photographs, the day was cold, but sunny and pleasant.

                                        [Grandfather Mountain - Wonders Never Cease]

Around 3 pm we left the Lake to head over to our next destination – the Grandfather Mountain. There was no line to get in to the park and we drove right up, going really slow, watching for oncoming traffic. There is an option to hike to the top of GM, but due to a lack of time we opted for driving all the way up. There are several overlooks, and 1 or 2 car picnic areas along the drive, with spectacular views of Blue Ridge Mountains.

                 [Mile High Swinging Bridge at the Grandfather Mountain, elev. 5,946 feet]

Have you heard about the Mile High Swinging Bridge? Yup, the bridge is one mile high above the sea level!!! But only about 80 feet high above the ground, but still a swinging bridge? With bunch of people on it? Thanks a lot, but I wasn’t diggin’ it! At all! The bridge connects two peaks of the mountain. And I did make it through, it was little shaky at first and I couldn’t look down, but I made it to the other side. I have to admit, since the last time I was hiking, back in Poland, some 13 years ago, I didn’t realize I had a slight fear of heights. Every day I did better, as I was getting used to being higher, so by the end of the trip I was just fine.

                 [Me sitting on the top of the Grandfather Mtn, checking out spectacular views]

Anyways, let’s go back to the Grandfather Mountain. Amazing, spectacular views in each direction! I wish we would have stayed longer to catch the sunset. Looked like the sky would have been perfect for that. Afternoon clouds started forming its shapes and the lazy sun was getting lower by the minute. It must have been the fresh mountain air, because all of the sudden we realized how hungry we were. And it’s not like there was a coffee shop on the corner to get a sandwich… rice crackers, sun chips and apples saved us, before we were able to get to our next destination and get dinner. We drove about 80 miles to Asheville, NC  where we stayed overnight at Fairfield Inn and Suites.

                                [Ania and Marcin - Granfather Mountaian]

    [Afternoon sun and Tim at the very top, one of my favorites photos from The Grandfather]
            [I believe this is the north view from the Grandfather Mountain]

           [Blue Ridge Parkway, Linn Cove Viaduct, skirts the side of the Grandfather Mountain]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cute Piggy

                                      [ source: Flickr - Whisker Snaps Photo]

Monday, December 5, 2011

Appalachian Bear Rescue

We were lucky enough to see a black bear on the side of the road, while driving to Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The bear was beautiful, had the blackest coat I've ever seen, so fluffy and shiny. You're probably wondering how does she know that the bear was fluffy, well, we did see the bear from about 10-15 feet, and believe me it looked amazing. I love bears, but after seeing one so close, in the wild, made me even more appreciative of the nature and all those great animals we share the Earth with. He was just roaming, looking for food, ravaging the leafs for some acorns. Every once on a while he picked up his head and looked up at the group of strangers (including us) quickly trying to catch a glimpse of him on camera.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get any good photos of the bear. Bummer.

2011 was a very active year for bears, as I've learn.  Even though this was the only bear we got to see in the wild, as I'm reading blogs or checking out Flickr photos of Great Smoky Mountains, I see a lot great pictures of black bears, everybody is raving about how many bears you could have seen while hiking in the Smokys this past summer/fall.

But let's get to the chase of this post. I would like to take few moments and bring up an important subject of helping the bears, especially the cubs. There are a lot of them that are being found orphaned and in the need of human help in order to survive. In 2010 optimal weather conditions for berries and nuts resulted in a lot of more bear cubs being born on the begining of this year. Bears had a lot of food, they didn't have to spend hours on searching for food, so they had more time to play ;) if you know what I mean. So then more cubbies were born. And that's all great, we do want more cubs to roam around, but we also want them to be healthy and grow up with their moms for as long as they need. This is a sad story, but a lot of little cubs becames orphaned, for a different reasons, like some illigeal hunting, car accidents, etc. Those cubs are usually so little, they haven't been with their mothers long enough to learn all the ropes of survival and a lot of times they are starving and are severely malnourished when they are found. Appalachian Bear Rescue is the organization that helps orphaned cubs bring them back to life, and eventually get them ready to the wild life they were brought up to live. This year, so far (Dec 5th, 2011) ABR have a record number of cubs that need help, 31, and as far as they know there has been more cubs spotted that might need help.

                                     [Photo from Facebook page of Appalachian Bear Rescue ]

I am looking into a different ways to help this wonderful organization. They always appreciate monetary donations. It does get expensive to care for those little ones that are sick and starving. To bring them back . You can donate the money directly to the ABR, by clicking on the ABR button on the top of the right column on my blog. Also you can purchase 2012 calendar or other items from their online store. Click here to buy the calendar, mugs, shirts, hats, and other goodies from ABR's internet store. It makes a great gift for upcoming Holidays and at the same it will help the great cause.
The pictures in this calendar are taken by one of the guys working with bear cubs, you get the real pictures of the bears that are in the rescue right now. If you check out their Facebook page, there are tons of funny photos and great stories of the cubs and bears. Some stories are sad, as we get the images of tiny bears barely hanging on to their lifes, and as they get better we are happy to see them play and socialize with others. This really is a great organization that needs my and your support.
Please Help! Thank you

From Chicago to North Carolina & Tennessee

My husband (T) and I love road trips. We try to do one or two road trips per year, it depends on the destination and time. This fall we decided to take a nice long drive from Chicago to North Carolina and Tennessee to visit southern parts of Appalachian. I spent countless hours of my time trying to plan this trip, to make sure we get to do and see the most we can in one short week, and that’s including the driving time. I’ve played with the schedule and changed it several times, every time the mail came and I got new flyers and brochures, thing would change, until one day, when I loved every single day we had planned, and nothing would make me change it. At least that’s what I thought.

                      [ Me and my husband Tim]                                                       [My sister Ania and BF Marcin]

The main purpose of this road trip, obviously – was to enjoy the nature of beautiful Appalachian and visit one of the most visited National Parks in US, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the highlight of the trip! Neither I or T have never been to Smoky’s and we both were very excited for our trip. We also invited my sister (A) and her boyfriend to tag along, you’d be amazed how much can fit into an Explorer…

Ok, now this was the plan:

Day 1 – October 22, leave Chicago and drive to Johnson City, TN, (point B on the map)about 600 miles, 11 hrs plus stops, arrive get dinner, go to sleep, just to wake up and drive some more…

Day 2 – October 23, early morning drive from Johnson City (B) to Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, visit Price Lake (C) and Grandfather Mountain (D) along the Parkway, drive to Asheville, NC (E on the map)to spend the night…

Day 3 – October 24, original plan was to check out Asheville in the am, but we opted for more mountains,  we drove to Chimney Rock (F), (south east of Asheville), spend majority of our day hiking, and then the drive to Gatlinburg, TN, (G on the map) and I tell you – those mountain roads after dark are not easy to navigate… lots of curves, ups and downs, and many animals on the roads…

Day 4 -  October 25, we’re in Gatlinburg for 4 nights, staying at River Terrace Resort, downtown Gatlinburg. It’s older resort, but it was so well priced that I couldn’t pass it. And walking distance everywhere in town. Plus free parking! If you planning on visiting Smokys – Gatlinburg is the place to stay, it’s located at the foothills of the national park, and you don’t have to waste your time on driving from somewhere else. Smoky Mountains (GSM) are so huge and so spread out, that you will be doing a lot of driving in the park.
The first day  in the Smokys – we decided to do the obvious – The Newfound Gap Road, and Clingmans Dome. I will go over more details in few next posts.

Day 5 – October 26, hike to Chimney Tops in GSM in am, and horseback ride in the park – Sugarlands Stables right by the Sugarlands Visitor Center in TN.

Day 6 – October 27, Cades Cove and Abram Falls hike

Day 7 – October 28, leave Gatlinburg L and drive to spend the afternoon in Nashville, TN (H on the map)… perfect ending to our trip! Go out and have fun before long drive home

Day 8 – October 29, drive home - from Nashville, TN to Chicago, IL – we all were sad to leave. TN is such a beautiful state… and we had a great time in Nashville, honky tonky-ing!  Eeehaa!

Our schedule was packed, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize GSM are so huge, even by doing a lot of reading and map studying, I was hoping we get to do a lot more. But all the activities took a lot of time, every night we passed out exhausted. So I know for sure – I will be back, I am already planning another GSM trip for next year. There is so much more to see.

Oh, btw – being vegan in South Carolina and Tennessee wasn’t easy… Subway and French fries was pretty much my diet… J

More details and pictures to follow…

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