Monday, January 23, 2012

Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes are definitely one of my favorites. I made a small bunch of them for my brother's birthday this past weekend. Everyone loved them. This is the standard recipe, my to-go for vegan red velvet cupcakes, from one of my favorite vegan duo Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Romero. Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World is a must have book in your vegan cookbook collection! I will not be posting the recipe on my blog, you just have to spend few dollars ($10 on amazon) and get this amazing book. It's worth every penny! I'm drooling right now just thinking about the Coconut Lime Cupcakes from page 107... YUM!

I frosted my Red Velvet Cupcakes with thin layer of Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting, also from the book, and rolled in the thick coconut shavings... decadent desert for any birthday celebration, shower, wedding, any occasion, you name it, and than make it! And for those who question vegan desserts - this cupcake is light, delicate and not super sweet. A lot better than butter loaded red velvet cupcakes I have tried from cupcakes vans or several cupcake bakeries in Chicago. PS. I am picky about my cupcakes... and after making several recipes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World - I have to say - make it yourself. Can't get it any better than that!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Road Trip Recap - Day 4 - GSM - Clingmans Dome

From Newfound Gap overlook, short 7 mile drive up lead us to the highest peak of the Smoky Mountains, and the third highest summit east of Mississippi River - the Clingmans Dome - 6,643 feet above the sea level. Half mile hiking trail from the parking lot concludes with a spiral ramp to the observation tower, a panoramic vista of 360 degrees and sight distances ranging to 100 miles on a clear day.

This was the last stop of our day. Mission: the sunset. Clingmans Dome is one of the most popular destinations in the Smokies for amazing sunset shots. So being there I couldn't pass this chance. We got to the parking lot around 5:30 pm, and I think the sunset was at 6:30 pm. So I had about an hour to find a spot, to set up my gear. It was a nice, sunny day, but once we got to the top, temperature must have dropped good 20 degrees, and it was pretty windy. Since this was our first time on the Clingmans Dome, we didn't know what to expect. The views from the parking lot were amazing, but that wasn't it. There was a trail leading to the spiral ramp, and the observation deck with unbelievable panoramic views in every direction.

We made it to the observation tower, and I quickly decided that I want to go back to the parking level for my sunset shot. This place was super windy, and already crowded with tripods. Did I mention how popular this place was for sunset photography?

So, we literally run down to the parking lot level to make it before sun started setting. Walking down the half a mile trail was a lot easier than going up, and I had few moments to snap few photos along the trail. Another surprise was waiting for me, once we hit the parking lot area, and I saw the longest line of tripods along the sidewalk. There must have been at least 80 photographers there, all waiting for this greatest 15 minutes of the day.

                    [I do like shooting into the sun, love the sun beams, and the lens flare]

Of course it was a clear sky! Where are the clouds when you need them? I mean, like one or two of those really long, stretched out clouds would make it all better, but of course - the one day I am on the top of the world, and in a desperate need of a cloud, there aren't any. It was so cold and windy, I found a tiny gap between the two photographers, set up my tripod and begin to wait, like the rest of the people out there.

                    [The layered look of the Smoky Mountains sunset, from Clingmans Dome]

                              [The sky after the sunset, different color temperature]

                          [Panoramic view]

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Road Trip Recap - Day 4 - GSM - Newfound Gap Rd

Finally we arrived to our main destination - Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Even though Gatlinburg, TN is a huge tourist destination, I still wanted to stay there, I wanted to be right in the foothills of the Smokies. So I booked at the Riverfront Terrace Resort . It is located in the heart of the city, walking distance to everything! The hotel itself was little old, but the price made it very affordable. So why not... We pretty much only slept and showered in our room. Every single day of the trip was spent outside, in the mountains...

[Another beautiful, crisp fall morning. Southern view from our balcony]

                             [Western view, Space Needle and and city below]

It was dark when we arrived to the hotel, so the morning was a nice surprise when I opened the curtains and saw amazing mountain views from our balcony. Our 6th floor room was a score!

That morning we grabbed Subway sandwiches to go, and drove to the Smoky's! It was a beautiful, sunny autumn morning as we followed many other visitors down the Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) - 32 miles drive, from Gatlinburg TN to Cherokee NC.

                                                   [At the park entrance]

The drive across the mountains is the park's most traveled road and it's popularity is justified. Views are memorable as you follow the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River up from the 1,462-foot elevation at Sugarlands to 5,046 feet above see level at Newfound Gap, then descent 3,000 feet to Oconaluftee, 16 miles away. It's an easy ascent, although the road requires two tunnels and unusual 360-degree loop over itself to make the climb.

           [Map of Great Smoky Mountains, Newfound Gap Road in blue, crossing through the Smokys]

Newfound Gap Road, unlike many other roads in the park is delineated by mile posts. They are placed one each mile starting at the park boundary in Gatlinburg, TN and ending at the boundary with Cherokee NC. You can park the car and get out to check out the scenes, take photos and enjoy the beauty of the park. There are many, many overlooks as you follow the Newfound Gap Road, so it takes a while to move from point A to point B. In some areas you have to drive really slowly, due to steep curves, and sometimes heavy tourist traffic. Fall is probably the busiest time in the Smoky Mountains. If you are planning on making a trip to GSM, I WOULD recommend visiting during the fall months. It's truly amazing!

     [Mile Post - 4 - Campbell Overlook, view of the Mt. Le Conte, the third highest peak of GSM]

        [Chimney Tops, more about that on day 5 recap - mile post: 8.6 - hiking trial to the tops]

                              [One of the tunnels, photo taken from the car]

                                        [Morton Overlook, mile post: 14.0]

                                     [Another view from Morton Overlook]

On mile post 14.7 we finally approached Newfound Gap, which lies on the state line of Tennessee and North Carolina, and has a huge parking lot. Here you can look down the Oconaluftee Valley where the road continues on, stand on the Rockefeller Memorial where President Roosevelt stood in 1940 to dedicate this park, walk a few steps on the Appalachian Trail, look at flowers, study the exhibits or get water and take a bathroom break. The Appalachian Trail runs for more than 2,100 miles between Springer Mountain, GA and Mount Katahdin, ME, and 72 of those miles go along the spine of the Smokys.

                                [Newfound Gap, mile post 14.7]

                               [Newfound Gap, looking south]

             [Looking at sun through a leaf that was almost see through... cool]


We followed the Newfound Gap Road until about 20 mile post. After that we turned around and decided to catch the sunset at one of the most popular spots - Clingmans Dome. Read about in the next Road Trip post. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Green Detox Smoothie

It's time to get rid off those nasty toxins from my body. Especially now, after the holidays, I feel like I've gained tons of weight and all the alcohol consumption makes me tired and lazy. I'm not some kind of a crazy diet person. No way. I like to eat good food, and have a cocktail or two every once in a while, and sometimes it feels good to do something good for my body, like have a day of mostly raw vegetables and drink few detoxifying smoothies. And maybe even some yoga... we'll see about that... :)

Here is the recipe for the Green Detox I created this morning. There is no strict proportions and you can change or substitute ingredients as much as you want.

Green Detox Smoothie 

  • about 1 cup of frozen mango chunks (instead of ice, also adds natural sweetener to the smoothie)
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple (unpeeled, cut into chunks, has a lot of vitamins, and fiber)
  • 1 cup of raw kale (packed cup, great detox vegetable)
  • 1/2 cup raw broccoli florets (also a detox vegetable)
  • lemon or lime juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 1-2 dates or prunes (detox fruit, natural sweetener)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of soy milk (for protein)
  • 1/2 cup apple juice 
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews (optional - if adding - soak for at least 20 min)
  • 2 scoops of Green Defense powder * (Jarrow Formula supplement) 

Put all ingredients to the blender and blend away! Makes about 2 servings.

* Green Defense Powder description from Amazon. com:

"Scientific studies confirm that phytonutrients such as chlorophyll; polyphenols; carotenoids and other antioxidants help support body's antioxidation defense.* Green Defense is rich in phytonutrients that help support the body's self-defense mechanisms; detoxify and nourish the body; and assist in the achievement of total well being.* Green Defense provides an array of nature's best ingredients: Antioxidants; including resveratrol along with other polyphenols from green tea; grape seed and citrus. Metabolin probiotic metabolites (a rich source of organic acids; polysaccharides and natural bacteriocins) to help balance the intestinal microflora and promote detoxification.* Peptidoglycans (from cell walls of friendly bacteria; Propionibacterium shermani ssp.) to support immune function.* Fibers from apple; rice bran and FOS (FructoOligoSaccharides) to promote the growth of good bacteria and enhance detoxification.* No refined sugars or artificial flavors. Keep out of the reach of children. ORAC Value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) > 2100/Serving"
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