Road trip time!

Last Friday, I loaded up our minivan with all the supplies my family and I would need for our ‘vacation’ to Rhode Island. (My four-year-old thinks any night away from home is a vacation.)  We were headed to our friend’s house for their annual Lambaste. The trip did not get off to a good start. I woke up that morning with a stiff neck that got worse over the course of the day. Driving for 3 plus hours didn’t sound like fun to begin with and add in the traffic getting out of New York City on a Friday evening and our trip seemed doomed.  In the first hour we drove less than 20 miles, took three wrong turns because our navigation wasn’t working, stopped to use the bathroom and my son threw up his dinner.  At that point I asked my husband if we should just go home.  He convinced me otherwise and I’m glad he did as the trip got easier once we were out of the traffic and on the ‘open road’.

Our friends hold their Lambaste annually and it is something we look forward to attending. Not entirely for the lamb, but for the amazing afternoon that surrounds the lamb.  The lamb is slowly roasted over an open fire with someone holding the responsibility of constantly turning a crank to rotate the lamb to roasted perfection.  The party has changed over the years as we have gotten older.  What used to be a bunch of twenty-somethings drinking all afternoon and eating lamb has now turned into a family affair.  There are lawn games, non-alcoholic beverages, an amazing array of pot-luck sides and even a band.  This year the lamb was perfectly roasted, tender with just a hint of garlic.  In years past there have been large quantities of lamb remaining to be turned into breakfast the next morning.  This year, there wasn’t a piece that didn’t get gobbled up.

With our bellies full of lamb, and maybe a few brownies and cookies for dessert, we packed into the minivan for our trip back to New York City.  With the excitement of the day behind us, the drive home seemed like a nice way to wind down.  Everyone in the car was asleep within the first 30 minutes (except me, the driver!).  Almost a week later, the kids are still talking about our vacation to Rhode Island and looking forward to when we’ll return. I hope you have a chance to getaway and enjoy all that fall has to offer.

Happy Friday,

Julie

A walk through the Farmers Market & beyond

Imagine yourself strolling the aisles of the Farmers Market on a brisk fall morning, maybe with a hot coffee or hot spiced cider in hand, browsing the beautiful bounty of the fall season. Although the early morning hours have yet to be kissed by Autumn’s crisp lips, cooler days are soon upon us, and with them comes an incredible array of fall produce. There is nothing I enjoy more on a fall morning than waking with the rising sun, brewing a cup of coffee, and traveling to the Union Square Farmers Market to be windswept through the smells, colors, and tastes of the fall harvest. Since I am not Winter’s biggest fan, I try to enjoy every moment of the fall season, knowing all too well how short lived it is. Even in New York City, the fall air is painted with notes of caramel, cinnamon, hazelnut, allspice, clove, nutmeg, and ginger, the quintessential fall flavors that play in such perfect harmony with one another, seeming to dance through the bustling streets. It’s pure magic. Please, if you have yet to do so, find your nearest farmers market and take yourself there on a fall morning and taste anything and everything that you can. You’ll be so happy that you did!

It’s hard for me to name a favorite fall farmers market find, but apples are near the top of my list. We are so lucky that New York state is home to some incredible apple orchards, growing a vast variety of apples, so whether you like crisp and sweet, crisp and tart, or any combination in between, you’re nearly guaranteed to find the perfect apple! I love apples for their versatility, as they can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, served cooked, raw, hot or cold, apples add a little magic to any recipe they touch. I add cubed Gala or Braeburn apples to my morning quinoa and oatmeal porridge to add a delicious sweetness and crisp texture. In combination with a touch of cinnamon, a dash of pure vanilla extract, and a generous drizzle of almond butter, this is the perfect ‘get up and get moving’ fuel! Pancakes are my breakfast of choice on Sunday mornings, accompanied by a hot cup of coffee, so you best believe that all pancakes that I consume in the fall months contain apples. Make your favorite pancake batter, I always add cornmeal to my pancake batter to add texture and create a more complex flavor, and ladle onto a hot griddle. While the pancake is cooking on the first side, I thinly slice a Honeycrisp apple, with the skin on, and right before the pancake is ready to flip, add a layer of sliced apple on top of the pancake, sprinkle with a little apple pie spice, flip, and let cook through. This pancake is magic! The apples become slightly tender and caramelized and adds so much depth to your basic pancake.  Apples are also a delicious addition to meat or poultry, add before roasting, as they caramelize in the oven and release a syrupy sweetness that compliments the savory meat so well.

One of my other treasured farmers market Autumn finds are squash and pumpkins. There are so many varieties to choose from and endless ways to cook with them. As I’ve mentioned countless times, I’m a sugar junkie, so I’m always dreaming of pastries and other sweet creations. One of my favorite things to do with a sugar pumpkin is to roast it low and slow with a sweet apple, like Gala or Honeycrisp, until it is very tender and caramelized. I then puree it, creating a pumpkin pie filling far superior to any canned version! Use this puree for pumpkin cinnamon rolls, my all time favorite fall treat, served with maple cream cheese icing — I’ll do you all a major favor and post this recipe in the coming days! This puree can really be added to anything, like oatmeal, smoothies, pancakes, so on and so forth! I also use it to create a simple pumpkin butter bursting with fall flavor. To make, simply add pumpkin puree, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice, maple syrup, and pecans to the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Enjoy on toast, spiced cornmeal waffles, or evenbetter, by the spoonful! For a savory option, I cube butternut squash, kabocha squash, or acorn squash, and roast with thyme, rosemary, olive oil, salt and pepper, and served chilled as a salad component. You could also turn roasted squash into a beautiful fall soup! Squash add a lovely buttery, nutty, and sweet note to any recipe, so it a very versatile fruit to cook with.

As the air begins to breathe a cooler breeze, I find myself craving pastries and baked goods more than usual. The bake stands at the farmers market always seem more magical, more alluring, to me during the fall months. Teeming with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and clove, the baked goods throughout the farmers market seem to scream my name. Body & Soul Bakery makes some amazing vegan pastries, ranging from muffins, to cookies, to cinnamon rolls. My favorite items being the apple spiced muffins and miniature pumpkin pies, which both pair amazingly well with a hot cup of coffee or hot cider. There are countless other bakeries offering a wide array of breads and pastries, which during the colder months, I feel are more common to crave.

To end my farmers market excursion, I’m always sure to pick up a few ingredients for a craft cocktail. There is nothing I enjoy more than a warm, warming cocktail on a cool fall or winter evening. I love mulled wine, spiked cider, and a hot toddy. If it’s hot and boozy, I certainly won’t say no. There are a few amazing craft distillers at the Union Square Farmers Market, so if you’re like me and enjoy a hot toddy, be sure to pick up a nice bottle of whiskey. If you’re more the cider or mulled wine type, pick up an assortment of apples, ranging from sweet to tart, peaches, prunes, plums, and grapes. There are countess recipes for mulled wine and spiked cider online, so do a little research before picking your poison. To make both, its really as simple as infusing either wine or apple cider with spices and fresh fruits in a saucepan over medium heat, portion the hot liquid out into glasses, and then topping off with a shot of liquor.

I love fall and all of the beautiful and delicious produce it yields. Treat yourself to a morning of culinary exploration, right as the sun rises, before the crowds arrive, with a lovely hot drink in had. I can almost assure you that you won’t be disappointed. You can thank me later.

Happy Friday!

Payton

 

How Does She do it All?

We’ve turned the calendar to September, the kids have started school(finally!) and the weather is starting to cool off a bit.  The transition from care-free summer to the structured school year has begun.  I used to think of myself as a very organized person, but those days might be far behind me.  Now that I am a mother of three, a wife and a business owner I find I need to work a little more at keeping everyone (including myself) on task and in the right place at the right time.  Here are some of my tricks to keeping up with it all and please, please, please share your tricks in the comments below.

REMINDERS:  The iPhone is a fantastic thing when it comes to needing something to remind you when you need to pay your bills and about other items on your to-do list.  I have a monthly reminder for all the bills that need to get paid and I put EVERYTHING on the calendar from dinner dates to my kid’s classes along with birthdays and anniversaries too.  It is easy to set a recurring event, so something will pop up daily, weekly, monthly or annually.

LISTS:  From grocery lists to shopping lists to to-do lists, I write everything down. Sometimes a task goes from a reminder to a list but at least I am thinking about it again and again until it gets crossed off.  This is also a trick I use to keep my kids from wanting everything at the store, if it isn’t on our shopping list then we aren’t going home with it.

TEAMWORK:  While it would be nice if I could give everyone my undivided attention it just isn’t possible. Building a team of people I trust allows me to be a part of it all.   I learned early on in my career that it is important to lead by example and I find this just as important at home (changing poopy diapers is no one’s favorite task) as it is at the shop.  I may have nominated myself as team captain but I the support I receive is amazing.

My reminder just went off to post the weekly blog post.  Maybe I am one step ahead, at least for this week!

Happy Friday,

Julie

Meal Prep for the Win!

The 2018-2019 school year is freshly underway, and although I’m not a parent, I know the chaos that a new school year brings. Growing up in rural Minnesota in a town, moreover village, with a population of 1,300 people, a lot falls on the eldest sibling  — which is me — when it comes to helping out with the younger siblings. Having two working career parents who often traveled for work didn’t help lessen the workload, either. From the age of 12 or 13, I was responsible for not only getting myself up and ready for school in the morning, but I was also responsible for getting my younger brother and sister up and ready, too. It wasn’t always easy either, as I liked to be to school by 8am so that I had time to socialize with my friends before class, but my brother and sister prefered sleep much more, so I rarely hit my 8am target. I was an alarm clock, wardrobe stylist, hair stylist, personal chef, and chaperone on the walk to school — which granted was no more than a block away from our home — so believe me when I tell you that even though I’m not a parent, I know the chaos that a fresh school year brings.

On duty before school, as well as after school, I was responsible for finding my brother and sister after school and getting them to their numerous evening programs and sport practices, usually with the addition of my younger cousins, too; only to be amplified once I got my drivers license. This may sound like a lot of work, especially for a young kid who was also juggling school work, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss those days, as I really do miss them. Although I haven’t had these responsibilities in a number of years, this new school year is hitting me harder than most, as my youngest sibling just started her senior year, and being the sappy, sentimental, and overly emotional person that I am, I can’t help but feel sad when thinking back on the younger days. But alas, change is inevitable, and the excitement and awe of witnessing my sister blossom into a beautiful young woman far outweighs the sadness brought about by change.

While on duty as an older brother made live-in nanny, I learned the invaluable lesson of being organized and overly prepared. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and being the overachiever and natural nurturer that I’ve always been, I found much joy in batch cooking and meal prep, which alleviated a lot of unnecessary stress when trying to feed my siblings before and after school, or when trying to pack them a lunch on days when they didn’t like the lunch option. If you’re struggling with a lack of time when trying to get your kids up, ready, and fed before school in the morning, meal and snack prep could really help you keep your mornings and days on track and running smoothly. Start with basics like vegetable packets — maybe carrots, celery, and blanched broccoli — and your favorite veggie dip, fresh fruit packets — including berries, melon, and grapes — and trail mix packets. If possible, please try to use reusable bags or BPA free tupperware containers. For breakfast, which was rarely eaten at home but rather while running out the door  — I would prepare large batches of baked breakfast sandwiches, which usually included eggs, cheese, and breakfast meats, sandwiched in between two english muffin halves — that is until I discovered how to create syrup infused pancake muffins — that I would wrap in parchment paper, label, then place in a sealable container and freeze. Because I’m a sugar junkie, I would also prepare large batches of pancakes, french toast, and waffles that I would freeze and then place in the toaster oven for quick reheating making for a simple yet delicious breakfast in a pinch. Having a few snack and breakfast options on hand really does make a world of difference.

My mom always kept our refrigerator and pantry stocked to the brim, so on days when my brother or sister requested a packed lunch, throwing together a simple and filling lunch was quite easy. If I were to pack them a lunch today, however, I think I would forgo the deli-meat sandwich with a side of chips and instead send them with a hummus and veggie wrap with the addition of roasted chicken and a side of fresh fruit, or something slightly more healthy and nutrient dense than a sandwich. You could also batch cook a few different types of burritos, wrap them in parchment and then again in foil, and freeze — that is if a microwave is provided at the school for reheating purposes. A simple veggie lasagna with whole wheat pasta noodles would be lovely as well, and requires very little time to prepare ahead of time and it also freezes nicely.

The favorite of my creations, hands down, had to be my homemade chocolate chip cookies. I would make triple batches of these cookies once per month — they were a favorite of everyone in my family and the most coveted snack, more like treat, to bring with you to school. The secret, which I’m sure I picked up while watching the Food Network, was a mixture of white chocolate chips, semi sweet chocolate chips, and milk chocolate chips, as well as a heaping scoop of peanut butter, and last, but most definitely not least, a packet of white chocolate pudding mix — I know, quite odd, but let me tell you, these cookies are magical! The white chocolate pudding was the star of the show, not only adding another level of chocolate flavor, but it also created the best chewy texture. I will write and share the recipe for these cookies on the Recipe Box page of our website in the coming days.

Conclusion. The school-year does not have to be chaotic, and can actually be quite fun and enjoyable if well prepared. Try planning a weekly or monthly menu with your family, and after you have a menu set, give batch cooking and meal prepping a go to give yourself more time during the week. Simple, make ahead meal and snack options will save you so much time in the long run. Cheers to reducing chaos this school year!

Happy Friday!

Payton

 

How the Locals Eat Fish

For the past few years, my family and I have rented a house at the beach. It is the perfect way to end the summer… building sandcastles and splashing in the waves and mostly just relaxing before we get into the hustle and bustle of the school year.  It is always an adventure when we arrive, checking out our new residence and of course exploring the town.  This summer we went to Shelter Island, New York.  Shelter Island is about a 2.5 hour drive from New York City, including a 5 minute ferry ride. Our first day in Shelter Island wasn’t super sunny and we didn’t have a parking permit for the beach yet, so we decided to start our day with a trip to the local supermarket or IGA as the locals call it.  We filled our cart with the necessities for the week along with a few extras. My husband was in charge of selecting something for lunch.  When we were leaving he told me he was disappointed they didn’t have a fish counter because that is what he wanted to make for lunch.  I suggested maybe there is a fish market we could go to. Sure enough Bills Fish Market and Restaurant was right next to the IGA.  We got some swordfish and tuna steaks that day and returned a few times throughout our stay to get a variety of fish.  Loving the idea of eating something local, we opted for the flounder one day. Here is the recipe I used. It was delicious.

Happy Friday,

Julie

 

Crispy Parmesan Flounder

Makes 4 Servings

Ingredients:

4 flounder fillets(about 1 ½ pounds)

4 tablespoons butter

½ cup parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon La Boite Cancale N. 11

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

-Combine parmesan cheese and La Boite Cancale N. 11 in a bowl. Set Aside.

-Over high heat, melt butter in a large sauté pan.  Season the flounder with salt and pepper (go light on the salt as the parmesan cheese will add more saltiness).  Once the butter has melted and is hot, add the flounder to the pan.  Cook on each side for about 2 minutes.

-Once the fillets have been flipped top with the parmesan cheese mixture.  Place under the preheated broiler until the cheese melts, about 4 minutes.

-Serve with fresh tomatoes and corn from the farmers market.

-Enjoy!

A Wedding Upstate

This past weekend, I assisted in catering a wedding at Gilbertsville Farmhouse in upstate New York… and let me tell you, the beauty of upstate is unparalleled this time of year. As we ascended the Catskills Mountains en route to the wedding venue, we were welcomed by a gentle summer rain, which only seemed to enhance the mystic beauty of the surrounding forestry. Wildflowers of every hue painted the surrounding landscape, bridging our seemingly magicless world with the realm of universal intelligence, a beauty far beyond human reach, intensified by a billowing fog dusted across the tree-line. The venue, a converted barn and milking parlor, was equally as beautiful, a chic upgrade from its original intention, now studded with linen drapes, chandeliers, pillar candles, lounges made from hay bales, and expansive gardens. A converted Airstream camper turned photo-booth was one of the main attractions, nestled perfectly among vintage upholstered lounge chairs surrounding a roaring open fire, adding to the ambiance of this boho-chic affair. Picturesque beauty surrounded by the most incredible natural setting made me remember how lucky we are as New Yorkers to live so close to untouched nature.

The food, although I may be biased, was equally as stunning. An array of bright, plant-based culinary creations played in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature. A low-fuss, yet high-end application was the perfect juxtaposition to the livestock barn turned wedding venue ambiance of the property. The first course, accompanied by the playful sound of a live band, was a beautiful summer salad embellished with a rainbow of edible flowers. In addition to the plated salad, servers passed hors d’oeuvres in the likes of Tomato Tartare with Sriracha Aioli, Crispy Cauliflower atop a Buckwheat Waffle with a Smoked Bourbon Maple Syrup Syringe, Artichoke Oyster with Mushroom Ceviche and Seaweed Caviar, and Tomato Gazpacho with Mini Grilled Cheese just to name a few. For the main course, guests were allowed to choose between lobster mushroom ravioli, steak spice grilled carrot, or chick’n picatta, all equally beautiful and delicious, orchestrated perfectly with seasonal vegetables. The star of the show for me, however, was the milk and cookie bar, an ode to the old milking parlor the venue used to be, where guests were greeted with with a dozen different cookie options, as well as miniature milk bottles filled with vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate almond milk, a monogrammed souvenir that the guests could bring home with them. In addition to the milk and cookie bar, there was also a miniature hand-pie bar, as well as a donut bar, playing in harmony with the rustic tones of the event. Needless to say, the food was nearly as beautiful as the surrounding nature it was enjoyed in.

I think it’s easy to forget how close we are to our next adventure, looking to other states or countries to satisfy our exploration needs, but my short four hour drive from Brooklyn to Gilbertsville, New York reminded me that we are surrounded by unscathed beauty and natural phenomena. From mountain hikes, rafting explorations, bike trails, holistic health and yoga retreats, and hilltop castles turned hotels, we are within a days trip of some spectacular adventures, some of which are housed at Gilbertsville Farmhouse. Not only is the property used as a wedding venue, it also boasts a lakeside cabin, a number of yurt inspired ‘glamping’ tents, and goat yoga, a property built for weddings, retreats and group getaways alike. It is so refreshing to get out of the city, even if just for a day to enjoy nature and the beauty that surrounds us. If needing a moment of tranquil relaxation, I would suggest a simple road trip upstate to realign and recenter. Pack a picnic, a good book, a bathing suit, and a pair of hiking shoes, and set out to explore the beauty of nature, and if you’re up for a little ‘glamping’ checkout Gilbertsville Farmhouse to see what yurt life is all about.

Happy travels!

Payton

 

Spain Two Ways

When I was a junior in college I had the incredible opportunity to spend a semester abroad studying in Madrid, Spain.  While I was there I embraced the Spanish culture from what they ate and drank to the afternoon siestas.  In college, I was  on a budget so had to pick and choose what to spend my hard earned money on. I often ate at Pans & Company which had really good bocadillos(sandwiches). And when my family came to visit I made sure we always went out for paella.  My favorite place to drink in Madrid was Patato. It had single-serving jugs of Sangria and really good French fries.

Fast forward to ten years later, when I found myself back in Spain. This time visiting the northern region, spending time in Bilbao and San Sebastian.   I was travelling with my husband, needless to say we had a bigger budget for food and drinks.  The most memorable meal while we were there was at Mugaritz. This restaurant, often found near the top of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World, exceeded my expectations.  The food was delicious and the ambiance was perfect for a very relaxed three hours meal on a Sunday afternoon.  At one point, we played a game to see who got an extra scoop of caviar on their dish.  I won, but graciously gave my husband the caviar since it isn’t my favorite anyway.  We ended our meal with multiple courses of petit-fours in their garden and went back to our hotel for a lengthy siesta after the visit was complete.

I imagine the next time I return to Spain I will probably be with my children. I am sure that trip will bring new adventures looking for food that makes everyone happy.  I know we’ll be able to find something delicious from a quick sandwich to a multi-course menu depending on how old the children are at the time!

Where do you like to eat in Spain?

Happy Friday,

Julie

All-you-can-eat… Resort Style

I am a firm believer that staying at an all-inclusive resort is one of the best ways to vacation… because everything is included. Food, drinks, hotel amenities, all included in one package price, which in return affords you the luxury of a more relaxing vacation. When I vacation, I really enjoy doing nothing but taking in the moment in a peace-induced manner. I don’t want to have an agenda, I don’t want to be on the go, I only want to allow my body the rest and rejuvenation that it deserves. So for me, all-inclusive translates to stress free and hassle free, and is the only way to go. 

This past winter, in an attempt to escape the cold New York winter and rid my body of its winter blues, I took a trip to Cabo. The resort, all-inclusive of course, was beautiful and loaded with amenities. With a dozen different restaurants and pool side bars, finding food and drinks throughout the day was quite easy… and easy always equals relaxing. The resort boasted cuisine from across the globe, so there was really something for everyone, served at all hours of the day and night, both indoors and outdoors. With no need to search for restaurants or plan meals, choosing an all-inclusive vacation really heightened my stress-free holiday. 

Outside of stress-free dining, choosing an all-inclusive package also takes the stress out of finding activities to do while on vacation… if you’re in to that sort of thing… but I however, as mentioned above, am not. Most resorts offer a plethora of activities to keep you occupied throughout the day and night. The resort that I stayed at had 10 pools, a bowing alley, two spas, a shopping center, a sports club, two night clubs, water aerobics, pool side entertainment with a fabulous entertainment staff, and nightly shows. For people like me, the resort also had beautiful beach cabanas for endless hours of lounging by the water. 

With airfare, hotel, and food all bundled together in one package, all-inclusive travel really does make for the most stress-free vacation. 

Happy travels!

Payton 

All-You-Can-Eat

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of cruising to Alaska aboard the Disney Wonder.  I had heard a lot about cruises and their all-you-can-eat buffets so I set my expectations pretty low for the food we would eat aboard the ship.  I was pleasantly surprised with the dining options and even more so with the service and hospitality extended from the servers on board.

For breakfast the main option was Cabanas(the all-you-can-eat buffet). It worked out really great for my family as we could each pick and choose what we wanted.  While I don’t like to waste food, anyone who has children knows they are often picky about what they eat and it changes from day to day. The buffet was great because we could load up a plate with Mickey Mouse Waffles, chocolate chip pancakes, donuts and even fresh fruit.  There were healthier options as well and I typically got yogurt with fruit and granola while my husband chose the made-to-order omelet.  The good news was with all of the options our crew started off the day with tanks full and ready to go.

Lunch was a little bit different as you could choose from a variety and ‘take-away’ counters or the buffet.  I believe there was a sit-down option as well but we didn’t take advantage of that.  Pete’s Boiler Bites served up the best chicken fingers and French Fries on the ship.  Pinocchio’s Pizzeria had pretty good pizza and even humored my son by making him pizza without the sauce with extra cheese on the side.  Daisy’s De-Lites had paninis, salads and lots of fresh fruit. And then there was Cabanas with the never-ending buffet of options complete with plain pasta to satisfy any child.  We typically got a variety from more than one of the options and the best part was sitting outside looking at the amazing views.  Lunch often finished with ice cream from Eye Scream Treats, a serve-yourself soft serve ice cream that was available from 10am-11pm.

Dinner was the most formal of the meals with a set reservation rotating between three restaurants.  Every night had a different theme and were all loosely Disney based.  Animators Palate had a lot of screens on the wall with Disney images to entertain you throughout the meal.  We also had breakfast with the characters here.  Tiana’s Place was very Cajun and we even celebrated Mardi Gras there one night.  Triton’s was based on The Little Mermaid and had a bit more seafood than the others. There were often ‘fancy’ options on the menu including truffles and lobster.  As I am writing this three weeks after my return, there isn’t anything that I ate that stood out as amazing or a complete disappointment.  As I mentioned the service was amazing and we had the same servers for all of our dinners on the ship.

The rumors about gaining weight on a cruise might be true.  My brother-in-law even downloaded an app that makes you look like you’ve gained a few pounds.  Perhaps it is my self-control but I walked off the ship still wearing the same pants I had on when I boarded and they felt just fine.  I found the food on the ship to be better than I expected. My only disappointment was that the lack of local options. I cannot say I really enjoyed Alaskan cuisine but I did enjoy everything else Alaska had to offer.

Happy Friday,

Julie

Homecoming

Last week I brought you on a journey to Roanoke, Virginia, where the food culture is not so vegan friendly, and this week, we’re off to Spring Grove, Minnesota, a tiny Norwegian settlement in the Southeast corner of Minnesota boasting a population of 1,200 people… a modern-day village that I am proud to call my hometown. Not unlike Virginia, most restaurants in Minnesota are meat and dairy forward, and finding delicious vegan options, especially in my hometown, is nearly impossible. For the longest time, my grandparents couldn’t grasp the concept of veganism and had no idea what I ate to survive — they have since come around, and are now trying to adopt a more vegetable forward diet. Thankfully, Spring Grove is a farming community, so fresh produce is abundant in the summertime. 

In terms of food, the thing I look forward to most when visiting home is drinking a Black Cherry soda from Spring Grove Soda Pop Company — I never drink soda, but I allow myself to have one during my trips home. The company was founded in 1895 by pharmacist G.G Ristey, who served soda from a soda jerk counter that was a staple of his pharmacy. To meet customer requests of having soda that they could bring home, Ristey and his brother-in-law purchased bottling equipment and began producing soda that was sold at local venues. The company has changed owners throughout the years, but the original recipes have gone unchanged, and the company continues to produce nine, pure cane sugar, old-fashioned sodas, to an expanding market of consumers, a network spidering far outside of Spring Grove. The soda is rich, nearly syrupy in consistency, but so delicious. For me, it’s a taste of childhood. 

Outside of soda, when home, I cook many of my own meals, in part due to the lack of vegan food, but mostly because I love to create in the kitchen. Thankfully, my mom is a heath food junkie, and frequents a food coop near her office in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a beautiful 45 minute drive through the bluffs from my hometown, so she always stocks the pantry and refrigerator with beans, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables before I arrive home. The sweetest and most thoughtful mom, she always requests that I send her a grocery list a few days before I fly home to insure that I have everything that I need to create in the kitchen. The food coop also has a plethora of vegan options at their cafe, so when in a bind, or when I don’t feel like cooking, my mom stocks up on cafe items as well, my favorite being a toasted almond and quinoa salad with supremed orange segments and spring peas. They also sell Dandies marshmallows, a vegan marshmallow, at the coop, so I’m able to enjoy a s’more at the fire, using Endangered Species vegan dark chocolate of course!

Happy travels! 

Payton