Thursday, January 16, 2014

Vegan Vegging out in Vero

Sooooo... What does a single gal do with her comp time after she worked every single holiday for all the happy married people with kids? She goes to visit her Mommy & Daddy of course!! That's right, this grown woman just took a week of comp time, packed her car with her doggies & drove 2 hours north to leave all the hustle & bustle of Miami behind for the quiet, chill, relaxed & slow place of the retirement Mecca aka Vero Beach!

But boy did we have some serious FUN!! If you read my last blog, you know we hit up the farmer's markets in Vero & Fort Pierce. We also enjoyed art shows, beach walks, concerts in the park... 

We did pretty much anything that was taking place outdoors that I could bring my dogs to! And yes that included riding bikes around Orchid Island by South Beach!

Believe it or not... My boys LOVED it!

The winter weather has been just perfect here... Simply Gorgeous! I can see why so many people choose to spend their golden years here... It's not a bad way to live... Not bad at all!

That's my Mom with Jagger in her bike basket! Now if you guys have read my blog, you may remember that Lisa Birch is better known as my own personal Vegan Chef... Especially when I come to visit for a week!! But did you know that she is also an organic farmer??

Yep! That's fresh organic romaine lettuce form her backyard garden! 

She also grows fresh peppery arugula, superfood parsley, Italian & regular, cherry tomatoes & tons of fragrant herbs!

But I was in the mood for something "meaty" so I came up with the idea of tofu "steaks" & Mom went to work on the olive oil with her organic garden herb mix!

And she cooked 'em up nice & crispy in a grill pain... Perfection!

Throw in some grilled portobellos & some of that parsley & arugula I told you about... just-picked from the garden... & Voila! My tofu "steak" & vegetables are served! I was actually full from this "meaty" meal :)

Mom does not grow kale... But she's working on it! However we got some of the organic store-bought kale & she also made me this awesome flavorful kale & black eyed pea soup (for the New Year naturally) chock full of veggies. Superb!

And let's not forget this gem here! My Vegan Chef baked eggplants, (from the farmer's market) then peeled off the skin & placed the eggplant on a bed of angel hair quinoa pasta & then smothered it all with her homeade red sauce that is to-die-for! Notice the parsley on top, again fresh from her backyard garden!

And then there was this perfect purée of cauliflower to make the most scrumptious soup to eat during this colder weather we experienced! With pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top (also from the farmers market) this really hit the spot! It took her a little over an hour to make - but in my opinion - it was worth every minute! Easy for me to say right?

And this is what I eat when my Vegan Chef is tired from all the cooking. The most beautiful salads - with all kinds of fresh lettuce from Mom's garden, topped with tomatoes, cucumbers & chia seeds. My dressing of choice is usually balsamic vinagairette.

And my favorite dish was this breakfast favorite with a vegan twist - strawberry & blueberry crepes made with a tofu-filling so delicious that you would never know there wasn't cheese in the middle! The best part about this was that it's a Lisa Birch original recipe!

Now aside from all the eating we've been doing... lately I've taken to calling our cute little group, "The 3 Amigos," since we have been spending every waking moment together! So what better time to get the crew together & go on a roadtrip for a snorkeling day... But this one was super special!

We went swimming with manatees! This was by far the coolest thing I have EVER done! And I'm the Animal Advocate! I still can't believe I didn't do this sooner!

We went swimming in the Crystal River in Homosassa. Now that water was freezing! I couldn't feel my fingertips when we finally got out of the water, but it was worth it! Most people will never get to experience & observe nature within an arm's reach.

Where else could you see & touch this amazing creature?? Nowhere!! Apparently this location (just north of Tampa & south of Gainesville) is the only place in the world you can swim with manatees legally! This trip is a MUST - put it on your bucket list for sure :)

The trip was recommended by a good friend & it was in celebration of my Vegan Chef's Birthday! Hey I gotta pay her back somehow for all those delicious dishes she's always cooking & baking for me!

Before this trip, this was the closest I ever got to a manatee. This was an orphaned baby manatee that was rescued & rehabbed at Miami Seaquarium & I did a story on that cutie for work. 
And that's where I'm back at now. My Vero vacation is over & "The 3 Amigos" are on hiatus... until the next visit. But as much as I love to travel to Key West & NYC & even abroad... there's something special, even magical, about being an adult & spending a week with the people that made you, raised you, taught you everything you know & that you love more than anything else in the world. I appreciate my parents even more today than a week ago.

Aren't they so cute?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Vegan Farming at the Market

Nothing looks or tastes better than the colors of the rainbow! The yellows, the greens, the reds, the oranges, the purples, the whites & everything in between! The colors that grow in nature (naturally!) that God intended us to eat since the beginning of time! It's a beautiful Saturday on the Space Coast & I'm hitting the Farmer's Markets in Vero Beach & Fort Pierce to get the good stuff!

The tents are lined up & the local farmers, vendors & produce people are selling their organic & healthy fruits & veggies!

My Mom & I were in the market (pun intended!) for apples, eggplant, cucumbers, artichokes, green & yellow squash. We struck it gold!

I've been to Farmer's Markets all over California from Montecito to Napa... which have a huge following & impeccable reputations across the country. So I was truly impressed by these two small towns & their locally infused industry, dedicated to providing good food for the body & mind & it's not so bad on the soul either!

Organic jams, jelly & honey made & produced sustainably right in Vero Beach!

A crisp, fresh & extremely green lettuce tower that had me dreaming of making a salad as big as my kitchen table!

An assortment of the most beautiful mushrooms: oyster, portobello, shiitake... For those of you who read this blog, you know I am a mushroom freak & a truffle fanatic... So I died & went to heaven at this table covered in my favorite, fantastic, funky fungi! ;)

The sprouts were sprouting & I am proud to say... I took my Mother's wheatgrass shot virginity!

She took the plunge & loved it! This sweet libation is packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and filled with cancer-fighting chlorophyll!

I even discovered Vero's very 1st Vegan restaurant & raw juice bar: LOV Juice
I plan to ride my bike over there tomorrow because I'm jonesing for some green juice! I need my drug & I need it bad! ;)

Another thing I LOVE about outdoor markets is the special catering for Vegans! You won't find almond milk at any Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks... But you WILL find it at this little makeshift coffee tent! I so appreciate the non-dairy alternative... Why can't everyone offer this to all of us Vegans out there?

Time to get some pretty plants! Orchids are my favorite potted plant because they are low-maintenance, bloom easily even indoors, they come back year after year & you can easily tie them to a palm tree - allowing the blooms to regenerate, even after all the buds have fallen off inside.

After the farmer's markets morning - Mom & Dad wanted to go to a popular seafood restaurant on the water in Fort Pierce named '12 A Buoy.' 
My considerate folks were concerned there wouldn't be viable vegan choices for me... But as you can see, I was able to order a colorful salad chock full of veggies & a side of grilled green beans with toasted almonds. Perfection!

To cap off our fun & healthy outdoor day... We continued the festivities that night as the entire Birch family (furbabies included) went back to the beach for a Concert in the Park! This time we traded in the turnips for tunes & enjoyed the music under the stars! 
Whenever I escape from Miami to Vero Beach to spend time with my family... I really am reminded of the importance of sometimes slowing down! And I also see to always find small & special gems that make me fall more & more in love with this sleepy, seaside town filled with friendly festivals & lovely locals!