What is the first thing that pops your head when I say graffiti? Spray paint on a wall in the form of anti-social behavior in a city. However, in recent years graffiti has transformed into street art, and Wynwood Walls in Miami is where this genre has a home.
Traveling for work, I got the opportunity to spend some time in Miami. The conference I attended was in Miami Beach, but since I registered late, my closest option was on the mainland in the Wynwood Design District. My hotel, Hampton Inn & Suites Miami Wynwood Design District, was tidy, comfortable, and with great staff, but it was an oasis in an urban desert.
I do two things when I travel for business: do something cultural and have an excellent city-specific meal. Visiting Miami was no different. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much free time due to the distance and traffic going back and forth between the conference venue and the long days at the event, so I needed to make the best of my free time.
Venezuelan Arepas and Giant Cream Puffs
I always ask the hotel staff for local recommendations. I wanted a Miami experience. Lucky for me, they directed me to little hidden gems right around the corner.
La Latina Miami specializes in Venezuelan Arepas. While I’ve been exposed to many different food cultures, I know little about South American foods. Arepas are Venezuelan comfort food often sold by street vendors. They are unleavened stuffed cornmeal cakes that are crispy outside and fluffy inside. Arepas contain ingredients like roast chicken or pork, eggs, beans, pumpkin, cheese, and more. I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be a vegetarian choice. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the options. I chose one with cheese, sweet plantains, and avocado. Delicious.
Of course, after having something savory, I needed something sweet. Lucky for me, there was a fantastic bakery next store. All the senses awake when walking into DBakers. As in if Willy Wonka made cakes. I asked for a recommendation, and the friendly fellow behind the counter suggested their specialty, Ferrero Cream Puff. OMG. Seriously. I brought it back to my hotel room. I kidded myself, thinking I would only have a couple of bites and save the rest for later. Nope. I. Ate. The. Whole. Cream Puff. I make no apologies as it was a religious experience. I was proud that I didn’t go back there every day.
Having checked off having a great meal, I set off to have a cultural experience. I’m big on exploring my surroundings on foot, but I found where I was that being a pedestrian wasn’t ideal. Miami is a car city. And while the Wynwood Walls were only a couple of miles walk which is the usual distance walked around Newport, I was told by the front desk to take a Lyft. They were pretty horrified at the thought of me or anyone walking.
Off I went in a Lyft to see the Wynwood Walls. As we snaked through the streets and traffic, street art was everywhere. The idea of Wynwood Walls came from Tony Goldman, a community revitalizer, in 2009 as a way to transform this warehouse district. He thought that Wynwood’s large warehouse buildings would make unique canvases to bring the most incredible street art ever seen in one place. Goldman succeeded. The art is diverse.
The Miami Experience
The highlight of the conference was what I called “The Miami Experience,” held at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. The food represented a mixture of Miami’s cultures. And so did the activities: Dominos, cigar rolling, and dancing.
I’m looking forward to returning to Miami in 2023 and really exploring Miami Beach properly and discovering Haitian food. Adios. Have you been to Miami? And what are your highlights?
I’m all about appliances that have multiple uses. My kitchen isn’t big, and storage is at a premium, so everything I have needs to be practical and versatile. As I moved towards plant-based, I found myself changing the kitchen tools I depend on to make meals. So here are some of my must-haves as my essential vegan kitchen tools:
- Strainers – I use my strainers daily to drain and rinse canned beans and rice.
- Tofu Press – a tofu press makes getting the water out of tofu blocks easy. No more wrapping it in paper towels and putting a Dutch oven on it, hoping it doesn’t fall over or smush it. The press is compact and fits nicely in the fridge.
- Salad Spinner – I love my salad spinner. I use it for salad and other greens, but I use it to clean leeks.
- Rice Container Bin – I never thought I’d like a container so much, but this rice container with a pour spout and measuring cup is excellent. I plan to purchase a couple for lentils and other grains.
- Calphalon Elite Nonstick Essential Saute Pan – This is my everyday pan. I cook with this pan every day. It is well worth the cost as it is functional and nonstick.
- Rice Cooker – For the longest time, I resisted even thinking about rice cookers thinking they were a waste of money and space. We ate a lot of rice. When researching rice cookers, I wanted a cooker that could do more than make rice. The Zojirushi allows me to make different types of rice, grains, and oatmeal. My son likes rice, so the rice warmer function is excellent that I can make a big batch, and he can serve himself whenever he wants. It is worth the investment as we use it at least five times weekly.
- Slow Cooker – A slow-cooker is a must frankly for every household. And slow-cookers aren’t just for making meat-based dishes as it is excellent for plant-based meals like Aloo Gobi. Some very cool slow cookers are out there, but I went with a simple one like Hamilton Beach 4-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker.
- Food Processor – I researched and settled on the Braun FP3020 12 Cup Food Processor because it was so versatile. I make hummus, hazelnut spread, sauces, oat/nut flours, and doughs.
- Grater – A lot of plant-based meals call for grated vegetables. I got a very sturdy one.
- Baking Sheets – Roasted veggies are great and versatile for vegan meals. A good set of baking sheets is essential.
These are some of my essential vegan kitchen tools. What are your must-haves in your vegan kitchen? I love my kitchen gadgets so I’m always looking for new tools to make cooking easier and better.
Tea for health has come recently to me. I have always drank tea for sheer pleasure. I drink it cold, warm, and hot. You could say I bleed tea. There is a ritual of drinking tea then drinking it. Tea is to be sipped and I can never be negative while I have a cup of tea in my hand. In my cupboard is a tea tin where I have different types of tea. It is quite a selection of green and herbal teas. My electric kettle is always ready to click on for a cuppa.
A gift of handcrafted herbal teas.
People have drank tea for centuries. It is known as a cure all for the maladies of life. That includes for health. When a dear friend sent me such a thoughtful gift of a selection of handcrafted herbal teas from Longeviteas, I was intrigued. The teas were developed by Dr. Jessica Cail, a research psychopharmacologist specializing in mind-body medicine. The blends were created on scientific evidence with each formulation containing phytochemicals which are chemicals naturally found in plants that were selected because the peer-reviewed research showed a demonstrable link between them and particular effects. So this isn’t some new agey chick throwing a bunch of herbs together and calling it a miracle tea that we tend to see in the wellness space today.
Tea for Health
My sample pack contained four herbal blends: Original, Vitality, Tranquility, and Immunity. The formulas chosen because the research shows a strong link between them and a particular effect such as longevity, mental functioning, relaxation, or defense against colds/flu. Dr. Jesse’s blends contains herbs or spices which are anti-inflammatory and/or mildly diuretic. Three of the four have caffeine. As someone with an auto-immune disease and all that comes with it, I was all in for the teas when I read about the anti-inflammatory effects of tea. After years of prolonged high dosages of prescription anti-inflammatory medicines, I can’t take them due to affects on my kidneys so I am always looking for a natural way to manage my inflammation. That said on December 10, 2020, I decided to change how and what I ate moving to plant-based eating. It has changed my health of the better. Adding Logeviteas I believed has really helped… especially my digestive health. My recent lab results are proof the lifestyle change is making a difference.
A feast for the senses
The teas are a feast for the senses. It is loose leaf so you can see the natural beauty of the plants. As you scoop the tea out, the texture is rich. The smell of the blends is intoxicating. The taste of each blend is complex with its own character. My favorite is the Immunity tea which is a spicy rosewater chai with cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and black tea. I drink it daily in the morning then in the afternoon I switch over to the Tranquility blend that is caffeine-free made with valerian, eleuthero, passion flower, lemon balm, chamomile and lavender.
So put the kettle on and blend some tea for health.
Disclaimer: Folks, I’m not a doctor nor pretend to know the science behind it. All I know is it tastes good and I feel better. Always consult your doctor or pharmacist regarding taking herbal anything for drug interactions.
Obsession with Fries
Potato products are their own food group in my mind. They are the perfect food and can be prepared in many yummy ways. I like my potatoes and I love my fries. I grew up with chip shops in Ireland and McDonald’s fries in the US though now my go-to fast food fries are Five Guys. Malt vinegar or ketchup. Perfection.
But then I visited my friend Lieve in Beliguim in the early 1990s where frankly everything tastes good in Beliguim, the world of Belgian fries was opened to me. Belgians use peanut oil and double fry their fries or as they say in Belgium and The Netherlands, “frites.” The extra enough is worth it. And the toppings one could put on the fries. It just wasn’t vinegar, ketchup, or mayo, but different sauces like the tomato-based Andalouse, the spicy like Sriracha Pili-pili, the tangy BBQ-like Brasil sauce, the combination of mayonnaise with Tunisian chili, some spice, tomatoes, and bell peppers that makes Samourai sauce and finally, Pitta-pitta is aioli sauce with hints of dill. All are super. For me, it takes the fries from being a side to a full meal.
Friskie Fries Newport
Friskie Fries Newport takes the American fry into the same diva level as Belgian Frites. Friskie Fries is a meal, not just a snack. You have to be a champion fry eater to finish your container. By the way, I have, but then didn’t eat my dinner I was still so full.
I can’t say no to fries. And I can’t say no to fries with toppings. Friskie Fries is a RI-based food group. They started out with a food truck where they had great success allowing them to open a place in Providence. The Friskie Fries Group has 5-6 places. Newport is the most recent place and I am glad to have them here now. I know Rhode Island is a small state, but driving 30-45 mins for fries was a bit much for my husband so I just stalked Friskie Fries to open in Newport. They did. They are located at 404 Thames Street in Newport. A perfect location for them.
Friskie Fries Newport has toppings and sauces. They have 11 topped fries or know as dressed fries:
#1 Friskie Fries – Signature beef chili and cheese
#2 Cluck-U – Crispy chicken/buffalo sauce/blue cheese dressing & crumbles.
#3 Lil’ Piggie – Pulled pork/wasabi cucumber slaw/BBQ drizzle
#4 Disco Dottie – Poutine Handmade Vermont cheddar curd/Brown gravy
#5 Rhode Kill – NY System Weiner Bits/ Meat sauce/onion/mustard/celery salt
#6 The Alley Cat – Fresh Garlic/Olive oil, Parmesan
#7 Miss Potato Head – Sour cream/Smoked bacon/Fresh chives/Sharp cheddar
#8 Fowl Play – Crispy chicken/Mozzarella/Parmesan/Red sauce
#9 Cat’l Call – Philly Cheese Steak seasoned shaved steak/Cheddar
#10 Cinn-Fully Sweet – Cinnamon-sugar/Whipped cream
#11 S’Morsome – Melted chocolate/Mini marshmallows/Graham cracker crumbs
They also have sauces: mayo, honey mustard, horseradish, blue cheese, BBQ, sweet chili, sriracha, boom boom, buffalo, Hidden Valley ranch, and cheese.
It is fry nirvana. Is your mouth watering? Mine is. The old fashioned oyster container which today we associate Chinese food is perfect to carry fries with all their toppings. These all are a meal to themselves or sharable for two people; however, I have fry greed and eat my own.
So if you are in the mood for a fries with amazing toppings and flavors in a fun place then Friskie Fries Newport or any other of there shops throughout Rhode Island. Skip McDonald’s, Friskie Fries is all about fries. That’s their jam.
Start of a Square Foot Gardening Adventure
For those who know me, you if you grow it, fish it, or hunt it, then I can cook it. I have never been much of a gardener outside of my herbs. I have tried and failed at growing the traditional garden fare. I seem to do well with containers and in Tarboro where I had a good streak with peppers and lettuce. Fast forward to Newport. Our house has a backyard that is essentially a blank slate. The first step in our transformation is getting a veg garden going. One option was Square Foot Gardening.
Community Supported Agriculture
I love supporting local farmers and even joined a local organic CSA, The Local Patch, last year. The CSA was a great experience exposing us to new types of veg I wouldn’t normally purchase for the family. And The Local Patch has the most AMAZING tomatoes. If you aren’t a gardener and want the freshest veg possible, then go the CSA route. You do make a difference when you support small local farmers. For us, the CSA did not work for us as a family, but I will be visiting The Local Patch for fresh veg.
Square Foot Gardening
I like the idea of being able to walk outside my door grabbing some lettuce for a quick salad is wonderful. I loved it when I could do it in North Carolina. This time last year, we purchased a house in Newport. A huge step, but one that needed to happen. After being homeowners, being a renter again was not ideal plus the house we rented had zero back yard. We need our space. For the city of Newport, we have a normal sized lot allowing us to create an urban garden. It is a blank slate so, over the next months, a transformation will occur.
Our garden is fairly shady so we don’t have a lot of space to have a veg garden. Since I’m not a gardener, I went on the recommendation of gardener friends, to Domina’s Agway in Portsmouth, RI. Like my favorite garden center, Marrow-Pitt Ace Hardware in Tarboro, Domina’s is family-run and this isn’t only their livelihood, but their passion. The Home Depots and Lowes of the world may have a vast selection and some cheaper prices, but you cannot beat the care and knowledge of family-run businesses. At Domina’s Agway, I met Mark where he patiently advised me and suggested Square Foot Gardening. He does it and many of the staff at the nursery grows their veg using this method. On his suggestion, I purchased Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.
I chose the raised bed method because some of our neighbor’s soil tested high for lead. If you live in a historic neighborhood or reclaimed land, I’d either get your soil tested or just be safe going with a raised bed with fresh soil and a weed barrier. Best to be safe.
Since Newport can be wet and damp, I decided on a galvanized steel bed instead of building it out of wood. I’m hoping it will weather the sea climate better than a wooden bed. It was easy for my husband to put together. From there we positioned it into place putting down a weed barrier and a thick layer of rocks then a layer of Coast of Maine Raised Bed Mix. Investing in the soil is essential. Don’t skimp. And be sure to ask a gardener what is the best mix for where you live and what you are doing and growing.
Once the set-up was completed, it was time to add the plants. My plant selection was ambitious especially since I’m not a gardener. I selected 3 types of tomatoes, 3 types of peppers, 3 types of lettuce, snap peas, Japanese eggplant, spinach, chives, and cucumbers. The point of square foot gardening is to use every bit of space wisely. Vertical growing is encouraged. My husband wove a trellis so the snap peas, tomatoes, and cucumbers can climb. I’ll be adding zucchini and melon to the bed that also will be climbers as well as onions. In a burlap bag, potatoes will be planted.
So let’s keep our fingers crossed, that my thumb will be green. And a huge thank you goes out to my husband, Jeroen, for doing all the building and heavy lifting.
Plant-Based Eating – Not Just for Hippies
I’ve been down this road before regarding cutting down on meat in our family’s diet. It is a struggle to come up with varied, filling, and tasty vegetarian meals to serve to my guys that they will eat willingly. It is especially given all that is going on in my life. I’m leading two lives being a history hero by day and a cyber warrior by night. It is all good. I’m using both sides of my brain and regaining awareness of the world around me again I have not had in ages.
Helping the Environment
Being an environmental stewart has been part of my life for decades, but moving to an island has brought it front and center. We recycle, use reusable containers, reusable bags, conserve water, and compost. It isn’t easy in a culture built on ease and convenience. It is tough to remember to bring my own reusable straw. And many places will not fill your reusable bottle if it isn’t their branded cup. As a PR person, I get it from a branding perspective, but as someone who wants to do the right thing, it is frustrating with ending up with a collection of plastic drink cups. Maybe that’s a sign I need to give up my unsweetened iced tea habit from fast-food places. Add in the fact that many grocery stores have everything wrapped plastic, it is hard to get away from plastics. In fact, it seems that everything we use on a daily basis is made with plastics.
Going Towards Plant-Based
Acknowledging the above, we still have a lot more to do. One way we are working towards a more Earth-friendly life is getting serious about plant-based eating. Plant-based eating is being either a vegetarian or a vegan. Now those two words are loaded for people. That is sad since most of the planet, plant-based eating is the norm, not the exception. Meat is a special treat. The terms have become socially and politically-charged in Europe and the US. But over history, there have been movements to encourage people to eat more fruit and veg. I’m a supporter of eating more of a plant-based diet. For me, it isn’t political or a social statement, my body just feels better the more fresh fruit, veg, beans, and legumes I eat. What you eat is your choice and I will never shame anyone into eating plant-based, but I’d suggest you try one recipe a week. Start a tradition of Meatless Monday. We are up about 4-5 days a week now.
Pantry is Key
Outside of how it makes me feel, it is also budget and time friendly. Meat is expensive especially if you are purchasing, for example, natural or organic beef. Beans, rice, and legumes are priced well and you can purchase them in bulk. The key to plant-based eating for me is having a well-stocked pantry. In my basement, I have shelves of canned goods like various types of tomatoes, beans, and coconut milk as well as containers of veggie broth, rice, lentils, and pasta. I keep onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes down there as well. My freezer has frozen veg such as corn, peas, and mixed veggies and naan bread. Types of fresh peppers, cauliflower, cilantro, minced garlic, crushed ginger, curry pastes, cheeses, and other sauces are always in my fridge. On my counter, I always have apples, lemons/lime, avocados, and tomatoes. I buy the spices in bulk I use a lot of at an Indian store or Asian grocery. If one isn’t near you, it is worth it doing one big stock-up making an adventure about it. Go with a list. Once you have the pantry stocked just purchase the fresh items you need. There are times my grocery bill is $20 in a week since all I need is the fresh stuff.
We aren’t 100 percent plant-based. We love dairy products a little too much. And my guys enjoy chicken and pork. (And so do I) Fish is on the menu at our house, too. We aren’t vegetarian or vegan. That would be very hard for us, but as I said earlier we are at 4-5 times a week eating plant-based with some added dairy depending on the recipe. That said we are moving slowly towards plant-based by cutting down on dairy and have cut out beef from our grocery list.
If you are interested in a plant-based diet then I have some easy recipes to start with in my vegetarian section such as Lentil Ragu over pasta pictured above.
Or this recipe for Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos with Avocado-Lime Creme. Simple ingredients to pick up at your local grocery store. I used Indian store chili powder for the sweet potatoes causing it to be very spicy. So depending on where you got your spices, amounts will change. Grocery store chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon is enough, but for me having the Indian store spices which by the way are typically stronger than the grocery store spices, I will need to cut it in half. I forgot to get yogurt so I used sour cream. Also, I used a bagged kale salad with red cabbage. Recipes like this are flexible. Adapt it to what you have on hand.
Black Bean & Sweet Potato Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Creme
- 1-2 medium sweet potato, cubed
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- Flour Tortillas
- 1 can black beans, drained, and rinsed
- Kosher and freshly ground black pepper
- Avocado-Lime Creme
- ½ cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
- 1 small avocado
- ½ garlic clove or a small one
- Juice of 1 lime
- Kosher salt & fresh black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400° F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Toss the sweet potatoes with olive oil, chili powder, salt and pepper, and spread onto the baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
- In a food processor or blender, combine the yogurt, avocado, garlic, lime juice, and a few generous pinches of salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Take the Turtle Approach
Take baby steps in moving to plant-based eating. Introduce it slowly into your lifestyle as you build up a pantry and an understanding of what foods you like. The food is colorful and flavorful with lots of different textures. It will be an adjustment in mindset over the meat, starch, and veg approach most of us grew up with as kids. A good documentary to watch is Forks over Knives. Find out what works for you and then go for it.