Nov and Dec favorites

The holiday season may be over, but I’m still reveling in the merriment of it all. We still have our Christmas lights up, too – the yearly battle of getting my guy to agree that it’s time to take them down has yet to begin –, and despite my continuing health ups and downs, I have so much to be thankful for lately.

Note: This is not a sponsored post, but simply a sharing of my very favorite things of this month. If I ever feature a sponsored product, it will be clearly stated. Enjoy!

Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary:

My bff Odessa

My bff Odessa

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Vegan and Beyond in Europe: The Power of Travel

2 weeks. 4 countries. 7 cities.

croatia cairn

I’ve recently returned from Europe — my first trip to Europe! A European getaway has been a long time coming, a dream that’s almost manifested many times before. In fact, this one was supposed to happen a year ago, but I reluctantly postponed it due to a relapse into the depths of chronic fatigue. I’m not one to let my illness get in the way of things, nor do I use it as an excuse to avoid doing things that are scary and new to me, so it really hurt to admit to myself that I needed to fully devote myself to another phase of my healing.

I’ve been fighting against the urge to downplay my travels — the perpetual pushback against the stereotypical feminine construct as meek and unvalued —  because it seems like these days everyone goes everywhere. But no matter how many world travellers and wanderlusters I follow on Instagram, I have to remind myself that not everyone lives like that. We all have our own paths and our own moments of unabashed elation. So yes, this trip was a very big deal for me, and I’ll highlight a few of the major reasons why. Continue reading

Dinner at Plant in Asheville, NC

I visited Plant in late 2014. Their menu changes from time to time, so you can check the menu online before your visit for their current offerings!

A few years ago, I was talking to my best friend on the phone, and she started gushing about this all-new 100% vegan restaurant that opened up in her town called Plant. Soon after she told me about it, I started to hear all the buzz from the vegan community. “You have to come visit soon,” she said. She says this every time we talk, but the way she said it this time made me think I was in for something really special.

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Pear Orange Smoothie Inspired By An Organic Avenue Juice

A few weeks ago, I was getting out my ingredients for a smoothie and noticed that I didn’t have a ton of fruit options. My frozen fruit stash was dwindling, and my bananas weren’t ripe yet. Familiar story. This is how I always come up with new and exciting combos. I did, however, have oranges (a staple for me in the winters) and a few ripe red anjou pears. I thought to myself, “I don’t know if I’ll like orange and pear together, but I’ll give it a go!” Continue reading

Almost Raw Orange-Scented Huckleberry Tartlets + Foraging at Dolly Sods

I recently went on a weekend excursion to The Middle of Nowhere, West Virginia. It had been way too long since I’d escaped the city, and it felt really good to be surrounded by fresh air, local wildlife, and trees as far as the eye could see. I had no phone signal out there, so that means I also had no internet access. Though it took a little getting used to, it was nice not to be attached to my phone for a whole 48 hours. I felt so much more present in my days.

We stayed with family friends, and I wasted no time cuddling up with their dog, Cinder. I hadn’t seen her in a year and a half, and I was ready for some Cinder snuggles. Here she is saying, “Hey, why did you stop petting me?”

On my first morning there, I woke up to feel a chill in the air. I crawled out of bed and pulled a sweater over my head. The sun was shining brightly which made up for the unseasonally cold breeze, so I spent my morning wandering around their acres of property. I picked some fresh lavender,

watched the hummingbirds come and go (try catching a picture of them whiz by!), spotted this guy expertly camouflaging himself in this sumac bush (can you see?),

and laid down in the grass with my buddy.

The clouds rolled in just as we headed out for an afternoon at Dolly Sods. Dolly Sods is part of the Monongahela National Forest and was the highlight of my weekend. Though it is located in eastern West Virginia, it has a unique ecosystem for it’s geographical area. It is similar to what you might find in Canada. The signs said that frost can occur at any time in the year! It is the highest plateau of its type on this side of the Mississippi which is why it takes a good 35-40 minutes of slowly winding up gravel roads to emerge on top. Once you get up there, be prepared for gusty conditions. It felt about 10-15 degrees cooler up there than it was at the base.

One of many paths through the berry bushes

The breathtaking views swept me away. We spent most of our time around Bear Rocks and the health barrens. The health barrens were my reason for this day trip. It is there that wild blueberry and huckleberry bushes flourish. The zillions of unripe green and pink berries meant that we were a week or two early for the berries, but we did manage to find some ripe ones anyway. To think that if I was there right now, I could’ve left with buckets and buckets of glorious berries!

At Bear Rocks, which is just past the berry bushes, I had a chance climb around on rocks and get a thrill from teetering on the edge of the precipice. The rock I climbed on is obscured by a couple small bushes, but you can kinda see it jutting out. (I did an image search of this area and found some really incredible pictures that people took on this very rock! Worth checking out, I’d say.)

I climbed to the end of this rock – my heart skipping a few beats – and sat at the end taking in the view of the gorgeous mountains. It was there at the edge of the rock that I took this picture.

It looked like a painting. There is something magical about a scene that looks so perfect that it can’t possibly be real, when it looks more like the image of the real thing instead of the real thing itself. I love the mountains.

Now, let’s take a look at these cute tartlets that I made with the huckleberries and blueberries that we picked. I used these silicone heart cupcake molds which I use for every dessert I possibly can. They are too adorable.  

I had far more huckleberries than blueberries, so I chose to call this a huckleberry tart instead of mixed berry tart. If you have a hard time finding huckleberries, blueberries would work great, too. They have a really similar taste. It was my first time tasting a huckleberry, and I like them even more than blueberries (and that is saying something). Huckleberries have a candy-like sweetness and are without the tartness of blueberries. I was popping them like skittles. They are delicious. Lucky for me (and now for you), I had enough left to make these cute-as-pie tartlets.

Almost Raw Orange-Scented Huckleberry Tartlets 
For the crust:

-10-12 dates (about 1 cup), pitted
-1/2 cup raw walnuts
-1/4 cup raw almonds
-1/4 cup gluten-free oats*
-1/2 tsp cinnamon
-1 tsp coconut oil, melted
-zest from 1 small orange or 1/2 a large orange

For the filling:
-1 1/4 cup huckleberries
-1 1/2 Tbsp chia seeds
-juice from 1 small orange or 1/2 large orange
-1/4 cup water
-1/2 tsp vanilla bean powder (or about 1 tsp of vanilla extract)
-squeeze of lemon juice (1/2-1 tsp)

*for a raw version, use raw oats or another 1/4 cup raw walnuts.

-Put walnuts and oats in a food processor and pulse a few times. Once it begins to look like flour, add in the dates, almonds, cinnamon, oil, and zest and process until it sticks together when you press it between your fingers.

-Scoop about 2 Tbsp of batter into each cupcake liner. Press down firmly to create a smooth surface. Starting from the center of the tartlet, press the batter down and out to form a crevice. Continue to pull the batter outwards and evenly up the walls of the cupcake liner. This crust is very forgiving, so you can’t really mess it up.

-Put all the crusts into the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

-Measure out 1/3 cup of the berries and pour the rest of the whole berries into a mixing bowl.

-In a high-speed blender, blend 1/3 cup of the berries, water, chia seeds, orange juice, and vanilla bean powder until smooth.

-Pour berry chia mixture into the bowl of whole berries and stir to combine. Squeeze in the lemon juice and taste it. You want enough lemon to make the flavor of the berries pop, but not so much that it tastes lemony. Start with a 1/2 tsp, but use no more than 1 tsp, tasting as you go.

-Fill the crusts with 1-1 1/2 Tbsp of filling each. You will have a little bit of leftover filling, so you can pile it on the tarts (the filling will sink down some overnight) or use it as you would any jam.

-Decorate with goji berries. Eat right away or store for up to a week.