Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Crooked River State Park (Our first camper trip)

This past weekend we took our new (to us) mini camper out for a trial run. We (I) wanted to go someplace fairly close to get the hang of hauling a trailer, little as it is, for the first time. Kara thought it would be cool to go to Georgia since she’d never been there except to drive through and since it’s less than 40 miles from our house to the GA border, I thought that would be a good distance – a few miles, but not too many.

First a little about our camper… ever since July when I saw this great tiny teardrop trailer while visiting my friend, Jenn, I’ve been looking at small trailers that might fit my car and my wallet.

Handmade tiny teardrop trailer I saw in Roanoke, VA this past summer.
One day while browsing Craigslist, I found our little guy (not a “Little Guy”) at a nearby pawnshop for a very reasonable price! It was about half what I expected to pay and is just last year’s model.  It’s a Signatour Venice model, which is about the middle of the line.  There’s no kitchen or bath facilities, but it’s got electricity, a folding queen-sized foam mattress, and a cabinet along the back wall which has proved very handy for storing our sleeping bags and pillows.  There’s also a small storage space in the front where we’ve been putting the camp chairs and stove.

Our Signatour Venice towed by the Matrix.

Of course, before we camped in it for the first time, we had to  buy a few necessary things for car camping and pimp it up a bit! I think the coolest thing I found was this stringof Coleman lantern lights. I only got one string, but we def need more! While I was at it, I bought us a “real” Coleman lantern, too so we could play cards or games at night.

Another cool thing we got, although it’s not nearly as cool as the lanterns, is a roll up table. There are a bunch of tables out there, but I picked this one because it got really great reviews and seems to be really stable. 

Pre-camping also included going through all my old camping stuff and sorting out the things we could take car camping and what stuff is strictly for backpacking, think tent, sleeping pads, water filter, etc. I bought 4 large, clear (so we could see the contents) Rubbermaid containers to put the “kitchen”, food, bathroom/first aid, and recreation stuff (games, cards, field guides, Frisbee, etc.). Kara and I had a lot of fun finding foodstuffs that would keep forever so we would have “emergency food.” So now we have food in case of a hurricane or Zombie attack as well! David installed some “D” rings on the sides of the camper so we can secure the containers with bungy cords while we’re traveling.

OK, OK, on with the trip! We arrived at Crooked River State Park off Exit 3 (!) in St Marys, Georgia on Friday afternoon right around 1 only to be informed that the campground would be full up that weekend. Luckily we had made a reservation and had gotten there early! We got a decent campsite, but it ended up being not as quiet as we would have liked. Much to Kara’s chagrin, the campsite next to us had 2 pretty hyper kids who were LOUD at 6am.  (As we got everything together, Kara decided that sleeping in the camper would be too confining for her, so she slept in the 2-person tent.) Luckily for the entire campground, they were fisher..people?, so they were gone most of the day Saturday! 

We pretty much just hung out Friday and Saturday, taking short walks to explore.  Here are some of the pictures we took around the campground:

Honest they were happier than they looked for the camera!

I should say here, that anyone who knows me knows this isn’t necessarily my kind of camping (showers and flush toilets, really?), but I did want our first experience in the trailer to be pleasant enough that David and Kara would want to do it again sometime. If they had to dig cat holes, I don’t think that would happen again in this century! As it was we played Scrabble and Uno, read and had awesome campfires complete with vegan s’mores. Our dinners included the infamous Velveeta and shells, veggie dogs, stir-fry noodles with veggies, and roasted asparagus. We certainly ate well! Here's one of our awesome campfires:

On Sunday, we traveled about an hour west to the OkefenokeeNational Wildlife Reserve near Folkston, GA. We took a 90-minute boat tour that should have been awesome, but with the weather only so-so, we had only a few birds and gators. The highlight for me was 2 red-shouldered hawk juveniles chasing and screaming at a red-tailed hawk. Those were quite some aerials that the pictures don’t do justice. We also got a very close look at 2 gators – the biggest I’ve seen in the wild yet! 

Spanish Moss

Red-shouldered Hawk

Great Egret
Gator! Yes, goodbye, head on out!
A beautiful Anhinga specimen
Yellow-bellied- Slider (I think - don't blame me, it doesn't have feathers!)
After a picnic lunch of vegan potato salad and cold veggie chick’n, we headed to down the road to check out the drainage ditches (more gators) and a green heron (apparently quite rare here at this time of year).  At the end of the road is the Chesser Island homestead. It was fun teasing Kara that we were going to buy this place and make her do all the cooking, cleaning, water pumping, canning, smoking (of tofu), feeding of animals, and making of syrup!

We then made our way back toward the campground. I won’t expound on the migraine I had, but let’s just say that my night was ruined. Monday morning saw a light drizzle – enough to make everything wet enough so that we packed up a few hours early and headed out. The consolation prize was breakfast at Waffle House with hashbrowns smothered, capped, and peppered! 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tropical Storm Comfort Food

Last night Tropical Storm Beryl blew right through the heart of Jacksonville - the first major storm to hit JAX directly in over 100 years. If the sustained winds were just 5 miles an hour stronger (75mph), she could have been classified as a Category 1 hurricane and would have had the honor of being the first hurricane EVER to hit Jacksonville directly. As one of the many lucky ones, I awoke with power still on while the wind and rain continues. I've never done well on rainy days as some of my dear friends can attest and I woke up today with a passion for some comfort food. Not the mac and cheese kind, but the warm and cinnamon-y kind. It had to be apple-cinnamon muffins.

Of course, the first place I also run for great recipes that won't kill my lifestyle/diet is Fat Free Vegan Kitchen by Susan Voisin. I just love, love, love everything she does and I have honestly never found a bad recipe. While I couldn't find exactly the muffin I was looking for, I did find this Berries and Spice muffin recipe that sounded like it could be the base of what I craved. I adapted her recipe in a couple of ways. First, I nixed the margarine in the crumb topping. I don't even keep margarine (or butter) in the house and the only oil in my cabinets is a oil spray and some olive oil which we use sparingly in rare cases (like when DC cooks LOL!). However, I did like the idea of the topping, so instead of dropping both the oil and water as Susan suggests, I doubled the water. OK, maybe that wasn't such a great idea. I probably should have just put in the half tbsp that recipe called for, but I was able to turn it around by adding a little more flour to the mix. What I ended up with was a crumbly mixture of flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. I also nixed the nuts in this recipe as I don;t keep those around either. I subbed in the cinnamon instead since that's what I was craving.

I increased the lemon juice a bit from 2 tsp to 1 tbsp because...are you ready for this? I had half a lemon in the refrigerator and when I juiced it, I got about a tablespoon (or 3 teaspoons). What waste it, right? After all it's the acid from the lemon juice that combines with the baking powder and soda to make the bubbles that make these little guys rise up, so if 2 teaspoons is good, 1 tablespoon is better :)

Finally, instead of the berries, I added a chopped apple and some raisins. They turned out really great! The little crumbs of flour, sugar and cinnamon turned out different than if I would have used margarine with it. They weren't the soft crumbs I'm used to. They took on a crunchier texture which worked well since there were no nuts in the topping. I was really pleased with how tall they got! I guess that ectra tsp of lemon juice did make a difference!

Here's my recipe (shameless adapted from Susan's):

2 T brown sugar
2 T unbleached white flour
1 t cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon water (I used more, but start with this much and go from there)

1 1/3 c soymilk
1 T lemon juice
1 apple chopped

2 c whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar (I used a scant 1/3 cup, but you'll probably like more sugar than I do)
1 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t ginger
1/8 t salt

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Mix the first 3 ingredients together, then ad water a few drops at a time and stir lightly with a fork to make crumbs. Don't add too much water, just enough to get a few fine crumbs started. Set aside to use as topping.

Mix the soymilk with the lemon juice in a 2 cup measuring cup. It will curdle somewhat - that's good! Add the chopped apple to the cup and enough raisins to push the liquid to the 2 cup mark.

Mix the dry ingredients, flour through salt, together. Make a well in the middle and pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir just until moistened (overstirring will make muffins tough).

Spoon the batter into muffin cups that have been oiled or lined with silicon muffin cups. (do not use paper liners with oil-free muffins–they stick!) Top each muffin with an equal amount of the cinnamon mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans on a rack for 5 minutes. Remove from pans and cool slightly before serving warm.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sping is here and so are nopales!

Last weekend, DC and I found the Jacksonville Farmer's Market just a bit north of our office. Along with some late winter citrus, early strawberries, and other bargains, we found a basket of nopales - prickly pear cactus pads. The young Hispanic man minding the stall looked at us quizzically and asked, "you eat these?" Then he scrunched up his face when I said "Yes!" Maybe he only knows abuelas who eat them or maybe his family does something non-edible with them. Who knows? Anyway, I've been hooked on nopales after visiting Sian Ka'an near Tulum, Mexico. There were also a few places in Tucson that would reliably serve nopales (or nopalitos) with enchilada sauce and tortillas, namely Tonia's 33 and La Indita - oh man I miss those!

One word of advice: don't want to do the cactus too far ahead of time. Like okra, it gets a little slimy. That's not a bad thing, in fact, it's the slimy substance that has been found to help regulate blood sugar. Be sure to check out this episode of Scientific American if you want to learn more about the regulating properties of desert plants.

Tonight I seared the nopales on top of the stove and paired them with a spicy jalapeno mango salsa since mangoes were on sale and a little Daiya cheddar-style in whole-grain tortillas.  I served this with my "amazing" black beans and Brazilian orange rice on the side. At the last minute I remembered the ultra-ripe plaintain and made muduros (fried sweet plaintains) which couldn't be easier.  Finally, no Latin American meal (or any meal for that matter) is complete without some chocolate, so I'm baking up a batch of No Meat Athlete's Black Bean Brownies. However, after this filling meal, I think the brownies will make a better dessert throughout the week. Well, maybe just a little piece be sure they're OK :P

First I de-spined the nopales. I don't think I did a beautiful job, but we didn't get any spines in our mouths either! This, of course, is essential if your nopales are fresh and not already de-spined (sometimes they are or if you buy your nopales in a can, it's that much easier). Then I rinsed them thoroughly and put them aside to cook later. Next I made the salsa, the beans, and the rice in that order. When the rice and beans were cooked, I grilled the nopales, warmed the torillas and made the plantains. The recipes below reflect the order in which I made them, however, since I'm opposed to giving away recipes that others spend their time creating and put into cookbooks, you'll have to check out Viva Vegan to get the rice recipe. Buy the book, it's totally worth it! You can also check out No Meat Athlete's Black Bean Brownies on the website which has TONS of other great recipes as well!

Amazing Black Beans

1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 Tablespoons sofrito (or 2-4 cloves garlic, chopped)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crushed
1 bay leaf
1/2 can chopped tomatoes with habenero peppers (use plain tomatoes for something a little less hot)
1/4 c. water
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
salt and hot sauce to taste
2 Tablespoons to 1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped

Use a little non-stick cooking spray in a 2 quart saucepan. Add the onions, pepper, and sofrito (or garlic) and steam-fry until the onions are clear and the pepper is soft. Add a little water if you need to keep it from sticking. When the onions are cooked, add the spices and continue cooking for another minute or two until it's really fragrant. Add the tomatoes and the water and stir everything together well. Finally add the beans and cook for 30 to 45 minutes. Adjust the salt and heat. These can wait on the back burner while you do everything else. Add the cilantro just before serving.

Spicy Mango Salsa

1 small onion, chopped fine
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped fine
1-2 fresh jalapenos, chopped fine
2 very ripe fresh mangoes, peeled and chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lime

I used my small food processor to chop everything up, but you can do it by hand if you like. Mix it all together in a bowl and try to avoid eating it all before dinner!

Grilled Nopal Burritos

2 prickly pear pads (nopales), de-spined and rinsed
1 Tablespoons cheddar-style Daiya
2 Tablespoons spicy mango salsa
1 tortilla

Lightly spray a griddle pan with oil and until very hot. Sear the nopales until brown on both sides. remove from heat and cut into thin strips (about 1/2" x 2").

Warm the tortilla on the hot pan turning to warm both sides. Remove from heat. Place the nopales on the tortilla and top with Daiya and salsa. Roll, cut and enjoy!

Here's how the nopales looked on the griddle:

 And then a little browner:

Here's how the burrito looks before it's rolled up:

And one last picture of the whole enchilada, I mean burrito!

Let me know if you try this! 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jacksonville Vegan Restaurants - so far

This guy has nothing to do with this post :)
We've been here a little over a month and have had a few chances to get out to eat. I have to admit that at first I was really disappointed in the restaurants here and make no mistake, there's a LOT of meat-eating going on here. A lot more than Tucson, if you can believe that. However, like anywhere else, there are great places to eat, whether you've vegan or not. You just have to find them. Until this past week, I was starting to get discouraged, but then I ran into several in a row that are worthy of a second look. I'm going to post them individually on Yelp, but I thought it might make a good blog post as well.

Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers
Southside Blvd location (by Tinseltown)

This place is within walking distance of our apartment near Southside Blvd. and is easy to get to, so we've been there twice in the past month which is a LOT since we're only in JAX five weeks. The first trip there was really unremarkable considering they catered to my vegan side. First of all, it was Friday night, it was crowded and I was really hungry. This isn't their fault, but we put our name on the waiting list and THREE parties that came in after us were seated first. I know they hadn't called ahead as I watched them put their name on the list just below ours. I know we're only 2 people, but jeez, I'm as hungry as the next guy! That put a damper on my whole visit, but I'll try to be subjective with the rest of it.

While there are some vegan-friendly items on the menu, getting other items made vegan is not easy as it should be. The savory pretzels are brushed with butter or have cheese on them. Really, I grew up near Philly, I've made many a soft pretzel myself and I can tell you that real soft pretzels do NOT get brushed in butter. They get an alkaline soak that these babies were dearly missing. They just taste like soft bread sticks with butter and salt. Check out Alton Brown's Homemade Soft Pretzel recipe if you want to make something that actually tastes like pretzels.

OK, enough ranting. The pizza is not bad. The first time there we ordered a specialty mushroom pizza, but the mushrooms are sauteed in butter. OK, maybe not, The second time we went (Super Bowl Sunday), we got a better pizza - a half vegan, half regular white pizza. Guess what? They up charged me to remove THREE kinds of cheese and sub in HALF the amount of Daiya that they normally would put on (as I requested). Really guys? ::sighs:: That's not very vegan-friendly. I hate the vegetarian surcharge. Please don't tell me that a little bit of Daiya costs you more than THREE kinds of cheese.

I really want to like this place, but it's hard to being a vegan. I don't think they really understand or care that much. We'll probably go again, but it won't be as regular as we could make it if I could get a decent plate of food without an up charge.

Indochine: Thai & Southeast Asian Food
21 East Adams Street, Jacksonville, FL

This place is amazing! It's a darling little place downtown with unfinished brick walls and a calming ambiance. The best part is that this place that GETS veganism. Our waitress was helpful and knowledgeable about everything on the menu. She knew what was vegan and what wasn't without having to run to the kitchen 20 million times. She made suggestions about which dishes were vegan, which could be made vegan, and which could not. When we ordered spring rolls, she offered to bring some sauce made without fish sauce and I didn't even have to ask her!

There were 3 of us at dinner. We ordered the Spring rolls (vegetarian) which, as I said above came with 2 sauces - one with fish sauce and one without. Both had just a little kick to compliment the flavors in the roll. For dinner, I had Drunken Noodles (sans egg) with a heat index of 3/6. I could have used 4,  but 3 allowed me to add some of the spicy roasted Thai chili powder that I love so much. DC had pho (what else?) which he ordered at 5/6 since both the waitress and our companion told him 6 was very very hot. He has a terrific heat tolerance and probably could have gone with the 6, but again, we added heat from the chili tray and better safe than too hot to eat. For dessert, we all shared a sticky purple rice with mango. I thought the mango was just the tiniest bit underripe, but really, it was a very good ending to the meal. We will definitely be back here and sooner rather than later :)

Burrito Gallery
21 East Adams Street, Jacksonville, FL

We saw this place as we exited Indochine next door the other night and went for lunch the very next day. What a great little place! Even though it was Friday noontime and the line was back to the door, we still had time to order lunch, eat it and get back to work on time without feeling panicked. Being vegan, I had a couple of choices: a veggie burrito, a Teriyaki-ginger tofu burrito, or Teriyaki-ginger tofu tacos. By the time I got to the ordering spot, I had decided on the tofu burrito. The girl taking my order ASKED if I was vegan and would I like pintos or black beans on my burrito? They're both vegan..wait...what, really? Yes, she said. Cool! I'll have black beans. I'm thinking I could probably just get black or pinto beans and rice on a burrito here as well. When my tray came out, there was a heaping amount of tortilla chips instead of the (I'm assuming) non-vegan coleslaw. Nice touch since I didn't have to ask. I know it's a little thing and some vegans would say "duh!', but in a town where many restaurants put BACON in the pasta e fagioli, I appreciate that they thought it through. The array of hot sauces was nice, too. I enjoyed having some choices instead of the regular Tabasco and that standard hot taco sauce crap one usually finds in Mexican restaurants. We'll be back here as well.

1183 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville Beach, FL

OMG! I think I've died and gone to heaven! Tempeh tacos on the freakin' menu AND you can sub tempeh into almost any of their other tacos without an upcharge. This adorable little place made me feel as though I was back in one of Tucson's little dives. It has the painted El Dias del los Muertos skeletons/ skulls on one wall, Spanish crosses on another and a whole row of veladoras burning brightly. The Latin salsa (not Mexican) music makes it complete if not authentic. Funny how all those Mexican places play more Puerto Rican music than anything else!

 We ordered tacos, the grape salsa salad and a side of cilantor-spinach rice.  I ordered the tempeh taco (of course) and DC, being the carnivore that he is, ordered one carnitas and one brisket. Our waitress was very helpful and seemed knowledgeable about veganism. She did have to check about whether the rice was vegetarian or not, but came back quickly with our answer (it IS vegetarian). I had originally ordered a Dos Equis, but once I saw the margaritas, I changed my mind. It was a great choice! Too salty for DC, but just fine for me.

When my tempeh taco arrived, I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed. It looked so small and lonely on the plate! What it lacked in bulk, it made up for in both taste and hardiness. It was constructed like a fish taco with 3 strips of tempeh, shredded cabbage and avocado with a lime squeeze on the side. It was quite yummy! We thought the rice was a little dry, but the salad was awesome! Sliced red grapes mixed with hot pepper (cayenne?), a few sliced almonds, and a garnish of very thin tortilla strips over Romaine lettuce. As the menu claimed, it didn't need dressing at all!  DC wanted to try the dressing however, so we poured about a half tablespoon on it. It too was tasty, but completely unnecessary. Overall a great visit. We'll be back. It's definitely a place I'd bring visitors.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Faux Pho

Since we finished unpacking late last Sunday evening, this is the first  weekend day we've had to explore Jacksonville. This morning I ventured out early to find the one and only Whole Foods in JAX. It's larger than the ones in Tucson and has features like a gelato and chocolate bar, a juice bar, and a bakery. I also found some crazy new (to me anyway) vegan products from Sophie's Kitchen. I was very curious, so I bought the vegan prawns along with the tahini, miso and tofu that had originally gone there for, although I had no clue what I intended to do with them at the time.

A little later, David and I went in search of an Asian market and found Hung Thinh Supermarket which is way up on the north side of town. While not as huge as LeeLee Oriental Market in Tucson, Hung Thinh had a great selection of Asian foods that we've been missing at the local Publix. Soon, we were picking up vegan "meat balls" and "vegan big meat slices" in addition to cilantro and bean sprouts. From there it was a small jump to making Pho for dinner. We just needed some fresh rice noodles and Thai basil. I've had requests for the recipe, but we really didn't use one, so I'm going to just give some general guidelines here. Traditional pho is made from thin slices of beef and seafood put on top of fresh rice noodles in a large bowl into which boiling hot broth is poured. The broth rapidly cooks the meats and noodles. The dish is usually topped with cilantro, Thai basil, culantro, and mung bean spouts. The main thing to keep in mind with any pho is to make everything thin so it will cook quickly.

First, the broth - we were lucky enough to find some vegetarian pho broth cubes, but if you aren't that lucky, start with some veggie broth and add a star anise (whole) and maybe some garlic to it. You want a good amount of broth. Get it started heating while you're doing all the cutting.

Next, the noodles - fresh rice noodles make the best pho, but if you only have dried ones soak them in water for a few minutes first. If you boil them the way you would regular noodles, you'll end up with mush. If you can't find fresh or dried rice noodles, I think it's OK to use wheat noodles (gasp!), but these WILL need to be cooked to al dente first.  Put the noodles into the pho bowl first.

Then the "meats" - We used a variety of vegan meat alternatives. I'm not opposed to eating these once in a while. They provide a chewy texture that's pretty hard to find in tofu and vegetables. They also increase the variety of foods I eat and allow me to be creative AND eat some comforting foods. Tonight I used some of the vegan prawns, some Gardein beefless tips, and the "Vegan big meat slice" (I do not lie, that's what is on the package. This is the closest I can get to a webpage for it). For the meat slices, I had to rehydrate them in water for 10 minutes. Then I squeezed the water out, sliced them in very thin strips and marinated them in some Sriracha, soy sauce, and Chinese rice vinegar for a few minutes.

We also used some kind of "vegan meat balls" that we found. Honestly, all this ended up being too meaty for me and I left a lot of it in the bowl, so next time I would probably use half the meat alternative or less. I've also made this just using very thinly sliced mushrooms - portobello, shitake, and crimini are really good choices, not to mention much more readily available and less weird.  Be sure to slice them super, super thin. No chunks of mushrooms allowed! Put these uncooked on top of the noodles and spread them out a little.

Add some extra veggies - we used a peeler to make really thin strips of carrot. We also added some very thin strips of green pepper. I think that some shredded spinach or cabbage would be good as well, but we were going for a more traditional look tonight. Add these on top of the "meats" and/or mushrooms.

Garnishes - these are really important, so don't skimp! They make the difference between good pho and great pho. As I said before, we used chopped cilantro, basil leaves, pickled onion, bean sprouts and culantro, but other options include jalapenos, fried garlic, chopped onions and lime wedges. Oh! Almost forgot - we bought some pickled limes today, so we chopped those up and used those as well.These go on a separate plate so that everyone can add to their taste. You may also want to put some hot sauce (Sriracha), soy sauce and/or vegan fish sauce on the table.

OK, now remove the star anise and turn that broth up until it really rolls in the pot. Then carefully ladle it into the bowls and add your garnishes and condiments while you're waiting for everything to heat through. The great thing about vegan phoDig in!

Just for because, I'm adding a little onion pickle recipe I quickly threw together tonight. it probably doesn't even qualify as a pickle since it didn't sit more than half an hour, but it sure was good!

Inez's very simple onion pickle

1 sweet onion, very thinly sliced
1 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

Salt the sliced onion and then squish it together in your hands until the onions soften. Add the vinegar and let it sit for a while. Idk if this will keep well, so eat it soon! :)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Southern comfort food - vegan style

Downtown Jacksonville - our new home
The past few weeks have been VERY hectic with our move from Tucson to Jacksonville, Florida. We made the trip in 2-1/2 days instead of three since we wanted more time to look for a place to stay. It was a good thing we did, because many of the places we wanted to see were closed for MLK day, so getting into Jacksonville on Saturday night and looking for places on Sunday worked out well. We found ONE place we both liked, but they had to do all the necessary credit and background checks, so we really didn't know if we would be accepted until Tuesday morning around 9. Since the movers were scheduled to deliver our stuff on Tuesday between 10 and noon, it was cutting it a little too close for my taste, but everything worked out well and we had the keys in our hands a whole 30 minutes before the movers arrived! Whew!

What our kitchen looked like after the movers left.
I posted some pictures of the new place on Facebook and will probably take a few more once we're completely finished unpacking - maybe show some before and after pictures. This move has been very difficult for me all the way around. When I moved to Tucson, I was making a conscious decision about where to live. This move was dictated by my place of employment and even though I know I made the right decision about employers, I have really mixed feelings about leaving Tucson. From the very first moment I stepped foot into Tucson, I felt it was home, so it was much harder to leave Tucson than when I left Reading - to the best of my recollection, anyway. With that said, as we get more and more of our "stuff" unpacked, I am feeling like the apartment is "home" even if Jacksonville still feels like an extended vacation.

As is inevitable whenever there is a move, we had to go to the grocery store for some staples as well as perishables. With such a long move, we were unable to bring along a lot of staples we wouldn't have had to leave in a shorter move - things like mustard, pickles, and our hot sauces (oh wah! our hot sauces!). In the same way that Tucson has a Walgreen's on every corner, Jacksonville (hereafter referred to as "Jax") has a Publix grocery store at least every half mile! Not the type of store I usually frequent,  but we haven't found a Jax equivalent of Sunflower Market yet.

A couple of things surprised me about our first shopping trip. The bagger at the register asked me if I needed help unloading the groceries from the cart onto the belt. I kind of looked at him like he was from Jupiter and he said, " hasn't anyone ever asked you that before? Well, that's what we do here at Publix. We empty your cart and make you laugh." :) Another thing that surprised me was the availability of huge, and I mean huge bags of pre-cut and washed collard greens. I love collards and couldn't resist buying a big bag of them.

Our first dinner in the new place - Riblets and collards.
To celebrate our new home, our first dinner we made included a great mess of collards and some Hickory BBQ Riblets from Morningstar Farms. I modified a recipe from the back of the collards to prepare them.


Collard greens and onions


2 lbs. shredded and washed collard greens
2 cups water
3 cups vegetable broth
1 large sweet or red onion, chopped
1/4 cup apple cider or red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons molasses or 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon Bac-os

Bring the water and broth to a boil and add the collards. Cook them for 6-7 minutes (or to desired tenderness). Drain. In a large skillet sprayed lightly with vegetable or olive oil, saute the onions. When they are translucent, add the molasses, vinegar, salt and red pepper flakes. Simmer for 1  minute and then add the collards and combine. Top with the Bac-os, if using.

I loved them, but I think if I were doing them again, I would add a little cornstarch to the liquid to thicken up the sauce a little - just a pinch.