Picnic food recipe roundup

I realize that it has been a little while since I posted a recipe. It isn't that I'm holding out on you guys! It is simply that I'm in somewhat of an uninspired patch with food at the moment. I'm spending my mental cycles on clearing out my chattery brain by means of nature hikes and yoga instead of daydreaming about cookie dough and sun-dried tomatoes (separately, of course). I've been eating simply, getting take-out, and still working on using up what I have in the pantry when I can.

That being said, though, some thoughts of take-along foods have been swirling around in my head because I have been day-tripping and picnic-ing as often as possible lately. We brought a picnic lunch along for our Big Tree hike and, just today, I packed yet another for a day trip to Donner Lake in Truckee, CA.

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Usually a picnic for us includes a rather uninspired combo of PB&J sandwiches, sliced apples, cookies, and snack bars. I am totally crushing on the idea of picnic foods in jars, though, and that has me thinking about some more exciting portable foods. Here are some of my favorite ideas (not all of these are vegan, however they can be vegan-ized):
  • Sliced apples or pears with nut butter dips (using variations of this recipe from OSG)
  • Apple chips (here or here)
  • Nut or seed butter protein balls (here or here)
  • Homemade fruit rolls, here
  • A "vegan-ized" sandwich, here
  • Dreena Burton's Super-Charge Me! cookies, here or my breakfast cookies (a breakfast picnic, by the way, sounds like fun!), here
  • Homemade soft pretzels (this recipe looks like a good start- I would make a few tweaks) with vegan cheese sauce (something like this or this or this)
  • Homemade potato chips with avocado ranch dip, here
  • Homemade crackers (here or here) with my roasted red pepper dip, here
  • Anything baked in a jar: pie, cobbler, oatmeal...
  • Gilled sweet potato salad (minus the feta), here
  • Any kind of grain salad would be good too- like this or this or this or this
  • Any of these high protein salads from OSG
*Book recommendation: Speaking of the great outdoors and packing food along for a hike, I just finished reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. I loved this book. LOVED it! Bill Bryson is absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious and this book is now one of my all-time favorites!

Yoga, mosquitos, and big trees

I have been mixing things up in my workout routine lately. Instead of dragging myself to the gym to begrudgingly hammer out miles on the treadmill, I have been running outside and going to a yoga class at a studio. Last weekend I attended an outdoor full moon yoga class and, despite its being in a strip mall, the feeling was one of connection and in-the-momentness. I especially loved the moment when the full moon popped out from behind the studio building and the instructor said, "the moon has decided to join us!" I am all about connecting body and mind; breath and movement; yoga and nature. These yoga classes feed my needs for stretching and strength training but also nurture my spirit. My mind always feels just a little quieter after a class and that is exactly what I need right now.

I just finished reading Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer and I really enjoyed it. The book is a memoir and I could really relate to many of the author's struggles and experiences. In a class that she was taking, the instructor likened meditation to the tracking of wild animals in the forest. He said that, "If you're still enough [in meditation], the wild mind, the mind that isn't preoccupied with oughts and shoulds and the minutiae of life, will approach you and make itself known." How perfect is that metaphor?

A couple of weekends ago we went for a hike in a placed called Placer Big Trees Grove. It was a hassle to get there (long and windy drive) and there were big hungry mosquitos attacking us a the end of our hike. It was completely worth all of that, though. Sometimes I just need to be outside in the woods. I'll risk the mosquitos and the bears and the mountain lions to gain a little sanity. Without this kind of recess, life just might eat me itself.

Photos of Placer Big Trees Grove

Lots of BIG trees (as you might have guessed from the name of the place!):

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These Western Azaleas were everywhere and they smelled amazing! I'm pretty sure that if fairies were real, they'd live here:

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Weird foods: Tempeh

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Tempeh is one of my favorite “freaky vegetarian foods”. It could be considered a “meat analog” because it is high in protein, although, it is not intended to fool anyone into believing that it is meat. It is made from fermented soybeans. I know, I know, the word “fermented” freaks me out too. Don't worry, it doesn't taste like dirty gym socks. It has a nutty flavor that is really nice when you brown it a little before adding it to sandwiches, stir fry, or other dishes. You can buy tempeh in the refrigerated section of natural food stores or some large grocery stores (Raley's and Bel Air) carry it.

My favorite way to eat tempeh is in a sandwich. Here are some other ideas:


(Updated from the original post, published April 2008.)

Simplicity and soft homemade vegan sandwich bread

I have been craving simplicity lately. More than usual, really. For me, this is a very predictable part of my life's rhythm. It is a cycle in which I pile way too many things onto the shoulders of my days. There are so many things that I want to read and write and photograph and see. New music to hear, new trails to hike, new exploring, new creating. When this mountain of wants and shoulds gets too heavy, I collapse. Onto the couch, out of my responsibilities, out of my smooth groove. I shirk. I hide. And then I start it all over again. It is what I do. It is the way that I know myself as someone who does things and who is passionate about staying hungry.

Sworn tightly to backing off on using my goals and lists to prod myself into an anxious state of "NOT ENOUGH TIME!", I am putting a little extra effort into nurturing my soul. Sitting at my favorite coffee shop in a cozy corner and drinking a deliciously fragrant jasmine green tea, it occurred to me that simplicity doesn't mean boring and slow. This moment is so simple- sitting in a coffee shop. The layers of what is happening here, though, are what make this time worthy of being deposited into my bank of rejuvenation. Like doing shoulder presses and squats at the same time, this time is complex and multi-beneficial.

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Love this cozy little corner of the coffee shop:

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Yesterday I realized mid-day that I was out of bread. I had sandwiches planned for dinner and didn't want to drag the kids to the store before we headed to the pool for swimming lessons. I tossed a few ingredients into the bread machine and, a few hours later, ended up with a fantastically soft loaf of sandwich bread. No weird ingredients. No trip to the store. Perfect!

Now I realize that making bread from scratch doesn't sound, on the surface, to be an act of simplicity. It is, though, quite nurturing in more than one way. There is a feeling of success and of everything being in its place when the dough rises as it should. Homemade bread smells amazing and it seems so special despite its being ordinary.

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Vegan Sandwich Bread
For a 1 lb. bread machine (or 1 loaf in the oven)

2/3 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup lukewarm apple juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon active dry yeast

  1. Put all of the ingredients into your machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Program the machine for whole wheat bread and press Start.*

*My bread machine is a 1 1/2 - 2 pound machine and this is a 1 pound loaf. Rather than let it bake into a loaf that wasn't quite the right shape in the machine, I pulled the dough out right before the last rise period and placed it in an oiled loaf pan. I covered it with a tea towel and let it rise in the sun for 70 minutes. I baked it in my oven at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

I used this bread to make barbecued tempeh sandwiches with my favorite barbecue sauce:

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Served with sweet potatoes cooked on the barbecue:

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The sandwiches were made with lots of avocado tucked away inside- yum!

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My 3-year-old made cookies for dessert (these are toy cookies, but he was all business in serving them)!

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Spring (summer) cleaning

I'm a little bit late, but I think the "spring cleaning" bug might finally be kicking in for me. We have plans to go through our stuff (mainly toys- our little people are taking over the house!); but other things too. We have too much stuff and I feel suffocated by it. It is time to purge.

In the spirit of using up and shrinking down, our meals this week have been (will be) based on items that I have on hand. I have accumulated a collection of jars of good things in my pantry- grains, beans, etc. It is time to eat them!

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This week we ate (are planning to eat):

Today is my birthday so instead of the usual grocery shop, laundry, dishes, etc. of a Friday morning, I treated myself to a long, hot yoga class. I sweated like crazy and I felt great when the hour and 15 minutes were up. I felt like I had really cleansed my body and soul. Bliss.

My thoughts on yoga from a post I wrote in 2008:
My yoga mat is more thorough than a doctor visit for a check up. I can so clearly gauge my heath and happiness from that vantage. When my balance is good in tree pose, it is a sign that life isn't overwhelming me at the moment. When I can breath freely while holding strong in a triangle, my anxiety is low. When my crocodile is smooth and slow, I feel strong and confident off the mat. When forward folds feel really good, I am happy and content. When I can hold and enjoy pigeon and crow, I am on top of the world.

Hometown 4th of July

This 4th of July was a busy one for us. We traveled north for my 20 year high school reunion and to visit with family. It was a weekend filled with hiking...

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...and climbing rocks...

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...to see a waterfall (Faery Falls):

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We watched the hometown parade complete with loud firetrucks...

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...pretended to drive Grandpa's Jeep...

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...and played croquet:

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We watched Mt. Shasta grow pink with alpenglow at sunset...

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...and had a driveway fireworks show:

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We dressed up and reunited with old friends, some who I hadn't seen for 20+ years:

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It was hustle-bustle, but it felt good to get out of town. The hike to the waterfall was a bit of a wakeup call for my inner adventurer. We had to walk on a skinny and gravely (aka slippery) trail on the edge of a drop-off to get to the falls. The walk was totally worth it- I need more of this!



"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." ~ John Muir