Ava and Maya on Belle Isle

My sister brought the girls Downtown last weekend for a visit and we had a great time.  We started our day with lunch at Bucharest.  May I please recommend the chicken quesadilla?  It's not your average quesadilla.

Then, we headed to Cafe Con Leche's pop-up location in Lafayette Park to sip on Mexican Hot Chocolate and chat.  The girls played in the kid's section while their hot chocolate cooled, so it was great for them too. 

Next, we went to Eastern Market where my sister bought all of the spaghetti squash that was left in a five mile radius.  We also went to Rocky's and it was my sister's first time there.  She became a believer, let me tell you.  Duh, it's the best store ever.  Have you been?  No?  Go.  

By that time, the girls were exhausted so we strapped them in the car and took a spin around Belle Isle.  

The girls loved the bridge and the ducks.  It was a fun opportunity to snap some pics even though Maya hadn't brushed her hair since 1999.

After the Isle, we cruised around Indian Village because why not?

Overall, great afternoon in the D.


CJ in Lafayette Park

My handsome nephew, CJ, turned 5 the other day.  Insanely old.  Earlier this Fall, when he was a young 4 year old, he came over to hang out and we went to play in Lafayette Park.  CJ fell in love with the tire swing.  He ran full speed to it when he saw it and had a smile on his face the entire time he swung on it.  He told me that he was going to ask his Dad to put one up in his yard.  I told him he had to find a tire first, and he said, "No, that's okay, we'll just take the one off of our truck."   

I had such a great time watching him have so much fun on the swing.  I hope you do too.

And if you had any doubt about how precious and sweet of a boy CJ is, please see Exhibit A:

A tire swing skateboard.  That's right.


Christmas in the D

If you haven't already, get yourself Downtown for Holiday lights and sights, ice skating and quality time with friends.  

Check out http://www.campusmartiuspark.org/ for info on rink hours and carriage rides around the City.

When the sun has set, no candle can replace it


An Incident According to Alessandro...

Alessandro called me at work one morning and excitedly told me about an incident he had where "I was almost murdered just now."  When he was finished telling me, I asked him to write it down so I could share it here.  You can thank me later.  Here's his story:

We often forget we live our lives among wild animals, but we do, and they are dangerous.  I recently had an encounter with one of these dangerous wild animals.  I did not appreciate it.  

While walking to my car one brisk morning, I came face to face with the wild beast that is the squirrel.  

Like many of you, I see squirrels almost daily.  Most days they keep to themselves and peacefully coexist with us.  Today was not one of those days.   As I walked on the path towards my car I was faced with a squirrel with a menacing look on his face.  He was stopped directly in front of me and was not frightened by me in the least.  We both came to a standstill and locked eyes.  Mine were saying, “Please move along little squirrel,” and his were saying, “Over my dead body you’re getting down this path.”  I remained still, but he didn’t.  

This squirrel was asking for trouble.  He slowly started approaching.  This is when I realized that he was from out of town.  He wasn’t the typical black city squirrel; he was a larger brown squirrel from the suburbs.  At this point, I panicked.  My limited mobility doesn’t allow me to run away screaming.  I had to face this squirrel head on.  Usually squirrels are frightened by some sudden movement, so I took my walker and banged it on the ground a couple times.  This didn’t faze him.  He continued to approach me, and at this point he was probably three feet away from me and closing in.  This is easily the closest I had ever been to these vile creatures.  Luckily, I had a bag with me which I started wildly swinging around, all while I was gripping my walker for balance.  

The squirrel finally retreated some, enough so that I could continue down the path towards my car.  He didn’t run far though.  He remained on the grass nearby and our eyes never left each other as I passed him by.  I didn’t take my eyes off of him as I approached my car.  He slowly had followed me and maintained eye contact as well.  I watched him through my car window as I approached the car door.  He was still close and still interested.  As I threw my bag in the car, I lost sight of him and knew I had to move fast as he was probably lurking underneath the car near my feet.  I folded my walker, banged it on the car a few times in hopes to scare him off, and got into my car.  I had luckily made it without incident, but my heart was beating fast.  

I didn’t know where he was, but I was hoping to hear him crunched under my car as I drove away.  That was the only way I knew I would be safe.  But, he got away.  I could breathe easy for the moment, but I feared he would be waiting for me when I returned.  I made it home without incident, but feared my next encounter with that squirrel.  I didn’t know what the following morning would hold for me, but I was hoping I could walk to my car without being harassed.  

But the next morning, there were actually four squirrels hanging around the path to my car, three small black ones, and one brown one.  The black ones were running around obliviously.  The brown one though, was just sitting.  I tried not to make eye contact with him and just hoped he would leave me alone.  He did that day, but I know it was him and I know he didn’t forget our encounter the day before.  

Author’s Note:  In no way do I condone the murdering of animals, unless they plan on murdering you.              


A Short Love Note to the D

I took these pictures on Thursday morning as soon as I woke up and saw this view from my bedroom window.  What a special day that ended up being.    

Sometimes I'm taken over by the overwhelming love I have for this City.  When I walk to work, ride my bike through the neighborhoods, gaze out the windows, and mingle with fellow townspeople, it helps me to revel in the good here.  Of course, I also recognize the bad, but mostly I am excited for what is to come.  

I read this quote recently about the City that rang true to me:  “The people who live here usually have something going on...They’re artistic, they’re handy, they’re self-starters. People who are finicky don’t come to Detroit. There’s a filter at work here.  You’ve got to have self-sufficiency.” George Royce

Finicky.  That's exactly the right word.  

I was recently asked if I was ever embarrassed of my City.  Embarrassed?  Never.  Disappointed?  Sometimes. Proud?  Always. 


The Best Day of the Year

Today is Alessandro's Birthday!  He's the big 30!  For a birthday present I thought I'd finally reveal to him why I was giggling to myself the other night while on the computer.  I was putting together this montage:

Happy 30 years Alessandro!  You deserve the happiest of birthdays today.  


Plant-Based Dinner: Kale and Pan-Fried White Beans

I was at my friend's house this weekend and he has the most magnificent garden.  He's growing pumpkins, squash, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, kale and many other things I've no doubt left out.  (Not to mention a vineyard as well!)  He has had so much kale this season that he's always in the market for a new recipe.  I wanted to share with him one of my favorite kale recipes and what better time than during plant-based food week(s) here on the blog?    

Kale and Pan-Fried White Beans with Lemon and Nutmeg anyone? 

Mmmk.  Here's what you need: 

2 cans of white beans rinsed and drained (or use dried beans that you soak and prepare yourself)
2/3 cup of lightly toasted walnuts
Zest of 2 lemons
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1-2 bunches of kale, stemmed and finely chopped (I use 1 bunch if I get it from the farmer's market since the bunches tend to be larger or 2 bunches if I get it from the grocery store, which sells more measly bunches).

Oh yeah...and the most important ingredient is the laptop computer with the recipe, which is originally from 101 Cookbooks, a great natural food blog that I've come to depend on and that I've referenced here and here.

I doubled the original recipe so that we could have leftovers, left out the cheese and substituted canned white beans for dried corona beans for the sake of time and ease.  The recipe I've laid out above will give you 4 servings.   

After all of your ingredients are prepped, finish it off by doing the following: 

  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in the deepest skillet you have.  (I would recommend using a dutch oven if you have one, which will make it easier to keep the kale in the pan).  
  2. Add the beans and stir to coat.  Cook them for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown. 
  3. Add the kale and salt to the pan and cook for about a minute, until the kale just starts to wilt. 
  4. Stir in the walnuts and garlic.   
  5. Stir in the nutmeg. 
  6. Stir in the lemon juice and zest. 
That's it.  It's on the stove top for less than 10 minutes and you are left with a warm, home cooked, hearty bowl of healthy deliciousness. 

(Note:  the reason my beans are not that golden crispy brown that you would be going for in this recipe is because I was really hungry the day I made this and was too impatient to wait the allotted time for browning.  Just as good though in case you find yourself in a similarly dire circumstance).   

I hope you try the recipe and love it!  I'm confident it will be a staple for all you kale loving fools. 


Vegan Breakfast: Almond, Coconut, Banana Pancakes

I probably can't call these pancakes plant-based since they lack plants for the most part, but at least they're all natural and vegan.

And the best part:  they are absolutely delicious.  I gotta admit, when I first made them, neither Alessandro nor I had high hopes.  I had just recently made a whole wheat pancake mix and it was pretty hard to eat.  So we were kind of thinking that pancakes would just be one thing we couldn't eat (in good conscience).  

That is until I ran across this recipe for coconut and almond crusted banana pancakes.  Yum!  Had to give it a try. 

First, I needed to gather ingredients: 

1/2 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup almond meal (found it at Rocky's in Eastern Market, but could probably find it the bulk foods section of a whole foods market; or you could make your own).
1/4 cup shredded coconut (original recipe says unsweetened, but I only had sweetened, so went with that)
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

1 very ripe banana
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/3 cup of soy milk (original recipe says almond milk, but we don't drink that, so I used soy)
1/3 cup of light coconut milk
1 tsp of pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil or earth balance butter for greasing the skillet. 
For the crust:
1/4 of finely chopped almonds
1/4 cup of shredded coconut

In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  In a blender, blend the wet ingredients until smooth.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until everything is combined.  Grease your favorite pancake making skillet with a small amount of olive oil or earth balance.  Pour the mixture onto the pan.  Sprinkle a bit of the almond and coconut crust mixture onto the tops of the pancakes.  Cook for 2-3 minutes and flip.  Cook for 2-3 more minutes and flip.  Serve garnished with banana slices and warm maple syrup.  

Disclaimer!  Both times I have made these, they turned out looking nothing like how they look on the creator's website.   And that's okay.  They were just as delicious.  In full disclosure here...the first time I made these bad boys, they not only didn't look like they should look, but they barely looked edible.  

Seriously, that's what I was working with.  But, to our credit, we tried them and they were really good.  So good that I gave them another shot.  The second time around, I actually used a bit of earth balance, which I tried to skip the first time.  And I also cut back on the amount of crust topping I added to the pancakes.  As you can tell from the above pic, too much crust + no oil or butter = burnt crust topping.  So, I would recommend not skipping the greasing of the pan so that your pancakes can get a nice golden tan, and to use less topping so that it won't burn and so that the awesome flavor and fluffy texture of the pancake can be the star. 

I served these with crispy fried potatoes and onions and black coffee one Sunday morning.  It was our idea of a good time.


Plant-Based Dinner: Mushroom and Spinach Panini


This week is supposed to be Plant-Based Food Week here on the good ol' blog, so bear with me while I share with you another plant-strong recipe.  See the first here

This, my friends, is a mushroom, spinach panini.  (Originally saw the recipe here when we first started our new eating habits, discussed here).  Sounds so simple, but I really think you will be blown away by the flavor and simplicity. 

Here's what you need for 2 sandwiches: 
1 pound of white mushrooms, sliced
1 handful of spinach
4 slices of whole wheat or multigrain bread (we like Wheaty Wheat or the Motown Multigrain both from Avalon)
A bit of vegetable broth
2 stalks of green onions, chopped
A handful of cilantro, chopped
Hummus (try to get an all natural hummus, or if you can't find one, just make it yourself.  All I do for hummus is puree in a food processor the following ingredients, which I eyeball:  a can of chickpeas, tahini sauce, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, a clove of garlic and a bit of sea salt). 

Here's what to do: 
Cook the mushrooms in vegetable broth in a deep skillet.  (If you'd like specific instructions for that...add a bit of vegetable broth (about 1/4 of a cup) to a skillet over medium heat.  Add the sliced mushrooms.  Stir to coat.  Cover the skillet and let cook until mushrooms begin to soften, about 5-10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to the mushrooms.  Let cook uncovered for about 5-10 more minutes, or until the liquid almost fully evaporates).  Take mushrooms out of skillet with a slotted spoon and transfer into a bowl and set aside.  Get rid of any excess liquid in your skillet and turn off the heat.  Layer all 4 slices of bread with a thick layer of hummus.  On 2 of the slices, add cilantro and green onions.    Pile on a bit of spinach and top with a generous helping of cooked mushrooms.  Cover the sandwich with the other slice of hummus covered bread and press down firmly.  Re-heat the skillet over medium heat.  Place both sandwiches in the skillet and put a heavy casserole dish on top of the sandwiches to squish them down.  Cook until brown, for about 5 minutes, on each side.  (Be careful when you flip so all of the stuffing doesn't fall out).  Cut in half for ease of eating.  Enjoy!  

I usually serve the sandwiches with roasted potatoes and whatever vegetable we have on hand. 

See those potatoes in the background?  They're kind of the best thing ever.  So good that I think you should know how to make them.  

The Best Crispy, Roasted Potatoes:  (America's Test Kitchen approved, so you know it's legit). 
Move oven rack to the bottom most position.  Place a cookie sheet on the bottom rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Slice about 1 - 1.5 pounds of baby potatoes or red-skinned potatoes into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Place the potatoes in a dutch oven or heavy pot and top with 1 tablespoon of salt and cover with 1 inch of cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Drain the potatoes.  Toss potatoes in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  Mix well with a rubber spatula.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and mix together for about 1 to 2 minutes, until fully coated.  Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Working quickly, arrange potatoes in a single layer on the cookie sheet (place end pieces skin side up).  Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.  After cooking for 20 minutes, gently flip each potato over with tongs.  Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.  Salt and pepper and serve. 

One remix to this recipe that I love is to place a few slices of lemon on the cookie sheet and bake along with the potatoes.  Sure, they'll burn, as you can see here, but the lemon juice lightly infuses the potatoes and gives them a fresh, interesting taste.  

The potatoes immediately above are baby potatoes and the ones pictured at the beginning of this post alongside the sandwich are red-skinned potatoes.  (Alessandro said he liked the red-skinned potatoes better).  I'm pretty sure I cooked them both for the same amount of time, but you can see how the baby potatoes browned up a bit more than the red-skinned potatoes in the same amount of time.  Even so, I would not adjust cooking time and I wouldn't mess with the potatoes when they're in the oven.  Keep the oven closed and trust the cooking times.  There's no such thing as an overly crispy potato is there?

Stay tuned for more Plant-Based recipes this week and next.  I've still got great recipes for delicious vegan pancakes, steel cut oats, lettuce wraps and a kale dish to share.  

*  *  * 

P.S.  I'm fully aware that oil is not plant-based and I feel bad every time I use it.  I have used oil when cooking pesto, hummus and potatoes because I do not see vegetable broth being an appropriate substitute.  But, whenever I think vegetable broth will do the job instead of olive oil, I do use it.  I'm just doing the best I can! 


Plant-Based Dinner: Tempeh Bean Bowl

Ever heard of tempeh?  Alessandro and I hadn't either until I ran across the recipe here.  

To be honest, when I saw tempeh and touched it for the first time, I was kind of grossed out.  It looks offensive (sort of like brain), so I didn't really know what to expect.  We were pleasantly surprised though.  Not only is tempeh edible, but it's actually really really good.  We were like, "Gimme more tempeh!"  So, in case you want to try it for the first time, or if you're already a die hard tempeh fan and would like to try a new recipe, give this tempeh bean bowl a go. 

Tempeh Bean Bowl For Two: 

Necessary Ingredients: 
One package of tempeh  (found near the tofu and veggie dogs at the grocery store)
One avocado
One lime
Your favorite salsa (we use Honey Bee salsa)
Your favorite hot sauce (we use Sriracha) 
Can of black beans (always try to get salt-free if that's available to you)

Optional Ingredients: 
Trader Joe's Corn and Chile Salsa 

What to Do: 
Crumble the tempeh into a bowl.  Mix in a few generous spoon fulls of your favorite salsa.  Add a few splashes of your favorite hot sauce and the juice from half a lime.  Mix together.  Heat this up in a skillet over low-medium heat until heated thorughoughly, about 7 minutes, stirring occassionally.  While that's heating up, rinse and drain a can of black beans and heat up in the microwave for about a minute and a half.  (You could also toss them into the skillet to heat them up along with the tempeh, but be careful not to smash them while you're stirring).  Chop up a handful of cilantro and slice up one avocado.  Once the beans and tempeh are heated, mix them together (if you haven't already) and split into two serving bowls.  Top with avocado slices, cilantro, the juice from half a lime and the corn and chile salsa.  Add a few splashes of your favorite hot sauce.  Voila!  

This is a very easy, fast and tasty meal that Alessandro and I enjoy for lunch or dinner a few times each month.  It takes about 15 minutes from the time you decide "I'm hungry" to the time you are chewing it and it's in your belly.  That's my kind of low maintenance meal.  I hope you try it and like it!  Let me know if you do.  

Any questions?  What do you think about tempeh?  Do you have a favorite tempeh recipe?  (I have a few more great ones that I will share here).     


Summer in the D: Sleepover with Saverio

Our nephew, Saverio, slumbered at our place last month.  We had the best time together!

Saverio greeted me with this smile when I met him and Alessandro down at the pool.  

I had been on a photography excursion with some friends at Belle Isle, and Saverio and Alessandro were patiently awaiting for me to come home so we could have dinner.  Aless and I wanted Mexican, but Saverio wanted pizza.  Hmm...what is one to do in such dire circumstances?  Tell the child that Mexican food involves dipping (his favorite food related activity), so he was easily swayed. 

We went to our favorite Mexican joint, El Rancho.

I told you the kid likes to dip and he took over the chips and salsa.  Here he is hijacking the tortilla chips with a look that says, "These are mine! I dare you to try to grab a chip!"

The three of us ate so much chips and salsa that I told Saverio that he had to ask our waiter for another basket of chips since I was kind of embarrassed that we wanted more.  So when our waiter came by, Saverio simply continued to chew on his chips and pointed repeatedly at the chip basket, indicating that he needed a chip refill.  It was not what I had in mind, but pretty funny nonetheless.

Our waiter was awesome!  He was so nice and even allowed us to order off of the lunch menu for the little buddy.  

Saverio did the funniest thing while we were at home getting ready to head out for dinner.  He kept on repeating what he wanted to eat as soon as it was official that we were getting Mexican.  "I want soft chicken tacos with just cheese and salad (aka lettuce) and no tomatoes."  And on the drive there, he kept asking, "Auntie, do you remember what I want?" and would make me confirm that I knew his order.  I guess he really didn't want anything getting in the way of his chicken tacos.

He surprised us by eating both of his tacos, which were fairly large.  Alessandro had enchiladas suizas (topped with a special tomatillo sauce), and everything looked good to me, so I asked the waiter what his favorite dish was.  He recommended the steak milanesa ranchero, so I ordered that.  It was delicious!  Definitely ordering that again sometime.  (Update:  went there this weekend and I enjoyed the same dish again). 

After getting home from dinner, we were pretty pooped, so we watched Scooby Doo and went to bed.

Saverio brought Car-Car over to visit us!  He's really into Mario right now, so Alessandro told him to nickname Car-Car "Super Cario" and Saverio thought that was the funniest thing.

In the picture above, he's on a bed of blankets on the floor of our bedroom.  He asked if he could sleep in our bed with Alessandro instead, and because I wanted a full nights sleep, I just gave in and said sure...I would just sleep on the couch.  But he wasn't in our bed long before he said, "This bed actually isn't that comfortable so I'm going to just sleep on the couch with you."  (Little did he know that if he was on the couch, I was getting back in my bed!)  I think he wanted to sleep in the living room because it was brighter than our bedroom with all of the city lights shining through the windows.  (He doesn't like the dark).  He asked me if I could lay on the couch with him until he fell asleep and then he said, "But I never ever fall asleep."  He fell asleep shortly after that and slept all night. 

The next morning, the boys were super cute and smiley. 

Saverio played telescope.

Then we headed to the park behind our apartment.  It was still barely 8:00 am, so it was very peaceful, quiet and quite beautiful.  (The binoculars were needed to check for ghosts).

Saverio's a little bit of a scaredy cat, so he wouldn't go down the slide without pushing his arms and legs up against the side of the slide, which would prevent him from going down the slide too quickly.  His skin kept screeching up against the sides and hurt him a bit, so I was trying to get him to tuck his limbs in, but he didn't want to because that made him go too fast.  So, to help him enjoy the slide a bit more, I went down with him on my lap a couple of times so he could get the full experience.  He loved it! 

He also didn't want to go too high on the swings, so he just mostly played with the binoculars instead.

I wonder how many pictures I have of Alessandro yawning.

After the park, we went to breakfast at my all time favorite breakfast place:  The Flytrap in Ferndale.

I ordered the BACT omellete (bacon, avocado, cheese, tomato) with garlic home fries, Alessandro had the crab cakes and eggs and Saverio had the gingerbread waffles.  We all loved our meals.

Saverio took these cute pictures of Alessandro!  He's such a good photog--he even knows the rule of thirds.  

Saverio needs to teach Alessandro a thing or two.

After breakfast, we came home and played.  Saverio drew this picture of him and Alessandro.  Notice Alessandro's cane.  I thought that was the cutest.  

Then, Saverio fell asleep and napped for over 2 hours!

When he left, I noticed that he left his mark on our home: 

We can't wait for our next sleepover with Saverio.  He was so smiley the whole time and really was a joy to have around.

* * * 
Notable things about 5 year old Saverio:
  • He LOVES Alessandro. 
  • He HATES kisses.  If someone says, "Okay everyone a hug and a kiss goodbye," He always says quickly, "Um, but I don't do that."  And if you even try to sneak a kiss on him, he wipes it off defiantly.  
  • He calls Alessandro's walker a "double cane." 
  • His favorite place is Downtown Detroit.
  • He refuses to go underwater in the pool.
  • He thinks he IS Mario.  
* * *

P.S. More niece and nephew sleepover stories here, here and here.