Mark and I have just returned from a week in the mountains with his family, where it seemed my camera was permanently attached to my hand, except at mealtimes. Since I didn’t take any pictures of our food, I can’t rightly do a “real” food post about it, but I would like to mention a few of the things we ate because I think Mark’s family is really good at jointly feeding a large group of people with diverse diets. When I met them 11 years ago, I was delighted to find a few pescatarians and vegetarians in Mark’s family. For that reason, their communal meals were never very meat-centric to begin with, but when I joined the family (and Mark later converted to veganism), all their family meals became almost entirely vegan, and everyone was perfectly happy with that. Which, by the way, made me feel extremely welcome in their family, from the first day.
Mark’s family does an annual family vacation, during which each willing adult or household chooses a night to make dinner. Usually when I return home from a vacation, I’m sick of restaurant food and feel like I need to get back into healthy eating habits. After vacations like this, however, I feel great: we ate very well and very healthy all week. Although most of the group are omnivorous, only one meal of the week contained optional chicken for anyone who wanted it. The rest of the meals were all vegan, but they were the sorts of meals that don’t cause you to miss meat.
Mark’s aunt pre-made a large batch of vegan chili and froze it in a few containers, which then doubled as ice in the large cooler they brought, keeping several items that didn’t fit in the fridge at the lodge (which we had filled with an awful lot of beer) cold for a few days. She also pre-breaded pieces of okra and eggplant and froze them, then baked them for a quick side dish our first night there. Mark’s uncle maintains a large and diverse vegetable garden in Charleston, so it’s always a pleasure eating whatever he and Mark’s aunt make, as it’s always chock-full of delicious homegrown vegetables. His uncle pre-made and froze a huge batch of veggie-heavy pasta sauce, which he served over penne one night, with a huge tossed salad made from his own produce. Another uncle made linguine with garlic and local kale and turnip greens (and optional herbed chicken). Mark’s mom made tabbouleh, a potato and green bean salad, and offered fillings for making wraps. His cousins made veggie fajitas with seasoned black beans and lots of sauteed veggies.
I made summer rolls and “drunken noodles”. I brought rice paper wrappers, mung bean threads, and rice noodles with me, then we stopped in a local grocery store to pick up vegetables, fresh herbs, and sauce ingredients. For the summer rolls, I soaked the mung bean threads and snipped them up into smaller pieces with kitchen shears, then rolled them into rolls using rice paper wrappers, along with some “broccoli slaw mix” I found in the store, sliced avocado, julienned carrots and cucumbers, and fresh mint and basil. For a dipping sauce, I mixed together peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic, sriracha, a couple splashes of vinegar, a little brown sugar, and the juice of a lime – some of these ingredients I found in the pantry and were different than I’d have used at home (e.g. white vinegar instead of rice vinegar), but everyone raved about it.
I had had the idea to make some fairly mild drunken noodles as the main for my meal (I figured those of us who like stuff extra-hot could add our own heat on our plates), but I forgot to pack dark soy sauce, and the grocery store in town didn’t stock anything like it, nor did they have vegetarian oyster sauce or anything else vegan I thought would make a decent sub. The closest thing in their small selection I could find was a sichuan bean paste. So that’s what I used, although I think in doing so I gave up whatever flimsy right I had in the first place to call my dish “drunken noodles”. I mixed the bean paste with some low-sodium soy sauce, however, as well as some vinegar, lime juice, and brown sugar. I chopped up a bunch of vegetables and some garlic, but I forgot to use the broccoli and tofu I had purchased. I had two different shapes of rice noodles, so I made two batches of noodles, one mild for children and non-heat-loving adults, and a hotter one. My throat is sensitive to chilis – I often choke when I’m preparing them though I love to eat them – so I made Mark mince some jalapenos for me, most of which I served on the side, but some of which I put in the “hot” wok. I stir-fried the veggies, added the noodles, then the sauce, and lastly stirred in as much basil as I could get my hands on. I also served sriracha and lemon and lime wedges on the side.
Our last night was “leftover night”, which is where we all simply raid the fridge for dinner in an attempt to clean it out. I made a super-quick stir-fry from my forgotten tofu and broccoli, and I served it over the rest of the mung bean threads. For the sauce, I used up the rest of that sichuan bean paste and my small bottle of soy sauce, and added in other stuff I found in the pantry. I was surprised that others in addition to Mark were interested in it, but it was gobbled up.
I do have one food picture from the trip for you, although I took it today at home. I regularly make a trail mix that I keep at my desk at work for snacks, and I took a whopping 4 liters of it with me to North Carolina, where it was devoured in a few short days. It’s mostly nuts, but I’m not crazy about most commercial nut mixes because they are super salty. So what I do is go to the Whole Foods with the best bulk foods selection (in my area of Northern Virginia, this is the Vienna store) and just buy a bunch of everything I like, then mix it all together. Typically I include:
- raw cashews
- raw almonds
- sesame sticks (these are a must; Mark picks them out and eats them all, so I have to buy a huge amount of them)
- hazel nuts
- Brazil nuts
- dark chocolate-covered almonds
- dark chocolate-covered raisins
- roasted soynuts
- roasted corn
- dried strawberries
- dried banana chips
So, a few pictures from the trip. We stayed in this lodge between Highlands and Cashiers, NC:
Overall the weather was great because, being so high in the mountains, it was a relief from the unrelenting heat at home, although it rained briefly most days (and most of one day). Wildflowers on a misty hike:
The Highlands Botanical Garden was pleasant; I particularly liked the lily pads …
… where I chatted about lenses with a friendly old gent and spent longer than I should have taking pictures of a dragonfly.
I also enjoyed the bumblebees ..
… who enjoyed the wildflowers.
There are a lot of waterfalls in the area. This one is under the Iron Bridge.
From the ground on the opposite side:
I especially enjoyed Sunset Rock, a large rocky cliff that affords a stunning westward view of the tiny town of Highlands. The sunset was nice.
As we speed-walked up the trail to the rock (being a bit late for the sunset), we passed another couple walking back down, who somewhat disgustedly warned us, “it’s cloudy.” Well, it turns out I was delighted that it was cloudy because it afforded me the opportunity to capture lightning for the first time.
And now we are home, where it is, surprise surprise, hot. Mark’s Jeep will display the external temperature and I watched it rise from 84 to 96 degrees practically as I crossed the Fairfax County line at 6:30 p.m. Although it looks like it’s about to start lightning here now, an hour or so ago, ole Torticia was feeling extra lazy in the heat.