Vegciting News!

The backyard garden is brimming with peppers, tomatoes, and herbs and summer produce is a staple of our diet– fresh corn, peaches, and blueberries seem to appear on our plates in some form daily. Despite this veritable bounty of fresh goodness, we’ve been eating out a little more than usual. Why, you may ask?

VegetarianForTwo is moving! Just down the street a few miles, but moving nonetheless. What began on a whim as a search for a new ‘dream home’ resulted in a house we couldn’t let slip away. Realizing we can’t live in 2 places at once, we quickly put our starter house on the market and within a few days had an offer from a newlywed couple who loves to garden too– perhaps a new couple friend for us!? This excitement and stress of having our house showing-ready at all times means that our ability to cook at our usual level has been stunted, since we never know how much time we’ll have to clean up and get the house ready to show. However, now that we’ve got a contract signed, life will return to semi-normal! You’ll see a few different kitchen counters in the coming months as we transition (temporarily) to S’s mom’s house and then to our new, beautiful kitchen by October.

We figured we’d try some new places in town while we are displaced and I’m excited to have found what may be a new favorite! Park Cafe is located off-the-beaten path of normal Charleston restaurants in a very historic and family-friendly neighborhood. I’ve driven by it a dozen times but never stopped in until a (vegetarian) friend suggested it for girls night. She had first heard about it from a vegan mutual friend, so we figured it was definitely worth a try!

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I started with the Roasted Cauliflower– a huge serving topped with hazelnuts, a mustard vinaigrette  and fresh herbs. It was incredibly filling but also a fantastic combination of texture, flavor, and aromas. I would eat this by itself as a meal and plan to return very soon to do so!

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My dining partner started with the shredded kale salad– a light combination of dates, almonds, and a citrus vinaigrette. We both kept “mmmmm” ing, dipping our fork to capture more bites of this amazing salad, and I’m quite sure if we hadn’t been in public, she would have licked the bowl clean!

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We both ordered the mushroom and walnut pate with pickled onions, arugula, and dijon on sourdough as our main entree. The sandwich comes with Park Cafe’s homemade pickles, which on this day were made from cauliflower, onions, okra, and green beans. They were perfectly spiced and pickled and provided the perfect balance to the richness of the pate. The pate itself was smoother than anything I’ve ever tasted (that didn’t come processed from a jar!) and the combination of the crunch of the bread with the soft pate made for a perfect sandwich. I took my leftovers home with me but found myself snacking on the rest of the sandwich immediately upon walking in the door!

 

My friend and I are both of the opinion that dining out can be overshadowed and thus, less enjoyable, by the fact that you can make an item at home better. We often compare meals we had out at a restaurant and finish our story with “but I could have done it healthier at home” or “I can make that at home and would add _____”. It makes dining out difficult, but it also means we appreciate those really good meals even more so. Park Cafe hit the nail on the head for both of us- neither of us schemed about how we could recreate these dishes at home, because we were too busy enjoying them in the moment!

Overall we were really impressed not only with the quality and creativity of the food, intimate yet casual ambiance, and service at Park Cafe, but also by the fact that unlike most restaurants, we didn’t have to ‘customize’ anything to suit a vegetarian lifestyle. We ordered all 3 items exactly as they’re listed on the menu and that’s an amazing feeling for someone who usually has to double check  that “there’s no meat in this, right?”.

Park Cafe checked all the ‘must-have’ boxes on my requirements for a favorite restaurant and we look forward to returning–even when we do have a beautiful new kitchen in our new house!

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I’ve Got (Vegetarian) Friends in Low Places….

Food brings people together. It’s a universal language of yumminess that is understood no matter where you come from, no matter what you grew up eating, and no matter what language you speak. And yet too often, vegetarians are isolated in dining situations and made to feel as if their personal choices (whatever they may be) can be accommodated, not praised or valued. I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me feel less valued at a restaurant than the phrase “we can accommodate your vegetarian lifestyle”.

Luckily, one of the things we value most out of our vegetarianism is the fact that our friends and family are incredibly supportive. We have been able to maintain our lifestyle while enjoying some pretty fantastic food. Our friends truly respect our choices and understand that being vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean missing out on anything. We often dine out with non-vegetarian couples and order multiple dishes to share—there is no “this is my vegetarian entree” but rather “OUR vegetarian shared meal”. And we consider ourselves incredibly lucky to get to enjoy things like asparagus panzanella, a broccoli country captain, and green gumbo with great friends, good wine, and the amazing culinary team of Butcher&Bee at their most recent Lettuce Turnip the Beet vegan dinner.

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Spring Greens Ravioli with a Minted Pea Puree

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Spring Vegetable Succotash with peas, butterbeans, boiled peanuts, and Charleston gold rice

This weekend we also said goodbye to a close (vegetarian) friend as she heads across the Atlantic for the summer for professional and personal growth opportunities. In true Lowcountry style, an outdoor potluck was arranged and we feasted under the stars for hours on an entirely veggie-meal. We brought 2 different quinoa dishes (both vegan!) to compliment a green salad with pomegranate seeds, sunflower seeds, cherry tomatoes, hearts of palm, and cucumbers, plus a baked ziti. Here’s how to be the talk of your next potluck – hopefully it inspires you with some fun summer meals. With quinoa cooked up in advance and stored in the fridge for up to a week, these are also great weeknight dinners for the nights it’s just too hot to cook!

Baked Ziti, Salad, and Quinoa 2 ways-- happy friends all around!

Baked Ziti, Salad, and Quinoa 2 ways– happy friends all around!

Cold Quinoa Salad with Jicama and Corn (farthest right in the picture)

2 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled

1 medium jicama, diced finely*

¾ cup corn, either frozen or cooked kernels off the cob (depending how far in advance you’re making it, you can even throw the corn in frozen-it will thaw!)

½ jalapeno, seeded and finely diced OR2 dried jalapenos diced (soak in warm water to rehydrate)

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 TBSP apple cider vinegar

Shake of chili powder

1 tsp paprika

½ tsp garlic powder

Pinch of cayenne

1 tsp cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Mix the jalapeno, all spices, and oil in a small bowl or Tupperware container. Whisk or shake to combine. In a large bowl, combine quinoa with jicama and corn. Pour the dressing over and let sit for a few hours to absorb the flavors. Before serving, taste and re-season as needed.

*Jicama is also called a Mexican potato- it’s almost like a mix of a potato and an apple. It’s crunchy, a bit sweet, and fun to experiment with. Peel off the outer skin with a knife or vegetable peeler then cut into slices, stripes, and dice.

 

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad (center of the picture)

2 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled

1 large cucumber- peeled, seeded and diced

1 red bell pepper

¼ cup tahini

Juice of 2 lemons

Olive oil

1 clove garlic

Salt and pepper

Feta cheese (optional)

Cut the bell pepper into large pieces (remove the ribbing and seeds) and rub with olive oil. Char over a gas stove or grill (alternatively roast it in the oven) until softened and the skin is lightly blistered. Remove from heat and let cool, then dice. In a small bowl, mix tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and stream in olive oil until emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings to your taste. In a large bowl, combine quinoa with cucumber and roasted red pepper. Pour dressing over the quinoa and toss to coat. Let sit in the fridge for 2-3 hours to let the flavors marinate. Add in feta cheese if you’re not worried about being vegan—the saltiness and creaminess is a great complement!

 

Having a strong support system is one of the most essential components to enjoying a vegetarian lifestyle instead of feeling like its an uphill battle with society. With close friends who understand our dietary choices, we’ve been able to not only maintain our social lifestyle but also share our values and passions with others in a very non-confrontational, non-proselytizing way. And when there’s good food on the table, it’s hard to not enjoy the friendship of those around you!

<3 Officially Vegetarian for Two–Vegged Bliss <3

Soon after D and I got engaged, we set having a vegetarian wedding as one of our top priorities. Despite the many variations of our wedding that emerged in the 9 months between engagement and our wedding (I think we are ALL glad that my ‘paper plates and plastic glasses’ phases was short lived), our insistence on vegetarian food never wavered. When we found a local non-veggie restaurant with a vegan chef, we immediately headed over for dinner with my mom and D’s dad and step-mom to check out their menu, and were treated to a mini-impromptu tasting right there in the middle of our dinner! D and I looked at one another and said “this is it!”

The most rewarding thing about our vegetarian wedding, other than it was true to us as a couple, was how many people came up to us at the reception (and afterwards) and honestly said “if more food was like this, I would eat vegetarian every day!” We were so proud to be able to offer our guests- family, friends, and loved ones- this unique opportunity and only regret that it’s not done justice in photos!

On that note, here’s a walk through our wedding menu. Thanks to Jennifer Bearden Photography for the appetizer photos! (I apologize for the later pictures, they’re from our tasting and we were too excited to eat to take quality photos!) and to Mosiac Edibles and Luke Wilson for making our wedding absolutely fantastic!

Stationary Display of Appetizers

Vegan Spring Rolls
with cabbage, julienne carrots, zucchini and squash with a hoisin-peanut dipping sauce

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Brie in Mini Phyllo Cups
with strawberry-rhubarb jam

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Marinated Stuffed Mushrooms
balsamic marinated button mushrooms stuffed with herbed goat, feta, and cream cheese, then roasted

(sadly, these were our favorites but we didn’t capture any photos of them!)

Mini Spanakopita
greek pastry of spinach and cheese in layers of phyllo dough

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Cream of Cauliflower Soup
with grated Parmesan cheese and basil-chive oil

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Dinner Buffet

Butter Thyme Green Beans
with butter and fresh herbs

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Farro Medley
with spinach, artichokes, and red peppers

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Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
oven roasted with cavatappi pasta, light gorgonzola cream sauce & a pretzel Parmesan crust

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Eggplant Rollatini
with feta, artichokes, & spinach with tomato cream sauce

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Fall Kale+Spinach Salad
with grilled bosc pears, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, cranberries, and topped with a balsamic vinaigrette

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Trio of:

Spinach & Sundried Tomato Quiche
with shaved Parmesan & local micro greens

Gruyere & Parmesan Quiche
with local micro greens

Roasted Broccoli Quiche
with aged cheddar & local micro greens

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Lettuce Turnip the Beet

D and I had a fantastic date night tonight at one of Butcher and Bee‘s Lettuce Turnip the Beet dinner. We’ve been meaning to get to one for a few months now and the timing just hasn’t worked out, so we jumped at the opportunity. One of our favorite veggie-friendly restaurants goes entirely vegetarian (with plenty of vegan options) for 1 night every few months and it’s fantastic–all of their produce and products are local, so it’s a feel good meal all around!

We didn’t exchange many words besides “mmmmm” and “did you TASTE this”, so I’ll let the pictures tell the story:

Eggplant "meat" balls

Eggplant “meat” balls

Potato and Chickpea Vindaloo with Carolina gold rice

Potato and Chickpea Vindaloo with Carolina gold rice

Roasted Zucchini with gremalota

Roasted Zucchini with gremalota

Carmelized okra with ginger tomato sauce

Carmelized okra with ginger tomato sauce

By far our favorite was the ‘meat’ balls— for you meat lovers, imagine the softest and most break-apart meatball you’ve ever had. The texture was fantastic, the flavors are incredible, and it simply smelled like the best of Italy. I could spend weeks trying to replicate these and may never, but I’ll let you know if I do! 😉

The okra was a close second–the ginger and tomato together was a tangy combo, and the sweetness of the charred and caramelized okra was an amazing contrast to that. We ate past our stomachs’ capacity just to avoid leaving any on the plate!

The zucchini was fresh and light, and knowing it came from the Lowcountry was the icing on the cake. Lowcountry produce is just bursting with the freshness from the ocean and emanates the strong SC sun the second you bite into it. With fresh herbs, it was a really bright dish.

Indian food hasn’t been the same since D and I went to Vij last summer in Vancouver so we were excited to try BB’s version of vindaloo. The second it appeared on the butcher block table it was the only thing we could smell, which is always a good sign! It was a bounty of chickpeas and potatoes over Carolina gold rice (a variety previously ‘lost’ and revitalized in the 80’s) with an incredibly flavorful sauce and fresh cilantro. By the time we got to the vindaloo we were stuffed, so we get to enjoy the leftovers again later this weekend!

D summed up the meal by saying “I challenge any person who says that they can’t have a filling and satisfying meal without meat to go and eat that.” Probably our favorite part of the dinner was that there wasn’t a single meat-substitute used– they let the vegetables be the star of the meal and it truly paid off.  Don’t be afraid to eat a meal without a traditional ‘protein’ at the center of the dish, because as proven tonight, vegetables CAN rule the plate!