Okay. So this blog took an (unintentional hiatus). Other things were consuming my free time, but I hope to be posting again on a semi-regular basis.

And what better way than to blog about my awesome summer vacation earlier this year?

In July, my boyfriend traveled north to Michigan, where we spent 7 days hiking, kayaking, dining, hiking, camping, swimming and hiking. The coming blog posts will be a mini-series on different portions of our trip.

Before I start, I’ll answer the “why Michigan?” question I’ve heard a lot of and one asked frequently by our Buckeye friends.

Well, to stay true to my “life on little” roots and, more importantly, budget, my boyfriend and I knew we had to find something relatively close to Columbus and something relatively inexpensive. Earlier this year, I recalled a beautiful billboard I had seen a year ago on Weber Road in Columbus. The billboard featured a photo of an arch (think Moab, Utah-esque arches) above crystal blue water, clearly taken from a kayak. It was stunning. The only text on the billboard read “PureMichigan.org.” Call me a sucker for advertising (or just really good photography), but it was love at first sight.

I was immediately on the hunt to find where the photo was taken – my scientific research was a Google Image search for “beautiful Michigan kayaking.”I immediately discovered that the picture was taken on the lakeshore of Pictured Rocks in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, and I knew that I had to go.

From there, we planned a 5-day trip to the UP so that we could camp and hike at the lakeshore. On our way back to Columbus, we planned a 2 day trip to Ann Arbor.

So begins the journey of our 2012 vacation . . .

First up: a trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the UP of Michigan.

The Lakeshore sits on the shore of Lake Superior and is 42 miles long, between the cities of Munising and Grand Marais. It was about an 8 hour drive from my parent’s house in northwestern Ohio, which wasn’t bad, given the beautiful scenery of northern Michigan (and the fact that I didn’t do the majority of the driving). The Lakeshore is operated by the National Park Service, which allows backcountry camping for a mere $5 per person, per night when obtaining a permit in person at the Visitors Center, so we only had to pay $50 for our five night stay.

All 42 miles of the Lakeshore actually run with the the North Country Scenic Trail, which is the point of access to all of the backcountry camping sites. If you haven’t heard of the North Country Trail, it’s the longest of the 11 national scenic trails in the U.S. (including the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail). We tried to plan our camping permits so that we would hike about 7-12 miles a day and camp at the next point the following night.

Hiking upon our arrival, into the sunset.

Our plan worked really well, although some of the camping sites were full when we tried to book them at the beginning of the week, since they’re reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis. What we both really admired was that none of the camp sites were over capacity and each site was so secluded that you didn’t feel as though the trails or the lakeshore were crowded. It was all so beautifully secluded that I felt as though I could appreciate nature without realizing there were other people within a few miles.

My favorite campsite view.

After seeing the kayaking photograph in the billboard I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t stand the thought of traveling all that way not to take advantage of the beautiful lakeshore from the water. But it turned out that bringing or even renting a kayak wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Because of some reckless tourists (or so we were told) who weren’t quite prepared for the potentially rough waters of Lake Superior in years’ past, all kayakers must not only have a kayaking permit or license but open water certification as well. So we made plans ahead of our trip to go with a tour guide from Paddling Michigan – this was the “splurge” part of our vacation.

The guide brought everything we needed – a tandem sea kayak and paddles, and they even had someone drop our backpacks at our ending point so we could camp near the beach we had paddled to.The exposed sandstone we kayaked by includes some of the oldest rock in the world (anthropologists haven’t been able to find fossils), and we learned more about the gargantuan size of Lake Superior (enough water to cover all of North American by 1’ deep).

The sandstone cliffs we kayaked by/under.

Kayaking was definitely the highlight of our Lakeshore trip for me. We did about a 15-mile trip, and the clear water of Lake Superior made it possible to be about a half mile from shore and to still see the bottoms of the same rocks we were seeing 200 feet above us.  Also visible were remains from shipwrecks, dating back about 200 years, when there were no lighthouses on the UP.

And I got that kayaking picture I saw on the billboard . . .

My pride and joy – the kayaking picture!

All said and done, we hike about 38 miles and kayaked 15 during our 5 day stay. I was really sore and am a slightly embarrassed to admit the breakdown I had the day we hike 12 miles in the rain. But I’d go back in a heartbeat.

The sunset on our final night.

Next up in this mini-series on our Michigan trip will be what I was able to fit in my backpack for a week-long trip, and after that will be a wrap of what we saw, did and tasted in Ann Arbor. Stay tuned!

 

Looking back, this is what my month looked like:

What I ate:

Beans and rice; pasta with leafy greens and pine nuts; homemade Indian-inspired dishes; beat burgers; peanut butter on toast; salad; fajitas; vegetables and hummus; stir fry; fresh fruit; pasta with from-scratch pasta sauce and steamed vegetables; fresh fruit and almond for snacks.

When I cheated:

Unintentionally: as I mentioned during my first week of the experiment, innocent choices like substituting steamed vegetables for fries at a restaurant often meant the vegetables came with butter. I got better about asking, as long I wasn’t being too much of a pain to the restaurant or whomever I was with.

Intentionally: A few business lunches or meals with friends and family included food with milk or cheese. I avoided those dishes the best I could, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my hunger to prove a point.

What I learned:

I missed cheese (the good stuff—smoked Gouda, feta, Parmesan) at first, but like my first few months as a vegetarian and not eating meat, I didn’t notice it after awhile. I learned that I can probably afford to cut back where I’m normally generous with my dairy consumption—skipping cheese on a Chipotle burrito bowl or swapping salsa for queso dip.

The Veganomicon cook book I bought half way through the month is full of recipes that don’t call for I-would-never-put-that-near-my-mouth-ingredients. The only meat imitation product I ate was seitan, which was okay. To me, it’s more about cooking with whole grains and organic fruit and vegetables than trying tofu scramble.

Shopping exclusively at Whole Foods and eating only at vegan specialty restaurants wasn’t necessary—vegan options are stopping to pop up nearly everywhere (minus the few business lunches mentioned previously), and it’s becoming more practical.

What’s next:

I won’t be referring to myself as a “vegan,” but I think I’ll try to stick with some boundaries. I’m going to continue to eat cheese but likely not as much, and I’ll only buy eggs from the Greener Grocer, which are sourced locally.

Cheese and ice cream, you’re forever mine, and I’m not letting go.

A special thank you to my boyfriend: although he’s a vegetarian and didn’t commit to the vegan experiment, he happily obliged to my requests when he cooked. He’s also stoked we can resume Pizza Sundays and Mac and Cheese Mondays.

Four years into vegetarianism, and on the last day of my month-long vegan experiment, I often wonder how it is I still jones for meat-inspired dishes. Chili has always been a favorite of mind, but I find it hard to find a filling, nutritious veg-friendly variation. Enter: Rainbow Chili. Don’t let the dreamy name discount its heartiness. It’s a filling dish, full of protein and iron, and as you can probably guess, pretty colorful.

Time will tell if this can serve as a stand-in for “real” (read: meat) chili. I shared this recipe with my mom, who’s trying it for a meatless Friday during Lent.

Rainbow Chili

Adapted from a friend

Serves: 6

Time: 1 hour stovetop, alternatively 30 minutes stovetop and an hour or more in a slow cooker

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

4 garlic cloves garlic, minced

1 large (or 2 medium) sweet potato(es), cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

Juice of 1 lime

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

2 14-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 14-ounce can corn, rinse and drained

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

1 teaspoon Sriracha (always Sriracah, but only if you like it spicy)

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped

2 cups cooked brown rice

Warm the oil in large pan over medium heat. Add the onion, red pepper, garlic and salt. Cook until onions are transparent, about 4 minutes. Add the sweet potato, carrots and lime, cooking for 15 minutes while stirring occasionally.

Add the tomatoes, black beans, corn, jalapeno, Sriracha and spices. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes. I actually used my new slow cooker (holla for birthday gifts as a 24-year-old!) here and skipped the stovetop simmering completely. It was ready about an hour later.

Serve over brown rice and, if you used Sriracha, a cool drink.

Alterations: the original recipe called for 4 cans of black beans; I thought that was excessive. I shared this meal, and the leftovers, with my boyfriend who doesn’t care for cilantro, also in the original. I think it would have gone well with the lime juice, but I liked the earthy taste the turmeric and rosemary gave it.

Tonight I decided to step outside my comfort zone of vegan cooking. It was time to try a new recipe and new-to-me foods. My friend Meghan gave me several good vegan resources, including a strong suggestion for curried udon noodle stir fry. The recipe comes from Veganomicon; it’s the vegan cooking Bible.

I have a love-hate relationship with most vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. While they certainly contain recipes relevant for my no-meat diet, I’m usually disappointed with the abundance of recipes that either (1) try too hard to be meat or dairy replacers (throw in the towel, facon!) (2) require ingredients so bizarre and pretentious I would have to do all my food shopping at gourmet markets that I can’t afford and (3) carrots for dessert?! No, thank you.

Not Veganomicon. It’s more than 250 recipes of daily recipes that I can feel comfortable cooking in the kitchen. Most of the ingredients are already in my pantry or refrigerator, or they’re easily accessible at a neighborhood market. The book includes suggestions for cooking for the omnivores in your life (in my case, my entire family), nutrition suggestions to make sure you’re following a balanced diet and recipes that form to other aspects of a healthy diet, be it low-fat or gluten-free. To make things better, the book itself is beautiful, and it really makes me think, “Hey! I can do this!” Check out the author’s site: Post Punk Kitchen.

It turned out great–I really liked cooking with peanut oil, the seitan (“wheat meat”) was a good source of protein and as healthy as it was, it had a comfort food feel to it.

Curried Udon Noodle Stir-Fry

Adapted from Veganomicon

Serves: 4

Time: 45 minutes

Curried roux sauce

2 tablespoons peanut oil

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons curry powder

½ cup vegetable broth

2 teaspoons sugar

Udon noodle stir-fry

8 ounces (1 package) dried udon noodles

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 large yellow onion, sliced

1 teaspoon fresh ginger

1 red bell pepper, sliced

1 jalapeno pepper

2 seitan cutlets, panfried & sliced

½ pound sugar snap peas

¼ cup vegetable broth

2-3 tablespoons soy sauce

Cook the udon according to the package directions – about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Prepare the curry roux sauce: Combine flour and peanut oil in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it browns to the color of rich caramel and smells toasty, about 10 minutes or less. Stir in curry, and cook for another minute while stirring constantly. Using a whisk, pour in the vegetable broth in a steady stream. Whisk in the sugar and cook until the mixture forms a thick sauce, about 2 minutes. It will have a consistency similar to that of mustard. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare the stir-fry: Heat peanut oil in a large nonstick skillet or a wok and cook the onion for about 5 -6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the ginger, red bell pepper, jalapeno and seitan, and stir for another 5 minutes, until the pepper starts to soften. Add the sugar snap peas and stir-fry for 4-5 minutes, until the sugar snap peas are crisp.

Back to the udon noodles: If they’re sticking together, rinse with a little warm water and drain. Add the noodles to the stir-fried vegetables, sprinkle with soy sauce and stir-fry for 2 – 3 minutes. It helps if you can do this with tongs or two spatulas.

Back to the curry roux sauce: Whisk ¼ cup of the broth into the curry roux sauce. Pour the sauce over the udon stir-fry and stir to coat everything completely. Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is simmering and the noodles are warm. Remove from the heat and serve, preferably with chopsticks you have from your favorite Chinese carryout.

Oh, apartment living. I feel as though, in addition to my degree, of course, four years of college also gave me the know how to pack everything I own into my car and be able to move out and into a new place within 24 hours.

Post-college life hasn’t been that different. I recently moved to Grandview Heights, a neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio. Before moving in, I did some de-cluttering of my belongings. My new apartment is the first place I’ve lived without roommates, and I knew that to satisfy my OCD  keep me perfectly sane, I would have to say good-bye to those no-longer-necessary possessions.

So, I present my new place:

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There are a few things that are a work in progress. The kitchen is slightly embarrassing–the floor and countertops are covered in the same linoleum tiles. Nothing has been hung in the bedroom. I’m hoping to be somewhat ambitious in the next few months and will post before and after pictures of those projects, so stay tuned.

J

If you know me, you probably know that I love food—except meat. I’ve been a vegetarian for four years now and although I thought I would someday again crave burgers and brats, the thought of a steak makes me squirm.

I, unlike most of my meat-less friends, don’t have a particular reason for my vegetarian diet. Today my reasons for vegetarianism can’t be pinned to one cause; I identify with several:

  • Meat, and especially cooking meat, has always grossed me out
  • It’s one of the best things you can do for the environment, complimenting my “life on little”/minimalism philosophy
  • The health benefits are practically indefinite (lower risk for cancer and heart disease, among others)
  • The cute and fluffy animals, of course! But, in all seriousness, a firm stance in animal welfare

So, I figured it was only natural that after four years sans chicken nuggets, my vegetarian diet would naturally progress—and did it ever.  I’ve become much more educated about where my food comes from, incorporate whole grains and organic fruit and veggies into most meals, volunteer with a local non-profit dedicated to food access and education, have levels of protein and iron on par with most men and take my diet more seriously.

The next milestone, after much debate (no cheese?!): vegan. I decided it was time to at least give a vegan diet a try—just for the month of February.

Truth be told, I thought that I would have a multitude of choices that I’ve become accustomed to as a vegetarian. Three food shopping trips later—Kroger, Whole Foods and the Clintonville Community Market—I discovered that veganism was more difficult than and not nearly as mainstream as I anticipated. Take for example, coffee creamer. Two brand choices (soy or coconut), and once that was narrowed down, two flavor choices (vanilla or plain). Kroger didn’t offer soy yogurt, but I did find that at Whole Foods and the Clintonville Community Market, where I also found nutritional yeast, a new nutritional essential.

I’m not a fan of fake cheese/meat, so I haven’t incorporated any alternatives into my diet quite yet. As I mentioned earlier, I like knowing where my food comes from, so I feel as though there are likely too many chemicals in “tofurkey” for it to be appealing. Also, “food” isn’t as “charming” when it has “quotes” around it.

Another challenging aspect has been reading the ingredients of practically everything I eat, finding restaurants that cater to a vegan diet and learning that some of my innocent choices have already put me off track (green beans drenched in butter).

Then there is the cheese. My boyfriend and I have a standing date at Betty’s Fine Foods & Spirits at 7 p.m. every Monday where the best mac and cheese in the world is not only $5 on Mondays, but $2 PBR drafts flow like water. The drawer of cheese in my fridge has become more tempting by the day. And you better believe that come March 1, I’ll feast on a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.

I’m not throwing in the towel early by any means, but I’m interested to see how the rest of this month goes and wonder if I’ll notice any change in my overall health and well-being.

If you’re interested in knowing more about a vegetarian or vegan diet, I strongly recommend the following resources:

Documentaries (the first two are on Netflix instant)

Food, Inc.

Forks Over Knives

Earthlings

Books

Eating Animals

Websites

Post Punk Kitchen

21-Day Vegan Kickstart

PETA’s Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit

Shout out to my friend and fellow vegan, for the time being, Meghan for her suggestions and encouragement. Thanks to those of you who took the time to read this lengthier post. I’m interested in your thoughts on your food philosophy, if you have one, or what your approach to maintain a healthy diet looks like.

J

Well, this is embarrassing. I saved a draft of this blog post months ago, my intentions to start the blog waiving and postponed by excuses (I’m too busy with work this week; I’d rather watch reruns of “Portlandia” tonight; and I simply cannot blog when it’s Mac and Cheese night at O’Betty’s!). I didn’t say they were good excuses.

Now I’m here and likely ready as I’ll ever be to “officially” start this blog. The theme of the blog reflects the title—I’m going to blog (or attempt to blog) about living on (very) little. Through different facets of my life, I’ve discovered that I’m a fairly simple, minimalist person. I’m trying to weave that thought process into other aspects where it might not yet apply—apartment décor, food/recipes, social life, budgeting, DIY and everything that applies to my life as mid-20s young professional.

Navigating this blog should be self-explanatory, so I won’t spend time boring you with my story, directing your questions, or what I’m up to every minute of the day. For that, if you’re really interested (or just bored), see think different pages of this blog (across the top) or the links in the right sidebar.

Before I sign off, a few disclaimers:

I work in public relations. As an ethical professional, blogger and former journalism student I vow not to mislead/spam readers with product reviews, press releases or the latest-and-greatest updates from the clients who pay me for my professional work.

While I’m committed to living minimally (for several reasons, which I’ll get into later), that isn’t to say that I won’t contradict myself at times. Aside from those commitments, I crave glitter heelsfine chocolates and the cutest puppies in the world. Please know that I am aware that I make those contradictions, and I’m not trying to be preachy, but rather continue growing.

That’s it for my first post! Thanks for visiting, and I’ll hope you’ll be back.

live simply, so that others can simply live. -St. Elizabeth Seton

J

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