READ: Literary City Guide San Diego, California

Just a quick post to share something I am excited about. Eat this Poem is one of my favorite blogs because it involves two of my favorite things: poetry and food. Nicole blogs about these two items that have brought me lots of comfort and joy over the years, so of course, I am a fan. I also think the literary city guides that she posts are spectacular!

I contacted her a few weeks ago with my ideas for San Diego, and it came together yesterday. I am excited to join all the fantastic literary city guides that are on her blog. San Diego is a great city and I love sharing things that I’ve discovered. Please check out my Literary Guide to San Diego here.  I hope it makes you want to come visit.

Coronado Beach


EAT: Favorite Vegetarian Cookbooks

When Sean and I moved across the country we got rid of A LOT of stuff. It felt liberating to downsize. The only hard part was shrinking my book collection. I had almost 500 books, and they all meant something to me. After a lot of deliberation, I only kept things that I would re-read over and over again like Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Dickens, “Little Women,” poetry collections, and cookbooks. We’ve moved six times in the last seven years and I am glad that we can fit the books that I have in 3 boxes, instead of 30.

In honor of Meatless Monday, I’m sharing my favorite vegetarian cookbooks. These are the books that I will hold onto as we continue moving around. They are the ones that I continually turn to for dinner inspiration when I feel stuck. Reading cookbooks is relaxing and a great way to escape for me.

Vegetarian Cookbooks

Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I can not recommend this cookbook enough. Everything that Isa and Terry do is amazing. All of their cookbooks are full of healthy, yummy recipes that are inspiring and adaptable. Isa blogs at and everything I have ever made by her is delicious.

“How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. My favorite parts of this book are the bean cooking methods and the pizza dough recipe. This is a huge book full of helpful tips and cooking methods.

“The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay Nixon. We make the Chorizo Quinoa at least twice a month. These recipes are easy, low-fat, super healthy and not intimidating.

“Passionate Vegetarian” by Crescent Dragonwagon. My mom gave me this vegetarian cookbook about eight years ago. It is a personal cookbook with great stories. This was my first veg cookbook so it will always mean a lot to me and I’ll keep it forever.

Chloe’s Kitchen” by Chloe Coscarelli. I learned so many tricks reading this book, like adding brown sugar and rice milk to pasta sauces (it makes them so much better!). Avocado Pesto Pasta, Oh-la-la Lasagna, Mongolian BBQ Seitan, Cinnamon Rolls…so many yummy recipes in this cookbook!

Isa Does It

I just got “Isa Does It” by Isa Moskowitz from the library. It is so good. Her recipes are fail-proof and I am excited to cook my way through it. She also shares a lot of the recipes in here on her blog. Her passion for vegan cooking is inspiring and always gives me new ideas. In most cookbooks I mark recipes that I want to make…I want to make every, single thing in this book. This is the cookbook that I will be buying for my family this holiday season!

Dinners this week:

  • Butternut Squash Alfredo from “Isa Does it” with kale salad. Recipe is here.
  • Greek Diner Salad and Broccoli Soup from “Isa Does it”
  • Curry with Sukhi’s Spice Mix, tofu, and peas with rice (Tip: Cook the tofu before adding it to a curry. Mix a little sesame oil, grapeseed oil, tamari and turmeric and coat the diced up tofu. Bake for about 20 minutes at 425 until it is firm and crisp)
  • Soup with Udon Noodles and Tofu (Easiest dinner ever! Warm about 6 cups of water, add 2 TB of miso, 1 TB soy sauce, a little srichacha, diced up carrots, tofu and kale, and udon noodles)
  • Miso roasted delicata squash and sweet potatoes with kale salad
  • Field roast sausage, Bubbi’s Saukerkraut, and vegetarian baked beans

Last night my friend and I went to a great cooking class by Katie’s Healing Kitchen. This girl has a fantastic, confident personality and is going to be a superstar! The theme of the class was a Plant Powered Thanksgiving. We had delicious food like Roasted Carrot Soup, Butternut Squash Mac-n-Cheese, Lentil and Wild Rice Stuffed Squash, Maple and Dijon Brussel Sprouts, Kale, and Apple Crisp. The meal was healthy, animal-free, gluten-free and delicious. I can’t wait to take more of her classes.

LIFE: Meditation

I am on Day 5 of the Oprah and Deepak 21-Day Meditation Experience. I encourage anyone reading this to join in on this free three-week series. It is the third time I have participated and it is a great way to experience the benefits of meditation. The theme of this three week journey is Desire and Destiny, finding your passion and purpose.

I understand that time is a luxury, but it is crucial to find time for things that improve our well-being. Depending on the day, I’ll meditate in the morning or on my lunch hour. I prefer to do it first thing in the morning and begin with a cup of coffee as I listen to Oprah and Deepak introduce the meditation. Each session is about 8 minutes of them talking about desire and destiny, and then 10 minutes of meditating. This morning Oprah reminded listeners to “Pursue the moments that light us up.”

Birch trees in Upper Michigan
Birch trees in Upper Michigan

Mantras and visualization help me when I meditate. A mantra is a phrase that is repeated in our mind to help us relax and concentrate. Deepak gives a different mantra each day of the 21-Day Meditation Experience. If I forget his mantra while I am meditating, I start to use my favorite mantra, which is Om Shanti. To begin the meditation I picture myself at places that I love, like on my Aunt Nanc’s porch in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula listening as the wind goes through the trees. When I start thinking about things I have to do I re-direct my focus to the mantra and to a place where I am calm.

Some days are harder than others to meditate. I try really hard not to judge myself and to keep doing it. You can’t do meditation right or wrong, you just need to do it. I find that I am a more considerate and aware person on days when I meditate, and that is why I do it. I know this sounds new-agey, weird, hippyish…but it works for me and I wish more people would do it every day.

Like a lot of women my age, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” was a life-changing book for me. It came to me in 2006, at just the right point in my life, and I feel like it helped me through a lot of things I was working on. (A few years ago, I was at a talk by one of my heroes,  Bill McKibben, and he said, “The Holy Spirit is the one that puts one book in your hand instead of another one.” I know that is true. Books always seem to enter my life at just the right moment – I plan on writing lots more about that in this blog.) Italy (Eat), India (Pray), and Indonesia (Love) are all a part of Gilbert’s journey; the India section spoke the loudest to me because of her descriptions of her meditation experiences.

She writes, “Why have I been chasing happiness my whole life when bliss was here the entire time.” She describes all of the frustrations that came up while she was practicing meditation at an Ashram in India, more importantly she talks about what the meditation does for her spirit. Gilbert writes, “The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition, which I’m going to over-simplify define here as the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment.”

If you have not read “Eat, Pray, Love” I think you should. It is an ESSENTIAL read. Also, it is not to late to join the Oprah and Deepak 21-Day Meditation Experience. You can still start at Day 1.


LIFE: San Francisco and Napa

I always say that when I am not at work I usually feel like I am on vacation. That is the BEST part about living in San Diego. We spend the majority of our actual vacation days traveling to Michigan to visit family, but we often make quick weekend trips to Idyllwild, Santa Barbara, or somewhere else in California.

A few weekends ago, I had to go to Northern California for work so we decided to go to San Francisco for the second time and to visit Napa for the first time. It was a quick three-day trip, but we managed to do a lot in the time that we had.

Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco

San Francisco is a huge, somewhat overwhelming city. There is a lot to see and do, so it is best to plan a little before heading there. About four years ago when we went my goals were to visit City Lights Bookstore (Howl!), Muir Woods, and the tourist trap restaurant The Stinking Rose. This time we wanted to experience new things.

What we did:

  • Alcatraz. My friend made fun of me because we booked our tickets to Alcatraz about a month before our trip. We wanted to make sure we got tickets because the last time we went they were sold out. Good thing we pre-ordered them – they were sold out for the next two days! Alcatraz is a creepy, chilly ghost island surrounded by incredible beauty. It’s awesome. The best parts are the ferry ride to the island and the audio tour narrated by ex-wardens and prisoners. It was a little crowded, so I recommend going in the middle of the week rather than on the weekend if you are able to. Wear warm clothes!
  • Biked the Golden Gate Bridge. We rented bikes at the Embarcadero and rode along the bay, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and to the city of Sausalito. At the bike rental they said it was easy, but there were some hills (because they are inescapable in San Francisco), and parts of it were a little challenging for me (Sean will laugh when he reads this because it was not hard for him whatsoever). My favorite bridge will always be the Mackinaw Bridge, but the views on the Golden Gate are beautiful and they constantly change as the fog rolls in and out. Super fun experience that I highly recommend – even though my legs and bum were sore the next day. You can walk across the bridge if riding bikes is not your thing. Also, you can take a ferry back from Sausalitio rather than riding the bike back.
  • Farmers Market. On Saturday at the Ferry Building there is a huge, gigantic Farmer’s Market with fresh produce, bread, and so much more. Go there hungry and try a bit of everything. I already talked about the Hodo Soy in a previous post, but I was also excited about Sukhi’s Indian mixes. I bought three at the market and have already made two delicious, easy curry dinners at home. I am stocking up on her products from now on. The air was crisp and the fog lifted slow. A great way to spend the early morning in San Francisco.
    San Francisco Vegan Restaurants

What we ate:

  • Tropisueno. We stumbled on this place in the Financial District. It was packed, so we knew we should stop in. It was happy hour and we had to scrunch into a spot at the bar, but it was worth it. The margaritas and chips, salsa, and guacamole were so good and super cheap. Best deal we encountered on our trip and a total happy accident.
  • Millenium. So…this is the meal we were really looking forward to and it was the meal we were most disappointed in. Maybe our expectations were too high (a gourmet, vegan restaurant!!) or maybe we were still thinking about the yummy guac from our happy hour? We split the Crusted King Mushroom Trumpets, another appetizer that I can’t remember, and the Potato Tiki Cake. It was all good, but not great. Sean kept repeating over and over that the food I cook is much better. We also had poor service, so that probably contributed to our impression of it.
  • Gracias Madre. I debated going here because I have heard so many good things about it, but I was hesitant after our experience at Millenium. When we were in Sausalito we had a glass of wine and talked to another couple at the bar (who were also native Michiganders) and they recommended that we try Gracias Madre. So we went. And loved it. It is a vegan, organic Mexican restaurant and it is so good. I got the special of the day: butternut squash flautas, pickled vegetables and beans. It is not a typical Mexican restaurant, but it is delicious and healthy and inspiring. They don’t take reservations.
  • Boudin Bakery. We stopped for the traditional San Fran sourdough bread bowl before our bike ride. Sean got tomato soup and I had butternut squash soup. You can’t go wrong with a meal that is mostly bread!

Random tips for traveling in San Francisco: Take public transportation – parking is ridiculously expensive and hard to find. There are a lot of homeless people in San Francisco – bring dollar bills if you are a bleeding heart. Wear walking shoes – we walked over 10 miles in one day. We stayed at the Westin St. Francis in Union Square – it was fine, but Union Square is my least favorite part of San Francisco.


After 1 1/2 days in San Francisco we rented a car and drove 45 minutes to Napa. The grapes had just been harvested and the warm, red colors of autumn were everywhere.

Napa in Autumn

Where we slept and RELAXED:

  • Hotel Yountville. We splurged on this hotel. Totally worth it. The hotel upgraded us for free and we had a fireplace, high ceilings, porch, and soaking tub. Everything about the hotel was relaxing. They supplied free bicycles and we rode around Yountville and stopped into a lot of tasting rooms. The pool and jacuzzi area were luxurious and we had them all to ourselves- even though the hotel was sold out.
Hotel Yountville
Hotel Yountville vs. Alcatraz

Wineries we visited:

  • Domaine Chandon.
  • Domaine Canteros.
  • Hope and Grace.
  • Robert Mondavi.
  • Cornerstone Cellars.

I think there was one or two more. To tell you the truth I can’t tell you much about them. We had fun, we drank, and we enjoyed doing nothing except sipping on wine for the day.

Where we ate:

  • Redd WoodThe best meal of our trip. We ate a lovely meal outside with a simple pizza and a brussel sprout salad. It was romantic and a perfect Napa experience. We missed Ruby, but the couple sitting next to us let us play with their dog, Cooper, so we felt a little better.

We biked past the French Laundry…maybe next time we go we’ll pay $270 for the vegetable tasting menu. I doubt it though.

I love quick escapes, but coming back to our home is ALWAYS the best part of a vacation.

LIFE: Jimbo’s Grocery Store

I think a lot about what I want to be when I grow up. I am nearing forty and I still have no idea what I want my career to be. I talk to other people about this all the time, and I have found that most people feel the same way.

Let me tell you what I THINK my dream job is: professional grocery shopper and meal planner. Is it possible to make a living doing it?

Most people dread going to the grocery store each week and planning what they’ll eat. I am a good grocery shopper and it is a chore that I don’t get sick of. In fact, I look forward to it. I modify weekly menus at the store when I see what is on special and what produce looks the best. Buying groceries is one of the most important things I do each week because what I buy leads to my overall health and well-being.

Jimbo's San Diego

Most of the time I go to multiple places to get everything we need for a week. In San Diego I shop at Trader’s Joe’s (stocking up on organic frozen fruit for smoothies), Whole Foods (one of the only places I’ve been able to find Field Roast sausages), Farmer’s Markets (for kale, bitchin’ sauce and Indian food), Penzey’s Spices (for all spices, especially curry, cinnamon and mulling spices), Ripe (our neighborhood produce spot), and Sprouts (this is our go-to store).

Organic Greens at Jimbo's San Diego
Organic Greens at Jimbo’s San Diego

We lived in downtown San Diego for over three years and we always said it needed a good grocery store. Now that we’ve moved they have finally opened one. Jimbo’s, a So Cal grocery chain, opened at Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego a few weeks ago. I have wanted to go since it opened, especially because I read that almost everything is organic and the prices are pretty reasonable.

When we were at the San Francisco Farmer’s Market last weekend we tried Hodo Soy. It is the best soy product I have ever had (Chipotle uses them for their AMAZING Sofritas, which are rolling out across the country after being tested on the West Coast). We wanted to buy all of it and take it back to San Diego with us, but the logistics of that didn’t work so great. The good news was that they told us they were sold at one location in So Cal – Jimbo’s grocery stores! As soon as I got home guess where I went?!

Hodo Soy

Jimbo’s is a little inconvenient for me because it is in downtown San Diego, but I’ll still be shopping there almost every week because it has everything I need in one space. They have free parking on the fourth floor at Horton Plaza, and the new Tender Greens (if you go, get the Happy Vegan Plate!!) and Chipotle are near for pre-grocery dining. Almost everything is organic and food is labeled so you can be sure what you are eating is GMO-free.

JImbo's San Diego

When you are checking out you get five cents off for each bag that you bring, or you get wooden nickels that are deposited into a bin for different charities. Of course, I picked the animal rescue.

Here was my haul for the week: kale*, bananas, 10 lemons*, butternut squash*, sugar pumpkin*, pink lady apples*, radishes*, cucumbers*, cabbage*, potatoes*, almond milk, cereal, Hodo Soy*, Curry Seitan*, Tempeh, Frozen Hilary’s Veggie Burgers, Meiomi Pinot Noir*, Pad Thai Noodles, whole wheat penne, 1 lb raw cashews, pizza sauce, follow your heart mozzarella, Sukhi Indian seasoning mixes (this will get a full blog post at some point)*, bitchin sauce*, salsa*, sprouted curry hummus*, corn tortillas*, garbanzo beans, kombucha*, tamari, mint tea, and quinoa. Everything with the * was made in California. Delicious dinners coming this week.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a professional grocery shopper. Maybe for really rich people, but it is the people who don’t have a lot of money (or time!) that need it the most. I wonder if I was paid to grocery shop if the fun would be taken out of it.

How many people really have their dream job? And is work even supposed to be fun?


READ: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

It’s been a busy week. I spent the last six days traveling in San Francisco, Napa and Livermore for work and fun. In addition to my husband, Sean, I had another great companion for traveling, Khaled Hosseini’s new novel “And the Mountains Echoed.” This is an essential read. I finished the book on the plane ride home and I have not stopped thinking about it.

I remember being devastated after finishing “The Kite Runner,” and this novel left me feeling the same way. Hosseini is a master at capturing complicated family dynamics and feelings of guilt that can last a lifetime. In this new story he uses different narrators with unique voices for each of the nine chapters. Each of the chapters is linked to the others, but it could also be read alone. My heart broke a little more with each consecutive chapter.

And the Mountains Echoed

The story begins “So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one. But just the one.” Hosseini then tells a story that spans three generations, three continents, and multiple tragedies. Over and over again we are reminded of the many ways a family can fall apart or come together.

Like his other stories, the main protagonists are from Afghanistan; in this one, he focuses on the love between  Abdullah and his sister, Pari. These young siblings have an uncommon, unbreakable love for one another. Within the first thirty pages they are separated and the reverberation of this is explored throughout the book. Some of the narrators are intricately connected with the main story, and others are related by small associations. The connections are sometimes revealed slowly, which made me want to keep reading to see how it fit together.

My favorite chapter/story in “And the Mountains Echoed” focuses on two men who are Afghan Americans. After living their entire existence in California, they visit Afghanistan to reestablish ownership of their family home. The two men interact with medical relief workers and visit a young girl who has been horribly disfigured. The meeting with the girl demonstrates the true nature of each of the men, and it reveals that good intentions and actual actions are completely different.

Setting and where “home” is are important elements of the novel. It moves from isolated villages in Afghanistan, to large homes in Kabul, to feelings of displacement in California, to sophisticated Paris, and to a remote island in Greece. Over and over Hosseini shows how our environment contributes to the people that we become. It is an inescapable part of our character.

This novel will stay with me for a long time. The imperfect characters, well-drawn environments, and beautiful imagery created a space that I did not want to leave. I was rooting for all of the characters to have satisfying outcomes, but of course, life is complicated and there is no such thing as a happy ending.

Right before “And the Mountains Echoed” I read “Survival Lessons,” Alice Hoffman’s teeny tiny new booklet that was recently published. Hoffman is one of my favorite authors so I read everything that she writes. She wrote this after battling breast cancer and it is a gentle reminder to appreciate all the beautiful, wonderful things around you even during the darkest times of your life. She reminds the reader over and over again that “There is always a before and an after.” It’s a nice book to read when life feels unbearable.

More to come on my trip to Northern California soon!

EAT: Curried Butternut Squash Risotto

I am going to try to post a recipe or meal ideas on Mondays in honor of Meatless Mondays. It may happen on Tuesdays some weeks…

Curried Butternut Squash Risotto

One of my favorite things to eat is risotto. A few years ago Sean and I lived with my sister, Julie, when her husband was on his first deployment. The best part of living with her was stealing her clothes. The second best part was sharing dinner duties. We both love to cook and we rotated who was making dinner. Julie and I made risotto at least once a week. I only make it once in awhile now, but each time I make it I think about her and all the wonderful dinners we made together.

I don’t like following recipes or measuring ingredients. Risotto works for people who don’t like to follow cooking rules. For this risotto, first peel and dice one butternut squash. Keep the seeds!

Butternut Squash

Then roast the diced squash (splashed with olive oil, salt and pepper) in a 425 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Move the squash around a couple of times so it doesn’t stick to the pan. Roast the seeds at the same time. They only take about 7 minutes to roast – so make sure you take them out pretty fast!

Butternut Squash

While the squash is roasting, you can start the risotto. Saute one diced shallot and two cloves of diced garlic in olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. You could use 1/2 an onion if you don’t have a shallot. After about 3-4 minutes, add two cups of Arborio rice. Saute that around the pan for a few minutes until it is a little toasty.

Now, you start adding the broth one cup at a time. I use 1/2 no-chicken broth and 1/2 water. If you use all no-chicken broth it will be too salty. You could also use vegetable broth. You’ll need ~eight cups of liquid. With risotto just keep adding liquid and stirring it in. You can walk away for a minute or two, but stay pretty close to the pan. Add more liquid when it starts sticking to the pan.

Vegan Risotto

After you’ve added about 4 cups of the liquid, add 1 Tablespoon of curry. Lately, I am liking the hot curry blend from Penzey’s Spices (if you go there, I recommend getting the mulling spices for wine too!). Stir that in, and then continue adding liquid. The risotto is done when it starts to get creamy, and the rice is not hard. Trust me, you’ll be able to tell. Most of the time, it takes about 30 minutes. Mix in the roasted butternut squash and you are done! I added nutritional yeast to it, but it is not necessary – also I served it with the roasted seeds to add a bit of crunch to the dish.

Curried Butternut Squash Risotto

I think half the battle with dinner is figuring out what to make. Here is what we’ll be eating for dinner this week:

  • Vegetable Stir Fry with broccoli, carrots, edamame, brussel sprouts, peanuts and water chestnuts
  • Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta from Oh She Glows with a Kale Salad
  • Quinoa Biryani from Vegan Richa
  • Lasagna with tofu ricotta, field roast sausages, peas and marinara
  • The best frozen veggie burgers (another thing Julie introduced me too!)
  • Some kind of red lentil soup and salad – I’ll make them both up when we get to the end of the week and need to use up what is left in the fridge

Everyday is meatless for Sean and I, not just Mondays. Last weekend we participated in the Farm Sanctuary walk. When we were walking a passerby said “Why don’t you walk for something that actually means something.” We didn’t say anything to him, but I am hoping we made him think about what he was eating. Compassion for all.

Farm Sanctuary