Hi, I’m Caitlin! Thanks for reading. If you’re new, here’s a little about me: I’m a writer, editor, eater, and reader living in the Kansas City area. When I’m not working my 9-to-5, I’m cooking without a recipe, exploring the city, and probably procrastinating. I start from scratch each morning: progress is way more important to me than perfection.
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By my count, Grant and I have been eating semi-vegan for about seven months. For us, this means our meals at home are plant-based (lots of lentils and beans), but G will occasionally order seafood when we’re out. I still eat eggs and yogurt pretty regularly and order whatever the hell I want at a restaurant.
We’re doing this to address Grant’s allergies, but for a few other reasons, as well: high-quality, responsibly sourced meat is expensive. We’re talking now about reintroducing poultry upon occasion (I miss my roasted chicken now that it’s cold outside), but saving money by getting protein from plant sources has been great. It’s also been fun experimenting with new vegan recipes (this creamy pasta, vegan queso, and my daal have all been hits). I’ve had a few fails, but nothing inedible. A slightly crunchy bean can’t make you sick like a slightly raw chicken breast can!
The biggest hurdle has been vegan baking. Grant has been allergic to dairy since babyhood, so I’ve long-since conquered dairy-free baking. But cutting out eggs (a childhood allergy of his that’s reemerged in adulthood) has been so difficult. Eggs are integral in so many baked goods. They add structure, lift, and moisture. At most health food stores, you can find vegan egg substitutes, but I tend stay away from single-use products like that. I don’t mind buying cashew or coconut milk because those alternatives have a bunch of purposes: oatmeal, creamy sauces, Oreo dipping.
After some trial and error, I’ve settled on my go-to vegan egg substitute for baking: flaxseed meal! It’s relatively inexpensive, multipurpose (I often add it to smoothies and oatmeal), and full of nutrition. Win-win.
To make a “flax egg,” you combine one tablespoon of flaxseed meal with two tablespoons water, and let it sit for a few minutes. The water hydrates the meal, and it thickens and gels. Word on the street is that this substitute works best for sturdy baked goods, like quick breads. I wouldn’t try and use this in a delicate cookie.
My greatest vegan baking success to date is this pumpkin banana bread. It’s moist, well-spiced, and totally vegan; it’s delicious warm with (vegan) butter (this is our favorite) and cold out of the fridge. It also froze and defrosted well!
Pumpkin banana bread with chocolate chips
Makes one 9×13 pan (leftovers freeze well!)
3 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp ginger
½ tsp cloves
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 c granulated sugar
½ c brown sugar
⅔ c vegetable oil
1/2 c applesauce
2 flax eggs (2 tbsp of flaxmeal + 4 tbsp of water, combine and let sit for ~10 mins)
1 c pumpkin puree
1 c mashed banana
1 c vegan chocolate chips (the regular chocolate chips at Trader Joe’s and Costco are vegan)
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9×13 pan.
Combine flour through spices with a whisk in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, mix sugars, oil, applesauce, and flax eggs until well-combined. Add pumpkin and banana and mix again.
Add flour mixture to liquids bowl and carefully combine with spatula (do not overmix).
Fold in chocolate chips.
Pour into 9×13 pan, and bake for 25-35 minutes, until only a few crumbs stick during the toothpick test.
Notes: The applesauce also adds some moisture that an egg would have.
I chose to bake this in a 9×13, rather than loaf pans, so that it would have less height. Eggs help a baked good to keep structure, and a 9×13 sheet cake needs less height and structure than a loaf.
Photo of the vegan chocolate chips from Costco, in case you need help 😜
Recipe adapted from this great one. I did once make it according to that exact recipe (subbing chocolate chips for pecans), and it was very delicious.
Happy Halloween! Well, almost. Did you dress up over the weekend? Grant and I went to a vampire-themed murder mystery dinner party. Like always, our costumes were last-minute and half-ass. The party was very fun, though.
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Here’s a rundown of what’s been on my mind and heart this October. Hope you have a spooky day tomorrow 👻
The #Last90Days is kicking my butt in the best way. Exercising every day (instead of 4-5 days each week) has changed my body already. I’ve also gotten a new gym buddy the last few weeks: my husband. After years of exercising intermittently, he’s getting his butt in gear with cardio and strength training. Who knew it was so fun to exercise together? (Literally everyone says this, but I’d never experienced it before!)
Going to the gym together feels different than hiking, the primary way we’ve exercised together. The gym isn’t to see the pretty sights or to check a fourteener off the list. It’s just to better our bodies and minds, and doing that together feels pretty damn awesome.
This month has actually been marked by a remarkable lack of T.V. We didn’t turn the T.V. on even once while we were on vacation 🌈, and I’ve been making an effort to turn to reading more than anything else when I have downtime during the week. That means I’m not watching TGIT, and I think I’m fine with it. Maybe I’ll get the flu and have time to catch up someday, but it’s just not a priority.
We did watch S2E1 of “Stranger Things” on Friday, and you better believe I’ll be making time to watch the rest of that. #justiceforBarb
This month, I read and really liked “Purity,” by Jonathan Franzen. It’s a complicated family drama that is all centered around a woman named Purity. I love a thick book filled with multigenerational family drama, so this was right up my alley. Each section of the novel is told by a different character, and there are some excellent reveals.
I also reread one of my faves, “American Wife,” by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s a fictionalization of Laura Bush’s life, and it is fascinating and funny and deeply introspective about the meaning of marriage and the responsibilities that come with it. Similarly to “Purity,” it takes a long road, starting with the “Laura” character as a little girl and strolling along to get to the White House. It’s a quick read with plenty of passages to think about and discuss.
I listened to the entire “Dirty John” podcast yesterday while I was running errands and meal prepping. If you’re into true crime, or liked Serial or S-Town, LISTEN. It’s excellent. I don’t even want to say more. Don’t try and read any more about it, just search in iTunes and LIIIIISTEN to this killer audio documentary.
EATING AND DRINKING//
The new Key Lime La Croix is SO delicious. It feels more like a treat than the other flavors that I’ve had countless times, so I’ve been drinking one a lot of evenings during my commute.
I’m VERY excited that it’s soup/stew/chili season! I made this golden lentil coconut soup yesterday, and it’s very good. I didn’t blend it, and I’ve been eating it without the rice on top. I also made our favorite pumpkin chili to have on hand for lunches this week. The pumpkin makes it a little creamy and adds so much nutrition. I made it vegan by swapping the turkey for more beans, and I did mushrooms instead of zucchini.
What did you love this October? I love recommendations.
Last week, Grant and I honeymooned in Sedona, Arizona. It was magical. Sedona is incredible, and I can’t even remember the last time G and I had that much uninterrupted time together. Maybe never?
That said, we definitely have different ideas about the perfect getaway. We talked about it and decided that Grant prefers a trip, and I prefer a vacation.
Grant would be happy to go on a honeymoon that was 100% scheduled with activities, and I would prefer for there to be 50% activities, 50% drinking by the pool. In a true act of marital compromise, we were able to make this trip fit a little bit in both worlds. There was plenty of hiking, and I did get to take one drunken pool nap.
Where we hiked:
Airport Vortex: This was our first hike of the trip, and it was short, sweet, and very special. It’s a tiny, very easy hike to a little vista, where we cinched our hoodies and watched the sunrise in the crazy wind.
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If you’re not familiar, Sedona’s energy vortexes are spots that are said to carry special energy. I’ve read about it being described in different ways, but mainly a feeling in the head or heart of deep warmth and positivity. Maybe it was placebo, maybe it’s real, but I loved it.
There are many vortexes in Sedona, but there are four major, mainstream ones. Many of the undocumented ones were used by Native Americans for ceremonial purposes (and may still be today).
Cathedral Rock: This was one of the hardest hikes I have ever done (and I’ve done some doozies). It’s only 1.5 miles long, but you gain 600 feet of elevation. Which means that portions of it are basically vertical.
The summit is totally shaded by the “cathedral towers” on either side. It is breathtaking (well, however breathtaking it can be when you’re already totally winded). The vortex on this hike is beyond the summit (to my right in the photo below). Even though we didn’t go off-trail to reach it, I felt so at-peace even being in its presence. I don’t know if that feeling is different than the feeling I get after reaching any summit, but I didn’t try to interrogate that too much.
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Boynton Canyon: The highlight of this hike, another vortex, was Grant’s unexpected yoga class. When we got to the end of the trail, there was a spire of rock that looked scaleable. It was technically off-trail, but there were already two men at the top, so it couldn’t have been that bad.
Being the murderino that I am, I wasn’t really willing to climb to the top to a very small standing area. For all we knew, those dudes at the top were in some sort of cult and were waiting for fresh meat! (Hi, I’m dramatic.)
Before I could totally explain my concerns to G, he had bounded off and was climbing. And, while I sat and watched at the bottom, he learned ujjayi breathing from these two men, who were apparently about to livestream a mindfulness practice workshop from that spire. (They must have had killer service because I could barely send a text.)
Devil’s Bridge: This is definitely the most Insta-famous Sedona destination, meaning that it was one of the more crowded hikes we took. While I wasn’t crazy about that, it did mean there were plenty of people to take our photo at the top!
I thought the view from under the bridge better showed how cool this rock formation is.
Bell Rock: This, our final Sedona hike, felt incredibly special. I, in all honesty, didn’t really want to do it at first. It was nearing lunchtime, we were feeling tired, and I wasn’t sure I had it in me. I’m so glad Grant convinced me to go.
The whole Bell Rock area is known as a vortex space, so we set off on the trail with the mindset that we wouldn’t find a particular vortex spot. Before we’d gotten very far up on the rock formations, the trail markers stopped. Now, that Boy Scout up there ⬆⬆⬆ is a big stickler for parks service rules (as we all should be). But he really, really wanted to go higher on Bell Rock. So we went off trail. 😲
It was incredible. So beautiful and so calming, we worked together to find safe ways up, and neither of us died!
We kept going until the rock faces were too sheer. And, at the random spot where our hike ended, we found a piece of paper, weighted down by rocks.
Maybe it seems silly now, but to find this special spot together without the guidance of signs felt fortuitous. It felt like the world was on our side. I will never, ever forget that.
Grand Canyon (not in Sedona): G hiked all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with his dad and brother years ago, so he wanted to go back and show me what all the fuss is about.
We didn’t hike all the way, but we did do a nine-mile loop called the Bright Angel Trail.
It was, to put it mildly, a challenge. But we did it! (I plan to write another post about this experience, so stay tuned.)
This may seem like a lot of hikes, and it was, but we really enjoy hiking together. There is nothing like the endorphin rush of reaching the summit, especially with your new husband.
What we ate:
First of all, I highly recommend Sedona just based on food. We had so many delicious meals, and G was always able to find something to eat, even with his allergies and restrictions. I have never seen so many vegan options sprinkled into a “regular” menu. I was able to order whatever I wanted, and G still had choices (often way more than he’s used to having, which I think overwhelmed him a bit).
SaltRock Kitchen: One of my favorite tips is to eat dinner at the lobby restaurants of fancy hotels. They’re often delicious (check those reviews!), and it’s an excuse to see the property. Order the grilled octopus appetizer and the watermelon salad.
Mariposa: The kind of Latin-inspired steakhouse that serves chimmichurri on everything. I don’t think you can go wrong here. We loved the lentil-walnut croquette appetizer, and the grilled shrimp were very tasty.
Che Ah Chi: Another fancy hotel meal. This restaurant is at the Enchantment Resort, which is huge, very luxurious, and very expensive. It was very fun to have an excuse to wander around for a bit. The Cathedral Rock toast was AMAZING. Thick-cut chewy toast topped with avocado, ricotta, tomatoes, shallots, and a lemony olive oil.
Creekside American Bistro: One of the best crab cakes I’ve ever eaten. Weird, I know, but the server pushed it, and I’m glad I listened.
Tamaliza: Must-eat. Cafeteria-style Mexican food, including vegan tamales.
Secret Garden Cafe: My favorite meal of the trip. Hot tip: the caprese salad is served with a huge mound of arugula and baby spinach, and it’s perfect with a steak on the side.
Whyld Ass (Flagstaff): We went to Flagstaff specifically to eat breakfast here. An all-vegan menu, owned by a very cool and friendly dude. The biscuits and gravy were next-level and the snickerdoodle we got for a car snack was 🎉.
True Food Kitchen (Phoenix): Awesome menu that combined traditional offerings with vegan options, all around an anti-inflammatory diet. (Which means they didn’t serve coffee, a real bummer since we ate there for brunch. I ordered kombucha instead.) G had a butternut squash pizza with vegan ricotta, and I had a mushroom and Brussels sprouts pizza with non-vegan Taleggio. Nami (Phoenix): All-vegan and incredible. We both had enormous breakfast burritos, and we shared the banana churros, which were perfect, cinnamon-sugar-rolled donut holes.
Where we stayed:
Poco Diablo (Sedona): We stayed here for the majority of the trip. While the service was not great (a little slow, seemed annoyed at normal requests, and our room service tray lay outside our room for days), we would probably stay here again. The room was large and comfortable with plenty of storage. There was a fireplace in the room and a private deck off the sitting area 💓. The robes — a metric by which I judge all hotels — were plush and warm.
Since it was off-season, we barely saw another guest, which was awesome. Even at afternoons by the pool, we had our pick of chaises in the shade and the sun.
El Tovar (Grand Canyon): This hotel is situated right on the canyon rim, which was cool and beautiful. We watched the sunset Thursday evening and even saw a couple get engaged.
It was awesome to walk from our hotel room to the trail head Friday morning. That’s a definite plus of this hotel. But I’m not sure we’d stay here again. Service, especially in the bar and restaurant, was not great, and the whole place badly needs an upgrade. The outside had recently been redone (paint and shingles) and looked great. The rest of the hotel could do with that facelift.
Hotel Palomar (Phoenix): We stayed here our last night. Comfortable, stylish, beautiful rooftop pool. The robes were waffle-weave, which I didn’t love, but you can’t win them all.
Overall, this was an amazing trip. I know that this post was more about logistics, but it felt so special to spend so much uninterrupted time with Grant. We spent a lot of time talking about what we want our life and marriage to look like and feel like, we lingered over dinner, we took naps together in the middle of the day — basically all of the things that we never, ever have time for in the real world. I think that’s part of the reason Sedona felt so magical. It was totally separate from our normal hyper-busy, hyper-connected life.
Love you, G. Thanks for marrying me, thanks for teaching me to hike, thanks for sparking my love of food, and thanks for making sure I got plenty of time to read my vacation book.
If you have questions about Sedona, or more recommendations for next time we go, leave a comment!
Ok, here we are. End of October. By my count, there are 70 days left in 2017, which means we’ve barely made a dent in the #last90days Challenge. In case you’re out of the loop, this challenge is meant set you on an upward trajectory for 2018 by helping you to establish the habits you need. (It’s not too late to sign up)! I outlined my intended habits in this Insta post ⬇⬇⬇
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So how are my goals going?
I have published a blog post each week, including this one (which is posting while I return from 😍honeymooning😍).
Success! The bottles in our liquor cabinet are collecting dust.
I have been about 75% successful at eating grains only once each day. Which is pretty damn good, I think. Basically, I’m encouraging myself to go for veggies and protein before I reach for a popcorn/pretzel/leftover plain pasta.
Besides one on-purpose rest day, I have kept this up! Each week, I’ve been zumba-ing once or twice, going on runs with Grant, and spinning. I can definitely tell a difference in my energy levels during the day: I’m staying more alert with less coffee, but I fall asleep HARD come 9:30 p.m.
I’m working my hardest to take deep breaths, speak calmly and honestly, and be affectionate instead of snappy. Is it working? You can ask my husband 😌.
One realization I’ve come to while doing this challenge is that Mondays set the tone for the entire week. In the past, I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of thinking that Mondays are like a post-weekend warmup day. Yes, I’ve got to get stuff done, but I should ease myself into the week. This is b.s.
Come Monday, I should be exercising harder, making time for my husband, snacking smarter, and getting up early to write. I’ve been aware of the fitness mantra “Never miss a Monday” for a while, but I’m using it now to frame my whole week: never miss a Monday for any healthy habit.
Having a fruitful Monday means that you’re on track for a “perfect” week. You won’t want to ruin your good efforts with 10:30 a.m. Cheetos on Tuesday after you stuck to raw almonds Monday morning. Springing out of bed for a still-dark-outside run will be easier if you’re adding on to the efforts you made Monday.
*HUGE, MONSTER CAVEAT* “Perfect” is in quotes up there because it should be taken with an enormous grain of salt. Perfect isn’t an achievable standard. Stuff is going to come up, you’re going to get stuck in traffic and miss that 6 p.m. spin class, and there will be a baby shower at work the same day you’re abstaining from sugar. Shit happens. That doesn’t mean that you (1) give into temptation, or (2) beat yourself up if you do succumb. Failing to meet one goal is too often an excuse to shelve the other goals and start over again on Monday. This version of “Never miss a Monday” is NOT THAT. *OKAY CAVEAT OVER BYE*
If you live your Monday like your ideal day, it makes it that much easier for each and every day to be an ideal day. Jump out of bed when your alarm goes off, sip your coffee while you write in your gratitude journal, give it your all at the gym, make that protein smoothie when you really want waffles, and on and on.
Live your Monday the way you want to live the rest of your week. For me, this means checking all the Five to Thrive boxes ⬇⬇⬇ and sticking to the schedule and to-do list I set for myself. I should earn that downtime in the evening.
I make sure to meet all five goals above and prioritize the goals below. There’s some overlap, and that’s on purpose. Those goals are just extra-important.
Get up on time. Oversleeping on a Monday is the worst thing I can do for my week. If I rush into work and leave no “me” time in the morning, I will be a cranky ass, guaranteed. If I miss my Monday morning workout and know all day long that I’m going to have to exercise after sitting in traffic for an hour after work… let’s just say the rest of my day pays dearly for that realization. Waking up at an ungodly hour and allowing myself time to read, write, and exercise before I clock in makes me a better person. This is not hyperbole, as I’m sure my coworkers, friends, and family can attest.
Eat healthfully. To me, this means prioritizing vegetables and protein. Listen, I love food. Love it. By Friday, my beloved cucumbers and hummus taste like nothing and also disgusting. Which is why I try my best to eat 80/20: 80% healthfully and 20% whatever I want. This leaves room for pizza and wine with my book club while also encouraging me to stick to salad and tuna more often than not.
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Be PRODUCTIVE. I try to get the most dreaded task of the whole week done on Monday, or at least a huge chunk of it. If there are freelance calls I don’t want to make, or a nasty task at work I’m not looking forward to, tackling it on Monday means it’s over, and I can have a much more positive outlook for the rest of my workweek.
Notice that I said I “try” to do this. I suck at doing this consistently, but I have seen a real difference between the weeks where I make this a priority and the weeks where I don’t.
Exercise. Each and every day. Sweat, ache, breathe heavily. If I still look cute when I’m done, I didn’t go hard enough. This isn’t about being skinny. It’s about being strong and healthy, so I can outrun a zombie and keep up with my future kids.
Keep it low key. Ok, I am all about a Monday happy hour. Decompressing with friends and having that to look forward to can be a great motivator to get through the work day. But the last thing I need is to wake up with foggy wine head and dry dehydrated mouth on Tuesday morning. So I limit my drinks to two and up my water intake if I’ll be drinking.
Go to bed on time. Similarly, going into Tuesday with a sleep deficit is just punishing my tomorrow self. So, unless it is a really special occasion (which can totally be just a girls night movie), I try to be asleep by 9:30. It takes me less than 10 minutes to fall asleep because I’m so tired from all the exercising 💥
I would love for all of this not to be true. I’d love to be able to phone Monday in and treat it like extended Sunday (so I still exercise and eat healthfully, but maybe I also watch TV for five hours). But I’ve seen the way giving Mondays my all has changed my whole life. So now ✨Monday Funday✨ is my favorite day (even if I’m just telling myself that). Hey, they say seeing is believing, and I have seen the results.
Mac and cheese is my ultimate no-brakes food. I’m not even picky: I can easily house an entire box of Kraft, but I prefer something that’s made with a little more care. I love this one, this one, and, most of all, this one.
There are several road blocks to my one true foodlove, though. First and foremost, my one true humanlove, my husband Grant, is allergic to dairy. While I’m not above waiting until he’s out of town and eating mac and cheese for every meal until he returns, he doesn’t travel without me quite enough for that solution to fill the macaroni-shaped hole in my heart.
Mac and cheese also doesn’t really fit into my regular healthy-eating plan. I’m more than willing to splurge on good-quality macaroni upon occasion, but finding a lighter solution to my craving was crucial to my continued happiness.
The answer to both of these issues is vegan macaroni and cheese. It’s just as cozy, more nutritious, and tastes similar to the real thing. I’m not trying to sell you on this recipe tasting just like your mama’s macaroni, because it doesn’t. BUT, it has a similar taste, a near-identical consistency, and the creamy mouthfeel is the same. (How gross is the word mouthfeel, btw?)
This is my riff on several vegan macs I’ve tried and loved. I added canned pumpkin for added vitamins and fiber and also for some Autumn vibes. (I almost called this Harvest Mac with Roasted Garlic, but that seemed a little too… lame?) The roasted garlic makes it super savory and yummy, and nutritional yeast brings the cheesy flavor. If you’ve never cooked with nutritional yeast (or “nooch”) before, it’s a vegan seasoning that adds a cheesy flavor to anything. I buy mine in bulk from the Hyvee Health Market, but it’s available at most health food stores and on Amazon. Top this mac with red pepper flakes and serve with something green on the side.
VEGAN PUMPKIN MAC WITH ROASTED GARLIC
Cloves from 1 head of roasted garlic (slice top off the head to expose cloves, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in tinfoil, and bake at 375 for 30-45 mins, depending on size of cloves. It’s done when your kitchen smells like an Italian restaurant and the cloves are soft like butter)
4 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp flour
2 c cashew milk
1 c canned pumpkin
½ c nutritional yeast (more to taste)
Salt and pepper
12 oz macaroni (this amount of pasta results in a lot of sauce, perfect to stir in veggies of your choice!)
Bring water to boil, prepare pasta to desired consistency. Drain and reserve when ready.
Heat oil in large skillet (I use my cast iron) over medium. Once heated, sprinkle in flour slowly, whisking the whole time. This will create a paste, called a roux. Cook the roux, whisking constantly, for 1-2 minutes.
Stream cashew milk in, whisking constantly to ensure no lumps (if there’s a lump or two, it’ll get blended out in a bit). Allow to bubble over medium-low heat for a few minutes, whisking near constantly, until thickened. (It should coat the back of a spoon.)
Once thickened, add sauce to blender with pumpkin, all of the garlic cloves, nutritional yeast, and salt and pepper. Blend on high until very smooth.
Taste for seasoning (don’t be afraid to add lots of salt and nutritional yeast. It should taste cheesy and well-salted). Add back to skillet, and allow to bubble over medium-low for 2 minutes or so.
Fold in pasta, top with red pepper flakes, and enjoy!
Inspired by this recipe from Minimalist Baker, the first vegan macaroni and cheese I ever made.
For the Brussels, trim and halve Brussels sprouts, toss with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and roast at 425 for 12 minutes, stirring halfway through.