Thursday, December 18, 2014

Recipe: Creamy Dreamy Mint Green Smoothie

Tonight, I experienced one of my toughest-yet power yoga sessions.  All of those warrior 2s, planks, and camels left me feeling like a champ... and starving.  After unpacking from the day and settling in, I whipped up this little treat to serve as my dinner.  

My favorite ice cream has always been mint-chip.  But since I no longer partake of standard dairy-based desserts, I like to get creative.  The nice thing about a raw food lifestyle is that you can enjoy something that tastes like dessert with zero guilt!  This milkshake-style smoothie contains plenty of vitamin-rich fruit and veggies with a great balance of carbs and protein for an after-workout recovery meal.  It tastes amazing, and won't weigh you down.  I will definitely be making this more often!

Creamy Dreamy Mint Green Smoothie

1 1/2 cups non-dairy milk (I used my homemade hazelnut milk for this one.)
1-2 cups of kale
3-4 frozen bananas
1/2 cup fresh mint
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 scoop plant-based protein powder (I use Plant Head brand vanilla protein.)
2 tsp Dandy Blend tea (optional, but awesome.)
Pinch of salt
Sweetener of choice (I used a scoop of stevia for extra sweetness.)

Add all ingredients to your blender and blend until smooth and creamy.  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Recipe: Quick and Easy Raw Pad Thai

Since I discovered raw and living foods, this has been one of my go-to dinner recipes.  It's really fast to whip up, delicious, and with so much fiber, very filling.  Plus, it's super versatile and easy to adjust depending on what's in the fridge.

Raw Vegan Pad Thai
Serves 1 or 2

3-4 of your favorite veggie:  carrots, zucchini, diakon radish, cucumber, etc. (Use all of one or a combination.  It's totally up to you.  For the bowl in the pic, I used 4 heirloom, colorful carrots.)
1-2 scallions
Cilantro, for garnishing

2 tbsp tahini (can use peanut, almond, or cashew butter)
1-2 tbsp Bragg's Liquid Aminos (could use soy sauce, tamari, nama shoyu)
1 lemon, juiced
1 tbsp sweetener of choice
1 garlic clove (or tsp garlic powder) 
1" fresh ginger (or tsp ginger powder)
Dash of cayenne pepper

For the noodles, just cut into shreds using your favorite tool for the job.  I used my food processor with the shredder plate.  It was the fasted way to go for me.  If you don't have a special tool or processor, just use a veggie peeler and make long flat noodles.  Chop the scallions finely and set aside.  

For the sauce, blend all the ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.  I have a Baby Bullet that works great for small batches of sauce and dressings. 

In a large bowl, add the sauce and noodles, then combine well until all of the noodles are coated.  Sprinkle the scallions and cilantro on top, and lightly mix.  You want the color from the toppings to stay vibrant for presentation. I was out of cilantro, so I just left it out this time.  

Then, pull out a pair of chopsticks, and dig in!  You may use a fork if you must, but I think it takes away from the feeling of eating international cuisine. ;-)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Vegan Vacation, Part Four: Meeting Naturally Lauren, A Juice Bar, and Adventures in Pizza

When I got into this raw vegan thing a few years back, I never expected that my YouTube stalking of Dara Dubinet would lead me to making new friends in all parts of the country, but what do you know?  After joining the "More with Dara" community, I met some amazing people... Fellow women (and some men, too) who had been through their own health struggles and healed with the help of natural living and healthy food.  It was such a joy to find these other people who understood me and why I live the way I do.  We shared instagram handles and Facebook info, and discovered that a lot of us are bloggers.  One particular MWD (that's what we call ourselves) was something of a kindred spirit.  Both of us with young daughters, we just "clicked".  I started following and reading about her day-to-day adventures and healthy struggles.  Lauren is a J-poucher, and if you don't know what that is, don't feel bad.  Neither did I until I read her awesome post about her digestive issues and the incredible road she's taken to heal.  You can check it out here:!My-Journey-to-Jpouch-No-Colon-Still-Rollin/cmbz/67EA1602-81D6-49F4-991F-8F330D2FEAB4

All of this to say, Lauren is awesome, and basically, my sister from another mister.  So, when we realized that she only lives about 20 minutes from my mom in New Jersey, we knew we HAD to make time to meet.  On the last full day of our vacation mom, Matt, Aubrianna, Charlotte, and I met Lauren and her daughter, Little A, at Fresh Press Juice Co in Cranford.  I fell in love with this town, you guys.  The juice bar is located right on the main drag in a little modern retail center that resembles as old town square.  It's adorable.  Lauren and Little A were waiting on us, and as soon as we walked in, it was hugs all-around.  I felt like I'd know her for years.  The funny thing is that I was a little nervous on the way there.  You know how they say, "never meet your idols because you're bound to be disappointed."?  Well, that was kinda stuck in my head.  I worried that our in-person meeting would be uncomfortable or awkward, like maybe we'd be different face-to-face.  Silly, right?  These are my insecurities, fellas.  I shouldn't have worried because it was a great time.  She is every bit as warm and lovely as she appears online, and I'm so happy that we were able to spend that time together.  We got to chat for a couple of hours and learn each other's stories.  The kids had an amazing time, as well.  The older girls loved that fact that their names are almost the same, and Charlotte enjoyed chasing them up and down the hallway to the bathroom.  I have to say sorry to the owner at this point in the post.  We were a little rambunctious that day.  But that's what happens when you get hopped up on green juice and acai berry bowls. 

Instant buddies... And stinkers.  So much cute in this picture.  We make pretty kids, let me tell ya.
Acai bowl a.k.a heaven.
Carrot cake smoothie for the road.  This one's not on the menu, but if you ask, I bet she'll whip it up.  So delicious!

Speaking of the owner, what a kind, driven, and knowledgable lady.  And drop-dead gorgeous, I might add.  I sampled a few things, and all of it was delicious!  They offer all kinds of juice, smoothies, superfood bowls, and even some grab-n-go items in the cooler.  Charlotte spotted the beet hummus first thing, so that's what she had.  Lauren's daughter had a cup of banana ice cream with a few little toppings added in, all healthy of course.  I can't wait to go visit again next time we head up there.  I want to try everything!

It was hard to leave, but all good things come to a close.  So, we hugged and said our goodbyes.  I had such a lovely time that day.  

That night, mom's "other half," Gary, picked a place for dinner that he thought would be great for me.  It's called Healthy Garden, located in Piscataway.  It's a nice little natural food cafe that serves a bit of everything... Sandwiches, burgers, pizza, burritos, quesadillas, salads, smoothies, juices, with lots gluten-free and dairy-free options.  I ordered a veggie pizza, and meant to have them leave off the vegan cheese since I'm really not a fan of Daiya.  I know, I'm not a good vegan if I don't espouse the virtues of fake cheese, but I just really think it tastes awful.  (There goes my shot at an endorsement.)  It reminds me of the "cheese-like food topping" that I accidentally bought once back in my omnivore days.  I'll give them props for making a convincing-looking substitute, but I just don't like the flavor at all.  So, as you can guess, I wasn't impressed with the pizza.  The crust was really tasty, but apparently if you order their vegan version of this pizza, instead of swapping the parmesan containing pesto out for a different sauce, they just didn't put any sauce at all on it.  It was crust, veggies, and melted Daiya which came out surprisingly greasy.  I think if I go back, I'll request that they add red sauce and leave off the cheese.  The veggies were nicely seasoned, though.  Everyone else thoroughly enjoyed their meals.  They had some very nice looking sandwiches.  My niece got a veggie burger that was as big as her head!  Definitely a good bargain for the price.  This place has tons to offer, so I'm looking forward to trying it again and getting something different.  It seems very promising, and I'll know to be more specific next time.

The next day, we were leaving for home.  Our flight wasn't until early evening, so we took advantage of the time we had and went shopping before meeting Gary for lunch at Brick House.  I was a little worried when we chose a place renowned for their grilled animal carcasses, but as it turned out, they had an easily-modified flatbread pizza with mushrooms and arugula.  It's totally vegan if you leave off the cheese.  The server was very understanding and helpful, too.  And this pizza, was super delicious, even with very little in the way of toppings.  The sauce had so much flavor, that it didn't need much else.  Granted, I would prefer more vegetables in all my meals, but for making do, it was great.  They fire-grill their pizzas, so the crust was to-die-for!  Definitely calling this one a win. 

After lunch, we started our long, traffic-laden drive back to Newark.  After a stop at Target for some essentials and a hat modeling adventure...
... We said our goodbyes, and parted ways.  Mom, of course, cried.  Aubrianna, of course, cried.  And I tried to be the tough one, but I whimpered.  My brother, though, was totally the strong one.  It's hard to walk away from my momma, no matter how old I get.  But, I sure hope that's how Charlotte feels when she's grown.  

Waiting for our flight.  She just couldn't hang anymore.  

The flight home was without incident, and it sure was nice to get back to my bed, and who am I kidding?... My food.  No matter how nice convenience feels, nothing beats making my own green smoothie or gigantic salad.  I hope that next time we can try more of the raw offerings in New York City.  That will make for some incredible blog posts!  Don't ya think?  

See ya next spring, Jersey!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Raw Lemon-Ginger Super Cookie Balls

Charlotte and I made some raw sugar cookies a few days ago following Gena's recipe from, and they were pretty awesome.  But, since we ate them all, we were in need of something sweet again.  I had just finished making a carrot, orange, ginger juice, and felt like more ginger was called for.  Charlotte happened to be chewing on a little piece of ginger at the time, so I knew she was in agreement.  We looked around the kitchen to see what else we had on-hand, and this is what we came up with:

Raw Lemon-Ginger Super Cookie Balls

10 medjool dates
8 tbsp almond flour
6 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
4 tbsp hemp seeds
2 tbsp lemon juice
1" fresh ginger, grated
Pinch of sea salt

Place the dates in a food processor and pulse until they are well chopped, starting to form a ball.  Next, add all the other ingredients, EXCEPT 2 tablespoons of the shredded coconut.  You'll use it as the outer coating of the finished cookies. Pulse the cookie mixture until it's well blended and sticking together.  Once your cookie mixture is ready, measure tablespoon scoops of "dough" and roll into balls.  Lastly, drop the cookies into the reserved coconut and coat them.  Then, try to resist eating them all at once.  It's tough, I tell ya!  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Vegan Vacation, Part Three: Asbury Park, NJ

I've been slacking on my posts in the past couple of weeks, I know.  Life has just been so darn busy, and with the change of seasons coming quickly (it's 73 today, but promises of temps in the low 40's are set for Friday, ick.), I've been trying to fit in as much outdoor time as possible.  So, bare with me as I try to find balance and bring you some fresh content.

When we last spoke, I'd been all over lower Manhattan and had some crazy-good vegan fare.  Today, we travel southeast to Asbury Park, NJ.  This is, supposedly, one of the nicest beaches in the area, and I'd have to say that, from what I saw, it's understandable.  The official close of the season had already happened when we were there, so a lot of businesses were shut down, but we were able to dip our toes in the (very cold) Atlantic Ocean and snag some seashells.  

I should note that the last two times we took Charlotte to the beach, she was terrified of the noisy water and cried if we got within thirty feet of it.  The sand, however, was her jam.  She even tried to study it closely by ingesting it at one point, obviously while Daddy was in charge.

On this trip, I wasn't sure what to expect of her.  After all, it was almost a year since our Miami adventure, and she's now a big fan of garden hoses and daily showers.  Well, I can report that she was a big fan... To the point that I was a bit nervous seeing just how comfortable she was with the "big pool".  I'm convinced she'd have jumped right in if I'd let her.  It was far too chilly for that, though, so we just swung her feet and let her touch the water.  Her squeals of joy were adorable, if I do say so myself.  

Some things never change. 

This beach, let me just tell ya, was pristine.  I'm not sure what it's like during peak season, but on our trip, it was extremely clean.  The sand was littered only with seashells, and the sidewalks were devoid of trash.  There is some of the prettiest architecture on the drive in and along ocean avenue, as well.  Color me impressed.  I've only ever seen southern beaches, and Santa Monica on one short excursion, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised.  

We walked the boardwalk and let the girls play in the sand for a while, then made sure to take lots of pictures.  I couldn't believe how many in-tact shells we found, which was a lot of fun to show Charlotte.  We stuffed a few into her diaper bag and headed off to find some lunch.  

True "stinker" face, if ever there was one.

I pulled up my Happy Cow app, and found a few very vegan-friendly places, but they'd all closed for the season the previous weekend.  Bummer! Mom, however, found a place just a short walk from where we had parked called "Cubacan".  It was (obviously) a Cuban restaurant, so I figured I could find something tasty on their menu.  It was a bit early for dinner, and we almost had the place to ourselves.  Let me tell ya, the decor is amazing!  (And I didn't even think to get a picture, damnit.) It reminded me of our previously mentioned trip to Miami.  I just adore art-deco style, and this place made me happy as soon as I walked in.  Geometric patterns mixed with curved lines, black & white with bursts of bright green, and the bathroom was all red and black... Gorgeous.  We were seated at a table midway through the restaurant where we could still see the beach, and were promptly attended to.  Our server was very friendly.  I glanced over the menu and noticed that most items contained animal products, but I asked him to suggest something for a vegan.  He said their house salad was fantastic, which I had no doubt about.  Most house salads are just plain iceberg lettuce with limp cucumbers, flavorless tomatoes, croutons, and a big red onion ring resting on top.  This salad, though, was listed as baby greens, tomato, red onion, cucumber, and green olives with citrus vinaigrette.  If they go out of their way to add olives, I'm in.  They listed black beans as a side, so I asked if they were vegan, but after checking with the kitchen, he informed me they were cooked in chicken broth.  Poo.  So, I looked again and saw "garlic string beans", which he said WERE vegan, being lightly sautéed in olive oil.  Right on!  Not a big meal, but enough to hold off the hunger for a while.  My brother ordered some gigantic sandwich loaded with all kinds of not-vegan-friendly stuff, and my mom had something with chicken, I think.  Who cares, really?  We are all about the plant-based finds in this series.  

Anyway, the food arrived and was beautiful, as expected.  I always wish salads were bigger when I eat out, but that's just not the world we live in.  Maybe some day.  The green beans were bathed in garlic, and I ate them with my fingers.  No shame!  The salad dressing was so delicious.  It wasn't overpowering, but just added a lovely flavor to the lettuce and fixins.  I truly enjoyed every bite.  It would've been nice to try a vegan restaurant, but this is what we call "making it work".  I can't complain.  The service was impeccable, and the food was great.  

Get these!  You will not regret it.  Holy coconut, Batman!  So delicious!

After lunch, we decided to head back, but not before stopping at a local health food store, Dean's Natural Food Market. I can't pass a health food store or a juice bar.  Ha!  This place is like a mini Whole Foods, with aisles lined with organic fare and fresh produce... Also known as "heaven" to me.  The girls were asleep, so mom stayed in the car while Matt and I explored.  I found a huge tray of mixed sprouts for salads, some coconut chips, AGED VEGAN CHEESE(!), and crackers for Charlotte.  We also discovered that my brother has his own line of apple juice.  Wink wink. 

It was such a cute little store, clean and brightly lit.  They even had a fresh salad bar and hot food offerings.  If you're ever in the area, check it out.  It was quite the lovely little find.  

Too much beach fun for this kid. 

I discovered while there, that my fellow blogger friend NaturallyLauren, is from that area.  If you haven't checked out her blog yet, do yourself a favor.  It's full of beautiful pictures and gorgeous food.  She's has quite the health story to tell, too.  Oh, and in my next post, you'll meet her.  We were able to meet in person on my trip, and she was just as lovely as I thought she would be.  It's so wonderful to meet online friends in person, especially those who share your love of all things healthy and happy.  It is such a blessing to find our kindred spirits.  I'm loving life! 

P.S. When we got home, I made a big salad and roasted veggies which looked like this: 

Roasted beets and potatoes, with sautéed beet greens and cannellini beans.  Delish!  And we went to bed happy, with full bellies.  :-)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Vegan Vacation, Part Two: New York City

It comes as no surprise that NYC is THE place go for amazing plant-based meals. A quick search of will retrieve hundreds of results for vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly locations.  So, when we decided to visit NYC during our vacation in New Jersey, I was understandably giddy.  Truth be told, I was really hoping to try Candle 79 or Pure Food and Wine, but things didn't go according to plan.  Never fear!  I still had an awesome time and enjoyed delicious vegan food at a restaurant I'd never heard of, but that I will definitely be spreading the word about.

We started the day later than expected, but with six people sharing one bathroom, that's kinda predictable.  After a nice big bowl of steel-cut oats with bananas, strawberries, walnuts, and flax seeds, we headed out to the big city.  We instructed the GPS to avoid tolls, and apparently, this means you get to drive 35 mph through every small town along the way. I'd be lying if I said it didn't irritate me.  After all, this was the highlight of the trip for me, and I didn't like being made to take it slow.  We finally made it to Liberty Park and found the ferry to take us across the choppy water to the big city around 2pm.  Yep, like I said... Late start.  The girls really enjoyed the ferry ride, and Charlotte sat perfectly still, just like a big girl.  I was surprised that she wasn't the least bit nervous, being that she's only been on a boat once when she was two months old.  My kid is one tough cookie.

We arrived in lower manhattan and immediately headed to the 9/11 memorial.  It was the one thing I knew I HAD to see.  Having never been to NYC before, I didn't know what to expect in such a sacred place, but I was so pleasantly surprised.  In such a busy, bustling city full of noise, people were noticably calm and subdued, showing complete respect for what those new fountains represent.  It felt like, no matter where we were from or what we believed, everyone there was together.  We all shared in the same emotions at that moment in time.  That was the day when we explained to my niece what the memorial was about.  She didn't know why we wanted to walk miles and miles to see these structures, but I think she understands now.  That day is so engrained in me, a part of my life that I'll never forget, but I'd never considered what it means to those born after it happened.  I wonder if the history books will convey the story in a way to make them "feel" it the way we did?  Will my daughter ever be able to comprehend why standing there brought up so many emotions in me?  Something to ponder, I suppose.

After paying our respects, we ventured on.  We weren't hungry yet, but figured we should start walking in the direction of dinner, since we'd likely be starving by the time we arrived.  I pulled up my HappyCow app and searched near me.  I saw a spot that caught my eye, called Sun in Bloom.  It looked like they had salads and juice among other healthy fare, so we headed that way.  I really enjoy the architecture in NYC, I must add.  Walking through the city was like a feast for the senses.  So much is happenig at any given time, that it's hard to know where to look, but that's all part of the fun. 
I snagged this pic from their Facebook page, but this is actually from their Brooklyn location which appears to be a sit-down restaurant with an extensive menu.

When we arrived at Sun in Bloom, we were disappointed to see that it was more of a "grab and go" kinda place than a sit-down restaurant.  They had a large refrigerator case filled with packed kale salads, nut milks, juices, etc., and behind the counter was a plethora of tea and coffee choices.  We decided to have dinner elsewhere, but did opt to try a little something there.  My brother and niece shared a gluten-free, vegan brownie that was quite a hit with the fast-food, junk-food-loving kid.  I picked up a carrot walnut muffin, also vegan and gluten-free to save for later, and had an English breakfast tea for the walk to dinner.  I forgot to get pictures, but the cafe was super cute and bright, and the muffin was ridiculously good!  They don't go stingy on the walnuts, either.  If I lived near there, I'm sure it would be a regular stop.

My mom suggested we try a place she found called The Butcher's Daughter.  The name alone got my attention, but when I checked the menu out on my phone, I figured she was on to something.  It was 1.1 miles further to walk, but we all agreed we were fine with that.  I have to add here, I LOVE my Tom's shoes.  They're practically all I wore on this trip, and my feet never hurt. 

We passed some more gorgeous buildings on our way to Kenmare Street, and finally found our destination.  I fell in love as soon as I saw it.  This quaint little bistro-style restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, greenery hanging from the ceiling, and a bright interior, it was perfect.  The weather was absolutely beautiful that day, so they had the front doors wide open, which made it feel like we were sitting outside, even though we had taking our seats at the large community table in the back.  The whole front of the restaurant is lined with windows bringing lots of natural light in, and with the heavy distressed-wood table, it felt like sitting in a garden.  I hadn't even tasted one morsel, but I knew I was gonna enjoy my dinner here. 

Our lovely server came to the table with mint-infused water for us all.  That's right, mint water is their go-to free beverage!  After glancing at the menu, I asked to have a wheatgrass shot, but she informed me that they were out.  Sad face. :-( However, she suggested I try the Liquid Vitality tincture, which contains ginger, honey, yuzu (not sure what that even is, but who cares?), and echinacea. It was really neat... Spicy, tart, sweet.  And I figure, being in new allergy region during fall, the components would be a good way to keep healthy on the trip.  Definitely a thumbs up from me.

After studying the menu and considering ordering one of everything, I finally settled on The Butcher's Burger, a vegetable-black bean patty with cashew cheddar, Bibb lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and special sauce on a brioche bun with roasted potato wedges and Harissa mayo.  I never order burgers, but it was calling to me.  And I figure I HAD to try the signature dish, right?  My mom and brother ordered a special Thai zucchini noodle dish.  Anyone else find it funny hat I'm the one who got the burger while my two omnivore companions opted for the raw food?  We were pretty amused by this turn of events.  

When our food arrived, we were so hungy, we forgot to take pictures.  I snapped this one after Charlotte had stolen a potato wedge.  There was no making this kid wait.  I must admit, this was one of the best damned veggie burgers I've ever had!  Most of the time, they get soft and soggy, and start to fall apart halfway through, but this was crispy and hearty to the last bite.  It was much heavier than what I'm used to eating, but I really enjoyed every bite of it.  That bun!  It was crispy on the outside and feathery light and soft on the inside.  Definitely not gluten-free, but worth it.  Mom and Matt really enjoyed their noodle dishes, as well.  I really wish I'd taken photos since they were so pretty.  Oh well, maybe next time I go there, and I hope that's soon.

Since this was my one NYC vegan food experience, I went all out and ordered dessert.  Of course, the raw chocolate ganache was calling my name.  Charlotte learned a new word that day, "chocolate".  We all shared the slice, but I could've easily eaten the whole thing.  It was amazing!  Creamy, not too sweet, served with a side of berries and jam, it was divine.  If you're ever in the area, so yourself a favor and try this adorable bistro.  There are so many creative items on the menu, from a cheese board and pates, to hearts of palm salad, to kale chips, and even a pulled "pork" BBQ  sandwich made from shredded portabello mushrooms, as well as daily specials.  I can't wait to go back!


Before leaving, I stopped into their gift shop and picked up two organic cotton tshirts, one saying "We sell designer kale." and another reading "Beet it."  I'm gathering quite the collection of veg-supporting shirts.  

After dinner, as the sun was setting, we began our long walk back to the ferry, which took us through Chinatown.  It was quite an experience seeing all of the little shops and markets along the way.  I was sad to see how many dead animals were hanging in the windows, and the smell of fish was overpowering at times, but for the most part, it was an enjoyable walk.  I purchased four new scarves for $5 each at a souvenir shop, so that was a nice find, too.  We somehow got lost and ended up too far east having to backtrack.  It was so fun spending the day doing something new to all of us.  My mom had been to NYC before, but with a native, so this was the first time she had to act as your guide.  I think she did pretty well, and gettin lost actually allowed us to see some more amazing architecture.  

This was her look the entire way back to the ferry after dark.  I think she was amazed. ;-)

We finally boarded the ferry and headed back with two very sleepy girls around 8pm.  The GPS got us lost on the way home, but not too far out of the way.  By then, we were used to it.  

Bye, bye, big city.

Once we arrived home, I had a big spinach salad and went to bed exhausted but on cloud nine.  Even though we didn't get to see nearly as much as I had hoped, I still had a great time and felt satisfied.  I figure we'll get closer to Times Square next trip.  Maybe then I can try the famous raw and vegan restaurants.  And I'll be sure blog about it. 

The next installment in the Vegan Vacation series will focus on Asbury Park, NJ, what to do at the beach in October, and how to find vegan food in a very not-veg-friendly restaurant.  Hint:  be very kind to the server.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Vegan Vacation, Part One: New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ

Note: I've decided to make this vacation review a series of posts due to the length. So... Part one...
"Mama!  Airpaaane!  Airpaaane, mama!"

I have to be honest.  When my mom informed me she was moving to New Jersey a couple of months ago, my first thought was "on purpose?".  Because really, who CHOOSES to live there?  I've only ever seen one episode of Jersey Shore, and it definitely didn't add that state to my "must visit" list.  So, needless to say, when my little brother and I decided to use our vacation time to visit mom, I wasn't exactly excited.  (I'd prefer to use valuable time off for things such as beach romps and relaxing island retreats.). However, my mind was completely changed.  I can see now why the northeast is such a desirable destination, especially this time of year.  

Let's start at the beginning...
My brother, Matt (isn't he handsome?), my niece, the baby, and myself flew out of Nashville on a Saturday afternoon, and it was a beautiful sunny day, hence the massive wash-out in our picture.  I may be partial, but I think Nashville has one of the nicest airports.  I never have any problems getting through security, and transportation is always a breeze.  The girls did great on the plane, too.  This was Aubrianna's first time ever to fly, and she was like a pro.  Never once did she seem nervous.  Charlotte had flown a few times last year, but this was the first time since she became mobile, and I was worried about having her sit in my lap for two hours.  Fortunately, she only became restless in the last thirty minutes, and I was able to distract her with the iPad.  What on earth did parents do before modern technology?  After a very bumpy landing, we touched down in Newark and began our lovely vacation with Mom and Gary. 
Sure, there are dirty parts just like anywhere else, but most of what we saw of New Jersey was gorgeous.  I can see now why it's called "the garden state".  Everywhere I looked, there was color.  The leaves were beginning to change, and the weather was amazing the entire time.  It was sunny and warm, but not hot, just cool enough to wear a jacket.  

Our first night in South Bound Brook, we had dinner at The South Side Grill, a sort-of Italian restaurant on one side with a sports bar on the other.  The menu was pretty meat and cheese heavy, but I was able to get a lovely salad with roasted red peppers, snap peas, and shitake mushrooms with a side of Asian miso dressing.  The serving size wasn't disappointing either, definitely dinner sized.  Gary gave me his sweet potato fries, too, so Charlotte and I were set.  Not a bad way to begin the week.  

On Sunday, we all loaded in two cars and ventured to Lambertville, NJ and New Hope, PA for the day.  These two towns are absolutely beautiful!  They sit on opposite sides of the Delaware River and are home to many local artisan shops and bistros.  There wasn't a chain restaurant in sight, and everywhere you looked were historical buildings.  Waterways weave through New Hope lending a fairytale feel to picture-perfect locales.  The old brick sidewalks still remain, giving these towns amazing character.  For a self-proclaimed hippy, it was heaven.  
After walking the entire length of New Hope, we stopped for lunch at Zoubi's, a European-style bistro on West Mechanic Street.  Kate, our server, was very knowledgable about vegan cuisine, and recommended the day's butternut squash soup and their mushroom farro dish for me.  She served us a basket (ok, maybe two) of sourdough fresh from the oven with cold-pressed olive oil and herbs.  HOLY GEEZ, was it amazing!  I rarely eat bread, especially in all of it's gluten-loaded glory, but I was on vacation!  As a side note, sourdough tends to be easier on digestion because of the fermentation process which sours the dough, and I didn't seem to have any ill effects after eating it.  Score!
The soup was very simple, just puréed squash with sea salt and scallions, but it really hit the spot on a fall day. 
Charlotte couldn't wait to dig in to the farro, so excuse the baby hand in my picture.  I promise you, the presentation was beautiful before she mauled it.  It was served with grilled baby bok choi, asparagas, and roma tomato.  I LOVED this dish.  It was so creamy and peppery, not too salty, and the mushroom flavor was the most potent part.  It was quite perfect.  My family all enjoyed their meals as well.  Matt ordered the same dish as me, and he agreed with my review.  Just perfect.  Also, check out this patio!
Gorgeous!  I felt like I was in France. (I've never been to France, so just let me have this, um-kay?)

Toeing the line, so to speak.
Edible landscaping!
Does it get any better than this view?
The mighty Delaware.

You guys, these towns.  I just fell in love.  Lambertville and New Hope are wonderful little green-loving gems.  I can't wait to go back.

Up next, The Big Apple!