The Story of Summer, 2016

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When my summer was cut short on the last day of July, I realized I hadn’t taken a lot of photographs yet this summer. I kept telling myself “there’s more time, don’t bother with your camera right now.” Unfortunately, I fractured my leg and ankle joint in a freak accident at my best friend’s camp on Lake Ontario. In an instant, summer was over. I didn’t have that slow goodbye that I usually have.  That familiar, month-long period that typically starts at the beginning of August and ends sometime early September, where I reflect on my summer and realize I did a lot more than I thought I did. Then begins the excitement for fall; the changing leaves, the crisp air, the dozens of activities that bring out energy in us that we lost through the summer heat. Summer ending doesn’t feel that bad anymore. But this year, I didn’t have that transition.

What I did have was a metal plate and 13 screws in my leg. I had long nights in the hospital filled with excruciating pain, random moments of panic, tears pouring out of my eyes when I told myself I’d “keep it together today,” and very limited mobility and freedom. That initial shock of what an injury entails; the first moment when your doctor tells you that no, you cannot work for several months at a job you just started, and no, you cannot drive or bear any weight on your leg whatsoever, THOSE were the most difficult moments I have experienced with this injury. Then comes the slow, drawn out pain–the feelings of loneliness, like you are missing out on life, the anxiety that comes from feeling trapped in your own body, and the guilty feeling you get because you are relying on everyone else for things you never thought you would. But then, in between all these variations and hews of pain and sorrow, you experience and witness beauty in so many forms.

I always tell myself that I “know” how lucky I am. But truthfully, before this accident, I really did not know. I forgot how selfless my mother can be; how she puts herself on the back burner time and time again to make me feel loved, safe, and not alone. She spent two nights in the hospital with me; sleeping on a pull out chair. The nurses buzzed in and out to check my vitals, give me more morphine, and see how I was doing. Sleep wasn’t really in the cards. She didn’t complain, she just woke up with the same tenacity in trying to make me smile; make me feel like I had made improvements in my mobility, and hug me when I just couldn’t hold in the tears again. Despite my crabby mood that comes and goes as quickly as summer, she maintains a smile, she maintains her positivity, and above all, she is always on my side.

The outpouring of support has been astonishing to me. People coming over to keep me company and sit with me, a seemingly simple task that means so much to me, my best friend Shannon coming over every few days to help me shower, lift my spirits, and tend to my needs. As she says with a smile, “all I do is work, sleep, and come over to see you!” How did I get so lucky to have a best friend who says that without a tinge of resentment, and with love in her eyes so that I don’t feel any guilt? Friends taking me to/from doctor’s visits–where I sit miserably; my spirit worn down. Yet they still somehow enjoy my company & offer to do it again next week. People come over & bring food, or cook for or with me; keeping my spirits up. Family friends found me a wheelchair that’s more suitable to my needs and brought me their “injury supplies”–like a walker and travel wheelchair. My Dad tucks me into bed and caters to my daily needs throughout the week, my sister gives me special treatment–like a pedicure–and keeps me in her busy schedule, neighbors stop by frequently, friends who moved far away came to visit or sent their condolences & gifts, and so much more. It is because of all of these people (I hope you know who you are), that I really know how lucky I am. Despite people telling me that this is them paying me forward; I can’t wait for the trend to reverse, for the seasons to change, & I can shower them with love and support again.

Now, back to these photos. What I think I WAS able to capture, all in the month of July, was how diverse the landscape is in New York State. We have everything–from large mountains, to sharp cliffs, from rivers and streams, to vast oceans and great lakes. I feel lucky to live here and experience its vastness, its richness, and its range of beauty.

These photos, in order from top to bottom, are from Green Lakes State Park, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, various spots in the Catskill Mountains, & Chimney Bluffs state park on Lake Ontario. Although I wish I captured more this summer, I am so happy I at least have these. For me, photographs help bring me back to what I was feeling when I was in that moment. Even if they aren’t photographed, I can remember who was right next to me when I was taking the photo. I can hear their voices, recall what we were talking about, what we did right after I stopped to take the photos, and I am transported to that moment; that glimpse in time, even if the people & conversations aren’t captured.

So here I am, still trapped in many ways by my immobility. But my mind is free–able to transport myself back in time to cherished memories, but also carry myself forward to brighter days. As Robert Frost so eloquently writes in his poem titled “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” both beauty and sorrow don’t last forever. We are constantly transforming and changing. And alas, it all passes by, eventually.

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.”

With love and immense gratitude,

Antonia

 

 

Gluten Free Peach & Plum Crumble

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Serves: 6-8

-6 plums, cut into 1 inch pieces

-3 peaches, cut into 1 inch pieces

-2/3 cup  gluten free oats (I use Bob’s Red Mill)

-2/3 cup ground almond meal (I use Bob’s Red Mill brand for this as well)

-7 tablespoons butter (just about 1 stick)

– 4 tsps ground cinnamon

-1/2 cup water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large saucepan or pot, melt about 1 tablespoon butter. Add the fruit, 1/2 cup of water, and 2 tsps of cinnamon. Cook the fruit down for about 7-10 minutes on medium/high heat.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the oats, almond meal (which is just finely ground almonds), 2 tsps cinnamon, and 6 tablespoons of melted butter (place into the microwave for about 10-15 seconds, or until melted). Stir well until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand.

In a 8 x 11 oven-safe dish, pour the fruit mixture in. Top it with the crumble, and cook in the oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream if you’d prefer. Enjoy! xx

 

 

Vegetarian/Vegan Sloppy Joes with Caramelized Onion

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One of my favorite scenes from any movie when I was a kid was the “sloppy joe” scene in It Takes Two with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. That scene made sloppy joe’s look like the best, most fun food in the world. If you don’t believe me, check out the clip here! (Looks fun and messy, right?!)

When I became vegetarian at the age of 14, I started playing with variations of the recipe. I remember my mom making a sloppy joe dish with crumbled tofu, which was delicious, but the texture wasn’t just how I wanted it. These MorningStar crumbles work perfectly. It has a similar texture, and I make this dish for meat-eaters, who, unless they’re lying to make me feel better :-), say they can’t tell the difference! I like mine with caramelized onions; although the sauce is already sweet, I love the oniony sweetness paired with the “meat.” I hope you enjoy as well!

Yield: 4 Sloppy Joes

-4 hamburger buns or sandwich thins (your preference)

-1 package MorningStar Farms Grillers Crumbles

-1, 24 oz can of Hunt’s Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce (or equivalent)

-1 tablespoon BBQ sauce

-1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds (optional)

-2 teaspoons smoked paprika

-1 large yellow onion, sliced into thin ringlets

-1 small purple onion, diced

-2 tablespoons olive oil

In a pan on medium/low heat, add the olive oil and the onion ringlets. Try to break up the onion segments so that they can cook individually. Cook on medium low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes until the onions are golden brown.

While you are caramelizing the onions, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan. Add the diced onion and cook for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the crumbles (they can be frozen still, that’s okay) and break them up with a spoon if they are stuck together. Add a tablespoon or so of water if you need to. Cook for about 5 minutes until cooked through, and then add the sloppy joe sauce & the barbecue sauce. Stir all together and add the fennel seeds and paprika (if you choose).

To serve, just top the sloppy joe with the caramelized onions & enjoy! I love serving this dish with a green vegetable to add some texture variation–roasted broccoli is typically what I choose.

Blanched Carrot Salad with Cilantro Dressing

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I purchased these multi-colored carrots from the farmer’s market and wanted to use them in a recipe that showcased their beauty. I think this did the trick! Since I blanched the carrots, they held their shape and texture very well. The dressing is light and summery. Feel free to use basil or dill instead of the cilantro (I know some people, like my mother, cannot stand cilantro). It would be just as good and tasty!

Serves: 4

-6 large carrots (I used multi-colored organic carrots, but you can use whatever you have available), julienned like my photo shows

-1 medium onion, minced

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1 large handful of cilantro (about 1 cup), chopped

-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

-1 tablespoon honey

-2 tsps red wine vinegar (or the juice of 1/4 a lemon)

-2 tsps salt

-1 tsp pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a raging boil on the stove. Lower the heat to medium, and place the julienned carrots in the water for about 4-5 minutes, or until JUST tender but not mushy.

Take the carrots out of the water and place into a large bowl of ice water (blanching!) Drain from the ice bath and place them into a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, honey, red wine vinegar, salt & pepper. Mix this dressing in with the carrots, minced onion, and minced garlic. Taste for seasoning and adjust if need-be. Toss well & serve either luke warm or at room temperature. Enjoy! xx

 

This planet is beautiful: Spring trips to Colombia, South America and Colorado

When I first decided to visit a good friend who moved down to Colombia, South America, most people that I spoke to were worried for me. They feared for my safety, my health, and my security. I never felt nervous; maybe that’s naive of me, but I didn’t. We spent several days/nights in Medellin, Colombia and then traveled to the coast, to the city of Cartagena. The breathtaking mountains, foggy mornings, and kind souls that I met in Medellin will forever be in my heart. We went to a coffee farm, where a middle-aged gentleman, probably around 60 years of age, took us around the small farm that he has been working for for decades. The farm was pretty high up in the mountains, so during our tour, the beauty was nearly breathtaking. After the walking tour, he invited us inside the house, where he slowly roasted the coffee beans and prepared fresh coffee for us to taste. We didn’t speak the same language; he knew no English and I know minimal Spanish, but there was warmth, love, & generosity that was communicated without words at all. It is moments like this that I will carry with me when I think about Colombia, and realize that no matter how dangerous a country used to be, and the violence that once (or even still) took place there, the majority of people around the world are like this farmer; hard working, proud to be where they’re from, & kind to everyone they meet.

In stark contrast to the environment in Colombia, the air in Colorado was much drier; the mountains steeper, the food more vegetarian-friendly, yet the nature was just as stunning & the people were just as memorable.

We went to Red Rocks Amphitheater for our first hike in Colorado. As my sister said, “I think Red Rocks is one of the few places that when people talk about how beautiful it is, it actually lives up to the hype; or maybe even surpasses it.” I absolutely agree. We started at the base of the trail and hiked all the way to the top; passed the amphitheater, looking down over the theater, the rocks, and Denver in the far distance. From start to finish, the hike took about 4 hours–which really wasn’t bad at all, considering how frequently we (or…maybe just me) stopped to take photographs. The hike was moderately easy, proving to be difficult only  at the end when we had to climb up a few dozen steep stairs. The air at this altitude is very thin; making it difficult to breathe deeply & get enough oxygen, but we did it! And it was worth every gasp for more air!

The rocks are massive; almost unworldly. Me and my Dad kept talking about how we are surprised that this isn’t one of the “wonders of the world.” But then I got thinking about how we said that, and realized that there really isn’t a way to categorize nature and how awe-inspiring it is. I think that almost everything we see in nature is a wonder of the world; whether it’s in that official category or not. Nature has the ability to calm me, bring me to a place of serenity and peace; make me feel at home. In its power to do that alone, nature in its entirety IS the wonder of the world.

Some of my last photographs in this collection are from the Denver Colorado Botanic Gardens. Me and my family love gardening, plants, and animals. It was a wonderful day spent together; sharing our excitement over different species of plants, coming across a bunny rabbit in the brush, and appreciating a brief and sudden rain storm.

What inspires me about nature is its ability to evolve; to change how it’s doing something if it can’t survive; to grow despite adversity. During a walk around the neighborhood in Denver, I saw a tree growing in the middle of a sidewalk crack. I’ve seen this before, dozens of times I’m sure, but every time I see a plant or animal surviving & growing in conditions that aren’t ideal, I think about humankind.  I don’t like to separate myself from nature though, as I am a huge part of it; we all are. We can learn from the different species that inhabit our planet; regardless if we can communicate with them using our spoken language. I always try to remember that the earth is speaking to me; I just always need to remember to listen.

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Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce)

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This recipe may seem odd to some of you. When I first heard about it from a friend living in Israel, I was a little bit hesitant. A few months later, I visited her in Israel and got to eat this at a beautiful restaurant in Tel Aviv. I fell in love with Shakshuka for a breakfast/brunch recipe. I do not like my eggs runny and gooey, so I tend to cook mine a little longer, but the flavor of this dish is so delicious. The eggs are creamy, the sauce is bright and acidic, and the peppers & onions add some nice texture. I encourage you to try this dish out for a brunch & see how surprised you are by how much your loved ones like it! 🙂

Serves: 4

-5 large eggs

-1, 24 oz can of crushed tomatoes

-1/2 cup water

-1 red bell pepper, diced

-1 yellow bell pepper, diced

-1 large onion, diced

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

-1 and 1/2 tsps salt

-1 tsp paprika

-1 tsp pepper

-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (for garnish)

-1/2 tsp dried oregano (for garnish)

-1/2 cup fontina or feta cheese for the top

In a fairly large skillet, heat your olive oil on medium heat. Cook the diced onions for about 10 minutes until translucent, then add the peppers and garlic. Cook for another 10 minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes, water, salt, paprika, and pepper. Stir well.

When the sauce begins to bubble on the sides of the pan, make indentations in the tomato sauce & gently crack your egg into each of these “holes.” Evenly distributing them around the dish. I like to crack four eggs around the sides of the pan and then one in the middle. This will look kind of weird, as the eggs are still raw and gooey, but they will poach & firm up in the tomato sauce. Cover your pan with a tight fitting lid, turn the heat to medium, and cook for about 20 minutes. I prefer my eggs to be cooked through, but if you’d like to be a little bit runny, take the pan off the heat at about 15-16 minutes.

Garnish with red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and cheese (if you’d prefer). The cheese will get nice and melted and gooey on top. Serve with a hearty bread & enjoy!

 

 

Winter Wonder

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These photos are from Upstate NY state parks and two different parks in Vermont. I understand that the cold is a bit troublesome for some people; I do. It doesn’t bother me, though. I think winter is so beautiful and peaceful. When I was taking some of these photographs there wasn’t a single person anywhere around me. I could hear the snowflakes falling and landing on the blanket of snow on the ground. It was magical.

Each season comes with its own beauty and its own tribulations. But I figure wherever I’m living in my life, I might as well make the best of it, and appreciate my environment for whatever it is. Happy winter to all!

Creamed Cauliflower

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Serves: 4-6 people

-1/2 head of cauliflower, roughly chopped

-2/3 cup cream cheese

-1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

-1/2 cup whole milk

-1/2 cup parmesan cheese

-2 tsps black pepper

-Parsley and red chili flakes for garnish (optional)

Fill a large pot with about 2 inches of water. Place the chopped cauliflower into the pot and cover with a lid. On medium-high heat, steam the cauliflower until it is falling apart. While the cauliflower is still hot, strain the water out using a slotted spoon and place the cauliflower into a food processor or mixer. Add the cream cheese, garlic, whole milk, parmesan cheese, and black pepper. Process the mixture until smooth. Place into a serving dish and top with parsley and red chili flakes for color. Serve warm & enjoy! xx

 

Vegan & Gluten Free Eggplant Rollatini

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Serves: 4

-1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise

-2 cups tomato sauce

-8 oz. extra firm tofu (half of a typical 16 oz. package), drained

-1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

-3 cloves garlic, minced

-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

-5 tablespoons olive oil

-2 medium onions, sliced thinly

-2 tablespoons sugar

-2 tsps salt

-1 tsp dried oregano

-1 tsp dried rosemary

-1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. What I like to do is slice the top off of an eggplant so that you can have a flat base in order to slice the eggplant lengthwise. Slice the eggplant into about 1/2 inch slices. On a large, greased baking tray, lay out the eggplant slices and cover them with aluminum foil. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until the eggplant is malleable and cooked, but not mushy. Let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, crumble the tofu. Mash with a fork so that it’s similar to the texture of scrambled eggs. Add the spinach, garlic, balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and the salt & herbs. Stir well and set aside.

In a large skillet, add about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil. Break up the rings of your thinly sliced onions, and turn the skillet on medium-low heat. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar and stir well. For about 20-30 minutes, caramelize the onions until they are light brown, stirring every few minutes.

In a pie dish or other baking dish, ladle about 1 cup of tomato sauce on the bottom. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the tofu filling in the middle of the eggplant slice, and roll it up. Reserve about 1/3 cup of tofu mixture for garnish on top of the rolls.

Once your dish is filled, dollop about 1 tablespoon of sauce on top of each roll, and add about 1 tablespoon of the tofu mixture. Spread the caramelized onions around the top of the rolls and between them.

Place into a 350 degree oven and bake for another 20 minutes until the tofu garnish is golden brown and crispy.

 

 

Thai Peanut Sauce–Perfect for Spring Rolls or Rice Noodles

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This peanut sauce is a perfect combination of sweet, salty, creamy, & spicy. You can adjust the heat depending on what your preference is, but it is simply divine! I love making this sauce for a thai rice noodle & veggie dish, or for a dipping sauce for vegetarian spring rolls with lots of veggies, tofu, and cilantro. Yum! No matter how you serve it up, you and your guests will love it!

Yield: 1.5 cups of peanut sauce

-1 and 1/3 cups creamy peanut butter

-1/3 cup rice wine vinegar

-1/4 cup chili garlic sauce like this one (or 1/4 cup sriracha sauce mixed with 1 clove minced garlic)

-1/3 cup sugar

-2 tablespoons gluten free soy sauce

-1/3 cup water

-1/3 cup honey roasted peanuts, chopped roughly

It’s simple–just take these ingredients and whisk them all together in a large bowl. It will take about 1 minute to combine these ingredients. I like to serve it with the chopped peanuts on top for some texture. Enjoy! xx