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.


Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce)


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


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


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


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



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)

-1/2 cup sugar

-1/3 cup 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

Smoky Vegan Succotash


Serves: 4

-1, 16 oz can of lima beans, drained

-2 cups fresh cooked corn (or frozen if you’d like)

-1 cup zucchini, diced

-1/2 medium onion, minced

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-6 “strips” MorningStar Farms Veggie Bacon, diced

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-2 tsps poultry seasoning

-1 tsp red pepper flakes

-1 tsp salt

In a large skillet on medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, zucchini, onion, and garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the zucchini is tender. Remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

Add the other tablespoon of olive oil on medium/high heat. Cook the diced “bacon” for 3-4 minutes, or until it gets golden brown in color. Add back into the pan the zucchini mixture, along with the cooked or frozen corn, lima beans, and seasoning. Stir well and cook for another 10 minutes. Serve warm & enjoy!



Mushroom & Kale Puff Pastry Pockets


Yield: 12 pockets

-1 box of Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry Dough (two sheets come per package), thawed

-2 cups diced baby bella mushrooms

-2  and 1/2 cups finely chopped kale, stems removed

-1 medium white onion, minced

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (or dried)

-3 tablespoons butter

-2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the puff pastry from the freezer and place into the refrigerator or on the counter for about an hour prior to making this dish. Set aside for now.

Add the butter into a large skillet. When it’s melted, add the onions & let them cook on low heat for about 15 minutes, or until they are slightly caramelized. Add the garlic, rosemary, & mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until the mushrooms are halfway cooked through, then add the kale. Pour about 1/2 cup of water into the pan and cover with a lid so that the kale can steam and get soft–about 10 more minutes. Taste for salt and add some if you feel it needs it.

Once the puff pastry sheets are thawed, cut each ply of the sheet into 2 equal parts. This should make 6 equal pieces per sheet (12 all together). Using your hands, gently stretch out a puff pastry square. In the center of the dough, add about 2-3 tablespoons of the vegetable mixture. Bring together the opposite corners and pinch the puff pastry together as best you can. I had a little difficulty with this (as you can tell from the photo). I suggest that if you want your pockets to stay completely closed, dab your fingers into some cold water while you’re pinching them closed–this will help the dough to stay together.

Place the pockets onto a greased baking tray. Bake for about 2o-25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. Enjoy!



Spinach and Parmesan Balls


Yield: Around 20 Spinach Balls

-1, 10 oz package of frozen CHOPPED spinach

-3/4 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (you can use gluten free breadcrumbs for this as well)

-1 large egg, whisked

-1 medium onion, minced

-1 clove garlic, minced

-1/2 stick + 1 tbsp butter

-1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

-1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

-1 tsp dried thyme

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the package of frozen spinach into a microwave safe bowl. Cook for about 6 minutes then side aside for now.

In a large pan, add 1 tablespoon butter, minced onion, and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent (about 3 minutes). Add the pepper and thyme, stir well, then place the ingredients into a large mixing bowl with the chopped spinach. When the mixture has cooled, add the whisked egg, melted 1/2 stick of butter, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese. Stir well so that the mixture looks uniform.

Grease a large tray and form 1-inch diameter spinach balls. Place into the oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the top gets golden brown. Enjoy!


Vegan Thanksgiving Recipe; Stuffed Zucchini Boats


Yield: 4 Stuffed Zucchini Halves

-2 medium/large zucchinis (about 8 in. in length)

-1/2 package of MorningStar Grillers Recipe Crumbles (or something similar)

-1 and 1/2 cups tomato puree

-1 and 1/2 cups raw kale, chopped into small pieces

-1 small white onion, chopped finely

-1 tablespoon fennel seeds

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-1/2 cup of water

-1 tablespoon salt

-2 tsps pepper

Remove the fake sausage crumbles from the freezer and let thaw for about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a casserole dish with edges, place the 1/2 cup of water and the halved zucchinis with the flesh-side up (make sure you halve them length-wise! :))

Bake the zucchini for about 30 minutes, or until the inside is tender. Remove from the oven but keep the oven on. Cool the zucchini until you can pick them up with your hands. Using a spoon, scoop out the insides of the zucchini. Leave about 1/4 inch around the  zucchini’s edge so that it does not fall apart.

While you are baking the zucchini, cook the onions with the olive oil and fennel until the onions are translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the kale, salt, & pepper and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the kale is very tender. Add the fake “sausage” and tomato puree and stir until completely mixed. Fill your zucchini boats with the vegetarian sausage mixture and place back into the oven for another 20 minutes, or until the top gets crispy.