My travel bug has returned. I guess I get antsy if I stay in one place too long. There is always something that calls you away from home, but some people ignore the opportunity, pretending like life is too busy or finances are too tight for a break, while others jump at the chance to spread their wings, discover the world, and throw caution to the wind.
It started with my best friend from high school’s bachelorette party in San Francisco. As I missed my 10 year reunion, it was nice catching up with my old friends. We laughed about times past while strolling the downtown streets in style. No penis straws for my classy girl! We ate a phenomenal meal at Infusion Lounge then hung out till it became a club. Wow did it get busy! I wasn’t feeling the crazy volume of people, but I was quite impressed with the drummer that entertained with the dj spinning house and hip hop music.
I returned home on a sunday, just to jump in a car and head out on a nearly 3000 mile trip across the country, from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. A friend had asked if I’d like to go along for the ride, and as I didn’t have clients till the following thursday, I was more than all in!
First stop was Las Vegas, where we rested and prepared for the journey. After, I jumped in the driver seat and attacked a 12 hour trip through Utah, to Colorado. That part of the drive was spectacular. Amazing canyons and rock formations. There was a still energy from these massive eroded minerals that made you feel connected, yet so small. I happened upon a Native American woman selling authentic dreamcatchers and painted ceramics in the San Rafael Swell, but didn’t buy as I figured it wouldn’t be a solitary opportunity… such a mistake! That would be the only time I would see handicrafts on the trip.
My best friend from 3rd grade happens to live in Denver, and since her wedding in San Diego a few years ago, I hadn’t seen her! I made a bit of a detour, hoping to catch her for a hug and a chat. Meanwhile, I had done a search for all the Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives along Highway 70. They always feature such indulgent eats on the show, and when I saw that they’d rolled through Denver I knew I had to find a destination. I chose the numerous award winner and 1942 landmark Pete’s Kitchen, and their Greek salad to be my dinner time victim. I obviously had to eat the chunk of feta and warm pita that came with my order. Dreamy. My girlfriend was out of the city, celebrating her 30th, so I jumped back on the road.
We passed through Nebraska with nothing more than an acknowledgement (it was nighttime after all), and straight in into Iowa. With Yelp’s blessing, we stopped at Ritual Cafe, off 13th and Locust street, for a quick break (or breakfast, if that suits you better!). My friend and travel companion happens to be vegan, and as vegan means veggies, I’m always happy to oblige this dietary restriction. I had cooked enough food for my 3 day journey, but between turkey bacon wrapped veggie stuffed chicken, roasted brussel sprouts, Dijon curry turkey burgers, and avocado massaged kale salad, I allowed myself a few treats. It was a real gift to find this vegetarian gem in Des Moines. Touting sexual and religious tolerance, local art, Obama pride and organic coffee, juices, and food, I felt completely welcome and very comfortable at our little liberal pit stop. Apparently Wendie Malick and Rosie O’Donnell have also graced Locust street with their presence. Hollywood gets around!
*Note: The two shirts above read “Fuck Meat” and “Make Awkward Sexual Advances, Not War.” I neither condemn, nor condone these statements.
From Iowa we drove through Illinois. Feeling nostalgic from last year’s birthday trip to Chicago were I competed at the NPC Jr. National competition, our next destination was a given. As I walked through the city in 2011, I discovered an intriguing little restaurant, under construction, called Protein Bar. Being a lover of all things protein, my interest was peaked. I love returning to a place to see how things have changed with time, and in this case, that meant the doors of Protein Bar had been open!
They are heavy on quinoa, but as the menu is inspired by the owner’s personal weight loss journey, I understood the obsession. Quinoa is a true superfood, which both vegans and carnivores are united in praise of it’s health benefits. However, for my bbq chicken salad bowl (the sauce was made with agave, not my favorite, but much better than refined sugar) and pumpkin egg protein smoothie I dropped the quinoa to make them lower carb.
For a sugar spike on my next turn at driving, we headed to Karyn’s on Green. I tell you, how you like a place has got a lot to do with how you enjoy the food and the culture. To stumble upon a restaurant that advocates a high protein diet, and then on another that serves clean, organic, locally sourced food, and is owned by an African American female to boot?! Chicago, you had me at hello. To keep this post short (relatively) I’ll just mention that the vegan pumpkin cheesecake with almond-walnut crust, pomegranate seeds and cinnamon cardamom ice cream didn’t do the trick. It put me on cloud 9, rather than a ready to drive buzz. Miss Karyn Calabrese, you are my new idol!
Gluten-free Pumpkin Muffins with Greek Yogurt Filling
2/3 cups brown rice flour
2/3 cups white rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca starch
4 scoops Sun Warrior Vanilla Classic Protein
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
4 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 egg whites
1 tsp alcohol-free vanilla extract
1/3 cup organic unsweetened pumpkin puree
1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
3 tsp coconut nectar (or 8 packets Sweet Leaf stevia)
1 small container of fat-free, plain greek yogurt
1 tsp coconut nectar (or 3 packets stevia)
Preheat oven to 350. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside. Combine all wet ingredients in a separate bowl, mixing well until smooth. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until a dough forms. If the dough is too dry, add a bit more almond milk and continue mixing. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine greek yogurt and coconut nectar, mix well until combined.
Line a muffin tin with paper liners. Spray each with cooking spray. Fill each muffin cup 1/2 way with pumpkin batter. Use a teaspoon to apply a dollop of greek yogurt filling in the center of each cup. Use remaining pumpkin batter to carefully fill each cup.
Bake 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean (make sure to test muffins on the side and not through yogurt filling).