Black Mountain, NC, The New Cool

“Although I deeply love oceans, deserts, and other wild landscapes, it is only mountains that beckon me with that sort of painful magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper into their beauty.”–Victoria Erikson

After all of the freedom of mask-free living, travel, and dining, it looks as if we might be heading right back into those not-so-care-free-mask-wearing days again–vaccinated or not.  Regardless of what position you take on COVID, vaccines, and masks, there is one topic on which most can agree based upon the summer of 2021–our collective love of travel.  Perhaps, it’s hard-wired into our DNA from the hunting-gathering days, but as a whole, a large part of our population embraces that wanderlust feeling–hitting the open road and taking off for a change of scenery in order to relax, recharge, and renew.

While my husband and I did not travel as much as we would have liked this past summer, we did discover an off-the-beaten path destination that we hope to return to in the near future–Black Mountain, NC.  Ideally, we would like to visit it again during the fall months, but since we are both educators, extended fall travel is not possible.  However, for those of you with the opportunity to travel during the fall months, I would encourage you to consider a visit to this charming and scenic area of NC.  Even with mask-restrictions, it’s an ideal travel destination due to its fine dining, shopping, museums, breweries/distillery/cideries, crafts, art, music, and more.   Plus, it also offers a plethora of out-of-doors activities in which you can practice social distancing if that’s your preference.  

Using populars travel apps such as Airbnb, VRBO, TripAdvisor, or Yelp, you will not only find an abundance of ideas for activities in the vicinity, but also a wide range of places to stay sure to fit any budget, including rental homes/condos/apartments, bed and breakfasts, quaint inns, camping or glamping sites, resorts, and hotels. In fact, John and I were overwhelmed with all of the choices, but ultimately went with a VRBO rental home one mile from downtown Black Mountain called Getaway Disoway.  The owners, Tony and Tricia Wilkerson, were fantastic and responsive communicators, respected our privacy, and provided us with a clean, comfortable, and cozy cottage built in 1941 that we absolutely loved.

What’s not to love about squirrel watching as you relax on your mountain view deck?!

In the same way there are a myriad of places in which to stay in Black Mountain, there are likewise ample choices of eateries! This was good news for John and me since we have two different dining preferences.  I have to eat gluten free due to celiac disease, but I choose to also eat plant based; whereas, John is MUCH easier to feed as he is your basic meat, potato, salad kind-of-guy!  In spite of our differences when it comes to how we eat, we come together on our preference for eating at eclectic restaurants that are locally owned, and Black Mountain certainly has those!

Our first food stop was FRESH: Wood Fired Pizza, featuring a classic menu of pizza, pasta, salads, and desserts.  The chef, Mark Tomczak, an award winning ceramics artist, worked as an assistant chef at The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, in Hocking Hills, Ohio.  Later, he became head chef at The Colonial, in Jackson, Ohio, before merging his talents.  FRESH features Tomczak’s fine food and pottery creations in a vibrant, funky atmosphere featuring ample outdoors dining.  Additionally, due to fact his youngest daughter, Emma, has a gluten intolerance, Tomczak’s menu offers multiple gluten free options, and his staff go out of their way to prepare gluten free food separately from the rest of menu items in an attempt to try, to the degree possible, keep their gluten free foods from being cross-contaminated.  John and I loved FRESH so much, we ate there twice!

The next day, we visited Cousins Cuban Cafe, where we met the chef and owner, Beatriz “Betty” Sperry, while trying to decide what to eat.  Sperry took charge immediately, asking questions, and based upon our answers, making recommendations.  Sperry, a first generation American whose parents immigrated from Cuba to Miami, FL, proudly shared with us the story of her family.  Their pictures adorn one wall of the cafe.  Sperry described Cuban cuisine as being robust and full of flavor, but without being too spicy.  Oh my, was she ever right, and they also had THE. BEST. COFFEE. EVER.  The cafe’s food was like none other we had previously experienced.  Sperry made John and I feel like one of the family as we sat at a small table near the kitchen, chatting with her and soaking up the atmosphere as the kitchen staff jovially, but quickly hustled to feed the ceaseless stream of hungry diners coming in for lunch.  We will definitely return to this homey breakfast/lunch bistro.

If you’re going to hike around mountains, you need to fuel strongly, and that’s exactly what John and I did twice at Blueridge Biscuit Company–home of the gluten-free biscuit!  Unfortunately for me, since we were on vacation, we slept later than we normally would, so the advertised gluten-free, 9 oz cathead biscuits were regrettably sold out both mornings!  No worries for me though, they had numerous other gluten-free offerings, including house made granola and plenty of hot coffee!  John appreciated the varied biscuit sandwich choices. (Yes, his biscuits were also 9 oz catheads too!)  However, biscuit-based meals were not the only foods served up at this breakfast/lunch eatery, there were plenty of waffles, eggs, proteins, sides, and such, sure to please even the pickiest eater.

What vacation isn’t complete without a little Mexican food to spice up the experience?  Which is why we had to visit Ole’s Guacamole.  Full confession:  I am a BIG eater when it comes to Mexican food, especially vegetarian fajitas.  John and I visited Ole’s on an evening after our longest hike, and we were hungry.  However, the portions at Ole’s were so generous, even I could not eat all of my food!  What’s more, my margarita was so big, I couldn’t drink all of it either!  Nonetheless, you did not hear either one of us complaining, and based upon the crowd, Ole’s has plenty of adoring fans ready to take on the clean-plate challenge! 

Last up, on our Black Mountain dining adventures was Black Mountain Bistro.  This locally owned and run restaurant offers an eclectic food and drink menu, including vegan/vegetarian and gluten-free options.  While dining there, we met Jaiden, our server extraordinaire who answered all of our questions, made recommendations, and even made time to discuss her favorite hiking spots in the area.  Our food was outstanding, the atmosphere was inviting, and it appeared to be a local favorite hang-out based upon the people we met.  We had hoped to return, but our trip turned out to be one day shorter than planned, thanks to my poor booking skills! 

All-in-all, John and I left a bit of our heart in Black Mountain, NC.  It is full of ample out-of-door spaces to explore, stunning scenery, a vibrant arts and craft scene, a hip, but welcoming vibe, and just the right amount of one-of-a-kind locally owned shops, restaurants, and businesses.  Stay tuned for more as we are already planning for a second trip to this mountain haven. 

Steph’s Key Lime Smoothie

“When life give you limes, rearrange the letters until they say smile.”–unknown

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

Would you believe that eating limes or adding lime slices to water is actually quite beneficial to your health?  Personally, I love the flavor of lime.  I like to squirt the juice of a slice or two of lime on salad, in salsa, in refried beans, veggie pad thai, and many other dishes.  Lime is so refreshingly tart and tangy.  It gives instant zip to whatever it’s added, including water, and, of course, margaritas! 

When purchasing a lime, according to several top chefs, it’s best to look for limes with a bit of give to them.  While limes should not be mushy, they should not be hard as that is an indication that they are not juicy.  Additionally, lime, like lemons, can be stored at room temperature for about one week if kept out of direct sunlight.  However, most cooking sites recommend that for long term storage up to four weeks, place limes–and lemons for that matter–in a plastic bag and keep in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.

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Limes, like nearly all citrus fruits, offer numerous health benefits including high levels of antioxidants which protect the body from free radicals or chemicals that can cause the body harm at a cellular level.  Additionally, limes are a good source of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as calcium and magnesium.  Even with all of this obvious goodness, consuming limes has other health implications worth considering.

The peel, pithe, and juice of a lime may boost heart health by slowing down the build-up of plaque on the walls of your arteries.  Limes are also a good source of potassium which has been shown to help maintain healthy blood pressure levels. The acid in lime juice is good for digestion by helping the saliva break down food as well as increase digestive secretions in the stomach. It is a natural weight loss supplement due to the fact that it slightly boosts metabolism–like all citrus fruits.  Furthermore, it enhances immune function–an important factor in the age of the COVID virus and all of its nasty variants.

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“Lime juice makes things taste fresher.  I use it for drinks, salsas, relishes, soups, and sauces.”–Bobby Flay

If you have not tried adding lime to water, I strongly recommend this practice.  I also find limes especially tasty when added to lemon flavored sparkling water for added zing.  Slices of lime are also nice when added to a glass of iced green tea.  The zest of a lime is an excellent addition to plain yogurt, vanilla ice cream, white cake mix, sour cream, rice, smoothies, and mixed with a coarse salt to line the rim of a drink glass or sprinkle over your favorite dish.  Store a bowl of leftover peel in your refrigerator as an air freshener or grind it up in the garbage disposal to deodorize.  Limes, as you can see, are extremely versatile, useful, and are certainly worth keeping on hand year round.

Now, add all of that lime goodness to a whole-food, plant based smoothie, and you’ve got one nutritional bomb for a meal.  I absolutely believe drinking your calories is typically not advisable–especially with regards to sugar-laden drinks.  However, it is hard to beat the convenience and portability of smoothies.  That’s why, if you’re going to drink your breakfast, (or any other meal for that matter) why not make the drink yourself?  This allows you to control the ingredients and the portions of each to fit your specific dietary needs.  It won’t break your bank, and as an added bonus, smoothies can be made ahead and frozen for up to three months while still maintaining their freshness until ready to use. 

Add a slice of fresh lime to seltzer is a nice addition!

Finally, if you need further evidence of the benefits of a whole food, plant-based smoothie, including this Key Lime Smoothie, look no further than the reigning queen of nutrition for which most Americans are missing in their diet:  fiber! According to Harvard School of Public Health, “children and adults need 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day for good health, but most Americans get only about 15 grams a day.”  Fiber comes in two varieties, soluble and insoluble, and both are beneficial for staving off hunger, regulating blood sugar levels, and preventing health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, diverticulitis, and constipation–the bane of aging.  

What is the best way to meet your fiber needs? Eat a wide variety of whole, plant based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains–which is exactly why this recipe is beneficial.  Of course, you can take a fiber supplement, but these are void of other essential nutrients that are found in whole foods, and they certainly don’t taste as scrumptious as a cool, creamy smoothie.  

Show your body a little TLC with a nutritious, fiber filled, whole food plant based smoothie!

Made as described below, you are consuming 18+ grams of fiber per serving and  9+ grams protein.  Plus, these ingredients provide an excellent source of potassium, calcium, iron, and other vitamins, including a full day’s supply of Vitamin C.  Even if you decide to divide this recipe into two portions, you are still starting the day full of fiber, nutrition, and protein–enough to power through your busy schedule!  

Take it from me, it is possible to give your body some extra nutritional love, no matter how busy your schedule, with make ahead, freeze until needed, whole-food, plant based smoothies!  From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, whole food nutrition!

No gut bombs here! Just whole food plant based goodness!

Steph’s Key Lime Smooth Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 ¼ cup favorite no sugar added vanilla milk (almond, soy, oat, etc)

¼ cup aloe vera

1 ½ cup frozen riced cauliflower (or a mix of your favorite greens such as kale, spinach, swiss chard)

1 rounded tablespoon of protein powder (make it vanilla for extra sweetness)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla powder

1/2 inch fresh or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger root 

Dash of salt

1-2 medjool date(s)

½  granny smith apple, destemmed and quartered

1 kiwi, peeled and quartered

1 lime, quartered (remove some skin, but leave most of pithe)

Optional: Add in 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp heart, chopped walnuts for added nutrition

Directions:

Add milk, aloe vera, and riced cauliflower.

Blend those three ingredients until thoroughly blended.

Add in the rest of the ingredients in the order listed.

Blend until smooth.

Makes one extra large smoothie or two smaller smoothies.

Berry Good Cauliflower-Berry Smoothie

“Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence.  All parts are interconnected.”–T. Collin Campbell

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Summer is back!  Okay, not officially as we have not yet experienced the summer solstice, but it is strawberry season!  In fact, throughout the coming months of summer, other berries will also come into season!  Freshly picked berries are not only some of Mother Nature’s sweetest earthly treasures, but they are also some of the most nutrient rich treats.  Plus, they are just so darn versatile.  Eat ‘em plain; toss them into cereal, smoothies, or yogurt; mash them onto your toast (for real!); bake them into cake, muffin, or pie recipes; cook them down into syrup, sauces, or jams; or, can, dry, or freeze them for later use.  Honestly, what’s not to love about berries?

From a nutritional standpoint, berries are chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and the all important fiber. Think of berries as your personal arsenal for warding off cancer, protecting the health of your heart, and fending off chronic inflammation and/or illness. They also benefit your skin, may help lower cholesterol, and can typically be enjoyed no matter the diet you follow due to the fact they are low-glycemic and low in calories as well as carbs.  Those tiny, juicy, brightly colored orbs are bursting with nothing but love and goodwill for your body and your taste buds. 

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Now, contrast the vivid indigo of blueberries, the deep purple of blackberries, the candy red of strawberries, the shiny garnet of cherries and pomegranates, and the rose crimson of raspberries to the ever so homely cauliflower.  Oh sure, there are a few colorful varieties of cauliflower, but by and large, the most abundant form of cauliflower is as colorless as a canvas.  In fact, that is how I prefer to think of cauliflower: a canvas.  A canvas waiting for the strokes of color from an artist’s, or in this case, cook’s palette.

“Most flowers say, “I love you,’ but cauliflowers say, ‘I hope you live forever.’  And, that’s more intense than love.”–Unknown

Cauliflower, like the acclaimed berry, is considered a superfood.  It, too, is high in fiber, low in calories and carbohydrates, and full of vitamins and minerals.  Brimming with phytonutrients, antioxidants, and high levels of sulforaphane–an ingredient in all cruciferous vegetables–cauliflower can also wage war against cancer. Due to its high level of choline, it also supports learning and memory maintenance. (Who doesn’t need help with that?)  Additionally, cauliflower is full of bone-enhancing Vitamin K.  

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Similarly to berries, cauliflower is versatile in the kitchen.  Popularly known for creating a healthier alternative to traditional pizza crust, cauliflower can also be made into grilled “steaks,” buffalo “wings,” and stir-fried “rice.” Furthermore, it can be mashed, steamed, baked, fried, tossed into soup, salad or dip, eaten raw, its stem can be shredded and added to slaw, and it can be frozen for later use.  Plus, it can be added to smoothies! 

“If cauliflower can be pizza, you, my friend, can be anything.”–Unknown

Two simple ingredients make this smoothie naturally sweet, creamy, and a rock-solid nutritional choice to start your day of with the first positive step of the week.

If you are familiar with my work, you know I love whole-food, plant-based smoothies.  They are convenient, portable powerhouses of nutrition that can be made ahead of time and frozen.  That’s right! Blend a whole batch of smoothies up for the week in one manageably messy hour or less, and you are setting yourself up for a nutritionally robust, go-get ‘em week!  Then, the night before–or really, just a few hours ahead of time–take one smoothie out of the freezer, and set it in the fridge. Then, in the morning, you’re ready to kick off your dynamo day with a jolt of nutritional righteousness. 

Now that the weather is warming up, nothing tastes more refreshing than a cool, creamy sweet smoothie.  The sweetness occurs naturally from the succulent berries–no added sugars here.  Full of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals; low in calories and carbohydrates; this smoothie recipe checks all the boxes.  You won’t be able to taste the cauliflower, but instead, you will taste all of the berry deliciousness of whatever berry(ies) you choose.  Your taste buds and body will be doing the happy dance, and you will feel a peace of mind knowing you made one small choice of positivity that just may lead to multiple beneficial steps towards your health for the day.

From frozen to thawed in a matter of hours . . .make ahead smoothies make your work week more organized and, well, smooth!

“A healthy outside starts from the inside.”–Robert Urich

I encourage you to give this recipe a try. Change it up, dress it up, and make your own version of this wholesome blessedness.  Then, hit me up via email, Instagram, Facebook or on this website, stephsimplycom.  I can’t wait to see what you do with it!  

From my home to yours, I simply wish you vibrant health.  Here’s to you!

Berry Good Cauliflower Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup riced cauliflower

1-1 ¼  cup favorite liquid or other favorite liquid 

¼-½   cup pomegranate, cherry, blueberry or combination juice (You want a total of 1 ½ cup liquid.)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Dash of salt (optional)

1 inch or ½ teaspoon ginger

1 mini cucumber or ½ large

½ lime, peel removed, but leave parts of the pithe for extra flavor and Vitamin C

1 cup mixed berries (My blender can only handle 1 cup, but feel free to add in another cup!)

Optional: 1 medjool date or ½ banana for added sweetness if desired 

Go “Extra,”only if you want, with as many of these additional nutritious powerhouses as desired:

Replace ¼ cup of your favorite liquid with ¼ cup aloe

2 teaspoons amla

2 teaspoon greens powder

1-2 teaspoons acai powder

½ – 1 teaspoon matcha powder

½ -1 whole scoop of favorite protein powder 

¼-½ teaspoon of turmeric powder

Place cauliflower and all liquid ingredients into the blender and blend well.

Add-in rest of the ingredients in the order listed above.

Blend all ingredients until smooth.

Makes one large (approx 32 ounces) or two smaller (approx 16 ounce) smoothies, depending upon amounts chosen.