Monday, April 6, 2015

Adventures in Canning, Cat Cafes, and Cauliflower "Chicken Wings"

My New Year's resolution for 2015 is to try as many new things as possible.
So far, so good.
I did all kinds of exciting things this month, such as visiting the Goodwill Outlet World in Denver, and finding numerous places to hike BUT I have three special adventures - things I tried for the first time ever - that I want to tell you all about.

The first:
I made pickles - from scratch! FROM SCRATCH!
I'm like...a pioneer lady!
Last summer, I had the most incredible pickles while visiting Patrick's family in Michigan. 
His cousin Steve (a mountain man from Alaska) brought a jug of the most delicious, vinegary, garlicky, onion-y pickles I've ever consumed. They were scrumptious - like a dream in a jar.
I don't know how else to describe them. 
He emailed me the recipe, and over spring break, I finally had the courage to try my hand at canning.
  I thought that the only way to make pickles was a long canning process, but these are cold packed, which means no pressure cooker needed! You simply let the cukes marinate in the brine.  It does mean that they aren't shelf stable and have to stay refrigerated, but the convenience is great.
And as far as the recipe, well, I decided just to wing it and I wasn't disappointed.
Instead of a gallon jug, I used four quart sized mason jars.  
I put an entire clove of peeled garlic in each jar with three union bulbs, a generous sprig of fresh dill, and a jalapeno cut into quarters (none of the seeds).  I couldn't find small pickling cucumbers (my Grandma said it's too early in the season for those) so I cut up mini cucumbers instead.
They are seriously good. Patrick experimented with diced bell peppers, pepper corns, and other spices in a few jars and all of them are delicious.  The best part: once they are gone, just add fresh cucumbers to the brine and in a few days you have another batch of pickles!
If you are entertaining the idea of making your own (and you absolutely should) know that these pickles are not for the faint of heart: they are serious business when it comes to vinegar and spices. 
If vinegar is not your thing, check Pinterest for dozens of easy DIY pickle recipes.

Colorado Springs is now home to a Cat Cafe!
And we went there.  And it was just as quirky and cute and charming as you would imagine it to be.
 A cat cafe is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment that serves coffee with a few cats running around for you to play with or pet while enjoying your drink.
The cups have lids, so don't worry - no stray hair will make its way into your beverage!
 Cat cafes originated in Taiwan and became very popular in places like Japan, where many people live in crowded cities and don't have time or space for a pet of their own.
For a small cover fee ($5 at Kitty Love Cafe), patrons can enjoy unlimited coffee and cuddles with a variety of curious kitties.  They each have a different personality.  
This big orange guy is named Hydrogen and he was into pets and cuddles.
Kitty Love Cafe is the first of its kind in Colorado!
It is run by Look What the Cat Brought In, a local cat shelter  - so the cats you meet are also up for adoption, and your cover fee goes towards the care and keeping of these little guys.
 Snickerdoodle, a ferociously playful little cat, recently benefited from those cover fees when she needed surgery to remove an injured eye.  
Not only is she happily healing, but in the cafe, she gets much needed attention and exercise.
 Some rescue cats, like Smirnoff here, are good-natured but shy around people.
Interacting with visitors in the cafe will help him become relaxed and comfortable around humans.   Eventually, that exposure will improve his chances of getting adopted.
 Playing with cats is like a form of therapy.
I love how this cat cafe makes people and cats happy - both parties benefit!

My final March adventure:
Dining at an all-vegan restaurant in Denver called Watercourse Foods.
I am vegetarian, which means that I don't eat any food that contains animal products.  
Vegans don't eat any animals or animal by-products, such as dairy, eggs, or even honey.
Patrick's family is very meat oriented, and unfortunately we eat out with them a lot.
Usually, we find ourselves at a steakhouse chain, scrutinizing the menu before settling on a basic salad. No fun. 
Imagine our excitement as we sat down to a menu where nothing was off limits!
The restaurant's inspiration comes from the animal based novel Watership Down, by Richard Adams.
The artwork was gorgeous and set a nice tone, but the food was even better!  Some of the best food I've ever eaten at a restaurant - even without animal products!  It's seriously that good!
I didn't think to take any photos, so I borrowed a few from Instagram.

The first dish, Cauliflower Wings, consisted of breaded cauliflower smothered in barbecue sauce with a side of vegan ranch dressing for dipping.  It was incredible.
I could have easily eaten two plates by myself. 
(Photo by @anotherhungryvegan, who also has a blog. Read about her Watercourse Foods experience here)

Then, we split a plate of Tofish'n'chips, beer battered tofu fried up like traditional fish with vegan tarter sauce, coleslaw and fries. Mmmmmm!
(photo by @mindendeavors)

And THEN we enjoyed a serving of the creamiest, most delectable Mac'n'cheese I've ever had.
It was made with coconut milk and I can't stop thinking about it.
(Photo by @ashleyldavidson)

What new and exciting adventures have you had this month?

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