Thank you all so much for your comments and wishes in response to my last post! It was strange for me, being so reliant on my e-mail and such, to not have Internet access for so long... I should probably "get away" more often. But it was so wonderful to read over all your comments once I got back!
Actually, I have been back for a few days. But I had another CPA exam this morning, so I have spent the time since I returned preparing for that while I was still "out" of the blogging loop. I'm excited, now that one more part is behind me, to take a break and catch up with you all! The trip to Nebraska and South Dakota was an amazing and much-needed experience for me. I saw some things that I could never have imagined, beautiful things and horrible things alike. For those of you who might be interested in the non-food aspects of my trip, I have been doing a series of posts on my other blog to try and put into words a little bit of what I did and learned and saw.
Of course, cooking for fourteen people for a week was a separate adventure in itself! When Bob and I were planning recipes, we knew that we wanted to expose our team members to some new foods and flavors that may have never tried before, but at the same time we wanted to make things that almost anyone was sure to like. We wanted it to be healthy and colorful and rich in nutrients, just as we try to eat at home... But we also had to keep a budget in mind. Our trip leaders, before we left, told us that the food budget was $10 per person per day, which came out to about $1,000 total. This included breakfast and lunch as well, which we would really not be able to cook because of being in a hurry and not knowing where we would even be at lunch time on some days. So planning the meals was a little more complicated than I had imagined it might be.
The good news, though, is that we underspent our budget by HALF, and still had leftover food that we were able to leave at the ministry, where I am sure it will be put to good use. Everything that Bob and I planned and prepared was 100% vegan, but this is not to say that everyone on our team ate 100% vegan the whole week. People bought dairy milk and cheese and so forth to accompany their meals, and it wasn't really our place to try to stop them from doing so. I feel good about it on the whole, because everything we served was well received and we were able to explain a lot of things about a healthy, balanced vegan lifestyle, and we had some encouraging conversations about veganism that I feel sure got people started on thinking about the issues. But anyway... enough talk about that.
Days 1 and 2 were on the road... no cooking. The highlight from that leg of the trip was when we stopped at a pizza place in St. Louis, Missouri, and Bob and I shared a delicious vegan pizza. It was certainly not as good as we make at home with our tofu ricotta and pesto, but it was quite satisfying just the same. On day 2, we had dinner in Rushville, Nebraska, where we stayed for the duration of the trip. We got in at about 9:00 that night (mountain time, so it was 11:00 "our" time) and went to this little diner where my only menu option was a tossed salad. I was immediately discouraged, though the salad itself was very good and actually quite refreshing after a day of eating "on the road."
Day 3: Bob and I made sloppy lenties for dinner. Thanks, Leslie! (For my slightly modified version of the recipe, check here.) We shopped for the lentils ahead of time and took them with us on the trip, not being very confident about the availability of red lentils in Rushville, Nebraska. It was a wise decision.... This was the grocery store we had to work with.
It was fine, though, not lacking in anything basic. Organics were really not an option, which I had braced myself for ahead of time.
This was the biggest pot of sloppy lentils ever. I started with six cups of lentils, to give you an idea. There were a lot of leftovers, which was a GREAT alternative to PB&J for lunch every day. We had salad and French bread with this meal.
Day 4: Spaghetti with marinara sauce and roasted squash, zucchini, and eggplant.
The marinara sauce recipe was from The Grit cookbook, but what really made this meal special was the roasted veggies. Bob also made some garlic bread by heating a bit of oil with some minced garlic, then slicing a loaf of French bread and drizzling some of the oil, along with some salt and pepper, between each slice and then baking it, wrapped in aluminum foil, to get it warm and toasty. Served with leftover salad.
Day 5: Chipotle, Corn, and Black Bean Stew from VWaV. This was easily my personal favorite meal for the entire trip. Most of the team members also liked it very much but found it to be a little on the spicy side. Maybe I was a bit heavy-handed with the chipotles... oops. I forget that I eat spicier foods than most people.
We had this with tortilla chips and, yes, leftover salad again. I think this was the last appearance that our salad made. Bob and I both agreed that this stew turned out better this time than it ever has when we have made it in the past. Because we used pre-cooked beans? I can't think of what else we could have possibly done differently.
Day 6: We were out much later than we expected to be, and when we got back to the motel we were too tired to cook. So leftover black bean stew it was (yes, we made enough of this to feed the entire team two, probably three times)... I steamed some broccoli to go with it this time, and it was a welcomed change from salad.
Day 7: Bob made his signature "hash browns"--stir-fried potatoes, this time with onions and garlic and plenty of green peppers, broccoli, squash, and mushrooms.
Here's a tip: Serve this with cilantro and salsa... mmm.
Day 8: The meal I had been waiting to make all week was Chickpea Ratatouille from Vive! This recipe has, I think, the most non-traditional flavor combinations and was the most "daring" of all the meals we selected. Not to mention that we served it with quinoa (and we got to pronounce the word "quinoa" countless times that night), which has become my favorite grain for its ease of cooking, its taste, and its nutritional punch. The quinoa was another ingredient that we had the forethought to buy ahead of time and pack with us.
This meal was very popular with most of the team, though I think that they were even more excited about the quinoa than about the ratatouille! We served this with steamed broccoli. There were lots of leftovers, which made great breakfast and lunch the next day.
Day 9: Bob and I had a meal planned for this day, but we did not get to cook it. Instead, the missionary that we worked with invited us all over to his house for dinner. What was dinner?
Grilled kabobs! We built our own kabobs, and I was very pleased with the available veggies. There was actually a clean spot on the grill for us, too. The pasta salad that they made was quite impressive--carrots and cucumbers and snow peas and cherry tomatoes tossed in a vinaigrette dressing. There was also quite a selection of olives and pickles and such... I could not complain.
Days 10 and 11, again, were on the road. I ate lots of salads and energy bars and peanut butter on tortillas... it was good to get home and eat tofu again.
So that describes the cooking side of our adventure. What did I learn? Well, one thing that we did which I was very glad that we thought to do was to buy our spices in bulk, ahead of time. The day before we left, Bob and I made a list of everything that we would need, including quantities, for all the meals we had planned. Then we went to the health food store and bought precise amounts of everything. This helped keep the cost down immensely, and it was great to work with fresher dried herbs. The other thing, which we didn't plan so well, was quantities of food. We greatly overestimated the amount of food that fourteen people would eat, so we were constantly dealing with massive quantities of leftovers! This worked out fine in the end, but it was a little inconvenient trying to find room in the refrigerator, containers to hold everything, and so forth.
Since I've gotten back, my cooking has been minimal as I've been cramming for today's exam. I look forward to getting back into the normal swing of things, and having more food to share with you all soon!
I'll leave you with just a taste of the beauty that I got to see in South Dakota... This is a view from the top of Sheep Mountain, located in the Badlands on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Badlands were perhaps the most amazing thing I have ever seen.