We had a whirlwind weekend in NC full of laughs, though not much relaxation–at least in terms of catching up on sleep. We did, however, catch up with many friends, partake in piles of wedding crafts, and (at least on my part) eat our weight in Carolina barbecue and sweet tea. I actually had a bit of a sugar crash on the first day, since I’m rarely imbibing anything beyond coffee, hot tea, water, and cider these days. One too many glasses of sweet tea, perhaps. On Friday, we spent the day preparing for the wedding, and I slipped off to get mani-pedis with the bridal party ladies in the afternoon. The salon was fairly busy, but spacious enough that even though we waited for almost an hour before nail preparations began, we spent that hour in the massage pedicure chairs. Fine by me! Take your time, sir, and let me adjust this kneading cycle up to my shoulders… We were all saved when M’s mum arrived late Friday night. While the rest of us were slowly turning punchy, she immediately went into event planner mode, and was the fresh set of eyes that we needed. She and I, exempt from wedding party duties on Saturday, were tasked with transferring everything over to the venue and doing the final venue check before the wedding party’s arrival.
After a quick stop back at the hotel to change, it was time for the main event. I can honestly say that this was one of the most enjoyable weddings that I’ve attended. There was lovely attention to detail throughout the beautiful venue, and the blend of hand-crafted and rented decorations came together seamlessly. The bride and groom had clearly done their research, and several elements of the ceremony and reception were new to me. They had a ring-warming, where the rings were passed in a small bottle through the hands of the attendees, to allow for blessings, prayers, and good wishes before the rings were exchanged. They also filled a bottle with different colors of sand–while I had seen this before, it was the perfect opportunity to incorporate their son into the ceremony. He had his own color to add in with his mother and father’s. The bride and groom’s young son also provided some beautiful (when he carefully got up from his seat mid-ceremony to pick the fallen leaves off Mommy’s train) and hysterical (wrestling with his cousin on the dance floor) moments throughout the day. He was impeccably behaved, a trooper through the whole long party (especially considering he missed his nap). M and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I had such a good time that my phone stayed in my purse the whole time, and M’s hardly touched his, either. So, unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from the wedding. M’s mum snapped a few of us, though I will have to track those down from her. We really should get better at taking pictures together!
On Sunday, we took our time getting home. After breakfast with the entire bridal party, we headed over to show M’s mum Saxapahaw, since we knew she would love it even more than we did. The old mill and warehouses have been converted into a Performance Venue, complete with Coffee Shop by day-Bar by night refreshments, a small outdoor amphitheater space, and gallery. The short row of establishments continues: a charter school, a rental/sales company for the apartments built in the converted warehouse, and a general store. The general store is a lovely little place full of local/organic vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products, locally made soaps and lotions and crafts, and tons of hard to find products: specialty beers, gluten-free brands, homeopathic remedies. It also has a short-order kitchen and seating area that dishes up specialty sandwiches and breakfast items–most of which can be made gluten-free. The duck fat homefries first tempted us into ordering (anyone else mildly obsessed with the Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives where Guy Fieri visits the beer place serving duck-fat fries topped with pulled duck meat and duck jus? Or is it just me?). But M caught sight of a special: “Coconut Milk Braised Pork Shoulder Sandwich with rice wine cucumbers, manchego cheese, basil, sriracha & soy sauce”. A not below the menu said all sandwiches could be made with gluten-free bread, but we faltered at the soy sauce. Just as he was settling on the roast beef sandwich that I was ordering, we saw the bottle of soy sauce on the counter. The cooks were using Organic, Gluten-free Tamari as the soy sauce for everyone. I can hardly express my gratitude when restaurants take these precautions as well as proving that “gluten-free” doesn’t have to mean a loss in flavor. A few more questions settled the issue–the sandwich was definitely gluten-free…. Oh man, you guys! This was sandwich heaven. My roast beef, while delicious, absolutely paled in comparison. A slow braised in coconut milk infused the barest touch of creaminess and flavor into the pork, melting in your mouth amidst the crisp bite of lightly-pickled cucumbers and red onions, rounded out by the traditional flavors in the herbs, tamari, and sriracha. It was unbelieveable! I went back up to the specials board to snap a picture, so I would have the base of ingredients for recreating this sandwich, and it was already sold out! M must have snatched up the last of the pork. Lucky, lucky man. The homefries were quite tasty as well.
We purchased some local steaks, local beef stock, real fermented pickles (!), and (to M’s delight) a pound of local, European-style butter. I am so glad I remembered to bring a small cooler with us. The meat and stock were frozen solid, enough to keep it all cold for our drive back home. I broke out the stock the next day to make a riff on pho, while the butter emerges at nearly every breakfast. That weekend was the last of the sunshine–we have had pouring rain all week. M and I celebrated our anniversary yesterday, but that will come in another post as my very first attempt at a restaurant review!
I first tested this muffin recipe a few weeks ago and immediately fell in love with the deep chocolate flavor paired with the knowledge that a healthy dose of vegetables were included. I made it again right before we left, and this batch truly powered me through the weekend. A muffin and my homemade granola made a meal out of the motel’s grab-and-go breakfast bar, where there wasn’t much beyond yogurt for us to eat amidst the cinnamon rolls, biscuits, and gravy. I brought them over to the bride’s house for morning wedding preparations, where the muffins were kid-tested and -approved by the four year old of the house. A variety of fruit and vegetable combinations replace the oil in this recipe (and are the “surprise” part), while whole grains, flax, and the option of nut flours round out these little chocolate powerhouses. While I use a combo of eggs and flax seed, the eggs can certainly be replaced to make this muffins vegan.
Chocolate “Surprise” Muffins
Serves: about 12 | Prep: 20 minutes | Cook: 25 minutes
- 1/2 c. almond meal (can replace with additional 1/3 c. of buckwheat flour for nut-free)
- 1/3 c. buckwheat flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/3 c. sugar
- 1/2 c. cocoa powder
- 1/4 c. mashed pumpkin or mashed sweet potato or applesauce
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 1 Tbsp. ground flax seed
- 2 “flax eggs” (1 Tbsp ground flax seed+3 Tbsp boiling water per egg)*
- 2 eggs*
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 c. grated carrots or grated sweet potato or grated zucchini
- 1/2 c. chocolate chips (Milk, Dark, White…optional)
- 1/2 c. chopped nuts (optional)
*Can replace eggs with flax eggs for a total of 4 “flax eggs” OR can replace “flax eggs” for a total of 4 eggs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Mix up flax eggs and allow to gel. Set paper liners in muffin tin and spray liners lightly with cooking oil to grease.
In a large bowl, combine almond meal, buckwheat flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, and cocoa powder until thoroughly mixed. In a small bowl, stir together mashed pumpkin/sweet potato/applesauce with water, additional flax, eggs, flax egg mixture, vanilla, and grated vegetable. Combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients. Stir in optional mix ins. Scoop batter into lined muffin tin and bake for 22-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out mostly clean (a few clinging crumbs are okay).
Allow muffins to cool completely on baking rack. Store, tightly sealed, on the counter for up to two days or in freezer for several months. Thaw or warm before eating.