I spent the past week in Honduras with Uncommon Grounds visiting the farmers who grow some of our coffees! It was a super exciting opportunity; seeing the growing, processing and exporting systems has been a goal of mine for a while. In addition to it being educational and informative, it was also amazing from a travelers perspective. The beautiful mountains, wonderful people and cultural differences all made it an epic experience. We did so much on this trip I could seriously ramble forever.

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This is the park in La Union Lempira, the town we stayed in for the trip. I loved the pink and sea foam paint in the park.

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Most of the kids in La Union go to school, there are public schools and then a few kids go to the bilingual school. We met a few of the teachers from the bilingual school (one of the ir teachers hosted us).

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Chickens, roosters, dogs and kittens roam freely around La Union. Most of the chickens and dogs “belong” to somebody, but they hang out wherever they please.

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We met with a few different farmers whose coffees we have bought in past years (and we plan to again). The trip was organized by Union Micro Finanza, a micro finance organization that helps farmers improve their crops. Improved handling of crops = better quality coffee = more money for the farmers. Coffee processing has historically been handled in a pretty non-scientific way, so new discoveries are always being made on better ways to process and handle coffees. The picture above is the view from Rigoberto Pas’ farm.

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Some nice looking red and yellow catuai that we picked.

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After the coffee is ripe and picked (a tedious process in itself- good coffees are carefully picked by hand) it is taken to the beneficio. Some farmers have their own beneficio (processing center), depending on how large their farms are. At the processing center, coffee first gets a quick bath. While in the water any leaves or floating cherries are filtered out. Floating cherries usually indicate that the shell is hollow, but also the skin of overripe cherries tends to float. The coffee is sent through a de-pulping machine, which removes the beans from the cherries. Coffees then sit in fermentation tanks with water for a few days, which helps remove the sticky layer around the bean (mucilage). After they are done fermenting, they are rinsed a few times and set in solar dryers (or on patios) to dry. Above you can see a child sorting defects out of a fermentation tank.

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The beneficio we spent our time at is operated by Union Micro Finanza. In addition to their micro loans, they run this beneficio to experiment with coffee processing. They are constantly improving their facility, and are always aiming to do so with minimal materials, so that farmers could then learn about processing from them and apply what they learn to their own production. Above you can see Patrick and Gilberto of UMF talking about how coffee in the solar dryers is regularly flipped for even drying. At this stage coffees also go through another close inspection, where defects (chipped beans, skins, etc.) are all picked out by hand. Keep in mind that different countries, regions and farmers may process coffees differently! This style of processing is usually referred to as fully washed, or wet-processed. In the other 2 “styles” of processing the order in which they dry and de-pulp the coffees is different. After all of this processing coffees are sent to the exporter, who then puts all coffees through more vigorous quality assurance standards (quality when is arrives/desired quality and price determine how many defects they allow and how throughly they sort). The exporter will have a huge warehouse with lots of different sorting equipment, which will sort beans by density and also remove any defects missed in the initial processing. THEN it finally is put into bags and shipped off to the roaster! (WHEW)

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Above is a picture of one of our coffee farmers Bernardo Ponce. He has an infectious laugh and incredible charisma. Even the kids flock to him!

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While we were there we did do a few non-coffee related things. One of the greatest highlights of the trip was our hike to the waterfall at El Naranjo. Here you can see Maggie is enjoying prancing through the mountains.

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The waterfall! The last of the hike was straight down a huge hill. Nestled between the hills was this beautiful spot. We climbed around on the rocks and gawked at the waterfalls magnitude before a delicious lunch which we ate on the river. We had these amazing empanadas prepared by one of our gracious hosts, Alicia. A man and his toddler son were collecting fire wood near us on this patch of incredibly steep land, and he definitely got a kick out of all the gringos frolicking in the water. Charlie offered them a few empanadas which the man readily accepted, and we all ate on the river together. Sitting there was one of the most pleasant parts of the entire trip.

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The wildflowers were also amazing! The soil there is incredibly rich so plants that we work hard to cultivate grow like weeds.

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Somehow I feel like I’ve rambled here but only scratched the surface. I learned so much on this trip! If there is one final subject that I feel is really important to mention it’s Roya, or Coffee Leaf Rust. Seeing how the effects of this disease have decimated crops on so many prolific farms is heartbreaking. Farmers we spoke to said that this year was the worst outbreak of Roya that they have ever seen, due to climate change. A depressing note to end on, but let it serve as your daily reminder of the importance of pushing for sustainability.

Having a long distance relationship can obviously be a bummer some times- this Valentines Day I will be frantically packing for a work trip to Honduras instead of having a romantic date. What I will say though, is that it can be super refreshing to get out of town for the weekend on a regular basis. This weekend was no exception. The cheesy nature of valentines-y things is not exactly my cup of tea, so enjoying a relaxed yet eventful weekend with my guy was the perfect substitute. This weekend literally encapsulated my favorite things:

1. VEGAN BENEDICT : I love eggs benedict (vegan, regular, whatever I can get..) so I was super stoked on this amazing breakfast that Michael made me. We used organic onion bread from Nantucket instead of english muffins and it was so. freaking. good.  I may be posting this just so that I am sure to save the recipe..

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2. LAKE MICHIGAN : Visiting the lake is always amazing. But right now with the snow and waves frozen into heaps it was a totally new experience for me. We ran around on the snow/ice mounds until we were frozen little popsicles.

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3. BEER : We tried Michaels home brew nut brown ale this weekend (I helped him make his first batch last time I was in Grand Rapids) and we also visited New Holland, Grand Rapids Brewing Co, and Stellas. New Holland is a staple, but it was my first time to the new Grand Rapids Brewing Co. It was packed, and the beer was actually super on point. It’s awesome to see how many breweries in Grand Rapids are thriving. Stellas is an awesome vegan friendly restaurant and bar that boasts over 200 whiskeys and GQ’s title of  best burger in America.

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4. COFFEE : There are some great coffee options in Grand Rapids. Rowster and Madcap are the ones to hit up! No one makes a cap quite like Rowster.

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Aaaaaaand of course, I enjoyed some great hockey and spending time with my amazing boyfriend.

// Megan //

 

This is one of my original recipes that I’m pretty proud of. One night I had some friends coming over for dinner and I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on ingredients so I whipped this up with what I had around the kitchen. I recreated this recipes again last week (with a little more intention this time) and it turned out just as great.

Ingredients:

-1 medium pepper

-1 sweet onion

-1 extra large or two normal sized sweet potatoes

-1 can black beans, strained and rinsed

-A jar of salsa. I used Mrs. Renfro’s Raspberry Chipotle salsa this time, which complimented the sweetness of the sweet potatoes really well!

-Sour cream (I’ve done this vegan- with Tofutti brand or you can just use regular sour cream).

-A few avocados for garnish

-2 tbs minced garlic

-A tsp cumin

-Powdered cayenne pepper, to taste

-Tortillas

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I start by cutting everything up, the peppers, onion and sweet potatoes. I fry the pepper and onion with cumin, garlic, cayenne and a little olive oil. While that is getting nice and caramelized I boil the sweet potato. I do it in a wok so that I can later use that to mix together all of the enchilada filling. After the sweet potato chunks are softish and the peppers and onions are cooked to your satisfaction, strain the water out of the wok and mix all ingredients together. Add the black beans, sour cream and about 2/3 cup of salsa to the mix at this time too. I go pretty light on the sour cream, but if you want them to be creamier you could add more and add cheese. I honestly think they are great without it so I’d prefer to skip the extra calories and fats. Grease some pans and roll up tortillas with about 3/4 cup of filling in them. I used almost the whole remainder of the jar of salsa on top. Bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees or until the tortilla is nice and crispy.

 

 

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Good as a stand alone dish or with some sort of salad on the side. Garnish with avocado for a little extra tastiness!

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// Megan //

I always use Smith’s Rosebud Salve as a chapstick or moisturizer, so when I found this recipe for something that looked similar I thought I would give it a whirl. I varied the Design Sponge recipe by just using lots of lavender, ylang ylang, baobab, and tahitian jasmine oils. Other than that I followed the steps of the recipe: heating the olive oil, beeswax and sesame oil in a double boiler and then mixing in the oils for aromatherapy purposes once all of the beeswax melted into the mix. I put mine in this cute old tin I have, though any little jar would work!IMG_1640

Sweet dreams!

 

//Megan//

Yesterday I made homemade pickles for the first time. Talk about easiest DIY ever! I think I will have to try pickling some more adventurous pickle recipes in the future, but this was really great for the first time. The whole time I had this video stuck in my head:

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups filtered water

2 tbs salt (use pickling salt if you have it, I just used table salt though)

4 tsp dill seed

3 tsp mustard seed

10 cloves garlic

1 1/2 packs of pickling cucumbers (or about 6)

a few sprinkles red pepper flakes, optional for a little kick

Boil apple cider vinegar, water and salt until the salt dissolves (about 5 minutes). Slice cucumbers into spears, chips or leave ‘em whole. Put seasonings into a large clean jar or divide evenly into two clean jars, if you are using two smaller ones. Stuff the jar as full as possible with cucumbers and then fill almost to the top (leave about 1/2 inch) with vinegar mixture. Let the jar cool down to room temp and then pop them in the fridge. They honestly already taste delicious after just one day, but they will be more traditional pickles after about a week.

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Okay, so I know pumpkin is a fall flavor yadda yadda.. but me and Michael love pumpkin flavored everything all the time. Here is a favorite recipe that we sometime use for vegan pumpkin pancakes that I would seriously recommend! IMG_0799

A stack of delicious pancakes and my all time favorite mug!

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We tossed chocolate chips into some of these and it was awesome. As the original recipe states, they’d also be great with some dried cranberries. Great for a weekend breakfast.

Lately I’ve been really into the idea of homemade beauty products. I buy a lot of shower-stuff from Lush, and I guess the fact that it’s all handmade has inspired me to do a little DIY. I saw a few different scrub recipes and decided to sort of wing it, so heres what I did!

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The ingredients I used, as you can see here, were: coffee (course ground), sesame oil, epsom salt, ylang ylang oil, and peppermint oil. You can also use used coffee grounds if you don’t have a crazy coffee abundance like I do.

The basic idea is you mix even parts ground coffee and epsom salt, and then add oil until it makes a paste. I started with sesame oil, but I would not reccomend it. Something about the smell of sesame oil and coffee really grossed me out.. part way through the process I switched to some extra virgin olive oil. I would definitely just use olive oil (or any mild smelling oil) in the future, I really didn’t like the overwhelming smell of the sesame oil (though I do love it for cooking). I added ylang ylang and peppermint for aromatherapy purposes. Peppermint oil also soothes sore muscles (I use it sometimes for back/shoulder pain) so it’s a good thing to use for that reason. These were all ingredients I had on hand, but I would have rather used lavender than the ylang ylang, but I’m all out right now.IMG_1625

The finished result is AMAZINGLY moisturizing and skin-softening. This was no surprise though, as I can remember my co-workings and I rubbing our hands in coffee grounds back when I worked at Lab Cafe. Coffee is a great exfoliant, as long as you don’t mind absorbing a little caffeine through your skin!

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So I would definitely make this again, but I would do it a little differently. I think the ratio of 50/50 coffee/epsom is totally great, but I would use a mild olive oil (or maybe even grapeseed), with rose, lavender, and peppermint extracts. I think that would produce a much nicer smelling result without compromising any of the positive traits of this scrub.

// Megan //

 

!EDIT! Apparently toasted sesame oil and untoasted sesame oil are seriously different things with seriously different smells. I used toasted in the above recipe which is probably why I really disliked it. Who knew!

I love giving personalized/handmade gifts. This year for Christmas I was kind of struggling for an easy/inexpensive personalized gift to give to my boyfriend. He’d been looking for good pocket notebooks to carry around with him to jot down ideas, so I found these small Moleskine notebooks at Target I knew would be perfect. Now, I knew he would appreciate these just as is, but me being me, I decided I needed to take them up a notch. I decorated these notebooks with short quotes from a few of our favorite nerdy TV shows, but you could use any quotes or phrases!

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Supplies:
+ notebooks
+ pencil
+ ruler
+ acrylic paint
+ paint brush
+ a good eraser!

First, come up with your quotes. I chose really short phrases so I could have one word per line. Once you have your phrase chosen, measure the height of your journal, or space you want the quote to take up vertically, and divide that by the number of words in your phrase. Use a pencil to draw lines to use as guides, you can erase these later.

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Next, figure out how wide your letters need to be, and draw lines for those. If you have all really short words, like this Firefly quote, you can just choose a width you think looks nice, and mark it out. If you have longer words, like I had in my X-Files quote, divide the width of the journal, or width you want your word to take up horizontally, by the number of letters in your longest word. Make that the measurement for the width of every letter in your phrase. Once you have your measurements, create a grid using pencil. When you paint on your phrase, make each letter fill its space on the grid completely. I used tan acrylic paint I had left over from the Antler Tip Necklaces I’d recently made.

Once your paint has dried completely, you can just go over the whole thing with your eraser to get rid of all the pencil! If you have a light color like I did, you may end up needing to touch up a few places where the pencil shows through the paint.

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I hope these directions aren’t too confusing! I wasn’t initially planning on posting these, so I didn’t take pics through my process, but I’m confident you can figure it out! Or you could always just wing it! ;]

// Laura Jude //

 

The other day I stumbled upon this recipe on pinterest and I decided to make it that evening, because it looked sooo good. Normally when posting a recipe from another website or blog I would tell you what I’d change next time or do differently from the original recipe, but this was really great as is.  IMG_1509

So the only labor intensive part of this is making the honey sage syrup, but it really didn’t take that much time. Next time I make this I’m going to make a ton of this syrup because it disappeared so fast!

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The original recipe recommends a bacon honey rim on the drink, which sounds pretty interesting but I obviously skipped this step!

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Enjoy your middle-of-the-week cocktail!

Laura and I are back from a nice long holiday hiatus! And what could be a better first-post-of-the-year than a healthy, low-calorie meal. As per usual, I’ve made some new health related resolutions so expect more healthy, vegan food posts in the near future!

These lettuce wraps are one of my favorite things to make for guests because it’s really just a more impressive way to serve stir fry. Also, I tallied up the calories in this recipe, and it comes out to about 250 calories a wrap!  I’ll post the recipe as we made it last night, (it was particularly delicious) but you can really use any stir fry ingredients, rice or rice noodles, and hoisin wrapped in lettuce and it’s super yummy.

What you’ll need:

+ 1 head lettuce

+ marinated tofu (we used west soy teriyaki)

+ 1 onion, chopped

+ 1/2 red pepper

+ 1 head broccoli, cut small

+ rice noodles (or just rice) prepared

+ 2 tbs hoisin (and additional for each wrap)

+ 2 tbs soy sauce

+ 1 tbs Sriracha

+ green onions, optional for garnish

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First, I fried up all the veggies in some olive oil. While they were cooking I made the rice noodles. When the veggies were getting closer to done, I tossed in the diced up marinated tofu. Since it doesn’t really need to cook and I didn’t want it to lose too much of the firmness I only cooked it for a few minutes. I added the soy sauce, sriracha, and hoisin at this point just to heat and to coat all of the stir fry.

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To assemble the wraps, carefully peal a piece of lettuce off the head. Apply a layer of hoisin as a kind of paste for your other ingredients. Then put a layer of rice or rice noodles on that, and some stir fry on top. Garnish with green onions and lots of sriracha.

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Note! Everything in this recipe is vegan, BUT we realized this morning that the Sriracha shown in this picture is not vegan. It is super tasty (if you are a meat eater) but it does contain anchovy. Bummer! Usually Michael checks the ingredients on everything, but hot sauce is normally safe… I guess not this time!

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