Meze on the Mall.

First off, ten million thank you’s to you ALL.  I was absolutely floored to find out that I won the Project Food Blog Reader’s Choice Award again!  It was such a great boost going into the weekend, as I planned and prepared for the next challenge. 

This week’s challenge was called Road Trip, and we were each asked to create a delicious meal that will travel well and still look great. From picnics and school lunches to bento boxes, or any other meal on the go, you need to whip up a entree, side, drink, and dessert to enjoy after hitting the road.  As soon as I read the prompt for this challenge I got really excited.  We prepare meals on the go all the time, so that we can always be sure that we will have healthy vegetarian options.

For our weekend picnic, I prepared a Mediterranean feast for the eyes and the taste buds…

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As part of our challenge, we were each given a handy Project Food Blog cooler to transport our meal to our final destination.

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My goal for our meal was to make it as finger-food and eco-friendly as possible.  Who wants to mess with plates and silverware when you’re eating on the go?  By packing everything in reusable containers, and using serving spoons and napkins from home, we didn’t have to throw anything away and waste unnecessary disposable dishes.

Mediterranean food is not only delicious, it is known for being incredibly healthy, and I decided on a small-bite meze menu for our lunch spread.  For our first course, I decided to take the plunge and attempt stuffed grape leaves (all recipes coming tomorrow!).

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Stuffed grape leaves are one of my favorite things to order at restaurants, but I have never been brave enough to make them until now.  They were much more labor intensive than I was expecting, but the end result was totally worth it.

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Brown rice, toasted almonds, raisins, parsley, mint, dill, lemon juice, and olive oil all wrapped up in tangy grape leaves.  Just as delicious as I had hoped they would be.

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For our main course, I prepared the fixings for falafel pita sandwiches – YUM.  The first filling was delicious tabouli salad.  But not just any tabouli – my favorite quinoa tabouli recipe!

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Traditional tabouli is made with bulgur, but quinoa makes a great gluten-free (and high protein!) alternative. 

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The addition of minced olives to this salad gives it a little extra salty zest that I LOVE. 

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In addition to the tabouli, we needed FALAFELS to make our falafel pita sandwiches. 

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And because I can’t seem to just make anything the traditional way, I made a hybrid of chickpea and sweet potato falafel patties.  The perfect bite size for finger food!

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These were made by combining chickpea flour with whole chickpeas, mashed sweet potato, fresh parsley, flax egg, cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper.  Delicious!

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I didn’t want our sandwiches to be too dry, so I decided to include traditional Mediterranean tzatziki sauce. 

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But of course it wasn’t actually traditional – I made it vegan by using soy yogurt, and combined it with a whole slew of chopped herbs, lemon juice, and cucumber. 

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To wash it all down, we packed a fruity mint pomegranate spritzer!

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Homemade sparking water (using our Soda Stream machine), combined with muddled mint leaves and pomegranate juice.  So refreshing!

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And last but certainly not least, dessert hides behind the wax paper…

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Baklava cookies!  Yes, you read that right…

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I really wanted to stick with my Mediterranean theme, and every time I thought about dessert I came back to the most traditional of all – baklava.  But the thing about baklava is, you can’t just make a little bit.  You have to make a whole casserole dish full of the sweet stuff!  Couple that with my fear of phyllo dough, and I knew I needed to get creative.

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I ended up making a vegan shortbread thumbprint cookie, and filling the middle with a baklava-type mixture of toasted pistachios, walnuts, and hazelnuts, tossed with honey, vegan butter, and cinnamon.  They were AMAZING.

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With everything prepared, we grabbed a few serving spoons and cloth napkins from the kitchen

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Packed up the cooler…

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And hit the road to our special picnic spot.  Casey was nice enough to be the official cooler transporter since I am still rocking the crutches.

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But I did my part by strapping on a backpack with our camera and picnic blanket.  :)

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We had a special spot in mind, so we made our way to the Metro and headed north towards the city…

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Got the spot and started to set up camp.

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At the base of the Washington Monument! 

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I challenge you to find a better spot to enjoy a picnic.

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With views of Lincoln and the Reflecting Pool in the distance…

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We set up our spread and got ready to dig in!

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Who needs junky disposable cups when you can drink straight out of an eco-friendly reusable bottle?

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First up – grape leaves.

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I am a firm believer that anything with raisins is delicious, but these really were incredible.  I could have just eaten the whole tub of them as my meal. 

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Next up, mini pitas. 

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These perfect little bite sized pitas required no plates.  Just a spoonful of tabouli in the bottom…

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With a delicious sweet potato falafel stuffed inside, and topped with cool tzatziki sauce.

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Casey opted for the full man-sized pitas.

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He was NOT messing around.  :)

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We lunched on grape leaves and pitas and took in all the beautiful scenery.  The leaves are finally changing here in DC!

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We had the perfect weather, on the perfect day, in our favorite city.  You can’t ask for anything more.

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Okay, except for baklava cookies.  Those really pushed it over the edge.  We chowed down on our final course, and then ended up like this…

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Passed out in the sunshine with my favorite person in the world.  I wish we could have stayed there all day!

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Staring at the sky…

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And simply taking it all in…

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Do you see what I see?

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But eventually it was time to pack up and go, and say farewell to the city until next weekend!  Having spent my whole week trapped on the couch, it was such a nice treat to get out and enjoy the city and the sunshine.

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Had it not been for this week’s Project Food Blog challenge, we probably wouldn’t have thought to take a picnic up to the National Mall.  But I can assure you now that this is definitely becoming a regular occurrence. 

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And by using all our own containers, serving tools, and linens – we packed up our picnic without a single piece of waste.  Because, after all, who wouldn’t want to protect views like this?

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Thank you again for your continued support.  You can vote for my entry here!