Before I start telling you about my recent culinary demonstration, I must clarify a frequent misnomer about the event which we have come to refer to as ‘High Tea’. It actually isn’t a true ‘High Tea’ at all. In fact, High Tea is something quite different from the regal British tea, properly referred to as ‘Afternoon Tea’.

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For those of us who remember Star Trek, The Trouble With Tribbles provided figurative thorns in Captain Kirk’s side. Not to dissimilar is the predicament with prickly pears, except that they provide literal thorns.

Prickly pear cacti, a member of the opuntia genus, abound here in the Southwest. The cactus itself is a paddle with spines. In the summer, they first burst with beautiful flowers, and by mid-September, they are bearing the most fascinating fruit, aka Indian fig. When ripe, its skin is a vibrantly-rich maroon thick exterior ensconced with even more spines. These spines are hair-like prickles, the smaller ones almost invisible to the naked eye; and the more mature ones looking like barbs ready to strike. Touch one, and those almost invisible spines will not-so-politely remove themselves from the prickly pear and insert themselves into your penetrable skin. And that’s when the fun begins. Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself.

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I absolutely adore entertaining and feeding people. But I also want to enjoy their company when they arrive rather than being held captive in the kitchen, thus missing out on all the lively conversation.

If you’re like me, I have just the answer for you! A vegan charcuterie platter and a make-ahead entrée.

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Last year, Richard and I built a raised bed garden structure out of pecky cedar. We choose that wood because it is untreated, and thus, was in alignment with our desire to have an organic garden. We built it ourselves and had some much fun in the process.

There are 36 3-foot rebar, some inside and others on the outside of the lumber, holding the structure together. Six ton of what was supposed to be organic garden soil was delivered and dumped into the raised bed, whose inside measures 8’x16’. We had irrigation lines put in to ensure adequate and consistent watering, even when we would be out-of-town.

Now, I’m sort of getting ahead of myself here. I should tell you that I am a Jersey Girl, born, raised, and lived the vast majority of my life approximately 12-20 miles outside of Manhattan. Richard, on the other hand, is from Washington State. And here we are now in Northern Arizona, where the climate is dry, the air is hotter, and there are pretty much two growing seasons. Geez, were we (and still are) on a huge gardening learning curve.

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My friend, Terri, passed away more than several years ago. Like me, she had a love for vegan cooking and an equitable adoration for kitchen gadgets/equipment/tools. One of the beautiful items she left to me was this 9’x13’ metal cake pan with a green lid, with “Vegan Goodies” and pinecones/leaves etched into the top. It’s beautiful; and whenever I pull it out to bake in it, I am immediately brought back to fond memories of Terry.

As a sidenote, I’ll share one of my favorites with you. In 2010, we took the 7 hour drive up to Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York for their July 4 Pignic. It was an idyllic weekend communing with all the beautiful farm animals that have been given a second chance and the ability to live out the remainder of their lives in peace, knowing love and compassion and no terror…a very different life from whence they came, factory farming. The weather was warm with a cooling breeze. We spent two full days on the farm and enjoyed their vegan barbeque and a couple of talks given by their more-than-adept staff.

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Walking up and down Duval Street, live music abounds, pouring out of restaurants, clubs, and dives onto the streets. The joint that we seemed most drawn to, however, was Willie T’s. It was an open-air, outdoor patio with some of the tables under an overhang. The genre seemed to be predominantly, if not exclusively, solo guitar rock / sometimes margaritaville-like male singers. Each evening, we’d stop and stand on the sidewalk, taking in the sights and sounds. We quickly came to a consensus regarding our favorite—John LaMere. His shtick was classic rock band covers. Geez, could he ever pull of a Mellencamp (as in John Cougar, John Cougar Mellencamp, now John Mellencamp)! It was not uncommon for me to break out in dance right there on the sidewalk! So, after our nightly sidewalk voyeuring, we decided that we would eat our final dinner at Willie T’s and arrive at the beginning of John LaMere’s set that evening.

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We awoke one morning, ravenous and deciding that we wanted to forego the vacation-standard, go-to, made in the room, smoothie. What to eat became the question. It was the only rainy day, at least it started out as such, so we decided to take a trek over to the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum, located in the Historic Seaport neighborhood. We fell into Two Friends Patio, one of the few remaining original Old Towne restaurants, established in 1967 and still family run. The place was hustling and bustling. Cutting straight down the middle of the restaurant, however, is an open walkway, so they had to close off some of the tables because of the rain. No one seemed to care, even those patrons who were graced with the occasional spray of rain. It really didn’t matter to us because, even though we had our all-weather jackets on, we were fairly damp already from the walk. We were hungry, that’s what mattered. And, they had a table with only about a 15 minute wait. Worked for us.

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Recently, my partner Richard and I had the exquisite joy of traipsing about Key West for a glorious nine days of fun and sun (and eating).

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With summer approaching, I love making quick and delicious wraps. They are so versatile, from what you put in them to what you choose to wrap them. They get in and out of the kitchen quickly, pack well for a hike or picnic, and are very nutritious and satisfying.

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May 4, 2017 was a beautiful and balmy evening in Old Towne Cottonwood, Arizona (just a stone’s through from Sedona). After a couple months of planning, the evening finally arrived. Veganification and Verde Valley Vegans, the Meetup Group that I sponsor/organize, converged upon Abbie’s Kitchen, a quaint, intimate artisan restaurant

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