Road Tripping with Shelly Westerhausen of Vegetarian Ventures
Living in a college town is great for so many reasons but one of my favorites is being surrounded by so many unique and creative people. Meet Shelly Westerhausen, food blogger, stylist, and photographer at Vegetarian Ventures turned cookbook author.
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When we moved to Bloomington, Indiana back in 2013, unfamiliar with the food scene, I did a ton of research on Instagram to figure out where to go. I'm sure that's how I discovered Shelly's Instagram account. Her feed is full of beautiful food, travel, color, and texture so beware cruising her grid if you're hungry. I'm a big fan of her blog because her recipes aren't too intimidating to try and unique enough to make omnivores like myself want to eat vegetarian food. Think fried eggs with green tahini, chickpea shawarma flatbread, and pumpkin farro risotto. Indie music industry pro by day, blogger on nights/weekends; she's even found the time to release two cookbooks. The first, Vegetarian Heartland, showcases Shelly's recipes, stories, and photographs of life's adventures, i.e. berry picking and camping. This year she released her second book Platters & Boards, all about easy entertaining, even for two. This one is quickly becoming a favorite because Ryan and I are all about snacking and entertaining when we're home in Bloomington.
As I poured over her first book, I realized Shelly and I both share a love of road trips. She has an entire chapter dedicated to road trips with recipes for simple and delicious foods to bring with you. I'm thrilled Shelly wanted to chat with me about her love of travel and share some of her favorite places in the United States with us.
Is there a place in the United States that you travel to repeatedly? What keeps you coming back?
Shelly - "Marco Island, Florida. My grandma has a condo there so it's where my family always vacationed when I was growing up and we still go yearly. It's a beautiful small island with tons of palm trees, the sandiest beaches, and killer (overpriced but totally worth it) pina coladas that you can buy on the beach. There is something so magical about having a happy place to return to each year where you know you can just chill out for a few days and let the tension of life fade away. I love vacations that have me exploring new things but I've learned to appreciate leisurely comfort trips like this one more and more as I've grown older."
As a Midwest native and a food writer, what food scenes in the Midwest excite you? Is it even possible to name a favorite restaurant in the region?
Shelly - "I’m really excited about the scenes in Indianapolis and Cincinnati right now. Food felt like such an afterthought in Indianapolis for so long that it’s super exciting to see really fantastic places potting up (my current favorites are The Garden Table on Mass Ave. and Public Greens). I haven’t been to Cinci since last summer which is unfortunate because my bucket list there is so long. My go-to favorites spots are Jungle Jim’s and La Tavola but I can’t wait to go back to check out Rhinegeist (so obsessed with their Bubbles Rose Ale) and Continuum boutique."
Shelly - "Growing up near Chicago, the scene there definitely had a huge influence on me. It’s also always evolving so quickly that there are new places I’m constantly wanting to try.
OH, and I’ve never been to Detroit but need to try a real Detroit-style pizza and Bon Bon Bon one of these days."
You must be a fan of road trips given there is a whole chapter on road tripping food in your first cookbook, Vegetarian Heartland. Do you have a favorite road trip in the USA?
Shelly - "My all-time favorite road trip was probably driving up the coast from San Francisco to Seattle. The entire trip is beautiful and the landscape is unlike anything we have here in the Midwest. You can't really beat driving along the ocean with the big cliffs that make for the perfect picnic pit stops."
How do you feel about picnicking on a road trip? Is there spread from your most recent book, Platters & Boards that you'd recommend?
Shelly - "Thinking back on that SF -> Seattle trip, one of my favorite meals ever was a smorgasbord of local cheeses, breads, fresh vegetables, and jams that my friend and I picked up at Bi-Rite in San Francisco and then enjoyed on the roof of her car while stopped on a cliff overlooking the ocean on our way up the coast. Nothing improves a simple meal like a gorgeous ocean backdrop.
The Park Picnic spread from Platters & Boards travels very well! I made the recipe so you only need to tag along with a small cooler and don't have to worry too much about food getting warm. The 'Beach Board' from the book was also made specifically for travel."
What other places are on your United States travel list?
Shelly - "New Orleans, Charleston, and Portland, Maine have all been on my bucket list for forever. I've heard really great things about their food scenes and it definitely helps that they are all also near water. Also, my parents road-tripped around Lake Michigan last summer which is something I’d love to do sometime too."
For me, a perfect trip is a mix of big-city exploring followed by a few days in a National Park away from it all.