Friday, December 30, 2011

Game Cam

My mom sent Kel and me a wildlife (aka "game") camera as a Christmas present when we first moved to Oklahoma and wondered what kind of creatures were roaming about at night while we were fast asleep.  We had all manner of challenges trying to work with it - from figuring out how to put the batteries in, to programming it, to setting it up and then retrieving the photos.

We thought we'd get shots of coyotes, fox, bobcats or maybe even the elusive prairie YetiFoot, but instead we got lots of blurry photos of munching cows (with eyes illuminated like flashbulbs), curious turkeys and too many photos to count of our puzzled faces peering into the lens: is this thing ON?  

And then one day it inexplicably died and we put it on a shelf hoping that it would repair itself.  When it didn't, Kel researched and got another.  And it's a snazzy one.  It's got your date and time of course, but it also notes the phase of the moon and records the temperature.  The scary part is - we didn't program in any of that stuff.  As Kel would say, it's become...self-aware.

Its inaugural evening out in the night, we set it up by the birdfeeders which see heavy traffic day and night (seriously, it's amazing the number of animals that live off of black oil sunflower seeds).  It's like a Sapp Brother's Truck Stop out there.  We came up with about 15 photos of Mr. Skunk in various eating and sniffing postures.  He stuck around pretty much all night.  He's a real Hoover when it comes to sucking up those seeds.  Anyway, he must've wondered why occasionally there would be a bright flash - but it didn't seem to slow him down one bit.

We will continue to set up the camera most nights.  If we keep at it, odds are something truly interesting will wander in front of the lens and get blinded by a searing flash of light.  Let's just hope we have the courage to see whatever it is that will be revealed.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Today's Dough: Maple Walnut Wheat with Dried Cherries

I learned something the other day.  Cinnamon is a major yeast-inhibitor.  Not the most earth-shattering of revelations, but it kinda knocked me for a small loop.  Turns out if you put more than a 1/2 teaspoon or so in your dough, you're slowing down the little yeasty critters and reducing the rise.  Best to go light on mixing in the cinnamon or add it via a swirl a la cinnamon rolls.

I had this fact in mind when I put together this whole wheat bread.  I kept to the recommended amount, and let the dough rise slowly for a long period of time.  I got a beautiful first and second rise and the smell emanating from the oven during baking...let's just say, you'll need never go back to Cinnabon.

A soft, imminently toastable bread stuffed with plump tart cherries and crunchy toasted walnuts - this is a simple recipe with a dough that's very easy with which to work.  For the recipe, please visit An Unrefined Vegan.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Part of the Pack

Just up the hill from my small Georgetown apartment was a large park with several grassy areas, tennis courts and woods with a stream running through it where one could take a break from the concrete.  No surprise that it was a popular place for the local residents to bring their dogs.  In the early mornings and in the early evenings, the park was filled with running, catching, barking and fetching dogs - and their humans.

Unaccompanied by a canine companion, I could walk through the park as if invisible.  On the few occasions when I had custody of a friend's dogs, however, suddenly I became quite noticeable.  The leash, the collar, the wagging tails were my passport, the secret handshake that grants entrance into the private club.  Fellow dog walkers and owners came over to say hello and chat.  With two dogs trotting close to my heels, I was immediately embraced within the doggy community.  The only thing more effective at attracting attention would've been pushing a carriage with a cute baby in it.

Something similar and equally interesting has happened now that Kel and I are dog owners.  We do not have a public park nearby to take Ike to, but when we bring him with us on errands, people want to come over and meet him (it doesn't seem to matter that Ike really isn't interested in meeting them).  Saying hello to Ike is an introduction to us and usually the segue into a long conversation. 

Doggy aunts and uncles have appeared out of the woodwork.  Friends and family members keep telling us how happy they are that we finally have a dog.  They sound almost relieved.  Most can't believe it took us so long.  How could we live on a big ranch and not have a dog - and if not a dog, at least a pet of some kind?  What, exactly, had been wrong with us?  Unbeknownst to us (but common knowledge to everyone else, apparently) something big had been missing from our lives.  Suddenly, Kel and I, by the simple virtue of having Ike, somehow became more human.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

I'll be taking a couple of days off from writing Triple D to spend some quality time with my baking sheets, mixing bowls and pots and pans - and with Kel and Ike, too, of course.  There's gingerbread cake to be made, a vegan brioche stuffed with mushrooms and wild rice to assemble and a sweet potato-pumpkin-pecan pie to ready for the oven. 

Thank you so much for sharing some of your precious time with me over the past six or so months.  It's been a pleasure reading your comments, exploring your blogs and getting to know you.  Wishing you all a beautiful, family-filled, delicious, peaceful and happy Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's Warm in the Kitchen

The Winter 2011 Issue.
My quarterly issue of King Arthur Flour's The Baking Sheet arrived today in the mail - and that's always a good day.  I look forward to brewing a cup of tea and sitting at the kitchen table leafing through the slim volume.  I always see one or two recipes that I immediately want to try: drop everything, roll up my sleeves, grab the mixing bowls, pile the ingredients on the counter and get baking.  Most of the recipes are not exactly vegan-friendly - The Baking Sheet loves its dairy and meat - but they are mostly adaptable.  The Winter issue has a hearty white bean and sausage stew (vegetable broth and seitan sausage could be handily substituted), an intriguing yeasted gingerbread loaf and in the "must try immediately" category: tangzhong bread.  Huh?  Yeast rolls stuffed with cranberries and honey (agave nectar or maple syrup ought to make good substitutes).  I'm a pushover for anything combining bread and a sweet filling.

Sesame seed and poppy seed bagels.
Although I bake quite a lot throughout the year - we buy zero commercial baked goods (just try to find the words "whole grain" in my town) and both Kel and I are carb junkies, so you can see where the math gets you - but when the weather turns cold and cloudy, I love nothing more than to get into the kitchen, tie on a well-worn (stained) apron and bake.  It's the days when I don't have to bake anything,that are the most relaxing and enjoyable.  Considering the good smells and tastes emanating from kitchens, it's small wonder that they tend to be the congregation spots for family and friends.

Cornell Bread.
Although I do return to certain tried-and-true recipes (braided walnut bread, applesauce bread, bagels, pitas) I get restless repeating myself and since there are thousands, tens of thousands of wonderful-sounding, challenging recipes out there in the world for breads, cookies, cakes, bars and other baked goods, my inclination is to keep trying new things.  And if there is something a little bit different about the recipe - be it a pretty twist, knot or enticing ingredient - I'm even more intrigued.

Kaiser rolls.
One problem I run into during heavy bouts of bread making is that the freezer becomes filled from top to bottom.  The solution is that every once in a while we have to "eat out of the freezer" for a few weeks - and then the cycle repeats itself.  An enjoyable Sisyphean task.  Will there ever be enough time to try all of the tantalizing bready recipes out there?  No.  But I'll sure have fun trying.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Flea in Winter

Marke but this flea, and marke in this,
How little that which thou deny'st me is;
Me it suck'd first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled bee;  
- From The Flea, by John Donne

I awoke the other morning to discover a bright red constellation of bumps all over my back and a sprinkling of the same on my legs.  Uh oh.  The moment I saw them, they immediately commenced to a terrible itching.  It's bloody cold outside, I thought, what on earth could be biting me?  By rights, all biting critters should have been wiped out by the killing frosts that have swept through the state.   They tortured me all summer, the wretches, couldn't they leave me in peace for a few months?

As I pondered the origin of the bumps, a terrible image intruded into my thoughts.  A specter so awful as to make me want to run and hide from the mere idea.  Once thought, it could not be un-thought - and it suddenly seemed so obvious.  I remembered that a few weeks back I had stayed at a hotel...and some hotels are now apparently the safe haven of those most heinous and skulking and cowardly of creatures; the blood-sucking succubi, the disturber of peaceful slumber: the lowly bed bug.  Could I have unwittingly freighted the fiends back in my suitcase to Oklahoma??  No!  Just a few days prior to acquiring my scarlet road map of bites, a friend had told me that she herself was reeling from an infestation of the parasites and that she was in the midst of banishing them from house and home.  The coincidence of the thing!  Could it be that I too had fallen prey?!

In between scratching, I began to research my enemy.  Bed bug sites abound on the internet.  First I did a quick check on  The hotel had not been sited for bed bugs.  Phew.  I learned about the hallmark sign of the bedbug, the tell-tale "breakfast, lunch & dinner" bites: three bumps in a neat row.  I found out that 60% of people bitten have no reaction at all - but for those that do - well, let's just say that the photos were not pretty.  I learned that they can go long periods between feasts and that they scuttle off to dark corners come morning or bright flashlight - as if ashamed of their own handiwork.

I peered into the deep pile of the carpet; I lifted pillows and checked our bedding: all looked innocent.  And then I checked the sheets again.  I was just about to holler 'nuff when something told me to take a closer look.  And that's when I saw it.  Something small and brown and moving and dare I say, hungry-looking.  I called for the magnifying glass.  I called for back-up.  I peered into the thick glass.  The hideous creature loomed large and distorted and then, sensing the game was over, it leapt with all of its might to escape my gaze and my grasp.  And that's when it revealed its true nature to me.  Not a bed bug, but its wretched but more easily exterminatable cousin: the flea.

Do not ask me how a flea came to reside alongside us in bed.  No doubt he hitched a ride on Ike's toasty body and finding the temperature in the house quite to his liking, decided to set up shop and get to work.  It was his undoing.  With a movement as swift as a sword raking through the air, I snatched the interloper and sent him swirling down the sink drain.  Take that you robber, you thief!  Be gone from here and trouble us humans no more!  I hope you remembered your life jacket!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Today's Dough: Onion & Walnut-Stuffed Beer Bread

This just might be the bread - a mix of rye and whole wheat white flours - that accompanies Christmas dinner (whatever that turns out to be...) since the dough can be put together days ahead of time and cool its heels in the refrigerator.  The flavor just gets better with time.  The onion-rosemary filling can also be made ahead of time - or the bread can be baked up without filling.  It makes for yummy toast or sandwich bread.

I'm going to fill the other half of the dough with a combination of unsweetened applesauce, cinnamon, maple sugar, golden raisins and toasted walnuts.  Sounds like Christmas morning breakfast.  For the (easy) recipe, please visit An Unrefined Vegan.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lost...and Found

We took a walk into the woods to enjoy the beautiful late afternoon sunlight and warmth, crunched through the fallen leaves and ducked under branches with Ike and Winston running erratically ahead, exploring.  We climbed up a small, rocky ridge and started to come back down when I said, "Look for that rock with the grinding holes in them - - " and no sooner had I said it then Kel was bending down and wiping wet leaves off of the surface of a large, flat boulder.

Sure enough, he'd found the grinding rock.  Further proof of finding when not seeking.  One of the holes is about 5" in diameter and 4" or so deep.  Moss has crept to the edge of it as if peering in.  The other hole was filled to the top with years of leaves - blackened and turning soupy at the bottom.  It is probably 6" in diameter and maybe 10" deep.  A well-used spot.  I'm so glad that the grinding rock hadn't vanished after all.

When we'd cleared away the debris, Winston climbed onto the rock and dipped his head down into the large hole and drank up the water that had collected at the bottom.

(The original post about this rock, The Point of Rocks, can be found here.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Oklahoma Rose: Under the Mistletoe

There isn't much time to spare until Christmas.  I must put into motion my diabolical plans to lure Kel under the mistletoe for a kiss, perhaps even under all of the mistletoe, but considering that Oklahoma trees are lousy with the stuff, it could take a while for us to make the complete rounds of the ranch.  I'm not complaining; somebody has got to do it.  Balls of mistletoe live high up in the branches of winged elms, bois d'arc and just about any other kind of tree on which their seeds find themselves perched.

Until we moved out here and saw it for ourselves, mistletoe had always been for me a questionable, bogus entity - a mythical plant; a fantasy product of Christmas and Christmas carols, bad jokes and awkward moments at holiday parties.  Who knew that it was an actual plant, a parasite, no less - that siphons off the water and nutrients (though it handles photosynthesis all by itself) of its host trees, thereby stalling the trees' growth?  Sounds romantic, doesn't it?  Admittedly, it is rather pretty, with bright green, succulent leaves that grow in a neat ball.  It looks like a strange extension of the tree itself, artificially robust and healthy amidst the drab decay of winter all around it.

(As pretty as it is, don't be tempted to toss mistletoe leaves in with your salad greens.  Eating it causes severe GI and stomach distress, [ahem] diarrhea and low pulse rate.)

Mistletoe isn't all bad.  Turns out a large number of animals depend on the leaves, shoots, berries and seeds.  In fact, it's the seeds that pass through a bird's system and land on branches that sprout and become new mistletoe plants.  (Mistel is Anglo-Saxon for "dung," and tan or tang - from which "toe" derived - means "twig," so mistletoe is "dung on a twig."  Lovely imagery there.)  Some birds even use mistletoe plants as a place to build their nests. 

This hemi-parasitic plant can be found in Europe, North America and Australia and it boasts hundreds of different species.  Despite its poisonous tendencies, you can find mistletoe extracts and solutions in the world of homeopathics as an aid in respiratory and circulatory ailments.  There has even been research into its use as a cancer cure, but results have not been promising.   Unless you are Suzanne Somers.

One last tidbit of information.  Mistletoe, a variety known as the Oklahoma Rose, is the official "floral emblem" of this here fine state.  Now - there's no time to waste!  I'm off to find Kel and entice him to take a walk with me under the mistletoe.

(All the botany stuff came from Wikipedia.  Where would my blog be without Wikipedia?!)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Getting Lost: A Christmas Memory

It was Christmas Break during my freshman year in college and after a mere 3 months on my own, I was feeling quite confident and independent and adult, so when my mom suggested that my older brother and I drive out to the tree farm in northeastern Ohio to cut down an evergreen for the holiday - the farm where we had for years been harvesting our family tree - I assured everyone that I knew exactly where the farm was located; no need for written directions or anything so superfluous as a map.  It was, I told them, impossible for us to get lost.

 My brother was entrusted with a saw and the keys to the big gray van which had been emptied of its maroon-colored passenger seats in anticipation for the beautiful, fat evergreen we would soon be loading into it.  Our journey began on the back roads of rural Ohio.  Thin dirt roads crusted with ice and snow that refused to melt and lined on either side by tall, bare hardwoods.  We cruised through Amish country and rolling brown hills dotted with big barns and clean white houses with the curtains hung diagonally across the windows.  It was a frigid, gray, dull day and despite the cranking heater in the van, we were chilled.  The cavernous van swallowed all of the warmth and left none for us.

At last we came to the divided highway that would take us past the tree farm.  I knew that it would be on our left - but beyond that - I really wasn't so sure.  I expected that a big sign would point us in the right direction, but as the time and miles slipped away and the sky turned a deeper gray tinged with silver, I realized that I had no idea where the tree farm was.  When we drove past the Welcome to Pennsylvania sign, my heart sank and I turned to my brother with shame and embarrassment and admitted that I had gotten us lost.

Instead of being upset with me or teasing me, he simply turned the van around and headed back in the other direction.  Evening was almost upon us and we knew our parents would wonder what had taken us so long.  How could we return empty-handed?  As we drove, we kept our eyes open for another place to stop and get a tree but suddenly the road seemed depressingly empty.  Dark purple and gray appeared along the edges of the sky and just as we were about to give up hope, we spotted a small sign for "you cut" live Christmas trees.  My brother turned onto the gravel road and then onto a thin driveway that took us to the front of an old farm house.  A teenager came out, pulling on his coat.  He led us out into the snow past rows of fledgling pine trees and farther into a field where the older trees grew tall and sturdy in neat rows.

We selected a tree and my brother got to work, lying down in the snow to get at the tree's trunk.  The teenager stood with his hands deep in his pockets and watched.  The wooshing sound of the saw was the only thing to be heard on that frigid early evening and after several minutes, the tree was free and we began to drag it back towards the van.  My brother's coat was covered in snow on one side.  We paid the young man and started back for home.  I dreaded getting back and having to admit to my parents that I hadn't known where the original tree farm had been, despite my boasts.

But when we got home, my parents had not yet returned from work - my secret was safe for a while.  My brother turned to me then and said, "We don't need to tell mom and dad."  Relief and gratitude washed over me.  I have no idea whether or not my brother finally did tell my parents, but nobody said anything to me about.  As far as I knew, it remained our little Christmas secret.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

PB & J

Peanut butter was a big part of my childhood.  A few times a week I would find a peanut butter and jelly (usually grape or raspberry) sandwich in the small brown paper bag I carried each day to school.  More often than not, sadly, the sandwich bore the heavy and round concavity of the orange that was also in the bag - no doubt because I'd stuffed my lunch into my locker without a thought.  Being a child who liked things "just so," I would nibble around the edges of the smooshed, bruised-looking circle and then go digging into the bag for the cookies.

Then I'd get home from school with the hunger of a tiger cub and out would come the jar of peanut butter and the loaf of bread.

One would think after 40-odd years or so I would've grown tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but that's not the case.  Vegans have a tough go of it in Oklahoma, so if I know I'll be on the road around mealtime, a PB & J comes along for the ride.  Sometimes I just get a powerful craving for one.  My sandwich has evolved slightly since the 6th grade, however.  Instead of Jif or Skippy, I use natural, unsweetened peanut butter; I prefer tart cherry jam to the overly sweet grape variety and my bread is no longer white, but whole grain, providing a structurally more sound bread than the flimsy white stuff.  Perhaps even sturdy enough to support the weight of an orange inside a small, brown paper bag.

The sandwich pictured above was lovingly constructed with a flavorful and soft cracked wheat bread.  You will find the recipe for it on my sister site, An Unrefined Vegan.  Pair it scrumptiously with PB & J, spread hummus on it, dip into soups or eat straight up.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Point of Rocks

In the early spring of our first year in Oklahoma, when the trees were still bare, but the air had the sweet smell of impending new life, the previous owner of our ranch came over for a visit and took us to a spot near a small spring where there was a flat rock once used by Native Americans as a grinding stone.  Sure enough, the otherwise inauspicious-looking rock had the unmistakable marks of man's hand.  There were two shallow, smooth indentations worked into the rock, one slightly deeper than the other.  How many years had it taken to engrave those marks?  It felt slightly surreal to run my hands into the hollows, imagining others sitting where I was, imagining kernels of corn slowly pulverized into meal.  I've tried many times to find the grinding rock again, but have failed.  The old man had taken us right to it without a second's hesitation.  It seems to have vanished into the woods; under the deepening pile of fallen leaves and the thick, tenacious vines with wicked thorns.  History slipping away.

The ranch is full of rocks and stones, of course.  Mostly crumbly sandstone covered in carpets of moss in an array of complex, luxuriant greens.  There is a long outcropping of rocks, a thick, broken seam that runs across our property.  We learned that long ago, maybe 50 or 60 years ago, rock was quarried from the ranch and used to build the local high school stadium.  Looking at the size of the structure it's surprising that any rocks remain here on the land.  It's an impressive if inelegant stadium, rough and sturdy, with colors ranging from deep brown to rust to burnished gold.  The raw rocks hewn and hauled and fitted into place to fit our needs.  The hand of man touching stone. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

New Greeting Card: Sprinkles

At Christmastime in our household there were generally two kinds of cookies being baked: buttery, swirled spritz in pale greens, reds and yellow that were made with a copper-colored contraption with a handle and discs that you placed in the end to get various shapes; and flat sugar cookies cut into candy canes, stars and Christmas trees.  These we layered with sugary icing in different colors and topped with either tiny edible gold and silver balls or with sprinkles.  Some sprinkles ended up where they belonged - on the cookie - but a good many of them ended up on the counter, stuck to our fingers and all over the floor.

Though my favorite cookies to consume (and indeed, I could have easily consumed my weight in them) were the spritzs, the decorated sugar cookies were a necessary element of the holiday and were fun to make.

It's hard to believe that Christmas is now a mere 15 days away!  My latest, and last card for the 2011 Holiday Season is my homage to the sugar cookie: Sprinkles.  There's still time to order Christmas cards from Empty on the Inside! Hand-painted cards make for extra special greetings.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Greenhouse Update

While it's not quite the right temperature for the lounge chair and bathing suit, stepping into the greenhouse on a cold but sunny day is a little like stepping off of an airplane that took you (wrapped in your warmest coat, hat and gloves) from a Cleveland February to the Florida Keys.  The feeling is one of liberation and nearly instantaneous relaxation.  Warm, moist air greets you as you open the door and step inside.  The smell of plants growing - the fragrance of moss - fills your nose.  Coat, hat and gloves come off.

But there is serious, if slow, work going on.  We now have three raised beds constructed of recycled cinder blocks with various kinds of greens growing in them (and I think some radishes) and numerous potted plants that spent the summer outdoors.  They are all in somewhat of a time warp.  The winter sun is weak and the daytime warmth is fleeting and evaporates overnight.  A tray of basil seems content to stay in miniature and three lemons have hovered between dark green and pale yellow for weeks and weeks.

One thing is for sure - the greenhouse extends our growing season.  In a few weeks, we should be enjoying fresh baby greens and maybe a radish or two.  If not, at least the greenhouse is a good place in which to hide from the wind and cold of winter.

Basil, a few days old.
Happy parsley.
Beds newly planted.
Baby greens.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Today's Dough: Rosemary Whole Wheat Rolls

This post is for my friend, Lynn, who made the mistake of mentioning to me that she was contemplating baking bread.  That was all I needed (no pun intended) to hear.  Being a bread junkie and baking enthusiast who wants to convert as many people as possible to the joys of yeast + wheat + water, I fired off a recipe for a no-knead recipe.  But I immediately had regrets...Email in haste, repent at leisure.  I sent Lynn a King Arthur Flour recipe for a no-knead boule calling for all white flour.  Oh, the shame!  I can do better, Lynn! 

This wonderful recipe is just as easy as the one I sent, but it's a compromise between 100% whole wheat and 100% white flour.  The dough can be used to make loaves, baguettes, sandwich- or dinner-sized rolls.  Lynn, if you're reading this, go over to An Unrefined Vegan for the recipe.  Oh, and everyone else is invited to give it a try, too.  It's simple to make and delicious to consume.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Greeting Card: String of Lights

Told you I was busy making Christmas cards!
The typical American Christmas tree: loaded down with a mish-mash of sparkly stars, red and green and silver globes, an heirloom or two, clumsily-fashioned and slightly crumpled paper chains from first grade, strings of beads, bursts of tinsel (most of which end up on the rug), that one extra-special-don't-even-think-about-dropping-it glass star and - the copious ropes of lights whose twisted puzzle of cord and bulb try the patience of many a saintly parent.

But without the lights the fragrant symbol of Christmas remains simply a pine tree with shiny things hanging from it.  The lights made the tree - in my childish estimation - and plugging that cord in and seeing the tree assume its new glowing persona was as magical as the first snow of the season or the appearance on Christmas morning of piles of presents where once there were none.

For the most part, the iconic lights from my childhood have been replaced by the tiny, unassuming string of lights available at every Walmart, grocery store, convenience store and drugstore on the planet. The bigger bulbs from yesteryear were ridiculously fragile, prone to getting frighteningly hot and cumbersome to pack and store - but once aglow they adorned a tree with magic.

Find my String of Lights card at Empty on the Inside.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

27 Feels Like 18

It's Tuesday morning...cloudy, gray and cold: 27 degrees but "feels like" 18.  It would have been a perfect morning to ignore the alarm, burrow deeper under the covers and sleep in, but the call of the treadmill was too strong and anyway I could hear Ike's collar jangling which means he's telling me that he has urgent matters to address OUTSIDE. 

I pile on three layers plus an over-sized down coat that I bought while living in Moscow (it did nothing to insulate me from the Russian-style winter, but works well here), two hats and Thinsulate gloves.  Grab Ike's treats and his leash just in case he gets the idea that the cows need herding.  (I explain over and over to him what cows are and how all they really want to do is graze and that they are perfectly welcome to be where they are, doing what they are doing.  And anyway, they were here first.)  Winston joins us as usual, his own doggy alarm clock telling him to come over from next door.  And after giving them a good, long walk over the frozen fields - and after feeding the birds and filling various water bowls - we are all ready for breakfast.  Ike gets his special corn- and wheat-free food and Winston gets a big bowl of Ol' Roy al fresco. 

For me, because of the extenuating circumstances, breakfast called for something more robust and comforting than the usual weekday fare.  It called for chocolate.  And pancakes.  And warm tart cherries.  Luckily I had a batch of just what I needed in the freezer: whole wheat chocolate chip pancakes, and some dried cherry-apricot compote in the refrigerator.  If this sounds like breakfast comfort food to you, you can find the recipe for both the pancakes and the compote on my vegan blog, An Unrefined Vegan.

And now, three stomachs contented, we can face the rest of this cold, cold day with grace and courage.  As long as we know a good lunch is coming.

Monday, December 5, 2011

New Greeting Card: Love Your Mother

In the midst of thinking about, sketching and painting seasonally-appropriate greeting cards, i.e., Christmas cards - I suddenly thought of...Mother's Day.  May, flowers, hearts.  Mom.  I have no idea where this thought came from, but I decided to go with it.  Inspired by the iconic "mom" tattoo (which I've never actually see on anyone's bicep, BTW), I came up with my latest card called, Love Your Mother.  It would work just as well for mom's birthday as for Mother's Day.

(A brief digression: Speaking from personal experience, if you're thinking of getting a tattoo of any kind, chances are, your mom won't be pleased.  It doesn't matter how young or old you are.  You are still her baby and you shouldn't go messing around with your "perfect" skin - which, incidentally, she thinks of as hers anyway.)

Despite the fact that it's cold December and only a few weeks from Christmas, you can pick up this mom-centric card over at Empty on the Inside.  If your head is wrapped up in tinsel, snow, pine trees, baking cookies, shopping-days-left and blinking lights, there are plenty of unique, hand-painted holiday-themed cards to be found as well.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Before It Snows

I love an unsettled fall day, when the wind blows hard from the northeast - cold, but not yet cold.  The leaves that scuttle and scratch behind me as I walk.  As clattering and nearly as unnerving as a poltergeist: when you look back, you see nothing.

Sunlight is yesterday's yellow memory.  Bloated, low-hanging clouds labor slowly across the sky while a plume of fast-moving and pure white clouds, like puffs from a steam engine, speed along the horizon line.  Icy drops of rain tap on shoulders, the patter increasing for a brief deluge, then stopping again in an instant.  Following the dog's lead I lift up my head to sniff the air.  Even my ill-equipped human's nose scents intrigue on the wind.

The earth feels spongy and soft.  Among the brown, dead tufts, tender and bright green blades of cold-weather grass flicker in the wind.  Pairs of ducks flush from the pond, rising with squeaky protest, pulling, pulling against gravity.  They circle, hoping I'll leave so they can return to the dark gray water and the reedy shelter of the rushes along the bank.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Name Begins with the Letter W

Oklahoma seems to have an inordinate number of towns beginning with the letter W: Wetumka, Weleetka, Wichita, Watonga - for a start.  If they sound as if their origin is Native American, your ears haven't deceived you.  Before Oklahoma became a state in 1907, it was known as the Indian Territory and then the Oklahoma Territory and was where numerous tribes found themselves after being coerced, marched, treatied, tricked and pushed out of their ancestral lands courtesy of the Indian Intercourse Act of 1834.  Drive along I-40 or almost any other major road in Oklahoma and the tribe names tick off one after the other on green road signs, one reservation ceding to the next: Chickasaw, Sac-Fox, Seminole, Muscogee (Creek), Shawnee, Choctaw, Cherokee and on and on.

Not far down the road from us is another town beginning with the letter W.  It's the county seat of Seminole County, but if you didn't know better, you'd expect that someday soon it would dry up and blow away, like a brittle Black Jack oak leaf in late autumn.  Down Route 56 as you come into town from the north a proud stone house sits high above the road - a large estate with tall pecan trees and manicured, rolling hills that ease you towards muddy pastures where a small herd of buffalo graze alongside a couple of llamas and a few head of cattle.  A half mile further and just past the bridge is a bright lime green building slowly sinking and decaying into a parking lot; it was once a Chinese restaurant.  A mortuary sits across the road from it and then a gas station and a liquor store.  A large cinder block building looks impenetrable until you see the huge gaping hole where the roof collapsed.  At the stoplight, if you look to your right out your car window you'll see the remnants of an old motel, the open windows and doors black and empty. 

On the left, an enterprising couple has renovated a 1940s era gas station and now they sell plants, fruits and vegetables.  Piles of bright orange pumpkins are stacked on bales of hay.  Across the way a new restaurant has opened, offering home cooked meals.  There's the gun and pawn shop, another closed gas station, Moore's IGA with a nearly full parking lot and the Sonic Drive-In which is the most successful business in town.  A half block further the Black Sheep Drive-In - Sonic's competition - sits abandoned, Sorry We're Closed and For Sale signs taped to the window.

There's a Daylight Donuts just past the next stoplight, then a tiny liquor store with mesh screen covering the door and windows.  A neat and clean, orange-painted Mexican restaurant blinks: Open.  Then the retail gives way to the residential - tiny homes, some immaculate, some threadbare - stone, clapboard and several signature Oklahoma-style houses constructed of honey-colored brick with steep-pitched roofs, gables and curved doorways that look designed for elves.  There are rusting cars, heaps of garbage, dogs on chains, abandoned toys and neat gardens filled with the brown remnants of the summer garden. 

This W-named town could be a stand in for dozens of Oklahoma towns that cling to existence.  It eerily resembles the town I call home, also a county seat.  But there is enough life yet to keep it going.  The old generations linger here, unwilling or unable to relocate and the younger generations - white and Native American - stay on; family ties, the comfort of what is known and the pull of their homeland keeps them rooted here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Dream

This story comes direct from my subconscious, in the form of one of the most vivid dreams I've ever had - in imagery, color and subject.  I feel as if it wrote itself; one of those dreams that stays in your head, haunts it and demands to be felt.  (Note that this is a dream within a dream - my dream was about a boy having a dream about his father.)

In his dream he sees his father riding on horseback across the fields that have taken on the bright, glowing green associated only with dreams and with afternoons that carry thick, gray storm clouds across the sky without letting them release their rain.  The beautiful green fields are smooth and flow without blemish to the horizon.  Even through the unbreakable drift of the dream, he - as the dreamer - feels the desire to roll down the slopes, to feel the cool grasses along his bare arms, against his face, and the hard earth beneath gently prodding him with its moist clumps along spine and shoulder blades.

But in the dreamworld, his father rides across the fields, returning home from a journey that has taken him away for many months.  His jaw is covered by a thick beard, and about him seems a haze - the hesitant indefinite color of dust kicked up by a slight breeze.  Soft brown dirt that has traveled the miles with him covers the horse, coats his leather chaps, his unruly hair and makes the green of the landscape seem even stronger and cleaner.  His father and the horse never waver from the invisible line that brings them closer to home, but he looks more often in the direction of far off trees, and at the ripples, one after the other, of small hills.

His father rides across his land - his own land on which tree and grass are allowed to grow without limit or constraint.  It is allowed this because the boy's mother would have it so, and his father loves his mother above anything else.  The boy's dream progresses and the man and horse have now reached a thin dirt road that trickles into the distance.  Before it disappears, it passes by a large bed of flowers.  Against the glowing green, below the dark gray sky, the flowers' colors explode among the plain grasses, yellow seeming to be the brightest and the most burning, until the eye catches the flame-lick of red, then vibrating plumes of purple.

His father does not pause at the flowerbed, even though it is his wife who has loved the flowers into existence, but turns his horse onto the thin road.  On his left side, the tamed arms of dozens of apple trees reach up and into thick leaves and the tiny pale buds of infant fruit grow bigger in the still of the day without the notice of the man on the horse.

The road dwindles to nothing and he is again riding on smooth grass and a slope pulling him towards his home.  A breeze - nothing more than a whiff if wind - causes the boy's father to twitch his head to rid his eyes of the strands of hair that have fallen across his forehead and as he does, he sees the color gray, as brooding as the clouds, floating among the leaves.  He recognizes the color instantly, the diaphanous quality of the plain fabric.  It is his wife.  It is his wife and she has hanged herself, dressed as a coolie, from the branches of one of her apple trees.

For a second his father's pale, pinched face is visible and then the face disappears as he turns his body and reaches for - pulls out and swings towards the body of his wife - a large, shimmering blade.  The blade slices through the rope that supports the body of his wife and she falls across the brown back of the horse.  The knife is disappears and the boy's father holds the quieted body of his wife as he continues riding across the green field towards home.
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