Monday, October 31, 2011

New Greeting Card: Abstract (Ike's Rug)

For many years, I've been a devoted list writer.  It's the only way that I'm able to remain organized and to keep track of what needs to get done - and the satisfaction I get from crossing off an item keeps me compulsively creating lists.  Lately, however, the lists themselves have gotten out of control, scribbled, jumbled  and barely coherent - while I haphazardly pick and choose what I'm going to do and what I'm going to avoid doing as long as possible - with me stressing out seeing day after day those tasks I haven't accomplished.

Well, the other night I'd had enough.  I've revamped my list-making style and so far the result is that I'm getting more done and stressing out less.  Yesterday on the list - among other things - was "complete new card."  It was on the list for that day, so I was compelled to complete the card.  I did and here it is. Now for tomorrow's list...

Ike's Rug and all my other cards are available at Empty on the Inside.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Today's Dough: Whole Wheat & Spelt with Pepitas

When I want a hearty, whole grain bread that I can prepare without a lot of fuss (some whole grain breads can be a three-day process), I find something out of my "no-knead" book and let time and the refrigerator do the work.  This one is delicious wrapped around roasted veggies, topped with hummus or toasted and slathered with jam.  The pepitas add a nice (and seasonally-appropriate) crunch.


Whole Wheat & Spelt Loaves with Pepitas
(using the overnight, no-knead method)

4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup spelt flour
2 cups AP flour
1/4 vital wheat gluten
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tbsp. instant yeast
1 cup pepitas
4 cups lukewarm water


Combine the dry ingredients together in a big container - big enough to allow for some significant rise.  Pour in the water and stir (you may need to use wet hands to get this all mixed together) until you have a nice, wet dough.

Loosely cover the container and let sit on the counter for about two hours.  It will get nice and puffy.  Do not punch down the dough!  After two hours, you can bake immediately - but you'll get a better-tasting bread and the dough will be easier to work with if you pop it into the refrigerator overnight - or even up to 14 days.  The flavor will continue to develop.

When you're ready to bake, start by taking a large baking sheet and lining it with parchment paper. Sprinkle a little bit of flour over the surface of the dough in the container, then remove as much dough as you'd like (depending on the size loaf - or rolls - you want to make).  Quickly shape the dough into a boule (round ball; or if making rolls, lots of little round balls), using more flour as needed and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and allow to rest for 90 minutes.

After about an hour, preheat the oven to 450F.  (At this point, I put a baking stone in the oven as I bake my bread directly on the stone.  If using a baking stone, instead of lining the inside of a baking sheet with parchment paper, turn it over and line the outside bottom - this way you can easily slide the dough/parchment onto the baking stone.  If not using a baking stone, just bake the bread on the prepared pan.)  Just before you're ready to put the dough in the oven, spritz or lightly brush the boule with water, then quickly and firmly slash the loaf about 1/4" deep using a serrated knife.  I usually do a simple cross.

Ready for the oven.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 30-50 minutes.  Baking time will depend on how large or small the loaf is - so be sure to keep an eye on it.  I test by thumping the bottom of the bread.  If it sounds hollow, it's done.  Allow to cool completely before slicing and eating. 

(This recipe is based on the "master" recipe from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  Great book!)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Quick Sketch

A cold, rainy, gloomy day was exactly what I needed.  That and the new rug.  I've been sorely neglecting my little card shop of late - focusing on recipes for creme pies, soups, cookies and stews for An Unrefined Vegan - but the shapes and colors of a newly purchased rug got the non-food-related part of my creative mind working.  The result is this quick sketch which I plan on developing into a greeting card within the next few days.  Another full day or two of rain would help.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fair, Balanced and Unprocessed: Introducing "An Unrefined Vegan"


I'm now into my fourth month of blogging here on Dough, Dirt & Dye (or as my friend Alex calls it: Triple D) and am enjoying writing about all kinds of different topics - but through the process I've realized that what I really love to write about is - food!  Eating it, making it, reading about it, sharing recipes - and since I'm one of those annoying vegans who spouts off at the least provocation about how much she loves her diet, I decided to create a blog  - An Unrefined Vegan - devoted solely to vegan food where I can work my dark conversion dreams and schemes over the World Wide Web, one recipe at a time.  To make things a little more interesting (or a little less, depending on where your culinary proclivities lie), I'm focusing on whole food, whole grain, low fat and low sugar recipes because that's how I'm eating these days.  That explains the 'unrefined' part of An Unrefined Vegan.

I'd love it if you would take a few minutes to stop by my new endeavor - even if you are dedicated heart and soul to your Friday night cheesy pepperoni pizza, mom's pot roast recipe and thick burgers sizzling on the grill.  You might find something you can add to your menu - or you might even consider adding a vegan day or two or seven to your week.  I'd love to convert, er, share some plant-based, animal-free, delicious and healthy recipes with you.

Other ways to keep in touch with this unrefined vegan:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Memory

You’ve probably heard this phrase before: memory is a funny thing.  For instance, a dog plus a day spent swimming in Lake Erie merged together in my child’s brain to become a memory of aforementioned dog swimming out into the lake and never returning.  I distinctly remember the gray color of the thin strip of sand, the rocks rising farther down along the shore, the chill on my skin when the wind blew in off of the lake, and I remember a dog scampering in and out of the water, highly agitated that we children were playing in the waves.  But the rest of it – the sad part - is false.  The false memory comes from a song called “Shannon” by Henry Gross (about the drowning death of Carl Wilson's Irish Setter) which still makes me cry to this day.  Or this: I remember nothing from my lessons of fifth grade, but I do remember my teacher singing two lines from “Tiny Bubbles” as she erased the chalkboard.  And perhaps you’ve experienced the phenomenon of not being sure whether a memory is of something you’ve actually done or whether it’s an errant snippet of film from a long ago dream.


Someone close to me is witnessing the connections in his parent's mind slowly disintegrate, fragments of her past crowding into her present and jumbling together to create Dali-esque thoughts.  Words come out unedited, unintended stream of consciousness.  On some days his mother is a little girl again in a school house or she might be a passenger on a train, wondering at which stop she should disembark; some days her sisters are alive and her husband, too.  And then on some days, rarer and rarer now, she is just an old woman who has finished her breakfast and is wondering what she should do for the rest of the day.

Memory and the workings of the human mind have been on my...mind a lot lately.  I try to keep my brain sharp.  I struggle with crossword puzzles, read books copiously; I exercise and avoid the vacuity of television.  And I write.  That’s one way to attempt to assure that memories are stored and are filed in their correct order in time.  The trouble may prove to be in remembering where I’ve put what I’ve written or whether I remember that I’ve written anything at all.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Gil Gray, Where Have You Gone?

I don't know what sent me searching the other day for Gil, my old boss, from my Cincinnati days.  All I found was a dissatisfying generic listing that didn't really tell me whether or not his commercial photography business still exists.  I started working for Gil a few days after moving to the Queen City in the early 90s - my first move away from home and my first "real" job - after answering a small ad for a "commercial photographer's assistant" in the local paper.  I knew nothing about being an assistant and even less about photography, but he gave me the job. 

Before we moved to nicer, airier digs, his studios were located in an old building in the heart of downtown, years of soot and grime accumulated on the outside walls.  It had a cantankerous freight elevator and all of the windows were blacked out so that he could control the light inside.  Patti was his real right hand, setting up the shots, loading the film cartridges, getting the light right.  She ran the office with an easy efficiency and humor and I adored her.  Gil would come in after Patti had gotten the shot ready and make final touches before taking the photos and Patti would empty the cartridges and I'd get in the VW Golf and take the film in for processing.

That's really what my job entailed: running errands.  I also helped with billing, picked up and returned jobs, sometimes loaded and unloaded the 8" x 10" film cartridges and also bought products for photo shoots such as mounds of fresh mint from the wholesale grocers' market, a shopping cart full of Depends Undergarments, bottles of bath soap, toys, Metamucil wafers, frozen dinners - whatever was needed for a particular job.  Proctor & Gamble was our biggest client, but Jergens was there and Kendall Futuro, too.  I put a lot of miles on the VW as well as a few dents.  I also earned two of the only three speeding tickets of my driving career.  Gil insisted I carry a car phone which was about the size and heft of a brick.  I felt very urban.

Every morning Gil would send me across the street to Izzy's Deli for a bran muffin and a cup of coffee.  He gave me enough money to buy muffins for me and Patti, too.  I was addicted to the gooey chocolate chip chocolate muffins: breakfast of champions.  In the afternoon he'd send me back to Izzy's for a bowl of chicken soup and a hunk of bread.  The studio was always stocked with large bottles of Evian and Gil encouraged Patti and me to consume one bottle per day.  It's how I kicked my soda habit.  When he needed some down time he'd disappear into one of the back rooms and spend a half hour on the tanning bed.  It was the first one I'd ever seen and it scared me to death.

Gil could be cranky, sarcastic and tough to work with, but he had a generous and soft heart and I think he genuinely loved Patti and me.  There was a sadness about him the source of which I could never identify - though I had some theories.  Sometimes he'd press a 20 into my hand for the weekend and he wrote bonus checks with no discernible  connection to merit.  He bought me a huge color TV for my birthday one year and if he heard me grumbling about money he'd ask me - gruffly - how much did I need?  It was his way of showing his care and I was never offended by it nor took advantage.

After two years in the city I was ready to leave and when I broke the news to Gil he offered to bring me into the business; to teach me about photography and how to make color copies (this was in the days when ad houses used color copies to create their mock-ups).  I didn't even consider it, though the offer made me feel proud.  It also broke my heart.  I felt that I was abandoning him, that I wasn't grateful enough for everything he'd done for me.  I guess not unlike a child leaving home after being under the tender care of her parents.

So this is my belated thanks to Gil Gray.  Wherever you are.  I hope life has been kind to you.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Roof Raising


Ladies and gentlemen, we have a greenhouse.  A couple of days ago Kel rigged up a clever pulley system with tennis balls (one of which Ike graciously lent to us for the occasion) and some rope and slowly, slowly over the top came the plastic.  Holding on to various ropes while Kel made sure the plastic was not snagging on anything, I felt a bit like a lone sailor on the high seas - though thankfully we had very little wind on this particular afternoon.  Now all of the fine-tuning work needs to be done: wiring, fans, building raised beds, filling the black barrels with water (to regulate temperature inside the greenhouse) and getting all of the potted plants into their new digs.  But we have a greenhouse!

From the inside.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Afternoon Ritual

PB & J on cracked wheat bread with a cuppa the Earl.

I have a fond but slightly foggy memory of enjoying High Tea at Harrods  as a teenager while on a shoestring tour of Europe with my sister.  We nearly broke the trip budget for this one afternoon of indulgence; well worth it, I might add.  I "dressed up" in the one nice thing I'd crammed into my big, canvas bag - a summery white cotton and very wrinkled dress.  I tried hard to mind my manners.  There were small tables piled with gorgeous cakes and pastries - edible works of art for which you could just help yourself - and the atmosphere was very hushed and respectful.  I'm pretty sure there were strawberries and cream and the tea just kept coming.  Afternoon tea time is a lovely ritual and one I've adopted for everyday life in Oklahoma.

Of course, my tea time is not nearly as sumptuous as the offerings were at Harrods (I believe they no longer offer High Tea, sadly).  I usually just have some toast with peanut butter or a muffin along with my Earl Grey, but the idea is honored: slowing down one's day, taking a break to sip hot, sweet tea and of course, having a little bit of sustenance to carry one through until dinner time.  I believe that "a cup of tea solves everything," at least for the duration it takes to finish a cup.   And now that the weather has an edge of chilliness to it, a hot, steamy beverage is even more appealing. 

Here's a comforting recipe for when you feel inclined to take a break in the late afternoon to relax, refresh and sip some tea:

Chai
Serves 2

3 cups water
1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, sliced
1/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 tsp. cardamom seeds
6-8 whole cloves
2 black tea teabags
1 Earl Grey teabag
3/4 soy milk
your favorite sweetener to taste

In a medium saucepan, boil the water and spices until liquid has reduced to about 2 cups, 10-15 minutes.  Remove from heat, add the teabags and steep for 5 minutes.  Remove teabags, strain the tea and discard the spices.  Return tea to the saucepan, add the soy milk and heat to boiling.  Add sweetener to taste.

(Original recipe comes from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics Cookbook.  You might want to serve this with Cinnamon-Orange Muffins or Cowboy Cookies - the recipes for which you can find on my Vegan Recipes page.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Tomb is Opened in Oklahoma

It must have been a little like Howard Carter breaking into King Tut’s tomb – albeit on the scale of, say, a flea in relation to a blue whale – but nevertheless an exciting moment: when the first shafts of light and the fresh 2011 breeze met the stale 1990-or-so air and mingled, sending dust wheeling and moving for the first time in 20 odd years, revealing untold treasures, a dark and musty mystery coming to light.

The place had sat just as it had been left for an unknown number of years, who knows why.  Perhaps the original owner just got tired and one day he turned the lock on the door and never came back.  A For Sale sign was taped to the glass, yellowing in the corner of one window.  Year after year layers of dirt and grime obscured what was inside, but one could still see well enough to discern the stocked shelves and the aisles leading off towards the back of the store, the large sales counter off to one side.


And then one day, an enterprising citizen bought the store, lock, stock and barrel.  All of the nails, screws, paints, elbow joints and hammers; the wire, electrical switches, door knobs, screwdrivers and No Trespassing signs.  Even old calendars and “point of purchase” bumper stickers that had sat on the sales counter for tens of years.  If not the opulent items of gold and jewels, the pots of honey and spices and figurines of servants required by the pharoah’s spirit to carry with him into the afterworld, they are at least useful items for everyday life here on planet earth.


Kel and I went in the other day.  We had to.  Not because we needed anything (there are two existing, competing stores in town anyway), but because we had to see for ourselves the treasures that had been locked up inside the tomb for all of those years.  Was the new owner really going to try and sell that old stuff (yes)?  Were the prices going to be rock-bottom to move them off of the shelves (no)?  Was he going to clean off the dust (no)?  Would the new owner and his family be cursed for generations because they had violated this sacred hardware resting place (have to wait and see on that one)? 

Indeed there were piles of dated goodies, and in the back, beyond the reach of mere mortal customers was a dark chamber filled to the top with cardboard boxes.  More hidden riches.  A tall shelf in the back was crisscrossed with (mummy’s cloth?!) strips of gauzy, white fabric and was embellished with handwritten signs on lined paper ripped from a notebook admonishing: Not for sale today and Copper Not for Sale this Week.  

We didn’t buy anything and the owner didn’t seem troubled by it.  In fact he hardly noticed us at all.  His was the attitude of distraction one would expect from an archeologist tending his precious discovery.  As we left a man came in – another tourist seeking the thrills of the newly opened vault into the past.  He stopped just inside the door, scanned the length and breadth of the place, took his ball cap off and slowly rubbed his head in wonder.   

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Today's Dough: Olive Spelt Loaves

The finished product.
Spelt-Whole Wheat Olive Bread
(makes 2 generous boules)

2 tbsp. agave nectar
2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp. salt
1 cup bread flour
2 cups spelt flour
3-5 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced

Combine agave nectar, yeast and water in a large bowl and let sit for about 10 minutes or until yeast foams.  Stir in the applesauce and salt.  Add the bread and spelt flours and then enough of the whole wheat flour to form a soft, sticky dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 15 minutes, sprinkling with flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to hands.  Dough should be smooth, soft and still slightly sticky to the touch.

First rise; no olives.
Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.  Punch down dough and then fold and knead in the olives.  This is a little tricky, but keep at it until the olives are incorporated into the dough. You may need to add a bit of flour from time to time as the olives have some moisture.  Put the dough back in the oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise for another hour.

Second rise; with olives.

Meanwhile, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (or spray lightly with oil) and preheat the oven to 400F.  After the dough has completed the second rise, turn it onto a floured surface, divide in two and shape into round loaves.  Place on prepared sheets and cover with a kitchen towel.  Let rise 30 more minutes.  Right before I put the loaves in the oven, I slash the tops with an X using a big serrated bread knife that I've dipped in water.  Use a firm hand, but don't put too much pressure down on the loaves as that will de-gas them.

Bake loaves for 45-50 minutes or until brown on the outside.  Thumping the bottom of the loaves should produce a hollow sound.  Cool on a wire rack.

(I clipped this recipe out of an issue of Vegetarian Times, halved the amount of salt, swapped the honey for agave nectar and substituted applesauce for olive oil - and since I didn't have 8 cups of spelt flour I used a bit of bread flour for texture - and made up the remainder with whole wheat flour.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Mysterious Dame and the Case of the Etsy Shopping Spree

The following was originally posted October 17 on the BesTeam blog and was written to feature some of the fabulous shops on Etsy - via a virtual shopping spree and an imaginary $1,500.  Support handmade!  And if you are an Etsy seller looking for a supportive, active, fun and friendly team, please come check BesTeam out.

He knew she was trouble the moment she blew through his door like a twister cruising down tornado alley, but there was something about her silver artisan bracelet and the silk, hand-sewn scarf around her neck – Etsy creations, no doubt about it – that told him this dame was all class.  She was a real tall drink of water and his eyes were dying of thirst.  By the time she’d gotten to his door, she’d been to every P.I. in town and they’d all come up snake eyes, zero, zilch.  The job sounded simple enough but word around the joint was it couldn’t be done; not by the best, not by anyone, and especially not by him.  But he had news for this two-bit town: the joke was on them.  When he heard what she
wanted he took the job.  It would be like taking candy from a baby.  She thrust a fistful of grubby Benjamins at him - $1,500 BesTeam smackers to be exact – and his fingers hit the keyboard faster than seniors lining up at the hot buffet during the early bird special.  He knew what he was looking for and he knew just where to find it.  He was after the unusual suspects, the hidden gems, the odd and the wonderful: the creative underbelly of the beast called Etsy.

It didn’t take long for his peepers to find the first item and he knew it was a perfect.  This one-of-a-kind, handcrafted gourd harp from MistyMountainGourds would make that hard heart of hers sing like a canary.  He didn’t know for sure, but he woulda bet she loved dragonflies.  It set him back only $139.00.

Handcrafted Gourd Harp with Tree of Life Design

Probably she lived in some real fancy digs, a penthouse maybe, so he added this wooden wall art from LoveALittleArt and handed over $875.00 for the pleasure.  He was sure she wouldn’t have found anything like it anywhere else.

Taupe Modern Wood Wall Art, 36x72
No doubt this doll was wild, a real feral feline.  He snapped up a bobcat skull from DesertRoseTaxidermy for $45.00.  He was betting it would make her purr like a pussycat.

Bobcat skull
Speaking of cats…It would take a real man to tame this tabby - but he’d need all the help he could get.  He forked over $85.00 on robot arms from giantcardboardrobots.  The poor sucker could thank him later.  He was just glad he wasn’t going to be the chump on the other end of her leash.

Cardboard robot arms
A bird like that wouldn’t be wild forever; someday she’d settle down with some rich swell and have a family.  She’d need something soft and pretty for the rugrats.  These rabbit and plush bear glove puppets from coldhamcuddlies were the real deal – and a steal at $23.50 and $19.50.  

Brown Plush Bear Glove Puppet
Brown Rabbit Plush Glove Puppet

  
















He couldn’t help chuckling at his next purchase.  Last thing he could imagine her doing was getting her pretty hands dirty mixing up a box of Betty Crocker cake mix for the old ball and chain.  The set of lamps from BootsnGuss were made from vintage Pyrex bowls.  Probably as close as she’d come to cooking up the grub.  He was looking at $225.00 for three of them.

Vintage Pyrex Nesting Bowl Set, Pendant Lamps
He wasn’t the clueless lug she probably took him for – he knew every woman on the planet drools at the thought of a designer purse.  And something told him she’d be needing it, and soon.  Something told him once the job was done she’d be on the next train out of this flea-bitten, God-forsaken
town and she’d never come back.  Maybe she’d think of him every time she opened this vintage Gucci carry-on bag from AtticGoods for only $79.00.  Or maybe not.  Anyway, he’d sure never forget her gorgeous mug.

Gucci Canvas and Leather Carry-on Bag
When she came back the next day he was waiting for her.  She seemed pleased with what he'd found, but who could really tell behind the dark Jackie O sunglasses.  Without so much as a thank you, she gathered up the loot and asked for the 9 clams left over and stuffed them into her new bag.  Then she walked out of his life forever.  He realized then that he’d never gotten her name.

(Note:  This BesTeam shopping spree was a whole lot of fun.  It gave me the opportunity to really explore what is available on Etsy - and what is available is astounding!  Take some time for yourself to browse the huge variety of handcrafted and vintage goods. - Annie)

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Greenhouse for Winter

At Patio Joe's.
Neither one of us can remember if we bought the greenhouse in 2008 or 2009 – either way, it’s been a project that’s hung over our heads for too long.  Kel found the ad on craigslist and we drove into Oklahoma City to take a look at it.  The man selling it – we called him Patio Joe because he was in the pond business (think koi and lily pads) – took us to his back yard and there it was – an oxidizing metal skeleton with its various part strewn around, some in buckets, some heaped in piles.  Joe lost the mojo somewhere along the way and had never finished putting it up.  (We would later relate very well to that sentiment.)  Black plastic shelving lined the open walls.  Kel examined it carefully and then we drove away, getting only a few miles before deciding to make an offer.  Joe accepted and we told him we’d be back the next day to disassemble it.  

It took us two days in the hot sun to do it and Kel said that we should be taking pictures and we should be marking the parts so that we could more easily put it all back together – but we didn’t mark anything and we took only a handful of photos. (None of which, by the way, actually helped at all later.  As the photographer, I can say this.)  The second day I was sunburned and my muscles were sore, but the hard part was over.  We loaded everything onto a flatbed trailer that we’d borrowed from a guy we knew who ran cattle and headed home.

Side three goes up.
Everything was unloaded into the barn and there it all sat – a victim to inertia and to unforeseen bumps in the road that kept us from immediately putting it all back together again.  Then last spring we finally got after it and fairly quickly we had holes in the ground and the pipes cemented into place.  Beams and crossbeams were bolted together.  It started looking like a greenhouse.  We put down sheets of black plastic to kill the grass inside and then fall came with its high winds and circumstances took us away from Oklahoma for a while.

This fall the mornings have been calm so we’ve been able to work on unfurling the long, thick rolls of plastic that will cover the structure.  I didn’t think that the two of us alone could do it without sailing away or getting tangled in the sheeting.  Kel as usual does the really hard and heavy parts and I watch nervously, ready to dial 911.  So far three sides of plastic are up and flapping a bit in the late afternoon breeze.  I have no idea how we are going to get the top covered.

But now I’m getting excited – finally seeing it come together.  We already have things to move into it: several fig trees, lemon, lime and grapefruit plants, a big pot of lemongrass that I have for cooking but can’t bring myself to cut and use – and pots of rosemary and various kinds of thyme.  I’m looking forward to having fresh greens available throughout most of the year.  To getting a jump on spring planting; to having tomatoes tied to the rafters next summer, heavy with fruit; to carrots and radishes safe from nibbling rabbits; and whatever else we can coax to grow there.

Side four should go up today - wind and bodies willing - then we'll tackle the top.  We can see the light at the end of the greenhouse.  Just in time, too.  Winter is coming.   

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Make Your Heart, Head & Stomach Happy: Eat (vegan) Waffles

Unadorned.
Sunday in our house means either pancakes or waffles.  Since I recently replaced my old waffle iron with a spiffy new one that flips over (why, I don't know) and a timer, the scales have tipped more towards making waffles.  Did you know you can make delicious pancakes and waffles sans the oil/ butter, sugar, milk and eggs?  It's true - and it's easy - and it means that you'll be benefiting your heart by sparing it the fat, your head will feel good knowing no animals were harmed in the making of your breakfast and your stomach will thank you for sending down such a tasty treat.  I'll share the recipe below.  

And speaking of healthy...if you've considered - or more importantly, if you haven't considered eliminating meat and dairy from your diet, please follow the link below to an article I wrote recently for Technorati about the health benefits of adopting a plant-based, low-fat diet.

Article first published as Once A Carnivore: A Journey To Health Through Veganism on Technorati.

Whole Wheat & Flaxseed Waffles
(made 3 large waffles in my waffle iron)

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup AP flour
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
2 tbsp. toasted wheat germ
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups soy milk
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp. egg replacer (such as made by Bob's Red Mill) + 3 tbsp. water (whisk until foamy)
Whatever waffle toppings you love

With the works: peanut butter, bananas and toasted walnuts.
Whisk together the flours, flaxseed meal, wheat germ, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the soy milk, applesauce and egg replacer.  Add to the flour mixture and whisk gently to combine.  Let mixture stand from 15 minutes to up to 2 hours.

When the waffle iron is hot, ladle on enough to almost meet the edges and cook until steam no longer comes out.  You can keep them warm in a 300F oven while you prepare the rest - just place the waffles directly on the oven rack so they stay nice and crispy.

Serve and eat ASAP!  This recipe can also be used to make pancakes.

(I adapted this recipe from one printed in Bon Appetit; they credit the original recipe to Red Stag Supperclub in Minneapolis.)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Practice

The idea of a vegan pumpkin pie sounded so incongruous to me – traditional pumpkin pie is custard in a pastry crust and custard is eggs and milk – that when I saw the recipe created by Susan Voisin at FatFreeVegan.com, I had to try it.  Call it practice for the main event, Thanksgiving dinner.  Not only is it made without dairy, it is crustless (I do adore pie crust - more than the filling in most cases), making it a very healthy version of the it-wouldn’t-be-Thanksgiving-without-it classic.

So…how did it turn out?  The taste is spot-on to my mom's delicious pumpkin pie: perfectly spiced with cinnamon, ginger and cloves (I always omit the nutmeg) and the texture is very close to its custard counterpart.  I had a tiny bit of trouble getting the slices out of the pie pan – a sharp, wet knife helps with cutting – but nothing disastrous.

The thing is, pumpkin pie, in my opinion, requires one important accompaniment.  My taste buds really needed that creamy, slightly sweet and trusty sidekick.  So I did a quick search on the internet for another incongruous-sounding idea: vegan whipped cream and was rewarded by a bunch of recipes.  I went for the one containing silken tofu, vanilla extract, a small amount of coconut milk (though you could use soy milk instead) and a touch of sugar (or stevia).  It doesn’t have the peaks and fluffiness of dairy whipped cream – it’s more like a sauce – but it is very yummy and goes deliciously with the pumpkin pie.

If you’re interested in trying vegan pumpkin pie for yourself, visit FatFreeVegan.com.  Ms. Voisin has loads of easy, delicious and low-fat vegan recipes.  This week all of the dinners on my list are from her site – with the exception of a fantastic wheatberry and roasted vegetable salad my friend, Tracey Glover, is testing for an upcoming vegan cookbook.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Hackberry Tree

Cows shelter under it during the heat of the day and rub their huge heads against it.  No doubt other animals have taken refuge under its spreading branches and gnarled roots. It presides over a shallow puddle of a pond, dry and cracked now. A tenacious, thorny vine with speckled leaves clings to it, reaching up into its sturdy branches. Single-strand barbed wire, coated with flaking rust, twisted around the tree some time ago – is slowly being absorbed into it. Nails have been pounded into it: remnants of bustling activity, tantalizing clues, other traces of which are long gone. It may be 20 years old or 50. Oklahoma trees take a beating – ice storms, drying southerly winds, harsh sun; it's hard to tell the age of them.


One evening in late summer, Ike and I sat under the hackberry tree; Ike wasn't biting at my sleeve or running ahead and I felt no particular urge to be anywhere else.  For a few minutes we had roots and were still.  We surveyed the dry little pond and the humps and hillocks, the fading sky and the black flash of crows brushing the horizon.  For a few minutes, we saw what the hackberry sees.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Breakfast

When I was a kid it was a “good” morning if I could stomach a bowl of Frosted Flakes.  As a teen the day began with an icy cold Classic Coke and a slice of pizza.  My food tastes have matured since then and I look forward to a substantial breakfast.  Some mornings, it’s the biggest meal of my day.  Most days, Kel and I eat a large bowl of fresh fruit, sip green tea and enjoy some form of oatmeal – whether it’s Scottish oats cooked overnight in the crock-pot, Bob’s Red Mill 8-Grain Cereal on the stove or muesli that’s gotten the spa treatment by soaking in almond milk for a few hours.  I never get tired of oatmeal.  (By the way, when I say oatmeal, what I mean is a mixture of rolled oats, barley flakes, wheat flakes, rye flakes and triticale flakes.  Got the whole bread basket in there and boy howdy this stuff fuels you until lunchtime.)

This morning we tried something new from a cookbook (Fat-Free and Easy: Great Meals in Minutes: No Added Fat, No Cholesterol, No Animal Ingredients, by Jennifer Raymond) that I downloaded yesterday onto my Kindle.  The recipe calls for cooking the oat/dried fruit/non-dairy mixture on the stove, but I put it all together and popped it into the ‘frige where it did its magical thing while we slept.  The results are a super-creamy, slightly sweet cereal that you can warm up in the microwave if you wish or eat cold.  We topped ours with sliced banana and toasted walnuts.

This one goes out to my mom who, in my humble opinion, needs to eat a better breakfast than a slice of toast with butter – but who cannot fathom eating oatmeal day in and day out for years.  Love you, mom – now eat your oats!

Overnight (or stovetop) Oatmeal
Serves 4

10 dried apricots, roughly chopped
5-6 dried figs, roughly chopped
1/3 cup dried tart cherries (or cranberries or raisins)
1 apple, cored and roughly chopped (leave on the skin!)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
3 cups non-dairy milk (I used a combo of soy and almond milks)

Place the dried apricots, dried figs, tart cherries and apple in a food processor and whirl until finely chopped – some big chunks are fine.  Place chopped fruit into a medium-sized bowl and add the cinnamon, oats and non-dairy milk.  Stir to combine.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight (or cook for about 5 minutes on the stove).  Top with bananas and nuts.

“Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Waiting for Rain

What drought looks like; one of our ponds slowly disappearing.
Looking back over my blog and at my garden journal (my last entry was July 9 – the day Ike came into our lives), I realize that I haven’t had much to say about dirt lately.  That might be because every plant in my perennial beds looks as if spent a few minutes under the broiler.  Trees have prematurely lost their leaves; the cracks and splits in the pastures and gardens resemble miniature San Andreas Faults.  Even the grasshoppers are having a tough time finding something green and succulent on which to feast.  The brutal summer of 2011 has turned into a stingy, dry fall.

That’s why we got so excited two days ago.  We’d been watching the forecast for days; anticipating a fairly strong chance at some rain over the weekend.  Saturday afternoon the radar showed a gloriously huge system bloated with dark greens and ominous pinks coming our way.  It stretched from Minnesota down into Texas – it couldn’t possibly miss!  That morning I had planned to thoroughly water the flower beds, but decided to let Mother Nature do the heavy lifting.  She does a much better job of really getting the water where it needs to go anyway.  We made sure the rain gauge was up, took the lid off of the rain collection barrel, stowed the lawnmower and anything else that might get damaged in the deluge.  By early evening brooding gray clouds hung low in the sky and the wind had picked up.  Midway through our post-dinner walk with Ike, an even stronger breeze brought cool temperatures sweeping through and the air became heavy and smelled deliciously of moisture.  We lingered outside, hoping to feel those first cold drops on our bare arms.  We wouldn’t have minded at all getting soaking wet.

We went to bed fully expecting to be woken by the staccato of rain on the roof and booming thunder.  At one point in the night I was sure I heard rain, but when we woke in the morning, it was as quiet as every morning has been for months.  And though the grass was slightly wet – we did get a smattering of rain overnight – the rain gauge was stubbornly empty.  Checking the radar once again we saw that the giant system, so promising, had given up its west-to-east course and drifted south, showering Texas.  Texas badly needed it – I don’t begrudge them a single drop – but how I miss the sound and feel of rain!

Having grown up in the rain-and-snow-belt of northeastern Ohio, having had many a summer ruined by cold temperatures and gloomy skies, I’ve taken precipitation for granted – resented it more often than not as an annoyance and an inconvenience.  Until we moved here, I’ve never looked forward to having rain come – to hoping that a predicted, measly 20% chance would somehow materialize into an all-day soaker to nourish and revive all the creatures that so depend on water – including us, even though we don’t have leaves and roots.  I miss the feeling of warmth and safety one feels while watching a storm from the cozy interior of the house.  Sunny days are treasures, no doubt about it, and blue skies are the blank canvas for daydreaming and thoughts of flight and freedom, but rain… Rain is a balm.  Rain is what makes us appreciate the sun and empty skies.

(The pen really is mighty.  Last night we had a steady, gentle rain that lasted for hours.  The air is cool and clean.  And the rain gauge this morning shows 1 ½”.)    

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Today's Dough: Angel Biscuit-Rolls

Getting cozy while rising.
I was immediately intrigued by this recipe since it called for baking soda and yeast - making the end product a hybrid of a biscuit and a yeast roll.  The ingredients come together quickly, there's no kneading and you can have these on the table in just under two hours (1 hour + 20 minutes of rise time, 20 minutes of baking time).  I did my usual tweaking: substituting unsweetened applesauce for the shortening and using whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour.  Next time I'll add dried thyme or sage...or maybe orange zest.  These smell somehow very buttery and they have a soft, chewy texture and dense, tender crumb.  Perfect with a cup of soup or a bowl of stew or - split and slathered generously with natural peanut butter and fruit-juice-sweetened jam.

Pass the jam.

Angel Biscuit-Rolls
Makes 18

1 cup soy milk + 1 tsp. lemon juice (let sit for about 15 minutes)
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. agave nectar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup warm water
3 to 3 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (or vegetable shortening)

Mix soy milk/lemon mixture with baking soda.

In a large bowl, mix yeast, warm water, agave nectar and salt.  Let stand until foamy.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour and the applesauce (or shortening) until combined.  There will be some lumps.  Add the flour mixture and the soy milk/lemon mixture to the yeast.  Stir to combine completely.  Dough will be quite wet.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 400F.  Heavily flour the counter or a board and pat out dough to 1/2" thickness.  Using a pastry cutter or large knife, divide into 18 pieces.  Place pieces in 9"x13" pan that has been LIGHTLY coated with cooking spray or use a piece of parchment paper on the bottom.  Let rise for 20 minutes.

Bake biscuits for 12-20 minutes, until golden brown.  Let cool slightly before removing from pan.  Eat while warm!

This recipe came from one of those Parade Magazine-like inserts from the Dodge City, KS Sunday newspaper, picked up on our recent road trip - and is courtesy of the unfortunately-named (especially for our beautiful swine friends), The Hamery.  You never know where you're going to find a good, vegan-tweakable recipe, right?  You can find lots of other delicious and (mostly) simple recipes on my Vegan Recipes page.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Memories of a Passenger

These days I'm either behind the wheel or riding shotgun, but as a kid I spent a lot of hours as a passenger in the back seat of the family car.  Many of those years were spent wedged into the middle – being both the youngest and smallest – able to see only the ribbon of road ahead.  But sometimes I got to sit next to a window and as the excitement of the road trip ebbed and we all became lulled to silence by the engine and the miles, I’d look out the window, gathering impressions like a dog takes in the scents flowing into an open window, tantalizing his nose.  


There were the white farm houses, neat as pins, mere feet from the road with barns and outbuildings jumbled behind it; tractors, shining silos, crooked fence posts and every once in a while a horse hanging its head over the side to get at the sweet, long grass.  There were acres and acres of corn, tall and green.  Farm stands and historical markers which we noted but never stopped to read, rest areas with rough and faded picnic tables and toilets that were nothing but dark holes in the ground. 

Those were the days of Stuckey’s – the purveyor of pecan logs – whose green roof beckoned one in for a bathroom break and something sweet.  When Holiday Inn was the hotel and elusive at that, with its sign a beacon in the night, bristling with light bulbs and topped with a star.  A night in a hotel assured that my brother and I would push the ice machine button repeatedly and stand mesmerized in front of the candy machine, the treats so close yet so far.  A cruel taunt to the coinless.  

There was the town with the red caboose parked in the square.  The many anonymous playgrounds we’d swing or teeter-totter in and never see again.  Sandwiches eaten along the side of a quiet road, batting at mosquitoes.  Wet footprints on the cement around sparkling blue, kidney-shaped pools.  Lying in a hotel bed at night, feeling even then the loneliness of the sound of trucks on the highway at night.

I still love road trips, but some of that road magic is gone.  Maybe it's because now I have to pay attention to signs, other cars and the gas gauge, or maybe it's the difference between sitting in the front of the car, or being squeezed into the back, nestled against my brothers and sister.
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