Raptor Conservancy of Virginia fundraising

Hello; long time no blog. I know, I’m a terrible person. I’m actually preparing a post about our trip to Africa (spoiler: it was the greatest trip in the history of all trips), but in the meantime I feel obliged to pass along some information about a Raptor Conservancy of Virginia (where I volunteer) fundraiser that’s going on right now because we need money! Buy a spiffy RCV T-shirt with a picture of a great horned owl on it and support Virginia wildlife!

There is not much overlap between raptors in Virginia and Tanzania – they don’t even have hawks in Tanzania; instead they have a lot of eagles – but since I just got back from Tanzania a few days ago and it’s all I can think about, here are some Tanzanian raptors to enjoy in this post, with way more Tanzanian wildlife (and yes, food) coming up:


Brown snake eagle


Juvenile Verreaux’s eagle


Martial eagle


I need to figure out what this one is!


Black kite. There were swarms of these at Ngorongoro crater and our guide warned not to leave the vehicle unattended or they would swoop in and steal things. As we ate lunch in the car, we watched a lady eating outside right in front of our car. A kite saw her sandwich and looked hungrily at it. She hastily hid the sandwich behind her back. Think about that: she hid her sandwich BEHIND HER BACK from a BIRD. That was flying over her head. That could see the tempting sandwich just as easily BEHIND her as he could IN FRONT of her. And who did in fact snatch that sandwich right out of her hands, causing her to bleed. Which she kind of had coming….

That wasn’t the only blatant act of food theft we witnessed by wildlife, but the other involved a very devious monkey stealing food that WAS hidden better than that. :)

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“Pork” seitan

One of my go-to seitan recipes is Vegan Dad’s Veggie Lunch Meat. (All of Vegan Dad’s seitan recipes are good: and even Mark can make them!!). Anyway, although I refer to Vegan Dad’s lunch meat recipe for the basic bean/vital wheat gluten/liquid ratio, I often mix up the seasonings a bit to get different flavors. Follows is a porcine take on it, with all due credit to Vegan Dad (who I am so glad is blogging again!).

“Pork”-flavored Seitan
Lightly adapted from Vegan Dad’s Veggie Lunch Meat

1 cup cooked (or canned) white beans
2 cups water
3 Tbsp beet juice (OPTIONAL)
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 or 2 packets Goya “ham” flavoring (there is no ham in it)
2 3/4 cup vital wheat gluten (plus maybe a couple teaspoons more if you add the beet juice)

So the first thing you need to procure is some cooked white beans. Since I make this seitan often (Mark scarfs it down so fast I can barely keep it in stock!), what I do is pressure cook a whole pound of soaked, dried white beans (like Great Northern), then divide it into 1-cup portions, reserving one for immediate use and freezing the others. These containers are the perfect size for freezing individual portions:

Then the next few times I want to make seitan, I just grab one portion from the freezer, either thawing in the fridge or on the counter for a few hours if I have time, or sitting the container in very hot water to thaw and warming slightly in the microwave if necessary. Yes, I was canning at the same time I was making this seitan and had a lot of help from a certain Torticia, and yes there will be more cat pictures at the end of this post (about time, eh?).

Put all of the ingredients except the vital wheat gluten into the jar of a blender. For the beet juice, I pour in a little juice from the jar of pickled beets that I always have open in the fridge. I do it to add a pink color, which looks lovely while the gluten is raw but almost entirely disappears when it’s cooked, therefore there’s really little point in doing it, but I’d just be pouring that pickle juice down the drain eventually anyway and it at least provides a little extra zing to the final seitan. But totally don’t go out of your way to use it if you don’t have it handy.

Blend until smooth.

Combine the blended mixture and the vital wheat gluten in a large bowl.

Stir with a spoon until you can’t …

… then mix with your hands until all of the vital wheat gluten is incorporated. Then knead for a few minutes until you can see the gluten start to form (this will look like “strings” forming within the dough ball) – you don’t need to work it hard like you would bread dough but just enough to give it some structure.

Rip off a big ole piece of aluminum foil (you can re-use this several times and I encourage you to do so) and place your seitan at one end of it. Form it into a thick log as shown.

Roll the foil around the seitan log and then fold the two sides up as you would wrap a package (or twist them like a Tootsie Roll – I prefer folding it as it’s easier to prevent tearing the foil when you open the package later, but know that the seitan will expand while cooking, so if you fold, make sure you do so tightly enough that it stays folded).

Steam the seitan for one hour. You can do this on the stovetop, but I love my slow/multi-cooker for this task (and many others). Obviously, I put the lid on after taking this picture.

Once it’s done steaming, cook the seitan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for another hour. I often use the toaster oven for this.

Let cool completely at room temperature, then refrigerate or freeze. It’s best used after a rest of at least a few hours in the fridge, so this is something I like to prepare at least a day in advance.

You can slice it thinly as lunch meat for sandwiches as Vegan Dad suggests, or use it in any recipe calling for seitan or meat. (Put it in a food processor for perfect minced “meat”.) Here I’ve cut thick slabs to bake up in some barbecue sauce.

Seitan slathered in barbecue sauce is just about my favorite thing. I put a few slabs in a baking dish …

… then top with homemade barbecue sauce. And here I have scattered some pickled grapes on top because I pickled grapes last night because apparently pickling grapes is something that I do these days. I pickled grapes TWO WAYS last night. (By the way, pickled grapes are awesome.)

Mark had already stolen about a quarter of this loaf before I made dinner tonight, so after popping my barbecue dish into the oven, I chopped the remainder of the seitan loaf into two pieces about 8-10 ounces each and stored them in the freezer, each chunk of which will provide a good amount for a later meal.

And here is what I had for dinner tonight: barbecued seitan, scalloped potatoes, and peas:

I promised you cat pictures. It’s been a while! So, the cats, and especially Torticia, are ALWAYS helping me cook. Torticia is the most loyal little buddy in the world; if I’m in the kitchen, she parks herself on the island and watches over me, EXACTLY as Tigger used to do. (I always said that would be what I missed most about Tigger so I find it extremely comforting.) If there’s a box on the island SO MUCH THE BETTER. She sat in the box of peaches I canned last week for several days. It rained hard here all day Saturday – the first weekend day it’s rained all summer, and frankly, I NEEDED that rain to keep me in the house and get some canning done. So I was canning several different things Saturday and making the seitan, and this is what was happening on the island the whole time:

You can see my seitan baking in the background of this one:

If those pictures seem a little skewed towards my beautiful Torticia, know that I have a picture of Gomez on my credit card and on the skin I created for my Macbook Air to obscure the fact that I’ve become a Mac user. Okay, I’m not fooling anyone, but HOW PRETTY DOES MEZZIE MAKE MY LAPTOP LOOK?? He’s so ridiculously handsome.

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Summer update

Hello neglected blog; hello neglected blog readers who think I’ve forgotten about you. I have not. I’m even planning to photograph some food tonight in hopes of making a post But alas, no food right now.

Summer on the US East Coast has been SO AWESOME. The weather has just been ridiculously nice, almost ALL THE TIME. Frankly, it’s a bit exhausting. I have a compulsion to not be in the house when the weather is nice, but excessive heat and humidity keep me indoors for some portion of most summers, giving me time for cooking, canning, crafts, etc. Not this summer. The humidity has ranged from non-existent to pleasantly tolerable, and we’ve had I think a whopping 5 days all summer that were over 90 degrees. It does not rain on weekends. It just doesn’t. It’s raining right now (which is why you are getting an update!), but I’ve been able to go for after-work hikes 4 or 5 days out of almost every workweek. When they forecast a small uptick in the humidity and chances of afternoon storms for most of this week, I was actually relieved: all this hiking has left me with no time for canning and no time to make the raccoon hammocks I promised Jenna weeks ago. (Although frankly, though we got a lovely thunderstorm yesterday afternoon and this afternoon, I’d hardly call the weather this week terrible.) Tuesday I canned a half-bushel of peaches (I made jam, chutney, and sliced peaches in light syrup) and yesterday I finally made and repaired those raccoon hammocks. And today I’m making a blog post. Whew!

I do plan to post a seitan recipe very soon (I’m making and will photograph it tonight), but I wanted to share a few wildlife pics in the meantime since that might be a photo-heavy post and I didn’t want to tack a thousand unrelated pictures onto it. So with no further ado:

An osprey flying:

Remember all my rapturous ravings about nesting bald eagles earlier this year? Well one evening a few weeks ago, knowing the babies had fledged but also knowing their their parents would continue to supplement feed them for a few more months, I trudged off to the wildlife refuge in hopes of finding a fledgling flying around looking for a handout. AND I DID!! I got lucky. :) This is what a juvenile bald eagle looks like. You’ll notice he looks pretty different than an adult. He (or she; it’s hard to guess their gender without weighing them) won’t get his characteristic white, or “bald”, head until he’s about 5 years old. The small bird in this photo is just some songbird that was flying nearby.

There are always tons of bunnies around the refuge near sundown.

This is a funny story; I was walking through the refuge one evening thinking to myself that I’ve never seen a raccoon there. And I’ve been there many, many times. Five minutes later? BAM:

This is just an HDR of a favorite bench overlooking a creek at the refuge:

And a few HDRs from lovely Huntley Meadows Park.

Okay, back to the refuge. One night a couple of weeks ago when the weather was just absolutely outstanding, I went to the refuge and was somewhat surprised to find not another soul there. It’s not that unusual for me to be the only person there, but the weather was so incredible I thought surely there’d be others there that night. Not that I’m complaining because I’ve noticed recently that SOME of the people that have recently discovered this place don’t obey the rules and jog or bike on the hiking trails, neither of which is permitted and both of which really annoy me because it scares animals away. (I think perhaps people have trouble distinguishing PARK from WILDLIFE REFUGE; it’s NOT a park.) ANYWAY, I happily had the entire refuge to myself and it was like walking through a magical fairyland because there were tons of butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies fluttering around. So I was traipsing around taking a million pictures of butterflies and practicing HDR shots, thinking the night was a total success because I got some really nice pictures. I was really happy. Finally I started to head back to my car as it was well past closing time, when I came upon a small meadow ringed by small trees that shielded me from view, and through two trees I saw movement. Fortunately I hadn’t packed up my camera or tripod, so I looked through my lens and witnessed the following:

Three foxes cavorting! It was sooooo cute! I felt so privileged to see it. It wasn’t until July of this year that I had even managed to get ANY pictures of a fox that wasn’t just a blurry streak running away from me, so to sneak up on this scene was really exciting. I went home positively elated.

Alright, that’s it for now. I’m off to make some seitan, photograph it, do some treadmillin’, and I don’t know, maybe try to get some stupid sleep since my weekend is totally booked and I won’t be making up sleep time then? I don’t know what kind of crazy life I lead where I have to get up even EARLIER on the weekends than I do weekdays, but apparently that’s what I’ve gotten myself into. I can’t believe how quickly this summer has flown by. I want this summer to go on for three times longer than it has! If I weren’t so anxious to go on our Africa trip in October, I’d want this summer to NEVER end! Although I could use a little bit of weather that’s more conducive to productivity…or at least sleep.

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