Raccoon Interlude, and my dinner this evening

I usually only make a food post if I have some semblence of a recipe or at least one online I can point you to, but tonight’s post was actually meant to be about the raccoons and I just happened to take a picture of my meal before eating it, so it’s kind of a side-liner here. I’ll get it out of the way first.

The picture is terrible. I lost my gray card and I can’t get the white balance in my dining room right without it. The reason I’m posting the picture even though it’s crap and I’m not even giving you a recipe is because the Cauliflower in Herbed Vinaigrette with Capers is yet another one of many, many reasons why I love Donna Klein’s The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen. It’s just what the name suggests: steamed cauliflower tossed with capers in an herbed vinaigrette, but like all the recipes in that book, it’s totally simple and totally delicious. That cookbook is the one I turn to most often when I have super-fresh and super-delicious produce I want to showcase. I’ve paired the cauliflower here with a farro alle verdure that I got out of a package, a fancy package, and it was really good. It’s rare I’ll buy packaged side dishes, but that one looked interesting and it turns out I’d buy it again. Also, a steamed artichoke. And red wine, bien sur.

Now on to the good stuff: pictures that don’t need any magic from me to turn out well because the subject is so adorable. Baby raccoons! We got another family in at the sanctuary and they are cuuuuute! A couple of people have asked me to share more about my work with the raccoons. I don’t want to overstate what I do; I’m just a volunteer and apprentice rehabber, but I am licensed by the state of Virginia. I help a local raccoon rehabber on the weekends; she does it every day, all day, and honestly I don’t know how she does it all. The bit of help I give her 1 or 2 days a week is a drop in the bucket. At first I was a bit reluctant to go into much detail here about it because it seems like talking about myself too much. But I’ve thought about it and if I care so much about the raccoons, I owe it to them to educate people as much as I can about them. So I’ll try to talk a little bit more about them when I post pictures. Not so much that this becomes a raccoon blog, but enough to explain why I love them!

April and May is the primary baby season, so mostly what you’ll be seeing from me this time of year is pictures of pretty tiny babies. Young babies are bottle-fed, starting at 4 times a day, then down to 3, then 2, etc. Once they are down to two feedings a day, if you give them the right kind of bottle, most of them will actually bottle-feed themselves – I’ll have to get a picture of that later when we have some the right age. The babies we got in the week before last are a few weeks old. They were found in a tree on a construction site and were apparently abandoned by their mother, and one was injured in the tree. At this age, they stay in a cage about the size of one you’d have for a hamster or gerbil. They sleep for a large majority of the day, but they know when it’s feedin’ time! Let me out, I’m hungry!!!

I SAID, I’m hungry!

When the bottles of special raccoon formula have been made up and warmed in the microwave, we’ll move one family (or group of individuals we’ve made into a family) at a time from the cage (so it can be cleaned and the bedding replaced) to an empty aquarium where they wait their turn on the bottle. They typically go a bit crazy at this point, scrambling all around, hoping to be picked first for food.

They are selected one-by-one – or if you’re feeling up to the challenge, two or even three at a time! – for the bottle and are fed sitting in our laps. They have to be stimulated (i.e. made pee and poop) when they are finished feeding, and then they generally fall promptly asleep. These guys could barely keep their little eyes open following their breakfast. One was also extremely camera shy!

Oh my GOSH this family is cute!

This has been a somewhat surprisingly slow-starting season for us. A big reason for that is we’ve been passing the buck on some of our work! Because our sanctuary is located in a large wooded area, we’re able to release our animals right onto the property when they are old enough to survive on their own. Many of the animals come back year after year to visit and bear young in the many nest boxes we provide them. One such raccoon is Emmie, who returns every year to give birth on one of the porches. Soon after Emmie gave birth this spring, we received a family of two and one individual, very young babies. Because the three babies we received were just about the same age as Emmie’s babies, and because we know Emmie to be a great mother, the rehabber offered all three of the babies to her – just put them in her hand and held her hand out to Emmie – and she accepted them, and adopted them as her own! She just grabbed each of them in her mouth, gave it a few quick licks to clean it of any lingering human cooties, and shoved it under herself with her own babies, where they each latched on and began nursing. I think that is just the coolest thing! It’s so much better for a raccoon to be raised by a raccoon, and I think it’s awesome that these three abandoned babies were immediately adopted by another mother…of their own species! This is Emmie with all her babies, biological and adopted:

The moral of THAT story is it is a total myth that animals – including birds – will reject a baby that’s been touched by a human. In general, you should avoid touching a baby animal or bird, even if looks abandoned, because almost always the mother is simply out gathering food and will return for it soon. However, if you do see a baby animal or bird that is alone and in imminent danger – from other animals or whatever – its mother will NOT reject it if you touch it and move it to safety. I kinda think that myth was made up by someone that wanted to keep humans from unnecessarily touching baby animals, and I agree with that goal, but it IS a myth. (It’s actually mentioned in Julien Parme, the French version of which I am just finishing up: Julien touches a baby duck and a girl later tells him that its mother will reject it and Julien gets very upset, and even though I was annoyed with Julien for wanting to be Holden Caulfield really badly, I felt like telling him, “SHE’S WRONG@!” – although you shouldn’t have touched him!)

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Lima Bean Risotto

One of my favorite commenters, Josiane, managed to correctly identify and inquire about the lima bean risotto I made last week to accompany the “ricotta” butternut squash I mentioned in my last post. So I figured I’d make it again and post a recipe for her.

I thought I was lightly adapting the recipe for Risotto with Vegetables du Jour in Lorna Sass’s Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure, but when I looked it up, I was pretty much making it exactly as specified, other than adding some wine to the broth. In a side note she even suggests lima beans, which I thought was my own idea, as one of the vegetables “du jour”. I wish I had actually adapted it so I wasn’t posting an exact recipe, but honestly, it’s a very basic recipe and there’s not much to change. Another thing: I used a pressure cooker, as you can probably tell from the name of the cookbook I got the recipe from. If you haven’t made risotto in a pressure cooker, you have no idea how EASY it is. I highly recommend investing in a pressure cooker – or putting one on your wish list. And as soon as you have the pressure cooker, get Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure because it’s excellent. Because I’m always looking up pressure-cook times for various beans and grains, it’s probably my most-referred-to cookbook.

You can also make this the hard way, by standing over the stove, stirring constantly and slowly adding the the broth as it is absorbed. It’s up to you!

Lima Bean Risotto
very lightly adapted from Lorna Sass’s Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure

1 large shallot, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
large pinch saffron (Trader Joe’s sells this for a reasonable price, although that’s not very helpful for Josiane, who is in Canada!)
salt to taste (the recipe calls for 1 tsp; I find the perfect amount depends on the broth you choose)
3 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup cooked lima beans (I had some leftover from another dish in the freezer)
2 Tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
something green: thinly sliced scallions, chopped parsley or other herb, etc.

Mince the shallot.

Prep and measure the rest of the ingredients.

My broth is homemade and fairly concentrated, so I watered it down a bit so not to overwhelm the risotto. Here it is combined with the wine.

Heat some olive oil over medium-high heat in a pressure cooker (or medium-large pot if you are doing things the hard way). Add the shallots and cook until soft, then add the rice, salt, and saffron and stir to coat with the oil.

Add the broth and wine, put the lid on, take the heat up to high, and bring up to pressure. Then reduce the heat to low or medium-low (the lowest at which you can keep it at pressure) and cook for 5 minutes. Release pressure using a “quick-release” method.
(If you aren’t using a pressure cooker, get a book to read and a chair to sit on, and add the broth 1/2 cup at a time, waiting until it is absorbed to add the next dose. This will take about 30-40 minutes, if I remember correctly, but it’s been a very long time.)

There are three possibilities when you remove the lid of the pressure cooker: 1) the risotto will be a little dry, 2) the risotto will be a little runny, or 3) the risotto will be done perfectly. In the case of #1, add a little broth, as well as the lima beans and green stuff and return to medium heat just until the lima beans are heated through, stirring. In the case of #2, return to medium to medium-high heat to boil off the extra liquid, stirring and adding the lima beans and green stuff 2 or 3 minutes before it’s ready. If #3, just add the lima beans and green stuff and heat a couple of minutes until the lima beans are warm. Mine was a little liquidy.

I’ve added the limas in this picture.

After removing from the heat, add the lemon juice, adjusting the amount to taste. Adjust the salt if necessary.

And serve. This was accompanied by vegan “fish” in a garlic-tarragon sauce.

Josiane, I hope that helps – I’m sure you’ll add your own touches; let me know how it goes! As for the rest of you, any other requests?!

And now, Torticia.

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Blender Lasagna

Want to hear something I personally find completely crazy? Ten years ago today Mark and I went on our first date. It was an epic date, too: he picked me up at noon and I didn’t get home until well after midnight. We’ve been together nearly every day since. Anyway, like most of the country, Northern Virginia is laboring through 100-degree-plus days, with heat indexes as high as 115. Most people probably don’t think “lasagna!” when it’s 110 degrees out, but I do think “lasagna!” when it’s time to make a special meal for Mark. I’ve posted a few lasagna recipes before, but since I hardly ever make things the same way twice, here’s another one. I called it Blender Lasagna because I realized while I was assembling it that I had used the blender for every layer.

Blender Lasagna

no-boil lasagna noodles (I can only recommend Trader Joe’s brand), or regular lasagna noodles, cooked
1 1/2 cup vegan protein, chopped or shredded (like Italian sausage, etc. I used chick’n breasts because I had them to use up)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
vegan mozzarella, shredded

Tomato Sauce
1 14.5 oz can whole tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can tomato sauce
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
dried oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Garlic Stem Pesto
enough garlic stems (scapes), chopped, to make a cup (I’ve been looking all over for garlic scapes, and finally discovered the Asian grocery store has had garlic stems all along)
6 Tbsp olive oil
6 Tbsp water
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt

Cheezy Sauce
1 package silken tofu
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
dried basil, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt, to taste
fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, then fire up that blender or food processor! Place the tomatoes and tomato sauce in the blender and puree. Heat a little olive oil in a sauce pot, then add the rest of the sauce ingredients and cook for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes, stir, and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Rinse out the blender. Put all of the pesto ingredients in it and process until smooth, adding additional water if necessary. Set pesto aside. This makes way more pesto than you probably need for the lasagna. You can halve the recipe or freeze the extra. Or save it for another recipe later in the week.

Rinse out the blender. Put all of the cheezy sauce ingredients in it and process until smooth, adding the lemon juice last. I like mine fairly tangy so I didn’t give an amount for the lemon juice because some people may not like that much. I never measure stuff like this; just taste it and adjust the seasonings until you like it. Set cheezy sauce aside.

Chop onions and zucchini. If you’re using a food processor you could even use that to roughly chop the vegetables. Saute the onion and zucchini in a little olive oil with salt and pepper.

Place a thin layer of tomato sauce in an 8×8 pan and put down a layer of noodles. Smear with pesto. Top with the protein and add some tomato sauce. Put down another layer of noodles, add some tomato sauce, then top with the onion and zucchini mixture. Put down another layer of noodles and cover with the cheezy sauce. Put down the final layer of noodles and cover with the remaining tomato sauce. Cover pan with aluminum foil and place on a cookie sheet. Put in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, add the mozzarella, and return to the oven. Bake for 15 more minutes then remove from oven and let sit for another 15 minutes.

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