Oh hello! Thanksgiving, pressure canning, etc.

Hi! It’s me, Renae! I am still alive, still in California, still vegan, still cooking, still obsessed with wildlife. The only thing that’s really new is the pervasive feeling of being traumatized that I’ve felt since the election. I keep reading about these “fake news articles” that are apparently running rampant on the internet. Apparently it’s mostly a Facebook thing and I use Facebook so infrequently that I actually have no idea how to even SEE news articles in Facebook, but I keep hoping that maybe all news articles about Trump winning the election are fake news. Please tell me that is the case: please, please, please. But enough about that because I just can’t deal with it.

I’ve decided to write a post here today mostly because it’s raining today here in the Bay Area and I’m therefore not out hiking as I usually would be, plus I took a few pictures of my Thanksgiving table. We hosted Thanksgiving dinner here for our friends Brad and April, who moved to the area about the same time we did last year. I made:

seitan “turkey”
stuffing
mashed potatoes
gravy
green bean casserole
macaroni & “cheese”
cranberry relish
sauerkraut
bread

Here are some pics:

And Brad brought a really delicious sweet potato pie and brownies for dessert.

The “turkey”, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green bean casserole I pretty much made up as I went along. The cranberry relish was from Brooklyn Supper and was really good. The bread was the poolish-version ciabatta from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. The sauce for the mac & cheese was from Avocados and Ales. The “turkey” was pretty similar to the recipe for breasts of unchicken from The Homemade Vegan Pantry (which I love), but I pressure cooked it as a large loaf on Wednesday, then used Miyoko’s recipe for the yuba “skin” and baked it again Thursday afternoon.

The mashed potatoes were really random (well, as random as mashed potatoes can be anyway); Brad asked me if they had red pepper flakes in them, while saying they were really good. One of the random ingredients was a garlic-based spice mix that I bought from Garlic World while stopping in Gilroy one afternoon trying to avoid heavy Highway 1 traffic on the way home from Monterey, and which apparently contained red pepper flakes. And here’s a rough recipe for the green bean casserole for others like me who hate mushrooms:

Green Bean Casserole
2 lbs green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-3″ lengths
1 small onion, diced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
1 cup vegan chicken or veggie broth
3 Tbsp Ultra Gel
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 avocado
3 oz canned fried onions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the green beans. Cook until al dente, then drain and shock in cold water to stop cooking. Saute the onion and celery in some vegan butter or margarine until onions are translucent; set aside. Whisk together the broth, Ultra gel, onion powder, and garlic powder until the broth thickens. Mash up the avocado and add to the broth mixture and mix well. Stir in the green beans, onion/celery mixture, and half of the fried onions. Place in an oven-safe dish, cover, and bake at 375 for half an hour. Uncover and top with remaining fried onions, then continue to bake for 15-20 more minutes. I baked mine, covered, for half an hour, then cooled and put it in the fridge overnight so it only needed 15-20 minutes on Thanksgiving day.

Oh, and the stuffing was really easy:

Stuffing

1/2 loaf sliced whole wheat bread (about 10 slices)
1 large white onion, diced
4-5 stalks celery, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp vegan butter (I used the vegan butter from The Homemade Vegan Pantry) or margarine
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves
2 Tbsp fresh thyme
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 cup vegan “chicken” broth + 1 tsp poultry seasoning whisked in

Chop the bread slices into cubes and spread out on a sheet pan. Bake in a 240-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 45 minutes or until dried out, stirring occasionally. Melt the butter or margarine over medium heat, then saute the onion, celery, and garlic until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add the sage, thyme, and rosemary and cook another minute or so. Stir in the bread cubes, then add as much of the broth as necessary to soak the bread. Place in an oven-safe dish and bake, covered, at 375 degrees for half an hour. Uncover and bake another 20-30 minutes or until slightly crispy on top. Again, I baked mine, covered, for half an hour Wednesday night, then uncovered for half an hour Thursday afternoon.

I was so organized with my cooking and planning that I was able to go for a short hike Wednesday afternoon before it got dark, and on Thursday morning had a couple hours to just read and be by myself without running around like crazy. 🙂 Really all I needed to do Thursday was bake the bread (I had made the poolish the night before), set out all the appetizers, and re-heat everything. I am good at holidays!

I feel like every time I get around to making a new post I have a new culinary gadget to rave about. Last time it was my Instant Pot. This time it’s my pressure canner! A couple months ago I had 60 pounds of tomatoes I needed to can in one weekend, plus 10 pounds of beets, half of which I was planning to pickle. I’ve done 60 pounds of tomatoes in one weekend in a water bath canner before, but for some reason it was feeling really overwhelming that day and I made the somewhat impulsive decision to buy a pressure canner. It was enough of an impulse decision that I didn’t have time to Amazon Prime it, so I had to find one locally. The only Ace Hardware that had it listed in stock was in Oakland, so I drove out there and went looking for it in that store, but was unable to find it. I asked for help and was told they’d have to special order it for me. I was pretty annoyed I had driven out there for no reason AND I REALLY wanted the canner at this point so I sat in my car and tried to think who else might carry it. I thought of Bed, Bath, and Beyond and went to their website on my phone and was delighted to find that there was a BB&B TWO BLOCKS from where I was that had the same canner in stock! So I went over there and looked around for it. I didn’t see it there either and was feeling a little frantic, until I looked way UP and saw it all the way up by the ceiling. So I had to find someone to get a ladder and get it down for me, but I finally got what I wanted!

I don’t know that pressure canning tomatoes really saves time in itself: the processing time is much shorter than a water bath, but once you add in the time spent venting steam before you start, then getting up to pressure, and then coming back down from pressure (which you must do naturally), really you spend the same amount of time working overall. BUT I can fit a whopping 22 pints into my canner! So basically I can do the equivalent 3 loads at one time, which IS a huge timesaver. I’d have bought the pressure canner for that reason only. But what I’m really loving about it is all the stuff I can now can that I never could before: basically, non-pickled vegetables, beans, and soups. The same weekend I had 60 pounds of tomatoes, I also had 10 pounds of beets, which is a surprising amount of beets. I pickled 6 or 7 pounds (I love pickled beets!) and used a water bath to can them, but then I pressure canned the rest. (By the way, I used my Instant Pot to cook the beets before doing either – the beets are what’s in the Instant Pot in the picture above!) So far I’ve used some of the non-pickled beets to make an impromptu borscht.

As I mentioned on Twitter the day I canned the tomatoes and beets, the “problem” with pressure canning is there is all this time waiting for the canner to come up to pressure that ends up being devoted to drinking and taking pictures of cats, who think they are canning helpers.

So anyway, now I’m on a big pressure canning kick with the goal of canning a bunch of things I can later turn into dinner on very short order – such as during the summer when they days are so long I often don’t come home from hiking until 10 p.m. and I’m starving. I’ve been soaking dried beans and pressure canning them, which I love because it’s so much cheaper than buying canned beans AND contains no sodium or other additives. For some reason I find it immensely satisfying. Last weekend I bought 40 more pounds of tomatoes (which were somehow still in season where I live) in order to make tomato soup. I used this recipe from Common Sense Home, which said I’d get 4 pints out of 8 pounds of tomatoes, so I made 5x the recipe, expecting to yield 20 pints. I somehow ended up with 35 pints! I basically have a TON of tomato soup!

But it tastes great and is really versatile: in addition to serving as regular old tomato soup (usually with grilled “cheese”, of course), it makes a good base for a ton of other soups, and regular readers of this blog may remember how much I love soup.

I used a Victorio strainer to strain the tomato soup and ended up with a large amount of a really dry tomato peel/tomato seeds/celery/onion/parsley pulp/waste, so I spread it out on my dehydrator’s shelves (I used 8 of the 9 shelves) and dehydrated the “waste” overnight. When it was totally dry, I ground it up in batches in a coffee/spice grinder, and I ended up with a whole quart of what I called “tomato soup powder”, which will be excellent to add to soups, etc. (I had previously made a pure tomato powder doing the same thing with the peels and cores from tomatoes I had canned.)

Since I knew it was going to be rainy all day today, I had decided to dedicate today to making Vegan Dad’s pressure canner chili, although I ended up with 9 1/2 quarts instead of the perfect canner load of 7 quarts that Vegan Dad promised (probably because I was overly generous when measuring pretty much everything). (Because you can do two layers of pint jars in my canner, but only one layer of quarts, the maximum number of pint jars I can can at one time is 22, but only 7 quart jars.) No problem: while canning the first 7 quarts, I soaked some of the tons of dried beans I have waiting to can, and I’ll be doing a second canner load of the remaining chili, plus a bunch of jars of beans.

That’s most of the food news here, I suppose. In non-food news, the wildlife rehab gigs I have going on here are going really, really great. One of the two wildlife hospitals I volunteer at has actually hired me as a paid staff member! It’s just an occasional substitute animal caretaker position, so I’m not raking in big bucks or anything, but I was extremely flattered to be asked to do it and I’m extremely excited about the educational opportunities it affords. And I was just made a shift leader at the other hospital, which doesn’t involve a paycheck but will hopefully give me the opportunity to work even more closely with the technicians there and learn even more. I’m also working with many of the education animals at the smaller hospital, particularly with the raptors. This is one of my favorite pictures from 2016, not because I look good (I wish I knew how to use Photoshop and could Photoshop my hair into not looking stupid), but because my buddy Elvis, the peregrine, is in it. Mark, who took the photo at our fundraiser event, says you can tell from the picture how much Elvis loves me. I don’t know if “love” is the right word to describe Elvis’s feelings for me, but I hand-feed Elvis on a regular basis and we do have a special bond, one that I had to build with him. And let me tell you, it is REALLY cool to bond with a raptor, especially a more “difficult” species like most of the falcons. AND LOOK HOW HANDSOME ELVIS IS!!

I think I’m all typed out! If you want to know more regularly than once very six months if I’m alive and well, you can visit my photo blog, which I update daily.

Comments (2)

Serengeti

If I had to pick a favorite place in Tanzania, I’d say I didn’t want to, because the entire trip was so, so, so great. But if I absolutely, positively HAD to pick a favorite place, I’m going to have to say it was the Serengeti. The Serengeti was a bit of a surprise for me because its elevation is higher than I realized and it’s therefore not as oppressively hot as I thought it was going to be, and it was much greener than I thought it would be at the end of the dry season. Basically the Serengeti was even more awesome than I thought it was going to be. So was the place we stayed, but more on that in a moment. The Serengeti is also full of (big) cats so I have a ton of cat pictures! Okay, the Serengeti is pretty much the greatest place on this planet and I’d be perfectly happy to go spend the rest of my life there.

To get from the crater to the Serengeti, we had to hop on a tiny (you had to crawl to your seat) little plane and fly for about 45 minutes. The pilot purposely flew over the Great Migration (of zebras and wildebeests) before we landed and tipped the plane so we could see it:

We were met by our guide, Jairo, at the airport and he immediately whisked us off on a safari. But before I get to safari pictures, let me talk about where we stayed. Our itinerary said we’d be staying in a mobile tented camp, one that moves every couple of months to follow the migration. I’m sure that would have been cool and Mark was looking forward to “roughing it” in an even more rustic tent than the one we stayed in in Tarangire, but for some reason our itinerary was wrong and we were deposited at Lamai Serengeti, which is the GREATEST PLACE EVER. This was by far the best place I have stayed while traveling. The only bad thing I can think to say about it is that our 10th wedding anniversary (which we celebrated there) may have ALMOST been even more crazy-awesome than our actual wedding, and our wedding – which was held in a Scottish castle – was pretty damn amazing.

I guess the only other “bad” thing was the walk to our room was kind of long and steep:

But that’s only “bad” until you finally get to the room …

… and you realize you have complete and utter solitude. And then you walk in and see this:

This is about 2/3s of the bathroom. Yes the entire wall is a window and no, privacy was not a concern. No one can really access the area on that side of the building.

And then you walk out on the balcony and peer in:

And in the morning, the rising sun awakes you, filling your entire room from the wall of window, and you crawl out from between the mosquito netting and you retrieve the hot tea or coffee that’s been delivered to your door before you awoke, and you walk out on the balcony and watch the sun continue to rise. And you never want to leave, ever.

So yeah, I don’t know how or why we ended up there (Lamai is part of the same company as the nomad place I thought we were staying in, so it’s not THAT mysterious) but it was so very fortuitous. And the FOOD! Was so good! But I’m going to do a whole post on the whole food/vegan thing, so I’ll rhapsodize there soon.

At Lamai, we would wake up just in time to watch the sun rise, then immediately hustle off to safari. Unlike the other places we stayed where we had breakfast at the lodge before heading out, our guide packed a breakfast for us and we ate it out on the plains after driving for a while – Jairo would set up a table and put out a whole spread. It was really nice. Then we’d drive around some more then head back to Lamai for lunch. After lunch and maybe a quick swim in the pool, we’d do an afternoon drive until the sun set. Then it was time for drinks and dinner. Basically I have just described what I consider to be an absolutely perfect day, and we had three of them. 🙂

This is a picture of Lamai taken just after sunset as we were on our way back for dinner one night. I think the room that is closest in the foreground is Smucky and Olivia’s and ours is off-camera to the right. To the left in the mid-ground is the common area where meals were served.

To me the Serengeti looked like another planet. Another, really awesome planet. There were a lot of boulders in the areas we spent the most time (although the Serengeti is very vast and looks quite different in other areas), it’s just unlike any landscape we have at home:

Animals we saw included giraffes:

Klipspringers:

Warthogs:

Rock agama:

Cape buffalo:

Zebras:

Hyena:

Baboons:

AFRICAN DEATH STICK:

LIONS LIONS LIONS!! I have so many incredible lion pictures from the Serengeti I’m finding it really hard to restrain myself and not post all of them!!

Olivia needs to Photoshop the twigs out of this one for me (Photoshop is TOO HARD!) because they are very distracting but he’s SO CUTE I can’t delete the picture!

Oh my gosh I have so many! I can’t stop posting them! Just one more!

But wait, lions aren’t the only cat! Oh, no! Could there possibly be a better way to start your day than to engage in a staring contest with a LEOPARD???

She’s chasing an impala in this photo, hoping for breakfast:

Here is a different leopard in a tree!

I love you, leopard.

But what OTHER kinds of cats live in the Serengeti? CHEETAHS!!

Baby cheetah:

This was a funny incident from our final safari. We found this cheetah lounging about looking beautiful:

Then her cub saw some gazelles off in the distance and goaded her into chasing after them:

So she obligingly headed off in their direction, but then she hit a nice patch of dirt and just flopped down mid-stride and rolled around like a total goofball! IT WAS THE CUTEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN, EVER!

As you can tell, the cats were once again my absolute favorite and we saw a ton of them and I was pretty much the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, but what a lot of people go to the Serengeti hoping to see is the Great Migration. We were fortunate to witness a “crossing” – herds of wildebeests and zebras crossing the Mara River. Not everyone gets to see such an event – the manager at Lamai told me she’s lived there for 5 years and has still not managed to see one – so when Jairo spotted some wildebeests looking like they might take the plunge, from a good mile away at least (safari guides have AMAZING eyesight), he ROCKETED over to the river so we wouldn’t miss it.

What a spectacle! Why is it kind of a rare opportunity? Because even if you do manage to time your drive so that you encounter a herd at the right time, there’s no guarantee they’ll be brave enough to follow through. We later saw a “near-crossing” when a bunch of zebras tried to push each other into the water, but no one was brave enough to go first and they eventually retreated. It’s very dangerous for them to cross and many of them don’t make it. They either drown or are devoured by:

And yes, we saw a few crocs staring down the brave animals we saw crossing. I was very worried for them but all the animals I saw crossed successfully.

I’d better wrap it up here as that has been a LOT of pictures. Okay, ONE MORE, here is the last wildlife photo I had the opportunity to take on safari. It was just about time for that lazy guy to wake up and go hunting!

Next: exotic, spicy ZANZIBAR!

Comments (3)

Ngorongoro Crater

After our very first day of safari, in Tarangire National Park, I thought to myself that if that had been the ONLY day I had been able to spend in Africa, it would have been worth all the expense, all the planning, all the flying, all the everything. It was THAT incredible. And then the second day was even better. And THEN we went to Ngorongoro Crater.

Ngorongoro Crater was created 2 to 3 million years ago when a volcano collapsed, forming the largest intact caldera on the planet. “Ngorongoro” is pronounced just as it’s spelled and according to our guide was named after the sound the bells around the necks of the Maasai’s cattle made as they walked down the crater walls. Driving from Tarangire, we stopped at a village for a cultural visit (where Mark decided he was moving to Africa to teach children) and some banana beer and banana wine, and then at an art shop, and finally at the crater rim.

I had never taken a panorama photo before but you really kind of have to; the crater is simply immense. This is 3 or 4 photos stitched together and if you click on it, you can see the bigger, better version.

One of the highest concentrations of wildlife in the entire world lives in this crater.

After spending a lot of time taking in the impressive view from the crater rim, we made our way to the lodge. There were random marabou storks roaming around the courtyard at all times at the lodge. Those things are HUGE. And kind of weird! “Yeah, I’m just walking to dinner and there’s a marabou stork 10 feet away; that’s totally normal.”

The next morning we descended to the crater floor. The drive down was beautiful – fog completely envelopes the crater.

Lots of ungulates in the crater. This is a Thompson’s gazelle, which you can identify by the black stripe on his side.

These are grand gazelles:

We saw two wildebeests fighting – very close to our car.

It’s probably an easy life for vultures in the crater!

I told you I loved it when ostriches cross roads; they seem to do it often:

Cape buffalo, with a bird flying by:

Hyena:

Hippos lounging:

Hippos sleeping in water with bird friends:

Another crazy African bird, the bustard:

But what was my favorite animal of the crater, you ask??? Need you really ask?

The lion population of the crater is actually pretty inbred because their numbers are dwindling, so I’m kind of concerned for their future. We saw some lionesses eating a gazelle or some other kill, then they collected their cubs, who were situated away from the kill, and led them to a stream.

They had to cross the road we were parked on to get to the stream; this they did RIGHT in front of us.

The cubs didn’t want to get their paws wet….sooooooo adorable!

After drinking for a bit, they crossed the road again to get back to their original spot. If I had thought it wise, I could have reached out of the car and scooped this cub up AND BELIEVE ME I THOUGHT ABOUT DOING IT.

(PS LOOK AT THOSE SPOTS!)

But I would have had to contend with a very angry mother.

And finally, the only thing we DIDN’T get a good opportunity to see on safari was a rhino. Sadly this is the only rhino we saw and he was VERY far away, so far away he’s little more than a rhino-shaped blob in this photo, and this was taken with a 600mm lens on a crop sensor camera. In a way, I guess it’s kind of poignant because it’s very likely that these animals will be extinct in our lifetime. One day soon all we may have of rhinos will be hazy memories. I wish I could express to you how much I hate poachers. It physically hurts me to have so much hatred inside me, but poaching is nothing short of pure evil.

I don’t want to leave you on a depressing note; it would be inappropriate because except for the times when I was contemplating my intense hatred of poachers, I loved EVERY SINGLE SECOND of this entire trip. So let’s end with more lion cubs, which are the cutest things on the planet and therefore the exact opposite of poachers.

Comments (2)

« Previous entries