Archive forApril, 2012

Ospreys, etc.

WARNING! Portions of this post may be NSFW if you work for a particularly prudish osprey.

Yesterday I went to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In some ways it seems like the national park time forgot. It’s unmanned – the $2 entrance fee is based on the honor system – and the entrance road and parking lot don’t appear to have been paved in a couple of decades. There’s a vehicular trail that Mark and I have driven around before, which left us bored and confused because we didn’t see any of the abundant wildlife we were promised. I suspect, possibly because we were in a Jeep, we were expecting a safari. We didn’t stay that time, but I later had a hunch I’d have much better luck on the pedestrian trails, because wildlife would probably like a park no one knows about. I therefore returned on my own yesterday. Without my faithful tripod boy, I decided to forgo the tripod and try my luck hand-holding the rather-heavy telephoto lens.

The moment I set foot on the trail, a bunny crossed my path. I took this as a good omen, and it turned out to be so.

If bald eagles are Mason Neck’s claim to fame, osprey are apparently the neighboring Occoquan Bay’s. Within minutes of my lucky rabbit I was rewarded with:

Things quickly got a little…racy.

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for raptors. I think they are fascinating. When I came home and saw how well some of the pictures of the ospreys turned out, I was excited and sent a link to the whole set to Smark, my mother, father, and Fortinbras. Every one of them except my father said the osprey photos were nice but they loved the tree swallow. (My father said they were all great.) Don’t get me wrong, the tree swallow is adorable, but he was by far the easiest picture I took all day! He stood still staring at me for five minutes as I was a foot away – all I had to do was get far enough away to focus on him with my completely unnecessarily huge lens.

I’m enraptured by raptors, but I like little birds too. For example this Eastern bluebird.

Here she is again. I like this photo but I can sort of envision it as a Hallmark “get well soon” card or something.

I do love the gentle nature and sweet innocence of songbirds, but look at the power of this thing!

How can you not be in awe of a creature that is clearly looking at you thinking, “I wish you were a fish so I could tear your flesh to shreds and eat you alive.”?!

In other news, we are leaving for our trip to Amsterdam, Paris, and Nice in a few short days and I am busy preparing. I probably won’t have time to post again this week, although I will try to make a post from abroad. Here’s a quick raccoon update to tide you over:

We got five more tiny babies in. We always give them a stuffed animal in their cage to snuggle with, a kind of surrogate mom. Here they are after their first feeding of the day, snuggling under the purple bunny.

Aaand, we pawned another baby off on Emmie! What a generous mother she is! Here is (most of) her brood:

Smark was catching up on I Eat Food yesterday and said, “it’s turning into a raccoon blog.” Oops. Hey, that’s my thing, right? There are about a gazillion vegan food blogs, but how many of them have baby raccoons, I ask you? I have food posts planned, though. There was even a recipe in Life: a User’s Manual (which I finally finished), and you know how I love making recipes I find in fiction. It’s French of course, so it requires some heavy veganizing. When I return, the farmers market will be open (can….not….wait) and I’ll be so inspired….either by the fantastic food I enjoyed in France, or the starvation I endured there!

And now, I must get back to frantic preparations…beginning with some non-frantic sleep.

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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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Spicy Mint Noodles

Shopping for dinner ingredients last night, I was attracted to the wide selection of fresh herbs at Whole Foods and grabbed on impulse some mint leaves, cilantro, and Thai basil. Inspired by Fortinbras’ favorite dish at Lotus Vegan, I came up with these Spicy Mint Noodles.

Spicy Mint Noodles

Once again, Gomez is in this picture.

12 oz wide rice noodles
8 oz firm tofu, chopped
8 oz spinach
2 cups bean sprouts
several sprigs each: mint, cilantro, and Thai basil, torn or roughly chopped
1 cup veggie broth or vegan “chicken” broth
sriracha or garlic-chili sauce, to taste (I used several tablespoons of homemade sriracha)
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp tamarind paste
1 Tbsp grated galangal or ginger
2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp cold water

Soak the rice noodles in cold water, then bring to a boil, then turn the heat off. When the noodles are almost completely soft, drain and set aside.

Chop the tofu. Whisk together the broth, sriracha or garlic-chili sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, tamarind, and galangal or ginger. Heat some oil in a wok over medium-high heat, then add the tofu and stir fry until golden. Add the spinach and let it cook down a bit, then add the rice noodles and stir fry (gently) for a minute or two. Pour in the liquid mixture and stir. When it boils, stir the cornstarch mixture. Toss in the bean sprouts and all the herbs and let it cook for a minute or so until the sauce thickens up.

I know I promised raccoons, but I think I’m going to give them their very own post, either tomorrow night or Friday – I promise!

In the meantime, here’s my buddy the cardinal. We have several cardinals but as I rarely see more than one male at a time, I tend to think of them all as one male and one female, whereas there are probably several couples. Cardinals mate for life, which I find sweet. My cardinals are always happy to have their picture taken…if I’m inside. They hide in high trees if I’m outside with the camera and swoop down to eat the second I go inside. I made Mark take the screen out of the window closest to their feeder so I could take better pictures. Conveniently for the cats, this window is right in front of one of their cat trees so they have a better view of Bird TV all day long.

One of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning is go into the sunroom and look for signs of who was in the yard the night before (we have raccoons, skunks, opossums, and foxes) and to see who is in the yard at the moment. This morning I sleepily rubbed my eyes and saw:

Usually the blue jay senses me moving to get my camera and flits away. I guess he was more hungry than cautious this morning because he stuck around for quite a while and let me admire him.

The next pictures are for my mom. As I was watching the blue jay, out of the corner of my eye I sensed movement across the yard, then I saw a tiny animal which I at first thought was a baby squirrel. It suddenly raced towards the house and noticing it was more brown than gray, I realized it was the chipmunk. I was surprised to look down and suddenly see him at the base of the bird feeder; I’ve never seen him linger around there. Did you know that chipmunks can apparently make a standing jump of heights 12 times their size? I didn’t until this morning when I watched this chipmunk jump from the ground to the top of a 2-foot high planter. He missed the first time and slid down the side, poor guy…but it was hilarious. He made it the second time, then leaped over to the bird seed.

He’s becoming a more regular visitor. He was on the back patio the other morning when it was raining:

I have no idea why my yard is wildlife central – we live in the suburbs – but I love it!

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Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge and other wildlife pictures

Well, the general consensus seems to be people are not annoyed by my copious amounts of wildlife pictures even though this is a food blog and as a vegan, wildlife is certainly NOT food. I’ve already managed to amass more pictures than you may have bargained for, so here we go!

Not first chronologically but perhaps first in terms of “most exciting”, we saw an eagle!!! Yesterday we went to Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge, where they happened to be having an Eagle Festival, which was cool because we got in free (they usually charge admission but apparently not on festival days), although I was a bit concerned that the ruckus would keep eagles away rather than attracting them even if the festivities were in their honor. It turns out, however, that Mark and I never even managed to find the festival, although we weren’t looking for it and we did actually hear it while eating our lunch in the picnic area. Anyway, Mason Neck is home to some bald eagles, but I’ve never managed to see one in the wild. Yesterday we were near the beaver dam, where I was shooting (with my camera, of course!) a blue heron (apparently blue herons love me because I always encounter them) when Mark saw a bald eagle soar across the sky and land on the top of a far tree. Fortunately, I was trying out my brand new (to me) 400mm telephoto lens, which was conveniently already mounted on the tripod and I was able to take this picture:

He was so far away I had to crop the photo quite a bit despite the awesomeness that is my new lens, but this was a wonderful event for me. I think Mark, though he hasn’t uttered a word about the money I’ve spent on photography equipment lately, may have considered the new lens an unnecessary extravagance…until I was able to take that picture of the eagle, who looked a bit like a small dark blob without looking through the lens.

That was definitely one of the highlights of a really great day, but let’s back up and look at some other things we saw at Mason Neck. There’s the heron I already mentioned, who is eating a fish in this picture:

Cover your eyes and scroll down a bit if you don’t like snakes, because here is a black moccasin:

Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge is on the Occoquan Bay. A long, winding bridge takes you from one of the trails to the beach, over some wetlands. Like all of the B&W shots in this post, this one is infrared:

The wetlands:

The same picture as above, in “false color”, which is a technique you can use when you have an IR filter that lets in some visible light. I don’t ordinarily like false color, but I thought this particular shot looked okay. I actually found out by accident my IR camera will record false color images without me having to do any processing at all.

Here is the beach:

After a picnic lunch at Mason Neck, we went to the adorable little town of historic Occoquan. Every time we pass the town on 123 heading to 95 South, we comment on how cute that town is and how we want to see it. So yesterday we did. It was just as cute as we’d thought it was. You pass through a little park to get to the boat dock.

On the dock, we watched the frenzied mating dance of a little bird:

Unfortunately, the female wasn’t too impressed.

We also watched a vulture go dumpster diving.

Our thoroughly delightful day was drawing to a close when we stopped by a cute little cafe for both a wine AND a beer tasting. The beers were really good and we stayed for a pint. In this picture I want to show you some of the weird stuff infrared photography does. My glass is about two-thirds full in this picture – you can tell by the foam – and the glass and the beer are both totally normal, and looked totally normal in real life. Notice, though, you can see through the bottom half of the beer. I honestly don’t know why that is – if someone out there does, I’d love to know. I know infrared light can travel through some things visible light can not, but I don’t know why HALF the beer is visible and the other half is not. (Less of a surprise is the fact you can see through the sunglasses on the top of my head. You can’t normally, of course, but at least it’s consistent in the photo!)

That beer isn’t the first instance of IR pictures befuddling me. Last weekend in Burke Lake, I took this picture of a black heart painted on a tree, mostly because I like Joan Jett & the Black Hearts, because Joan Jett does not give a damn about her bad reputation.

But look at the infrared version! So strange!

Finally, Mark and I by the footbridge over the bay:

We had a wonderful day yesterday! I was going to give you a raccoon update tonight as well, but this has been so long, I’m going to save raccoons for tomorrow.

For Lisa G/K and others interested in an update on what I’m reading: currently, Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec. I think it’s great – the deeper you get into it, the more intricate and impressive it is – but it’s taking me forever to finish it, both because it’s long and because, unusually, I am reading so many other books at the same time. As I’m preparing for a coming-too-fast trip to Amsterdam and France, I’ve been reading French and Dutch books exclusively, including, The Discovery of Heaven, The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection, A Very Long Engagement, Chocolat (yes, I realize what the last two have in common), and its sequel The Girl with No Shadow, and a few others. I’m also reading Julien Parme in the original French, as well as a few French readers in dual languages and other “educational” books. I’m so excited about going to France that I can’t wait for our trip, but at the same time I wish it were further away so I had more time to prepare and get better at the language. I’m enjoying re-learning French so much I’m planning to continue my studies after our return.

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In memory of Jeremy: Rice and Beans

Today would have been our friend Jeremy’s 34th birthday. Last year when I emailed his mother on his birthday, she asked me to think of Jeremy when I eat rice and beans. We eat a lot of rice and beans in this household, so I think of him often, and I figured there wasn’t a better meal to make tonight in his memory.

Please excuse my even-more-lax-than-usual “recipe”. This was really casual. First I put some rice in the rice cooker and got that started. Then I took 8 oz of Rio Zape beans from Rancho Gordo and cooked them, unsoaked, until not-quite-done in the pressure cooker. How long did that take? Ugh, don’t ask so many questions – I don’t know! Until I sensed they were almost done, I’m afraid. I was outside doing other things while they were cooking and wasn’t paying attention to the time. Let’s say maybe 20 minutes?

When they were not-quite-done, I did a quick release and drained the beans. Then, in the pressure cooker to save a pot to wash, I heated some oil and then added a chopped onion. Once that was cooked to translucent, I added a bunch of pressed garlic, and continued cooking until it was all starting to brown. I deglazed with a bit of the red wine from my glass, then added about 1 1/2 cups veggie broth, two bay leaves, a healthy splash of Worcestershire sauce for tang, some liquid smoke, and a bit of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. Once that was all boiling, I returned the beans to the pot and let it all simmer until the beans were creamy, maybe another 20 minutes?

Serve with LOTS of hot sauce. If you haven’t had Rancho Gordo beans, by the way, you’re cheating yourself. You could use pretty much any bean in this “recipe”, and you’re definitely never going to go wrong with Rancho Gordo beans, which don’t even need seasoning. The Rio Zapes have the creaminess of pintos, but they taste almost like chocolate. And I don’t usually taste chocolate in things people like to say things like wine has “hints” of. They are definitely a flavorful bean.

I cooked for Jeremy every night when we lived together. I think he would have liked this. He may not even have pretended to grumble about the lack of meat. We miss you, Jeremy. “WHAT?” WE MISS YOU.

In other news, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about blogging over the last week or so. I’m starting to get much more serious about photography (although I’ve been “into” photography since high school), but I’m not going to lie to you: although I hope to improve my food pictures somewhat, I’m never going to be a great food photographer. Mostly because I cook in order to eat, and when I need to eat, I NEED to eat. I get bad headaches if I get hungry, and 99% of the time what you are looking at on this blog is my dinner – which I probably need to ingest right away. I’ve been finding myself thinking of blog posts I want to make, usually because I have pictures, but they aren’t about food. That’s not to say I don’t want to make food posts; I do. Very much. Even if they are more laid-back recipes like tonight’s. But I was wondering this week if I should set up a second blog for non-food-related pictures and rambling, so I don’t need to worry about straying too far off-topic here. I even looked to see if by remote chance or .net was available, which would match AND sound like an early Depeche Mode song (it’s not – available, that is; it IS an early Depeche Mode song).

The thing is, though, I didn’t really FEEL like setting up another blog. I could, easily. We have a server; I run other blogs for people. Adding another for myself wouldn’t be a big deal at all. But I just don’t know that I feel like dividing myself up that way. I think most of the readers of this blog would probably be at least somewhat interested in the other posts I want to make, because most vegans are interested in animals (and we’re mostly talking wildlife photos here), and anyway, I’m pretty sure most of my readers aren’t even vegan (which actually makes me very happy), and non-vegans who are open-minded enough to read a vegan blog are probably open-minded enough to not care if said blog sometimes features posts that aren’t about vegan food. Right?

What made up my mind, though, was when I thought about myself as a blog reader. I subscribe to a lot of blogs, and usually read most of them, but sometimes someone will make a post I’m not interested in, and you know what I do? Scroll right past it without even thinking. What I don’t do is think, “oh god, I can’t BELIEVE this person has gone off-topic, what a heretic!”. I don’t unsubscribe. I don’t think anything at all about it. It’s kind of crazy to think people are going to be upset if I sometimes unapologetically make a post to show off some pictures that have nothing to do with food. I don’t mind at all when food bloggers make an occasional post about themselves outside their cooking, in fact, I usually like getting a glimpse of them from a different perspective. So on that note…LOOK AT MY PICTURES THAT ARE NOT OF FOOD.

First up:

I’m not very pleased with this one because I should have used a smaller aperture so that the whole spider was in focus, but it’s a fun start to macro photography. This spider was about the size of my pinky fingernail; about half an inch long.

Like the spider, the following pictures were taken at Burke Lake Park.

I was stoked to come across some blue herons!

As I was heading back to the car, rushing a bit because I had a French lesson, I saw a squirrel way out on a limb over the lake.

I watched him slowly move ever further out, with some trepidation, wondering what in the world he was doing and whether or not squirrels knew how to swim, because I was going to be late meeting my tutor if I had to wade into the lake to rescue him.

Turns out he wanted a TWIG. Why he wasn’t satisfied with any one of the BILLIONS of twigs on the safe, sturdy GROUND, I do not know. (The twig is in his mouth in this picture, if you can’t tell. He’s feeling damn proud here.)

Suddenly, in one fell swoop, he was upside down and scrambling for dear life! Note, though, the twig is STILL in his mouth. This squirrel had his priorities.

Slooowly he righted himself.

Finally he inched himself to a thicker branch and had himself a good gnaw on his precious twig.

When he was done, he turned to stare at me like I was the crazy one.

I have some cute raccoon stories and pics, but I spent too much time on that ridiculous squirrel so I’ll save them for the next update! For now, here is the top of a pile of sleeping baby raccoons…

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Quick and easy yeast bread suggestion

Ready for another “really more a suggestion than a recipe” post? Well, ready or not, here comes such a post. I worked from home today, to allow some contractors access to not really do anything in our house. Earlier in the week I had thought vaguely of taking advantage of being at home to bake some bread today, perhaps to be served with some soup for dinner, but I’m really busy at work these days and when I looked at the clock with a mind towards starting dinner, it was 6 p.m. Ordinarily I’d tell you that any loaf of bread I’d bake will take a minimum of 18 hours from start to finish, because I always use some sort of pre-ferment or starter. But even if I were willing to lower my standards and bake a “same day” dough, starting at 6 p.m. and having bread in time for dinner would be an impossibility…right? I mean, you’re looking at at least 3 hours rising and proofing time, close to an hour baking time, and an hour to cool. (Cooling is non-negotiable, sorry. Slicing hot bread ruins it.)

Not only THAT but my scale is broken. How can I bake without a scale??? (And WHY is my scale broken?!)

There was an answer, though. I thought back to an earlier time, when I didn’t have a scale. I didn’t have my faithful mixer Hieronymus. I didn’t even have the two Kitchen Aid mixers I destroyed before Hieronymus graced me with his wonderful presence. I didn’t have a Thermapen, hand-crafted proofing baskets, multiple peels, a sourdough starter named Sally, or a Fibrament baking stone. What I had was a bread machine I hated and an incredible desire to turn myself into a bread baker, despite producing several paperweights the first few times I tried.

I was a much newer vegan, and still learning how to cook, back then and I spent a lot of time on Vegweb looking for recipes. I found a promising recipe for homemade bread: Outrageously Easy BIG Bread. Back then I think there were only about 10 comments (it looks like the old comments from before Vegweb updated their site a few years ago were removed; this was much longer ago than 2006), but they were all positive, so I gave it a go. And I was successful! I quickly began building a reputation among my friends for always having fresh homemade bread…people would regularly show up at 2 or 3 a.m. demanding some!

I’m a bread snob now. I’ve been an official tester for Peter Reinhart. People come to me for advice…and starter. I ordinarily wouldn’t deign to put more than a tablespoon of instant yeast(!) into a single batch of bread…ordinarily I’d use no instant yeast because I’m a sourdough gal all the way. But tonight, sans scale, I broke out my unused measuring cups and spoons, googled “outrageous bread”, and followed the familiar recipe…well, except for throwing all the ingredients into Hieronymus and having him knead them for a little bit for me. But if you don’t have a mixer and you want to try baking bread and you’re frustrated that EVERY recipe assumes you have a Kitchen Aid, except the famous no-knead recipe, but that takes a million hours…I’ve made the recipe as instructed, without a mixer, many times, and look where I am today!

So today’s post isn’t a recipe, at least not one of mine. It’s an encouragement to those scared of bread baking to give it a shot. And it’s a reminder to those who aren’t scared of bread baking but are snobbish like myself that sometimes you CAN make bread in two hours. Some photos to prove it:

After kneading for about two minutes. (But again, kneading is technically unnecessary.)

I let it rise for 45 minutes, then did a quick “stretch and fold”, which is a technique I’m sure I’ve documented somewhere on this site, but instead of searching for it, here is Peter Reinhart demonstrating it.

Partially because I was super busy with work and partially because I wasn’t really thinking, I returned the dough to the rising container after the stretch and fold, even though the recipe says to shape it and do the second rise on the baking tray. I was planning to make four small loaves for bread bowls and if I’d been concentrating on the bread instead of work, I’d probably have done a stretch and fold at 20-25 minutes, then let rise for another 25 minutes or so, then shaped into four rounds and let them proof for 45 minutes on the tray. But instead, I let the dough rise for another 45 minutes in the rising bucket, while pre-heating the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and realized when I was ready to bake that I hadn’t shaped them. Here’s the dough, risen quite a bit, but not shaped.

No matter. I decided I’d just hope for a lot of oven spring and merrily but roughly divided and roughly shaped my loaves.

Then I baked them for the prescribed “exactly” 23 minutes, although I’m here to tell you that REALLY baking time is going to depend on your oven. After years of experience with all kinds of breads I can tell you that 23 minutes is not enough, especially if you use all that dough for a single loaf; even my tiny loaves really should have stayed in at least 10 minutes longer. However, I was too busy to worry too much about it so when they looked fairly golden at 23 minutes, I took them out and later regretted it. There IS such a thing as paying too little attention to your bread.

Now, ESPECIALLY if you are making bread bowls like me, COOL the bread before cutting. I know it’s hard. Mark managed to time his grand entrance home from work about two minutes after I’d removed them from the oven – I had JUST sat down – and he walked through the door loudly and excitedly exclaiming, “SOMETHING SMELLS AWESOME!! I can tell SOMEONE worked from home!” To which I shouted, “DO NOT TOUCH THEM! NO TOUCHING!” It’s true I worked from home, but as I didn’t start this bread until just after 6 p.m., I could easily have made it any other day, even if I had gone into the office! Well, if I had gone into the office and left at a reasonable time instead of some stupid time like 8 p.m.

I made Creamless Asparagus Soup for the bread bowls.

Okay, so not only is this post “more a suggestion than a recipe”, it is also more a shameless excuse to post completely non-food-related photos than a recipe. First of all, we have a cardinal family that lives in our yard and I’m always delighted to see how loyal Mr and Mrs Cardinal are to each other. They’re always together. I love it! And today I caught them kissing! It’s not a super-sharp picture because it was taken through a screened window, but the cute factor made it a keeper nonetheless.

I was alerted to the presence of these little lovebirds by Torticia, who suddenly took an “OMG!” stance while looking out the window:

And guess what else it’s time for?!? BABY RACCOONS, that’s what! These sweet little babies – a family of four boys – are about 10 days old in this picture, taken on Saturday, a few days after their mother failed to claim them after they were evicted from a chimney. I’m very sorry they won’t be raised by their mother, but very grateful that the homeowner opted for a cruelty-free eviction and spared the lives of these tykes, who would have been killed by most “pest” control services. If you find animals in your chimney or home, PLEASE search for a humane eviction alternative. They almost always result in the babies being reunited with their mother, and they never result in baseless wildlife murder.

Outside at the sanctuary, we found a friendly wild and pregnant raccoon having some breakfast. Because she wasn’t afraid of us, she is definitely a rehabbed raccoon from a prior season, returning to give birth in the safety of the sanctuary grounds.

She was hamming it up for the camera! Raccoons have huge personalities. I’m so glad I chose to work with them!

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Making dumplings from sauerkraut-making leftovers

Guess what? I’m going to talk about FOOD! No cats, no raccoons, no sewing, no infrared pictures, just food, like in a real food blog! (Actually, I think cats are considered a normal part of food blogs.) How many of you figured it would take me a week or two to get around to the food I’ve been promising in my last two posts? In all fairness, I wasn’t planning to make a post tonight, but I got part-way through making dinner and thought, “this would be a good post; I’ll have to remember to do one next time I do this.” But then I thought, well, why not do it THIS time? It’s really more a suggestion than a recipe though.

See, I was all hyped up from the Sandor Katz class and making a couple kinds of sauerkraut. (It’s a good thing Sandor convinced me I don’t need to weigh my salt because my scale is on the fritz, which is terrible because even if I don’t need it for sauerkraut, I NEED it for bread. ACK!) I don’t know about you, but when I make sauerkraut, or really any time I use my mandoline, I end up with a bunch of little nubbies – the ends of vegetables I can’t slice on the mandoline without slicing my fingers along with them. Because I was making cabbage-based sauerkraut/pickles, I thought it would be smart to use those leftover pieces in wontons or dumplings, which I’d been planning to make this week anyway, because Mark moved a package of wonton wrappers from the freezer to the refrigerator.

My Sandor-inspired sauerkrauts:

I don’t have pictures of the first couple of steps because, like I said, I didn’t think to turn it into a post until a little into the process. But what I did was take a scant cup (because that’s what I had) of TVP and reconstituted it with an even more scant cup of boiling “beef” broth (I used Better Than Bouillon) by placing them together in a bowl and covering with a plate for a few minutes.

Next, I took the scraps I had from making sauerkraut: both green and red cabbage, some carrots, and daikon – about 2 cups worth – and put them into a food processor/chopper along with a few cloves of garlic and some roughly chopped ginger and processed until of a minced consistency. I ended up with somewhere between a cup and a cup and a half of minced vegetables. I also chopped a couple of scallions and assembled some shaoxing wine (sherry is a good sub), soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil:

I heated some oil in a cast iron skillet, then added the contents of the food chopper (i.e. the veggies) and cooked them down just a little, then added the TVP and cooked it all for another 3 or 5 minutes. I tossed the scallions into the mixture, then I sprinkled it with some of each of the soy sauce, shaoxing wine, and (less of the) sesame oil. Just a bit, you don’t want it to be soggy or even all that wet; you just want to add some flavor.

This is the exact moment I decided to start documenting – I didn’t even do my neurotic cleaning-as-I-go before I snapped the picture: look at that mess! I’m moving it from the skillet to a bowl so it cools down faster.

A close-up:

Next I found my trusty wonton press:

To fill the wontons or dumplings, a rounded tablespoon measure is perfect …

… or a small cookie dough scoop is perhaps even more perfect:

Put a round wonton wrapper (watch the labels; these aren’t always vegan) onto the press:

Plop the veggie/TVP mixture into the middle, …

… brush a little water on the edges of the wrapper, and squeeze the handles together. Look, it’s the Easter bunny!

Voila, a perfect wonton! Or dumpling. Or whatever you want to call it. Tasty stuff in a wrapper.

Keep on truckin’ until you’ve gone through all your filling. Don’t worry about making too many; these things freeze beautifully. I made about 3 dozen.

You have your choice of cooking methods from here. You can steam them, or boil them for a couple of minutes, or add to soup, or bake them, or steam/pan-fry them as I did. I followed Bryanna’s pan-fried dumpling method in Authentic Chinese Cuisine. I’ll show you pictures without writing out her entire instructions because Bryanna is extremely generous with her recipes and you should buy her books, and this one in particular is great. Basically you just fry on one side for a bit …

… then add some water and steam for a few minutes.

Make a dipping sauce of your choosing; I always just mix up some soy sauce, black or rice vinegar (they’re quite different so aren’t interchangeable, but both are nice in their own right), a few drops of toasted sesame oil, chili-garlic sauce, and some chopped scallions. I also served the chili green beans from Authentic Chinese Cuisine:

(Gomez is in this picture. Sigh.)

Don’t cook any leftover wontons you have. Instead, arrange them in a single layer without touching on a tray and put in the freezer until solid (this only takes 15-20 minutes, which is good because unless you have a gigantic freezer, you’ll have to do it in pretty small batches), then plop them all into a freezer bag. When you want to make them, just start to so as if they were freshly-made – no need to thaw. I’m excited to have stored some of these because with baby wildlife season coming up, I’m going to be having some late nights when I come home starving and these are going to get devoured.

Next, to show you how serious I am about staying on topic, tonight’s bonus picture is NOT of cats, NOT about travel, NOT of raccoons, NOT related to crafts, NOT taken with an infrared filter, and is FOOD! I don’t know why, but when I chopped this cabbage in half this evening, I was struck by its beauty. I can’t decide if the core reminds me of a woman dancing, Ganesh, or the tree of life, but I was moved by it nonetheless. Moved enough to spend 45 minutes with a tripod trying to get what I saw to show up in a photograph. Not sure I succeeded, but this is me demonstrating to you that in addition to all the other things I celebrate in life, I celebrate food.

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For readers in Virginia

No food, even though I swore there’d be some soon. And I swear I’m not going to turn this into a photography blog (though maybe I should start one if I can’t control myself), but I just wanted to advise anyone in Virginia to get out and enjoy the bluebells while you can. The best place is Bull Run Park, which is free for Fairfax County residents and $7 for non-residents. It’s probably worth the $7 when the bluebells are in bloom. The first (or last) bit of the 17.5-mile Bull Run Trail is located here, but there is also a 1.5-mile loop that was created specifically for enjoying the bluebells, called, you guessed it, the Bluebell Loop.

I like the Bluebell trail. It’s extremely easy, so it doesn’t really qualify as much of a workout, but when I’m carrying around two cameras, multiple lenses, and a tripod, I’m cool with “extremely easy”. Real cool. And I usually find wildlife, which of course is like striking gold to me. Here’s just some of the wildlife I’ve found there:

Ducks. I LOVE baby ducks! I got to meet a duck rehabber and I’ll tell you, raccoons are awesome, but baby ducks…soooo cute! (And a little easier than raccoons, methinks.)


And I took one of Mark’s favorite pictures, the dragonfly:

Despite my affection for the park, and luck with wildlife, I’d never been there during bluebell season before this Saturday. I was missing out and I don’t want you to!

Bluebells as far as you can see.

I guess I never went during bluebell season before because I’ve heard it’s crowded and I don’t like crowds, but although there were times in which there were other people at the same place I was, there were more times when there was no one within sight or earshot.

Even when you do run into people, they are friendly but generally quiet. Most are there for the pictures or serenity as well.

At the risk of really looking more like a photography blog than a food blog, here are some infrared pictures as well, because I can’t resist. This is pretty much the same shot as the color one above it:

This tree is surrounded by bluebells, which of course aren’t blue through an infrared filter, but they are interesting anyway.

It’s a magical place!

There are several benches dispersed throughout the trail, each dedicated to a late bluebell-lover.

At the beginning/end, where it’s almost always muddy, there’s a boardwalk. It’s a REALLY easy trail.

If you’re in Northern Virginia, check it out. And if you’re not, but you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, check out whatever amazing foliage your particular neck of the woods has to offer, because it’s a beautiful spring!

That’s it – I’ve got groceries to unpack and sauerkraut to make, so I’m off to the kitchen, and next time there will be FOOD, glorious food, here on

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