Archive forRecipes

Tahini-Miso Soba Salad

Spring is here, spring is here; call it from the mountain tops, SPRING IS HERE. And an auspicious first day of spring it is: although I was met with intense fog when I awoke early this morning, the sun was trying to burn a hole through it on my drive to work and it was absolutely gorgeous. The temperature was in the 50s during my afternoon commute (convertible weather!), and considering we got 6″ of snow on Monday, I couldn’t be happier about that. I AM SO FLIPPING TIRED OF SHOVELING SNOW. I am tired of LOOKING at snow. I don’t know how you Canadians out there deal with this all winter every winter. Of course, the weather forecasters are saying there is a chance of yet more snow next week, but I refuse to think about that on this beautiful day.

Mark saw me taking pictures of my dinner last night and excitedly asked, “are you going to do a blog post? It’s been two years!” To which I responded, “more like two months, but yes, if this meal is blog-worthy I’ll do a post.” Mark stuck a fork in his bowl and loudly announced, “YES! YES! DO A POST! THIS IS DELICIOUS!” I have taken photos periodically of other meals over the long weeks since last I posted, but none of them seemed good enough to write up, and of course the longer I wait, the higher my standards are for a comeback. Fortunately Mark assures me this recipe qualifies (I have a feeling he’ll be requesting it in the future) and I think it has an air of spring about it so it seems appropriate for today.

I’ve had a craving for a tahini-based sauce lately and poking about the internet for ideas, I found inspiration in Isa’s Roasty Soba Bowl and this Honey Sriracha Glazed Tofu.

Tahini-Miso Soba Salad

3-4 bundles buckwheat soba, cooked according to package instructions and rinsed in cold water
1/2 lb extra firm tofu
1 head broccoli, cut into florets and lightly steamed for a minute or two
1 small or baby cucumber, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 avocado, chopped
3 scallions, sliced
sesame seeds

Sriracha Marinade
2 Tbsp sriracha
1 Tbsp agave nectar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
splash of toasted sesame oil

Tahini-Miso Sauce
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup white miso
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
couple splashes toasted sesame oil
water as needed to thin

Whisk together the sriracha marinade ingredients. Slice the tofu into 1/2″ thick slices. Slather with half of the marinade. Let marinate for a while if you have time, although as I doubt much of the marinade will penetrate the tofu, this step is optional. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes, then turn over and bake for another 15 minutes, coating with some more of the marinade. You can let it return to room temperature after baking if you have time.

Place the miso-tahini sauce ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth, adding water as necessary to thin.

Prep the soba, broccoli, cucumber, and avocado as described above. Place 1/3 to 1/4 of the soba into each bowl or plate, then pour in enough of the tahini sauce to lightly coat the noodles, mixing with your hands or chopsticks. Top each bowl with some of the broccoli, cucumber, and avocado. Chop the baked tofu into cubes then sprinkle onto each bowl. Drizzle any remaining tahini sauce on top, then if you like, drizzle any remaining sriracha marinade (or just decoratively squirt on some additional sriracha), then top everything off with scattered sliced scallions and sesame seeds.

So there’s the food. What’s going other than food? Well, Mark bought me a new car! New-to-me anyway. I was/am very attached to my old car, a blue 1995 Miata I fully planned (plan?) to run into the ground. It has 152k miles and I was hoping for another 150k more. When it started pulling to the right and my mechanics weren’t able to fix it with an alignment, I was slightly concerned but trusted they would figure it out. Then the shop manager lent me his personal Miata while he tried to diagnose Cookie Monster (my car’s name, owing to its Cookie Monster color and pop-up googly eyes), and I developed a car crush on it. It’s one of the very few turbo Miatas ever made and it has all the available racing upgrades. I’m not a car enthusiast like my father or brother, but I inherited enough of the car-loving genes that I got addicted to the power and was reluctant to relinquish it in exchange for my still-right-leaning, suddenly-very-slow-seeming Cookie Monster. Then the manager offered to sell it to me and I realized I’d been tricked! He lent it to me knowing full well I’d want to buy it. It was a Friday night and I told him there was absolutely no way I was buying a new car when we already own a fleet of cars AND I need to buy a lot of expensive things for going to Africa. As soon as I returned home that Friday and told Mark it was for sale he immediately said, “I’ll buy it for you.” And that was all the convincing I needed. First thing Monday morning I called him to say we’d be by that night to take it. 🙂



It’s awesome! It gets terrible gas mileage and requires premium fuel! It’s also a huge amount of fun. It needs a name! I need a take a better picture of it than this one from the night we bought it, but unfortunately it’s been buried in snow for half the time we’ve had it. (Also pictured is Mark’s Jeep, which I muddied up nicely getting to the raccoons.)

Other than that, my life has been raptor-a-rama. Last weekend I had my first raptor escapee: a tiny screech owl flew out of his cage before I could grab him to move him for cage cleaning. Luckily we were inside. Unluckily, screechies are by far the smallest bird we rehab and they can hide ANYWHERE. I’d far rather a red tailed hawk or even a red shoulder had escaped; they’d have been much easier to find. I thought he was under some cages but didn’t have a flashlight and couldn’t see anything at all under there, so I swept underneath with a broom handle and out he hopped, a huge dust ball all over his face. Annoyed as I was with him, I couldn’t help but laugh at how surprised and silly he looked standing there. I quickly netted him and stashed him in an empty cage so I could clean his home. Kent, who runs the organization, told me later that was the same screechie that broke through the netting in another cage earlier in the week and escaped…Kent came into the bird room in the morning and found things overturned, which is how he knew a bird was out. Naughty owl!

For the sake of visualization (although my escapee was red screechie), here is a totally different screech owl I photographed last year:


I made another mistake the same day. While making my feeding rounds, I found a red tail lying on its back with its feet all curled up, looking very dead. “This bird is dead,” I announced to a senior volunteer, who happened to be there training a new volunteer. They peered into the cage and said, “yes, he sure looks dead,” and we all felt sad. I left him there for the time being to finish feeding the other birds, all of whom were EXTREMELY alive (it was a very rowdy raptor day). When Kent came in, I told him about the dead red tail so he opened the cage to retrieve the body AND IT JUMPED UP AND FLAPPED INDIGNANTLY AT HIM. Which was bad because Kent wasn’t wearing protective gloves and red tails are very large and strong and can easily maim you. Of course, I felt incredibly stupid, but that hawk really was sleeping in a most bizarre position. So, kids, apparently hawks play dead. Who knew? (Incidentally, Nick Cave fans, this paragraph reminds me of “…where that mad old buzzard, the reverend, shrieked and flapped about life after you’re dead…”. No?)

I’ve been going to the wildlife refuge every weekend for the eagle show. That’s right, we have at least one pair of nesting bald eagles and it’s been very easy to spot them and several other eagles, soaring about or just sitting around looking mighty and majestic.

Eagle in nest!!

(If you live in the area and want to visit for yourself, please note that because the eagle nest is RIGHT next to the trail, they’ve closed off a small but important length of the trail, making it impossible to do a loop through the center of the refuge (where the nest is). This map shows the closure, although you can actually get closer to the nest heading west on Charlie Road than the map implies. You will, however, have to double back along the bay to return to the parking lot. The nest is visible if you approach from the east, but you will need binoculars or a super-telephoto camera lens to see an eagle in the nest – and even with binoculars or a lens, the nest is deep and you may not see anyone in it.)

More on the eagles in a bit, but first, what else have I seen? Well, can anyone out there help me identify this bird?


My friend pointed it out to me the other day, saying, “that bird looks rusty,” which was a curious thing for him to say because just a couple of days earlier I’d been reading about the rusty blackbird “blitz” going on right now: Fish & Wildlife are asking for the public’s help in counting these threatened, rare birds, and Mark and I had been planning to look for them. So I snapped a picture in case it was a rusty blackbird, but in the photo it looks more iridescent than rusty to me, although apparently in the spring they are more black than rusty. Anyone out there know what this bird is? Rusty blackbirds are confirmed to have been seen in the refuge, so it’s not impossible that’s what this is. I’d like to report it if it is.

It amazes me every year how entirely different the refuge looks in the winter and the summer. It’s so lush and verdant in the summer, although you can see much, much more in the winter. I’ve been grateful for somewhat warm weekends despite all the snow we’ve gotten this winter.






We took my brother to see eagles the other weekend and at first it wasn’t looking good on the eagle front – it was the first time we encountered the trail closure (which they don’t bother to mention at any of the trailheads for some unknown reason). So I was glad when he spotted a beaver so at least he got to see SOMETHING interesting. (A few minutes after this we ran across an entirely intact beaver skeleton on the trail near the bay, which was…odd.)


I see great blue herons every time I go anywhere. I’ve actually seen them fly over my head while driving near my house.


Osprey and eagles are the big raptor attractions at the refuge, but it has its share of hawks and owls (though I haven’t YET seen an owl!).


It’s also somewhat known for the wild turkeys, which for the longest time were so elusive I couldn’t get a picture, but I’ve been lucky this year.


AND as of last weekend, the ospreys are back!! Ospreys are what this refuge is most well-known for (if you can call it well-known; it actually seems to be a huge secret, which is fine with me).


But if you’ve been reading for a while, you know it’s the bald eagles that both Mark and I love so much. We return week after week to admire them. I took this one on President’s Day, which was right before they closed the trail off for the nest, but the eagle couple must have picked the location out already because I walked right under the nest and consequently was much, much closer than I’d ever been to a wild bald eagle in my life: like 10 feet. It was exhilarating.

My brother finally did get to see his eagle: despite the trail closure we were able to get very close to this eagle sitting in a tree near the nest, close to the trail barricade.




My friend and I saw this eagle looking out over they bay near the end of the day last weekend:

Mark missed the first half of my President’s Day adventure (though he called me and asked me to come get him so he could join me later), so when we came across this eagle staring out at the bay from a tree maybe 50 feet from us a couple of weeks later, he was flabbergasted. I was delighted by his position on the edge of the tree and not behind a bunch of branches! These are my favorite pictures.






Whew! Now you are all caught up with me: new car, lots of eagles. Coming soon to an ieatfood post near you: BABY RACCOONS!!! No, we don’t have any yet, but we are currently prepping for our first intakes, which we expect in a few short weeks. I die every April when the first infants appear. I get so used to seeing the large juvies and adults that over-winter with us that I forget how very tiny and FLIPPING ADORABLE babies are. I’m excited, but life is about to get even more hectic once they start arriving. But spring also brings the farmers market, which I am DESPERATE for, so hopefully I’ll have more interesting meals to blog about. In addition to baby animals.

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Broccoli “Cheese” Soup

I had some limp broccoli in the refrigerator so I decided to make soup out of it last night. Nice for a cold night, perhaps, but not too amazing, right? I didn’t think so until Mark started going absolutely nuts over it. We were watching TV together while eating and I was flattered when he told me not once but twice that the soup was excellent. But then he didn’t stop! He just kept raving about it. “I’m not even paying attention to the show, I’m too into this soup!” he proclaimed, which was surprising considering we were watching a program he ordinarily finds hilarious. Even after we’d finished dinner, he was still going on about it: “I want to eat that soup until I throw up!” At that point I had to tell him the compliments were heading into gross territory and starting to sound less complimentary. But considering how much Mark hates throwing up the fact that he’d be willing to risk it in order to eat more of the soup was saying something, I suppose. Additionally, he’s also usually very squeamish about cleaning up pots from “creamy” things, but he cheerfully washed the soup pot and said even that chore was worth the soup. The last thing he said to me before I went to sleep was, “I’M GOING TO THE KITCHEN FOR MORE OF THAT SOUP.”

He insisted I do a post on it. I was reluctant to do so because I’ve already done a very similar post, but that post is ancient anyway, so here’s exactly what I did last night that produced the soup Mark would puke for.

Broccoli “Cheese” Soup

1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 cups or so chopped potatoes
2 small or medium or 1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets (and stalks peeled and chopped)
6 cups of vegetable broth (I used Better Than Bouillon’s “No Chicken” flavor)
1/3 cup vegan gouda or other cheese from Artisan Vegan Cheese*
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt or seasoning salt, to taste

* I am sorry that I keep including cheeses from this book in my recent recipes. I’ve been avoiding posting anything I made using recipes from this book since I don’t want to post the cheese recipes themselves, but as you can see I haven’t had a ton of other ideas for posts lately! Plus Mark REALLY wanted me to post this recipe! If you don’t have the book, you can use your favorite vegan “cheese”, or use the recipe I posted in this post. You can also just omit the “cheese” entirely for a Cream of Broccoli soup.

Heat some oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or large soup pot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and cook until onions are soft. Add the potatoes and broccoli and cook another minute or so, then add the broth. Bring to a boil then add the “cheese” and nutritional yeast, stirring until the “cheese” is melted and incorporated. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are soft, about half an hour. Remove from the heat and puree using an immersion blender, or, when cooled, in batches in a regular blender. Return to the heat, stir in the lemon juice (adjust the amount to taste) and salt if necessary. (I actually used an all-purpose season salt mix I made up instead of regular salt, but I made it a while ago and have no idea what’s in it! Salt, garlic and onion powders, and other seasonings.)

Serve with crusty bread and a salad. Neither of us even bothered with the bread last night. As Mark says, the soup looks very unassuming and boring, but according to him, the flavor is just spot-on.

I said last time I had more raptor picture, so let’s get to it. While we were in Charleston over the holidays, we went on the swamp garden tour at Magnolia Plantation. I found it very expensive, but then I saw a red shouldered hawk lording over the swamp and my frivolous financial gripes were forgotten. Plus he posed for us for a long time. Such a long time I’m sure my very patient mother-in-law was wishing that bird would fly away so Mark (with his beloved binoculars) and I would mosey along already.

He’s saying here: “I’m a red shoulder!” (He was actually quite fussy, which is typical of red shoulders. They have an attitude.)

He flew away, but just to another nearby tree.

He just kept posing! I love him!

We eventually managed to drag ourselves away and continue the walk.

Hawks are definitely not the only wildlife at the swamp. This is an anhinga:

Egret:

And the real star of the swamp: an alligator! They enjoy sunbathing together with turtles.

I love their creepy smiles.

Quite frankly, I’ve decided I want to live next to a swamp. There’s always something fascinating going on in or around them.

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Corn-Jalapeno Casserole

Here is a side dish I made last night by scrounging through leftover bits I’d saved during the week. It was a nice accompaniment to the rice and beans I also made and Mark absolutely loved it. I made ours quite spicy but you can make it as mild or as spicy as you like by varying the amount of jalapenos.

Corn-Jalapeno Casserole

1/2 cup vegan “cheese” sauce (see note below)
2 Tbsp vegan sour cream
2 Tbsp pickled jalapeno “juice” (optional; I added it for some extra kick)
1-3 Tbsp chopped pickled jalapenos
12 oz frozen corn

Note: Since buying the phenomenal Vegan Artisan Cheese, all of my cheese sauces have been made by melting a hunk of pretty much any of the cheeses from that book, generally by whisking water off the boil into it, then whisking in nutritional yeast flakes, garlic and or onion granules, and sometimes fresh lemon juice, and they’ve all blown away any cheese sauces I’ve made in the past. I had half a cup or so of such a sauce left over from serving over steamed cauliflower the other night, although I can’t explain why because I can eat that stuff straight! If you don’t have Vegan Artisan Cheese, first of all, get it, but if you don’t have time to buy the book, make the rejuvelac, and ferment the cheese, use your favorite “cheesy” sauce. The recipe for an old standby is available here.

A note on the pickled jalapenos: I linked to a refrigerator pickle version of pickled jalapenos that I’ve made in the past, but since I discovered and fell in love with canning this summer, I bought a ton of jalapenos at the farmers market, sliced them, and put them in 4-oz canning jars (which I find adorable), along with a couple sliced of carrots and a smashed garlic clove for each jar. Then I poured a hot brine of 50% white or cider vinegar/50% water and some salt into each jar, leaving 1/2″ headspace, and processed in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. I love this size jar for stuff like this and I have plenty of them to last me through the winter. I also love the spicy, vinegary brine – I mix it with tomato sauce and a few other ingredients to make a nearly instant taco sauce. Hmm, perhaps I should do a separate post on all this stuff?

Okay, to the actual recipe I’m supposed to be writing up:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If you can fit your baking dish into your toaster oven, you can use that (I did).

In a bowl, whisk together the “cheese” sauce, sour cream, and jalapeno “juice” (if using). Stir in the jalapenos and corn. Transfer to a small baking dish (I used a glass loaf pan). The mixture should be just a little liquidy; if it’s not, add a little water or non-dairy milk.

Cover and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the cover and bake uncovered for 20 more minute or until brown and bubbly.

I served this with rice and beans. The beans are Steubens yellow eye beans, which Whole Foods sells in their bulk bins and which I adore. I think they are my favorite bean; they are very tasty and so pretty! I soaked the beans for a few hours then put in my slow cooker with some liquid smoke and minced onion and garlic in some broth and cooked on high for maybe an hour and a half. Then I drained the extra broth off. I had a few slices of leftover seitan, which I chopped pretty small and fried until crispy in a cast iron skillet. I added some vegan bacon salt and onion granules to it as well as several healthy squirts of liquid smoke. Then I added this “bacony” seitan to the beans, as well as some sliced fresh jalapenos, and warmed it all up. This was topped generously with Tabasco and served over rice with the corn jalapeno casserole accompanying it.

And now for raptor news. Mark and I went to Charleston for the holidays this year and while we were there paid a visit to the Center for Birds of Prey, which was really cool and a place I will definitely be volunteering should we ever move down there. Although the guided tour included only a small portion of the center (really just a few of the outdoor education bird cages), the flight demonstration that followed was worth the admission fee. I’m ordinarily opposed to forcing animals to put on “shows” for human enjoyment, but because these are all education birds that can’t be released, I don’t have a problem with training and shows like this, because all education birds in this country are required by federal law to be used in education programs. It’s either that or be euthanized. And I don’t have a problem with the birds that can fly showing that off, especially since this is an impressive show that really sticks with people and they’ll be more apt to remember things they learned and better appreciate raptors. Plus, if any bird they attempt to train doesn’t show signs within one month that they are willing to learn to do it, they stop trying and use that bird for non-flight programs. I also think it’s actually good for raptors to have to work for their meals, which is essentially what they are doing during a flight demonstration like this. Anyway, if you are at all interested in raptors and you are in the Charleston area, I highly recommend The Center for Birds of Prey. Admission isn’t cheap, but I’m happy to donate money to causes like this and felt that the ability to photograph raptors in flight was absolutely worth the admission. Here are some pictures:

The first birds we came to on the guided tour were a pair of eagles, both amputees:

My only raptor volunteering regret is that the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia isn’t a big enough facility to house eagles, except very young ones. We have to transfer any we get to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

This is an eagle owl; I forget what kind. Eagle owls are all pretty huge though. We have a Eurasian eagle owl (as did the Center for Birds of Prey) at the Raptor Conservancy and it’s enormous.

The rest of the pictures are all from the flight demonstration.

How adorable is this Ural owl? You can see his jesses dangling from the perch. Education birds will usually have leather jesses around their legs. This is what handlers grab onto with their gloves when holding these birds (I know because I get to do this!). When you aren’t doing a flight demonstration (which is not something we do at the Raptor Conservancy), the jesses are attached to a lead whenever the bird is out of its cage.

He’s just been given the signal (he’s prompted with food) to leave that perch and fly to another, and thus he is about to take off:

Because owls are nocturnal, most people very rarely get to see them fly, which is a shame because owls in flight are really amazing. For one thing, they are totally silent.

I never really expected to see a vulture in a flight demonstration, but they had one! This one is for Jes.

Did you know that there is controversy over where to classify New World vultures (like this black vulture) in the animal kingdom? They used to be linked to falcons but genetic testing in the last 20 years or so put them closer to storks. We don’t admit vultures at the Raptor Conservancy. The Center for Birds of Prey, on the other hand, is way into vultures: the bulk of the “tour” was letting us watch them feed the local wild vultures with the scraps their patients refused to eat.

This is some sort of falcon; note he is wearing a radio device on his back. If he flies away during the flight demonstration, this device is how the Center will locate him and bring him home to safety. Remember these are education birds so they have been deemed unable to survive on their own, so catching them if they escape is important for their survival. (I suspect a lot of the birds they use for flight demonstrations are human imprints.)

Here the falcon is on the ground hiding his “prey” of ground beef behind his wings.

Kites seem to be lesser known raptors, at least in this area, but they are neat birds. We don’t have any at the raptor center right now and I don’t think we see too many. But they are fun to watch fly and this guy was clearly loving the opportunity to soar around for a bit on this very clear, beautiful day.

I have yet more raptor pics – we saw a few wild raptors at various parks while we were in Charleston, but I shall save those for another day.

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Spicy Black-eyed Pea Soup

RENAE IS UPDATING HER BLOG. That’s right, folks! I’m here with an actual recipe and everything! I thought my life would be getting less hectic around this time, but I can’t even remember a day I was able to sleep in past 8 a.m.. Although half of our raccoons have been released (we actually have more than usual remaining for this late in the year), instead of using the extra time gained during my weekend for leisure, I’ve been training to work with raptors. In addition, it feels like I have 400 cats in the house right now (it’s really four). And I attended a weekend-long wildlife conference a couple of weeks ago. And I’ve been testing for Kittee’s upcoming Ethiopian cookbook. I’ve therefore actually been cooking a lot this month, but not many recipes I can share. My food photography skills, never very impressive, have taken a nosedive of late so I don’t even have any decent pictures of my delicious output, although I can assure you YOU WILL WANT THIS COOKBOOK. I was worried I wouldn’t have the time to commit to testing, but I’ve been making Kittee’s Ethiopian recipes for years and I just couldn’t resist the temptation to be a small part of this project because I knew it was going to be amazing. And it is!

I took a break from Ethiopian last night (although I had leftovers for lunch earlier!), and I did something I haven’t done in an embarrassingly long time: I baked bread!! I used this no-time bread recipe from The Kitchn. As a bread snob, I can’t say it’s the best bread I’ve ever baked, and I’m so bread-baker-snobby I hate bread recipes that are by volume instead of weight, but it’s better than no bread and better than commercial bread for sure. Then I needed to come up with something to serve with it. I’ve been stuffing my face with a ton of injera lately so when not eating Ethiopian, I’ve been making lighter meals, so soup seemed about right. I had some fresh black-eyed peas from the farmers market in the freezer and a large horde of jalapenos ready for the test recipes, so I whipped up this smoky, spicy black-eyed pea soup.

Spicy Black-eyed Pea Soup

1 medium onion, diced
1 small jalapeno, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp Old Bay
1/2 tsp smoked salt (or to taste, depending on how salty your broth is)
14-16 oz can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen black-eyed peas
8 cups veggie broth
2 bay leaves
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Put some oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the onion, jalapeno, celery, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic, and saute for several minutes until vegetables are soft. Add the paprika, Old Bay, and salt and cook another minute or two, then add the tomatoes, using them to deglaze the pot if necessary, and cook another minute or so. Add the black-eyed peas, veggie broth, bay leaves, and vinegar, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer over medium heat until the peas are soft, about an hour to an hour and a half. Remove the bay leaves before serving.

Serve with crusty bread and lots of Tabasco!

I wish that since it’s been so long since I last posted that I had scads of pictures to share of all the exciting things I’ve been doing, but alas, although I’ve been doing some exciting things, photos are scarce. I never did share some of the pictures I took in Harpers Ferry, WV when I was furloughed, though, so I’ll take the opportunity to do so, as it’s a very lovely place and I had a really nice day. A lot of the acreage there is a national park, which was of course closed (it seems like EVERYTHING I wanted to do while furloughed was a national park or wildlife refuge…soooo annoying), but I don’t think I’ve actually gone to the park before as there is a lot to do otherwise. Actually, I’m not sure I wasn’t on park grounds at times, but there was no one to stop me, so IN YOUR FACE, CONGRESS.

We usually park near the train station. I love trains (and train travel), and if you are in the town for any length of time, you’ll probably see one. A freight train chugged on through about two minutes after I parked. Amtrak stops at this station as well. Here’s an infrared shot of the station:

Across some disused tracks you can see the quaint, historical town:

Nearby is an old boat landing; there’s a sign here telling the story of a daring Civil War-era escape.

One of the focal points of the town is the old church, which is up many, many 18th-century (read: small, uneven, and treacherous!) stone stairs.

If that church isn’t old enough for you, here are the remains of an even older one:

Keep going behind the church and you come to Jefferson Rock, named for yes, THE Thomas Jefferson, who took in the view from the rock while traveling through the area and stated “this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

The view is pretty awesome.

Continuing along you come to a graveyard.

All in all, a very lovely way to spend a day. The government reopened the very next day and I found myself quite suddenly back at work.

I’ve alluded periodically to the fact that in addition to raccoons, I’ve been starting to work with raptors. I won’t be able to share as many photos from that because we aren’t really allowed to take pictures of our rehab birds, but I’ll try to snag some pics of the education birds when I can. Working with raptors is WAY different than raccoons: they don’t take to being cuddled and they eat much grosser food. But I really enjoy it. I’ve always been in awe of these birds of prey (when I say raptors, I mean birds, not dinosaurs!) and having the opportunity to get so close to them and even handle them is amazing. I showed some friends and family some pictures of me holding some of the birds and most everyone commented, “you look really HAPPY!” Of course I was happy, I WAS HOLDING AN OWL! THIS owl:

Another of our ed birds, this is a long-eared owl, which is smaller than the barred owl above, but much larger than a screech owl.

One of the first things you learn about birds of prey is that red-shouldered hawks have a reputation for their attitude, which is just that: they have an attitude. Every single person that takes a red shoulder out of its cage imitates it by saying, “I’m a red shoulder!” in an assertive voice…usually while the red shoulder is asserting its red-shoulderness. This education bird was notable for not acting like a red shoulder – instead he sat quietly and enjoyed the crisp autumn air.

Here I am holding a broadwing hawk, which I know less about because we have fewer than we do red shoulders and red tails; in fact, I think this is the only broadwing we have at the moment. It took him a little while to settle down.

I got a question about the new cat, Heidi, a couple of weeks ago – I’ll have a cat update next time…there’s much to tell, good and bad. A teaser: Heidi is no longer the “new” cat!

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Baked Potato Chips

So I’m sure even those of you not in the U.S. have heard that our government has been shut down for a week and a half, with no signs of re-opening. If you are not an American citizen, you are probably wondering what kind of country thinks that’s an acceptable idea. If you are an American citizen, you’ve probably been affected in some way, large or small. I’ve been affected quite directly in that I’m a government contractor and have been furloughed, meaning I’ve been forced to take a leave without pay from my job. And unlike federal employees, I won’t be paid back. It’s starting to trickle down and affect my life in other ways, too: Dogue Hollow, currently desperate for money, might not get the Combined Federal Campaign check we usually get in October. My father – a retired special agent – is worried he may not get his next pension check. I was really looking forward to attending my first board meeting of the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges, but it was cancelled because the refuges are closed. My birthday has probably been ruined because I’d planned to spend it at Chincoteague NWR. ALL THE FEDERAL EMPLOYEES AND CONTRACTORS ARE DRIVING AROUND NORTHERN VIRGINIA ALL THE TIME! (Seriously, everyone thought that at least traffic would be better than usual, but it’s just as bad, if not worse!)

So there’s a lot of frustration here. Philosophically, I am very angry. Disgusted with our Congress. My government has given me plenty of reasons not to trust them, but I think taking my job and salary from me takes the cake. How can I have any faith or trust in them? They clearly do not have the well-being of myself or any other citizen in mind. It’s funny; they’ve taken away the two places I spend the most time: my job and the wildlife refuge (no sense linking to it because the website currently redirects to the Dept. of the Interior (even their WEBSITE is shut down!). Remember how in my last post I mentioned the sign in the refuge that says “Welcome to YOUR National Wildlife Refuge”. Well, apparently it’s NOT mine: it’s the “government’s”.

Okay, I’m starting to get worked up. Next thing you know I’ll be blasting Rage Against the Machine and pumping my fist in the air. I AM outraged, but I don’t want you to think I’ve been sitting around feeling sorry for myself, because I’ve barely had time to do any sitting! I’ve been putting in some extra time with both the raccoons and the raptors, and I’ve been spending time with my brother (also furloughed) and a good friend, and I’ve been taking care of a stray cat, and I’ve been canning up a storm, and I’ve been discovering new music, and basically being furloughed is EXHAUSTING! And I haven’t even had time to do half of the things I want to do. I feel more harried at times than I did when I was working! I have no idea how that’s even possible.

I have been canning a lot, but other than that I haven’t spent a lot of time cooking new things I could be blogging, somewhat surprisingly. Often by the time I finish up canning something, I’m ready to make something quick for dinner. But yesterday my friend and I had lunch at a restaurant that makes their own in-house potato chips (Old Bay flavored to boot!), and there’s been a deluge over the last couple of days, so after running around in the rain all day yesterday, and helping raccoons this morning, I decided to spend a little extra time on dinner tonight and make some homemade potato chips (crisps for you non-Americans) to go with some veggie burgers. I’m not really sure it even warrants a post, but I figured it was a good excuse to check in with you guys! I’ve made these before, but here are some pointers I picked up tonight:

  • A lot of recipes on the internet specify russet potatoes, but I used less starchy red potatoes.
  • You should really use a mandoline to slice the chips, but paper thin is really too thin. 1/16″ or so is a little better.
  • Peanut oil is traditional, but olive oil works fine.
  • These go from not done to overdone FAST. Check the chips pretty much constantly and remove those that are done immediately, then return the pan back to the oven to finish up the others.
  • As the chips finish, I like to remove them in a single layer to my wooden chopping block. They cool very quickly there without building up any condensation. Within a couple of minutes, I can move them to a bowl where they stay crisp.
  • You can try blotting off the oil with a paper towel, but the chips are fragile, so it’s easier to try to keep the oil to a minimum in the first place.
  • I was going for salt & vinegar flavor, but found that I couldn’t really taste the vinegar if I drizzled it on before cooking. Instead I salted them before baking, but just spritzed with a little malt vinegar right before serving.

Baked Potato Chips

large potatoes – I used 2 large red potatoes and ended up with enough chips for 2-4 people
oil
salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a mandoline to thinly and evenly slice the potatoes about 1/16″ thick. If you have time, soak the sliced potatoes in cold water for a while to remove some of the starch, then drain them well. Brush a thin film of oil on a large baking pan and arrange the chips in a single layer, then brush a little oil over them. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Bake just until golden brown. They will in all likelihood not finish at the same time; remove them with a thin spatula as they finish. Let cool in a single layer.

I’m not yet able to share any pictures from the raptor rehabbing I’m getting involved with, but I can talk about a raptor visitor we had in our yard. I showed you a Cooper’s hawk that was patrolling our bird feeder back in March. Well, we had another one here last week, this time a juvenile. If you look back at the older post, compare the difference in coloring between the adult and the juvie.

I have mixed feelings about him. On one hand, HE’S TRYING TO EAT MY BIRDS, which I just think is rude. On the other hand, that’s what hawks do: they eat smaller birds. It’s his prerogative. And also he’s beautiful!

Look at him hunting down my songbirds! Damn him!

Look at him looking at ME! ISN’T HE AWESOME? Seriously, how can I be mad at that face? I love raptors; can’t help it!

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Roasted Vegetables with Cippollini Onions and White Balsamic

My favorite stand at the farmers market always has cippollini onions with a sign next to them saying, “these are great roasted!” and every single week I’m suckered into buying them by that sign because I LOVE roasted onions. I made this with potatoes last night, but I wish I’d tossed a couple of chopped carrots in there as well because roasted carrots are also totally awesome and my plate would have been that much more colorful.

Roasted Vegetables with Cippollini Onions and White Balsamic

1 lb cippollini onions, peeled
1 lb other root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, chopped
a couple springs fresh rosemary
olive oil
white baslamic vinegar
flaked salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the onions and chopped vegetables in a pot and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water until cool enough to touch. Place on a pan or in a cooking dish large enough to arrange in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil (about a tablespoon or so) and about a tablespoon of the white balsamic, using your hands to coat every piece. Sprinkle with the rosemary and salt. Cover the pan or dish with aluminum foil and roast for half an hour. Remove the foil and return to the oven for another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are all soft. Drizzle with additional basalmic if so desired.

The brown blob on my plate is barbecued seitan, using a riff on Vegan Dad’s lunch meat. YES, I AM OBSESSED WITH AVOCADOS.

I don’t know about where you live, but the weather in Northern Virginia has been GLORIOUS. I finally got around to getting an annual pass for Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (there is normally a $2 honor system entrance fee) since I’m there all the time. I was very easily talked into joining the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges, which meant I paid $15 for a membership and got $5 off my annual pass, meaning I spent $10 more than planned in order to earn the privilege of doing things like picking up trash! I josh. Although really that’s one of the things I get to do as a “friend” of the refuges (Occoquan Bay is one of three refuges in a complex of three within a few miles of each other, although currently one of them is only accessible by kayak). I must be very easy to read because the volunteer making the sale remarked that as a “friend” I’d have occasional access to areas not open to the public (which, honestly, is about 80% of the refuge, and I’d give myself about a 4 out of 10 on ability to obey those rules). And really I do want to get more involved with the refuges so had I known about the organization, I’d have joined a long time ago. I want to do things like count species for them.

ANYWAY, the weather’s been about a 12 out of 10 all week and it’s the last few days I’ll be able to get into the refuge past 5 p.m., so Wednesday night I was down there again tromping around.

This is the entrance road. The main parking lot is in the middle of the refuge so I’m headed there. The sign says, “Welcome to Your National Wildlife Refuge System,” which always makes me think MINE MINE MINE!

Apparently the refuge’s beaches used to be a tourist attraction until the ’40s, after which the army bought it and used it as a research station until the ’90s, at which time US Fish and Wildlife bought it and allowed nature to reclaim most of it. Remnants of the army installation remain pretty much only in the form of the roads which now form the hiking paths. This is Easy Road, with the sun setting behind me as I hike east:

And this was taken just a little further down Easy Road, but turned around and facing away from the sun:

I’m not really sure where the boundaries of the different water bodies are, but this is probably right about where Belmont and Occoquan Bays merge. OBNWR is located at the intersection of the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers.

I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons I want to be at OBNWR around sunset is because I REALLY want a good picture of a fox and sunset or sunrise will be my best bet. And I see one maybe one out of every three times I go around sunset. But I NEVER get the picture. THEY ARE SO QUICK! (And always jumping over lazy dogs!) It started getting dark fast after I took those sunset pics over the bay(s), so I had to trot back rather quickly to my car, which as I said was parked in the middle of the refuge. So I was trot trot trotting, turned a corner, and found myself face to face with a beautiful red fox, startling both of us. He was actually too close to me! Too close for my 400mm lens to focus on him! Damn it! Here he is running away from me!

To be even more honest: although I want a fox picture bad, I also don’t want one, because I like having a goal. I wanted a turkey picture bad and now I see turkeys all the time and I’m all, “ho hum, another turkey”. (I’m also all, “Ho Ho Ho, Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?“, one of the three best Christmas songs ever!)

In personal news, yesterday it dawned on me that I might be a hippie, or rather, that other people probably consider me a hippie. I’m not really one for labels. When I wore a lot of black and danced to anything by Depeche Commode, I never once called myself a goth. But I went to a new person for a haircut last night and had the following exchange:

Hair stylist: How often do you wash your hair?
Me: Rarely.
Hair stylist: What do you wash it with?
Me: Some handmade shampoo bar I got from etsy.
Hair stylist: What styling products do you use?
Me: The gel I scrape from inside the leaves of my aloe plant.

I mean, to me, all that sounds perfectly normal. Everything I do seems very normal. But even *I* walked away from that conversation thinking I might be a goddamn hippie. In discussing what sort of cut I wanted, he asked what styling methods I use and I had to confess that the only hair dryer I own is my convertible car. He did his best not to look mortified, but he did suggest about five times that I try switching to a volumizing shampoo. His parting words to me were: “VOLUMIZING MOUSSE!”.

Well, that was probably TMI, so I’m going to go now and don some love beads, switch on the black light, burn some incense, douse myself in patchouli (crap, I have a bar of patchouli soap in my shower; if I wanted to avoid this hippie label I’m not faring very well here), crank up In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (hmm, not only do I own In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, probably half of my music is from the ’60s – it’s getting harder to run from this label), drop some acid, and ruminate on how the man is bringing me down.

I don’t know if this picture makes me a hippie but it is one of the more normal outfits I wore in college. It probably just makes me weird.

In the immortal words of Mark E. Smith:

You don’t have to be strange to be strange. You don’t have to be weird to be weird.

Edited to add: I just learned that Mark E. Smith is on twitter and his tweets are just about what I expected, which is to say, hilarious.

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Soyrizo-stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Here’s a tasty dish I whipped up last night partially to use up several different leftovers: a single link of soyrizo, a couple of poblano peppers that had seen better days, and a little less than a cup of cooked black-eyed peas. I also had a box of super-cute baby sweet potatoes from the farmers market that I wanted to base my meal around. I just combined all of that stuff et viola!

Soyrizo-stuffed Sweet Potatoes

4 large baby sweet potatoes or 2 medium regular sweet potatoes
1 link vegan chorizo (“soyrizo”)
2 poblano peppers
1/2 – 1 cup cooked black-eyed peas
shredded vegan cheese (I used jack flavor) (optional)

I used the largest 4 in a box of baby sweet potatoes, but you can also use regular sized ones. Poke them a few times with a fork, rub lightly with olive oil, and bake them (the toaster oven is perfect for this) at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until a fork pierces them easily. How long this will take will depend on the size of the potatoes; my baby potatoes were probably done in 30-40 minutes. Remove them from the oven, make a slit lengthwise down the top of them by poking with a fork, then put one palm on either end of each potato and press your hands together until the split opens up to a perfect pocket for stuffing.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Roast the poblano peppers. If you have a gas stove, you can do this right over the flame. I have an electric stove (bleh), but this pepper roaster works great on an electric stove. You could also put them under the broiler for several minutes, though if you do that, I’d stem and seed them first instead of after roasting so you don’t have to turn them. In any case, roast them until the skins are black and charred, then pop them into a paper bag, close it up, and set aside to cool. After 10 or 15 minutes, the charred skins will slide right off the peppers. Remove the seed and stems and chop the peppers.

Heat some oil in a small skillet, then add the soyrizo, chopped roasted peppers, and cooked black-eyed peas and saute for a few minutes.

When this mixture seems thoroughly cooked, spoon it into each of the sweet potatoes. If you’d like, top with shredded vegan cheese.

Pop back into the oven until the potatoes are warm and the cheese, if using, is melted.

I served this with kale chips seasoned with cumin, chili powder, and smoked paprika, and a garden salad tossed with a homemade lime vinaigrette. (I believe the vinaigrette was olive oil, lime juice, garlic, salt, cumin, and cilantro.) The leftover potatoes and kale chips made a nice lunch today.

I haven’t posted any raccoon pictures lately! This was was taken from within a cage that I was cleaning. One of our wild mother raccoons was bringing her babies by for a visit.

We released 19 raccoons a few weeks ago. We’re lucky in that we can do what is called a soft release, which means we can release the animals right on the property, leaving their cages open and providing food for a few days until the more cautious are ready to totally make on their own and go find their own territory. A few take off as soon as we open their little escape door and we never see them again, but many hang around for varying lengths of time. This is a raccoon that we released this summer who was lurking around the deck hoping for a food handout.

Speaking of raccoons, if you have three minutes, this is an awesome video by the Humane Society that explains how we receive many of our orphaned babies – in fact it features Dogue Hollow! So if you want a tiny glimpse into where I spend a chunk of every weekend, watch through to the end.

In other nature news, about the only thing I don’t like about Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (other than the fact that their website looks screwed up right now) is they aren’t open from sunrise to sunset like many parks. Instead they are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the spring and summer and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the fall and winter. This is frustrating because the majority of wildlife comes out at dusk and goes back in at dawn. As the closing time changes to 5 p.m. next month and the days are getting shorter, this is a good time to go down there after work to take pictures because it’s one of the few times of the year you can really be there near sunset. So that’s what I did last week. Unfortunately I didn’t encounter much wildlife other than these turkeys …

… but the sunset was pretty.


(Yes, I was naughty and stayed past 7!)

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Lettuce Wraps

So, I’ve been injured. I wouldn’t bring it up except I’ve gone through phases of being annoyed, then depressed, and then scared by it, but now it’s just gotten downright comical. I’m not a runner. In fact, I have always despised running and haven’t done it since playing JV field hockey in high school. So I usually swim or walk for exercise. Mark and I have a nice treadmill that is integrated with Google Maps, so I like to plot scenic walks for workouts then watch the Streetview pictures while the treadmill adjusts the incline based on the altitude of my course. I mostly love walking along beautiful coastlines, but then I decided to hike down the Grand Canyon because it looked so pretty. This, of course, was all downhill, and suddenly it seemed so easy to break into a trot. Encouraged by the immediate drop in the time to complete my workout, I continued to run, off and on, throughout the course of my 4-mile trek. I finished up the workout feeling very proud of myself, though a little weak in the knees.

I later learned that running downhill is very hard on your knees and for the next couple of day I limped a little, which I chalked up to the years my knees had gone without being forced to run, however, over time, my knees started getting worse, not better, until I began attracting the concerned attention of co-workers and people on the street. Although the small kindnesses of strangers (for example, returning my grocery cart for me) restored my faith in humanity, I hate attracting attention to myself. I had to start asking Mark to help me with some things, and I hate not feeling self-sufficient, so when walking from one room of the house to another became a daunting prospect, I started slipping into depression and frustration. Around the same time, the swelling and pain in my knees expanded to my ankle, compounding the problem. Discussing it with a runner RN friend of mine, she asked if I’d been bitten by a tick recently, as migratory joint issues are a symptom of Lyme disease. As it turns out, I was bitten by a tick back in May and as it also turns out, I’m terrified of Lyme disease, so I promptly totally overreacted, worked myself into a state of panic, and immediately saw my doctor. I haven’t yet gotten the results of Lyme disease test back, so I’m not in the clear, although I have calmed down considerably about it. However, as I was practically unable to walk when I saw him, my doctor gave me an anti-inflammatory pill that gave me a few hours of relief a day and allowed me to walk across the airport to our gate when the day came for us to fly to Charleston for a week with Mark’s family.

I was so ecstatic to get to the beach the day after our arrival, because we never made it to the beach last summer and due to my knees and ankle I hadn’t exercised in over two weeks, so I was desperate to swim. I waded out to a nice spot where I could swim around and watch the pelicans fish and was immediately stung by a jellyfish ON MY SWOLLEN, PAINFUL ANKLE (and the other as well). This was the first time I’d ever been stung, and honestly it wasn’t that bad, so I just ignored it and continued swimming for a couple of hours, blissfully happy. I just found it amusing I’d managed to get stung on my ankles and I was relieved to learn that jellyfish stings weren’t as bad as I’d thought they were.

Two days later – yesterday – Mark and I were in the ocean again, frolicking for a while when all of the sudden I screamed – stung AGAIN, and this time much worse. Again it was both ankles, and again, much worse on the injured one. Mark walked me out of the surf and both my ankles were red, one of them quite puffy from the original injury but with a new, swirling, barbed red mark wrapped back and forth all around the ankle where the tentacle had grabbed me. It was a lot harder to ignore this time, so soon we packed up and went home where my mother-in-law wrapped vinegar-soaked gauze around both ankles and forced me to sit with them propped up until the burning sensation started to subside. Once I was able to walk without grimacing, I realized how funny the situation was. I mean, REALLY? This morning, a day after, I’m still sporting a angry swirled, barbed tattoo although it no longer stings.

And yes, I’m planning to go back in the ocean despite the fact that it’s apparently teeming with jellyfish right now. Because I can’t REALLY get stung on my swollen ankle EVERY TIME I go out, can I? My luck can’t be THAT bad, right?? Yes, I’m stupid enough to try it. I want to swim THAT badly.

Anyway, if you’ve waded this far into the post, I shall reward you not by stinging you where you are most vulnerable, but with a recipe!! As Mark’s mother is in the process of moving and is between houses right now, we are all staying at his aunt’s house. I wanted to make the family dinner yesterday, so before we went to the beach, we picked up some groceries and I got everything all prepped for dinner. I’m so glad I prepped dinner before the beach because all I had to do once I’d recovered sufficiently from the sting was quickly cook everything in a wok, and that was easy enough to do even while hobbling. The concept of this meal was Mark’s. He, his mom, and I were standing around Earth Fare trying to decide what I should make, and Mark made each of us pick a letter of the alphabet, then he used our letters to come up with ingredients, which he strung into a meal idea. Our letters were L, R, and P, which Mark translated to lettuce, rice, and protein (and peppers), then announced lettuce wraps as our meal concept. We ended up changing the rice to cellophane noodles, but I thought lettuce wraps were a splendid suggestion and worked well for a blazing hot day, following some beach time. So we wandered around the aisles as I thought up a rough recipe, which I now present to you. This is a good meal for prepping ahead of time and it easy to put together in unfamiliar kitchens, such as vacation rentals.

Lettuce Wraps

1-2 heads iceberg lettuce (depending on how many you are serving and how many good, large pieces of lettuce you can get out of each one)
6 ounces cellophane (mung bean) noodles
2 1/2 cups vegan “beef” broth, divided
1 1/2 cups bulghur
1 heaping cup TVP granules
1 onion, chopped small
1 bell pepper, chopped small
several cloves garlic, minced or pressed
chili peppers, minced (as many as you want depending on their hotness and your tolerance for spiciness)
6 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
6 Tbsp hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Put the bulghur in a large bowl and the TVP in a medium bowl. Bring the broth to a boil. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the broth over the bulghur and stir …

… and pour the rest of the broth over the TVP.

Cover both bowls with a plate and set aside. The bulghur may take up to a couple of hours to soak completely; the TVP about 15 minutes. Both can sit for a while longer, though if it will be several hours you may want to put them in the refrigerator.

Put the cellophane noodles in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 15 minutes then drain. This was practically impossible to take a picture of, so use your imagination. Whisk together the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and sesame oil. I didn’t even think to take a picture of that but I’m sure you can imagine what it looked like.

Prep all of the veggies by chopping. There is a bowl of purple potatoes in this picture because I used them, but they didn’t add anything to the dish and I wouldn’t bother with them next time. (You can see in this picture that I served corn on the cob on the side.)

Now BRAVE THE DANGEROUS, DANGEROUS SEA for a couple of hours.

When you are ready to prepare the meal, heat some oil in a large wok, then add the onions and cook until soft. Add the garlic and hot peppers and cook for a minute or two, then add the bell pepper and cook another few minutes. Add the bulghur, TVP, and cellophane noodles, stirring and cooking until warmed through. Finally, stir in the sauce and cook for another couple of minutes.
<img src="http://ineluctable.org/ieatfood/lettuce_wraps/lettuce%20wraps_4.jpg".

Mark's cousin is sensitive to wheat, so in a small separate pan I made her some that only had TVP and no bulghur.

I put Mark to work separating, washing, and drying the lettuce leaves.

Everyone helped themselves to lettuce leaves, then heaped some of the filling into them and rolled them up. Sriracha would have been nice.

Before rolling and shoving in my face:

Not all of my trips to the beach have ended traumatically. We took an absolutely beautiful sunset walk along the beach one night, which actually was very easy on my ankle.

In the first few days after the Grand Canyon Fiasco, I was able to walk well enough that when the temperature plummeted from 100 degrees to 80 one day, I practically ran to the wildlife refuge, where I encountered several different types of dragonfly.

I was able to add a new animal to the list of species I’ve seen there, although this groundhog running doesn’t make a very good picture.

The bunnies come out close to sunset; here is one stuffing his face with grass.

And some ospreys enjoying a very non-vegan family dinner.

And with that I’m off for more family time while trying to avoid any further attacks to my legs.

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Italian Pickled Peppers and Creamy Mayo-Free Coleslaw

I bought a pint of peppers at the farmers market that looked perfect for pickling (and no, I can’t stop thinking about Peter picking a peck of pickled peppers), so I made a simple quick pickle brine that included some of my potted oregano, figuring they’d be awesome on pizza. Plus, I’m a plant killer and the oregano is pretty much dead so I figured I might as well use what I can. (It’s a shame; it was a particularly potent variety and the plant smelled strongly of pizza – I was drooling when I bought it. Curse my black thumb.) Though I made it specifically for putting on pizza, I’ve been eating it by itself as a garnish with every meal I’ve had, even stir frys. Unless Mark is ready to harvest a bunch of the peppers he’s growing (he does NOT have a black thumb), I’ll have to buy another pint or two of peppers at the market this weekend. The brine gets spicy and delicious as well.

Italian Pickled Peppers

1 pint hot peppers, like peperoncini or wax
1 large shallot
2 or 3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup white wine or apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
several sprigs fresh oregano
a few sprigs of fresh dill (optional)

Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt and heat until just boiling (in a small pot or in the microwave), whisking to ensure the sugar is completely dissolved. Slice the peppers (seeded if you like) and shallot thinly. Smash the garlic cloves lightly with the side of a knife. Toss the peppers and shallots together to mix them up and put them into a pint canning jar with the herbs and garlic cloves. Pour the liquid mixture into the jar.

This had a good flavor a mere half hour later, but is really best after refrigerating for 24 hours.

A tasty garnish for just about any dish!

I had extra brine, so I added some olive oil, fresh herbs, and lemon juice and made a salad dressing out of it.

Here is a flatbread pizza sporting some of the peppers (and some basil that I haven’t yet managed to kill, mostly because Mark won’t let me near it):

Mark is a big mayo-hater, and although I don’t hate mayonnaise, I do consider it pretty unhealthy, so I usually do vinaigrette versions of salads that are usually dressed in mayo, and honestly, I think they taste much better that way. I don’t usually prefer dressings to be creamy, but this coleslaw recipe uses a little bit of yogurt for a hint of creaminess.

Creamy Mayo-Free Coleslaw

1 small head cabbage (green or savoy)
1/2 small onion
2 green onions, sliced thinly
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp plain vegan yogurt
2 Tbsp canola or other flavorless oil
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp celery seeds

Grate the cabbage and the onion – I use a mandolin for this – and put in a large bowl with the green onions. Whisk together the vinegar, yogurt, oil, sugar, mustard, salt, and celery seeds. Pour the mixture over the cabbage and onions and mix thoroughly; I advise using your hands. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour to allow the flavors to blend.

Last night’s dinner, featuring the coleslaw (and you can see the pickled peppers, as well as some quick pickled carrots):

Mark spends about 10 minutes artfully arranging the food on his plate every night. He watches too much Gordon Ramsay.

Time for book and animal talk. Once again, I experienced a random segue from a fiction to a non-fiction book. Last weekend I read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. It’s about a girl who was raised with a chimpanzee as a sister until both she and the chimp were 5, and how this has impacted her life and that of her family. Confronted by some crows that the narrator is convinced are calling them bad names, one of the characters (who is vegan when he’s not “on the road” working for the Animal Liberation Front) responds, “Crows are very smart. If they say we’re idiots, we’re idiots.”

Well, I had already cued up Gifts of the Crow as my very next read, so I was about to find out just how smart crows are, if not whether or not they think we are idiots. Gifts of the Crow was fascinating; I read the entire thing while at Mark’s chess tournament. It’s very heavy on brain chemistry, so if you’re not interested in that sort of thing, it might not be for you, but I learned that crows:

  • Can talk.
  • If perched on a ledge from which dangles food on a long string, know to pull up on the string, making loops and stepping on them with their feet, until the food is hoisted all the way up.
  • Not only manufacture tools (the classic example is bending wire to make a hook), but will use items they previously proved unhelpful in other endeavors to assist making their tools – they are very innovative and can reassess the usefulness of tools in different situations.
  • Will place leaves over bread tossed from humans to geese, so the geese can’t find the bread and leave in frustrated confusion, at which times the crows feast.
  • Will chase squirrels into traffic during rush hour, then wait until traffic dies down to eat the dead squirrels.
  • Will pull the tails of dogs (tail pulling seems to be a favorite crow activity, by the way) to trick them out of their dog food, either by dropping food they have in their mouth, or by ganging up so that one crow distracts the dog while the other steals its food.
  • Are big “cachers” – they hide food and trinkets they don’t need right away – and if they notice a fellow crow watching them hiding their cache, they will fake the other crow out by stuffing the item into its chest feathers or in its beak and pretend to cache it in one location, but secretly hide it elsewhere later. Although they are also so smart that they know that other crows are trying to fake them out, so this is a vicious cycle. Moreover, if a crow sees another crow getting near its cache, they will make a distraction and retrieve the cache before the other bird can get to it…but only if the first crow previously saw the second crow see the first crow hiding it. Calling someone a “bird brain” is supposed to be an insult, but crows come close to OVER thinking things!
  • Can count, and understand that even if they can’t see something, it’s still there. Eight researchers in a blind tried to trick crows into thinking a field was safe to land in and not a single crow would leave their high perches until all eight people had left the blind and the field – even when the researchers left the blind in groups of random numbers to try to fake them out.
  • Learn from the mistakes of other crows. If a crow sees one of their brethren die or become injured, through misadventure or through human intervention, none of the other crows in the area will make the same mistake. Ever.
  • Remember human faces – for years. And they’ll tell all their friends if you are a good or a bad person. If you do something bad to a crow or a crow sees you do something bad to some other crow, that crow will harass you – forever – and so will others he knows. Crows who never even saw the original infraction will harangue you (proving crows have some sort of language they use to communicate with each other) even when the crow you originally slighted isn’t around.
  • Know what car you drive. Maybe you should just read the book for an explanation of that one, but yeah. They don’t just know your face, they know your car. And they’ll use your car as a vehicle to show their displeasure with you.
  • Remember and reward kindnesses in humans as well as meanness. Crows have been known to bring gifts – often some shiny, human trinket they’ve stolen – to people who have fed them or saved their life.

Basically, crows (and all birds in the corvid family, which also includes ravens, rooks, jays, magpies, and others) are ridiculously smart, rivaling apes and, in my opinion, some humans. In fact, I kind of think the only reason they haven’t taken over the planet is because they’re lazy and are just waiting for us to come up with all the technology we can. Crows don’t want to be bothered by discovering cold fusion for themselves. Once we’ve created everything crows think they need to rule the earth, I think that’s the end of us. To that end, I designed this t-shirt so when our new crow overlords arrive they know that I’m a sympathizer.

There were crows cawing nearby when I took that picture, by the way, although none stopped by. I’m sure they can read English, however, so they’re probably already putting word out that I can be counted on during the great crow uprising.

They are remarkable creatures and I hope to be involved in crow rehab in the future. First, though, the raptors…coming soon.

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Getting rid of this cold: Thai “Chicken” Noodle Soup

I’m still trying to kick the cold I mentioned in my last post, but I did have the energy to make some illness-defeating soup last night: Thai “chicken” noodle.

Thai “Chicken” Noodle Soup
Adapted from http://thaifood.about.com/od/thaisnacks/r/chickenoodlesou.htm

12 oz flat rice noodles (wide or thin, your choice)
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
8 cups vegan “chicken” broth
1 thumb-length hunk of ginger, grated
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 huge carrot, sliced on the diagonal
1-2 stalks celery, sliced on the diagonal
1-2 chilies, sliced on the diagonal (depending on the heat level of the chili and how hot you want your soup)
1 stalk lemongrass, minced
2 bay leaves (use a few kaffir lime leaves instead if you have them)
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 cups vegan “chicken” strips or “breasts”, pan-fried and chopped (honestly, this is really optional if you aren’t a fan of mock meats)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Put the rice noodles in a large pot and cover with cold water. Soak for 20 minutes (or longer), then bring water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, remove it from the heat and let the noodles sit until they are soft (this will only take a few minutes). Drain and rinse with cold water to stop them from cooking. Set aside.

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven and add the shallots and garlic. Cook until beginning to brown. Add the broth, ginger, lime juice, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. If you have a large tea strainer that closes, put the bay leaves and lemongrass in it and put it in the pot. (If you don’t have a tea strainer, add the lemongrass with the shallots and the bay leaves with the broth, remembering to remove the bay leaves later. I use the tea strainer because lemongrass never seems to get entirely soft for me and I don’t like eating hard bits of it in soup.) Bring everything to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, and chilies and continue to simmer until the carrots and celery are soft.

Add the coconut milk, chopped “chicken”, and cilantro and simmer gently for another few minutes.

To serve, put a heap of rice noodles in a bowl and ladle broth over them. I sprinkled mine with thinly sliced scallions and had some sriracha and lime wedges nearby.

This was an interesting change of pace and certainly had all the ingredients I look for in a make-me-feel-better meal (garlic, ginger, chilies, broth), although pho is my all-time favorite. I’d have made it tonight if I hadn’t been out of star anise!

Pictures of animals, you say? Here is a great blue heron. I see at least one of them every time I’m out. It’s weird.

Tree swallow.

Not an animal, but named for one: cattails.

And to wrap things up, a raccoon trying to steal cookies, probably successfully.

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