Raccoons, and guess what

Guess what I did tonight? I took photos for a FOOD POST and I’m really, truly going to post it this week! Unfortunately, it’s not an original recipe, but to me it’s kind of important so I thought I would document my process and share. In the meantime, how about a raccoon update?

See this horde eating? They just moved to an outdoor cage and my lord, they are a really cute and fun bunch, but they are HYPERACTIVE. Feeding them is the last thing I do before leaving their cage, so here they are focused on the food I just put down, but prior to the food, that swarming they are doing? I was like the food in this picture. THEY WERE ALL OVER ME. They are SUPER interested in EVERYTHING I do, so they “help”. I try to sweep, there are two raccoons pulling the broom away from me, three climbing up my leg, one on my head, and one dumping the contents of the dustbin back onto the floor. I try to clean their litter boxes, there is one who won’t get out of the dirty litter box, one dragging the Clorox bottle off somewhere, one tearing up the roll of paper towels, one actually snatching the paper towel I’m currently using to wipe the box away from me (ripping it up in the process), one dumping the contents of my trash bag onto the floor, one climbing my leg, and one on my head. I try to hose the floor down, there’s two climbing me, two attacking the hose, one playing in the stream of water, one dangling from the ceiling and undoing my ponytail, and one on my shoulders. CHAOS. Sometimes you get a crew that doesn’t even bother waking up when you come in to clean, or they slowly straggle out with mild interest, and with those types I always think, “oh, you guys are boring”, but let me tell you, it takes about a 1,000 times longer to clean when they scramble out of their nest box to “help” like these guys.

Because these guys are still kind of young, we’ve been giving them Cheerios and formula for breakfast, even though we usually don’t give any formula once they’ve moved outside. That will only last a few days, then they’ll be eating all solid food, which includes specially prepared trays of various fruits, veggies, berries, nuts, and meat, as well as dog food.

Did you know raccoons are musically gifted? Well, they’re not, but they sure love playing with wind chimes. That’s one of their hammocks from which they like to lean down and pull my ponytail holder out from my hair. I always look REAL classy after being in there.

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Baby raccoon

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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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Green Salsa Tomato Burritos

I bought some green tomatoes at the farmers market yesterday, mostly because I don’t think I’ve ever actually bought green tomatoes before. I figured I’d fry them up somehow, but when I was surveying the kitchen for burrito filling ideas (at the suggestion of Smucky), I came across the green tomatoes and thought I could incorporate them somehow. Aided by a recipe I found online, I decided to make a salsa with them, and it was pretty tasty, so I shall share.

A green tomato.

Green Tomato Salsa
Lightly adapted from http://moderncomfortfood.com/2010/09/green-tomato-salsa-verde/

2 medium green tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 small or 1/2 medium to large onion, roughly chopped
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, roughly chopped
3 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp sugar (I used brown sugar because my brown sugar is easier to get to than my white sugar)
pinch or two of cumin seeds
pinch of salt
splash of olive oil
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Place all of the ingredients except the lime juice and cilantro in a medium saucepan with a little bit of water (2-3 tablespoons). Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes or until tomatoes are soft.

Use a slotted spoon to move the mixture to a food processor.

Add the lime juice and cilantro and pulse until it’s as smooth or as chunky as you like. Let cool. Serve with tortilla chips or enjoy in a burrito as described below.

Green Tomato Salsa Burritos
Makes enough filling for 4-6 burritos depending on size

1 cup TVP
scant 1 cup vegan “beef” broth
1 packet Goya seasoning with corinader and annatto (optional)
1 cup cooked rice (I especially like rice cooked in broth for this recipe)
fresh cooked corn from 1 ear
1 recipe Green Tomato Salsa (see above)
flour tortillas

Heat the broth to a boil and whisk in the Goya seasoning if using. Pour the broth over the TVP, cover, and set aside for 10 minutes to rehydrate.

Assemble the burritos by putting down a line of rice, then topping it with the TVP mixture, corn, and plenty of salsa.

Roll them up. Burritos are not the easiest things to photograph, but trust me, this was tasty.

So, what else have I been up to? Raccoons, mostly. It’s the height of baby season and we are inundated. This little tyke arrived one day a few weeks ago and only had one ear! This was a birth defect.

Some of you may remember the the story of Emmy, who acted as a surrogate mother for some of our babies last year. We weren’t able to give any of our babies to her this year as she had a full litter of her own to take care of. A couple of weeks ago she moved the whole brood from her usual nest box to another one in a nearby tree. These pictures were taken two weeks ago when the babies were exactly eight weeks old. It was a very hot day and Emmy is trying to get some air by sleeping in outside. One of her babies woke up and got curious about the outside world. These are pictures of this brave little one venturing outside the nest box on his own for possibly the very first time.

“I’m going to do it!”

“Eh, that’s probably enough for today.”

“I’ll just hang here for a while.”

In other news, I’m SO GLAD it’s farmers market season. I don’t know how I survive without it. The only annoying part of the farmers market is bringing home my heavy basket of produce and being hassled by my cats, who LOVE chewing on anything green. Gomez’s face is NOT supposed to be in my food, but I was really charmed by the pattern of these garlic scapes sitting in my basket.

I’ve been continuing to go to parks whenever I’m able, though not as often as I’d like. The other day at Burke Lake Park I saw this luna moth. It was huge – at least 4″ wide.

An isolated picnic table at Burke Lake Park:
<img src="http://ineluctable.org/ieatfood/green_tomato_salsa/I%20think%20I'll%20eat%20lunch%20at%20this%20table%20some%20day.jpg".

And here are some pictures I took along Marumsco Creek, which runs between Occoquan Bay NWR and Veterans Memorial Park.

Mostly I saw a lot of different kinds of turtles. This is a painted turtle:

Eastern black snake.

This frog was my favorite.

An infrared shot of the creek.

I very narrowly missed getting drenched in a storm – the first fat raindrops fell from the sky when I was about 100 feet from my car and by the time my camera and I were safely inside, it was pouring. You could say I started hurrying back when the sky turned ominous, which is true, but the rather Renae form of hurrying that involves stopping and taking lots of pictures.

Finally, happy Bloomsday to all you literature lovers and Happy Father’s Day to all you fathers, especially my own, who is pictured here helping my mother brush his dog’s teeth. Good oral hygiene is important for everyone!

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Brookland Cafe, bluebells, babies (of the raccoon variety), and a trophy for Smark

Although we live nearby, Mark and I rarely venture to DC, which frankly, I do not like. If I need or want to do something in a city, I’ll usually drive up to Baltimore, where I am from, where I know people, where the streets make sense (They are a grid! They don’t look like someone threw a bowl of noodles on the floor and turned it into a map!), and where one is able to park their car. Mark and I lived in DC near Georgetown for a year, and more than once Mark drove home to our neighborhood, couldn’t find parking, and had to drive back to his office and sleep there because there wasn’t anywhere to put his car. Since we moved to Virginia, my forays into DC have been mostly limited to meetings for work, shows at the 9:30 Club (which I love), and occasional trips to the Smithsonian.

This is part of the reason you rarely see restaurant reviews on this blog; DC has plenty of options for vegans, but I’m barely familiar with them because I avoid the place (and I usually insist on Ethiopian when I am there!). But Mark was in a chess tournament near the Mall last Saturday, so after helping raccoons in the morning, I met him out there. After his tournament, we went out to dinner at a new vegan-friendly restaurant, so I thought I’d do a little review. And blab about my life, because you miss that, right?

I’ll go in chronological order, more or less. Mark, brave soul, drove downtown in the morning to register for the tournament, and I did my regular raccoon routine. We have 15 babies right now, but I think it was about 8 last weekend. This is Vinegar, and like Bender, he can’t roll off his back to right himself. (Most raccoons can – Vinegar is too fat!)

Once all the babies were fed and all the cages clean, I took the metro into the city and found Mark, who was doing well in the tournament. I didn’t hang around the chess place, though. I crossed Pennsylvania Ave…

…and headed towards the Mall.

I was hoping to see the rocket Antares during its takeoff, but the takeoff got scrubbed, for the second time, at the last minute. (It finally took off the next day.) I was disappointed, but I did think the Washington Monument looked a bit like a rocket prepared for liftoff with the scaffolding currently surrounding it. (It’s under repairs due to the earthquake we had in 2011.)

Did you know that the Smithsonian owns one of the original Paris metro signs that I loooooooooooove? (Oh, Paris; you pull off crazy streets and a lack of parking with so much more class than DC.)

I wandered around a couple of the Smithsonian’s gardens for a while…

… then headed back towards Mark. I witnessed a duck walking down the sidewalk outside the Natural History Museum. Why??? I guess she walked up from the Tidal Basin, but that seems rather dangerous. In retrospect, I wonder if I shouldn’t have tried to relocate her, although she seemed to know what she was doing.

Mark was outside waiting for me…with a trophy!!! He won every game of the tournament!

We went to Brookland Cafe for dinner because I had read online that they had a vegan menu and I wanted to check out their selection of vegan bar food. And I REALLY wanted a beer (it was hot!). It’s about 3 blocks from the Brookland CUA station. I had insisted we take the metro even though many stops were closed and we therefore had to take a shuttle for part of the way because I’d never been to Brookland and my base assumption for DC is there is no parking, but actually there was plenty of parking. That was around 6:30 on a Saturday; not sure if that makes a difference. The interior:

Mark was starved after his mental exertions, so we ordered an appetizer of jerk “chicken” tenders. These ended up being a veggie burger cut into strips and covered in a jerk sauce. I wasn’t expecting a veggie burger, but the sauce was tasty.

For his main, Mark ordered the mock fish sandwich. The “fish” looked and tasted like the fish filets I sometimes order from May Wah…which is good because we love those things.

I got the BBQ sandwich. This one was Gardein, I think even the sauce.

For our sides, we both ordered the “explosion” fries, which is a mixture of all four fries they have: regular, sweet potato, lemon pepper, and red pepper. Those were fun. Neither of us could finish our sandwiches, so we took the leftovers home. Because they were based on frozen products, it would have been fairly easy to make any of these dishes at home (except maybe the fries), and I prefer go to restaurants for things I can’t easily make at home, however, everything was also very delicious, the service was extremely attentive and friendly, and I like supporting places that have vegan menus, so I would definitely return. If we lived nearby, I could see Mark and I going there regularly for a beer on nights I didn’t feel like cooking. I would very much prefer it if they got rid of the television, though, and used real china and silverware instead of disposable plastic. I’m kind of hoping the latter is just a temporary measure for some reason.

Before I go, can we talk briefly about how much I love spring? One of the highlights around here is the Virginia bluebells. A couple of weekends ago I went to Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area to check them out.

That was extremely pleasant, although I think Bull Run Regional Park is still my favorite place to see them. I missed them there at their peak, but I did head down there one night after work this week.

Although the blanket of blue wasn’t as heavy as it would have been a couple of weeks ago, it was still beautiful.

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A rare request, and some winter wildlife

No food today, sorry. I do, however, have a request, and then some raptor tales and pictures. First, it’s been a while, so here is a raccoon! This is Sophie and she’s super sweet.

I don’t think I’ve put a name to the wildlife sanctuary where I volunteer and take all the pictures of raccoons I’m always treating you to or boring you with, depending on your perspective. It’s Dogue Hollow Wildlife Sanctuary and you can also find us on Facebook where we post a lot of pictures. I’ve been occasionally asked by readers how they can give me something to thank me for my recipes or pictures or something I’ve sent them. I don’t want or need anything. I keep this blog because I enjoy doing it and because this is my only contact with the vegan community. Mark and I are able to pay our server costs without a struggle and I’ll never subject you to advertising. But while I don’t need anything, Dogue Hollow does, and although I’d be uncomfortable asking for donations in my capacity as a blogger, in my capacity as a Dogue Hollow board member, I’m kind of obligated to make my first feeble fundraising attempt.

We have two very large projects we desperately need to do as soon as possible at Dogue Hollow: we need to build a new nursery for baby raccoons, which will require about $6,000, and we need to install a generator, which will require about $14,000. Dogue Hollow was hit hard by the derecho last July: we were without power or water for 5 days in the 100+ degree heat. Had the storm hit a few weeks earlier when the babies were younger, we’d almost have certainly have lost some of them; we were very lucky they all survived, but it was a terrible strain on our resources. It is VERY hard to keep nearly 50 baby animals alive without running water for cleaning or electricity to refrigerate formula and medicine. The weather around here is only getting weirder and we are likely to lose power for multiple days during any bad storm. Hence the need for the generator. Our first priority is the new nursery, which we need because we’ve been taking in more and more baby raccoons every year and we simply no longer have room to house them. If we don’t have more room, we run the risk of having to refuse raccoons simply for lack of space.

These needs put our operating costs very much over our normal annual budget, and we usually scrape by as it is. So we’re trying to ramp up fundraising right now…though none of us are fundraising experts. (By the way, if you are and you want to volunteer, let me know! And also if you live in Northern Virginia and want to volunteer in some other capacity, let me know.) We’ve opened a special savings account specifically for these two projects and kicked it off with two very generous donations totaling $3,500. I don’t expect most donations to be anywhere near that large, but they put us more than halfway to getting the new nursery, which means smaller donations of even $10 will go a long way to getting us the rest of the way there. So if you’ve ever wanted to thank me for anything, or if you like my raccoons stories and pictures, or if you just want to help wildlife, please consider making a donation, however small. You can do so either via Paypal on our website or by sending a check. You don’t have to, but if you’d like, you can mention with your donation that Renae sent you – I don’t get anything but gratitude from the other board members, but it helps us to know how people heard about us.

This just in! After discussing this with Mark, I can offer anyone who makes a donation of $20 or more a free custom drawing by Mark. Mark is an amazing artist. He could seriously have a second career drawing comics. The only restriction is you must request something “fanciful” that leaves him room for creative interpretation: for example, a raccoon eating a sandwich, not Batman. He’s also very good at aliens, monsters, and the like. This is a picture he drew for me last Christmas.

If you’d like to receive a drawing from Mark, you’ll have to let me know personally as Mark isn’t making this offer to Dogue Hollow in general, so email me at renae@ineluctable.org if you are interested.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I have some other random wildlife pictures. Last weekend I trekked out to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Part of my mission was to play with my new camera, a micro 4/3 I got for traveling, which I LOVED for our Charleston trip. Unfortunately, it’s really not the camera for birds in flight and within 10 minutes of arriving at the refuge I was mad I hadn’t brought my dSLR because there was a bald eagle soaring over my head. This was the best picture I could get and I was lucky for it:

That turned out not to be the only eagle I saw last week. I later saw one standing on the side of a busy parkway, which kind of freaked me out because you just don’t expect to see a bald eagle on the side of the road when you’re whizzing by at 60 mph in crazy suburbia Northern Virginia. So I had mixed feelings about that: I’m always in awe when I see them, but I hate seeing any animal near a road.

Back to OBNWR, though. I go there regularly, usually better camera-equipped. Other than the eagle, not much else was going on, although it was a gorgeous day. Mostly I just took landscapes, which was okay because I hadn’t really been there in the middle of winter before so it was a new perspective. My two micro 4/3 cameras (one is the infrared-converted one) were fine for that:

After two eagle sightings in one week, I was all hopped up for more raptor photography. A friend had given me a heads’ up on some places that are good for seeing hawks, so on the frigid day that was yesterday, I dragged Mark around two counties trying to get some hawk pictures. I saw nary a hawk. I DID see a Canadian snow goose flying upside down, however:

Apparently this maneuver is called whiffling and if is something they will sometimes do if they need to slow themselves down very quickly for a landing. I think it looks very silly!

After two parks and an exploratory drive, we’d seen zero hawks and we were freezing. We drove back home and parked in our driveway. I gathered my cameras and was hopping out of the Jeep when Mark said, “There is a huge bird sitting on the fence!” And there was a Cooper’s hawk, sitting 20 feet from my front door!

That was pretty amazing because I’ve never seen anything like that in our suburban yard. We get a lot of songbirds, doves, and corvids, but I’ve never seen a raptor. And I happened to have my camera IN MY HANDS! With the 400mm telephoto lens on it and everything! What are the chances?! AND I was dejected at the time because I’d failed to find any hawks after looking for them all day! (Moreover, just the day before I’d expressed jealousy when my mom said she saw a kestrel at her house.) I’m sure there’s some sort of moral here about what you’re looking for being right under your nose, although I hope Mark doesn’t think we’re just hanging out in the backyard next time I want him to go wildlife stalking with me…

Unfortunately, I have a feeling this hawk was menu planning on my fence – he was 10 feet from my bird feeding station and probably hoping for a snack of songbirds. This kind of upsets me because I want the birds I feed to feel safe. But at the same time, LOOK AT HIM! He’s awesome!

That’s it for now. Thank you for indulging me with this post. I promise I’m hardly ever going to make any mention of money for raccoons and I’ll keep posting pictures of them no matter what because people seem to like it. It’s just I’ve been tasked with trying to think of any source possible of animal lovers and it dawned on me that the audience of a vegan blog is probably a good source of animal lovers. Thank you for being really, really great readers whether or not you are able to donate. I have to tell you, I don’t really visit a lot of forums or anything like that because I get really depressed by the negative vibe of many of them, plus I’m very shy – bizarrely even more shy online than in real life – but everyone who comments here, and the writers of all the other vegan blogs I read, are so nice and supportive and wonderful; it restores my often-flagging faith in humanity and truly means a lot to me. I feel like I should be donating to you guys, not the opposite.

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Tangy Cauliflower Soup

I have been on a huge yogurt kick for a while now. I make 2 1/2 quarts at a time, using my dehydrator to incubate it, which provides me breakfasts for more than a week plus extra for other applications. It’s been a while since I did that original yogurt post; perhaps I should do an updated one with my current tips and tricks. Anyway, since I’m pretty much always swimming in yogurt these days, I’m always thinking of things to do with it other than scarfing it down with Grape Nuts, berries, and coconut nectar every morning.

Wide-mouth canning jars are perfect for making yogurt.

I recently bought some commercial yogurt to refresh my cultures and was appalled by how nasty it was: runny, sweet, and so yukky that I gave all but the two tablespoons I needed to the raccoons (who were not nearly as picky as me about it). I should have scooped some out into a bowl for this picture so you can see how thick it is, but trust me, it’s thick.

Anyway, in addition to a ton of delicious yogurt, I had a head of cauliflower and an outside temperature of EIGHT DEGREES last night. Man, I HATE winter. I feel brittle. My feet actually hurt all day, indoors, because they are so cold they feel like they are going to break into pieces. I’ve been talking to the wonderful Smucky and cursing the cold while he at the very same time complains of the heat in Sydney. It’s a stupid 8 degrees here and it’s 114 there! I’d rather have his problem, BUT at least I love soup, so here’s what I made for dinner last night.

Tangy Cauliflower Soup

1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped (if I don’t have this, I’ll often just sprinkle some celery seed in)
1 medium potato, chopped
1 head cauliflower, chopped (doesn’t need to be pretty)
veggie broth to just cover veggies – about 4-5 cups
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup plain nondairy yogurt
juice of 1/2 lemon

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the onions, carrot, and celery and cook until the onions are beginning to brown. Add the cauliflower and potato, then cover them with the veggie broth and add the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the cauliflower is completely soft, about half an hour. Remove from the heat, remove bay leaves, and stir in the yogurt, then puree until silky using an immersion blender, or by cooling and then blending in batches in a regular blender. Season with salt and pepper, then add the lemon juice, more or less to suit your tastes.

Serve with crusty bread, crackers, or croutons. That’s a whole wheat miche, which is a sourdough bread and was nearly as tangy as the soup!

I don’t have much wildlife news to report. I don’t see too much of the raccoons this time of year because they’re older and therefore nocturnal, although we do have two young enough to greet me most mornings. No recent pictures of our juvies, but I did notice a wild (probably earlier-released) adult peeping at me from a nest box the other morning:

My bird feeding station is proving very popular this winter. My favorite bird right now is the red-bellied woodpecker. These pictures are a couple months old but he’s still around. (I say “he” but we really have several.)

I haven’t seen the mangy fox for a while, which is a bad sign. I’ve stopped putting chicken out for him, but I still have interlopers showing up looking for handouts. The interesting thing is they mostly seem to get along. This video shows an opossum, raccoon, and fox in my yard at the same time.

And here is some footage of my favorite skunk, Super H, who is named after my favorite Korean grocery store and the “H” on his back.

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Tofu Gumbo

When given the choice between a vegetable in its “normal” color or the same vegetable in a strange color, I’ll almost always go for the strange color. And I love it when the farmers market has something I’ve never seen before. Hence, I had a quart of red okra in the refrigerator all week that I needed to deal with last night.

I think I like it even better than green okra! It’s a beautiful color.

Okra is neat.

Obviously I had to make gumbo, but making a nice, dark roux for gumbo can be time-consuming, and I didn’t have any vegan sausage prepared, and moreover it was late and we were hungry. I decided that instead of trying to be remotely traditional, I was going to mix random things – I was so incredibly busy this week I didn’t even have time to cook and there was a lot of vegetables from last weekend’s market I had to get rid of – in a pot, season it with Creole seasoning, and call it gumbo. If you want a more traditional gumbo, run to the always amazing Kittee – I’ve made her gumbos before and she much more an authority than me. But if you are lazy and in the mood for something gumbo-ISH, this wasn’t half bad.

I was going to use tempeh as my protein, but there was so much going into this gumbo that I was worried Mark, who only likes tempeh in small doses, would complain about (squash, okra) that I decided to switch to tofu to make it more inviting for him. Surprisingly, he was completely fine with the okra and didn’t even seem to notice the squash, so maybe I could have gotten away with the tempeh, but I do think he liked it a lot more this way than he would have otherwise.

Tofu Gumbo

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups vegan broth (I used “beef” bouillon)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 small squash, chopped
small handful French beans, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped okra
1 lb extra-firm tofu, chopped
2 Tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp liquid smoke
as much Creole seasoning as you can stand before it gets too salty (I used Tony Chachere’s)
Tabasco or other hot sauce, to taste

I should have taken a picture of my roux, but I wasn’t planning to make a post when I started cooking. I actually got a somewhat decent color faster than I thought, but in the interest of time, I decided to only go as dark as I had time to while prepping everything else. So I got a big cast iron Dutch oven out, put it over medium heat, poured in the oil, then with a wooden spoon, stirred in the flour. Then I kept stirring as frequently as I could while prepping everything else. It was definitely a lazy person’s roux, and a bit dangerous (it’s easy to burn if you don’t stir constantly), but it turned out surprisingly well.

While working on the roux, I chopped all the vegetables. In a smaller cast iron pot, I sauteed the onions, celery, and bell pepper until they were soft. When everything was chopped and the “holy trinity” was soft, I slowly and carefully added the broth to the roux (it will immediately bubble up) and stirred until there were no lumps. Then I added all the other ingredients except the Tabasco and let it simmer until everything was cooked through. Finally, I adjusted the saltiness (you can add regular salt if it needs some but you don’t want to over-Tony Chachere it) and added a little Tabasco, saving the rest for individual servings.

Just after adding all the ingredients:

I served it over rice (which has soaked up all the broth in this picture, it’s really a little soupier than it looks).

We have a lot of leftovers, but it keeps well and makes a nice lunch.

I’ve been trying to attract hummingbirds to our yard. We have a ton of birds, many of them very beautiful, such as cardinals, blue jays, and woodpeckers:

And this guy:

But I also wanted hummingbirds. So I’ve been putting nectar out all summer. I saw a single hummingbird at the feeder early on, but then a long period of nothing. Part of the problem was it was so hot this summer that I had to change the nectar about every other day or it would be gross, but it was hard to work up the motivation to keep making nectar, dragging a stool outside to get the feeder down, spilling sticky, bug-filled nectar on myself, and replacing the freshly cleaned and filled feeder when I was never rewarded with hummingbirds. But over the last couple of weeks, possibly because it’s been a little cooler (like in the upper 80s/lower 90s instead of 100+) so I’ve been more regular about replacing the nectar, I’ve started seeing hummingbirds frequently. Today there was a constant parade of them! Of course I wanted to photograph them, but this proved harder than I’d hoped. First there was the fumbling around with the camera and tripod every time, until I gave up and just left the tripod and camera set up, lined up for the shot and even pre-focused. Then the hummingbirds started doing “fly-bys”: they’d fly by the feeder – sometimes when I already had my face behind the camera, ready for the shot! – but then see there were too many other birds there (our bird feeding station is very heavily used) and keep on flying instead of stopping for a drink. I guess I should buy a separate pole for their feeder so they can have some privacy but I am on a major spending ban following a couple weeks (or lifetime?) of excessive spending.

Anyway, I FINALLY got some pictures, just before the sun went down, but it was already really too dark and the pictures are crap. But I’m excited nonetheless because Mark told me I couldn’t get hummingbirds, and he didn’t believe me when I told him a week ago that I HAD gotten them…until he saw one with his own eyes for the first time today. I don’t know why he doubted me because I can attract any animal I want. Raccoons appear out of nowhere wherever I am, and our (suburban!) yard is a haven for raccoons, skunks, foxes, turtles, snakes, deer, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, and opossums. Okay, enough suspense. Here are my crappy pictures of hummingbirds! I’m sure I’ll get better ones soon.

This is actually the sharpest picture I got, which is a shame because he’s half hidden.

Look at that beak!

Leaning in for a drink:



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Rasam from Cooking at Home with Pedatha

I’m pretty sure I’ve raved about Cooking at Home with Pedatha before. I can’t share today’s recipe because it was a faithful following of the rasam recipe in that book, but I do want to urge you to consider buying this book if you are at all interested in Indian food. Although it’s very pretty (there are pictures of all the dishes, and even a picture glossary), there are a few factors that would ordinarily prevent it from being one of my favorite cookbooks: it’s quite short, it calls for some ingredients that I have difficulty obtaining (and I live in an extremely ethnic food-friendly area), and the authors use unfamiliar names for even those ingredients I can get, requiring me to have to translate many of the recipes. Several of the recipes call for other recipes, increasing production time.

But don’t let those things scare you away! Where this book excels, other than its inherent charm (it’s a loving tribute to a grandmother compiled by two family members), is the podis and all the dishes that call for them. A podi is a “powder”, or spice combination, usually calling for various whole spices to be roasted then ground together, which is then used to flavor dals, rice, and soups. Every podi-related dish I have made from this book has been magical. When I commented above that some recipes call for other recipes, I was referring mostly to the use of these podis. It’s unfair, however, to ding the book for this because the podi recipes make about a cup and the recipes calling for it use about a tablespoon each, so once you make a podi, you won’t have to go through that process the next several times you make the recipe. And believe me, you’ll want to make these recipes again and again.

Friday night I made up a batch of the rasam podi and made Pedatha’s rasam. Rasam is one of my favorite soups. I did a post on it a long time ago, and I posted a picture of some homemade rasam a co-worker sent me home with when once I proclaimed my love of it. Pedatha’s rasam is, of course, AWESOME. Mark and I ate the entire batch in one sitting. And the great thing is, now that I have the podi prepared, I can whip some more up from some late summer tomatoes in mere minutes!

In other food-related news, I bought a dehydrator last week and am currently going crazy dehydrating everything possible. I’ve literally had the dehydrator going non-stop since it arrived. Skeptical Mark has pointed out that I tend to enthusiastically start projects and then quickly lose interest in them and he seems to think dehydrating will be another such fad. I don’t think so. Dehydrating is so easy that I don’t think it will take up much time I could later decide I’d rather be spending doing other things. Really the only time investment is chopping and I enjoy chopping. And buying dehydrated fruits and vegetables in incredibly expensive, so I’m very excited about the money I’ll save, for example on my trail mix. Plus, I can use the dehydrator for making tempeh and yogurt, both of which I’ve been meaning to get back into doing and now I have a great reason. I can also raise dough in it. I’ve never had a problem raising dough in the house, but if I want to time it a bit more precisely, the dehydrator’s temperature regulation will allow that. Also, although there are a couple of months left before I’ll need to come to terms with it, at some point the farmers market is going to close for the season and I’m going to freak out. So I’ve been trying to capture an essence of it by dehydrating what I can so I can use it over the winter.

Here’s what I’ve dried so far: tomatoes (there a another huge batch of tomatoes nearly ready to leave the dehydrator tonight), bananas, strawberries, (I have another quart and two huge bunches of bananas to get to this week), onion powder, carrots, and bell peppers. The latter two I may combine along with some potatoes, onions, and celery into a “soup mix”. When I’m desperate for a lunch to take into work, I’ll sometimes whip up a super-quick soup from a can of tomatoes, some bouillon, some dehydrated veggies, and orzo. I used some of my dried tomatoes on pizza last night and they were quite good.

I have also dried some garlic and am drying a whole bunch more right now, which I’ll grind into garlic powder. The dehydrator will also save me money at my notorious Penzeys binges! I’m also planning to make tofu jerky as a treat for Mark. I’ve made it before but it’s been a long time – anyone have a favorite tofu jerky recipe? What are your other favorite things to dehydrate? Any other creative uses for the dehydrator?

Not much else food-related has been going on. I’ve been super busy lately; annoyingly so. I can’t even remember what I’ve been cooking, I’ve been so busy. Lots of stuff involving farmers market fare, but I guess nothing earth-shattering enough that I’ve felt compelled to make a post, or maybe I just haven’t had time. I’m enjoying blackberry season; my current favorite snack is Daiya jack on crackers topped with blackberry:

As for animal news, I transported a baby chimney swift the other day and he was by far the cutest baby bird I’ve ever seen. This is a bad picture, but it’s all I have:

Today as I pulled into the raccoon sanctuary, there was a family of deer standing about five feet from my parking spot, so I wasn’t able to drive down the driveway. Instead I slowly got out of my car and started snapping pictures.

They eventually got tired of that and ran off, so I was able to park. Today was a big day for the last six raccoons in the nursery, who graduated to the big outdoor enclosures! I coined a new saying to replace one I hate, “curiosity killed the cat”: “curiosity captured the raccoon”. Unfortunately, out of context it sounds like a saying I would dislike just as much as the original because in general capturing raccoons is a bad thing. But raccoons who want to leave their baby cages in the nursery and move to their big-boy (and girl) enclosures outside need to be temporarily captured in a carrier in order to be transported. Many of you with cats may be familiar with the difficulty of putting an unwilling cat into a carrier. It CAN be the same, possibly even worse due to their super-dexterous fingers and toes, with raccoons, however, we were lucky with these six. We put some pork rinds (a raccoon favorite) in some carriers and simply waited for their curiosity to prevail and soon enough all six had climbed into a carrier and were briskly locked in and carried out to their new home. Raccoons are so curious we probably didn’t even need the pork rind incentive, but it sure didn’t hurt. I was so into this task I forgot to take pictures, but here is a picture from last week that I love, which incidentally is of a raccoon eating a pork rind…and smiling about it!

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Orange-marinated Tofu

During dinner last night I commented, “this is a stereotypically healthy meal.” It was also a stereotypically vegan meal: brown rice, tofu, kale, and corn on the cob. While it sounds kind of boring, and it’s true that it wasn’t the most amazing meal ever, it was very flavorful and I felt good about eating it, so here you go:

Orange-Marinated Tofu
Lightly adapted from http://www.food.com/recipe/spicy-orange-tofu-136875
By “adapted” I mean I looked at this recipe briefly, went into the kitchen, and proceeded to pour mysterious amounts of what I thought I remembered were the ingredients together without measuring. So my measurements are guesses. I did eliminate most of the oil, however.

1 pound extra-firm tofu, sliced into 1/2″ slabs
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
squirt of agave nectar
6-8 dried red chilis, lightly crushed between fingers

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all the ingredients except the tofu together in a large shallow dish, then submerge the slabs of tofu. Let marinate for at least half an hour. When ready to bake, pour off most of the marinade, then bake for about half an hour.

My tofu was an herbed variety from Twin Oaks, which explains the specks.

For the kale, which was market-fresh, I just sauteed a bunch of (super delicious farmers market) garlic in some avocado oil, added the kale and stirred to coat it, then poured in a few tablespoons of vegan broth, then reduced the heat, covered, and cooked until limp.

My weekend has been raccoon-intensive, as I worked at the sanctuary both days due to volunteer shortages, and we have 43 – about to be 45, as two more were set to arrive after I left – raccoons. I literally had to clean several of the cages with a raccoon – sometimes two – on my head, which makes it very difficult. Some of them were so rambunctious, it’s worn me out! Here are four trouble-makers:

They are so anxious to “help”. Here an assistant fills his “pond” with fresh water for me:

Raccoons love, love, love water.

Actually, raccoons love just about anything they can get their little hands on. We provide a wide variety of toys and objects for them to play with. Wind chimes are fun for them to grab (and destroy), and pleasant to listen to.

I made the mistake of putting a paper towel down and completely forgetting about it. When I returned to the cage later to fill the pond, I found these two fighting over something it took me a moment to recognize: the shredded, soggy remains of my paper towel. Sometimes cleaning their cages is like taking one step forward, two steps backwards. No wonder I’m exhausted.

Raccoons are certainly not the only wildlife I see at the sanctuary. Currently the big show are the deer, including these twin fawns:

This morning in the drizzle, I encountered this doe …

… and this young buck.

And now, I must go get ready for the play Mark and I are going to see in celebration of the 11th anniversary of our first date!

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