Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Snack Attack and Other Stories

I'm having one of those weeks..snack attack! I'm not sure what's going..I started running again..maybe that's it? Not sure but I have the urge to snack frequently lately. So the other day, I was in the drugstore in downtown Boston after my dentist appointment. Did I mention that going to the dentist always make me hungry too? Okay, that's probably because I usually go right at 4pm and I'm done right before dinner so in all fairness probably nothing to do with dental hygiene..he he he! Anyway, the point is I'm a HUNGRY girl this week. So I stopped into the local CVS drugstore and scanned the aisles for a snackeroo. Other vegans know, this isn't always easy but I was pleased to see a big selection of nuts and dried fruit. Even when excluding the honey roasted items, I still had a decent selection to choose from. That's when I met the love of my life. Okay, I exaggerate slightly..but these are darn good nutty treats! True North Pecan Almond Peanut good. And sweetened only with brown rice syrup. Delicious..addictive..and vegan! Anyways, if you check them out, the chips they make are not vegan but I think all the clusters are. There's a $1 off coupon on the website too!

Second snack attack involved some nakedness. Okay, okay, rawness. Close enough! I am a big fan of the Raw Pirate Gourmet Show..I'm bummed that there haven't been any recent recipes from Bam and Share (I keep checking even though my iTunes updates automatically..I'm just a crazy girl like that) SO I keep watching the older episodes (only five of them but so good). The raw "chocolate bombs" caught my eye this winter and I've been meaning to try them. So to Whole Foods I went and finally got the dates, cacao nibs and mint leaves. This couldn't be easier (slit date open, remove pit, fit date with cacao nibs and mint leave, eat, enjoy, die happy). And so yummy! I was skeptical folks but I can vouch for this one:

The mint I put into my container garden this spring just happens to be the "chocolate mint" variety..of course!

Also roasted some summer squash and onions on my little indoor grill that I just inherited from my mom (thanks Muz!)..yum on salad and looking sooo pretty!

And finally, a little Goo. Well, specifically, this is Keebler. Each of my six Goos has such a unique personality. Keebler may just have the biggest personality of all of them. I try not to pick favorites but it's hard with a fuzzball like this. However, this cute little ball of fur is also big trouble. I know you know this kind of kid..everyone does. He's got a big heart, big energy, and is *slightly* emotionally disturbed. He's the kid who is a good kid but always seems to get in trouble at school because he just couldn't help it. That's Keebler. Each Goo "colony" has a dominant Goo. Since my six are broken up into two groups (3 brothers and 3 brothers, the two groups are not related), we have two dominant Goos here, Brownie and Keebler. Brownie is pretty much like, oh, I'm the boss and I know it. He's confident. He's a little older than Keebler. Keebs is still just a kid, a teenager so he's a little, well, ADD and insecure. If his brothers interact with the other group of Goos, he starts snorting because he's so upset. Like a little pig. I try not to laugh but he sounds so funny and adorable. He then goes out of his way to show his brothers who is boss but they won't have any of it and push him back. So then he starts to doubt his dominant goo status and gets really sad. Then his brothers have to kiss him and groom him until he's back to his old self. After that, he takes to bouncing off the walls again. Keebler's got a complicated life! Note his brother in the background and you'll see that Keebler (in the foreground) is actually scaling the little fence to check out my camera. Right after snapping this picture I found him nibbling on my camera cord!

Keebler also has boundless amounts of energy. I had to buy the little fence that I put around his "terrace" to Degu Manor so that he would stop jumping off the table. It works thankfully. Just yesterday I found an electrical cable that he gnawed through in the living room..I have no idea how he was not electrocuted but it really freaked me out. So I'm Keebler proofing the living room in the event that he does get out again and I don't notice right away. He also broke his finger the other day...he usually has some kind of injury from leaping from something high or doing some kind of daredevil stunt. H and I frequently shake our heads at his doing and say "Oh, Keebler!" His favorite toys are chopsticks (which he can shred to shavings in about 15 minutes), toilet paper (which he used to line his nest and everyone else's..he's thoughtful like that!), and a big ole bag of paper recycling. We joke that when Keebler is reincarnated he's going to come back as a sanitation worker because he loves nothing more than jumping into our bathroom trash or the recycle container.

But the thing I love most about Keebler is that he's very affectionate..he'll sit on my shoulder, nuzzle my ear and play with my hair. None of the other Goos do this. I don't know if this is because he considers me his "territory" or if he just really knows that as much trouble as he causes, I still adore him!

Off to make a vegan carrot cake and quinoa salad for a potluck tomorrow night with a bunch of omnis so these better turn out better than good...wish me luck!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cambridge 9-1-1 Squirrel Rescue Unit

7pm last night, the call came in, "Squirrel rescue unit needed to respond to an emergency. Squirrel jumped through apartment screen, stuck in window."

H and I were the closest unit to respond so we grabbed our gear, got into our grey jumpsuits, slid down the pole to our waiting squirrel rescue mobile...

*Okay* so that's the TV dramatization of last night's events..we don't actually have grey jumpsuits, we live on the first floor hence no pole (adding to list next time we move), and our grey Prius doesn't really qualify as an animal rescue mobile (and we didn't really need it last night). But wow, it felt like Reno 9-1-1 here last night (okay, I just watched one episode, please don't judge me for it!). Here's how it went down: 7pm, Amanda is browsing the web, specifically looking at Mihl's awesome Rote Grütze recipe and wondering if she can make it with red grapes. H is doing some Java programming thingey on his computer. Neighbor runs down the stairs of our building and starts buzzing our buzzer and pounding our door.

I open the door to see the neighbor whose kitchen is above ours, frantic. "A squirrel jumped through my office window screen and he's been running around my apartment and finally I trapped him in my laundry closet!" "Okay, ma'am, stay calm, we'll be right there," I said. *Okay* it was really something like, "NO! Really? No! Wow! OMG! Wow." Far less cool sounding than the TV version. I told her to give me a minute and I'd get H and some of our "gear." Gear included peanuts, the Goo carrier, and two pairs of really thick rubber gloves that my mom gave me five years ago when Squirrelly hit her teens and took to biting for a short spell (thank god she grew out of that!) to relieve her teenage angst.

We went upstairs and H went into the laundry closet to see if he could get the window open so the squirrel could jump out. R, our neighbor, vacated to let us do what we needed to do. Unfortunately, opening the window caused the poor squirrel to wedge himself up into the glass between the storm window and the regular window. We stared at him in dismay. "Oh no," H said, "he's really freaked out." I looked and I think even people who aren't so intimate with squirrels could tell by the poor guy's face that he was beyond panic. Suddenly the squirrel sort of flopped over, still stuck in the glass and his eyes half closed. We were almost convinced that he had just died. This unfortunately happens sometimes with small animals, especially bunnies. They can literally die of fright, most likely from a heart attack. We freaked and started trying to get the window apart when the squirrel started breathing again. In hindsight, I think what may have happened is that he panicked, was in an enclosed and hot place and that possibly made him pass out. Not sure but we think this is a good theory. Whatever happened, I can tell you that it was a darn good sight seeing the poor little fuzzball open his eyes completely.

The poor guy, wedging himself between the storm window and the unmovable inside window. That could not have been comfortable...

We blocked the opening to the laundry room with cardboard hoping that he'd jump out the window. According the a book I have from the Humane Society on how to handle such situations with wildlife, squirrels can easily jump from a two story structure to the ground without hurting themselves. He eventually unwedged himself from the window and sat on the window sill for two hours.

The Humane Society book, "Wild Neighbors," suggested just what we were doing as a first plan..leaving the window open. I have found in my five years experience with squirrels and now, Goos, is that it is simply no good to try to force them to do anything. The animal gets upset and panicked and you risk the chance of a bite and scratches. Better to let them come down on their own time. So we waited...

It was easy to go outside to see the progress. Twice the squirrel came down and rested on the bottom window sill. Twice he went back up into the glass area.

We could tell that he was really upset about having to jump down two stories but this puzzled us since how did he get up there in the first place since there are no trees right next to the building.

The bottom window is our bathroom window. The window right above it is from our neighbor's laundry can see a little fuzzy face on the left side of the window if you look closely. This is the leap the poor guy had to contemplate...

Meanwhile, we were pushing 8:30pm it would be twilight, that magical hour when squirrels drop whatever they are doing and go to bed. In our long experience with Squirrelly (she's going to be 5 year old next month! Big party!), we have seen that when the light hits a certain level, squirrels instinctively know it's nest time. We wonder if this is because owls and other natural nocturnal squirrel predators may start awakening at this hour..not sure but we knew this was not a good time for our squirrel to not be in his nest.

We decided to go inside to leave the squirrel by himself lest our presence was delaying his exit. Our kitchen window is right next to our bathroom window so I worked on my Rote Grütze, chopping the cherries, strawberries and red grapes while I listened. A couple of times we heard some thumps and rushing to the window and then outside hoping to see the squirrel running across the grass. But instead, he was still in the window. We were getting really worried. We had no ladder either. We needed a plan B. We decided to take the cardboard out of the window which was easy because the squirrel was on the second attempt to wedge himself in the glass part of the window. We spoke to him softly. There is something to speaking softly to animals as you probably know. When they are panicked, a quiet reassuring voice can help calm them. I've seen it work with Squirrelly and also with the Goos. I suppose it makes sense because a predator wouldn't do that so maybe they know that intuitively.

However, I was dreading Plan B which seemed to be our only option and also the second option recommended by the Humane Society. Catch the squirrel in a blanket. I haven't done this with a squirrel. I have had to do this with my Goos when they start fighting with each other. It is very effective and safe for you/me. However, the effect upon a very pissed off companion animal who just bit his brother on the face (my Goos) is very different than that upon on a panicked animal who is stuck in a scary place. I didn't want to freak the poor guy out but I knew the blanket would. But it also was the only other idea that we had. So we took the cardboard out of the window so the squirrel could get into the laundry room. And then we waited. For a long time.

We were starting to fret that what if the squirrel didn't come down, what would we do? We had no idea. Then suddenly, thump, thump, and a scratching noise. Luckily my neighbor's laundry room door was one of those vented style doors where you can see in at a certain angle. We heard a few crashes but didn't see the squirrel on the floor. And then suddenly a big metal sounding noise and quiet. By now it was 9pm and it was completely dark outside. I cautiously opened the door expecting the squirrel to be crouching in a corner or lunging towards the opening in the doorway. But nothing. On the window sill, the nuts we had placed to lure him down were gone and in its place, he had kindly left little squirrel poos and a whole lot of pee all over the window sill for my neighbor to clean up. He had finally jumped out the window! We don't know if he finally got his nerve up or if just the darkness masked how high the leap was and maybe that made it easily. Whatever the reason, we knew that squirrel was heading straight to his nest, probably exhausted after his adventure. Hopefully, never to repeat it again.

So we packed up our gear (which we didn't really use except for the nuts), slid down the pole (okay, climbed down the stairs to our apartment), and knew that we had to be ready for the next call. Because you never know when squirrels will get stuck. But we do know that the Cambridge 9-1-1 Squirrel Rescue Unit will be ready!

I want to get matching jackets with "CSRU 9-1-1" on them but I don't think H will go for that. Oh pooh!! Needless to say, the Rote Grütze will have to wait for another post!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Minutemen and Nonna

On Sunday, H and I went for a long walk on our favorite trail which is just a 15 minute drive from Cambridge out to Lexington. This trail is actually part of the Minuteman National Historic Park. Somehow, years ago, some wise person had the idea to preserve the old road that some of the key initial battles of the American Revolution took place on. And I'm so glad! This is one place in America where you can take a long walk into nature while at the same time tread on some pretty historic sites. And it doesn't hurt that it's gorgeous too. This park is by far one of my favorite places in New England so I'm excited to show you. Unfortunately I forgot my camera AGAIN but the Blackberry pictures are okay..not great but they will give you an idea.

H poses near a historic marker. There are great kiosk displays throughout the park describing what happened at that point or other interesting information.

The National Park Service is actually restoring this land to a working farm as it was during revolutionary times. I've heard rumors that a CSA will be formed from the produce grown here. How cool is that?!!

Old farmhouses dot the trail. Some are still occupied and have farm shares, some staffed, some pay on the honor system. But many are empty, either restored by the park service to their original state or waiting for restoration.

We didn't go far enough for me to take pictures this time but some of the renovated houses are open to the public so you can step inside a colonial house to see what it's like. It wasn't glamorous and it was dark even in daylight. The park service does several programs a year with rangers in period costume, some with working muskets!

The trail goes through several marshes. There are boardwalks. These are my favorite parts of the trail. During the hot summer months, stepping onto the boardwalk a few steps into the marsh, you'll notice 5-10 degree temperature drop..I've never quite understood why but it's really interesting to experience!

Wasn't Ben Franklin vegetarian at one point? I thought I read that somewhere..

Fields of gold..yup, busted. I'm a secret Sting fan...

I forgot the name of this's beautiful and in a few weeks, the marshes will be blooming with purple and pink. Unfortunately, it's an invasive non-native species. It's sort of like a big, blond beauty queen who beats up the other contestants (aka other plants) so she can win the competition..or so I'm told. I met someone recently who spent a summer pulling these weeds out of local marshes. For fun. Really.

There be lil' fishies in here too..and funny little crabs that move sideways..

In colonial times, these open spaces would have been hay fields.

Tiger grandma would have loved this spot! They were her favorites and I'm kinda partial to them too. They will always remind me of summer.

Old stone walls run throughout the park. These must be close to 350 years old. That's "wicked" ancient for North America!

And finally, some pretty wild flowers for my special "somebodies" little sweeties at home...

Yes, I mean my goos. They love nibbling on clover blossoms and wildflowers. Could they get any cuter???

And finally, some food pictures. First, I have a confession to make. I'm a cookbook junkie (that's not the confession) and I'm a very shallow one. I judge a book by a cover. I blame it on my past life as a graphic designer but man, it steers me wrong. I almost completely missed Nonna's Italian Kitchen by Bryanna Clark Grogan because, well, it's got an ugly cover in my not so humble opinion. I know, I know..silly shallow thoughts! This should teach me a lesson because I have been missing out on the BEST VEGAN CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM EVER! Seriously, this stuff is so amazing. I know I raved about the Vegan Scoop, and it is truly a great book but the recipes call for stuff I don't usually have in the house, like Soy Creamer. I don't drink coffee so I just don't have the stuff in the house. Bryanna, however, makes her ice cream from stuff I do. Almond milk, agave, maple syrup, cocoa powder, cashew...check, check check. And this recipe tastes so good, has good texture and best of all, doesn't freeze rock solid. It's actually soft when I go to scoop some out of the container in the fridge! I added almond extract..Bryanna does say that adding alcohol to your mixture will keep the ice cream softer. Whatever the reason, I love this stuff! I added toasted almonds to the top. Think vegan gelato..that's the best way I can describe this stuff.

Her pizza dough recipe was easy to whip up. Used half for a swiss chard sicilian pie...

And the other half for a veggie pizza. Really good..low in fat too..what a plus (so I don't have to be!)..

And she solved my fennel dilemma with a delicious fennel orange salad (with a little focaccia from Whole Foods).

Have I learned my lesson about judging a cookbook by its cover? Sadly probably not (I'm such a sucker for packaging)..but I am definitely buying Nonna's Italian Kitchen since this copy was a just a loaner from the libary!

Monday, July 13, 2009

NoHo and Vegan Trickery

I'm back in Cambridge after almost a week away. My sister, Nicole, and her partner flew in from San Diego and brought the good weather with them (yay!). My other sister, Michelle, came up from NYC and together with H and the Goos in tow (yes, their first road trip!), we headed up to New Hampshire for a variety of family activities. The first was to move Grandpa into his new senior housing right into the center of my hometown which is fairly hip for a New Hampshire town. This is a big relief to my mom after having to shuffle between her house and Grandpa's previous housing in East Redneckville, about 20 minutes away. Nothing wrong with Rednecksville for sure..actually I enjoyed seeing motorcycles fly up into the air near the side of the road as part of their regular monster truck rallies. Not something I see in Cambridge every day, no sir! And thanks for offense to monster trucks though =) However, no more of that since Grandpa is firmly settled into his new digs (can I say it? way nicer than my Cambridge apartment..sooooo jealous!). The best part: he's steps from downtown and our fav bagel place. Oh yes, we'll be visiting him often. Whoops..gotta be careful what I say..he may be 93 but he's on The Gmail and an active web surfer! Also on the schedule was celebrating my mom's birthday and sadly, saying goodbye to our family camp. Michelle, my youngest sister, had to go back to NYC last Tuesday to catch yet another flight to Africa (it's her work, not for pleasure). So we offered to drive her down to Springfield, MA to catch a train to NYC. NH? MA? VT? Yes, it's a tad confusing. Where my parents live (and where I was born) in a part of NH that is 20 minutes from Vermont and the same from Massachusetts. So there's a lot of interstate higgly giggely you could say. But if you want to go to NYC other than by car, you must go to MA to catch a train. Vermont and New Hampshire (as well as Maine) have very limited train connections unfortunately! So to Springfield, Massachusetts we went to drop Michelle off. It was not an uneventful trip down. First we got caught in a blinding rain storm. Luckily my German driver was driving (H) so all was well but it wasn't pleasant. Second, we got stuck in construction traffic..but it was okay because using the wonders of the Blackberry, we could see that the train was running late. Are you sensing a "stuck" theme here? Uh huh..well, we got to the station just 5 minutes before the train departed. Michelle ran up to buy herself a ticket while Nicole and I grabbed her bags. And got stuck. Literally. Something about the zipper on her bag snagged the cargo gate in our Prius. The bag was so stucksville that H had to spring into action with a tool to bend the zipper bag meanwhile I was trying to explain to Michelle that her bag was literally stuck to our car. D'oh! Finally freed from the bonds of stuckness, we three sisters literally ran up two flights of stairs with Michelle's bags, sprinting, racing, and making it. I think she was the last person to board. But she made it. Whew. So by then Nicole, H and I were ready for lunch. And it had better be a darn good one. Nicole suggested stopping in North Hampton, MA.

North Hampton (NoHo as we jokingly call it) is a classic New England downtown. Very walkable!

And you thought town troubadours were only in Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls reference)? Nope! They live, they live! In North Hampton at least.

We stopped here at Paul and Elizabeth's for lunch. Are you ready? I mean, really, are you ready?!

Homey and casual's on the second floor so you can sit by the window and look out on to the town.

Hibiscus peppermint iced tea..delicious!

Yummy black bean soup..hold on, the big one is patient!

A wonderful soup and salad combo with homemade bread..

Are you ready? I mean, really ready??? May I introduce vegan chocolate mousse pie with maple glazed almonds and a raspberry sauce...

This rivals the chocolate pie I had in Toronto in March at Live...I actually the NoHo pie wins. The BEST vegan dessert I've ever had..evah evah evah...

Afterwards, we walked around the "mall" attached to the restaurant. This is common in New England: developers take old factory mills or in this case a department store and make them into "malls" filled with funky little shops and restaurants. And after the pie, we needed to do some walking!

H and Nicole discuss who had the better meal while they wait for me to snap my heart's content of pictures..

In a health food store in the mall, I find my second favorite vegan dessert of all time. The evasive, chocolate-covered peanut butter crunch bar. Oh dear god...or rather, Oh Sweet Mama. I will be figuring out how to get goodies from this local vegan bakery in Cambridge. Oh Yes.

So it would have been gluttonous to eat this right after the chocolate not that I wouldn't have (gluttony a sin? No way! I am a lapsed Catholic for soooo many reasons..tee hee!) but I was so stuffed from lunch that I packed this to go for the next day. It is vacation after all I reasoned with myself. All I can say, amazing, simply amazing. I'm still craving more! Am I becoming a vegan dessert addict? Is there a problem here? Um..let's change the subject, okay?

Finally, back in New Hampshire, it was time to figure out Mom's birthday dinner. I had just a day to plan, prepare and cook. She decided on veggie lasagna and carrot cake. I was a little nervous about the lasagna. The vegan carrot cake I figured would be easy. Nicole and my mom were in on the plan and all for it. But pulling off a vegan lasagna for the whole family would be very hard for three reasons in order of difficulty:
  1. Meat-eatin' to new stuff but not if it doesn't taste good. Firmly believes my husband is so skinny because I feed him rabbit chow non-stop. Can't explain why I'm not skinny!!
  2. Meat-eatin' Dad. Not at all open to new stuff in the very least. Must stick to the known. Freaks out at fresh veggies, prefers canned. Really. Honest. I don't get it myself either!
  3. The Native I-talian. My sister's partner, Clarissa, isn't Italian American, she's actually from Italy. I'm sweating at this point. She's open to vegan food but a vegan lasagna? Blasphemy!
  1. Make lasagna taste super yummy
  2. Don't tell Dad or Grandpa that it's vegan, ever..
  3. Hide all tofu packages if they enter kitchen while making lasagna
  4. Compromise with Clarissa and call this lasagna a "casserole" since I am bastardizing her native fare
  5. Whenever possible, make it look, smell and taste just like the "real" thing aka, the crap they're used to (meaning Dad is used to!)
  6. Evil giggling and victory dance only permitted after success!
I pulled up the Veganomicon cashew ricotta recipe..that was truly the cornerstone of my plan. And ya know what? It worked!!! Look at this amazing "casserole" complete with roasted veggies:

To successfully fool my dad, I need to make the top look "cheesy"..Nicole had the brilliant suggestion of spreading the vegan ricotta over the top to look like melted cheese. Perfecto! No one was any wiser.

Poor Dad...he doesn't know that he just consumed a boatload of tofu..he he he!! Insert evil giggles here!

And the Italian? She had a second helping which I take as the BIGGEST compliment I could get. She commented the next day that vegan food really agrees with her. I have hopes for this one yet!

And finally, the carrot cake with a scoop of So Delicious coconut milk ice cream. A perfect way to end a big day of cooking AND eating! This recipe is aptly called "Incredible Vegan Carrot Cake" and it certainly was. It was a big hit with Follow Your Heart cream cheese frosting.

Whew..I'm full. But still dreamin' of that pie. And peanut butter bar. Isn't it ironic that people think being vegan means deprivation? HA!