The Dilemma of Gifts

I hope those celebrating Thanksgiving had a warm and lovely holiday with friends and/or family, bracketed by safe travel and no speeding tickets.  My Tofurky was a predictable success, and I was the only vegetarian at the table!  My thanks to all who are open-minded and openhearted enough to give it a try, even if you ultimately give it a thumbs-down.

image
So far, it’s thumbs up!

I suppose this, the day after Thanksgiving, launches us into the official start of the gift-buying season and, for many, the high holidays.  How fortunate we are to set forth with full bellies to buy thoughtful gifts for people we hold dear.  I mean that sincerely.  As one who has never been a recreational shopper, I depend on level blood sugar like a pair of crutches.  That’s not to say that I went holiday shopping on Black Friday, but I am mulling things over.

Most of my unnecessary shopping excursions – anything beyond groceries and household supplies – are undertaken with both consternation and a list.  I approach them like a Special Forces soldier:  get in and get out.  Take only what you need, leave nothing but a sales record and for goodness sake not your debit card.  However, as I like to say, life is serendipitous, and sometimes it’s best to let it ride.  How better to find gifts people didn’t even realize they needed?

Along that vein, I want to share with you some unique gift-giving ideas upon which I have stumbled, but I haven’t stumbled upon very many as I am woefully reticent to wander through stores, especially now that the flag has ceremoniously dropped.  There is true delight in finding that perfect something for a loved one, but once the clock starts ticking, the stress begins ratcheting up.  I live in a rural area where the nearest shopping meccas are over an hour away, and the nearest shopping mall, at only 20 minutes away, is gearing up to provide what it can to shoppers.  Past experience living in Northern New England taught me that it’s best to poke around in the corners to find work created by local artists and artisans, which make the best gifts, alongside homemade items and donations to a favorite charity.

Still, I’ve started perusing the commercial world, and I unexpectedly chanced upon the most bizarre game I think I have ever seen.

Doody Head game
I wasn’t so much excited to find this as I was thrilled that I remembered something from a couple of years ago.

I learned about it the winter before last when I saw a strange looking cap strewn on a hassock in my friend’s living room.  I had let myself into her house one cold evening to care for her Chihuahua while the family was away, and in the dim lamp light this captured my attention because I could neither identify nor understand it.  I didn’t see it again until a few weeks ago when it appeared on a kiosk shelf at the aforementioned diminutive mall.  The idea is for two people to tie Velcro-studded caps onto their heads and throw stuffed-fabric doodies at each other’s skulls, aiming to make as many as possible stick.

Doody Head hat
This daring photo was taken two years before the previous snapshot.  Ah, the folly of youth.

I’m not sure which outcome determines the winner, but the game comes with instructions, which would be helpful at a frat party, though the only person I know who owns it is my friend’s now six-year-old son.  This could be a gift for all ages or a great means to finally end that obligatory gift exchange.  Give it some thought.

Perusing the internet for ideas, I noticed something that the peregrinations of my mind suggested I should probably own, though I don’t truly desire it (this is what makes holiday shopping treacherous).

SoundBot
SoundBot SB510 HD Water-Resistant Bluetooth Shower Speaker on Amazon.com.

Shower radios have been around for decades, but they have morphed and become fairly spiffy of late.  I am usually too rushed in the morning to fidget with anything that doesn’t have a direct impact on getting me to work earlier, so I never bothered with one, but this electronic gizmo can be amped up almost anywhere to regale you with your own playlists.  I would more than likely use it for podcasts since my iPhone at full volume from the ledge of the shower does not overcome the patter of falling water, but I digress.

This gift idea reminded me of the time a few years ago when I spontaneously burst into rapturous melody in the shower.  A song to which I knew only a few lines was rattling relentlessly through my head and its only way out was through my mouth.  I knew I didn’t sound great, but I was unprepared for my husband to thunder up the stairs, explode through the bathroom door, and fling open the shower curtain.  We stood there looking at each other, both of us equally surprised.   Evidently, he expected to find me crumpled on the floor of the tub, possibly in an eddy of blood, because, he said, and this is a direct quote, “I thought you were yelling in pain.”

If I were a material girl, I might have angled for one of these at that time, but I favor this memory far more than a gadget that would have drowned out my voice, thereby thwarting this remembrance, which he probably wishes I would forget already.  Holidays are, in at least some part, about building memories that will last a lifetime.  Most of the memories are softhearted, some are funny, but hopefully they are all positive in nature.  Let it snow, let us dive in, remember and create capsules of merriment in turbulent times, and extend kindness to the good people crowding around us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well Well Well

I tend to be mindfully appreciative of the blessings I have in my life at any given time, but the Thanksgiving holiday raises the level of consciousness for many of us, inspiring us to articulate thanks for gifts for which we are particularly grateful.  At this time, I want to express my appreciation for water.  More directly, for clean, running water that magically appears every time I flip a lever.  I am also thankful to all of those who work, lobby, and fight to conserve, preserve, and educate us about one of the most basic elements we need to survive.

Although I consider myself reasonably devoted to sustainable living, moving into a 200-year-old farmhouse over the summer has made me more acutely aware of my water consumption.  The water to the house is fed by the original spring-fed well that has supplied water to this structure for nearly two centuries.  It is clean and clear and fresh, sparkles like crystal when held up to the light in a transparent glass, smells like nothing, and tastes like luminous cold.

Well water in glass resized
As clear as the crystal glass it’s in

However, the springs that feed this well have evidently been running progressively lower, and I have found myself stranded in the shower more than once, naturally covered in soap or with conditioner-saturated hair when the water first turned icy, then the pressure dropped, and then there was nothing but the sound of the pump in the basement until it ground to a halt, the water in the well having dropped to an inaccessible level.  Even with continued conservation – three-minute showers if any (sorry), severely restricted flushing (sorrier), choosing which days to run water-consuming appliances on the shortest cycles – the water has still run out.

This prompted our hardworking and highly responsive landlords to have a new well drilled a couple of weeks ago, after which it was capped until the plumbing could be run into the house.  There is so much water in the aquifer that supplies the new well, the cap could not contain it, so water spurted and cascaded from the wellhead for two weeks, turning the driveway and side yard to a thick amalgamation of sludge from drilled rock and mud.  With self- and spring-fed-well-imposed restrictions, this was psychologically and emotionally agonizing to watch.  There was a brief respite from this when I saw a small flock of black-capped chickadees drinking from the leaking water one unseasonably warm day.

well head
The new well head rises three feet above ground so snow plows won’t accidentally rupture it. I think I should put a bicycle flag on top of it.

 

well drilling tire tracks
This used to be a gravel driveway, but the overflow of water and loose shale particles combined with heavy equipment has obliterated it

The plumbing was completed the day before yesterday, eliminating the overflow from the new wellhead.  After flushing it (the water running from the well through the basement pipes and then discharging via hose through a window into the front yard) for about 20 hours, there is still a lot of sediment in the aquifer.  It had cleared, but then turned cloudier and silty again, so we are back to using the limited spring water while the aquifer continues to flush.  Even though the water is grey with pulverized shale and other sediment, it is still excruciating to watch it surge from the hose out into the grass, though I suppose it is being recycled on a large scale by our usual environmental processes of evaporation and absorption, to return again in some other form in some other place, likely not useful to us.

About 70% of earth is water, but most of it is saline (ocean and similar).  Only 2.5% of it is fresh, and only 1% of that fresh water is accessible to people like us around the globe; the other 1.5% comprises snowfields and glaciers, which of course we aren’t actively using.  By the time the math is sorted out, only about 0.007% of the water on our planet is available to our exploding population of 7+ billion people.1  I realize how terribly spoiled I am, turning on the tap for a glass of water or standing in a hot shower, however briefly, to feel clean, so I don’t dare complain about my first world problems.  There is much that can be said on the topic of water, regarding availability and consumption, and there are people far better qualified than I to explain (see links below).

All I’m saying is, I am sincerely thankful for every drop of potable water I drink from the tap; pour into the bowls of trusting pets; brew into coffee or tea; use to clean food, my home, and everything in it.  I never want to take more than I need, but what I “need” is so relative.  I might use very little compared to my neighbor down the street, but in contrast to someone who doesn’t have access to clean fresh water, it would probably seem astounding that I can bathe daily and still fill a pot with water to cook or wash a basin full of once- or twice-worn clothes.  I think perhaps the best way I can express my gratitude for water is to use as little of it as possible so that others – human and otherwise – might know this same gratitude.

1 http://www.environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/freshwater-crisis/


 

Click here to learn how you can help conserve water.

Click here to learn about the global water crisis.  These are details not broadcasted by mainstream media, but they should be.

Click here to read about the impacts of the water crisis on wildlife, the global environment, and us.

Food for Thought

Thoreau vegetarian
www.pledgevegan.com

As we head into the season of feasts, starting with Thanksgiving next week and ending approximately (and perhaps remorsefully) on New Year’s Day, I join millions of Americans planning menus, grocery lists, and timelines.  At the same time, I am cramped with writer’s block because I would like to share of myself without alienating those of different convictions.  I suppose all I can do is state sincerely that this post comes not from a place of judgment, but from my inner sanctum.

I have been vegetarian, vegan for periods, most of my life.  I was not raised this way, though my mother prepared a vegetarian dinner or two, sometimes three, each week at the end of her long work day (thank you, Mom!).  I developed an awareness of food sources while in my teens, and when that awareness rapidly developed into my renunciation of meat, my mother skeptically gave me about three months to live.

It surprises me when people are surprised that I exist without eating meat, and often enough, they press, “Do you eat chicken?”

“No.”

“Do you eat fish or seafood?”

“No.”

They stare at me incredulously (I wish I was exaggerating).  These are flesh the same as cows and pigs.  I also eschew leather, but that’s another topic and may resurface in a fashion post for which I will not be held accountable by trend mavens.  By now the logic must follow, in un non-sequitur style, that I also do not eat turkey, and I feel gladder in my heart when there are purely vegetables, grains, and fruits on the holiday table.  And this year, as in many years past, there will be Tofurky!

Tofurky
usa.streetsblog.org

I never sought to replace meat in my meals.  I gave it up for a reason and never missed it, but sometimes people around me do, so I slowly incorporated these processed foods into my repertoire.  For years, I enjoyed bustling into my kitchen on a cold, sometimes snowy, Thanksgiving morning to begin assembling my pièce de résistance, roasted acorn squash stuffed with a savory blend of chopped cranberries, pecans, and sage.  Surely our predecessors enjoyed this!  Alas, not everyone is of this palate.

My husband, a non-vegetarian, hates when I tell this story because it features him and his outstanding diplomacy, both of which I find admirable.  As we approached our second or third Thanksgiving holiday together, he began tentatively asking whether I had ever considered Tofurky.  I had never tried it, but had heard the jokes, seen the cartoons and sitcoms, and continued contemplating how to further enhance the squash course.  Every few days, he asked again.  Evidently, I don’t read between lines.  At all.

A few days before Thanksgiving, he rushed into the warm house after work, a grocery bag looped over his arm.  This was an uncharacteristic accessory for him, and my eyes moved from his glowing, frost-lit face to the dangling parcel.  He presented me with a Tofurky Feast, a box which comes complete with a stuffed roast, gravy, wild rice, a Tofurky Jurky wishbone (I kid you not), and a vegan fudge brownie.  I probably had the same expression on my face my mother had on hers when I announced my vegetarianism, but the humor of the situation and his tactfulness were not lost on me.

The upshot: I was surprised by how good the Tofurky roast actually tasted, and he wasn’t at all surprised that he liked it way better than stuffed squash.  The roast is moist and “meaty,” the stuffing is excellent, and while I couldn’t quite cope with the wishbone even though it was fake, the rice and gravy were very good.  If I were a baser person, I would mug someone to wrest that vegan brownie from them.  It rivals my own coveted recipe!

Tofurky roast is now regularly featured on our holiday table, and I have customized it over the years with basting, roasted vegetables, my own mushroom gravy, as well as other standard holiday dinner fare.  I make extra stuffing to ensure there is enough to go around because every non-vegetarian guest at the table asks to try it, consistently offering their appreciation for the taste and texture.

I feel a little less like a Pilgrim, making Tofurky instead of squash, but it is a hit year after year, and I just picked ours up today!  They are kept in the freezer section of savvy food purveyors almost everywhere.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!  What dish is your Thanksgiving feast not complete without?

 

 

Eureka! Last pancake update, I swear: Easy Low Carb Buttermilk Pancakes

Success! No wheat or added sugar, they cook like champs, and taste great!
Success! No wheat or added sugar, they cook like champs, and taste great!

With sincerest apologies to those who really don’t care about carbohydrates, sugar, gluten or pancakes, I am floating one last revision to the original reduced carb pancakes I posted on November 6, and updated on November 7 with a caution to low-carbers across the globe.  Anyone in my family will tell you I’m like a dog with a bone when something isn’t working out right, and the cake mishap of November 7 was troubling me.

These pancakes are LOW carb, downgraded (upgraded?) from reduced carb, because they are free of wheat and added sugar and I, a former sugar junkie, did not even miss it.  Moreover, I didn’t use my pure maple syrup!  What?!  The almond flour is naturally sweet, rendering the syrup unnecessary, though it would be a tasty indulgence.

These could be an easy breakfast made in advance and frozen with a sheet of wax or parchment paper between each layer.  I like portable breakfasts, and these cakes can be rolled up (they are that moist) with a light filling of spiced cream cheese in the middle for your commute or to eat at your desk.  Mascarpone cheese would be great, but that could be sloppy if you are eating on the run.

These look and cook like the real deal but go down much lighter, and no sugar crash to follow!  The answer: add one more egg to the original recipe.  That’s it.  For those just tuning in, I will save you from going back to try to find the original post by reposting the recipe below with the necessary adjustments, but you might still want to look at the original post for some helpful hints or to get the wheat-based version which includes blueberries.

These are about a minute from needing to be turned. You can see the edges of the top pancake thickening.
These are about a minute from needing to be turned. You can see the edges of the top pancake thickening.

Ingredients:

¾ cup milk*

2 Tbsp butter melted and slightly cooled

2 eggs (this accounts for the aforementioned extra egg)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 cup almond flour/meal

3 Tbsp buttermilk powder*

1/2 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 tsp of cinnamon, or more to taste

*If using liquid buttermilk, simply replace the 3/4 cup milk with it, and omit the buttermilk powder.  The good thing about the powder is that it has a longer shelf life than liquid buttermilk.

  • Mix the liquid ingredients first, then stir in the powdered ingredients just enough to moisten them.
  • Pour the batter by ¼ cupfuls (using a dry measure) onto the griddle.  You many not see a lot of the characteristic tiny bubbles on the surface that would prompt you to flip a wheat-based pancake, so just keep an eye on them.  You will see the color darken and the edges take on a firmness.
  • Store in oven on warm cookie sheet until ready to eat.  No need to cover them unless they are going to stand for a long time, because these stay very moist!

That’s it for me on this topic!   You’re welcome.  🙂

Cheers!

Easy Reduced Carb Buttermilk-Blueberry Pancakes Redux: A Cautionary Tale

No one would know by my posts that I am not a low-carb or gluten-free dieter, but since so many of my friends and some members of my family are, and since I enjoy vegetarian cooking, I often find myself wanting to make what I eat friendlier to those who want to try it.  In my last post, I shared my recipe for reduced carb buttermilk pancakes, and having met with success, I thought, “Hey!  Why not see what it takes to tear that down?”  The answer is: not much.

I replaced the 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry with almond flour (in other words, I used only almond flour and no wheat product) in this recipe, and the results were both catastrophic and strangely delicious.  It started innocently enough:

The batter is thinner, even after standing, and runs faster than I do.
The buttermilk batter is thinner, even after standing, and runs faster than I do

Unlike grain-based pancakes, these did not bubble on top, but don’t worry.  The burning smell will prompt you to flip them. That said, nothing will prepare the seasoned pancake chef for this:

Chance of success: 50/50
Chance of success: 50/50

I seasoned the griddle with coconut oil spray between cakes, but these were hard to handle.  I was about to scrap the whole batch before taking to the internet, but then a wondrous thing happened.  A few of the pancakes set up and became easier to manage!

They look like they had a great time last night, but looks can be deceiving
They appear to have had a great time last night, but looks can be deceiving
Don't be a hater
Don’t be a hater

They actually tasted really good!  They were like griddled marzipan!  If you are the kind of person, or food consumer, who can get past looks, these might be for you.  But here is the caution:  they are hard to work with while cooking, and you WILL experience cake casualties.

I must have no pride to post this one
I must have no pride to post this one, but it could happen to you.

In the end, I ate way too many of these marzicakes because they tasted good, but I don’t think I would serve them to company unless I was giving them the bum’s rush.

Enjoy at your own risk, my friends!

Easy Reduced Carb Buttermilk-Blueberry Pancakes

Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes
I think I had my griddle set a little too high. Also, these were much fluffier right off the heat!

Greetings from the non food blogging blogger!  Those not feeling a warmer El Niño fall are feeling the chill that induces homey-types and foodies alike to don Williams-Sonoma aprons and alight upon their kitchens with spatulas.  As we slide into the back half of autumn, cozy weekend and holiday mornings beg for a house filled with the aroma of home-cooked breakfasts and time spent lingering over robust coffee at a sunlit table.  I have once again tampered with a finely honed recipe to lighten its load of refined carbohydrates, and the results are pleasing!  These pancakes are moist and fluffy with just a hint of sweetness; you can even skip the maple syrup and top them instead with a dollop of organic Greek yogurt.

I love buttermilk pancakes from scratch, sprinkled with organic blueberries and topped with warm Grade B maple syrup, but as much as it pains me to admit, I often end up feeling sluggish and a little sorry after the indulgence.  Not today, my friends!  If you stock your pantry with a few extra items, you can whip these up in a snap.

I like to store these in the fridge once opened, but if you don't have room, at the very you need to refrigerate the powdered buttermilk.
I like to store these in the fridge once opened, but if you don’t have room, at the very least refrigerate the powdered buttermilk or it will clump, which is gross.

I recommend a cast iron griddle over medium-low heat, but an electric griddle will also work well set to whatever temperature you usually use when making pancakes.  Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F with a cookie sheet or two inside so you can keep the cakes warm until you cook the last of the batter.   This recipe makes 7 pancakes if you use a dry ¼ cup measure to pour the batter onto the griddle.  I advocate using as many organic ingredients as possible, as it’s better for us and the planet.


Ingredients:

¾ cup milk*

2 Tbsp butter melted and slightly cooled

1 egg

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

½ cup whole grain pastry flour

½ cup almond flour/meal

3 Tbsp buttermilk powder*

1/2 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 tsp of cinnamon, or more to taste

Blueberries to taste (fresh or frozen; if using frozen, do not defrost)

*If using liquid buttermilk, simply replace the 3/4 cup milk with it, and omit the buttermilk powder.  The good thing about the powder is that it has a longer shelf life than liquid buttermilk.

Mix the liquid ingredients first, then stir in the powdered ingredients just enough to moisten them.  Buttermilk will cause the batter to thicken if left standing, so don’t add it in until you are ready to cook.  If the batter does thicken, loosen it with a small amount of water and stir as minimally as possible to make it consistent.

Pour the batter by ¼ cupfuls onto the griddle and sprinkle some blueberries on top.  You might want to press the blueberries in a little so they don’t flip out when you turn the cakes over.

Cook until tiny bubbles cover the visible surface, then gently flip and cook for another minute or so.  Store in oven on warm cookie sheet until ready to eat.  No need to cover them unless they are going to stand for a long time, because these stay very moist!


The cooked pancakes freeze well stacked with a layer of wax or parchment paper in between, wrapped in plastic and stashed inside a Ziploc bag.  In fact, the pancakes in the photo above were frozen!

Anyone who is gluten-free can try going full almond flour.  This will probably make the cakes spongier.  If I try it, I will let you know!

Enjoy, and happy mid-fall!