Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Getting My Mojo Back

Something must be in retrograde. Or returning, or going into some bonkers zodiological sign, or...hey is there a comet in the sky? Something with a portentous red tail? Because I am in some kind of wild metamorphosis mode. Truly. I can actually SEE myself changing. And it's not ALL for the worse, either!

At least 3 major life transformations are happening to me right now.

1. Empty nest   2. Menopause  3. My mojo is returning.

I haven't had this kind of confluence of personal events since my child was born. Even adolescence wasn't this insane, abrupt, disruptive, and, counter-intuitively -  POSITIVE. 

For even though what's happening to me physically is confusing, distressing, and completely ANNOYING, it is also a good thing, I feel it in my bones. I feel like it's burning off the baggage. The crap I've been carrying around for decades, back in my mind, in my guts - the kind of stuff that takes a fever to get rid of. And that is what peri-menopause is like - like a flickering, raging fever that banks itself up every so often, roaring through your pores with no warning, making your entire body break out in droplets of sweat - face, neck, chest, arms, knees, even the tops of your feet! Your clothes stick to you, your makeup runs down your face, and your hair stands on end and starts to frizz. Then, with no warning, the fire damps itself back down, leaving you wet and cold. 

This happens about ten times a night, and many times throughout the day. It's truly surreal - you lose complete control over your body, which is a pretty unwelcome feeling. After 50 years of learning how to control my body, how to structure my day, honing my sleeping skills, etc - that game is over. Completely upended, overnight. One day I'm a tired 40-something parent just doing what I gotta' do, the next day I have become a damp alien being, prone to migraines and insomnia. 

But you know what - I don't actually mind that much. I am so excited to get on with things!!! I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle - waking up 20 years later to find the world has changed. Parenting is an incredible, life-consuming, (and life-giving even for the parent) experience. Especially for the mother who breast-feeds and stays home with their child. You are your child, and they are you. And for a long time. And it is a BEAUTIFUL partnership, a sublime one. I only had one child, but it was the love affair of my life. When Cora was little I was helplessly besotted by her. Every day I took photos (before cell phones - actual photos, in photo albums), drew her picture, wrote down every single thing she did, kept many journals documenting the entire was heaven. A hardworking heaven, to be sure, but it just felt so right, and was so much fun. Gosh they are so funny and sweet when they are little! Just hilarious and pure. I miss that a lot. 

wanted my baby to transform me. At 31 years old I was ready to grow up, ready to stop partying, and to be the best mom to Cora I could be. And I got a whole new kind of mojo from it. She gave me the "permission" to have a rigorously structured lifestyle, which I always wanted deep down. She gave me permission to go to bed early, which I also always wanted to do, but could never manage, being in a band. She gave me a reason to read children's books again, to go places I hadn't been since I was a child - pumpkin patches, birthday parties, kids movies, etc - and she gave me the opportunity to heal a lot of pain from my own childhood. And she was so lucky compared to just about everyone I know - Cora had and still has married parents who were deeply in love, she had a stable home and only moved once in her life with us. She was never abused, neglected, or fed fast food. She didn't have a cell phone until she was almost 12, and had very limited screen time until 13 years old, when the virtual walls caved and the internet came crashing in to stay. From age 3 I took her horseback riding in the Oregon countryside, and taught her how to muck out stalls and groom the horses. Taught her to love and respect animals, and not to be afraid to get dirty. She was a wonderful child, my little side kick. Once when she was five years old I told her she was my sweet little side kick, and she said very seriously back to me, "Mama, I'm not your side kick, I'm your colleague." So - I loved that life, very very much. 

But all things pass, and it did. A hard struggle through the teen age years left me wondering what was next for me. I couldn't even imagine what it would be like when there were no more kids in the house. When it happened, it took a while to process and see what it really meant for us, what our new lifestyle was, exactly. It's six months now since our nest emptied, and about three months since the hot flashes and insomnia began, and I'm still figuring it all out - but let me just say, i feel my real mojo coming back.

And by "real" I mean the old Diane that used to be so creative and adventurous, and the new Diane who has three more decades of life experience to add depth to all that energy. Perspective, wisdom, call it what you will - IT ROCKS. Now that I've successfully navigated the mine field of middle life - marriage, kids, in-laws, work, etc - I am ready to put the polish on it. I'm ready to get back to that exciting, creative lifestyle - without the angst, and without the insecurity of my 20's. I have nothing to prove now, and everything to enjoy. 

So, I may be up all night, drenched in sweat one minute, shivering the next - and feeling like an amphibious freak half the time, but it's empowering me. And let me tell, or remind you if I've told you already, especially the guys - menopause is NOT FOR SISSIES. Men could not handle this sh**. It is fire/warrior/goddess kind of stuff. And as my body burns off its past I'm proud of what it has been through. I've given birth, raised a beautiful girl, and now I'm crossing into another realm. From Gandalf the grey to Gandalf the White. 

My goals this year aren't simple, and they aren't quiet. They are brash and loud and full of joy. I can' wait to get started. In fact, I'm going to sign off and get busy. It may only be 2:33 am, but I've been up for two hours, had my coffee and I'm ready to roll. xoxox 

Friday, February 17, 2017

In The Middle

As a creative person I feel compelled to be constantly making things. I like to do it, most times I love to do it, but sometimes it feels a little like those enchanted Irish shoes that make you dance, and you can't take them off. There aren't enough hours in the day to sew all the clothes, cook all the recipes, make all the prints, draw all the drawings, play all the songs, and write all the stories, and I wish there were! My fingers are itching to spray paint prints, my brain is writing stories and songs by itself, I'm ready to take on three different cookbooks, and I want to sew a collection of clothes that would make Project Runway proud. But sheesh! How does this actually get done?!

I'm in the middle-of-the-beginning-of-the-end of the publication of my first book. It is the beginning of the end because although we finally finished the major editing and copy editing of the book, it's far from finished - it is more like the middle of the whole project, because there is still so much to be done. There is still the proof reading, page design, final sign off, and then the printers, as well as publicity. And that is all really the beginning of the next stage.

The fact is, no matter what stage you are in - in life, in your projects, your work, your family - it is all the middle. Each day is the middle, each moment of the day. We are in the middle of the stream - swimming, never quite reaching the "other side", the final culmination, the ultimate realization - the BIG AHA. Life is so fluid, so flowing - that moment you are working for, striving for, hoping for - is now. Right now, in the middle of everything. Right now is your achievement, your work, your love - right now is your community.

When I make things, write things, draw things, cook things - I am trying to capture my vision of my world and share it. I'm trying to savor life, the beauty of it, the taste of it, the feeling of it...but it's rarely comfortable. Making prints is very hard on my back, cooking is also painful because standing is hard for me, I have to draw upside down these days since I can't sit at a table for very long - I draw laying down in bed, holding my tablet in the air. Ouch. And my sewing skills really bite right now because I haven't done it in so long, likewise my guitar playing and singing, totally rusty, but I'll get to them all soon. Rusty or not, there is some beautiful music that must be made - I just have to make piece with being in the middle of everything, not on a straightforward path with linear logic and reliable quality - but a bumbling, stumbling, sometimes sloppy, sometimes miraculously beautiful road forward, with pit stops to smell the roses.

Meanwhile I'm working hard to get the book done and ready for the world. And it too, is in the middle - I'm 50 years old, so it's being born in the middle of my life, and in the middle of my writing skills. I love my story, it is something that came from deep within me, that was created in my own childhood and steeped in all of the stories I read and re-read since then, but it is vulnerable. I am a new novelist, and learned so much along the way that I am certain I really know nothing at all. I have no idea how the book will be received, reviewed, or if it will even be enjoyed by children. It was written for me actually, the grown woman who still loves the genre. I know I'm not the only one, in fact that is a group that is growing by leaps and bounds, so I wonder if I have any readings will they be for children, or for adults? I suppose both. Right there, in the middle.

This is an amazing time for me. A new empty-nester, I am shocked and surprised every day by the new freedom I have, which is why the creativity urge is ramping up. Unfortunately all this also coincides with the serious onset of menopause and it is pretty devastating. My sleep is ruined. For over a month I haven't slept longer than two hours at a time, waking up soaked in sweat. Literally soaked, wringing wet, sheets, nightgown, everything. Then I get a chill, and shiver like crazy, have to change everything and try to sleep again. Then, two hours later...same thing. It's 12:39 am right now and I've been up since 11pm. I'll probably be awake until about 3, then fall asleep for two hours. Yesterday I fell asleep at noon and woke up at 2pm. Everything is upside down, but I am really trying to roll with it. I dont' have to drag myself into an office, and I don't have any more children at home, so I'm lucky. I am just going to use the strange hours I'm up to get creative.

In fact, I think I'll go do some proof reading of the book. Right now, in the middle of my life, in the middle of the night. xoxoxo 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Bridge of the Gods and My Love For The Middle Reader

People, we have a cover! And it's so magical! Thrilled beyond words. A HUGE thank you and major props to Julie my cover director at She Writes Press, and to Brooke Warner and Lauren Wise for guiding me along through this amazing process. I'll let you all know when there is a reading or book signing after it comes out this August!
"Bridge of the Gods" is a middle grade fantasy set on the Oregon coast in 1908. Chloe Ashton, an only child, has a special way with nature. Animals approach her, follow her, and try to communicate with her. When a family tragedy results in Chloe being abducted and sold to the vagabonds, she is taken deeper into the woods and finds out just how much the animals know. Set at time when technology is first appearing around the country, there is still a lot of old, natural magic in the land. There are some really fun characters both animal and human, and Book Two is already written!

I read a lot. I always have. Even though I'm busy like everyone else, distracted by screens, and haven't seen the inside of the library in about three years, I am constantly reading. What are you reading you might ask? And when are you reading? My answer to question number one - all of the books on my shelves. Over, and over. I have quite a collection having worked at the largest independent bookstore in the world for three years, as a generalist, which is to say in every room. Handling all those books, all those treasures, gave me a wide scope of appreciation for the craft of book making, and I collected mostly older books, out of print books, and children's books. I replaced some of my lost childhood favorites.

My answer to when I'm reading is kind of funny. I read when I eat. Not very glamorous or bohemian, but there you are. I don't know why this is, but I have always loved to read while I eat. It's kind of meditative, and relaxing, and you'd be surprised by how much you can read even in ten minute increments, twice a day. I really cruise through books this way, and I never feel "obligated" to read. It's just fun to do while I eat my oatmeal, or my big giant salad and corn chips. I highly recommend it. 

My favorite genre? Middle Readers. Since I was a middle reader myself. And my shelves reflect it - I have wonderful original editions of all the classics from "A Cricket in Time Square" to "The Black Stallion" to the entire "Little House" series - all hardback, from the 1960's and earlier - mylared (book nerd alert) - and treasured. And read, and re-read. Because middle readers are about imagination. About stories, adventures, early discoveries in life. Before the Young Adult angst sets in, before sex and cell phones start dominating the mind, when magic and animals and the simplicity of life take center stage. That is my wheelhouse. And that is why I wrote a middle grade series. I wanted to be on my shelf somewhere next to E.B. White, George Selden, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. At least at my house.

The book will be published August 15th, 2017, and will be available in bookstores and on Amazon. I hope to have an official launch and an informal one at my house. With music. Stay tuned for more exciting developments! xoxoxo Diane

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Fairy-Tale Castle

I just heard that the tiny dive bar on Sandy blvd called "Club 21" is going out of business. This place is notable mostly for its architectural design, if you can call it that. It is a tiny building on a corner lot in a mostly-industrial area of Portland, that looks like a castle, with a huge sign in a rakish, mid-century font (as if it were an elite hangout for the rat pack) saying simply - "Club 21".

The sign is practically bigger than the actual bar. Inside it's indistinguishable from any other divey sports bar - a bit dark, a bit sticky, cheap beer, and a fair-to-middling juke box. It's certainly not the fairy-tale castle it looks to be from the outside. However, despite its slightly seedy interior, and questionable location, this place is a place where dreams come true. It's the place where I made the most important decision of my life.

In 1992 I moved to Portland from Eugene. It was my second attempt to get out of Eugene for good, both times I moved to Portland. (The first time I lived in northwest on 18th and Davis in "The Lawn" apartments - one of the oldest houses in Portland, built in the late 1800's - and in the '90's my third-floor studio apartment cost $125 a month!!!!! These days it's been renovated into expensive units costing $3000 a month. But I digress.)

This second time around I was living in inner northeast Portland. I'd never hung out in that neck of the woods before, and it felt a bit bleak. I had just moved from Eugene once again, said goodbye to my Oswald Five-O family and enrolled at PSU to get a teaching certificate. I was going to be a french teacher!!!!! I found a one-bedroom apartment in an old building, which I tried hard to like, although truthfully there were some FREAKS living there. I wrote the Oswald song #6 there - that was my apartment number.

Outside it's warm and beautiful
Clear like the Pines
Can't tell if it's gonna be alright
This time is mine

Trying hard to be what I wanna be
my conscience clean
Downstairs a man keeps yelling out
what does it mean

It's sitting down
It's all around
This time is mine

Here is where the story really gets interesting.

So there I am, in my new, weird apartment, in my new school, and trying to adapt to the "big city" and "grow up", and guess who knocks on my door? Greg Rios.

There he was - dressed to the nines, and holding a huge bouquet of red roses.

Now, I must tell you - Greg Rios in a crisp, black, classic suit with a fresh white shirt and a tie, is something to behold. I was a bit overwhelmed. Outside was his 1964 Belair that he had driven up from Eugene, to visit me, and take me on a date. To Club 21.

This became a reoccurring event - he'd drive up from Eugene on the weekends, and we'd walk over to Club 21, and then walk around the neighborhood, and spend the weekend at my pad. Saying goodbye to that handsome man on Sunday night was murder. He made it easier by leaving me with the most AMAZING mixed tapes he made for me - all kinds of love songs. Punk rock love songs, old country love songs, the best jazz love songs, our best friends' bands' love songs - you name it, it was all on those tapes.

And it was a masterful move, because all through the week after he'd left I would drive my little truck around Portland, to and from school, listening to those tapes. How could I resist their/his call?! They worked their powerful magic on me, along with the Belair, the flowers, and Club 21, and I eventually gave up my new life in Portland, and moved back to Eugene. It was a huge decision, and not an easy one. But I recognized love when I saw it, and I knew it would not come again in this way. So, I moved back to Eugene where I would be for the next 13 years, while I waited for Greg's son to grow up, and for us to be able to move back to Portland.

Now, his son is 27 years old. Our own child is nearly 19, and has moved out of the nest. We've been back in Portland for eleven years. We are finally living that dream we had so long ago when Greg showed up at the door of #6, in his suit and tie with roses filling his arms. The punk rock love tapes have moldered, and we don't have a cassette player to play them on, but Pandora plays a great mix, even if it doesn't have Crackerbash or Some Velvet Sidewalk. Greg still wears suits, but to work now (and still just as handsome, wow!), and we sold the Belair for a yuppy Subaru, but its stereo rocks, and we are even more in love than we were back then.

So goodbye Club 21. And thank you. You really were a fairy-tale castle after all.  xoxoxoxo

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Thank You, Richard Adams

It's a hard day. Two shocking deaths in one day, in a year full of shocking deaths.
Today we lost Carrie Fisher, who I loved for her amazingly funny and insightful writing, and of course for being Princess Leia, and such a big part of my early childhood. 60 years old is far too young, especially from my own newly-50-year-old point of view. She had made it through some very hard times, and it seemed like her life was starting all over again. I feel terribly for her mother Debbie Reynolds, they were very close. I have Carrie's biography "Wishful Drinking", it is SO funny, she really was a rare wit. And a really good actress - do yourself a favor and re-watch "When Harry Met Sally" - Carrie plays Meg Ryan's best friend and she is fantastic. So gorgeous, and so funny!!!

The other death is a shock for a different reason. Richard Adams died. :( The author of one of my most influential books of all time - "Watership Down". And two others almost as influential to me - "The Plague Dogs" and "Traveler". I have read all of these books so many times, since I was about twelve years old, way back in 1978. Two years or so after the first book was published. His way of understanding the animals, of portraying them with respect - not as cute little cuddle bunnies or adorable puppies, but of animals haunted by human's cruelty, and by their own inner demons. He also describes the pure and simple joys of nature with all the enjoyment an animal might feel, so that you really feel you are one of them. Which, of course in my opinion, we are. Why would animals feel, think, or sense anything differently from us?

The powerful first-person perspective really drives the "humanity" of animals home. In "Traveler" - which is none other than Confederate General Robert E. Lee's favorite horse - we go to war. We go to war as horses go to war, and it is terrifying. His insight into the animals' experience is unique, and haunting. "Horses are forever saying goodbye." laments Traveler at one point. And you can see that this is most certainly true.

I have Richard Adams to thank for my love of American History. It was from reading "Traveler" that I fell in love with Robert E. Lee, and read more about him which caused me to discover an even greater love in Abraham Lincoln, and then I became a bit of a Civil War buff, which lead to a decade-long fascination with American History. Thank you Richard Adams!!!!

Adam's writing about animals goes way beyond fairy tales or fantasy. Reading his work puts you behind the animal's eyes, into their spirits, and it opens the mind to our own culpability in their everyday suffering, and might cause you to question some of your own assumptions about them, and what they do and do not "know". He makes us face some uncomfortable truths as he reveals to us the complexity and sensitivity of these creatures, and how we tragically take them for granted.

Richard Adams was 96 years old. His death shouldn't really be a shock, after all. The sad surprise for me is that he was still alive, and I didn't know it. I missed the chance to write him a thank you letter, telling him what his books meant and will always mean to me.

"Watership Down" was everything to me as a young adult - the importance and beauty and terror in nature, the complex personalities of individual animals, the spirituality of animals, and the blind cruelty of men. It inspired me as a child, to look beyond the surface of things, to trust your instincts, and to write detailed, fantastic stories about animals. Which I tried to do in my book "Bridge of the Gods". My book is directly influenced by Richard Adams' work. He is like Tolkein to me. A godlike spirit that has revealed an alternate reality to me - a reality full of the magic of nature and animals. It also takes much of its power from the reality of this would-be fantastic tale - his topography of the book is all very real, real places, real streams and fields, there really is a hill called Watership Down. In my book there is a very real Bridge of the Gods, and the story is set in the real Oregon woods that I lived in as a child.

Another similarity is his animal activism. Richard Adams was president of the RSPCA for several years and wrote "The Plague Dogs" as an expression of his disgust over vivisection and animal experiments in laboratories. I have been a vegan for 15 years, and have protested for decades the exploitation of animals, in all forms. And it's another theme in my own book.

Richard Adams also taught me something about death. He has helped me deal with the idea of death, and he did so when I was so young, I'll always have him to thank for that. When Hazel the rabbit dies he is greeted by "The Black Rabbit of Inle" which is basically, the rabbit grim reaper. Instead of fearing him and resisting death Hazel greets the Black Rabbit as a friend, and they go off together. I always remembered that, and wanted that to be the way I die.

I saw the animated movie three days in a row, when I was twelve. That was a big deal back then - it meant you had to ride your bike to the theater, or take a bus, and come up with the ticket money three days in a row. But I could not get enough of it, it was such a scary movie, such a powerful movie, and it was a movie cartoon! A rare thing back then.

So I really regret missing that chance to write to him. It's so sad to think that he has been here, all along, even while I read and re-read his books, and then took four whole years to write my own. But, I might send his family a copy of my book when its done, with him included in the acknowledgements.
Rest in peace, dear Richard Adams.You were beloved by people you've never even heard of, and I'm sure all the animals in the world are in mourning today. They've lost a dear, dear friend.  xoxoxo DR

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bridge of the Gods

Pssst: I will let you all in on something that has been developing for the past six months - I'm publishing my book! 
I have written a novel for middle readers-to-adult called "Bridge of the Gods". It is a fantasy set on the Oregon coast, in 1908. Chloe Ashton lives in Fairfax, a small fishing town. She is an only child living with her wealthy merchant parents, and spends happy days exploring the forests around her home. One terrible day her life changes forever, and Chloe is thrown out into the world to be sold by vagabonds. Although terrified, Chloe is not alone.  Foggy forestShe makes friends with a white rat named Shakespeare, and meets a talking mare named Greybelle. And it's not only the animals who help Chloe, nature herself takes a hand. It is still an ancient land of primeval forces - the trees, mountains, rivers, and animals all remember a time before man started chopping down the trees and making roads. They resent the death and destruction waged in the name of progress. But it is a race against time in Fairfax. A new hospital is being built, and the people and animals of the land are getting their first glimpse of the speeding ambulances which are tearing down the roads, scaring folks out of their wits. Soon people start disappearing, 
I'll just leave it there for the moment. I'm still polishing my synopsis-writing skills. You don't want to reveal too much or you ruin the surprise of reading the book, but you want enough detail to tantalize. Believe me, there is a LOT more - it's a magical story with lots of action, and with an emphasis on the transformative power of nature. Old nature. Ancient nature. Deep, natural magic that shakes the stones and makes the skies erupt in fire. Good stuff!!! ;)
The book will actually be two books - the original manuscript was over 400,000 words, so the publisher decided it should be two. So glory be, the sequel is already written!!! How amazing is that?! I am really, really thrilled this is happening!
1typewirterLet me tell you about the publisher. First of all it's a self-publishing company, for women. It's called "She Writes Press", and they do amazing work! Their mission is to support the authors, period. Here is how it came about, from their website:
"She Writes Press was founded by Kamy Wicoff and Brooke Warner in 2012 as a response to the barriers to traditional publishing getting higher and higher for authors. Kamy's online community "She Writes" had been founded on the principle of connecting and serving women writers everywhere, offering a community for established and aspiring writers.Brooke had been the Executive Editor at Seal Press for eight years, and was witnessing firsthand the contracting publishing environment, where she personally was having to reject beautifully written books on a regular basis because the submitting author didn't have a strong enough author platform. Kamy and Brooke envisioned a company where authors would be invited to publish based on the merit of their writing alone. they wanted to found a press for women writers that would be a platform - that could launch their writing careers, and where they could legitimately compete with their traditional counterparts." 
It was really a fluke of luck that I found them - my dear mom went on a retreat for a few days, and happened to meet Brooke Warner. Of course being my supportive mother she told Brooke all about my book and Brooke suggested I submit it to them. So, I did, and they reviewed my manuscript. When they do this they first decide if it's publishable material, and if it is, then they put it on a certain track to publication.
 My track was #3, the one that needs the most work, lol. It's the one where they match you with an editor, and then you work closely with that editor, 5,000 words at a time, through the book. My editor is the best!!!! Her name is Annie Tucker and I love her. She is so smart, and has the best eye, and is just exactly what I needed to make the story shine. It is my first novel, after all, and it certainly has its clumsy, repetitive bits, and after four years of writing it, I really needed fresh eyes. So Annie and I talk every week, and she goes over the week's edits with me, and then I do them, and send them back to her. We are now 8 weeks away from being finished with the first book, and then we talk about the publication. 
YAY!!!! I can't wait to see what the cover will look like!!!!!!! 2books
They work with a major distribution company so I do know that it will be available on amazon as both a paperback and an e-book, and it will be carried at Powell's City of Books which thrills me no end!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Bucket list.
And it wouldn't be possible without the help of my mom. Thanks mom!!!!!! xoxoxoxoxo
So stay tuned for more developments - I will have some sort of "book release" party, and you are all invited!!! 
xoxoxoxo DR

Monday, June 20, 2016

Magic Rice and Perfect Peanut Sauce

Hello friends, I am back with an amazingly delicious recipe I made today from the fabulous Minimalist Baker cookbook, available at a bookstore or site near you. Trust me, this book is more than worth buying, it is a veritable go-to, every day, life-changing list of simple recipes you will LOVE eating and making. Easy, delicious, and so healthy - I am in love with this book!

First recipes were total smash hits. I made option #2 under the Crispy Tofu recipe, the one where you marinate in in the amazing Peanut Sauce recipe, found on the same page. Serve it up on the MAGICAL Cauliflower "Rice", and you've got yourself a crowd-pleasing, tummy-filling, tastebud-scintillating meal everyone will love!
Before I get to the recipe I must marvel at the simple genius of Cauliflower Rice. It's cauliflower! That tastes BETTER than rice! And it's healthier! Another food miracle in a year of some pretty amazing food miracles. Hallelujah! There is nothing like discovering clean, healthy, vegan subsitutes for your favorite foods. Getting to eat things you thought you had to avoid, and be healthier for it - is truly miraculous in my opinion. So, without further ado...bon appetit!

1 lb extra firm tofu, pressed until most of the water has come out and cut into 1/2" cubes.

Peanut Sauce Marinade
1/2 c peanut butter (I used chunky 'cause I like the little crunches)
4 T soy sauce
1/2 tsp chili-garlic sauce
juice from 1/2 a lime
2 T coconut sugar
2 T maple syrup
4 T approx of hot water to thin
1 tsp sesame oil

whisk all ingredients together to make a pourable marinade. Add tofu chunks to marinade and let sit 5 minutes. Heat a skillet and remove tofu from marinade with a slotted spoon, leaving as much marinade behind as possible. Sautee tofu in dry skillet for five minutes, turning occasionally. Serve over cauliflower rice.

Cauliflower Rice

1 head of cauliflower, stem and leaves removed, and quartered
1 T sesame oil

Grate cauliflower on small grate setting or in a food processor with a small blade, so that it resembles rice.
Heat a skillet on medium-high heat. When hot, add sesame oil, and then cauliflower. Stir, cover, and let cook approx 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly brown and tender. Serve.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Discovery

Parenting is crazy. It's a constant test of your abilities to "cope",  to "go with the flow", and to "deal with it". From when they are tiny, vulnerable, helpless infants who can't tell you what they want, why they won't stop crying, and where it hurts, to the teen years when they won't stop telling you what they want, they still won't stop crying, and you want to tell THEM where it hurts, it's a minefield of the unexpected, sometimes-unsolveable ISSUE. And it seems the test is never over, you've never really passed it, or graduated. It just keeps getting harder until you feel like you're in AP Parenting and every day is the final exam. 
Over the years I have learned that freaking out doesn't work. At least in the case of my only child. No matter how egregious her behavior, no matter how much I have a right to freak out, no matter how righteous, justified and downright good it feels to freak out, the hard truth makes it worse. So, forced against the wall, with my regular arsenal of reason and authority made useless -  I am forced to adapt. And adapt I must, every day, with every new mine I inadvertently step on. 
Yesterday I found out she had a tattoo. We were sitting in the doctor's waiting room, which is the longest we've sat together in about a year, and I looked down at her hands holding her phone, and saw it. A small sun tattoo on her finger. It was blue like a real tattoo, and a little blurry like it was home made, or done in prison. Not prison, I admonished myself. Don't go crazy. I forced myself to calm down. I pointed at the fuzzy little blue tattoo and whispered, "for real?" just to make certain it wasn't a henna tattoo or something, and she laughed sheepishly, blushing bright pink, and said, "Yeah mom, I thought you'd seen it before!" Um, no.
But really, what can I do about it? Honestly, she is almost 18 years old. It's her life, it's her finger. I do worry that whoever did it might not have had the most sterile instruments in the world, but that ship has sailed, so all I said was "wow."
Then I laughingly told her the story of how her dad's tattoos were first exposed to his mother. He had quite a few by then, but had always covered them with sleeves and socks, until the day his young son ran up and pushed up his sleeve, baring a large band of tattooed barbed wire to his mother. I guess I'm just glad it wasn't my daughter's young child that outed her tattoo to me. And I'm glad it's not barbed wire.
After the doctor appointment and the tattoo discovery, we drove home and she talked of wanting to take an Au Pair job in Europe for a year before going to college. That seizure feeling came over me again. Um...ok....I try to be practical, breathing calmly. Let's do some research when we get home.
I'm so familiar by now with that kind of terrible sensation of shock and dismay (you want to go to a music festival?! You want to get your nose pierced?! You're wearing the skirt that's so short your butt shows?!) - it's a sickening feeling in your stomach that swirls as you try to find some emotional place to hold on to while you're processing it, and then there is the crisis-calm that comes over you as you figure out the baby steps it will take to deal with it. I've done it so many times over the last almost-18 years, I've got really big parenting muscles. I'm ripped. The only trouble is, I'm ready to get out of the parent gym now, and relax awhile in my empty-nester comfortable pants. I wouldn't mind if those muscles went to flab at this point. But the idea of my tattooed child with a too-short skirt Au Pairing her way across Europe doesn't feel like relief. 
C'est la vie I suppose. It's my fault for enrolling her in a french school when she was in kindergarten. But studying abroad for a year in my college days was one of the most meaningful experiences of my entire life, so why wouldn't it be for her? It might be the thing that makes her not want more tattoos, wear her skirts longer, and grow up just a little bit more so I can put down the parenting weights and cancel my gym membership, and make some new discoveries. Some discoveries of a different kind - nice ones. Un-stressful ones. Discoveries of how clean my kitchen and bathroom can be, how quiet my house can be, how relaxed I can feel. Ahhhhhh. We're nearly there. xoxoxo DR

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Little Things

I seem to be having unexpected, tiny breakthroughs every day. Little things that make life easier. Tiny life hacks, I guess you could call them. It's like I've been going along for the past decade in one mode - an efficient one for the most part mind you - but then suddenly I get an insight into how to do it better, and that little thing changes everything.
Things like getting a new printer that I can actually print remotely from - it's wireless. Wow! Or, figuring out (duh) that a nice, wide heating pad in my bed will cure my cold feet problem (although it's the first thing to get violently jettisoned the instant a hot flash hits me).
And then one day realizing that a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter + 2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup is like CANDY. Now that might sound boring but it is HUGE. It's really changed my life! I used to crave chocolate. I was mad for it. If there was even a hint of a chocolate bar, drop, or tiny chocolate chip in the house, I would find it and eat it. That stuff is like heroine to me. But, wonder of wonders, since I've been having a tablespoon or two of peanut butter + maple syrup every day, I do not even think about chocolate. And the rare times I do think of it, I DON'T WANT IT!

Yesterday's tiny breakthrough: I finally made vegan parmesan. For some reason I had been putting it off, mostly forgetting about it, but then balking at the intimidation factor - I mean, it's an oxymoron, isn't it? Vegan Parmesan. Cheese. Not cheese. How could, a puny mortal like me make that taste good? But I did. And It's beyond easy. It's so easy it's almost an insult to myself that I put it off for so long. Although come to think of it, another tiny breakthrough might have had to happen first, in order to pave the way for the vegan parmesan attempt...I got a food processor! Until now all I've used is my trusty blender, which is kind of a be-yotch for making fine meal or flour, or to powder nuts,'s hard to clean too. So when the old blender got a little worn I went to buy another and found a Black and Decker Food Processor for only ten bucks more, so I got that instead. Not only is it worlds better than the blender, but now I look, feel, and cook like the pros on youtube. :) And with the purchase making vegan parmesan instantly became more of an option. First try = perfection. Salty, savory, YUM. The husband loooooved it, and so did the teen!

I also made polenta for the first time. Also very easy! Why did I buy it all those years?! It's so delicious home-made and warm, and covered with this simple mushroom marinara, it's an easy, light-but-filling comfort meal. Delish!

First, the recipe for the vegan parm:

  • ½ cup blanched slivered almonds
  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder   

Simply put all ingredients into a food processor fitted with the "S" blade, and pulse until a fine meal forms. Voila! C'est fini! :)

Homemade Polenta With Mushroom Marinara Sauce 

6 cups water
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. vegan margarine
2 cups cornmeal
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
16 oz. marinara sauce
1 oz. vodka (optional)
10 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
1–2 Tbsp. vegan Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil, for garnish
  • Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large pot.
  • Add the margarine.
  • Gradually stir in the cornmeal and let simmer, stirring often, for about 30 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Saute mushrooms and garlic for 5 minutes.
  • Add marinara sauce and vodka if using, and let simmer for about 5 minutes.
  • Scoop the polenta into serving bowls and top with the marinara sauce, vegan Parmesan, and fresh basil.
Buon appetito!!! xoxoxo      (note: the above recipe is my adjustment of the original recipe.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

It's Gettin' Real

Ok, life has taken an unexpected, bizarre, and downright painful turn. I don't know why it was unexpected - I know menopause is a reality. I've heard about it all my life, heard horror stories of the hot flashes, the irritability, the...gasp...migraines...and the...ick...night sweats (!!!), but I had no idea what that really meant. Well, now I know. And let me tell is NOT pretty, or fashionable! 
HOT-FLASHESI'm only 49 years old. Last week I felt like a 35 year old. This week I feel 90. I think menopause hit overnight. Not a very festive subject, but since it's suddenly all I can think about, I want to warn you younger women now - this is no cake walk! Almost overnight I started breaking out in soaking sweats, day and night, sticking to my covers and then freezing when the cold air hits my soaked skin. YUCK! Plus, I've had two migraines! I've never had headaches before in my life, and now I've had two of the most painful migraines I could imagine. I thought my brain was going to burst. It made me cry! This is not cool. Why do we have to go through this? It's a terrible joke! A terrible irony!
So after waiting about five (no, six..wait maybe seven) years for my "precocious" teenage daughter to grow up and mature a little (and actually be on the brink of moving out), and after dealing with a decade of pretty debilitating back pain that started in my late 30's - I get to start menopause. The way I see it, women have it rough in this world - we have to deal with the social issues, the body issues, the periods every 3 1/2 weeks for our entire lives almost, the PMS, the cramps, the pregnancies, the BIRTHS, the breastfeeding, raising and rearing of children, and then just when we ought to be getting our medals for valor, and a life-time supply of free pedicures for our heroic, tireless efforts, we get slammed again. Forget old age - menopause is not for sissies! But let me tell you no woman is a sissy by the time she is old enough for menopause. We are definitely NOT the weaker sex. After all that we have to go through in life, we are hardened warriors, full of the wisdom of experience.  Could-my-hot-flashes-be-causing-global-warming
I must be getting so much character from this "experience". Or wisdom. Or enlightenment. I mean, this one isso tough I feel I'll become a shaman or something by the end of it. Like when Gandalf the Grey became Gandalf the White. I will surely, certainly, without a doubt become Diane-the-white by the end of it. Every hair! And god forbid I should grow a white beard, too, which at this point would not surprise me. 
K2-_07048be2-10fb-4f18-b0c6-1581d2d6d35f.v1HAPPILY THOUGH... I do think I've found something that is just starting to help me... a little. But it makes me hopeful because I just started taking it and maybe it's just warming up, and will work even better once I have more of it in my system. It's called "Remifemin", and it's an all-natural supplement made from the "Black Cohosh" herb, used for centuries to treat menopausal symptoms. My mom used it and said it was the only thing that worked for her. She had hot flashes for ten years!!! Heaven help me, please let that skip a generation. (sorry Cora). So there is that helpful hint to end this rather depressing post on, stay tuned for an update as to the longer-term results. 
Enough with the middle-age issues! Happy Tuesday!!!  xoxoxo DR

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Dream Cream

Dinner tonight: baked potato, cashew sour cream, fake bacon bits and avocado. 
Cream = bad, right? Sour cream, cream cheese, whipped cream, ice cream, creamy creams of all kinds - all create obesity, inflammation, skin issues, sleep apnea, and even cancer. Milk is just plain bad for you, turns out. All that "got milk" crap was just advertising to make rich corporations even richer. We are not made to drink or eat other animals' milk. In fact the idea is totally disgusting if you get past the brainwashing we've all been subjected to for so long. Would you even taste cats' milk? Dogs' milk? Yuck, yuck, and yuckity hurl, if you ask me. Cow milk is no different, we've just been conditioned to believe it is. Emperor's new clothes.

Well, THE GOOD NEWS IS: NUTS ARE HEALTHY! Nuts have tons of calcium (so do a LOT of vegetables), as well as important fiber and nutrients that lower cholesterol, not raise it like cow milk does. They make your heart healthier, tame inflammation, clear up skin issues, etc. In short, milk made from nuts like almonds, cashews, hazlenuts, or hemp seeds actually cure all the ills that cow milk creates. 

And the even better news is: THEY TASTE AMAZING!!!! Are you a milk and cookies fan? A tall cold glass of almond/coconut milk will be lip-smackingly good with cookies dunked in it. Are you an Alfredo sauce fan? You can still have it, and more of it, without any dairy fat and a fraction of the calories! Are you a cheese cake fan? A lover of mayonaise? Of butter? You can have it all these days, without a trace of animal milk or fat. It's truly a faux-dairy revolution out there right now! From cheeses that actually melt on top of your pizza to meringues made of bean water you can pretty much have any "dairy" item you want, without heart-disease-creating fat, and totally cruelty-free. 

Ok, here's my new LOVE. Cashew Sour Cream. I've made it twice in a week and it disappears instantly. Teen and Husband love it too. I got the original recipe from the adorable video below, but I am modifying the recipe to increase the garlic powder and the salt. I find it needs that extra kick and when it has it....YUM! 

Use this savory cream on anything you like from potatoes to roasted vegetables to whole grain pasta. 


In blender place 1 cup of cashews (soaked overnight)
1/2 c non-dairy milk of choice
2 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
3/4 - 1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

blend. pour. love.   xoxoxo Diane

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Beautiful New World: Oil-Free, Vegan Alfredo Sauce (with Quinoa Pasta)

You really can have it all. I am a huge green smoothie addict, and that along with a couple of tablespoons of organic peanut butter or almond butter with a dollop of maple syrup is what usually sees me through a day, but I crave savory salt things as much as the next person, and sometimes my body just cries out "I want hot food!" 
So, when I find a hearty, "old-fashioned" comfort food that I can actually make squeaky-CLEAN, I get really excited! Enter - this dream sauce.

The recipe is called 20 MINUTE VEGAN ALFREDO SAUCE
but it really should be called SAUCE OF THE GODS because it is sooooo delicious. Savory, so creamy, and with absolutely no dairy fat or oil. Plus, it's only 55 calories per 1/4 cup!!! It's amazing on pasta of course, but would also rock on a baked potato, a sweet potato, rice, cous cous, toast, faux meats of all kinds, etc etc etc. 

I made it for the family and they ate it without taking a breath. Both the 18 year old daughter and middle aged husband gobbled it like our lab eats a treat. It was gone. I made a second batch a few days later and managed to snag a big ladle-full for myself before again...zzzzzzt!!! GONE, BABY. 

So obviously this sauce is a major hit. The recipe is from the wonderful Vegan 8 blog where you will find all sorts of delicious recipes! 

Here you , bonne appetite! 
20 Minute Vegan Alfredo
You will be simply amazed at how amazingly, rich, creamy and delicious this vegan alfredo sauce is, without any oil or starches or yucky ingredients. It has incredible flavor and requires just 8 ingredients (+salt) to make it! It is almost too good to be true!
Serves: 2½ cups
  • For the pasta
  • 14 oz bag of gluten-free brown rice fettucini pasta (or your preferred pasta)
  • ½ tablespoon fine sea salt
  • Alfredo sauce
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (480 mL, I really recommend low versus the regular)
  • ¼ cup raw cashew butter (roasted is too strong, with no added ingredients. I get mine from Whole Foods or make my own, another nut butter will not work)
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (10 mL)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (16 g, add more if you like, but I found this to be perfect. I also use Dr. Fuhrman's which is a bit less salty)
  • 2 tablespoons brown rice flour (20 g, really is magical in this)
  • ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¾-1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • optional: ½ teaspoon dried Italian herbs blend (not necessary but does add a nice flavor)
  • optional: any veggies you may want to add
  • Note: Please note I have ONLY tested this recipe (3 times in fact) exactly as written, so I don't know about subs. If you can't find cashew butter, then you can make your own. I do it often. Just add 2 cups RAW, unsalted cashews to a food processor and process for about 10 minutes or so. You will need to scrape the sides down a few times during. Process until completely silky smooth, do not stop until it becomes almost pourable like almond butter. Then just use ¼ cup for the recipe as listed.
  1. Follow each step closely. To have this ready to eat in 20 minutes, you will first need to start your pasta before the sauce. Add 12 cups of very hot water to a large pot and put the lid on (it will come to a boil faster). Turn to high heat and let it come to a boil. Mine took about 10 minutes before it was boiling (yours may be faster). Once it's boiling add the pasta and salt and quickly stir it around to loosen it up. The salt is important because it flavors the pasta and you won't end up with bland pasta. Keep on high heat and cook for 9 minutes or until al dente. Mine took exactly 9 minutes. Yours may vary depending on the pasta you use.
  2. While you are waiting on your water to come to a boil, this is when you will add all of your "alfredo sauce" ingredients (including the dried Italian herbs if using) to a blender. Blend until very smooth and there is no lumps from the cashew butter or rice flour. It will be very runny, don't worry about that, it will thicken up a lot when cooking. You will notice that it tastes fairly salty straight out of the blender, this is necessary for it to stand out in the end result with the pasta (and any veggies you may add).
  3. Check your water to see if boiling yet.
  4. Add the sauce to a large sauce pan and whisk well from the bottom to make sure there are no lumps from the rice flour. Turn to high heat. Once it starts bubbling all over, immediately turn to medium heat and whisk continually while letting it cook 3-5 minutes until thickened. You want to continually whisk around the bottom and sides, so the flour doesn't clump. Don't walk away from it. I cooked mine about 4 minutes. I have a gas stovetop and this is how quick it was, yours may vary. You don't want to cook it too long because it will thicken up considerably as it cools off, because of the rice flour. The longer you cook it, the thicker it will become. You are basically just wanting it to thicken up to a light creamy consistency and then remove from the heat. If for some reason you slightly overcooked it and it gets too thick, just add a tiny amount of broth to thin it back out. Voila. Add any veggies if you like. I literally just threw in some peas and carrots from the freezer and let them cook a minute in the sauce. Your sauce should be done before your pasta, so just cover with a lid to keep warm.
  5. Once your pasta is done, drain and rinse with water to stop the cooking. Brown rice pasta can stick really badly, so I rinse really well and serve immediately. I don't like to add it directly to the sauce or it thickens it up too much. I add to a plate, then add the sauce and garnish with extra dried Italian herbs or red pepper flakes or anything else you like. If you used low-sodium broth and ¾ tsp salt, it should not need any extra. Mine was perfect, but taste and add more if necessary as some broths vary. For reheating leftovers, heat over low and add a little broth to thin back out if necessary.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: ¼ cup sauce (not pasta) Calories: 54.4 Fat: 3.25 g Carbohydrates: 4.1 g Sugar: .6 Sodium: 199.6 mgFiber: .45 g Protein: 2.1 g

Sunday, January 31, 2016

It's ALL About Perspective

Hello again. A rare day when a new blog post appears, usually along with some kind of apology and a declaration of re-commitment, followed by another long silence. This time I will not make such a declaration, because of course that only sets me up for "failure" when there is no such thing as failure, at least in the blogging world. You write, or you don't. No biggie. Sometimes life is just to be lived, not always photographed, or written about.

Today's post was inspired once again by food. And by aging. And by Buddhism, if you can believe that. Quite the trifecta. Which of course, it is. Food = life. Aging IS life, and Buddhism...well, it inspires an inner life which is just as important, if not more so. I am not a Buddhist per se, but I have been reading about it and listening to some talks, and I really like what it is all about. I like meditation. I like listening to my own thoughts, without judgement, I like the peace and safety I find there. I like how I feel after I meditate, and how it brings a calmness to my entire day. I like how meditation seems to evaporate anxiety, inadvertently creates compassion for others, which is something I really need sometimes. I am often overwhelmed by this noisy, childish, aggressive town, and I carry that anger around with me. Meditation helps me see the bigger picture.

As for aging: I'm turning 50 in July. My child is 18 and is moving out this summer. People I know are dying, people who are my mother's age, now in their late 60's and early 70's, are dying in droves. Although my 15 years of being vegan have helped me stay young in many ways, I do feel more vulnerable in others. My body is thinner and bonier, and more sensitive than it was even ten years ago, I bruise easily, and I am starting menopause. My hair is thinner too, and sometimes when I look at photos of myself I notice how much like an "old lady" I am becoming. :)

All of these things change your life perspective, and I wanted to write about it because far from feeling bad, or scary, or depressing.... it feels REALLY REALLY GOOD. :) Truly! Because of my vegan life-style, I never get sick. Never. Not a cold, not a sore throat, not the flu, nothing. And I used to get bronchitis every single year at least once, AND the flu. Every year. Sometimes twice! I've had the flu so many times, with fevers and delerium, body aches, vomiting, the whole bit....but not for ten years now. Even though my body is a bit more "frail" in some ways than it was as a robust 20 something with tons of energy who could lift guitar amps and drum kits in and out of vans and basements for is actually stronger. And more in synch with itself. Back then when I ate sugar and white flour, meat and dairy, I drank and young body was full of toxins. I had a layer of fat and pimples galore, and I got sick all the time. I coughed my way through every winter, and I was often very depressed.

But no more. Now, 20 years later, I feel light, healthy, strong, energized...even if I do look like a little old lady in photographs. That's going to happen whatever I do, so I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just going to be grateful that I feel so good, look so much better, and still alive. The bottom line is: as far as I can tell a vegan diet + daily meditation = health and happiness. So that feels pretty important, and it's why I wanted to write again. I'm going to try to put down more delicious, tried-and-true vegan recipes so they are accessible in one place. A friend of my daughter's has just gone vegan and needs inspiring recipes, so this blog can be a resource for her, if not for others.

So - happy weekend, happy cooking, and happy life to all my fellow humans. We all want the same thing: love. (and delicious food). xoxoxo


The original recipe is here: Vegan Loaded Blueberry Muffins

I don't want to eat ANY sugar or white flour if I can help it, so I substituted stevia powder and maple syrup for sugar and used half and half whole wheat flour and spelt flour for their all-purpose white. After making these blueberry bombs I wondered why anyone would ever bake a muffin without jam on top?
Happy baking, and eating!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A New Revolution

Bonjour tout le monde, I am once again attempting to reanimate this sleepy, dormant blog, by posting about my latest favorite past-time: vegan baking.

Keeping up the blog has been difficult, because it requires a LOT of energy to write, and then sometimes even more to edit properly. As it's not the first project on my list every day, and due in part to my recent back pain and the fact that I work at home now, I'm not exactly the girl about town that I was in the blog's hey day, it's most often just too much work. BUT, I realized I don't always have to write an entire essay, or an extemporaneous analysis of society today, or a venomous rant about the lack of manners around here, etc, etc. No, this will just be a place to put recipes, photos, and baking tips, in case anyone else would like to try.

First may I just preface by saying: vegan cooking, raw cuisine, clean eating: this is the new revolution, people. This is the way of the future. It is a revolution in stopping climate change, in reclaiming your health, in cutting off the predatory practices of the Big Pharmaceutical companies, in saving billions of animals lives, even in curing cancer. It is something every one of us can do, without any investment. No up-front costs, no membership fees, no equipment to buy. Just...go vegan.

I became a vegan because I can't bear to kill. I see the humanity in animals, or the animal in humanity, and I cannot eat flesh, anymore. I was a meat-lover, a bacon-lover, a chicken-lover, a gravy-lover. But once my eyes were opened I could never close them again. I discovered I was eating torture. Fear. Pain. Suffering. I was eating friends. So I stopped.

Luckily, going meat and dairy free had never been easier. This was way back in 2000. There were faux chicken products, faux hot dogs, bacon, everything I used to love! There wasn't any good cheese alternative yet, that was still ten years away, but oh well, avocados did nicely in place of cheese, at least on all my mexican food creations. Now of course, we have it MADE. The best meat alternatives are available, the most delicious dairy alternatives, nut milks, yogurts, cream cheeses, sour creams, even CHEESE CHEESE. You can get lip-smackingly delicious vegan BRIE, of all things!

I became obsessed with eating clean when reasons number 2, 3, and 4 popped up: I lost a ton of weight. I stopped aging so quickly. I amazed my doctors at every check-up: never had a flu shot (still never have), never got sick, great cholesterol-heart-blood pressure numbers etc, no medication. Even in my 40's. And then I found out I was also helping to save the planet. 

How much more revolutionary can you get? A cruelty-free, globally-sustainable, anti-cancer, anti-aging, weight loss product that does not support corporate greed?!!! Sign. Me. Up.

So here we are.

My new mission in life is to recreate everything I used to loooove to eat, as clean as can be. When possible, the ultimate goal is whole-grain or gluten-free, sugar-free, and vegan. This year I am going to cook and bake as close to those guidelines as I can. I'm going to try new raw recipes, I'm going to buy a dehydrator!!! Stay tuned for regular, every-day recipes for delicious autumnal dinners, snacks, and deserts. Meanwhile...

THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF. This show is the best reality show of all time. Not only because it is about baking, and baked goods are my passion, (also my old nemesis), and my new best friend. Not only because it has hilarious, gentle, teasing, sweet, adorable lesbian hostesses Mel and Sue, not only because it boasts the legendary Mary Berry herself as a judge, and the intense and talented Paul "Silverback" Hollywood as the "male judge", but because THERE IS NO DRAMA. Well, beyond the drama of a fallen cake, an un-set creme pate, or an over-baked dough with a soggy bottom. No, what is brilliantly, engagingly lacking is whining, petty, human drama. No backstabbing, rumor-mongering, alliance-creating, jealous, paranoid meltdowns in the baking tent. No sirree, just white aprons, whizzing mixers, and the silent sweat of frightened bakers, praying that their creations will please the judges.

In fact, there is no obvious corporate sponsorship of the show. No million-dollar-contract to vie for, no special prizes given with each successful challenge. The reward is simple and powerful: approval from the judges, and your fellow bakers. Every contestant lives for a approving word from Paul and Mary, each searching their faces with that first bite for a sign...and if you are very very lucky, your bake is perfect, your bottom is not soggy, and your flavor is spot-on, you might get to hear the most blessed of words issue from Mary Berry's lips: "SCRUMMY".

Then, for the best of the best the award of "Star Baker" is ceremoniously granted each week, and one sad contestant is enveloped in hugs, fed leftover cake, and let go.

So...once addicted to this wonderful, creative, and inspiring show, I had to start baking. I had never piped a frosting before, never made a meringue, never tried "chocolate work", or carmelized anything in my life, but watching the bakers in the tent do it, over and over again, sometimes failing, sometimes creating masterpieces...I thought I might give it a go. And it's been SO MUCH FUN.

Now, I was never a science whiz, and let's face it, cooking IS chemistry. It's all about reactions of ingredients, under certain conditions, and so there are going to be failures, especially when working with "non-traditional" ingredients. It's hard enough making this stuff with white flour, cream, eggs, and real butter. The chemistry changes when you're using a liquid sweetener, say maple syrup, instead of dry sugar. But...I adjust and experiment, and have had really good results, despite the challenges.

Crikey! This post has turned into one of those long-winded ones I was trying to avoid. But I had to set the stage, but enough already - enough stage-setting: IT'S TIME FOR A RECIPE! 
Vegan Maderia Cake

The first week of the bake off was all about cake. There are 3 challenges per episode, and the first one is always the "Signature Bake". The bake where they give you a general theme, and you make your special version of it. This Signature Bake was for Mediera Cake, a citrus-y glazed cake that is so-called because you could serve it with a glass of Medeira wine. It looked absolutely delicious, and I couldn't wait to give it a try.

Using the Bake-Off's own recipe for Medeira Cake I veganized it. This was easy because all I had to do was use 9 Tablespoons of aquafaba (see note) for the eggs, and almond milk for the regular milk. Very straightforward. Keep in mind however, that when I bake for the bake off I sometimes go ahead and use white flour and sugar. I want the entries to be as close to the real thing as possible, so the judges are impressed by the appearance, and can't tell that it is vegan. When possible I will go sugar-free. The results here were DELICIOUS. The cake was so moist and sweet, I injected some of the glaze straight into the cake as well as drizzled it over the top, and the candied peel added the perfect crunch. I was thrilled to the marrow when the Great British Bake Off's website accepted my bake, along with 1000 others, but who cares, and posted it on their page. I've never heard such sweet words in an email as when I read "Your bake has been approved."

The 2nd challenge was the Technical Challenge, this time for "Frosted Walnut Cake". The Technical is where they give you a classic recipe without any detailed direction. It's where you are tested on your knowledge of certain techniques, like making meringue. The Frosted Walnut Cake is frosted with a meringue that is quite tricky to make. It's a layered cake with buttercream on the inside, meringue on the outside, and CARMELIZED walnuts on top! I had never done any of this before, and how in the heck do you make a vegan meringue, anyway?! Isn't it made entirely of egg whites?

Vegan Frosted Walnut Cake
Nevertheless, I waded in.
(note) Recently a new discovery has been taking the vegan world by storm. It is AQUAFABA. It simply means "bean water". And that's all it is: it's the water from a can of beans, the stuff you always pour down the drain. Evidently this water is magical. It is a protein, just like eggs, and behaves very much like eggs, when cooked, whipped, or baked. Even more magical, you can beat it for ten minutes and it turns into meringue. Or marshmallow fluff, or whipped cream, or ice cream, depending on what you do to it. NO LIE. And that's what I did. I made vegan meringue frosting out of the water from one can of chickpeas, or garbonzo beans. More on aquafaba later, suffice it to say, it worked.
However, I have never handled meringue of any sort before, and it set really fast. So fast that it crumbled on the top of my beautiful walnut cake, and looked hard and ugly. So I made the terrible decision to just cover it all up with the leftover buttercream. Which looked crystalized and rough, spread over that hard meringue. Oh well, live and learn! I tried to beautify it with my freshly-carmelized walnuts, which helped, but not enough. I am hooked on carmelizing, however, it is SO FUN!!!!! Did you know all you have to do is put sugar in a sauce pan? That is all! Just heat it slowly on medium heat, DO NOT STIR IT, just kind of swirl it around from time to time and make sure it doesn't burn, and it will turn into a golden syrup that you can dip stuff in, or flick it about on wax paper for "sugar work", or kind of sculpt it into shapes to decorate with. It's a blast. And then whatever you've dipped in it becomes shiny and golden and delicious-looking. Not enough to save this cake, but oh well. It was absolutely delicious anyway, and I can't wait to make it again. Walnut Cake rules!

I did not attempt the 3rd challenge of the week: The Showstopper Challenge. This week it was for "Black Forest Gateau" which is a chocolate fairy-tale concoction of cake and cream. Way out of my league at this point, and after two cakes I was baked-out. But I vowed that I would attempt a Showstopper soon, and do my best to compete with the Star Bakers in the baking tent.

Stay tuned for Week Two of the Bake Off:  Biscuits (Cookies!)