Sunday, September 13, 2015

A New Revolution

Hello again, blogging world!

It's my annual post. Haha, that is sadly true, of late, if by "of late" I mean of the last few years, ahem. However, 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!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

“How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like kleenex?” ― Julia Child

My very first loaf of bread! The "Whole Grain Seed Bread" from the Vegan Richa site. A delicious, crunchy top-crust made from a cornstarch "egg" wash and lightly sprayed with oil before baked. This loaf makes some of the best toast I've ever had! Delightfully rustic and crunchy and so much better than any store-bought bread, even Dave's! 

Hello, blog. We have had an up and down relationship these past few years, no? For quite a stretch we had a hot and heavy love affair, there's no denying it. I must have posted three times a day back in 2007! If one was to unroll you like a parchment your length might stretch all the way to Eugene by now. But, long as it was, that honeymoon period was not to last. Eventually I wearied of the pressure to be interesting and to report every thought and sight that flew past or through my head. Enough was enough, I thought to myself crossly, I need to disengage from this thing, this succubus that claims my time when there are other things to do! I need some privacy and some room to express myself in other ways. I also needed to write a novel.

And so I took a break, and nourished my solitary nature, and quit my customer service job, and wrote the novel. It was fantastic, and it was hard. Along the way my back sort of gave out and for two of the last four years I've been in constant, debilitating pain. But I can write lying down, and so I wrote on, and on, and on. It seemed to take forever to write that book, largely because I had to learn how to do it! I had no time for anything else. But, now that the book is finished, a new passion has emerged: cooking. I feel passionate about it because I have discovered that the way you eat can fight so many terrible things: it fights aging and it fights corporate greed. It fights cancer, and it fights global warming. In some ways food is the most trans-formative political revolution there is! And it tastes good!

I have always loved food. I remember when I was four years old thinking to myself, "When I grow up I will be able to make a sandwich any time I want!" Then, I grew up and I did just that. The only problem is, too many sandwiches makes you sick and fat. And it wasn't only the sandwiches that I loved. I won't go into more details because those sad and awkward days are long gone and it just depresses me to talk about them, but suffice it to say that before I understood about a vegan lifestyle, I had an extreme love/hate relationship with food, and it was exhausting.

It was a pig that turned me vegan. Actually, I only turned vegetarian at that point, it would be another couple of years before my eyes were opened to the cruelty of the egg and dairy industry. The pig that turned me veggie was a pour soul in a movie called "Brother's Keeper". It was a very good movie, a documentary about some very strange and compelling brothers who lived on a crude, rural farm, and there was a scene where they slaughtered a pig. But it wouldn't die. The poor thing just staggered around, confused and frightened for minutes upon minutes on end. It's pink skin and bewildered face were so human it shocked me. It was like watching a child be killed. It really shook my soul, and I immediately swore off all meat.

I've always loved animals, almost more than anything else. As a child in the hippy housetruck with my parents I spent hours and days and weeks in the forest, in the fields, along the rivers and creeks, all over the nation. I was alone in nature, except for the animals. Playing by myself in the trees, in the grass, in the water, I truly felt a part of it all. When we rejoined civilization I found ways to be with animals and help them. I volunteered for years at different stables, worked with a large animal vet in junior high, and gave a portion of my allowance every month to Greenpeace. One day, standing in a circus protest at the Lane County Fairgrounds I met a young man who quickly educated me on the horrors of the dairy and egg industries. That day I became vegan, that was 15 years ago and I've never looked back.

As an amazing side benefit to becoming vegan: I also lost weight and got healthy. I realized that I could LOVE FOOD and not be harmed by it. In fact, I could he healed by it! I watched movies and read articles on the benefits of the lifestyle and learned that not only does it heal serious illness and spare the animals, but it also means the end of illness. Truly! I haven't been sick in four years, I've never had a flu shot, and except for my stupid back pain, I feel great! And I'm about to turn 49, people! A plant-based lifestyle also does not support big pharmaceutical companies, or predatory hospitals, or cause global warming or use obscene amounts of water the way animal "agriculture" does. Win win win win win!

So my newest passion is cooking clean, and spreading the word. And as I am a HUGE fan of the "Great British Bake Off" show, I am inspired to veganize their fabulous recipes. There is a "GBBO-Bake-Along" group on facebook that I belong to where I will post the results of my efforts, feel free to check it out! It is possible to make meringues, pastries, custards and creams DAIRY FREE! Along the way I want to perfect my baking skills, and learn how to make fancy, vegan, sugar-free desserts, because sugar causes inflammation, just like meat and dairy do, and inflammation can lead to cancer.
My ultimate goal is to reproduce nearly anything, in a clean and healthy version.

So join me as I post pics of the vegan recipes I love, and the non-vegan recipes I convert, and give them a try yourself!  Food is such a great way to reach someone in a positive manner, and to possibly change the world. Maybe you'll love some of the recipes so much you'll donate some of your results to a charity bake sale!

Come join the very delicious revolution, and bon appetit!

Whole Grain Seed Bread Recipe
Allergen Information: Free of Dairy, egg, soy, nut. can be made corn-free. Makes one large bread loaf (9 inch by 5 inch pan)
1/2 + 1 cup warm water, divided
1 tbsp active yeast
1.5 Tbsp maple or 1 tbsp sugar
1 1/5 cup spelt or wheat flour
2  to 2 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tablespoons flax seeds or flaxseed meal
2 tbsp non dairy yogurt
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp millet or other small grain like amaranth, quinoa
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tbsp oats
For the cornstarch (vegan egg) wash:
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp cornstarch
In a bowl, combine 1/2 cup warm water, maple/sugar and yeast. Mix and let sit until frothy 5 minutes.
In a stand mixer, add flours and salt and mix well. Add the yeast mixture, yogurt, 1 cup water, oil, flax and knead for 3 to 5 minutes or until smooth. Add more flour if needed.
Place the kneaded dough in a large oiled container. cover with a towel and let it rise for an hour ot until doubled.
Meanwhile, toast the millet over medium heat for a minute, add sesame seeds and continue to toast for another minute. Take off heat and keep aside.
Punch the dough down. Add half of the millet sesame seed mixture, 1.5 tbsp oats, 1.5 tbsp sunflower seeds and knead into the dough for a few seconds. Pat the dough down into a fat rectangle and roll it up like a jelly roll. Seal the edge. Place the dough in parchment lined bread pan. Spray water liberally on top and let it rise for 20 minutes in a warm place.
Prep the cornstarch “egg wash”.  Mix the cornstarch in 1/2 cup of water, heat the water over medium heat until it thickens into a sludge. Brush the wash liberally on the dough. Sprinkle the seeds all over, stick them by pressing with hands. Spray water then spray with oil. Let the dough rise for 10 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the bread for 30 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Cover the bread lightly with parchment and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Let the bread cool completely before slicing. Store in an airtight container on the counter for upto 2 days and refrigerated for upto 7 days. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween Posse

Having a teenage girl befuddles me. Though millions of women have confronted this conundrum before me, I feel like no amount of wisdom shared will take the sting out of it. Part of the difficulty is the hormones, sure. Tantrums, power-struggles, indpendence-seeking, boundary-testing behavior, but part of it is the bittersweet sense of loss. I do embrace and respect and admire the woman she's becoming, and support her completely, but...gosh I miss that little Pook! The one that thought I was the greatest thing in the world, the one that couldn't stop touching my arm, the one that threw imaginary kisses at me from the window every time I left the house. The one that dressed up like Hermione Granger from Harry Potter for Halloween.

The befuddlement comes when I see her in photos like this. Where she's frozen in time, her non-stop movement and talking and eating and growling and primping in the bathroom are all....halted. And I see her standing there, so tall and beautiful, smiling, happy with her friends, all dressed up as a gypsy and ready to go out and have fun. I think dazedly, "Wow". And then the worry starts...where are they really going? Who are they going to be with? Is there alcohol? Is someone driving? Why oh why does she have to wear her skirt so short? 

And I have to let go. Though we drive her to her friend's house, after that it's anybody's guess where they really are and who they are really with. Her skirt will fly up any number of times and I can't do anything about it. Sure she's in touch by text, but she could say anything and I'll have to believe it. I don't have a tracker device on her phone or anything. (hey, now that's an idea!) And I feel a wierd sense of worry and confusion and fear about doing the "right" thing. Plus I'm exhausted (from 16 1/2 years of parenting (24 years if you count 8 years parenting my step son), but with all that I also feel a new sense of...could it be...freedom? Of the liberation that is just around the corner for both of us? It's a strange combination of emotion, and not all that pleasant. But. I can only smile, take the photo, and drop them off with a wave, biting back the cautionary words I want to say. 
"Have fun!"  I manage to eek out.

The gypsies run off into the night. I go home to distract myself with netflix. Will it be easier when she moves out and goes to college? I'm guessing it will be. But there it is again...that bittersweet feeling of loss. I'm almost certain that all of the grannies and mamas that came before me would shrug their shoulders and hand me a glass of wine. Maybe there is something in that old wisdom after all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Who passes by this road so late? Compaignons de la Marjolaine! Who passes by this road so late? Toujours gai!" -- Monsieur Rigaud in "Little Dorrit"

Dickens is probably my favorite author, but it's always hard to pick just one of anything, so I'll say he's in my top three for sure. I've read and re-read everything he's written and I never tire of the profound tenderness in his wit, the mercy and love of humanity he shows alongside his biting social commentary, and his absolutely unique, hilarious, imagination-provoking way of looking at the world which is STILL relevant today!

I adored "David Copperfield", "Nicholas Nickleby", "Great Expectations", "A Christmas Carol", and "The Old Curiosity Shop", they are my favorite Dicken's books, but my all-time Dickens choice is the masterpiece "Little Dorrit".

I just finished re-reading this book for the third time this morning. It has such an unprepossessing look to it, you wouldn't know by the title what a BIG book it really is. It has a deceptively simple premise about a young girl born into a debtor's prison, but in reality the book contains the entire world inside of it. All of humanity is there in its pages, parading about with all of its vanities and weaknesses as well as its courage, loyalty, and ability to love.

(On a side note, really people, who needs a bible? "Little Dorrit" is my good book, and teaches more about the terrible trials of life and the deliverance of mercy than the new testament ever did. And, like the bible, there are all kinds of plot sidelines that do not seem like they happened hundreds (thousands) of years ago. They could have happened this very year! Just switch the name Merdle for Madoff and there you go.)

The characters in "Little Dorrit" are especially compelling to me, out of all of Dicken's books. First and foremost there is the terrifying assassin Rigaud aka Blandois who might just be one of the scariest villains I have ever encountered. He is alternately savage and suave, overbearing and sickeningly gentle. He is a killer trying to masquerade as a gentleman. His "moustache went up under his nose and his nose came down over his moustache" and his falsely ingratiating and overly-familiar ways mask a deadly threat simmering just below the surface. In this excerpt we find him speaking creepily to himself:

"Blandois, you shall turn the tables on society, my little child. Haha! Holy Blue, you have begun well, Blandois. At a pinch, an excellent master of English or French, a man for the bosom of families! You have humor, you have ease, you have insinuating manners, you have a good appearance; in effect, you are a gentleman! A gentleman you shall live, my small boy and a gentleman you shall die. You shall win, however the game goes. They will all confess your merit Blandois. You shall subdue the society which has greivously wronged you, to your own high spirit. Death of my soul! You are high spirited by right and by nature, my Blandois!"
The casting director for the BBC series ought to have won an award for any one of their choices, not the least of which was the genius choice of Andy Serkis as Rigaud. Possibly the scariest french man that ever was.

Then by contrast we have the loyal Mr. Pancks who Dickens likens to a tug boat, steaming into his dock emitting a peculiar snort and a blast. This role was played to perfection in the most excellent BBC series starring the wonderful Eddie Marsan as the snorting and steaming and very hardworking Mr. Pancks.

Mr. William Dorrit  (one of the finest perfomances I've ever seen is Tom Courtenay's portrayal of Mr. Dorrit.) aka "the Father of the Marshalsea" (the debtor's prison where he has been incarcerated for 18 years, where his daughter Amy aka Little Dorrit was born and has lived, tending to him ever since.) is an incredible character. A shallow man with the arrogance of his more affluent years, and yet with a tender pathos that makes you love him despite his witless exploitation of friends and family. He is a charming man, a gentle man on the whole and Little Dorrit's devotion to him is infectious.

Equally attached to him is his brother Frederick Dorrit who really caught at my heart strings. Unlike his brother William, Frederick is not confined to the Marshalsea Prison but spends his time there anyway, no longer a part of society. "Humbled, bowed, withered and faded..." he is a clarinet player in a run down theater and is quite content to spend his days with his beloved brother and niece inside the prison.

Another of my favorite Dicken's creations is Mr. Casby, the Benevolent Benefactor and the snorting Mr. Panck's employer. Leaving the dirty work of collecting the rent from his poor tenants to Pancks, Mr. Casby is then free to roam as benevolently and benignly as possible through the streets, shining his light on all those who flock to him, transfixed by his soft expression and god-like grey beard: "The shining bald head, which looked so very large because it shone so much, and the long grey hair at its sides and back long floss silk or spun glass which looked so very benevolent because it was never cut..."

and..."Patriarch was the name which many people delighted to give him. Various old ladies in the neighborhood spoke of hims a The Last of the Patriarchs. So grey, so slow, so quiet, so impassionate, so very bumpy in the head, Patriarch was the word for him....Oh, with that head is he not the father to the orphan and the friend to the friendless!"

Providing some truly hilarious comic relief in the story we have the ineffective but kindly Mr. Sparkler who is the Awkward Dork with a heart of gold who really "has no nonsense about him!"
and the venerable and obviously mentally ill Mr. F's Aunt who takes a disliking to our hero of the story, the completely un-hateable Mr. Clennam (played to perfection by one of my crushes Mathew MacFadyen xox).

A much tougher specimen than Mr. Sparkler, the aged Mr. F's Aunt appears in one scene thusly: "Mr. F's Aunt was so stiffened that she had the appearance of being past bending by any means short of powerful mechanical pressure. Her bonnet was cocked up behind in a terrific manner; and her stony reticule was as rigid as if it had been petrified by the Gorgon's head."

"Holding out like a grim fortress" and referring to the innocent Mr. Clennam, Mr. F's Aunt repeatedly calls out to "bring him for'ard, and I'll chuck him out o'winder!"
(Again, not to belabor the point, but the BBC version of this book has the best possible Mr. F's Aunt ever, played by Annette Crosbie, brava!)

Dickens loves to animate inanimate objects. One such character in the book is the Bosom. Being made of flesh and blood I don't know if it completely qualifies as an "inanimate" object, but it is represented as a separate character than the woman who it is attached to. The Bosom is a place to display the wealth of the Bosom's husband. The owner of the Bosom, Mrs. Merdle, has her own chapters and her own personality, but it is the Bosom and the jewels upon it that are the real guests of honor.

I could go on and on, and I'm sure Dicken's scholars already have, about other themes and characters such as the prim and proper Mrs. General and her love for the words "Prunes and Prism" (because of they way those particular words make a young lady's mouth look). Or, I could rave about the poignant, un-requited love of the honorable young John Chivery, the steely, hard-hearted mother Mrs. Clennam (played by the amazing Judy Parfitt) or heavens, I forgot about the lopsided servant Mr. Flintwinch (Alun Armstrong, I love you!) and I haven't even described the ethereal goodness of Little Dorrit herself, but you'll find it all out for yourself if you give this book a try. Don't rush it, take your time and read just two pages at a sitting, then put it down. Savor the language, the descriptions, the hilarious commentary and dialogue. There's nothing like Dickens, and I suspect, like Shakespeare, there never will be again.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pferde in the Red Room

Some of my most treasured possessions are my vintage children's books, and among those my vintage children's horse books, and among those my vintage foreign language children's horse books. I have shelves full of french children's books which I will share in another post, but these in German and Swedish really catch my imagination. Probably something to do with the fact I can't understand them, and how
I love the look of the words and the unfamiliar punctuation. I do know that one of them is the classic "Black Stallion" by Walter Farley which I've read in English a hundred times, as well as all the others in that series. I've never seen it in Swedish before! Evidently "Hasttamajaran" means "Black Stallion" in Swedish which could come in handy one day, you never know.

I know that "Pferde" is "Horses" in German, that much is obvious. This huge black and white photo book of German horses and poetry published in the 1960's is a treasure, even if I can't read it. It looks beautiful and feels beautiful, the old paper is lovely.   

All of these beauties came from my time working in the foreign language section at Powell's, along with my trusty, kind and tres intersants companions Mr. Sam Cannon of the German/Japonese/Native American/Urdu section, Mr. Stephen Strausbaugh of the enormous, comprehensive Spanish section, Debby Garman of the Italian/Linguistics/Sign Language section and Mr. Gary Davis of the Russian section, and our cher chef, the manager of the Red Room.

Those were the fun days when a silver-bearded Chris Faatz would wave a cheery hello from the info desk and a newly-shaved-headed, torn-t-shirted Chad Van Winkle would give me a cheeky glare from across the aisle in Religion. A dapper Dave Adamshick might stop by on his eternal quest for email orders and perhaps Seth the MOD would take a minute to show me a new dance move. Sigh.

A lot of us have moved on, and I miss those beautiful, exciting days in the Red Room, quietly shelving my french books and planning the next display. And let me tell you, you can make marvelous displays with books! And so much better when there are OLD books, ancient books, books from the 70's, books from the 40's, from the 1800's, and in the foreign language section,..sometimes from the 1700's! I wish I could drop by once in a while and just make a display. Actually, I wish that for many of my jobs in my past, from the vintage clothing store "Old Friends" I worked four years at making the funnest displays of my life (a whole other post), to the World Forestry Center and their sparkling little gift shop, to Powell's and it's stacks and stacks of incredible surprises. Like the ultimate book market, all at my fingertips to arrange and rearrange to my satisfaction. Now that I work at home I must satisfy my need for display in my own home. Which I am doing. I really ought to have someone come over to appreciate it, it's very cute. But I do miss my old friends and all of the wonderful sections at Powell's that I worked in.
Bonjour, mes amis a Powell's! I am thinking of you!

xoxoxoxo bisoux a tous!!!

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Golden Perm

I couldn't believe I hadn't seen this movie before. It stars two of my favorite actors Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum, and even Leonard Nemoy as a kind of swinging psychoanalyst -- which would be reason to watch it alone.

Donald Sutherland (with the worst golden perm ever) and Jeff Goldblum join little Brooke Adams  (a dead ringer for Genvieve Bujold) in the"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" remake of 1978.

How could I have possibly missed this gem?

Well, it turns out that despite the super-star power in the movie, it isn't a gem at all. In fact, boy is it bad.

So we all know the story's premise: that alien life forms come down in the form of spores which turn into large flowering plants that replicate already-existing humans. It's a "get-you-while-you-sleep" kind of thing. When you wake up you're one of them, which honestly didn't seem to be that bad, in my opinon The aliens in their human forms seemed very calm and orderly. No one was making any trouble, they were just tending to their plants. But, Sutherland, Goldblum, Nemoy and the rest don't seem to relish the makeover, so they band together and try to stop them.

Before I go on, can I just mention one scene that stands out as one of the WEIRDEST things I've ever seen in a movie? Something that might actually give you nightmares, and all the more startling because it was so unexpected. I mean this movie really could be one of the most boring "horror" movies ever made, at least for the first 40 minutes, but then something like this appeared. Wtf?!


Of course smooth-talking Lenard Nemoy turns out to be one of them, too. I should have known by that wierd leather thing he wear on his hand. What is that? Alien style? It's never explained. Nemoy, wearing a turtleneck and pointy sideburns along with that wierd leather thing advises Sutherland "Not to get hung up on old concepts."
Then he shoots him up with a sedative. Sutherland says to him, "David you're killing me."
I say, David, those side burns are killing me, too.

Jazz hands!
Sutherland tries not to get hung up on old concepts, but he can't help himself. And you can't blame him.

In one scene he finally falls asleep and one of the pods starts to replicate him. Like many other elements in this weird boring movie the plants themselves are ridiculous. Straight out of Sid and Marty Crofts reject pile, the cloth-and-wire petals do not look capable of pushing out the DISGUSTING, MEATY, PUS-COVERED human forms that they do. The "special" effects of the births of the new aliens is pretty gross. Call the midwife, anyone?

One of the pods pushes out another Donald Sutherland. Suddenly there are TWO golden perms and two blonde moustaches, only one of them is covered in goo! Yuck! Luckily the real Donald wakes up and takes a shovel to his doppelganger's perm, resulting in some really messy effects that were almost worthy of HBO.

Unfortunately Goldblum is killed by a red plastic dart to the neck. Dang. One of the reasons to watch the movie is gone. But I make myself keep going.

Finally, Brooke Adams gets transformed. They got her while she slept. In one scene she strides unexpectedly onscreen, completely bare breasted and makes a sound like a dying pig. Totally freaked me out. (I'm sure her parents were dismayed by the turn this role had taken.)

I actually FOUND that very scene on youtube. Here it is.

Donald  is the only one left now. He escapes from the aliens by pulling the old "hide under a bridge while they run over you" trick.

Nothing like a gratuitous priest on a swing set to give you the creeps

The next thing you see he is watching a truck unload more pods and the loudspeaker announces the next destinations which happen to be Medford, Eugene, Portland and Vancouver. Maybe that's how all the hipsters got here!!!

The end of the film made me feel funny. Nobody should make Donald Sutherland make that face. And frankly, I did not want to get that close to his moustache.

All in all, a really terrible movie!!!

"Our Form of Democracy is Bribery, on the Highest Scale" -- Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal is a hero of mine. Unafraid, informed, honest and incredibly well-spoken he repeatedly floors me with his plain and simple reason. And his wit. And his charm. But mostly because of the truths that come fearlessly out of his mouth. This man inspires me, and at the same time I feel incredibly sad that simply speaking uncomfortable truths evokes such hatred in those not ready to grapple with them. Or from those who profit from them. He was also loved and respected by many, and had the opportunity to be one of the most published, quoted philospher/critic/political analyst/cultural iconoclasts ever, and I'm very glad about that.
(I only wish he could have taken out that arrogant, ignorant William Buckley who was at the forefront of the ridiculous, petty, childish and immature politics of the GOP today. What a poncing boob.)

This amazing documentary "The United States of Amnesia" covers Gores life from his days as a boy in the Senate listening to his grandfather make his famous speeches, to his last days and searing critiques of the Bush administration, and his skepticism about Obama's authenticity.

I particularly loved his connection with Mikhail Gorbechev and hearing what that man had to say about the end of the cold war and how everything seemed like it might get better except the USA caught the "victory disease" and continued to pursue war for profit and worship its own empire.

You can't really argue with anything Gore Vidal says. It stings, but it's true. He has a great scope of vision that completely exposes phonies. I love that.

He wasn't comfortable living in America, and I feel the same way. I often feel completely outside my own culture, my own country. While I enjoy the stunning natural beauty my country has to offer, and I am grateful to not wear a burka and not to be in a war-torn nation, that's about it. I hate so much about how our politics work, the raping of our economy and health by corporations, the disgusting over-consumption and unaccountable, defensive behavior by adults and children, by the aggressive, competitive, HEAVILY ARMED population on the roads and in the shops. I want to leave this country, all the time.

I dream of living in France, as Gore lived in Italy. Or Italy, I'd live there. Or the Hague. And I don't feel sorry to say it. I'm going to let this man inspire me to speak my truth, without worrying about offense. I am a thoughtful, educated person who has lived almost 50 years in this crazy country, and I have seen A LOT of it. I've also lived in other countries, and I have seen some of how it works there. The way I feel about my culture is an honest and truthful account without any agenda other than reality. You may say that reality is subjective in many ways, but I'm talking about a basic, factual, encompassing scope of what has come before, and what is happening now, and what might be projected for the future. People don't do that anymore. Remember things and take them into account. It really is The United States of Amnesia.

Thank you Gore Vidal, for all of your debates, essays, novels, plays, historical accounts and perfectly clear, unassailable way of expressing the truth. We are all fortunate that he landed on this planet at all. I wish he could have lived two lifetimes with his friend Howard so that we could get more commentary, more essays and more of his perspective. Thank you Gore Vidal, I appreciate it and I am very glad you bothered.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Castaway Gold

Well the road rolls West
heading straight to the sea
taking only the best
Forgivable fear
manifests in the beauty and sudden relenting
I'm 20 years old
Castaway Gold.

The road rolls North
Aligning itself
under stars coming forth
The darkness is clean
and the chill makes you tremble with anticipation
I'm 40 years old
Castaway Gold.

Time changes as you roll down the road
Is it the future or are you getting old
Is that your vision or is your vision growing cold
You see, what you mean to me
Is all I want to be.

Now the road rolls East
Remembering well
that last November feast
The hero who told
all the glorious stories in song and in rhythm
He wasn't alone
Castaway Gold.

Then the road rolled South
The breeze tastes of apples
inside of my mouth
The sun warms my skin
and your arms are around me, no words to be spoken
You tighten your hold
Castaway Gold.

(song by me)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Joy of Pancakes

People, I love my food. I always have, and to a fault for most of my life. It's taken me decades to learn how to manage my hunger/emotional eating. Luckily I'm tall which helps balance out any excess weight, but if I'm not really careful it will shoot up and take forever to bring down again.

When I went vegetarian, it was easier. At that time I was also a workout fanatic and a runner, clocking in five miles a day, followed by weights and long stretching sessions. Ahhh, those were the days. Working out like that, sweating like crazy and then showering was one of the things that helped me get through being a new mother, and being stuck in Eugene for way too long. I wasn't depressed, I was healthy and happy with all that physical activity.

Then...the old back broke. When I couldn't run anymore, or even workout much, I was forced to confront my diet. If I didn't do something I would hit the old middle age slippery slope and get fat and sick. So I went vegan. That did the trick. 22 pounds lost, energy up, never sick, looked better in clothes, felt great. And so it went for many more years until the back broke a little bit more. :(

I'll never eat another way, I'm sure, back or no back. The fact that I never get sick, no colds, no flu, no nothing, is reason enough. The weight thing is another. Add in the fact that I don't kill any animals, well there's the best bonus in the world.

So all that said, I do indulge from time to time and last Sunday we ate these decadent, delicious, and totally vegan pancakes for brunch. Give yourself a body/animal/world-friendly treat and try them yourself. You won't miss a thing but heart disease. xoxo

Carrot Cake Pancakes with Yogurt Coconut Cream frosting
Allergen Information: Free of Dairy, egg, soy, yeast. Can be made gluten-free.
Makes 6 pancakes
Ingredients: 1/4 c walnuts
my less-beautiful, but equally-as-delicious results
1/2 tsp oil
1 Tbsp sugar or finely ground sweetener
1/4 tsp each of cinnamon, ginger, clove powder and a pinch of nutmeg

Pancake Batter:
1 1/4 cup flour (I use whole wheat)
1 Tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp each of cinnamon, ginger powder
a generous pinch of clove and nutmeg powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp maple.syrup
1/3 cup almond milk
1/3 cup water
1 tsp lemon juice

Yogurt Coconut Cream Frosting:
1/4 cup non dairy yogurt (I used So Delicious Vanilla coconut milk yogurt) or vegan cream cheese
1/3 cup coconut cream (the thick cream that settles on the top of the can after refrigerating for a few hours) or cashew cream
1 Tbsp coconut oil, softened
1/4 cup ground raw sugar or other sweetener of choice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp or more lemon juice
1/2 tsp cider vinegar

Grate the carrots, or pulse in a blender/food processor to a coarse shred. Pulse the walnuts to small pieces. I used my blendtec. (total 1.25 cups of grated carrots and chopped walnuts).
In a pan, add oil and heat at medium. Add the carrot walnut mixture and roast for 3 minutes. Add the sugar and spices. Mix and cook for another 4 minutes. Reserve a Tbsp of the mixture to top the pancakes.

In a bowl, whisk the dry ingredients of the pancake mix. Add the spices and mix. Add all the wet ingredients to the dry and mix to combine. Add more water if needed. Keep the batter thicker than usual so it can hold a lot of carrots.
Add the carrot walnut mixture and mix to combine. 
Make 4-5 pancakes. Heat a pan on medium heat. Drizzle a few drops of oil. when the pan is hot, Spread the batter to form same size circles. The batter will be thicker than usual pancake batter, so use a spoon to shape. 
Cook 4-6 minutes each side. 

Make the frosting: Combine everything under frosting in a bowl. Taste and adjust sour and sugar. Spread a Tablespoon or more frosting between each pancake to bring out the sweetness. 
Drizzle the frosting on the stacked pancakes or apply evenly with a spatula. 
Sprinkle the roasted carrot walnut mixture on top and serve.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sarah the Magnificent

Lancashire as Caroline in Last Tango in Halifax
I have a new favorite actress. Or actor, for that matter. I am so in love with Sarah Lancashire's singular style of acting, I can hardly stop watching her in everything I can find. I first discovered her for myself in the BBC miniseries "Last Tango in Halifax" where she plays Caroline, the PHD-in-chemistry-holding headmistress of a distinguished school who has separated from her husband of 18 years because he'd had an affair, and who, once her marriage was over, realizes that she is gay. Despite the fact that there are two other acting greats in the series, namely the amazing Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi, it was Sarah who grabbed my attention and held it.

Since then I found Sarah again in the INCREDIBLE netflix series "Happy Valley". Seriously, one of the best shows I've seen in years. A few years older now she plays 47 year-old Sargent Catherine Cawood, one of the best female roles I've EVER seen. (And hope to see a lot more of in the future, people! I mean, women make the best characters! Written well they have so much more to say than men, usually. Much more dimensional, nuanced, and more powerfully restrained emotion! This is a direct challenge to all writers, everywhere! Give women their due! They'll take the story to a whole other level of brilliance, believe me!) Sarah Lancashire does all that, and more. She is brutally honest in her portrayal of Sergant Cawood and does a beautifully fleshed-out-kind-of-justice to Cawood's strengths and personal conflicts. You'll never see a better cop than her, one that is more dedicated and fearless and just totally capable. An interesting side note: her sister is played by Siobhan Finneran, aka O'BRIEN! From Downtown Abbey! She was wonderful in the role. Sarah Lancashire is also absolutely hilarious. A very funny actress. In most of her roles she finds a way to be sharply witty without being overbearing or crude. She is wry, she is coy, and whatever she says, she is usually right.

 Because of my love affair with these two roles, I searched her out on youtube and found a never-before-heard-about-by-americans gem. A series called "Rose and Maloney". Produced from 2002 - 2005 she plays a younger character but still a cop (of sorts). Rose works for the fictitious CJRA or the Criminal Justice Review Agency, an organization that seeks out miscarriages of justice. Rose is an energetic, chaotic, diabetic smoker that doesn't work well with groups. When a coworker asks her to describe herself Rose puts it this way: "A single woman, 39 years old, multiple failed relationships, no man, no savings, no place of her own to live, and good at her job. Correction: very good at her job."

Her partner Maloney is played by Phil Davis, and it's the best thing I've ever seen him do (most lately he played the cabby assassin in Sherlock). Maloney is the perfect foil for Rose, being an organized by the book kind of guy, with a heart of gold. His more passive bearing sets off her own sailing wit and intelligence to a "T". The performances are great and the writing is very good. The only thing you might have to tolerate is the rather late-90's production level, suits, and hairstyles. But beyond that, it's a surprisingly great show!

Also during my youtube explorations I found out that Lancashire is also a musical theater actress! She sings! She dances! There is nothing she can't do!

I recently found this wonderful article written by June Thomas on about the phenomenon that is Sarah Lancashire. Thomas ends her article referencing a line spoken by Lancashire's character Caroline's partner, Kate in Last Tango in Halifax. "She is magnificent."

And I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Zen of Kittens

Well, we only get to say this once every twenty years or so, but... WE HAVE A NEW KITTEN!

Welcome little...Chakra? That's what happens when the teenager names the cat. It's all tapestries and groovy insense in that cluttered little room of hers, so no wonder her new furry roommate is named Chakra. I guess I'm just glad she didn't name it Patchouli.

The little baby is sooo sweet. Such a happy go lucky guy who is all purrs and little piping mews. He is chock full of energy (chakra-full of energy?) and if you've ever had a kitten you know how they suddenly explode, zipping across the room, veering crazily here and there for no apparent reason, other than they are filled with kitten rocket fuel and just can't contain it!  Hilarious!!!

It's all the more note-worthy that this baby is such a happy boy because of where he came from. My daughter found him and his brother, trapped in a shopping cart on the street. There was a cardboard "lid" over the shopping cart creating kind of a squalid cage where the poor babies were crouched, filthy and scared. My brave girl and her BFF took the kittens out and brought them to the friends' house. Then we got The Call asking "can we keep him?"

We said yes. His brother was adopted out to another friend, the kittens were bathed and welcomed into their new warm, clean, loving, fun, happy households. And ours is made all the happier by his hilarious, adorable little presence. 

Pets are a blessing. Their innocent, trusting souls give us just as much as we give them. Thier unasuming company demands nothing more than respect and love (and lots of Fancy Feast). We in turn get emotional support, entertainment, excersize, and a different way of looking at the world, with no technology involved to get in the way of a real, honest experience.

Guess our chakras are all in line 'cause we are feeling the zen love. Of kittens.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Holy Halston!

Wow, check this out...Halston is on the Love Boat! Surrounded by a bevy of disco divas, no less. And he plays himself, because let's face it, Halston is no actor. But I guess that that could be said about a lot of Love Boat passengers. One notable exception is Anne Baxter who is also inexplicably aboard. (Anne-freaking-Baxter!! Eve! Eve is on the Love Boat!)

It's a fashion-face-off-kind-of-cruise with several other top designers of the day such as Gloria Vanderbuilt, Geoffrey Beene and Bob Mackie on board! There's even a runway show around the pool!

Hm, let's see. What could possibly be missing from this 80's dream-cruise? Oh, that's right. Mclean Stevenson??!!!

And look who I found on a different cruise! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Welcome Back Thomas Haden Church

Recently I re-watched the film "Sideways" and enjoyed it even more than the first time I saw it. It is Paul Giamatti in one of his best roles, and a fantastic (and sadly, unique) vehicle for the many charms of Thomas Haden Church. As I watched the movie again I delighted in Church's easygoing, laid-back, non-ego-driven performance. What a great guy! I kept thinking. Such a perfect role for him, I wold love to see more of him. Where has he been? Someone ought to give THC his own show.

Fast forward to 2013 and the incredible movie "Whitewash." Just out on netflix it is the film where THC finally gets his due.

Although some might say this film is reminiscent of other recent set-in-the-snow thrillers such as FX's "Fargo", or Adrian Brody's great turn in "Wrecked", I say this film stands out -- in any crowd. Although his character is a different man than the sunny, sexy best-friend-on-a-bender he played in Sideways, you could still say this guy has a lot in common with that guy. This guy is that guy with a few bad choices under his belt. Church's same laid-back, endearing qualities come through in this role, even though the circumstances are extremely dire, making him the kind of "villain" you root for.

A fantastic screenplay and great direction, full of surprising twists and creative character development. Plus, it's as suspenseful as it gets.

So glad to see THC back in the biz, older, craggier, but better than ever!