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!

Tofu
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 is...it 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, etc...it'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 you...it 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. 


RECIPE FOR CASHEW SOUR CREAM

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!
Author: 
Serves: 2½ cups
Ingredients
  • 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.
Instructions
  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 years....it is actually stronger. And more in synch with itself. Back then when I ate sugar and white flour, meat and dairy, I drank and smoked....my 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

BEST MUFFINS I'VE EVER HAD: LOADED BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

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!)

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)
Ingredients:
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
Method:
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.