Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Weight of a 4 X 6 Glossy

Back in the day, the cost of travel was never quite complete until you got home, took your vacation photos to the drugstore and waited to see if they turned out as well as your memory of the actual events. When it came time for pickup, the disappointments piled up. Eyes closed, blurry, too light, too dark, finger on the lens, pigeon flew across at the worse possible time - the photo disasters were ready to be revealed, in living color and in duplicate. Or sometimes even panorama.

I'd say we took the average amount of photos, and some turned out really well. Definitely photo album worthy if not frame worthy. For the first few years of our marriage, I tried to keep up with the albums. I'd sometimes have a couple of years of photos piling up, but then one hot summer day I'd crank up the AC and get the pictures in albums, all in perfect chronological order. No labels or dates, because just getting them in albums was reason to celebrate. It always felt so good, I'm amazed I never took a picture of those backed-hunched-over, legs-cramping, forgot-to-eat-all-day photo album filling sessions.

Then I stopped and the photos really started piling up. I would always put an album together after an International Convention in Europe, but the everyday photos stayed in their packages. I would separate the negatives and store them at my Mom's house, in case we ever had a fire and all our photos burned up and we decided to spend the money to reprint every last blurry one to once again not put in albums.

Then I discovered photo boxes! You know, those cute lightweight boxes that are great for stuffing in huge amounts of duplicate blurry pictures of pigeons with their eyes closed. It was a procrastinator's dream! I bought lots of them. I labeled the little tab in front PHOTOS or MEMORIES and stacked them up on shelves. And moved them from house to house. They were great boxes, truly adorable and did I mention stackable?

After getting our house in order in so many other areas, I was feeling the need to attack the photos. I'd have to be in the right mood. Not too sentimental, but not too brutal that I would throw out all the fat pictures lest I forget. Here was my process. 


Find a nice open space to see what I was up against.
Futon to the rescue!

Open the scary end of my closet.
Open it wide.

Take out every album, every box and every container with photos in them.
Scream.

Give my shoes a place to look cute.
Smile.

Start by emptying each photo album.
Toss all the "Why did we ever save this one?" photos.
Don't let those blurry, squinting pigeons load on the guilt.
Toss them and don't look back.

Realize that keeping the negatives was really dumb.
Throw them out.

Take the empty albums to Goodwill.
17 pounds of photos lighter, not including the albums.
Sigh.

Pile is smaller.
More work to do, but it's a huge dent.

Stop sorting when I come across a very special photo.
You know, one of the precious ones.
Sigh.
This one photo, this brief encounter in Germany in 1998 was a life changer. We had stayed behind at the International Convention in Nuremberg to sing with the Hungarians. We were some of the last to leave the stadium. Who do we pass by but this adorable Polish family. We took their photo and exchanged addresses.

We wrote them and sent them our duplicates. They wrote back and did the same. Then a few more letters. Then a few nights spent with them on our next trip to Germany. They came to visit us in California for two weeks. More trips here with just the girls. More trips to see them in Germany, a trip together to their home country of Poland. Our friends in Tahoe met them, fell in love with them just as we did. A trip out to New York when their daughter married an American. We met more of their friends, who then met our friends from Tahoe. They introduced their brother to our Tahoe friend. Another wedding! That is one powerful little photo. 

Now the decision comes - what to do with all these loose photos? Now that we know how many we have, the sheer size of these loose photos, it's easier to be a little more ruthless each time through. I have an idea to make a few very select albums with the best of the best of the best. By category, not by chronology. I'm tossing some of the possible categories around.

  • International Conventions
  • The People We Love 
  • Dog Photos, Volumes I and II
  • Camping With Candace
  • When We Were Young
  • When We Were Fat
  • When We Thought We Had Lost Weight But Were Still Fat
  • Blurry Pictures With Our Eyes Closed Because We Were Still Young But Not Yet Fat
  • Dog Photos, Volume III


That ought to do it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tomatoes, by George


Somewhere in my Mom's big suitcase of photos, there's a picture of me sitting in this wheelbarrow, being pushed by my Dad. Or maybe the image is just in my head, but it's so clear it might as well be a photo. When my Mom moved back East, we got the wheelbarrow of my childhood, and we still use it in the yard. I'm sure it's been through a few tires in its day, but structurally, it's as good as new. Counting back to when my parents bought their first house, if my Dad bought the wheelbarrow soon after, that piece of equipment is about 60 years old. That's a lot of dirt hauling. 

My Dad wasn't a gardener when he moved into their house in Arden Park, but he soon became one. My memories of that backyard are fuzzy, because we moved away when I was six. The way back of the yard is where my Dad's garden was. The neighborhood men all chipped in and bought a rototiller and would share it between them. I just vaguely remember being afraid of the rototiller and that the crows would steal all the cherries from the tree before we got to them. 

The house we moved to was in Carmichael. The neighbors on each side opted for no fences, so we had a wide open view of the garden of all gardens, Mr. Gull's garden. He grew everything you can think of, the crows didn't steal his cherries, everything as neat as a pin, he even had a huge boysenberry patch along his back fence. It was a marvel. It was perfect. 

My Dad's garden was not too shabby either, with raised beds and all the usual Sacramento vegetable crops, minus the berry bushes. But every gardener knows that when it comes down to it, all that really matters are the tomatoes. If your tomatoes aren't the best on the block, you might as well just go inside and let those crows steal all the cherries, and while they're at it the boysenberries too.

My Dad's tomatoes were better than Mr. Gull's. That's right, Mr. City Boy had Mr. Gentleman Farmer beat in the tomato department. How do we know this? Did we sneak into the unfenced yard and do a blind taste test? No, we had something better - the word of the Avon Lady. Yes, the Avon Lady let it be known to all her customers that my Dad's tomatoes were the best on the block, in fact they were the best on her whole route. That was worth a bucket of cherries right there, and really who needs dumb old perfect rows of everything when you've got the best tomatoes in probably all of Sacramento?

Sadly, I had no interest in my Dad's garden. I just didn't get the fascination, why he would want to be out there on hot summer nights, going back to the old neighborhood to borrow the rototiller, hauling in cow manure from his friend Mr. Butts (I kid you not) and trying to choose between which tomato varieties to plant that year. The names of those tomatoes did stick with me, and they are the old standbys. Early Girl. Big Boy. Better Boy. Ace. There were no striped or yellow or purple heirlooms in our garden. No, my Dad stuck with the basics, why confuse the Avon Lady. By now those varieties he planted are heirlooms, they've been around so long.

My Dad's been gone for 25 years now, and each year that has passed has seen my love of gardening grow. I wish he had kept a garden journal, I would love to know what he fed his tomatoes, when he planted them, how often he watered. Did he have a drip system? Did they even have drip systems then? What was his secret? 

I wish he could see how his love of gardening did develop in me after all. I don't grow the best tomatoes on the block, far from it. But I do find myself drawn to those same varieties of tomatoes he planted. He spent so much time out there, after work, on the weekends, and it seems the only ones in the family that really understood the joy of gardening were the dogs. They were his faithful companions out back, with Holly the pack leader and Ralph herding the chickens as they ate the slugs. I get it now, and if I could just have one more day with him, it would be in his garden. 




The new addition to our garden plot.
We hauled these old deck pilings from the back of the yard with the old wheelbarrow.
Still rolling along after all these years.

Ready for planting.

Got to have the essentials.
Shovel, trowel and caffeine.
And after, a beer in honor of my Dad.

The canine could look a bit more interested, but she is loyal and keeps me company.

T is for tomatoes!

Mr. Gull might not be too impressed, but I bet my Dad would be proud.









Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dog Sitting Blues





Leaving the house and having a house/dog sitter come is the best way to discover your home's idiosyncrasies. They pile up in droves for the uninitiated. If we had to write a user's manual for our own home, it would include information such as:

  • Things that require a good slam of the hip to open and/or shut
  • Potential risks of burning the entire house down
  • Potential risks of the entire house floating away
  • Stuff that leaks
  • Stuff that clogs
  • Stuff that spews 
  • Stuff that is installed upside-down
  • Annoying noises
  • Scary noises
  • Don't dare open this or sharp items will fall on your head
  • Scary places you don't want to go
  • Appliances that don't work, so don't even try
  • The entirely separate manual on how to work the 5 remotes to turn on the TV
"What will happen this time we leave town?" is the question we ask when having someone stay at our house, without full knowledge of its evil ways. We have a particularly literary house sitter who leaves us amusing notes when we come home. Here is her latest.


It was time to feed Molly. "Why," I asked myself, "do I walk all the way around to go out the sliding doors to outside when I can go out this cute little back door that is in a direct line between Molly's food bin in the garage and her food dish on the back patio?"

So I scoop up her food, unlock all the locks (so I'm thinking) and go out through the cute little back door. I give Molly her food, check her water, breathe in the beautiful spring day. I then turn around to go back inside the house, but the cute little door won't open. It's locked.

I stand in stunned silence. How can this be, I've been so careful. Because I know (I hate to say this) this house has evil doorknobs - always lying in wait for the unsuspecting, unwatchfull, untrained person who naively thinks that because the inside door knob turns freely when one tests it, this means the door is unlocked. Not so.

Even knowing this about both the front door and garage door (always checking both knobs, inside and out), I let the cute little back door sucker me in. It had worked its evil wiles and triumphantly locked me out.

I have to say I will never look at or feel the same about that door again. I'm trying to install a permanent alarm in my head about that door so that I will never cross its threshold again. "Evil - Danger, Danger, Don't approach - Go back, Go back!"

As I stand at the door that has locked me out, ringing in my ears is the story I heard just 20 minutes earlier from my sister Lisa. She also deals with a set of evil door locks at one of her housesitting jobs. Last summer they locked her out - keys inside - no way in. She had to call a locksmith ($75) to let her in. He told her he had calls that summer from several, also locked out, house sitters.

Hmm, maybe it's a conspiracy of locksmiths, breeding and distributing locks that guarantee return business. Hmm. But $75? I don't want to do that. Surely I left the sliding door opened - nope. Man, oh man, what to do? 

Then I remembered, I had opened the corner kitchen window because it was such a beautiful day. Could I get in that way? Yes! Up on the chest, pop off the screen, slowly push table away from window sill, ungracefully wrangle my body through and over window sill and I'm inside!

Welcome Home!

Melene



We need to get a hide-a-key that looks like dog poop!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Good fences make for poorer neighbors

The first thing people say when they see our backyard is usually "Wow, it's huge!" I would so rather they say "Wow, it's simply gorgeous!" or "Who did this fabulous landscaping?" or even "Lovely, simply lovely." 

While it may never hit gorgeous or simply lovely, we are working on it. The huge part we can't really do anything about, it is what it is. A big yard. A big yard that was initially owned by a man whose landscaping plan was to plant a series of trees and bushes all up against the fence, like a police lineup for oleanders. 

Besides the largeness factor of the yard, there is the odd shape that continues to puzzle us. From the front, our house looks like all the others, but out back it's like the survey people just threw up their hands one day and said, "You know what, let's just leave this one house with the funky yard as-is and call it done." That's how we ended up sharing our property line with five different neighbors. That's a lot of fence drama.

The original fences in the neighborhood were a bit short, but quite charming and amazingly long-lived. They look like this, what's left of them. If you're aiming to put in a fence that with some TLC can last over 60 years, here's your design.

A sample of the original fence.
It looks to be a popular place for birds to hang out.
Our neighbor we know the most, enough to go over and shoot the breeze with on his front porch, the one who loves our dog and looks out for our well-being like a member of the family - I'll refer to him as Neighbor S. He's the perfect neighbor, keeps his house nice, knows everyone, the kind of guy the UPS driver slows down to chat about football with. Neighbor S should be cloned and sprinkled throughout the world.

He told me the other day the reason why the fence between our property has the "bad neighbor side" facing us the whole length. The original owner of our house was a bit of a cheapskate and didn't want to pitch in when that part of the fence was falling down. Maybe he thought all the trees and bushes planted up against it would prop it up, when in fact it was probably all the trees and bushed planted so close to it that was its downfall. So Neighbor S footed the bill for the whole fence and made sure he got the pretty side facing him, the "good neighbor side."

Our fence with Neighbor S.
Nice. Sturdy. No drama.
In the way back of our yard, where there used to be a big pile of brush the size of a beaver dam, is the tiny bit of fence we share with Neighbor R. We don't know him too well, and we're just vaguely aware we shared a fence with him. We recently cleared out the beaver dam, and we hope to make this "The Melon Patch'" Doesn't that sound so cute?

Patiently waiting to become a much cuter area.
Neighbor D is an amazing gardener. He has a potting shed that is cuter than our house, and he grows lots of food in his garden, which I heard is the whole point. Neighbor D loves the old original fence, and since he doesn't have a dog, this hasn't been a problem. The old fence can stay, and it gives me some places to peek into his vegetable garden when I'm feeling the need for a bit of horticulture envy.

Potting sheds should not make my house look bad.
That is just not very neighborly.
The neighbor we share the longest stretch of fence with will have to be referred to as "Neighbor ?" because we have never met her. We have never even seen her. It's a mystery. But she doesn't have dogs and that's a good thing. Because that fence is a hot mess.

"Do not adjust your screen, the fence is leaning, not the dog."

And last, but unfortunately standing upright the least, we have the fence on the very back part of our yard. It's original, but has not benefited from the loving care of an owner like Neighbor D. It has peek-a-boo holes the size of small dogs, such as a chihuahua. The house was empty for a time and we hoped and hoped the new owners would not have dogs.

But they do. Molly doesn't get along one little bit with New Neighbor M's dog Tucker, and they haven't even dared let their chihuahua out. It became evident very quickly we would have to get a new fence, and while we're at it we might as well get that part by the Future Home of the Cute Melon Patch all dolled up too. With lots of talk between the guys, we agreed to have the fences replaced, everyone paying their fair share. It's the neighborly thing to do.

"Can we please stop talking about fences? I'm all Tuckered out."






Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Food pics and food picks

There is nothing worse than a person who talks about all the stuff they can't eat. They're not fun people to be around, especially when everyone's eating. Did you ever see that old episode of Saturday Night Live of the Whiners? "We can't eat that, we've got di-ver-tic-u-li-tis, we can only eat macaroni and cheese."

One of my goals in life is to not ever become Mrs. Whiner. But another equally important goal in life is to feel good. Namely to not wake up with a spine that is all cramped up and fingers that look like sausages. The list of foods that do this to me is long and I certainly don't want to bore you with it. But, in my attempts to not wake up in the shape of a sea horse with puffy appendages, I've tried some different ways of eating. 

One of the most successful diets for me has been eating raw vegan. It's expensive, it's a lot of hard work, the raw vegan community is full of nut jobs and eventually you start craving entire chocolate cakes. But while I'm eating raw and spending the money and chopping the fruit and being annoyed with the nut job raw vegan community on social media and before I start craving entire chocolate cakes, I feel fabulous. I wake up with a spring in my step and my wedding ring is practically falling off my finger. 

But there is that money thing. And the issue with the nut job chick with the icky long hair and her ongoing feud with the raw foodist known as Banana Girl and all the drama behind these people who eat nothing but raw food. I can't believe I'm typing this, but personally I don't think they're getting enough protein. (Kidding, just kidding.) And then there is all that chopping, the food chopping that is. And washing and soaking and chopping and washing. Excuse me, I'm whining and I promised not to.

What is a puffy person to do? Keep looking until they find something that works, and that's what happened. I stumbled upon a way of eating that is so completely not nut job, or at least it isn't to me. It is vegan if you want it to be, which I do. It's raw if you want it to be, which I don't. It's strict if you want it to be, which sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn't.

The first two weeks I went on this eating plan I dropped seven pounds like it was butter falling off a hot roll. I have kept up my coffee habit, but most mornings I toss half out, not feeling the need to chug down the rest. Best of all, we don't need a new mattress, I don't wake up with my back locked up in pain. What am I doing with my Whine-Free Mornings? Making Glowing Green Smoothies from Kimberly Snyder's The Beauty Detox Solution.



Every morning, rain or shine

Yum!

More yum!

Red Yum!

OK, this one was really bad. Too much kale.

Big ol' salad for lunch! 

More yum!

Kale salad with tomatoes and cukes. 

We've got a lot of greens going on.

Collard greens have got it all wrapped up.


And cooked food for dinner!
Potato Soup, so hearty and filling.
Take that Banana Girl.

Some more filling and wonderful Potato Soup.
My tummy is warm and happy.
Salad just can't beat soup.

No whining here.
















Friday, March 4, 2016

My 1.5 Minutes of Fame

"That Ira Glass is such a doll."
Whenever Ernst pulls into the driveway and doesn't get out of the car right away, I know it can only be one thing: He's totally engrossed in a National Public Radio show and wants to hear the end of the segment. I do the same thing. I've been known to sit in the hot/cold/stuffy/steamy car in the garage, unable to tear myself away from an intriguing story or interview. Ernst pops his head out the door, wondering what's wrong. "Oh. NPR." Then he closes the door and lets me finish listening in complete, if not hot/cold/stuffy/steamy, peace. Sure we could come into the comfortable house and catch the end of the segment inside, but there's just something about listening to NPR in the car. It even rhymes. 

One show I love to listen to on my local station is America's Test Kitchen. Although I cook maybe .2% of all food discussed on the show, it's still one of my favorite segments to catch while driving. If you see me sitting outside the Post Office/Trader Joe's/Grocery Story/Medical Office staring off into space, just know "Oh. NPR."

The people that call into ATK with their questions always sound like happy folks, quite awake and alert. I assumed that the calls were live. I got the idea to call in one day, but since that's illegal and dangerous to do while driving, I decided to email in my question - which was about the riveting subject of cauliflower. 

After making Cauliflower Hot Wings, I got to wondering if any other vegetables would work with the garbanzo flour batter, transforming into the creamy yumminess that the cauliflower did. Of course I could experiment around myself, but what better team of experts could save me all that work but Christopher Kimball and Bridget Lancaster, the hosts of ATK. If they didn't know, who would?

I sent in my email and got a response right away. I was asked to sign a release and was told my pre-taped interview would be on March 3rd. So, those questions which seem so "live" are actually taped. This totally calmed my nerves. I would not be allowed to say anything stupid. Whew!

I imagined gettin' the call, sittin' back and chewin' the fat with ol' Chris and Bridg, talkin' vegan food, gettin' to know each other. I thought I would just talk away, and a talented person with great editing skills would put my ramblings into a segment that would make people sit in their cars so as not to miss a word. My biggest fear was getting asked the call letters of the NPR station I listen to, which I can never remember. "Um, I dunno, my radio is just set to 90.9 and I never change it" would make me sound like such a yokel.

Then I got the final email. My call would come in March 3rd at 7:30-8:30 am. Eastern Standard Time. You mean I have to get up at 4:30 IN THE MORNING to talk to these so-called-experts about a dumb ol' vegetable? It was looking less and less fun. The person on the other side of the email said I could be put on the end of the call list, so I set the alarm for 5am. The crack of dawn, just to talk about hot wings that were beginning to leave a very bad taste in my mouth.

I didn't want to wake up the dog, or the husband, so I sat with my hot tea and honey on the steps into the room we still don't quite know what we're doing with. I shut the louvered doors and waited, hoping the dog or the husband didn't stumble out and make a racket and ruin my chance of culinary fame. The call came and curtly said please hold on for Chris and Bridget.

Wait. No Hello how are you? Where are you calling from? How's the weather? What station do you listen to and don't just spew out the numbers we want the actual call letters and we want to know when was the last time you donated to Public Radio?

I sat there and waited. Then a voice, from Chris, What is your name? Jessica! Got that right, and I didn't even spill my tea. Then Bam, What is your question? At this point I wanted to make up some complicated question involving marbled emu meat or clarified ghee yak butter or wild elk steaks or anything, anything but a question about Vegan Cauliflower Hot Wings. I wanted to go crawl under a leaf of kale and turn into a pile of nutritional yeast.

But I plugged on, keeping as smooth as I could, trying to not bring shame to the entire plant-based community. Bridget had never heard of Cauliflower Hot Wings and said they sounded intriguing, or some other very encouraging word. Chis was a bit more dismissive. I think the man may need some more plants in his diet. 

But I got through the call. No one asked me anything too hard. And while I thought of some really funny things to say after the call ended (such as "Cauliflower - the Other Other White Meat") I'm putting it down as a fun experience. Of course, I won't dare listen to it live, I really am not fond of hearing my own recorded voice. But some day, maybe I'll be sitting in my hot/cold/stuffy/steamy car and I'll hear my little interview about cauliflower. "Oh. Me on NPR."

Cpk
Chris Kimball

Bridget
Bridget Lancaster

Friday, February 19, 2016

Pliny and the Elders

Let's get a few things straight before I start.

I am not a liar.
I am not a flirt.
I am not a cheater.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, I'll say this:

I smile at strangers.
I'm a bit on the chatty side.
I laugh a lot, sort of loud, and sometimes at inappropriate times. 

This week I got a call and let the answering machine pick it up. A man with a strong accent was calling, saying he was from _______ Market and he was calling for a certain Ernie...

My first thought was that this was the man from the market down the street, The Guy from Nepal. My sister and I met him when she was here, and we've had some contact here and there. Nice guy, strong accent, works at a market, leaving a message, The Guy from Nepal was calling, so I picked it up.

No, it was a different guy, different market, different accent. Mr. Different Market Guy was calling to say that my husband's order of Pliny the Elder came in and he could come and pick it up. I explained that my husband was attending a school all week and may not be able to come in immediately. But right away I knew that was a mistake, because when ______ Market calls to say they have Pliny the Elder, you drop whatever you are doing, get yourself in your vehicle and race to go pick up this most coveted of beers. Personally, I don't know what all the fuss is about, but Ernst and his co-worker Jeff and some of their buddies just love the stuff. 

I was busy and had to work that afternoon, so was not so much in the mood for a beer run. I called Jeff's wife Myra and told her that ______ Market had Pliny and did she feel like picking up some. She went while on errands, and Mr. Market Guy asked her who she was picking up the beer for. Apparently there is a list and if your name is not on Zee List - no beer for you. She said my husband's name, and he sold her two bottles. This beer is not sold in six packs. It's sold in single bottles. They keep it in the back. They don't just sell it to anybody. You must be on Zee List. Myra dropped one bottle off for us. We were two proud wives, excited to show off to our husbands the prized beer we scored for them. 

Then I got an idea. What if I just drove over to ______ Market to see if I could get some more? Like a Pliny Pig. A Beer Hog. The World's Best Wife Ever. Not having any plan of action whatsoever, I just waltzed in the place, cash in my wallet. 

Mr. Market Guy was on the phone, so I smiled at him and smiled at the man in line. The elderly man in line. And I stood there and waited. Older Man started up a conversation. 

"You have such pretty colored hair."
(Gulp) "Thanks."
"Do you color it?"
On the not too exhaustive list of questions a strange man can ask a woman - Do you color your hair? is not on the list. No, stay away from hair color questions guys, don't go there.
"Yes, I do."
"You know, it's so nice to see a woman who smiles. Just this morning I let someone into my lane, and she didn't even smile or wave. It sure is so nice to see a smiling woman."
Oh, if I could just take back that smile, I thought, I think an old man is flirting with me.
"Yep, I agree, there is a definite lack of human kindness in this world, we should all be nicer to each other." I told the stranger with the hair color questions.
So then he brought out his best line ever:
"What is the name of that hair color?"

I laughed too loud, and inappropriately, and was just about to tell him Medium Chestnut Brown that actually went a bit too red on me - because I am super chatty with strangers, when Mr. Market Guy got off the phone. Whew, on to my mission. Scoring some Pliny.

"So I hear you've got Pliny the Elder? Could I have a few bottles?"
"Are you on Zee List?"

Gulp. Oh man, now what? I had no idea this was so serious. Suddenly I'm stuck in an episode of Seinfeld, with a combo plot of the Soup Nazi, Hop Sing from the Chinese restaurant and the store with the good peaches. What do I do? 

So I smiled real nice and gave him the name of my husband. But immediately I was busted. He said another lady had come in, using that same name. Zee List did not lie. He kept staring at Zee List and shaking his head and talking about the other lady.

This was bad. This could really mess up our reputation at _____ Market. The smile hadn't worked, What do I do now?

Rambling. That is my next go-to tactic when smiling hasn't worked. I rambled on and on how Myra's husband and my husband are teachers who work together and they really love Pliny the Elder and what is really funny is that my husband (the nice man on Zee List) is in something called Elder School this week (Get it, Pliny the Elder School?) and it would be so nice if I could surprise him with this special beer and by the way we are in a Romanian congregation and Jeff is an elder too but he is in Chinese and I sure would be happy to get that beer and...

Shut. Up. Jessica.

But by now the Hair Color Man was chiming in about how nice I am, and it sure is nice to meet nice people. Mr. Market Guy was glaring at me. He kept looking at Zee List, and looking at me and trying to process it all. He went and got the beer. He looked at Zee List. He took my money. Then I asked if Myra could just be added to the few, the proud, the Pliny Purchasers. He wrote down her name, said we would get the call next time, but no more breaking the rules. I thanked him, shook his hand and immediately got worried that he was from a culture where smiling chatty women wearing Medium Chestnut Brown hair don't shake hands with strange men. 

I was almost out of the store, thanking Mr. Market Guy profusely, waving goodbye to the Older Flirt - but we were not done. He looked one more time at Zee List. He asked me if I had a picture of my husband. Gulp. I hoped I could find a super respectable photo of my husband on my phone that would get us back in his good graces.  My phone at that very moment lost all power, so no photo for you, Market Man.

Time will only tell if we've been crossed off Zee List forever. If so, there'll be no phone call from ______ Market. No Pliny. No beer for us. Gulp.

It would be easier to just drive to the brewery. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

When Buffaloes Fly

I can't remember what I was searching for. I can't recall if it was on Pinterest or Twitter or YouTube or plain old Google. I do know I didn't type in the search words "cauliflower" or "vegan" or "Buffalo" or "wings" or "Super Bowl Snacks for People Who Live on Tree Bark."

But somehow I stumbled across a grand thing. A thing of wonder. A vegan treat for carnivores. A carnivorous treat for vegans. We discovered Cauliflower Hot Wings.

Back between my 20 or so years of being a vegetarian and my current status of being vegan, hot wings became one of my favorite things to order at restaurants. Not as an appetizer, those things will ruin your appetite - I would order the wings as my entree. I loved the spiciness cooled by the Ranch dressing. I loved the pieces of celery that made me feel better about all that chicken. And I loved the fact that my husband wouldn't steal any of them. Because as much as he loved meat, and he loved meat, he hated "gnawing on bones" as he would put it. He didn't want to be reminded that meat came from animals, and the bones are pretty much a dead giveaway on that front.

Enter complete veganism for a few years now. No meat, and no bones about it. No hot wings, no cold wings, no buffaloes roaming in our home. Until this recipe literally flew into my laptop. 

Vegan Buffalo Wings

1 head cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegan milk
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 dash hot sauce

1/2 cup hot sauce
1/2 cup ketchup 

Heat oven to 350. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper or non-sticking option of your choice. Combine water, milk, flour and spices to make a thick batter. Dip cauliflower in generously and place on baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway through.

Combine ketchup and hot sauce. Dip baked cauliflower pieces in the sauce and put back on the baking sheet. Cook for another 20 minutes or so until they become all yummy looking. Then chop up another cauliflower and start again because your first batch will be gone in no time. 

Something happens to that lowly cauliflower in the process. It must just love all the attention of getting double dipped, because it magically transforms itself into something that is no longer a cruciferous vegetable. How can I describe it best? To be honest, it tastes a lot like chicken.



So get yourself some garbanzo bean flour...

...whip up some batter...

...make a hot diggity sauce...

...get in your double dippin' groove...

...and make some of these cauliflower hot wings!
(No buffaloes were harmed in the making of this appetizer.)




Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Rising to the occasion

In our quest to keep my husband's arteries free and clear, there have been many (many many) foods we have given up. If it squeals, moos, clucks, gobbles or makes fish faces, we don't eat it. If it looks like dairy, smells like dairy and walks like a hunk of cheese, it's a no go. If it cracks like Humpty Dumpty, we're not buying it. And horror of horrors, we even stay away from extracted fats. Yes, even olive oil, And coconut oil. We eat olives, we eat coconut, we just don't eat the oil apart from the whole food. It's unconventional to say the least, but my husband's health issues are unconventional too, don't even get me started. Oops, I almost forgot the salt, we limit our salt intake. Because when it comes right down to it, the rules of our diet are simple. "If it tastes good, spit it out."

Hence, I'm one of those label lookers, ingredient dissectors, package perusers. The ones in the aisle at Trader Joe's to whom you just want to say "Would you just buy the idiot can of marinara sauce and get out of my way, Lady, how bad can a jar of marina sauce be?" But I ignore you and read on, carefully doing the math, comparing fat calories to total calories, checking the sodium content and examining whether or not someone snuck in something that squeals, moos, clucks, gobbles, makes fish faces or walks like a hunk of cheese. 

One thing Ernst hasn't had to give up is bread. Of course as our diet has morphed into one resembling a chimpanzee's in the wild, I have to stand there and check for fat calories verses total calories and look for that all-important sodium content. "Would you just buy the idiot loaf of bread, Lady..." 

I've never had the desire to bake our own bread, ever. Banana bread yes, zucchini bread of course, but not real honest-to-goodness, flour-on-the-counters, arm-muscles-rippling, make-the-house-smell-wonderful bread. Adding to this lack of bread baking desire, there is the little tiny issue of my wheat issues. As in, eating bread makes me puff up like a muffin high on poppy seeds. It's not like I haven't tried to prove my body wrong, oh have I ever tried. But waking up with muffin top above the neck is not a pretty sight, therefore I do a pretty good job of staying away from bread. Plus all the good sandwiches contain something that squeals, moos, clucks, gobbles, makes fish faces or walks like a hunk of cheese anyway.

Then I read Michael Pollan's book Cooked. His amazing writing style not only convinced me to try making totally-from-scratch sourdough bread, but I was sure that somehow I would be able to handle eating sourdough and not look like a poppy seed addicted muffin face the next morning. He kind of promised. 

So I mixed up some water and flour and set it out in our kitchen And we waited. We went away for the long weekend and I had a neighbor come over and stir the mixture up. It didn't quite go bonkers or anything, but it did start to bubble and smell like socks dipped in beer (that's good) and it increased in volume. I had made sourdough starter!!! The bread part was still to come, but making the starter from scratch is pretty fun in itself. I'm not super good at following instructions, and I didn't quite do the "feeding" right, and it apparently takes some time to develop the "mother" but I called it a success. I decided it was time to make the bread, the magical bread I could eat.


It's got bubbles! It smells bad! 
Next step was to take some and save it in the fridge and feed the mother and let it set out overnight, all fat and happy. We heard a pop in the night. I went to check.

The mother blew her top/

The whole process seemed really scary at this point, and I had a head cold, so I chickened out and stuck the mother back in the fridge with her baby and went back to bed. I got my courage up the next week and tried again. By this time I had seen so many videos on YouTube of how to make sourdough bread, I didn't know who to believe. There are some mighty strong opinions out there in the land of sourdough making. I decided it was just flour and water, how hard can this be, just do it. So I did. The rising part was simply lovely to witness.

Big and fluffy! It rose like a champ.

Hard and dense, it fell like a brick.
But it was bread, and it was sour and had a great taste, so we ate it. I woke up a few hours later with a stomach ache and then woke up again in the morning looking big and fluffy, yet feeling like a brick. So much for sourdough bread for me.

But this story of gluten intolerance has a happy ending. Feeding the mother, keeping her happy, means you end up with lots of extra sourdough mixture, All those bread experts on YouTube kept mentioning that you can use your extra sourdough starter to make pancakes but I was sure they all contained things that oinked and mooed. So I searched for "low oil vegan sourdough pancakes" and this came up from atdownunder.com

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Yes, mostly in French and in grams, but a good start(er).

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So I made these. No oinks, no moos, no eggs, no oil.
Not much to look at, but still yummy.

Then I made these beauties. They were delish filled with jam.
Ernst thought they were the best thing since sliced bread.