Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I'm no fool, its 80 degrees here!

Woah, someone stop the world, I want to get off. Tomorrow is December 1st! How did that happen?! Wasn't just yesterday August?!

Its not really a problem, per se, but I lose track of time. Between the nature of the business being 7 days a week for long stretches, and a very different type of change of seasons here, time often stands still. In reviewing the weather in various parts of the country today, I noted ice storms, blizzards, massive rains with flooding, and bitter cold. Here? 82 today. I'll say it again.... 82 degrees here in the lower Keys. Yippee yippee yay yay, this happy vegan chick ain't nobody's fool (bad grammar intentional for added effect you English teachers out there).

I went for a run this morning, ever so slightly abbreviated as I had a very long list of things to do, including a road trip. It mattered not that I was out there extremely early, it was hot, humid and I was precariously close to overheating with this intense condensed workout. It felt great, kind of like an August "bikram" run, absolutely covered in sweat as I boldly sang my psychedelic funk songs out loud (no Bieber on MY iPod!)

Afterwards, we headed north for a road trip to complete some overdue errands. I don't get off the rock much (anyone reading this... I hope you know that means "out of the Keys"), and the ride home reminded me why I like to stay put as much as I do. The trip started out pretty good, a few pit stops up the Keys, a great lunch at Spanish Gardens Cafe in Islamorada (as mentioned in an earlier post, the not-on-the-menu vegetarian sandwich a la Jose' is just the absolute best), and headed onto the mainland. Honestly, it really wasn't that bad up there this time. Traffic was relatively light, and people were surprisingly good natured. The way home, not so much. By the time we got half way home, we found ourselves behind several morons who just "don't get" that on this chain of islands, risking a head on collision in a no passing zone just isn't worth the 1 minute you will gain. Those morons cannot comprehend that if they survive the white knuckle illegal passing, they will invariably end up sitting in front of that same passed car at the next red light. Stupidity at its prime. It was no fun driving home, by the time we hit the 7 mile bridge, all I could think was "so close, so close... we can make it!" We did, thankfully.

But, I got off track with that last paragraph. See, it was on the 7 mile bridge at about 6pm when I looked at the climate gauge on my car... it said 81 degrees. 81! After 6pm! Hellyeah, take that Mr. Cold Miser! And PS to Mr. Cold Miser.... hellyeah that today was the official last day of the 2010 hurricane season, ka-pow, gone!

Tomorrow is December 1st, yet today I stared at a temperature that makes me giddy. I'm very psyched about my workout again tomorrow morning, and actually the whole day. I plan on getting up extra early and heading out for a run; tomorrow is again supposed to push past 80. Happy December. As my friend Pop always says when talking about cold weather "yeah, well, you can keep it for yourself, HA HA HA!" How much more wise could a man ever be!?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Digging in the Dirt

Yesterday, after a trip to Key West failed to produce the results we planned on, we stopped and had lunch at Boondocks on Ramrod Key. There was a small art show going on. We made the rounds, chatted with one of our artist friends, Carol, and I picked up a fancy pair of beaded earrings made by an artist from Summerland Key. We sat, had lunch in the sunshine, and contemplated the rest of our day in light of the fact that daylight was running short, and our plans had ran amok. We both basically decided to essentially "bag it" for any other big plans, go home, relax and do better tomorrow.

I woke up today and flipped on the news. It was NOT good. Why do I torture myself so early in the morning with that stuff? I got up, put my fancy new earrings on, had coffee, read the paper, and did the breakfast thing. After that, I went to visit Pop, and brought a cookie delivery to the Good Food Conspiracy here on Big Pine. Had a brief visit with Katy and Ruby at Good Food, and headed back here. It was still early, probably not even noon. I decided I was in dire need of bonding with nature, so it would be a garden day. I obviously forgot that I really do not belong in the garden for any extended period of time....

First thing we did was plant our "Sue" plants on the dune. Mr. Happy Vegan put one in a cage, and left the other exposed, hoping for the best with the Key deer. So far, so good. They sniffed, but didn't eat. It was time to get down to serious business as I purchased about 1 dozen plants at the show last weekend, but hadn't planted them. I am most excited about my 2 new frangipanis. I selected the "celandine" variety, they are yellow and the fragrance is very lemony. Divine. I've wanted frangipani since moving here, but for some reason they seemed complicated. The master gardeners at the show swore up and down they're not complicated at all. I jammed each plant into a container filled with dirt, and set them on my side deck. Allegedly they are going to love the sun, and won't mind wind, salt or drought conditions. Sue had a frangipani, maybe even more than one. I distinctly remember 1 particular plant, and especially remember the blooms she gave me to float in water. They were magnificent.

Now that the easy stuff was done, I had to get to work in earnest. After dousing myself head to toe in bug spray, I began moving concrete planters, lugging things up and down stairs, pulling weeds from neglected pots, doing battle with thorny bromeliads, and figuring out what to plant where. This is when things began to "go bad." I discovered a snail. He was huge, I swear it. Not only that, he had foot long fangs, and they were dripping blood (not really, but may as well have been). I took him with my little shovel and placed him one of the 2 newly purchased snail plants from last weekend. He seemed happy, and stuck on the leaf. I soldiered on. As I began turning dirt in a large pot, out jumped a frog. Seriously. A frog. He was buried in the dirt. Why was he there? How could he breathe under all that dirt? I have no idea, but I do know he leaped out at me with claws blazing. Shovel went flying. Dirt everywhere. I'm hollering, running and feeling foolish. I go back to the pot, and try again. This time I turn over another giant snail. Onto the shovel, over to the special plant, back to the pot. I look over to the food garden and take note of two small raccoons who have pilfered one of my papayas off the tree. They're in a corner, snacking and actually appeared to be giggling as they watched me. I'm beginning to remember why I do not belong in the garden.

Throughout the course of the next couple hours, I gingerly tip both full and empty planters checking to ensure nothing was there to jump & attack me. I learned long ago to never, never, never, never, NEVER just lift up any planter in the Keys. Always, always, always, always, ALWAYS tip any planters before lifting... this gives whatever may be living under there a chance to scurry away instead of leaping onto my face. I found about 15 more snails of varying sizes, at least 6 more frogs, giant wasps living in a birdhouse, and the biggest bee I've ever seen dive bombing me repeatedly. As time continued to pass, all I could think that's missing is "snake, a snake is definitely next on the list."

Nothing bit me. I survived the scrapings of the evil bromeliads, the snails were expatriated to the swamp and I removed any composting leaves I could find as well as any other things more snails may be attracted to. The frogs hopped off to their happier places, and I never saw a snake today (nor any of those farking giant centipedes, thank you Universe). Still... I am done with gardening for a while. Things jump, slither, buzz, dive and crawl in there. It is THEIR domain, not mine. I got all the planting done, cleaned up lots of clutter and dead stuff, removed some broken objects, and began a rather complicated art project as well. I am going to stick with the art, and let nature take its course in the part of Deer Run called "the garden." I'm done. Nature wins again. Yes, I'm in awe of nature, but much more so when I'm not digging in the dirt. When I dig, I just don't belong. Even if I'm wearing my fancy earrings.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Status Quo & Perfect Biscotti

The winds have been blowing steadily for about 48 hours now. I'm clinging to keeping the doors and windows open again, but its been dicey the last couple mornings with the heat. So far, so good. We're at high season now here at Deer Run. Longer minimum night stays are in place, and looking ahead we're seeing a hopefully busy season. I'm plotting and planning what to bake for Christmas time, and what to offer for sale locally too. I have come up with what I think is the most perfect recipe for chocolate biscotti ever. Just-right crunchy, a heavy dose of (fair trade! organic!) cocoa, sweet dried cranberries, toasted almonds, and a couple tosses of (vegan!) white chocolate chips. I really must learn to stop making food I love so much. I still secretly hope broken biscotti have less calories than whole ones... I can dream, right!?

Beyond the baking and wind, things are status quo at Deer Run. I like the status quo. I've never been a fan of surprises. As an innkeeper well, you kind of get the attitude of every day brings a surprise, which isn't usually what I hope for. There was a another heroic effort and success story with local Refuge Officer "Chad" who was able to come to the aid of a young female Key deer on our property who had a metal ring around her ankle. She must have stepped on it as a baby, and couldn't get it off. So, as she grew, the metal expanded, then began to embed into her flesh. It caused her to limp terribly, obviously was painful, and was becoming infected. The hardest part was actually capturing her for an Officer to respond and help her. It took a few weeks, but she was finally able to be confined in a certain area. Once we were able to corral her, Officer Chad came out, helped her, and then cleansed the wound. We have seen this female deer almost every day since Officer Chad was here, and she is doing very well, yay!

The snowbirds are making their way back to the Keys in earnest this time of year. Houses on all the streets are filling back up with residents, and its a happy time because we get to see friends that were gone all summer long. My road has become much busier than I've been accustomed to, lots of people bicycling, walking and even running. Its pretty social out there at times, I have to keep my focus. I simply wave, say hello and never break stride. Pop still sits either in his driveway, or at his dining room table most days waiting for me to run by. He waits and waves as a morale booster for me. Its a very sweet gesture, and we count on seeing each other that way regularly.

My "cold zone" friends have left to go back to the cold zone. I will miss them, and am holding hopes for a not-too-snowy winter in their neck of the woods. Although... looking at my facebook friends posts on Thanksgiving Day, things are looking unseasonably cold, and snowy. Couldn't believe all the places that got snow on Thanksgiving. Our island hit a balmy 79 yesterday... it was overcast in the afternoon otherwise we would've been over 80, as we are today, and as we have been most of the last week.

I think today my plan is to do chores, go for a run, catch up on laundry (I told you that never ends) and spend some quality time with my kitties. Beyond that, maybe there will be time for a sparkly sipper on the beach and maybe a drive to the health food store to say hi. I missed them yesterday, being they were closed for the holiday and all. That place is like a second home to me.

So, as you can see, we're settling into a rhythm for our busy season. Chores, sunshine, short drives and visits. All things that happen busy or not. It's kind of like "groundhog day" for me between now and Easter. Not too shabby.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is closing in quickly... within just a couple of hours. Here at Deer Run, Thanksgiving is a day like most others, meaning we work. As we work, we do not ever let a single day pass (no matter how crabby Mr. Happy Vegan accuses me of being before my morning cereal) without stopping at some point, and giving thanks. While I appreciate a day set aside specifically to give thanks, I also strive to live with an attitude of gratitude.

I am thankful for my freedom, and those who fought (and fight) for it. Thank you for your sacrifices.

I am thankful for my country, no matter how good or bad I think our government is on any given day. I am thankful for my family who even though we're far away, I know would sacrifice everything if I needed them. I am thankful for my friends, old and new; for my community, my home, my companion animals, and of course Mr. Happy Vegan. I am thankful I live with someone who thinks about ways to make life, near and far, better for many, especially animal life inside and outside my home. I am thankful I have my health, and the ability to run like hell in triple digit heat indexes. I am thankful for the men & women who serve and protect my life and property, and those who serve and protect animals, both wild & domestic. I am thankful for the food choices I have that are not based upon animal torture, exploitation and suffering. I am thankful for the big things in life (oceans, clean water, the air I breathe, and all things found in nature) as well as the small things in life (pajamas, snacks, good hair days, convertible cars, scones, naps and chocolate).

I am thankful for where I live, and the common sense to realize the amazing experience this really is for me.

On Thanksgiving Day, I will remember those I love who have passed on long ago or not so long ago, and be thankful that I knew them at all, even though I miss them terribly.

I am thankful for all the bounty in my life, and will do what I can to ease suffering for those in need, especially the voiceless animal victims in our world.

I hope anyone reading this has a meaningful Thanksgiving, celebrated in whatever way suits you best. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010


By definition, detour means:
1. A roundabout way or course, especially a road used temporarily instead of a main route.
2. A deviation from a direct course of action.

This word popped into my head tonight... detours. Its a word I think of to partly describe my feelings upon hearing that another friend of the inn has passed.

I wrote not too long ago about this friend; young and struggling in dire circumstances of failing health. She has passed. I had a healing candle going, and thought a lot about her. I hoped for a miracle, I'm sure anyone who knew her hoped for the same. It was not meant to be.

I can't help but hope her Earthly existence was really a detour to her real existence, in the spiritual sense of her soul. Actually, I wonder that for all of us, including myself. So, I looked up the "correct" definition of detour and found the above writings. Interesting to me, because I actually think it supports my hopes for her, myself, and all of us. That being on Earth is a detour to the main big gig. Perhaps its multiple lives and reincarnation, constantly working on our spiritual selves stuck in physical bodies time and time again. I don't believe in "Heaven," but I do believe in "Hell." "Hell" isn't necessarily a place you go "after" this life, rather it can dwell within us, or on our doorstep. At least, that's what I think. But, then again, I guess so can "Heaven."

I think our friend's life was cut short. I think she had so much more ahead for herself, and I think she could've accomplished anything she set her mind too. Smart, kind, pretty, creative, artistic, curious, and funny. That's just the beginning, and I must remember we don't usually see our own selves the way the world does. Then again, it really doesn't matter what I think, because it doesn't change anything. Not one thing. What I can change is how I view her brief life, and her untimely passing. I do wish I had spent more time with her, and known her longer & better. But, I am so grateful for knowing her at all. She was a good person. I remember the first time I met her, I swear there was something so genuinely sweet about her, that I actually caved and gave her one of my recipes. I handed it over willingly, with a smile, and no regrets. That's something I almost never do, and I have reasons for that. Many times when I'd even see her in passing, she talked to me about that one stupid simple thing. She appreciated it.

Our friend was 34 years old. I can't help but reflect on my life at 34, how it was then, and how it is now. I had no idea that things would get so good. I wish she had the opportunity for that too. The Universe knows best, I guess. Who am I to think anything else? Maybe she struggled and suffered enough here, some power out there thought enough of her to whisk her away from this, to something so much better. I don't know. Depending on the day, I think everything is random, everything is planned, there is no karma, there's only karma, and on and on and on.

Another friend has gone. We mourn her passing, and ache for her family & friends. I can't help but hope her next stop is better than this was for her. The good soul that she was, well I just want her to be free from pain, and happy. I hope I am not asking for too much. I really think she deserves it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Its so good here!

Right now we have some people visiting who are very close to us. I do my very best to work feverishly and fast so I can have some extra time to spend with them during their vacation here. I don't get to see my northern peeps enough, its actually rare to have any of them come to the Keys. I think mostly its the mindset of "I have too much to do" that hits us in that part of the country, instead of taking care of ourselves, and feeding our own souls. I can say that because for far too long I was just as much a part of that "machine" as the next person. I also can say I stepped off that wheel, and I'm not going back.

Anyway, as mentioned, I want to have some extra time to spend, so I have to work hard to do that. Yesterday was a very busy day. I'd gnaw my arm off (well, not really, but you get the drift) to go to the Key West Garden Club Plant show & sale, as mentioned in an earlier post. My goal this year was to find a special shrub or tree and plant it in memory of our friend Sue who so recently passed. Mission accomplished. The show was beautiful. Sue was all around, as we admired the orchids especially. The caliber of the artists is very high at this show (as is with most any art show down here, yay!) I found myself coming home with a beautiful ceramic sunflower for my garden made by a local potter, a glass beaded necklace from a jewelry-maker, some tea towels from the garden show yard sale, plus we even met an a Key West artist at the show who is opening a new gallery just around Thanksgiving, and get this... he had a piece of art celebrating our Earth, vegetarians, compassion & kindness. I snagged a bunch of his cards, and will be placing his gallery in our guest book. I fell in love with his art ( its bold, colorful, unique, and fun.

After the show, we began heading back up the Keys to Big Pine, stopping at a couple other places, and finally made it home. We had plans with our friends to go see Jahfe' at Boondocks last night. We made our way over there after the sun had set, and sat down to find the crowd relatively heavy (there were THREE great concerts last night, 2 really biggies in Key West, so we thought the crowd would be light at Boondocks, surprisingly it wasn't). We checked the menu, ordered our dinners and drinks, and sat back under the giant tiki with a soft breeze coming through. The band started, and I have to say, they were just as awesome as always. I love reggae so much, I love this band, and I love the smiles that come from these musicians as they open their hearts & souls to share their music with us. Although our friends didn't make it on to the dance floor, Mr. Happy Vegan & I did... another mark of a successful evening. I towed the line, would not cross it, knowing 6am would be just around the corner. We left before their final set (its that third set that without fail gets me into trouble, too late, too many cocktails, too many everythings!) and made our way home. I giggled my way up the back steps, under the brilliant glow of the almost-full moon, wrote out my menu for this morning, and snuggled in for the night, thankful for all that is here.

Yesterday was "just another day." Nothing special, nothing extra-ordinary. But, for me that is what makes it so special. I thought about my day, from the master gardeners down in Key West who helped me choose just the perfect plant for Sue, the artists who share their creations and conversations with us, the vendors who bring the food to us (yay, they had Boca burgers at the garden club), and the treasures I discovered at the consignment shop on my way home. Last night, I sat under that tiki watching everything and everyone around me. I looked at the bright colored clothing many of us were wearing, the fact that no one had socks on in November, the happy people twirling, bouncing and laughing across the dance floor, the stars in the sky, and couldn't help but think over and over "wow, this is so good.

Thanksgiving is Thursday. I shall not wait until then to be thankful.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Summer Re-visited

We had some cooler weather, then some downright uncomfortable weather (in the 60s!) As I was preparing breakfast yesterday morning, I realized "it is hot." Not just a little hot, and not just hot from the oven, warming drawer and 2 burners I had going all at the same time. No, it was weather hot.

Our doors were open, the windows were open. The cool-ish weather makes me open anything with a hinge around here, doors flung wide open everywhere. But at some point, without me even noticing, summer crept back into my home. I should've been happy at that moment, instead I was busy dealing with a droplet of sweat working it's way off my brow, which unless I'm running, in a boot camp class, or sitting on my beach, is just wrong. I began to get cranky.

I soldiered on through the morning, but it seems by 8am I was "no fun" to be around. That, from Mr. Happy Vegan. I heard windows sliding shut, doors clunking closed, and then felt cool air rush over me. He had turned on the AC.

If I didn't have to cook/bake for part of my living, I don't think I'd even own air conditioning. Ok, I'd own it, it came with the house, but its not likely I'd use it often. When I lived at the shore, somehow I managed to live without air conditioning. Jalousie windows and open doors were my cooling system. When I lived in the mountains, the only reason I'd run the air in the summer was when I had elderly companion animals, they really don't do well in the heat. I worked out yesterday on my street, and found myself such a mess afterwards that I needed to shower BEFORE going to the gym for boot camp. That's some testimonial for a hot day.

I hear a cold front is coming through. I think I must have some of my old fears left in me. Instantly I heard "cold front" and I thought "nooooooo!" Visions of socks (I have a few pairs of them), thermies (which I don't own), sweaters (another thing I don't own) and boots (ok, I have them, but never wear them. this is the KEYS!) all flashed in my mind. I worried about the animals outside, and worried about me freezing in the cold. You can spot a local down here in 2 seconds when the weather turns. I've seen people wearing long coats & gloves when the thermostat hits 65, but most of us simply pile on every item of clothing we own any time the temperature dips. Fashion sense truly goes out the window at those times.

In order to "prepare" mentally, I looked up the weather then had a dose of my reality. Cold front means 70s. This one means high 70s. Whew, what a relief.

But, for now, its still hot. Its approaching 10pm and its about 75 degrees outside. I've got cookies in the oven, another batch on tap, and then some banana bread, all for friends coming in to visit. From the "cold zone." New Jersey. Poor souls they are, no one should have to live where the sun sets around 5pm, and the thermometer reads 45. In November.

My AC is still on, I'm not as cranky (according to me at least). Aggie is running thorough the house, bolting from here to there, with Pink Moon's purple fuzzy toy. She's dropped it at my feet a few times, snatched it away, and then is gone in a flash. She was re-born once the AC kicked on too, but I really think it may be more she smells oatmeal raisin cookies and is hoping for a taste.

I'm happy summer came back for a quick stop, but too bad I'm already in "fall" mode. Baking like a fiend, making soups every other day (carrot soup is on queue), and all the other stuff that comes with autumn. If the front stalls for a few hours, I'll have a moment or two where I hope I can kick back on the beach for a moment, sip something sparkly and watch nature go by.

If not, there's always carrot soup waiting for me. In the high 70s.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Feed Me. Please.

This is an open letter to any non-veg restaurant out there. A little tongue in cheek perhaps, but it's true, all of it.

Dear Restaurant Owner:

I visited your establishment recently, upon hearing pretty good things about you. After being seated, I began scanning your menu. There was nothing on the menu that I could eat. Nothing. I am a vegan, and I'm not the only one out there, this I know to be true. I am in the service industry myself, and thus understand how it can be challenging to meet the needs of special customers. However, I personally go to great efforts to insure that people get healthy food that tastes good, and meets any restrictions they may have. Why can't you do the same for me, especially when you're in the food industry full time?

I went to my local health food store today. They have a very small lunch counter which offers juices, daily soup specials, wraps, and other simple items. I went in for a cup a soup. My plans changed as soon as I sat down. My friend Bonnie was behind the counter whirling up fresh vegan pesto in probably the teeniest food processor I've ever seen. She asked me if I would like some pesto, how I could I say no to such a delight? In less than 5 minutes, she served me a fresh pesto wrap, full of chopped veggies, sprouts and even vegan cheese. I am not exaggerating, it was less than 5 minutes from order to table.

I thought about this pesto as I was eating it. I began to wonder, why is it so difficult for mainstream restaurants to keep something tasty on hand for vegetarians and vegans. With Bonnie's beautiful pesto, one could make a wrap (as she did), a pizza, hot pasta, cold pasta salad, and even mix it with vegetables, and serve it over some plain rice. If you really wanted to get exotic, this could be mixed with baked or sauteed tofu. Some tofu comes shrink wrapped already baked. Slice & serve. For real.

Bonnie's pesto had the following ingredients: fresh basil, walnuts, olive oil, organic garlic, and a small amount of a brand called "Galaxy Foods" vegan cheese. The vegan cheese costs me retail $3.99. There's a lot of pesto one can make with 1 very small can of that vegan cheese. That can of vegan cheese is refrigerator stable for months.

It does not take much for you to keep a $2 box of shelf stable soy or rice milk on hand for your vegan customers. With that $2 box of shelf stable soy or rice milk, you can make vegan olive oil mashed potatoes, vegan "cream" sauce for pasta (again merely substitute olive oil instead of butter), and I could even get a cup of coffee not black for once. You could chop tomatoes, saute them with onions, olive oil, white beans, and spinach, serve over rice or pasta. Garnish it with a slice of orange or two. Dessert? How about some peaches or pineapple placed on your grill for just a couple minutes, or some fresh berries served with a little fresh chopped mint? Its not complicated, I swear it! You do not even need a recipe, trust me!

There is a restaurant down the shore in New Jersey called "Via Roma." Its a pizza and pasta place. Its very clean. Its cute. Its not fancy at all, but there is obvious pride in the dining room, I could tell by little touches, and again, the cleanliness. We stumbled upon it through a recommendation by a friend last time we were up that way. We learned this unassuming pizza & pasta restaurant has a completely separate vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free menu. We ate there 3 times in 2 days. It was that good. In speaking with the owner, we learned his thoughts that it seemed a somewhat natural progression to offer these special menus IN ADDITION TO the regular menu, as so much of his food could be so easily adapted anyway. Why not expand the business model, and be able to attract more customers? Makes sense to me. Let me also tell you this, Mr. Restaurant Owner who does NOT cater to us special folks: from 1800 miles away, I have sent at least 6 people to Via Roma in the last 2 months BECAUSE of their special menu. Not a bad track record.

Please, won't you consider adding veg options to your menu? Not just upon request, but how about taking the step to put something on the menu, printed. It doesn't have to be fancy. You don't have to use astronomically priced ingredients. You just have to offer us tasty food, and show you care about us.

We were in Key West yesterday after the powerboat races. It was Sunday, about 4:30pm. The vegetarian restaurant (The Cafe') is closed on Sunday, we missed Help Yourself by 1/2 hour, and the Italian restaurants did not open til dinner hour. In all of Key West, we were stumped by where to eat for dinner. We ended up eating at Willie T's, which has a vegan burger on their menu. Printed on the menu, a permanent fixture. They cared about us by doing that, and we showed our appreciation by going there. It was hard to believe we were in a city and had such a difficult time finding vegan food.

Please, won't you consider putting a vegan option on your menu? Having a vegan option covers both vegetarian AND vegan concerns. Print it on your menu. Show us you want our business. Please, don't make us sit down, scan your menu, see nothing and begin to wonder "do they or don't they" or worse, find out you really cannot accommodate us in any way, and we get up to leave. Its happened. A lot. And, I'm not picking on any particular town with that statement. It's happened all over the country for me.

Please I promise you, I will patronize your business. Plus, I will tell my friends and my customers.

Very truly yours,

A non-customer,who really WANTS to be a customer

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Plans Change. So Does Life.

Things really don't always turn out as planned, do they? I often call to mind the saying "we make plans, the Universe laughs." I planned on posting tonight about the powerboat races, where we spent the better part of our day. I took about 500 photos, and hope for 2 good ones. I was about to review my photos, when I clicked on a photo album which looked unfamiliar to me. Instantly, up popped a photo of our recently departed friend, Sue. How odd the timing. So, now this post is not about powerboats. It's about Sue.

Yesterday we went to a memorial to celebrate Sue's life, and I guess to say good bye in our own way. Although some time has passed since we've lost her, it really hasn't been long at all. After the service, there was a gathering with food, and lots of stories about Sue. Almost everyone I would chat with, my question would be "how did you meet Sue?" So, sure, she's been on my mind. I was thinking that actually for me, the passing of time makes things like this worse. Perhaps time does heal to an extent, but it always amplifies, at least for me. Why? Because there are some people who even if I don't see often, there would be certain times, seasons or events when without fail I would see them, or be with them. It was like that, for me, with Sue. I opened the local paper today, and saw the Key West Garden Club fall show is coming up very soon; this was a trigger for me. Without fail, I would call Sue about the show every year, spring & fall. "Hi Sue, its Jen, how are you?" "Oh, I'm fine honey, how y'all doin' out there at Deer Run?" "We're fine. Listen, Sue, the flower sale is next week, would you like to go together?" My first year here, the call actually came from Sue to me. I'd never been, didn't even know it existed actually. It was one of those seemingly benign events that changes your life. Common ground.

So, there it is. I want to go to the garden club sale with Sue, but I cannot. Sitting through a memorial service surrounded by people who mourn Sue's passing began to make her loss more real to me, but today, the garden club event was like a hammer came down. Now tonight, I randomly pick a photo library that I never recall seeing on my computer, I swear I have never before seen these photos, and there she is, 1st photo that pops up. She is standing in her kitchen (here at Deer Run), wearing a very pretty flowing long island style gown. Her hair isn't as short has she had taken to wearing it lately, and she's smiling. Its very obvious this photo was taken when the kitchen was hers, not yet mine, because it is full of her beautiful art collection. There's about 4 other pictures, all taken the same day, she's in a few, she's not in the others. Its so strange looking at these photos. I stared for quite a while just at the objects in the background. Sue appreciated beautiful things, and had a penchant for art. Her walls here were full top to bottom with art. Looking through the photos brought back a flood of memories. I even stared at all the clutter on her refrigerator, and couldn't help but laugh. Among her own photos and mementos tacked to the fridge, was a large sticker "if things get better with age, I'm approaching magnificent." Funny.

I will go to the garden club sale. Without Sue. It won't be the same. I may even cry. But, I think I will purchase a native plant which will attract butterflies, or maybe a tree that bears fruit for local birds. Then the other happy vegan and myself, well, we'll come back here, carry it towards the beach and look for a spot somewhere near the side dune where there's a final resting place for some of her own beloved companion animals, plus stray & wild animals that she tended but didn't make it. After we plant the new addition, I am going to paint and decorate a special sign and dedicate it to Sue. Out on the beach. Between a dune and the ocean. Near a chair. Where Sue often sat during bonfires, after gentle rains or terrible storms; during sunsets, sunrises, beautiful days, and starry nights.

I really miss Sue.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

World Championship Powerboat Racing is in Town!

For the last several days, we've been treated to the spectacular sights of world class superboats being hauled down the Keys on their way to Key West. Yes, its that time of year... World Championship Superboat Races. As I write this post, I hear the roar of multiple boats off in the not so distant distance.

The first time I came to the Keys was partly for the Offshore Powerboat Races. Yes, we stayed at Deer Run, but yes, we headed down to Key West several times over that week for parties and races. Mr. Happy Vegan, like most any man, loves toys. He's been a boater for most of his life. His was the first offshore race boat I was ever on. Its a thrill to be on board one of those vessels. The roar of the motors is close to deafening, the rumbling shakes your soul. No matter where I am, the sound of powerboat motors firing up gives me goosebumps to this day. When you're at full throttle its an experience unlike no other. First time I was on a powerboat, I had no idea what to expect, but ended up falling in love with the experience. I also lost a scrunchy that day as it was pulled from my hair in no uncertain terms simply from speed.

The first time I was in Key West for the races, Mr. Happy Vegan had friends who were racing. On race day, we were invited into a party tent, and into the wet pits. Honestly I really don't know that much about engines, nor am I that interested. But I love looking at the powerboats for the art form that I feel they are. I love the sight of gleaming chrome, the sparkling clean motors which shine with the pride of the crew. I love the elaborate paint jobs and the enthusiasm of the drivers, throttle men, crew and mechanics. Being invited into the wet pits was something I did not take for granted. Most of Mr. Happy Vegan's friends are no longer racing, and we don't get into the pits typically. It does not diminish the experience for me. I love the sound of the powerboats, and I love the smell of the fuel. I know, I know, here I am living the "green" life, yet having such a guilty pleasure locked within me! I swear, I cannot help myself. Try as I may, I cannot help the way I feel. My binoculars are never far this time of year. I hear the roar of powerboats offshore, and I rush to the ocean to see what type of boat is it. Kinda like Pavlov's dog in a bizarre way... can't let one boat go by without me rushing to see. The powerboat races also attract tourists with their own powerboats, which is another reason why I see so many powerboats off my beach this time of year (ha! I just had to interrupt my posting because I heard race boats going by, seriously! I wonder what do you call a group of powerboaters? A gaggle? A herd? A clutch? Well, 7 of them just went by as I scanned the horizon through my binoculars, yippee!!)

As mentioned, Mr. Happy Vegan has a powerboat. Don't worry, its the most eco-friendly thing here. Since we moved here, it has never touched the water. I refer to it mostly as a "museum artifact" in jest, and now we've both begun calling it the "time capsule" as he recently unwrapped it and discovered all sorts of delights contained within from our northerly boating days. I wondered where some of my most favorite cds disappeared to. They've recently become uncovered during that archaeological dig.

When I first came to the Keys for the races, the top speeds were probably around 95-100mph. These days, they're pushing 150mph at times. What an absolute thrill that must be!

There's qualifying heats all week long, a street parade where they show off all through town on trailers to "oohs & ahhs" (unless of course you're someone simply trying to get home from work... sorry about that!), Poker Runs, and parties. I like powerboats, powerboaters, and the fun times that go with them. Powerboaters tend to be generous people who love to have fun. I think its also a nice activity that whole families can enjoy as spectators. In the Keys, we depend on events like this for our tourist based economy. Sure, its work for many people, but sometimes, for people like me, I can sit back and just be a tourist too. We're planning our whole day on Sunday around the powerboat finals, and I couldn't be happier. Hope to see you there!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Eco-Week Success...THANK YOU GLEE!

What a great weekend we had! After breakfast on Saturday, we piled into our (biodiesel) pickup, hooked it to the (borrowed) loaded trailer, and headed down to the Key West Botanical Gardens on Stock Island for the Green Living Fair. It was organized chaos when we got there, GLEE (Green Living and Energy Education) volunteers and organizers were buzzing everywhere like bees. They helped guide us to our assigned spots, and we began to set up. It took us just over 1 hour to set up our booth (let me tell you this... the design of exhibit tents can be VASTLY improved, if anyone out there is looking for a niche business). Even before we completed our set up, we had people browsing through our exhibit as well as the others.

At the Expo, we sold organic vegan boxed lunches, organic vegan baked goods, books with proceeds for charity, exhibited free animal rights literature, had a display of information for Save a Turtle of the Florida Keys, displayed information about our own sustainable inn, and offered my eco-art for sale (to benefit The Turtle Hospital in Marathon). We also offered for sale electric "Go-Pets" which are similar in theme to a Segway. We acquired these Go-Pets through an unusual set of circumstances. They were demos, and we simply hoped to sell them to persons who really could use and appreciate them (we did, at least with 2 of them!)

I was really feeling good. The sun was shining (although it was a little breezy and cool for my own personal taste), were exhibiting in a drop dead gorgeous setting, and I knew food would be available that we could eat (not just what we were serving) which is always exciting for me. I was thinking things pretty much could not get any better when all of a sudden I heard steel drums begin to play. I looked across the garden patio towards the stage and saw Toko Irie playing and singing his heart out. Toko is a wonderfully talented musician, whose family is also very musically gifted. He's been to Deer Run for a private party held here (dancing in the sand, under the stars, surrounded by family & friends, with Toko Irie playing was one of the best times ever!) Both myself and the other Happy Vegan make efforts to see Toko play in Key West whenever we can.

All this is going on when I realize our friends from The Porch have set up on the other patio, near the stage. The Porch is a recently opened beer & wine bar located in Key West. They offer an amazing selection of beer & wine, much of it organic. They even have an incredible root beer on tap which I've been told is their top seller (I'm not surprised, I've had it, and its fantastic). Mr. Happy Vegan was kind enough to head over to their display and bring back beverages for both of us. We sat, sold our food and answered people's questions about how we do things at Deer Run, plus what we (and others) can do to help people, planet & animals. After a while, I headed over to the booth just next to us, run by the good folks from Help Yourself of Key West. Help Yourself is a wonderful organic, take-out style restaurant with too many vegan options to count. Love them! I began scarfing down a huge container of their hummus with vegetables as I mosied back to my display, and then washed it all down with some fantastic organic wine.

One of the things I was happiest about was the amount of people who took our animal rights literature. The thing is, I am not someone who is going to get "in your face" about my lifestyle. Sure, I have a lot of opinions on things, who doesn't. I realize, however, it is counter-productive, and impossible, to force my own choices on someone else,and will not win over any fans. Instead, I offer information to people when they ask, and we offer literature which people may take with their own free will. I also noticed that too many (non-vegan!) people to count who bought my vegan boxed lunches came back after enjoying them to compliment the food, and then picked up some literature. Good food is just one of the ways I personally like to educate people about being vegan. This seemed to work very well on Saturday.

The Expo also had a silent auction (we donated that giant hand painted rain barrel which raised a nice sum of money for GLEE). There were exhibitors offering local sea salt (I'll talk about that in the future, its fabulous), eco-friendly cleaning products, organic gardening information, "green" design and contracting, rain barrel kits, composters, as well as too many other booths to list here. There were also free seminars all day long on topics like composting, rain barrels, green cleaning, raw food diets, and more.

On Sunday, we went as attendees to the Expo at the Sugarloaf School which showcased "green homes." There were "green" designers, "green" contractors, vegetarian food choices, massage therapy on site, and so much more. The Good Food Conspiracy had a beautiful exhibit with free samples of a wide variety of items, vegan baked goods (guess who baked them, yum yum), and a huge display of information and products. It was beautiful. I think, however, my favorite part of Sunday's Expo was seeing the children and what they were doing. There were children there (I believe it was a local Girl Scout troop) who were educating people on "green" cleaning, and offering people samples of green cleaning products they would make on the spot. They had literature, and were excellent ambassadors for the topic. There were also teens on site who were promoting a quit smoking network, some of whom were in costume walking through the Expo as the grim reaper chasing a cigarette... very effective. There were free seminars throughout the day on many topics, one especially I really wished I had time to attend, about hemp (which is NOT marijuana) and all the ways it can be used (it is illegal in this country to grow hemp, again which is NOT marijuana because of very outdated, inappropriate and ignorant laws on the books, fueled most likely by continued ignorance, never a good thing).

I know how hard we worked to put our own display together, which means I have a fraction of an idea how hard the organizers worked to bring 4 of these Expos together (Key Largo, Marathon, Lower Keys, and Key West). We at Deer Run are very grateful to the people from GLEE who were major sponsors of this inaugural Eco-Week event. Anyone associated with GLEE works very hard to spread the message of conservation, and protecting our environment. I'm so proud of all the other exhibitors who came out to all the Expos over the past week, its not easy. We all have full time businesses to run, families to care for, and the many challenges that life itself brings day to day. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to be part of the Expo at the Botanical Gardens, and have already decided ways to be even better exhibitors next year.

We hope to see you next year at the Expos, and hope we all work together in the meantime to educate ourselves and find ways to live in harmony with all the gifts here on our Mother Earth.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Eco-Week - Sleep Is Not An Option

Insomnia. I have it. I won't say I "suffer" from it, because I'm so used to it, I don't consider it suffering. I sleep with the TV on all night long (so not eco-friendly...) but its the only thing that guarantees at least a few hours of respite off and on. Within seconds of the TV being shut off, I'm full on awake. This week, insomnia is working to my advantage. Our booth at Expo Key West will feature lots of different foods, art, displays, and more... all things that take time to plan & prepare. This is all happening on top of the fact that we're running a 7 day a week business and I'm still clinging to a work out schedule through this over-filled week. For fun, toss in the reality that other things pop up from time to time.... people stopping in for a visit, errands out on the town, etc. Yet, here I am this evening with dozens and dozens of cookies cooling on racks, more dozens and dozens in the oven, a giant rain barrel sitting in the center of my living room (I kid you not) waiting for me to paint decorations on it (we're donating this rain barrel to the Florida Keys Green Living Energy & Education group's silent auction at the Expo), and I haven't even begun my prep for tomorrow morning's breakfast.

I don't mind. I really do not mind. I feel great right now. I came back from boot camp over an hour ago, had a quick bite to eat, and went right back to work in the kitchen. I feel energized and actually even vibrant. Maybe I should say manic? I'm not sure. All I do know is that I'm not worried about my insomnia tonight. Today its perceived as a gift given that will work to my advantage. I've been known to be in the kitchen at 3am clearing out my refrigerator, or re-organizing my cabinets. Why not? It seems to make more sense to use the time that way than flip through 800 channels trying to avoid info-mercials. I'm just saying.

Where's Mr. Happy Vegan in all this? Well, he's right there doing his part. Today he had a meeting for the Florida Keys Scenic Highways & By-ways Association, went to pick up the banner we ordered for this event (designed specifically for Deer Run, yet generic enough to be used for any future event, re-using in mind to be eco-friendly), picked up the rest of the organic produce for the event, and well, you get the drift. He's been working like a fiend with preparations as well. He's totally into this event, and we're completely feeding off each other's energy right now. It's pretty cool.

So, there you have it. This is what its like for us right now running this business, preparing for a big event, and trying to hold onto some semblance of normal life in between it all.

I'm so looking forward to the Expo. I want to see all the other vendors, I want to taste all the other food, I want to talk to people who have new ideas and innovations for a more eco-friendly way of life, and I want to be outside in the fresh air at the beautiful Botanical Gardens where this event is being held.

Sleep can wait. It eludes me anyway, no use crying over spilled soy milk.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More EcoWeek: Give Me Chocolate and Nobody Gets Hurt

New recipes have been getting road tested here like crazy over the last couple months. As I mentioned in my last post, we'll be at Expo Key West at the Stock Island Botanical Gardens this Saturday from 2p-6p. We'll be selling organic vegan lunches and snacks, among other goings-ons at our booth. Things are pretty "down pat" as far as what creations will be offered on Saturday, but I wanted a "something extra" "something special" kind of thing that I just couldn't put my finger on. Then this month's edition of VegNews appeared in my mailbox, with a whole section on vegan caramel. To me, caramel is another "holy grail" of vegan food. I don't think there's good vegan caramel out there, so I don't bother buying any. My own efforts into candy making are usually fraught with difficulties tempering chocolate (not so easy in Florida Keys heat & humidity) along with just a lack of training on my part. But, there sat the magazine, taunting me with caramel recipes. Mmm, I instantly thought back to my childhood days of Kraft caramels in the bag, and fighting my brothers to claim the stray "fudgies" that would mysteriously be mixed in.

I decided "I am going to make caramel," so I did. The vegan sea salt caramels are absolutely perfect taste-wise, but need to stay chilled otherwise the sticky-factor is too much. I made a whole batch of the sea salt caramels, and well, the gang at the health food store really enjoyed them what can I say. Couldn't sell them, may as well give 'em away. So, I was still searching for that "special" extra. I think I've found it in the chocolate drizzled caramel coated popcorn recipe in the same magazine. I followed the directions exactly for the "serve later" variety, meaning I had to dry out the caramel coated popcorn in my oven for just under 1 hour. After it came out of the oven, I drizzled it with some gorgeous (fair trade! organic!) dark chocolate. Its setting up right now on my cooling rack. I cheated. I couldn't wait. I tried a piece. I about died as the sugary sweetness melted in my mouth with just a hint of (fair trade! organic!) chocolate. Yes, I think I've found my "extra" "special" for the Expo. I'm going to trot this sample batch out to my peeps at the health food store for taste testing and move forward from there.

So, at Expo, we'll be offering pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, gluten free pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, coconut cupcakes w/key lime buttercream, peanut butter chocolate chip chocolate cookies (yes, you read that correctly), my signature Vegan Dreams cookies, organic boxed "to go" lunches, chocolate drizzled caramel coated popcorn, and maybe even another surprise or two. I'm psyched. The offerings are going to be delectable, plus I love the looks on people's faces as they say "I cannot believe this is vegan." Score one for compassion!

In addition to Saturday's Expo, I will be supplying our wonderful local health food store (Good Food Conspiracy) with dozens of organic vegan goodies individually wrapped and packaged including vegan krispy rice treats, the amazing chocolate caramel popcorn, Vegan Dreams, gluten free cookies, and more, for their booth at the Lower Keys Expo set to take place on Sunday at Sugarloaf School. I gotta make sure the vegan angle is well covered, don't want to disappoint any hungry people out there.

So, what's the point of my ramblings today? The point is, why don't carrots taste like chocolate drizzled caramel popcorn OR pumpkin chocolate chip cookies OR vegan chocolate muffins OR well, whatever, you get the drift. I stand in my kitchen some days for HOURS chopping, sifting, stirring and baking but no matter what I can't get on board that I should be eating carrots or celery while I'm actually doing these experiments. No, I must actually TASTE this stuff. I have to adjust the ingredients. I need to be checking the consistency of these foods, the "crumb" of the baked items. Its torture for someone like me, a self-confessed chocoholic with an unabashed sweet tooth.

Among my dad's collection of funny shirts was one of his favorites which said "Give Me Chocolate and Nobody Gets Hurt." Pretty much sums up the genetics in my family. That said, hours, literally hours, spent every week at boot camp, running, and training to counter effect all the nonsense in the kitchen. Small wonder it took me 8 solid months to lose a few inches... a few inches which can be incredibly easy to put back on spending this many hours in the kitchen for a love of baking.

Yikes. Eeks. Gads and Zoiks. I sure hope folks enjoy the food we're bringing to the Expo. All these experiments lately are putting my hips at risk... no rest for the weary, meaning there's no end in sight to the daily running. I really could use a nap. And maybe just one more taste of that popcorn.