Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Happy 103rd Birthday Pop!

Pop getting ready to enjoy a (vegan! organic) birthday sweet on his 103rd. 
Today our friend, Pop, turned 103.  I talk about Pop fairly often here, mostly because he's really one of my best friends at this point, and because he's so awesome to know.  I stopped by this morning, wished him happy birthday, deposited a few (vegan! organic!) cupcakes on his table, and visited. He's looking good, and feeling fine.

Pop is a lot like Peri, in that I think he belongs to the Universe.  We all do, don't we?  But, Pop has a very special way about him, just like beloved Peri.  Always trusting in the good, living in gratitude, never speaking (or meowing, in Peri's case) harsh words, and treating all with loving kindness.

I'm lucky enough to have a really cool role model for a friend.  Happy Birthday Pop, "you rascal."  When I think of Pop, I almost always hear some of his best catchphrases in my head...  "God Bless," "I love you," "thank you" and "you rascal!"  Pop is one in a million, truly, one in a million.  Happy Birthday Friend.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mr. Blue Sky

I'm getting a little better with the new camera.  Maybe its just the subject matter?

The Sky from a Big Pine Key Vantage Point.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Gathering

I've been a bit remiss in my posting, for this I apologize.  Things are still busy around here this time of year.

The weather here has been no less than blissful for a long stretch now, it is not something most of us take for granted here.  Actually most every day I bump into someone who is overtaken with joy in their heart and must exclaim "can you believe how beautiful everything is today?"  That's my kind of small talk.

In between the busy chores, there have been some wonderful happenings.  One of the things I have done lately was attend my friend's croning ceremony.  I'd never been to a croning ceremony before and was not really sure what to expect.  Essentially, a croning ceremony celebrates a woman's age and wisdom; and also marks a transition into the third phase of a woman's life.  In preparation for the event, I dug out my reference books on crystals, and hit the internet. With my list in hand, I went to our local "rock shop" (really its called the Crystal Loft, a beautiful metaphysical store here on Big Pine Key) and set out to choose gems and crystals for my friends. With help from local shop owner M, I came out of the rock shop with all sorts of special crystals and objects.  Then, with great intention I crafted wands for my friends adorned with those crystals and gems. I baked cookies for the event (I made moon cookies!  vegan and organic, of course),  prepared my offerings for the crones, covered myself in fairy dust, and off I went to Key West for my first croning ceremony.

As our group hurried down the streets of Key West towards Nancy's Secret Garden, we got quite a few looks of "only in Key West."  Our beautiful group all dressed in flowing robes and dresses of many colors; carrying large baskets of flowers, greenery and food.  As we carried all that, we balanced drums, rain sticks and other rhythm instruments among our precious cargo.  It was a combination of a giggle-fest and female empowerment.

It is hard to believe, but this was my first time ever in Nancy's garden.  The moment I entered I knew I was in sacred space.

My friend K and I decorated our friend, B's, throne with the flowers and greens we had collected.  We placed our offerings to our crone friend, and the ceremony began.  As the sun faded, and darkness fell, the rituals continued through the evening.  Each crone spoke as she became crowned, the energy in the garden was very strong.  That croning ceremony was, very sadly, the last croning ceremony ever to be had in Nancy's garden (the garden has been sold, and I have been told will no longer be open to the public after the end of this month).

The crones were honored with drumming, dance, food, drink and more.  As I stood in the secret garden surrounded by towering trees, I anchored myself in the soft soil of our beautiful Earth. Surrounded by diversity, there was nothing but unity. I renewed my promise to Mother Earth to cherish and protect her as best as I am able, and do the same for all creatures who also call Earth home.

I am very proud of my beautiful crone friends. I hope that when my time arrives to be croned, that I am even half as wise as those we honored.

In retrospect, as I consider all the curious looks we received last night on the way to the garden, and on our way out, perhaps "they" were right after all... it truly was an "only in Key West" moment.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A New Cookbook to the Rescue!

I'm still a little miffed over the naked tofu incident.

When we got home that same day, sitting on my back steps was a delivery (NOT from Amazon, I am still boycotting them) of yet another cookbook that I had ordered.  I haven't purchased any new cookbooks in a few months, I had to put a semi-moratorium on them since no one stepped up and had an intervention with me on my cookbook addiction.  I ripped into the box, knowing full well that it was the cookbook I ordered.

I purchased a book called "Chloe's Kitchen."  It's described as "125 easy delicious recipes for making the food you love the vegan way."  I am a fan of Chef Chloe Coscarelli, and have been since the first time I saw her on television.  I was watching Food Channel (of course) and saw her competing on an episode of Cupcake Wars. The cupcakes she prepared were beautiful, and she really won over the judges, taking top honors.  I remember watching that segment thinking 1) wow, she's so young and seems so nice! and then 2) WOW... look at those cupcakes she is making!

I was pretty much hooked.

I began following her through social networking.  She posted pictures of lovely food she made, all vegan, and began posting recipes.  I began trying more and more of her recipes.  Usually they work out very well (baking is always an issue here, its not just her recipes, I just usually have to tweak any baking recipe for our climate conditions in the Keys).  The ingredients in this new book tend to be more commonplace than some cookbooks want us to buy (seriously, um, where should I find some of those ingredients fancy chefs insist I use?)

So, where am I going with this?

My last post talked about the table next to us being served creme brûlée while I was pushing the naked tofu that had been served to me around my plate.  The other happy vegan commented to me that creme brûlée was a favorite of his before he went veg.  As for me, I don't think I've ever had creme brûlée in my life.  I may have, but if I did it wasn't that great because I have no recollection of it.  So, as I flipped through my Chloe's Kitchen book, if you haven't guessed by now, I came upon her recipe for vegan chocolate creme brûlée.  I ran to the other happy vegan and told him, and said I was going to make it asap.  He actually ran downstairs and came back up with a torch.  I couldn't help but laugh.

I made the vegan chocolate creme brûlée.  We torched it last night and had it for dessert.  Dinner was whipped up in about 15 minutes, consisting of organic salad, organic pasta, organic vegan meatless meatballs I had in my freezer, and some garlic bread.  And, the creme brûlée for dessert.  It was fun to torch the tops, and the dessert was fabulous.  As we gleefully cracked the tops of our desserts, we both at the same time mentioned the naked tofu yet again.

Here's some pictures of our creme brûlée!

I didn't have small enough ramekins, so I used small condiment dishes.
The torching begins!

Oooo, how exciting.... the caramelizing is starting to happen!

The final product! It was absolutely delicious!

Chef Chloe's creme brûlée is made with only 6 ingredients, all very basic items you can find in the grocery store.  I am baffled that some chefs find it impossible to prepare and serve food they would actually want to eat if they were vegan, when in a span of about 15 minutes, I prepared a wonderful meal, and managed to have a dessert with very easy to find items.

When I was on line posting on social networking with friends about my naked tofu experience, subsequently saying I was going to make the vegan chocolate creme brûlée, a friend suggested I send a copy of Chloe's Kitchen to the chef who sent the naked tofu to me, along with a note that said "maybe this will help."  I couldn't help but laugh, but there's more than a grain of truth in the sentiment.

I think this new cookbook is a great step forward for anyone looking for an introduction to recipes that will help you increase your plant based eating.  Anything you feel is not particularly "healthy" (for example if something is fried), you can easily figure how to modify (bake instead of frying for example), or simply skip a recipe if it doesn't appeal to you.  This book gives us a very affordable selection of vegan recipes, with ingredients that are typically found on a grocer's shelf or already exist in your pantry.  Plus there's lots of photos of the food.  I really enjoy books that provide photos of the recipes, instead of expecting me to pour through the equivalent of an encyclopedia of recipes.

I say kudos to the author, as well as a huge heap of "thanks."  I'm looking forward to eating my way through this new book, and am pretty sure this one's going to become a staple in my "quick and easy" collection.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Remember the food contest I entered last spring? I placed 2nd in the competition, losing to a collard chip.  Admittedly the second place prize package was pretty sweet, including several gift certificates for some really nice places and restaurants.  I'm still working my way through those certificates. We even just recently made time for a nice lunch at a higher end restaurant in Key West, courtesy of one of those lovely certificates.

I don't want to name the place, because I have less than good things overall to say about it.  I will start with the good, which is the location.  It was lovely.  Perfect actually, unless I consider the food.

The excursion started with a walk down by the docks.  While passing through, we saw another couple pointing and acting really exited about something in the water.  Upon further investigation, I saw it was a manatee!  The manatee was taking water from a hose that was adjacent to the dock.  Here's a slightly out of focus picture of the manatee.  Sorry its out of focus, but I have a new camera, and I'm still learning on it.  So far, I don't really care for it, especially since I lost my manatee photo op to a blurry photo.

This is only the second time I've ever seen a manatee in the Florida Keys!  His head is in the upper right corner.  He was really big, and beautiful!

After the manatee excitement, we made our way to the restaurant. When we arrived, I was delighted by how beautiful the place was. We were seated at an outdoor table, overlooking the open water. The weather was unbelievably perfect for this lunch.  A light breeze rustled through the palms overhead.

We had called ahead, asking if vegan concerns could be accommodated.  We were assured yes, indeed that would be no problem. If only that were true.

Our server was polite, and attentive, but not well educated on vegan concerns.  This is something I encounter from time to time, and I think its most unfortunate.  A few months ago I was out with a group of people for a birthday celebration at a restaurant.  When it became apparent that the server there also had no idea what vegan was, someone said to me I should "lighten up" about my dismay.  I was happy there was someone sitting next to me to defend my position, although that should not be necessary.  I feel that in today's day and age when a peanut can kill someone, it's important for a wait staff to be well trained.  Total vegetarian food is something much more mainstream than it used to be. It's annoying to me especially because I work so hard when guests here have special needs.  I understand how difficult it can be while eating out, and I work exceptionally hard when there are those considerations. Thus, I expect the same when I'm on the other side of the table.

Back to the story at hand.

It took several conversations and a few trips back and forth on our server's part for clarity on cocktail ingredients. After our drinks arrived, we earnestly began scanning the food menu.  It was absolutely pitiful if one was a vegan, which both of us are.

When our server again returned, I told him how I noticed there were things like salmon, chicken and other animal items on the menu available to choose from in things like wraps or salads, so I wondered if tofu was available.  He said they do make a tofu breakfast, it is served with salmon.  He asked if I would like that.  I reminded him that I was vegan, and said salmon was not an option. We had another conversation about asking what possibly could the chef do for me with tofu, and he went off to do more checking.  We happy vegans chatted as we toasted the beautiful day with our beverages.

This little bird was flitting all around us.  He went from the chair next to me, to the sand, back to the chair, then on top of this tiki torch across from us.  He was another highlight, I suppose he was wishing for some crumbs?
When our server returned, he indicated that the chef said it wouldn't be a problem to do a tofu dish completely vegan.  At this point, I had visions of marinated tofu over baby greens, maybe some fresh sliced veggies on the plate, tropical salsa, or maybe rice would be there instead of greens.  I didn't ask too many questions, as I find my best experiences when eating in restaurants are when I let the chef create what inspires them; as long as it is vegan.

The other happy vegan ordered a modified wrap off the menu.

We were left once again to ourselves and our marveling at the beautiful afternoon we were relaxing in.  We watched the nearby tables receive their food, served actually in a novel innovative way (I don't want to say how, it may reveal the restaurant...) and we were pretty excited.  Remember.... our lives (especially mine) revolve so much around food.  Its a real treat when others prepare and serve food for me.

Our food arrived.  It was not presented in that novel and innovative way, not at all.  It came out served by someone other than our server, plopped in front of us.  I looked at the plate before me in disbelief. Dear hearts, believe it or not, on my plate was a pile of cold, naked cubed tofu.  Unseasoned.  Unmarinated. Unloved. Un-ANYTHING.  I believe it had been frozen and thawed (that is fine in my world, in case you didn't know, when you freeze, then thaw tofu, it changes the texture and makes it perfect for absorbing marinades).  The thing is, when you freeze and thaw tofu, you MUST press it.  It is truthfully like a very firm sponge.  It holds a lot of water.  This tofu had not been pressed.  It had been cubed into really cute squares, which when I pressed down on them, left little teeny puddles on my plate.  Also on my plate were capers, some baby greens, tomato halves, and one other thing I cannot recall.... nothing to speak of, and I am being very honest here.

I was crestfallen.

There was nothing to help along my out of the box, into the freezer, onto my plate, cold naked cubed tofu.  It sat in the middle of my plate, about the the size of an ice cream scoop.  It looked sad, pitiful, and most especially.... nasty.

I think the first thing anyone learns about tofu when you open the box is that it's nasty by itself.  But, tofu has this amazing ability to take on the flavors of that which is put with it.  It's actually a little miracle food in my opinion.  So many delicious dishes can be prepared with all the different types of tofu available; I love working with it because of its versatility.  I was actually insulted that a chef thought that what they plated for me was acceptable. I wondered how would they feel about that food if it was presented to them, especially because any chef MUST be a foodie, right?  I felt completely devalued as a customer, and sad because there was very little thought or caring about the food on my plate.  I'm so sure of this because I cook and plate food every day with love and care.  I know what a plate that has love as the main ingredient should look like; I also know what it looks like when it doesn't.  My food was nothing more than an afterthought.

Food is a celebration.  Food is nourishment.  Food is life.

It was obvious to me that whoever was in the kitchen at that time was completely unable to literally think outside of the box (of tofu). The other happy vegan's food was what I wish I ordered.  Not because it was innovative, but simply because it was something far more edible.

I pushed my food around on my plate.  I seasoned it with salt and pepper.  I dumped the leavings from my salad plate onto the unloved cubes and mixed them in hoping something would improve.  There were no miracles to be worked on that plate by that time.

I was still hungry when the server took my sad plate away.  The other happy vegan even remarked "you didn't finish your food."  To know me is to know that I do not send food away. Its either eaten, or taken home in a box for later.

I was thankful that I had food to eat; I am thankful I am not in a situation where I am starving, or do not have nutritious food available to me daily.  I do, however, still have certain expectations when I am dining out.

As I was drinking my frosty drink (sans dairy), the other happy vegan noticed a nearby table being served creme brûlée.  He mentioned that used to be a favorite in his pre-veg days.  We were asked if we'd like to see a dessert menu, when I again reminded our server we were vegan.  He said something like "hmm, that might be a problem," but brought the menus anyway.  It WAS a problem, there were no choices for us, and we were left alone in the sunshine with our beverages.

We eventually finished our drinks, and made our way home.  I fixed up a batch of kale chips for me, and went about some chores, doing a lot of thinking.  It is no small wonder that there are so many people who are scared away when anyone says "vegan" food.  I'd be scared away too if I thought vegan food was truly represented by my naked tofu lunch. The thing is, that is NOT what vegan food is about.  Vegan food nourishes our bodies, but not on the backs of the death of other creatures.  Vegan food is colorful, flavorful, and beautiful to behold. Vegan food is love, abundance, creativity and celebration.  Vegan food is where it's at.

To that chef who prepared my lunch; if I had the guts, I'd invite you to my home and cook a meal for you.  And dearest chef, I'd suggest you bring a notepad.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Movie at the Tropic Cinema

Through all the work going on lately, I noted in our local daily paper that The Tropic Cinema in Key West was showing a movie entitled "Addiction, Incorporated."

The Tropic Cinema is a unique theatre in that at its core consists of a film society which is a non-profit.  The theatre is beautiful, clean, and staffed by some of the nicest people I've ever met in Key West.  Films range from "mainstream" films, to special showings of avant garde movies, foreign films, documentaries, independents, and so forth.  We joined the Tropic shortly after moving here.  Being a member helps support the theatre, as ticket costs only offset a fraction of the true operating costs.  We don't get down to see movies often, but without a doubt Tropic shows more of the movies I'm interested in (especially environmentally themed films) and thus I'm at Tropic probably at least every other month.  A miracle in my world.  Actually, this week I've seen two films there, one of which I'd like to talk about here.

I noticed that a film "Addiction, Incorporated" was showing.  I read the description, and saw that it is a documentary essentially about a man named Victor DeNoble who is a scientist.  Sometime in about the 1970s or early 1980s, Dr. DeNoble was recruited by a big tobacco company to do research. The goal was to find a "safer" cigarette, a cigarette that had less nicotine in it.  So, Dr. DeNoble did the research, and it became secret.  One of the main obstacles to the research being public was that the company had an agreement in place that it would not do live animal testing.  Well, Dr. DeNoble's research was based on laboratory rat testing.  As Dr. DeNoble's research progressed, he did in fact find a way to make a cigarette with less nicotine, but one that could be smoked just as often.  There is an additive in cigarettes that itself is addictive, but when the science was manipulated in a different way with nicotine, it became even more addictive.  Great news for the tobacco company, not so great news for smokers (especially children who we know big tobacco targeted).

Initially Dr. DeNoble got permission to publish his findings in a paper, and was to be a presenter at a forum.  Then the company decided no way.  They ordered the doctor to kill all the rats, turn over and/or destroy all the research data, rescind the paper from the presentation, and then he was also fired.  And, as the cherry on top of that giant cake, he was also duly reminded that he was forever bound from discussing any aspect of his time with the tobacco company by a confidentiality agreement.

The research bore out that nicotine was indeed addictive.  Something big tobacco knew long ago, but never wanted to admit.  Big tobacco was an industry built on huge secrets, decades of secrets.

This documentary tells the story of all this up to the present day. Dr. DeNoble became a whistle-blower against big tobacco, and is now someone who teaches children the truth about smoking.  Regardless, I found the movie very interesting; I knew I would.  I'm interested in the history of smoking, and anything associated with smoking, because for a long time I've felt that there are aspects of the tobacco industry which parallel the food industry.

I've met people who work in laboratories who's job is to find ways to make food taste more powerful, to actually manipulate how the brain reacts to flavors and foods when they hit our palate and our tongues.  I've met people who work in laboratories who's job is to create foods that make our brains keep sending signals to keep eating, keep eating, keep eating.  I wonder could it be true that companies are making foods that are flat out addictive?  Is this a possible reason that, after avoiding certain foods for months, at times I am overcome with a craving so intense I almost cannot control it.  That there are some foods that I crave so badly at times that when I think about that item, my mouth waters, and I can honestly taste that item even though I'm miles away from a store that would have it?

I've read in magazines, books and on the internet how foodstuffs are manipulated by mutating genes in seeds and plants.  I know that we as consumers are not allowed to know if foods we eat are genetically modified organisms.  I know that there is one very big company out there steam rolling over small independent farmers, in collusion with our own government, to corner the entire seed, food, and pesticide market (pesticides "needed" to grow said altered foods).   I know that company (Monsanto) has done despicable things to suffering people in other countries too when they are in dire straits after disasters, to take advantage of situations.

I know that there are huge secrets in the animals for food industry that for decades have been denied because if the truth really got out there, we would be (rightly so) horrified, and would not eat certain foods.  I know that there are tireless advocates out there every day and every night working to expose the truth about abuse, torture, filth, pollution, and inhumanity associated with the animals for food industry.  I know that there's just as many advocates out there working to expose the truth about companies like Monsanto, how they operate, how they're protected, how they're funded.

With all the above, I see many similarities between the big tobacco of year's past, and the food industry of today.  In fact, as the credits were rolling at the Tropic after I sat through "Addiction, Incorporated" I turned to the other happy vegan and said to him something along the lines that this is just like the food industry, and if we fast forward 15-20 years, we may very well be sitting through "Addiction, Incorporated 2" the story of what happened within the food industry.

I support organizations like Farmers Against Monsanto, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and so forth who have people exposing truths that are so well guarded.  There is a revolution coming, it is a food revolution.  We are looking at the first generation who's life expectancy is less than their parents, essentially due to disease and illness which are hastened by poor food choices.  Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure run rampant through our society, yet all of these ills are impacted by our food choices.  People who suffer from certain cancers and other devastating, life altering illnesses and diseases many times can positively affect their own diagnosis with better food choices.  Things besides synthetic manufactured "food," chemically treated and/or irradiated items, salt, fat and sugar laden choices.  The food companies know this, there is research out there on this, but it is suppressed.  Those who work to expose certain truths are constantly targeted and bullied in attempts to silence them and those truths.

I tend to over simplify many things for the purpose of blog posts, but no matter whether you agree or not, I believe in the future its very likely we will see a movie like what I saw this weekend; but it will be about the food industry, including the abominable animals for food industry.  Finally the truth will be revealed, the advocates will take center stage, the government will no longer be able to ignore (and be part of) the truths, and there will be massive reforms.

That too is another movie I would happily pay to see.  I hope I live long enough for this to happen.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Waffle Madness

What is it with waffles?  I love them!  Can't get enough waffles. Some people like them plain, others smother them in (pure! organic!) maple syrup.  Some even have them for dessert piled high with (vegan! organic!) frozen confections and (vegan! raw! cashew!) cream on top.  Me?  I prefer my waffles for breakfast with fruit.  No syrup, no "cream," no frozen confections.  Pure waffles.

I've been feeling waffle-y lately.  For years waffles were not on the menu here at Deer Run because I refused to buy a new waffle iron that was non-stick, coated with Teflon, or whatever else is used to poison us surreptitiously in today's modern age.  That all came to an end not too long ago with a shopping trip I had over to our local Habitat for Humanity.  As I was scanning over the appliances and such, I saw a vintage waffle iron sitting on a table.  I looked at it, and wondered "does it work?"  This iron was easily 40 years old.  I brought it to the front desk and asked "does it work?"  Gladly our friend at Habitat plugged it in, within seconds, the grids began to heat up.  Before it got too hot, we unplugged it, I purchased it, and it found its next life here at Deer Run.

I scrubbed the waffle iron inside and out.  I took it entirely apart, cleaned it, even with toothpicks into the grooves and insides.  I put the grids into my superheated dishwasher, and reassembled the entire apparatus.  It gleamed.  Then I did a little smudge ceremony over my sparkling "new" waffle iron, and eventually set out to make waffles on my new favorite appliance. There is no non-stick coating, there is no Teflon.  This waffle iron is in all truth almost the exact same age as me (I looked it up on line).  Apparently people look for these waffle irons, and some people even collect them.  My vintage waffle iron is made in the USA from an era when things were built to last, not our new fangled throw-away society and lifestyle.

I cannot get enough waffles.

I've made plain waffles, coconut waffles, cornbread waffles, and pumpkin waffles.  Yesterday I decided that I wanted to try chocolate waffles, but time got the best of me (remember yesterday? When I posted "things fell apart" and my entire day was reconfigured? The chocolate waffles got the boot.)  Today I was determined, and I have met with success.  I have just feasted on the best double chocolate waffles ever, and just for kicks I made them with oat flour.  I scattered fresh sliced strawberries upon them, and because I am mad indeed, drizzled some of my raw vanilla cashew cream over top.

Heavenly.  Vegan. Organic.  Waffles.

I can only end this post with the following movie quote:

"Have I gone mad?"
"I'm afraid so.  You're entirely bonkers.  But, I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are."

Words to live by, as I eat more (vegan! organic!) waffles.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


I was warmed by the comments on my last post, and even got some emails in response to it.  Thank you so much, truly.

Moving ahead to today though, my entire day has been thrown off kilter by an unfortunate thing forcing me to reassess all my plans and reconfigure everything I hoped to accomplish.  This stuff happens to the best of us at some point. I know when this happens to me, its best to just go with the flow, make lemonade out of lemons so to speak.  The first thing I did when it all fell apart was scale back my "to do" list.  Many people might actually do the opposite, add more.  Not here, not me.

I've decided to dial back the "must do" list, and ramp up the "want to do" list.  Included on the "want" list for today is making soup, visiting with Peri (already done once this morning), and making weekend plans.  The weekend plans are shaping up nicely, we've got dinner plans with our friend L who is heading off to China very soon to visit family, taking in a movie at Tropic Cinema in Key West (Addiction, Incorporated) and maybe a new baking experiment.

I suppose I should face the music that my chores are still waiting for me as I work on this post.  I have a sliver of a window in my office which looks out at the sky.  It is the most perfect shade of blue right this very moment.  Its best I wrap things up right now, otherwise the "want" list will fall by the wayside too.  I'm running this afternoon as usual, and think "add new song to iPod" just made it to the "want" list.

I love lemonade.