Monday, December 31, 2012

Holiday Food

Here's my holiday table before food this year. The oil pastel sketch is by my sweet Mom, and the china is Grandma Eula's. Mom and Dad gave us the blue water goblets last year. I love to mention these legendary people in my family. This year, the holiday table is from Thanksgiving. Dad came down to be with us and hopefully we will get to see him again in February. Over Christmas, we ventured to Virginia and Maryland to be with family and friends. But I am getting ahead of myself . . . Thanksgiving:

I LOVE any variations on this fresh green bean preparation. This year I added the fresh beans to a whole vidalia onion and plenty of mushrooms and garlic which had been sauteeing for about ten minutes in earth balance and olive oil, I stirred the beans in the pan for only a handful of minutes more, then stirred in gobs of fresh dill and lemon zest, uncooked. This doesn't really need to be hot, it's great at room temperature which helps with the tricky timing a holiday meal can sometimes present. It's also amazing cold, the next day. This beats the pants off the old standby of cream of mushroom, canned beans and canned onion rings, as nostalgic as that casserole tends to be in American culture.

My photographic offerings for this holiday meal post seem to be lacking. I think Dad and I were having martinis while we cooked, and I forgot to snap the finished products. But cooking with Dad is so much fun, it was worth it. Hopefully you can use your imagination to round out my photos. This root veggie melange, russet and sweet potatoes, beets, shallots, celery, pumpkin seeds and dried apricots snipped into tiny bits, was coated with olive oil, pepper and himalayan pink salt (a lovely flavor -- give it a try!) I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and roasted these gems for 40 minutes. The quantity of the roots doesn't really matter, but it's important that they are in a single layer so the whole thing gets crispy and luscious. Imagine these pretty veggies more golden and crispy-brown on the corners. Mmmm.

 These little green sprouts (why, why, why can't some folks seem to love these?) were prepared in much the same way as the root veggies, but I also splashed a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar on them. I don't make too terribly many of these, since I like them best fresh out of the oven. They lose something in the fridge overnight, in my opinion. Again, imagine 'em with a brighter color and brown on the edges.

Along with these veggie offerings, Dad prepared a little turkey - 7 lbs. or so since there were only a few poultry eaters, and he sweetly altered his famous, fabulous sage, mushroom bread dressing for my vegan sensibilities, since it is my very favorite. Thanks, Dad! It was soooo good!

As I mentioned, we took an extended trip to the D.C. area to be with family and friends over Christmas.    While we were gone for over 10 days, no grass grew under our feet. We started out in Williamsburg, to see my alma mater for the first time in many years, then travelled to Richmond to see my grandmother, who will be 97 in August(!), my aunt and uncle and cousins and their families. Driving north, we overnighted in Fredericksburg where Dad lives, then continued to Alexandria, Old Town to be exact, where Andres surprised me with a couple of my college friends and their families. All along, we shared stories with the kids of our lives as newlyweds living and working in our nation's capitol. Visits with more cousins, while touring downtown museums, ensued, and we arrived in Rockville, MD, for Christmas eve, at the home of Andres' mother and stepfather. There were many, many family members there, 25 or so, I think, and Oma hosted the evening with aplomb, in her typical German fashion. It was so good to be with people we've not seen in a while. The next morning we headed south again, to Dad's house, where we finally caught up with my brother and his family from China. We obviously don't get to see enough of them, and being with those whose experience this year has been similar to what I'm living through without Mom was a balm.

To celebrate Mom and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary, which would have been June 16, 2012 if Mom had lived, my brother, and I, along with our families, presented them with a gift certificate for a culinary weekend at The Inn at Little Washington. This amazing Inn and restaurant is in Washington, Virginia, which has some historical significance. The restaurant is world renowned. Thank goodness we decided to present the gift early. Mom and Dad opted to use the gift certificate for a couple of dinners instead of staying overnight since they live only an hour away from Little Washington. They celebrated Mom's birthday a little late last year, since she was getting over a cold on her birthday, but they both did get to enjoy the very special experience of dinner at the Inn. Mom's birthday is January 3. Happy Birthday Mama!

While we were with Dad, the day after Christmas, he treated my family and Brit's, all nine of us including Dad, to a dinner at the Inn. It was so special and magical, and Mom's presence was palpable. When I hugged Wynne, we were each surprised to feel as if Mom was hugging us instead. We all smiled, warm in her continued embrace. Where else would she be in that moment?

Monday, December 17, 2012


'Tis the season . . . the season of having not a moment to spare, that is. Not that I'm complaining. My abundant life is over-full with things I love doing and I only wish there were more hours in the day. So, you guessed it -- I've not been cooking very much. When I arrived home from work this evening, I was so happy to see the little Chinese cartons in my 'fridge from yesterday's Sunday afternoon lunch. I scooped out a mound of brown rice, topped it with a handful of spinach and arugula from the crisper (everything's better with more greens!) then a few spoonfuls of Family Style Tofu and Asparagus with Mushrooms. Mmmm, just remembering the meal I had an hour ago has my mouth watering. Maybe I'm ready for round two! But wait, I've not yet mentioned my little secret -- Ponzu sauce!

This luscious Japanese sauce (I know, I'm pairing Japanese with Chinese, sorry to any who would take offense, but I like to mix it up sometimes) is really a very high-quality, fermented soy sauce with the addition of sudachi citrus, whatever that is. Ponzu is YUM. It is salty, tart and subtly sweet. I sprinkled it sparingly over the leftovers and greens and slightly less sparingly over the starchy brown rice.

Then, for extra zap, I squirted about a teaspoon of Srirachi sauce off to the side of my plate. This flaming hot Chinese sauce must be on the side, in my opinion, since its fire tends to blunt all other flavors unless I only dip the tines of my fork into it before spearing my lovely food. I ate most of the food with ponzu alone, only dipping into the srirachi every third bite or so. I found the combination of all these flavors sublime.

Incidentally, I once read in a magazine that a chef from a reality show (I didn't recognize the name) likes to mix srirachi with Nutella for a decadent dessert spread. Upon reading this, I was intrigued, almost enough to go out and buy another pricey jar of Justin's Hazelnut Butter, the vegan's answer to nutella, but I decided against it since Justin is a bad, bad boy. Check my archived post, "Breaking Up With Paul and Justin" for the backstory.

Do give Ponzu a try if you have a chance.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fast Food

No, not THAT fast food.

I will finally share with you some delicious, nutritious food I have been whipping up for myself and whoever else chooses to partake. There are no recipes today, since the breakneck speed of my life lately (much of it self-imposed) doesn't allow for planning. I just find something appealing in the crisper, listen to the body's intuition about what else to add and pull it together. This melange of chick peas, garlic, tomatoes, onions and collard greens sauteed in olive oil was basically a rip-off of something I saw my fearless leader and friend, Dr. Board, eating recently. Her husband is a wonderful chef and had created some kale with tomatoes for her that had such an intoxicating fragrance. She mentioned she liked to eat it with beans sometimes. So I came home that evening and made something similar from what I had on hand. No kale, so collards; no beans, so chickpeas.

This dinner was loved by all, I think, especially Wynne, who at 15, is beginning to notice the way different foods make her feel, from the physical effects to the subtle energetic and emotional effects. She really loves the mushrooms and asparagus together, simply sauteed in olive oil with a tiny bit of pink himalayan salt. She packs food like this for lunch at school when there are leftovers. Here the veggies are served alongside brown and red rice and collards with purple onions with plenty of earth balance and olive oil.

I'm guessing this one won't win over any new vegans, as beets tend to be contentious, but this is an example of macrobiotics. The notion of "roots and tips" is one way, according to macrobiotics, to obtain more balanced energy from food. The dense yang energy of the root is offset by the upward-growing, expanding ying of the greens. The yang tends to be overpowering, so I really should have used less of the root in this, since I only had so much of the greens. This was simply steamed, the root for about three minutes first, and then the greens on top for another minute. I garnished with black sesame seeds. This would be bland to someone with salt- and sugar-addled tastebuds, but I hardly use any seasoning anymore, so I enjoyed tasting the actual flavor of the food. I was the only one in the household who tried this, so I had some leftovers which weren't so great. Macrobiotically, leftovers don't work anyway, since the energies quickly leave the foods after preparation. So if you try this, do it in a small batch. You can do this with any root veggie which still has its leafy parts -- I understand carrots are especially good this way, though the greens would be more tender, so adjust the cooking time accordingly.

This is an example of one of my attempts to appeal to everyone in the household. Everybody likes pasta, so I stir fried it with these lovelies -- zucchini, onions, garlic, carrots and mushrooms -- in a bit of oil, earth balance and shoyu. My preference would have been gluten-free brown rice pasta, but the others aren't sold on that just yet. Baby steps.

It's now late Sunday afternoon. I had intended to put up the Christmas tree, but I think we would all be better served with something healthy and warm. I think it'll be rice, bean and veggie soup. I'll make a big batch so Wynne will have something to put in her thermos for school. The house will smell amazing too. Wynne's in her room enjoying the new strings on her electric guitar. She's singing her little heart out. She had a concert yesterday, and I was amazed at how her projection and confidence have improved. The smell of warm soup, the sounds of a happy musician . . . I love Sunday afternoons! 

Postscript: Strange Days

In a heartbreaking finish for Georgia fans, Alabama won the South East Conference Championship. The game was one of the best I remember watching. Athletic prowess and strength of spirit were in evidence from all players.

My gratitude for the "perspective lesson" from the other evening is undiminished.

Lick your wounds, boys - you are still Georgia Bulldogs!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Strange Days

Regular readers already know what an odd year this has been for this Midlife Vegan+. It has been full of sorrow and blessings in close succession, so I continue to try to glean any lessons that may be lurking around each bend.

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are pursuing a goal, but obstacles and unexpected hurdles keep popping up, making the acquisition of the goal seem less and less likely? Yesterday was a real-life manifestation of this phenomenon for me. I've been trying to squeeze in as much needed healthcare as I can manage before the end of the year, since our deductible has been met and free benefits are nothing to sneeze at. Yesterday I had a first appointment scheduled with a podiatrist at 9:00, so my plan was to drive straight to work from the appointment and arrive a little early (I'm normally in at 11:00) to catch up on some loose ends and to give my treasured co-worker, Patsy, a chance to do the same. Upon meeting the podiatrist, I was convinced to have some very minor foot surgery right then and there. I asked how long it would take, and was told, "only a few minutes". Long story short, I realized too late that "only a few minutes" can mean two different things to different people. Driving, late, to work, I realized that new detours had been added to my route. Also, it was getting close to lunchtime, so a trip that should have taken five minutes took half an hour. I rolled into work at 12:00 noon. The work day proceeded along a similar vein.

By 7:00 p.m. my toe had begun to throb and it was time to rush home to meet a houseguest. Choosing my route was tricky, as I had to consider the different levels of rerouted traffic from the new detours. As it turned out, I chose wrong. A ten minute trip wound up taking an hour. The traffic lights had not been re-calibrated to account for the new traffic patterns, and as such, only three cars got through each green light traveling in my direction. Unbelievably, there also happened to be a festival in downtown Alpharetta, with people milling about on foot amidst the stopped cars. It was a bit surreal. I had no choice but to sit and wait my turn.

Do you feel the tension? Let's take a break for a second:

Ah -- healthy green juice! . . . Om . . .

Okay, now back to the story:

Such a circumstance opens the mind to rumination. Luckily, I was able to see my predicament for what it should be -- a forced stop. My frenetic pace of late, attempting to be all things to all people, has been a form of avoidance of the inner work I need to do. Being crazy-busy and reasonably successful feels better than really exploring what I have lost this year. Just as I was beginning to dig into this idea, sirens sounded. Straight ahead, spinning blue lights appeared in the opposite lane, coming in my direction. I started to wonder how emergency vehicles would maneuver through the sea of parked cars, but then I realized the traffic jam was really only in the direction I was traveling. several police cars raced toward me and past my position, followed by shiny new buses with black windows -- one, two, three . . . I counted up to nine. "What in the world?" I thought to myself. Different ideas began to pop into my head about who might be in the buses. We do have a vibrant music scene in the Atlanta area, and Alpharetta is picturesque and a few movies have been shot here, so maybe . . . But then I saw it -- wrapping up the procession was a smaller luxury van with the "Bama" logo on the side, followed by a few more police cars. It was the University of Alabama Football team! The SEC final between Alabama and University of  Georgia is today at 4:00, and the team must have been practicing at my son's old high school yesterday afternoon before returning to a hotel in Alpharetta. Instead of Athens, where UGA is, the game will take place in the Georgia Dome, where the Atlanta Falcons play.

If you are not into college football, my excitement about this game will be lost on you. Normally it might have been lost on me as well, since I graduated from William and Mary, a school not renowned for its football team. But my firstborn, Hans, is now a Georgia Bulldog!

Here he is with me last summer.

Becoming acquainted with the University of Georgia football culture has been an unexpected surprise this year. Football in the southeast is a very big deal. My words won't do the experience justice. You'd have to attend a game yourself. In Athens, football fans bring tailgating to a new level. Women wear pretty dresses and the tailgaters set up tents, tables with tablecloths, lots of food, a full bar, candles, chairs, music, flowers.

Suddenly, people begin to check their watches and a flurry of dismantling occurs so the party can be put away in time for the "Dawg Walk". At first, I didn't understand what this was. We all ran over to the street adjacent to the Stadium, and a number of large buses with black windows, very much like Alabama's, pulled up. Then I got it -- the "Dawg Walk" The doors of the buses opened and the Georgia Dawgs, big, strong, giant children stepped off and walked, smiling and waving, into the stadium. I say "children" because there are some "true freshmen" on the team who are the age of my son -- 18 years old! These enormous, strong kids are like movie stars to this southern community -- they are incredible athletes, with the added benefits of the fearlessness and pliability of youth. Hans has met a couple of these stars and he says they are just normal kids -- down to earth, friendly, normal.

Whoever wins the game today will be the SEC champion. This background information will hopefully explain how amazing it was for me to be stuck in stopped traffic, after an especially stuck day, only to find that I was in the right place at the right time to have a brush with greatness.

Let me explain the significance of this in the evolution of my grief. I used to be very spiritually connected. I was raised in an esoteric family, and evidence of the oneness of all things was all around us. I have always had very specific beliefs. Then my precious mom, my best friend, died. Suddenly I was no longer sure of anything. What if it had all been a fairy tale? What if she really just ceased to exist? Nothing could feel more crushing. I couldn't think it. I got very busy. I was blessed with rewarding work with wonderful people -- with the doctor who has kept me well -- who was the very embodiment of the kind of faith I used to have. Then she died too. My crisis of faith deepened. I shut down and got busier.

So, being frustrated with being stuck, and then seeing how the brush of greatness in the midst of the stuckness couldn't really be a coincidence has begun to open a little chink in the wall of doubt I've erected. Blessedly, after the Alabama team proceeded along their unimpeded route, I was still left stuck for a little while longer. Remembrances of other bits of proof that what I used to believe is real began to pop into my head, one after another.

I remembered my funny little sunshine, Wynne.  Growing up has a way of damping our magic down. It's still there, only less accessible. I wouldn't change a thing about my wonderful daughter at 15, but being stuck in that traffic, after that brush with greatness, I began to remember the gift to all of us of her early connectedness.

This photo is old and blurry, but I hope you can see that, as I am looking at her reflection, she is looking through the mirror right into the lens of the camera. She was only two months old here. One week before she was nine months old, the sturdy little thing began walking and speaking in full sentences, though at first I was the only one who could decipher her language, perhaps because there was an intuitive connection between us.

An example of what she would say is: "chunchine on my lodelch one mo time pleege!" tr: "Sunshine on My Shoulders one more time please!"

Another would be: Aay bubba? a blountain? tr: Where's my brother? a mountain/fountain?

"Blountain" was a multi-purpose word for her, meaning both mountain and fountain. Only further context would help me determine which. Her other multi-purpose word was "blow-blow" meaning pillow or elbow.

But I digress . . . Wynne's connectedness:  One afternoon, for no reason, when she was about 5 years old, Wynne began asking me about earthquakes. She became more and more agitated as the evening went on, and even woke up in the middle of the night, terrified of an earthquake. I soothed her back to sleep. At about 5:00 a.m. the doors on the armoire in my room began slamming loudly and my bed seemed to be bouncing off the floor. I was so disoriented at first that I thought I was dreaming because of Wynne's earlier discussion. By the time I woke fully, it was over. The kids had slept through the whole thing. I turned on the TV to see if there was anything about it on the news, and sure enough, there had been an earthquake, right here in Georgia!

More recently, Wynne woke one morning to tell me about a very vivid dream. She was surfing in Japan and the "waves were HUGE!" I asked her how she knew she was in Japan, and she said she didn't know how, she just did. Three days later the Asian Tsunami happened.

There have been many many more bits of "evidence" around Wynne, but also around my mom, both of my grandmothers, and throughout my whole life in general. Sitting in traffic last night was actually a gift, as it instigated this train of thought, this reopening of the possibility that my former faith eventually might not seem so far out of reach.

Well, it's time to get ready to watch the game -- Go Bulldogs!!

Next post will include food!