Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Flying Elephants on the Bridge

The Elephants Delicatessen chain is pretty big around Portland, and we have a new location to love now, in the South Waterfront, on the west end of the new Tilikum Crossing Bridge. After a liesurely walk across what's been dubbed "the Bridge of the People," we stopped for a snack at the new Flying Elephants, which is right next door to Starbucks in the gorgeously modern new Collaborative Life Sciences Building and Skourtes Tower. It's a perfect place to sit outside on a nice day, sip a beer, glass of wine, coffee, or tea, have a bite to eat, and watch the world go by.

The menu offers an appealing range of what you might expect from a deli, including several items that are well marked as being vegan. Grab a fresh, ready-made wrap, sandwich, salad, or pastry from the well-stocked cold case, order a beverage or hot food at the counter, then settle in to enjoy some time in Portland's newest, fastest growing neighborhood.

We shared a Shelly Wrap, a side of Sweet Potato Tots, and a couple of beers. The wrap was fresh and tasty and packed with crisp vegetables. The tots were terrific, as I've come to expect of all tots in this city. And the beers were just the thing on an early fall day in sunny Portland.

I jokingly call the South Waterfront "Little Dubai," with it's towers of steel and glass, and the high rents that go along with it. But it's beautiful down there along the river, and with the new bridge, more people friendly than ever. It's only a ten minute streetcar ride from where we live, and I imagine we'll find our way over to Flying Elephants often. They're good people who care about what they do and how it impacts Portland and beyond in the bigger picture. I can support that, and I intend to!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Way It's Supposed To Be

This is an extra little side post this week, because the news lately is nothing but awful, politics embarrassing, and the general mood of folks I run into is kind of low-energy. I feel it too. Without going into detail, I'm struggling more than a little bit these days. Things are piling up. I feel... un-good. And I know from experience that the best way to feel better is to make someone else feel better. It works every time.

I was out with Rick yesterday, after an urban hike to the rose garden, a shopping expedition, lunch, and finally a little food gathering for dinner. Even though there was nothing really wrong, and it had been a lovely day, I was feeling sort of anxious and icky, and I couldn't shake it. I tend to gather up and collect the general vibe of the world around me, so I don't think most of what I was feeling was "mine." I have my own little issues to be sure, but empathy can suck the life out of a girl.

We hopped on a busy streetcar, loaded down with bags, and clearly in the "elder" demographic compared to the rest of the people getting on. Rick was about to settle into an empty seat that was closest to him, when a young woman cut him off and slipped into the seat, oblivious to everyone around her.  Her sense of entitlement flew around her like sparks. She was white. It shouldn't make a difference. But it's part of the story. I'll call her Uppity Princess.

As the streetcar started to roll, Rick found another seat, and motioned for me to take the one down the aisle. But just at that moment - and all this happened in about 15 seconds - the young man sitting behind Rick stood up, gave me his seat, and took the one farther away, just so I could sit by Rick. He glanced at the woman who cut Rick off, looked at me, shrugged, and shook his head in a WTF? sort of way. He was African American, which also shouldn't make a difference. I'll call him Nice Guy.

Common pre-conceptions would have us believe that the white lady would have better manners than the young man of color. Really? Many would trust her and fear him. Really? But in that instant, there was a flash of connection, of sweetness, of getting it between two humans, Nice Guy and me, just making our way home, and the color of our skin had nothing to do with it. Common courtesy and decency were what mattered. Gratitude mattered. Paying attention to something other than ourselves mattered.

As Nice Guy stood up to get off at his stop, I pulled a daisy out of the bunch I'd just bought, touched his arm to get his attention, and handed him the flower. He took it, thanked me, and turned away to leave. Then, just before jumping out into the world again, he turned back to me and said, "I almost broke a tear. Thank you. This is how it's supposed to be."

Yes it is. I smiled back, my eyes welled up, and my mood shifted for the better. I think maybe everyone who saw what happened was shifted a little bit. Maybe if we all did more of these tiny, spontaneous things, like offering a seat, saying thank you, smiling, giving daisies to strangers, maybe we'd all start feeling better enough to deflect all the not-good that's being fired at us daily. Maybe we'd create enough interpersonal goodness that our day to day lives would be easier and happier. Maybe we'd change the world. Maybe not. But at the very least, we'd make our own little part of it nicer to live in.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What to Eat When There's Nothing to Eat

I'd been away for a week and supplies were depleted. I woke up hungry on my first day back home, opened the fridge and harrumphed, Nothing to eat...

At second glance, I noticed half a loaf of bread. OK! I can have toast! Boring! Not enough! But on closer inspection I discovered some vegan cheese slices, a bit of tomato, and some clean and crunchy romaine. That's more like it. Grilled cheese for breakfast! With pickles and mustard! Happy!

Along the lines of leftover pizza for breakfast, a sandwich you might normally think of as a lunch item can really hit the spot, especially if you prefer a savory breakfast like I do.

Later, slightly annoyed by the fact that I was hungry again, I considered going out for some takeout kimchee fried rice, and then remembered they're closed on Sundays. Phooey! Back to the "empty" refrigerator, expecting to come up with a sequel to the breakfast sandwich. Maybe toast for dinner would be OK...

But lo and behold, there was a little bowl of brown rice, a bag of week-old chopped carrots and red bell pepper that were still in decent shape, and a bit of bok choy... possibilities! I plucked a can of chickpeas from the shelf, melted a little coconut oil in my skillet, and let the magic unfold.

I cooked the chickpeas first, in the oil, with a good splash of tamari. Then I threw in the rice and let it sizzle for a couple of minutes before adding the veggies. Rummaging through our collection of condiments, I seasoned the whole thing with random sloshes of umeboshi plum vinegar, sesame oil, maple syrup, and sriracha sauce. The whole process took about five minutes!

And guess what? It was way better than the fried rice I was going to buy. The vinegar gave it kind of a zippy kimchee flavor, but the fresh vegetables were actually much nicer than the fermented kind from a jar.

Even though this was an emergency meal, made from "nothing," it's one worth repeating. Try it. With whatever you have. It's surprising what's really there when we think there's nothing...

Could be a metaphor for other areas in life, yes?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Knitting Meditation

Life has been weird lately. Stressful stuff, you know? We all go through these patches, and we all have our own tricks for getting to the other side. My old habit of powering through and just working harder has not been doing it for me lately though, and it became clear that I needed to do something different. As in slower and calmer. Not my strong area, slow and calm.

Over the years, I've been urged by plenty of friends to meditate. I've resisted in the past, but finally, out of desperation, decided to give it a try. I read books, sampled apps, downloaded music, and listened to guided meditations. I tried the sitting still kind. I tried the walking around kind. I tried counting my breaths. I tried focusing on my heart center. All of them gave me some degree of centered calmness, but none of them really resonated in a way that felt like it was meant for me. I could see that none of the standard methods were going to stick.

Then one day I was sitting at home knitting, and it hit me - tada! Knitting can be meditation too! A quick google search confirmed that I'm not the first one to think of this, and there are even books written on the subject. I ordered two of them - Mindful Knitting: Inviting Contemplative Practice to the Craft, by Tara Jon Manning (paperback), and Zen and the Art of Knitting: Exploring the Links Between Knitting, Spirituality, and Creativity, by Bernadette Murphy (on Kindle).

The books have helped me put a more intentional focus into my knitting when I want it to be a meditative thing. And even when I don't do that, I find I'm knitting more in social situations because I enjoy it so much, which in itself is calming, and even seems to sort of relax those around me.

There are several folks in our building now who want to get together for regular knitting nights. Sort of like a "stitch-n-bitch," but without the bitching. That kind of defeats the purpose of any sort of meditative practice. Instead, we'll call it stitch-n-dish, meaning the chit-chat kind of dishing, and also opening it up to bringing favorite food dishes to share, which further opens it up to being a vegan knitting kind of event. I like it!

My project of choice right now is about as simple as it gets. I don't want to get all wadded up in reading patterns and making complicated things like garments and socks. That would make it necessary to put my attention into the details rather than in the simple act of knitting. For me, it's more about the process than the product. With that as the focus, I make washcloths! They're small enough to carry around and work on anywhere, they're useful, and they're a really luxurious addition to bath time.

And to make it even better, I found some wonderful organic cotton yarns at our local yarn wonderland, Knit Purl. One of them is made by the Vegan Yarn company, and it's absolutely gorgeous to work with.

If you're on my gift list this year, you're very likely to get a set of washcloths and a nice bar of soap. You'll love them! They have a lovely zen-calm built into each and every stitch. I could call them Tranquility Infused washcloths. That's how nice they are.

You could make your own, of course. If you feel the need for some simple de-stressing, and mainstream meditation is not your thing, consider the humble joys of sticks and string in your hands. For me, it's better than anything else I've tried.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Overnight (Oatmeal) Success

I know I'm not the first person to discover or share this ridiculously simple breakfast "recipe." But if it's new to me, it might be new to you too. So here it is. I like to share the things that are working for me, and Overnight Oatmeal is one of them.

Overnight Oatmeal (ONO) is just what it sounds like - oatmeal you make at night and eat the next morning. The beauty is, it takes all of about 15 seconds to put together and throw in the fridge where the magic happens all by itself.

The "recipe" is as follows:

Measure equal parts rolled oats (not quick oats, but the old fashioned, slow-cook kind) and any plant-based milk you like into a bowl or a jar with a lid. Cover it, put it in the refrigerator, close the door, walk away.

Yep, that's a recipe.

Maybe you'd like a little more detail -
I use 1/2 cup oats and 1/2 cup almond milk. I use individual bowls for each person, but you can make one big batch if that's easier. (I love eating out of a squatty mason jar.) Sometimes I sprinkle in some cinnamon. Sometimes I add frozen blueberries to the bowl and let them thaw while the oatmeal soaks. I love my ONO with raisins and bananas and walnuts. I don't feel a need to sweeten it, but maple syrup would be delightful.

There is no actual cooking involved. The oats simply soak up the milk, making them soft but still chewy, sort of like muesli. You can make it at bedtime, or really anytime during the day, as it can rest in the fridge for 24 hours or so.

When it's time to eat, add fruit, nuts, seeds, plus sweetener and more milk to taste. Eat it cold. (I do.) Or warm it in the microwave if you're so inclined. (I did this the first time I made it at my dad's, but we don't have a microwave at home, so cold is good. It's actually become my preference.)

And that's about as far as I can stretch it. There are lots of ONO recipes online. Google them out of hiding if you need more inspiration. Otherwise, just casually toss some oats and plant-milk in the fridge, and then go see what kinds of beautiful fruit you can find in your favorite produce section or farmers market. Make it up as you go. There are zillions of right ways to make this stuff, and it's well worth the effort... although there's really no effort involved at all.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Easy Mu Shu Veggie Wraps

I love, love, love Mu Shu Veggies with Hoisin Sauce and those amazing little Mandarin Pancakes. Did I say love? I meant LOVE. But even so, I don't make them very often because the pancakes are a little more work than I want to put into a casual dinner. I'm not lazy, but I do look for shortcuts where I can find them.

Enter the miraculous tortilla, flatbread gift from the goddess of simple kitchen goodness. Sure, you could make your own tortillas, and they would be amazing, but then you might as well make the pancakes, right? The point of all this is to keep it as simple as we can. So pick up a package of nice soft flour tortillas - any kind you like - and fondly refer to them as pancakes.

To make this little any-day feast, chop up whatever vegetables you like. I used bok choy, carrots, onion, kale, and red bell pepper. Chop chop, done! Set them aside while you make the sauce (see below). Consider making a double batch. It keeps well, and it's great on lots of things, like sandwiches and scrambles and stir-fries.

OK. So you have tortillas, veggies, and sauce. You're ready.

Gently warm your tortillas in the oven, wrapped in foil or a damp dish towel, or wait to heat them individually in a skillet after the veggies are cooked. It sort of depends on how many people you're feeding.

Heat a little oil (I like coconut for this) in a large skillet or wok. Throw in the vegetables and cook them over med-high heat for a few minutes, until they're softened but still crisp and brightly colored. No mushy Mu Shu!

Throw in a little bit of sauce, just to coat the vegetables. Turn off the heat.

Now take your tortillas out of the oven, or heat them one at a time in a clean skillet, just until soft.

To assemble, fill your tortillas with veggies, add more sauce, fold in the ends, and roll them up. you can make smaller, thinner rolls that can be cut in half and hand-held to eat, or great big fatties to serve up burrito style and eat with a fork. Either way, have some extra sauce to spoon on at the table. The sauce makes the meal!

If you like spice, a dash of your favorite hot sauce is a good addition too. And if you look closely, you'll see that I added a little bit of Marinated Baked Tofu to these wraps. It's not necessary, but since I already had some on hand, I used it. Yum!

Here's the sauce recipe, as found in my book, Change Your Sauce, Change Your Life. For more great recipes, pick up your very own copy on Amazon for just $5.99! I appreciate the paycheck!

Hoisin Sauce
makes about 1 cup

2 T peanut butter
2 T tahini
1/4 cup tamari
1 T molasses
1 T maple syrup
1 T apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Sriracha sauce

Whisk all ingredients together, serve immediately, or store in a jar in the refrigerator. The sauce will thicken a little when it's chilled.

Enjoy your dinner! Share with friends! Give them a book to take home! xoxoxo

Friday, June 3, 2016

Why I'm Scared of Vegans

Yeah, I said it. I'm scared of other vegans.

Well, because some of them are scary, that's why. Not all of them, obviously. There are loads of lovely vegans out there. But you never know. Some of them are judgmental and preachy and superior and unpleasant. Even to other vegans. And that's just creepy. Only some of them, of course. But again, you never know.

When I'm about to put myself in a situation where I'll be meeting and mingling with a bunch of vegans I don't know yet, I always make a big fat thing over wearing the right clothes (no wool, although I refuse to give up my beautiful 30 year old long black wool coat), my shoes (although there is still some residual leather in my closet), and even jewelry (my cultured pearl earrings, which I wear all the time in real life because my sister gave them to me, and because they're simple and fabulous and go with absolutely everything, are not technically vegan because they came from an enslaved oyster). One can take just about anything to extremes.

I'll admit it, I get a little crazy. I even double check my lipstick to be sure it's a well known vegan brand, in case someone should spy me sneaking a touchup. Rick rolls his eyes and laughs at me, but I take this shit seriously. First impressions matter to a Vegan Ambassador. And even though I know I shouldn't, I care.

Let me say that not one fellow vegan has ever judged me to my face. I have no idea what anyone says behind my back, but to my front, I've never gotten more than a suspicious sidelong glance for admitting something like, I care just a teensy bit more about the health of humans than the living conditions of animals. Even though I know it's not a smart thing to say, I can't seem to stop myself from blurting out some such personal confession in the midst of a group of hardcore animal rights activists. I guess I want it to be clear where I stand. In my genuine not-leather boots.

It might be better if I stay home. Or hang out with non-vegans, who in many cases actually turn out to be pre-vegans who haven't found the right inspiration yet. And that is exactly why I need to befriend interesting folks from all sides of the dinner table. The fact is, when people hang out with Rick and me long enough, not only do we form lovely friendships based on a variety of interests, we also tend to have a positive influence on how they look at their food choices.

We stopped trying to convert people a long time ago, after we noticed friendships being damaged rather than enhanced, and beloved faces glaze over rather than light up with interest in our passionately delivered sermons on how dairy hurts our bones and how self professed animal lovers who pamper their pets but still eat meat are not being honest with themselves. Gosh, really? How could that not be enthralling party conversation?

We learned the hard way. And then we thought for a while that we needed to go out and get some vegan friends. After all, they'd get us! And Portland is crawling with vegans, for-dogs-sakes. But much to our surprise, a lot of them don't get us at all. And honestly, it's just too hard to find the right vegans, because it's possible that there aren't very many out there like us.

To be clear, we care deeply about the animals of this planet, and about the planet herself. We would love to see a major shift in the way the western world eats, because we're the ones who actually have the luxury of choice, and the ability to make terrific advances and changes as a result of our choices. We know that everyone, from the animals to the humans to the planet would benefit from a more vegan mainstream, and we're heartened by the progress that's being made.

And here's the thing I never hear anyone else saying - healthy, well-fed vegans tend to be more compassionate toward themselves, each other, animals, and the planet. Healthy people are clearer headed, smarter, and make better decisions. Healthy people make other people look at them and say, I'll have what she's having. That's why I put humans first. We have to take care of us before we can tend to anyone else.

As I said, when people hang out with us, a lot of them eventually begin to change their diets. In a good way. Family members who love to cook exotic fancy stuff are now almost entirely plant-based, and still cooking exotic fancy stuff. A young friend who used to bar-b-que just about every night last summer told me he's going vegan now. For two reasons. He wants to preserve the good health he has before he gets old and has to scramble to reclaim it, and... because he loves cows. Awww. Now that's what we're after.

I don't give a hoot how or why a person goes vegan. The fact that they do, or even mostly do, is huge. Everyone benefits. I also don't make strict use of human labeling. I think it's just too picky, and kind of inappropriate, for a banner waving "animal rights" vegan to dismiss a "health" or "environmental" vegan as merely "plant-based" because they aren't waving a banner, or because they still wear leather shoes. 

Get over it, folks. Every step, even the babiest of steps, when it comes to getting people to eat more plants and fewer animals is a valid, important contribution to this whole big thing we're trying to do. We're trying to save the world! We need every little bit of help we can get!

Dear vegans, be nice to each other, be nice to yourselves, and especially be nice to your friends with the steak on the grill. They're paying attention. And we can do a lot more good by just being our awesome, well-fed, generous selves than by stuffing a million vegan pamphlets in our friends faces.

I don't want to be one of the scary vegans. I want to be the one who shares the killer cashew mac n' cheese, who brings vegan cookies to her non-vegan friends, and who even compliments them on their cute leather boots. Who knows - by next year, those friends might be wondering if they can still wear those pre-vegan boots and not eat the cow. I'm the one who's going to tell them yes.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Bok Choy with Brown Rice and Orange Sauce

This is a good thing to make when you want something beautiful, but aren't particularly inspired by the kitchen gods. I picked up a big bunch of gorgeous bok choy at the farmers market, without a clear plan for it. A couple of days later I had to use it or lose it, so this is what happened. It's as easy as it gets, and goes to show that with a few staples in the house, you can come up with some pretty awesome meals without a lot of fuss.

To make this pretty dinner, cook some brown rice and set it aside to stay warm. Cut the bok choy into whatever size pieces you like. Grate a carrot and chop half an onion if you have one.

Make some Easy Orange Sauce as follows (full recipe in my Sauce Book, but this will get the job done).
Whisk together 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup tamari, 2 T maple syrup, 1 T sriracha sauce, 1 T arrowroot powder. Set aside.

Now heat a large skillet and melt a little coconut oil in it. Add the onion and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the carrot and bok choy and cook until the bok choy is tender but still crunchy.

Stir in the sauce and cook for a minute or two more, until the sauce thickens a little bit.

Serve over rice with a sprinkle of almonds or other nuts or seeds for garnish.

If you want it any easier, you'll have to order take-out. Enjoy!

If you like this recipe, you'll love my new book! Get it on Amazon!

Friday, May 27, 2016

My Morning Meetings

Every morning (almost), before I get out of bed, I spend a few extra minutes having a "meeting" with myself. I think about how I want my day to go, and what I have lined up on the to-do list. Often dozing a little bit, I sometimes get "other input" as to what I need to get done. I've not always listened to this interruption to my Very Important Thoughts, but lately I do. I get up and write it all down. And then I add my own stuff too, in case there's time for all of it.

Ever since my little trip to the ER a few weeks ago, I've been paying more attention to what's often referred to as the "little brain" we all have in our hearts. Did you know this? There's a lot of explanation on the HeartMath website, as well as in many other places if you feel like digging around. Basically, as I understand it, which is admittedly very little so far, the heart stores and transmits information. When we say things like follow your heart, it's actually valid advice. The heart is smart!

For me, it's clear that my heart got all crazy on me because I wasn't listening to it. It finally had to kick me in the head and say, Hey there sister! I need to be in charge for a while! So OK. Not wanting to repeat any part of that adventure, I'm listening to my HeartBrain - with an open heart. And know what? I feel better than when I spend too much time in my HeadBrain trying to figure everything out for myself. A lot better.

One recent morning meeting turned up some interesting assignments. The list goes like so:

Throw out my hamster cage.
Wear blue (not red).
Draw hearts.
Be the prayer.

My HeadBrain added:
Bathe Heidi.
Invent dinner from stuff we already have.
Write a blog post (or 2).
Play the ukulele.

Surprisingly, it all got done, with no stress and many grins.

There is no literal hamster cage. No hamster either. What this meant was, Stop trying to turn your life into something normal and predictable. It isn't that. It's not going to be. There's no nine to five, no daily grind, and mostly no paycheck. Deal with it.

Sigh... Ok. I see no real alternative. I've been trying to be a hamster for a long time, and I just can't do it. So I threw out the cage, along with the little spinning, squeaking wheel and the damp sawdust.

I put on a blue dress (not the red one I probably would have opted for on a chilly spring day), and pulled out my drawing paper and pens. I got lost in drawing hearts and forgot to take Heidi out to pee.

She didn't care. She sleeps as long as we let her. Eventually I did take her out, and then gave her a nice breakfast and a bath when we came back. I cleaned up the apartment. I considered our dinner options and decided on some kind of noodles and veggies in a teriyaki-ish sauce. I wrote a good blog post. Then another one. I made more tea. I looked out the window.

I took a uke break, standing at my 5th floor windows, looking out at the clouds and cars and people. After about three years of playing on and off - mostly off - I can play three songs by heart. By Heart! Happy Birthday - always useful. I'm Into Something Good - the old Herman's Hermits hit - which is easy and adorable. And This Must Be The Place - Talking Heads - also easy, but it speaks to me. "Home is where I wanna be, but I guess I'm already there..."

And at the end of all that doing, which flowed like water, I remembered someone once saying to me, Your work is your prayer. Ah, yes. Listen on the inside. Get it done on the outside. Or sometimes not. I'm well aware of the fact that I need to get back on a money-making path again very soon. Just thinking about it makes my chest thump out of sync for a second. But right now my work, which must be my prayer (and that makes me the pray-er when I'm doing it), is to listen to my HeartBrain and simply do what I'm told.

It's getting easier. And I do like wearing blue. I'd forgotten.