Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Toaster Pancakes

I always make too much food. Always. It's not like I'm trying to cook ahead and stock up for the week. I just can't scale back my old habit of cooking for five or more people, learned first from my mom, and carried over to my own family later. Now it's just Rick and me most of the time, but I still make enough for house full of kids.

It's OK. It would be even more OK if we had something bigger than a "Barbie Refrigerator" to store leftovers in. If you've ever spent time in an RV of any kind, you know the fridge. Little. I suppose it's nice that it forces us to shop more often, so our veggies are always fresh. It just doesn't lend itself well to stocking up, storing anything extra, or freezing much more than a few ice cubes, a pint of ice cream, and a few bags of whatever else goes in a freezer. There isn't even room for vodka.

When I make pancakes, I overdo it same as I do with a pot of soup. But because I make sturdy, real food pancakes, they hold up well in a zip-bag in the fridge, which doesn't take up much more room than a bag of tortillas does. We like flat food! And we've discovered that they're great the next day, heated up in the toaster.

If you're comfortable with basic pancake construction, just throw the basics in a bowl, like I did this morning. For vegan pancakes, I use whatever flour I have around, sometimes gluten free, sometimes not, usually a blend of several different flours. I add a tablespoon or so of ground flax seed per cup of flour, about a tablespoon of baking powder, a little salt, and water. Sometimes I stir in rolled oats, chopped nuts, raisins, fruit, spices... you get it. Pancakes aren't as scientific as cupcakes. But if you want a recipe, I have some good ones for you in past posts: Peachy Pancakes, Apple Pie Pancakes, Carrot Pancakes.

Another topping option, which you see here, is an easy pear compote. Cut up two ripe pears (or more, because more is good), put them in a small saucepan with a little water. Bring it to a boil, and cook until the pears are soft. Along the way, add raisins, spices (I used pumpkin pie spice), and maple syrup or a little sugar. After it's cooked down a bit, add arrowroot to thicken.

On Pancake Day, make a big batch of batter, cook it all up, eat what you want, and then let the leftovers cool completely before putting them away in the fridge. Next day, give them a quick trip through the toaster, and you have Pancake Day II, with a lot less mess than the day before!

More food, less mess. Always good!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Learn to Speak Chinese

We have a newly opened Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood. Our meat eating friends have had good things to say about it, so we gave it a try the other night. It was Rick's choice for his birthday dinner.
Veggie Chow Mein
Duck House Chinese Restaurant doesn't appear to have a website, but I did find this page on Eater. We wandered in on a Monday night, and were greeted warmly and seated right away. I'm not sure if there's a cultural thing we don't know about, but we eventually had to flag someone down to take our order. No problem. Just something to know.

There was not a lot of English spoken, which was a good sign we'd get real Chinese food, rather than an Americanized version. And because of that, it seemed like one of those situations where it would be best to ask for "vegetarian" rather than "vegan," to avoid having to explain too much, or being misunderstood.

The word "vegetarian" worked perfectly, and our server pointed out several things on the menu that were already veggie, or could have tofu or vegetables subbed for the meat. Perfect. We ordered mixed vegetables in garlic sauce, kung pao tofu, and veggie chow mein. We also ordered rice, which we didn't need, but we like it. It was all way too much food, but when that happens, we just take it home and think of it as "grocery shopping."

Mixed Vegetable in Garlic Sauce
Everything was delicious, and I'm fairly confident it was all vegan. As I talked about in my last post, making a big ol' stinky deal over ever tiny ingredient can actually be counterproductive to the number one vegan objective of helping our animal friends. So stop it already. Be a little bit imperfect. Do your best. It's good enough.

Kung Pao Tofu
And wouldn't you know it, when it came time for the fortune cookies, the kind with a fortune on one side and a Chinese lesson on the other, I got the one that taught me how to say "vegetable!" I asked our server to tell me how to say it properly, and it turns out I would have mangled it terribly if I'd just read it phonetically.

Good Chinese food just steps from our door is going to be a great thing. Welcome to the neighborhood, Duck House. I won't be ordering the duck, but I do plan to do a lot of "vegetarian" grocery shopping there!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Salad and French Fries

You're at a restaurant with friends. Everyone is deciding whether to order the salmon or the cheeseburger or the chicken caesar... and you begin to panic that you're not going to get anything to eat until you go home. You know there's a granola bar in your bag, but you can't figure out how to smuggle it discreetly to your mouth. Everything, everything, everything on the menu has meat in it - even the salads, which just seems wrong, doesn't it?

We gotta deal with it. It's kind of a vegan nightmare, and it happens all the time. But you can get through this gracefully if you're willing to be open minded and not too bunched up about your "vegan purity."

Let's remember that we're vegan because we care. About animals, ourselves, and the planet. However, we should never expect saintly perfection from ourselves or others. Working with what we've got, the best way to be a good, compassionate vegan ambassador, while not being a big fat jerk, is to be creative, and to make the most of every dining situation.

It's good to have a fallback meal you can depend on just about anyplace. For me, when all else fails, it's salad and French fries to the rescue. You can get this satisfying combo just about anywhere. Instead of sending your server to the kitchen with a list of questions for the busy chef, simply ask that the chicken and the cheese be left off your salad, and the creamy-ranchy-whatever dressing be replaced with a nice vinaigrette. Sub ketchup and mustard (my fave), or bar-b-que sauce for mayo based dipping sauces for your fries, and you have a really good meal with minimal fuss.

I know this, because I did it about 17 times last week while staying in a lovely resort in the San Juan Islands of Washington state. Family and friends had gathered from near and far to celebrate the wedding of my daughter and her awesome now-husband. The place was gorgeous, and the restaurants had a nice selection - for everyone but Rick and me. The bride and her gracious new mother-in-law took care to see that Rick and I had beautiful vegan meals at the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception. Other than that, we ate salad and fries pretty much the whole time. It was fine. No problem. We were in a fancy resort with lovely people and incredible views. There was really nothing to complain about. And besides, we had wine!

I know what some of you are going to ask. Did they have a separate fryer for the fries? I'm pretty sure they didn't! And you know what? We didn't ask or care. While I used to boycott fries that were cooked in the same oil as meat, I now have a different point of view on this.

Sure, there might be molecules of fish essence in the oil, and therefore in your potatoes. But honestly, it's not any worse than breathing in that burger smell from your neighbor's bar-b-que. I can't prove it, but I'm sticking to my story. In my hasty research, I found a snipet from the book, I Can't Get Sick by Angelica Joy, which supports my theory that smelling something is in some ways the same as eating it. It makes sense to me that we absorb molecules from the things we smell. If there's second hand smoke, why not second hand food?

My point is not to have you all grossed out and wearing a gas mask when you go out to eat. What I'm saying is, we live in the world, not in a pristine vegan bubble. If you want to glitch out on the fries being cooked in the same oil as the fish, I will gently suggest that you get over yourself. Really.

When we order fries that are cooked in the same oil as the chicken, it's not ideal, but let's go back to the biggest reason for being vegan - compassion for our animal buddies. Whenever we buy something, we're saying, "make more of this." But ordering, eating, and paying for potatoes cooked in popcorn-shrimp-tainted oil is not saying, "make more popcorn shrimp." It's saying, "make more potatoes." Sometimes we just have to forget about our little personal vegan purity issues.

I do have backup on this. Check out this short video from the Vegan Bros (serious potty mouth warning), in which they quote from a great article by Farm Sanctuary's Bruce Friedrich. To paraphrase, our often-perceived-as-obnoxious pursuit of personal purity can actually be more harmful to animals than if we ate a tiny amount of an animal product in something like a veggie burger with egg in it, or fries cooked in meat-shared oil.

When we make a big fat hairy deal over every little ingredient and cooking process, our servers, kitchen staff, and fellow diners see veganism as prissy and difficult, which often closes their minds to the possibility of trying it out for themselves. We do a much better job of helping animals if we make veganism look fun and delicious and easy, so other people consider going vegan because of our shining example.

I have a whole chapter planned on this for my new book (Yes!), because I think it's really worth discussing. For now, if you find yourself in potentially hostile restaurant territory, order a salad the way you like it. Don't be a stingy jerk and ask for a discount because you're not having the chicken on top. And order the fries without asking about a "dedicated fryer."

You'll be doing the best you can do, you'll get to eat (yay!), and you'll be more likely to have the people around you ask you thoughtful questions about your food choices. Really darlings, that's more than good enough.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

From Hot Dogs to Fabulous Falafel

The old Der Wienerschnitzel a-frame on Meridian Ave in San Jose has started a new life as Flying Falafel. It's all vegan and gluten free, and it's a terrific addition to the Bay Area vegan food scene.

The guys running it are cheerful, speedy, and generous. The food may be fast, but it's also real, and really, really good. I went there for lunch two days in a row, and saved half of my second meal for lunch the third day.

The falafel sandwiches start with a gorgeous, soft, fluffy, warm, whole wheat pita, which is stuffed to the brim with tasty falafel, fresh and pickled veggies, tahini, and hot sauce if you want it. A similar dish (called Plate Me) is all the above on a plate, with pita on the side. The simple menu also includes a couple of other configurations of falafel, hummus, and pita, as well as dolmas, fries (added as a garnish to one sandwich, on a whim it seemed), cinnamon baklava, and banana milk shakes. Pretty darn heavenly.

Ignore the goofy old building and funky freeway neighborhood and just go there. You will be happy. I'm quite sure of it.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Wedding Week!

My daughter is getting married over Labor Day Weekend, and as MOTB, I really can't focus on anything but the wedding and the big magic bubble of happiness that surrounds all involved. It's my job to keep that intact, which I wrote about today in TakingTheLongWayHome. Read it if you want to! Link above!

I have a post scheduled to pop in next week, about some fabulous falafel I enjoyed recently. Once I come off the wedding high, I'll turn my attention back to my work. For now, I'm all about being the best MOTB ever! (And I have the best daughter ever, who is making sure Rick and I have beautiful vegan food throughout the weekend. More on that later!)

See you soon!
xoxo Kim

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

No-Fuss Lunch

I have a shelf full of vegan cookbooks. I love them. I'll keep buying them. I'll keep writing them. And... confession of a real-life hungry girl here... I hardly ever use them. While I technically have the time to make all the fancy food I want, my choice is usually to do other things, like write and make things and share whatever wants to be shared on any given day.

When I'm at home, cooking just for me, or for both Rick and myself, I really don't love to spend endless hours in the kitchen. Most of the time, I want to eat something that's really good, really good for me, and really easy to make.

Lunch seems to kerbobble people more than other meals. Entire books are dedicated to lunch, for sandwichsakes, but honestly, there's just no need to fuss about it so. Especially when you're vegan. Bring your own, and make it something you can practically throw together in your sleep.

Leftovers from the night before are always good for lunch. Favorite stand-by sandwiches, like my Baked Tofu Birthday Sandwich, or Chickpea Tuna Salad take a little more effort, but you can usually get at least a couple of lunches out of a batch.

My current favorite grab-it-fast lunch is even faster than going out for take-out. Behold the Salad Roll! A whole salad's worth of green goodness, all wrapped up in a lovely, humble tortilla. It takes about two seconds (ok, maybe 15) to make, it's infinitely variable, it's easy to stuff in your face, and it's good for you.

Spread hummus or vegan cream cheese (or both, half on each side) all the way to the edges of a flour tortilla.
Pile on a big handful of fluffy baby salad greens.
Add other veggies (chopped small) if you want to.
Drizzle with a little salad dressing and maybe some hot sauce.

Roll it all up, nice and tight, squeezing the greens in as you go.
Leave an inch or so at the edge so the hummus/cream cheese can act like glue and hold the whole thing together.
Cut the roll in half.
Eat it!
You don't need a dipping sauce, but nobody's going to tell you you're wrong if you cozy up next to a little bowl of extra dressing.

That's it. Keep it simple. Keep it good and full of goodness.
Vegan life is easy if we let it be.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Changes. Change is.

Notice anything different around here? (No, not my new dress.) It was time to change things up, in order to make way for other changes that I'm not quite yet clear about. You know how that is? Making anything different has the potential to make everything different. And I'm ready for some differentness.

The old PV logo was fine and lovely, but it was never what I really wanted. I just kept it because I had it, and because a friend designed it for me, but those are both really lame reasons. So poof! Gone are the cute vegetables and the colors I never got comfortable with. If you loved it, well, sorry. I'll send you a picture.

Part of the shift I'm instigating here is a merging of my blogs and my website. I have one site now, which offers links to all the stuff I do. I do a lot and the fragmentation was making me feel all energetically scattered and queasy.

If I can figure out a way of merging this blog in with LongWayHome I'll do it.  For now, it feels like they still need to each be their own thing. Go ahead and subscribe to both. There might be some cross-blogging now and then, but mostly, PV is food related, while LWH is more personal. Having said that, I might even post the very same thing on both of them when it applies.

Like this.
It's going on both, with only minor changes.

You know, it's really like one blog in two different rooms. It's all me and my stuff. Hang out in which ever room you feel the most comfortable, or in both, if you like. I'd like that.

So here are the links. If you get lost or confused, and you remember my name, just go to KimMiles.com. It's the hub, with links to everything else, including blogs, books, beads, and handmade finery from my very own fingers.


See you out there. Somewhere.
Here's to changes!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mom's Kitchen

As I write this, I'm in San Jose, in the backyard of the house I grew up in. My parents' house, my family home, most recently just my dad's house, and now, the house that belongs to my sisters and me. My father passed away in June of this year, after living here alone for the last 26 years. Mom passed in 1990, leaving us all, but mostly Daddy, to wonder how in the world we could ever be normal again.

He never quite recovered from losing the love of his life, but staying in his beloved home, his mansion, he called it, meant more to him than anything else in the world he might have wished for. We were somehow miraculously able to grant him the only thing he ever asked us for. He got to live to the very tippy-tail end of his life in his own house. My sisters and I, just the three of us and nobody else, were here with him when he left us. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, and maybe the most honorable. I wouldn't recommend it, but I'm so grateful we were able to be here for him.

After a month at home to catch our breath, trying not to deal with any more than we absolutely had to, we're back now, sorting through our family-specific mountain of things that accumulate in a house over 54 years. We've emptied every drawer, every closet, every box, every cabinet, every shelf. We've touched thousands of pieces of paper and countless assembled objects, housewares, and photographs. We've claimed what we want to keep, and given our kids and a few family members mementos and heirlooms. Next on the list is an estate sale, for the furniture and daunting pile of things that will all be treasures to someone who hasn't found them yet.

The paper sorting was torturous for me, and the gear and tools didn't interest me much. My father interested me greatly, but his things were man things. Our husbands and sons happily went through every bit of all that, while I wandered off to the kitchen. Mom's kitchen, where I first learned to cook, and where she worked her magic to the delight of anyone lucky enough to be invited to our table. Over the years, we began referring to the house as Dad's, but it will always be Mom's kitchen.

This time though, I wasn't there to cook, but to clean and sort and discard. It was kind of terrible, and kind of fun. It was whatever I wanted to decide it was, and I flip-flopped back and forth a lot until I decided to just quiet my head and enjoy the process. Very little had been brought in since Mom passed, and very little had been tossed out.

My little stack of take-homes is still growing. I keep plucking things from the sale pile and smuggling them down the hall to my room. The little copper bottomed Revereware saucepan needs me. The banged up mixing bowls are dimpled like steel drums, and are so much heavier than any I've had in my own adult life. I actually spoke to the white and pink (once red) Pyrex casserole dish, saying, I've known you my whole life. You're coming home with me. And the gently stained 1970's aprons, in my opinion, are simply not give-up-able.

The sorting continues, things leave for their new homes, papers are shredded, trash is tossed, and memories bubble to the surface like a lake full of champagne. I'm not the first one to go through this, but for me this is new territory. Dad was a hiker, an outdoorsman, a reader of maps, a carrier of a good compass, both in his heart and in his pocket. He guided us through life in his strong and certain way. But he couldn't leave trail markers to help us with what we're doing now.

Every so often, one of my sisters or I will notice what feels absolutely like a message from our parents. We all feel them both sticking near us right now, as we tidy up for them this one last time. I like to think we're doing all this in a way they're happy with. On the other hand, they might be off romping around Eternity, caring not a hoot about their earthly goods. Either way is OK with me. And I know we're doing the best we can on an unmarked trail.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Art of Pieology in Portland

Although Portland is famous for its abundance of vegan eateries (which Rick and I support at every opportunity), I get especially giddy over finding intentionally vegan options in non-veg restaurants.

Take, for instance, the popular pizza chain, Pieology. I first tried them in California on a recent trip, and was pleased as punch to learn that we have a location here in Portland, right downtown, in easy walking distance from us!

Pieology offers totally customized, built-to-order pizzas at a fixed price, no matter how you top them. Their house-made 11.5 inch crusts are available in white or whole wheat, and they also offer a gluten free crust. Choose from their inventive combinations, or just walk down the line and tell your friendly pieologist what you want as you go. Add a little more of this or that or all of it. And when you're finished co-creating the perfect pizza, it goes into a big open oven and comes out in just a few quick minutes.

They offer salads too. As with the pizzas, choose from their signature creations, or have one built to perfection, just the way you like it.

Best of all, they offer vegan Daiya cheese! Our pie guy happened to be knowledgeable about what what would be vegan or not as far as sauces and toppings, so we didn't have to ask too many questions. The red sauce is a little spicy and a lot delicious. We topped it with spinach, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, Daiya (of course!), and a sprinkle of sunflowers seeds and oregano.

Our pizza was great! Remember, we used to own a pizza shop in Seattle, and we know what's good! We sat by the window, watched the early summer rain fall on the busy city street, and sipped beer and wine while totally enjoying our "snack", which turned out to be generous and filling enough that we called it dinner.

Whether you want a quick lunch on the run, or prefer to take your time and enjoy a more leisurely, casual dinner, keep Pieology on your list of possibilities. It's one of those places you can enjoy with your non-veg friends, and still have exactly what you want. Everybody wins, and I'll bet your friends will want to try what you're having. Make 'em get their own!

An Amazing Meal at Harvest At The Bindery

This is about as minimalist as a restaurant review can get. Harvest at the Bindery in Portland. Go there. Right now. This is some of the most artful, elegant, delectable food in all the land, in a lovely rustic-fancy, relaxed setting, created and served by intelligent, thoughtful people, and priced so reasonably you can go for a special occasion, or for no real reason at all.

We ordered and shared three selections from the small plates menu, added drinks and dessert at either end, went away just a touch over satisfied, but not painfully full, and only spent $55, not including the tip. Like I said, go there.

Poblano Fundido

Heirloom Carrots. My first experience with edible dirt. It's not really dirt, and it's delicious!
Potato Cakes
Bread Pudding
Manhattans! Cheers!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Why Not to Use the V-Word

I was sitting with one of my favorite people (my daughter) the other night, on the floor of her living room, sharing a picnic dinner procured from the local natural foods market. We had little tubs of wonderfulness spread out on a dishtowel, a bottle of wine, and a lovely pair of glittery gold shoes to add opulence to the scene.

IMG 2992

Although my daughter is not vegan (she's sort of a vegetarian who can't resist bacon), she's always supportive of my vegan work in the world, and super considerate when it comes to feeding me. I've noticed though, that there's an invisible line I sometimes cross in my enthusiasm over amazing vegan food, and my assumption that she will share my excitement.

For example, the other night, when I was all giddy over finally sampling (OK, stuffing my face with) some delightfully rich Fauxmage, smeared in great big blobs on tiny crackers, and offered to share a taste, she shook her head in a tense little way and refused to try it. 


Confusing behavior is not uncommon in a mother/daughter relationship, but I think we've both long outgrown any use for habitual stubbornness. We like each other. We get along. We respect each other's separateness. We know we're different, and a lot the same, and it's all OK. So I really couldn't sort out how this simple offering of cheese had instantly pushed my girl from comfortable to suspicious.

She took a sniff, and said, It smells like butter. Are you sure it’s vegan? She read the ingredients. Yep. Vegan. But she still wouldn’t taste it.

I asked her why, and the best explanation I can piece together, after some discussion, is that my openness and excitement about “faux” foods like dairy and meat alternatives can come across as a sort of "neener-neener" wave-it-in-your-face attitude that says, See??? This is good! You should like it! You don't need the "real" thing. Just be like me already!!!

Yeah, that one never works, does it?

It's tricky though, because some people feel duped if we don’t point out that those hot dogs are made of soy, not pig, or that that the wonderful herbed cheese is made from nuts, not dairy. Some folks want full disclosure about the "weird" vegan stuff we feed them - like it's fair warning, so they can brace themselves. Others, like my daughter, prefer to come to it from a neutral place of simply tasting something new, not caring whether it’s vegan or dairy, or some sort of imaginary holographic fairy dust cheese, and then deciding if they like it or not, with no expectations from the over-eager vegan across the table.

I think I get it. We sometimes put a lot of pressure on our loved ones to love what we love. But the truth is, if we love them, we have to let them be who they are, eat what they eat, and find their own happy way down their own life path in any way that suits them. We have to stop expecting people - even our nearest and dearest - to be like us just because we think we've found a better way. Maybe we have. But it's not productive or useful or even kind to say things that insinuate that our way is "better," because that automatically makes their way "worse."

What we're really doing here is trying to change the world, and that always gets a lot of resistance. We have to go slow. What we need to remember is that we can never change anyone else. We can only change ourselves. And in this sort of situation, that means to adapt the way we speak, inform, and share to each person we deal with. It doesn’t mean we have to be untrue to our values as vegans. It does mean that we can get further with some folks, and maintain happier relationships, if we do our best to make them feel comfortable rather than confronted. We need to be sensitive to our friends' and families' individual ways of seeing the world, "meet them where they are," as the saying goes, and proceed with our loving food sharing cautiously and non-judgementally.

The people closest to us already know that we’re vegan. They know we’re not going to buy or make or serve animal-based foods. Maybe it’s best to just hush up about it and let the food speak for itself. A lot of terrific vegan restaurants are doing just that. The v-word is never mentioned in their signage or menus, but happy patrons flock to them because the food is wonderful - and just happens to be vegan.

I’m going to leave that lovely cheese in my daughter’s refrigerator when I go home. My guess is, in her own sweet time, she’ll sidle up to it, give it another sniff, and taste it while I’m not there with a silly, expectant look on my face. I think she’ll like it. And I think she’ll eat it all up. Not because it’s vegan, and not because I want her to, but because it tastes absolutely delicious. And that, my friends, is good enough for me.

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.

Maybe right about now you're saying to yourself, Hey, no way am I ever going to take up knitting! OK. Fine. I hear it all the time. And while I don't understand some people's determined refusal to give it a shot, I also realize that not everything is for everyone. So maybe you'd rather try regular meditation to defuzz your sweet little frazzled stressball self. Yay! Do it! Here's a nice easy article to get you started: Using Guided Meditation for Anxiety.

Now back to knitting. 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.