My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Our Sidewalk: A Cautionary Tale

The vehicle that did this...


should be sporting this...

Friday, February 22, 2013

SkyWatch Friday: The Misty Mountains Cold

Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold...
~ from "Over the Misty Mountains Coldby J.R.R. Tolkien


I had another post all ready to go for this week's SkyWatch Friday, but when I returned home from a walk with the dogs late yesterday afternoon and saw this view from my front porch, I grabbed my camera and telephoto lens and snapped away. Given that my bare fingers quickly froze, I've used my telephoto lens only twice before, and I was shooting almost blindly into the bright glare of the sinking sun, I didn't expect much. But after downloading the results, I immediately scrapped my planned post in favor of this one. These photos really captured yesterday's cold and misty look of our Big Horn Mountains. 

I recommend playing the above video for great mood music to accompany them (for an entirely different mood, check out the rockin' guitar cover)...




Though annoyed at first by the presence of the chain link fence that surrounds the school playground across the street, I decided that, like the bare trees, it adds an element of texture, depth and even beauty to the photo. (I could do without the street lights, however!)...

Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To blogs quite new and blogs of old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To view skies of blue and red and gold...
:-)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Roasted Spiced Sweet Potatoes

I've been debating whether to post this recipe now or save it till next autumn, since sweet potatoes are usually associated with fall dishes. But it's a winter veggie and a recipe that we're still enjoying, and here in Wyoming and across much of the rest of North America, there is plenty of winter left. Besides, there are no guarantees in life, so why wait? 

Am I therefore going to post it now? I yam indeed. 
For those of you who groaned aloud, let me assure you that my punny little bon mot actually serves as a useful introduction to the often confusing topic of yams vs. sweet potatoes. Most Americans (me included until a few years ago) think they're much the same and use the terms interchangeably. This is understandable, given USDA labeling requirements that insist the word "yam" be accompanied by the term "sweet potato." While far from the most egregious or confounding thing the USDA does, this requirement - created to resolve the confusion over these two distinctly different plants and veggies - has only served to further befuddle. Sweet potatoes are what are grown in the US (and in South America where they originated, but they're not imported due to concerns over diseases and insects). Yams are not grown in the mainland US (US yams are only grown in Hawaii) so the vast majority are imported, and unless you're specifically looking for yams at a specialty foods/import/ethnic foods market, what you're undoubtedly getting in the US when you buy a "yam" is a soft-fleshed variety of sweet potato, the kind usually called "yams" here. To add to the confusion, sweet potatoes, which are the tubers (or bulbs) of a tropical vine in the Morning Glory family, aren't potatoes - root vegetables in the nightshade family - at all! 

So, clear as a summer sky now? :-)

Here are a few of the differences between yams and sweet potatoes:

Sweet Potatoes:
Tubers (Morning Glory family)
Smooth skin
Sweet, moist flesh
Originated in tropical South America
Grown domestically (mostly in FL and CA)
Very high in Vitamin A (containing more than carrots), Vitamin C, Beta-Carotene and other nutrients

Yams:
Roots
Rough, scaly skin
Dry, starchy flesh
Originated in Africa ("yam" is thought to come from the West African word nyami, "to eat") and Asia
Imported to the US and Canada 
Very low in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Beta-Carotene and other nutrients

So the good news is that sweet potatoes are easy to find, deliciously high in health-promoting, disease-fighting nutrients, and now you won't get confused when I tell you that we use organic Garnet "yams" in this yummy Sweet Potatoes recipe. :-)

I've had this recipe for so long I don't remember where I first got it, but I've seen it (or close variations of it) on a few online recipe sites. (The No-oil Oil recipe comes via FatFree Vegan, since we never cook with added fats). My only experience with sweet potatoes till this recipe was my paternal grandmother's candied "yams" (see, there we go again!) at Thanksgiving, which I thought were vile. I was a veggie-loving kid and not at all a fussy eater, but found them too cloyingly sweet and much preferred my mother's mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and mashed rutabaga. It wasn't until trying this recipe about a decade ago that I was won over by sweet potatoes, and now also enjoy them just baked and eaten plain (BW even likes them cold that way). I say this in case any of you think you don't like sweet potatoes - I'd encourage you to try these. Especially if, like me, your dislike came from childhood and/or a dislike for candied "yams!"


ROASTED SPICED SWEET POTATOES

~ 1 tsp coriander seeds
~ 1/2 tsp fennel seeds*
~ 1/2 tsp dried oregano
~ 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
~ 1 tsp sea salt
~ 2 lbs medium sweet potatoes
~ 3 TBSP "No-Oil" Oil (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 425º F.

Coarsely grind coriander, fennel, oregano, red pepper flakes and salt in an electric coffee/spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

Cut potatoes lengthwise into 1-inch wedges.

Toss wedges with "no-oil" oil and spices in a large roasting pan or glass baking dish and roast in middle of oven for 20 minutes. Turn wedges over with a spatula and roast until tender and slightly golden, 15 to 20 minutes more.

NOTE: Grinding the spices yields more potent flavor, since the seeds retain flavorful oils that are lost in pre-ground spices. (You also get a wonderful dose of delicious aromatherapy!)

"NO-OIL" OIL

~ 1 cup water
~ 1 TBSP cornstarch
~ 1/2 tsp salt
~ 1 TBSP dried basil

Whiz in blender** the water, cornstarch and salt. Pour into saucepan, stir in basil. Heat to a boil. Cool. This will have the shine and consistency of oil to use in place of oil for those certain recipes. Great for glazing breads (like focaccia) before baking, or for coating veggies or potatoes so seasonings stick to them (like the roasted sweet 'taters above!) Store leftover "oil" in a lidded glass container in the refrigerator.


*I'm aware that a few of my regular visitors are card-carrying members of the "Fennel Loathers Club," there will be no convincing you to try this, and you are likely to leave disparaging remarks about fennel in the comments. What can I say except, "Can't please everybody!" :-)

**Don't literally whiz in your blender, please. That's nasty. ;-)


Friday, February 15, 2013

SkyWatch Friday: The One that Got Away

As we all know, sometimes you get the shot, sometimes you don't. Here was a recent "didn't." When I looked out the back door at that morning's lovely sunrise, a large flock of Canada Geese appeared to be flying right out of it and straight toward me. What a photo op! 

But by the time I got my camera, turned it on, removed the lens cap (a rather key step I'm still getting used to with the new camera!), and aimed it at the sky...


... the geese were already flying around the side of our house.


"Please go back," I yelled at them, "I need a do-over!" But they all just honked at me and kept on going. :-) 

I either need to keep my camera by the back door or have bionic implants installed in my eyes that take perfect photos of whatever I'm looking at, that I could download to my computer by sticking a USB cable in my ear. :-) Wouldn't that be handy?

Another idea I've had for years is a hat that records your thoughts for later downloading and editing on your computer. That way, all the emails and shopping lists and blog posts that I'm constantly composing in my head - while driving, riding my bike, mowing the lawn, walking the dogs - wouldn't vanish into the ether the moment I have time to sit down at my keyboard and try to retrieve them from that dark, dysfunctional place in my brain that's supposed to store them! (Who's with me on this? Is there an inventor in the house?) :-)

Meanwhile, I'll find solace over my missed photo op in the beautiful skies of the world that others have successfully captured and shared at...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Please Be My Valentine...

...or I might get a little squirrely* on ya. :-)

(*Not that that's a bad thing. I our squirrel friends!) :-)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A little help (?) from a friend :-)

In looking through online photos this morning of the aftermath of the northeast's monster winter storm, I fell utterly in love with this one of Lilah getting a little "help" from her friend, Willa...

Lilah Watt gets some interference from her 6-month-old puppy, Willa, 
as she shovels out from the snowstorm on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 in Montpelier, Vermont. 
(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Friday, February 8, 2013

SkyWatch Friday: January's snowy sayonara

After several days of spring-like weather, the last week of January brought a winter storm that lasted five days and gave us a little bit of everything wintery: big fluffy snowflakes, little bitty snow pellets, freezing rain and sleet, wind, fog, and a lot of cozy days for baking and reading/dozing/movie-watching by the fire. On the final night of both January and the storm, temperatures warmed quickly from single digits into the upper thirties, so that by the time the snow stopped last Friday morning, between the drifting and the melting it was hard to guess how much snow had fallen. We had drifts three feet deep, and one nearby rural neighborhood measured 18" of snow. But we think we got 8-10" here, much of which has since melted and left a slushy mess.

I took these photos from an upstairs window last Friday afternoon as the sun finally returned and the last tatters of the storm moved south over the Big Horn Mountains....


I lived in southern coastal Maine during the northeast's Blizzard of '78 (and have been through a few epic blizzards here in Wyoming) and send my heartfelt wishes for the warmth and safety of all beings in the path of Winter Storm Nemo. Please be careful, and may your skies clear soon.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Banana Coconut Muffins

Last November, my blogging buddy Jane kindly obliged my demand request for the recipe for some lovely muffins she'd taunted us with in photos. :-) I couldn't wait to make them, but wanted to eliminate the added fat, reduce the sugar and do some other, minor tweaking. Now food alchemy doesn't come naturally to me (binders, thickeners, and leaveners, oh my!) and my frugality makes me cringe at the thought of a recipe failure, limitations which often inhibit my willingness to do a lot of experimenting with recipes. But this was one of those times I was inspired to tinker more than usual and we've really been enjoying the results. If you just want the recipe version I've come up with, it can be found beneath the first muffin photo. If you want the dirty details of my Area 51 muffin experiments, read on :-) ... 


Although already vegan, the original recipe called for margarine. Since we never use added fats, my quest was to come up with a good substitute. I've always replaced oil with unsweetened applesauce in baked goods with great success, but I wasn't as confident about using it as a margarine sub. After reading several - often wildly differing - margarine substitution tips, I decided to just stick with applesauce and see how it went. The one thing every article agreed on is that every recipe is different, and experimenting with ingredients and amounts is usually required for best results. At least even the "mistakes" are tasty - it's mostly the texture you're manipulating. Anyway, though the advice often differed on the replacement ratio to use, I used what I always have - a 1:1 amount of applesauce to fat. The only thing I did differently was gently stirring the applesauce into the already-mixed liquid ingredients, based on this advice from this article:

One of the best ways to help applesauce integrate into a batter is to keep it separated until the very end. Many cooks will mix their dry ingredients separately, only adding the wet components just before baking. The longer applesauce sits in a batter, the more likely it is to grow soupy or cause separation.

I don't really know if it made a difference. I didn't do it with the first batch, which came out a bit rubbery and too dense, so it's one of the things I changed when I made the second batch. I also changed my egg substitute and baking time though, so it's hard to say what made the difference ~ but the second batch was nearly perfect. Our only issue with it was that the muffins were too sweet for us despite using unsweetened coconut. So in my third batch I reduced the amount of sugar, and since the less sugar the better, that's the amount I'll stick with. However, since the starch in bananas converts to sugars as they ripen, the ripeness of your bananas will definitely affect the sweetness of your muffins, so you may want to adjust the amount of sweetener accordingly. (I used very ripe bananas).

The original recipe called for creaming the softened margarine and sugar, which of course doesn't work with applesauce. So instead I creamed the bananas and sugar, which worked quite nicely! Smelled really good, too. Just don't expect it to get "fluffy." :-) 


As for the egg substitute, I was really leery of using the ratio of water to ground flaxseed as written in the original. Though Jane's muffins turned out fine, I'd never seen that much water (½ cup) called for before. I tried Ener-G egg replacer in my first batch, but for the second and third batches I went with the flaxseed mixture, using the more conventional measurement of 3 TBSP water to 1 TBSP ground flaxseed, with great success. I'm not done experimenting, though, as the next time I make these I want to try chickpea flour as my egg replacer (how poetic, chickpeas subbing for eggs!), having heard increasingly great things about it. By the way, since bananas and applesauce also happen to act as binders and thickeners, they too can function as egg replacers (3 TBSP of applesauce or puréed banana per egg) in baked goods like muffins or quick breads, as long as ½ tsp of baking powder is added as a leavener. So it may be that all this recipe needs as an egg replacer is three additional tablespoons of banana or applesauce and some extra baking powder. More Area 51 experimentation! Bwwwaahaha! :-)


My minor tweaks to the original recipe in all three batches consist of using the unsweetened coconut, whole wheat pastry flour, and sucanat for the sugar. And I use organic ingredients whenever possible (especially the flour, applesauce and bananas).

Some articles about subbing applesauce for fat in baked goods recommend reducing the baking time by 25%. Reducing the baking time for baked goods that replace eggs with the flaxseed mixture is also recommended, due to their faster browning time. Complicating matters, I bake using silicone muffin cups (set on a dark baking tray), and baking in silicone usually requires a few minutes of added baking time! So I set my timer for 20 minutes and checked them every minute or two using the clean toothpick method as well as the "bake until golden" rule. My first batch was over-baked at 25 minutes. My next two batches were just right at the 22 minute mark. Every oven is different, and humidity and altitude will also affect baking times, so baking for 20-25 minutes is just a guide.

Although the texture of most - though not all - oil-free vegan baked goods benefits greatly from being allowed to sit for a few hours or overnight before eating, these were just as good as soon as they'd cooled as they were two days later. They don't tend to last much beyond that at our house, so I'm having to take the recipe author's word for it that "they freeze beautifully." :-)


Banana Coconut Muffins

1¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ -   cup sucanat (adjust for ripeness of bananas and sweetness of your sweet tooth!)
2 very ripe bananas 
1 tsp vanilla
equivalent of one egg (I use 1 TBSP ground flax mixed with 3 TBSP water, whisked until thickened or microwaved on high for 20 sec)
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, divided
  • Preheat oven to 375ºF. Put liners into muffin tin. (I use silicone muffin cups placed on a baking sheet).
  • Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, cream the bananas with the sucanat. Mix in the vanilla, egg replacer, and ¾ cup of the coconut. Gently stir in the applesauce. Add the flour mixture and stir until just moistened.
  • Distribute evenly in the muffin cups (fill about ¾ full) and sprinkle the remaining coconut on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and/or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (I bake mine for about 22 minutes).
  • Makes 12 (I usually get 14).
They freeze beautifully.

(Based on a recipe from Jane at The Maple Syrup Mob)


My favorite source for both no-added fat vegan recipes and advice on fat-free substitutions and cooking techniques is Susan Voisin's FatFree Vegan Kitchen. And I also find The Sweet Life's Complete Guide to Replacing Eggs very helpful! 

If you're especially bananas over banana-y baked goodies or have additional over-ripe bananas to use up, try Susan's delicious Banana-Date-Walnut Muffin recipe, which calls for 3 very ripe bananas.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

An omen?

It's possible that this was simply a handsome raven who decided to rest on a lamp post across the street from our house yesterday...

Then again, with the Baltimore Ravens playing in today's Super Bowl, maybe it was a case of bird augury. For although both the raven and I scanned up and down the street, we didn't see any forty-niners...

I was born in Maryland and am a fan of both Poe and of ravens, but since their unforgivable trouncing of first my highly-favored Broncos and then of my highly-favored Patriots in the playoffs, I hope the Ravens win... 
Go 49'ers! :-)

Actually, I'm looking more forward to the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. 
(Go, shelter puppies!) :-) 

And, of course, to the food. The victuals. The nosh. The spreads. The snacks. The munchies. Did I mention the food
:-)
And enjoy the game!

Well, guess it was bird augury after all! That turned into an exciting game ~ congratulations to Baltimore for an impressive post-season!

Friday, February 1, 2013

SkyWatch Friday: Savoring Sunrises

Happy February!

After a mosey into the sunset last week, let's celebrate this first day of a new month with a return to our ever-dependable, beautiful sunrises...

Pretty good instructions for blogging, too! :-)

same scene - wordless version. :-)

Love those serendipitous birds!



Several months ago I read an article about the sunrise paintings of Debbie Wagner. Following a couple of brain surgeries in 2002 to remove two malignant, pear-sized brain tumors, Debbie had lost many of her abilities and as a result was unable to pursue several of her favorite activities. Though she lost her abilities to sleep through the night, multi-task, or manage complex tasks like following a recipe or plot of a novel, she instead gained heightened visual perceptiveness and an irresistible desire to express herself through painting. 

Noticing that no two sunrises are ever alike and appreciating how they represent new beginnings, Debbie began painting sunrises in December 2005, when an especially vivid, colorful sunrise left her feeling grateful for the ability to greet a new day. And she has painted the sunrise nearly every day since. How's that for following Mary Oliver's wise instructions? :-) You can read more of Debbie's story and view (and purchase) her beautiful sunrise paintings on her gallery's web site, or enjoy an interview with her and glimpse some of her paintings in this video...


Often when I share my latest sunrise photos, some people will leave comments saying they wish they were early risers so they wouldn't miss the sunrise. If you are one of those people (or are like one of those people), maybe this will help...

The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early from the wonderful blog, Zen Habits

Wakey-wakey and happy SkyWatching! :-)

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SOME CURRENT & RECENT READING...

SOME CURRENT & RECENT READING...

  • THE HUMANE GARDENER ~ Nancy Lawson
  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman
There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"