I know it’s a cliche, but: It Never Rains But It Pours

On Wednesday, when we had been dry for weeks, rain was predicted.  We had heard that before.  Just the previous day, it had rained in Madison, but not at home.  And then on Wednesday morning, rain happened again in Madison.  We got the ominous/promising clouds, but as they approached our house they parted and left us dry.  (My son said, “Kind of like a reverse Charles Addams house.”)  So when it actually did begin to rain lightly late that afternoon, I was so excited I took a picture of it raining on the grill (for contrast).  THEN  the weather radio began going off.  As it merely rained here, neighboring counties reported severe weather.  The sky became darker and darker, and then suddenly the severe weather was in our little quadrant of Dane County, and we (well, the cat and I) were heading for the basement.  For over half an hour, the storm raged and the lights flickered. Water flowed through the cracks in the 100+year-old foundation.  When it was all over the air was cool and our house was spared from the destruction of buildings we only heard about later. 

When the storm hit, dinner was in the oven.  I had decided to use the only things that we were actually getting in the garden – zucchini, basil and spinach – to make some lasagna a la my favorite recipe from Fat-Free Vegan.  I replaced the lasagna noodles with grilled zucchini, and the frozen, chopped spinach for lots and lots of steamed fresh stuff (with some chard and beet greens thrown in). By the time we got out of the basement, it was done! No photos, but very delicious. 

The next day, we went out for a walk.  Wow!  We had heard of some very heavy winds, and they did a number on the already suffering corn.

 A tree on the corner of our property had been knocked right off the bluff.  (Look in the top left corner to see where it broke off.)  A tree down the road, always interesting because it was growing right through the fence, also suffered.  But the worst on our own road was the damage to a clump of aspens I’ve always called the Three Sisters.  One had been snapped off right at the base!  With the damage to the root system, I don’t know how the other two will survive. It’s very sad. 

In other, happier news, we made some delicious biscuits using Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Biscuit Mix.  It is sooooo easy….

This morning it is raining gently.  Who knows whether the drought is over, but the damage has been done.  I guess we’ll just have to see. 

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My Family is a Venn Diagram

I’m a vegan, and currently gluten-free.  (Maybe forever, who can tell?  So far it’s working pretty well.)  My son, who had gone over to the dark side (eating meat although raised vegetarian) is gluten-free.  Husband, with no allergies to anything, is an ovo-lacto vegetarian.  But we are all eating gluten-free-vegan meals most of the time, because guess who does the cooking?  Mwa-ha-ha, resistance is futile…..

First you grill them….

For example, here are some recent successful meals:  The first is the most delicious of all.  I subscribe to some Vegetarian Times recipes, and the other day one popped into my inbox that couldn’t have been more timely – the rabbits and raccoons have been leaving the zucchini, parsley and basil alone, so we had most of the ingredients.  It was only in the 80’s that day, so not a burden to grill the vegetables. 

…then you chop them and tossed with a balsamic vinegar reduction…

Sometimes I look at many versions of the same recipe.  So it was with Pad Thai.  This is a dish that can be gluten-free but isn’t vegetarian because of the fish sauce, so not a good candidate for restaurant fare.  I studied many recipes and used what I had around the house to make something we liked very much.  (And a good thing, too, because it made a LOT!)

Finally, it was hot again today.  REALLY hot, as in over 100F.  I’d been wanting to bake bread, but didn’t want to heat up the kitchen.  Therefore, I amalgamated several bread-machine recipes for yeasted gluten-free bread.  IT WORKED!  I was so excited, I made us grilled cheese sandwiches (with Daiya), something I hadn’t had in a very long time.

mmmmmm…..

 On the side: sauteed Bok Choy.  The stalks are fine, but the leaves ultra-lacy as they’ve been attacked by something winged – not all our varmints have four legs!

In other news, Chinese is hard.  But fun.  

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Drought, and varmints

This weather is really taking its toll on the yard and garden.  The lawn is dead (upside = not having to mow).  

Somehow these are blooming….

Theses asters should not have opened until August.

The weeping willow does NOT like this drought.

The asparagus was done anyway.

The black-caps are mainly small and seedy, if there are any at all.  Most days, there are only a few good ones surrounded by stunted coulda-been berries. 

The garden is suffering, and not just from the heat (106 last week, and definitely in the 80’s and 90’s F since).  We are also the target of raccoons and rabbits.  Although we were happy to harvest a few heads of broccoli, and the zucchini seems rabbit-proof, we can’t say the same for the kale (all gone) and the rest of the broccoli – so far!  I’m worried about the sweet corn, because we (and by we, I mean my husband) caught a raccoon in the rabbit trap yesterday.  I know how raccoons love sweet corn!  And despite the Elmer Fudd attitude we immediately adopt when we see the garden damage, the trapped animals are LET GO, ok?  We’re vegetarians, after all!

For some reason, Spotty LOVES it when it’s hot out.  She goes to sleep under the grill, which has to be super hot (like a black tent!) down there.  Here I have forced her to drink a little water…..

I KNOW I shouldn’t complain too much – Wisconsin’s farmers are experiencing total crop loss.  For example, the feed-corn is completely stunted.  Have you ever seen such pathetic plants?

Totally deformed.

Welcome to our new quote: Shhhh!  I’m hunting wabbits!

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The Cheapskates go to Chicago…

…and they have a great time!

We wanted to go to Chicago without spending an arm and a leg.  Although we’d agreed that it would be “fine” to “spend money” on our vacation, in the end we didn’t spend too much, and we still enjoyed ourselves a lot.  

Chicago Getaway Hostel, in the fashionable Lincoln Park neighborhood!

Step 1 was finding a place to stay.  After considering all modes of transportation, we decided to drive to Chicago.  But – what to do with the car?  Parking is expensive downtown, and even some of the nicest hotels charge for parking.  We could have stayed outside of Chicago (way out) and taken public transportation in, but we wanted to be right in the city.  We just didn’t want to pay city hotel prices.  Therefore, we booked a “deluxe” private room in a hostel (meaning, it had a toilet/sink, but a shared bath for showering).  Chicago Getaway Hostel was without a doubt the best hostel we have EVER stayed in.  It is well organized and run, immaculate, roomy, friendly, and overflowing with amenities.  For instance, in addition to computers in the common area, you could check out an iPad “if you want a little more privacy.”  They have guitars you can play, games both electronic and board-variety, a huge flat-screened TV, a grill  in case you want to grill out, and an enormous kitchen with large coolers and freezers for your food.  (They also provide separate bins for each guest to store their food.)  To top it all off, they offer breakfast – included!  This was all vegetarian, and could be vegan with the addition of your own soymilk.  They had hot oatmeal, cold cereal, bread and bagels, and fruit.  I showed up with my Trader Joe’s gluten-free granola and a bottle of soymilk, rice cakes and my own peanut butter, but I did enjoy the raisins and fruit 🙂  And tea.  Best of all, we were able to park in their lot for less than it would have cost at commercial lots in the neighborhood.  No, I take that back.  Best of all was when they gave me another towel when I asked.  (A year ago, in a Chinese hostel, the night clerk, who spoke no English, had a different response to that same request.  She picked up the phone and called (her manager? the custodial staff) and said, “The foreigner wants a towel.”  Then she charged us for it.)

Step 2 was deciding what to do with our time.  On our first day, we wanted to walk to the lake, and then down through Lincoln Park and the nature center, and then head over to Millennium Park.  These were all places we’d never been, and it was all quite walkable. The only hitch was that we are in the middle of a heat wave, so we needed frequent hydration/shade stops.  We’re not too big on zoos, but it was on the way, so we just walked through. I had scoped out as many restaurants as I could, beforehand, in as many neighborhoods that I thought we might visit, and between the parks there was a restaurant that claimed to offer both vegan and gluten-free food. This was Karyn’s Cooked.   (She has a raw bar too!)I had never heard of it, but apparently there are three venues and we just got lucky to find this one!  It turns out to be ALL vegan, with many gluten-free items.  In fact, there were so many choices that I dithered over the menu forever.  In the end, it was just too hot for anything really cooked anyway. I had to say no to the lentil “meatballs” on gluten-free pasta, and the stuffed eggplant, and the mac and cheese, and get a salad.  It was a delicious salad, with grilled tempeh and hemp seeds!  This is an amazing place, and I can’t wait to go back again. 

Fortified with our salads and agave-sweetened lemonade, we continued south to Millennium Park.  By then it was 94 in the shade, and we sure wished we could join the kids frolicking in the fountains!  As it was, we were close enough to get the spray….

Get ready – she’s going to aim at YOU!

Wouldn’t you like to be in that as well?

This guy does it too.

At the Cloud Pavilion, you are supposed to admire the Chicago skyline reflected in the glossy surface.  Or yourself, really.

Can you spot us?

Despite having gone to the actual China, we have never been to Chinatown, and we wanted to go.  That was another few miles south… with another few breaks for water and juice…. but we certainly knew when we’d arrived!

Welcome to Walgreens!

This is a replica of the Nine Dragon Wall in Beijing.

Of course, I am a pig. Can you tell how hot I am?

I am married to a tiger.

Again, I had searched the internet for vegan-friendly Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, and there were two that got great reviews on Yelp!  However, in the same neighborhood, we found one that was very comfortable, very authentic (i.e. offering stuff like pigs-blood congee, and other stuff I would never eat), and very delicious.  And inexpensive.  This was Chi Cafe.  We were still kind of full from lunch, but couldn’t resist ordering braised mushrooms and tofu, and garlic spinach.  We had a lot of leftovers, which we ate for lunch today…. mmmmm…

After dinner it was time to head back to the ranch.  After walking at least ten miles in the heat, we didn’t have anything to prove… so we took the CTA.  As the sun set over Chinatown, we reflected on how well everything had gone.

And there’s some of Chicago….

This morning, we got up and ate the aforementioned breakfast, walked down to the lake, realized that it was already 95 at 10:00 a.m., and had to make a decision.  Head somewhere air-conditioned for the day?  Or just head home and get ready for tomorrow, and the next step of our vacation week?  “Home” won, and we were pretty glad, because the temps rose over the 100 mark.  Chicago was fun, and we’d like to go back when the highs and lows are slightly more reasonable. In the meantime, we have the memories! 

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The Garden in Drought – and Weeds

It’s been days, maybe weeks, since it really rained.  This is taking a toll on the garden.  So are moles (tunneling under plants and leaving the earth ready to collapse), and nameless bugs eating delicate leaves.  Nevertheless, the weeds are thriving.

How ’bout this rurally evocative scene?

Spinach.  See how parched the ground is?

Broccoli!

Carrots.

Kale.

Pepper.

Something’s eating the Bok Choy!

Squash.

Something’s eating the eggplant too.

Flowers are on their way!

At least the tomatoes are growing!

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Claire Dreams of Sushi

Just not the fish kind!  

Last week my son and I wanted to buy sushi/nori rolls at Whole Foods Market, but we weren’t convinced they were gluten-free.  (It turns out the rolls themselves are, although the tamari in the packet is not.)  This left me wanting to make my own, something I have never done.  How hard could it be……?  After consulting several websites, and watching a tutorial, I was ready to begin.  But wait – I had no bamboo sushi rolling mat.  Or did I?  In the back of my mind, I recalled a present I’d received from a Thai exchange student several years ago.  She was in my class for six weeks, and during that time her stilted textbook English got a workout through immersion with 24 native speakers.  By the end of her tenure, I counted her as a success story when she clasped her hands and squealed, “OMG!!!” with the other girls while on a field trip.  The gift she gave me was a too-pretty-to-use chopstick/bamboo placemat/dipping bowl set for four.  Thanks to Pearl, I was all set!  (Following directions from one website, I did cover the placemat with plastic wrap to keep it from gumming up with rice.)

Is this just too cute, or what?

Of course, as I rapidly learned, there is no substitute for hands-on experience.  I’m a teacher; I should know we learn best by doing.  In any case, it was a learning curve for sure.  The first rolls were too loose and lumpy.  I’m sure they taste fine, however, and we’re going to eat them for dinner.  The prettiest ones I put into a container to bring to a friend’s summer solstice party tomorrow.  (She always has a winter one as well; this one will be out at her farm, and we’ll camp overnight!)  

Everything I need…..

Ready to roll..

Saving THESE for the potluck!

I want to be sure we have plenty to eat – at potlucks, I never want to feel underrepresented, and because I usually am, I try to make great stuff so I have plenty of choices.  Therefore, I’m also going to make some bean salad, and I used this recipe, a sample from The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Bread to make some banana bread.  I am totally set, don’t you think?

Looks great, no?

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Besides the Vegan and the Gluten-Free, What Else Do We Need to Consider?

The heat, of course!  It’s really, really hot.  Waaaay too hot to stand in front of a grill.  Debatable about the oven, although we did bake some “flatbread” yesterday evening, from my favorite Mark Bittman recipe.  (It uses chickpea flour – “besan.”)

I made bean salad and asparagus vinaigrette too.

This evening it was “arepas.”  This is something our Spanish teacher used to make with the class and they LOVED it.  Basically, you use roughly equal amounts of Masarepa flour (cornmeal, but specially marked package) and water, with a little salt and oil.  Knead it a bunch and make little cakes.  Bake them on a griddle.  Shown here both with and without cheese because my husband thought his looked just as cute. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a sandwich made with my home-made hummus, baked tofu, and avocado and tomato on an Udi’s gluten-free bagel.  Shoulda had a pickle. 

Finally, the first black-caps are coming in…. because of our drought, they are tiny, crunchy/seedy, and few.  That makes us appreciate them that much more.  Shown here with Claudia’s granola, which I am going to have to give up, probably, and replace with some gluten-free oats.  I just haven’t done it yet……

Speaking of Claudia, check out this AWESOME birthday present she gave me! Actually, it was in two parts.  The first was locally grown peppermint tea, in hand-sewn teabags!

The second is something I’ve been coveting every time I see my students haul out their lunches at school – a stainless steel “tiffin” from To-Go Ware.  Here shown with its own little insulating carry sack!  Now I can’t wait for school to start up again.  Um, that’s not completely true, but I CAN use it beforehand!  Thanks, Claudia!

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