Sunday, August 14, 2011

So many things have happened this year, we've had a hard time keeping up with it all. After the long, hard winter in the house without chicken friends after June and Rose passed away, Sara now has new companions, Emily and Anne Bronte, named after my beloved Bronte sisters. They came from Heartland Farm Sanctuary, which had just rescued ten hens when a man who'd kept chickens as companions for years was forced to give them up due to illness.
Emily, who looks part condor and sounds like a guinea hen) quickly became Sara's "second in command," but she's much more timid than her sister, Anne, who is very friendly and curious about any type of human activity. Both Emily and Anne have become much less shy of humans since they arrived in late March. All three girls accompany us around the yard while we search the grapes, hazelnuts and willows for Japanese beetles for them, and the rest of the time, enjoy their fruit and veggie treats and the yard's many plants and bugs. (Fallen raspberries and chickweed blossoms, yum!!) They love to explore their yard and dustbathe in the sun. When it's too hot, they hide in the raspberry bushes. All three are full of life and ready to enjoy all the pleasures their world has to offer them.

Looks like we traded Charm and Peridot in on a pair of rare Siamese twin rabbits, doesn't it? Our little moon rabbits are doing well, love each other dearly, and are teaching us patience and the ways of the rabbit. Pinecone bowling is a favorite pasttime. (Gotta get a video of that!)

On a very hot day in late May, there was a block party on our street for the first time since we moved here in 2003, with the youngest attendee, Zoe at age 2 months, and the oldest, Dave at...well, he's retired, anyway! It was great to hang out with all our neighbors and get to meet new ones, too. The first "Bike the Drive" of the year was a great success, again. Some of the biggest streets in Madison were closed to motor traffic, and we joined friends Jenny, Chandi, Terese, Rob, Kenny and Steve's cousin Matt with thousands of others, riding our bikes for several hours on another very hot day on downtown streets that are normally full of cars. Picking flowers from the median of a 45 mph semi-highway---FUN! From there, we headed back to our own neighborhood to "Boombox the Wasteland," a sort of reclaiming event for some industrial and commercial land that was cleared for "development" but has stood idle for years now. WORT 89.9FM broadcast the event live all afternoon, and the hundreds of boomboxes folks brought along sang out while we danced, mingled and shared free food and created spray-paint artwork together. Naturally, we brought our solar-powered boombox!
In late July, Steve installed a beautiful, energy-efficient front door (our old one was leaking air badly) that he got for $70 because it had a "ding" in it And we travelled to Omaha to see Andy and attend a Briggs family reunion up in Walthill, hosted by my sweet, smart cousin Christine and her equally wonderful husband Doug. (The best photo of the reunion, unfortunately, is of the oldest member of the family, this old Model A---or was it T?---circa 1935, that Doug still drives in parades!)

Never seen the Missouri River in flood stage like it is now! Andy and I are standing at what *shouldn't* be the river's edge, looking at what is usually the patio seating at the boathouse bar/restaurant where he hangs out with his friend Jim. (Jim's motorcycle is almost as cool as Andy's, which is gold instead of burgundy.) Andy and Jim rode up to Storm Lake, Iowa, a few hundred mile round trip, just a few weeks before this---and Andy will be 87 in November!

Friends Frances and Alan generously put us up in their beautiful cohousing home while were there, and we even got to join them for a (nearly vegan) dinner they hosted for some of new UU friends, who are now our friends, too.

The protests continue, of course, although the crowds and frequency have dwindled. We attend the Singalongs at the Capitol as often as we can, and Steve has helped with phone calls, while our friends Susan, Bryan and Linda have travelled around the state going door-to-door. It's far from over, and we're in it for the long haul.

And here's our backyard's newest resident, sleeping in a shady, cool spot on top of the rain barrel!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Ultimate Vegan Reuben Sandwich and Some Personal and Omaha History

The last time I ever saw my mother alive was in February 2008, about a month before she passed. She was sitting on the living room couch, dressed in her best black pantsuit and a pink scarf I’d given her earlier that day, biting into a dripping vegan Reuben sandwich, murmuring, "Ohhhh, this is sooo good!" and rolling her eyes in appreciative culinary ecstasy. She had just gotten out of the hospital and was so happy to be home with my stepfather Andy, and eating well again. That it was a Reuben sandwich was not really by chance, because we’re from Omaha, Nebraska, and, according to Omaha legend, the Reuben sandwich was created there early in the last century, at the Blackstone Hotel.

There has always been some historical debate about this, though. Some say the Reuben was invented in New York City. (I tend to hold with the Omaha version, not just because I’m an Omahan, but also because the niece of a famous Blackstone chef once rented a room from my mother, and assured us that the old story was true.) You can read more about the controversy and see a very retro menu from the Blackstone at the Nebraska State Historical Society’s "Weird Nebraska" website.

When I was a child in the 1960s and 70s, my mother and I would frequently find ourselves at the Blackstone's Golden Spur Grill after a winter's evening at the symphony, opera, or ballet, most often ordering the original (translated as: poor dead cow) version of the Reuben. In those days, my mother would have gone out of the house in curlers or (horror of horrors) blue jeans before she would have worn warm, sensible clothing for an evening out, so we shivered all evening in our too-thin dressy clothes. In those days, too, we would have thought ourselves deprived if we hadn’t eaten meat (read: some poor dead animal or another) at least twice a day. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, after my mother founded an animal rescue group that became an animal rights group, as well, and we had both had had our "and then it hit me" moments, realizing that not only the lives of puppies and kittens are important, but those of all animals. We both went veggie/vegan, and the old Reuben sandwich became a thing of the past.

We were always trying to come up with the best vegan version we could, and while the vegan Reuben my mother was so happily gobbling up that cold February night was a good one, the recipe below that I’ve just found comes the closest to duplicating that authentic, tangy Reuben taste of any recipe or version of the sandwich that I've tried. (And you don't even need Swiss shreez!) The (somewhat edited) recipe and the photo comes from a wonderful blog called Allison's Gourmet so please visit there for more yummy recipes.) Steve and I made these sandwiches for dinner on Friday, sans avocado, and we both thought they were really and truly right up there among the best sandwiches we've ever had, as Allison says, and they weren't alot of work, either. So, my quest for an authentic-tasting vegan Reuben sandwich is over. I just wish my mother was still here to enjoy one, too.

Onto the recipe...

Here’s what you need to make these delicious grilled vegan tempeh reuben sandwiches...
(Makes 4 sandwiches):

3 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil, divided use
8 ounce block of tempeh, sliced into 8 large, 1/8-inch thick strips
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
3/4 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup water
8 slices bread (any kind of whole-grain bread will work, but it's best on rye)
2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated, non-dairy margarine (Earth Balance recommended)
Vegan Thousand Island Dressing (SEE RECIPE BELOW)
1 cup sauerkraut, drained
2 avocados, mashed or sliced (Optional---sandwiches are excellent even without the avocados)

1) In a large saute pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons sunflower oil and tempeh, browning tempeh on each side. Remove tempeh from the pan and set aside.

2) Add remaining oil and onion. Brown for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Return tempeh to the pan (leaving the onions in), and stir in garlic, bay leaves, paprika, caraway, dill, salt, vinegar, tamari, and black pepper. Add water and simmer for 30 minutes or until the water has evaporated and tempeh is infused with flavor and coated with a glaze. Remove bay leaves.

While the tempeh is sautéing, you will have plenty of time to prepare the Thousand Island Dressing: In a small bowl combine the following ingredients: 1/3 cup vegan mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons ketchup, and 3 tablespoons dill pickles, chopped. (I used sweet pickle relish, actually, and it tasted great.)

3) Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Spread two slices of bread with margarine. Grill for 3 minutes, until browned on one side only. Repeat for the remaining slices of bread.

4) Between the ungrilled sides of two pieces of toast, layer Thousand Island Dressing, sauerkraut, 2 pieces of tempeh, onions, and avocado. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

This is Natasha, watching over her little brother Sergei, on one of their favorite boxes. You would probably not even think of eating either of them, so please, don't eat beautiful, soft-eyed cows, either. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Union Busting Protest

Here's what we've been doing this week: Participating in the recent protests in downtown Madison against our Governor's attempts to strip our public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. Steve shot this footage, and you can see me a few times in my "wear red to support public ed" sweater.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Charm and Peridot Are Here!

We adopted Charm (on the left) and Peridot from the Humane Society the day before New Year's Eve. Seemed like it would be better to have more than one rabbit, and we were really lucky to find such a closely bonded pair. No need to see how they get along---they already love each other! Peridot is Charm's son, and he was just born on August 5th, thus his nickname, for the birthstone of August. That's also Steve's birthstone. The Humane Society staff weren't sure how old Charm is, since she was a stray, but she seems young. We had also met Opal and Gem, another son and daughter of Charm's (she had four babies, though, and we don't know what the other one's name was), but before we could make up our minds, Opal and Gem were adopted, which was actually great news! As an adolescent, Peridot is very active, more so than Charm, and more of a chewer than he hopefully will be as he gets older. The upholstered blue chair that was in the study had to be removed since he found it tasty (the upholstery itself, not the wood). They spend any hours that we are at work or asleep their very large cage, and are out the rest of the time. They snuggle quite alot and groom each other. Of course, they are both fixed, so there's no worrying about baby bunnies.

Can't tell yet if they are going to be more friendly as they get to know us better, never having had rabbits before. They are so different from cats! You can't just scoop them up and cuddle them, or expect them to come and lie on your lap, either. We haven't even tried to pick them up yet. They don't mind us petting them, but not for very long, and they seem scared sometimes, when we do pet them, so we don't push the issue. So far, they just want to hang out in their one room, the study, which is now half theirs. In our small house, this is quite a bit of space to give up, especially since Sara is still inside in our living room until spring, but eventually, they will come out into the rest of the house, and then we can use the study for other pursuits again. (I guess the blue chair will have to go, though!)

We have found that they both love apples, hay and pellets, but neither of them is that crazy about vegetables. One night, they will eat whatever I put down, and then the next, they ignore it. Kale is not acceptable, ever. Cilantro and red leaf lettuce, sometimes. Dandelion greens and carrot greens are acceptable half the time. Cannned pumpkin was nixed. Carrots are okay sometimes---so much for that stereotyp! Basil is a favorite, but after I gave them about half of Steve's frozen-fresh basil he grew this summer, he put the kibosh on that, and I haven't yet seen any at the co-op. We'll be able to grow them anything pretty soon, but spring is a long way away. Still, despite the fact that we're feeding them greens in the middle of winter that came from who-knows-where, in some cases, feeding them is still using fewer resources than feeding our cats meat, local or otherwise. Charm and Peridot are pretty good about using their litterbox, or at least just the cage.

Red-eyed rabbits are harder to adopt out, we've been told, because some people are freaked out by those eyes, and at first, we thought we might be, too. But we pretty quickly started to think that they are actually pretty interesting, just different. Both these little ones definitely have as much expression in their eyes as any other creature we've known. Their red eyes aren't exactly the same, either. Charm is so cute; she looks like a koala, with her dark brown nose and moustache. Peridot's father must have been a larger rabbit; his head is larger and even his face is shaped differently than his mother's. He loves his set of hard plastic baby keys, and tosses them around a bit. He's more of a chewer, and Charm is more of a digger, but they both love gnawing on the willow twigs Steve tromped out into the snow to cut for them, and they demolished a basket we gave them in a few days. Their tunnel is a big favorite, too. (I'll post photos of that, too, once I get some good ones.)

Natasha, unfortunately, is terrified of them, even after a month, but Sergei doesn't mind them at all. They haven't really realized Sara is in the next room yet; they can probably see and hear her, but don't seem curious yet, anyway. We're really hoping that Tasha will get over her fear of them, soon, because the study used to be her favorite room. Here's Sergei not minding Sara checking out the living room. He's such a sweet, mellow boy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Goodbye to our Sleepy-Eyed Rose (March 22, 2007 - January 21, 2011)

Losing June last November was difficult, but we certainly didn't expect that we'd be going through this again less than three months later. Our other little red hen, Rose passed away Friday morning. She would have been four years old in March. Rose died of the same infection that took her sister June. So-called "laying" hens are prone to uterine prolapse since they are bred for maximum egg production, but the vet told us these Fallopian tube infections are also pretty common among chickens, too. Last spring, Rose was showing symptoms, but antibiotic treatment was successful, so that she was strong and vital all summer and through the winter holidays. This time, though, the medicines that we gave her after bringing her and Sara inside our warm house weren't enough.

Rose was Sleepy-Eyed Rose sometimes because her right eye was often not quite open. Like all of our chickens, she quickly learned to recognize us and our voices and her own name, or names, I should say, because we called June "Moon in June," and Sara is sometimes Sara Sarasen (for no particular reason), but Rose had several names, responding to Rose-is-Rose, Rosalinda, and Rosie, as well as Sleepy-Eyed Rose, by cocking her head, chittering and twirping.

Rose's favorite treats, bar none, were bread and tomatoes; she would pick those out of a dozen other treats and race off to gobble them down. No piece of bread was too large for Rose, and two weeks before she died, she made her last little flight from the top of the ladder in the coop to get some bread that she saw in my hand. She also loved raspberries, sunflower seeds and kale. As the omega chicken, i.e., third in line out of three, Rose knew her place, and accepted it humbly. June was always her good buddy. Chickens maintain a social order in which every member of the flock has a place and finds a place. At night, Rose and June roosted together on a shelf up in the coop's heated bedroom, and Sara took the perch. These groupings were somewhat, but by no means, rigidly territorial, and they shared the yard the same way. The day's chosen dustbathing spot was first used by Sara, and then Rose and June would roll ecstatically together, sometimes on their backs, pecking at bugs in the dirt, and raking in particles of earth with their beaks. Having come from to us originally from a rather barren coop without hay, and with only a packed, bare dirt run to explore, it was maybe the first chance they had ever had to search for bugs and eat green plants. They would all bask in the sun, their eyes closed, and stretch out their legs, obviously relishing their freedom. Rose and June enjoyed being together, and they would sometimes preen each other.Rose was usually the first one to notice anything out of the ordinary in the yard, and was the first at the door of the coop to come outside, often jumping up several feet into the air and excitedly flapping her wings. Always shy, perhaps due to rough handling, perhaps just due to her own inherent personality, Rose was bolder with June at her side. I will never forget the sight of Rose and June running towards us through the muddy yard with boots of mud clinging to their feet so that they rocked from side to side and lifted their feet extra high.

Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns writes, "If there is one trait above all that leaps to my mind in thinking about chickens when they are enjoying their lives and pursuing their own interests, it is cheerfulness. Chickens are cheerful birds, quite vocally so, and when they are dispirited and oppressed, their entire being expresses this state of affairs as well. The fact that chickens become lethargic in continuously barren environments, instead of proving that they are stupid or impassive by nature, shows how sensitive these birds are to their surroundings, deprivations and prospects. Likewise, when chickens are happy, their sense of wellbeing resonates unmistakably."

Rest in peace, Rose, cheerful, shy, sensitive girl. We love you, and will always miss you.