When the Circus Comes to Town.

, 03 April 2013 8:15 PM

It's springtime in Pennsylvania.

The birds have returned to their morning singing rituals, garden preparations have begun, and our cherry blossom tree is budding.

I love spring. I love spring as it brings hope for new life and warmer weather. I love spring because it brings the smell of fresh dirt. I love spring because it's not winter.

If you live in my hometown, spring also means the return of the Irem Shrine Circus.

As a child, the arrival of the circus was a big deal. Popcorn, candy apples, inflatable guitars, and those magical yo-yo things that roll over a metal hook without falling off. The circus is at the local armory, and I remember it being big, exciting, and magical.

And then there were the animals.


As a kid, you don't really have much interest in the human acts. Trapeze artists are all well and good, clowns too, but every child wants to marvel at the majestic elephants and the graceful tigers.

I was no exception. I'm a third generation elephant lover, so I waited anxiously for those beautiful beasts to march into the ring. I squeeled in delight as they spun in circles, danced in a conga line, and held poses that seemed to defy the laws of physics for a six ton creature—it was all so incredible.

When I moved back to Pennsylvania over five years ago, I took my oldest—at that time he was an awestruck two-year-old—to the circus. I wanted to instil the same sense of wonder in his little heart. We were going to see the elephants. 

Instead of feeling joyful, I felt this strange sense of remorse in that audience. The armory seemed darker and dirtier than I remembered. The sound system was crackly and too loud to be distinguishable. The acts were hard to see no matter where we sat. The floor was sticky. It smelled.

And then there were the animals.


Nothing could have prepared me for watching the once highly anticipated animals as they performed for the hundreds of eyes that waited. I suddenly understood where the sense of unease was coming from: this wasn't a show to laugh and applaud, this was a sad display of abuse.

A tiger waiting to perform paced mindlessly in his small cage during intermission, stopping only once to turn its backside to the gathered, gawking children and spray. During the performance, it jumped through hoops and over hurdles while whips cracked and the audience roared.  

When it was time for the pachyderms, I watched in disbelief. Maybe it was my childhood memory distoring reality, but I remembered several elephants—now, a single elephant performed for restless, screaming children and their annoyed parents.

It was all so sad.

It was all so unnatural and cruel

We haven't returned to the circus since that year, and I don't anticipate that changing. During my son's kindergarten year he was invited on a school trip to the circus. I checked the "will not be attending" box and spent an anti-circus day with him instead. We skipped school, went out for lunch, went to the park, and blew money in an arcade.

We talked at length about the treatment of the animals, what it takes to train (or break) an animal for performance purposes, and why our opting out was an important step in raising awareness for these poor creatures.

Every dollar spent is a vote cast, and I won't raise my children to believe that animal cruelty is money well spent.

Please join our family and boycott circuses that use animals.

Spaghetti and Neatballs.

, 01 April 2013 3:45 PM


 Sometimes you just want a classic.

Growing up, spaghetti and meatballs were a celebrated dish. This dish was easy, safe and it was always delicious.

Today, ground beef is not on the menu, so I took on the task of recreating meatballs without the meat. We call them "neatballs" in our house, and they've dethroned the classic for a healthier, compassionate version.

Though I try to avoid it in recipes whenever possible, I did use oil to pan fry the neatballs. I'm sure you could bake them for an even cleaner version. If you are going to fry them like I did, choose an oil that can withstand high heat. I used grapeseed, but other options are sesame, canola, and safflower. Sadly, olive oil is NOT a good choice for high heat.




 To prepare the neatballs you will need:
  • 1 (15oz) can of black beans, drained & rinsed
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil, divided 
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c shitake mushrooms, diced 
  • 1/4 c walnuts, chopped
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp multi-purpose flour (I used Bob's Red Mill for a gluten free mix)
  • salt to taste

Add 1tbsp of grapeseed oil to a pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent—about 5 minutes. Add your mushroom, walnuts, and a pinch of salt. Continue to cook another 5 minutes until mushrooms have softened. Empty mixture into a large mixing bowl.

Pulse black beans in a food processor until broken loosely apart (NOT mashed). Add beans to the mixing bowl.

Add nutrition yeast, onion powder and flour to the bowl, mix until combined. Do not over mix.

Using your hands, roll out individual balls and set aside on a plate to rest.

In a saute pan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Place the neatballs into the pan. Cook evenly on all sides—2-3 minutes each side. Remove from heat and let cool for 3-5 minutes before serving.

Serve with your favorite pasta and sauce. Bon Appetit.

Curried Cauliflower & Cabbage Soup.

, 24 March 2013 9:20 PM


I made a batch of halushki a few nights ago that was sub-par.

Sub-par is kind. The dish sucked.

The following night I experimented with a cauliflower soup. The soup, happily, did not suck; but, I made a risky move and added curry powder to the batch.

Curry powder usually makes my children whimper in agony because it's soooo hot.

Solution: to texture soup and to distract from the (very) mild heat, I decided to combine the cabbage and onion mixture from the halushki into the soup.

In the true spirit of Easter, my halushki was resurrected from the dead—making this a soup I will recreate in the future.

A happy accident, and a successful dish. I call this a win.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 head purple cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 apple, peeled and diced
  • 1 head cauliflower, cubed
  • 1 1/2 tbsp curry powder
  • 4 c vegetable stock
  • 1 c water
  • salt 
  • optional: noodles

Put 2 tbsp of water in a large pot over med-high heat. Add the onion, garlic (2 cloves), and apple and saute for 5-10 minutes until the onion becomes soft and translucent. Add the curry powder and a sprinkle of salt, stir until the ingredients are coated.  

Cook for a minute or two before adding the cauliflower, veggie stock, and cup of water. Once the liquid boils, cover, reduce to a simmer, and set a timer for 30minutes.

While the cauliflower cooks, add the coconut oil to a large pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the remaining 2 cloves of garlic and the red onion. Cook until the onion softens (about 5 minutes), stirring often. Add the cabbage and a sprinkle of salt. Continue to cook until softened (about 20 minutes), and put aside.

When the cauliflower is finished, allow the mixture to cool for 15 minutes before transferring to a blender to puree.

To serve, ladle the curried soup over the cabbage mixture and enjoy hot.


I decided to put my life on a chart.

, 18 March 2013 3:44 PM


I recently decided I need to overhaul my life. 


Not a new man or career,  but I saw the need to do better with the life I have in front of me. I feel as though I’ve barely scraped by— I've had just enough energy necessary to "manage things." I'm doing a lot, but I don't think I'm doing anything particularly well.

I was lost in the grind, constantly backtracking and skipping to different tasks, terrified I would forget something. To date, I have not forgotten to pick my child up from school, so I'd like to at least congratulate myself on that much.

At the end of my day, when I’m sitting on the couch in a stupefied state looking around at my sometimes-spotless living room, I think to myself “what the hell happened? where did the day go? and why don’t I feel like I’ve accomplished anything?”

Things to know about me: lupus really kicks my ass some days. Some days I think I’m superwoman, but on more days than I’d prefer I’m wincing through waking hours with creaky joints. On these days, I try to keep as busy as possible. Moving and doing keeps me distracted from all my lame whine-worthy issues. Moving keeps things looser than not moving. Staying in one place—as tempting as it may be—is a death sentence for mobility when you're battling arthritis pangs.

You can’t move if you don’t move, it’s as simple as that.

In the midst of my "I have to make things happen and get things done" mentality, I often spread myself too thin. Alright, way too thin. I schedule myself for 30 hours of activity in a 24 hour period. It can be ridiculous and is generally a really, really bad idea. I'd consider it extra stupid for someone who can exacerbate her symptoms with unnecessary stress.

Guilty. As. Charged.

So, I've spent the last few weeks organizing the shit out of my life, and I started in my favorite place: lists.


I'm a bone fide list-lover.

I find few things more rewarding than crossing things off of a list, a list I've carefully crafted to maximize my time while conscious, even semi-conscious. I love crossing things off my list so much that I will add things to my list after I've completed them, just so they're there, documented, looking back at me saying, "way to go kid, you did it."

But now... I have charts. I have a master chart for every area of my life, including the people in it.

My children have been assigned chores, even the toddler, and we can refer to their individualized tasks every day. I created a chart for household duties on which I map out garbage days, vacuuming days, laundry days etc. I made a chart that prioritizes acts of self-preservation like yoga, exercise, and meditation, and I created a chart that details my social media, writing, and editing duties for my blog and elephantjournal.com.

When I was finished, before that joyful moment when I hit "print," I marveled at the organizational bad-assery I had just whipped up. My life was going to be a breeze after this.

I printed them and spread them out over my bed to review one final time. Looking around at all those little X's, all those chores in neat little rows, I could feel my breath quickening and my heart sinking. Is this it? All these mundane tasks every waking moment of my little life? Can I accomplish all of this and still claim any shadow of a "real" life?


Fuck.

The unforeseen issue with this epic list-making extravaganza was staring, unblinkingly, at all the things I apparently achieve in my week. Before the charts I had no idea how much I was doing. It's a lot. Instead, I'd forge ahead with each day, ambivalent to the weight of it all, only noticing an actual problem when the walls of the house occasionally closed in on me.

I'd like to attribute this "forging ahead" to living with mindful intention, but there was nothing mindful about my daily life.

I've recovered from the shock of seeing my life within the confines of parallel rows and columns.

I may tweak my method after we've tried the charts for a little while, but overall, each day seems to be in order, at least a little more, because I have a guide to work from. I know where I'm supposed to be—all this without talking out loud to myself in an exasperated tone. Even the kids are willingly engaging in chores because they have ownership over them—the tasks are on "their" chart.

Here's hoping that I've made a good self-management move; I'll be sure to inform you if there's a ceremonial chart-burning in the future. 




Sweet Potato & Coconut Soup.

, 11 March 2013 6:59 PM


My dad knows how much I love soup, so when he passed along a promising almost-vegetarian recipe, I got to work making some vegan-friendly changes. 

Obviously I haven’t tasted the non-veg version, but I can assure you that mine is significantly tastier.

Ingredients:
  • 1 sm red onion
  • 1 ½ inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4c vegetable stock
  • 1c water
  • 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 (14oz) can of coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp real maple syrup
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • salt to taste

Add a splash of vegetable stock to the bottom of a soup pot (enough to thinly coat) over medium heat.

Once the stock is hot (tiny, energetic bubbles mean it’s ready) add your onion and ginger. Cook for about five minutes until the onion softens, stirring often.

Add your remaining stock and water; bring to a boil. Add your sweet potato to the pot, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes.

When your potatoes are softened, remove the pot from the heat and let rest for about 15 minutes.

Transfer your mixture to a blender (you may have to do this in stages) and puree until smooth. Return the puree to the pot. With a whisk, combine your coconut milk, maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt with the puree.

Soup’s on!

Wheezy Cheesy Kale Casserole

, 24 February 2013 8:55 PM

I asked my kids to help me name this dish. 

Jameson, our three year old, came up with “poop” as it has been a real interest of his lately, so I’m going with the much less offensive seven year old suggestion, “wheezy cheesy casserole,” and adding “kale” for good measure.

This dish, while daunting at first glance, is very easy to make.

Plus, it has vegan ricotta, so any and all effort is worth it in the end. In addition to the homemade ricotta, I sprinkled a layer of vegan cheddar shredded cheese (I used daiya). 

Wheezy cheesy, just like Xavy said.

There are three elements to the dish: the cheese, the kale, and the potatoes. Once these are made, the dish need only be assembled.

Begin by preheating your oven to 350°

Vegan Ricotta:
  • 1 (14oz) block of tofu, drained & crumbled
  • 4 tbs dairy-free milk
  • 4 tbs nutritional yeast
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp white pepper

Crumble the tofu in a large mixing bowl, then add the milk, yeast, salt, and pepper. Use a wire whisk to break the mixture down to a smooth ricotta-like consistency. Put in the refrigerator to rest while you work on your other components.

Kale mixture:
  • ½ head kale, roughly chopped
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • splash of vegetable stock
  • salt to taste

Heat your pan to medium-high heat and add about 2 tbsp of veggie stock. Add your onion, moving often, until the onion begins to soften. Add kale and a sprinkle of salt and cook until the kale has lightly wilted.

Potatoes:
  • 4 large potatoes, sliced into rounds (about ¼ in thick)

In a large pot, cover potatoes with water and simmer until half cooked. Potatoes should slide off of your fork without breaking apart—they will finish in the oven.

Time for assembly:






To assemble the dish, put a layer of potatoes on the bottom of a 9x9in pan, two layers thick.

Spread your kale mixture evenly across the potatoes.

Smooth the ricotta over the kale evenly, then sprinkle the daiya on top (about half an 8oz) bag.

Cover the pan with tinfoil (shiny side down) and put in the oven for 30 minutes. Uncover. Put back in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the ricotta starts to golden slightly, pull from the oven and serve.

Master ingredient list (for shopping list purposes):


  • 8oz bag of cheddar daiya shredded cheese (or other vegan cheese)
  • 1 (14oz) block of tofu, drained & crumbled
  • ⅛ c dairy-free milk
  • ¼ c nutritional yeast
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • 1 head kale, roughly chopped
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
  • splash of vegetable stock
  • 3 large potatoes
  • salt

Egg Salad (without the egg).

, 18 February 2013 9:35 AM


I did it. I successfully concocted an amazing "egg" salad without any animal products.

(GASP)

I shall teach you, sweet ones, I shall teach you.

Admittedly, I've never really had egg-salad as a child, so I didn't know what to look for in the flavor spectrum. I just knew that in the end, it needed to be palatable and reminiscent of egg.

According to my toiling research, the secret ingredient for making this egg flavor happen is black salt. Black salt seems like a silly ingredient to just have on-hand, but lucky for me, my father can be relied on for surprise "I'm raiding your kitchen for something obscure" attacks. He almost always delivers.

When I popped in I was successful, and based on my results, I will be purchasing my own supply of black salt—even if only for this recipe—soon.

*little tip: don't use a plastic mixing bowl when making this recipe—turmeric stains.

Ingredients:
  • 14 oz extra firm tofu, pressed for 30 minutes
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 tbsp vegan mayo
  • 1 1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp tamarai (you can use soy sauce if you're not a gluten-hater like me)
  • 1/2 tsp black salt
  • black pepper to taste
Once you've pressed some of the excess water out of the tofu, crumble into a large bowl.

Add all of your remaining ingredients, mix well.

Let rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes before gobbling.

Can be served on toast (like I modeled for the photo) or scooped into lettuce wraps for a gluten-free version.