Monday, March 31, 2008

Jonathan Makes a Very Good Point

My friend Jonathan commented that I have not once mentioned the March Madness basketball tournament with which I am usually obsessed . . .but believe me, I'm crazed as usual. This is a very sacred and busy time of year for me.

I run the biggest college basketball pool in my industry -- a record 82 people in this year! -- and the tournament is in its climactic throes; just now the final fours have been set. I even sucka'ed my good blogger friend Melinda to participate in the pool for the second year. She's a hoops fan too even if she's too loyal to sentimental favorites. We have a good side bet at stake which shall be revealed at the end of the tournament.

In any event, Jonathan, and friends, I try to keep my basketball commentary strictly for the poolers, and others obsessed with march madness. We geek out hard with continuous basketball speak that, I think, tends to bore normal people. I attended two BBQ's this weekend. Both events were scheduled at precisely tip-off time . . . grrr. I baked for both in the morning, arrived at the BBQ's, presented said baked goods and made small chat. Then I made Husband ask if we could put the games on . . . Maybe that was rude, but I brought baked goods! And made small talk . . .does that mean I have to miss Davidson almost smiting the mighty goliath of Kansas? It's hard to tell right now. My judgement is clouded by hoops.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Giant, Jesus

I've never been much of an Easter fan. Quite honestly I don't understand it. Plenty of you know that I've most certainly cannonballed into religion a few times throughout my life. I even, oddly, became a hardcore Christian fundamentalist at one point, but I still can't wrap my mind around the dying-for-our sins thing. When I think of the tales of Jesus, I think fondly. Truly. I think Jesus was awesome. But when I went to church regularly, as a Catholic child and again when I rebirthed myself as a teen, I would look around at patrons who nodded and amen'd wondering how they grasped this concept so easily or willingly. The seven heavens and hells of Buddhism make more sense. (Not really) The natural deities of santeria make more sense. Dying for my what now? What sin? The original one? Am I still part of that? Are we naturally all clusterfucky inside that Jesus died for generations of future stuff? Or does he die on the daily. I know the idea is that we are connected to humanness, this apparent original sin, and this sacrifice will deter a trip to hell if we accept Jesus as this Taker of Sins, but still I can't help but think that a major part of this story is grossly misinterpreted. Like so many other spiritual concepts. I go through this yearly. I can work out a lot of stuff with some serious concentration, but this? Not so much yet.

The Easter Bunny thing kind of annoys me too. It just doesn't excite me to get a basket together for the kids. Like Halloween, obviously, I love. And Christmas I love, and I make a big deal over birthdays. "We gotta pick and choose," Husband said over the weekend. "So, we don't like this holiday so much." Which is why I'm extra thankful that our tradition for the last two years is that both Maya and Mina spend Easter with BD and Sanne. Thanks BD & Sanne!

I did bake for Easter though. I don't need much of an excuse for that. I stumbled across this brilliant German blog called Delicious Days. She has this recipe for a cookie apparently called Brombeerbusser which, is there a greater name for a simple cookie? I just mumble brombeerbusser often now and god knows if I'm saying it right. The name and the cookie are kinda all jumbled together with this year's contemplation of the dying for sins confusion. Good thing these taste so good. I was gonna insert a lame joke about them being sinful, but I'll spare you. Just look at the picture, will you. Here's my vegan version of Brombeerbusser:
I made these, too, for an order. Vegan chocolate with chocolate ganache and fondant flowers.
I'm not yet comfortable labeling the goods without the word "vegan". Obviously it's all vegan, but I don't want anyone to ever wonder . . . Just another thing I'm grappling with here.

Saturday night I went and saw one of my favorite movies as a kid on the big screen; George Steven's 1956 film Giant with James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. I was worried it would be dated, but it was pretty fantastic. Three hours of epicness. I watched a lot of James Dean as a kid and in this film he seemed so awkwardly great and tragic, more so than usual if that's possible. Dean died before the release of Giant. As a kid, I didn't realize how bravely, for its time, the movie tackled racism. And with a much lighter touch addressed sexism. I read some post that said a lot of the hanging of the flags in the film was done inaccurately -- a flag draped wrongly on a coffin and a line-up flags positioned out of order -- and some suggest this was done purposely. Anyway, I've been thinking about the movie since. Not to mention about how absolutely stunning the actors and wardrobe were. W.O.W.

If Easter eludes me, Spring captivates. It's in full force here in Cali. The breeze and blooms and green; this I can worship without a glitch or question.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Field Trips and PreTeen Animal Rights Update

The last time we spoke about preteen animal right's groups, Maya was fending off the likes of Allie, The Spirit-Squashing Tween Vegan. We never did have another meeting at my house. Instead, Maya took her act to a higher level; she infiltrated her middle school. Maya has a great gym teacher, who happens to be vegan, and who was so thrilled when learning about Maya's group, she offered to oversee them in the P.E. office one lunch a week as they discussed their world-changing plans. Maya knew this meant she could possibly get more kids in the group. When she told Allie about the new plan, Allie responded, "Ug, give up lunch?" Here's the thing about Allie, she infuriates, then marginally redeems. Infuriates, marginally redeems. She came to the first meeting with two friends and let Maya lead it with hardly an interruption or one-upper.

The group has been humming along. I bring in baked goods and they organize stuff and try to get more kids to come. About six to seven kids come regularly. As many as eleven have shown. Not too long ago, I baked a bunch of stuff for an animal rights group at UCLA, a kind and conscientious group called
Bruins for Animals! In exchange, the president of the group came and spoke at Maya's meeting. She answered questions and encouraged them that they could make a difference at this age. She was fantastic and the experience left Maya on a high for weeks.

Oscar is a boy that's been coming to the meetings regularly. He's a thoughtful kid with a good, swollen heart. He tries to hide out in the Regular Guy category, but still manages to get made fun of now and then. He seems, so far, the most touched by the group and he told Maya that he's been trying hard to be a vegetarian. His father lives in Mexico, works six days a week, ten hours a day and thinks the idea is ridiculous. His mother tells him ok and packs him ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Concerned and softly he sighs, "I asked her not to pack me ham." And then he throws the sandwiches away and scrounges up change to buy something else. He offers to help Maya at the meetings and asks her questions. And Maya almost beat up the kid that called him "Cupcake" the other day.

Two meetings ago was a rough one. They were organizing a field trip to Animal Acres and the gym teacher had to go to a faculty meeting. Left alone, Allie was raring to stir up some shit. "Why do you talk so much, Maya?" she blurted out, sitting on the PE office couch between her two friends. "Your meetings are so boring." Allie and her friends then talked to each other for most of the meeting, until one of Allie's friend interrupted Maya and said, "Can I have a cookie?" Maya said, "You're not getting anything until we get this trip organized." Maya was ready to throw in the towel when she came home, pulling at her hair in near-tears and telling me about the meeting, but I told her she was doing such a amazing job, that she's doing way more than she thinks she is. And the trip to Animal Acres might re-spark everyone.

Maya avoided Allie at school during the days leading up to the trip. Even when we met her at Animal Acres, it was a bit tense, but when the tour got started and plights and tales and tragedies and triumphs were told, it fizzled into nothingness. It wasn't important anymore. We were grateful to be there and the animals were glad to see us too.

Look, Oscar met a friend. And the pig is named Oscar too.

In November, Animal Acres rescued hundreds of animals from an animal hoarder. I didn't know much about this illness until the field trip. The animals were found starving and without shelter. Almost all of them suffered from severe pink eye, which left a few animals blind. There were one hundred and seventy dogs on the property, many of them neutered and microchipped, evidences that he took them from local pounds or just off the street. The dogs were crazed; packs of them were gathering in dangerous ways. Others had eaten newborn puppies. But our guide said that when the rescuers showed up, many of the dogs peed themselves because they were so happy to have some human contact and affection. Many exotic chickens were rescued too. Tons of sheep and goats, including the little pygmy goat Squirt who we adopted earlier this year. Two weeks ago, I had gotten a call from Animal Acres telling me that Squirt had unexpectedly gone into labor(!) They didn't realize she was pregnant because she seemed too young. At the hoarder's, she had been mated with a goat much larger than her. The baby died in utero and Squirt required an emergency C section; the baby was way too big. She's recovering well now and she's tired of being cooped up, healing.

That was the order of business when the kids got back to school. They're now organizing a bake sale to help off set Squirt's surgery costs. And Allie was completely on board and involved. She even begged her mom to adopted a goat that had to have an infected ear lopped off, which created so much nerve damage that the entire left side of his face doesn't work now. His tongue just hangs out of is mouth. He softens my heart in ways where I want to tackle him and spoil him rotten.

One more note about Allie: Maya told me last week that she gets teased pretty regularly at school. They call her weird. They call her a duck. Maya says Allie laughs and plays it off, trying to tease back. And I'm bummed that she hurts enough to rip others down. That cycle sucks and it makes me feel protective of her.

After our field trip, we invited Oscar to eat at Real Food Daily. He lit up and said, "My first real vegetarian meal!" On the car ride there, we talked about our favorite parts of the day, our favorite animals. We talked about family pressure and cultural differences. I told him that I thought he was really brave. That he was a great, smart kid. At RFD, he ordered the soy "meatloaf" with mash potatoes and vegetables. He stared at the stemmed parsnips on his plate and I thought, Uhoh. Slowly and methodically he stabbed one with a fork and ate it. Thoughtfully, he slowly ate another. Nervously I said, "Uh so, what do you think, Oscar?" He hadn't tried anything else on his plate yet and quietly he said, "I think I've been missing out on a lot." I spontaneously teared up a bit, and then rubbed Maya on her back.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Trees of Santa Monica, Part 2. The Moreton Bay Fig

This is a Moreton Bay Fig. It's also a ficus, a Ficus macrophylla; one of the largest. This particular Moreton Bay Fig seen below is the biggest and oldest tree in the Santa Monica Bay Area. It was planted in 1879 by the founder of Santa Monica, John P. Jones. It reins over the courtyard of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel on Wilshire.

The Moreton Bay Fig is often multi-trunked with thick surface roots and broad, leathery leaves. It bears a red-speckled fruit an inch big. It's native to Australia and parts of Wales.

Growing up, my friends and I talked a lot about a particular street called La Mesa Drive. It is small, exclusive street carved out above San Vicente. It's only about four blocks long. Every Halloween we would trek a couple miles up to La Mesa to get the good candy and to eye-ball the mansions. But as I got older, I realized the lure was the trees. The knotty and gargantuan-rooted trees that cocooned the road. La Mesa is lined with Moreton Bay Fig trees. Check these out:

Aren't they fantastic?

Monday, March 10, 2008

self portrait tuesday - political theme #1

I vote with my fork and whisk several times day, every day, all year long.

Organic. Vegan. Fair. This is my battle plan to fight Piggish Big Biz who don't think twice about ruining our health and planet. I think the plan's a pretty good one, but it's all I got.

More political SPC's HERE.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Marathon Day!

Yesterday I survived the Los Angeles Marathon. I walked it and I finished it and I didn't die. Though it was touch and go at some points.

Mandy picked me up early and drove me the the start -- thanks girl -- and in her car I babbled nervously about skipping out and going to TJ for the day instead. I babbled about how I was going to mosey to the front next to elite foreign runners; how I was going to put my fingers on the start line, lift my butt in the air and tell them It Was On. But when it was time to get out of the car, I did, still nervous. While waiting alone in the starting pack among a sea of people, I was ready, but I felt out-classed. Next to me were lean runners stretching in micro shorts and wearing large black trash bags, apparently running outer wear that they discard later when their body temp is just right. My friend Tara called as I waited and I babbled among the sea of real runners telling her not to park along the course to cheer me on. There was a good chance I'd just walk directly to her and say, "Let's get out of here." I imagined myself speed walking past her yelling, "Come on, where's your car?" I told her I saw a group of guys with top hats, clearly undertakers, I said. I didn't want to stop babbling, but that fucking start gun was about to go off.

"I Love LA" blared over large speakers and I felt a jolt. Resignation, maybe. When the gun did go off, I flowed with the sea, caught in the current, and an increasing electricity built. Suddenly I was thrilled to be apart of it all. I stepped with the pack carried almost entirely by the mass energy and I gulped down tiny yelps. My face flushed.

The first seven miles was, I can easily say, one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The walking part was a breeze --I was booking -- and every time a crowd of people on the street cheered loud enough, I choked up. When musical bands played loudly and encouragingly on the abandoned corners of Hollywood I nearly burst into tears. I felt so emotional about going from one L.A. neighborhood to the next, traversing between our multiculturalness. Wherever we went, residents stood out and cheered. From the ritzy neighborhoods to the so-called 'hoods, the support was no different. The signs were the same, the orange slices were the same. I waved and said thank you fifty thousand times to the bystanders and the Gatorade handlers. I would've hugged them all too if it wouldn't have added a few hours to my time. Outside of a run-down house with barred windows, the residents blared reggae from inside and danced outside and clapped. On another corner, a mariachi band played, trumpets blasted, and gorgeous girls with braids swirled their sequined skirts and smiled broadly. A gospel group on 39th sang that we could do it, we could do it. A grandma on the next block yelled to us, "Si, se puede." A line of five older Korean ladies dressed in vibrant traditional dresses of hot pink and turquoise with bows tied below the breast high fived us as we came by. I'm tearing up now remembering all of that. I can't tell you the restraint it took not to break down and bawl my eyes out on the road.

A ton of runners patting my shoulder and gave me thumbs up or yelled "I like your shirt!" which read Walking to Prevent Animal Cruelty. At mile 8 I was interviewed by what seemed like an indie cable show about how I was preventing animal cruelty. I told him about the Cali farms initiative and that we just collected 800,000 signatures -- YES WE DID! -- and I encouraged people to vote in November for the initiative. I walked the next mile on a cloud having had that opportunity.

At mile 13, the half way point, I had walked three hours exactly. I was kicking ass! But I knew the hardest part was ahead. We were entering more industrial areas of LA leaving the residential kindness behind. It was like drifting off to sea on our own. Runners and walkers around me were starting to look worried. At mile 15, I felt good still, but an uh-oh factor was rearing its head. I pushed it down and ignored runners that sidelined themselves with severe leg cramps or other ailments. At mile 17, I had this conversation with myself: "Ok, mile 17. You are only . . .what's 26 minus 17? I can't really tell right now. I don't know simple math right now!" My legs were stiff and I could feel my hip nagging. I swore I'd never walk as exercise again. I cursed this stupid idea. Miles 17 to 20 were so hard because it seemed like I had so much more to go. For the first time in the race I listened to the iPod for distraction. I checked my phone for texts and emails of encouragement. I text Husband: "Holy shit, mile 17.5. help." Husband and Maya sent me a few back telling me to keep going, that they loved me, they were waiting for me. The street we were on was so wide and the sun was hot by then. It was like an impossible desert. By mile 21, I felt stronger, but not better. I knew my hip was going to kick my living ass later, but in that moment I knew I had to muscle through it. I knew this was the mental test, the part where I had to dig as deeply as I could. I put my head down and only looked at the few feet ahead of me. Nothing else mattered but putting one foot in front of the other. I powered through on sheer determination. There was no way I would stop or whine; I realized that would be something I couldn't recover from. I saw walkers leaning on each other and more sidelined people with their shoes off. I knew something like that would be my end. So, I walked on and swung my arms, and pushed. Coming down over the 6th Street Bridge I could see the Mile 24 banner. I was overcome with emotion. Not really at the sight of the banner, but because this was the hardest thing I've done physically in almost 23 years. I welled up and could hardly keep it back. I felt a tremendous amount of pride for being able to still push myself in this way. I felt strong and invincible. I held back the emotions -- I wasn't finished for gods sake -- and pushed forward, passing limping and struggling walkers. At mile 25, I heard the boom of the Japanese Tiko Drum Ensemble and that floated me around the corner.

The fact that I finished so strongly is a mystery considering once I crossed the finish line, I wasn't sure I'd be able to walk another step. In the last couple miles I could feel various blisters swelling, two of which were on the balls of my feet and once I stepped over the line, they screamed. Firefighters giving out high fives pulled me passed the finish. Their GOOD JOB's pulled me the few yards to where my family waited for me with flowers and snacks. My voice cracked when hugging them. I was so damn glad it was over. I finished the race in 6 hours 16 minutes, just over 14 minutes a mile.

I was high from finishing in these photos, but in the back of my mind I was honestly wondering how I'd get to the car.
Husband got this one of me trying to stretch it out a little. I was playing it off like I was rummaging through the box of snacks.

Husband took this one of the bodies on the street after the race. It was like a disaster scene.

Looking back at the finish line. Peace, Finish Line!
Today I feel like a truck struck my hip. Every time I hobble about, Husband and the girls pop out their bottom lip and say, "Aahhh, Mami!" The blisters feel better and other soreness is not so bad. I have this bad rash from where my loose wet shirt rubbed under my arms. That's weird. That smarts pretty good. There have been a few times where I thought, "Holy shit, I walked a marathon. What a crazy thing to do." I conjure the first 13 miles often and keep that in a treasure box of my memories. The mental toughness part is bittersweet. It was so hard for a while there, but so soul satisfying in many ways especially when this was all for a cause. Muscling through for something other than yourself ends up being an act absolutely for yourself. I think of those people selflessly giving their time to cheer on strangers, exposing their kindness and humanity, and it reveals the core beauty of people. We give more than we think we do, and once you give a little, you can give a lot. It's not hard.

Thanks so much to all of you who supported me with words and thoughts and cash money for the fund raising.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Wheeler's Delivers the Goods

Wheeler's Black Label Vegan "Frozen Dessert" sent me a sampling of their vegan ice cream a couple days ago. This stuff is all the buzz in the vegan blog world though it only seems available through an intriguing underground network in a psst-pass-it-on-and-maybe-you'll-get-some kind of way. I haven't quite figured this out yet. It's actually leaving me a little panicked now having tried it with no means of continuing to get it. But whatev! I got me some iiiccee crreamm . . .

The rumor was that this vegan ice cream was the creamiest in all the land; that it's crazy, crazy good and leaves one checking Wheeler's blog to confirm that it is actually vegan. I couldn't wait to review the goods before I received them though when they did arrive and when things were finally tested, I realized that a legitimate review can't just be, Holy Shit This Is Good. Though when people eat my baked goods, that's all I'm hoping to hear.

Here's what I mean about this black market thing. I received nondescript containers with sharpie scribblings on the lid. Like, it's a big secret until the minute the box is taped up and shipped. I feel this was sneaked to me, handed off in a dark alley. In many ways, I love this about Wheeler's.

I'll start by saying this about the Elvis flavor: Holy SHIT it was good. It was so creamy that it reminded me that a lifetime ago I used to love premium nonvegan ice cream. The flavor of Elvis is what's perfect though. The ice cream had a subtle banana flavor -- and I thoroughly appreciate subtle -- with small swirls of peanut butter. Forget it. Fantastic. The family got a few bites each, and I even managed to parcel out a couple spoonfuls to a neighbor, but after that Mina confiscated what was remaining of Elvis as her own. We couldn't pry it from her fingers.

Here's Chocolate Peppermint. Again the texture was perfect, but the peppermint for me was overwhelming with a biting taste. But 12 year old Maya loved it and pretty much wrote "Maya's" in sharpie next to the flavor's name. You see, with Wheeler's containers you can do that!

Wheeler's flavors are innovative and interesting and from reading the blog and the list of flavors I am certainly drawn to their creative exploration and desire to broaden the spectrum. I think they are navigating new territory mostly with a series of flavors that mimic alcoholic drinks. They not only mimic, but clearly contain alcohol.
Margarita and Champagne are two sorbets. Both are refreshing and surprisingly they are very different in texture. The Champagne is truly sparkling in texture; light, almost pretty. It goes on the tongue sweet, then immediately tastes like champagne, even leaves a lingering alcohol taste. It was different and unexpected and sophisticated. The Margarita was a much thicker and smoother sorbet. It was a frozen margarita gone to the dessert level. Very sweet and tart, very good, and the salt kicker, noticeable once it dissolves, is brilliant.

My favorite flavor of the bunch was the ginger ice cream. It was gorgeous. The flavor was absolutely perfect and the texture so creamy. I was inspired so much by it that I baked an orange-ginger cookie bowl to show it off. It needed a pedestal; a stage. The cookie recipe comes from Fran Costigan's book More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally.
For the sundae, I topped the ice cream with the clove-infused caramel sauce that I made for the Maduro Cupcakes and topped with a "milano" cookie made from the orange-ginger cookies sandwiching chocolate.

In the next sundae, I added a scoop of Wheeler's green tea ice cream next to the ginger. The green tea was probably my second favorite because again the flavor was perfect and subtle, but there were parts that were a bit icy in texture, maybe when I refroze it. It was the only flavor that did this. Still pretty stunning.

Thank you so much Wheeler's! Good luck with all your ambitious endeavors. I can't to have more.