carob pieces 1

Though I’ve gotten a lot less fussy (or maybe lazy) in my cooking habits, from time to time I still can’t resist my proclivity for vegan adaptations of things I know I should never eat in their original form. This experiment is that a couple times over, since most of you can eat a few chocolate chips in your cookies or pancakes or banana bread now and then, even if it is gluten or fat free. But for me, the theobromine in chocolate is just not worth it, unless I am willing to find myself with the nerves in my legs twitching away into the wee hours of the morning when I’d rather be sleeping and just dreaming of eating chocolate without the side effects.

As most of you know, I actually love carob. So why not just buy carob chips? Because they, too, are manufactured with yet another ingredient Dr. Swank advised those of us with MS to avoid: palm oil.  While palm oil doesn’t give me twitchy legs, it does give me–ahem–GAS. Like it or not, I’ve had to learn to heed the reasons why it’s on Dr. Swank’s “forbidden” list.

Now I know some folks may think the science behind Dr. Swank’s diet is outdated, but for me, any significant foray into coconut oil, palm oil, or chocolate does all the things he says it might do to those of us with MS–it slows down my already sluggish circulation, and I feel weak and generally terrible. Keep at it long enough and my MS symptoms become more pronounced. Those symptoms remind me I am setting the stage to allow oxidization where my circulatory system doesn’t need it and from there potential further deterioration of the myelin on my nerve sheaths I am trying to preserve.

(On a wider wackier note, I also feel a certain solidarity with Lily Tomlin’s character Frankie of Grace and Frankie in her tirade on the environmental evils of palm oil;  it’s a serious issue, despite the comedy, and I get to be automatically righteous simply because I personally can’t tolerate it.)

Thus, I live in a world with no baking chips–chocolate or carob–and once in a while I feel kind of sad about that, kind of sorry for myself, which then always makes me laugh, it’s such a ridiculous thing to feel sorry for myself about, privileged that I am to still be walking around, talking, swallowing and even drawing and writing now and then after 20+ years of living with MS.

That’s when the mad alchemist-cook in me rises up, determined to find a way to make a baking chip or carob piece that will hold together just long enough to get into some cookie batter and melt there. And, I am pleased to say, my mad alchemist-cook aspect has achieved just exactly that.

Before I go on, let me warn all you chocolate chip-eating readers out there that these do not have that ultimate creamy texture that a calorie and oil-based chocolate chip has, or even a carob one made with palm oil. Instead, they are made rich with ground hemp seeds, and thus have a very rich brownie-fudge texture. But it is luscious in its own right and imitates a baking chip just enough to call it delicious and add another flavor dimension to my old stand-by versions of oatmeal-millet-raisin cookies.

The other ingredient that helps with the fudgy creamy mouth feel is now a trendy one, but it takes me back to my Italian peasant roots: the cooking liquid from chickpeas known as aqua fava. It is so popular these days it even has its own facebook page of dishes posted using vegan meringue made from it. In my family of origin, though, chickpeas are called “cecis” (say “checheese”), and aqua fava would more likely be pronounced “agua fav” in the languid dialect of my ancestors. But it’s the same thick magical liquid that gives these pieces more body and rich mouthfeel than they get only using water.

You have to blend, cook, and then freeze these babies before you can break them up with a knife and then quickly usher them into your cookie dough with a fork before popping the cookies onto the baking sheet and into the oven. The window is narrow, but it works. I even could see the corners sticking out of cookies melt into goo through that little window in the oven door I almost never clean. By the time they come out of the oven they are harder and as dark as the raisins, but when you bite into the cookie, you still get a bit of gooey fudgey texture and a rich taste from the marriage of the ingredients.

My son, who eats his share of vegan chocolate chips right out of the bag, vetted my pronouncement about these carob pieces when he was over helping me with painting a new patch of drywall. I had some cooling on the kitchen table, and if Mike is willing to help me match paint over new drywall like the great son he is, then the least I can do is be willing to share my cookies. But I did so with a disclaimer that he might not like the “fake” chocolate chips.

However, I got the best reception from a chocolate lover I could hope for: the bite into, the raised eyebrow, the exclamation–“these are really good!” And then the best part; “can I have another one?”

So if you are adventurous, here is the recipe to try your own hand at some low fat vegan oil and gluten free kitchen alchemy. I put them in cookie batter which is a hybrid between classic oatmeal millet raisin cookies and crunchy millet cookies. Even without measuring, it is a great background for these “chips.”

I have a confession to make though. I really liked these, but when I put them in the cookies without the raisins, I missed the raisins. I know most people would rather walk a mile for a chocolate chip cookie and throw a raisin oatmeal cookie to the wind (not to the dog, because raisins are poisonous to them), but I REALLY love my oatmeal raisin cookies. I never get tired of them. Still, if I want to take them up to the next notch, adding these pieces makes it sort of like having raisinets in the cookies. And that makes me feel like watching an old movie. And having another cookie.

Maria (moonwatcher)


phone book

Back of phone book

When I was moving from the blue house on Asbury Street, there was a lot of downsizing and consolidating going on. You may recall how in the post The Right Stuff I looked back on my time at the house ensconced on my bed behind the old hardwood hospital table I had decided to sell at a garage sale because I didn’t need it the way I once did.

I also wrote about the treasures I found in its drawers: a simple directive from a hospice counselor, a card from my son, a piece of writing about the blue house I had started many years before that.

What I didn’t mention in that post was that I also had several old address books crammed into the drawer of that hospital table, slips of paper falling out of each of them, binding starting to fray and slip.

After I moved to Van Buren Street, I consolidated all my addresses into the little book you see above. I wanted to keep things simple. I also got a “smart phone” the winter I lived there and began the process of putting people into my phone–so to speak.

When Spring of 2015 came and I found myself Portland bound, a dear friend gave me a suitcase with wheels that would fit my art supplies in it so I could neatly bring them back and forth between Moscow and my son’s house on our many trips back and forth while the fate of my Van Buren Street house was decided and I looked for the little place on 10th Ave I now call home.

I tucked this little tiny book into one of the pockets so I would know where it was. And then, when I was actually moved in, I checked all the compartments, over and over. It seemed to have disappeared altogether.

For those who have everything in a smart phone, the loss of such an old-fashioned thing as an address book that you write phone numbers and addresses into by hand is at best quaint, and for a lot of people, simply obsolete. But for most of my life it’s been the major reference tool for my social and professional life–where I kept the names and addresses of people I wanted to keep in touch with when I moved away from a place, where I could always find a relative’s address at Christmas time,  that honest guy who sold me quality firewood, or the numbers I called to help or find a beloved pet.

Luckily for me, at least some of the street addresses in that book had been typed into a document for mailing labels when my poetry chapbook came out a few years ago. But I still missed phone numbers of people I never got a chance to put into my phone, some of whom I really missed and knew would understand the stories I thought I wanted to tell them about my adventures in adjusting to my new life in Portland.

I have had plenty of experience over the years of times when much cherished or needed objects have disappeared, seemingly on their own, defying the words my mother used to intone authoritatively when I had lost something I was searching for as a child: “Well, it didn’t just get up and walk away.” Yet I also learned over the years, that just as mysteriously as some objects had disappeared, eluding all the practical strategies for retracing my steps I got so good at, that at some point, whenever they were ready, they would very likely just “reappear” again.

The most strange example of this that comes to mind is a rune that is part of an oaken hand-carved set made for me by a special guy in my past, the one called wunjo, which, in abbreviated summation, means “joy.” I had the set out for a full or new moon night with a couple of my women friends. One of them had also brought her own hand-made set. At some point we had traveled out to the star garden gate, but not gone in that I remember, and the runes were in the house. Still, it had completely disappeared.

I was distraught, to say the least, since the set was a once-in-a-lifetime gift, and could not be replaced. The special guy had long gone on to another life, and even if he had been around, the wood the runes were made from was long gone.

I searched. And searched. I prayed. I mourned. It seemed like a terrible sign that the rune for “joy” had been lost. I tried to think of what I may have thought or done inadvertently to attract such a portent. Finally I had give up and let go.

Months past, winter months, long days of cold and snow. I had searched everywhere in the house and everywhere in the star garden before the snow fell, even though I was sure we hadn’t been in there, and so were the other two friends who were with me the night it disappeared. In time I resigned myself to it wanting to be wherever it was and forgot to look for it. It seems to me it was a turn of the seasons and more before one spring day I was digging in a point of the star to plant some carnations or cosmos or pansies next to the lady’s mantle, which my garden trowel struck something hard several inches below the surface.

There, completely darkened and encrusted with dirt, so as to be almost unrecognizable, was wunjo. Joy, it seems, had literally resurrected itself out of the earth.

I, too, was overjoyed, and intensely humbled by the mystery of how in the world it could ever have gotten there. As I write this, it suddenly occurs to me that perhaps a squirrel had found it (but how? if it had been in the house all along as we all remembered. . .) and diligently buried it to save as a snack.

It’s still quite a bit more dark than the others, as if it were sent to the underworld and never quite shed the dark caul of that realm, earning the meaning of joy through the paradox of its opposite, sorrow. The moisture of the earth heavy with snow, too, must have widened the crack at its edge. But here it is, after all these years, returned to be a part of the set, and yet distinctive, apart from it, too.


So I wasn’t even surprised when my address book reappeared one morning, in a pocket in the same suitcase I had searched numerous times. From where I sat on my yoga mat, the suitcase (or the address book itself?) seemed to “call” to me from behind the closet door to come look in it one last time, despite the fact that I had declared the address book officially lost for months. I knew when I looked again, though it made no sense, it would simply be where it wasn’t before–and it was.

It was so comforting to at last hold in my hands again the names and numbers of long time friends and family. As an object filled with memories, it was proof that though my life has changed so much in the last couple of years, I still carried with me all the fond feelings and conversations I’d had when I’d dialed these numbers. I read through the whole thing, smiling even to remember the teddy bear of a man I used to call each year to buy tamarack for the masonry stove.

I only actually called one friend, someone I had not spoken to since I left Moscow, and who doesn’t use social media. I told her about seeing a woman behind the Alberta Street Co-op sitting in the sun eating a snack who had looked so much like her to me in that moment that I’d had to stop myself from calling out her name and asking if it was really her, in the way that happens when you suddenly miss someone who can’t possibly be right where you are that you conjure them right before your eyes.

Perhaps, though, the address book had been “lost” for so long because I needed time to simply live the life I was trying to establish in Portland, without narrating it back to others who were not here. Sometimes the objects in my life I cherish go missing and so do the words to convey what’s happening in the moment. Sometimes the present moment has simply to be lived, and not described simultaneously. I have to trust that later, when it’s time, I’ll suddenly know that the words, the names, the numbers–the joy–have returned.

It’s hard to lose something I love. But it isn’t as hard to stop looking for it as it used to be. I’ve learned it’s more likely to resurface if I don’t look for it.  It’s a way of making sense when I least expect it–by letting life surprise me.

Maria (moonwatcher)



No Place Like Home

April 13, 2016

From the time I was a little girl, the plants and trees growing around my house have always been a part of what makes my house feel like home. In my childhood, it was my father’s pomegranate tree outside my bedroom window, and the specially grafted fruit tree in our backyard, lovingly created by Mr. […]

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Absent Minded Gardener

March 24, 2016

All the attendant adjustments to the complete change in environment my move to Portland entails have activated what I call “52 pick up.” It means that every orientation point my nervous system has habitually relied on is getting rearranged and so all orientation points are almost literally “up in the air.” This makes for a […]

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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (and Crunchy Millet Cookies for the journey)

March 11, 2016

For weeks now I’ve thought it might be a good idea to share this version of my classic oatmeal millet raisin cookies, but I haven’t been able to make myself write the post. Instead I’ve been stuck at a quirky road block: I’m stymied by a perverse tendency on my part to stop making whatever […]

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In The Room

February 27, 2016

I have come to realize that my life operates beyond the idea of what I think I should be doing or any plans I make to be fruitful or productive. Even when I think of myself as slacking off, the meaning or growth I apparently need is presented to me effortlessly. It is the acceptance […]

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Signs of Spring

February 23, 2016

Be on the lookout for them! And if you’re in the southern hemisphere, signs of Fall:

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The Continental Divide and The Boomerang

February 10, 2016

Shortly after moving to Portland, I began a quest to get an appointment at Oregon Health and Sciences University Neurology Department. I knew them as the department where Dr. Roy Swank had once been chair and also as the place that had conducted a study of patients with MS on the McDougall Diet. I had […]

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Baked Tempeh Sticks with Mustard Marinade (and A Dog’s Life)

January 24, 2016

Before I tell you the story of the little transgression that gave rise to this recipe post, I want to remind you that my nutritional choices are based on my own subjective experience, which is dynamic, and can change over time. Therefore, it’s not medical advice, or even advice that strictly conforms to any one […]

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On The Street

January 16, 2016

In the short time I’ve lived in my neighborhood, it’s given me a lot of vivid lessons, both in its history, and in the now of its very sharp contrasts. Earlier in the year I expressed some preliminary insights into the experiences I was having in a couple of previous posts. Here are a few […]

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