First, a humbling sorrow.

mouse grave

Mouse Grave

Just months ago I blithely titled a blog post Of Mice and Vegans in which I chronicled my adventures saving the lives of mice that had invaded the house on Asbury Street. I don’t know why I thought such a thing, but I also blithely assumed there would be no mice trying to get into my new place come fall. Several weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch in the living room on the phone with my sister absentmindedly staring into the kitchen as I listened. My eye caught what I thought was a leaf—and then it twirled around. A mouse! I jumped to my feet yelling “a mouse, a mouse, oh no, a MOUSE!” into my sister’s ear and sent it running for cover behind the stove.

My sister was describing the details of her new place and I was trying to listen. But I was also dousing cotton balls with peppermint essential oil and placing them in corners I definitely did not want the mouse to hide. I opened the drawer at the bottom of the stove to deposit one there, only to find him looking up at me. I screamed in surprise. My sister, miraculously, did not hear me, and went on with her description.

That night, the mouse got me out for my first moonlit walk with Romeo. I was without any live traps and decided I needed to go get some, or see if I could go get some, at the closest drug store and market. Nothing doing. I brought home a conventional trap but just couldn’t bring myself to use it. I could hear the voices of my friends saying they carry disease and you need to get rid of them. I spent the remaining hours until midnight fashioning home-made live traps: jars with dabs of peanut butter on their bottoms, upended and precariously balanced on a nickel; a ramp up into a wastebasket covered with cut paper  made into a trap door studded with peanut butter. I nearly stepped on the mouse as I turned to  fill up a glass with water; he had been about to make his way up the ramp but scampered back behind the stove. Later I saw him peeking out, looking toward the back door, where he must have gotten in.

The next day we walked too far to find store bought live traps. For the next few days, all was silent. I filled holes with steel wool and peppermint oil. I hoped he was gone. Then one morning Romeo sat by the kitchen sink counter giving me a strange look. Later, when he was out in the yard, I went to throw something in the trash which was in the cabinet he had been sitting by and heard a rustling in the bag. The mouse was in the trash.Gently, but quickly, I moved to close and cover the top of the trash bag and get the mouse outside. I was opening the back door when he came flying out of a small crack in my cover.

There is nothing in what follows I am proud of.  Startled,  my adrenaline already running high, I screamed bloody murder. The mouse, though he was at the threshold of the open door he had been longing for, went the opposite way. (Alas, perhaps  it was the peppermint oil around the edges to keep his friends from joining him that sent him in the wrong direction.) I tried to herd him out with the bag, my feet, anything, screaming continuously, unable to stop. The neighbors, if any were home, must have thought I was being murdered. (When I confessed this to a younger vegan friend of mine here in town she said practically, “No, Maria, they probably thought you had seen a mouse. It’s what most of us do when we see one.” Bless her heart.)

The mouse was too fast for me. He was making a successful break for it and had a clear shot to run back into hiding in the kitchen. Still sreaming, I stepped on him. Once. And then again. He stopped moving. While most people I know would simply say, “good, you got him,” the most gracious of my friends who know I care about this stuff said it was instinct. Maybe it was. I was exhausted from several nights of bad sleep, on vigil, waiting. I couldn’t stand the thought of having to start all over again. There was that split second when I could have just let him run back into the kitchen. But the desire to stop him was overpowering. And of course I was too big to just stop him. I scooped him up with cardboard and plastic and sat with him while his nose bled and his life ended.

Now when I reflect on it, I know that something took over in me, or I let something take over in me that once in motion I couldn’t stop. I was frightened and the fear took charge. I was even too frightened to bury him. At first I wrapped him all up in a plastic bag and put it in the trash. But later I felt so bad about the relationship I’d had with him and how it had ended that I took the plastic bag out of the trash and dug a little grave at the edge of the yard. I even put flowers on it.

That mouse gave me an opportunity to learn how to swim in my fear. I did okay for a while but in the end I didn’t make it. I have another friend here who talks to ants and wasps and says it’s a matter of making friends with them and not being afraid. I have a hunch she’s right. I wonder what she would have done about this mouse, but at this point, I’m too ashamed to ask her. Maybe some day i will. For now, I know there are things, violent things, I might do when I’m scared that I wouldn’t have thought I would do. That I’m imperfect, and that this world is not an easy place to navigate. Sometimes my principles help me through, but sometimes, I may also fail to live by them.

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Second, a small, but potent joy.

Last melon slice

The Tiny Little Melon That Could

Last July I brought home two bedraggled honeydew melon starts in the same 4 inch pot from the nursery section at Moscow Building Supply. They were so far gone they gave them to me. I was filled with zeal to tuck them into my new raised beds and see if they would rejuvenate. I planted some purple morning glory next to them, knowing from past experience at Asbury Street that melon and morning glory like to grow together. Even so, I have never gotten a truly ripe melon before it turns cold.

One Sunday, though, I was out enjoying the afternoon sun on yet another glorious October day and I noticed a tiny mature melon on the end of a vine that had withered to a papery string the width and color of twine. I giggled and said that I’d cut it open after dinner and see if I could eat it for dessert. And I giggled some more. We’re talking small here: somewhere between the size of a golfball and a tennis ball, but closer to the golf ball. When I cut it open, though, it was a deep bright ripe green, with fully mature seeds in the middle. And it tasted sweet. This is the last slice of it. I saved those seeds. I hope they pass their sweet “can-do” spirit on to a full growing season next year.

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And third, quintessential Fall comfort food. A healthy, easy way to top a salad or a bowl of soup.

butternut squash croutons

butternut squash “croutons”

I got blessed with the gift of overflow from my friend Jody’s winter squash crop. She brought me 6 beautiful winter squash. Two spaghettis, two red kuris, and two butternuts. I made these “croutons” by chopping up the top of one of the butternuts into little cubes and tossing them with my As You Wish Spice Blend and some nutritional yeast. You can also add a splash of lime or lemon juice,  or use garlic powder, chili powder, cumin–whatever grabs your fancy. I baked them on a sheet of parchment paper at 400 for about a half hour.

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"Winter Twilight" chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Winter Twilight” chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

In the old Earth centered way, Halloween, or Samhein, is the start of the new year. The time approaching it is thought to be the time when the veil between earth and heaven is most thin. It’s easy, we’re told, at this time of year, for souls to pass from here on to the spirit world. I don’t know if mice have souls. But I feel connected to this mouse forever. In some plan beyond my comprehension, it gave its life so I could contemplate my fear and my own limitations, and  live in humble penitence and acceptance of my own animal nature. And that sweet little melon–I opened its tiny purse of seeds and ate its shimmering flesh. I was both greedy and reverent for what might come next Spring. The pulse of life and the throes of death are intertwined  this time of year. Sometimes it’s hard to tell one from the other. Sometimes that hurts. Sometimes I’m made to remember I am  not outside of the dance. I am  light and I am shadow, too. In experience. Not just in words.

Maria (moonwatcher)

{ 6 comments }

Vegan Spelt Sourdough  English MuffinsGluten Free Vegan Sourdough English  Muffins

I haven’t been much of a television watcher in my adult life. Back in the days when you could get public television reception without paying for cable and there weren’t a million stations anyway, that was good enough for my son and me–at least most of the time. The one notable exception to that back in the 90s caused me to capitulate and pay for TV. My boyfriend’s favorite show was Northern Exposure, and he wanted us to be able to watch it together at my house. Skeptical though I was to begin with, I still regard some of those episodes as the best TV I’ve ever watched.

One of my favorites is a late fall episode in which the citizens of Cicely bulk up on extra pounds in anticipation of the coming Winter by ordering extra pancakes, fries and chocoate cake at The Brick. I can’t remember if any of the customers at The Brick were ordering English Muffins slathered in butter, but nevertheless they seem like perfect cold weather comfort food to me. Even better when they can be low fat, vegan, and, if necessary, gluten free. Oh, and not taste like cardboard. The best way to make sure of this is to make them myself.

I’ve had great fun learning how to do just that. I also have a request from a reader to share my Spelt English Muffin template. But I didn’t want to do that until I finished an experiment to see if the same basic English Muffin recipe could be made gluten free. Now that I’ve boldly gone where my recipe source only suggested it might be possible to go, I can show how to make them either with spelt or with gluten free flours.

Since this is slow food, we have to start by making a sourdough starter. There are tons of tutorials on the internet. I’ll refer to a few that have been helpful for me, and show you some photos, so you know what it can look like, and what the difference in looks is between a  white spelt starter, a whole spelt starter, and a gluten free starter. Getting your starter going will take a few days. But once it’s bubbly, you’re ready to go. You can store it in the fridge and feed it once a week. When you’re ready to make another batch of muffins, just take it out and bring it to room temperature and feed it. When it’s all bubbly and active again, you’re ready to use it.

You can make starter simply by mixing up equal amounts of flour and water and letting it sit at room temperature, lightly covered. A good place to keep it is on top of the refrigerator. You can cover it with a cloth, or a lid. You can stir it once of twice the first day, or leave it alone. After 24-48 hours, you can feed it more flour and water. Usually it’s a little more flour and an little less water, say, 1/2 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water.

Sometimes fruit is added to the starter as a way of encouraging the yeast to grow. The first recipe for starter I used at The Sit Down Cook, said to put a thumb-sized piece of rhubarb in the starter. I tried that with great results. There’s also something called a pineapple juice starter.  You can see a great video about how to make that here, on Breadtopia. There is also an excellent spelt sourdough bread recipe on that site. And finally, you can add lightly mashed grapes to the mix. The simplest formula is equal parts grapes, flour and starter. Here is a simple “recipe for doing just that.

If this sounds complicated and difficult, it’s not. The truth is, it’s pretty darn hard to mess up a starter. I rarely measure and have done all kinds of experimenting and it always goes live. The main thing is to keep it in a glass or even plastic container, stir it once or twice a day, and feed it once or twice a day. Twice is good while you’re trying to activate it after the initial 24 or 48 hours. If this sounds vague, it’s because it’s pretty hard to mess it up if you forget to stir or feed one of the times, or even for one day. It will just take a little longer.  Here are two photos of active spelt starter:

active whole spelt sourdough starter

Active whole spelt sourdough starter

 

Active white spelt sourdough starter

Active white spelt sourdough starter

Gluten-free sourdough starter is made in exactly the same way, but it looks a little different. Instead of getting stringy and stretchy, it bubbles and make a slight dome in the bowl:

Active Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

Active Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

I took my cue about how to make a gluten free sourdough starter from this great how-to post on wholenewmom. I also added some grapes to my starter. I used a combination of sorghum flour and sweet white rice flour. The rice flour seemed most receptive to becoming starter, so I recommend using white or brown rice flour. Once you have your starter going, hop on over to this incredible guest post by Erin on GNOWFGLINS for how to make the English Muffins. I use Erin’s directions, except I used almond milk or watered down almond yogurt, and a little less salt. I added a tablespoon of ground golden flax and a tablespoon of millet to the dough. When it came time to add the sweetener, salt and baking soda and knead the dough, I did not oil the counter or my hands. Instead I emptied the risen dough out onto a sheet of baking parchment sprinkled with rice flour. Spelt dough has shorter gluten strands than wheat or rye, so I used a method called stretch and fold in place of traditional kneading. You can see how to do that here in this Breadtopia video. It’s slower than traditional kneading, but it works like a charm. And really these muffins don’t need vigorous kneading at all. Both spelt and gluten free dough are more wet than wheat dough is, so it’s perfectly fine for it to be a wet mess. They will still come out.

(Note: in the gluten-free version, I also added a teaspoon of baking powder along with the salt, sweetener and baking soda. I’m not sure if this is necessary, but it’s often added to gluten-free recipes, so I decided to use a little for good measure.)

One simple tool that made my sticky dough mixing life a heck of a lot easier is this–a danish dough whisk. If you  really want to get into this dough thing, I highly recommend investing the eleven or so bucks for one.

danish dough whisk

What follows are a few photographs I took as I was making the gluten free batch of muffins. The first two batches I made were spelt and I had no idea I was going to write a post about it so I only took pictures of the finished product because I was so thrilled with how they raise in the pan and how good they tasted. Erin, the source of the recipe I use and linked to above, had not tried to make these gluten free, so I figured it was worth documenting where this English muffin recipe had never went before. Here are the blobs of dough after it has risen overnight and  the sweetener is added. The gluten free dough cannot reallly be kneaded, even in stretch and fold style, like the spelt can, however gently. Nevertheless, they both look pretty similar to this after being cut into blobs with a pizza cutter or a dough scraper:

DSC03305

Here are the muffins after having been shaped into rustic muffins with a little extra flour. They rest like this for about 45 minutes to an hour.

gluten free sourdough muffins before cooking

Here are the muffins starting to cook on medium heat in a non-stick skillet:

gluten free vegan sourdough English muffins cooking

And here they are flipped over, all golden and toasty:

gluten free sourdough english muffins

And yes, the gluten-free ones puff up just like the spelt ones did!

If you’re worried these babies will tempt you back to butter and jam, let me assure you they are spectacular untoasted and plain. They are great with eggless salad or scramble –you can put any kind of sandwich filling or veggies burger in them too. You can have bread that’s oil free, vegan, homemade, and, if necessary, gluten free. You can add raisins or other dried fruit and cinnamon if you like. I tried that with the gluten free ones and they were delicious. If you don’t need to stay away from wheat, you can also make your starter and your muffins with wheat or even rye flour. It’s all good. For a special treat, use a small dab of nut butter and top with apple or pear or banana slices. Or just use the fruit.

The cold weather’s coming. I looked for a scene online from Northern Exposure where the characters are happily bulking up at The Brick for the winter, but I couldn’t find one. I did, however, find what might be the end of that episode.  You can watch the citizens of Cicely welcoming the first snowfall of the year here, and know that when the snow flies where you live, or the temperature drops, you’ve got a homemade English muffin recipe techmique at the ready. And I’ll wager, though it IS bread, it’s tastier and more healthy than anything you can buy in a package (or order at The Brick).

Bon Hiver. Well, almost.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

{ 11 comments }

Two Ways To Make Your Own Soy Free Burmese Style Tofu

October 14, 2014

When I was too small to remember it happening, a Chinese American family moved in across the street from our tract home in Sacramento, California. Apparently, at the time, they were the only non-white people on the relatively new block. One set of their white next door neighbors were not very happy about this, and […]

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Easy Vegan Skillet Chili (And A Great Pumpkin)

October 7, 2014

The first Fall I was writing this blog I posted a short photo essay called The Reincarnation of My Jack-o-Lantern, in which I documented baking the pumpkin that had lit the way for wandering spirits (and trick or treaters) on my porch for Halloween night. Usually I love to bake pumpkins and squash and make […]

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Food Dehydrator Love, Part 3: Teff Carrot Cake Bars (Vegan and Gluten-Free)

September 29, 2014

  You know what they say about the third time being a charm? I think it’s true. And isn’t it usually the third wish in fairy tales that sets the story in dynamic motion? Often though, that magic is bestowed upon the heroine by the humblest looking creatures, ones we wouldn’t expect to hear talk, […]

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Notes at the End of Summer

September 22, 2014

Out west, September is often a warm (hot), dry and (sadly) smoky month. The dry heat torches forest and field fires. Air quality can suffer. But it is also a time of end of season magic. The days do get noticably shorter, especially here up north, but oh, the slant of the evening light turns […]

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Happy Tooth Visualization (and Piled High McDougall Style Hash Browns)

September 11, 2014

I interrupt my food dehydrator love fest to bring you a report from my dental odyssey. Instead of the gorey details or the latest scientific debate on what the best procedures are, I’d like to share something that came to me almost a month ago, as I was walking with Romeo and mulling over the […]

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Food Dehydrator Love, Part 2: Bacon Style Eggplant Chips

September 4, 2014

I’ve always been somewhat taken with the general project of vegan transformations of standard American favorites. It’s just plain fun to make chips out of kale, mayonnaise out of tofu, or, if you’re ingenious like Susan is, chocolate cake with beets.  I rarely want to actually make these things (too lazy), but I love seeing […]

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Food Dehydrator Love, Part 1: Slow Miracle Raw Low Fat Zucchini Bread Bars

August 27, 2014

One summer many years ago on Asbury Street when Mike was a teenager, I opened my front door to a couple of college students who introduced themselves as my neighbors from across the street. Two English majors: Peter and his girlfriend Jennifer. In fact they and their roommates were the first to call the yellow […]

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Happiness Challenge

August 22, 2014

I had a very difficult week. At a visit to the dentist I thought was a conscientious inquiry about a sensitive tooth, I discovered I need much more extensive work than I would ever have dreamed. I won’t be discussing the gory details here or in the comments, but suffice it to say that I’ve […]

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