Vegan Mojito Meringues (Aquafaba)

20160527_181525Oh, the possibilities. Have you heard about the new vegan cooking phenomenon that’s taking even the mainstream cooking world by storm?

It’s light, low-calorie, gluten free, vegan, and since you make it from stuff that you normally pour down the drain, it’s FREE!

The funny name aqua/faba (water/bean) tells its whole story. It’s the liquid from garbanzo beans. And when it’s whipped it forms a stiff, white, airy meringue that’s indistinguishable from the stuff made with egg whites.

(And why not egg whites? Oh, so many reasons.)

So, we all know vegan cooking is going mainstream now, but when the likes of the New York Times and Cooks Illustrated are sharing aquafaba recipes with their readers, you know it’s officially a thing.

I had to try it, of course. So I first dove into the NYT recipe for aquafaba meringues.

I’m hooked. These are light as air, slightly crispy, lightly sweet, and only about 25 calories each.

Working with aquafaba is just like I remember egg-white meringue: it requires patience because it needs a solid 15 minutes of whisking to form stiff peaks. It also requires some flexibility on your part, because it’s sensitive to changes in humidity. I tried these on a rainy day and my dogs were happy with the little meringue blobs, but I was disappointed.

aquafaba blobs

I’m already scheming up holiday versions of these wonderful little meringue nibbles: peppermint flavoring and sprinkles of crushed candy cane, chocolate extract and cocoa powder, mint and lime. And the piece de resistance: I’ll start working on making an aquafaba version of my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie. That particular pie is like kryptonite to my dad, and I haven’t made it in at least five years because I get hung up on the egg thing.

 

But first: my mojito meringues. It marries my new aquafaba obsession with my hobby of inventing fall-over-delicious virgin cocktails. And this is super simple, although you’ll want to make your minted sugar a day ahead of time.

Open a can of garbanzo beans and drain off the liquid. It’s not very much (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup) but fear not.

Whip it. My stand mixer doesn’t have a whisk attachment, so I use the hand mixer. Give it the highest speed your gadget has, and give it a good 15 minutes.

These are soft peaks: almost there. The peaks need to be pointy for this to really work.

aquafaba soft peak

 

Soft peaks won’t work at all for this, so keep going until you can make little peaks that stay standing. Like this.

aquafaba stiff peaks

Then add 2/3 cup sugar, a little at a time, while you beat another 5 minutes. For the mojito version, I let my sugar sit for a couple of days with some bruised mint sprigs* so it was infused with mint flavor. Once whipped with the sugar, the aquafaba gets shiny. Now you’re ready to add flavoring.

I added the zest and juice from one small lime, then whisked some more.

aquafaba with lime

Can you just about smell that lime? I wish I was posting this in the Scenternet.

Drop your meringue onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

aquafaba on paper

Depending on the size of your meringues (larger ones take longer in the oven) you’ll bake them about 90 minutes at 250 degrees. (At that temperature, you’re really drying them as much as baking, so you just look for them to be dry, firm, and light.)

Let them cool. These are light, crispy, minty, and like nothing else you’ve ever had. Enjoy!

aquafaba finished

 

*To bruise mint leaves like a pro bartender (no, don’t ask me how many times I’ve seen this in person) you set the mint sprig on your open palm, then clap your hands together once or twice. It releases the oils. Just bury the bruised sprigs in your sugar and let it sit.

 

Good DIY Gone Bad. Very @#%& Bad.

The ugliest table ever

The ugliest table ever

When I watch woodworking shows, I always get this nagging feeling at the moment when the compound mitered joint or the custom-built cabinet must now go together. The thing’s creator – some flannel-clad master like Norm Abrams, Zen-like and confident – will say, “Now, let’s see how this fits. {dramatic pause} Ahh! Perfect. Now our next step…”

Oh. Come. On.

I wanna see the outtakes. Hey, I used to work in TV, so I know there’s a mountain of shots gone bad, all saved up for the blooper reel that everyone will pee themselves while watching at the staff Christmas party. Why wait til December? Lemme see! Lemme hear Norm’s Boston accent go salty. Lemme hear, “Now, let’s see how this fits. {dramatic pause} Son of a … Dammit. {pounding, grunting, trying to make it fit} Ow, shit. I busted my knuckle. Fuggin cut, dammit. I said CUT!”

Family legend has it that I was still in diapers when I loved to watch my dad and his friends tinkering and creating and repairing stuff in the garage. I’d toddle back into the house where my mom and her friends were visiting over tall glasses of iced tea. As they offered to make snacks for us kids I’d show off my new garage vocabulary. “Jesus Christ, that’s a lot of fucking milk.” To this day, there’s something about the juxtaposition of a cherubic face and raunchy language. It doubles me over.

Keep me away from your toddling cherubs if raunchiness makes you faint. And for the sake of your health, stay far from my garage. Also, don’t read the rest of this.

I just spent three weeks on a project that was supposed to take an hour. I had these 3×10 boards from an old waterbed frame we hauled out of my husband’s basement before we sold his house. Good, solid wood in unusual dimensions. I got this genius plan to build a simple writing desk for the greenhouse I’m slowly (Yes, fucking yes, I’m still working on it so quit asking. Damn!) turning into a writing studio.

First step was to marry the two boards to make a 20-inch plank. No problem. Hot damn. I’m gonna build the shit out of this. Next step was to make two precise 45-degree cuts, rendering the long plank into three pieces that would fit together with two 90-degree joints. Simple.

Horse shit.

My Skil saw blade wasn’t deep enough to cut all the way through the butt-pluggin’ plank at a 45-degree angle. I tried a few times, in the back yard, between surprise rain showers. At one point the calm sky suddenly hurled ass-sized hail stones at my head. I actually shouted “Fuck you” to the sky, because we know that can alter weather patterns, but I also I unplugged electrical stuff and ran tools to the garage before I could get tits-up electrocuted right there next to the patio table.

It’s a shitty carpenter who blames her tools, but I took the low road. Dickless wimp of a saw, that’s the problem. So I bought a table saw because I’m sure I need one anyway. It was so cheap I snagged the last one in the store because everyone else knew it was a mama-humping good deal, but if you’re curious just Google table saw prices. Hell yes. Bought one. What’s money when you’ve got a score to settle? Because I was pissed. And because tools. I sang to my dogs all the way home in the car, “Mamma got a new toy, a new toy, a new toy.” They thought we were going to the park. They hate me now.

Well, here’s the thing. When you get the least expensive table saw in the entire western United States, it might not come with all the fancy table saw shit you’ve seen when you watch that genius bastard Norm Abrams. Like, for example, there’s no way to fit a 20-inch plank onto this son of a mutt.

That is, there’s no orthodox way to fit a 20-inch plank onto my new face fart of a saw. But I did it anyway. Because.

Result: buttloads of sawdust all over hell and back, plus three boards that look excellent. At first glance, that is. Try to piece them together and you get these piss-swigging crooked-ass 90-degree joints that don’t meet up. Like, gaps big enough that some guys I’ve known could get all conjugal with those holes. This effort was a total donkey queef.

Seriously. I'm not kidding about these holes.

Seriously. I’m not kidding about these holes.

So, just check out this butt munch of a table. Oh: and it wobbles like a drunk on Mardi Gras. Dog-ass ugly I could forgive, maybe. But this doesn’t even work as a table. Ugly AND not functional. Worthless son of a Trump.

So today it sits in my greenhouse (Jeezus, quit asking when I’ll be finished with that studio conversion ass-ache, okay?) Guano-licking ugly and useless.

Totally guano-licking useless

Totally guano-licking useless

I will not be defeated. Stay tuned. I will have my monkey-shagging writing desk. I will show you when it’s done. But in the meantime, don’t ask. Seriously. Don’t fucking ask.

 

 

The Many Modern Paths to Sobriety

no drinking

Bob the Bartender got sober four years ago, while working full-time behind a bar, and without ever attending an AA meeting. He just reached a point where he knew he had to get sober, and he knew he had to do it on his own. He says sobriety still gets better by the day. It makes you superhuman, he says, and then he whispers that we should keep that a secret, lest everyone learn the path to omniscience.

Behind his bar, you’ll find whatever weighty tome he’s currently devouring. You can ask him the name of any capitol city ON THE PLANET and he knows it. He can discuss Herman Melville’s personal quest for sense in the world. And, yes, I still belly-up to his bar, for a ginger ale or a Virgin Mary, and we have conversations that give my brain more nourishing mental superfood than any of my graduate-level philosophy or ethics classes ever did.

A friend in my meditation group won’t tempt herself with a bar or pub setting, and hasn’t in nearly five years of sobriety. She attends AA meetings and nurtures her sobriety with meditation and journaling.

Another dear friend completed a month of residential treatment that included AA meetings, medical care, counseling, meditation, and therapy with horses. She attends AA meetings almost daily and a meditation group twice a week.

A relative of mine dove straight into the deep end of AA and still swims through it, mermaid-like, every day. Her conversations are sprinkled with AA lingo, with praises for God, and expressions of gratitude. She staffs the desk at a drop-in help center and studies addiction therapy at the community college.

Very un-mermaid-like, I dipped my toe into AA and put my shoes right back on. I attend a Buddhist-oriented meditation group. I write daily and read everything I can find on the subject of sobriety. I use phone apps that provide daily inspirational readings, remind me to meditate, and track my days sober as well as dollars saved from not buying alcohol. I have a Pinterest page where I stash any little gem that feels inspirational, soothing, or motivating so I can dive in when needed.

Back in the old days, when I was a kid whose adult relatives were divided between the diligently sober and the lavishly inebriated, I overheard countless homilies on the commandments of sobriety. There was one right way to do it. Even relatives who hadn’t had a drink in ages weren’t considered truly sober unless they were doing it right.

To be fair, my family’s conservative Mormon and Irish Protestant DNA didn’t predispose them to Transcendental meditation retreats or communing with therapy horses, even if those options had been available to them. In those days and in our circles, AA was it. You were in or you were a drunkard. And if you were in, there were rules:

Taking a nighttime cold medicine was cheating.

Non-alcoholic beers or mock cocktails were as dangerous as Russian roulette.

Bars and pubs would lead right back to the bottle.

God was an essential travel companion and no one could journey all the way to sobriety without Him.

Rarely did the sober relatives veer from these commandments. One even tried valiantly to live without doctor-prescribed anti-depressants. It didn’t work, and she still feels hints of judgment for treating her unbalanced brain chemistry.

In this new generation of sobriety, the rules are generously broad, and the judgment is mercifully muted. The old ways still surface, but with less authority. In my circles, one of the Old Guard convinced a woman that true sobriety required her to stop the medications that manage her bipolar disorder. Fellow group members said she was quickly “off the deep end” and they had to pull her to safety.

There is a clear shift in the world of sobriety. There are many paths. All are good.

AA’s Big Book was written in the 1930s by Christian white guys, and little has changed since. The program is still the standard, saving lives every day, and even comforting in its weathered and old-timey feel. Fortunately, today there’s also a welcoming spot somewhere for the Godless, the counter-culture, the non-conformist and the non-joiners.

I know people who find sober sanity in a good pair of running shoes, on a yoga mat or a meditation cushion, in a church pew or a secluded forest path, and even on a bar stool across from a philosopher mixologist.

 

 

Every Weekend Warrior’s Reality

It was hot (for our climate): 86 degrees. I weeded and cleared. I hauled lumber and sawed and drilled and built the boxes. My husband drove the wheelbarrow hundreds of round trips, shoveling and filling. Typical DIY weekend warrior stuff: we were exhausted by Sunday night. My fingers were numb, our cheeks were reddened from too much sun, but we were happy to sit back and admire our handiwork.

But there’s always more.

Weekend warriors, take heart. There’s always more. Always will be. Do what I did: just ignore the nagging to-do list for a little bit. It’ll still be there when you come back.

When You Find a Baby Animal: Myths and Facts

Roger the baby squirrel

Roger the baby squirrel

I still grieve the day 25 years ago when a friend and I found a baby bird on the sidewalk under a tree. She was tiny, helpless, nearly featherless. We both believed the first, most fatal myth: if you touch the baby, the mom will reject it.

We had accidentally touched her, because my friend almost stepped on her. She was on a busy sidewalk, so we moved her aside. And then we felt certain we couldn’t leave her there.

I took her home, believing I could somehow care for her. I tried a number of feedings, from varieties of baby food to sugar water to fruit and vegetable purees.

I gave it the college-level try, but I was kindergarten-level naive. The baby never ate anything, and over 48 hours she became weaker and weaker. I eventually carried her to the bank of a pond, soothed by self-delusions that nature would somehow make it all okay. I left her there, believing…what? Little Disney characters would flutter in and sprinkle her with fairy dust? She’d be adopted by a nanny bird or a benevolent fox would nurse the bird along with her litter of pups?

The baby bird died there, alone and hungry.

Nature wasn’t going to step in and save her, because I’d already thwarted nature’s one perfect plan. To allow nature to save her, I needed only to do one thing: Put the baby back in the tree. Right where we found her. Right where her mother surely watched us carry away her baby to a certain death.

Barring that, I could have reached out to any number of resources I had no idea about back then: Audubon Society, local wildlife rehabs, animal shelters, veterinarians. I didn’t even know to do that. And get this: we didn’t have Google then. It was the dark ages.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century to this past weekend, when I found a baby squirrel under my apple tree. Wide-eyed, passive, trusting little creature that can only be a baby squirrel, he was all too happy for me to pick him up. I’ve rescued several, and they always do the same thing: crawl up my chest, nuzzle under my chin, and make a snuffling sound that shatters my heart. I wrapped him in a piece of fleece fabric, and he kneaded it with his paws, trying to suckle it like he would his mother’s soft belly.

My husband and I fashioned a little nest out of a small box and attached it to a tree limb. There the baby waited, sleeping peacefully, for 3 1/2 hours until it grew dark and cold outside. I brought him inside for the night, keeping him safely in his fleece wrap and a cat carrier, while I Googled emergency feeding and re-hydration for baby squirrels. Again, I gave it the college try, and much less naively this time, but the baby still didn’t eat.

The emergency nest where Roger waited for his mom.

The emergency nest where Roger waited for his mom.

Bright and early the next morning, I put the baby back in his tree, this time sitting in the open on top of his fleece wrap. After about an hour he got playful and explored the tree. He found some hidey holes I didn’t know were there. I learned he could climb down, but couldn’t climb back up, and would panic when he wanted to return to his fleece but couldn’t. So it was clear he wasn’t quite ready to fend for himself, and his mom wasn’t returning.

Usually the mother will return. When she doesn’t, there’s still hope.

I turned to the experts: a local wildlife rescue center that’s expert in saving the hordes of nature’s innocents who nearly lose their lives each spring. Whether from natural predators, the unnatural predation from family dogs and cats, traffic accidents, deaths of parents, or untold other reasons, youngsters in the wild face an uphill climb to survive to adolescence. The wildlife center looks like a nursery this time of the year: babies of every conceivable species suckle bottles and take nourishment from eye droppers and are swaddled and nurtured by nanny humans who, no matter how skilled and compassionate, readily caution that they are a poor replacement for the infants’ actual mothers.

Roger in his much-loved fleece

Roger in his much-loved fleece

Roger (that’s his name, because, as you can clearly see, he looks like a Roger) will spend perhaps a week in the adorable wildlife nursery under the care of people who know how to feed and raise him, and then he’ll come back here, to his home tree, hopefully to thrive.

The babies I’ve saved since then always awaken my grief over the one I killed with kindness 25 years ago. The babies saved don’t erase that loss, but help me feel I’ve tipped the scales in the favor of the innocents. And since nature isn’t populated by magical faeries with gold dust, these babies need all the help they can get.