vegetables and tranquility

I just got back from a trip to the farmer’s market. It’s something I think of as “me time.” I walk the mile or so through town to get there, and I go before my husband gets home, so it’s a solitary thing.

I enjoy talking with the vendors, but I also enjoy wandering solo, past and through the booths, taking my time, deliberating on whether to buy kale from Shelly or Kate, investigating who has the best price for carrots.

For a while, I did not enjoy going by myself. I was not confident enough to walk through the crowd, interact with the farmers, and make purchases without Chris’s reassuring presence by my side. I often like to let him do the talking.

I’m pushing myself lately, however. I’m trying to gently expand my comfort zone, and try things that once would have been too scary.

That includes food, by the way. It’s funny how I reward myself for going to the market alone, by buying things I like — but these are things that, several years ago, I would have considered not a reward, but rather a punishment.

Veggie glory!

Veggie glory!

Once upon a time, I would only have eaten the corn and the potatoes from that spread. I still won’t eat the tomatoes raw, but I’m thinking those orange ones on the right might be nice in some sort of pizza application. (Like this one, only with a vegan mozzarella like this one.)

My, how things change.

I prefaced my market trip by reading a book in the park while I waited for the opening bell. After I shopped, I figured I might as well continue to indulge myself, and partway home I claimed a shady bench, nicely situated along the river that goes through town.

I meant to sit and read for a while longer, but then I noticed the local heron. He was directly in front of the bench I chose, wading through the shallows, doing what herons do.

Unfortunately not my photo. Credit goes to Flickr user Dendroica Cerulea.

Unfortunately not my photo. Credit goes to Flickr user Dendroica Cerulea.

I replaced my bookmark and leaned back, just watching. I let myself focus entirely on his movements, while still appreciating the breeze on my sunburned shoulders. I relaxed completely, and I thought to myself, “this must be what meditation is.”

I took a moment to consider how peaceful I felt, and how much I was enjoying it. That made me think of a woman I know, not exactly a friend, but an acquaintance who thrives on drama. She proclaims this loudly and proudly, how she loves drama, even craves it. She is an intense person as well as being dramatic. I often find myself physically leaning backward away from her when she is speaking. We could not be more different, she and I.

What I want is more peace in my life, because I feel it has been dramatic enough so far.  In contrast, we have this other woman, shattering the quietness of a room with her exuberant voice and exaggerated motions.

I don’t mind intensity, and I don’t want to rid my life of it entirely. I do think there is a difference between that which is intense, and that which is dramatic. An experience can be intense in a quiet, unobtrusive way. It may be a distinction that I alone make, but that’s okay. I just know that I’m okay with the one, and not so desirous of the other.

Though it’s fine in moderation, I find that I generally want to dial down the intensity in my daily life. I crave peace the way some people crave drama, adrenaline-fueled adventures, and high jinks. That’s why I try to cultivate it. That’s why I sit in the shade and watch herons.

I seek out any sort of break I can find from the clamor and cacophony of human voices, car engines, sirens, and punctuations of unaccountable noises. Natural settings lend themselves to that type of relief. Today, I wasn’t far from the main road, but I was sheltered from it, and able to enjoy myself in tranquility.

My mind gradually quieted, emptying itself of chaotic tangles of thoughts. It made room.  Words came trickling into this room. I began to think of things I wanted to write. If you ask me, that’s a very good reason to seek out these peaceful moments.

I finally stood up and gathered up my bags of vegetables, feeling centered, feeling grounded. I tried to hold onto that serenity as I entered back into the thick of things, but it did slip away somewhat by the time I arrived home.

I know it’s there, however. I can still recall the taste of it, as of a favorite food. I know where to find it.


The Henry Cat

My cat is a real bruiser of a fellow. He looks like a feline bulldog, and has the strength of a prize fighter.

 

He sits funny sometimes.

He sits funny sometimes.

He woke me up this morning by launching his full weight into a pounce that landed squarely on my abdomen. He missed my solar plexus by only an inch or so.

I let out a great OOF that brought my husband into the room. He was getting ready for work, and while I normally keep sleeping after he gets up, I was wide awake at 5:30. I was also perhaps a touch grumpy.

When Henry gets rowdy, there is no stopping him. (We have been known to call him Hank the Tank.) He becomes a wild-eyed throwback to his much larger ancestors.

He's only yawning... but yikes.

He’s only yawning… but yikes.

Fortunately for the humans in the house, he is mindful of our human puniness, and our weak, tender flesh, and he doesn’t use his claws to play with us.

Ultimately, he really is a good kitty. He can be quite stoic and gentlemanly looking, prompting us to also call him Lord Henry, Baron of the Lee Household. (Okay, okay, sometimes we call him Heinrich, too.)

We’ve gotten quite fond of him since adopting him in April, and he seems to be rather attached to us. He sleeps on our bed for nearly the whole night, with brief breaks to go eat food, then he comes back and settles in again.

He likes to cuddle, and has a few minutes of intense snuggling and nose pushing with us in the morning before he gets bombastic and tears around the house, sometimes punching people in the stomach. Then he goes back to sleep again.

He is a very skilled sleeper.

He is a very skilled sleeper.

He seems to prefer my husband, who is a more compliant canned food giver, as well as a more enthusiastic playmate. When Chris leaves for work, Henry roams around the house looking for him, making little cries.

It only lasts for about a minute, and then he moves on to the next session of running at top speed from room to room, but it is sad. I feel for him. I miss Chris, too.

I’m not going to write a lengthy post about the awesomeness of my cat. I figured I would give him the spotlight for a bit though, since I included him in one of my photos in my last post, but his face wasn’t even in it.

I think he deserves better than that. He should get some face time.

So handsome!

So handsome!

He’s a good boy. So, here’s to Henry.


The Almond Butter Incident, Part 2

If you’re just joining us, check out The Almond Butter Incident, Part 1.

Experimenting is always a risk, but I find experimenting with food extra tricky. I prefer not to waste any, in fact I’m quite determined not to, so I’m always worried that my efforts will end up completely inedible and not even suitable for the compost pile. (That’s hitting rock bottom, right there.)

Keep in mind that stubborn refusal of mine to throw something away and start over.

I think the only thing that could have gone worse in the initial stages of this little science project would be if the blender had actually broken.

I had thawed out another few bags of almond pulp, and so I was ready to begin. I put the pulp in the blender, and armed with my Blendtec cookbook, opened to the almond butter recipe, added some safflower oil. I did not have the peanut oil recommended by the recipe creator, so I just went with what I had on hand.

I added salt, and as instructed, started the blender at Speed 1. I readied myself to increase the speed up to 9 after 15 seconds had passed. (You know, feet apart, knees flexed, finger pointed at the button.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 2.25.47 PM

All that happened was that everything got packed at the bottom and the sides, and the blades spun freely, with the motor making that noise that says “don’t let me keep doing this noise for too long, or you’ll be sorry.”

I added more oil.

Same result.

I added more pulp.

Same result.

I don’t know how many minutes went by during this stage. My husband was brusquely informed to not attempt conversation, lest he risk having my rage directed towards him and not the general kitchen situation.

I added whole almonds, in the hopes that, well, it would magically fix whatever the problem was. It did not.

I dumped out the whole shebang into a glass baking dish, then put fresh almonds on the bottom of the blender, and picked out some whole almonds from the utter mess in the dish. Then I plopped the oily almond pulpy mush back on top of the almonds in the blender. I added some coconut oil for good luck.

Not exactly the same result, but similar enough.

At this point, there was almond pulp all over the counter, and me, and the outside of the blender. There was so much oil in the mixture — both kinds — that it must have been worth thousands of calories.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to give up. I wanted to punch someone. Fortunately, Chris was staying out of my way.

It finally occurred to me, after actually adding water to the blender, that there was probably too much water in the pulp right from the beginning.

image credit: Flickr user Chuck Coker

Thus begins phase 2.

I decided to try the method I used before, drying the pulp out in a low oven. This time, however, I had pulp + whole almonds + a whole lotta oil. I did not know how it was going to turn out.

Just for grins, I got out another bag of unadulterated pulp, and spread that out onto its own tray. I now had three trays of almondy mess, and I slid them all into the oven at 225 degrees F.

At this point, I knew I needed to step away from the scene for a little while. I can’t remember what I did while the almonds were drying. Maybe I blacked out.

Approximately two hours later, with intermittent checks and stirrings, everything was dried out to my satisfaction. I had a full tray of almond meal that I could later grind up into a finer powder if I so desired. I put that away in a nice jar, added a cloth teabag full of rice to help further dehydrate everything, and placed it nicely in the fridge. That had gone well, at the very least.

happy, unassuming little jar of almond meal

happy, unassuming little jar of almond meal

Then, it was time for the final battle, the moment of truth, the crucible.

I poured the slightly toasted mixture of oily almonds, in variously-sized pieces, with considerably less water than previously, into the blender.

When I pressed the “Speed Up” button, it was like the planets finally aligned. This was clearly what was meant to have happened all along. The magic of physics (and perhaps chemistry, I can’t be sure) whirled around in my blender.

I sped up the blender to the highest setting, number 9. It’s a little scary to run the Blendtec at 9. It’s pretty much warp speed.

image credit: deviantart user 94081lego

I lifted the lid after it seemed like it had gone on for quite long enough, thank you. Et voilà, what do you know? It totally looked like almond butter. It even smelled like it. It was hot, but I tasted it, and, boy did it ever taste like almond butter.

I felt like I had just invented the wheel or created fire. I know many have gone here before, but how many have tried as hard as I did? Very few, I suspect.

I poured most of it into a leftover Vegenaise jar (handy things to keep around). It looks pretty nice in there, almost like real almond butter.

the result of overnight refrigeration

the result of overnight refrigeration

I poured what was left of it into a smaller jar, and immediately sat down with an apple and a knife and my little jar of magic. I had myself a feast. The coconut oil made it extra delicious and special.

So, now I know I can do it. The question is, would just the dried pulp with oil do the trick, or do I have to create havoc in order to end up with almond butter? Should I perhaps just start with whole almonds like a normal, sane person?

The thing is, I still have plenty of frozen pulp to use up.

I could be using that freezer drawer for so many other things.

I could be using that freezer drawer for so many other things.

At the very least, I can use the pulp in the recipes I’ve already successfully made, and I have contacts who can provide me with plenty of other almond meal uses.

I really want to use it to make almond butter, though. Why? Because almond butter is the bomb. It blows peanut butter right out of the water. Also, organic almond butter is crazy expensive. Like, $25 per pound expensive. The incentive to make it at home is considerable.

There’s no way to know ahead of time if the dried pulp will work. I could ask the internet, but she’s tricky and conniving, and cannot always be trusted.

I suppose I’ll just have to experiment.

Find a sunny spot for a photo op, and there also you will find a cat.

Find a sunny spot for a photo op, and there also you will find a cat.


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