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February 12, 2017

California Strawberry Festival Poster Competition

I'll admit, the lure in entering this competition I came across on Facebook is the two thousand dollar prize purse.  I have a large outstanding vet bill since Chance passed away, and this would pay off a significant chunk.  
Coincidentally, one of the costumes I found for the girls this Halloween, just after Chance died, was a strawberry, complete with a little leaf-top hat.  Since I had some photos from our shoot last October, I picked a few of them to have blown up.  I cut them out with embroidery scissors and played with the juxtaposition.  
This is the first year the poster contest is open to any art medium, including photography.  Past years' design winners have been fine art paintings.   My take is unusual and a bit outrageous.  I'm hoping the selectors will be open to a humorously memorable direction for the poster theme.

February 4, 2017

Vegan Cheesemaking Demonstration

 (the demo sampler plate--
counterclockwise from left:  feta, coconut black pepper, walnut cheddar, nacho, fermented)

One of my Christmas gifts was a giftcard to a fabulous restaurant I'd long admired but hadn't been able to try, SunCafe Organics in Studio City.  I used the credit not only to visit the restaurant, but to take a class there this weekend!  Chef/Partner Ron Russell teaches vegan cooking classes with a different themed menu each Saturday morning.  Yesterday, he demonstrated five different vegan "cheeses," including feta, a fermented cashew cheese, walnut cheddar, nacho cheese, and coconut black pepper.  Our handout included a sixth recipe for a sundried tomato ricotta that we can experiment with at home.

Mise-en-place:  the Chef's prep for the demo

While the class was a demonstration model, rather than hands-on, Chef Ron's recipes were easy to follow.  The setting made it easy to see each step, and Chef did a great job of lecturing about his reasons for his preferences as well as his step-by-step instructions.  The tasting at the end of the class was sublime.  Each cheese has its own distinct personality which makes it easy to tell them apart both visually and by taste.

We spent a few minutes discussing general nutrition, with Chef highly recommending the ideas of Dr. Michael Greger of the website Nutrition Facts.  We talked about high speed blenders, such as a Vitamix, versus a food processor, and the advantages to each. 

As we got onto the cooking demo portion, Chef suggested soaking seeds at room temperature for at least six hours, and nuts for twelve hours, to remove the enzyme inhibitors which prevent germination until the warmth and moisture of spring.  This affects the flavor and nutrient value of the food.

(discussing nutritional yeast)

Chef taught a bit about nutritional yeast, an ingredient in many of the recipes.  Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast grown on molasses and then harvested, washed, and dried. Because it’s inactive, it doesn’t froth or grow like baking yeast does so it has no leavening ability. It comes as a powder or a flake, and has a cheesy flavor.  Brewer's yeast is a bitter tasting by-product of beer making.  The distinct flavors of each mean that the the two cannot be used interchangeable.

 (allowing us to smell the fermented cashew cheese)

Because our class was only an hour and a half, the cheeses were not dried or formed into a hard cheese in any way - they pretty much all had the same basic consistency much like a thick hummus.  We discussed the process of using a food dehydrator or molds for a more dense cheese, but for restaurant purposes most of the recipes are used as a thick "spread" consistency in sandwiches, wraps, on flatbread, and such.  For sauces used for pasta, etc.,  the consistency can easily be thinned with a bit more liquid. 

(demonstrating the consistency of the finished walnut cheddar)

One of the more interesting recipes was a fermented cheese that utilizes kombucha as the liquid rather than water.  Kombucha is a fermented probiotic tea that is naturally lightly carbonated, and Chef mentioned how this can affect the blending process.  He stopped the blender an extra time or two, shaking the carafe to make sure all the air bubbles were coming to the surface and not impeding the blade surface coming into contact with the ingredients.  Because this cheese does require time to ferment, our sample tasting batch had been made the night before. 

(adding ingredients for the nacho cheese)

Of the five demonstrated recipes, the nacho cheese was the most heavily spiced.  Interestingly, it is based on sunflower seeds.  Chef pointed out that these are much more economical, at a couple of bucks a pound for organic, versus cashews, at six to seven dollars per pound for organic.  And nutritionally the seed may have more value than a nut. 

We discussed the value of various sugars, both whole and extracted.  The high spice level of the nacho cheese calls for a bit of sweetness to balance out the flavor, hence the agave in the recipe.

(plating the nacho cheese)
The nacho cheese was served in a taco shell of romaine lettuce.  The cheese spread onto the wide surface made a lovely presentation in the little leaf boat.

(the finished coconut black pepper cream cheese)

The last type of cheese demonstrated was probably the most unusual.  This had coconut meat as a base, and was flavored with black pepper and thyme.  The taste was just as mild as the others.  Chef pointed out that other herbs, such as dill, chive, or sage, could easily be substituted in place of the thyme.

 (the sampler plate)

While the finished cheeses were being plated for us to sample, health coach and raw chef Steve Factor took the stage and gave a general talk about eating healthfully in abundance to restore health and balance in the body.  His joy and self confidence re-energized me for my coaching practice, and the timing couldn't have been better, as I just completed my tenth speech in Toastmasters, qualifying for my first Toastmasters award.  It's time to begin formulating my own health presentations.  I'm so happy to have a few more recipes in my arsenal. 

All recipes by Ron Russell

February 3, 2017

Sweet Potato-Black Bean Soup with Bacon

California has been in a five year drought, but we're catching up during this one winter, with three times our normal rainfall since October.  Surprisingly, it hasn't been that many rain days - just very heavy rainfall on the few days of bad weather.  So we are all staying in, cozying up, and cooking comfort foods.  I've loved Morningstar bacon for years, but never served it in a soup.  I wanted to see if it would hold its texture by adding it to this sweet potato stew.  The beans and the sweetness of the potato meld well with the salty bacon.   Enjoy!

Sweet Potato-Black Bean Soup with Bacon

2 cans Campbell's potato soup
1 can sweet potato purée
1 can black beans (rinsed and drained)
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp dried onion
Low Sodium Vegetable Broth
4 strips Morningstar Vegetarian Bacon
Place the canned goods and spices in a crockpot.  Use crockpot liner for easy cleanup.  Fill Campbells soup can with veggie stock twice and water once, adding liquid to crockpot.  Heat on high two hours or low for four hours.  Serve with crumbled bacon as garnish. 

February 2, 2017

Rose Float Design Submission

I knocked off a lifetime bucket-list desire this year by submitting a design for a Rose Parade float to the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association.  The BTOR float is community funded, designed, and built.  Their design process is open to anyone in the community; you don't even have to be a Burbank resident.  Their board winnows down all the selections received to a few choices which are voted on by their membership (to be a member, one must pay a small yearly membership fee).   

The 2018 Rose Parade Theme is “Making a Difference.” It is "meant to honor and celebrate all of the people in our communities, who quietly and without desire for reward or recognition, act in selfless, generous and kind ways to aid or benefit’s about the human acts of kindness that enrich the lives of others and are the source of inspiration, hope, joy and optimism for all of us.”  I couldn't think of a better focus that fits within this theme than to promote animal rescue.  

My idea is to have one little girl, taking a knee in a park-like setting, with a brother standing next to her. The little girl is wearing a t-shirt that says "Fostering Saves Lives."  Her arms are outstreched wide, and in one arm is looped a leash.  Opposite and facing them, in a single cement shelter kennel (without getting too dark or depressing) is a cluster of abandoned and stray animals--a chihuahua, a big dog, a medium sized terrier, a kitty cat, and a bunny rabbit. The chihuahua is in the front, taking the lead, and is running to the girl.  It's clear she is rescuing the pup and will be giving it a happy home.

Unfortunately, I don't have the artistic talent to draw out the scenario in my head.  I put out feelers for some help, and finally connected with a friend from my film work, who is a talented sketch artist, of the type that does accurate court drawings and portraiture.  I sent him my idea with less than twenty four hours to the submission deadline.  We had little time for revisions or collaboration, so I gave him free reign to run with it, and waited excitedly to see what he would come up with.  While his composite differs from what I would have done in some ways, I was happy that we were able to submit in time and get the theme idea in front of the committee. 

Titled "One Paw at A Time," the text that accompanied our drawing read: "A little girl exits a shelter to a park-like setting, beginning a pet's new life as a foster." 


Postscript:  Tonight was the community voting of the designs.  Of fifty designs submitted this year, the Board chose six to present to the membership, and ours was one of them!  Through a voting process, our design received third place!  I never imagined my design would make it past the board-level, and due to a scheduling conflict, I was not at the meeting.  But my friend sent me a report with pictures.   

The winning design was created by a thirteen year old girl, possibly the youngest float designer in BTOR history.  I don't want to give anything away, so I won't say more, except that I am pleased that it also has a theme which makes a statement. 

The non-selected submissions were laid out on tables after the voting.  All of the submissions were elaborate and detailed, and some quite professionally drafted.  I was amazed at the forethought that went into the animation as well as the overall theme.  

I am stunned that we made it into the final voting round.  Of the five years I've worked on the float, they've all been cute-sy but nonpolitical.  The theme of this year's parade opened the door to some lofty statements.  I can't wait for Deco Week of the 2018 Rose Parade!

January 31, 2017

"Almond Joy" Trail Mix

My version of an "Almond Joy" trail mix:  Large Flake Coconut, Dark Chocolate Chips, Less Salt Cashews, Cinnamon Life Cereal.  Simple.  Good. 

January 22, 2017

Apple Butter Marinated Tofu

(marinating above and baked below)

I'm learning to prepare tofu in new ways, and to make it shine as the protein of a meal.  Recently the grocery store had a special on Ken's salad dressings, so I tried a few that I normally might not.  When stuck at home due to bad weather, I brainstormed with what I had on hand.  This Asian-inspired dish is tempered by the sweetness of apple butter, and the nuttiness of sesame seeds.  The sweetness of the apples made a great complement to the umami soy sauce in the dressing.  Let me know if you try it yourself!

Apple Butter Marinated Tofu

1 package Firm or Extra Firm Tofu, pressed
1/2 cup Parrish Pioneer Ranch Unsweetend Apple Butter (or other brand)
1/2 cup Ken's Steak House Lite Asian Sesame With Ginger and Soy Dressing
1/4 to 1/2 cup Toasted Sesame Seeds

Press the tofu under a heavy plate for 20 minutes to remove excess water.  Slice the tofu into four patties approx 1/2 inch thick.

Add the other ingredients to a small bowl and whisk. 

Place the tofu in a dish large enough to allow room around all the patties.  Drench with the dressing.  Cover the dish and allow tofu to marinate for several hours or overnight. 

Bake the tofu in the dish at 325 degrees for approx 40 mins, or grill.  I recommend baking over grilling as you can have more of the sauce in the pan with the tofu steaks.  Grilling will give a crispier skin, but less sauce.  Serve warm on salad greens or plain.

January 21, 2017

Mushroom Cauliflower Edamame Stew

Veggie stew in the crockpot on a rainy day in Los Angeles - this is our Southern California winter.  The pups are ensconced in blankets so tightly that I can't see even a whisker.  Netflix a classic movie like "Bridget Jones' Diary" and head to the kitchen for this hearty soup featuring cauliflower, edamame, and mushrooms.  

Mushroom ~ Cauliflower ~ Edamame Stew

1 bag riced cauliflower
1 bag shelled edamame
1 bag Trader Joe's frozen sliced Mushrooms in Olive Oil and Parsley
1 15 oz can Campbells cream of mushroom soup
1/2 box low sodium veggie stock
equal amount water
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1 cube frozen minced basil

Microwave cauliflower in Pyrex bowl for 3-5 minutes till steamed.  Dump cauliflower in crockpot and use same bowl to roast mushrooms in oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  If edamame are not pre-cooked, blanch them (I simply defrosted a bag). 

Place the veggie stock and cream of mushroom soup in a bowl.  Fill mushroom can with water and add to bowl with the spices (garlic, mustard, basil).  Whisk to combine. 

Use a crock pot liner bag for easy cleanup.  Add all the veggies to the crockpot and pour liquid over it.  Heat on low for 2-4 hours.  Ready to serve when warmed through.

January 20, 2017

Serial Starter ~ #52essays2017

I am a Serial Starter.  I tend to start project after project, leaving a trail of incompletion like litter in my wake.  On public radio today, the new "regime" change was being discussed.  Obama was praised for having cabinet appointments that were truly experts in their field, coming from academia and corporate America rather than politics.  But the point was made:  One can know all the facts about a country or situation, but if the person does not have bold vision, the appointment is or was still a bad match.  

I have an oversupply of Bold Vision.  I heard once that FDR was a true Renaissance man in that he knew enough about any subject to make his guest comfortable chatting about their interests, whatever it may be, for at least a few minutes.  I always aspire to that level.  In that fashion I am enthralled with how to do anything.  Thus I pick up any craft long enough to figure it out, then leave the project unfinished in my living room, moving on to the next.  I start project after project, and I always have to do it with the proper tools, so I collect those too.

There are never enough hours in the day to complete all my grand aspirations.  These have included:  aforementioned craft kits and projects, Toastmasters (working towards my Competent Communicator award), taxes, insurance claims, job listings regarding my freelance career, going back to school. 

So what holds me back?  Firstly, fear.  The fear of what will happen if I truly give a situation my all, and it's still not good enough.  I am a born Virgo and a perfectionist.  I can complete a craft, throw away the pattern, and no one will know the flaws in the project, but I will.  I have to let go of my expectations and enjoy the process of learning and personal growth. 

Secondly, time management.  I hold many roles, and have no partner with which to share household duties.  My career is my own to make as a freelancer, which means I have two jobs:  working, and looking for work, simultaneously.  I have no problem setting priorities but am frequently overly ambitious.  I make lists, relish in crossing them off task by task.  Since I can't add more hours to my day, I have to give myself more credit for the things that are completed.

Thirdly, accountability.  I live alone and work on a freelance basis.  Unless I am actually at work, very little of my life is observed by anyone.  My home can be well organized but have way too much stuff, as I am the only one who has to view it.  And if I don't talk about my hobbies, no one knows of them.  So I am calling on myself for accountability, and it doesn't even have to be to another person.  I use my blog to report to the world what I'm up to, even if no one's reading it. 

In 2017 I have but one resolution:  to finish things; just do it, put it away and put it behind me.  I'm starting this by completing my Competent Communicator, or CC, in Toastmasters, and by blogging regularly.  I'm no longer putting off exercising but rather sucking it up and getting it over with.  Taking my new resolve to follow through as a simple mantra will make this my year.  

January 12, 2017

#52 Things You May Not Know About Me ~ #52essays2017

 #52 Things You May Not Know About Me for #52essays2017

1.  I have jumped out of a plane, once, on my eighteenth birthday.
2.  I have been certified as an EMT basic.
3.  I have held a green card to fight forest fires for the forest service.
4.  I have visited Russia.  It's really the only time I've been out of the country, except for Tijuana.
5.  I served a year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer working in homeless services in Los Angeles in the middle of college.
6.  I volunteered for Literacy Volunteers of America and taught two seniors how to read.  
7.  I have never liked the taste or idea of meat, even as a toddler.  I couldn't fathom eating flesh.  I came up with lots of ways to get out of it, except for the summer I first learned to "cook" using a microwave to heat up hot dogs while my mom was at work.  8.  I love to cook and especially bake.  I can't stand most spicy/hot food.
9.  I was a lifelong 4-Her, and then 4-H leader.  I have participated in many county fairs and summer camps.
10.  My family relocated four times when I was between 9-18 years old, nearly every two years throughout middle and high school.   This made me great at being the "new kid" in a crowd.  I was born in the suburbs of Chicago, but Southern California has felt most like home.
11.  I was raised Catholic, and went to a Catholic high school, where I learned too much about religion to be a proponent of any one.
12.  My brother and sister are seven and nine years older than me.
13.  My grandpa owned a Pepsi plant in Southern Illinois.  I was raised on soda pop, but I don't keep any soda in my house now.  In the 1930s-50s my family had our own soda line and family label.  The plant was sold when my grandfather got sick with cancer in the mid-eighties. 
14.  My favorite color is brown, and I like sunset-y shades like gold, orange, and scarlet.
15.  I played piano as a kid and wish I still had one.
16.  I have been a bunny mama, which inspired my love of pets.  I have re-homed my bunnies, for their own good, when I moved into a new house which had no air  conditioning in the heat of summer and couldn't take care of them as they deserved.
17.  I became a dog mom, when I was gifted a puppy as part of a location payoff for a film shoot.
18.  I rescued a dog from a shelter, who was turned into the shelter when her owner went to jail.
19.  I was certified with that dog as an animal-handler therapy dog team to visit nursing homes and hospitals with my pup.
20.  I learned so much about veterinary medicine from my pups, who have dealt with back issues, kidney disease, bladder stones, worms, and other mysterious maladies necessitating both western and holistic treatments. Most of all I have learned to be their advocate.
21.  I've fostered about five dogs for a dog rescue.  Only one has been a "foster failure."
22.  I put on monthly fundraiser events for the rescue from whom I got my puppy.
23.  Though the internet has changed my means of consumption, I will always be a bookworm.  My favorite book of all time is "Watership Down." 
24.  I once owned a condo for several years, and even hung onto it as a rental when I left the state.  Due to the high cost of housing in CA, I haven't owned since. I've lived alone most of my adult life.
25.  I have landscaped a yard myself from scratch, including the building of a patio, the design, and the installation of plants and pathways.
26.  I collect Amaryllis bulbs.   I also love Dahlias and other bulbs.  If I plant seeds, I tend to think they're weeds and dig them up when they sprout.  But I do well with tubers.
27.  I have a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies from the University of Utah.  "Film Studies" is watching a film and being a critic, as opposed to "film production," which is how to load a camera and make a movie. 
28.  I work as an assistant director in film and television.  I applied for the training program five times before I got in, including once where I made alternate.  I did 400 days in my apprenticeship to get into the union but was already a first AD in the third area before I got into the training program.  I got my start on the television show Touched by an Angel in the nineties.  I worked as a grip and as craft service before I was a set p.a.  I love the predictability of the process of filmmaking - blocking, lighting, rehearsal, shooting - but the freshness of each day's work, along with the camaraderie of cast and crew.  I've worked with a lot of different stars but I don't tend to talk about them.
29.  I am fairly good with navigation and usually know where I'm going.  Filming in different parts of the city has helped me to know my way around. 
30.  I have asthma and allergies, which lead to frequent sinus infections and bronchitis.  I take about five pills daily but I am not defined my illness or condition.  I like to hula hoop and walk but I'm bad at gyms and indoor exercise. 
31.  I have my certification as a Health Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.  When I retire from the film business I would love to be a nutritionist.
32.  I maintain an ETSY shop, with vintage pyrex and craft items.
33.  I did a lot of leaded and copper foil stained glass in college, and wish I had time to do more.
34.  I've decorated several floats for Tournament of Roses parades.
35.  I've served as an election clerk.
36.  I love to do pet photography with my dogs, and would love to make it a side business with other people's small pets.
37.  I've been published as a freelance writer for a magazine. 
38.  I've been to Antiques Roadshow several times.  I love garage sales and thrift shops.
39.  Cross stitching is one of my most relaxing hobbies.  I take needlepoint projects wherever I go.
40.  I love kids, but I don't have any of my own.  I babysit for friends fairly regularly.
41.  I love road trips, and traveling in general, though pets and finances sometimes make that difficult.  I love to play host too whenever friends or family come into my city.
42.  I'm active on facebook.  It lets me keep in touch with work contacts, family and friends in other states from so many moves and activities.  I have lots of friends from blogging and pet pages that I haven't met in person, and some that I have met only after becoming friends online.  These are joyful reunions!
43.  I can't drive a stick shift.  I had my brother's old car as my first car and I burnt the clutch out within six months.
44.  I'm Mac-proficient and love that my devices can talk to one another.  Everything I know about computers, websites, blogging, photo editing has been self-taught.
45.  "Law and Order" reruns are still the best thing on television. 
46.  I'd like to build a "Tiny House," a la Tiny House Nation.  I have lots of design ideas but don't want to shell out the time or money until laws make it legal to own and park such a dwelling.  Right now they're outlawed in most jurisdictions.
47.  I'd like to retire in Italy, even though I've never been there.  First, I'll have to learn the language. 
48.  I tend to be straightforward in my speech, interactions, and writings.  But I do see shades of gray in life and thoughts.  Sometimes my bluntness is a benefit, sometimes it is a negative. 
49.  The most difficult thing I have ever done is to let go of my first dog, Chance, when he was ten years old, with the help of a vet, this last October.
50.  I am giving my tenth speech in Toastmasters next week, which will qualify me for my first CC award, "Competent Communicator."  After three CC's one becomes a DTM, "Distinguished Toastmaster."
51.  I have had a blog for eight years, but I don't consider myself a writer.  There are now 140 blog posts with the tag "recipe" on my blog.  I also talk about crafts, events, frugality, and will start including some essays.
52.  I am pushing my boundaries by joining #52essays2017.

January 11, 2017

Needle Felting with Crunchy Crafters Meetup

Last night, I took a fun class on needle felting in Pasadena through the Crunchy Crafters meetup group.   Ginko, the group's founder, was our instructor.  She put together kits and shared her talent with us, teaching a little penguin buddy that she had designed to be used as a Christmas ornament.  The six women who attended were so diverse and each inspiring with all their talents and interests. 

My little guy clearly channeled Opus as I designed him.  I think it takes practice to become as purposeful and whimsical as Ginko.  Her cute little samples are below.

Ginko also brought another project to show us the simple charm of needle felting.  Her little snowman features a scarf made from a piece of a real scarf or sweater that was being discarded.  Ginko pointed out how easily upcycling can figure into felted projects.

We met at a small cafe in Pasadena where Ginko does a chalk mural on the wall on a regular basis.  She's clearly talented with design.

The directions for our penguins were pictured step-by-step on a postcard, as well as written out in front of us.  Ginko demonstrated how to measure out wool by weight in grams, then took us through the construction at each stage.

We started with plain un-spun wool, and used a special barbed felting needle to bind the fibers together by poking in a straight up-and-down motion at a ninety degree angle.  Deeper plunges with the needle are used to attach, while repeated short jabs shape the material by compacting it together.

The core of the shape can be sped up by making a "form" of natural yarn rolled into a ball or egg.  I then added the black wool over the entire body by first stretching the fibers to form an evenly thin consistency, sort of a sheet.  From this a bit was ripped off at a time, covering small portions of the body at a time until the entire surface was black.

The eyes were the first detail to be added, then the belly.  The beak was formed by folding the wool into a triangle and shaping the beak on the form block separately, then attaching to the body.

At the end of our two hour class, my little guy was short one wing.  I finished him at home and added eyebrows to improve his expression. 

I'm so glad I discovered this meetup! I learned something new, and came away with a tangible item, as well as a new skill, new friends, and something I can teach my 4-H kids in their craft project that they can then enter into the county fair--what more could I ask for?

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