Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My nephew enjoyed vegan cupcakes for his first birthday!

Last week my nephew Lexington turned 1!  Since he does not consume any dairy products, my sister asked me if I could bake him something.  I was so excited that his first cake was gonna be vegan! 

I got back from a camping trip late the day before the party and didn’t start baking until almost 11pm, so I decided cupcakes was a better idea since they have a shorter baking time.  I took an old cake recipe and simplified it for a dozen cupcakes and I had the cutest car cupcake holders to bake them in!  Little Lex seemed to really enjoy his first cupcake (and vegan ice cream as well!) and tore it to pieces (after pushing on the raspberry for awhile).

Vanilla Cupcakes

½ cup Organic Unrefined Sugar
1/3 cup Margarine (non-hydrogenated)
1/3 cup Silken Tofu
1 cup Non-dairy Milk (soy, almond, coconut)
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 ½ cups Unbleached White Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
¼ tsp Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a dozen muffin tins with cupcake holders.

Add the sugar, margarine and tofu to a bowl and use an electric mixer to beat until smooth.  Add the milk and vanilla and mix to combine.  Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix just until all the ingredients are combined.  Spoon the dough into the cupcake holders until ¾ full. 

Bake for 20 minutes.  Cupcakes should spring back when lightly tapped in the center.

Vanilla Frosting

½ cup Margarine (non-hydrogenated)
16oz. bag Powdered Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla
2 ½ - 3 Tb Non-dairy Creamer or Milk

Blend the margarine with an electric mixer until creamy.  Add the powdered sugar and blend until marine distributed evenly in the fat.  Add 2 Tb of creamer/milk and add more as needed to get the right consistency.  Using creamer or coconut milk will allow the frosting to have a creamier, fuller flavor. 

Once the cupcakes have cooled, top with the frosting.  I put a fresh raspberry on top for more flavor.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 20, 2013

6 months later...


No one really acknowledges the long-term anguish that can come when you lose a furry loved one.  The fact that 6 months has already passed astonishes me since it feels like yesterday that Roy was with me.  It also feels like I haven’t been able to hold him for eternity.  The emotional toll of not having Roy fill my life is always unraveling and I still cannot talk about him without crying.  Even writing this is an incredible challenge.

When Roy first died, I was in shock and had trouble fully comprehending he was gone.  Immediately after, my other cat Loki was diagnosed with early stage kidney disease and then I was leaving for Florida for an internship.  I was leaving everything that reminded me of Roy behind, except for the small tin that contained his ashes.  They came along for the ride.

In Florida, I was also pretty busy, but mostly the lack of privacy stopped me from really processing my loss further.  I was sharing a 2-bedroom apartment with 5 others and there was no time to myself.  Although there were times I would cry in my car, or alone on the beach, I mostly kept the emotions hidden inside me.

One my 3-week road trip home, I was too distracted by the beauty of nature and the intrigue of new areas.   I was living in an amazing time where I felt truly alive and experiencing the world in a new way.  I was having too much personal growth to allow sorrow to interfere.

If Roy was not on my shoulder, he was sitting on my side like a Koala Bear.  So cute!

But then I got home.  The empty apartment was just a reminder of what was missing- Roy’s meows and cuddles and mischief.  Every time I went to the grocery store and saw corn I was holding back tears (and it’s corn season).  I was alone and not distracted and it felt awful.  

I really miss him.  And thinking back, I can’t help to question if I ended his life too soon.  I need to constantly look through photos of his life towards the end to remind myself that he was in pain.  Roy’s last day was a good one, which is many ways is great.  It’s better to go out on a positive note, right?  But that is also where the questioning comes in, because there is no clear answer to when the time is right.  If there is no questioning, you probably waited too long.  I read somewhere that looking back on the decision of euthanasia, no one ever says they did it too early, just too late.  Unfortunately that is not always true.

The other day marked 6 months since I lost Roy.  The reality of it all hit me hard and hasn’t left.  I am trying to remember to celebrate the life I had with him, and re-read this blog post about him and am watching my videos of him eating corn. There is no getting over this- just moving on and remembering his spirit.  I am sure years from now I will still laugh at his antics and cry from missing him.  I am sure I will always wonder if my decision was a good one, but that is the unbearable consequence about being responsible for another’s life and loving them so completely.

I wanted to write about this so others going through such loss can know that it completely normal.  Many of my friends recently lost animals and are struggling to move on.  It is also important for family and friends to support those who animal died, including weeks and months past the immediate loss. So often people suffer in silence with their loss, and it is difficult when people don’t recognize the pain that can continue.  Usually this loss hits weeks to months later, when most people would not think about asking if you are okay.  I don’t know all the answers since I am still trying to figure out how to move past the heavy feelings of loss to simply celebrating my time with Roy, but I am appreciative of the few people in my life that have been supportive and understanding.  

Roy' paw prints, taken a few months before he died.  I plan to get a version of this tattooed on my left shoulder blade- where he would often have his paws while cuddling on my shoulder.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

4 months and 10,000 miles later...

My general route home from Sarasota, FL to Portland, OR.
Wow!  I've been on quite the adventure!  The day after Christmas I left Portland for Sarasota, Florida for a 3-month internship with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.  I drove both ways and went further than 10,000 miles in a car with a current mileage of 224,000 miles.
A Bottlenose Dolphin was spotted from Venice Pier in Sarasota, Florida.  Often times dolphins will patrol a pier in search for free handouts, which puts them in danger of entanglements and other concerns.

On the way there, I got to see amazing sights; new birds, old family friends, a recently moved friend and lots of nothing (I drove though Texas).  I was amazed by the lack of vegan options in some places (even hummus) and was surprised by others.  I surprised myself with the ability to drive all day and not feel considerable fatigue or loneliness.

I found this kitty (who I creatively named Moo) when on the road to Sarasota, just a few hours away.  He had obviously been abandoned and through the power of networks, I was able to find someone to care for him by the time I reached my destination.  He was super friendly and I am sure found a loving and happy home.

The internship itself also surprised me for so many reasons!  The living situation was tight (I lived in a 2 bedroom apartment with 5 others, 3 of which I had to share a room with).  Fortunately everyone was really nice and we spent a lot of time talking about biology and comedy.  All my intern buddies were great!  And the fact that I was over 10 years older than all of them was never really an issue (unless I let it get to me- which I admittedly did at times). 

I was fortunate enough to watch this Loggerhead Sea Turtle be released from rehab from Mote Marine Lab and swim to her freedom.  She was huge and magnificent and it was a powerful moment.

This is a Wood Stork.  I had never heard on one before and was pleasantly surprised to meet many in Florida!

I got to be introduced to dolphins in the wild, along with the fish, rays and sharks that also share the water.  I learned new scientific study techniques and so much knowledge!  I got to spend a lot of time on boats on the beautiful Florida water and even got to drive one around a little bit.

This was my first sight of the Atlantic Ocean and beach.  I was surprised by how orange and flat the beaches were.  I originally escaped for a weekend in hopes to see an endangered Northern Right Whale, but no luck.
The only disappointing thing about Sarasota was the food options.  It was really lacking.  This did prompt me to bake (and cook) more and bring in some baked goods to where I was interning.  I think I only brought in one cake and that's all it took to be known as a good baker.

The sunsets in Florida were always different and amazing.  I could actually watch the sun set from my apartment, but this one if from Venice Beach a little south of where I was staying.

Manatees can be found in the waters around Sarasota, but it's a bit cold for them the time of year I was visiting.  To see manatees, I would often visit the Manatee Viewing Center in Tampa which was an electric station which caused the waters in the area to be warmer (and more acceptable for manatees).

It was tough to leave Florida, but as I made my way across the states back towards home, I felt a freedom I had not known before.  I got to spend my time doing what I wanted (when I wasn't driving) and stop for wildlife and snap photographs and really take in the world around me.  It was so great!  I saw bird species I always wanted to see, some I didn't even know existed, and in places I never thought I'd be in.  Who knew Texas would be one of the most diverse areas to find bird (and baby alligators too)!

Baby alligators!  There were so many of them in one area found in Anahauc Wildlife Refuge (TX) along with many adult alligators seen along their 2.5 mile driving wildlife viewing loop.  Many more seen than in Florida!

Black-necked Stilts foraged in the water in Sabine Woods, a great birding area.

Avocets along a gulf coast beach a little east of Galveston, TX.  I was so excited to see them!

I also got to see friends I hadn't seen in forever, family I hadn't visited since I was a kid, played laser with 10 one-year old kittens, saw more wild dolphins outside the internship, survived long roads and strange people, got through tornado weather and wind storms, met new people, got to see prairie dogs, a weasel and an armadillo, and so much more!

A Green Anole tells me to leave him alone by puffing out his pink throat pouch.  So cool!
Blanchard Springs Caverns in Arkansas.  A little after this photo was taken, my tour was cut short due to tornado weather on its way.  I had to drive down a mountain road with thunder and lightning everywhere to find shelter in the closest town.  Staying in the caverns seemed like a better idea to me!
A wind storm shut down part of I-40 in Arizona causing a few hour detour.  It did allow me to find the Montezuma Castle National Monument and see what a forest in Arizona looks like. 

I plan to share more from my travels, but I wanted to start here.  I know most people focus on vegan food for their travels, but for me it was more about the wildlife and the adventure.  I feel that my connection with nature and appreciation for wildlife is also about me being vegan.  Seeing all the beauty in the world fills my heart and reminds me to fight for what is natural, rather than the torture and captivity so many animals face in the world.

The Big Sur coastline on the Pacific Ocean.  I was so excited when I first reached the Pacific that I started to cry.  I knew I was home.  I loved Florida, but I really missed the big whales and the diverse topography.
Female Elephant Seals kept themselves cool with sand.  There were hundreds, maybe thousands of them.  Looking out, you constantly see displayed of sand flicks all along the beach.  I was so excited by the sight of so many seals that I could hardly contain myself.  Then, I realized the other side of the beach had just as many!
An adult transient killer whale exhales in the Monterey Bay waters.  They show up in the spring while mother gray whales escort their young north, who are more susceptible to attack by these whales.  The whale watch tour also included seeing lots of Risso's Dolphins and lunge feeding Humpback Whales.  It was amazing!
I stopped in Point Reyes to meet up with a good friend and camp and go birding.  We also fit in kayaking in Tomales Bay where we watched rays and sharks in the water.  Watching them swim around was amazing!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Saying goodbye to a family friend

The latest birthday card sent to me by HJ- animal themed of course (December, 2013).
Today I found out Hazel Jeanne Rodgers died. Most people knew her as "Jeannie" and I knew her as "HJ". You do not know her, but the world lost a special person. Growing up, my sisters and I would receive a card from her for all the holidays throughout the year. And I mean every holiday; Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, etc. For Christmas and birthdays we’d receive a present along with our card.

I was the only one that ever wrote her back with thank you letters. As I grew up, letters continued but instead of thank you’s, it was hello letters. I’d write more about what I had been up to and keep her up to date with all the family news. Once in awhile I would call her and we could easily talk for over an hour. 

HJ was like a close aunt and meant a lot to me. It is hard to put in words why she was such a strong influence in my life, but I guess she was like a lifeline away from my sometimes-chaotic childhood and supported my adventures through life.

When in high school, I started to get interested in animal issues. HJ was kind enough to get me subscriptions to animal rights magazines and organizations, which helped educate and shape me into a beginning activist. More recently, she sponsored an animal at a farm sanctuary in my name and got me a membership to People’s Committee for Responsible Medicine.

HJ was also generous on her own, giving funds to multiple human and animal welfare groups, including sponsoring a child in another country. She opened up her home to feral cats in her neighborhood, offering food and shelter to those who couldn’t be tamed and affection to the cats who wanted more. 

HJ is not survived by any family. She never married or had any children, but there is many people who will miss her dearly. Anyone who knew her would remember her as an extremely friendly and giving person. Since HJ is not having a memorial service, I wanted to honor her memory in some way. This blog post does not even begin to explain her amazing spirit, but I wanted to share with others a life that was truly extraordinary.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Tempeh Turnovers: the leftovers are perfect for lunch!

This is one of my favorite recipes!  I love it since the turnovers taste so good right out of the oven, but also makes the best lunch (and easy to transport too).  I feel that tempeh is often cooked wrong and so people think it tastes bad (kinda like tofu). This recipe allows the tempeh to get great flavor through baking.  

Tempeh is often misunderstood.  The description of it- fermented soy essentially- does not sound appetizing, but it can be amazing!  The best tempeh I've ever had is from Dovetail Bakery in Portland.  I use to work there and never got tired of it.  The smokey tempeh is available with weekend biscuits and gravy, and on sandwiches during the week.  So tasty!

Tempeh Turnovers


12 oz. Tempeh, chopped
1 large Zucchini, chopped
1 medium Red Onion, chopped
1 large Red Potato, chopped
1 medium Sweet Potato, chopped
1 Tb Oil
2 tsp Garlic Granules
1 tsp Black Pepper
1 tsp Parsley
2 Tb Braggs Liquid Aminos
1/4 cup Nutritional Yeast


3 1/2 cups Flour (plus more)
1/3 cup Oil
2 cups Warm Water
1/2 tsp Salt

Boil the cut potatoes (red and sweet) in water until soft enough to bite into (but still keeps its shape). Drain and set aside.

In a large pan, heat the oil on medium-high heat.  Add the onion and tempeh and cook until onion is translucent.  Add the zucchini and cook another few minutes.  Add the spices, nutritional yeast and braggs to the mixture and combine.  Add the potatoes and stir in.  Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt.  Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the water.  Mix to combine and knead for a minute. You want the dough to hold together but not be sticky.  Add more flour if needed.  Split the dough into 6 balls.  Using a little extra flour, knead each ball to soften.

Spread dough in palm of hand into a circle slightly larger than your hand.  Fill half the dough with the tempeh filling.  Fold dough in half and place on a greased baking sheet.  Repeat with the rest of the dough balls.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. 

You may have some extra tempeh filling, which goes great served with rice too!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Small Dose of Red Tide


 Many species of fish litter the beach due to red tide in Sarasota, FL

Walking back across the street from the beach, my eyes hurt so much that I could barely open my eyes.  I was at the beach maybe 20 minutes, but probably less.  Red tide was hitting the area and wind was stirring the water and blowing the neurotoxin towards the beach.   

A Silver Grunt among seaweed stranded on the dry beach.  

The last few days, I noticed floating dead fish in the waters.  Now, the beach is littered with multiple species of dead fish. Once home from the beach, I rinsed my eyes out with water, then sat on the ground and cried because it hurt so much.  Eventually I tracked down some eye drops so I could function once again. 

A pin fish dead on the beach due to red tide.

A large algae bloom causes red tide.  Under the right conditions, such as warm temperatures and coast upwelling, the algae multiply.  There are a variety of species that can cause algae blooms, but in these Florida waters, it is primarily caused by Karenia brevis, a type of dinoflagellate.  This is one example of a species that actually produce toxins. Luckily for humans the red tide organism, Kareneva brevis, is not deadly but it could cause respiratory distress and irritated eyes.

Spade Fish victim to red tide.

Red tide is a concern for many reasons.  The most obvious one is the killing of fish. Millions of fish have died due to this harmful algae bloom. Many species are affected and it’s sad to walk down the beach and see so much death.  It feels so ominous.   

Lane Snapper with its last gasp for oxygen frozen in time.

These fish deaths also affect those species that rely on them as a food source, such as dolphins.  In 2004, 107 dolphins died in Florida’s panhandle due to high levels of brevetoxins (the toxin found in Karenia brevis) from eating fish.  Manatees, birds and sea turtles can also die directly due to these toxins. 

Gafftopsail Catfish dead in the surf on Lido Key.

There is controversy around the cause of red tides. Some people believe that humans contribute to red tides so we harbor some blame.  Nitrogen and phosphorus, chemicals often found in fertilizers, can allow algae blooms to grown faster. According to NOAA, the occurrence of harmful algae blooms has been increasing. 

 A Cow Fish loses it's vibrant color after dying due to red tide.

This time, the red tide was short lived and the next day I could walk on the beach without coming home crying.  Other years the red tide has stayed around for months and killed countless animals and effected sea life populations.  It was interesting to see the effects, but I am glad it is now gone.

A Sand Seatrout is not very distinguishable about dying from red tide.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Orange Vanilla Snacking Cake

For a few months I will be living in Sarasota, Florida for an internship.  The weather has been amazing and I live in a very picturesque area.  I have been having amazing wildlife adventures too!  But I am from Portland, home of everything conveniently vegan, so even though I am enjoying so much, I have also been missing all the vegan food, bakeries and bars.  I haven't really found a place I can buy a good tasting vegan treat, so when the temperature dropped a little last week, I decided to bake something for myself.

I love cake, but didn't want to really deal with frosting.  I went to a local market and usually I use blended silken tofu for all my cakes since it gives them such a perfect texture.  This store did not have any, but I did find some soy yogurt and decided to give it a try as a replacement.

I shared one cake with my roommates and the other I brought to my internship.  I heard good reviews and even got a request for the recipe.  I call that a great success!

Orange Vanilla Snacking Cake

1 cups Organic Unrefined Cane Sugar
½ cup Earth Balance Margarine
½ cup Vanilla Soy Yogurt
1 ½ cups Non-dairy Milk (I used Almond Milk)
2 tsp Vanilla
2 ½ cups Unbleached White Flour
1 Tb Baking Powder
½ tsp Salt
Zest of 1 Orange

Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans, or two loaf pans and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together the sugar and margarine until creamy.  Add the soy yogurt and mix until incorporated.  Slowly add in the non-dairy milk, then the vanilla and orange zest.  Do not be surprised if the mixture gets a little lumpy, this is normal.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Combine the dry into the wet ingredients until just combined. Spread evenly into the pans and bake for 25-30 minutes for the round pans and about 40 minutes for loaf pans. Cake will bounce back when lightly touched in the middle when done.  Allow the cake to cool some before turning them out for glazing.

I topped the cake with a simple orange glaze.  I juiced the one orange used for zesting and then slowly added it 2 cups powdered sugar.  Mix thoroughly with a fork or whisk.  You may not need to add all the orange juice, or use more, depending on the orange.  Glaze should not be super runny, but not too thick to easily spread over the cake.

When cakes are slightly cool, remove from baking pans and turn upside down.  Pour the glaze over the top, allowing it to go over the sides as well. Enjoy!

* For extra orange flavor, use orange juice instead of non-dairy milk in the cake recipe.