American Thanksgiving, 2010

Naturally, John and I don't get a day off for American Thanksgiving. Since I'm doing an independent study this semester, I can feel like I have a "day off" any time I want, except that then I would feel really guilty and behind my imaginary deadline. This year, we marked the American version of Thanksgiving by staying at home to work on papers and cook fairly normal, American Thanksgiving fare.

Since John and I don't really buy meat in Canada (because of the expense), we went with a meatless Thanksgiving and ended up using a few different vegan recipes from this website, which I love. The author over there had a couple different tofu preparations that looked delicious, and I ended up choosing the one I did because it involved making gravy, that was too goo to pass up.

So here are the things I made, some of which were for that day in particular, and some for other occasions.

Pumpkin Chocolate Cupcakes
from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World.


Those were meant to be dessert after the holiday meal, and I think I'm the only one who had any room left to eat them. Also, they're great heated up in the microwave the next day.

Molasses Spice Cookies, from America's Test Kitchen Family Cook Book.

Don't believe the recipe when it says this makes 2 dozen cookies - it made more than 2 and a half, and they weren't small, neither. I gave half of it to a local holiday bake sale and brought the other half for my students on Black Friday. One of my colleagues said these are better than the same cookie at Starbucks. Ahem.

Then we set the table and our friend Gwen came over for dinner.

With just three people to feed, I tried not to let the menu planning get out of control (as I'm wont to do). We had three dishes, gravy, and the cupcakes. It was kind of perfect because I stuffed my face (especially with potatoes) but I didn't eat my weight in three kinds of potatoes.

Here's what we served:
It was sort of hard to explain the tofu recipe to John until I made an analogy to chicken-fried steak. Then he was on board. This was a delicious recipe, and it reheats in the oven well. The breading is delicate, since it's just flour and some herbs. Our guest (who told me in advance that she would try anything once) said if I hadn't told her ahead of time, she would have thought it was chicken. The chicken seasoning is a pretty crucial ingredient for making it so good. I seriously couldn't wait to have this again the next night.

As for the gravy, our guest also told us that mushrooms are the one food she absolutely abhors, so we left them out of the gravy. Still, it was delicious and came together easily. I think if you added some finely chopped and sauteed celery, and maybe some bread cubes, it would taste just like regular stuffing. The mushrooms would make it even better and I hope we try that again. John and I were putting the gravy on everything on the plate by the end of the meal. I was concerned that it all might taste overly like soy, but it didn't at all.

I have no illusions that what we ate was "healthy" just because it was vegan. Fried and breaded tofu may not have have as much fat as similarly prepared beef, but it's still high in fat. I just figured it was a cheaper (and just slightly healthier) thing to eat in place of making a turkey or buying a cut of meat. This meal was a good example of how vegan cooking can still be somewhat indulgent and super flavorful when you want to splurge on the calories a little. We won't make it again right away, since you know, it's fatty and for a special occasion, but we will definitely make this tofu again.

I know I'm late, but I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, whenever you might have celebrated it!


Bathroom Decor

I've been on a house cleaning...thing. I'm doing what John taught me that his mother taught him:

The 30-Minute Clean.

So far I've cleaned out and organized more things than I've actually made things less dirty. The coat closet, the linen closet(s), the kitchen cabinets, and basically all the general clutter in our apartment has seen a real shake down. I just set the microwave timer for 30 minutes, and when it's done, I go back to studying.

When I cleaned off our bathroom shelves, I decided that I wanted to have something festive to put on them. I posted a couple of these photos on Facebook and asked the Internet to give me some suggestions.

The Internet (and by that I mostly mean, Kira) responded with suggestions for things like:
- a basket of towels and small soaps for guests.
- a small candle, but probably not because the shelf is too low and it will create some soot.
- a flameless candle or some pretty, smelly beads that work like an air freshener.
- a diffuser (the thing with the sticks).

And here's what I ended up doing (so far anyways).


Nothing schmancy, but it's an improvement. The top shelf will probably still have some tissues and extra toilet paper on it. Below, you can see I kept a bottle of lotion, and added the basket of towels (basket from Micheal's, 2 Roots wash clothes that were 50% off at Sear's), plus some ginger-scented shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and hand soap from Bath and Body Works (left over from a hotel stay...yes, we are those people).

Here's a close up of the green thing there:

It's a little container of fragrance beads from Pier 1 (the link is for a non-Christmas version). The tin pattern on top is pretty festive (one of my requirements for my "ask-the-internet" post on Facebook), though I wish it looked a little nicer when I opened it to let the fragrance out.

Here's a shot of the beads. They look a little like giant caviar. But they smell, well, like an enchanted forest! Just like they promised!

At $8 (or $5 in the U.S., I think), they last for 2 months, they don't blacken the shelf above them or require matches, and they are a lot cheaper than a $30 flameless candle.* I think I may try out a diffuser at some point, but honestly, I cleared that shelf off because I was afraid of knocking the case for my night guard into the toilet. I feel like if there was a delicate vase of smelly sticks on that shelf, it would only be a matter of time until they accidentally fell.

So that's that! Our bathroom seems a little cleaner and less cluttered. Our guests can use the toiletries, should they need them, and the place smells like fresh pine. I basically consider it a success.

Thanks to the following folks for suggesting things to put on that shelf:
Erik Jorgen
Aunt Becky

I'm glad to know that they are there when I need to call upon the wisdom of the Internet.
*Just for the record: not that I'm some well known blogger, but I'm writing about this product of my own free will. Pier 1 has no knowledge of my blog and didn't send them to me. But I wouldn't mind if they did, because I would probably buy a different scent in the future.

London Santa Parade 2010

A couple weeks ago John and I went to the Santa Parade, a tradition in London and other Ontario towns that starts off the holiday season. I've wondered what sort of officially starts Christmas in Canada, since Thanksgiving is before Halloween. Some people say Remembrance Day, others say American Thanksgiving, others say December 1st. But quite a few people told me that it was the Santa Parade.

We clapped for these guys for real, after last year when our apartment almost set on fire.

It had your typical small town parade stuff: local fire department, radio stations, and London Dance Extreme had floats or groups in the parade.

I think this should have won "Most Entertaining."

They had a pretty cool train...

and the Ghostmobile! Decked out for Christmas, of course.

They had a local high school drum line and a couple other marching bands.

Note the lights around their rims.

After a half hour or so we felt like maybe we'd seen enough. But then the Big Guy in Red showed up.

As I said on Facebook, I guess Santa makes a pre-Christmas swing through Ontario, maybe to help us remember that it's almost Christmas.

There's John screaming, "SANTA! LOOK AT ME, SANTA! LOOK AT ME!!!!"

Here's a group photo of everyone who we went with to the parade. They're all friends of John's (and friends of theirs) from his women's studies class. Afterward we went back to the house of the girl who took the picture and watched Home Alone 2.

This is probably the first Christmas post of many. Yay for Christmas!


Mexican Pumpkin Soup

Despite the supposed pumpkin shortage of 2010, my mom sent me home from Canadian Thanksgiving with several cans of pumpkin. I've baked my usual pumpkin goods with it, of course. But after a while, I start looking for ways to use up pantry items in something other than a cookie or a muffin.

This soup was the perfect thing. It's pretty simple - canned (or fresh) pumpkin, potatoes, black beans, some broth. It didn't take long to put together, and it was even better with the avocados that were on sale that week.

I didn't realize that soy milk could make a regular vegan soup so creamy. Combined with the starch of the potatoes, this was a really creamy, smooth soup with some subtle fall flavors. The pumpkin isn't overwhelming at all. In fact, next time I might add some more pumpkin to boost that particular flavor.

Mexican Pumpkin Soup
from Fat Free Vegan

1 large onion chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups pureed cooked pumpkin or 1 cup canned pumpkin
1 16-ounce can chili beans*
1 tbsp. seeded diced jalapeño
5 medium red potatoes, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tablespoons oregano (we omitted this, we're out)
pinch of cayenne or other red pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup soy milk
salt, to taste
cilantro or parsley

Heat a large pot. Sauté most of the onions (reserve a few for garnish) over medium heat until they soften; add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add in the broth, pumpkin, chili beans, jalapeño, and potatoes. Stir in the oregano, cayenne, and cumin. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.

Simmer for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Stir in the soy milk, add salt to taste, and serve immediately garnished with cilantro or parsley and onion (and extra diced jalapeño, if desired).

*We used a can of red beans and added 1 tsp chili powder. We also upped the cumin to 1 tsp. If you prefer spicy food, I would add more cayenne and maybe another jalapeno.

Banana Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Before we left for SMT, the cupboard was nearly bare and I was sort of at a loss as to what to make for dinner. John had his own leftovers, so I did what I usually do in that situation: make pancakes.

I didn't have any eggs, so I did a quick google search for a vegan pancake recipe, just to see what was involved. It turns out, vegan pancakes are really simple, and similar to conventional ones. Instead of egg, this recipe calls for a mashed banana. I'm guessing that you could replace mashed banana with other fruit, too. In fact, the last time I wanted to make this recipe I was missing a banana. Instead, I used up some canned pumpkin I had on hand (maybe 1/2 cup? or so?) and followed the rest as usual. I also added a few dashes of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, to spice up the pumpkin. Those pancakes came out just as well! This recipe is so simple and delicious.

I will say that both times I made this recipe I had trouble with the pancakes sticking. I'd recommend adding more fat with each addition of batter to the pan. Since they don't have any other oil or fat in the batter itself, the added fat in the pan doesn't jack up the calories too badly.

Banana Chocolate Chip Pancakes from Veg Family

1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 banana, mashed
1 1/4 cups soy milk.
1 tablespoon sweetener (I used 2 tsp agave nectar)
Sliced fresh fruit (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

In a large bowl, sift the flour, salt, and baking powder together.

In a small bowl, mash the banana with a fork and add 1/4 cup of the milk, mixing together until there are no lumps. Add the banana, sweetener, and remaining soy milk to the dry mix and stir together until just mixed. Fold in chocolate chips, stirring as little as possible.
Heat a griddle or non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add oil or butter. Add batter 1/4 cup at a time to the skillet. Let sit on medium heat until the center starts to bubble and become sturdy. Flip pancake over and cook other side until golden brown. Repeat process until all the batter is gone.


SMT 2010 - INDY or BUST!

This past weekend was the jointly held annual conference of Society for Music Theory and the American Musicological Society.

The remnants of what used to be called the Music Theory Mod Squad. From the right, Drew and Mark.

John and I roadtripped down to Indianapolis with two fellow Western Mustangs, Emilie and Gillian. The conference is a great time to reconnect with people I used to go to school with and who I basically only see at this conference every year. It's sort of like having friends from camp, who you only see at camp.

Gillian, trying out the foam roller in between conference papers.

Last year I wrote several SMT posts, I guess because I took a ton of pictures. But this year, the pictures I took are really random and don't illustrate what the conference was like in general.
I can't construct a narrative from them, except to say that:
1) I went to the IU party and saw my classmates.
2) We played with the foam roller in our hotel room.
3) There was an impromptu dance party in our room on the last night, right before everyone went to bed. That's the kind of thing that happens at camp, right?

And by dance party, I mean we hooked Mark's computer up to the speakers in the TV and a few of us danced around while I packed.

Note that SMT dance parties happen with the Science Channel on in the background. Still, everyone left saying that next year we'll plan better dancing, and allow more time for it.

Some other highlights:
- Carla came up from Bloomington and took us to a wonderful tapas restaurant called BARcelona. It was by far the best meal of the weekend, and I will definitely go back. And as always, it was really nice to hang out with Carla. I wish she didn't live so far away! Maybe we'll see each other over Christmas.

- I'm now the student representative for the Committee for the Status of Women and I went to two really productive meetings with them over the weekend. They seem really encouraging and open to new ideas that might address the gender imbalance in the SMT.

- If people I know keep going to this conference, I think all my friends in music theory will know all my other friends in music theory within the next couple of years. It's great to hang out with people from both IU and Western at the same time, and for them to actually have a good time together. SMT: bringing people together, one school reception at a time.

Next year the conference is in Minneapolis, and it will involve a plane instead of a road trip. I hope lots of people I know will still be there, since I really look forward to having a mini-reunion every year.

The View from Barry Place

Since the temperature finally dropped last week, I think most of the wasps that live on our balcony are dead.
I'd hoped to hang out there this summer and get some patio chairs. But the wasps won out, despite several visits from professional wasp killers.

Somehow I'm a little late with the leaf peeping photos this year. I took a few from our balcony in the morning a few weeks ago when there were still some pretty photos. It's kind of foresty out there.

This ivy is pretty much the first thing I see every morning as it grows on our neighbors' house, right outside my window. By this week it was just a long, leafless vine.

Above is a shot of our backyard. You can see all the yard paraphernalia that belongs to our downstairs neighbors: a camping trailer, two trampolines, and some picnic tables. Our backyard gets some beautiful morning light.

My officemate Matthew says November is his least favorite month, but I kind of like it. The leaves aren't as beautiful as they are in October, but you know, that means Christmas is on its way. I think he would like it more if Thanksgiving were in November, like God and Uncle Sam intended.

Halloween Haunting 5K and 10K

A couple of weeks ago John and I ran in the Halloween Haunting 5K and 10K, respectively.

John told me this is his "sexy face."

Like always, I had plans to take pictures of all the runners in their costumes. I even saw a dog dressed as a bumble bee and also wearing a giant, red, bow tie. But alas, I forgot that the camera I had was missing its memory card. And so I only snapped a few photos at home after the race.

This was my first 10K. I've run probably 10 or so 5Ks, but the 10K was a whole different animal. My friend Carla was right - it's so mental, and during the race I tried to remember how much I had mentally prepared to run for more than an hour. I tried to break the race into shorter segments, which wasn't hard given the course. This particular race course was shaped like a lollipop, and the 10K meant two laps of that lollipop, and too much repetition for my taste. Still, the weather was nice and cool, and the costumed volunteers at the aid stations did a great job of cheering.

I was really hesitant about running this race at all about two weeks before. My left knee was giving me lots of trouble and I wasn't sure if it was smart to try to run. But about a week beforehand it seemed to improve (thanks, foam roller! I love to hate you!), and I went for it. I took about 5 or 6 walk breaks of about 2 minutes each, but I'm still pleased with my overall time - 64:13. If all goes as planned and I can train for the next one without any hitches, I'd like to break an hour. But just completing it and feeling good is my #1 goal.

John had an excellent day at the races and finished the 5K in 23:53 (good Lord!). As I write this he's reminding me that he, too, can run faster and would like to get to a 21 minute 5K time.

What have we become? People who like to run, I guess.

The next local event isn't until late February. That should give us lots of time to train and get ready to beat our Halloween times.


Carla and Dave's Chili

A couple weeks ago John and I wanted to make chili with some of the seasonal squash at the grocery store. We decided to make the chili that my friends Carla and Dave always made for their Superbowl party in Bloomington. Their chili was such a big hit that I would go back for seconds, even with brownies and other party food staring at me.

This chili is vegan and easy enough to make. As a side, I made some quick cheddar drop biscuits from a Joy of Cooking recipe. They were a good, cheesy complement to the chili. I think we'll make it again since it made a large portion, and the weather has finally started to get cold.

Just a note: we roasted the squash in the oven at 400 F for 30 minutes or so (I think) instead of microwaving it. Then we cut it into chunks. The timing worked well, since we had other things to chop and cook while the squash cooked.

Dave and Carla's Superbowl Chili
via Adam's Street Cafe

Black Bean Chili with Winter Squash
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 lg. chopped onion (1.5 cups)
1 med. diced yellow bell pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups fat-free, less-sodium vegetable broth
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (4.5 oz) can chopped mild green chilies
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. chipotle chilie powder (we used chayenne)
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1 med winter squash (we used butternut) (about 2 lbs)
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in beans, broth, tomatoes, green chilies, chili powder, chipotle chili powder and oregano. Simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Uncover and cook 10 more minutes.

2. Cut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out and discard seeds, pierce with a fork a few times, and put in a microwave-safe dish with 1/4 inch water. Cover with plastic wrap; microwave on HIGH 8 minutes or until tender. Let cool; peel with a small sharp knife, and cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Stir squash into bean mixture; cook 5 minutes. Stir in salt. Serve warm. (Serving size 1.75 cups)