Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Giving Enough at the Holidays

There are mosquitoes. I see them stalking the door at night.

It’s odd.

In Maine, there are mosquitoes and there is snow. Rarely have I  seen them existing at the same time.

It’s dark. It’s overbearingly dark when I leave the office. Trudging out to see even the last glimpse of sunshine would require me to leave during my afternoon meetings.

I know it’s the holiday season because of the dates in my Outlook calendar; That and the Christmas music that deflects off toys and wrapping paper and cans of soups in the stores.

People at the office are gearing up to take time off.

I’m not a Grinch. I love decorating. I enjoy concocting random and thoughtful gifts with particular people in mind. I have holiday plans.

It’s just that this year, I think I just needed an extra reminder on how lucky I am and what the holidays are all about. Now, before you think I’m going to go all Hallmark-Lifetime-I-Want-A-Puppy on you, please realize that I came to this epiphany in the Toys’R’Us line on Black Friday.

Surprisingly, the chaos of PlayMobil toys intruding in the aisles and strangers telling you about the woman who “attacked people with pepper spray at Wal-Mart this morning” lead you to believe that, yes, maybe Americans have lost sight of what the holidays really mean.

Isn't it funny how chaos can sometimes make the most obvious things apparent?

The National Unemployment rate reported by the Bureau in October was still at 9.0%. Which means that Christmas morning is not going to be the same in a lot of households.

Which leads me to my point. The holidays are time to spend with people you love and appreciate, catch-up with old friends, and be gracious to the people you meet. I had a roommate in college that said, “volunteering doesn’t make you a good person, being a good person makes you a good person.” It’s the same with holiday giving.

Giving material items without any thought will not provide satisfaction. Giving because you feel as though you have to give is not giving with the right intention.

Give if you want to give. Give if you can give. And if you can only give your company or a helping hand – then that’s giving enough. 

Here's to the holidays!


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Prepping for Pre-Thanksgiving & A Fortune Family Holiday

"If you can pre-game then you should be able to have a pre-Thanksgiving." Stated the cashier at Trader Joe's as I ran back with the savory tofu package.

"Exactly." I said with a smile.

I guess it's only appropriate to have that mindset about a holiday where football is probably ranked "runner up" directly after food for the Most Important Thing about Thanksgiving award. This is America after all. We do love our football. I for one, think it's okay, but people tell me they love it.

So, I paid for my forgotten, but necessary vegan item and was on my way. There was baking to be done and, coming from a large family with many events, I knew that time would be one of the most important elements for hosting a dinner.

I heart vegan stuffing.

Today our table will have 7 meat-eaters, 1 gluten-free eater and 1 vegan (me!). We're a fun group. There will be turkey, and tofu, and veggies without butter, and vegan gluten-free coffee brownies I made from scratch. There will most definitely be wine. And the conversation will probably turn to random holiday jokes or quoted scenes from Family Guy.

As I make the vegan stuffing recipe noted in a previous post, which is my absolute favorite, I want to share a link to Mary's blog Thirtytensomething for her introduction to Thanksgiving.

Please  note: If you read the post  with "Wild Turkey, meth and bad decisions" in the headline, it's not about Thanksgiving. It's actually just a creepy and kind of ridiculous story about alcohol and Mary kicking someone away with her feet. Mary, thanks for sharing.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vermont Vegan Beer, Cupcakes & A Tofu Scramble Put A Smile on My Face

Joe stared out the window for the first 30 minutes of trip as the contours of the Maine landscape passed through our view. I tried to calm myself down as the realization that only fate could shut down my work handheld, which meant that work e-mail was virtually off limits until Monday. The Verizon e-mail Gods were playing a cruel trick on me, I just knew it.

If only I had access to my inbox I could make sure everything was going well at the office!! I cursed the black screen and then realized how ridiculous it was that I was yelling at piece of technology that really didn’t care if I was upset, or happy, or whatever.

After the episode passed, Joe just looked at me and asked, “Are you o.k.?” Ha ha. Life.

That was the beginning of our trip last year and I’ll be blunt. Last year was a stressful year.

This year, however, I gladly placed my work phone at the bottom of my bag and enjoyed our time in Vermont. As you can imagine, Burlington, Vermont isn’t exactly stress city. It’s peaceful and super vegan friendly.

Here are some very vegan highlights!

Magic Hat Brewery Tour: First, Magic Hat is Vegan! YES! [Doing a dance right now would be appropriate]. Ok, let’s proceed.

As you can tell from the labels, packaging and other Magic Hat beer paraphernalia, it’s a fairly in-your-face brand. But not a bad in-your-face, more like a good friend that always knows how to pull off the awkward sweater and weird boots in-your-face. You notice it.

The tour is short and matches the brand. The guide describes the owners and how Magic Hat started. Then you watch a mini-movie on the history of craft beer in America, which oddly parallels the creation of processed food. After, you get to see the large space where they brew, package and label the beer.

I think most people end at the beer tasting bar, where they give you up to four shot sized samples of the beer on tap. Our little group actually started at the tasting bar and beat the crowd, which I would recommend.

Be sure to pick up a growler or two while you’re there. I like Circus Boy best, Joe has an affinity for the HIPA and, of course, you can bring home the best seller, Mr. #9.

Our Growlers!
The tasting bar...

My Little Cupcake: There are two My Little Cupcake shops. One is in Burlington and one is in Essex. I had no idea they existed until we pulled into town, spotted the store-front and like a five year old shrilled “CUPCAKES!” Improvising on the iPhone for a quick vegan search, we realized that, yes, they do have mini vegan cupcake options. I would have liked to try the chocolate on chocolate. However, they only had the vegan chocolate almond, which was fabulously rich, but delicious. I suggest you check-out these bite sized treats when you can!

An awkward amount of cupcake drawings. :-)

Magnolia Bistro: I wish Burlington was geographically closer to Portland, Maine because I would eat at Magnolia Bistro all the time. Signage states that it is the first green business certified in Burlington. All of the vegan and gluten-free options are clearly labeled. They are flexible with food orders and the orange juice is delicious. Let me just note here that I’m not really an orange juice gal, but this was really good.

I got the Vegan Sesame tofu scramble with home fries and wheat toast. I could only finish  about ¾ of meal because it was quite a bit of food. They have vegan french toast that is now on my “To Eat” list.

Anyway, I would definitely recommend it for breakfast. We only had a 10 minute wait for a table of 7 people and the service was wonderful. 


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cooking, Compromise & My Favorite Vegan Stuffing Recipe

I will admit that I change almost every recipe I make. It’s nothing against the chef that originally created it.

It’s me, not you, and I actually mean that.

You could say that cooking is much like dating. Complicated at times, always searching for the ingredient that will make life a little more scrumptious, without being overbearing or intimidating. Too dry, too sweet, too harsh, too decorative, there are a lot of reasons why finding the right ingredients can be well, not exciting or fun at all.

Sometimes it’s tempting to drop it all and give up, other times you find something that makes you fall madly in love.

So, I have my own theory that cooking, much like relationships, needs the element of compromise. Some things are definite, like baking powder and whole-wheat flour. Other things are adjustable, like cranberries or strawberries or snozzberries, and can be modified as you wish. The key is to know the difference. Feel free to get creative.

Now that you know my obsession on trying to make recipes my own, there are two recipes that I refuse to alter. The first is my Memere’s peanut butter fudge recipe. This recipe is sacred and probably holds as much weight as old family photographs in a burning fire.

The second is the Fruit and Toasted Almond Stuffing I received out of the 2009 Vegetarian Times issue. It was the first recipe as a vegan I completely fell in love with. The page now sits inside a plastic cover sheet in a binder to protect it from ingredients milling around the counter as I cook.

Honestly, I had actually given up eating this dish for years because Portuguese stuffing is usually made with chorizo. With Thanksgiving around corner, I just wanted to share the recipe that made my first vegan holiday comfortable and delicious. Every little bit counts; so make sure you follow the directions intently.

Click Here for Recipe on the VegetarianTimes Website.

Good luck!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

#25: Mad Men

Last year I attended a brand meeting in Portland, Maine with Lars Bastholm, he was the Chief Digital Creative Officer at Ogilvy & Mather at the time. I remember his presentation because it was visually interesting and at one point he told us all to watch Mad Men, if nothing else but for the fantastic art direction.
So, I put it on my 26 things list and saw the pink dress that Betty wears in episode 4, and fell in love.

I know that Mad Men is not a new phenomenon, but I’ve never really liked the whole “follow the craze when it’s a craze and everyone is talking about how great it is while you’re buying vegan pop chips at the grocery store.” I think I’m scarred from my teenie bopper days and obsession with boy bands in 5th grade. When clearly, the new and popular were the most important.  “Oh my god, did you get the new N*SYNC album with the song Pop Music is forever and ever, it’s amazing!!” Bah. (Sorry J-Timbs, I do appreciate the beats).

However, now, one-and-a-half seasons into Mad Men, here is my short, and lovely commentary.

Apparel with Appeal: Amazing. Everything is on target and interesting. The style chosen for each character fits perfectly. Even Banana Republic wanted to capitalize on the trend so they started a Mad Men line.

“Managing Expectations”: Season 2, I believe Episode 4 – Don Draper fires his new secretary because she doesn’t know how to “manage expectations”. This is actually one of my favorite quotes and I think it spans outside of the ad world. Your boss depends that you manage the expectations of their peers, clients, and business partners. I just never heard the information articulated so correctly.

Women and Work: I'm happy this isn’t how it works anymore.

Alcohol: There’s a lot of it. I would say almost every scene...

Joan, My Mini Love Affair: From what I can tell Joan makes the place run, and looks damn good doing it. She’s smart, savvy, and knows what the men are thinking before they do. She’s definitely my favorite character.

Betty's fabulous pink dress and blue/green belt.
Photo Credit: ABC Blog
I heart Joan.
Photo Credit: ABC Blog

Oh advertising agencies. It’s all about creating a persona that’s cool or innovative or [insert adjective here] for a client. Companies portray the ability to know more than the client, to act like toothpaste is the most important thing man created, to bring a fresh perspective to a company or secure a brand that's going haywire. They look at the world in a different way than most of us and they know it.

I plan to watch every last episode of Mad Men and if you like intense and creative story lines, I highly recommend it. 


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Maine Easy-To-Read Voter Guide

With Election Day right around the corner, I wanted to share the Maine Easy-to-Read Voter Guide for your use. Designed by yours truly, it covers everything from registering to vote to breaking down the ballot questions. 


Remember 1 in 5 people can't read this. Sacoliteracy.org.