21 September 2016

Currently Reading

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.

The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it's the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.  

Someone I work with couldn't stop talking about how awesome this book is and how I should give it a go since I like weird stuff and southern stuff.  Well, how could I argue with that?  Even though I'm not usually drawn to sci-fi-esque literature (although I, like most, have read my share of it and will watch a movie in the genre with no hesitation) I decided to put away my Harry Crews novel (which was getting rather dark and sad as his novel are prone to do) and delve into Vandermeer's work.

So far, so good!

It's taking me a bit to get involved and I'm having to go slowly in order to really grasp the density of the descriptive language (it's so visual!) and the storyline...and to fill in the background in many cases with my own imaginary tales.

If you've read the book let me know what you thought (spoiler-free as possible, please) or grab a copy and join me and we can discuss before beginning book 2 of the The Southern Beach Series: Authority.

Please note that I am linking back to Amazon with no sponsor affiliation.  I know Amazon is the preferred method of buying books for many although I do hope that you support your local bookstore if you can.  Thanks!

14 September 2016

Vegan Maple Peanut Butter Pie

Georgia is famous for quite a few things - peaches, grits, Gone With The Wind, Coca Cola, pecans and Vidalia onions - but nothing has quite the history like peanuts...in my humble opinion.  Maybe it's because of all the reading of my youth involving one Mr. George Washington Carver.  A botanist, a scientist, a philanthropist, a slave who became a freeman and an innovator in agriculture, Carver is world famous for his interest in the peanut, and how it could be cultivated and consumed.  Some of the ideas were considered flops (using peanuts as a form of gasoline) but most of his ideas allowed for the continuation and promotion of peanuts as a delicious and nutritious food.  And I have to agree with him wholeheartedly.  Peanuts are amazing.

As a flex-etarian with mainly a lean toward vegetarianism with a dash of veganism I tend to search out protein in a variety of ways and peanuts are my favorite.  Boiled via roadside stand and eaten out of a paper bag at a picnic table.  Roasted and tossed in a salad.  Or pulverized and spread on toast.  Yummmmy.  And, if I'm at work, I make something sweet with them.

Maple Peanut Butter Pie

1 12oz box silken extra firm tofu
1/4 cup maple syrup (or you can use regular corn syrup based pancake syrup)
1 cup peanut butter (I use smooth but I image chunky is just fine too)

Combine all items in food processor and blend til smooth.  Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl numerous times to ensure all items are processed thoroughly.  Once smooth, spoon product into prepared graham crust (you can make your own, like this one but substitute vegan margarine for the butter, or store bought is fine) and chill for at least an hour.

I decorated mine with a few dollops of vegan 'butter' cream (recipe is here) but you can add whatever you want to make it pretty.  You can also add yummy stuff to the pie to mix it up!  Layer the crust with bananas before filling.  Elvis would be proud of that one.  Or top with some jam or jelly of choice.  But I tend to keep it simple because I love maple syrup almost as much as peanut butter (maybe the same, really) so I want to keep those flavors a'shining!

Hope you enjoy!

Find out more about George Washington Carver here.

12 September 2016

Travel Adventures // Howard's Covered Bridge

Despite all of my good intentions to sniff out every ghost town in the vicinity, I've found myself behind the wheel of the truck headed down dusty dirt roads on the hunt for covered bridges.  Around Athens there are so many of them and I feel like I can't move forward to other explorations til I get the 'covered bridge fever' out of my system...

The latest bridge I found is one called Howard's Covered Bridge although it's had a number of other names including the most notable one of Big Clouds Creek Bridge.  The small creek under the bridge carries the Native American name given to it even though the bridge shed the moniker in the early 1900's.  Like the area around it, Howard's Covered Bridge has a ton of history!

It's said that the bridge, which doesn't carry traffic nowadays, was built by Washington King although that's not certifiably documented.  Still, it has all of the characteristics that makes it a King bridge so the likelihood of it being built by him is fairly high...

And who is Washington King you might ask?  He's the son of the man who was considered the best bridge builder in the deep south during the 1800's.  Oh, and Horace had a freakin' amazing yet sad life story which culminated in his becoming a freedman and eventually a legislator in Alabama with accolades and honors for not only his designs but for his politics and character.  I highly recommend you go here to read more about Horace King.  Back to Washington, you'll find that he followed in his father's footsteps and designed a number of buildings and bridges...of which only a shockingly small number remain.

This is one of those places that just feels old and peaceful and quiet but it's fairly obvious that it has been unappreciated by some folk.  Lots of graffiti popping up and the restoration work done a number of years back is slowly being destroyed.  Sad times.

The bridge, as I previously mentioned, is no longer used for vehicular traffic and rarely gets visitors in general.  It's down a white clay road off a smaller highway outside of a small town which is on a smallish highway.  In other words, as we say around here, it's in the boonies.  But I did see one car drive by while I was exploring that kicked up an impressive amount of dust that lingered in the hot air for a loooooong time.

Big Clouds Creek in action!  While I was squatting down to take a picture of what may or may not have been an arrowhead I found myself with a face full of leaping frog.  I guess I startled the critter and it jumped full force into my cheek with a resounding SMACK.  By the way, human screams caused by panicked frogs jumping in one's face seem to linger in the air as long as road dust does...

Another solo adventure checked off for this introverted explorer!  Wheeee!

08 September 2016

End Of Summer Blooms & Things (Down By The Riverside)

One of my favorite walks nowadays is the one that winds along the river here in Athens.  It's got sun, shade, small woodland critters, frogs, bugs, bogs, wading pools, downed trees across the water that seem to be begging you to take a risk and venture out a mid-river views, old factory buildings, bridges, hikers, joggers, rollerbladers and so many more things.  Can you see why it's my favorite, eh?  Oh, and the wildflowers!  They're everywhere!  Oh, and the wild grasses!  They're everywhere too!  So much to see...

Silver-Spotted Skippers are a fairly common butterfly here in Georgia but I still think they're pretty cool regardless of their mundanity.  They have this funny erratic flight style that makes them quickly recognizable from afar...

A lovely Blue Winged Wasp working to extract some nectar from a Roundleaf Thoroughwort plant.  These are not aggressive wasps so I was able to get right up close for a (blurry because it moved constantly) photo.  Cutieeee...

Ah, the Kudzu blossom has become one of my favorite things happening in Athens right now.  They smell delicious, taste delicious and look so beautiful with those purple variations.  Wait, did you see the tastes delicious part?  Kudzu blossom jelly = uhmayzingstuff.

I'm still agog at times at all the wonders offered by northern Georgia nature...

07 September 2016

Vegan Oatmeal Sammich Cookies

I know that everyone and their mother's brother are talking about how fall is almost here but I can't resist joining in on the conversation.  See, the other morning while I was out for my daily amble I kept feeling these cool air eddies even with temperatures in the 90's...you know, like swimming in the ocean kind of feeling.  Add that in with the leaves starting to show their autumn colors just a tad and your mind can't help but to head toward the season of fall.

For me, one of the first things I want to do to celebrate the upcoming season change has to do with food...duh.  It's all about baking the oatmeal cookies around here and at work!  The cinnamon + hearty oat + flax combo is so, so delicious and, if you close your eyes and pretend, it seems also healthyish.  It is until you add some delicious buttercream to the mix and then you've got oatmeal sandwich or, as I called them when I was younger, sammich cookies!  Did I mention it's all vegan?  Every single bit?

Vegan 'Buttercream' Frosting Filling

1 cup vegan margarine, softened
6 cups powdered confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons soymilk

Using an electric mixer, beat margarine in a large bowl until thoroughly creamed.  Add sugar 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition, and scrape bottom and sides of bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure thorough mixing.  Blend in vanilla, followed by soymilk.  The consistency should be firm but lightly spreadable.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using.

Vegan Oatmeal Cookies

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegan margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups lightly packed light brown sugar
2 'eggs' = 2 Tablespoons flax meal + 5 Tablespoons warm water & let sit for 5 minutes
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch cinnamon
1 1/4 cups oats

Sift together baking soda, flour and salt then set aside.  Cream the butter and sugar together til smooth then add 'eggs' and vanilla.  Alternating small batches, add the oats and flour mixture and mixed til combined.  Chill for 30 minutes before scooping.  Bake at 350 for 12 minutes or til tops are set.  Keep an eye on them!  Don't let them get too dark/brown!  

The Grand Finale!

Take all of your cooled/set ingredients and begin constructing your sammiches.  You can either pipe or spread frosting on one cookie then top with another cookie.  After assembling, I let mine sit for about 10 minutes in the fridge in order to let it all come together...

Want to mix it up?

Add some pumpkin or sweet potato puree to the buttercream.  I recommend a 1/4 cup or to your taste but remember it will change the consistency a wee bit...makes it a bit looser.  If it becomes too loose then add more powdered sugar but keep the puree to a minimum.

Or how about rolling the sammiches in crushed pecans?  It makes them look amazing and the nutty crunch goes so well with the oat flavors.

And, of course, you can always add some cocoa powder to the buttercream for a chocolate fix.

Really, the possibilities are endless and only limited by your own fall-driven imagination.  Happy baking!