Vegan Chocolate Ice Cream

 

One of my goals for 2016, which I hope will ward off the ever-encroaching fear of my own uselessness as time continues its relentless march to that end we all deny but must inevitably face, is to cook more.

Because what better way is there to avoid thinking of our own mortality than blatant hedonism?

Seriously, though, the idea is to use a bit of money from every paycheck to buy the ingredients to make a new dish, so that by the end of the year I should have a whole new repertoire of recipes under my belt. That’s cool, right?

So I’ve actually started a little early. I’ve been invited to a vegan dinner this week, and I was tasked with bringing the dessert. I broke out my ice cream maker, purchased a variety of non-vegan milks, and whipped up the above concoction, misleadingly titled “Vegan Ice Cream.”

Fun fact: it’s not actually ice cream.  The texture’s not quite right, and it doesn’t have the same fatty coating that makes ice cream so tasty.  It IS delicious, though. 

One big question I had going in was, without all of that delicious milk fat to whip up, how would vegan ice cream be able to successfully replicate the creamy texture dairy ice cream has? Now, I’m no food scientist, but I think the heaping wad of coconut oil contributes. I’d never used coconut oil before: it’s got the consistency of Crisco, but it’s allegedly much healthier.

Raw cashews were the most intriguing ingredient in this concoction. I soaked them for three hours, drained them, and then threw them into the blender with the the rest of the ingredients. They added a bit of a grittier texture  the finished product, and I think they lent some body to the (for the lack of a better word) custard that went into the freezer.

So, yeah, vegan ice cream was a delicious treat. Surprisingly easy to make: throw all the stuff in the blender and then freeze. It may not have all the delicious dairy fat that traditional ice cream has, but for those being a bit more health conscious, it’s worth the effort.

It’s just, you know, not really ice cream.

—*****—

Now, recipes, especially those contained in cookbooks, strike me as being a form of intellectual property, so I tend not to share them online. This particular recipe, however, was given to me by a friend, and all measurements were approximated from her mother’s experimentation, so I feel okay sharing it:

  • One cup raw cashews, soaked for three hours in water and drained
  • One 13.5 ounce can coconut milk
  • Two cups almond milk
  • One ripe banana
  • One-half cup coconut oil
  • One-quarter cup cocoa powder
  • One-half cup brown sugar
  • One teaspoon vanilla
  • One-half cup peanut butter (optional)

Blend all ingredients until smooth, then freeze per your ice cream maker’s instructions.

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“You’re Under Arrest for Christmas!”

  

My little nephew, whom I call Bacon, got a police uniform for Christmas. Now he says he’s a police officer. Apparently, this is a good thing, because he’d been a fireman for months, and my sister-in-law was getting tired of it.

So when we all got together for Christmas, Bacon strutted around in his police uniform, proudly declaring, “I’m a cop! You did a bad thing, so you get a ticket!” Then he’d give you a piece of sunflower stationary with a couple tally marks doodled on it.

I wound up with, like, five tickets for being a tickle-monster.

Later on, when his dad was in the bathroom, I pulled Bacon aside.

“You need to give Daddy a ticket,” I said.

Bacon got excited. “Yeah!” He said. “Why?”

So I whispered in his ear and told him exactly why.

When my brother got out of the bathroom, Bacon presented him with a ticket. “You did a bad thing, Daddy!”

“What did I do?” he said.

“You hit Uncle Stephen with a gun!” Bacon said. Which, you know, he totally did. Back when he was six years old. And I’ve never let him forget it.

I started laughing. Bryan started laughing. Bacon started laughing, too, although he had no idea why.

See, that’s the nice thing about staying close to your family: you have your whole life to come up with inside jokes.

A Gift for Christmas

  
So, yeah, sometimes you get that Christmas present that… I dunno, maybe you find underwhelming.

Like that T-shirt that you’re never going to wear.

Or a second copy of that movie your grandmother got in the discount bin at Best Buy.

Or yet another tie.

But, you know what?  The fact that someone thought enough of you to get you something?  Anything at all?  That’s pretty great.

Sing a Christmas Carol

I’ve been thinking a lot about Christmas music for the last… um… six months or so. I mean, I’m in a lot of choirs and stuff, so I rehearse Christmas music for most of the year. Many of the songs I wind up singing are pretty familiar – songs like “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “Carol of the Bells,” “Deck the Halls” – songs that we’ve all heard and sung so many times that we don’t really know or care what they’re about anymore. 

Many of these songs are old, using jargon and motifs that don’t really resonate with modern singers and listeners. Personally, I have never been on a sleigh ride. I don’t live near any old churches, so I don’t hear Christmas bells that often. Heck, I don’t really have any Christmas decorations out, because… well, why make more chores for myself, hm?

So why have these songs stuck around? What do these carols, that have so little in common with contemporary Christmas experiences, have that the songs sung by modern singers don’t have? I’ve been thinking about these songs for months, and I think I’ve come up with a plausible reason.

It’s sadness.

Most of the Christmas songs I’m familiar with come from my grandparents’ generation, the “greatest generation” that fought in the World Wars. As I sing these songs, I get the sense that a lot of that wartime uncertainty seeps in to the music of the holiday. Christmas becomes, in these carols, a terribly sad time.

Think about songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” sung by soldiers who knew that the only way they would be home for Christmas was in their dreams. Or how about “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which recognizes that our hope to be together for Christmas depends on how fickle the fates choose to be. Even “We Need a Little Christmas,” one of my least favorite songs, reminds us that:

“I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder,

Grown a little sadder, grown a little older,

And I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder.

I need a little Christmas now.”

These songs are all about acknowledging just how awful the world is… but they don’t stop there. Each of these songs is all about taking a minute, just a tiny moment, to say, “In spite of all that, I choose to be happy, and I hope you can be happy, too.”

Even in the Biblical Christmas story, most of the carols tend to focus on the happy bit surrounding the Christ child’s birth, rather than the forthcoming tragedy of his crucifixion and death. Rather than revel in the violence and sadness of Jesus’s life, the songs are mostly about praise (“Gloria! In excelsis Deo!”) or comfort (“Sleep in heavenly peace”).

In the best Christmas music, I feel like there’s an active rejection of sadness – not a denial of the horrible things we all encounter, but a choice to embrace and celebrate the good things, for at least a little season. In the best Christmas celebrations, great efforts are taken to actively drive that sadness away. Gifts are exchanged between loved ones. Quarters are dropped into the buckets of Salvation Army volunteers. Radio stations hold fundraisers for the homeless shelters. “Secret Santas” leave gifts and food for those who go without. The underling problems of poverty and misery aren’t done away with, but they are repelled, if only for a moment.

So, yeah, here’s me, wishing you a happy Christmas time. Sing yourself a little Christmas carol, if you like, and, as you do, if you have the ability, try to spread that little bit of Christmas cheer by sharing what you have with someone who has not. And, yeah. God bless and all that. 

 

Building a Home with Meow Meows

 
Welp, it’s official. I finalized my adoption of Meow Meows* yesterday, so I guess I’m a cat-dad now. Cripes, I hate that term!

I think there’s something about pet ownership that immediately makes you talk like you’ve never had a meaningful relationship with any living creature that wasn’t embroidered on a sweater. Like, I don’t know if you can actually read what’s in that one-page description of my cat in that photo up there, but it actually uses the line “Holier than Meow” as shorthand for the cat’s personality… and it expects me to accept that, like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a thing normal people say.”

I don’t get all the cutesy-wutesy nonsense that surrounds cat ownership. There’s not one aspect of my cat’s behavior that makes me want to dress him in a fluffy sweater and call him “Snookums” through pouted lips. When I see Meow Meows, I immediately start to wonder which corner of my house he decided to throw up in this time. Cats are disgusting.

Plus, I know my cat has zero regard for my well-being. Meow Meows is always there, at three in the morning, right when I’m in the middle of my most restful sleep. He comes traipsing into my room and slaps me right in the face. “Wake up!” he shouts. “I need my Meow Mix!”

Actually, it’s worse than that, cuz Meow Meows isn’t declawed. So that slap in the face is more like a shank… or a… shiv. Yeah. Every morning, at three A.M., I get stabbed in the eyeball because my little meowster is out of num nums. What a jerk!

Don’t ask me how I got to be so fond of the little monster, but here we are. Most meaningful commitment I’ve ever made to another living being. My life is dysfunctional.
*Yeah, I’m keeping the name. It’s not like I ever actually call him that, anyway.

Final Guatemala Thoughts (And Miscellaneous Photographs)


Many people from our group were concerned about bedbugs, but I never had a problem… except for our first night in Guatemala City (not pictured; this hotel room was in Coban). I woke up in the middle of the night with crazy itches all over my body, but, in the morning, I didn’t have a bite on me. I think I had psychosomatic bedbugs.


The woman in the center (her name is Brenda) fed us SO MUCH FOOD During our stay in Coban. Eggs and beans. Fried plantains With cream. Lemongrass tea with cinnamon. One day, she fed us this slow-cooked chicken with rice. The chicken had marinated in orange juice – fresh squeezed, nonetheless. And she did it all by hand. It took seventy-five oranges to make enough for everyone. She must have a grip like a trash compactor.


I don’t know whose job it is to oversee rural road maintenance, but they deserve a raise. Sure, it may look like they’re not doing their job, but some jobs just need someone to take the blame when things go wrong, and that seems to be a thing that happens a lot here. Poor guy.


Okay, so everyone in my group was, like, obsessed with this plant during one of our rest stops. Apparently, it, like, folds up when you touch it or something. But, yeah, they all went nuts for it. So now here’s a picture for you to go nuts over.

 
So here’s another thing I never got used to. We visited all these people, and then when we were done singing, we immediately busted out our cameras and started taking pictures of everything in their houses. To me, this just felt incredibly invasive… although we should all know by now that I have issues.


One of my friends, an avowed Disneyphile, asked me to bring her a souvenir. The minute I saw this bootleg Frozen doll, I knew this was it. And that was before I read the poem on the side (all grammatical errors faithfully replicated): 

I have a lovely doll,
his name is “small cute”.
She has a pair of big eyes,
round face,
A cherry small mouth,
long legs,

Another E.E. Cummings classic, no?


So there’s nothing quite like walking through a crowded market in Teleman while dozens of strands of musical Christmas lights play every note of “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer” simultaneously, and then you accidentally elbow an 80-year old woman in the face.


So yeah, bugs here sure are different.


This one is about as big and long as my thumb. I named him “Nopenopenopenopenope!”


Of all the towns we visited, I think Senahu was my favorite. It’s a tiny place (probably only a couple of city blocks large) and the power went out pretty regularly… and the power went out regularly… and the hotel smelled like mildew… and there was no hot water… At least it was scenic?


I took next to no pictures the last couple of days, because a) I got sicker than a Don Rickles burn and b) I finally realized that we had a professional photographer with a professional photograph-maker thingie following us everywhere we went, so what was I with my iPad and remedial sense of composition trying to accomplish.

The Guatemala trip was incredible – one of those real “What the cuss have I been doing with my life” experiences. I spent a lot of time with fantastic people, some of whom made me realize I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am, while others made me realize I’m not nearly as kind as I should like to be. In short, I’ve got some work to do on myself before the next time I take a trip abroad.

I hope it doesn’t take me ten years before I try this again.

The Dumbest Thing I Ever Did

 
Like so many dumb things, the dumbest thing I ever did I did with three truckfulls of other people. Here it goes:

So the guy who organized this trip to Guatemala is someone I’ve known for many years now. I like him, I respect him… But I don’t think I can say that I trust him much anymore, because I’m pretty sure he’s a terrible liar.“Let’s go to Yalijux cave,” he said. “It’ll be fun. It’s just a quick drive from here in the back of a truck, and then we’ll just have an easy walk throu this nice, level cornfield.”

Lies. All lies.

First of all, the “quick drive” took about two and a half hours. We stood in the back of this tiny pickup truck the whole time – ten of us, crowded shoulder to shoulder, or, more accurately, elbow to solar plexus. We could barely see the road ahead of us by squinting through the driving rain, because of course it was raining.

And, for extra insanity, I neglected to wear one of the three sweatshirts I’d stupidly brought with me to Guatemala, so I was freezing, as well. The only protection I had against the wind was this yellow plastic sheet which I’d bought for about twenty cents. The thing whipped about in the breeze – which at least meant I looked a little like a superhero. But otherwise did nothing more than irritate the face of the persona standing behind me, so I took it off.

The roads we drove on weren’t even roads – they were more like procession of ruts with road-like ambitions. That means every twenty feet we’d hit a dip or a bump that would send shockwaves bouncing back and forth between my knees and my lower back. The violent rocking of the vehicle caused us all to hold on to the guard rails with a death-like grip that makes it difficult for me to uncross my fingers, even today. 

And then, just for good measure, we often found ourselves driving at an angle along a horrible edge without any sort of fence or barrier between us and a very scenic, if deadly, drop.

After such a horrendous drive, I was about ready to go back to the hotel and sleep for the rest of the trip. Luckily, at this point, we only had a pleasant hike through a cornfield. Then, at long last, we’d be at our destination at Yalijux cave.

Hah.

Now, our leader could hardly be held accountable for the rain, which had rendered the trail we intended to follow into a mile-long slog through ankle-deep water and mud. I don’t hold that bit against him. Doesn’t make him less of a liar, though. The so-called level path started off with a brisk slide down a steep hillside (directly into a bunch of puddles, of course). The next little stretch was pretty level, but the well-worn trail soon disappeared under a cover of bent grass that required someone with a deep and slightly unnatural connection to the earth to read. The trail forked off in multiple directions, too, so the slower moving members of our group got a little turned around (which, by the way, is a euphemism for “almost completely left behind”).

The closer we got to the cave, the more that simple trail turned into a barrage of hills and dips, large stony paths slick with moss (and, of course, rain), and large green plants that obscured the next step to take just as much as they unloaded buckets of water on the heads of passers-by. A couple of times, the ground underfoot just disappeared, and our feet slipped between tough old tree roots. We endured many a twisted ankle, atop the rest of the cuts, bruises, and other assorted indignities.

Of course, when we reached the cave, we found out our leader had lied again. Yalijux was situated behind a curtain of deep green trees. Its roof reached over us so gracefully that we almost didn’t see it there. The cave filled with grey light, filtered through the distant storm clouds, but, just beyond, there was darkness. Darkness so thick that, more than a few feet in, we lost sight of nearly everything.

“Fun” was not the word I would use to describe the experience. “Harrowing, certainly. “Unforgettable” suits as well. “Transformative”… well, that’s probably laying it on a bit thick, but it was good nonetheless.

  
As we hiked back through the not-a-cornfield, I took a moment to look around. The hills were lovely, deeply green. The sky, though still cloudy, had an almost ethereal glow. And here I was, wrapped up in a yellow tarp, and the darn thing was actually keeping me warm. I laughed at myself, and the only thing I could think was, “What the %#&@ am I doing here?!”

At this point, I felt like anything was possible. That girl I’ve been afraid to approach? Yeah, I can ask her out. Skydiving? I say thee, “Yippee-ki-yay!” Those books I’ve been wanting to write? Cracker, please, I’ve been through the &%*$in’ jungle. I am Braddy, Lord of the Yellow Tarp-Thingie, and I fear nothing!

  
And then I see the trucks, ready to take us back down the mountain, and those ol’ knees of mine start knocking again.

So, yeah, never mind, I guess. Sorry I called you “cracker.”

So This Is The Post About Bathrooms

Yeah, so I’m actually back from Guatemala now, but since I spent a large part of the trip in places where there was no wi-fi access, I’ve still got some stuff to share. So sit back and enjoy as I talk about potty stuff. 
   

  • Most of the places we stayed in didn’t have large water heaters. Instead, they had these little electrical units attached to the shower head. We had to get trained on using them so we wouldn’t electrocute ourselves.
  • Some bathrooms in Guatemala have those automatic motion sensors on sinks when you wash your hands; however a lot of places had these physical dangly-things you had to actively be touching in order to get water flowing while you washed your hands. They felt terribly unsanitary, to me. However, most public restrooms also have towel dispensers specifically designed to be used with your whole forearm rather than your newly washed hand, which I appreciated.
  • So apparently, the sewer lines in Guatemala aren’t designed to handle toilet paper. Therefore, your gently used waste paper was to be tactfully folded and discarded in a special waste bin. Sometimes, those bins even had lids on them. I… admit that I never got quite used to this.

Caroling in Canlun

As part of our Guatemalan excursion, we drove off to some remote villages to sing Christmas carols in Kekchi to the local Christians, who didn’t have many (if any) Christmas songs in their language. One such excursion took us to Canlun, which, coming from my little world of white picket fences and Hot Pockets, completely staggered my imagination.

To reach Canlun, we drove through a countryside which… I wish I could find a better way to describe it than to say, “It looks like Jurassic Park,” but here we are. I come from a desert, so I tend to forget what the color green actually looks like until I go somewhere that gets more than a snow cone’s worth of precipitation a year. And the foliage is incredibly varied – greens of all shades, and shapes I didn’t even know plants came in. Squat palms, fat around the trunk and bushy in the branches. Tall, whispy trees than only look frail until you realize that they’re actually a mile or more away. And, of course, there are the coconut trees.I’ve seen houses like the ones in Canlun before, if only in photographs. Their yards are surrounded by thin fences bound together with twine or by walls of cultivated plants. The walls of the houses are, again, slats of wood tied together and roofed with leaves, and they’re terribly dark inside. Still, many of these places were actually fairly large (not terribly spacious, but not uncomfortably cramped, either). Some even had room for a coconut tree or two.

Part of our caroling group got sidetracked into conversation with this family, so I went back to retrieve them. As I walked up to them, the women of the house motioned for me to stay. They spoke to me in their heavily-accented Spanish, which… well, I don’t understand Spanish, anyway, so it doesn’t matter what their accent was. A member of my group pointed up into the tree, and I started when I realized that there was a man up there, cutting coconuts from their branches. He scurried back down while his daughters promptly loaded two of them into my arms.

After the family refused payment for the coconuts, thus reaffirming that I’ve been far too ungenerous in my life, we made our way back towards our singing engagement. One member of our little chorale struggled with carrying his two coconuts, his bag with his water, and the cane he had to use as he walked. I offered to carry his coconuts for him if he agreed to carry my music folder, which he did, gladly.

…and that’s how I wound up singing Silent Night whilst carrying four coconuts, which is not a thing I would have ever thought about putting on a bucket list.

  
*-Translated from Kekchi, of course.