Why I Aspire

It’s been an exciting week for Aspire to Autonomy, Inc., and an even more exciting Friday night!

As early as Monday, the communications team at Aspire will be sending out a press release talking about all of this excitement. If you are reading this, you are getting a taste of what the media will learn Monday.

On Monday, our new team of 6+ social work interns from the graduate programs of Kutztown and Marywood universities started work with Aspire. So it’s great to have new people with new energy and new voices.

In the middle of the week, as Darnell and I were trying to put the finishing touches on the organization’s 2019-2020 Annual Report, Amber let us know that Northampton County had approved Aspire’s grant application for more than $8,000 to provide masks and hand sanitizer to the underserved and unsheltered.

Today, Aspire learned that Just Born has awarded the Community Intervention Service pilot program a $2,500 grant.

On top of all of this, Aspire had the opportunity to host a hot meal distribution of quality vegetarian Indian food from Aman’s Artisanal Indian Cuisine on Northampton Street in downtown Easton.

Aman’s worked with Lehigh Valley Sikhs to pay for and prepare these generous meals that Aspire distributed to the elderly, disabled and other underserved individuals identified as part of the Communities Impacting Communities program, primarily in West Ward, Easton, but also in Wilson borough.

Bulk meal distributions happened at Third Street Alliance for Women and Children and other Lehigh Valley non-profits. I helped distribute some meals at Third Street, with teenager in tow, and delivered others to families in my own neighborhood who I know have been furloughed since the beginning of the pandemic.

As I was leaving, Darnell gave me one of the single person bags to give to my blind, senior citizen friend, Nan.

I hadn’t even thought about her— her fixed income, her disability, her reliance on friends for what she needs, and her age. To me, she’s just my good friend and partner in crime. I was touched that Darnell remembered Nan and wanted the outreach to help her too.

This is why I Aspire—the Lehigh Valley is one of the most populated regions in the state. Its transportation infrastructure makes every other region of the country super accessible. It has proximity to New York City, Philadelphia and the New Jersey shipping ports.

Human trafficking happens here and it may not look like what you expect it to look like.

Human trafficking is modern day slavery.

Aspire to Autonomy wants to find trafficking victims and give them the tools and support they need to rebuild an independent life. But they are forward-thinking and broad-reaching and grassroots in their vision.

They celebrated their second anniversary in July and they are gaining momentum every day.

Their anti-trafficking vision also helps strengthen our communities and forges partnerships and connections that hopefully will improve life for every underserved citizen. Because traffickers prey on the vulnerable, and if we strengthen our bonds in our neighborhoods, traffickers won’t have a place to hide. Or a place to hunt.

This is Why I Aspire. Anti-trafficking may sound like a niche, but helping our neighbors is not.

So, as I wrote this, Nan finished her first meal of the goodies from Aman’s that I brought her. As a blind person, she couldn’t quite recall what everything was but she offered strong reviews of the deliciousness.

She had some of the “cross between vegetable soup and vegetarian chili” (lentil and black bean curry) and loved the “cucumber salad” (cucumber salad with chick peas) and had to dip a spoon in the “fruity pudding” (sweet pudding). She reports that the individual bag is at least two meals, but the cucumber salad probably won’t last the night.

She confirmed that she has never had Indian food before and that she is now a fan.

And she asked me—after making me promise to thank Darnell, “is it okay to have Indian food for breakfast?”

Vegan food experiments

There are several reasons why I love vegan cooking, but there are also several reasons why I won’t go vegan.

Why I love vegan cooking:

  1. It’s simple.
  2. When done correctly, it usually features fresh, whole foods.
  3. Gaz Oakley, the avant garde vegan. Look him up on YouTube.
  4. It’s a great way to empty the fridge.
  5. It’s healthy.
  6. It reduces the impact of seasonal allergies by lowering the body’s production of phlegm.

Why I won’t go vegan:

  1. I have a high metabolism and I require an unusual blend of macros higher in fat and protein and lower in carbohydrates than a lot of my peers. To reach those macro goals via veganism requires a large amount of food.
  2. I can’t drink my coffee black.

I was vegetarian for eight years, which ended when I was diagnosed was gestational diabetes at the beginning of my second trimester of pregnancy. I remained primarily vegetarian until my daughter was about 18 months old. At that point, I started craving bacon cheeseburgers even though I hadn’t eaten red meat in a decade and I hated bacon.

Why I went vegetarian:

  1. I hate touching meat.
  2. I hate modern factory farming practices (luckily I live in the middle of some great family farms and can buy milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese, honey and meat from them if I want to be ethical).
  3. It’s so healthy, when you’re not living on refined white carbohydrates— which I was.

Why I stopped being vegetarian:

  1. The teenager is a huge carnivore. As a preschooler she told my mom she had to go shoot a bear so she could eat the ham out of him.
  2. A French cookbook. A friend brought me a cookbook in French, from France. I had to cook the recipes.
  3. The onset of anemia, which is when I started craving bacon cheeseburgers.

Today I experimented with some vegan cooking. Do not try this at home until you read this whole post.

Pumpkin Tacos

A few weeks ago, I made vegan tacos with sweet potato in the filling. They were so good! (Recipe here) So I wondered if pumpkin tacos would be similar. The answer is NO!

I heated some corn tortillas— 3 — because you know what’s worse than a vegan pumpkin taco, three vegan pumpkin tacos. It reminded me of the vegan hot dog recipe that recommended steaming and sautéing a whole carrot and placing it in a bun and eating it like a hot dog.

Don’t do it.

Then I filled each tortilla with some canned pumpkin, organic black beans from the Grocery Outlet, and lots of lettuce that I got on clearance for 50 cents at Lidl, 10 days ago.

And I sprinkled each with fresh lime juice.

I ate them. But never again.

My second vegan experiment today involved making my own creamy, tangy hot sauce.

Now this, my lovelies, I encourage you to try.

Vegan black bean hot sauce—
upper left, 11 o’clock

Vegan Black Bean Citrus Hot Sauce

In the Nutri Ninja (or high powered blender or smoothie mixer) combine:

  • Hot peppers to taste— mine were from my mother’s garden and may have included habanero. I used about the equivalent of one cup.
  • 1/2 can organic black beans, rinsed—mine came from the Grocery Outlet
  • About 1/2 clove diced garlic
  • Juice of one small lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • A few tablespoons water
  • Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil—I like the cold-pressed imported from Lebanon that I buy at Forks Mediterranean Deli

If you try it, let me know what you think.

Nala approved, she kept sticking her head in the dirty Ninja cup.

Flecks of hot sauce on the bird

Farewell to Sunday… in Yellow

In honor of the last Pennsylvania counties going to the next phase of Covid-19 restrictions…

Coldplay: Yellow (click to listen)

Alex Parks: Yellow (click to listen)

Yesterday was a very nice Sunday. We went out to the backyard to enjoy a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade. We had a big bags of lemons and Meyer lemons.

Fresh squeezed lemonade with unsweetened tea

We rescued a baby sparrow, and set in up in the parakeet cage in the backyard. That way his momma could still feed him but he’d be safe from wild or domestic animals. My mother-in-law thought he was a day or two away from flying.

Yes, I let the teenager capture a baby bird. Watching his momma dote on him was beyond precious.

Momma coming to feed baby
(look under the table)
And see what happened on Monday

And then he crawled out of the cage and hid between the garage and the fence.

For dinner I made an exquisite vegetarian ramen dish to use some of the fresh ginger I bought at Tucker Provisions. I based the recipe on one I found in Bon Appétit.

I mixed up the ginger, some carrots and some cabbage in my Ninja. I sautéed everything with garlic, coconut oil, fresh chives and some spices. I mixed a sauce of apple cider vinegar, low sodium soy sauce, sesame oil and vegetable oil and poured it over everything. Then I toasted some sesame seeds in the mix.

I cooked the ramen. I made some egg drop in the ramen water, and scooped the mix out of the water with a slotted spoon.

Then I placed the vegetable mix over the noodles.

My Ramen

The meaty bits in the photo are Golden Island Korean Barbecue Pork Jerky. I found them at the Grocery Outlet. The teenager enjoyed them. It was a way to add extra protein. Tasted more or less like every other kind of jerky.

And to round out the evening, I poured a stiff drink (mint whiskey and Diet Coke as that’s the only alcohol I have in the house) and watched TV and binged on Double Good popcorn.

So I’m a pound heavier today but the time with the teenager was worth it.

This morning, I tried the other Siggi yogurt I bought at the Grocery Outlet. I couldn’t wait to try it as it was strawberry rhubarb. The smooth, not sweet yogurt might be my new favorite brand.

Hope you’re all having a good Monday.

Vegetarian sweet potato tacos and a kitten joy ride

Many years ago, I used to blog every meal I made, in part because I had friends in far away states who wanted my recipes. Also because I am frugal. I also kept the blog because I never cooked the same meal twice and I wanted to preserve my best dishes. Even if they were an accident.

That blog is located here: Angel Food Cooking.

I promised the teenager we could take her kitten on a car ride. His first. So I ordered him a hamburger patty from Wendy’s and we also got french fries for Nala.

Then we came home and started dinner of leftovers and the next round of goodies from Grocery Outlet to make luscious vegetarian tacos.

Ingredients:

  • Corn tortillas, I don’t even remember when/where I bought them. I heated them in the skillet with coconut oil and a touch of chili powder and smoked paprika.
  • Green leaf lettuce leftover over from Tucker Silk Mill/Tucker Provisions from the burger kit I bought for Memorial Day two weeks ago.

You can read about that here: Tucker Provisions Burger Kit on the table

Buying the kit

  • Leftover sweet potato from dinner last night, also from Tucker (and this made the tacos really creamy and gave them a fantastic rich flavor)
  • Light sour cream leftover from when the teenager made her grandmother’s corn bake

More about the day on my recent vacation where we enjoyed corn bake: Our own Walking Purchase: Forest Bathing

  • Salsa from Lidl
  • A Boca Southwestern Skillet vegetarian dinner kit I bought at Grocery Outlet last night for less than $3. Three servings, though the outside of the package said serves 2. The sauce was tasty.
  • Jalapeño velveeta, also from the Grocery Outlet, which I got for 47 cents. A touch gave the taco some fire.
  • We had Italian black olives but we opted not to open them.

A Daffy Charcoal BBQ

There are often silver linings to difficult situations, and that is true even when marriages end. Once upon a time, my husband and I were the couple that everyone thought would last forever and that expectation— and the shock I often see when I say we’ve split up after 20 years—makes the separation hard.

I still know everything I once loved about my husband, the teenager’s father, my first love. And I will always cherish those memories and I will miss those feelings we once had for each other. As I’m sure he has similar nostalgia and good-heartedness.

It was he who told me no matter what happened we would always be family.

And we will.

But there are some parts of this process that are uplifting. New beginnings. New traditions. No more compromising.

Ending family curses.

I mean that. You see, my household had a curse that involved grilling.

You see, every day time we tried to grill, it rained.

Today, I decided to grill. We have a couple of portable charcoal grills. I even sprung for the instant/match light charcoal.

But I decided to keep it vegetarian.

That way if I didn’t get everything cooked properly I didn’t have to worry about the internal temperature of meat.

And since I paid for about ten years of Girl Scout summer camp for the teenager, she should be able to cook on a fire.

So first I weeded the yard and cleaned up the grill.

Got the hose and some Brillo pads.

And the teenager reassembled the grill (and we lost some nuts and bolts— oops). I wrapped a sweet potato in some foil to toss in the coals and also some apples.

I put carrots and fingerling potatoes in the basket.

And I planned on making some chickpea Bubba vegetarian burgers once the grill got good and hot. Sadly, the burgers were freezer-burned beyond a level that could be salvaged.

So the teenager got some chip steak and I put it on my cast iron griddle.

Now if you note in the photos that there are two grills, that’s because once my grill fell apart, we transferred the hot charcoal into the other grill.

But hey— at least it wasn’t raining.

To make matters interesting, the sweet potato was half-cooked. The teenager thought the potatoes and carrots too crunchy and charred. And the chip steak overcooked. But it was a meal we laughed a lot over and we didn’t starve.

The teenager used my small cast iron pot to make tea on the grill, which she will tell you was the best part of the meal. I got a little ice cream so our hot apples could go in it.

When the teenager would come home from Girl Scout camp, she would talk about sugared apples on the fire. I thought I’d surprise her and recreate a beloved summer childhood memory.

Except I didn’t know to core the apple. Obvious now. And we forgot to turn them so they were only hot on one side.

I really had a lovely evening barbecuing with the teenager at the helm of the fire, but sometimes I think my family life might be the script for the next movie in the National Lampoon franchise.

Recent food and random Monday silliness

Today was hard—one of those days where I thought I had all my ducks in a row only to be asked why the sheep were still out to pasture.

A goofy image, but how I feel.

The teenager and I have been eating well. My neighbor has been sharing some of her Hungryroot deliveries. If she doesn’t like it, she sends it to my house.

That’s how I discovered that I like polenta.

So this weekend, I made spaghetti with Hungryroot’s Spicy Thai peanut sauce and sautéed fresh radishes and frozen stir fry vegetables in sesame oil and Bragg’s liquid aminos.

For breakfast that morning we’d had scrambled eggs in homemade crepes with turkey bacon, Gouda and a pickle.

Today for breakfast, the teenager had the last of the Thai peanut sauce and bacon on a bagel.

For lunch today we had leftover spaghetti, vegetable dumplings and Green Giant Steamfresh superfood edamame mix. So yummy.

Dinner was salad with sesame dressing and Hungryroot lemongrass tofu.

And yesterday the teenager baked me the most amazing dark chocolate cookies with dark chocolate chips and piles of fresh coconut.

My dear friend and traveling companion M got to meet Nala over FaceTime today and commented how she was more cuddly and quiet than he expected.

She’s been very tired lately, but she’s been waking often in the night.

Nana sleeping on my chest

And for one last burst of cheer, here’s a pile of kittens:

And the teen and I did some taste-testing:

Strawberry Twinkies

Lemon Hostess Cupcakes

It must be January

The gym is really crowded.

The teenager asked to go to the gym and I didn’t want to go but I went. All I did was 10 minutes on the bike. But I came and that is something.

That’s enough for me right now.

As a parent, I told the teenager I would never say no if she wanted to drag me to the gym.

My yellow budgie, Peek-a-Boo (whom we nicknamed Boo-Boo), had an episode of night fright last night and woke me up at 4:30. I had gone to bed shortly after nine, so I had trouble falling back to sleep.

I ended up doing some writing for work. When the house is still and your mind is fresh, it’s amazing how easily ideas flow. Even if it is 5 a.m.

I packed my yogurt, fruit and granola parfait for lunch, substituting some chocolate Fontina brand Christmas cookies for breakfast. Lunch didn’t happen until 1:45 so that didn’t help my fatigue.

NALA

But I got some amusing text messages when my daughter got home from school. I had set Nala up with her new toys, fresh fruit and romaine and Hulu set to hours of Sesame Street.

My daughter went to check on her, which says a lot about how far their bond has come as a week ago my teenager was afraid of Nala and vice versa.

Today I got a text that the teenager planned on offering Nala tea. This photo followed:

And it looks like Nala did not pluck today. Now Nala was also glad to see me when I got home, though we had a disagreement about where Nala was going to sit while I ate dinner.

I think Nala thought my plate was her plate. So I ended up with a pretty pointed beak stab in the middle of my middle finger.

DINNER

The teenager says she’d like to lean toward vegetarianism. So we’ve reduced the amount of meat we buy.

Last night’s dinner was homemade mozzarella that my neighbor received as a Christmas gift, spinach, a Pillsbury flaky buttermilk biscuit, two poached eggs and imitation bacon bits.

Tonight’s dinner was “Greek Night.” I made that up. It’s a mess of stuff from the cupboards. But it doesn’t qualify as vegetarian, only pescatarian.

I made a green salad of chopped romaine lettuce, two kinds of olives, the mozzarella again, and avocado. I added two prepared Greek Salads from Lidl: one a giant white bean salad and the second a tomato-based lentil salad. I also served “calamari fries” from Lidl, which are basically thick chunks of potato somehow mixed with calamari.

The teenager had her salad with light ranch dressing. I had mine with a Whole 30 approved balsamic vinaigrette. I made a salad for lunch tomorrow (but didn’t include the calamari). That’s the featured photo for this entry.

Well, now for the amazing part of this entry.

BEDTIME

Last night I tried to put Nala to bed at 6:30 and sit downstairs so she could sleep. Just like a baby, she screamed for Mommy. I returned to my room, and watched TV on my iPad in the dark just load enough so she knew I was here.

Tonight I put her to bed at 6:30, left my pink night light on, covered her and went to the gym.

When I came back an hour later, she didn’t even rustle. I’m tiptoeing around my room as not to wake her.

Goodnight, Nala.

Her week of vegetarianism

My daughter is a lifelong carnivore. Recently, she’s shown an interest in going vegetarian for a week. She wants to see if she can do it.

Of course she can do it.

Especially since I was a vegetarian for eight years before she was born.

We started with lunch today.

I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with carrots. Not only vegetarian but vegan, too.

Dinner was a stir-fry. I made a sauce of Chinese cooking wine, low sodium soy sauce, extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, fresh lemon juice and tahini.

I toasted some sesame seeds in my cast iron skillet.

Cooked some potatoes and Brussel sprouts in the sauce and then added grated radish, carrot and cabbage.

Served with saffron rice.

It was tasty. She enjoyed it.

So we’ll see how the week goes.

I’m already meal planning in my head:

  1. Ravioli
  2. Baked beans and corn muffins
  3. Vegetarian burgers
  4. Breakfast for dinner
  5. Scalloped potatoes and vegetable casserole
  6. Falafel
  7. Homemade pizza
  8. Zucchini cakes
  9. Mexican
  10. African chick pea stew
  11. Salad

Better honed ideas when I get to the kitchen.

O Canada

I can’t believe the trip with the Liberty Ball Wanderers has reached its final night in Niagara Falls. A tad sad really. Today I hit my 35,000 steps in one day milestone from Fitbit. I’ve gotten close many times but never made it…

But let me take a small step back. We went to Bollywood Bistro last night, a vegetarian-Jain Indian restaurant (one of nine Indian restaurants nearby), for dinner. I ate about $30 worth of food by myself I was so hungry after the 14 miles I covered during the day. The food was scrumptious.

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After that meal, we went on a 5k around Goat Island. I collapsed in bed around 10 and woke up still stuffed from dinner. I wandered down to the lobby for my first cup of coffee and managed to eat another oversized breakfast before embarking on the boarding crossing walk into Canada. We walked about 4 miles along the Canadian side of the falls, exploring various gardens and historical markers in addition to the breathtaking views of the falls.

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We came back to the hotel to play the Hampton Inn version of Mr. Potato Head.
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Then back onto the bus we went to visit Cave of the Wind (otherwise known as the place where you get dressed in a yellow garbage bag, wear cheap sandals, walk along some wooden steps and stairs to be sprayed with ice cold water). All kidding aside, the views of the falls were amazingly majestic. I think it may have been more fun than Maid of the Mist.

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We reboarded the bus for our long awaited border crossing into Canada as a group. Our first stop in Canada was the gardens near the Butterfly Conservatory. My husband and I visited here about 15 years ago and we adored the Butterfly House. But time did not allow it today. From the gardens, we traveled to Niagara on the Lake which I heard compared to New Hope and Cape May. It was cute.

We did a 5K that took us down to the waterfront, to the park across from Old Fort Niagara (which I visited once with my grandmother probably nearly 30 years ago), along Queen Street and back to the main drag.

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We bought butter tarts (a local dessert) and wine. We had to buy the wine after we had an amazing wine flight and cheese platter at Shaw’s Café and wine bar (named after George Bernard Shaw the playwright).

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Not to mention our waiter Andrew was a sweetheart and easy on the eyes. Okay, so the restaurant was gorgeous too, with winding stairs and a path through the kitchen to get to the washrooms…
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I’m so tired right now I have to postpone any further thinking… We leave at 8 am for another town and another 5k before we head home. Hopefully I can post a gallery of some of the pictures I have here, including phone booths and mail boxes.

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