Thursday, February 20, 2020

What a friend we have in cheeses : a vegan cheese experiment

First and foremost, I'm not vegan. I eat eggs and cheese nearly every day. I am vegetarian, however, and have a lot of respect for vegans.

I don't know why I decided I wanted to try to make five vegan cheeses as part of my 101 things in 1001 days project. I had seen an article in 2017 collecting then 10 recipes for different varieties in One Green Planet; by the time I got started a few weeks ago the recipe tally had grown to over 25. All but one of the recipes I used came from there.

I started with an easy one: Garlic and Herb Cream Cheese

Soak some cashews and blend with herbs and nooch -- easy peasy. I had a bunch of fresh basil that needed to be used, so I put TONS of basil in ... so mine was a lovely green. Would it fool anyone into thinking it was really cream cheese? Nope. But was it tasty? Yes -- I really enjoyed spreading this on toast in the morning. I would definitely make this again.

Next up was the only recipe not from One Green Planet: Instant Pot Vegan Cauliflower Queso from Epicurious

My pal Rebecca is a master of vegan queso, so I took her advice and doctored the recipe a bit, swapping out half of the weight of cauliflower for rutabega for extra creaminess. This took a bit longer, but was delicious. Would it fool someone into thinking it was dairy? Maybe if you eat it with enough chips. Would I make it again? Definitely.

My next recipe was probably the oddest one: Potato and Carrot Cheese

Made of potatoes, carrots, tahini, herbs, and spices, this was the first one that was firmed up with some agar agar powder and chilled for a few hours. Would it fool anyone into thinking it was dairy? Not a chance. Was it tasty? Yes. Essentially it's a soft pâté that was nice on crackers or toast. Would I make it again? Probably not.

Next up was one I was really unsure about: Aquafaba Mozzarella

Made with aquafaba -- the liquid you drain from garbanzo beans -- and cashews, plus spices, coconut oil, cornstarch, and agar agar, then poured into a mold to firm up. I had really mixed feelings about this; I didn't think it tasted like mozzarella at all, and I felt like I was very conscious of the coconut scent and flavor. However, when I layered it between guacamole on toast and a hot egg, it "melted", sorta. As the "melty" layer on a sandwich it was nice; I could see this being a good substitute on a caprese sandwich (especially if it's served hot). Would I make it again? Probably not, unless I needed to make a vegan caprese sandwich.

My final vegan cheese turned out to be the least interesting of the five: Herbed Soft Cashew Cheese

Cashews and herbs and nooch, plus agar agar to firm it up. Would anyone think it was dairy cheese? Not likely. Was it tasty? Yep -- nice on toast and on crackers. Again, it really feels like I made a nice soft pâté. Would I make it again? I don't think so. The potato and carrot version was more interesting.

Of the five, the vegan queso and the vegan herbed cream cheese were the winners -- and the ones I expect to make again. The other three? Meh.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Travel Tuesday : Goodbye, Egypt, hello Spain? And home...

On our last full day in Egypt we packed everything and ordered a taxi for the next morning -- which consisted of having the bellman call a taxi from outside, who drove in and negotiated with us. (Same old story -- there's an accepted price, but the driver started high and only came down when we argued a bit). He gave us his card and told us to call him. We told him to be there at 6am. There was some back and forth about this, but we thought we'd got it sorted.

In the morning we checked out (I knew we'd get dinged for that minibar stuff we didn't let them replace on that first morning -- but we disputed it and didn't end up paying) and had a quick breakfast at the buffet. Then we went out front to leave.

5:58 - no taxi 5:59 - we ask the front desk to call the taxi. They call, twice -- no answer. 6:00 - we storm down the driveway and re-negotiate with the first driver we find. grrr. 6:15 - we arrive at Luxor Airport

We go inside the terminal where three guards were standing next to a metal detector and x-ray machine, both of which were turned off. A fourth man, behind the glass, who in theory would monitor the x-ray machine was sleeping, smooshed against the glass.

One said, "Do you have a ticket?" When I said yes, he said "I want to see it." So I dug out the e-mail (it's not like I had a hard ticket), which he glanced at, and then waived us through. Since the scanner was turned off, we hesitated, and started to wheel my bag through the metal detector. The guards said, "No, no, through the machine." I wasn't about to step through the gate without my bag going first, so I pointed out that everything was turned off. So they shouted at the sleeping guard, who slowly woke up, and turned on the machine. We stood there, waiting, wondering how exactly this was secure. But eventually we were able to load the bags onto the x-ray and step through the metal detector.

Then to check-in, where there seemed to be a lot of typing -- and the clerk was a hunt-and-peck typist. But we weren't in a hurry and he did give us the Egypt exit forms to fill out. Then to the next security checkpoint, which again was switched off. The belt wasn't moving, but the guy wanted us to walk through and didn't understand why we hesitated. Awesome! Finally that came online, and we could go through. Then into the domestic departure lounge, which didn't have many shops but at least was priced in Egyptian pounds.

Eventually our gate opened and we got on a bus to take us to the plane. We had exit row seats to Cairo -- nice -- but I don't think EgyptAir bothered with a safety demonstration.

Cairo airport was nothing special; had to go through the emigration process which took an absurdly long time and had highlights like the officer sending and receiving text messages while processing forms. Cool! Very little Egyptian stuff in the airport shops, which surprised me. But they did have food, at least.

Flight to Barcelona was tedious; already feeling tired of travel.

Arrived at the schmancy new T1 and found the spot where the hotel busses go. At first glance, the Hotel Tryp was a dud, sitting in an older industrial park next to a Volkswagen office. But it was beautiful and very stylish inside. The shuttles were really useful too -- running every 20 minutes to the train station and airport, which meant we could check in, dump our stuff, and head back into town. A nice lady at the Renfe train station showed us that you could save money by getting a T-10 ticket rather than two round-trip tickets. Nice!

Spent the late afternoon/ early evening wandering around Barcelona looking at buildings in L'Eixample and trying to find a grocery store. Found one, eventually, but couldn't find what we were looking for. Again, we have completely failed to buy anything for anyone. Oops. Not that we bought much for ourselves, mind you. We bought nothing in Egypt that we didn't eat or drink -- in large part because I was tired of the constant hassle.

Walking around Barcelona we kept thinking how lovely it was not to be harassed at every street corner, every time we stopped, etc. And how clean it all was. And did I mention we brushed our teeth with tap water?

Back to the hotel at sunset, and then we just hung out, drank cheap Sidre, and snacked on cheese, tomatoes, potato "tortilla", and crackers.

Set alarms for 3:30 to make sure we caught the 4:00 shuttle; we were out of the room at 3:58 and right on time. Sadness: the lovely shops at the airport were still shut -- one downside of an early morning flight! But time passed and we're now halfway through our flight to Amsterdam. Happy to be homeward bound!

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Acanthus Stitch-a-Long, part 3

Hi everyone! I'll cut to the chase here. I didn't get as much done this time as I wish I had. But here's where I was last time:

And here's where I am this time:

One of the challenges I had was looking at the different greens in the gray-green leaves. There are three more shades of pale green in this part:

Even in yarn it's not super easy to tell how many colors there are!

I had hoped to get both the gray-green leaves and the browny-green leaves done, and haven't quite finished filling in the second gray-green leaf. Again, it's difficult to see progress from the front of this brightly colored canvas, so here's the back from the last check-in:

And here's the back now:

I'll actually be away for one of the three weeks before our next check in, but I really REALLY hope to finish the pair of browny-green leaves and roll the canvas for real.

The other stitchers in this stitch-a-long have undoubtedly been more productive than I have this term, so check out everyone's blogs to see what they're all up to.

Avis, Claire, Gun, Carole, Sue, Constanze, Christina, Kathy, Margaret, CindyHeidi, Jackie, Hayley, Megan, Deborah, Mary MargaretRenee, Carmela, Jocelyn, SharonDaisy, AnneConnieAJ, and welcome back to Jenny.

See you on March 8th for our next check-in!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

ScrapHappy Afghan part 2

Hi everyone! It's time for ScrapHappy Day!

It's been really satisfying to work on this project and I'm really happy to announce that I've made it through one color pass!

Here's where I was last time:

And here's where I am now:

I'm also thrilled that I actually finished up one of the colors! One down, 14 to go...

Here's an odd thing -- I might be running low on the black yarn that I am using as the "lead" between the greys. I wonder if I'll have to buy more yarn to finish this scrap piece?!?!? I think that's okay. There might even be some deep down in the stash, and I promise to look there first.

I have decided, however, that any leftover yarn will be donated and out of my house. Of course, that's a loooong way from now.

ScrapHappy Day is organized by Kate and Gun, so if you're interested in participating please see their blogs. And my fellow ScrapHappy Stitchers are super creative, visit their blogs to see how they're using up some of their scraps.

Kate, Gun, Titti, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda, Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan, Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline, and Sue L.

Our next check in is on March 15; I hope to be halfway through another color pass by then!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Travel Tuesday : Karnak (the Magnificent)

Karnak village -- and the temple -- is just up the road from the Sofitel Karnak. One morning we got up at 5:30, and were out the door before 6 to go to Karnak Temple.

Perfect timing. Other than the fact that the guards made us do a big loop past an empty set of stores to get to the ticket booth (rather than walking 100 feet past the guards directly to the booth), it was perfect. Hardly any people, no one trying to be our guide, lovely pink sunrise. Glorious.

We wandered around for a couple of hours -- the hypostyle hall was amazing -- so many pillars!

It's all a bit overwhelming -- I keep feeling like I'm in a movie set, which is ridiculous, but... Really liked Hatchepsut's obelisks, the "botanical garden" reliefs, the massive pylon gates.

One enterprising guard had moved the "area closed - no entry" sign but pulled the metal gates across the opening. When we got close, he noisily moved the gates and kept telling us it was okay. But we didn't want the hassle. Around 8:30 we walked back to the hotel, where we had breakfast and then hung out by the pool.

Me with Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess ... who has a feast day in some traditions on December 31. #twinning

In the early evening we took the shuttle -- getting dropped off at Karnak and then feeling silly because it was so close -- but as Wil said, it will have given the package tourists something to talk about.

We had dinner at Nefertari again, because the owner and the food were both lovely. We met the owner on our first visit, a kind man who had studied in Walthamstow and had a shop in Bristol. Wil's tummy had been bothering him again, so we asked if he could just have some rice and steamed veg -- simple. I had some mezze: babaganoush, tabbouleh, and falafel. When it came it was perfect -- lovely fresh, clean food. Very nice -- best falafel ever.

I definitely had the better dinner, but it's what Wil needed...
Then walked from there to Karnak temple, where we bought the Very Expensive tickets to the Sound & Light show. 100 LE!

It was very different than the one at Giza. In this one you walked from place to place in the temple and learned different things along the way.

Kinda cool to walk around with the temple lit up like that.

It ended in the seats overlooking the sacred lake, which was a bit of an anticlimax. Still, nice. And very different from the one at the pyramids.

Then home, where we stayed up late, sitting outside and finishing the bourbon.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Elwha Bridge 5K race report

Last year I heard about Run the Peninsula -- 5 races of varying distance over the course of the year, all on the Olympic Peninsula. A couple of the races are only 5K/10K, which seems like a long way to go to run a short distance. But, umm, then I saw this medal set:

Yep, there are five unique medals that connect magnetically to show the mountain range. WAAAAANT.

So I signed us up for all five races (hey, it meant we got a discount!) and decided to use it as the backbone of our getting back to running. And I do need a little backbone... Also, I figured this would give us 5 little weekend trips away, which is always fun.

Sunday was the first race of the series, the Elwha Bridge 5K/10K, and it was more challenging than it should have been.

Our first challenge was getting there. It was a very dark and stormy night. We got on the 6:15 ferry (yay!) but then discovered that the Hood Canal Bridge was closed (technically open, so traffic couldn't cross it...) "until weather conditions improve". It had already been shut for a few hours, and with the wind howling, it didn't seem likely it would open very soon. Should we pull over and wait and hope? Or add 2 hours to our scheduled drive by driving the long way around?

standard route, across the Hood Canal Bridge

going around, when the bridge is shut
We decided to just drive around. After all, the bridge could stay ut for several more hours, and then we would still need to start driving. So off we went.

We pulled into Port Angeles a little after 10pm, all jangly and tired. It was pouring out, still, so we made sandwiches from some groceries we'd picked up on the way, and watched the weather from the balcony.

In the morning we were thrilled to see that the weather had improved to drizzle from downpour. We headed for breakfast -- a delicious veggie scramble in the coffee shop that I would slightly regret later as it was HUGE and big breakfast + running an hour later = not good.

We somehow mistimed our departure, arriving at the parking area for the shuttle a little later than expected, and having to go to the first overflow parking area. Let me say this: this race was incredibly well organized. They had flaggers at the parking areas so it was easy to get in and get parked. We joined a line for the shuttle, but sadly it filled up before we could get on. (We were not the only people to be tardy!)

But we got on the next one, and arrived at the starting area about 10 minutes late. We got our bibs -- they also used the AWESOME instant-print race bib technology I'd only seen once before. Of course, there were only a handful of us hustling to the start, so lines weren't really an issue...

Then we picked up our race swag -- a very handsome reversible beanie, designed by a local artist. That's another great thing about this race series: rather than multiple race shirts, you get something different at each race. (Spoiler alert: at the next race we get GLOVES...)

We pinned on our bibs (must remember to bring my race belt next time!) and took a picture of the start because the area looked so nice: the start was on the pedestrian crossing of the Elwha River, which is suspended beneath a road bridge. It's pretty cool -- and clever, because people were somewhat sheltered from the rain!

Then we set off, 16 minutes or so after the gun.

The run was an out and back along a paved stretch of the Olympic Discovery Trail, and truly lovely. Nice and even, with uphills and downhills so gentle that I couldn't tell you whether we were ascending or descending. We saw a handful of Very Fast Folk come running the other direction, gradually becoming a lot of MidPackers the closer we got to the turnaround.

By the time we were halfway back to the start, we were being passed by the faster 10K runners. But that's fine -- we weren't exactly trying to BQ or anything. And it was a nice, gentle run/walk. More walking than running, but we had decided to wear our big gore-tex jackets as we didn't want to get soaked.

We passed a few people, and hustled up the little ramp to the finish. Done.

Here's the one sad thing -- so minor, but it's the only tiny blemish on an otherwise excellent race.

We didn't get a chip time for the start. So our times were recorded as 57:19, placing us at 372nd and 373rd out of 387. That smarts a bit! I subtracted a conservative 16 minutes off our time, however, which moved us well up the rankings. With apologies for my vanity (and, yes, I know that other runners were also late, but few were as late as we were!), with a time of 41:19 I would be:

235/387 overall, 149/272 women; and 17/48 women 50/59. Ahhh.

Not needing refreshments (and clearly not being in the running for an award!), we headed up the hill and joined the line for the shuttles back to the parking areas.

Back in town we did some shopping, some bar hopping, and some relaxing in the room... before going to Bella Italia for a very rich, very nice dinner. We don't often go out for dinner as our entertainment anymore, so that was a treat.

Sunday morning another big breakfast (thank you, Red Lion!) and then we went for a walk on Ediz Hook, or, as the locals call it, The Spit. Favorite thing: this plaque honoring Bert Thomas, the first person to swim the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

 Apparently as of 2016 only 8 people have done this!

Then an uneventful drive home and a relaxing afternoon.

But back to the race itself.

The organization was top notch -- good communication, good website, great volunteers. Parking was easy, shuttles were comfortable, course was both pretty and well marked, and water station was well stocked. Bib pickup was efficient. Swag was nice and useful.

Again, the only ding against them was that we didn't get chip times, but that's okay. I would wholeheartedly recommend this race to anyone, and look forward to the next installment: the Railroad Bridge 10K in Sequim.