Girl from the North Country

No, this isn't a post about Bob Dylan. It is a post about our brief, muddy jaunt on the North Country Trail in Moriane State Park yesterday.

After days and days of rain, we were greeted with a sunny and unseasonably warm (60 degrees!) late October day. Most of the leaves were down, but still bright yellow and dull orange-red, and the reduced cover allowed the sunlight in to illuminate the forest floor. The sun hadn't been out long enough to dry up the copious mud, however. And it seemed to be hunting season for just about everything except deer, as we were informed by the armed gentleman we encountered who was lucklessly tracking turkey. Next time we'll put on a little blaze orange.

We started from the NCT parking area on PA 528, and followed the blue-blazed Glacier Ridge trail to the Davis Hollow marina. From there we took the pink-black blazed trail for a ways, but it was poorly marked and difficult to follow. We ended up on an old forest road (which the pink/black trail incidentally joined about a mile up) and took this back to the NCT. To finish, we made the loop on the yellow-blazed lakeside trail for some outstanding views and some steep climbing.

We didn't see too much wildlife, unless you count chipmunks. Definitely didn't come across any turkeys. However, just as we neared the parking area, we did find a baby snake, and watched and listened as his scaly underside rubbed over the fallen leaves.

The North Country Trail (which follows the Glacier Ridge trail within Moraine) goes from North Dakota to upstate New York, and a sizeable portion goes right through western PA. We look forward to field-testing some of our cold weather AT gear on portions of this trail, perhaps in Cook Forest or the Allegheny National Forest. We'll be sure to check the hunting regulations first...

We Miss You, Johnny Chu

Despite being pleasantly suprised by the cosmopolitan haven that is the city of Pittsburgh (seriously, there is more culture and diversity here than I had ever given it credit for before, and a lot has changed in two years - new businesses, etc.), we've been sorely lacking a decent asian food experience. It's not that there aren't good Thai or Chinese places here, it's just that Phoenix spoiled us pretty good. Especially Fate - inexpensive, great atmosphere, late-night hours, and most importantly AMAZING FOOD. After a disappointing lunch at LuLu's in Oakland (not even in the same league), we decided to make an attempt at channelling Johnny's talent from 3000 miles away.

Here's a decent sauce I whipped up for stir frys. It's not really restaurant caliber, but it's a good deal better than cheap takeout:

1/2 c. Tamari/Soy Sauce
1/4 c. Toasted Sesame Oil
1" garlic, minced
5-6 Garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. hot red pepper flakes
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. Five-Spice Powder
1 Tbsp. turbinado or other Sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
Add it at the end of the fry, and mix just enough for the sauce to thicken, then remove from heat. Add some toasted sesame seeds for extra flava.

We made a stirfry including the following:
2 medium onions, sliced
2 carrots, halved and sliced thinly on the bias
1 head broccoli, trimmed into little tree-bits
stems from the bok-choy or chard, sliced like the carrots

Sautee these first, as they take longer than the other ingredients to cook. Once the onions go translucent, add the following (don't overcook!):
1 small bunch bok-choy leaves*
1 - 2 c. paddy straw mushrooms. or wood ears. mushrooms are good.
1/2 - 1 c. slivered bamboo**

*Chard works if you can't find decent bok choy (like us). Take out the stems and cook them with the carrots & such. Also, the baby bok-choys are the best, but make sure they're fresh and firm. don't take the leaves off, just cut 'em in half or throw in whole.
**add earlier if fresh. The ones from a can taste kinda funky, so drain & rinse first.
Serve with yummy brown rice. Think about how tasty it is. Then think of that tastiness doubled. Contemplate cashing in that frequent flyer ticket you have on southwest to go to phoneix for some food. Enjoy!


Country Living

Have M and K lost interest in sharing the details of their adventures? Or have the adventures ceased? Admittedly, country living is not quite so exciting as driving around the country. Nonetheless, we are doing some things that we actually enjoy.

Of course this is apple season, and although we have not had a Pennsylvania apple that rivals the Washington apples we had this summer, M's mother bought a half-bushel of delicious locally grown apples. We enthusiastically started to work our way through the apples by eating one with every meal, and sometimes in between. This hardly made a dent though, so we turned to baking, and I got out this contraption that peels and cores and slices the apples as you turn a crank. It was actually quite fun. M rolled out some vegan dough and we were rewarded by two tasy pies and an apple dumpling.

Other country living activities include yard work. As I still have the blood of a Phoenician, adjusting to the cool autumn temperatures has been unpleasant, and I was not that excited about working outside. As a child of the suburbs, I grew up with an ample backyard, or so I thought, and am no stranger to a rake, pitchfork or hedgeclippers. But friends, this is a whole new ball game. Country living includes an endless gravel driveway, lined by overgrown pine trees and brush that needs trimming. The trimming part is pretty easy thanks to a pole saw and other fun toys that M's dad has. But what to do with all the stuff you chop down? We decided to drag it to the edge of the woods to get it out of the way, and then put it in the chipper, so we can add it to the flower beds and compost pile. This was no easy task. I'm not sure if dragging eight foot long pine branches a half mile up a hill is good training for hiking the AT, but I definitely got a workout. This job will have to be completed another day, since we were not able to get the chipper running. After trimming, it was time to haul logs from another pile down to be split and dried.

Country living would not be complete without games in front of the fire. One of the best things about this house is the fireplace in the living room, that keeps us toasty warm in the evenings. Scrabble is a game that can become quite contentious when M and I play, and he usually wins, although I think I came up with better words.


Paperwork and Other Incidentals

After having a stellar time at a range of events this weekend, including a kayak trip, bonfire, two birthday parties and the Drive By Truckers show, M and K are engaged in a variety of administrative and household tasks. M is hauling and splitting wood, while I am haggling with student loan companies.

Student Loan Company A put my loan in default and reported me to the credit bureau, all while we were fully engaged in the vagabond lifestyle, and thus not regularly reading our mail. They have now corrected that issue. They are sorry. I am typing up several professionally written, yet vaguely threatening, letters to correct the situation further, because I want them to be a little more sorry. Even if vagabonds don't really need a good credit score, I still want one. Just in case.

I just got off the phone with Student Loan Company B, who regrets to inform me that, because my first loan was disbursed prior to October 1, 1998, I am not eligible for the Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. The most joyful part is that my loan was disbursed on September 21, 1998. So close...and yet so far.


Happy Birthday, Jack!

Friday the 13th was lucky for us, since it was our friend Jack's birthday, and we went with him to his parents' house on the Juniata River in central PA. One of the highlights of going to the "River House" is going on a "float."

I was skeptical of the amount of fun I could anticipate, given that the temperatures were to be in the low 50s (that's the high, folks...we aren't in Phoenix anymore, much to my dismay). However, the sun was shining, I wore plenty of clothes on, and the river was high enough that we did not have to get out and push our kayaks at all, thus avoiding getting wet. There is no better way to observe autumn.


Rosie the Cat

In response to your queries....Rosie the Cat is just fine, and is enjoying her new home, although she remains terrified of Frosty the Dog and mainly ignores Mittens the Cat, the other animals in residence. I, however, am allergic to one of the above animals - I am not entirely sure which. Or I am allergic to Pennsylvania in the fall. Whatever it is, I never had it before, and wish it would go away.

Stuffed Shells

For some reason I have really wanted to eat some kind of stuffed pasta dish. Tonight, I made a delicious vegan version. It turns out that stuffed shells are a little bit of a pain in the butt to make, and quite messy. It was worth it though, because they tasted good enough to feed vegans and non-vegans alike. I couldn't find a recipe that I liked (or that I had all the ingredients for), but this is how I made them:

First, make tofu from scratch. This is not as complicated a procedure as it sounds, but I will have to write another post about this. You could easily use firm or extra firm tofu from the store.

Boil the stuffed shells until al dente. Run them under cold water and pour a little olive oil over them. Let sit in a safe place until later.

Crush up a handful of pine nuts with a rolling pin and toast them until golden brown.

Cook 1 cup dried canolini beans until very soft. Or, if you use canned beans, you don't have to cook them. Put soft beans in food processor and blend with oil and/or water until very smooth. Blend in some basil, oregano, a little thyme, and salt.

Defrost frozen spinach, squeeze out extra moisture and saute briefly in some oil and garlic.

In a bowl mix up the pine nuts, bean mixture, and spinach. Crumble up the tofu into little pieces and mix that in.

Put a little tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan. Put the mixture inside the shells and line them up in the pan. Put some more sauce on top. Bake covered for about 30 minutes, then uncovered for 15 minutes.


Sweet Suzuki

M has had "learn to ride a motorcycle" on his LOTTDBD* for a while now, and now he has a bike of his own.

Don't get too excited...it doesn't run yet. We nearly threw our backs out trying to push it up the ramps into the truck. My Grandma was actually about to get behind the bike with us and start pushing. However, it's safely up here at the Saxonburg homestead now, where there is ample garage space. During the long and bleak winter, we can patch 'er up and get 'er running again.

This bike belonged to my Aunt DC, who always was an awesome aunt, but has now trumped all other relatives for being cool. Sorry we spilled gasoline all over your garage.

Incidentally, I left our remaining cell phone in my aunt's yard. My mom was nice enough to run over and look for it, but it will be a day or two before we can pick it up. Therefore, you should communicate with us through telepathy, or perhaps by leaving a comment on this website.


A Few of My Favorite Things (And People)

My advice? If you plan to eat the Sunday Brunch at Zenith Cafe on Pittsburgh's South Side, don't eat on Saturday. You'll need the room. Ten bucks gets you unlimited trips to the buffet that, on this Sunday, was filled with at least 10 different side dishes, as well as an entree, lots of cake, and beverages.

We met up with some of our favorite people, including the Butlers, back from Sacramento for a wedding. They were hoping for rain, but Pittsburgh was simply gorgeous all weekend. Even I loved the weather here this weekend.

Matt and Sloan, who trekked out to Harrisburg for the M.Ward/Juana Molina with us, were surprisingly awake and "fresh" as my mother would say (M and I didn't even get home until 3:30 am and were feeling a bit fatigued).

Todd got plenty of cake and Erin made me feel better about Rosie the (Fat) Cat.

There really are few things in life more enjoyable than sharing a meal with good friends.


Delicious, Delicious Soy Milk

Now that we are back to living in a house, we have the pleasure of access to a kitchen. An indoor kitchen, that does not have flies or mice! Water, even HOT water, that comes out of the tap. Refrigeration and a stove that does not need to be lit with a match. We have been cooking nonstop. Mainly super large batches of our favorite dishes that we will be dehydrating and taking with us on the Appalachian Trail in the spring. So far, red beans are almost done and vegetarian chili is in progress.

We are also exploring the wonderful world of soybeans, having purchased 25 pounds from Frankferd Farms.

Right now, I am eating the most delicious bowl of Raisin Bran I have ever had. Raisin Bran is a pretty good cereal, and I am a big fan of cereal for breakfast, but we have not purchased any soy or rice milk since coming home. But this morning I brewed up a batch of soy milk and it is ever so tasty.

Here's how you do it....

I used 4 oz of dry soy beans and soaked them over night in some water. I removed the skins. I also changed the water several times to rinse the beans.

Next, I drained the beans and put them in the blender with two cups of water and blended them thoroughly. I poured the pureed beans into a pot with an additional four cups of water.

I brought the mixture to a boil, then let it boil for 10 minutes. It gets VERY foamy and you have to stir it a lot. After about ten minutes the foam starts to diminish and this is how you know it is done. It could take longer than ten minutes.

After all the foam has gone away, it is time to strain it. I used a clean, old cotton t-shirt over a colander. It is important that you don't clean your old cotton t-shirts in perfumed or scented detergents - use something unscented or baking soda to clean it. Also, wet the t-shirt with hot water before using it to strain, so that it will be more porous.

The pulp that is left after you strain it can be added to bread or muffins, or it makes good compost.

I added a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of vanilla to my finished milk before drinking it.



Bolled P-Nuts

M likes to tinker. He experiences the world through wondering how and why things work. Wondering is not enough, though…no, he must DO.

Last week, we were driving home on the Natchez Trace Parkway, a lovely drive from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. If you like history, or just prefer driving on well-maintained, two lane country highways, this is the drive for you. This is one of the more scenic drives through the south, and since you are in the south, you will surely pass a stand selling boiled peanuts. Done right, they are delicious…done wrong, they taste like slimy peanut butter, at best. Which brings me back to the point of M and his tinkering.

Last week, after eating a bag of messy and delectable Cajun boiled peanuts along the side of the Natchez Trace Parkway, the idea was planted in his head. I promptly forgot about boiled peanuts, being distracted by an unhealthy obsession of my unemployed status. But M was thinking about them all the way back, and hatching a plan to bring them to our Yankee state.

When we arrived home several days later, I was unpacking and reorganizing, a type of busy-ness that more often then not results in very little actually getting cleaned up. M, however, was researching recipes, creating a special seasoning blend, and brewing up a batch of his own boiled peanuts in our crockpot. They smelled good, but M had forgotten something critical.

The recipe said to NOT use roasted peanuts.

We only had roasted peanuts.

And this is why I love my husband so much. Despite the visible sadness on his face when he realized his mistake (he REALLY wanted some boiled peanuts), M was a perfect example of a happy-go-lucky, live-and-learn attitude. He ate a few, dumped the rest and went on to build a wooden mold so that he can make his own tofu from scratch. Thanks, Uncle Joe, for inspiring that project.


Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

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