March 2008



So it’s my birthday today. It’s also the anniversary of the “War on Terror.” Almost one quarter of my life aligns with this “war.” Whatever your political persuasion may be, it’s definitely worth thinking about peace. And check out all the bloggers on the March 19 Blogswarm while you’re at it.

It’s hard to claim chocolate as anti-war; thousands gallons of oil are used to produce and ship it around the world and it’s such a bourgeois item. BUT food is community. Food brings people together. Food defines relationships. Food brings peace. Imagine Iraqis and Americans and Africans and Europeans sitting down to a meal together. Somewhere, in between the shared culture of nourishment, positive conversation occurs, opinions are challenged, expanded.

I made this cake last Thursday for my family’s get-together dinner for my birthday. My family is composed of die-hard omnivores (heavy on the meat & potatoes) and conservative political philosophy. The act of us sitting down to a vegan meal and talking peaceably amongst ourselves is almost unheard of. We do not agree about food, politics, religion…pretty much everything. But I would like to think that the cake contributed to an enjoyable night over all.

And yes, I made my own birthday cake. But really, I got to make what I wanted! Chocolate cookie crust with a mocha cheesecake layer, topped with super dark chocolate mousse, piped with cream cheese frosting. All vegan. I don’t have any cross section pictures because I ate it too fast. It was that good. And easy, all things considered.

Eat peace–try a vegan diet for a day, if you aren’t a vegan, eat locally grown produce or meat so that you don’t waste oil in the shipping process. Dine for peace–engage the ones you eat with in meaningful, constructive conversation. Create peace–think about the energy you are pouring into the food you cook or bake. It’s feeding others or yourself; be positive, reap the peaceful results!

And goddamnit George Bush, fuck your war.

Ridiculous Uber Chocolate Thing
each recipe modified or taken from different sources including but not limited to Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and the internet

For the Chocolate Crumb Crust:
12 chocolate graham crackers, crumbled
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3-4 tbsp chocolate soy milk

Crumbled the graham crackers into a bowl. Drizzle the vegetable oil on top, stir to cover cracker crumbs. Drizzle the soy milk into the crumb mixture and combine with your hands. Pat the mixture into an 8″ springform pan.

For the Mocha Cheesecake:
2 ounces unsweetened baker’s chocolate
12 oz soy cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 12 oz package cups silken tofu (Mori-Nu)
1/2 cup chocolate soy milk
1/3 cup double-strength coffee
2 tsp vanilla extrac
t

Melt the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler.

Meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, beat together the cream cheese and the sugar until light. Add 1 cup of the tofu, beating thoroughly.

Add the remaining tofu and the soy milk to cheese, sugar and tofu mixture. Pour the melted chocolate slowly into the cheese mixture and add the coffee and vanilla. Mix to blend ingredients thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into the prepared crust and bake for about 45 minutes, or until edges of the cake are puffed up slightly. Cool in the oven with the door cracked open, then cool to room temperature.

Chill.

For the Chocolate Mousse:
1 12 oz package extra-fim silken tofu (Mori-Nu)
1/2 cup chocolate soy milk
2 tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla extract
12 oz semisweet chocolate (I combined 4 oz unsweet with 8 oz semisweet)

Crumble the tofu into a blender. Add the soy milk, agave, and vanilla. Puree until completely smooth.

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips. Once melted, remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chocolate to the tofu and blend until combined.

Pour the mousse on top of the chilled cheesecake. Chill for one hour (or until the mousse sets/hardens) before decorating or serving.

For the Cream Cheese Icing:
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese
1/4 cup Earth Balance
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Cream the cream cheese and Earth Balance with a mixer. Slowly add the powdered sugar until the frosting is the consistency you want. Add the vanilla.

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Everyone is ok–some friends ended up with trees on their houses, one lost all her trees in her yard, one is banned from his loft until the insurance company decides what to do, but everyone is alive and well. It stormed again yesterday afternoon, but no tornadoes (just hail and too much rain), and now it’s sunny and 64 degrees. Go figure.

But sometimes you just need bread to make the storms go away. That’s my philosophy at least.

Hostel Bread
from The Hostel in the Forest

1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2.25 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup wheat flour
1-3 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon Sweet Basil
1 tablespoon Oregano
1 teaspoon Sage

Put warm water in a large bowl, and add sugar, stir until dissolved. Add the yeast next, and wait a few minutes for the yeast to dissolve. (The yeast feeds on the sugar, thus the bread must be made in this order.

Next, stir in one cup of wheat flour and one cup of bread flour. The wheat adds the nutrition to your bread, the bread flour makes it easier to knead. Add your butter at this time as well, and all the spices. Mix all this together, adding more flour as needed. The mixture should be somewhat stretchy, and not stick to your hands.

Transfer the bread dough to a greased, covered bowl, and put in a warm place. We usually use the same bowl as was used to mix the bread, just removing the dough, greasing the bowl, and returning its contents. Let rise for one hour, then punch down and transfer to a greased bread pan. Let rise for another hour, and put in an oven preheated to 450. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for another 30 minutes, remove from the oven, and let sit for 20 minutes before cutting to serve.

The following narrative was written in my journal by the light of a candle between 3:36 am and 4:45 am. The pictures were taken on March 15 around noon.

So that thunder…was a tornado. A tornado that pancaked a loft 1/4 mile from where I live. A tornado that hit around 9:30 p.m. It’s now 3:36 a.m. and I still don’t have power. It looks like Kosovo. And the sirens won’t stop.

To back up the story.

I’m sitting at home writing in my journal, trying to write a paper, and I hear thunder int eh distance. And it makes me happy. I forget that March is tornado season. The thunder gets louder, my internet cuts out, the rain starts, my power flickers. I decide to get a snack in case the power goes out completely and I’m in the middle of slicing bread when my power goes out all the way. Good thing my candles were already lit.
I sit down and try to type out more of the paper before my laptop batter dies. Hard to pick out passages in Derrida’s Of Grammatology by candle light. Seriously, I’m blessed to have not lived in the 17th century. Or before they had candles. Reading by candlelight is ridiculously hard. I’m writing by it right now and it’s not much better. Marginally so. I’m not trying to interpret anything at least.

I call my mom and we chat about how annoying this is. Eventually she realizes that I don’t have power AT ALL whereas hers just flickered on and off. We hang up. Oh, during our conversation I asked if a tornado were heading my way. She didn’t know. We hang up.
I sit in the dark. I contemplate the fact that I live in a studio apartment with a window in every room. I am fucked if a tornado blows through here. The rain gets worse. The wind gets worse. It dies down. I hear a shit ton of sirens go up and down my street. The weather seems better. I had talked to D. at some point during the storm and asked if he had power. He seemed confused that I should ask and replied that he was in Midtown at L.’s apartment for a Pi Day Party, they had power, I should come. Ok. I try to work some more, but really, trying to read by candlelight sucks.

So I decide to go to Midtown. L.’s place is only 1.5, maybe 2 miles from my house. I contemplate how dangerous it is to ride in my part of town on a bike, at night, when the power is off. No intersection lights, no street lights, etc. At this point i figured it was just a bad storm and the sirens were in response to auto accidents or something. I’m worried that I might become one of those accidents–Atlantan drivers aren’t known for their four-way-stop skills at major roads like Ponce de Leon–but I throw my fender on my back wheel, grab my helmet, and leave the apartment.
Now, I live on a fairly populated street. There’s an apartment complex across the street from me, restaurants next door, houses all around, street lamps, etc.–all blacked out. DARK. People milled around because it was so weird, but I’ve never seen this part of town so dark, ever. The only light glowed from the second floor balcony across the street: two men smoking cigarettes in the surreal night.

I rode towards midtown and, I kid you not, one block from my house towards downtown, the power was on. Go figure. The entire skyline of downtown is lit too. Only later would I discover via 3rd or 4th person on the phone that the Georgia Dome lost part of its roof and the CNN building lost eithe rpart of the building or had a bunch of windows smashed in by the wind. At this point though, I knew nothing. Just that, annoyingly, the power was out.
It’s raining again as I near Midtown and i eventually reach my friends. Only 30-45 minutes later do we find out that there was a tornado. D., N., and B. live in the Mattress Factory Lofts. D. was in Midtown during the storm. N. and B. were at home. They called D. to say that they were on their way, and, oh yeah, by the way, a tornado just ripped through. Their loft was ok, but the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts got hit hard.

Apparently they heard a terrifying noise, ran into the hall, the tornado passed, some metal and glass broken, but nothing major. And apparently the time between the noise and the actual tornado was 20-30 seconds max. Not enough time to truly flee the area. One or two more people trickled in, each with stories about missing porches, people wandeirng around like zombies, and lofts with entire top floors obliterated. More info came in on the phone all night. No tv was at the apartment, so it was all 2nd, 3rd, 4th hand info. Which, in itself, is terrifying enough. What really happened? Are our friends ok?
We hung out, made some random music–I played the spoons!–cause L.’s upstairs neighbors to get really mad and bang on the floor, and I left around 3. I decided to ride up Boulevard because, as sketch as it is to ride on it with the projects and the junkies and the prostitutes and gangs etc., it doesn’t have a hill and the other was one big hill with fewer lights and it’s own brand of sketch. Boulevard had power at least, so I rode up towards Highland, pedaling as fast as I could. So far no evidence of the storm. I get to my intersection and I’m about to turn left when I decide that i might as well ride to where the tornado hit, since I’m on on my bike and all.

I get to Edgewood and Boulevard and a police car is blocking the intersection. No one can go past that point towards Dekalb Ave. I ride up to the officer and say that i live at the Mattress Factory Lofts, it wasn’t hit, can I go there? They wave me through and right as I get to Lenny’s Bar, I see it. The damage. A tree branch here, there. And then. The apartments across the street from Lenny’s. Their balconies? Well. A bunch were lying on the street. No power or electricity at this point. There were also enough branches and debris to make riding a bike stupid. But I kept going.
I turned right onto Dekalb Ave and it felt like I turned right into Kosovo. Shadows and outlines of mangled fences, buildings, trees lined the street, sidewalk next to the parked freight trains; lumps against the grey unilt sky. Shredded plywood and maples lay flung across the pavement. My bike bumped along. Every now and then, a homeless man would call out a greeting, but other than that, silence. So I rode. No cars. No lights (other than my comparatively weak blinkies). Debris, twisted fences lining the road, separating it from the tracks. Buildings missing corners, missing signs. Police baracading the MARTA station. Ironically, electricity on at the Mattress Factory Lofts.

I turned left onto Memorial to circle home via Cabbagetown and the Cotton Mill. Was a building really “flattened like a pancake,” according to CNN? Still no lights, still silence as I was waved through by a policeman onto Boulevard. Turn right onto Carroll Street (emergency vehicles all over all this point0 and try to ride up the narrow technically two-way but really just one car width street. The businesses’ glass all shattered, tree branches in the middle of the road, blinds hanging out of window frames on the outside of buildings. And then, to the left, the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts. One building, two building, no building, four building. Oh. My. God. The building is there, technically, but three or four floors are gone. “Stacked.” Kind of funny given the lofts’ new name: The Stacks.
For a brief moment, however so tiny, I knew what it was like to be a New yorker and look out the window and see the buildings gone. But there were cars behind me, so I pedaled on. Weirder still was the Krog Tunnel. completely dark to the extent that I with my light on I still couldn’t see in front of me more than two feet. And the tunnel is long enough to make that scary. So dark.

Made it home. Power still off. Though it’s on one block over. Riding home I felt like I was in a war zone. one block was fine, the next obliterated, the next fine. The darkness, the shadows, made it all the more surreal. And as i approached Dekalb Ave, where it grew apparent for the first time that nature had her way, wreaked some havoc, the mockingbirds snag out clear against the murky night. Beauty in the midst of war.
I was lucky. So lucky. No damage here at my house. I can’t help but think of friends at the Cotton Mill, near Carroll St, that may have been hit. I’ve heard there are no deaths. But no one counts the homeless. The tornado hit downtown, then ran up Dekalb Ave, and out across Boulevard, hit the Cotton mill, then lifted. The Cotton Mill didn’t collapse for another hour or so, so hopefully everyone got out. But their lives are gone. Who knows how much art, how many projects, pets, collections, family heirlooms were lost. Who knows, maybe lives.

Fucking Kosovo.
War Zone.
And the birds
sing.


March 12, 2007
This morning at ~6 am we loaded up on a small boat and went in search of birds. Immediately, i.e. at the dock, we saw three or four black vultures, but those were probably in the area of the lodge and village. Overhead, several pairs of blue headed and mealy parrots flew and the branches lining the tributary held scores of Smooth Billed Annis and Yellow Rumped Caciques. both are dark blackish birds and the caciques have a bright yellow “v” on their tail spread. Both species are common along the river.

Another species that we saw several of is the Amazon Kingfisher. The Amazon is the largest kingfisher here and it is dark blue to dark green with a white chest and black band around his eyes (I think…this is from memory). one pair flew together by the shore and swooped and dove towards the water but did not catch anything. Their call is like a rattle.

One distinct bird was a raptor, the Yellow-headed Caracara. It’s smallish-medium, has a white head (with yellow marks, I assume, but I couldn’t see them without binoculars), brown-rufus body, and a dark band on the tail spread. Their call is like a Peregrine Falcon–high and sharp–and we saw at least three or four in the hour we were on the river.

Greater Annis are all black (or black looking) and are large, perhaps one foot tall. Orependulas were extremely common (orioles), and I was able to see one male call, which is one of the thwat glump gloom calls.

Just as we were reaching the lodge again we spotted a Chestnut-eared Toucan, or Aracare, as the locals call them. It was smallish with a rufus head.

The habitats we saw the birds in were gallery forests where the dominant trees are Cecropias and Heliconias. We also floated through a floating meadow comprised of water hyacinth and water lettuce. Both species are native here, and are not invasive like they are in the U.S.

I totally forgot that Bake My Day! tagged me for a meme last month. Since I don’t haven’t any food to post for you and it’s 2 a.m. and I’m not sleepy thanks to last weekend’s wonky time change, I’ll take a stab at it. I don’t feel like tagging anyone, but if you want to do this, go ahead!!

Without further ado, seven random things you never knew you wanted to know about me (and if anything is offensive, I apologize in advance…I’m not very diplomatic sometimes):


1. Lapsed Agnostic. I was raised in a conservative Christian household–you know, the kind where the earth was created in six days six thousand years ago, the kind where you memorize the ten commandments and go to church at least twice a week, the kind where you go to Christian camps and Christian school, and read stories about martyrs to your kids at the dinner table. I remember being terrified that the rapture would happen and my cats would die because no one would be around to feed them; they would starve to death because Jesus came back. And I remember wondering what kind of God would do that. I think I had a weird imagination when I was little… Anyways. I never really made it all the way to being an atheist, and frankly, I don’t see that happening because you have to care enough to consider yourself one, but I’m a total lapsed agnostic. Every few months or so I feel the need to slink back into a congregation, sing some songs, feel guilty about what my life is like, and extend some good ol’ fake cheer around. After a week or two, I wonder what got into me and I resume life as usual. It’s a funny habit. Maybe not so funny to some readers…but bear with me, I went to protestant Christian school in the South for nine years!!


2. Ecology and Literature. I’m currently in school earning a B.S. in Ecology and a B.A. in English. Next year I’ll be researching austral migrants (birds that migrate from North to South America and back) in a patch of forest in Georgia. I’m also interested in philosophy and literary theory and am immersed in trauma theory and becoming-animal. Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Martin Heidegger are my heroes.


3. Bicycles. I ride a purple fixed gear bicycle everywhere! Yup, one of those hipster bikes without gears. I do have a brake, however…there’s hills in Georgia and mad traffic–I’d like to keep my body intact, thanks. I used to have a purple road bike until I was hit by an SUV in an alley cat (yes, one of those illegal races that made the news thanks to the guy who was killed by an SUV in Chicago a few weeks ago). Luckily I survived ok, but my bike didn’t, so I replaced here with the fixed gear. Originally silver, I repainted her to a matte purple, added a “Veganism is for Lovers” sticker to the top tube, and stuck my spoke cards in the wheel. She’s pretty great and way better than any car I’ve owned.


4. Veganism. Ok, so that doesn’t seem like a random thing. Yes, Jes is a vegan. Of course. BUT what you don’t know is the story about the first day I was a vegan. Ironically, I ate meat that day. Figure that one out. On July 7, 2007 I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and declare myself a vegan. I’d been eating as a vegan for months–minus the baked good thing…I mean, heck, I worked at a bakery at 4 in the morning, it was hard to not eat a muffin here and there–and decided that it was time because my forray into eating what I made at the bakery was making me gain a lot of weight and if I were truly vegan, I wouldn’t eat it. Extra guilt incentive or something. Now 07-07-07 was also the Lucky Sevens alley cat. I bounced up to my best friend Kyle and yelled, “I’m a vegan!” right before the race started and we shared a happy vegan moment. He’d been waiting for me to say that for awhile. Hooray! So we race off to the first checkpoint and he gets there slightly before me. Food checkpoint. Oh no. Kyle rolls the die to see what numbered can he has to eat from and gets Spam. He turns away, forsaking any points, and says “no way.” He pedals off. My turn comes. I roll the die. Number Three. Dog food. DOG FOOD. ughhhhhh noooooo. I look at the guy running the checkpoint, say “I decided to be a vegan today,” grab the spoon, take a chunk of mushy dog food, stick in my mouth, swallow, grab my bike, and pedal off as fast as I can. Three shots of vodka, twelve miles, and one tattoo later, I win the first place female. I suppose that was worth it. But man oh man is dog good + vodka + bike a bad combo. shudder.


5. Rats & Cats. I’m owned by two rats, Rad & Merckx, who have been featured on the blog AND two cats, Sheba & Mistoffelees. We all live in a tiny studio apartment. The great thing is that the cats are scared of the rats and whenever I have the rats out, the cats run under the bed and hiss. It’s a great symbiotic relationship or something.


6. Southern. So I’m technically Southern. Technically. But I hate sweet tea. And collard greens. And unsweetened cornbread. And Coca-Cola. Basically, I’m the biggest blasphemer in Atlanta, Georgia EVER.


7. Magic. I believe in magic. No, not the pulling a rabbit out of a hat or cutting some poor woman in two magic, but everyday magic. The every day magic of kneading positive energy into dough, letting it rise, and watching people experience truly loved bread. The magic of holding a yellow-rumped warbler in your hand and feeling its tiny heartbeat against your palm. The magic of reading a good book in front of a fire or hiking in the woods or riding a bike into the sunrise. Life is magic, and it’s everywhere.

It looks like everything survived the freeze ok. I spent chunks of time over the past two days huddled in my bed under covers (and cats) with the space heater on…I’m such a wimp. The “cold” makes me want to move to Florida ASAP and I never want to live in Florida! I like seasons! I do! I just hate being cold.
The time change was weird too. Was Daylight Savings super early this year? Thank God I had nothing to do today because I couldn’t drag myself out of bed until early afternoon. Maybe I’m just exhausted, but I feel jet lagged.
Luckily for me the weather is getting much warmer (maybe I won’t freeze on my birthday this year! novel!) and the birds are reappearing. I tromped over to a neighborhood park and watched the robbins sort through leaves and hop across branches. The park was full of Chinese privit and mahonia and English ivy of course, but I did find a red headed woodpecker among the American Beech stands.
I suppose this afternoon walk was one of strip trees. Every tree seemed to be in some state of undress–whether shedding last year’s leaves and pods or barely covering the branches with new flowers and winged seeds. This is one of my favourite times of spring. The pollen hasn’t started yet, the flowers are just beginning to appear, the birds have just arrived, and the weather isn’t too hot (just warm enough).
Thoreau always seems to say it better than I can. (March 11, 1859) But methinks the sound of the woodpecker tapping is as much a spring note as any these mornings; it echoes peculiarly in the air of a spring morning.

I’m not a health nut. I’m not a “good” vegan either. When given the chance at a fancy enough place, I will break my veganism. Does that make me a bad person? Nah. Just realistic. And addicted to chocolate. Don’t tell anyone that I ate that flourless chocolate cake at Carrol St. Cafe last night. It paired oh so well with the house Merlot though!
So I’m from the South, and being from the South means that you grow up with Waffle House EVERYWHERE. Somehow I managed to avoid it until I started leading backpacking trips in college. There’s something amazing about walking into a Waffle House after being in the woods for days and days and days, smelling like a dead skunk, and looking like a beaver who just fought a mountain lion and somehow survived, and being served a cup of black coffee and a plate of hash browns. It is heaven. And the Waffle House ladies don’t bat an eye. In the city I get my fix at the Majestic Diner whenever I’m out dancing or drinking or meandering around town at three in the morning. Hash browns are my intellectual soul food. Some of the best conversations I’ve had occurred over a plate of hash browns and a mug of coffee. Hash browns make my world go ’round.
I love hash browns. I think potatoes are God’s gift to mankind (along with chocolate, Beligian beer, and everything bagels), and skillet cooked potatoes with onions and ketchup is even better. This is my comfort food. And my poor student food. Some people have Ramen; I have hashbrowns.
All that said, there’s no real recipe to an amazing plate of spuds. Take an onion and a couple of potatoes. Slice them up. Throw them in a pan with several tablespoons of oil (amount depends on how much you’re making), cook for 20-25 minutes. Serve with ketchup. If you want to mix in meat, cheese, mushrooms, peppers, etc., add it at the end with five minutes or so to go.

All you have to do now is eat them. Relish the potatoes, sauteed to a tender yet crisp skinned perfection. Drink a cup of black coffee, smoke a cigarette, talk about Martin Heidegger. You won’t regret it.

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