Archive for May, 2010

Paper Gifts

Posted in Good Times, Reflections, Vegan and Vegetarian Lifestyle with tags , , on May 21, 2010 by Verge

So, May 17th was the first anniversary of my marriage to Monika.  This year, our actual anniversary fell on Monday, which isn’t the best of days to celebrate or go out to dinner.  Instead, we decided to revisit the beautiful place we got married for our anniversary dinner, the Valley Green Inn.

The VGI has great vegan and vegetarian food, but you wouldn’t exactly know it at first glance.  They don’t really have regular vegetarian choices on their menu.  However, I knew that they had tons of choices, so I emailed them to ask if it was possible if they could prepare us something special.

With better restaurants, this is a must.  As an email exchange I had with one of the managers of VGI confirmed, chef’s often enjoy the opportunity to cook something new.  Specifically, he said that their head chef was going to go to the local market to buy items that were fresh and in season for our dinner.

We arrived in the Wissahickon Valley around 530 for our 6 PM reservation.  It was a mild night and the park was teeming, so we hiked in from the upper lot.  When we checked in at the hostess desk, she wished us a happy anniversary, and we got to sit outside on the porch just 50 feet away from where we were married last year.

Of course, we order a bottle of Champagne.  The waitress handed us menus, but then quickly realized we were “the vegetarians.”  I told her we were eating whatever the cook wanted to serve us and that’s exactly how it went down.  We started with two fresh salads, and our entree was a mix of vegetables and sauces, all of which were teeming with flavor and quite satisfying.  I also had a martini and Monika stuck to the champagne.

We almost never order dessert.  Most of the time, it’s too full of fat, and neither of us like cake at all.  But, we decided we should try some and ordered a sorbet  with fruit “leather.”  When it arrived, the chef had carefulyl written in chocolate, on the rim of the plate, “Happy 1st Anniversary.”  Really, above and beyond our expectations by far.

I really didn’t care what the meal cost.  I had told the chef originally that I would be happy to pay whatever price he thought was fair for the off-the-menu entrees he was serving us.  Well, I have no idea what that price might have been.  Our entrees weren’t on the bill at all.

The waitress informed us that our entire meal, drinks and all, was on the house.  I can’t explain how floored we were at the level of graciousness The Valley Green Inn showed in helping us make our first anniversary dinner a special one.  The waitress got a pretty damn nice tip from us.

Then, we took some pictures at the exact spot we were married.  I really can’t believe it’s been a year already.  As time goes on, there may never again be such a collection of wonderful people at one of our parties.  I hope, at least, a party of two will return here every year for the rest of our lives.

Oh, and the title of this blog…that refers to the type gift one is to give your wife on your first anniversary.  So, this is what she got from me this year.

a beautiful writing journal...

...our first blotter art piece; it is the start of a new collection...


Tiki Torches That Aren’t a Ripoff.

Posted in Good Times on May 13, 2010 by Verge

Seriously, Tiki torches are awesome.  Real flame burning in your backyard is truly manly.  There is nothing better in my backyard when I light a campfire (illegally) and then spread the flames all around the perimeter.

Who doesn’t really buy the regular, 3 bucks a pop, bamboo shit tiki torches every summer to plant around their backyard?  They suck to drive into the ground, they rot in months, and they’re generally worth even less that the shockingly low price they’re sold for in the first place.

So, as previously mentioned here, I found a site with stumbleupon that had these awesome, home made, recycled bottle tiki torches that I fell in love with.  This past weekend, I went to Home Depot, admittedly a bit intoxicated, and bought all the items needed to make one of these spectacular backyard torches.

you'll need an old bottle, a tiki torch wick, and all the rest of the stuff here. I'm not giving specifics. It's DIY. That means, figure it out for yourself. I was half drunk when I made these, and nothing's burned down yet. Look in the plumbing or gas section of your hardware store to get most of this stuff.

Give the bottle a heavy coat or two of varnish. If the whole bottle is painted labels, then it's optional. If the bottle labels are paper and you want to see them in a few months, you'll have to seal them with something.

you'll need a threaded bar to screw into a base plate on one end and a pipe clamp on the other. I bought a 3' bar and cut it with a hacksaw into 1 foot sections. You should also screw stop bolts onto the rod first so you can lock the position in place later.

The brass fitting should fit into the mouth of the bottle you are using, but not fall into the bottle. Then, I sliced into the narrow side in order to bend it....

...with pliers, so that it's narrow enough to grip the wick... this. Make sure it's tight enough. Fishing the fuel-soaked wick out of the bottle later really sucks, trust me.

While waiting for the bottle to finish drying, I nailed the post to my fence. The original prototypes used a lot of copper components. I thought that was cute and all, but since I was looking for longevity, I switched to galvanized. You can certainly screw them in with drywall screws, but the galvanized will last longer without rusting.

When the bottle is sufficiently dry, fill that vessel with tiki torch fuel

drop in the wick and attach it to the mount. Technically, I should have used plumber's tape to seal the wick holder into the bottle neck, but I didn't have any. It will keep water out of the oil, though, so I will go back later and seal all the wicks into the bottle necks.

And that's it. Light the torch. I got little copper caps to put on the tops when they're not in use, so water doesn't contaminate. Here are some pix of the first few I made...

UPDATE:  BTW, these cost about 10 dollars a piece to make.  That includes all the parts, the finishing, the tiki fluid and all.  Also, I decided to only use Gin bottles in my backyard, but you could use anything.  I’m thinking of using craft brew 1 liter bottles of beer in the future.  But, be aware that all necks are not the same size, so you may need to try a few different cuffs to find the one that actually will fit around the neck of a particular bottle.  Buy a bunch at Depot, then return what you don’t use later.

Two Fires and a Matinee (Weekend Review # 2)

Posted in Good Times with tags , , , on May 12, 2010 by Verge

There were a lot of circumstances that prevented the backpacking trip I had planned this weekend.  We were supposed to be partying Friday night, then waking up early Saturday and driving to Atsion.  Four to six of us were then going to take a five mile hike with all of our camping gear on our backs to the Mullica River campground.

It is a vehicle inaccessible site and so once we were in, we were in for good.  The plan was to set up our tents, gather firewood, make lunch and dinner, and generally enjoy the outdoors.  This campground has no water, toilets, of other luxuries at all.  We were all looking forward to roughing  it for a month and a half.

Then, as we made some preparations  on Thursday night for the exciting weekend ahead, Kreg got a horrible call.  His shop was on fire and those were about the only details he got.  He rushed off with Kat to Hainseport to see what the hell was going on.  It wasn’t good.

I didn’t see them again for the rest of the night, but several calls from them confirmed the worst.  It was indeed his shop that burned.  It was no small fire.  All his work inside was destroyed.  His tools were about the only thing that made it out still usable, and only after several days of cleaning.

At noon on Friday, as I enjoyed a beer at a local bar, I got the news from Kreg that he was bailing.  I should have expected that he would.  I would have in his shoes.  He had way too much to take care of at that point.  I was just hoping he was going to blow off things for a day or two and let things settle.  Within and hour or so, I decided to call off the trip.  It was probably smart that I did.

That afternoon I got to plant my garden and all my annuals.  Pictures to follow soon.  I originally was planning on feverishly planting so that I could pack our backpacks and head out in the morning.  Due to our postponed camping trip, I was able to take my time, and Monika and I had a leisurely afternoon instead of a hectic one.  Later, we had a small camp fire at our house, and then another one over some drinks at Rob’s.

The weather was supposed to be windy and rainy.  We had originally decided that we were going to go for it anyway and hike through the rain and have a hell of an adventure on Saturday.  Well, in the end, it never rained.  But, there was a hell of a windstorm that not only would have scared the hell out of us had we slept in our meager tents surrounded by trees that night, but also spread a forest fire through the Pines.

Instead of gathering firewood Saturday afternoon, Monika, Schmoo and I went to Philly to see Julia Nunes, who I was originally pissed I was going to miss due to the camping trip.  It was a 4 pm show at North Star Bar in Fairmount because it was all ages and only ten bucks.  We got there in time for the opening act, a guy from Philly name Lucas Carpenter, who you can also check out here (all the loops were made on the spot, not pre-programmed).

I was glad we made it for him because I thoroughly enjoyed his show and got to meet him after his set.  We also got to meet Julia afterward along with the other 60 or so teenagers that were at the show.  We picked up a few of her CDs…

Monika, Julia and Maya on a Saturday afternoon.

and got some photos, too.  It was a great afternoon in the city and at least softened the blow of missing our hiking trip considerably.

Later that night we hung out with Marla and Rob and Kreg and Kat over a campfire and some cigars.  At least we got outside for another night and had some more outdoor time.  The next morning, neither me nor Monika had to work, which was why we were originally going camping in the first place.  But, even though we didn’t have to work formally, I had tons of stuff to do around the house and yard.

I worked in my garden, did laundry and dishes and the normal boring crap. But, I did finally finish and mount the huge wooden gear above my garage.  And, after discovering some directions online, I made some of my own recycled bottle tiki torches.  The details of how to make these is in a coming blog post.

I had a great weekend after all, but at the expense of my best friend’s shop and a potential epic weekend that could have been.  Hopefully both will be resurrected in the future, better than the original, and everything will work out in the end.

The Birth of Rising Sun Lodge

Posted in Masonic Insights with tags on May 5, 2010 by Verge

Tonight was the inaugural communication (first meeting) of the largest masonic lodge in the state of New Jersey.  It was formed from three former Lodges who surrendered their charters last week at the Grand Lodge communication in Atlantic City.  Its first gathering was held, and will continue to be held at the masonic building near the speedline in downtown Haddonfield.

There are a handful of elected officers in the “line,” the hierarchy of the Master, Wardens and Deacons.  Then there are appointed offices, of which I have been appointed Chaplain.  I’ve served as Chaplain in my former Lodge, and now have the honor of being in the officers’ line in the very first year of the new Lodge.

My old Lodge was 100 years old.  The other two that merged with ours were nearly as old as well.  It really is an amazing honor to be part of the foundation of a new Lodge, the newest, the largest and hopefully the longest lasting fraternity of masonic brothers currently in this state.

I am especially delighted that I’m the Chaplain.  People who know me may wonder how the hell I became the spiritual direction of my fraternity.  But I see my appointment as a testament to how masonry works.  I’ve always explored different disciplines, theologies, philosophies…and though I’ve never completely settled on a single one, I can always find some facet of each that has value.  Masonry doesn’t care what you believe, only that you are in awe of something.  I certainly am, and think I can express that in as much a universal way as anyone can.

Vegan Chicken in Wine Sauce (or, How I Managed to Steal My Mother’s Recipe)

Posted in Recipes, Vegan and Vegetarian Lifestyle with tags , , on May 4, 2010 by Verge

When we were kids, my mom would let my brother, sister, and me choose whatever we wanted to eat for dinner for our birthdays.   However outlandish, it was our day, and we got to choose whatever we wanted.  For several years, my choice was Burger King Bacon Double Cheeseburgers.  Not one of them.  Not two, either.  As many as I could eat.  I remember my dad actually CALLING IN orders to Burger King because we were coming to pick up as many as thirty cheeseburgers and tons of fries!

Eventually, as with many other things in my life, I took after my older brother and starting requesting our favorite childhood dish, Chicken in Wine Sauce.  It really became a comfort food for me and the taste was so distinct, it always reminded me of home, my parents, and my birthday dinners.

It’s not a very difficult recipe if you’re not a vegetarian.  It’s actually shockingly simple thanks to the good folks at Campbell’s Foods.  But, as a non-meat eater, It’s been a decade and a half quest to replace the succulence and sheer, simple deliciousness of that dish.  Tonight, I attempted once again.

The chicken is the first obstacle, and the sauce is the second.  I was so satisfied with the new faux-chicken, vegan, seven grain crispy tenders I reviewed here, that it was enough to take a go at re-creating the second obstacle– the sauce.  The problem with Campbell’s is that the original recipe calls for Golden Mushroom soup.  First ingredient–Beef Stock.  Unnecessarily, it also contains beef lard, albeit in a such a small amount, it begs the question, “why use it at all?”

Conveniently, Golden Mushroom soup lists its ingredients right on the label thanks to the FDA.  It’s little more than water, salt, MSG, mushrooms and a bit of wine.  So, that’s how I made it, pretty much.

1 Package of Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Strips

1 Large Onion

1  10 oz pack of Baby Bella Mushrooms (you can use any mushrooms, but these are particularly tender and succulent.)

24 oz white wine

8 oz vegetable stock (I use vegetable bouillon cubes.  directions say one cube for each 8 oz, but I use 2 in this recipe.That seems like double the amount, but the total liquid volume is 32 oz, or four cups, so it’s actually HALF the bouillon they recommend on the box which means half the sodium.)

Some salt and Pepper and a bit of dried Basil

1-2 Tbsp Vegan Butter Substitute

1/2 cup Nutritional Yeast

Bake chicken strips @ 425 for ~30 minutes on a Pam'd sheet. Flip half waythrough cooking.

Peel and dice the onion into tiny pieces...

We like to use our Genius Chopper, but any kind will do, even a good old knife.

At the same time, boil two bouillon cubes with 8 oz of water (or 8 oz of vegetable stock and no cubes)

Fry the onion on high heat in the butter...stir occasionally...add some salt, pepper and dried basil...

While the stock is boiling and the onions are caramelizing, slice the mushrooms. Sometimes I remove the stems, but keep 'em on in this recipe. Cut off any hard tips, though, and wash thoroughly.

Add 24 oz of the white wine to the stock and bring to a slow simmer...

when you buy the big bottle, there's enough left over for yourselves!

Don't forget to flip that faux chicken when the bottoms are browned.

when the onions look like this... this.

cook until the mushrooms are soft on the outside but uncooked on the inside. This is an art. Mushy mushrooms are overcooked, and raw ones aren't what you're going for either. 2-4 minutes is about right. Be gently when stirring so you don't break the mushrooms.

Fully cooked chicken goes into a casserole dish. You can layer them if you need to, but I suggest one layer, like this.

when the mushrooms are softened, dump the stock into the onion, mushroom, spice mixture and simmer for about a minute or two to mix the flavors...

then add the half cup nutritional yeast, a quarter cup at a time, to thicken the final Golden Mushroom rip-off recipe.

Now, pour the soup over the chicken in the casserole dish, cover, and bake on 350 for about an hour or an hour and a half, until the soup is more like a sauce than a liquid.  While that’s happening, cook yourself some long grain rice.  We mixed it with some basmatti rice and seasoning packet,  and Monika sliced some broccoli and carrots to steam in our rice cooker.

This vegan chicken in wine sauce recipe was so damn delicious, that as I was loading the licked-clean dishes from our dinner into the dishwasher, I turned around and Monika had fallen asleep!  I packed the leftovers into lunch sized containers and brought two over to Kreg and Kat for them to try the next day.  They both loved it as well.  When I cook something so delicious, there’s nothing I like more that to share it with friends.

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