Bright lights, long shadows, and mementos

Memento:  something that serves to warn or remind; also: a souvenir.


When I looked up memento on Merriam Webster, I wasn’t expecting the word “warning” to be a part of the definition. But given the reason I looked it up, it’s actually apt to include warning in my thoughts. Then I looked up memento mori, thinking of the movie Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) and the story Memento Mori (Jonathan Nolan, published 2001). “A reminder of mortality.” Yikes. Even more appropriate. I followed up with memento vivere (a popular tattoo according to the internet): in Latin, remember that you must live; a reminder of life, a reminder of the pleasure of living.

memento poster3 Ryan


Christpher and Jonathan Nolan
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. Jonathan came up with the story and proposed it to Christopher as an idea for a script. Jonathan’s original story was published after the movie was released.


I read a line in a book I just started, Setting Free the Kites by Alex George (2017):

But such a bright light casts long, dark shadows.

George’s narrator is speaking of his friend Nathan, but it made me think of a dear friend of my own.


Late last year, a friend of mine took her own life.  She was a bubbly, enthusiastic, cheerful person. So many of us were stunned that her bright light hid such dark shadows. Pain, despair. She was always helpful to everyone else, but left her own needs secret from us.

She befriended me and my dog Einstein when we were new in the neighborhood and feeling friendless. She and her Friday dog invited us on walks and playdates. We both joined a neighborhood book club. We went out together to concerts and restaurants. I didn’t see her regularly or often, but when I did, I always felt comfortable (hard for an introvert) and had a good time. She had the most amazing smile and dimples. Laughter came easily. She really was a bright light.

Just last weekend her family held an estate sale at her house down the street from me. I briefly thought of going in and picking up some memento of my friend. I couldn’t do it. I drove past on my way to work and kept going. Partly, it seemed ghoulish, going to a sale at her house and going through her things to buy something. I decided I’d prefer to remember her one of the times we went out together, for tacos at Xolo and then a Damien Rice concert at the Fox Theater on April 23, 2015.



I had bought 2 tickets, hoping I’d find someone to go with me. Trying to be a “glass half full” kind of person and hoping for the best, I posted that I had an extra ticket. She was the first to respond. She wasn’t sure she knew who Damien Rice was, but it wasn’t just about a free ticket. She wanted to do something with me; it felt genuine. We met at Xolo, had a great meal and caught up. At the Fox, I had splurged on not terrible tickets. We goofed around taking photos of the giant Hindu-deity figures that flank the stage.

We chatted with the people in the seats on either side of us. We were mesmerized by Markéta Irglová, who opened for Damien and also sang backup on a few of his songs. She recognized a few of Damien’s songs. It was a great night.

Markéta Irglová


Life got busy for both of us. We didn’t see each other often. She changed jobs, worked a lot of extra hours. I changed jobs twice. My schedule shifted to weekends and evenings. We liked each other’s Facebook posts. She was always the first to respond when dog Einstein posted on his Facebook page (he can be quite witty). At some point, she wasn’t responding any more. I didn’t give it a lot of thought.

Another mutual friend messaged me, asking if I’d heard the news. She was gone. I went to the service, cried with her friends and family, wished I’d noticed something was wrong. We all asked what we could have done. Maybe that’s the memento I carry forward–an awareness of suicide prevention and the ending of the silence around suicide. As well as the notions of memento mori and memento vivere: remembering our own mortality and embracing life.

end the silence


My mother passed away in 2009. I have several mementos of her, but one of my favorites and maybe one of the silliest to an outsider is her beloved cookbook, Noted Cookery: Favorite Recipes from Friends of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (1969).

Noted Cookery

It’s hard to explain how much this cookbook meant to my mother and the sentimental value it possesses for me and my siblings. We still cook some of her flagged recipes from it, as they are old family favorites and standards at family gatherings. They aren’t vegan, so I don’t indulge anymore, but I still have fond memories of helping mom make the Broccoli Puff or the Hello Dolly bars (aka 7-layer magic bars).


The cookbook, one of those fundraiser efforts of recipes submitted by various community members, was a Christmas gift to my mother from her sister Isabelle and her family in 1970, part of the reason for its importance to Mom.

Noted Cookery signed


As kids, we were fascinated by the list of contributors, some of whom we had heard of and I still don’t know what their connection to the Dallas Symphony was (but it doesn’t really matter; they generously contributed). Mrs. Bob Hope (Bob Hope’s Favorite Lemon Pie) and Danny Kaye (Chicken with Peppers) were notable among them. Later, I saw names that I had come to recognize: actress Loretta Young (Bride’s Delight), opera great Leontyne Price (Crabmeat Imperial), Mrs. Lyndon Johnson (Pedernales Chili), Mrs. Ross H. Perot (Crabmeat Aspic Salad and Mocha-Nut Tortoni), Mrs. Ronald Reagan (Sweet Potatoes Supreme and Orange Sparkle Cookies), Mrs. Richard Nixon (Apricot Nut Bread), violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin (Birchermuesli), actress Greer Garson (English Trifle).


Don’t discount that lemon pie. Bob Hope lived to be 100, and Dolores Hope to 102. And Danny Kaye is said to have loved to cook and to have been quite a good one. Food writer Ruth Reichl, in a piece she wrote after Kaye’s death in 1987:

“It may be the sense of timing he developed as a comedian, or the balance he learned in music. It may be the generosity of somebody who gave so much of his time to charity. Or the sheer gusto of the baseball lover (you should have heard his discourse on hot dogs). Or maybe it was the much-vaunted hand-eye coordination that made his cooking so incredible. But there was something more.

Danny Kaye didn’t cook like a star. He didn’t coddle you with caviar or smother you in truffles. He had no interest in complicated concoctions or exotic ingredients. His taste was absolutely true, and he was the least-pretentious cook I’ve ever encountered. The meals he made were little symphonies–balanced, perfectly timed, totally rounded.”

danny cooking


Some of the recipes in Noted Cookery horrified us. Hot Citrus Fruit Salad? No thanks! Same to the equally horrific Hot Pineapple Salad on the same page. Blech.

Hot Citrus Fruit Salad
Make and consume at your own risk.


Others we loved, partly for the names. Johnny Bozzini, You Asked For It. Remember, it was 1970 and these recipes ddidn’t seem quite as odd as they do to at least me now. Lots of canned soups and weird things in jars.


The cookbook was lost in a house fire in 1987. Mom managed to save the page with her beloved sister’s inscription, but the rest of the cookbook was a charred lump. She put the remnant in a plastic bag and made the recipes she loved best from memory. Years later, around 2004, I was volunteering at a library fundraising book sale. I always look at the cookbooks for hidden gems. There it was, sitting on the shelf, easily recognizable to me with its ochre yellow cover. For fifty cents. I grabbed it, feeling the sense of excitement I might have felt finding a rare first edition of Catcher in the Rye. I managed not to spill the proverbial beans on my weekly phone call with mom, awaiting the look on her face at the surprise when I gave her the book. My next visit, I presented the book. I don’t remember if she cried. More than likely she did. We cry easily in my family; tears of happiness as well as tears of sorrow. We sat down and perused the old recipes. A trip down memory lane. She put bookmarks in at the old favorites, even though she knew the recipes by heart.

When she passed away a few years later, we were going through her things. Somehow that cookbook had taken on an even greater significance for me after having reunited her with it. It’s a memento of her and our earlier family life that I treasure. It sits with my other cookbooks, rarely used but often fondly brought out just to look and remember.

Not so long ago, my sister Ellen texted me that she was making one of the old favorites from what we call the Dallas cookbook: Chicken Tortilla Casserole. Back in 1970, tortilla chips were an exotic thing in Atlanta, so Mom made the recipe with Fritos instead. I’m trying to figure out a way I can veganize this recipe just for fun.

Not one, but two cans of soup.


If you are feeling hungry and inspired to cook, you too can have this gem of a cookcook. I just found it listed on eBay for $5.95. Better idea, think back to a cherished memory and a memento that you can treasure the way I treasure the nostalgic memory of a family, safe and happy, laughing and enjoying a meal together, or the memory of a dear friend who made me feel special.

Memento vivere.  Remember to live.

memento vivere

Cooking with Molly (I made a video!)

One thing I love is cooking and sharing food with friends and family. Recently, my beautiful friend Molly, who just happens to be our beloved Marble the cat’s guardian angel, and I decided to cook a vegan feast together. Take a look!


I have been wanting to make another cooking video for a while now, but time always seems to be in short supply. Plus, I am still quite the amateur with iMovie. My thanks to Robert Ward for helping me with sound editing, in particular.

And to Molly, a huge thanks for being a great friend to people and animals alike. You are one of the kindest people I know.


Peace and hugs.

The milk of human kindness (is non-dairy)

I love my cafe latte. LOVE.


But whoever said the latte part has to come from cows? Cow’s milk is for baby cows! It is great for calves–rich in fat and perfect for promoting growth OF A COW. Like 500 pounds growth in a year. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in a growth formula.


The dairy industry is also unspeakably cruel, separating calves from their mothers immediately after birth. Many die. Males are “dispensable” and often killed or sent to veal crates. The mothers mourn for their babies. So we can drink their milk.

Male calf in a veal crate.

Not so long ago, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to block the use of the word “milk” in the labeling of non-dairy products like soy milk and almond milk. If NMPF wants “truth in labeling” then they can label cows milk as a lacteal secretion. Sounds yummy, yes? No.

Shakespeare is credited with the phrase “the milk of human kindness”, referring to care and compassion for others.

William Shakespeare


(Is it just me, or does the above portrait of Shakespeare look a lot like the actor Steve Weber?)

Steven Weber

From Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 5, (1605):

Lady Macbeth:
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promis’d. Yet do I fear thy nature,
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way.

For ambitious and ruthless Lady Macbeth, the milk of human kindness denoted weakness; she was afraid her husband lacked the wherewithal to muder King Duncan as the quickest way to the throne.

John Singer Sargent painting of actress Ellen Terry playing Lady Macbeth (1889).



I, however, fully approve of the milk of human kindness. And I extend it to the cows of the world by using alternate milks in my latte.


I’ve even started making my own soy milk in my handy dandy Japanese soy milk maker.


Here’s a quick video:


There are some continuity issues in the video (I put the top of the machine on backwards and then corrected it).There are dinner dishes in the sink. I couldn’t get Taste Tester Bob to try the soy milk. I will never forget the time at his friend Dave’s house when Dave was trying to get Bob to try soy milk on his bowl of cereal. Dave was basically chasing Bob around the kitchen with a carton of soy milk. Highly entertaining.

Commercially, I like Wildwood Farms soy milk, and any of the plant/nut-based milks from Califia Farms. I prefer the unsweetened and unflavored milks, but there are options if you have a sweet tooth or like a vanilla latte.

(By the way, I freaked out when I Googled “sweet tooth” and the first image was a horrible scary clown. I do not like clowns.)

Apparently this is Sweet Tooth.


Speaking of the milk of human kindness, can we stop with the scary clowns already? Real life is scary enough.

Someday, I will figure out how to make almond milk and rice milk in the soy milk maker. The directions promise that I can! Then there is the okara–the ground up soy beans left at the end of the process. Being from Georgia, I keep thinking the word is okra…


Okara can go into veggie burgers; I’ve put it in stews and sauces for a protein boost. The recipe book that came with the soy milk maker includes okara “chicken” strips, okara bread, and, the one that might be my next video–an okara facial mask!

I don’t think I will look this lovely applying my okara mask, but maybe when I’m done?

Oh, one last thing. Please don’t ask me where I get my protein.


Peace and hugs.

Cooking for Insomniacs

Presenting the last cooking video of 2016! I go through periods of not sleeping well, and sometimes one of the things I like to do in the wee hours of the morning is bake.

Muffins magically appear in the early morning hours.

I went through a particularly bad period of insomnia back in about 2003 (pre-vegan). I decided to perfect the baking of the morning bun–you know, those beautiful laminated dough twists covered in cinnamon sugar.



I went through endless recipe variations, taking my middle-of-the-night creations to work everyday. I think my co-workers enjoyed my insomnia more than I did! But baking was much healthier than taking sleeping medications. I did have a prescription, but the nurse-practictioner neglected to mention that I should take a half-dose given that at the time I was down to about 100 pounds. (Those days are LONG gone.) The one time I took a pill, it took me two days to wake up.

Size 2, smiling on the outside but really not a happy time.

At the time, I was working at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in the art exhibitions department. For a show we were working on at the time, artist Susan Graham installed her sculpture of sugar beds that reference insomnia. I talked to her a lot at the time about insomnia, and the sculpture haunts me still when I can’t sleep.


Lately, my insomnia nights have had me writing blog posts. But at 4:15 a.m. on December 31, 2016, I decided to cook instead of write. I am still learning how to use iMovie, so forgive the clunkiness of the video. And it was early in the morning. Apologies to amazing animal activist and vegan food writer Colleen Patrick-Goudreau for any liberties with her recipe.

Muffins from a previous early morning baking session.


Because I had been sick (I promise I washed my hands many times during the cooking), my hair looked particularly bad, thus the hat. Taste Tester Bob says I have to wear it in every video now. (Hat courtesy of the Cat Lady Box.) Not making any promises about that one!

Have a happy new year, happy baking, bon appetit, peace, and hugs.


Substitute teachers get no respect (a cooking video)

I decided to make a vegan cheesecake (“cheezcake”) a few days ago, inspired by having a big bowl of lemons and a new copy of the cookbook Vegan Under Pressure by Jill Nussinow.

When life gives you lemons, bake something! I also wanted to try doing a dessert in the Instant Pot. Problem was, I didn’t have a lot of the ingredients other than the lemons and the cashews, used as the basis for “cheeze” in vegan cheesecake. So I substituted. It mostly worked, although there was a stage where it wasn’t so pretty. Here is the video, bloopers and all! You’ll notice (or not) a wardrobe change near the end. I was in my pajamas and bathrobe by the time we actually ate the cheesecake.

Bon appetit!

Under Pressure

Actually, this isn’t going to be about David Bowie or Queen, as much as I loved Freddie Mercury. Now I have the song Under Pressure stuck in my head (see Is there a cure for earworms?Or, Help! I Need Somebody…); thank you very much. Hoisted by my own petard!

No, this is about my new pressure cooker! I finally bought an Instant Pot after reading about them on Facebook page for Instant Pot Vegan Recipes.


I first became interested after going to a holiday cooking demonstration at the Oakland offices of the PETA Foundation last year. I am not going to comment one way or the other about PETA here; this is about food! Let’s come together around the table. Or the Instant Pot.

The presenter was JL Fields, and you can follow her at JL Goes Vegan. She is funny and informative and PRACTICAL about food and vegan cooking.

But it took me a year to convince myself to buy the Instant Pot. Now that I have it, I need to make a point of using it, which means learning HOW to use it. I got the cookbook:


I am a bit afraid of pressure cookers; back in the day they were dangerous, and I had a bad experience with one. I know so many people with a mother or grandmother with a near-death pressure cooking story.



I decided to start with something easy. I am not much of a breakfast person (beyond coffee), but Bob likes to start his day with traditional Western breakfast foods. I had a day off and was avoiding my academic duties (I love writing, but sometimes…), so I made oatmeal for breakfast!

Granted, oatmeal isn’t that hard to make in any case. But the pressure cooker was calling me, it sounded quick and easy, and one benefit of pressure cooking is you set it and walk away. Oatmeal on the stove can get messy if left unattended.


In my new capacity as wannabe Vegan Food Network Star (see Can I Vegan That? (My first cooking video!), I ended up making a video of the project. I have no pride; I am in my pajamas with bed hair. Hey, it’s real life. I spend a lot of my day off in pajamas! And you might notice near the end of the video that I have sweater fuzz on my chin. That is not a chin hair! I have a habit of wearing my shabby old gray cardigan over my bathrobe on cold mornings (see Tim Gunn and Ruby Dee walk into a bar…). You might not think it’s pretty, but I think it’s warm and comforting, like a bowl of oatmeal.

The oatmeal was pretty good. In hindsight, I would have added more liquid (2-1/2 cups to 1 cup of oats instead of 2:1), and maybe cooked it at 4 minutes pressure instead of 5. But it was a learning experience, and I am more comfortable using the Instant Pot now. Heck, Bob cooked dinner in it last night. The lure of using a new gadget was stronger than his dislike of cooking!

Happy viewing! I’d love your (vegan) pressure cooking tips!


Bon appetit!

Can I Vegan That? (My first cooking video!)


I am addicted to cooking shows, especially the competition ones, but I know I’d never survive against a timeclock and a group of cutthroat competitors. For a while, I was also addicted to the show The Chew on ABC, a daytime multi-host show about food, cooking, home, entertaining.

The Chew hosts Carla Hall, Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Daphne Oz, and Clinton Kelly.

One of the recurring segments on the show, at least when I was last watching, was with Carla Hall, called Can You Blend This?

She’d take a bunch of weird leftovers, blend them together, and make her cohosts taste it. Interesting faces were made. Sometimes the answer was yes, sometimes definitely no.

As a vegetarian, I always wanted more vegetarian alternatives, or at least not to be made fun of. Then I went vegan, and I felt totally left out of the Food Network world!

My dream is to have a segment called Can I Vegan That? But I’ve never made a video before.

Here is my trial run. Clearly, I need to up the production values. A second person to hold the iPhone would be nice! Bob was taking a nap until the end; I was on my own. Until cats develop opposable thumbs, I’m without assistance. And someone (not a cat, thanks) to do hair and makeup would be even better!

Brownies, not a huge challenge, but an easy one to start off with and I happened to have the ingredients and a sweet tooth. Next up? I’m open to suggestions.

So, grab some non-GMO popcorn and turn down the lights. Here we go:

Music: Cappelletti Show by Serena Giannini
Direct Link:

The brownies really did turn out good. Moist and super fudgy, just the way brownies should be. No cakey brownies for me!

Now, what’s for dinner? I have asparagus, mushrooms, potatoes…img_9058

Bon appetit!

I’m not bad at mindfulness, I just have my own approach

I’ve tried several times over the years to get myself into mindfulness and meditation through classes and workshops, and I always felt like a failure.

My best experience was last year through the Kaiser Behavioral Health department in Oakland. The class, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, is an 8-week program and includes a day-long silent retreat. What, a day of silence? How is that possible? Could I stand it? Would I go nuts? It was actually pretty awesome! Our instructor was a lovely gentleman named Charlie Johnson, and just the sound of his voice leading us through our practices soothed my nerves. Being in the old Julia Morgan building that used to be the ominously named The King’s Daughters Home for Incurables on Broadway in Oakland lent a certain je ne sais quoi.

The King’s Daughters Home for Incurables, now part of Kaiser in Oakland.

But I don’t practice at home. At least not deliberately. I’ve found that I achieve mindfulness in my own ways, not from sitting quietly with my eyes closed. When I do that, I end up with a dog in my face, a cat on my head, and a fit of the giggles.

This is about yoga, but you get the idea.



Now that I am in my post-retirement second career (I love saying that) working at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation I am not nearly as stressed out as I used to be. And part of the reason is oddly enough, given my yoga and meditation animal interference references, because I work with animals. Animals reduce my stress. Since I’ve been fostering cats and kittens, I find myself at the end of every day just sitting on the floor in the room with the fosters, usually in my pajamas, letting kittens crawl all over me. It’s the best!

The key to total relaxation.

I often think of our kitchen as my happy place, cooking as a way to decompress. It’s a form of mindfulness for me. I found out that there is a term for it: culinary therapy. According to one article in Psychology Today:

“Now culinary therapy is the treatment du jour at a growing number of mental health clinics and therapists’ offices. It’s being used as part of the treatment for a wide range of mental and behavioral health conditions, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD and addiction.”

Even the Wall Street Journal is on board:

“Many cooks know what a sanctuary the kitchen can be.

Now, some health-care clinics and counselors are using cooking or baking as therapy tools for people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental-health problems.”


Sure, this is how I look in the kitchen.
Hell’s Kitten, that’s me. Look out Gordon Ramsay!
It’s magic!
Even if I need a stepstool, like in Norway, it’s something I love to do.

This got me thinking about other things that are forms of mindfulness for me. Reading, definitely. Not the “oh my god I have to read this for school NOW” kind of reading, but curled up with a good book and being immersed in a story reading.

Yes please!
I understand what Salinger was getting at here.

I love my coloring books and sketch pads and various craft and sewing projects (see The Do It Yourself Museum ©, maybe someday brought to you by the Hallmark Channel ™). Maybe the reason I never finish any of them is that I enjoy the process more than the finishing.

Another wonderful class I took at Kaiser, in Vallejo (I lived in Napa at the time), was one called Phobease, taught by Dr. Fear, aka Dr. Howard Liebgold (see Falling in love with frogs). He describes cortical shifting as a way to alleviate anxiety. A great example is singing while driving; I hate driving but singing while driving keeps me calmer. As long as I get to choose the music.  And I keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road.


If you are interested, check out his book Freedom from Fear: Overcoming Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic.


Book blurb:

“In Freedom from Fear, Dr. Howard Liebgold, M.D., a psychiatrist who overcame a claustrophobic condition that lasted 31 years, reveals the techniques that he has used to help thousands of patients to conquer their fears. In the course of just a few weeks, everyone suffering from acute phobias will learn simple but powerful methods for the cure of their symptoms and how to stop panic attacks. Finally, even the most anxiety-ridden will learn the strategies and coping mechanisms to gently and safely overcome devastating, constricting fears or obsessive compulsive behaviors. By following this ten-week, step-by-step program, readers will learn to: – Understand the nature of phobias- Design a personalized strategy to conquer their fears- Understand and practice non-avoidance- Develop a mutual support system- Follow sound nutrition and exercise practices- Master relaxation techniques- Freedom from Fear is the first book on phobias written by a physician who suffered and recovered from crippling phobias.”

Now I have to go cook up something (I also like cooking while listening to audiobooks, combining two of my go-to therapies). But first I have to go to the store. And if someone can figure out mindfulness through grocery shopping, let me know!