Vegan Banana Bread

This year, I didn’t make a submission to the Oregon State Fair as part of my annual list – but fear not, I fully intend to enter a couple items for judging (can you imagine a life without me participating in the state fair? Perish the thought!). For 2015, I am entering vegan bread and the infamous table decorating category.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my theme for table decorating (and I’ll post plenty about it in the near future), but today I’m going to talk about my vegan bread recipe.

When Thor and I first got married, he was strictly vegan. So much so, the food at our wedding was mostly vegan and we pretty much had a circuit on the only four restaurants that served good vegan dishes in town (can you believe that only 10 years ago it was really hard to find vegan food in Portland?!). I considered his dietary restriction a challenge, and made masterful attempts at transforming normally delicious foods into some semblance of their vegan-version. Some recipes didn’t go so well (damn those brownies!), but I discovered many awesome ways of cooking healthier without losing flavor (frosting made with avocados!).

One such recipe is my banana bread. Ok, it’s more like Betty Crocker’s banana bread, but with my vegan substitutions I consider the recipe my own. I know you’re probably not thinking about cranking up the oven when it’s 92 degrees outside, but this morning Thor left the house saying, “Your job today is to eat some bananas – we have way too many and they are going to go bad.” Considering the fact that I haven’t had carbs for, like, two months, I figured it was a good excuse to make a practice loaf.

It came out PERFECT. Like seriously – I’m giving it my own blue ribbon.

VEGAN BANANA BREAD

2 cups flour (I use whole wheat pastry flour)

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup granulated sugar (sometimes I swap for coconut sugar, but you will lose sweetness)

2 tbsp powdered egg replacement (I use Ener-G)

1/2 cup vegetable oil or vegan margarine (I use the vegan Smart Balance)

1 1/2 cups pureed bananas (I just throw mine in a food processor)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan with coconut oil spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (I usually sift it). In another mixing bowl, whisk the egg replacer with 2 tbsp water until it’s frothy. Then add sugar, oil, and pureed bananas. Mix well. Add the banana mixture to the flour and fold until just moistened. Scrape the mixture into the baking pan and bake for 40 – 50 minutes (depends on the size of your dish). Insert a toothpick and when it comes out clean, your bread it ready.

Every recipe always says to let it cool, but I’m too impatient for that – so I just have at it. 

I’ve had sooooooo many people recommend vegan products, claiming how you’ll never know the difference, only to find out that it still tastes like crap. You know that saying about never trust a skinny cook? Well, I’m in favor of never trusting a vegan-only palate. Since I eat everything under the sun, my tastebuds are reliable. I’m sorry – but sometimes you just have to own up that your vegan BLT takes like cardboard, or your vegan brownies are not at all brownies, but more of a dry cake. My vegan banana bread, however, tastes like the real thing.

Judging-wise at the fair, they have a lot more than taste as a criteria. Something about the uniformity of the “dome” on your loaf, and the texture and color. I’m not a professional baker so if I don’t get those things right, I’m ok with that, but you can’t win if you don’t try.

My Marital Obligation

I think most people would call my husband, Thor, and me a little competitive (maybe a lot competitive). We make a lot of bets or are frequently challenging each other on trivial items. I think our biggest fight was the time we were playing the new Super Mario Bros and I kept (unintentionally) dying on a certain level. He accused me of “not taking it seriously” and we may or may not have given each other the silent treatment for 24 hours.

Flashback to 2008: He kept telling me how amazing the HBO series The Wire was, but for some reason I just wasn’t interested. Meanwhile, CBS had just finished a season of Swingtown and I was totally hooked. We made a deal. I would watch the first season of “The Wire” if he would watch the first season of Swingtown. While he held up his end of the bet, I only made it through about five episodes of The Wire and just sort of trailed off… It’s almost like The Wire is just too real, too gritty for me. I need escapism.

…but I swear welching on that bet will be the end of our marriage. He will never forget it. Anytime we start to debate about things, it ends with, “Well you never finished The Wire!” Case closed.

As a teacher, I have a lot of down time in the summer to do whatever I want, including one of my traditions of rewatching an entire series while doing puzzles and crafting (ahhhh the life). One year it was the Sopranos, another year it was LOST, another year it was Roseanne…and so on. But I’ve never forgotten about that marital agreement I failed to deliver on: The Wire. And while technically I only have to watch the first season, I figure the only way to truly make it up is to watch ALL SIX SEASONS. I can do this.

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Cut to 2015: Summer has started and I’m officially done with the first season! and even midway through the second season! Go me. And I’ll admit, it’s getting more interesting. I know, I know – it’s supposedly one of the best shows ever made; I can appreciate that. But when I watch a show, I’m shallow. I want to see sexy people, explosions, and have massive cliffhangers where you can’t help but push play on the next episode (hence my undying love of LOST). But I’m doing it – no stopping now!

But seriously, people, Swingtown was a great show that CBS cancelled because they caved on the objections of religious conservatives who never even watched the show (for if they had, they would see it brought up a lot of questions about controversy of “swinging” and really focused on the culture of social change in the 70s). I’m not saying the writing was as carefully crafted as The Wire (apples and oranges), but if you’re looking for something entertaining to while away your summer hours, give it a shot! However, I will tell you it ends on a massive cliffhanger, and since the series got cancelled, it will leave you hanging forever.

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Here’s a link on Amazon: Swingtown episodes.

Letters of June – Second Edition

My first letter of the month deserved it’s own post, but I’ve also already sent out my other letters of the month…all 30 of the them.

At the end of every school year, I write a letter to each student that they take home on the last day of school. It takes several straight hours of writing, but students have come back in later years and told me how they still have their letter – so I just keep plugging along. And since next year I won’t be returning to a traditional classroom, why give up the tradition now? Each one of my 26 students got a letter, and although they didn’t all go in the mail per se, they were still handwritten letters.

I also sent two “get well” cards to some friends who both recently had knee surgery, and if there’s one thing I can relate to – IT’S KNEE SURGERY.

Finally, I sent out a couple more to my two BFFs, Courtney and David, to kick off the summer (look for that surprise in your mailbox in a couple days).

Then today I checked my mailbox and realized that I got a response from one of my May letters. You might think that my inner 75 year-old stops at bingo, crosswords, and Jell-O, but I’m also a total busybody. That includes writing complaint letters to companies about their products, or an occasional letter to the editor in the local paper.

Here’s my original letter:

Dear NORPAC Foods, Inc.

Last week I purchased the Flavrpac Broccoli-Cauliflower “Quick N Easy Combo” at my local grocery store. Tonight I was terribly disappointed in the product. First off, when I opened the package and was preparing to cook the broccoli and cauliflower, it was evident I had clearly paid for 80% ice and 20% vegetables. Disappointing.

Second, once I had cooked the vegetables (according to the package directions) and drained the excessive amount of water, the pieces of broccoli were shriveled and visibly brown. I was embarrassed to serve the side dish to my family, and was possibly concerned about the safety of the food.

I ended up throwing the entire amount in the trash, and at this point I cannot see myself purchasing another Norpac product again due to the extremely poor quality of the product, and what feels like a complete disregard for consumer satisfaction.

I make almost all of the grocery decisions for my household and I’m not expecting luxury out of a bag of frozen vegetables – but considering that I purchase frozen vegetables every single week, this kind of occurrence is unacceptable.

Thank you for reading.

Well, NORPAC heard my cry and responded with some coupons. See? Letters get things done!

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#9 – Attend an opera. Check.

Let me tell you that listening to French lessons while driving to the opera might have been the classiest things I’ve ever done.

Today my friend, Courtney, and I went to see the opera, A Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky.

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If I could do things over again, I would major in Art History since that was what I really enjoyed studying in college, but I was given the terrible advice to major in English. “It’s so broad! You’ll be able to get a job in anything!” the academic advisor gushed. Not saying that Art History would have been a largely accepted and lucrative major either, but at least it would have been something I actually cared about. ANYWAY, I did study A LOT of art history nonetheless, and one of my favorite artists became Hogarth.

In particular, the engravings of A Rake’s Progress and A Harlot’s Progress were interesting to me because I like anything that portrays the downfall of man (or woman…but mostly man). Although the details of the story were fuzzy to me, I knew that the basis was that Tom Rakewell would inherit a large sum of money, squander it on parties and prostitutes, and finish it all out bankrupt in an insane asylum.

So let’s talk about what I didn’t like first:

Stravinsky must have taken a lot of artistic license to mix up the story, and instead turned it into a love story gone wrong. That kind of bummed me out. I’m always that person that says things like, “That’s not what was in the book!” Tom starts out singing sweet love songs to Anne, and promises to earn enough money to marry her. He soon inherits his uncle’s fortune, and is whisked off to London to get things “settled.” He does spend a sordid night with a prostitute, but in the opera he seems guilt or reluctant – and in the original artwork I got the impression that he was reveling in the excessive lifestyle.

Later, Tom also ends up marrying a bearded Turkish woman, Baba, and some part of me felt like it was ethnically offensive, although I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why (maybe because his true love was a buxom blonde, blue-eyed beauty?).

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Tom’s final scenes in the mental hospital were also not near destitute enough for me. In the original engravings, he is physically and mentally tormented – a shell of himself – and surrounded by crazies. In Stravinsky’s version, Anne sings a sad and loving goodbye, and he is left to die alone. The end.

What did I like?

The costumes, the artwork, and the sets. I was mentally noting my Halloween costume the entire time.

David Hockney"DROP CURTAIN FOR THE RAKE'S PROGRESS FROM THE RAKE'S PROGRESS" 1975-79Ink And Collage On Cardboard14 x 20 1/2"© David HockneyCollection The David Hockney FoundationPhoto Credit: Richard Schmidt

David Hockney”DROP CURTAIN FOR THE RAKE’S PROGRESS FROM THE RAKE’S PROGRESS” 1975-79Ink And Collage On Cardboard14 x 20 1/2″© David HockneyCollection The David Hockney FoundationPhoto Credit: Richard Schmidt

The Rake's Progress performed by Glyndebourne Opera

The Rake’s Progress performed by Glyndebourne Opera

The Rake's Progress performed by Glyndebourne Opera Topi Lehtipuu ( Tom Rakewell ) Susan Gorton ( Mother Goose )

The Rake’s Progress performed by Glyndebourne Opera
Topi Lehtipuu ( Tom Rakewell ) Susan Gorton ( Mother Goose )

Overall, we had a good time, and it was entertaining – I’ll just have to do my homework on how Stravinsky came up with his own, tamer version of the downfall of the rake. (And where to find a costume like that!)

Letters of June – Part One

Back in high school I was suspended a couple times. The first was for fighting (she hit me first!) and the other was for an column that I wrote in the school paper. In the article, I spoke against about teen pregnancy, and said some (admittedly) insensitive and inflammatory things about teen moms. The journalism teacher reported that I “snuck in” the article (a total lie!) and it created a storm of angry teen moms, angry moms of teen moms, and anyone else who was offended by what I wrote. (There was a bad joke about how I wanted to punch a baby). It lasted for months.

I admitted I could have said it more delicately, but through that experience, I really learned the power of writing. While in the principal’s office, the principal smiled at me and said, “Always remember the pen is mightier than the sword, and unfortunately some people don’t understand sarcasm.”

Tonight I decided to hand deliver a letter that I know might cause a stir, but frankly I’m just being honest. Who was that letter to? My former boss, aka the worst principal of all time. Never has anyone made me feel so worthless, worn out, or hopeless. There are a lot of bad bosses out there, but this guy crossed over into unethical and downright dysfunctional. Lucky for me, I found a fabulous new school, with a fabulous new team and new world class boss. Talk about a Cinderella story.

As I post this, I understand that not everyone will agree with 1) me delivering this letter, and 2) me posting it publicly here, but I’ve never been one to be bullied. And those that know the recipient of this letter will understand just why I had to deliver it on the last day of school.

As a teacher, I frequently ask my students to become activists via writing, to challenge what they think is wrong; that words can change culture and mindsets more than violence. So here’s to the little guy, always fighting the man.

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Disasters have been on my mind a lot lately. Oregon has had a wealth of earthquakes off the coast, and it didn’t help when my colleague (an earth science teacher) described how these smaller earthquakes are causing bigger pressure to build up underneath. And with our local Albertson’s grocery store going out of business, I spent my Friday night doing a little Doomsday prepping (canned corn and spaghetti sauce for all!).

But there’s another disaster I think about frequently, as well…….

In Season Two of Six Feet Under, a woman starts choking on her food and throws herself against the corner of her kitchen counter, but it’s useless and she falls on the floor and dies. SHUDDER. I don’t want to be a Mama Cass and die choking on a sandwich, people. All the canned corn and spaghetti sauce I buy for the end of the world  won’t save me from choking alone.

Tonight, my friend, Tricia, posted a video on Facebook that addresses this issue. What do you do if you start choking and there is no one around to give you the Hemlich?

Another fear I have is that the house will catch on fire, and we will be trapped up in our third story bedroom. I’ve added an escape fire ladder (only $30 on Amazon), and I’ve never forgotten a great suggestion from a reader that you can throw your cats into a pillowcase for quick escape – although I’m not sure I can hold three thrashing pillowcases while descending an escape ladder (maybe that will be a practice drill).

And while we’re thinking about disaster scenarios, what the heck would I do if I was at work and things were really bad? Portland is the “City of Bridges” and traffic is horrendous enough on a regular day. During last year’s snowstorm, I literally had to find a hotel because all the roads home were closed. Downtown Portland is separated by the Willamette River, and while there are many bridges to cross, what if they are inaccessible? Even by foot? Should I borrow a hipster’s urban kayak?downtown-Portland-map-enlarged

Well, the good news is that I found this handy map that at least has several points of communication help (with so many close to work!):

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The bad news is that if I’m actually home during a massive earthquake, the nearest emergency center is miles from my house.

We’re all gonna die someday (although I’m still betting on replacing most of my parts with robotic ones later on) – but I plan on at least being informed about how to save myself if I can. Tonight, at least I can sleep better knowing these few tips.

I’ve got the turkey, who’s bringing the pumpkin pie?

It’s been several years since I’ve blogged about couponing – but that’s how this blog all got started. One girl’s quest to live large on a little bit of money (hence the name Couponbomb). Yet, when my one-year couponing challenging was over, I just got lazy and annoyed with how time consuming the searching/cutting/shopping process was becoming. Sure, I saved over $8,000 that year – but my Sundays were almost completely devoted to couponing; I needed a break.

A three and a half year break, that is.

Until last month I heard that our local Albertson’s was going out of business. I popped in and found literally everything on sale, but was sneaky enough to overhear two women whispering about how the store was staying open until July, and that the real sales would be coming up in June. So I took a good look around, mentally noted what I might scavenge for later, and left.

Last weekend, I returned for a weekly grocery trip (and some coupons in hand). It was like old times. Except old times on steroids, since the prices were already starting to get slashed. My husband, Thor, adamantly hates my couponing (another reason I began to lose interest) so I tried to play it cool…but I’ll tell you that my brain was on fire.

10% off all produce

15% off canned foods

25% off hair care products

Whole turkeys at $0.50 a pound

Calculate those discounts on top of my coupons and…andAND…….

But like I said, I played it cool. I bought several items that I didn’t have coupons for, and only bought one turkey despite my inner discount monologue, You could eat a turkey this month AND save one for Thanksgiving! I made a definitive list in my head of the aisles I will be pillaging in a couple weeks, just like those Extreme Couponing shows, and fantasized filling my cart like I was competing on Supermarket Sweep. All this, with a straight face.

When we rang up our groceries and I handed the cashier my coupons, it was just like riding a bike – and when he handed me the receipt that said we had saved $51.55, I imagined my brain was lighting up like a gambler’s when they get a win. (Hey – I haven’t had sugar, alcohol, dairy, or starches for 21 days – I need this).

Tonight I booked another trip to Vegas for the end of the month, but I know that my real gambling will be right down the street at Albertson’s.

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#13 – Attend a Breakdance Competition. Checkity-check, yo.

While I was potentially willing to travel to another west coast city to view an epic breakdance battle, yesterday I was lucky enough to get to witness one right here in Portland: the Ashes 2 Ashes: Round 5 Battle. And while the Facebook page and Youtube videos promised some legit dancers to be competing, I had my doubts how good they would really be. In my younger days, I attended a bunch of local bboy events since they were often paired with music shows, but the dancers were pretty amateur – and while it was fun, it wasn’t all that exciting.

Yesterday was far better than I expected. First of all, the event was 6+ hours of straight dance battles. First we got to watch (literally) 100 different dancers square up on 2v2 rounds, and then down the semi-finals, etc. A lot of the crews were from Portland, but most were actually from out of town.

The event ended with a 45-minute “King of the Hill” battle where one dancer would have a round to blow the judges mind, and then face a line of nine other dancers to defend their spot as number one. You know how exhausted you feel after 45 minutes of jogging? Imagine 45 minutes of spinning on your head and doing backflips. Those dudes are in the absolute peak of athletic ability, if you ask me. But wait – yes there were a few female dancers (though not many, and they didn’t make it very far).

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I can tell you that if I knew of more events like this in Portland, I would go to every one; or make a weekend of it in Seattle. Perhaps someday I’ll get the chance to see one in Europe (where some of the most intense competitions happen) with all this sudden international travel coming my way. But for now – I’m totally checking this one off my list.

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Wha-Eva!

Last year, I watched one classic movie a month as part of my bucket list, and considered mixing it up this year with one of my favorite movies every month – but then I thought to myself that’s not really learning anything new, and that’s essentially the purpose of this blog. So I didn’t.

But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s my blog sooooo….

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A lot of fun things have been happening lately; summer vacation is literally two weeks away, and that is prime play time for teachers like me. But right now I’m just excited for this Saturday because we’ll be going to the Ashes to Ashes Round 5 Breakdance Battle.

SOOOO I’m going to blog about one of my favorite shameful movies:

boty-2Battle of the Year (2013). It was as if this movie was written for me, and only me; and when it was released on my birthday weekend, I almost fainted. First, you’ve got Josh Holloway (Sawyer from LOST) as a washed up basketball coach – grieving the loss of his wife and son over a bottle of bourbon. Then you have a rag tag underdog team of dancers (led by Chris Brown) who just need a coach to win the ultimate world breakdancing championship: BOTY. But they can’t do it alone – oh no. They enlist Josh Peck (from Drake and Josh) to help get the team together and overcome their differences. This requires montage after montage of awesome dance training scenes. Once they finally arrive in France and begin to compete, you have a hundred more sweet montages. And then just when you’re like, “How could they lose?!” They actually do, to their Korean rivals. Which was ok because it seemed like a perfect set-up for a sequel, but sadly I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Ok – so this movie got like one measly little star – so WHAT? It’s so bad it’s good. (Especially if you’re a giant LOSTDrake and Josh, and Chris Brown fan like myself).

On my way to being a Roast Master

I literally had to Google, “What is a master coffee roaster called?” Answer: a Roast Master.

It has now been a solid couple of months of roasting my own coffee beans. Initially, I was totally rocking amateur hour by sticking my arm into a 500 degree oven to constantly stir the beans, but luckily my friend, Amanda, bequeathed me her air popper to make the far job easier.

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I’ll admit the first time I used it, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Coffee beans were flying everywhere, and I let the popper get so hot it turned itself off. I yelled, “This SUCKS!” and even considered going back to my primitive cave roasting in the oven. But with several more tries, I’ve definitely gotten a rhythm down. I can’t believe I never learned how to do this before!

Here’s my process:

First, I buy raw coffee beans on Amazon (I can get 3 lbs of organic for about $25). If you know a better or more economical route – LET ME KNOW.

Then, I carefully use the measuring cup on top of the air popper to scoop and then add my raw beans into the air popper (trust me – that measuring cup is there for a reason). Before turning it on, I have a big bowl held up to the popper.

Once it’s on, it gets HOT…and FAST. A few red hot beans and a lot of the bean husks get spit out the popper so having a BIG bowl is critical to clean freaks like me.

The beans begin to crackle or pop, and once I see that the husks are pretty much done being spit out and the beans are beginning to smoke, I quickly unplug the popper and stick it under the stove vent and dump the beans into a bowl.

The beans are supposed to “rest” for one to three days, and I can definitely taste a difference when they have had a chance to sit for a couple of days.

All in all, I can roast about a pound of beans in 10 – 15 minutes.

And that’s it!

Yesterday, we made coffee with my Costa Rican blend. This morning, it was freshly ground beans from Vietnam. At least from my newbie perspective, my roasted beans are legit:

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I’m still fine tuning this process; it’s annoying that some of the beans are getting spit out amidst the husks, and I’m either leaving them to be totally wasted or picking them out like hot coals to throw back into the machine.

While I understand that some coffee snobs may be reading this thinking, She’s using an air popper? Oh please! I’m ok with that. I’m totally new to this whole “roasting coffee beans” thing and not only is it more economical, it’s also fun. And to me that’s all that really matters.

That being said, Amanda gets to be my first outside taste tester (other than my husband, Thor) since she provided me with the tools to make fire. (Cue the Strauss).

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