Monthly Archives

April 2011

books and reviews

Thoughts on Animal Emotions – A book review of “When Elephants Weep” by Jeffrey Masson

Jeffrey Masson is an interesting fellow who has written a whole slew of books related to animals. “When Elephants Weep” was his first book on animals and their emotional lives, published in 1995, and also the first book I decided to read by him. I certainly wasn’t disappointed!

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals It’s pretty impossible to “prove” that other beings experience feelings and emotions, but that’s just what this book sets out to do. For example, I can look at your face and notice you’re smiling, which is something I do when I’m happy, and then conclude that you’re likely happy – but I can’t prove it. Since it’s impossible to get inside the heads of others, human or otherwise, “proving” feelings is difficult indeed, but it’s also beside the point. Should I assume that you are happy when you smile, or is it best to assume you feel nothing since I can’t prove what you feel one way or another?
It’s a ridiculous idea when the context is human, but science has spent a very long time maintaining that perspective when it comes to other animals. Jeffrey Masson reasons it makes more sense that other animals are like us, instead of unlike us, given that we are, in fact, animals, and we share a great deal of DNA with other creatures on this planet.
He also maintains, and I agree, that most people understand that animals are thinking, feeling beings. Most people will not kick their dog to hear the “machine creak” a la Descartes – nowadays, acts of cruelty against (companion) animals can land someone in prison. Yet somehow this idea that animals don’t suffer (or rather, don’t experience joy, sorrow and other supposed “human” emotions) has persisted in science.
A dog wagging his tail and getting hyper when you say “outside”. A cat curled up in your lap, purring softly. A horse mother nuzzling her little foal. Could these demonstrations of what looks like happiness really just be mechanical, instinctual reactions? Do mothers and fathers just care about propagating their species when they protect their young?
I found myself reading passages from the book (more like stories) aloud to Logan, so entranced was I with animals demonstrating love, anger, jealousy, intelligence, creativity, and so many other feelings us humans have often enjoyed claiming as our own. This book “proves” that animals aren’t perfect, and they are often mysterious, but we still have so much in common with them despite all of our differences.
What I love about this book is that Jeffrey Masson sets out to prove the existence of the emotional lives of animals, and succeeds with a certain degree of conclusiveness that is difficult to dispute. At the same time, despite how well-researched this book is, it lacks jargon and scientific coldness, instead coming across as warm, friendly, and easy to read and understand.
Despite the authors’ natural warmth, this book isn’t remotely close to the territory of being “fluffy”. There’s genuine substance here (the oodles of references can attest to that), not just touchy-feely animal lover stuff. I would definitely lend this book to anyone who enjoys arguing that animals, since they’re incapable of complex language, are also incapable of complex feeling – or even any feeling at all.
Jeffrey does occasionally draw parallels to our behavior toward the animals we eat versus the animals we’re friends with. We understand that animals feel pain, suffering and unhappiness (even fish and chicken), yet we’re eager to turn a blind eye to this when we want to eat them. Most of us wouldn’t dream of hurting our cats and dogs (and as mentioned earlier, we could get arrested for it), but yet we subject cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and fish to all kinds of torture and torment. There is a disparity between how we intuitively feel about animals and our actions toward them.
Instead of morally condemning us for this inconsistent behavior, he simply raises these questions, musing on his own point of view, while allowing us, the readers, to come to our own conclusions.
All in all, When Elephants Weep is a fantastic and engaging read, and one that inspired me to seek out more books by the author, which I’ll inevitably discuss here soon. J


Brunch, recipes

After Eight AM Breakfast Oats

After Eight AM Oats

Why yes, you are an incredibly delicious bowl of chilled oatmeal!

Fie to the cold that has wedged its way into my system! Fie, I say! I don’t know about you guys, but there are three things that, if not in balance, will throw me into a crappy-feeling tizzy:

1. Eating junky
2. Not sleeping enough
3. Stress

If I happen to engage in all 3 at once, well then I’m just asking for it. Over the weekend, I ate some junk food (oh delicious pizza on a fluffy white crust!), drank some beer (amazing, wretched liquid) and ate lots of chocolatey dessert. This wouldn’t have been a problem had I been sleeping well, but I ended up staying up far too late a few nights in a row. And as for the stress? One word: teaching.

So here I am, headache-y and snuffly. The nice part about feeling crappy (is there a nice part?) is that I got a lot of reading done, reading I will share a little later on.

When I feel icky, I love the hell out of mint. Well I always love mint. But it does something to my congested sinuses that feels so pleasant, kind of like spicy food, which I also love when I’m sick. Aside from drinking lots of mint tea, I’ve been enjoying this yummy breakfast:

After Eight AM Oats

After Eight AM Breakfast Oats

Ingredients
“Overnight Oats” adapted from Angela at Oh She Glows

1/2 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. almond milk (I use homemade)
1/2 c. water
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 banana
1 tbsp raw cacao powder (if you have regular cocoa powder, just use 1/2 tbsp)
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, minced
Optional: cashew cream, minced mint, and cacao nibs, for serving
In a bowl, combine the oats, almond milk, water and chia seeds and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The oats will soften and the chia seeds will give the oat bowl an excellent texture. Alternately you could prepare the ingredients an hour before you want breakfast.
Combine the banana, cacao powder, and mint in a blender and blend until smooth. Add a splash or two of almond milk to get it blending if necessary. Pour into the oat bowl and stir to combine. Top with cashew cream, mint and cacao nibs if you want.
After Eight AM Oats
I personally recommend the cacao nibs as a garnish – they add such a nice textural contrast. The cashew cream makes the oats taste richer and more decadent, while still being healthy enough to call a wholesome breakfast. If you really want an extra minty kick, you could add a couple drops of peppermint extract, which I’m sure would be delicious but I don’t have any to try that with.
The mint taste is really pleasant in this bowl of oats, and subtle. And while I love mint and have been known to nosh on the leaves, I do prefer when its flavor takes a supporting role in meals.
And chocolate for breakfast? Hell yeah. I’m not really into “superfoods”, or at least I’m not into the idea of spending a good deal of money on food that’s no better or worse than what I could easily buy in the grocery store. That said, I love cacao. I love the flavor (with other food, of course – it’s quite bitter on its own), I love the quite literal “feel good” boost it gives (and the mild caffeine boost!), and the nutritional profile is solid. They’re super high in antioxidants (well beyond red wine, green tea and blueberries), and are a great source of magnesium, among other things.
Well I’m going to rest and relax and hopefully get some more (easy) work done at the same time. Take care and do try to avoid the 3 baddies on the illness list! 🙂
mains, recipes

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Bulgur and Cashew Cheese

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Bulgur and Cashew Cheese

I follow a lot of food blogs, so as a result, I constantly have a massive backlog of recipes I really want to make. Being a very visual person who (sometimes) is organized, I keep all of these recipes archived in a program on my computer, sorted by categories and with an image of the recipe. So when I need some inspiration, it’s as though I have an awesome recipe book hanging out on my computer at all times.

Something that’s been sitting in this “book” for a while are a variety of stuffed bell pepper recipes. They look so cute and delicious so I save them, only to never make them. Perhaps to someone like myself who has never stuffed a bell pepper, they seemed like far too much trouble. But then I finally tried making them and they were incredibly easy! And then I tried them again because they were delicious. Om nom.
There are two recipes for these stuffed bell peppers – one for the filling, and one for the cashew cheese. While the cheesy topping is completely optional, it’s so easy, creamy, and just makes the stuffed bell peppers that much more amazing. You can whip up the cheese in the time it takes to bake the bell peppers, so why not?
Stuffed Bell Peppers with Bulgur and Cashew Cheese

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Bulgur and Cashew Cheese
Serves 6

For the peppers and stuffing:
adapted from this recipe

6 large bell peppers, any color

2 tbsp olive oil

1 med. onion

6 cloves garlic

1 c. bulgur

2 c. diced tomatoes with juice

2 c. cooked lentils (1 can, or about 2/3 c. dry)

2 c. vegan “beef” broth

1/2 c. parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

For the Cashew Cheese:

½ c. cashews

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 small clove garlic, chopped

¼ tsp salt

2 tbsp water, or more for consistency

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut off the tops of the peppers, throwing them out with any seeds and membranes. Boil the peppers for about 5 minutes and drain. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly oil a baking pan and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, and add the onion and garlic, cooking until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add bulgur, tomatoes, lentils and broth and bring to a boil, uncovered. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the parsley and remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Stuff the peppers with the bulgur-lentil filling and place on the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, until the bell pepper is soft. If your bulgur filling is cold, be sure to warm it in the microwave prior to stuffing in order for it to cook faster in the oven.

4. While the bell peppers are in the oven, prepare your cashew cheese. In a small blender, combine all ingredients and blend until completely smooth. The amount of water you have to add partly depends on the strength of your blender. My little blender is wimpy so I end up adding about 1/4 c. water in order to get it running smoothly. Start with less and add more as needed.

5. Remove bell peppers from the oven and top each with around 2 tbsp of cashew cheese. Place back in the oven and broil for about 5 minutes, until the tops have browned. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

recipes, salad

Homemade Croutons For Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons

Yay for temperatures above zero!

Seriously, everyone has been ridiculously happy about it. Yesterday I went outside, sans jacket, sat on my deck and worked on lyrics. The sun was warm and the air had a cool bite to it, which I love. That crispness in the air just causes my mind to feel so clear. The cats joined me outside, one of them purring very, very loudly as soon as she stepped out of the house, and then proceeded to have what appeared to be a perfect afternoon of sunbathing. Yep, we’re all happy spring is finally comin’!

Speaking of crispness, you know what else is crisp? Romaine lettuce. Yup. That’s my segue into the food.

If I’m to be completely honest, I used to hate Caesar salad. Something about the thick dressing, and I couldn’t get behind croutons. Shriveled bread? Um, no thanks. So as a vegan, I was never terribly compelled to reinvent Caesar salad.
But then my fridge had 5 romaine hearts in it. I was valiantly attempting to get through it all by myself, since Logan isn’t around to help, but there are only so many green smoothies you can slurp before you want a change of pace. So, Caesar salad it was.
Being unsure of how I might feel about a veganized Caesar salad, I decided to follow someone else’s recipe the first try (and the second try, since it was so tasty). I’m not a crazy chef who can whip awesome creations out of thin air if the recipe is a brand-new concept to me. I need time to play, taste-test, and experiment.
That said, I’m going to link to the dressing recipe because it was uber delicious lathered on romaine leaves. I’m a total vegan Caesar salad convert now! The best thing about Dreena Burton’s recipe for the dressing is that it’s not made out of junky ingredients. Read: cashews, sunflower seeds, lemon juice and miso, among other ingredients. So not only is this dressing rich and creamy, it’s also about 10 steps healthier than the typical mayo-laden dressing. I strongly urge you to give it a whirl and see if you don’t love it!
And after throwing together some homemade croutons to go with the salad, I now know they need not be icky and shriveled! They can be crisp and packed with flavor!
Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons
Easy Homemade Croutons

Ingredients:

2 pieces of bread, cubed (about 2 cups)
2 tbsp vegan margarine or oil
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp salt
Directions:

1. Heat the margarine over medium-low heat until melted. Add the bread and all of the seasonings, stirring well to evenly coat the bread. Cook for 10-15 minutes, however long it takes to turn your bread cubes a golden brown and get them nice and crisp.
Note: the smaller cubes you chop, the more crisp your croutons will be. I would also advise keeping the croutons separate from the romaine and dressing until serving, since the moisture in the dressing will cause the croutons to lose their crispness if it sits.
Have an awesome weekend! I’ll be off enjoying the sun, jamming with the band, and visiting Logan’s family out of town. 🙂