Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mini-Vacation: Parties & Plans

I have three weeks until my new quarter starts, so I'm kicking my feet up in sunny Cincinnati. I haven't had serious home-sickness since moving, but there are a few great things about being here. For one thing, Cincinnati is ten degrees behind Savannah, so I'm actually spending time outside instead of scuttling between destinations against what feels like a current of lava. Today I wore my straight edge short-shorts and went on a long walk, where I ran into my friend Nic, and we wound up spending all afternoon catching up and comparing art notes. I've only lived in Savannah for a minute, but school and work keep me so busy that it's hard finding the time/energy for new people and new adventures. (That's why you've gotten, like, three updates in two months, and they've been exclusively about food.) As much as I'd enjoy spending the next three weeks drinking Tazo's passion tea over ice and catching up on my subscription to The Believer, the sense of the familiar that being here gives me really makes me want to get out and savor it.

Here are some things I will do while I'm home:

Organize an epic neighborhood game.
Nothing quite says summertime like a raucous game that spans an entire neighborhood where you and all your friends get sneaky and sweaty and exchange insults and then drink sodas afterwards. My all-time favorite is capture the flag. Use a major city street as a dividing line, then extend boundaries three or so blocks in either direction. A good recon strategy is to figure out a way to use your team's identifying mark to blend in - so if ya'll are using bandanas, instead of wearing it around your arm or forehead, hang it around your neck or use it as a ponytail holder. Invite people you don't know to join in; it's an easy way to make new friends and a good way to up the ante on flag security. Other epic summer games include hide-and-seek, ghost in the graveyard, kickball, and four square. Basically, if it was fun when you were a kid, it's probably still fun - especially since you 're probably free of youthful restrictions like curfew. Just imagine playing freeze tag sometime after midnight in an abandoned mall parking lot while trying to outrun "it" and rent-a-cops. What about Marco Polo in the middle of a parade? Ordinary situations get extraordinary when you subvert expectations of them, so get creative and play some games.

Party like it's 1939. (... aka make art.)
My friend Nic is teaching me to block print! Another friend and I are working on a comic book! I have to embroider a onesie! When I have extra time, it's pretty easy for me to just watch movies and bake until life picks up again, and while sometimes that's necessary, now is not like that. I'm trying to combine my love of art with my love of friends to feel really good about this break.

Follow my lead and embrace your artistic side this summer. Teach one of your friends a skill, or have them teach you. Hunker down with a book from the library and teach yourself, even. (That's how I picked up embroidery. Watch out, Jenny Hart!) Better yet, assemble a group of people, pool supplies, and throw a craft party. Make cards for political prisoners. Play Surrealist games like exquisite corpse. Eat food you can customize: cupcakes, pizza, calzoni, sundaes...! Then lie under the stars, find your own constellations, and make origin stories for them. It'll be a blast.

Hula hoop like mad.
A few bloggers I follow have gotten into hula hooping in the last year, and since I don't like exercise that leaves me mad sweaty, I thought I'd give it a shot. It's really easy and produces pretty good results in a short amount of time (I noticed flatter abs after, like, two weeks). Most importantly, though, IT'S FUN. And you can do it just about anywhere, anytime.

Hooping has made me feel nostalgic in a good and a bad way. It's reminded me of other rad things I used to occupy myself with as a kid, like jump rope and horse (remember all that hoop-shooting, horse-spelling nonsense?), but it's also made me feel really old. I was pretty athletic as a kid: always on the monkey bars, racing around the playground, playing softball in a neighboring field... but I was really sedentary and chubby as a teenager. When and how did my lifestyle change so dramatically? In the present, I think there's more balance (though I still probably lean too far to the "sedentary" side of the spectrum...), but I miss being active in a FUN way and having crazy stamina as a result. I really like weight lifting, and sometimes work out dvds and cardio machines aren't a total chore - but come on, that shit is so stiff and serious. That's usually the excuse I make for not doing it, and that's lame. I think we all need to revisit some personal pastimes of bygone eras to remember that exercise doesn't have to be this isolated maintenance sort of activity, but instead, it can be a really stellar part of our everyday lives that happens to have great side effects like hot muscles. Remember jumping on that wiggly bridge on the playground? Seeing how long and high you could swing and then doing crazy jumps off and skidding through the mulch? Did anyone get into hopscotch? Sure, Red Light, Green Light is a great way to get some blood pumping, but we don't always need our friends to have a good time and a good workout. What kinds of shenaniganery did you occupy yourself with as a kid?

Make some homemade ice cream.
I make really good vegan ice cream, but like a big pile of lame, I completely skipped out last summer. I can't make ice cream at school, so I need to do it pretty much constantly in the next three weeks, I've decided. I've never written out my recipe, either, so I sort of need to rediscover it, and ohhh, there are so many flavor possibilities. Yes, I think constant ice cream making is requisite.

Like any vegan ice cream maker, I've been a follower of Vegan Ice Cream Paradise for some time now. I really like this blog because the author has loads of troubleshooting tips and flavor ideas. That said, I find the recipes don't freeze well and are best enjoyed immediately, which I'm usually not ready to do. This was my first foyer into vegan ice cream making, but over the years, I've learned to fuse a number of recipes. I know playing with the recipe over at the Post Punk Kitchen (which I think is the same as the one in Veganomicon?) helped me develop my sense of texture, and Bryanna Clark Grogan's gelato recipe has been a huge influence, too. Why am I saying all this when I can't even remember my recipe exactly? I'm not sure except I guess to show you that there are a lot of options for homemade vegan ice cream, which can be really cost effective if you consume it en masse like I do come summer. (Please note the four - yes, FOUR - vegan ice cream cookbooks reviewed on Ice Cream Paradise.) Ice cream making is really fun and easy to play with, and even "botched" ice cream is never REALLY botched. If you've never considered it, I suggest you keep your eyes peeled for an ice cream maker at the thrift store and give it a shot. Then throw an ice cream party and make everyone bring an ingredient or topping. If you only plan on making one homemade ice cream, have people bring pints, too. No matter how you do it, it's wins all around. Am I right?

Spend some quality time with my gritty kitty.
I live in a dorm right now because my scholarship covers it, so my cat and I have been estranged - a strain I don't think anyone that doesn't know me or my cat personally would understand. We are paper and glue: you tear us apart, and while we'll always have pieces of each other wherever we go, it's a sticky, scrappy mess. Tooters McStinklebottom III is my world. In an ideal world, there would be no domesticated animals, and while we can try to spay and neuter the cycle out of repeating itself, it doesn't solve what to do with the animals that are already here. I don't believe you can "own" an animal but merely act as its caretaker, a parent figure, and adopting an animal is as grave a commitment as adopting a child. You can't abandon a child, but I feel like I've abandoned my Toots, and that kills me all the time. I know it kills him, too, because he clung to me desperately when I got into town. Apparently, it was one of the first times he's purred since I left, even though he has absolutely wonderful people looking after him. I'm so excited to be spending time with my little boy.

Now, a lot of people take their animals for granted - especially if they conceive of them as "pets" instead of creatures they co-habitate with. Really, they're just friends in a different form, and they need appreciation and treats like everyone else. When the weather gets nice, I take my cat on picnics. I suit him up in a little harness and leash, and then we walk around the park. We'll definitely be picnicking together soon, but I'm going to plan it around some of his favorite vegan eats (which include: nutritional yeast, cheerios, fake cheese, soymilk, flax waffles...). My cat's not vegan because, based on my research, it's not healthy to raise a vegan cat. However, did you know dogs are easily raised vegan?

Enjoy zany vegan novelty foods.
I never fully appreciate the grocery stores here until I'm out of town. In Savannah, we have an assortment of Kroger's, some Piggly Wigglies, a few mega-stores with grocery-ish sections, and one health food store. The health food store rules - in part because one of the managers is a Cincinnati native I hadn't seen in five years, but also because it's got some choice items I'd been dying to try but could only find online (like Teese). However, it suffers the same drawback that every health food store does, in that it's really expensive, and it still doesn't offer all the comforts of home.

Grocery shopping in Georgia just isn't the same as grocery shopping in Cincinnati because in Cincinnati, grocery shopping is an EXPERIENCE. I can think of five health food stores off the top of my head, and most of our normal grocery stores have great natural and "international" foods sections. Plus, we have two Whole Foods, a Trader Joes, and this place called Jungle Jim's, which is an amusement park that got converted to an international grocery store. In addition to a phenomenal and incredibly vegan-friendly inventory, Jungle Jim's has animatronic lions dressed up like Elvis and weird displays of the General Mills icons. They've been trying to get a monorail through the store for years, and every year, I choose to believe that dream is a little closer to a reality. This place rules, and it's easily one of the best parts about eating in Cincinati.

Cincinnati has a crazy-cheap cost of living, so you can get more goofy vegan stuff for less, plus lots of unusual ingredients like durian fruit. My big indulgence so far has been an assortment of sausages from Field Roast, which is some of the best vegan "meat" I've ever had. (It's got a meat-y quality without outright masquerading as meat, but that's another post entirely.) I've got a lot on my horizon, including Rice Dream's new vegan cheese singles, so be expecting some reviews. Also, I think a potluck is in my future, no?

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