Friday, December 11, 2015

NuVegan Café Macaroni and "Cheese"

I know I swore off macaroni reviewing, but today I want to break my silence and give a shout-out to my neighborhood NuVegan Café for really doing vegan macaroni right.

If you've ever eaten vegan cheese, you know it's a poor substitute for dairy-based cheese—usually squishy, slimy, and relatively flavorless. If given the choice of never eating cheese again or substituting vegan cheese for the rest of my life, I would choose to give cheese up. 

However, the vegan macaroni from NuVegan does not gross me out the way most vegan cheesy dishes do (in spite of its somewhat questionable appearance). The cheese, instead of being a stringy ooze, is crumbly and subtle. There's even a browned top layer with bits of parsley!

Another problem I have with vegan food is it is disproportionately high in onion content (onions being top on the list of foods I don't eat). For some reason, chefs seem to think, "If we can't have meat, and we can't have cheese, we must make up for it with more flavor! What's the most flavorful vegetable I can add to this dish? Onion!" However, in the case of the NuVegan macaroni, the extra flavor seems to come in the form of some kind of spice (maybe paprika?). Which is both interesting and not too painful (a common problem with spices).

I have been wrong about onion content before. I usually learn of my error a few minutes later when I start to feel really yucky after eating), but so far I have not had any adverse reaction to the NuVegan macaroni. It was a little mushy and I probably ate too much, but on the whole, it is hands-down the best vegan "cheese" dish I've ever eaten.

Cheese and onions are the two biggest obstacles between me and a vegan lifestyle. I'm not saying I'm about to jump on the vegan bandwagon, but if I'm ever ready to take a step in a more compassionate direction, I think I would start by removing mac & (dairy) cheese from my diet and replacing it with the dish from NuVegan Café!

I rate this macaroni...
One happy noodle for being the only vegan macaroni that every made me a happy noodle!

1 happy noodle

The Mood Noodle rating system is not based on a fixed scale, but is a much more subjective system based on what makes me happy and what makes me sad.
Any number of happy noodles and comparatively few sad noodles constitute a good rating.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bad Dog x 2

Behind that endearing face...
My boyfriend doesn't have a great track record of pleasing me when it comes to dogs. This time, he (bless his heart, don't strangle him, don't strangle him!) decided to adopt a rescue dog just a few weeks after we moved into our apartment. I had strong objections and tried to encourage him to wait until we were settled in a house again, but he ignored me.

Actually, it was a little amusing, because he kept trying to go to shelters to look at potential adoptees without me catching on. We were out on a shopping trip with a couple of friends when he started driving to this unknown location. "Where are we going?" we asked him. "Oh, there's just this thing I want to see." Turns out it was a pet store holding a dog adoption event. A week later, it was...He: "I have to go somewhere." Me: "Where?" He:"Just going somewhere with my mom." Me:"You're going to the animal shelter again, aren't you!" He:"..."

Well, despite my disapproval, he went anyway. And despite being told by the adoption agency that the dog in question (which he found online, making this into one of those bad Internet dating stories) doesn't like being alone, he decided it would be the perfect pet to spend 8 hours every day in an empty home. And despite knowing that the dog was used to being kept outdoors and wasn't well house trained, he was confident that he could teach the old dog new my home. Are we having deja vu yet?.

He planned to give the dog to his mom eventually, but our shared apartment was to be the training grounds where the beast (we'll call him Bubalou, because that's his name, as given by his previous owner) was to learn basic social skills (in the meantime, Jack Jack was relinquished to his mom temporarily since I did draw the line at one dog per household).

When he first arrived in our apartment, I had to admit he was cute. He was a puffball of fur and energy, and he had an adorable face with a wide-open smile.

Bubalou in his favorite position: Standing behind his favorite person. You can catch a glimpse of our housemate's dog hiding back there as well.
As soon as he was set loose, he began running around the place, panting, sniffing everything...and trotting into the kitchen to pee on the washing machine.

This uncivil first impression would have been bad enough on its own, but the substance that the dog emitted was like no urine I'd ever seen. It was brown. And it reeked to high heaven of something resembling mushrooms. I was so confused, I wasn't even sure he'd actually peed. But within a few minutes, he had done it again on the door to my bedroom. And within a few minutes more, he had vomited on the floor from overexcitement.

If I hadn't been certain before, I knew now that getting this dog had been a very bad idea.

The next day, while I went to work, Al stayed home to help the dog acclimate to his new environment, during which time he apparently imprinted on Al, becoming so attached that from that point on, he could not be out of Al's presence.

Staring adoringly at his true love

The next few days, we kept him in Jack Jack's crate (too small for him), from which he sprayed his urine all over the surrounding floor. After that, Al put an old shower curtain under the crate to protect the floor. Bubalou, in his fierce anxiety, managed to claw the shower curtain into the crate, and proceeded to chew it to pieces. Then Al purchased a heavy-duty tarp, which met the same fate. The neighbors left a note on our door claiming that our dog had been barking for hours, and could we please do something about it. I began to fear we would be evicted.

Meanwhile, Al took Bubalou to the vet, where we learned that he had a stone in his bladder the size of a marble, which explained the constant urination and brown color (old blood). To treat the urinary stone, Bubalou would have to be on a special, acidifying, diuretic dog food and not allowed to eat anything else until the stone had dissolved, which could take months. Let's read that again. Months. On a diuretic. This dog was destined to be peeing on an hourly basis for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately for me, when I first had the inkling that we might have to be moving into an apartment, I had made a deal with my boyfriend that if he wanted to bring his problem dog Jack Jack (who's actually a little angel compared to Bubalou) with us, instead of making him stay with his parents, he would have to be solely responsible for taking the dog out to go to the bathroom. And the same rules would apply regardless of who the dog was. So when Bubalou gets his midnight urges to empty his bladder, guess who has to crawl out of bed, put on his shoes and coat, grab his keys, and walk out to relieve the dog? Not me! That doesn't mean I enjoy getting woken up in the middle of every night (because I still do; it's kind of hard to ignore a frantic dog walking all over you); it's just a small consolation that things could be worse.

And at least I'm not bearing the financial burden of this dog. As soon as I learned about the bladder stone, I told Al this dog was way more than he had signed up for, and there would be no shame in returning him to the rescue home. After all, I had already decided that an apartment was no place even for a rabbit (let alone an incontinent anxiety-prone dog) and I had given Hansel up to a rescue family (that's right; the rabbit is gone).

But Al was more stubborn; he felt a sense of duty; and he has not yet learned the joys of spending a whole month's income on an ungrateful pet. But he will. The initial vet bill, even after pet insurance, was over 500 dollars.  His teeth need a deep cleaning, which will require anesthesia and big bucks. After the note from the neighbors, Al was forced to put Bubalou into doggy day care, for 35 dollars a day. The prescription dog food is 40 dollars a bag and lasts about 3 weeks. To help Bubalou overcome his separation anxiety and get properly toilet trained, Al had to hire a dog behaviorist at a cost of over a thousand dollars.

Al also invested in some stylish doggy diapers to keep Bubalou from flooding the condo and the office
(where he gets to spend the day when the boss is gone).
I will stop now, but I'm sure this story is far from over. Prepare yourselves now. In the book of Badly Behaved Dogs, Bubalou's chapter has just begun.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

'Ment to be apart

This weekend, I renewed my lease for another 3 months. Much to my disappointment. 
I so wanted to have found a permanent home by the end of December, but now it seems I'm stuck in my apartment until March at the earliest. Although I have definitely lived in worse places, I have come to realize that I never had it better than when I was living in a house. Apartment living is just not for me. 

Apartment living turns pet ownership from a pleasure to a major hassle. I actually relinquished my rabbit to a rescue home within the first few weeks of living in my apartment, because it was too difficult to feed him, exercise him, and especially keep his cage clean without convenient access to the outdoors and a good strong water hose. And that was just a caged rabbit! Can you imagine the trials of living in an apartment with a dog? Especially a neurotic dog? Well, if you can't imagine, I am about to tell a future post. For now, just suffice it to say that keeping a crazy, needy dog in an apartment is a tribulation of great proportions.

You know what else is a tribulation in an apartment? Keys. Want to get into your home? Be sure to grab your keys—first the keys that get you into the building, then the keys that get you into your unit. Want to get your mail? Be sure to grab your other keys, then wrestle your letters, wrinkled and crumpled, out of the tiny steel box they place them inside. Want to take out your garbage? Be ready to walk down several flights of stairs and out to the dumpsters...and don't forget to bring your keys! Forgot your keys? Got locked out because your door shut itself behind you when you ran out to catch your dog who was running away? Well, there's no hope of hiding a spare on the premises, so you'll have to call your boyfriend from a neighbor's phone and have him bring his key home from work.

Apartments are no place for a solar-powered being such as myself, because they only get 1/4 the natural light of a freestanding house! I never considered how much this would bother me until I moved in, but basically we get full sun for about 3 hours every morning. Even during those 3 hours, because the sun is only coming in one window, it doesn't even reach the back wall of the rooms. We have a triple-wide glass patio door, which keeps the living room acceptably well lit for most of the day, but even that patio is shaded by the patio above it, so we get half as much light in there as we might if we were on a top floor. Altogether this equals less happiness and higher electricity bills.

Apartment living also means that washing... anything other than yourself... is a major undertaking. In many apartments, doing laundry would mean paying several dollars for the privilege of using one of 3 machines that are shared among dozens of units. In our apartment, we're lucky enough to have our own washer and dryer...which are so tiny and inefficient at drying that one load of laundry (or what would have been one load at my old abode) takes 3-4 hours. Bonus! We do have a dishwasher, about which I have no complaints. But as for washing your car (something I've always done at home), you have no alternative but to pay for an automatic car wash to do a sub-par job, and if you want to vacuum, your only option is the gas station vacuum, with nozzles so big you can't get into any of the cracks.

Living in an apartment is also a terrible struggle for those who like to travel by bike. Most apartments do not have bike parking, so you must keep your bike in your unit. This chews up your available storage space like nothing else, and heaven help you if you live in a walk-up. You'll be getting plenty of exercise lugging your bike up the stairs, but you'll also be getting plenty of chain grease on your clothes and plenty of injuries wrestling it through all those doors (that require all those keys!)

Apartment living means you're never truly alone. Of course, we've taken on a roommate to help pay the bills, but even if we were alone in our unit, we'd have our neighbors upstairs and downstairs. The ceilings in our building are what I believe is commonly referred to in the construction industry as "weaksauce." I'm afraid to work out because 1) The floor is suspiciously springy and 2) I worry I'll be thundering on the tenants below us. The ceiling certainly transmits every footstep from the unit above. And I have actually heard conversations through the floor in my closet (though I could only make out a word or two).

Because moving forced me to re-evaluate my priorities, get rid of a lot of junk, and organize the junk that remained, having enough space really isn't as much of an issue as I thought it would be. But I still do miss my space-hogging collections—especially the extensive array of shipping supplies and things I planned to sell on eBay (and the extra income it brought in) and my eclectic collection of odds and ends for crafting. Whatever am I going to give people for Christmas if I can't make something from scratch?

Woe is me, to have sacrificed so much! But the one thing that I'm grateful for, in the midst of this less than delightful living situation of mine, is that I have finally answered a question that was weighing on me. Should I consider the possibility of buying a condo? Finally, I can say with confidence that I should not.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Going for Broke

I'm still not quite sure how it happened, but in the middle of the night a few Sundays ago, I hopped out of bed to turn off the heat and somehow landed, not on the sole of my foot as is right and proper, but on the tops of my left toes. My foot and ankle did an extreme backbend, and, finally registering that something was wrong but unable to recover from my awkward position, I relieved the pressure in the only way I could—by tumbling to the floor in a noisy heap (Good 3AM, downstairs neighbors!). I then proceeded to writhe around on the ground for a minute or two because of the pain!

Returning to bed (but only after hobbling over to the thermostat to finish what I'd started), I spent the rest of the night with my injured foot on a pillow, sleeping fitfully and dreaming of attending a fancy event where I had to crawl on my hands and knees in a beautiful dress because my foot would not support me.

In the morning, I soon learned my dreams had been quite premonitory, as I could not put any weight on my foot at all... But, fortunately I guess, I did not have any fancy events to attend. I borrowed my boyfriend's ankle brace and rapidly learned that I could get around the house by hopping on my hands and good foot like a three-legged rabbit. And as the day went on, never one to let a minor disability stand between me and watching a spectator sport (do you feel the sarcasm?), I accompanied my boyfriend to Applebee's to see the Ravens game, hopping about on one foot much to the puzzlement of citizens everywhere.

Over the next few days, my condition improved pretty rapidly. By Monday, I could hobble around on two feet again, and I limped to the doctor's office to confirm that my injury wasn't too serious. On Tuesday, I retired the ankle brace. On Wednesday, I realized my ankle was doing great, but my shoes were all pinching my bruised toes, so I cut a slice into my oldest pair of sneakers to give them a little more space. Soon I was able to walk normally, then get around in a standard un-mutilated shoe, then I re-learned to walk fast enough that I'm again overtaking all the pedestrians in my path! It was a big moment for me when, a week and a half after my accident, I wore a boot with a three-inch heel!

The joy was short-lived, though, because 2+ weeks later, I am still in pain! On Thanksgiving morning, I was poking around at my injury when I noticed my left fourth toe was a little puffy compared to the same toe on the other foot. I decided to pinpoint the problem by bending it up (not bad), bending it down (a little painful), and finally twisting it left and right. Ayoooooo! I felt a crunchy sort of resistance, almost like my toe was made of densely packed wet sand and I was slowly molding it into a new shape. Yuck! My newly aching toes refused to forget that stupid move for the remainder of the day.

Let me tell you, when I say this has been agony, I do not exaggerate. The proof is in the way I scream whenever I unexpectedly move my foot the wrong way. Of course, there is psychological agony, too...the inability to move faster than a off-kilter jog, which is seriously cramping my workout style...the torment of having 2/3 of my shoe collection off limits (including 4 brand new pairs that arrived in the mail the day after my injury!)....For all these indignities, I feel like I deserve some compensation, and that compensation is...yes! An injury upgrade!

I hereby declare I have broken my toe. Possibly both the fourth toe and the pinky toe. I probably won't be going to get them X-rayed, because I don't imagine that there's anything I can do about them even if they are broken (except maybe lay off the gratuitous twisting!), so I'll never know for sure, but I'm gonna claim it as truth.

Part of me is thrilled I finally have a real, crippling injury to call my own. I've reached an important milestone in life—getting to join the Broken Toe Club (I have met two people in the past day who had broken toe stories of their own to share), yet deep down inside, another part of me wishes I had acquired this trophy in a less ignominious way than falling out of bed.