My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant


Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ringing out the Old....

I like to tidy up loose ends as an old year wraps up, so here are a few recent photographic and anecdotal stragglers I haven't had time to post but wanted to share before we find ourselves in 2012, distracted with trying to remember to write the new year on our checks. :-)
My Merry Muffin Misadventure


First is the story of my biggest kitchen debacle ever (not that I have many, honest!) As you know from reading my previous post, the holiday season was a struggle this year between having the flu and BW's atrocious work schedule. My friend Robyn and I always get together shortly before Christmas to have lunch and enjoy our gift exchange, and this year we'd decided to order take-out Chinese (our local Chinese bistro makes some slammin' vegan dishes!) and have our get-together on the 23rd here at Dragonfly Cottage, which Robyn hadn't seen since we were still in the throes of moving in. Then I got (and stayed) sick. Then Robyn's husband Jesse broke his wrist and had to have surgery and a metal plate installed. So we decided to postpone our get-together till after Christmas. But as the 23rd progressed, I was feeling better and had cleaned house so Robyn and I decided to see how it was going that afternoon and maybe stick with our original plan, but left it open-ended. When I hadn't heard from her by about 4:30, I decided to bake a batch of Hearty Spiced Cocoa Muffins for BW to enjoy when he got home. But then Robyn called to say she and Jess were picking up the Chinese food and would be here in half an hour, and since I'd already started mixing some of the liquid ingredients, I thought heck, I'll just forge ahead. It's an easy recipe, I've made it many times before, it won't take long, and we'll have the muffins for dessert. Simple! No sweat! Step aside, Martha Stewart!

But alas, I'm a cook who just doesn't function well if I feel rushed or distracted, and suddenly I was both. The muffin recipe calls for a cup of non-dairy milk, and I like to use 1/2 cup of vanilla and 1/2 cup of chocolate soy or almond milk. I'd already measured and added the chocolate milk to some other liquid ingredients, and had just shaken and pulled off the little plastic sealing thingy (under the twist cap) on a brand new half gallon container of the vanilla almond milk, but hadn't poured and measured it yet, when Robyn called. So when we hung up and I resumed my muffin-making, somehow I managed to completely forget that I'd already shaken and opened the container. I'm sure you're ahead of me by now - gave that container a good shake and ended up with almond milk in my face and hair, saturating my apron, sweater sleeves and even the t-shirt beneath, dripping down the front of the cupboards and dishwasher, and in widening puddles on the floor. I was aghast. But what was there to do but rinse out my hair as best I could, change my clothes, wipe up the mess, and proceed... now in a bigger hurry than before.

So I made it through the liquids without further incident and started combining the dry ingredients, which includes 1/2 cup of sucanat. To save time, I poured the sucanat from the container in which we store it into the measuring cup instead of spooning it in. Normally this works fine, but I didn't realize there were two fist-sized lumps of sucanat lurking just beneath the innocently powdery surface, and they hit that nearly full 1/2 cup measuring device like a pair of massive meteors slamming into a lake. Sucanat covered every surface I'd just cleaned (except my hair). Through tears of frustration now, I cleaned up THAT mess, and after pausing to turn on all our little lamps and Christmas lights (no small task), feed the dogs and supervise them while they went out front for their post-dinner constitutionals (the back yard being too muddy), I resumed my muffin project. Because really, what else could possibly go wrong?

I was very careful and precise in measuring the spices, given how it had been going thus far. Didn't want to confuse my baking soda with my baking powder, or my cayenne with my cinnamon! I made it to the end of the recipe in fine shape, but noticed the batter was soupier than I remembered it being from previous times. So I figured I must have just added a bit too much almond milk, and added a couple of teaspoons of flour to compensate. But it made little difference. I also noticed the batter was pale - more khaki than dark, chocolatey brown like it should have been. This I attributed to using chocolate almond rather than chocolate soy milk. Ignoring all the red flags and klaxons, I spooned the pale and soggy batter into my silicone muffin cups, sprinkled some demerara sugar on the tops, and was placing the tray in the oven when it finally hit me. I'd failed to add the six tablespoons of cocoa powder!


I actually stood there for a few precious minutes, trying to calculate how they might taste without it (concluding that since "cocoa" is actually part of this muffin recipe's name, it was probably a key ingredient), how the hell I was supposed to add it now, how much time I could possibly have remaining before Robyn and Jesse showed up with gifts and Chinese food, and whether I would be ahead to just dump everything in the garbage and pretend it never happened. But being even more loath to waste ingredients than I am to have to gag down a baking failure, I scraped the batter out of the muffin cups and back into the mixing bowl, gamely added and thoroughly stirred in the cocoa powder (ignoring that it's supposed to be sifted with the other dry ingredients and then have the pre-mixed liquid ones stirred in "just until mixed"), refilled the muffin cups, and with hope in my heart and perspiration (and a little vanilla almond milk I'd missed) on my brow, popped them back into the oven, all before Robyn and Jesse showed up.

Unfortunately, the Baking Gremlins weren't through toying with me yet. This kitchen has a fancy, high-tech double oven, and its timer is programmed using super-sensitive soft-touch buttons. An errant touch, easily and unwittingly made, converts the timer from minutes and seconds to hours and minutes. I really don't have to tell you at this point, do I, that I'd set the timer for 15 hours rather than 15 minutes without realizing it. Distracted by Robyn and Jesse's arrival and house tour and serving up the Chinese food and pouring wine, it occurred to me at some unknown point later that I'd never heard the timer go off. It was a Christmas miracle that they weren't burnt to a cinder. In fact, they weren't burnt at all, but in addition to being over-stirred (and downright man-handled), they were now quite overbaked. I took them out, expecting them to turn into little brown rocks as they cooled. But we all tried them and they were not only edible, they tasted very good and their texture really wasn't bad! So though I wouldn't recommend following my unorthodox techniques from that evening, I do highly recommend this recipe as not only delicious and (as sweets go) healthy, but also bordering on saintly for its phenomenal capacity to forgive!


The Loot

BW and I didn't exchange gifts or get ourselves anything for Christmas this year, but we enjoyed an abundance of goodies to unwrap and enjoy thanks to the generosity of my friends and several of his customers! Here are a few highlights... You've already seen a photo of the entire string of pretty paper hearts from Barbara in my last post, but here's an artsy closeup I took of one of the bigger hearts...


I don't have a photo of it, but Joanne (aka AdventureJo) gave me this wonderful digital photo frame, and just as soon as my tech-challenged Amish self figures out how to load my favorite photos onto it, I'm going to have some wicked fun with that! :-)

And Rose gave me a tin of Remedy Teas Orange Krush (which I have really been enjoying, and has me convinced I am now a Remedy Teas junkie), and two bars of delightful Hugo Naturals seasonal soaps: the lovely peppermint candy cane and cinnamon spice poinsettia, which are too pretty to use and smell good enough to eat! I love how Rose's thoughtful gifts always introduce me to wonderful products.

From my longtime friends Paul and Marsha (real names: Spud and CG ~ which stands for "Candle Girl," earned when she once propped her stockinged feet up on the coffee table too close to a candle and caught her sock on fire and has never lived it down) came this beautiful (and heavy!) wolf hologram crystal, a wonderful surprise!
I've loved wolves since I was a little girl,
collecting pictures of them for a scrapbook I still cherish.
Since then I've been lucky to know several wolves personally.
In the wild their plight is dire, their future in peril.
Please take a moment to help endangered native wolves
in my state of Wyoming and neighboring Montana!

One of my gifts from Robyn was a set of three large ornaments in the shapes of a gingerbread man, snowman and stocking. But I didn't put them on our Christmas tree because they're for the birds. Literally. :-) Made of a variety of bird seeds and dried fruits, I've hung two of them from our juniper and poplar trees and am saving the third for later this winter...
A seedy guy hanging around in the juniper

The stocking was hung from the poplar with care
in hopes that the chickadees soon would be there!

The Wild Critters


Okay, we didn't see Tigger (but check out Barbara's snow leopards!), but we had some bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun-fun-fun-fun-fun wildlife sightings lately! On Christmas Day, BW and I took the dogs for a walk along one of our favorite sections of the walking path network, very near Dragonfly Cottage, which we call "The Apple Orchard Trail" because it passes by an area with several bountiful apple trees. Regrettably, I didn't take my camera with me that day but here's a photo of a section of that trail that I took in October...

We had it all to ourselves that late Christmas afternoon, except for all the wildlife that showed up to make merry! First was a herd of about two dozen mule deer, running hellbent across a very steep, open section of the opposite hillside. At first we thought something was chasing them, but quickly realized they were just playing! They chased each other in varying groups down the hillside to the creek, then back up to the top, then back and forth across it, bounding like impalas (as muleys are wont to do), and clearly having a jolly time! We all really enjoyed watching them till their play date wound down. We'd no sooner turned and started hiking back home when Josie alerted on something across the creek, which turned out to be a gorgeous male pheasant, strutting his colorful self among the trees and brush. After admiring him for a few minutes, we set out for home again only to be stopped in our tracks by an adorable little otter, frisking along the opposite creek bank! We watched him play until he splashed into the creek and vanished. BW thinks his den was under there somewhere. I've never seen a wild otter before and had no idea there were any in this area! It was an amazing little stretch of abundant frolicking wildlife and one of the best Christmas presents the Universe could have given us! Only thing that would have made it better is if yours truly had brought her *&$# camera! I'll be revisiting the spot where we saw the otter as often as possible, with my camera, in case he does encore performances!

Here's one wildlife photo I did get, earlier today when the first chickadee finally discovered the gingerbread seed ornament!

A Message from the Universe


And finally, and speaking of gifts from the Universe, comes this wonderful way to bid farewell to 2011 and greet 2012. Thursday morning was rainy and windy but by afternoon the rain had stopped. It continued to be windy and chilly, though, so the dogs were contentedly snoozing on their Pooch Porch while I worked on my blog, when I heard our neighbors' dog bark followed by some woofs and boofs (which is something between a bark and a woof) from our girls. I looked out the front windows to see what they might be boofing at, but all I saw was a little girl of perhaps 8 or 9, wandering rather aimlessly with a little black dog in tow across a couple of vacant lots on the other side of the walking path. Most people don't venture from the paved walking path like that so I figured that unconventional behavior is what inspired the boofing, and went back to what I'd been doing. A few minutes later I looked out to see if she was still there, but she and her dog were nearly out of sight down the path to Whitney Commons by then. And that's when I noticed that the door on our old mailbox, no longer in use since the communal neighborhood mailboxes were installed early last month, was hanging open. When I stepped out to go close it, I looked down and saw a piece of green construction paper, rolled up like a scroll and tied with a piece of pink yarn, sitting on our top front step. I closed the mailbox, brought the scroll in and opened it. I don't know if it was the wandering girl who left it, but it's had me smiling ever since. And as we enter the new year, its sweet message is worth passing along to each of you...

:-)

And have a very


Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on,
with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.
~ Hal Borland

17 comments:

  1. Oh. Wow. Where to start. That message you finished with (yes, I know I am going backwards) was magical, true and too easily forgotten. Your gifts from friends were obviously based on knowledge and love. I am so jealous of the otter sighting, and pleased about the forgiving muffins. I adore your bird feeders, and the scenery close to you is just breathtaking.
    I hope your New Year is full of magic and love.

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  2. An excellent and entertaining blogpost! Happy New Year to you!

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  3. What an utterly charming post! I love your Christmas kitchen disaster story...glad to hear the end result wasn't one; here's to your persistence in courage in the throes of muffin making gone wrong! This is totally random, but the photo of the woman in the burnt out kitchen reminds me of that episode of Bewitched where Uncle Arthur and Cousin Serena lose their powers and have to take a job making chocolate covered frozen bananas...remember that one? ....

    Told you it was random, but as such, it just popped into my head the minute I saw that photo!

    I adore that shot of the heart decoration with the Christmas window behind...so lovely, really sets a holiday scene. And all your lovely gifts! I love the bird seed decorations..."and the stockings were hung on the poplar with care..." very good!

    Your Christmas day walk sounds magical...sometimes it's best just to experience those moments without worrying about capturing them. Anyway, I'm sure you'll have many opportunities in the future to glimpse your woodland neighbors. I'd love to see the otter if you get a pic someday.

    Glad you like the tea and soap. I wanted to buy you more Naughty and Nice, but wasn't in the shops. The Orange Krush sounded so fun though...does it really evoke the memory of savoring a creamsicle?

    Finally, your last story is so touching! I love it. I'm sure the little girl left the note...what a lovely little soul. Something like that would pretty much make my day for a long time.

    Anyway, Happy Happy New Year to you and BW and all the gang at Dragonfly Cottage. Wishing you love and happiness in the new year.

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  4. Happy New Year! I don't know what to say about the muffin mayhem... I can't believe they tasted so good after all that - it was very funny though (well to anyone not directly involved it was). I admire your tenacity in the face of adversity!

    Thank you for the mention(and the ad for the snow leopards!). You're entirely welcome ref the hearts - they just screamed 'DRAGONFLY COTTAGE' at me (it's disturbing when inanimate objects yell at you in shops).

    I LOVE those bird feeders and have never seen their like before, what great gifts.

    You are so lucky to have seen all that wildlife - but I am shocked, dismayed and aghast (AGHAST I TELL YOU) that you didn't take your camera. Get back out there woman! We want to see the otters!

    And why doesn't the universe send me notes?!? I'm jealous!

    Am off to take photos of New Years Day in Stratford and have tasty nom. Have a great 2012 and thank you for making 2011 such fun xx

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  5. What a funny story about your kitchen mishaps. Your accompanying kitchen photo fit your situation perfectly. The funniest part for me was that you set the timer for 15 hours! Rather a "Lucy" day for you.

    White House Chronicles has a video on her blog. I copied the link for you so you wouldn't miss it. Here it is. I think you will appreciate the message. it follows the theme or your surprise scroll's message.

    http://youtu.be/nGeXdv-uPaw

    -- barbara

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  6. Ellie C ~ Can't blame you one bit for wanting to start with the Universe's message. :-) I thought you'd really like those bird feeders! You'd love Gardener's Supply, the company in Vermont where Robyn ordered them.

    Thank you for your New Year wishes! I wish you and your family a year of health, peace and happiness (and lots of fun birds in your yard but fewer spiders in your shower!) :-)

    Jeannelle ~ Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it and wish you a wonderful New Year in return!

    Rose ~ Thank you! :-) I don't recall that episode of Bewitched, but now I want to see it!

    So far I've only had time to visit the scene of our otter spotting with my camera once, and to no avail. But I plan to apply the same persistence to that task as I did to the muffins, and hopefully will get even better results! LOL

    It's been such a long time since I've had a Creamsicle that I'm probably not the best judge. But that's not what pops into my head when I drink the Orange Krush tea. I'd just describe it as a very delicate, smooth green tea with wonderful orange flavor. Maybe if I had it chilled, it would be more evocative of Creamsicles - and since we're supposed to hit the mid-50's later this week, I may just have a glass of it iced and let you know!

    I'm with you, I think the little girl was the messenger, and both her message and her generous actions have left an uplifting afterglow that has yet to dissipate. :-)

    I wish you and John all the very best in the New Year(s) (since I insist on including 2013, lol). May it be your best year ever!

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  7. Barbara (UK) ~ And Happy New Year to you as well! (What's left of it. LOL) I couldn't believe those muffins were even edible, never mind that good. Felt like I was working in an apocalyptic test kitchen or something!

    You're very welcome for the shout-outs, I hope my link to your Snow Leopards post generated some traffic, because those are really fabulous photos! I know what you mean about merchandise screaming at you sometimes (there was even a series of ads for some department store this Christmas featuring merchandise talking to shoppers, saying things like, "I'd be perfect for Aunt Flo!" "Don't forget the mailman!" Guess it's not just us, though that makes us no less unique and special. ;-)

    I know, I know! I promise if that otter reappears while I'm in the vicinity, I WILL have my camera with me and ready! I swear!

    A wonderful 2012 to you as well, and my thanks to you for the very same - may we evoke and share even more guffaws in the coming year! :-)

    Barbara (KY) ~ I thought that photo was pretty perfect too, except my husband wasn't there to console me! :-) And funny that you would mention "Lucy" because that's who occurred to me! Between Rose being reminded of a Bewitched episode and you and I thinking of Lucy, I guess I was having a true 1960s sitcom experience. How coolly retro of me! :-)

    Thank you for sending the video link, I haven't had a chance to look at it yet but will soon - you've piqued my curiosity! A very Happy New Year to you, Barbara!

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  8. 1960's comedy moment! LOL. Definitely.

    Here's the link to the funny part of the episode:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dduizDb1Jq8

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  9. I hope I have my timing right. Happy Birthday dear Laloofah. I know your birthday is the 3rd, but I frequently battle timing differences and lose. I hope you have a wonderful day and year, surrounded by love and the critters.

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  10. Rose ~ LOL! Thanks for sharing that link! I don't remember ever seeing that episode, and have no recollection of the Serena character. But I remember Uncle Arthur (and Paul Lynde, who always cracked me up on Hollywood Squares!) The scene where he just takes two fistfuls of those bananas and hurls them into the freezer made me truly LOL! That episode reminds me a lot of the Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory classic, and I saw that someone left a comment on that Bewitched video that they were directed by the same person.

    Ellie C ~ What a memory and what perfect timing! Thank you! Yes, today's the big day I celebrate the half-century mark (YIKES!) Thank you for remembering, and for your lovely, sweet wishes! (And I know what you mean about the difficulty of not only a time difference, but a date difference between us, which you overcame without a hiccup!) :-)

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  11. Barbara (KY) ~ I watched the video you sent and thought its critical and moving message was well presented (though also distressing, in contrast to the uplifting nature of the one left for me on my front step). Thank you for thinking of me and for sharing it.

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  12. I was certain your kitchen debacle would have a happy ending. You can bake for me any old time ;-). I'll even towel all the soy milk out of your hair...you're cleaning the floors and walls though ;-))).

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  13. Spud ~ LOL, thanks for your vote of confidence! :-) I've enjoyed nothing but baking successes since my debacle, yay. :-) Very kind of you to offer to towel off my sticky hair for me, and I can't blame you for wanting to get out of floor and wall scrubbing duty! Bribing you with a muffin probably wouldn't have helped either, would it. LOL

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  14. This is going to have to be a two-part (or even three part for me) because this is a LONG post.

    Today I got through the muffin misadventure and I must say that your description was so vivid that I think you got some vanilla almond milk on me! I feel very much like I was in that room with you. Having not one but two messes and then a third debaucle must have been the thing of tears for sure! I'm impressed indeed that the muffins still turned out so well and I agree that this says something quite positive about this recipe.

    P.S. I once forgot to add sugar to TWO pumpkin pies and didn't discover it until I put a knife in one of them to see if they were done. When I licked the knife, the horrible pumpkin spice mess gave me no doubt as to what ingredient I had missed. I am also loathe to waste anything (our new england upbringing?) and so I pulled that almost cooked filling out of both pies, mixed in the sugar and put the soupy mess back in the oven for another hour! They looked awful but actually edible. I also would not recommend doing it that way however!!

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  15. Jo ~ Sorry for my delayed response - I was planning to wait till you'd posted part 2 (or more) of your comment before replying, but since you never returned you must have been buried alive at work! Hopefully you'll return from you long weekend at Cranberry Lodge to a lighter workload. (A girl can dream, can't she?) :-)

    Tell you what, I WISH you'd been in the room with me during my muffin misadventure - I could have used an set of hands and an extra brain! Although - after reading about your pumpkin pie calamity, I'm not sure we'd have made a very impressive pair. :-) It may well be our New England upbringing that makes us do outlandish things to avoid throwing food away. Maybe it's because you spent far more years growing up in NE than I did, but I doubt even I would have tried to recover those pies the way you did! You win! We should host a worldwide "Craziest Thing You Ever Did in an Attempt to Recover a Really Screwed up Recipe" contest. You and your pumpkin pies would still win, though. :-) Thanks for sharing that story! Makes me feel better about my muffins. :-)

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  16. I'm sorry for the long delay, I was buried in work and missed three lunches in a row!

    Thanks for your kind words about the pie which I guess would seem crazy but I never thought twice about it! What does that say about me that I thought this was what any NORMAL person would do! LOL!!!

    My very favorite thing in your entire post has to be the note from the Universe. Whether from the little girl or another stranger - that was so awesome. Number one, because there's someone out there doing something like this and number two because they were wise enough to select you as the special person to receive it. I just love that story and I say ditto!! (Oh and I LOVE boofing - I know exactly what you mean by that sound!!)

    It was fun to read about all your loot. I especially liked to see the seedy guy and your "hung from the poplar" poem.

    It always seems that the best things happen when no camera is around and although I tell myself I should just enjoy the moment, I can't because I want to enjoy the moment now and later and that's what a camera can do.

    Speaking of cameras, mine is off to be serviced. 5 months and it's already crapped out so I'm not a huge fan of NIKON right now. It takes ONE picture and then I have to turn it off and turn it on and then it will take ONE picture. URRGGGHHHH!

    But I don't want to end on that unhappy note.

    Great job on this post - you did an amazing job of covering alot of material in this post and it was all fun!

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  17. Jo ~ No problem about the delay, and it's not like I've been posting up a storm and leaving you in the dust! :-) I'm sorry you had to miss three lunches in a row! Poo on that.

    LOL re: your thinking your attempt at pie recovery was a typical response!

    I KNEW the note from the Universe would be your favorite part of this post! And I thank you for your kind words about my worthiness! :-) I have it on the fridge, it's a sweet daily reminder - not just of the content of the note, but of the random kindness of strangers.

    Speaking of my loot, we are REALLY enjoying the digital frame you gave me! I have a ton of photos in it already, but need to add some more. It's really fun! And I feel the same way you do about why not having my camera with me when I see something special is frustrating. Plus, it pains me to miss out on good blog fodder! :-)

    Your camera is in the shop already?! Unacceptable! I hope they can fix it and you can enjoy many more years of trouble-free photo taking... especially when you're in New Zealand!

    Thank you for saying such nice things about this post, I'm really glad you enjoyed it!

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SOME CURRENT & RECENT READING...

SOME CURRENT & RECENT READING...

  • INFERNO ~ Dan Brown
  • MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD & EVIL ~ John Berendt
  • MY NOTORIOUS LIFE: A NOVEL ~ Kate Manning
  • ONE SUMMER: AMERICA, 1927 ~ Bill Bryson
  • QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN'T STOP TALKING ~ Susan Cain
  • THE BEAUTIFUL CIGAR GIRL ~ Daniel Stashower
  • THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY ~ Erik Larson
  • THE SHADOWS, KITH AND KIN ~ Joe R. Lansdale
  • THE TIPPING POINT ~ Malcolm Gladwell
There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"