Archive for March, 2012

Vegan Pumpkin Muffins

A few years ago my godmother Annie moved up to Ashland, Oregon. I have always loved Ashland; it is a charming city just across the California border that is truly like nowhere else I have ever been. Ashland is famous for its Shakespeare Festival, and the entire town is centered on this. In the summer, people are decked out in Elizabethan costumes and roaming the streets before performances. It used to make me think the entire town was either a Renaissance Faire, the way England actually was, or just this really trippy throw back. All of this to say I have loved Ashland for a long time.

My time in this peculiar little town that seems in a world of its own started when my 8th grade class went for our graduation trip. We froze in the outdoor theater as we watched TAMING OF THE SHREW under the stars, we walked through Lithia Park, we went spelunking in the nearby Oregon Caves; it was our last days of grammar school. The next time I returned I was a Junior in High School, we saw a modern HAMLET scale scaffolding, listened to jazz at Southern Oregon University, and had a midnight pool party and got permanently kicked out of the hotel facilities; for a moment I had an idea what I thought lay ahead of me in college.

After returning from what I thought was a life-changing trip, I applied to a summer internship program for high school students between their junior and senior years at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I was 16 and I thought I had my life planned out, oh my god was I stupid, one couldn’t count the number of times I have thought I had my life planned out only to realize you can’t plan for life because it’s going to change a whole lot. But I was 16 and pretty crazy about Ashland. And very likely that is the path my life might have taken. It will always be the possible parallel universe for me and I’m pretty sure in that universe I go by my middle name of Sky and I probably eat millet.

But despite my enthusiasm I didn’t get into the high school program at Ashland Shakespeare Festival, and it crushed me. Despite my mother asking me to make other plans for that summer, I had banked on this one road and it came to a sudden end with a letter that said I was on the alternate list. I sulked in my room and felt certain they would regret not admitting me. At dinner that night my stepfather Charlie said something that has always stuck with me. It was a Tuesday night so it was just Charlie, my sister, and I around our weekly meal of hot dogs, beans, and carrots and cucumber that Charlie called “salad”. Charlie looked up from his Hebrew National and said, “Hey Ra I am really sorry you didn’t get in…” I felt so close to him in that instant, and then he continued, “I never got rejected from anything in my life…” I wanted to kill him in this instant (I was 16 after all) and then he continued, “But I think it is better that you tried and didn’t get in, than me never having tried.” And then a silence sliced the table as he took a bite of “salad”; I knew it was important what he said. I knew he was right. I knew it SUCKED to get that letter and I knew I wouldn’t get asked up to Ashland that summer, but I also knew the world was bigger than this, and my life would grow to meet the world in size.

As it turned out that summer I broke my foot. I wouldn’t have been able to go to Ashland in the end anyway. My dad found a great theater program that I continued in for the next year and a half through when I left for college. I didn’t apply to Southern Oregon University, I thought if I am going to leave home go for it, shake this town and try for the Big Apple, or slightly north by about 45 min.

This is all a very long story to say it had been years since I had been to Ashland when Annie moved up there but I was excited to return. The town hasn’t changed much, the Youth Hostile I stayed at in 8th grade is still there with their porch swing, the motel where we got kicked out of the pool is still open for business in the summer months, the people in Elizabethan garb still gathering on the street. I was happy to return and be reassured by the dependability of this city to charm me and to stay true so much later down the path. And I was happy to know with half a life perspective that not getting in was probably a good thing for me.

One of our first days on that trip before heading to a Tashi Choling Center for Buddhist Studies (where I took the photos in this post), we stopped in one of the cute cafes along Main Street. They had these vegan pumpkin muffins with their domes covered in pumpkin seeds, I couldn’t say no and I am glad I didn’t. Ever since that trip I have made Vegan Pumpkin Muffins at home and thought of Annie, Ashland, and the road not taken. Recently I have spiked up the “alternate universe” play with these and adapted the recipe to include (no not millet) but whole grain spelt flour along with regular flour; I also decrease the sugar and split the sugar with a little agave. Trust me they are delicious!!

I am glad my life has taken many of the turns it has, and I am glad each time I return to Ashland and think about the other ways my life could have played out.

I hope you enjoy these muffins (don’t let the healthy stuff scare you they are great!). I hope you find that you are able to visit the roads not taken. I hope you take many chances in life, and I hope there are only a few rejection letters; here I have to remind myself these too are necessary.

~ Ramona


1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat spelt flour
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch ground cloves
1 cup pureed pumpkin (Fresh or from a can but be careful not to use pumpkin pie mix)
½ cup soy milk (you could also use almond milk – or make them non vegan and use regular milk)
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon light agave
Raw unsalted pumpkin seeds


Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a twelve-muffin tin.

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices.

In a separate bowl, whisk together pumpkin, soymilk, oil, and agave.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix.

Fill the muffin cups two-thirds full. Sprinkle a few pumpkin seeds on each muffin.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.


03 2012

Lupine Laced Memories of New Zealand’s Southern Island

This is a bit of a throw back blog post from a trip I took to New Zealand’s South Island a few years ago. For me it is a splendid way to look back at my dog eared, highlighted Lonely Planet, the notes I took, the memories I jotted on daily post cards to myself, and countless photos that I too often find myself transported by. The reason for the post now is because I am missing the road, and more importantly my friend Carol is about to take a trip to this remarkable country. So sit back, pour yourself a glass of pinot noir, and I hope you enjoy these meanderings through all things I love NZ!

It is hard to remember or imagine New Zealand without one single word—Lupine! It was the first thing that fully took my breath away and continued to mesmerize me for the rest of the time there. As a child, a favorite book in our house was MISS RUMPHIUS Story and Pictures by Barbara Cooney. It is a delightful tale of Miss Rumphius who as a young girl promises her grandfather that when she grows up she will travel the world, and then find a little cottage by the sea; her grandfather adds that she should also ‘do something to make this world more beautiful’. Miss Rumphius does travel the world and she does settle by the sea and the joy of the book is in how she makes the world more beautiful. Illustrated in stunning water colors many of the pages hold brilliant images of lupine in the brightest shades of blushing pink, vivid violet, periwinkle, and forget me not blue. Our family loved Miss Rumphius, also known as the Lupine Lady! New Zealand felt like slipping somehow into a childhood fantasy fairy tale, though finding myself awake.

We had no definite plans on arriving, we actually had no plans, causing me some fear upon departure but being assured by many that New Zealand is the place to just show up and it will move you. The land takes precedence and it shows you the way, it wanders from snow-capped mountains to lush rain forest, from dramatic sea cliffs to glaciers all within a few hours drive of each other.

We woke up our first morning to a breathtaking double rainbow over Christchurch and then started our adventure heading towards the South Canterbury region. It didn’t take long to discover that one word Lupine, growing everywhere wild and free and in countless shades I had seen painted in tender watercolor only more vivacious when alive. We made Lake Tekapo with its crystal turquoise waters framed by the Southern Alps our first stop. We hiked up Mount John to take in expansive vistas of beauty stretching into distant views of more beauty. We dipped into hot pools nestled beneath native trees as the sun set at Alpine Springs & Spa. And here is the one travel advisory to most of New Zealand but especially smaller towns like Lake Takepo; when they say closing hours they mean it. Dinner service was noted in our books as ending at 9PM, when we tried to get a seat for dinner at 8:30PM we were turned away (it’s not New York down there). Don’t fret, we had lovely leftovers from our farmers market lunch, dining al fresco on baguette and honey (ohhhhhhhhh that HONEY, eat a lot of this), along with a bottle of wine and some strange pink dessert that resembled a hostess snowball, under a phosphorescent full moon and the Southern Cross in the skies.

After winding and winning our way through the vineyards of Central Otago, pinot yes please! We settled for the next few days in Queenstown.

Queenstown is a city one has to see to believe, you probably have seen it in any number of movies, but to believe it you have to sit by Lake Wanaka, partake in some adventures (it is the adrenaline capital of the world), and marvel at the views from atop one of the many peaks that surround this wonder of a city. The city is welcoming and has the charm and feel of a small town while having all of the offerings of urban center! For us the days were filled with paragliding off of Coronet peak, slowly circling the craggy cliffs and kicking my feet at the tops of high trees while staring down at butterflies quietly shaking their wings in slants of sunlight. There wasn’t enough heart pulsing activities for us so we also took the plunge at Nevis Arc (remember the video here). If you happen to find yourself in Queenstown, and I hope you do, here are a few things to certainly keep in mind and check out. We stayed at Coronation Lodge and loved it, overlooking the Queenstown Gardens and a close walk to the center of town. We had our own kitchen and could sit on a charming veranda and look out over green trees silhouetted by mountains, and blue skies. Patagonia Chocolates has amazing Ice Cream to be savored while walking along Lake Wanaka or sitting beside its shores and pinching yourself because you will be pretty certain this has to be some kind of a dream. And then there is the one thing I still yearn for—Fergburger. I still ask if we can make a return trip to NZ just so we can drop into this spot, yes it is that good. There will be a line, it is worth it for a juicy delicious bite along with a glass of wine or beer, and everything will just melt away with the grease that will inevitably be lingering on your fingers, that is of course until you lick each and every one of them.

We dove deeper into the natural wonder of what was unfurling before us, nature in its biggest most bold and declaring grandeur. We drove through Fiordland, walked among what seemed like prehistoric greenery, and then were hit with the full impact of Milford Sound! Opening out to the Tasman Sea and almost seeming to grow from the depths of the very ocean is the cliffs that stud and comprise the Milford Sound. Waterfalls cascading, trees growing inconceivably in every form, sheer cliffs, the distant sound of waves beyond the narrow opening, birds careening and calling that this is spectacular; such are the views on a clear day at the edge of the greatest natural beauty I can easily recall.

With our limbs stretched from adventure and our eyes popping from the seemingly endless views of nature we continued our journey heading towards the west coast and the glaciers. The west coast feels like some magical far flung place in another time. We made the small and quaint town of Franz Josef our home base for the next leg of our trip. We hiked the base of Franz Josef glacier and jumped over rivers that crash into the not so distant rugged Tasman Sea. As the mist rolled out over mountains we ate fish and chips from newspaper the way it is meant to be enjoyed. And then the crowning moment of the trip, what has remained perhaps one of the most splendid moments of my travel days – we kayaked across Lake Mapourika and through a pristine rain forest at dusk. There is a photo our guide took as we paddled back to land, – it appears as if in silhouette the mountains with the evening clouds slowly descending and a line of trees by the shore, if you look closely along the still water there is a group of kayakers. At the time I wasn’t aware a photo had been taken, but I remember that moment perfectly. It was one of the last nights on the trip I remember pausing alone in my kayack across this view and knowing with unwavering certainty that there was great wonder to be had in this world. I remember the fading light in this twilight scene, the cool air, and silently thanking a million things that had brought me to this place. I have gone back to this photo countless times and it brings up those feelings instantaneously. It was nothing short of magic. New Zealand is full of that – magic and nature and moments of reverie.

At a café one day we came across a small quote by Shakespeare, “One touch of nature makes the world kin.” If lupine is the image I keep of this incredible, diverse, stunning land than this is the phrase. Something was unlocked within me in New Zealand, just what remains to be seen; but I know that I returned a different person then I left. It is unassuming yet more powerful than it takes credit for. The nature is mind blowing, the people are the friendliest you could ever meet, and in everything that New Zealand reveals in its views and unannounced grandeur it is forever a place where I will return in my mind and be grateful for the moments of grace that I found myself a part of there.

Have a great trip Carol, I wish I was going with you. Dip your fingers, some bread, a slice of apple, anything you can find into the honey, bring a lot of memory for your camera, and know that this place stays with you in your dreams and in your imagination forever.



PS – if you would like to kayak as we did on the lake in Franz Josef we used Glacier Country Tours & Kayaks


03 2012