“You look like you just had a massage”, he says when I return home after the 2+ hour bus ride, drop three overstuffed bags to the floor and then flop myself onto the couch.
If by massage he means a marathon 6 hour baking session, two nonstop days of bake sale activity, and fundraising party in the July heat and epic thunderstorms at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in Woodstock, NY, then that’s what we’re going to call it. I’m hard pressed to remember the last time I felt so relaxed; the feeling rivaled that actual massages long gone and unlike those the benefits have lasted not just hours or days, but far longer. Call it the joys of doing hard work for a good cause. Or chalk it up to not checking my email for 3 days. Whatever magical farm charm it was, I feel like a new woman after a weekend among the great people and animals of this little farm animal sanctuary.
Visiting a farm animal sanctuary reinvigorated my dedication to what I do and why I do it. Newly veggie-curious adults and kids (the event was uber kid friendly, including hula hoop lessons and a bouncy castle) should visit a sanctuary like the WFAS to nudge them further in the direction of good action and provide the kind of education that just can’t be gleaned from reading a book or browsing a website. However long time vegans feeling jaded, restless or disconnected (nearly unavoidable conditions sometime in this way of life) could benefit even further; I’m not afraid to call this a “life-changing” experience. “Life changing” doesn’t have to involve costly vacations across the globe, getting another degree or bungee jumping off the Empire States Building. It can be as quiet as petting a sleepy pig who’s life was never intended to span past 6 months or nuzzling a three-legged sheep as nimble and perceptive as any of his four legged piers.
This may come as a surprise, but this was my first visit ever to an sanctuary only for farm animals. My plans to attend WFAS’s Thanksliving event years ago was foiled by an out-of-the-blue flu, and from there general life business got in the way of re-scheduling a visit. I also wanted to be not just a tourist but to also of service, and when Jenny Brown of WFAS asked if I’d like to help out with their upcoming July Jamboree it seemed like the ideal excuse. My contribution were dozens of treats and manning the station for a bake sale, but even then I selfishly got big lungfuls of crisp country air and pursued the affections of the rescued chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats, sheep, ducks, and steer that call the WFAS home. I imagined going up there I would instantly bond with the chickens, but surprisingly the turkeys–spirited, independent and curious–stole my heart, along a few cookies from the bake sale table too.
As far as the bake sale, all of the goodies I made were from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. It was a pleasure to revisit recipes like the fabulous Deluxe Cocoa Brownies and Blueberry Crumb Bars (make ‘em both if you haven’t already!). My crafty favorite, Black & White Cookies, were the sleeper hit of the two day event. New Yorkers know a good thing when they see it, and homemade vegan B&W cookies are a thing to be snatched up in number; one woman alone went home with the four remaining cookies on Saturday. An emergency batch baked up for the next morning went like hotcakes too, or dropcakes (the technical definition of the cookie’s cakey base), in the instance of these legendary New York treats.
Part of the fun was boarding in the bones of the future WFAS b&b on the farm property. An ancient farmhouse under heavy renovation, it featured a brand new kitchen alongside bedrooms in various states of construction; Friday I baked, sliced and frosted with the back door open to the grassy green yard and front windows with a breathtaking view of a rambling forested hill. Late at night I curled up on an air mattress, reading in the chirping country dark by only the light of my Ipad. The following rainy Sunday morning those green hills peaked through blue slinking mists; an epic background to frost cookies to. It was like the best part of camping plus a full service kitchen; not “glamping” but something far better.
Monday morning I said goodbye with a few batches of muffins (plus a pan of brownies for late risers), inspired by the need to use up leftover ingredients from the bake sale. No Internet access meant I had to access the years of baking in my head, and from that I pulled together these fluffy bakery-style muffins with a crumbly topping of crunchy pecans and cinnamon. The last bag of frozen berries (leftovers from the blueberry crumb bars) went into these muffins, but fresh berries would be ideal now that it’s July.
These are a little rich if I was making them for just for myself, but they’re still considerably less sweet than anything you’d find in a bakery store. Overfilling the muffin cups will give you big, puffy bakery-style results. If using ungreased tins spray each cup generously with non-stick spray. Or if you prefer to use paper liners, give the insides of each liner a blast of nonstick spray too.
Pre-B&B Blueberry Pecan Struesel Muffins
makes 12 big muffins
Enjoy as is for a brunch treat, or wholesome it up for weekday breakfasts by replacing half the oil with applesauce, use whole wheat pastry flour and skip the topping (or just sprinkle muffins with a few chopped pecans for crunch).
1 cup of chopped pecans, divided
3 tablespoons softened Earth Balance margarine
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups plain soy milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
½ cup canola oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
½ cup sugar
2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (don’t thaw frozen berries)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously spray muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray, or line with paper liners and spray insides of liners with nonstick cooking spray. Make the topping first and set it aside: in a small bowl with a fork or pastry cutter blend together softened margarine, brown sugar and flour to form course crumbs. Blend in half of the chopped pecans.
Prepare the muffin batter. In a large measuring cup stir together soy milk and vinegar to curdle the milk. Whisk in canola oil, maple syrup, and sugar. In a large mixing bowl sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Form a well in the center of the ingredients and with a rubber spatula fold in the soy milk mixture; stir just enough to moisten all of the dry ingredients to form a thick batter. Sprinkle an extra tablespoon of flour over the berries and fold into the batter. Immediately scoop batter into muffin tins (an ice cream scoop is convenient), filling batter above the top of the tins. Sprinkle tops of muffins with pecan topping. Bake for 25-28 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a tall muffin comes out mostly clean; a few moist crumbs and berry juice is fine. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from tin and serve warm.