As a rule, I am a nature lover. I dream of traveling to the Sahara to see the zebras and lions (maybe not both at once). While I’m here in my own neighborhood, I enjoy catching glimpses of the thriving animal community that co-exists with us humans. For example, recently I managed to get these shots of a hummingbird outside an obscure window in my kitchen:
I know they’re not the best pictures ever of a hummingbird, but pretty good considering I’ve NEVER once even come close to capturing a hummingbird on camera. It’s like the gorgeous birds can sense when I’m about to take out my camera. And just like celebrities, they are loath to have their picture taken by the paparazzi.
Some animals are frankly not as cute and appealing as a hummingbird. For example: insects. If I’m ever out in the middle of the Sahara observing the silent lion stalking his prey, preparing for the kill, I will crouch behind the tall grass, mesmerized. If at that moment a spider or mosquito should happen to find itself on my skin, that will be the point at which I’ll start screaming like a little girl.
Insects are pests, with which it can be hard to co-exist. Another animal that can be pesky are squirrels. I know, I know, they’re all cute and cuddly-looking, but underneath that clever little furry disguise is a calculating little brain and a strong determination to conquer all who do not immediately bend at the will of the fluffy rascal.
I’m sure at some point you’ve been in a zoo or someplace, just walking around in the sun minding your own business and munching on popcorn. Wait – this is a health site, so let’s say your indulgence of choice at the zoo was a baggie of glazed almonds. So you walk along, looking at the sea otters and tapirs and crunching on your sugar-coated almonds, when a little ball of adorable honey-colored fluff crosses your path. It’s a squirrel, so naturally you and everyone around you goes “awww,” and he takes advantage of your weakness by gazing up at you with big, shiny eyes. He seems to be begging you for just a taste of your glazed almonds. And who could resist such a cute creature? He must be desperate to approach a human so boldly. So what do you do but reward him with a handful of glazed almonds, placed on the ground in front of him. He snatches them up gratefully in his adorable little paws and scampers towards the nearest tree.
Most people would forget about the squirrel at this point, and go on with their zoo excursion. After seeing the hippos and popping a few more almonds in your mouth, the same squirrel you encountered previously runs down a tree trunk to meet you. You are really hungry and don’t feel like handing over any more of your almonds. So you say, “see you around, little fella,” and begin walking past him. But he continues running around your feet, obstructing your path, chattering noisily and looking at you so expectantly that you feel forced to drop a couple almonds for him.
Now there is a chorus of chattering from the trees. You survey the deserted zooscape to find you are surrounded by squirrels. They’re everywhere: in the trees, on the ground, running across the cage fences to approach you, no fear or manners. The little guy you fed liked your service, so he invited all his buddies to your restaurant. Oh well, you sigh to yourself. I guess I’ll just fork over the rest of my over-priced almonds. But there aren’t enough almonds in the baggie to feed the hundreds upon hundreds of squirrels that now surround you, climbing over one another, trying to push towards you first. There is no choice but to surrender the bag of almonds and run for your life.
And what will happen to the squirrels when they have squabbled over and consumed the last glazed almond? They will hunt you down and make you buy them a million bags of glazed almonds.
Okay, so maybe squirrels aren’t that that bad. They aren’t demons, for heaven’s sake. But they can get aggressive when they get used to being fed by humans. I’ve seen numerous people feeding squirrels in parks, zoos, etcetera. And I’ve also had squirrels come right up to me and try to intimidate me into feeding them. Just a couple days ago I was eating some peanut butter chocolate granola in my backyard, and a squirrel sat on the fence and looked at me with an expression of cold calculation… how much of a softie is this human? Will it hand over the peanuts? I didn’t, but the whole time the squirrel kept creeping closer and staring at me…
A few days later I saw a squirrel – possibly the same individual – outside my kitchen window. It came very close to the window and looked at me with that same determined expression of conquest, of demand on his face. He munched an acorn, staring intensely at me as if to demand more. I’m not one of those people who’s paranoid about squirrels…at least, I never have been, but if they continue to invade my property I may have to get a restraining order.
Seriously, the moral of this story = animals are awesome, but don’t feed them. Especially not wild squirrels.
I made these vegan vanilla berry mini loaves a few days ago. They turned out great! The vanilla flavor is present but not overbearing, and the berries provide a lovely succulent tartness. For added texture and nutrition, I topped the mini loaves with sliced almonds. But those nutty squirrels will just have to watch through the window as I devour all the almonds myself. I wish them luck in their travels to find their own acorn tree. But I do draw a certain line between being close to nature, and being TOO close. And when nature is mooching off my baking, it’s time to establish clearer boundaries.
I assume at least 99% of individuals reading this are human. If you are a squirrel and make your living off of other peoples’ food, I apologize for any offense I have caused you. Whatever species you are, I encourage you to make these vanilla berry almond loaves. They will please both your taste buds and your body! (Assuming you are a species that can eat almonds.)
Berries are always a great addition to recipes, as they are a nutritional powerhouse. Packed with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and other nutrients, they are also low-calorie (they’re mostly water) and therefore a perfect burst of flavor with no sin in any recipe. Almonds are a good source of fiber, as well as healthy fats that help the body function properly. Does vanilla have any health benefits? I suppose not, but it sure does put some sweet flavor into every moist bite of these whole grain mini loaves. Did I mention they are also vegan-friendly? Really, there’s no reason not to preheat your oven and enjoy a baked treat with summer berries while you still can! (Unless, of course, you’re squirreling away a stash for winter.)