I’ve had the week off, but today was the first day when I felt like I could catch my breath. It’s been a busy, difficult week, and honestly, I needed a break. One of my favorte ways to relax is to cook something complicated. Today I chose an old favorite: seitan pot roast.

This is a long recipe because it comes together in many parts. If you don’t already have seitan made, you must make it. You must also prep all the vegetables, and cook them. Finally, there’s the matter of a sauce. An experienced cook can pull this together in about two hours, with plenty of down-time to check e-mail or write a letter. First go-round, though, might take a morning.

Start by making the seitan. I used Julie Hasson’s recipe from Vegan Diner, but did stovetop steaming instead of using a slow-cooker. Two fascinating notes about Julie’s recipe: she uses porcini powder and Marmite to give the seitan the perfect color and savory depth. I made porcini powder almost instantly by grinding some dried European mushroooms in my Vitamix. The Marmite I had on hand from a long-ago trip to the Buford Highway Farmers’ Market. The only thing I would change about the recipe is to add less salt – half a teaspoon will do.

For the roast, I consulted Robin Robertson’s recipe from The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook. It’s the first recipe in her “from the oven” section, and I love it. The prepared seitan gets rubbed with an olive oil-garlic-thyme mix and then soaked in red wine for at least an hour before getting browned in a skillet. Pot-roasted vegetables and seitan are combined and covered in a reduced red wine sauce. So amazing. Here it is, still in the roasting pot:

On the plate, with a salad by Nate:

It was so relaxing to get to spend a few hours putting this together. I love to cook and I miss having nearly unlimited free time to do it. One of my goals as I start my new full-time permanent job is to find a way to be able to cook elaborate, from-scratch meals on a regular basis. Even once a week would be better than nothing!

As if this amazing meal wasn’t enough, the mail arrived and it was stuffed with goodies:

Click the image to see a large version. A letter from my penpal Danielle! Bat stamps!! And my official Letter Writers Alliance membership documentation!!! Probably the best mail day I’ve had all year. Danielle is an extraordinary mail artist, and this is one of the finer specimens she’s shared with me. There’s a haiku on the back of the envelope (not pictured). Just perfect.

The bat stamps are special to me because I collected them when they were issued in 2002. I remember buying sheets of them and putting them on ALL of my mail. Nevermind the fact that virtually no one else found them as precious as I did – I was determined to share them with the world. I was reminded of these wonderful little stamps when I saw a picture of Donovan’s Halloween-themed stamps on her Instagram feed:

Photo source.

As soon as I saw this picture, I went on eBay and snagged a few sheets at only a dollar or so more than the original purchase price, and with free shipping – not bad! I am planning on sharing some with my favorite penpal and using most of the rest to mark my mail in October. They require nine more cents to be in date. Another fun fact: I also collected the carnivorous plants stamps, and used them nearly as avidly as the bats. What can I say? I have a heart for the eldritch.

I’m excited to join the Letter Writers Alliance for one obvious reason – I love mail and all things mail-related. Whenever I move someplace new, I always learn my post-person’s name within the first two weeks. I believe in the art of handwriting and enjoy sharing it with others. I’ve been collecting stamps for over a decade. I’ve been collecting stationery since I was about ten years old. Same goes with stickers. And I always send a thank-you note.

But one other reason I’m excited to be an official member is because I’ve always been fascinated with secret societies and niche interest groups. LWA doesn’t have that much mystery around it, but it’s enough to keep me intrigued. When I was in elementary school I formed exclusive clubs with ridiculous names for my besties, and when I was a bit older I published hand-drawn gossip zines that my middle school classmates just ate up. I like being part of a group that appreciates and promotes an art that most find obsolete.

And the day just got better. Nate and I spent the evening at Oakland Cemetery for the annual Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tour. From the website: Historic Oakland Cemetery receives many visitors each day, but only at Halloween do the gates stay open after dark. Witness the magnificent final resting place of Atlanta’s sons and daughters during the Capturing the Spirit of Oakland 2013 Halloween Tours. Join us this year and hear first-hand accounts about our city’s past, narrated by a host of Oakland’s eternal “residents.” You’ll also see gorgeous candlelit mausoleums in this one-of-a-kind annual tradition.

Have you ever done a city ghost tour? You know, local person takes you around to supposedly haunted spots and delves into the connection to the macabre? Similar thing at Oakland. Walk through the cemetery in the evening and learn about city history from actors in period dress. Only these performers were so spot-on that Nate and I actually felt like we were listening to dead people. Sounds crazy, but true! They did a great job. And the accents – oh, the accents!

Another thing: at first Nate I were bummed to have one of the earliest time slots – 5:45 – but it turned out to beperfect. The tour didn’t get started til around 6ish and we walked the entire thing at dusk. Whereas later tours explored the cemetery in the dark, we actually got to enjoy the grounds in the warm pink bath of the setting sun. It also made for better pictures! Here’s a selection of my favorites:

We had so much fun. If we’re in Atlanta this time next year, we’ll definitely be doing the tour again. Every year new “residents” are featured, so you never hear the same stories twice. I’m so glad we got to go. Twas a fitting end to a delightfully old-fashioned day.