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In the week or so following Christmas each year when I was a teenager, my church youth group loaded us up in buses and we went to Cohutta Springs, a camp/conference center situated on a horseshoe lake in the north Georgia mountains. It was simple, but nice:  hotel rooms overlooking the lake, a giant lodge common room with a fireplace that seemed always to be roaring, and across the lake, cabins for rent, a gym for playing in, and a boathouse with canoes and rowboats that could be taken out on the water, provided the lake wasn’t frozen on top.

There were temperamental horses for riding, trails for hiking, rocking chairs for sitting in, and a small gift shop that sold snacks, candies, and (because Cohutta Springs is a Christian retreat center) your usual Christian bookstore fare – t-shirts, motivational bookmarks, CDs, and devotional books.

The center was, and is, run by Seventh-Day Adventists. I grew up Southern Baptist, so I didn’t really know what Seventh-Day Adventist meant. But what I quickly found out was that on certain days, the center was vegetarian. This is important, and I’ll return to it, but first, I want to talk about Unsolved Mysteries.

During the summers, when I was a teenager, I had a very carefully selected daytime TV viewing schedule, to include Unsolved Mysteries at 10am and Rescue 911 at 11am. I watched both shows with rapt attention. Watching Rescue 911 taught me that if you hide out under a car that starts to back up, your leg can get sucked up into the under-carriage. I learned what carbon monoxide poisoning was. I learned how to apply pressure to wounds.

Even though the stories on Unsolved Mysteries were dated (as evidenced by the actors’ costumes), I studied the pictures of the suspects that they flashed on the screen, attempting to commit them to memory in case I encountered them somewhere and I could turn them in.

One year, at Cohutta Springs, for church camp, my sister, Lindsay, and I left the group to walk back around the lake, to the hotel, where we could get a Coke from the vending machine. We wrapped ourselves in blankets we brought from home, and we hiked through wooded areas, uphill, until we came to the main road.

What is it about walking around in the dark that makes us want to tell spooky stories? Why do we do that? It’s not at all helpful. It doesn’t inspire courage or level-headedness. But for whatever reason, I was telling story after story of tales I had seen on Unsolved Mysteries, ones about ghosts in the woods, spectral visions over lakes. My sister humored me. But as we turned out onto the paved road that would take us to the hotel and the sweet, cold can of Coke I wanted, I saw a van.

Now, on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries that I had recently watched, a young woman had been abducted by someone in a utility van, brutally assaulted, and left out on the raodside, dead. The van was later recovered, and her sock was found in it, but there was no evidence of who her attacker was.

But as sure as I sit here today, approaching us on the road ahead was a van that looked JUST LIKE THE ONE ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES. I grabbed my sister’s arm through the blankets and gasped. “OHMYGOD,” I said. “There was this episode of Unsolved Mysteries where this girl got kidnapped in a van just like that one.”

Lindsay shook it off. “That was years and years ago. It’s not the same van.”

She had a point. Decades had passed. We were probably safe. But as the van approached, it slowed to a stop. IT TOTALLY STOPPED. Incidentally, so did my breathing. I squeezed Lindsay’s arm harder as the driver’s side door opened and a man stepped part-way out of the van, wearing hunting camouflage.

“You girls all right?” It was my youth minister. I sighed with relief and willed my heart to beat normally again.

We assured him we were fine, and we continued on, but as we walked, Lindsay banned me from watching any more Unsolved Mysteries. I did more or less give it up after that, but if I catch reruns today, I still watch it, still with that dutiful sense of vigilance.

But some things stick with us. That sense of hyper-vigilance still plagues me today. (Ask my wife how many times I’ll ask her if we remembered to lock the door, close the garage, shut the windows, unplug the flat-iron, etc.) I haven’t outgrown it, but it manifests differently. I deal with adult fears, more concrete ones.

But remember the Seventh-Day Adventist vegetarian thing? So, yeah, back to that. On the days when Cohutta Springs went vegetarian, they served us veggie burgers. I came into the dining room, and friends told me it was veggie burger day. The name baffled me. How could you make a burger out of vegetables? How was this accomplished? It sounded dangerously like some kind of vegetarian meatloaf nonsense, and I, for one, was not having it. A friend flashed me a peek at the patty on her sandwich – I could see whole pieces of red bell pepper, and I shuddered.

I may not have outgrown my fears of the world/ghosts/intruders/kidnappers/utility vans/otherworldly occurrences/unlocked doors/faulty electricity/lying down under cars, but I did outgrow my fear of the veggie burger. After my friend Claire initiated me into the world of meatless burgers with her bean burger recipe, I began looking for recipes to experiment with.

On Memorial Day, we grilled out for the first time this season. Sweet corn on the cob, veggie burgers, the buns toasted to perfection on the grill, potato salad, and deviled eggs. And the veggie burgers were delicious. Made with grated carrots, black beans, almonds, sunflower kernels, rolled oats, and a few other items, they were sturdy, meaty, and oh-so-filling, not to mention delicious. I read online that one of the best veggie burgers around comes from the Whitewater Cooks cookbook, a recipe used by the chefs at the Whitewater Resort in British Columbia. Angela, of Oh She Glows, adapted it to a vegan recipe here, but I went with the original. If you’re a fan of veggie burgers, looking to outgrow some old childhood fears, or just interested in a Meatless Monday dish, I highly recommend this burger.

Veggie Burgers

Adapted slightly from Whitewater Cooks at Home

This burger does have quite a lot of steps, but it makes a TON of burgers (recipe says twelve, but I easily got 16 burgers out of it) – so plan your time wisely, set out your ingredients before you start, and try to stay ahead of the mess. Go ahead and prepare a few burgers fresh, and then stick the rest in the freezer for a quick weeknight dinner. I will say, I think it could use a touch fewer breadcrumbs, but you want to be able to easily form a patty that’s not too wet or falling apart. Use your best judgment; you can’t go wrong with following the recipe exactly as it’s written.

photo (21)ingredients

1/2 cup almonds, toasted
1 cup sunflower kernels, toasted
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced (if you have the textural issues that I do, dice it fine)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups grated carrot (about 4-5 medium carrots)
1 tablespoon cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 cup parsley or cilantro, chopped
1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup soy sauce
5 eggs, beaten
2 cups rolled oats
3 cups fine breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spread almonds and sunflower kernels in an even layer on the cookie sheet and pop it into the preheated oven for 10 minutes, until the nuts are fragrant (check frequently after five minutes just to make sure they’re not burning). Remove to a bowl and allow to cool a bit. Once cool, put the nuts into a food processor and pulse until nicely chopped. Set aside, and clean out the processor bowl/blade.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté about 5-7 minutes, until soft. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

3. Peel carrots and add to cleaned food processor bowl. Let the blade do the work of grating the carrots down for you. Once the carrots are grated nicely, add the nut mixture, the onion-garlic mixture, cumin, chili powder, oregano, parsley/cilantro, and the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Pulse to blend.

4. Add the black beans and pulse again to blend.

5. Remove the mixture to a large mixing bowl. You may be thinking – Dana, couldn’t I just keep it all in the food processor? Won’t it get all mixed up in there anyway? Yeah, you’d like to think that, but you’re about to add a lot of volume to the mixture, and it will outgrow the food processor bowl. Just trust me. Big bowl.

6. Add the beaten eggs, soy sauce, rolled oats, and bread crumbs, mixing a bit after each addition. It’ll be dense at the end, and you’ll likely need to use your hands to mix. Feel free.

7. Line a cookie sheet with plastic wrap and sprinkle with a light dusting of flour. Make your patties (about 1/2 cup or so of mixture per patty) and line them up on the baking sheet. Once all patties have been made and are more or less equal in size, dust them all with just a little flour, cover the sheet with plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer. Once the patties are frozen through, put them in a freezer bag for safe keeping.

if making the veggie burgers fresh

I tried pan-frying, grilling, and baking these burgers, and I have to say I prefer baking. It’s a slow heat up, without the burning that comes with the frying pan. Grilling works okay, but don’t bother if you’re not already grilling. Bake at 425° until heated through, about 10 minutes. Check often to make sure the burgers aren’t burning. (Not unlike when I watched Unsolved Mysteries, vigilance is good here.)

if making these burgers frozen

Again, I like baking here. Bake at 425° for about 20 minutes, until completely thawed and heated through.

Enjoy on your favorite buns with the toppings you like – cheese, condiments, more veggies, pickles. And if you can catch an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, the world (and this story) will be complete.