Szechuan Soup

Wow…I made a draft of this post on May 12, and the only reason I didn’t publish it that night was I was too lazy to process the photo of the soup. Everything else was written. OK, in fairness to me, I have NOT been lazy; I’ve been very much the opposite of lazy. But I never found the time to deal with that one photo, which is ridiculous since I’ve processed hundreds of photos since then. If anything I’m even busier now than I was then, but I made the time to publish this now while tonight’s soup simmers. 🙂

So here’s my old post:
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I feel like on those random times I actually manage to post a recipe here lately that it’s always soup. There are a few reasons for that:

  • I love soup.
  • I’ve had to eat alone most nights this year and making a huge pot of soup is an excellent way for me to have a lovely dinner and then a week of lunches.
  • I love soup.
  • I eat dinner ridiculously late year-round but as I have this weird thing about not eating dinner when it’s light out, my dinner hour just gets absurd in the spring and summer, so I like eating something lighter like soup.
  • I love soup.
  • Also since it’s spring, I usually go for a hike after work and usually eat something to tide me over for a while before doing so, so when I get home for dinner, I don’t want a large meal.
  • I love soup and shouldn’t have to explain myself.

As I’ve mentioned, we are moving to California in a couple of months, and it’s finally starting to feel real. I’ve started cleaning out the house of things that won’t move with us so I can donate them. I also need to start cleaning out the cupboards so I don’t have to either throw away food or move it across the country. Tonight’s soup used up all kinds of things from the fridge and the cupboard! Cans of baby corn and young jackfruit I don’t remember buying, the remainder of a cabbage that needed to be used up, a random hot pepper I found, a zucchini that was on its last legs, the rest of an open jar of tomato sauce. And bonus: it tastes awesome! And very spicy, just the way I like it!

Szechuan Soup

1 onion, cut into half-moons, then cut into quarter-moons
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1-2″ of garlic, peeled and grated
8 cups vegan “chicken” broth
12 oz tomato sauce
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1/2 cup soy curls
1 small can young jackfruit in brine, drained and shredded
1/4 cabbage (green, Napa, or Savoy are all fine), cored and chopped
1 cup baby corn, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 medium orange hot pepper, sliced
Szechuan pepper, to taste

Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven, then add the onions and sauté for a few minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute, then add the broth, tomato sauce, soy sauce, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then add the soy curls, jackfruit, baby corn, zucchini, and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour or until everything is cooked. Add the Szechuan pepper to taste.

I am nearly finished the Virginia Master Naturalist training. We had our last field trip this Saturday at Huntley Meadows; we learned about birds on the first leg and herps on the second. We saw a lot of cool stuff, including this green heron:

And LOTS of frogs; this is a green frog:

Also lots of turtles. This is a totally adorable baby snapping turtle, probably born in September of last year. He’s smaller than a silver dollar and SUPER CUTE.

Here’s a different baby snapping turtle with some chapstick as a size reference:

And here’s a sign of spring: red-winged blackbirds mating:

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Back to the present: I just got back from California; if you want to see some pictures from there, tune into blog.renae.org; I’ll be adding a couple every day this week.

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Black Bean Stir Fry

Yeah, that’s right, I HAVE A RECIPE. It’s not the most exciting or innovative recipe in the world, but I figured it would help me ease back into actual food blogging at some point. 🙂

The secret ingredient in this dish is Chinese fermented black beans. You are supposed to rinse these before use but the brand I bought wasn’t too salty and I didn’t bother. I really simplified the preparation for this dish. As I had some cooked brown rice in the freezer, this meal took about 15 minutes to prepare, most of which was devoted to vegetable chopping.

Black Bean Stir Fry

12 oz seasoned baked tofu, chopped
1/2 small head savoy or Napa cabbage, cored and chopped into 1″ pieces
1 small head broccoli, chopped into florets
2 leaks, white parts only, cleaned and sliced
2 small carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 hot pepper, chopped
1 small can sliced water chestnuts
2 scallions, sliced
about 2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine or sherry

For the sauce:
3/4 cup vegetable broth or vegan “chicken” broth
3-4 Tbsp Chinese fermented black beans
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp black vinegar
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1-2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp corn starch whisked into 3 Tbsp water

Prep the tofu and all the vegetables and set aside. Stir in all of the rest of the sauce ingredients (except the cornstarch mixture). Heat a wok over high heat and add a little oil. Add the leaks and stir fry for a couple of minutes, then add each of the remaining vegetables, except the scallions, and the tofu a minute or two apart in order of their required cooking time, stir frying the entire time (for the ingredients above, I went in the following order: leeks, carrots, celery, pepper, broccoli, tofu, cabbage, water chestnuts). Use the wine or sherry to deglaze the wok, then pour in the sauce and toss. Lower the heat a bit and let the sauce cook for a minute or so, then pour the cornstarch mixture into the wok, stir, and cook for another minute or so until the sauce thickens.

Top with the sliced scallions. Serve with chili garlic sauce or Sriracha on the side.

Aaaaand back to non-food matters. I’ve been suffering from photography withdrawal since returning from Africa. Yes, this is somewhat due to the fact that I’m sad there are no non-zoo lions in Virginia, but it’s compounded by the fact that it’s winter. We had such a FABULOUS summer that I got VERY used to going to a park every single night after work, but not only is it cold this time of year, worse, it’s dark when I leave work, so parks are out. It’s very depressing. I decided that to motivate myself I would attempt a “365” photo project, which means that every day for the next 365 days I need to take and publish a photograph. What’s more, I decided my theme would be self-portraits. Upon reflection I realized that people may think I want to take “selfies”, but that’s the last thing I want to do. I kind of see “selfies” as something you take with your phone at arm’s length. I can’t think of any reason I would take a picture of myself with my phone. The reason I chose to concentrate of self-portraits is, however, possibly more sad than a desire to take a good “selfie”. The reason is I used to take a lot of pictures of friends and I like taking pictures of people. Maybe not as much as I like taking pictures of animals, but I like it. The fact is, though, that I don’t go out that much any more, and I don’t particularly want to, which means if I want to practice taking pictures of people, that leaves me or Mark, and there’s no way Mark will agree to be my model, so I’m left with myself. Which is actually kind of appropriate because although I DID go out a lot in high school when I was teaching myself photography, there were still a lot of times when I was home alone with no subjects to photograph so I’d take pictures of myself. Like this one, which I like because THERE’S AN AWESOME PICTURE OF TIGER BEHIND ME in our living room:

Or more ridiculously, this one wearing my dad’s suit – and apparently carrying the mail – for some unknown reason:

Okay, I also like to play dress-up.

I don’t know, we might be heading into selfie territory with this one:

Anyway, I’m REALLY unphotogenic, increasingly so the further I get from high school, so I’m hoping that over the course of the year I’ll come away with at least a couple of photos of myself that I don’t hate, either because I improve at taking them or I come to terms with my appearance. One of those things. Although I have absolutely no confidence I will actually keep this up for 365 days. I’m surprised I’ve done it for three, quite frankly. The only reason I’m mentioning it here is to make myself a little bit more accountable by actually confessing that I’m doing it. It will actually be much easier to keep up with in the spring and summer when I’m out hiking every night as I usually take my tripod with me and I can just hop in front of it for a shot or two. I have absolutely no idea how I will possibly manage to take a different photo of myself every single night of the long, cold, horrible winter. That will require a lot more creativity than I have. But here’s to trying!

I assure you I will VERY RARELY, if ever again, post any of these self-portraits here. This is supposed to be a food blog and most pictures of me will make you lose your appetite! But here was photo 1 of 365, taken while I was figuring out how to tether my DSLR to my laptop in Lightroom. Gomez thought he’d assist with that endeavor.

And today’s:

I’m kissing her little paw!

An outtake from today that shows Torticia, who NEVER looks bad in a picture, better:

I said I don’t take “selfies” (because I’m snobby and I take “self-portraits”), but that’s not entirely true. I can’t be trusted not to take pictures of myself with my underwater camera just because I CAN take pictures of myself underwater and I think that’s awesome. In the pool at the lodge in Zanzibar:

See what I said about being unphotogenic?!

Okay, NEXT, a request. So I’m going to apply for the Virginia Master Naturalist program this spring and although there aren’t really any previous education requirements, I feel like it would be a good idea to do some reading before classes begin in February. Anyone have any favorite books on natural history, biology, or the like? When I read science books, I usually read physics or neuroscience books, so it’s sort of a new field for me.

Next stop: SERENGETI!

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Asian Broccoli Slaw, Marinated Tofu, and Salad Dressing….and bats!

Last night’s dinner was rather generically Asian-themed. I had a random bag of broccoli slaw I needed to use up and the best-sounding recipe I found when googling was something very similar to what I present below, so from there I decided to take the whole meal in an Asian direction. I prepped everything in advance, and when mixing up the slaw dressing, tofu marinade, and green salad dressing, since they were all so similar, I didn’t even bother washing the mixing bowl between each of them, keeping prep quick and easy. Here are all three things I made:

Asian Broccoli Slaw

1 12 oz package broccoli slaw (or grate your own broccoli; cabbage would be good too)
3 Tbsp sesame oil (not toasted)
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 Tbsp grated ginger
2 tsp minced or pressed garlic
2 tsp brown sugar

In a small bowl, whisk together everything but the slaw. In a larger bowl, toss the dressing with the slaw and refrigerate for at least an hour for flavors to blend.

Asian Marinated Tofu

1 lb extra firm tofu
1 cup vegan broth
1/4 low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp minced or pressed garlic
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Whisk together everything but the tofu and set aside. Slice the tofu into 1/2″ slabs and arrange in a 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ baking pan. Pour the marinade over the tofu and let marinate for at least half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. When ready to bake the tofu, pour off some of the marinade so that the tofu is about half-submerged. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden.

I served this over some mung bean noodles, which I soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes (don’t keep it on the heat, just boil and set aside), then tossed with leftover tofu marinade. I also lightly stir-fried some julienned orange bell pepper in some sesame + toasted sesame oil, then tossed with toasted sesame seeds and served both the peppers and the tofu over the noodles.

Asian-flavored Salad Dressing

4 Tbsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp minced or pressed garlic
1 tsp peanut butter
1 tsp brown sugar

Whisk or shake together all ingredients. Serve over a green salad.

Not that you can really see the dressing, but here’s the salad:

And here are all three components together:

In wildlife news, I have to take at least six hours of continuing education hours to renew my rehabbers permit every year. Last year I was so busy and there were so few classes held nearby at times I could go that I was cramming in readings at the last minute. This year I’ve scored all six hours within nine days of the permit year beginning. This I did by attending an all-day bat workshop yesterday. I was very excited about this because I’ve always had a particular love for bats and I intend to accept bats one day when I’m rehabbing out of my own home. It was a great, very informative class, although also kind of depressing because some of the species in our area (the Mid-Atlantic) are federally endangered, and many more are state-listed as threatened or endangered. Even the most optimistic bat enthusiasts are very worried that the species suffering from White Nose Syndrome will be extinct in just a few years. This is very bad. Although so far the fungus affects only those bats that hibernate, migratory bats are being killed by wind turbines, so there’s unprecedented death rates for all kinds of bats. Bats eat their weight in insects every night. You don’t want to live in a world without bats. I can even relate the wildlife portion of this post to food for once, because one of the consequences of extinct bats is going to be crop failures, greatly increased food prices, and/or higher instances of pesticide use.

I was able to take some pictures of the live bats. (Because I’m rabies vaccinated, I was also able to handle the live (and dead) bats, which even more exciting!) Unfortunately I think I’m going to have to retire the crappy “all-purpose” lens I tend to leave on my camera as a default because the pictures S.U.C.K. and I’m super disappointed by them. True, the lighting in the room was dim and terrible (though probably a lot more bat-friendly than camera-friendly), but I still think I could have gotten decent pictures with a better lens, including some I left at home. Live and learn, I guess. So I apologize for the horrible, horrible, horrible pictures, which don’t do any justice to these awesome little creatures, but bats are too cool for me not to share and I feel compelled to raise awareness of White Nose Syndrome. As of right now, it’s confined to the eastern and more northern parts of Northern America, but it WILL soon migrate to the south and west, and it’s devastating.

This is a Tricolor Bat, squawking because she’s dropped her mealworm. To reward them for good behavior while they were out being handled by those of us with rabies shots and admired by everyone else, these education bats were fed treats of mealworms. You can see this bat’s mealworm in front of her. (Education animals are non-releasable animals that rehabbers and wildlife organizations have received special permission to keep (as opposed to euthanizing) as teaching tools.)

This is a Big Brown Bat. Big Browns are a migratory species not affected by White Nose, unlike the similar-looking but smaller cave-dwelling Little Brown Bat. One kind of good thing is new Big Brown colonies have been found in areas where Little Brown colonies have been wiped out by White Nose, so nature is replacing one species for another. Note that despite the name – and he is in fact bigger than a Little Brown Bat – like all North American bats, he’s really quite small. I was actually surprised by how tiny all of our bats are. They’re not at all like the beautiful, wonderful flying foxes I saw in Australia.

Side view of a Big Brown:

Silver-haired Bat. I think he looks like a teeny-tiny, legless bull.

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