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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“Pork” seitan

One of my go-to seitan recipes is Vegan Dad’s Veggie Lunch Meat. (All of Vegan Dad’s seitan recipes are good: and even Mark can make them!!). Anyway, although I refer to Vegan Dad’s lunch meat recipe for the basic bean/vital wheat gluten/liquid ratio, I often mix up the seasonings a bit to get different flavors. Follows is a porcine take on it, with all due credit to Vegan Dad (who I am so glad is blogging again!).

“Pork”-flavored Seitan
Lightly adapted from Vegan Dad’s Veggie Lunch Meat

1 cup cooked (or canned) white beans
2 cups water
3 Tbsp beet juice (OPTIONAL)
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp liquid smoke
1 or 2 packets Goya “ham” flavoring (there is no ham in it)
2 3/4 cup vital wheat gluten (plus maybe a couple teaspoons more if you add the beet juice)

So the first thing you need to procure is some cooked white beans. Since I make this seitan often (Mark scarfs it down so fast I can barely keep it in stock!), what I do is pressure cook a whole pound of soaked, dried white beans (like Great Northern), then divide it into 1-cup portions, reserving one for immediate use and freezing the others. These containers are the perfect size for freezing individual portions:

Then the next few times I want to make seitan, I just grab one portion from the freezer, either thawing in the fridge or on the counter for a few hours if I have time, or sitting the container in very hot water to thaw and warming slightly in the microwave if necessary. Yes, I was canning at the same time I was making this seitan and had a lot of help from a certain Torticia, and yes there will be more cat pictures at the end of this post (about time, eh?).

Put all of the ingredients except the vital wheat gluten into the jar of a blender. For the beet juice, I pour in a little juice from the jar of pickled beets that I always have open in the fridge. I do it to add a pink color, which looks lovely while the gluten is raw but almost entirely disappears when it’s cooked, therefore there’s really little point in doing it, but I’d just be pouring that pickle juice down the drain eventually anyway and it at least provides a little extra zing to the final seitan. But totally don’t go out of your way to use it if you don’t have it handy.

Blend until smooth.

Combine the blended mixture and the vital wheat gluten in a large bowl.

Stir with a spoon until you can’t …

… then mix with your hands until all of the vital wheat gluten is incorporated. Then knead for a few minutes until you can see the gluten start to form (this will look like “strings” forming within the dough ball) – you don’t need to work it hard like you would bread dough but just enough to give it some structure.

Rip off a big ole piece of aluminum foil (you can re-use this several times and I encourage you to do so) and place your seitan at one end of it. Form it into a thick log as shown.

Roll the foil around the seitan log and then fold the two sides up as you would wrap a package (or twist them like a Tootsie Roll – I prefer folding it as it’s easier to prevent tearing the foil when you open the package later, but know that the seitan will expand while cooking, so if you fold, make sure you do so tightly enough that it stays folded).

Steam the seitan for one hour. You can do this on the stovetop, but I love my slow/multi-cooker for this task (and many others). Obviously, I put the lid on after taking this picture.

Once it’s done steaming, cook the seitan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for another hour. I often use the toaster oven for this.

Let cool completely at room temperature, then refrigerate or freeze. It’s best used after a rest of at least a few hours in the fridge, so this is something I like to prepare at least a day in advance.

You can slice it thinly as lunch meat for sandwiches as Vegan Dad suggests, or use it in any recipe calling for seitan or meat. (Put it in a food processor for perfect minced “meat”.) Here I’ve cut thick slabs to bake up in some barbecue sauce.

Seitan slathered in barbecue sauce is just about my favorite thing. I put a few slabs in a baking dish …

… then top with homemade barbecue sauce. And here I have scattered some pickled grapes on top because I pickled grapes last night because apparently pickling grapes is something that I do these days. I pickled grapes TWO WAYS last night. (By the way, pickled grapes are awesome.)

Mark had already stolen about a quarter of this loaf before I made dinner tonight, so after popping my barbecue dish into the oven, I chopped the remainder of the seitan loaf into two pieces about 8-10 ounces each and stored them in the freezer, each chunk of which will provide a good amount for a later meal.

And here is what I had for dinner tonight: barbecued seitan, scalloped potatoes, and peas:

I promised you cat pictures. It’s been a while! So, the cats, and especially Torticia, are ALWAYS helping me cook. Torticia is the most loyal little buddy in the world; if I’m in the kitchen, she parks herself on the island and watches over me, EXACTLY as Tigger used to do. (I always said that would be what I missed most about Tigger so I find it extremely comforting.) If there’s a box on the island SO MUCH THE BETTER. She sat in the box of peaches I canned last week for several days. It rained hard here all day Saturday – the first weekend day it’s rained all summer, and frankly, I NEEDED that rain to keep me in the house and get some canning done. So I was canning several different things Saturday and making the seitan, and this is what was happening on the island the whole time:

You can see my seitan baking in the background of this one:

If those pictures seem a little skewed towards my beautiful Torticia, know that I have a picture of Gomez on my credit card and on the skin I created for my Macbook Air to obscure the fact that I’ve become a Mac user. Okay, I’m not fooling anyone, but HOW PRETTY DOES MEZZIE MAKE MY LAPTOP LOOK?? He’s so ridiculously handsome.

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Cat Update

I exist!

I have far more non-food-related news going on in my life right now than new recipes, so I return with a non-recipe post…but only because I am actually planning a recipe post later this week. Several people have asked about the cat situation, particularly since last time I alluded to the fact we had four cats. Which, for a couple of months, we did. So for you cat lovers, here’s a cat-only update. For those of you uninterested in cats, come back soon for some food.

So, back when I was furloughed in October, I was in the sunroom when Gomez and Torticia suddenly sounded an alert: someone was at the back door! Mezzie and Tish race to the door whenever any other living thing shows up outside the sliding glass door: bird, squirrel, raccoon, skunk, fox…you name it. But that day the cause of their excitement was another cat. And not just any cat, this gorgeous fluffy black cat, and she was pressing herself against the door as if she desperately wanted in, although the weather was quite nice out at the time. Gently kicking Mez and Tish out of the way, I opened the door, only to have the kitty run off a few yards. However, to my surprise, when I called to her she came running up to me and let me pet her. In fact, she let me pick her up. I fell for her immediately. I INSTANTLY loved this cat. She rubbed noses with me! I went back inside to get her some food and to call Mark to come look at her. She scarfed down a large can of food like she hadn’t eaten for days and by the time she was done Mark was in love with her too.

It took me several weeks to bring Heidi in when she was living in our yard, but I took this cat up to the animal hospital to be scanned for a microchip within a couple of hours. For one thing, she was a black cat and it was nearing Halloween. For another thing, I loved her and I was secretly hoping no one claimed her. She was negative for a chip and I SWEAR I made a good faith attempt to find her owners, checking in with the animal shelter and Craigslist, etc., but when no one claimed her in a week or so, Mark and I called her a Halloween miracle from the Great Pumpkin and we christened her Wednesday to fit in with Gomez and Torticia (conveniently, I also found her on a Wednesday).

I took Wednesday to our vet and told him we’d adopted a fourth cat. I was convinced he was going to think I was some crazy cat thief because Torticia is a tortie and Gomez is all-black, and the first cat I found in my yard was another tortie, and now the second cat I’d found in the yard was all-black. I mean, what at the chances that the TWO cats that show up in my yard within a few months of each other would be another tortie and another all-black cat?? Both the new cats were like tiny versions of Mezzie and Tortellini! I thought he’d think I was starting a bizarre collection. He insisted he just thought I was a good person to care about strays so much, gave her some shots, and collected some blood to run the standard new-cat tests.

Two days later I sprang to answer his call because Wednesday was going crazy being locked up in a room by herself and I was desperate to get the all-clear to let her mingle with other cats and have full run of the house. Only it wasn’t to be: the test results were positive for feline leukemia. I cried my eyes out when I got off the phone with him, because feline leukemia is pretty much an early death sentence. Unlike feline HIV patients who can often live many years with no symptoms of their disease, most leukemia patients die within 3-5 years. And since it’s contagious to other cats, Wednesday would have to go to a home where she could be the only cat. It’s REALLY hard to find someone who is willing to adopt such a cat. Honestly I don’t know that I would choose to do so. You can’t have any other cats (unless they too are FLV+), you have to live knowing they will very likely have a short life, and you’re probably looking at at lot of vet bills near the end of their life. I thought immediately of my friend Melissa, though, who lost her cat KK the prior year (KK was an orange tabby, like my cat Tigger that those of you who have been reading for years may remember, and like Tigger, KK was from Ocean City, MD: Melissa and I adopted them about the same time when we were in college together) and through my tears sent her an emotional email. I figured she’d probably be mad at me for asking her such a ridiculous question (“Hey, I know you are busy raising three young kids and working but how would you like to adopt a cat that’s going to get sick and die in a few years????”), so when she didn’t respond right away, I totally understood and began the arduous task of reaching out to EVERY cat charity I could find and asking for help. Very few did anything to help me, although I did finally find one place near Charlottesville that has a FLV room and would accept Wednesday if I agreed to sponsor her – essentially donate money monthly towards her vet bills and upkeep – which I kept on reserve as a last resort as I preferred to find her an actual home.

But then it turned out Melissa wasn’t purposely avoiding me because she didn’t want to have to say no to me – she just hadn’t checked her email in a few days. AND she thought she may be feeling called to agree to it! After a lot of research on Melissa’s part and a family vote, Melissa’s family agreed to adopt Wednesday. I was so, so, so, so happy! Because not only was Wednesday going to a great home with someone I trust implicitly, I’d be able to see her whenever I wanted! Plus, I was tired of going to Melissa’s house and not getting to see KK or any other cats. Wednesday has been at Melissa’s for over a month and is adjusting well to her three kids. This story has a happy ending!!

Wednesday is super difficult to take pictures of because she’s so dark and fast: if you level a camera at her, she’s immediately in your face, wanting attention. These are the crappy pictures I took for Melissa while she was still deciding; they do nothing to express the beauty of Wednesday, who is very tiny but very silky, very black, very, very pretty, and super personable.

This picture is absurd, but I wanted to capture her gorgeous tail.

I love this cat. And I love Melissa and her family for adopting her!

Now, another story, which is a little less dramatic, but like the first starts out sad then gets happy: Heidi.

Little Heidi. I told you how I came to adopt her this summer in this post, but unfortunately, during the whole Wednesday debacle it was becoming obvious it just wasn’t going to work out with her. I love Heidi: she’s very sweet and loyal and eager to show me how grateful she is I took her in. Seriously, I can read it in her eyes. The problem is Torticia has HATED Heidi since the day I let Heidi out of quarantine following HER blood test results (which were, thankfully, all negative). Mezzie, on the other hand, was super friendly with Heidi and tried to befriend her. Heidi, however, went on the defensive following Torticia’s rancor and struck out indiscriminately at both cats. After a few months, I don’t know if Mezzie got tired of his friendly overtures being rebuffed or if Torticia finally convinced him to join the dark side, but eventually Mezzie started hassling Heidi as well. With the two of them ganged up on the poor girl, I realized I couldn’t make the relationship work, so I turned to the SPCA, from whom I adopted Mez and Tish. SPCA NOVA is awesome to work with and they responded immediately with help. They posted Heidi on their website and promised to get Heidi into a safe foster home as soon as one was available.

Imagine my surprise when a week later no foster homes had opened up, but two different people wanted to adopt her! I liked both applicants tremendously but of course only one could adopt her. This Saturday morning Heidi will be moving to her new home with a very nice woman who was looking for a quiet, gentle kitty to love after her ex-husband took the cat he entered the relationship with. I feel really good about this. I know Heidi will be much happier in her new home and I think Heidi will be an excellent companion for her.

My sweet girl, I’m sorry I couldn’t give you the home you deserve, but I hope you know I’m giving you up so you can have a better life!

AND NOW LOOK AT THESE BULLIES!

Seriously, though, when they aren’t giving me headaches by hassling Heidi, Gomez and Torticia remain the most absolutely wonderful cats ever. And frankly, I’m looking forward to being back down to two cats. Four was too many, especially since there were three distinct “groups” to whom I had to pay separate attention. When I work with the raccoons and the raptors, I have to divide my time up between many animals, and I like that because I am exposed to so many different needs and personalities and I learn a lot. But at home, I really just want two awesome best feline friends with whom I have the strongest relationship possible. And a lot of the time I’m not home. So when I get home, I just want to see their two smiling little faces greeting me and not feel stressed out that I need to spend quality time with half the cat population of Virginia.

Yeah, they LOOK lazy, but they are MEANIE PANTS.

LET’S ALL HOPE NO MORE STRAY CATS TAKE UP RESIDENCE IN MY YARD.

Finally, in non-cat-related news, big excitement on the horizon!! Mark and I are going on safari in Tanzania for our 10th wedding anniversary in October! And Smucky and his girlfriend are going with us! It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever done and I am beside myself! I am mentioning it here because, well, it’s pretty much the only thing I think of these days, but also because I’m soliciting advice. Our tour organizer knows we are vegan and has assured me it won’t be a problem, and I’ve actually seen the words “vegan-friendly” on the websites of some of the camps and lodges we’ll be staying in (can you imagine that?! The times we live in!), so I’m not super worried about starving, but I am a little worried about being hungry from time to time. We’ll be on some long drives and I get really, really bad headaches – and turn into a total monster – if I don’t eat when I’m hungry. Usually when I travel long distances, I load up on energy bars for the journey, and usually my destination is a city or at least someplace I can find a bag of chips or something if I’m really desperate. But what do I do when I’m in the Serengeti and there’s no vegan snacks around for miles? Because we will be taking tiny planes from camp to camp in Africa, there is a 12 kg luggage weight limit, most of which I’ll be devoting to camera equipment, and furthermore, we have to use soft-sided luggage like duffle bags. Basically I’m planning to take a very small carry-on bag for my clothes and toiletries – just enough clothes for 3 days or so (laundry service is provided in the camps). I won’t have space for a 2-week supply of energy bars, and besides which, it’ll be hot: a lot of them get melty and gross in the heat. Are there any of you out there who, even if you haven’t been on safari, are maybe avid backpackers and have suggestions for highly portable, filling snacks, or other not-starving-while-traveling tips? So far all I can think of is nuts, but I’m not even sure how much room I’ll have for those…and how I’ll keep Mark from eating all of them on the first day. (That boy loves nuts!)

And now I’m off to make dinner…a dinner that I hope to be able to post as a recipe here.

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