A brief overview of onigiri, and Los Angeles

Those of you who live in the US may have heard (or dealt with) about the slightly freakish snow the East Coast got last Saturday (it doesn’t usually snow in October in the mid-Atlantic region). Ordinarily this is something I would have been loudly whining about – probably right here in this blog – but as it turns out, Mark and I left for LA Friday night and missed the whole ordeal. Yes, it was snowing at home and I was in California enjoying sunshine and 90-degree temperatures. Boy, was that a great feeling.

For our late evening flight, I prepared onigiri (rice balls), which is perfect travel food. I wish I had taken pictures while preparing it, but I was busy getting ready for the trip. Next time I’ll take pictures and do a real post, but really it’s so easy, you don’t need much of a tutorial. And as with most things Japanese, there is little point in me doing a tutorial when Maki of Just Hungry has one that can’t be beat.

To summarize, though, I used a mold similar to this one (Maki’s tutorial explains how to do it without a mold). Just prepare some sushi rice, but don’t cool it and don’t season it as you would sushi – just cook it. Then stir in some salt to taste. Next, fill the mold a little more than half way with rice, then (optionally), make an indentation in the middle of the rice and add about a teaspoon of filling. The filling can really be just about anything as long as it’s not too wet. I used pickled radishes this time. Umeboshi is traditional and I often use it, but I was afraid Mark wouldn’t like it and didn’t want to worry about marking what was in each onigiri. Then fill the rest of the mold with rice, put the top on the mold, and push together. Then unmold – my mold has tabs on it that facilitate pushing the onigiri out.

Finally, and this is also optional, wrap the onigiri in nori, which you can cut out into fun shapes. For traveling, I then wrapped each onigiri in plastic wrap. Unless you use a mayonnaise-y filling, these will be safe at room temperature for quite some time, which is one of the many reasons they are so great for traveling. Other reasons include: you eat them with your fingers, they are filling, they are healthy, and they are super-portable.

For maximum fun, be decorative with the nori.

And now time to bombard you with pictures, though I will try to keep them mostly food- and animal-related. Last year I went totally nutso over the food in LA. As the Angelenos would say, it’s amazing. Here is an example of how amazing: Monday night Fort and Mark and I were at an event, after which we were meeting friends in Silver Lake. I was hungry and my friend warned me there was no food at the bar we were going to and so urged me to find something on the way. I figured that would be a hopeless cause, as we were in a hurry. Then, a block from the bar we drove by a restaurant called Vegan House. There wasn’t anything else around, just a random, open vegan restaurant with, of course, awesome food. There is no need to plan your meals in LA if you are vegan: vegan food is EVERYWHERE. (Except the airport. I hate LAX.)

Another example: I was browsing thrift and book stores near Fort’s new apartment in Echo Park and walked by an ice cream shop. I had really liked the book store I was in and thought how neat it would be if this ice cream shop a few doors down had anything vegan. Turns out it was ALL vegan. That’s LA: I think it might actually be harder to NOT be vegan there.

So anyway, here’s a little recap of my trip. I managed to forget to take pictures of many of my meals – despite the fact I lugged my new camera everywhere – but I did get a few. Saturday Fort took us for a walk through nearby Elysian Park. I love this picture I took of a lizard because he’s looking right up at me and I swear, SMILING! (I have another photo where he’s NOT looking at me or smiling, which makes me all the more sure that’s what he’s doing in this one.)

We hit up wine country on Sunday, where Mark made a new friend …

… as did I.

The views were almost as great as the animals.

Oh yeah, the wine was pretty awesome, too.

Even if I had to share.

Monday night was not only the best holiday of the year, it was Mark’s and my 7-year anniversary. Do you know who we were??

Tuesday we again met up with our friends, who suggested we check out Mohawk Bend. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of our food because it was very dark but I did snap a shot of the menu because I thought it was really cool that everything is “vegan unless marked” otherwise, instead of the other way around! Not only that but they have separate kitchens for the vegan and non-vegan stuff. Everything was delicious here and the drink selection was terrific.

I chased a few cats around throughout the week. There are a particularly high number of them in Venice, where we went Wednesday.

Because I am a great wife, I suggested we go to Disneyland on Thursday, as Mark LOVES Disney. Disneyland fun, see?

Disneyland also vegan-friendly! Vegan gumbo in New Orleans! In a sourdough boule! If you’ve ever tried to find vegan food in a non-Disney theme park, you know how incredible this sort of thing is. It was good and very, very filling. Just what you need to fuel an action-packed day.

The rides are super-fun at Disney …

… but Mark found it very typical that I took more pictures of the ducks than anything else.

Disneyland and Disney World are kinda the same and kinda different. The castles…very different. Like Disneyland in general, it’s much smaller, for one thing.

After a long, hard day of Disneying, we were starving, so I checked my phone for vegan-friendly restaurants in Anaheim. Tana Ethiopian got good reviews and I love, love, love Ethiopian, so away we went! Veggie soup:


Friday the unthinkable happened: it RAINED! Actually, I didn’t have a problem with this, other than the fact that LA drivers are even worse in the rain than they normally are, and normally they are even worse than Northern Virginia drivers, who I previously thought were the worst. Mark and I took it easy and stayed local while Fort was in school, though. Which was fine because it gave me a chance to check out Sage Bistro, which was great.

A bright respite from the rain. The counter up front actually contains the vegan ice cream I mentioned earlier.

Mark’s Cobb salad:

My tuna melt with German potato salad:

The snails come out when it rains in LA.

Our final day was yesterday, Saturday. Fort insisted we go to his favorite beach, Malibu. I’ll let the pictures do the talking: gorgeous!

And that was our trip…and also an explanation of where I’ve been during my lull in posting. I’ve really missed Fort and V and am already looking forward to returning to LA, but in the meantime I’m glad to be home with Gomez and Torticia…if slightly less glad to be going back to work tomorrow!

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Mark’s Sushi Tutorial

The Smarkster and I were quite pleased to find that our local sushi restaurant recently upgraded their menu and greatly expanded their vegetarian options. Mark was so happy about it that he re-discovered his sushi obsession and when it came time to make his weekly Sunday dinner, he decided to make sushi. Which went so well that he decided to make more sushi last night. He suggested I do a post, so I have. Now you can learn from the guy who has made sushi twice sushi master!

What I didn’t chronicle is how to make sushi rice. I make my rice in my beloved rice cooker. To make sushi rice, I cook the rice as directed, then cut in some rice vinegar (sometimes seasoned with sugar, but sometimes I don’t bother) and salt. I just do this to taste, although there are plenty of tutorials around with much more precise instructions. Maki’s tutorial on Just Hungry comes to mind. When I’m making sushi rice to accompany a meal or even a scattered sushi, I just serve it warm, but when you are making sushi rolls, you’ll want to cool it, fairly quickly. To do this, Mark removed the rice from the rice cooker, put it in a wide bowl, and put it in front of a fan for a few minutes. So first, prepare some sushi rice.

Next, prepare some fillings. Raw veggies like cucumber, carrot, and avocado are common and easy. Cut them into thin strips like this:

I didn’t get a picture, but Mark also used some of the pickled radishes I’d made earlier in the week (using a simpler recipe than the one linked; I just put them in a slightly sweet brine overnight). This was fascinating because Mark has never, ever eaten a single one of my pickled radishes, and I’ve made tons of them. (Of course, I was only able to convince Mark he liked radishes at all a few weeks ago.) But he said these were really good! They’re great in sushi, even the red ones (whereas you usually see yellow pickled daikon in restaurants).

Mark, who would probably be happy living off of Gardein chick’n, also grilled up a couple of cutlets and decided to try that in sushi as well. Here he is slicing them thinly:

He also made some kimchi rolls. He prepared some bite-sized pieces of kimchi to use as a filling; though since kimchi is wet, these were a little trickier to roll. Totally worth it, however, as kimchi is great.

Next, he prepared the bamboo rolling mat. I’ve had this mat for years, with the best intentions of making my own sushi rolls, but I have never done it. Who would have thought Mark would make sushi before me?! He covered it with plastic wrap because he read that it is nearly impossible to clean stuck-on rice from them. Which I can believe, although I would imagine that once you’ve got enough practice, you shouldn’t be getting much rice on them, if you are making nori-outside rolls. Anyway, here is the mat all set up.

Place a sheet of nori on the mat. Our nori has these handy perforations on them showing you where to cut later. If your nori does as well, you want the perforations to go up and down, or opposite the direction of the bamboo sticks. Nori has a rougher side and a smoother side. Put the smooth side down; rough side up to receive the rice.

Set up a bowl with some water near your workspace. Sushi rice is sticky and you’ll want to dip your hands in the water often. With damp hands, grab a handful of rice and spread it out on the nori. You want to create a fairly thin layer of rice leaving about an inch at the top and bottom.

The lighting in our kitchen is not ideally suited for food photography, so this is a bit hard to see, but what Mark is doing here is placing some of the carrot and chick’n strips lengthwise along the bottom of the nori.

Next, he held the filling in place while simultaneously beginning to curl the bamboo mat, the nori lined up at the bottom edge, away from him.

Keep rolling until the edge of the mat hits the rice.

Then, keep pushing the roll together with your fingers, but release the mat.

And continue the roll without the mat, maintaining an even pressure on the roll and kind of tucking it in as you go along.

When the roll is complete, grab the top of the mat and start rolling back the other way to seal the roll.

Unfurl the mat …

… and if necessary, add a tiny bit of water to help seal the roll.

Next, with the sharpest knife you own, slice the roll into pieces about 1″ wide. My knives are rather embarrassingly dull right now, but Mark found that chopping fairly quickly was better than trying to saw through them. He also suggests wetting the knife first.

Pretty great for a second-time sushi maker, no?

Next up Mark wanted to make a drizzling sauce, which you sometimes find on extra-fancy sushi. He rummaged around the kitchen and pulled out these things: vegetarian stir-fry sauce, hoison sauce, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, sriracha, and lemon juice.

He mixed them together in proportions that were pleasing to him. The vinegar and lemon juice were literally just drops.

Then he plated the sushi with some wasabi, pickled ginger, and some of the Korean banchan we had bought at Super H, because it looks pretty (and goes really well with sushi). The rolls also got a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

I think Mark is trying to show me up by making things I’ve never made! And doing it well!

In personal news, we released some more raccoons this weekend, but this has been a long, photo-intensive post, so I’ll save pictures of that for another time. Oh, all right. ONE raccoon picture.

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Spicy Teriyaki Rice Bowl

This is a quick dinner that scales easily, uses whatever veggies and protein you have around, is cheap and filling, and tastes good. I’ve made a spicy version because, if you haven’t noticed, I think spice is the spice of life, but you can omit the chili paste and have yourself a regular teriyaki rice bowl instead if you prefer.

Spicy Teriyaki Rice Bowl

veggies to pan-fry, such as carrots, onions, bell pepper, broccoli, asparagus, daikon, squash, etc., chopped, sliced, or julienned into uniform pieces
protein, such as tofu, seitan, tempeh, fake vegan “meats”, and/or beans, cubed or sliced in uniform pieces
sushi rice, prepared
scallions, chopped and/or sesame seeds, for garnish

For the sauce (measurements for 2 – 4 servings)
4 Tbsp soy sauce
4 Tbsp mirin
4 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp chili broad bean paste (omit for a non-spicy teriyaki sauce)
1 tsp grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, grated

Prepare the sushi rice. I use a rice cooker. When it’s cooked, let it cool, then cut in salt and sushi vinegar to taste.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients into an appropriately sized pot. (For the amounts above I used this adorable cast iron melting pot.) Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer a few minutes or until sugar is dissolved.

Meanwhile, fry the veggies and protein (adding the ingredients to the skillet in descending order of their cooking times) in a small amount of oil (I used olive with a touch of sesame). I used: slivered onions, thinly sliced seitan, a carrot, three baby bell peppers in various colors, broccoli, and a handful of corn kernels.

When the vegetables and protein are cooked, remove from heat and pour the sauce over them, tossing to combine.

Serve with the prepared sushi rice. Garnish with chopped scallions and/or sprinkled sesame seeds if you have them (I didn’t).

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