Japanese-flavored Springtime Quinoa Salad

I made this salad a couple of weeks ago after seeing something very similar on the internet somewhere; unfortunately I can’t find the post despite an awful lot of searching. Anyway, it was awesome because usually when I make quinoa, Mark puts five grains – I’m not kidding, five grains – of it on his plate for his serving, because I yell at him if he doesn’t take any, but he gobbled up an entire bowl of this with nary a complaint. In fact, he discovered this spring that he loves fresh fava beans, which I’ve included in the salad, and he therefore sang its praises.

Japanese-flavored Springtime Quinoa Salad

1 cup red quinoa (or any quinoa), rinsed
2 cups water or broth
as many fresh fava bean pods as you can stand to shell – try to do about a pound because they yield a tiny fraction of their weight in actual beans
1/4 cup ponzu (a Japanese soy-citrus sauce available in Asian markets)
2 sheets toasted nori, ripped into pieces (also available in Asian markets)
1 avocado, chopped
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Put the quinoa and water or broth into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for about 15 minutes or until quinoa is cooked. If necessary, drain off remaining liquid. Return to the pot, cover, and let rest for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring another pot of water to boil. While it’s coming to a boil, remove the fava beans from their pods. When the water is boiling, put the beans in and let boil for 30-60 seconds. Drain and immediately plunge the beans into an ice water bath. When cool, pop them out of their skins – I stick my thumbnail into the skin to make a hole, then pop them out. When the favas are peeled, hit a small amount of oil in a small skillet, then saute the favas with a little salt, until they are cooked through, about 3-5 minutes.

Stir the ponzu into the quinoa. Toss in the favas, avocado, and nori. Serve with lemon wedges. Feel virtuous eating it.

And now a wildlife update. Whenever I send my parents a link to a batch of pictures, if there is a snake in any of them, my mother always responds, “Gross, a snake!”. If she ever ran across one in her travels, I imagine she’d very quickly head in the opposite direction. When I, on the other hand, see a snake, I calmly toss my bag on the ground five feet away, switch lenses, and stick my camera in its face. Look at this handsome little fella! Well, maybe not so little – this is a black rat snake, one of the largest in this area.

I love trying to capture them with their tongues out.

I wouldn’t say my mother-in-law is overly fond of snakes either. When she spotted this snake in her yard last week, she rushed into the house to identify whether or not is was poisonous. Meanwhile I rushed up to the snake with my camera! It’s an Eastern garter snake. Not only is it not poisonous, but my mother-in-law decided I had actually made it look “cute” in my picture!

Speaking of my mother-in-law, as some of you may know, she lives in Charleston, SC, so obviously if I was lurking around with the snakes in her backyard, Mark and I were in Charleston ourselves last week. We were preparing for the beautiful wedding of Mark’s lovely cousin, so we didn’t have time for our usual sightseeing, but we spent a lot of time in the park with the dog and for the wedding. Here is an infrared shot of a wonderful oak that’s in the park.

Last night was yet another time I wandered off to Occoquan Bay NWR more for exercise than pictures. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and always take the big camera and the big lens just in case. I was also extremely glad I thought to pack my macro lens, which garnered me those rat snake pictures above (and some even more exciting ones below), but the telephoto came in handy for the obligatory osprey shot.

And guess what! I got another turkey picture! Just prior to sunset is the time to find them, apparently.

The absolute best, though, was…the beavers! Because these are my first beaver pictures ever!

I’ve only ever seen the very quick blur of a beaver once last summer, but last night I was very lucky. I guess I approached the creek so quietly (and I was literally the only person in the park at the time) they didn’t notice me at first and I was able to watch a couple of beavers actually working on their dam. They are so cute and funny! For several minutes, they seemed totally cool with me – and this picture was taken with my macro lens; he’s only about six feet from me. After a while, though, they got nervous and started going away. One of them was under water and surfaced right in front of me, saw me, freaked the hell out, and ducked back into the water so fast I started laughing out loud. I didn’t mean to scare him, but the look on his face was priceless. Wish I’d been able to get a picture of THAT. Once he booked it out of there, that was the end of the beaver show, but I was giddy. Is it weird that just seeing animals makes me ridiculously happy? Like, I can truly say that getting to see beavers was the best part of my day and probably my week.

I never get out that place having done any actual exercising, by the way. I mean, I get exercise from the walking, but basically I’m meandering slowly with a probably beatific look on my face taking a bunch of pictures.

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Chestnut-stuffed Peppers; Cucumber & Radish Salad

My favorite farmers at the market now have chestnuts. I’ve bought fresh chestnuts before and I recall them being a huge pain, although curiously I don’t recall much else about them. Nonetheless I was of course compelled to purchase a pint of them.

They’re still a huge pain.

I wanted to do something savory with them so I got the idea to use them in stuffed peppers. Here’s what I did.

Chestnut-stuffed Peppers

1/2 pint fresh chestnuts
1/4 large onion or 1/2 smaller onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp red wine
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1 cup vegan broth
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
salt
2 long sweet peppers
vegan cheese (optional), for topping

Here are my chestnuts. I peeled the whole pint but only used half of them in this recipe. I’ll roast the other half later.

Cut an “x” in each chestnut. I used a paring knife and had to be a bit stabby with it. It’s probably very easy to cut yourself when preparing chestnuts. It requires a bit more effort than doing the same thing to tomatoes you want to peel.

Put the chestnuts in some water, then bring it to a boil.

Boil the chestnuts for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat off but leave them in the pot. They are easier to peel when they are warm, so scoop out a few at a time and leave the rest in the water as you peel them. The shells will likely have started to open at your “x”.

Use your fingers and/or paring knife to remove the shell. The skin almost always comes off in the shell; sometimes you’ll have to rub it off. This one looks disconcertingly like a chocolate candy to me.

I’ll be honest, peeling chestnuts is a real bore and took forever.

At long last, they were done.

Roughly chop them.

Put some oil in a small skillet and add the diced onion. Cook for a minute or two, then add the garlic.

Add the chestnuts and cook another few minutes.

Add the wine, using it to deglaze the pan …

… then add the sage, broth, and salt to taste.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, and simmer until the chestnuts are soft. I left mine for 40 minutes while I went to exercise. Stir in the rice.

Pretty peppers.

Cut them in half lengthwise.

Remove the seeds.

Stuff 1/4 of the mixture into each half.

Optionally top with vegan cheese. I used a small bit of Daiya mozzarella and a generous sprinkle of Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix.

Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. I used my toaster oven, which worked great. Here it is finished. This was okay, but I wouldn’t say it was worth the effort of the chestnut peeling.

Cucumber and Radish Salad

2 pickling cucumbers, or 1 regular cucumber
3-4 large radishes
1/4 large or 1/2 smaller onion
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
3 springs dill, chopped (or just pull the fronds off)

Thinly slice the cucumbers and radishes; a mandoline is preferred for this task. Also very thinly slice the onion.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.

Toss everything together. Preferably put it in a bowl with a sealing lid. Refrigerate for at least an hour, occasionally shaking and/or flipping the bowl over if it has a sealable lid.

And here it is finished. I make variations of this frequently during the summer so there was no surprise here. It was a good choice to accompany this meal because chestnuts are a bit sweet, and I also served sweet corn on the cob, and this was a tangy, refreshing contrast.

In kitty news, Gomez and Torticia recently went in for their annual exams. I love taking them to the vet because they are not Tigger. Tigger hated hated HATED the vet. There are some vet techs out there who actually refused to be in the same room as him, and he left more than one doctor bruised and bloodied in his wake. In fact, it was generally a bloodbath and I’d have to walk out in shame. He was a TERROR. These two little sweet darlings, on the other hand, are SO GOOD! They react quite differently from each other, however. Torticia looks at the whole experience as one fun adventure and makes herself right at home, whereas Gomez rather quivers in fear the whole time.

Torticia at the vet:

Gomez at the vet:

Torticia at the vet:

Gomez at the vet (look at that scowl!):

I’ve zoomed in and enhanced this photo so you can see Torticia’s extremely cute “vanilla” toe. LOVE that the vanilla toe has a pink paw pad and the chocolate toes have brown pads!

Silly cats. Anyway, everyone oohed and aahed over their beauty, sweetness, and marvelously soft and silky coats. I love that no one who sees them can resist petting them. They are in optimal health, although little miss Fatso needs to shed some pounds. Gomez forgot his ordeal within two seconds of returning home. (Torticia, world’s most agreeable cat, couldn’t have cared less if I’d packed her back up and driven her back there a second time.)

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Mark’s Caesar Salad

Thanks to Smucky, Mark has become obsessed with Gordon Ramsay. Here is something you may not know about us: we don’t have cable or satellite TV. Other than a couple of years in high school, I have never had cable. In college and a few years after, back when TVs had antennae, I had network television, which I watched occasionally, but I’ve always preferred reading to watching television, and frankly, when we were no longer able to get even network stations, I didn’t miss it. We just stream stuff from Netflix and are plenty happy with that. However, whenever we are around cable television, such as our parents’ houses or hotels, we each have a couple of things we fight over watching. For me, it was always the Food Network. For Mark, it’s aliens. Frankly, I think the Food Network might be the MTV of the 21st century: do they have any shows about COOKING FOOD these days, or is it all just reality television? I don’t even bother trying to watch it any more. I never really watched it that much to begin with because it seemed like Paula Deen was always on and she gives me convulsions.

Anyway, Mark would always change the channel away from food as soon as I wasn’t looking. But Smucks loves Gordon Ramsay and when he was here last, he somehow got Mark stuck on Gordon Ramsay as well. Since then, Mark has been taking his Sunday meals up a notch. I’ll be honest with you: I’m surprised how good Mark is at cooking and that he hasn’t yet lost interest in making Sunday dinners. Apparently I have Ramsay to thank.

The first meal or two Mark made, he slavishly followed recipes he had found online, but one thing I’m really impressed by is how he’s been improvising since then. There’s no one way to cook, and I rarely help him, but I think he’s actually picking up my techniques, so I keep telling him he’s doing it right. He had asked me earlier if Caesar salad was okay for dinner, so I wasn’t surprised that was what he made tonight, but I was surprised by how great it looked:

He was particularly proud of the dressing, so I asked how he made it, thinking he’d give me a link to the recipe, but to my surprise he told me he didn’t know; he just made it up. I am so proud! Because it was really, really good! Fortunately for you, after we finished our meals, he remembered the recipe, so I’m going to share it with you.

Mark’s “Chicken” Caesar Salad
serves 2

2-3 heads romaine lettuce
1/2 cucumber, sliced
1 tomato, quartered
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
a sprinkling of shredded vegan mozzarella (we recommend Daiya)
3 Gardein chick’n scallopini
croutons

Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil
a little less than 1 Tbsp [vegan] mayonnaise (I told Mark this was called “scant”, but he told me to write it like he said it)
1 Tbsp “normal” vinegar
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
juice of half a lemon
splash of white wine
splash of red wine vinegar
a bunch of coarsely-ground black pepper
some salt
some more pepper

Blend together all of the dressing ingredients except the “some more pepper”. Mark hates mayonnaise and wants me to stress to you: DO NOT USE TOO MUCH MAYONNAISE OR IT WILL BE DISGUSTING. He used it to create a little creaminess, but he was very wary of it. If you use too much mayonnaise, you’ll have to add extra lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and pepper to mask the horribleness of the mayonnaise, Mark says. The dominant flavor of this dressing was the garlic (the house smelled deliciously of garlic; it was making me hungry!), but it’s not overpowering…although I suspect you had better be a garlic lover. After blending, taste and adjust the ingredients until it’s perfect, then add more coarse pepper. Set aside while the flavors blend.

Meanwhile, grill or pan-fry the “chicken”; we use a George Foreman grill. When it is done, slice into long strips.

Remove 4 or 5 of the best romaine leaves per serving and arrange in each bowl. Chop the rest of the lettuce and place in the bowls. Prepare the rest of the vegetables and arrange them neatly in each bowl. Top with the croutons and mozzarella. Drizzle with the dressing. According to Mark, Ramsay is big on presentation, and Mark’s been paying a lot of attention to it. See above for his amazing results! It not only looked great, but it tasted great.

I am also supposed to tell you that Mark included the mustard in his dressing because he learned from Alton Brown that mustard has scientific properties that bind oil and vinegar. I’ve always wanted to watch Alton Brown, but never managed to be around cable television at a time when he was on, until very recently Mark found and downloaded a bunch of Good Eats, the non-meat-tastic episodes of which we’ve watched a few. Yeah, that’s the first time I ever saw the show; we are SO not with the times in this household.

The other big news from today is we released the first three raccoons of the season! Raheema thought she was ready to go as soon she got to the outside enclosures (she wasn’t really ready then), but we had to wait until a few good days of weather were forecast. Which hasn’t been easy: our county flooded much worse than I’ve ever seen on Thursday. I was hoping we could do it today while I was there, and I was lucky!

We’re fortunate that we can release animals right on the wildlife sanctuary grounds so we can do soft releases. That means the raccoons are welcome to return to their enclosure for as long as they’d like (within reason), and they’ll be fed there during that time if they wish. So all we do is just open a little raccoon-sized door on the outside wall of their enclosure. We were a little surprised Raheema didn’t bolt out as soon as we opened it. I don’t think she realized what was happening at first.

It didn’t take her long to figure it out.

The first thing she did was climb her neighbor’s cage.

And two minutes later, she was back in the cage!

She went back and forth a few times, then we eventually lost track of her, because we were watching her brothers, Quivet and Quebec, who finally decided to join the fray:

Raccoons love climbing.

Compared to the tiny babies I bottle-fed a few months ago, these kits looked so BIG to me in their outdoor enclosures. But once in the great big outdoors, they looked so tiny again! I’m confident they have what it takes to survive though and am very happy for them!

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