Cooking at Home with Pedatha

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is how I push pleasure off. I save “good” things for a special day, but no day ever seems special enough. For example, I was given a bottle of champagne as a wedding gift 14 years ago, but never found an occasion to drink it. Currently I’m saving it to drink the day my divorce is final – maybe that day will be special enough! I’ll often purposely not wear my favorite clothes because today isn’t going to be “good” enough. I think maybe I need to start seeing every day as special instead of as something to just get through. One weird exception, though, is I tend to think nearly every single day is special enough for a grand meal and I have no trouble at all spending an hour or more in the kitchen on a weeknight. I pretty much refuse to serve myself (or certainly anyone else!) bad food.

In fact, I was seeing a therapist earlier in the year and one week I told her I thought maybe I had a bad – or really an overly good – relationship with food, because I eat too much of it and it’s too important to me. “You see,” I told her, “I’m a really good cook and I eat too much because I make too much and it tastes too good.” Now this is a true story: the following week, I went to a session directly following an incident where I made a mistake working with an education owl in training, and the owl got me in the face with a talon and I had to file an accident report even though it was really very minor, and I was SERIOUSLY upset. Like really, really, really upset that I had made the mistake and not forgiving myself about it and devastated about the whole thing. I spent the whole session talking about it and feeling awful. Then the very next week after THAT, I went to my session directly following a FAR more successful session with the owl – I pranced into the office announcing the owl and I had made up and showing the therapist this picture of us:

So at the end of that session, I told the therapist that if my two biggest problems in life were I’m too good a cook and I got into a fight with an owl, then I really didn’t need to be seeing her. And I was serious; that was the last time I went. Of course, I am still struggling with despair and depression, but what sane person isn’t right now? I am very deeply suspicious of anyone in this country who is NOT depressed and despairing right now. The people that need psychological help are anyone who works for, voted for, or defends that evil sham of a president.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is I tend to start my days assuming they won’t be anything special, but I end them really well. All of which was a really long introduction to show you what I made for dinner last night. I had the rest of a bunch of purple amaranth leftover, and since I had mentioned it in my previous post about my new cookbook, Every Grain of Rice, I decided to make one of the recipes in Cooking at Home with Pedatha that calls for amaranth. Actually the one I chose calls for spinach but says you can substitute amaranth. The reason I ended up on the tangent above was to explain how although that recipe wasn’t a particularly time consuming one, I ended up spending two hours in the kitchen (all of which I enjoyed). The authors suggested you serve the dal I made with one of the spicy chutneys in the book. So I chose a chutney, but the chutney then called for a podi in the book that I ALSO had to make. (And I was also making one of my huge batches of yogurt at the same time.) This sounds like a lot of work to make dinner just for myself, but honestly I think I’d go insane if I didn’t cook. It’s how I decompress. On the extremely rare days I don’t cook, something feels amiss. I need to cook. I might never drink that bottle of wedding champagne, but every day is special enough for good food! Having too much good food is a good problem to have. (Fighting with owls isn’t even always a bad problem to have: it’s not good to fight with education owls, but when I have rehab owls and they fight me, I know they are feeling better and I’ve done good work.)

Cooking at Home with Pedatha is kind of a weird book. I don’t even know if I recommend it because it’s not for everyone. It’s small, and it sometimes calls for ingredients that *I* can’t even identify and I have no problem buying and identifying weird ingredients (I thrive on it, even), and some ingredients are referred to by names other than what I’m used to in American English (like brinjal for eggplant). Many of the recipes require you to make another recipe first (there are several “podi” or “powdered seasoning” recipes that are used in other recipes). It’s not vegan (though it is vegetarian). I love it nonetheless. I’ve probably made relatively few recipes from it, but every time I do, I’m happy with the results, and some of them are things I never would have come up with on my own. With some cookbooks, particularly “American” vegan cookbooks, I find the recipes aren’t that different than what I would have just done on my own. And because I have absolutely no need, or even desire most of the time, to follow a recipe, what’s the point? But the chutney I made from Pedatha last night? I NEVER would have come up with anything like that. So do I suggest you buy this cookbook? If you love Indian food and don’t already have a cookbook you really like and aren’t looking for something big and comprehensive and don’t mind doing some translating and can get to an Indian grocery store, sure!

Moving on, here’s what I did last night:

First I made the Sambar Podi, which I didn’t take a picture of because it’s just a powdered seasoning. It involved roasting coriander and fenugreek seeds, along with dried coconut and red chilis, then grinding them all up.

Then I made the Cucumber Sweet and Sour Chutney, which was quite interesting. I didn’t like it quite as much as the Smacked Cucumber I made earlier in the week from Every Grain of Rice, but whereas the smacked cucumber was pretty similar to something I would have made up on my own, this was definitely something I’d never have dreamed up.

Then I made the Red Gram with Spinach, only I substituted amaranth for the spinach (which was a suggestion in the book).

A nice meal:

On a nice balcony. 🙂

And this post was way more than I intended it to be!

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Every Grain of Rice

So, uh, got really busy there, including a 2.5-week stint with constant visitors staying with me, during which time I should probably have continued doing posts – I quite regret not taking a single picture of the spread I put out for a party I hosted during that time – but what’s done is done.

I did a somewhat bad thing a few days ago, and spent money I don’t really have on something I don’t really need: a cookbook. I have quite a few cookbooks and I love reading cookbooks, but I very rarely cook from cookbooks. So at this financial juncture in my life – one of the very lowest – buying a cookbook was a dubious decision. But somehow I was reading something last week, I have no idea what, and someone made a comment about Every Grain of Rice by Fucshia Dunlop, so I ended up on Amazon reading its reviews and samples, and I quickly became convinced I needed this book. It’s not a vegan cookbook, or even vegetarian, but as the description says, it captures “the vibrant everyday cooking of southern China, in which vegetables play the starring role, with small portions of meat and fish”. It’s easy to simply ignore the relatively small meat chapters, although I read them and plan to convert some of those recipes. Anyway, I thought it over for a day or two and eventually bought the book as a treat for surviving the last few months, because I felt by looking at the sample recipes this would be a cookbook I would really connect with and actually use. My favorite cuisine is Ethiopian, followed closely by “Asian” which I realize is way too broad to lump together into one, but I love it all. Although I barely consider most American Chinese take-out food to be actual food, I love “real” Chinese food and cook it often, but I feel like I could really expand my repertoire in that regard and I feel like this book will help me enormously. The last few cookbooks I’ve bought – mostly all canning cookbooks – I’ve bought electronic versions of so I could easily reference them on my tablet in the kitchen, but I intuited this was something I needed a real copy of, which I’m sure was the right decision. As soon as it arrived, I sat down and read it cover to cover (and it’s huge!), skimming only the meat sections, and yesterday I went to an Asian grocery store and got a few supplies to round out my already-pretty-well-stocked pantry. I marked a ton of recipes I want to make and I’m excited to try all of them – I don’t regret the purchase at all, even if I shouldn’t be buying myself things right now.

SO, unfortunately I don’t have recipes for you today BUT I have some pictures of the first things I made, all of which were delicious. I made:

  • Smacked Cucumber in Garlicky Sauce
  • Bear’s Paw Tofu
  • Purple Amaranth with Garlic

I don’t know why I’ve never purchased amaranth before – I come across it all the time in recipes (including another one of my favorite cookbooks, another rare one which I actually cook from, Cooking at Home with Pedatha) – and I love buying exotic veggies and greens when I come across them, but somehow I’d managed to never buy amaranth. So when I saw huge bundles of purple amaranth at the Asian grocery store yesterday and I remembered seeing a recipe for it in Every Grain of Rice, which I was planning to cook from that night, I grabbed one. It’s so pretty!

Some Asian grocery stores, especially Chinese ones, I’ve found, sell “bulk” fresh tofu. The store I went to yesterday – one I hadn’t yet been to – was pretty small but had fresh tofu, 99 cents for a pound, so I bought a pound. I very, very, very, very, very rarely deep fry anything – mostly because it’s so messy – but I had bookmarked the Bear’s Paw Tofu recipe when I first read the book last week, and the fresh tofu comes in squares that are PERFECT for that recipe, so I decided to forge ahead with it last night. I still don’t love deep frying but let me just say that my induction burner, which I DO love, is GREAT for deep frying! You are supposed to heat the oil to between 350 and 375 degrees so I just set the burner for 375 degrees, SO easy! And I’m sure my wok loved it – deep frying is good for the seasoning. This was a fun dish to make, even with the deep frying. 🙂

Here’s the tofu after being deep fried and while the sauce is simmering:

And nearly finished:

The tofu and amaranth, along with some rice, would have been a complete meal, but I couldn’t resist making the Smacked Cucumber, which is literally the first recipe in the book, because it really seemed like a Renae-type recipe and also I really felt like smacking a cucumber. It was SO fast and easy and I think might actually have been my favorite thing, although all three recipes were really great.

Enjoyed on my beautiful balcony with a glass of wine, of course:

In wildlife news, I can’t usually post photos of the animals I rehab, but as the releases are done in the public, those photos are fair game. This time of year – late summer – is full of releases as all the orphaned babies we’ve raised come to age. I released four young songbirds on Saturday! But what I really love are raptor releases, especially the ones I’ve rehabbed at home. The week before last I released an adult (yes, that’s an adult!) Western screech owl that had been attacked by some other animal and required sutures on its wing. When I brought her home, she was so down she was completely docile: I could pick her up bare-handed and she had no reaction. As she healed, she got angrier and angrier. When she was trying to murder me and I needed gloves to handle her, I knew she was ready to move to an outdoor aviary for a few days of test flight. After a week outside, I was asked to release her back to where she was found. Here are a couple pictures:

Best part of rehab!!

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Beefy Stew Paprika

Last night’s dinner was very much a clean-out-the-fridge affair. I had a couple servings of leftover rice, some chard I needed to use, vegan beefy crumbles that were just past their expiration, some limp celery, a bell pepper that was just beginning to look past its prime, green beans from last week, and about a million onions from Mariquita. So I put it all together and did this:

Beefy Stew Paprika

1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1 medium Anaheim pepper or other mild pepper, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 package vegan beefy crumbles (about 6 ounces)
1/4 cup red wine
1 cup green beans, trimmed and chopped into 2″ pieces
4-5 small or 1-2 medium new potatoes, chopped
16 ounces canned whole tomatoes
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup vegan “chicken” broth
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp paprika (sweet, hot, or even smoked depending on your taste)
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
salt to taste

In a food processor or blender, blend together the whole tomatoes and the tomato paste. Set aside. Saute the onion, celery, and peppers in some olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and saute a few more minutes, then add the beefy crumbles and break them up. Add the wine to deglaze. Add the tomato mixture and broth, then the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until potatoes are soft; salt as desired.

The chard was simply chopped, sauteed, and simmered briefly in some broth. Served with a glass of wine on my balcony, of course!

In cat news, Gomez has been dealing with some medical issues, which have been temporarily mediated by a cortisone shot. I’ve spent many hours worrying about him lately, but the shot is helping for now. He’s been extremely good-natured, loving, and wonderful during this entire ordeal. Yesterday I was trying to take a picture of him for a friend and ended up with this:

A slightly less intimidating shot. He’s a very beautiful and lovely boy.

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Roasted Moroccan Vegetables with Couscous

If you live in the Bay Area and enjoy eating produce but don’t want to commit to a CSA, you should check out Mariquita Farms. Years ago, I read an article about them, probably on The Kitchn, (actually, it was, I just found it: https://www.thekitchn.com/weekend-meditation-the-mystery-46087), and living in Northern Virginia I was jealous I didn’t have access to what sounded like a cool concept: periodic deliveries of “mystery boxes” of produce on a pay-as-you-want-to-receive-it basis, instead of locking yourself into an entire season of weekly CSA boxes you might not be able to consume all of. I never forgot about that article but I may have forgotten where the farm even was. But then I moved to the Bay Area years later and someone told me about Mariquita Farms, and I realized it was the place from that article, so I immediately signed up for their mailing list. I don’t order from them every time they do an East Bay drop-off (though I sometimes do a peninsula order as well), but when it does fit into my schedule, I’m never disappointed. In addition to the “mystery box” (which isn’t entirely a mystery as they’ll give you a pretty good idea of what to expect based on which crops are ready), they usually have additional items you can order in bulk. Last year instead of doing the pick-your-own tomatoes I had done the prior two years when it was tomato canning time, I just ordered 60 pounds of Romas through Mariquita and picked them up in Palo Alto.

This week’s mystery box was probably my favorite so far. It included:

  • Several red onions
  • Some new potatoes
  • A huge bunch of chard
  • Two different types of basil
  • Lots of jalapenos
  • Another kind of chili pepper
  • 4 eggplants
  • A bunch of beets
  • Four different kinds of tomatoes!

I think that’s it? I might be forgetting something. In addition to all that, I ordered a bunch of extras:

  • Two 5-pound bags of tomatillos so I can make and can salsa verde this weekend
  • One 5-pound bag of lemons
  • One 5-pound bag of cured red onions
  • One 5-pound bag of avocados

I should have taken photos of everything before I put it all away, but here are some of the tomatoes:

The lemons I bought so I could make some preserved lemons, which I am out of. To make preserved lemons, you cut a few lemons into quarters (traditionally, you don’t cut them all the way so the lemon opens like a flower, but I never use more than a quarter at a time and they fit in the jar better separated so I cut them into actual quarters), toss them very generously with salt, optionally add some spices (I used peppercorns and bay leaves this time), then juice enough additional lemons that the juice covers all the lemons, put a lid on the jar, and shake it every day for a month or so until the rind has softened enough that it’s edible. Then to use, you pull out what you need, rinse the extra salt off, and chop it up.

I frequently use preserved lemons in Moroccan tagines, so I got the idea to make a Moroccan-inspired meal last night, even though my lemons are a month from being preserved. But I also had picked up some Hodo Soy Moroccan Tofu Cubes the other day I wanted to try. I don’t tend to buy a lot of pre-flavored items like this because I prefer making my own sauces, and they tend to be expensive, but I love Hodo Soy (especially since they are based in Oakland, so they are local!). Here’s what I did:

Roasted Moroccan Vegetables with Couscous
1 eggplant, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 large, mild chili pepper, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cup vegan “chicken” or vegetable broth, divided
1 Tbsp Instant Gel
1 Tbsp Trader Joe’s harissa sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 package Hodo Soy Hodo Soy Moroccan Tofu Cubes
lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place chopped veggies on a baking tray and toss with olive oil. Roast about half an hour.

Meanwhile, bring 1 cup of the broth to a boil. Put the couscous in a bowl, pour in the boiling broth and stir, then cover and set aside for 15 minutes. When the time is up, fluff with a fork.

Whisk together the remaining broth and the harissa sauce and cumin. Slowly whisk in the Instant Gel to thicken it a little.

Separately, heat the tofu cubes – I just used the microwave.

To serve, spoon some of the sauce over the roasted veggies, and serve over the couscous with the tofu cubes. Drizzle with fresh-squeezed lemon.

In other news, yeah, I was kinda on a roll with posting there for a short while then stopped when I went from my typical insanely busy to EXTRA insanely busy with dollops of both very expensive cat AND car problems. Cats and cars are all back home and in working order for the moment, so maybe my life will return to what passes for normal. I also have an owl in the house at the moment! Something that I’ve been doing for the last few months that has made a big difference in my life – and something that I NEVER thought I’d be into doing – is going to the gym for classes at 5:30 a.m. several days a week. I feel SO much better, physically and emotionally, on gym days, and I actually enjoy being there and enjoy the company of the others in my class, and our trainer is completely awesome. I work better on gym days, too. This morning as I was driving back home after class, the sun was just barely trying to rise and peek out from the morning fog that is typical to this area (but which hasn’t been around much the last few weeks), and I noticed the light off in the distance looked really, really cool. When I got home I found the light off my balcony (still my favorite spot in my place!!) was extra beautiful. The photos I took don’t really capture it at all, but this is an approximation (you can click for a bigger version). My life has been somewhat troubled this month, but in the grand scheme of things, I am a very, very fortunate person.

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Pasta Primavera

This meal was the result of having some English peas from the farmers market that I needed to use ASAP, and wanting something relatively light.

Pasta Primavera
8 oz dried pasta
1 1/2 cups fresh English peas, shelled
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small red onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 bell pepper, cut into strips
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 tsp dried Italian-y herbs
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp vegan cream cheese (optional)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the carrot, onion, bell pepper, and cherry tomatoes with some olive oil and dried herbs. (I keep a mixture of dried herbs that I use to make quick Italian vinaigrettes, and I used that.) Roast for 20-20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add some salt and the peas and pasta. Cook until the pasta is done and drain. Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and cream cheese, if using (the only reason I used it is I found some while foraging in the fridge and figured I’d try to get rid of it). Toss everything together and season with flaky salt if desired. Top with vegan parmesan if you’d like.

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Roasted Veggies, Kale, and Mixed Grains

This isn’t really a recipe but more of a description of what I had for dinner last night. There were three components:

  • Roasted vegetables: one beet (peeled and chopped), two large carrots (peeled and chopped), one medium potato (chopped; I don’t peel potatoes), and one onion (peeled and chopped), tossed lightly with olive oil, baked at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about half an hour, then tossed with some pesto.
  • Dinosaur kale: Chop the kale and mince or press a few cloves of garlic. Saute the garlic in some olive oil, then add the kale and saute until starting to wilt. Add 1/4 cup veggie or vegan chicken broth, cover, reduce heat, and cook until done to your liking. After the kale was cooked, I coated it with a tahini-nutritional yeast-lemon juice sauce that I can’t give you an exact recipe for because it started off as leftovers from another sauce that I added things to. I was sort of cleaning out the refrigerator. I also tossed in the remainder of a home-canned jar of chickpeas for a little additional protein.
  • Quinoa/millet mix: 1/2 cup quinoa + 1/2 cup millet + 1 1/2 cups water or broth. Bring to a boil in a small/medium heavy pot, cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook about 25 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes, covered, then fluff. (This makes enough for several meals.)

I recently did something I never do, which is purchase salad dressings (I vastly prefer homemade), but Trader Joe’s has these refrigerated Green Goddess and Carrot Ginger Miso dressings which are vegan and looked really good, so I couldn’t resist trying them, even though I could probably have easily made both of them at home. They are in fact really good and although I probably won’t use them on my regular tossed salads, I really enjoyed them mixed in with this meal. I realize that between the pesto on the roasted veggies and the tahini thing on the kale, this is a lot of different sauces in one bowl, but what can I say: I’m a sucker for sauces.

And for today’s bonus, here are some photos I took on a kayaking trip in Elkhorn Slough near Monterey on Sunday, which was absolutely delightful. Elkhorn Slough has the highest concentration of sea otters and I’ve been dying to go there for a long time. It was great!

There are also sea lions and harbor seals:

And lots of pelicans:

I love where I live!

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Tomato Farro

Last night I made Smitten Kitchen’s One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes. I won’t post the recipe as the only change I made was replacing the fresh basil with a dollop of pesto, as earlier in the week I’d transformed all my basil into pesto. I also halved the recipe since it was just me, and I still have half of it leftover. It was really good – I’ll make this again.

I served this with a salad. Because I love salad!

I’m not going to be able to do long posts all the time, and if start expecting to, I’ll never keep up with this, but I was thinking this was going to be really short since I wasn’t actually posting a recipe, so who wants to see some cats???

Well, first you’ll have to read about something seemingly unrelated. Or “seamingly” unrelated, hahaha. When I started looking for places to live this last time around, I knew I was going to have to get rid of a lot of stuff, and honestly, I love getting rid of stuff, especially at this juncture in my life, but there is some stuff that would be a struggle to live without, like, oh, most of my immense amount of kitchen stuff. (But as mentioned in a previous post, I really lucked out as far as my kitchen is concerned!) One thing I was a little nervous about possibly having to get rid of was my sewing machine. I’m not a huge sewer, because I’m not good at anything that requires complicated patterns (or any patterns, really) or more than the very basic straight stitching, but as you can see from the several sewing tutorials I have on here, I do occasionally sew simple things. If I were a normal person and just had a modern sewing machine I could stash in a closet when I wasn’t using it, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but after destroying about 5 such sewing machines in a lifetime, I bought an antique 1949 Singer a while back, which totally changed what happens when I sew (soooooo much less cussing and anger!). In addition to actually WORKING, unlike all the machines I’ve broken in the past, it’s a showpiece because it’s so beautiful, and it sits in a special table and all that jazz. Which is great and all but that means it takes up space that I was sure was going to be at a premium. I was stressing out about this a bit, even though I’ve really only used the sewing machine maybe 6 or 7 times since I got to California three years ago.

As it turns out, I have plenty of space for the sewing machine. I still didn’t expect to be inspired to USE it any time soon, though, because I am ridiculously busy. But I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the bag I was using at the wildlife hospitals. A couple years ago I made myself a handbag to use on “normal” days, and a separate bag to carry on “wildlife” days, stashing in the latter things I only need at the hospitals, like my set of hospital keys, a notebook, name tags, raptor gloves, training whistle, etc. I just transfer my wallet from bag to bag depending on the day. But I was starting to find the wildlife bag too small, the more involved I get and the more things I’m doing, and things weren’t as organized as I’d like, so I decided to make myself a new, improved bag this week. Since it had been a while since I’ve sewn anything, I had forgotten how SUPER INVOLVED Gomez gets when I sew!

Like, he’s got to roll around on the fabric while I’m trying to cut it. Super unsafe! So annoying! But also adorable! HE IS VERY HANDSOME.

He also enjoys sitting on my lap – or on my shoulders – when I’m at the sewing machine. Anyway, as soon as I managed to clear Mezzie off the cutting mat, THIS one showed up in his place:

I swear, that bag took twice as long to make as it should have! If you are curious, here’s the final product:

I pinned one of my nametags onto it because it was always stabbing me when I had it tossed into the bottom of the old bag, but I just realized I pinned it right over the peacock’s eyes. Oops!

My other bag was made using an owl print, quilting weight fabric, and since I wanted something heavier this time, I tried to find owl upholstery fabric that wasn’t overly cutesy, but didn’t find anything I liked, so I went with this peacock fabric. It’s not as heavy as I was hoping either, though, so I’ll use this for a little while and see whether or not I like it or if I need to try again. I did put owls on the inside though!

I’ll be headed to one of the hospitals this afternoon (well, actually I’ll be at both of them at one point today, god I’m busy), so we’ll see how it does when put to the test!

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Chili-Soy Tofu, Stir-fried Baby Bok Choy, Daikon Salad and Miso Soup

Last night’s dinner was kind of “Asian fusion” I guess, although I was thinking about it in a Japanese-inspired frame of mind. The goal was to use the daikon and baby bok choy I got at the farmers market, so here’s what I did:

Daikon Salad

1 medium daikon, spiralized, julienned, or shredded
1 medium carrot, spiralized, julienned, or shredded
1-2 scallions, cut thinly on a bias
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp vegan fish sauce, if you have it (omit if not)
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch of salt if needed

Whisk together the sauce ingredients, toss with the vegetables, and chill for at least half an hour.

The last time I was in Sacramento, I ordered take-out from Andy Nguyen’s Vegetarian Restaurant (the food was excellent, by the way). While I waited to pick up my order, I spied some vegan fish sauce they were selling, the proceeds for which went to fund a temple, and I couldn’t resist buying a bottle. Unlike every vegan fish sauce I’ve purchased in the past (admittedly, not many), this stuff was really good! It’s made with pineapple juice so since I’m not in Sacramento that frequently I’ve been trying to develop my own go-to recipe that’s similar. Maybe soon I’ll have a finished recipe to share! That’s the story with my fish sauce.

Miso Soup

I’m sure I have a recipe for this on here somewhere already, but basically:

1 piece kombu
4 cups water
a few pieces of dried wakame
1 small carrot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup tofu, small dice
splash of rice vinegar
3 Tbsp miso
1 scallion, sliced

Steep the kombu in the water (you can boil or warm the water first for faster results) for 1-24 hours, then remove. Bring the water to a boil along with the wakame, carrot, and tofu; boil for about 5 minutes. Remove a few tablespoons of the water to a cup and whisk the miso into the cup, then pour the miso mixture back into the soup pot. Season with a little rice vinegar to taste and add the scallions.

Garlic Ginger Baby Bok Choy

a few heads of baby bok choy, chopped with white and green parts separated
1/4 cup vegan chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tbsp minced or pressed garlic
1 Tbsp minced ginger

Stir the garlic and ginger into the broth and set aside. Heat some oil in a medium pan or wok and stir fry the white parts of the bok choy until soft. Add the green leaves and fry until limp. Pour the sauce in, stir, and let it reduce. Serve.

Chili-Soy Tofu

1/2 lb extra firm tofu, cubed
4 Tbsp sweet chili sauce (similar to what you’d dip spring rolls into)
1 Tbsp soy sauce

Heat some oil over medium heat in a pan or wok and fry the tofu until it’s lightly browned. Add the sauce, stir, and cook until caramelized. Serve.

I used the chili sauce recipe in Not Your Mama’s Canning Book, which I really like.

This was all served with sushi rice. Every time I took a bite of the tofu I thought it was my favorite part of the meal, until I took a bite of the bok choy and thought it was my favorite part of the meal, and then I realized there are two types of people: those that mix their food and those that don’t. I’m firmly in the mixing camp and don’t understand people who can’t let different parts of their meal even touch other parts. So the best parts of this meal where the ones where the sauces for the tofu and the boy choy mingled all over each other. 🙂

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Roasted Vegetable Pesto Polenta

Hello, is anyone out there? After a lengthy absence I am back with some recipes! I doubt anyone will see this after so long, but I’ve been cooking up a storm lately and decided to post if for no other reason to give myself ideas at some future date when I’m not feeling as creative.

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve spent the time since my last post, which I see was just after “the election”, in a state of deep depression, stress, and anxiety. Much of it was directly related to the election and continues to this day, and will undoubtedly continue through 2020, although some of it was due to personal reasons. The good news is I’m feeling better personally. (Though still feel increasingly terrible as an American.) Dark as my days may have been, I never stopped wanting to cook, and I frequently made really good stuff, but I wouldn’t say I was being particularly explorative when cooking over the last couple of years. Occasionally a friend would tell me I should post something here, but I either didn’t agree the meal warranted a post or just didn’t have the wherewithal to get around to it.

I moved into my third new place in three years in California a few weeks ago. I’m sill in the Bay Area (I’ve barely moved a mile each time), but have downsized to a slightly more affordable condo as opposed to the single family houses Mark and I shared. I wasn’t sure how the transition to a multi-family building would be for me, and there are still some things I’m getting used to, but I wasn’t expecting to get as extra-excited about cooking as I have! Especially since although I REALLY lucked out regarding the size of my kitchen, the electric stove top is vintage to the 1983 building construction and it’s a freakin’ mess! (The double oven, though, is brand new!) Ironically, the stove is probably partially responsible for my recent cooking zeal because it “forced” me to buy an induction burner, which I’ve wanted for years, and use it for most of my cooking, AND I LOVE IT. I should have bought one a long time ago: if nothing else it would have saved me from the ten times I’ve let my homemade soy milk boil over when making yogurt!

I’ve been more consistently going to farmers markets lately, and being at farmers markets makes me intensely happy. I come home with a basket full of produce, eager to turn it into delicious meals. My meals have become a little more imaginative and healthy than they were. I’ve never actually eaten badly, by any means, and maybe it’s just the summer season with all its bounty, but I feel like I’m just eating fresher and healthier than ever before. I’m actually overwhelmed with ideas and meals I want to make! As I said, I thought maybe I’d try to document some of them here, because I know these things come and go in phases and in a few months I might not be feeling quite as imaginative or excited. So to that end, here is last night’s…

Roasted Vegetable Pesto Polenta

One trend in my meals of late has been roasting vegetables, making some sort of whole grain or grains, concocting some new sauce, grabbing handfuls of fresh herbs, and serving a one-bowl meal of it. I scored a huge bunch of basil for $1.50 at the market yesterday, so I made pesto. Although I have been doing a lot of experimenting lately, I actually made a very traditional pesto, although for me THAT was experimental because as a vegan, I’ve never actually made pesto exactly as you’re supposed to, since obviously I don’t eat cheese. I really like Follow Your Heart’s vegan parmesan, though, so I used that.

1 cup whole grain polenta-ground corn
4 cups water
1/2 tsp salt

2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 zuchinni or summer squash, sliced
1 small onion, roughly chopped

1/4 cup pesto (homemade is best, but Trader Joe’s sells a vegan version)
3 Tbsp corn relish
vegan parmesan (optional)

I made the polenta in my Instant Pot using these directions, but basically to make it, you put the water in a pot (Instant or otherwise), then slowly whisk in the polenta meal. Then you add salt and cook it until it’s done, stirring often if you are making it on the stove, or on the Porridge –> More setting on the Instant Pot. Both methods probably take the same amount of time when it’s all said and done, but with the Instant Pot method I just walked away from it for half an hour, so that’s easier.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the prepared vegetables in olive oil and sprinkle with some salt. Roast them until they are tender, about 25 minutes.

To serve, scoop some prepared polenta into a shallow bowl. Dollop half the pesto on top. Add the roasted vegetables and dollop the remaining pesto on top of them. Finally top with the corn relish, and if desired garnish with vegan parm. The corn relish I used was my home-canned relish using a recipe from the excellent Saving the Season by Kevin West. If you don’t have corn relish, find some other pickled item to add a “zing” – otherwise maybe just try a little lemon juice. I liked the contrast between the sweet polenta corn and the zip of the corn relish.

I served this with field green salad tossed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic, Dijon, and salt):

As I’ve eaten ALL my meals lately, I ate this on my balcony, and it felt like being in a particularly cozy restaurant.

Another unexpected thing about my new place is that my favorite “room” is the balcony! (Well, one of the two balconies!) I absolutely love it out here (I’m composing this post from it!). The weather is (almost) always perfect here, so it’s always pleasant to be outside. Here’s a picture taken of my lunch (gumbo!) earlier yesterday: on the table you can see the basil that would shortly become pesto:

I don’t know what it is about this balcony, but I honestly feel like I’m on vacation every time I’m out here. It puts me in a very relaxed state. Since I work from home, I’m able to eat all three meals outside and mentally it’s extremely good for me. I usually read while I eat, or if I want to watch TV or a movie while I eat dinner, I use my tablet. It’s sooo much nicer than what I’ve done for years, which is eat dinner on the sofa (unless we had guests). The only downside to the balcony is I miss the cats, who used to sit on my lap while I ate, but now have to sit by the door and look forlornly out at me since they can’t come out here. But having such a wonderful place to eat is probably another part of the reason I’ve been so into cooking.

I’ve also been canning a lot since I moved. A friend, who had helped me pack my jars last time, came to visit the new place and commented that it looked like I had fewer jars this year than I did last year. So I promptly canned two different kinds of pickles, 40 pints of different soups, chili sauce, and ginger syrup – I must have added at least 75 jars to the shelf since I got here. I should do a post soon on the beautiful jar shelf Fortinbras built me and all the stuff I’ve been canning. I’m currently developing a “gumbo starter” recipe I want to pressure can. (Hence yesterday’s gumbo lunch!)

And in other news, I’m only even more involved in wildlife rehab than I was the last time you heard from me. Because it’s the busy season, I’m working a ton of hours on wildlife-related stuff, several days a week. I’ve also started doing at-home rehab: some baby mammals (I’m actually picking up a batch of 30-gram opossums tonight), but mostly, and my favorite – OWLS! That’s right: I keep owls in my house. It’s amazing. Once the animals I’ve raised and/or healed are ready to go, I usually get to release them myself, so in addition to all the rehab, I’ve been doing a lot of wildlife releases. I’m not allowed to share pictures from inside the hospitals or of rehab patients in my home on social media, so sorry, I can’t post tons of adorable owl pictures, but here is a video of me releasing a white-tailed kite last week:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQWRS8PtU3I

And finally, I’m still trying to hike a few times a week, although I’ve added kayaking and biking to my activities as well. I’m still seeing all kinds of amazing animals when I go out! A friend and I came across this Great Horned owl fledgling in Redwood Regional Park last week.

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Oh hello! Thanksgiving, pressure canning, etc.

Hi! It’s me, Renae! I am still alive, still in California, still vegan, still cooking, still obsessed with wildlife. The only thing that’s really new is the pervasive feeling of being traumatized that I’ve felt since the election. I keep reading about these “fake news articles” that are apparently running rampant on the internet. Apparently it’s mostly a Facebook thing and I use Facebook so infrequently that I actually have no idea how to even SEE news articles in Facebook, but I keep hoping that maybe all news articles about Trump winning the election are fake news. Please tell me that is the case: please, please, please. But enough about that because I just can’t deal with it.

I’ve decided to write a post here today mostly because it’s raining today here in the Bay Area and I’m therefore not out hiking as I usually would be, plus I took a few pictures of my Thanksgiving table. We hosted Thanksgiving dinner here for our friends Brad and April, who moved to the area about the same time we did last year. I made:

seitan “turkey”
stuffing
mashed potatoes
gravy
green bean casserole
macaroni & “cheese”
cranberry relish
sauerkraut
bread

Here are some pics:

And Brad brought a really delicious sweet potato pie and brownies for dessert.

The “turkey”, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green bean casserole I pretty much made up as I went along. The cranberry relish was from Brooklyn Supper and was really good. The bread was the poolish-version ciabatta from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. The sauce for the mac & cheese was from Avocados and Ales. The “turkey” was pretty similar to the recipe for breasts of unchicken from The Homemade Vegan Pantry (which I love), but I pressure cooked it as a large loaf on Wednesday, then used Miyoko’s recipe for the yuba “skin” and baked it again Thursday afternoon.

The mashed potatoes were really random (well, as random as mashed potatoes can be anyway); Brad asked me if they had red pepper flakes in them, while saying they were really good. One of the random ingredients was a garlic-based spice mix that I bought from Garlic World while stopping in Gilroy one afternoon trying to avoid heavy Highway 1 traffic on the way home from Monterey, and which apparently contained red pepper flakes. And here’s a rough recipe for the green bean casserole for others like me who hate mushrooms:

Green Bean Casserole
2 lbs green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-3″ lengths
1 small onion, diced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
1 cup vegan chicken or veggie broth
3 Tbsp Ultra Gel
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 avocado
3 oz canned fried onions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the green beans. Cook until al dente, then drain and shock in cold water to stop cooking. Saute the onion and celery in some vegan butter or margarine until onions are translucent; set aside. Whisk together the broth, Ultra gel, onion powder, and garlic powder until the broth thickens. Mash up the avocado and add to the broth mixture and mix well. Stir in the green beans, onion/celery mixture, and half of the fried onions. Place in an oven-safe dish, cover, and bake at 375 for half an hour. Uncover and top with remaining fried onions, then continue to bake for 15-20 more minutes. I baked mine, covered, for half an hour, then cooled and put it in the fridge overnight so it only needed 15-20 minutes on Thanksgiving day.

Oh, and the stuffing was really easy:

Stuffing

1/2 loaf sliced whole wheat bread (about 10 slices)
1 large white onion, diced
4-5 stalks celery, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp vegan butter (I used the vegan butter from The Homemade Vegan Pantry) or margarine
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves
2 Tbsp fresh thyme
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 cup vegan “chicken” broth + 1 tsp poultry seasoning whisked in

Chop the bread slices into cubes and spread out on a sheet pan. Bake in a 240-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 45 minutes or until dried out, stirring occasionally. Melt the butter or margarine over medium heat, then saute the onion, celery, and garlic until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add the sage, thyme, and rosemary and cook another minute or so. Stir in the bread cubes, then add as much of the broth as necessary to soak the bread. Place in an oven-safe dish and bake, covered, at 375 degrees for half an hour. Uncover and bake another 20-30 minutes or until slightly crispy on top. Again, I baked mine, covered, for half an hour Wednesday night, then uncovered for half an hour Thursday afternoon.

I was so organized with my cooking and planning that I was able to go for a short hike Wednesday afternoon before it got dark, and on Thursday morning had a couple hours to just read and be by myself without running around like crazy. 🙂 Really all I needed to do Thursday was bake the bread (I had made the poolish the night before), set out all the appetizers, and re-heat everything. I am good at holidays!

I feel like every time I get around to making a new post I have a new culinary gadget to rave about. Last time it was my Instant Pot. This time it’s my pressure canner! A couple months ago I had 60 pounds of tomatoes I needed to can in one weekend, plus 10 pounds of beets, half of which I was planning to pickle. I’ve done 60 pounds of tomatoes in one weekend in a water bath canner before, but for some reason it was feeling really overwhelming that day and I made the somewhat impulsive decision to buy a pressure canner. It was enough of an impulse decision that I didn’t have time to Amazon Prime it, so I had to find one locally. The only Ace Hardware that had it listed in stock was in Oakland, so I drove out there and went looking for it in that store, but was unable to find it. I asked for help and was told they’d have to special order it for me. I was pretty annoyed I had driven out there for no reason AND I REALLY wanted the canner at this point so I sat in my car and tried to think who else might carry it. I thought of Bed, Bath, and Beyond and went to their website on my phone and was delighted to find that there was a BB&B TWO BLOCKS from where I was that had the same canner in stock! So I went over there and looked around for it. I didn’t see it there either and was feeling a little frantic, until I looked way UP and saw it all the way up by the ceiling. So I had to find someone to get a ladder and get it down for me, but I finally got what I wanted!

I don’t know that pressure canning tomatoes really saves time in itself: the processing time is much shorter than a water bath, but once you add in the time spent venting steam before you start, then getting up to pressure, and then coming back down from pressure (which you must do naturally), really you spend the same amount of time working overall. BUT I can fit a whopping 22 pints into my canner! So basically I can do the equivalent 3 loads at one time, which IS a huge timesaver. I’d have bought the pressure canner for that reason only. But what I’m really loving about it is all the stuff I can now can that I never could before: basically, non-pickled vegetables, beans, and soups. The same weekend I had 60 pounds of tomatoes, I also had 10 pounds of beets, which is a surprising amount of beets. I pickled 6 or 7 pounds (I love pickled beets!) and used a water bath to can them, but then I pressure canned the rest. (By the way, I used my Instant Pot to cook the beets before doing either – the beets are what’s in the Instant Pot in the picture above!) So far I’ve used some of the non-pickled beets to make an impromptu borscht.

As I mentioned on Twitter the day I canned the tomatoes and beets, the “problem” with pressure canning is there is all this time waiting for the canner to come up to pressure that ends up being devoted to drinking and taking pictures of cats, who think they are canning helpers.

So anyway, now I’m on a big pressure canning kick with the goal of canning a bunch of things I can later turn into dinner on very short order – such as during the summer when they days are so long I often don’t come home from hiking until 10 p.m. and I’m starving. I’ve been soaking dried beans and pressure canning them, which I love because it’s so much cheaper than buying canned beans AND contains no sodium or other additives. For some reason I find it immensely satisfying. Last weekend I bought 40 more pounds of tomatoes (which were somehow still in season where I live) in order to make tomato soup. I used this recipe from Common Sense Home, which said I’d get 4 pints out of 8 pounds of tomatoes, so I made 5x the recipe, expecting to yield 20 pints. I somehow ended up with 35 pints! I basically have a TON of tomato soup!

But it tastes great and is really versatile: in addition to serving as regular old tomato soup (usually with grilled “cheese”, of course), it makes a good base for a ton of other soups, and regular readers of this blog may remember how much I love soup.

I used a Victorio strainer to strain the tomato soup and ended up with a large amount of a really dry tomato peel/tomato seeds/celery/onion/parsley pulp/waste, so I spread it out on my dehydrator’s shelves (I used 8 of the 9 shelves) and dehydrated the “waste” overnight. When it was totally dry, I ground it up in batches in a coffee/spice grinder, and I ended up with a whole quart of what I called “tomato soup powder”, which will be excellent to add to soups, etc. (I had previously made a pure tomato powder doing the same thing with the peels and cores from tomatoes I had canned.)

Since I knew it was going to be rainy all day today, I had decided to dedicate today to making Vegan Dad’s pressure canner chili, although I ended up with 9 1/2 quarts instead of the perfect canner load of 7 quarts that Vegan Dad promised (probably because I was overly generous when measuring pretty much everything). (Because you can do two layers of pint jars in my canner, but only one layer of quarts, the maximum number of pint jars I can can at one time is 22, but only 7 quart jars.) No problem: while canning the first 7 quarts, I soaked some of the tons of dried beans I have waiting to can, and I’ll be doing a second canner load of the remaining chili, plus a bunch of jars of beans.

That’s most of the food news here, I suppose. In non-food news, the wildlife rehab gigs I have going on here are going really, really great. One of the two wildlife hospitals I volunteer at has actually hired me as a paid staff member! It’s just an occasional substitute animal caretaker position, so I’m not raking in big bucks or anything, but I was extremely flattered to be asked to do it and I’m extremely excited about the educational opportunities it affords. And I was just made a shift leader at the other hospital, which doesn’t involve a paycheck but will hopefully give me the opportunity to work even more closely with the technicians there and learn even more. I’m also working with many of the education animals at the smaller hospital, particularly with the raptors. This is one of my favorite pictures from 2016, not because I look good (I wish I knew how to use Photoshop and could Photoshop my hair into not looking stupid), but because my buddy Elvis, the peregrine, is in it. Mark, who took the photo at our fundraiser event, says you can tell from the picture how much Elvis loves me. I don’t know if “love” is the right word to describe Elvis’s feelings for me, but I hand-feed Elvis on a regular basis and we do have a special bond, one that I had to build with him. And let me tell you, it is REALLY cool to bond with a raptor, especially a more “difficult” species like most of the falcons. AND LOOK HOW HANDSOME ELVIS IS!!

I think I’m all typed out! If you want to know more regularly than once very six months if I’m alive and well, you can visit my photo blog, which I update daily.

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