Archive forMarch, 2009

Grilled Romaine, Broiled BBQ Tofu, and Sweet Shallot Mustard Dressing

Craving salad, I sort of went overboard with the romaine lettuce the other night. I bought both hearts of romaine and baby romaine, and although Mark and I have been having big salads for dinner every night for three nights, I still have more romaine than you can shake a fork at. Short of eating tossed salad three meals a day, I was wondering what to do with it all, when I remembered one night last summer when our friends Luke and Lanet invited us over for a grilling extravaganza. Lanet loves to cook as much as I do and visiting their house for dinner is always a treat because although she’s not vegan, she likes to experiment and is always trying new vegan dishes out on me. On this night in particular, she was grilling just about every vegetable imaginable, including romaine hearts. Mark and I thought that grilling lettuce was very avant-garde, but it was really good. We don’t have a real grill here, but I do have a George Foreman, so I thought I’d try grilling up some romaine on that. It worked pretty well, though Lanet’s was better.

Grilled Romaine Hearts

1 -3 romaine hearts, depending how many servings you’d like (a serving is 1/2 a heart)
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame sauce
1/2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cider vinegar
1 piece of ginger, size of a child’s pinkie finger
3-4 drops sriracha

Mix together all ingredients except lettuce in a small bowl.

Chop the romaine hearts in half lengthwise.

Rub your (clean!) hands in the marinade, then rub the lettuce all over with it.

Place two halves at a time on an indoor electric grill (only one half is pictured here because Mark is working late so I saved his half for later):

Close the grill and cook for about 3 minutes or until lettuce is wilted and beginning to brown.

I hardly ever buy tofu. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I did, other than the other week when I was I recovering from my trip to Australia and didn’t think I’d have time to make it, so I picked some up at Super H while I was there. I haven’t needed it and it was about to expire, so I decided I’d use it up tonight. I thought I’d broil it in a barbecue sauce similar to the ole pork chop sauce. It’d have been better with homemade, but it was decent.

Broiled Barbecue Tofu

1 lb extra-firm tofu
1-2 Tbsp sesame oil
1/2 cup brown sugar (loosely packed unless you like your sauces pretty sweet)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 can crushed or diced tomatoes
sriracha to taste

Preheat the broiler on high.

You can press the tofu if you’d like. My homemade tofu doesn’t need pressing, and this Asian brand was very firm, so I didn’t bother. Slice it into thick slabs like this:

In a broiler-proof pan, preferably cast iron, pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, then place the tofu slabs in the pan in a single layer, turning them over to coat both sides in the oil.

Place under the broiler and broil for 10-15 minutes or until golden on top. Flip each piece over and return pan to broiler.

Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining ingredients except the tomatoes.

Add the tomatoes, and unless you are using already-crushed tomatoes, whir an immersion blender through them a few times. It doesn’t need to be too smooth.

When the tofu is beginning to blacken, remove from the broiler.

Pour the sauce onto the tofu and make sure it’s evenly coated. This photo isn’t out of focus so much as the pan was just very hot and steamy:

Place pan back in oven and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until sauce begins to thicken:

Okay, so I grilled some romaine and got one of the hearts out of the way, but I still had a bunch of baby romaine left over, so I made a side salad as well. SO MUCH LETTUCE. I thought a good mustardy dressing would go well with the barbecue flavors of the other dishes, so I made:

Sweet Shallot Mustard Dressing

1 small shallot
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
juice of 1/4 lemon
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 scant Tbsp agave nectar
pinch of salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in small food processor or chopper.

Process until smooth. (If you don’t have a food processor, just mince the shallot finely and combine all ingredients.)

Enjoy on a tossed salad.

And here’s the whole meal:

It was pretty quick and easy to throw together, although the whole tofu broiling business was a little more involved than I’d have liked. Namely, it took a lot longer than I was anticipating and also the house got pretty smoky. I think I’ll probably just stick to baking or pan frying.

Another issue with broiling the tofu was my cast iron skillet needed special cleaning. Now, I am very attached to my cast iron skillet. It’s an antique and it’s seasoned to perfection. I’m probably somewhere on the midpoint of anal retentiveness when it comes to cleaning it, though. On one hand, I would consider murdering anyone who dared put soap on it or soaked it or tried to scrub it. On the other hand, although you are supposed to clean cast iron while it is still warm from preparing the meal – that means before you sit down to eat – I refuse to eat cold meals. (This fact also explains why my pictures of my plated meals are usually so crappy; I hate spending precious time trying to make them look artistic or good.) Clean-up after my meals is pretty easy because I wash all my prep stuff while I’m cooking, but the final pots and pans always sit on the stove while the meal is consumed, then any leftovers are removed and put away and the pans are cleaned. By then they’ve cooled. My skillet is so well seasoned this hardly ever matters: not much sticks to it. But when I’ve baked something onto it, like broiled barbecue sauce, I need to do something to loosen the baked-on food without scrubbing my seasoning off. It’s really no big deal, though. All you have to do is pour some water into the pan, set it over medium-high heat, let it come to a boil, and boil for a minute or two:

Next – and this is very important – remove any cats that are lurking at your feet between the stove and the sink (mine are ALWAYS there and I don’t want to spill boiling water on them), don a heavy oven mitt, and carry the pan to the sink, pouring out the water.

See that little bit of sauce? It’s all that didn’t get removed when I dumped the water out, and it slid right off when I rinsed the pan briefly – absolutely no scrubbing. Then I dried with a towel (ALWAYS dry cast iron immediately) and spritzed lightly with olive oil.

Honestly, some people think cast iron is high maintenance, but I find it a lot easier to clean than most other things!

And now for a bit of cat news:

Poor Brachtune is a conehead. She somehow got an ear infection and then managed to scratch herself when it got too itchy, so the doctor said she has to wear a cone while it heals up. Sigh. I feel incredibly bad for her about the cone. It’s breaking my heart! Especially since last night I let her take it off while we were hanging out for a few hours and she didn’t try to scratch once. But then when I got home tonight, I took it off and she promptly starting scratching herself. After three chances, the cone went back on.

She looks like Little Kitty on the Prairie here.

After seeing someone ask how to pronounce Brachtune in the comments last time (it’s Brock-toon), my mom suggested that I explain how she got her name. But this post has been really long, so I’ll save it for next time. So you have that to look forward to!

Finally, tomorrow – April 1 – would have been Tigger’s 16th birthday. My sweet April Fool. I miss him more than you can imagine.

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Chinese-Style Orange “Beef”

I usually go to Trader Joe’s about once a month and stock up on stuff. Last night was a Trader Joe’s night. I found a new product: “Beef-Less’ and “Chicken-Less” strips (I assumed I’d be able to find a link for you but alas, no) in the produce department and decided to pick up a package of each for making quick dinners after late nights at work. And somehow the very next night became just such a night. I got home around 8 and wanted to make something fairly fast, so I broke out the “Beef-Less” strips and threw together an “orange beef” stir-fry. Ordinarily I’d have preferred to use a fresh orange so I could use the zest in the dish as well but I didn’t have any and it was already late, as well as rainy and dreary, so I just used orange juice from the fridge instead of running to Wegmans.

Chinese-Style Orange Beef

1 package vegan “beef” strips, such as Trader Joe’s Beef-Less Strips
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 hot pepper, sliced
1 head broccoli, chopped into florets
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp shaoxing wine (or sherry)
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp chili paste
1 Tbsp bean paste
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cold water

Chop the broccoli and steam until crisp-tender, leaning towards crisp (it will cook another minute or two in the stir-fry, so under-cook slightly).

Chop the bell pepper, slice the hot pepper, mince or press the garlic, and if desired, snip the “beef” strips into bite-sized pieces using kitchen shears.

Whisk together the orange juice, agave nectar, shaoxing wine, soy sauce, chili paste, and bean paste.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water.

Heat a wok over medium-high heat, add 1-2 Tbsp peanut oil, then add the garlic and hot pepper. Stir fry for 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the bell pepper; stir fry for a minute.

Add the “beef” strips and fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the broccoli and fry for 30 seconds or so.

Pour in the sauce and stir, then add the cornstarch mixture and stir until the sauce thickens and becomes slightly shiny.

Serve with rice.

This was a pretty good, fast meal. The “Beef-Less” strips were okay. I’d probably buy them again as they were very convenient and tasted fine. I asked Mark what he thought of them and he said, “pretty good”. I asked him if he could be any more specific because I wanted to review them on the blog and he said, “they are better than I could do!” But then he added, “they aren’t as good as that secret seitan recipe you made a couple of times. That was sooooo good. You should make that again.” He was talking about Kittee’s Gluten Log; it was a test recipe when I first made it. So I guess that’s that. But Kittee’s recipe, though amazing, really needs to be made the day before for best results and the Beef-Less strips can be ready in 3 minutes, and on some days, convenience wins.

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Reuben Casserole

The following events have all occurred recently:

  • My second batch of sauerkraut finished fermenting.
  • I made my first batch of tempeh in about a month.
  • A package of cheddar Teese arrived on my porch.

I was therefore thinking about how to incorporate these items into my evening meal; after all, tempeh is best as fresh as possible, and I’d already opened the Teese to taste it. So let’s see: tempeh, sauerkraut, and “cheese”…what can I possibly make with that? Well the obvious answer, of course, is everyone’s favorite: reubens, but we didn’t have any bread and although Wegmans is right down the street, I’d already been there once today – and separately, so had Mark – and had no intentions of returning. So what I did instead was make a reuben casserole, which also allowed me to use up the 5 leftover lasagne noodles I’ve had in my cupboard forever. This was a win all around.

Reuben Casserole

4 ounces pasta, any sort (I broke up some whole wheat lasagne noodles)
6-8 ounces tempeh
1 1/2 cups sauerkraut
1/4 cup vegan sour cream
1/4 cup tomato sauce or ketchup (you may want to add a tiny bit of sugar if you use tomato sauce)
2 Tbsp pickle relish
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp Indian black salt (or sea salt)
juice of 1/2 lemon
shredded vegan cheese (cheddar Teese worked perfectly; a portion of the “cheese” recipe in this post or pimiento cheese would also be great)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the pasta; cook until al dente, then drain.

Admire my tempeh. I know I keep forcing you to look at pictures of my tempeh…I’m still always amazed when it turns out so well, and after the lackluster packaged stuff I had the other night, I’m so glad I finally got the hang of making it.

Chop the tempeh into bite-sized pieces.

Heat some oil in a skillet, then fry the tempeh pieces until beginning to brown.

Mix together the sour cream, tomato sauce or ketchup, relish, lemon juice, mustard, and salt.

If you are using a solid “cheese”, shred it.

In a medium-sized casserole dish, place the pasta, tossing it with a tiny bit of vegan margarine or oil.

Add the tempeh in a layer.

Top with the sauce …

… then the sauerkraut. (By the way, I made mine with caraway seeds this time; if yours is plain, you could toss some caraway seeds in with it.)

Top with the “cheese”.

Cover and bake for 20 minutes; remove lid, then bake 10 minutes longer.

It’s not the prettiest thing to photograph a serving of, but it sure was tasty!

Mark liked it a lot. So did I. As for that cheddar Teese, it’s okay, but quite frankly it’s no Cheezly. I didn’t like it by itself on crackers that much, while amazingly we can eat Cheezly that way. It did, however, melt nicer than cheddar Cheezly (though I find mozzarella Cheezly melts perfectly), and I think it would be good in grilled cheese sandwiches or maybe even a quick mac & cheese. I think its best use may well be topping casseroles like this one.

In other news, I woke up on Sunday with Locomotive Breath inexplicably stuck in my head, so I was rocking out to some Jethro Tull in the sunroom. When Mark popped in, the following ensued:

And in cat news, sometimes Brachtune looks like an owl. I took this picture of her and promptly had the Dead Kennedys’ I Am the Owl stuck in my head the rest of the day.

Brachtune is so gorgeous, I’ve often wondered why she doesn’t get a modeling career and support us for a change.

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Maryland “Crab” Soup

This morning I was thinking about what I could do with the extra can of jackfruit I had leftover from making jackfruit tacos, when it dawned on me that the texture of cooked jackfruit would cause it to stand in very well for crab, and I suddenly decided I wanted to make crab soup. I remembered I had two crab soup recipes from my mom’s recipe box, but when I looked them over, neither seemed particularly appealing. One of them included all sorts of things I can’t even identify like “ham hock” and weird parts of cow. (I think that recipe was really “Old Bay soup” and not “crab soup”, though it also had crab in it. I don’t think most Maryland crab soup has heaps of weird meat in it.) The other was more my speed but called for a lot of frozen vegetables, where I’d rather use fresh. So I simply set out on my own.

The first thing I did was soak some dried lima beans. Now, I haven’t been entirely truthful with you. I’ve made it sound as if the only vegan food I don’t like is mushrooms. But the fact of the matter is, I also dislike baby lima beans. I’ve always hated them. At least, I think I still dislike them. I should probably try them again and make sure, but one just sort of rarely comes across lima beans in one’s daily travels, so I never even think of them. It’s kind of a pain to be vegan and hate mushrooms because people always want to feed mushrooms to vegetarians, often as a meat substitute. But no one cares if you hate lima beans because everyone else hates lima beans too. Or at least rarely eats them. The good news is, however, that I like LARGE lima beans, and I keep dried ones on hand for the infrequent times I realize I want them. So I measured 1 cup of dried large limas into a pot, covered with water, brought to a boil, boiled for two minutes, then turned off the heat and let them soak for an hour (actually, it was much longer, but do it for at least an hour.)

When the soaking water the lima beans are in is cool enough, pop each bean out of its “jacket”. Now, I hate hulling soybeans in this fashion and refuse to do it (I crack them while they are dry, then rinse the hulls off), but it’s actually kind of satisfying to hull large limas: they pop right out. It’s almost like popping bubble wrap. Return each hulled lima to the water to continue soaking.

Next I made the “crabmeat”:

Mock Crabmeat

1 large can young green jackfruit, packed in water (make sure it is “young green” jackfruit and that it’s not in syrup)
4 cups water
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp dry mustard
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
all the seaweed you can find in your house, totaling about 1/4 – 1/2 cup depending on the type. I used kombu, dulse, hiziki, and arame.

Place the water in a pot and add the rest of the ingredients except the jackfruit. Bring to a boil.

Drain the jackfruit and rinse.

Add the jackfruit to the pot …

… reduce heat, cover, and simmer for a half an hour or until jackfruit is tender …

… then drain, allowing the seaweed to cling to the jackfruit.

Now you can assemble the soup. That is, if you have Old Bay on hand, you may assemble the soup. If you don’t, you’re going to have to get some. I’m sorry if that upsets you. Ordinarily I consider all of my recipes sort of suggestions or starting points and assume that if anyone makes them, they’ll make substitutions and changes as they see fit, because that’s how I approach all recipes that I read. In this case, however, I really must insist you use Old Bay. Maryland Crab Soup contains Old Bay: end of story. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, crabs ARE Old Bay. I don’t know that there are many traits that I have that mark me as a native Marylander, but if I have one, it’s that I know that crabs in any form require Old Bay. I think a lot of large grocery stores in the United States – even those that are not on the East Coast – carry Old Bay, but you can get it online. Heck, if you ask me to, I will MAIL you some Old Bay. I really will!

Maryland “Crab” Soup

1 recipe mock crabmeat (recipe above)
1 cup dried lima beans, soaked
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 small head garlic (about 6 cloves), minced or pressed
1 red chili pepper, minced (can substitute hot sauce or dried chili flakes, or omit if you are a sissy)
4 carrots, chopped
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 cups green beans, trimmed and chopped or french-cut
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)
1 small can tomato sauce
3 cups vegan “beef” stock
3-4 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

You’ll want to cook the lima beans separately. If you have a pressure cooker, you can do this quickly: pressure cook for about 5-7 minutes, until they are soft, then drain. Otherwise, boil the limas in water for 2-4 hours or until soft. They won’t cook in the soup because the acidity of the tomatoes interferes.

Chop the onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes. Mince or press the garlic. Mince the hot pepper. Chop or french cut the green beans.

In a large soup pot or a Dutch Oven, heat some oil, then add the onions and fry over medium heat for 3 minutes.

Add the celery, garlic, and hot pepper; fry for 2 minutes.

Add the carrots and fry for 1-2 minutes.

Add the diced tomatoes and the tomato sauce.

Add the “beef” stock, potatoes, and any seaweed leftover from the jackfruit cooking.

Shred the jackfruit using your fingers. It should fall apart easily.

Add the green beans, jackfruit, corn, cooked limas, Old Bay, and Worcestershire sauce to the soup.

I chopped the carrot greens up and added them to the soup as well. You could also use parsley. Or you can skip it.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for an hour.

Serve with saltines or a crusty bread. Goes well with beer.

Is it really spring?! I noticed this one random, lonely flower in the middle of our yard today.

Happy Spring!

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Half-a-brain Sweet and Sour Tempeh

I’m one of those people who can’t function when talking on the phone. I freely admit this: it’s why I refuse to use my cell phone in the car. Talking on the phone makes me stupid – it’s true. Fortunately for the world, I hate talking on the phone and very rarely do it. There are few people I enjoy talking on the phone with: Fortinbras is one of them, and my friend V is another. V called me tonight from her home in San Francisco, firstly to apologize for treating me so horribly in my dream last night, and secondly to place yet another request that I make San Francisco my home. (A request I’m not willing to turn down…why isn’t San Francisco my home?) As she managed to call just as I was amassing ingredients and brainstorming recipes, tonight’s meal was conceived and constructed using only half – or less – of my brain. It turned out surprisingly well under the circumstances. Another mitigating factor in tonight’s meal was I really need to go grocery shopping. Having used up my green pepper I officially now have NO fresh vegetables. Yikes!

Sweet and Sour Tempeh

12 ounces tempeh, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3″ piece ginger, minced or grated
7 ounces (about 1/2 can) diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp (or to taste) chili paste
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 veggie bouillon cube
1/2 cup diced pineapple (fresh, frozen, or canned; if canned in in syrup, omit or cut back on the agave nectar)

Prepare all of the solid ingredients: chop the onion and green pepper, mince or press the garlic, mince or grate the ginger, chop the tempeh, measure the tomatoes and pineapple chunks.

Mix together the liquid ingredients: the soy sauce, agave nectar, rice vinegar, water, chili paste, and orange juice. Add the bouillon cube. I microwaved it for 30 seconds in order to get it to dissolve.

Heat a wok over medium high heat and add a small amount of oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and fry for two minutes.

Add the garlic and ginger. (There are dried chili peppers in this picture because I used them but in the future I’ll just use the chili paste for all the heat, so it’s all I’ve called for.) Fry for one minute.

Add the green pepper and fry for a minute.

Add the tofu and stir fry for two to three minutes.

Add the tomatoes and fry for another minute.

Add the pineapple.

Add the liquid ingredients. Turn up the heat and let boil for a minute or two until slightly thickened.

Serve with some sort of grain. Because I was only using half my brain, I absentmindedly put some rice in the rice cooker before starting the rest of the meal, but later I thought I’d have really liked quinoa with this meal and was disappointed I hadn’t thought of it.

This was pretty good, as I said, for being made while I was under the influence of cellphonis stupidis. However, I used packaged tempeh for the first time in months, because until this week I hadn’t really had time to get back into my regular routine of making all my staples, and all I can say is: wow. Is homemade ever MUCH better! The packaged tempeh – the same brand I used to always buy before I started making my own – was bland, poorly textured, and insipid. I have soybeans soaking now to make my own tempeh tomorrow…whew! I’d gotten so used to homemade I hadn’t realized that it’s a million times better than store-bought!

I baked some kaiser rolls while I was making dinner! They are another test recipe for Peter Reinhart. They’re good. I’m going to be heartily recommending this book when it comes out!

In other news, Mark got a fish. His name is Atticus Fish. Mark loves Atticus Fish with all his heart.

Atticus Fish is a bit silly.

Brachtune finds him fascinating!

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, a day late! I made “corned beef” last night:

I was going to share the recipe with you, then decided it’s not quite there yet, but worth working on. At least it was edible. Whenever someone says to me, “everything you make is so good,” Mark is always quick to say, “not EVERYTHING”. When asked to elaborate, he never fails to bring up “the corned beef”. I tried to make “corned beef” seitan about five years ago – following a recipe from the internet, I don’t know which one – and it was so salty it was completely inedible, and it’s saying something when Mark finds something too salty to eat because he’s a saltasaurus. A complete disaster. So I went very easy on the salt in my invention last night, although I think real corned beef is fairly salty. (I’ve never actually had corned beef. I know, I led a very sheltered life before going vegetarian! What’s weird is I think reubens would have been my favorite food ever had I ever had one.)

The other thing that I have made that was not good was the infamous “gasoline cake” that I baked for a friend’s birthday shortly after going vegan. However, that incident was entirely Fortinbras’ fault. It must have been a wacky cake because it had vinegar. Fortinbras showed up at my apartment to help decorate as I was mixing the batter, which I tasted and found to be “off”. I claimed I was going out to buy more flour and mix up a new cake because I’d ruined that one, but Fortinbras tasted the batter and said it was “fine”. I was still pretty new to cooking and baking and didn’t really feel like running up to the store, so with some misgivings, I listened to Fort and baked it up. I decorated it nicely and it looked quite lovely. After singing Happy Birthday, the cake was sliced and pieces were handed around. Suddenly people were making faces and politely putting their pieces down without finishing them. “What’s wrong?!” I shrieked. “It tastes like gasoline,” the birthday girl (never one to mince words) informed me. The only thing I can think of is I added too much vinegar. Only Fortinbras finished an entire slice, claiming it was “fine”, while I yelled at him because I’d TOLD him it there was something wrong with it and had wanted to make another.

A year or two later, though, I baked a cake for another friend who said it was the “most incredible cake” he’d ever tasted and who took the leftovers to his family who also said it was the most amazing cake they’d ever had. So I redeemed myself, just as I hope to redeem myself in regards to the corned beef incident.

I really like the texture I get from pressure cooking seitan, but I’ve been noticing that whenever I do, no matter how many flavorings I put in the seitan and in the broth, the finished product always tastes somewhat bland. I’m really quite baffled by it. Both the liquid for the seitan and the broth I made last night were very flavorful and I thought that seitan was going to be amazing, but it was just…seitan. Like all the flavor had cooked out of it. So I think I have the ingredients right, I need to work on the execution. I’ll try steaming this time. Has anyone else encountered this problem? Were you able to fix it?

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Mark and I visited the Parental Homestead yesterday, and my mom gave me some “chili bowls” to match one of the sets of Chinese teacups I have:

So of course today I made my grandmother’s chili! And to accompany it, I made Peter Reinhart’s cornbread, which I present for you today in vegan adaptation.

Cornbread, a la Peter Reinhart

6 oz (1 cup) cornmeal
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 cups minus 2 Tbsp soy milk (the vinegar + soy milk should weigh 16 ounces)
8 slices vegan bacon strips
8 oz (1 3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
.75 oz (1 1/2 Tbsp) baking powder
.05 oz (1/4 tsp) baking soda
.25 (1 tsp) salt
2 oz (1/4 cup) brown sugar
2 oz (1/4 cup) white sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp En-R-G egg replacer + 6 Tbsp water
1.5 oz (2 Tbsp) agave nectar
1 oz (2 Tbsp) vegan margarine
16 oz (2 1/2 cups) corn kernels (frozen or fresh)
1 1/2 Tbsp corn or vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place 2 Tbsp vinegar in a liquid measuring cup …

… then add soy milk to make a total of 16 ounces (2 cups), whisking together.

Mix with the cornmeal, cover, and set aside. The original recipes says to allow to sit out overnight, but I just let it sit for a few hours this afternoon.

Arrange the vegan bacon on a baking sheet sprayed with oil. (I had two different kinds.)

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until crispy. Crumble and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350.

Here’s my tip for softening or melting margarine: just measure it into a small glass bowl and sit on the stovetop while the oven is on.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk together the En-R-G and the water.

Whisk the agave nectar into the melted margarine, then whisk in the En-R-G mixture:

Whisk the margarine/En-R-G mixture into the cornmeal mixture:

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and whisk or stir until thoroughly blended.

Stir in the corn kernels (I did not manage to get a non-blurry shot of this step.)

Pour the oil into a large cast iron skillet (or a 10″ round cake pan, or a 9×13″ rectangular cake pan, both of which are suggested by Peter Reinhart), then stick the skillet or pan into the oven and allow to heat up for 5 minutes. Using heavy oven mitts, remove and tilt to coat entire skillet. Pour in the batter.

Sprinkle with “bacon” pieces, gently pushing them into the batter. My “bacon” was already pretty crispy, so I also sprayed the “bacon” with water so they wouldn’t burn.

Place in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Reinhart says this will take 30 minutes but I had to leave mine in for 45.)

Allow to cool in the skillet or pan for 15 minutes before serving. Cut into wedges (or squares, depending in the shape of your pan).

The cornbread got a thumbs-up from Mark!

Here’s the chili in my new bowl:

Brachtune didn’t help me make dinner today, although in general she’s still been acting like my shadow.

She doesn’t appear to miss Tigger, although I sure as hell do. Yesterday at the Parental Homestead, Mark and I looked at the many pictures my mom had saved of Tigger on her PC and we found ourselves laughing at nearly every one of them. He was a very silly cat. Last week I would have just cried. So I guess I’m doing better, but it still really sucks. Brachtune is trying her hardest to get me through it, though.

From my mom’s photos, I realized just how much weight Brachtune – who probably has cancer – has lost. Here is she looking much heavier a few years ago:

And here she is today:

Why do cats have to be mortal? Mark and I will eventually adopt new cats, that I am sure I will love, but the thing is, Tigger and Brachtune were and are THE cats for me. They are nothing alike, but between the two of them, they had/have the two kitty personalities that I think go with my personality. As far as I am concerned, Tigger and Brachtune could have just lived with me until the day I died and I’d have been perfectly happy.

Anyway, if you can imagine how crazy I am about my cats and multiply it by 100, you have a rough idea of how crazy my parents (and my aunt) are about their dogs. They brush Shannon’s teeth every day. He has tartar.

Sophie got her teeth brushed too, but I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to capture it. Here she is waiting for Aunt Lynn to meticulously prepare her “dessert buffet” of doggie cookies and snacks.

Sophie is a bit wary of Mark, so she spent a portion of the day under the sofa.

She’s hyperactive, however, so the sofa-hiding only ever lasted a minute or two at a time.

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Koala Park

I don’t patronize zoos. I think it is inherently wrong for humans to cage and gawk at animals, and when I find myself in situations where I see a caged animal, I get rather upset. I either have to hold back tears, or I get very angry. So a zoo would be a bad place for me even if I were willing to give them my money. Smucky, however, confronted me with the fact that the only place I was going to see a kangaroo while in Australia was in a zoo. This despite the fact that nearly every Australian I talked to spent about 15 minutes telling me what a horrible problem all the rampant kangaroos are and how they need to be culled (“culled” here is a euphemism for “killed”). And also despite the story Smucky told me last year about the night he and his friends were at a beach house (not Smucky’s family’s in Mollymook) when they heard what they thought was a burglar on the front porch, only to be very surprised to find themselves face to face with a prowling kangaroo when they opened the door. So you’d think I’d be bumping into them everywhere!

But I guess I can’t realistically expect to find kangaroos hopping around the streets of Sydney. Smuck suggested we visit Koala Park, where I could not only see but pet a kangaroo, instead of a regular zoo. I liked that Koala Park doesn’t have any non-native animals, so the animals are in their normal environment. And I liked that they do koala rescue. And I liked that some of the animals – including all of the koalas – are allowed to roam the entire park at their will: none of the koalas are kept in cages. So I agreed to go. I’ll be honest though: I was a bit torn about this. I still have major issues with even a place like Koala Park. Some of the animals were in cages. And even the animals that weren’t are still kept within the confines of the park (although the koalas could probably escape through the tree tops if they wanted, though I doubt it’d be a good idea on their part). And although I confess I really did want to pat a koala pretty badly, I do not agree with humans patting koalas for kicks. So it is with some amount of guilt and a large feeling of hypocrisy that I present these photos. I am glad I had a chance to interact with a koala and some kangaroos, but at the same time, I think it is wrong. I’m planning to donate some money to an Australian animal welfare site to help offset my sin, though I also don’t think that throwing money at your wrongs is the answer either.

But on with the photos! One of the first animals we saw as the wombat. I thought wombats were much smaller than this!

We also saw a wallaby, which looks like a small kangaroo:

Smucky’s been trying to tell me for years that they have penguins in Australia, which I thought was crazy talk. “You mean Antartica,” I’d say. “No, they are Australian,” he’d insist. Turns out he wasn’t lying! These are called “little penguins” and apparently Tux the Linux mascot is in fact an Australian penguin.

Smucky had also been warning me about the cassowary for quite some time. He described it as “prehistoric-looking and very scary”. He got the prehistoric-looking part right, but I thought he was a pretty charming guy!

Probably my least favorite part of Koala Park was the dingo cage. I didn’t feel the dingos had nearly enough room, especially as they were all very frisky. I thought they were quite cute and looked friendly, although you have no idea how many times I heard “the dingo got your baby” when I was near their cage. One of the park employees had a big jeep in the cage at one point as he was doing some yard work or something and the dingos were all running around and jumping on it and all over it. I felt very sad that these poor animals were contained the way they were.

Echnidas look like large hedgehogs with anteater snouts and they waddle around in a most delightful manner.

As we were walking by, this little guy started shouting demands our way! “Got a cracker? Got a cracker?” he kept repeating, until Luke gave him some leftover ‘roo food to shut him up.

Smucky said that the emus were usually allowed to roam freely in the kangaroo petting area, but they were behind bars the day we were there, which seemed just as well with Smucky who finds them a little nerve-wracking. Since they were in a cage, I was unable to recreate my family’s famous “Carol Amongst Emus” photo: a shot of my mom surrounded by emus at the Catoctin Petting Zoo, which we visited when I was young. Maybe mum will post it for you when she sees this post.

Pig managed to get in on some emu action, however.

Now the part you’ve all been waiting for, maybe….the koalas! The park has 3 koala feeding times during which visitors can pat – if they are lucky – a koala. Koalas are nocturnal animals and as they are given free range of the park, most of them were actually asleep high in the trees above our heads and invisible to us, however, they select a few to hang out in an enclosure during feeding time. Here are some of the sleepyheads:

The park employee selects one koala to wake up and feed, although visitors are told that if the koala hops down and runs off or if he climbs back up in the tree, they are not to follow him or try to pat him. You’re only allowed to pat him if he feels like cooperating. Fortunately, our koala decided an extra serving of eucalyptus was worth being manhandled by about 20 children and tourists.

Koalas sure love eucalyptus. It’s the only food they consume, and their only source of water. We were told if you want to give a koala a treat, you give him more eucalyptus.

He was so soft! His fur isn’t silky like a cat, rather more fluffy like a sheep, but oh my god, he seems so cuddly! I just wanted to hug him and ran off with him!

I mean, who can resist this face?!

Next it was time for the kangaroos. They are in a large gated area into which you can freely walk, and you can purchase kangaroo food to hand-feed them. Kangaroo food appears to be Cheerios. Not sure how natural that is.

What I found very interesting was there were no employees in the kangaroo enclosure, so they must really trust both their kangaroos and the visitors! I’d think in America they’d be so worried someone would get bitten and sue that someone would be on-hand at all times to supervise, but this place was very laid back. You just wander in and start patting ‘roos.

Having watched a lot of Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid, I was under the impression that all kangaroos bounce up and down constantly and box people. Turns out they are pretty lazy.

(I gave this one a lot of food for being such a good sport about Pig’s antics.)

A few did get up and hop around a bit.

But probably the best one was the mum and joey. Awwww!

And that was the last day of my trip! The following morning Luke and I began our 30-hour journey back home (which oddly ended just 5 hours after it began…) I have to give a shout-out to Qantas. I was very worried that the 14-hour flights to and from Sydney were going to be utter hell, and that I’d start to feel confined and that they’d mess up my meals and I wouldn’t be able to eat…and if I don’t eat every few hours, I get nasty. Qantas, however, is the ONLY airline that has managed to serve me an entirely vegan meal every time. British Airways usually does okay, but always manages to give me butter or non-vegan salad dressing. All four meals Qantas served were entirely vegan and actually edible! And I got served first! And booze was free! Plus I took a sleeping pill that knocked me out for almost the whole trip. Though it was two and a half times longer than the United flights to and from DC, the Qantas Sydney flights were actually much better. Which is great because I definitely plan to visit Australia again!

Funny story about coming home, though: since we switched airlines in LAX, Luke and I had to collect our luggage there and turn it back in for our next flight. As we are waiting for our bags to come out, a TSA employee with a sniffer dog approached us. The dog was all over my carry-on bag. “Do you have any fruit in your bag?” The TSA guy asked me. “No,” I replied, then, “oh, wait, I have a fruit cup!” I had purchased a fruit cup in the Sydney airport to eat on the plane, but then Qantas served me fruit and I never ate it. The TSA guy inspected my fruit cup, returned it, marked something on my landing card, and went away. Five minutes later the dog returns and is all over my bag again. “Do you have fruit in your bag?” the guy asked me again. “Uh, the same fruit I had last time,” I said. It seems he had forgotten he’d already found my illicit fruit. After I went through Customs, because I was branded a fruit smuggler, I had to go through extra security, whereupon my fruit cup was confiscated and I was reprimanded. WHO KNEW THEY HAD FRUIT-SNIFFING DOGS AT LAX? THEN they threw away the bottle of water I ALSO forgot I had. Frankly, I can see the fruit thing, sort of, but these liquid restrictions are really getting on my nerves. I’m pretty sure it’s just a way to increase bottled water sales in airports.

Once your favorite fruit smuggler was allowed on the United flight, we were delayed for FOUR HOURS – on the plane – for various mechanical and missing-pilot reasons. The final hour was because – and I’m not making this up – the IT department at LAX could not fix a broken printer and the pilot wasn’t allowed to take off until they had a printed copy of the repair documents. I happened to be seated behind Michael Chertoff, the ex-secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. I never would have recognized him, but Luke did. I kicked him. It was an accident but I didn’t feel bad about it. Take that, Homeland Security!

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Bacony, Beany Spelt Pasta with Australian Zing

I want to thank everyone for their kind words about Tigger. Tigger was a bit of a momma’s – and in the second half of his life a daddy’s – boy, and I used to have to do a lot of defending of him to people he’d slashed. A lot of people who knew him in real life were scared of him. Scared of that sweet, adorable, lovable little guy – can you believe it?! It really makes me happy to know he had such a following on my blog and that the internet saw him for who he really was: a beautiful, funny, and wonderful cat with a huge personality. I still cry when I think about him, and this first post will be a little depressing without his presence, but I did manage to get a couple of Brachtune pictures to help fill the void.

I’m still adjusting a bit to being back in America. I was jet lagged a bit for a couple of days – couldn’t sleep – and then Mark’s mom and aunt were here for a couple of days, and what with missing Tigger, things haven’t yet seemed quite “normal”. I worked late tonight but I’d promised Mark Brussels sprouts for dinner, so I tried to think of a quick yet interesting accompaniment. (How many girls have husbands they have to try to please by finding meals to go with Brussels sprouts?! Honestly, though, Mark would have been perfectly happy to eat the sprouts and nothing else.) I sort of just pulled this together based on ingredients that seemed like they’d go with with my Brussels sprouts. It turned out quite well.

Bacony Beany Spelt Pasta

4 oz. spelt pasta ribbons
2 tsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 sliced tempeh “bacon”
7 oz. diced tomatoes (about half a can)
4 leaves Swiss chard
2/3 can Great Northern beans
1/4 tsp Australian habanero sauce (or other hot sauce to taste, or red chili pepper flakes to taste)
1/2 cup vegan stock
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Prepare the pasta as directed on the package. I found that it took significantly less time to cook than stated on the package, so if you aren’t used to spelt pasta, make sure you check it frequently.

Mince the garlic.

Chiffonade the the chard. (That’s sort of fun to say.)

Rinse the beans.

Crumble the tempeh bacon.

In a large skillet or wok, warm the olive oil, then add the garlic.

Saute for 20 seconds, then add the tempeh bacon and fry until beginning to crisp.

Add the tomatoes and their juices; cook for two minutes.

Add the chard and cook for another two minutes.

Add the beans and stir.

Stir in the stock and hot sauce or chili flakes. The hot sauce I used was purchased for Mark at The Rocks Markets in Sydney. Mark’s a hot pepper and hot sauce aficionado and I tend to buy him the hottest sauce I can find when I travel as a souvenir. I warned the seller of this sauce that Mark didn’t like “sissy” sauces and his “extra hot habanero” had better really be “extra hot”, and it is quite good! It’s pretty hot, but in small doses it has a really nice flavor and it worked well in this dish. Use whatever type of heat you like if you can’t make it to Sydney!

Add the drained pasta and toss, then warm through before serving.

Goes well with roasted Brussels sprouts and Australian red wine!

Brachtune has taken to following me around the house, much like Tigger used to. In fact, I think Tigger was oppressing the poor thing because she’s been more active lately than she has been in a while. So although I miss my constant orange companion in the kitchen, The Toonse was at my feet the whole time I prepared tonight’s meal.

Would it be wrong of me to tell Brachtune that it’s much easier for me to get a good angle for her photos if she jumps up on the island like Tigger used to do?

I know it’s not that hygienic to let my cats walk on the counters, but it can’t be that hygienic for me to be rolling around on the floor to take their picture either!

The Toonse is just too well-behaved!

I have a few more pictures to share from Australia, but it’s getting late so I’m going to postpone them for now. Koalas and kangaroos, oh my!

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The Greatest Cat in the World: Tigger, 1993 – 2009

I didn’t make this post while I was in Australia because I thought it would upset me too much and I was concentrating on not letting it ruin my vacation. A few days after I left, Mark had to let Tigger go. He’d had kidney disease for several years but had only in the last month or so shown any real symptoms. When I booked my trip back in October, it was with no small amount of apprehension that something would happen to one or both of the cats right before the trip or while I was gone, but as they both seemed in relatively decent health at the time, I felt I couldn’t live my life based on “what ifs”. To my immense sadness, the worst case scenario came true and Tigger fell ill just before I left. He spent Wednesday night in the animal hospital. When I retrieved him on Thursday, he was not himself, although he was very clingy and did not appear to be in pain. I spent Thursday night with him sleeping on me and when I said goodbye to him on Friday when leaving for the airport, it was with tears in my eyes because part of me was sure it was for the last time. And unfortunately it was. He declined rapidly after I left and after another visit to the vet, it was decided between Mark, the doctors, and I that the time had come to let him go.

I can not express to you how glad I am that I have such a marvelous husband who took care of this for me. While I was gallivanting around the globe, Mark was home shoving several pills a day down Brachtune’s throat, cleaning up after Tigger in his final days (apparently he became a bit incontinent), taking both cats to the animal hospital (Brachtune also needs sub-q fluids every other day), and generally giving both cats the enormous amounts of love they need. Although my heart breaks at the thought that I was not there during Tigger’s final moments, I am comforted by the fact that Mark loved the little tyke as much as I did, and that Tigger loved him too – as much as he loved me. I don’t know that I would have felt comfortable about this with anyone other than Mark, but in the 8 years they knew each other, Mark and Tigger were just as close as Tigger and me.

I’ll share a brief story of Tigger’s life with you, if I may. In 1993, a friend of mine was planning to move back “home” from the beach in Ocean City, Maryland, in order to attend my university with me. I’d be moving out of my current apartment and we’d be moving into a new one together. A couple of months before the move was to happen, she drove a tiny 6-week old kitten the three hours from Ocean City to Towson, Maryland, and presented him to me, to be our kitty together when she herself moved up later. She looked exhausted when she arrived, stating the little one had screamed the entire trip. Having traveled much lesser distances with this cat in the future, I can tell you Lisa was nothing less than a saint for tolerating him for that long! I fell in love with the kitten on sight. Lisa named her Antigone, both because she liked the name and because another friend of ours had recently been in the play of the same name.

When the time came for me to move from the old apartment into the new, there were some sort of repairs that needed to be made to the new apartment that caused me to leave the cats (I also had at the time a stray I had taken in a while before) in the old place after moving all of the furniture. On my way home late one night after being out, I stopped by the old apartment to visit the cats and was dismayed to find one of the window screens had been cut and my little orange kitten missing. Either someone had deliberately stolen the cat, or (more likely) someone had been trying to rob us and was very disappointed indeed to find the place completely empty, and unwittingly let the kitten out, either by the front door when they left or through the hole in the window. Whatever the case, I was devastated. Friends and I spent the Fourth of July making Lost Cat signs that we hung around the neighborhood. I called Lisa, who hadn’t yet moved up from the beach, in tears. On the day we were to make the final inspection and move the one remaining cat to the new place, I was late meeting another friend of mine there. He asked me to go retrieve his bag from one of the bedrooms. I told him to get it himself. He insisted that I get his bag for him, which was behind a. closed door. When I opened the bedroom door, I was greeted not by his alleged bag, but by one tiny, orange, much-missed kitten! One of my neighbors had seen the bowls of food I’d been leaving out (but curiously not the signs) and, finding my friend heading in to wait for me, had asked if he was missing a cat, and he’d gone to collect my baby. I went to the neighbor’s apartment to thank her. She was a cat person herself and had taken good care of the little one for a few days, but insisted on calling the kitten a “he”, despite the fact that Lisa had always called it a “she”. I was not the brightest crayon in the box at the time and instead of peering under the kitten’s tail (I knew very well how to tell a boy from a girl cat), I simply assumed the lady was sloppy with her pronouns. A couple of weeks later, though, when my orange kitten got its first shots, I was of course made a fool of. Antigone, despite the girlish name, was a boy, and became from that day simply Tigger. And also king of my heart.

When Lisa and I eventually moved on and were no longer roommates, I took Tigger. I didn’t even give her a real choice in the matter. I loved him more than anything and wasn’t going to be parted from him. I was totally crazy for this cat. When singing along with songs, I substituted “Tigger” for most 2-syllable words and claimed all songs were in fact about Tigger (and how great he is). Tigger could be aggressive at times: if you looked at him wrong, he was sometimes apt to claw you. But I always sided with the cat instead of bloodied friends and family, claiming they must have provoked it and that he was just a little baby boy who never did anything wrong. When Mark and I were away from home – whether on a long trip or just at a bar – we’d ask each other constantly, “What do you think Tigger is doing right now?”

I met Mark in 2001. Mark and I were one of those sickening couples that falls almost instantly in love, but if he and Tigger (and Brachtune for that matter, but she loves just about every human) had not hit it off as well as they did, I’m not sure what would have happened. Mark even had to sacrifice his own cat in order to move in with me because Tigger barely tolerated Brachtune after eight years and would have probably killed Mark’s cat. (Mark’s mom now provides a very happy home for Mark’s cat, Din.) Mark was fond of saying that Tigger needed a male role model in his life and it did seem as if Tigger mellowed after being adopted by his new father figure. I’d never seen Tigger like anyone as much as he liked me – he barely tolerated anyone else on his best days – but he almost immediately took to Mark, and Mark to him.

I’ve had cats my entire life, but I’ve learned that you bond with different pets with varying amounts of intensity. The bond I had with Tigger was immense and eternal. He greeted me at the door whenever I came home, begging to be picked up and cuddled. As readers of this blog are aware, he “helped” me cook nearly every meal I made. He happily wore a harness and leash and went for jaunty walks around the neighborhood with me. He loved to be held like a baby and walked around the house by Mark. Mark and I would often pick him up and sandwich him with kisses. He tolerated me picking him up and dancing around the house with him. He’d put his paws around my neck and hug me when I was feeling blue. He was my best friend.

Mark told me on the phone when breaking the bad news that he was glad I was so far from home when things turned bad because all of my memories of Tigger will be good and happy, and I won’t have to remember the pathetic state he was in in the day or two before he was gone. Although it sickens and pains me to think I wasn’t there, Mark made a valid point. I knew Tigger’s passing was going to turn me into a sniveling wreck of a human being for a long time, but I was kept so busy in Sydney, that though I grieved, I had some time to adjust before coming home and dealing with the house being devoid of him, and the simple fact of his not being here is the hardest thing to take. I nominate Mark for Husband of the Year, however, and having gone through this, I am reminded of why I love my husband. Mark tells me that Tigger spent his last couple of days not budging from his lap (which was in a way a symptom of his illness, because Tigger wasn’t much of a lap cat). I know Tigger died a happy cat. And I’m so happy to have had him for nearly 16 wonderful years.

I was right in that being in the house with it empty of him would be the hardest part. It’s only beginning to really hit me now that I’m home. I missed him walking in the door because he was always there to greet me. I missed him when doing the laundry because he’d always stick his head in the washing machine as I loaded it. I missed him while making soup because he always helped me cook. I missed him while taking a shower because he always took showers with us. I miss him every minute.

He always helped me cook. How can I do it without him?

I just hope he’s in peace.

This is one of my favorite photos in the whole world: my two favorite boys.

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