Two Dips

No, the title of this post does not refer to me and Mark. Nor Gomez and Torticia. No, in fact I made two dips for dinner tonight: baba ganoush and smoky herbed bean. Why? Who knows. Tonight’s dinner was all over the place. I had some eggplants from the farmers market I needed to use. I also wanted to clear out some of my dried beans because I’m expecting a shipment from Rancho Gordo next week. There were frozen falafel in the freezer. Frozen naan. More vegetables from the farmers market. I even made Mark some barbecued seitan. Somehow it all seemed to work together, though.

Baba Ganoush

2 smallish or 1 large eggplants (about 1 pound)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp tahini
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp smoked salt (or to taste)

Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Prick the eggplants all over with a fork.

Roast eggplant for about an hour, or until very soft, turning every 15 minutes or so.

They will have caved in on themselves.

Mince or press the garlic. This is waaaay more than you need; I was making several dishes requiring garlic at the same time.

Juice a lemon.

When the eggplant is done, let cool until it can be handled, then peel it and put it in a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients.

Process until smooth.

Makes about a cup, maybe a little more.

Smoky Herbed Bean Dip

8 oz dried white beans (such as cannellini), soaked (speed soaked is okay), or 1 can of beans
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried parsley (a couple tablespoons fresh, minced, would be even better)
1 tsp smoked salt
1/2 tsp smoked pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp dried oregano (or 2 tsp fresh)
1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh)

Cook beans until very soft – I used my pressure cooker. Drain beans and place in a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth.

Garnish with vegan “bacon” bits, and/or drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired.

Here’s everything, minus Mark’s bonus barbecued seitan. I also made yellow wax beans. In retrospect, those falafel don’t make for a very appetizing photograph.

It’s hard to follow cat party, but if you don’t need the next four minutes of your life, you can watch Gomez get high, and Torticia not get high, on the ‘nip.

I want to keep you posted on Rica and Rowena Raccoon, but it is very, very, very hard to take a picture of active raccoon kits, especially with an iphone. This is the best I could do. They are waiting to be fed. Next time I’ll wait until after I feed them and they are at least a little quieter!

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Generic Korean Dinner, and Cat Party

Cucumbers were $1 each or 3 for $2 at the farmers market yesterday, so I got three. But considering I already had half of one at home, that was far more than I needed for tossed salads this week, so I made a cucumber salad. Instead of my regular cucumber salad, however, I made a Korean cucumber salad. When I didn’t know what to make for dinner tonight, I decided to make something that went with the Korean cucumber salad. So basically this dish has nothing to do with cucumbers but happened because I had excess of cucumbers. It’s a “generic” Korean dinner because you can use whatever protein and vegetables you have on hand.

Generic Korean Dinner

1/4 cup gojujang (fermented chili paste; from an Asian grocery store)
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 Tbsp ginger, peeled (sloppily is okay) and chopped
2 Tbsp (not packed) brown sugar
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups chopped protein, like tofu, seitan, or tempeh (I used a couple of Gardein chick’n cutlets and 1/2 block of tofu)
3 cups chopped or sliced vegetables (I used broccoli, banana pepper, and edamame)
2 scallions, sliced

Chop the ginger and smash the garlic.

Combine the gojujang, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Thin with water if necessary.

Stir fry the vegetables and proteins in a wok over high heat, adding them in order of descending necessary cooking times.

Reduce the heat a bit and add the sauce, stirring to coat everything. Cook for a minute or so.

Top with scallions and serve with sushi rice.

So, yesterday, June 12, was the one-year anniversary of the day I brought Gomez and Torticia home. Mark and I have been re-watching old episodes of The Office lately and in (I think) the first episode, Pam says she has something important to ask Jim, which turns out to be “are you going to Angela’s cat party on Sunday?” Ever since then I’ve been wanting to go to a cat party but no one ever invites me to any. Until yesterday when Mark announced he was leaving the house to procure party supplies and upon his return mysteriously began preparing something behind closed doors. Eventually he announced it was time for the cat party to begin and he herded me and the cats into the basement, where we were met with:

There was also music playing: cats meowing Christmas carols, which was the only cat music Mark could find. So please add that to your mental picture of the cat party. There were also noise makers and party mix:

After a brief mingling session, Mark announced it was time for prizes and began his awards ceremony. Gomez took first place in the category of Perfection.

Torticia took home the Outstanding award in the category of “Being Cuddly and Awesome”.

Unfortunately, during the formal portrait session part of the awards ceremony …

… while Gomez was being photographed …

… Torticia decided she found cat party terrifying and fled.

I’m not really sure what was up with that, because I’ve never seen Torticia scared of anything. I take this cat along to the vet with Gomez even when she doesn’t need to go herself because she likes it. Gomez is the one who is highly-strung and flees from loud or sudden noises. However, Gomez LOVED cat party. He was strutting around, showing off his perfection …

… and eating so much party mix I was worried he was going to spoil his appetite for dinner and/or get sick.

Fatty did resurface when I served dinner …

… until Mark accidentally touched a balloon and she was off again. Gomez, on the other hand, didn’t even care about the noise makers – as long as I used it silently.

All in all, three of us had a grand time at the cat party.

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Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Corn, and Pinto Bean Salad

Mark and I recently returned from a week with his family at Folly Beach in Charleston. Apparently, while we were enjoying a week of absolutely perfect beach weather of sunny, upper 80 degree days and lower 80 degree ocean temperatures (bliss!), the Maryland and Virginia areas were suffering record-setting, scorching 100-degree days around Memorial Day – followed briskly by a cold front bringing in 50-degree nights and 70-degree days the second half of the week. Well, we’re home now and it’s back up to the upper 90s again: summer is here with a vengeance. This week has been weird because I wasn’t able to get to a farmers market over the weekend and I don’t know, I just find it difficult to buy vegetables in stores during the summer, so my refrigerator hasn’t really been stocked properly since our return. I had to go to Whole Foods out of desperation for fresh food today, and it was hot, hot, hot. I found myself looking at some heirloom tomatoes and wondering what I could make for dinner that would fit the weather and my relaxed, happy, tanned, and very warm mood. This is what I came up with:

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Corn, and Pinto Bean Salad

1 heirloom tomato, seeded and chopped
1 (or better yet, 2) avocado, peeled and chopped
2 ears corn, cut from cob and cooked
1/2 Vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped
1 cup whole wheat couscous
lettuce leaves, for serving/garnish

For the beans
1 cup dried pinto beans, soaked (quick soaked is okay)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 dried chili piquin, or other form of heat to your liking (optional)
1 tsp ground ancho chili powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp tomato paste
smoked black pepper, to taste (optional)
vegan “chicken” bouillon (or other broth), to cover
or you can cook some beans (they needn’t be pintos, either) by whatever method and recipe you prefer

For the dressing
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp pickled jalapeno juice, or a vinegar you think sounds good
juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 Tbsp)
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1 cube frozen cilantro (Trader Joe’s sells this), or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper or smoked black pepper, to taste

First, get the beans cooking. A pressure cooker is s huge help here. Place all ingredients in the pot, with the broth just covering the beans. I cooked them for six minutes in the pressure cooker, then quick-released the pressure, returned to the heat and cooked another 15 minutes or so, boiling off some of the liquid. Careful with those pressure cookers: usually I don’t care if I overcook pintos because I like them refried anyway, but for a salad you’ll want to retain a bit of a bite in the bean. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook until tender but still a bit firm.

When the beans are cooked, drain them if necessary, reserving any liquid. I had about 3/4 cup liquid.

Make the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together. Set aside for flavors to blend.

Cut the corn from the cobs and boil in water to cover for 10 minutes or until corn is tender. Drain, again reserving the cooking liquid.

To make the couscous, combine the bean cooking liquid, corn cooking liquid, and, if necessary, enough water to make 1 1/4 cups of liquid. I love it when I think to use cooking liquids for other purposes. If you aren’t using dried beans and/or fresh corn, you can use broth or water to make the couscous. Heat the liquid to boiling and pour over the couscous. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Prepare the salad: chop the tomato, avocado, and onion. Gently toss the vegetables with the beans, corn, and dressing. I use my hands.

Line each serving dish with lettuce leaves. Put some couscous on the lettuce, then top with the bean and veggie mixture. If you have it, sprinkle with just a touch of smoked salt flakes. Garnish with lime wedges, to be squeezed over the salad, and serve a hot sauce like Tabasco on the side.

Mark seemed quite impressed with the presentation of this meal. I told him it just looked nice because of the lettuce leaves, but he said it went beyond that and looked very “fancy”. I don’t know that it really looked all that fancy, but when I later asked him if he liked the way it tasted he said it tasted “like summer” and was (I was to quote him) “summertastic”. I don’t know if it’s just one of those married people things where we can read each others’ minds (it happens), or if I’m just good at making meals that say exactly what I want them to say, but “like summer” was exactly what I was going for. He also requested the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, so I know he liked it. I only had one avocado, but I think the one thing that would have improved this salad would have been a second one. I probably really should have made 1 1/2 to 2 times as much couscous for this amount of salad as well.

Our vacation was on one hand very comfortable and very normal: we spend a week at the beach with Mark’s family every year and it’s always wonderful, but on the other hand a little unusual for both Mark and me in that a) Mark didn’t touch a computer for 7 days and b) I didn’t touch my camera for nearly 7 days. We both did uncharacteristic amounts of relaxing. But here are some pelicans, also relaxing:

And here is a very cool, very old tree.

Now for a raccoon update. The bad news: Rachel Raccoon never collected two of the three babies. The good news: because I volunteer with a local wildlife organization and had been in touch with a raccoon rehabilitator about working with her even before the raccoon/attic incident, I got a crash course in feeding very hungry, very vocal baby raccoons, and then drove them to the rehabilitator myself. And Sunday I started helping the rehabilitator on what will be a regular basis, so I got to visit my babies again, and I’m going to help raise and eventually release them! They’ve been named Rica and Rowena – they are both little girls – and I’m not sure which one this is on my lap just after a feeding, but look, her eyes are open now!

Working with raccoons has been a great experience. When they are babies, they’re a lot like cats, and are very affectionate and sweet. I’ll keep you posted on Rica and Rowena’s growth over the upcoming months. I feel terrible they aren’t with their mother any more, but they’re in great hands with the rehabilitator and I intend to be the best (part-time) surrogate mother I can be, and in five months when they are old enough to be released, they’ll not only be in a great location, but right next to a county park that has special meaning to me and Mark. So that’s almost as good as their being in my yard, and really, probably safer for them in the long run. We have a LOT of wildlife around here, which I absolutely love, but we DO live in a suburban neighborhood. The park is probably nicer for them.

Finally, tomorrow will mark one year from the day we met Gomez and Torticia. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year already, although at the same time I can’t imagine a life without them. We were really, really, really, really lucky: these cats are simply the most wonderful, perfect cats in the world. I can’t tell you how much I love them. As a tribute, I’ll be making a donation to the Northern Virginia SPCA this week in the same amount I paid for them last year (I’d give even more if rabies vaccinations didn’t cost a gazillion dollars, leaving me broke this month…) because I love these cats, I love the SPCA for bringing them into my life, and I want the SPCA to continue to bring other people and cats and dogs together to form bonds like I have with Gomez and Torticia.

(One of Mezzie’s nicknames is actually “Perfection”. He’s just simply perfect. He’s not just a cat, he’s the Platonic ideal of a cat.)


(I’ve mentioned before that I turn most songs into songs about Tigger. I still do; Tigger still gets sung about far more than anyone else, but Torticia has three songs. The Kinks’ Victoria is really “Torticia” (Torticia was my queen!). Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecilia is also really “Torticia” (Torticia, you’re breaking my heart!). But for one song, I don’t have to change the lyrics because her (nick)name is already in it: YOU’RE THE ONE FOR ME, FATTY – YOU’RE THE ONE I REALLY, REALLY LOVE!)

One last thing: if you haven’t seen it yet: Vegan Black Metal Chef. And if you liked that, Black Metal Library rockers. My day has been filled with an inordinate amount of black metal, which I don’t even like…unless it’s about vegan food or books!

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How to make a heavy-duty cat toy

No food tonight, so if you don’t have or don’t like cats, come back in a day or two for an on-topic, food-related post. If you have playful cats that are somewhat destructive, then stick around.

The kittens have a bazillion toys, which is good because they love to play. They are quite capable of amusing themselves, but their favorite game is playing with a human-held toy on a string or stick; usually this is a feather on the end of a string, attached to a stick. They leap around like nuts and are generally extremely amusing. However, they are very hard on their toys and tend to destroy them quickly. They eat through strings, so many toys get tied back together again and again until a string that started out several feet long is suddenly a few inches long. They even break the sticks the strings dangle from. And of course, they destroy any feathers on their toys within seconds. And you don’t usually know if feathers were humanely sourced. So I set out to make a heavy-duty dangle-type toy they would have a harder time destroying.

What you need:

various ribbons
thread
about 1 yard cord elastic

plastic cord/cable cover (for hiding electrical cords along walls), about a yard long

I went to the hardware store and scouted out things to use for my “stick”. I tried several different things and what worked best was this Cordmate Cord Cover:
. I think this is the same thing; it was a little cheaper at Home Depot, where they also had longer lengths you can buy separately and cut to fit, which was even cheaper. I bought the kit with 3 36″ lengths because I wanted 36″ and don’t have a saw. It was $10, but I can make two more toys.

I bought a few different types of red ribbon for the “feather”. They were 55 cents to $3 a yard at the fabric store, although I happened to get 25% off those prices. I chose red because I have a theory that cats see red best, and I know red was definitely Tigger’s favorite color. The color, of course, doesn’t matter, so get what you want. I got one type of ribbon that was lightly wired, to provide a bit of the stiffness you’d find in a feather. I got another one that was more gossamer, like the soft parts of a feather. And I got a heavier velvet one that was strong enough to attach to the string to without tearing. So pick out some ribbons and then cut them into lengths about 6 to 8″ long.

Take two pieces of the sturdiest ribbon you have and line them up, back to back, then sew a buttonhole near the top. (If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can just snip a hole, but sewing a buttonhole will really help reinforce it.)

Put a pin at one end of the buttonhole and use a seam ripper to rip the middle of the hole open. (The pin stops you from ripping too far.)

Arrange the rest of the ribbons in a way that they fan out a bit and then put them between the two you’ve sewn together with the buttonhole. Pin.

Sew all ribbons together just under the buttonhole. I used a zigzag stitch and went back and forth a few times to make it as secure as possible. You can do this by hand if you don’t have a sewing machine.

Cut a length of the elastic. I have found that 30″ the ideal length, so cut 32″ or so. Tie one end through the buttonhole and trim the end. Other than possibly some very sleek, round elastics, most of them will tie a very tight knot that won’t come undone (I had to cut the knots on the prototypes I made that I didn’t like).

The cord cover comes with a self-adhesive strip on it for attaching to a wall. You could leave it on and just not peel the paper off, but eventually it’s going to start coming off as you handle it and get all sticky. So just get rid of it now. It took me about two or three minutes to rub the adhesive off with my thumb. I tried using a razor to scrape it off, but the thumb was a lot faster and easier.

The cord cover is also flat on one side (the side you peeled the adhesive off of), and rounded on the other.

Put the flat side on a table, hanging over by an inch or two, and then drill a hole, about 1/2″ down, through both sides. (I love projects that involve using my grandfather’s drill!)

Push the other end of the elastic through one of the holes, then pull it out through the top of the rod. You may need to use tweezers to pull it up, but I just kept pushing it until it popped up on its own.

Tie the elastic.

And that’s it!

The cats love it! It’s very, very, very hard to take pictures of them playing with it, though. I really need a video camera to properly catch it, and I should, because they can be hilarious. Gomez especially does these bizarre contortions mid-air that are amazing, but I just can’t get them on camera! So these pictures are pretty shoddy, but they’re the best I got at catching them in the air:

Torticia tends to get lazy and starts lying on her back, expecting the toy to come to her, although I always go and pick her back up and make her play properly because she’s getting pudgy!

It’s a bit hard to make Mezzie out in front of the glare on the glass behind him, but here he is leaping from his cat tree.

And doesn’t something look really wrong with the angle of Tort Reform’s head in this one?

Finally, since this is a cat-only post, here is a sequence of pictures I took the other night after giving Gomez catnip. He’s a surly drunk! Mezzie likes the ‘nip, but Tortellini doesn’t do more than just kind of sniff it daintily and look at Mez like he’s crazy for eating it. But just seconds after eating some and rolling around it in, Mezzian always starts beating his poor sister up!

Fortunately, Tort Reform just puts him right back in his place.

Okay, that’s it for tonight – back soon with food, I promise!

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“Cream” of Asparagus Soup

Will I ever be not busy? It doesn’t seem like it, but I think my life should calm down in January, so hopefully then I’ll be back to posting more regularly, with my normal obnoxious photographing-every-little-step posts. In the meantime, here is a quick post featuring some soup I made for dinner tonight. It’s really just this Cream of Asparagus Soup recipe on AllRecipes, veganized, though it is also very similar to the Creamless Cream of Asparagus Soup I made earlier this year.

“Cream” of Asparagus Soup

3 Tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups vegan broth
1 bundle asparagus, chopped
1 large or 2 small potatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp soy sauce
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven, then add the onion and celery and saute until soft and golden. Stir in the flour, stirring until completely smooth to avoid lumps. Add the vegan broth – I like to heat water to a boil in my electric kettle, then pour it into the pot and add the bouillon – and stir until smooth and thickened. Add the asparagus, potatoes, and soy sauce and bring to a boil …

… then reduce heat and simmer for half an hour or until potatoes and asparagus are soft. Season with as much freshly ground pepper as you’d like. Remove from heat and puree using an immersion blender, or let cool for a while and transfer to a blender in batches and blend …

… then return to pot and bring back up to temperature if necessary before serving.

It doesn’t look all that exciting, but looks can be deceiving – this is really tasty. Mark informed me this was “completely awesome” and had two huge servings…then later while doing the dishes lamented the fact that he ate too much. Mark added rice to his for some texture; I ate mine plain and spooned barbecued beans over my portion of rice. Either way it’s quick, easy, healthy, and delicious.

LA is beginning to seem like so long ago, but I promised you a Cats of LA photo essay, so here you go:


My gosh doesn’t this look like Brachtune?!

Oh wait, that last cat isn’t of LA….yet ..?

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Greetings from Los Angeles

Hello from L.A.! I’ve been here for nearly a week and so far I can say L.A. is hands down the best city I’ve ever been to for food. It seems like there is a vegan restaurant on every corner, and every one I’ve been to has been really good. We’re here for 11 days, and ordinarily when I’m staying with friends or renting an apartment, I look forward to cooking in several nights. But, my friends, 11 days is not enough to eat everything I need to eat in this town!

Our second day here, our friends were trying to decide where we should eat dinner and, after googling, suggested Native Foods, mostly because it was nearby. I didn’t realize at first the restaurant was completely vegan, and was overwhelmed once I did. I finally chose the bacon cheeseburger because I thought it was a funny thing for a vegan to order:

Mark ordered the reuben:

Both were delicious and the chef even stopped by our table to see if we liked it. The omnivores we were with also enjoyed their meals – although I’ve found non-vegetarians usually don’t like fake meat, the bacon cheeseburger even went over very well. Unfortunately, things disintegrated to this shortly before we left:

Our hosts Jathan and Travis requested that I make dinner the following night and to that end took me to their neighborhood produce store. A produce store is pretty much all the greatness of Super H minus all the badness. That is, it’s a store almost entirely filled with produce, including exotic Asian fruits and vegetables, with a couple of aisles of rice and other staples, but with no meat, squid machines, or tentacles. I’m terrible at deciding what to make under pressure, but Mark came to my rescue and suggested stuffed peppers, I think mostly because Jathan and Travis found some TVP and were somewhat frightened of it and Mark thought it would be funny if we made them eat it. I made the recipe up on the fly; it was wild rice, TVP, onion, veggie broth, tomatoes, a chili pepper, and various seasonings. I also made a quick pasta dish to accompany it. I’m pleased to say that all plates were cleaned so I guess I didn’t screw it up too much, and the TVP wasn’t too scary.

Then we moved from Jathan and Travis’ house to Fortinbras’s place in Studio City, where he took us to Lotus Vegan, which he hadn’t been to although it’s right down the street from him. Apparently he’d been waiting for me. He got a “chicken” lunch:

And I got the yellow curry with “fish”:

Fortinbras was in raptures over both meals, but when he ordered dessert, I thought he was going to explode from happiness:

This chocolate cheesecake was probably – okay, definitely – the best vegan cheesecake I’ve ever had, or at least it was until we returned later that night with Mark in tow and tried the strawberry cheesecake which may have been even better. Now, remember Fortinbras is not even remotely vegan, but he still thought it was one of the best cheesecakes he’s ever had, vegan or not. He was also head over heels in love with the coconut ice cream that he ordered to accompany it. Fort’s going to be a regular at this place now.

For dinner, Fortinbras, Mark, and I went to Leonor’s Vegetarian Restaurant, which is not entirely vegan (it is vegetarian), though they are planning to begin using Daiya instead of their current non-vegan soy cheese soon. They were very helpful about making sure our meals were vegan after we asked about the cheese situation. It can be tricky to find vegan Mexican food, so I was excited to order these “shrimp” tacos:

They were pretty good, although I really prefer burritos to tacos.

In the midst of scouting out used bookstores today, I stopped for lunch at Daichan, which serves “Japanese soul food”. It’s a cute little place filled with Japanese tchotchkes.

I had the vegetable poki, which was not necessarily the most exciting meal I’ve ever eaten, but a nice, healthy, refreshing lunch, especially after all the other stuff I’ve been cramming down my throat since I got out here, most of which has been amazingly delicious but not exactly health food. It also seemed like something easy to replicate at home, which I think I will be doing.

Tonight Mark and I went to Pure Luck. I told him that they were known for their carnitas tacos made with jackfruit, although since he also prefers burritos to tacos, he ordered the carnitas burrito:

I ordered the BBQ sandwich, also made with jackfruit:

Both of these were really, really good. Mark declared my BBQ sandwich to be the best thing we’ve had here, although he thoroughly enjoyed his burrito as well. I think he might make me go back to Pure Luck again before we leave, he liked it so much. Although I’m trying to fit all the restaurants I want to try in, I won’t argue about going back there.

All in all, the food in this city is absolutely AMAZING. I thought San Francisco and NYC were good for vegans, but now I don’t think you can beat L.A.

Mostly I’ve been eating, but I’ve also done quite a bit of thrift and book store shopping. I absolutely loved Small World Books in Venice Beach. They had a great selection and a cat named Conan. All book stores need a cat, in my opinion.

Today I went to Iliad Bookshop, which is a huge and wonderful used book store. I really wish this store was in Northern Virginia. I have no idea how I think I’m getting my suitcase home after visiting this place; it’s going to weigh a ton. Of course they also have a cat! She looks very much like Brachtune except she’s missing an eye, due to mistreatment by her former owners before she was rescued by the book store staff.

Think it’s strange I saw a one-eyed cat? Well, the aforementioned Travis has a no-eyed cat, Radar:

Travis actually rescued Radar a few years ago after seeing a story about him on the DC news: he was in an animal shelter volunteer’s car when it was stolen right out from under her. He was eventually found again, and Travis felt the need to adopt him after watching the news segment. Radar is a super, super awesome cat. Watching him play is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. He’s also very sweet and affectionate and slept with Mark and I most nights we were there.

When Travis adopted Radar, the shelter made him adopt Radar’s buddy at the same time because they had bonded. Demon has both his eyes and I guess he’s supposed to look out for Radar, but Radar doesn’t seem to need much help, and moreover, Radar seems to enjoy attacking Demon. Nonetheless, they are best friends, and Demon is an extremely cute, affectionate, and playful – and very large – boy. He also slept with us, although he took up most of the bed.

I’m running into tons of cats here, but as this has gotten very long I’ll spare you any more photos for now. It’s great that I’m getting so much kitty contact, but I’m starting to really miss those kittens of mine. Their sitter tells me they are doing fine, but I’ll be extremely happy to see them when we return home.

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Grilled Heart Attack, and Dill Relish

So, the kittens, Mark, and I all survived the weekend, which was an issue because we hosted a party for a bunch of people we don’t know. Which was especially difficult for us as a group because I’m extremely shy, Mark’s a member of the People Who Hate People Party, and the kittens are just baby kittens who’ve never experienced the turmoil of a bunch of strangers invading their home at one time. See, our friend Matty has graduated from college and is at long last on his way to becoming a sign language interpreter. And Matty needed a place to have a party because he lives in an apartment, and as everyone who sets foot in our house feels at home there (something I take pride in, but it’s as much this house just having some crazy great vibe as it is anything I do), he wanted to have it here. Matty has a lot more friends than I do, however, and knows a lot of people I don’t, meaning I knew maybe 10% of the guest list. It also meant this was not a vegan party. I generally throw one or two smallish parties a year, which are completely vegan, and which I completely cater. But I wasn’t about to tell Matty he had to have a vegan party and I didn’t have time to cater it either. So Matty bought a grill and he and his friends made hamburgers, and each of the guests brought a dish. I did buy a bunch of snack foods, though, and I went to the farmer’s market that morning and got a bunch of veggies that I cut up for dipping in my homemade ranch, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, garlic, and onions that I made into salsa, as well as tomatoes and onions for the very non-vegan burgers, and I made nacho dip, baked beans (in the crockpot), hamburger noodle bake, sourdough bread, and five grain levain rolls. Oh, and chocolate mousse ice cream. And iced tea. I didn’t intend to make that much food, I just can’t help myself. I didn’t take any pictures since most of what I didn’t make wasn’t vegan and you’ve already seen most what I made. I think I’m going to have to do a post on those rolls, though, because I got a ton of compliments on them. People seemed rather amazed by them, in fact. So maybe I’ll do that this weekend.

Anyway, everyone was very nice and I didn’t have a nervous breakdown or anything. I really am VERY shy around people I don’t know (although Matty and many other people have expressed surprise at this assertion), but I think having the party at my house actually helped because either I was too busy to be shy, or I figured since it was my house, people were obligated to be nice to me. The heat index was 110 degrees (43 Celsius for you non-Americans) Saturday, which made grilling very pleasant, I’m sure. The kittens were a huge hit, and they behaved exactly as I had hoped: too scared to leave the bedroom (and therefore not running outside or getting underfoot), but not so freaked out they wouldn’t come out to play for small groups of people who came to see them. There was a ton of food left over, all of which Matty packed up and took home with him (he won’t have to make himself dinner for a month), but he left the grill behind. So now I have a grill. Which is cool because I’ve always wondered if I’d like a grill, but never wanted to invest the money in case I didn’t.

In typical Renae fashion, I read the grill instructions front to back Sunday morning, then today came home from work feeling like a grilling master. Although I thought Mark might kill me for playing with fire when I’m home alone and have no idea what I’m doing, I decided I was going to grill dinner while waiting for him to get home from work. Today was a mere 89 degrees (32 Celsius) – seems practically chilly in comparison to this weekend; time to unpack the sweaters! – so it seemed like a good day for it. For my inaugural grilling, I made a recipe from the grill instructional manual, which must have been designed to kill anyone who eats it: Stuffed Hot Dogs. Wrapped in bacon. Seriously. You stuff hot dogs with cheese and relish, then wrap them in bacon and grill them. That’s it. I renamed it Grilled Heart Attack, although I don’t think the vegan version is going to cause any heart attacks. I thought I had relish, but I didn’t, so I made some, and a recipe for that follows.

Grilled Heart Attack, or Stuffed Hot Dogs

vegan hot dogs
vegan cheddar cheese, grated (like Daiya)
dill relish
vegan bacon

Keep in mind I have never worked a grill before in my life and I was doing this alone, so I could have been doing this all wrong…. but here’s what I did:

I made a pyramid of charcoal briquets, doused them in lighter fluid, and set them on fire.

I let them burn, then smolder, for about 15 minutes, until they were mostly covered in white ash.

I made a little pan out of aluminum foil, put it in the center of the charcoal rack, then used tongs to move the hot coals into a tight circle around the pan.

I let that smolder while I prepared the hot dogs. I cut each almost but not quite all the way through, then stuffed with relish and a bit of Daiya cheddar.

Then I wrapped a slice of vegan bacon around each one and placed it in my foil pan.

I also put some water-soaked corn (which I had de-silked) on the grate above them, then closed the grill.

I turned the corn a few times, and let it all cook for about 15 minutes, toasting some hot dog buns during the last couple of minutes.

I dressed the finished hot dogs with mustard …

… and served with left over baked beans.

I was unsure if I would, but I definitely did discern a unique grilled flavor in the veggie dog. Mark agreed. I’m not sure it would be worth going through the trouble just to grill a packaged veggie dog, but overall it was a successful foray into grilling and I’m eager to try more exciting things. I don’t think the corn was well done enough, though.

I was hoping to get some input from my wonderful readers – I’ve always gotten great answers when I asked for advice, so: what do you guys grill? Any tips or pointers? I picked up a pretty nice grill wok for $6 at Wegmans; it seemed like something I should have. Obviously I’ll have to make veggie kabobs, but what else is good? The more exotic, the better!

I told you I’d also show you how I made a quick dill relish when I realized I didn’t have any. I might make a fancier one down the road, but I wanted something super fast, so here’s what I did:

Quick Dill Relish

1 small jar dill pickles, minced
1 shallot, minced
3/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp mustard seeds, crushed
1/4 tsp dried dill weed
salt and freshly ground pepper

Grind the coriander and mustard seeds in a mortar.

Mince the pickles and shallot.

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and mix.

Refrigerate for a while to allow flavors to blend.

This is a horrible picture, but here’s what happened when I tried to eat my dinner:

And here are the kittens on a lazy summer afternoon:

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Busy Renae, busy kittens

It occurred to me tonight that it’s been a week since I’ve made a post and may well be another week before I’m able to make another. I have a lot going on right now, including hosting a large party this weekend, and I’m probably not going to be cooking anything new, let alone taking pictures of it. In the meantime, please enjoy the kittens and I’ll be back in a week or so.


Do you see the orange M on Torticia’s forehead? I’ve been reading about cat genetics and apparently orange in cats is always tabby; what appears to be solid orange in some cats is really striped. That goes for the orange in tortoiseshells. Additionally, tabbies almost always have an M on their foreheads (both Tigger and Brachtune, as well as every other tabby I’ve ever known, did). So although most of Torticia’s colouring seems to be entirely random, in many places, her orange appears as tabby stripes. It’s particularly obvious in the orange bands around her front legs (totally adorable), but I missed her orange M for a couple of weeks. Once I spotted it, though, I can’t NOT see it. Mark claims the M stands for Mark; I claim it stands for my last name.


Gomez’s black-on-black stripes (not really visible in this photo; I love that you can only see them sometimes) are called ghost stripes. I had a black cat, Dracula, growing up (I have a tattoo in his honor), and I’ve been friends with several other black cats over the years, but Gomez is the first black kitty I’ve met with noticeable stripes, though apparently it’s fairly common because the gene that suppresses the tabby stripes in solid cats doesn’t always manage to fully suppress it. You can make out a faint M on his head as well, but it’s much harder to see than Torticia’s scarlet letter.

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Refrigerator Dill Pickles and Spicy Green Beans

It’s hot here in the DC metro area.

It’s been hot for weeks. Personally, I’m loving it, so you’re not going to hear me complain. I’ll take 100 degree temperatures over a blizzard any day. I might feel differently if we didn’t have air conditioning, but frankly, Mark keeps it so cold at home, and our building management keeps it absolutely frigid at work (I actually sometimes use a space heater; how ridiculous is that?), and I’m cold when I leave the pool at the gym, and it’s always freezing in stores, so I actually consider it a relief to go outside. Our pool doesn’t work any more, so I don’t spend nearly as much time outside as I used to, unfortunately. Anyway, although I don’t feel all that affected by the crazy heat (watch our A/C break now that I’ve said this), I’ve been feeling a bit summery in the kitchen. That is, I eat a lot of pickles during the summer so I’ve been making a lot of pickles. Actually, I make and eat a lot of pickles all year round, but I’m trying to make this post topical. Also, I have been making pickles from stuff I get at the farmer’s market, so that’s seasonal. In fact, I have a pint of yellow jalapenos that I think need a vinegar bath. And a huge bunch of radishes. But today I present you two very easy, classic refrigerator pickles that I made a couple of weeks ago and am now ready to eat.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

1 cucumber (really, 2 or 3 pickling cucumbers would probably be better, but this is what I had)
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water
few sprigs dill
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp pickling spices
pinch red pepper chili flakes
1 small clove garlic, lightly crushed
6 drops stevia or 1 Tbsp sugar

Chop the cucumber(s) into spears and lightly smash the garlic with the side of a knife. I also sliced the majority of the seeds off the cukes.

Put the rest of the ingredients except the dill into a large jar, cover, and shake to combine.

Put the cucumber spears, garlic, and dill into the jar. Top off with water if necessary to cover the cucumbers.

Refrigerate for at least a week (10 days is better).

Eat.

Spicy Pickled Green Beans

1 lb green beans, trimmed
1 jalapeno
few springs dill (optional)
1 1/2 cup water
1 1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp red chili flakes
1 small clove garlic, lightly crushed

Trim the green beans. Lightly crush the garlic with the side of a knife. For extra spicy green beans, make a cut in the jalapeno. Add all ingredients to a large jar, topping off with water if necessary to cover the beans.

Refrigerate for at least two weeks (three is better).

Eat. (Don’t forget to eat the jalapeno too!)

In kitten news, my mother sent the kittens and me a care package. I got a ton of tea and the kittens got exactly what they needed: more toys. They took to the Turbo Scratcher right away. Torticia literally throws herself into playing; she’s so rambunctious and adorable:

Gomez is a bit more laid back, although he does leap around and act just as nutty. I think his philosophy is to sit back and let Torticia tire out their prey and so he can go in for an easy kill later. I don’t have the heart to tell him Turbo Scratchers don’t tire out.

For those of you who didn’t see it on Twitter, here’s my hilarious joke – it’s the Large Cat Toy Collider. We’re hoping to find the Gomez boson.

I don’t know why this surprised me so much, because they sleep together a good 80% of the time, usually in one of their two cat trees, but I was taken aback for a second to find both kittens on the back of my chair. I guess it is because both Tigger and Brachtune liked to sleep there but there is no way in hell they’d ever both be there at the same time. This picture somehow hides the fact that Gomez is now a full 25% larger than Torticia. He’s an enormous giant.

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Kaiser Rolls

When I was in high school, I worked in a local grocery store. It was the cool place to work; everyone in my high school worked there. When I applied, I assumed that like all of the other female teenage employees, I’d become a cashier. I was a little disappointed when they told me I’d be working in the bakery, because I thought I wouldn’t see all my friends, all the females of whom were cashiers. It didn’t take long for me to realize that working in the bakery was the very best assignment possible. The bakers, who all started at some obscene hour like 4 a.m., went home about half an hour after my weekday shifts began, which meant I was working with no supervision all night long. Shortly after I started, one of my best friends applied to work in the bakery with me and was also hired, which meant we spent every night goofing off, decorating donuts with cake icing and putting them out to sell, decorating cakes with our own ridiculous drawings, and chasing around and being chased by the produce guys, whose back room was connected to ours. I guess we somehow managed to do our work as well because I got along very well with the bakers, with whom I did have to work on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

This is me behind the bakery counter, selling my donut wares.

This is my friend, Dawn, looking at me through a cart of “trayed-up” frozen rolls. We had to do “tray-up”, which involved lining frozen rolls and breads on trays, putting them on a cart, and pushing them into the freezer, every night. I used to leave the bakers stories about the Tray-up God on the backs of the tray-up checklists. I’m very curious now to know what the heck I wrote, but one of the bakers told me at the time she saved them all. I’m sure they were ridiculous.

Anyway, if you’d have told me when I worked in the grocery store bakery that I’d one day consider being a baker, I’d have called you crazy. I couldn’t fathom the hours, for one thing (really, I still can’t), and it just didn’t seem very me, as much as I did like my after-school job. Culinary arts weren’t something I aspired to or had any interest in. Then when I went vegan and started teaching myself how to cook, I tried baking bread a few times and never had any success, so I gave up for several years, although I did get a bread machine. Eventually I got tired of the bread machine – it made funny shaped loaves and the paddle kept coming off and getting baked into the bread – and I tried my hand at baking by hand again. This time I for some reason had success, and after baking several breads from recipes off the internet, I got The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic by saying it changed my life, but in a way it did, because I always thought I just didn’t have a knack for bread, but after buying that book, I did have a knack for it. Or, more likely, Peter Reinhart is just really good at teaching bread baking, even through a book. And his breads taste amazing. If you have any interest in bread baking, I can’t recommend his books, particularly this one, enough. After my huge successes baking nearly every bread in that book and his others, I fell in love with it so much I have considered working in a bakery – baking this time, not washing dishes and arranging frozen rolls on trays.

We’re not doing much for the Fourth of July this year – just hanging out with the kittens and taking care of some stuff around the house – but I usually try to at least loosely follow tradition for holiday meals, so I decided I’d make homemade veggie burgers today and I decided to make Peter Reinhart’s kaiser rolls for them. These kaiser rolls taste amazing. They are definitely the best kaiser rolls I’ve ever had. I never fail to think of the frozen kaiser rolls I used to tray up in high school and always think how much better these are.

I’m normally hesitant to publish Peter’s recipes because I really do want you to buy his books, but I found the following online in several places (including Google Books). The only change I’ve made is I substituted En-R-G egg replacer for the egg he calls for, though I suspect you could just leave it out entirely. Also, I doubled the recipe in the book, which made six rolls, because if six rolls are good, a dozen is even better. They freeze well. The measurements below are Peter’s original for 6 4-ounce rolls, but you’ll see my doubled measurements in the pictures.

Finally, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Weigh your ingredients. If you are at ALL interested in baking, buy a scale and use it. I’ve included the volume measurements because I’m a nice gal, but it is very hard to consistently measure ingredients – especially flour – by volume.

Peter Reinhart’s Kaiser Rolls
From The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Pate Fermentee
5 oz (1 1/8 cups) all-purpose flour*
5 oz (1 1/8 cups) bread flour*
.19 oz (3/4 tsp) salt
.055 oz (1/2 tsp) instant yeast
6-7 oz (3/4 cup to 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp) water

* Peter says you can use all all-purpose or all bread flour if that’s all you have, but that this combination seems to yield the best results.

Rolls
8 oz (1 1/2 cups) pate fermentee (half of the above recipe)
10 oz (2 1/4 cups) bread flour
.2 oz (3/4 tsp + a pinch) salt
.17 oz (1 tsp) diastatic barley malt powder OR .33 oz (1 1/2 tsp) barley malt syrup
.11 oz (1 tsp) instant yeast
1 Tbsp En-R-G egg replacer + 4 Tbsp water, whisked
.75 ounce (1 1/2 Tbsp) vegetable oil
5 – 6 oz (10 Tbsp to 3/4 cup) water
poppy and/or sesame seeds, for topping

The night before baking, make the pate fermentee. I didn’t take pictures of this, but all you need to do is add all the dry ingredients to the bowl of your electric mixer (or a regular bowl if mixing by hand), then add 6 ounces of the water and mix on low speed or stir for about a minute until everything comes together in a coarse ball. Add the extra water if there is loose flour left over. Then mix on medium speed for 4 minutes, or knead by hand for 4 to 6 minutes, until the dough is, in Peter’s words, “soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky”. Lightly oil a bowl, roll the dough in the oil, then cover the bowl with a plate (in lieu of the plastic wrap Peter calls for). Leave the bowl out at room temperature for an hour or until the dough has risen to 1 1/2 times its original size, then refrigerate overnight or up to three days.

When you are ready to bake, remove the pate fermentee from the refrigerator.

Remove it from the bowl and use a bench cutter (or a serrated knife) to cut it into about 10 small pieces.

Cover with a tea towel and let come to room temperature for an hour. When the hour is up, add the flour, salt, malt powder, and yeast to your mixing bowl. Add the pate fermentee pieces, egg replacer, oil, and 5 ounces of water.

Mix on low speed for a minute (or stir by hand) until it comes together in a ball. Add the additional ounce of water if there is still loose flour.

Mix on medium speed for 6 minutes (10 minutes by hand), adding flour if needed, to “make a dough that is soft and supple, tacky but not sticky”. I like to finish it off by hand for a few seconds for a smooth dough.

It should pass the windowpane test.

Lightly oil a large bowl – I use this dough rising bucket from King Arthur Flour – roll the dough around in the oil, and cover with a large plate or lid.

Let sit at room temperature for two hours. If the dough doubles before two hours are up (mine had doubled at one hour) …

… remove it from the bowl, knead very lightly to degas (you don’t want to “punch down” dough as old recipes tell you to do; it’s too harsh), and return it to the bowl.

When the two hours are up or the dough has doubled again …

… remove the dough and divide it into six 4-ounce (or nine 2 2/3-ounce for small rolls) pieces. Because you may have had to add flour or water when kneading the dough, I like to weigh it before dividing, then divide the weight of the dough by the number of rolls I want. I’m always very excited when the dough weighs exactly what it should. Mine weighs exactly 48 ounces! (Remember, I doubled the recipe.)

Here I am weighing the individual rolls.

I was surprised, however, when the last roll weighed in at only 3.75 ounces, even after I’d weighed the first eleven twice each and they were all exactly 4 ounces. What this tells me is my scale is not as precise as I’d like it to be. I just took about .05 ounces off the five rolls that looked the biggest and added it to the runt.

Form the pieces into individual rolls. To do this, pinch the dough together on one side …

… creating and smoothing a seam, whilst creating surface tension on the opposite side.

Turn over and smooth into a round with your hands, seam side down.

When all the rolls have been created …

… cover with a tea towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment or a Silpat and misting lightly with oil.

Shape the rolls into kaiser rolls by using a kaiser roll cutter or by using this shaping method. (It was very hard for me to get pictures of this, so I suggest you read the book for a much better explanation.) Roll each roll into a rope about 8″ long.

Tie the rope into a simple knot.

Tuck the ends of the knot into the middle of the roll. (I didn’t get a good picture of this.) Tray the rolls, cut or prettier side down.

Cover with a couple of layers of tea towels and let rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit at this point. Turn the rolls over. If you want to seed your rolls, mist lightly with water and sprinkle with poppy and/or sesame seeds.

Cover again, and let rise for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until doubled from their original size.

Peter recommends spraying the walls of the oven with water just after putting the rolls in, but I used a different technique of his and instead poured 1 cup of hot water into a cast iron pan I keep on the bottom shelf of my oven. If you go the water-in-pan method of creating steam, make sure the pan was preheated with the oven. Put the rolls into the oven and steam using one of those methods, then bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate to the pan and reduce the heat to 400 degrees, then bake another 15 to 30 minutes for large rolls (less for small rolls), or until golden brown.

Transfer to a cooling rack and cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Here are the veggie burgers I made; I baked them in the toaster oven.

A closeup of one of the rolls …

… and the crumb.

And here’s my burger …

… and my whole meal.

As you can see in the last picture, I also made Bianca’s deviled eggs, and they are amazing! They really do taste like the real thing and were at least as easy to make.

I probably can’t get away without posting any kitten pictures, but since this has been such a long, photo-heavy post, I’m going to restrain myself to just one.

Okay, two, because Gomez started to yawn and it was funny.

I hope all of my fellow Americans had a happy and safe Fourth of July.

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