Cooking at Home with Pedatha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nice meal:

On a nice balcony. 🙂

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

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Every Grain of Rice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And nearly finished:

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

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

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

Best part of rehab!!

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